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       Hawx (2009), p.18

           Tom Clancy
 
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  "What's inside?"

  "Not sure. I've never been inside. I've never had a chance to look in either."

  "Raven?" the second CIA man asked the first.

  "Have you ever heard Harris or anyone mention `Raven'?"

  "No, I don't think so," Troy said. He had no memory of such a name having been mentioned. "What's Raven?"

  "It's an airplane that we don't know much about." "What kind of an airplane?" Troy asked.

  "A shooter . . . a fast shooter . . . and obviously .. . since it's in HAWX, a high flyer. That's all we know."

  "I thought you said it was your job to stay on top of things," Troy said, mildly taunting the CIA guys.

  "That's why we recruit people like you," the CIA man said, turning the tables back to Troy.

  "What if Harris is not planning some sort of overthrow of the United States government?" Troy asked.

  "If you believed that, you wouldn't be here with us tonight . . . would you?"

  Troy took a deep breath. Why, he asked himself, had he made this decision after a few drinks?

  "Guess that makes me a full-fledged snitch," he said "If you want to believe that informing on treason makes you a snitch."

  "It does, but I've made that bed," Troy said. "What do you want me to find out about what Harris is planning . . . and about this Raven aircraft?"

  "Everything."

  Chapter 39

  Cactus Flat Air Force Auxiliary Field, Nevada

  NO WAY I'D BE A SNITCH FOR THE COPS, MAN.

  The words of Yolanda Rodriguez echoed in his head.

  Troy knew, as he had told the CIA operatives, that he had made his bed. Lying in it was more difficult than he had imagined when he dropped those coins into that Las Vegas pay phone.

  For nearly a month, Troy had led a double life.

  His day job was enough to gratify the extreme desires of any pilot. As one of the designated test pilots for the Shakuru Program, he had flown the aircraft to an unofficial world altitude record and had made seven flights above a hundred thousand feet. His long-duration flights with Aron Arnold had exceeded twenty-four hours and had spanned the continent.

  His alter ego as a snitch made him feel dirty.

  Had he succeeded as a snitch, that would be one thing, but he had failed so far to find anything useful for his CIA handlers.

  Aside from a report on Raymond Harris's increasingly vitriolic rants about the need to relieve the United States of its present government, he had come up with virtually nothing. He had finally seen the Raven, but only from a distance, and from the side. The dark-gray aircraft was dart-shaped, with its two vertical tail surfaces canted inward, suggesting that the aircraft was capable of speeds in excess of Mach 3.

  He had met only once with the CIA since Las Vegas.

  They had agreed to rendezvous at the lone bar in Paiute Wells, a dusty little Nevada town where people from Cactus Flat occasionally hung out to break the boredom of life on the base. The bar was a seedy relic from the 1950s, with a row of glass bricks in the front and Naugahyde-padded swinging doors that had small windows in the shape of spades from a deck of cards.

  When Troy related the meager details that he had learned about the mysterious Raven, the CIA men had conveyed their disappointment.

  "Is that all? We need more . . . and we need it soon."

  When Troy asked them why they were so impatient, they implied that other information, developed from other snitches, suggested that whatever Harris and his confederates were planning, they were planning to do it sooner rather than later.

  "MORE . . . MORE . . . MORE."

  The words spoken to the snitch echoed in his head as he made his way to the small office that Harris used when he was at Cactus Flat. Troy knew that Harris would not be in his office today. He had just boarded his Gulf-stream and had headed out for parts unknown. Over the past couple of weeks, Harris had been away more often than he was at the Flat, a fact that tended to support the CIA supposition that something big was demanding his attention elsewhere.

  The door to the office was locked, of course.

  Troy had been to Harris's office a dozen times, but only when Harris was there. What he was about to do gave him the creeps. His alter ego as a snitch made him feel dirty.

  Long ago, when Troy was still in high school, and still in that stage of life where pranks are part of life, he had learned the art of lock picking. Objects placed in lockers, especially gooey, messy, explosive objects, were great fun. So too was the feeling of accomplishment that came with being able to pick the heaviest padlock in order to place such ridiculous objects to ruin the day of an unsuspecting fellow student.

  The office was the same as it always was--except, of course, for the absence of its usual inhabitant. As such, it was uncharacteristically quiet.

  What was he looking for?

  Troy really didn't know. It was one of those cases where he knew that he would know it only when he found it. Where should he look?

  That was an even bigger question. The desk was piled high with papers, folders, and memo pads. So too were most other surfaces in the room, and that didn't count the four-drawer file cabinet.

  Troy realized that it would take a week to methodically search everything.

  The clock on Harris's desk read 10:14.

  How much time dare he spend doing this?

  Even if Harris was away, someone else might have a key and come in for some reason.

  Got to be out of here by 10:30, Troy decided.

  How should he go about this?

  He decided that he would try to imagine what Harris would do, so he lowered himself into the former general's desk chair and looked around the room.

  Troy tried to imagine where, if he had something important to conceal, would he hide it in this room?

  Keep it close. This would rule out anything beyond arm's length. If it's an active operation, then keep it where it can be easily accessed--but keep it out of sight.

  With this in mind, Troy searched the bottom half of each stack of papers on the desk, then turned to the drawers.

  The clock on the desk read 10:22.

  The bottom drawers of the big, old-fashioned metal desk were crammed with folders and tablets. Pausing to read what was written on each of them was time-consuming.

  The clock on the desk read 10:35.

  He had already blown his schedule, and there was nothing to show for it.

  Was it a wild-goose chase?

  Troy sorted through the tops of the piles on the desk. The clock on the desk read 10:48.

  He had been at this for more than half an hour.

  One more pass through the drawers, and then I'm done, he thought.

  He started by pulling out the bottom left drawer. What's this?

  He didn't remember the blue folder with pieces of duct tape on it. He was sure it hadn't been there before. The tape!

  The first time that Troy had looked in the drawer, the blue folder had been attached to the underside of the drawer above it. Somehow, he had jiggled it loose.

  This, he quickly discovered, was what he had been looking for.

  Correction, this was what the CIA men had been looking for.

  The first page gave a short overview of an innocuous-sounding process that was referred to as "The Transition."

  If the United States reaches a point where it cannot be properly governed, read the opening paragraph, it is the responsibility of the private sector, in the form of PMCs, to intervene . . .

  There was page after page of dry details about how an independent entity would be formed to manage and operate the government during The Transition. Most chilling was the description of how PMC military units would be activated to neutralize the U. S. armed forces. The attached tables of statistics showed how the effectiveness of the traditional armed services had declined in direct proportion to the increase in PMC capabilities.

  They actually believed that they could pull this off?

  The clock on Harris's desk re
ad 11:17.

  Troy had been at the desk for more than an hour. He had to get out of here before his luck ran out.

  Having memorized as much as he could about the details of The Transition, Troy carefully retaped the blue folder to the bottom of the middle drawer.

  Chapter 40

  Cactus Flat Air Force Auxiliary Field, Nevada

  "YOU'RE HAVING ALL THE FUN UP THERE IN SHAKURU, Loensch," Raymond Harris said with a grin, approaching Troy at the coffee urn.

  The sun was just coming up, painting the sandstone bluffs west of Cactus Flat in the vivid colors that photographers stay up all night to capture. Harris was up awfully early for a man who had returned to the Flat after midnight.

  "Not today," Troy said, returning the smile. "I don't have a flight scheduled until tomorrow. I'm going into town this morning to get some stuff at the drugstore."

  In fact, he was going into Paiute Wells to attempt to make contact with the CIA.

  "Your razor blades and deodorant can wait," Harris said, sipping his coffee. "I'd like to have you demonstrate Shakuru for me. I'd like to fly as your copilot for a short flight over the desert."

  When Harris said "I'd like," Troy knew that it was to be interpreted as a direct order.

  An hour later, both men were in their high-altitude space suits and doing a walk-around of the Shakuru. Troy took his place in the forward of the two tandem seats, and Harris lowered himself in behind. Technicians helped the two men seal their helmets and fasten the gloves to their suits.

  With a thumbs-up from Troy, the massive flying machine was wheeled through the open doorway of the hangar and onto the tarmac. It was obvious by the way Harris went through the preflight checklist that he had done his homework on the operation of the aircraft.

  Troy ran up the engines, handled the takeoff, leveled out at five thousand feet, and let Harris take the controls. He was an experienced pilot, and he handled the Shakuru skillfully. Troy felt him pull back gently on the stick and resume a climbing spiral.

  "The rate of climb is sure better than you'd expect," Harris observed.

  "That was my reaction the first time also," Troy agreed.

  "Let's take this bird up to where we can see some of the view," Harris said.

  "Copilot's airplane," Troy said into the intercom, indicating that he was letting Harris run the show. If Troy had been nervous about flying with the man less than a day after he had rifled his desk, the nervousness quickly faded.

  The altimeter steadily climbed. Troy watched twenty-five thousand feet melt away, then forty-five thousand. Harris made occasional comments about the control of the Shakuru or the spectacular view. Troy felt him level out at eighty thousand feet and steady their course in a southeasterly direction.

  "I had hoped to brief you on The Transition," Harris said. He said it so calmly that it took a moment for Troy to grasp what he was saying.

  "I had hoped to speak with you about it, and about how I had hoped to bring you in as part of it."

  "The Transition?" Troy said, feigning ignorance.

  "The Transition," Harris said, his voice still calm. "I noticed that you've briefed yourself on it before I had the chance."

  How?

  Troy was speechless.

  "I was very disappointed, Loensch. I was very disappointed to find you . . . you . . . of all people, going through the stuff in my office."

  "Your Transition goes a bit far, doesn't it?" Troy asked. "It goes only as far as necessary, doesn't it?"

  Troy could feel Harris's eyes drilling in on him from behind as he searched his mind in vain for a reply.

  "Did you decide to burglarize my office on your own?" Harris asked. "Or are you working for someone?"

  "I think you're playing with fire," Troy said at last. "Who are you working for?"

  "Firehawk. I'm working for Firehawk . . . and so, I thought, were you," Harris said, feigning sadness. "It seems as though we are at cross-purposes here. I suggest that you do the honorable thing . . . pop the canopy and leave Shakuru."

  Leave Shakuru? Troy thought about it. Bailing out at eighty thousand feet while wearing his pressure suit was doable.

  "I'll be on the ground before you could get back to Cactus Flat. People back there will know about your scheme before you're able to land."

  "With the parachute you're wearing, you'll be on the ground much faster than you think," Harris said. Troy could hear the smirk in his voice. In his mirror, he saw only the glossy black visor of Harris's helmet.

  "Well, then I guess you're stuck with me," Troy said. "Unless you want to unlatch your harness at a hundred and thirty knots and try to throw me overboard."

  "I was afraid of that." Harris chuckled. "One of us has got to leave . . . I guess it will be me."

  "With you gone, I can land Shakuru anywhere. I don't need to go back to the Flat."

  "I'll make you a deal," Harris said. "If you tell me who you're working for, I won't disable the autopilot override."

  "What?"

  "If you don't tell me who you're working for, and I disable the autopilot override, you won't be able to turn. You'll be stuck at eighty thousand on a southwesterly heading until after nightfall . . . by which time you'll be several hundred miles over the Pacific."

  "With the lithium sulfur batteries, I can fly this thing anywhere in the world," Troy reminded him.

  "Without lithium sulfur batteries, you'll fall like three tons of Kevlar and plastic when the sun goes down. By that time, you'll be hundreds of miles from shore."

  With that, Troy felt the pressure of the canopy separating from the aircraft and the brief lurch as Harris jumped free. Without the canopy, the drag on Shakuru made it tremble a bit, but otherthan that, Troy felt little change. It was suddenly ninety degrees below zero in the cockpit, but sealed inside his suit, the ambient temperature was that of an air-conditioned office.

  Troy touched the stick, attempting to turn, but Harris had, in fact, configured the autopilot to maintain its heading. He tried everything he could to disengage the autopilot, but to no avail. Ahead, across the land mass of California, he could see the Pacific Ocean, gleaming blue. The sun was still high in the sky, and Shakuru plugged on, heading southwest toward Santa Barbara and oblivion.

  Did he suppose that Harris would have left him with control of the aircraft if he had said he was working for the CIA? Troy thought not.

  He tried to find a radio channel on which to send a distress message, but the only place that his "Mayday" was heard was in his own intercom.

  With his helmet on, Troy could hear nothing of the outside world, not the whir of the solar engines, not the thunder of the slipstream blowing around the windshield and into the open canopy.

  Troy tried and retried to override the autopilot.

  He shouted "Mayday!" until his own ears throbbed.

  As he reached the picturesque California coastline, he could see the wriggling line of sandy beaches that separated the tan and green of the hills from the blue of the ocean.

  Soon, there was no longer land, only that deep-blue crescent of the curving earth and the blinding glare of the soon-to-be-setting sun.

  There was nothing to do but rehearse in his mind the steps he would take to escape as the big flying wing drifted down upon the sea--deploy his flotation gear and hope for the best. Into this scenario came memories of survival school, of Hal Coughlin, and of their tortured relationship.

  When your mind replays events that have come full circle, they come full circle, and you are left with the void of silence. Into the silence came the voices.

  Yolanda spoke and said she told him so. If he hadn't turned snitch, he would not be heading toward a watery grave.

  Jenna, who had once loathed him, but who had once craved his touch, spoke of her guilt. Having made love to Troy, she felt the guilt of cheating on Hal. Having once expressed the longing of lust toward Troy, she then expressed the revulsion borne of that guilt and the knowledge that it was Troy who had killed Hal.

  C
assie Kilmer, the woman with whom he had long planned to spend the rest of his life, had abruptly closed the door on that relationship, a relationship that once had seemed inevitable.

  As the sun sank to the horizon, the solar panels, starved of their sustenance, grew weak, and the engines slowed gradually to a stop. The altimeter read forty thousand feet and sinking.

  As the sun sank below the horizon, Shakuru sank slowly toward the Pacific and the massive bank of clouds that now separated the aircraft from the waves. The altimeter read twenty thousand feet and sinking.

  As the altimeter declined to ten thousand feet and Shakuru drifted amid the cloud tops, Troy felt a jolt, and then another, as the huge aircraft was rocked by turbulence. Within moments, Shakuru was swallowed in a cocoon of gray. Rain lashed into the open cockpit as the gyrating aircraft drifted into the heart of the storm.

  Troy remembered what a little clear air turbulence had done to Helios and gave up on his imagined escape as Shakuru touched the waves. Instead of landing in the Pacific within an aircraft that retained its aerodynamic integrity, he now expected to hit the water tangled in crumpled wreckage.

  He looked out at the flapping wings with their dead engines, thankful that his soundproof cocoon spared him the sounds of snapping and tearing structural components.

  The thought of dying in a plane crash occasionally crosses the mind of a pilot, but Troy had never imagined that it would be such an agonizingly slow death.

  Chapter 41

  Somewhere over the Pacific Ocean

  ALL AROUND HIM, THE GRAYNESS GREW DARKER. TROY felt a chill and realized that as the power systems failed, so too did the life support system that kept his space suit at room temperature.

  The ordeal of being tossed helplessly amid the storm seemed to go on for hours, though it was obviously minutes or tens of minutes. The buffeting winds kept him aloft, postponing his inevitable crash.

  Eventually, it was hours, but by then, Troy had lost track of time. The digital clock, like all the digital instruments, had winked out as the power failed. Only the analog compass remained, shining in the darkness with its luminescent dial, but it too seemed to have failed. It read that Shakuru was headed east, when Troy knew he was going southwest.

 
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