In his political, apocalyptic thriller, Final Strike, former Secretary of Defense and US Senator William Cohen dramatizes one of the most terrifying global security nightmares: an asteroid hurtling towards Earth
Sixty million years ago, the K-T Asteroid obliterated the dinosaurs, and now its apocalyptic twin is rocketing toward the US on a similar mission of extermination. Russian President Boris Lebed, the charismatic successor to Vladimir Putin, wants to turn that asteroid into a superweapon to use against the US and is holding Hamilton hostage in Moscow until Hamilton agrees to help. Former Senator and National Security Advisor Sean Falcone leads a dangerous off-the-books operation to bring Hamilton home and derail Lebed’s disastrous plan.
But will Falcone succeed in time?
The asteroid is hurtling toward earth. If it is not deflected, humanity will go the way of dinosaurs, and the entire planet will burn. Only one strategy has a chance of stopping humanity’s extinctiononly one. There is no Plan B.
The fate of the world hangs in the balance.
About the Author
WILLIAM S. COHEN served as Secretary of Defense under President Bill Clinton from 1997-2001, making him the twentieth U.S. defense minister. Born in 1940 in Bangor, Maine, Cohen was a member of the U.S. Senate and Congress for twenty-four years. He has written for The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal, and is the author of the New York Times bestselling Dragon Fire. Cohen lives with his wife in the Washington, D.C. area.
Read an Excerpt
From his suite in the Hotel Baltschug Kempinski, Robert Wentworth Hamilton had a panoramic view of the Kremlin, Red Square, and St. Basil's Cathedral — a skyline of fortress towers and religious spires that proclaimed Russia's long history of war and peace. Hamilton, a man of great wealth and few disappointments, turned away from the window and tried to focus his thoughts on what to do next.
His secretive business partner, Kuri Basayev, one of Russia's richest oligarchs, had summoned — Yes, Hamilton bitterly thought, that is the proper word: summoned — Hamilton to Moscow. Basayev told Hamilton he was to await word for a private jet that would take him from Moscow to Turkey, where a helicopter would fly him out to Basayev's yacht in the Black Sea. There, Hamilton expected, Basayev would try to force him to give up the company he had founded — SpaceMine. The name defined its purpose: mining in space, extracting riches from asteroids. Basayev wanted those riches, and he would do anything to get them.
On Hamilton's first day in Moscow, he ventured out of the hotel to cross the nearby bridge across the Moskva River, bending into the chill wind. Once in Red Square, he ignored Lenin's mausoleum and the huge GUM department store. He was drawn as if by a magnet to St. Basil's. Within the cathedral's cluster of colorful domes he wandered through a maze of galleries and narrow stairways, stopping at each chapel, praying to what he reverently saw as another manifestation of his own fundamental Christianity.
On his second day, he returned to the cathedral. While standing at the silver casket of St. Basil the Blessed, he was greeted by a white-bearded man in a long black cassock and a tall black headpiece; hanging around his neck was a pectoral cross on a golden chain. The man raised his right hand in blessing, and, speaking in lightly accented English, identified himself as Bishop Nikoli Vosnesenski. "We believe that here our ancestors built a place unlike any other," he told Hamilton. "It is a place that makes us think of the Heavenly City."
Hamilton introduced himself as a Christian and said, "Perhaps, after the Final Days, we will meet again in that Heaven."
"As you may know," the bishop said, "the original colors of the cathedral followed the depiction of the Heavenly City in the Book of Revelation. God's throne was of precious stones and there was 'a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald.'"
"No. I did not know that, Your Holiness. But I have great interest in the Book of Revelation and The End Time."
During Hamilton's visit to the cathedral the next day, the bishop invited him to join him and his driver on a trip to Krasnogorsk, a town about fifteen miles northwest of central Moscow. There, they visited a small brick church that could have been found on a country road in America. They stood together and gazed at an icon of Jesus. Hamilton told of his belief in the Last Days, the end of time, when God would punish Earth with war, famine, and plague. Then, finally, Jesus would return.
When Hamilton finished his screed, the bishop touched his arm and said, "Look at the eyes of Jesus. They are eyes of compassion. But your eyes are hard and troubled. Why?"
"I am a very rich man," Hamilton had said. "I should be able to do what I want to do. I am very angry."
They returned to Moscow in silence. When the bishop dropped Hamilton off, he gave him his card and a Russian bible. "I will remember the eyes of Jesus. Thank you," Hamilton had said. "And I will have one part of this Bible translated."
"What part?" the bishop asked.
"The part that tells of the Final Days," Hamilton had replied. "To me, that is the most important part of the Bible."
He had hoped that there would be a message from Basayev when he returned to his room. There was no message, and that night he had learned why. On the evening English-language GNN News Hour, the anchorwoman reported that Basayev's yacht had sunk in the Black Sea. There were no survivors.
Meeting canceled, Hamilton pragmatically thought. He could not mourn for Basayev. Mourning, it seemed to him, questioned God's plan; life comes and goes by His plan. Those thoughts were crowded out of his mind by a practical realization: He should return to America, but, at the moment, that would not be a prudent idea.
* * *
Now, after a good night's sleep and his usual ten laps in the hotel pool, he showered and dressed, donning a pair of gray slacks and a white shirt, and shuffled, sockless, into a pair of loafers. He was, at fifty-three, one of the wealthiest men in the world — and one of the healthiest. He prided himself on looking ten years younger, though he was graying, and new furrows appeared when he frowned, which was often. He looked forward to some days of solitude, dedicated to visiting St. Basil's, perhaps talking with the bishop, and playing out possibilities about his next moves. He believed that he was a smart, decisive businessman whose principal skill was analytical, long-term thinking. He could do that anywhere.
He responded to a soft tapping on his door with the command "Enter!" A maid wheeled in his breakfast of tea and toast and silently withdrew. Propped up next to the gilded teapot was a copy of the Moscow Times, an English- language newspaper. In America, he usually got his news from his iPad or, on occasion, GNN. So a morning newspaper was a novelty to him. On the front page was a story about the sinking of Basayev's yacht, which, he read, was caused by "a boiler explosion." Basayev was described as wealthy and secretive, which, Hamilton thought, summed him up rather well.
Hamilton firmly believed that God's Plan had kept him from Basayev's yacht and that he was destined to stay alive for some divine purpose. He found himself standing at a window and mingling his thoughts with his recollection of St. Basil's labyrinth. The cathedral's spires caught the morning sun and looked to him like the flames of a great fire reaching to the heavens.
Hearing faint sounds of sirens, he lowered his gaze to the streets below. Something was going on. Police in helmets and bulky gear were piling out of vans and stopping traffic at intersections and at both ends of the Moskva River bridge. Cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles, and bicycles pulled over to the curbs. Then, suddenly, three vehicles, blue rooftop lights flashing, sped across the bridge, turned and stopped at the entrance of the hotel.
A few minutes later, Hamilton heard a pounding on his door. Annoyed at being disturbed, he threw open the door and was about to yell at somebody when he saw two large men in black suits. The younger of the two said, in stilted English, "Come. See President Lebed." He pointed to the bedroom and pantomimed putting on a coat.
When Hamilton hesitated, the man brushed past him to the bedroom, took a blue windbreaker from the closet, held it up for Hamilton to put on, and nudged him forward toward the elevator, where a third man in a black suit waited. The four men entered, one of them fitted a key card into a slot, and the elevator descended. The lobby was empty, except for police officers and nervous-looking hotel employees. The three men in black escorted Hamilton to the hotel marquee. The doorman had disappeared. Hamilton shivered, reacting to the cold and not to fear, he told himself. One of the men opened a passenger door to an armored SUV, and Hamilton quickly entered.
Lebed echoed in Hamilton's head like a mantra that kept him from an angry, panicky reaction to what seemed to be an arrest. He knew little about Boris Lebed, the president of the Russian Federation, who had succeeded Vladimir Putin. He left politics, both domestic and foreign, to people who, as he put it, were paid to keep him from being surprised. This morning he was very surprised.
The three-SUV motorcade raced off and headed to a highway bare of traffic that paralleled the Moskva River. Two miles up the river, the SUVs turned at an exit marked by a large red sign with white letters — ????. Stop, Hamilton guessed. A guard stepped out of a squat brick structure, saluted the first SUV, and opened a massive gate. The motorcade continued a short distance to a wharf where a long, sleek white yacht was waiting. The 176- foot craft had been built at Sevmash, Russia's largest shipyard, best known as the place where nuclear submarines were built. Her features included an indoor pool that could be converted to a dance floor.
Hamilton stopped at the bottom of the gangway, his heart racing. A yacht? Go aboard a yacht?
One of his escorts shoved him forward. He tripped and fell. The man pulled him up and kept pushing him until he reached the end of the gangway. Hamilton was pointed to a stairway. He reached out both hands to grab the two railings and started down. At the lower deck a young man in a Russian Navy uniform took him aft to a suite that encompassed the stern. A brass sign over a door said something in Cyrillic. "President Boris Lebed," the sailor said, smiling and pointing to the sign. He opened a door and, pointing to the high threshold, helped Hamilton into a large room carpeted in red.
A man rose from a swiveling leather chair, stuck out his right hand, and said in English, "I am President Lebed. Welcome to the Catherine."
Hamilton shook hands and asked, "Catherine the Great?"
"Yes, and it is my wife's name," Lebed replied. "I welcome you as Catherine the Great welcomed your John Paul Jones, a great American naval officer and great friend of Russia."
Lebed gestured toward another leather chair and Hamilton sat down. He felt the vibrations and motion of the ship as she left the dock and headed north on the Moskva River. Small boats armed with machine guns preceded and followed the Catherine.
The sailor went into another room and returned with a tray bearing an array of bottles and glasses, along with small sandwiches and a blue bowl containing caviar. "I will have a sparkling water," Hamilton said. "With a slice of lime."
Lebed plucked a glass full of vodka from the tray. The sailor served Hamilton, slipped out of the room, and closed the metal door with a soft clang.
"I love this boat. It's my only indulgence in luxury. One permitted by the people as a symbol of Russia's pride. I'm putting her up for the winter tomorrow. We've been blessed by unusually warm weather until now. Global warming perhaps?"
"I don't think so," Hamilton replied. "Weather, like the stock markets, goes up and goes down."
"Yes," Lebed parried, a smile breaking across his face, "but markets are man- made, are they not?"
Hamilton, not eager to indulge in further repartee, said curtly, "I assume you didn't bring me here to discuss the weather."
"Quite right," Lebed conceded, exhaling a soft sigh. "I am extremely saddened by the unfortunate death of Kuri Basayev, a good man, a good friend. A terrible, terrible accident."
Lebed paused to sip his vodka. "I ... I know how close the two of you were," he said, leaning forward and touching Hamilton's shoulder. "And I —"
"You are quite wrong, President Lebed. Basayev and I were not close," Hamilton said emphatically, letting his anger finally show. "I have no idea why your ... your minions ... snatched me the way they did. And to a yacht! Real thoughtful and sensitive! Just think of how that affects me. I was to have been a passenger on Basayev's yacht."
"I am sorry, Mr. Hamilton. I didn't know that. As for 'minions,' they are security men, and polite behavior is not in their DNA."
Hamilton believed Lebed did know that he had been invited to board Basayev's yacht and was using this yacht meeting to rattle him. Interesting psychological move, Hamilton thought.
"I am sorry, Mr. Hamilton, that our meeting began on a sour note," Lebed continued. "I am interested in learning more about Kuri's role as a business partner in the asteroid project. He told me a bit about your venture. I found the economics quite daunting. The up-front costs are significant and the rewards are —"
"... Even more significant," Hamilton replied enthusiastically. "One estimate has put the potential value of asteroid metals at one hundred trillion dollars. One hundred trillion dollars."
"Oh, I saw that number, Mr. Hamilton," said Lebed. "Pulled out of a hat, wasn't it? Statistically absurd. It would exceed the current GDP of all the nations on the planet. And the supply of minerals would far exceed the demand, undermining the market itself. As you can see, my years at the London School of Economics were not a total waste."
"But suppose SpaceMine had an absolute monopoly of the supply and could set whatever price we chose?" Hamilton asked.
"So, for your 'absolute monopoly,' you would continue to organize the violent miners' protests in Africa?" Lebed asked in reply.
Hamilton shot forward, gripping the arms of his chair and said, "That was Basayev's idea. Not mine."
"But you saw the advantage, did you not? Let us not quibble over a trillion here or there. To my thinking, an asteroid would be valuable in many ways. But it is my understanding that Kuri was providing substantial financing for your upcoming IPO," Lebed said, looking at Hamilton eye-to-eye.
Hamilton did not respond.
"That financing can be continued, Mr. Hamilton. I will find you another partner. On the same terms that Kuri Basayev had, of course."
"That's an interesting proposition," Hamilton said cautiously. "Some of my other investors are getting nervous about the initial public offering. I'll need to get back to reassure them that everything is on track."
"Why don't you stay and enjoy Russian hospitality a little longer? It's not often that we have such a prominent American visiting us these days."
"That's very kind of you, Mr. President, but I feel I must soon leave. I —"
"You were not in a hurry enough to call off a visit to Krasnogorsk," Lebed said, his voice touched by anger. "And a meeting with Nikoli Vosnesenski, an American spy."
"He is a bishop ... a man of faith. And I resent that —"
Lebed stood and looked down at Hamilton. "Resent? Meeting with an enemy of the state?"
"I ... I didn't know. I —"
"I believe the phrase, Mr. Hamilton, is 'ignorance of the law is no excuse.' Will that also be your defense in an American court? My sources tell me that the FBI is waiting to arrest you as a co-conspirator in the murder of four people, along with obstructing justice."
"You have better sources than I do," Hamilton said.
"I know everything about you, Mr. Hamilton, including the bill for those beautiful dental implants that you received at the hands of Dr. Larry Rosenthal in New York. ... Seems that nothing in America can be kept secret. And might there be another secret about the sinking of Basayev's yacht? Interesting, isn't it? You were to be on the yacht and, by some twist of fate, you were not on board when the yacht sank. ... Perhaps —"
"This is shocking, President Lebed. That you would even think —"
"Have no fear, Mr. Hamilton. I can assure you that there will not be an investigation about the yacht. But, as for the four murders —"
"I'm confident my lawyers will handle any issues that Basayev was responsible for," Hamilton said.
"Perhaps so," Lebed replied. "But in the meantime, you can enjoy the generosity of the Russian people. I'll personally see to it that all of your needs are met."
Lebed pressed a button built into his chair, the door swung open, and the sailor reappeared. Lebed snapped a few words to him, and in a moment the Catherine began slowly turning around.
"Excuse me, Mr. Hamilton," Lebed said, looking at his watch. "I must go to what I call my floating office. Boatswain Ovechkin will see that you safely depart."
Hamilton rose, and they shook hands. Lebed hurried to an elevator that took him directly to the bridge. At a door to a small compartment off the bridge, two sailors snapped rifle salutes and one opened the door. Without sitting at the small desk, he made a call on a secure phone. "I want a tap on Hamilton's phone," he ordered. "I expect that he will be making a phone call. Tap his phone."
"His phone has been tapped since he checked in, sir."
"On whose authority?"
"You have exceeded your authority again, Komov," Lebed said. "As soon as you get a transcript of today's calls, bring it to my office."
When the yacht returned to her berth, Hamilton was taken to the SUV that he had entered less than an hour before and returned to the hotel. He had the feeling of being in a movie that had suddenly begun playing backward.
The moment he entered his suite he went to the phone in the drawing room and went through the instructions necessary to make a call to the United States. He gave a hotel operator the number for the private landline of Sandra Vanderlang, chief operations officer of the SpaceMine Corporation in Palo Alto, California.
Excerpted from "Final Strike"
Copyright © 2018 William S. Cohen.
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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