Trova il tuo prossimo libro preferito

Abbonati oggi e leggi gratis per 30 giorni
The Gods Underground

The Gods Underground

Leggi anteprima

The Gods Underground

Lunghezza:
484 pagine
7 ore
Editore:
Pubblicato:
Jan 18, 2012
ISBN:
9781466006010
Formato:
Libro

Descrizione

Alexander Patterson, head of Project Z, a US government organization hidden from the world under a lonely stretch of Texan desert, discovers a secret is not safe -- a dark and dirty secret. Only two people in the world know that the Space Shuttle Challenger tragedy was no accident. But on a computer disk drive, long ago relegated to the dusty corner of a forgotten scrap heap, a dead man's tale lies buried in the bits and bytes. Roger Howard, a newly appointed UCLA professor, buys a pile of old drives for his class in data-recovery. And as the students begin to recover data, one of them is murdered. But Patterson knows the secret is still not safe until all threats are removed. He just didn't realize removing Roger Howard, an ordinary college professor, would not be easy.

Editore:
Pubblicato:
Jan 18, 2012
ISBN:
9781466006010
Formato:
Libro

Informazioni sull'autore

Tom Lee is a Physician-Trauma Surgeon with combat experience and two tours of duty in Vietnam. He retired from the United States Navy in 1998 after 37 years of service. He was the Battalion Medical Officer of the Seabees for two years, had tours with United States Marines and on the hospital ship, USNS Mercy. He was the Commanding Officer of seven medical units. In addition he has been an academic Trauma Director for the past 27 years. He has written nine medical books, twenty-two chapters and one hundred fifty scientific papers. He is the author of the novel, "Melt My Wings" and a forthcoming documentery, "I’m Your Patient." He is married, has three children and ten grandchildren.

Correlato a The Gods Underground

Libri correlati
Articoli correlati

Categorie correlate

Anteprima del libro

The Gods Underground - Tom Lee

(www.ksc.nasa.gov)

Prologue

The U.S. government is like an enormous oak tree whose branches have branches and those branches have branches, seemingly ad infinitum. Even when one finds a leaf, one also finds the leaf has its own branching system. The branches may be called departments, committees, offices, bureaus, agencies, services, boards, but they are essentially all a division of some bigger entity which in turn is a division of an even bigger entity.

The Department of Defense is part of the huge federal oak tree, but the DOD’s branch is unique in that many of its sub- branches and leaves are never seen. Budgets for those secret branches and leaves are approved by Congress with no knowledge of what will be bought, studied, or acted upon. There are some organizations so secret, so far removed from the trunk of the tree, that even most Pentagon officials have no idea of their existence.

Project Z was the most closely guarded secret of all.

In 1981, before SDI threw money at thousands of high- tech, pie-in-the-sky schemes, Project Z quietly began operations. The creator of Project Z, Air Force General Arthur Nagle, wasn’t out to stop the ICBMs. He wanted a way to stop a much more likely war-time threat — ordinary aircraft. His colleagues dreamed of X-ray lasers and killer satellites. General Nagle thought of a real solution.

Nagle was a man with a long view of life. He understood that his strategy would take time. First he recruited the best scientists and engineers that money could buy. As they developed hardware, even more crucial personnel were hired — upper-level executive managers. These men and women were sent to work in the aerospace industry where they quickly established stellar track records when it came to winning key government contracts. When those managers suggested the development of a new product, oddly enough, some obscure government agency would want that exact product. The managers would then create their own team hiring more Project Z personnel to fill the need for the mid-level managers, scientists, and engineers.

Those engineers, scientists, and managers built Nagle’s dream — the world’s most advanced avionics system. Manufactured by GelCore, the avionics systems could fly a Concorde from take-off to landing with no pilot. Units built for the F/A-18 could out-dogfight the best top-gun the Navy had to offer.

Buried inside every GelCore avionics system was a black box. Only a handful of people in the world knew about the black box, knew that it could talk to, and take orders from satellites — orders given by men housed in a secret complex underground in Texas.

The GelCore avionics system was Nagle’s ultimate defensive weapon. And the world paid top dollar for the privilege of installing that weapon into their aircraft. Even America’s avowed enemies found a ready supply of GelCore units on the black market.

Four years after he started Project Z, General Nagle fought a short bout with colon cancer. Before he died, his heir to Project Z presented him with a farewell gift — the first live test of the system.

As the weakened general looked on from his deathbed, Major Alexander Patterson gave an order. A second later, a Libyan jet on routine patrol over the Mediterranean Sea inexplicably stalled into a flat spin, its pilot unable to activate the ejection seat died with the jet. The old war bird slipped away happy. Project Z was a success, and with Patterson at the helm, it would remain so.

Chapter 1

January 28, 1986

To anyone watching, the Lear jet that had dipped out of the gleaming blue sky looked lost, its wheels hopelessly groping for a safe landing on the barren desert below. But there was no one watching. Millions of off-the-record government dollars were spent each year to be sure no one ever watched this forsaken corner of Texas.

Ahead of the plane, a strip of parched earth suddenly rumbled, then cracked open, spitting out a runway only seconds before the Lear touched down. The jet braked to a slow roll, then taxied back a half mile and stopped. The earth rumbled again, and then swallowed the runway and the plane.

The two men sitting in the plush leather seats of the Lear’s windowless passenger cabin both jumped slightly when the giant elevator lowering the plane jolted to a stop.

John Hinton, lanky and bearded, dressed in a weary business suit, checked his watch then shot a nervous glance at Henry Mendez the round-faced, immaculately tailored, balding man sitting opposite him. But Henry ignored John, and returned his gaze to the near-empty glass of scotch in his hand. It was morning, but the lack of sunlight in the cabin made it seem like night, a proper time to drink.

When the cabin door opened, two square-jawed soldiers in fatigues holding M16s across their chests stood beside the door’s steps. A third soldier, a stocky Samoan in his late twenties and wearing an Air Force Captain’s uniform, leaned inside.

Follow me, gentleman. His raspy voice demanded obedience.

Henry and John, flanked by the two guards, fell in behind the Captain. In a near-trot they crossed the floor of the enormous underground hangar. Three feet from a bare concrete wall, the Captain raised his right hand. A section of wall with no apparent borders suddenly slid up.

The Captain and Henry stepped into the gap, their bodies seeming to disappear in darkness, leaving only their faces washed in a faint blue glow.

John stopped. He held up the weathered valise in his hand. The Captain turned his head toward the left wall, then nodded. The room’s glow faded. John stepped into the ten by twenty-foot chamber. The panel at the entrance slid shut. The room turned dark. Then the far end of the chamber rose.

Quickly, gentlemen.

The Captain led them into a large octagonal room. Dark, lit mainly by the glow of the huge TV-like screens on each wall, the only sound in the room was the clacking of keyboards from the three concentric semi-circles of computer workstations. The operators, each wearing a headset and transfixed by a wall screen, typed in rapid bursts.

John slowed his pace, trying to decipher the meaning of the changing colored graphics and numbers flashing on the big screens.

This way.

John snapped his eyes away, then followed the Captain and Henry to a door between two of the large screens. The Captain knocked softly. A green LED lit on the door latch. He pushed it open, held it while the two men stepped in, then closed it. A red light lit, and then he walked away.

About godammed time. The voice, smooth and low, came from the far end of a twelve-seat black-lacquered conference table.

John scrambled for the nearest seat, then took a quick look up at the man who had spoken. Thick silver hair, broad facial features, early forties, dressed in a full colonel’s uniform; it had to be Alexander Patterson.

Four severe-faced people, three men and a woman, all in their sixties, but looking much older, sat to Patterson’s right. John wondered briefly why the four looked so fragile, then pushed the thought aside when he heard Patterson say, The tape.

One of the men, thin and wearing an Air Force uniform stood, forcing himself into an erect posture, then shuffled toward John. John unsnapped the latches on his valise. He pulled out a cartridge of quarter-inch computer tape. The man plucked the tape from John’s hands, then stood at attention waiting for orders.

Patterson drew in a long, slow breath, then pumped it out. The Russians know. We have no choice. Our nation is counting on us.

Patterson stood. Slowly he walked up to each person in the room and shook their hand. Then he opened the conference door and led them out.

The octagonal room was empty. Dead silence now shrouded the three semi-circles of deserted workstations. The room had grown darker, too. Patterson walked quietly, then stopped in front of the only wall screen still lit. His six followers sat at their assigned workstations on the outermost ring.

Patterson raised his arm. The ten-foot screen behind him blinked away its arcane data. In its place the space shuttle Challenger, strapped to a triad of projectiles, smoldered white gas.

Patterson turned, stared at the image, then turned back.

Eddie Gerten draped his lanky frame over the lunchroom chair and stared at the large-screen TV set up for GelCore employees to watch the launch of the Challenger. As with all shuttle launches, the corporate cafeteria, turned viewing room, had taken on a festive air. The employees’ pride at being a part of the launch was always a cause for celebration.

Eddie looked around the packed room and smiled. He knew how small of a part GelCore played in the launch about to take place on the opposite coast, but couldn’t deny the excitement of the corporate self-esteem. Because of Christa McAuliffe, a civilian, a New Hampshire fifth-grade teacher, millions of people in the nation, in the world, were now watching. Any second now the shuttle’s three main engines would roar to life.

The launch sequence from that point was burned into Eddie’s every waking thought, and lately even into his sleeping thoughts. The four on-board computers would let the liquid-propellant engines fire for three seconds, then the last check; the last chance to abort. After those three seconds it was T-minus zero, and if the software determined each engine had reached ninety percent thrust — blast off. The computer would ignite the solid rocket boosters and all hell would break loose. And until those huge roman candles burned out and popped off the external tank, the lives of five men and two women were in the hands of the computers.

A shiver rolled through Eddie’s back. Computers? It was like calling an eight-track tape deck a sound system. Obsolete before the first shuttle mission had ever flown, the clunky IBM AP-101 still used core memory. Seven lives and billions of dollars depended on hardware that  . . . No. Eddie cut off his thought. It wasn’t the ancient hardware that gnawed at his stomach before every launch. It was the software — his software.

Eddie shook his head and turned his eyes back to the TV screen. It’s not really your software, he reminded himself, you just assured NASA it was bug free. He took a deep breath as the boosters ignited. And besides, he told his knotted stomach, it was only the Backup Flight System software, used only when all four of the primary computers shut down. What were the odds that would ever happen?

Chapter 2

In the forward right seat of the shuttle’s flight deck, Mike Smith, pilot of the Challenger’s tenth mission, released his grip on the rotational hand controller as the Challenger completed its roll maneuver twenty-one seconds into the mission. Relax, he whispered to himself, the controller wasn’t engaged, the first stage ascent belonged to the computers. For the next two minutes there was nothing to do but hang on and enjoy the ride.

As he allowed himself to take in the forward window view of the upside-down horizon below, he heard Frank Scobee, commander of flight 51-L, reading from one of the main flight deck computer CRT screens. It was Frank’s second mission. Mike shot a glance to the man strapped in the seat to his left. Was Frank really as calm as he looked?

Approaching max dynamic pressure. Frank’s voice, solid as a moon rock, gave Mike his answer.

Mike turned his eyes to the CRT display in front of his face. SSMEs throttling back  . . . Bingo. Sixty-five percent. Just like the book says.

Frank smiled. He could see Mike’s excitement bubbling just below his professional cool. The simulator could train a man’s mind and body to fly the shuttle, but couldn’t prepare his soul for the ecstasy of conquering gravity, of triumph over the deeply disguised fear of leaving the womb of Mother Earth.

A sudden jolt rocked the orbiter. It shuttered for a second. Then two more jolts, each followed by their shaking echoes.

Mike re-gripped the lifeless hand controller, and fought to read the CRT jouncing in his vision. The ride smoothed out again.

The worry lines that had splashed across Frank’s face also smoothed. Wind shear. Holy  . . . He strained against his two shoulder harnesses, as if getting closer to the numbers on the CRT would make them more believable.

Roll and yaw response  . . . wow.

Yeah, the TVC got a little busy there.

The Challenger pushed through another high-altitude wind shear.

Frank relaxed when the reverberations stopped. The numbers on the computer screen stunned him. No shuttle had ever encountered forces with such wild fluctuations. But the Guidance, Navigation, and Control system had worked flawlessly. The GNC’s sensors had rushed the data to all four on- board computers. In a blink of an eye they all decided and agreed on what to do, then sent their unanimous decisions to the hydraulic tubes that pushed and pulled the huge nozzles at the end of the solid rocket boosters. Vague thoughts of gratitude floated in the background of Frank’s mind. Somewhere below him, a team of programmers and technicians responsible for  . . .

— in GPC-2. It was Mike’s voice, suddenly strained, tearing into Frank’s thoughts.

Repeat.

Failure in GPC-2.

Frank jerked his eyes up to overhead panel O1. In the five- by-five matrix of lights, yellow glowed in row two, column two. General Purpose Computer number two had voted itself out of the group of four. Three computers still worked feverishly in unison.

Mike flipped a switch on overhead panel 6, then fought the tension that threatened to crack his vocal chords. GPC-2 standby. Another click of the switch. GPC-2 halted.

He sucked in a quick breath. A GPC failure didn’t mean trouble. The computer probably just missed a couple of redundant syncro codes. Maybe the wind shear calculations slowed the response.

Two seconds later the first light on panel O1 blinked yellow.

GPC-1 is down, too, Frank.

Mission Control, we just lost GPCs 1 & 2. Frank’s calm tones helped Mike keep his hand steady as he halted computer number one.

Then two more lights lit, forming a diagonal in the display.

They’re all gone, Frank, all four. Engage BFS?

Frank ignored Mike. Mission Control, do you copy?  . . . What the hell happened to the voice channel?

Frank? BFS?

Frank scanned the GPC fault messages on his CRT, then swallowed hard. It was impossible. The system was the most thoroughly tested hardware and software ever created. All four couldn’t have gone south. Something else had to be wrong. What?

Frank, they’re gone.

Frank forced his mind back into analysis mode. Once engaged, the Backup Flight System would not relinquish control until orbit was reached. Was it worth the risk? The BFS was only designed as a last resort, had never been used in live flight.

Another jolt rocked the cabin. The Thrust Vector Control system didn’t fight the wind shear this time.

Engage BFS.

Mike Smith jammed his thumb on his rotational hand controller and held it. A second later, the talkback indicator on Panel O6 for GPC 5 turned gray. The orbiter and its human cargo was now at the mercy of the BFS, software designed and programmed by Intermetrics of Boston — and independently tested by GelCore. Certified by Eddie Gerten.

Fifty-two seconds into the mission, the BFS took over and guided the Challenger through the last and strongest of the wind shear boundaries. Then as the shuttle calmed, the BFS received an uplink command. Not from a Mission Control ground station or relay satellite, but from another satellite that had no business giving orders to the on-board computer.

A half-second later, two seventeen-inch valves closed off the flow of the liquid hydrogen and oxygen from the external tank.

Oh, God. Frank’s voice, sharp and panicked, filled Mike with a sudden terror.

Mike forced his eyes across the alarm message on the CRT. Both inboard flapper valves shut? The main tank’ll blow, Frank.

Frank knew. From his years of training he knew instantly. With no place for the fuel to go, the pressure in the external tank would build, and build some more, the stream of gaseous propellants from the turbopumps pushing harder and harder until something gave, until the fuel lines ruptured or the tank exploded.

Frank’s mind raced faster than his pounding heart. There was no contingency plan, no officially approved response to a closed flapper valve. Why would there be? It was never supposed to close during first stage ascent — never, ever. But a flashing indicator insisted they were closed. How could they close? How could the damn  . . .

Frank spoke low, Initiating manual external tank separation sequence.

No! The sweat on Mike’s brow filled his voice. Boosters are still burning. It could rip us apart.

On center panel C3, Frank clicked the separation switch to MAN, then flicked his eyes quickly at Mike. Ready to fly it?

Mike turned for one last scan of the data on the computer screen, then nodded. Roger that.

Fear flowed through Frank’s chest. One push of the ET Separation button and the pyro-charges would blast the external tank away from the orbiter. But far enough away? What about the umbilical lines not yet retracted? A thousand things could go wrong, could destroy the orbiter and its crew — his crew.

The thought, the doubt, the fear only gripped Frank for milliseconds. He jammed his finger down. Nothing. No sudden jerking, no violent tumbling. He stabbed at the button again, then again, but the Challenger stayed locked onto the huge external tank. Inside, its two inner tanks, one filled with hydrogen, the other with oxygen, stretched at the seams.

And the few remaining seconds of the Challenger’s tenth and last mission ticked off slowly. Frank Scobee and Mike Smith fought the computer, desperately trying to abort; to unstrap the time bomb tied to the shuttle’s belly. The rest of the crew listened; stunned by the unbelievable words coming into their ears. Then thoughts of loved ones began crowding out the panic that wracked their souls.

On the wall-sized video screen in Project Z’s darkened operational room, the gleaming white contrail that streaked across a blue backdrop suddenly erupted into a billowing cloud. As bits and pieces of the shuttle began to float earthward Alexander Patterson let his eyes drift across the six dark faces before him.

You have all served your country bravely. Though our nation will never realize nor recognize your selfless patriotism, in your hearts you will always know that you bestowed upon America its greatest gift — security, a security that will live long after you.

Tens of millions of TV viewers had watched in numbed, unbelieving silence as America’s day of pride had just exploded into a tragedy that would forever burn in their dark memories. Seven men and women who had been waving confidently to the world’s TV cameras only minutes ago, it seemed, had disappeared in a cloud of smoke.

Eddie Gerten, like all those who saw the explosion, felt the full blow of the shock wave of terrible sadness that would soon circle the globe. He, like Christa McAuliffe’s students, like millions of people, hoped, then prayed that somehow the crew module had survived; that somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean the Challenger was now gliding back to Kennedy Space Center, the seven astronauts on their way back to a safe landing. Eddie Gerten and all of his colleagues in the GelCore lunchroom knew better, but their hopes and prayers were every bit as passionate as the countless students watching that morning — prayers that were never answered.

John Hinton numbly followed the three old men and woman as they exited the security tunnel and ambled through the complex, and into the hangar. Guilt wracked his soul for the devil’s deed he had committed in the name of patriotism. Hardly noticing the fact that he wouldn’t be flying back in luxury John squeezed into the last of six seats of an old twin- engine Cessna. As the plane rose to the surface, as it taxied, as it limped into the air, John kept his face buried in his thin hands trying to shut out the truth. When the plane leveled out, he removed his hands from his face and clenched them into fists. Cowardice — that was the truth. He had agreed to help for fear that refusal would incur Patterson’s wrath. And now that the deed was done, how would he pay for his sin of cowardice? Would his own dreams forever haunt him? Or would his telltale heart pound him into the hell of insanity?

John heard the old woman in the seat next to him say something over the engine’s rasping roar. He set his brow into a question.

I said, Richard — he’s the pilot — did a splendid job. He hasn’t forgotten anything.

John leaned his head into the narrow aisle. The old man in the Air Force uniform was in the pilot’s seat. The co-pilot’s seat was empty.

I’m glad to see him having such a good time, she said, then changed the subject. I’ve never seen the complex from the air before.

John glanced out the window. There was nothing to see but desert. He shrugged politely, and returned his mind’s stare to the shuttle’s final seconds that now seemed etched permanently into his retinas.

When a cough from the port engine pieced his mental barrier John blinked his eyes open. Outside the desert had turned to sea. Where are we? How long have I been  . . . Where are we going?

The old woman looked up from the bible she was reading. Her wrinkled face much sadder than age had made it. You don’t know?

The man that sat in the seat in front of John craned his neck around. This is where it’s going to happen.

What? His eyes darted around the plane’s cabin. Where’s Henry?

The old woman shook her head slowly and stared past John. It’s such a shame. The rest of us, we had such little time left, but you — you’re so young.

Where’s Henry?

The woman turned back to her bible, then looked back at John. Patterson chose Henry.

Chose him?

For God’s sake, the old man in front of him growled, Someone has to tend to the secret at GelCore. Patterson chose Henry.

The horror of the old man’s words sunk in. John thought it odd that he felt his fists relax. Then the plane’s nose lowered. The left wing dipped sharply.

As the Cessna began to spiral down, John stared calmly into the gleaming blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico, wondering trance-like why his imminent death caused no terror, no panic. Nothing but  . . . but peace, he decided. A peaceful death.

The thought brought a smile to his face. We’ll all pay for our sins, Henry, he whispered.

Forty seconds later five debts were canceled when the plane slammed into the water.

Chapter 3

April 29, 1986

Eddie Gerten, pushed at the bridge of his wire-framed glasses, jerked his head to swing a strand of stringy hair out of his vision, then pushed at his glasses again. He wondered if the tape backup would ever complete. He caught his own movement in the reflection of the Sun workstation’s video screen and whipped his head around. But as it had been all the other times, nobody stood behind him in the opening to his office cubicle.

Finally after a half-hour, and an eternity of watching the mag-tape drive spin and stop, the backup completed. Eddie popped the reel off its spindle, then once again whipped his head around. Nobody. No sounds. Everyone was at lunch. It was now or never.

He grabbed a pencil and jabbed it in the reel’s hub and spun it hard, the magnetic tape spilling all over the floor. Eddie had prepared an excuse if someone saw such odd behavior, but now the lie seemed hollow, easily seen through. He spun the reel even harder. When half the reel’s tape lay heaped on the floor, he snipped it off with his office- issue scissors. Then grabbing another, smaller black reel he frantically reversed the process, winding the loose tape off the floor.

Eddie’s hands ached and felt as if they would freeze up, but he maintained the pace. When the last inch had been wound up, he let his hands droop then flex slowly. Now there was only one last chore.

With a small screwdriver, he removed the back of a videocassette. He popped the black reel into its proper spot, threaded the tape to the other side, and snapped the cassette cover back in place. He held it up. His stomach churned. A bead of sweat rolled down the side of his nose and went unnoticed. For the first time since he had decided to act, Eddie admitted to himself that he might fail. Even the dim- witted security guards might spot the phony videotape for what it really was — theft of company secrets — dark, dangerous secrets.

Eddie whipped his head around again. This time a body really was standing there — the shapely body of Elaine Siemens, level-5 supervisor of GelCore’s avionics software department.

Jeez, boss, you scared the sh  . . . uh, heck, out of me.

Elaine, hands on hips, head cocked to the left, let her eyes roam around his cubicle. How’s the LMAC routine coming?

Slowly. If you came by for the RFT, it won’t be —

Elaine handed him a note. No. I thought you’d be at the staff pizza lunch. It says I want you at our meeting with the NASA guys at two.

NASA again? They ever going to get off our backs? It wasn’t even our software.

We had the independent Q/A contract, and as long as we got NASA money, they’re entitled to meet with us whenever they please. This time it’s their compliance experts wanting to verify that we followed the proper MilSpec procedures, so be there.

Okay. Two o’clock.

Elaine started to leave, then spun back around. You did do everything by the book, didn’t you?

I always have, always will.

Elaine moved her eyes down to the tape reel on Eddie’s desk. Yesterday was the day the backups were supposed to be archived in the vault.

Oh, this? He flicked his tongue over lips that had suddenly turned to dust. I’m having sporadic hardware errors on my disk, so I’ve been backing up twice a day.

For God’s sake, requisition a new disk. I don’t want you wasting your time. See you at two.

Eddie stepped out of his cubicle and watched his boss walk away. He always took every opportunity to watch her walk. But this time he was anxious for the swaying hips to disappear into an office. Elaine had just given him an idea, a new facet to a steadily evolving plan. It would double his chances for success. If for some reason he couldn’t get the tape out, then maybe he could get the whole damned disk out.

Eddie reached up to the top shelf of the bookcase and tugged on a dust-covered manual. Fifteen minutes before his meeting with the NASA personnel, Eddie grinned proudly at the error message flashing on his computer screen. It had only taken him slightly less than an hour to perfectly simulate a flaky disk. A disk that no one could doubt needed replacing. A disk that would insure his story would be told.

Alexander Patterson’s ruggedly handsome face squeezed into a scowl when he heard the voice on the phone say, Someone knows.

Patterson flipped a small switch on the underside of the phone housing. Two seconds later a green LED lit next to the Line 1 button. Where are you calling from?

A pay phone, of course. Henry Mendez, short with a slight paunch pushing his suit coat out, ran his left hand over the bald spot that comprised most of his head, a nervous habit of ten years.

Patterson growled low, Go on.

Eddie Gerten couldn’t stop looking over his shoulder even as he half-ran, weaving his way through the sea of travelers crowding the airport terminal. He caught himself about to look back again as he stepped into the airport security line. No more paranoia, he told himself. He had pulled it off. He had nothing to fear. He had made it to LAX, twenty miles away from his office in Long Beach, and with the pre-paid ticket that had awaited him at the counter, he would soon be more than fifteen hundred miles away. Everything had gone perfectly.

He thought back to how he had taken his Winchester disk drive to the repair depot. The technician had tested the disk, found it unreadable, and then swapped it with a good drive. Eddie was proud that his handiwork had so completely fooled a government-approved security tech. But fooling the tech had been the easy part. Preventing it from being degaussed, as specified by MilSpec security procedures had been trickier. Finding out where the disk would be sent for scrap had been even more difficult.

Eddie stopped when he reached the security area, then smiled and removed the videocassette from his briefcase. All the effort with the disk, as brilliant as it had been, had been unnecessary. In the end, the tape was all he had needed. The stupid security officer at work had never even bothered to check the phony videocassette in his briefcase. The tape contained all the same incriminating information, as did the disk. And within minutes he would transfer the tape to someone who could tell his story. The money would be welcome, too.

Eddie eased his briefcase onto the conveyor belt then turned toward a comely Hispanic security woman watching him from the other side of the metal detector. He held out the cassette. I’d like this not to be X-rayed.

The woman took the cassette. Step through, please.

She handed him back the tape. The reality of success filled him. Eddie noticed the wobble in his legs as he tried to hurry nonchalantly toward the gate. The rush of adrenaline reminded him of the first time he had kayaked through a five- rated rapid on the Eel River. Now, as then, he knew he had no control over the forces pushing him forward. Now, as then, the rush itself was reward enough, but knowing he would soon be paid for his information doubled the thrill. He wondered if he had ever felt so alive before.

FBI.

Eddie knew there had been other words, but it was only when he heard, FBI that he looked up. A large, thick- necked man wearing a dark suit was holding up a badge.

Eddie felt a surge of fear, turning his adrenaline rush into a wave of nausea. Be cool, he demanded of himself. Be cool. After all, it wasn’t he who had committed the crime. He had only discovered it. Yes, he may have broken some Pentagon security rules, but he would be forgiven once the world found out what he knew.

Come with me.

Sure, man. Everything would be cool. So maybe he wouldn’t get the fifty grand, but the important thing was that GelCore wouldn’t get away with murder. Maybe a thankful government would even consider a reward.

Eddie’s thoughts kept him busy while he followed the dark suit. The sound of an opening elevator door broke his concentration.

Then the big man was speaking again. Step inside, please.

Eddie hesitated, not knowing why, but suddenly aware that his initial fear of having broken a law had turned more primal. Why? Where are we going?

The FBI man held his arm against the lurching of the impatient door. Just step inside.

The hair on Eddie’s arm stood up, a shiver ran around his neck, and yet he obeyed. The fear, he argued to himself, had no basis in logic. The FBI was here to question him. And they would forgive his breach of security when they found out what he had discovered. He stared at the elevator doors as they began closing him off from the calming stream of humanity in the terminal. Then, a hand, thick and muscled, banged through a small gap between the closing doors. The doors pulled back. A baggage handler, his left arm pushing down hard on the handle of a dolly loaded with a shipping crate, backed into the elevator car.

Expelling a lungful of stale, Eddie wondered how long he had been holding his breath, admitting to himself that he felt much better with another passenger — even though there had been nothing to fear.

Eddie and the FBI man stepped back against the rear wall, leaving enough room for the huge crate to wiggle in. Then, as all strangers do when an elevator closes, the three men stared at the doors.

As the elevator slowly descended, Eddie let his eyes roam, idly reading the markings on the crate. Two words on the crate leaped out at him: GelCore Industries. Terror, stark and raw, suddenly filled him, freezing him from action — allowing him to watch his own murder.

Eddie saw the baggage handler turn and swing a huge hand toward him. Like a wildebeest calmly standing while a hyena devours him, Eddie watched the hand jam a syringe into his chest. Eddie’s legs buckled, he slumped against the crate he knew would be his coffin. He saw the face of the baggage handler lean down to him, forcing him to look into the eyes of his killer. The face. Eddie somehow knew the face from  . . . from GelCore  . . . Patterson, Alexander Patterson.

Through the heavy fog in his head, Eddie heard the face whisper. You betrayed your country. Now you and your stolen secret will be buried forever.

Eddie’s dying brain conjured up a last image — the disk he had prepared as a backup plan. The image brought a final smile to his face, a final word, Wrong.

That smile, that word sent a rare shudder of fear through Alexander Patterson. Even after he and Frank Tutupu, the phony FBI agent, had stuffed Eddie’s body in the shipping crate, Patterson couldn’t shake off the ominous threat of Eddie Gerten’s dying breath.

Chapter 4

When the DC-10 moved away from the jetway its initial lurch stabbed at the heart of Steve Renaldo, mocking his naiveté, confirming what his fellow reporters had suspected. He had been scammed.

Ten minutes ago he had taken his first-class seat, his young, handsome face lit

Hai raggiunto la fine di questa anteprima. Registrati per continuare a leggere!
Pagina 1 di 1

Recensioni

Cosa pensano gli utenti di The Gods Underground

0
0 valutazioni / 0 Recensioni
Cosa ne pensi?
Valutazione: 0 su 5 stelle

Recensioni dei lettori