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first hypersonic flight," Vera proceeded. "Thus far one of the planes,
that one there on the left" - she pointed - "has been flown to Mach 4.5.
Today's test will take it to the hypersonic regime, over fifteen
thousand miles per hour."

They've leapfrogged the West, Eva was suddenly realizing. It's the X-30
spaceplane America dreams of building in the next century, except it's
here now.

"From the looks of things, I'd say you're on schedule."

Vera clicked something on the desk and a blinking number appeared at
the top of a video screen. It was the countdown. Liftoff was less than
an hour away.

"Yes, so far there has been no hold. Even though today is overcast,
with a low ceiling, we don't experience weather delays like the
American space shuttle. In fact, this plane is virtually weather-proof,
since it leaves from a runway just like a normal passenger jet."

No wonder the test pilot Androv was swaggering, Eva thought. This must
be a flyboy's wet dream.

"One more question. Why are you showing me all this?"

"I told you, there's something I need." She paused, and in the silence
Eva listened to the increasing clamor of preparations in the hangar
outside. "After the test flight this morning, the prototype is
scheduled to be transferred to the Supreme Soviet. However, that cannot
be allowed to happen. Consequently, there will need to be alterations
in the protocol." She clicked on the laptop computer. It hummed lightly
as the hard disk engaged, and then the screen began to glow. "Those
revisions need to be kept out of the system computers here at the
facility for now, so your copy of the text would be an ideal place to
prepare a first draft."

"You're going to pull a fast one." Eva stared at her. "You're going to
tinker with the terms of the deal and turn this plane over to your air
force. Very inventive."

"That is correct. And you are going to help me, Dr. Borodin. You are
going to call up your text and print a copy for me."

Sweetie, you are a piece of work.

"Why bother printing it again? Sorry to tell you, but I've already run
off a copy. It's in my suitcase."

"We searched your bag. There's nothing there."

"You didn't look hard enough." Maybe this was her chance. "Send some of
your thugs to fetch it."

"Very well." She reached for a button on the desk.

Eva turned to look out again through the white mist. Something was
going on now. A motorized cart was pulling up and two men in pressure
suits were getting off. Must be the pilots.

The first to step off the cart was already waving his hands imperiously
at the Japanese technicians. He had to be the Soviet pilot, Androv.
Yep, it was him, swagger and all.

Then the second pressure-suited figure stepped down. That one, she
assumed, must be one of the Mino Industries recruits Androv had been
complaining about. Guess he didn't get very far with his demand to be
in the cockpit alone.

_The walk.

_Memories of a long-ago skin-diving trip to Cozumel flooded back. They
were off the northern reefs, wearing oxygen tanks, admiring the
multicolored banks of coral. Then later, as they staggered up the
beach, she'd laughed at his frog-footed waddle.

_Michael!





















































_





CHAPTER NINETEEN



Friday 8:37 A.M.



As Vance stepped off the motorized cart, the hangar around him was
shrouded in white vapor. The swirling cloud on the ground, the eerie
chiaroscuro of the lights, the amplified voice that ticked off the
countdown - all added to the other-worldliness of the scene. And above
the turmoil two giant spaceplanes loomed, silver monoliths that seemed
to hover atop the pale mist.

Chariots of the gods, he thought, gazing up.

The Russian technicians had carefully suited him exactly as Yuri
Androv, right down to his boots. Next to his skin was the dark-blue
flight suit and cotton-lined leather cap issued to all Soviet pilots,
and over these came a pressurized G-suit fabricated from a heavy
synthetic material; it felt like a mixture of nylon and Teflon. This
was topped off with the flight helmet, complete with a removable
reflecting visor, which conveniently prevented anyone from seeing his
face.

Although the helmet restricted his peripheral vision, he still could
hear clearly through headphones miked on the outside, although they did
make the din of the hangar sound tinny and artificial. A Velcro-backed
insignia of the Minoan Double Ax adhered to his chest; he was posing as
a Mino Industries pilot.

For all its unfamiliarity, however, his gear felt very much like the
rubber wet-suit he donned for scuba diving at depths. The two hoses
fastened to his abdomen could have been connectors for compressed air
tanks and his helmet the oxygen mask. He felt equally uncomfortable.
Only the damned flippers were missing.

Since his RX-10 G-suit was designed for high-altitude flight, intended
to do double-duty as an emergency backup in case of cockpit
decompression, he had to carry along his own personal environmental-
control unit, a white, battery-powered air conditioner the size of a
large briefcase. It hummed lightly as it cooled and dehumidified the
interior of his suit, keeping his faceplate moisture-free. The recycled
air he was breathing smelled stale and vaguely synthetic.

The most uncomfortable part of all, however, not to mention the most
nerve-racking, had to be the six sticks of C-4 plastic explosive and
their radio-controlled detonators now secured against his chest.

Since the Soviet engineers had suited him up in a separate room,
avoiding any contact with the Mino Industries doctors who'd been giving
Androv his preflight physical, he'd yet to see Yuri Andreevich Androv
clearly. He had a partner and he hadn't even had a good look at him
yet.

"The other M-I pilot will be arriving in a few minutes," Androv was
announcing to the white-jacketed Japanese technicians standing by the
Personnel Module. "He was delayed in the briefing." For their benefit
he was speaking English, which, to Vance's surprise and relief, was
almost perfect. They nodded as he continued. "We'll just go on up in
the module. I want to check over the cockpit one last time, make sure
there're no last-minute glitches."

The Personnel Module resembled a small mobile home, except its
pneumatic lift could elevate it sixty feet straight into the air,
permitting direct access to the cockpit's side hatch. It was worlds
away from the fourteen-foot metal ladder used to access a MiG cockpit.

"Flight deck." He was speaking through his helmet mike as he pointed
up. "Understand? Cockpit." Then he turned and motioned for Vance to
follow as he stepped in.

_"Hai_." Vance nodded gravely, Japanese style. "_Wakarimasu_."

Let's hope the haze keeps down visibility, he was thinking. This place
is sure to have video monitors everywhere. And this fancy elevator is
probably bugged too.

Intelligence from Command Central was that Tanzan Mino's two Yakuza
"pilots" were receiving a last-minute briefing from the CEO himself.
Still, they were certain to show up soon. This was no time to dawdle.

The technicians closed the door of the module, then activated the lift
controls. As it began gliding upward, Androv glanced over and gave
Vance a silent thumbs-up. He flashed it back, then set down the heavy
air-conditioning unit and shifted his weight from foot to foot, still
trying to get the feel of the suit.

Maybe, he told himself, this test pilot game is easier than it looks.
But only so long as you never actually have to leave terra firma. Then
it's probably more excitement than the average person needs.

The upward motion halted with a lurch and the module door automatically
slid open. At first glance the open cockpit of the USSR's latest plane
made him think of the inside of a giant computer. Nothing like the eye-
soothing green of a MiG interior, it was a dull off-white in color and
cylindrical, about ten feet in diameter and sixteen feet long. Three
futuristic G-seats equally spaced down the center faced a bank of
liquid crystal video screens along one wall, and lighting was provided
by pale orange sodium vapor lamps integrated into the ceiling.

The real action was clearly the middle G-seat, which was surrounded by
instrument consoles and situated beneath a huge suspended helmet, white
enamel and shaped like a bloated moth. Everything about the controls
bespoke advanced design philosophy: Instead of the usual flight stick
placed between the pilot's knees, it had a multiple-control sidestick,
covered with switches and buttons, situated on the pilot's right,
something only recently introduced in the ultramodern American F-16
Falcon.

Although the throttle quadrant was still located on the left-hand
console, in standard fashion, it, too, had a grip skillfully designed
to incorporate crucial avionics: the multiple radars, identification-
friend-or-foe (IFF) instrumentation, instrument landing system (ILS),
and tactical air navigation (TACAN).

He realized they'd utilized the new Hotas concept - hands on throttle and
stick - that located all the important controls directly on the throttle
and flight stick, enabling the pilot to command the instruments and
flight systems purely by feel, like a virtuoso typist. Even the thin
rudder pedals looked futuristic. The whole layout, in severe blacks and
grays, was sleek as an arrow.

In the end, however, maybe it was all redundant. According to Andrei
Androv this vehicle incorporated an advanced control system called
_equipment vocal pour aeronef_; it could be flown entirely by voice
interface with an artificial intelligence computer. All flight and
avionics interrogations, commands, and readouts could be handled
verbally. You just talked to the damn thing and it talked back. The
twenty-first century had arrived.

The other two G-seats in the cockpit, intended for research scientists,
were positioned on either side of the pilot, about four feet away, with
no controls whatsoever. All this baby needed was Androv and his
computer.

There was more. The space was cylindrical, which could only mean one
thing: It was designed to be rotated, again probably by the computer,
adjusting the attitude or inclination of the pilot continuously to make
sure the G-forces of acceleration and deceleration would always be
acting down on him, like gravity, securing him into that special G-
seat. And why not? Since there was no windscreen, the direction the
pilot faced was irrelevant - up, down, or even backward; who cared?

And the helmet, that massive space-moth intended to be lowered over the
pilot's head. From the briefing, he knew that the screens inside were
how the pilot "saw." Through voice command to the central computer he
could summon any of the three dozen video terminals along the walls and
project them on the liquid crystal displays before his eyes.

"So far, so good," Androv said, stepping in and down. Vance followed,
then reached back to secure the hatch. It closed with a tight,
reassuring thunk. The silent blinking of computer screens engulfed
them.

"By the way, it's up there," Vance said quietly, shifting his head
toward the newly installed video camera positioned just above the entry
hatch. Androv glanced up, nodded, and together they turned away from
it. Then without further conversation they each ripped off their
Velcro-secured insignias - Androv's, the Soviet air force red star
bordered in white; Vance's, the double ax - and exchanged them.

"How much time?" Androv whispered.

"Just give me ten minutes." He held up his heavy wrist-watch. Together
they checked and synchronized.

"Good luck." Androv nodded and gave another thumbs- up sign, then
clasped him in an awkward Russian hug. Vance braced himself for the
traditional male kiss, but thankfully it didn't come. "_Do svidania,
moi droog_," he said finally, standing back and saluting. Then he
grinned and continued in accented English, "Everything will be A-okay."

Without another word he swung open the hatch, passed through, and
stepped into the personnel module.

Vance watched him depart, then turned back to examine the _Daedalus_
cockpit more closely. It was a bona fide marvel.

Screens, banks of screens, all along the wall - almost like a TV
station's control room. Everything was there. Looking across, left to
right, he saw that the engine readouts were placed on top: white bars
showing power level, fan rpm, engine temperatures, core rpm, oil
pressure, hydraulics, complete power-plant status. The next row started
on the navigation and avionics: the radar altimeter, the airspeed
indicator, the attitude-director indicator (AID) for real-time readings
of bank and dive angle, the horizontal situation indicator (HSD) for
actual heading and actual track, and on and on. All the electronics
modules were already operating in standby mode - the slit-scan radar, the
scanners, the high-resolution doppler. Other screens showed the view of
the hangar as seen by the video cameras on the landing gear, now
switched over from their infrared mode to visible light.

The avionics, all digital, were obviously keyed to the

buttons and switches on the sidestick, the throttles, and the two
consoles. Those controls, he realized upon closer inspection, could
alter their function depending on which display was being addressed,
thereby reducing the clutter of separate buttons and toggle switches on
the handgrips.

The cockpit was not over-designed the way so many modern ones tended to
be: instead it had been entirely rethought. There were probably two
hundred separate system readouts and controls, but the pilot's
interface was simple and totally integrated. It was beautiful, a work
of pure artistry.

Which made him sad. He'd always been an aviation buff, and the thought
of obliterating a creation this spectacular provoked a sigh.

On the other hand, H-bombs were probably beautiful too. This was
another vengeful Shiva, Destroyer of Worlds. Ridding the planet of its
first hypersonic weapons delivery system would be a public service to
all humankind.

But first things first. He had no intention of allowing his next moves
to be on TV. The newly installed monitor, part of the "retrofit," was
about to get a small adjustment.

Strolling back toward the entry hatch, he quickly detached the
reflecting outer visor that was designed to drop down over the front of
his flight helmet. Then he reached up and wedged the silvered portion
against the lens. The camera would continue to operate, relaying back
no malfunction signals, but it would be sending a picture of the
ceiling. Next he unzipped his flight suit and carefully unstrapped the
package riding against his chest. Inside were the six taffy-colored
bars of C-4 plastic explosive, each an inch square and six inches long,
all wrapped in clear Cellophane. They almost looked like candy, but
they could blow this entire plane through the hangar's roof.

The charge had to be set before the two Mino-gumi pilots were delivered
by the Personnel Module. When they arrived, he'd simply pretend to be
Yuri Androv and say they all had to go back down for a final check of
their pressure-suit environmental systems. The moment they were clear,
he'd activate the radio and detonate. Then the fun would begin.

There. The two consoles on either side of the central G-seat, that's
where he'd wedge the charges. It was the perfect place, the central
nervous system. After one last, wistful look at the banks of video
displays along the wall, he set to work.



Friday 8:43 A.M.



"Do you understand?" Tanzan Mino asked. It sounded more like a command.
They were in the Mino Industries Prep Section, a preflight briefing
room that led directly into the hangar. The faceplates of the two
pilots' flight helmets were raised, allowing him to see their eyes.
"Any deviation from the prescribed maneuver blocks will signal a
problem."

"_Hai_, Mino-sama," both men nodded grimly. They had come here in the
cockpit of his personal Boeing, and they were not happy with their new
assignment. Neither had the slightest desire to risk his life in the
service of the _oyabun s _megalomania. The command to serve as last-
minute "co-pilots" in the _Daedalus_, however, was an offer they could
not refuse.

"Should anything happen, you will radio Flight Control immediately, and
we will use the plane's artificial intelligence system, the AI module,
to bring it back and land it."

"_Hai_." They nodded again.

"You will not be expected to take the controls," he went on. "The
computer can override all commands from the cockpit. You will merely
ensure the prescribed flight sequence is adhered to."

He paused, intending to collect his thoughts, but an oddity on the
newly installed cockpit monitor caught his notice. He cursed himself
for not having kept an eye on it. He'd been too busy briefing the
pilots and now . . .

Something about the picture was strange. The perspective had changed.
He reached over and, with the push of a button, transferred the image
to the large liquid crystal screen on the side wall. Yes, it was
definitely wrong. He couldn't quite tell . . . Had someone jostled the
camera? There was still a full half hour before . . .

Something had happened in the cockpit.

The prep crews were scheduled to be finished by now - he glanced at a
screen and confirmed that the checklists had already been punched - so no
one had permission to be inside the plane. From this point on, only the
pilots were authorized to be there.

Androv. Where was he? He was supposed to be in the Soviet Flight-Prep
Sector now, across the hangar.

He turned to Taro Ikeda, who was monitoring a line of video screens.
"Check with Flight Prep. Has the Soviet pilot completed his preflight
physical? Has it been signed off?"

"Let me see." He moved immediately to comply. After he tapped a
keyboard, a number matrix appeared on his computer screen, showing the
status of all the preflight sequences. Quickly he called up the pilot
sequence.

"His physical has been completed, Mino-sama. Everything is checked off.
He logged out fifteen minutes ago."

"Then where is he?"

"I'll try and find out."

He reached for a phone and punched in the main number for the Flight
Prep sector. The conversation that followed was quick and, as it
continued, caused a look of puzzlement to spread over his already-
worried face.

"_Hai, domo arigato gozaimashta_," he said finally and hung up. As he
turned back he was growing pale. "Mino-sama, I think there may be a
problem. They say he has already left the sector, but - "

"All right then, where has he gone?"

"Sector Security says he left with one of your pilots, Mino-sama,
headed for the hangar."

The room grew ominously silent. They were both now staring at the two
Mino Industries pilots, standing directly in front of them.

"There must be some mistake." Tanzan Mino inhaled lightly. "Are you
sure you understood correctly?"

"It's obviously impossible. I agree."

"Then what's going on? Whatever it is, I think we'd better find out.
Immediately." He motioned for the two pilots to accompany him as he
rose and headed for the door. "Stay close by. We're going to the
hangar."

Taro Ikeda briskly followed after them into the corridor. If anything
went wrong now, he would be the one held responsible. Some vandal
tampering in the cockpit was the last thing he needed. Everything had
gone smoothly with the countdown so far this morning; he shuddered at
the prospect of a last-minute hold.

Ahead of him, Tanzan Mino was striding down the hallway, _kobun_
bodyguards in tow, headed directly for the wide hangar doors.





Friday 8:49 A.M.



She was still having trouble thinking clearly. Michael was in the
hangar, was actually in one of the planes. What was he doing here?

She barely noticed when a _kobun _walked in and settled her suitcase on
the metal desk. He glanced at it, said something in Japanese, and
disappeared out the door.

The case was heavy leather, acquired from a little side-street shop by
Victoria Station. It looked just as it had when she and Michael stashed
the Uzi back in London. They'd deliberately bought a case heavy enough
to conceal a weapon inside. Had Mino's people gone through it? Discov-
ered the automatic?

"Is this it?" Vera was asking.

"That's the one." She reached down.

"No," Vera said, staying her hand, "I will open it myself." With a
quick motion she pulled around the zipper, then flipped back the heavy
leather top. There lay a battered map of Crete, under it Michael's book
on the palace, piles of rumpled clothes . . .

This isn't how it's supposed to happen, she was thinking. The
automatic's down in the bottom, in a separate section, but if Vera
probes a little she'll find it. I've got to make her -

"There's no printout here." Comrade Karanova finished

digging through the clothes and looked up. "But then there never really
was, was there, Dr. Borodin? Perhaps what you'd hoped to find was this
. . ."

She pulled open the top drawer of the metal desk and lifted out a shiny
black automatic. It was an Uzi.

"You didn't really think you could do something as amateurish as
smuggle a weapon into this facility." She shoved it back into the
drawer.

"Congratulations. You've done your homework." So much for surprising
Vera Karanova. Apparently that wasn't something easily managed.

"Now we will print a new copy of the protocol," she said, shoving the
suitcase over to one corner of her desk. "I don't want to waste any
more time."

"Right. Time is money."

So now it was up to Michael. Maybe if she could stall Vera long enough,
whatever he was involved in would start to happen.

Glancing out again at the vapor-shrouded floor of the hangar, she
fleetingly wondered if maybe she'd been seeing things. No, she was
certain. That walk, that funny walk he always had when he didn't feel
in control. She knew it all too well; she knew him all too well. He'd
arrived on the hangar floor riding on that little motorized cart,
together with the Soviet pilot, and they'd both entered the hydraulic
personnel carrier and been raised up to the cockpit. Then the carrier
had come back down and disgorged the Soviet pilot, who'd immediately
disappeared into the haze. Which meant Michael still had to be up
there.

What was he doing? Had he somehow thrown in his lot with the Soviets?
He certainly wouldn't work for Tanzan Mino, so that meant there had to
be a revolt brewing. The thing now was to link up, join forces. It was
hard to figure.

Oh, shit.

Coming through the wide hangar doors, headed for the same personnel
transporter Vance had taken, was Tanzan Mino and a host of his _kobun_
bodyguards, followed by two more men in pressure suits. He looked as
though he had every intention of - yes, now he was saying something to
the operators of the personnel carrier. They all were going up.

Whatever Michael was doing, Mino-san wasn't going to be pleased. The
whole scene was about to get crazy. Did Mike have a weapon? Even if he
did, he wouldn't stand a chance.



Friday 8:52 A.M.



"Take it up."

Tanzan Mino was marching up the steps of the Personnel Module,
accompanied by six _kobun _in black leather jackets and the M-I pilots.

The operators glanced at each other, then moved to comply. One Japanese
pilot had just come down and disappeared into the haze. Now two more
had arrived, along with the CEO. Were there three Japanese pilots?
Things were starting to get peculiar. But then this was no ordinary
flight; it was the big one.

The door clicked shut with a quiet, pneumatic whoosh, and the module
began its ascent. As they rode, Tanzan Mino reflected that in less than
an hour this vehicle would be setting new records for manned flight.
The world would hear about it from a press conference he would hold in
Tokyo, carried live around the globe. That press briefing would also
announce a new alliance between Japan and the Soviet Union. It would be
a double coup. The planet's geopolitics would never again be the same.

The module glided to a halt and its door opened.

He'd been right. The cockpit hatch was sealed, which meant somebody was
inside. The Soviet pilot must be up to something. But what?

Then, unbidden, the pressure hatch started opening, slowly swinging
back and around, and standing there, just inside, was a man in a
pressure suit. There was no reflecting visor on his helmet now to hide
his face.



Friday 8:53 A.M.



Vance stared at the small army facing him, including Tanzan Mino and



Online LibraryThomas HooverProject Daedalus → online text (page 26 of 30)