Off the Eastern Coast of Africa
November 12—0412 Hours GMT+3

You must understand, admiral, that it is precisely the destructive reign of Idi Amin that makes Uganda such a shining example. We have made tremendous strides — economically, politically, in the control of disease. But the world doesn’t see this. It doesn’t see how far my country has come. And because of that, donors are pulling back. Problems that were so close to being eradicated are reemerging.”

Smoke from one of Admiral Jamison Kaye’s personal stash of Arturo Fuentes flowed from Charles Sembutu’s mouth as he continued to pontificate about the world’s moral obligation to the country he led.

Kaye kept his expression impassive, exercising his well-practiced gift for hiding his distaste for politicians. He himself had grown up dirt-poor on a farm in Kentucky, and no matter how bad it got, his family had never gone looking for a handout. His father always said that no one had the power to pick you up. Either you did it yourself or you stayed the hell down.

“So you can see the importance of what we’re doing here, Admiral. You can understand the magnitude of the threat.”

“Yes, sir, Mr. President.”

His wife constantly admonished him for judging politicians too harshly, and she was usually right. Not this time, though. Sembutu had taken over Uganda in a bloody coup that had ended in the deaths of the former president, his family, and no less than a thousand of his supporters.

There was a quiet knock on the door, and the admiral watched gratefully as his captain entered.

“The feeds are up and running, gentlemen. If you could please follow me.”

The control center for this operation was buried in the depths of the carrier — a cramped space designated for monitoring events that weren’t ever going to hit the papers.

The two women manning the room’s sophisticated electronics leapt to their feet when the admiral and his guest entered, but a dismissive wave sent them immediately back to their seats.

“These are pictures from your soldiers?” Sembutu asked, pointing to five live monitors. Each cast a greenish glow, depicting a hazy view of the jungle as it slid slowly past.

“Each man has a camera on his uniform that transmits to us via satellite,” Kaye said.

Sembutu moved forward, reading the names of the individuals scrawled beneath their respective monitors while Kaye dialed a number into a secure phone.

He was feeling distinctly queasy as it rang. As far as he was concerned, fighting was the natural state of Africa — war didn’t occasionally break out there; peace did. Sending his boys into a situation that they didn’t fully understand and, in his opinion, was none of America’s business had too many shades of Somalia. But there was absolutely nothing he could do about it. This wasn’t some harebrained operation dreamed up in a forgotten corner of the Pentagon. Not by a long shot.

The phone clicked and the unmistakable voice of Sam Adams Castilla came on.

“Yes, Admiral?”

“They’ve made contact and are on the move.”

“Anyone hurt in the jump?”

“No, Mr. President. So far, everything’s by the numbers.”