Project daedalus, p.1
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       Project Daedalus, p.1
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Project Daedalus

  Retired agent Michael Vance is approached for help on the same day by an old KGB adversary and a brilliant and beautiful NSA code breaker. While their problems seem at first glance to be different, Vance soon learns he's got a potentially lethal tiger by the tail -- a Japanese tiger. A secret agreement between a breakaway wing of the Russian military and the Yakuza, the Japanese crime lords, bears the potential to shift the balance or world power. The catalyst is a superplane that skims the edge of space -- the ultimate in death-dealing potential. In a desperate union with an international force of intelligence mavericks, with megabillions and global supremacy at stake, Vance has only a few days to bring down a conspiracy that threatens to ignite nuclear Armageddon.

  Publisher's Weekly

  "Hoover's adept handling of convincing detail enhances this entertaining thriller as his characters deal and double-deal their way through settings ranging from the Acropolis to the inside of a spacecraft. Michael Vance, formerly of the CIA, is on his way to an archeological dig when some old friends show up. First comes KGB agent Alex Novosty, caught laundering money that the KGB claims was embezzled - and he wants Michael to take charge of the hot funds. Then National Security Agency cryptographer Eva Borodin (who is Michael's ex-lover) appears with an undecipherable but dangerous computer file: the co-worker who gave her the file has since vanished. Heavies from a Japanese crime syndicate attack Michael and Eva, who are rescued by Alex, but it looks like Alex and the syndicate aren't complete strangers. Moreover, the mysterious Daedalus Corporation seems to be a link between Alex's money and Eva's file. As Michael is drawn into this deadly web, he realizes there is a secret agreement between the Russians and the Japanese - and it has nothing to do with tea-brewing customs.

  Tags: Hypersonic, Superplane, Edge of Space, thermonuclear warhead, Supersonic, Space Plane, Crete, Minos, Palace of Minos, Greece, Greek Islands



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  Thomas Hoover

  Copyright ? 1991 by Thomas Hoover


  Reissued by arrangement with Random House. First Bantam-Doubleday-Dell Publishing Group, Inc. edition 1991

  Cover art copyright ? 1991 by Alan Ayres

  Paper ISBN 0-553-29108-4

  Grateful acknowledgment is made to the following for permission to reprint previously published material.

  Ovid: The Metamorphoses, translated by Horace Gregory. New American Library. Copyright ? 1958 by The Viking Press, Inc. Reprinted by permission of Viking Penguin, a division of Penguin Books USA, Inc.

  So Daedalus turned his mind to subtle craft,

  An unknown art that seemed to outwit nature.

  Ovid, The Metamorphoses


  Thursday 8:40 a.m.

  G-load is now eight point five. Pilot must acknowledge for power-up sequence to continue.

  The cockpit computer was speaking in a simulated female voice, Russian with the Moscow accent heard on the evening TV newscast Vremya. The Soviet technicians all called her Petra, after that program's famous co-anchor.

  Yuri Andreevich Androv didn't need to be told the force weighing down on him had reached eight and a half times the earth's gravity. The oxygen mask beneath his massive flight helmet was crushed against his nose and the skin seemed to be sliding off his skull, while sweat from his forehead poured into his eyes and his lungs were plastered against his diaphragm.

  Auto termination will commence in five seconds unless you acknowledge. Petra paused for a beat, then spoke again: Four seconds to shutdown . . .

  He could sense the blood draining from his cerebral vascular system, his consciousness trying to drift away. He knew that against these forces the human heart could no longer pump enough oxygen to the brain. Already he was seeing the telltale black dots at the edge of his vision.

  It's begun, he thought. The "event." Don't, don't let it happen. Make your brain work. Make it.

  Three seconds . . .

  The liquid crystal video screens inside his flight helmet seemed to be fading from color to black and white, even as his vision closed to a narrow circle. The "tunnel" was shrinking to nothing. The first stage of a G-induced blackout was approximately two and a half seconds away.

  You've done this a hundred times before at the Ramenskoye Flight Test Center, he told himself. You're Russia's best test pilot. Now just do it.

  He leaned back in the seat to lower his head another few millimeters, then grasped for the pressure control on his G-suit, the inflatable corset that squeezed critical blood paths. He ignored the pain as its internal pressure surged, gripping his torso and lower legs like a vise and forcing blood upward to counter the accumulation at his feet.

  Two seconds . . .

  With his right hand he rotated a black knob on the heavy sidestick grip and turned up the oxygen feed to his mask, an old trick from fighter training school that sometimes postponed the "event" for a few milliseconds.

  Most importantly, though, he strained as if constipated in the snow, literally pushing his blood higher-the best maneuver of all. He liked to brag that he had upped his tolerance three G's through years of attempting to crap in his blue cotton undersuit.

  It was working. The tunnel had begun to widen out again. He'd gained a brief reprieve.

  "Acknowledged." He spoke to Petra, then reached down with his left hand and flicked forward the second blue switch behind the throttle quadrant, initiating the simulated hydrogen feed to the outboard scramjet tridents, portside and starboard. Acceleration was still increasing as the flashing green number on the video screens in front of his eyes scrolled past Mach 4.6, over four and a half times the speed of sound, already faster than any air- breathing vehicle had ever flown.

  Only a few seconds more.

  He had to stay conscious long enough to push his speed past Mach 4.8, raising the fuel-injector strut temperature of the scramjets to the 3,000-degree-Fahrenheit regime and establishing full ignition. If the scramjets failed to stabilize and initiated auto shutdown, he would flame out-at almost twenty-five hundred miles per hour.

  You are now experiencing nine G's, the female voice continued, emotionless as ice. Pilot will confirm vision periphery.

  The fucking computer doesn't believe I can still see, he thought.

  Most men, of course, would have been functionally blind by then. Prolong the experience of ten G's and you went unconscious: the event.

  Confirm, Petra's voice insisted.

  "Thirty-eight degrees." He read off the video screens inside his helmet, temporarily quieting the computer. But now he had a demand of his own. "Report scramjet profile."

  Inboard tridents at eighty-two percent power, the voice responded. Outboard tridents at sixty-eight percent power,

  Get ready, Petra. Spread your legs. I'm coming home.

  The velocity scrolling on the right side of his helmet screen was about to pass through the barrier. Strut temperature was stabilizing. With engines in the scramjet mode, the vehicle should be able to push right on out to Mach 25, seventeen thousand miles per hour. From there it was only a short hop to low orbit. If-

  Inboard tridents at eighty-eight percent power. The voice came again. LAC compression nominal. The liquid air cycle equipment would be using the cryogenic hydrogen fuel to chill and liquefy the rush of incoming air; oxygen would then be injected into the scramjets at pressures
impossible to achieve in conventional engines.

  With a sigh he eased back lightly on the throttle grip in his left hand. As he felt the weight on his chest recede, the pressure in his G-suit automatically let up. He smiled to think that a less experienced pilot would now be slumped in his seat, head lolling side to side, eyes wide open and blank, his bloodless brain dreaming of a lunar landscape. He knew; he'd been there often enough himself. In the old days.

  System monitors commencing full operation.

  Good. From here on, the fuel controls would be handled by the in-flight computer, which would routinely monitor thrust and temperature by sampling every two milliseconds, then adjusting. But that was the machine stuff, the child's play. He'd just done what only a man could do.

  Power-up complete for inboard and outboard tridents, portside and starboard, Petra reported finally. Hydrogen feed now in auto maintenance mode.

  She'd taken full charge. He was out of the loop.

  But I just rode this space bird up your ice-cold peredka, silicon lady.

  He felt a burst of exhilaration and gave a long, basso whoop. It was a crow of triumph, a challenge to every male ape in the forest. Yuri Andreevich Androv lived for this, and only felt alive when he'd just pushed his body to the limit. He needed it, lusted for it. It was all he'd ever really cared about.

  It was, he knew, his primal need to dominate his world. He knew that, but so what? Other men merely dreamed it, played at it-in games, business, even politics. He did it. And he fully intended to go on doing it.

  "Roll down her audio, dammit," he yelled into his helmet mike. "She's driving me crazy."

  "She's supposed to," a radio voice sounded back in his ear. "Ramenskoye says all test pilots-you included, my friend-pay more attention to a female voice." A laugh. "Come to matya, darling."

  "I'd like to see her and-Nayarevayet!-just once." He smiled in spite of himself as the tunnel widened more and the screens before his eyes began to recolor, pale hues gradually darkening to primary shades. The blood was returning to his brain. Acceleration was stabilizing now, down to 4.7 G's.

  "She'd be a cold-hearted piece, Yuri. Guaranteed."

  "It's been so long, I probably wouldn't notice." That's what he really needed now-a woman.

  "You would, believe me," the radio continued. "By the way, congratulations. Your alpha was right across the oscilloscope, as always. Zero stress response. How do you do it, tovarisch? I think Petra was more worried than you were."

  "Shut off the tape, and cut the 'comrade' crap," he

  barked back. "Sergei, I nearly lost it there at nine point five."

  "No indication on the physio monitors." The flight technician sounded unconvinced.

  "The hell with the wavy lines. I know what was happening," he snapped again, still wired with tension. "Can we get another fifteen percent tilt out of this damned seat, help lower my head. There're no windows anyway, so who cares where I'm looking?"

  "We can send a memo to Engineering," the radio voice replied. "Though there may not be time."

  "Tell them they'd better make fucking time. Say I want it done." Not enough time? What in hell was going on?

  He took one last look at the high-definition video screens-one for each eye-inside the helmet that would be the vehicle's "windscreen," then flipped the snap and began shoving it up. He hated the damned thing, thought it made him look like a giant high-tech moth.

  "Shall we power-down the centrifuge now?" the voice continued, unfazed.

  "Take it down. I'm ready for lunch. And a bottle of juice. 'Peit budu ya!'"

  "I read you," the radio voice chuckled once more, knowing there wasn't any vodka to be had for a hundred miles around the facility. Reports were the project director had heard too many stories about Russian drunkenness and somehow always forgot to include liquor in the supply requisition. "I hear there's borscht again in the mess today. Petyr just came in from the North Quadrant. Said it tastes like piss. Bastards still haven't learned-"

  "Pomnyu, pomnyu." He found himself longing for real food, seemingly impossible to produce here. Just like a drink.

  He waited a few seconds longer, till the huge white centrifuge had come to a complete stop, then shoved down the metal hatch release and stepped out. He looked up at the high-impact glass partition of the instrument room, waved to the medical team, and began unzipping his flight suit. It was only half open by the time the technicians marched in, anxious to remove quickly the rubbersuction cups and wires he was wearing on his head and chest, the instrumentation probes for their body monitor system. They wanted to reclaim them before he ripped them off, something he frequently had been known to do. Androv always said he was there to fly whatever plane nobody else had the balls to, not take a physical, so he wanted the goddam things off, and fast.

  Air Force Major Yuri Andreevich Androv was thirty- seven, tall, with the studied swagger all Soviet test pilots seemed to acquire after a few years. His dark eyes and hair were set off by a high forehead and long, lean cheeks, and behind those cynical eyes lurked a penetrating intelligence. There was something else too, the most vital attribute a test pilot can have: a perfect, natural integration of the two sides of his brain.

  Soviet medical studies had shown that the best pilots were artists, because handling a plane at three times the speed of sound was primarily a function of the intuitive right side of the brain, the side that provides the instincts, the seat-of-the-pants judgment. The left brain, in contrast, handled a pilot's rational functions-it was his data management system, his computer.

  Flight instructors for tactical aircraft at the Ramenskoye Flight Test Center south of Moscow knew that a pilot lost his edge when his brain started getting its signals mixed, when it was no longer sure which side was in control. They called it the biology barrier. The result of information overload in a stress situation, it could lead to a total breakdown. The brain went haywire.

  Yuri Androv was one of the few Soviet test pilots who never reached the biology barrier. He was, in fact, the best.

  He knew that his gift was one of the reasons he had been specially selected for this project. Another was experience. Over the years, he'd flown them all-the Tupolev Blackjack, the MiG 25 Foxbat, even the ultra-secret new MiG 31 Foxhound. But this hydrogen-fueled, scramjet-powered monster opened the door to another world. Above Mach 5, you were no longer merely supersonic, you were hypersonic-where no air-breathing vehicle had ever ventured.

  Could it be done? He had to admit the technology was awesome-all the aerodynamic design by supercomputer, the new ceramic composites for the leading edges, the Mach 13 burst-tests in the hypersonic wind tunnel, the scramjet static-test power-ups at the aeropropulsion facility. . . .

  This was supposedly just a space-research vehicle, for godsake. But it had twelve engines. And whereas the MiG 25, the USSR's fastest fighter-interceptor, topped out well under two thousand miles per hour, this space-age creation was capable, theoretically, of speeds almost ten times that.

  The schedule agreed upon called for the certification of both the prototypes in their lower-speed, turboramjet mode, and then the commencement of hypersonic flight tests in the scramjet mode. That second phase wasn't supposed to begin for three months.

  But now the project director had ordered the test program accelerated, demanding the hypersonic test flights begin immediately with the one prototype now certified-in ten days.

  Maybe, just maybe, it could be done. Of course, everybody else would be sitting safely in Flight Control there in the East Quadrant when he kicked in the scramjets at sixty thousand feet. His ass would be the one in the cockpit.

  This was the riskiest project of his life. Until the operational shakedown, nobody actually knew whether or not those damned scramjets would produce a standing shock wave in their combustion chamber, creating a supersonic "compressor" the way the supercomputer promised they would.

  And what about somebody's brilliant idea of using the plane's liquid hydrogen fuel as coolant for the leading
edges, to dissipate the intense heat of hypersonic flight? Had to do it, they claimed. Computer says there's no other way. But that was about as "brilliant" as filling your car radiator with frozen jet fuel! He'd be flying in a cocoon of liquid hydrogen . . . and, even scarier, he'd be doing it blind, with no windscreen. If he burned up he'd have to watch it on television.

  He glanced back one last time at the white centrifuge, a fifty-foot propeller with the simulated cockpit on one blade and a counterbalancing weight on the other. The centrifuge itself was pure white enamel, spotless, just like the room. A little honest Russian dirt would actually have made him feel better. Riding in that "cockpit" was like being strapped inside a video game, all lights and nothing real.

  Frowning, he shrugged and passed on through the door, greeted the milling technicians, and tossed his crumpled flight suit toward two medics from the foreign team who caught it in midair, bowed, and hurried it into the medical lab for . . . the devil take it, he didn't know and he didn't care.

  The fluorescent-lit hall was crowded with white-shirted technicians returning from the morning's test in Number One, the big hypersonic wind tunnel. Everybody was smiling, which told him the final run-up of the model must have gone without a hitch.

  That was the last segment of the revised schedule. The hypersonic test flight was on, in eighteen days.

  What in hell was the sudden rush? What was everybody's real agenda? Nobody was talking.

  That was what really bothered him, had bothered him from the start. This top-secret vehicle wasn't destined to be some kind of civilian space-research platform, regardless of what anybody claimed. Who were they fooling? The ultimate weapons delivery system had just been built here, a high-tech behemoth that married advanced Soviet thruster and guidance technology with a hypersonic airframe and scramjets created by the world's leading manufacturer of high-temperature alloys and supercomputers. And it was all being done here, the one place on earth with the technology.

  Here. The trouble was, this wasn't Russia.

  So Daedalus devised his winding maze;

  And as one entered it, only a wary mind

  Could find an exit to the world again. . . .

  Ovid, The Metamorphoses

  Book One

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