Project Cyclops, p.1Thomas Hoover / Thrillers & Crime
“A high-tech launch site, a missing nuke, and Arab terrorists with nothing to lose . . .”
In the sun-dappled waters of the Aegean, ex-agent Michael Vance pilots the Odyssey II, a handmade replica of the sailcraft of the ancient hero Ulysses. Out of nowhere, a Russian Hind gunship with Arab terrorists at the helm fires upon the tiny ship below. The terrorists’ destination is a tiny Aegean island where a U.S. aerospace corporation carefully guards the Cyclops 20-megawatt laser launch facility. But the company security force is no match for the firepower of the Arab invasion and the launch site is quickly overrun. With helpless horror, the executives can only watch as renegade technicians convert the launch vehicle into a ballistic missile that can deliver their stolen thermonuclear warhead to any city in the U.S.
Left for dead amid the smoking ruins of Odyssey II, Michael Vance washes up on the occupied island – and becomes America’s only hope.
Tags: Arab Terrorists, Laser, Aegean, Odyssey, Aerospace, Ballistic Missile, Thermonuclear Warhead, Ulysses, U.S. Navy, Israeli Terrorist, Hind, Spacecraft, satellite, Pakistan nuclear bomb, mercenaries
BOOKS BY THOMAS HOOVER
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Copyright © 1992 by Thomas Hoover
Reissued by arrangement with Random House. First Bantam-Doubleday-Dell Publishing Group, Inc. edition 1992.
Cover art copyright © 1992 by Alan Ayers.
Bantam Paper ISBN 0553-29520-9
Grateful acknowledgment is made to reprint from the following: "On forelands high in heaven" from More Poems from The Collected Poems of A.E. Housman. Copyright © 1936 by Barclays Bank Ltd., Copyright © 1964 by Robert E. Symons. Copyright © 1965 by Holt, Rinehart and Winston. Reprinted by permission of Henry Holt and Company, Inc.
"Keep her above three hundred meters on the approach." Ramirez's hard voice cut through the roar of the 2,200-hp Isotov turboshafts. Down below, the cold, dusk-shrouded Aegean churned with a late autumn storm. "Any lower and there'll be surface effect."
"I'm well aware of that," the Iranian pilot muttered, a sullen response barely audible above the helicopter's noise and vibration. It stopped just short of open disrespect.
Sabri Ramirez did not mind. The two Iranians had been an unfortunate necessity, but in three days they would be dead. The others, the professionals, were the ones who counted. When he hand-picked the European terrorists now resting on the four litters in the main cabin, he had gone for the best. Each man had a track record and a purpose. Ramirez, however, was the leader, fully in control. He had planned, financed, and now commanded the operation.
In the ghostly light of late evening, his sleek cheeks, iron- shaded temples, and trim mustache gave no hint of the extensive plastic surgery that had created this, his latest face. He wore a black jumpsuit, like the others, but under his was a $2,000 Brioni charcoal double-breasted—perhaps more suited for a three-star dinner in Paris, at L'Ambroisie or La Tour d'Argent, than the operation at hand. All the same, he felt comfortably at home in this Hind-D helicopter gunship, the most lethal assault machine ever. Their operation had two objectives, and the first had just appeared on the bright green cockpit radar.
It was the 2,600-ton U.S. frigate Glover, Garcia class, which the National Security Agency had converted into a Mid-East spy platform. Loaded with missile-tracking and communications-monitoring antennas, it had to go.
Ramirez expected no difficulties. Like the USS Stark, the frigate disabled by Iraqi Exocet missiles in the Persian Gulf in 1988, it was a perfect target. With only one gun, it would be child's play for a fully-armed Hind.
"Activate IFF," he ordered, glancing back at the instrument panels. "They should acquire us on radar within two minutes now."
"IFF on." Salim Khan, the still-brooding Iranian, nodded and reached for the interrogator/responsor in the panel on his right. They were using the NATO Identification System, a low-band interrogator, into which they had programmed the false Israeli Identification Friend or Foe code. The gray box would receive the electronic query, "Are you a friend?" and it would automatically reply, "Yes, this aircraft is friendly."
Ramirez watched with satisfaction as the green numbers flashed. Deception, he thought. The key to everything.
In the intelligence dossiers of Mossad, and the U.S. CIA, he was known as the Hyena, killer of hundreds in Europe and the Middle East. But his most cherished recent fact in those dossiers was the item declaring the disbanding of his private organization. He thankfully had been written off. Of course, the self-important analysts reasoned over their pipes and printouts, of course the chimera named Sabri Ramirez must be dead. His unmistakable touch had not been on a bombing in years. The playboy terrorist who flaunted silk suits, had cellars of rare vintage wines in Tripoli, Damascus, Baghdad, and Beirut . . . that man wouldn't just retire. He had to be gone.
They were half right. He had wearied of the squabbles and disputes of a far-flung organization; however, he had not lost his taste for money. Or his hatred of the United States.
Now that NATO was falling apart, America was trying to take over the Middle East—aided by its European lackeys. But he had put together a plan that would end America's global military intimidation once and for all. Not coincidentally, he was going to acquire eight hundred million dollars in the process.
"We'll be exposed," he continued, "but just for about three minutes. They only have one gun, a .38 caliber DP Mark 30, mounted on the forward deck. It is in plain view. Remember I need a clear ten-second window for the Swatter. After we neutralize their main ordnance, we come about and strafe the communications gear."
He hoped this dense Iranian understood the approach profile. He had briefed the man over and over, but still he was not sure it had sunk in. He examined Salim Khan one last time—the bulky face with sunken, almost depressed eyes—and stifled a sigh of exasperation. Iranians.
Still, he had better not offend the man's much-vaunted honor. After all, Salim had single-handedly stolen the Hind gunship they were now flying from the Iranian Air Force, providing a crucial component in the overall operation. A rare prize, the Hind had been secretly purchased by the IAF from an Afghan rebel unit—which had captured it in 1987. Iran had wanted to see one up close, against the day the Soviets might turn their anti-Islamic paranoia against them and try to invade. That day had never come. And now this disaffected air force lieutenant had simply stolen it. At last, Ramirez thought with satisfaction, their valued prize would be put to use.
Salim Khan had mastered the Hind's controls years before, had flown it often, and just four days ago he had taken it up, shot his weapons operator, and used a fake identity to file a new flight plan, setting down to refuel in Rawalpindi. The theft had caused a tempest. When they discovered it, the mullahs had blamed America and engineered a demonstration in the streets of Tehran so they could bray in the press.
But by that time he had already taken it out over the gulf and landed it on the camouflaged Greek cargo ship they had waiting. After navigating the Suez Canal, that ship was now anchored safely off Crete's main port of Iraklion. For Salim Khan, who had twice been passed over for promotion to captain, the taste of revenge in that theft was sweet indeed.
"The most important part of the approach," Ramirez went on, "is to make sure we're ID'd by their VIS, their Visual Identification System. It's crucial they make our Israeli markings."
The Hind-D looked like nothing else in the world, one of a kind. Its visual profile, dark green against the sunset hues of the sky, should be unmistakable. Or so he hoped. Almost sixty feet long and over twenty feet high, it had a main rotor fifty-five feet in diameter and a heavy, retractable landing gear. The tandem stations in the nose for the weapons operator, and the pilot above him, had individual canopies, with the rear seat raised to give the pilot an unobstructed forward view. Any schoolboy should be able to identify one a mile away, as well as its Israeli markings—the blue Star of David in a white circle.
"I still think it's unnecessary," Salim Khan mumbled into his beard. "It only adds to our risk. It would be better—"
"A visual ID is essential." Ramirez cut him off. "When they make it, they'll go through the Sixth Fleet HQ in Gournes for verification, then—"
'They just acquired us on radar," the Iranian interjected, as a high-pitched alert sounded from the instrument panel and a line of green warning diodes turned red.
"Right on schedule." Ramirez nodded. "The U.S. Navy never sleeps." He turned and motioned to one of the men crouched on a litter in the main cabin, shouting above the noise. "Peretz, it's time to start earning your share."
Dore Peretz, a veteran of the Weizman Institute, was a specialist in strategic weapons and their delivery. But that was another life. Now he was free-lance. Ramirez had picked him for his technical skills, and his greed.
He rose and made his way forward, working carefully through the jumble of legs and automatic weapons. He was younger than he appeared; his prematurely salt-and-pepper hair made him look late forties, though he actually was only thirty-nine. He settled into the weapons station below Salim, pulling down his black turtleneck, the better to accommodate a flight helmet, and went to work.
"Are you ready?" he asked Salim, in perfect Farsi.
"I am ready if God is ready," the Iranian replied grimly, his eyes beginning to gleam from the strain.
Peretz reached down and switched the radio to 121.50 megahertz, the military emergency channel.
"Mayday. Mayday. Israeli Hawk One requesting permission for emergency approach." He then repeated the announcement in Hebrew. It was, of course, a pointless gesture for the illiterate Americans, but for now verisimilitude counted.
"We copy you, Hawk One. This is USS Glover. We've acquired you on radar," came back the response, a Southern drawl, young and slightly nervous. "What seems to be the problem?"
"One of our turboshafts has started losing oil pressure. We could use a visual check. What's your position?" He glanced down at the green radar screen and grinned. It showed the frigate's coordinates to within meters.
The radioman complied with his request, then continued. "There could be a problem, Hawk One. The storm's just pushed the sea over four feet. It's a helluva—"
"Permission to approach. We have a situation here," he continued in English.
"Have to check that with the TAO. We've got a perimeter," came back the uneasy answer.
"Fuck your perimeter, sailor." Peretz’ voice was harder now. "This is Lieutenant Colonel Leon Daniel, Israeli Air Force. We've got an emergency and we're coming in. Tell that to your TAO, and get us perimeter clearance. We're coming by." He switched off his mike.
"Well done." Ramirez nodded his approval. "Just the right combination of entreaty and bravado. I think the Americans will be stymied. The good-neighbor policy they like to talk about."
He leaned back and wished he had a cigar. The other men waiting, crouched in the dark, had understood only some of the English. They were four Germans, a Frenchman, and a Greek.
"Conditional clearance granted," crackled the radio. "But we have to visual ID you first. Approach from vector three-two-zero. Emergency rescue op being readied, just in case."
"Roger, USS Glover," Peretz spoke back sharply, in his best military style. "Keep the coffee hot."
"It's always hot, sir. This is the U.S. Navy."
"Glad to be of help, Hawk One."
Peretz clicked off the radio and turned around. "I think they bought it."
"So far so good," Ramirez nodded.
He descended the three steps down into the lower cockpit, the weapons station, and stood behind Peretz, looking it over again. The Hind's offensive capability included a four-barrel Gatling-type 12.7mm machine gun in a turret under the nose, as well as 32-round packs of 57mm rockets secured on hardpoints on each stubby auxiliary wing. Finally, the wingtips carried four Swatter homing antitank missiles, two on each side. Plenty of firepower for what he intended.
"Remember," he said to Salim as he moved back up, "no hint of hostile action until after they make the ID." Would the stubborn Iranian hold steady? Stick to the procedure?
He checked his watch. Four and a half minutes should take them inside the VIS range. The altimeter showed that they were now at eleven hundred meters, and so far the Iranian was bringing her in perfectly. Of course, after the frigate confirmed they were flying a Hind . . . but by then it would be too late. . . .
"I was doubling Cape Maleas when the swell, the current, and the North Wind combined to drive me sidelong off my course and send me drifting past Kythera. The force of the gusts tore my sails to tatters, and for nine days I was chased by those accursed winds across the fish-infested seas. But on the tenth I made the country of the Lotus-Eaters."
From The Odyssey: Book Nine