Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn
June 15, 1:30 a.m. EST
The president of the United States was ten feet tall.
Even seated behind his desk in the Oval Office he was a giant, towering over Mr. Church, who stood with his hands clasped behind his back. The giant plasma screen in the Hangar conference room had flawless fidelity and except for the disparate scale, the president might have been there in the room.
“I wish I had more encouraging news, Mr. President,” said Church. “However, we are still assessing the intelligence brought to us by Captain Ledger.”
“I have to admit that I’m disappointed. I expected more. I expected to hear that you’d at least confirmed the location of all seven of the devices.”
“When I learn to perform actual magic, Mr. President, I will make sure you receive the memo.”
The president said nothing. With anyone else from the president of Russia to his own chief of staff he would have fired back a retort and fried them. Instead, he cleared his throat.
After a moment, Church said, “We have, in fact, established probable locations on four of the devices. There is a high probability that the one in Rasouli’s photo is located in or near the Aghajari oil refinery in Iran. There is a slightly lower but still actionable probability that the other three are at the Beiji oil refinery in Iraq, the Abqaiq in Saudi Arabia, and the Toot oil field in Pakistan. DMS teams are en route to those locations. When and if we get locations on the other three I want to do a coordinated and simultaneous soft infiltration of all seven. We should get the best JSOC teams in the air.”
The Joint Special Operations Command included many of the nation’s elite teams, including Delta and the SEALs.
“What about the device here in the States?”
“We need to remain at our highest state of readiness without doing anything that sends a signal. Not to our allies, not to our enemies, and not to the world press. At this point we don’t know if there is a device on U.S. soil, and if there is we have no idea where it might be. It could be a red herring, or it could be real, we don’t know. So far there are no hints on Rasouli’s drive beyond a possibility of our unknown enemies targeting oil fields.”
“We have a lot of oil fields, Deacon.”
“I am all too aware of that, Mr. President.”
The president sighed and rubbed his tired eyes. “I want to hang Vox’s head on the Capitol building spire.”
“Get in line,” said Church dryly. “But as much as we both want to see that happen, we don’t know if Vox is our enemy in this particular game.”
“He steered Rasouli toward Ledger.”
“Yes, which means that our only source of information about a potentially catastrophic situation came about because of that.”
“I hope you’re not suggesting that Vox has had a change of heart and now wants to help us avoid an act of terrorism. You couldn’t sell that on a soap opera.”
“I believe you know my take on Hugo’s patriotism.”
“Then what is his role in this?”
“He is a trickster and manipulator. If he delivered a workable cure for cancer I would look for an angle. If he’s helping us then he has a way to profit from that.”
“Enemy of my enemy?” suggested the president. Church shrugged.
“Unknown. Now that we know the scope of his treachery as the head of the Seven Kings, we know that he has more friends in the Middle East than he has here. Iran would be in that family.”
“So… he could be helping Rasouli,” ventured the president. “If this is a real threat to Iran’s oil fields, then Vox could be using us to help an ally.”
“Yes. That’s likely, but it doesn’t mean that it’s Hugo’s only motive.”
“I’m putting a lot of trust in you and MindReader, Deacon. We have to find those nukes. We can’t allow a single device to detonate.”
“We may not have a choice, Mr. President. I believe that it would be prudent to begin working on how to manage a crisis based on a variety of worst-case scenarios.”
“I just had that conversation with State. No matter where a bomb goes off it creates a different political nightmare. At this point it’s impossible to determine which worst-case scenario is actually the worst. On one side there’s the risk to civilian populations, on another the risk of contamination to the oil fields is considerable. And the political fallout, pun intended, could cripple us in the region.”
“I wish Captain Ledger had been able to record that conversation. We’d be able to haul Iran before NATO and the world and hang them out to dry for consorting with Vox. They would have to back down on their nuclear program-”
“Which would be nice,” interrupted Church, “but it would still leave us with seven possible nukes in place, and no one to blame.”
“We can blame Vox and the Seven Kings.”
“We could,” said Church dubiously, “but we would be guessing. That might sharpen focus or distract it entirely. Guesswork doesn’t put our true enemy in the crosshairs.”
The president looked at his watch. “I’m heading to the Situation Room now. We’ll conference you in. Two minutes.”
“I’ll be here,” said Church.