Copyright
Thomas Hoover.

Project Daedalus online

. (page 27 of 30)
Online LibraryThomas HooverProject Daedalus → online text (page 27 of 30)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


his two pilots. This definitely was not the drill. Something had gone
very, very wrong. Had some of the Soviet ground crews lost their nerve
and talked? Whatever had happened, things were headed off the track.

The C-4 explosive was set. But this was hardly the moment to activate
the detonators and blow the place.

"How did you get here?" The CEO's eyes narrowed to slits.

"I decided to take you up on that tour."

"What do you think you're doing?"

"Planning a vacation. Checking out the transportation."

"Very amusing, Dr. Vance," he said, staring at a length of C-4, a glass
and metal detonator shoved into its side, wedged next to the sidestick.
"But who else is part of your scheme? You didn't arrange this
unassisted."

"Why would anybody else be involved? I just thought it'd be fun to kick
off today's celebration with a bang."

"I'm afraid you will have to be disappointed." He turned to the
_kobun_. "Clear the cockpit. Sweep it. And then," he glanced up, "after
Dr. Vance replaces the visor on his flight helmet, we will escort him
to my office for a very brief and undoubtedly very illuminating
interview."



Friday 9:03 A.M.



"What's happening?" Vera had turned to watch through the white haze as
the last _kobun _dismounted from the personnel module, following Tanzan
Mino and the three pilots.

"Maybe there's been a glitch in the countdown after all." Eva was
trying to sound casual. Vera couldn't know the tall pilot in the
middle, the one being helped along by Tanzan Mino's musclemen, was
Michael. "Looks like Major Androv has got himself into some trouble."

She could tell Vance was mad as hell. They'd probably roughed him up a
little there in the cockpit, just to get started, and now they were
intending to really go to work on him. But he must be part of a group,
so where was everybody else?

"Androv has to fly the plane today. We have everything scheduled. Why
are they taking him away?" Vera turned and stalked for the door. "This
cannot be permitted. Whatever the problem is, it has to be solved right
here. Now. The flight must go forward. Too much is riding on it."

Eva watched her stride out into the white haze of the hangar. She
wanted to follow, but then she thought of something better.



Friday 9:05 A.M.



He was wondering when to try and make a break. But how far could he
get, encumbered with the pressure suit?

Where's the backup? Are they going to let me just twist in the wind?

The original scenario had fallen apart, but that didn't mean the game
was over. The Soviet engineers he'd seen clearly wouldn't be any help
in a crisis, but the test pilot Androv was another story. He'd surely
try to pull something back together. Where was he? Probably still up in
the other cockpit, getting _Daedalus II _ready. So now . . .

That's when he saw her, coming out of an office whose doorway was only
half visible through the clouds of mist. It looked like . . . Vera
Karanova. She was striding directly toward them, intercepting Tanzan
Mino's small procession.

"Where are you taking him?" She pointed toward Vance, glancing at his
Red Star insignia, as she addressed the godfather in English.

"Are you attempting to interfere in my affairs now, too?" Tanzan Mino
demanded as he paused to stare.

"I just want to know what it is you're doing," she replied.

"I am handling a problem," he said coldly as he examined her. "There is
a traitor, or traitors, among the Soviets. I intend to find out who's
involved."

"What do you mean?" An edge of nervousness entered her voice.

Vance was coming up. "Sorry I screwed up, Vera," he said in English.
"So close yet so far. Somebody must have blown the whistle."

"You're not - " She stared as he lifted the visor of his flight helmet.

"But what the hell," he went on. "We gave it a shot. Nothing ventured,
nothing - "

"We?" She examined him, puzzled.

"I suspected all along you could not be trusted." Tanzan Mino's calm
facade seemed to crack as his face flushed with anger. "But I had no
idea you would actually betray the entire project. Sabotage the
vehicle."

"I don't know anything about sabotage." She clearly was startled,
attempting to maintain calm in her voice. "If Vance has - "

"It appears I'm surrounded by treachery and traitors." His voice
quavered as he stepped over to one of the _kobun_, then reached in and
withdrew the 9mm Walther automatic from the man's shoulder holster.
When he turned back, his eyes were opaque with anger and paranoia. He'd
clearly snapped, lost it. "Mr. Vance, I want to know the names of
everyone who was involved in this plot. Everyone. If I am satisfied you
are telling the truth, then perhaps I will consider sparing your
miserable life. Otherwise . . ."

He turned back to Vera. She was staring at the gun, her face ashen, not
letting herself believe what her eyes were telling her. The white mists
of the hangar swirled around them, creating ghostly shadows across the
expressionless faces of the _kobun_.

"You made a very grave error in judgment," he was saying to her. "I
don't yet know precisely what you were expecting to accomplish, but
whatever it was, I can assure you I am not a man who tolerates
disloyalty."

His expression was strangely distant as he raised the pistol and fired,
one precise round, a dull thunk barely audible above the din of the
hangar.

Vance watched in dismay as Vera Karanova stumbled

backward, her dark eyes uncomprehending. It was a gangland-style
execution, quick and preemptory, the time-honored way. No appeals or
due process.

He'd been hoping merely to gain some time for Androv, not cause her to
be murdered on the spot. Now Tanzan Mino turned to him, still gripping
the pistol. His face was distorted in irrational fury. "Perhaps I made
a mistake just now, Dr. Vance. What do you think?"

"Probably a pretty serious one."

"Yes, now that I reflect on it, I'm inclined to agree. The culprit we
seized red-handed was you. You are the one I should be making an
example of." He was raising the Walther again.

It began so quickly he almost didn't realize it was happening. From out
of the swirl of mist that engulfed _Daedalus_ /'s landing gear a white-
haired old man appeared, grasping a pistol. Tanzan Mino turned to
stare, just in time to hear him yelling - in Russian.

"Release him. Release my son. I order you." He was closing on the
group, about twenty feet in front of them, brandishing the weapon
uncertainly. Vance couldn't make out what caliber it was, but he
doubted it mattered. Andrei Androv clearly had no idea how to use it.
His was an act of desperation.

Then another realization clicked.

He said "my son." He thinks I'm Yuri.

Before anybody could move, a white pressure suit materialized out of
the distant haze around _Daedalus II_. It was Yuri Androv, running
toward his father, shouting. "_Nyet_! Don't - "

"Release him, I tell you." Andrei Androv didn't hear him as he
continued to move menacingly on Tanzan Mino. The outcome was
inevitable.

Vance ducked and rolled for the Personnel Module just as the _kobun's_
line of H&K automatics flared.

Andrei Androv lurched, gray hair flying, and managed to get off two
rounds. But instead of hitting a _kobun_, he caught one of the Mino
Industries pilots, visor up, directly in the face.

Comrade Doktor Andrei Petrovich Androv, dean of Soviet propulsion
technology, chief designer of the _Daedalus_, died instantly, his eyes
still fixed in determination. However, Tanzan Mino's _kobun_ weren't
tidy. One of them squeezed off a couple more rounds just as Yuri Androv
ran up and leaned over his father's crumpled body. With a groan, he
spun around and staggered against the huge 22-ply tires of _Daedalus
_/'s starboard landing gear.

It still wasn't over. As Vance scrambled against the Personnel Module,
he caught a glimpse of something that, faintly visible through the
clouds of cryogenic fog, apparently was escaping everybody else.
Another woman was standing in the door of the office where Vera
Karanova had been. Holding an Uzi.

How had she managed to get her hands on that?

Not a second too soon. She can sweep the floor. Just get out of the way
and give her an opening. Maybe there's still time.

He began scrambling for the base of the Personnel Module. Now the white
mist was obscuring everything, and Tanzan Mino seemed to have enveloped
himself in it. He was nowhere to be seen. However, his presence was not
missed by his _kobun_, who were still taking care of business.

The next agenda item, Vance realized, was himself. As he tried to roll
under the module, one was turning, raising his automatic . . .

Now Eva was yelling, "Michael, stay down."

The _kobun_ all whirled back, but she was ready. Stock extended, full
auto.

Jesus, he thought, that hood in the back is holding enough C-4 to clear
a small arena. If she hits one of the detonators . . .

It was either a lucky or an unlucky shot. After eight rounds, less than
a second's worth, a blinding ball of fire erupted where the _kobun_ had
been, sending a shock wave rolling through the open space of the
hangar, knocking over technicians almost a hundred feet away. As Vance
was slammed under the Personnel Module, out of the corner of his eye he
saw Eva being thrown against the doorframe of the office. The air
blossomed with the smell of deadly C-4, like acrid Sterno. Not for
nothing did the U.S. military swear by it.

Now Yuri Androv was peeling himself off _Daedalus II's _landing gear,
his flight suit blackened and smudged. Blood from a bullet wound was
running down the right sleeve.

They'll be coming for us all, Vance thought. Tanzan Mino's probably
somewhere radioing for more guards right now.

Eva was stalking through the smoke, still grasping the Uzi.

"Michael, are you all right?"

"Hell of a morning." He was pulling himself out from under the
Personnel Module, awkwardly trying to straighten his flight helmet.
"You took out the palace guard, everybody but Mr. Big. Congratulations.
And I thought CIA had a patent on that kind of operation."

Already emergency alarms had begun a high-pitched whine, blaring
through the cavernous hangar. Everything around them was chaos.

"You know," she yelled above the noise, "he's going to kill us
immediately. There's no way he's going to - "

"I figure we've got about two minutes to think of something," he yelled
back and pointed. "Check on the pilot. His name is Androv."

"I know. I met him last night." She turned and stared. "We had a small
misunderstanding."

"Well, let's see if he's still in any condition to fly."

"You mean?"

"How else? You got any better ideas, I'd like to hear them."

Yuri Androv had worked his way through the carnage of the explosion,
the scattered remains of Tanzan Mino's phalanx of _kobun_, to again
bend over the form of his father. Once more the cloud of obscuring mist
was flowing over the scene, blanking it.

At that moment, however, a pale glow laid itself around them, the murky
light of overcast dawn. Vance realized the Soviet technicians had
thrown open the hangar doors and were scrambling out onto the tarmac.

Good, let them. We might just follow suit.

Now Yuri Andreevich Androv was approaching, clasping his right arm.

"We've got to get him fixed," Vance said briskly, looking him over,
"put on a tourniquet."

"Think he can still fly?"

"I say we make him fly."

With his left hand Androv peeled back his helmet visor and kissed Eva.
"_Spacebo_," he said in Russian, "you did what I would have done if I'd
had a weapon. But now I don't know what - "

"How's your arm?" Vance cut in. "We've got to make a decision right
now. When the reinforcements arrive, it's game over. One little Uzi
won't handle their firepower."

Androv frowned. "Can you fly?"

"Never handled anything bigger than a Lear," Vance replied. "And then
only as copilot."

It didn't seem to matter. Androv glanced at the open door of the
Personnel Module and motioned to them.

"Then come on. Let's hurry." Now he was searching the hangar. Finally
he spotted the man he wanted.

"Pavel," he yelled in Russian, "have the starter trolleys been engaged
yet?"

"_Da_," came the reply.

"Then prepare _Daedalus I _for power-up and get the hell out. We're go
for rpm."

"What do you mean? The tow trucks haven't even been - "

"Forget the tow trucks. It's going to be afterburners, right here. Get
the rest of your people in the clear."

Afterburners were rings of nozzles that sprayed fuel into the
superheated exhaust gases of a jet engine, creating a burst of power.
In military aircraft they were used to produce surges in thrust during
takeoff and dogfights.

"Afterburners! In the hangar. Yuri, all the hydrogen storage tanks
could blow. You'd destroy_ Daedalus II_. Just incinerate it."

"That's the idea." He was already mounting the steps of the Personnel
Module, not looking back. "There's only going to be one plane left. The
one I take."

"The computer." Eva had started up the steps, but then she froze and
turned back, handing Vance the Uzi. "I have to get it."

"There's no time." He reached for the weapon, its muzzle still hot.
"We've got - "

"Michael, I didn't come this far just to let the protocol slip through
our fingers." She was running past him now, back down. "Only take a
second."

He knew it was pointless to argue. And besides, maybe she was right.
Who knew where they'd end up?

Now Androv had faltered and was leaning shakily against the open
doorway of the module, the right sleeve of his pressure suit covered in
blood. Vance took advantage of the ticking moments to step up and
examine it.

"You need a bandage." He started tearing away the synthetic cloth. "Or
better yet, a tourniquet."

"No." Androv glanced at his arm and grimaced. "There's not - "

"You're going on adrenaline right now, my friend. But when the shock
wears off . . ." He looked around the interior of the module, but there
was nothing to cut with, so he just ripped away a large portion of
Androv's sleeve and parted the material. A savage furrow was sliced
across his bicep.

"I don't want you to pass out." He tore a section of the sleeve into a
strip and then, struggling with his heavy gloves, began binding it
above the wound. The hangar was still bedlam, people running and
yelling on every side, alarms sounding. As he was finishing the
tourniquet, Eva came bounding up the metal steps carrying her Zenith.
They were ready.

Androv quickly secured the door and activated the controls. Through a
smoke-smeared window they watched the bloody hangar floor disappear
into the haze. The world suddenly turned dreamlike, an unreality
highlighted by the soft whoosh of the pneumatic lift beneath them. Then
the module lurched to a halt.

Vance led the way through the open hatch. "Looks like somebody forgot
and left the lights on."

"Pavel told me the starter trolleys were engaged," Androv said in
Russian as he climbed through, then stepped down. He continued in
English. "Petra can initiate power-up."

"Petra?" Vance turned back. "You mean the - "

"Our copilot." He pointed toward a large liquid crystal screen at the
far end of the cabin, now blank. "I want to try and use her to override
Flight Control for the rest of the sequence."

"Short circuit the countdown?"

"I've never done it, but . . ." He walked over and reached down to flip
a square blue switch on the right-hand console. "Let's see if she's
awake this morning."

He glanced up as the screen blinked on and a large black-and-white
double-ax logo materialized, set against the red and white of a
Japanese flag. Next he pushed a button on the sidestick and spoke.

"Petra, report countdown status."

"_All preflight sequences nominal." _The eerie, mechanical sound of a
woman's voice, speaking Russian, filled the space. "_Do you
acknowledge?_"

"Affirmative," he answered back. "You will now initiate ignition
sequence. Bypass remaining countdown procedure."

"_That is an override command. Please give authorization code."_

"Code P-18. Systems emergency."

"_The countdown is now T minus nineteen minutes twenty-eight seconds.
All systems are nominal. Therefore Code P-18 is not a valid command."_

"Shit," he whispered under his breath. "Petra, verify P-18 with Flight
Control." He paused for a split second, then pushed a button on the
console and commanded, "Abort instruction." Another pause, then,
"Repeat verify abort command for N equals one over zero."

"What was that?" Eva was wedging her laptop under the left-hand G-seat.

"I think, I hope I just put her command-monitor function into an
infinite loop. She'll just continuously start and stop the verification
procedure. Maybe it'll render that subroutine incapable of blocking the
other system functions."

"You're going to confuse her head? Good luck."

He settled himself in the central seat, then reached up and began
unlatching the huge flight helmet. As he did, his eyes were suddenly
flooded with grief.

"They killed him." He paused for a moment and just stared. Vance
thought he'd finally become befuddled from the shock. But then he
choked back his emotion and continued. "We're going on the deck. Under
their goddam radar."

"What did you say?" Vance strained to catch his words. The English was
slurred.

He seemed to grow faint, his consciousness wane, but he finally revived
as he finished yanking the giant helmet down over his head.

Vance's headphones came alive as he heard the Russian. "_Daedalus I_ to
Control. Do you read? I am now bringing up core rpm for starboard
cluster, outboard trident." A second later, he continued, "We have S-O
ignition."

"Yuri," came a startled radio voice, "what in hell is going on! You
can't - "

"Portside cluster, outboard. Rpm up," he continued in Russian, his
voice halting. "We have P-O ignition."

"Yuri, you can't - ?"

"Starboard cluster, inboard. Bringing up. Portside cluster, inboard - "

"Androv, for godsake, have you gone mad?"

"Sergei, I told them to clear the hangar. I'm taking her to full
power."

"The liquid hydrogen tanks are in there. You could blow the whole
hangar to hell if you use afterburners. You must be crazy!"

"The bastards gunned him down, Sergei." He caught a sob. "It was my
fault. I should have warned - "

"What are you talking about? Gunned who down?"

But Yuri Androv's mind was already elsewhere, drifting into a grief-
obsessed dream state.

"Engine start complete," he continued. "Beginning pre-takeoff
sequence."

Will he be able to get this thing off the ground? Vance was wondering.
He's shot up and now he's falling apart.

Guess we're about to find out. The fuselage cameras are showing an
empty hangar. Everybody's run for cover.

"Eva, want to take that seat? I'll take this one. No free drinks in
this forward cabin section." He was speaking through his upraised
helmet visor as he eased himself into the right-hand G-seat.

"And buckle up for safety." She settled herself in the left. "Let's
just hope he can still manage this monster. It's a Saturn V with
wings."

"He's got his talking computer, if she'll still cooperate. Do me a
favor and translate now and then."

"Machines are supposed to translate for people, not the other way
around. We're in space warp."

"I believe it."

As he pulled down the overhead seat straps, he found himself wondering
what _Daedalus _would feel like in full afterburner mode. Those
turboramjets made a Boeing 747's massive JT-9Ds look like prime movers
for a medium-sized lawnmower.

"Power to military thrust." Androv was easing forward the twin
throttles, spooling them up past three-quarters power. _Daedalus _had
begun to quiver, shaking like a mighty mountain in tectonic upheaval.

"Prepare for brake release."

The screens on the wall above reported fuel consumption edging toward
three hundred pounds of JP-7 a second.

"Yuri," the radio crackled, "don't - "

"Pavel's got his men out of the hangar, Sergei. I can see on my screen.
I'm going cold mike now. No distractions. Just wish me luck."

There was a click as he switched off the communications in his helmet.
He missed a new radio voice by only a second. It was speaking in
English.

"Dr. Vance, what is going on? He's just cut his radio link with Flight
Control. He's deranged. I order you to halt the flight sequence. He
could destroy both planes by going to afterburners in the hangar. I
demand this be stopped."

Vance glanced up at the TV monitors. An auxiliary screen showed Tanzan
Mino standing at the main Flight Control console, surrounded by more_
kobun_, who had muscled aside the Russian technicians. He also noticed
that a lot of Soviet brass were there too.

"Looks like you've got a problem."

"I'm warning you I will shut you down. I can activate the automatic AI
override three minutes after takeoff. The plane will return and land
automatically."

"Three minutes is a long time." Vance wondered if it was true, or a
bluff. "We'll take our chances."

"You'd leave me no choice."

"May the best man win."

"Petra, brake release." Yuri Androv's voice sounded from beneath his
helmet.

_"Acknowledged_."

Vance looked across to see his left hand signal a thumbs-up sign, then
reach down for the throttle quadrant. The vehicle was already rolling
through the wide doors of the hangar, so if there were an explosion
now, at least they'd be in the clear.

Androv paused a second, mumbled something in Russian, then shoved the
heavy handles forward to Lock, commanding all twelve engines to max
afterburner. The JP-7 fuel reading whirled from a feed of three hundred
pounds a second to twenty-one hundred, and an instant thereafter the
cockpit was slammed by the hammer of God as the monitor image of the
hangar dissolved in orange.

















































CHAPTER TWENTY



Friday 9:31 A.M.



"One small step for man."

Vance felt his lungs curve around his backbone, his face melt into his
skull. He didn't know how many G's of acceleration they were
experiencing, but it felt like a shuttle launch. He gripped the straps
of the G-seat and watched the video feed from the landing-gear cameras,
which showed the tarmac flashing by in a stream of gray. The screen
above him had clicked up to 200 knots, and in what seemed only a second
the _Daedalus _was a full kilometer down the runway. Then the monitors
confirmed they were rotating to takeoff attitude, seven degrees.

They were airborne.

Next the screens reported a hard right-hand bank, five G's. The
altimeter had become a whirling blur as attitude increased to twenty
degrees, held just below stall-out by Petra's augmented control system.

When the airspeed captured 400 knots, the landing gear cameras showed
the wheels begin to fold forward, then rotate to lie flat in the
fuselage. Next the doors snapped closed behind them, swallowing them in
the underbelly and leaving the nose cameras as their only visual link
to the outside. The screens displayed nothing but gray storm clouds.

Landing gear up and locked, came Petra's disembodied voice.

"Acknowledge gear secure," Androv said, quieting a flashing message on
one of the screens.

No abort so far, Vance thought. Maybe we're about to get away with
this.

The airspeed had already passed 600 knots, accelerating a tenth of a
Mach number, about 60 knots, every five seconds.

That's when he noticed they were still receiving wideband video
transmissions from the Flight Center. The screen showing Tanzan Mino
remained clear and crisp. Surely not for much longer, but now at least
the uplink was intact. And the CEO was returning the favor, monitoring
their lift-off via a screen of his own. Vance watched as he turned to
some of the Soviet brass standing next to him and barked orders. What
was that about?

For now though the bigger question was, What do we do?

Androv was still busy talking to Petra, issuing commands. Vance
realized they were assuming a vector north by northeast, out over the
ocean. They also were probably going to stay on the deck to avoid radar
tracking, with only passive systems so that no EM emissions would
betray their heading.

He glanced up at the screens and realized he was half right. They were
over the ocean now, at a breathtaking altitude of only five hundred
meters, but Androv had just switched the phased-array radar altimeter
over to start hopping frequencies, using "squirt" emissions. Pure
Stealth technology. No conventional radar lock could track it.

"Dr. Vance, I am giving you one more opportunity to reconsider." Tanzan



Online LibraryThomas HooverProject Daedalus → online text (page 27 of 30)