/ Language: English / Genre:sf_history / Series: Axis of Time

Weapons of choice

John Birmingham


John Birmingham

Weapons of choice

DRAMATIS PERSONAE

MULTINATIONAL FORCE COMMANDERS

Anderson, Captain Daytona, USN. Commander, USS Leyte Gulf.

Francois, Captain Margie, USMC. Combat surgeon and chief medical officer, Multinational Force. (USS Kandahar.)

Halabi, Captain Karen, RN. Commander, British contingent; deputy commander, Multinational Force; commander, HMS Trident.

Jones, Colonel J. L., USMC. Commander, Eighty-second Marine Expeditionary Unit. (USS Kandahar.)

Judge, Commander Mike, USN. Executive officer, USS Hillary Clinton.

Kolhammer, Admiral Phillip, USN. Task force commander, USS Hillary Clinton.

Miyazaki, Sub-Lieutenant Maseo, JMSDF. Acting commander, JDS Siranui.

Moertopo, Lieutenant Ali, TNI-AL. Acting commander, KRI Sutanto.

Willet, Captain Jane, RAN. Commander, HMAS Havoc.

Windsor, His Royal Highness Captain Harry. Commander, British SAS contingent.

MULTINATIONAL FORCE PERSONNEL

Bukowski, Specialist Waylon, USMC. First Platoon, B Company. (USS Kandahar.)

Chen, Second Lieutenant Henry, USMC. Third Platoon, C Company. (USS Kandahar.)

Damiri, Sub-Lieutenant Usama, TNI-AL. Information systems officer, KRI Sutanto.

Hannon, Second Lieutenant Biff, USMC. First Platoon, B Company. (USS Kandahar.)

Harford, Flight Lieutenant Chris, USN. Helicopter pilot, USS Hillary Clinton.

Hayes, Flight Lieutenant Amanda, USN. Helicopter pilot, USS Hillary Clinton.

Ivanov, Major Pavel, Russian Federation Spetsnaz. On secondment to U.S. Navy SEALs. (USS Kandahar.)

Nguyen, Lieutenant Rachel, RAN. Close-In Weapons System operator. (HMAS Moreton Bay.) Seconded to History Working Group. (USS Hillary Clinton.)

Rogas, Chief Petty Officer Vincente, U.S. Navy SEALs. (USS Kandahar.)

Thieu, Lieutenant Edgar, USN. Media relations officer, USS Hillary Clinton.

MISCELLANEOUS

Duffy, Julia. New York Times feature writer. Embedded Eighty-second MEU.

Natoli, Rosanna. CNN researcher/producer. Embedded Eighty-second MEU.

Pope, Professor Manning. Project director, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

1942 ALLIED COMMANDERS

Churchill, Winston. Prime minister, Great Britain.

Curtin, John. Prime minister, Commonwealth of Australia.

Eisenhower, Brigadier General Dwight D. U.S. Army. Head of War Plans Division. Appointed commander of U.S. forces, European theater of operations, June 1942.

King, Admiral Ernest J., USN. Commander in chief of the U.S. Fleet and chief of naval operations.

MacArthur, General Douglas, U.S. Army. Commander, Allied Forces, South West Pacific Area. Headquartered Brisbane, Australia.

Marshall, General George C., U.S. Army. Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Nimitz, Admiral Chester, USN. Commander in chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet.

Roosevelt, President, Franklin D. Thirty-second president of the United States of America.

Spruance, Rear Admiral Raymond A., USN. Commander, Task Force Sixteen.

1942 ALLIED PERSONNEL

Black, Lieutenant Commander Daniel, USN. Assistant operations and planning chief to Admiral Spruance. (USS Enterprise.)

Curtis, Ensign Wally, USN. Assistant payroll clerk, USS Enterprise.

Davidson, Able Seaman James "Slim Jim," USS Astoria.

Evans, Lieutenant Commander Peter. Acting commander, USS Astoria.

Mohr, Chief Petty Officer Eddie, USS Astoria.

Molloy, Able Seaman Michael "Moose," USS Astoria.

Ryan, Warrant Officer Peter, New Guinea Volunteer Rifles. Patrol officer.

MISCELLANEOUS

Cherry, Detective Sergeant Lou, Honolulu PD, Homicide.

Einstein, Professor Albert, Nobel laureate.

AXIS HIGH COMMAND

JAPAN

Kakuta, Rear Admiral Kakuji, IJN. Commander, Second Carrier Striking Force. (HIJMS Ryujo.)

Yamamoto, Admiral Isoroku, IJN. Commander in chief, Combined Fleet. (HIJMS Yamamoto.)

GERMANY

Gobbels, Reichsminister Josef. German propaganda minister.

Himmler, Reichsfuhrer Heinrich. SS chief.

Hitler, Reichschancellor Adolf.

AXIS PERSONNEL

Brasch, Major Paul. Engineer.

Hidaka, Lieutenant Commander Jisaku, IJN. Chief of staff to Rear Admiral Kakuta. (HIJMS Ryujo.)

Skorzeny, Colonel Otto. Personal bodyguard to Adolf Hitler.

Steckel, Franz. SS-Obersturmfuhrer of the SD-Ausland, a lieutenant in the Nazi Party's foreign intelligence service.

SHIPS OF THE MULTINATIONAL FORCE

USS Hillary Clinton. George Bush-class supercarrier.

USS Kandahar. Bagdhad-class littoral assault ship.

USS Leyte Gulf. Nemesis-class stealth cruiser.

USS Garret. Cobb-class air warfare destroyer

USS Providence. Harper's Ferry-class amphibious landing dockship.

USS Kennebunkport. LPD 12 landing assault ship.

HMS Trident. Trident-class stealth destroyer (trimaran).

HMS Vanguard. Trident-class stealth destroyer (trimaran).

HMS Fearless. Aden-class helicopter assault ship.

HMAS Havoc. Savage-class attack submarine (conventional).

HMAS Moreton Bay. Jervis Bay-class troop-carrying catamaran.

HMAS Ipswich. Newcastle-class light littoral assault ship.

KRI Sutanto. Reconditioned Parchim-class frigate of the Indonesian navy (TNI-AL

KRI Nuku. Reconditioned Parchim-class frigate of the Indonesian navy (TNI-AL

Dessaix. Sartre-class stealth destroyer of the French navy.

PART ONE

TRANSIT

1

EAST TIMOR, ZONE TIME: 0942 HOURS, 15 JANUARY 2021

The Caliphate spy, a Javanese carpenter known simply as Adil, resettled himself against a comfortable groove in the sandalwood tree. The small, shaded clearing in the hills overlooking Dili had been his home for three days. He shared it with an aged feral cat, which remained hidden throughout the day, and an irritable monkey, which occasionally tried to shit on his head. He had considered shooting the filthy animal, but his orders were explicit. He was to remain unnoticed as long as the crusaders were anchored off East Timor, observing their fleet and sending reports via microburst laser link, but only in the event of a "significant development."

He had seen nothing "significant" in seventy-two hours. The infidel ships were lying so far offshore they were often lost in haze and distance. Only when night fell did he have any real chance of seeing them, and even then they remained little more than a blurred constellation of twinkling, faraway lights. Such was their arrogance they didn't bother to cloak themselves in darkness.

Jets roared to and from the flight deck of their carrier twenty-four hours a day. In deepest night the fire of the launches appeared to Adil as though God Himself had lit a torch on the rim of the world.

Occasionally a helicopter would appear from the direction of the flotilla, beginning as a small, indistinct dot in the hot gray sky, taking on recognizable form only as the muffled drone of its engines clarified into a thudding, growling roar. From his hiding spot Adil could almost make out the faces of the infidels in the cabins of the fat metal birds. American, British, French, they all looked alike, cruel and overfed, a thought that reminded him of his own hunger.

He unwrapped the banana leaves from around a small rice cake, thanking Allah for the generosity of his masters. They had included a little dried fish in his rations for today, a rare treat.

Sometimes, when the sun climbed directly overhead and beat down with a slow fury, Adil's thoughts wandered. He cursed his weakness and begged God for the strength to carry out his duty, but it was hard. He had fallen asleep more than once. Nothing ever seemed to happen. There was plenty of movement down in Dili, which was infested with crusader forces from all over the Christian world, but Dili wasn't his concern. His sole responsibility was to watch those ships that were hiding in the shimmering haze on the far horizon.

Still, Adil mused, it would be nice to know he had some real purpose here; that he had not been staked out like a goat on the side of a hill. Perhaps he was to be part of some elaborate strike on the Christians in town. Perhaps tonight the darkness would be torn asunder by holy fire as some martyr blew up one of their filthy taverns. But then, why leave him here on the side of this stupid hill, covered in monkey shit and tormented by ants?

This wasn't how he had imagined jihad would be when he had graduated from the Madrasa in Bandung.

USS KANDAHAR, 1014 HOURS, 15 JANUARY 2021

The marines wouldn't have been surprised at all to discover that someone like Adil was watching over them. In fact, they assumed there were more than two hundred million pairs of eyes turned their way as they prepared to deploy into the Indonesian Archipelago.

Nobody called it the Caliphate. Officially the United States still recognized it as the sovereign territory of Indonesia, seventeen thousand islands stretching from Banda Aceh, three hundred kilometers off the coast of Thailand, down to Timor, just north of Australia. The sea-lanes passing through those islands carried a third of the world's maritime trade, and officially they remained open to all traffic. The Indonesian government-in-exile said so-from the safety of the Grand Hyatt in Geneva where they had fled, three weeks earlier, after losing control of Jakarta.

Unofficially though, these were the badlands, controlled-just barely-by a revolutionary Islamic government calling itself the Caliphate and laying claim to all seventeen thousand islands, as well as the territory of Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei, East Timor, Papua New Guinea, Bougainville, and, for good measure, northern Australia. Nonbelievers were not welcome. The spiritual leader of the Caliphate, Mullah Ibn Abbas, had proclaimed this as the will of Allah.

The Eighty-second Marine Expeditionary Unit begged to differ. And on the hangar deck of the USS Kandahar, a Baghdad-class littoral assault ship, they were preparing a full and frank rebuttal.

The hangar was a vast, echoing space. Two full decks high and running nearly a third of the length of the slab-sided vessel, it still seemed crowded, packed tight with most of the Eighty-second's air wing-a small air force in its own right consisting of a dozen Ospreys, four aging Super Stallions, two reconditioned command Hueys, eight Sea Comanche gunships, and half a dozen Super Harriers.

The Harriers and Super Stallions had been moved onto the "roof"-the flight deck, thus allowing the ground combat element of the Eighty-second MEU to colonize the space that had been opened up. The GCE was formally known as the Third Battalion of the Ninth Regiment, Fifth Marine Division. It was also known as the Lonesome Dead, after their passably famous CO, Colonel J. Lonesome Jones.

Not all of 3 Batt were embarked upon the Kandahar. The battalion topped out at more than twelve hundred men and women, and some of their number had to be berthed elsewhere in the three ships that were carrying the Eighty-second into harm's way. The USS Providence, a Harper's Ferry-class amphibious landing dockship (LSD), took the battalion's four Abrams tanks, a rifle company, and the amphibious assault vehicle platoon. The Kennebunkport, a venerable LPD 12, carried the recon platoon, the regiment's Humvees, two more Hueys, the drone platoon, and the Navy SEAL team that would be providing security to the Eighty-second during their cruise through the archipelago.

Even as Adil unwrapped his rice cake and squinted into the blue expanse of the Wetar Strait a six-man detachment from the SEAL team was unpacking their gear on the hangar deck of the Kandahar, where they were getting set to train the men of C Company, 3 Batt.

Charlie Company doubled as Colonel Jones's cliff assault and small boat raiding squadron, and the SEALs had come to acquaint them with a new toy: the G4, a lightweight assault rifle that fired strips of caseless ceramic ammunition and programmable 30mm grenades. It was to become standard equipment throughout the U.S. armed forces within twelve months. The marines, however, were always at the bottom of the food chain, and would probably have waited two years before they laid hands on these toys. But the battalion logistics officer, Lieutenant Colonel Nancy Viviani, was an inventive and talented S4. As always, Viviani was determined that the battalion should have the very best equipment other people's money could buy.

Not that long ago she would have been known as a scavenger, a scrounger, and would have done her job under the cover of darkness with a pair of wire cutters and a fast getaway jeep. She would have been a man, too, of course. But Lieutenant Colonel Viviani carried two master's degrees into combat, one of them an MBA from the London School of Economics, and the graduates of that august institution didn't stoop to anything so crude as petty theft. Not when they could play the Pentagon's fantastically complex supply programs like an antique violin.

Six and a half hours of extracurricular keyboard time had been enough to release a shipment of G4s from pre-positioned supply vessels in Darwin. Viviani's genius was in making the process appear entirely legitimate. Had the Senate Armed Forces Committee itself spent a year inspecting her electronic audit trail, it would have found everything in order with absolutely nothing linking the G4 shipment to the loss of a similar supply package scheduled for delivery to an army public relations unit.

"This is the Remington G-four," CPO Vincente Rogas barked at the members of C Company. "By the end of today's lecture you will be familiar with the procedure for maintaining this weapon in the field." It sounded more like a threat than a promise.

"The G-four is the first solid-state infantry weapon," he bellowed. "It has very few moving parts."

A slight murmur passed through the tight knot of marines. They were familiar with the weapons specs, having intensively trained with them back in the United States. But still, it was a hell of a thing to wrap your head around.

"And this is the standard battle load." His audience stared at the long thin strip of ceramic munitions like children at their first magic show. "The ammo strip is placed in the barrel like this. An electrical charge ignites the propellant casing, driving the slug out with such velocity that, even with a three-round burst, you will feel no kickback-at least not before the volley leaves the muzzle.

"Tomorrow, when we move ashore to the range, each of you will be allotted three hundred rounds. I suggest very strongly that before then you take advantage of the full VR tutorial we've loaded into your training sets. The base software package is a standard Asian urban conflict scenario, but we've added modules specifically tailored for operations in Jakarta and Surabaya."

With deployment less than a fortnight away, similar scenes were being replayed throughout the U.S.-led Multinational Force accompanying the Kandahar. Twelve thousand very serious men and women drilled to the point of exhaustion. They were authorized by the UN Security Council to use whatever force was necessary to reestablish control of the capital, Jakarta, and to put an end to the mass murder of Indonesia's Chinese and Christian minorities. Everybody was preparing for a slaughter.

In the hundred-bed hospital of the Kandahar the Eighty-second's chief combat surgeon, Captain Margie Francois, supervised her team's reaction to a simulated missile strike on an armored hovercraft carrying a marine rifle company into a contested estuary.

Two thousand meters away, the French missile frigate Dessaix dueled with a pair of Raptors off the supercarrier USS Hillary Clinton.

In the other direction, three thousand meters to the west, two British trimaran stealth destroyers practiced their response to a successful strike by suicide bombers whose weapon of choice had been a high-speed rubber boat. Indeed, Captain Karen Halabi, who had been on the receiving end of just such an attack as a young ensign, drilled the crew of the HMS Trident so fiercely that in those few hours they were allowed to sleep, most dreamed of crazy men in speedboats laden with TNT.

JRV NAGOYA, 1046 HOURS, 15 JANUARY 2021

As diverse as these ships were, one still stood out. The Joint Research Vessel Nagoya was a purpose-built leviathan, constructed around the frame of an eighty-thousand-tonne liquid natural gas carrier. Her keel had been laid down in Korea, with the fit-out split between San Francisco and Tokyo, reflecting the multinational nature of her funding. She fit in with the sleek warships of the Multinational Force the way a hippo would with a school of swordfish.

Her presence was a function of the speed with which the crisis in Jakarta had developed. The USS Leyte Gulf, a stealth cruiser from the Clinton's battle group, had been riding shotgun over the Nagoya's sea trials in the benign waters off Western Australia. When the orders came down that the carrier and her battle group were to move immediately into the Wetar Strait the Nagoya had been left with no choice but to tag along until an escort could be assigned to shepherd her safely back to Hawaii. It was a situation nobody liked, least of all Professor Manning Pope, the leader of the Nagoya team.

Crouched over a console in his private quarters, Pope muttered under his breath as he hammered out yet another enraged e-mail directly to Admiral Tony Kevin, commander in chief, U.S. Pacific Command. It was the ninth such e-mail he had sent in forty-eight hours. Each had elicited a standardized reply, not from the admiral himself mind you, but from some trained monkey on his personal staff.

Pope typed, stabbing at the keys:

Need I remind you of the support this Project elicits at THE VERY HIGHEST LEVELS OF GOVERNMENT. I would not wish to be in your shoes, Admiral Kevin, when I explain to your superiors that we have gone over budget while being dragged into this pointless fiasco. The NAGOYA is a research vessel, not a warship, and we should have been allowed to continue our trials unmolested in the perfectly safe testing range off Perth. As small as they are, the Australian navy are more than capable of fending off any drunken fishermen who might have strayed too close.

Therefore I DEMAND that we be freed from this two-penny opera and allowed to return to our test schedule as originally planned. I await your earliest reply. And that means YOURS, Admiral Kevin. Not some junior baboon!

That'll put a rocket under his fat ass, thought Pope. Bureaucrats hate it when you threaten to go over their heads. It means they might actually have to stagger to their feet and do something for a change.

Spleen vented for the moment, he keyed into the vidlink that connected him with the Project control room. A Japanese man with a shock of unruly, thick black hair answered the hail.

"How do we look for a power-up this morning, Yoshi?" Pope asked. "I'm anxious to get back on schedule."

Standing at a long, curving bank of flatscreens Professor Yoshi Murayama, an unusually tall cosmic string theorist from Honshu, blew out his cheeks and shrugged. "I can't see why not from this end. We're just about finished entering the new data sets. We're good to go, except you know that Kolhammer won't like it."

"Kolhammer's a chickenshit," Pope said somewhat mournfully. "I really don't care what he thinks. He's not qualified to tell us what we can and cannot do. You are."

"Like I said," the Japanese Nobel winner responded. "I don't see a problem. Just a beautiful set of numbers."

"Of course." Pope nodded. "Everyone else feel the same?" he asked, raising his voice so that it projected into the room beyond Murayama. The space was surprisingly small for such a momentous undertaking, no bigger than a suburban living room really. Large glowing monitors shared the area with half a dozen senior Project researchers, each staffing a workstation.

His question caught them off-guard. Their boss enjoyed a hard-won reputation as a thoroughly unpleasant little prick with an amazingly rigid pole up his ass. A couple of them exchanged quick glances, but nobody said anything for a few moments until Barnes, their magnetic ram technician, ventured a reply.

"Well, it's not our fault we fell behind. But you can bet we'll get blamed if we don't hustle to catch up."

"Exactly!" Pope replied. "Let's prepare for a test run at point-zero-one efficiency. That should be enough to confirm a stabilized effect with the new figures. Are we all agreed?"

They were.

HMAS MORETON BAY, 1049 HOURS, 15 JANUARY 2021

Lieutenant Rachel Nguyen had slept six hours out of the last forty-eight. As the defensive systems operator of the troop cat Moreton Bay, she felt herself directly responsible for the lives of four hundred soldiers and thirty-two crewmembers. The Moreton Bay was a fat, soft, high-value target; so much more tempting for would-be martyrs or renegade Indonesian forces than the Clinton, or the Kandahar, or any of the escort vessels. The software for the catamaran's Metal Storm CIWS-Close-In Weapons System-had been twitching and freezing up ever since they'd loaded the update patches during the last refit in Sydney. Nguyen, at the tail end of a marathon hacking session, had just come to the conclusion she'd be better off trashing the updates and reverting to the old program.

She rubbed her eyes and swiveled her chair around to face Captain Sheehan. The ancient mariner seemed to read her mind.

"You want to dump the new system, Lieutenant?" he asked, even before she had a chance to speak.

Damn, she thought. How does he do that?

"I don't really want to, sir, but it's buggy as hell. The pods are just as likely to target us as any incoming."

Sheehan rubbed at his chin beneath the thick beard he had sported for as long as Nguyen had known him. "Okay," he agreed after a moment's thought. "Tell the Clinton we're going to take them offline for-how long to reload the old software?"

Nguyen shrugged. "A few minutes to deep-six the garbage code, five and a half to reload the classic. Say ten to be sure."

"Okay. Tell the Clinton we're taking the pods offline for fifteen minutes to change over the programming, so we'll need them to assign us extra cover through CBL. The Trident's closest, she'll do nicely."

"Thank you, sir," said Rachel, genuinely grateful to be released from the burden of hacking the software on her own.

Sheehan watched her closely for a moment longer, then turned to peer out through the tinted blast windows of the cat's bridge. The sea surface was nearly mirror still.

Nguyen worried that he might order her to stand down for a few hours. After all, they wouldn't be deploying for another two weeks, and they'd be in port as of this evening. But she'd never be able to sleep until she was sure the problem had been solved.

"How's your thesis going, Lieutenant?" he asked as she shut down the windows on the screen in front of her.

"I haven't really had time to work on it since we left Darwin, sir," she confessed. "But it's not due for three months. I should be right to finish it."

"Still comparing Haig and Westmoreland?"

"With reference to Phillip the Second," she added, "you know, sent the Armada, started the Eighty Years War, wrecked the Castilian Empire."

"No experience of the failure of his policy could shake his belief in its essential excellence," quoted Sheehan.

"You've read Tuchman?" she said.

"Many years ago, for my own dissertation," he nodded. "What was it she called Phillip?"

"The surpassing woodenhead of all sovereigns," said Nguyen.

Sheehan smiled in remembrance. "That's right, she did… Anyway, reload the software, then get some sleep." She started to protest, but the look on his face stopped her. "I don't want to see you back here for at least six hours."

JRV NAGOYA, 1156 HOURS, 15 JANUARY 2021

Morley and Dunne were hunkered down in front of the snack machine, trying for a casual look, but everything about them screamed conspiracy. They were fixated on a jumbo Snickers bar that had been half dislodged and was threatening to fall into the dispensing bin for free.

"You can rock the machine five degrees off the perpendicular," said Morley, who was overweight, out of shape, and physically incapable of doing any such thing. This wasn't the first jumbo candy bar he had encountered.

"Or we could just buy another Snickers," protested Dunne. "Then we'd get two for the price of one."

"Jeez, Sharon, you're such a narc. You won't boost a fucking freebie, but one word from Doctor Frankenstein back there and you'd sell out your own grandmother to make him happy. He's evil, I tells ya! E-e-e-e-e-v-i-l."

"Knock it off, dickhead," she hissed. Sharon Dunne was the youngest of Manning Pope's team, a Caltech graduate with a first-class thesis on quantum foam manipulation. She was also a far-distant descendant of the poet John Donne, and a goth lesbian with a hard-on for the oeuvre of Johnny Depp. As she contemplated the chocolate bar, she drummed her fingers on the snack machine. They were covered in black nail polish and chunky pewter death head rings.

"And anyway, Jonathon," she chided, "I didn't exactly see you stepping forward to make your big speech about how he's Meddling With Powers Beyond His Control."

At that Morley lost interest in the chocolate bar. He grimaced and whispered theatrically, "Yeah, well, I didn't fancy getting my head torn off again. Dude went ballistic when I pointed out that hole in his last solution. I thought he was gonna throw me over the side of the fucking boat."

They both glanced around the small canteen as though Pope might suddenly materialize, like Hannibal Lector with a knife and fork.

"Well, what's the worst that could happen?" Dunne countered. "We could brown out the fleet again. That was fun, really, watching Kolhammer tear Pope a new asshole. I'd pay good money to see something like that again."

"Yeah, or we could rip open the Hellmouth and let out all kinds of orcs and vampires and shit," said Morley.

"Oh, give it a rest, you geek. You know, the guys on the Manhattan Project thought there was a chance the first A-bomb would blow up the whole world, with a blast that would ignite the atmosphere, then just keep getting bigger and bigger. But it didn't, did it? It was never going to."

"Yeah, well, d'you ever read that story where they photographed the inside of a nuclear explosion?"

"Yeah, yeah, and they saw the face of Satan. It was cool. But they were looking in the wrong place. I've already seen the real Satan. His name is Pope, and he's going to cut off your dick and use it as a swizzle stick if we're late getting back for the test run."

"You're right. Of course you're right. Just let me get this Snickers bar."

ADMIRAL'S QUARTERS, USS HILLARY CLINTON, 1148 HOURS, 15 JANUARY 2021

Admiral Kolhammer's cheeks ached from the effort of maintaining the anodyne grin he had fixed in place. A reasonable man, he kept repeating to himself. I am a reasonable man.

"You would have to agree though, wouldn't you, Admiral…"

Kolhammer held up his hand. "No, I would not, Ms. Duffy."

The reporter smiled as she sucked the end of her pencil. She wore dark, wine-colored lipstick, and it accentuated the disconcerting gesture. "You don't even know what I was going to say," she protested mildly.

"I'm just saving you time by pointing out that I don't have to agree with whatever it is you're about to say," Kolhammer explained as equably as he could manage. Every time this woman confronted him, he felt as though he were trapped in a torture that never ended.

He was rarely able to enjoy the luxury suite that had been set aside for his quarters on the Clinton, and it irked him that this obnoxious woman was ruining the few minutes' break he'd taken today. He should have listened to Lieutenant Thieu, his PR officer. If he'd given her a few minutes on the flag bridge, Duffy would have been floundering in his natural environment, surrounded by his people and overwhelmed by the pace of activity. In contrast, the admiral's quarters were like a serviced apartment in an expensive hotel. No doubt she felt right at home here.

He resolved to be less generous in the future.

"Well," she continued, oblivious to his chagrin, "it doesn't take a master's in international relations to see that sending a white man's force to intervene in a religious civil war is a recipe for disaster. Regional governments like Malaysia may be desperate for the U.S. to deal with the Indonesian problem, but you would have to agree that they'd be reluctant to contribute their own forces. Especially since this action will be denounced throughout the Muslim world as another Christian crusade."

Still Kolhammer managed to keep the mask of civility in place. Clearly this woman was no fool. She had obviously done her research, and her line of questioning wasn't far from the hard truth he faced in trying to manage this first-rate clusterfuck of a mission.

"I'm afraid there are a number of holes in that argument, Ms. Duffy," he answered in a pleasant, level tone. "But most importantly, you seem to have mistaken me for the secretary of state. No doubt she would be happy to answer your question, but I'm afraid my job isn't to argue, analyze, or set our government's foreign policy; I simply do my best to see that it's carried out. Any first-year political science student would understand the distinction."

He allowed himself a slightly wolfish grin at that. To the reporter's credit, she didn't even blush.

"And are you equipped to carry out that policy, Admiral? This Multinational Force is a bit of a kludge, isn't it?"

He actually laughed. Once again she had given voice to his private thoughts, using the very words he would have used-if he had felt like putting a bullet into his career. He turned the moment of bleak amusement back on her.

"Ms. Duffy, I have the better part of a carrier battle group here, a Marine Expeditionary Unit, and some of the very best assets our friends and allies could pour into the breach at short notice. The Rising Jihad talk a mighty good game, but until now they've been terrorizing office workers and unarmed, illiterate peasants. I wish them the best of luck should they try it with us."

"But you're also facing renegade units of the Indonesian armed forces, are you not, and intervention by Beijing if the mass murder of the ethnic Chinese population continues?"

"Once again you're asking me to comment outside my area of responsibility. I can only remind you that the Chinese government fully supported the creation of this force and voted for it in the Security Council. And as for the TNI, yes, a number of units have gone over to the insurgency, but the majority of the Indonesian armed forces are standing with the legitimate, elected government. As a matter of fact, we have two Indonesian navy ships sailing with us. They will accompany the Multinational Force at every stage of this operation."

Duffy smiled as if at some private joke, further irritating Kolhammer. He suspected she was well aware of the Sutanto and the Nuku, and already knew that they were little better than state-sponsored pirates. But mercifully she chose not embarrass him over it.

"The majority of the Indonesian armed forces have simply melted away, though, haven't they?" she asked.

"Well, if that proves to be the case, they won't bear worrying about, will they, Ms. Duffy?" Kolhammer said as he pointedly looked at his watch.

"Just one last question, sir?"

"You don't have to call me sir, Ms. Duffy."

"Marvelous. Thank you, sir. Now about the civilian vessel you have with you…"

"The Nagoya."

"Yes. Can you tell me anything about its role in this operation?"

"It has none," he answered truthfully. "It's a research vessel that got caught up in the crisis. The Leyte Gulf, one of our Nemesis cruisers, was acting as security during the sea trials of some equipment aboard her-and before you ask, no, I can't discuss those in detail. I can tell you that it has something to do with ocean bed resource mapping. But they do have some very expensive toys on board, and the Nagoya had to transit waters infested by pirates to reach the proving grounds off Perth; hence the escort. Now that the Leyte Gulf has been assigned to this task force, we'll need to find somebody to chaperone the Nagoya. Then she'll be making her way back home. I understand New Zealand is sending a frigate for that very purpose."

Duffy sucked at her pencil again, affecting a look of deep thought. "Really? That's not what I hear."

"Well, why don't you ask the project's venture partners for an interview? I believe they're headquartered in New York. Not too far from your paper, in fact. I'm sure their shareholders would love the coverage-if you could convince your editor to run a piece on seabed mapping. I'll ask Lieutenant Thieu to zap you their contact details."

Kolhammer watched her interest curl up and die.

"No, that's all right, but thanks anyway," she said.

His smile was lit with genuine warmth for the first time. "Then we're done here. Now if you'll excuse me, Ms. Duffy, I really do have a full schedule."

The reporter thanked him and walked with him to the cabin door, where Lieutenant Thieu was waiting to escort her back to the Media Center. Like many civilians, she was quietly entranced by the military's Old World manners. At the Media Center Kolhammer bid her good-bye and carried on up to the flag bridge, where the Clinton's executive officer, Commander Mike Judge, was waiting for him.

"How'd it go, sir?" asked the softly spoken Texan, after the formalities of the admiral's arrival were completed.

"I shall never ignore a suggestion from Lieutenant Thieu again," he said, grinning ruefully. "Thank God that's over with. Now, is Captain Chandler joining us?"

"Sir, the captain regrets that he'll be delayed somewhat, though he hopes to be along shortly. The number three catapult is acting up again. Chandler has gone down to the flight deck to personally kick its butt and curse up a storm."

Kolhammer smiled at the image. The Clinton's CO had a notoriously combustible temper. It was distinctly possible he was doing just what Judge had suggested. But Kolhammer wasn't about to second-guess the carrier's captain. He was already too deeply mired in the political swamp to which Duffy had alluded during their interview. Indeed, a good part of each day was eaten up balancing the competing interests and agendas of the disparate forces under his command.

The Australians and the French, for instance, maintained an icy reserve with each other at best. This was due to the decision of France's new National Front government to renew and expand their nuclear test program in the Pacific. The relationship between the two governments had deteriorated so far that ambassadors had been recalled and billions of dollars' worth of trade sanctions were being declared. As professional as both navies were under normal circumstances, such a climate wasn't conducive to joint operations.

Meanwhile the Malaysian government had flip-flopped on three separate occasions, first committing to the Multinational Force, then withdrawing, then recommitting, and so on. Kolhammer had twice personally flown to Kuala Lumpur to seek assurance from the country's defense minister that Malaysia would meet its treaty obligations, only to land back on the Clinton to the news that they would do nothing of the sort.

And of course, there were the Indonesians. If his feuding allies and the feckless Malays were a pain in the ass, the Indonesians were a situation screaming out for radical butt surgery. He had them out of sight and out of mind for the moment, running submarine drills to the north. But he was going to have to bring them back into the fold sometime soon. The State Department weenies were insistent.

Kolhammer actually envied Guy Chandler for having gremlins in the number three catapult. If only his problems could be that simple.

"Right then, Commander," he said. "What do you have for me today?"

Judge consulted his flexipad with an apologetic air. "How'd you feel about a quick trip to the exotic and mysterious city of Kuala Lumpur, Admiral?"

"Oh, jeez," Kolhammer sighed.

Rosanna Natoli's eyes lit up as her friend reappeared at the door of the Clinton's Media Center.

"How'd it go with the Hammer?" she asked, using their favorite name for the fleet commander. It was not entirely respectful.

The New York Times feature writer rolled her eyes and replied in her best Sergeant Schulz, "I know nuffink! Naaarrffink!"

Natoli snorted. "And the mystery ship?"

Duffy shrugged. "Some corporate gig gone wrong. 'Seabed mapping,' he said. It was strange, though. Even though he made it seem routine, there was something about it that had him more excited than he was letting on. I tell you, boys and their toys. Speaking of which, you wanna go watch the bomb loaders work out? The cute ones are usually down in the gym about now."

"You fucking nympho."

JRV NAGOYA, 1233 HOURS, ZONE TIME: JANUARY 15, 2021

As the two reporters settled themselves onto exercise bikes in the Clinton's main gym, six senior Project researchers parked themselves in front of LG flatscreens and engaged the preliminary sequences required for a full-spectrum run on the Nagoya's Quad System. Manning Pope stared into the soft glow of the superthin display panel that lay directly in front of him. The screen was only 4mm thick, and it seemed as though the data was floating in space. Pope's head tilted slightly to one side as he tried to come at the dense matrix of symbols and numbers from a variety of different angles. After a few minutes of wagging this way and that, he pushed out his lower lip and turned to Murayama.

"At point-zero-one, I'm sure we can do this," he said, almost to himself.

Professor Murayama grunted an affirmation, but he wore an expression of concern. Still, if he had any doubts, he didn't voice them.

The Project was a seventy-nine-billion-dollar effort to field-test a number of basic assumptions about the feasibility of combining a heavy-ion collider, a quark-gluon plasma imploder, and a rotating photon splitter in order to transfer a nanonic explosive package from an originating point to a target destination without having to travel through the space that lay in between. It was, in essence, a teleporter. Just like in Star Trek, except that rather than moving hopelessly complex human beings across thousands of miles of space, it was designed to move a very small, very simple warhead directly into the mass of a selected target-such as the brain stem of Mullah Ibn Abbas.

In Manning Pope, DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, had retained the world's foremost expert on the engineering of spacetime foam, and set him working hard at the second great militarization of Einstein's theory of relativity. They also had an overweening egotist whose only real interest was in the opportunity the Project provided to spend other people's money on his personal obsession-FTL, faster-than-light travel.

Pope's incipient mania and a couple of breathtaking developments in quantum computing had moved the entire schedule onto the fast track. The senators currently overseeing the mission were understandably pleased. Their Japanese, British, and Russian counterparts were all likewise thrilled at the prospect of having an exciting new way to kill Chinese infantry and Taliban jihadis. And Pope had never felt the need to burden any of them with details concerning his research.

Now on the verge of proving his FTL theories, Pope seemed to hesitate.

A quick, stealthy look passed between Morley and Dunne, but neither said anything. They'd never seen Pope or Murayama look anything other than painfully arrogant, so this sudden change in character set off alarms. But nobody really cared what they thought. And anyway, this might be an opportunity for them to watch Kolhammer beating on the boss again, which was such an appealing thought that Morley had arranged to trap any incoming communications for covert storage on his own flexipad. If they blew circuits all over the fleet, like last time, Kolhammer would go postal for sure, and that sort of footage could keep a guy entertained for months on a long voyage.

As the Quad came online, each team member responded with a slightly increased heart rate, slightly shallower breathing, and a measurable change in galvanic skin response. They were all excited, no matter what their private qualms.

WETAR STRAIT, 1234 HOURS, 15 JANUARY 2021

While Pope's colleagues set to their preparations, maybe a dozen pairs of eyes throughout the entire task force were directly fixed on the giant scientific ship. Two sailors on the destroyer trimaran HMS Vanguard, enjoying a furtive cigarette to mark the end of their watch, speculated on the contents of the oversized megatanker. Neither guessed correctly.

The pilot of a Marine Corps F-35, climbing through five thousand meters above the task force, happened to cast her gaze down at the same moment, but the jet quickly slipped over the eight-hundred-meter length of the Nagoya, and she took in the four strange, bulbous pods on her deck without really registering. The pilot had clocked some serious hours during the last fortnight's exercises, and the sight of the Nagoya was entirely routine to her now.

A bored fourth officer on the bridge of the Japanese Nemesis cruiser Siranui trained a pair of vintage binoculars on the distant form of their mystery guest, but his thoughts were mostly back home where he was certain his two girlfriends must have discovered each other by now, given his ill-advised decision to start banging a couple of Office Ladies dorming on the same floor of the same singles complex.

Throughout the rest of the task force a small number of sysops routinely scanning the threat bubble scoped out the "ghost ship," probing her annoyingly effective electronic defenses with low-grade scans, looking to pierce the black hole that enveloped her. The temporary community of task force Elint operators were agreed that a fully amped blast from a Nemesis array would strip her naked. But of course they weren't allowed to do that, so during rare moments of downtime they dicked around with low-power blinkscans, feeling out the Nagoya's electronic perimeter.

After the infamous brownout, Commander Judge had quietly and deniably encouraged such unlicensed shenanigans. Had he known what was coming, though, he would have junked his career and ordered all of the group's Nemesis arrays tuned in and burning bright, 24/7. But nothing had even remotely suggested that things were about to unravel aboard the Joint Research Vessel.

PROJECT CONTROL, JRV NAGOYA, ZONE TIME: 1235 HOURS, JANUARY 15, 2021

Pope seated himself at the command deck of the control room. With little to do as his underlings worked their consoles, he was able to sit back and savor the moment, to drink it in as a curiously loose feeling crept over him.

He almost smiled. If he'd been wearing slippers he might have kicked them off and put his feet up. Instead he sat rather regally in the center of things on a large leather swivel chair that Morley and Dunne called "the Kirk." The lighting was dim. The monitors threw off just enough light to read a book and anyway, he thought, there was something about the moment that lent itself to a bit of dramatic staging. The only sound, besides Morley's labored breathing, was the deeply satisfying rapid-fire snapping of keys as the Project staffers entered Pope's revolutionary new data.

Having nothing to do at this point, he checked to make certain that the closed-circuit TV was recording the moment for posterity and arranged himself in a suitably commanding pose for the video.

"Ms. Dunne," he said quietly, causing her to jump in her chair.

"Yes, Professor," she replied, worried that he'd observed some grotesque fuckup in the settings she'd just entered.

"Relax, Dunne. Nothing to worry about, I merely thought that, as the youngest member of the team and of course, as a lady," he teased, "we might give you the honor of launching."

"Me?" She gaped as everyone turned to stare. "Me?"

"My word"-Pope grinned coldly-"they really do give away the degrees at Caltech these days, don't they. Yes, you. If everyone else is ready?"

Morley spun on his seat, ripped out a brief string of commands in his staccato, two-fingered typing style, then continued the spin to bring himself back to facing the group.

"Done deal!"

Pope just shook his head. "Young man," he said, "when generations yet unborn come to study this day, the greatest mystery won't be how we managed this grand achievement decades ahead of time, but rather how we managed it at all with a moron piloting the accelerator. Ms. Dunne?"

Still reeling, Sharon Dunne swiveled to face her large screen. She reached out and stroked it with one long, black-nailed finger. The image display cleared, then another tap brought up one giant icon. It had been a joke, actually, suggested by Morley. The Big Red Button That Doesn't Really Do Anything.

Dunne looked over her shoulder at Pope, who nodded. So she gave her colleagues a thumbs-up, then pressed the same digit to the screen.

Belying its name, the button went click.

The disaster was a few seconds unfolding. A coiled heavy-ion accelerator boosted two baskets of uranium nuclei to fantastic levels of energy before smashing the countercyclical beams head-on, very briefly re-creating the ten-trillion-degree environment that had existed roughly one microsecond after the Big Bang. Protons and neutrons were annihilated, breaking down into a superenergized blob of quark-gluon plasma.

The team watched a schematic representation of the process on their personal view screens, direct exposure being out of the question. Murayama, the creator of the imploder that sucked up the plasma in the next phase, nodded briefly as the amorphous energy cloud was instantly metacompressed by explosive magnetic rams.

The process temperature soared by a factor of 1019, reaching the fabled Planck's constant as the quark-gluon bubble imploded to a sphere with a density of ten trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion kilograms per cubic meter. Indeed, it was so dense that Pope and his crew had just created the first synthetic wormhole, an insanely impressive achievement, worthy of Nobels for all.

But it was only a job half done. Pope felt his heart beginning to race as his own unique contribution came online, a Casimir Inflator that set the wormhole spinning at a fractionally sublight speed before firing an array of high-powered lasers into its maw, to push the throat out before it could collapse inward.

"Firing up the disco ball!" Morley called out as a ring of perfectly reflective mirrors began to rotate at two million rpm. Two hundred and thirty meters away dozens of beams of coherent light skewered into the mirrors, striking them at a shallow angle that reflected the negative beam pulses half a degree away from their paired positives. The negatives were shunted down a cavity resonator and into the mouth of the wormhole. The nanoscale hole sucked in the lasers, as expected. It inflated, also as expected.

To this point everything had gone as predicted.

And then the process went native, swallowing the chamber that was meant to contain it, sucking in energy like Poe's maelstrom and "spaghettifying" the very matter that had given it birth, stretching and eating the world all around. Inflation took place instantaneously, the gross tonnage of the Nagoya being drawn into the throat like taffy, snuffing out the lives of the only people who possessed any chance of reversing the process, or even explaining it.

Manning Pope died, smiling and unaware.

Pope's wormhole, which should have stabilized at three microns in diameter, instead blew out into a swirling lens of elemental colors fifteen thousand meters across before dissipating just as quickly. In that brief period, however, it punched through the veil separating two universes.

HMAS MORETON BAY, 1235 HOURS, 15 JANUARY 2021

"Some people," muttered Rachel Nguyen, "really get the shit end of the stick."

She was staring at a flexipad image showing a CNN report out of the Indonesian Exclusion Zone. A woman's yellowed eyes burned back at her from within a sunken, malnourished face, imploring her to do something, anything, to save her children from famine and disease. But she and they were almost certainly two years' dead by now.

Rachel thumbed the corner of the screen, shutting down the link and pushing the thin pad across the scarred mess table, out of reach and beyond temptation. The lights in the mess flickered briefly, then returned to normal a few moments later.

She couldn't justify putting off her thesis any longer. The boss had ordered her to catch some sleep but she just couldn't, not with a deadline coming. So she drained the last of her coffee and considered hassling the cook for one of the muffins she could smell baking in the galley.

No, that would probably cost her ten minutes in conversation, and definitely an extra quarter hour in the gym. Cooky had a wicked way with a mixing spoon. Glancing up, she nodded to a lone sergeant a few tables away, who caught her eye as he savaged an impossibly large plate of sausages. Rachel quickly ducked her head back to her notes, breaking eye contact, but she needn't have worried. The old soldier only had eyes for his food.

The mess lights guttered again. She had time to wonder why before the world turned black, and she disappeared forever.

USS KANDAHAR, 1235 HOURS, 15 JANUARY 2021

Colonel J. Lonesome Jones willingly gave in to temptation and enjoyed a leftover breakfast muffin with his espresso. At the age of forty-three, the boss hog of the Eighty-second MEU boasted a middleweight boxer's physique, a shaved head he could forge horseshoes on, and an air of casual menace he had learned to turn on and off at will-a skill he had perfected as a kid in the Chicago projects.

Yeah, he could have a goddamn muffin if he felt like one.

As he lingered over the last minutes of a short break in the officers' mess of USS Kandahar, Jones watched an immensely satisfying flexipad vid of his beloved Bulls stomping the shit out of the hopelessly outclassed Knicks. These few minutes of real life he allowed himself each day were sacrosanct.

So it was that two young marine officers who entered the mess made their way as quietly as possible to the far side of the room. There they placed an order with the steward for a round of burgers and fries. They filled mugs of standard-issue instant coffee from a quietly bubbling urn, lest the hissing of the espresso machine distract the old man and lead to an unwelcome round of ferocious ass-chewage. Second Lieutenants Henry Chen and Biff Hannon were keenly aware of the colonel's reputation, both of them from firsthand experience.

Consequently both men nibbled quietly at their burgers like communion wafers, all the while maintaining a very low profile.

Jones was aware of them but didn't attend to their presence until he had disposed of the sports downloads, the local Chicago news, and the global updates, in that order. When his free time was up he stood, stretched, and slipped into character.

"Good morning gentlemen," he purred, turning on his two officers and frowning at their fatty meals. "You're training with the SAS again today?"

They both nodded. "Sir."

"Well, I hope you're not going to allow those sneaky bastards to kick your asses quite so badly this time."

Both men bristled.

"We've worked up a few surprises, Colonel," Chen quickly assured him.

"Surprises? That's good," Jones said, deadpanning the pair. "Because I was very disappointed that anyone could get the better of one of my units, get close enough in fact to light up the farts of the officer in charge."

The color drained out of their faces as they regarded his fixed, humorless stare. Jones paused without speaking, knowing his silence would be infinitely more effective. Eventually, a blushing Lieutenant Hannon stammered something about not letting it happen again. Jones let his stone face rest on the young officer for a moment, then softened it some. Just a touch.

"But it will, son," he said. "It'll happen again today. They'll come upon you no matter what snares you lay in their path, and they'll have their evil way with you. Do you know why?"

Neither man spoke. They simply shook their heads.

As Jones leaned in toward his young charges, the lights in the room dipped for a moment. Damn, almost like I staged it, he thought.

"They'll make you their bitches because they can," he said softly. "I've served with some of those men. They're older than you in ways you can't even imagine. They've fought their whole lives. They've been making war while you have merely been preparing for war, pretending at war."

The lights surged up to full power again and he leaned back, rolling with the moment. "I don't really expect you to win today, gentlemen," he continued, outwardly somber. "You'd make your old man very happy if you did, of course. But I do expect you to improve. Dramatically. I expect you to learn from your training. And I expect that training to be carried out as though you are at war-and not just pretending. Because at war is where we may be, very soon."

"You think the Chinese will move in, sir?" Chen asked in a paper-thin attempt to deflect the old man's attention.

"I don't know what the Chinese will do, Lieutenant. But I'll prepare for the worst, and dare the good Lord to disappoint me," he said.

A fraction of a second later a pure, obsidian blackness swallowed them whole.

HMAS HAVOC, 1235 HOURS, 15 JANUARY 2021

Captain Harry Windsor was growing used to the relatively spacious surroundings of the submarine. She was a monster, stealthy and huge, kitted out to operate far from home, and for months at a time. Indeed, her clean fusion drive meant that were it not for the need to re-arm the torpedo bays and refill the galley, the Havoc could stay out indefinitely. The Aussies told him there had been even more room before a refit had crammed a bunch of cruise missiles into their video lounge.

Oh well, he thought. Things have gone pear-shaped all over.

He was just happy to have enough space to work through an abbreviated series of kata before a scrub-down and a feed. He could hear St. Clair rustling around behind him, making a god-awful racket, looking for Christ knows what.

Temper, temper. He was beginning to sound more like his grandfather-a famously cranky old bugger, as he recalled fondly.

Resettling his thoughts, he worked through a full suite of atemi waza, striking techniques from the Danzan jujitsu ryu. After a quarter hour during which the world contracted to the small circle in which he moved, he forced one last, great breath out from deep within his hara, bowed to the memory of his sensei and the spirits of the ryu, and cast around for Viv, who had disappeared.

Harry squeezed himself into the cramped unisex shower, washed quickly, and changed into a T-shirt and sweats. It would be a few more hours before the night's exercise began, and there was no point sitting around in his kit. He made his way through to the mess and found Sergeant St. Clair taunting an Australian submariner. They were discussing the chances of the locals rescuing the final cricket test of the 2021 series under the dome in Sydney. How sweet it is, thought Harry, to finally have a first eleven worth following after decades of humiliation. And that England's cricket revival should actually come Downunder… well, that was the sweetest victory of all.

"Guvnor, this idiot is offering two to one against our boys in Sydney," cried St. Clair. "True, it's only Australian money, but I think we're morally bound to relieve him of it anyway."

The Australian, an engineer at the end of his watch, grinned at Windsor like a hungry shark. "If your lordship would care to back his loyal subjects?"

God, but they do take the piss, Harry thought, as the lights dipped and the cook began cursing at his microwave oven. A short time later the lights returned to normal.

"Right, then," said Harry Windsor, old boy of Eton, captain of His Majesty's Special Air Service Regiment, and third in line to the British throne. "Let's see the color of your money, mate."

The engineer waved over a female petty officer to hold the bets. Carrying a mug of tea, she gave the young warrior prince twenty-five thousand watts of her smile as she bore down on him.

But before she could witness the bet, or make a move on His Studliness, the infinite dark consumed them all.

EAST TIMOR, ZONE TIME: 1238 HOURS, JANUARY 15, 2021

"Allahu akbar! Allahu akbar!"

Adil hammered out the ancient phrase, part supplication and part plea for the mercy of Almighty God, as he lay prostrate in the dust.

All around him the scrub was alive with screeching, panicking animals desperately attempting to flee the giant, swirling tsunami of light. It had filled the sky, perhaps the whole world, for just a second, but the afterimage would remain with Adil until he was old and wizened. Village children would gather at his feet decades from now, begging to be told the story of how Allah himself had cast the crusaders down into Hell.

He fumbled for the canvas pack that held the laser transmitter, still imploring God's mercy. His hands trembled so much he dropped the small device four times before regaining some measure of control over his actions.

As his senses returned to him, he begged God not to punish His unworthy servant for ever doubting the wisdom of pegging him out on the side of a barren hill. What a foolish, pitiable creature he must have seemed, whining to himself about the injustice of his assignment, when all the time he was fated to bear witness to… to…

What?

Adil paused. What was that thing? A crusader weapon, perhaps?

His heart lurched and he dropped the transmitter, scrabbling in the bag for his powered binoculars. He threw them up to his face so quickly he nearly broke his own nose. He held his breath for ten, fifteen, twenty seconds as he scoured the horizon. Strange, there was no heat haze now, to shroud the fleet. And his German-made field glasses were first class, with excellent G-shock dampeners that quickly compensated for the tremors that continued shaking his whole frame.

The Americans, all of the infidels, were gone. Only one large, burning piece of wreckage remained. The bow of a ship by its appearance. The crusaders had been vanquished by a miracle! And he, a simple carpenter, had seen the very hand of God as it swept them into the seventh level of Hell. He let out his pent-up breath in a rush.

He returned to his small pack and searched again for the transmitter to send word of his vision to Jakarta, when his training finally asserted itself. Down in the town of Dili, crusaders were spilling out on to the street like cockroaches. They, too, knew something cataclysmic had happened, and in the next few minutes they would fill the air with their electronic spiders. There was a good chance they would send armed men into the hills and fields, as well. They were thorough, the crusaders. He had to concede that about them.

Drawing in a few long, deep breaths, pausing to collect his thoughts and further settle his nerves, Adil decided he had best wait for a safer moment. Only a fool would draw a nest of angry wasps upon himself. He had valuable information now, something the Caliph would certainly want to hear in person.

Allah be praised, who would have imagined that he would find himself standing before the liberator of the Caliphate? Adil quickly gathered up the meager evidence of his stay and buried it all at the foot of the sandalwood tree where he had kept watch these last few days.

There was another cache of equipment hidden near Los Palos. He would make his way there, resuming the demeanor of a starving refugee, walking the land and looking for food, shelter, and sanctuary from the Rising Jihad. He smiled at that last thought as he straightened up, stretched, and moved off down the slope, glancing back over his shoulder every now and then, to the place of the blessed miracle.

2

USS ENTERPRISE. TASK FORCE SIXTEEN. 210 NM, NNE MIDWAY ISLAND. 2239 HOURS, 2 JUNE 1942

At least he didn't have to drink the admiral's terrible coffee.

Admittedly, it wasn't much fun stamping back and forth along the empty flight deck at night, either. For the first days of June, this was miserable weather in the northwest Pacific. With the fog so cold and dense and rain sleeting in sideways, it was enough to make Lieutenant Commander Daniel Black long for the South Pacific, where temperatures belowdecks could climb to well over a hundred and touching the exposed metal topside raised painful burn blisters. But Black could take a little exposure, as long as it meant he didn't have to stomach another cup of that goddamn poison green java Admiral Raymond Spruance insisted on grinding for himself every morning.

Black, a big rawboned copper miner in his former life, was Spruance's assistant ops chief in this one. He jammed his hands deep into the pockets of his old leather flying coat and turned out of the wind as they reached the safety lights surrounding the first aircraft elevator. There had been a freak accident there just a few days ago, when Ensign Willie P. West and Lieutenant "Dusty" Kleiss were strolling the same path. Neither had heard the elevator warning signal, and West had stepped abruptly off into empty space. Kleiss found himself teetering on the edge of a gaping hole, and it took him a moment to regain his balance. Having done so, he peered over, expecting to find his friend lying in a crumpled heap.

Instead he found West smiling and waving from thirty feet below. He had landed on the elevator just as it started its descent, and said the sensation was like "landing on a feather bed."

Commander Black didn't feel like repeating the stunt and gave himself plenty of time to turn around. Admiral Spruance veered away, too, his black leather shoes squeaking on the wet deck. It was a small thing in a way, a pair of black shoes, not really worth noting. Except that they shouldn't have been here on a flattop. William "Bull" Halsey, the man who would have been in charge of the Enterprise, if he wasn't trapped in his sickbed back at Pearl, would have worn brown shoes, because he was a flier, not a cruiser jockey. And Halsey wouldn't have needed to constantly pound the flight deck with his officers, picking their brains about flight operations and the basics of naval air power just days before they went into battle. Because Bull Halsey had been flying planes and driving carriers for years.

The men revered him, and with good reason. When Ensign Eversole had gotten lost in fog on the way to attack Wake Island, Halsey had turned around the entire task force, searched for and found the downed torpedo plane, then resumed the attack a day later. Everyone agreed it was a damn pity the old man was stuck back in Pearl. It meant they were steaming into battle at Midway against a superior foe, under a man with no expertise in carrier operations at all.

During a rare break in Spruance's relentless cross-examination, Black brought up something else that had been nagging at him since they'd set out. "It's a real shame about losing Don Lovelace."

The admiral, who was a quiet, self-contained man-so different from the booming, good-natured Halsey-took so long in replying that Commander Black wondered if he'd even been heard. The Enterprise was making nearly thirty knots, adding its speed to a light blustery crosswind, and it was possible a gust might have carried away his words. But, true to form, Spruance was just mulling over the statement before fashioning a reply.

"It's a blessing we've even got the Yorktown at all," he said.

That seemed harsh. Don Lovelace was the XO of Fighting 3, the Yorktown's squadron of twenty-five portly but rugged F-4F Wildcats. Or he had been, till another pilot had screwed up his landing and jumped the barrier the first afternoon out of Pearl, crashing into the plane ahead and killing one of the most experienced pilots in the whole task force. The Yorktown's VF3 was less a squadron than a pickup team, thrown together at the last moment before the big game. They'd never flown together, and for some this would be their first time on a carrier. Lovelace was supposed to have whipped them into shape.

"It still would have been good having Lovelace." Black shrugged. "Zeros are gonna eat those boys up. Chew us all up, given a chance."

"Jimmy Thach will knock them into shape," Spruance said. "Or close enough anyway. We have to cut the cloth to suit our budget, Commander. Pearl performed miracles getting the Yorktown ready in three days. I know the pilots are green, and their planes are no match for the Japs, but that doesn't matter. We have to beat them anyway."

Their return journey had brought them back to the ship's island superstructure, which offered some shelter against the wind that was blowing across the deck. The rise and fall of the swell was also much less evident here. The time was coming up on 2245. They would blow tubes in a few minutes, and the working day would end for most of the crew. Black was already dead tired. He had eaten breakfast at 0350.

In a few days, he knew, he'd just be dead. Or so exhausted as made no difference.

He wondered how Spruance did it. How he kept running like a windup toy, seemingly capable of absorbing every piece of minutiae and fitting it into his grand battle scheme. They'd been discussing the relative merits of the Zero and the Wildcat, massaging the comparisons, the Zero's greater range and maneuverability, the Wildcat's higher ceiling, the Zero's lack of armor, the Wildcat's steel plating and self-sealing fuel tanks. The admiral turned to him now, a rare, soft smile playing across his thin, severe features.

"Still worried that they might sucker punch us again at Pearl, Commander?"

This time it was Black who was quiet for a few seconds. At a special briefing in Spruance's cabin, earlier that day, he had asked the admiral what would happen if the Japs bypassed Midway and made straight for Hawaii, which lay open and defenseless. Spruance had stared at him for a full half minute before offering his reply-that he hoped they would not.

Black had been startled by that reply-and more than a little disturbed. Unless Spruance knew something his subordinates did not, he was relying heavily on faith-which Black considered a poor basis for strategic planning.

Now the admiral seemed on the verge of saying something more when an earsplitting crack knocked them both to the deck and left them gasping for breath. Black felt as though he'd been nailed by a jab to the guts.

The gusting wind that had been tugging at their clothes died down. It was curious, though-it didn't just drop off. It stopped dead. It almost seemed to Black as if it was "different air." That didn't make sense, he knew, but he couldn't shake the feeling. It smelled and tasted different, too; vaguely familiar in a way, earthier, heavier. Like air in the Tropics, which always seemed laden with the weight of rot and genesis.

The night had been very dark, with low cloud cover, no starlight, and banks of dense fog. Even so, Black had the distinct impression of being wrapped, however briefly, in a denser, closer form of darkness. A rush of unsettling, half-formed, almost preconscious abstractions clawed at him. He had the sensation of being trapped in a tight, closed space, what he imagined it would feel like to be stuck in a downed plane as it sank in thousands of fathoms of black water.

Then they both became aware of a rising clamor of shouts and cries, coming from above. Lookouts in the superstructure, up on Vulture's Row, were screaming and gesturing wildly down to the sea on the starboard side.

"I think somebody's gone overboard," coughed Black, still struggling for breath.

"Come on," Spruance said, with some difficulty.

They hurried forward, around the base of the island and the antiaircraft mounts, only to be confronted by a sight that stopped them cold.

"Holy shit," said Black.

There, less than a hundred yards away, lay a ship of some sort. A foreign vessel for sure, completely alien, its bow was angled away from the Enterprise, opening up a gap as they plowed through the foaming breakers. She was lit well enough that they could make out her strange lines. The decks of the vessel were mostly clear. There was an island of sorts, but it was located squarely in the center of what would have been the runway. It was raked back, like a shark's fin, with no hard edges visible anywhere on its surface. Only one line of windows was visible, within which he could make out strange glowing colors and lights, but no people.

As his mind adjusted to the outrage, he began to take in more detail. The forward decks seemed to be pockmarked with the outlines of elevators, but they were ridiculously small, each no more than a few yards across. There was one small gun emplacement, a ludicrous-looking little cannon, with the same strange, raked contours as the bridge. As the angle of divergence increased and the warship pulled away from them, Spruance pointed to the outline of what had to be an aircraft elevator down toward the stern. But it made no sense. Any plane attempting to take off there would crash into the bizarre-looking island on the vessel's centerline.

"Oh, Lord," muttered Spruance, as the ship peeled away at nearly thirty degrees now, exposing her stern to their gaze. A Japanese ensign flew there. Not a Rising Sun, to be sure, but a red circle on a field of white.

The name printed beneath read SIRANUI, Japanese for "unknown fires," if Black recalled correctly. He was aware of a Kagero-class destroyer just so named, which had been launched in June 1938. This thing, however, which was easily more than half the length of the Enterprise, was no Kagero-class bucket. It looked like something out of Buck Rogers.

"What the hell is that thing?" asked Black, in the tone of voice he might have used if he'd seen a large, two-headed dog.

"I'm not sure what it is," Spruance replied, regaining his composure, "but I know who it is. Better put on your Sunday best, Commander. I think our guests have arrived early."

As the mystery ship quietly slipped into the night, a Klaxon aboard the Enterprise sounded the alarm.

And then, the horizon exploded.

Suddenly they were beset by madness on all sides. To starboard, the eerie Nipponese ghost ship receded into darkness. To port, there was a volcanic eruption about ten miles distant. It was a few seconds before the thunder reached their ears, but they could see clearly enough what was happening as the light of the explosion was trapped between a heaving sea and the thick, scudding clouds that pressed down from above.

Black shook his head, determined to remain calm. But as his eyes darted to and fro across the surface of the ocean, his mind was insulted by the monstrous visions they encountered there.

In the flat, guttering light of the distant inferno Black could see more enemy vessels, none that he recognized, most of them freakish cousins to the thing that had just peeled away from the Enterprise. There was one ship-maybe a thousand yards distant-well, he simply refused to believe his own eyes. As it crested a long rolling line of swell he could have sworn the thing had two, maybe even three hulls. It was difficult to be sure under these conditions, but he simply could not shake the afterimage. It was either a ship with three hulls, or three ships somehow joined and operating in perfect harmony.

And randomly scattered on the crucible of the seas all around them were more products of the same Stygian foundry. Over there, he was certain, there was another double-hulled monstrosity, bursting through a black wall of water. To the north lay more ships like the beast that had sidled up to them before. And there, way off the port bow, were two flattops, both of them large enough to be fleet carriers. One was a real behemoth.

"Commander!"

Black was shocked out of his reverie by the harsh call.

"We've got work to do, Commander," Spruance barked. "A hell of a job, too, unless you want your grandchildren eating raw fish and rice balls."

Bells rang and Klaxons blared. Thousands of feet hammered on steel plating as men rushed to their stations on nearly two dozen warships.

The first gun to fire was a 20mm Oerlikon on the Portland. It pumped a snaking line of tracer in exactly the wrong direction. Forty-millimeter Bofors, pom-poms, and dozens of five-inch batteries soon joined it, until a whole quadrant of the sky seethed with gunfire.

Spruance and Black raced up to the bridge, tugging on helmets and vests, as the big guns of the Midway Task Force began to boom. Huge muzzle flashes from eight-inch batteries lit up the night with a chaotic, strobe effect. The bridge was in an uproar with a dozen different voices calling out reports, barking questions, and demanding answers where-as yet-there were none.

"Get the bombers away, as quickly as possible," Spruance ordered.

"VB-six is ready to roll, sir."

"Coming around to two-two-three."

The plating beneath their feet began to pitch as the big carrier swung into the wind. Black could only hope that none of their destroyer escorts would be run down by the unexpected course correction. This is insane, he thought, dogfighting with twenty-thousand-ton ships. He braced himself against a chart table in a corner of the bridge, and tried to make sense of the chaos around them. There were hundreds of guns firing without any sort of coordination. They were going to start destroying their own ships very quickly if that went on.

As soon as the thought occurred to him, it happened. The cruiser New Orleans attempted a ragged broadside at that spectral Japanese ship that had just "appeared" to starboard, a few minutes earlier. The volley completely missed its target, but at least two shells slammed into an American destroyer a few hundred yards beyond. Black cursed as the little ship exploded in flames.

"We're going to need better gunnery control," he yelled at Spruance. "I'll get on it."

The admiral turned away from the sailor he had been addressing and nodded brusquely. Black charged back out of the bridge, heading for the radio room.

USS HAMMAN, TASK FORCE SEVENTEEN, 2243 HOURS, 2 JUNE 1942

The Sims-class destroyer Hamman was nearly swamped by the wave that surged out from the giant ship that suddenly appeared eighty yards away, as if from nowhere. The men on the bridge, who had all gasped at her arrival, now groaned like passengers on a roller coaster as their vessel yawed over and threatened to roll down the face of the wave. As the Hamman finally swung back through the pendulum to right herself, the officer of the watch, Lieutenant (junior grade) Veni Armanno, was tossed bodily through the air and into the solid casing that housed the ship's compass, dislocating his shoulder. He swore through the tornado of pain that blew through his upper body, and wrestled himself back to his feet with his one good hand.

"You all right, sir?" someone asked.

"Doesn't matter," he said. "Sound to general quarters. Get the captain up here now. Radio the Yorktown and find out what's happening."

"Lieutenant," called out a petty officer from the radio shack. "We've just had a message from the Enterprise, sir. It's the Japs…"

Armanno couldn't make out the next words. They were lost in the volly of curses from the bridge crew.

"Put a sock in it!" he said loudly.

Gesturing insistently, the petty officer announced an order that had come from task force command.

"We're to engage the enemy, sir."

"Captain True's been injured sir," reported another seaman. "Lieutenant Earls is on his way."

Wish he'd get here, thought Armanno. "Get me the gunnery officer," he ordered. "We haven't got much, but let's give her everything we do have. Helm, put another four hundred yards between that thing and us. We'll stick some torpedoes into her, see how she likes that."

The deck began to tilt again as the destroyer came around on her new heading, plunging into a hectic, crosshatched swell. Armanno felt dizzy with the pain in his shoulder. He desperately wanted to crawl outside and prop himself up against a bulkhead until the ship's surgeon could tend to him, but the vast, iron mountain of the enemy ship-Where in hell did it come from-nailed him in place.

"Guns ready, sir."

Armanno didn't hesitate.

"Fire!"

All four of the ship's five-inch mounts roared as one. Good work, thought Armanno in a distant, abstract way.

Three blooms of dirty fire blossomed on the sheer steel wall of the target. One dud, Armanno thought as he heard the front and rear 20mm cannon open up, painting the walls of that towering fortress with whipping lines of tracer. A dazzling shower of sparks fell to the sea like fireflies, marking the impact of the tracers.

The men around him cheered as another brace of five-inch shells screamed across the short distance between them. All four exploded this time. Armanno was certain he could hear the steel rain of shrapnel on the Hamman's plating. He could feel his muscles tensing as he urged the ship's boilers to give them more steam. He needed to get far enough away to use the torpedo tubes. Their target had to be a Jap carrier, probably the Akagi, she was so damn big.

How the hell did she get here?

Doesn't matter, he told himself. They'd snuck up on them again. Just like at Pearl. But this time they'd been stupid enough to get into a street brawl with Veni Armanno. He might have grown up on an olive grove outside Santa Monica, but his blood was still Sicilian, and it boiled as quickly as anyone's from the old country.

"Pour it, boys!" he yelled into the speaker tube connecting the bridge to gunnery control. "Give 'em hell. Just a little bit longer and we'll be able to stick a few fish up Tojo's ass."

Armanno turned back to the fantastic scene that lay outside the blast windows, just as another salvo ripped into the side of the enemy carrier. It was like riding out a hurricane, minus the wind and rain. The whole of the ocean was lit with lightning flashes as hundreds of guns hammered at the Japs. Thunder rolled over them constantly, and the sea was thick with erupting geysers of foam and water, illuminated from within by the explosions that raised them.

"Lookit that fuggin' thing would you," yelled a voice thickened by years of smoking.

Armanno grabbed a pair of binoculars and followed the seaman's pointing finger. The world was even more confused and unstable when viewed through the glasses. They emphasized every movement of the violently pitching destroyer. Still, he managed to catch a few short glimpses of a ship that reminded him of a giant manta ray slipping across the surface of the ocean. It was hard to tell, being thrown about so much, but there didn't appear to be any guns on the deck. He wedged in tighter against the corner of the bridge and tried to keep the sleek, alien shape steady within the field of the glasses. The twinned lens circles shuddered as the Hamman's two forward turrets coughed long spears of flame and smoke into the night again.

The Japs weren't firing at all, at least not that he could make out.

"What the hell is this?" Armanno asked himself.

"Lieutenant, we're coming up on range for the torpedo launch."

"Okay," he said, dragging his attention back to the mammoth carrier, which was still blotting out half the sky. It was weird, the way the Japs just weren't fighting back. Not a single round came from anywhere along its flank.

Maybe they haven't seen us, he told himself. Just as well.

"Arm the portside tubes," he called.

"Arm the portside tubes!"

"Torpedoes armed!"

"Torpedoes armed, Lieutenant."

Armanno waited half a second, expecting the executive officer or even the captain to appear. It seemed like a very long half second.

"Fire!" he called out, at last.

3

HMS TRIDENT, 2241 HOURS, 2 JUNE 1942

Captain Karen Halabi, commander of HMS Trident, had never seen anything like it before. It was like looking into a doll's house. For a few short moments, before the seas rushed in, the vessel's internal spaces were completely exposed, as though a vengeful deity had sliced off the bow with a knife, had made it vanish, like a profane magic trick.

She was certain that she was dreaming, and yet sure that she couldn't be. She had spilled a mug of hot coffee on her leg, and the pain had jolted her to her senses much faster than those around her. Her senses, however, had presented her with a nightmare.

She was slumped in her command chair, a giant burn blister already rising on her thigh. Around her the bridge crew were dead or unconscious. The bright light of the tropical day was gone, swallowed by an oily blackness. And four or five hundred meters away, on a collision course off her starboard bow, she could see the helicopter carrier HMS Fearless. It had been-well, lopped seemed the right word, almost. She was paralyzed, staring at a cutaway diagram as if from a children's book.

Except that the "diagram" was three-dimensional, and it was moving toward her. And the burn on her leg was real, and the feeling in her body was returning with a painful surge of pins and needles, the worst she had ever known. She realized, in the methodical part of her mind, that if she didn't put pedal to the metal they'd all be dead in less than a minute, when the carrier ran right over them.

She bit down on a gasp and willed her hand toward the touch screen. Halabi drew a deep breath and pushed through the exquisitely painful tingling, a sensation akin to a blast of white noise tearing at raw synapses. Not trusting her fingers, she struck repeatedly at the screen with the heel of her palm. The ship's Combat Intelligence, intuiting that its user had suffered some drastic battle wound, adjusted accordingly. The buttons on the screen grew larger, the choices more constrained, which was fine by her. All she wanted was another twenty knots.

A series of awkward blows to specific points on the screen drew more power off the fusion stacks and dumped it straight into the Trident's three Rolls-Royce aqua jets. The acceleration threw Halabi back into her chair. The ship's CI, alerted to the possibility of disaster, independently powered up a suite of sensors. On the screen before Halabi's eyes, Nemesis arrays began a full-power survey of the threat bubble, cataloging and prioritizing a list of potential menaces. It was a long list, but right at the top was the Fearless, closing from the northeast quarter.

The CI reviewed Halabi's actions and found them to be appropriate, but decided to fatten the margin for error. It released the codes for the trimaran's supercavitating system.

Below and just above the waterline thousands of pores opened in the radar-absorbent skin of the ship, releasing a bath of small bubbles, a foam of water vapor and air that surrounded the Trident's three hulls so perfectly that very little liquid water remained in contact with the ship. The effect was to reduce the viscous drag on her keels by 97 percent. The Trident surged forward again, carving through mist now rather than water. Her speed climbed quickly to 105 knots as three giant fantails of spray leapt from her stern.

The CI also began monitoring the data stream from the crewmembers' biochip implants, since it was likely that a percentage of them would have been injured by falls during the unannounced acceleration. It quickly drew the conclusion that the entire ship's complement had been struck down by a malady of unknown origin, and dispatched an instruction via shipnet. Based on the closest analog that could be found, the order was given to immediately dump.05ml of Promatil from the crewmembers' spinal inserts directly into their bloodstreams.

Slouched gracelessly at her command station, Captain Halabi felt the soothing warmth of a drug flush as it crawled up her spine. The unpleasant full-body burning sensation subsided, along with the associated dizziness and nausea.

Her officers and junior ranks began to stir and groan around her, but she was transfixed by the ghastly spectacle just outside her bridge window. It was definitely the Fearless. She was simply unable to imagine how it could have been damaged in such a catastrophic fashion.

The metal outline of the ship's cross section glowed as though white hot. Halabi could see the cavernous hangars high above, with aircraft and equipment already sliding toward the abyss as the ship tilted forward, scooping up water. To either side of the hangars small offices and wardrooms were visible, again reminding her of a doll's house with the front wall removed.

Halabi could clearly see human beings in some of those rooms, moving frantically, trying in vain to escape. She dimly recognized a painful hammering sensation as her heartbeat, but it seemed far away. She had friends on that ship, and any of them could be the anonymous stick figures desperately throwing themselves off the leading edge, plunging to their deaths. The terrible scene recalled images from her childhood of office workers falling through the air in New York, and later in London and Tokyo.

As her own ship passed squarely in front of the Fearless it seemed to lean toward her, as if trying to reach out and take her down, too. Her lips worked soundlessly, searching for words, but none came in the face of such horror. She could see a virtual tsunami already rolling down into the belly of the carrier.

At the Naval War College she had studied the sinking of an oceangoing ferry that had inexplicably left its bow doors open on a cross-channel run. A mountainous wall of water had poured in and surged toward the stern. The weight had actually lifted the bows out of the sea for a brief moment, but fluid dynamics demanded that the wave travel back when it hit the obstruction of the ferry's rear end, and so the pendulum had swung back and dug the bow even deeper into the ocean. Halabi imagined for a split second that this mammoth vessel might rear out of the waves and smash down on her in a similar fashion, but she quickly dismissed the speculation. The densely packed lower decks of such a ship would not permit the same free flow of water.

Darkness threatened to rush in on her again as the Trident cleared the impact zone and passed safely through to the far side, but with a deep breath she fought it off.

"Posh, can you link me to the CI on Fearless?" asked Halabi. "I need damage reports and vision."

The Trident's Combat Intelligence affirmed the request and four screens in front of Halabi winked into life, carrying video from the carrier. Halabi grimaced at the scenes of screaming casualties and blind panic.

Damage reports scrolled down another screen, too quickly to read, as the Fearless plunged on toward her doom, millions of liters of cold seawater roaring in through the gigantic sucking wound, destabilizing the vessel and generating a range of forces that her engineers had never contemplated. Halabi watched in horror as immense tonnages of water began to back up against the densely filled spaces of the lower decks, putting a brake on the ship's forward impetus.

Two Mercedes express boilers, delivering 320,000 horsepower to four shafts, pushed hard against the phenomenal resistance. Fearless began to slew around and tilt, causing the water already inside to shift sideways. It burst through aviation and ordnance stores on the third deck and into the airframe workshop. Under pressure, water even began to rise to the main deck, coursing into officers' quarters and the forward elevator pit. Roaring along both port and starboard passageways on the second deck, the torrent flooded electrical and radio stores, more officers' quarters and washrooms, and the crew's mess.

Halabi winced as millions of tonnes of icy-cold brine reached the boiler rooms and sluiced over and into the red-hot furnaces and a cataclysm ensued. The resulting explosion itself wasn't powerful enough to destroy the ship, or what remained of it, but it triggered an escalating series of secondary blasts, beginning in the armory on the third deck starboard side, ripping down into a missile store just forward of the drone control room, and from there into the giant avgas tanks.

HMS Fearless disintegrated in one titanic blast. Three-quarters of her mass disappeared in the blinding white flash, which could be seen ten kilometers away.

The Royal Navy trimaran Trident rode out the shock wave with little more than a rude jolting. She sat very low in the water, resting on three hulls and boasting of no superstructure other than a relatively small teardrop bridge, so the blast swept over the destroyer like a flood surge over a smooth pebble. The ship's CI made some course and speed changes, but mostly the Trident relied on her inherent design strengths to ride out the storm.

While her ship may have been little bothered by the spectacle, Halabi was stunned. There couldn't possibly be any survivors. Every man and woman aboard the Fearless had surely perished, atomized by the blast. Her mind reeled as it tried to find some semblance of reason for the disaster. What could do that to a ship? And who would do it? She had no immediate answer. But she did have her duty, and that was to fight back.

As her bridge crew began to recover, she repositioned herself in the command chair and reached out to the nearest touch screen. The Promatil dose had eased her illness, or the worst of it anyway, and she tapped out a few orders on the screen, resuming full control of the Trident. She left the Nemesis arrays collecting data at full power and delegated acute crisis management to the Intelligence.

"Permission to unsafe weapons, Captain Halabi?" the system's voice purred in her ear.

"Permission granted, Posh," she answered, placing her palm on the DNA reader in the chair's armrest. "Verification code Osprey Three Niner Lima Xray Tango Four."

"Code verified, Captain Halabi. Weapons hot."

The CI's voice was a flawless imitation of Lady Beckham's, a remnant of the previous ship's captain, who was-in Halabi's opinion-an emotionally arrested Yorkshireman with an unhealthy fixation on pre-Millennial pop culture. On taking command she had determined to reset the speech software to RN Standard. However, she had been made aware, subtly but swiftly, that the former pop princess was considered a much-loved member of the crew, and her deletion in favor of the bland, mid-Atlantic voice to which the CI defaulted would be considered akin to a death in the family. So Lady Beckham had stayed on as the voice of the Trident, and after eighteen months Halabi had secretly grown quite fond of her, too.

"Mr. McTeale," she said, addressing her XO, "are you in any shape to take the conn?"

The ropey Scotsman bit down on the bile that was threatening to rise past his gorge. "Aye, ma'am."

"Fine, then. I'm on my way to CIC. While in transit, I'll be online via shipnet. When I've resumed control from down there, shut up shop and join me. All hands below. The Fearless is gone. I think our holiday cruise is over. Guns are hot and the CI has Level One Autonomy. Any of the ship's crew who remain without Promatil inserts will need to be treated as quickly as possible. Please see to it that the surgeon is informed. Posh has the requisite dosages. IV, not dermal patches.

"We need everybody vertical ASAP. Sound to general quarters."

"Aye aye."

As the ship's alarms began to call her company to battle, Halabi limped out of the bridge through the light curtain and headed for the stairwell that led down into the Trident's central hull. Beneath her feet she could feel the vessel reach a standard cruising speed of thirty-five knots. The seas were running at one and a half meters on a three-meter swell, enough to impart a significant roll, even with the trimaran's inherent stability and wave-piercing form. It slowed Halabi's progress, but not drastically.

The hexagonal space of the Combat Center was bathed in a quiet blue light. It was unexpectedly soothing after the neural shock of the last few minutes. McTeale had proven himself as efficient as ever. Medics were shooting up a sysop with Promatil as Halabi entered. One approached her with that disapproving expression physicians have been perfecting for thousands of years.

"Begging your pardon, ma'am," he said. "But Commander McTeale informs me you have a serious burn on your leg-"

"I don't have time for gel, Andrews," she warned.

"Pain relief, then." The medic tapped the screen of his flexipad a few times, effectively ignoring the captain's objections. "Surgeon's orders, ma'am. He's authorized a local effect anesthetic pip."

Before Halabi could speak again, she felt the mild tingle of a spinal syrette spitting its dose, followed by the delicious warmth of an analgesic balm washing over the affected area.

It was only the second time in her career she'd experienced palliative intervention via spinal insert, but it confirmed the wisdom of prohibiting self-administration. Even with the greatest will in the world, if you had the option to hit yourself up with this stuff every morning, the temptation would be to never get out of bed.

"Thank you, Andrews," she said. "But that will be all. Please proceed with the treatment schedule. We're going to need all hands on station in the next few minutes."

"Aye, ma'am."

Halabi quickly surveyed the CIC. Twenty-two specialists were strapped into large, comfortable airline-style seats. Massive touch screen workstations hovered in front of them. The Trident's commander made her way directly to the supervising officer, Lieutenant Commander Howard, who was examining the holobloc with a fiercely censorious air.

"Well, Commander, what sort of a hellish mess have we got ourselves in now?"

"A right cock-up by the look of it, ma'am. Makes no sense at all. None. Have a gander for yourself. The Fearless is gone. We've detected just three survivors in the water. And the rest of the task force is scattered to buggery."

Floating inside was a three dimensional, positional hologram, a scaled-down real-time feed of the battlespace around the destroyer for a sixty-nautical-mile radius. The rest of the task force was represented by eerily realistic but oversized spectral miniatures that cut across a blue sea surface. A few centimeters below the rest floated the submarine HMAS Havoc. The Multinational Task Force, which should have been arrayed in an orderly fashion around the flattops Clinton and Kandahar, was instead scattered to hell and back.

She shook her head in frank amazement. Task force ships were making for all points of the compass. That, in its own way, was more unsettling than the sight of the doomed helicopter carrier had been.

More disturbing still were the dozen or more phantom vessels hopelessly mixed in among them. None of these registered any ID signal, and Posh hadn't been able to tag them with any designator hack other than Unidentified Vessel 01 through… Karen checked the readout on the data cube that was suspended above the hologram… UIV 24.

"My word, Commander. A cock-up indeed."

"Aye, Captain. Three carriers of some sort. Four heavy gun platforms. A couple of replenishment ships. And a swarm of littleuns. Destroyers or frigates, I suppose, but like nothing I've ever seen outside a museum. And we seem to have come up short a few friendlies. Besides Fearless, Vanguard is off the bloc. Dessaix is missing, the nukes and the Amanda Garrett, and those Indonesian tubs."

"Destroyed?"

"No way to tell. Just missing, ma'am. Without trace."

"Find them." Halabi pursed her lips for a second before casting an inquiry over her shoulder to a young lieutenant situated at a nearby station. "Elint, what are we getting from these Unidentified Vessels?"

The young sysop, a Jamaican Welsh woman of unusual beauty, was burning holes in the screen with her intense stare. "Not a lot of emcon, Captain. But then, there's not a lot of emission to control, by the look of it. We've been painted by radar once or twice, and it just slipped off the ram skin, but we collected a sample for analysis. It's primitive stuff. Almost Stone Age. A pirate barge can buy better off the shelf in Bangkok.

"Sigint are gathering a lot of uncoded, unscrambled, basic radio transmissions… English language… but uhm… pretty weird."

"Pretty weird is not good enough, Lieutenant. We're dying here. What exactly do you mean?"

The woman hid her chagrin well. "I mean weird, Captain. Unusual, unexplained. Beyond standard parameters. I can give you a raw sample if you wish."

"Do so."

The lieutenant's dark, slender fingers danced over a giant touch screen to her left, and the data cube's Bang amp; Olufsen speakers began to emit a harsh burst of static. It flared and faded as the signal intercept was washed clean of interference. Voices came through. Confused, loud, angry, scared. Most of the CIC crew were too deeply involved in their own stations to bother with the broadcast, but the intel sysops turned to listen, even though they could have taken the sound channel through individual headphones. They heard American voices, educated, military, and… something else.

Halabi focused on the audio stream, which seemed to have been acquired from the fire control facility of an unidentified vessel. The speaker was demanding to know what the hell he was shooting at, where they had come from. And he wanted to know if they were Japs. Halabi twirled an index finger and the lieutenant, Waverton, flipped into another channel.

A ship-to-ship transmission this time. The same burst of static subsided into quantum clear audio.

"Hamman, Hughes, and Morris to pick up survivors…"

"Hamman's engaged a Jap carrier… she's right on top of her. They could put a few fish in…"

"Russel or Gwin then…"

Halabi twirled her fingers again. Lieutenant Waverton ripped out a new line of instructions and another channel came up.

"… ayday, mayday. This is the Astoria. We have been rammed. We have been rammed…"

She snapped a finger now, apologizing at the same time. "You were right, Lieutenant. Weird is the best word for it.

"Where's the hologram feed coming from, Commander?" she went on, motioning for Waverton to cut the audio and turning back to the holobloc.

"We've lost a few of our task force resources, Captain. This is feeding from three drones at six thousand meters. Deep in the cloud cover. Posh is drawing on form memory to project some of the task force assets, and skin-sensors for the rest. The audio we're stealing ourselves, through the mast-mounted system and bridge skin."

Halabi was becoming acutely aware of how quickly things were unraveling around her.

"Mr. Howard, can we raise task force command?"

"No, ma'am. Channels are open and secure. CIs are in contact. But no human operators respond to hail. We've tried independent hails to each task force ship, all with the same result. We're on our own for the moment."

"They're out, just like we were," Halabi concluded. "Have Posh talk to the other CIs, send all the data we have about the illness, the bio-attack, or whatever it was, and details on the Promatil treatment. Boot up the Cooperative Battle Link with any surviving compatible assets."

She paused, arranging the problem in her mind. Each national component of the Multinational Task Force was fitted for Cooperative Battle Management. Their Combat Intelligences could be laser-linked, allowing the entire group to fight as a single entity.

It sounded fine in principle, but politics and human nature couldn't hope to approximate such elegance. Mission programming denied her the ability to take control of any vessels other than the small Australian contingent, her sister ships, HMS Vanguard, which was missing in action, possibly sunk, and Fearless, which was definitely gone. It was stupid, in her view, but the Americans and French in particular were quite touchy about that sort of thing. They didn't like taking directions from anyone but their own. She feared it was going to cost a good number of them their lives in the next few minutes.

On the other hand you could build a snowman in Hell the day the Royal Navy agreed to let an Indonesian captain have the run of its warships. So perhaps the Americans and the French had a point. It was just a little insulting to be cast in that sort of company.

While she was racing through her options, Howard relayed a series of orders through his headset, and a row of systems operators who had been relatively quiet suddenly leaned into their stations. Six pairs of hands flew over touch screens and virtual keyboards. Laser nodes embedded in the skin of the Trident pulsed, and thousands of meters away smart-skin arrays on two Australian ships, the troop cat Moreton Bay and the littoral assault ship Ipswich, picked up the photon storm of microburst infrared laser transmissions.

The first data set was an encoded authenticator, which convinced the ships' innately suspicious CIs to accept that their companion vessel was legitimately opening a Cooperative Battle Link. It authorized the Intelligences to power up all defensive systems and to deploy in protection of task force assets. The next photon shower advised of a possible bio-weapon attack, and gave the recommended response. The last packet of data contained a synopsis of the evolving situation, as it was understood by the Trident. Unfortunately, this transmission was quite thin.

Half a second later the destroyer repeated the process with a tone link to the Australian submarine HMAS Havoc. It returned a surprising acknowledgment from a human operator. Havoc was standing to, targets plotted, awaiting authority to release weapons.

"Captain Willet on Fleetnet for you," Lieutenant Waverton announced.

"At last," said Halabi.

A screen above the holobloc winked on. The commander of the Australian sub, looking thin-lipped and grim, nodded a curt hello.

"Captain Willet."

"Captain Halabi. My apologies for the delay in responding. My comm operator was having some sort of seizure, and he wasn't alone. We've got a terrible mess down here. Some sort of neural attack. The CI took over the initial response. Do we have hostile contact?"

"We have contacts, as you can see, we have to assume hostile," replied Halabi. "Fearless has been destroyed, but God only knows by what. I've never seen anything like it. Can you put your intel people onto the data package we just sent? I'm afraid it makes no sense and we have very little time. It's getting quite ugly up here."

Willet's eyes registered the shock of losing the helicopter carrier, but she said nothing about it, nodding brusquely and signing off. "Done. We'll get back to you ASAP."

The two captains broke their link.

Relieved to have Willet sharing the burden, Halabi resumed her inspection of the holobloc while the crew took care of business. One of the first things they teach you in captains' school, she reminded herself, is never to look like circumstances have the better of you. But she couldn't help quietly blowing out her cheeks in exasperation. Truly, there was nothing about their situation that made sense. Nothing at all.

The surviving task force ships may have been scattered, but none was making any apparent efforts to rectify that. They cut through the swell, which had mysteriously picked up from nothing to three meters in a few minutes flat. Each ship, whichever direction it was headed, was maintaining ten knots, as they had been before being struck down.

The three exceptions were the Trident, which was circling the flaming hulk of her dying sister ship; Willet's sub, the Havoc, which had dialed back to two knots and was lying stealthed near the center of the unidentified fleet; and finally, she noted, the American Nemesis cruiser Leyte Gulf, which seemed to be in serious trouble.

"Marc, pull in close on the Leyte Gulf. One thousand meters virtual."

The hologram shimmered momentarily, then reformatted. The image well filled with the shape of the American cruiser and another vessel, which appeared to have rammed… No, that isn't right, she thought. It's been… what, superimposed?

"Is this a clean feed?"

The commander consulted the data cube, interrogating a series of screens before nodding the affirmative.

"Systems are five by five, Captain. Boards green. No overlapping, no ghosting or echo effects."

Halabi felt as if something spiky had lodged in her mind. The two ships were fused, presenting an impression of scissor blades opened at nearly forty-five degrees. This would account for the voice intercepts, the panicky radio calls about a ramming.

But this was no collision. The blade of the Leyte Gulf's bow projected clean and sharp beyond the flanks of the other ship. There was no crushed or broken metal, no crumpled deck composite. Nothing to indicate that two objects of considerable mass had made any sort of violent, forcible contact.

"Something else, ma'am. The feeds from the drones and skin systems are clean, but that's the only intel we're taking. I can't access any satellite links. They all appear to be down. Military and civilian."

"Did somebody kill the satellites, or just the links?" she asked, compartmentalizing the flicker of real fear that Howard's report sparked. It was far more likely that something had severed the Trident's links, rather than taking out approximately twenty-three thousand separate satellites.

The CIC boss rechecked the Trident's own systems, then had Lieutenant Waverton cross-check his findings. Marc Howard wasn't prone to histrionics, but when he finally replied, Halabi easily picked up the anxiety that was present in his voice and the set of his features.

"Ship links are fine, Captain. Posh also interrogated the other CIs, for the same results. They can't access any satellite feeds. Weather birds, comms, media, they're all offline."

Halabi threw a glance at the two monitors that normally pumped out CNN and BBC World News. The screens were blue, with only two words displayed in plain white type.

NO SIGNAL.

"I suppose GPS is gone, too, then," she said, without emotion.

"That's correct, ma'am."

"Captain Halabi," an ensign called out. "We've acquired significant and increasing volumes of naval gunfire. Some of it incoming. Basic munitions, nothing augmented. It hardly seems directed at all. Laser packs are cycling through the priority targets, but there's a lot of it, ma'am. They just neutralized a very large volley from two platforms. Posh determines that Siranui was the target. Metal Storm will be coming online soon."

As if to punctuate this statement, they heard the first clip from the Trident's secondary Close-In Weapons System tear into the night. Even though the CIC was sheltered deep in the central hull, there was a quick metallic ripping noise as 734 projectiles were vomited from two concentric, counter-rotating muzzle rings. This was caseless ammunition, fired electronically rather than by percussion, using a square-shaped combustible propellant wrapped around a fifty-grain bullet. The propellant burned bright yellow so that the effect, when viewed with the naked eye, suggested a small comet leaving the stubby gun mount and streaking away on a thin stream of light, to explode upon contact with its designated target.

After the first clip, further loads were triggered every five to fifteen seconds. Halabi and Howard exchanged a look. Metal Storm was meant to deal with missile swarms, which very rarely consisted of more than twenty or thirty targets. There seemed to be hundreds of warheads assaulting their protective cocoon at that moment. If they allowed this to continue, they would quickly deplete their defensive stocks.

Halabi nodded at the holobloc.

"I want you to pull in close on that ship, Commander, the one that seems to have tangled with Leyte Gulf. Best we know what we're dealing with before we deal with it."

Howard quickly adjusted the magnification, zooming in to a virtual height of only sixty meters above the heavily damaged bridge of the vessel before panning down her length to the stern, where the drones' low-light amplification lenses had no trouble rendering a crisp, clear monochrome view of the Stars and Stripes.

As more than a dozen pairs of eyes focused on the scene, Captain Halabi drew in her breath with a hiss. The Leyte Gulf had, indeed, become entangled with a vintage warship of some sort, and as they watched the rear turret of the old-time cruiser tracked around to bear on the stern of the Gulf.

"Weapons!" Halabi barked out.

"Aye, Captain," replied a brusque Glaswegian voice.

"Can we get a laser pod to lock on that rear gun turret?"

The chief weapons sysop, Lieutenant Guy Wodrow, frantically worked his laser station, but the grim set of his mouth gave the answer away.

"Sorry, Captain, but we're directly blocked by the Leyte Gulf herself. The Moreton Bay, too. Ipswich has a clear shot, but her laser packs are fully engaged for the next five to six seconds."

At that moment, weapons fire erupted in the holobloc image. Halabi spoke in a flat, monotone. "It doesn't matter now."

She watched without registering any emotion as the smoke cleared from the rear deck of the Leyte Gulf. Or what was left of it.

HMAS HAVOC, 2245 HOURS, 2 JUNE 1942

He found Captain Willet hovering over the holobloc, chewing on her bottom lip, which Harry recognized as a definite warning sign. In fact, the submarine captain looked ill. Her features were taut. Dark smudges stood out under her eyes, and her face had an unhealthy, malarial, tint. He knew he didn't look much better. Nobody he'd passed on his way up from the mess did.

Willet was deeply engaged in a conversation with the boat's chief petty officer, an Old Navy man with faded tattoos covering most of his forearms and the backs of both hands. The Havoc's CO waved the English warrior prince over to the impromptu O Group. Harry caught the last part of a question Willet had directed to her intel boss, Lieutenant Amanda Lohrey.

"What have we got then, Amanda? Lost Chinese. Javanese pirates?"

But there was only an embarrassed silence to answer her. Nobody seemed able to find the words to explain what the holobloc-and their own eyes-were telling them.

"Well?" pressed the Havoc's captain, who could see the display as well as anyone. She looked from one person to the next.

Her chief petty officer coughed, almost apologetically, but still said nothing.

"C'mon, Chief," she coaxed. "Give it up for your old lady."

CPO Roy Flemming blew out his cheeks and showed Willet his open palms. "Well, skipper, I'm only saying what I see, is all, and that doesn't mean anything. It's just what I see, okay. But that? That looks like a New Orleans-class heavy cruiser, U.S. Navy, vintage nineteen thirty-four. Three eight-inch turrets, two up front, or there would be, and one at the rear, two funnels, eight boilers-very environmentally unfriendly by the way, Greenpeace would have a fucking cow. Just under six hundred feet in length. Thirteen thousand tons in the old scale. Carried a crew of between eleven and twelve hundred… I only know because of my models."

Willet returned the chief's slightly belligerent look with a level gaze. Everybody knew of Flemming's unfortunate obsession with model building. Of the thirty-nine souls on board, only the newest arrivals and the fleetest of foot had avoided becoming trapped in a long and involved lecture on the subject. Even sitting third in line to the throne had provided no protection, as Harry had discovered at great length. Willet, however, who could and would pull rank to avoid such an entanglement, smiled, just a little, and nodded at the strange image of the conjoined ships. "Thanks, Chief. That's what I see, too. Right off a history stick. Except for that Nemesis cruiser poking out of it."

Harry, still tingling from a Promatil flush, kept his own counsel, and the other submariners who had gathered in front of the bloc remained silent as well. Willet seemed inordinately calm, poised there in her gray coveralls. Lieutenant Lohrey, her intel chief, was swallowing frequently. And the boat's XO, Commander Conrad Grey, seemed unable to blink while he stared fixedly at the display. Aside from Willet, only the chief, the oldest, saltiest member of the crew, seemed less than completely bewildered. He just looked pissed off. And he always looked pissed off, in Harry's opinion, so what was to notice?

"Is that the Leyte Gulf?" asked Harry, for want of anything better to say.

"Aye," said Flemming. "And she's been well mounted."

A seaman spoke up from a bank of workstations that lay beyond the periscope. "Flash traffic on Fleetnet, Captain Willet. Trident's CI with another data burst."

"About fucking time," muttered Flemming.

"Language, Chief," Willet scolded gently. "We have royalty present."

"Oh, for fuck's sake!" Harry said, rolling his eyes.

"Opinions, suggestions?" Willet asked, throwing the floor open to her officers and guest. "Clock's ticking. Chief Flemming, you care to guess why a museum piece would suddenly sail off a memory stick and do something as perverse as that?" She nodded toward the ethereal copy of the Leyte Gulf and the old cruiser.

"No, ma'am," he answered. "I would not."

"You figure it has anything to do with the mace strike, or whatever it was, a few minutes ago?"

"Seems likely."

"You think the Chinese pulled something tricky?"

"No idea, Captain. Can't think of anyone else to blame, though."

"You think we're in the shit?"

"There's every chance in the world of that, ma'am."

"I think so, too, Chief." She sighed.

Everybody stared endlessly at the hologram as though they were trying to decipher a challenging puzzle. While they were thus engaged, Willet pulled her personal flexipad out of a breast pocket in her coveralls and tapped out a command. A panel of the data cube switched from a scrolling text readout to an old black-and-white two-dimensional photograph.

"That looks just like the ship in the bloc," said Harry.

"It is the ship in the bloc," replied a somber Flemming. "The USS Astoria. CA-Thirty-four. I've got her mounted at home in the billiards room. My Savo Island display. Along with the Vincennes, the Quincy, Chicago, and Canberra. That last one was ours," he added, looking straight at Harry. "HMAS Canberra. Sunk in Iron Bottom Sound at the Battle of Savo Island, ninth of August, nineteen forty-two."

Nobody said anything in reply. Harry simply stared at the holobloc as though it might be booby-trapped. The naval personnel looked by turns confused, intrigued, and sick.

"All right then," Willet said, sharply enough to snap everyone out of their daze. "Weapons!"

"Yes, Captain!"

"Give me firing solutions for the forward tubes focused on all non-task-force vessels. Do not, I repeat, do not arm the torpedoes. But full countermeasures are authorized.

"Comms?"

"Aye, Captain?"

"Reopen a link to the Trident. When they have a spare second, I need to confer with Captain Halabi. Keep hailing our own ships and fleet command. Intel?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"Assets?"

"We have links intact fleetwide, Captain," said Lieutenant Lohrey. "We're streaming from the drones, mast mounts, and topside Nemesis arrays. We've lost some airborne feed, and all the satellites."

"Start farming it out, Amanda. When you have a clue, get back to me."

The intel boss raised a finger, just like a child in class. "Captain? The Nagoya is missing, as well. There's no floating datum point, no debris of any kind. But fleetwide arrays logged signal deviance similar to the brownout incident, just prior to the neural event that seems to have taken out the surface elements."

Willet clamped down on a flash of anger, "Well, that's just excellent," she said quie

4

USS HILLARY CLINTON, 2249 HOURS, 2 JUNE 1942

"They're firing at us?" snorted Kolhammer.

Before anyone could answer, the sound of distant sledgehammer blows rang through the bridge.

"Jesus! They are shooting at us!" said Kolhammer. He started to shake his head, but a jag of pain stopped him cold. An ugly stain was settling into his shirt where he'd vomited a few moments earlier, but he paid it no heed. Commander Judge was doubled over and dry retching. Half the flag bridge crew was covered in their own bile and one or two had lost control of their bowels-if his sense of smell hadn't failed him.

So much else had-even daylight, it seemed. A deep void had enveloped the task force, and something had sailed out of it to attack them. Arrhythmic flickers of fire and lightning lit the darkened sea surface in stuttering monochrome.

His bridge was a disaster area. It hadn't taken a hit, but sailors lay everywhere. Some were passed out with their eyes open, putting out REMs like victims of a psy-war experiment. Others stood by their stations, their stiff, unnatural stance and glassy stares giving away how much effort that took. One man convulsed repeatedly in front of a large Silicon Graphics display until Commander Judge, composing himself for a moment, grabbed him by the shoulders and lowered him to the floor.

The Zone Time readout seemed to have skipped forward ten minutes. Or they'd been unconscious for that amount of time. And how did night fall? If that's what happened. Another far-off hammer blow belled through the structure of the giant carrier.

"Suffering Christ, is anyone still alive down in CIC?" Kolhammer shouted. Gray space bloomed in his vision, and he pressed both hands to his eyes. He had a terrible migraine, so that if he wanted to see someone clearly he had to tilt his head at an uncomfortable angle just to move them into the small part of his sight that wasn't affected. He wanted to curl into a ball, but instead he slowly rubbed his eyes.

"If we can't raise them on shipnet, would someone who can walk a reasonably straight line care to go find out what's happening down there?" he asked more calmly. "And let's get someone in here to police up this mess. Commander, do we have a location on Captain Chandler?"

"Making it happen," Judge croaked. He'd managed to stop heaving his guts out. "Last we knew, the captain was still on the flight deck, Admiral, with the catapult crew at number three."

Judge interrogated a touch screen, his hands still shaking. "Biosensors place him topside, but unconscious, sir. He's still down there."

"Send somebody to wake him up. He'll be really pissed off if he sleeps through an attack on his ship. What the hell is that anyway?" asked Kolhammer. "One of those Caliphate tubs. Those pieces of crap the Indonesians bought off the East Germans?"

And Christ, how much do we miss those clowns, he thought to himself. Great days. Not like this clusterfuck.

"Can't say yet, Admiral," said Judge, his head lolling a little as he caressed a touch screen. "Link's up to CIC, Admiral. And I've got a couple of medics heading for Captain Chandler now. Damage control reports we're taking hits, but the armor sheath is holding up well. Some penetration on C deck. We have casualties there."

Kolhammer glanced out the window, worried about Chandler, although he had no chance of seeing the ship's captain a couple of hundred meters aft. The flight deck was littered with crew in different-colored vests, most of them laid out cold. The task force commander could just make out aircraft directors in blue and yellow, mixed in with handling officers wearing yellow on yellow. Some were completely motionless, others were stirring, and a few were even managing to rise to their knees. A landing signals officer in white lay prone in the center of the main runway.

Through the effects of his migraine he could see a burning vessel some kilometers distant. Searching for a clearer view, he turned to face a big flatscreen that was displaying four feeds, all from low-light TV mast-cams distributed throughout the fleet. One window was devoted to a Frisbee-cam that remained in a static hover six thousand meters above the flag bridge. That screen offered the broadest view of the situation.

By closing one eye and tilting his head, Kolhammer could see that the ships were moving erratically, none of them keeping station, their wakes carving and crossing through the warm tropical waters with no design or purpose that he could discern. The wreckage of a burning ship, a big one, was close to sinking. One of the British trimarans was circling the kill with obvious intent. And there, much closer, was their own would-be executioner. A squat, blocky-looking gray ship. Small, a destroyer, or maybe a frigate. And old, judging by the black smoke that was spewing from the funnel amidships. She was steaming erratically, too, but there seemed to be more design behind her movement. As much as a fifteen- or sixteen-hundred-tonne ship could move like a rat in a trap, that's exactly what she looked like. Jinking hard to port for a minute, laying on speed for the Clinton, heaving to then veering away. Fire jetted constantly from her three gun turrets, two fore and one aft.

The Clinton's CI was screaming for attention, demanding autonomy and a Cooperative Battle Link with the other fleet Intelligences. But despite its insistence, very few human operators were filing damage reports or raising alarms. The ship seemed to be half asleep.

Kolhammer turned to the screen that was carrying video from the Combat Information Center. Lieutenant Kirsty Brooks was weaving about in front of the cam, looking as if she'd been poleaxed. Feeling a small measure of control returning to his rebellious nerves, Kolhammer stood slowly and looked from Brooks to the scene outside his bridge. Despite his restricted vision he could tell-even without the aid of sophisticated electronics-that a battle was beginning. Guns hammered in the dark, speaking to each other with angry flashes of light. Goose bumps crawled up his forearms and neck.

"What's going on, Lieutenant?" he asked as calmly as possible.

Brooks shook her head, blanched, and vomited discreetly to one side. "We… uh… have the hostile on screen now, sir."

Another window opened up. A hard, clear image filled it, of an old fossil-fuel-powered warship. As they watched, the ship's forward gun mount spoke, and a second later the same hammer blow sounded through the hull of the carrier.

"Admiral," said Lieutenant Brooks from the screen in front of him. "Sir, we have multiple contacts throughout the body of the task force. Presumed hostile. Sensors indicate gunfire and some torpedo launches. Buggy readings, sir, we can't get a fix on weapon types, but these are hostile forces. Kandahar, Providence, and the Siranui have all taken fire. Leyte Gulf is critical. I'm afraid the Fearless is gone, sir. Destroyed. Trident's CI has sent a data burst, which we're breaking down now." She examined a screen off to her right for a moment. "Definitely hostile, sir. We're getting a significant volume of fire. Little Bill wants you to release the codes for a mace run and to engage Metal Storm and the laser packs."

In his peripheral vision Kolhammer noticed a few men and women on the bridge quietly cursing and turning to each other. Some turned to the strip window, although the image on screen was far superior to anything the naked eye could make out. The little gray ship heaved over to present a broadside to the Clinton.

"Admiral," said Brooks. "We have indications that that ship has torpedo capability. They may be trying to bracket us, sir."

The fog in Kolhammer's mind began to clear rapidly as a cold wind blew through him.

"Lieutenant Brooks!" he barked. "Guns free! Autonomy Level One. Initiate a fleetwide CBL."

But it was too late.

HMAS MORETON BAY, 2247 HOURS, 2 JUNE 1942

Rachel Nguyen was running from Hell. She was naked and the breeze of her passage slipped over her body-no, over a six-year-old's body, burning the skin. Melting it. Flesh fell from her in long, sloughed-off lumps. The pain was excruciating. Searing and white. She was screaming as the road beneath her blistered feet jumped and rumbled and the air was torn by explosions. She was… her great-grandmother… in Vietnam during the war. A child fleeing an air strike called in on her village by a desperate platoon commander. Some long-dead boy from Dakota.

She knew, in her dream, exactly what she was running from. It was all behind her, but she could still see burning huts and twisted corpses, some smoking and wrenched out of any shape you could think of as human. She could see all the dead pigs and chickens, soldiers tearing at each other, using their guns as clubs. She ran and screamed, away from a rupture in the thin membrane separating her world from Hell, away from the demons who had come through the rip and eaten her friends and family and spewed War all over the world. Demons in the bodies of Americans and Vietcong, the limbs and heads and torsos mixed and matched and sewn together by trolls.

She ran but the road beneath her was moving, back toward the village, accelerating like a moving sidewalk of sand and gravel. She tried to run faster, but her legs were so small and thin. She tripped and the road came rushing at her face.

There were no stones to bite into her cheeks. No sand or grit on which to choke. The road surface was smooth and cool. And sort of… wet.

She gasped, pulling in a mouthful of air, as though she hadn't breathed in a very long time. Like when she was a kid and she had those stupid competitions with her brother Michael, to see who could swim the farthest without surfacing. He was such a dick sometimes.

And he was gone now. Lost.

Her thoughts were disordered. Confused. Michael was home in Sydney, not lost.

In a rush it came to her. She had passed out on the table. Probably from exhaustion. Knocked the dregs of her coffee all over her notes. Oh, just great! How long had she been out? Not long or that sergeant, the one with the huge plate of sausages, he would have rushed over.

She had a serious headache, though. She'd been out long enough for that. And God it's bad! Like a migraine. Worse even. Jeez, did I have an embolism or what? A stroke? And where is that guy? she thought, looking around, a little pissed off. Why didn't he help?

She tried to stand, and three things happened. A brutal spike jagged through her head, her legs folded up, and a wave of nausea swept over her. She clamped her hand to her mouth as she dropped toward the floor, but it was no use. Everything came out under pressure, squirting through her fingers.

Embarrassment, shock, and fear swept over her all at once. What happened? Maybe the Chinese, or the Rising Jihad, had hit them with something. A neutron bomb? A transsonic device?

Not the latter, anyway. Not at sea.

Cramps shot up her legs and she began to shiver uncontrollably, curling into a ball on the deck and dry heaving for nearly two minutes. For fuck's sake! she whimpered. What is this?

Whatever it was, she tried to haul herself out into a passageway, where somebody might at least trip over her.

Then, all at once, the shivering and the nausea passed. The headache remained-she was sure now it was a migraine-but the other effects, symptoms, whatever, were gone. As though someone had thrown a switch.

Rachel lay, breathing slowly for a minute before climbing to her feet. The migraine had made her dizzy and she had to grab the table to help herself up, but it was just a screaming headache now. Nothing more. She was about to stagger off to sick bay when she heard the first shells detonating close by in the water.

USS KANDAHAR, 2247 HOURS, 2 JUNE 1942

Colonel Jones, sitting astride Hannon's chest, just had the man's arms locked down with his knees when he heard and felt the impact of a shell somewhere on the Kandahar. He would have sworn someone had hammered the decking just under his feet. He yelled at Chen to hold the lieutenant's mouth open while he fished in there trying to hook on to the tongue. Hannon had swallowed it during the blackout. He ignored the shrieking whine in his ears and the chisel banging deep into his frontal lobes. He bit down on the bile that threatened to come bursting up out of his mouth and he somehow kept up a reassuring conversation with Chen, who was close to bugging out.

Another shell struck the Kandahar, more of a wrecking ball this time, throwing them all off-balance just as Jones muttered, "Gotcha," and snagged Hannon's tongue out with a slick pop. The marine stopped bucking beneath him and began to suck in great shuddering drafts of air. Jones flipped him over just before a mother lode of chewed-up burger and fries came out.

"God damn!" yelled Chen, who got hosed.

"Make sure he doesn't choke on that mess, son," Jones said as he clawed his way onto his feet. He knew for sure now that they were under attack. No idea by whom or with what, though. You had to figure it was some kind of neural disrupter, given the effects, but those prototypes weren't even out of the labs in the States. And the dinks were still ten years behind in development. Once you eliminated Beijing, however, what then? Ragheads didn't have the delivery platforms, and never would.

The ship seemed to pitch beneath his boots like they'd run into a force-niner. But he knew that was his inner ear, because Chen's coffee rested undisturbed in its mug on the mess table. He fumbled for his flexipad, tried for a link to the bridge, and got nowhere. Same with the CIC, security detail, and the sick bay. Shipnet was unaffected-so there was no electromagnetic pulse-but nobody was answering. Probably all rolling around in their own puke.

Another dense, metallic boom sounded somewhere nearby. The hell with this, thought Jones, gathering his composure and what he could of his balance. Somebody had to get on the stick or their families were all going to be getting a folded flag and a visit from the grief counselors.

"Chen," he barked. "Can Hannon walk yet?"

"I don't think so, Colonel. He's still sort of spasming."

"Check his air passage for any more crap and leave him. We'll send someone through to look after him, but we have to get to work. Come on now, son. Let's hustle before someone catches us with our nuts in the breeze."

Again, he added to himself.

Chen arranged his friend to rest as comfortably as possible and pushed himself up toward his CO. The steward who had served them appeared from the galley on his hands and knees, a long string of blood falling from his lips.

"You there!" yelled Jones, cutting through the man's misery and doubling the intensity of his own headache. "You well enough to attend to the lieutenant there?"

The man groaned, but nodded.

"Make sure he doesn't choke, then. And see to anybody you got back there. Shut everything down. No flames or boiling water. Understand?"

"Yes, sir, Colonel," the steward croaked as Jones and Chen tottered out of the mess.

There were men and women in various states of collapse all along the corridor. Some were far gone in what looked like the extremes of an epileptic seizure. Others simply appeared to be sleeping. A few were gathering their wits and none, to Jones's surprise, seemed to have been gripped by the Fear yet.

Probably too fucked up.

As they tried to hurry to the bridge, Jones stopped to encourage those marines and sailors who were rebounding the fastest. He noted that this seemed to be a random process. He saw Aub Harrison, a gunnery sergeant, a thirty-year man and just about the toughest son-of-a-bitch Jones had ever met, flaked out, a dark stain spreading down his pants as his bladder emptied itself. Just beyond Harrison, he found his principal combat surgeon, a slight red-headed woman, and she seemed reasonably unaffected. She was moving from one person to the next, jabbing them with one-use syringes. Jones grabbed a trembling Chen by the arm and muscled him over in her direction.

"Hey, Doc, what do we have here?" asked Jones. "Transsonics? What d'you think?"

Captain Margie Francois left the marine she was tending and moved over to Jones and Chen with remarkable agility. There was just a flicker of dread in her gray eyes. "Fucked if I know, Colonel," she said. "But I got Promatil and Stemazine, antinausea drugs. Seems to help."

She took up a syringe from a kit at her hip.

Another blast, very close this time. They all turned their heads in that direction.

"Terrific," said Jones. "Gimme a shot. And the lieutenant here, too. Can't you do an implant dump? I want a couple of Harriers up as soon as possible. But I'm guessing we got nobody fit to fly them yet."

"Sir. I've already zapped the implants. That's about forty percent of our personnel. I'll check on the fliers right away."

Jones detailed Chen to hustle her up some assistants as another explosion sounded. He was surprised to hear a personal weapon open up on full auto, somewhere nearby, and decided to take a detour from his path to the bridge. A few turns later he emerged onto a small weather deck.

A marine had leaned himself against the safety rail and was letting rip at something on the water. Huge fingers of white fire strobed at the muzzle of his weapon, and a long line of tracer rounds reached out over the darkened waters.

Jones shook his head in disbelief, first at the trooper, and then at the antiquated warship he was shooting at. She revealed herself with the flash of her guns.

"Safe that weapon now, son!" he yelled. And for the first time since he'd come to, raising his voice didn't drive an ice pick straight into his head. That was good. He liked to raise his voice.

The marine, a giant bovine-looking character, seemed genuinely shocked to have been busted by his CO, and actually began to argue.

"But the enemy, they's shooting at us, Colonel."

Jones stared again at the rogue vessel. A real dinosaur by the look of her. A destroyer maybe? The Indonesians had bought a bunch of them from the East Germans ages ago, back when there were still Indonesians and East Germans. But what the fuck was it doing here, attacking a clearly superior battle group? He was just starting along that chain of thought when his attention ballooned out to the bigger picture. Jones hustled a pair of powered combat goggles from the trooper, Bukowski, and set the light amplifiers to maximum gain.

"Sir. Y'all right?" asked Private Bukowksi.

"Be cool, Private," Jones said, quietly but sternly, as he tried to process what he was seeing. A hostile fleet seemed to have materialized in the middle of the task force. Carriers, old battleships or cruisers maybe, a real junkyard collection, but it had snuck in right under their noses and now that small, angry destroyer was lining up for a broadside on the Clinton. Well, she had a cast-iron pair of nuts on her, you had to give her that.

"Oh, shit," he spat as his peripheral vision picked up an even greater threat to the aircraft carrier. A small plane, obsolete, incredibly slow, was diving straight for the deck of the Big Hill, pulling out slowly, tortuously at just a hundred or so meters. A small black pearl detached from its belly and followed a fatal, parabolic arc. Jones couldn't tell if the flight path of the bomb would intersect with the deck of the supercarrier, but a heavy, leaden feeling in his guts told him it just might. He reached out and placed a hand on Private Bukowski's shoulder.

"You got the general principle right, son," he said quietly. "But you ain't gonna hit jack shit from here."

The destroyer exploded about five seconds before the bomb tore into the Clinton's deck between the number three and four catapults.

USS HILLARY CLINTON, 2252 HOURS, JUNE 2, 1942

A few people on the Clinton's flag bridge ignored the plasma screens and peered through the armor glass windows of the bridge, to watch the destroyer die in real time. The better view was on screen.

The hostile was nine hundred meters away when something took it amidships. Something big and ugly. A ball of fire and steam erupted and consumed most of the vessel's length. It broke her back, ripped her in half, lifting the separated sections twenty meters out of a boiling cauldron of sea beneath her keel. Kolhammer watched a gun turret pop off like a champagne cork and go skimming across the surface of the ocean. A murmur ran through the crew, those on their feet at least, as the bow knifed into the water and sank instantly. The burning stern remained afloat for just a few seconds before a secondary explosion atomized it.

Metal rain clattered into the carrier's superstructure as shrapnel from the blast whickered through the air to strike them. One twisted iron rivet that must have been traveling at the speed of sound smashed into the armor glass with a giant thud, to leave a delicate star pattern at the point of impact.

Two heartbeats later a five-hundred-kilogram bomb speared into the flight deck of the USS Hillary Clinton, two hundred meters aft of the flag bridge. The dumb iron bomb detonated a few feet from the Clinton's captain, Guy Chandler, and the group of unconscious technicians who had been carrying out routine maintenance checks on the aft catapults when the floor of the universe dropped out beneath them all. They all died without ever knowing they had journeyed between worlds.

The deck of the Clinton was armored against mace munitions. The number three catapult, however, was not. Indeed, like all of the ship's catapults it was a terribly vulnerable, high-maintenance bitch of a thing, which demanded constant loving care and attention lest it decide to malfunction with a fully laden Raptor hooked up and ready to roll. It was similar in form to the last generation of steam-driven catapults, consisting of a pair of very long tubes, topped by an open slot, sealed with rubber flanges. But rather than drawing pressurized steam from the ship's propulsion plant, the fuel-air explosive, or FAX, catapults used a binary fuel mix that was theoretically easier and safer to handle.

The theory, however, did not account for a bomb strike taking place in the middle of a launch simulation. The technical crew who died at catapult three had been running her through a series of prelaunch tests in preparation for the day's exercises. When the bomb struck, the seventy-five-meter-long catapult tubes were full of the highly volatile fuel-air mix; enough, when it detonated, to rip a huge furrow out of the angled portside flight deck.

Enough, as well, to trigger a much more powerful and catastrophic explosion in a liquid oxygen tank recessed in a nominally secure area just below the lip of the flight deck, behind the Optical Landing System. It blew with a blinding white light and a head-cracking roar that approximated the effect of a subnuclear plasma-yield warhead. Most of that blast wave traveled up and outward, raking the flight deck of all human life and obliterating the frail dive-bomber that had launched the attack.

But it did not kill the Clinton. The voided double hull and monobonded deck plating absorbed and then shed 60 percent of the blast. That still left force enough, however, to trash dozens of aircraft chained down outboard of catapults one and two, and to sweep the flight decks clear of any personnel who had not been instantly vaporized.

As large and well built as the supercarrier was, the Clinton shook violently through every inch of her structure. Men and women tending the fusion stacks thirty meters below the waterline were thrown to the floor.

On the flag bridge, Kolhammer had one brief idiot moment, where his mind whispered it was just the destroyer going up. Years of training and experience told him the little ship had been taken out by a Type 92 torpedo, probably launched from the Havoc, which was packing that sort of heat and loitering with intent, according to the bloc.

But even as those thoughts spooled through his mind, his senses betrayed the truth, though he was only dimly aware that something had cleared his impaired vision. In a strange, elongated fragment of time, he watched the screen as a supernova consumed the stern of his own ship. A deep, disordered vibration seized the Clinton's bulk, throwing some of the watch to their knees. He groaned as the blast wave picked up the bodies of every human being on the flight deck and tossed them through the air like leaves before a gust front.

His heart thudded faster in his chest as a deep, unthinkably loud wall of thunder shook the bridge, and it seemed to him as though Hell's furnace had exploded. He was minutely aware of every detail his bulging eyes took in. The faces of his brother and sister officers, their mouths wide open, forming perfect Os; a thread dangling from the arm of an ensign as he raised his hand to point at something; the impression his own backside had made in the chair where he'd been sitting. The first flicker of color in the blast window, all wrong, a burnt black-and-orange blossom amid a field of gray sea and metal at the very edge of his vision. The petal of fire growing, unfurling, expanding. Consuming the space where the Clinton had been.

It was wrong. It was impossible. An outrage to the senses. But there it was, before his very eyes.

This confused tumble of thought and emotion seemed to take much longer than was really the case. Admiral Phillip Kolhammer was fifty-three years old. Old enough to have served in the First Gulf War, which made him a figure of mythology to the young men and women in this battle group. He had been at war for most of his adult life. He hadn't been born into conflict, like his young sailors and pilots. But he had grown into it.

A buddy from his first tour of Afghanistan had given him a memento, a piece of shrapnel from the battleground at Shah-i-Kot. It had been mounted on a polished cedar base and inscribed with J. Robert Oppenheimer's famously mawkish sentiment: I am become death, the destroyer of worlds. It was really just a piece of bullshit bravado, the sort of thing young pilots loved and old men indulged with some regret, because they understood the worth and the cost of such things. But Kolhammer had kept the piece in his private quarters where he alone could see it. His friend was long gone, shot down over Indonesia in 2009, and hacked to death by Javanese peasant militia. So it was a keepsake, but also a personal talisman, because he had become death. He was a warrior before all else, now, and it was his warrior spirit-a reflexive, unthinking turn toward battle-that saved them all.

"Lieutenant Brooks," he barked at the flatscreen by his right hand. "Have you linked the fleet into our battlenet?"

"We've gained hotlinks to everyone who's available, sir, but we seem to have lost contact with Garrett, Vanguard, Fearless, Dessaix, Leyte Gulf, Sutanto, and Nuku. The Leyte Gulf we can locate, but she's not responding. Her systems are fried. She's seven thousand meters away, bearing one-eight-niner. Possibly rammed. The others are missing, possibly sunk. As is the Nagoya."

"Is Leyte Gulf burning?"

"Negative, sir. And we can't get a GPS fix on the datum point, either. I've tried interrogating GPS six ways from Sunday, but it seems to be down, Admiral."

"Down?"

"Nonresponsive, sir. The channels are clear, but it's as though the satellites themselves have been taken out."

Marvelous, thought Kolhammer, just marvelous. Under attack from God-knows-who, and their position fix goes south for the winter. He stifled an exasperated grunt.

"Thank you, Lieutenant. Find out what happened to those other ships. I want to know yesterday. Link all surviving task force assets for collective engagement. Unsafe laser packs and Metal Storm. Slave combat maces to the Clinton. Hammerheads only, no sunburn. Chapter Seven rules of engagement. Launch on my mark."

"Aye, sir," Brooks replied as her fingers blurred over a touch screen. A secondary explosion jolted her and knocked a few flag bridge crewmembers from their stations. "Solutions confirmed, Admiral. Locked and tracking."

"Engage," said Kolhammer. At the same instant, four torpedoes speared into the Clinton.

5

USS LEYTE GULF, 2257 HOURS, 2 JUNE 1942

"Say again!" yelled Captain Daytona Anderson. The intercom was working fine, but the voice at the other end was muted by small-arms fire, screams, and a brace of explosions, which she felt quite clearly through the soles of her shoes.

"Boarders, ma'am. I say again, we have boarders. Armed and hos-"

A single massive explosion shook the entire ship, cutting off the transmission. A recorded voice boomed out of nearby PA speakers.

"Intruder alert. Intruder alert. Intruder alert."

Anderson already regretted her decision to direct the fight from the CIC. Ninety-five percent of her systems were down. Alarms screamed, beeped, and pinged all around her. Warning lights flashed, and the few screens with any lighted display at all were showing nonsensical data. Examining them closely was like looking into an Escher print. The Leyte Gulf appeared to have been rammed.

But it hadn't. The reality was more incomprehensible.

When the 250 men and women aboard the thirty-five-tonne Nemesis stealth cruiser had awakened from, well, whatever it was that had hit them, they found themselves occupying the same space as a New Orleans-class heavy cruiser, the USS Astoria. Luckily for the thousand or more men of the Astoria and the crew of the Leyte Gulf, they hadn't merged hand-in-glove, which would have killed most of the complements of both vessels immediately as their molecular structure was instantly compromised by having to share space with metal, wood, plastic, and the bodies of other human beings. Instead, the two ships had transected each other, appearing from above like an open pair of scissors.

Even so, many sailors from both ships had perished in such a fashion; some instantaneously, unknowingly, as they materialized squarely inside structures such as a bulkhead or six-inch gun mount. Others hadn't been so lucky. They had only partially merged with various objects or, in the worst cases, people. Their deaths had been slower, more agonizing, and, for them, totally inexplicable. A pharmacist's mate from the Astoria who gasped out his last breaths clawing at a PlayStation console half buried in his chest was typical of their number.

Some even died at each other's hands. Ensign Tommy Hideo from the Leyte Gulf and Leading Seaman Milton Coburn of the Astoria beat each other to death in a dark, constricted space where the control room for the Leyte Gulf's eight-inch autocannon intersected the three-tiered bunk upon which Seaman Coburn had been sleeping. The men themselves had been fused at the thigh. The blinding pain and shock of that violation was enough to send them instantly over the edge, past any hope for rational behavior. Even if they had cooperated and sought out medical attention, the surgery would have needed to be swift and radical. Their blood types did not match, and they were quickly poisoning each other.

For the moment, though, Captain Anderson was unaware of these horrors. The Combat Information Center was still relatively calm, despite the shrill symphony of the alarms. The sailors there looked to her for guidance now. Most of them had nothing to do, since their battle stations had gone offline when the merging of the two ships had severed the kilometers of fiber-optic cables and wiring that formed the Gulf's nervous system.

The CIC was always a dark blue cave, but it seemed more so now, with the dozens of screens blacked out. It was warm, too, which was wrong. The center was supposed to be uncomfortably chilly, allowing the quantum systems to run at white heat.

At least Anderson was in better shape than her ailing vessel; she'd recovered quickly from the transition through the wormhole thanks to a subcutaneous antinausea insert she received every six months during routine checkups.

She had been quick to note that her crewmembers with Promatil inserts or dermal patches were less drastically affected by whatever had happened. When it became obvious that the shipnet was in disarray, she immediately dispatched runners to the nearest casualty stations with instructions to gather supplies of the drug and distribute them as widely and as swiftly as possible. That was how she'd learned about the violation of the forward decks. But she didn't have to look at the expanse of dead electronics all around them to know her ship was gravely hurt. She could feel it down in her meat.

The Gulf was dying.

Anderson straightened herself at the console, squared her shoulders, and traversed her gaze over every man and woman in the room. She was twenty-two years in the United States Navy and wore a uniform heavily burdened with decorations won the hard way. In her two decades at sea she had exercised for, and performed, almost every kind of operation it was possible to conceive of in modern naval combat. It had never occurred to her that she would have to issue the orders she now spoke. Keying a button to power up the ship's PA, without really knowing how far the broadcast would carry, she drove any trace of fear or doubt from her voice.

"Attention all hands. Attention all hands. This is the captain. Arm yourselves, and prepare to repel boarders."

If her crew within the cocoon of the CIC were surprised, none dared show it. A few obviously braced themselves for what was coming but only one, Chief Conroy, said anything.

"Captain, if I may? We should get to the gun lockers, gather crew as we go. They may not have heard the announcement. We'll need to establish a perimeter on all decks and push forward from there."

Conroy checked the flexipad that was Velcroed to his sleeve. "Short-range point-to-point links seem workable, at least here, ma'am. We might be able to coordinate through that."

Anderson agreed but she was haunted, wondering whether she was about to set some calamity in motion. Still, the near-total failure of the ship's quantum systems left her no choice. She couldn't use the weapons systems aboard the Gulf, couldn't even scuttle her at the moment. She had crew engaging in close-quarter combat on the forward decks, there were no communications with task force command, and they had absolutely no idea how this mess had come to be. For the moment, then, her choice seemed clear. If the Leyte Gulf had been boarded by pirates or commandos or some kind of jihadi suicide squad, she would find the enemy, and destroy them.

Anderson chose a group to accompany her, then ordered six crewmembers to stay and seal the CIC behind her.

Hurrying down the starboard corridor to the armory, she was immediately struck by how wrong it all felt. Even in the restricted spaces belowdecks, the geometry of the vessel seemed to have been wrenched or twisted out of shape. And it was obvious that they were no longer making any headway. If anything, the ship was being pushed sideways. They began to hear blasts of gunfire and the frequent explosions of handheld artillery. But beneath that, her trained and sensitive ear could detect the awful screams of metal plate and bulkheads straining against enormous destructive forces, as the structural integrity of the Nemesis cruiser was tested.

Emergency lighting had come on, leaving the corridors dim but navigable. Glowing flexipad screens, activated and secured on each man's or woman's preferred arm, bobbed up and down through the gloom, adding their own soft luminescence and throwing off a menagerie of tortured, writhing shadows. As they passed ladders and hatchways between decks, Chief Conroy detailed small groups to split off and make their way to A, C, and D decks, with instructions to gather other crew and await orders from the captain when she made the B deck armory.

The Leyte Gulf had sailed with a full complement, eighteen officers and 235 enlisted personnel. The ship's biosensors were offline, so Anderson had no idea of casualties, or of how many were actively engaged with the boarders, or trapped forward of the impact point with the hostile vessel, or simply missing, or dead. Conservatively, she figured on rounding up seventy or eighty warm bodies for her counterattack. As she and Conroy hurried along B, past the berthing spaces, they swelled their numbers with another two dozen sailors, including three specialists trained in hostile boarding ops.

Anderson heard one of her junior officers, Ensign Rebecca Sparrow, mutter that some Navy SEALs would have been nice. The captain dropped her pace marginally to fall in beside Sparrow, delivering a hearty slap on the shoulder. "Damn right, Ensign. A SEAL team would have been a thing of beauty! But this morning we're going to work with what the good Lord provided. And I have faith in Specialists Clancy, Cobb, and Brown here. Don't you?"

Sparrow seemed more unsettled by her commanding officer's unexpected appearance and exuberance than by the King Hell madness of the day. Her eyes widened in surprise as they thundered down the passageway, but she recovered her composure quickly. "Hell yes, ma'am."

"Glad to hear it." Anderson smiled, her gleaming white teeth shining out of her coal-black face. "Specialist Clancy!" she called over her shoulder. "You think you can justify Ensign Sparrow's confidence in you?"

Clancy, nine years in service and a veteran of more than seventy forced vessel entries, smiled at his commanding officer and called back, "Anything for a lady, Captain."

They trotted past the brig and came to a halt in front of the armory. Chief Conroy yelled over the buzz of voices and the harsh, industrial sounds of battle, ordering them to form up in two lines and stand at ease. The boarding specialists hurried forward into the armory to suit up and arm themselves, along with two seamen ordered to grab weapons and stand guard back down the passage through which they had just run. The two men took body armor and helmets, a couple of pump-action shotguns, and hustled back past the lines of their shipmates to establish a hasty defense.

While Conroy saw to the arming of the specialists, Anderson tried to raise the other decks on shipnet via her flexipad. Two windows on screen responded to her page. Lieutenant Matt Reilly on A deck had gathered twenty-three personnel in the chopper bay. They had already armed themselves from the air division's own arsenal and were awaiting orders.

"Good work, Lieutenant. Stand by," said Anderson. She shifted her eyes to the other functioning pull-down window, where she found CPO Borghino's phlegmatic features. A thin film of static obscured his face, but otherwise the connection seemed fine. The third window, the link to D deck, was a small square of white noise.

"Chief, I can't raise D deck on shipnet or P-to-P," said Anderson. "How about you?"

Anderson watched as Borghino's eye line shifted within the window. He was obviously manipulating his pad, trying for some sort of alternate link to D. After a few long seconds, he turned his eyes back to the microlens mounted in his pad's shockproof rubber casing, rather than looking at Anderson's own image on screen. This created the impression that he was staring directly at her.

"Sorry, ma'am. I'll have to send a runner down. They'll have formed up in engineering. We can get access from here."

"Fine, Chief. I'll send down a security team. Lieutenant Carey was in charge on D. Have him secure engineering. He'll be staying put. I don't want anyone fooling around near those fusion stacks."

Borghino nodded brusquely. "Eminently sensible, ma'am. With your permission, we'll seal the section as soon as the security team gets down there."

"Make it happen, Chief."

Anderson looked up from her pad. The illuminated screen had cast a soft, lambent glow over her features, smoothing out deep-worn stress lines and giving her, just briefly, the appearance of a mother fretting over a sick child. As she turned her gaze onto Chief Conroy, the illusion vanished.

"Status, Chief?"

"Clancy's team is nearly geared up, Captain. We got eight suits of full body armor, reactive matrix and tac sets, and twelve sets of standard-issue Kevlar and ballistic plate… correction, ten. We just sent two sets forward with Ntini and McAllister. Eight G-fours to go with the suits and ten compact shotguns for the rest of the flak jackets. Ten sidearms, standard-issue Glocks. We have a dozen stun rods, too, for what that's worth. And a couple of guys with meat cleavers and boning knives from the officers' mess."

He smiled grimly.

The ship gave a great lurch to port, a dire screeching protest arising deep within her metal innards. Both the captain and her senior NCO, long accustomed to the sea's arbitrary moods, reacted without conscious thought, adjusting their balance. A few younger sailors were caught off-guard and thrown into the men and women standing around them. The emergency lighting flickered for a few seconds, and the sounds of battle hung suspended before ramping up again with seemingly increased ferocity. Anderson glanced at the group in the armory. "Recommendations?" she asked.

Conroy pursed his lips for the shortest moment before speaking. "We're fighting blind. We have no idea where these guys came from, what they're bringing to the game, what sort of reserve they have. Be good to get someone topside to take a look, since the sensors are kaput. Got to figure it's going to be pretty fucking nasty up there, though, probably nonviable without a suit. Even then, I'd send two.

"We got five sets of reactive left. I'd put them on Snellgrove, Palfreyman, Paterson, Sessions, and Nix. The first three have completed the basic boarding course, so they've been trained. Nix ran with a pretty rough crew in LA, before the judge made him an offer he couldn't refuse. And Sessions did three years with the Wyoming National Guard, tour of Malaysia, Bronze Star, two Purple Hearts."

Anderson smiled wearily. "I remember. I spoke to him when he first came on board. Said he'd had his fill of crazy ragheads getting in his face. Okay. We'll take Clancy's team. Get Sessions and Nix topside for a quick look, then straight back to me with a report. They can link up with Reilly in the chopper bay and take point for them on A deck. Send the other suits down to C with half a dozen standard kits, flaks, shotguns, helmets. Chief Borghino will decide on distribution from his available personnel.

"Send two shotguns down to engineering, but load them with jelly bags and pull everyone else out. Seal that section. Everybody outside of engineering packs ceramic rounds, powder puffs. We've got real problems in the missile bays. I don't know why we're not all pleading our case with Saint Peter right now. So let's not push our luck."

"Aye, Captain," Conroy said before turning his head slightly to shout into the armory. "You heard the woman. Ammo check now. Ceramics only. No penetrator or flechette rounds. We've got sick missiles on the forward decks."

"One step ahead of you, Chief," Clancy called in reply. The three specialists made the last adjustments to their body armor, each turning slowly as his buddies tightened a Velcro strap here or snugged down a ballistic pad there. The suits, which looked like padded SWAT coveralls, came out of their lockers a dark charcoal color, but after a few minutes they began to change, taking on a slightly reddish hue, as they reacted to the ship's emergency lighting. While the three men worked quickly to prepare themselves, the suits drank up the kinetic energy of their sharp body movements, and the adaptive camouflage reaction accelerated.

Within two minutes the superdense intelligent matrix of monobonded carbon nanotubes that gave the coveralls their padded look was fully powered up. The team's Remington G4s were each loaded with sixty rounds of 33mm caseless ceramic, and each man was carrying another three hundred rounds in strip form. Being specialist boarders, they were all neck-chipped, and as they strapped into their powered combat goggles and helmet, a micronet was activated, biolinking Clancy, Cobb, and Brown to their suit systems, and to each other.

They then supervised the "B team" gear-up, hurrying Sessions, Nix, and the others through their preparations.

Captain Anderson, tightening an old Kevlar vest and checking the load on a Glock, struggled against a small spasm of rodentlike panic that had begun twisting inside her chest. Too long. They were taking way too long, and her people were dying because of it. The terrible sound of human combat was drawing closer.

"Okay," she said, forcefully but not too loudly, when the last of the weapons had been handed out and all the armed sailors had their instructions. On the other decks, in the chopper bay, and down below in the main mess on C deck, men and women peered into flexipads, their own or a shipmate's. Anderson spoke mostly to the crew around her, but occasionally she also looked directly into the minicam on her own flexipad.

"I can't tell you exactly what's going on," she said, "because I have no goddamn idea. But we're going to find out who's been messing with us, and then there'll be a reckoning. I can promise you that."

"Damn right," growled Chief Conroy.

"Something hit us a short time ago. We've lost power to the CIC and most of the sensors and combat systems. We've had no communication with the rest of the task force, but we have to assume they're fighting their own battles. We're calling for assistance. Maybe it gets here, maybe not. The best we can do to help is to regain control of this ship. We have hostile forces on board. I don't know how they got here or what they have planned, but our plans are simple. We're gonna kill them before they kill us."

USS ASTORIA, 2301 HOURS, 2 JUNE 1942

You go down to the sea for your living and you'll see some god-awful strange things.

It seemed only weeks ago that Evans had watched the Rising Sun snapping from the staff at the fore of the USS Astoria as she steamed into Yokohama Harbor, escorted by the Imperial Japanese Navy destroyers Sagiri, Hibiki, and Akatsuki. Those very same ships were now committed to sinking her.

The mission to Japan had been a diplomatic one, the Astoria serving as a seaborne hearse, ferrying home the ashes of Japan's former ambassador to the United States, the late Hirosi Saito. She had even exchanged a twenty-one-gun salute with the Japanese light cruiser Kiso, the opening movement of an interminable train of ceremony and extravagant hospitality. None of that had had the slightest effect, though, on their hosts' intense preparations for the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Still, he thought, you don't often see something as fantastic as that. The senior officer on the USS Astoria-the surviving senior officer, he corrected himself-stared through the shattered glass of the bridge and tried to force himself to accept what he found there. His mind, however, was as numb as his left arm, which hung limp and useless, dripping blood, contributing marginally to the killing-floor ambience of the ruined bridge.

Lieutenant Commander Peter Evans, using his good hand to brace himself, stared fixedly forward, to where the sinister-looking bow of the enemy ship neatly sliced through his own vessel. Perhaps if he focused more intently, really, really bored in, the mirage would vanish and the Astoria's two forward gun mounts would reappear. And the slurry of warm human gore lapping at his ankles would…

Fuck it.

Evans had been spared by his legendary clumsiness, tripping and painfully turning his ankle as he leapt from his bunk when the attack began. The delay in reaching the bridge had saved his life. Everyone in there had died, shredded from the waist up by a firestorm from some kind of hellish machine gun that occasionally popped out of the enemy vessel like an evil jack-in-the-box. Evans had tripped a second time when he charged into the ruined bridge and slipped on the bloody mess. A random stray round had shattered his forearm as he struggled to his feet, gagging in disgust.

As if watching himself from outside, he balled up a fist and drove a short, sharp punch into his wounded arm. Again. And again. By the third blow he had battered through the anesthesia of shock, replacing it with a terrible shooting pain, which had the utility, if nothing else, of jolting him out of numbness and inaction.

His first response was combative. He raised fire control for the rear gun turrets and had the barrels depressed as far as possible. Then he gave the order that would unload three shells at point-blank range into the stern of the ship that had attacked his own.

He watched from a lookout platform, which was freckled with thousands of thumb-sized holes. The barrels swung about with excruciating slowness, and he couldn't even be sure they would come to bear, given the angle at which the two ships were locked together. When the turret would turn no farther, Evans limped back inside as quickly as he could, snatched up the interphone, and snapped out the order to fire.

The roar of the great cannon filled the whole world, the bark of Satan's own hellhound. Gouts of flame leapt out into the churning V-shaped gap between the ships. A shock wave flattened the waters there. In a microsecond the three high-explosive shells covered the distance between the mouth of the guns and their target. A geyser of green flame vented out of a huge fissure in the stern of the enemy ship.

But as Lieutenant Commander Evans yelled into the interphone, demanding a full broadside by everything that could be brought to bear-the eight-inch turrets, a battery of five-inch mounts, and all of the portside machine guns and AA stations-a curious thing happened. His voice trailed off as he saw two German storm troopers emerge through a hatch on the small finlike bridge of the enemy ship.

He shook his head to clear it. After all, they weren't the weirdest thing he'd seen tonight.

"Fire!" he ordered.

USS LEYTE GULF, 2305 HOURS, JUNE 2, 1942

Lieutenant Reilly, the Leyte Gulf's met boss, was a good officer because he understood his own limits. He was a weatherman, a really excellent weatherman, if you wanted to know. Captain Anderson had learned that his forecasts often ran two or three days ahead of the bulletins coming out of Fleet, back in Pearl. On occasion, he was seemingly so prescient it was spooky. His small staff on the Leyte Gulf used to joke that he could make a butterfly flap its wings, and start a hurricane on the other side of the world.

But Lieutenant Reilly was lost when it came to small-unit counterboarding operations. It just wasn't his gig, and he was quietly very relieved when Seamen Sessions and Nix checked in on his flexipad to report that they were going topside for a quick look, after which they would report to him to commence clearing A deck forward of the chopper bays.

Reilly planned to give them very general orders when they arrived, basically reiterating anything the captain had said. After that, the two specialists would have a free hand to deploy the available forces as they saw fit. Reilly had no intention of micromanaging close-quarter combat.

Until Sessions and Nix turned up, however, there was plenty to be done. He'd collected nearly two dozen sailors on his way to the hangar, sorted them into four teams according to specialty. They were gathered in front of the Gulf's pair of Sea Comanche helicopters, spectral figures looming in the faint wine-darkness of emergency lighting. Reilly had ordered the men to switch off their flexipads, lest the glowing screens make them better targets outside the safety of the hangar. Only his still shone, and he had dulled the screen to minimum brightness. Even so, he moved about within a small pearl of dim radiance as he inspected his men and women.

They were all fitted out from the air division arsenal. Most had basic body armor, and each team could boast at least one cross-trained medic. Reilly didn't bother trying to whip them into a blood frenzy. It wasn't his style and everyone knew it. Instead he passed quietly from one sailor to the next, checking weapons loads, tightening straps, providing a little encouragement where it seemed needed. It was hard for them, sealed up in the rear of the ship, with no idea what was happening. They could all tell from the Gulf's strange motion that something more than just a firefight was under way.

"We going to be getting busy soon, won't we, sir?" a young woman asked him as he handed her another magazine of 5.56mm from the canvas pouch he had slung around his neck.

"Busy enough for government work," said Reilly. An instant later the world wrenched itself inside out with a cataclysmic eruption of white light and thunder.

The hull of the Leyte Gulf was composed of a relatively thin, radar-absorbent, foamed-composite skin. Her designers hadn't engineered her to withstand point-blank volleys of large-bore, high-explosive gunfire. Such things just didn't happen in their world. Unfortunately for the sailors in the hangar of the Leyte Gulf, they had left that world behind.

One of the shells fired from the Astoria skimmed just over the plasteel safety rail at the very rear of the Gulf's largely flat, featureless deck. Another shell clipped that rail and exploded, most of its destructive force washing harmlessly across armored carbon plate. But the third struck the trailing edge of the stern itself, detonating squarely against the foamsteel sheeting.

The blast tore through the Leyte Gulf's thin sheath of armor and into the hangar. The helicopter sitting nearest to the impact exploded, setting off fuel and ammunition all over the bay. At least half of Reilly's small command died at that moment. A few, including the meteorologist himself, were saved by the chaotic swirls of the blast wave as it traveled through the complex geometry of the crowded space. But the second volley killed them all.

A savage din deafened the two counterboarding specialists before they had even made the open deck of the Leyte Gulf. The roar of the big guns, the detonation on the ship's stern, the eruption of fuel and munitions in the chopper bay all followed so quickly as to form one enormous avalanche of sound. It blocked out, for just a moment, the constant wail and shriek of alarms and sirens, the intermittent crash of small-arms fire, and the confused shouts and screams from the forward decks.

Sessions and Nix braced themselves against the bulkhead on either side of the hatchway that led to the deck. As they were about to push out, a stream of fifty-caliber tracers struck the carbon-composite armor outside, sounding like a jackhammer. The men exchanged a glance, waited for a second, shrugged and dived through the exit.

Another burst of tracer fire slammed into Sessions's chest, throwing him back through the hatch as if he had been punched by a giant fist. Had he not been wearing body armor he would have died instantly. But the three rounds struck ballistic plate, stopping them dead-and beneath that pliable ceramic shield a thick, reactive matrix of nanotubes and buckyball gel pulsed and shed most of the kinetic energy. Enough remained, however, to throw the seaman through the air, and he thumped into the metal bulkhead inside the hatch before sliding to the ground, unconscious but alive.

Nix crouched instinctively, barely glancing back at his shipmate as the machine-gun fire trailed away over his head. He took in the scene through powered combat goggles, shifting from the cool green of low-light amplification to infrared as he quickly scanned his own ship for damage. Intense heat, streaming in livid waves from the stern of the cruiser, marked the shellfire impact of just a few seconds ago. The mammoth bulk of the enemy ship filled his visual field. The barrels of the big gun turret glowed a dim, satanic red. The battery was tracking for another shot.

Nix quickly stripped out the ceramic rounds he had been issued, substituting a prohibited load of depleted uranium penetrators from a pouch in his black body armor. The sea surface heaved, throwing him to the deck as a twin fifty-cal on the other ship ripped another line of tracers through the space where he had just been standing. Ricochets and small chips of carbon-composite sheeting struck his body armor as he slammed painfully down on his butt. Lines of data from biochip inserts in his neck and torso filled a pop-up window in his combat goggles.

Nix switched off the feed with a tap to a button on the side of the goggles.

As he hefted the G4 to his shoulder and squeezed the grip, another set of schematics and numbers scrolled over his visual field: targeting data. He didn't need it though. He fixed his sights on the rear turret of the enemy warship and fired off the entire strip of penetrators. The gun's electronic systems dispatched all eighteen rounds before Nix even felt the recoil. He didn't hear them strike the steel plating a hundred meters away. But bright flares of impact heat and a shower of sparks from the disintegrating propellant casings marked the point of entry. The depleted uranium spikes carved through the angled plating to tear up the innards of the eight-inch mount.

The big gun froze dead for half a second, then his rounds set off the shells that had been ready to fire. The entire stern of the cruiser shuddered and flames erupted from an entry hatch on the side of the turret. Nix rolled back through the hatchway, grabbing his partner and hauling the deadweight away to relative safety. His goggles recorded the whole event, and now he had to get to Captain Anderson. She wasn't going to believe what he had just seen.

Peter Evans cursed and ducked back inside the Astoria's bridge, slipping and falling into an unspeakable pile of offal, bone splinters, and torn cloth. Shuddering and dry heaving with a deep revulsion, he attempted to regain his feet only to slip and fall again and again. He might have given in to despair and just lain there had he not been grabbed from behind and hauled out of the slaughterhouse.

When he finally could stand under his own power, he disentangled himself from the grip of a chief petty officer, a slab-sided former meat worker from New Jersey named Eddie Mohr.

"Thanks, Chief," he babbled, "I… I… I…"

Mohr patted him on the shoulder. He'd been wading through entrails all his adult life, but even he looked a little green around the gills, having caught a glimpse of the bridge.

"That's all right, sir. You done good, Commander, real good, sir. The thing is though. I can't let you sink that ship, sir. You see, we're stuck to it. Christ only knows how, but we are, and if it goes down, so do we. If you understand what I mean."

Mohr continued in his slow, thick, reassuring "New Joisey" inflection, leading the ship's surviving senior officer away from the bridge.

"… You think you can get down these stairs, Commander? They're pretty steep and all. Would you like a drink, sir? I know it ain't regular, but I always find myself that it's good for what ails you."

Mohr wiped away a small gobbet of meat and a smear of blood from around the officer's mouth before tilting a cool metal flask to his lips. The contraband liquor, which was quite good, went down smoothly, burning only when it reached Evans's stomach.

"Thanks, Chief," he gasped. "You're right. It helps."

"Aye, sir, it does. My first day on the killing floor, my old man he took me out that night, filled me so fulla beer I figured to burst. Sick as a fuckin' dog I was, sir, if you'll pardon my fuckin' French. But it did the trick."

A fit of coughing and gagging took Evans and bent him double, until he feared he might lose all the bourbon he'd just drunk. But he held on, pulling great shuddering lungfuls of air in through a sucking mess of snot and blood. Finally he regained what he could of his composure.

"Damage control, Chief," he gurgled. "I need to know-"

"Well, the thing is, that's a hell of a question, Commander. Some I can tell you, like the rear mount's shot to hell. And some I just gotta show you."

As Evans limped up the starboard corridor, still supported by CPO Mohr, he became aware of gunfire-small arms, rifles, and machine guns hammering away, the noise muted but reverberating through the confined spaces that lay belowdecks. The passageways became crowded, too, almost clogging with dozens, maybe hundreds of sailors, many of them carrying sidearms.

"What's going on, Chief?" Evans asked.

"Frankly, sir, I'm fucked if I know. It's like we been rammed, but not, if you know."

Evans nodded. He knew exactly what Mohr meant.

"But I can tell you we got a way in, sir. We got guys over there, we boarded them bastards and we're giving 'em hell, too. That's also why we can't be firing the big gun on 'em. We'll be killing our own if we don't look out."

Evans nodded without saying anything. Men were beginning to notice his presence, turning and gawking at the admittedly hellish spectacle he presented. Some looked impressed, others horrified or just scared shitless.

"Make way! Make way!" yelled Eddie Mohr. "Commander Evans coming through. Move aside, ladies. Some Japs gonna get their asses kicked now!"

Evans tried to live up to the chief's performance. With his good right hand he took a.45 pistol from a sailor who seemed only too glad to give it up. He did his best to ignore the ankle that threatened to collapse under him again. He felt hands slapping him on the shoulder and back. Heard men call out his name. Some even clapped and cheered. He had no idea why. It was mostly a daze. But a gut-level instinct told him his presence was needed.

So he painfully shouldered his way through the increasingly dense mass of crewmen, not really sure of where he was headed, carried along by some current in the seething tide of close-pressed humanity. He caught a confused glimpse of something ahead, an impossible wall blocking the corridor. Then the flux of rank-smelling bodies pushed him left and into a large bunkroom.

It was crowded. And dark. The electrical system must have failed. A few handheld lamps, hung from the top tier of hammocks, provided the only light. They swayed back and forth, sending macabre pools of shadow spilling over and through the heaving crowd of men in time to the swinging torches. This added to the atmosphere created by the tear in reality that stood across the room.

That's how Evans thought of it, a tear in the fabric of the real world. There was a gray steel wall running through the center of the bunkroom, in a place where it simply couldn't be. He could see that it was composed of the same material he'd seen so briefly out in the corridor. Perhaps it was even part of the same structure. It divided the room at an odd angle, and the more carefully he inspected the scene, the more unthinkable it became.

Off to one side, three hammocks emerged from the wall like solid ghosts. There was nothing holding them to the blank metal face. It was as if they had been extruded, somehow. Nearby, a circle of men was gathered around, pointing at something down at floor level. Evans and Mohr wrestled their way over to discover a boot and most of a leg below the knee, which looked as if it were disappearing into the barrier, like a man who had been frozen while stepping through a stage curtain.

"It was Hogan, sir," said one of the sailors, poking at the oddity with a screwdriver. "He was going to the john."

"Probably to beat off," somebody added unnecessarily.

Evans heard another burst of gunfire over the clamor of the crowded bunkroom.

"You said we've found a way through, Chief. Where is it?" Evans asked, deciding for the moment to ignore the bizarre tableau.

"Just over here. If you wanna follow me, Commander."

They left the ghoulish circle of onlookers to ponder the riddle of Hogan's boot. A little farther on, just past a hammock containing the lower half of a naked torso, projecting from the same steel wall, the smooth regularity of the obstacle failed and gave way to a section of buckled and torn armor plating. A fissure some three to four feet wide had been opened by the titanic stresses generated when two objects of such great mass had fused together and tried to plow on, regardless of their new and decidedly inefficient design.

The steel groaned and screamed in protest. Evans fancied he saw it moving, like the edges of flesh around a sucking chest wound. It was even darker in there, the blackness relieved only by a faint red shift that called forth childlike fears of the Beyond. As Lieutenant Commander Evans stepped toward the rift between two worlds, he shivered like a small boy stepping into the forbidden forest.

6

USS ENTERPRISE, 2255 HOURS, 2 JUNE 1942

Lieutenant Commander Black ran from the flag radio room back past flag plot and hammered up the stairwell onto the bridge. Captain Murray, the Enterprise CO, had joined Spruance and was directing air operations-which is to say, he was sending a lot of good men to their deaths.

Bombing six, under Lieutenant Dick Best, consisted of nineteen Dauntless dive-bombers, none of whom had ever launched from a carrier at night. Nine of the old barges had already gone into the drink at takeoff. Six more were destroyed in flight by misdirected friendly fire. And four were awaiting clearance to take off.

Lieutenant Commander Black, two years out of flight ops, could only watch mutely, wondering what those remaining pilots felt as they sat in their cockpits, waiting to open the throttles and accelerate down the darkened flight deck. If, by some miracle, they got away to make a run on the enemy, none of them could realistically expect to survive a return trip and landing under these conditions.

The bridge was preternaturally quiet, in contrast with the scene on the waters around them.

Black moved up beside Spruance. The tension in the small, hard space demanded that he, too, speak in a taut whisper.

"Commander Jolley on the New Orleans is trying to establish gunnery control across the task force, sir. I tried to reach Admiral Smith on the Astoria, but they're out of action."

"They've been hit?"

"Rammed, it seems."

Spruance's jaw tightened.

"Well, they'll have to look after themselves. I need all the firepower I can get turned on the Japs. We can't spare anyone to go help them out."

Staring out into the night, Black was momentarily transfixed by a bath of flat, white light. Two nearby cruisers had unleashed a coordinated broadside at the spectral figure of the Japanese ship, the Siranui. As the thunder of the guns hit them, he felt the detonation inside his chest, profound and imponderable.

Spruance quickly brought a pair of spyglasses up to his eyes to check the results. Black, like most of the others in the room, had to peer unaided into the fractured darkness. The target seemed trapped within a volcanic eruption of white water and fire as dozens of high-explosive shells raked at the waves around her. A coarse, unforgiving cheer rose from a dozen men at the evidence of a single explosion, a distant bud of fire quite different in texture from those shots that had fallen harmlessly into the sea.

"Looks like a hit on the bridge," Spruance said without feeling.

An ensign reported in. "Admiral, VB-six just got their last two away, and the Hornet says she has three Devastators up."

The cruisers fired in tandem again, with the same flashbulb effect, followed by the same, tremendous sonic boom. That must be what it sounds like in front of an avalanche, just before you die, thought Black.

"Holy shit!" someone shouted.

A fantastic cascade of violent light and fire instantly obliterated a great crescent of the night. It was as though a vast arc of space had ignited and set off every shell fired by the two warships. Eighteen armor-piercing eight-inch shells, and nearly as many high-explosive five-inch rounds, detonated simultaneously just a few hundered yards from the muzzles of the guns that had fired them. To the men looking on from the bridge of the Enterprise, it seemed as though the barrage had struck an invisible wall.

"What the hell was that?" Spruance demanded.

"It's like they hit something," said Black. "No way could the whole salvo misfire. It just… It couldn't happen."

The staccato flickering of massed naval gunfire was suddenly overwhelmed by a burst of light. Twin lines of white fire and smoke rose vertically from the source of that flare on the deck of the Siranui.

Unknown fires, Black thought to himself.

The strange eruption, which held every man there in its thrall, sent those two slender pyres arcing so high into space that Black wondered for a second if they might just keep going until they left the atmosphere on their way into the cold vacuum of heaven.

A nervous, insistent voice piped up and broke the spell.

"Admiral Spruance, sir? Please? They're rockets, sir! You have to get those ships moving. They're going to get hit for sure!"

"What's that?" Spruance turned sharply toward the source of the comment, finding there a young pencil-necked ensign with thick black-framed reading glasses, the same one who had just run in with the message from the radio room.

"Ensign Curtis, sir. They're rockets. I'm sure of it and they're aimed at the cruisers, Admiral."

"You seem damn sure of yourself, Ensign," Spruance said.

Dan Black recognized the dangerous tone in the old man's voice. Another officer, Commander Beanland, stepped around a map table and shouted at Curtis.

"That'll be enough of your nonsense, Ensign. Get the hell off the bridge and back to your post. We're trying to fight a battle up here."

The boy reacted as though Beanland had jammed an electric wire into his neck. He went rigid and turned white. "Sir!" he barked out, snapping a salute and making to turn on his heel. Black thought Spruance was about to stop him, ask him to explain further-the kid had seemed righteous in his certainty. But before the admiral could properly open his mouth to speak, before Curtis could even complete his about-face, the blinding white light of a newborn sun spilled out with a roar for the end of the world.

JDS SIRANUI, 2301 HOURS, 2 JUNE 1942

Maseo remembered the agony of stonefish poison, how his arm had burned as though held in a pot of boiling water, after he'd brushed against the spines of one on the outer reefs off Cairns. The sense memory punched away at him while he lay unconscious, battering at his submerged mind, until something gave way at last and let the real pain flood in. In a confused and sickening split second of vertigo, Sub-Lieutenant Maseo Miyazaki dropped out of his dream and onto the metal stairwell circling up into the Siranui's fin bridge.

He screamed without shame or restraint as burned meat and nerve endings shrieked at him to get moving. Miyazaki had blacked out on the stairwell and had lived while the bridge crew died. But he had been badly burned by the explosion that killed his shipmates, and as he lay in the shallow coma of transition shock, a computer screen melted in the fires above him and dripped molten plastic onto his already scorched flesh.

Shock robbed the young man of his senses for a few long seconds until his training asserted itself and he awkwardly thumbed his flexipad, activating the trauma beacon. Panic flared briefly, when he thought the pad may have been ruined in the missile strike, but a warm bath of analgesics and stabilizers soon flushed through his system, spreading out from his spine, up his neck, and down into each of his injured limbs.

Thanks to the drugs, Miyazaki was quickly able to consider the small, sharpened spike of bone that was jutting through the torn skin on his right ankle. He wouldn't be able to walk on that, he knew. So he would have to drag himself up into the bridge by the strength of his good arm. He had just gripped the uncomfortably hot metallic gridwork of the step above his head when his flexipad began to vibrate and screech in a way he couldn't ignore.

Pausing and catching his breath, Miyazaki turned to examine the screen, expecting to find a senior officer there, bellowing orders. Instead the screen displayed kanji script, identifying the caller as the ship's Combat Intelligence and addressing him as Acting Commander Miyazaki. A character voice he recognized from many wasted hours watching anime serials spoke from the pad.

"The ship has been attacked and all senior command elements have been killed, Sub-Lieutenant Miyazaki. You are the surviving senior officer. The ship requests Autonomy Level One in response."

"Ship," croaked Miyazaki, before losing his voice for a second. He swallowed with difficulty, tasting for the first time the foul miasma of burning chemicals and human remains coating his mouth and throat. "Ship, what is the fleet status?"

"All fleet elements are under attack, Sub-Lieutenant Miyazaki. Some are missing, presumed destroyed. The ship requests Autonomy Level One in response."

"Siranui crew status?"

"The crew is incapable of performing any duties, Sub-Lieutenant Miyazaki. The ship requests Autonomy Level One in response."

The Siranui's CI spoke without urgency. It didn't need any. Given the shrill disharmony of competing alarms, the thick smoke and crackling fire, the thumping impact of shot falling nearby, and the evidence of his own wounds, Miyazaki knew something was terribly wrong. It wasn't enough, however. Before he would authorize the release of the ship's weaponry, he had to be completely certain it was necessary.

"Ship," he said. "I must inspect the bridge for myself. I authorize Level Two Autonomy for response. Please confirm."

"Ship confirms Level Two Autonomous Defensive Response, Sub-Lieutenant Miyazaki. Arming Metal Storm and laser pods… Targets acquired."

"On my authority, engage."

It seemed to Miyazaki that the last word hadn't even formed in his mind before the entire ship trembled under the awesome tenor of twelve Metal Storm turrets spewing thousands of hypervelocity caseless rounds into the air. The sound was less martial than industrial, the furious crescendo of heavy-metal war drums.

The ship heaved to port, steering herself now, and Miyazaki rolled clumsily to one side, catching the bone stub that was protruding from his shattered ankle. Even with the drugs that had been released by his spinal syrettes, he grayed out with pain. When he came to a few seconds later, it was all he could do not to vomit. The Siranui's CI, which was monitoring him like a fretful mother, dumped another blend of anesthetic and antinausea solution onto his spinal receptors. Miyazaki experienced the flush as a threshold experience, akin to flipping from flat black-and-white to three-dimensional color with the twirl of a dial. He drew a quick breath and began again, hauling himself up the metal steps using his hand and knees.

He smelled fire-retardant gas as he hauled himself through the torn blackout curtain and onto the ruined bridge. He gagged on the burned-chemical stench and the obscene stink of seared meat. It would have been much worse were it not for the ragged hole that had been punched through the blast windows by the missile impact. Fresh air gusted through, plucking at his bloodstained uniform and matted hair. Smoke obscured the surviving blast windows, but he could see enough through the opening, where growing swarms of primitive, unguided missiles filled the night sky.

Night sky? But how…

Miyazaki pushed the thought aside. What mattered now was what lay out there in the punctuated darkness. It looked like something off a history vid, like a battle from the forties Pacific War. Dozens of ships weaved through dense and tangled arcs of high-explosive ordnance. Long streaks of tracer fire-barely directed, if at all-twisted about sinuously.

And here on the bridge, all around him, lay further evidence of bloody contention. Outwardly, Miyazaki was still. But inside he reeled from the images, finding it impossible to draw any connection between the first officer and that dismembered torso, between Captain Okada and the charred, severed arm that was still lying on the armrest of the command chair.

A flickering to his left drew his attention. He was grateful for the distraction. The damage seemed less severe over there. A few touch screens still functioned.

Bone-shaking thunder rolled over the bridge, and Miyazaki lost his balance as the CI veered the ship away from a cluster of shell impacts. He managed to fall on his good side this time. Sea spray drenched him, spotting the screen with droplets of salt water, each acting like a small convex lens, magnifying the pixel lattice that shone beneath them. Focusing on the screen, he could see that the Clinton was ablaze and the Kandahar was listing as though taking on water.

The voice of the Siranui spoke through an intact speaker somewhere behind him.

"Sensors indicate that the extreme threats continue, Sub-Lieutenant Miyazaki. The ship requests Autonomy Level One in response."

Miyazaki did not hesitate this time. He had seen enough.

"On my authority, Level One Autonomy is sanctioned."

The Siranui's Combat Intelligence cross-matched the speaker's voiceprint with a DNA profile sampled through the smart-skin casing of his flexipad. Verifying that all higher command elements were dead or incapacitated, it confirmed command authority in the person of Sub-Lieutenant Miyazaki, and then instantly assumed operational authority for itself.

The ship's Nemesis arrays had already traced and logged the flight path of the shells that had struck the bridge, tracing it back to their points of origin. The CI corrected for changes since impact, and identified the enemy vessels. It then activated two Tenix Defense Industries combat maces in retaliation.

Hexagonal silo caps flipped open on the forward deck. The stealth cruiser's Intelligence released the launch codes and attack vectors for an offensive run, and the maces, which on a cursory examination resembled old-fashioned cruise missiles, rose straight up out of the silo on towers of white flame. The boost-phase rockets cut out at six thousand feet, so there was no visual warning of the missiles' approach. Their scramjets burned without a perceptible exhaust.

Miyazaki followed the mace run on the screen in front of him. A time hack counted down to zero in the lower left corner. Two decks below, the same image was reproduced dozens of times on screens distributed around the Combat Information Center. A small pop-up window on a cracked screen hanging by a thick tangle of wires near Miyazaki's resting place carried a feed from the CIC. It presented an eerie picture of twenty-two men, slumped in their seats or sprawled on the nonslip deck, oblivious to the destruction their own vessel had just unleashed.

As the missiles curved downward toward their targets, dipping and swerving to avoid a wandering tracer stream, they maintained a furious laser-linked dialogue with the Combat Intelligence on the Siranui, demanding and receiving a constant stream of updated targeting data. Flaps on their stubby wings purred to and fro. On the Siranui's two-dimensional displays Miyazaki watched as the hammerheads lined up on the enemy cruisers executing course corrections with an economy of movement. Three hundred meters from the stern the leading missile dipped, then leveled off, racing about three hundred meters above the highest point of the vessel.

As the first missile reached a specific point above its target, a very small, controlled fusion reaction superheated two hundred tungsten slugs and spit them out of their containment cells with enough energy in each to destroy a heavily armored fighting vehicle. The entire load punched through the deck of the cruiser. The kinetic and thermal shock instantly vaporized a significant percentage of the target mass.

The expanding gas, a molecule mix of human tissue, steel, wood, fabric, and superheated air manifested itself as a conventional explosion that blew the rest of the ship to Hell and beyond.

Ammunition bunkers exploded. Boilers and the crew who attended them were atomized. Those slugs that drove all the way down into the keel flash-boiled thousands of liters of water that rushed back in through the ruptured hull. Miyazaki watched the death of the enemy ship in two acts. A rippling torrent of white fire raced down the length of the topside decks and superstructure, followed almost instantaneously by a sudden, violent eruption that seemed to detonate beneath the waterline before bursting the thick steel hull like a balloon. In a flash, the ship that had been there suddenly wasn't. A few moments later the second mace destroyed another ship in identical fashion.

Maseo Miyazaki had not wanted to be a warrior. He had dropped out of college to surf in Hawaii, then Indonesia, and finally in Australia (where he had met that ugly damn stonefish). He had only returned to Japan and presented himself to the draft board in his home prefecture after a suicide bomber in Malaysia had killed his father, a Sanyo executive. After serving six months in a punishment detail for skipping out on the draft in the first place, he had distinguished himself with his application to duty and his easy familiarity with the ways of their gaijin Allies.

He had never before felt the thrill and weight of bushido. But now, surrounded by dead friends and comrades, he knew the blood-simple joy of vengeance on one's enemy.

One thing bothered him, however.

The ship he had just killed looked nothing like the pirate dhows or baggala routinely used by jihadi terrorists within the Indonesian archipelago.

USS ENTERPRISE, 2307 HOURS, 2 JUNE 1942

"Sweet Jesus," breathed Admiral Ray Spruance.

The death of the Portland bathed the pilothouse in a harsh, flat light. For a few seconds he had an almost perfect view of the cauldron in which the two enemies tore at each other with such blind fury. The Japanese guns poured out eerie needles of light, flash-burning hundreds of shells in midflight, creating a sensational fireworks show. Ribbons of green and gold tracer fire sprayed high into the stars or weaved and twisted low across the wave tops. It seemed as if every minute brought another apocalyptic blast like that which had silenced the Portland forever.

On the flight deck, men still threw their lumbering torpedo planes down the heavy wooden planking, desperate to get aloft and into the enemy. So many of them failed. Those devilish glimmering needles of light struck down most who survived before they could orient themselves.

It was a slaughter.

In a matter of minutes contemporary American naval power in the Pacific had been crippled. More than half of the destroyers from Task Forces Sixteen and Seventeen were destroyed outright. The carriers Hornet and Yorktown were obliterated by one rocket each.

Just one, God help us, thought Spruance.

The cruisers New Orleans and Minneapolis joined their sister ship Portland on her dive to the floor of the ocean, the latter sunk by the second rocket that had launched from that damn Japanese ghost ship. The starburst of white light that bloomed amidships and consumed the entire ship still stung his eyes. Dan Black had cursed and said it was "like looking right into the sun."

Suddenly the bridge windows blew in with a hollow bang as a long, sharklike blur whipped past the pilothouse at phenomenal speed. Two sailors who had been standing close to the glass spun away, crying out and trying too late to shield their faces. A massive boom sounded almost simultaneously. Spruance felt it as a quake deep inside his chest, and as knitting needles jammed painfully into his ears. It was two or three seconds before he could hear the profane language of the men around him.

He realized the young ensign, the one who'd warned them about the rockets, was tugging at his arm, pointing out through the nearest shattered pane. He was shouting something but it came through as faint, far-off murmur.

Spruance frowned and tried to read the boy's lips. But he was certain the ensign was saying something like "death rays."

Spruance feared he was losing his mind.

Death rays indeed!

Holy Toledo, yes, they were death rays!

Ensign Wally Curtis couldn't understand why nobody else could see it. But then, nobody else on the Enterprise-probably nobody else in the fleet-had invested as many hours as he had immersed in the pages of Astounding and Amazing Stories.

As soon as he'd seen those brilliant flares lift off out of the Japanese ship, he'd known they were rockets.

And I was right!

And as soon as the blackness of night on the deep ocean became stitched and crisscrossed with those shimmering arrows of light, he'd known they were death rays. Not flak or machine-gun bullets, but honest-to-God lasers! And the sky was full of them.

Oh, the Japs were gonna win this war for sure.

He knew that really big bang, the one that lit up that giant carrier away on the horizon-the Akagi they reckoned-he knew that was a lucky strike, or maybe just a dive-bomber tumbling into the deck.

Just about every single plane they'd managed to put up had quickly disappeared in a dirty ball of orange flame and oily smoke. He could tell that the enormous volumes of fire they were putting out were trailing off as their sister ships disappeared, one after the other, inside dazzling white-hot dwarf stars. He'd seen the Phelps go up just a few yards away like a giant magnesium flare.

He didn't know how they could defend themselves.

But he did know that Admiral Spruance had to be told what he was up against.

If he could just tell the admiral, he'd know what to do.

When he saw the New Orleans go up, Dan Black knew they were all going to die. He watched that long, wingless plane-that thing that looked like a flying hammerhead shark-as it flashed over the flight deck of the Enterprise. His thigh muscles bunched and he distinctly felt his ass pucker as he waited for the firestorm to spit out of its belly. He'd seen that happen twice now to other ships. But the Enterprise was spared. Christ only knew why. And the rocket-if Curtis was right-passed over them with such speed you could practically see the wall of compressed air that attended its passage. It knocked men off their feet down on the flight deck, swept a few of them over the side, and even seemed to flatten the waves beneath it.

In Lieutenant Commander Black's opinion, something traveling that fast-if it was built solid, it'd punch right through a battleship.

And sure enough, he'd have sworn the New Orleans actually rocked on her axis when the thing struck her. All ten thousand tons of her. Just before that globe of silent white light ballooned outward from the impact point and swallowed up the whole ship.

That was when he knew they were all going to die.

USS HILLARY CLINTON, 2307 HOURS, 2 JUNE 1942

Kolhammer ran his eyes over the screens in front of him and the firestorm lighting the darkness outside. They were in battle. He had no idea with whom and over what. But men and women were dying by the thousands if the flatscreen reports and the evidence of the night outside were to be believed. The deck of the Clinton was aflame, reminding him of the oil fires he'd witnessed in all of the Gulf Wars.

"Any word on Captain Chandler?" Kolhammer asked Commander Judge, knowing the answer before the ship's executive officer spoke.

Judge checked both his flexipad and a workstation, with his mouth fixed in a grim line. He confirmed what the admiral had feared.

"He's gone, sir, along with everybody on the flight deck and another six hundred here and there. It's your ship, Admiral."

None of the men or women on the bridge turned from their stations, but Kolhammer felt the weight of their expectations fall on him. Their lives were now in his hands.

"Lieutenant Brooks." He addressed the CIC boss, who was looking much less bilious, thanks to the Promatil flush. "Give it to me quick and dirty. Force status and enemy disposition. Mike, give me ship status when the lieutenant's finished."

Judge began to gather damage reports from the carrier's various departments while Kolhammer watched Brooks's hands flying over her touch screen. The young woman's face was impassive, although Kolhammer guessed her mind and heart would be racing.

"We're still out of contact with our subs, Admiral. Sensors can't find Chicago or Denver anywhere. Garrett, Vanguard, Dessaix, Sutanto, Nuku, and Nagoya are also still missing. There's no available datum point indicating those ships have been sunk. They're just missing. The Leyte Gulf isn't responding. Drone surveillance indicates counterboarding operations are under way. Fearless has been destroyed."

Brooks allowed herself a quick, rueful expression at that before continuing.

"The Kandahar has taken some fire and reports a torpedo strike. The damage is serious but contained. Eighty-six confirmed KIA. Moreton Bay reports multiple hits. The Siranui has suffered a major impact on her bridge. Captain Okada is dead, along with his exec and five other officers. Sub-Lieutenant Miyazaki has assumed control and authorized the CI to respond at Level One. The Havoc is undetected and has launched one Type Ninety-two heavy torpedo, killing the boat that torpedoed us."

Kolhammer nodded. He'd been certain the Havoc had sunk that ship. At least he'd gotten that right, he thought dolefully, as Brooks spoke again.

"Begging your pardon, Admiral, but we're running through our defensive stocks at an unsustainable rate. There's just too much incoming. We're taking it out, but if it keeps up at this pace we'll have exhausted Metal Storm within another seven minutes. The laser pods will be okay for another ten, but they'll need to power down pretty shortly after that. All other force elements are reporting the same. The Moreton Bay has already run through her stock of MS munitions. Trident has taken up a position shepherding her, but they're getting hungry, too."

"Thank you, Lieutenant. I'll take it under consideration," he said. "What can you tell me about who we're fighting?"

Brooks's air of detachment faltered at that.

"I can't with any certainty, sir. They're not returning any signatures from our combatant database. Their signals and electronic profiles don't match anything Chinese or Indian or even Islamic Republic. Weapons suites are… well, Stone Age. That was a dumb iron bomb we got hit with topside before."

"Delivery system?"

"I'm streaming video from the topside cams and drones. It's a museum piece."

Three windows opened up on screen. Each carried low-light-amplified footage from various angles showing an old propeller-driven monoplane nosing down a few thousand feet over the Clinton's flight deck. The acid level in Kolhammer's stomach rose painfully, leaving a sour taste at the back of his throat. He understood Brooks's reluctance to make a call on the attacker's ID. But he recognized it immediately.

As a twelve-year-old boy he'd built a plastic model of a Douglas Dauntless SBD dive-bomber. It had taken young Phillip Kolhammer three months to save the money needed to buy that kit. It took him weeks of work, getting every detail right, the flush-riveted stretched-skin wing covering; the Wright R-1820-52 nine-cylinder radial air-cooled engine; the painting inside the cutaway aluminum alloy fuel tanks. Two center-section seventy-five-gallon tanks, as he recalled, and another two fifty-five-gallon outer wing tanks. He'd done such a good job on it, taken such serious, professional care, that his father, a career coastguardsman, bought him another model kit as a reward.

He sat, staring at the screen as the vision looped back on itself. A Douglas Dauntless SBD dive-bomber.

"Admiral?" Commander Judge laid a hand on his shoulder, just lightly. "Admiral. Captain Halabi's on laser link. I think you'd better take the call. They've been running analysis a few minutes longer than us."

"Thanks, Mike," he croaked, dragging his eyes away from the replay. Outside, the battle continued. As he turned to Karen Halabi's attractive face, which occupied almost all of a single monitor on his left, three violent blooms of light and fire marked the destruction of a volley of incoming shells just a few hundred meters from the carrier's bow. A shower of hot shrapnel pattered onto the flight deck, but it didn't matter. All human life had ended out there a few minutes earlier.

"Captain. Please report."

"Thank you, Admiral." The British officer looked unhappy. "They're Americans, Admiral. We've been killing American sailors. And they've been trying to kill us."

"How?" he asked, finding himself increasingly exasperated, but not disbelieving her. The plane in the looped video. He couldn't shake the image.

"I don't know how. I really have no idea. But we've had six minutes more than you to get over the neural effect-" Kolhammer noted that she didn't call it an attack. "-We shared data with the Havoc, and we can't get past the fact. They're American. Old Americans."

"What do you mean, Captain?"

Captain Halabi wasn't known for her delicacy. She didn't soften the blow now.

"We've positively identified eight major combatants, cross-matched drone footage with archival data, and cataloged enough signals intelligence to confirm the theory. We're firing on Task Forces Sixteen and Seventeen, out of Pearl Harbor, bound for Midway Atoll, originally under the command of Admiral Frank Fletcher, now led by Admiral Ray Spruance. Fletcher was on the USS Yorktown. It's been destroyed."

Halabi was neither belligerent nor challenging. She could have been war-gaming at Staff College for all the emotion she invested in her delivery. Kolhammer couldn't help but sneak a quick peek at the cam coverage of the dive-bomber again.

"Any proof?" he said.

It was as if she had been waiting for the question. The screen carrying her face split into four windows. She occupied the top right corner. The other three cycled through a selection of images, real-time video of World War II-vintage cruisers, destroyers, and aircraft carriers, churning up a maelstrom of foam at their sterns as they maneuvered frantically-and all too frequently in vain-while attempting to outrun a supercavitating torpedo or combat mace. Kolhammer's nausea returned as he watched a destroyer die inside a small cyclone of ballistic munitions. The image rewound and the ship reintegrated itself as torrents of white fire were sucked back into the decks and superstructure. The vision froze, and the other two windows cycled through a series of still photographs of the same vessel.

The pictures, culled from files across Fleetnet, had been taken on a number of different occasions, more than eighty years earlier.

As Kolhammer sat quietly, Halabi repeated the performance with four other ships. Three destroyers and one cruiser. There was no doubt. They were sinking these very ships. But how? No, that question would have to wait.

"We have extensive intercepts," said Halabi. "Ship-to-ship. Aircraft in-flight. Internal communications."

"Okay," said Kolhammer. "Make it quick."

A sound channel opened and an avalanche of American voices spilled out. They sounded subtly different from the voices he was used to hearing around him, but regardless he listened as men begged for information, for ammunition. For God's help. The raw fear, the crash of gunfire, and the animalistic sounds of human beings contending in blood were all intimately familiar to Phillip Kolhammer. The traffic was genuine. He could feel it in his gut. Then, for the first time since the world had gone insane, he had a single, quiet thought.

The Nagoya.

"Shit," he spat quietly.

"Sir?" said Mike Judge.

"Later. Commander, get this out now, fleetwide. All offensive systems are to go offline immediately."

"Offline. Acknowledged."

"CIs to retain autonomy for point defense only. All units to maneuver for defensive fire support. Have the CIs work it out, and we'll coordinate through Little Bill. We'll need to put the Siranui at our center."

"Aye, sir."

"Captain Halabi, I'll have to get back to you. Please stand by. Lieutenant Brooks, get me the comm boss."

The freckled face of Lieutenant Stuart Glover filled the window where Karen Halabi had just been resident.

"Lieutenant, open up a line with one of the ships we've encountered. I need to talk to Admiral Ray Spruance on the USS Enterprise."

Before the young man could protest, Kolhammer held up the palm of his hand.

"I know. I know. Lieutenant Brooks will brief you. But later. I need this done yesterday. Just make it happen."

"Aye, sir," he answered unsurely.

Mike Judge was staring at him as though he'd lost his mind. Kolhammer reopened his channel to Halabi, and thanked her grimly. She signed off to attend to her own problems.

"Damage reports," said Kolhammer. "The lite version."

"Seven hundred and thirty dead, three hundred wounded, about half of them critically. We've lost all the catapults, with heavy damage to the aircraft tied down outboard of number one. Eighteen Raptors totally trashed, and another two can only be salvaged for parts. Four torpedo strikes, but only one detonated. The inner hull retained its integrity but there's a big fucking mess needs cleaning up

7

USS LEYTE GULF, 2312 HOURS, 2 JUNE 1942

Halon gas and ammonium dihydrogen phosphate dust had smothered the flames in the chopper bay and asphyxiated any lingering survivors of Lieutenant Reilly's temporary command. Specialist Nix scanned the room twice, but failed to get even a phantom return from a single biochip. Everybody was dead. He estimated the gaping maw in the portside bulkhead at maybe ten feet across. The hole gave him a window on the battle outside. As Nix waved his flexipad back and forth one last time, scanning for life signs, a small supernova dawned on the horizon. His combat goggles adjusted to filter out the blinding, incandescent light of a subnuclear warhead. Fanged shadows stretched out across the charnel house floor of the hangar.

Nix spun out of the hatchway, dragging the waterproof door closed behind him. It wouldn't seal properly. The ship had been wrenched too far out of shape. He abandoned the effort and hurried up the corridor. Sessions was only slowly coming to, still lying propped up where Nix had left him. He ran a quick check on his partner, zapped a message out to send a medic, and hurried on again.

A stairwell outside the mail center led all the way down to D deck, but Nix descended only as far as B before heading forward. He thought the decks were angled down a fraction. All that extra weight up front, and they were probably breached beneath the waterline, too. Though shipnet was supposed to track his position, he didn't trust it to be working properly and forewarn the other fire teams, so he yelled out every ten steps or so.

"Nix. Counterboarding. Coming through for Captain Anderson."

He nearly tripped over a dead sailor outside the main mess. Half her face was missing. A little farther on, her attacker-he assumed it was her attacker-had been chewed over by at least half a strip of caseless 33mm.

When ceramic ammunition entered an unprotected human body, it unfurled itself inside, expanding from a small, fantastically dense lozenge into something resembling a miniature thornbush composed of hundreds of semi-rigid razor tendrils. Ceramic rounds would chew right through Kevlar. Multiple impacts would even significantly degrade monobonded carbon. The effect on human beings, who were engineered nowhere near as well, was dramatic and deeply unpleasant. Above the waistline, most of the attacker had disintegrated into a fine pulp that now painted the corridor.

Nix had seen it before. He checked his pace so as not to slip in the liquid waste, but gave it no heed beyond that. He soon came upon Ntini and McAllister, crouched down behind an upturned desk.

"Specialist Nix, coming through!" he yelled.

They risked a quick glance back, then waved him up.

His body armor afforded more protection than their barricade, but he crouched down to their level anyway. Twenty meters farther on a wall of wet, gray steel blocked the corridor. Three of his shipmates were sprawled promiscuously over each other just in front of it. Their blood had pooled beneath them, prevented from running down toward McAllister and Ntini by the slight dip of the ship's bow.

A man-sized opening had been blown through the iron curtain.

"How'd they do that?" asked Nix.

McAllister answered in a hoarse whisper.

"A shaped charge."

"Nice work. The captain in there?"

"You should be able to pick up her locator chip once you're inside. Head right for two minutes. It's a fucking mess like you wouldn't believe in there, but they're trailing tape. You should pick them up. Point-to-point's scratchy once you get in, so let them know you're coming up. They've been hit from behind twice already. Chris Gregory got wasted like that. Clancy blew him away when he popped up without warning."

"Got it."

Nix patted the shoulder of McAllister's old Kevlar vest and leapt the overturned table in one bound.

That's five now, she thought.

She'd lost five of her crew since stepping into this twisted nightmare, one of them to friendly fire.

"You okay?" she asked Clancy.

"Fine for now," he replied. "Wasn't his fault. Wasn't mine, either."

"That's right."

Captain Daytona Anderson knew the tremors and the nausea would come later for Clancy. Along with the guilt.

Couldn't be helped.

She repeated that mantra to herself, like a Zen koan meant to exhaust the intellect and prepare the mind for an intuitive response.

Because Christ knows, there's nothing for the rational mind to hold on to in here.

She was wedged into a crawl space created by the intersection of the Gulf's rail gun control room with what looked like an old galley of some sort. Her features creased as she contemplated the sight of two members of her own crew and five strangers who had… What, materialized?… inside each other, and within a Gordian knot of metal, plastic, and wooden fixtures.

The shooting, which had slackened off for a few minutes, picked up again. A few rounds ricocheted by her head, off a butcher block that had been fused with a flatscreen workstation, showering Anderson with splinters of wood and plastic. Clancy fired without hesitation. She had no idea what he was shooting at, but somebody screamed. Whoever it was almost cried out loud enough to cover the sick, ripping thud that was the signature note of a ceramic bullet striking unprotected flesh. Then another voice called out, but it was controlled and steady.

"Specialist Nix, coming through, Captain!"

Anderson checked her flexipad. It was working again. The screen displayed icons for the locator chips implanted in the necks of her crew within a twenty-meter radius.

Nix, Spec 3-010162820 was slowly picking his way forward.

Three hollow booms crashed painfully close to her ears. Clancy fired again, for the same result-a strangled scream and the sound of something heavy dropping to the floor.

"You might want to hold your fire," Nix called out. "We've got a big problem."

No shit? Anderson thought bitterly.

"Yeah, I know," said Nix. "I mean another problem."

USS ASTORIA, 2314 HOURS, 2 JUNE 1942

The niggers and the broads were the least of their problems. And, really, not the most fucked-up thing he'd seen this morning. But for the life of him, Able Seaman Moose Molloy Jr. couldn't figure out what a bunch of niggers and broads were doing on board a Japanese warship.

They'd killed four of them now, two apiece. And lost a lot of their own in return. And yes, it was pretty weird that they'd only got one Jap that he knew of. But his daddy, the senior Moose, who'd walked a beat for thirty years with the Chicago PD, had taught him that your niggers and your wops and your Asiatic races simply couldn't be trusted. There wasn't a damn one of them you'd cross the street to piss on if their heart caught fire. And the broads were most likely sex slaves, he guessed. His buddy Slim Jim Davidson had read him a story from the newspaper about that-how the Japs were capturing white women in the Far East and turning them into camp whores. Made a man's blood boil just to think about those nasty little fuckers poking their weenies into God-fearing white women.

The newspaper, which had specialized in horse-racing tips and murder mysteries before the war, had been red hot on that topic-the so-called Japanese fighting man's anatomical shortcomings. Still, Moose thought, pencil dicks or not, they'd pay a heavy fucking price for sticking them into any woman who spoke English and knew enough to cross herself when she walked into a church.

Hell of a way to fight them, though. Moose Jr. was a big man, and these crawl spaces he was forced to squirm through were complicated enough to confuse a bona fide genius, which the Molloy family genes had conspicuously failed to produce so far. It was worse than any carnival maze he'd snuck into as a kid. Things just seemed to grow out of other things all around him. He could recognize pieces of the Astoria, but they were all tangled up with the bulkheads and deck plating and fixtures of this weird Jap ship. Not all smashed in together, like you'd get in the car wrecks his daddy had told him about, all crumpled metal and blood and torn-up bits of drivers and passengers. But flowing in and out of each other, smooth and easy as you please.

Or not so easy. If you were Hogan or Paddy White, or one of those other poor bastards had a big piece of armor plating, or a chair, or something suddenly pop out of their heads or ass.

Oftentimes he'd get himself bruised and half crushed worming his way around some obstacle, only to find he'd come to a dead end, trapped in a cranny created by the intersection of two impassable walls. Sometimes you could see good clear space, but it lay just beyond a gap too narrow for anyone but a stick figure to squeeze through. It was infuriating, was what it was. And dangerous, too. Old Chief Kelly got the back of his head blown out lingering too long at one such break in the maze. Moose Jr. didn't have no fancy education, but there were some things you picked up quick anyway. With Chief Kelly's brains splattered all over his graying sweat-stained T-shirt, Moose Jr. didn't mess around with no recon at places like that. He just stuck his rifle into the gap and let go a few rounds.

It was an old Springfield bolt action, which was a pain. He'd have given a month's pay for one of them new M1 Garands. Semiautomatic, gas-operated. Fired a.30-caliber round as quick as man could pull the trigger, according to Slim Jim. But a Springfield still made an agreeably large hole in a fellow, and Moose Jr. was almost certain he'd accounted for at least one of them untrustworthy Jap niggers with his.

A group of shots hammered at the far side of the bulkhead just in front of him. A Jap bulkhead, he was pretty sure. He'd been planning on darting around there in just a second, but the volley forced him back behind cover. He tasted that strange orange dust that floated away from the impact point whenever the nip rounds hit metal instead of flesh. Nips then, for sure. Goddamn if he wouldn't like to get a look at the guns they were using. Had to be some kind of secret weapon, the way they didn't seem to damage anything but human flesh. Apart from the smear of orange dust, they didn't leave no trace at all. Unless they got you in the arm or chest or full in the face like poor old Kelly. God-a-mighty they'd leave a hell of a mess then. Like nothing he'd ever seen-and the old man had let him sneak a peak at some crime scene photos once. Pictures of a freelance bootlegger machine-gunned by some of Al Capone's boys. A terrible sight, but nothing like the unholy meat salad laying where Chief Kelly's bald noggin had once sat.

"Moose! Moose! They Japs up there?"

"What d'you think, you moron?" he spat back at Willie Stolz, who wasn't worth a cup of cold spit in Moose Jr.'s considered opinion. It was a fair question, though. They'd shot some of their own by mistake in the dark tangle of groaning metal, spark showers, and venting steam.

"Moose! Moose!"

"Goddamn, Stolz, I'm trying to kill me some nip niggers up here."

"It's an officer, Moose!"

"What the fuck? I thought they was all dead."

"It's okay, sailor," grunted Commander Evans, who looked about a thousand miles from okay.

The snaking, tortured course through the labyrinth had been hard on Evans's injured ankle and arm. More than once he'd relied on Chief Mohr to push him through a cavity or cleft in the nearly impenetrable snarl of fused flesh and steel. They had made it through to the farthest point of advance, though, a relatively clear space formed by the confluence of an officer's washroom on the Astoria and some sort of science lab or something on the other ship. There was a light source somewhere in there, soft white light coming from within a toilet cubicle, the direct source of illumination blocked by a half-opened door occupying the same space as a desk. Evans didn't see how a desk lamp could still be lit; where would it be drawing power? But there were so many other questions arising out of the last fifteen minutes that he was learning to put the small stuff away in the chickenshit file.

"They through here?" he asked the sailor, a large fellow named Molloy.

He was about to peer through the small slit Molloy was guarding when a giant forearm slammed into his chest and drove him back against a washbasin. His broken arm flared in hot pain, and he started to gray out as Eddie Mohr grabbed him.

"Sorry, sir," said Molloy, "but those Japs can see in the dark, sir. You put your face up there and you're going to get it shot off, Commander."

Gunfire crashed in their ears every few seconds. Mostly single-shot rifle and pistol fire, but occasionally someone let rip with a tommy gun on full auto. You could hear the rounds striking dozens of different surfaces as they flew around within the disordered geometry of the combined shipspaces. Brass casings fell to the deck, ringing like a jar full of coins tipped onto a concrete floor. Fire came back at them, too. It sounded weird. Really loud, but there was never any ricochet. Just a peculiar sort of thudding pff when the bullets struck metal, or a sodden whack, like a baseball hitting a wet catcher's mitt, if they hit flesh. Seaman Molloy dipped his chin to point out the headless corpse of CPO Kelly, lying where the force of those odd bullets had thrown it.

"He took one with him, though," said Molloy respectfully. "You see him coming in, Commander? That Jap got one right through the heart? That was Chief Kelly did that, sir. Woulda put them army sharpshooters to shame, sir."

"Okay, sailor," grunted Evans, still reeling from Molloy's heavy blow. "Better give me a report."

Molloy gave him a look that said he'd never had to report to anyone more important than Chief Kelly, but then he straightened his shoulders and gathered his thoughts. Clearly there weren't that many of them, but his bovine features grew even more ruminative than usual.

"Well, Commander, we come in through the hole in the bunkroom. We had a lot of trouble finding our way around. We shot a few Japs, turned out to be niggers, and I'm sorry but I think we shot a few ladies they had as sex slaves, too… Probably better for them that way, though."

As Moose was talking, the volume of incoming fire grew alarmingly, forcing him to raise his voice. Evans was going to ask him about the black men and the women, whether anyone had thought to search them for ID, when Seaman Stolz screamed. A very large chunk of his chest disintegrated in a hot red shower that splashed over his shipmates.

He was dead before what was left of him slumped to the deck.

"Damn. I told you!" yelled Molloy. "Didn't I, Commander? They shot him through that little crack there."

He jammed his rifle into the space, loosed off a round in reply, then wrestled it out with some difficulty just before the response came in. Three rounds passed through and smacked into a solid-steel bulkhead just over the spot where Evans had crouched down and curled as tightly as possible. He was totally mystified by what he saw. The bullets impacted the metal surface with dry puffs of powder, leaving no dent and almost no residue. You had to wonder how they'd killed Stolz. Evans resisted the urge to lean over and scrape away some of dust that clung to the point of impact. But he'd already decided it wouldn't be worth his life.

It was hard enough to hear anyone talk, let alone to think this situation through calmly and rationally with the harsh thunder of battle going on all around him. Mohr had told him nearly a hundred men were fetched up against dozens of barricades or blockages like Molloy's, pouring as much lead into the enemy as they could, given the Japs nearly supernatural ability to pick them off with those fucking shotgun blasts. Between the fearful roar of that battle and the agony building from his own wounds, Evans feared the situation was entirely beyond him.

He was only Navy Reserve, after all. In civilian life, where he'd been blissfully and ignorantly employed until recently, he was a math teacher at small school in upstate New York. He'd joined the reserve in the early thirties, when work was hard to come by. He'd made some fine friends out of it, and the young ladies of Cherrybrooke village did like a man in uniform. But this… this was getting out of hand.

He was tempted to give in to the creeping grayness, to just fall unconscious and let someone else figure it all out, when the strangest thing happened. The storm of fire coming in at them abruptly ceased.

And then there came a loud crackling sound, like static over a ship's speaker. And an amplified voice boomed out. A female voice, with a clearly recognizable American accent, but unfamiliar in its pitch and tone.

"This is Captain Daytona Anderson of the United States Navy Ship Leyte Gulf. Cease fire and identify yourselves immediately."

Evans looked over at Eddie Mohr, who seemed just as stunned as he was. The chief petty officer shrugged and shook his head.

"It's one of their camp whores," hissed Molloy. "You can't trust her, sir. She's been brainwashed."

"Shut up, Moose," growled Mohr, before turning back to Evans. "Well, sir?"

Evans shook his head at this new turn of events. He drew a deep breath and tried to shout a reply, but his dry, cracked throat failed him. Chief Mohr took out his hip flask again and thrust it at the officer. Evans took a quick swill and tried once more. He was surprised at how weak his voice sounded.

"This is Lieutenant Commander Peter Evans of the USS Astoria. Identify yourself properly, and explain what the hell is going on here."

He could hear other members of the Astoria's crew whispering to each other in the brief silence that followed.

Then the woman's angry voice drowned them out. "I say again, this is Captain Daytona Anderson of the USS Leyte Gulf. You have boarded our ship and killed U.S. naval personnel. That enough explanation for you, asshole?"

Evans got Mohr to help him over to the crack through which Willie Stolz had been shot. He yelled into the gap. "Listen, lady. If the Japs are putting you up to this, just forget it. I'm sorry for your situation, but we're not laying down for anyone."

Muted cheers drifted into their bunker from somewhere off to starboard. Or what he thought was starboard.

"Listen, you macho jerk, you're going to get yourself and the rest of your crew killed for no good reason. We're not Japanese. We're Americans. You hear me? Americans."

Chief Mohr leaned over and said quietly, "That sounds like a black woman to me, Commander."

He was right, Evans realized. That was what threw him about the voice. It was black, like one of those Harlem jazz singers.

"What're you trying to pull, lady," he called back. "There's no such ship as the Leyte Gulf, and if there was, the captain wouldn't be a dame. You just put Tojo on the loudspeaker, if he knows any English. I'll take a surrender from him."

The cheers of his crewmates were punctuated by a good deal of laughter this time. Anderson didn't reply, and he wondered if she'd been hustled away by her captors.

Clancy and Nix crouched on either side of the aperture giving on to Evans and his men. Both men had set their night vision to the soft emerald of low-light amplification. Infrared was useless. There were simply too many heat sources bleeding into the fused mayhem of junk metal. Sparks cascaded from shorted-out wiring. Steam vented from ruptured pipes in brilliant ruby-red geysers, and small spot fires burned all around them, adding a hot smoke haze to the saturated air.

Clancy hand-signed to Anderson. Did she want them to work around though the maze of scrap and attempt to subdue the targets?

The captain shook her head. She cut power to the small bullhorn in her left hand.

"The way you guys look," she subvocalized, "they'd take you for a couple of Nazis."

A chip implanted just below her jawline picked up the vibrations and converted them into a narrowcast quantum signal. Nix and Clancy heard their commanding officer's words in their helmets as clearly as if she'd spoken at normal volume in a quiet room. Nobody else heard anything.

"Just keep it tight and try not to waste anyone" she continued. "I'll try again."

That amplified voice boomed out again.

"All right, Commander Evans. I'm coming forward with my CPO and Specialist Nix. Are you in the head that intersected our weather station?"

Evans's eyes went wide at that. They were definitely hunkered down in a john and he figured that yes, maybe the science lab stuff could be weather equipment of some sort.

Mohr just looked at him as if to say What next?

"Yeah. I guess so," replied the Astoria's acting CO.

"We're coming armed. You fire on us and Clancy will pop a frag through that crack as easy as the round that killed your other guy a minute ago. Be nice if he didn't have to do that again."

Crouching low, Moose Molloy tried to muscle into the gap with his Springfield, but Mohr placed a size twelve boot on his shoulder and stopped him cold. Evans thumbed back the hammer on his pistol, but kept it pointing down at the floor. A moment later he could just make out movement in the gloom and clutter of shadows on the other side of the gap. Three figures slowly resolved out of the darkness. A thin, weak shaft of diffused white light, thrown out by the source somewhere behind the toilet door, barely picked them out.

"That you, Evans?" the woman asked, her voice at normal volume now. She seemed to be speaking directly to him. But how did she know where he was in all this blackness?

"Yeah," he croaked. "It's me."

"I'm going to break a glo-stick," she said. "You'll hear a sort of snap and a green tube will appear just in front of you. It'll glow bright enough for you to make us out a little easier."

Evans, Mohr, and Molloy heard a crunch, like someone stepping on glass. A faint green line began to glow on the far side of the gap. Within seconds it threw off enough light to illuminate the figures who had approached them. Evans was aware of Molloy, stiffening beside him and adjusting his grip on the old Springfield.

"Sailor," he said softly. "I want you to crawl over there, get behind that door, and see if you can get a hold of that lamp or whatever it is. We may need some more light in here."

Moose seemed about to question the logic of this order, but a cold glare from CPO Mohr cut him off and sent him away, muttering under his breath. Evans was too tired, too befuddled, and in way too much pain to bother with the mild insubordination. He let go a long shuddering breath as he regarded the fantastic creatures who stood just a few feet away now.

He figured the older man to be the chief petty officer. He looked the type. Stocky and assured. The woman, sure enough, was a Negro. A big one by the way she was crouched. She seemed to be wearing a life jacket of some sort and had a pair of goggles pushed up on her head. She and her chief were both toting shotguns, so perhaps it was one of them had done for Stolz. That was of marginal interest, however, next to the flood of questions raised by the third man.

Nix, was it?

Even in the strange green glow of the light stick the trooper seemed on the verge of disappearing into the visual clutter. It was almost as though he was drinking up the light, without throwing any of it back. Evans thought he was dressed in black, but he couldn't tell for sure. When Nix moved, he flowed like a ghost from one flickering shadow to the next. His eyes seemed huge and almost insectlike until Evans realized he, too, was wearing goggles. Unlike the Negro woman he hadn't removed his, and he seemed to be constantly scanning their surroundings. His weapon, some weird Buck Rogers-looking thing, seemed to float by his side, and Peter Evans had the unnerving sensation that it could swing up and target the small patch of skin between his eyes before he could even blink in surprise. He felt sure it was the same man he'd seen earlier, on the deck of the other ship.

"That's a fucking German storm trooper!" Mohr hissed in his ear. "Look at the helmet, Commander. And dressed in black like that. He's gotta be a Kraut."

"Seaman Nix hails from Fort Worth, Texas," said the black woman. "I'm not sure of his politics."

"Unreconstructed southern Democrat, ma'am," Nix said in a broad, recognizably Texan drawl.

"Well, we won't hold that against him. But I can assure you he is not an SS officer."

"Well, what the hell is he then?" snapped Evans, suddenly finding himself thoroughly exasperated by the conversational tone she maintained in the face of this relentless insanity.

Despite his outburst, the "captain"-what had she called herself? — replied calmly, "Nix is one of my boarding/counterboarding specialists, Commander Evans. I'll have him fall back if you'd prefer. Regardless, you and I need to talk. And fast. I don't know how long the structural integrity of our ships can hold out. But at the very least I'd suggest we stop trying to shoot each other and dial back our speed. We're tearing each other apart."

"What did you say your name was?" asked Evans.

"Anderson. Captain Daytona Anderson of the USS Leyte Gulf."

"And I'm supposed to believe that, am I? You must think I came down in that last shower, lady."

"Look, Commander. I don't expect you to believe anything I say. I don't know how much of what I've seen the last few minutes I can believe, but I'm playing the cards I've been dealt. You said your ship is the Astoria? Would you by any chance be sailing on Midway, to confront a Japanese invasion fleet?"

Evans almost laughed.

"You gotta be kidding me. Do you really think I'm going to tell you anything?"

"No," she sighed, "not if you're any good at your job. Okay. Let me try this. If you are heading for Midway, you're part of Task Group Seventeen-Two with the cruiser Portland, under the command of Rear Admiral William Smith, which in turn is part of Task Force Seventeen under Frank Fletcher on the Yorktown. Task Force Sixteen, built around the carriers Enterprise and Hornet, is steaming with you, and was supposed to be under Bull Halsey, but he's got a case of the hives and is stuck back in Pearl. So Ray Spruance, a cruiser driver like you, has taken over. You think the Japs would know that? The Japanese think Yorktown was sunk in the Coral Sea. They have no idea she was repaired in three days at Pearl. They wouldn't believe it possible.

"And do you think, even if they knew any of this, they'd be dumb enough to send me, a black woman, to claim to be a U.S. Navy captain, and to negotiate with you? You think they'd have the ability to screw around with your ship like this?"

Evans felt as though his stomach was going to do a full forward roll. He and Mohr stared at each other, exhausted, incredulous. His mind seemed to have locked up completely, refusing to process any more information.

"Commander Evans?" she prompted.

Moose Molloy interrupted before he could reply.

"Commander. This is pretty wacky, sir. I think you'd better see this."

At that a light, even stronger than the green rod in Anderson's hand, pushed back the gloom. Molloy was struggling around the door wedged into the desktop, and he was carrying another glowing object. It was the size of a small book, but it threw out a powerful light, reminding him of the moment in a movie theater when the dark screen suddenly lit up.

"What the hell is that?" asked Eddie Mohr.

"It's a flexipad," the Anderson woman answered from the far side of the gap.

A single shot rang out, somewhere in the distance. Before Evans could shout Mohr had cut him off, yelling at a full roar, "Knock it off, you blockheads! Cease fire! I'll personally clobber the first man who does that again."

"Thank you, Chief," said Captain Anderson.

Mohr said nothing in return, just glared. Moose finally popped out of the constricted space and tumbled to the deck. He carried the "flexipad" over to Evans like it was a live shell. His CO took the object, smearing sticky half-dried blood over the screen.

The rubberized casing felt odd, like nothing he'd ever touched before. The thing seemed light, but solid and kind of dense, too. He and Mohr stared at the screen, which showed something that looked like a weather map. But it was in motion, like a short movie, repeating again and again. As strange as it was, Evans could tell that it covered a thousand square miles of the Wetar Strait off Timor.

It was every bit as baffling as anything else they'd seen so far.

He couldn't shake the idea that he was staring through a small window hundreds of miles high, directly down onto the earth's surface. Overlaying the picture was a mass of thin red lines. The image shifted rapidly, like a movie spooling too quickly through a projector, allowing Evans to watch clouds moving through the strait.

Anderson's voice broke the spell.

"You need medical attention, Commander Evans. I can see that from here. We have a sixteen-bed hospital on the Leyte Gulf. It hasn't been compromised. The sort of injuries some of your men are carrying, it'd go a hell of a lot better for them to get treatment from us."

"You inflicted those injuries, Captain."

It was the first time Evans had addressed her properly.

"Yes, we did, Commander Evans. We've probably killed more than thirty of your men by direct fire belowdecks. I don't know how many have died elsewhere. Our defensive systems went offline, but Nix tells me some of them functioned independently anyway. Your casualties will be heavy, I'm afraid."

"You killed everybody on the bridge," he said, unwilling to mask his bitterness. "Shot the hell out of them. They were friends of mine."

Anderson let it pass. She ripped open a flap holding her vest in place and lay down her shotgun before stepping right up to the thin sliver of clear space through which they were forced to communicate.

"I'm sorry Commander. But you've killed an unknown number of my people, as well."

"Just fucking niggers and…," Seaman Molloy muttered, before a backhanded slap from Chief Mohr silenced him. Captain Anderson let that one slide, too.

"Who are you people?" Evans asked, his voice nearly cracking.

"I told you. We're Americans," Anderson replied. "Just like you."

8

USS HILLARY CLINTON, 2312 HOURS, 2 JUNE 1942

"This is Spruance! Who the hell are you? What's the idea of breaking in on my transmission. By God, you'd better have a good explanation, or you'll hang for this."

The voice filled the flag bridge of the USS Hillary Clinton, of a man long dead when Phillip Kolhammer had finished the last brush stroke on his model dive-bomber. Kolhammer listened in dread and wonder. In a way, that voice was more awful than the firestorm raging down on the flight deck.

He took a long breath before speaking.

"This is Admiral Phillip Kolhammer, United States Navy. Acting commander of the USS Hillary Clinton and task force commander of UNPROFLEET, operating under the mandate of United Nations Security Council Resolution Three Three One Two. I request that you cease fire, Admiral Spruance. There's been a terrible mistake. You are engaged with friendly forces. I say again, cease fire. We are American and Allied ships."

A stream of invective poured out of the bridge speakers. Kolhammer waited until it abated and repeated himself as calmly as he could. The forward laser pods destroyed another five-inch shell as he spoke, emphasizing his lack of success in getting through to Spruance. He watched a medic pull someone from the sea of flames that covered almost a third of the flight deck behind the ops tower. A dark, oily smear marked the passage of the body.

"Admiral Spruance," he repeated, "you are firing on an American-led force. We have ceased offensive fire. I request you do the same."

USS ENTERPRISE, 2314 HOURS, 2 JUNE 1942

In the cramped, fetid flag radio room of the Enterprise, Ray Spruance clamped his hand over the mike and spoke to the operator.

"Have you had any luck raising Pearl yet, sailor?"

"Sorry, sir. This Kolhammer guy is all over us. He's blocked out every frequency. We can't even talk ship-to-ship. All anyone is getting is this transmission."

"How is that possible?" Spruance asked angrily. "No, forget it. That's not important. The fact is, he's doing it.

"Who is he?" he continued, scanning the room. "Does anyone here know of an Admiral Kolhammer? And that ship, what the hell is he talking about? Hillary Clinton my ass!"

The four staff officers who had crammed into the shack with Spruance exchanged blank looks and shook their heads.

"Admiral," said Lieutenant Commander Black. "These sons-a-bitches have destroyed the Yorktown and the Hornet. They've sunk our cruisers and most of the destroyer screen. Even making the worst kind of mistake, no American force would do that. It's gotta be a load of horseshit."

Spruance went quiet for a few seconds, a pause that seemed interminable. Finally, he brought the mike back to his lips.

"This is Spruance. There is no ship or admiral by the names you have given us, anywhere in the U.S. Navy. Identify yourself truthfully and cease firing on us. I've only got to walk a few paces and stick my head out a hatch to know you're lying about that. I can see your goddamn fire all over the sky."

Kolhammer's voice crackled out of the speakers. "That fire is not directed at you. I know it sounds ludicrous… but it's directed at the shells you've been firing on us."

Curtis allowed himself a satisfied, if fleeting glance at Beanland, whose furious glare wiped any trace of satisfaction from the ensign's face. Spruance and Black exchanged a look that revealed their doubts about this Kolhammer's sanity, but before either could speak, he continued. As the words spilled out, Spruance's expression turned from shock to dark, impacted rage.

"Admiral," said Kolhammer, "we know you're heading for Midway to intercept a Japanese fleet under the control of Admiral Yamamoto. We also know that you are ignoring as a diversion a Japanese thrust toward the Aleutians by the Second Carrier Striking Force under Rear Admiral Kakuta. We know that your Pacific Fleet Combat Intelligence Unit, under Commanders Rochefort and Safford, have broken the Japanese naval code JN-two-five, and so you have advance warning of the plan to seize Midway, including the entire Japanese order of battle. I know you won't be happy that I'm announcing all of this over the air, but I can assure you it is irrelevant now.

"I am instructing all the ships under my command to switch on their running lights, and any abovedeck illumination, in thirty seconds."

Kolhammer signaled to Judge, who set the order in motion throughout the Multinational Force.

"I know you'll have trouble trusting me," he continued, "but I can only ask for that trust. We will not fire on you again. We will reveal our positions. I would request permission to come aboard the Enterprise to explain what has happened. I can guarantee both your safety and that of Midway."

As Kolhammer spoke, trying for the sort of reassuring tone he recalled from interminable post-trauma briefings he'd been forced to undergo as an active fighter pilot, Mike Judge passed him a handwritten note. The exec had taken the initiative and asked the acting commander of the Siranui to lower his ensign and park himself behind the Kandahar, out of the line of sight for the Enterprise. Kolhammer gave him a silent thumbs-up as he continued.

"I understand you've taken heavy casualties, but so have we. It was a terrible mistake. We will do everything we can to make good your losses, and we will stand down any threat to American or Allied interests in this theater, but I implore you to cease fire immediately, so we can sort out this mess."

Lights came on all across Kolhammer's fleet. Blazing like carnival rides, their sleek, radical lines occasioned almost as much surprise among the men of Task Forces Sixteen and Seventeen as had their initial arrival. A sailor thrust his head into the radio shack.

"Admiral Spruance, sir? I think you'd better come and see this."

Spruance handed the heavy microphone back to the radio operator without bothering to sign off. He and his staff threaded through to flag plot and out onto a walkway. The sea around them was alight with dying ships, their own, but also with visions of craft from another world. Somebody handed Spruance a large pair of binoculars, which he raised to his eyes with a slight tremor of the hands. The carrier's plunging progress made it difficult to get a steady look, but the first ship that came into view stole his breath. The triple-hulled warship was flying her largest ensign from a telescoping staff atop the bridge. The flag was British. No other structure ruined the smooth surface of her deck.

Spruance dropped the glasses, fixed another alien vessel in his sight, and raised the binoculars again. It boasted an equally exotic appearance, but this was a monohulled ship. The Stars and Stripes fluttered from a telescopic mast at the top of the raked-back fin that spoiled her otherwise empty decks.

The admiral shifted his focus again and again, taking in a slab-sided carrier that at least resembled the Enterprise in form and size, and then Kolhammer's own ship, the Clinton, still burning from the bomb strike. Even at a distance Spruance could tell she was a monster, certainly dwarfing the Lexington. The ships were all heading away from him, seemingly toward the burning giant on the horizon. The volume of fire had dropped away, and no more of those garish rocket flares were rising from the decks of any foreign vessel.

It was almost peaceful.

Spruance sighed and turned to Dan Black. He was calmer, but his hands still trembled.

"I think we'd better talk to this Kolhammer again."

PART TWO

DETENTE

9

USS ENTERPRISE, 2322 HOURS, 2 JUNE 1942

"What the hell is that?" muttered Lieutenant Commander Black.

"Search me," someone replied from behind him.

"You know," said the chaplain, "it reminds me of something I saw in Rome, before the war. I was on sabbatical and was lucky enough to be given a tour of the da Vinci archives. I believe he once drew a machine a bit like that, with a propeller on top. He invented the parachute, too, you know."

"It's a Hiller-Copter," said Ensign Curtis. Curtis was known as a bit of an aircraft nut. Less-than-perfect eyesight had barred him from flight school, crimping off a lifelong dream and shunting him into the entirely unglamorous position of assistant bookkeeper in the ship's pay office. His enormous, black-rimmed glasses might have been standard issue, so well did they suit him in his job. Most often, however, he had them buried in a copy of Janes Fighting Aircraft, or Aviator Monthly.

As Curtis spoke, the strange craft drew closer, riding atop radiant shafts of light.

"A what?" shouted Black, over the growing roar.

The ferocious downblast of the rotors forced the spectators to turn away, toward Curtis, who had screwed up his eyes, determined not to miss a moment.

"It's a Hiller-Copter, or something like it," he shouted, his normally anxious nature gone for now. He sounded completely sure of himself, an unheard-of phenomenon. They were all clustered outside the pilothouse for a view of the approaching aircraft. Rumors were already flying around the big ship: that these were experimental planes, or maybe motorized blimps, pulled out of the lab and rushed forward to Midway for the showdown with the Japs. Some said it was Yamamoto himself, come to negotiate a surrender. There was even wild talk, coming from the Astoria's radio operators, of space coons and women from Mars.

Ensign Wally Curtis wasn't having any of it. That was a Hiller-Copter, or maybe even a Higgins. As it loomed out of the night and flared for setdown, he decided it looked more like the painting he'd seen of a Higgins, in Aviator Monthly. The painting was a mock-up, of course, an artist's semi-informed hunch of what the finished aircraft might look like.

But they weren't far off the mark, were they? He marveled at the contraption.

It looked to have a single rotor, instead of the Hiller's two counter-rotating blades. And there at the rear was a vertical torque rotor, which the Hx-44 didn't have.

Gritting his teeth, and squinting against the stinging lash of the rotor wash, he was uncertain whether the pounding in his chest was a response to the controlled violence of the aircraft's descent or simple excitement at its appearance. He decided it was the latter when his heart skipped even faster at the sight of the second whirlybird. Where the first one had looked sort of fat and heavy, the machine behind it was rapierlike. Unlike its mate, it seemed to have less storage area in the fuselage-for carrying men or cargo, he supposed. Its brutish, hunched, insectile form reminded him of a giant wasp or a hornet.

Wally knew without being told that the stubby little wings weren't designed to provide lift. No, they were made to carry weapons. He could only shake his head in wonder at thought of what sort of havoc a thing like that could unleash. The long protruding barrel at its nose was obviously some sort of advanced cannon. Perhaps even a machine-gun cannon.

He reeled off all these thoughts as they occurred to him, not really caring whether or not anybody was paying attention. But they were. The hard-bitten copper miner, the well-traveled padre, the professional warriors and draftee sailors who had gathered on the walkway turned to his boyish certainty as a salve for their own fears and doubts. Where they suffered future shock, Ensign Curtis experienced only rapture.

"Where'd they come from, Wally?" shouted Lieutenant Commander Black.

"Well, Higgins is based in New Orleans, sir," he cried back. "And Hiller Industries work out of Berkeley in California. But I don't know, looking at those aircraft, they're just way too advanced. I can't really tell you where they came from, Commander. Maybe off a Hughes program out in the desert. Maybe a Landgraf or a Piasecki PV plant. I couldn't say, sir."

The choppers doused their spotlights and set down just aft of the island, atop the main elevator. No landing officer waved them in because nobody knew how. Hundreds of men had crammed onto different vantage points to watch the arrival, either high up along Vulture's Row or scattered throughout the small superstructure, crowding around the AA mounts, crouched down low on the flight deck itself, despite being warned to keep that area clear. Some noted the USN markings and Royal Navy roundel on the strange machines. Others just gaped at their sheer freakishness.

A murmur went up when a woman emerged from the smaller aircraft. No one missed the Negro who hopped down from the other one. Dressed in some sort of camouflage battle dress, he dropped to the wet wooden flight deck with the grace of a panther. The smaller man who alighted behind him wasn't nearly so lithe, but he carried about him the same sense of self-assurance.

It was all an act.

Both Kolhammer and Jones were reeling inside. They had briefly discussed the Transition, as it had come to be called, on the flight over. Kolhammer had filled his colleague in on what he remembered of the briefing by DARPA. Neither man had any expertise in quantum foam physics but they had agreed that, given their total inability to access any satellite links or detect any kind of digital or quantum signals whatsoever, the odds favored the theory that they were the strangers here, rather than Spruance's task force.

Still, it was a hell of a thing to ask a man to accept, that he'd been ripped right out of time itself.

As hard as they found it to come to such a preposterous conclusion, however, they at least lived in a world where such things were theoretically possible. Kolhammer clutched a document case containing about two hundred pages of printed material on Multiverse Theory, culled from Scientific American, Popular Quantum Mechanics, Esquire, GQ, and the broadsheet press. If the locals didn't want to believe him, perhaps the New York Times might convince them. He had been surprised to discover that one of the half a dozen Times features had been written by Julia Duffy. But it had taken Kolhammer less than half a second to dismiss any thought of bringing her across to do some of the explaining-even if her article had been one of the better ones.

After reading it twice, he now guessed that until an hour ago he'd been riding shotgun over a research team that was developing a military application for Multiverse Theory. But the angry, horror-struck men on whom they were calling knew no such thing. Indeed, there was nothing in their world that might prepare them for such a fantastic concept. For them, the most primitive form of radar was still a marvel. Television was an obscure and probably useless invention; jet engines and helicopters were only found in the pages of adventure magazines. And high-steppin' niggers with uppity dames in tow did not waltz aboard the USS Enterprise like they owned the joint. Not after admitting they were responsible for the deaths of so many good men in the hour just gone.

Suddenly a squad of armed marines double-timed toward the Seahawk, nearly bringing the truce to a premature end. Jones was forced to scramble forward, waving them down so that they wouldn't be decapitated by an unfortunate dip of the still-turning rotors. Seeing him charge, three men shouldered their arms and drew a bead.

"Crazy black bastard," spat the sergeant in charge of the detail as he continued forward.

Jones sank to one knee and motioned for them to drop, too, gesturing frantically at the rotors.

"Get down! Get down, you assholes!" he yelled over the diminishing whine.

Finally the sergeant got the message, and they halted their advance. Kolhammer emerged and joined Halabi. Both bent nearly double to emphasize Jones's warnings. They joined him, and together they hastened out of the danger zone. The helos powered down and their crews exited. Kolhammer had thought it might reduce some of the tension if they were to move away from the controls.

High above them, the group of men clustered outside the pilothouse watched the performance.

"Check out the tail on that chicken," urged a navigator from the torpedo squadron.

"Yeah, but get an eyeful of the jigaboo she's travelin' with, Mack. That guy's gotta be eight foot tall."

"Hell, I could beat him fair and square…"

"You couldn't beat an egg, you palooza…"

"I'm going down," said Ensign Curtis, more to himself than anyone else. He was ignored by everyone except Lieutenant Commander Black, who pushed off the rail and followed him back inside.

"What's your feeling about this, Wally?" he asked as they made their way down to the flight deck.

Curtis was so worked up by the rush and excitement that he forgot to be intimidated by the older, more senior man.

"It's something big, sir. Why, I'll bet you it's something we can't even imagine yet, like something out of Amazing Stories."

"You a betting man, Ensign?" teased Black.

"Uh, no, sir. Gambling is a sin, and against regulations, Lieutenant, I just meant…"

"It's all right, son, I wouldn't take your bet anyway. I have a feeling I'd do my dough cold."

Down on the flight deck, surrounded by the hard, unfriendly faces and cocked Springfield '03s of the security detail, Jones wondered how Kolhammer's gamble would play out. They had assumed Spruance would meet them as they disembarked, but only the buzzing ranks of spectators and the anonymous belligerence of their guards awaited them. As they confronted the marine squad, the sergeant in command barked out, "Identify yourselves."

All three had grown up in the military and were unfazed by the aggressive command. People had been barking at them professionally all of their adult lives. They replied in kind.

"Admiral Phillip Kolhammer, United States Navy."

"Colonel J. L. Jones, United States Marine Corps."

"Captain Karen Halabi, Royal Navy."

"We were expected, Sergeant," Jones added, with a tightly coiled menace in the delivery that the marine couldn't help but recognize. A twenty-year man, he had been bruted by professionals, too.

"Not like this you weren't, asshole," the noncom muttered under his breath.

When Jones stepped one pace forward and spoke, it sounded like the engine of an Abrams turning over. Slowly. "You don't know me yet, Sergeant. So I'll let your personal disrespect pass. But you know these, don't you, boy?" He fingered the silver eagles and Marine Corps insignia on his collar. "And by God, you'll respect the uniform of the United States Marine Corps, or I'll beat that respect into you, right here in front of your men."

Jones's eyes never left the sergeant's as he spoke. They stayed locked together for two heartbeats after he had finished. The man's jawline bunched and knotted as he struggled to contain himself, while Jones just gave him the stone face. He could see the guy's entire life in that twisting mask, all of his prejudices and petty resentments, warring against the disciplines of the corps. There were no black marines in 1942, and of all the services the corps would fight hardest against integration. But Jones's warrior spirit was so powerful, his command presence so finely honed, that it could not be resisted. In the end, the Sergeant deflated, crushed by a superior will.

"We'll see," he said, a deep flush of embarrassment discoloring his whole head. He looked as if he'd stepped in something foul.

Kolhammer observed the interchange in silence. He knew Jones well enough, he thought. The Eighty-second had been attached to the Clinton's battle group for two years. The colonel's reputation had preceded him, but Kolhammer was experienced enough to know that the few minutes of a man's life wherein he earned a Medal of Honor didn't necessarily tell you anything about his soul. Or even his character-the everyday manifestation of that deeper, immaterial essence. Awards for uncommon valor are, by definition, won under extreme circumstances, which might call forth behavior completely out of character for the individual concerned. The exchange with the belligerent noncom, however, confirmed what Kolhammer had always suspected.

Nobody fucks with J. Lonesome Jones.

Standing next to him, Captain Halabi couldn't help but be affected, as well, a wave of gooseflesh running up her arms. Curiously, the magic seemed to fade with distance. Over beside the Seahawk pilot Chris Harford, Flight Lieutenant Amanda Hayes affected a faux southern accent: "Mah word, Jasper, we seem to have stumbled into a teste fest."

Harford flashed a small but genuine smile for the first time that day. It froze on his face when he recognized the man approaching from the carrier's island structure. Admiral Raymond Ames Spruance.

Halabi thought he looked more like a banker than an admiral, perhaps a Rothschild or Rockefeller, with short, straight hair, graying over the ears, a rather Roman nose, and deep lines at the corner of his mouth emphasizing the funereal set of his jaw. He fairly stalked over to the commander of the Multinational Force, fixing their CO with a frigid glare.

"You Kolhammer?"

"I am."

That neither man had made to salute spoke eloquently of their uncertainty. Nobody was sure of what rules applied here, of whose turf they were treading on. Spruance turned to take in the stony visage of Colonel Jones and the bewildering Karen Halabi. Jones ripped out a parade-ground-perfect salute, to which Spruance merely sketched a return, somewhat grudgingly and after a noticeable pause.

"You people have killed thousands of my men tonight," he said. "You've probably lost us this war in the space of less than an hour."

"And you've killed plenty of mine," Kolhammer replied equably. "Tried to kill thousands more. We're both at war, Admiral. People die. Sometimes for the worst of reasons. I'm sorry for your losses and if you'll allow us, we'll do what we can for the survivors."

"And what about the Japs?" Spruance said in a cold, level voice. "What do you intend to do for them, since I notice you seem to be running with them?"

The Siranui. Kolhammer knew it had been spotted. It could hardly have been missed, emerging as it did so close to the Enterprise. He wondered whether Spruance had laid eyes on her himself. Probably.

"We have a Japanese Self-Defense Force ship operating as part of our task force, that's right. But they're of no threat to you here, or to Midway, or the United States of America."

"Tell it to the Portland," Spruance forced out through pursed lips. "I have a destroyer over where she went down and they haven't found a single survivor. Not one! And I watched that rocket fly up off the deck of your Japanese friend myself. So please, spare me. All I want to know is, what the hell is going on here. You say you're American, but you're obviously treating with our enemies."

"Well, if we could just sit down-"

Spruance rode in over Kolhammer. "Absolutely not. No secret parleys tonight, my friend. You were trying to kill these men a short while ago."

He took in the hundreds of onlookers with a sweep of the hand.

"You can make your apologies and explanations to them."

Kolhammer's fuse was beginning a long, slow burn. He'd known this wouldn't be easy, but he had his own casualties, and he'd be damned if they'd be treated as less valuable in some wretched body count. A line of Shakespeare occurred to him. We are enough to do our country loss. If his suspicions held true, every man and woman under his command was going to be counted as lost before too long.

The satchel of printouts and photocopied magazine articles felt heavy and useless in his hands. He could hardly lay them out on the wet flight deck and take a couple of hundred overtly hostile onlookers through a primer on quantum mechanics and Multiverse Theory, even if he knew what the hell he was talking about.

He turned to Jones and Halabi, his eyes asking them if there was any point in sugarcoating it. Both looked back at him, clearly relieved that they weren't the ones in the rumble seat.

"Bad medicine is best swallowed in one gulp, Admiral," said Jones.

"It can hardly sound more ridiculous than it did to us," Halabi added.

Spruance clearly didn't feel he had time for double talk. "Well?"

Kolhammer drew in his breath. He took some time to look around him. Just a second or so to convince himself it was all real: the wet wooden planking beneath his feet, the cumbersome equipment for the antique gun mounts, the unchanging sea of white male faces peering out from behind the textbook image of Raymond A. Spruance. All of this under a lowering sky in the deep of night, with the chilled air tasting of brine beneath the synthetic smells of oil and steel.

They were a long way from the tropics.

"My name is Admiral Phillip Kolhammer," he said directly to Spruance, but loud enough to carry to the listening crowd. "I was born in the year nineteen sixty-nine. The same year, incidentally, in which you passed away, Admiral. I command a Multinational Force comprising American and Allied units, which was tasked with forcing a passage through the Indonesian Archipelago, what you would know as the Dutch East Indies, and putting an end to the mass murder of ethnic Chinese Indonesian citizens. Until an hour ago we were readying for that deployment in January twenty twenty-one. In transiting from Pearl Harbor, American elements of the Multinational Force were also providing security for a research vessel, the Nagoya, which was undertaking sea trials of a new weapons system. I can't confirm it yet, but I suspect something has gone wrong with those trials… and that we are here as the result of some malfunction of that system."

With that, he stopped speaking. Spruance stared at him, as he had expected, blinking only once, slowly. The color had drained from his face, leaving a waxy sheen and two points of high color on his temples.

"Do you really expect me to believe that?" he asked very quietly.

"No sir, I do not," Kolhammer replied. "In your position, I wouldn't either. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof, and all I can offer you is our presence. Here we are. Myself. The colonel. Captain Halabi. Our flight crew and helicopters. You ever seen a helicopter before, Admiral? No? I didn't think so. The ships of our task force are some twelve thousand meters to the southwest-that's about six nautical miles. As alien as the helicopters might appear to you, those ships will be even stranger. You're free to inspect any of them. To ask any questions you might care to ask. But every minute you waste doing that, more of your men die in the water. You can see with your own two eyes, right now, that we don't belong here, this is not our place-"

"You're damn right about that," Spruance said. "Go on."

"I'd suggest that you come back with us. The Seahawk ride, and a few minutes aboard the Clinton, and you'll…"

Spruance actually laughed at him, a short flat bark that left no doubt what he thought of that suggestion.

"All right," Kolhammer persisted. "You could send someone in your place. Someone you trust, but can afford to lose, to put it bluntly."

Spruance worked his jaw, staring past the strange interlopers at the even stranger aircraft in which they had arrived. Before he could respond, a deep voice spoke up from behind him.

"We'll go, sir," said a Lieutenant Commander Black.

In fact the man seemed less than happy about the idea, but beside him, a much smaller and greener-looking ensign was doing a fair impersonation of a young man who might just shatter into a thousand pieces if denied a chance to fly one of those "Hiller-Copters."

"You sure about that, Dan?" asked Spruance.

"Hell, the only thing I'm sure of is that we haven't seen a copper mine worth a damn anywhere around here. So I guess you can do without me, if you have to. And Ensign Curtis here, well, I don't think I'd care to leave him behind, sir. The crying would keep us up nights until the end of the war. Besides, he's the only man on this ship seems to know what those things are."

Black indicated the two choppers with a tilt of his head.

While Spruance was weighing their offer, Karen Halabi stepped forward.

"If I may, Admiral?"

Both Kolhammer and Spruance answered. "Yes?"

Halabi smiled, trying to arrange her handsome Eurasian features as innocently as possible. "My exec has things well in hand back on the Trident. I am more than happy to remain here while these two officers cross deck to the Clinton. And I've brought some materials that might help us sort all this out."

She offered Spruance the two books she had carried over. As he examined them like unexploded bombs, she fished a flexipad out of her jacket.

"I also downloaded some files from Fleetnet that the admiral might care to examine. Some history vids. Victory at Sea and The World at War. And a V-three-D colorized rendering of Casablanca."

"Excellent," said Kolhammer. He'd heard that this young woman had advanced quickly through the ranks of her service, and he was beginning to understand why. She was proving herself more adaptable than many other officers he had met over the years. That was the left-handed gift of ceaseless war, he supposed. It was a savagely effective form of natural selection.

"What do you say, Admiral?" asked Kolhammer, turning back to Spruance. "Time is short."

"You don't need to remind me!" his opposite number snapped. "We'll have the Japanese navy knocking on the door at Midway any minute now. And when they find out what's happened tonight, I imagine it'll be the Devil's own job keeping them from Pearl, too."

"As I said before," Kolhammer assured him, "we understand our responsibilities, and will do whatever is necessary. But right now, we have a hell of a mess to clean up right here. Men are still dying."

"And will your friends on the Siranui do whatever is necessary to defend American soil from their ancestors?" Spruance asked frostily.

Well, that was progress of a sort, thought Kolhammer, who chose to ignore the bitterly sarcastic tone. He knew now that Spruance must have caught a close-up view of the Japanese stealth cruiser to know her name.

"The Siranui," he replied in as level a fashion as he could, "suffered a direct hit on her bridge. The captain and many of his senior officers were killed there, while they lay unconscious, suffering from the effects of the trip here. The cruiser is now under the command of Sub-Lieutenant Maseo Miyazaki, and he has slaved her combat functions to the… computing machine that helps run the Clinton. That is to say, the Siranui is under American control. They can't warm up a coffeepot without my say-so. I didn't ask them to do that. Lieutenant Miyazaki suggested it, and I agreed, in the interests of reducing tensions between our two forces."

Spruance's thin, haunted face grew even darker while Kolhammer delivered his speech. When he had finished, the hero of Midway stared at him intently. Indeed, Kolhammer had the distinctly unpleasant feeling that Spruance was staring into him, decoding him, reading his deepest, pass-protected files and weighing up whether to hold or fold. His jawline flexed as he glowered fixedly and angrily at the invaders who freely admitted to having brought so much ruin with them.

And then, as if a switch had been thrown, much of the tension ran out of his posture. His whole frame, which had been so taut the whole time, sagged fractionally.

"Right," he grunted. "Commander Black, you and the ensign will return to the… uh, Hillary Clinton. Report back with all dispatch if you think we can gain anything from the assistance offered by these people. But before you go, Commander, a word in private if you please?"

Black and Spruance walked away from Kolhammer's group until they were far enough removed that they could no longer be heard. Spruance turned his back on the two men and their odd female companion. He and Black were both facing out over the bow of the Enterprise, which methodically rose and sank on the long ocean swell. It was cold, and they were dressed lightly. They shivered as hundreds of pairs of eyes bored into their backs.

"You'll need a signal. In case you're coerced," Spruance said. "Something simple that they won't notice."

"Well, my sainted mother raised me never to cuss at an admiral, sir. Not even a lousy rear admiral from the Cruiser Division. I could slip in a fucking profanity, begging your pardon, sir. That's not like me at all. Then you'd know we were in trouble."

"Fine," Spruance said, smiling weakly despite himself. "That youngster you're taking with you. Keep a close eye on him. His mother would probably like to see him again, too."

"I'll do my best, sir. It was his idea by the way. It's more like Ensign Curtis is taking me. If this comes off, that should be acknowledged. Otherwise, well, I'll take responsibility."

"Duly noted."

"Sir?"

"Yes, Commander?"

"Do you believe any of this malarkey?"

Stillness came over Ray Spruance. But this time his pause was short.

"I don't know. I really don't. It's just so crazy. But I'll tell you this. I hope they're not lying. Because otherwise the Japs are going to roll right over us, maybe even win this war. They'll certainly take Hawaii, and probably Australia and New Zealand if they really feel like stretching themselves. They could even drive through Burma and into India. The Germans could push through Persia to link up with them. That'd be an ungodly mess. But maybe with some of the rockets these bastards turned on us tonight, we might stand a chance."

"What about the Negro and the half-breed dame? You think they're for real?"

Spruance turned back.

"The wonders never cease," he said.

10

IN FLIGHT, 0005 HOURS, 3 JUNE 1942

Despite his appearance, it didn't pay to underestimate Ensign Wally Curtis. He was no rube. He had grown up in Chicago. Since enlisting he'd met sailors from pissant little backwoods burgs in places like Kentucky and Georgia who could count on one hand the number of times they'd seen a motor vehicle. Assuming they could count, of course. And assuming they had the regulation five fingers per hand. There were times he had his doubts.

Right now, however, Curtis felt like just about the dumbest, most unsophisticated backwoods cracker on God's green earth. Not that he cared. A bright ribbon of joy blew through him. The older men had often teased him about the promise he'd made to his strict Presbyterian parents, that he wouldn't lie with a woman until she wore his wedding ring. But he knew as a moral certainty that the thrill of riding in this helicopter surpassed anything any of them had ever known while riding some low-rent floozie.

It was all beyond him, gloriously, unreachably beyond his experience and understanding. He'd been right when he told Lieutenant Commander Black that the truth of the night would prove to be something they couldn't even imagine. He was young and unscarred, and the raw shock of the future folding back in on itself was enough to set his spirits soaring.

Braced across the cabin from him, Colonel Jones smiled at Curtis's obvious delight. Beside him, Lieutenant Commander Black was doing a fair job of concealing his discomfort, but his white-knuckle grip on the grab bars gave him away. By way of contrast, Jones had to keep pushing the ensign back in his seat as he leaned forward, craning this way and that to take in as much detail as possible.

The lights and displays of the flight controls kept drawing his attention. He seemed even more fascinated by them than he had been by shaking hands with his first black man-and a full-bird colonel of the marines at that-and only his second lady pilot. His daddy had taken him to see Amelia Earhart once. If it was possible, Flight Lieutenant Hayes seemed even more exotic and beautiful.

"What part of Chicago did you say you were from, Ensign?" asked Jones.

Both Curtis and Black wore astonishingly small headsets, allowing them to communicate over the noise of the Seahawk. But no one else seemed to need them. Jones had tried to explain the devices-he'd called them "chips"-that enabled each of the other passengers to communicate without the help of an external rig, but he'd been reduced to saying it was like having a radio inside your head. It sounded like something a drunk or a madman might say, and Lieutenant Commander Black regarded him in just such a fashion. Curtis, on other hand, simply marveled at the crystal-clear sound of Jones's soft conversational tones purring in his ear. The man wasn't speaking any louder than you might in your maiden aunt's drawing room, yet they heard every word he said, even over the thundering rotors.

"I'm from Oak Brooke, sir," said Curtis. "My father has a hardware store over in North Lake."

"I know that part of town well," said Jones.

"Colonel Jones, sir?"

Curtis had no trouble recognizing and respecting Jones's authority, something that earned him respect in return; a hard task, as many junior officers of the Eighty-second could testify. "I don't mean any offense, sir, but where you come from, are there are a lot of Negroes in the service?"

Airman La Salle smiled to himself as Jones replied.

"No offense taken, Ensign. But we don't use the word Negro anymore. Most folks consider it offensive. You'll want to bear that in mind when you get aboard the Clinton. Both of you," he added for the benefit of Black. "I believe the correct term nowadays is American of color." Jones snorted to show how little regard he had for such things before continuing. "But the corps is color-blind, Ensign. All of the armed forces are, and have been for a long time. When Admiral Kolhammer here was fresh out of college he served under a chairman of the Joint Chiefs, a sort of supreme commander of all the services, whose family came out of Jamaica. He'd have been called a Negro, or worse, in your day."

"That man went on to become the secretary of state," Kolhammer added. "Could have been president, too, if it hadn't been for Ms. Clinton."

"The lady your ship is named after?" asked Curtis.

"The president my ship is named after. Best president the navy had, since Ronald Reagan."

"The cowboy actor!"

"The one and only," smiled Jones.

"Excuse me," Black interjected. "No offense, Colonel. But a colored president? A lady president? A B-grade cowboy in the White House? What are you, using the funny pages for your history books? You gotta be yanking my chain. I'm looking around your whirligig here and I'll admit I can see a lot of change, a lot of advances. But some things, they just don't change."

Instead of replying, Jones pulled a satchel out from under his seat and then a pair of powered combat goggles from within the bag.

"Pilot?" he asked, over the chopper's comm channel. "Can you raise Fleetnet for me? I need to access my personal archive.

"Put these on," he ordered Black.

The former copper miner eyed the goggles suspiciously. He gave Jones a hard, inquiring look, but the marine simply shrugged in reply. After a moment's consideration, Black reached across and took the device. It reminded him a little of antique flying goggles from the Great War. But only a little. These things were lightweight and sleek, with a curious feeling of density to them. Like they were packed tight with impossibly small machinery or wiring.

He needed no help settling them over his eyes. Indeed, they seemed to mold themselves to his face. The sensation wasn't entirely pleasant.

The first thing he noticed was the night vision. It was startling.

"Okay," he said. "That's a good trick. But what have they got to… whoa!"

Without warning his entire range of view turned black for a split second, before it was slammed by countless shimmering filaments of light. Sometimes they seemed as delicate as a single thread of spider's web. In other places energy poured through this strange negative space in torrents and floods. As Jones worked a flexipad, Black rocked in his seat, overwhelmed by the visual effect of flying through this self-contained cosmos of fire and light. He found that he could catch a glimmer of something every now and then, a glimmer of recognition as something vaguely familiar flashed by; the Globe and Anchor of the USMC, the roaring lion from the beginning of an MGM movie. The images flickered in and out of range so quickly that he could never quite identify any one impression.

In a few seconds Jones seemed to find what he wanted. Lieutenant Commander Black let his head fell back slightly, like a man in the front row of a movie theater. He was in Washington, hovering above a huge crowd, perhaps a million strong. He could see the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial and then he was right up close to a black man. His rounded cheeks and pencil-thin mustache filled the-what, the whole screen? — as he punched out a speech, or perhaps a sermon. It certainly rang with the powerful cadence of the fire-and-brimstone revival meetings Black's daddy had favored.

"I have a dream…," roared the Negro. "That one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal…"

The man's voice rang out and filled the world as the footage segued into film of men and women, black and white, under attack by police dogs and fire hoses.

"I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood…"

Newspaper photographs of a black man who looked like he'd been shot on a motel patio faded to color images of a jungle war, of black and white soldiers so befouled with mud and gore that beneath their ruined fatigues all difference had been erased. Lieutenant Commander Black thought he recognized Marine Corps insignia on one Negro whose bandaged, bloody head lay in the lap of a white comrade. The black soldier stared sightlessly into the heavens, his face streaked with tears fallen from the eyes of his friend.

"I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character…"

Snatches of color movies, and strange music, of grinning black basketball and football players cut to images of city workers, black, white, Asian, male, and female running blind and fearfully through streets turned gray by clouds of pulverized cement that rushed at them while a stupendously tall building collapsed straight into the ground behind them. And the same preacher still called out his message in Black's ears.

"Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York…"

Bright, clear color film of U.S. Marines, obviously of many races, standing atop the rubble of some palace in a place identified as DAMASCUS faded to a shaky handheld shot of a beaming Colonel J. Lonesome Jones on the lawn of the White House, escorted by his impossibly beautiful and-for Dan Black-improbably blond and blue-eyed wife.

The woman was teasing Jones, repeatedly stroking the decoration newly pinned to his chest, a Medal of Honor. A black woman, beaming fit to burst and identified on the screen as VICE PRESIDENT RICE, wandered over to shake his hand.

The preacher still roared out.

"Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

The images froze, and Black felt someone tapping on the goggles. He lifted them off. The sudden darkness of the chopper cabin was unsettling.

"You're right, Commander," said Jones, leaning forward, his face dimly illuminated. "Some things don't change. But that doesn't mean progress is impossible. My niece made that film you just saw, by the way. She cut it all together for a school project. Even took the footage at the White House herself. It's nicely done, don't you think? She's only eleven years old, and I suspect she'll be a holy terror to her mother and father."

Lieutenant Commander Black was at a loss for words. "Is she… uh…"

"As white as the Grand Cyclops of the Ku Klux Klan. But she loves her uncle Lonesome, and wants to follow in his footsteps, God help her."

"How did you win the medal?" asked Black, readjusting his headset as he handed the goggles to Ensign Curtis.

"I don't mind you asking, Commander. But I'm not inclined to discuss it with you just yet. That doesn't mean I won't."

"I think I understand," Black said with a hint of chagrin.

"No, I don't think you do," said Jones. "Have you ever been in combat, Commander?"

"No," he admitted.

"Well, the admiral, myself, Airman La Salle over there, and the pilots of this helicopter, we've all been there. Too many times. If I could wish that away, I would, believe you me. I don't want my niece to live my life, but that's the world she was born into. It's not pleasant, but it has its certainties. One of which is that I know every man and woman in this aircraft would cut their arms off to save me if they had to-and they know I would do the same for them. They're my people, Black, no matter what. You, however, you I don't know."

"That's pretty goddamn rich, don't you think?" Black protested. "You blowing in here the way you did, and then demanding that we earn your trust. That's hardly fair."

"Fair's got nothing to do with it." Jones shrugged. "You'll see that soon enough, if you have any sense."

"Colonel Jones?"

Ensign Curtis interposed himself between the two men in the unfamiliar role of peacemaker.

"Yes, son?"

"These eyeglasses, sir. Do you actually wear them in combat, so you can see in the dark?"

"We do. But they have other uses, too. They'll take a shotgun blast from twenty yards out. Your face'll get shredded, of course. But your baby blues will be A-okay." He grinned ghoulishly. "They can display a bunch of tactical information, too. Real-time imaging from intel drones, spy-cams, and so on. So if you're wondering what's on the other side of a hill, say, you can see without popping your head up to get it shot off."

Jones could see that neither Curtis nor Black really understood what he was talking about.

"Put them on, Ensign," he said.

When Curtis had the goggles snug over his eyes, Jones made another series of fingertip adjustments on his flexipad. Wally's head moved from side to side as he was instantly overwhelmed by the mass of data. Inside the goggles he could "see" five movie screens. Each seemed to contain a different view of the same scene-a squad of soldiers attacking a building. Curtis couldn't tell if it was for real or made up. After a few seconds Jones shut down the goggles and asked him to hand them over to Dan Black.

The second time around Black did better at hiding his surprise, but the look on his face still gave him away. He watched the film through to the end before lifting the goggles.

"I'm no foot soldier," he said, "but how in hell is anyone supposed to fight with that five-ring circus to distract him?"

Jones grinned like a hungry wolverine. "Thousands of hours of training."

Black nodded. It was just a small movement. "Admiral Kolhammer?" he said, with a slight shift in his voice indicating that he was approaching a personal Rubicon. "How'd you really get here? Assuming you are here and we're not there, wherever it is you came from."

Kolhammer sighed. "Truth be known, I can't tell you that, Commander. Not because it's restricted information, but because I don't really know. When I was last in Pearl, I attended a briefing with the captain and executive officer of the Clinton. A bunch of no-name spooks and pinheads gave us a soft sell about this research project we were to ride shotgun on. They said it was for a new weapons system, gave us a lot of bullshit about a gun that wouldn't so much fire a bullet or a missile as take it directly to the target. One of them, a Japanese man actually, talked about 'collapsing the distance' to impact. It sounded like a bunch of crap to us, but ours is not to question why."

"Some things really don't change then," Black smiled, a small gesture of genuine warmth for the first time.

"No, they don't," admitted Jones.

"Anyway," Kolhammer continued, "I don't expect you to understand the science. Even I only have a Popular Mechanics notion of how it all works. But these guys were generating enormous levels of energy, enough I guess to actually warp the structure of space itself. And one of the things we've learned is that, on a certain level, space and time are the same thing. I guess they just got their figures wrong. I promise you, as we know more, we'll fill you in."

"That's pretty fucking wacky, if you ask me," said Black.

"Any wackier than this?" said Kolhammer, holding up the goggles and then swinging them around to take in the entire chopper.

"Or me?" said Colonel Jones.

"Yeah, quite a bit, since you ask."

Lieutenant Commander Black cracked his big broken knuckles. "You know, I might look like a real palooka, but I have a master's in civil engineering. It's only from Dakota State, but I had to sit down for five years of book learning like everyone else. Just because I used to break rocks for a living doesn't make me a fuckin' rockhead. I understand progress. The way I worked a mine was a hell of a lot different from the way my granddaddy did.

"I look at this bird and it seems mighty queer to me, but Ensign Curtis, he tells me these things are already on the drawing board. You got a woman flying this thing? Fine. I'll bet Amelia Earhart could fly rings around her. And as for you, Colonel Jones, my great-great-granddaddy on my mama's side was a lieutenant with the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts, a black regiment with white officers. He died with his men, charging the Confederate guns at Fort Wagner. The grapeshot cut them up so bad, you couldn't tell who was who, or who was what, if you get my drift. So the home I grew up in, you ever spoke the word nigger, you got your ass whupped good and proper. Maybe you want to bear that in mind, Colonel Jones, before you go judging the content of a man's character by the color of his skin."

Jones gave Dan Black the benefit of his hardest glare, until a sly smile cracked open his granite features.

"Well put, Commander. Touche."

"Admiral Kolhammer?"

"Yes, Ensign?"

"How can you be sure you went back in time, and we didn't come forward?"

Kolhammer shifted his weight as they banked for approach. "I'm not a hundred percent sure," he answered. "But we can't access any of our satellites. Our radar, which is a hell of a lot more powerful than yours, isn't giving us the returns that it should. We were just off the coast of East Timor, down the bottom of the Dutch East Indies, Indonesia in our day. But it's not coming up anymore. We can't find anything, TV, radio, GPS, nothing. Our equipment is fine. It's just like there's nothing out there."

The two Enterprise officers only understood about half of what he said, but the admiral's demeanor left no doubt as to what he was getting at.

"And what about this ship, the Nagoya? Where'd it get to?" asked Black.

"That's one I really can't answer." Kolhammer shrugged. "We've been looking for it, believe me. I'm hoping to God it hasn't come through and landed in Tokyo Bay. But I doubt it. We're missing a couple of other ships, but they were all some distance from the center of the group, and the simplest explanation is that they just didn't get sucked up with the rest of us. We lost a couple of nuclear submarines and some Indonesian destroyers like that. Although the destroyers weren't such a great loss. Another ship got cut in half by the event horizon.

"The Nagoya was tucked away between the Clinton and a couple of cruisers. It would have been at the epicenter of whatever went wrong. It was probably destroyed, but we'll have to invest significant assets confirming that."

"Because that's your only way home, right?" said Curtis.

"Got it in one, son," said Kolhammer. "But for now, if you'd care to look outside, you can see what the Enterprise will grow into, given eighty years or so."

They two visitors leaned over. Black swore softly. Ensign Curtis didn't bother to hide his surprise.

"Good gosh! It's as big as a city."

USS ENTERPRISE, 0005 HOURS, 3 JUNE 1942

Captain Halabi couldn't remember ever being at such an uncomfortable gathering. There were only three of them standing in Spruance's cabin as the admiral methodically leafed through her copy of Fuchida and Okumiya's Midway. The other officer present, a Commander Beanland from his planning staff, had attempted to engage her in polite chitchat, but the conversation curled up and died on the deck after he had blundered into a morass of nonsensical questions about the hygiene difficulties of "women's troubles" on board a warship. Halabi had snapped back at him that menstruation proved itself to be much less of a problem than the standard array of sucking chest wounds, compound fractures, and deep tissue burns with which one had to deal after a missile strike.

"Fascinating," Spruance murmured, closing the book with a snap. "If it's true."

"Well, it won't be now of course," Halabi ventured. "The collision between our two forces has seen to that."

"Indeed… Captain. And so, what now? If you are what you claim to be, what do you do now? Throw the lever on the magic box that brought you here? Leaving us in the lurch? You might very well find when you get home that everyone speaks German and Japanese."

Halabi rubbed her tired eyes. "Well, to begin with, we seem to have lost our magic box. And even if we could throw it into reverse, all the currently accepted theories of time distortion posit an infinitely variform multiverse rather than a single linear universe…"

She lost them with that, and so decided to try a different tack.

"There's a field of physics called quantum mechanics. It's not specific to my own time. A chap called Max Planck kicked it off in nineteen hundred with something he called the quantum theory of light, and Albert Einstein moved it along in nineteen oh five with his work on the photoelectric effect. Basically, he theorized that light can be observed as either particles or waves, but never both at once. It's all about uncertainty, gentlemen, what we call quantum uncertainty. Long story short? It's most likely that there are an infinite number of universes, all existing alongside each other, all of them different, some subtly, some radically. I guess the fact that we're here is the first real proof of that theory."

"I'm sorry," said Spruance, "but that sounds utterly ridiculous. You're saying there's a place where, for instance, America lost the War of Independence, or the South won the Civil War?"

"And infinite variations on that." She nodded. "A universe where there was no War of Independence because British colonial policy was more enlightened. An American Civil War after which Lincoln wasn't assassinated. A Second World War in which Hitler was. Or where the whole planet was invaded by, I don't know, space lizards or something. A universe in which Coke tastes like Pepsi. And another in which I'm standing over there drinking tea, rather than here drinking this… uhm… coffee. You get the picture?"

"If that's so," mused Spruance, "it might seem as if you've dropped into your past, but in truth you haven't."

"Quite so." Halabi nodded, encouraged by the man's grasp of the theory. "This may be a subtly different nineteen forty-two. Or maybe a radically different one. Perhaps Hitler doesn't make the mistake of invading the Soviet Union…"

"He has," Beanland put in.

"Oh. Well, that's good then. But you're right, Admiral. Maybe things are slightly different here. Maybe nothing we'll ever notice, like the typeface of a small county newspaper being altered, but everything else appears exactly the same. Or maybe our trip here was a straight H. G. Wells deal. From twenty twenty-one to our very own nineteen forty-two. I don't know. We may never know. Theories are one thing, but actually cracking open the fabric of spacetime and manipulating it without dire consequences, well, that's a whole other sort of something."

"As you may have discovered to our cost," said Spruance.

"Yes," Halabi admitted. "I am sorry. You were unfortunate enough to tangle with our CIs while there was minimal human oversight."

"CIs?"

"Combat Intelligences. Computers. Machines that think. They help us run our ships, our whole society actually. And when they detected the threat you posed to the task force with your cannon fire, they responded."

"Well, that response may have cost us the war," Spruance observed bitterly.

"It won't," Halabi insisted. "The strategic imbalance between the Axis powers and the Allies is so great that it would take a lot more than the destruction of your task force and the loss of Midway, Hawaii, or even Australia to tip that balance in their favor."

"Oh, God, don't let MacArthur hear that," Spruance muttered, practically to himself.

"With all due respect," Beanland protested, "you've done your damnedest to help them on their way."

"I am well aware of what happened tonight, Commander. I lost a good many friends myself on the Fearless. We haven't had a chance to formally discuss it at a command level yet. But I can assure you we won't leave you swinging. If necessary, almost any one of the ships in our task force could sink the Japanese carriers and capital ships closing on Midway at the moment."

"Yes, but would they?" Spruance asked. "Do you seriously believe your Japanese comrades would happily send their forefathers to the bottom?"

She answered honestly. "I don't know. I haven't spoken to them. And since most of the Siranui's senior officers have been killed anyway, their views are no longer entirely relevant."

"Yeah, but the views of the survivors will be!" Beanland insisted. "Maybe you got yourself some real tame, friendly Japs where you come from, but we got just about the worst bunch of bastards in the world right here. And I don't fancy them getting their hands on any of those rockets or thinking machines you hammered us with.

"Admiral," he said, ignoring Halabi now, "whatever turns out to be the case with these people"-he indicated the British captain with a jerk of his thumb-"we have to insist on those Japs that came along with them being disarmed and interned. They're just too much of a threat."

"That may well be, Lieutenant," Spruance said, nodding, "but let's just stay calm for the moment, shall we. Captain Halabi, how do you think your boss would take to that suggestion?"

"Frankly, not very well. I don't think any of us would."

Spruance seemed quite taken aback by the defiant note in the woman's voice.

"And why not, might I ask?"

"Because they're our allies," she said, as though explaining something to a child. "This wouldn't have been the Siranui's first tour with Admiral Kolhammer's group… sorry, that means nothing to you. Look, I've served in coalition with that ship before. I know that Admiral Kolhammer has, too. They've taken the same risks we have, watched our backs, taken fire when we did. We have no reason to doubt to their loyalty or their honor."

"Yes, but their loyalty and honor might just demand that they lay in a course for the homeland. I take it from the title of this book that Japan didn't have a good time of it, by the end of the war."

"No, granted, they didn't. But the Siranui's crew aren't stupid. They know that what doomed Japan was the hubris of the militarists who ran the country…"

"Who run the country, you mean," said Spruance.

"Okay," she conceded. "Who run the country. But Japan-their Japan-has been a liberal democracy for generations. To suggest that modern Japanese would want to return to the mistakes of their distant past is as fatuous as saying modern Germans would all turn back into Nazis if given the chance."

"Oh my God," Beanland pleaded. "Please don't tell me you've got a bunch of German ships out there, as well."

Spruance was genuinely perturbed by the possibility. "Well, Captain," he demanded. "What of it? Any other nasty little surprises you'd care to let us in on. A U-boat, for instance?"

Halabi struggled to control her exasperation with the paranoid mind-set of the two men.

"No," she said firmly. "We have no German vessels operating with us. There are undoubtedly a small number of German personnel on secondment to various elements of the task force. There may well be some Italians, too. I know of a couple on the Fearless. And we had a couple of Republic of Indonesian boats with us, which might well have complicated things, since you don't have a Republic of Indonesia… but then neither do we nowadays, so I guess it couldn't be any more complicated. And anyway, they seemed to have escaped the Transition here, like the American subs and a New Zealand frigate, which were all some distance away from the event."

"So what on earth do you intend to do with all of these Krauts and Japs, then?" asked Spruance, who seemed to be growing agitated again. He stood and turned to face her squarely.

"I don't intend to do anything with them," she replied, "until we've had a chance to discuss the matter at a fleetwide command level. A discussion, I can assure you, that will take into account the wishes of all of the men and women concerned."

"Good Lord," Spruance cried. "You can't suggest that you would let them be repatriated to their respective countries, if that's what they desired."

"Of course not," she responded. "Nobody's going to hand Hitler or Tojo the plans to an atom bomb. But they're not going into irons, either, just for being Japanese or German. I have a Russian on my own ship, by the way. I know she'd have no interest whatsoever in returning home. Stalin would have her shot on sight, as soon as he discovered what became of his bloody workers' paradise."

Spruance slowly began pacing a tight circle around the cabin, rubbing the back of his neck as he turned the whole thing over in his mind. He was surprised to discover that his initial shock and disbelief were fading quickly now. Piled on top of that discovery came the realization that this annoying woman was mostly responsible. Standing there in her dress uniform, arms folded as arrogantly as you please, tossing off her own opinions while disregarding his as though she considered them largely worthless, she came as a small, intimate herald of change. What sort of a woman was she? The loss of her sister ship and a thousand comrades appeared not to ruffle her at all. She seemed every bit as self-assured of her own godhead as any number of Royal Navy captains he'd met over the years. It was almost as if their blasted empire had never begun to crumble to dust. The jaw-dropping perversity of meeting this odd creature who was so very obviously convinced of her own infallibility, in that recognizably and infuriatingly British way, all helped undermine the skepticism with which he had first responded to Kolhammer's ridiculous story.

Jesus, he thought, what if it's true?

He retrieved the book from where he had tossed it on his desk and flicked through it again, leaving Beanland and Halabi to their mutually hostile silence. He scanned a few pages that dealt with the rapid destruction of three Japanese carriers, caught by his dive-bombers while their decks were littered with refueling planes, high-explosive bombs, and thousands of gallons of flammable gas.

"We were lucky, then," he said, glancing up at Halabi again.

"Yes and no," she said. "The heavy bomber flights and the waves of torpedo planes that went in earlier set it up for your dive-bombers. If those pilots hadn't sacrificed themselves-and that's what it was for most of them, a suicide mission-you wouldn't have caught Nagumo with his pants down around his ankles and his cock on the chopping block."

Spruance smirked at the profane image, even as he cringed at such language coming from a member of the fairer sex.

God help us, are all the women from her day like this?

"Captain Halabi," he said. "Can I have your word as an officer that you have spoken true tonight?"

Karen straightened herself out of the relaxed posture she had fallen into.

"You have it."

"Fine," Spruance said over the rising objections of Commander Beanland. "We won't delay for word from Black and Curtis. I take it you have some way of contacting your ship and Admiral Kolhammer, and getting them to start their own rescue operations."

"I do, sir." She whipped her flexipad out of a breast pocket and opened a link to the Trident. A red-haired man with hawkish features appeared on the small screen.

"Captain? We've been missing you."

"It's nice to be loved, Mr. McTeale. We have clearance from Admiral Spruance to begin search and rescue. Get them away in… two minutes… Will that be long enough for you to get the word out, Admiral?" she asked Spruance.

He was caught off-guard by the speed at which she had moved, but waved Beanland out of the cabin with a firm instruction to see that his surviving ships were informed of the order.

"Better give us five minutes, Captain. I know it's

11

HIJMS RYUJO, 2331 HOURS, 2 JUNE 1942

The thermometer in the pilothouse of the carrier Ryujo stood at minus seven degrees Centigrade, but to Rear Admiral Kakuji Kakuta it felt even colder. The wind running over the carrier's deck added to the chill, as did the dense banks of fog and damp, clammy air through which the Second Carrier Striking Force had been groping toward the Aleutians. It wasn't the vile conditions that had halted the progress of the Fifth Fleet's Northern Force, however.

Kakuta was a warrior, and as such he expected to fight in fog and darkness, to strike at an enemy whose whereabouts or capabilities he might not know for sure. Nothing was certain in war. But this, this was a mystery beyond the ken of simple warriors. It was as though the gods themselves had intervened in mortal affairs. Such things were not unknown, of course. Huge Mongol invasion fleets had twice been destroyed, in 1274 and 1281, when kamikaze-or divine winds, in the form of typhoons-had smashed them to splinters.

But although he was a spiritual man, Kakuta's rational side understood that clumsy wooden boats that tried to cross the Sea of Japan during typhoon season were liable to meet with disaster. Just as he had been dogged across the northern Pacific by these impenetrable fog banks, hundreds of miles deep and so thick that the nearest escorts-just a few hundred meters away-were transformed into murky shadows, even at midday.

The bridge was quiet, except for an occasional directive to the helm to alter the heading slightly, keeping them on station within the body of the strike force.

As bitterly cold as he was, Kakuta was more profoundly disturbed by the turn of events these last few hours. Admiral Yamamoto's fantastically elaborate plan to seize Midway Island and destroy the remnants of America's Pacific naval power depended on exact timing. Yet here they were, behind schedule, creeping through the fog and trying to deal with a ghost ship.

He was anxious for a report from his staff, who had boarded the vessel what seemed like an age ago. But he would just have to wait until a motor launch brought Lieutenant Commander Hidaka back with a full account.

KRI SUTANTO, 2331 HOURS, 2 JUNE 1942

When they had first come aboard they had been grateful for the glorious warmth of this vessel. But that had quickly soured, and Hidaka was seriously considering having the men throw open all the hatches and portholes to let in some of the freezing Pacific air. This ship reeked of human filth, of vomit and shit and urine.

The culprits lay everywhere. Not dead, but not quite alive, either. Medics had dragged four men who showed at least some signs of life into a starboard corridor that ran the length of the vessel. There was little to do but monitor them. Nothing brought a response, not smelling salts, kicks and slaps, not even a shallow prod with a dagger.

The casualties weren't Americans. That much was obvious. Hidaka was unsure where they hailed from, but to his eye they resembled the savages of the former Dutch East Indies more than anything else. That couldn't be the case, of course. This warship was simply too advanced. It was small, granted, but it was full of equipment that none of them had ever seen before. The pilothouse glowed with ethereal lights, hundreds of them burning and blinking on banks of control panels that made the Ryujo's bridge look stark and simplistic-even though the whole world now knew that Japanese naval technology was unmatched.

Standing on the bridge, he was tempted again to caress the large, magically glowing plate of glass that rose on a sort of stalk from the arm of what must surely be the captain's seat. But the last time he had tried that, shrieking alarms had sounded for a full two minutes. So he stayed his hand, and kicked the man who lay unconscious at the foot of the captain's chair, more out of spite and frustration than from any hope that it might rouse him.

The body absorbed the blow like a sack of rice.

"Keep an eye on things here," he told a petty officer. "Don't touch anything, and summon me immediately if one of these baboons decides to raise his head. I shall be in the wardroom."

He left without waiting for the man to acknowledge his order. Hidaka was becoming annoyed with his own inability to unravel the puzzle of this ship. He had been chosen to lead the boarding party because of his near-faultless grasp of English, but the language displayed on all the signage throughout the vessel meant nothing to him. Once or twice he had found a small plaque written in what seemed to be German, but that only served to deepen the mystery. He proceeded to the wardroom in very poor humor.

The men in there sprang to attention when he arrived. Three of the insensate crew lay on the floor.

"Well?" he asked immediately. "Anything to report?"

An ensign snapped to attention and indicated a pile of books and papers sitting on a table.

"We were just coming to get you, Commander. We have located these, we think some are written in English…"

He cast a wary eye over a tall stack of magazines written in what he assumed was the baboons' language. Most were editions of something called Detik. A lesser number were of another journal called Tempo. He ignored them in favor of the English-language publications.

That was a thin collection, but it was nonetheless astounding. The first item was a pornographic magazine! Hidaka examined the masthead. HUSTLER, it read. He wasn't sure what that meant. The smaller titles, perhaps representing the articles, were no clearer.

WE TESTFUCK THE LATEST IN V3D PUSSY.

INSIDE THE RISING JIHAD.

and

GET BIG AND BEASTLY WITH THE LATEST SYNTH-SIMIAN DNA.

Meaningless. Absolutely meaningless. And…

"Shit!"

Hidaka wasn't even aware he'd sworn in English, so great was his shock at the image that met him when he flipped open the magazine.

"So the rumors are true," he mused in Japanese, when he'd recovered from the surprise. "They are blond all over."

The men sniggered, and he might have spent a few minutes confirming the theory if the ensign hadn't gently handed him a small device.

"And there is this, Commander. It glows like a lantern."

A strangely lit screen displayed the cover of Tempo. Hidaka checked it against the pile of paper magazines. Yes, he was certain they were same thing. What an oddity. A magazine in an electric box!

It was apparently written in the same damnable tongue as everything else on this ship, but there in the left-hand margin of the screen was a small British flag and underneath it, the word

English

Progress at last! Hidaka thought.

He had almost grown used to the magic of these illuminated plates, because they were scattered everywhere aboard the ship. Nonetheless, it was a revelation to find one he could hold in his hand and carry around. But how did it work? What did it do? There were a number of buttons in the base of the thing, but he was disinclined to press them, especially after his experience on the bridge. So he carefully placed the instrument back on the scarred tabletop while he examined the other discoveries.

There was another magazine. Like Hustler, it was printed in rich colors on thick glossy paper. The title appeared to be People. A strange name for a periodical, he thought. An ethnographic journal perhaps.

Most of the pages were dominated by photographs of idiotically grinning barbarians. American or British, he supposed, for the small amount of text was certainly written in English. But there were an amazing number of Negroes and half-bloods, and people of races he'd never seen before. A mud race of polyglot people, he thought, pleased with himself at recalling such an obscure term, even though it had been at least five years since he had studied at Princeton University.

Hidaka attempted to glean some wider meaning from the photo captions, but they seemed as vacuous as the gaijin about whom they were written. The common themes seemed to be who was sleeping with whom, and who possessed the most riches. There were longer articles, but he threw the magazine aside in a fit of pique, because they were just as impenetrable. People would have to wait until he had more time.

He picked up the next item, a much thicker magazine, with the title PC Week. Opening this to a random page and flicking through, he let go an exclamation.

"Ah! Technical documents!"

The crewmen grunted happily in response. If they had discovered something vital, it would bring them great honor and distinction. As Hidaka flicked through the pages, he nodded his head vigorously, though these articles, written in English, were even more unreadable than in the journal of People. At least this time, however, he felt certain his inability to decipher the text was because it so obviously dealt with top-secret technologies.

There were many pictures of those odd floating glass plates, and boxes with wires and boards in them, and even of devices that resembled the gadget with the small British flag on its glass plate. He would dearly love to decipher one of these articles for Admiral Kakuta, but such a task might take weeks-and they had hours at best.

"Good work, Ensign Tomonagi," he said in a clipped, excited voice. "Good work to all of you."

The crewmen drew themselves up, basking in the praise.

"Ensign, detail half of your men to search the ship again. Tell them to look for more of these devices." He held up the portable tablet with the glowing plate. "Assign someone to drag those monkeys in here. I will run the operation from this room now."

"Hai!"

Hidaka took a chipped mug-a sure sign that he was dealing with barbarians-then picked up the glowing device and walked over to a comfortable-looking armchair. He sat with his legs crossed in a very English manner and sipped the tea while staring at the artifact. The technical magazine referred to this sort of device as a "flexipad." The tablet was quite light, given its size, and it was constructed of a material he'd never encountered before. A sort of rubbery leather?

Hidaka sighed deeply as he read the foreign language from top to bottom. He was still no clearer about the content of the tract. There was a picture-of a tank, and another of a venerable bearded gentleman, which he had to assume were associated with the text-but beyond that there was only puzzlement.

For ten minutes he sat and stared at the device, hardly aware of the crewmen's grunting as they dragged the four alien sailors into the wardroom and laid them out on the threadbare carpeting alongside their utterly senseless fellows. Try as he might, he couldn't escape the fact that the only promising clue lay in that little Union Jack and the underlined word English. But what on earth did it mean? What did any of this mean? And how could he uncover the truth without setting off more alarms and causing possibly irreparable damage? Perhaps it was even booby-trapped.

Hidaka became so lost in his own thoughts that without realizing it, he brushed the flexipad screen with his thumb. He flinched slightly, expecting the same blaring alarm that had startled them on the bridge. But nothing happened.

Encouraged, he warily poked the very tip of his little finger at the screen again, touching the picture of the venerable gentlemen, and suddenly the fellow filled the whole screen and began to speak. Hidaka was caught by surprise again but managed to smother his reaction this time. The bearded man spoke for nearly half a minute in some diabolical language that sounded to Hidaka like a choking animal attempting to clear its throat. At the end of the little movie, which amazed him with its colors and clarity, the picture shrank back to its former size and location.

Well, that was something. It took the emboldened Hidaka less than a second to tap the screen where the tiny British flag was displayed. In the blink of an eye the display transformed itself into English. A wide grin broke out on the commander's face.

Excellent! Most excellent.

But his good mood turned gray again as he read the text. It seemed to relate to a struggle-a civil or maybe a religious war of some kind, he thought-being raged on a group of islands. As he read on, the bearded man was identified as the emir of the Caliphate, Mullah Ibn Abbas, and the island of Java was mentioned three times as the location of the most violent clashes.

That simply could not be. There was no "Caliphate," and Java itself had been wrested from Dutch control more than two months ago. It was now part of the empire. Chagrined, Hidaka squeezed his eyes shut, then returned to the article.

There were detailed accounts of bitter street fighting between Indonesian marines and elements of the Indonesian army that had defected to Caliphate forces. Something called suicide bombers were reported to have breached the marines' command center and killed many senior officers, gravely disrupting the secularist defenses.

Hidaka felt as if he had picked up some sort of trashy American novel-this had to be fiction. What were Indonesians? Or secularists? Or Caliphates? Or suicide bombers? What sort of crazy man, given the alternative, would fly his plane into the enemy rather than just bombing them? A desperate one perhaps, he conjectured, but crazy nonetheless.

At the bottom of the absurd story, beneath the words Related Links, sat four lines of blue text, underlined as he had seen before. Perhaps touching them might reveal more? Unfortunately he doubted his fingers were small enough to pick out an individual line. So he took a pencil out of his shirt pocket and tried that.

It worked! The spirits of his ancestors were smiling on him now.

He touched the line that had intrigued him as soon as he read it. America warns China.

The screen changed instantly, just as before. And just as before, the result was absurdly perplexing.

The U.S. secretary of state, a woman calling herself Jamie Garcia, had warned Chinese Premier Hu Dazhao that the gravest consequences would flow from any Chinese incursion into the Exclusion Zone around Java. She pledged that something called a "UN-mandated Multinational Force" would ensure the safety of ethnic Chinese refugees from something else called a "jihad." And she warned China that any further expansionist moves on its part anywhere in Southeast Asia would be severely challenged.

Hidaka rubbed his face, irritated beyond measure. There were so many things wrong with what he had just read, he wouldn't know where to begin. Certainly, Chiang Kai-shek would like to consider himself some sort of "premier," but in truth he was little better than a scabrous dog being hunted down by the Imperial Japanese Army. And this woman! Garcia? The American secretary of state was Cordell Hull. A vile creature known to all as an uncultivated savage who had attempted to humiliate the emperor with his outrageous schemes and demands. Even if that had somehow changed since they had sailed from Ominato, only a maniac would imagine a woman-a Mexican or an Indian one, at that, by the sound of her name-could ever attain such an important office.

Hidaka sipped the nearly forgotten tea and grimaced to discover that it had gone cold.

There were more Related Links at the bottom of this story-or perhaps fairy tale might have been a better name. He "linked" to a story about "Free Indonesian" warships that had joined this so-called Multinational Force. An Indonesian government-in-exile had insisted that two of its ships, the Sutanto and the Nuku, participate in the enforcement of any Exclusion Zone over the contested archipelago.

Something in that nagged at Hidaka. It was all as preposterous as the rest, but…

The Sutanto!

He leapt from the armchair, upsetting the cup of cold tea, which spilled onto the floor. Heedless of the accident, he rushed over to the unconscious sailors. One who had collapsed in the wardroom still sported a baseball cap on which was stitched a silhouette of a ship. And the caption 377 KRI SUTANTO.

He had been seeing that word all over the ship, and now he knew why. This was the Sutanto, presumably of the Free Indonesian Navy.

Without a doubt this had to be some sort of American trick, perhaps even a trap. But what could be the point? And why bait the trap so oddly? And where did the fantastic machines such as this glowing tablet come from anyway?

A thousand questions spilled from his one small success. He was nearly overcome by a wave of hopelessness, when a crewman called urgently.

"Commander! One of the men is waking. Look!"

"At last," Hidaka muttered. He moved to stand by the man's head. The barbarian was blinking rapidly. A storm of twitches and tics ran across his features, briefly seizing his whole body at one point. Without warning he vomited prodigiously, a yellow-green geyser, which erupted vertically from his mouth only to fall back and drench him. With distaste branded into every line of his face, Hidaka used the toe of his boot to turn the man's head to one side, lest he choke to death.

Hidaka unshipped his revolver from its holster as the foreigner began to cough out a series of unintelligible words. He tried to lever himself up off the floor, but Hidaka placed a foot on his chest and pressed him firmly back down. Incomprehension and a touch of fear crossed the man's face.

Good, thought Hidaka.

"Name!" he barked out, first in Japanese, then in English.

The man coughed and gagged on his own bile. He appeared to be trying to answer, so Hidaka only gave him a slight nudge with his boot.

"Name. And rank. And position aboard this vessel."

The man, who was dressed in soiled tropical whites and sandals, of all things, squinted at Hidaka as if trying to focus properly.

"Moertopo," he answered. "Lieutenant Ali Moertopo, executive officer."

He spoke English, then. Hidaka was quietly relieved.

The man, Lieutenant Moertopo, finally focused on Hidaka's pistol. He seemed genuinely surprised, and somehow affronted.

"What is going on?" he demanded with more authority in his voice than Hidaka cared for. "Who are you, and what are you doing aboard this ship?"

The demands were delivered in a weak, faltering voice, but there was no mistaking the challenge inherent in their tone. Hidaka flushed with anger that someone so obviously low-caste could think to presume upon him in such a fashion, but Admiral Kakuta had chosen him well for this mission. He swallowed his own indignation, carefully holstered the pistol, and dropped a handkerchief onto the man's chest.

"Clean yourself up, Lieutenant," he said. "You look a mess."

Moertopo thanked him, somewhat doubtfully, and wiped the vomit from his face and neck. His movements indicated to Hidaka that he was in considerable pain. It never registered on his face, however, granting him some esteem in the eyes of the Japanese officer.

Moertopo looked around slowly, taking in the bodies of his shipmates, laid out on either side of him. They were breathing and twitching, but would clearly offer no assistance.

"You have not answered my question," he said in English.

"My name is Hidaka. I boarded your ship with a rescue party three hours ago. Your shipmates are alive, but appear to have been incapacitated. You would have to tell me how that might be, Lieutenant. I am afraid I have no idea."

"You are Japanese, yes?"

Hidaka nodded, noting that the information neither alarmed nor upset his prisoner.

"We were on station, just north of the main task force, carrying out antisubmarine drills," Moertopo said.

"Why?" asked Hidaka. "And which task force?"

Moertopo gave him an odd look, as if the question had been meant to mock him.

"Why indeed?" he said, bitterness evident in his voice. "The Caliphate has no submarines. And the Americans certainly wouldn't trust us to protect them from the Chinese. It was laughable. They just wanted to get us out of the way."

"The Americans?"

"Sorry, the Multinational Force. But yes, basically the Americans. They said it was because we couldn't link properly to their CI network, but the truth is they simply don't trust us."

Hidaka wished he had some idea what the man was talking about, but he didn't let his confusion show. This Moertopo seemed quite happy to discuss state secrets with him, despite the fact that he seemed to have been allied in some way to the United States. Notwithstanding the pressures of time, Hidaka would need to play this very carefully indeed.

"Can you stand?" he asked. "Would you like some tea?"

The man nodded gratefully. Hidaka clicked his fingers at a sailor, who hurried over to help Moertopo into the armchair. After some hasty instructions the crewman set about drawing another two mugs of tea. Hidaka took a plain chair from the wardroom table and spun it around to face Moertopo. He sat to bring himself down to eye level with his subject.

"Lieutenant Moertopo," he said, forming the name carefully, "this task force, was it heading for Java?"

"Of course," the lieutenant replied, gratefully sipping his tea. "The president himself insisted that we play our part in any operations taking place in our home waters." As he spoke, a measure of pride worked its way through the layers of illness and discomfort.

"And you were sailing from?"

"Dili," he said and then, "East Timor," as it became obvious Hidaka was confused by the answer. "We were training in preparation for deployment."

"Lieutenant Moertopo, you will have to excuse my ignorance, I have been at sea for many months. But I must say, your ship has me baffled. I have never seen its like before."

Moertopo snorted in a thin imitation of good humor. Obviously the effort taxed him severely.

"That is not surprising… I am sorry… Mr. Hidaka."

"Commander. Go on."

"Commander. We're the last of the old Parchim-class missile corvettes, purchased in bulk from the East German navy in the nineteen nineties. They've been refit-"

"Excuse me," Hidaka interrupted. "Did you say the nineteen nineties?"

"Yes. I forget the exact year. It was before I was born. But President Habibie bought thirty-nine of them. Most rusted away for want of funds to maintain them. Saboteurs destroyed some early in the war, but the Sutanto and the Nuku escaped. Did you know we carried the president himself and his family away from Tanjungpinang to Singapore?" Moertopo asked proudly.

But Hidaka wasn't attending to the question. He was staring at the young naval officer in sheer disbelief.

"No, I did not know that, Lieutenant," he said distractedly. "Do you know your current location, roughly?"

Moertopo shrugged. "You would know better than I, Commander. Clearly you haven't been unconscious for Allah knows how long."

"Yes, yes, but roughly."

"Somewhere in the Wetar Strait I would hazard. Near the rest of the task force. Tell me, have you all been affected? Is the Nuku okay?"

Hidaka was truly flummoxed. He shook his head in a distracted fashion. "The Wetar Strait, you say?"

"Yes. But enough of this pointless questioning-we're just wasting time," Moertopo said as he struggled to get to his feet. "I should see to my shipmates. We may need to consult your surgeon, or the Americans, if they haven't been attacked, too. Do you know if they have? Or what sort of weapon it was. A neural attack maybe."

"I am sorry, Lieutenant. What sort of attack?"

"That would mean that it was the Chinese, not the Caliphate," he said, not really helping Hidaka at all.

The commander's heart was racing now. He had often wondered how he might fare in combat, and now he had reason to doubt his own courage. He was becoming increasingly unnerved by this encounter. Gooseflesh was crawling up his arms, and he shivered involuntarily.

"Do you know the date today, Lieutenant?"

Moertopo glanced at his watch. "It is the fifteenth today."

"Of?"

Lieutenant Moertopo gave Hidaka a quizzical look.

"Of January."

"And the year? Please… humor me."

Moertopo shrugged and, without being sure why, glanced at his watch again.

"Twenty twenty-one."

"Shit," said Lieutenant Commander Hidaka.

But he said it in Japanese.

12

HIJMS RYUJO, 2358 HOURS, 2 JUNE 1942

Admirals don't normally answer summons from lieutenant commanders. But Hidaka had been so inured to censure, so insistent that Admiral Kakuta make the trip to this Sutanto, that the commander of the Second Carrier Striking Force had relented.

So it was that he found himself on the bitterly cold flight deck, cloaked in fog, when the strange lights appeared.

All of his doubts about Hidaka's mental stability evaporated when the giant mechanical dragonfly materialized out of the gloom. Instead, Admiral Kakuta had reason to doubt his own sanity. A monstrous insect was the only image he could conjure up in the face of the abomination. It approached with a sort of thudding buzz, and hovered over the deck. A great gale blew away the fog. An icy, knifing wind painfully lashed at his exposed skin. Grit, spray, and even oil from the deck stung his eyes, forcing him to turn away.

As he huddled, shamefully, against the polar blast, he tried to sort his impressions into some comprehensible form. It had to be an aircraft of sorts. Not a dragonfly or a demon. But it had no wings, and the blurring of the air above the blinding lights suggested a propeller of some type.

Kakuta felt it settle with a slight thump on the deck, and immediately the frightful sound tapered off to a dull roar and an odd, mushy, thudding. He thought he heard a high-pitched whine and the sounds of hydraulic equipment. The shouts and curses of the Ryujo's crew were blessedly familiar, even if they betrayed astonishment and distress. When the admiral felt it was safe to straighten up, he turned to face the thing squarely. There were two men in the…

Cockpit?

He assumed it had to be.

A man in an oversized white helmet, his face obscured by a dark lens, occupied one berth. Ensign Tomonagi sat beside him. The junior officer scrambled out quickly as the massive propeller…

Yes, most certainly a propeller!

… ceased its rotation altogether. The ensign was shaking, no doubt with excitement and more than a little fright, at having been strapped into a plane without wings.

Kakuta had been enraged that a simple recon task had put them hours behind schedule, but his fury was crimped off by the appearance of the craft. Something very unusual had happened out there.

"Ensign. Explain this!" he barked at Tomonagi.

"I cannot, sir," the ensign replied. "Commander Hidaka has all the information. He sent me to assure you that your presence on the captured destroyer is vital."

"But what is this thing? And who is that pilot?" Kakuta demanded.

"It is called a helicopter," Tomonagi said, having some trouble pronouncing the word. "And the pilot is a Flight Lieutenant Hardoyo. He will take you back to the Sutanto."

Kakuta examined the machine with a very wary eye. The fog and darkness gave its queer lines a sinister appearance. Dozens of men were gathered around it, though at a safe distance, their breath pluming in front of them as they swapped wild theories about its origin. The pilot waved to one or two, who pointed at him.

"Lieutenant Commander Hidaka is juggling with hot coals," said Kakuta. "He should be back here reporting to me, so we can continue toward Dutch Harbor with all speed. The operation has no margin for delays like this."

Tomonagi drew a breath. He was shivering visibly. "Commander Hidaka says you will not believe his report unless you are there to see with your own eyes what he has found. He asked me to tell you that he does not believe the attack on Dutch Harbor, or even on Midway, will proceed once you have had the chance to inspect the vessel yourself."

Kakuta's anger, subdued by the arrival of the "helicopter," was bubbling over again.

"And you, Ensign? What do you believe to be our correct course of action? To follow Admiral Yamamoto's direction, or that of Lieutenant Commander Hidaka?"

Tomonagi didn't answer immediately. Despite the lethal cold on the exposed flight deck, a single trickle of sweat still ran down his face.

"Admiral. I have seen inexplicable things on that ship. Certainly I am not able to explain them. But Commander Hidaka is convinced the course of the war will be changed by what we do here in the next few hours, not by what happens at Midway. And I am sorry, but he also wishes you to know that the Americans have broken our codes, and have known about Operation MI for weeks. They are lying in wait.

"But he says that is now irrelevant, too."

Tomonagi flinched as he spoke those last words.

"What!" exploded Kakuta. "Why did you not tell me this immediately?"

The young man apologized profusely, bowing as deeply as he could without actually banging his forehead to the flight deck.

"If that is true, we must inform Nagumo and Yamamoto at once," cried the admiral.

Captain Tadao Kato, the skipper of the Ryujo, stepped up from behind. "Begging your pardon, Admiral, but we have the strictest orders, already breached once, to maintain radio silence. And we have no confirmation of this wild tale. We could imperil the entire plan with one transmission."

Kakuta felt trapped. The evidence of that outlandish aircraft, sitting just a few yards away, confirmed that Hidaka had discovered something of great import. But Kakuta's mission was of paramount consequence, too. The attack on Dutch Harbor was necessary to draw the remnants of the American fleet away from the center of the Pacific, leaving Midway open to attack. Without that feint, the entire gambit might simply collapse. He was already behind schedule, and now Hidaka wanted to drag them farther into the mire.

Yet he trusted the man's judgment as he did his own. That was why he had assigned the investigation to him in the first place. And this thing in which Tomonagi had arrived! It was obviously an aircraft of great power and sophistication. Its very form threatened violence, and he had seen with his own eyes how it hovered in the air like a gigantic hummingbird.

"I will go then!" he snapped, exasperated beyond measure. "But Captain, if you have not heard from me within one hour, forge on with the original plan. It will mean I have fallen into a trap, and must be abandoned along with Hidaka."

"One hour," confirmed Kato.

Twenty-five minutes later a small, booklike electric gadget Ensign Tomonagi had brought across from the Sutanto flared into life. It had been resting against a window of the Ryujo's bridge, continuously scrutinized by Tomonagi, who had remained with the Ryujo on Commander Hidaka's direct orders.

"Captain! Captain Kato!" cried Tomonagi. "It is Admiral Kakuta."

Kato looked over his shoulder at first, thinking his superior had somehow snuck back aboard the ship. But then his eye caught the glow of Tomonagi's electric book, and the captain found it difficult to suppress a gasp of surprise. Kakuta himself seemed to be floating within.

"Captain Kato. It is I, Kakuta." He sounded tired now. "Please contact the fleet, and bring them around. You may use the low-frequency radio. The attack on Dutch Harbor is not to proceed. I repeat, the attack on Dutch Harbor is not to proceed. I shall inform Admiral Hosogaya myself… Just obey!" he added firmly, when he saw that Kato was preparing to argue.

KRI SUTANTO, 0024 HOURS, 3 JUNE 1942

"Amazing… simply amazing," muttered Kakuta as Lieutenant Moertopo cut the link that connected them with the flexipad on the Ryujo's bridge.

"The admiral expresses his heartfelt amazement at this most sophisticated machine," Hidaka translated.

"I suppose it must be a shock," said Moertopo, who had been confronted by a surprise much more profound than one's first exposure to a simple flexipad. The dermal patch on his neck held back the physical sensation of nausea, but he still felt sick in his mind.

"Admiral, I suggest that we have some of the men go up on deck to ensure that Captain Kato has followed your orders," Hidaka said, translating again for the benefit of the Indonesian.

"That won't be necessary, Admiral," Moertopo interjected. "I can do that from here." In a few seconds he linked to the Sutanto's sensors and handed the pad back to Kakuta, who was then able to watch a radar image of the entire fleet, slowing and turning for home. Hidaka explained the meaning of the image that filled the flexipad screen. At this point in history, Japan had not invested deeply in radar technology. Moertopo noted with a degree of satisfaction that neither man was able hide his admiration.

"I can get you an image of any individual vessel you'd care to observe from the mast-mounted cameras," said Moertopo. "It doesn't matter that it's dark and foggy outside. The cameras can pick out your ships, anyway."

He took the pad back, entered a few instructions, and, just as he had promised, the screen filled with a black-and-white image of the Ryujo herself, coming around on the new heading, leaning into the swell, throwing up a prodigious bow wave.

"Again. I am astounded, Lieutenant," said Hidaka with real reverence in his tone.

"I doubt you could be more astonished than I."

They sat at the wardroom table, sipping fresh tea from the ship's finest china, last used when the Sutanto had spirited the Indonesian president and his family away from the Caliphate rebellion. In deference to the Indonesians, who were dressed for the tropics, the ship's climate control had been set to approximate a warm spring day in Bali. The Japanese had stripped off the outer layers of their arctic-weather gear but were still sweating in the heavy uniforms they wore underneath.

The small room was much busier now, with nearly two dozen Indonesian sailors revived and attending to those comrades who were still unconscious, or cleaning up the unpleasant aftermath of their illness. The Japanese and Indonesian sailors remained wary of one another, but their officers had turned to the task of coping with the unprecedented situation.

Lieutenant Ali Moertopo was trying hard to keep relations with the Japanese as friendly as possible. The bulk of his countrymen, including his own captain, were still unconscious and showing little sign of responding to stimulants, so he was well aware that the initiative lay with Kakuta. If circumstances had been more conducive, they might have just sunk the Japanese fleet and sailed off to Pearl Harbor, there to offer their services to the eventual winners of this war.

Assuming, of course, that this insanity played out, and they actually had traveled back in time.

He found he still couldn't accept that as a real possibility.

For the moment, though, he was content to present a mask of civility and cooperation to his captors, for that's what they were, no matter how much buffalo shit they fed him about "rescue" parties. He'd gotten a good long look at the mouth of Hidaka's pistol when he came to, and he remembered only too well that conceited sneer. He noted that the Japanese sailors-or perhaps they were marines-hadn't put down their arms.

Moertopo had offered Kakuta the chance to observe his fleet on the Sutanto's radar only because he needed to know what sort of enemy he was up against. There appeared to be four capital ships, probably consisting of two carriers and two cruisers-or maybe battleships-and another group of smaller escorts, probably destroyers and maybe a tender. He would endeavor to interest them in a lengthy demonstration of the mast-mounted cameras, and in doing so confirm that conclusion. Captain Djuanda would need every possible scrap of information when he recovered and took command.

If he recovered.

Moertopo willed the captain to revive, so that he might be relieved of the mind-bending responsibilities presented by this situation.

"… Lieutenant, are you ill again? You look quite distressed."

The Sutanto's exec pulled out of his reverie with a shake of his head. In fact, he still felt awful, and the physical effects of their arrival were compounded by the stress of confronting the impossible.

"I am sorry, Commander," he lied. "I was overcome by this sickness again. It's much worse than any nausea I have felt before, even in heavy weather."

"Perhaps you have other treatments for it?" Hidaka suggested. "Medicines as powerful as your machines?"

His captor was playing with him, he knew. Fishing for more information about their technology. Moertopo was convinced that if he didn't handle this exactly right, neither he nor any of his men would live to see the next dawn.

"Perhaps," he agreed. "I shall have an orderly bring some syringes." With that, he dispatched a junior rating to the sick bay with instruction to bring back a supply of Promatil fixes.

"While we are waiting," Kakuta purred in his native tongue, "you might enlighten us with some historical information. Commander Hidaka informs me that the Yorktown was not sunk in the Coral Sea engagement, and in fact it lies in wait for Nagumo, just off Midway?"

Moertopo, who managed to catch the drift of the Japanese officer's question, waited for Hidaka's translation anyway. It gave him a few vital seconds to construct his reply. And when he spoke, it was slowly and carefully, as if he were concerned not to rush the fluent, English-speaking commander.

"I am afraid," he said, "that in the time from which I came, your efforts at Midway were undone by a stroke of bad luck. As I recall, Admiral Nagumo beat off numerous attacks by American fliers in heavy bombers and torpedo planes, only to be caught by a flight of dive-bombers when his decks were cluttered with refueling and re-arming planes. I think three carriers were destroyed in just a few minutes. But I am sorry, I cannot remember which ones. I would have to consult our library."

Hidaka looked around the wardroom, searching for the bookshelves. Moertopo easily divined his intention and smiled, holding up the flexipad.

"Our library is in here," he explained.

The two Japanese conferred rapidly in their own language. Lieutenant Moertopo used the opportunity to casually check the radar images again, confirming his earlier, rushed observation. He desperately wanted to see the familiar image of their sister ship out there. But he was completely surrounded by Kakuta's battle group. The Nuku was probably back with the Americans.

He dropped the pad back on the table, as if it were of no concern at all to him.

Then Hidaka spoke up again. "Thank you, Lieutenant. As you can imagine, we are most interested in anything that might help us avert this catastrophe. I am sure that you, too, would be only too happy to see the European powers driven from their colonies, your homeland."

Ali Moertopo nearly laughed out loud, but that would have been fatal. Instead he restricted himself to a small, disingenuous smile. He knew only too well that, were these animals to take dominion over his homeland, they would construct a slave state rivaling the Caliphate's ugliest tyranny. Now was not the time, however, to deliver a critique of fascist Japan's risibly named "co-prosperity sphere."

Now was the time for lying through his teeth. The long run would have to take care of itself.

"Do not imagine," Moertopo said, "that just because my government found it convenient to enter into an alliance with the United States, we did so happily. The policies of the Americans reduced my country to ashes and bone, picked over by madmen and ignorant savages. Clearly any patriot would leap at any opportunity to avoid that outcome."

Moertopo was surprised at how easily this rubbish spilled from his lips. Still, he had to convince Kakuta and Hidaka that they had found a powerful and trustworthy ally. One who wouldn't need to be kept under close and constant guard.

Curiously, he had the impression that Hidaka was the one to convince. The older man seemed so overwhelmed by events that he was ready to dance with any devil. Behind his smile, however, Lieutenant Commander Hidaka regarded Moertopo with all the benevolence of a hungry shark.

"If I understand you then, Lieutenant, you would propose an alliance?" Hidaka inquired.

Ali arranged his features as credibly as possible. I would offer you my firstborn on a plate, he thought, if that's what it took to get your boot off my throat. Whether I deliver is another matter.

When he spoke, however, it was to say, "I can offer nothing until I have consulted with Captain Djuanda. But I cannot imagine he would forgo such a unique opportunity to set history right." He grinned wolfishly. Or what he hoped was wolfishly.

The admiral seemed satisfied. Hidaka, too, was appeased, but seemed to retain a certain reserve.

Working the archipelago under an old pirate like Djuanda, Moertopo had developed a smuggler's sense for risk and opportunity. Both lay in front of him, but the risk seemed much greater. Best to give an impression of avarice, colored by a longing for vengeance and not a little stupidity. Nobody feared an idiot, after all.

The midshipman reappeared with a box of one-use Promatil syringes. Moertopo jabbed himself, then ordered the middie to distribute them among the members of his crew.

Kakuta spoke again, holding the flexipad as if it were a Ming vase.

"Your library, Lieutenant? You implied you have information in here"-the idea of a library in a box evidently bewildered him-"that would help us avert a disaster. Time is of the essence. We need to know what to do."

"I cannot tell you what to do," Moertopo replied through Hidaka. "That is not my place. I can only tell you what we know of the battle, through our archival files. Any decisions are yours to make."

He didn't feel up to the task of explaining a distributed information system like the Web to a couple of rubes whose idea of a computer had stalled at the abacus. And he certainly didn't want to give them the keys to the kingdom. His knowledge of history was patchy. What details he knew of the battle at Midway came mostly from the Tom Cruise miniseries he'd watched on a pirated media stick. But he did understand the enormous power of the United States, even in this era. And he flattered himself that he understood their culture, too. Better than these two, at any rate.

America could lose Midway, and even Pearl Harbor, and it would prolong the war, but not change the outcome. As a people the Americans were a strange mix of sophistication and barbarism. They wouldn't feel avenged until Japan had been burned to the ground. Within a few years they would detonate atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was inevitable that the Japanese would learn about that from the ship's files, or more likely from one of the crew.

They might react by suing for peace. More likely they would engage in a race for the weapon themselves. And they would lose. Everybody lost when they fought the Americans, didn't they?

He sighed and reached for the flexipad. But before he could bring up the data his hand was stayed by the sounds of a struggle and a scream just outside the wardroom.

Besides Moertopo, only two men capable of working the Combat Information Center were conscious. One of them was a systems engineer named Damiri. Ten minutes after coming to, he opened a file containing stored radio intercepts, picked up by the Sutanto's passive arrays while he'd been unconscious. The CIC was immediately flooded with a graphic audio tableau of the hostilities near Midway.

He lunged for the control panel. A Japanese marine took the sudden movement as a threat, shouting, and pulling Damiri back by the hair. The guard threw one arm around the Indonesian sailor's neck, attempting to drag him away from the console while still holding his rifle in the other hand.

Damiri, with some basic training in the Indonesian martial art of Silat, reacted instantly, clamping one hand over the wrist and jerking it down, away from his windpipe. At the same time he gouged at a nerve bundle in the man's forearm. The guard grunted in pain and a little surprise, then slammed his rifle into the side of the engineer's head. White flares exploded behind Damiri's eyes, compounding the low-grade misery he'd suffered since awakening. He slumped, and the guard heaved him away from the console.

A couple more rifle-toting Japanese guards quickly appeared and butt-swiped the Indonesian with their rifles. His screams brought Moertopo and the others running.

Now, heavily bandaged, Damiri was back at the workstation, finessing the ship's antennae for maximum gain without alerting the Americans to his presence.

Moertopo wasn't happy with the way things were shaping up. He briefly considered telling the young engineer to secretly ping the Multinational Force with an ID pulse and "duress" signal, but decided to hold. For one thing, Hidaka had made it clear to the Indonesians that any extended conversation in their native tongue of Bahasa would not be tolerated.

When Damiri had located a block of intercepts indicating that the Clinton had exploded, Moertopo had suppressed a horrified grimace. He could have wrung Kolhammer's neck at that point. How could he allow himself to be knocked over by these pygmies? If these stupid Americans all killed each other down there, where on earth was he supposed to run to when he had the chance?

For the first time since awakening with Hidaka's gun jammed in his face, he actually contemplated throwing his lot in with the Japanese. Trying to plot a course through the contrary waters of fate was turning out to be more difficult than he had imagined. Hidaka certainly gave no indication that he was ready to play out the leash even a fraction. Furtively scoping out the armed Japanese guards ringing his CIC, watching his every move, Moertopo began to doubt they would ever wriggle out of the yoke which now restrained them.

"It's a Jap ship, a nip bastard for sure," cried an American flier over his radio. "I'm going in. I'm going to…"

The speakers crackled for a second with the recorded sound of a dive-bomber disintegrating under the impact of a barrage.

"What was that?" Hidaka demanded to know.

"At a guess, Commander," Moertopo replied, "a defensive close-in weapons system known as Metal Storm. I doubt a bolt of lightning could sneak through. That pilot had no chance."

"Fascinating," snapped Hidaka, "but that's not what I meant. He said he saw a Japanese ship. But you told us that Nagumo's force would be nowhere near the Americans yet."

The speakers continued to crackle with snatches of dialogue, some of it still referring to a Japanese ship. Admiral Kakuta gave him a frozen look that made clear the consequences of betrayal. Moertopo held his up hands, palms out, begging for a chance to explain.

"We had a ship with us, a Japanese stealth cruiser, the Siranui. That's what they're talking about. It probably shot down that plane."

"A Japanese ship attached to an American fleet?" scoffed Hidaka.

Moertopo shrugged. "You lost the war, Commander. I have already told you that. You were annihilated. The defeated do not get to dictate terms. In my time Japan is a baseball-playing democracy and a staunch American ally."

He was taking a risk, speaking so bluntly, with the Japanese officer already incensed. But Moertopo judged that the truth was his best defense. Kakuta murmured softly and quickly to Hidaka, the older man's hand restraining the younger one's temper. When he spoke again, it was clear that Hidaka nearly choked on the words.

"I apologize for my outburst, Lieutenant Moertopo. An understandable reaction, I'm sure you would agree."

"Yes. Of course."

"The admiral asks you to explain the nature of this ship. The Siranui, I believe you called it."

Ali Moertopo patted his systems engineer on the shoulder and motioned for him to turn down the volume of the recordings. Desperate voices still filled the CIC, but in the background now.

"We can review the intercepts later," said Moertopo. "You will need to know what sort of damage the Americans have inflicted on each other…" He carefully neglected to add that he himself would need to know exactly what had happened, as well. And whether the Nuku was down there with them.

"The Siranui," he continued, "is a Japanese adaptation of a standard U.S. Nemesis cruiser. Its arrays are perhaps even a little better than the originals, but it doesn't have as much firepower. In this context, however, it has more than enough. That one ship could sink your entire force, Admiral."

While Hidaka relayed his comments, Moertopo instructed another sysop to bring up some images and cutaways of a Nemesis cruiser on one of the center's flatscreens. Hidaka finished speaking with the admiral and turned back to Moertopo.

"The admiral wants to know about the captain of this Japanese ship. What sort of a man is he? Will he recognize his duty to the emperor?"

"Will he join you, you mean? I have no idea. I've never met him. Captain Djuanda has had occasion to deal with him, but he is still unconscious."

"What is your feeling, though, Lieutenant?" Hidaka asked, his eyes on the big screen, greedily drinking in the stored vision of the Nemesis cruiser.

"I may be wrong, but my feeling is that he would be unlikely to see the benefit of aligning himself with you."

Hidaka rolled the words around in his mouth like a handful of poison pebbles. Admiral Kakuta accepted the answer without any visible reaction. He said only one word in reply.

"Why?"

"You are asking me to explain the mind of a man I have never met," said Moertopo. "I am really just guessing, but I imagine that he-not me, but he-would hold your government responsible for taking Japan into a war it could not win. I don't know what he might do under such circumstances, but he is not of your time. His view of the world is different."

"But his duty as a warrior is eternal," Hidaka protested. "His duty is to the emperor. Not to the emperor's enemies."

"He may see his duty as belonging to Japan."

"But we are Japan!"

"Not his idea of it."

"Ideas! Damn your ideas! The emperor is descended from gods! It is our destiny to serve him."

Moertopo could feel the ground shifting dangerously. Hidaka was becoming overheated. Kakuta, who could not follow the discussion fully, was growing similarly agitated. And Moertopo was playing devil's advocate on behalf of a man he had never met, and probably never would. If he pressed this case too far, they might leap to the assumption that he agreed with the unknown captain's treasonous behavior.

Time to pour oil on troubled waters.

"Admiral Kakuta," he said as soothingly as possible, "I am not responsible for the world I came from, nor for the men who came with me. I will assist you because I understand that it will assist my own countrymen in this time and in the future. If the officers aboard the Siranui prove traitorous and unreliable, there may be other ways of dealing with them-luring them into a trap, for instance, where they might be directly confronted by their treachery. They may then see reason, and choose the correct path. Or not. But the Siranui itself, which is undeniably the property of Japan, might then be turned over to her rightful owners."

He knew he was talking a lot of crap, but his situation was precarious, and it was crucial to convince these two to trust him before they went off on some hysterical banzai charge of indignation, lopping off heads and arms with gay abandon to salve their wounded pride.

Kakuta, he was relieved to see, calmed visibly and nodded as Hidaka translated for him. Moertopo put the few seconds grace to good use, and asked for an update from signals engineer Damiri. In fact, there had been a development, but Moertopo was unsure how it might play with the Japanese.

They noticed the perplexed look on his face.

"You have something to tell us?" Hidaka demanded.

"Yes. Our discussion appears to have been premature. Sub-Lieutenant Damiri informs me that the Siranui has been hit. A shell strike on the bridge, which has killed the captain and a number of officers."

Hidaka informed his superior, who had by this time regained his equilibrium. He digested the information without any visible sign of distress.

"The admiral asks if the ship itself was badly damaged?"

"I don't know, but probably not," said Moertopo. "The bridge of a modern warship is more for sightseeing than for fighting. There will be peripheral damage, and we know of casualties, but her combat capability should be relatively unaffected."

Kakuta smiled when this was relayed to him. He searched for a suitable reply, and when he spoke at last, it was in English.

"Good," he said.

His contented grin didn't leave Moertopo feeling cheery at all.

13

SAR 02, 0024 HOURS, 3 JUNE 1942

Flight Lieutenant Chris Harford took the Seahawk out fast and low. Conditions were midlevel challenging. Search and rescue control had vectored them onto a point some six thousand meters to the southwest of the Clinton, where drone-cams had located men in the water. The sea state remained choppy, the weather difficult. Daylight was still hours away, but their night vision systems were coping. Fourteen other SAR missions were in flight, and two choppers had taken fire from nervous AA crews on one of Spruance's surviving destroyers.

At least the Promatil dump had cleared his seasickness, or whatever the hell it was. Harford was something of a connoisseur when it came to seasickness, never having found his sea legs. It was kind of strange, considering he'd never once suffered from airsickness. But without fail he spent the first half hour of any foray beyond sheltered waters rolled into a ball of misery in his bunk, waiting for a dermal patch to kick in. It was a source of unending frustration to Harford that most people just assumed sailors and marines were immune to seasickness. His misery was, of course, a source of unending mirth to his shipmates.

There wasn't much chatter as they ate up the distance. Everybody seemed caught in a weird headspace, not so much frightened as unbalanced by the morning's events.

"Nintendo piece of shit!" cursed his SO, Flight Lieutenant Hayes, as she gave the dead GPS unit another swat. Chris sometimes suspected that, despite five years in service as a systems operator, Amanda still thought that any piece of equipment could be fixed with a solid whack upside the head, like an old TV set.

He brought the big gray helicopter to a hover above the rough center of the debris field. Amanda peered down into the flotsam that was dispersing under the fantastic downblast from the Seahawk. Scraps of cloth floated everywhere. Body parts. Broken, smashed-up pieces of wood floating on an oil slick that was burning, here and there, degrading their infrared NVS. Amanda thumbed her ear bud to open a channel to the crewman in back of the chopper. "Tobes, you see anything worth bagging?"

Airman Toby La Salle came back at her, all growling South Bronx, but quantum smooth, as though he were right there in her ear. "Not much, Lieutenant. Burning oil's messing with my vision. Somebody knew what they doing really opened a big can of whupp-ass down there… wait, hang on, think I see a coupla dudes. Two o'clock, two hundred out. Swimming away from us, so they're in one piece… prob'ly."

Harford tilted the stick a fraction and sent them roaring toward the survivors.

"Dudes're swimming faster!" La Salle cried out. "Like they're trying to get away from us."

"Maybe they think we're gonna be mad at 'em," said Hayes. "Think we flew all the way over here to finish the job."

Harford cut in over the top of them. "Drop the line." He held the Seahawk directly over the men, who were desperately thrashing away in the rotor wash. La Salle winched down a padded rescue collar, which flapped around madly, but the men only whirled their arms faster.

"Time for a swim, Tobes," said Hayes. She heard La Salle's "Gotcha" in her ear bud. Harford eased the chopper away from their reluctant targets while La Salle, who was wearing a thin spring wet suit, wrestled into a pair of flippers and goggles. A few seconds later, he jumped.

La Salle covered the short distance to the first sailor in less than a minute, carving through a mat of wreckage as he went. The sailor, a much smaller man and a comparatively poor swimmer, had no chance of escaping. But he tried. As La Salle pulled level with him the man turned about, hooking burned fingers into claws and swiping at the rescue jumper's face while letting go a series of terrified, guttural cries.

Both men bobbed on the chaotic swell and cross-chop, flattened some by the rotor wash, but not completely. Stinging spray lashed their faces and made it very difficult to breathe. La Salle had a little trouble keeping his head above water and the burned sailor went under a few times, vomiting as he resurfaced. La Salle finally abandoned the soft approach, wrestled him into the harness, and signaled for a winch-up. He rode with him for a moment, then dropped straight back down to search for the second survivor.

But it was too late. The sailor's companion was floating facedown, dead in the water.

USS HILLARY CLINTON, 0029 HOURS, 3 JUNE 1942

The Clinton's Media Center was a mess, in a very civilian way. Jackets lay over computer screens. Food sat atop flexipads. Discarded coffee cups had multiplied like rabbits. And most days, there was more hubbub than Lieutenant Thieu could bear.

For once, however, it was quiet. As a group the reporters were older, fatter, whiter, and infinitely more prone to whining and mischief than the military personnel on whom they reported. None of them had mil-grade spinal inserts, and the illness that had come with the wormhole transition hit them hard. Most were still unconscious, laid out on canvas cots hastily set up in the corner of the center, where a single orderly watched over them. Most, but not all.

Lieutenant Edgar "The Egg" Thieu, the Clinton's media supervisor, tried putting on his best stone face for the only two journalists who remained awake. But stone faces only work on those who have something to fear from the person behind them, and neither Julia Duffy nor Rosanna Natoli had any reason to fear the worst that The Egg might dish up.

A lapsed Buddhist, he considered their furious glares and wondered what crime he had committed in a past life. This was a karmic backlash of bin Laden proportions. What a pair of fuckin' raptors, he thought. They were working him into a corner and blindsiding him, all razor teeth and slashing claws. He'd nearly wet himself watching Jurassic Park as a little kid, and he had the same feeling of free-floating horror now, eighteen years later, facing this pair of shrews.

"Ladies…," he said, offering them his open palms.

"Jesus, Nat!" cried Duffy. "Now it's not just patronizing bullshit, it's patronizing sexist bullshit!"

"Uh… I'm sorry ladi… uh…"

"Look, Edgar," said Natoli, a petite brunette with axes in her impossibly deep brown eyes. "You got caught with your pants down. You lied to us, which means you lied to the American people. But now you can make it up to them."

"Yeah, just let us out of here to do our job," Duffy finished for her.

"No," he said firmly. "Under no circumstances. It's too dangerous."

"Oh, come on, Edgar!" Natoli protested. "Why not? This is the fucking story of the century. You can't Roswell it. It's just too big. You got ten thousand witnesses, two dozen or more of them journalists. You probably got your satellite links being hacked by CNN right now."

"Excuse me, Ms. Natoli, but CNN won't be hacking any of our communications for a very long time. I can assure you of that."

Both women snorted in amusement.

"You think so?" asked Natoli, who worked for the Atlanta-based broadcaster.

The Egg smiled kindly, which put both reporters on alert. "Oh, no. Your sources seem to have misled you. You see, the Enterprise is exactly where it's supposed to be. They're not the one's who've gone missing."

He let the implications of that hang in the air.

"Holy shit," Duffy said after a brief pause.

"Yep," nodded The Egg sympathetically. "So you see. You could interview those guys we brought over; lock them down for an exclusive if you want. But who you gonna call? I don't think they've even invented the television here yet."

"Oh," said Rosanna Natoli. Then, "Oh shit."

She slumped into a chair. Her eyes seemed to lose focus.

Duffy rummaged around in a pocket and came up with a small bottle of pills. She dry swallowed one and handed the rest to her friend. Thieu wondered what the medication was. It might explain why they were still conscious.

Whatever. At least I shut 'em up, he thought.

And for a few seconds at least, Lieutenant Edgar Thieu got to enjoy the feeling of being in control.

Dan Black was out of his depth. A few seconds after they had jumped out of the Seahawk, he'd received word that his mission was redundant. Spruance had authorized the Multinational Force to carry out search and rescue. The helicopter had lifted off almost immediately, taking Colonel Jones and leaving the two Enterprise men stranded on the Clinton. Kolhammer apologized to the pair, shouting over the sound of the rotor blades. He said it was critical they get SAR away as fast as possible.

A Negro woman appeared, wearing camouflaged pants, a heavy blue, long-sleeved T-shirt, and a bulky yellow crash helmet. She hustled them all off the flight deck, which was swarming with emergency and damage control teams. Fires burned everywhere amid the wreckage of smashed aircraft and equipment.

Black noticed that there seemed to be two island structures on the deck, separated by hundreds of yards. They hurried into the first one, and the change of atmosphere struck him immediately. The smell of burning chemicals was completely masked.

"Overpressure," said Curtis. "Wow."

The corridors, which were much wider, well lit, and better ventilated than the narrow passages of their own ship, were nonetheless crowded with personnel charging from one crisis to another. Corpsmen carrying stretchers busted past every few minutes. Firefighters in silver space suits straight out of Flash Gordon came and went. Sirens sounded, the PA blared. Ensign Curtis snapped his head left and right, trying to take it all in at once. Black was more controlled, but the mayhem conspired to knock his feet out from under him, nonetheless.

Kolhammer put a hand on his arm and tugged gently.

"You might as well come with me, Commander. I'm heading back to the bridge."

Black shrugged, and fell into step with the admiral. They passed rooms that seemed to be full of nothing but movie screens, and a mess hall that looked more like a swish restaurant and smelled of things he vaguely recalled from port visits in the Far East and the Mediterranean. It was impossible to ignore the cosmopolitan nature of the carrier's crew. Men and women of all races seemed to work in close proximity without any apparent difficulty. He saw white men take orders from what looked to be a Mexican woman, and watched as the men obeyed without question.

The same Tower of Babel effect was repeated on the flag bridge when they arrived. Black was as bemused by the way different sexes and races were all mixed in among the bridge crew, as he was by the staggering display of technology. The cockpit of the helicopter had looked like something on a space rocket. This room, with its banks of glowing movie screens and flashing lights, was even more bewildering. How on earth did anyone know how to operate this stuff? And what sort of a world was it where women barked orders at men and colored folk were placed in charge of whites? Dan Black preferred not to think of himself as a prejudiced man, but his mind locked up. This was simply beyond his comprehension.

He missed Kolhammer's introduction of some officer named Judge.

"Got the butcher's bill sir," the man said. "Damage and casualties across both forces."

He's from Texas, thought Black.

"Thanks, Mike," said Kolhammer.

A Seahawk flew past the blast window. They shuttled constantly between those ships with working flight decks and an ever-widening search and rescue zone. Kolhammer waited as Judge consulted his flexipad, unvarnished distaste creasing the exec's features in the light of the screen. He noted that while Curtis had his face glued to the armor glass, watching the flight operations, Lieutenant Commander Black had settled into a quiet corner to watch the Clinton's executive officer.

"Every one of our ships has taken significant damage," said Judge. "The Close-In Systems harvested a shitload of incoming, but another two shitloads arrived right behind the first. So far we have six hundred and thirty-seven confirmed dead on the Clinton. One thousand and fifty-three KIA on the Fearless. Another eight hundred and ninety-two throughout the task force. We have more than fifteen hundred injured. Half of them from the Clinton again. We've definitely lost contact with our two boomers, and with the Vanguard, the Dessaix, the Garrett, and the Indonesians. We're not leaping to conclusions, but it could be they just didn't come through."

"That's not the case with the Nagoya, though," said Kolhammer.

"No, sir, it's not. We're pretty sure now the Nagoya was the source of the event and was destroyed by it. Makes sense, given what they were messing with. We've got some video on screen three."

The flatscreen came to life, quartering into four windows displaying mast-mounted cam coverage of the Nagoya. The video ran at normal speed for a few seconds then seemed to stop. Both Black and Curtis moved around to watch the video. The ensign whistled softly, but the older man scowled at the screen as if he didn't trust it.

"We had to dial back the replay speed," said Judge. "Even then it's hard to say what happened, it was so quick."

Kolhammer watched as the giant research vessel suddenly seemed to contract to a single point before a lens of swirling light bloomed out from the same spot. "What the hell was that?" he asked. "It looked like they got sucked down a drain or something."

"Yeah, it did, didn't it? Lieutenant Dietz from the working group trying to nut this out called it spaghettification. He says it's what happens when matter is drawn down into a singularity. Like a black hole. He doesn't rate it as an enjoyable trip."

"Fatal?"

"And then some."

Curtis leaned over to his superior officer and whispered, "What's a black hole, sir?"

"Dunno," said Black.

"We'll explain later," said Kolhammer, as an idea struck him.

"Excuse me, Commander Black. Mike, that reporter we have on board from the Times, Duffy, she wrote a piece about this stuff a few years back. It was in the briefing pack I took across to the Enterprise. We should get her to write us up a briefing note. Something clear and concise we can use for our own people and for the locals. Lord knows, we're going to need something. She still with us?"

"I believe Lieutenant Thieu is rattling her cage even as we speak, sir."

"Make a note, I'll want to speak to her later. She can start earning her room and board. Okay." He nodded, drawing a mental line under the topic. "Our missing ships, we sure they didn't come through and get turned into noodles?"

"No, we're not sure," said Judge as a Seahawk lifted off from the heavily damaged deck of the carrier. "But it's unlikely. The event had an edge. We know that because Captain Halabi saw it cut the Fearless in two. That took place eight thousand meters from the Nagoya. The subs were a long way beyond that, assuming there was a uniform shape to the phenomenon."

"Do we have any reason to assume that?" asked Kolhammer, a note of incredulity creeping into his voice. "This thing did throw everyone out of position, after all. It moved the Havoc about seven thousand meters closer to us."

Judge looked worried, but he could only shrug in agreement. "Admiral, we can't assume anything about a process we don't understand. The phenomenon seems to have been… anomalous. Our relative positions got mixed up. For instance, the Havoc was closer, but the Siranui was ten thousand meters farther from us than she should have been when we emerged. It's possible the missing ships got scattered all over the globe. Or out into space. Or a hundred kilometers beneath the earth's crust. We simply don't know."

"Okay, then, we don't assume anything. What about Spruance's group? How badly are they hurting?"

Mike Judge flicked a glance at Dan Black and sucked in through his teeth with a hiss. "We fucked them three ways from Sunday, Admiral, if you'll pardon my French. Three cruisers are gone, the Yorktown, and the Hornet. That's more than seven, eight thousand dead, right there. They got maybe another thousand dead on the destroyers, five sunk, two going down right now. We can't rightly say anything about final casualty figures yet. They don't have any implants here."

Judge sounded morose. There was nothing Kolhammer could say in mitigation. He felt as awful as the executive officer looked and sounded. Curtis and Black were even more subdued. Although they stood near the center of the room, nobody looked directly at them.

"Okay, Mike," said Kolhammer. "For now we can only take the first steps. Search and rescue. Care for the wounded. How's that going?"

Judge stared out the blast windows as he answered. "Doc Francois over on the Kandahar is in charge of that, Admiral. We lost Preston when the liquid oxygen went up. She's the senior surgeon now. She's organized triage for both forces. We're taking the worst on our ships because we have the best facilities. The locals are doing what they can. They've got some of our medics on their ships now."

"And how's that working out?"

"No problems yet, but it's early. There is one other issue, of course."

Kolhammer rubbed his neck. "Midway," he sighed.

Black and Curtis stiffened.

"You told us you'd stand down any threat," Black reminded him.

"Admiral Spruance does want to know what we're going to do about it," said Judge, "since we pretty much crippled his ability to act."

"Do we know where the Japs should be at this point?" asked Kolhammer.

Judge leaned over a touch screen and danced his fingers across the surface. The lines and creases in his weathered face seemed unnaturally deep in dim red light of the flag bridge. Ensign Curtis shook his head in wonder as dozens of icons moved around the screen under the officer's fingers, sometimes opening out into windows full of scrolling text and numbers, sometimes expanding into pictures of men and women in various uniforms.

"I scanned the crew records," said Judge, as he pulled the files. "I took a couple of history majors off other duties, set them to work on the archives tracking the progress of the Japanese according to the books."

A screen next to Judge filled up with a map of the Pacific. The relative positions of the Japanese and American fleets were recorded from June 1 through June 7, 1942.

"The Nemesis arrays already have a good lock on a large body closing from the west, exactly where Admiral Nagumo should be at this time."

"When's the first strike due?"

Judge checked the flexipad. "At zero eight hundred hours on June third-that's today-the Second Carrier Striking Group under Admiral Kakuta will launch a diversionary attack on Dutch Harbor in the Aleutians. At zero five fifty-three on June fourth, the radar station at Midway will pick up the first wave of attacking planes, which will be over the island from zero six thirty to zero six forty-three."

Kolhammer nodded, satisfied with small mercies. "Okay then. We have a day and a half until the main attack. Let's work up a plan for a strike on the carriers heading for Midway. If we can't get any planes off, we'll take them out with missiles.

"We'll need to discuss all this at fleet command level first. Schedule a conference for the soonest possible time, invite Spruance and whoever he needs to bring along. We can chopper them over here. But let's get the search and rescue finished first. And I'd best have a talk with the acting CO of the Siranui well before the general conference."

"That'd be Sub-Lieutenant Miyazaki. You want to laser-link to him or talk face-to-face?"

"I think we'd best meet in my quarters, man-to-man. Show some respect."

"I think he'd appreciate that, Admiral," said Mike Judge. "He's likely to find it scarce around these parts for a long time."

Lieutenant Commander Black said nothing.

USS KANDAHAR, 0029 HOURS, 3 JUNE 1942

Captain Margie Francois paused for the first time in two and a half hours. It was just a moment's break.

As chief combat surgeon of the Eighty-second MEU, her first priority had been to get her own medical staff back online, then the Kandahar's defensive sysops, then the ship's most critical naval personnel and the 3 Batt staff officers.

Then the casualties began to arrive, some caused by the Transition, like the kitchen hand suffering third-degree burns from collapsing onto a gas oven, and a marine who'd gone headfirst down a hatch between decks, breaking his spine. Shortly after that, the first shells had hit the ship, and her real work had begun, patching up torn and broken bodies.

There was no real lull between that and the arrival of the first survivors from Spruance's task force. The newcomers had filled all one hundred beds in the Kandahar's hospital, and still they came; burns, amputations, compound fractures, split skulls, crushed limbs, ripped torsos. Hundreds of men had swallowed oil, some had lungs half full of contaminated seawater. Many screamed, some moaned quietly. The hospital smelled of charred flesh, blood, shit, and fear. When an orderly handed her a tube of chilled fruit pulp the contrast between the sweet, fresh taste and the charnel house atmosphere of the ward came as a smack in the face.

A brief sense of dislocation took hold, and she stopped for a few seconds to observe the scene.

So, she thought without allowing herself any real feeling, this is what it looks like for the other guy.

"Captain? Captain Francois, ma'am?"

The voice dragged her back into the world.

"We're starting to run low on burn gel, ma'am. It's not critical yet. But it will be soon enough, if we keep running through it at this rate."

Francois looked at the intern. "Thanks for the snack. It helped."

"Ma'am?"

"Yeah, I know, the goddamn burn gel. Can't be helped, Ensign. It's there to be used. You know the principles of triage. That's all you need to worry about for now."

"Yes, ma'am."

The young man saluted and hurried away.

"Captain?"

Francois turned toward the deep bass of Colonel Jones's voice, acknowledging him with a tired salute.

"You need anything down here, Doc?" he asked.

"Some answers would be good," she said a touch bitterly. "Failing that, more burn gel and vat tissue. We're going to need plenty of both."

Jones rubbed his shaved head in frustration. "How many of our people are down?" he asked, meaning the battalion.

"Sixty-two dead," she replied without hesitating. "Another fifty-three wounded. Mostly from blast effects, but a few were just unlucky. Happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time."

"At the Transition point?"

"If that's what we're calling it, yeah."

A man lying in a bed nearby suddenly howled like a wounded animal. Francois hurried over, reaching him before anyone else. His uniform had been stripped so there was no way of telling to whom he belonged by just looking at him. A quick scan with a sensor wand told her he had no inserts, which meant he almost certainly came off an old ship. A transmitter node on the bed beamed his data to her flexipad: Leading Seaman Murray Belknap, one broken hip, seven broken ribs, a ruptured spleen and second-degree burns to 15 percent of his body. A trauma team arrived as she finished reading his slate.

"We got him, Captain," one of them shouted.

Jones took Francois by the arm and steered her away.

"Let them work, Margie. You've trained them well. Give them some room. You can't lay hands on everybody who comes in. You got the bigger picture to keep you up nights."

"I know," she admitted. "You just get into the groove, that's all."

"I understand. How many of the locals do you have with you here?"

"Nearly three hundred here, just a shade under two thousand spread out through the rest of the fleet. We're at capacity now. We've starting taking over the sleeping quarters."

Jones nodded. "And how many are we going to lose? For certain?"

Francois took a few seconds to think it over. She consulted her flexipad for a minute after that before answering. "My best guess at this stage, we'll lose about eight percent."

"Okay, better than I'd expected."

Jones didn't insult her with any platitudes about trying harder. He knew her well. She'd give it everything she had.

Francois just hoped it would be enough.

14

HIJMS YAMATO, 0146 HOURS, 3 JUNE 1942

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto was incandescent with rage. A lesser man might have howled like a dog and hammered at the bare bulkhead until his fists were mashed into a bloody pulp. He had not wanted this war! He had not wanted the glorious baubles and empty honors that had poured on his head after the victory at Pearl Harbor. He had not wanted them, because he suspected they would lead to utter ruin.

The United States of America was a colossus that he had little chance of besting in a fair fight. He knew in his heart that the only hope was one decisive engagement, the Kessen Kantai, which would leave the Americans so stunned, naked, and bleeding that they would have to sue for peace.

But it was a tremendous gamble. The life of a nation bet on the turn of a card. And now this oaf, this fool, this butcher's bastard son Kakuta had lost his mind and upturned the entire card table.

He examined the lengthy radio transcript. The radio! He cursed volubly and at great length. Eavesdroppers be damned! How many times had he stressed the importance of maintaining absolute radio silence, lest the Americans unravel his plot before it ensnared them. His thick, calloused hands, the left one missing two fingers, were shaking with fury as he reread the message.

Kakuta had turned the entire Second Carrier Striking Force around and was heading back toward the Home Islands. Admiral Hosogaya's Northern Force was following, in great confusion. Kakuta was demanding-demanding! — that Yamamoto order his own Main Force and Nagumo's First Carrier Striking Force to turn tail and make for Hashirajima with all dispatch. And he was flying-flying! — back to the battleship Yamato to personally brief the commander of the Combined Fleet on some supposedly momentous development that had necessitated all of this.

The only momentous development Yamamoto could see in Admiral Kakuta's future was his inescapable beheading when they fished him from the sea beside the Yamato. Or had he forgotten, in his derangement, that the Yamato was a battleship, not an aircraft carrier.

Yamamoto crushed the paper in his good right hand. He had read it so many times now that he could probably recite its litany of delirium from memory. Kakuta said the Americans had broken the JN25 code and were waiting in ambush for Nagumo's flattops. An unsettling development, if true, but then the whole reason for their being out here in this hellish weather was to engage the Americans in decisive battle and sweep away the last remnants of their fleet. So what did it matter if they were waiting? He had assembled the greatest naval force since Jutland. Its sheer mass would crush them, even without the benefit of surprise.

Perhaps the answer lay there. The U.S. Navy would surely know they were coming, now that Kakuta had blurted his plans to the heavens. But he had gained the Ryujo and the Junyo to augment Nagumo's force. How could they hope to resist six fleet carriers and dozens of heavy battleships and cruisers with the few tin toys they had left? Perhaps another gamble might bring even greater rewards, against greater odds.

He drew a deep, cleansing breath, focused on finding his center, his hara. He would need to move quickly. Plans would have to be remade on the run. There was so little time that he might not even be able to spare a minute to watch Kakuta's execution.

IN FLIGHT, 0212 HOURS, 3 JUNE 1942

The Eurocopter Panther 2E hammered through the fog about two hundred meters off the surface of the ocean. Kakuta and Hidaka were strapped into seats in the bay, where they could look forward to the cockpit. The old admiral found himself continually craning around to gawk at the multiplicity of illuminated displays, wondering how the pilots managed to keep on top of them all. The Indonesian, Moertopo, who seemed more and more subdued as the distance from his own ship grew, repeatedly assured him that they would not lose themselves in the vastness of the northern Pacific. He conceded that the "GPS" was gone, whatever that meant, but said that he had faith in something called "SINS" to bring them within a short distance of Yamamoto's Main Force.

Moertopo also assured them that the helicopter's "radar" would have no trouble finding a body of iron as substantial as that, even though it lay many miles away. Furthermore, he said, they were far enough from their erstwhile colleagues at Midway that any "radar leakage" would not be detected.

Kakuta's heart lurched every time he imagined having to explain all this to Admiral Yamamoto. He felt like a bug that had nipped the toe of a giant. There was a chance that the admiral would be so incensed by his actions that he would shoot them out of the sky. For his part, he had assured the Indonesians that he could forestall such precipitate action, but privately he had his doubts.

Hidaka seemed more sanguine. He had the heart of a true samurai, and Kakuta hoped that whatever came of this, no dishonor would attach itself to his favored protege.

Lieutenant Moertopo pressed a hand to one ear.

"The pilot reports that we are one hundred and sixty kilometers out, Admiral. We should be able to establish a secure tightbeam contact at this distance."

The sound of Hidaka's translation came through beautifully clear on the lightweight headset they had provided him. Another small piece of evidence in favor of this whole crazed scenario.

"And so I am to just speak into this little twig?" he asked, tapping the slim metal rod that reached around to the corner of his mouth.

Moertopo held up his hand until the copilot gave him the sign that they had broken into the Yamato's frequency. He pointed a finger at Kakuta and nodded.

"Yamato. Yamato. This is Admiral Kakuta. Commander of the Second Carrier Striking Fleet. This is Admiral Kakuta of the Second Carrier Striking Fleet. We are flying inbound on a heading of two-four-three relative to your position. Please acknowledge this transmission."

"This is Chief Signals Officer Wada," came the startlingly clear reply. "Stand by."

The men in the helicopter waited as a full minute dragged by. They were all tense, even though they still sat well outside the range of the fleet's antiair defenses. Moertopo had explained that they might not have sufficient fuel for a round trip to the Yamato and back. The Panther bucked violently on turbulence, adding to the stress. Admiral Kakuta was about to repeat his message when a cold, angry voice filled his headset. It was like having the commander in chief growl into his face from just a few inches away.

"So, Kakuta," rumbled Isoroku Yamamoto. "You have broken radio silence again."

"Yes, Admiral…"

At this point, Kakuta's nerve failed him. He groped for the right words to carry them through the next few minutes, and nothing came. The roar of the Panther's engine filled the warm, close space. He was acutely aware of the vibration of the airframe and the eyes of the men around him, boring in, urging him to speak. But what could he say that would not mark him as a lunatic? The right form of words. That was all he needed. Their refusal to take shape in his mind was absolutely maddening. He might never…

"Admiral Yamamoto."

It was Hidaka.

"Who is this?" Yamamoto demanded.

"Lieutenant Commander Jisaku Hidaka, of the Ryujo, sir. I am accompanying Admiral Kakuta on this mission. It was on my initiative that we undertook it."

"No!" mouthed Kakuta as his subordinate bared his neck to the blade. The dishonor of allowing one's inferior to accept blame for such a perilous scheme-he might never live it down.

"So," snarled Yamamoto. "Another mutineer. Or are you just a maniac, Commander?"

"You will think us both maniacs, initially, Admiral. But we have come as saviors. If we speak falsely, let the spirits of our ancestors bear the shame."

"Oh, they shall bear a heavy burden of shame, believe me, Hidaka."

"I believe not, Admiral. You were steaming toward defeat and catastrophe. We can avert that, if you will just hear us out."

"I am listening. No doubt the Americans are listening, as well. The whole world is waiting on you, Lieutenant Commander Hidaka."

"Here we are now, entertain us," Moertopo sung under his breath.

Hidaka shot him a withering look. The reference meant nothing to him, but the potentially disastrous effect of that one line of English did not bear thinking about.

"Admiral Yamamoto, begging your pardon, but we shall not even attempt to explain ourselves over the radio. It would be futile. We shall be over your position in approximately twenty minutes. We shall maneuver to land in front of your forward eighteen-inch turrets. I am informed it will be a very dangerous approach. The pilot requests that you adjust your heading in order to place the wind across your decks."

"It will be more than dangerous," exclaimed Yamamoto. "It will be fatal. You cannot land a seaplane on a battleship. I am warning you. I will have you shot down if you approach the Yamato."

"We are not in a seaplane, and we can land without damaging the Yamato. Please do not shoot us down. You will soon understand. Hidaka out."

He drew his fingers across his throat, motioning Moertopo to sever the link.

The commander in chief was cut off mid-rant.

Admiral Kakuta stared at him as though he had just lost his mind. Nobody spoke to Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto like that.

Hidaka gestured helplessly.

"From what I have heard, the Admiral is a gambler. So am I."

Yamamoto's mouth opened and closed. Opened and closed. But no sound emerged.

Perhaps they could land on the Yamato after all. That thing, that giant insect in which Kakuta had so quickly navigated across fifteen hundred kilometers of fog-shrouded sea-and at night! — it seemed to hang in the air as if suspended from a thread. No. No it didn't seem to hang in the air. It simply did hang there.

The seas were running at two and a half meters. The bulk of the Yamato would pass through a single wave as though it were composed of nothing more than smoke. But over the long haul from Hashirajima the ceaseless roll of the northern Pacific had imparted a long and rhythmic plunging motion to the sixty-five-thousand-tonne battleship. Yamamoto, who had quietly ordered the ship brought around when he had finally laid eyes on Kakuta's mysterious "seaplane," stood transfixed in the freezing night air as the pilot hovered over the forecastle. The aircraft dipped when the bow dipped. Rose when it rose. It was almost as though the pilot were dancing with the hulking behemoth beneath his wheels.

Admiral Yamamoto, Captain Takayanagi, all of the officers who had assembled on the high walkway were mesmerized, watching to see if the strange wingless plane would falter, to be slapped from the sky by a rogue surge of the deck. How the pilot could see through the darkness and the typhoon of spray thrown up by that huge propeller was anyone's guess.

But clearly, he could. With one last skillful dip, the craft settled onto the deck and the roar died away as the pilot cut power to the engine. As if by sorcery, giant propeller blades materialized above the cockpit, revealing how this miraculous device stayed aloft. A dozen sailors ran forward with ropes to lash the thing to the deck.

KRI SUTANTO, 0237 HOURS, 3 JUNE 1942

"Ensign Tomonagi, come quickly, the captain is stirring."

Tomonagi followed the crewman back into the wardroom of the Sutanto, where the man whom Moertopo had identified as the ship's commanding officer was indeed throwing off his coma-like unconsciousness.

Tomonagi's stomach heaved, and a thin, greasy film of sweat quickly lacquered his forehead. But Commander Hidaka's instruction has been quite explicit.

"You two, quickly!" he barked at a couple of his own sailors. "Grab him and follow me."

A handful of Indonesian ratings who tried to help with their skipper were roughly forced back by armed guards.

"We shall take care of him," Tomonagi declared. "Go back to your duties."

None of them understood a word he said, but the tone was unmistakable. Reluctantly they stood by as their captain was carried from the room, his body convulsing in the arms of the sailors who bore him away.

Tomonagi led the small party out into the fresh air and over to the plasteel safety rail. He looked around for witnesses but apart from another Japanese sentry, there were none. He nodded at the sailors, who heaved Captain Djuanda over the side. They heard the impact very clearly as his body hit the icy waters. There was no scream.

HIJMS YAMATO, 0328 HOURS, 3 JUNE 1942

Lieutenant Ali Moertopo didn't know enough about Admiral Yamamoto to be awed. His flagship, the battleship Yamato-now, that was awesome. But the man himself just looked like another pissed-off sushi chef. He'd come to recognize the type. It appeared as if they were all over this ocean.

Moertopo stood beside and slightly behind Commander Hidaka in the planning room of the Yamato, a huge space to the eyes of somebody who had been confined to a comparatively tiny ship like the Sutanto. Before them lay a large table with a map of the Pacific covered in little wooden boats and flags, symbolizing the disposition of hundreds of Japanese naval vessels, surging across the empty wastes of the northern Pacific. Now, apparently, they were in disarray, and the men responsible were facing a solid wall of dark uniforms and darker faces.

Overhead, lights glinted off Yamamoto's shaven head as he listened to Kakuta and Hidaka attempt to explain themselves. The grand admiral's face remained utterly impassive, but the men around him glowered with increasing degrees of incredulity and umbrage. When Kakuta finally fell silent, a terrible, ticking stillness blanketed the gathering.

"And you, Lieutenant Moertopo. What say you of all this?" asked Yamamoto at last in thickly accented, but otherwise flawless English.

Moertopo, who had quickly downloaded everything he could find on Yamamoto and Midway from the Sutanto's Fleetnet storage banks, wasn't surprised by the man's grasp of the language. He now knew that Yamamoto had studied at Harvard, and later worked in Washington. But he was nevertheless shocked at being spoken to directly by the supreme commander of the Combined Fleet. He had been rather looking forward to keeping his opinions to himself. Hidaka prodded him forward.

"What do you want me to say… sir?"

"Do you really expect me to believe that you are from the future?"

"No."

"Then why waste my time with this fiddle-faddle?"

Moertopo thought he understood the slant of the question, even though it had been phrased so oddly.

"I do not expect you to believe it. But it is true. I was born in nineteen ninety-seven."

"I see."

The room again fell into uncomfortable silence.

"And how did you come to be here?" asked Yamamoto after a short interlude.

"I do not know," Moertopo answered truthfully. "But here I am."

"And here your friends are, too, the Americans," Yamamoto stated flatly.

"You believe that?"

"Our radio intelligence has detected a very large volume of traffic from the Midway area. A battle has been fought there. But not by us."

Moertopo quickly scanned the faces behind Yamamoto, hoping for some sign of how to play this. All he found, however, was a wall of anger and suspicion.

"We picked up those signals ourselves," said Moertopo. "It appears that the Americans have hurt each other very badly."

Again, his answers brought no measurable response from Yamamoto or his staff. Moertopo had been hoping that they might tip a couple of flexipads onto the table, maybe a history book or two and couple of pirate video sticks-he'd even managed to locate a copy of Tora Tora Tora-after which the locals would offer him a nice warm sake and couple of horny geisha girls to welcome their new best friend to the original axis of evil.

Yamamoto purred in a deceptively friendly tone, "Tell me, Lieutenant, what was supposed to happen, before the interference of you and your friends."

"The… they're not my friends," Moertopo stammered. "I copied files to these flexipads if you want to read them, or watch them," he hurried on. "I have documentaries. There are some good ones there. The World at War. And Victory at Sea. I have the Tom Cruise miniseries. I could-"

"I am not interested in your toys, Moertopo," growled the Admiral. "I want you to tell me what was supposed to happen next."

Hidaka leaned over to whisper something, but Yamamoto cut him dead with a glare.

Moertopo had studied the archival material on the flight down. He was well enough acquainted with a scratch history of the Pacific War to deliver the briefing that had been asked of him. But he was certain these arrogant dogs would tear him apart as soon as he spoke. The way he understood it, they wouldn't-didn't-believe they could lose until well after their butts had been well and truly kicked. It was hopeless. He was trapped. Until a thought occurred to him.

"You were right," he said.

Yamamoto's wide, Buddha-like face regarded him dispassionately. "What do you mean?"

Moertopo picked up the flexipad that sat on the table in front of him and quickly brought up a bookmarked page. "When you spoke to Prime Minister Konoye in nineteen forty," he explained, "just after he had signed the treaty with Hitler and Mussolini, you said, If I am told to fight, regardless of consequences, I shall run wild for the first six months or a year. But for the second and third years I have utterly no confidence. You always thought that war against the United States was national suicide.

"And you were right. It was. Three years from now the Americans will drop a bomb on Hiroshima, where you attended the Naval Institute, if I remember correctly."

Yamamoto nodded.

"This was, or will be, a special bomb. There was only one dropped that day, but it exploded with a force of more than fifteen thousand tonnes of TNT. Not kilograms, Admiral. Tonnes. It killed seventy thousand people instantly and destroyed most of the city. It was called an atomic bomb. They dropped another on Nagasaki, two days later, and Japan surrendered unconditionally. You didn't live to see it, though. The American's shot down a plane carrying you on…"

He checked the flexipad again, gaining confidence from the stunned silence.

"On Sunday, April eighteen, nineteen forty-three. Over Bougainville."

"Lies!" someone cried. But Yamamoto raised his hand and stilled the protest.

There. The cat was out of the bag now. Moertopo wasn't sure what the long-term results would be, but at least it appeared he'd saved himself from being weighted down and tipped over the side of the ship. He had read more than once of how captured American fliers had suffered just that fate at the hands of these primitive oafs. And they considered themselves the pinnacle of martial civilization!

"It appears," Yamamoto said, "that a heavy blow has landed on the Americans tonight. What is to stop us continuing east to finish the job?"

Moertopo was physically and emotionally worn out. He couldn't contain a small, wan shadow of a smile. "The power of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima," he answered, "is nothing compared to the weapons they have brought with them. With your permission I shall speak my mind now, Admiral Yamamoto. You were right to oppose this war. You would have lost it. You will still lose it, no matter how badly damaged the Americans are by the events tonight. If just one warship from Kolhammer's force remains afloat, it would be enough to sink every carrier you have. You can avoid the disaster that would have befallen you. You have that opportunity. You should grasp it with both hands."

This time Yamamoto said nothing. His eyes glinted like two small opals.

Moertopo drew deeply but furtively on the clove cigarette. The embers at the tip burned brightly for a few seconds, casting a dim red glow on the base of the empty bunk above him. He was unsure whether the Imperial Japanese Navy enforced a nonsmoking policy, but he was reasonably certain they had not yet invented smoke detectors, so fuck them.

He and Hardoyo were being accommodated-or detained, to be perfectly accurate-in separate cabins far apart from each other. They hadn't been badly treated or abused. Indeed, the reception for Kakuta and Hidaka had been much sharper. For the moment, the Indonesians were regarded as a curiosity and a potential asset. When that changed, he knew, he'd better have an exit strategy locked down. Or something of great value to trade for his skin.

The sweet notes of the cigarette induced a lonesome melancholy in the Sutanto's executive officer. An intensely childlike desire to run for home overwhelmed his confusion and anxiety, while compounding deeper feelings of desolation and irrecoverable loss. He was surprised to find his throat tightening as hot tears welled in his eyes. Moertopo quickly jammed a knuckle into his mouth, lest the guard outside his room hear him. The grief built in intensity until there was nothing to be done but to give himself over to it, curling into a tight fetal ball on his bunk and fighting to draw breath between the great racking sobs that overpowered him. It was as though he were being pummeled underneath a tsunami of wretched sorrow.

In time, a few minutes at most, the seizure passed, leaving in its wake a bleak emotional landscape. He lit another cigarette and raised it between shaking fingers. He drew in a sharp, shuddering breath. As stupidly soothing as this clove cigarette was, Moertopo turned it in his fingers, examining it with a frown. It was emblematic of all his problems. The company that produced this before the war had been a monopoly. In the year before he was born, it had been handed over to an idiot son of the president, who had added the profits from that corrupt transaction to his already formidable business holdings. Both the son and the old man were gone within three years, swept away by the blast wave of the nineties' financial meltdown. The cigarette company reverted to its original and natural owners, the armed forces, which generated 70 percent of its budget from commercial enterprises, most often monopolies.

Little wonder, then, that as Indonesia began to disintegrate under the onslaught of radical Islamists, the generals and admirals had reacted less like professional military men than as the ham-fisted, profiteering mafia they actually were. Moertopo cursed the fools and robbers who had delivered his country into slavery beneath the heel of the Caliphate. But mostly he cursed them for so mismanaging their affairs that he should end up here, in the belly of an iron behemoth, decades before he was born, when he could have been safely tucked up beneath the wings of the Americans.

If only they had trusted him.

But then again, he admitted, why should they?

The Sutanto was little better than a pirate ship. And in a dismal insight, Lieutenant Ali Moertopo realized his only hope lay in embracing that.

15

USS ASTORIA/LEYTE GULF, 0331 HOURS, 3 JUNE 1942

Slim Jim Davidson hadn't ever seen anything like it. Not even at the World's Fair in New York, before the war. The future was here, and it was a fucking treasure trove. If it weren't for Chief Mohr riding his ass like a chariot driver he'd have stowed away enough loot to set himself up for life.

He'd already grabbed and stashed away two of them electrical books, three electrical watches, one pair of goggles-also electrical-and a pistol that looked like it'd stop a bull elephant. The hand cannon he understood. The watches, sort of. They had to be like something out of Dick Tracy, radio watches or something. But the other stuff, that was a mystery. He just took them because he recognized a first-class score. There was just something about those gadgets that cried out, Take me Slim Jim. I'm yours. At some point he was going to have to drop the loot off and start again. Or else Mohr was certain to get wise.

But it was worth the risk. That's why he'd allowed himself to be "volunteered" by the chief for the gruesome business of cleaning up the body parts that lay throughout the dense labyrinth created by the intersection of the two cruisers. The confusion and darkness created endless opportunities for profit. One of the watches, for instance, had just "slipped off" a severed arm and into Slim Jim's pocket as he cleared out a niche where the Astoria's electrical storeroom met a small crew cabin on the Leyte Gulf.

It was hotter than hell down here, maybe even hotter than Alabama in high summer, which Slim Jim knew from personal experience was worse than being trapped in the Devil's own butt hole. In July of '36 he'd done three months on a road gang just outside Montgomery. At the time he'd sworn never to get himself into that sort of trouble again, but here he was, picking up dead meat, Chief Mohr kicking his ass, Moose Molloy stepping on his toes, the Imperial Japanese Navy hell-bent on killing him, and now this crazy bullshit thrown in for good measure. He'd be a damn fool if he didn't take what little chance he had to profit from these unpleasant circumstances.

And Slim Jim's mama didn't raise no fools. Sharpies, grifters, and one crooked jockey, for sure. But no fools.

Slim Jim's normal approach to a job like this would have been to affect an impression of grim industry while goofing off at every turn. But now he hurried to fill his burlap bag with its obscene cargo and the occasional item of plunder, trying to look like the world's busiest little beaver. Moose Molloy, who was working beside him, droned on without letup, his tiny pea brain grappling with the night's events. Slim Jim upheld his side of the conversation only when necessary. His mind worked furiously behind a mask of barely contained disgust.

Oxy cutters blazed around them, burning narrow passageways through the tangled mass of iron. The air stunk of ozone and corruption. Slim Jim's back hurt from the deadweight collected in his sack. His throat was parched dry, his tongue furry, and he was covered in cuts and bruises from banging against twisted metal in the dark. It was, he thought, worse than that fucking road gang. At least they'd had fresh air. But he stuck at the joyless task long after he'd normally have found an excuse to escape.

"I can't wait to see the mess on this ship," grunted Moose as he pulled at something wedged between two imperfectly fused bulkheads. "They got so many mess men on this ship they must have a mess as big as the Enterprise. You remember when we snuck on board for their Christmas party that time, Slim Jim? How big that mess was, with all of them niggers? I never seen so many of them before."

"They're not mess men," Davidson answered as he pocketed what looked like an electric fountain pen. "Look at their uniforms, you lunkhead. They're officers, some of them. The dames, too. And the captain's a broad and a Negro."

"Oh, a Neeegro, excuse me, Professor. Anyhow, I know that," Moose protested. "I was there, remember?"

"Goddamn! This thing weighs a ton," cursed Davidson as he hauled the bag through another tight crawl space. The effort left him breathless and shaking. He leaned against a bulkhead by Molloy to rest.

"Hey, Moose," he said quietly when he'd caught his breath. "Listen. I wouldn't go calling 'em niggers to their face if I was you. Or nips or broads or nothing."

"But that's what they are!" Molloy protested.

"Maybe," Davidson conceded, "but they're officers, too, a lot of them. And officers stick together. I been around. I seen a few things. Just 'cause the black man's been set lower than us doesn't mean he likes it. These guys coming here? It's trouble for everyone. For the Japs if they get a taste of those guns and rockets like we did. But for us, too, I reckon. And when trouble blows in, a smart guy keeps his head down, waits for it to pass. When it's gone you can see how things lie."

Around them the noise of rescue and salvage created a din that covered their conversation. Davidson didn't exactly think of Moose as a friend. He didn't exactly have any friends. But Moose stood six-four in his bare feet and could probably kill an ox with his right hook. He made a good ally for someone like Slim Jim, who'd always relied on ratbastard cunning to make up for his less-than-intimidating physique. If he was going to work an angle on this, he didn't need to have the big ape messing things up for him by mouthing off to the new guys.

"You think about it, Moose," he said in a conspiratorial tone. "You ever meet an officer didn't think the sun shone out of his ass? It's because in their world, it does. And there's nothing you or I can do about it. I don't know how that bitch got to be captain of a ship like this, but you can bet she thinks she deserves it."

"But that just can't be," Moose argued plaintively.

"It doesn't matter!" Davidson said, cutting him off sharply. "What should be and what is almost never turn out the same. I should be lying back in a big feather bed at the Waldorf getting my dick sucked by Rita Hayworth. But I'm stuck here covered in blood and shit wondering what the hell happened to the laws of fucking nature this morning. You take my advice, Moose, one of these bastards says boo to you, you just tell 'em yes sir no sir three bags full sir. Even if it's some broad looks like she should be cleaning the toilets in a fucking speakeasy."

Moose was silenced by the vehemence of his best friend's delivery. And everything Slim Jim Davidson had just said ran 100 percent contrary to what his daddy, Moose Sr., had raised him to believe. But of course, Moose Sr. wasn't here, up to his ass in dead meat and craziness. And Slim Jim had looked after him ever since they'd fetched up in the same quarters. He reluctantly agreed to heed the advice.

"That's all right then." Davidson nodded. "Now I gotta take this shit topside and get rid of it. I'll see you soon."

And with that he hauled the big, oozing bag away, all the time thinking of where he might stash the treasure he had hidden within it.

Captain Anderson ran her fingers along the join between the two ships. The nanotube sheath armor of the Leyte Gulf met the rivets and iron plating of the Astoria perfectly. She supposed they had bonded at the molecular level.

"How long, Chief?" she asked.

"They've got the pumps running full bore in the Astoria, Captain. We've sent over what help we can, but unless we get her to a dry dock in the next eight to twelve hours, we're both going down."

"There's not a dry dock in the world could fit them in," Anderson pointed out.

"That's true," conceded Chief Conroy.

"And we'd tear both ships apart making any kind of speed to get there."

"Reckon so."

They had gathered in a small group on C deck of the Leyte Gulf, where the portside corridor was entirely blocked by a section of the Astoria. The deck tilted forward perceptibly beneath their feet, as the stealth cruiser's bow was dragged down by the growing weight of the other ship. The structural integrity of the Astoria was failing. A large fissure had opened up just aft of the nexus with Anderson's ship and the sea was flooding in, gradually overwhelming the pumps and the efforts of a three-hundred-man bucket brigade.

There were other problems.

"The children aren't playing well together," said Conroy.

"I've got Mohr and my other chiefs working on it," Evans said, "but…"

He trailed off.

Anderson gathered that Evans was an educated, well-traveled man, but even he was obviously having trouble coming to terms with Anderson's ship and crew. The Leyte Gulf's captain stood with her arms folded in the flickering, failing light of the corridor.

"Commander, I'm aware that we've all had a lot of trauma to deal with this afternoon, or morning, or whatever. You can't throw people from different worlds together under such extreme pressure and expect them to work smoothly. Not when they've just been trying to kill each other. But we're going to have to work together, because our fates are fused."

She punched the armor plating of the Astoria for emphasis.

"I can't have Eddie Mohr running around, punching every guy who looks sideways at one of your ladies," said Evans. Frustration was beginning to get the better of him.

"Commander, they're not ladies," Conroy said, before Anderson could reply. "They're officers and sailors of the U.S. Navy. They can take almost anything you'll throw at them. But they don't have to take sexual harassment."

"But nobody's been having sex with them!" protested Evans, who couldn't believe they were even discussing the matter.

"Jesus, you really don't get it, do you?"

"No, apparently I don't…"

"Look, this isn't the time or place," Anderson said. "Either we save these ships together, or they go down together. Chief, get hold of Borghino and Reilly…"

"I'm sorry, he's dead, ma'am."

Anderson had known that, but the memory had slipped away in the turmoil. She cursed herself for the slip.

"Damn, sorry. Right, get Hillary Beaton instead. Get around to the crew and chill them out. I need engineering to give me an answer. Are we going to save the ships or not? I suspect not, so we need to work up a plan to evacuate the crews and salvage everything we can. If it turns out we're stuck here, even the smallest things could make a difference. We need to strip this ship down to bare bones, take off every piece of technology we possibly can. We'll need to coordinate that with Kolhammer.

"Commander Evans, no offense, but I suggest that there's nothing worth saving on your ship. Nothing that can't be replaced, at least. You should have all your men either pumping out the flooded decks or throwing as much weight as possible overboard to lighten the load. If you have any spare bodies, we can use them over here for our salvage work."

Evans had deep, gray bruises under his bloodshot eyes. Every line in his face looked like it had been gouged there. Anderson saw she'd offended him when those lines stretched and his eyes flared with anger. She instantly regretted her blunt Sagittarian ways. Evans was only just holding it together, and she needed him to stay the course.

Evans listened to the Negro woman's speech with mounting distress. He couldn't believe she was just writing off the Astoria like that. After all, there were some decent holes punched in her own ship, courtesy of the old girl's eight-inch batteries. He could feel his anger building, but it never came to a head. He suspected the drugs they'd given him for his injuries might have been damping down his temper, as well. He had a strange feeling, like a fine head of fury was trying to build somewhere inside him, but every time it threatened to break, the anger slipped away.

He rubbed at his eyes with his good hand. They felt gritty and hot. The bruises on his face ached painfully, despite the drugs.

"I'll have to confer with Admiral Spruance," he said flatly. "He's already lost a few cruisers tonight. He won't be happy about scratching another one."

Anderson opened her mouth, ready to argue, but she held her peace.

"I'm sorry, Commander. Please excuse my poor manners. I don't mean to make it sound as if your ship or her crew are unimportant. I'm just playing the numbers. The equipment on the Leyte Gulf will be of tremendous value to your war effort. I don't want to give up on her, either. She's my baby. But she's been run through the heart. We can't make any headway without tearing each other apart, and we're already sinking. I'll have to confer with Admiral Kolhammer and the engineers, but I think they'll agree. The Leyte Gulf is finished, and so is the Astoria."

Chief Mohr had been suspicious when Davidson put himself forward for the cleanup crew in the confused snarl at the intersection of the two ships. Davidson was one of the laziest, shiftiest sons-of-bitches you'd never hope to meet. Mohr knew he'd only joined the navy to avoid a prison term for passing bad checks in Baltimore. The judge had given him the option of military service or the big house and Davidson, true to form, had joined the navy because he heard it had the best chow and the least exercise. He was also scared of flying.

It was almost reassuring, in a way, when Mohr crawled back into the Astoria to discover that Slim Jim was inexplicably absent. Moose Molloy had done his best to cover for the lazy bum, but that didn't necessarily work in Davidson's favor. Mohr waved away Molloy's excuses and determined to deal with the slacker later.

For now he had other problems. He'd just bruised his knuckles on the thick skull of some moron who'd grabbed a piece of ass over on the other ship. Personally, the chief couldn't see the problem. If you put a bunch of broads on a ship, they're gonna get their fucking asses grabbed. That was only natural.

But that Captain Anderson, who didn't look like anyone had grabbed her ass in a long while, had gone bitching to Commander Evans, who was over on the Leyte Gulf having his injuries tended to by their supermedics. Evans had gone to Mohr, and Mohr had gone to the source of the trouble, some dumbass gunner by the name of Finch.

"You grab her ass, Finch?" he demanded to know.

Finch had sort of smirked and shrugged, so Mohr had hauled off and slugged him one, right between the eyes. At that point, Captain Anderson had gasped. But what the hell had she expected him to do? A guy grabs some ass ain't his to grab, you put Chief Eddie Mohr on the job, the guy gets knuckled good and proper. Case closed. You woulda thought from her reaction that the knuckling was nearly as bad as the original ass grabbing.

"The fucking saints preserve me," Mohr grumbled as he hauled himself back into clear space aboard the Astoria. He was gonna get himself a corned beef sandwich and a coffee, and then he was gonna find that lazy fucking Slim Jim asshole and maybe he was gonna knuckle him some, too.

Lieutenant Commander Helen Wassman taped off the IV line and stood up to stretch her back. She'd been crouched over for nearly four hours, attending casualties from both ships. Her back ached and the muscles in her legs burned with fatigue. It had been nearly thirty hours since she'd rolled out of her bunk, and she wondered whether the time might be coming when she'd have to dial up a little stim flush from her implants.

"Doctor! Doctor, over here!"

The Leyte Gulf's medical officer had trouble focusing on the direction of the voice. The mess hall was full of wounded men and women. The worst cases had first call on the Gulf's relatively small hospital, where they were stabilized before being choppered across to the Clinton or the Kandahar-a process that had been complicated by the destruction of the helicopter bays. The patients had to be carried up onto the deck through the bridge structure, a long and winding route.

"Doctor! Please!"

Wassman urgently cast around for the source of the cries. There had to be sixty people laid up in the mess. Most of them were in pretty bad shape. The walking wounded were all helping with salvage operations. The room presented a tableau from one of Goya's nightmares, bloodied bandages, burned limbs, chaos, and horror. She'd treated deep tissue lacerations, compound fractures, crushed vertebrae, shrapnel and bullet wounds, and, of course, some terrible injuries caused by ceramic flechette rounds.

"Doctor!"

Wassman sourced the cries to a reedy-looking officer, off the Astoria, judging by his uniform. He didn't look too badly hurt. He had a good long scrape on his forearm and a bruise on his forehead. But that was it.

This better be good, she thought.

The lieutenant fidgeted impatiently as she approached him. As she did so, his eyes roamed up and down. She was running into that a lot, and she was struggling not to react badly to it.

"Yes… Lieutenant?" she said, drawing up in front of him. "Is one of your men in need of treatment?"

"No, Commander… uhm, Wassman. But I've been waiting here for a blood tranfusion for nearly an hour."

Wassman was genuinely confused. Her eyes flicked from the small bandage on his forehead to the one around his arm.

"I'm sorry, a tranfusion?"

"I've lost some blood," he explained. "I may need a transfusion, but nobody has spoken to me about the type of blood I would need."

She shook her head, wrestling with her irritation. Then she leaned over and somewhat peremptorily plucked his dog tags out to examine them.

"O positive," she read out. "There you go, Lieutenant… Charles, is it? Done deal."

A strange look flickered across the lieutenant's face. Levering himself up, delicately, he motioned for her to follow him a few feet away, into the corridor. Wassman was disinclined to follow at first, but was forced to comply when Charles carried on regardless, stepping over a black woman who was leaned up against a bulkhead, nursing a hand with some nasty-looking burns.

"Lieutenant!" barked Wassman. "I really don't have time for this."

Charles stopped, sighed heavily, and rolled his eyes before turning to face her.

"What is your problem?" Wassman demanded.

People were beginning to stare. Most of the men and women in the room were too lost in their private struggles to notice the scene by the door, but those who were nearby, such as the woman with the burned hand, were turning to watch.

Lieutenant Charles sighed with exasperation. He tried to lean in as if to talk discreetly. "You misunderstand me, Doctor. I didn't mean blood type. I meant type of blood."

Wassman scrunched her eyes shut, then blinked twice, rapidly.

"You're right. I'm sorry, I don't understand. Type of blood?" She gestured with her hands-which were sticky with gore-to emphasize her lack of comprehension.

He grimaced with distaste and rolled his eyes toward the black woman on the floor.

"Type of blood," he murmured. "Don't you see?"

What little concern she had felt for the man abruptly disappeared, and she just gave him a cold stare. Before he could say anything else, she turned away.

Charles reached out to grab her elbow and was stunned when she spun around and slapped him across the face. It was a hard, stinging blow. He gasped and, without thinking, slapped her back. His blow wasn't particularly firm, but the slap galvanized everyone who saw it.

Someone grabbed a handful of his shirt. It was a Chinese American sailor.

"Get your hands off me, you damn coolie," Charles shouted. He made a fist and drove a fierce uppercut into the man's chin, angling the blow to drive the jaw sideways.

Before the man had even hit the deck, though, another of Wassman's shipmates came at him. A white man this time, with a padded sleeve covering one arm. His other arm was fine, though. Wassman watched as it drew back and the hand formed a fist. Charles flinched as the blow came in.

The office housed the ship's Training Department. It was packed with VR gear, computers, screens, and office equipment. They had to break it down and get it all off the ship in less than forty minutes.

Seaman Davidson wasn't really helping with his endless stream of questions.

What's that?

What does it do?

How's it work?

But the ensign from the Leyte Gulf, who was supervising the salvage detail in this part of the ship, tried to answer as many as he could because Davidson was one of the few men off the Astoria who'd shown any inclination to be friendly. And his buddy, Molloy, he could carry a goddamn Xerox all on his own. Ensign Carver was glad to have them. They'd been no trouble at all, really, and had mixed in well with the rest of the work detail. He'd just made a mental note to talk to their Chief Mohr, and tell him what a good job they'd done, when shouting and the sound of something like a brawl reached them.

"What the hell is that?" said Carver.

"Sounds like a brawl," said Davidson.

The officer swore and told his team to keep working. Then he headed for the door.

Slim Jim resisted the urge to pocket another handful of the small, pencil-like objects they called data sticks. He was here to learn, and to establish his bona fides as a stand-up guy.

"Come on," he said, swatting Moose on the back. "He's gonna need some help."

"But he told us to stay here," a young female sailor protested. Quite a cutie, too, thought Davidson. These guys really knew how to fit out a ship.

"Yeah, well he won't be telling nobody nothing when he gets his fucking teeth kicked in. Listen up, would you? That's a real fucking fight out there, toots. Come on, Moose."

The sound of bedlam seemed to swell. There could be no doubt that a pitched brawl was under way. Slim Jim grabbed a small crowbar and dived out through the door, with Moose close behind on his heels. The three remaining sailors, all of them from the Leyte Gulf, hesitated for just a moment before following.

Slim Jim and Moose joined a general rush toward the mess where the fight had broken out.

"Watch my back," said Davidson. "But keep an eye out for that officer, too. We don't want him getting hurt."

"Why not?" Moose asked.

"Just fucking do it, okay."

They had to step on it. The melee had spilled into the passageway, and Carver was already at the edge of the fighting. Davidson could see that he didn't have the first idea about mixing it up in a real street brawl. He was actually trying to haul a couple of guys off someone.

"Oh, for fuck's sake," muttered Slim Jim.

The confined space roared with a tribal savagery. Men and women from both ships were mixed in together, punching, biting, kicking, swinging wildly. Slim Jim saw a guy he recognized from the Astoria, one of the apes from the boiler room, turn and swing at Ensign Carver. The much smaller officer was knocked right off his feet, and slammed into a bulkhead. His attacker, a brute with arms like tree trunks, grinned and pushed him back into the wall.

Maloney, that's his name, thought Slim Jim. Stupid fucking mick.

Stoker Maloney grabbed hold of Carver's throat and pinned the ensign down. He cocked one giant fist back behind his ear, ready to drive it right through the man's head, just as Slim Jim reached him.

"Hey, asshole," Davidson called out.

Maloney smiled at Slim Jim, who raised the crowbar and whipped it down on the arm that restrained Carver. The smile disappeared as the man's bones broke with a sick, wet crack. His dark features turned gray, then white. A look of terrible confusion came into his eyes just before Slim Jim lashed him across the forehead with the heavy iron bar. Then his eyes rolled back in his head and he started to slump to the floor. Moose grabbed hold of him and heaved the deadweight down the corridor. The three sailors who'd followed Davidson and Molloy out of the office nearly tripped over the body.

"You all right, sir?" asked Slim Jim.

Carver coughed twice and struggled to draw breath, finally settling on a quick nod.

"Let's break 'em down, Moose," Davidson yelled, as he swung the crowbar at yet another of his own shipmates.

Moose commenced laying in to the heaving mob with great, looping swings of his fists.

"What the hell is going on here?"

Slim Jim flinched and turned quickly at the sound of Chief Eddie Mohr's bellow.

"I might have fucking known," he growled, as Slim Jim caught his eye.

Mohr had arrived with Captain Anderson, her own chief-Conroy or Condon, or something-and a couple of those scary-looking bastards in SS outfits. They weren't toting those weird guns of theirs, but they had something just as worrying-long black sticks with a small metal prong at the end. Slim Jim's eyes bulged a little when he realized that there were sparks jumping between the prongs.

Anderson's CPO calmly touched his baton to a tall, muscular sailor off the Astoria. He jerked rigidly, as though he'd been electrocuted, then dropped to the deck, unconscious before he hit. Or maybe even dead.

The two black-clad storm troopers started zapping people at the edge of the fray. The result was the same every time. They'd go stiff as a board and then fall in a heap.

"No, don't!" Slim Jim cried in genuine fear as Mohr advanced on him. Some idiot had given him one of those things. He was getting ready to cave in the chief's skull with the crowbar when Ensign Carver laid a restraining hand on Mohr's shoulder.

"It's okay, Chief. He was helping me break up the fight."

Mohr appeared to have real trouble overcoming his momentum. He really wanted to jab Slim Jim with that electric prod. But Captain Anderson laid another hand on his arm.

"Knock it off, you jerks," she yelled. "You ought to be ashamed of yourselves."

The combination of her voice and another two or three prods with the stun rods collapsed the brawl, which had been largely confined to an area around the doorway. Anderson pushed her way in among the rowdy combatants, roughly elbowing aside anyone who didn't give her space. She had her own sparking baton, but she didn't use it on anyone. The unruly squall tapered off into a bruised and sullen stillness.

Slim Jim backed away from Mohr, who still had murder in his eyes, stepping on tiptoes so he could see Anderson.

"Well, I'm waiting," said the captain.

Lieutenant Commander Helen Wassman stepped forward over a number of fallen sailors. She was bleeding from the nose and had a real shiner rising on her left eye.

"I'm afraid it was my fault, Captain," she said.

"The hell it was!" cried a white man to her rear.

"This racist asshole bitch-slapped the doc," somebody else called out.

Chief Mohr forced his way past Slim Jim, drawing up beside Anderson and looking down at the prostrate form of Lieutenant Charles.

"Oh, that'd be fuckin' right," he said darkly.

16

USS ENTERPRISE, 0409 HOURS, 3 JUNE 1942

Karen Halabi was only too aware of the outlandish presence she introduced to the small space. The men around her had so far paid due deference to the respect Spruance seemed to accord her, but she could tell from the prickling of her skin and the occasional hostile glance that she was there under his sufferance.

Spruance stared morosely out at the burning wreckage of his task force.

Dawn was coming, and the extent of the carnage was no longer hidden by full darkness. A few hours from now, they all knew Japanese planes would be over Dutch Harbor on a diversionary strike. The American commander was fast approaching the point where he would have to contact Admiral Nimitz in Pearl and try to explain what had happened. Halabi didn't fancy changing places with him. Down below on the flight deck, a landing signals officer from the Clinton waved in a Seahawk with four survivors just plucked from the water.

"Michaels," said Spruance, "have the Gwin and the Benham stand-by the Leyte Gulf for salvage and evacuation. They are to place their men under the direction of Captain Anderson on the Leyte Gulf. She'll command the operation."

There wasn't so much as a murmur of dissent, but Halabi could feel the men bristle. Spruance remained silent, watching the lights of the helicopters as they hovered and swooped against the black curtain of the Pacific night. Karen would swear that her neck was burning with the intensity of the glares being directed at her by some of the bridge crew. But she clasped her hands behind her back and tried to take what small measure of consolation she could from the experience of riding atop one of history's greatest warships.

She was startled out of her reverie when Spruance next spoke.

"Your people are very professional, Captain. They've saved a lot of men tonight."

He didn't add what a few men around him no doubt thought, that Halabi's people had killed even more.

"Standards haven't slipped, Admiral."

"How long have you been at war, Captain?" Spruance asked in a distracted voice.

"Myself? Twelve years, sir. But it's a different kind of war. More complicated, I suppose."

"I don't see how that could be," Spruance said.

"Politics, religion, history." She shrugged. "It gets very complicated, believe me. Often we're not even fighting other states, just a state of mind. Ideas."

Spruance turned completely around. Silhouetted against the glass, it was nearly impossible to see his face. "You can't fight ideas with rockets and guns."

"On the contrary, that's exactly what you were doing out here, Admiral. You came here to kill men and sink ships. But it was ideas that sent you and the Japanese to war. And it's ideas about how men and women should live that have sent England to war with Germany. I know that all sounds far too abstract, what with so much blood being spilled. But even after Pearl Harbor, you don't understand the nature of the thing you're fighting."

Karen watched as Spruance folded his arms in the dark space of the bridge.

"You sound like you're running for Congress-sorry, Parliament."

"It's just my MA showing. Conflict studies at Cambridge. You'll have to excuse my academic interest in your war. It happened a long time before I was born. But we studied it closely. Because of the immense scale of violence and cruelty this conflict unleashed, there persists in our culture a horror of war, a belief that it is an unmitigated evil, even though this is also recognized as a just war. One that could not be morally avoided."

"Because of Pearl Harbor," said Spruance.

"No. Because of Auschwitz."

Spruance shook his head. "Sounds like a Kraut name, but I've never heard of it."

"You will."

USS HILLARY CLINTON, 0409 HOURS, 3 JUNE 1942

One large wall-mounted flatscreen in Media Center displayed a stored high-res satellite image of the southern reaches of the Indonesian Archipelago. Dan Black knew that because Lieutenant Thieu had explained it when they arrived. He wasn't quite sure what the hell that all meant, though.

Lieutenant Thieu looked a lot like a Jap to Lieutenant Commander Black's way of thinking. But he sounded as though he'd spent his whole life on the beaches of California.

"Santa Monica," Thieu said, when Black asked. "My parents were deep green Earth First types. I surfed a lot to get out of the house. Then when they tried to get me to paddle my board out to hassle some longline tuna boats, I ran away and joined the navy. I don't think they'll ever forgive me."

Black had no idea what he was talking about, but the mystery of Thieu was nothing compared to the two civilian women who were straining at the leash just behind him. Black figured them for civvies because of the complete lack of respect they brought to their dealings with the lieutenant.

"And what's your job, Lieutenant?" asked Black.

"Right now, I'm just looking after you until you can get back to the Enterprise. But officially, media relations."

"And we're the media he's trying to have a relationship with," said one of the women.

Thieu exhaled slowly. "Lieutenant Commander Black, Ensign Curtis, this is Julia Duffy, a feature writer for the New York Times, and Rosanna Natoli, a reporter for CNN. You don't have it yet. It's a bit like the Movietone newsreels, I guess."

"So, what, we're supposed to talk to the press now?" asked Black, who was openly confused.

He'd felt about as useful as tits on a bull up on the flag bridge, and had been happy enough to get out from under Kolhammer's feet as the search and rescue effort accelerated. With Curtis eager to try out a "computer," they'd been escorted down to this "Media Center"-although it looked like an aid station to Black, with maybe two dozen civilians laid out on cots.

Thieu explained that they were reporters who'd been "embedded" with various elements of the Multinational Force, but that didn't make Black feel any more comfortable.

"You don't have to talk to anyone if you don't want to," Thieu added quickly.

"Oh, come now," said Natoli. "I'm sure these boys wouldn't be scared of talking to a couple of lady reporters. They were on their way to kick Yamamoto's butt. They'll be safe with us, Edgar."

"And who are you going to file for?" asked Thieu. "Ms. Duffy still might be able to score a gig with the Times, but I don't know if Ted Turner's even been born yet. And if he has, he ain't hiring."

"Well, first off," Natoli argued, "you don't know for sure that we're stuck here. We could all be back home selling our stories by this time tomorrow. None of us knows anything yet. Meanwhile, you have your job. We have ours."

Black watched the exchange with growing curiosity. These women didn't defer to the officer at all. Their demeanor was challenging, bordering on ill mannered. He dismissed the idea that it was a function of Thieu's race. It was possible, he realized, that they just didn't like each other. If so, it might be useful to get to know them. They might have a different angle on what was happening. He wasn't sure he trusted Kolhammer's people yet.

Behind the women, a whole wall was taken up with what Black thought of as movie screens, displaying scenes from all over both fleets. He could even see his own ship, the Enterprise, with two helicopters just setting down on her deck.

The view seemed to be coming from on high, directly above the flight deck, and the commander assumed another helicopter was taking the photos. When he asked, though, Thieu explained that the feed was actually coming from a small, saucer-shaped "drone-cam" keeping station about three thousand five hundred meters-that meant twelve thousand feet, apparently-above the deck of the carrier. That almost made sense. Other panels on the big wall screen showed vision of a few surviving destroyers from his own group alongside sleek, flowing ships from the future, with a constant transfer of men between both.

Men and women, he corrected himself.

Nodding slowly to the Italian doll, he said, "I can't speak for Ensign Curtis, but I don't mind chatting with you while things get cleared up outside, miss. I can't do any interviews, though. You can't put me in your story, right?"

Lieutenant Thieu closed his eyes and muttered something beneath his breath. But the two reporters smiled radiantly.

"Fabbo," said Duffy.

"What about you, Ensign Curtis?" Natoli asked. "You up for a little deep background?"

Curtis blushed down to roots of his hair.

Captain Jurgen Muller arrived directly from a SAR mission and was still wearing his flight suit. Commander Enrico Prodi made his way up from the Clinton's hangar deck. And Major Pavel Ivanov of the Russian army had crossed from the Kandahar, where he had been taking part in the SEALs' tutorial on the G4 assault rifle when Pope's wormhole had swallowed them all.

The men picked at a tray of sandwiches in Kolhammer's private quarters while the admiral handed out mugs of coffee.

"Where is Colonel Gogol?" asked Ivanov.

"I'm afraid he didn't make it," said Mike Judge.

The Spetsnaz officer took in the answer, processed it, and grunted.

"Too bad."

Ivanov didn't look like he needed much commiserating. Judge restricted himself to replying, "Yeah, too bad."

A knock sounded at the door and Kolhammer called out, "Enter."

The three visitors all turned to see Sub-Lieutenant Maseo Miyazaki, acting commander of the Siranui. One arm was encased in a bright green gel tube, and he stood with the aid of a stick.

Despite his injuries, Miyazaki bowed deeply, every line in his body rigid. It was as if he had fiber-steel cable instead of muscle and bone. Kolhammer took his cue from the young officer and, rather than staring directly into his eyes, he averted his gaze, just slightly. He discreetly studied the stoic mask Miyazaki had drawn across his feelings. Grief and pain were obvious, but survivor guilt was there, as well, a gnawing sense of shame and remorse that one should live when better men had died.

"I'm sorry, Lieutenant," he said, bowing his head. "I served with Captain Okada on a number of occasions. He was a fine warrior. A man of giri. I would appreciate it if you let your men know how deeply we feel his loss and the death of his comrades."

The young officer carefully straightened his back.

"Thank you, sir. I understand two of Admiral Spruance's ships were destroyed by the Siranui," he said. "As the officer responsible, I now forward our most abject apologies to the admiral and place myself under arrest pending court-martial for the unauthorized killing of Allied naval personnel."

Kolhammer was stunned. Nobody moved. The other three foreigners were obviously as taken aback as he was. They looked like props placed by a director. His stateroom, paneled in oak and furnished with a leather lounge and deep blue carpets, suddenly seemed strangely artificial to him, like a stage setting. As he recovered his wits, he put down his empty coffee mug and searched for a reassuring, but authoritative tone.

"Please stand at ease, Lieutenant. In fact, sit down and take the weight off. Please, I mean it. The release of your combat mace was not unauthorized. I sanctioned an overriding autonomy for the fleet CIs, and the consequences of that decision are mine to bear, not yours. I'll be certain to forward your apologies to Admiral Spruance but I won't allow you to take the blame.

"Unfortunately, I fear that won't satisfy the demands of the situation."

Miyazaki entered the room with a small degree of difficulty. But he carefully lowered himself into a chair next to Ivanov and gratefully accepted a cup of green tea from Commander Judge.

"Domo arrigato."

"You're welcome," smiled Judge.

Ivanov gave the young Japanese sailor a slap on the knee.

"Good shooting," he deadpanned.

Kolhammer grimaced inwardly. He had served with a lot of Russians. He was used to their gallows humor. "Gentlemen, I won't bullshit you. We have a problem," he said. "I doubt we're going home anytime soon. Maybe never. That leaves you men up fecal creek. We have twenty-one German, eighteen Italian, and fifteen Russian personnel serving on attachment throughout the task force. And, of course, we have the Siranui. You're the senior surviving officers of your national contingents. If we are indeed trapped here, your homelands are dictatorships, and in the case of Germany, Italy, and Japan, they're enemy states."

Ivanov let out a short, humorless laugh. "I suspect that for me and my comrades, Admiral, the Soviet Union is an enemy state."

"That's why you're here as well, Major."

"And us?" bristled Muller. "Are we to provide you with some sort of loyalty pledge?"

The Italian, Prodi, threw up his hands. "Alora! You have no reason to be concerned with my feelings, Admiral. Have you visited Rome and seen the fascist architecture? It's an abomination! Profoundly antihuman and a total misreading of imperial design. That pig Mussolini deserved to hang by his heels!"

Two seconds of confused and utter silence greeted the Italian's outburst.

"Right, then," Kolhammer said when he recovered. "Thank you, Commander Prodi. To answer your question, Captain Muller, no, I'm not looking for loyalty pledges. But there are people here who will. And even if they get them, they'll still want to lock you up."

"I expect Stalin shall try to put an icepick in my brain," said Ivanov without much emotion. "But we shall see how that works for him, da?"

"Stalin isn't my concern," said Kolhammer. "J. Edgar Hoover might be."

The blank looks he received told him they hadn't boned up on their American history before accepting their postings.

"Look, I harbor no doubts about your dependability, but you can expect a lot of shit from the locals. Not so much you and your guys, Ivanov. But then, like you say, you'll have your own problems. We can sort this out properly when we have more time, but I want you to personally get around to your people and tell them to keep their heads down. Especially when we get to Pearl Harbor, or Brisbane, or the West Coast."

"We don't know where we're going yet?" asked Ivanov.

"We don't know much about anything," Kolhammer conceded. "Commander Judge has pulled together a list of the personnel you'll need to contact. Forget about your other duties until you've done this."

Sub-Lieutenant Miyazaki coughed, and spoke in a halting voice. "And what am I to do, Admiral? How do we hide a Nemesis cruiser?"

Kolhammer propped himself against his desk. The Europeans seemed almost as interested in his answer as the Japanese officer. He worked a kink out of his neck and sighed.

"The next few days won't be easy, but as long as my command remains intact I am responsible for your welfare and security. I won't allow it to be compromised. Is there anything you need, by the way?' asked Kolhammer. "Medical supplies or personnel?"

"I'm afraid our casualties were mostly killed in action," said Miyazaki. "Indeed, I have organized for our surplus medical supplies to be taken off for distribution to those vessels more in need. I understand the Kandahar is running low on burn gel and vat skin."

"Thank you, Lieutenant. That's much appreciated. I'll see to it that your generosity is acknowledged."

Miyazaki seemed truly affronted by the proposition, becoming animated for the first time in their encounter.

"That will not be necessary," he insisted. "It is not a gesture!"

"I understand that, Maseo," said Kolhammer, gently and deliberately choosing the informal, intimate form of address. "I also asked you about personnel. Being blunt about it, I had a reason. You've lost all of your senior officers. I've had significant casualties on the Leyte Gulf. We're going to lose that ship in the next few hours. It would help smooth things over with the locals if you accepted Captain Anderson and a small cadre of American officers as replacements for your casualties."

Miyazaki was silent. Kolhammer could see the effort play out on the young man's face, as he wrestled with conflicting demands and desires.

"I don't mean to be insulting, Lieutenant. But we don't have a lot of time. On the other hand we do have a shitload of resentment and fear and outright loathing to contend with. I'm going to have my hands full keeping your crew out of a prison camp."

He could see that Miyazaki was about to leap to the defense of his men. Holding up one hand, he plowed on. "I know. It's not fair. But that's just tough shit. I know that you've slaved your CI to the Clinton. I've told Spruance that, but it means nothing to him. He won't rest easy until he sees an American in charge of that ship."

"A black woman?" scoffed Miyazaki. "You think that will please him?"

Kolhammer smiled weakly. "Well, he can't have everything his own way, can he."

He felt real sympathy for the youngster. His behavior during the battle had been entirely proper and courageous. Under different circumstances it would have earned him a medal. Instead, he stood implicitly accused of being untrustworthy and dishonorable. Of lacking giri. There weren't many worse insults you could hand a Japanese fighting man, but Kolhammer had no choice. He remained motionless, perched on the arm of the couch, frantically searching for a way that Miyazaki might save face. He was thus a little startled that it was Captain Muller who was provoked into an outburst.

The German, who looked like he was chewing on something sour, barked out, "This is a lot of bullshit for nothing, Herr Admiral."

Miyazaki looked as if he was grateful for the distraction. Kolhammer chose to ignore the lack of deference.

"No, it is not bullshit, Captain. We've killed a lot of men tonight. Widowed thousands of women. Taken fathers and sons and brothers from Christ only knows how many people. And we've done Yamamoto's work for him, destroying the American Pacific Fleet. We arrived in company with a Japanese warship, and we have dozens of enemy aliens serving on our own ships. It won't matter a damn that we lost a lot of good men and women, too. There's going to be some very powerful people demanding that we all be locked up. And you men are the first ones they'll come for."

Ivanov smiled frostily. "And what will you do about this Hoover, some kind of secret policeman, yes? Will you turn him away when he comes?"

Kolhammer put down his coffee and regarded all three of them with a level gaze.

"You're part of my command and I won't have you treated with anything but respect. I do need to know, however, what sort of role you'll be comfortable with, should we have to stay here and fight."

Captain Muller's lips were compressed into a thin white line. When he spoke, it was to spit each word like a bullet.

"Admiral Kolhammer, my great-grandfather commanded a company in the Gross Deutschland Division. He was killed in Russia-but not by the Red Army or partisans," he said, nodding toward Ivanov. "He died after holding a river crossing for three days against waves of tanks and infantry. He held fast with the remnants of his company, about seventy men, while two thousand comrades escaped across the water. When he reached the other side, the last German to do so, he was arrested and shot for desertion in the face of the enemy.

"His wife, my great-grandmother, was interned in a camp with her children, six of them. Only one survived, my grandfather. He carried the scars of the beatings by the camp guards all his life. He told me many times of his brothers and sisters. He retained a perfect memory of each and he wanted me to remember them to my children. His oldest brother Hans was beaten to death while protecting his younger brother Erwin from a homosexual rapist. Erwin was later shot for no apparent reason by a visiting SS officer. Their sister Lotti froze to death. Sister Ingrid, twelve years old, died of syphilis. And baby sister Greta was murdered by a guard, who crushed her head with the heel of his boot, when she refused to suck his penis.

"You ask me how I feel, Admiral?" he said softly. "I feel sick with the possibilities."

Nobody spoke when Muller had finished. Kolhammer himself felt ill. Miyazaki, he noted, was nodding quietly. The restrained violence of the German's delivery had done more to shake his incredulity in the face of the impossible than had the battle on arrival, or the visit to Spruance. He was about to reply when Judge's flexipad beeped. The Clinton's XO checked the message he'd just received.

"Admiral," he said, with surprise in his voice. "Something's happened."

Kolhammer was annoyed at himself. He should have been concentrating on the main screen in the CIC, but he couldn't shake his dissatisfaction at the way his meeting with Miyazaki and the others had gone. He didn't really feel as if they had resolved anything.

More to the point, he was pissed at himself for not clearly understanding his own motivations. Was he really afraid the Siranui's crew might mutiny? That was preposterous. He had worked with that ship on a number of occasions. Okada was, if not a friend, then at least a trusted colleague. But of course, Okada was dead. And any fears he had that the surviving men might-what, steal the technology, and give it to Yamamoto? Well, it was ridiculous and insulting to the survivors. After all, he didn't expect the Germans to run back to the fuhrer.

"Admiral Kolhammer? Sir?"

Lieutenant Brooks had caught him when his mind was wandering.

"I'm sorry Lieutenant. Fatigue. Give it to me again."

Kirsty Brooks gave no hint that she'd been put off by his reverie. She repeated her last statement a little louder, as though he merely hadn't heard over the buzz in the room.

"You can see for yourself, Admiral. Nagumo's battle group has definitely turned tail. And although Yamamoto and the other fleet elements are at the edge of our sensor range, they all appear to have altered course, as well. They're bugging out."

The Clinton's CIC was a hive of activity, with all of the departments fully staffed and working hard to compensate for the vast inflows of national source intelligence that they had left behind in the twenty-first century. Antiair, antisubmarine, anti-surface-warfare centers all hummed ceaselessly. Only the antiorbital center seemed to be running at a moderately relaxed pace.

"And this trace contact," said Kolhammer. "How long ago was that?"

"Twelve minutes ago, sir," Brooks replied. "Could have been an echo effect, but it didn't read that way. Little Bill picked up the silhouette. He figured an eighty-four percent probability that it was the Garrett."

"In the Antarctic?" Kolhammer said, doubtfully.

"Near enough, Admiral."

The CIC was bitingly cold. Kolhammer shivered.

"ETA for Spruance?" he asked.

Brooks checked on her main screen.

"Should be touching down now, sir."

USS GARRETT, SOUTHERN OCEAN, 0434 HOURS, 3 JUNE 1942

Extreme low-pressure weather systems, whether they're called hurricanes, or typhoons, or cyclones, are memorable events for those caught up in them; so memorable, they're often given names whenever they cross paths with civilization. In the deep, circumpolar belt of ocean between fifty and sixty degrees south, however, dozens of giant storm cells are generated every year without being named, because there's nobody to witness them in the vast, empty swathes of the Southern Ocean.

Very little landmass occupies that belt of water. With almost nothing to impede them, the great storms can pile up incredible amounts of water at their leading edge. The surges gather power as they travel around the world. Sailors who have witnessed such things say that nothing bears comparison with them: fast-moving, hundred-foot-high walls of black water. Even larger rogue waves can be caused by a combination of factors-a storm surge, a pressure convergence line, a subsurface feature such as the edge of a continental shelf, or the meshing of two or three single waves into one behemoth. Such monster waves rarely survive for long, and are even more rarely reported.

Almost nobody who encounters them lives to tell the tale.

So it was with the air-warfare destroyer USS Garrett. Thanks to the unstable, anomalous field generated by Pope's experiment, she emerged a great distance from the originating event.

The crew of the Garrett was only 120 strong. None awoke immediately from the temporary coma of Transition Sickness. A small number, however, did perish quickly. Nine men and four women, who had been on deck when the wormhole inflated, were swept away by the enormous seas into which they emerged. A few more broke their necks and backs as their limp bodies were flung about belowdecks. Many suffered broken limbs and concussion.

Eventually, after three hours, a handful of sailors did regain consciousness, but they were in no condition to control the ship. One, a petty officer, managed to crawl into the bridge, hoping to cede autonomy to the CI. But an eighteen-meter wave had smashed the blast windows and poured in, shorting out the equipment. Before she could exit the ruined post, the destroyer slipped over the ridge of a colossal wave and speared down the reverse side. The wave behind it rolled over the vessel. Thousands of liters of freezing seawater poured in and sucked the screaming woman back out again.

The Garrett succumbed at 0435 hours when she ran headfirst into one of those massive, unstable, mountain ranges of water that stalk the wastes of the Southern Ocean. The warship climbed gamely up the face of the cliff, but it was simply too big to surmount. In her final moments she slewed around on the nearly vertical surface and rolled.

The flickering echo of a distress call from her CI, which bounced off the troposphere and spattered weakly against the Nemesis arrays of the Siranui a few minutes later, was the last anyone heard of her.

USS HILLARY CLINTON, 0488 HOURS, 3 JUNE 1942

Spruance couldn't help but be impressed. The size of the Hillary Clinton was imposing to begin with. He imagined you could fit the Enterprise into her three times over, by volume.

The flight deck was a wreck, littered with piles of scrap and ripped open like an old tin can down aft of the second finlike structure, which he assumed had to play the same role as the island on the Big E. Even wounded as badly as she was, however, the ship hummed with power. The admiral found himself deeply conflicted: proud that his men could dish out so much punishment to a vastly superior adversary; and deeply sorry that they had done so. He might have been able to win the war in a day with this floating brute.

He'd heard his name whispered repeatedly as Commander Judge led him through the vessel. It was so very strange, these men and women, many of them looking like foreigners but speaking in accents he recognized from the corridors of his own ship; they seemed to look upon him as if he were some sort of movie star. As some pointed and others stared, he saw real awe and respect in their eyes. It wasn't altogether pleasing. He must have returned over a hundred salutes, all of them ripped out with parade-ground perfection as he made his way through the vessel. Dan Black had rejoined him, with that young ensign trailing along in their rear beside half a dozen officers from the Enterprise.

They turned into a room dominated by the biggest movie screen Spruance had ever seen outside a theater. Kolhammer and a number of his officers, looking like a delegation from the League of Nations, were waiting. Spruance didn't waste any time.

"So, the Japs are running are they? How do you know? They might be making a flanking maneuver for Pearl. They could pull it off if they wanted to."

Kolhammer pointed a smooth black stick at the big movie screen. It filled up with some kind of radar image. But it looked like… Spruance searched for a metaphor, but all that came to mind were the cartoons you sometimes saw before a Saturday matinee. The images looked drawn. They most certainly weren't the fuzzy lights and blurred, sweeping arcs he associated with radar. He could see Nagumo's force neatly illustrated with little boats and name tags. Dozens of vessels surrounded four carriers. Most of them were identified, too.

"What the hell is that?" asked Spruance, unsure whether to be impressed or pissed off.

"It's a computerized representation of our intelligence take," said Kolhammer. "Just think of it as an illustration of what our radars can pick up. It's easier to show you this way."

"Don't patronize me, Admiral. Just tell us what's happening."

The briefing room wasn't large for the number of men and women it contained. They had clustered around their respective leaders, and the dozen or so gathered behind Kolhammer tensed at Spruance's outburst. In turn, the men off the Enterprise stiffened up and jutted their jaws out that little bit farther. Most of their aggression flowed toward three officers of Asian appearance who stood near Kolhammer.

"They're running. I can't put it any more simply," said the Clinton's CO.

"That's all well and good," said Spruance, "but do you have any idea why the Japs are running? If it's true."

Kolhammer motioned to some seats. Spruance thought they looked very odd. They were misshapen and composed of some hard, unknown material. He indicated that he preferred to remain standing. Kolhammer shrugged.

"It's true," he said. "But I don't know why they've turned tail. They almost certainly picked up the radio broadcast I made to you last night, followed of course by the traffic between your own ships and pilots during the battle. Nagumo was, or is, incredibly conservative. The exposure of his plan and your trap may have been enough to cause him to abort the operation."

Neither Spruance nor his men looked at all convinced.

"Are we supposed to just accept that?"

"You'll have to accept that they're running," said Kolhammer, indicating the image behind his back. "Our radar confirms it."

"With all due respect," Spruance said, leaving no doubt he had very little respect for his new, unwanted allies, "you only know these bastards from your books. We know them firsthand. They don't turn and run like that without a very good reason. And I don't see one. You wouldn't have had any other ships with you off the East Indies, would you? Something else that might have spooked Nagumo."

Spruance could tell he'd hit a raw nerve with that question. Kolhammer seemed to be chewing over a very tough piece of gristle as he pondered his answer.

"Well, there has been another development," he conceded. "We may have located a missing ship from our task force. A destroyer, the Garrett. She appears to have emerged in the Southern Ocean. We had a very faint distress signal from her. We've heard nothing since. Weather down there is pretty wretched at this time of year. If the crew were unconscious she may have foundered."

Spruance felt a tingle run up his spine. It wasn't at all pleasant.

"And how many other ships have you misplaced, Admiral?" he muttered, barely able to contain his growing rage.

"First," said Kolhammer in a clipped tone indicating that he did not appreciate Spruance's insinuation, "we didn't misplace them. We're as much a victim of the accident that brought us here as you are. Second, I can't tell you with any certainty which ships are missing because I don't know which came through. But it's possible that others may have arrived. We're following up a ghost return from the southwest that might be a British destroyer, the Vanguard."

"And you've sat on this for how long?" asked Spruance, incredulity struggling with fury in his voice.

"We haven't suppressed it at all. These signal traces are less than fifteen minutes old. I was informed on my way here to meet you. We're still analyzing them."

Spruance exploded.

"Goddamn it! Have you got any of your precious analysts evaluating what sort of a mess we'll be?"

17

USS HILLARY CLINTON, 0612 HOURS, 3 JUNE 1942

Later, as the survivors of the combined task forces steamed back toward Hawaii, Kolhammer sat alone, in silence, staring at the flatscreen on his stateroom wall. It displayed an image of his home in Santa Monica, with his wife, Marie, in gardening gloves, attacking a dense wall of agapanthus. Lucy, their black Labrador, lay under a eucalyptus, sheltering from the sun.

As Kolhammer gazed at the scene his throat grew tight and two tears squeezed out like hard little bullets of grief, tracked down his freckled face.

"I'm sorry Marie," he whispered to her. "I promised to come home and now… I just don't know."

He stared a while longer, then reached for the control stick and thumbed through a series of flawlessly reproduced images. More garden shots. A picture of Marie and Lucy on the old couch in the sunroom. A few pictures of their son, Jed, killed off Taiwan. No grandchildren, sadly. But a few much-loved great-nephews and — nieces. And other family portraits, becoming stiffer and more formal as they moved back through the years, tracing the Kolhammer family journey from the German city of Magdeburg in 1934 to the New World, and then west across the continent. Following a trail laid down by generations of the damned.

Kolhammer froze the slide show on a sepia-toned studio image of his great-uncle Hans and great-aunt Hilda. The photograph had been torn before being digitized long ago, and Kolhammer had asked the image bureau to leave the imperfection as it was. He liked it that way. Family photographs, he firmly believed, should be weathered and a little damaged by age and handling. It was proof of one generation handing on history to the next.

He stared at the portrait of Hans and Hilda, peering into the hollow space around their eyes. Knowing and yet not really understanding what misery and horror danced slowly in there. The photo had been taken in New York in 1952, but both were still draped in heavy European clothes. Kolhammer accepted that the long sleeves weren't simply an expression of emigre formality. He remembered spending many hours with his great-uncle as a boy. And he knew that under the heavy serge suit was a tattoo of which Hans was unspeakably ashamed. It had been burned there by a minor functionary of Heinrich Himmler's SS and it marked him as a survivor of the Final Solution.

Hans had kept it hidden for many years, but late in his life-just after a young Phillip Kolhammer had taken his commission in the U.S. Navy-a trembling, wasted Uncle Hans had left his nursing home and traveled across the continent to visit his nephew. The trip was unannounced. Hans simply up and left one day and there was hell and high interest to pay when he got back. He was struggling with the latter stages of Parkinson's by then, a foe that would claim him where the fuhrer's minions had failed.

Young Phillip was surprised, enchanted, and little concerned when the old guy turned up without warning. He hadn't taken his medication with any sort of regularity, and the cross-country road trip in a Greyhound bus had been awfully tough on his old bones. But Hans had waved that aside, seized his favorite nephew in a weak, shaky bear hug, and told him how proud he was to see a Kolhammer in the uniform of his liberators. After a few hours of drinking and bullshitting and of Marie fretting endlessly, Uncle Hans took Phillip aside. They had men's business to discuss, he told Marie, as he led her husband into a bedroom.

They stood in there, alone, and a terrible stillness came over his twitching face as he stripped his sleeves and bared his arm, pointing at the tattoo.

"You promise me now, nephew," he said. "Promise me that for as long as there is breath in your body and you wear the uniform of a free country, you promise me that you will never allow this evil a place in the world again."

Phillip Kolhammer had promised.

PART THREE

ALLIANCES

18

THE SARUWAGED RANGES, NEW GUINEA, 0445 HOURS, JUNE 1942

The last village lay a thousand feet below them. Amyen, a small, tight cluster of bark huts, was set among limestone lakes and gardens of sweet potato, which gradually gave onto forest at the foot of the ranges. It was unmarked on any maps, unknown to the colonial authorities in Port Moresby.

Warrant Officer Peter Ryan huddled in the mouth of the cave and peered out into the freezing mists. He knew that seven thousand feet below them lay the Wain and Naba country, and the flatlands of the Markham River. Were it not for the accursed mountain weather he'd probably be able to see Lae and Salamaua, where the Japs were already busy digging in.

It was another world down there, oppressively hot and humid, with thick, primordial jungle clinging to the edge of fast-flowing rivers. For Ryan, the dense, superheated air of the lowlands was reminiscent of a big Chinese laundry, or some other confined place where you'd find large quantities of boiling water. Up here, though, the conditions were practically arctic as they clumped together in the cramped limestone cave.

A thick, foul-smelling fug of body odors, and smoke, and human grease reached out for him from the dark recesses of the cave. The last of his native carriers were huddled together in there on sheets of beaten bark. He'd set out from Amyen with fifteen stout boys. The last four had gone down with a fever in the cave the previous night. Ryan knew he'd get no more work from them. His native sergeant, Kari, had offered to try and get the bearers to their feet, but Ryan told him not to bother. They were best left there, under the watch of Constable Dinkila, while the two of them made the last push up to the ridge.

"We'll move faster without them or the baggage," said Ryan.

"They won't be here when we get back, boss," Kari argued. "Then we won't need baggage. Just coffins."

Ryan essayed a weak smile at his friend.

"Needs must when the Devil drives, Sergeant. There's something quite odd going on up this mountain. And I'm Johnny-on-the-spot."

Just before dawn a freezing gale howled down from between the jagged, broken teeth of the Saruwageds, blowing away the mist and their last excuse for staying tucked up in the relative warmth and comfort of the cave. Ryan and Kari ate three tins of bully beef and a packet of biscuits, washed down with a canteen of water collected from the many trickles of condensation running down the smooth black rock face outside their shelter. They put on their last dry socks and best boots, gave Constable Dinkila strict instructions about caring for and guarding the carriers, and then they set off, carrying their Owen guns and long lengths of vine rope.

They traversed a sickeningly steep, razor-thin ridgeline on their hands and knees before plunging back into the forest. Ryan thought it akin to stepping into a darkened basement from a bright-lit garden. A soft dark green, evil-looking moss covered everything, sometimes to a thickness of a foot. Trees took on the appearance of fleshy, bloated green monsters from one of Grimm's fairy tales. Walking was a matter of sinking their feet into a spongy, moss-covered sludge of rotting vegetable matter. Sometimes they sank in up to their thighs. At one point, curious about the true depth of the strange, clotted mulch, Ryan pushed in sharpened stick. It was eight feet long and met no resistance. They trod more carefully after that.

The complete absence of hard edges or solid surfaces served to dampen any sound. Their voices sounded flat and alien to them, and they found that after a while they had fallen into the habit of talking only in harsh whispers. Ryan thought the silence unearthly. Their footfalls made no noise apart from a sort of muffled squelch as they withdrew their boots from the sucking green ooze. Occasionally a small rat would dart out and run off. But no skittering or rustling attended its flight.

Eventually, the eerie forest gave way to sparse stunted upland of twisted, dead, iron-gray tree trunks. Many exhausting hours were spent threading their way through the tangle. Ryan wondered whether the carriers would have been able to come this far anyway. Rain began to fall, and Kari pulled on a curious, tentlike cowl of laced pandanus leaves, giving Ryan the impression he was walking behind a native hut on legs.

It was one of the few light moments of the trek.

A sharp, stabbing pain had settled into his chest, just below the heart. His nose bled and he was thirsty all the time, no matter how much he drank. When they passed out of the rain band, Kari stopped and built a small fire from a supply of kindling he had tied to his belt. They warmed themselves and heated a pot of water for tea. Ryan produced some sugar from a small cloth bag and tipped it in. They revived their spirits with the strong, black brew and a couple of Constable Dinkila's yam pancakes, eaten cold with a smear of Vegemite.

"Getting close now, boss," said Kari. "You want to finish it today or tomorrow."

Ryan really wanted to be home in Melbourne, curled up with a good book in front of a warm fire. But he said, "Today. It's important. The orders came directly from MacArthur's HQ."

"Maybe the big fellah should be here himself," Kari said, grinning. "If he's so keen to know what's up there."

"Maybe," Ryan agreed. "But he's not. And unfortunately we are. So it's onward and upward."

They cleaned up the makeshift rest site, kicked out the small fire with deep regret, and set their course for the next ridge. It was early afternoon, but darkness was gathering as the daily shroud of mist appeared and the sun passed over the top of the range. Light and heat leaked out of the day. Ryan checked their map.

"The possum hunter's hut should be just over that saddle," he whispered, pointing ahead about five hundred yards. "And then the crash site, another hour beyond that."

"If the village headman wasn't lying," said Kari.

"Yes," Ryan agreed, "there's always that."

They hauled themselves through an increasingly dense field of the limestone outcrops. Sometimes the slabs were so large they presented the blank facade of a great wall. Ryan felt giddy and nauseous from the thinness of the air. He stopped at one point and made the nearly fatal error of sitting down. At once, deliciously warm waves of lassitude stole through every muscle in his body. Sinking down against the hard wet rock felt as luxurious and decadent as crawling into bed in some opulent hotel suite. He recalled, in almost Proustian detail, the soft pillows and thick blankets of his childhood bed. How nice it would be to tuck himself in under the covers for just a few…

Sergeant Kari manhandled him to his feet.

"Sorry, boss. No good to be sleeping up here. Never wake up again."

Ryan apologized for his weakness. They'd been on patrol for weeks when the new orders came through for them at Kirkland's, down near the river crossing. He was really in no fit state for this Lord Jim jungle wallah nonsense.

He put one foot in front of the other and painfully got himself moving again.

When they crested the saddle, there was no possum hunter's hut, and thus no shelter for the night.

"Damn them," cursed Ryan.

"Listen boss. Shush now."

Kari cocked an ear to the higher ground.

Ryan couldn't hear anything at first, but after a short time he noticed a faint, metallic banging, and perhaps the sounds of human voices.

"Japs," said Kari.

"Good Lord, so they are here. We'd best push on for a look-see then," said Ryan, a small surge of adrenaline flushing the fatigue from his bones.

From that point on, they slipped around through crevices and over nearly vertical naked rock faces like a bead of water running over a fat pandanus leaf. There were more banging noises and voices-definitely Japanese-as they neared the lip of the plateau. Ryan was quietly impressed that they had made it up here before him.

A stiff breeze quickly strengthened into a hard, cold wind and, within a few minutes, into a howling pitiless gale. That was good. It was blowing from their direction. Down from the peaks. The Japs wouldn't hear him approach now. They would have to take care not to run into a sentry, but he didn't think that likely. This mountain was evil. Men huddled together on its face. None would stray too far.

On hands and knees they slithered forward until he'd reached the lip of the little plateau. Crab-walking sideways until he made the cover of a small bush, Ryan chanced a peek over the edge.

About three hundred yards away, clearly visible through the thickening gloom, was a ship. A giant gray warship, sinking into the mountain, her bow pointed to the heavens.

The ship was posed as though she were about to go down, slicing through the rocky spine of the Saruwageds as she would pass through the waters of the Coral Sea on a death plunge to the ocean floor. And yet, she remained poised, knifing into the mist and the sky, as though she had always been there.

While Ryan's mind adjusted to the discovery, he began to take in other features of the tableau. The platform into which the ship was forever sinking was covered by a field of giant toadstools, thousands of them, with caps a foot or more across. The moss had colonized them, too, and presented the onlooker with the bizarre vision of a dense mat of knobbled green felt, high in the sky. An occasional granite spike thrust up out of the blanket of moss and fungi. And sheltering in the lee formed by the warship, a dozen tents strained at their ropes as the roaring wind tried to carry them away. He wondered idly how they'd been tied down.

He already knew who had raised them in this strange place. Japanese soldiers had beaten them to the scene.

19

OAHU, 0548 HOURS, 9 JUNE 1942

The bodies lay undisturbed for hours. They had been seen during that time, but were ignored. Three sailors on a small motor launch puttering through the bay noticed the forms entwined on the beach and assumed a hard-partying couple had fetched up there after a night on the booze. An hour and a half later an Army Air Force officer riding a motorcycle through the dunes briefly caught sight of them, but he actually had been drinking all night, and was far too inebriated to bother with the sight of a couple, necking down on the sand. He had to sober up get back to barracks and get rid of the stolen bike.

Eventually a squad of marines from the Eighty-second MEU, pounding the soft sand on an early-morning run, discovered the corpses. Sergeant Clifford Hardy, jogging a few feet in front of his men, was the first to notice the dark shapes at the water's edge a couple of hundred meters down the beach. Like the others who'd seen the bodies from a distance he immediately assumed them to be a couple flaked out after a long night. They were entwined closely enough to be lovers. Bouncing along, five kilometers into an eight-kilometer run, with sweat in his eyes, he caught just a glimpse at first, a watery blur, and was inclined to ignore the sight. If anything, he was slightly pissed at the prospect of having to detour around them, but when a stronger line of shore break closed out just a few feet from the couple and washed right over the top of them, he knew straightaway they were corpses. The bodies rolled with the white water. One of them, a much darker one, he realized then, flipped right over with the lifeless heft of the dead.

Sergeant Hardy was a twenty-year man. He was well acquainted with the dead.

"Yo! Hold up!" he yelled.

The line of marines, deep in the trance of a long-distance run, stumbled over each other at the unexpected halt.

"S'up Sarge?" cried Warlow. "Your ticker giving out. You need your pills?"

"Shut up, Warlow," Hardy said quietly, his stillness silencing the men.

They all switched instantly to a watchful keenness. They were dressed for PT, not combat. None carried weapons. One man rubbed the tips of his fingers together. Another cracked knuckles within a closed fist. All of them shifted on the balls of their feet, turning outward, scanning for threats.

The morning was warm and fresh. A small, half-meter swell broke on the soft crescent of sand in regular sets of three waves at a time. A light onshore breeze ruffled the men's hair and cooled the sweat that slicked their bodies.

"Warlow, run up that big dune there and have a look around," said Hardy. "See if we got any company."

The marine took off with a stealthy lope. All of the backchat and sass were gone from him.

"They dead, Sarge?" asked a giant rifleman.

"What do you think, butthead?" said Hardy, his eyes traversing like gun barrels.

"Looks like," said Private Bukowski.

"They ours?" another man asked.

Hardy turned around. It was Snellgrove.

"What makes you think that, Smelly?"

The marine, a raven-haired boy from Kansas, inclined his head toward the bodies. Another wave washed over them.

"Looks like a mixed couple. And you can see their implant scars, I reckon."

Warlow yelled down from the heights of the dune. "All clear, Sarge!"

Hardy took in a deep draft of clean air. It was so much cleaner here. You simply couldn't deny it. Made a man wonder about the shit he'd been breathing all his life. He took another look at the empty beach. It was a pity to fuck up such a nice-looking place. The sea would be just about perfect for bodysurfing. The glassy green rollers crunched in with a nice hollow boom, and the sand was so white you just knew it'd blind you when the sun got higher. There wasn't a single piece of trash to be seen anywhere. No condoms. No broken glass. No discarded syringes.

"Okay," he sighed. "Y'all know the drill. We'll take it like any other atrocity site. Just pretend you're back in Yemen or Syria. Form a box, two hundred meters out. Bukowski, you come with me. We'll have to drag 'em up or else they'll get washed away. We'll walk over there through the surf. But keep your eyes peeled anyway. We might get lucky. Lazy fuckers might've tossed a weapon into the water.

"Okri, you get your ass back to town. Call our guys first. When they got their shit together, let them call the local yokels."

Private Okri, who could run the legs off the rest of the squad, nodded and took off, being careful not to intrude into the invisible box Sergeant Hardy had drawn around the scene.

USS KANDAHAR, PEARL HARBOR, 0612 HOURS, 9 JUNE 1942

Captain Francois and Colonel Jones regarded the body with a mix of sadness and disgusted anger. Second Lieutenant Myron Byers had killed himself with a single shot through the temple. The wall behind his body was still sticky with blood and matted hair. A letter, a photograph, and a wedding ring lay together in a ziplock bag on a fold-down bedside shelf. The lieutenant and his wife of eight months smiled out of the photo. It had been taken on their honeymoon.

The brief note apologized for the mess in the cabin and asked that his wife's family on her maternal grandmother's side be given the ring, the photograph, and all of his personal items. They were to keep his belongings in trust for her until her eighteenth birthday, many decades away. His savings were to be invested and held in trust for her until that time, as well.

"Jesus, what a fucking mess," Jones said, despondently.

Francois knew he was talking about the request, not the cleanup job.

"You gonna do it?" she asked.

"It's a man's dying wish," he said. He fell quiet for a few seconds. "I should have been paying more attention, seen this coming."

Captain Francois rubbed her burning eyes with the heel of one palm.

"Don't beat yourself up, Colonel," she said. "He won't be that last one we lose this way."

Jones had already accepted as much. He hadn't had time to think much of his own wife and family. There was just so much to do, although, if truth were known, he was probably avoiding the issue. There had been one or two quiet moments since Midway, but he hadn't sat down by himself to think through the personal implications of the Transition. If they were stuck here, he'd never see Monique or his niece again. It neatly inverted the burden of separation they always felt when he was away on active duty. Now he got to share in their sense of loss, and dread.

"Colonel?"

He returned from the unhappy line of thought. "I'm sorry, Captain. You were saying?"

"I said we might want to think about screening our personnel for acute depression. People are going to respond differently, but some will want to check out, like the lieutenant here. He's not the first, you know."

That surprised Jones. He leaned over, plucked the ziplock bag up between the tips of his fingers, and motioned Francois out of the cabin. She shut the door behind them.

"You've had more suicides?" he asked in a low voice.

"Four," said the combat surgeon. "This is the first on the Kandahar. Oddly enough, they've all been male so far, even though we've got about five hundred mothers serving on ships throughout the task force. You'd think this would have hit them the hardest."

"What, you're saying women miss their kids more? That sounds awfully old-fashioned, Doctor."

"Fucking A, that's what I'm saying, Colonel. And it's true."

Jones was mildly surprised by her fervor, but he chose not to argue with her, even though just that morning he'd found a young marine sobbing on the shoulder of a female petty officer. Jones learned that the man's wife had given birth to a son just a few weeks before the ship had left for East Timor.

On the other hand, he knew, not everybody was upset by their circumstances. He was aware of a pilot on the Clinton who'd broken out in a huge wolfish grin when he realized he'd escaped three ex-wives and one fat, famously unsympathetic Chechen bookie named Anxious Stan, to whom he owed about forty grand.

And some lucky individuals, he guessed, were probably too stupid to comprehend the situation at all. They'd react as they did to all the important events in their lives, by continuing to find undiluted enjoyment in eating, sleeping, and evacuating their bowels whenever the opportunity presented itself.

"So, how serious do you think it could be," he asked. "We're living in a heavily armed village here, Doc. Wouldn't do to have the natives go weird on us."

Francois took her time with the question, and he knew why. Under normal circumstances, most of the twelve thousand men and women in the task force understood that they might be injured, disfigured, or even killed while on duty. They knew, too, that there was always a fair chance that they'd never see or hold their loved ones again. But even the combat veterans, always the most fatalistic types, knew that war spares many more than it takes. And the cherries naively thought it would all happen to somebody else.

Jones doubted anyone really knew what the circumstances in which they now found themselves meant.

"Depression's not something a biochip will pick up," she said finally. "I can't scan for it, but we've got to figure it'll be there. Everyone's going to fit somewhere along the spectrum, from mildly ticked off to thoroughly suicidal. But how that will manifest, I can't tell you, Colonel. I'd say there'll be a few incidents over the next week or two, as everyone adjusts. But I'd be hopeful that most would adjust, and pretty well, too. These aren't normal people. They accepted the prospect of their own deaths when they signed up. I guess we'll see."

Jones weighed the plastic bag in his hands. It felt very light to be the sum trace of a man's life.

"It's not death, though, is it?" he muttered. "More like exile."

A couple of exhausted seamen arrived from the mortuary to clean out the cabin. Francois gave them their instructions before pushing off back to the hospital. She was due to fit an artificial heart in eight hours and wanted to check on the patient's preparation. Jones fell in beside her.

"Here's a question, Colonel," she said. "How are you going to get the money to his family?"

"Dunno, Doc. Hadn't really thought that one through. Now you mention it, I can't exactly authorize a Net transfer."

"No net."

"Right."

"Another question, seeing as how you got so much time on your hands. Even if you find a bank to deposit the money in, how much do you actually put in? One of your platoon leaders probably pulls down as much a year as President Roosevelt did in nineteen forty-two. Did you think of that?"

Jones felt a little peeved.

"No, Doc. But thank you so very much for pointing it out."

"Well, it raises more than a few questions, don't you think? If we're trapped here. Like, who pays our bills and wages? You've got marines going ashore in Honolulu for a few hours' liberty tomorrow. How are they going to buy a beer? Amex credit stick?"

"Damn. I've got no idea."

Before Francois could entangle him any further his flexipad began to beep. So did hers. They excused each other and took the calls.

Both swore at exactly the same moment.

Their eyes locked and they knew they were dealing with the same issue.

"Secure the site," said Jones in a flat voice. "I'll be there ASAP."

Francois signed off and gave Jones a challenging look.

"I'm going, too. I worked Srebrenica and Denpasar for the UN. I'm crime scene qualified."

Jones held up his open palms.

"I'm not standing in your way, Doc."

The admiral's stateroom was so much larger than her cabin back on the Trident that Halabi felt lost in it. She'd tried to convince Kolhammer she could just as easily act as task force commander from her own ship, but he'd insisted she work from the Clinton during his absence. He wanted the locals to give her the respect she was due, and nothing demanded respect like 130,000 tonnes of fusion-powered supercarrier. Even if it was a little scratched and dented.

She'd enjoyed the luxurious surrounds for about thirty seconds, until she realized how close she was to the flight deck and how poorly insulated were Kolhammer's quarters; not that she was going to get a lot of sleep while he was away. The giant flatscreen on his desk was completely blocked out with files flagged for her immediate attention. Until she muted the speakers, a tone announced the arrival of a new "highest priority" e-mail every few seconds, and her schedule apparently contained more meetings than the day had minutes. Her paternal grandmother had a saying that seemed appropriate.

"Let's not try and eat the elephant in one whole bite," Halabi muttered to herself.

She was about to open a report detailing distribution of the fleet's remaining war stocks when a window opened on the screen, displaying the rather drawn features of Captain Margie Francois.

Halabi was on site, grimly shaking hands with the combat surgeon twenty-five minutes later.

The scene looked chaotic from the air, with helicopters, Humvees, Honolulu PD cars, old-fashioned jeeps, and at least a hundred or more individuals all buzzing around the victims. When she touched down and exited the chopper, Halabi got an even stronger sense of barely controlled mayhem. A small group of Colonel Jones's marines was butting heads with the local police and MPs, trying to keep them from stomping all over the crime scene. Jones himself stood as still and silent as a black granite obelisk while a heavyset white man in a bad suit turned beet red, screaming and gesticulating at him.

"What the hell is going on?" the acting task force commander asked.

"Nothing good," said Francois. She took Halabi by the arm and walked her away a little. "One of our platoons was out on a run this morning when they found the bodies, and they called us before the locals. Well, of course, Honolulu PD's tear-assing around with an atomic wedgie over that and…"

Halabi's puzzlement must have been written all over her face, because Francois backed and filled for the Englishwoman.

"They've got their knickers in a twist," she explained.

"Oh right. Thanks."

It was going to be a scorching hot day. Halabi noticed that even at so early an hour she didn't cast much of a shadow. She could hear another siren approaching, possibly two, as the marine went on. Francois didn't seem to care who overheard her.

"We can't have these dumbass crackers all over our crime scene," she complained, sweeping a hand in the general direction of the local authorities. "Granted we're not a homicide squad, but we've got a lot of expertise in war crimes investigation and we sure as hell got better procedures and equipment. These guys don't even know what DNA is. You gotta get them to step back, Captain. Let us take care of our people."

Halabi ran her eyes over the beach again. A hundred meters away Jones was still doing his stone face. The suit was still screeching at him and flapping his arms like a giant flightless bird. The marines and the cops and military police were getting even more muscular with each other.

And the corpses of Captain Daytona Anderson and Sub-Lieutenant Maseo Miyazaki had begun to stiffen with rigor mortis.

"What were they doing out here?" the British officer asked.

Francois squinted at the bodies. She shrugged.

"We don't even know they got whacked out here. Could have been hit in town and dumped. There's a team from the War Crimes Unit coming over to work the grid."

"Was it working out, having Anderson and her people on the Siranui?"

Francois shrugged again. It seemed to be a compulsive gesture with her this morning.

"Far as I know, but I couldn't tell you for sure. I wasn't there. But I didn't hear anything. Why? Did you?"

Halabi shook her head. "No. Just wondering."

"Well, they had good reason to be together," said Francois. "It can't have been easy, integrating the two crews. Language difficulties and so on. If I had to take a guess, I'd say they were having a drink at the Moana, probably just sorting some shit that was better handled through back channels. Maybe they went for a walk. I doubt they'd have strayed too far, though. We're not encouraging any of our people to mix it up with the locals yet."

"Looks like they did," said Halabi.

"Maybe," the marine surgeon agreed. "But it's all guesswork and that's all it's ever going to be if we don't quarantine this site and let the CSI team go to work."

Halabi nodded. She checked her watch.

"Okay. I'll call Nimitz. I'm sure he can sort out the turf war. And then I'd better see if I can raise Kolhammer, but I'll be buggered if we can contact him so far. I'll tell you what, Captain, I'd sell my arse for just one little satellite."

20

GORMON FIELD, LOS ANGELES COUNTY, 0406 HOURS, 9 JUNE 1942

A cold, unseasonable wind blew down off the California mountains, across the howling wastes of saltbush and hardscrabble. Outside the corrugated iron arch of the Quonset hut, grit hissed through the air and dead leaves spattered against windows covered with heavy blackout curtains. Dust devils swirled across the new concrete tarmac. A single oil lamp lit the knot of men gathered in the Spartan setting.

A rifle squad stood at ease at the rear of the room, separated from two loose knots of men in uniform and civilian clothes at the other end. The two groups coalesced around a frail figure in a wheelchair. He had a blanket draped over his legs and was forced to shoo off a young officer who unwisely attempted to wrap another around his shoulders. An older man, one of the civilians, detached himself from the conversation he'd been caught up in and wandered over to the wheelchair. He sported a shock of white hair, and his deeply lined face had worn a perpetually harassed and haunted expression for years. His wife had died not long ago, but that wasn't what lay behind his melancholy. He hadn't laughed freely since fleeing from Germany in 1933.

He affected a cheeky smile now, however, and offered up a book of matches.

"Mr. President. Do you need a light?"

"Why, thank you, Professor. I wouldn't have thought it would take a genius to work that out," said Franklin Delano Roosevelt, throwing a severe glance at his disapproving aide, the one with the blanket.

As Albert Einstein struck a match and leaned in to light the Camel at the end of FDR's long black holder, a distant roar reached them, like a single bass note from a thunderstorm, drawn out for an impossible length of time.

"They're here," said Einstein, as the tobacco caught light and the president took in a deep draft of smoke.

"I want to see this," FDR declared.

His aide hurried forward.

"Mr. President, I don't think-"

"Just push me to the door," snapped Roosevelt. "I want to see these rocket planes."

He stubbed out his cigarette with a show of annoyance.

"There! You can wrap me up like a granny, if that makes you feel better. But I'm going to see these things with my own two eyes."

He clamped the cigarette holder back between his teeth. The broken, stubbed-out butt, still stuck in the end, lent him a slightly crazed air as he gripped the wheels of his chair and began to push himself toward the flimsy wooden door of the hut. Half a dozen military men moved to help, but Einstein was closer than any of them. He took the handles of the chair and leaned into it.

"Let's go see what the future brings, Mr. President."

A few of the civilians, scientific advisers for the most part, managed to scramble out into the biting wind before Einstein parked the president's chair in the doorway, effectively bottling up everyone behind them. An undignified scramble for position took place, with Brigadier General Eisenhower and Admiral King grabbing the best spots on either side of Einstein. The rest either gathered at two small windows or tried to see over the shoulders of the men jammed in the entryway.

Shivering slightly under his blankets, but determined not to show it, the president leaned forward until he could make out the end of the runway. An Army Air Force colonel had briefed him about the rush job to prepare the landing strip. It was three times longer than the main runway at Muroc, he'd said. It seemed a hell of a wasteful thing to Roosevelt, all that extra cement and hard work for a couple of planes. But it surely wasn't the craziest thing he'd heard in the last week.

No, that had to have been the moment when an ashen-faced navy commander had appeared to tell him what had happened at Midway. Roosevelt shook his head at the memory as he spotted flashing red-and-white lights descending from the northwest.

"Hell's bells, Turtletaub," he'd yelled out at the unfortunate officer just a week earlier. "What madness is this? Next you'll be telling me space lizards have landed."

Well, he'd had to apologize to the young man later, hadn't he? It turned out the world had flipped completely off-balance, and now here he was, stuck out in the California desert, waiting to meet men from the future.

Damn it all but he needed a cigarette.

"Interesting," said Einstein as twin spikes of blue-white flame speared from the tail of the dartlike craft as it roared down out of the night sky and past the hut at a seemingly breakneck speed. "Those are the jets they told us of, Mr. President."

The aircraft seemed like death incarnate to Roosevelt. Every line seemed to threaten violence. More than a few of the onlookers gasped like children at a fireworks display, awed by the screaming passage of the sleek, lethal craft.

As the president wondered whether they'd built a long enough runway, parachutes unfurled behind the monster.

Another plane just like the first descended from the night sky. Its very appearance suggested something deadly, like a flashing blade or a bullet. Blinking lights gave away the position of yet another two aircraft banked up behind them. A familiar drone gradually emerged from beneath the monstrous thunder of the rocket planes.

"Prop-driven," said Admiral King. "I guess they don't-"

He never finished the sentence, stunned as he was by the appearance of the third aircraft. It looked a lot more conventional than the first two, a bit like a Grumman Goose, or even a Catalina, at a stretch. But in contrast with the windswept lines of the rocket planes, this lumbering barge sat underneath something that looked like a giant cigar welded to a couple of struts sticking out of the fuselage. It droned past without deploying chutes, and then the last plane touched down. It was the least prepossessing of the three.

"Looks like a transporter," said someone behind Roosevelt. He didn't recognize the voice.

One of the civilians huddled in the small group out in front of the hut turned around with his hands jammed deep in his duffel coat.

"That'd be their tanker, I bet. They can refuel while they're in the air. You'd have to figure those rocket planes burn gas like a bastard… Uhm, sorry, Mr. President."

Roosevelt waved away the apology.

For the first time since he'd been told of the disaster at Midway he didn't feel as if he was falling helplessly down a bottomless well. No, now he was intrigued.

Kolhammer hit a switch to crack the seal on the Raptor's bubble canopy. It opened with a slight hiss as he stripped off his mask and flipped up the helmet visor. He lost night vision, but his eyes soon adjusted from the artificial jade green of low-light amplification to the soft silver tones of moon and starlight. Any initial pleasure he'd felt at the chance to fly a fast-mover again had been lost in the sickening whirl of emotions stirred up at crossing the West Coast. They'd come in well to the north of Los Angeles, not wanting to start a panic. He'd still seen the heat dome of the city on infrared, however. It seemed impossibly small and feeble, but of course LA was nearly twelve times bigger in his day.

It was a jarring episode. He was used to looking down on that coastline, whether in daylight or darkness, and searching for his own home; not the exact house of course, but the general area, in the center of the bay, at the edge of the city's apparently unbounded sprawl. It was one of the few safe mooring points of his life, the knowledge that Marie was down there, waiting for him. Except that she hadn't even been born yet, and if he couldn't get back to her, he'd most likely die before she was. Then their son, Jed, would never be, which seemed even more upsetting than having lost him off Taiwan. The sorrows and consequence of this fucking insanity twisted in on themselves like a snake devouring its tail.

"Admiral Kolhammer? Sir? They're coming."

Kolhammer shook his head and consciously pulled out of the dark well of self-absorption. He reminded himself that the woman in the rear seat had left behind two daughters, aged three and five. The Raptor was named for her firstborn, Condi.

"Sorry, Lieutenant," he said. "I think I'm getting too old for this."

"We all are, sir. Little kids and make-believe, that's what this reminds me of."

The drumming of boots across the tarmac wasn't make-believe. A six-man squad was double-timing in their direction with rifles at the ready. They pounded to a halt about twenty meters away. A sergeant called out, "Which one of you is Kolhammer?"

"Over here," he yelled back, waving a small torch.

The sergeant spoke to a couple of his men, who trotted away into the darkness at the edge of the tarmac. Kolhammer heard the sound of an iron door swinging open and being dropped with a clang. He peered into the gloom and saw the soldiers haul a stepladder out of a pit in the ground beneath the trapdoor.

"Five-star service," he muttered to Lieutenant Torres.

The noncom waved the men with the wooden ladder over to a spot just below the fighter's cockpit. It bumped against the fuselage with a dull thud. For some reason the noise sealed the deal for Kolhammer. They were lost forever-of that he was certain.

"Age before beauty, sir," said Flight Lieutenant Anna Torres with a tired smile in her voice.

Kolhammer swung himself out and over the side. He could see men and women dropping to the ground from the AWAC bird and the refueler.

He took the ladder in three steps, and landed back on the U.S. of A.

It didn't feel like home.

Nevertheless, Kolhammer was surprised to feel his heart beating faster as they approached the hut. A small cluster of men in dark coats and hats stood in the malarial glow of a yellow lamp at the foot of a set of steps leading up to…

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

His heart gave a real lurch.

And there, standing behind Roosevelt, was the unmistakable figure of Albert Einstein. The unruly explosion of gray-white hair was as recognizable as Elvis in a jumpsuit or Marilyn Monroe standing over a grate with hot air blowing up her dress. Kolhammer stiffened his back, an impulse that seemed to run through the other fliers at the exact same moment. They finished the last few yards in lockstep and snapped out a salute in perfect unison to the thirty-second president of the United States of America.

Roosevelt found himself in an electric moment. He could feel the charge running through the men around him. Even Einstein seemed to flinch, or shiver. He sensed powerful currents of antipathy and fear from some of the military officers gathered around his chair. Admiral Ernest J. King, in particular, appeared to be struggling with his volcanic temperament. The man's knuckles were white, he'd clenched his fists so tightly. Even Eisenhower seemed incredibly tense.

Roosevelt returned the salute, fumbling with his cigarette holder as he did so.

He saw their commander, Kolhammer, hesitate momentarily as he took in the sight of Eisenhower. He saluted uncertainly. The brigadier returned the gesture after a very obvious pause.

A few seconds of uncomfortable silence enveloped the small tableau, during which the only sound was the faint moan of the desert winds.

Roosevelt realized that he was absorbed by the sight of these men and women, generations removed from his own. They all wore flight suits of some kind and carried rocketeer helmets, probably because they flew so high. About half of them looked to be cut from the same cloth as his own officers, educated, middle-class white men. But there was no avoiding or denying the stone-cold fact that the rest were a lucky dip of sorts. Men and women. Some white. Some black. Some Mexican and even Asiatic. And some? He honestly had no idea. The awe and amazement he'd felt at the sight of their arrival remained. But he was a politician, and in his gut, political instincts were also engaged.

Whatever the military consequences of these people's arrival, the politics were going to be diabolical.

"Well, Admiral Kolhammer," he said as pleasantly as he could manage, "you'd best come in out of the cold."

The room wasn't set up for a meeting. Kolhammer had been told that Roosevelt and his advisers would be at the Ambassador Hotel in LA. Curiosity must have gotten the better of them. There were only a handful of chairs and two desks, one of which was missing a leg. A stack of books propped up one corner. There didn't even appear to be a reliable power supply. Three naked bulbs hung from wires, but a single gas lamp was the sole source of light inside the hut.

Actually, that was untrue, he thought, as he stepped through the door. At least half of those present, including the president, seemed to be smoking cigarettes. Clouds of smoke drifted from their glowing tips, burning his eyes and throat.

The locals backed away toward the rear of the room as Kolhammer's people surged in quietly, nodding and smiling uncertainly. They took up positions, standing at ease, in the corner to his left.

"I'm sorry we can't offer more in the way of hospitality, Admiral Kolhammer," said Roosevelt, "but I'm afraid that's my fault. I insisted on coming out here to meet you. Couldn't stand to wait in that hotel."

"It's really not a problem, Mr. President."

Kolhammer wasn't sure what to say next. He'd expected to have another hour or two to compose something appropriate. He'd also been thrown by the presence of Eisenhower, and had to fight an impulse to address him as Mr. President. He really hoped he wouldn't have to deal with a young John Kennedy, Richard Nixon, or George Bush anytime soon.

Before he could blunder into a morass of fatuous small talk, Roosevelt surprised him by saying, "Please accept my condolences for your losses at Midway, Admiral. I know they weren't as serious as ours, but we don't measure out our grief in teaspoons for the purposes of comparison. I'm sure you don't, either."

"No sir, we do not. And thank you. We lost some fine men and women. As did you… or, uhm…"

He was about to clarify that inaccuracy, but Roosevelt waved it away.

"We know what you mean, Admiral. Since you're here, you'd best meet everyone now. General Eisenhower, could you do the introductions? I'm afraid I'm not as familiar with everybody, particularly the scientists, beside Professor Einstein."

Eisenhower looked stumped for an instant.

Roosevelt grinned wickedly. "You're not president yet, young man. You still have to work for a living."

A small but genuine wash of laughter ran through the room.

They must know about Ike, Kolhammer realized. Word travels fast.

Eisenhower had put together the short list of scientists, with the help of Professor Einstein. But he suspected the president had asked him to do the introductions because Roosevelt and one of the scientists, Professor Millikan, loathed each other. Eisenhower had joked to King they needed the rifle squad inside the building to keep the two men apart.

Millikan, the director of the California Polytechnic Institute's physics lab, merely grunted at Kolhammer. He appeared actively hostile to most of the other fliers. Eisenhower knew him to be a bit of a nut on racial issues, so perhaps that had something do with it. By way of contrast, Theodore von Karman, the top man at Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory, and Leo Szilard from Columbia University, had to be dragged away from the fliers. Robert Oppenheimer, Linus Pauling, and a relatively young man called Robert Dicke from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology restricted themselves to nods and perfunctory smiles.

"And this is Professor Albert Einstein," said Eisenhower. "He's probably done more than anyone here to help us adjust to your arrival."

All the time travelers reacted as Einstein shuffled forward to shake hands with Kolhammer. They treated him like some kind of big-league ballplayer or radio star, suddenly crowding around to take his hand or just touch him on the arm or the shoulder. It was odd. One of the fliers produced a thin black briefcase and handed it to Kolhammer.

"We thought you might appreciate this, Professor," said the admiral. "It's a computer. It'll help you in your work."

The physicist thanked him and carefully unzipped the bag. Eisenhower had been told about their electrical books, the flexipads as they called them. This would have fit the description, except that it seemed to be too large. Perhaps it was a more powerful flexipad?

"It's called a data slate," said Kolhammer as Einstein turned it over in his hands. "The sort of calculations that'd take months to do by hand, you can do in a split second on this baby."

Eisenhower suppressed a smirk. He could see the other scientists eyeing it covetously.

"Does it play movies and music?" asked Einstein. "I've heard that it does."

"Do you mind?" Kolhammer asked, taking the slate back and looking inquiringly at both Einstein and Roosevelt. Neither objected.

The admiral brushed a corner of the slate's glass screen and it lit up, throwing out considerably more light than the single gas lamp in the room. Eisenhower could see that most of the illuminated page appeared to be a blank blue rectangle. Half a dozen or so small objects, about the size of a postage stamps, were clustered down the right-hand side of the-what would you call it, the screen? The page?

Kolhammer brushed one with the tip of his finger and it suddenly whooshed outward to fill the entire space with a moving picture of people in evening dress. Violinists, he realized as the first sweet notes of a Paganini concerto stole into the room. A murmur arose from the scientists and even from some of the military officers. The recording sounded as real as if they were in the front row of a concert hall.

Kolhammer handed the slate back back to Einstein, who was clearly entranced. He nodded and grinned and stroked the glowing glass plate like a blind man, attempting to "see" through his fingertips. He turned and bent over so that Roosevelt could see the display more clearly. The president took the machine gingerly, handling it like a precious crystal vase.

"It's pretty tough, sir," said Kolhammer. "Military-grade construction. You could kick it across the room and it'd be fine."

Einstein straightened up. He was smiling as though very pleased.

"It is good, ja? Not everything in your world is about war making and destructive potential?"

Eisenhower thought he detected something in Kolhammer's response-a fleeting moment of indecision, as though he wasn't quite sure of how to respond. In the end, the man shrugged and smiled with a mixture of warmth and possibly of regret.

"No," said Kolhammer. "Not everything."

21

THE EASTERN FRONT, MAY 1942

Eternity was so cold they had piled up the dead to shield themselves.

The wind cut deeply into Brasch's bones on the short run from the trench to the forward observation post, until he wondered if he might ever stop shivering; although shiver was too mild a word for the spasms that shook him to his core. He shuddered so violently, and with such little hope the convulsions would ever cease, that he began to wonder if he might die from exhaustion.

There was no source of warmth in the filthy dugout. The three men he found there were wrapped in so many layers of clothing scavenged from fallen comrades and Russian prisoners that they no longer resembled men. They looked like swollen, fuzzy ticks. Brasch tried to speak to them, but his voice stuttered so much he gave up. He had only platitudes to offer anyway. When the next wave came it would sweep them from the face of the earth.

From eternity, as he now thought of it.

Certainly this wretched country stretched out endlessly. Russia was a Hell of frozen, never-ending space and enemies without number. Thousands of them lay in the darkness just beyond this hole.

They had stacked up a dozen or more of the most pliable bodies in the vain hope that they would offer protection against the howling wind that roared across the plain and knifed through every layer of rotting, fetid cloth. One of the Russian corpses with which they had constructed their windbreak had frozen with an arm protruding. Somebody had hacked it off with a spade, and the sharp bone stump dug into Brasch's neck, forcing him to shift into a more exposed position.

He couldn't see the faces of the men who huddled there with him and didn't know their names. This wasn't his unit. He'd been separated from the engineers for three weeks. They were twelve hundred kilometers away, but it hardly mattered. He now fought with a battalion of Panzergrenadiers and didn't think he would ever see his comrades again. He had come forward to encourage these men in their vigilance, but was reduced instead to curling in a small ball and trying not to moan.

Brasch knew that far in the rear, across an impenetrable sea of snap-frozen mud, lay mountains of provisions and arctic-weather gear that would never reach them. He knew because he had helped build the great depots himself and seen them fill up with thousands of hooded lamb's-wool jackets and mountains of thick blankets, with exquisitely warm insulated boots and soft cat-skin gloves. He knew there were half a million sturdy kerosene heaters still packed away in boxes-just one of which might have made habitable this dismal sinkhole in which they suffered.

Instead they were forced to piss on their cracked and blistered hands, the only way they had of even briefly warming and cauterizing fissures and scabs filled with infected, frozen puss. Their wounds made it almost impossible to hold a Mauser, let alone fire one.

One of the men in the hole-Brasch thought somebody had called him Franz-began to sob. Nobody moved to comfort him. Every breath produced a rattling sound from deep within his chest, and sometimes an explosive burst of coughing that sprayed them with mucus.

The boy's wailing and coughing increased. "Mutti, Mutti…," he cried incessantly.

Brasch painfully levered himself up to peer over the rim of hardened bodies.

"Look alive, my friends," he croaked. "Ivan will be joining us for breakfast soon. Check your communications lines."

A white-haired sergeant picked up the handset and raised it near his ear. The Feldwebel did not press the instrument there, though, lest it stick to his flesh in the cold.

"Lines are fine," he grunted.

The dawn was near enough now that Brasch could see steam pluming from his mouth. The dense forest of arms and legs once more resolved itself into an open field littered with innumerable corpses. The shell holes were now visible, too. Thousands of them, curiously delicate if viewed with some detachment, against the vast canvas of the snow-covered steppe. Somebody had once pointed out to him how much they resembled flowers-the dark brown centers of scorched earth, a sallow tinge around the mouth of the oldest holes, red blooms of bloody snow marking the newest. Having been alerted to such a perverse notion, he was never able to shake it.

Brasch was gathering his strength, trying to shake off the lassitude that threatened to overwhelm him, when the vague horizon that blurred between white ground and gray sky was unexpectedly thrown into sharp definition. A solid black line appeared, extending as far as he could see. His balls had just started to climb into his body when the Soviet war cry reached him.

Ooooouuuuurrraaaahhhhh…

Brasch wrenched the phone from the claws of the white-haired sergeant and began cranking the handle to generate a charge. When a small, impossibly distant voice answered, he screamed into the mouthpiece, demanding artillery support. The connection was poor, and the line crackled and hissed with static so that he began to suspect they could not even hear him on the other end. That faraway, tinny, nearly nonhuman voice repeated the same senseless mantra, again and again.

"Wo sind sie? Wo sind sie? Was ist los? Wo sind sie?"

Brasch called out his identity and demanded an artillery barrage.

"Wo sind sie? Wo sind sie?"

The boy screamed for his mother, reminding Brasch for one insane moment of his own son Manfred, just turned four years old. The soldier's grief and rage sounded just like Manny when, as a toddler, he ran into the sharp corner of a table, splitting open his head.

"MUTTI! MUTTI! NEIN NEIN NEIN!"

The sergeant and the last man, a displaced driver from a transport company, wrestled frantically with the Spandau, attempting to thread a new belt of cartridges with stiff, shaking hands. The black line on the horizon grew thicker as more and more Communists poured over the gentle rise.

"God, there are millions of them," cried the Feldwebel, his voice cracking with terror. "We must go, Major, we have to run now, before they get here."

Ooooouuuuurrraaaahhhhh…

"We need artillery," Brasch shouted stubbornly as he leaned over to place a firm hand on the shoulder of the truck driver, who was quite obviously seconds from fleeing the post. The man's trembling hands still fumbled with the ammunition belt. He bounced up and down at the knees, and his head snapped back and forth between the awful spectacle of the approaching human wave and the beckoning safety of the tree line, some three hundred yards behind them. A low keening sound, like an animal that it knows it is being led to slaughter, emanated from deep within him.

"Fire!" ordered Brasch, pointing at the Soviets, who rushed on like a surging black tide. The machine-gun crew began to fire, the harsh industrial hammering coming in short bursts that did nothing to halt the advancing horde. They must have killed a hundred men in less than ten seconds, but Brasch would swear another hundred thousand simply trampled down the corpses.

"Where is the artillery?" he roared into the phone.

"Was ist los? Wo sind sie?"

Ooooouuuuurrraaaahhhhh…

"M-m-m-m-mutti…"

A single shot rang out, sounding flat and insignificant beneath the rising din of the Soviet charge and the snarl of the heavy machine gun. It was so close that Brasch jumped, not realizing for an instant that a warm shower of gore had just sprayed him. Then the boy soldier was dead, his body twitching spastically as the nervous system fired its last mad messages. One side of his head was missing, blown off by the pistol he had placed within his mouth and triggered when his mother had been unable to chase away the monsters rushing at him, as she had once shooed off the gremlins that hid beneath his bed.

Oooooooooooooouuuuurrraaaaaaahhhhh…

The Spandau lashed at the black tide. The boy stopped twitching. Brasch spoke calmly into the phone again, like a man inquiring at the butcher shop after his weekly bratwurst order.

"Where is my artillery?"

"Was ist los?"

He replaced the receiver.

The flood of berserkers began to slow, impeded by a foot of fresh snow, the thickness of their clothes, stiff muscles, and the littered corpses of their countrymen-but the advance remained unstoppable. Half the eternal steppe seemed filled with them, and still they poured over the horizon.

Brasch was so far beyond terror that he placidly took out his Luger, stood up in the dugout, placed one boot on the rock-hard cadaver of a Russian corporal, and commenced firing, slowly and meticulously, even though the Soviets were still well beyond the effective range of any sidearm. He wished he had a cigarette to smoke. The white-haired sergeant begged him piteously for permission to retreat, but Brasch ignored him. What's the point, he asked himself. You can die here, or a few yards from here.

The thunder of the charge hid the first rumble of the German guns so that Brasch didn't realize an artillery barrage was on its way until the first shells shrieked overhead, to explode in the center of the Russian mass half a second later. Enormous fountains of fire and ice and hateful Russian soil erupted just behind the leading edge of the attack, silhouetting the front ranks against a curtain of flames. They rushed on regardless, as smaller detonations started to thin out their ranks.

"Mortars," said Brasch with a detached air.

The machine-gunners weren't listening. They screamed at the Soviets, pouring a constant stream of fire into the maelstrom.

"You'll melt the barrel," said Brasch, whose wits were returning. He hopped down from his exposed perch and holstered his pistol. A frightful din, the thunder of a world riven in two, shook the frozen mud beneath their feet, as the big guns walked their barrage back through the densely packed Russians. He could no longer see any of the attackers inside the wild conflagration. He wondered how many had just died. Fifty thousand? A quarter of a million?

Then it was time to leave. The attack had been broken, but a few hundred crazed survivors might yet emerge from the killing field and overrun their little outpost.

"Let's go," he said to the old sergeant, turning his back to the carnage.

But some new horror paralyzed the man. His jaw hung slack and his eyes bulged. The truck driver simply howled and ran like a dog, stumbling over the corpse of the dead boy.

Twisting slowly back toward the open steppe, so slowly that it seemed as if he were forever turning, Brasch stared into the abyss. A million Russians appeared from within the boiling shroud of black smoke and blasts of flashing light.

Oooooooooooooouuuuurrraaaaaaahhhhh…

"Manfred," whispered Brasch as the barbarian horde came upon them.

A single man, a Siberian or a Mongol by his features, accelerated from the foremost rank, heading straight for their dugout. He launched himself into the air, clearing the windbreak of dead Communists, slamming into Brasch, his hands closing around the engineer's neck, his teeth finding purchase in the unshaven bristles of his throat.

KRI SUTANTO, HASHIRAJIMA ANCHORAGE, 0438 HOURS, 6 JUNE 1942

"Herr Major, Herr Major, wake up sir, wake up. You are disturbing the others."

The Siberian's rough, choking grasp became a lighter, more considerate touch, shaking his shoulders, dragging him up out of the nightmare that had haunted him for weeks.

"Willie?" Brasch was disoriented. His heart still raced, almost as it had that day outside Belgorod. "Willie, is that you?"

"No, sir. It is I, Herr Steckel. From the embassy."

Brasch came upright and instantly a sharp, nearly blinding pain bit into his scalp. He cursed.

"Careful sir, there's not much headroom in here."

Brasch rubbed his head and blinked the crust of sleep from his eyes. The first thing he noticed, as always, was the warmth. He'd never expected to be warm again. Then he became conscious of his freedom of movement. He wore only a light vest and undershorts. Finally, he remembered. He was no longer at the Eastern Front. He was in the Far East, on the ship of wonders. A rush of half-formed thoughts and feelings blew through his sleep-disordered mind. Dominating them all, however, was a profound blankness and disbelief in the simple fact that he was still alive. He had numbered himself among the dead for so long, he felt ill at ease to be among the living once more.

"I am sorry, Herr Steckel. Please excuse me," he rasped. "My throat is dry. Some water, if you have it."

Steckel passed across a glass of chilled water. They had been through this ritual every night since the engineer's arrival. At first the diplomat had been awed and humbled just to draw breath in the same room as the legend of Belgorod. But two weeks of tending to this shattered husk of a man had obviously drained him of any such respect.

Brasch finished the drink in one long pull and eased himself out of the bunk. His vision was too blurred to read his watch, so he asked Steckel for the time.

"Zero four thirty-eight, Herr Major, as usual."

Is that a hint of peevishness I detect in his voice? Brasch wondered idly. Well, damn him anyway. Brasch pointed to the chair where his pants and yesterday's shirt hung. The attache fetched them without uttering a word.

"Find me some breakfast, Steckel. Some real breakfast, with sausages, and none of their damn rice. I'm sick of it. We might as well get working on this puzzle box again, eh?"

"Yes, Herr Major, right away, I have already seen to it."

"And coffee?"

"Right here, sir."

Brasch gratefully accepted the mug. Perhaps Steckel wasn't such an odious fellow after all.

"Is Captain Kruger with us yet, Steckel?"

"Still asleep, Herr Major. He turned in only three hours ago."

Brasch thought he detected a trace of censure in the man's voice. He seemed to think Brasch should be working twenty-five hours a day. He had no idea what it cost the engineer to get out of bed at all.

"What about Commander Hidaka?" he asked. "I'll bet he's awake."

"Yes, sir. I don't believe I have seen him off-duty yet. But then, I'm not here as much as you."

"That right," said Brasch. "You're not. Come on. Let us join the other master race, shall we?"

Steckel, who was uncomfortable with Brasch's less-than-reverent tone when discussing matters of genetic purity, covered his disquiet by retreating into form.

"But you have not shaved, Herr Major!"

Brasch stopped exactly where he stood, with one foot half in his boot. He stared at Steckel for some time before breaking out in a loud, raucous laugh.

"Herr Major?"

Brasch shook his head.

"It does not matter, Herr Steckel. Believe me."

The Sutanto lay at anchor in a secluded section of the moorage off Hashirajima Island, blocked from view by a screen of light cruisers and surrounded by three lines of torpedo nets. A squadron of Zero fighters circled perpetually high above. Admiral Yamamoto had decreed there was never to be a second when the precious ship lacked air cover.

There would be no Doolittle Raids over Hashirajima.

No deck lights burned on the Indonesian vessel, and blackout curtains had been draped across all her openings, allowing work to continue twenty-four hours a day. Contrary to rumor, Commander Jisaku Hidaka was not awake for every one of those hours, but he did drive himself for as long as humanly possible each day. Like Steckel, he made it clear he found Brasch's apparent lack of commitment perplexing, and occasionally disturbing.

"Good morning, Commander," Brasch said in nearly flawless Japanese.

Hidaka looked up from the computer screen and returned Brasch's greeting in his own faltering German. "Guten Morgen," was about all he could muster. Brasch's English was also better than Hidaka's, but there were occasions when they used it to confer, nonetheless. Neither man really trusted Steckel. When he was within earshot, they spoke in the enemy's tongue, of which he had no knowledge.

"And what do you have for us today, Commander Hidaka?"

The Japanese, he found, tended toward a scattergun approach, skipping from one fantastic discovery to the next as they swarmed over the ship. Brasch, on the other hand, spent most of his time patiently arguing in favor of a more systematic method: choose a category of investigation-such as the offensive missile system-draw up a template to guide the research, and move methodically through each stage of the study.

He had also prevailed upon them to exploit the Indonesians, Lieutenant Moertopo and his men. Yamamoto had been detaining them in heavily guarded luxury on the island. But the admiral was disinclined to let them anywhere near their controls again-especially since the vessel now lay at the very heart of Japan's naval power. Word was that Yamamoto lay awake at night, fearful lest half his fleet might be disintegrated beneath a brace of doomsday rockets. Even the cavalier Hidaka had to agree with that.

Still Brasch had argued, finally appealing directly to the admiral himself.

"Those men are cowed," he insisted. "They are as pliable as sheep. They feel abandoned by the Americans, and remain unbalanced by their presence here."

"So you would have unbalanced men sit in the midst of my fleet, controlling weapons of a power we can hardly imagine?" asked Yamamoto.

"Yes," asserted Brasch, "if you would have me come to understand those weapons. We could stumble along for years trying to figure out how even the simplest devices work. Or we could just ask them. If they cooperate, we reward them. If not, we force them."

Yamamoto finally relented when Brasch explained that the sensors on the Sutanto gave him reason to suspect they could not keep the Indonesian vessels a secret for much longer. Moertopo had already explained that the other ships in this Kolhammer's task force were larger and even more capable. Their devices would surely sniff out the truth before long.

"And then, Admiral Yamamoto, you can expect to lose a great many ships just outside your window, to their doomsday rockets."

Yamamoto had surrendered to the argument.

For his part, Brasch alternated between sincere fascination at the wonder of the ships and the blank flatness that had come upon him in Russia. In his most lucid moments he understood that he was sick, afflicted by a paralysis of both mind and soul. Depending on his mood, he might be reduced to tears by a letter from his wife and son, or so unmoved that he couldn't be bothered opening the envelope.

He occasionally wondered why the army had sent him here. A mix of reasons, he presumed. His Japanese was fluent, thanks to many childhood years spent traveling the Orient with his parents. Father was a diplomat, just like Steckel. Or maybe not so much like Steckel. His father's career had eventually stalled under the Nazis.

And Brasch's engineering skills, as even Hidaka acknowledged, were exceptional. But he knew there was more to it. They had tried to make him a hero after Belgorod. His insanity in standing atop the pile of Russian dead, to calmly empty his pistol into a Soviet horde, was an exact fit with the fuhrer's "stand fast" principle. He had even met Gobbels when they brought him home to show off this fine example of Aryan manhood.

Unfortunately his shattered nerves hadn't equipped him for the public role of superman, and after two instances of ill temper and a breakdown in a radio recording studio, his schedule of appearances had been canceled.

A small article in the Volkischer Beobachter announced that he had been dispatched overseas on an important mission for the fuhrer, but that was before the mystery ships had even arrived. The bizarre communiques from Tokyo had simply provided an excuse to be rid of him for even longer. He suspected the high command thought this whole adventure was an absurdity dreamed up by the Japanese to explain the abortive end to their Midway invasion.

The reality had reduced him to helpless laughter more than once, further convincing Herr Steckel of his mental frailty.

He rarely worried about the report he would have to make, and soon. He knew Steckel already had been sending inflammatory messages. For Brasch, who had walked in the land of the dead for so long, the Sutanto presented an intriguing puzzle that diverted him from the unbearable burden of living.

HIJMS YAMAMOTO, HASHIRAJIMA ANCHORAGE, 0824 HOURS, 6 JUNE 1942

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto flexed his injured left hand. He had lost two fingers many years ago in the battle at Tsushima, and he was troubled every now and then by phantom pain in the missing digits. The discomfort was so much a part of him that he did not attend to it with his conscious mind. That was beset by a multitude of problems arising from the events of June 3.

A cursed miracle was the only way to describe it, an inexplicable event that smashed the American fleet at the same time as it delivered untold power into their hands. It still felt to him as if the whole world had been tipped off its axis and now wobbled precariously, threatening to spin completely out of control.

As for the Indonesian vessel, the technical aspects of their amazing find were in some ways the least challenging. Given enough time, engineers like Brasch would unlock every secret contained within that ship. No, it was the historical ramifications that would prove the most challenging, the most dangerous. Who was to tell the emperor how this conflict was destined to end? And who would tell Hitler of his ordained fate, dead by his own hand three years from now, his body burned beyond recognition to keep it from the Communists who would enslave half the Reich?

Well, Brasch would have that unhappy task, he supposed. Yamamoto did not envy him. It was undoubtedly a death sentence.

Yamamoto peered out the porthole at the farms that climbed the sides of nearly every hilly little island dotted throughout this part of the Inland Sea. Atop each hill sat batteries of antiaircraft guns hidden beneath thick camouflage netting. Anchored all about lay nearly 150 ships of the imperial fleet.

The admiral quickly abandoned the small glimpse of the outside world, returning to his desk, which was buried under thousands of pages of paper-reports from the team examining the Sutanto. Most were technical updates, the latest explanations of some astounding new technology. Set to one side however, was a pile of documents Yamamoto found even more disturbing than the report about the superbombs. This smaller set of papers represented the findings of his intelligence officers who had been assigned to trawl the ship's so-called "electronic files" for historical information.

Therein lay a description of his own death, shot down by American fighter planes over New Guinea. That was a macabre curiosity, but in fact of no great concern to the admiral. Not when measured against the larger picture that had emerged of the course this conflict was supposed to take, and still would, in his opinion. Every misgiving he had ever expressed-about the folly of warring with both the United States and the British Empire-had come to pass.

Or would come to pass.

From the top of the pile he plucked the time line he had ordered drawn up. He could see that in a less than a fortnight Tobruk would fall to Rommel, but his advance would peter out at Alamein within a month, and vast tonnages of American firepower would begin to crush the life out of the Afrika Korps. On the Fourth of July, the very first U.S. Army Air Force operations over Europe would commence with attacks on Dutch airfields being used by the Luftwaffe. Soon enough the skies over Europe would be full of Yankee bombers and fighters.

At the end of July, Japan was supposed to advance on Port Moresby in New Guinea. He had seen the plans himself. But that would mark the farthest expansion of the empire. Australian troops would soon hand the army their first defeat on land.

On August 9, Vice Admiral Mikawa was to destroy an Allied cruiser squadron at Savo Island. But that could not happen now, because the Allies must surely know of it. And, of course, some of the American ships fated to perish there had already been destroyed.

It was confounding in the extreme to try to untangle these knotted threads of fate and circumstance. But one thing was becoming clear: the trend of events could not be allowed to proceed on their appointed course. Unless he was able to conceive of some master stroke, unless the Axis high command could be convinced to abandon their strategic follies, all was lost.

Yamamoto's stomach burned with acid as he reread the most unsettling dossier of all: an incomplete but deeply troubling account of China's rise to power under a Communist regime and the long, dark shadow that cast over a declining Nippon in the next century. Even if they laid down their arms and begged the Allies for mercy this morning, annihilation at the hands of the Mongols seemed inevitable.

No. Yamamoto could not let that come to pass.

He picked up his stateroom phone.

"Get Hidaka and Brasch, and that Moertopo creature. Bring them over here at once."

Lieutenant Moertopo was rather put out at being hauled off the geisha girl and forced into his pants. Apart from the few hours a day when Hidaka demanded his presence, to explain some worthless piece of equipment, Moertopo had spent most of his de facto captivity luxuriating atop a series of pliant Japanese whores.

At first his new friends had sent him a lot of painted ice maidens who seemed interested in little more than calligraphy and flower arrangement. It wasn't long before the Japanese realized that Moertopo's appetites ran to a less refined sort of female company. Since then he'd hardly had his pants on, which went a great way toward reconciling him to the entire situation. Most of his men felt the same way. Given a choice among fighting homicidal jihadis, being imprisoned by the Japs, and plunging into some giggling trollop, who wouldn't pick the latter?

The pleasant haze of sex and sake abruptly deserted him when his "bodyguard" reported that a personal appointment with Yamamoto was in the offing. Moertopo possessed enough rat cunning to know that any variation in routine was threatening. And no matter what angle you came at it, swapping a happy prostitute for an irritated admiral was never going to rate as the first step up the happy staircase to Paradise.

So fear rendered him quite sober as he waited outside Yamamoto's stateroom.

Hidaka soon arrived with the German, Major Brasch, in tow. Brasch didn't look like a Hollywood Nazi at all. To Moertopo he looked more like a farmer with a drinking problem. They exchanged a greeting in English, their one common language, after which an aide led them into Yamamoto's presence.

Inside Hidaka bowed deeply and Moertopo saluted as crisply as he could. Brasch saluted but without much vigor or sincerity. Yamamoto seemed to ignore the insult.

The Japanese admiral also spoke in English.

"Lieutenant Moertopo, I hope our hospitality has not strained you greatly."

Moertopo was never quite sure where he stood with these fascists, but he took the ribald grins of Yamamoto and Hidaka as a sign of good humor.

"I fear Miss Okuni's hospitality will soon put me in the hospital," he replied.

"Excellent, excellent. Now, please sit down, gentlemen. If only we had more time for such affairs, yes? But time itself weighs on my thinking. Major, how goes your work? Will you soon be finished?"

"No," said Brasch. "Even with the help of Lieutenant Moertopo's men, there is an impossible amount of information to synthesize. It's not just the workings of a particular technology I am confounded by, but the principles that gave rise to it, and the context in which it should be employed. And the production methods used to fabricate its components, and imagining the industrial base that employs those methods, and the precursor technology that evolved into that base. I'm trying to make intuitive leaps backward, if you will. It's like an archaeologist excavating the future."

If Brasch expected Yamamoto to be angered by the response, the great bull-necked warrior disappointed him by merely nodding. "And you Hidaka, what say you?"

Hidaka glanced at Brasch, with frustration written across his face. It was always like this with the German. He seemed more taken with the puzzle than the answers.

"Moertopo has been of some use in helping us understand the rocket technology," he said. "He tells me the missile batteries of his ships are not nearly so powerful as those of the Americans he came with, but still they offer great advantage if used wisely. And radar, which we had dismissed as an irrelevance, is found here developed to an unbelievable degree. Radar-controlled gunfire potentially guarantees a direct hit with every shell fired. You can imagine the implications for the side possessing supremacy in this area alone."

"But can we build radar like this?"

"No," answered Brasch, before Hidaka could reply. He held up a flexipad that he had taken as his own. "These machines they all carry, we know of their capabilities now. But even the casing on such a machine is beyond the current limits of our production facilities. You are looking at eighty years' worth of developments in materials science, just for the shell that contains this device.

"Correct me if I am wrong, Moertopo, but the strange rubbery material of this electrical information block-"

"A flexipad, Major."

"A flexipad, yes. The casing itself is integral to the unit, because it helps power the machine, correct?"

"Exactly," he said. "It's made of solarskin plastic, which draws power from the light in this room. The warmth of your hands provides a power source, too."

"Right," said Brasch, with a hint of actual enthusiasm creeping into his voice. "But to fabricate such a thing, you'd have to factor in advances across a whole range of areas." He turned back to Yamamoto. "The thinking machines used in the design of this pad, and which control most of the machinery on the Sutanto, they use what Moertopo calls 'quantum processors,' and they rest upon multiple generations of antecedent technology. Would I be right in assuming, Lieutenant, that using an abacus to design a quantum processor would prove impossible?"

"You would."

"With twenty years' work, I suppose we might just leapfrog our current industrial base up to speed, but-"

"But there are many more pressing problems," Yamamoto agreed. "These processors, Moertopo?" mused the admiral. "They're like electrical calculating machines?"

"Much more than that, sir," interrupted Hidaka. "They are almost like brains. In fact, the Americans who arrived with Moertopo call their computing machines Combat Intelligences, and allow them to make significant decisions."

"And it was they who decided to annihilate Spruance's fleet?" Yamamoto asked.

"I imagine they detected a threat and reacted, because their human controllers could not," Moertopo said before hurrying on to add, "The Sutanto is not equipped with a CI system."

"Luckily for Kakuta," said the admiral.

"And we were not fired on," said Moertopo. "Unlike Kolhammer's force."

"Tell me, Lieutenant, what sort of a man allows a machine to make his decisions for him, especially such a fundamental choice as when to flee and when to strike?"

Moertopo struggled to answer. He didn't know whether Yamamoto was speaking philosophically or demanding a hard answer. When it became evident he was out of his depth, Brasch grasped the opportunity to interpose himself.

"If I may, Admiral Yamamoto, this is the crux of our dilemma. What sort of men could do such a thing? you ask. Whereas I say, what sort of world produced them? What paths led them to their destiny? Moertopo tells us, and the library files on the Sutanto confirm, that the Allied force that arrived here represents a pinnacle of military technology. What we must ask and answer quickly is-how did this come about?

"I would say the question is even more important than determining how they arrived. That they are here is an established fact. How they will change events, is not."

"I think I understand your point, Major. You are less concerned with artifacts such as rockets than with historical potential. Does the Axis have the potential to prevail in this conflict?"

"Until now, I would have said no."

"And I would have agreed with you," said Yamamoto, raising his hand to forestall any protest from Hidaka.

"Even now," continued Brasch, "with everything in flux, the advantage lies with the Allies because of the manpower and vast productive potential of the English-speaking world. True, we have both benefited from a windfall, but they-like us-have received a finite gift. Missiles, once fired, can never be fired again. On the other hand, the knowledge of those missiles cannot now be withdrawn."

"Which means what?" Hidaka demanded. "That we are to be destroyed more efficiently by American factory workers? You contradict yourself, Major Brasch. You just said that we couldn't hope to produce these superweapons for many years. If we cannot, neither can they."

"Indeed," said Yamamoto, "but the issue may not have been decided. Moertopo, from your understanding, did this Kolhammer command a force capable of deciding a war against the combined resources of the entire Axis?"

Ali Moertopo felt the full weight of expectation fall on him. His first instinct was to dissemble, but a finely honed sense of self-preservation suggested that honesty was in fact called for. None of these men was a fool. With time to study the files on his vessel, they could find their own answers. But if Yamamoto came to value his opinion, he could trade on it.

Nevertheless, the gilded cage didn't fool him. His life still hung in the balance.

"If his battle group had survived the journey here intact, they would sweep you from the oceans in a day," he said. "Without satellite coverage, it might take a short while to fix the position of your fleets, but once found they would be sunk to the last ship without the loss of a single American life. However, as I understand it, his carrier has been crippled and grave damage was inflicted on the rest of the task force."

Or I wouldn't be here.

Yamamoto leaned back in his chair and regarded the Indonesian like a cat considering a feathered breakfast. "You base this on the signals you intercepted when Kolhammer arrived?"

"There was a lot of traffic."

Yamamoto barely moved his head as he grunted noncommittally.

"How long before they are repaired?"

The query was directed at Moertopo, but Brasch smiled. "If I may," he said. "Here we find the Allies entrapped by the same problems that face us. Am I right to assume, Lieutenant, that a ship as large and complex as the Clinton-is that her name? — will spend a good deal of her life in a very specialized docking facility, undergoing maintenance and refit?"

"I think about one year out of three would be right," guessed Moertopo.

"But of course, those facilities did not come with you, did they?"

"No, of course not."

"So you see, Admiral, already the specter of this supership begins to recede. They will be able to manage some repairs from the stocks of materiel they carry with them, but I suspect they will be severely restricted in what they can achieve. Moertopo, quickly, those fighter-bombers they carried, what did you call them?"

"Raptors."

"Yes, thank you. Can you build a Raptor from scrap metal in the hold of a ship like the Clinton? No. I thought not. So the planes they lost in the flight deck explosion, they are gone forever."

Yamamoto appreciated Brasch's line of reasoning. It paralleled his own. However, he didn't want to rush headlong into any decision. That sort of precipitate action would lead to annihilation-as history would confirm. So he gave Brasch no sign of encouragement, choosing instead to play devil's advocate.

"But with the missiles these ships carry, they could still cripple us before we even knew we had been targeted."

"Indeed they could," said Brasch. "We must ascertain how many they may retain, in order to fashion a worst-case scenario."

Hidaka had held his patience while the discussion circled around, but now he jumped at an opening.

"If these ships are such a mortal threat, we have no choice but to strike at them as we struck at the American carriers in Pearl Harbor."

"And look how well that worked out," smirked Brasch.

Moertopo thought Hidaka's head might pop right off, so deeply did he color at the remark.

"You insult the man who devised that master stroke!" he spat.

Yamamoto lifted his shoulders and grimaced slightly. "Do not draw your blade on my account, Commander. I am more than capable of defending my honor. The major has a point. If that operation had been successful, we would not have troubled ourselves over a battle at Midway. We failed to achieve the killing blow at Hawaii. We should have pressed the issue on the day and driven the Americans from the islands entirely. Just as the fuhrer, Major Brasch, should not have turned his back on the United Kingdom in order to pursue a political crusade in Russia. Right there, in the opening moments of this war, we both lost our way."