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       Hawx (2009), p.19

           Tom Clancy
 
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  He no longer heard Yolanda's voice, and Jenna had said all that could be said. Had he believed in God, Troy would have prayed. Had he believed in heaven, he would have expected soon to face Hal Coughlin beyond some pearly gate--or in some fiery dungeon.

  Suddenly, it all went black.

  The grayness did not so much fade to black but went suddenly and abruptly black.

  Above him, Troy was aware of a light.

  Was this heaven?

  No. It was the moon.

  Shakuru had been tossed free of the clouds. He could see their writhing gray forms some distance away, but for the moment he was in clear air. In the moonlight, he could see Shakuru's wings, still gyrating, but still intact.

  Had he been a believer, Troy would have thanked God, first for being free of the clouds, if not of the wind, but mostly he would have thanked God for Dr. Elisa Meyers, who had designed Shakuru to stand up to what he had been going through.

  Above him, Troy could see the stars in the black sky, but in the blackness below him, he saw the same.

  Was this the reflection of the stars on the placid sea? No. You can't see the reflection of stars on the ocean--

  certainly not from this altitude.

  Boats? Were they boats?

  There sure were a lot of boats. There were at least a dozen lights down there. Maybe he had a chance of being rescued?

  Troy felt the sensation of Shakuru sinking lower, of the lights below growing closer.

  He felt the sensation of forward momentum that you get as an aircraft descends closer to the earth.

  He came closer and closer to the cluster of lights and passed over them. He looked back and watched them recede into the distance.

  Beneath him now was only darkness.

  THE DISCOMFORT OF FEELING LIKE HE HAD BEEN swathed in plastic wrap and placed in a microwave oven was so great that it took Troy a moment to realize that he was alive when he should not have been.

  He felt a light, cool breeze on his cheek, but the rest of his body felt like it was going to explode.

  He opened his eyes to a blurry, hazy world and reached up to rub the sweat and crud from them with his hands.

  Gloved hands met the cracked Plexiglas of his helmet visor.

  Got to get this crap off.

  He tugged and struggled at the connection rings that held his gloves to his space suit with an airtight seal. The left one was easier once he had freed his right hand from its glove.

  Next came the helmet. After two minutes of frantic pushing and pulling, he got it off. The feel of the cool, clear air on his sweat-soaked head and face was the most wonderful sensation imaginable.

  At last, he was able to rub his eyes and massage them back to functional reality.

  Troy looked at the helmet. It was badly dented and the visor was cracked, but the damned thing had saved his life. First by absorbing the impact of whatever made the dent, and second, by getting cracked. Had that not happened, Troy would have suffocated within his airtight suit.

  He looked around.

  Where in the hell was he?

  Last night, in the darkness, he had imagined many scenarios, all involving a hard landing at sea--but he found himself on land. All around him was vegetation. He had come down in a jungle--but where was the jungle? It must be an island somewhere in the ocean. Maybe he had landed in Hawaii? Maybe Waikiki Beach was just over the hill?

  The wings of Shakuru were snarled in limbs and foliage, but they had not splintered into a lumberyard of wreckage like those of Helios. Shakuru would never fly again, but the airframe had held up far better than Troy might have expected.

  He tossed the helmet from the cockpit and heard it hit the ground some twenty feet below. Unsnapping his harness, he attempted to stand but felt excruciating pain in his leg.

  AS HE HAD WAITED FOR THE MORPHINE IN HIS FIRST-aid kit to take effect, Troy had mapped out his plan for getting out of the aircraft and descending twenty feet to the ground on one leg.

  As the morphine finally did take effect, his predicament grew more and more amusing. It was a silly irony, Troy thought, to be sitting here in an aircraft calibrated to fly as high as two hundred thousand feet, an aircraft emblazoned with the HAWX insignia, with its HA an acronym for High Altitude--yet here he was, planning the nearly impossible challenge of descending the equivalent of two flights of stairs.

  Somehow, he had made it. He had made it by grabbing at a large limb and by using his football player's upper-body strength to shift himself from limb to limb like a very-slow-moving chimpanzee. He certainly could not have done this without the numbness brought to his body by the narcotic.

  The last thing he remembered before he passed out was how good it felt to wriggle out of his suit and to lie on the cool ground wearing only his inner suit.

  The first thing he noticed when he woke up was that the pain in his leg was back.

  The second thing he noticed when he woke up was the dirty faces of a half dozen kids. They were darkcomplected and had black hair. Troy assumed they were Hawaiians.

  "Aloha, kids," he said. "Could one of you guys go ask your mom if I could borrow a cell phone?"

  They looked at one another as though they hadn't understood him. Two of the girls giggled, pointing to the bulge between his legs. His inner suit, which was essentially like old-fashioned long underwear, left little to the imagination.

  "Cell phone?" Troy persisted. "Do you guys understand? They speak English in Hawaii . . . right?"

  The kids spoke to him eagerly, but in a language he did not recognize.

  "Where the hell am I?" Troy asked, knowing that there would be no answer. "Who are you? How far did I drift in that storm last night?"

  Chapter 42

  In a Jungle Village

  THE KIDS HAD EVENTUALLY BROUGHT ADULTS, BUT NO cell phone.

  The adults did, however, fashion a stretcher from a blanket and a couple of long poles, and they had taken Troy from the Shakuru crash site to their village. They had fed him, and an old man had examined Troy's leg. It was broken in two places, but the old man had secured it to splints and had given Troy some bitter-tasting tea to drink. This had seemed to ease the pain.

  They were a poor people, but they were generous. They gave him food, and they gave him a shirt and an old pair of jeans to wear. Their village was little more than a camp on a hillside. The buildings were open to the air, albeit with mosquito netting, but the nights were cool, the days pleasant. With a makeshift crutch, he was at least able to access the latrine.

  From the labels on the few items of packaged food that he saw, Troy surmised that he was somewhere in Latin America, but that these people spoke an incomprehensible indigenous language rather than Spanish. The storm, borne by the strong prevailing wind over the Pacific, had blown him all the way back to the continent.

  Because of its low radar-observable characteristics, Shakuru had disappeared from the scopes, and a search for the aircraft over the Pacific had long since been abandoned. As Raymond Harris had hoped, Troy and Shakuru had essentially disappeared without a trace.

  Except for his being immobile, Troy could not have imagined disappearing without a trace into a more idyllic place. He was the object of great curiosity for the children, and the people treated him as a sort of celebrity. He was probably the most unusual character that they had seen fall into their jungle. They appreciated his helping out a little with food preparation, and they had taken happily to his making little gadgets for the kids out of bits of wood and wire.

  On his fourth or fifth day, as he realized that he was not going anywhere soon, Troy had started keeping track of the days by scratching marks on an old piece of wood with a nail that he had found. Four dozen marks later, he was finally able to stand and move around a little bit without his crutch.

  Troy decided that it was time to think about rejoining the outside world, though he had grown accustomed to life in his jungle retreat. At the same time, he felt so totally disconnected from his world. He had killed a
man who had once been a wingman, and he had been copilot to a man who had tried to kill him. What kind of world was that?

  He had watched his parents become emotional islands, disconnected from one another--and from him. What was left for him in that world?

  He had felt the icy sting of doors slammed in his face by Cassie and Jenna, the only two women whom he had ever loved. What was left for him in that world?

  Could he go back to his job? Well, not after his boss had tried to kill him!

  How could he return to that world?

  The thought of phoning his contacts at the CIA now seemed like a cruel and ridiculous joke. Yolanda had been right.

  The idea of phoning home seemed less appealing with each week that passed. Of course, there were no phones. The nearest one was probably several days' hike from this mountaintop, and the aftermath of a multiple fracture set by a stone-age shaman made a long hike seem out of the question.

  An attempted bow-hunting trip with some of the guys convinced Troy that it would be a while before he would be able to walk any distance.

  The weeks drifted by, and Troy thought and rethought the issue of whether to leave. He had grown familiar, though not yet intimate, with the girl who reminded him of Yolanda. It seemed only a matter of time. By the looks of the way her body curved as she moved, and the way her eyes sparkled when she smiled at him, he knew that it would be exquisite. However, his rational mind told him that it would usher in a whole new era in his status among these people, and he decided that for this, he was unprepared.

  The marks on the old piece of wood had long since fallen out of pace with the actual passage of days when Troy finally said good-bye to the people who had become like a family to him. There were even some tears shed as he walked down the trail in his hand-me-down jeans and sandals for the last time.

  TWO DAYS LATER, AS HE WALKED INTO THE NICARAguan village of San Sebastian, the sound of motor vehicles was deafening. Troy wondered if he had made a mistake, and he longed for the comforting arms of the girl who reminded him of Yolanda.

  He was back in civilization, with its cars, its electricity, its telephones--and its dependence on currency. Troy was flat broke. He had long since given the two hundred dollars in his survival kit to his friends in the mountains. Now he had to draw upon other survival skills.

  Troy began by going into a bar and asking in his crude high school Spanish to be directed to "El Gringo." This would be interpreted as an American asking to be sent to "The American." They would--Troy hoped--assume that he actually knew this notional person known locally as "The American."

  Most remote Latin American localities have one or two El Gringos, American expatriates who have drifted far from the United States in search of something or on the run from someone. Troy just wanted to find an American--any American.

  San Sebastian's "El Gringo" turned out to be a mining contractor named Fred Dobbs.

  "You came pretty far out in the middle of nowhere looking for a job," Dobbs said quizzically, when Troy explained himself as an American stranded in the outback of Nicaragua.

  "Well it's a long story." Troy smiled. "My girlfriend dragged me out here on a do-gooder, tree-hugging thing, and well, y'know . . ."

  "Yeah. I get the picture," Dobbs said. With his long hair and full beard, Troy indeed looked like either a tree hugger or a dope dealer, which for Dobbs were essentially the same thing. "You're stuck out here with no way back to the real world. Well, I got a gig that I could use you on. I need a gringo with no real ties to this place."

  "What's the work?"

  "I've got a little extraction operation going up in the mountains. Mostly low-grade nickel, but there's some of the yellow stuff. The local umm . . . authorities . . . like to have their palms crossed. They don't care about the nickel. My people working the mine up there are mainly locals. I need somebody with no connection to the locals who can go up and bring out my yellow stuff. Might take several trips . . . ought to be able to wrap it up in a couple of weeks. You want the job?"

  "What's it pay?"

  "I'll give you five hundred bucks and have my guy in Managua fix you up with a passport and a plane ticket to the States. Deal?"

  "Deal."

  Managua, Nicaragua

  IF WALKING INTO SAN SEBASTIAN TWO WEEKS AGO had been a culture shock for Troy, then setting foot in a real city was a culture concussion.

  In the nearly five months since Shakuru had crashed into the jungle, the world that he had blissfully ignored had been turned upside down. For the first time since he had disappeared from radar--literally and figuratively--Troy had gotten his hands on an English-language newspaper and had a chance to surf the Web at an Internet cafe.

  To Troy, it felt as though he had been away for years, not mere months. Political discord reigned. Al-Qinamah, the enemy with whom Troy had battled when he had flown with the U. S. Air Force, now reigned in Sudan--as well as in Eritrea and Ethiopia. It was a war that he and the others had fought in vain.

  In Malaysia, the government was now essentially a wholly owned subsidiary of Sandringham Partners, Ltd. It was another war that Troy had fought in vain.

  In Europe, governments were collapsing. Italy was on its fourth government in less than a month. France and Portugal were both considering outsourcing most essential services to organizations modeled after the PMCs.

  The United States was not immune. Washington, D. C., was in turmoil. Pundits from both poles of the political spectrum insisted that the U. S. government was out of control. Some said it was because of the PMCs. American foreign policy was in shambles because the Defense Department was now nothing more than a manager of extranational PMCs. Others insisted that the United States ought to do as Malaysia, France, and Portugal had done and essentially turn governmental operations over to the PMCs.

  What stunned Troy the most was what he found when he was waiting in the office of Fred Dobbs's "guy in Managua," waiting to be fixed up with a plane ticket to the States.

  The guy was in his private office with another customer, and Troy was waiting patiently on a tattered blue Naugahyde couch in the waiting room. The guy operated a travel agency of sorts, and there were posters for various regional destinations on the wall. There was one for Costa Rica with a large toucan on it and even one for the Peten rain forest.

  Troy had spent part of his five hundred dollars on clean clothes, a haircut, and a cheap duffel bag. Soon he would have his ticket to Los Angeles and, hopefully, a new life in an old place.

  As he waited, Troy idly began leafing through the inevitable pile of magazines that was on the low coffee table. He recognized the red border of a Time magazine and pulled it out.

  Troy's mind did a double take at the cover photo: a head-and-shoulders shot of Raymond Harris!

  Troy's mind did a triple take at the caption printed in bold letters across the cover. It identified Harris as The Voice of Reason.

  Raymond Harris?

  The Voice of Reason?

  How could the man who had tried to kill him for exposing a conspiracy be remotely considered The Voice of Reason?

  Inside, the journalists had profiled Harris, now back at Firehawk's Virginia headquarters and now the CEO of the PMC. He was described in the article as the steady hand, the man who was calmly negotiating with the polarized political factions in Washington.

  President Albert Bacon Fachearon was in trouble. Overwhelmed by the job, he seemed paralyzed by indecision. Congress called for action, but Fachearon faltered.

  It was Raymond Harris who had calmly spoken of outsourcing the management of the U. S. government "until the crisis period had passed."

  Troy was aghast. It was all coming true. The Transition that Harris's document had described. Worst of all, the media was buying it.

  Harris was the man with the calm hand--at least in comparison to other PMC CEOs, such as Layton Kynelty of Cernavoda Partners, who had been a bit more assertive about taking control. By comparison, Harris did seem like a voice of reason. According
to the article, opposition to Harris, even in Congress, was depicted as strident, even a bit irrational.

  Troy couldn't believe his eyes.

  Just as he thought he had seen it all, Troy turned the page. There were several photographs of Harris at a memorial service. Apparently, the magazine's editors wanted to show the human, "personal" side of Raymond Harris and had sent a photographer to cover him at the funeral of a fallen colleague.

  It was only when Troy recognized his own mother in one of the pictures that he realized that this was the Troy Loensch memorial service.

  The man who had tried to kill him was comforting his mother, who thought he was dead!

  That duplicitous son of a bitch!

  At that moment, the door to the guy's inner office opened. His previous customer smiled at Troy as she left clutching a ticket folder.

  "Mr. Loensch, I presume," he said in Spanish-accented English. "I have your documents ready .. . please step into my office."

  He smiled proudly as he handed Troy a U. S. passport with a photo Troy had taken in a drugstore kiosk the day before.

  "It looks real," Troy said, suspiciously.

  "It is real," the guy said, sounding a little disappointed that Troy would imagine him dealing in counterfeit passports. "I know a young lady at the embassy."

  "I see."

  "They're using nongovernmental contractors over there now," the guy explained. "It's much more efficient."

  "Of course it is," Troy said.

  "And here is your ticket to Los Angeles."

  "Thank you," Troy said, clutching the colorful ticket folder. "But I've just been having some second thoughts."

  "Second thoughts?"

  "As much as I would really like to go back to L. A., there is somewhere else that I really think I need to be." "Yes . . ."

  "How hard would it be to exchange this for a ticket to Washington, D. C.?"

  "Washington . . . hmmm . . ."

  "How much?" Troy interrupted.

  "Let's say . . . hmmm . . . a hundred dollars U. S. would take care of the exchange."

 
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