The U.S. military had been in no hurry to comply with the treaty, of course, because without the threat of retaliation there was no way to prevent these weapons being used against American troops and civilians. The waiting was over, apparently. The politicians in Washington were getting their way: the United States would not retaliate against an enemy with chemical or biological weapons even if similar weapons were used to slaughter Americans.
When Jake Grafton finished his push-ups and stood, the staff operations officer, Commander Toad Tarkington, was there with a towel. Toad was slightly above medium height, deeply tanned, and had a mouthful of perfect white teeth that were visible when he smiled or laughed, which he often did. The admiral wiped his face on the towel, then picked up the binoculars and once again focused them on the cargo ships.
"Glad the decision to destroy those things wasn't one I had to make," Toad Tarkington said.
"There are a lot of things in this world that I'm glad I'm not responsible for," Jake replied.
"Why now, Admiral? And why does the ordnance crowd need a battle group to guard them?"
"What I'd like to know," Jake Grafton mused, "is why those damned things were stored here in the first place. If we knew that, then maybe we would know why the brass sent us here to stand guard."
"Think Castro has chemical or biological weapons, sir?"
"I suspect he does, or someone with a lot of stars once thought he might. If so, our weapons were probably put here to discourage friend Castro from waving his about. But what is the threat to removing them? "
"Got to be terrorists, sir," Toad said. "Castro would be delighted to see them go. An attack from the Cuban Army is the last thing on earth I would expect. But terrorists--maybe they plan to do a raid into here, steal some of the darn things."
"Maybe," Jake said, sighing.
"I guess I don't understand why we are taking them home for destruction," Toad added. "The administration got the political credit for signing the Chemical Weapons Treaty. If we keep our weapons, we can still credibly threaten massive retaliation if someone threatens us."
"Pretty hard to agree to destroy the things, not do it, and then fulminate against other countries who don't destroy theirs."
"Hypocrisy never slowed down a politician," Toad said sourly. "I guess I just never liked the idea of getting naked when everyone else at the party is fully dressed."
"Who in Washington would ever authorize the use of CBW weapons?" Jake muttered. "Can you see a buttoned-down, blow-dried, politically correct American politician ever signing such an order?"
Both men stood with their elbows on the railing looking at the cargo ships. After a bit the admiral passed Toad the binoculars.
"Wonder if the National Security Agency is keeping this area under surveillance with satellites?" Toad mused.
"No one in Washington is going to tell us," the admiral said matter-of-factly. He pointed to one of the two Aegis cruisers anchored nearby. "Leave that cruiser anchored here for the next few days. She can cover the base perimeter with her guns if push comes to shove. Have the cruiser keep her gun crews on five-minute alert, ammo on the trays, no liberty. After three days she can pull the hook and join us, and another cruiser can come anchor here."
Copyright (c) 1999 Stephen Coonts. All Rights Reserved
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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