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"The vice president of the United States needs to die. Now!"
Rogan Yalua Soquili, known as Fast Horse, was insistent as he stood triumphantly outside the circle of twelve NativeAmerican women. Their rapt attention fixed on the Cherokee métis medicine man, they sat in their ceremonial garb. Rogan placed his hands on the strong, capable shoulders of Blue Wolf, a Shoshone woman near his own age of forty-five.
"Make it happen," he declared, his voice booming.
The Sierra Nevadas in early June took on a shadowy, menacing aura as midday thunderclouds grew above them. Rogan looked around gleefully. They were nestled within the Eagle's Nest, his compound built high in the mountains, on a cliff. The wooden walls provided them sanctuary as they stood on the hard-packed earth. It was the perfect place to carry out their task. The air around them leaped and throbbed with living energy.
In the center of the women's circle, a light feathery mist began to gather. It moved counterclockwise, never touching any of the participants. Rogan watched, mesmerized, as the wispy cloud became darker and began to resemble a doughnut whose hole was closing. Cauliflower-like towers grew upward from the sluggishly swirling clouds, and when flashes of lightning occurred, Rogan's jaw dropped in awe. Surely, the ceremonial Storm Pipe and these women were connected to the most powerful magic he'd ever seen. Excitement coursed through him.
The women chanted as one, their voices rising and falling as the thundercloud built with the whipping wind. Rogan's hair fell across his face, but he didn't feel it. His eyes were on the cloud invoked by the sacred pipe Blue Wolf held in her hands. With each chant, theintensity increased and the thundercloud turned more malevolent, eventually shooting skyward to thirty thousand feet. It was coming from the pipe; Rogan could see the energy flowing out of its bowl.
As he stood behind her, he dug his fingers into BlueWolf's sturdy shoulders. The rhythmic chanting ebbed and flowed, ebbed and flowed. The very pulse of the building storm responded to the women's voices, which rose in a powerful crescendo.
Rogan's order echoed throughout the cedar structure on the side of the mountain. Standing in the west, the position of death, he kept his firm contact with Blue Wolf's elk skin-covered shoulders. Like a bolt of lightning, heat and electricity coursed through his hands, leaped up his arms and shimmered throughout his tense body. Keeping his knees slightly bent, Rogan closed his eyes, took a deep breath into his abdomen and then slowly released it.
The thundercloud manifested by the pipe and the women was inspiring to Rogan. He'd never seen anything like this. Oh, he knew ceremonial pipes were powerful, but to create a mighty thunderhead in a matter of minutes that was awesome. Lightning continued to radiate from the dark, churning mass far above them. Most of the electricity, millions of volts, was held within the cloud. Rogan knew that the powers involved with the pipe would not allow any of it to harm the circle of women. It would be contained within the building storm overhead.
Rogan gazed around at the seated figures. Their knees touched one another to maintain physical contact. In doing so, they became the container for the Storm Pipe's power, and helped direct the energy and the building of the thunderhead.
Blue Wolf lifted a very old pipe made of catlinite, its red bowl glowing in her hands. The smooth, polished oak stem was decorated with small seed beads depicting a thunderstorm with a She began to sing a ceremonial song to invite the lightning that flashed above them. Her hands grew hot and felt as if they were burning; they were merely responding to the power amassing through the powerful ceremonial pipe.
The women gripped one another's hands at the right moment, as the electrical charge within the churning clouds swirled, growing in strength. The two sitting next to the pipe carrier each placed a hand on her waist, for Blue Wolf needed her hands free, to hold the pipe upward in supplication.
Her voice rose and fell, like a howling wind moving within the circle. She felt Rogan grip her shoulders more tightly with anticipation. He couldn't hold the pipe himself, for the ceremonial object belonged only to women. If he touched it, he'd die instantly. He could focus the energy, however, and direct it to whomever he envisioned in his mind.
Today, the vice president would die. Blue Wolf smiled inwardly as she sang from her heart and soul.
Their song became more strident, in accord with the energy unveiling itself before them. The Storm Pipe felt almost too hot to hold any longer, but Blue Wolf focused, as she had been taught. All the women in the circle felt the same heat, she knew. They held the pipe's energy, carrying the power, just as a womb cradled a growing baby.
Rogan smiled inwardly as he maintained his grip on Blue Wolf's shoulders. She was trembling physically now. The building energy made her sweat freely, as it did him. Her singing changed in pitch, and at that moment, Rogan pictured the vice president's face in his mind. Focus! He must focus one hundred percent.
Dizzy from the gathering, spinning energy, Rogan was trembling so badly he collapsed to his knees. As if he were a lightning rod, an electrical current leaped and flowed through his hands, up his arms and through his body. That was Rogan's mission as he understood it: to ground the power of the Thunder Beings that trod restlessly across Father Sky. He began to slip into a deep, altered state as the chanting continued. It was all Rogan could do to stay mentally connected.
Stealing the Storm Pipe had been the key, he thought with satisfaction. His body was vibrating now, so fast he felt as if he were shredding apart, cell by cell. Too powerful an energy could make a person vanish into thin air. It wasn't happening to him due to the great strength and long training of these twelve women, he knew.
Sweat poured down his tense, kneeling form. His deerskin shirt and breeches were soaked through. Then Blue Wolf moved her arms and pointed the pipe eastward, toward Washington.
Now! he screamed to her mentally. Visualizing the face of the vice president, Rogan issued his final order. Force the pipe to release its charge now, Blue Wolf! Now!
He was unprepared for that very thing happening. As the release was triggered, a flash of light occurred, and he was flung six feet backward. Scrambling to his hands and knees, he looked around, stunned. The sky remained turbulent. Angry purple-and-gray clouds still churned above them. But already the thunderstorm, created by the twelve women's intent, with the help of the pipe, was beginning to dissipate. Had the ceremonial pipe done its deed?
FBI agent David Colby was standing next to Vice President Robert Hiram when an incredible wave of heat surged like a tsunami through the large office. His boss, Mort Jameson, was in the middle of his daily report when the bulletproof window began to glow like sun-scorched rocks in a desert, followed by an earsplitting boom. Thrown off his feet, Colby slammed into the wall and was knocked semiconscious. The agent heard the vice president scream. Momentarily blinded, Colby slowly crawled to his hands and knees, disoriented. Automatically, he pulled the revolver from his shoulder holster beneath his dark suit jacket.
As Colby staggered to his feet, sweat trickled off him. He felt as if he was in a steam room! Mort Jameson was groaning and trying to sit up. That's when Colby noticed the vice president lying flat on the carpeted floor, mouth open, eyes staring sightlessly toward the ceiling.
Beyond the massive cherry desk, the window was still intact. There'd been no sound of a bullet being fired, only that deafening boom. What was going on? What the hell had just happened? The agent holstered the gun.
"Colby! Call for backup!" Mort yelled as he stumbled to his feet and ran over to the unmoving vice president. Dropping to his knees, he yanked the man's tie loose, then pressed his fingers against his neck. "No pulse! Get help!"
Colby lurched. His ears were ringing, so much he could barely hear the shouted orders. Why wasn't everyone piling into the room? The door was still shut.
Confused, he grabbed the doorknob. Surely someone had heard the awful booming sound? He swore he'd seen a bolt of lightning lance through the only window in the office.
Saliva dripped from the corners of Colby's mouth as he yanked open the door. He had little control over his body. Unable to stand, the FBI agent called for help and medical personnel, then sagged against the jamb.
His eyes were blurred and unfocused now, his legs quivering uncontrollably. As his muscles gave way, he slowly sank to the floor.
"The vice president is dead," Dr. Scott Friedman announced to the small group of men in business suits. "From what I can tell, it was a heart attack. An autopsy will be performed shortly and we'll know for sure."
"My God," Mort muttered, wiping his face with a linen handkerchief. The knot of men stood in a room adjoining the vice president's hospital suite.
Mort's frown deepened as he glanced at Agent Colby. Thirty-three years old and one of his best agents, the man was pale and shaken. In fact, after examining him, the doctors had told him to stay in the hospital because he was weak and disoriented, but Colby had steadfastly refused.
"This is such a shock," the President's press secretary, Burt Daily, stammered. "What are we going to tell the media?" He kept his clipboard and pen poised as he scanned the group.
Mort Jameson glanced at the head of the CIA, Bucky Caldwell, and then at the Chief of Staff, Rodney Portman. The Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, General Myron Klein, a marine, looked grim. "The doctor said it was a heart attack," Mort repeated.
"But " Daily looked around the group " the vice president didn't have a history of heart trouble. The man had low cholesterol, for chrissakes! He'd just had his annual physical two weeks ago. At fifty, he was healthy as a horse. Do you think the American public is going to believe this?"
"I don't have the answer you're looking for," Friedman told them. "I'm just as puzzled over his death as you are. The autopsy will reveal more. I gave the vice president a clean bill of health." Shrugging, he added, "His heart just gave out."
"Agent Colby?" Mort zeroed in on the man. Colby had the face of a lean wolf on the prowl. His gray eyes were focused, the irises large and ringed in black.
Colby shifted his attention to him. "Yes, sir?"
"Escort Dr. Friedman from the room, please?"
"Yes, sir." When he gestured toward the door, the doctor took the hint, said goodbye and left. Colby made sure the door was shut, then turned and walked back to the cloistered group.
"Something hit us in that room, sir," Colby stated, giving each man present a serious look. "I felt heat, burning heat, building up seconds before that bolt of lightning, or whatever it was, struck the vice president. At first, I thought it was a summer storm. But we had blue skies and sunshine. From what I can tell, it wasn't weather induced."
Mort grimly nodded. "I need your help, gentlemen. I had the very same experience Agent Colby did. There was tremendous heat in the room. It hurt to breathe in that superheated air. And then" Mort clapped his hands together "there was a tremendous booming sound, something you might hear right after a lightning bolt struck close to you. The sound still has my ears ringing. Something came through that window, but the window's still intact. Somehow this bolt killed the vice president, and it knocked the hell out of me and Agent Colby in the process." He rubbed his jowls and studied the other men in the circle. "You got any ideas?"
"No," the CIA director, Caldwell, said, "but I have my agents combing the room with the most sophisticated gear available. We're trying to discover what the hell went down. Was it an act of terrorism or an act of God? I've got agents talking to the weather service gurus to find out if lightning can strike out of a blue sky and leave a window unbroken."
General Klein, built like a short but powerful pit bull, lifted his green eyes to the group. "Gentlemen, I'd be looking for a more concrete explanation. It was an attack."
"Jesus," Daily whispered. "You're standing here telling us this was a terrorist attack?"
"It's possible," Mort snapped, irritated by the press secretary's whining demeanor. "You think we like what happened? Or the implications? If whatever it was can strike the vice president dead on the spot, whoever or whatever could do the same to the president. Which is why he and his staff have been put into hiding until we can figure this out. None of the ramifications are lost on us, believe me."
Caldwell held up his hand. "Look, everyone stand down. We're all shakenbadly shakenbut we're working on this as fast as humanly possible." He glanced at his Rolex. "I expect to have preliminary results in about thirty minutes. You'll all be privy to whatever we find."
Colby said, "I believe we're dealing with something sophisticated."
"Russian?" the press secretary asked, his face pained.
General Klein growled, "Either that or terrorists have suddenly gotten ahold of the most advanced laser equipment known. The Russians have developed them for defensive purposes. Star Wars technology scared the hell out of them, and they put their focus on weaponized development as a way to counter what we're doing. Lasers are capable of this kind of destruction. We know that Russia was preparing to mount these on their satellites out in space."
"Yes," Caldwell said in a strangled tone, "and they've been testing their version of SDI in the Pacific against our military aircraft off and on the last two years. We have five blinded pilots in different military cargo aircraft who were targeted. We can't prove it, of course, but the Russians are the only ones who have this kind of know-how and technology."