Thomas Hoover.

Project Daedalus online

. (page 12 of 30)
Online LibraryThomas HooverProject Daedalus → online text (page 12 of 30)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

luck finally ran out.

He turned and walked back out to the porch, then settled himself on the
steps. In the valley below, beyond the milling tourists, the dark green
olive groves spread out toward the horizon.

The protocol. The mind-boggling protocol. Something was afoot that
would change the balance of world power. He'd translated the first page
of Article I, but it had raised more questions than it answered. All
the same, he'd taken action. Today he was ready.

Novosty had to know the score. Had to. But now Vance knew at least part
of the story too.

He glanced down at the suitcase. It contained Eva's Zenith Turbo 486,
of course, which undoubtedly was why it was such a popular item. But it
also had a hard copy of the scrambled text of the protocol, courtesy of
a printer Zeno had borrowed from a newspaper office in Iraklion, as
well as a photocopy of Vance's partial translation.

They didn't know it yet, but there was another full copy, which he'd
transmitted by DataNet to his "office" computer in Nassau. It was
waiting there in the silicon memory.

Quite a document. Twenty-eight pages in length, it was the final
version of a legally binding agreement that had been hammered out over
a long period of time. From the page he'd translated, he could
recognize the style. The text referred to the rights and obligations of
two distinct entities - the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and Mino
Industries Group.

As he seated himself beneath a lone almond tree and took a last look at
the olive groves down below, he was tempted to pull out the translation
and reread it one more time. But that was unnecessary; he'd memorized
it, right down to the last comma.

_Article I

1. For the full and complete compensation of one hundred million
American dollars ($100,000,000.), to be deposited in the Shokin Gaigoku
Bank of Tokyo on or before May 1, Mino Industries Group will legally
transfer to the USSR full ownership of one operational prototype, this
transfer to be executed on the agreed date, May 1, Mayday. At the time
of this transfer the prototype will satisfy all technical performance
criteria enumerated in Document 327-A, "Specifications." The USSR may
thereafter, at its discretion, contract for production models at the
price specified in Document 508-J.

2. Upon the USSR having satisfied the terms stipulated in Article II,
Mino Industries Group will extend the USSR financial credits in the
amount of five hundred billion American dollars ($500,000,000,000.),
such credits to be provided in increments of one hundred billion
dollars ($100,000,000,000.) annually for a period of five years. These
credits will be arranged through Vneshekonombank, the Bank for Foreign
Economic Affairs (Article IV).

3. Within one year of the satisfaction of all formalities pursuant to
the above-designated credits, the USSR will . . .


That's as far as he'd translated. The rest was still in Minoan Linear
B. He took a deep breath, again trying to digest what it meant in the
grand scheme of global strategic alliances.

Most importantly, what was the "prototype"? Something was about to
appear on the planet that would make its owner unassailable. But what?

Eva's stumbled onto dynamite. Mayday. That means it explodes in less
than a fortnight. No wonder Mino Industries wants her out of the way.

Among the clusters of tourists on the road below, a white limousine was
pulling to a stop, followed by a gray Saab.

He watched as Novosty emerged from the Saab and glanced up the hill,
then started the climb. Nobody got out of the limo.

Vance watched as he slowly made his way along the cobbled path leading
up the hill, puffing. He was almost out of breath by the time he
reached the top.

"Michael, I'm so glad you could manage to make it." He heaved a sigh as
he trudged up the last remaining steps.

"It was the lure of your scintillating company."

"I'm sure." He looked around.

"Is Eva down there? She'd damned well better be."

"She is safe." Novosty sighed again. "It was most unwise for her to
have gotten involved in all this, Michael. She is making matters
difficult for us all."

"Too bad." He removed the Llama from beneath his coat. "By the way,
congratulations on your new clients. Mino Industries. That's a Yakuza
front, partner. Guess you know. The CEO was a Class A war criminal.
These days he owns the LDP and runs Japan. Alex, you asshole, you're
way over your head here. Mino Industries is owned lock, stock, and
hardware by _the _Japanese godfather. His _kobun_ make your KGB look
like a Boy Scout troop."

"Michael, please."

"And here I was thinking you'd finished consorting with the criminal
element, decided to live clean. Then the next thing I know, your
client's gorillas are trying to kill Eva and me. Me, your new partner.
Things like that tend to inspire mistrust, and just when we were
starting to hit it off so well." He finally stood up, holding the
Llama. Novosty was lounging nervously in the sunshine, fishing for a
cigarette. "Where's your Uzi? You just may need it."

"Michael, all this has nothing to do with me." His eyes were weary.
"I'm operating independently this time."

"Cash and carry. Maybe you should just post your prices, like a cheap

"I prefer to think of myself as an expediter. But this time I
encountered more difficulties than reasonably could be anticipated.
Which is why I need your help now to straighten it out."

"What? The whole shoddy scene? Looks like the KGB's hot on the trail,
say maybe about two feet in back of your ass. Or is it your client, who
you're about to try and screw out of a hundred million dollars?
Incidentally, that's probably a serious miscalculation, health-wise."

"The situation _has_ grown awkward."

"Of course that touching fable about returning the hundred million to
Moscow was just the usual 'disinformation.' "

"You are perfectly correct. It will not be returned. But any thought I
might have had of keeping it now also seems out of the question." He
sighed. "Instead I'm afraid we must - "

"_We_? Now that's what I call balls of brass." He laughed. "Surely even
a fevered imagination like yours can't suppose - "

"Michael, I told you I would split the commission I took for cleaning
it. That offer still holds. Fifty-fifty. I might even go sixty-forty.
What more can you want? But those funds must be delivered. Given the
new situation - "

"Not by me."

"Be a realist, my friend. I no longer have freedom of movement, so now
you are my only hope. If those funds aren't transferred within the
week, I'd prefer not to reflect on the consequences."

"The consequences to your own neck, you mean." Vance stared at him. "By
the way, just out of curiosity, what's the 'prototype'?"

"That's the one thing I cannot possibly discuss, Michael." Novosty
caught his breath. "But what if the contract for it is abrogated
because of those funds not being delivered, what then? What if the USSR
just makes a move to seize it? I fear there could be war, my friend.
Bang, the apocalypse." He flicked his lighter. "Even worse though, as
you say, both parties to the agreement would probably spend a week
devising the most interesting way possible for me to depart this

"If the KGB somehow locates and freezes the embezzled funds before you
can finish transferring them, it could scuttle the whole deal. Mino
Industries would probably be very annoyed. Not to mention certain
parties back home."

"Precisely. You can see we are on a knife edge here. But first things
first. You must return Eva's pirate copy of the protocol, please. I beg
you. It must disappear. I have promised them that, as an act of good
faith. I'm afraid the participants in Tokyo are near to losing patience
with me."

"And what about her?"

"She's with them now." He pointed down the hill, to the long white
limousine. "Unfortunately, they have taken over the situation."

"Better buckle your seat belt, pal. It's about to be a bumpy

"She is safe, don't worry. They have assured me. It is only the
protocol they care about. The matter of security. They know you have
her only other copy, in the computer. Now please let me just give
whatever you have to them. Then let's all try and forget she ever had

"You know, those hoods down there tried a little number on me last
night in Athens." He hadn't moved. "It took the edge off my evening."

"Michael, I tried to tell them that was imprudent. But they are very
concerned about time. Just be reasonable, my friend, and I'm sure
everything can be straightened out." He sighed again. "You know, these
tactics of kidnapping and such are very distasteful to me as well. But
when she told them she didn't have all the material, that you still had
a copy, they decided that taking her into their custody was the best
way to ensure your cooperation."

"They don't know me very well." He looked down the hill. "Tell your
buddies they can go take a jump. Nobody blackmails me. Nobody. I plan
to hang on to this little suitcase till she's out of danger. That's how
we're going to work things. Tell them it's her insurance. They release
her right now, or I'll personally blow their whole deal sky high."

"Tell them yourself, Michael. I'm just here as an observer." He
gestured toward the white limo parked below, nestled in among the line
of tourist automobiles and busses. "And while you're doing that,
perhaps you should ask her if that's her wish as well. They refuse to
release her until they recover the materials she had. They are calling
it 'protection.'"

He stared down. "You've got a hell of a nerve. All of you. Alex, when
this is over - "

"Please. Let's just get this ghastly protocol affair sorted out." He
rubbed at his beard. "Then we can all concern ourselves with what's
really important. The money."

"Right. I almost forgot."

He scanned the hillside. Was everything set? He'd seen no sign. But
then that's how it was supposed to be. The other problem was the
tourists, everywhere, complicating the play.

But maybe the tourists would be a help, would make it start out slow.
Think. How can you use them? Clearly the other side had hoped for an
abandoned place in the middle of nowhere. They had to be off balance
now too.

He hesitated a moment, then decided. Go for it. He had the Llama. Just
settle it here and now.

He took one last look at the temple as he rose. The Delphic oracle.
That's what Eva had been all along. She'd somehow divined the outlines
of the story, but after the disappearance of her old lover at the NSA
she didn't dare speak it directly. Everything was coded language. So
what better place than here on this mountain to finally have a little
plain talk?

As they passed down the last stone steps leading to the roadway, he
found himself thinking about Mino Industries. Did they really have half
a trillion dollars lying around? Not likely. To come up with that kind
of money, even in Japan, you'd have to be deeply plugged into
legitimate financial circles - pension funds, insurance companies,
brokerage houses, banks, all the rest. But still, the _Mino-gumi_ had
connections that went wide and deep, everywhere. Their _oyabun_, Tanzan
Mino, had been in the game for a long, long time.

Now, as he approached the limousine, one of its white doors slowly
began to open. Then a Japanese emerged, dressed in a black polyester
suit. He wore dark sunglasses, and his right wrist was in a cast. The
eyes were very familiar. Also, one of his little fingers was missing.

But Vance's gaze didn't linger long on the hands. His attention was
riveted on what was in them. Yep, he'd seen it right last night. It was
a Heckler & Koch machine pistol. One of those could lay down all thirty
rounds in an eight- inch group at thirty yards. World-class hardware.

It figured. The _Mino-gumi_ was known everywhere as the best-run Yakuza
syndicate of them all. Hardened criminals, they considered themselves
modern-day samurai, upholding some centuries-old code of honor. It was
a contradiction only the Japanese mind could fully accommodate.

Heavy-duty connections, Vance told himself, the very best. Which meant
Novosty was in even bigger trouble than he probably imagined. The
latest rumor in the world of hot money was that Tanzan Mino and his
Yakuza had, through dummy fronts, just bought up half of Hawaii. If
that were true, it meant he laundered real money these days. Who the
hell needed a small-time operator like Alex?

Then the man reached in and caught Eva's arm, pulling her into the
midday glare.

Thank God, he thought, she still looks vaguely okay. Will she be able
to stay on top of this once it gets moving?

He noticed she was wearing a new brown dress, but her short hair was
tangled, her face streaked with pain.

The bastards. They must have worked her over, trying to find out
everything she knew.

There were two "representatives," Novosty had said. So the other man
was still in the limo, in the driver's seat, covering in case there was

Good move. Because there was definitely going to be trouble. A lot of
it. Tanzan Mino's goons were about to have all the trouble they could

"Michael, oh, Christ." She finally recognized him. "Thank God. Just
give them - "

"Can you understand what's going on here?" He raised his hand. "These
guys are _kobun_, professional hit men. They have a very sick sense of
humor. They also have no intention of - "

"Please, they have given me their word." Novosty interrupted him, then
glanced back. "You can see she is well."

She didn't look well at all. She seemed drugged, standing shakily in
the brilliant sunshine, a glazed stare from her eyes, hands twisting at
her skirt.

Eva, Eva, he thought, what did they do to you? Whatever it was, it
worked. You look defeated, helpless.

"Michael, just let them have the computer." She spoke again, her voice
quivering. "They say it's all they want. Then they'll - "

"Eva, it's all a lie. The big lie. So just lighten up and enjoy this.
We're not giving them so much as the time of day until they let you go.
First tell me, how badly did they rough you up? I want to know."

"Michael, please."

"You will be happy to learn that Dr. Michael Vance is a specialist in
international finance," Novosty interrupted, addressing the tall
Japanese. "He has kindly offered to serve as my agent in completing the
final arrangements for the transfer of funds from London. He will
resolve any remaining difficulties. As I said, he is my agent, and it
is important that he not be harmed."

"Alex, back off. I haven't agreed to anything." Vance turned to the
Japanese. "How's the arm? Hope the damage wasn't permanent."

"Where are the NSA materials." The man ignored Vance's question. His
voice was sharp and his English almost perfect. "That is our first
order of business."

"Right here." He lifted the suitcase. "I assume we're all going to deal
honorably for a change. Eva first, then we talk about this."

"I'm sure Dr. Vance has brought everything you want," Novosty added
quickly, glancing over. "Perhaps if he gave the materials to you now,
the woman could be released. Then he and I can proceed immediately with
the matter of the funds."

"You are not involved," the Japanese snapped back. "We have been
authorized to personally handle this breach of security." He stared at
Novosty. "The funds, in fact, were your sole responsibility. They were
to have been transferred to Shokin Gaigoku Bank in Tokyo over a week
ago. You demanded an exorbitant commission, and you did not deliver.
Consequently you will return that commission and our London _oyabun
_will handle it himself."

The _Mino-gumi_ probably should have handled it in the first place,
Vance thought fieetingly. Alex was definitely out of his depth.

"Just a couple of days more . . ." Novosty went pale. "I thought I had
explained - "

"Your 'explanations' are not adequate." The man cut him off, then
pointed to the suitcase in Vance's hand. "Now give us that."

"Why not." He settled the brown leather case onto the asphalt. "It's
good business always to check out the merchandise, make sure it's what
you're paying for."

"She said it was a portable computer." The man walked over, then
cradled the H&K automatic in his bandaged arm while he reached down to
loosen the straps. Next he pulled the zipper around and laid open the

"What is this?" He lifted out the pile of printed paper.

"Guess she forgot to tell you. We cracked the encryption. I thought
maybe you'd like to have a printed version, so I threw one in for

He stared at it a second, almost disbelieving, then looked up. "This is
a photocopy. Where is the original?"

"Original? You mean that's not - ?" Vanced looked at it. "Gee, my
mistake. Guess I must have left it somewhere. Sorry you had to drive
all the way out here from Athens for nothing."

"Jesus, Michael," Eva blurted. "Don't start playing games with them.
They'll - "

"I need all the copies." The man's voice hardened, menacingly. "Where
are they?"

"I don't remember precisely. Tell you what, though. You put her on a
plane back to the States and maybe my recollection might start

"We are wasting time." The door by the steering wheel opened and the
second _kobun _emerged, also carrying an automatic. He was shorter, but
the punch-perm hair and polyester suit appeared to have come from
standard issue, just like the sunglasses. He gestured his weapon toward
Vance. "There is a simple way to improve your memory. You have exactly
ten seconds - "

"My friend, be reasonable," Novosty interrupted, his voice still trying
for calm. "There are people here." He motioned toward the crowd of
gathering tourists. From their puzzled stares, they seemed to be
thinking they were witnessing a rehearsal for some Greek gangster film.

The first man motioned his partner back, then turned to Vance. "You
realize we will be forced to kill her right now if you don't produce
all originals and copies."

"Don't really think you want to do that." Vance stared at him. "Because
if anything happens to her, you're going to be reading about your
'prototype' all over the American newspapers. I can probably even swing
some prime-time TV time for you. I'll take care of it personally."

"No one will believe you."

"Don't think so? My guess is the Washington Post will run your entire
protocol on page one. I'll see they get a very literal translation into
English. Then you won't need this. You can just buy all the copies you
want." He picked up the laptop and walked over to where Eva was

"Here, take this, and get back in the car, now. I think these guys have
got an attitude problem. So screw them."

"Michael." She reached for the computer.

"Get in that one." He pointed toward Alex's gray Saab. "And take the
next plane out of Greece. That place we talked about. Anywhere. Just

"We're getting nowhere," the second man barked again. Then he leveled
his automatic at Vance's right knee and clicked off the safety. There
was a gasp from the gawking tourists, and the crowd began stumbling
backward for cover. "We have ways of extracting information."

Oh, shit, he thought, whoa.

The man's voice suddenly trailed off, while a quizzical expression
spread through his eyes and a red spot appeared on his cheek. Next his
head jerked back and his automatic slammed against the car door, then
clattered across the asphalt.

Not a second too soon, Vance thought.

"No," Eva screamed, "what's happening?" She lurched

backward, then turned and stumbled for the Saab, carrying the computer.

The first _kobun_ glanced around, then raised the H&K in his left hand,
trying to get a grip.

He'll hit the ground and roll, Vance thought, like any pro under fire.

And he did exactly that, with a quick motion over onto his back and
then to his feet again, clicking off the safety as he came up.

"You want to kill us both?" Vance was holding his Llama now, trained on
the sunglasses that had been crushed by the roll, momentarily
distorting the man's line of fire. "Then go for it." He squeezed the

The walnut stock kicked slightly, but he just kept gripping the satin
chrome trigger. Now the gunman's automatic came around, its muzzle
erupting in flame. The crowd scattered, shouting in half a dozen
languages, terrified.

Vance just kept firing, dull thunks into the figure stumbling backward
as the H&K machine pistol erupted spasmodically into the hot, dry air.

"Kill him, Michael. Oh, God! Yes. The bastards." Eva was still yelling
as she slammed shut the door of the Saab. Yelling, cursing, screaming.
Less than a second later the motor roared to life.

Now Novosty was diving across the pavement, toward the open front door
of the limousine.

"Michael, we've got to split up. Get out." He yelled over his shoulder.
"I'll have to go to London now. There's nowhere left. They're going to
come for the money."

Vance scarcely heard him as he held the Llama steady and kept on
squeezing until the magazine was empty and only vacant clicks coursed
through his hand.

The screech of tires brought him back. He looked up to see the white
limousine careening along the edge of the road, barely avoiding the
ditch, its door still open, Novosty at the wheel. Eva was already gone.

He noticed that they'd removed the plates from the limousine, just as
he'd done on his rented Alfa. There would be nothing but terrified
tourists and two illegally armed, very dead Japanese hoods here when
the Greek police finally arrived. The story would come out in a babel
of languages and be totally inconsistent.

Christ! he thought. It was supposed to be over by now, and instead it's
just beginning. When word of this gets back to Tokyo, life's going to
get very interesting, very fast. The _Mino-gumi _knows how to play for
keeps. We've got to blow this thing.

Across, on the hot asphalt, the two Japanese were sprawled askew,
sunglasses crumpled. One body was bleeding profusely from the chest,
the other from a single, perfect hole in the cheek. The _kobun_ who had
come within moments of removing his kneecaps now lay with a small hole
in front of one ear and the opposite side of the face half missing.

What a shot!

But why did he wait so long? We had them in the clear. I see now why
the Greek Resistance scared hell out of . . .

"Never look at the eyes, Michael." The voice sounded from the boulders
of the hillside above, where the muzzle of a World War II German
carbine, oiled and perfect, glinted. "Remember I told you. It gives you
very bad dreams."



Monday 12:08 A.M.

The massive hulk of _Daedalus I _was being towed slowly through the
hangar doors, now open to their full 250-foot span. As it rolled out,
the titanium-composite skin glistened in the fluorescent lights of the
hangar, then acquired a ghostly glow under the pale moonlight. First
came the pen-sharp nose containing the navigational gear, radar, and
video cameras for visible light and infrared; next the massive ramjet-
scramjets, six beneath each swept-back, blunt wing; and finally the
towering tail assembly, twin vertical stabilizers positioned high and
outboard to avoid blanketing from the fuselage. The tow-truck drivers
and watching technicians all thought it was the most beautiful creation
they had ever seen.

This would be Yuri Androv's last scheduled test flight before he took
the vehicle hypersonic. In four more days. He wore a full pressure suit
and an astronaut-style life-support unit rested next to him. As he
finished adjusting the cockpit seat, he monitored the roll-out on his
liquid crystal helmet screens, calling up the visual display that
provided pre-takeoff and line-up checks of the instruments. Not
surprisingly, the numbers were nominal - all hydraulic pressures stable,
all temperatures ambient. As usual, the Japanese technicians had
meticulously executed their own preflight prep, poring over the vehicle
with their computerized checklists. Everything was in the green.

All the same, this moment always brought a gut-tightening blend of
anticipation and fear. This was the part he dreaded most in any test
flight - when he was strapped in the cockpit but without operational
control. He lived by control, and this was one of the few times when he
knew he had none. It fed all the adrenaline surging through him,
pressed his nerves to the limit.

He flipped a switch under his hand and displayed the infrared cameras
on his helmet screens, then absently monitored the massive white trucks

Online LibraryThomas HooverProject Daedalus → online text (page 12 of 30)