The White House--Monday Early Morning
"A cruise missile attack? Good God!"
"Exactly right, Mr. President. At least it was armed with a conventional warhead." The National Intelligence Director pulled a satellite photo from his leather folder and handed it across the Situation Room conference table to his Chief Executive. "You can see the damage. An entire army base destroyed. Hundreds may have been killed. We're still getting casualty figures from the Indian government."
"Where is this base?" the President asked as he studied the high-resolution photo.
"On the Indian side of the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir. Not too far from the epicenter of that big earthquake. As if those people didn't have enough problems," the Director added.
"Did the Paks do it? I can't believe they'd be that stupid. They know India will retaliate. And with both sides having nuclear weapons . . . this could make earthquake havoc look like second-grade recess."
The usually unflappable National Security Advisor, Austin Gage, weighed in. "The Pakistanis are going ballistic over this. I've already had a plea from their Ambassador asking us to set up a call between you and their President. They're denying everything. They say that after fighting three wars with India, they're in no position to start anything. Besides, you know they've been trying to tamp things down for months. They've restored bus service across Kashmir--"
"Then again, those damn militants keep blowing up the buses," the Intelligence Chief interrupted.
"Then where in the hell did that missile come from?" the President asked.
Austin shook his head. "That's what we're trying to find out."
"Well, get about it then. It's one thing to have a bunch of Islamic militants staging attacks on villagers. Hell, they've been doing that for years. But a cruise missile attack? That takes brains, experience. They're computer guided. You don't just have some deranged terrorist picking one up and figuring out how to program and launch the damn thing."
"We know, Mr. President. We've got our best people on it," the Intelligence Director said.
"About the press, sir," the Chief of Staff said. "They're already clamoring for details."
The President glanced down at the photo again. "The press? Amazing that they even know where Kashmir is. Most of them probably think it's where they make sweaters."
Austin shrugged. "You've got a point there. We should have more by the noon briefing. I suggest we try to hold down the hysterics if we can." The President nodded. "Now about that phone call for the President of Pakistan?"
"Set it up," the President ordered. "But first get me some talking points on possible suspects and how they could have gotten their hands on a sophisticated missile system."
"We're on it, sir."
The President stood up, effectively ending the meeting.
The three men gathered their notes and headed for the door of the basement conference room. As they filed out, each one uttered the same phrase, "Thank you, Mr. President."
"I want you to find the bastards who launched that missile," the President called after the trio. "And figure out if they've got any more of them."
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