1. The Scientist
High above the
Islamabad suburb, a Predator Unmanned Aerial Vehicle circled at an altitude of
ten thousand feet. At that height, it was invisible to the eye. Mounted on the
bottom of its fuselage, a high speed digital video camera recorded everything
below it. Above it, a geosynchronous satellite transmitted its signal, in turn,
back to the warship U.S.S. Courage.
Every eye in the ship's
weapons room was focused on this video feed. Across a dozen different screens,
its blurry image came into focus. A sprawling, one-story adobe house revealed itself. From
the camera’s height, the building looked like a child’s sandbox mold.
The young comm
officer wouldn’t turn away from his screen. “Sir,” he said, “we have
confirmation. The target is on site.”
ordered, “Lieutenant Ellison, you may engage.”
one word, “Fire.”
The sailor nearest
him flipped a switch. A deep basso rumble shook the room. On the deck of the
giant warship, a fuse blew off a silo cover. The Tomahawk Cruise missile burst
forth, its burning exhaust filling the sky as it sped off over the horizon.
Rocketing at two thousand
miles per hour at an altitude of one hundred feet, it cut a swath of backwash
over the choppy waters. Deep inside its steel hull, a microchip communicated
with a Global Positioning Satellite. They triangulated its path over the Indian
Ocean. Relentlessly, the Tomahawk hurtled forward, carrying its uncanny
warhead toward an unknowing target.
said the sailor. “Time to target, six minutes.”
Far off in his
safe-house in Islamabad’s suburb, Abdullah al-Qawi shoved a clump of goat meat into his
mouth. While the cloth-bound burqas of his wives floated in the background, he
listened to his sons. They talked with the languor of the entitled,
recounting their previous night’s adventures at the dance clubs.
Abdullah was a
pious man. He did not approve of his sons’ dancing. Or drinking. Or womanizing.
But Abdullah was also an urbane man. He realized that today’s younger
generation partook of many pleasures that were denied to the older.
So it had ever been. So it would ever be.
“Faiz, Ude,” he
said to his sons, “have you heard anything from your friend Rawal? I do miss
“Oh, Father,” said
the short one Faiz, “you know he’s busy in Tora Bora fighting the Americans. He
hasn’t been in Islamabad in months.”
“Yes, but I
thought perhaps he had tired of that and came back. You know I would give him a
place in my army.”
Father,” said the tall one Ude, “but who knows? Perhaps he is dead.” The two
boys laughed – no sentimentality here.
Their father sighed.
Though he had ordered thousands of deaths, it still bothered him that his
children were so jaded. What Abdullah did, he did for the ages. Children today,
though, they were a different breed. They drank, they danced, they had no
respect for the laws of god or man. What kind of a world was he fighting for,
that it would be inherited by such as these?
Though he did not
realize it, he and his feckless progeny had less than six minutes to live. His
courier Jabbar - betrayer to the end - was already half a kilometer away, running as fast as his cotton
robes would let him. Outside the window, Abdullah’s neighbors continued their
eternal drift. Overhead, the sun burned hot.
When the Tomahawk Cruise
missile passed from water onto land, it switched from G.P.S. guidance to
TERCOM. The Terrain Contour Matching program compared the signal from its
altimeter to a digital map stored in its computer. Tick by tick, the missile
correctd its flight path continuously,
guiding itself over the uneven
surfaces of mountains, hills, and river beds. Three thousand pounds of
steel hurtled over the Pakistani territories well under radar cover.
There would be no warning.
As the Tomahawk
vectored into the Indus River Valley, its servomotors finalized the aileron
deployment. Navigating the passageway north by northeast at supersonic speed,
it bore down upon the sandy suburb of Islamabad. If a human eye had been aboard
the missile, it would have beheld a magnificent vista of low-slung buildings hovering
under a cover of gently swirling zephyrs.
Ten thousand feet
above this landscape, the Predator flashed a laser downward to spot the
house underneath. The Tomahawk, fixing upon this laser light as a homing beacon,
switched from TERCOM to direct targeting, and guided itself to its final
destination. Inexorably, the Cruise missile sliced toward the bayt of Abdullah
Time to impact: thirty seconds.
thirty seconds to live. In thirty seconds, he would be vaporized into
nothingness. All of his armed guards were powerless. All of his followers were
meaningless. All of his wealth was worthless.
Outside in the
street, passers-by heard the droning roar coming from the south. Those
versed in the sounds of war knew what it meant: fate was bearing down. Everyone
ran for cover, sheltering themselves with walls and diving into the earth.
Inside the house,
of course, they heard nothing. With a solemn attitude, Abdullah turned to his
sons. In the last ten seconds of his life, he admonished them, “You should
really pay more respect to your friend Rawal. Paradise awaits him.”
slammed into the bayt at eighteen hundred miles an hour. In a millisecond,
compressed particles exploded outward, propelling fragments of its steel sheath
through the furniture, walls and inhabitants of the building. Hyperpressurized
air molecules blew apart the flimsy adhesion of the clay material, followed by shock
waves that flattened the remaining tissues and organs of al-Qawi and his
Outside the bayt, vehicles
and people were shredded by the debris blowing through them. Secondary
fragmentation followed, and a cyclone of metal flayed the remaining bystanders
in every direction. Under the heat of the blast, some of the cars caught fire
and burned, creating a chorus line of destruction up and down the avenue.
Inside the bayt,
the explosion had created a vacuum at its epicenter. As the air rushed in to
fill the void, it created a high-velocity wind that pulled everything left –
glass, furniture and body parts – into the core. They collapsed into a
pressurized, heated mass, whose swirling waves of smoke spewed upward
into a mushroom cloud of monstrous proportions. Black and vile, it billowed over the
neighborhood, casting the world into darkness.
hideous gloom, only the flickering flames of the burning cars provided any
respite. In their dim glow, dying people and animals could be seen crawling
over the ground, choking in the mist. After a minute, the strong desert wind returned.
It blew away enough smog overhead for a shaft of sunlight to reveal the
Ten thousand feet
above the explosion, the Predator’s digital camera continued to transmit. In the
control room of the U.S.S. Courage, a burst of white blinded
the video screens. A cheer erupted. When the image came back, it was clear. One moment the
bayt was there; the next it was not.
Captain Mulroney, with
a satisfied look on his face, stepped forward. He spoke into the microphone,
“Target is destroyed. Repeat. Target is destroyed.”
At the Pentagon,
the Under Secretary or Defense, Edgar Lemon, sat back from the video monitor. For a few seconds, he
stared at the Predator’s silent transmission. Through the haze of pixelated
dust, he could barely see the burning cars. But he clearly saw the hole where Abdullah
al-Qawi’s house had been.
In his office, there
were two other people. One was a ferret-faced man with a bowler hat, wearing
a dark blue pinstripe suit. The other was a striking woman with dark hair,
attired in a jet-black pantsuit. Both wore I.D. tags emblazoned with ‘Delta-4’.
Lemon turned to
the woman, and said, “You get that, Dr. Anderson? Target is destroyed.”
“That was weak,”
replied Robin Anderson. “Weak. You know we’re going to get hammered for this. You know
that. We took out a dozen bystanders. At least.”
Secretary was seventy years old; when he smiled, the wrinkles on his face
contorted in unison. He turned to the man, and said, “Director Snyder, I
appreciate that your subordinate here, Dr. Anderson, has opinions. Perhaps, in
the future, she can keep them to herself. Especially when she’s addressing
officers in the field.”
Morris Snyder’s face
turned red. “Yes, sir. She was only offering what she thought was a professional
Dr. Robin Anderson
leaned forward, her face hardening. “Mr. Under Secretary, Archer will change all
of this. Once Archer goes online, those ‘officers’ will be looking for new
work. This kind of warfare will be considered barbaric, a relic of the stone age.
And it should be. Collateral damage like this can’t go on.”
indulgently as he addressed his naïve charge. “Dr. Anderson, you know better than
that. Archer won’t change anything. After all, this is war,” he said. “In war, there will always
be collateral damage.”