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Cyclops One DeFelice Jim




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Megan wasn’t gone from his memory, but she’d been pushed back, his anger and other feelings corralled.

Corralled, not eliminated.

“Bird Two, we have thirty seconds. You ready, partner?”

“Piece of cake,” said Timmy.

Howe counted down the last few seconds, then goosed the engine. The two F/A-22Vs rocketed over the Indian coast, knifing through the darkness.

Two minutes later the radar detector in Howe’s plane began to bleat. The system identified and located the radar, an early-warning ground station southeast of Charsadda, rendered as a purple dish icon in the far reaches of the hologram’s dusty 3-D hills. The radar was attached to a Crotale 2000 surface-to-air missile system, a relatively short-range mobile SAM intended primarily for point defense of airfields and other strategic targets. The radar could not see the Velociraptors, nor would the missiles it guided present much of a challenge to the aircraft’s ECM suite if it came to that. Nonetheless, the avionics system made note of them, opening a file and storing the data for the pilot’s reference. If Howe wished, he could direct the computer to present him with a list of options for eliminating the radar and its missiles; one button and one verbal command later, a small-diameter GPS-guided bomb would spit from the Velociraptor’s belly and the radar would be history.

If Howe wished.

“Bird One, this is Big Eyes,” said the AWACS controller. “Be advised, Indra is airborne.”

Indra was the code name they’d settled on for India’s northern-based Phalcon AEW aircraft, arguably the only serious threat to the mission. The 767’s multisensor radars could provide early-warning and tracking data, serving in a somewhat similar capacity as an AWACS. While not the equal of American systems, it was still impressive — and in theory capable of finding the F/A-22Vs, or at least their radar transmissions. Indra flew regularly, and its launch was not unexpected — in fact, just the opposite. Howe took it as confirmation that the mission was a go. The AWACS would keep tabs on the aircraft, which presently was several hundred miles to the south of Howe’s flight path.

“Bird One,” acknowledged Howe.

Chapter 7

McIntyre unfolded himself from the helicopter seat and walked unsteadily across the cabin. The damn thing shook like a washing machine, and the metal was so thin he worried he’d put his hand through the side as he steadied himself before stepping out onto the tarmac with his bag. If it wasn’t the oldest helicopter in the Indian inventory, it had to be in the running. As he stepped out, grit flit into his eye; he walked forward blindly, half expecting to be decapitated by the rotors even though he was bent forward.

The helicopter fanned the air behind him, rushing away in the dusk. The mountains cast an odd green-purple glow over everything as night fell; the dim light made him feel even more tired, and McIntyre was glad this was his last stop for the night. He’d been to several bases over the course of the day, each one duller than the rest. Hopefully the CIA guys were gathering better information.

A figure in brown stood to the right, blurring into the dusk. McIntyre worked his thumb against the corner of his eye, trying to clear it.

“Damn dirt has glue in it,” he said, trying to make a joke.

The blur didn’t speak. McIntyre finally pushed his eyelids apart, trying to bring the blur into focus. All he could see was the man’s frown.

“Name’s McIntyre,” he said, letting go of his eye and holding out his right hand to shake. The man, a captain, didn’t take it.

“I’m to show you around,” said the officer.

“Let’s start with the john, then,” said McIntyre. He grabbed his bag and waited for the blur to move. By now his eye was tearing uncontrollably; McIntyre realized that he ought to just let the tears clear out the grit, but it was difficult to avoid the urge to rub. Finally the Indian captain began to move toward a gray cloud on the right. McIntyre followed, gradually gaining his sight as he went.

He’d been kept from the bases where the Su-27s and Su-30s were, and hadn’t seen a MiG. When he’d come as an assistant to a congressional party a year before, the Indians had eagerly shown off the aircraft. Admittedly, they’d emphasized their defensive abilities, and talked quite a bit about how much easier life would be if they could only purchase F-15s, but still, the difference now was obvious. He’d asked to see one of their Israeli-built Phalcon radar planes but had been told that the aircraft were out of service for maintenance, a fact that he knew was a lie.

This place — a landing strip with no helicopters and no access roads. They were obviously parking him here for the duration.

McIntyre followed his laconic captain toward the low cloud, which soon came into focus as a building. He was not unsympathetic to the Indians; they had their own priorities and concerns, he knew, and in some ways their fierce attitude toward their northern neighbors were justified by history, both recent and ancient. But sympathy wasn’t why he was here.

He was a little late calling Blitz. He hoped his minder would leave him alone in the john so he could make the call.

* * *

Captain Jalil had made his decision as soon as the American stumbled from the helicopter. The colonel had left the option up to him, saying any contingency could be covered.

The man’s ineptness, however, seemed too much an opportunity to let pass. The Americans would be sympathetic when they learned that one of their own men was killed during an inspection of the border area; it would prove to them finally where the danger really lay.

The buzz of the helicopters approaching removed any doubts that Jalil might have had. The captain stopped in front of the empty barracks room and pushed the door open. “You will leave your bag here,” he told McIntyre.

“Looks like a monastery,” said the American. No longer rubbing his eye, he sauntered inside, walking the way all Americans walked: as if he were a great prince visiting part of a far-flung empire. “No locks, huh?”

“There are no need for locks here,” said Jalil. “Come.”

“You know what, I think I’m going to take a nap before dinner, if that’s okay,” said McIntyre. “And I still have to hit the john.”

“No,” said Jalil.

“No?”

Jalil smiled at the American’s surprise. They were not used to being contradicted.

“I believe you’d like to see the helicopters that are arriving,” he told him.

“Maybe later.”

Jalil reached to his holster and pulled out his gun. “Now would be a much better time, Mr. McIntyre.”

Chapter 8

Timmy double-checked his position as they came over the border, accelerating to stay on the dotted line the computer provided. The flight indicators were all in the green; every system aboard the aircraft was working the way the manuals said it should. Timmy’s aircraft could have been used to benchmark the fleet.

Which meant everything was boring as shit. Timmy had no doubt they’d nail those suckers if they came up, but he did seriously doubt they’d make their play. The intel people were always — always — overaggressive. They never saw one threat where they could imagine three or four.

More than likely, they’d be orbiting up here for twelve hours straight, back and forth, twiddling their thumbs. He was already feeling a little tired.

Wait until tomorrow, he thought. He kicked himself for not bringing the MP3 jukebox. He’d left it on the bench when Howe saw it and frowned. Mandatory flight equipment from now on.

The colonel had always been the serious type. He was a good pilot, a good leader — a warfighter with scalps on his belt. But serious, very serious.

Losing Cyclops One and Bird Two had hit him pretty hard. He’d been hung up on York; that was obvious.

Pretty quiet about it. Timmy didn’t figure she was a traitor — they’d probably find her and the others smacked against a mountain any day now — but it still was a lot of shit to take.

Keep him awake, though. The pilot clicked the computer to look at his fuel matrix, then put his eyes back on the synthetic view hologram, set at max magnification.

* * *

Howe was just reaching the end of the patrol area when the radar picked up two contacts coming hot out of the north, about 122 miles away. Relatively small and moving fast, the two aircraft were either F-16s or Super-7s. Built with Chinese help, the S-7s were multipurpose fighters roughly comparable to early-model F-16s.

The computer placed the two contacts in the far end of the outer circle in the main tactical display, too far away to show on the HUD hologram. There were three circles, which represented a hierarchy of threats: Anything in the outer ring could be tracked by the F/A-22V, but was not yet close enough to be targeted; the middle ring represented aircraft that could be targeted without detection; the inner ring or bull’s-eye represented aircraft whose sensors were definitely capable of seeing the F/A-22V, though of course combat conditions (and active and passive jammers) might prevent the enemy from actually acquiring or locking on the plane.

“Bogeys,” Howe told his wingman.

“Yeah,” said Timmy. The contacts had been shared through the IFDL and appeared simultaneously on the displays of both aircraft. Nonetheless, standard procedure called for the pilots to alert each other to the new contacts, maintaining situation awareness.

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27

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