Malachi continued to push himself physically after the ascent to Yamantau’s summit, but this came with great pain. He spent mornings in physical therapy to regain strength and motion in his shoulders, and to tend to the damaged muscles in his back. Not surprisingly, he went against his therapist and doctor’s wishes; he also went through grueling workouts in the evening, knowing that he should be prepared for the physical rigors of working the reconnaissance team being assembled for Operation Fulcrum. Again and again, he was cautioned to allow his recovery time and not to risk re-injuring himself. His response was always the same – to hell with that. If you want me ready for this mission, then let me get myself ready.
He entered into his quarters, gray t-shirt drenched in sweat, downing an awful-tasting protein shake. Upon entry into the drab, gray room that was nearly as terrible as his Evin prison cell, he noticed Sergey Zyryanov sitting on his desk chair.
Malachi said, “Sergey, what can I do for you?”
“Mr. Brandt, are you ready to receive the details of your mission?”
“I was wondering when you would ask,” said Malachi.
“Very well, Mr. Brandt, I will come back and retrieve you in thirty minutes.”
“Sounds good,” Malachi replied, “I’ll shower up and be ready when you return.”
Zyryanov nodded and left Malachi to prepare for the briefing.
Thirty minutes later Sergey led Malachi into a large command, control, and communications room twelve floors below his sleeping quarters. When they exited the elevator that took them to the hallway leading to a CCC room, they were joined by Captain Eugene Kim, much to Malachi’s surprise.
“How the heck did you get here, Gene?” asked a shocked Malachi. as he embraced his old friend.
“My trip was easier than yours,” smiled Kim.
“You mean no layover in Evin?”
“No, I was with a NATO reconnaissance detachment into Poland when the unit I was with was captured by the Russians. We were treated well.”
“How’d you manage that?”
Kim answered, “Agent Zyryanov arranged for the capture since the path through Iran is no longer an option.”
“It’s an awful shame you couldn’t have been with me at Evin. They have such marvelous accommodations,” said Malachi with a genuine smile on his face.
Capt. Kim’s expression was more somber, “I’m so sorry about what happened to you in there; we tried to get you out as quick as we could.”
“No worries, old friend, I’m just glad to see you.”
“Glad to see you, as well,” said Kim, “You’re going to have to tell me what happened to your hair, by the way.”
“Yeah, we’ll we have a lot to catch up on,” said Malachi, as the three men approached the door to the conference room.
The large command and control center reminded Malachi of NASA’s mission control center in Houston, but much, much larger. A dozen rows of computers, multi-touch screens, and holographic maps that arced around the perimeter of the room. Each row stepped down to the next, making the back of the room feel somewhat like an amphitheater. On the lowest level of the room, there was a large table-like oval surface, nearly twenty-five meters wide, that projected a holographic map of the world; green dots, lines and vectors marking the NATO forces along the Eurasian Front and in Southeast Asia, EAC forces were marked in red. The level where the holographic table stood had a broad aisle encircling it so that personnel could stand in observation of whatever data was being projected from the surface; there were a dozen officials standing around the broad aisle as Malachi approached. Behind the ground level was another twelve-level gallery, used during presentations for the EAC’s general staff and government officials when crucial decisions were being made. There were about twenty officials seated sporadically throughout the gallery that morning.
They made their way down to the bottom floor, where a dozen EAC officials were waiting. The first man that Malachi was introduced to was Col. Liu Zhenshang. He was a tall, lanky man, with a pale complexion, dark brown eyes that welled up with intelligence. Had it not been for the graying hair at his temples, Malachi would have guessed that Zhenshang was in his early thirties.
“It is a pleasure to meet you, Agent Brandt, we have heard much about you,” said Zhenshang in unbroken American English as he extended a firm handshake.
“Thank you Col. Zhenshang. It is a pleasure to meet you,” said Malachi, “I notice you speak with a perfect American accent.”
“Please, call me Larry. Four years at Berkeley ensured that.” said the Colonel, “I understand you are a native of California.”
“Basically, yes. I grew up there from the age of three. And all I know is, I’ve been away from home for far too long.”
Zhenshang beamed a brilliant smile, “We will be remedying that soon enough, Mr. Brandt. Anyway, let me introduce you to the others, and we can get started.”
Malachi was introduced first to Admiral Dimitri Volkov, a giant of a man, who was the commander over Operation Fulcrum. Volkov was nearly six feet, four inches tall, and appeared to be pushing two hundred and seventy-five pounds, with no discernable fat on his body. If it had not been for his closely cropped gray hair, Malachi would have mistaken him for the renowned Russian wrestler, Aleksander Karelin. Next to him stood the Chinese General, Wang Jain, a short, bald, powerful man who exuded a stoic gravitas. Malachi greeted the Russian and Chinese senior officers, and then met Col. Natasha Orlov, Agent Zyryanov’s counterpart in Russian Military Intelligence. Orlov, one of the strategic architects of Operation Fulcrum, appeared to be in her early fifties, with pale blue eyes and an aquiline nose and graying hair pulled back into a tight ponytail. Upon first glance she was clearly a woman who felt no intimidation being in the male-dominated room. In fact, Malachi suspected that she could cow most of the men in the room with the cool intensity of her confident gaze. The last man he was introduced to was a stern, young Russian by the name of Captain Anatoli Nikolayev. Nikolayev was in charge of the Russian Naval Spetznaz unit in the Pacific Region that Malachi would be working most closely with. Without a word, Nikolayev shook his hand, and Malachi instantly knew he liked the young officer who served in the Russian equivalent to the US Navy SEALs. After the introductions were complete the meeting attendees formed around one side of the table.
“We have brought you all here,” said Adm. Volkov, “because of your strategic importance to Operation Fulcrum. The purpose of this meeting is to brief our American counterparts, Capt. Kim and Agent Brandt, on their involvement in the initial stages of the Operation. I would like for Col. Orlov to come forward and explain the basic plans for Fulcrum.”
“Thank you Admiral,” said Col. Orlov, as she circled around the opposite side of the oval surface so that she was facing the other attendees, and gave a verbal command for the surface to project a map of the Pacific Theater, “Operation Fulcrum is mere weeks from launching, but as of now, we believe all of the crucial elements are in place to commence with the plan.”
She went on to discuss how Russia’s Pacific Fleet was coordinating with the Chinese Navy, and with US Naval forces, on Fulcrum to stage a land invasion of California. The EAC fleet was marked in red as it departed from Pacific ports in Russia and China and moved toward Hawaii. The US Naval forces defecting to California were marked in yellow. The sheer magnitude of the invasion was almost incomprehensible; nothing like this had been seen in the Pacific since the American landings on Okinawa in 1945. Although the 21st century dynamics of warfare had dictated smaller forces, the firepower converging on Southern California’s shores had never been seen before on the North American continent. The last naval force to invade America over an ocean was the British in 1814, and their forces would have capsized in the wakes of the EAC and Californian invasion forces. Malachi marveled at the uncharted historical moment that was looming. The United States, at least what was left of it, was going to have to deal with something it hadn’t faced in over 200 years – an invasion.
Orlov reported that Admiral Byron Jordan, ranking NATO officer in the Pacific Theater, was on board with Fulcrum, as well as USMC General Michael Sanderson, ranking officer for Camp Pendleton Marines. Everything hinged on California’s independence being secured. Once independence was declared, Adm. Jordan, and Gen. Sanderson would be transferring their loyalties to the California Republic and would go public with their plans to negotiate a peaceful end to the war.
“Admiral Jordan is going to feign a naval attack on EAC navies in the western Pacific as a means of joining the invasion armada. As soon as the Russian and Chinese navies make it east of Hawaii, the element of surprise will be lost, and NATO will know that Jordan and Sanderson’s forces have defected. We anticipate that American air and ground forces will be mobilized to the West Coast, and European NATO forces will be called into the new North American theater of war. The primary landing forces will disembark at Camp Pendelton, and in the northern Sea of Cortez, where our objectives will be to use combined air, land, and sea power to secure the Salton Sea energy fields and all lands south of the Transverse Ranges. Along with this, we will neutralize all NATO loyalists in the American military,” continued Orlov.
“I hope you don’t mind me asking a question,” said Malachi, caring little if he was breaching protocol.
“By all means, Mr. Brandt, this is an open discussion,” answered Orlov.
“Does anyone know the disposition of the US Army and Air Force? Will they be mounting any serious resistance against former US forces?”
Orlov nodded in Captain Kim’s direction, “Good question,” answered Kim, “One of the reasons we chose Southern California was due to its heavy Naval and Marine presence, and the close contacts Fulcrum members have in these circles. The Navy and USMC have a stranglehold on airpower and ground troop strength in the region.”
“I realize this, Capt. Kim, but that doesn’t answer my question.”
“I was about to get there,” said Kim with a glare in Malachi’s direction, “Due to the fact that the US Army and Air Force have not been informed of Operation Fulcrum, we cannot know for sure what the disposition of their commanding officers will be toward a California defection with the support of the EAC. With that said, the war is terribly unpopular amongst the rank and file in every US branch of service, and amongst a significant faction of officers. Adm. Jordan and Marine Gen. Sanderson will be engaging in an information campaign as soon as Fulcrum goes public encouraging US military forces to either support the California independence effort or to stand down. We anticipate that this plan will be somewhat successful, and may even inspire other secession movements in Texas and the Southern US. But, we do anticipate American resistance, and when their NATO allies are mobilized, some form of counterattack. The strength of the counterattack depends on how successful Jordan and Evans are in their information campaign.”
Col. Zhenshang interjected, “We anticipate that we can initially secure Southern California within days of landing. However, our greatest concern is a US/NATO nuclear reprisal against EAC states, and possibly even California cities. As newly-formed California forces combine with Russian and Chinese forces, our ability to quickly checkmate NATO will be in hand.”
“It still seems like a huge gamble,” said Malachi.
Gen. Wang Jian uncrossed his arms and spoke softly, “It is a gamble, Mr. Brandt. A great gamble. However, Russia and China will be pulling out of the Johannesburg Accord as soon as California declares independence. If the Americans threaten EAC cities or cities in the new California Republic, we will join in on an attack that will wipe out the Eastern Seaboard. Pentagon officials will have to decide between peace and nuclear suicide.”
“With the support of two of our military branches, we are hoping to quickly convince the Pentagon to defy the antagonistic White House, and stand down.”
“You’re talking about a second American Revolution,” said Malachi.
Adm. Volkov shook his head, “This revolution is a global one. The good people of America will make a great contribution to global peace. We are counting on broad popular support for Fulcrum across America once it becomes public.”
“Including giving up national sovereignty?” asked Malachi.
Sergey stepped closer to Malachi and answered, “Remember we are all willing to lay down sovereignty in the name of peace. We are asking America to cease being an enemy and join us in a new, more peaceful global arrangement. The simple fact is, there will be no peace without American support. With Germany’s defection to the EAC, we are now powerful enough to easily roll up through Western Europe, including Great Britan. The United States is the last remaining power that poses any threat to the EAC.”
“Why doesn’t the EAC just move forward with a conquest plan for North America then?”
“Mr. Brandt,” answered Adm. Volkov, “Assuming we could invade America with EAC forces without triggering a nuclear conflagration, the loss of life would be catastrophic. Keeping an occupying force in the United States would be the most brutal military occupation effort in world history. The American population is so well-armed, that we could not possibly stop every uprising and insurgency without decimating the American population through draconian bombings. We need Americans to see us as partners in the peace process; there is no other way.”
“All right, I understand – peace or death. Where do I fit into all of this?”
“Agent Brandt,” said Col. Orlov, “You will be transported back to California during the weeks before Fulcrum is a go. There, you will help coordinate the Californian independence with your contacts there, and make necessary preparations for the military invasion.”
“Are any Californian officials in on this?”
Capt. Kim answered, “Jordan and Sanderson have had informal conversations with Gov. Ramirez about the idea, but we will have to persuade her to make the move and present it to the state senate and assembly. This is why we have your brother stationed in Chaparral. We want you to have him arrange a joint meeting with Ramirez, Sanderson, and Jordan. California officials have long known that the US needs California more than California needs the US in this war, which gives them unique leverage.”
“I thought I was operating on the military intelligence side,” said Malachi.
“You are, Agent Brandt,” answered Orlov, “As soon as you are able to contact your brother and kick off the political negotiations, you are going to be our intelligence liaison in the region and Capt. Kim will be coordinating the defense of California with the EAC and American defectors from the invasion fleet. Shortly after you arrive in California, we will be dropping Capt. Nikolayev and a joint EAC special forces company to assist you in securing the main roadways leading out to the Salton Sea energy fields for our invasion forces.”
Nikolayev, who had remained silent during the discussion, spoke up, “Agent Brandt, as soon as you have finished with the other officials here, we want you to join us in a smaller meeting afterward. We will brief you on how you will be inserted back on American soil.”
Malachi nodded deferentially to Nikolayev, “Thank you, Captain. I am certain that meeting will be helpful. I realize there is a good deal of high-level strategic planning here that doesn’t immediately concern me or my role in Fulcrum.”
After the larger meeting had concluded, Col. Orlov, Capt. Nikolayev, Col. Zhenshang, Capt. Kim and Malachi left the CCC room for a smaller, adjoining conference room. Capt. Nikolayev took his place behind a small podium as the rest seated themselves around a conference table that faced a large strategic map of the Pacific projected on the back wall of the room. Nikolayev used a keyboard on the podium to zoom in on the Vladivostok, the headquarters of the Russian naval fleet.
“In days, we will be transporting the both of you to Vladivostok before inserting you on American soil,” said Nikolayev.
Capt. Kim asked, “Is there a reason behind keeping us in Russia, as opposed to moving us to a Chinese port?”
Nikolayev nodded in Orlov’s direction, prompting her to answer as he zoomed in on the island of Oahu, “Yes, Capt. Kim. There, Agent Brandt will be transferred to an American submarine that will take you to Pearl Harbor. From there, you will be flown to MCAS Miramar in San Diego.
The plan was to have them transported on a C-40 transport out of Hickam Airfield to MCAS Miramar in San Diego. The time frame would be determined by how quickly Admiral Jordan could arrange for the flight. Typically, C-40’s were reserved for military brass and government officials. Brandt would be posing as a private contractor for Raytheon who was working on upgrading missile defense software at Pearl Harbor-Hickam and returning back to San Diego where they were based.
“Will my contractor credentials and clearances be in place by the time I get to Hawaii?” asked Malachi.
Orlov answered, “Admiral Jordan’s sources have indicated that they are working on this, and we are assuming that they will be secured by the time you arrive in Oahu.”
“You seem to be placing a lot of confidence in our naval contacts,” said Malachi.
“Remember,” said Capt. Kim, “I have been working on this since the war began. We have done our best to ensure that you will be able to land safely in California.”
“But, how much of the current planning are you aware of?” asked Malachi.
“I have not been directly involved with the plans for you to be inserted in Hawaii,” replied Kim, “But, I am confident in Admiral Jordan. He is one of the principal architects of the plans on the American side. I will remain here and continue to coordinate the Fulcrum invasion until the fleet ships out to California. If things go to plan, I will rejoin you after California has been secured.”
Malachi nodded, and then directed a question to Nikolayev, “So, assuming I land safely in California and am able to accomplish the mission’s objectives, when can we expect to meet up with your team?”
“The exact timing depends on the results of your brother’s meeting with officials from California. Once you are able to convince the Governor to declare independence, you will contact us and the EAC fleet will deploy. They will arrive within two weeks of leaving the Vladivostok. Gen. Sanderson will make a formal request for more Marines to bolster security along the border to prepare for the anticipated incursion from Gen. Sanchez into California. We will drop in a week to ten days before the fleet arrives in California.”
“How are you going to keep from being noticed?” asked Malachi
“We will be deploying from American planes disguised as Ukrainian troops loyal to NATO in order keep our cover as long as possible. By that time the Russian and Chinese navies will be en route to Hawaii, and preparing to join with American forces defecting to California.”
“In your views, what are the chances that we will encounter any resistance before the invasion begins?” asked Malachi, glancing at Nikolayev and Orlov.
Orlov answered, “By that stage, it will be difficult to conceal the fact that some plans are in the works. There will be no way to keep our arrival in California secret. While we will be working in tandem with Marines in the area, we could run into conflict with private contractors or US Special Forces that will be deployed to engage us. We should have some indication from the US Navy and Marines before any hostile forces are sent to intercept us; however, chances are, we will meet at least some resistance.”
“It’s not as if the Marines can engage American forces before the invasion forces have joined up in Hawaii. What cover Fulcrum has at that point would be completely blown.”
“Yes, Agent Brandt,” answered Capt. Nikolayev, “our cover would be blown and likely initiate a large military response from American forces. We will be working independently from the defecting US forces until the operation goes into full swing. This is why it will be critical to avoid any large-scale confrontations before the Fulcrum invasion. You will be our liaison with the Marines and independent security forces in the Salton Sea. Brig. Gen. Evans’ Marines will be running reconnaissance and security details in the region as we prepare to secure the main roads leading into the Salton Sea until we are able to formally connect with the US forces that defect to California.”
“Jeez,” replied Malachi. as he scratched at his beard, “Keeping you guys alive during the interim is going to be a tall task.”
“I can assure you,” said Nikolayev, “My team will be up to the task, and well-prepared to swiftly meet any resistance we might encounter before California independence is declared.”
“I am sure you have a fine team, Capt. Nikolayev, and I mean no disrespect. The problem, as I see it, is that the first phases of this plan are dependent on a wide variety of variables, and before independence is secured, you and your men could be stepping into a real hornet’s nest.”
“I understand,” said Nikolayev, “this is where the help that you and your brother are is so crucial to the success of the first phase. The last thing we want is to invite a major incursion of NATO-loyal forces before our main contingency of EAC forces has landed.”
“We will do everything we can to ensure that your presence remains as under-wraps as possible,” said Malachi.
The meeting continued for another hour as Kim and Brandt attempted to give as much strategic input as they were able. Malachi couldn’t help the knots from forming in his stomach as he began to sense how tenuous Fulcrum was going to be before EAC forces were formally joined with the new California military. He had never been a risk-averse person, but the idea that his own home would be cast into such a dangerous conflict had never been a situation that he had contemplated since the war began. He was glad that he would have Jacob with him, as the two tended to the litany of matters they needed to take care of before Nikolayev’s force dropped into California. It had been years since he had been directly involved in combat operations. Having someone he knew and trusted alongside him was of some comfort as his mind raced over the implications of what war in California meant. As he ruminated over the upcoming mission, his thoughts turned to Jacob. He knew his brother had experienced tremendous difficulties during the war, and he hoped that Jacob would be up for the monumental task that lay ahead of them. He had the sense that the peace that he would play some small part in securing would not come without tremendous cost.