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Authors: Jim DeFelice

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BOOK: Cyclops One
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Chapter 6

The copilot, Abe Rogers, had been the most problematic choice for the project from the start. He was the only one of the three who was active Air Force, as opposed to an NADT hire, and yet he was by far the most greedy. Megan didn’t mind greed as a motivator: It was powerful and relatively predictable. But the blatant money lust annoyed her, if only because it reminded her that others involved with Jolice, Ferrone, El-Def, and all the related companies were also primarily interested in money, not the ideals that motivated her.

Her uncle would have pointed out that it didn’t matter. Greed and corruption were always there; even some of the people around Washington and the other Founding Fathers were greedy and corrupt. What mattered was the end goal, and your own purity.

“We were supposed to be done,” he said, standing beneath the overhang that led to the hangar facilities.

“I’m not in charge of the test schedule,” she told him.

“What are you in charge of?” Rogers’s tone was close to a taunt; he pushed his chest forward as if he were an ape trying to intimidate her.

Let the bastard try something,
she thought to herself.
I’d only like the chance to cut him down.

She didn’t need a copilot.

“I want more money,” he demanded.

“I’ll pass the request along.”

“Do that.”

He spun and walked toward the access door. Megan was angry enough to go out from under the artificial rock outcropping and walk up the path toward the shore. Technically she shouldn’t; the satellite would be in range relatively soon.

They’d been cooped up here too long. The last-minute changes in the ABM testing schedule had made everything more difficult. She could only guess what was going on at North Lake.

The complications had begun with the Velociraptors. She knew that Williams had died. The blackout should have lasted only a few seconds—a blip, really—just enough to sever the connections and let Cyclops One get away.

But events always took their own course.

Like Howe. He was an accident.

Worse: confusion. Still, if he’d been the one killed and not Williams, what would she have felt now?

The waves lapped at the rocks below. Megan listened for a while, then, mindful of the approaching satellite, went back below.

Chapter 7

Howe couldn’t stand or sit still, could hardly walk instead of run. He couldn’t go anywhere, or couldn’t decide: He had to do something, had to what?

Punch something.

It was bad enough when he thought Megan was dead. He wandered through the underground complex, jogging up the stairs rather than taking the elevator, going to the hangar bunkers and lab areas. He moved quickly, warding off conversation, pausing only for the card checks and retina scans. He wanted to be alone, and yet, he walked nowhere that he could be alone. His mind spun like the turbine in an engine cut loose from its controls. He couldn’t believe she was a traitor; he couldn’t believe she’d used him.

Was this what that look on the runway had meant? Had she been laughing at him all along?

He’d kill her himself.

Maybe it was Rogers, the copilot. Maybe he’d gotten up from his seat, strangled her or poisoned them all somehow, killed them and taken the plane himself.

Gorman was wrong, wrong, wrong.

But that look—what had it meant?

Howe found himself standing in the hallway near Bonham’s office, waiting for Bonham to get off the phone. As soon as he heard him hang up, he walked in, knocking on the doorframe.

“Whatever it takes, I want to help track them down,” he said as he walked in.

Bonham squinted, as if there were words on Howe’s face he couldn’t read.

“We’re all involved,” said Bonham finally. “There’s no question about that.”

“No—I want to be on the front lines. Every asset we have, including the Velociraptors, ought to be involved. I want to be there. I deserve to be.”

Bonham got up abruptly and went to his outer office door, closing it as well as the inside one. When he came back, the expression on his face was even more pained than before. He seemed to have to push the words from his mouth.

“Your concern’s going to be appreciated. It’s understandable. Totally. Completely,” Bonham said. “But…well, I’m not in the chain of command, so what I say…it’s just based on my…my experience and sense of things. Careerwise, your best bet—the thing you should do right now…I’d hang back. Let events take their course. No one’s going to blame you if the plane was…if it turns up somewhere else.”

The lie seemed to embarrass Bonham, and he stopped speaking. If the plane had been stolen, Bonham’s head would be the first chopped off—God knew what would happen to NADT itself—but Howe’s would surely tumble soon afterward. If the accident hadn’t already killed his career, this had.

“I want to be on the front lines,” insisted Howe.

“It’s not my call.”

“I ought to be involved in recovering the aircraft,” said Howe. “It’s my project. I want to stick with it to the end.”

“It’s
our
project, Tom.
Ours. We
are involved. Whether we like it or not. But we can’t do every single thing. You know that. Besides, recovering the plane, if there were an operation…it wouldn’t really be our assignment. You know?”

“I want to be. You have the pull.”

Bonham pursed his lips together but said nothing. Howe’s energy had finally run out. He nodded, then rose and left the office.

Chapter 8

Dr. Blitz shifted uneasily in the secure videoconference room. The national security advisor’s private facility in the sub-basement of the Old Executive Office Building was only a few weeks old and the environmental controls still hadn’t been fine-tuned. Given a choice between freezing and sweating, Blitz had opted for freezing. His fingers were now nearly frozen into position.

There were advantages to using this room, however. The conference coordinator sat across from him, separated by the sort of glass window that would be used in a radio DJ booth. Blitz sat in front of a panel that allowed him immediate access to several different secure networks and his own personal computer files. He could talk to his staff, either via secure text IMs or vocally over the phone while the mike was on mute. Two other stations could be occupied, and it was up to him to decide whether to put them on the air or not. The system allowed him to get real work done while pretending to listen.

Not that he needed that capability today. All his attention was directed toward the others on the line as they discussed the disappearance of Cyclops One.

It wasn’t bad enough that India and Pakistan were about to start lobbing nukes at each other. The Air Force colonel assigned to investigate the Cyclops accident had just come up with a bomb of her own: a theory that the Russians had stolen the aircraft and its weapon.

An incredibly plausible theory, as the silence of everyone else on the circuit—the CIA director, the defense secretary, the head of the Air Force, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) chairman—attested.

“We start by surveying the Russian base,” said Colonel Gorman, her square chin firm despite the shaking video feed. “I’ve asked Special Operations Command for input on an attack option.”

“Slow down, Colonel,” said the defense secretary, Myron Pierce. “You’re talking about an act of war in a foreign country—a member of NATO, I might add.”

“Stealing our plane wasn’t an act of war?” snapped Gorman, adding belatedly, “With respect, sir.”

“They’re not going to keep it in the open if they
did
take it,” said the CIA director, Jack Anthony. “And I doubt they’d have it at that base where the spy planes are. The satellite review hasn’t turned it up.”

“The interpreters are reworking that,” said Gorman. “Obviously we don’t have twenty-four-hour coverage of that base. It’s possible it stopped there, refueled, and moved on.”

“What else would the attack option include, Colonel?” asked General Grant Richards, JCS chairman. It was a softball question with an almost solicitous tone; Blitz realized Gorman had already briefed him.

Smart.

“In the best-case scenario, I’d like to use Cyclops Two,” she said. “It would neutralize anything we came up against.”

“Cyclops Two?” said Blitz. “I thought the aircraft on the project were grounded.”

“That would be unnecessary if Cyclops One were located, proving there was no malfunction,” said Gorman. “I would note that aside from some minor technical points, everyone from the scientists to the maintainers at North Lake has failed to find a problem. This explains why, frankly.”

“What about the Velociraptors?” said Blitz.

“I wasn’t asking for them, sir,” said Gorman. “But I’d certainly take them.”

“They also have a clean bill of health,” said General Richards.

Blitz realized that the Air Force was going to push strongly to get the plane back, not just because it was their asset, but because doing so would put them in an excellent position to get rid of NADT and regain the initiative on their own development programs.

He was sympathetic to that. And there was a certain symmetry to using the weapon that had gotten them into the problem.

Still, this was one of the few times he actually agreed with the defense secretary: They were getting ahead of themselves.

Gorman detailed a preliminary order of battle that involved a good hunk of the forces available to the Pacific Command. Simply mobilizing that large a force would surely tip off the Russians.

Assuming, of course, that they had stolen the plane.

“I think we’re getting ahead of ourselves,” said Blitz. “Far, far ahead.”

“Sir, I was authorized to retrieve the aircraft,” said Gorman. “My orders were explicit. They went beyond investigating the circumstances.”

“Your orders were issued under a different set of circumstances,” said Blitz. “In any event, we have to find it first.”

He glanced at the wall clock. He was due upstairs to talk with the President about India and Pakistan in five minutes. He’d bring this up as well—recommend a search without the strike option.

“I intend to find the aircraft, sir,” said Gorman. “But when I do, wouldn’t it make sense to be in a position to retrieve it immediately?”

“What about a smaller task force?” said General Richards.

“We would prefer overwhelming force,” said Gorman.

“In case of any contingency. On the other hand, a small strike force, operating with Cyclops Two, could be used for a pinpoint operation.”

“We haven’t heard from the FBI,” said Anthony. “What does Andy Fisher think of all this?”

“Mr. Fisher was the one who figured out where the airplane had been taken,” said Gorman.

“Oh? Let’s hear him, then.”

“I’m afraid he’s not available,” said Gorman. “Mr. Fisher tends to work according to his own schedule.”

“Speaking of schedules, I’m afraid the sand has run out of my egg timer,” said Blitz. “I think we should press ahead with the search but hold any attack option in reserve.”

“I think Cyclops Two and the Velociraptors should be prepared for a mission,” said General Richards. “We’ll formally take the aircraft over this afternoon from NADT.”

The others murmured agreement. Blitz saw no point in objecting.

“I’m meeting with the President in a few minutes,” he told the others. “I’ll bring it up with him.”

Chapter 9

Out of other options, Fisher resorted to a tactic he had learned from an old hand on his first week as an FBI field agent: guile. He phrased his request for a helicopter in such a way as to make the request sound as if he wanted to retrace the probable path from the test area to the abandoned base, something not even Jemma Gorman could object to. But as soon as the MH-60 Blackhawk got over the Canadian border, Fisher leaned forward into the cockpit area with his red-lined topo map.

“What we really want to do,” he said over the headset they’d given him, “is head up north, to the point where they found that plane part, and work up from there. I want to look at this wedge here, these lakes especially.”

“That’s not our flight plan,” said the pilot.

“Yeah, I know. You allowed to smoke in here?”

“Not really.”

“Even if I open the windows?”

A half hour later the helicopter passed over the plateau where the 767’s part had been found. The area was marked out with small triangular flags but was no longer guarded.

“So what exactly are we looking for?” asked the pilot as they flew along the western leg of the triangle Fisher had marked out.

“Damned if I know,” said Fisher over the interphone circuit. “But I’ll tell you if I see it.”

“Pretty country,” said the crew chief, standing near him at the side door.

“Yeah,” said Fisher.

“You know, some of this area has been gone over quite a bit,” said the crew chief. “We went over it ourselves.”

“Yeah,” repeated Fisher. “I want to get further north, though. How deep you think that lake is?”

“Couple hundred feet, I bet. Real deep.”

“What I think I’m looking for is something very deep with a deserted road nearby for access.”

“You looking for a hunting lodge?”

“Maybe,” said Fisher. “Actually, an abandoned place would be perfect. Road doesn’t have to be much. Enough to get a couple of trucks in.”

“Hmmm,” said the chief.

“That mean you remember something like that?”

“Means I could use a smoke too.”

 

There were two reasonable candidates, both at least fifty miles farther north than the search grid, but both on line with where the part had been found. One sat in a crevice between two rocky peaks and had a paved road around the bottom quarter. But there were cabins a few miles south with a view of the road, so Fisher opted for the other site. A flat area emptied out of a road and on the lake at the southeast; they put the helicopter down there.

Fisher got out of the chopper and walked up the road, which looked like a logging trail cut through the woods. There were a few stacks of brush alongside it; the cuts looked weathered, though none of the people in the helicopter had been Boy Scouts and so they couldn’t tell how old they were. The trail ran a hundred yards to a macadam road.

Fisher stood at the turnoff, smoking a Camel pensively. There were tire tracks at the edge of the road. He paced off the width, deciding the trail was roughly twenty feet wide—more than enough to get a flatbed down.

But if there was anything in the water, it was fairly deep. And there was no debris on the shoreline.

Back by the lake, the crew members were sitting on the rocks, dangling their feet in the water. The pilot stood gazing over the surface.

“So?” he asked Fisher when he returned.

“Could be,” said Fisher.

“Could be what?”

“Nothing or something. Hard to tell.”

“If the plane crashed in the lake, wouldn’t there be debris on the surface?” asked the chief.

“I did see a candy wrapper,” said Fisher. “But then again, Canada’s always coddled litterbugs.”

BOOK: Cyclops One
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