Part 5

War council

The "M" Group gathered in a lounge, the topic Sierra Leone.

Jimmy sat back and crossed his legs. 'Gentlemen — and lady, the government of Sierra Leone has asked us to assist with their counter-insurgency, and we have readily agreed. As we speak, our attack helicopters are boarding a Russian aircraft carrier off the coast of Africa, for a short sail to Sierra Leone, the advance guard of the Kenyan Rifles already in country. We've been allocated an old army base with a runway nearby. Our aim is simple: to rid the country of insurgents, then to assist the country to develop roads, schools, hospitals ... and its mining activities to pay for it all. We'll then look at Liberia, the cause of much trouble in the region.'

'Look at ... Liberia?' Keely questioned.

'Look at ... cross-border raids, ' Jimmy clarified.

'We have long-dated relations with Liberia, ' Keely noted. 'Should we not be involved?'

'American boots on Africa soil is not a good idea, ' Jimmy suggested. 'Nor is an American peace keeping force. The Africans need to fix themselves — with my help.'

'You'll raise a Rifles unit in Seirra Leone?' Jack asked.

'Of course. They can then police themselves. All they need is for their mining profits to go to the government in order to prosper, and hopefully the money won't end up in Swiss bank accounts. They have a chance at a good future.'

'Do they have oil?' Keely testily asked.

'Yes, offshore. And, when it's pumped, it should sail across to America or up to Europe. That would be ... the most efficient use for it.'

'How much oil?' Keely pressed.

'Not as much as Cuba, and not as much a Liberia, but enough to make them a small rich nation.'

'Liberia has a lot of oil?' Keely queried.

'Yes. And nothing short of a complete sweep of the entire country would make it safe to dock oil ships there.'

'And after that sweep?' Keely pressed.

'The new government could sell its oil to anyone it wants, I won't interfere.'

Big Paul stepped in and handed Jimmy a note before withdrawing.

'A bomb has gone off in Equatorial Guinea, West Africa, the President and all his cabinet — have been killed.' He put the note away. 'I guess they'll need a new President.'

'Do they have much oil?' Keely baulked.

'Yes, a very great deal of oil. Perhaps Uncle Sam could get involved there.'

'Will you get involved there?' Michelle asked.

'Not for many years, ' Jimmy replied. 'So, Sierra Leone. It's a one-year campaign, longer to train their military. Does anyone have any questions?'

I asked, 'How long before the mines make a buck?'

'At least a year.'

'So we pay up-front for everything, ' I noted.

'Not quite, there are good diamond mines in the north and east, the locals willing to sell wholesale.'

Michelle asked, 'The Kenyan Rifles will not remain?'

'Only for training, most withdrawn within a year.'

'And Liberia?' she asked.

'A difficult political situation — they won't be asking us in. We'll need a UN remit to attack.'

'UN?' Keely questioned.

'The guerrillas in Liberia are attacking several neighbouring states, it should not be difficult.'

'Art Johnson won't be pleased, ' Keely suggested, getting a look from Han.

'If your dear president wishes to send troops, he's welcome to do so. It will save me a few quid.'

'And after Liberia, ' Michelle cheekily nudged.

'Darfur, in the south west of Sudan. A civil war will break out, the Sudanese Government attempting to drive black Africans out in favour of Muslims. And, before anyone asks, we already know that Southern Sudan has a shit load of oil.'

'And Zambia?' Jack asked.

'Good question. First, we'll need to defeat the MLF guerrillas, then help the country grow its economy. On its border with the Congo are a lot of minerals. If we don't defeat the MLF they'll attack at will for decades to come.'

Keely asked, 'When will Congo oil hit the open markets?'

'Not for many years - if at all. It will mostly be used to assist mining operations there.'

'Bombs have gone off at Iraqi oil terminals, ' Keely put in. 'Who's behind it?'

'Some Iranian, some Saudi.'

'Saudi?' Keely challenged.

'They don't want the oil flowing, ' Jimmy pointed out. 'If Iraq, Iran, and the West African states got up to speed, the Saudis would be ... most displeased. Oil prices would drop, the US and European economies boosted, more goods bought from China. The Russians also have an interest in keeping oil prices high, but they're not setting off bombs.'

A day later Hal called, asking for a favour.

'You broke our Huey!' I complained. 'What fucking favour, old man?'

'I want to adopt the girl I found, she's now an orphan, no relatives at all.'

'Oh, ' I stumbled. 'I'll ... get back to you.' I went and found Jimmy in the canteen, sat now with Jack. 'Hal wants to adopt the kid he found, little girl — no relatives.'

Jimmy nodded. 'I'll make a call. Tell him she would have to be placed at Ebede, not in the Congo. He could visit if he's based in Kenya.'

I called Hal back and explained it. He wasn't completely happy, but understood that he moved around a bit. Given his dodgy occupation — attack helicopter pilot, the courts would never give him custody.'

Jimmy called Anna and she formally asked for the child to attend Ebede orphanage and school.

Sat back down with Jack and Jimmy, Jimmy raised a finger as if about to say something, then just stared out of focus.

'What?' I asked.

'You've had no challenge to that Saudi account?'

'No. Maybe they don't reconcile till the end of the month.'

'Today's ... the twelfth, ' Jimmy noted. 'Jack, ask Sykes to ask the PM if he'd like to take some money off the Saudis.'

With a curious expression — a smile and a frown, Jack stepped out. An hour later Jack came and found me in the apartment, a sheet of paper in his hand. 'That's the account, routed through Switzerland to London - hard to track. There's sixty million in there. Jimmy said to tell you to make their eyes water.'

I took the paper, entering the account details and passwords into my system.

Jack pulled up a chair. 'So what's this about?'

'Looks like this Saudi trading account is not checked every day, so anyone doing well may not get noticed till the end of the month.'

'You're doing ... nothing illegal, ' Jack puzzled. 'So why —'

'If you do well, they close your account, unless they're placing your trades in the market. This lot are not offsetting by the look of it.'

'Which means... ?'

'Any money we make comes from their back pocket.'

'Ah. That'll hurt.'

I chose a stock that I knew would spike upwards today, checking my watch. I called up its chart, already a small price rise ahead of a noon news release. I bought Call Options, the confirmation note emailed to me, the bottom line indicating that they were "acting as principal". So I bought more, followed by twenty million pounds worth of stock. When the acknowledgement came through I bought more Call Options, several batches of odd numbers.

Jack sat checking his watch as noon approached, the news flashing up on my Reuters screen as Helen stepped in. With a finger on the screen, Jack read the detail, the stock sky- rocketing.

'Ouch!' Jack said, Helen closing in, the baby on the bed.

'What's ouch?' Helen whispered.

'I just took ten million off a Saudi bank, small deal just to break the ice. They sold me stock without having it, probably, so now they'll be scrabbling around to find it, and forcing the price higher.'

'You'll sell now?' Jack asked.

'Nope, that would let them off the hook. I'll wait five days. They'll have to get the stock to deliver it.'

Jack became a regular behind the screens as I busted up several brokers, but he never knew what I was up to. I knew of a few Europeans acting as principal, and pushed three of them to close my account, taking millions off them. By the end of the month the UK Government's sixty million stood at ninety-four, the Saudi account closed down. Sykes rang to thank me, the civil service pension for the MOD now looking a lot healthier.

Jimmy told me to change the account numbers, and to take more risks, calling me a "risk averse slacker". Cursing under my breath, I moved money around, checking the upcoming trades. On a wet Monday, and telling Helen I had a busy twelve hours ahead, we settled into the apartment. I had an eye on the FTSE, another on the DOW, a third on the Nikkei; a three-eyed financial monster who now figured that the three markets would lag a bit, the Saudis not paying attention.

With some determination and aggression, and confident key tapping, I started to open modest trades, building up positions. I even threw in a few spoilers - trades I knew would lose money or go sideways. Anyone checking the account would consider me to be opening balanced positions, so long as they could not add up. When the DOW opened I added to the positions, even though they were now slipping a bit. The computer must have thought I was crazy. By 8pm the baby was fed, changed and sleeping. We even found time for a bit of mummy and daddy time.

At midnight, just the Nikkei remained open and I adjusted positions, making the largest trades whilst assuming the Saudi brokers were off for a bite to eat. With nothing to do till 8am, we headed back over to the house. At 7.45am we were both back and sat watching the screens. The FTSE opened down eight points, dipped to be down twenty — enough to cost me millions — then rallied, soon up fifty, up eighty points by 4pm. I closed out the FTSE and DOW trades, an automatic sell on the Nikkei trades — whichever way they went.

I went and found Jimmy in the diner. Glancing over my shoulder I said, 'I just took a sixty-eight million from a Saudi broker. If they're not off-loading, it'll hurt.'

He handed me a sheet. 'That's Yuri's account. Go murder the futures markets, but through regular brokers.'

I scanned the paper. 'If I type something in wrong, he'll lose a lot ... and kill us.'

'Then don't type something in wrong.'

I got started, and over the next month made Yuri, or the Russian Government, just over a billion dollars, most of the trades made in the Asian futures markets. I hoped we were on a commission. I tried teaching the baby to trade, but her typing was terrible. And she dribbled on the keyboard. Helen, on the other hand, got a book from Jimmy without me knowing about it and studied hard, soon able to make useful comments, even to check screens.

One day two mini-buses turned up, Big Paul driving one, Karl another. They offered two seats behind the driver, then four seats facing each other as on a train, even a table to use. The windows were tinted, curtains pinned back. Jimmy explained to Helen and me, sitting now in the table seats, that they had been reinforced, making them safer for motorway use. They would be used for airport runs. 'Cool, ' I said.

Sierra Leone

Hal, the would-be adoptive father, went off to war, hopefully realising just how unsuitable he was for the whole parenting thing. Hacker went with him, Ratchet and Spanner, and many senior staff from around the globe. Sierra Leone was action central, so they wanted to be in at the start.

They landed at the designated airstrip, pitched tents, set-up security patrols of Kenyan Rifles, and got to work. A tented clinic rose just outside the dilapidated fence, open for trade to anyone passing and in need of a doctor. A second tent rose at the army base just up the road, a surgical unit ready for casualties. Five white RF Hueys landed in bellies of IL76 transports, their rotors detached. Ten green Hueys joined them, the Mi24's and Cobras having been at the base for a week already. With more IL76s flying in with ammunition, the attack units were made ready.

Setting up a base and converting an airfield was something that our facilitators could write a manual for. They fixed the fence, got their supplies organised from local farms and shops, then hired every local building firm they could find to raise buildings, both at the army base and the airfield. The UN still housed eight thousand troops in the area, left over from the larger UN force that helped to end the long civil war, but the soldiers in blue helmets stuck to their bases or their fixed patrol routes around the capital, Freetown. One of the first things our lads did was to fly up to the UN base and drop in for tea and a chat. They explained what they were planning on doing — in general terms, and asked for a UN coordinator at our base, just to be sure that we didn't injure any UN peacekeepers. The next thing our people attempted was to fly over those parts of the country that hosted rebels, in our white Hueys, dropping leaflets over every village and town. Those leaflets, in many dialects and languages, demanded that all armed gangs should surrender their weapons and accept food from us. Two RF Hueys were shot at with fifty calibre machine guns, so I guess we got their reply to our message. Either that or they couldn't read, using our leaflets to wipe their bums.

Jimmy provided the commanders on the ground a very accurate map of where "satellite intel" showed the bad guys. In a bold move, and a quick move, we set-up roadblocks at every road junction from the capital to the northern border, cutting the small country in half. The first groups of gunmen had read the leaflets, but chose to ignore them, getting themselves shot-up on sight. That produced the response we wanted: more gunmen headed for the roadblocks, hungry Cobras circling nearby, Hueys with chain guns on standby. When pitched battles began, the helicopters decimated the gunmen quickly.

In a move approved by the Sierra Leone Government, we threw a ring around the capital, roadblocks on every junction, an RF white tent at many crossroads to attract passing trade; free medical care, even a few babies delivered. It was our stock in trade, and we were good at it. With that phase complete, a second batch of a hundred RF medics landed, another three hundred Rifles, some Tanzanian. The roadblocks moved outwards, more RF tents pitched as part of the hearts and minds campaign.

In Freetown itself, a hundred Cuban medics arrived, adopting the main hospital and offering an excess of medical supplies, and the best of equipment, as part of the package. Tents were set-up outside the main hospital buildings, locals treated for anything they needed, a whole new maternity ward created. We even had a dozen dentists on hand. Through the main port we shipped bags of rice and wheat, handing them out free; people would wake to find a 2kg bag on their doorstep. In a move that Jimmy organised, that I thought was counter-productive, tens of thousands of corrugated metal sheets were imported. Trucks drove around after midnight and left one or two sheets outside every shanty shack; a new roof, or wall for the inhabitants. A separate set of trucks dropped new plastic buckets filled with household goodies; pots, pans, cutlery, towels, soap.

Coup flew in a month after the first RF units had cut ground and organised a meeting of NGOs already in the country. His message was a simple one: what do you need? We offered ships full of wheat, unlimited medical supplies, even money. No one had anything to complain about, but they still managed to complain about our presence. Apparently, according to some, the country would be better off if left alone.

The airport received a new fence and a lick of paint, as did the government buildings, a ship full of concrete arriving from Po. The cement bags were transported to all the builders in the city, simply handed over to the perplexed locals, the excess stored at a government warehouse. Timber arrived from Ghana, not that there were a lack of suitable trees here, but this wood had been cut into suitable planks and boards, again just dumped outside shacks or handed to builders.

Outside of Freetown an old army base was appropriated, its officers and NCOs kept on and paid an incentive. The fence was repaired, the buildings touched up and painted, the armoury secured, an RF medical tent set-up. Instructors from the Rifles, plus our British instructors, set-up home, placing adverts for new recruits: regular wages, food, shelter and three cooked meals a day. The take-up was not great because of years of civil war - they knew what it was to fight in the jungle. But a hundred eighteen-year-olds signed up, medicals — and injections - given. The Sierra Leone Rifles had been born, new uniforms flown in, new boots, new weapons and plenty of ammunition. The Sierra Leone Army, what it was, got forcefully told to join us by their government. We took our pick of the men and NCOs.

The main pockets of gunmen had no intention of surrendering to us — or anyone else, they were enjoying their diamond-funded drug habits too much. So the ex-SAS guys and the Pathfinders did what they were good at, and snuck about with GPS position finders and night sights, their M4s fitted with silencers. When concentrations of gunmen were spotted, air strikes would be called in, the Mi24s thundering in at dawn and blasting the insurgents in their beds. Such an attack would typically be followed by Hal's Cobras picking off jeeps or attacking individual buildings, the Rifles landing nearby and mopping up. It was a huge mismatch of firepower. Day by day, mile after mile of jungle was cleared as the war moved north.

As for funding, we spent twenty-six million in the first six weeks alone, all appropriately misappropriated from the Congo mine revenue fund. Mining equipment was unloading on the dock before we had even secured the mines, plus enough road building material to reach to the mining areas. Trucks started to be off- loaded. And all the while Liberia watched with interest, as did the nice man in the White House. As a result of our activities we got an invite for coffee.

Being the sort of people we were, we flew to Cuba instead, to the dedication of the new University, the first building just about complete. The campus had a long way to go, but politicians liked ceremonies. Just to show Art Johnson how much we cared, senior Chinese, Russian, British and French politicians attended the dedication, in town for a trade fare. Po, Yuri, Marko and ourselves were all made honouree chancellors and we gave interviews about the importance of education, co-operation and international peace. It was just an unfortunate co-incidence that this first block would be for budding Cuban oil engineers.

Making like Prince Charles, we inspected an old factory building that was now being converted to our orphanage, before dragging the international media out to the RF base. Footage was shot of us observing training sessions, in particular at Faulty Towers el Cuba, the collapsed building a carbon copy of that at Mapley — albeit surrounded by pleasant palm trees. After lunch we met with Cuban officials, but they had a new attitude, a less helpful one: who cares about America, we have oil now. Jimmy explained that the embargo would still hurt the economy, and that we were making diplomatic progress. Even with the oil revenue, he argued, it would take ten years at least to revamp the Cuban economy and industrial base. And the Americans could put pressure on others not to deal with Cuba. I left feeling that the oil strike should have been delayed by a year, Jimmy explaining that it could not come soon enough, a hint at the 2015 conflict between the US and Venezuela. 'Pieces on a chess board, ' he had remarked.

After a relaxing two days at our first hotel — making many calls home, we flew off to the Dominican Republic and on to New York. Staying a night at the apartment, we met with Oliver at Pineapple's plush Fifth Ave offices, taking him and his wife out that evening — the companies same hired guards in tow. The following day we made a familiar journey down to Washington, booked in again to the Hilton on Massachusetts Ave. The black vans picked us up, our visit that of official Special Envoys.

'How are you're ratings?' I asked the Chief of Staff, shaking his hand across the nice blue carpet in the oval office.

'Never as good as you'd like.'

'And ours?' I toyed as I sat.

'Not many people like your associations, old habits die hard.'

Jimmy lifted his face to the man. 'You know why I like the Chinese system. Because when future disasters hit, they're authoritarian regime copes well with them. You ... crumble on day one.'

The Chief stared back, the door opening and Johnson stepping in with the Joint Chiefs, quite a crowd; much braid and brass displayed - as well as cold and unfriendly stares.

I faced the guy in the blue Air Force uniform. 'You the guy who hides the UFOs at Area 51?'

'You tell us, ' he countered with a cheeky grin. The men settled.

'I hope you don't mind the group, Jimmy, but we have some ... questions.'

'Fire away, ' Jimmy said, easing back.

'I have a list, ' Johnson joked. 'First, Liberia. We ... obviously have historical ties, and emotional ties — and you're planning on invading.'

'As I told your representative, if you want to do it - knock yourselves out, it'll save me a lot of money.'

Johnson eased back. 'And in the grand scheme of things, what part does Liberia play?'

'Well, once it's free of insurgents and tin-pot dictators, and a peaceful little backwater, there's the issue of its off-shore oil.'

'How much oil?' Johnson asked.

'If you were to take Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria, Cameroon and Guinea — together they have more oil than the Arabian Gulf.' The Joint Chiefs exchanged looks. Jimmy added, 'And those nations would sell it to you cheaper than the Saudis. Less of a shipping route as well. And, in 2025, oil suddenly becomes ... extremely hard to come by. When there's fighting in the Middle East, West Africa will be ... available.'

'So what you're saying ... is that we're in the wrong damn place.'

'You can be in more places than just the one. But if you don't embrace West Africa soon it will cost you dearly in years to come.'

'Then we should consider military bases in that region, ' a General suggested.

'No. In the Middle East, you have people that you've pissed off, people that the Israelis have pissed off, and you have functioning governments that don't like you - lots of them. In Africa, no one hates you, and you have no enemies at a government level, you have twenty bandits with rusty AK47s terrorising oil workers. You will never need to defend your interests at the government level. You need only let me sweep the area, then get your corporations in there. You'll never enjoy a target worthy of an expensive jet bomber.'

'Anything you need - like a new broom?' Johnson joked.

'No, it's all under control.'

'OK, let's talk about Cuba, ' Johnson suggested. 'What will they do?'

'Right now, they think they're clever because of the oil. They have yet to learn how difficult it will be to modernise their economy after all the damage you guys have done. It'll take them ten years just to get into second gear.'

'Any threat there?' a General asked.

'Lots, ' Jimmy emphasised. 'If you miss the opportunity to kiss and make up they'll use their oil revenue to buy the latest Migs, missiles and boats. If you screw this up, you'll have a very rich and well-armed adversary on your doorstep. And that's just the military problem. When the neighbouring states start getting more dependent on them for oil than others, they'll exert political influence in the region. They'll deliberately give petrol to countries - if those countries agree to piss you off. In a nutshell, the kid you've been bullying for forty years just won the lottery.'

'And the solution?' Johnson asked.

'Kiss and make up, and buy their oil — all of it if you can. Before it's too late. You need the oil, they desire colour TV. If you're tough with them, you get no oil ... and a war.'

'And their military capability ... by 2015?' a General asked.

'Enough to hurt in a conventional war, three hundred of the latest Migs, plus all the surface to air missiles they could want. If you nuke them, every South American state would turn against you — and the rest of the civilised world.'

'We are ... making small steps, ' Johnson admitted.

'The guy that follows you will reverse them, so why not make some big steps.'

'And Venezuela?' a man asked.

'Run by a nutter, who will always be a nutter, no matter what you do. If ... and it's a big if, you get Cuban oil flowing sufficiently, Venezuela gets sidelined, their economy suffers, the people change their leader. They need oil above $50 a barrel. Cuban and West African oil could dent that.'

Johnson made notes. 'We could squeeze them.'

'Which would also squeeze Canadian sand oil a bit, ' I put in. 'They also need it above $50 a barrel.'

'I wasn't elected to run Canada, ' Johnson quipped, making notes. 'How soon could African oil flow?'

'Soon enough to aid your cause. You could send rigs to Sierra Leone next week.'

'And Guinea needs a new government and a lick of paint, ' I put in.

'Any clues about that?' a man knowingly asked.

Jimmy replied, 'Whoever arranged it used American mercenaries. Would be awkward if that got out.'

The man who had asked the question cocked an indignant eyebrow.

'We've started to help your guys in Northern Somalia, ' an Admiral stated. 'That urgent?'

'No, ' Jimmy emphasised. 'That's for 2025 mostly, some trouble with Yemen around 2012 threatening the Suez Canal. You'll need a good dockyard there.'

The Air Force chief glanced at Johnson, then asked, 'Principal military threat in the years ahead?'

'There isn't one. Russia is on its arse, China needs you to buy things, North Korea will sabre rattle for the next hundred years. Your first main war will be in the Caribbean, when a certain future President goes for Venezuela and Cuba, or either one. You biggest national threat is your own banking industry. In 2008, 2014, 2020, there'll be crashes in the markets, each one worse than the last — all caused by bankers wanting to make more and more profit. You'll be plunged into a deep recession for no reason other than greed and stupidity, at a time when your economy is doing well. It will give rise to neo-conservatives, hence the attacks on Venezuela, and ultimately China. If you want to save tens of thousands of American servicemen's lives - shoot greedy bankers.'

'And what about Afghanistan?' a man nudged.

'I have a solution, leave it to me. Don't ... invade. If you do you'll set the region ablaze.'

'And Al-Qa'eda?' the same man pressed. 'We've intercepted several attacks.'

'And you'll keep intercepting them, ' Jimmy emphasised. 'Right now they think god is against them, or that you're better than you actually are.'

'We can't ignore them just because you're informing us of their planned attacks!' a General protested. 'If we miss one... '

'Try not to miss one, and keep in mind that American boots on the ground in Afghanistan will make Vietnam look like a quick victory. If you go in ... you'll never leave. Leave it to me.

'If you want to busy yourselves with something useful, consider 2025, a conflict in the Middle East, not much oil from the region — and how you'll adapt. The solution is not a military one, because your military is driven by your economy. Think hydroelectric, nuclear power, electric cars, home grown food. Think ... war in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, isolation of the Americas. It might just be you and the South Americans, and a nice big ocean to keep the bad guys at bay. Oh, and if you don't pull your fingers out, 2025 will see fifty-one percent of the US population being Hispanic. By time you get to 2015 you may see fighting on the streets, public schools teaching in Spanish only. Al-Qa'eda, gentlemen, are the least of your worries. You lot, are set to implode, not be attacked.'

We took a mini-breather as a coffee tray was wheeled in. They even had biscuits.

Over coffee, Johnson admitted, 'This lot have a room with fifty people in it, studying every move you make.' The Air Force General seemed a little ill at ease with the revelation.

'Really?' I asked. 'What've they concluded so far?'

The head of the Air Force reluctantly explained, 'So far, the one consistency — is a lack of consistency. Fifty different people with fifty different takes on who and what you, and Magestic, are.'

The Admiral said, 'I blindly favour the US astronaut theory, it helps me sleep.'

Another man said, 'We got a bunch of people who swear blind that you got onto a plane in Africa ten minutes after you landed in London.'

'Now that would be good, no more boring flights, ' I approved.

'And they can't figure the blood, ' the Admiral admitted. 'Best they can come up with is that it was developed for long-term space flight. For hibernation.'

'They'd be mostly right', Jimmy told the man, causing a reaction. 'Hibernation causes cell damage, which needs continuous replacement.' They considered that. 'But I think you'll find, that the medics of the decades ahead will take one very nasty retro virus, and alter it so that it does more good than harm. They'll not understand the science, just make use of its delivery system.'

A man said, 'We have people claiming you've been to Afghanistan four times, but we can't even prove you've been there once. And as for the Rifles in Africa, every Army general is jealous as hell as to how they do so much, with so few numbers.'

'You know what the biggest controversy is, ' Johnson put in with a smile, holding a coffee cup now. 'Your house.'

'The house?' I asked. 'What, they think it's a bit ostentatious?'

'No, they can't understand why the house is so well protected, yet you two use public transport, planes, and risk your lives on a regular basis, getting right to the front line of battles in Africa. The house is more secure than this place, built to withstand direct assault, yet as soon as you step outside the gate you're exposed. It's a puzzle. So they think there something, or someone, at the house that needs protecting — maybe a damn time machine!'

'You're people have been all over it, ' I reminded them.

'So why so secure?' a man asked.

'To protect the "M" Group from interference, ' Jimmy suggested. 'Their presence is a puzzle for the UK press, so we keep them under wraps.'

'I don't accept that, ' a man quietly stated.

'Think of it this way, ' Jimmy began. 'If they came and went on a regular basis, it would attract far more attention. And ... from whom?'

They glanced at each other. 'Other governments?'

Jimmy nodded. 'It's a secret that should be kept secret as long as possible. But, as we sit here, the Germans are asking the French what goes on, so too other nations not part of the club. In years to come the "M" Group itself will be the subject of direct attacks, even bomb attacks.'

I didn't like the sound of that, at all.

'Other governments — jealous — will attack the group, ' Johnson realised. 'Makes sense, they're at a great disadvantage.'

'And the French liaison?' a man posed with a smirk.

'He took one for the team, ' I suggested, making them laugh.

Hiding a grin, Jimmy said, 'If I had not satisfied her ... curiosity, they would have made several dangerous attempts to get close. And will do so in the future when they get impatient with the delightful Michelle.'

'It's a dirty job, but someone has to do it, ' I helpfully added, getting a look from Jimmy.

The Admiral said, 'You know the one thing that has the brain boys most puzzled? You pair risking your lives so much. Some of them think that you're the astronauts, or that you're the real Magestic, then agree that such a person would not take so many risks — not with the future of the world at stake. Every week some guy makes a presentation to prove that you, Mister Silo, are the real Magestic. Then they prove otherwise and go back to square one.'

'A waste of good brain power, ' Jimmy suggested.

'Coming back to Liberia, ' Johnson put in. 'We should, at least, play a role.'

'It's a tricky one for you, since we're there to remove the token government. In the future that will be known as regime change. There is, of course, a lot that you can do, it's just that I would recommend that you don't — for your sakes. Try ... and keep your image, in the mind of the Africans, a good one. The best thing you can do is to help me secure a UN resolution to move in after the rebels. After that, I would have asked you to build a naval base and airbase there, a staging area for the 2025 conflict — where you should assume that all Mediterranean bases are compromised quickly, all of North Africa unsafe, The Brotherhood attacking south into Africa.'

The generals looked sceptical. 'You're saying, that in 2025 — with all the technological advances of our military by then — that we lose the Middle East and the Mediterranean to a bunch of terrorists.'

Jimmy put down his coffee. 'Let me illustrate the scenario for you: a hundred thousand suicide bombers wearing explosive vests under their clothes; men, women and even children. They mingle with refugees. At your checkpoint they blow themselves up ten yards from your gate, killing your gate staff. In the confusion, a dozen of then run through to your next check point. Some are shot, one blows himself up, knocking down your men. Others run forwards, blowing themselves up as soon as they are within ten yards. And so on, and so on, through the towns and cities. Pretty soon you can't allow anyone to approach within a hundred yards of your soldiers, making it kinda hard to be there and interact with those you're supposed to be protecting. What about local officials and local soldiers? They approach, and blow up. Soon, you can't deal with anyone.

'Then they'll go around you, and advance. Across North Africa, into Europe with its densely populated streets, dressed like locals. They'll blow up power lines, water works, government buildings, anything that represents technology - since their aim is a return to the Stone Age. You can't use tanks, or planes, or ships, because it's a counter-insurgency campaign like you've never seen before. Every attack creates panic and chaos, and more refugees, the Brotherhood infiltrating the refugees. Boats blow up at sea, others are rammed into your naval vessels.'

'Jesus, ' a man let out.

'So, coming back to what I mentioned early, you have two nice large oceans to cut yourselves off. You could easily sink every boat they send. Problem will be them attacking Russia, with a view to getting at Russian nuclear missiles. China will lose half its land, Russia the Southern Islamic Republics.'

'And Israel?' a man asked.

'They'll shoot so many suicide bombers on their borders it will create a health risk, then a plague. They'll be surrounded and cut off, their nuclear weapons useless, their aircraft useless. It's about hand to hand, not technology. So, over the next twenty years you'll be busy designing high-tech kit to beat the Russians and Chinese, when what you'll actually need is more men with boots and rifles.'

They collectively blew out.

'I'll give you some hints and clues, for your war games. You can cut off the Suez, cutting off Africa from the Middle East. You have the Bosphorous straights to use, the Black Sea. You have India as a buffer in the east. You will have no choice but to try and contain, not to occupy. Think ... contain and isolate.'

'Abandon Israel?'

'Think Alamo, ' Jimmy emphasised. 'You could re-supply by ship, and hold onto the land as a bridgehead, but what of the Israeli people and their economy? It would just be a large base under constant attack, the Brotherhood dropping all their dead bodies into the Jordan upstream. Holding Israel will cost you twenty thousand men a year, at a time when you're losing fifty thousand a year to the insurgents, three times as many wounded.'

'We couldn't sustain those losses, ' they baulked.

'Hence the isolationism, ' Jimmy responded. 'Besides, the folks back home won't give a shit about the casualties, they'll be keen for you to stop the Brotherhood reaching New York. Instead of learning difficult lessons at the time, you should make a choice ahead of time.'

'The way it would pan out, ' Johnson began, 'would be the pull back to the Suez, then a pull back to the Atlantic — political pressure to reduce casualties at any cost, that cost being Europe. And when Europe's ablaze ... why hang onto it?'

'So it's best not to go through that process at all. Draw a line somewhere, cut off a limb.'

'The Israelis know that?' a man asked.

'Yes, and they'll dither till it's too late, ' Jimmy emphasised.

'Is there enough oil outside of the Middle East?' a man asked.

'Yes, and I know where it is.'

'So isolationism could work, ' another man suggested.

'What? And give up the future of the planet?' the Admiral baulked. 'Blanket nukes would have an effect, also chemical warfare. I'd rather lose the deserts than Europe!'

'The Israelis might not like that approach, ' Jimmy suggested. 'Remember where they sit.'

'You declared that you received a message, that there's a solution, ' a man challenged.

'Yes, but I don't know what it is. I'm was kinda hoping to get another message, a thick document detailing the fix would be nice.'

'There's no simple solution to the scenario, ' Johnson insisted. 'Only degrees of containment — terrible, or less terrible.'

Jimmy nodded. 'I can see no solution other than containment or isolationism, and it occupies a lot of my time. And we still have to get to 2025, through several conflicts and economic crashes. You may reach that point being dirt poor.'

I said, 'So get those fifty idiots in the room thinking about a solution, not how often my daughter takes a dump.'

Back at Heathrow, the mini-bus was waiting with a Range Rover tail car. We battled through the traffic to the old apartment, Helen, Cat and the baby already there, the food on. An evening at the club was planned, Cat babysitting.

The next morning we headed to the Foreign Office, and our Congo team, now twenty strong. We also continued to receive the assistance of twelve Foreign Office staff, so the main room buzzed as we entered.

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