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Cyclops One DeFelice Jim




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For the guys putting their lives on the line…

Acknowledgments

To properly thank everyone who’s helped me get this book in shape I’d need another four hundred pages. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a few people who have helped me, some in ways I can’t begin to adequately acknowledge.

First and foremost, I have to thank Dale Brown, who’s been an idol of mine even before I started pounding computer keys. Just talking with Dale is like taking a graduate seminar, and I was extremely lucky to catch a few pointers from him as I worked on this book.

I’d also like to acknowledge another long-time hero of mine, Stephen Coonts, whose kindness and generosity buoyed me along the way. Larry Bond also added some critical moral support at a crucial moment.

My editor, Kevin Smith, had many useful ideas and kept me moving in the right direction. He also provided important baseball commentary, though it didn’t make it into the book.

Publisher Louise Burke has been a real source of support and an enthusiastic ally; no writer could ask for more. Art director Paolo Pepe and designer James Wang blew me away with the cover and the “package.” Copyeditor David Chesanow prevented me from making many embarrassing mistakes. And a big thanks to the rest of the Pocket Books team for their help and hard work on my behalf.

My agent Jake Elwell not only made the whole thing happen but helped me sort out the initial story-line. Plus he smokes a mean cigar.

Thanks also to Tom, Bob, the Motion Poets, “Blaze,” Mark, Beefy, Fred, and to various and sundry E-mail correspondents who have provided counsel, cheer, and technical data, as well as kindly pointing out errors. Also, a big wave to the folks in Green Bay, especially Marty and Larry.

Finally, thanks and love to Deb and Bobby, as always.

Author’s Note

Though real technology is discussed and detailed in this book, it is a work of fiction. The commercial entities, machinery, and procedures described do not exist in real life; nor do the people. As always, I’ve taken some liberties in concocting the yarn.

Some of the details regarding the firebombing of Tokyo were inspired by my reading of Inferno by Edwin P. Hoyt. While I respectfully disagree with some of his opinions, his work is provocative and well written.

Part One

Chapter 1
MIA

At least fifty yards separated Colonel Thomas Howe from the dozen people clustered around the nose of the test plane, but even at that distance she seduced him. A thick flight suit and a layer of survival gear obscured the soft curves of Megan’s body, but he could still sense the sway of her hips. His lips tasted the perfumed air around her; his thumb caught the small drop of sweat forming behind her ear. Megan York had her back to him, but she pulled him forward like a mermaid singing to a castaway.

If he’d stopped there, fifty yards away — if Howe had turned and gone across the cement apron to where his own plane waited at the edge of the secret northern Montana airstrip — a dozen things, a million things, might have been different. Or so he would tell himself later.

But Howe didn’t stop. He continued toward her, drawn by the warmth he had felt the night before as he had undressed her. Blood rushed to his head; the air grew so thick he could barely breathe.

When he was about ten yards from her, Megan turned. Seeing him, she frowned.

Her frown was a bare flicker, lasting only a fraction of a fraction of a second, but in that instant a hole opened in his chest. Despair, then anger, erupted from it.

Had he been alone in a house or a building, Howe would have punched the wall or whatever fell in range. But he was not alone, and this fact and his training as a combat pilot made him cock a smile on his face.

“Hey,” he said.

“Hey yourself.”

“What’s up?”

“What’s up with you?”

The others standing nearby seemed to fade back as they stared at each other. Finally, Howe blinked and slung a thumb into the side of his survival vest. His anger returned for a half moment, and then he felt a great loss, as if they hadn’t made love for the first time only a few weeks before but for the ten thousandth time, as if they’d grown old in each other’s arms and now she wanted to leave.

Until that moment he hadn’t realized he was in love. It hadn’t been real, like a bruise on his arm or a broken rib. Until that moment desire had been just sex, not something that could cling to his chest like a tight sweater you could never take off.

“Looks like it’s going to rain,” she said.

“Hope so,” he said.

Rain — heavy rain — was the purpose of the exercise today. The Cyclops laser in Megan’s modified 767-300ER had not been fully tested in foul weather. Developed as a successor to the airborne laser (ABL) missile-defense system, the weapon’s COIL-plus chemical oxygen iodine laser projected a multifaceted beam of energy through a nose-mounted ocular director system that was in many ways reminiscent of the nose turrets on World War II aircraft. The laser could strike moving and nonmoving objects approximately three hundred miles away. Using targeting data from a variety of sources, it could destroy or disable up to fifty targets on a mission, at the same time directing advanced escorts in their own more conventional attacks, thanks to a shared avionics system.

The escorts were themselves impressive weapons systems: F/A-22Vs, specially built delta-wing versions of the F/A-22 Raptor prepared by the National Aeronautics Development and Testing Corporation (NADT), which was also overseeing Cyclops’s final tests before production. The F/A-22Vs — generally called Velociraptors — traded a small portion of their older brothers’ stealth abilities for considerably greater range and slightly heavier weapons carriage, but their real advance lay in the avionics system they shared with Cyclops. With a single verbal request, the Velociraptor pilot could have an annotated, three-dimensional view of a battlefield three hundred miles away, know which targets Cyclops intended to hit, and have suggestions from a targeting computer on how to best destroy his own. The system was scalable; in other words, it would work as well with two Velociraptors as with twenty.

In theory, anyway. Only four F/A-22Vs currently existed in all the world, and there were only two Cyclops aircraft, though presumably today’s test would lead to funding for a dozen more.

“We ready?” Megan asked Howe.

“You pissed at something?” Howe said instead of answering. Besides flying chase, he was in charge of overseeing the system’s integration for the Air Force, the de facto service boss of what was in theory a private program until it proved itself and was formally taken over by the military. He was the top “blue suit,” or Air Force officer, on the project, though the hybrid nature of the program diluted his authority.

Dominic Gregorio pushed his big jaw between them, saying something about how they’d better hit the flyway before the weather got too tremendously awful. The forecast had the storm continuing for two or three days.

“Pissed?” asked Megan. “Why?”

A phony answer, he thought.

“We ready to hit the flyway?” repeated Dominic.

He giggled. For some reason the engineer thought flyway was the funniest play on words ever concocted in the English language.

“Kick butt,” Megan told Howe. She slugged his shoulder and swept toward her plane.

* * *

By the time the altimeter ladder on Colonel Howe’s heads-up display notched ten thousand feet an hour later, he had nearly convinced himself he hadn’t seen her frown. Howe pushed the nose of his F/A-22V right, swinging toward the south end of the test range. Megan’s 767 was just settling into its designated firing course about three hundred yards ahead, wings wobbling ever so slightly because of the severe turbulence they were flying through. The synthesized radar image in Howe’s tactical display showed the plane as well as its course; its annotations critiqued Megan’s piloting skills, noting that she was deviating from the flight plan by.001 degree.

Howe’s Velociraptor, with its delta wings and nose canards, had been designed to work with Cyclops as a combination long-distance interceptor and attack plane, able to switch seamlessly from escort to bombing roles. The long weapons bay beneath its belly would include a mix of air-to-air AMRAAM-pluses and air-to-ground small-diameter GPS-guided bombs; the bays at the side would have either a heat-seeking Sidewinder or an AMRAAM-plus, an improved version of the battle-tested AIM-120. Roughly a dozen feet longer than a “stock” Raptor, the Velociraptor’s massive V-shaped wings allowed it to carry nearly twice the fuel its brother held. Its rear stabilizers were more sharply canted and included control surfaces operated with the help of a hydrogen system to radically change airflow in milliseconds, greatly increasing the plane’s maneuverability.

“Birds, this is Cyclops. We’re in the loop,” said Megan, alerting Howe and his wingman that the test sequence was about to begin.

“Bird One,” acknowledged Howe. He looked down at the configurable tactical display screen in the center of his dash, which was synthesizing a view of the battle area ahead. The computer built the image from a variety of sources over the shared input network of the three planes; Howe had what looked like a three-dimensional plot of the mountain below. The large screen showed not just the target — an I-HAWK MIM-23 antiaircraft missile site — but the scope of its radar, a yellowish balloon projecting from the mountain plain. A red box appeared on the missile launcher, indicating that the laser targeting gear aboard Cyclops was scanning for the most vulnerable point of its target; the box began to blink and then went solid red, indicating it was ready to lock. Had this been a real mission, they could have fried it before it presented any danger at all.

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