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three thousand."

_"Three thousand,"_ she repeated. _"Confirmed."_

He rose from the pilot's seat, motioning for Vance. There was a surge
of acceleration as the vehicle changed pitch, the cockpit rotating to
adjust for the G-forces. The weight of two and a half G's weighed
against them as the altimeter screen started scrolling upward.

Vance walked across to the central seat, studying the console. The
throttle quadrant and sidestick he understood, but most of the other
controls were new to him. Maybe it didn't matter.

"Does Petra understand English?"

"Of course," Androv nodded. "Russian, Japanese, and English.
Interchangeable. She's programmed such that if you command her in
Russian, she replies in Russian. If you use English, that's what you
get back."

"So far, so good." He looked at the large screen at the end of cabin,
the one that displayed Petra's mindstate. She was dutifully announcing
that she'd just taken the vehicle to three thousand meters. She also
was reporting the IR interrogation of a wing of MIG 31s flying at
twenty thousand feet, with a closure rate of three hundred knots. When
Daedalus made her move, would she be able to outdistance their air-to-
air missiles?

We're about to find out, he thought, in - he glanced at the screens - three
and a half minutes. Eva was zipping up her pressure suit now, readying
to strap herself back into her seat. The helmet made her look like an
ungainly astronaut.

"Like I said, the scramjets become operable at Mach 4.8," Androv went
on. "At forty thousand feet, that's about three thousand miles per
hour. I've never taken her past Mach 4.5." He was grasping the side of
the console to brace himself. "You probably know that scramjets require
a modification in engine geometry. In the turboramjet mode, these
engines have a fan that acts as a compressor, just like a conventional
jet. However, when we switch them over to scramjet geometry, the
turbines are shut down and their blades set to a neutral pitch. Next
the aft section of each engine is constricted to form a combustion
chamber - the shock wave inside becomes the 'compressor.' " He paused.
"The unknown part comes when the fans are cut out and the engine
geometry is modified. I've unstarted the fans and reconfigured, but
I've never fed in the hydrogen. We simply don't know what will happen.
Those damned turbines could just explode."

"So we take the risk."

"There's more," he continued. "The frictional heat at hypersonic
speeds. Our liquid hydrogen is supposed to act as a heat sink, to
dissipate thermal buildup on the leading edges, but who the hell knows
if it'll work. We're now flying at about fifteen hundred miles per
hour. When you give Petra the go-ahead, we could accelerate to ten,
even fifteen thousand miles per hour. God help us, we may just melt."

"If you were willing to give it a shot, then I am." Vance looked up at
the screens. "We're now at ten thousand feet. I kick over to scramjets
at forty thousand?"

"The computer simulations all said that if we go hypersonic below sixty
thousand feet, we could seriously overheat. But maybe if we climb out
fast enough . . ."

"We'll have to take our chances. We need to minimize that window of AAM

"I agree." Androv gestured for him to sit, then glanced up at the
screens. "We have two and a half minutes. I've set Petra for full auto.
All you have to do is just talk her through the key intervals of the

Vance settled in and examined the huge flight helmet looming above him,
making him look like an alien insect from science fiction. Now the
cabin had taken on an eerie quiet, with nothing but silent screens
flashing data. He'd never talked to an airplane before, and the thought
gave him some disquiet.

Two minutes.

"What do I do first?"

"You probably should start by attaching that nozzle there on the legs
of your G-suit to the pressure hose on the console. When the G-forces
go above eight, tubules in the legs automatically inflate using bleed
air from the engines. It's going to squeeze hell out of your lower
extremities. If you begin to gray-out, try to grunt as hard as you can.
The M-l maneuver, I think you Americans call it. If your vision begins
to go entirely, just try and talk Petra through."

"What else?"

"Once you start pushing through the hypersonic barrier, keep an eye on
screens B-5 and B-6, which report engine strut temperature and stress
loads. Those are the most important data for the scramjet mode. But
first check the C-2 screen. Core rpm has to be zeroed out before the
scramjet geometry modification, since the compressors need to be
completely shut down. If it's not, then instruct Petra to abort the
sequence. It could cause a flameout."

"And that's when I switch over to liquid hydrogen?"

"Exactly. Petra will set the new engine geometry, then sample
compression and temperature and tell you the precise moment. But the
actual switch-over is manual. I insisted on it." He pointed. "It's
those blue toggles right behind the throttle quadrant. Just flip them

"Got it."

"After you toggle her over, just ease the throttle forward, and pray."
He settled himself into the right-hand seat, tugging at the tourniquet.
"When we enter the hypersonic regime, I don't know what will happen.
Above Mach 6 or Mach 7 we may begin to critically overheat. Or the
airframe stresses could just tear this damned _samolyot_ apart.
Whatever happens, though, you've got to keep pushing her right on out,
to stabilize the shock wave in the scramjets and bring them to full

Vance glanced up at the screen - thirty seconds - and fingered the
sidestick and the throttles, trying to get their feel. As he began
lowering the massive flight helmet, he noted that with the engines on
military power they had exactly eighteen minutes of JP-7 left. When he
kicked in the afterburners to push them into the hypersonic regime, the
fuel readings would start dropping like a stone. But this was their
ball of string, their way out of the maze. Would it work?

"Remember," Androv said with finality, "just talk Petra through any
problems you have. And try to capture an attitude of sixty degrees
alpha . . ."

"Yuri, are you ready for us to escort you back?" The radio voice,
speaking Russian, sounded through the cabin.

"I'm still thinking it over," he answered.

"Don't be a fool. I have orders to down you with AA-9s. My weapons
system is already turned on. Warheads are locked. You're as good as
dead. If I push the fire button here under my left thumb, you're gone
in fifty seconds."

"You just made up my mind," he said, and nodded toward Vance. "Go."

"Firing one and two," was the radio response.

Vance grabbed the throttles. "Petra, do you read me?"

"_Yes,"_ she answered in English.

"Give me alpha sixty." He rammed the throttles forward, clicking them
into the Lock position, igniting the afterburners. Next he yanked the
sidestick into position.

The cockpit rotated upward, automatically shifting to compensate for
the changing G-forces. In front of his eyes now was a wide liquid
crystal screen that seemed to be in 3-D. The left side resembled the
heads-up display, HUD, common to jet Fighters, providing altitude,
heading, airspeed, G-forces in a single unified format. The right side
showed a voice-activated menu listing all the screens along the wall.

"Read me fuel," he said, testing it.

Immediately the numbers appeared, in pounds of JP-7 and in minutes,
with and without afterburners. The G-force was now at 3.5 and climbing,
while the digital altimeter was spinning.

_"Systems alert,"_ Petra announced suddenly, _"hostile radar lock. And
hostile IR interrogation. Two bogies, closure rate nine hundred sixty

_They weren't kidding, Vance thought. He glanced at the altitude
readout. Daedalus was hurtling through thirty thousand feet,
afterburners sizzling. But an AA-9 had a terminal velocity well over
Mach 3. Add that to the Foxhound's 2.4 . . .

"Petra, give me estimated time of impact."

_"Extrapolating closure rate, I estimate impact in forty- three

_Their acceleration had reached 3.8 G's, but fuel was dwindling
rapidly, already down to twelve minutes.

"Give me RWR and IRWR, screen one," he commanded.

The liquid crystal panorama inside the helmet immediately flashed,
showing the unfriendly radar and infrared interrogations. The two Acrid
AA-9s - that's what they had to be - were gaining altitude, tracking them
like bloodhounds. One was radar locked, while the other showed active-
homing IR guidance. The exhausts of Daedalus's afterburners must look
like a fireball in the sky, he thought.

He scanned the menu for electronic countermeasures (ECM) capabilities.

"Petra, commence radar jamming."

_"Commenced. Estimated time to impact, thirty-eight seconds."

_The missiles were still closing. Even if the radar-guided AAM could be
confused, Daedalus had no way to defeat infrared homing.

The left-hand display now showed they had accelerated to Mach 4.2. The
throttle quadrant was locked into the afterburner mode, but outrunning
AAMs was like trying to outspeed a smart bullet.

He watched the dials. Mach 4.3. Mach 4.4.

_"Estimated time to impact twenty-eight seconds."

_"I'm not sure we're going to make it," he said into his helmet mike.
"We may have to try initiating the scramjets early."

"No, it would be too risky," Androv replied. "The skin temperatures at
this altitude. The air is still so dense the thermal stresses . . ."

Vance checked the screen again. "Altitude is now thirty-eight thousand
feet. I'm going to level out some, try and boost our Mach number. One
thing's sure, we can't make it if we hold this attitude. Besides, we're
burning too much fuel. Either we chance it now, or we get blown to
smitherines. We've got no choice." He shoved the sidestick forward. For
this he didn't plan to bother with Petra.

_"Time to impact, twenty seconds,"_ she reported tonelessly.

By trimming pitch, Daedalus started accelerating more rapidly. Airspeed
scrolled quickly to Mach 4.6.

"_Time to impact, fifteen seconds."_

Nine and a half minutes of JP-7 remained. Just enough to land, he
thought, if we ever get the chance.

Mach 4.7.

"Eva, take a deep breath. We're about to try and enter the fourth

"I . . . can't . . . talk."

Then he remembered Androv had said she might pass out. Now he was
starting to wonder if he wouldn't lose consciousness too. He was
sensing his vision starting to fade to gray, breaking up into dots. The
screen noted that their acceleration had reached eight G's and was
still climbing. Fighting for consciousness, he reached down and
increased his oxygen feed, then contracted every muscle in the lower
half of his body, trying to shove the blood upward. The G-indicator on
the left-hand screen had scrolled to 9.2.

_"Time to impact, ten seconds."

_Mach 4.8.

He reached down and manually locked the pitch on the compressor fan
blades into a neutral configuration. They immediately stalled out,
causing _Daedalus _to shudder like a wounded animal. Then he heard the
voice of Petra, and a new signal flashed on his helmet screen.

_"We have nominal scramjet geometry. Commence ignition sequence."

_She'd reconfigured the turbines, meaning _Daedalus _was go for
hypersonic. He grappled blindly behind the throttle quadrant and
flicked the large blue switches that initiated the hydrogen feed. But
would the supersonic shock wave inside the engines fire it?

"_Time to impact, six seconds."_

"Let's go." Reaching for the throttle quadrant, he depressed the side
button and then shoved the heavy handles forward, sending a burst of
hydrogen into the scramjets' combustion chambers. . . .

_Daedalus _lurched, then seemed to be tearing apart, literally
disintegrating rivet by rivet.

Friday 9:57 A.M.

"We have detonation," Colonel Arkadi reported into his helmet mike. His
twin-engine Foxhound was already in a steep fifty-degree bank.

"We copy you," General Sokolov replied. "Can you confirm the kill?"

"The target is outside my radar and IR," he said, wishing he had some
of the new American over-the-horizon electronics he'd heard about. "But
both missiles reported impact. I've ordered the wing to chop power and
return to base. We're already on auxiliary tanks as it is."

"Roger," came the voice from Flight Control in Hokkaido.

"We downed her, Comrade General. Whatever she was, there's no way she
could have survived those AA-9s. The target is destroyed."


Friday 10:16 A.M.

Tanzan Mino closed his eyes and sighed. The financial portions of the
protocol would still stand on their own; the arrangement could be
salvaged somehow; it would merely require finesse.

The shocked faces of the Soviet brass standing behind him told of their
dismay. _Daedalus_, the most marvelous vehicle ever created, had
literally been within their grasp, and now . . . both prototypes

But at least, at least it hadn't fallen into the hands of the

Americans. No more humiliating episodes like that in 1976 when the
traitorous Lieutenant Viktor Belenko defected with a MiG 25 Foxbat,
exposing all its secret electronics to the West.

Friday 10:16 A.M.

A slam of acceleration hit him, and he felt a circle of black close in
on his vision. It was the darkness of eternal night, the music of the
spheres. His last sight was the airspeed indicator scrolling past Mach
6.1. Almost four thousand miles per hour.

The starship _Daedalus _had just gone hypersonic.

He didn't see it, but look-down radar had shown the two Acrid AA-9s
exploding a thousand feet below. When the scramjets powered in, the
infrared-homing AAM lost its lock on them and detonated the other
missile, sending a supersonic shock wave through _Daedalus_. AAMs, how-
ever, were now the least of their problems.

Skin temperature was pushing 2,200 degrees and the cockpit was becoming
an incinerator. At forty-eight thousand feet they were rapidly turning
into a meteorite.

His vision was gone, but just before losing consciousness he shoved the
hydrogen throttles all the way forward and yanked back on the
sidestick, sending them straight up into the freezing black above.

Friday 10:19 A.M.

_Altitude seventy-three thousand feet. Airspeed nine thousand knots."

_"Petra, raise helmet." He was slowly regaining his sight as the G-
loads began to recede. The cockpit was an oven, overwhelming its
environmental control equipment, clear evidence vehicle skin
temperature had exceeded design.

_"Confirmed. Helmet raising."

_Although his vision was still black and white, he started easing back
on the throttles and checking around the cock

pit. Eva was beginning to stir now, rising and struggling with her
safety straps, Androv remained slumped in his G-seat.

"You okay?" He rose and moved toward her. "I think I blacked out there
for a second or so."

"I'm going to make it." She shifted her eyes right. "But I'm not so
sure about . . ."

"Don't worry." The Russian snapped conscious and immediately reached to
begin loosening his straps. "I've been through heavy G-loads before."
Suddenly he stared up at the screens, pointed, and yelled. "Hypersonic!
_Zoloto_! You didn't tell me. I almost can't believe - "

"We almost lost it. Skin temperatures reached - "

"Japanese ceramic composites, my _droog_. No other material could have
done it. And now the atmosphere is thinning. When we hit eighty
thousand feet, or maybe eighty-five, skin temperature should stabilize
down around a thousand degrees. That's 'room temperature' for this
vehicle." He paused and grinned. "Liquid hydrogen. It's a fantastic
fuel, and a terrific coolant. Of course, if this catches on and we stop
using alcohol coolant in our MiGs, I don't know what the Soviet Air
Force will all drink before payday."

Vance glanced at their vector. They were over the Bering Sea now, with
a heading for who knew where.

Mach 11.3 and climbing. The Daedalus was pressing effortlessly toward
the darkness above. Time to think about what was next.

"How much of this wonderful liquid hydrogen do we have?"

"Just enough to do what I've been planning for a long time." He edged
over and touched Vance's shoulder. "I'm deeply in your debt. You made
it possible. Now there's only one thing left. The ultimate!"

Vance looked at him and realized immediately what he meant. Why not!

"Do we have enough oxygen?"

"Extra cannisters were loaded because of the two Mino Industries
pilots. I think we have about ten hours."

"Then I vote we give it a shot," he said, turning to Eva. "What do you

"What are you talking about?"

He flipped up his helmet visor. "If we can achieve Mach 25 by around a
hundred thousand feet, we can literally insert into orbit. It'd cause a
diplomatic flap the size of World War Three."

She slumped back in her G-seat. "Is it really possible?"

"Of course," Androv said. Then he laughed. "Well, I hope so. I've been
thinking about it for a couple of months now. I actually programmed
Petra to compute the precise thrust required, orbital apogee and
perigee, everything. The first Sputnik had an apogee of one hundred
miles and a perogee of one hundred twenty-five miles. I've calculated
that at Mach 25 I could propel this vehicle into roughly that orbit. To
get out we can just do a de-orbit burn. Set the compressors on the
ramjets for retrofire and cold-start them."

"So we can hold Tanzan Mino's cojones hostage for a while and have some
fun," Vance smiled. "What do we tell Petra?"

"I'll give her the coordinates, but you've got to handle the stick. We
need to hit Mach 25 above 98,600 feet, then shut down the engines with
split-second timing. She'll tell you when. If I computed it right, we
should just coast over the top."

"Got it." He looked up at the screens on the front wall of the cockpit.
Their altitude was now 87,000 feet, and then-speed had reached Mach 18,
over ten thousand miles per hour. They were cracking world records
every millisecond. And the cockpit was starting to cool off again as
the thinner atmosphere reduced friction on the leading edges. They'd
survived the thermal barrier. Coming up was the emptiness of space.

He watched as Androv called the routine in Petra's silicon memory where
he had stored the orbital data, then ordered her to coordinate it with
their current acceleration, altitude, and attitude.

_Confirmed_, she was saying. _Reducing alpha by two degrees._ She'd
already begun modifying their flight profile.

_ "You are approximately four minutes and thirty-seven seconds
from the calculated orbit. Will fuel controls be manual or automatic?"

_Vance glanced over at Androv. Here at the edge of space, were they
really going to turn their destiny over to a talking computer? This
game could turn serious if Petra somehow screwed up.

"Let's keep the throttles on manual."

"I agree," he nodded. "Too much could go wrong."

"If we don't like the looks of anything, we can always abort."

"Petra," Androv commanded, "throttles will be manual."

_Affirmative_. If she felt slighted, she wasn't saying anything. _Four

"We'd all better strap in," Vance said, "till we see how this goes."

The screens above them were still flashing flight data. The strut
temperature in the scramjets, where a supersonic shock wave was
providing the compression to combust hydrogen and the rush of thin air,
had stabilized at 3,100 degrees Fahrenheit. Androv stood staring at the
screens, and a moistness entered his eyes.

"If my father could have seen this," he finally said in Russian.
"Everything he designed has worked perfectly. He dreamed of this
vehicle, talked of it for so many years, and now finally . . . to be
murdered on his day of triumph."

Eva looked at him. "Maybe his real dream was for you to fly it. To
create something for you."

He paused, as though uncertain how to respond. The look in his eyes
said he knew it was true. The pain and anger seemed to flow through him
like electricity.

"Before we are finished, the world will know of his achievement. I
intend to make sure of it."

_"Three minutes,"_ Petra announced. _"Reducing alpha by three

The screen above reported that they'd reached Mach 22.4. Their altitude
was now ninety-three thousand feet.

She's leveling out, Vance thought. Are we going to make it, or just
fade in the stretch?

The scramjets were punching through the isolation of near-space now,
the underfuselage scooping in the last fringes of atmosphere. He
doubted if there'd be enough oxygen above a hundred thousand feet to
enable the engines to continue functioning, but if they could capture
the vehicle's design speed, seventeen thousand miles per hour, they
still could coast into the perigee curve of a huge orbital elipse.

He looked at the screens again. They were now at Mach 23.7, with two
and a half minutes left. The complex calculus being projected on
Petra's main display now showed their rate of acceleration was
diminishing rapidly as the atmosphere continued to thin. Maybe, he
thought, there's a good reason why no one has ever inserted an air-
breathing vehicle into orbit before. Maybe all the aerodynamic and
propulsion tricks in the world can't compensate for the fact that
turbines need to breathe.

Petra seemed to sense they were in trouble. _"Constricting venturi by
seven point three,"_ she said. _"Reducing alpha by four degrees."_

She was choking down the scramjets and leveling them out even more.
Their thrust to weight ratio - which at thirty thousand feet had been
greater than one, meaning they could actually fly straight up - was
dropping like a stone. It was now down to 0.2. Daedalus was slowly

But now their velocity had reached Mach 24.6. Almost, almost . . .

_"Thirty seconds," _Petra said, as though trying to sound confident.
She was busy sampling the combustion ratio in the scramjets and making
micro adjustments to the hydrogen feed.

Androv spoke into his helmet mike. "I'm beginning to think we won't
make it. Petra is now probably estimating thrust based on faulty
assumptions about oxygen intake. There's nothing left up here to burn.
There'll be no need to abort. The edge of the atmosphere is going to do
it for us." He looked up at the big screen and said, "Petra, project
image from the nose camera, rotated to minus ninety."

_"Confirmed,"_ she replied and flashed an image sprinkled with stars.
Then the camera swept around, and the massive screen at the end of
their cabin brought into view the edge of a wide globe that seemed to
be composed of shimmering blue. It was the North Pacific.

"I just wanted to see this," he said wistfully. "I once took a MiG 25
to seventy-three thousand feet, but it was nothing to compare. We're in

"I've been eavesdropping on satellites for years," Eva commented. "But
this gives it all a whole new perspective."

_"Ten seconds. Prepare to terminate hydrogen feeds."

_The airspeed indicator now read Mach 24.8. Closing. . . .

Vance reached for the heavy throttle grips, watching the final seconds
tick down.

. . . four, three, two, one . . .

_"Terminate hydrogen feeds."

_He yanked back on the handles, feeling a dying tremor flow through the
vehicle. The airspeed indicator had just hit 17,108 mph.

In the unearthly silence that followed, Petra's synthetic voice cut
through the cabin. _"Preliminary orbital coordinates are computed as
perigee 101.3 miles, apogee 117.8 miles. Duration is one hour and
twenty-seven minutes. Radar altimeter will provide data for second
iteration of calculations in thirty-six minutes."_

The engines were completely shut down now as they coasted through the
dark. Nothing could be heard but hydraulic pumps, air conditioners,
light groans from zero-gravity-induced stresses in the massive

"_Zadroka!_" Androv shouted. "We've done it! Maybe there is a God."

Now, as _Daedalus _began to slip sideways, like a liner adrift at sea,
the nose camera showed they were passing over the ice-covered wilds of
northern Alberta.

Vance felt a sudden rush of fluids from his extremities, where they had
been pooling because of the G-forces, upward into his face and torso.
The sensation was one of falling, hanging on to his seat. Clumsily he
unfastened his G-seat harness and pushed up to . . .

He sailed. Across the cockpit. At the last instant he twisted,

Online LibraryThomas HooverProject Daedalus → online text (page 29 of 30)