In a volatile world, America’s worst nightmares canbecome real—anywhere, anytime, and with no warning.
But there is one potent defense: a top-secret military facility in the Nevada desert where the high-tech future of warfare is being conceived and constructed.
Masters of astonishing military technology that enables them to deploy almost instantaneously to any part of the Earth, the Dreamland team must now stop a dangerous revolution in the making in Eastern Europe—where a mysterious group of insurgents has blown up an essential pipeline, thereby disrupting Europe’s gas supply. With NATO and the EU paralyzed by the crisis, it falls to Dreamland’s best and brightest to keep the world from the brink of another Cold War.
But the secret hand of an old enemy is pulling the strings from the shadows, hoping to reap the rewards of chaos. And the devastating results could erupt with intense, white-hot fury.
22 January 1998
Jed Barclay hesitated outside the door, glancing down at his suit jacket and tie to make sure everything was in order. It was one of the personal "tricks" the speech therapist had given him: Reassure yourself before a meeting that you look fantastic, hon, then you can proceed with confidence.
Her precise, motherly voice rang in his ears as he took a slow, deep breath. The nearby Secret Service agent was probably choking back a laugh, he thought, not daring to glance in his direction.
"Jed, come on," said Jerrod Hale, the President's chief of staff, spotting him through the doorway. "They've already started."
"Yes, sir, I'm sorry."
Jed started inside with his head down, then heard the therapist's advice again: Head up, stride with purpose! You belong where you're going.
Even if it's the Oval office, she might have added—and undoubtedly would have if she'd known that his job as a deputy to the National Security Advisor often brought him here. He hadn't told her what his job was, and it appeared that the anonymous benefactor who arranged for his speech lessons hadn't told her.
Jed's boss, National Security Advisor Philip Freeman, nodded at him as he slipped into the room. President Kevin Martindale gave him a nod as well, but then turned his attention back to the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral George Balboa, who was summing up the results of the U.S.'s successful intervention in the Indian-Pakistani War.
"So we now have peace between India and Pakistan. Total peace. For the moment." Balboa puffed out his words, punctuating his sentences with hard stops and short breaths as if they were darts. "The Navy has the situation under control. Entirely. Our two carriers are more than a match for the combatants. Medals are in order. My opinion."
"Oh, I think the Dreamland people deserve a little credit," said Arthur Chastain dryly. Chastain was the Secretary of Defense, and lately had been making little secret of his disdain for Balboa. Dreamland had, in fact, done most of the work, and had the casualties to prove it.
"Some credit. Some," admitted Balboa. "Terrill Samson is going to turn that place around."
"Samson is a good man," said Chastain. "But Dreamland doesn't need to be turned around. I admit Bastian is operating over his pay grade, but he's done a hell of a job."
Balboa made a face before continuing. His words came even faster, and in shorter bits. "I can envision a day where Dreamland works with Marines, SEALs, the whole nine yards."
"I think medals are a very good idea," said President Martindale. "An excellent idea." He rose from the desk. "And why hasn't Bastian been promoted?" he asked Chastain. "He deserves it."
"Ordinarily, sir, length of service is the most important criteria. Lieutenant Colonel Bastian—"
"The hell with that. He should be a general."
Balboa cut in. "Mr. President, with due respect. To go from lieutenant colonel to general, at a time when we're not at war—"
"Thanks to him," noted the President.
"Bypassing the normal process and making a lieutenant colonel a general, I don't think it's a good idea, sir," said Chastain. "I like Bastian. I admire him. He's got a great future. But making him a general—"
"Roosevelt did it," said Martindale brightly.
"That was during the world war. And I don't believe that anyone went from lieutenant colonel to general without at least a few months as colonel," said Chastain. "Congress was also involved. They passed special legislation."
"There are promotion boards and processes," added Balboa. "If we disregard them, the entire service is harmed. We can't put one man above the entire military. It's not worth it, Mr. President."
Promotions were governed not only by tradition and service regulations, but by law. To become a full colonel, an officer usually had to spend twenty-two years in the military—and by law had to spend a minimum of three years in grade. Bastian failed on both counts. The law did allow what was unofficially called a "below the zone" promotion: One year before regular eligibility, a candidate might be elevated to the promotion list. But Chastain explained that Bastian had received a below the zone promotion to lieutenant colonel, and was therefore not eligible even for that consideration.
The criteria for promotion to flag officer rank—a general—was even more complicated. Congress limited the number of generals in the service. The Air Force was presently allotted 139 brigadier or one star generals; those ranks were not only full, but there was a long waiting list. In effect, a promotion was generally a replacement of a retiring general. No matter how capable he was, moving Lieutenant Colonel Bastian up to flag rank would provoke bad feelings—and require the approval of the Senate. The process would surely involve hearings, and given the recent criticism from some members of the Senate and congress that Dreamland was being used as the President's private army, that was something best avoided.
"Yes, all right, I'm sorry, gentlemen. Of course," said the President. "We have to think about the entire military. But Bastian's promotion should be expedited. There has to be a way to get him to full colonel. He deserves it."
"That can be looked into," said Balboa.
"And the Congressional Medal of Honor, for what he did," said Martindale. "Clearly he earned that."
That was no exaggeration. Colonel Bastian had risked his life to stop a world war. His aircraft was under heavy fire and had been damaged by Chinese missiles, he'd outgunned several interceptors and at least one destroyer, he had his crew bail out, and then single-handedly dove his plane on that Chinese carrier, ready to sacrifice his life so the plane couldn't take off. He'd been seconds away from death when the Chinese stood down.