Authors: Robert Doherty
Tags: #Space ships, #Area 51 (Nev.), #High Tech, #Unidentified flying objects, #Political, #General, #Science Fiction, #Plague, #Adventure, #Extraterrestrial beings, #Fiction, #Espionage
Quinn stepped out of the way as Billings walked around the body. "Hair is blondish, almost white. Skin color is very pale white. Body is well muscled and developed. No obvious scars or tattoos. There are six bullet entry wounds on the chest. Four exit wounds on the back."
Billings leaned over and pulled up the left eyelid. "Eye color is brown . . ."
He paused. "Looks like there's a contact." He put down the scalpel and picked up a small set of tweezers. He plucked out the contact lens and looked at it against the overhead light. "Hmm,
the contact might have been cosmetic, as it is brown-colored." Billings looked down.
"Jesus!" Billings exclaimed. "What the hell is that?" Quinn stepped forward as the doctor gasped and moved back. Quinn looked into the right eye. The pupil and iris were red, the pupil a scarlet shade darker than the rest of the eye and elongated vertically like a cat's. Quinn pulled his cell phone off his belt and punched in to the Cube. "I am isolating this building as per National Security Directive regarding contact with alien life-forms. Request immediate bubble protection be put over us ASAP to prevent further contamination!"
In the Cube, the operations center for Area 51 buried deep underground, Larry Kincaid heard Major Quinn's call over the speaker. He'd worked at NASA for over thirty years, and STAAR personnel, with their sunglasses, pale skin, and strange-colored hair, had been around for every space launch. They had been there under the authority of a top-secret presidential directive and as such had had complete access to every NASA facility. It was the way of bureaucracy that the correct piece of paper could override every suspicion and every bit of common sense for decades. The warning that they weren't human was startling but not earth-shattering, given all that had happened in the past several weeks.
So as everyone else scrambled to comply with Quinn's request to quarantine the STAAR personnel autopsy area, Kincaid's attention was focused in an entirely different direction. He was tapped into the U.S. Space Command's Missile Warning Center.
The Center was located deep inside Cheyenne Mountain on the outskirts of Colorado Springs, alongside the headquarters for NORAD. The Space Com-
mand, part of the Air Force, was responsible for the Defense Support Program (DSP) satellite system, which Kincaid knew quite a bit about from his work for JPL, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which had been responsible for coordinating the construction of the boosters that had put those satellites into space.
He knew that DSP satellites in geosynchronous orbits blanketed the entire surface of the Earth from an altitude of 20,000 miles. The system had originally been developed to detect ICBM launches during the Cold War. During the Gulf War, it had picked up every Scud missile launch and proved so effective that the military had further streamlined the system to give real-time warnings to local commanders at the tactical level.
Every three seconds the DSP system downloaded an infrared map of the Earth's surface and surrounding airspace. Kincaid knew that most of the data was simply stored on tape in the Warning Center, unless, of course, the computer detected a missile launch, or something happened to one of the objects already in space that they were tracking. Right now, his computer screen showed the current DSP
projection and nothing out of the ordinary was happening.
Kincaid looked like a burned-out New York City cop. He was one of the few left at JPL and NASA from the early, exciting days of the space program. He wasn't a specialist, but a jack-of-all-trades. He had been mission head for all Mars launches, a job that had thrust him into the spotlight when the Airlia base on Mars had been uncovered in the Cydonia region.
Kincaid checked his watch. He'd been staring at the computer for the past three hours. He decided he'd give it another half hour—then he froze as a small red dot began flashing on the screen.
Kincaid used the mouse to put the point over the red dot and he clicked.
A code came up on the screen:
The code told Kincaid several things: First that it was a man-made object—a satellite. Second that it was a contracted, privately financed, civilian project. Third, that it had been launched by the European Space Consortium, Ariane, from their launch site at Kourou in French Guiana. Kincaid searched deeper into the database.
He was surprised to discover that the satellite had been launched only two days before. And it was currently highlighted on the DSP because its orbit was decaying, a further surprise. No one put a satellite up for only two days unless they had a very specific mission for it, or something had gone wrong and the decay was the result of a mishap.
Kincaid checked the decay as DSP continually updated his screen. TL-SAT-9-3
was coming down into the Earth's atmosphere in eight minutes. Kincaid stared at the red dot for a few seconds, then brought up a display underneath that showed its position relevant to the Earth below it. The satellite was currently passing over the eastern Pacific, heading toward South America.
Kincaid picked up a secure phone and called Space Command, asking for the officer in charge.
"Colonel Willis." The voice on the other end was flat, a result of the phone's scrambler.
"Colonel, this is Larry Kincaid from JPL. I'm currently following the data on a satellite you have decaying, TL-SAT-9-3. Do you a projected impact point?"
"Wait one," Willis said. "I have my people plotting it."
Kincaid knew that the staff at Space Command delineated four categories of objects in space. The first was a known object in stable orbit, such as a satellite or some of the debris from previous space missions. Each of those had a special code assigned to it and the data was stored in the computer at Cheyenne Mountain. There were presently more than 8,500 catalogued items orbiting the planet that Space Command tracked.
The second category was a known object whose orbit changed, such as when a country or corporation decided to reposition one of its satellites. The third was a known object whose orbit decayed, which was what Kincaid was looking at.
When that happened Space Command put a TIP—tracking and impact prediction—team on the job to figure out where it would come down. TIP teams had been instituted as a result of the publicity after Skylab came down years before. The fourth category was an object that has just been launched and had yet to be assigned a code.
"Why's it deteriorating so fast?" Kincaid asked.
"It must have been planned to be brought down now," Willis said.
"Why else would someone bring a satellite down?" Willis asked, to Kincaid's irritation. Before he could retort, Willis had the information he'd originally asked for.
"She's coming down in western Brazil. We'll be able to narrow the location once it's down, but it's still under some flight control and the descent is being adjusted."
Kincaid watched as the red dot crossed South America. It suddenly disappeared.
"She's down," Willis said needlessly.
"At least it didn't strike a city," Willis said.
"It probably hit jungle," Kincaid said, noting the location where the dot had disappeared, the western edge of the Amazon rain forest. "Can you backtrack the satellite's orbit?" he asked. "I want to know if it passed close by either the mothership's orbit or the sixth talon's."
"Wait one," Willis said. He was back with the answer in less than a minute.
"Negative. Closest it came to the mothership was over fifteen hundred kilometers. Farther for the talon."
Kincaid frowned. "All right. Forward all data on this to me. Out here."
He stared aimlessly at the computer screen for a long time. Then he cleared the screen and accessed the Interlink, the U.S. Department of Defense's secure Internet.
He checked his electronic mailbox. It was empty. Opening his file cabinet, he retrieved an e-mail that had been sent to him three days before. It was a short message:
Watch DSP downlink 0900-1200 MST. Yakov
Kincaid hit the reply button on the e-mail. He typed:
Watched DSP downlink-Saw TL-SAT-9-3 come down. Why is it important? Kincaid.
Kincaid sent the mail. He waited. Ten seconds later, his computer announced he had mail. He opened the
box, only to find his message returned to him, undeliverable.
"Damn it," Kincaid whispered as he signed off the Interlink. He sat back in his chair and pondered the map that was now on his screen. After several moments of thought, he went to work.
"Where are we going?" the man taking the depth readings asked Ruiz. The expedition had been going up this overgrown river branch for most of the day, and the men were very nervous. Ruiz had watched the sun the entire time, troubled about the direction it told him the boat was going.
"I don't know where the American is going," Ruiz said. He was standing on the bow of a beat-up, flat-bottomed riverboat, about forty feet long by fifteen wide. Two fifty-horsepower engines, coughing occasional black clouds, powered the boat.
The man was a peasant, recruited out of the ghetto, like the others. Only Ruiz and Harrison, the American, had any education, but Ruiz also knew that meant little this far inland. What was most important was Ruiz was the only one who had any experience upriver on the Amazon.
The rest of the expedition—six men Ruiz recruited off the streets—were scattered about the deck. Ruiz's dark scalp was covered with gray hair and his slight frame was tense, ready for action. He was a slight man with dark skin. He wore faded khaki shorts and no shirt, the muscles on his stomach and chest hard and flat. He wore a machete strapped to the left side of his waist, a short, double-edged dagger on the right. An automatic
pistol was in a holster that hung off his belt, slapping his right thigh every time he took a step.
Ruiz had been upriver many times, but never on this particular tributary of the mighty Amazon. Given that there were more than 1,100 tributaries to the great river, 17 of them over 1,000 miles long, that wasn't unexpected. What was unexpected was to be this far to the south and west of the main river. Ruiz knew that very soon they would be in the Chapada dos Parecis, the first of the eastern foothills leading to the mighty Andes. The boat would not be able to go any farther, as they would face rapids and waterfalls in front of them.
He was amazed that the tributary was still navigable. The Amazon was almost a thousand miles away at Itacoatiara. To get from that major river to here, one had to travel on the Madeira for over five hundred miles, then branch south on a tributary.
This morning they had met the American at Vilhena, the regional capital for this part of Brazil, a small city sprawled on the riverbank. A fistful of cash had hired Ruiz's services and they had headed south and west from the town all day long, going onto progressively smaller branches until Ruiz had no idea where exactly they were and the water was less than twenty-five feet wide, the large trees from either side almost touching overhead and constant depth measuring being needed to prevent them from grounding themselves. The boat drew only two feet, but as the day had worn on, the amount of water between the keel and the bottom had gone from a comfortable five feet to a nerve-racking three. Already they'd had to pull the boat over three sunken logs.
Ruiz looked over his shoulder. Harrison was looking at his map and scratching his head. Ruiz climbed the
few wooden steps to what served as the boat's bridge. He leaned close and kept his voice low.
"May I be of assistance?" The American was a very large and fat man, used to the easy life of the city.
Ruiz was a different breed of man from both the American and the street peasants. He was one of the few who made their living on the upper branches of the Amazon. Sometimes trading to remote outposts, other times guiding various expeditions and tours. Sometimes poaching. Sometimes capturing exotic birds and animals for sale on the lucrative black market for such creatures. Ruiz had also made some money off the illegal recovery and shipping of antiquities, particularly from countries west of Brazil, in the Andean highlands and mountains.
"We are on track," Harrison said.
"For where?" Ruiz asked.
Ruiz knew little about the American other than that he was from one of the many universities in the United States. He had said he was one of those who studied ancient peoples.
Harrison looked about at the thick jungle that surrounded them. He turned back to his guide. The American had paid good money. He had several plastic cases lashed to the deck, the contents of which were unknown to Ruiz when they were loaded.
"I am looking for something," Harrison said.
"I could help you if I knew what you were looking for."
"The Aymara," Harrison said.
Ruiz kept his face fiat. He had won many a poker hand on the river with that look. "The Aymara are only a legend. They are long dead."
"I believe they still exist," Harrison said
"Senor, the ruins of Tiahaunaco, where the Aymara
lived, are in Bolivia. Many hundreds of miles from here. Many thousands of meters higher. We can never reach there by boat."
Despite not knowing exactly where they were, Ruiz was very interested. He knew they only had to turn around and go with the flow of the water and they would eventually reach Vilhena. But one of the reasons he had grown to love the river area were the fantastic stories his grandfather had told him. Of ancient cities hidden under the jungle. Lost cities of gold. Hundred-foot snakes.
Strange tribes. And guiding someone like Harrison could lead him to a site to return to and plunder, something Ruiz had done more than once.
"How did Tiahuanaco appear so suddenly?" Harrison asked. He didn't wait for an answer. "And how did the Aymara disappear so abruptly?"
Ruiz had heard stories about both those events. "Kon-Tiki Viracocha."