It was Christmas. My first Christmas as president. The White House was decorated, my wife was directing the caterers, and my daughter was getting under everyone’s feet with her new toy sword. I was going to kill my brother for buying that thing.
It was a beautiful, wonderful day, not even lunch yet, and I was stuck in a dark room, about to enact war on a city that was supposed to be under our protection. This was the kind of thing world leaders got beheaded for. Being the first US president to die to a rampaging mob might get me in the history books, but I had been hoping for something a little more positive.
“Mister President?” Silk said quietly.
I looked up to see the generals and admirals waiting for me. There were even a few senators, Grain and one or two others. I had expected them to dodge the actual work, never mind the fact that it was on Christmas.
“Thank you,” I said. “Thank you for coming, everyone. I know this is a difficult day. I had hoped we’d be ready to launch sooner, but complications arose.”
“We understand,” Grain said.
“We’ve all looked over the numbers,” Ward added. “This is the best time to move. Unfortunately. It’s a miracle that we even have enough men on the boats.”
I took a deep breath. “Then if there are no objections…” No one spoke. I reached forward and clicked the radio on. “General Hoshi?”
“I read you loud and clear, Mister President,” she said, her voice crackling only slightly.
“It’s time, General.”
“Yes, sir. Launching all ships.”
We all watched on the wall screen as two carriers, four battleships, and a horde of smaller assault craft launched from the New York coast line. It was almost certainly overkill, but I didn’t want to leave anything to chance. The more men we sent, the greater chance the city would surrender without a fight.
“Let’s go over the city’s defenses while we wait,” I suggested. “Fitzsimmons, tell me about the Fusion Islands.”
He bobbed his head. He used a remote to switch to a rough map of the city with the four islands at each compass point marked. “Domina has four large nuclear fusion reactors, set a good distance from the main island. They channel power through undersea cables, which results in a good deal of power lost in the transfer, but the original designers were quite paranoid, and were worried that—”
“Fitzsimmons,” I warned.
He got back on track without missing a beat. “The islands are where their space cannons are located, and with proper calibration could be reformatted into long-range artillery. Doubt they’d be able to hit anything closer than a mile, though, and definitely not anything actually moving. Likewise, using the islands as bombs would be inefficient and ineffective.”
Everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief.
“However, the amount of power the reactors produce does give them some very potent defensive options. With the amount of time they had to prepare, they could easily have set up laser turrets.”
“Lasers,” Grain said flatly.
“Not enough to damage any but our smallest ships,” Fitzsimmons assured him. “But they’d be a real danger if any planes get too close, and more importantly could easily shoot down any missiles before they get close enough to do any damage.”
I closed my eyes. Great. That meant the carriers were basically useless. Would have been better to just leave the stupid things to rust.
No, there must be another way to use them. Hoshi had been working closely with Fitzsimmons, he must have mentioned this to her. But she had still specifically requested the carriers. She must have a plan.
“Other than that, the city has no meaningful defenses. Just two mid-sized patrol boats.”
“Ward,” I said. “Tell me about our infantry options.”
He shook his head. “We don’t have much data, and what we have isn’t good. Breaching that wall could take hours, even with the ships. And that’s assuming you’re willing to accept the collateral damage.”
I wasn’t, and he knew it. I let him continue.
“We’ll have to go through one of the four gates.” He clicked his own remote, and the map changed to one highlighting four points on the edge of the city’s wall. “Getting through the gates won’t be too hard. Our men our equipped with lock-bombs. They’re designed to magnetically force open blast doors. We’ll need a lot of them, but we can get them open.”
“Which gate are you attacking?” one of the generals asked.
“All of them,” Ward said. “We have the men for it. It will help counter the fact that they’ll force us to bottleneck and make us easy pickings. Even if one or more of the beachheads is defeated, the others can serve as staging points to push forward.”
The generals nodded, satisfied.
“Do we have any real numbers?” I asked.
Ward shook his head. “None. There are several hundred million people in the city, but we have no idea how many of them are combatants. This would have been easier with Sele rallying her people.”
Somehow I doubted that they would have been happy to see her. The woman ran away with her tail between her legs and then sent an army to attack their home. “No use crying over it now. Worst case scenario, what are we looking at?”
“Worst case, we’re going to be killing a lot of people. Our men will be using corpses as sandbags.”
“We’ll win, though,” one of the generals said firmly.
“Of course we will,” I snapped. “But forgive me if I don’t think slaughtering an entire city counts as saving it.” I shook my head. “Sele wasn’t able to give me much detail on the state of affairs. We know the toy maker is in wide use, but that’s about it.”
“Our men can handle weird crap,” the same general said. I really should try and remember his name. “A few bird or dog people aren’t going to faze them.”
“I know.” I shook my head. “But this whole thing just feels… off to me. Like we’re missing something important.”
“Butler,” Silk said.
I nodded slowly. “That’s it. Sele said he was the de facto ruler of the city. That means he has men and guns.”
“But if we kill him, his gang collapses,” Ward said. “That could be checkmate right there.”
“Could be,” I agreed. “Except we have no idea where he is or what he even looks like. I doubt he’s going to stand on top of the tallest skyscraper and politely wait for us to snipe him in the head.” I waved my hand. “Killing Butler simply isn’t feasible. But…”
An idea was tickling my brain. If it worked…
“Mister President?” General Hoshi said through the radio. “We’re in position.”
That was fast. But then, I had ordered them to redline their engines. The point was to try for a surprise attack. Well, as surprising as it could be. I clicked my own remote, showing a map of Domina with our ships surrounding it. They were giving the Fusion Islands a careful berth.
“Should we attack now?” Grain asked hesitantly.
I shook my head. “No, not yet.” I clicked the radio again. “Hoshi, are we ready?”
“We are, Mister President.”
“Patch me through.”
There was a brief pause. “Go ahead, sir.”
“People of Domina City,” I said, using my deepest speech voice. “This is President Richard Martinez of the United States of America. I am speaking to you through the fleet that is currently surrounding your city.
“We are here to negotiate the surrender of the gangs and other criminals currently plaguing your streets. We hope to solve this peacefully, but it is more than likely that they will refuse. We will have no choice but to remove them violently. Please, stay in your homes. You will be safe there.”
I gave it a moment. Hoshi took the hint. “I turned it off, Mister President.”
“Thank you, General. Patch him through when he calls.”
“Yes, Mister President.”
Grain looked at me oddly. “You really think he’ll call after that?”
“If half of what Sele told me is true, I would be shocked if he didn’t.”
My phone rang. Five simple beeps.
I frowned as I fished it out of my pocket. “That’s odd. I thought I turned this off.” I pulled it out and glanced at the caller ID. It just said ‘MC.’ I turned it onto speaker. “Hello?”
“President Richard Martinez,” a pleasant female voice said. “Please hold.”
I stared at the phone, then at the others at the table. None of them seemed to have a better idea of what was going on than I did.
“Mister President,” a strong, controlled male voice said over the speaker. “I think it is time we had a conversation.”
I felt my blood chill in my veins. “Artemis Butler.”
Grain visibly choked.
“How did you get this number?” Most of the people in this room didn’t have this number. Only my immediate family and Silk, actually.
He ignored the question. “I would like the discuss the toys you currently have floating outside my city.”
I took a deep breath. “Domina City is a United States city that has flagrantly defied all laws almost since its inception. If you order your men to stand down, we can clean this all up very quickly.”
“Even were I inclined to do so, I do not command all the guns in this city. These people will defend their homes. Sending battleships instead of diplomats was not a wise move.”
“Diplomats? To a bunch of gangs and warlords? We do not negotiate with terrorists.”
“Neither do I. Ask Soaring Eagle what I do to terrorists. Ask her what happened to the Black Bird, or the White Skull, or to Malcanthet and Belial.”
It took me a second to realize who he was talking about. “You mean Sele? She’s dead.”
There was a pause.
“Unexpected,” he said, his voice betraying no emotion. “But I will not shed a tear for a jealous traitor. Regardless, here is what she would tell you about terrorists in Domina City: They don’t last long.”
“We are hardly terrorists.”
“You are using violence and the threat of violence in an attempt to terrify the populace into acquiescing to your will.”
I closed my eyes. The bastard had a point. If not for the whole ruthless gang lord thing, this might be someone I could get along with.
“If I sent a negotiator over, would you accept him?”
The generals and senators looked horrified, but I quieted them with a raised hand. This was important.
“Yes. What terms did you have in mind?”
“We’ll move our forces in to corral the gangs. You’ll help with that, and be officially named mayor of the city. Use of the toy maker will be limited, and guns will be brought down to a more reasonable level through basic licensing. Trade with New York City will be opened up, especially food and other expensive materials.”
There was a pause.
Then he laughed.
Not a quiet little chuckle, a great booming laugh that stressed my phone’s speakers.
I ground my teeth, but didn’t interrupt. I wouldn’t look like the immature one here.
“She really didn’t tell you anything, did she?” he gasped out. “What’d she do, paint a picture of a dark pit, filled with people hiding from roving gangs and mercenaries?”
“She told me enough,” I said icily.
“No. No, she did not. I guarantee that.”
“She told me you wouldn’t give up power. I suppose you would rather be warlord of the city than something real and legal.”
He barked out another laugh. “I would gladly give up my job. But they keep voting to keep me in, and I don’t have it in me to step down without a successor I’ve groomed personally.”
I frowned. Voted? He probably meant something informal, like the gang leaders agreed to follow him.
“It is a reasonable offer, Mister Butler. More than reasonable.”
“No, Mister President, it is not.” His breathing had returned to normal, the laughter subsiding. “Your bird wanted to kill our city. She thought your terms would do that, one way or another. Either we agree and die, or disagree and are killed. Simple but effective.”
“It sounds like you’re between a rock and a hard place.”
“No. Soaring Eagle always did look down on everyone else. She underestimates this city.” The last vestiges of humor and cheer disappeared from his voice. “We will hold against all comers. If you insist on making this a war, I guarantee that you will regret it.”
“Our military is the strongest on Earth.”
“Maybe. But we are Domina City. There is nothing that you can do to us that we haven’t already done worse to ourselves.”
“When all this is over, remember I tried to negotiate.”
“No. You tried to threaten. You just did a terrible job of it.”
I shut off my phone and looked up. Everyone else seemed to agree with how I had handled the situation, which was a nice change of pace. Some of them looked more than a little rattled, but it would be fine.
I clicked the radio.
“Hoshi. Launch the assault.”
Behind the Scenes (scene 277)
And the war begins. Been waiting for this for… the entire time I’ve been writing this story, now that I think of it.