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Cyclops One DeFelice Jim




16

“Yeah, well, listen, Jemma, I found out where our plane’s been, or was, for a couple of days. Bitch of it is, I was about three days too late.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“Maybe more — hard to tell. I’m thinking we can get those guys to do that thing with the contrails and radars again, only change the area. Then we backcheck that against the legitimate flights, because this was probably camouflaged as a legitimate flight.”

“What the hell are you talking about, Andy?”

“Buy me some coffee, Jemma. You owe me big-time.”

Chapter 3

Sitting in the second row in the control room, Howe watched the instrument readouts change on the big screen at the front as the technical people reviewed the data from his flight yet again. They’d been over it so much by now, Howe suspected they had every bit of computer code memorized, and still they hadn’t figured out what the problem was. According to the data, there was no problem.

The Velociraptor pilot who’d been bumped from the original test, Timmy “Blaze” Robinson, had come down to the control room to kibitz. He was perched on the back of the seat next to Howe, sipping a cola. In the row in front of them, Firenze — the head of the team that had developed the shared avionics system and its related interfaces, and one of the most important scientists on the F/A-22V project — stood over one of the displays, his finger jabbing at the data flow like an old-West gunman using his revolver.

“Copacetic,” said Firenze finally. “Perfectly copacetic.”

“What’s that mean?” asked Timmy.

Firenze looked up and blinked at him. “Means I can’t find a problem.”

“Maybe there isn’t one,” said Timmy.

“Mass hallucination,” said Firenze. The other scientists were knocking off to get some refreshments, soda mostly. “Kinda like the song on that new Weezer.”

“Haven’t heard it,” said Timmy.

There were talking about a CD by a rock group. The two men were roughly the same age, and while Howe didn’t see that they had much else in common, they apparently shared the same musical tastes.

“Mind if I borrow it? You’re going to be tied up, huh?”

“Go ahead,” said Firenze. “It’s up in the lab.”

“You’re a guy, Doc.” Timmy turned to Howe. “Hey, boss. Lunch?”

“Sounds good,” said Howe. “What do you think, Matt?”

“Very fuggled,” said Firenze. “We’re going to have to get into the bizarre theories next.”

“How bizarre?”

“UFOs,” said the scientist, who didn’t appear to be kidding.

“Hungry?” Howe asked.

“Nah. Thanks. Thinking to do.”

Howe caught up with Timmy in the hall. They went up a level to the NADT Lounge, a plush cafeteria that was one of the serious benies of working with a “private” contractor rather than the regular Air Force. Even the best military chow paled in comparison to the offerings at the Lounge.

Not that the pilots selected from the gourmet side of the menu. Timmy ordered a sausage-and-pepper grinder and insisted on extra garlic. Howe ordered a hamburger with melted blue cheese. It filled the plate, and the spiced fries were sharp and golden.

Megan used to love them, though she’d only eat a few.

“Too many make me fart,” she said.

It seemed impossible that the word had come from her mouth.

“They’re really grinding on the avionics system,” said Timmy. “They keep running it back and forth.”

“I don’t think they have a clue.” Howe picked up a fry. He’d been eating one the first time he met Megan; she’d walked in wearing jeans and a pair of T-shirts, looking like one of the kids working the food line.

He’d give anything for that moment — anything.

“Hey, boss, what’s your flight level?” said Timmy.

“Huh?”

“You’re up in the sky somewhere,” said the other pilot. “Still running through the tests?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“I talked to Williams’s dad last night. Nice guy.”

Howe nodded. He’d spoken to the father as well, making the arrangements.

“Hell of a looker.”

Howe jerked his head up, vaguely aware that Timmy had continued talking but unsure of what he had said. Had he been talking about Megan?

“What?” asked Howe.

“I said I met Williams’s sister once. She was a hell of a looker.”

“Oh.”

The two men continued eating in silence.

“You liked her, huh?”

Howe stared at him. The younger pilot wasn’t trying to be insulting, not at all.

“Megan York,” prompted Timmy.

“Yeah. I did,” said Howe.

“Sucks. She was pretty nice.”

Howe nodded. He didn’t want sympathy; there really wasn’t much call for any.

“I know you didn’t publicize it,” said Timmy. “But, uh, she, uh, she was pretty nice.”

Howe smiled, both appreciating the attempted delicacy and amused by it. “She was nice,” he said.

More than nice, but he’d only known her — slept with her, he meant — for four weeks. He really shouldn’t be feeling like he’d been kicked in the ribs, should he?

If he’d known it was going to be that short, would he have done things differently?

Like…

…talk her out of taking that flight?

Why had she frowned at him that morning? What was she thinking?

He’d make sure they gave her a hell of a funeral.

And then?

Then he’d feel like shit for the rest of his life, his one real chance at true love blown all to shit in the Canadian Rockies.

“Yeah, sucks,” said Timmy. He smiled, back to his old self. “You think Firenze really believes in UFOs?”

Chapter 4

General Vladimir Luksha stood with his legs spread slightly and his arms straight out, bent at the elbows so that his fingers touched the sides of his head. He twisted slowly at the waist as he exhaled, moving first in one direction, then the other, practicing a yoga routine he had learned years and years ago as a young lieutenant on assignment to India. It was the only thing of value that had come from that brief tour as a foreign advisor; his three months there did not help his army career, and surely the Indians learned nothing of value from him.

He felt the joints at his neck crack, temporarily releasing the tension there. He went back to the desk in the bunker office he had borrowed for his operation, putting on his sweater as well as his jacket. It was an unusually hot summer day outside; that meant it might be approaching fifty, about as balmy as the Russian Far East ever got.

The temperature in the bunker itself never varied more than two degrees from 72° Fahrenheit; nonetheless, Luksha had felt cold the moment he flew over the Urals from Moscow two months before, and from the moment he arrived at the base ten miles from Petropavlovsk-Kamchakiy on Kamchatka he had worn a sweater as well as his jacket. If any of the others in the borrowed facilities at the former naval base thought this eccentric, they didn’t share their comments with the general.

Luksha’s long-range spy planes were confined to the far quarter of the facility, guarded and serviced by a special detachment of men who lived behind two rows of barbed-wire fence. Luksha’s intelligence analysts — mostly language and telemetry experts, though he had an assortment of scientists, photo interpreters, and aeronautical engineers — lived in the compound as well. It was a large family with its own rules and entertainments; for the most part, the men got along without problems.

They had to. Unless one could prove extreme family hardship — and had the proper political connections in Moscow — he knew he would stay behind the barbed wire until the operation was over.

The buzzer on Luksha’s desk signaled that his appointment had arrived. The general pushed the button to acknowledge the call; he had no secretary, and his visitor knew from experience that the fact the intercom buzzed back meant he could enter.

Luksha waited as Laci Chapeav came into the room. The former KGB specialist shifted his eyes nervously about, as if looking for a bugging device; he headed Luksha’s analysis division, and so paranoia was nothing but an occupational hazard. Chapeav’s long frame had been thin, almost gaunt when Luksha met him many years before. Now he had a potbelly and large bags beneath his eyes like drooping golf balls, but his mind remained sharp.

“The Americans have lost their aircraft,” said Chapeav. “It’s the only logical conclusion.”

“So you said two days ago. Where is it?”

Chapeav’s right hand began to shake, a by-product of a neurological disorder, not nervousness. Chapeav did not get nervous, at least not when dealing with his area of expertise.

“The Geofizia data has been reanalyzed,” he told Luksha. “We are confident that the target aircraft crashed in the mountains, roughly where they are looking. All transmissions ceased. It’s the only possible explanation.”

“Then why can’t they find it? Are they really looking, or is it a ruse?”

Unlike many of his colleagues, Luksha did not overestimate the Americans’ capabilities. Nonetheless, he felt it almost unthinkable that they would simply lose one of their most valuable weapons systems in a common air accident.

“There is a coordinate of doubt,” admitted Chapeav. “But the transmissions that the Geofizia picked up and that we have culled from the satellites are consistent with American SAR procedures. If they are merely going through the motions, they are doing an excellent job.”

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16

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