Alyssa Abbott — White House Press Secretary
Clay Chandler — Vice President of the United States
Melinda Eaton — Director, Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
Jim Garza — National Security Advisor
Jackie Gibson — Lane’s Chief of Staff
Stella Kang — Pearce Systems (security, drone operations)
David Lane — President of the United States (POTUS)
Carl Luckett — U.S. Army Ranger
Ian McTavish — Pearce Systems (IT)
Margaret Myers — Former President of the United States
General Gordon Onstot — Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS)
Ilene Parcelle — Partner, Seven Rivers Consortium
Troy Pearce — CEO, Pearce Systems
Julissa Peguero — Attorney General of the United States
Mike Pia — Director of National Intelligence (DNI)
Norman Pike — CEO, Chinook Charter
Steve Rowley — U.S. Army Ranger
Sarah Swift — Pearce Systems (combat medic)
Daniel Brody — Mossad agent
Tamar Stern — Mossad agent, former Pearce Systems associate
Moshe Werntz — Mossad chief of station, Washington, D.C., head of North American operations
Abu Waleed al-Mahdi — Caliph of the ISIS Caliphate; Iraqi national
Kamal al-Medina — ISIS unit commander, Iraq; Saudi national
August Mann — Pearce Systems (Director of Nuclear Facilities Deconstruction); German national
Aleksandr Tarkovsky — Russian Federation Ambassador to the United States
ABBREVIATIONS AND ACRONYMS
AUMF — Authorization to Use Military Force
COTS — Consumer Off-the-Shelf
CTE — Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy
IAI — Israeli Aerospace Industries
LaWS — Laser Weapons System
MALE — Medium-Altitude Long-Endurance
MWDSC — Metropolitan Water District of Southern California
PTSD — Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
ROEs — Rules of Engagement
SOG — Special Operations Group (CIA)
SVR — Foreign Intelligence Service of the Russian Federation
TBI — Traumatic Brain Injury
TXDOT — Texas Department of Transportation
VTOL — Vertical Take-Off and Landing
As with the previous novels in the series, the drone and related systems described in this story are currently deployed or are based on patent filings, prototypes, or research concepts. In some cases, I’ve modified or simplified their performance characteristics for the sake of the story.
The sun’s bloodred halo framed the Christ hanging from his towering crucifix.
Or so it seemed to Ahmed. He cupped his hands around his eyes to get a better look, his spent RPG launcher heavy on one shoulder and his battered AK-47 on the other.
Not a Christ. A Christian, and a Kurd.
It was a
He glanced back up. The blowflies swarmed around the moist tissues of the pastor’s mouth and nose, laying their eggs. The orifices were caked with black blood. The eyes would be next, Ahmed knew. He’d seen it before, in the last village. And in the one before. The hatched larvae would begin their grim feast and in a week the pastor’s skull would be picked clean. Disgusting. Ahmed spat again.
Brave, this one. Not like the Iraqi soldiers who fled like women when his convoy of pickups arrived in a cloud of dust yesterday, black ISIS flags flapping in the wind, each vehicle crowded with fighters like him. The Iraqis just dropped their gear and ran.
Well, not all of them.
Was it the flags that scared the cowards? Or the head of an Iraqi colonel hanging like a lantern on a pole on the lead truck? The Iraqis were probably Shia. Worse than infidels. Cleansing the Caliphate of all such nonbelievers was their sacred duty. Only through such cleansing and blood sacrifice would the Mahdi come with the prophet Isa and defeat the Antichrist. Has the Caliph not rightly taught that all of the signs are pointing toward the Day of Judgment? And was it not their duty to bring this about, one infidel corpse at a time?
Ahmed turned around. A line of utility poles marched down the long sloping hill. He counted ten more bodies hanging on them, including three children.
The pastor’s children. Children of iniquity.
A Dodge Ram pickup honked behind him. He turned around as the truck skidded to a halt in the dust. A sharp-faced brother called out from the cab. He was a twenty-five-year-old Tunisian from Marseille. A French national like Ahmed, though Ahmed was a lily-white redhead of Norman stock and only nineteen.
“The commander has called for you,” the Tunisian said in French. He threw a thumb at the truck bed. “Hop in.”
Ahmed felt his stomach drop and the back of his neck tingle.
“But I’m on guard duty.”
“I’ll take your place after I drop you off.”
“Why does he want me?”
The Tunisian lowered his voice. “Does the Black Prince consult with lowly commoners like us?” He flashed a crooked smile.
The pejorative reference to Kamal al-Medina’s royal bloodline would have earned the Tunisian ten lashes with a whip if Ahmed reported the slur. He wouldn’t, of course. Ahmed used it, too. They all did. And they all admired Kamal al-Medina as much as they feared him. The Saudi had given up everything — palaces, gold, power — to fight for the Caliphate and the
“No, he doesn’t.” Ahmed unslung his RPG launcher and rifle and clambered into the back of the Dodge. He slapped the cab roof and the truck whipped around, speeding toward the center of the small village of squat cinder-block houses, well kept and brightly painted in hues of red, blue, and yellow. Most doors were defaced with a spray-painted red Arabic
It was also a mark for death.
Their truck sped past still more utility poles with a Christian corpse hanging from each, their sightless, downcast eyes keeping silent vigil over their lost village. The long shadows they cast were quickly fading in the dimming light. It would soon be time for the brothers to wash for evening prayers.
He liked this village. It was neat and well organized and surrounded by fertile fields. A village not much different from the one he came from in Normandy. He wondered how soon before those utility poles back home would be filled ...