Authors: Tom Kratman
Tags: #Action & Adventure, #General, #Science Fiction, #Adventure, #War & Military, #Men's Adventure, #Fiction
Baen Books by Tom Kratman
A State of Disobedience
A Desert Called Peace
The Lotus Eaters
The Amazon Legion
Countdown: The Liberators
Countdown: M Day
Countdown: H Hour
(With John Ringo)
Watch on the Rhine
COUNTDOWN: H HOUR
This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2012 by Tom Kratman
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.
A Baen Books Original
Baen Publishing Enterprises
P.O. Box 1403
Riverdale, NY 10471
Cover art by Kurt Miller
First Baen paperback printing, August 2012
Distributed by Simon & Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
Printed in the United States of America
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
For Number Three Daughter,
Sarah, aka Smurfette, aka
Republic of the
and at sea
The times they are a changin’
Bonifacio Global City (ex-Fort William McKinley),
Manila, Republic of the Philippines
Cool air from a wall vent bathing him, the second richest man in the Republic of the Philippines, Lucio Enrique Ayala, sat in a comfortable, fabric covered chair, legs spread, trousers undone, with a young stripped-to-the-waist girl’s head bobbing rhythmically above him. Occasionally, she stole a glance at a small clock on the table beside the old man’s chair. Ayala assumed she was timing herself, prolonging the festivities, the better to please him and secure her own position.
From outside and below, on the other side of the broad glass, curtain-framed wall, came the faint sound of very light traffic. Of
the traffic was light; not only could few afford a personal automobile anymore—not that all that many ever had in the Republic of the Philippines—but the building in which Ayala sat, and which he, in fact, owned, sat in an area that discouraged traffic in any case.
The girl, Marissa, was something above the local, theoretical age of consent, twelve. She was also somewhat below the more practical age of consent, eighteen. In theory, this meant that, given the totality of the circumstances—provision of an apartment and of a stipend—Ayala could have been charged. He could have been but, of course, he never was. That’s what it meant, in real life, to be the second richest man in the Philippines.
Old Man Ayala wasn’t far behind number one, either.
Of average height among his people—which is to say, short—commonly dark, and—despite the approximately Spanish-Basque naming conventions—highly mixed in his ancestry. He also had a rich—and old—man’s tastes, especially in women. Or girls.
He had his hands in a little bit of everything; real estate, shipping and transport, insurance, brewing, mining, manufacturing, telecommunications, and—so it was alleged—a not inconsequential chunk of the estate of a former president of the republic . . . for safekeeping, as it were. Ayala owned banks. He also had an indirect interest in any number of bordellos. Some of that interest had developed when he’d been a young lieutenant in the Philippine Army.
“Banks? Bordellos?” he’d been known to observe, with a shrug; “What’s the difference?”
Almost the only thing Ayala didn’t have a hand in was piracy. This wasn’t a matter of moral scruples so much as a
loathing for the Moros and other Moslems who dominated the industry, coupled with a realization that it was a wasting game. Make money for a couple of years; then trade would decline to the point that you were stuck with some ships, boats, and aggressive young men who were good for nothing
piracy. And dangerous, to boot.
No, Ayala had no direct hand in piracy. He made a fair piece of change from maritime insurance, however, which paid almost as well and was much steadier and safer, both.
As befit his station in this predominantly—and where predominant, highly—Catholic country, Ayala kept several mistresses, usually young and, since he had, after all, gotten on in years, highly pneumatic. This, in more senses than one. It wasn’t actually his preference but, since a vacuuming mouth could maintain an old man’s erection better than a tight vagina, it would have to do.
His wife didn’t mind; she was very old school. She’d been
, many decades before, precisely because she was very old school. That, also, in more senses than one. In truth, she’d have been embarrassed if her husband hadn’t kept up appearances by maintaining several women. In her small circle of friends, small because she and her family had few peers on the islands, she boasted of it.
A pearl beyond any possible price
, was Lucio’s opinion of his—his own little and open infidelities aside—much-beloved Paloma. Of his seven children, he was much less fond.
was a rich man. They were just the sons and daughters of a rich man.
wretched parasite children
—completely destroyed the mood. Ayala put his hand gently on the bobbing head of the girl and ordered, “Stop, Marissa. I’m just not”—he cleared his throat—“quite up to it.”
The girl pulled her head away, her normally pretty face stricken. She had this apartment, something she could never have afforded on her own, plus a not ungenerous stipend, only from pleasing the boss. Chewing her lower lip nervously, she gave a quick glance to the clock on the wall.
“No, child, it’s not your fault,” the old man reassured her. “I’m just . . . well, never mind; it’s not your fault. I’ll see you next week, at the usual time.”
The girl nodded, still looking quite worried. She rearranged his trousers,
carefully closed the zipper, and then stood up and away to allow Ayala to stand. He saw, after standing, that she was looking down, still gnawing her lower lip, still fearful. He patted her cheek, quite gently, and said, “I
you, girl, it’s not your fault. Your position is still secure.”
Only then did she smile and only after she had did he feel he could leave. Even so, he thought the smile forced.
Ayala’s guards, two all-business veterans of the Philippine Army and one even more anal retentive former Philippine Marine, were waiting on the other side of the door to the girl’s apartment. Before the apartment door even closed behind the old man, the guards had formed a loose ring which they maintained until entering the elevator. At that point they took station between their employer and the sliding doors. For their defense, and his, they wore fairly high-end body armor under their dark suits, and carried pistols concealed in either shoulder or small-of-the-back holsters. For that matter, Ayala wore a partial chest and back covering under his own dress shirt.
The wood-paneled elevator began its slow descent. It moved silently, evidence of a degree of careful maintenance that few spots in the world could boast anymore, but which was still available for the moneyed and their pets . . . and their pets’ gilded cages.
Ayala pushed any remaining thoughts of the girl out of his mind. He did, after all, have more important things to worry about. And she, in the big scheme of things, was about as important as a functioning toilet, and considerably less so than his next bowel movement.
Looking upward, Ayala mused,
Glad I got out of oil before the bottom dropped out . . . but, dammit, I caught the rise in precious metals almost too late . . . and China needs rice, with Yunnan and Guizhou half in rebellion over the re-collectivization, which is to say, making the children of high party cadres de facto feudal lords . . . Maybe buy more agricultural land? Opium is way up, along with every other euphoric known to man; go figure? Weak and useless people always turn to drugs when times get tough. Worth it to pay the bribes and convert some land to the poppy? Possibly; the price of personal honor has dropped precipitously of late. Problem is, I know almost nothing about that trade and the people who do can’t really be trusted.
Ayala sighed, audibly. The guards paid no attention; they were used to the old man’s few little quirks.
And Wang-Huntington is insisting on payment one third in precious metals or it’s no deal. But with the inversion between fiat currency and metals, I don’t know if I can afford to give up the gold and silver. And, of course, it’s that inversion that’s driving them to insist.
The world is becoming a very screwed up place. I’m not sure I understand it anymore. And if
don’t, who the hell does? Would W-H take indentured girls in lieu of the gold? China’s still got that female shortage. Maybe I should propose it? Hell, the girls may as well be turning tricks in brothels in Shanghai as here in Manila. Who knows; a few of them might even find husbands.
On the other hand, I wonder if I can get someone in the army to raid a couple of villages on Mindanao for some Moro girls. Only fair, given how many of our girls they kidnap. Better, that would be mixing business with pleasure . . .
The elevator began to slow. The guards stiffened to full alert. Forearms and hands, once relaxed, moved suit jacket tails backwards, not quite exposing their pistols, something the old man found distasteful, but slicing fractions of a second from the time required to deploy those pistols.
The elevator stopped with a shudder. Quietly, the doors began to slide to the sides. About the time they were halfway open, or a bit more, the air began to vibrate even as the guards started to fly apart in red mist and disassociated chunks of meat and bone.
Though he was a pure Moro for as far back as anyone could tell, in looks Janail Hapilon might have been any Christian Filipino, any resident of Manila, so many were the Christian slave girls in his ancestry. Certainly nothing in his epicanthic fold, his medium dark skin, or his straight hair, close cropped and tinged with gray, gave a hint that he was the leader of the Harrikat, one of the more vicious splinter groups purporting to fight for Moro independence from the Republic of the Philippines.
Janail had seen good times and bad in his nearly fifty years. He’d seen the movement for his people’s independence wax and wane. He’d seen the core of the thing sell out for a place in the “legitimate” government. He hadn’t seen most of his comrades being killed, but he had seen the results.
And, in the end, what did any of it matter? I fought, so I thought, for God . . . and now, as I near the end of my days, I find I don’t even believe there
Apparently reading a newspaper while sitting on a creaking, unpainted bench in front of the apartment building, and slightly off to one side, Janail saw Ayala and his three—
Three . . . good, he’s still a creature of habit
—guards debark from a limo and enter through the glass doors.
As they disappeared into the elevator, Janail made a cell phone call—those still worked, despite all the world’s problems—to a team of his closest subordinates, waiting not too very far away. They’d arrived dressed as was Janail, himself: decent, lightweight suits, hidden firearms, body armor. They were, in fact, a near match in appearance to the three men escorting their target. None of Janail’s men were veterans of the Philippine Armed Forces, of course, yet all were veterans.
Indeed, the concierge standing behind a semi-circular desk in the lobby found them totally unremarkable. He glanced up only to make sure the newcomers weren’t street riffraff, but returned his gaze immediately to a folder laid out on the desk. He only looked up again when he sensed the suppressor of Janail’s pistol peeking over the ledge of the desk. A single
, and the concierge fell back. Janail moved him and folded the body more fully behind the desk, then fired again. The concierge’s head exploded. Janail took his place, likewise standing, with the elevator doors at forty-five degrees to his left. He placed his cell phone on the desk, above the late concierge’s papers. The screen on the phone showed a closed door, somewhere upstairs.
Given the building, the number of kept women inside it, and the number of well-to-do men visiting those women, Janail’s team was the platonic essence of unremarkable. Indeed, shortly after the cell call and the arrival of Janail’s crew, more executive sorts, with anywhere from one to three bodyguards, passed by with little more than politely exchanged nods. Janail carefully made his own greeting nods deeper. Anything else would have been out of character for the role he played. He wasn’t worried that one of them, or anyone else, would leave before Ayala. He had a tiny camera he’d placed on the wall opposite the door to Ayala’s mistress’s apartment that fed an image directly to his cell phone. He knew when that door opened and when old man Ayala left.
Dammit, he’s early. Stupid houri can’t follow instructions.
Janail looked left and right at the four men who had joined him, spread out in two teams of two, each team forming one leg of a deep V facing the elevator. He barked a brief order. “Get ready. He’s leaving before he was supposed to.” With his cell he sent a previously prepared text to the other two members of the team, the two who had taken care of old man Ayala’s driver and were now waiting with the teams’ own transportation.
Their weapons were still hidden under suit jackets, hanging from shoulder straps. They were standardized for the team; Russian PP-90M1’s. These had many disadvantages. Their sights were poor, though that didn’t matter since Janail had had laser pointers mounted to them. Their charging handles, deep buttons set above the barrels and muzzles, were completely idiotic. Slow disassembly time—it took twenty to thirty seconds to unscrew the single screw that held everything together—made them unsuitable for military use.
But they had advantages, for this, which far outweighed the disadvantages. Their helical magazines carried a highly respectable sixty-four rounds. They also made the guns extremely concealable under a suit jacket. Best of all, they were strong and stout, capable of firing Russian armor-piercing ammunition—7N31, a seriously +P round—without exploding in their firers’ faces.
There was a suppressor available for them but, since they couldn’t use subsonic ammunition and still have a prayer of getting through the body armor, suppressors would have been somewhat superfluous.
Janail considered himself lucky to have acquired them. He also considered himself lucky in his followers, even though . . .
believe. And I can make good use of that; I can use these morons to get what I still believe in, which is money, and the pleasures of
life. Better still, I can use a chunk of money to get my hands on some truly awesome weapons—nukes, gas, bio—and use those to blackmail entire countries. With that money . . . ahhh . . . the nonexistent Allah can go stew; I’ll have paradise and all the houris I want, here and now.
Janail’s narrow eyes returned to the lights above the elevator door that indicated the current floor and direction of travel. He’d reconnoitered the place long since, and knew to the second how long it would take for the doors to begin to open. Just as he knew that the target would be well back in the elevator. Even so, he’d drilled his band to the point of nausea to take out the central forward guard from the flanks, then turn their fire on the flankers.
The prime target must