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Chapter 31



The Pentagon, VA, United States of America, Sol III
1820 EDT October 9
th, 2004 ad


"Have you been getting everything you needed?" asked General Horner as he strode into the conference room. It had been billed as a press conference but, in a rare burst of sanity, the news media agreed to simply have one representative of each major media "type" in the Continental Army Center.

Until the Blue Mountain Planetary Defense Center was completed, the nerve center for the defense of the United States was in the Pentagon. The indefensible building gave Jack Horner the uncomfortable feeling of swinging in the breeze. Being on the front line did not bother him—he had been there and done that—but it was no place to command a continental-scale battle.

His AID would help, but even with it he needed an undistracted staff and that was not going to happen if the Posleen were breathing down their necks. And the latest information made that look pretty likely.

"Well, sir, we really haven't been given any access since the first warning," answered Argent, as the unofficial spokesperson. Although the other representatives were all "Pentagon Hands" none of them had Argent's depth of experience or name recognition. His cameraman, another old Pentagon hand, subtly directed his camera towards the general. Although the press conference had not officially been "started" all was fair in a fluid situation like this.

"So I understand," said Horner with a bleak smile of anger. It was not how he had told the Pentagon Public Information Office to handle information flow. As he had just explained to the chief of information's replacement.

"To change that, I'm going to assign you Lieutenant Colonel Tremont, my senior aide." He gestured to the slim, dark lieutenant colonel accompanying him. "He can cut through any red tape you may encounter. We so far have no indication that the Posleen use battlefield intelligence. I've already cut half of the red tape out and decided you can report on just about anything you generate while you're in here. I'm giving you one hundred percent access to my areas of responsibility. You basically have Top Secret clearance and assumed Need-To-Know on anything related to this invasion. If anyone has any questions about that they can direct them to me after they have answered your questions."

Argent looked momentarily stunned. "Thank you, sir. Are you sure about that?"

"This was the original plan, believe it or not. I have to communicate effectively not only to my troops, but to the citizens of the United States. It is my job, my duty, to protect them and keep them informed of dangers to the best of my ability. The best way to do that is through you," he gestured at the TV crew, "and your radio friends." He gestured at the representatives from ABC Radio.

"Pardon me," he continued, turning to the print journalists and photographers, "but you guys come last." That got a laugh.

"So, shall we start?" asked Bob.

"What, we haven't already?" Jack said with another cold smile.

"Well . . ." Argent temporized. He hadn't dealt much with the Continental Army commander but he recognized the smile as a bad sign.

"Hasn't your cameraman been filming the whole thing?" asked Horner, shortly. "And unless I'm an idiot, everybody is taking notes."

"Okay," admitted Argent. "In that case: General Horner, it has been an hour since the Posleen came out of hyperspace. What's happening?" The cameraman lifted the minicam to his shoulder to get a steadier shot.

"There've been some space battles between the fighter patrols and the converted frigates that were on station, but this incursion has been outside all the expected parameters," responded Horner formally. "The Posleen are here in greater strength than we anticipated, they are more bunched than we were expecting not only on the basis of Galactic reports but on the basis of our own experience on Barwhon and Diess. Last but not least, they came out unusually close to the Earth; dangerously close in fact.

"Because of all of this the Fleet has been unable to engage them with any sort of strength. They are coming down more or less untouched, while we have lost quite a few of the fighters and frigates that engaged them. I have to say this, those Fleet people did a hell of a job given the disparity of the forces they faced. Their efforts were just outstanding."

"Can we get a look at some video?" asked one of the radio personalities.

"We'll get some of that in from the Operations center in a moment. Having said the other, about total access, I want you to understand that we have a job to do and we need to do it to the best of our ability. Understand?"

"Yes," replied the reporters, wondering when the hammer was going to fall.

"I don't have time to draw any of my people off their duties; so we're going to go into the CIC to meet the players. They are all very busy trying to save our country, so be polite. This is a very quiet, serene place where people concentrate very hard: no disruptions. Think of it like a war library. No shouts for a quote, no flash photography, no camera lights." He fixed them with a blue, basilisk stare until all of them had nodded in compliance. "If any of you do any of those things in CIC, I'll have you thrown out of this building by a suit of combat armor. He will have orders to shot-put you into the Potomac." The river was nearly a mile away. The reporters were fairly sure it was hyperbole, but looking at the grim-faced, cold-eyed general, they were not absolutely sure.

"After the CIC, I'll hook you up with a couple of our technical people who will try to integrate our systems with yours. I want you guys to know where the landings are going to be as fast as I do. But no disruptions. The American people cannot afford them. Your families cannot afford them. Clear?"

"Clear," answered the sobered journalists. Never had a situation like this occurred, where the people they were interviewing were in charge of saving not only their lives, but the lives of their families and loved ones. In real time. Usually, rattling a subject or throwing an unanswerable question at them was the best way to get a really juicy quote. Those techniques suddenly seemed like a bad idea. Rattled would be bad. Argent looked around and saw the other reporters coming to the same sobering conclusion.

Horner and his aide led them down a short corridor and over to an MP-guarded door. On the far side was a small antechamber and beyond a large, darkened room filled with a mixture of Terran and Galactic technology. On the far side of the room was a giant Mercator projection showing a number of orbit lines in green, blue and red and five large ovals designating possible landing areas. The outside of the ovals, where they were discrete, was yellow and they shaded inward through orange to red. One was centered on the Atlantic, another on the Pacific, a third on Southeast Asia to India, one on Central Asia and one on Africa. The TV cameramen started filming, not sure if the screens would show well enough to broadcast. The quiet atmosphere reminded him of a surgery, everyone concentrating on their individual tasks for an overall good.

The possible areas for Posleen landings were still vast; the Atlantic oval spread from Chicago to Berlin. The Africa oval overlapped the Southeast Asia oval. The very edge of the Pacific oval overlapped the Southeast Asia oval near the Philippines. In all they nearly circumnavigated the northern hemisphere.

"Full house spread," whispered a reporter from the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

"This screen used to be covered with satellite tracks," pointed out Lieutenant Colonel Tremont in a whisper. "The remaining military satellites and facilities are the green tracks, while the blue tracks are remaining commercial facilities."

"Yeah," whispered the CNN producer in return. "We're mainly going out on dedicated landlines to cable operators and on the Internet. Cell, pagers and phones are mostly down."

"This screen is, obviously, not used for tactical operations," Colonel Tremont explained. "But it is useful for getting an overall picture."

"Colonel," Argent asked quietly, putting on his reporter face, "is the loss of the satellites going to degrade the quality of your artillery fire and command and control? I understand that most development in those areas has concentrated on global positioning satellites."

"It would, yes, except for the extraordinary work over the last three years of the United States Geological Survey Service. Using a mixture of military, civilian and volunteer personnel, they have put in survey markers across the country, in most areas no more than a kilometer apart. In turn, the location and elevation of the markers have been put into a universal target database. Now, whenever an artillery unit gets into place, they just find the distance and elevation to the nearest UTD point and input that data. That gives them their location to the millimeter. Other units use a similar although slightly less accurate system. So, yes, it will be a pain, but with the UTD we have effectively replaced GPS."

"What about targeting the enemy? Didn't that depend on the GPS as well?"

"Same thing, only backwards. The forward observer determines his distance and elevation to the nearest UTD and his distance and elevation to the target and sends the raw data to the targeting computers. It all can be done with a special laser range-finding system. The targeting computer crunches the numbers and assigns the fire to the appropriate guns. It's incredibly automatic."

"Will it work?" asked the Journal Constitution reporter.

"Ah, well that is the question isn't it?"

"You said something about connecting our equipment up, General," interjected the producer.

"Of course, let me introduce Major George Nix." General Horner gestured for one of the hovering officers and the slight, bespectacled major hurried over from one of the displays.

"Major Nix came out of Space Command and is our tactical systems officer. The TacSO is the officer in charge of making sure all the systems integrate and are maintained, as opposed to the tactical actions officer, Colonel Ford. Colonel Ford—we call him the TacCO—is in charge of making the moment-to-moment tactical decisions.

"Major Nix, can you get these journalists a feeder screen and somehow hook their cameras up? I want to make sure that everyone in the United States has up-to-the-minute access to all the data we are generating."

"Yes, sir, we anticipated this." He turned to one of the video technicians. "Come with me."

Nix led the tech out of the room, the reporters following and quietly making notes about the intense atmosphere in the room. He led them down the corridor and into a well-lit chamber where two specialists and a slightly overweight staff sergeant were arguing at a display.

"Sergeant Folsom, 'One If By Land.' And do it fast."

"Yes, sir." The two specialists hurried out of the room as the sergeant went around configuring displays. As he worked he talked. "Gentlemen, we had anticipated this, so you will get more functionality than you would expect, but less than you are used to. I'm setting up two displays for the print and radio guys, and we'll feed you to your headquarters, ABC, over RealAudio, so you can do your radio thing over the Net. The Net is busy right now, but the usage is not as high as a normal business day so you should have good connectivity.

"The consoles use a simple graphic user interface. Right-click on an area of the map and it will zoom down to a fineness of about six hundred miles on a side. It's not a political map. It's drawn from satellite imagery, so somebody had better be up on their geography."

"Sergeant," asked the CNN producer, appropriating one of the consoles, "is there any way to run a second audio feed back to CNN?"

"Sure, if somebody there has Interphone or NetMeeting."

"Where?"

The sergeant walked over and tapped at the next console. "What's their URL?"

Within minutes the sergeants and the specialists, returned from rerouting Internet T-3 lines to increase the room's available bandwidth, had configured all of the backup CIC consoles to support the media effort. The reporters were practically speechless.

"Sergeant," said the CNN producer, as she finished preparing the headquarters' team for the next round of reports, "when this is all over, if you ever need a job, come see me."

"I'll think about it, when this is all over." The question of when it would be over and whether any of them would be around to see it was unspoken.

"Well, now all we do is wait," said Argent, watching the ovals of probable landing areas reduce on his monitor.

"What about reporting on the personnel being called back to duty?" asked the video technician, watching the feed on his own monitor to ensure the "take" was working.

"That's being reported on in Atlanta."

"Poor bastards."

* * *

"Bye, honey," said Mike, shrugging into his silks top.

"Bye, Daddy," said Cally, looking up at him with round eyes.

"You listen to Grandpa, all right? And be a good girl."

"I will, Daddy. When the Posleen come we get a few, then run and hide. Stop, drop and roll, right?"

Unless they're right on top of you.

"And then I'll come dig you out," he promised.

"Right," she said, face twisting as she tried not to cry.

"Take care, son," said his father, proffering a Mason jar for the road.

"Too right, the last time in the body and fender shop was enough. Getting shot smarts."

"Long drive."

"Too long. They'll be down before I'm in South Carolina." He looked at the Mason jar, shrugged and took a hit. The fiery liquor felt good going down. He sealed it and tossed it in his bag.

"How you going?"

"Want to know if I'm going to be in a landing path?"

"Something like that. The Twenty-Fourth Tennessee Volunteers are right up the road as the Tennessee Divide reserve and the whole Fifty-Third Infantry is holding Rabun Gap. So we're probably going to be fine. You, on the other hand, are driving up to Pennsylvania. So, are you taking the plains or the mountains?"

"I'm still trying to decide. The plains would be faster, even with the interstates doglegging away from the Gap. But, that is a possible landing area according to Shelly, so . . ."

"So. Which way?"

"Mountains," Mike decided. "Up Interstate 81. Better to be caught in traffic jams than in a landing."

"Want a piece?" A Glock 9mm appeared by legerdemain in the old man's hand.

"No, I'm packed. Speaking of which." He reached into his bag and pulled out a finely carved wooden box. The wood was an odd shade of lavender-brown Mike Senior had never seen before. Mike Junior handed it to Cally. "I was going to leave this with your Grandpa as a birthday present, but I think now would be a good time to give it to you."

She was puzzled by the latch, a circular pattern similar in appearance to a maze, with no obvious buttons. Pulling on the sections caused them to lift, and they could be twisted on their axes but none of the actions seemed to open the box.

"It's an Indowy puzzle box, which I don't, unfortunately, have time to let you work through. Watch." He lifted three sections and twisted them until the sections joined together to form a pattern reminiscent of a multiheaded dragon. When slid back into place, the latch released and the top opened as the serpent seemed to writhe off the box and into a circuitous dance. The fire-breathing hologram danced above the open box as Cally gasped at the contents.

"I'm still getting presents from Indowy clans over Diess. Most of them I pass on to the survivors or their families, but this I couldn't resist." In the box, cradled in a lustrous silken foam were a gilded pistol and two magazines.

"I've got a case of ammunition for this out in the truck. The powers-that-be still frown on grav-guns in civilian hands but this is a pulser gun. It fires pulse darts. Each of the darts has an electrical charge in it powerful enough to kill an elephant, much less a Posleen. There are twenty-four darts in a clip. It's accurate to about a hundred yards with a good hand." He pulled a clip out of his cargo pocket. "This is a clip of practice ammunition and you can reuse an expended dart as practice ammo. But to fire it in practice, you have to charge the onboard capacitor." He turned to Mike Senior. "It charges on 220."

"No sweat."

"Thanks, Daddy," said Cally, picking it up and feeling the heft. "It's small."

"It's designed for Indowy, not that they would ever use it. It's made out of lightweight boron polymers. The charge on a dart is adjustable, so it can be nonlethal. And it'll take down a Posleen, unlike your Walther." The small-frame pistol was notorious for jamming, but it was one of the few in the world that both fit her hand and had a decent-sized round. Since the Posleen were not going to be stopped by an itsy-bitsy little .380 low-velocity, Papa O'Neal had tapped and filled its bullets with mercury. The Posleen that caught one might not be killed but it was going to know it had been kissed.

"Umm," she asked, carefully turning it so as not to point at either adult, "how do you clear it and where is the damn safety?"

Mike laughed and pulled out a computer disk. "Here's the manual, read it on your laptop. For the time being you have to trust me that it is empty."

"Thanks, Daddy." She grinned, putting the pistol back in the case. "You're swell."

"Get some practice with it right away. I know you're good with that James Bond gun, but this has more stopping power and is better suited for your hands. I'd prefer you get familiar with it in case you have to use it."

"Okay."

He tousled her hair, thinking that she looked a lot like her mother must have at the same age. "You stay safe, okay, pumpkin?"

"Okay." She was tearing up again, the excitement of the gift giving way to the fear of the moment.

"And you listen to your Grandpa."

"You already said that."

"I'm sorry we didn't get up to the base so you could see my unit."

"It's okay, we can after you kick their asses back into space."

Mike Junior looked significantly at Mike Senior, who shrugged his shoulders, unrepentant. "What do you want, a little lady or a little warrior?"

Mike picked her up and hugged her gently. "G'bye, pumpkin."

"Bye, Daddy." She bucked a little in his arms, holding back the sobs.

He set her down, grabbed his bag and headed out the door.

They followed him downstairs and out the front door where he removed the case of pulser darts from the front of the Tahoe, handed it to his dad and threw in his bag. He took his daughter in his arms one last time.

"And if they land here, what do you do?"

"Shoot, scoot and hide."

"Okay."

"Don't worry about us, Daddy, you're going to be on the sharp end."

"Are you worried about me, pumpkin?" asked Mike, honestly surprised.

"Uh-huh." She started to cry.

"Oh, pumpkin," he smiled, putting on his mission face, "don't worry about me." He slipped on his Milspecs, wrapped Shelly around his head as a hands-free communicator and smiled ferally. "I've finally got the Posleen right where I want them. They don't know it, but they're about to get the whole can of kick-ass." He looked out at the fields he had grown up in and thought for a moment about what he had said. The company was trained and ready. He was trained and ready. They could do this. The company believed it. The battalion commander and staff believed it. Regiment was as sure as if it were a steel-hard certainty.

Now if he could only convince himself.

* * *

Mueller, meantime, was getting on a different kind of mission face, as were Mosovich, Ersin and Keene. Keene's proposed plan for the defense of Richmond was not meeting with the approval of the mayor or the city engineer.

"We thought you were going to come up with a compromise plan, Mr. Keene, not a new plan to destroy the city," snarled the mayor, banging the conference table.

"It is not intended to destroy the city, Mr. Mayor, only a small portion of it."

"And it does not provide for the defense of the outskirts whatsoever," noted the city engineer, poring over the detailed plan that Mueller's AID had printed out on their arrival.

"Fortress Forward does not intend the defense of the majority of the city," interjected the corps engineer, "as we have pointed out time and again."

The corps commander motioned him subtly to back off, more than familiar with the old argument between the two. "This firesack of Schockoe Bottom actually looks like precisely what the Fortress Forward program is all about, but it only makes provisions for one outer fort," he continued, "instead of the suggested multiple."

"Yes, but it makes best use of the available terrain," noted Keene. "This is really the only area where you have two useable terrain features to emplace on and catch the Posleen in a crossfire. And the outer fortress can provide fire support if the forces are forced to retreat towards Newport News."

"What about the rest of the city? What about south Richmond? Our primary industrial area?"

Colonel Braggly was again waved down by the corps commander as Keene answered. "It is indefensible. Period. With the exception of a few gently rolling knolls, the James is the only noticeable terrain feature.

"There are four scenarios to work with here, gentlemen," Keene said in an iron voice, "and we have to be very clear about what they are. Sergeant First Class Mueller, what is the best-case scenario for Richmond?"

"The Posleen land beyond masking terrain features, effectively out of range to cause us harm."

"Right," agreed Keene. "In which case, a few days later a portion of the corps rolls out to wherever they are needed."

"What?" shouted the mayor. "Why the hell are you going to do that?" he snarled, turning to the corps commander.

"To support those in need, Mr. Mayor," replied the corps commander, calmly. "I would hope that other corps would do the same for us. No, I know they would; it would be the right military decision and so ordered. Of course, if the Posleen land well away from here, other units would react. We're not going anywhere if they land in California."

"Yes, sir, but I was thinking if they landed south of the Broad River or north of the Potomac, for example," noted Keene. "Now, Master Sergeant Ersin, what is the worst-case scenario?"

"They land directly on us," he said to universal grimaces. His own scarred face remained stone-faced, eyes remote.

"And in that case," Keene said, with an almost unnoticeable twinkle in his eyes for the moment of levity, "we activate our GOTH Plan."

"Our what?" asked the city engineer.

"Our Go-To-Hell plan," answered Mosovich, face as stony as Ersin's.

"The plan you use when all your other plans have failed," noted the corps commander, nodding his head at the clued-in civilian engineer.

"Your 'On Deadly Ground Plan,' as it is sometimes called," interjected the otherwise silent corps chief of staff.

"Our 'we are fucked' plan," Keene clarified, "will be to destroy the city, Mr. Mayor, because there will be no survivors anyway and we might as well leave the Posleen a smoking ruin. Mine every building, blow up every block as they come to it. Leave not one edible scrap of food including humans, destroy the bodies as we go. Kill as many Posleen as we can, but most of all, make it very plain that fighting humans is a losing proposition: All you get is sorry, hungry and sore." He looked around the room and for once saw consensus.

"You might make that Virginians," corrected the city engineer with a slight, sad smile.

"As you will. Ah, sir, am from the Great State of Juwjah, Ah will have you know." It was good for a little laugh. "But that is the absolute worst-case scenario. There are two more, anyone care to take a stab?"

"They land either north or south of the James, but not right on us," said the corps commander, "we've gotten that far."

"Right. Now, if they have landed south of the James, my professional recommendation is to pull back across the James and wait for support. Maybe do some things with the bridges and the floodwall on that side, in the way of sucking them in, but basically the south side is open terrain and you'll just have to sit on this side and pound them with artillery. On the other hand, if they land on the north side we probably have the time to implement the fire-trap plan. If we get started right away."

"You already said it is pointless if they don't land between the Potomac and the James. It might not even work if they land north of Fredericksburg," argued the City Engineer. "In that case, I don't think we could get the support of the owners of those facilities for the demolition work."

"We don't need it," pointed out the corps engineer. "Necessary defensive works under the emergency war provisions. We have eminent domain."

"That could be tied up in court for days," bemoaned the mayor.

"They can apply for just reparations," said the corps commander, "but that is all."

"Yes," said Keene, "that has all been covered in the PDC program. The private owner just does not have a leg to stand on if the property falls under the heading of necessary defensive structures as defined by the area commander, which is General Keeton," he noted, gesturing at the Corps Commander at the head of the table. "He can order it with no debate now or in the future, if he, in his sole opinion, feels it militarily justified."

"On the other hand," noted General Keeton, with a frown, "we will absolutely require the help of the entire civilian populace. We cannot afford to antagonize the city and certainly not its leaders," he concluded, gesturing at the mayor and the engineer. "We will need your complete and undivided support."

"Do we really have to destroy Schockoe Bottom?" asked the mayor, plaintively. "It's an eyesore and a crime zone, but there's a lot of history there."

"Mr. Mayor," said Mueller gently, "whether today, or in the next year, a whole new book in the history of Richmond is about to be written. The only question is whether there will be anyone to write it."

The mayor looked at the city engineer, who shook his head in resignation. "I still say we could have circumvalleted the entire city."

"Maybe we could have," nodded Keene, "but we're out of time and it would have thrown away our best terrain features. There is no way, in Fortress Forward, to save the city as a functioning entity. Rather, the idea is to absolutely screw the Posleen while retaining the historic core."

The corps commander nodded. "Correct. Mr. Mayor? Mr. City Engineer? I need your active support in this. Are you with us?"

The mayor nodded his head. "Yes, yes." He looked at the engineer, who nodded his own head mutely. "Yes, we are."

"All right," said the corps commander turning to the corps engineer, "initiate Mr. Keene's plan, modifying as you see fit while staying within the overall plan."

"What do we call it?" asked the Chief of Staff.

"How 'bout Operation Abattoir?" joked Mueller.

"Actually," said the corps commander, who had planned more than one antiarmor defense against aggressor cavalry forces, "I prefer 'Operation Big Horn.' "

The military guys laughed while the civilians looked confused. "Why Big Horn?" asked the mayor.

"First you suck 'em in . . ." answered Mueller in explanation.

"Then you blow the shit out of 'em," finished Ersin with eyes as dead as a shark's.

* * *

"Gentlemen," said Sergeant Folsom, poking his head in the room, "you might want to start a feed; the computers are about to give final projections on Posleen landings."

For the past hour the newsmen had been giving almost continuous live reports but, except for the narrowing of the potential landing ovals, it had been much of the same. It amazed the CNN producer that anything could be so terrifying and boring at the same time.

Argent got up and stood in front of the American flag that had been procured from a nearby general's office, preparing to say his piece as the technician checked the live feed from the defensive computers again. All of the ovals were discrete, now, and the Atlantic oval, with the exception of an attenuated end that made it look like a comma, had shifted almost completely away from the European continent. It appeared the Europeans were going to sit this one out.

"In three, two, one . . ."

"We have just been informed that the defensive system computers are about to determine the final Posleen objectives. As we have been telling you, until the Posleen globes definitively commit to a reentry trajectory, the landing areas remain only possibilities. Now, however, there are signs that the Posleen are about to commit to definite targets.

"They have had one orbit of the world, under fire from the available Fleet Fighters, as has been reported from Palo Alto, and by now they must have picked their targets." At a call from the producer he hastily finished, "We now cut to the live feed from the defensive computers . . ."

* * *

And Colonel Robertson leaned towards the wardroom TV, taking a pull on his pipe . . .

* * *

And Little Tommy Sunday stopped packing his war bag and turned to the radio in his room . . .

* * *

And Lieutenant Young stopped compulsively reviewing demolition plans . . .

* * *

And General Keeton turned away from the mayor and towards the TV in his office . . .

* * *

And throughout the world, people stopped whatever they were doing, pulled over in their cars or set down their burdens and waited for the American Defense Command, or Russian Army Headquarters, or Japanese Defense Forces Headquarters or Chinese Red Army Headquarters, to place the seal on their fates, whether for good or ill.

"The ovals are shrinking rapidly now," continued Argent coolly. "So we are going to zoom in on the American landing. I'll keep you updated on the other zones and when the final points are determined we will zoom back out and note their particular areas.

"We can definitely say, at this time, that there is little or no chance of a landing in Australia, South America, Central America, Europe or Russia. There is very little chance of a landing in the Midwestern United States. It mainly looks like West Africa, India or Bangladesh, Coastal Northern China, the Eastern United States and somewhere around Uzbekistan or Turkmenistan.

"The ovals are shrinking. The American oval is centering on the eastern seaboard between Philadelphia and . . . somewhere in central South Carolina. Getting smaller . . ."

The oval abruptly collapsed and turned a complete malignant red. "The area is now centered on Washington, D.C. . . ." he continued with a note of strain building in his voice as cold adrenaline jetted into his stomach . . .

And shifted south . . .

"Richmond, Virginia . . ."

North and smaller . . .

"Washington . . ."

And finally centered between the two, straddling a river. It began to pulse an evil crimson, the vague outline of a city on the computer-generated map in the center like a pupil. Argent just paused for a moment, shocked by the evil icon blazing out from the console.

"The target," he paused for a moment to compose himself, "the target, ladies and gentlemen, is Fredericksburg, Virginia."



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