Chapter One

(Author's Note: The UN Charter linked to in this document is the official UN charter, not the one this timeline observes. The author believes the current UN charter and the one this document uses would be fairly similar.)

Washington D.C., United States of America, t + two minutes

Chau looked up from the Washington Post, startled. His boss was in his earpiece, "Evacuate, I repeat, evacuate. Secure Bluebird and move him to the chopper. Now."

He and his counterpart, Roberts, stood up and looked at each other, guns drawn. Chau checked the hallway behind Roberts; Roberts checked the hallway behind Chau. They nodded to each other, and Chau opened the door. So far, so good.

They strode into the room confident, hurried. Bluebird was not asleep, Chau saw. He was in his bathrobe, sitting at his desk typing a memo or e-mail. "Hello, gentlemen, another drill?"

Chau shook his head. The boss told him only about half the drills, though, so the shake of the head wasn't something Chau was certain of. Bluebird wasn't certain of it either, so he just smiled and walked out the door they entered through while Chau and Roberts checked the windows and entrances to the room. Moments later Chau, Roberts, and four other men in black suits joined him, forming a protective guard around him.

Ah, the joys of the United States of America's Secret Service. Bluebird walking down the hall, in the center of a group of big, burly, black-suited men, twelve heels and two slippers clip-clopping on the carpet. "Situation Room?" Bluebird asked.

Chau replied, "Marine One, sir."

Bluebird simply nodded. "All right, what's up?"

"Don't know yet, sir," Chau answered. Ahead of them, a laser printer in a recessed part of the wall had already delivered several pages of text; the White House's intelligence staff reacting quickly, summarizing what they could get their hands on. Fortunately, even the President of the United States, code-named Bluebird this week, knew the printouts weren't likely to be completely accurate. Chau dashed ahead to grab the printout, and handed it to Bluebird unread. Bluebird kept walking, to the landing pad doors.

Chau didn't quite hear Bluebird's intake of breath. But he did hear Bluebird muttering, "My God...", in horror. Chau, despite his training, glanced in the President's direction.

The rotors were already spinning, the grass a little turbulent as they boarded the helicopter. Moments later, they were airborne.

"Finch is secure, repeat, Finch is secure," came over Chau's headset. The Vice President was okay.

The President was not, but Chau couldn't quite see the distress on Bluebird's face in the dim red lights of the chopper's cabin. The President spoke four more words: "Get me New York."

New York City, United States, t + twelve minutes

The Security Council of the United Nations was in chaos. UN Intelligence was just now reaching the floor where ambassadors had already started screaming for blood. It was then that the Secretary-General of the United Nations walked in the room.

"The Honorable Secretary-General Johnathon Forsythe," a page announced to the whole room. The shouting reduced itself to murmurs, but still angry murmurs. Forsythe was groggy, but in his full military uniform -- an ominous sign as to how serious the situation was.

After the Third World War, there had been a number of changes in the United Nations. For one thing, the UN by treaty was now directly responsible for all weapons of mass destruction (classified as chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons). Its military branch was now dedicated to preventing the use of these weapons for eternity -- or using those same weapons against an aggressor who possessed them (not necessarily using them). The ultimate deterrent: a governmental body without ties to any particular people or nation designed to prevent the worst from happening again.

However, deterrence only works to prevent the worst. Once the worst has happened, deterrence is no longer possible. Revenge is. Forsythe ascended to the platform and directly addressed the Chinese ambassador.

"Mr. Yao, kindly explain to me what the hell is going on in China?"

The Chinese ambassador, for his part, was still stammering. "General Forsythe, I do not know. My colleagues have alleged that China is responsible for the attacks on her sister nations of the United Nations. To the best of my knowledge, we are not, and I have not yet heard from my government to indicate otherwise. My staff is investigating this matter with all due haste, your Honor. I do not as yet have any explanation for what has happened, but I can tell you China has not violated the UN Charter: we do not possess any nuclear weapons."

"Is that what you wish to tell my President, Monsieur Yao?" the French ambassador interrupted. "What will you tell the thousands of Frenchmen and -women who are now dead? What will you tell their families?"

"That is enough!" Forsythe shouted, pressing the mute button for the ambassador. The French language echoed off the walls for several seconds. Forsythe now came to the business at hand.

Forsythe continued. "Gentlemen, I am authorized to retaliate against any power you identify as in violation of the UN Charter with regard to weapons of mass destruction. However, I must have a vote of the UN Security Council for that identification. Is there a motion on the table to identify a hostile power?"

Forsythe knew, of course, that France had immediately advanced one. The ambassador loudly reminded him of that fact. But Forsythe shook his head. "Sir, under Article 27 of the UN Charter, you are a party to this international dispute, and..."


"And," Forsythe continued, pressing the mute button again, "are not eligible to vote on this matter. Likewise, the Chinese government's authority to vote on this matter is also nullified."

The Chinese ambassador's eyes widened. That was a death sentence for his country. China was one of five permanent members of the Security Council, and normally held veto power over any decision of the Council. Deprived of that veto power, the thirteen remaining members could (and probably would) unanimously vote to identify China as the hostile power.

Before his government could respond to the charges.

Forsythe began polling the members. Britain agreed. South Africa agreed. Serbia agreed. Russia agreed. Venezuela agreed. The Phillipines agreed. India agreed. Brazil abstained, being involved in the "dispute". Australia agreed. Spain agreed.

That's it, Yao thought. Nine members, the minimum. Without a veto from one of the permanent members, it couldn't be stopped. The five permanent members were Britain, Russia, France, China, and the United States of America.

Mongolia agreed. Nigeria agreed. The United States vetoed.

The Security Council erupted. France's ambassador stood up and ran around the table to charge the American ambassador. Guardsmen tackled him. The Chinese ambassador stood up in shock, looking directly at the American counterpart. The American ambassador looked right back at him, but with a poker face. Someone over his head had ordered him to veto the resolution, Yao realized. But Yao also realized it had not been the ambassador's wishes, nor was that veto guaranteed to last.

Forsythe, for his part, turned and exited the room. The order had not been given, at least not yet. Which meant he had no business there.

Somewhere over the Eastern United States, t + eighteen minutes

"I understand, Mr. Ambassador, and thank you. This is Air Force One, out." They had boarded the President's aircraft and were just now taking off. National Command Authority, code-named Bluebird, was mobile.

The Secretary of Defense, Mrs. Botham, spoke up. "Why, Artur? The ICBM's clearly came out of a northwestern China base."

"Yeah, so close to Russia that it could easily have been a Russian operation -- just look at the map. No, I've met the Chinese Emperor, less than a year ago. He has no interest in all this -- why the hell would he attack Rio? Or Norway? It doesn't make sense. Something's not right here, and right now we need time to analyze whatever is coming in from CIA and other assets."

Mrs. Botham sighed. "There's going to be hell to pay tomorrow morning from Congress and from the media."

"Rasheeda, Congress and the media give me hell all the time. That's their job. Half of Congress wants my job, and the media want to sell commercials on their nightly newscasts. I haven't made up my mind yet on China, and that's deliberate. We need time. It just doesn't feel right," he said with conviction.

"Yeah, well, can I at least confirm DEFCON THREE with our military forces?"

Bluebird nodded, and SecDef went aft to a communications room. NORAD had ordered DEFCON THREE tentatively, pending confirmation. Now they would get it, and the rest of the military would be on general alert and recall all their forces.

Bluebird accepted a cup of Navy coffee from a steward, and wondered what the sunrise would bring him. Beneath all the code names and titles, beneath the President and Bluebird and National Command Authority, Mr. Artur Lionel Marquez trembled. He had not averted a crisis, only delayed it. The Central Intelligence Agency and other assets were going nuts trying to gather information for him, trying to present it in an unbiased manner. What would he do with it, he wondered.

He wouldn't know what to do until he saw it, he knew. But his uncertainty only made it harder on him.

"Sir," Chau said to him. Bluebird looked up. "The Russian Parliament is convening in an emergency session. Their President is calling for a declaration of war."

Marquez did the only thing he could. He said, "Thank you." Chau walked off, while Bluebird rubbed his tired eyes. He wouldn't sleep again for the next thirty-six hours.