Yes, I expected the _Daedalus_ would intrigue you. You are a man of
insatiable intellectual appetite."
"I'm not sure that's necessarily a compliment."
"It wasn't necessarily meant to be. Sometimes curiosity needs to be
curbed. But if we can agree on certain matters, I shall enjoy providing
you a personal tour, to satisfy that curiosity. You are a man who can
well appreciate both my technological achievement and my strategic
The old boy's finally gone off the deep end, Vance told himself.
Megalomania. "Incidentally, by 'strategic coup' I suppose you're
referring to the fact you've got them exactly where you want them. The
"What do you mean?" His eyes hardened slightly.
"You know what I mean. They probably don't realize it yet, but you're
going to end up with the Soviet Far East in your wallet. For the price
of a hot airplane, you get to plunder the region. They're even going to
be thanking you while you reclaim Sakhalin for Japan. This _Daedalus_
spaceship is going to cost them the ranch. Have to admit it's
brilliant. Along with financing the whole scheme by swindling Benelux
"You are too imaginative for your own good, Dr. Vance," he said, a thin
smile returning. "Nobody is going to believe your interpretation of the
"You've got a point. Nobody appreciates the true brilliance of a
criminal mind. Or maybe they just haven't known you as long as I have."
"Really, I'd hoped we would not descend to trading insults." He reached
to refill Vance's sake saucer. "It's demeaning. Instead I'd hoped we
could proceed constructively."
"Well then, perhaps you'll forgive me if I'm somewhat blunt. I'm afraid
my time is going to be limited over the next few hours. I may as well
tell you now that we are about to have the first hypersonic test of the
_Daedalus_. Tomorrow morning we will take her to Mach 25. Seventeen
thousand miles per hour. A speed almost ten times greater than any air-
breathing vehicle has ever before achieved."
"The sky's the limit," he whistled quietly. Alex hadn't known the half
of it. This was the ultimate plane.
"Impressive, I think you'll agree." Mino smiled and poured more sake
"That ought to grease the way in the Diet for your deal. And the
protocol's financial grab ought to sail through the Supreme Soviet. You
prove this marvel can work and the rest is merely laundering your
"So I would like to think," he nodded. "Of course, one never knows how
these things will eventually turn out."
"So when do I get a look at it?"
"Why, that all depends on certain agreements we need to make."
"Then I guess it's time I heard the bottom line."
"Most assuredly." He leaned back. "Dr. Vance, you have just caused me
considerable hardship. Nor is this the first occasion you have done so.
Yet, I have not achieved what I have to date without becoming something
of a judge of men. The financial arrangements you put together in
London demonstrated, I thought, remarkable ingenuity. There could be a
place for you in my organization, despite all that has happened between
"I don't work for the mob, if that's what you're hoping."
"Don't be foolhardy. Those days are well behind me," he went on calmly,
despite the flicker of anger in his eyes. "The completion of this
project will require financial and strategic skills well beyond those
possessed by the people who have worked for me in the past."
"All those petty criminals and hoods, you mean."
"I will choose to ignore that," he continued. "Whatever you may wish to
call them, they are not proving entirely adequate to the task at hand.
You bested my European people repeatedly and brought me a decided
Speaking of which, Vance found himself suddenly wondering, a thought
out of the blue, what's happened to Vera? She's been European point
woman for this whole scam. Where's she now?
Mino continued. "Therefore I must now either take you into my
organization or . . ." He paused. "It's that simple. Which, I wonder,
will it be?"
Vance studied him. "A lot depends on what happens to Eva."
"The fate of Dr. Borodin depends largely on your decision. So perhaps I
should give you some time to think it over." He leaned back. "Or
perhaps some inducement."
Vance didn't know what he meant. At first. Then he turned and looked
behind him. There waiting on the stony walkway of the garden were three
of Tanzan Mino's personal _kobun_, two of whom he recognized from
London. The CEO's instructions to them were in rapid-fire Japanese, but
he needed no translation as they moved forward.
Thursday 5:18 P.M.
Yuri Andreevich was mad as hell. After his one-on-one with Tanzan Mino,
he knew he'd been screwed. Sticking a couple of "pilots" from Mino
Industries in the cockpit. It was just the old GRU trick, surveillance
under the specious guise of "support." He'd seen it all before.
But he'd had an idea. A flash. What about the woman Nikolai had seen?
The one he said was T-Directorate?
A knockout. That's what Nikolai had claimed, so she shouldn't be hard
to track down. He'd been methodically working the crowded corridors of
the North Quadrant, checking every open doorway. Although the facility
was huge and sprawling, he figured she'd probably be somewhere here
close to Command Sector.
Where the hell could she be?
One thing was sure: Tanzan Mino was as sharp as all the rumors said.
The bastard had been on-site for less than a day and already he'd
suspected that something was brewing. So he'd made his own preemptive
The problem now was, how to outsmart him.
This T-Directorate operative had to be the way. After he got her into a
receptive mood, he'd lay out his case. Point out he had enough to worry
about in the cockpit without playing flight instructor to a couple of
Mino Industries greenhorns. He'd never flown an experimental plane with
civilian copilots and he damned sure wasn't going to start now.
_Govno_! Where the hell was she?
He continued methodically checking the North Quadrant offices just down
from the Command Sector, hoping somebody there had seen her. The whole
place was getting hectic now: last-minute briefings right and left.
Whenever he'd spot a friendly Russian face, he'd collar its owner to
inquire about her. Fortunately he had an A-level pass, so all he had to
do was flash it to the security stiffs at each sector checkpoint and
they'd wave him past. He'd just talked to a couple of flight engineers
coming out of a briefing room who claimed they'd spotted her in the
hallway no more than half an hour ago.
But why was she here at all? It made no sense. Unless she'd defected,
gone to work for Mino Industries. Which was exactly the kind of thing
you'd expect from one of those opportunistic KGB bastards.
_Konyechnaya! _There she was, shapely ass and all, just in front of
him, headed for Sector Control and flanked by two Japanese security
types. They were striding close by, probably showing her around. Maybe
she was worried about safety here with all these sex-starved engineers.
Odd, but her walk wasn't exactly what he'd expected. Seemed a little
too knowing. Guess that's what happens when you spend too much time in
the decadent capitalist West.
He decided to just make his move right there in the hall. Truthfully
she did look like a hot number. Nikolai wasn't kidding. This was going
to be more interesting than he'd figured.
_Zadroka!_ A piece!
Thursday 5:27 P.M.
"_Strasvetye_," came a voice behind Eva. "_Kak pazhavatye_."
She whirled around. Moving in fast was a tall and - admit it - not bad-
looking Soviet major.
"_Ya _Yuri Andreevich Androv," he declared with a light, debonair bow.
His Russian was cultivated, Moscow. "They tell me you just got here.
Thought we should meet. You've probably heard of me."
"I have no idea who you are," she heard herself saying.
Where the hell did they take Michael? she was wondering. Right after he
met with Tanzan Mino, he'd disappeared. And now she was being moved.
She didn't know where, but she did know one thing: all the phony
politeness was over. Things had gotten very rough, very fast. She was
being relocated to a secure location in the Soviet section, or so she
suspected, but she figured project management mainly just wanted to
keep her out of the way.
Right now, though, she had an agenda of her own.
"I'm a servant of the people." The major who called himself Yuri Androv
winked. "Like you. I'm frequently asked to try and kill myself in their
"I don't know - " she tried to answer, but the Japanese guards were
roughly pulling her on.
"I'm the test pilot for the vehicle," he finally announced.
"How lovely." She glared at him. "I hope it's going to be a smashing
"I'm about to find out. Tomorrow morning. Right now all I want to do is
try and get back in one piece. Which is why I need to talk to you." He
caught her arm, temporarily blocking the two uniformed Mino Industries
guards. Then he continued on in Russian. "I've got a problem. We've got
a problem. I was hoping you could help me out."
When the two security men tried to urge her on, he flashed his A-level
at them and told them to lay the fuck off, in explicit Russian.
Startled, they froze.
That's when it finally dawned on her. This idiot must think I'm Vera.
Now he was withdrawing a white packet of English cigarettes and
offering her one. Instinctively, she reached out.
"So how can I help you, Major Androv?" Eva flashed him a smile as he
lit her English Oval with a match.
"It's the test flight tomorrow. Nobody should be near that cockpit who
hasn't been certified to at least ten G's in the simulator. I tried to
tell him, but he wouldn't listen."
"Ten G's?" She was trying to keep him talking. "That's - "
"Damned dangerous. But we need it to bring the scramjets up to rated
thrust, at least the first time. They've never been tested in flight.
We just don't know."
"And nobody else here has been certified?" She wasn't even sure exactly
what "certified" meant, but she tried to look concerned.
"Exactly. Now all of a sudden he wants to stick a couple of his Nips in
the cockpit there with me, probably crop-duster screw-ups from Mino
Industries." He finally lit his own cigarette, with a suggestive
flourish. Christ, she thought, why do all Soviet pilots think they're
God's gift to women. "I tell you it's idiotic." He exhaled through his
nose. "You've got to help me make him see that, before it's too late."
She glanced sideways at the two impatient Japanese. From their blank
faces she realized they hadn't understood a word.
Well, she thought, right now I've got nothing to lose.
"What you're saying, Major, is very disturbing. Perhaps we should have
a word with the CEO right away. We both know time's getting short." She
glanced down the hall toward the wide doors at the end: Command Sector.
"Why don't we just go in together and see him?" She'd noticed the
major's A-level, which seemed to carry clout. "Maybe you can deal with
these flunkies." She indicated the _Mino-gumi kobun _posing as her
guards. "Since I neglected to bring my pass, they have no idea who I
He laughed. "Guess a few assholes around here are in for a surprise."
No kidding, she thought. Mainly you, flyboy.
God, nobody can strut like a Soviet Air Force pilot. Hard currency
stores, scotch from Scotland, American cigarettes, French porno videos.
They think they own the world. Bad luck, Romeo. You're about to have
Tanzan Mino all over your case. Maybe you'll end up so rattled tomorrow
you'll crash and burn.
He turned and waved his pass at the two guards. "_Mino-san wa_.
Important business _desu_."
Then he seized her arm and pushed the guards aside. "Come on. Maybe you
can get these fuck-ups fired after we're through."
"I'll see what I can do." She smiled again. "By the way, you're
confirming that the big test flight is still on? In the morning?" She
paused, still not sure exactly what the test was all about.
"Oh-nine-thirty hours. All the way." He was leading the way briskly
down the crowded corridor.
"And you're going to . . . "
"Take her hypersonic. Mach 25. Straight to the edge. Brush the stars.
And believe me, I've got to be alone. I can't be running a flight
school." He was striding ahead of her now, talking over his shoulder.
"Which is why you've got to help me talk some sense into that old
fucker. Excuse me," he said, grinning in mock apology, "the CEO."
The guards at the wide double doors leading into Tanzan Mino's suite
just gaped as Yuri Andreevich Androv flourished his A-level at them and
then shoved his way past, oblivious to the clamor of Japanese shouts
now trailing in his wake.
"_Mino-san, pazhalsta_," he said to the figure standing in the
anteroom, scarcely noticing it was a woman, and too expensively dressed
for a receptionist. Eva watched Vera Karanova lunge for a button on the
desk as he pushed open the teakwood door leading into Tanzan Mino's
The first thing she noticed was the wide window behind the desk opening
on a stunning view of the straits, the setting sun glancing off the
tips of the whitecaps. Seated behind the desk, monitoring a line of
computer screens, was a silver-haired executive.
So that's what he looks like, she thought. Perfect. Central casting
couldn't have done better.
"Yuri Andreevich, what . . . ?" he glanced up, glaring at Eva. "I see
you've met one of our American guests."
"American?" Androv stopped, then looked at her, puzzled.
Better make this fast, she told herself. In about five seconds Comrade
Karanova's going to take this Soviet hero's head off.
"Listen, you bastard." She was storming the desk. "If you so much as
lay a finger on Michael or me, either one of us, the National Security
Agency is going to close you down so fast you'll think an H-bomb hit
this fucking place. I want to see the American ambassador, and I want
my belongings returned."
"Everything is being taken care of, Dr. Borodin." Vera Karanova
answered from the doorway. Eva glanced back and saw a platoon of eight
_Mino-guchi kobun_, Mino's personal bodyguards, all with automatics.
"You will come with us."
Androv was staring blankly at her now, his swagger melting like
springtime Georgian snow. "You're American? National Security?"
"They kidnapped us. In London. They're going to screw you, everybody.
We found out - "
"My name is Eva Borodin. I'm director of Soviet SIGINT for the National
Security Agency in Washington. And Mike Vance, CIA, is here too. God
knows what these criminals are doing to him right now. But they're
about to take you apart too, hotshot. So have a nice day. And while
you're at it - "
"Tovarisch Androv, you have just done a very foolish thing." Vera's
voice was frigid. "I don't think you realize how foolish."
"Dr. Borodin," Mino finally spoke, "you are even more resourceful than
I'd expected. Resourcefulness, however, is not prudence. Dr. Vance is
currently . . . reviewing a proposal I made him. You should be hoping
he will accept. As for the National Security Agency, they believe you
are still on holiday. After tomorrow, it will not matter. Nothing you
can do will interfere with our schedule."
"We'll see about that."
"Trust me," he smiled. Then his look turned grave and shifted. "Major
Androv, you will kindly remain after they have taken her away."
Friday 1:17 A.M.
The room was cold. Just cold. That was the first thing he'd noticed
when they shoved him in. It still was. For nine hours he'd been sitting
on a hard, canvas-covered Soviet cot, shivering.
The place was no larger than a small cell, with a tile floor, ice gray
concrete walls, and two bare fluorescent bulbs for lighting. No heat.
There was a slight vibration - it seemed to be part of the room itself -
emanating from the walls and floor. He'd tracked it to a large wall
Ventilation system could use adjusting, he'd thought, fan housing's
loose somewhere. They also could turn up the damned heat.
He was wearing only what he'd had on in London, and this definitely was
not London. Hokkaido was a much colder part of the planet.
The room had the feeling of a quick, slapped-together job. But it also
looked like it could withstand a medium-sized nuclear detonation. One
thing was sure, though: It wasn't built with comfort in mind. The door
was steel, the same dull hue as the rest. It was bolted from the
But if isolation and cold were Tanzan Mino's idea of how to break his
spirit, to see how tough he was, the man was in for some
What the Mino Industries CEO had unwittingly accomplished by moving him
here, however, was to enlighten him about the layout of the place. As
he was being escorted down the crowded facility corridors by the three
leather-jacketed _kobun_, he'd passed a projection video screen
suspended over the center of a main intersection. The location seemed
to be some sort of central checkpoint, and the screen displayed a
schematic of the whole facility.
He'd faked a stumble and used the recovery time to quickly scan its
He leaned back on the cot and ran through one more time what he'd seen
on the screen, trying to imprint it in his memory.
Insight number one: the facility was organized into four main
quadrants, with a layout like a large X. Some of the writing was
Japanese, but mostly it was Russian Cyrillic characters. He massaged
his temples and visualized it again.
The first thing he'd focused on was something called the North
Quadrant, whose Russian designation was Komendant. It looked to be the
command center, with a red-colored area labeled in both Japanese and
Russian. Next to that were a lot of little rooms, probably living
quarters or barracks. Kanji ideograms identified those, so that section
was probably where the Japanese staffers bivouacked.
That command section, he'd realized, was where he and Eva had been.
They'd been quartered in a part of Tanzan Mino's private suites, the
belly of the beast.
It got even more interesting. The other three quadrants were where the
real work was going on. On the right side of the screen was East
Quadrant, whose label was _Komputer/ Kommunekatseon, _ which meant it
contained the computers and communications set-up. Flight Control. And
the South Quadrant, the _Assamblaya_, consisted of a lot of large open
bays, probably where the two prototypes had been assembled. Those bays
connected directly to a massive sector labeled _Angar_, the hangar. But
the bays also had separate access to the runway, probably for delivery
of prefabricated sections from somewhere else.
The West Quadrant appeared to house test facilities; the one label he
could read was _Laboratoraya_. Probably materials labs, next to a
configuration that could have been a large wind tunnel. Made sense.
That quadrant also had more small rooms with Russian labels. He'd
studied the screen a second longer and . . .
Bingo. He'd realized he was being moved into the Soviet sector,
probably the barracks and laboratory area.
This had to be the least used location in the facility now, he told
himself. All the wind tunnel testing of sections and the materials
research was probably wrapped up, meaning this area was history.
Yesterday's news. So the CEO had shunted him to this obscure lock-up in
the West Quadrant, the Soviet section. What better spot to discreetly
dispose of somebody for a while?
Time to brush up your Russian.
Problem was - he grimaced at the realization - there wasn't a heck of a lot
left to brush. He'd had a year at Yale, just enough to let him struggle
along with a dictionary and squeak around some standard language
requirement. That was it. He'd never given it a second thought
afterward. Instead he'd gone on to his real love - ancient Greek. Then
later, in CIA days, the action had been Asia. At one time he'd ended up
doing some consulting for Langley's Far Eastern INTEL desk, helping
coordinate American and Japanese fieldwork.
He could swing the Japanese, but the Russian . . .
Tanzan Mino probably knew that, yet another reason why he'd decided on
this transfer. There'd be fewer people here to communicate with. Smart.
The labyrinth of King Minos, brainchild of Daedalus, that's what he
felt trapped in. But Theseus, the Greek prince who killed the monster,
got some help from Minos's daughter, Ariadne. A ball of string to help
him find his way out of the maze. This time around, though, where was
help going to come from? Maybe the first job here was to kill the
monster, then worry about what came next.
Partly to generate a little body heat, he turned and braced himself at
an angle against the door, starting some half push-ups. With his hands
on the door, he also could sense some of the activity in the hallway
outside. He figured it had to be after midnight by now, but there were
still random comings and goings. Activity, but nothing . . .
He felt a tremor, then heard a loud scraping and the sound of a bolt
being slid aside.
He quickly wheeled and flattened himself against the wall, looking
futilely for something to use as a weapon. Aside from the cot, though,
there was nothing.
Okay, this would be hand to hand. He could use the exercise. Besides,
he was mad enough.
The gray steel door slowly began to swing inward; then a mane of white
hair tentatively appeared, followed by a rugged ancient face as the
visitor turned to stare at him through heavy glasses.
"_Strasvitye_," the man said finally, uncertainty in his gravelly
voice. "_Ya Doktor Andrei Petrovich Androv_."
Friday 1:20 A.M.
_Would the idea work? Yuri still didn't know. As he walked between the
vehicles, the hangar's wide banks of fluorescents glaring down on the
final preflight preps for _Daedalus I_, he was sure of only one thing:
at this point, the revised plan was the only option left. Would the
The woman, the bitch, was no fool: An insight he'd come by the hard
way. But maybe the CIA guy - what had she said his name was? - Vance?
How the hell did he get here? However it had happened, he was being
kept in the West Quadrant. It had been no trick to find him.
He was a godsend; his help would make the scenario possible. Now it
merely required split-second timing.
He glanced up at the big liquid crystal display screen on the far wall,
noting it read zero minus eight hours ten minutes. He should be back in
the West Quadrant now, catching some sleep - if Taro Ikeda knew he was
here in the hangar, there'd be hell to pay - but time was running out.
Tanzan Mino had listened icily to his renewed arguments against
additional personnel in the cockpit, then declared that the viability
of the program depended on having backups. Merely an essential
precaution. End of discussion.
Bullshit. As soon as the political games were played out, the CEO was
planning to get rid of him, probably by some "accident."
Well, screw him. And that's where the American came in. The thing to do
was just appear to be proceeding with the countdown normally, keep
everything innocent. Then, at the last minute . . .
He stared up at _Daedalus I _one last time, watching as the maintenance
crews finished the last of the preflight scramjet preps. And he shook
his head in amazement that Andrei Androv and all his damned propulsion
engineers could create a genuine technological miracle and still be
total bumblers when it came to what in hell was really happening.
These technical types thought they were so brilliant! But if it had
taken them all this time to realize they'd been fucked by Mino
Industries, then how smart could they really be? Made him wonder how
the Baikonur Cosmodrome ever managed to get so much as a turnip into
Now these same geniuses had to get _Daedalus II _flight- ready in just
a few hours, and had to do it without anyone suspecting what they were
doing. Finally, they had to be ready to roll into action the instant
the "accident" happened. No trial runs.
He checked his watch and realized his father's propulsion team was
already gathering at Number One, the final meeting. The question now
was, could they really deliver? The American was the key.
Friday 1:21 A.M.
"Your name Vance?" The Russian voice, with its uncertain English, was
the last thing he'd expected.
"Who are you?"
"For this vehicle, I am Director Propulsion System," he replied