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It is better to be violent, if there is violence in our hearts, than to put on the cloak of nonviolence to cover impotence.
Armstrong Space Station
That Same Time
"Okay, suckers, c'mon and poke your head out—just a little bit," Captain Hunter "Boomer" Noble muttered. "Don't be afraid—this won't hurt a bit." This was day two of their new patrol, and so far they had squat to show for it except for a persistent headache from watching the sensor monitors for hours at a stretch.
"Hang in there, sir," Air Force Master Sergeant Valerie "Seeker" Lukas said gaily. "You're anticipating, and that negative energy only keeps their heads down."
"It's not negative energy, Seeker, whatever that is," Boomer said, rubbing his eyes. "It's that TV picture—it's killing me." Hunter rubbed his eyes. They were staring at a wide-screen high-definition image of a suburban section of the southeast side of Tehran, in what used to be called the Islamic Republic of Iran but was now referred to by many in the world as the Democratic Republic of Persia. The image, shot from a telescopic electro-optical camera mounted aboard a U.S. Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned reconnaissance aircraft orbiting at sixty thousand feet above the city, was fairly steady, but every shake, no matter how occasional, felt like another pinch of sand thrown into Boomer's eyes.
The two were not sitting at a console in a normal terrestrial combat control center, but in the main battle management module of Armstrong Space Station,positioned two hundred and seventy-five miles above Earth in a forty-seven-degree inclination easterly orbit. Noble and Lukas were among four additional personnel brought aboard to run the U.S. Air Force's Air Battle Force monitoring and command mission over the Democratic Republic of Persia. Although Boomer was a space veteran with several dozen orbital flights and even a spacewalk to his credit, floating in zero-G staring at a monitor was not what he joined the Air Force for. "How much longer are we on station?"
"Just five more hours, sir," Lukas said, smiling and shaking her head in mock disbelief when Noble groaned at her reply. Seeker was an eighteen-year U.S. Air Force veteran, but she still looked barely older than she did the day she enlisted in January 1991 when Operation Desert Storm kicked off, and she loved her profession just as much now as she did back then. The images of laser- and TV-guided bombs flying through windows and down ventilator shafts fascinated and excited her, and she started basic training two days after graduating from high school. She joined every high-tech optronic sensor school and course she could find, quickly becoming an all-around expert at remote sensing and targeting systems. "Besides the power plant, environmental, and electronic systems, the most important systems in strategic reconnaissance are patience and an iron butt."
"I'd rather be out there flying myself," Boomer said petulantly, readjusting himself yet again on his attachment spot on the bulkhead in front of the large monitor. He was a little taller than the average American astronaut that most of the instruments on the space station were obviously designed for, so he found almost everything on the station just enough of the wrong size, height, or orientation to irk him. Although the twenty-five-year-old test pilot, engineer, and astronaut was a space veteran, most of his time in space had been spent strapped into a nice secure spaceplane seat at the controls, not floating around in zero-G. "All this remote-control stuff is for the birds."
"You calling me a 'bird,' sir?" she asked with mock disapproval.
"I'm not calling anyone anything, Master Sergeant—I'm giving this particular procedure my own personal opinion," Boomer said. He motioned to the screen. "The picture is really good, but it's the radar aiming thingy that's driving me nuts."
"That's the SAR aiming reticle, sir," Seeker said. "It's slaved to the synthetic aperture radar and highlights any large vehicle or device that appears in the sensor field of view that matches our search parameters. If we didn't have it, we'd have to manually scan every vehicle in the city—that would really drive you nuts."
"I know what it is, Master Sergeant," Boomer said, "but can't you make it stop darting and flitting and shaking around the screen so much?" The monitor showed a rectangular box that appeared and disappeared frequently in the scene. When it appeared, the box surrounded a vehicle, adjusted its size to match the vehicle, and then if it matched the preprogrammed size parameters, a tone would sound and the camera would zoom in so the humans could see what the computers had found. But it would only stay focused on one vehicle for five seconds before starting the wide-area scan again, so Boomer and Seeker had to almost constantly watch the screen and be prepared to hit the hold button to study the image before the computer jumped out again. "It's giving me a damned headache."
"I think it's incredible it's doing what it's doing, sir," Seeker said, "and I'm more than willing to put up with a few jiggles if it helps us spot a—" And at that moment the computer locked onto another vehicle, which had just appeared atop a parking structure beside a cluster of apartment buildings. Seeker slapped the hold button a second later. "Hey, we got one!" she shouted. "It's a Katyusha . . . no, I think it's a Ra'ad rocket! We got them setting up a Ra'ad!"
"You're mine, suckers," Boomer said, instantly forgetting all about his purported headache. He glanced at the monitor, but he was already busy making sure the target coordinates obtained by the Global Hawk were being uploaded properly. The live image was incredibly detailed. They watched as four men carried a large rocket, resembling a large artillery shell with fins, out of the parking garage to the back of a Toyota pickup truck—it must've been very heavy, because it appeared they were having difficulty carrying it. The pickup had a large steel skeletal pedestal mounted in the pickup frame, with a circular cradle atop it. The men rested the rocket on the back of the truck, then two of them hopped up and they began struggling to lift the rocket up to the launcher. Shadow Command
. Copyright © by Dale Brown. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.