Prologue

The President of the United States was an extremely busy man. At the moment, he was seated behind his massive desk in the Oval Office, shirt sleeves rolled up and tie loose, as a stream of people went to and fro with papers for the President to either look at, sign, or both. When the phone rang, it was a welcome distraction.

"Mr. President, it's David Cunningham on line 2."

The President thanked his secretary and hit the appropriate button on the phone. Dave Cunningham was the Deputy Director of Intelligence over at CIA, a man who'd spent twenty years becoming an expert on the Middle East back when everyone still thought the Soviet Union was the only significant enemy left in the world.

"Trouble, Dave?" the President said. The DDI wouldn't be calling just to chat.

"Maybe, sir." The President envisioned the other man's long, sallow face. "Remember those rumors we were picking up just after the mess with Kabir and his dirty nuke?"

Invisible to the man on the other end of the line, the President rolled his eyes. He didn't have the time or capacity to remember everything people told him. That's why he had advisors.

"Remind me."

"A couple of our people over there got wind of some kind of internal purge going on inside Al Queda, or its remains, anyway. We never could get any concrete information, but our best guess is that Kabir gave something away when he tried to blow up our carrier group. He wasn't very high up in their hierarchy—more than a flunky, but not one of the guys making the decisions. When his brother killed himself, he apparently decided to strike out on his own, which is what led to the incident with the carrier."

The President stared at the ceiling for a moment while he thought. "These folks are all semi-autonomous anyway, Dave. What makes you think he was crossing his own people?"

"We didn't at first. But then the bodies started to pile up and the only explanation being whispered around over there is that Kabir compromised the grand plan with his little stunt, and the powers that be were making sure no one else had ideas of doing the same."

The President didn't get where he was by being either stupid or inattentive. He immediately picked up on the most important piece of information in the DDI's spiel. "What grand plan?"

"That would be why I'm calling you, Mr. President. We don't know. But it's the first significant indication we've had that there is one."

The President muttered curses under his breath. "Have your people put together a paper for me, Dave. Their best guess. I want to know what they might be planning."

"Yes, sir."

"Is that it?"

"Yes. Oh—one other thing, sir." He suddenly sounded uncertain.

The President waited for him to go on.

"This may sound a little odd," Dave began. "It's a favor for one of my people who was in the middle of the Kabir mess. He's got some friends—a Navy commander and a Marine colonel, apparently—who want to hold their wedding in the White House Rose Garden…"

He trailed off as the President started to laugh. "I don't believe it. You, too?" This was the fourth time someone had asked him about these officers and their wedding. The first request had come from his Press Secretary, who happened to live next door to a woman who was dating the Navy's Judge Advocate General. The second had been from one of the Joint Chiefs. The third had come from Bobbi Latham, a rising star on the Hill and one of the last people he would ever have expected to be wasting a Presidential favor on anything even vaguely military in nature.

The President thanked Dave for his information, then hit another button on his phone. "Georgia! Get me whatever information you can dig up on these two officers who want to get married in my rose garden, will you?"

"Yes, Mr. President," came his secretary's brisk reply. "But it's a vow renewal, not an actual wedding."

The President went back to his paperwork until Georgia—a handsome black woman in her mid-forties—appeared, bearing a couple of thick folders in her arms. She laid them on the desk in front of him. "Here you are, sir. Commander and Colonel Rabb's service records, FBI bios, media coverage and other assorted bits."

"They're already married?" The President asked as he flipped the top file open.

Georgia nodded, smiling. "Yes, sir. They're the Temptation Cruise investigators—from the TV show a couple of months ago." She gave him a sidelong glance, as if silently rebuking him for not watching enough television. Not that she had time for much TV herself, but the President knew she considered television a singularly American thing. How she drew the connection between patriotism and electronically-induced brain rot, however, he couldn't have said.

As Georgia regaled him with the story of the two JAG officers going undercover on some trashy reality television show, the President scanned their records. Decorated officers, both of them… he stopped short when he realized that the commander they were talking about was the very same one who'd so recently lured Kabir's dirty nuke away from the carrier group in an F-14. And that made these two, most likely, the "assets" JAG had had in place in Afghanistan that had helped uncover the plot in the first place. He shook his head at the enormity of the coincidence.

Truly curious now, the President went back to the beginning of the files and began to read in earnest.