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Cyclops One DeFelice Jim




7

The searchers suddenly began chattering. They’d spotted something in a ravine. Metal.

Though the discovery was over a hundred miles to the west, Timmy felt his pulse jump. He slipped into another turn, dipping his wing and throttling back so he was just barely above stall speed, tiptoeing over the rough terrain. Something was there. He slipped around for another look.

The F-16’s General Electric F110-GE-129IPE power plant developed roughly 30,000 pounds of thrust and could move the Fighting Falcon out to Mach 2 in a heartbeat. The power plant had been engineered specifically to increase acceleration and performance at low altitude, allowing a pilot on a bombing run to accelerate quickly after his bombs were dropped. But here he wanted to do the opposite, and the engine grumbled slightly as the pilot dialed its thrust ever lower.

Timmy flew over the spot four times, making sure it was just a rock he’d seen, not a body. On his last pass he flew barely fifty feet from the ground, moving dangerously slow, just over 140 knots. Still, it was difficult to get a good glimpse of the ground, and the interplay of terrain and shadows played tricks on his eyes. Once more he broadcast his location on Guard, asking if Williams or anyone could hear him.

Going from the F/A-22V to the F-16 was a little like trading a BMW M5 for a Honda Civic. Both aircraft were well made, but the ideas behind their designs were very different. The base F/A-22 was a cutting-edge design aimed at creating the world’s best interceptor. All of the political wrangling and bureaucratic BS involved in its procurement — such as what Timmy viewed as the absurd designation change from F-22 to F/A-22—couldn’t gum up what was, at its core, a great fighting machine.

The F/A-22V took that design considerably further — without, he might have added, the political BS, since the work was all handled “off-line” by NADT. Specially designed to work with Cyclops as part of a new-era battle element, the aircraft was arguably the most versatile and capable ever constructed.

The F-16 was a lower-cost (though not cheap) jack-of-all-trades. Depending on its configuration, it could operate as an attack plane, a Wild Weasel or anti-SAM aircraft, a close-air-support mud fighter, or an interceptor. This Block 50/52 aircraft represented a substantial improvement over the original Block 15, the Air Force’s first production model, which nudged off the assembly line in the 1970’s. Even so, its base technology was older than Timmy and even Colonel Howe, and after flying the F/A-22V, the pilot would have felt severely handicapped in the F-16 in a combat situation.

Not overmatched, though. The F-16—which was known as the Viper as well as the Fighting Falcon, its more “official” nickname — had excellent maneuverability and acceleration at near-Mach and Mach-plus speeds, attributes that played well in a knife fight. The original lack of BVR or beyond-visible-range killing ability had been corrected with the fitting of AIM-120 AMRAAMs some years before, and the Block 50/52 aircraft’s APG-68 radar, with a range between thirty and forty-five miles and the ability to track up to ten targets simultaneously, was at least arguably as capable as anything the F-16 was likely to encounter.

Assuming, of course, that it didn’t encounter an American plane.

Timmy came to the end of the area he’d been assigned to patrol and began to track back south. As he did, the controller in the J-STARS coordinating the search effort hailed him.

“Florida Three,” he acknowledged.

“Florida, we have an area for you to check out, possible debris picked up by our Eyes asset.”

Eyes was a U-2 helping with the search.

“Florida Three acknowledges, Grandpa,” answered Timmy. “Feed me a vector.”

He selected military power, climbing quickly and tracking toward the area, which was so far north and east of the test area that he guessed it had to be a false lead. The mission specialist in the J-STARS gave him a detailed description of the terrain as he flew, saying there seemed to be a large piece of metal in or on a rockslide at the base of a sheer cliff in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies about two hundred miles due west of Edmonton. He described it as a broken silver pencil stuck in the side of a thousand-meter rockslide.

As Timmy neared the spot he took the plane down, asking the J-STARS specialist to describe the area again. J-STARS were E-8A or E-8C Boeing 707-type aircraft that had been developed as a joint project by the Air Force and Army. The aircraft had considerable surveillance equipment of their own, including a Norden AN/APY-3 multimode Side-Looking Airborne Radar. The complement of operators — there were a minimum of ten consoles, with room for up to seventeen, depending on the plane and mission — could process and coordinate information from a seemingly infinite variety of sources. They could direct and download targeting information to properly equipped Air Force attack planes as well as provide comprehensive battlefield intelligence to ground commanders. In this case, the operator was using a newly developed variant of the Joint Tactical Information Distribution System (or JTIDS) data link to pass an infrared feed directly from the U-2R to his console. Some F-16s were already equipped with gear that would have allowed the specialist to punch a few buttons and relay the image directly to Timmy’s cockpit. Had he been flying one of the F/A-22Vs, the data would have been added to the synthesized three-dimensional rendering of the area on the tactics screen. The plane’s computer would have calculated his best approach and likely time to target, along with a fuel matrix and a suggested wine.

Timmy oriented himself, tucking down toward the cliff side. He took the first pass too fast and too high, streaking by the mountain so quickly, he couldn’t spot anything. His heart had started to pound; he realized as he pulled the nose of his plane back away from the ground that his hand was shaking.

He cut his orbit, pushing his wing down and falling back toward the target area. He backed his speed off and even considered putting down his landing gear to help slow down.

He didn’t see the grayish object until the third pass. From the air, it looked like the bottom half of an old ball-point pen buried under some loose gravel. It seemed too small to be an airplane and had no wings. Timmy banked to his right, circling around to get another view. He leaned forward from the canted seat of the F-16, pushing around, slowing the aircraft down to a walk. This pass was a tiptoe so close that his left wingtip nearly clipped the side of the hill.

There was definitely something in the crevice of the ravine. The bodies of both missing planes were covered with a dull gray next-generation radar-resistant skin — not the black coating of B-2s but something considered more durable and nearly as slippery. It was extremely difficult to see against the gray rocks and shadows.

But it was there. Or something was there.

Timmy spun back over it, this time going so slow that the aircraft bleated out a stall warning.

He could see a wing farther along, an almost perfect isosceles triangle sheered from an aircraft.

The Velociraptor.

He clicked his microphone to call the airborne search coordinator.

Chapter 6

Clayton T. Bonham waited impatiently as the MH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter he’d commandeered pitched through the mountains toward the area where the piece of metal had been found. He was just twenty minutes behind the initial-response team, which itself had arrived barely a half hour after the call from the flight that had made the find, but to Bonham it was too damn late already. When he gave an order, he expected it filled immediately, if not sooner. The Pave Hawk was moving close to its top speed, but that was hardly fast enough for him.

Bonham had been retired from the Air Force for nearly five years. Nonetheless, he still thought and acted like a two-star general; he even insisted on his subordinates calling him General.

Not insisted, exactly. Encouraged.

After all, as head of NADT, he was owed a certain amount of respect. He was responsible for developing the most important weapons the United States had developed since the hydrogen bomb.

An exaggeration, surely, and yet, one with some justification. When fully implemented, a Cyclops battle element could destroy anything from a hardened ballistic-missile complex to a terrorist one-man basement bomb factory, with minimal collateral damage. The possibilities were endless and, without exaggeration, revolutionary.

One of the crewmen standing in the rear of the helicopter with Bonham tugged at him slightly as a reminder that he was leaning across open space. Bonham glared at the young man, though the crewman had only been concerned about his safety. The helicopter settled into a hover; Bonham was out on the ground before the wheels hit dirt. He trotted across the road to where an Air Force major from the first team in waited to make his report. The major was flanked by a Special Tactics sergeant with an M16, as well as a civilian whom Bonham didn’t recognize.

“General,” said the major, bobbing his head in an unofficial salute.

“What do we have?”

“Piece of fairing from a large aircraft, very possibly a 767 type, though we’re still not sure.”

“Definitely a 767,” said the civilian.

Bonham glanced at the man, who had a cigarette in the corner of his mouth. The general liked definite opinions, and so gave the civilian only half the scowl he normally would have for interrupting. Obviously the man was one of the experts brought in by the Air Force to help with the operation.

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7

Жанры

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