destruction n. 1. The act of destroying. 2. The means or cause of destroying. 3. The fact or condition of being destroyed. [Middle English destruccioun, from Latin destructe, from destructus, past participle of destruere, destroy.]
destroy v. -stroyed, -stroying, -stroys. —tr. 1. To ruin completely; to spoil beyond restoration or repair; consume. 2. To break up; tear down; raze; demolish. 3. To put an end to; to do away with; to get rid of. 4. To kill. 5. To render useless. 6. To defeat; to subdue completely; crush. —intr. To be harmful or destructive. [Middle English destruyen, from Latin destruere (past participle destructus): de (reversal) + struere, pile up.]
—Webster-Wangchi Unabridged Dictionary of Standard English Tomas y Hijos, Publishers
2465, Terran Standard Reckoning
"I don't know what they're going to do! But whatever it is, I don't have enough men to stop them." Bill McCoury, Buncombe County's sheriff, glowered at Jeremiah Willis and Hugh Campbell, Asheville's Chief of Police.
"Bill's right, Jerry." Campbell rubbed his eyes wearily, then replaced his glasses and regarded the mayor levelly. "Neither of us do. I'd hoped refusing them a permit would stop them, but it didn't. As for this—" he waved a copy of the court injunction against any assembly "in Buncombe County, in the State of North Carolina, by the Appalachian White People's Alliance and/or the Ku Klux Klan and/or the American Nazi Party and/or any individual members of those organizations, however styled" "—I don't see any way to enforce it. Not without an awful lot more manpower."
"I know." Willis sighed. "All right. I guess we all knew it had to start somewhere. I'll call the Governor."
"Mordecai?" Morris looked grubbier than ever, and he felt it as he looked up and saw Jayne Hastings—as immaculate as ever—in the door of his office. At least he had an excuse; he hadn't stopped moving, one way or another, in the thirty-six hours since his return from Camp Lejeune.
"Yes, Jayne?" He waved at a chair heaped in computer printouts, and she moved them carefully to the floor before she sat. "What have you got?"
"I'm not positive," she said. "Has Milla gone up yet?"
"She's due to go tomorrow—if Dick doesn't convince himself he can't afford to risk her." Morris shook a cigarette from a pack. "Why?"
"We swung one of the Hydra multi-sensor birds to cover the Southeast last night. Exhausted her maneuvering mass to do it, too. I've been looking over the data." She shook her head. "It's amazing what the new systems can do."
"I know." Morris nodded. "I don't have your technical background, but I'm always amazed by how steadily the quality of satellite data keeps going up."
"Well, I think I found something," Hastings told him, and he leaned forward over his desk.
"Look." She laid an oddly murky photo on his littered blotter and adjusted his desk lamp carefully. "See this?"
She used a pencil as a pointer, tapping with the eraser. Morris leaned a little closer and saw a bright, hair-thin line that snaked across the photo and ended in a small, crescent-shaped smear of equal brightness.
"That," Hastings told him, "is the road up Sugarloaf Mountain. It's not much of one—only one lane of macadam to an abandoned logging area."
"So?" he asked.
"The brightness," Hastings said, "is heat, M&M. Lots of heat."
"Heat?" He frowned. "Sunlight soaked up during the day?"
"No way. First, there's too much of it. Second, a lot of this road's pretty heavily shaded. See these brighter sections? They're from direct sunlight, all right, but this almost equally bright section here's an oblique into an area under heavy tree cover. Nope, Mordecai. Only one thing could account for this—" her eraser tapped the second area for emphasis "—and that's traffic. Lots of traffic."
"What sort of traffic?"
"I don't know, but it was headed here." She drew out another photo, this one in bright, artificial colors—obviously a computer-generated and enhanced enlargement of a portion of the first. The thin line was a broad ribbon, and the crescent at its end had refined itself into several regularly spaced heat sources.
"These are buildings in an installation of some sort," she said quietly. "A good-sized one, judging by the number of people we're picking up." Her eraser tapped again, indicating a dusting of tiny, individual heat sources scattered about the buildings. "They're moving around too much for us to get a hard count, even with the Hydra's IR sensors, but there are lots of them. And look at this." She laid out another photo, this one of peaceful green trees, just beginning to show the first touches of autumn color, in a bright, sunlit mountain valley. "See anything?"
"You should. It's a daylight shot of exactly the same area, and a lot of traffic went into it. According to this one—" she indicated the computer generated enlargement again "—it stayed, too. As I say, we can't get a hard point source count, but our minimum estimates puts hundreds of people in the area—hundreds, Mordecai. So where are they?"
"Hmmm." Morris took a powerful magnifying glass from his drawer and examined the bland photo minutely. "I don't see a thing," he confessed.
"Neither can any of the photo analysts," she agreed, pulling out yet another computer print, "so we did this spectroscopic shot on the next pass." The blur of colors told Morris absolutely nothing, but the light in her green eyes said it told Hastings a lot. "This area here—" her eraser circled and then stabbed "—is the same area as the IR shot, and it doesn't match its surroundings." Morris looked up at her, and she gave him a thin, sharklike smile. "It's a fake, Mordecai. All this greenery here—" she tapped again "—is a fake."
Morris was silent for a long moment, looking back and forth between the photos while his mind raced.
"You're positive?" he asked eventually, and she nodded.
"Something else turned up on the enlargement, too. Look here." She drew his attention back to the infrared shot. "See this little dot?" He nodded again. "That's up the mountain above the installation, and it's another hot spot. Intermittent—it only shows on a few of the shots—and a lot smaller and cooler than the others. Not only that, the vegetation on the slope is exactly the same kind of fake as the rest of it."
Morris rubbed his nose as he pondered. The regularly spaced oblongs of heat formed a horseshoe-shaped arc, its ends sweeping back to touch the steep mountain face on either side of the small heat source. Like a shield, he thought. A shield hiding what? And composed of whom?
"What do you make of it, Jayne?" he asked finally.
"It could be lots of things, I suppose, but that's part of Pisgah National Forest, and according to the records, there's nothing there at all. My opinion? It's a military camp. The point sources are way too dense for a good count, but there could be an entire battalion in there."
"A battalion?" Morris shook his head, trying to clear it. "Damn." He thought for a moment longer, then reached for the secure phone and started punching numbers. The phone at the far end was answered quickly.
"This is Commander Morris," he said. "Get me Admiral Aston."
"They're right, Governor," Melvyn Tanner said. Despite his words, the attorney general looked as if he wished he could disagree. "Some really ugly reports are coming in. The State Patrol reports a lot of out-of-state license plates flowing into the area, and Tennessee and Kentucky say more are on the way. They're not just leaf-watchers out to see the Fall colors, either," he added with graveyard humor.
"I know." Governor Farnam toyed with the pen stand on his desk. "But if we call out the Guard, we show just how alarmed we are. I purely hate giving a bunch of racist psychos that much satisfaction," the great-great-grandson of one of his state's largest slave-owners said grimly.
"Maybe so, but it's your responsibility to maintain order and protect public safety when the local authorities can't."
"All right," Farnam said finally. "Draw up the proclamation. And get me a line to the Justice Department."
"What do you make of it, Milla?" Aston asked. The two of them were bent over a table studying the photos Morris had transmitted to them by secure land line.
"I think it's him." Ludmilla spoke with obvious restraint, controlling her own exhilaration. "It fits."
"But where'd he get the manpower?"
"Dick, you've seen the kind of hate he can whip up. If he can do that, why can't he recruit a small, elite force under his direct control?"
"I'll buy that he could get them together," Aston said with a frown. "But hang on to them?" He shook his head. "If this is a paramilitary outfit, there has to be a chain of command, and who's going to take orders from a machine? Besides, why run the risk of revealing himself to them?"
"He probably didn't," she said, and Aston raised an eyebrow. "He probably found himself an Alexson," she explained, then frowned. "A quisling, you'd call it. A collaborator. He'd only need one to front for him, and once he had one, I guarantee he could control him." She shivered.
"Okay," Aston agreed. "I'll accept that. But if they're camped right on top of the objective, we've got a hell of a problem. Jayne says they could be in battalion strength, and we don't have any idea what kind of hornet's nest we're walking into."
"You know," she said slowly, "this looks like a standard Kanga encampment." She ran her finger over the computer imagery, moving from one bright smear of light to another. "See this one here—the one with so many fewer heat sources?" Aston nodded. "In a Kanga installation, that would be the armory. And these here—" she indicated two smaller, fainter smears, one at either end of the horseshoe "—would be the scanner posts, while these with more people in and around them would be the barracks. And these speckles out here—" she tapped a loose necklace of tiny heat sources scattered out around the main encampment "—would be weapon emplacements."
"Jesus! Are we looking at twenty-fifth-century weapons?!"
"I doubt it. Oh, he could design them, I'm sure, but he doesn't have the components. If you were marooned in the fifteenth century, could you build one of your LAVs without parts? Even if you had the manuals and a complete maintenance shop?"
"I don't suppose I could." Aston made no effort to hide his relief.
"Exactly. He'd need molycircs, superconductors, high-energy capacitors, multi-dees. . . . The tech base to build the parts he needs won't exist for over a century, at least. He probably has enough spares to build a few light weapons, but not enough to equip on this scale. No, Dick. It may be a Kanga-style installation, but he's using mainly local weapons."
"Mainly!" Aston snorted. "I like that."
"It's the way it is," she said calmly.
"I know. I know." He frowned. "I don't like the numbers, though—not when I don't know how good their tactics will be."
"I don't know either," she admitted. "Normal Troll ground combat has to be seen to be believed, but he can't use standard tactics. He's only got a fighter, not an assault tender, so he can't have many combat mechs and they won't be heavies. Light armor's all a fighter usually carries." She plucked at a lock of her hair.
"Normally, they rely on speed, mass, and firepower, Dick. They run right at you, then hammer you into the ground with close-range fire. Their heavies' armor is tough enough to take most power-gun fire, and their battle screen takes care of anything else. But those are heavy armor tactics. At worst, his combat chassis's not going to be much heavier than a medium, and Trolls don't know infantry tactics. Terran Marine Raiders would take this place apart like a soggy pretzel. Of course, they've got equipment Dan and Alvin would sell their children for, but—" she nodded slowly to herself "—I think our boys can hack it. They know their weapons, they've got good doctrine and tactics, they ought to have the advantage of surprise, and they're some of the best assault troops I've ever seen. I don't see how the Troll's troops can match their quality, and he doesn't have any familiarity with twenty-first-century weapons or tactics."
"What if he's `recruited' somebody who does?"
"It probably won't matter. Trolls are arrogant; he may have picked the brains of competent present-day tacticians, but he'll dictate his own tactics. At best, he'll be a Book soldier without experience. Sort of a brand new, overtrained second lieutenant with a colonel's command." She grinned suddenly. "How do you think the butter-bar would make out?"
"He'd get handed his ass," Aston said with a note of satisfaction.
"Don't get cocky," Ludmilla cautioned, "but I think that's essentially what we're looking at."
"Don't worry about cockiness," he growled. "I'm scared to death, and we'll go in assuming the worst. But we've got time to plan. They may disperse, and if they don't, even a dug-in mechanized battalion would have trouble with what we can throw at them."
"Good. Then I'd better get into that Forestry Service plane and double check things."
"No way! We know where the bastard is, now, and—"
"Dick, we can't afford to assume that. I've got to—"
"No, Goddamn it! We'll watch it for a few days, see if they disperse, and then we'll—"
Aston broke off, glaring at her, as the phone rang. She met his glare calmly, knowing his anger stemmed from a jumble of sources he could hardly have disentangled himself. The critical necessity of her blaster, his own deep emotions, the pressure of mounting the operation at last. . . . The list was endless.
The phone rang again, and Aston scooped it up.
"Aston," he growled.
"It's me." Morris's voice was sharp with concern, and Aston frowned. He flipped a switch and put Morris on the conference speaker.
"Milla's with us, M&M. What is it?"
"All hell's breaking loose in the target area," Morris said tensely. "We've got the KKK and the Nazis coming in from the north and west, and they're loaded for bear."
"We knew they were coming, Mordecai," Ludmilla said.
"Not like this, we didn't," Morris said grimly. "Just listen a minute. The Governor's called out the Guard, and the State Patrol and local sheriffs' departments have set up roadblocks on all the major highways leading into Asheville. There's a three-county dusk-to-dawn curfew and the local law enforcement people are on full alert, but I don't think it's going to be enough. A convoy of Kluxers or Nazis—hell, for all I know it was both of them!—hit a roadblock on US 23 in Madison County, just south of the Tennessee line. When the deputies manning it tried to stop them, they shot their way through with automatic weapons."
Aston and Ludmilla stared at one another, faces tightening.
"The good guys lost four deputies there—no survivors—and the same thing just happened on I-40 in Haywood County. The Guard's supposed to take over—set up an inner perimeter closer to Asheville—but it's a powder keg. And just to make things worse, another bunch of crazies is moving up from the south."
"I thought the damned rally was for idiots from the mountain states!"
"It is, but Wilkins just called to warn me about some sort of exodus from Atlanta and points north in Georgia and South Carolina. The other side seems to be headed for Asheville to break up the rally."
"No, Dick," Ludmilla said softly. "It's the Troll."
"But why? Why bring about a confrontation now? And why Asheville, of all damned places?"
"Who knows?" she answered with a shrug. "Some sort of a test. The first move in whatever it is he plans to do with them. It doesn't matter. It's him—it has to be him."
"How bad is it, M&M?" Aston asked harshly.
"Bad. There are thousands of them, and I've got unconfirmed reports that some Guard units are shooting at each other instead of the rioters or whatever the hell they are."
"Why not?" Ludmilla gave an ugly almost-laugh. "If he can program everybody else, why not National Guardsmen?"
"Shit," Aston said flatly.
"The Governor's mobilizing Guard units outside the affected area," Morris went on, "and the President's alerted the Eighty-Second Airborne, but nobody thought about what might happen inside the local units—and I should have, damn it!"
"Later, Mordecai. Nobody else did either. Just give us the worst."
"All right." Morris drew a deep breath. "The Asheville area's in chaos. The highways going east and north are crowded with people trying to get out of the way, the bad guys are headed in to turn it into a battlefield, and the local authorities don't know who they can trust. Martial law's been declared, but Governor Farnam's balking at using paratroopers. He wants airlift for other Guard units, military police, civilian SWAT teams—anything but airborne." The commander laughed harshly. "Hard to blame him. He's afraid of casualties; the Eighty-Second's not exactly trained in crowd control."
"Crowd control may be the last thing he needs," Aston muttered.
"But he doesn't know that, and we can't tell him."
"All right. Cut to the bottom line, Mordecai."
"The way it looks, the first airlift—outside Guardsmen, airborne, or whatever—should be coming into Asheville Airport in four or five hours . . . by which time, the first wave of Kluxers and Nazis will have been there for hours, and the maniacs from the other side will be arriving, too."
"Shit," Aston said again, then looked at Ludmilla. "All right, there's no time for you to fly around looking for him, Milla. If he's behind this, the only way to stop it is to stop him. Fast."
"I agree," she said softly.
"Mordecai," Aston said into the phone, "tell Anson we're going in."
"Now, Dick? Into the middle of all that?"
"Right now," Aston said grimly. "We don't know what he's up to, but a lot of people are going to get killed, whatever it is, and for all we know, this is the start of his big push. We've got to hit him before he really starts to roll." He smiled savagely. "It may even work to our advantage. With so much going on, the confusion should help cover us."
"All right," Morris said slowly. "We've got the air support worked out at this end. How soon should we alert it?"
"Now. We'll brief the men and be in the air within three hours."