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Authors: Jim DeFelice

Cyclops One (5 page)

BOOK: Cyclops One
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“How the hell do I know?”

“If he’s not in the Army—”

“Air Force.”

“Yeah. So he’s retired, right? But everyone calls him general and acts like he’s hot shit.”

“It’s an honorific. And he’s head of the NADT. He
is
hot shit, as you put it.”

“He’s a pain in your ass, isn’t he?”

Gorman’s cheeks shaded dark red. “I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“He thinks he’s running the investigation.”

“This is an Air Force investigation. I am in charge here.”

“I didn’t say you weren’t. Getting any pressure from Congress?”

“Congress? Why?”

“York’s cousin’s a congressman.”

Gorman shrugged. She obviously hadn’t known that, though she was about as likely to admit that as the pope was to confess he’d smoked pot in seminary. “Tell me about that piece of metal,” she said, changing the subject. “Was it from Cyclops One or not?”

“Oh yeah. We can discard the accident theory. Plane was definitely stolen.”

“What?”

“I’m going to start going through the personnel files. I was afraid it would come to this.” Fisher tossed his cigarette down. Mindful of Jemma’s concern about starting a fire, he crushed it out with his heel. “I hate using the Air Force computers. Maybe I can bribe somebody to do it for me.”

“Andrew—”

“I’d ask you but I know you’re busy.”

“For the record, your clearance on this case is strictly limited. It doesn’t cover the weapons system.”

“Jemma, my clearance is higher than yours. You know, maybe you should put a little starch into your shirt. Get rid of the wrinkles. They dock you for that, right? Demerits or something? Take away your cigarette privileges.”

 

Kowalski was heading the section reviewing the personnel records, which was, as Fisher predicted, using Air Force computers. The DIA agent took one look at him and shook his head as he entered the room. Fisher ignored him, walking toward the side of the large room where the coffee was sequestered.

“What’d you find in Canada?” Kowalski asked.

“Who the hell’s making the coffee here? You?” Fisher held up the pot. About half-full, it was as thick as Texas honey.

“I’ll send out if you tell me what’s going on in Canada,” said the DIA agent. “We’re just reading electrons here.”

“Found a part of an airplane.”

“And?”

“And it was obviously planted there. So whose bank account just grew by a billion bucks?”

“Fisher.”

“Come on. You’ve had enough time to dig up some dirt by now. A bank foreclosure, at least.”

Kowalski glanced at the sergeant who had accompanied Fisher into the room. “I’m afraid Sergeant Johnson shouldn’t be in on this discussion. Personnel matters are private.”

“Sean’s not going to talk, right? Besides, he doesn’t speak English.”

The sergeant gave a little smirk.

“Seriously, we can’t talk about this in front of anyone who’s not part of the investigation.”

“Maybe I might find something to eat,” said the sergeant. “Down the hall.”

“See, now you hurt his feelings,” said Fisher after the sergeant left. “Who’s our perp?”

“What happened in Canada?” asked Kowalski.

“Piece of the wing from the 767 that has some sort of serial number on it. Looked to me like it was dropped from five feet off the ground.”

“The engineers assessed it already?”

“No, but you know what they’re going to say: ‘No definable parameters’ or some such bullshit. They might get something from looking at the side—the metal has a shear I don’t think could’ve happened if it just ripped off. Anyway, it’s definitely there as a red herring. The F/A-22V was over here about a hundred and, what, fifty miles?” He diagrammed it in the air. “Bonham went up there to check it out.”

“Bonham went there himself?”

“Yeah, my kind of guy. Except he don’t smoke. Can’t be perfect.” Fisher took a sip of the coffee, which was starting to grow on him: It was now merely undrinkable, as opposed to hideously undrinkable. “Slip a couple of lead plates in here and you could start a car,” he told Kowalski.

“That far north, huh?”

“That’s what I’m thinking. How the hell did it get way the hell out there, huh? Modelers screw up?”

Kowalski shrugged. “I had this A-10A case once. It flew for something like two hours before it pancaked in. Incredible.”

“Yeah, but our plane missed some serious mountains.”

“Talk to the experts,” said the DIA agent. “Don’t talk to me.”

“So what I’m thinking, then, is if the Velociraptor could go that far, then the 767 could go even further, because it has a clearer path and it’s higher. Right?”

“Presumably.”

Fisher took another sip of coffee. He must’ve hit a good spot in the cup before: It was back to being hideously undrinkable. “So, who’s the prime suspect if the planes were stolen? York?”

“No way,” said the DIA agent. “All the crew people are clean. This could be an NSA operation, with all the background checks they put these people through. They didn’t trust the DSS backgrounds. Special checks were done by an FBI unit after the DSS’s came back clean.”

“Oh, that fills me with a lot of confidence,” said Fisher.

The DSS was the Defense Security Service, whose checks included not only searches of data records but visits to former neighborhoods. The FBI checks would have been similar but in theory more in-depth.

The FBI agent walked over to the two long tables at the center of the room where Kowalski and the people helping him had set up several computers. Two had hardware keys—actually, special circuits that acted as encryption devices—enabling them to directly access a government top-secret intelligence network known as Intelink. The network worked like a highly secure Internet; hypertext links connected to several sources on different subjects. There were limits: Intelink information did not extend to Sensitive Compartmented Information, ultrasecret data available on a very restricted basis. Cyclops, for example, would not be found in a query there. Nor could the computers access SpyNet, which was another top-level network used more for strategic security information.

Special authorization was needed to get into the personnel files Kowalski was using, and Fisher had to go through the biometrics ID routine twice, squinting into what looked like a set of stationary binoculars.

“Who are you interested in?” Kowalski asked.

“York.”

“Why?”

“ ’Cause she’s not here. I only talk about people behind their backs.”

“Weren’t you saying a couple of hours ago that Williams was the prime suspect?”

“Sounded like me.”

Kowalski snorted.

“See, that’s why it’s got to be York,” said Fisher. “What do you figure the odds are of me being wrong twice in a row?”

“Astronomical,” said Kowalski.

Chapter 7

McIntyre took some pleasure in seeing Clayton T. “I’m More Connected and Twenty Times More Powerful Than You’ll Ever Be” Bonham squirm as he tried to explain why the Cyclops aircraft had not yet been located.

Some
pleasure. He was, after all, in Montana, not Hawaii.

“Colonel Gorman is in charge of the investigation and the search assets,” said Bonham, gesturing toward the large grid map at the front of the Test Situation Room, which had been commandeered to coordinate the search operation. “The Air Force took over the search a few hours after the accident.”

“What’d you do in the meantime?” said McIntyre.

Bonham glared at him, but said nothing. Calling NADT its own empire was an understatement; the ex-general had more power than Napoleon and was answer-able only to a board of directors that met once every millennium. The board members were, for the most part, low-key, old-line big shots with massive stakes in various defense companies. On the other hand, even McIntyre had to admit that NADT had an excellent track record making things work; even with the accident, Cyclops and the Velociraptor were impressive war machines.

Gorman was conferring with one of the search coordinators in the front of the room, which looked a great deal like the mission control facility that tracked Shuttle missions. Three long banks of workstations arranged stadium-style in a backward semicircle out from the front wall, where a large multiuse projection panel was framed by a number of small displays, each of which could be slaved to different input systems.

McIntyre took a few steps toward the center of the room, looking at the main map as he oriented himself. The F/A-22V had been found well north in Canada. They now expected that the 767 would be found there as well.

Gorman came over and McIntyre, who’d never met her before, introduced himself. She was a bit abrupt, clearly not happy that someone from the NSC had been sent to look over her shoulder.

Not that he blamed her.

As Gorman explained why the earlier parameters had been wrong—the complicated explanation actually made it seem as if they were right and the plane simply got up and walked northward—McIntyre’s eyes strayed toward one of the young officers in the front row. She was Air Force, a lieutenant with short, dirty-blond hair and military breasts. Feigning interest in the map, McIntyre began walking toward her, nodding as Gorman continued. The young officer looked up and smiled at him as he approached.

Dinner, a movie, a motel. Something with a hot tub—a little class for the woman in uniform, or out of uniform, as the case may be.

McIntyre was about three stations away when one of his cell phones rang. Unfortunately, it was the only one he absolutely had to answer.

“I have to take this,” he said, looking first at the lieutenant and then back at Bonham. “Someplace secure?”

 

Bonham’s office was austere, its furniture made of metal and the seats covered with what looked and felt like indoor-outdoor carpet. It was a sharp contrast to NADT’s Washington-area office, and in fact quite a bit plainer than really necessary; no one would have begrudged the former general leather upholstery and cherry accents.

Obviously intended to impress visiting congressmen.

McIntyre clicked on his phone as soon as the door was closed.

“Hold for the professor,” said Mozelle, Blitz’s assistant.

Using
Professor
was a subtle warning: The national security advisor was not in a good mood. McIntyre had just enough time to take a breath before he came on the line.

“Mac. I need you in Asia.”

“Asia?”

“India, to be exact.”

“But—” Hawaii then Montana, then New Delhi. Antarctica would be next.

“I want you to assess the readiness situation at as many frontline bases as you can imagine.”

“That’s a military function,” said McIntyre, though he knew it was hopeless. “Parsons would be—”

“Check the C option and report back.”

C option
was shorthand for the possibility that India would launch a preemptive attack on the Pakistani military. While American spy satellites covered the area, their flight paths were well known and there was ample opportunity to work around them. McIntyre was being told to confer with embassy officials—in most cases undercover CIA agents—and work off a checklist of indicators, some subtle, some not, to supplement the satellite snaps and intercepts. While the CIA would prepare its own report, Blitz liked the idea of having a person in country he could rely on.

Such as it was.

“Sniff around,” continued the NSC head. “See if you can get to any of the Kashmir bases.”

“Oh God, Kashmir. All the way up there?”

McIntyre turned around in the seat. He could guess at what Blitz was thinking: Probably the conflict would all blow over, but he’d get a firsthand look at what the Indians’ capability was.

“You have a problem with that?” asked Blitz.

“All right,” he said. His plans regarding the lieutenant changed abruptly: He’d bag the movie and go straight for the motel, maybe even settle for his quarters. “I’ll grab the first flight in the morning.”

“There’s one already en route. I’m told it’s about ten minutes from landing.”

Chapter 8

When he finally reached his quarters, Bonham pulled off his shirt and pants and booted the computer before going to take a quick shower. His suite here was hardly that—two nearly bare rooms and a bathroom with a stand-up shower—and he bumped his elbow hard on the wall as he toweled off. Feeling a little less dusty, he went over to the computer and brought up the Internet interface; two clicks later he had ESPN.com on the screen.

The Red Sox had beaten the Yankees with a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth. Hallelujah.

Spirits buoyed, Bonham clicked over to CNN, making sure, God forbid, that nothing had been reported beyond his early bland release on the accident. It hadn’t; the newspeople were concerned with the augmented-ABM tests, which had just been postponed another day due to technical problems with the monitoring network.

Bonham scrolled around in vain trying to find out what that meant. The reporters hadn’t been told, and it was impossible to divine from the statements they’d been given what was really going on. Delays had a tendency to mushroom, throwing everything off. The tests should have been concluded by now; every sixty minutes’ worth of delay added that many more problems for everyone.

But he had his own things to worry about. Fisher, for one, who had all the symptoms of a class-one trouble-maker. This wasn’t an FBI case—the Bureau had sent only one man, not the dozens or even hundreds it would detail for a blowout job—but Fisher was just the sort of bee buzzing in someone’s bonnet to screw up everything.

Bonham leaned back in his chair. He could find out about the agent easily enough with a few phone calls. But that was a tricky thing: People might interpret it as paranoia, or worse. Better to suffer through the slings and arrows of outrageous behavior. Besides, Fisher was probably more of a problem for Gorman than for him.

Served the stubborn bitch right.

Someone knocked on the door.

“General Bonham?”

“Tom, come on in,” he said, recognizing Colonel Howe’s voice.

“Door’s locked,” said Howe.

“Oh, sorry. Thought I’d be sleeping already,” said Bonham. He killed the computer and got up to open the door. “Checking the Red Sox. Beat the Yankees with a ninth-inning home run.”

Howe nodded. He wasn’t much of a baseball fan.

He also wasn’t much of a late-night visitor.

“Come on in,” said Bonham. “Drink?”

Bonham walked to the small bookcase where he kept a bottle of Scotch.

“No, thanks. I’m flying tomorrow.”

“You’re flying?”

“That’s why I came over,” said Howe. “The engineers want to put Bird One through its paces, and I’m going to do it.”

Bonham poured two fingers’ worth of Scotch into a tumbler, then went to the small refrigerator he kept in the corner of the room. The tiny ice tray in the unit’s freezer was about three-quarters full; he popped out two cubes and put it back.

“Have a seat, Tom. Take a load off.”

The sides of the small, foam-cushioned chair seemed to pop out as Howe sat on it, as if it were a balloon. Howe shifted uncomfortably, right leg over left, then left over right, then back. Bonham thought to himself that he would not have wanted to trade places with the colonel, who until a few days ago seemed to be riding the career rocket to a general’s star and beyond.

Bonham liked Howe. He was a good, competent officer, and while more than a bit impatient with the bureaucratic side of the job—almost a given for anyone with the flying background Howe had—he made up for it by delegating those responsibilities to people who could handle them.

A little unimaginative. But that could be a useful flaw. Bonham would see that his career wasn’t screwed by this. A few bumps, admittedly—Gorman was just the start—but with patience it could be overcome.

Hard for Howe to know that now, though. Surely he had no reason to be optimistic.

“Tough to lose a wingmate,” Bonham offered.

“Yeah,” said Howe.

“And Ms. York. I know you two were close.” Bonham swirled his Scotch, then took a long sip. Either because of the drink or the hangdog look on Howe’s face, he suddenly felt paternal. “We get through the inquiry stage, people are going to understand that what we do here is loaded with danger. Tragedy, people will understand. This isn’t a normal situation,” said Bonham. “It’ll be taken into account. You’ll probably be commended for saving the plane.”

Howe gave him a wan smile, surely not believing him.

“You know, when I was a young buck, we lost a Phantom over Alaska,” said Bonham, playing the old soldier who’s seen everything. “Didn’t find it until two years later. Person who found it, flying one of those old Otters or whatever the hell it was they call those things. Utter accident.”

The story wasn’t completely apocryphal; there had indeed been a crash in Alaska, though not while Bonham was there, and not by a Phantom. It had, however, taken considerable time to find, and Bonham knew enough details to use the story to make his point. And the Scotch warmed his mouth and throat in a way that he really, truly wanted to cheer the colonel up.

“Thing is, it can take forever in that wilderness to find a crash. We will eventually,” said Bonham.

“It’s odd that there was no satellite coverage,” said Howe.

The statement seemed particularly pointed. Bonham got up and refilled his drink.

“I guess they took that one out for repair or whatever,” said Bonham. “There are satellites, though. With the weather, where you were operating, they couldn’t see anything. From what Colonel Gorman told me, they have ample assets for the search. We’ll find it eventually. It takes time.”

“Has Fisher spoken to you?”

“The FBI agent?”

“He asked me if Williams needed money.”

Bonham laughed. “What, did he think he crashed on purpose?”

He shook his head as he drank the Scotch. A real bee, that FBI bastard.

“Listen, Tom, I wouldn’t worry about the investigators, especially the FBI and CID people. They run around, kick over chairs, stir up dust, see what happens. This Fisher—he’s probably just trying to rile you.”

Howe rose. “Well, I just wanted to give you the heads-up.”

“I appreciate it. You take care tomorrow.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you.”

After he locked the door, Bonham poured himself another drink, this one about halfway up the glass.

BOOK: Cyclops One
13.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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