Mino's voice sounded through the headphones. He was still standing at
the main Flight Control console, though his image was finally starting
to roll and break up. "You must return to base. The consequences of
this folly could well be incalculable."
"Why don't you take that up with the pilot?" Vance answered into his
"His receiver has been turned off. It's impossible to communicate with
him. He's clearly gone mad. I will give you another sixty seconds
before I order the on-board guidance computer switched over to the AI
mode. Flight Control here will override the on-board systems and just
bring the vehicle back and land it."
Again Vance wondered if he really could.
Then a screen flashed, an emergency strobe, and Petra was speaking. The
Russian was simple enough he could decipher it.
Systems advisory. You are too low. Pull up. Acknowledge. Pull up.
Androv tapped the sidestick lightly and boosted their altitude a
"Michael," the voice was Eva's coming through his headphones. "She - it -
whoever, said - "
"I figured it out. But did you hear the other news? Mino-san just
advised he's going to override Petra. We're about to find out who's
really flying this baby."
"No." Androv was raising his flight helmet and gesturing, his wounded
arm urging at something in his right pocket. "Please take. Do it
quickly. And then . . ."
Vance unstrapped his G-seat harness, rose, and moved over to the
central console. Androv had raised his hydraulic helmet all the way up
now and was trying to unzip the right side of his flight suit. Vance
reached down and helped him, not sure exactly what he needed.
"There." Yuri was trying to point. "The radio. Please, you must . . ."
The English began to fail him again.
"What's this?" Vance took out the transmitter, the size and shape of a
The answer was in Russian, complex and garbled. Something about
"He's wired something into the on-board computer, Michael," Eva began
translating. "The radio will perform brain surgery on Petra, disabling
her AI functions. It's supposed to prevent Flight Control from
overriding . . . I didn't quite get it. But he wants you to help."
Vance glanced up at the line of video screens. _Daedalus _was now
skimming rapidly over the straits, banking in the direction of the
archipelago known as the Kurile Islands, and the image of Tanzan Mino
was breaking up, almost gone. Had he heard? Maybe it didn't matter. The
allotted sixty seconds was ticking away and he could just make out the
image of Tanzan Mino, holding a microphone, preparing to give orders.
By the clock on the screens he saw that forty-one seconds had already
"Dr. Vance, we are preparing to initiate total systems override." The
CEO's voice sounded through his headphones. "You have fifteen seconds
remaining to acknowledge."
"The code," Androv was saying. "It is one-nine-nine-nine."
Vance stared at the small device in his flight glove. It had a number
keypad and a liquid crystal display.
"You have ten seconds," Tanzan Mino said. The image was ghostly, but
the voice still rang loud and clear.
He began fumbling with the device, but the numbers kept eluding him,
slipping around the thick fingers of his gloves. Finally he caught the
1. Above him the screens were still scrolling. Eight seconds.
Suddenly the cockpit seemed to sway, an air pocket that
even the _Daedalus'_ advanced structural mode control system couldn't
damp out entirely. Now Androv was talking to Petra, going for a sliver
more altitude. Seven seconds.
"Michael." Eva was watching, her face still drawn from the
acceleration. "Is it - ?"
"It's the gloves. The damned gloves. I'm . . ." Then he punched in the
In the back of his mind he noted that the cockpit was adjusting as
_Daedalus _rotated, increasing attitude . . .
He got another 9. But his grip on the "calculator" was slipping,
pressing toward the floor as the G-forces of acceleration weighed
against him. He checked the screens again and saw that three seconds
Now Androv was grappling to keep control of the throttle, while issuing
instructions to Petra.
Am I about to disable her? he wondered. If I do, can he manage this
nightmare manually? What if Mino was only bluffing?
A final, bright green 9 appeared on the liquid crystal readout.
"_Alert. AI system malfunction_." It was the toneless voice of Petra.
She sounded vaguely annoyed.
Something had happened. Two of the screens on the wall above had just
gone blank, but _Daedalus _continued to climb.
"Dr. Vance, we are now going to recall the plane. We have ordered a
wing of fighter-interceptors scrambled from the Dolinsk airbase on
Sakhalin. They will escort you back."
Whoops. So that was what he was telling the Soviet brass to do. Get up
some hardware fast. This could well be the shortest flight since the
Then he heard Androv's helmet mike click on.
"This is _Daedalus I_. Do you copy me?"
"Major, you - " Mino began.
"Copy this, you bastard. Fuck you. Repeat. Fuck you. I've disabled your
fucking AI module."
"You disabled it?"
"That's a roger. Do you read me, you murdering son-of-a-bitch? FUCK
YOU!" He clicked off his mike
Vance was moving slowly across the cockpit, headed back to his own G-
seat. As he settled himself and reached for the straps, he glanced up
at the screens to check their flight data - altitude, speed, vector, G-
force, fuel consumption. They were still on the deck, with an airspeed
just under a thousand knots, about eleven hundred miles per hour. Not
quite Mach 2, but already it was risky. And their vector was 085, with
coordinates of 46 degrees latitude, 143 degrees longitude.
What now? _Daedalus_ had all the active radar systems known to modern
avionics. Looking at the screens he saw forward-looking radar,
sideways-looking radar, a four-beam multimode pulse-Doppler look-down
radar, terrain-following radar, radar altimeter, mapping and
navigational radar, and a host of high-powered ECM jammers. The problem
was, they all emitted EM, electromagnetic radiation. Switch on any of
those and they'd become a flying radio beacon, broadcasting their
The next row of screens, however, provided readouts of their passive,
non-emitting receivers and analyzers. That clearly was what they would
have to use to monitor the threat from Sakhalin, scooping up any EM for
lightning-fast computer processing. Surely Petra could spit out a
fingerprint of everything in the skies. To begin with, there were the
basic Radar Warning Receivers (RWRs) located aft, on the tailplanes, as
well as infrared warning receivers (IRWRs) positioned high on the
outboard stabilizers. The screens showed she could analyze basic
frequency, operating mode, pulse repetition frequency, amplitude of
pulse, time of arrival, direction of arrival - the full menu.
"If it's true they've scrambled the base at Dolinsk, it probably means
the new MiG 31s." Androv was now busy switching on all the passive
systems, just the way Vance figured he would. "We have to decide what
to do. But first I want to take her up and do a quick recon. Buckle
"The latest Foxhound has a multimode pulse-Doppler look-down, shoot-
down capability that's as good as any in the world," Vance heard
himself saying. "We're the biggest target in the skies, and we're
unarmed. We'd be a sitting duck for one of their AA-9 active homing
missiles. They're launch-and-leave."
"Let's check it out before we get too worried," Androv replied. "But
this has to be fast. You're about to see a Mach 3 Immelmann. Don't try
this in a 747." He laughed, then began lowering his high-tech helmet.
"I hope I can still manage it."
There was a surge of acceleration as he shoved forward the throttles,
then yanked back on the sidestick. The Daedalus seemed to kick straight
up. And up. And up. The instruments showed they were traveling skyward
in a thin arc, as though sliding up the curve of an archer's bow. Now
the altimeter was spinning, and in eighteen seconds they had already
reached twenty thousand feet. But still Androv kept the stick in, and
during the next five seconds, as Daedalus continued tracing the
archer's curve, they almost began to fly upside down.
At the last moment he performed an aileron half-roll and righted them.
The Immelmann had, in effect, taken them straight up and headed their
powerful forward-looking IR detectors and radar in the direction of
Sakhalin. Vance glanced at the screens and realized they'd climbed
thirty thousand feet in twenty-seven seconds. They'd just waxed the
standing forty-eight-second time-to-climb record of the USAF F-15
Eagle, and Daedalus wasn't even breathing hard. Even though Androv had
now chopped the power, they still were cruising at Mach 2.
No wonder he loves this bird.
The only downside was, the fuel reading showed they'd burned twenty-
three thousand pounds of JP-7 during the climb out.
"Petra," Androv said into his helmet mike, "take VSD to standby and
give me infrared laser."
Petra's interrogation revealed a wing of eight MiG 31 interceptors,
flying in formation at twenty-five thousand feet and closing. At Mach
Friday 9:43 A.M.
"_Ya ponemaiyu_," Colonel-General Gregori Edmundovich Mochanov said
into the secure phone, the pride of Dolinsk's Command Central. "I
ordered a wing of the Fifteenth Squadron scrambled at 0938 hours.
Fortunately we were planning an exercise this morning."
He paused for the party at the other end, General Valentin Sokolov on a
microwave link from the Hokkaido facility.
"_Da_, if Androv maintains his altitude below six hundred meters, then
he will probably have to keep her near Mach 2. The vehicle, as I
understand it, is not designed for that operating regime. So with the
MiG 31s on full afterburner, we can make up the distance. But we need
He paused and listened. "Yes, they are fully armed. AA-9s. A kill
perimeter of - " He listened again. "Of course, active homing radar and
infrared, on the underfuselage - " He was impatiently gripping the
receiver. "_Da_, but I can't work miracles. I must have a vector." He
paused again. "_Da_, but I don't want to accidentally shoot down
another KAL 747. I must have a confirmed target. I'm not going to order
them to fire without it."
He listened a second longer, then said, "Good," and slammed down the
Friday 9:44 A.M.
Guess we'd better start playing hide-and-seek in earnest," Vance
"Stealth, my American friend," Androv replied. "The hostile radar
signature of this fuselage is almost nothing. And we can defeat their
infrared by taking her back on the deck, so the engines are masked from
their look-down IR. Back we go. We'll pull out at five hundred meters,
but it'll mean about three negative G's - blood to the brain, a redout.
Very dangerous. Be ready."
Then he shoved the sidestick forward and Daedalus plunged into a Mach 3
power dive. The infrared cameras showed the sea plunging toward them.
The dive took even less time than the climb, with the altimeter
scrolling. Suddenly the voice of Petra sounded.
_"Pull up. Warning. Pull up. Pilot must acknowledge or auto-override
_A ton of empty space slammed into them as Petra automatically righted
the vehicle, pulling out of the dive at an altitude of four hundred
Vance looked over and saw Yuri Andreevich Androv's bandaged arm lying
limp on the sidestick, lightly hemorrhaging. He'd passed out from the
upward rush of blood.
Friday 9:58 A.M.
_"He has disappeared from the Katsura radar again, Mino-sama. I think
he has taken the vehicle back on the deck." Ikeda's face was ashen as
he typed in the computer AI override command one last time, still
hoping. The Flight Control operations screen above him was reading
"System Malfunction," while the engineers standing behind were
exchanging worried glances. Who was going to be held responsible? The
master screen above, the one with the Katsura radar, no longer showed
the _Daedalus_. Androv had taken it to thirty thousand feet, then down
again. He was playing games.
Tanzan Mino was not wasting time marveling at the plane's performance
specs. He turned and nodded to General Sokolov, who was holding a red
phone in his hand. The MiG 31 wing wasn't flying military power; it was
full afterburners, which was pushing them to Mach 2.4. If Daedalus
stayed on the deck, they might still intercept.
"We have no choice," he said in Russian. "Order them to give him a
chance to turn back, and tell him if he refuses, they will shoot him
down. Maybe the threat will be enough."
Sokolov nodded gravely. But what if Androv was as insane as every
indication suggested he was? What if he disobeyed the commands from the
Sakhalin interceptors? What then? Who was going to give the command
that unleashed AAMs to bring down the most magnificient airplane - make
that spacecraft - the world had ever seen. The MiG 31, with its long-
range Acrid AA-9 missiles, had a stand-off kill capability that matched
the American F-14 Tomcat and its deadly AIM-54 Phoenix. Since the AA-9
had its own guidance system, the pilot need not even see his target.
One of those could easily bring down an unarmed behemoth like the
Daedalus as long as it was still in the supersonic mode, which it would
have to be at that low altitude.
A pall of sadness entered his voice as he issued the command. Androv,
of all people, knew the look-down shoot-down capabilities of the MiG
31. Maybe there was still a chance to reason with him. The _Daedalus
_had no pilot-ejection capability. His choice was to obey or die.
Reports from the hangar said he'd taken some automatic-weapons fire
from the CEO's bodyguards. How badly wounded was he?
Hard to tell, but he'd got _Daedalus_ off the runway, then done an
Immelmann to take her to ten thousand meters, followed by a power dive
back to the deck. He was frolicking like a drunken dolphin. Pure
Androv. How much longer could he last?
Sokolov glanced at the screen in front of him. The computer was
extrapolating, telling him that a due-east heading by _Daedalus_ would
soon take her over international waters. If Androv kept that vector, at
least there'd be no messy questions about violating foreign airspace.
"How long before they can intercept?" Tanzan Mino asked, not taking his
eyes from the screens. Now the Soviet interceptors were on the Katsura
radar, speeding toward _Daedalus'_ last known vector coordinates. It
should only be a matter of time.
"In five minutes they will be within air-to-air range," Sokolov
replied. He paused, then asked the question weighing on his mind. "If
he refuses to turn back, do you really want that vehicle blown from the
Now Tanzan Mino was thinking about the Stealth capabilities of the
_Daedalus_. Was the design good enough to defeat the MiG-31s' pulse-
Doppler radar? He suddenly found himself wishing the plane hadn't been
so well designed. The stupid Soviets, of course, had no idea - yet - that
it could just disappear.
"He could be headed for Alaskan air space. That's what the computer is
projecting. You understand the ramifications if this vehicle falls into
the hands of the Americans."
The Soviet nodded gravely. That was, of course, unthinkable. There
would be no going home again.
Friday 9:57 A.M.
"Yuri!" Eva was up like a shot. "Lean back. Breathe." She was pushing
the button that raised the huge flight helmet. As she watched, his open
eyes gradually resumed their focus. Then he snapped his head and looked
"_Shto_ . . . what happened?"
"I don't think you can handle heavy G-loads. You're weak from the
wound, the tourniquet."
He straightened up, then glanced again at the altimeter. They were
cruising at three hundred meters, smooth as silk. And they were burning
six hundred pounds of JP-7 a second.
"Nothing has gone the way I planned." He rubbed at his temples, trying
to clear the blood from his brain. "We're just buying a little
breathing space now by staying down here. I think the radar noise of
the choppy sea, together with all our Stealth capability, will keep us
safe. But at this low altitude we're using fuel almost as though we
were dumping it. If we continue to hold on the deck, we've got maybe
half an hour's flying time left."
"If we gained altitude," Vance wondered, "could we stretch it enough to
"Probably," Androv replied. "If we took her above fifty thousand feet,
we might have a chance."
"Then we've got no choice. The only solid ground between here and the
U.S. is the Kurile Islands, and they're Soviet territory."
"But if we did reach U.S. airspace, then what?" Eva asked. "We'd have
to identify ourselves. Who's going to believe our story? Nobody even
knows this monster exists."
"Right," he laughed. "A top-secret Soviet hypersonic bomber comes
cruising across the Bering Strait at sixty thousand feet and into the
USAF's airspace. One hint of this thing and they'd roll out the SAMs."
"Maybe we couid talk our way down."
"There's no other choice."
"You are getting ahead of things, both of you," Androv interrupted,
staring at the screens on the wall. "We still have to handle the
interceptors from Dolinsk. If we went for altitude, we'd show enough
infrared signature to make us an easy target during ascent. Before we
even reached two thousand meters, they'd have a lock on us."
Vance glanced at the IRWR. Daedalus's infrared laser scanners were
still tracking the wing of MiG interceptors, now at twenty-two thousand
feet and closing.
"It doesn't matter," he said. "We've got to get off the deck soon,
while we still have fuel. Either that or we'll have to ditch at sea."
"Comrade Vance, the Daedalus is a marvelous platform, but when we go
for altitude, we're going to be vulnerable. There's no getting around
it. This vehicle was intended to perform best at the edge of space, not
"All right," he said slowly. "Then why not take her there? Use the
scramjets. We may be running out of JP-7, but we have a load of liquid
hydrogen. Maybe this is the moment to finally find out if this thing
can burn it."
"I'm - I'm afraid. After what happened when we pulled out of the power
dive, I'm not sure I could handle the G-load necessary to power in the
scramjets." Yuri paused. "The tourniquet has almost paralyzed my arm. I
don't have the kind of control and timing we'd need. If I thought I
could - but no. I hate to say it, even think it, but maybe we have no
choice but to give up and turn back."
"Not yet," Vance said. "Maybe there's one other possibility."
Friday 10:01 A.M.
"They still are not acknowledging," Tanzan Mino said grimly. "We don't
know their exact vector, but they will have to gain altitude soon. When
they do . . ." He turned to General Sokolov. "Radio Dolinsk and confirm
This was the moment Valentin Sokolov had been dreading. The AA-9
missile, which was carried on the MiG 31's recessed underfuselage
stations, came in two versions: the active radar homing model and the
heat-seeking infrared design. He suspected that _Daedalus _had enough
Stealth and ECM capabilities to partially defeat radar, but Stealth
couldn't mask IR.
Sooner or later, Androv would have to make his move, come off the deck.
And when he did, the MiGs would pick him up and it would be over.
But that was still preferable to letting Daedalus fall into the hands
of the Americans. So if Androv refused to answer his radio and comply
with the call-back, there'd be no choice.
Friday 10:02 A.M.
"What do you mean?" Androv asked, wiping at his brow.
Vance took a deep breath. "We've got no choice. You know what I'm
"We'll need ten G's of acceleration to power in the scramjets, my
friend." He leaned back in the seat and closed his eyes. His face was
now drawn with pain, but the bleeding had stopped. Above them, Petra
silently flew the plane and flashed messages on the screens. "I've
trained for years," he continued finally. "Even with your inflatable G-
suit, you couldn't possibly take the G-loads and stay conscious."
"What other choice is there? Either I try, or we ditch down there in
the Sea of Okhotsk. Personally, I'd rather go out like a shooting star,
taking our chances."
"It's not that simple. The scramjets are designed to be powered in at
Mach 4.8. We dare not risk that below at least forty thousand feet.
There are aerodynamic reasons. In fact, they're not really intended to
be used below sixty thousand."
"Well," Vance said, "if we started our ascent at max throttle, what
kind of airspeed could we capture by forty thousand? Could we achieve
"Only if we used afterburners. Which means we'd probably have only
about ten minutes of JP-7 left for landing later." He laughed sadly.
"Assuming there's anywhere we could land."
"How about Heathrow? I know a Japanese banker who'd probably love to
have this vehicle as collateral for a few billion in Eurodollar
debentures he's being forced to underwrite. He's a friend of mine and I
owe him a favor."
"You want to turn this plane over to some banker?" He was visibly
startled. "We can't ignore the fact that it still belongs, technically,
to Mino Industries."
"My friend's a big boy. He'll work it out, Yakuza-style. Don't worry."
He glanced up at the fuel gauges. They now had twenty minutes left.
Just enough to get back to the facility and give up? Or go all the way.
"Eva, what do you say. Want to give it a shot?"
"I'm game. One thing's for sure; I have no intention of going back to
get ourselves murdered by Tanzan Mino. If we can make it to the other
side of the world by burning hydrogen, then . . ."
"Maybe, just maybe Petra could help enough for you to manage it."
Androv paused to collect his strength. "I don't know if you can stay
conscious through the ten G's of acceleration needed to initiate the
scramjets. But I know for sure I can't, not in my current state. You
might as well give it a try." He turned to Eva and continued in
Russian. "There's an emergency back-up pressure suit in that locker
beneath Petra's main screen. See if you can put it on. You'll still
probably pass out, but don't worry, the 'event' is only temporary.
After we go through the hypersonic barrier, acceleration will subside.
Down to three, maybe four G's."
"I'll get the suit," she said, starting to unbuckle her straps.
"Okay, we'd better get started." Vance was crossing the cabin. The nose
cameras were showing the spray of white- caps directly below them. If
they'd passed any fishing vessels, he mused, there were probably
stories of flying saucers already going around. The passive IRWR
scanner was still tracking the wing of MiG 31s, now at a hundred and
thirty kilometers, approximately eighty miles, and closing. Daedalus
was almost within the kill perimeter of the MiG 31s and their AA-9
The radio crackled, something in Russian. Yuri Androv stared at the
flight helmet, then looked down at the console and flipped a switch.
"I copy you, Firefight One," he replied in Russian. "Over."
"Androv, you idiot. What in hell are you doing? Defecting to the
capitalists?" The voice laughed. "We don't know what the devil you're
flying, but when you pulled that Immelmann, my IR thought you were an
An-124 Condor transport turned into a high-performance Foxbat. One in-
"It's a spaceship, Arkadi. Excuse me, Colonel Arkadi. Congratulations
on the promotion."
"_Spacebo_," he said, laughing again. Then he sobered. "Yuri, I don't
know what this is all about, but I'm instructed by General Sokolov to
escort you and that thing you're flying back to Hokkaido. If you're
stupid enough to refuse, then I have orders to shoot you down."
"Is that any way to treat an old friend?"
"Yuri Andreevich, we go back a long way. To the Ramenskoye Flight Test
Center. You were the best we ever had. Don't make me do this."
"I'm thinking I may spare you the trouble."
"Give me five minutes. If I don't turn back by then, give it your
"Pull up. Show yourself on IR. We have no idea what your vector is."
"I'll take her to three thousand meters. You'll have a lock on me. But
I still want five minutes."
"That's all I can give you, Yuri. After that . . ." His voice trailed
"I'm going off this frequency. Talk to you in five."
"Five minutes. Starting now."
Androv pushed a switch on the console, then said, "Petra, stabilize at