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Title: Project Daedalus
Author: Hoover, Thomas
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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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."

_



BOOKS BY THOMAS HOOVER



Nonfiction

Zen Culture

The Zen Experience



Fiction

The Moghul

Caribbee

Wall Street _Samurai_

     (The _Samurai_ Strategy)

Project Daedalus

Project Cyclops

Life Blood

Syndrome



All free as e-books at

www.thomashoover.info



PROJECT DAEDALUS



Thomas Hoover



BANTAM BOOKS NEW YORK -- TORONTO -- LONDON -- SYDNEY -- AUCKLAND

-- PROJECT DAEDALUS A Bantam Falcon Book / August 1991



All rights reserved copyright © 1991 by Thomas Hoover

Cover art copyright © 1991 by Alan Ayres



ISBN 0-553-29108-4



Bantam Books are published by Bantam Books, a division of Bantam
Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF
AMERICA  0987654321



Key Words:

Author: Thomas Hoover

Title: Project Daedalus

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



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



PROLOGUE



_

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 in-
creasing 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. Outboard tridents at
sixty-eight percent power_, the voice responded.

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 rubber

suction 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



CHAPTER ONE



Wednesday 7:33 A.M.

_

_"You're lucky I love this spot," Vance said, gazing out over the city.
"Nothing else on the planet could have got me up this early in the
morning."

"It's the one place I thought I could persuade you to meet me." The
bearded man sighed, his dark eyes grim. The accent was Russian, the
English flawless. "I have a problem, a very big problem."

"The Cold War's over, Alex, or maybe you hadn't heard." He strolled on,
tugging his trench coat tighter. "What have we got left to talk about?"

"Please. We both did what we had to."

"I still do. Life's too short for anything else." He turned back. "Now
how about telling me what's on your mind."

Vance was firm-muscled and lean, with the leathery skin of a man who
drank his tequila straight and preferred spending his days in the sun,
two habits that also had bestowed a network of threadlike smile lines
at the corners of his sea-blue eyes. Aleksei Ilyich Novosty had phoned
him at the Athenaeum Inter-Continental half an hour earlier, begging to
meet him, saying it was of the utmost importance. A cab was downstairs.
The driver had taken him to the old flea market at Monastiraki Square,
where Alex's own black limo waited. But now Novosty was playing games,
and the days for KGB games were supposed to be in the distant past.
What did the man want?

"My friend, give me a moment. . . ." Novosty wiped his brow, manicured
nails glistening, then looked up and pointed. "By the way, I've always
believed that one is the most exquisite female in the world. That one
there. What do you think?"

"Sexy, plenty of style." Vance swept his eyes over the figure, loving
how the cloth was shaped by her breast, the vague hint of thigh as one
leg brushed against the gauze of her tunic. "But the lady next to her's
a looker too. Always seemed a tough call."

Above them, the stone caryatids smiled down, their pale faces timeless
and ethereal. They were Greek statues that served as columns for the
south porch of the Erechtheum, the Ionic temple standing across from
the Doric Parthenon. Down below the steep north wall of the Acropolis,
the dark-glazed rooftops of Athens, city of Pericles, droused mutely in
the early haze.

"Yes, perhaps you're right." Novosty brushed awkwardly at his patchy
stubble, searching for an opening. He knew Vance never made the first
move, always waited for the other side to show its cards. "Michael, I
... is it true you occasionally still take an assignment? I mean,
outside the usual work for ARM. I made some inquiries in Geneva last
week. The word is--"

"Hang on. I think you're getting your team colors mixed. I work for the
other side, remember?" He stooped and picked up a handful of the grainy
red soil at their feet, massaging it in his fingers and wondering why
it had taken him so long to get back here, to Greece. This was where he
belonged. This was the place, the ancient people, he still dreamed
about. But could he fit in again after so many years away? Yes, he'd
make it work.

Michael Vance, Jr., had the sangfroid of one who moved easily among the
decision-makers of two continents. He was to the manner born--Yale--and
he'd long since concluded it was the way man was meant to live. In
years past he'd been a field archaeologist, and a good one; then he'd
had a brief consulting stint for the CIA. These days, he lived at the
Nassau Yacht Club marina, where he moored his restored forty-four-foot
Bristol racing yacht, the Ulysses, headquarters for his three-boat
charter operation. He was mortgaged to the hilt, but he didn't really
care. When things got tight, he could always take on a quick money job
for the Association of Retired Mercenaries, ARM.

"The situation is not necessarily what you're thinking," Novosty
pressed. "So perhaps you would consider--"

"Whatever it is, the answer's still no. The next three weeks are going
to be spent working on a tan."

Why tell Alex the facts? Today he was in Athens for only a few hours, a
stopover on the way to Crete. He glanced at his watch--an old Eterna
Chronomatic, the 1946 classic he loved--and calculated that the flight
for Iraklion left in less than four hours. This time tomorrow morning
he would be looking in on the crew from the University of Stuttgart's
dig for the German Historical Society, part of the restoration of a
Minoan palace near Crete's southern shore. Novosty and all he stood for
were the last thing he needed right now.

"Then at least let's have coffee," the Russian said finally, pointing.
"I brought some. There in the bag."

Vance needed it, to cut his hangover. Without a word he turned to the
marble steps, pried open the white paper, and reached in.

"Plastic." Dismay filled his voice as he lifted out one of the smooth
Styrofoam cups and examined it, like an insect. "This nails it. Game
over. Our side won all the chips. Now even Greek coffee comes American
style." He frowned as he pried the white lid from the cup. "What's
left?"

"It's everywhere. Perhaps they'll wrap these statues in cellophane
next, who knows."

"I fear the worst." He took a sip, relishing the first hit of the dawn.
It was dark and sweet, the real thing despite the container.

"Michael, please . . . at least hear me out." He reached for a
cigarette, extracting it filter-first from his trench coat.

"I have a serious personal problem, and I don't know where else to
turn."

Could it be true? Vance examined him more closely. The beard wasn't the
only change. The left side of his gray coat bulged as he searched for
his lighter. Alex had never bothered to carry his own protection. At
least never before.

He knew Alex Novosty was part of KGB's T-Directorate, Russia's special
organization for high-tech theft. In the old days he operated out of
Sophia, arranging the laundering of underground Soviet funds by
mingling them with the flight capital and drug money that made its way
between Turkey's Ziraat Bank, the Vatican's Istituto per le Opere di
Religione, and Geneva no-questions fronts with names like the Banco di
Roma per la Svizzera.

The truth was, Michael Vance, Jr., and Aleksei Ilyich Novosty had, over
the years, often traveled the same paths. They used the same
organizations and contacts--Novosty to conceal illicit monies, Vance to
expose them.

"You know, I always enjoyed our games." Novosty looked out over Athens,
his voice trailing off. "But, as you say, that was the old days. The
world's changed. Now perhaps we can just be two professionals. Do some
business."

He seated himself on a block of marble, still slightly moist with
morning dew, and withdrew a wrinkled clipping. It was from The Times of
London. "Here, read this, please."

Vance glanced down at it, then realized he had already read it on the
Reuters satellite news service. He had looked it over, stored it in his
news-update computer file, and promptly forgotten about it.



SOVIET PARTY OFFICIAL SOUGHT IN DISAPPEARANCE OF FUNDS



MOSCOW, Mar. 18--The Central Committee today lodged formal charges
against a CPSU official, Viktor Fedorovich Volodin, First Secretary
of the oblast of Sakhalin, in connection with his alleged embezzle-
ment of government funds and subsequent disappearance.

The island of Sakhalin, together with the Kuril Islands, is an
administrative district in the far eastern region of the Soviet
Federated Socialist Republics. Since being taken from Japan in 1945,
the southern Sakhalin oblast has been closed to all Western
visitors. The island is said to have a major military airfield at
Dolinsk and a naval base at Korsakov facing La Perouse Strait, the
only year-round passage between Soviet warm-water ports in Asia and
the North Pacific. It is an economically and strategically vital
part of the Soviet Far East, with the only oil fields in the eastern
regions.

The amount embezzled is reported at twenty million rubles, which
would make Party Secretary Volodin responsible for the largest
outright theft of state monies in the history of the Soviet Union .
. .



Vance looked up. "The home team at play. Some ministry shell game,
probably. Little budget scam. What's it got to do with you?"

"My friend, this thing is no game." Novosty crumpled his cup. In his
other hand, the cigarette remained unlit. "I was . . . involved. Of
course, I didn't know then. But if Dzerzhinsky Square finds out I
stupidly let myself be--" He flicked his black Italian lighter, then
inhaled. "KGB will post me to Yakutsk piece by piece. In very small
boxes."

Vance stared into his dark eyes, trying to gauge the truth. None of it
added up. "Alex, you're one of the sharpest guys in the business. So,
assuming this is straight, why in hell would you let yourself even get
close to it? The thing had to be some internal play."

For a moment the bearded man said nothing, merely smoked quietly on his
cigarette. The sun was beginning to illuminate the cloud bank in the
east, harbinger of the midday Athens shower. "Perhaps I . . . yes, it
was an unknown, but what is life without unknowns? The job looked
simple, Michael. I just had to launder it. Easy enough. Of course, if I
had realized . . ." Again his voice trailed into the morning haze.

"So what's the inside story?"

Novosty drew once more on his cigarette. Finally he spoke. "All right.
The number of twenty million rubles? Of course it's 'disinformation.'
Typical. The real amount, naturally, is classified. There is even a
formal directive, signed by Chief, First Directorate Gribanov."

"Guess KGB still has enough clout to write the rules."

"The old ways die hard. They, and the military, are fighting a
rearguard action to protect their turf--just as your CIA and the U.S.
Department of Defense are doing now. Which is why they are so concerned
about this. If they don't get to the bottom of it, they will once again
be proved incompetent . .  . as well as over-funded." He scratched at
his beard. "More to the point, this operation went around them. That's
a very bad precedent, if you understand what I'm saying. And the money,
Michael, was almost three times what they admitted. In dollars it was
over a hundred million."

"Nice chunk of change." Vance whistled quietly.

"Even now, though, I have to admit it was brilliant. Flawless. Viktor
Fedorovich Volodin, first secretary of the State Committee for
Sakhalin, Far Eastern District, got authority signed off, got his
passport stamped vyezdnye, or suitable for travel, and then wired the
sixty million rubles not to the district, but to the state bank of
Poland, with instructions for conversion. A lot of money, yes, but it
was not unprecedented. And he did it late Friday, around two in the
afternoon, after all the _nomenklatura_ had left for their weekend
_dachas_. By Monday morning he was in Warsaw, to clarify the 'mistake.'
Next the money was sent to my old bank connection in Sophia . . . by
then, of course, it's _zlotis ._ . . I just assumed it was something
KGB wanted laundered." He paused. "They claim sometimes things have to
be handled outside the _nomenklatura_, to avoid the paperwork
bottleneck."

"So how much did you end up cleaning?"

"All of it," he sighed. "I converted it to deutsche marks, then bought
pounds sterling and used those to acquire British gilts, the long-term
government bonds. They're currently parked in a dummy account at Moscow
Narodny Bank, in London." The momentary lilt drained from his voice.
"But now, now what can I do? The funds are just sitting there, waiting.
But if I show up and try to wire them out, I'm probably as good as
dead."

"The man who's tired of London is tired of life."

"Michael, the moment I'm seen in London, I may not have a life. I think
KGB already suspects I was somehow connected. If they find me, they
will turn me into sausages. I'm trapped. You've got to help me move it
again, make the trail just disappear." He tossed away his cigarette and
immediately reached into his overcoat for another.

"Seems to me the first thing you ought to do is try and locate Comrade
Volodin. Maybe let a couple of your boys have a small heart-to-heart
with him. Little socialist realism. Give him some incentive to
straighten it out himself."

"Michael, first directorate is already combing the toilets of the world
for him. He's vanished. The ministry of defense, and the GRU--"

"The military secret service."

"Exactly. The minute either of them finds him, the man's a corpse." He
shrugged, eyes narrowing. "If I don't find him first."

Vance listened, wondering. "That's a very touching story. You could
almost set it to music. Only trouble is, the punch line's missing.
There's got to be more--too much money's involved. So who else is in on
this? South Africa? Israel? Angola?"

"What do you mean? I've told you everything I know. Volodin, the
bastard, used me as part of his swindle. But now he's lost his nerve
and run, disappeared, and left me to face--"

"Sure, that's all there is to it." He cut in, laughing. "Incidentally,
you take your standard cut up front? Back at the beginning?"

"Michael, please, I am a businessman. Of course. The usual percentage.
But now--"

"Like you say, it's a problem."

He turned to stub out his cigarette. "A nightmare. Think about it. A
hundred million dollars U.S. That's starting to be real money, even for
the USSR. Not even the czars ever managed to steal so much."

Vance looked him over. Novosty was telling the story backward, inside
out. "Look, whenever somebody gives me only half a setup, I just--"

"Michael, no one knows better than you all the ways money can be moved
in this world. Those funds must be made to just vanish from London,
then reappear another place with no trail. I have already arranged for
a bank, far away. After that the money can be returned, anonymously.
What other solution is there?" He hesitated painfully. "You know, I
have no friends I have not bought--the definition of a tragic life. But
I remember you always were a man who kept his word. I can trust you.
Besides, where else can I turn?"

"Alex, forget it. I've already got all the fun I can handle." Vance
sipped his coffee, now down to the black grounds and undissolved sugar.
It was both bitter and sweet, contradictory sensations against his
tongue.

Just like Novosty's tale, part truth and part lie. Alex had no
intention of returning the money, for chrisake. He was probably in the
scam _with_ Volodin. And now the hounds were baying. The main problem
was, who were the hounds?

"Michael, do us both a favor. Help me move it." He pressed. "I'll take
care of the rest. And I'll even give you half the two million that was
my commission. Just take it. Gold. Tax free. It's yours. You'll be set
for life. All you have to do is arrange to transfer the money to
another bank I will tell you. I have an account already waiting, every-
thing, but I can't do it myself. They're too close to me."

A million dollars, he thought. Christ, with that you could pay off the
four hundred thousand mortgage on the boats, free and clear. You'd also
be helping Alex out of a jam, and the man looked like he could use all
the help he could get. He stared out toward the encircling mountains,
now swathed in fleecy clouds. . . .

No. The deal had too many unknowns. The whole point

of working for yourself was you could pick and choose your jobs. If you
ever started going with the highest bidder, you were a fool. Guys who
did that didn't last in this business.

"Afraid I'll have to pass. There're plenty of other . . ."

That was when he absently glanced down at the early sun glinting off
the windows of Athens. In the parking lot below, a tan, late-model Audi
had just pulled in. He watched as it idled. "Incidentally," he said as
he thumbed at the car, "friends of yours? More art lovers?"

Novosty took one look and stopped cold.

"Michael, I'm sorry, I really must be going. But . . . perhaps you
might wish to stay here for a few more minutes. Enjoy the women. . . .
Though I hear you like them better in the flesh. . . ." He reached into
his breast pocket. "Think about what I've said. And in the meantime,
you should have this." He handed over a gray envelope. "It's the
original authorization I received from Volodin . . . when he
transferred the funds to the bank in Sophia."

"Look, I'm not--"

"Please, just take it. Incidentally, it probably means nothing, but
there's a corporate name there. I originally assumed it was KGB's
cover. Who knows. . . ." He continued to urge the envelope into Vance's
hand. "I've written the London information you will need on the back.
The account at Narodny, everything." He was turning. "Be reasonable, my
friend. We can help each other, maybe more than you realize."

"Hold on." Vance was opening the envelope. Then he lifted out a folded
page, blue. "Good name for a dummy front. Nice mythic ring."

"What . . .?" Novosty glanced back. "Ah, yes. From the old story."

"Daedalus."

"Yes, everything about this is a fiction. I realize that now. Of course
The Daedalus Corporation does not exist." He paused. "Like you say,
it's just a myth."

Vance was examining the sheet, an ice blue reflecting the early light.
Almost luminous. Something about it was very strange. Then he massaged
it with his fingertips.

It wasn't paper. Instead it was some sort of synthetic composition,
smooth like silicon.

Saying nothing, he turned away and extracted a booklet of hotel
matches. He struck one, cupped it against the light wind, and with a
quick motion touched the flame to the lower corner of the sheet.

The fire made no mark. So his hunch was right. The "paper" was heat
resistant.

When he held it up, to examine it against the early sun, he noticed
there was a "watermark," ever so faint, an opaque symbol that covered
the entire page. It was so large he hadn't seen it at first; it could
have been reflections in the paper. He stared a second before he recog-
nized--

"Talk to me." He whirled around. "The truth, for a change. Do you know
where I'm headed this afternoon?"

"I confess my people did obtain your itinerary, Michael. But only in
order to--"

"When?"

"Only yesterday."

"That was after you got your hands on this, right?"

"Of course. I just told you. That was the original authorization."

"The Daedalus Corporation?"

"That name is only a myth. Nothing but paper." He began walking briskly
down the steps next to the Temple of Athena Nike, the Sacred Way,
toward his black limousine in the parking lot. "We will finish this
later. The final arrangements. I will be in touch."

Vance watched as the black limo backed around and quickly headed toward
the avenue. After a few moments, the tan Audi slowly pulled out of the
parking lot to follow.

He turned back to look at the temples, sorting through the story.
Somebody in this world, this Daedalus Corporation or whomever it
represented, had a hundred million dollars coming, dollars now all
nicely laundered and ready to go. What did it add up to?

In years past Alex Novosty had moved money with total impunity. So why
would he turn up in Athens, bearing an elaborate and patently bogus
story, begging for help? It couldn't be for the boys back at
Dzerzhinsky Square in Moscow. They never went outside with their own
problems. Besides, they cleaned money all the time.

Somebody, somewhere, was pulling a fast one.

Don't touch it, he told himself. For once in your life just walk away.
It's got to be hot. Bad news all around. Just forget it and go on to
Crete.

He could hardly wait. Eva Borodin was meeting him there; a decade-late
reunion after all the stormy water under the bridge. Or was it going to
be a rematch? Whichever, that was going to be a scene. He had vague
hopes they might put together a rerun of years past, only this time
with a happy ending.

Still mulling over the pieces of Novosty's puzzle, he turned and headed
for the northwest edge of the Acropolis. In the distance stood the ring
of mountains that once served as Athens's natural fortress: Parnes,
mantled in dark forests of fir; the marble face of Pentelikon;
Hymettus, legendary haunt of the honeybee; Aigaleos, its noble twin
crests rising up to greet the early sun. And directly below lay the
excavated ruins of the ancient Agora, the city center where Socrates
once misled the youth of Greece, teaching them to think.

Now Vance needed to think. . . .

Remembering it all later, he realized he'd been in precisely the wrong
place to actually witness the accident. He just heard it--the screech of
rubber, the sickening crunch of metal. He'd raced to look, but the
intersection below was already a carpet of flame.

What had happened? There was a gasoline truck, short and bulky, wheels
spinning in the air, its hood crumpled against the remains of an
automobile.

He strained to see. Which was it? Alex's limo? The tan Audi?

Then came the explosion, blotting out everything, an immense orange
ball that seemed to roll upward into the morning sky like an emerging
sun.



Wednesday 8:23 A.M._



_Viktor Fedorovich Volodin was amazed he'd managed to make his way this
far, from the fiery intersection at the base of the Acropolis all the
way down Leoforos Amalias, without his frayed facade of calm completely
disintegrating. He bit his lip, using the pain to hold back the panic.
Traffic on the avenue was backed up as far as he could see, and firemen
were still trying to reach the charred remains of the truck. On his
right, the new Zapio conference center and its geometric gardens were
shrouded in smoke.

He scarcely noticed. Breathing was impossible anyway, since the diesel
fumes of the bus settled in through its broken windows and drove out
all oxygen.

How had it come to this? He'd spent his entire life in the party
apparatus of Sakhalin, rubber-stamping idiotic economic plans concocted
in Moscow, trying to survive the infighting and intrigue of the
oblast's State Committee. Then one day a personal aide of none other
than the president, Mikhail Sergeevich himself, had secretly made an
offer that sounded too good to be true. Help transfer some funds, do it
for the Motherland. . . .

It would be simple. KGB would never know.

Nobody told him he'd be stepping into a nightmare. And now his worst
fears had come true. To see your driver crushed alive, only inches
away, then watch him incinerated. They were closing in.

_Fsyo kanula ve vyechnost, _he thought, _kak ve prizrachnoy skazke_.
Everything is gone now, like a fairy tale.

He crouched down in the torn plastic seat as the ancient city bus
bumped and coughed its way into the center of Syntagma Square. Around
him were packed the usual morning commuters gripping briefcases and
lunch bags, cursing the delays and blaming the incompetents in Parlia-
ment. The air was rank with sweat.

Finally the vehicle shuddered to a halt. End of the line. He rose,
trembling, and worked his way to the forward exit, then dropped off. As
his feet touched down on the warm pavement, he quickly glanced right
and left, searching the crowded midmorning street for any telltale
signs that he'd been followed.

There was nobody, he concluded with relief. The milling Greeks didn't
seem to notice he was there, or care. They were too busy complaining
about the traffic, the smog, the latest round of inflation. Business as
usual in Athens, the timeless city. This place, he told himself, should
have been the perfect location to hide, to just disappear. Novosty was
supposed to handle the final delivery.

Maybe the crash had been an accident. Fate. _Sud'ba_. Things happened
that way.

He was sweating heavily now, whether from fear or the early morning sun
he wasn't sure. Already it was a nascent ball of fire in the east,
promising to bake the asphalt of the square by noon.

He stepped over the curb and onto the sidewalk. The outdoor cafes were
all thronged with workers and tourists having a quick coffee before
taking on the city this spring day. He felt his knees tremble slightly
and realized he only wanted to collapse. Any table would do. Just melt
into the crowd, he told himself, then nothing can happen. _Nichevo nye
sluchitsya_.

He wiped at his brow and settled nervously into the first empty chair,
plastic and dirty, hoping to look like just another tourist. The cafe,
he noted, was Papaspyrou, in front of the American Express office.
Perfect. Above all else, he wanted to pass for an American. But he was
still trying to get it right. How did they look?

"_Elleniko kafe_, my friend? Greek coffee?"

He jumped at the sound of the voice over his shoulder, seizing the side
of the table.

The voice was speaking English, he finally realized. Maybe he did look
American!

It was an accident, he kept telling himself. The truck couldn't have--
Relax. Novosty made the arrangement with the American, didn't he? You
saw him hand over the letter. Now the trail will just vanish. KGB will
never be able to stop it.

He turned, casually flashed an empty smile for the small,

gray-haired waiter standing behind him, tray in hand, white towel over
the sleeve of his tailored but frayed brown suit.

"Sure, thanks."

You're better every day, he told himself. You're even starting to get
the accent right now. Keep working on it. The twang. And learn to
saunter. The shoulders. Americans walk looser, swing their arms, seem
not to have a care in the world. Learn to slouch. Act like you own the
world, even if you no longer do.

He'd been secretly practicing for weeks, getting ready to disappear
after his part was over. Of course, he'd originally planned to go back
home afterward. But that was before he had a taste of this. The good
life, the freedom. For that matter, maybe he'd go to America. Why not?
He'd heard how it worked. Defection, so the stories went, could be very
rewarding. They'd open the golden gates for him at Langley.

The tiny cup of murky black coffee appeared in front of him, together
with the usual glass of tepid water. He reached for the water eagerly
and drank it down. Something, anything, to moisten the cotton in his
mouth.

There, that was better. Now the hard part: something to quiet his mind.

The cup rattled against the saucer as he gingerly picked it up. He
could still see the cab of the truck coming out of nowhere, hurtling
down on them, still feel the horror. Odd, but he couldn't remember
anyone at the wheel. He wanted a face, but none was there.

His own driver, the Afghanistan veteran Grigor Yanovich, had tried to
swerve, but he hadn't been quick enough. He'd caught the first impact,
the grind of metal that whipped the tan Audi around, flung open the
door . . .

Grigor, thirty years old, must have died without ever knowing what
happened, if not from the impact, then from the wall of flaming
gasoline that swept over the seat.

He marveled at his own luck, the hand of chance that flung him from the
car only a second ahead of the explosion. He remembered skidding across
the pavement on his back, then tumbling into the grassy ditch that
separated Amalias Avenue from the tiny side road of Thrassilou. Some of
the raw gasoline had drenched his sleeve, but he'd been safely out of
the way, his face down, when the explosion came.

It could have been an accident. He swiped at his brow and told himself
that anything was possible.

Don't be a fool. They're closing in. How much do they know?

He sipped at the gritty coffee and scanned the street.

Just get through the next few days, he told himself. Once the
transfer's complete, your part's over.

He was reaching for his small white cup when he noticed the woman,
striding directly toward his table, smiling, catching his eye. The way
she was swinging her brown leather purse, the jaunty thrust of hips
beneath the suede skirt, the carefully groomed auburn hair--all marked
her as American. Rich American. Probably headed into American Express
to cash a thousand or so in traveler's checks. America . . .

He lounged back in his chair with a rakish air. He was, he knew, an
attractive man. He had deep blue eyes, sandy hair, a practiced smile, a
trim figure far younger than his fifty-six years. He'd divorced his
wife Natasha three years ago, after she discovered his lunchtime
liaisons with one of the girls in the State Committee typing pool. He
had experience handling women.

Three weeks in Athens, he thought, and maybe my luck is about to
change. If you can get her, the nightmare could be over for a while.
You can't go back to the hotel now; they may be watching. But if she's
got a room somewhere? What better way to hide out till the transfer is
complete?

He was still trying to make his ragged mind function. Now was the time
for a "pick-up" routine. The lonely traveler . . . _Kak grussno mnye,
tak zhalostno mnye _. . . no, damn, not the sentimental Russian, think
American.

But where? He'd heard of New York, San Francisco, Miami, even Chicago.
But what if she was from one of those places?

All the careful preparation and he still didn't dare put himself to the
test. So what would he say? Canada? Australia?

Her eyes held his, interest growing as she continued to approach. They
were darkened with kohl, sensual, inviting. And she was still smiling,
even as she placed her hand on the chair across from him.

Was this how the women . . .? America was the Promised Land.

"_Etot stolnik osvobodetsya_, Viktor Fedorovich?"

It took a second for the language to register. She was speaking
Russian, calmly inquiring if the table was free, but his mind was
rejecting it, refusing to accept the implications.

"Perhaps you'd like to buy me a _kofye_, Comrade. I prefer it very
sweet." Now she was settling her purse on the table, adjusting her
tight skirt in preparation to sit. "Or would you rather take me
shopping. I could help you spend some of the money."

He'd never seen her before in his life.

Your part will be routine. Somewhere in the back of his mind echoed the
voice of the president's personal aide, the brisk young Muscovite who
had come to his dacha that snowy evening last October. We will take
care of any risks.

It had all been a lie. Every word. They must have known where he was
every minute.

Then he spotted the two men approaching from opposite sides of the
square. The suits that didn't quite fit, the trudging gait. Why must
they always look like the stupid, brutal party hacks they are, he
thought bitterly. The incompetent bastards.

Who betrayed me? Was it Novosty? Did he do this, to get them off his
trail?

So be it. First I'll kill her, and then I kill him.

Seething, he pulled his body erect while his right hand plunged for the
snap on the holster at his belt. Simple. He'd just shoot her on the
spot, then make a run for it. Through the cafe, out the back. They
wouldn't dare start anything here, in the middle of Athens, that would
cause an international "incident." The snap was open. He thumbed up the
leather flap and realized the holster was empty.

The crash. It must have jarred loose. His new Walther automatic had
been incinerated, along with the Audi. His life began to flash before
his eyes. Make a run for it, he heard his mind saying, commandeer the
first taxi, any taxi. He shoved back from the table, sending his chair
clattering across the patched sidewalk.

She reached into her leather purse, now lying atop the table, next to
his coffee. He heard the click of a safety sliding off. "Don't be
impetuous, Viktor Fedorovich. You've been such a good boy this last
week, showing us the sights. The perfect tour guide. But now your
little vacation is over. We must talk."

"About what?"

She smiled. "Whatever you think we need to hear."

"I don't know anything." He could feel the cold sweat on his palms.

"Viktor Fedorovich." She brushed at her auburn hair as she continued in
Russian. "You have the most valuable commodity in the world, knowledge.
That makes you even richer than you think you are now."

They didn't try to kill me this morning, he suddenly realized. It was
Alex they were-- Is he planning to double- cross everybody? No, that's
insane. He'd never get away with it. He has to deliver the payment.

KGB wants me alive, he thought with a wave of relief. They think I'm
the one who knows where it is.

His pulse raced. "What do you want?"

"We need you to answer certain questions. But not here. At a place
where it's quieter."

The two men were loitering closer now, only a few feet away, one on
each side of the table. The first was overweight, with bushy eyebrows
and pockmarked cheeks. He could be Ukrainian. The other was medium
height, wearing a cheap polyester suit, balding and sallow. Neither
looked as though he had smiled in the last decade.

"Where do you want to go?"

"We will take a stroll in the park." She gestured toward Amalias
Avenue. On the other side was Ethnikos Kipos, the National Garden. Then
she smiled again. "We thought you would like to take the morning air."

She rose, purse in hand, and tossed a wad of drachmas onto the wooden
table. The coffee drinkers around them did not look up from their
newspapers and tourist maps.

As they made their way past the Olympic Airways office on the corner
and across the avenue, she said nothing. Her silence is deliberate, he
told himself, part of a trick to unnerve me.

It was working. He was learning something about himself he'd never
before known. He was learning he was a coward.

That was the reality. He wouldn't hold out. He'd tell them everything
he knew, because they would hurt him badly. He couldn't bear pain; they
probably knew that. And then they'd kill him anyway because he couldn't
tell them the one thing they wanted to know. He didn't know it himself.

Viktor Fedorovich Volodin realized he was about to die. All the years
of pointless intrigue in the party, the fudging of production figures,
the father-in-law who'd made his existence wretched, it all added up to
a lifetime of nothing but misery, with the payoff a bullet. Rasstrel, a
KGB execution.

They were entering the national garden, a mirage of green in the desert
of asphalt and cement that is central Athens. Its informal walkways
were shady lanes of quiet and cool that seemed miles away from the
smoke and glare and heat of the avenues.

Finally she spoke. "We're running out of time, and patience, Viktor
Fedorovich. Let's start with the money. Where have you deposited it?
Next, we want to know the names of everyone--"

"It--it's--I don't know where it is now."

"You're lying." She did not break her pace. "The time for that is
over."

"But I don't have it. Someone else--" He heard himself blurting out the
truth. "He's in charge of everything."

"You are lying, again. You are the one who embezzled the funds." She
was walking by his side as they entered a secluded alleyway of hedges,
the other two trailed only inches behind. There was no escape. "The
criminal is you, Viktor Fedorovich."

"No, he--I--I don't know anything." How true was that? he asked himself.
He knew where the money was supposed to go, but he didn't know what it
was for, at least not specifically. That part had been classified. He
had the small picture but not the big one.

"If you know nothing, then telling us everything you do know should not
take very long." The calm, the assurance in her voice sent chills
through him. He knew he would talk and they knew it too. "However, the
more you have to say, the longer we can linger."

The early morning park, with its manicured footpaths and wandering
cats, was empty except for a few gardeners trimming hedges, watering
the grass, collecting loose papers. The sounds of the avenue were
rapidly receding. Now the two men had moved directly alongside, one by
each arm. He realized they were both taller than he was, and they
smelled.

"Wait. I don't know where it's deposited now; I wasn't supposed to
know. But there's still time. I can help--"

They were entering a long arbor, a high trellis bright with obscuring
red flowers, when the first blow came into his left side, directly in
his kidney. He groaned and sagged, breath gone, while the man on the
right slipped an arm around and held him erect.

"Yes, Viktor Fedorovich," the woman continued tonelessly, "you will
help us, because you will want to die long before we let you. So, shall
we try again? Where is the money?"

"It's . . . I don't know, exactly. But--"

He gasped and sagged again as another blow came. Already he wasn't sure
how much more pain he could tolerate. How long before he would just
blurt out everything he knew?

A third blow, and his knees crumpled. He had never known the meaning of
pain, or fear, until this moment.

Why not just tell them? his frightened mind was pleading. Alex has
already set it up with the American.

"You are worse than a mere criminal," she went on, dark eyes filling
with anger. "You are a traitor. You will tell us every detail of your
involvement, from the very beginning."

How much did they really know? he wondered. Were they bluffing?

They were bluffing, he quickly concluded. Otherwise she wouldn't be
asking him things she should already know.

If you talk, you'll jeopardize everything. The most important thing now
is to keep KGB from discovering the scenario. If they do, they still
could stop it.

Of course they were alarmed. They should be. In the New Russia being
born, there was no place for them.

But I can't endure pain. I'll talk if there's pain.

He felt a surge of resolve. Whatever else happens, he told himself, I
won't be the one responsible for making it fail. I can't let them know
any more than they do now. I've--

Another blow struck him in the side and he felt his knees turn to
butter. None of the gardeners in the park seemed aware that a man was
about to be beaten to death. To them the four foreigners were merely
huddled together as they strolled, enjoying the dubious beauty of
modern Athens.

Another blow came and he wheezed. "Please, let me just--"

He'd been gathering his strength for this moment. Now he lunged
forward, shutting out the stab of pain in his side, and wrenched at her
open purse. The two men reached for him but not before he had it in his
grasp. His hand plunged in as he rolled to the ground.

They were on top of him now, shoving his face against the loose pebbles
of the walkway, but they were too late. He felt the smooth metal of the
grip. It was what he wanted.

He recalled the triumphant words Fyodor Dostoyevski had uttered upon
being released from prison. "Freedom, new life, resurrection. . . .
What a glorious moment!"

_Ya nye boyuc za sebya!_ he thought with joy. I have no more fear. . .
.

He heard the shot, faintly, as the bullet ripped through

the back of his mouth and entered his brain. Viktor Fedorovich Volodin
died with serene final knowledge. Daedalus, whatever it was, was still
safe. And he was free.



     CHAPTER TWO



Wednesday 3:29 P.M.



"Michael, you look marvelous. It's so good to see you again. I really
mean that. The years have treated you well." Eva Borodin leaned back
against the gray fabric of the Saab's headrest and appraised him.

"You don't look half bad yourself." Vance smiled to himself as he
returned the favor. Vintage Eva, ladling on the flattery. But she was
smashing, just as he remembered--the coal-black hair, the smoldering
eyes, the high Slavic cheekbones. Then, too, her every gesture was
spiked with the promise of Olympic sensuality; he remembered that as
well. Everything about her spoke of a time and place far away, where
there were no rules. Eva, the eternal Eva. With a Ph.D. "Everything's
just the same."

That part wasn't entirely true. There had been some changes, probably
for the better. Instead of a plunging neckline and a fortune in gold
accessories, she was wearing a blue silk blouse, form-fitting designer
jeans with an eighty-dollar scarf for a belt, and lambskin boots. Far
more demure than the old Eva. What had happened to the dangling
turquoise earrings, enough musky perfume to obscure radar, at least one
endangered fur draped somewhere?

The years had definitely mellowed her. The Slavic passion seemed curbed
today, the same way her hair had been trimmed down to a pageboy. Maybe,
he thought, this was her new look: the Russian aristocrat of the
nineties.

"No, Michael, I'm different now. Or I'm trying to be."

She laughed, flashed her come-on smile, and tried to toss her missing
hair.

Whoops, he thought. Sure, you've changed.

"Being formally promoted to director of SIGINT brings
responsibilities," she continued.

"Congratulations."

"It was two years ago."

"Well, congratulations anyway." He was beginning to wonder if she
really had mellowed. Back in the old days her Russianness was her way
of making a statement. An identity. How much could she change, want to
change? She'd always been a firebrand: throwing things was her
preferred mode of communication. Not to suggest she wasn't verbal: she
was always passionately happy to see him, passionately sad when bad
things happened, passionately angry when she didn't get her way.
Everything she said was flirtatious, carrying a sexual innuendo.
Sometimes he thought she made Jean Harlow sound like Jeane Kirkpatrick.

"Your call caught me a little off guard." He glanced over. "I never
expected to hear from you again after you disappeared into the
labyrinth of NSA." He knew she'd been with the National Security Agency
for eight years now, but he hadn't heard that she'd been promoted to
director of Soviet satellite intercepts. Of course, NSA didn't spend a
lot of money on press releases. Still it was no surprise. Eva knew her
stuff when it came to the Soviets, their satellites, their codes. "I
must say, though, this is a hell of a long way to come for a catch-up
chat."

"It's been way too many years since we've seen each other. I've missed
you."

"Hope you mean that." Did she? he wondered. Even if she did, that
wasn't the real reason she'd come. He knew her too well.

"Guess you'll have to try and find out," she said, her voice holding an
instinctive, automatic invitation.

"Guess I will." Already it felt like the old days. How did she know so
precisely where all his buttons were? The only thing I'm sure of so far
today is that this morning's little accident was no accident." He'd
told her about seeing Novosty, but not what they'd talked about. Why
drag her into it? Besides, she'd known about Alex a lot longer than he
had. Just one more piece of the past that didn't need to be stirred up.
"Somebody got taken out. The question is, Who? We both know Novosty's a
survivor, old school, but . . ."

"I probably shouldn't say this, Michael, but I assume you're aware he's
KGB, part of T-Directorate." Her voice had grown serious. "That
executive VP slot he has with Techmashimport is just his cover. We've
had a file of intercepts on him for years."

"Of course I know about him. Good old Alex and I go back a while.
You're slightly out of date concerning my most recent fun and games."

"All right. I mean, I wouldn't even bring it up, but I think you should
be warned. KGB's in a big turmoil, looking for something . . ." She
paused. "Whenever this happens, there're plenty of stray arrows sure to
be flying. Just stay out of the crossfire. A word to the wise."

"I may already be in it. Thanks to Novosty's little 'welcome aboard'
breakfast." He remembered the letter Alex had given him. "But I'm
beginning to think I'd damn well better find out."

She looked around sharply. "What happened? Did he say something?"

"If you believe him, somebody in Moscow mislaid a few million dollars.
Darndest thing."

"It's better left alone, darling."

"I'm on vacation, remember?" He winked at her. "With better things to
do."

"I should hope so." She leaned back again and studied his profile.
"Well, at long last it's happened. I finally have to admit I need you
for something." Her long, dark lashes fluttered. Warming me up, he
thought. Now we're getting down to business. "Which is why I wanted to
meet you here."

They were five minutes out of Iraklion, on an unpaved back road he
loved, headed for the palace at Knossos, and so far she'd done nothing
but hint about what was on her mind. Everything was still a puzzle. For
one thing, she never needed anybody. She was the stalwart Russian who'd
ended their affair eleven years earlier just as casually as she had
begun it. This afternoon, though, she seemed to be deliberately keeping
the lid on, holding back. Uncharacteristic.

"The truth is," she went on, "I've been thinking about us, the old
times, and the palace."

She'd called him in Nassau four days earlier, wanting to get together.
It was the old Eva, darling this and darling that. When he said he was
going to Crete, she'd grown strangely silent. Then she'd said--in a
curious, tiny, voice--"Why don't I just meet you there? In fact, that's
sort of why I rang. . . ."

"So why's the palace suddenly so important to you?" He examined her,
still trying to read her mood. "I need to go back out today. Try and
brush up a bit. But that place was part of our problem back when, not
part of the solution."

She didn't answer. Instead she shifted the conversation sideways.
"Speaking of the palace, I suppose I should congratulate you on finally
being proved right. Did the Stuttgart team really ask you to look in on
their dig?"

"Call it the ultimate capitulation," he grinned. "Remember, they were
the ones who led the critical fusillade when the book first came out.
That makes it doubly sweet."

"Right. I also remember that book of yours caused such a stink that no
serious university would consider hiring you. Which, I assume, is why
you ended up a part-time spook. Probably it was the only job you could
get."

"You're closer to the truth than you know." He laughed, wondering for
the ten-thousandth time if he should have stuck out the academic slings
and arrows. No, the secret truth was he was bored with the university
regimen. He yearned for the real world. He knew it then and he knew it
now.

"Then the next thing I heard, you were down in the Bahamas, goofing off
and renovating some old yacht." She looked him over once more, shaking
her head. "What did you end up christening it? The Fuck Everybody?"

"Crossed my mind. But then I chickened out and called her the
_Ulysses_." He leaned back and reflected momentarily on the forty-four-
foot Bristol racing sloop he'd restored, having picked it up for a song
at a customs-house sale on Bay Street. Formerly the possession of a
Colombian in the export business, it had a hull of one and three-
quarter inch planked cedar, with a trim beam, did an easy fifteen knots
in a decent breeze. He loved her. He'd installed a fortune in
electronics, including a Micrologic Commander LORAN and a Navstar
satellite navigation system. "It started out as a hobby, and three
boats and a mortgage later it ended up a business."

"And what do you do down there all day? Just sit around and drink
margaritas?"

"Sure. About once a month." He reached up and adjusted the open top of
the car. "Hate to admit it, but on a typical day I'm usually out of bed
by sunrise. Check the weather, then maybe take a short swim to get the
oxygen flowing. After that I go to work. The 'office' is up forward in
the _Ulysses_. My main discovery is that chartering is pretty much like
any other business. Mostly problems."

It was. There were always tourists who came to Nassau thinking they
wanted more than the standard hotels, topless shows, and casinos on
Paradise Island and Cable Beach. They wanted a taste of what it was
like sailing through the Family Islands, away from the glitz, a feeling
for the real Caribbean. Or so they thought. That was until they
discovered the hard way that the real thing included broiling sun,
jellyfish stings, nosy sharks, hangovers, seasickness, close-quarters
quarrels with spouses and significant others, snapped fishing lines,
generator failures, unexpected weather . . .

"And you manage to do okay, right?"

"Nobody ever got rich in the charter business, at least the kind I'm
in. If you're not running high-priced South American produce, you have
to do it for love, not money."

His real livelihood, which he didn't bother to mention, came from
elsewhere. In between managing Bahamian skippers and crews he also kept
a hand in another occupation. In years past he'd served as a financial
consultant for the CIA, helping monitor the flow of illicit drug and
terrorist money passing through the banking laundries of Geneva and the
Caribbean. When the Company finally formed its own section to handle
that work, he'd moved on and hired out his expertise to a free-lance
organization called ARM, the Association of Retired Mercenaries. They
were retired, all right, but only from the antiterrorist units of a
half dozen European nations. They still saw plenty of covert action,
squelching those terrorist activities European governments wanted dealt
with outside official channels. He was their money man and they paid
him well, which was how he kept his three vessels shipshape and lived a
yachtsman's life of "ease."

"So after all these years, you ended up doing exactly what you wanted."
She looked at him admiringly. "A lot of people would probably envy you
that."

"I like taking my own risks, if that's what you mean."

"Well, all the same I suspect you're secretly very pleased with the
fact you've been invited back to Crete. I always thought you'd return
to archaeology sooner or later. If I know you, you couldn't stay away
forever."

Was she right? Even now he didn't know. "One thing's for sure. Crete's
a world apart."

That was an understatement. As he glanced back at the road, it was now
blocked entirely by a herd of sheep, their shaggy brown fleeces
suspended above dark, spindly legs. Around them the silence of the
Cretan countryside was rent by bleats and the jangle of bells. The
flock milled and darted about their rented Saab, but failed to move on
down the road. Why bother? The shepherd, in dark hat and coat, lounged
sidesaddle on his burro, oblivious, while his black-shawled wife
trudged in his dusty wake, bringing up the rear. Strangers came, gazed
upon the wonders of his land, then departed; he, possessor of donkey,
sheep, and wife, would remain. And prevail. His weathered face
contained all the worthwhile knowledge in the world. The parched hills
and verdant valleys of Crete belonged to him alone. Now and forever.

"Okay," he went on, "you're here, I'm here. Now how about telling me
what's going on?"

"That's just it. I don't know for sure. Everybody at NSA claims I'm
starting to see things." She paused to examine a long red fingernail.
"So don't you say it too. I need some moral support."

"Maybe I'd better hear this first."

"Michael, I . . . I don't want to talk about it yet. It's just--"

"Well, give me a hint at least."

"A few days back I decoded part of a transmission . . ." She leaned
over and started to turn on the radio, then changed her mind and
straightened. "Look, I just need you to help me get my thoughts
organized."

"Is that why you came all the way here? To organize your thoughts?
You'll forgive me if I'd hoped for a little more." In spite of himself,
he felt mildly annoyed. The truth was, he'd been looking forward to a
reunion that wasn't about business. "You know, I sort of had the idea
you wanted to . . . well, maybe try and piece things back together." He
looked her over. "Being with you wasn't exactly the worst experience of
my life."

She sighed wistfully and smoothed back her hair. "Fixing Humpty Dumpty
is tough work, darling. We both know that. It's been a long time.
Life's never that simple."

"Maybe not for you. But it seems very simple to me. We just lose the
past. Pretend it never existed." He felt his pique growing. "Or then
again, screw it. What are we doing here anyway?"

Could it really work a second time around? he asked himself. Why not?
Through all those years after things fell apart, he'd never once
stopped remembering her. Her mind, her body, her excitement.

Those memories dogged him now as they drove down the road he knew so
well, had traveled so many times in his long-ago life. At times the
ancient palace here on Crete had seemed almost a second home. After the
publication of his book about it, Realm of the Spirit--to universal de-
nunciations--he even began to dream about it. He thought he'd never come
back, and now here he was with Eva. Life took strange turns sometimes.

Eleven years ago in New Haven when he'd decided to work for himself,
he'd actually been saying good-bye to this world and all it stood for.
Back then it had seemed a golden moment to give academia the bird.

Had it all come full circle now? Fortunately he'd kept up with the
journals when he had the chance, tried to stay on top of what was
happening. With any luck he'd have the pleasure of watching a lot of
academics eat crow. All he had to do was just deal with whatever was
bugging Eva and then get on down to Phaistos. He hoped the Stuttgart
crew wouldn't realize he was over a decade out of date.

"You know," she was searching in her purse, then stopped herself and
looked up, "I always remember the palace when I think of you. It sort
of tied us together."

"Best I remember, it's what finally drove us apart. It turned into our
'irreconcilable difference.' "

"Maybe you're right, and it was dumb of me. Given the lousy luck I've
had with men, you're probably the best thing that ever came along.
After that flap over your book, I let you get away."

"Hold on a second. You announced you had to live your own life, and I
was getting too emotionally involved in my work and it would be better
all around if we just shook hands and called it quits. No hard
feelings."

"It wasn't quite like that." She laughed her alluring laugh, the one he
remembered so well.

"Oh, _no_?"

"Okay, maybe it was a little like that." Out came the sunglasses. The
old Eva again. "But I was changing, Michael, more every day. It was
time to try and make it on my own."

That was definitely what she'd decided to do. He'd always thought she
broke things off because she was obsessed with finishing her own Ph.D.
Self-centered and self-indulgent, that's what he'd called her at the
time, just another pampered Russian blue blood. Only years later did he
realize how self-centered he'd been. Maybe she'd been right; maybe they
weren't ready for each other yet.

She sighed, and then her voice came as a whisper. "You know, after you
called this morning and told me about that nightmare with Alex, I just
drank some retsina and went back to bed." She put on the shades,
adjusted them, and looked his way. He thought they went well with her
new forties hairstyle. "Michael, I know things I shouldn't. And the
things I should know, I don't. The worse part of all is, none of it
makes any sense." Her eyes seemed to soften behind the tinted plastic.
"Do you remember the first time you and I talked about this place?"

"Like it was yesterday." Who could forget? It was just after Realm was
published, relating his theory that the palace, whatever it may have
been originally, had eventually become a ceremonial necropolis, an
abode of the dead. "We ended up having a terrific argument over the
book. Nobody wanted to believe me, including you."

"Come on, darling, it wasn't my opinion you cared about. It was your
father's. The revered holder of Penn's Edelstein Chair of Classical
Antiquities. Supposedly the world's living expert on Minoan Crete."

Did he really care what the old man thought? he wondered. Not in the
way she meant. He would have liked it, though, if everybody had gotten
along a little better. Michael Vance, Sr., never quite knew what to
make of Eva's Slavic intensity, since it contrasted so vividly with his
own up-tight Anglo-Saxon instincts. That was a repressive family strain
Mike had fought--successfully, he hoped--to undo all his life. Eva had
looked to be the perfect soul mate in that battle. She was born
unrepressed.

Her own father, Count Serge Borodin, was president emeritus of the
Russian Nobility Association in America, exiled aristocracy. They were
a people apart. He recalled in particular a Russian Orthodox wedding
they'd all attended once. The operative assumption that sunny afternoon
in Oyster Bay was that the czar had been a living god, the Romanovs the
world's last surviving cherubim. He still remembered the black-hatted
Orthodox prelates and the incense and the tinny balalaikas and all the
counts and countesses drunk and dancing and crying at the same time.
Growing up in the middle of that, she had to be exuberant.

"You'd gone off on your own and set the world of archaeology on its
ear," she continued. "Typical Michael. But your father refused to stick
up for you when all the shit came down. I guess I didn't support you
very well either, I admit now. I'm truly sorry, darling, looking back."

"No big deal. I could handle it."

"Sure." She reached over and patted his thigh. "You handled it just
great. You were disgusted. At me, at him, at all the 'stuffed-shirt'
academics who never went out on a dig and got their hands dirty. You
practically dragged me here to show me you were right. You were
obsessed with the palace, admit it."

"It wasn't that bad." He looked over at her. "Was it?"

"Let's not talk about it anymore, all right?" She sighed. "Christ."

"Fine with me." He was pulling off the main road, heading into the
flower-lined trail, the arcade of magenta bougainvillea that led down
toward the palace. "By the way, I brought along some ouzo." He
indicated a pint bottle in his coat. "What's a picnic without a little
rocket fuel?"

"You think of everything."

"I also think we should park up here, dodge the tour-bus mayhem. Keep
the funny hats and loudspeakers to a minimum."

"Yes, please. Besides, I could use the air." She inhaled deeply.

Around them the few lingering white sprays of almond blossoms seemed
like remnants of late spring snow, while the ground itself was
blanketed with wild orchids, lavender and pink anemones, white
narcissus. He watched as she climbed out of the car, then stopped to
pluck a waxy yellow prickly pear flower, next an orange-blue Iris
_cretica_. He loved the flowers of Crete, and the afternoon was fra-
grant with the scent of jasmine and lemon blossoms. Ahead, down the
hill, was the parking lot for the palace, with two tour busses in
attendance, one just pulling out.

"How long has it been since we were last here together?" She brushed
her dark bangs back from her brow as she squinted into the waning sun,
sniffing at her cactus flower.

"It's beginning to seem like forever. But I think it's about--what?--
almost twelve years now."

"And how old is the palace supposed to be? I've gotten a little rusty."

"The latest theory going is that it was destroyed about fourteen
hundred B.C. So we're talking roughly three and a half thousand years
since it was last used."

"Guess our little decade doesn't count for much in the grand scheme."

"Time flies." He remembered how she'd been back then, that day so long
ago when she had been in her mid-twenties, as inviting as the brazen
ladies-in-waiting of the palace frescoes, and even more voluptuous.
_Mais, ce sont des Parisiennes_, a dazzled French scholar had marveled.
She was like that. Perfect sensuality. For a while he'd forgotten all
about archaeology and just concentrated on beauty.

The place where all this occurred was the Palace of Knossos, lovingly
restored in the early part of the twentieth century by the wealthy
English archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans. There an almost modern
civilization had flowered to magnificent heights, then mysteriously
vanished. The path leading to the palace down the hill was becoming
wider as they walked, opening on the distant olive groves in the
valley. The vista was stunning, probably the reason it had been built
here.

He looked over and noticed she was digging in her purse again. This
time she drew out a pack of Dunhills. He watched while she flicked a
gold lighter, the one he'd given her as a present so long ago,
emblazoned with a lapis lazuli skull and crossbones. At the time, the
hint had worked. She'd quit.

"The return of the death wish? When did you start that again?"

"Last week." She defiantly took a puff.

"Any particular reason?"

"No, darling, I just did it." She exhaled. "I'm wound up. I'm . . . I'm
scared. Michael, for godsake, how many reasons am I supposed to need?"

"Hey, lighten up." He'd quit a month after they met, but it hadn't been
a big deal. "I've mellowed out from the old days. Life is like most
other things--a lot more fun when you don't take it too seriously."

They were moving across the empty parking lot, headed for the entrance
to the palace. It had once been a twelve-hundred-room labyrinth,
perhaps deliberately confusing. Now the upper courtyard and chambers
lay exposed to the sky, their massive red-and-ocher columns glistening
in the waning sunlight. The columns tapered downward, as though tree
trunks had been planted upside down to prevent resprouting.

It was a poetic place to meet Eva again, he thought. And thoroughly
bizarre as well. She'd gotten her Ph.D. in linguistics, specializing in
ancient Aegean languages, then a few months later she'd surprised
everybody by accepting a slot at the National Security Agency, that
sprawling electronic beehive of eavesdropping that lies midway between
Washington and Baltimore, on the thousand acres of Fort Meade. It'd
seemed a startling about-face at the time, but maybe it made sense.
Besides, it was that or teaching.

NSA was a midsized city, producing among other things forty tons of
classified paper trash a day. Its official insignia, appropriately, was
a fierce eagle clasping a key--whether to unlock the secrets of others
or to protect its own was unclear. Eva's particular branch, SIGINT--for
signals intelligence--was an operation so secret NSA refused even to
admit it existed. Employing ten acres of mainframe computers, Eva's
SIGINT group monitored and analyzed every Russian transmission
anywhere: their satellite downlinks, the microwave telephone networks
within the Soviet Union, the chatter of civilian and military pilots,
missile telemetry far above the Pacific, the split-second bursts of
submarines reporting to base, even the limousine radiophone trysts
between Politburo members and their mistresses. The instant an
electromagnetic pulse left the earth, no matter its form or frequency,
it belonged to the giant electronic ears of the NSA.

So why shouldn't Eva end up as the agency's top Russian codebreaker?
She was a master at deciphering obscure texts, and she'd spoken Russian
all her life. Who better to make a career of cracking secret Soviet
communications. Her linguistics Ph.D. was being used to real purpose.

"I want you to help me think some, love," she went on. "I know it may
sound a little bizarre, but I'd like to talk about some of the legends
surrounding this place. You know, try and sort out fact and fiction."

Now they were headed side by side down the stairway leading into the
central court, an expanse of sandstone and alabaster tile glinting
golden in the pale sun. On their left a flight of stairs seemed to lead
out, but in fact they led right back in again. The deceptions of the
palace began at the very entrance.

"The truth is, about all we have is stories, though sometimes stories
can be more true than so-called history. The standard version is that
this area was where the athletes performed ritual somersaults over the
sacred bulls."

The restored frescoes around them showed corridors crowded with lithe
Minoan priestesses, eyes rounded with green malachite, faces powdered
white, lips a blood red. They all were bare-breasted, wearing only
diaphanous chemises, while their jewels glistened in the sunshine as
they fanned themselves with ostrich plumes.

There were no frescoes, however, of the powerful, bloodthirsty King
Minos.

"Michael," she called out, her voice echoing off the hard walls, "you
know, this place has always felt a little sinister to me. None of the
lightness and gaiety in those frescoes seems real."

"That's part of what made me start wondering if the Minoans hadn't
somehow managed to make a monkey out of every ponderous scholar on the
planet." They were moving down the monumental grand staircase, three
restored flights of which had originally been five, toward the rooms
called the royal chambers. "Maybe the reason this place had no walls or
fortifications was because you only came here when you were dead. Who
the hell knows."

Whatever the truth was, the eerie feeling of the palace seemed to make
the ancient stories even more vivid. The legends told that King Minos's
wife, Pasiphae, had a burning passion for one of the sacred white bulls
he kept, so she arranged for his chief architect, Daedalus, to design a
hollow wooden cow for her covered over with a hide. She concealed
herself inside and, as luck would have it, lured one of the beasts. The
progeny of that union was equally beastly--the Minotaur, a monster with
a human body and a bull's head.

Now they were rounding a final corner in the twisting maze of stairs.
Directly ahead was the boudoir of the queen. The past welled up for
him.

The frescoes over the alabaster arches showed bold blue dolphins
pirouetting in a pastel sea dotted with starfish and sea urchins. And
just beneath them stood the famous bathroom of the queen, connected to
the vast drainage complex of the palace, great stone channels curved in
precise parabolas to control and dampen turbulence. Daedalus was an
engineer-architect who had mastered the science of fluid dynamics
thousands of years before the invention of wind tunnels and
supercomputers.

"My favorite spot. The bedroom." He slipped the small bottle of ouzo
from his trench coat pocket. In the dank of the palace's lower depths,
he needed its warmth. "I've had unspeakably erotic thoughts about this
place--now it can be told--with you no small part of them." He handed her
the bottle. "Want a hit of high octane?"

"Glad to know I've had a place in your memory all these years, even if
it was X-rated." She took the bottle with a knowing smile, then drank.
"It's like licorice."

He laughed. "Blended with JP-7."

"Michael," she continued, looking around, "maybe this is the very room
where Pasiphae gave birth to the Minotaur. What do you suppose?"

"That would fit the story." He moved on, his eyes still adjusting to
the shadows. "The only thing the legends actually say is that King
Minos ordered Daedalus, resident genius, to create a secret labyrinth
in the cellar of the palace to keep the beast. But nobody's ever
located it."

"You know, I think the labyrinth was no myth. It was real, only it was
here. All around us. We're in it now." She handed back the bottle. "It
was this whole sinister palace, this realm of the dead. After all these
years, I finally think maybe you were right."

Vindicated at last? Had even Eva come around? But why didn't he feel
any satisfaction? Instead he found himself aware of the old chill, the
almost occult intuition that had first told him the palace wasn't the
happy playground everybody supposed it was. Once more it felt like
death.

But now something else was entering his senses. Was it imagination? In
the encroaching dark the lower levels of the palace seemed to be
totally deserted, with only a couple of persistent German tourists
arguing out near the parking lot, and yet . . .

They weren't alone. He could feel it. He knew it. Was it the spirits of
the dead?

No, it was far more real. Someone was with them, somewhere. In the
shadows. They were being watched.

He looked at Eva, trying to make out her eyes in the semidarkness. Did
she sense it too? That somebody was nearby, waiting, maybe listening?

"Darling, let's talk some more about the myth of Daedalus. In the
version I remember he--"

"Not much more to the tale. After a while a Greek prince called Theseus
arrived, to brave the labyrinth and do battle with the man-eating
Minotaur. When he showed up, King Minos's beautiful daughter, Ariadne,
instantly fell in love with him, naturally."

"I love myths. They're always so realistic."

"Well, he dumped her later, so I guess he did turn out to be a creep.
But anyway, she persuaded Daedalus to give him a ball of string. He
attached it to the door of the labyrinth and unwound it as he went in.
After he killed the beast, he followed the twine back out, and escaped.
With Ariadne. Unfortunately, when Minos discovered what had happened,
he was so mad he locked the great chief architect in a tower. But
Daedalus managed to get out, hoping to escape from the island. However,
it wasn't going to be easy, since Minos had clamped down on all the
harbors, having the ships searched. That's when Daedalus declared,
'Minos may control the land and the sea, but he doesn't control the
regions above.' And he constructed some wings, attached them to his
shoulders with wax, and soared away into space. First human ever. Up
till then, only the gods could just leave the earth anytime they
wanted."

"What?" She'd stopped dead still.

"Daedalus. You remember. The first person to fly, mankind's ago-old
dream. In fact, a few years back some Americans duplicated the feat
with a human-powered glider. They made it from here on Crete over to
the island of--"

"No, you said 'space.' "

"Did I?" He smiled. "Call it poetic license. But why not? Back in those
days I guess the skies themselves could be considered outer space, if
they even knew such a thing existed." Then he looked at her and
sobered. "What's--?"

"It's--it's just something that's been in the back of my mind." She
moved on.

With a shrug, he took another drink of the ouzo and followed her on
down the hall toward the famous Throne Room. He was bracing himself now
for what was next.

Its walls were decorated with frescoes of the massive Minoan body
shields, shaped as a figure-eight, that signified the men's quarters of
Knossos. And incised in stone above King Minos's wide alabaster throne
was his fearsome emblem of authority, symbol of his domination of the
ancient world.

There it was. He looked around, reassuring himself that it was
everywhere, just as he'd remembered. He'd also been right about
something else. It was precisely the same, right down to the smooth
curves of the blade, as the "watermark" that had been on the sheet of
"paper" Alex had given him. Almost four thousand years old, it was the
insignia of the new Daedalus Corporation.

The Minoan double ax.



Wednesday 6:12 P.M.



The dusk was settling majestically over Tokyo, after a rare smogless
day. The view was particularly inspiring from the fifty-fifth-floor
penthouse of the granite-clad Mino Industries building. The corner
office was an earth-tone tan, carpeted in a thick wool shag the color
of elm bark. The heavy doors at the far end of the office were
emblazoned with a two-bladed ax, and in the center of the wide expanse
between the door and the single desk, on a gleaming steel pedestal,
stood a meter-long model of an airplane more advanced than any the
world had yet seen.

The temperature of the room was kept at a constant 59 degrees
Fahrenheit, a frigid comfort-accommodation for the tawny, eight-foot
snow leopard named Neko now resting on a pallet beside the window,
gazing down. Remnant of an endangered species, she'd been rescued as a
starving, motherless cub during an expedition in the Himalayas and
raised for the past six years as a pampered pet of the penthouse's
owner.

Along the sound-proof walls were gilt-framed photographs of a Japanese
executive jogging with Jimmy Carter in Tokyo, golfing with Ferdinand
Marcos in Manila, receiving an accolade from Linus Pauling in San
Francisco, dining with Henry Kissinger in Paris. He was the same man
now sitting behind the massive slate desk.

"You believe he was an American?" Tanzan Mino, president and CEO of the
Daedalus Corporation, a paper creation of the Mino Industries Group,
adjusted his pale silk tie and examined the subordinate now standing
before him. He had just turned seventy-three, but the energy in his
youthful frame made him seem at least a decade younger, perhaps two.

"_Hai_, Mino-sama." The other man, in a dark suit, bowed. "We have
reason to believe the Russian has . . . they were seen exchanging an
envelope."

"And your people failed to intercept either of them?"

The man bowed again, more deeply. "An attempt was made, but
unfortunately the Soviet escaped, and the American . . . my people were
unsure what action to take. We do know the funds have not been
deposited as scheduled."

Tanzan Mino sighed and brushed at his silver temples. His dark eyes
seemed to penetrate whatever they settled upon, and the uncomfortable
vice-president now standing in front of him was receiving their full
ire.

Back in the old days, when he directed the Mino-gumi clan's operations
at street level, finger joints were severed for this kind of
incompetence. But now, now the organization had modernized; he operated
in a world beholden to computers and financial printouts. It was a new
age, one he secretly loathed.

He'd been worried from the start that difficulties might arise. The
idiocy of Japan's modern financial regulations had driven him to
launder the payoffs thoroughly. In the old days, when he was
Washington's man, controlling the Liberal Democratic Party, no meddling
tax agency would have dared audit any of his shadow companies. But
after a bastard maverick named Vance--with the CIA, no less!-- had blown
the whistle on his and the Company's clandestine understanding . . .

He had arranged the initial financing for the project, as well as the
political accommodations, with letters of credit, promissory notes, and
his word. And, eventually, if need be, the full financing could be
raised by partial liquidation of his massive real estate holdings in
Hawaii.

But the near-term expenses--and the necessary payoffs in the LDP--that
was different. In Japanese _kosaihi_, the "money politics" of gifts and
outright bribes, secrecy was everything. He remembered how he'd had to
arrange for the mighty Yoshio Kodama, a powerbroker who had once shared
his virtual ownership of the Japanese Diet and the Japanese press, to
accept responsibility for the CIA-Lockheed bribe affair. It was a close
call. That had involved a mere twelve million of American cash to
Japanese politicians, but it had changed the rules forever. These days--
particularly after the Recruit debacle had disgraced the LDP yet again--
money had to be laundered and totally untraceable.

Promises had been made, schedules signed off, the veil of total secrecy
kept intact. Everything was arranged. The Soviets, incompetents that
they were, had no inkling of the larger plan.

Now it all came down to the funds. He needed the money at once.

He turned in his chair, pressed a gray button on his desk,

and watched the window blinds disappear into their frame. Neko rose
from her languorous pose, stretched her spotted white fur, and gazed
down. This was the panoramic view she loved almost as much as he did,
for her perhaps it was the memory of a snowy Himalayan crest; for him
it was the sprawl of Tokyo, the elegant peak of Mount Fuji to the west,
the bustling port of Yokohama to the south. From this vantage atop the
powerful financial world of Japan, Tanzan Mino wanted two final
triumphs to crown his career. He wanted to see Japan become the twenty-
first century's leader in space, and he wanted his country finally to
realize its historic wartime objective: economic domination of the
continent of Asia, from Siberia to Malaysia, with freedom forever from
the specter of energy and resource dependence. The plan now in motion
would achieve both.

He revolved again in his chair, ignored the subordinate standing before
his desk, and studied the model. It was a perfect replica, one-
hundredth the actual size, of the spaceplane that would revolutionize
the future, the symbol that would soon signify his country's
transcendence in the high-tech age to come.

Then his gaze shifted.

"You were 'unsure what action to take'?" He leaned back, touching his
fingertips together, and sadness entered his voice. "You know, there
was a time when I thought Japan might still one day recapture the
spirit we have lost, the spirit of _bushido_. In centuries gone by, a
samurai never had to ask himself 'what action to take.' He acted intu-
itively. Instinctively. Do you understand?"

"_Hai, wakarimasu_." The man bowed stiffly.

"I am prepared to funnel trillions of yen into this project before it
is over. Legitimate, clean funds. So the sum now in question is almost
inconsequential. However, it is the bait we need to set the trap, and
it must be handled exactly as I have specified."

"_Hai_, Mino-sama." Again he bowed.

"The next time you stand before me, I want to hear that the laundered
Soviet funds have been deposited in the Shokin Gaigoku Bank as agreed.
You have one week." He slowly turned back to the window. "Now, must I
tell you what you have to do?" The man bowed low one last time. He knew
exactly.



CHAPTER THREE



Wednesday 7:38 P.M.



"Michael! And Eva!  Again, after so long. _Pos iste!_ What a surprise!"
The old Greek's sunburned face widened into a smile, his gray mustache
opening above his last good teeth. "_Parakalo_, you must come in for a
glass of _raki_ and some of Adriana's _meze_. She would never forgive
me."

They'd dropped by the hotel, then come here. Although Zeno's small
taverna was in the center of _Iraklion_, its facade was still country
style, covered with an arbor. A bare electric bulb hung incongruously
in the middle of the porch, penetrating the dull glow of dusk now
settling over the square called Platia Eleftherias, where the evening's
_volta_ was just beginning. Once the chaste promenade of eligible young
women, it was now a deafening flock of motorscooters, with girls in
tight jeans riding on their backs. And the watchful mothers of old were
conspicuously absent. Times had indeed changed since his last time
here.

"Zeno." Vance shook his hand, then accepted his warm embrace. As he was
driving, he'd been wondering what the old Greek would think about the
sudden reappearance of Eva. They hadn't been here together since that
last trip, well over a decade ago. "Still pouring the meanest _raki_ in
this town?"

"But of course. Never that tequila you like, Michael." He chuckled with
genuine pleasure, recalling that Vance could down his high-potency
version of _ouzo_ like a native. "Ah, you know, Michael, your father
would never touch it. You, though . . ."

He beckoned them through the _kafeneion's_ doorway, leading the way
with a limp. The interior was dark, redolent of Greek cigarettes and
_retsina_ wine. Overwhelming it all were the smells of the kitchen--
pungent olive oil and onions and garlic and herbs, black pepper and
oregano. Although lighting was minimal, around the rickety wooden
tables could be seen clusters of aging Greeks drinking coffee and
_raki_ and gossiping. The white clay walls resounded with the clacks of
_komboloi_ worry beads and _tavli_, Greek backgammon.

"But then," Zeno continued, "that last trip, your birthday present to
him. On his retirement. Do you remember? When we three were sitting at
that very table, there in the corner. He called for a bottle of my
_raki_ and shared a glass with me. We both knew it was our good-bye."
His eyes grew misty with emotion. "Yes, coming here finally with his
famous son was a kind of benediction, Michael. He was passing the torch
to you, to continue his work."

This last was uttered with a slightly censorious tone. But it quickly
evaporated as he turned and bowed to Eva, then took her hand in a
courtly gesture. The old Greeks in the room would have preferred no
women save an obedient mate in their male sanctuary, but traditional
hospitality conquered all. "It is so good to see you two back
together." He smiled warmly as he glanced up. "Welcome once again to
our humble home."

She bowed back, then complimented him in turn, in flawless Greek.

"So beautiful, and so accomplished." He beamed. "You still are the
treasure I remember. You are a goddess." He kissed her hand. "As I've
told Michael before, you could well be from this island. No, even more.
You could be Minoan. You bear a fine resemblance to the '_parisiennes'_
of the palace. Did he ever tell you?"

"Not often enough." She flashed him her sexiest smile. "But then he
never had your eye for women."

"Ah," the old man blushed, "I have more than an eye. If I were thirty
years younger, you and I--"

"Zeno, before you drown Eva in that legendary charm, let me bring her
up to date," Vance laughed. "She is now in

the presence of the man who has probably become the richest tavern
owner in all of Crete."

It was true. Zeno Stantopoulos had indeed become a wealthy man, in many
ways. His father had once farmed the land on which now stood the
unearthed palace at Knossos. The handsome sum Sir Arthur Evans paid for
the site was invested in bonds, which he then passed on to Zeno just
before the war. Zeno had the foresight to convert them to gold and hide
it in Switzerland during the German occupation of Crete. After the war,
he used it to purchase miles and miles of impoverished olive groves in
the south, which he nursed back to full production. These days oil went
up, oil went down, but Zeno always made a profit.

His real wealth, however, was of a different kind. Zeno Stantopoulos
knew everything of importance that happened on Crete. His _kafeneion_
was the island's clearinghouse for gossip and information.

"Don't listen to him, madam." He winked and gestured them toward the
wide table in back, near the kitchen. It was known far and wide as the
place of honor, the location where Zeno Stantopoulos held court. It had
also been the nerve center of the Greek resistance during the Nazi
occupation, when Zeno had done his share of killing and dynamiting. The
limp, however, came from the fifties, when he was imprisoned and
tortured by the right-wing colonels for organizing popular resistance
against them.

"Come, let us celebrate with a glass of my _raki_." He turned again to
Eva. "I should remind you. You once called it liquid fire."

He clapped for Adriana, who squinted through the kitchen door, her
black shawl wrapped tightly about her shoulders. When she finally
recognized them, she hobbled forward, her stern Greek eyes softening
into a smile.

"Neither of you has changed." Eva gave her a hug. "You both look
marvelous."

"Time, my friends, time. That has changed," Zeno went on. "I use a cane
now, for long walks. The way Michael's father did his last time here.
When I saw him I thought, old age must be God's vengeance on us
sinners. And now it has happened to me." He smiled, with a light wink.
"But I will tell you a secret. Ask Adriana. I do not yet need a cane
for all my exercise." He nodded affectionately in her direction. "I can
still make this beauty wake up in the mornings singing a song."

It was true, Vance suspected. Adriana had hinted more than once that
every night with him was still a honeymoon.

"Ah, Michael," he sighed, "I still miss seeing your beloved father on
his summer trips here. Together you two inspired our soul. The ancient
soul of Crete."

At that point Adriana bowed and announced she must return to the
kitchen, where she was putting the final touches to her proprietary
version of _kalamarakia_, fried squid.

Her peasant face hid well her peasant thoughts. Almost. Vance had known
her long enough to read her dark eyes. She didn't quite know what to
make of Eva's reappearance yet. Speaking passable Greek, it was true,
which counted for much, but she still wore no wedding band. _Adinato_!

"Michael, don't let Adriana stuff you." Zeno watched her disappear,
then turned. "To your health." He clicked their small glasses together.
"_Eis hygeian_."

"_Eis hygeian_." Vance took a sip, savoring the moment. Seeing old
friends again, real friends, was one of life's most exquisite
pleasures.

"And tell me, how long will you two be visiting with us this time?"
Zeno's Cretan hospitality flowed unabated. "Perhaps longer than the
last? Have you finally decided to come back to stay, maybe make us
famous all over again?"

"Can't speak for Eva, but I've been asked to look in on the new German
excavation down at Phaistos. A project to try and restore the palace
there, the way Evans reconstructed Knossos." He glanced over. She was
now sipping the tepid _raki_ with the gusto she normally reserved for
ice-cold Stolichnaya. "Tonight, though, we're just tourists. Here to
see you two again."

At that moment, Adriana reappeared from the kitchen bearing an enormous
oak tray. With a flourish she laid before them fried squid and goat
cheese and stuffed grape leaves and octopus and wooden bowls of
_melidzanosalata_, her baked eggplant puree flavored with garlic,
onions and herbs, not forgetting her speciality, pink _taramasalata_
made of mullet roe and olive oil.

"Incidentally, we were just out at Knossos, the palace, this
afternoon." Vance took a bite of _kalamarakia_ while she looked on
approvingly.

"Ah, of course, the palace," Zeno smiled. "I love it still. I probably
should go more myself, if only to remember the days of my childhood,
during the restoration. But with all the tour buses. ..." He chewed on
a sliver of octopus as he glanced out toward the music in the street.
"Perhaps it should be better cared for these days. But, alas, we are
not as rich now as King Minos was." He shrugged and reached for a roll
of _dolmadakia_. "Still, we are not forgotten. Today, perhaps, we count
for little in the eyes of the world, but your book brought us fleeting
fame once again. Scholars from everywhere came--"

"Hoping to prove me wrong." Vance laughed and took another sip of
_raki_.

"What does it matter, my friend. They came." He brightened. "Even
today. Just to show you. Today, there was a man here, right here, who
was carrying your famous work on the palace. He even--"

"Today?" Vance glanced up. Had he been right?

"Yes, this very day. Outside in the arbor. He even sampled some of
Adriana's _meze_." He nodded at her. "I did not like him, and only our
friends are welcome inside, book or no book."

"Was he going out to Knossos?" Eva interjected suddenly, staring. "To
the palace?"

"He asked about it. Why else have the book?" He shrugged again, then
examined the octopus bowl, searching for a plump piece. "You know,
Michael, I could never finish that volume of yours entirely. But your
pictures of the frescoes--" He paused to chew his octopus, then smoothed
his gray mustache and turned again to Eva, "the frescoes of the women.
I love them best of all. And every now and then I see a woman here in
life who looks like them. Not often, but I do. And you are one of those
rare

creatures, my Eva. I swear you are Minoan." He turned back. "Look at
her, Michael. Is it not true?"

"Zeno," Eva reached for his gnarled hand. "It's not like you to forget.
My people are Russian, remember. From the Steppes."

"Ah, of course. Forgive me. But you see, that only goes to prove it."
He nodded conclusively. "The Minoans, we are told, came from central
Asia thousands of years ago. The 'brown-haired daughter of Minos' was
an oriental beauty, just as you are. I'm sure of it. Look at the
frescoes."

"Zeno, tell me." Vance reached to pour more _raki_ into their glasses.
"The man you mentioned just now. Was he Greek?"

"No, he was a foreigner." He chewed thoughtfully. "I've never seen
anyone quite like him. He had a strange way of speaking. In truth,
Michael, I did not like him at all. Not a bit."

"What exactly did he say?"

"It wasn't that. It was something else. I don't know."

"And he went? To the palace?"

"I saw him hire a taxi, that was all. But whether he went there or
somewhere in the south, only God could know." He looked away. "Perhaps
tomorrow I could find out."

"Did this man have a beard?" He pressed.

"No, the thing I remember most was that part of one finger was missing.
Curious. I focused on that. But his features, his features were almost
Asian I would say." He paused, then turned and asked Adriana to fetch
another bottle of _raki_. "Perhaps his accent was from that part of the
world." He looked back at Eva. "I suppose you would have known, my
marvelous Eva, my Minoan queen."

His eyes lingered on her a moment longer, then he rose. "Enough. Now we
must all have something for dinner. I'm sure you do not want to spend
the rest of the night trapped here with a crippled old Greek."

He disappeared into the kitchen to select the pick of the day's catch.
And that smoky evening they dined on the island's best--_barbounia_, red
mullet, which Adriana grilled with the head and served with wedges of
Cretan lemon. Afterward came a dessert of grapes and soft, fresh
_myzithra_ cheese blended with dark honey from the mountains near
Sfakii. Then at the end she brought forth her own _soumada_, a rich
nectar made of pressed almonds.

After more _raki_, Zeno was persuaded to get out his ancient
_bouzouki_, tune it, and play and sing some traditional songs. The
music grew faster and more heated, and then-- with only the slightest
urging--Eva cleared away the tables and began to dance. Her Russian
gypsy movements seemed almost Greek.

When they finally broke away the time was nearly midnight; the _volta_
had long-since disbanded; the sky above had changed from a canopy of
island stars to a spring torrent. And Michael Vance and Eva Borodin
were very, very drunk.



Wednesday 11:34 P.M.



"You know, there was something special about us in the old days," Vance
said as they weaved down the rain-washed street toward the hotel. "How
we used to be. All we did was eat, drink, and talk. And make love.
Tonight it's three down and one to go."

"You're pretty smashed, darling." Eva laughed and looked him over. "A
girl learns to watch out for deceptive advertising."

He slipped his arm around her. Eleven years, and in a way, this was
like it was all happening over again.

"I never shirk from a challenge."

"I'll drink to that." Her voice indicated the challenge would not be
overly daunting. "Do we have any--?"

"There's still that bottle of _ouzo_ in the car."

She stopped dead still, her hair plastered against her upturned face,
and ran her hands down her body. "Minoan, that's what Zeno said. What
if it's true?" She turned back. "What if I have the same hot blood as
the queen who vamped a bull? Imagine what that would be like."

"As best I remember, you could probably handle it."

She performed another Russian gypsy whirl in the glistening street. "I
want to be Minoan, Michael. I want to soar through time and space. Leap
over bulls, maybe even . . ." She twirled again, drunkenly.

"Then why not do it? The queen's bedroom." He stopped and stared at the
Galaxy Hotel, ultramodern and garish, now towering upward in the rain.
The pool was closed, but the disco still blared. "The hell with every-
thing. I'm taking you back there. Tonight."

Parked next to the lobby entrance was their rented Saab. He paused and
looked in at the half bottle of ouzo lying on the seat, then reached
and pulled her into his arms. "Come on. And get ready."

"Is that a promise?" She curled around and met his lips.

"Time's a wastin ." He kissed her again and began searching for his
keys.

She was unsteadily examining the darkened interior of her purse. "I
think I've got an emergency candle in here. We'll use it for light.
Just enough."

"I just hope I'm not too wrecked to drive in the rain."

"You'd better not be. I know I am."

"Who cares? Let's just go for it." He was unlocking the car and helping
her in, loving the feel of her body, her scent. He'd decided he was
ready for anything and anybody, including some mysterious stranger
carrying his book.

The night was brisk, with flares of spring lightning over the
mountains. As the Saab weaved through the narrow streets leading out of
town, Eva climbed up and drunkenly unlatched its sunroof to let in the
rain. By the time they reached the winding country road, headlights
piercing the downpour, the wind was rushing around them, wild and free.

When they pulled into the parking lot of Knossos it was deserted, and
they easily discovered an opening in the guard fence. The palace lay
before them.

"Piece of cake." He took her hand and helped her through the wire. "I
propose a toast right here. To the past and to the future."

"If I drink much more of this, I may not be around to see the future,
but I'll die happy." She reached for the slippery bottle.

As they moved through the abandoned central court, eerie in the rain,
he could almost hear the roars of the crowd four thousand years past,
see the spotted bulls charging the nubile athletes. A heavy gust
flickered her candle, adding mystery to the shadows dancing across the
enigmatic women of the frescoes.

"Now I really do feel Minoan." She headed down the grand staircase,
brandishing the light. Then she called out, her voice resounding down
the maze of windy hallways, "I am the queen. I am Pasiphae. Where's my
white bull?"

"Eva, you're drunk," he yelled after.

"I'm intoxicated. It's different." She laughed, low in her throat. "I'm
intoxicated by the palace. The thought of my bull, the eternal male."
Her voice echoed more. "Know about eternal males, darling? They're like
eternal females, only harder." She grinned at him, then proceeded,
tracing the wide marble steps.

As she floated down, carrying the candle, the moist air was scented
with jasmine, alive with the music of crickets. They rounded the last
curving steps, and the ornate vista of the queen's bedroom spread
before them, its blue dolphins cavorting in their pastel sea.

He walked over and patted the alabaster portico. "Hard as this, your
eternal male? This is a real test for the eternal female bottom."

She threw herself down, then reached and ran a drunken readiness check
across his wet thigh. "I'm ready for something hard inside me." Her
voice was strange, detached and ethereal.

"When did you start talking like that?" He loved it. "Not even in the
old days--"

"When I became Minoan, darling. When I became the blood relation of
Queen Pasiphae."

She wiggled out of her soaked brown dress and tossed it onto the floor.
As he watched her begin to sway before the fresco of the dolphins, he
had the definite feeling time was in a warp, that the flow of centuries
was in reverse. Maybe Eva was none other than Pasiphae reborn. The room
was perfumed and serene, perfect for a queen.

Then she bent down and carefully stationed her candle on the stone.
Looking up she said, "Let me have some more of that _ouzo_. I love
being here. It's shocking and wonderful."

No, this was most assuredly the modern Eva. As she moved against him,
her body felt the way he remembered it. Riper now perhaps, with a
voluptuousness slightly more toward Rubens than Botticelli, but the
skin of her breasts, her thighs, was soft as ever. And the dark
triangle was still luxuriant, redolent with her scent.

"Do it. Hard. Like a bull. I want to know what she felt." She drew back
across the stone as he drove inside her. "Yes"

While rain slammed against the courtyard above, the ancient, foreboding
room began to engulf and rule their senses; the feel of her perfumed
nipples against him was hard and urgent. It was an erotic moment
outside of time.

Now her head thrashed from side to side as quivering orgasms rippled
through her, starting in her groin and welling upward as she arched and
flung back her hair. Then she drew up, clinging, as though trying to
consume him, herself, in a rite of pure bacchanalian frenzy. Her breath
had become labored, not gasps of pleasure, but the need of one seeking
air.

Eva, Eva, he suddenly caught himself thinking, you're here for release,
escape. I know you too well. You're not really in this room anymore.
You want to be but you're not. You're somewhere in a realm of beasts
and magic and the bloodthirsty Minotaur.

But yet, yet . . . somehow he'd never felt closer . . .

A final convulsion brought them together and then she fell back, dazed.
The candlelight flickered across the alabaster, sending ghostly
apparitions against the fresco of the dolphins. Still trying to catch
her breath, she reached out and seized the bottle of ouzo, drank from
it thirstily, then flung herself once more against the stone. After
another long moment, she pulled him to her.

"Michael, hold me." She snuggled into his arms. "Oh, darling, just hold
me."

He drew her against him, and the touch of her skin was erotic beyond
anything he remembered. . . .

But the palace . . . it was intruding darkly, insinuating its presence.
Now it surrounded them like a tomb, ominous as death. Finally he turned
her face up and examined her dark eyes. They were flooded with fear.

"Look, you've got to tell me what's going on. I want to know the real
reason you're here, and I want to know it now. I'd somehow begun to
hope it was for us, but--"

"That's part of it, darling. Truly." She kissed him deeply on the
mouth, then reached and began fishing in her purse for the battered
pack of Dunhills, trying to regain her bravado. "God, that was hot. I
do love being here with you."

"You're stalling. Whenever you don't--"

"You're right." She took out a cigarette, flicked her lighter, and drew
a lungful of smoke. "Now I see why Pasiphae was such a number. This
room does something to you."

"Not bad for starters."

She looked down, then smiled. "No, darling, you're just bluffing. I
remember that well enough. Plenty of time for a cigarette."

"Some things improve with age." He studied her beautifully disheveled
form. Now more than ever he realized she was scared. "Goddammit,
enough. Talk to me."

"All right." She sighed, then leaned back on the ledge of the portico.
"Well, to begin at the beginning, I've been seeing somebody lately."

"Make you a deal," he interrupted. "You spare me your stories and I'll
spare you mine. This doesn't really seem the moment to start swapping
indiscretions."

"I'll bet you've got plenty to swap yourself." She looked him over.

"Hold on a minute." Sure, there'd been women in and out of his life. He
wasn't a priest. Besides, he liked women.

"Darling, relax." She patted his thigh. "We're both adults. You said
you wanted to hear this, so for godsake listen. His name was Jerry
Ackerman and . . . it started back about nine months ago. Since he was
new, he'd drop by my office now and then. You know, to learn the
ropes."

"What kind of ropes, exactly?"

"Really, Michael. Anyway, he wasn't exactly world class in the boudoir,
if that makes you feel any better. Though needless to say I never told
him that. Our little scene tonight would have blown his Brooklyn mind.
Now does that preserve your precious male ego? He was just nice, and
interesting."

"Was?"

"I'll get to that." She was tracing small circles on the alabaster.
"Week before last he dropped off a computer disk at my office. Said he
couldn't figure it out. And it was old, maybe two weeks. Which was
unusual, especially for satellite intercepts, which this was. Normally
we get them the same day. So I ran it through my desk station, figuring
it couldn't be that big a deal." She paused nervously, then went on.
"Well, the first part was encoded using one of the standard Soviet
encryption systems we've had cracked for years, and it had a lot of
proper names. But the rest of it was just a string of numbers. No
matter what I tried, I got nothing but garbage."

"Really? I thought Fort Meade's football field of Cray supercomputers
could crack anything."

"I thought so too. But this encryption was either so clever, or so
simple, nothing seemed to click. I couldn't do it. I even began to
wonder, maybe it's not a cipher at all. Maybe it's just some obscure
foreign language. So I matrixed it against some we have in the data
base. And, love, we've got them. A zillion megabytes of memory. Serbo-
Croatian, Urdu, Basque . . ." She drew on her cigarette, sending a glow
into the dark. Above them the rain continued to pound. "But I still
couldn't find anything that would crack it."

"Doesn't sound like you." He drew her around and kissed her. "Half the
time you're too smart for your own good."

"Apparently not smart enough." She hugged him back automatically, then
continued. "When I told Jerry I couldn't break the encryption, he
suddenly got very nervous. Said okay, then he'd just take it and try
again himself. So I asked him to sign it out on my log. Just routine.
And that's when he started acting strange. At first he refused, but
finally he did it when I said, 'It's like this, sweet buns. No tickee,
no washee.' By then he'd stopped coming over to my place and things had
gotten a little strained at the edges, to put it mildly. So I didn't
think too much about it at the time."

"Don't start telling me more about--"

"Michael, that was the last time anybody saw him. He just vanished.
That night. There was even something in the paper. 'Mysterious
disappearance.' The apartment where he lived had been dismantled. Top
to bottom. Somebody must have thought he was holding out."

"And?"

"Well, it just so happened I still had it in computer memory, though
that's a blatant violation of security procedures. Anyway, the next day
I called Control and said what's with a certain file? Gave them the
NSCID number. And they said, 'We have no record of that number.' Quote.
They'd never heard of it. So it must have been a free-lance job for
somebody outside. Whoever it was must have paid Jerry, or maybe
blackmailed him, into getting me to take a crack at it. Which is why it
was two weeks old. It wasn't NSA material at all. Somebody else wanted
it, and I'm known far and wide as Ms. Give-Her-the-Tough-Ones."

"You always were the best."

"Right." She laughed, then reached into her purse and retrieved a three
and a half inch gray computer disk. "And here it is. A complete copy.
I've also got it stored on the eighty-meg hard drive of my Zenith Turbo
486 laptop back at the hotel." She tossed it to him. "Jerry's file.
That's the good news. The bad news is, it's still encrypted."

He turned it in his fingers. Welcome to the new age, he thought, when
thousands of pages can be packed onto a high-density disk the size of a
casette tape.

She took out a compact from her purse and powdered her nose in the
light of the candle, then turned and searched the stone for her
crumpled dress. He thought he heard a sound from the hallway outside,
but then decided it was just more thunder.

"So now what?" She finally found the dress and drew it loosely on,
managing not to secure the bustline. "I've tried and tried to crack it,
but nothing seems to click. After the preamble, there's nothing on
there but a long string of numbers. Whatever it is, it's not any of the
standard encryption systems." She reached to take it back. "Why am I
telling you all this?"

"Because we've agreed, no more games."

"Darling, there're actually two reasons why I shouldn't. One is I hate
to drag you into it, and the other . . . well, there's more."

"I'm waiting."

"Whatever's on here is part of something bigger. I know that because of
the preamble, the section I can read." She pushed ahead, nervousness in
her voice. "Anyway, that's when I decided I had to talk to you. About
some of the things you used to work on."

He inhaled. "What are you talking about?"

"There were some proper names."

"I don't get--"

"In the preamble. One was 'Daedalus.' And another was 'Mino.' So I
thought, why not talk to Michael? It sounded like something that you'd
. . . I don't know . . . maybe you could help me think. Anyway, I
finally decided to take a chance and ring you."

"Great. Nice to finally learn exactly where I fit in." He lay silent
for a moment, trying to suppress his annoyance. Finally he told
himself, Be constructive.

"All right, tell me what you think it's all about."

"Well." She paused again, as though unsure. Finally she spoke, her
voice faint above the rain. "Did you know the Soviet Union and Japan
never actually signed a peace treaty after World War Two?"

"It's because the Soviets kept some Japanese islands, right? Seem to
recall they were the Kuriles, and also the southern half of Sakhalin."

"Japan calls those the Northern Territories, and they've refused to
sign because of them." She reached over and adjusted the candle,
surveying the dark around them. The gloom was almost Stygian. "Well,
hang on to your diplomatic pouch, because I think they're about to
sign. Maybe as the first step toward . . . I'm still not sure what."

He caught his breath. "How did you find out about this?"

"Intelligence. I've been handling our intercepts. But we still haven't
put together a briefing package for the president, and State. It just
seems so implausible nobody wants to be the one to sign off on it.
Besides, nothing's settled. Among other things, the Japanese Diet would
eventually have to vote to approve it, and nothing's come through
diplomatic channels. It's being closely handled by somebody big and
anonymous over there. Anyway, my hunch is a vote in the Diet would be a
squeaker. Your average Japanese man on the street still isn't too
enthusiastic about the Soviets."

He leaned back to think. Given today's global realities, a deal like
that had to be the tip of some gigantic iceberg. In diplomacy, there
was always give and take.

"And you believe whatever's on this disk is somehow connected to the
treaty?"

"That's precisely what I believe," she sighed. "The treaty has a secret
protocol involved. It's hinted at in the intercepts, but never
described. And I've got a feeling, somehow, that this is it."

"Doesn't sound like something that would delight Washington." He
pondered. "On the other hand, what could the U.S. do anyway? The
American military is a hell of a lot more worried about losing its
bases in Japan, not to mention NSA's Soviet and Chinese listening
posts, than the Japanese are about giving up our so-called protection.
There's not a damned thing the U.S. could do about it."

"I'd guess whoever's behind this fully realizes that." She paused,
letting a roll of thunder from above die away. "But the protocol . . .
nobody has any idea what's in it, not even the KGB. I also know that
from our intercepts."

"This is getting more interesting by the minute."

"Well, stay tuned. There's more still. As it happens, I'm also on NSA's
oversight panel, the Coordinating Committee. We assemble briefing
packages that bring together reports from all the departments,
including PHOTOINT, photo intelligence from satellite surveillance."

"The 'spy in the sky' recon? Big Bird, KH-12, radar imaging?"

"Well, we review all of that, sure. But think about it. The Soviets
have surveillance satellites too. And p.s., their Cosmos series can now
relay down digital imagery in real time." She paused. "It's classified,
but put two and two together. If NSA intercepts Soviet voice and data
communications . . ."

"Stealing pictures from their spy satellites?" He knew about it. "Why
not? All's fair in love and war, I think the saying goes."

"Okay, just pretend you dreamed it up." She sighed. "Now, from here on
it gets a little off-the-wall. So off-the-wall everybody at NSA refuses
to take it seriously. The committee keeps wanting to study everything,
but I think time's running out. Something's going to happen any day
now, but--"

"Something bad?" He tried to make out her eyes in the dark, wondering
what she was still holding back.

"Michael, I shouldn't . . ." She reached over and took another
cigarette out of her purse. "Anyway, the reason I wanted you here was
to help me find some answers. Before somebody decides to try and make
me disappear too. Like Jerry." She flicked at her lighter three times
before it finally flared.

Maybe, he thought, she had good reason to be afraid. He remembered the
odd sense that afternoon that they were being watched. And then Zeno
mentioning a stranger carrying his book. It was beginning to seem less
and less like a coincidence.

"But, Jesus," she went on. "Now they've found me. And I've drawn you
into it. I'm really--"

"Just relax." Mainly now he wanted to calm her down. "Nobody's found--"

"Don't you see? Alex. Just happens to call you this morning as you were
on your way here to see me. Don't flatter yourself. That call was about
me. Which means he knows I've got . . ." Her hand quavered as she
dropped the lighter back into her purse. "There's already been one
murder--"

"Hey, slow down. Take it easy. Novosty's never scared me, even when
he's tried. Just--"

"It's not him I'm worried about. Michael, if even a TDirectorate sleaze
like Alex knows, then who else . . ." The darkened room fell silent.

"You'd better tell me all of it. Everything." Again he paused, thinking
he heard a sound from somewhere in the dark. But it was impossible.
Nobody could have followed them here.

"All right." She let the words tumble out, finally. "Yes, we intercept
all the Soviet satellite photos. Just the way you thought." She
exhaled, then rose and paced the room a moment, its walls now ghostly
in the candlelight. "Well, lately for some strange reason their Soyuz
series always seems to have a temporary malfunction whenever they pass
over one certain spot on the globe. Almost as though somebody were
turning off their KFA-1000 high-resolution cameras. I kept noticing it,
but nobody else in PHOTOINT thought it was anything but a coincidence.
Still, it got me wondering. What if somebody over there is pulling a
number on the KGB, or the GRU? Keeping them from seeing something. So I
had some of our own photos of that grid sent over, from the new KH-12."

"Where was it?"

"Well, it wasn't necessarily where you'd think. It was the Japanese
island of Hokkaido. And the high-resolution grid missing was just the
northern tip."

"So?"

"I went back and checked a series of KH-12 recon photos, taken over the
last two years. There's something new there now, Michael. Just this
last year or so. It's been partly camouflaged, but I think it's a new
runway. Or launch facility. Or something. And the radar maps show some
funny surface irregularities. At least I think they do. Nobody else at
NSA . . ." She looked away. "But put it together. Maybe that's part of
the treaty somehow, their secret protocol. Some joint--"

"A launch facility? Eva, that's impossible. The Japanese space program
is all down on Tanegeshima Island, south of Tokyo. The island of
Hokkaido is way up north. There's nothing up there but Holsteins and
hay fields."

But, he thought suddenly, it's also just across from Sakhalin. The
Soviet Far East. The place the party secretary who embezzled . . .

"This isn't hay fields, darling, believe me." Her voice seemed to drift
out and blend with the rain. "Something you said this afternoon, that's
what made it click. About the first man to leave the earth and soar
into space . . ."

"You mean--"

"I didn't ask for this. Oh, Christ, how did I . . ." She paused again,
uncertain. "You know, I finally think I've figured out what's
happening, why it's so secret--the treaty, the protocol, cutting out
their own intelligence. It's partly about space, all right. Has to be.
Something's cooking, something they're eventually going to spring on
the world like the first Sputnik."

"You still haven't decoded the damned thing."

"Okay, I'm guessing. But how's this? Somebody at the top, in the USSR,
has decided to go for a giant gamble. To save their system, they've
been forced to turn to some nutcakes in Japan who can loan them
billions. And this project is part of it. The Soviets once cut a deal
with Nazi Germany to buy time, so why not? The leadership needs time
now desperately."

"And you think--?"

"Project Daedalus. That's the code name in the preamble. Think about
it. You know what I believe? To get the money and technology they
desperately need, the Russians have had to cave in and do the
unthinkable. Form a new alliance. Michael, they're about to start
rearming Japan."



CHAPTER FOUR



Thursday 7:28 A.M.



"_Hai, so deshoo_," Taro Ikeda, project director, bowed into the red
telephone receiver, using that breathy, clipped speech all Japanese
reserve for their superiors. _"Kore wa honto ni muzakashi desu._ It has
been difficult, but they have finally agreed on the revised schedule.
In nine days--"

He paused to listen, then continued. "_Hai, so_. There is no other way.
_Hai_. The Diet will never approve the treaty unless there is some
dramatic symbol of the advantages of the alliance."

He halted. "_Hai_, security has been maintained here. With deepest
respect, the problem would seem to be with your--" He paused again.

Now tiny beads of sweat were glistening on his brow. "_Hai_, we are
ready. The vehicle is . . . _hai_." He bowed again. "Of course, there
will be no delay. The revised schedule is firm. _Hai_, Mino-sama, we--"
He was bowing ever more rapidly into the phone. "_Hai_, we have pushed
them as hard as we can." He bowed even deeper. "_Hai_, by tomorrow's
report. Of course, Mino-sama. Thank you, _domo arigato gozaimashita_. .
. ."

The line, a high-security satellite link connecting the Hokkaido
facility to the Mino Industries Building in the Ueno section of Tokyo,
had gone dead. Tanzan Mino, CEO of Mino Industries Group, had other
matters to concern himself with.

Taro Ikeda repressed a tremble. The technical part, the project here on
Hokkaido, was going well; what was happening on the Tokyo end? First
the delay of the funds, and now a rumored breach of security. KGB had
intercepted the protocol. That was the word from his informant close to
the CEO in Tokyo.

_Shigata ga nai_, he thought; sometimes things can't be helped.

Taro Ikeda was proud he had been personally selected by the CEO to be
project director for the top secret Hokkaido operation. He was fifty-
four years of age, a graduate of Tokyo University Law School, a twenty-
five-year veteran, now retired, of MITI, the Ministry of International
Trade and Industry. He was, in short, a mover in the New Japan and he
looked it--elegantly graying temples, tailored silk suits, a small
mustache to set off his high cheeks. At one time he had been the inside
choice for MITI vice

minister, before the CEO offered him a chance to fulfill a vision no
official source in the ministry could ever admit existed.

Overall, he told himself, the CEO should be pleased. He had carried out
his own responsibilities flawlessly. And MITl was providing an
unofficial umbrella of technical support, covering any unexpected
requirements. Through this project the CEO had set into motion a plan
that would soon alter dramatically Japan's place in the equation of
world power.

Bushido, the Way of the Warrior. The element of surprise. No one
outside Mino Industries knew what was really planned, not even the
prime contractors for the project. Security every step of the way. And
now the drama was ready, the curtain poised. Only a few more days, and
a technological miracle would soar upward from the earth, symbolizing
the first step in the realization of Japan's age-old ambition. The
world would know the twenty-first century had arrived, the Japanese
century. Mino Industries had made it possible.

The CEO's sense of timing was impeccable. Only last week he had
approved Taro Ikeda's final briefing to Noburu Takahashi, executive
director of the National Space Development Agency. NASDA, through
contracts to the Space Systems Division of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries,
was in charge of the major hardware of the Japanese rocket program.
Takahashi was also an executive of the new Daedalus Corporation, an
unofficial "consultant."

Together they had traveled to the agency's space center on Tanegeshima,
the island six hundred miles south of Tokyo, to monitor the shakedown
launch of Japan's new H-2 rocket series. Although that vehicle was far
superior to both the American Titan 34D and the European Ariane 4, it
was a technological dinosaur compared to this project. This was unlike
anything the world had ever seen.

The project had begun over two years earlier, when he was still
director of MITI's Kokuki Buki-ka, the Aircraft and Ordnance Section.
An "anonymous" scenario--conceived by the CEO of Mino Industries Group,
Tanzan Mino--had arrived on his desk, detailing a revolutionary
proposal. Every director in MITI had received a copy.

The eventual "consensus"? It was too visionary, would aggravate Japan's
already delicate relationship with America. The Liberal Democratic
Party could never be seen to embrace such a project publicly.

Accordingly, MITI's parliamentary vice minister turned it down.
Officially. But that was merely _tatame_, his "public face." Afterward
the classified moves, the real moves, began. Perhaps, it was hinted, if
the idea were "explored" outside regular government channels. . . .
Top-secret feelers were sent to the Soviets.

With a green light, Tanzan Mino had immediately created the Daedalus
Corporation, hiring away Taro Ikeda and forty-seven of his MITI
aerospace engineers, the best and brightest, from Kokuki Buki-ka.
Start-up financing had been provided by the CEO personally, with some
matching contributions by the top executives of Japan's major
_zaibatsu_, industrial groups. The scenario was an easy sell, since
they all realized its payoff would be staggering. The only requirement
was that it remain top secret until the appropriate moment, when the
Diet would be formally notified. By that time, however, there would be
no turning back. Everything would have to go forward as a package.

Under the CEO's direction, Taro Ikeda and his forty- seven MITI
engineers had relocated here on Hokkaido to oversee a secret, fast-
track project. Forty-seven. Perhaps, he sometimes mused, that number
was no coincidence. Perhaps it was an unconscious act of historical
resonance. Forty-seven brilliant young technicians, just like the
forty-seven ronin, the samurai of the famous legend. Those ronin had
bided their time for many years, living in obscurity and ignominy until
the moment when they rose up in triumph.

_Bushido_. You must always make your opponent do battle on your own
terms. And today money and technology were Japan's most powerful
weapons. Why not use them strategically, the CEO had argued. The time
had come to engage other unsuspecting nations with concentrated
strength, in a forcible move to achieve Japan's long-term objectives.
The Way of the Warrior.

Taro Ikeda surveyed his office, his personal command center. The space
was appointed like the headquarters of a field marshall: a deep
metallic gray with video screens along one wall permitting him
continuously to monitor activities in every sector of the facility. And
across the top of his black slate desk was marshalled a line of gray
telephones with scramblers, each a secure direct line to the offices of
one of the project's prime contractors.

The first was to Nagoya, to the head office of Mitsubishi Heavy
Industries. Theirs was the initial contract let by the CEO after the
project financing was in place. Indeed, Mitsubishi's Nagoya Aircraft
Works was the ideal choice to manufacture the air-breathing
turboramjets-scramjets for the vehicle. That conglomerate had produced
over fifty thousand aircraft engines during the great Pacific war, and,
more recently, their new Komaki North plant was responsible for the
powerful oxygen-hydrogen engines that composed the first stage of the
giant H-2 booster. The phone on his desk connected him directly to the
office of Yoshio Matsunami, Mitsubishi's general manager for space
systems. The massive scramjets for this project had been manufactured
in Nagoya under a veil of total secrecy, then static-tested at their
aeropropulsion test facility and individually shipped here to Hokkaido
in unmarked railcars.

Another line connected him to the head office of Nissan's aeronautical
and space division in Tokyo, already in charge of all solid rocket
boosters for the Japan Institute of Space and Aeronautical Science. The
CEO had hired their senior propulsion engineers to resolve problems
connected with air-breathing combustion of liquid hydrogen.

The third connection was to Hitachi City, sixty miles from Tokyo.
Hitachi, Limited manufactured the booster cases for the new H-2
vehicle, and their extensive experience with composite alloys at high-
temperatures made them the obvious choice to create the hypersonic air-
frame.

There were other lines as well. The vehicle's inertial- guidance system
and flight controls--both based on advanced Soviet designs--had been
produced at Japan's National Aerospace Laboratory. Preliminary wind-
tunnel tests had been assigned to the Kakuda Propulsion Center, whose
rocket-engine development facilities were already being used to support
NASDA's program in oxygen-hydrogen thruster R&D.

The last high-security line connected him directly to Tsukuba Space
Center at Tsukuba Science City, forty miles from Tokyo, the nerve
center for all Japanese manned space-flight research. Their clean-rooms
and deep-space tracking facilities were comparable to any in the world,
and their Fujitsu SX-10 supercomputer--which, with 128 processors for
parallel processing, performed nine billion calculations per second--
could provide realtime simulation of a complete hypersonic flight
profile.

Feeling impatient now to begin the day, Taro Ikeda settled back and
reached for the phones. Each contractor would give him a quick morning
update, and then he would outline any further component tests or
retrofitting as required. In truth, these exchanges had long since be-
come scarcely more than rituals, since the project was all but
completed. The major components had already been designed, delivered,
and assembled. The contractors had been paid, the reports and evidence
of their participation declared top secret and locked away from any
possible prying eyes. All traces of the project had been safely
secured.

There was, he reminded himself, only one major problem remaining. As
part of the initial scenario, the Soviets had agreed to provide a
laundered payment of one hundred million American dollars, to be used
for Tanzan Mino's "incidental expenses" in the Liberal Democratic Party
hierarchy. To avoid another Recruit-bribe fiasco like the one that
brought down the prime minister in 1989, the money had to be
scrupulously clean and totally untraceable.

But the funds had not arrived.

How the Soviets had secured the hard currency required outside of
regular government channels, he could not imagine. There were even
reports the money had been secretly "embezzled" from certain slipshod
ministries. That it was, in fact, hot money.

But if those funds didn't come through within eight days, fully
laundered, the project would have to be put on hold, as a matter of
strategy, and precaution. The treaty could not be placed before the
Diet unless passage was assured. Promises had to be kept.

What had happened to the money? Whatever it was, he thought with a
worried sigh, the CEO had better solve it and soon. If he didn't, the
whole project might have to be put on hold until next year's session of
the Diet, and their secrecy would probably be impossible to maintain
for another whole year. A disaster.

He had just completed the last call when he noticed a flashing alert on
the main computer terminal, advising him that the morning's hypersonic
test in Number One was scheduled to begin at 0800 hours. He grunted and
typed in an acknowledgment. In his view it was a waste of time,
overkill. The SX-10's simulation had already taken them further than
they needed to go. But, all right, humor the Soviet team. It would only
require a morning.

His contractor briefings now out of the way, he transferred all
communication channels to the computer modems that lined the walls,
then rose and walked back to the small alcove at the rear of his
office. He paused a moment to calm his thoughts, then slid aside the
_shoji_ screens to reveal what was, for him, the most important room in
the facility.

Here in the North Quadrant the CEO had constructed a traditional
teahouse, _tatami_-floored with walls and ceiling of soft, fresh cedar
and pine. In this refuge Taro Ikeda performed an essential morning
ritual, the brief meditation that quieted his spirit. He knew well the
famous adage of swordsmanship, that the true master lives with his mind
in a natural state.

The challenge ahead would require all the discipline of a samurai
warrior, the Way of Zen. And the first rule, the very first, was your
mind must be empty, natural, unattached, in order to succeed.

As he seated himself on the reed surface of the _tatami_,

_zazen_-style, he methodically began clearing his mind. The moment was
sacred.

But then, drifting through unasked, came an admonition of the great
Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu. "Intelligence is everything. You
must know your opponent's plan even before he knows it himself."

It was true. The security for this project had been airtight, except
for one minor breach. Someone in the Tokyo office had stupidly
transmitted the final protocol over an unsecured satellite channel. It
had been intercepted by Soviet intelligence.

Fortunately, the Russian blunderers had been unable to decipher the
encryption. But someone--either in the KGB or the GRU--had been so
desperate he had secretly enlisted the assistance of the U.S. National
Security Agency's top cryptographer. It was a brilliant move, because
NSA's supercomputers might eventually be able to break the code.

When Tanzan Mino learned of the breach, he had given orders that the
NSA expert be neutralized, quickly, and the protocol retrieved. If it
became public knowledge prematurely, the entire scenario could be
destroyed. Now, happily, the NSA individual had been identified. The
rest would be easy. An unfortunate price to pay, but a simple solution.

With that thought to comfort him, he gazed at the polished natural
woods of the teahouse and let his mind drift into perfect repose.



Thursday 1:07 A.M.



The first round went wide, nicking the edge of the dolphin fresco.
Vance listened, startled, at the explosion, at first thinking it was a
sharp crack of thunder from outside. Then he heard the bullet sing into
the dark, a high-pitched hiss. For a moment he wondered if he was
dreaming, his mind adrift in the bloody myths of the palace. Then a
second explosion flared from the direction of the archway, grazing his
neck.

"_Eva!_" He threw his body across hers, slamming her against the
alabaster portico. His free hand slapped awkwardly at the candle,
crushing out the last sputter of flame. As he swung around, the empty
ouzo bottle clattered into the dark, spinning, its revolving sound a
beacon. Get it, he thought, and stretched across the stone to grope in
the dark. Finally he felt the smoothness of the glass gliding at the
edge of his reach. Slowly, carefully, his fingers circled the neck and
he pulled it toward him.

The room was black now, its silence deep as a tomb. Then the gun flamed
once more, and again, the two rounds ricocheting off the ancient walls
somewhere around them. After that, silence returned, no sound except
for the heave of breathing, whose he wasn't sure.

As he reached to quiet her, she whispered. "Michael, they want me." She
tried to struggle up. "You've got to let--'"

"No." He forced her back, whispering. "We can't leave when the party's
just beginning."

Still grasping the neck of the bottle, he moved silently across the
floor. The stone slabs were icy, while the night music of the rain
seemed to come from another world.

He pressed against the wall, feeling for the doorway until he sensed a
shadow slip past, slowly edging into the room. The muzzle of a pistol
glinted against the flare of lightning outside, and he realized it was
no more than a couple of feet away.

_Now.

_He swung the empty bottle with all his might, aiming for the tip of
the muzzle.

The impact coursed up his arm as the bottle splintered against the
metal. The intruder's startled intake of breath was masked by the
clatter of the weapon against the stone floor.

He'll reach for it, Vance told himself. Lots of luck, pal.

He brought the fractured bottle upward with all his strength, aiming
for the face. Although the figure was still formless, he let instinct
guide his hand. The rough feel of shirt fabric brushed past his fingers
and then the softness of flesh. A scream of surprise pierced the dark.
Bingo.

Got the neck, he thought, and with a twist he drove the shattered
bottle in. A warm wetness gushed against his hand.

I hit an artery. Blind luck.

The figure stumbled backward into the dim passageway. In a flash of
lightning Vance saw hands clawing at a neck. Then came the sound of
stumbling footsteps, retreating, and again silence.

Still gripping the sticky neck of the bottle, he bent down and began to
search the floor. Near his feet he felt a hot muzzle and followed it
upward to the still-warm grip. It was, he realized, a 9mm Baretta. He
kept an identical chrome-plated model on the Ulysses.

All right, chum, now we'll have a rerun.

Grasping it with both hands, in firing position, he turned and peered
out the open archway. The glimmers of distant lightning showed nothing
but stone walls and an empty passageway. All he could discern was the
vertical shaftway connecting the many levels of the palace.

He pressed against the cold stone wall and edged into the hallway
leading toward the steps. Then he felt a sharp sensation against the
ball of his left foot and reached down. A spent cartridge shell, still
warm, lay up-ended on the icy floor.

Pasiphae, he suddenly found himself thinking. It's as though Eva had
lured the killer here, to this very room, like the white bull. And now
he, they, who knows how many? want to kill us both. Somebody realized
she knows too much.

He tried to control his breathing, straining to hear as the adrenaline
continued to pump. From the staircase up above, the crickets had
resumed their high-pitched medley. He listened as they chorused, the
sounds of centuries past, their hymn to the rain. There was nothing
else.

No, faint sounds ... far above, maybe in the central court. Men were
arguing. It was a heated exchange. He heard them grow louder, and with
that the metallic click of another automatic weapon being readied. He
waited, holding his breath, as the voices became even more animated.

What had happened? There must have been two, maybe even more.

Good time to find a new place to party.

He turned back to the silent room. It was, he suddenly realized, too
silent. He felt his way back to the alabaster portico and reached
across.

"Eva."

The quiet that followed told him he had been right; she'd panicked,
run. No, he thought, she only wants to save you. She thinks she drew
them here, and now she's trying to lure them away. Bad time to leave.
Just when things were getting interesting.

He reached down and felt for the right-hand pocket of his trousers,
still lying crumpled in a pile on the floor. Finally he slid his hand
in and searched. The keys were gone. She had taken them, slipped away,
left nothing. No trace. Only the smashed candle remained.

Annoyed, he located a box of hotel matches in his shirt and struck one.
The room was empty, totally bare, its dolphins frisking alone in their
placid sea. Across, on the other side, was the passageway leading
through the queen's "bathroom." Beyond it lay the labyrinthine twists
of the palace hallways. Perhaps by now Eva had found her way out and
escaped. From the maze of Daedalus?

He tried to think as he finished donning his wet clothes in the dark.
Eva clearly had gotten too close to somebody's plans. Where would she
go?

Cautiously he moved out and began to mount the marble staircase, his
rubber soles noiseless against the steps. The automatic was beginning
to feel comfortable, even though it had nearly taken his life only
minutes before. But he never trusted life to a chunk of metal, no
matter how efficient.

Above him the voices still quarreled, and he found himself straining to
catch the language. What was it? Greek? no, maybe Russian. Whatever it
was, a fierce argument was raging. Again he tried to guess how many
there were. He checked the metal clip and decided he had enough rounds
to take them all--if he had to.

But that was getting ahead of the game. If she had eluded them, then
why bother? The best thing would be to try to slip past the courtyard,
get through the fence, maybe join her at the car. Then they could move
the party back to the hotel, keep the momentum. . . .

He moved carefully on through the hall of the procession, edging along
the wall. Against his back he could feel the cold frescoes of the cup
bearers, locked in their sterile march through time.

Then he heard another voice, this time female.

"_Pazdolba! Delaetye vcyo, shto vam yugodno--mnye vcyo_ ..."

It was Eva yelling in rapidfire Russian. Arguing, shouting orders? He
couldn't make it out.

Now he edged through the final archway, grasping the Baretta. At that
moment an eruption of gunfire splintered the silence, a fiery burst in
the rainy night, while Eva was yelling for it to stop. It was over as
quickly as it had come, but she was still screaming, swearing actually.

Whoever was there, they were no more than thirty feet away. But she was
still safe. He could hear her curses, now half muffled in the storm.

Gingerly he edged on out through the entryway and stood at the edge of
the courtyard, Baretta cocked and ready. A lighter blossomed in the
rain, was brought upward to a cigarette, and momentarily framed a face.

Alex Novosty.

He was holding what appeared to be an Uzi, peering down at the
glistening stones. Sprawled across from him were two bodies, both in
dark raincoats. Now he was saying something to Eva in Russian, but she
was staring past him, toward the entryway where Vance stood. In a flare
of lightning their eyes locked, and he saw in hers anger and disbelief.

At that moment the flame of the lighter was cut short, but not before
Novosty whirled and followed her gaze.

Instinctively Vance threw himself against the inside wall of the
processionway. An instant later, the Uzi blazed again, drowning the
sound of Novosty's challenge. He held his own automatic, barely
breathing, while the rounds ricocheted against the stone walls. Was Eva
part of it? What in hell . . .

Then her voice rose again, through the dark, a mixture of Russian and
English. She was screaming at Novosty. Finally she called out.

"Michael." A pause, then her voice cracked. "You may as well stop the
charade."

Charade? That wasn't the game they'd been playing. He decided to wait.
The moment seemed part of a giant contest where none of the players
wore team colors.

"Michael, old man, terribly sorry about that." This time the voice was
Alex's. "It's been a trying night."

"Novosty," he yelled back. "I've got an automatic too, chum. Touch one
hair of her head and you're history. I swear to God. Now let her go,
and then we'll talk."

"My friend, my friend, I'm not keeping her." The hesitation in his
voice belied his attempt at calm. "You don't understand. We have a
problem here, very serious. And I am getting wet. Why don't you come
out and let's discuss it somewhere dry."

"No way. You and I have a little catching up to do. Let her go. She's
not part of it."

"Ah, but she is very much a part of it. Why do you think I am here
tonight, risking everything? I need you now, Michael, more than ever.
We are all in deep trouble because of her."

As Vance started to respond, he felt a glancing blow against the side
of his neck, powerful, numbing. Awkwardly he stumbled forward, cursing
his own stupidity. Of course! The man he'd wounded had merely
disappeared into the palace labyrinth. He'd been back there somewhere,
waiting. Now they'd guided him here with all the shouting.

He felt the Baretta slip from his grasp as his head slammed against the
hard plaster of the fresco. His attacker was reaching for the gun,
hands slippery with blood. There was hot breath against his face, the
gurgle of labored breathing. It was a dying man with nothing to lose.

Now Alex was shouting at Eva through the rain, telling her to run for
it.

Good, he thought, and turned to shove his fist into the face of the
figure struggling to turn the pistol on him. The weapon fired, a lethal
blast next to his ear, but the muzzle was still directed away. The
round glanced off the stone archway and ricocheted down the hallway. As
their struggle continued, he heard the sound of the Saab, its engine
coughing to life.

Too bad. I'll miss the ride back.

With that he brought his knee against the assailant's groin, shoving
him against the wall. Even then, though, he still could not see the
face; it was darkened or swathed in a black cloth, he couldn't tell
which.

Suddenly the passageway flared, and he looked up to see Novosty, rain-
soaked, holding his small Italian lighter. In his left hand. In his
right was the black metallic shape of the Uzi. Just then the attacker,
drenched in blood, finally wrenched away the Baretta and was turning,
trying to speak. Vance noticed, absently, that blood streamed from a
gash across the side of his neck.

"I am sorry, my friend." Alex was lifting his weapon, calmly and with
perfect precision. "Things have become complicated, but do not worry. I
have handled it." And the Uzi erupted.

The dying man actually managed to squeeze off a round, a shot that went
wild, as the impact of the Uzi slammed him against the wall. Then he
fired again, almost a death tremor, and pitched forward.

Vance started to stretch for the pistol as it clattered across the
floor toward him, but Novosty's voice sounded through the storm.

"Michael, do us both a favor, just leave it. I've killed enough men
tonight. Three. And I knew them all. I am very weary of it, so please .
. ." He was walking over, still holding the Uzi. "Let's have a drink
and talk. This is very unsettling to my nerves."

"You and your friends screwed up a perfectly fine evening. You'd better
have a good excuse." Vance watched him, very much wanting the pistol in
his hands. Should he make a grab for it and take his chances?

"As I tried to tell you just now, it is very complicated."

Novosty was picking up the Baretta, grasping it carefully with a piece
of wet cloth he'd ripped from the dead man's shirt. Then he looked up.
"Are your prints on this?"

"Sort of figures, doesn't it? I borrowed it from him." He pointed down
at the blood-soaked corpse between them.

"So we must clean it," he sighed. "What happened here tonight was a
terrible accident, my friend. Obviously. How else can it be explained?
There will be an international inquiry. We must now try and simplify
the work of whoever has that unpleasant duty."

"You've got some explaining of your own to do. What about Eva?"

"Ah yes, Eva. She should have known better than to come here." He
looked up. "Tonight simply need not have happened. It has always
distressed me, the imprudence of some women." He sighed again. "I do
not know if I can cover up this affair. It may well be the end for me."

"No kidding. Killing those two men out there may dampen your welcome in
these parts."

"I regret to say it was necessary. They wanted to take her. But when I
reasoned against it, they became suspicious. Which is why I had no
choice."

Was Novosty here protecting Eva, he suddenly wondered? After all, there
was age-old blood connecting them; Eva Borodin and Alex Novosty went
back centuries together, centuries of Russian history. Aristocrats
both, they shared family, pain, and glory from an age long before the
October Revolution. But would she turn to him for refuge? No, not
likely. She'd never be that desperate.

"Like you said this morning, Alex, it's unhealthy in this business to
know too much. Tends to spoil all the interesting surprises."

"Yes, I agree. Ignorance is often bliss, I think that's the expression.
But having solved one problem, I then faced another. What to do about
them? Happily our friend here was available to help. I honestly think
he would have died anyway from his neck wound." He glanced up. "Did you
do this?"

"Spur of the moment."

"You are still good, Michael." He bent over and examined the severed
artery again. "My compliments. You haven't lost it. An excellent job. I
believe this incision would have been fatal." He turned back and
smiled. "You have a surgeon's touch."

"Are you going to tell me who the hell he is, or do we play twenty
questions?"

"He was . . . a professional acquaintance. This was most regrettable.
For everyone. Mine was a distasteful task, I assure you." He sighed
once more as he laid both weapons against the wall. "I will trust you,
Michael. In turn you must trust me. And help me. We need to move this
poor unfortunate to a more plausible location."

Vance now realized what Novosty was planning. He was about to pin the
murder of the two outside on a dead man, this one. But who were they?
Whoever this one was, one of his hands only had three fingers; the
little finger had been cut away just below the knuckle.

"Forget it. I'm not going to help you do anything. I'm going to walk
out of here, try and find Eva, and get the hell away from all this.
You're a negative influence, Alex."

"My friend, be reasonable." He pointed toward the weapons. "We have
work to do. We must remove all the prints from those, yours and mine,
then create an accident."

"Look, you broke up a small party I had going here tonight. But now
that you've ruined my evening, I damned sure don't plan to help you
clean up."

"Michael, neither of us had anything to do with this unfortunate
business. You or me. I wasn't even in Greece. It must have been some
terrible misunderstanding among men of questionable livelihood. Tempers
obviously flared. Who knows? Everybody is dead, so there can be no
explanation beyond what appearances suggest." He shrugged and slipped
his arms underneath the body. "Incidentally, they told me that Volodin
was captured this morning. But he didn't talk. Instead he killed
himself. So our situation is still secure."

"You must have a hearing problem. Maybe you ought to get it checked. I
just told you it's Eva I'm going to help, not you. You can take the
money and--"

"My friend, my friend, you are impetuous. Please. Everything is going
as planned. But now we must move quickly." He smiled. "By the way, did
you leave anything down below?"

"Just a broken bottle." Vance stared out into the rain.

"Then you might wish to make it disappear." He began dragging the body
into the courtyard. "It will have prints. Glass preserves them
perfectly."

He's right for once, Vance thought. Rubbing at his neck, a glimmer of
pain intruding, he turned and retraced his steps into the dark, into
the labyrinth.

As he descended, the chill of the palace enveloped him. He was bored
with the place now, its ancient horrors and its modern ones. When the
dark became too depressing, he extracted a folder of hotel matches and
struck one. Its puny light flared and then expired, almost helpless
against the blackness engulfing him.

The sound of crickets followed as he entered the bedroom of the queen
once more. He paused a moment in the dark, then struck another match
and walked over to the stone bed. There was the neck of the splintered
bottle, covered with bloody fingerprints. Novosty was right about one
thing: It would have opened a whole new area of inquiry. Nobody at
Interpol had his prints on file, at least as far as he knew. But that
wasn't good enough. Leave nothing to chance.

Carrying the fractured bottle, he began remounting the steps. This time
he wanted the dark, needed it, to clear his mind, to mask the horrors
of the palace. The confusion of the shootout swirled in his mind. Alex
Novosty had killed three men as calmly as lighting a cigarette. Why?
Was it just for the money?

When he emerged, distant lightning glinted on the ancient stones of the
courtyard, contrasting brightly with the darkness below. For an instant
the palace seemed magical all over again.

And there, perfectly choreographed on the wet pavement, was evidence of
a lethal duel. Three bodies lay across from each other, two together
and one opposite, gripping a weapon, his neck slashed. Perhaps it
looked too pat, but who would know? Things happened that way.

The only participant missing was Aleksei Ilyich Novosty.

He gazed around, but he knew he would see nothing. Yes, Alex had gotten
out quickly and cleanly. He'd always been hit and run.

All right, Vance told himself, now it's time to answer a few questions.
Who the hell is looking for Eva, and who wants to silence her? Are they
the same people?

Carefully, methodically he began to search the pockets of the two men
Novosty had killed outside. He knew what he was looking for. The first
appeared to be in his fifties, pockmarked cheeks, looked very Russian
in spite of it all. He had a small Spanish Llama 9mm compact in a
shoulder holster.

The other man was younger, though already balding. His cheeks were
drawn, and blood was already staining around the two holes in his cheap
polyester suit. His last expression was one of disbelief frozen in
time. He's the back-up, Vance told himself, number two. That's always
how they work. He should have stayed back home, maybe digging potatoes.

The passports were Bulgarian, a forgery, stamped with a Greek entry
visa one week old. Port of entry: Athens. But they had to be KGB. No
wonder Novosty was in trouble now. He was playing both sides of the
game.

Finally he pulled around the head of the other man, the one swathed in
black, the one who had almost killed him twice. This was the one he'd
been saving till last, trying to guess.

A bloody, brutal face stared back at him, and through the torn shirt he
could see a garish tattoo covering the back and chest. At first he
couldn't believe it, so he lit a match and cupped it against the rain
while he ripped open the rest of the cloth to be sure. History swirled
around him.

_Irezumi_. The rose-colored dragon-and-phoenix tattoo was regulation
issue--insignia of a _kobun_ of the right-wing ultranationalist Mino-
gumi, the foremost Yakuza crime syndicate of Japan. He knew it well.



CHAPTER FIVE



Thursday 7:30 A.M.



Andrei Petrovich Androv, director of propulsion systems, gazed out
across the windy strait, feeling the chill of the sea air cut through
his fur-lined trench coat.

Physically, he was almost mythic, a giant from Grimms' fairy tales. He
had a heavy face nature should wish on no man, tousled gray hair, bushy
eyebrows eternally cocked in skepticism, and a powerful taste for
Beethoven's string quartets, which he played incessantly in the
instrument room. He bore, in fact, more than a passing resemblance to
that aging, half-mad genius. Now seventy-one, he, too, possessed a
monumental mind and was acknowledged worldwide as the founding
intellect behind the Soviet space program.

Yes, he was thinking, this location had been ideal. Here in remote
Hokkaido they had constructed a high-security facility surrounded by
wind-swept wilderness--virgin forests and snow-covered volcanoes. Even
for him, a man long used to the harsh winters of Baikonur, the almost
Siberian weather along this coast was intimidating. This was the most
isolated, austere, and yes, lonely spot he'd ever known.

But it was the perfect site. Mino Industries had insisted, rightly, on
this northernmost point of Japan for the facility, here in a national
park on Cape Soya, fifty kilometers west of Wakkanai. The facility
itself had been constructed entirely underground, excavated beneath
this rocky northern coast in order to be secure and invisible to
satellite reconnaisance, both Soviet and American. Such excessive
precautions, hardly a problem in the New Mexico desert when the first
atomic bomb was tested, were the order of the day in this new era of
space photography. Nowadays you even had to find ways to mask telltale
waste heat

expulsion, which always betrayed an unmistakable infrared signature.

In that respect, too, their choice of this spot was strategic, with the
freezing currents of the La Perouse Strait between northern Hokkaido
and Sakhalin providing a continuous and thermally stable 12 degrees
Celsius feed for the heat exchangers. Only the ten-thousand-meter test
runway could not be concealed full-time, but it had been carefully
camouflaged and was used only at night.

A massive breaker crashed against the rocks at the north end of the
shore, sending ice-flecked spray upward into the morning mist. As he
watched the freezing cloud and felt its ice collecting on his cheeks,
he glanced at his watch. It was seven-forty. He took one last survey of
the choppy gray sea and turned back. His daily morning walk down to the
shore had achieved its purpose: His mind was as sharp as the icy wind
whistling through the rocks. He needed to be at Number One by 0800
hours, when the final test run was scheduled to begin.

As he did every morning, he retraced the concrete steps that led down
to the stainless steel entry door leading into the West Quadrant. When
he reached it, he inserted a coded plastic card into the slot,
pronounced his name into the black microphone flush with the metal
doorframe, and signaled the TV eye. Two seconds later a simulated voice
from the computer granted him access, the door sliding aside.

He nodded to the guards, then moved on down the long neon-lit, gray
hallway. When he reached the unmarked door of Number One, he paused to
listen. The whine of the fans was still a high growl as the engineers
ran through the warm-up preparatory to bringing its six 25,000-horse-
power motors to full power. Contenting himself that vibration in the
fan housings remained at acceptable levels, he flashed his ID to the
guard, inserted his magnetic card, and shoved open the door.

Without a word, he marched to his desk by the main video panel and
slipped a scratched old Melodiya disk onto his ancient turntable.
Moments later, the first movement of Beethoven's Quartet in A Minor
boomed from the speakers.

"We are ready to switch on the laser field, Doktor Androv." A young
Soviet technician approached gingerly. "If you wish, we can direct the
holograms here to the master terminal."

"More of your pretty pictures?" He was examining the data on the video
screens. Then he nodded. "_Da. Ya gotov_. When you will."

As he stared at the screens, he again found himself growing pensive.
The project was all but finished now. His lifelong dream.

He silently counted their breakthroughs. The new material being used
for the leading edges and scramjet struts, a proprietary titanium alloy
coated with a ceramic skin, had turned out to be much lighter than
aluminum and eight times as strong. Full-scale sections of the leading
edges of the wings and the engine struts had been subjected to ten-
minute blasts of 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit air at Mach 7 in the high-
temperature tunnel with no deformation or structural failure.

Then the turboramjet-scramjets, four meters in diameter and nine meters
long, had all been given full-scale static tests at the aeropropulsion
facility in the south, where they were operated to Mach 8 at
temperatures ranging from minus 100 to over 1900 degrees Fahrenheit.
Massive refrigeration units and gas heaters had been used to achieve
the temperature range, while liquefied air was pumped into the intakes
to duplicate a complete hypersonic duty cycle.

Maybe, he thought, they were ready for a full-scale test flight. Only
one problem remained: a hint of supersonic wave drag the low-
temperature helium wind tunnel had shown could develop behind the
leading edges. He had ordered the project director to run a computer
simulation examining the performance of two new ceramic spoilers,
modified canard foreplanes, and the preliminary results indicated the
drag would be effectively damped. Still, he was determined to test that
design modification with a full run-up here in Number One, the massive
hypersonic tunnel that contained a ten-meter scale model of the
vehicle.

As he sat thinking, he neglected to acknowledge the arrival of the
project director, now advancing down the concrete steps that led from
the steel entry door.

"_Dobriy utro_, Doktor Androv." Taro Ikeda's good-morning greeting was
heavily accented. "_Kak pashaviatye_?"

"_Khoroshau_." Andrei Petrovich Androv nodded absently, still engaged
in his thoughts. "_Dobriy utro_."

"Today I have more good news," Ikeda continued as he headed for the
coffee urn. "My 0730 briefing included a report that during the night
our Tsukuba team completed a simulation of the aerodynamic performance
of your suggested modification all the way to Mach 25. Just as you
envisioned, leading-edge deformation and vortex bursts were reduced to
values well within the acceptable envelope." He looked back. "Which
makes me question whether we really need to proceed with this morning's
run."

"Your SX-10 only tells us how a fuselage performs if airflows are
ideal," Androv replied. "At hypersonic temperatures and velocities air
doesn't behave predictably, like a perfect gas. Fluid dynamics models
can only give us approximations of actual characteristics." He glanced
up from the video control panel, his face determined. "It is my son,
Yuri, who will be in the cockpit of these vehicles, and my experience
is you never put your faith in simulations. In the hypersonic regime,
computer simulations are just guesswork, a shortcut not worth a
_drozhky _driver's fart."

"As you wish," Ikeda replied evenly, taking his first sip of coffee.

In truth, Andrei Androv did not dismiss simulations out of hand. He
knew their Fujitsu supercomputer was truly a marvel, capable of
replicating the aerodynamic characteristics of a given fuselage
component, modifying it, testing it, over and over millions of times,
iterating to the optimum design in almost the twinkling of an eye.

In every respect the high technology available here was astonishing.
Take their hypersonic wind tunnel. Its laser probes shone thin slices
of coherent light through the swirling air currents, revealing
complexities otherwise hidden amid whorls of turbulence. These data
were then enhanced through holography, which used the laser light to
create colored 3-D representations of the flow around the model.
Finally those holograms were fed into the supercomputer and analyzed
from all angles.

This project would have been impossible anywhere else on earth. But
here, the foreign team had created a feather-light hypersonic airframe
that used turbo-ramjets for horizontal takeoff and then changed their
geometry into fuel-injected supersonic combustion ramjets, or
scramjets, which combusted fuel and atmospheric oxygen using an
internal shock wave instead of conventional compressors to achieve
orbital velocity, Mach 25. It was his dream come true.

"Brief me again on the simulation." Androv turned back to Ikeda. "You
say you went all the way to our maximum design objective?"

"We ran through the entire flight profile in real time," the other man
replied. "There were no stability problems whatsoever. Either during
the power-up or during the switch-over to scramjet engine geometry at
Mach 4.8."

"Encouraging, encouraging." Androv turned back to his video panel as
the fans continued to accelerate. The violins of the A Minor quartet,
his favorite of all Beethoven's late works, washed over the room. "All
the same, we must run a complete sequence here for any design
alterations."

He then fell silent, studying the screens. Mach 25. That was--yes--almost
seventeen thousand miles per hour. A velocity greater than any existing
missile. And it was air-breathing!

Their supercomputer's revolutionary aerodynamic design had made it
possible. Problem: at velocities higher than Mach 5 unprecedented
airflows were required, due to heat buildup in the fuel-injection
struts and the shortage of oxygen at rarified altitudes. Solution: the
entire underside of the vehicle had been shaped to serve as an exten-
sion of the intakes for the twelve massive scramjets. The fuselage of
the plane itself was going to act as a giant funnel, scooping in air.
And it had appeared to work, at least in the computer. Then finally the
Japanese engineers had perfected the liquid-air-cycle process,
permitting the cryogenic hydrogen fuel to be used to liquefy a portion
of the incoming air and inject it under high pressure into the engine.
The final, essential breakthrough.

Andrei Androv was both an idealist and a pragmatist. In Russia you had
to be. That education began almost half a century earlier when, as a
student, he had been on hand to assist in the first free flight of a
Russian-made liquid fuel rocket, at an army base just outside Moscow.
He had experienced the exhilaration of a new frontier, and plunging
himself into the new science of rocketry, he had become a self-taught
expert who published theoretical works read and praised by men three
times his age.

Ironically, therefore, Andrei Petrovich Androv had not enjoyed the
luxury of being ignored, as the American rocket pioneer Goddard had
been. Joseph Stalin, always paranoid, decided that the rocket
researchers' "fireworks" were "dangerous to the country." Consequently,
Andrei Petrovich Androv was arrested, interrogated at Butyrskaya Prison
in Moscow, and dispatched on the Trans-Siberian Railroad to a convict
coal mine on the Pacific coast.

Eventually the political winds shifted. As a recognized rocket expert,
he was part of the 1946 Soviet team that shipped German scientists and
V-2 launchers back to Russia. Finally, under Khrushchev, he rose to
genuine prominence, since that general secretary believed that only
rockets, not manned aircraft, had the range to drop bombs on the U.S.
Nikita S. Khrushchev put Andrei Androv in charge of all Soviet
rocketry, and Andrei Androv put Russia in space.

He'd been in charge of constructing the sprawling Baikonur Cosmodrome,
near Tyuratram in Kazakhstan, central Asia, still the world's largest
space center. From it he orbited the world's first satellite, Sputnik,
and the world's first astronaut, Yuri Gagarin. He knew the byways of
that top-secret facility almost better than he knew his own living
room--the gantry systems, the fueling apparatus, the clean rooms, the
rocket assembly areas, the sectors where satellites were readied. Most
recently, in 1987, he had been in charge of the successful first test
launch of the most powerful vehicle the world had ever seen--the
Energia, propelled by liquid hydrogen engines capable of lifting a
hundred-ton space platform into orbit.

Also during that time his only son, Yuri Andreevich, had become the
Soviet Union's leading test pilot. Yuri was rarely home, and then, nine
years ago, Andrei Androv's wife had died of pneumonia. Isolated in the
long, snowy nights at Baikonur, he'd consoled himself with string quar-
tets, his studies of classical Greek, and his designs, his dreams of
the ultimate space vehicle.

But he knew Russia would never be able to build it alone. Soviet
computer and materials technology already was slipping behind those of
the West.

He grimaced to think how his country had been brought to today's
humiliating state of affairs, reduced to bargaining with foreigners
like Arabs in a medina. Eventually, though, pragmatism had overruled
all. Underlying this bizarre new alliance was one simple reality: the
USSR needed Japanese high technology desperately. And it needed that
technology now.

It had begun two years earlier, when the president himself had paid a
surprise secret visit to the space complex at Baikonur, supposedly to
review the Energia launch schedule. That, however, was merely the
official excuse. He actually had an entirely different agenda.

Without saying why, he had invited his old friend Andrei Petrovich
Androv to join him at the secluded hunting lodge where he was staying--
to talk, one-on-one, about the future of Soviet science. As that long
snowy evening wore on, wind whistling through the log walls and pine
smoke clouding the air, their conversation had turned to hard truths
and blunt language.

In vino, Veritas. By midnight, the uniformed bodyguards outside were
stamping their heavy boots to keep warm, and Andrei Petrovich and
Mikhail Sergeevich were both drinking vodka directly from the bottle,
had flung its tinfoil cap onto the rough-hewn boards of the cabin's
floor. By then, too, the revered Andrei Petrovich Androv was boldly
speaking his mind.

"Mikhail Sergeevich, time has run out for Russia. There is nothing to
buy, almost nothing to eat, and prices are soaring. There is so much
corruption you will not leave a Russian hospital alive unless you've
bribed everyone, right down to the drunken orderlies. And those bribes
can't be money. Who wants rubles? They are worthless. These days you
have to bribe with vodka." He'd laughed sadly, then picked up an old
copy of Pravda there by the fireplace, waved it in the air, and tossed
it into the crackling flames. "When we start cooperatives, they are
immediately taken over by our new mafia, Russia's ruble millionaires.
Everything--"

"_Perestroika_ will succeed in time, Andrei Petrovich," the president
had insisted perfunctorily, still not having explained why they were
meeting. "We are moving as rapidly as circumstances will permit. The
bureaucracy--"

"_Perestroika_!" Androv had roared back. "Have you heard the latest
joke from Moscow? _Perestroika_ is like a country where everyone is
switching from driving on the left side to the right side--gradually.
Our half-measure concessions to a market economy have produced the
worst of both systems. We now have a land with socialist initiative and
capitalist conscience." He paused to laugh again, then sobered. "And
soon, very soon, we're going to find ourselves in the technological
Third World. We need a vision. Even more, we need hard currency, and
Western technology now. And we need massive amounts. Nothing less can
save us."

That was when the president had nodded silently, then lifted a top-
secret document from his black leather briefcase. He explained that it
was a proposal from a consortium of foreigners. He wanted Andrei
Androv's honest assessment.

"Read this, Andrei Petrovich," he said, passing it over, "and tell me
what you think. It may well be a terrible thing even to consider, but I
must know your view. You, my old friend, are one of the few men I know
I can trust. This proposal, can it work?"

As he squinted by the flickering light of the fire, Andrei Petrovich
Androv almost couldn't believe what he was reading. Among other things,
the dream he had dreamed so long was there, his for the taking. The
dream of a bold venture in space achieved with a whole new level of
technology.

Along with it, the Soviet Union would receive everything it needed. The
foreigners would provide billions and billions in long-term, low-
interest loans and a flood of subsidized consumer goods to erase the
pain of perestroika, providing the president with the badly needed
financing, not to mention popular support, he needed to bring it off.
But there were price tags, several of them. The first would be total
access to all Soviet space and propulsion technology. That component
would actually make sense technically, but the others were higher, much
higher. Could it be done? Should it be done?

"What do you think, Andrei Petrovich?" the president had finally
spoken, his voice a whisper above the snap of embers and the howl of
wind. "Do we dare?"

The room had fallen silent for a long moment. Was this some kind of
trap? he almost wondered, like the old days. No, he'd quickly
concluded, this time Russia was different. He would have to trust
Mikhail Sergeevich. Most of all, though, he was holding his life-long
ambition in his hand. At last he replied, hope mingled with
apprehension.

"I think we have no choice." He had looked up at the president's
troubled eyes. "You have no choice."

"Unfortunately, I think you are right." He had sighed and turned his
gaze to the blackness outside the snow- banked window. "_Ve tyomnuyu
noch, ya znayu_. Yes, Andrei Petrovich. On this dark night, I finally
know what we must do."

After one final vodka, they had set about devising the scenario that
would change the world forever. . . .

The airflow around the model continued to accelerate, while laser
holograms of its complex aerodynamics were now being converted by the
computer into multi-colored graphic art. Androv watched the wall-size
liquid crystal display screen in the control room begin generating a
vivid depiction of the streams whirling past the model, simulating the
incremental stages of hypersonic climb. It was like watching a
hallucination, he thought, as colors swirled around the fuselage of an
object seemingly composed of 3-D lines and curves.

"We are now at Mach 6, Comrade Doktor Androv." The voice of a Soviet
technician interrupted his thoughts. "The laser data show that the
supersonic wave drag peaks at Mach 3.8, then subsides. Your new canard
foreplanes appear to be working, at least for this portion of the
flight envelope."

Androv studied the screen, noncommittal. "Thus far it would appear to
be so. Perhaps the SX-10 was correct. All the same, at Mach 7, I want
to switch on the enhancer, then capture those data and analyze them to
be doubly sure."

The hypersonic enhancer permitted wind-tunnel burst tests at far higher
velocities than a conventional facility could achieve. More high tech.

"There could still be a problem," Androv continued, "when the vortex of
air currents shed from the nose of the fuselage encounters the shock
waves from the wings, particularly around Mach 11." He turned to Ikeda.
"Those vortexes have been responsible for significant damage to several
American space shuttles during reentry phase. I need to see the data."

"As you wish." The director walked to the thick glass window that
looked out onto the model suspended in the airstream. The crew of
technicians hovered over the controls, watching for any signs of
vibration. He studied the screens for a few moments, then spoke quietly
to the head of the technical team, an intense young man in spectacles.
This lieutenant turned and passed the order to his colleagues, who
nodded gravely and stationed themselves at the switches.

Above the roar, a brilliant arc of electricity suddenly exploded just
in front of the nose of the model, adding an additional burst of
pressure at Mach 6 to the velocity already passing across. It was a
blinding, microsecond pulse that momentarily boosted simulated vehicle
velocity to Mach 13. The lasers registered the data, then passed it
directly, via microwave link, into the memory banks of the powerful SX-
10 operating hundreds of miles away.

Seconds later the turbulence data appeared in visual form on the liquid
crystal screen above them. As the colored numbers flashed, a cheer went
up from the normally somber technicians.

"Still no sign of any wave drag outside the theoretical envelope, not
even at Mach 13," the young head-technician beamed.

"Just as we simulated," Ikeda noted quietly.

This time even the grave Androv smiled. "I must congratulate all of
you." He was rising from his chair, the central one facing the main
controls.

"Then I will order the modification installed," Ikeda nodded, "if you
formally authorize it."

"Authorized. I think you are right. Perhaps we are ready for a
hypersonic test flight." Androv reached to switch off his turntable. "I
would like to go down to the hangar now myself, in fact. Perhaps
celebrate this moment with a glass of tea."

"Of course." Ikeda spoke quickly to his Japanese technicians, then
followed the Russian out the door.

The hallways were a connected maze of brilliantly lighted and
scrupulously clean tunnels. They moved down the main corridor to the
central checkpoint, then turned and entered the South Quadrant, passing
the various assembly sections. Those sectors were mostly quiet now,
since the final work had been completed several weeks earlier.

Androv said nothing as they walked toward the doorways connecting the
South Quadrant with the underground hangar. He merely whistled a
portion of the third movement of the A Minor quartet, Beethoven's hymn
of thanksgiving in the Greek, Lydian mode. He recalled that the English
writer Aldous Huxley had once suggested that particular movement was
proof of God's existence.

Was there a God? He wasn't sure. The only miracles he knew of on this
earth were performed by men. He was on the verge of performing one
himself.

The history of space exploration had been played out entirely in his
lifetime. He himself had been the architect of much of that progress.
But putting a man into space remained an expensive and dangerous
proposition. Launch vehicles still exploded with alarming regularity.
Man was trapped on this planet. God was still in the heavens.

Man's hope of reaching God at will required a special creation, one
that could taxi off a runway just like a normal aircraft, then
accelerate to hypersonic speeds, reaching low-earth orbit. An air-
breathing space vehicle. Its potential for the peaceful exploration of
near-earth space defied imagination.

Peace. All his life, Andrei Petrovich Androv had worked in the shadow
of war. Now, at last, he had created the ultimate symbol of peace.

The entry to the hangar was secured, but when the guards saw Dr. Androv
and the project director approaching, they saluted and punched in the
codes on the locks. Moments later the heavy steel doors slid aside,
revealing the brilliant lights of the hangar. It was cavernous, over a
hundred feet high, with gantries now standing idle along the walls.
White-coated technicians swarmed over the two prototypes, checking the
final seals, while others were on twenty-foot-high trucks servicing the
engines.

Looming above them were what appeared to be two giant prehistoric
birds, streaks of gleaming silver over three hundred feet in length,
with pen-sharp noses that dipped rakishly downward. Androv paused to
admire them a moment, marveling in spite of himself. The long, sleek
lines swept back in a clean curve, without the interruption of a
windshield. The "cockpit," in fact, was deep inside the nose, where
shock waves would not impact the computer guidance system. From the
nose its lines burgeoned into a sharp, clean fan, and beneath the two
abbreviated wings were suspended twelve massive turboramjet-scramjets.
They had already been certified at Mach 4.5. In ten days one of these
vehicles would achieve the ultimate. Mach 25, seventeen thousand miles
per hour.

The Americans had code-named their fledgling design

for a hypersonic space plane--still at least a decade away-- the X-30.
But no such mundane designation would satisfy Andrei Petrovich Androv,
devoted disciple of the ancients. He had long believed the Americans
were high-tech vulgarians with no poetry in their soul, no sense of
history.

Across the towering tail assembly of both aircraft was an insignia that
symbolized the joining of two of the world's great superpowers, a
double ax. And along their titanium-composite fuselage was lettered a
single word, in Cyrillic characters. Andrei Androv had insisted on that
name, in celebration of the first human ever to soar above the earth,
the dream of ancient man. Now, he had declared, four thousand years
later, there was another dream, his dream, a hypersonic vehicle that
could loft man directly into space from anywhere on the planet.

He had dreamed that dream. And the Mino Industries Group had permitted
him to pick the name for the creation that would realize it, for the
miracle that would master time and space, the earth itself . . .

DAEDALUS



Thursday 9:16 A.M.



Yuri Androv stood at the far end of the flood-lit hangar, staring up at
the underbelly of _Daedalus I _and thinking. This morning's run-up in
the centrifuge had gone well. At last he was convinced there was no
physiological barrier to hypersonic flight, at least none he couldn't
handle. The scramjets had all been put through their paces at the aero-
propulsion facility. On the test stand, at least, they met their
specifications.

Yes, he was thinking, this plane just might do it. He would ease
through the Mach 4.8 barrier slowly, then convert to scramjet geometry,
switch to liquid hydrogen, and go full throttle. It was scary, sure,
but you only lived once. Fuck the danger.

The prospect was exhilarating and chilling. He looked up, again awed.
Even for someone who'd seen and flown them all, this was an inspiring
creation. Not only was it easily the most technologically advanced
flight vehicle in the world, it also was stunningly beautiful.

Right now, however, there were two simple problems: first, without a
hypersonic test flight nobody could really be sure it would do what it
was supposed to; second, as of now both prototypes still belonged to
Mino Industries and would continue to belong to Mino Industries until
the final treaty and agreement were signed.

Actually, taking the _Daedalus_ hypersonic might be the least of the
project's worries. That was the part he knew how to handle. The
unknowns lay in another direction entirely, the strategic direction.

Strategically, he still didn't trust Russia's new partner. From what
he'd heard, the conditions demanded in return for all their high
technology had been heavy, and that was just the short-term price. The
long-term cost might be even greater. Was the Soviet Union about to
become the financial and technological captive of a shadowy group of
foreigners, men whose identities remained, even now, shrouded in
secrecy? Was this a Faustian bargain?

Just then he noticed the doors at the far end of the hangar slide open
and two men in white lab coats enter. Perfect timing, he thought. Even
at that distance he knew immediately who they were: the joint venture's
two top technical officers: his father, Andrei Petrovich Androv, and
Taro Ikeda, the project director for the Japanese team. The men held
equal authority. Supposedly. But in fact all the real decisions on this
project were being made by somebody else entirely. The shots were
actually being called from a skyscraper in Tokyo, by a mysterious CEO
known as Tanzan Mino.

Now Ikeda and the elder Androv were headed his way. As he watched
Ikeda, he felt himself involuntarily stiffen. Perhaps his unease about
the man was his intuitive, right brain working, trying to tell him
something. But what? All communications with the CEO were channeled
through Ikeda. Fair enough, he told himself, he was accustomed to
secrecy. Maybe Japanese industrialists were as careful about protecting
their asses as the Soviet _nomenklatura _were. Maybe it was just part
of the landscape here too. But still . . .

"_Strastvitya_, Yuri Andreevich." Ikeda smiled, extending his pale hand
as he simultaneously bowed. "_Kak pashaviatye_?"

"_Khoroshau. Spahcebo_." He shook Ikeda's hand, then nodded toward his
father. "If this is a good time, I'd like to discuss the scramjet
power-up sequence with Dr. Androv for a few moments."

"If it's anything serious, then perhaps we should all confer with the
prime contractors," Ikeda responded smoothly. "Right now, in my office.
In fact, I was just on the phone with--"

"No need to bring them in. Just a few technical items, nothing more."

"Yuri Andreevich." Ikeda smiled and bowed again, his eyes trying to
display a warmth they clearly did not possess. "Every issue here is of
importance to us all. If--"

"Not every nut and bolt," he interrupted. "I just have some sequencing
questions, that's all."

Ikeda bowed once more, quickly. "You know we are all depending on you.
No one in Japan has the experience to take up a plane like this. At
least not at this stage of the project. So be aware that any matter
weighing upon the success of your test flight, or your safety--" he
flashed another quick, concerned smile "--is naturally of gravest
concern to me, and to the CEO."

"Then you should be glad to hear the power-up simulation in the
centrifuge this morning took me right through Mach 9.8 with no
problems. Which means the scramjet ignition sequence looks like a go."

"Congratulations." Ikeda nodded.

"One last thing. I'll be sending a memo to Engineering about a
modification of the cockpit, to permit more latitude in the seat.
Nothing major. I think we could still reduce vascular stress in the
high-G regime."

Andrei Androv noticed the look of concern on his son's face. "Yuri, you
seem troubled. This morning, did anything--?"

"Of course, send Engineering your memo by all means,"

Ikeda interjected. "I'll personally see it's taken care of. We want
nothing to go wrong. Not even the smallest--"

"Good. That's all I want." Yuri turned and wrapped his arm around his
father's aging shoulders, gently urging him in the direction of the
trucks stationed beneath the silver nose of Daedalus I. He wanted to
get rid of Ikeda so he could talk. After they moved a few feet, he
yelled back over his shoulder. "But wait on the decision till you read
my memo."

"As you wish." Ikeda nodded farewell. "I'll be in my office until 1300
hours if we need contractor input."

Which meant, Yuri knew, that no further communication with him was
permissible after that time. Technical consultations were only held
during mornings. Afternoons he seemed to have other pressing matters to
attend to.

"Yuri, the run-up in Number One went well this morning. I think we've
finally eliminated the supersonic wave drag." The elder Androv was
heading over to check the hydraulic lifts supporting the landing gear
and its heavy 22-ply retractable tires. Then he glanced back and
smiled. "I'm beginning to believe in miracles. We might just succeed."

"If those damned scramjets up there," he pointed skyward, "actually
achieve ignition when they're supposed to."

"I've studied the static-test data carefully. At the propulsion
facility they routinely achieved ignition at Mach 4.8. The numbers were
there and they looked all right. Temperature regime, pounds thrust, all
the rest."

What's really happening, Yuri thought suddenly, is they've taken our
engineering design and built it. But what if we're just being used
somehow, having our brains picked, our expertise stolen? Then what?

He said nothing, though, just listened quietly as the older man
continued.

"Also, the new ceramic composite they've come up with for the fuel
injection struts was heated to thirty-five hundred degrees Fahrenheit
and repeatedly stress-tested. Those data were particularly impressive.
You know, the struts have always been the Achilles heel for a scramjet,
since the fuel has to be injected directly through them into the
combustion chamber. They have to withstand shock waves, and thermal
stresses, far beyond anything ever encountered in a conventional
engine. Nobody else has ever come up with a material that can do it.
Not us, not the Americans, not anybody. But now, their high-temperature
materials and liquid air cycle have finally made the scramjet concept a
reality. The last roadblock is gone." He looked up, still marveling.
"All we or the Americans can do is make engineering drawings of those
engines, just pictures."

"I hope you're right. But when we switch over from JP-7 to liquid
hydrogen, nobody knows what can happen. It's never been done before."

"Are you really worried?" The old man studied him.

"Damned right I am. Who wouldn't be?" He looked around at the milling
Japanese technicians, then lowered his voice. "And I'll tell you
something else. There're other things around here worrying me too,
maybe even more. Something about this project is starting to feel
wrong."

"What do you mean?" Andrei stared.

"I'm beginning to suspect ... I don't know. So far it's just a sense,
but--"

"Yuri, let me tell you a hard fact," the elder Androv interjected.
"Like it or not, this project is the only chance the Soviet Union has
to ever own a vehicle like this."

"That may be true, but if we--"

"Remember the sad fate of the TU-144," he went on, "the supersonic
passenger plane we built based on some engineering drawings for the
Concorde we managed to get hold of. We copied it, but we got it wrong,
and in 1973 we had that horrible tragedy at the Paris Air Show, when it
crashed in a ball of fire. That was the end of it. We failed, and it
was humiliating. The Soviet Union couldn't even build a supersonic
passenger jet. The real truth is, we didn't have the computers we
needed to design it." He looked up, smiling. "But now, all that
humiliation will be undone."

Yuri suddenly realized his father was being swept up in his dreams. The
same way he sometimes got lost in those damned string quartets, or
reading Euripides in the original Greek. He was going off in his
fantasy world again. He couldn't see that maybe he was being used.

"Have you ever wondered where this project is going to lead? Where it
has to lead?"

"It will lead the way to peace. It will be a symbol of cooperation
between two great nations, demonstrating that the human spirit can
triumph."

"_Moi otyets_, it could just as well 'lead the way' to something else
entirely. Don't you realize what's happening here? We're giving away
our thruster engineering, Russia's leading technology. It's the one
area where we still lead the world. We've just handed it over . . . for
the price of one fucking airplane. And even if we eventually get our
hands on these prototypes, we can't build more without begging the
materials from them. We can't fabricate these composite alloys in the
Soviet Union."

"But this is a joint venture. Everything will be shared." He smiled
again, his face gnome-like beneath his mane of white hair. "It will
also give us both a chance to overcome the lead of Europe and America
in commercial passenger transport in the next century. That's what this
is all about. The future of nonmilitary aviation, it's right here."

"Do you really believe that?" He stifled a snort of incredulity. "Don't
you see what this vehicle really is? Let me tell you. It's the most
deadly weapons delivery system the world has ever seen. And we're
showing them how to build it, even testing it for them to make sure
it'll perform."

"The Daedalus will never be a military plane. I would never have
participated if I thought--"

"Exactly. That's what they want us to believe. But it sure as hell
could be. And Mino Industries will be the only company on earth that
can actually build more of them." He sensed it was useless to argue
further. Nothing mattered to Andrei Petrovich Androv except what he
wanted to believe. At this point, nothing could be done to expose the
dangers, because nobody on the Soviet team would listen.

Or maybe there was something. Why not make a small revision in the test
flight? Once he was aloft, what was anybody going to do? He would be up
there, alone. If he could get around their flight computer, he might
just show the world a thing or two. He'd been thinking about it for
weeks now.

"All right." He turned back. "If this thing is supposedly ready to fly,
then I'll fly it. But get ready for some surprises."

"Yuri, what are you planning?"

"Just a small unscheduled maneuver." The hell with it, he thought.
"They've got seven days, and then I take it up . . . and power-in the
scramjets. I'm ready to go. Tell Ikeda to prepare to have liquid
hydrogen pumped into the tanks."

"But that's not how we've structured the test schedule." Andrei
examined him, startled. Yuri had always been fiery, but never
irrational. "We need ten--"

"Fuck the schedule. I'm going to take this vehicle hypersonic in a
week, or they can get themselves another test pilot." He turned away.
"Reschedule, or forget it. We don't have much time left. Once all the
agreements are signed--"

"Yuri, I don't like this." His eyes were grave. "It's not--"

"Just tell them to get _Daedalus I_ prepped. I think these bastards
that call themselves Mino Industries have a whole agenda they're not
telling us about. But I'm about to rearrange their timetable."



CHAPTER Six



Thursday 2:51 A.M.



A very wet, very annoyed Michael Vance rapped on the door of Zeno
Stantopoulos's darkened _kafeneion_. He'd walked the lonely back road
into Iraklion in the dark, guiding himself by the rain-battered groves
of plane trees, olive, and wild pear, trying to figure out what in hell
was happening.

To begin with, members of the intelligence services of major nations
didn't go around knocking each other off; that was an unwritten rule
among spooks. Very bad taste. Maybe you tried to get somebody to talk
with sodium pentathol or scopolamine, but guns were stupid and every-
body knew it. You could get killed with one of those things, for
godsake.

So this operation, whatever it was, was outside the system. Good. That
was the way he had long since learned to work.

There was a lot on his mind, and the walk, the isolation, gave him a
chance to think over some of the past. In particular, the austere
Cretan countryside brought to mind an evening five years ago when he'd
traveled this little-used route with his father, Michael Vance, Sr.
That occasion, autumn brisk with a first glimmering of starlight,
they'd laughed and joked for much of the way, the old man occasionally
tapping the packed earth sharply with his cane, almost as though he
wanted to establish final authority over the island and make it his,
once and for all. Finally, the conversation turned serious.

"Michael, don't tell me you never miss academic life," his father had
finally brought himself to say, masking the remark by casually brushing
aside yet another pale stone with his cane. "More and more, your theory
about the palace is gaining credence. You may find yourself famous all
over again. It's an enviable position."

"Maybe one turn in the snake pit was enough," he smiled. "Academia and
I form a sort of mutual disrespect society."

"Well," his father had gone on, "the choice is yours, but you know I'll
be retiring from Penn at the end of this term. Naturally there'll be
some vicious in-house jockeying to fill my shoes, but if you'd like, I
could probably arrange things with the search committee."

Vindicated at last, he'd realized. It seemed the only sin in academia
greater than being wrong was being right too soon. But the small-minded
universe of departmental politics was the last thing he wanted in his
life. These days he played in the big time.

"I'm afraid I'll have to pass."

"I suppose university life is too limiting for you now," the old man
had finally said, grudgingly but admiringly.

He'd said that, and nothing more. Two months later he'd had a second
stroke and retired permanently. These days he grew orchids in Darien,
Connecticut, and penned impassioned longhand letters to the Times every
day or so, just to keep his capacity for moral outrage honed.

Vance had definitely gone his own way. First he'd published a book that
rocked the scholarly world; then he'd compounded that offense by
walking out on the brouhaha that followed and going free-lance,
starting his own business. Next he'd become involved with the
Washington intelligence community, and finally he'd begun working with
the Association of Retired Mercenaries. It was a universe so alien to
his father it might as well have been on Mars. But if the old man was
disappointed that Michael Vance, Jr., hadn't turned out the way he'd
planned, he still took pride in his son.

Now, though, Stuttgart and the restoration of Phaistos would have to be
put on hold till the latest game with Novosty was sorted out. The
protocol. It was still running through his mind. Could there be some
sort of alliance cooking between the Soviets and the Japanese mob? What
in hell . . . ?

"Michael, she is here." A hoarse whisper emerged as the rickety wooden
door of the _kafeneion_  edged open. Zeno tugged down his nightshirt
and carefully edged it wider, squinting out at the street. "Come in.
Quickly. Before you are seen."

So his guess had been right: she was avoiding the hotel. Good move.
Smart and typical of Eva. She was handling this one exactly right.

He stepped through the door. "Where is she now?"

"She's in back. Adriana gave her something to make her sleep." Zeno was
pulling out a chair from one of the empty tables. The room was shrouded
in darkness, and the stale odor of the kitchen permeated the air. "She
was not herself, Michael. What happened? She claimed someone was trying
to murder her. At the palace. Did you two--?"

"We tried throwing a party, but it started getting crowded." He looked
around. "I could use some of that _raki _of yours. I just had a close
encounter with a guy you wouldn't sit down next to on a bus. He refused
to leave politely so . . . I had to make him disappear. Bad scene."

"You killed him?"

"He was shooting, at Eva and me. Very unsociable." He glanced toward
the back of the darkened room. "Zeno, our party guest tonight was--
you're not going to believe this-- a Japanese hood. Tell me something.
Is the Yakuza trying to get a foothold in Crete? You know, maybe buying
up property? That's their usual style. It's more or less how they first
moved in on Hawaii."

"Michael, this country is so poor, there's nothing here for gangsters
to steal." He laughed. "Let me tell you a secret. If a stranger came
around here and tried to muscle me, or any of my friends, he would not
live to see the sun tomorrow. Even the Sicilian Cosa Nostra is afraid
of us. Crete is still a small village in many ways, in spite of the
crazy tourists. We tolerate strangers, even open our homes to them if
they are well behaved, but we know each other's secrets like a family.
So, to answer your question, the idea of a Japanese syndicate coming
here is impossible to imagine. You know that as well as I do."

"That's what I thought. But I saw a _kobun _from the biggest Yakuza
organization in Japan tonight. I know because I had a little tango with
their godfather a few years back. Anyway, what's one of his street men
doing here, shooting at Eva and me?" He paused as the implications of
the night began to sink in. "This scene could start to get rough."

"You did nothing more than anybody here would have done." He looked
pensive in the dim light. "Years ago, when the colonels and their junta
seized Greece, I once had to--" He hesitated. "Sometimes we do things we
don't like to talk about afterwards. But you always remember the eyes
of a man you must kill. You dream about them."

"Our party lighting was pretty minimal. It was too dark to make out his
eyes."

"Then you are luckier than you know." He glanced away. "This was not
somebody you knew from another job, Michael? Perhaps the mercenary
group you sometimes--"

"Never saw the guy before in my life, swear to God. Anyway, I think it
was Eva he really wanted. But whatever's going on, I have to get her
out of Crete now, before whoever it is finds her again."

"I agree." He was turning toward the living quarters in the rear. "You
should stay here tonight, and then tomorrow we can get you both passage
on the car ferry to Athens, off the island. I will take care of
everything. Tickets, all of it." He returned carrying two tumblers of
_raki_. After setting them on the table, he continued. "I am very wor-
ried for her, Michael. And for you. We all make enemies, but--" He took
a sip from his glass. "By the way, do you have a pistol?"

"Not with me." He reached for the glass, wishing it was tequila--
straight, with a twist of lime--and he was back on the Ulysses, trimming
the genoa. "That's a mistake I may not make again soon."

"Then I will arrange for one. Like I said, everything. I have many
friends. Do not worry." He drank again. "By the way, she asked me go to
the hotel and get something for you. She seemed to think it was
important. One of your modern American inventions. She had it locked in
the safe at the desk. And she gave me money to pay for her room." He
sighed. "Why would she waste money on a hotel when she could have
stayed here with us?"

"What is it?"

"I think it's a computer, though it's barely the size of a briefcase.
Part of the new age that mercifully has passed us by. I have it in
back, with the rest of her things." His voice disappeared into the
darkened kitchen. Moments later he reappeared carrying Eva's laptop.
With a worried look he settled it gingerly on the table. "Do you have
any idea why she had this with her?"

"I think she may have something stored in here." He settled it on the
table and flipped up the top. Then he felt along the side for the
switch, and a second later the screen glowed blue. After the operating
system was in place, he punched up the files.

A long line of names filled the screen, arranged alphabetically. But
nothing seemed right. It was a stream of unclassified NSA memos, and
then a lot of personal letters. He resisted the temptation to call them
up and delve into her private life. How many men . . . ?

Stick to business. Save the fun for later. Where's the file?

Then he noticed the very first alphanumeric.

"Ackerman."

Hold on, he thought, wasn't that the name of the NSA guy she said gave
her the disk? He highlighted the file on the screen and hit Retrieve.
An instant later it appeared.

Yep, this one had to be it. Clearly an NSA document, very carefully
stored.



(NSCID No. 37896)    Page 1 of 28

Dept: Rl/SIGINT

Classification: TOP SECRET

Authorization: Dept/H/O/D only

Analyst: Eva Borodin

Init: EKB

Encryption: PES/UNKNOWN Reference: Classified

        DAEDALUS PROTOCOL

The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and Mino Industries
Group, hereinafter referred to as the Parties;

        MINDFUL of their obligation to strive for technological
progress in both nations,

       CONVINCED that the technical and financial agreements specified
in this Protocol will serve the long-range strategic interests of both
Parties,

CONSCIOUS that the success of Project Daedalus will lead to increased
cooperation and mutual understanding between the peoples of the USSR
and Japan,

       HAVE HEREBY AGREED AS FOLLOWS:

Article I

4659830481867394210786980498673261559798093
0291870980798578367251426478966596983748586
7030945896970980549381738405401290487571092
3836142543495019294766477810298378578576924
8598504821273850956070971070901613386089274 765608021834860 . . .



That was it. The stream of numbers filled three pages, and then came
Article II. Thus it went, for ten articles. As he scrolled up page
after page, he realized that the numbers continued for the rest of the
document.

She was right. Outside of occasional repetitions, there seemed to be no
real pattern. He'd seen a lot of encryptions in the old days, but this
one didn't look like anything standard.

He sat staring at the screen. Mino Industries Group. That explained the
_Mino-gumi _goon. The godfather was planning his biggest play yet,
global.

But what was it? What was in the deal? This was something he had to
see.

Eva had said she tried the Data Encryption Standard, the DES system,
and got nowhere. Which meant NSA had been foiled. How had he done it?

DES was a procedure whereby data were passed through a series of eight
S-boxes, actually mathematical operations, that when combined with a
unique user key converted it into what appeared to be alphanumeric gar-
bage. The receiver also had a copy of the key, which could be used in
combination with the same set of mathematical operations to convert it
back.

He knew that back when DES was being invented by IBM, the National
Security Agency had purposely sabotaged Big Blue's original plan to
make it uncrackable. NSA had insisted that the key, a string of zeroes
and ones, be limited to 56 bits, rather than the proposed 128 bits,
which would have made the system so complex it would have been safe
forever. The reason, of course, was that NSA didn't want an unbreakable
cipher loose on the planet; after all, their primary business was
reading other people's mail. IBM didn't know it at the time, but the
smaller key was already a pushover for NSA's Cray supercomputers, which
could try a trillion random keys per second and routinely crack any 56-
bit DES encryption in the world in half a day.

Anybody familiar with the intelligence business was well aware of that.
Which was, obviously, why somebody had turned to NSA.

But Eva said she'd tried the usual random-key procedure and got
nowhere. So what was the answer?

His head was buzzing from the raki now, but he kept turning over in his
mind the possibility that she'd been looking in the wrong place. Trying
to find the DES key when in fact this encryption used some entirely
different scheme.

He rubbed at his temples and tried to run the scenario backward.

_Project Daedalus_. The more he thought about it, the more . . .

"Zeno." He looked up from the screen. "Do you still have that copy of
Realm of the Spirit?" He'd sent the old Greek an autographed first
edition the week it came out.

"Your book, Michael? Of course I have it. I treasure it. It's in the
bedroom, in back."

"Mind getting it for me? I feel like a little light reading."

"At four in the morning? Michael, I think--"

"You know how it is when your mind gets filled up with garbage at
bedtime."

"You should be getting some sleep, like Eva. Tomorrow we have to--"

"I need to relax a little first. And I need that book. There's a chart
in the appendix guaranteed to put anybody to sleep."

"Very well." He sighed, drank off the last of his _raki_, and pulled
himself erect. "Sometimes you can be as headstrong as your father."

As quiet settled over the room, Vance continued to stare at the screen.
Why did he have a hunch he was right on this one? Could he really crack
a cypher with a 486 portable when NSA's Cray supercomputers had bombed?

Maybe. Stranger things had happened. The samurai swordsmen said you
needed to know your opponent's mind. Here, in the waning hours before
dawn in the middle of Crete, he was feeling a curious oneness with who-
ever had devised this random-looking string of numbers. He'd created
number strings just like this himself, back before the CIA had come
into his life.

"Here it is, Michael. Adriana said Eva is still asleep. I don't know
what she gave her, perhaps one of her old wives potions." He chuckled
quietly. "That's one of the reasons I love her so much. When you get
ancient like I am, it's good to be married to a nurse."

Vance took the book and, in spite of himself, weighed it in his hand.
What was it? maybe two pounds? The glistening dust jacket, unusual for
a university book back in those days, was still pristine. He smiled,
realizing it was unread.

"Thanks." He finally remembered Zeno. "This should do the trick. Now
why don't you go on to bed? I'll just stretch out here on a table when
I get sleepy."

"Michael, sometimes I think you are a madman." He shrugged, then turned
to hobble back toward the bedroom. "Just don't answer the door,
whatever you do."

"Get some sleep. I'll be doing the same."

"Then good night. May God give you rest." He was gone.

Vance barely nodded, since he was already turning to the appendix of
the book and switching on the dim overhead light. The volume brought
back a world long lost for him. Now he wanted it back, if only for a
moment.

He flipped to Appendix C. There he'd reproduced, as a dutiful scholar
should, the standard numerical correlates for the syllabary of Linear
B._

_

_Mycenaen Syllabary (after Ventris, 1953)



da         qa      sa     je      o     ra

01         16      31    46    61    76



ro          za      qo    pu    pte   ka

02         17      32    47     62   77



pa         zo       ti     du     ta    qe

03         18      33   48     63    78

_

The numbers continued on to ninety. He checked the files and, sure
enough, she had a Lotus data management system on the hard disk. He
quickly structured a format for his matrix, then began coding in the
sounds. The setup was simple, but the next part would need some
programming. The numbers in the protocol had to be converted to sounds.
It looked easy, but what if they'd been deliberately garbled somehow?
He'd be no better off than before.

Think positive.

As he finished coding in the grid, he could hear the tentative
stirrings of early morning Iraklion outside. Trucks were starting up,
birds coming alive. He began noticing the lack of sleep, but he pushed
it aside and took another sip of _raki_. Just keep going, he told
himself. You're about to find out if great minds really do think alike.
. . .

"Darling, what in the world are you doing with my computer?" The voice
was like a whisper over his shoulder.

"How about checking to see if you've got any video games?" He turned
around, startled in spite of himself. What had woken her? She was
probably wired. "Eva, why did you take off tonight? And what was that
nonsense you were yelling at me?"

"Maybe it wasn't nonsense. Alex said you were working for him. He said
you two were partners. It's not really true, is it?" She slumped into a
chair. She was wearing a light dressing gown, her hair tousled. With a
groan she rubbed at her eyes. "I don't need this."

"You can forget about Alex. He's playing way over his head. It's always
bad judgment to underestimate the other team's strengths." He reached
for her. "You've just got to decide who you trust. You might start with
Zeno. He's offered to help me get you out of Crete."

"And go where?" She moved against him. "Michael, they found me here.
They'll find me anywhere."

"Not if we turn this scene around and take the action to them. But
that's the next move. Right now, you just have to be out of Crete while
I do a little checking. How about flying to Miami, grabbing a plane
down to Nassau, then--"

"You're going to get me on the Ulysses or die trying, aren't you."

He decided to let the crack pass. It was true, however. If she ever saw
it, he was sure she'd start to understand.

"You know," she went on, "this afternoon I was merely worried. Now I'm
actually frightened. Guess I'm not as brave as I thought. I'm sorry
about tonight, running off like that."

"Not the first time I've had a woman give me the gate." He laughed,
then reached out and stroked her hair, missing the long tresses of the
old days. "Now, you can help me out with something. Does the name
Yakuza mean anything to you?"

"What are you talking about?" She studied him, puzzled.

"I probably shouldn't tell you this, maybe it'll just upset your
morning, but that wiseguy who broke up our party last night was a
Japanese hood. From the _Mino-gumi_ syndicate. Back home they're Numero
Uno. They run Tokyo and Osaka and they've got half the Liberal
Democratic Party in their pocket. Then there's the old CIA connection,
from days gone by."

"How do you know?"

"After you took off, our friend dropped in again. Uninvited as usual.
That's when Novosty finished him off with his Uzi and I got a closer
look."

"Alex killed--! My God, that makes three."

"By actual count. He's gone a little trigger happy in his old age. That
or he's very, very scared." He rubbed at the scratch on his neck,
remembering. "What if it's the Japanese mob that's behind this? They
have the funding, that's for sure. Among other things, they run
consumer loans in Japan, legalized loan sharking. They've got more
money than God."

"This is too much. I don't know anything about . . ." She rose,
trembling. "I'll go with you to Nassau, Michael. Let's take the Ulysses
and just disappear in the middle of the Atlantic."

"It's a deal." He beamed. "But first we've got to answer some
questions. You say the Yakuza are not part of anything you know about?"

"I'm only vaguely aware they exist."

"And you don't know who runs Mino Industries?"

"Never heard of it before."

"It's a bunch of nice, clean-cut mobsters. Problem is, one of the
owner's _kobun_, street men, tried to kill us tonight. Maybe we're
finally getting a little light at the end of the tunnel." He looked her
over. Eva was always beautiful in the mornings. There was something
wanton about her this time of day. "Come here a minute."

He took her and cradled her in his arms, then brushed his lips against
her brow. "You okay?"

"I think so." She took a deep breath.

"Never knew you to quit just because things got tough." He drew her
around. "You're the cryptography expert. Why don't we try to find out
what kind of phonetics Ventris's numerical correlates for Linear B
would produce from these numbers?"

"What are you talking about?" She rubbed at her eyes.

"You know, in my travels I've discovered something. A great mind often
has a touch of poetry. Sometimes, in order to think like the other guy,
you need to be a little artistic. So, I wonder . . . about that
cipher."

"You mean--?"

"Just a crazy, early morning idea." He patted the keyboard of the
laptop. "What if the mind behind it is using a system no computer in
the world would ever have heard of?"

"There's no such thing, believe me."

"Maybe yes, maybe no." He flipped open his book to the central section,
a glossy portfolio of photos. He'd shot them himself with an old Nikon.
"Take a look at this and refresh your memory."

She looked down at the photo of a large Minoan clay jar from the
palace, a giant _pithoi_, once a container for oil or unguents or water
for the bath. Along the sides were inscribed rows of wavy lines and
symbols. It was the Minoan written language, which, along with
cuneiform and hieroglyphics, was among the oldest in the world. "You
mean Linear B."

"Language of King Minos. As you undoubtedly remember, it's actually a
syllabary, and a damned good one. Each of these little pictures is a
syllable, a consonant followed by a vowel. Come on, this was your
thing, way back when. Look, this wavy flag here reads mi, and here,
this little pitchfork with a tail reads no." He glanced up. "Anyway,
surely you recall that Linear B has almost a hundred of these syllable
signs. But Ventris assigned them numbers since they're so hard to
reproduce in typeface. For example, this series here, _mi-no-ta-ro_
reads numerically as--" he checked the appendix, "13-52-59-02. Run them
together and _minotaro_ reads 13525902. And just like the early Greeks,
the Minoans didn't insert a space between words. If somebody was using
Linear B, via Ventris' system, the thing would come out looking like an
unintelligible string of numbers."

"You don't really--"

"You say you've tried everything else. NSA's Crays drew a blank. Maybe
you were looking for some fancy new encryption system when it was
actually one so old nobody would ever think of it. Almost four thousand
years old, to be exact."

"Darling, that's very romantic. You're improving in the romance
department." She gazed at him a second, then flashed a wry smile. "But
I can't say the same for the good-sense arena. No offense, but that's
like the kind of thing kids write to us suggesting. Nobody employs
anything remotely that simple these days."

"I knew you'd think I was crazy. You're not the first." He rose. "But
humor me. Just slice those number sequences into pairs and see what
they look like phonetically. Something to take your mind off all the
madness around here."

"Well, all right." She sighed, then settled unsteadily into the rickety
chair he'd just vacated. "Make you a proposition, sweetie. Get me some
coffee, nice and strong, and I'll forget I have good sense and play
with this a little."

"You're a trooper." He turned and headed for the kitchen. "I remember
that about you. Not to mention great in bed."

"We strive for excellence in all things."

Just as he reached the doorway, the kitchen light flicked on. It was
Adriana, in blue robe and furry slippers, now reaching up to retrieve
her coffee pan.

While Eva was typing away behind him, he leaned against the doorframe
in his still-wet clothes to watch a Greek grandmother shuffle about her
private domain preparing a traditional breakfast. He suspected no male
hand had ever touched those sparkling utensils. The Old World had its
ways, yesterday and forever.

While he drowsed against the doorjamb, the aroma of fresh Greek coffee
began filling the room. _Sarakin_. That was the Japanese name for their
homegrown loan sharks, the so-called salary-men financiers. He knew
that the Yakuza's four largest _sarakin_ operations gave out more
consumer loans than all of Japan's banks combined. If you added to that
the profits in illegal amphetamines, prostitution, bars, shakedowns of
businesses, protection rackets . . . the usual list, and you were
talking multi multibillions. The major problem was washing all that
dirty money. They routinely invested in respectable but losing
propositions abroad, on the sound theory that one dollar cleaned was
worth two unlaundered.

Was that what the Soviet scam was all about? Money from the Japanese
mob being laundered through loans to the USSR? What better way to wash
it? Nobody would ever bother asking where it came from.

But there was one major problem with that neat scenario. Politically
the Yakuza were ultra-rightist hardliners. So why would they expose
their money with the Soviets, laundered or not? Particularly now, with
so much political instability there--hardliners, reformers,
nationalists. Somehow it didn't compute.

"Michael, come here a second." The voice had an edge of triumph.

"What?" He glanced around groggily.

"Just come here and take a look at this." She was staring at the
screen.

He turned and walked over, still entranced by the heady, pungent
essence of fresh Greek coffee now flooding the room. "Is it anything--?"

"Just look at it and tell me what you think." She leaned back from the
screen and shifted the Zenith toward him. The ice-blue letters cast an
eerie glow through the dull morning light. The color reflected off his
eyes, matching them.

"You did it already?"

"I started with a one-to-one replacement of numbers with letters. But
it's sequence-inverted, which means I had to . . . anyway, what do
think so far? Am I a genius or what?"

He drew a chair next to the screen and started to examine it. But at
that moment Adriana set a tray of coffee down beside the computer,
steaming and fresh, together with dark figs and two bowls of yogurt.

"_Kafe evropaiko_," she commanded, then thrust a cup into his hand.

"_Malista, efcharisto_." He absently nodded his thanks, took a sip of
the steaming brew, then returned his attention to the screen.

At first he thought he was just groggy, his vision playing tricks, but
then the string of letters began to come into focus. Incredible!

"Okay, what about this part here," he asked, pointing to the fourth
line, where the letters turned to nonsensical garbage, "and then down
here again?"

"That's what I was talking about. The interlacing switches there. It
happens every hundred numbers. They started by taking the second fifty
digits and interlacing them back into the first fifty. Then they
switched the algorithm and interlaced the third fifty digits ahead,
into the fourth fifty, but backwards. Then it repeats again."

"You figured all that out just fooling around with it?"

"Darling, I do this for a living, for godsake. After a while you have
good instincts." She tapped her fingers nervously on the wooden table,
then remembered the coffee and reached for a cup. "Nice little trick.
Standard but nice. Every so often you fold the data back into
themselves somehow. That way there are no repetitions of number
sequences--for words that are used a lot--to give you away. But once
you've played with this stuff as much as I have . . . anyway, it's
always the first thing I check for."

"Congratulations."

"Tell me the truth." She looked at him, sipping her coffee. "Can you
really still read this? It's been years."

"Memory like an elephant. Though you may have to help me along now and
then." He pointed. "Look. I think that word's modern Greek. They've
mixed it in where there's not an old word for something." He pushed
around the computer. "Want to run the whole data file through your
system? Clean it up?"

"My pleasure." She was clearing the screen. "I can't believe it just
fell apart like this. The reason our Crays didn't crack it was it's too
simple by half."

He reached for his coffee, feeling a surge of satisfaction. His hunch
had been dead on. Whoever came up with this idea for an encryption must
have been a fan of ancient Greek history, and a knowledgeable one. What
better cipher for Project Daedalus communiques than the language
Daedalus himself used? They'd taken that four-thousand-year-old tongue,
an archaic forerunner of ancient Greek, and then scrambled it using a
mathematical algorithm. Mino Industries was communicating with the
Soviets using an encoded version of Minoan Linear B.

It was absolutely poetic. It also appeared, upon first examination, to
be very naive. Yet upon reflection it turned out to be brilliant. You
convert a totally unheard-of language to numbers, throw in a few
encryption tricks, and the result is something that would drive all the
hotdog DES-oriented supercomputers crazy. All those chips would be
trying trillions of keys when there actually was no key. Yes, you had
to admit it was inspired.

Except the Daedalus crowd was about to experience a problem, a small
headache. Make that a major headache. Because their secret protocol was
about to become headlines. He figured that ought to go a long way
toward stopping any more shooting.

"Okay. It's humming." She reached for her yogurt. "This time around all
the garbage will be gone." She took a bite, then burst out laughing.
"You know, this is wonderful, working with you. Darling, I've just
decided. Let's do something together, maybe live on the Ulysses for a
while. I might even get to like it. It sounds romantic."

"I'm still looking for the romance in life."

"Well, love, you've found it. It's me." She leaned over and kissed him
on the lips. "End of quest."

"Thought I'd never hear you say that. But first you have to help me
translate this. I'm over a decade out of date. My modern Greek's a
little rusty too, and a lot of the technical terms in this look to be
transliterated--"

"No, sweetie, that's not the first thing we have to do. The first thing
is to make sure you've got a separate copy of anything you're working
with. Not in the computer. I'll spare you my horror stories about
erased files, hard disks going down, all the rest." She was rising,
energized. "Cardinal computer rule number one. Always dupe anything
you're working on, no matter how sure you are nothing can go wrong.
Believe me."

"Sounds good." He looked up. "What are you doing?"

"I need that disk I showed you tonight. We can use it for the backup.
It's in my purse, which I now realize I left in the car when I came in.
I was slightly crazy at the time." She was turning. "God, it seems like
ages."

"Look, why don't you let me--?"

"You don't know where I parked it. My secret hiding place."

"Maybe we ought to send Zeno, or Adriana--"

"Just sit tight. Only be a minute." She wrapped her coat about her and,
before he could protest, disappeared out the door, humming.

She was a marvel. Everything he'd remembered.

"Are you still awake?" Zeno was trudging into the room, still wearing
his frayed nightshirt.

"We just solved the riddle of the sphinx, old friend. Except now we
have to translate it."

"You should be sleeping, Michael. Go now, catch an hour or so. I will
start making arrangements. Get tickets for you both on the car ferry to
Athens, a pistol, maybe new passports if you want. We have work to do."
He reached and took the cup of coffee Adriana was urging on him.

"All right. As soon as she gets back."

"What?" He froze, then looked toward the back. "What do you mean? I
thought she was still asleep."

"She went out to the car, wherever it is."

"I wish she had asked me. I would have been happy--"

"You know how she is. There's no stopping her when she gets rolling."

"This is not good." He turned and called to Adriana to bring his
trousers and shoes. "We must find her."

"You're right. It was stupid. Damned stupid." He was getting up. "Let's
do it together."



CHAPTER SEVEN



Thursday 6:28 A.M.



The morning air was sharp and she wished she'd grabbed one of Adriana's
black knit shawls before going out. Could she pass for one of those
stooped Greek peasant women? she wondered. Not likely. She shivered and
pulled her thin coat around her.

The rain was over now, leaving the air moist and fragrant, but the
early morning gloom had an ominous undertone. They'd found the key to
open the first box, but the message inside still had to be translated.
What was it? What could possibly be in the protocol that would make
somebody want to kill her?

She stared down the vacant street leading away from the square, a
mosaic of predawn shadows, and tried to think.

Alex Novosty was the classic middleman, that much was a given. But then
she'd known that for years. Yes, she'd known about Alex Novosty all her
life--his work for the KGB, his laundering of Techmashimport funds. She
knew about it because they were second cousins. Fortunately their
family tie was distant enough not to have made its way into NSA's
security file, but around the Russian expatriate dinner tables of
Brighton Beach and Oyster Bay, Alex was very well known indeed. He was
the Romanov descendant who'd sold out to the Soviets, an unforgivable
lapse of breeding.

But for all that, he wasn't an assassin. For him to do what he'd done
tonight could only mean one thing: he was terrified. Very out of
character. But why?

The answer to that wasn't hard: He must be mixed up in Project
Daedalus, whatever it was, right up to his shifty eyeballs. But what
about Michael? What did Alex want from him?

The answer to that could go a lot of ways. When she first met Michael
Vance, Jr., she'd been smitten by the fact he was so different. Always
kidding around, yet tough as steel when anybody crossed him. A WASP
street fighter. She liked that a lot. He was somebody she felt she
could depend on, no matter what.

She still remembered her first sight of Mike as though it were
yesterday. She was taking notes on Etruscan pottery in a black
notebook, standing in a corner of the Yale art gallery on Chapel
Street, when she looked up and--no, it couldn't be. She felt herself
just gawking.

He'd caught her look and strolled over with a puzzled smile. "Is my tie
crooked, or--" Then he laughed. "Name's Mike Vance. I used to be part of
this place. How about you?"

"Vance?" She'd just kept on staring, still not quite believing her
eyes. "My thesis adviser at Penn was . . . you look just like him."

And he did. The same sharp chin, the same twinkle in the blue eyes.
Even when he was angry, as Mike certainly had been that day, he seemed
to be having fun.

Thus it began.

At first they were so right for each other it seemed as though she'd
known Michael Vance for approximately a hundred years, give or take.
She'd been one of his father's many ardent disciples, and after
finishing her master's at Penn, she'd gone on to become a doctoral
candidate at Yale, where she'd specialized in the linguistics of the
ancient Aegean languages. She'd known but forgotten that Michael Vance,
Sr., had a son who was finishing his own doctorate at Yale, writing a
dissertation about Minoan Crete.

That day in the museum he was steaming, declaring he'd dropped by one
last time as part of a ritualistic, formal farewell to archaeology. The
decision was connected with the hostile reception being given a book
he'd just published, a commercial version of his dissertation. As of
that day he'd decided to tell academia to stuff it. He'd be doing
something else for a living. There'd been feelers from some agency in
D.C. about helping trace hot money.

In the brief weeks that followed they grew inseparable, the perfect
couple. One weekend they'd scout the New England countryside for old-
fashioned inns, the next they'd drive up to Boston to spend a day in
the Museum of Fine Arts, then come back and argue and make love till
dawn in her New Haven apartment. During all those days and nights, she
came very close to talking him out of quitting university life. Close,
but she didn't.

He had put off everything for a couple of months, and they had traveled
the world--London, Greece, Morocco, Moscow. Once their parents even met,
at Count Sergei Borodin's sprawling Oyster Bay home. It was a convoca-
tion of the Russian Nobility Association, with three hundred guests in
attendance, and the air rang with Russian songs and balalaikas. Michael
Vance, Sr., who arrived in his natty bowler, scarcely knew what to make
of all the Slavic exuberance.

Shortly after that, the intensity of Michael became too much for her.
She felt herself being drawn into his orbit, and she wanted an orbit of
her own. The next thing she knew, he'd departed for the Caribbean; her
father had died; and she'd gone back to work on her own doctorate.

Michael. He was driven, obsessive, always determined to do what he
wanted, just as she was. But the tension that likeness brought to their
relationship those many years ago now made everything seem to click.
Why? she wondered.

Maybe it was merely as simple as life cycles. Maybe back then they were
just out of synch. He'd already survived his first midlife crisis, even
though he was hardly thirty. When they split up, she'd been twenty-five
and at the beginning of a campaign to test herself, find out what she
could do.

Well, she thought, she'd found out. She was good, very good. So now
what?

She was relieved to see the car was still parked on the side street,
actually a little alley, where she'd left it. Thinking more clearly
now, she realized she'd been a trifle careless, stashing the car in the
first location she could find and then running for Zeno's.

As she headed down the alley in between the white plaster houses, she
suddenly felt her heart stop. Someone was standing next to the Saab, a
dark figure waiting. She watched as it suddenly moved briskly toward
her.

Alex Novosty.

"What?" She couldn't believe her eyes.

"_Budetya ostorozhyi_!" He whispered the warning as he raised his hand
and furtively tried to urge her back.

"_Kak! Shto--?_" She froze. "How did you find the car?"

"The hotel. They directed us to a _kafeneion _near here, but then I
noticed your car. I thought . . ." He moved out of the shadows,
quickly, still speaking in Russian. "Just tell me where you have the
copies of the protocol, quickly. Maybe I can still handle it."

"Handle what?" That's when she saw the two other men, in dark
overcoats, against the shadow of the building.

"The . . . situation." His eyes were intense. "They want it back, all
copies. I've tried to tell them that killing you won't solve anything,
but--" He glanced back with a small shiver. "You must tell them Michael
has a copy, stall them."

"It's true. He does."

"No! Then say there's a copy back in your office. Just let me try and--"

"Alex, I'm not going to play any more of your games."

"Please," he continued in a whisper, "don't contradict anything I say.
Let me do the talking. I'll--"

"You're in it with them, aren't you?" She tried to push past. "Well,
you can tell your friends we're onto their 'project.' If anything
happens to me, Michael will track them down and personally take them
apart. Tell them that."

"You don't understand." He caught her arm. "One of their people was
killed tonight."

"The one trying to shoot Michael and me, you mean?" She was trying to
calm the quaver in her voice.

"He was killed by the KGB. I had nothing to do with--"

"Is that what you told them?"

"That's the way it happened. There was an argument."

"Over  what?"

"Everybody wants you. It's the protocol." His look darkened. "Eva, they
are in no mood for niceties."

"Neither am I." She noticed the two men were now moving toward them.
One was taller and seemed to be in charge, but they both were carrying
what looked like small-caliber automatic weapons.

The protocol, whatever it was, was still in code. She didn't know what
she didn't know. How could she bargain?

It was too late to think about it now. Their faces were hard and
smooth, with the cold eyes of men who killed on command. My God, she
thought, what had Michael said about the _Mino-gumi_?

The Japanese mob.

The taller man, she was soon to learn, was Kazuo Ina- gawa, who had
been a London-based _kobun _for the _Mino-gumi _for the past decade. He
had a thin, pasty face and had once been first _kobun_ for their entire
Osaka organization, in charge of gambling and nightclub shakedowns.
Even in the early dawn light, he wore sunglasses, masking his eyes.

The shorter one was Takahashi Takenaka, whose pockmarked face was
distinguished by a thin moustache, an aquiline nose, and the same
sunglasses.

Alex, she realized, must have lied to them, covering up what really
happened out at the palace. Now he was bluffing for his life.

"You can just tell them I don't know anything about it." She felt the
cold air closing in.

"Eva, that's impossible. They know you were given the protocol. Now
where is it?"

He clearly wanted her to say it was somewhere else. But why bother?

"It's in the car. In my purse." She pointed. "Why don't they just go
ahead and take it? By the way, it's still encrypted."

She fumbled in her pockets. "Here's . . ."

Then she realized she'd left the key in the car. There it dangled,
inside the locked door. Her purse rested on the seat across from the
driver's side.

"Get it," Inagawa commanded his lieutenant. Takenaka bowed obediently,
then turned and tried the door handle, without success.

"_So_." He frowned.

Inagawa muttered a curse and brutally slammed the butt of his automatic
against the curved window. The sound of splintering glass rent the
morning air.

Quickly Novosty stepped forward and reached through to unlock the door.
Then he pulled it open and leaned in.

Why is he doing it? she wondered. Easy answer: He's trying to keep
control of the situation.

Whose side is he really on?

Then he backed out and handed her the brown leather purse while he
tried to catch her eye.

She took it, snapped it open, and lifted out the gray computer disk.
"There," she said as she handed it to Inagawa, "whatever's on it,
you'll have to figure it out for yourself."

"That can't be the only one," Novosty sputtered. "Surely there are
other copies."

"That's it, sweetheart."

Inagawa turned it in his hand, then passed it to Takenaka and said
something in Japanese. The other man took it, then barked _"Hai" _and
bowed lightly.

"Are you sure this is the only copy?" Inagawa asked.

"The only one."

He nodded to his lieutenant, who began screwing a dark silencer onto
the barrel of his automatic.

Oh my God, she thought. They're going to finish the job.

"Wait." Novosty reached for his arm. "She's lying. This is a disk from
a computer. There must be other copies."

"Yes." She was finally coming to her senses. "There are plenty of other
copies. In my computer. In--"

"Where is it?" Inagawa looked at her.

"It's--it's at the hotel. The Galaxy." She was trying desperately to
think. "And then I left another--"

"You're lying. We have been there. They said a tavern keeper came and
took all your luggage." He was staring down the street, toward Zeno's
place. "They also told us where he could be found. We will go there
now."

"My friends," Novosty interrupted again, "it would be most unwise to
attempt any violence on a Greek national here. The consequences could
be extremely awkward, for all of us."

"We must retrieve it."

"But why not do it the easy way?" He tried to smile. "There's another
man here, traveling with her. We should work through him. I know he
will deal. He's a professional."

"Who is he?"

"An American. If we hold her, keep her alive, we can use her to make
him bring it to us. We can offer a trade."

"No. We will just find him and take it." Inagawa started to move.
"Now."

"He's armed, my friends," Novosty continued evenly. "He's also
experienced. There would be gunfire, I promise you. If that happened,
you could have the entire street here filled with rifles in a minute.
You do not know these people as I do. They still remember World War Two
and the Resistance. Killing unfriendly foreigners became a way of life
some of them have yet to forget."

Alex is bluffing, she thought. Again. Michael doesn't have a gun. Does
Zeno? Who knows?

"Let me try and talk to him," Novosty continued. "Surely something can
be worked out."

"You will stay here, with us." Inagawa seized his arm, then turned and
began a heated exchange with his partner. Again Takenaka bowed
repeatedly, sucking in his breath and muttering hai. At last they
seemed to arrive at a consensus, though it was the taller man who'd
actually made the decision, whatever it was.

"She comes with us."

"Oh, no I don't." She looked at Novosty, who seemed defeated, then back
at the Japanese. She suddenly realized she was on her own. Novosty had
played all his cards. "If I don't reappear in Washington day after
tomorrow, you'll have the entire U.S. National Security Agency looking
for me. People know I'm here. So think about that."

"That is not our concern." Inagawa reached for her. "We do not work for
the American government." Then he turned to Novosty. "Tell your friend
that this woman will be released when we have all copies of the
protocol. All. Do you understand?"

"But how can I tell him if you won't let me--?"

"That is your problem."

"Perhaps . . . perhaps we should just leave a message here," Novosty
sputtered. "I'm sure he'll find the car."

"Alex, I'm not going anywhere with these animals." She drew back.

"Don't worry. I'll take care of everything."

"No, I'm not--"

That was all she could say before a hand was roughly clapped against
her mouth, her body shoved against the broken window.

Mike Vance and Zeno Stantopoulos searched for over half an hour before
they found the Saab. When they did, the left-hand window was broken,
and Eva's purse was missing. She was missing too. The only thing
remaining was a hastily scrawled note from Alex Novosty.



CHAPTER EIGHT



Saturday 6:13 P.M.



"Vance?" The portly, balding desk clerk studied his computer screen at
the Athenaeum Inter-Continental. Here in this teeming marble lobby the
new world met the old. "Dr. M. Vance. Yes, we have your reservation."

Good. Novosty had done exactly what he said. The play was going down.

"Welcome back." The man looked up and smiled, his eyes mirroring the
green numbers on the screen as he looked over Vance's shoulder. "Our
records show you were just with us, four days ago. We still have your
old room, if you like."

"That would be fine."

He was back in a city renowned as much for its hospitality as for its
mind-numbing brown haze of smog. It was also said to be the safest city
in Europe, with a miniscule crime rate. However, Michael Vance did not
feel safe as he stood in the lobby of Athens's most luxurious hotel.

"Were you on a bus tour of the Peloponnisos, perhaps?" the clerk
continued with a pale smile, his voice trying for perfunctory
brightness. "The Mycenean ruins in the south are always--"

"Business." Vance tossed his passport onto the counter. They both knew
he didn't look anything like a candidate for a four-day CHAT package
tour on a bus. But the man seemed nervous, anxious to make
conversation.

"I'll be needing a car in the morning. Early. Is that in your
reservation file too?"

"No problem." The clerk ignored, or missed, his impatient tone. "We
have a Hertz outlet now, just over there," he pointed, "next to the
travel desk. I'm sure they will be happy to arrange for it."

Vance tossed his Amex card onto the counter, then reached for the slate
clipboard holding the registration slip. Dusk was falling outside, but
here in the warm glow of chandeliers the moment felt like sleepwalking.
His mental bearings kept shifting. Nothing was real. He wanted to think
it was merely routine, like checking into a thousand other streamlined
international hotels, something he'd done more times than he cared to
count. But that was wrong; danger lurked somewhere nearby. His senses
were warning him.

He kept thinking about Eva. Was she serious about getting back
together, sailing on the Ulysses? Maybe he didn't know her as well as
he thought, which was troubling for a lot of reasons, not the least
being that right now he needed to be able to think exactly the way she
did. They'd have to work as a perfectly coordinated team tomorrow, with
no rehearsals.

"May I have someone take your bag?" The clerk glanced down at the new
leather suitcase sitting on the floor, then reached to ring for a
bellhop.

"No." Vance lunged to stop his hand.

Whoa, he lectured himself, chill out. Keep the lid on. Why not just let
it happen? Here. Maybe you want them to do it here. Why wait?

The clerk tried to hold his composure. "As you wish. Of course you know
your room."

"I can find it." He tried to smile, then thumbed over his shoulder.
"You're busy anyway. The tour coming in . . ."

"Yes." The clerk was shoving across the heavy brass key. "You remember
our schedule. Breakfast is served until ten over there in the dining
room, eleven in your room."

"Thanks." He picked up the bag, heavy, and turned.

The rental car desk was across the lobby, past the tour group now
pouring through the revolving doors. They clearly were just off a Paris
flight, chattering in French, brandishing tour badges, and quarreling
about luggage with Gallic impatience.

"I need a car for tomorrow. Early."

The dark-haired woman at the desk looked up as he began fishing for his
credit card and driver's license. Her Hertz uniform was unbuttoned down
the front to display as much of her bosom as Greek propriety, perhaps
even the law, would permit. A heavy silver chain nestled between her
ample breasts.

"Our pleasure." She swept back her hair as she mechanically shoved
forward a typed sheet encased in smudged cellophane. "We have some new
Austin subcompacts, or if you want a full-size--"

"What's the best car you've got?" It would be a long drive, over
uncertain Greek roads. He wanted to take no chances.

"We do have an Alfa, sir. Only one. A Milano." She absently adjusted
the V-neck of her uniform. "For VIPs. I should warn you it's
expensive." She bent forward to whisper. "To tell you the truth, _ine
poli akrivo_. It's a rip- off." She leaned back, proud of her new
American slang. "Take my advice and--"

"Can you have it here, out front, at six in the morning?"

"I can check." She sniffed, then reached for the battered phone. A
quick exchange in Greek followed, then she hung up. "They say it just
came in. There should be no problem."

He glanced around the lobby once more as she picked up the charge card
and license to begin filling out the form. There was still no sign, no
indication. And yet the whole scene felt wrong. Something, something
was warning him.

That's what it was. The man standing across the lobby, at the far side
next to the elevators. He had a newspaper folded in his hand, but he
wasn't reading. He was speaking into it.

Hotel security? Not a chance. For one thing, he wasn't Greek. Although
he was too far away to see his face, something about the way he stood
gave him away.

Where the hell was Novosty? This wasn't supposed to be the drill.

He suddenly found himself wondering how much clout Alex had left. Maybe
Novosty was out of the play. Maybe the rules had changed.

"Could you please hurry that along." He turned back to the dark-haired
girl.

"You said you wouldn't be needing the car until tomorrow, sir." Formal
now, abrupt.

"I just changed my mind. I'd like it tonight. Right now, as a matter of
fact."

"Do you want the insurance? It will be an extra--"

"No. Yes. Look, I don't care. Just let me sign that damned thing and
give me the keys."

"Well, give me a chance." She petulantly turned the form toward him and
shoved it across the desk. "If you'll just initial here and here," she
was pointing with her pen, "and sign there. And did you say you wanted
the car now?"

"Immediately."

"I'm afraid that's not possible." She retrieved the form.

"What?"

"It's just--"

"Then give me something else." He glanced toward the man, still
speaking into his newspaper, then back. They would make their move any
second now. "What's the problem with the car?"

"I'm trying to tell you it just came in. Our people will need at least
half an hour to clean it, go over the checklist. So if you'd like to
have a cup of coffee in the dining room, I'll call you when--"

"Where is it now?"

"They said it's just been returned. It's probably parked somewhere
outside." She gestured toward the glass revolving door. "Across the
street. That's where they usually--"

"An Alfa?"

"That's right. Dark blue. But like I said, it's not--"

"Give me the keys."

"They're probably still in it. Our people--"

"Thanks." He reached down for the suitcase.

"Your card, sir, and your license." She pushed the items across with a
tight smile, clearly happy to be rid of him.

As he reached for them, out of the corner of his eye he saw the first
movement. The man had stuffed the newspaper, and walkie-talkie, into
his trench coat and was approaching across the marble lobby. Just as
Vance expected, the garb was polyester, the hair a slicked-up punch-
perm, but he still couldn't make out the face.

He didn't need to. He knew who they were. The encounter at Knossos
flashed through his mind.

They know I've got a copy of their protocol. And until that gets iced,
there's always a chance their secret is no longer a secret. But they
can't know we've cracked the encryption. Unless she told them. Which
she never would.

No, they couldn't know that yet, which meant he still had the
bargaining chip he'd need.

Except for one problem. They were about to try and break the rules.
Just like the old days. Maybe they'd forgot he knew how to break rules
too.

As he pushed through the milling crowd of French tourists, suitcases
and knapsacks piling up near the entrance, he sensed the man was
gaining. But only a few feet more and he'd be at the revolving door.
Halfway home.

This wasn't going to be easy. There'd be a backup. Probably just
outside, at the entrance.

As he reached for the rubber flange of the revolving door, he knew the
man was just behind him, maybe two steps. Just right. He turned to see
a hand emerge from the polyester suit jacket, grasping a Heckler & Koch
KA1 machine pistol, a cut-down version of the MP5.

The barrel was rising, the hard face closing in. But it was the
suitcase he wanted.

So why not give it to him?

"Here." He jammed his foot into the revolving door, leaving a small
opening, then wheeled around, hoisting the case. The quick turn brought
just enough surprise to break his attacker's momentum. As the man
involuntarily raised his left hand, Vance caught his right wrist, just
back of the pistol's grip, and shoved it forward, into the door. Then
he brought up his elbow and smashed it into the attacker's jaw. As the
man groaned, he caught his other wrist and shoved him around.

Now.

He rammed his shoulder against the revolving door, closing it and
wedging the gun inside.

"Let's keep this simple, okay? No muss, no fuss."

He threw his full weight against the man's body, bending him back
around the curved metal and glass of the door. There was a snap and a
muted groan as the wrist bones shattered. The machine pistol clattered
to the marble floor inside the circular enclosure.

"Sorry about that." Before the attacker could regain his balance, he
kneed him into the next revolving partition and rammed it closed. Only
one foot remained outside, kicking at an awkward angle across the
floor.

Now where's the other one? He glanced around as he drew away. There's
sure to be two. Somebody was on the other end of that radio. Novosty?
Did he set this up?

He swept up the suitcase and shouldered his way through the auxiliary
door on the side. Odd, but the scuffle had gone unnoticed amid the din
of the arriving tour. Or maybe Parisians weren't ruffled by anything so
everyday as an attempted murder.

Now what?

As he emerged onto the street, he saw what he was looking for. The
other assailant was waiting just across the wide entryway, past the
jumble of bellboys, taxi drivers, and the last straggle of tourists
coming off the bus.

Their eyes met, and the man's right hand darted inside his dark suit
jacket.

Use the crowd, Vance thought. Enough hand-to-hand heroics. These guys
mean business.

Since the pile of luggage coming off the bus separated them, he had an
advantage now, if only for a second or so. Without thinking he seized
the straps of a canvas knapsack sitting on the sidewalk with his free
hand and flung it with all his strength.

It caught his attacker squarely in the chest, breaking his rhythm and
knocking him back half a step. It was only a moment's reprieve, but it
was all Vance needed to disappear around the rear of the bus, which was
pouring black exhaust into the evening air, blocking all view of the
avenue. Maybe he could move fast enough to just disappear.

As he dashed into the honking traffic, headlights half blinding him, he
surveyed the street opposite looking for the Alfa.

There? No. There?

A pair of headlights swerved by, inches away, accompanied by honking
and a cursing Greek driver. Only a few feet more now and he'd be
across.

There. A blue Alfa. It had to be the one.

But it was already moving, its front wheels turning inward as the Hertz
attendant backed it around to begin pulling out.

He wrenched open the door and seized a brown sleeve. The arm inside
belonged to a young Greek, barely twenty, his uniform grease-covered
and wrinkled. He looked up, surprise in his eyes, and grabbed for the
door handle.

"Change of plans." Vance heard the Alfa's bumper slam against the car
parked behind as the startled attendant's foot brushed against the
accelerator.

"_Den katalaveno!_"

"Out." Vance yanked him around and shoved him toward the asphalt
pavement. "And stay down."

Now the bus had begun pulling out from the entryway across the street.
Although traffic still clogged the avenue, he was a clear target.

He threw the suitcase onto the seat, then slid in and reached to secure
the door. As he pulled it shut, he heard the ping of a bullet
ricochetting off metal somewhere. Next came a burst of automatic fire
that seemed to splatter all around him.

The young Greek pulled himself up off the pavement and reached . . .

"Down." Vance waved him away as he shifted the transmission into drive.

At that moment a slug caught the young attendant in the shoulder,
spinning him around. He gave a yelp of surprise, then stumbled
backward. But now he was out of the way, clear, with what was probably
only a flesh wound.

Vance shoved his foot against the accelerator, ramming the rear fender
of the car in front, then again, knocking it clear. Another spray of
bullets spattered through the back window as he pulled into the flow of
traffic.

Your time will come, friend, he told himself. Tomorrow, by God, we
finish this little dance.

He finally became aware of the pumping of his own heart as he made his
way north up Syngrou Avenue, trying to urge the traffic forward by
sheer will.

The thing now was to get out of Athens, take Leoforos Athinon west,
then head up the new Highway 1 toward the mountains, lose them in the
country, find some place to spend the night. His final destination was
only about two hundred kilometers away. He just had to be fresh and
ready tomorrow, with everything in place.

But at least he now knew the game had no rules. Maybe knowing that gave
him an edge. And so far his timing was still intact. He'd handled it.
Maybe not too well, maybe with too much risk, but he'd handled it.

Novosty's note had said there would be a straight swap. But the other
team clearly had no intention of bothering with niceties. Fine. That
cut both ways.



Sunday 11:45 A.M.



The place was Delphi, the location Novosty had specified. Heading
warily up the Sacred Way, Vance paused for a moment to take in the
view. From where he stood, the vista was majestic, overwhelming
humanity's puny scale. He'd always loved it. Toward the north the sheer
granite cliffs of the Phaedriades Mountains towered almost two thousand
feet skyward to form a semicircular barrier, while down below the river
Pleistos meandered through mile after mile of dark olive groves. It was
an eyeful of rugged grandeur, craggy peaks encircling a harsh plain
that stretched as far as the eye could see. Greece in the midday sun:
austere, timeless.

His destination, the ancient temple of the Delphic oracle farther up
the hill, overlooked this panorama, row center in a magnificient
natural amphitheater. The Greek legends told that the great god Zeus
had once dispatched two eagles, one flying east and one flying west, to
find out where they would meet. They came together at the center

of the earth, Delphi, whose main temple, the Sanctuary of Apollo,
contained the domelike boulder Omphalos, thereafter named the "navel of
the world." Here east and west met.

He'd parked the Alfa on the roadway down below, and now as he stared up
the mountainside, past the conical cypress trees, he could just make
out the remains of the stone temple where almost three thousand years
ago the priestess, the Delphic oracle, screamed her prophesies. She was
a Pythia, an ancient woman innocent of mind who lived in the depths of
the temple next to a fiery altar whose flame was attended night and
day. There, perched on a high tripod poised over a vaporous fissure in
the earth, she inhaled intoxicating gases, chewed laurel leaves, and
issued wild, frenzied utterances. Those incoherent sounds were
translated by priests into answers appropriate to the queries set
before her.

Delphi. He loved its remote setting, its sacred legends. Those stories,
in fact, told that the god Apollo had once summoned priests from Crete,
the ancient font of culture, to come here to create this Holy of
Holies.

Was he about to become a priest too? After sending off a telegram to
the Stuttgart team, notifying them of a delay in his schedule, he'd
journeyed from that island back to Athens via the ANEK Lines overnight
car ferry from Iraklion. Not at all godlike. But it had a well-worn
forward section it called first class, and it was a low-profile mode of
travel, requiring no identity questions. He'd ended up in the bar of
the tourist section for much of the trip, stretched out on a stained
couch and napping intermittently during the twelve-hour voyage. It had
cleared his mind. Then from Piraeus, the port of Athens, he'd taken a
cab into the city. After that the hotel and the car.

As he stared up the hill, he had in his possession a wallet with nine
hundred American dollars and eighty thousand Greek drachmas, the
suitcase, and a Spanish 9mm automatic from Zeno. He also had a
translated version of the opening section of the protocol.

His anger still simmering, he continued up the cobbled path of the
Sacred Way, toward the exposed remains of the oracle's temple situated
halfway up the hill. Nothing was left of the structure now except its
stone floor and a few columns that had been re-erected, standing bare
and wistful in the sunshine. In fact, the only building at Delphi that
had been rebuilt to anything resembling its original glory was the
small marble "treasure house" of the Athenians, a showplace of that
city's wealth dating from 480 B.C. Today its simple white blocks
glistened in the harsh midday glare, while tourists milled around
speaking German, French, English, or Dutch. Even in the simmering heat
of noon, Delphi still attracted visitors who revered the ancient Greeks
as devoutly as those Greeks had once worshipped their own adulterous
gods and goddesses.

So where the hell was Novosty? Noon at the Temple of Apollo, his note
had said.

He searched the hillside looking for telltale signs of another ambush--
movement, color, anything. But there was nothing. Although tourists
wandered about, the temple ruins seemed abandoned for thousands of
years, their silence almost palpable. Even the sky was empty save for a
few swooping hawks.

If Alex is here waiting, he asked himself, where would he be?

Then he looked again at the treasure house. Of course. Probably in
there, taking a little respite from the blistering sun. It figured. The
front, its columns, and porch were open, and the interior would be
protected. Conveniently, the wide steps of the stone pathway led
directly past. A natural rendezvous.

In his belt, under his suede jacket, was Zeno's 9mm Llama. It was fully
loaded, with fifteen rounds in the magazine plus one up the tube. He
reached into his belt and eased off the safety.

Holding it beneath his coat, he continued on up the cobbled pathway
toward the front of the treasure house. As he moved into the shade of
the portico, he thought for a moment he heard sounds from inside. He
stopped, gripping the Llama, and listened.

No, nothing.

Slowly, carefully, he walked up the steps. When he reached the top, he
paused, then gingerly stepped in through the open doorway. It was cool
and dank inside. And empty. His footsteps rang hollow on the stone
floor. Maybe Novosty's dead by now, he thought fleetingly. Maybe his
luck finally ran out.

He turned and walked back out to the porch, then settled himself on the
steps. In the valley below, beyond the milling tourists, the dark green
olive groves spread out toward the horizon.

The protocol. The mind-boggling protocol. Something was afoot that
would change the balance of world power. He'd translated the first page
of Article I, but it had raised more questions than it answered. All
the same, he'd taken action. Today he was ready.

Novosty had to know the score. Had to. But now Vance knew at least part
of the story too.

He glanced down at the suitcase. It contained Eva's Zenith Turbo 486,
of course, which undoubtedly was why it was such a popular item. But it
also had a hard copy of the scrambled text of the protocol, courtesy of
a printer Zeno had borrowed from a newspaper office in Iraklion, as
well as a photocopy of Vance's partial translation.

They didn't know it yet, but there was another full copy, which he'd
transmitted by DataNet to his "office" computer in Nassau. It was
waiting there in the silicon memory.

Quite a document. Twenty-eight pages in length, it was the final
version of a legally binding agreement that had been hammered out over
a long period of time. From the page he'd translated, he could
recognize the style. The text referred to the rights and obligations of
two distinct entities--the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and Mino
Industries Group.

As he seated himself beneath a lone almond tree and took a last look at
the olive groves down below, he was tempted to pull out the translation
and reread it one more time. But that was unnecessary; he'd memorized
it, right down to the last comma.



_Article I

1.  For the full and complete compensation of one hundred million
American dollars ($100,000,000.), to be deposited in the Shokin Gaigoku
Bank of Tokyo on or before May 1, Mino Industries Group will legally
transfer to the USSR full ownership of one operational prototype, this
transfer to be executed on the agreed date, May 1, Mayday. At the time
of this transfer the prototype will satisfy all technical performance
criteria enumerated in Document 327-A, "Specifications." The USSR may
thereafter, at its discretion, contract for production models at the
price specified in Document 508-J.

2.  Upon the USSR having satisfied the terms stipulated in Article II,
Mino Industries Group will extend the USSR financial credits in the
amount of five hundred billion American dollars ($500,000,000,000.),
such credits to be provided in increments of one hundred billion
dollars ($100,000,000,000.) annually for a period of five years. These
credits will be arranged through Vneshekonombank, the Bank for Foreign
Economic Affairs (Article IV).

3.  Within one year of the satisfaction of all formalities pursuant to
the above-designated credits, the USSR will . . .

_

That's as far as he'd translated. The rest was still in Minoan Linear
B. He took a deep breath, again trying to digest what it meant in the
grand scheme of global strategic alliances.

Most importantly, what was the "prototype"? Something was about to
appear on the planet that would make its owner unassailable. But what?

Eva's stumbled onto dynamite. Mayday. That means it explodes in less
than a fortnight. No wonder Mino Industries wants her out of the way.

Among the clusters of tourists on the road below, a white limousine was
pulling to a stop, followed by a gray Saab.

He watched as Novosty emerged from the Saab and glanced up the hill,
then started the climb. Nobody got out of the limo.

Vance watched as he slowly made his way along the cobbled path leading
up the hill, puffing. He was almost out of breath by the time he
reached the top.

"Michael, I'm so glad you could manage to make it." He heaved a sigh as
he trudged up the last remaining steps.

"It was the lure of your scintillating company."

"I'm sure." He looked around.

"Is Eva down there? She'd damned well better be."

"She is safe." Novosty sighed again. "It was most unwise for her to
have gotten involved in all this, Michael. She is making matters
difficult for us all."

"Too bad." He removed the Llama from beneath his coat. "By the way,
congratulations on your new clients. Mino Industries. That's a Yakuza
front, partner. Guess you know. The CEO was a Class A war criminal.
These days he owns the LDP and runs Japan. Alex, you asshole, you're
way over your head here. Mino Industries is owned lock, stock, and
hardware by _the _Japanese godfather. His _kobun_ make your KGB look
like a Boy Scout troop."

"Michael, please."

"And here I was thinking you'd finished consorting with the criminal
element, decided to live clean. Then the next thing I know, your
client's gorillas are trying to kill Eva and me. Me, your new partner.
Things like that tend to inspire mistrust, and just when we were
starting to hit it off so well." He finally stood up, holding the
Llama. Novosty was lounging nervously in the sunshine, fishing for a
cigarette. "Where's your Uzi? You just may need it."

"Michael, all this has nothing to do with me." His eyes were weary.
"I'm operating independently this time."

"Cash and carry. Maybe you should just post your prices, like a cheap
cathouse."

"I prefer to think of myself as an expediter. But this time I
encountered more difficulties than reasonably could be anticipated.
Which is why I need your help now to straighten it out."

"What? The whole shoddy scene? Looks like the KGB's hot on the trail,
say maybe about two feet in back of your ass. Or is it your client, who
you're about to try and screw out of a hundred million dollars?
Incidentally, that's probably a serious miscalculation, health-wise."

"The situation _has_ grown awkward."

"Of course that touching fable about returning the hundred million to
Moscow was just the usual 'disinformation.' "

"You are perfectly correct. It will not be returned. But any thought I
might have had of keeping it now also seems out of the question." He
sighed. "Instead I'm afraid we must--"

"_We_? Now that's what I call balls of brass." He laughed. "Surely even
a fevered imagination like yours can't suppose--"

"Michael, I told you I would split the commission I took for cleaning
it. That offer still holds. Fifty-fifty. I might even go sixty-forty.
What more can you want? But those funds must be delivered. Given the
new situation--"

"Not by me."

"Be a realist, my friend. I no longer have freedom of movement, so now
you are my only hope. If those funds aren't transferred within the
week, I'd prefer not to reflect on the consequences."

"The consequences to your own neck, you mean." Vance stared at him. "By
the way, just out of curiosity, what's the 'prototype'?"

"That's the one thing I cannot possibly discuss, Michael." Novosty
caught his breath. "But what if the contract for it is abrogated
because of those funds not being delivered, what then? What if the USSR
just makes a move to seize it? I fear there could be war, my friend.
Bang, the apocalypse." He flicked his lighter. "Even worse though, as
you say, both parties to the agreement would probably spend a week
devising the most interesting way possible for me to depart this
earth."

"If the KGB somehow locates and freezes the embezzled funds before you
can finish transferring them, it could scuttle the whole deal. Mino
Industries would probably be very annoyed. Not to mention certain
parties back home."

"Precisely. You can see we are on a knife edge here. But first things
first. You must return Eva's pirate copy of the protocol, please. I beg
you. It must disappear. I have promised them that, as an act of good
faith. I'm afraid the participants in Tokyo are near to losing patience
with me."

"And what about her?"

"She's with them now." He pointed down the hill, to the long white
limousine. "Unfortunately, they have taken over the situation."

"Better buckle your seat belt, pal. It's about to be a bumpy
afternoon."

"She is safe, don't worry. They have assured me. It is only the
protocol they care about. The matter of security. They know you have
her only other copy, in the computer. Now please let me just give
whatever you have to them. Then let's all try and forget she ever had
it."

"You know, those hoods down there tried a little number on me last
night in Athens." He hadn't moved. "It took the edge off my evening."

"Michael, I tried to tell them that was imprudent. But they are very
concerned about time. Just be reasonable, my friend, and I'm sure
everything can be straightened out." He sighed again. "You know, these
tactics of kidnapping and such are very distasteful to me as well. But
when she told them she didn't have all the material, that you still had
a copy, they decided that taking her into their custody was the best
way to ensure your cooperation."

"They don't know me very well." He looked down the hill. "Tell your
buddies they can go take a jump. Nobody blackmails me. Nobody. I plan
to hang on to this little suitcase till she's out of danger. That's how
we're going to work things. Tell them it's her insurance. They release
her right now, or I'll personally blow their whole deal sky high."

"Tell them yourself, Michael. I'm just here as an observer." He
gestured toward the white limo parked below, nestled in among the line
of tourist automobiles and busses. "And while you're doing that,
perhaps you should ask her if that's her wish as well. They refuse to
release her until they recover the materials she had. They are calling
it 'protection.'"

He stared down. "You've got a hell of a nerve. All of you. Alex, when
this is over--"

"Please. Let's just get this ghastly protocol affair sorted out." He
rubbed at his beard. "Then we can all concern ourselves with what's
really important. The money."

"Right. I almost forgot."

He scanned the hillside. Was everything set? He'd seen no sign. But
then that's how it was supposed to be. The other problem was the
tourists, everywhere, complicating the play.

But maybe the tourists would be a help, would make it start out slow.
Think. How can you use them? Clearly the other side had hoped for an
abandoned place in the middle of nowhere. They had to be off balance
now too.

He hesitated a moment, then decided. Go for it. He had the Llama. Just
settle it here and now.

He took one last look at the temple as he rose. The Delphic oracle.
That's what Eva had been all along. She'd somehow divined the outlines
of the story, but after the disappearance of her old lover at the NSA
she didn't dare speak it directly. Everything was coded language. So
what better place than here on this mountain to finally have a little
plain talk?

As they passed down the last stone steps leading to the roadway, he
found himself thinking about Mino Industries. Did they really have half
a trillion dollars lying around? Not likely. To come up with that kind
of money, even in Japan, you'd have to be deeply plugged into
legitimate financial circles--pension funds, insurance companies,
brokerage houses, banks, all the rest. But still, the _Mino-gumi_ had
connections that went wide and deep, everywhere. Their _oyabun_, Tanzan
Mino, had been in the game for a long, long time.

Now, as he approached the limousine, one of its white doors slowly
began to open. Then a Japanese emerged, dressed in a black polyester
suit. He wore dark sunglasses, and his right wrist was in a cast. The
eyes were very familiar. Also, one of his little fingers was missing.

But Vance's gaze didn't linger long on the hands. His attention was
riveted on what was in them. Yep, he'd seen it right last night. It was
a Heckler & Koch machine pistol. One of those could lay down all thirty
rounds in an eight- inch group at thirty yards. World-class hardware.

It figured. The _Mino-gumi_ was known everywhere as the best-run Yakuza
syndicate of them all. Hardened criminals, they considered themselves
modern-day samurai, upholding some centuries-old code of honor. It was
a contradiction only the Japanese mind could fully accommodate.

Heavy-duty connections, Vance told himself, the very best. Which meant
Novosty was in even bigger trouble than he probably imagined. The
latest rumor in the world of hot money was that Tanzan Mino and his
Yakuza had, through dummy fronts, just bought up half of Hawaii. If
that were true, it meant he laundered real money these days. Who the
hell needed a small-time operator like Alex?

Then the man reached in and caught Eva's arm, pulling her into the
midday glare.

Thank God, he thought, she still looks vaguely okay. Will she be able
to stay on top of this once it gets moving?

He noticed she was wearing a new brown dress, but her short hair was
tangled, her face streaked with pain.

The bastards. They must have worked her over, trying to find out
everything she knew.

There were two "representatives," Novosty had said. So the other man
was still in the limo, in the driver's seat, covering in case there was
trouble.

Good move. Because there was definitely going to be trouble. A lot of
it. Tanzan Mino's goons were about to have all the trouble they could
handle.

"Michael, oh, Christ." She finally recognized him. "Thank God. Just
give them--"

"Can you understand what's going on here?" He raised his hand. "These
guys are _kobun_, professional hit men. They have a very sick sense of
humor. They also have no intention of--"

"Please, they have given me their word." Novosty interrupted him, then
glanced back. "You can see she is well."

She didn't look well at all. She seemed drugged, standing shakily in
the brilliant sunshine, a glazed stare from her eyes, hands twisting at
her skirt.

Eva, Eva, he thought, what did they do to you? Whatever it was, it
worked. You look defeated, helpless.

"Michael, just let them have the computer." She spoke again, her voice
quivering. "They say it's all they want. Then they'll--"

"Eva, it's all a lie. The big lie. So just lighten up and enjoy this.
We're not giving them so much as the time of day until they let you go.
First tell me, how badly did they rough you up? I want to know."

"Michael, please."

"You will be happy to learn that Dr. Michael Vance is a specialist in
international finance," Novosty interrupted, addressing the tall
Japanese. "He has kindly offered to serve as my agent in completing the
final arrangements for the transfer of funds from London. He will
resolve any remaining difficulties. As I said, he is my agent, and it
is important that he not be harmed."

"Alex, back off. I haven't agreed to anything." Vance turned to the
Japanese. "How's the arm? Hope the damage wasn't permanent."

"Where are the NSA materials." The man ignored Vance's question. His
voice was sharp and his English almost perfect. "That is our first
order of business."

"Right here." He lifted the suitcase. "I assume we're all going to deal
honorably for a change. Eva first, then we talk about this."

"I'm sure Dr. Vance has brought everything you want," Novosty added
quickly, glancing over. "Perhaps if he gave the materials to you now,
the woman could be released. Then he and I can proceed immediately with
the matter of the funds."

"You are not involved," the Japanese snapped back. "We have been
authorized to personally handle this breach of security." He stared at
Novosty. "The funds, in fact, were your sole responsibility. They were
to have been transferred to Shokin Gaigoku Bank in Tokyo over a week
ago. You demanded an exorbitant commission, and you did not deliver.
Consequently you will return that commission and our London _oyabun
_will handle it himself."

The _Mino-gumi_ probably should have handled it in the first place,
Vance thought fieetingly. Alex was definitely out of his depth.

"Just a couple of days more . . ." Novosty went pale. "I thought I had
explained--"

"Your 'explanations' are not adequate." The man cut him off, then
pointed to the suitcase in Vance's hand. "Now give us that."

"Why not." He settled the brown leather case onto the asphalt. "It's
good business always to check out the merchandise, make sure it's what
you're paying for."

"She said it was a portable computer." The man walked over, then
cradled the H&K automatic in his bandaged arm while he reached down to
loosen the straps. Next he pulled the zipper around and laid open the
case.

"What is this?" He lifted out the pile of printed paper.

"Guess she forgot to tell you. We cracked the encryption. I thought
maybe you'd like to have a printed version, so I threw one in for
free."

He stared at it a second, almost disbelieving, then looked up. "This is
a photocopy. Where is the original?"

"Original? You mean that's not--?" Vanced looked at it. "Gee, my
mistake. Guess I must have left it somewhere. Sorry you had to drive
all the way out here from Athens for nothing."

"Jesus, Michael," Eva blurted. "Don't start playing games with them.
They'll--"

"I need all the copies." The man's voice hardened, menacingly. "Where
are they?"

"I don't remember precisely. Tell you what, though. You put her on a
plane back to the States and maybe my recollection might start
improving."

"We are wasting time." The door by the steering wheel opened and the
second _kobun _emerged, also carrying an automatic. He was shorter, but
the punch-perm hair and polyester suit appeared to have come from
standard issue, just like the sunglasses. He gestured his weapon toward
Vance. "There is a simple way to improve your memory. You have exactly
ten seconds--"

"My friend, be reasonable," Novosty interrupted, his voice still trying
for calm. "There are people here." He motioned toward the crowd of
gathering tourists. From their puzzled stares, they seemed to be
thinking they were witnessing a rehearsal for some Greek gangster film.

The first man motioned his partner back, then turned to Vance. "You
realize we will be forced to kill her right now if you don't produce
all originals and copies."

"Don't really think you want to do that." Vance stared at him. "Because
if anything happens to her, you're going to be reading about your
'prototype' all over the American newspapers. I can probably even swing
some prime-time TV time for you. I'll take care of it personally."

"No one will believe you."

"Don't think so? My guess is the Washington Post will run your entire
protocol on page one. I'll see they get a very literal translation into
English. Then you won't need this. You can just buy all the copies you
want." He picked up the laptop and walked over to where Eva was
standing.

"Here, take this, and get back in the car, now. I think these guys have
got an attitude problem. So screw them."

"Michael." She reached for the computer.

"Get in that one." He pointed toward Alex's gray Saab. "And take the
next plane out of Greece. That place we talked about. Anywhere. Just
go."

"We're getting nowhere," the second man barked again. Then he leveled
his automatic at Vance's right knee and clicked off the safety. There
was a gasp from the gawking tourists, and the crowd began stumbling
backward for cover. "We have ways of extracting information."

Oh, shit, he thought, whoa.

The man's voice suddenly trailed off, while a quizzical expression
spread through his eyes and a red spot appeared on his cheek. Next his
head jerked back and his automatic slammed against the car door, then
clattered across the asphalt.

Not a second too soon, Vance thought.

"No," Eva screamed, "what's happening?" She lurched

backward, then turned and stumbled for the Saab, carrying the computer.

The first _kobun_ glanced around, then raised the H&K in his left hand,
trying to get a grip.

He'll hit the ground and roll, Vance thought, like any pro under fire.

And he did exactly that, with a quick motion over onto his back and
then to his feet again, clicking off the safety as he came up.

"You want to kill us both?" Vance was holding his Llama now, trained on
the sunglasses that had been crushed by the roll, momentarily
distorting the man's line of fire. "Then go for it." He squeezed the
trigger.

The walnut stock kicked slightly, but he just kept gripping the satin
chrome trigger. Now the gunman's automatic came around, its muzzle
erupting in flame. The crowd scattered, shouting in half a dozen
languages, terrified.

Vance just kept firing, dull thunks into the figure stumbling backward
as the H&K machine pistol erupted spasmodically into the hot, dry air.

"Kill him, Michael. Oh, God! Yes. The bastards." Eva was still yelling
as she slammed shut the door of the Saab. Yelling, cursing, screaming.
Less than a second later the motor roared to life.

Now Novosty was diving across the pavement, toward the open front door
of the limousine.

"Michael, we've got to split up. Get out." He yelled over his shoulder.
"I'll have to go to London now. There's nowhere left. They're going to
come for the money."

Vance scarcely heard him as he held the Llama steady and kept on
squeezing until the magazine was empty and only vacant clicks coursed
through his hand.

The screech of tires brought him back. He looked up to see the white
limousine careening along the edge of the road, barely avoiding the
ditch, its door still open, Novosty at the wheel. Eva was already gone.

He noticed that they'd removed the plates from the limousine, just as
he'd done on his rented Alfa. There would be nothing but terrified
tourists and two illegally armed, very dead Japanese hoods here when
the Greek police finally arrived. The story would come out in a babel
of languages and be totally inconsistent.

Christ! he thought. It was supposed to be over by now, and instead it's
just beginning. When word of this gets back to Tokyo, life's going to
get very interesting, very fast. The _Mino-gumi _knows how to play for
keeps. We've got to blow this thing.

Across, on the hot asphalt, the two Japanese were sprawled askew,
sunglasses crumpled. One body was bleeding profusely from the chest,
the other from a single, perfect hole in the cheek. The _kobun_ who had
come within moments of removing his kneecaps now lay with a small hole
in front of one ear and the opposite side of the face half missing.

What a shot!

But why did he wait so long? We had them in the clear. I see now why
the Greek Resistance scared hell out of . . .

"Never look at the eyes, Michael." The voice sounded from the boulders
of the hillside above, where the muzzle of a World War II German
carbine, oiled and perfect, glinted. "Remember I told you. It gives you
very bad dreams."



BOOK TWO



CHAPTER NINE



Monday 12:08 A.M.



The massive hulk of _Daedalus I _was being towed slowly through the
hangar doors, now open to their full 250-foot span. As it rolled out,
the titanium-composite skin glistened in the fluorescent lights of the
hangar, then acquired a ghostly glow under the pale moonlight. First
came the pen-sharp nose containing the navigational gear, radar, and
video cameras for visible light and infrared; next the massive ramjet-
scramjets, six beneath each swept-back, blunt wing; and finally the
towering tail assembly, twin vertical stabilizers positioned high and
outboard to avoid blanketing from the fuselage. The tow-truck drivers
and watching technicians all thought it was the most beautiful creation
they had ever seen.

This would be Yuri Androv's last scheduled test flight before he took
the vehicle hypersonic. In four more days. He wore a full pressure suit
and an astronaut-style life-support unit rested next to him. As he
finished adjusting the cockpit seat, he monitored the roll-out on his
liquid crystal helmet screens, calling up the visual display that
provided pre-takeoff and line-up checks of the instruments. Not
surprisingly, the numbers were nominal--all hydraulic pressures stable,
all temperatures ambient. As usual, the Japanese technicians had
meticulously executed their own preflight prep, poring over the vehicle
with their computerized checklists. Everything was in the green.

All the same, this moment always brought a gut-tightening blend of
anticipation and fear. This was the part he dreaded most in any test
flight--when he was strapped in the cockpit but without operational
control. He lived by control, and this was one of the few times when he
knew he had none. It fed all the adrenaline surging through him,
pressed his nerves to the limit.

He flipped a switch under his hand and displayed the infrared cameras
on his helmet screens, then absently monitored the massive white trucks
towing him onto the darkened tarmac. The landing lights along the
runway were off; they would be switched on only for final approach,
when, guided by the radar installation, their focused beams would be
invisible outside a hundred-yard perimeter of the nose cameras.

The asphalt beneath him, swept by the freezing winds of Hokkaido, was a
special synthetic, carefully camouflaged. He knew it well. Two nights
earlier he'd come out here to have a talk with the project _kurirovat_,
Ivan Semenovich Lemontov, the lean and wily Soviet officer-in-charge.
Formerly that post had belonged to the CPSU's official spy, but now
party control was supposed to be a thing of the past. So what was he
doing here?

Whatever it was, the isolated landing strip had seemed the most secure
place for some straight answers. As they strolled in the moonlight, the
harsh gale off the straits cutting into their skin, he'd demanded
Lemontov tell him what was really going on.

By the time they were finished, he'd almost wished he hadn't asked.

"Yuri Andreevich, on this project you are merely the test pilot. Your
job is to follow orders." Lemontov had paused to light a Russian
cigarette, cupping his hands against the wind to reveal his thin,
foxlike face. He was a hardliner left over from the old days, and
occasionally it still showed. "Strategic matters should not concern
you."

"I was brought in late, only four months ago, after the

prototypes were ready for initial flight testing. But if I'm flying the
_Daedalus_, then I want to know its ultimate purpose. The truth.
Nobody's told me anything. The only thing I'm sure of is that all the
talk about near-space research is bullshit. Which means I'm being
used." He had caught Lemontov's arm and drew him around. The officer's
eyes were half hidden in the dark. "Now, dammit, I want to know what in
hell is the real purpose of this vehicle."

Lemontov had grunted, then pulled away and drew on his cigarette.
Finally he spoke: "Yuri Andreevich, sometimes it's wiser to leave
strategy to the professionals. You do your job and I'll do mine."

Yuri remembered how he'd felt his anger boil. He'd begun to suspect
that certain CPSU hardliners like Lemontov, together with the military
or the KGB, had their own plans for the vehicle. But what were they up
to?

"Look, I'm doing my job. So how about a little openness, a little
glasnost? This is not supposed to be like the old days."

Lemontov had drawn a few paces ahead on the tarmac, walking briskly,
with the quick energy that had brought him to his powerful party post.
Finally he'd slowed and waited for Yuri to catch up. He had made a
decision and he had made it quickly. That was characteristic.

"Yuri Andreevich, in a way you represent part of our 'technology
exchange' with Mino Industries. You have an indispensible role to play
here. This whole program depends on you."

"I'm well aware of that." However, it hadn't answered his questions.

"Then you should also be aware of something else. This undertaking is a
small, but highly crucial, part of something much larger. Nothing less
than the fate of the Soviet Union in the next century rests on whether
Project Daedalus succeeds."

"What do you mean?" Yuri had watched him walk on, feeling his own
impatience growing.

Lemontov had turned back again, brusquely. "This hypersonic spacecraft
is the symbol, the flagship, of a new Soviet alliance with the most
technologically advanced nation on earth. Even a 'flyboy' like you
should be able to grasp that. Through this alliance we eventually will
find a way to tap all of Japan's new technology. The world of the
future--advanced semiconductors, robots, biotechnology,
superconductivity, all of it--is going to be controlled by Japan, and we
must have access to it."

Yuri had listened in silence, once more feeling he was being fed half-
truths. Then Lemontov lowered his voice.

"Yuri Andreevich, by forming what amounts to a strategic alliance with
Mino Industries, we will achieve two objectives. We will gain access to
Japanese technology and capital, to rejuvenate Soviet industry and
placate our people. And we will strike a preemptive blow against the
peril of a new China on our borders in the next century."

"China?" Yuri had studied him, startled.

"My friend, don't be fooled by summits and talks of reconciliation.
Neither we nor China care a kopeck about the other. Think about it. In
the long run, China can only be our nightmare. If America had to look
across its Canadian border and see China, they too would be terrified.
China has the numbers and, soon, the technology to threaten us. It's
the worst nightmare you or I could ever have." Lemontov had paused to
crush out his cigarette, grinding it savagely into the asphalt. "We
must prepare for it now."

The hardliners have just found a new enemy, Yuri had realized. The Cold
War lives!

"Like it or not," Lemontov had continued, "and just between us I'm not
sure I do like it, we have no choice but to turn to Japan in order to
have an ally in Asia to counter the new, frightening specter of a
hostile China rising up on our flank."

"So how does _Daedalus _figure into all this?"

"As I said, it is the first step in our new alliance. From now on our
space programs will be united as one." He had sighed into the icy wind.
"It will be our mutual platform for near-earth space exploration."

"With only peaceful intent?" Yuri had tried to study his eyes, but the
dark obscured them.

"I've told you all you need to know." A match had flared again as he
lit another cigarette. In the tiny blaze of light he gave a small wink.
"Even though the _Daedalus _could easily be converted to a . . first-
strike platform, we naturally have no intention of outfitting these
prototypes, or later production models, for any such purpose. The Japa-
nese would never agree."

What had he been saying? That the hardliners were planning to seize the
vehicles and retrofit them as first- strike bombers? Maybe even make a
preemptive strike against China? Were they planning to double-cross the
Japanese?

What they didn't seem to realize was that these vehicles didn't need to
be retrofitted. _Daedalus _was already faster and more deadly than any
existing missile. It couldn't be shot down, not by America's yet-to-be-
built SDI, not by anything. And speed was only part of the story. What
about the vehicle's other capabilities?

He switched his helmet screens momentarily to the infrared cameras in
the nose and studied the runway. Infrared. Pure military. And that was
just the beginning. There also was phased-array radar and slit-scan
radar, both equipped for frequency hopping and "squirt" emissions to
evade detection. And how about the radar altimeter, which allowed
subsonic maneuvering at low altitudes, "on the deck"? Or the auxiliary
fuel capacity in the forward bay, which permitted long-distance
sustained operation?

No "space platform" needed all this radar-evasive, weapons-systems
management capability. Or a hyper-accurate inertial navigation system.
Kick in the scramjets and _Daedalus _could climb a hundred thousand
miles straight up in seven minutes, reenter the lower atmosphere at
will, loiter over an area, kick ass, then return to the untouchable
safety of space. There was enough cruise missile capacity to take out
fifty hardened sites. It could perform troop surveillance, deploy
commandos to any firefight on the globe in two hours . . . you name it.
He also suspected there was yet another feature, even more ominous,
which he planned to check out tonight.

While the Soviet military was secretly drooling to get its hands on
this new bomber, sending the cream of Soviet propulsion engineers here
to make sure it worked, they already had been outflanked. Typical
idiocy. What they'd overlooked was that these two planes still belonged
to Mino Industries, and only Mino Industries had access to the high-
temperature ceramics and titanium composites required to build more.
Tanzan Mino held all the cards. He surely knew the capabilities of this
plane. Everything was already in place. Mino Industries now owned the
ultimate weapon: they had built or subcontracted every component. Was
Lemontov such a dumb party hack he couldn't see that?

All the more reason to get the cards on the table. And soon.

So far the plan was on track. He had demanded that the schedule be
moved up, and Ikeda had reluctantly agreed. In four days Yuri Androv
would take _Daedalus _into the region of near space using liquid
hydrogen, the first full hypersonic test flight. And that's when he
intended to blow everybody's neat scenario wide open.

He felt the fuselage shudder as the trucks disengaged from the eyelets
on the landing gear. Then the radio crackled.

"This is control, _Daedalus I_. Do you read?"

"_Daedalus I_. Preflight nominal."

"Verified. Engine oil now heated to thirty degrees Celsius. Begin
ignition sequence."

"Check. _Daedalus I _starting engines." He scanned through the
instrument readings on his helmet screens, then slipped his hand down
the throttle quadrant and pushed the button on the left. He could
almost feel the special low-flashpoint JP-7--originally developed for
the high-altitude American SR-71 Blackbird--begin to flow from the wing
tanks into the twelve turboramjets, priming them. Then the ground crew
engaged the engines with their huge trolley-mounted starters. As the
rpm began to surge, he reminded himself he was carrying only 2,100,000
pounds of fuel and it would burn fast.

He switched his helmet screens to the priority-one display and scanned
the master instrument panel: white bars showing engine rpm, fuel flow,
turbine inlet temperature, exhaust temperature, oil pressure,
hydraulics. Then he cut back to the infrared cameras and glanced over
the tarmac stretching out in front of him. Since the American KH-12
satellite had passed twenty minutes earlier, flight conditions should
now be totally secure.

For tonight's program he was scheduled to take the vehicle to Mach 4,
then terminate the JP-7 feeds in the portside outboard trident and let
those three engines "unstart," after which he would manually switch
them to scramjet geometry, all the while controlling pitch and yaw with
the stability augmentation equipment. That would be the easy part. The
next step required him to manually switch them back to turboramjet
geometry and initiate restart. At sixty-three thousand feet. Forty
minutes later he was scheduled to have her back safely in the hangar
chocks, skin cooling.

Nothing to it.

He flipped his helmet screens back and looked over the readouts one
final time. Fuel pressure was stable, engine nozzle control switches
locked in Auto Alpha configuration, flaps and slats set to fifteen
degrees for max performance takeoff. He ran through the checklist on
the screen: "Fuel panel, check. Radar altimeter index, set. Throttle
quadrant, auto lock."

The thrust required to take _Daedalus I _airborne was less than that
needed for a vertically launched space shuttle, since lift was gained
from the wings, but still he was always amazed by the G-forces the
vehicle developed on takeoff. The awesome power at his fingertips
inspired a very deceptive sense of security.

"Chase cars in place, Yuri. You're cleared for taxi. _Ne puzha, ne
pera!"_

He started to respond, thinking it was the computer. But this time
there was no computer. He'd deliberately shut it down. If he couldn't
get this damned samolyot off a runway manually, he had no hopes for the
next step. The voice was merely Sergei, in flight control.

"Power to military thrust." He paused, toes on the brakes, and relished
the splendid isolation, the pure energy at his command as _Daedalus_
began to quiver. Multibillions at his fingertips, the most advanced . .
.

Fuck it. This was the fun part.

"Brake release."

In full unstick, he rammed the heavy handles on the throttle quadrant
to lock, commanding engines to max afterburner, and grinned ear to ear
as the twelve turboramjets screamed instantly to a million pounds of
thrust, slamming him against the cockpit supports.



Sunday 7:29 P.M.



"We are now cruising at twenty-nine thousand feet. However, the captain
has requested all passengers to please remain seated, with their seat
belts fastened." The female voice faltered as the plane dropped through
another air pocket. "We may possibly be experiencing mild turbulence
for the next hour."

Michael Vance wanted a drink, for a lot of reasons. However, the
service in first class was temporarily suspended, since attendants on
the British Airways flight to London were themselves strapped into the
flip-down seats adjacent to the 757's galley. The turbulence was more
than "mild." What lay ahead, in the skies and on the sea below, was
nothing less than a major storm.

Why not, he sighed? Everything else in the last four days had gone
wrong. He'd been shot at, he'd killed a mobster, and Eva had been
kidnapped.

Furthermore, the drive back to Athens, then down to the port of Piraeus
to put Zeno onto the overnight ferry to Crete, had been a rain-swept
nightmare. Yet another storm had blown up from the Aegean, engulfing
the coast and even the mountains. When they finally reached the docks
at Piraeus, the old Greek had just managed to slip onto the boat as it
was pulling out, his German rifle wrapped in a soggy bundle of
clothing.

"Michael, I must hurry." He kissed Vance on both cheeks. "Be safe."

"You too." He took his hand, then passed him the Llama, half glad to be
rid of it and half wondering whether he might need it again. "Here,
take this. And lose it."

"It's final resting place will be in the depths of our wine dark sea,
my friend." Zeno pocketed it without a glance. "No one will ever know
what we had to do, not even Adriana. But we failed. She is still gone."

"Don't worry. I'll find her. And thank you again, for saving my life."

"You would have done the same for me. Now hurry. The airport. Perhaps
there's still time to catch her." With a final embrace he disappeared
into the milling throng of rain-soaked travelers.

The downpour was letting up, but the trip still took almost an hour.
When he finally pulled in at the aging Eastern terminal, he'd left the
car in the first space he could find and raced in. It was bedlam now,
with flights backed up by the storm, but he saw no sign of Eva. Where
was she? Had she even come here?

Planes had just started flying again. According to the huge schedule
board over the center of the floor, the first departure was a British
Air to Heathrow, leaving in five minutes.

There was no chance of getting through passport control without a
ticket, so he'd elbowed his way to the front of the British Airways
desk.

"That flight boarding. Three-seventy-one. I want a seat."

"I'm sorry, sir, but you'll have to wait--"

"Just sell me a ticket, dammit."

The harried agent barely looked up. "I'm afraid that's out of the
question. Now if you'll just take--"

"There's a woman who may be on it," he lifted up the empty leather
suitcase, "and she left this at the hotel."

"The equipment is already preparing to leave the gate." He glanced at
the screen, then turned to a pile of tickets he was methodically
sorting. "So if you'd please--"

"Let me check the manifest." He'd stepped over the baggage scale,
nudging the agent aside. "To make double sure she's aboard. Maybe I can
try and locate her in London."

"Sir!" The young Englishman paled. "You're not allowed to--"

"Just take a second." Vance ignored his protest and punched up the
flight on the computer.

It was a 757, completely full. And there she was, in seat 18A, second
cabin.

Thank God she'd made it.

While the outraged British Airways agent was frantically calling for
airport security, he scanned more of the file.

Alex Novosty was aboard too. In the very last row. Christ! He'd even
used his own name. His mind must be totally blown.

Did she know? Did he know? What now?

With the ticket agent still yelling, he'd quickly disappeared into the
crowd, having no choice but to pace a departure lounge for an hour and
a half, then take the only remaining London flight of the evening. All
right, he'd thought after cooling down, Novosty wants to use you; maybe
you can use him.

But now he suspected things weren't going to be that simple.

He remembered the two KGB operatives Alex had shot and killed at
Knossos. They'd been there to find Eva, which meant they knew she had
something. Now he realized that wasn't all they knew.

Across the aisle in first class sat a tall, willowy woman who radiated
all the self-confidence of a seasoned European traveler. She was also
elegantly beautiful--with dark eyes, auburn hair, and pursed red lips--
and she carried a large brown leather purse, Florentine. She could have
been a French fashion model, a high-paid American cosmetics executive,
a Spanish diplomat's mistress.

The problem was, Vance knew, she was none of those things. The French
passport he'd seen her brandish at the Greek behind the glass windows
at emigration control was a forgery. She was neither French, nor
American, nor Spanish. She was an executive vice president with
Techmashimport, the importing cover for T-Directorate. KGB.

Vera Karanova was always a prominent presence at

Western trade shows. But there was no trade show in London now, no new
high-tech toys to be dangled before the wondering eyes of
Techmashimport, which routinely arranged to try and obtain restricted
computers, surveillance gear, weapons-systems blueprints.

So why's Comrade Karanova on this flight? Off to buy a designer dress
at a Sloane Street boutique? Catch the latest West End musical?

How about the simplest answer of all: She's going to help them track
Alex Novosty to earth. Or grab Eva. Or both. They're about to tighten
the noose.

So the nightmare was still on. The KGB must have had the airport under
surveillance, and somebody spotted Novosty--or was it Eva?--getting on
the British Air flight to London. Now they were closing in.

Does she know me? Vance wondered. My photo's in their files somewhere,
surely.

But she'd betrayed no hint of recognition. So maybe not. He'd always
worked away from the limelight as much as possible. Once more it had
paid off.

As the plane dipped and shuddered from the turbulence, he watched out
of the corner of his eye as she lifted the fake French passport out of
her open leather handbag, now nestled in the empty seat by the window,
and began copying the number onto her landing card.

Very unprofessional, he thought. You always memorize the numbers on a
forgery. First rule. T-Directorate's getting sloppy these days.

He waited till she'd finished, then leaned over and ran his hand
roughly down the arm of her blue silk blouse.

"_Etes-vous aller a Londres pour du commerce_?" He deliberately made
his French as American-accented as possible.

"_Comment_?" She glanced up, annoyed, and removed his hand. "_Excusez
moi, que dites-vous_?"

"_D'affaires_?" He grinned and craned to look at the front of her open
neckline. "Business?"

"_Oui_ . . . yes." She switched quickly to English, her relief almost
too obvious.

"Get over there often?" He pushed.

"From time to time."

No fooling, lady. You've been in London four times since '88, by actual
count, setting up phony third-party pass-through deals.

"Just business, huh?" He grinned again, then looked up at the liquor
service being unveiled in the galley. The turbulence had subsided
slightly and the attendants were trying to restore normality, at least
in first class. "What do you say to a drink?"

She beckoned the approaching steward, hoping to outflank this obnoxious
American across the aisle. "Vodka and tonic, please."

"Same as the lady's having, pal." He gave the young Englishman a wink
and a thumbs-up sign, then turned back. "By the way, I'm booked in at
the Holiday Inn over by Marble Arch. Great room service. Almost like
home. You staying around there?"

"No." She watched the steward pour her drink.

"Sorry to hear that. I was wondering, maybe we . . . Do these
'business' trips of yours include taking some time off? Let you in on a
secret, just between you and me. I know this little club in Soho where
they have live--" he winked, "I got a membership. Tell you one thing,
there's nothing like it in Chicago."

"I'm afraid I'll be busy."

"Too bad." He drew on his drink, then continued. "Long stay this trip?"

"If you'll excuse me, Mr. --"

"Warner. William J. Warner. Friends call me Bill."

"Mr. Warner, I've had a very trying day. So, if you don't mind, I'd
like to attempt to get some rest."

"Sure. You make yourself comfortable, now."

He watched as she shifted to the window seat, as far as possible from
him, and stationed her leather handbag onto the aisle side. Just then
the plane hit another air pocket, rattling the liquor bottles in the
galley.

"Maybe we'll catch up with each other in London," he yelled.

"Most unlikely." She glared as she gulped the last of her drink, then
carefully rotated to the window and adjusted her seat to full recline.
Her face disappeared.

Good riddance.

After that the flight went smoothly for a few minutes, and Michael
Vance began to worry. But then the turbulence resumed, shutting down
drink service as their puny airplane again became a toy rattle in the
hands of the gods, thirty thousand feet over the Mediterranean,
buffeted by the powerful, unseen gusts of a spring storm. For a moment
he found himself envying Zeno, who had only the churning sea to face.

Almost hesitantly he unbuckled his seat belt and pulled himself up,
balancing with one hand as he reached in the air to grapple drunkenly
with the overhead baggage compartment.

"Sir," the steward yelled down the aisle, "I'm sorry, but you really
must remain--"

"Take it easy, chum. I just need to--"

Another burst of turbulence slammed the wings, tossing the cabin in a
sickening lurch to the left.

Now.

He lunged backward, flinging his hand around to catch the leather purse
and sweep it, upended, onto the floor. With a clatter the contents
sprayed down the aisle. Comrade Karanova popped alert, reaching out too
late to try and grab it. Her eyes were shooting daggers.

"Ho, sorry about that. Damned thing just . . . Here, let me try and . .
." He bent over, blocking her view as he began sweeping up the contents
off the carpeted aisle-- cosmetics, keys, and documents.

The name in the passport was Helena Alsace. Inside the boarding packet
was a hotel reservation slip issued by an Athens travel agent. The
Savoy.

Well, well, well. Looks like T-Directorate travels first class
everywhere these days. Learning the ways of the capitalist West.

"Here you go. Never understood why women carry so much junk in their
purse." He was settling the bag back onto the seat. "Sure am sorry
about that. Maybe I can buy you dinner to make amends. Or how about
trying out that room service I told you about?"

"That will not be necessary, Mr. Warner." She reached for the bag.

"Well, just in case I'm in the neighborhood, what hotel you staying
at?"

"The Connaught," she answered without a blink.

"Great. I'll try and make an excuse to catch you there."

"Please, just let me . . ." She leaned back again, arms wrapped around
her purse, and firmly closed her eyes.

The Savoy, he thought again. Just my luck. That's where / always stay.



Monday 9:43 A.M.



"Michael, I can't tell you how happy I am to hear from you, old man. We
must have lunch today." The voice emerged from the receiver in the
crisp diction of London's financial district, the City, even though the
speaker had been born on the opposite side of the globe. Vance noticed
it betrayed a hint of unease. "Are you by any chance free around noon?
We could do with a chat."

"I think I can make it." He took a sip of coffee from the Strand
Palace's cheap porcelain cup on the breakfast cart and leaned back.
He'd known the London financial scene long enough to understand what
the invitation meant. Lunch, in the private upstairs dining rooms of
the City's ruling merchant banks, was the deepest gesture of personal
confidence. It was a ritual believed to have the magical power to
engender trust and cooperation--cementing a deal, stroking an overly
inquisitive journalist, soothing a recalcitrant Labor politician. "We
had him to lunch" often substituted for a character reference in the
City, a confirmation that the individual in question had passed muster.

"Superb." Kenji Nogami was trying hard to sound British. "What say you
pop round about one-ish? I'll make sure my table is ready."

"Ken, can we meet somewhere outside today? Anywhere but at the bank."

"Pleasure not business, Michael? But that's how business works in this
town, remember? It masquerades as pleasure. We 'new boys' have to have
our perks these days, just like the 'old boys.'" He laughed. "Well
then, how about that ghastly pub full of public-school jobbers down by
the new Leadenhall Market. Know it? We could pop in for a pint. Nobody
you or I know would be caught dead drinking there."

"Across from that brokers club, right?"

"That's the one. It's bloody loud at lunch, but we can still talk."
Another laugh. "Matter of fact, I might even be asking a trifling favor
of you, old man. So you'd best be warned."

"What's a small favor between enemies. See you at one."

"On the dot."

As he cradled the receiver and poured the last dregs of caffeine into
his cup, he listened to the blare of horns on the Strand and wondered
what was wrong with the conversation that had just ended. Simple: Kenji
Nogami was too quick and chipper. Which meant he was worried. Why?
These days he should be on top of the world. He'd just acquired a
controlling interest in the Westminster Union Bank, one of the top ten
merchant banks in the City, after an unprecedented hostile takeover.
Was the new venture suddenly in trouble?

Not likely. Nogami had brought in a crackerjack Japanese team and
dragged the bank kicking and screaming into the lucrative Eurobond
business, the issuing of corporate debentures in currencies other than
that of a company's home country. Eurocurrencies and Eurobonds now
moved in wholesale amounts between governments, central banks, and
large multinational firms. The trading of Eurobonds was centered in
London, global leader in foreign exchange dealing, and they represented
the world's largest debt market. In addition, Nogami had aggressively
stepped up Westminster Union's traditional merchant bank operations by
financing foreign trade, structuring corporate finance deals, and
underwriting new issues of shares and bonds. He also excelled in the
new game of corporate takeovers. None of the major London merchant
bankers--the Rothschilds, Schroders, Hambros, Barings-- had originally
been British, so maybe Kenji was merely following in the footsteps of
the greats. Vance did know he was a first-class manager, a paragon of
Japanese prudence here in the new booming, go-go London financial
scene.

This town used to be one of Michael Vance's sentimental favorites, a
living monument to British dignity, reserve, fair play. But today it
was changing fast. After the Big Bang, London had become a prisoner of
the paper prosperity of its money changers, who'd been loosed in the
Temple. Thanks to them the City, that square mile comprising London's
old financial center, would never again be the same. After the Big
Bang, the City had become a bustling beehive of brash, ambitious young
men and women whose emblem, fittingly, seemed to be the outrageous new
headquarters Lloyds had built for itself, a monstrous spaceship dropped
remorselessly into the middle of Greek Revival facades and Victorian
respectability. It was, to his mind, like watching the new money give
the finger to the old. The staid headquarters of the Bank of England up
the way, that grand Old Lady of Threadneedle Street, now seemed a
doddering dowager at a rock concert.

All the same, he liked to stay near the City, close to the action. The
Savoy, a brisk ten-minute walk from the financial district, was his
usual spot, but since that was out of the question this time, he'd
checked into the refurbished Strand Palace, just across the street.

Today he had work to do. He had to get word to the _Mino-gumi _to back
off. And he was tired of dealing with lieutenants and enforcers,
_kobun_. The time had come to go to the top, the Tokyo _oyabun_. The
game of cat and mouse had to stop. Tokyo knew how to make deals. It was
time to make one.

Kenji Nogami, he figured, was just the man. Nogami, a wiry executive
with appropriately graying hair and a smile of granite, was a
consummate tactician who'd survived in the global financial jungle for
almost three decades. When the Japanese finally got tired of the
British financial club playing school tie and bowler hats and "old boy"
with them, shutting them out, they'd picked Nogami to handle the
hostile takeover of one of the pillars of London's merchant banking
community. Japan might still be afraid to go that route with the
Americans, who loved to rattle protectionist sabers, but England didn't
scare them a whit.

In years gone by, such attempts to violate British class privilege were
squelched by a few of the Eton grads of the City chipping in to
undermine the hostile bid. These days, however, nobody had the money to
scare off Japan. The game was up. And after the deregulation of Big
Bang, wholesale pursuit of profit had become the City's guiding
principle. Unfortunately, that turned out to be a game Kenji Nogami and
his Shokin Gaigoku Bank could play better than anybody in the world.
Nogami saw himself as an advance man for the eventual Japanese
domination of the globe's financial landscape. Maybe he was.

Michael Vance knew him from a wholly different direction, now almost
another life. In years gone by, Nogami had traveled with equal ease in
two worlds--that of straight money and that of "hot" money. He'd always
maintained the cover of a legitimate banker, but insiders knew he'd
made his real fortune laundering Yakuza amphetamine receipts and
importing small-caliber weapons. It was that second career that now
made him the perfect pipeline for a message that needed to be delivered
fast.

Vance finished off the last of the coffee in his cup, then rose and
strolled to the window to gaze down on the bustling Strand. The weather
looked murky, typical for London.

Where was Eva now? he wondered. What was she doing? Maybe she'd managed
to lose Novosty and get back to thinking about the protocol.

Well, he had some pressing business of his own, but the first thing was
to try and find her.

Maybe she was wondering right now how to get in touch with him. What
places here had they been together, back in the old days? Maybe there
was some location . . . the V&A? St. Pauls? or how about a restaurant?
What was that one she'd loved so much? The place the IRA shot up a few
years back?

At that moment the white phone beside his bed interrupted his thoughts
with its insistent British double chirp. He whirled around, startled.

Who knew he was here? If it was the KGB, or the Japanese mob, they
wouldn't bother ringing for an appointment.

Finally, after the fifth burst, he decided to reach for it. Probably
just the desk, calling about the breakfast things.

The voice was the last one he expected.

"Hello, darling."

"Eva!" He almost shouted. "Where the hell are you?"

"You really must stop shooting people, you know," she lectured. "You're
getting to be a horrible menace to society."

"What--?"

"Michael." The voice hardened. "Christ, what a mess."

"Are you okay?"

"Yes, I think so." She paused to inhale. "But I'm literally afraid to
move. I think KGB got Alex, there in Terminal Four at Heathrow. He was
trying to bluff them, though, so maybe he pulled it off. Anyway, they
were so tied up I just slipped past."

"The hell with him. Where are--?"

"I don't dare take a step outside this room now. Let's meet tonight.
Besides, I want to work on translating . . . you know. I rang a
scholarly bookshop I used to order from and they're delivering one of
Ventris's books. Maybe I can make some headway."

"I already did a bit of it."

"I saw that in the files. A whole page." She laughed.
"Congratulations."

"Give me a break. It's been ten years."

"Well, it looks like you're still able to fake the scholar bit. But
just barely."

"Thanks. What do you think of it so far?"

"Scary. Very scary. But we have to do more. Enough so we can go
public."

"Exactly. Look, I've got to do a couple of things today. Can you--?"

"That's fine, because I want to work on this." She sounded businesslike
again, her old self. "Something to while away the empty hours. The saga
inside my little Zenith has got to be the ticket out of this madness."

"Maybe, but we need to put some more spin on the scenario. Just to be
safe."

"What?"

"Not on the phone. Can you just sit tight? Play your game and let me
take a shot at mine?"

"It better be good."

"That remains to be seen." Who knew how it would go? But if it
proceeded as planned, the whole thing could be turned around. "Now
where the hell are you?"

"The place we always stayed, of course. Figuring you'd come here. But
you stood me up, naturally. Same old Michael. So this morning I started
calling around."

"You mean you're--?"

"At the Savoy, sweetie, our love nest of happy times past. Right across
the street."



CHAPTER TEN



_Monday 6:32 P.M.



_Tanzan Mino was dressed in a black three-quarter sleeved kimono,
staring straight ahead as he knelt before the sword resting in front of
him. His hands were settled lightly on his thighs, his face
expressionless. Then he reached out and touched the scabbard, bowing
low to it. Inside was a twelfth-century katana, a five-foot-long razor
created by swordsmiths of the Mino School, from the town of Seki, near
Gifu in the heart of old Honshu. It was, he believed, a perfect
metaphor for Japanese excellence and discipline.

The sword had now been reverenced; next he would use it to test his own
centering. At this moment his mind was empty, knowing nothing, feeling
nothing.

As his torso drew erect, he grasped the upper portion of the scabbard
with his right hand, its tip with his left, and pulled it around to
insert it into the black sash at his waist. He sat rigid for a moment,
poised, then thrust his right foot forward as he simultaneously grasped
the hilt of the sword with his right hand, the upper portion of the
scabbard with his left. In a lightning move he twisted the hilt a half-
turn and drew the blade out and across, his right foot moving into the
attack stance. The whip of steel fairly sang through the empty air as
the sword and his body moved together. It was the _chudan no kamae
_stroke, the tip of the blade thrust directly at an opponent's face, an
exercise in precision, balance.

Rising to a half kneel, he next lifted the sword above his head, his
left hand moving up to seize the hilt in a powerful two-handed grip. An
instant later he slashed downward with fierce yet controlled intensity,
still holding the hilt at arm's length. It was the powerful _jodan no
kamae_ stroke, known to sever iron.

Finally, holding the hilt straight in front of him, he rotated the
blade ninety degrees, then pulled his left hand back and grasped the
mouth of the scabbard. As he rose to both feet, he raised the sword
with his right hand and touched its _tsuba _handguard to his forehead
in silent reverence, even as he shifted the scabbard forward. Then in a
single motion he brought the blade around and caught it with his left
hand just in front of the guard, still holding the scabbard. With
ritual precision he guided the blade up its full length, until the tip
met the opening of the sheath, and then he slowly slipped it in.

This weapon, he reflected with pride, was crafted of the finest steel
the world had ever seen, created by folding and hammering heated layers
again and again until it consisted of hundreds of thousands of paper-
thin sheets. The metallurgy of Japan had been unsurpassed for eight
hundred years, and now the _Daedalus _spaceplane had once again
reaffirmed that superiority. Building on centuries of expertise, he had
succeeded in fashioning the heretofore-un known materials necessary to
withstand the intense heat of scramjet operation.

The remaining problems now lay in another direction entirely. The
difficulty was not technology; it was human blundering. Lack of
discipline.

Discipline. The news he had just received had only served to assure him
once again that discipline was essential in all of life.

As he turned and stationed the sword across his desk, he surveyed his
penthouse domain and understood why heads of state must feel such
isolation, such impotence. You could have the best planning, the best
organization, the tightest coordination, and yet your fate still rode
on luck and chance. And on others.

Overall, however, the scenario possessed an inescapable inevitability.
A lifetime of experience told him he was right. He glanced at the sword
one last time, again inspired by it, and settled himself at the desk.

Tanzan Mino was known throughout Japan as a _kuromaku_, a man who made
things happen. Named after the unseen stagehand who pulled the wires in
Japanese theater, manipulating the stage and those on it from behind a
black curtain, the _kuromaku_ had been a fixture in Japanese politics
since the late nineteenth century. He fit the classic profile
perfectly: He was an ultranationalist who coordinated the interests of
the right-wing underworld with the on-stage players in industry and
politics. In this role, he had risen from the ruins of World War II to
become the most powerful man in Asia.

It had been a long and difficult road. He'd begun as an Osaka street
operator in the late thirties, a fervent nationalist and open admirer
of Mussolini who made his followers wear black shirts in imitation of
the Italian fascists. When the Pacific War began, he had followed the
Japanese army into Shanghai where, under the guise of procuring
"strategic materials" for the imperial Navy, he trafficked in booty
looted from Chinese warehouses and operated an intelligence network for
the Kempei Tai, the Japanese secret police. After Japan lost China, and
the war, the occupying supreme commander for the allied powers (SCAP)
labeled him a Class A war criminal and handed him a three-year term in
Sugamo prison.

The stone floors and hunger and rats gave him the incentive to plan for
better things. The ruins of Japan, he concluded, offered enormous
opportunity for men of determination. The country would be rebuilt, and
those builders would rule.

Thus it was that while still in Sugamo he set about devising the
realization of his foremost ambition: to make himself oyabun of the
Tokyo Yakuza. His first step, he had decided, would be to become
Japan's gambling czar, and upon his release--he was thirty years old at
the time--he had made a deal with various local governments to organize
speedboat races and split the take on the accompanying wagering. It was
an offer none chose to refuse, and over the next forty years he and his
_Mino-gumi _Yakuza amassed a fortune from the receipts.

While still in Sugamo prison he had yet another insight: That to
succeed in the New Japan it would be necessary to align himself
temporarily with the globe's powerful new player, America. Accordingly
he began cultivating connections with American intelligence, and upon
his release, he landed a job as an undercover agent for the occupa-
tion's G-2 section, Intelligence. He'd specialized in black- bag
operations for the Kempei Tai in Shanghai during the war, so he had the
requisite skills.

When SCAP's era of reconstruction wound down, he thoughtfully offered
his services to the CIA, volunteering to help them crush any new
Japanese political movements that smacked of leftism. It was love at
first sight, and soon Tanzan Mino was fronting for the Company, putting
to good use his _Mino-gumi _Yakuza as strikebreakers. With Tanzan Mino
as _kuromaku_, the Yakuza and the American CIA had run postwar Japan
during the early years, keeping it safe for capitalism.

Then as prosperity returned, new areas of expansion beckoned. When
goods could again be bought openly, the black market, long a Yakuza
mainstay, began to wither away. But he had converted this into an
opportunity, stepping in to fill the new Japanese consumer's need for
cash by opening storefront loan services known as _sarakin_. Although
his Yakuza charged interest rates as high as 70 percent, the average
Japanese could walk into a side-street office and minutes later walk
out with several thousand dollars, no questions asked.

Unlike banks, he didn't bother with credit checks--he had well-proven
collection techniques--and before long his _sarakin _were handling more
consumer loans than all Japan's banks combined. His success was such
that foreign bankers wanting to gain a foothold in Japan soon started
coming to him. Bank of America, Bankers Trust, Chase Manhattan,
American Express Bank--all began placing capital wholesale through the
Yakuza's _sarakin_.

When the CIA bankrolled the Corsican mob as strikebreakers in
Marseilles in the fifties, they were merely financing heroin labs for
the French Connection, but when they and America's leading banks hired
on with Tanzan Mino's Yakuza, they were furthering the career of the
man destined to become the world's richest right-winger. The CIA
arrangement had lasted until a midlevel field consultant blew the
whistle.

The score for that had yet to be settled.

He shrugged away the thought with a glimmer of anger and turned to
study the column of green figures on the computer screen atop his desk,
mentally running a total. The numbers, at least, pleased him.
Capitalization for the first year was ready to be issued; the dummy
corporations were in place, their paperwork impeccable. None of the
financing packages was likely to raise eyebrows. The plan was as
flawless as human ability could make it.

As the pale light of dusk crept through the blinds, laying faint
shadows across his silver hair, he reached over with a smile and
touched the white stingray-skin binding on the sword's hilt. Yes, the
plan was brilliant. A third world war, one of economics, had begun, but
none of the other combatants fully realized it.

The European trading nations of 1992 were banding together, also
bringing in the new capitalists of Eastern Europe, to create a trade
monolith. At the same time Japan had, through strategic planning,
achieved its own Pacific trade bloc, finally realizing its aim during
the war, a Greater East Asia Coprosperity Sphere. Now only one final
target remained: the new consumers of the Soviet Union, who represented
the world's largest untapped market for goods, technology, investment.
The Europeans, the Americans, all the capitalists, were fighting for
that prize, but Tanzan Mino was within a whisker of seizing it for
Japan and Mino Industries. The Soviets would have no choice.

He reached down to stroke Neko, the snow leopard who slept beside his
desk, and reflected on the scenario. The Soviets had bought into it
with eyes open. The plan was turning out to be absurdly easy.

At the moment all he needed was the cleanly laundered payoff money. The
political risks, the financial risks, everything had to be covered. The
powers in the Liberal Democratic Party feared going out on a limb for
such a risky strategic objective. They required encouragement. And
certain prominent Japanese bankers, who would have to assist in the
scenario, also needed inducement. But the money had to be cash and
totally untraceable. No more Recruit-style fiascos.

Where was it?

He pushed that worry aside momentarily as he studied the gleaming model
of the _Daedalus_, poised like a Greek statue in the center of his
office. To think that the Soviets would agree not only to the hard
financial and territorial terms he had demanded, but actually were
willing to help Mino Industries develop the most advanced airplane the
world had ever seen. Their plight was fully as desperate as he'd
assumed. It was a game where he won everything.

Yes, the _Daedalus _was as important as all the rest combined. It would
leapfrog Japan to the undisputed ranks of the major powers, erasing
forever the distinction between civilian and military technology.

Still, though, there were problems. Always problems. First, the news he
had just received: The laundered funds still had not been delivered.
Then there was the matter of the NSA cryptographer who had been given
an intercepted copy of the protocol. Three men had been lost attempting
to retrieve it, but she remained at large. That was unacceptable. It
had to be reclaimed, no matter the cost, lest there be a premature
exposure of the plan. Timing was everything.

Added to that was the puzzling matter of the Soviet test pilot, on whom
the fate of the entire project hinged. He'd begun making outrageous
demands, insisting on moving up the first hypersonic flight to Friday.
Why? He'd once spent time in the United States as an exchange pilot.
Could he be fully trusted?

Tanzan Mino had finally, reluctantly, approved the schedule change,
though his instincts told him to beware. His instincts rarely failed,
but it was better not to appear too inflexible too soon. At this stage
the test pilot had become the crucial component of the project.
Sometimes you had to bend to get what you wanted, and instincts be
damned.

As if all that were not enough, he'd just heard an unsettling rumble
out of London concerning Kenji Nogami, a _Mino-gumi kobun _for thirty
years, a man he'd made rich.

He turned his attention back to the computer screen and studied the
numbers once more. However, he could not concentrate.

The problems. He felt his anger rise, unbidden. He was too old for
problems. Surmounting human incompetence was a young man's game. He
had, he told himself, struggled enough for a dozen men. And now, having
dedicated himself to fashioning Japan's twenty-first century ascen-
dancy, he no longer really cared about money. No, what mattered now was
the triumph of the Japanese people, the emperor, the Yamato spirit.

His countrymen, he had always believed, shared a noble heritage with
another race, one distant in time and place but brothers still. Both
the modern Japanese and the ancient Greeks had pursued a mission to
refine the civilizations around them, offering a powerful vision of
human possibilities. They both were unique peoples chosen by the gods.
He wanted, more than anything, for the entire world to at last
understand that.

With a sigh he turned and gave Neko a loving pat on her spotted muzzle,
then touched the buzzer on his desk. Time to start solving the
problems.



Monday 1:03 P.M.



"Michael, I'm terribly glad you could make it." Kenji Nogami smiled and
reached for his pint of amber-colored lager. His tailoring was Savile
Row via Bond Street, his accent Cambridge, his background well
concealed. In a business where appearances counted for much, he had all
the careful touches that separated the players from the pretenders--
cheeks sleek from a daily workout at his club, eyes penetrating and
always alert, hair graying at the temples. Today he stood out like a
beacon in the mob of chatting brokers and jobbers in the paneled gloom
of the pub, his aloof bearing and dark pinstripe suit proclaiming
INSIDER as clearly as neon. A Japanese to the core, he still looked as
though he had belonged there for a hundred years.

"By the way, congratulations on the takeover." Vance caught the pint of
ale sliding across the beer-soaked mahogany, then lifted it. "I hear
you scared hell out of the big players here in the City. Here's to
going straight. Hope it doesn't take all the fun out of life."

"It had to happen eventually, Michael." He nodded with innocent guile
and raised his glass tankard in return. "Cheers."

"To your health and wealth." Vance joined him in a sip. It was warm and
bitter, the way he liked it. "No more intrigue."

"Well . . . He winked and drank again, blowing back the foam. "We
bankers still thrive on intrigue, old man. And secrecy. Otherwise
somebody else would start making the money."

The young brokers laughing, smoking, and drinking in the pub all looked
as though they made buckets of money. Outside, the ocher-trimmed Doric
columns of the refurbished Leadenhall Market looked down on the
lunchtime crowds of the financial district, almost all men in white
shirts and dark suits, the modern uniform of the money changer.

"Trouble with secrets, though"--Vance settled his mug onto the wet bar
and looked up--"is that eventually the word gets out."

Nogami studied him. "Are you hinting at something? Something I should
know?"

"Maybe I'm just thinking out loud. But what if a guy like me came
across some proprietary information, sort of by accident, and
consequently an old friend of ours back home in Tokyo was very
unhappy?"

"If that 'friend' is who I think you mean, he's not someone either of
us wants to see unhappy, do we?" He sipped solemnly at his beer.

"Speak for yourself," Vance replied, and drank again. "But to continue,
what if this hypothetical guy had decided to try and simplify the
situation, get news back to Tokyo about a way to solve everybody's
problem? Then he'd need an information conduit. One that's tried and
true."

Nogami reached for a tray of peanuts, took a small handful and shook
them in his fist before popping one into his mouth. He chewed for a
second, then smiled. "One way might be to have a drink with an old,
shall we say, acquaintance, in hopes he might be able to help with some
communication."

"Sounds like we're making headway here." He paused. "Say this
hypothetical guy wants to talk a deal."

"What sort of deal?" Nogami chewed on more peanuts, his eyes
noncommittal.

"For instance, if Tokyo'll lay off, he'll see what he can do about some
laundered funds our friend's been waiting for. He's in a position to
make it happen. But if they keep on with the muscle, the deal's off. In
other words, no play, no pay."

"Supposing I know the individual in Tokyo you mean, as things stand now
you've quite possibly come to the wrong man." He sighed. "This isn't
the old days, my friend. I'm not wired in like I used to be. Times have
changed, thank God. I'm out. I run an honest merchant bank, at least as
honest as you can in this new day and age. And I like it that way."

"Ken, don't start the runaround." Vance tried to keep his tone easy.
"You're not talking to some bank examiner now. In Japan connections
last forever. We both know that."

"You were never more correct." Nogami examined his lager. "Obligations
remain, even though influence wanes. Which is, in fact, one of the
reasons I wanted to see you today. Michael, if I do you this favor,
could you perhaps do one for me in return?"

"Is it legit?"

"I suppose that depends," he laughed. "Look, of course I'd be more than
happy to send a secure telex, if that's all you want. Heaven knows I
owe you that much." He paused to sip from his mug. "But I'll sound
rather a fool if I don't know the first thing about the situation.
Can't you at least give me some idea?"

"Tokyo'll understand. And the less you know, the better for everybody."

"All right. But my position right now is . . . well, I may not be able
to help as much as I'd like."

"I don't like the sound of that."

"It's the problem I mentioned to you. That 'individual' is calling in
favors with me now, not the other way around. So this could be a trifle
awkward, if you see what I mean."

"Ken, have you forgot I took care of you once? Remember the Toshiba
milling-machine sale to the Soviets? All the posturing back in the
U.S.? It could have been a lot worse for your team politically.
Afterwards you said you owed me one."

"Yes, and I still appreciate what you did, tipping me off about the
French, the fact they'd already sold such machines to the Soviets years
ago. It helped us dampen the fires of moral indignation on Capitol
Hill." He took another sip. "I got a lot of points with the right
people in the LDP."

"I just got fed up with all the bullshit. No harm done." He leaned
back. "But now it's your turn."

"Fair enough." He gazed around the crowded, smoke- filled pub.
"Michael, I don't know if we really should be talking here. Care to
take a walk, down to the Thames? Get a bit of air. Maybe hope for some
sunshine?"

"All right." Vance tossed down a five-pound note and reached for his
overcoat, draped across the stool next to them. "Weather's nice. At
least for London."

Nogami nodded as they pushed through the crowded doorway and into the
street. "Don't say what you're thinking. Don't say you can't imagine
why I moved here."

"Never crossed my mind." Vance took a breath of the fresh air,
expelling the residual smoke from his lungs. The lunchtime mob elbowed
them from every side.

"You know the reason as well as I do. It's all part of our overall
strategy. Japan is a world player now, Michael. I'm part of the
vanguard that's going to do to financial services worldwide what we did
to semiconductors and electronics. You just watch and see."

"I already believe it." He did. Japan's dominance of the world money
scene was just a matter of time.

They navigated their way through the midday throng. On every side
lunchtime shoppers were munching sandwiches, lining up for knick-knacks
to take back to the office. They strolled past the rear of the tubular-
steel Lloyds building, then headed down a cobblestone side street to-
ward the river.

"But we had to come here and buy our base in order to be part of the
financial game in Europe," Nogami continued, not missing a beat. "We
expect to be major players before long."

"I'd say you're already one. When the Plaza Accord sliced the greenback
in half, it doubled the value of Japan's bankroll. Every yen you had
was suddenly worth twice as many dollars, as if by magic."

"We can't complain." He paused to inhale the gray, heavy air. "Of
course the locals here in London are constantly enlisting their 'old
boy' regulators to make up new rules to hamper us, but Tokyo invented
that little ploy. It almost makes this place feel like home."

"Word is you play all the games. I hear Westminster Union now handles
more Eurodollar deals than anybody."

"We pull our weight." He smiled and dodged a red double-decker bus as
they crossed Lower Thames Street. "You name a major currency, we'll
underwrite the debt offering."

"Lots of action."

"There is indeed. Sometimes perhaps too much. Which is why I wanted to
talk down here, by the river. Shall we stroll out onto London Bridge?"

"Sounds good."

Spread before them now was the muddy, gray expanse of London's timeless
waterway. Shakespeare had gazed on it. Handel had written music to
accompany fireworks shot over it. Today a few tugs were moving slowly
up the center channel, and a sightseeing boat was headed down to
Greenwich. Cranes of the new Docklands development loomed over the
horizon downriver.

"So what's the problem?" Vance turned to study his face. There was
worry there, and pain.

"Michael, that 'individual' you spoke of. He has, in the famous phrase,
'made me an offer I can't refuse.' He wants me to handle a debt issue,
corporate debentures, bigger than anything this town has ever seen.
Anything Europe has ever seen."

"You should be ordering champagne."

"Not this time." He turned back to study the river. "The whole thing
stinks."

"Who're the players?"

"It's supposedly to raise capital for the Mino Industries Group. I've
been 'asked' to underwrite the bonds, then unload them with minimal
fanfare and keep a low profile." He looked back. "But it's almost
fraud, Michael. I don't think there's anything behind them at all.
Nothing. The beneficiaries are just phony Mino Industries shadow corpo-
rations. Only nobody will know it. You see, the bonds are zero-coupons,
paying no interest till they mature ten years from now. So it will be a
full decade before the buyers find out they've acquired paper with no
backing."

"Won't be the first time the sheep got sheared by a hustler."

"Michael, I'm not a hustler," he snapped. "And there's more. They're
so-called bearer bonds. Which means there's no record of who holds
them. Just one more trick to keep this thing below the radar."

"Typical. 'Bearer bonds' always sell like hotcakes in high-tax locales
like the Benelux countries. That mythical Belgian dentist can buy them
anonymously and screw the tax man."

"Yes, that's part of what makes Eurocurrency ideal for this, all that
homeless money floating around over here. No government is really
responsible for keeping track of it. In fact, every effort has been
made to ensure that these debentures appeal to greed. Their yield will
float, pegged at two full points above the thirty-year British
government bond, the gilt. As lead underwriter I'll have the main re-
sponsibility, but I'm also supposed to form a syndicate of Japanese
brokerage houses here--Nomura, Daiwa, Sumitomo, the others--to make sure
the offering goes off without a hitch. But that precaution will hardly
be necessary. At those interest rates, they should practically fly out
the door." He sighed. "Which is a good thing, because . . . because,
Michael, the amount I'm being asked to underwrite is a hundred billion
dollars."

"And that's just for the first year, right?"

Nogami looked up, startled. "How did you know?"

"Call it a lucky guess." He took a deep breath. So that's where the
funding stipulated in the protocol was going to come from. European
suckers. My God, he thought, the play is superb.

"Michael, nobody could float an offering like that and have it covered
with real assets. Nobody. Taken all together that's enough money to
capitalize a dozen world-class corporations." He paused. "Of course, I
won't be offering it all at once. The debentures will dribble out over
the period of a year, and then the next year, it starts all over again.
For five years."

"So you're supposed to raise five hundred billion dollars in the
Eurobond market over five years. Not impossible, but it's a tall
order."

"Especially since the ratings will be smoke and mirrors. It is, in
effect, an unsecured loan." He looked away, down at the swirling brown
surface of the Thames. "You know what it really means? He wants me to
sell _junk bonds_. And I can't refuse." His voice came close to a
quaver. "Just when I was well into earning the esteem of the European
banking community, I'm suddenly about to become the Drexel Burnham of
Eurobonds. I'll be operating the investment equivalent of a shell
game."

"Ken, why are you telling me all this?" Vance had never seen him this
upset.

"Because I have to find out what this is all about. What the money's
going to be used for."

"I take it the Tokyo _oyabun's_ not talking."

"Michael, no one dares question him. You know that." His voice grew
formal. "It's the Yakuza way."

"Well, you're in London now. A free man."

"It's not that simple. You may not know--it's a very well-kept secret--
that he capitalized my takeover of the Westminster Union Bank here. He
put together a consortium of private financiers for me. A lot of the
money was actually his. The whole thing had to be low profile, since
none of our banks dared have its name associated with a hostile
takeover in London. Our institutions are still squeamish about such
things. They all cheered me on in private, but in public they didn't
know anything about it."

"Maybe he had this little return favor in mind all along."

"To tell you the truth, I've since wondered that myself. Anyway, now
he's calling in my obligation. We Japanese call it _giri_. I have to
play. But either way I'm ruined. If I do it, I'll become a pariah in
the European banking community. If I don't . . . well, the consequences
are almost unthinkable."

"Ken, I don't know how to say this, but there's a chance this whole
scenario is bigger than anything you can imagine."

Nogami turned to stare. "What do you know?"

"Let's just say I hear things. But first we need to strike our deal."

"Of course. As I said, I'll send a telex, from my secure trading room,
for what good it may do. But you've got to help me too. Please." He
turned back to the river. "You know, Michael, I like my life here. More
and more. Even given all that's going on here these days, the pace is
still much more civilized than Tokyo. For all our prosperity back home,
I think we've traded something very valuable. Call it our soul perhaps.
Here I feel almost free from the old days, part of a real, legitimate
world. I hated all the money laundering, the shady deals. These days I
can look myself in the face."

"I was temporarily changing professions myself, until about a week ago.
Then this problem came up." He waved to a pleasure boat slowly motoring
up the river. It was only a thirty footer, but the lines reminded him
of the _Ulysses_. It made him suddenly homesick for real sunshine and
real air.

"Michael, what's going on? We need to work together."

"I'll just say this. I think the godfather's got a big surprise
cooking. Maybe we're both caught in the middle."

He smiled. "If that's true, we can help each other out. Though I can't
push too hard." He took a deep breath and gazed at the murky London
sky. "But still . . . I'll tell you the truth. I'm very seriously
thinking I may just refuse to touch the whole thing. Tanzan Mino--yes,
why not name names? He's even made vague threats against my family. The
man has pushed me too far this time. Somewhere it has to end."

"You're a brave man. He still runs some very persuasive muscle. Better
have your life insurance paid up."

"I'm well aware. But I don't want to jeopardize everything I've built
here. My whole new life. So that's why I need you. If you could find
out what's behind all this, I could decide whether I should risk
everything and go ahead with the offering. Or just stand up to him at
last. Otherwise . . ."

"What's the timing?"

"I have to list the first offering with the Issuing House Association
day after tomorrow. We've already put together the paperwork, just in
case."

"Pretty tight."

"Michael, I'll see what I can do about your problem. And if there's
anything else, you know I'll try my best."

"Depending on whether my message gets through, I could be needing
somebody to handle some cash. A reasonably substantial sum. Maybe as
part of our little quid pro quo you could arrange it."

"Is this money . . .?" He paused awkwardly. "Well, you understand my
question."

"It's laundered. Clean as a hound's tooth."

"Where is it now?"

"Don't worry," Vance smiled. "It's liquid."

"And the sum?"

"Hang on to your bowler hat. It's around a hundred million U.S."

"Is that all?" he laughed. "That figure is barely a blip on the screen
these days. For a minute there I thought you were talking real money."

"Seems a reasonably substantial sum."

"It's scarcely more than walking-around money in our business, as you
well know. Over two hundred billion passes through the foreign exchange
markets every day, a large amount of it right here in London."

"Well, there could be a small complication, if the KGB gets into the
action."

"KGB?" He pulled up sharply. "What in bloody hell do they--?"

"It's a long story."

"But why would Soviet intelligence be involved? They're supposed to be
keeping a lower profile these days."

"Rumor has it they let this one get past them. The money left home
without a passport and now they look like fools for letting it happen."

"I see." He grew silent, then glanced at his watch and pulled his
overcoat tighter. "Well, perhaps I should send that cable now. Before
Tokyo tucks in for the night."

"The sooner the better."

"And the matter of concern to me?"

"Let me think it over." Vance spoke slowly. "But in the meantime, I'd
strongly advise you to hold off with the offering."

"You're not telling me what you know. Is that fair?"

"No. But who said the world's got to be fair? There's a play about to
go down. I know about part of it, not all. But before I'm through,
well, let's just say that when somebody starts using muscle on me, I
sort of lose my sense of proportion."

"Is it that bad?" His stare carried alarm. "What am I supposed to do?"

"Sit tight on the offering. Don't say yes or no, just find a way to
postpone it. And send that telex. I'll dictate it for you. After that,
you can reach me at my hotel. Strand Palace."

"The Strand Palace? Michael, you?" He smiled. "Hardly up to your usual
standards."

"I don't do as much freelance these days as I used to. So I have to
learn to live closer to my means."

"I'll believe that when I see it," he said with a laugh. "You're not
telling me the truth. About anything."

"You're right. And it's for your own good. You just stall on the
offering and let me play this my way. If things aren't straightened out
in a day, two tops, we're both in a lot of trouble."

"Two days?"

"It has to happen by then. Too much is going on."

"Now you're really starting to make me alarmed."

"You should be."

Because if this isn't settled in two days, he thought, somebody's
probably going to be dead.



CHAPTER ELEVEN



Monday 8:05 P.M.



       She checked her watch, then took a last look around the spacious
room. It was time. Her bag lay on the bed, packed and waiting to be
sent later. The part of her luggage that mattered was the vinyl flight
bag by the door, containing the Zenith.

With a sigh she rose, threw on her light tan raincoat, and grabbed the
bag. This was the part she'd been dreading, and she'd done her best to
try and look inconspicuous--a dressy beige outfit and a few silver
accessories. She'd also washed her hair, which always made her feel
better.

The carpeted hallway was clear as she closed the door, tugged to be
certain it was secure, then took a deep breath, turned, and headed
toward the elevator. She hadn't been outside the room for almost
twenty-four hours. This, she told herself, must be what house arrest
feels like.

It was about to be over. All she had to do now was make her way through
the Savoy lobby, walk diagonally across the Strand, then through
another lobby, another elevator, and she'd be with Michael.

The more she allowed herself to think about the whole situation, the
angrier she got, at all the bean-counters at NSA who wouldn't listen to
her, at the entire American intelligence establishment. How could
everybody have missed what was happening?

Maybe, she thought, the air outside would help cool her off. She
definitely needed to get out of the Savoy, if only to counter the
claustrophobia. Stretch your legs, sweetheart, and think.

The elevator chimed and the doors slid open. The crisp, shiny,
expensive fashions greeted her, the iridescence of diamonds; the night
people of London were headed out for dinner and the clubs. A cross
section of the jet set and the bored rich. Nobody seemed to be having
fun.

She looked at them as she stepped in, wondering what they would think
if they knew what was in her vinyl bag. Michael used to say the only
thing people like these were interested in was impressing headwaiters.
He was probably dead right.

The LOBBY light flashed above the doors, and they slid open to reveal
muted wood paneling, English antiques, and sparkling mirrors. Gray-
suited bellboys carrying baggage and opening elevator doors mingled
with the bustling evening throng. It was a world unto itself.

Not pausing, she strode past the pink marble columns and glowing
chandeliers, then headed for the glassed entrance. Outside, the traffic
on the Strand, the glitter of London at night, all of it beckoned.

Being in Crete again had really made her think, about a lot of things.
Mostly though, she'd thought about Michael Vance, Jr. Ex-archaeologist,
ex-spook, ex- . . . God knew what. Still, she'd seen plenty worse . . .
the paunchy assistant-this and vice-that, all divorced and paying
alimony and whining. But in this man-short time, with hungry divorcees
flocking the bars, they didn't have to bother keeping up appearances.
Middle-aged decay was their inalienable right. Mike, whatever else you
said about him, still looked as good as he had a decade ago. He was
showing some mileage, sure, but on him it didn't look half bad. Maybe
it was the tequila.

Could they start over again, that new beginning he'd hinted about?
Maybe it was at least worth a try.

She moved on through the milling mob in the lobby, trying to be casual,
to blend. He'd said she should get out of the Savoy as soon as
possible, just send her things and move in with him. But why didn't he
come over and stay with her? she'd asked. The Savoy was more romantic,
more like the old days. That's when he'd abruptly switched the subject,
saying they couldn't discuss it on the phone.

Probably he had something working. Well, she had a few surprises too.
She'd spent the day hacking away at the protocol, and she'd learned a
lot more. It was even worse than she'd imagined.

As she pushed through the revolving doors and into the driveway, the
clack-clack of London taxi motors and the rush of cold air brought back
all the adrenaline of that moment in Iraklion when she had first seen
Alex.

She grasped the flight bag more firmly and moved on down the left-hand
sidewalk, past the National Westminster Bank at the corner and toward
the street. Almost there. Just across waited the Strand Palace and
safety.

In her rush, she'd missed an important event. Mingled in among the
lobby crowd was a couple she'd failed to notice. They'd been over on
her left, by the desk. The man, in a rumpled brown jacket, was haggard,
with bloodshot eyes. His beard was untrimmed, but it did disguise the
bruises on his face. Unseen by Eva he'd suddenly raised his hand and
pointed at her. Nor did she see the woman with him-- dark coiffure,
elegant makeup, Oscar de la Renta cocktail dress--though she wouldn't
have recognized her in any case.

Only moments after Eva Borodin walked up the Savoy driveway, the woman
was speaking into the radio she'd had in her shiny evening purse.



Monday 8:08 P.M.



He glanced at his watch, then looked out his smudgy hotel window and
down at the Strand. Two more minutes and there should be a knock on the
door.

Would she believe him? That he'd set up the play? Maybe he couldn't
quite believe it himself, but still, they had the biggest share of
poker chips now. They were about to take control of the game.

It was almost, almost time to relax.

Then he saw her, moving briskly across the Strand while furtively
looking left and right. Good. After he watched her disappear into the
lobby down below, he turned back from the window and walked to the bar.
Time to crack open the Sauza Tres Generaciones, Tequila Anejo--Mexico's
well-aged contribution to the well-being of all humankind. Hard enough
to come by anywhere, it was virtually unobtainable here in London, but
his search had succeeded. He lifted it out of its tan box, admiring the
coal black bottle, then gave the cork a twist and sniffed the
fragrance, fresh as nectar, before settling it back on the bar. Next he
removed a bottle of rare Stolichnaya Starka vodka from the freezer and
stationed it beside the Sauza. This, he knew, was Eva's favorite, made
with water from the Niva River and flavored with pear leaves and
Crimean apples as well as a touch of brandy and a dash of port.

A few moments later he heard a light knock on the door, and with a
feeling of relief he stepped over.

"Michael," the voice was a muted whisper, "hurry."

He swung it inward and there she was. Without a word she moved into his
arms.

"Are you okay?" He touched her face, then lifted her lips to his. They
were cold, tight.

"Yes. I . . . I think so. God, what a day. I kept wanting to call you,
darling."

"I was out."

"I assumed that. I can't wait to show you my translation."

"Hey, slow down." He kissed her again. "Let's have a celebration drink
first. Just you and me."

"Michael, don't talk nonsense. We've got to think."

"I got a bottle of your native wine, a little Tequila Anejo for me.
Never hurt the mental processes. Come on, what do you say?" He turned
and headed for the bar.

She was unzipping the vinyl flight bag. "How can you . . .?" Then she
caught herself and laughed. "It better be frozen, Like ice-cold syrup."

"Cold as Siberia. It should go down well with the latest news item.
We've now got a deal on the table with Tokyo."

"What kind of deal?" She glanced over.

"I told them if they'll call off the gorillas, I'll see about
lightening up their money problems. The Alex Novosty imbroglio."

"You're not really going to do it?"

He laughed. "What do you think?"

"Darling, whatever you're planning, it's not going to stop them."

"Why don't we wait and see?"

"I've seen enough already."

"Stay mellow." He was handing her a tall, thin glass of clear liquid,
already frosting on the sides. "Make any progress on the protocol?"

"Nobody in the world is going to believe it. This is just too big. I
almost wonder if a newspaper would touch it, at least until we have
more than we have now." She'd set down her drink and was opening the
flight bag. Out came the Zenith, and moments later a text was on the
screen.

"How much farther did you get?"

"Only another page or so. This is tougher going than I thought. But
here, look. This section picks up from where you left off. Mother
Russia's practically giving away the store."



_. . . 3. Within one year of the satisfaction of all formalities
pursuant to the above-designated credits, the USSR will renounce sole
proprietorship of the Kurile Islands and the Soviet oblast of Sakhalin.
Those territories will thereafter be administered as a free-trade zone
and joint protectorate of the USSR and Japan, with exclusive economic
development rights extended to all designated corporations comprised in
Mino Industries Group (MIG).

4.  MIG is hereby granted full rights to engage in capital investment
and manufacturing development in the USSR, which capital investment may
comprise all or part of the financial credits specified in Item 1. MIG
will be permitted to hold 51% or greater interest in all joint
industrial facilities, and the operation and control of those
facilities will rest solely with managers designated by MIG unless
otherwise mutually agreed.

5.  Within two years of the date of this agreement, the Soviet ruble
will be declared a free-market currency, convertible to yen and other
Western currencies at rates governed solely by the established world
currency exchanges. Furthermore, from that time forward, Japanese-
manufactured durables and consumer goods may be purchased directly in
rubles, at prevailing rates of exchange.

6.  Upon ratification of this Protocol by the Japanese Diet and the
Supreme Soviet of the USSR, the Japanese Self-Defense Forces will have
full access, for purposes not hostile to the sovereign security of the
USSR, to all military installations on Sakhalin and the Kurile Islands
including facilities now used exclusively by the Soviet Navy and Soviet
Air Force. The security of the Far Eastern oblast of the USSR will
henceforth be a joint obligation of the USSR and the Japanese Self-
Defense Forces.

_

He looked up, his eyes narrowing. "So it's just what we thought. A
global horsetrade. Tokyo supplies Moscow with half a trillion in loans
and financing over the next five years, the money they need for
'restructuring,' and the Soviets cede back the territory they took
after the war, the Kurile Islands and Sakhalin, that perennial thorn in
the side of the Japanese right."

"Not to mention which, Japan also gets a whole new target for all that
excess capital burning a hole in its pocket. As well as first crack at
Sakhalin's oil reserves. Michael, put it together and you realize
Japan's about to wrap up what she's been angling for ever since the
war--total economic dominance of the Far East, Russia and all."

Right, he thought, but which Russians are making this secret deal?
Could it be the hardliners, who're lining up a new military alliance?
Is that what the "prototype" is all about.

"By the way, did you look closely at the early part, the bit I
translated?" He walked over and checked the traffic on the Strand
below. "There's some kind of surprise package under the tree. I don't
think it's Christmas chocolates."

"You mean the prototype? Bothers me too." She took another sip of her
freezing Stoly. "What do you think it is?"

"My wild guess would be some kind of advanced weapons system. If the
Soviets are planning to give back territory, they'd better be getting
some goodies."

"Well, any way you look at it, this whole thing is brilliant,
synergistic. Everybody comes out with something they want."

"World geopolitics is about to become a whole new ball game. But that
other bit, the prototype, seems to be a really important part of it.
There're specifications, a hard delivery date, the works. That's where
the quid pro quo starts getting kinky."

"It does sound like some entirely new kind of weapon," she agreed.

"Who knows? Whatever it turns out to be, though, it's something they
had to develop together. Which probably means high-tech. But we're
going to find out, you and me." He studied the street below, where
traffic was a blaze of headlights, then turned back. "Tell me again
about those satellite photos you mentioned out at the palace."

"You mean the ones of Hokkaido, the Japanese island up north?"

"Right. What exactly was in them? You said it looked like a runway?"

"I said that's what I thought it was. But nobody at NSA is authorized
to be interested officially in what goes on in Japan, so the oversight
committee wouldn't spring for a real analysis, an infrared overlay or
anything. The budget cuts, et cetera."

"Which is exactly what whoever planned this figured on, right? If you
had some military surprise cooking, what better place to hide it than
in the wilds of northern Japan, where nobody would bother to pay
attention?"

"Well, the location couldn't be more perfect for a joint project.
Hokkaido is right across the straits from Sakhalin. All nice and
convenient." She stared at her vodka as the room fell silent. "Maybe if
we finished the translation."

"Somehow I doubt it's going to spell out the details. The

so-called prototype hasn't been described so far, at least as far as
we've got. Probably a deliberate omission."

"Our problem is, without the full text nobody's going to take our word
for all this." She finished off her Stoly with a gulp, then got up to
pour another.

"Maybe there's a way." He caught her and pulled her into his arms. "But
first things first. Why don't we forget about everything just for
tonight?"

She stared at him incredulously. "Darling, get serious. Right now there
are people out there wanting to make us disappear because we know too
much. They've already tried. That's very real."

"Look, that's being handled. Why can't you trust me?" He hugged her
again. "I think it's time we had an evening just for us. So how about a
small intimate reunion tonight, right here, dinner for two? While we
wait for the fish to bite."

"I don't believe I'm hearing this."

"We'll both slip into something comfortable, have the greatest meal in
the world sent up, along with about a case of wine, then retire to that
plush bed over there and spend the rest of the evening getting
reacquainted?"

"You're serious, aren't you?" She studied his eyes. They had a
lascivious twinkle.

"Of course."

She hesitated, then thought, Why not call his bluff?

"All right. If you can be insane, then I can too. But if we're going to
do it, then let's go all the way. I'm sick of living off room service."
She slapped down her glass. "Know what I really want? I want to go out
somewhere expensive and splashy. With you. I want to do London."

"Great!" He was beaming.

Whoops. He hadn't been bluffing.

"I dare you." She rose and threw her arms around him. Suddenly it was
all too wonderful to forgo. "We'll put this Zenith in the hotel safe
and act like real people for an evening. Then we'll come back here and
you'll get totally ravished. That's a promise, sweetheart."

"I sort of had it figured for the other way around."

"Oh, yeah. We'll see, and may the best ravisher win." She clicked off
the computer and shoved it into the flight bag, then turned back. "How
about that wonderful restaurant we went to way back when? You know.
That night we both got so drunk and you almost offered to make an hon-
est woman of me."

"An offer you saw fit to refuse in advance." He looked her over. "But I
assume you mean that place up in Islington? What was it? The Wellington
or something?"

"Right. It was sort of out of the way. Down a little alley." She threw
her arms around him. "That night was so wonderfully romantic, like a
honeymoon."

"It almost was," he smiled, remembering. "Let's call for a reservation
and just go."

"Darling, are we acting insane?" She looked up, eyes uncertain. "I'm
half afraid."

"Don't be." He touseled her hair before thinking. "Nobody's going to
touch you, believe me. I've nailed the bastards. All of them."



Monday 11:28 P.M.



It was flawless. They dined in a Gothic, ivy-covered greenhouse in the
garden of a maitre nineteenth-century inn where waiters scurried, the
maitre d' hovered, and the wine steward nodded obsequiously every time
he passed their table. It was even better than their first visit. After
a roulade of red caviar, Eva had the ragout au gratin, Vance the boeuf
a la ficelle, his favorite. For dessert they shared the house
specialty, tulipe glacee aux fruits, after which they lingered over
Stilton cheese and a World War I bottle of Lisbon port.

And they talked and laughed and talked. They both tried to focus on the
good times: trips they'd taken, places they'd shared, what they'd do
next--together. She even agreed to spend August helping him sail the
Ulysses over to Crete, his latest plan. The gap in time began slowly to
drop away. It was as though they'd been reborn; everything felt new,
fresh, and full of delight. Who said you couldn't start over?

Neither wanted it to end, but finally, reluctantly, he signaled for the
check. After a round of farewells from the staff, they staggered out
into the brisk evening air.

"Where to now?" He was helping her into a black London taxicab, after
drunkenly handing the uniformed doorman a fiver.

"God, I'm so giddy I can't think." She crashed into the seat and leaned
her head against his shoulder.

"Yanks?" The driver glanced back with a genuine smile. He wore a dark
cap and sported a handlebar mustache of Dickensian proportions. "Been
to New York myself, you know, with the missus. Two years back. Don't
know how you lot can stand the bleedin' crime, though."

"Worse every year," Vance nodded.

"So, where'll it be, my lords and ladies?" He hit the ignition.

"How about heading down to the Thames, say Victoria Embankment Gardens,
around in there."

"Lovely spot for a stroll. Private like, if you know what I mean." He
winked, then revved the engine and started working the vehicle down the
narrow street, headed toward the avenue. "Thing about the States, you'd
be daft to walk in a park there after dark." He glanced back. "So how
was it?"

"What?"

"The Wellington, mate. You know, I take plenty of Arabs there, bleedin'
wogs, them and their fine Soho tarts."

"We made do."

"If you've got the quid, why not. That's what I always say." He smiled
above his mustache. "Guess you know IRA bombed the front room about ten
years back, bloody bastards. Lobbed one right through the big window."

"We were hoping they'd never hit the same place twice."

"With those bloodthirsty micks you never know, mate, you never know.
Only good thing about the States, no bleedin' IRA." He made a right
turn off Goswell Road onto Clerkenwell Road. Even at this late hour,
the traffic was brisk, black taxis side by side.

"Michael, I love Victoria Gardens." Eva reached up and bit his ear.
"Can we dance in the moonlight?"

"Why not. I think it's romantic as hell." He drew her closer. "Probably
shouldn't tell you this, but back in my youth, when I was living in
London one summer, I used to take a plump little Irish hotel maid down
there. I confess to a series of failed assaults on her well-guarded
Catholic virtue."

"Maybe this time your luck will change," she giggled. And she bit him
again.

"I'll never be seventeen again, but I'm willing to give it one more
try." He turned to study the traffic behind them. Had the play started
already?

Yep, there it was. A dark car was following them, had pulled out right
behind as they left the restaurant's side street. It was trailing
discreetly, but it was in place.

Pretty much on schedule, he told himself. They must have found out by
now.

"Darling, I want to make you feel seventeen all over again." She
snuggled closer. "I'm starting to feel good again. I'd almost forgot
you could do that for me. Thank you."

He kissed her, then leaned forward and spoke through the partition.
"See those headlights behind us?"

"I think they were waiting outside, at the restaurant. Noticed them
there. Now they look to be going wherever you're going." The burly
cabbie glanced into his side mirror. "Friends of yours?"

"In a manner of speaking. I think we've just revised our destination.
Make it the Savoy instead. The main entrance there on the Strand."

"Whatever you say. Forget the park?"

"You've got it. And try not to lose them. Just make sure they don't
know that you know. Figure it out."

"Having some sport with your friends, eh?"

"Work on it."

"Oh, Christ." Eva revolved to look. "Michael, what is it?"

"My guess is somebody found out something, and they're very upset."

She grasped his hand. "Why not try and lose them in the traffic?"

"They probably know where we're staying. What's the point?"

"I do hope you know what you're doing."

"Trust me. The Savoy's a nice friendly place for a drink. We'll ask
them in, maybe drop by the American bar, there on the mezzanine."

"Why did we go out?" She threw her arms around him. "I knew it was a
risk and still--"

"Relax." He kissed her. "We're just headed home after a lovely dinner.
And when we get there, maybe we'll ask them in for a nightcap."

"Who do you think it is?"

"This is a friendly town. Why don't we just wait and find out?"

"Right. I'm dying to know who wants to kill us now." She turned to
stare again at the headlights. "After all, it's been almost a day and a
half since somebody's--"

"Hey, we've had a great evening. Nobody's going to spoil that. This
will just top it off." He looked back again, then leaned forward as the
driver turned onto the Strand. "Be sure and take us all the way down
the driveway."

"Whatever you say." He flipped on his blinker, then checked the mirror.
"Seems your friends are coming along."

"That's the idea." Vance passed him a ten-pound note as they rolled to
a halt. "Nice job, by the way."

"Anything for a Yank." He checked the bill, then tipped his hat. "Many
thanks, gov'nor."

"Michael." Eva froze. "I'm not getting out."

"Come on." He reached for her hand. "This is going to be the most fun
we've had all night." He looked up at the gray-uniformed Savoy doorman
approaching. "Trust me."

The other car, a black Mercedes, had stopped just behind them, and now
its doors swung out on both sides. The first to emerge were two surly
men in heavy, bulging suits; next came an expensively dressed, dark-
haired woman; and the last was a bearded man who had to be helped. He
seemed weak and shaky.

Vance waved to him and beckoned him forward. "Alex, what a surprise.
Glad you brought your friends. I was starting to worry we might miss
each other this time."

"Michael." His voice faltered as he walked past the others, limping.
"We must talk. Now."

"Great idea. Let's ask everybody in for a drink."

The woman was staring, cold as ice, while the two men flanked her on
either side, waiting. Vance smiled and greeted her.

"Vera, talk about luck. And I'll bet you were worried we wouldn't
manage to meet up in London. Small world."

The woman was trying to ignore him as she addressed Eva. "You have in
your possession classified Soviet materials."

"If I do, that's your problem." She glared back.

"No, Ms. Borodin." The woman moved forward, carrying a leather purse.
"It is your problem."

"Well, now. Looks like we're all ready for a nightcap." Vance took
Eva's hand, nodded at the doorman, and led her through the lobby doors.
Over his shoulder he yelled back. "I honestly recommend the American
bar upstairs. Terrific view."

"Michael, please wait." Novosty limped after him, through the doorway,
then grasped his arm. "We need to talk first."

"About what?"

"You know very well. The money. Michael, the game is up, can't you see?
I've got to return it, all of it, and face the consequences, God help
me. I have no choice. They--"

"You know, Alex, that's probably a good idea. Things were getting too
rough. This was a hustle you should have left to the big boys. I tried
to tell you that back in Athens, the other morning. Just give it back."

"What are you saying?" He went pale.

"Just return the money. Try and make them see it was a
misunderstanding. How were you supposed to know it was embezzled? You
were just following orders, right? They can probably cover the whole
thing over as just some kind of paperwork shuffle."

"Michael, don't play games with me." He was clenching Vance's sleeve,
his voice pleading.

"Hey, we're partners, remember? I'll back you all the way." He urged
Eva on past the gaggle of bellmen and into the marbled lobby. The
chandeliers sparkled and the room still bustled with bejeweled evening
people. "Now we're all just going to have a very civilized drink."

The possibility of that seemed to be diminishing, however. The two men,
clearly KGB "chauffeurs," had now moved alongside menacingly.

"You will come with us." Vera Karanova was approaching Eva. "Both of
you. A car is waiting, at the entrance on the river side."

"Down by the park?" Vance kept urging Eva across the lobby, toward the
staircase leading up to the bar. "Funny thing. We were just talking
about the Embankment Gardens."

Vera nodded toward the empty tearoom and the steps beyond, which led
down toward the river side, then spoke quietly in Russian to the two
men. They shouldered against Vance, the one on the right reaching for
Eva's arm.

"Easy with the muscle, hero." He caught the man's paisley tie and
yanked him around, spinning him off balance, then kneed him onto the
floor.

"Michael, wait." Novosty stepped between them, then took Vance's arm
and drew him farther ahead. "About the money. You've--"

"What about it?" He looked puzzled. "Just return it, like I told you."

Novosty's eyes twitched above his beard. "Michael, the entire sum was
withdrawn from the Moscow Narodny Bank at eleven o'clock this morning.
The whole hundred million. It's vanished."

"Sounds like a problem. Now how do you suppose a thing like that could
have happened?"

"You know very well." His voice was almost a sob. "It was authorized
right after the bank opened. Someone requested that the funds be
converted into Eurodollar bearer bonds and open cashiers checks, all
small denominations. Which were then picked up by a bonded courier
service." His voice cracked again. "I don't know what to do. The bank
claims they have no more responsibility."

"Legally, I guess that's right. They're probably in the clear."

"Michael, you must have arranged it. Using the account numbers and
identification I gave you--"

"Prove it."

"But how? I have to return the funds, or they'll kill me. I told them
only you could have done it, but they don't believe me."

"Interesting thing about bearer bonds and open cashiers checks. They're
same as cash. Everybody's favorite form of hot money. Very liquid and
totally untraceable. For all we know your hundred million could be in
Geneva by now, taking in the view of the lake." He turned and pecked
Eva on the cheek. "Ready for that nightcap?"

Novosty caught his arm and tried to pull him back. "You won't get away
with this. I'm warning you. You're a dead man."

"You know, I sort of look at it the other way around. I figure whoever
copped that cash this morning got a hundred-million-dollar insurance
policy. Because you see, if T-Directorate wants to kiss their hundred
million _do svedania_, the best way possible would be to keep up with
the muscle here tonight. That could make it just disappear forever.
There'd be a lot of explaining to do. Probably make a very negative
impression on certain people back at Dzerzhinsky Square. Vera here
might even have to turn in all her gold cards."

"What are you saying?" Now Comrade Karanova had moved closer. "Is it
really true you have the embezzled funds?" She examined Vance with a
startled look, then glanced at Novosty, as though to confirm. His eyes
were defeated as he nodded.

"You should check the desk here more often." Vance pointed toward the
mahogany reception. "Photocopies of the open cashiers checks were
dropped off for you at nine o'clock tonight. So maybe it's time
everybody talked to me." He thumbed back at her two bodyguards. "For
starters how about losing those two apes. Send them down to the park
for a stroll. Then maybe we can talk. Over a drink. The vanguard of the
proletariat sits down with the decadent capitalists. Could be there's a
deal here yet. East meets West."

"Tell me what you want," Vera Karanova said, without noticeable
enthusiasm.

"For starters, how about some protection. If these incompetents of
yours can manage it."

"From whom?"

"Look, there's a deal cooking, and I think there's more to it than
meets the eye. I do know there's a very smart individual, on the other
side of the globe, who's got some very definite plans for Eva and me.
As well as for Mother Russia. I would suggest it might be in your
interest to help us stop him while we still can. He's never played
straight, and I don't think he's about to start now."

"I have my responsibilities too. Just return the money and we will
handle the situation after that."

"The best thing you can do right now is stay out of the way. I've seen
too many screw-ups out of Dzerzhinsky Square to turn this thing over to
Moscow."

"Dr. Vance, you are playing a dangerous game."

"If you want to see the money again, it's the only game going. Now do
we play or what?"



CHAPTER TWELVE



Monday 11:32 P.M.



"When did you receive this?" Tanzan Mino glanced over the cable message
once again, then looked up. Although the time was near midnight, the
aide had found him still behind his black slate desk. The lights in his
penthouse office were turned low, muting the already dull earth tones
of the walls. Neko paced across the expanse fronting the wide picture
window, flicking her tail and anticipating her evening dinner of water
buffalo _tartare_.

"Fifteen minutes ago, Mino-sama." He eyed the leopard nervously. "It
was logged in on the eleventh floor, over the secure telex. I was
reluctant to bother you at this late hour."

"When you live to my age, you no longer have the patience for sleep.
There is so much to do and so little time. Two or three hours are all I
allow myself now." He tossed the paper onto his desk, then rose,
strolled to the darkened window and, gently pushing Neko aside, gazed
down. Below, the neon-lighted streets of Tokyo's Ueno district blazed.
"In a way this news is welcome. Perhaps the money is no longer in the
hands of an incompetent. I have always preferred doing business with a
professional."

"You would consider dealing with him?" The subordinate, in dark suit
and crisp white shirt, tried to mask the surprise in his voice. The
_oyabun_ had never let himself be blackmailed.

"You seem startled." He smiled, then walked over and extracted a raw
steak from the cooler in the corner. Neko dropped to her haunches as he
tossed it to her. "Don't be. I've spent a lifetime in negotiation."

That much, his subordinate knew, was true. Tanzan Mino had seen more
deals than most men would in a hundred lifetimes. The most important
ones had been the back-room kind. For thirty-five years, he'd funneled
vast chunks of laundered cash to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's
leading politicians, and as a result, he enjoyed final say over all its
major decisions, dictating the choice of cabinet ministers, even prime
ministers. He was the undisputed godfather of Japan's _kuroi kiri_,
"black mist," the unseen world of political deal making.

The subordinate also admired Tanzan Mino's discretion. After his
ascension to kingpin of the LDP, U.S. interests had funneled over $12
million in cash bribes through him to Japan's most powerful political
figures, much of it handled by the Lockheed Corporation. In return,
that corporation received over $1 billion in sales to Japan's
government and civilian airlines, while the CIA got to sleep easy,
knowing America's interests were receiving the close attention of
Japan's decision makers. But then, when newspapers finally broke the
story that Lockheed's American money had reached the highest levels of
the LDP, Tanzan Mino arranged for a rival _kuromaku_, Yoshio Kodama, to
take the fall. As befitted a true professional, he escaped without a
hint of scandal.

It was a deft move that brought him much prestige among those in the
circles of power. Besides, with a Yakuza income in the billions, he
certainly needed none of the Lockheed money himself. His perennial
concern, as everyone also knew, was what to do with all his cash. By
the late fifties, Mino Industries Group already owned real estate,
shipping lines, construction companies, trucking concerns, newspapers,
baseball teams, film companies, even banks. Eventually, when Japan
couldn't absorb any more investment, he'd expanded abroad, opening
luxurious offices in other Southeast Asian cities, including new digs
in Manila's Makati, the Wall Street of Asia, in Hong Kong, in Singapore
(a favorite Yakuza town for recruiting prostitutes), in

Taipei, and on and on. But still, there was the money. And more money .
. .

Kenji Nogami's predecessor had finally suggested the perfect solution
to Tanzan Mino's cash dilemma. The safest, most welcome haven for Mino
Industries' excess money was just across the Pacific, on the island of
Hawaii, where his investments could be protected by the American fleet
at Pearl Harbor. In the early sixties he opened a branch of his shadow
investment company, Shoshu Kagai, in Honolulu, and today he was,
through dummy corporations, the largest landowner in the state.

Having long since solidified his ties with former militarists and
prominent rightists in the Japanese business community, Tanzan Mino
turned abroad in the early seventies, offering deals and support to
Pacific Rim strongmen such as Chiang Kai-shek, Syngman Rhee, Ferdinand
Marcos.

All of it, however, had merely been preparation for this, his final
objective. He was about to reclaim Japanese territory lost in the war,
open Soviet Asia for Japan, and pillage the world's leading space
program--all in one synergistic strike. Best of all, he was going to do
it using foreign, _gaijin _money.

Any Yakuza understood well the truth of that classic banking precept:
If a man owes you a hundred dollars, you have power over him; if he
owes you a million dollars, he has power over you. Tanzan Mino, his
subordinate knew, had no intention of handing over half a trillion
dollars of Yakuza capital to the Soviet Union, Japan's long-time mili-
tary adversary. Only a fool would risk that kind of financial exposure,
and Tanzan Mino was no fool.

Which was why he had arranged to tap into the most free-wheeling
capital pool of them all: Eurodollars. The money would be raised in
London from thousands of anonymous investors through a standard bait-
and-switch, then passed through Tokyo banks. No one, least of all the
stupid Soviets, would have the slightest idea what was going on. The
scenario was brilliant: Japanese financial, industrial, and
technological muscle used in concert to realize the ultimate strategic
global coup. His lieutenants were unanimous in their admiration.

"The man's name is Vance?" Tanzan Mino asked. "_Hai_, Mino-sama.
Michael Vance. We ran his name through the computer on the eleventh
floor, and the printout showed that he once was with the CIA. The open
file ended almost exactly eight years ago, however, and all information
subsequent to that--"

"Vance? CIA?" He felt a sharp pain in his chest, a wrench.

"_Hai_, Mino-sama. The file says he was involved in some difficulties
that arose over a clandestine funding arrangement, but the rest of our
data here are restricted, to be accessed only by your--"

"Opening his file will not be necessary." Tanzan Mino's voice boomed
from the shadows.

"As you wish." The _kobun _bowed to the silhouette of his back, still
puzzled. "In any case, we have reason to believe he is connected to the
NSA cryptographer," he continued nervously, disturbed by the _oyabun's_
change of mood,"the woman we have--"

"What?" He snapped back from his reverie, his voice still part of the
shadows from the window.

"We suspect that the terms he wants to discuss, in exchange for the
funds, may involve her in some way. When our people questioned her in
Greece, she claimed that a man named Vance had a duplicate copy of the
protocol. At the time we had no idea--"

"And now you think this is the same man?" His steely eyes narrowed
again.

"_Hai, so deshoo_. It does lend credibility to his claim he has access
to the funds. If he is involved in both our problems--"

"He has been involved in my 'problems' before." At last, he thought.
This was going to be more poetic than he'd realized.

"If he knows where the protocol is, then--"

"Then he thinks he is dealing from a position of strength," Tanzan Mino
allowed himself a tiny smile. "I would like to contact him directly,
through the secure facilities at Westminster Union."

"_Hai_, Mino-sama," the man bowed again. "I can so inform Nogami-san in
London."

Below, in the blazing streets of Ueno, the traffic continued to flow.
Time. Time was slipping away.

"Authorize it." He turned back, his silver hair backlighted from the
window. "Once we have him . . . perhaps both problems can be solved at
once." And, he told himself, I can finally settle an account that has
been outstanding far too long. "But I want this solved. Now. No more
delays and bungling."

The sharpness in his voice momentarily startled Neko, who growled her
readiness for another steak, then dropped into a defensive crouch.

"_Hai_, Mino-sama." A sharp, crisp bow. "I will transmit your wishes to
Nogami-san immediately."

"What news do we have of the woman?"

"We know she is in London. Our people there have located the hotel
where she is staying."

"Then don't waste any more time. Already two attempts by my London
_oyabun _to recover the protocol have been mishandled. He sacrificed
three men; two of them were like sons to me. Now I'm beginning to think
Vance was responsible."

"We still do not know what happened in Greece." The dark-eyed _kobun_
watched with relief as Neko returned her attention to the window, tail
switching. "Authorities there advise that all our men were found shot,
one in Crete and two at Delphi. They have an investigation underway,
but they only will say that different weapons were used in each case."

"They will be avenged." Tanzan Mino flexed his knuckles together
thoughtfully, feeling his resolve strengthen. "I am sending four _kobun
_to London tonight. My personal Boeing is being fueled and readied as
we speak. Tell them I will radio initial instructions after they are in
flight. Further orders will be channeled through the Docklands office."

"But the man . . . Vance? If the woman is part of the 'deal' he wants
in order to forward the funds, then--"

"That is all." His dark eyes had grown strangely opaque.

"As soon as I've completed my 'arrangement' with him, they will kill
her."



Tuesday 2:00 P.M.



The meeting was in the North Quadrant of the Hokkaido facility, in the
senior staff briefing room. The project _kurirovat_, Ivan Semenovich
Lemontov, was at the head of the table as co-moderator. Flanked on his
left was Petr Ivanovich Gladkov, the youthful director of aeronautics;
Felix Vasilevich Budnikov, robust director of flight control systems;
and Andrei Petrovich Androv, director of propulsion systems. On
Lemontov's right was the other comoderator, the Japanese project
director, Taro Ikeda.

Seated across the metal table, facing them all, was Yuri Andreevich
Androv.

"We will begin today's agenda by reviewing Monday morning's test
flight," Ikeda began, speaking in Russian. He was chairing the meeting
as though by mutual consent. Soviet booster technology and aerodynamic
know-how might be what made the project go, but when all was said and
done, it was the money that talked. And the project financing was
Japanese. "The pilot's report will be our first item."

Yuri nodded and glanced at the notes on the table before him. Make this
quick, he told himself.

"I'm happy to report that, once again, the handling characteristics of
the vehicle correlated closely with our up-and-away simulation in the
Fujitsu SX-10. On takeoff the vehicle rotated very nicely into a lift-
off attitude of six point five degrees. My target attitude was seven
point five degrees, and once I'd captured that I accelerated out to
seven hundred knots, then climbed to forty-nine thousand feet for the
first series of maneuver blocks--the roll maneuvers, pitch maneuvers,
and yaw maneuvers--intended to verify handling characteristics and
control activity at high altitude. As on all other flights, the
directional stability was excellent, with a very large restoring
moment. In the yaw maneuvers, one rudder kick gave me an overshoot but
the vehicle immediately steadied. And the pitch maneuvers again showed
that her actuating system enhances stability very fast. In fact, all
maneuvers matched our simulations within acceptable limits. I also did
some banks up to fifty degrees to get the stick force as I pulled back.
The turn performance matched specifications, with very little control
activity required. I also carried out some bank-to- bank maneuvers, to
get the roll rates; the block included quarter stick, half stick, and
three-quarter stick. Very stable. The augmented controls did not move
out, that is, move around a lot."

He paused for breath, stealing a glance at the room. Just bury them in
data overload, he thought. Don't give them time to ask questions.

Before anyone could speak, he pressed on. "I also took the vehicle
through the prescribed block of throttle maneuvers. Remember that in
ramjet mode the engines are fan-controlled, with all controls in the
initial stage. As scheduled, I pulled all the throttles to idle and
then took them all the way up to rated thrust. And as always, they were
very responsive and didn't have to hunt for their setting."

"Good," Ikeda said, "but the main reason--"

"Exactly. As scheduled, at 0210 hours I terminated JP-7 feed to the
portside outboard trident, causing an unstart. With asymmetric thrust,
I expected adverse yaw, as in the roll maneuver, but the control system
stabilized it immediately. I also assumed there'd be some sideslip, so
I put rudder in, but then I realized handling was going to be feet on
the floor. This vehicle is a dream." He paused to smile. "Anyway, I
then initiated restart at 0219 hours." He shoved forward the documents
piled by his side. "These charts indicate that rpm achieved ninety
percent nominal within eleven seconds. All the--"

"I've already reviewed those," Ikeda interrupted, not looking down. "We
are pleased with the results of your maneuver blocks, Major Androv, and
also the vehicle's turboramjet restart characteristics." He cleared his
throat. "However, there was another maneuver last night that does not
please us."

Here it comes, Yuri thought. The fucker wants to know what happened.
Get your story ready.

"As you are undoubtedly aware," Ikeda continued, "the Japanese space
program has an advanced spacecraft tracking center at Tsukuba Science
City, with two Facom M-380-R primary computers. The center is linked to
a tracking antenna at Katsura, near Tokyo, as well as to one at the
Masuda station, near our spacecraft launch pads on Tanegeshima." He
glared at the younger Androv. "You are cognizant of that, are you not?"

"I am." He met Ikeda's gaze.

"We engage those tracking stations for your test flights because of the
altitudes involved. When _Daedalus _is airborne, all their other
assignments are temporarily shunted to our deep-space tracking facility
on Okinawa, in the south." He paused again, as though to control his
anger. "In other words, we have arranged it so that the stations at
Katsura and Masuda are dedicated to your flights whenever you take her
aloft. You are aware of that as well?"

"Of course." Yuri started to smile, but stopped himself.

"Then we are puzzled, Major Androv. How do you explain the following
events? At 0230 hours you shut down your air-traffic-control
transponder. That was proper, since you were scheduled to switch to
classified frequencies. But you did not report immediately on those
frequencies, as specified in the mission flight plan. For approximately
twelve minutes we had no navigational information from you whatsoever.
Also, radio and computer linkages were interrupted."

"An inadvertent mistake," Yuri said, shifting.

"We thought so at first. In fact, both our tracking stations
automatically performed a computerized frequency scan, thinking you'd
switched to the wrong channels by accident, but you had not. You
deliberately terminated all communications. We want to know why."

"I was pretty busy in the cockpit just then. I guess--"

"Yes, we assumed you would be, since you insisted on shutting down the
navigational computers," Ikeda continued, his voice like the icy wind
whistling across the island. "We find your next action particularly
troubling. At that time we still had you on tracking radar, and we
observed that as soon as the transponder was turned off, you altered
your heading one hundred forty degrees . . . south, over the Japan Sea.
Then you performed some unscheduled maneuver, perhaps a snap-roll, and
immediately began a rapid descent. At that moment we lost you on the
radar. With no radio contact, we feared it was a flame-out, that you'd
crashed the vehicle. But then, at exactly 0242 hours you reappeared on
the Katsura radar, ascending at thirty- eight thousand feet. At that
time radio contact also was resumed." Ikeda paused, trying to maintain
his composure. "What explanation do you have for this occurrence, and
for what appeared to be an explicit radar-evasion maneuver?"

"I don't know anything about the radar. I just wanted to check out
handling characteristics under different conditions. It was only a
minor add-on to the scheduled maneuvers, which is why I didn't--"

"Which is why you didn't include it in your flight report." Ikeda's
dark eyes bored into him. "Is that what you expect us to assume?"

The Soviet team was exchanging nervous glances. They all knew Yuri
Androv was sometimes what the Americans called a cowboy, but this
unauthorized hot-dogging sounded very irresponsible. None of them had
heard about it until now.

"An oversight. There was so much--"

"Major Androv," Ikeda interrupted him, "you are on official leave from
the Soviet Air Force. No one in this room has the military rank to
discipline you. But I would like you to know that we view this
infraction as a very grave circumstance."

"You're right. It was stupid." Time to knuckle under, he thought. "Let
me formally apologize to the project management, here and now. It was a
grave lapse of judgment on my part."

"Yuri Andreevich, I must say I'm astonished," the elder Androv finally
spoke up. "I had no idea you would ever take it into your head to do
something like this, to violate a formal test sequence."

He smiled weakly. "I just . . . well, I always like to try and expand
the envelope a little, see what a new bird's got in her."

And, he told himself, I did. Just now. I found out two things. First, I
can evade the bastards' tracking stations by switching off the
transponder, then going "on the deck." I can defeat their network and
disappear. I needed to find out if it could be done and now I have.
Great! Ikeda's other little slip merely confirms what I'd begun to
suspect. This fucking plane is designed to--

"Major Androv, this unacceptable behavior must not be repeated."
Ikeda's eyes were filled with anger and his tone carried an
unmistakable edge of threat. "Do you understand? Never. This project
has far too much at stake to jeopardize it by going outside stipulated
procedure."

"I understand." Yuri bowed his head.

"Do you?" The project director's voice rose, uncharacteristically. "If
any such reckless action is ever repeated, I warn you now that there
will be consequences. Very grave consequences."

Bet your ass there'll be consequences, Yuri thought. Because the next
time I do it, I'm going to smoke out Mino Industries' whole game plan.
There'll be consequences like you never dreamed of, you smooth-talking,
scheming son of a bitch.



Tuesday 8:46 P.M.



"What does it tell you?" Yuri shaded his eyes from the glare of the
hangar fluorescents and pointed, directing his father's gaze toward the
dark gray of the fuselage above them. The old man squinted and looked
up. "Can you see it? The underside is darker, and it's honeycombed. The
air scoops, even the engine housings, everywhere. Very faint, but it's
there."

Andrei Androv stared a moment before he spoke. "Interesting. Odd I
hadn't noticed it before. But I assume that's just part of the skin
undersupport."

"Wrong. Just beneath the titanium-composite exterior is some kind of
carbon-ferrite material, deliberately extruded into honeycombing. But
you almost can't see it in direct light." He placed his hand on his
father's shoulder. "Now come on and let me show you something else."

He led the elder Androv toward the truck-mounted stair, gleaming steel,
that led up into the open hatch just aft of the wide wings.

"Let's go up into the aft cargo bay. That's where it's exposed."

The Japanese technicians and mechanics were scurrying about, paying
them virtually no heed as they mounted the steel steps and then
disappeared into the cavernous underbelly of the Daedalus. The interior
of the bay was lighted along the perimeter with high-voltage sodium
lamps.

"Have you ever been inside here?" Yuri's voice echoed slightly as he
asked the question, then waited. He already suspected the answer.

"Of course. The propulsion staff all had a quick tour, several months
ago. Back before--"

"Just what I suspected. A quick walk-through. Now I want you to see
something else. I'm going to perform an experiment on this 'aluminum'
strut." He extracted a pocket knife and quickly opened it.

"This frame looks like metal, right? But watch."

He rammed the blade into the supporting I-beam that ran along the side
of the cargo bay.

"Yuri, what--"

It had passed through almost as though the beam were made of Styrofoam.

"It's not metal. It's a layered carbon-carbon composite. Just like the
flaps. A damned expensive material, even for them. For the leading
edges, maybe even all the exterior, it makes sense, because of the skin
temperature in the hypersonic regime. But why in here? Inside? Why use
it for these interior structural components?"

"Perhaps it was to economize on weight, I don't know." The old man
wrinkled his already-wrinkled brow.

"Wrong again. Now look up there." He directed his father's gaze to the
ceiling of the bay. "Notice how the lining

is sawtooth-shaped. I've seen this kind of design before. Weight's not
the reason."

"So what are you saying?" The old man's confusion was genuine.

"You're out of touch with the real world." He smiled grimly. "Maybe
you've been buried at Baikonur too long, with your head in string
quartets and classical Greek. This carbon-carbon composite is used for
all the structural elements. There's virtually no metal in this plane
at all. And the shape of the fuselage, all those sweeping curves and
streamlining. It's probably smart aerodynamic design, sure, but it
serves another purpose too. This vehicle has been well thought out."

"What do you mean?"

"Don't you get it? _Radar._ The shape of the fuselage is deliberately
designed to diffuse and deflect radar. And all that honeycombing on the
underside is radar-absorbing. Then this in here. The carbon-carbon
composites used for this airframe, and that saw-toothing up there, will
just absorb what radar energy does get through." He turned back. "This
vehicle is as radar-defeating as the U.S. Stealth bomber. Maybe more
so. Some of our experimental planes use the same techniques."

"But why? I don't understand. There's no reason."

"You're right about that. There's no need for all this radar-evasive
design, all these special materials. Unless . . ." He paused, then
checked below to make sure that no technicians were within earshot.
"Last night, when I took her down, I maintained the yaw at ninety
degrees, making sure their tracking antenna at Katsura could only see
the underside of the fuselage. And guess what. The real story slipped
out there at the meeting. This plane just vanished off their radar
screens. Disappeared. But now Ikeda knows I know."

The elder Androv stared at him. For years people had told him his son
was too smart to be a jet jockey. They were right. All these years he'd
never given him enough credit. "I think I'm beginning to understand
what you're saying. For a space platform to have--"

"Exactly. The underside of this vehicle has an almost

nonexistent radar signature. Probably about like a medium-sized bird.
All you'd have to do is darken it some more and it's gone. Now what the
hell's the purpose?"

The elder Androv didn't respond immediately. He was still puzzling over
the staff meeting. He'd never seen the project director so upset.
Admittedly Yuri had violated procedures and violated them egregiously,
but still . . . Ikeda's flare of anger was a side of the man not
previously witnessed by anybody on the Soviet team.

Also, he continued to wonder at their sudden rush to a hypersonic test
flight. Pushing it ahead by months had created a lot of fast-track
problems. Why was Mino Industries suddenly in such a hurry? And now,
this mystery. Yuri was right. An air-breathing orbital platform for
near-space research didn't need to evade radar. The world would be
cheering it, not shooting at it. Very puzzling. And troubling.

"Yuri, you've got a point. None of this makes any sense."

"Damned right it doesn't. And there's more. You should see the ECM
equipment on this thing, the electronic countermeasures for defeating
hostile surveillance and defense systems. It's all state of the art."

Andrei Androv's dark eyes clouded. "Why wasn't I informed of any of
this?"

"Your propulsion team, your aeronautics specialists, all your technical
people have been given green eyeshades and assigned neat little
compartments. Nobody's getting the whole picture. Besides, I don't know
anybody here who's really on top of the latest classified Stealth
technology."

"Well, the truth is none of us has had time to think about it." The old
man had never seemed older.

"Let me tell you a secret." Yuri lowered his voice to something
approaching a whisper. "Lemontov has thought about it. Our little
project _kurirovat_, that CPSU hack, thinks he's going to take this
plane back home and copy the design to build a fleet of hypersonic--
whatever you want to call these--invisible death machines, maybe. He
hinted as much to me about four nights ago."

"I absolutely won't hear of it." Andrei Androv's eyes were grim with
determination.

"My dear father," Yuri used the affectionate Russian diminutive, "you
may not have a damned thing to say about it. I'm convinced Lemontov or
whoever gives him his orders has every intention of trying to convert
this vehicle into a weapons delivery system, and Mino Industries, I
also now believe, has already built one. Right here. It's ready to go.
But whichever way, space research is way down everybody's list. So the
real question is, who's going to try and fuck who first?"

"I guess the last person able to answer that question is me." The old
man's eyes were despondent as he ran his fingers through his long mane
of white hair.

Yuri laughed and draped his arm around his father once again. "Well,
nobody else around here seems to know either. Or care."

"But what are we going to do?"

"I've got a little plan cooking. I don't want to talk about it now, but
let's just say I'm going to screw them all, count on it."



CHAPTER THIRTEEN



Tuesday 9:31 A.M.



When Michael Vance walked into the third-floor trading room of Kenji
Nogami's Westminster Union Bank, it had just opened for morning
business. Computer screens were scrolling green numbers; traders in
shirtsleeves were making their first calls to Paris and Zurich; the
pounds and dollars and deutsche marks and yen were starting to flow.

Nogami, in a conservative charcoal black suit, nervously led the way.
His glassed-in office was situated on the corner, close to the floor
action, with only a low partition to separate him from the yells of
traders and the clack of computers. It was his Japanese style of hands-
on management, a oneness with the troops. England, the land that
virtually invented class privilege, had never seen anything remotely
comparable with this.

But there was something ominous about his mood as he rang for morning
tea. Vance noticed it. The openness of the previous afternoon was gone,
replaced by a transparent unease.

A uniformed Japanese "office lady" brought their brew, dark and strong,
on a silver service with thin Wedgewood cups.

Vance needed it. His nightcap with Eva at the Savoy had lasted almost
two hours, but when it was finished, part of the play was in place.
First thing this morning, still recovering from last night's encounter,
they had shared a pot of English Breakfast, and then she'd gone back to
work on the translation of the protocol. He was still waking up.

"Michael, I received a reply." All Nogami's synthetic British bonhomie
had evaporated. "I think he is willing to talk. However, there are
terms. And his people want to see you. He also mentioned 'all parties.'
I take it others are involved."

"There is someone else." His hangover was dissipating rapidly now,
thanks to the tea. "But I think she's had all the contact she's going
to have with his 'people.' "

Nogami glanced up sharply. "I don't know what this is about, but the
meeting could be held on neutral ground. I assure you there would be
nothing to fear."

"Tell him he can forget it."

"You're free to telex back your own conditions." He shrugged, then
tried to smile. "I'm merely the messenger here. I have no idea what
this is about and I don't think I really want to know."

"I'll try my best to keep you out of it, but that may not be entirely
possible."

"Michael, I've handled my part of our bargain. I've set up the
dialogue." Nogami's voice was barely audible above the din of traders.
"What about yours?"

"I'm still working on it."

"There isn't much time." His brow wrinkled. "Some kind of preliminary
offering has to be scheduled tomorrow, the day after at the latest."

"Well, why not get rolling? Doing that should help smoke out an answer
for you. For everybody."

"What do you mean?"

"If the bonds are really--but first let's see what Tokyo's got to say.
Is there a deal or not?"

"Perhaps his reply will give you some idea." He removed a shiny sheet
of paper from a manila envelope and passed it over. "It's why I rang
you so early. It was telexed here, using our secure lines, during the
night. See what you make of it. I must admit I find it a trifle
cryptic."

As Vance took the sheet, it reminded him fleetingly of the 'paper' Alex
Novosty had given him that morning atop the Acropolis. The heading was
exactly the same. Yep, he thought, we've hit paydirt. Across the top
was one line of type, bold and assertive.



_THE DAEDALUS CORPORATION

Advisory received 2315 hours. CEO has reviewed and requests direct
contact with all parties immediately. The money must be received by
Shokin Gaigoku no later than close of business tomorrow, Tokyo time.
Authorize reply through secure facilities at Westminster Union. No
other communication channel acceptable.

_

"Looks like he went for it." Vance handed back the sheet.

"If you want to reply, you can use our telex here, just as he asks."

"Ken, how good is his word? If he agrees to lay off, will he stick to
it? Or should I be expecting a double cross?"

"You know his style of operation pretty well. What do you think? For my
own part, I've always been able to trust him. He has a reputation for
doing what he says."

"Maybe that's all about to change. He's always played for big stakes,
but this time it's a whole new level. It's global, and I've got a
feeling he's not going to let niceties stand in the way. It could be
his last big score."

"And the Eurodollar debentures he wants me to underwrite?" Nogami
studied him. "You already know what they're for, don't you?"

"I think I might have a rough idea."

"I suspected as much," he sighed. "All right then, how do you want to
handle this?"

"To begin with, no direct contact. Everything goes through third
parties. You can send the reply. I'm not going to start out using his
rules. Bad precedent. And I want him to know that if anything happens
to either of us, he gets nailed. The protocol goes to the newspapers."

"The protocol?" Nogami's brow furrowed again.

"He'll know what I mean. We just need to use the word."

"As you wish. And the message?"

"That if he'll keep his end of the bargain and lay off, then he can
access the money. But part of the deal is, I plan to keep a line on it,
at least for the time being."

"What do you mean?"

"To start out, it's going to be handled in the tried-and- true hot-
money way. The hundred million will be used to purchase British gilts,
which will then be held here at the bank and used as collateral for a
loan."

"The standard laundry cycle," Nogami smiled. "Almost makes me nostalgic
for the old days."

"It's only going to be standard up to a point. After that the setup
gets a twist. The loan will then be used to acquire a special hundred-
million first issue of those Mino Industries corporate debentures
you're supposed to float, to be bought entirely by me."

"And thus he gets his funds, all freshly laundered and clean and
untraceable," Nogami nodded approvingly. "Style, Michael, style. You
always--"

"Yes and no. You see, I never really let go. Instead of ten- year zero-
coupons, those debentures are going to be a little unique--they'll be
redeemable at any time by the holder, on twenty-four hours' notice."

"And you'll be the holder?" Nogami suddenly seemed considerably less
pleased.

"Only indirectly. I'll assign power-of-attorney to a third party. If
any unfortunate 'accidents' happen to me or to another individual I'll
specify, the bonds will be redeemed immediately. And if he defaults,
doesn't pony up the full hundred million on the spot, he can kiss the
rest of his big scheme good-bye, because a default by Mino Industries
would make the front page of the Financial Times. He won't be able to
give away the rest of that bogus paper. He's instant history in this
town."

"Michael." Nogami's frown deepened. "I've never heard of--"

"He gets his money, all right, but I retain a firm grip on his
_cojones_."

"Those are pretty rugged terms. I doubt he'll agree."

"It's the only way we play. He gets his money, cleaned, but I come away
with a hundred-million-dollar insurance policy. I hope we can do
business, because otherwise he'll never see those funds, period.
Guaranteed."

"Then if you'll word the language the way you want it, I'll transmit
it." He paused. "But I can tell you right now he will not be happy.
This is very irregular. Also, I'm not sure I want to start issuing
those Mino Industries debentures, no matter what their maturities. Once
on that road, how will I ever turn back? You're putting me on the spot
here."

"You'll be taken care of. Look, Ken, we can't stop the man from selling
phony Mino Industries paper to European suckers. Nobody can. If you
back away, he'll just make an end run around you and arrange it some
other way. We both know that."

"So what am I supposed to do?"

"Set up what I want, to get me some leverage. I'll take it from there.
It's not just the hundred million he'll have hanging over his head.
There's also the protocol I mentioned. I want him to know I'm in a
position to go public with it if he doesn't lay off. That, together
with the threat of exposing his plan to defraud Eurodollar tax dodgers,
should be enough to keep him in line."

"Whatever you say." He looked dubious. "But I'm convinced nothing is
going to go forward without a meeting. There'll be no getting around
it."

"Let's just send that telex and find out."



Tuesday 12:54 P.M.



"And we'll be doing it using Mino Industries debentures?" Novosty
listened, startled. "Corporate bonds?"

The black Mercedes--heavily tinted, bullet-proof windows--was parked on
the side street behind the Savoy, just above Victoria Embankment
Gardens. Vance and Alex Novosty were in the front seat. Vance had the
keys; it was part of the deal.

"That's going to be our collateral. We're going to put them up as
surety with one of the go-go Japanese banks here and borrow back the
hundred million."

"If I understand this right, the money's going to be in two places at
once. Michael, it's smoke and mirrors."

"What do you care? If the Japanese banks here won't lend on bearer
bonds from Mino Industries, what the hell will they do? You'll have
your cash, clean, and be over the hill before the whole thing goes down
the drain."

"I have to do this, don't I?" he sighed. "I have to front the street
action. Both this and the other part."

"It's give and take, Alex. Nobody in this car's a virgin. You've done
worse. Besides, think of it this way. In a couple of days, you'll have
your hundred million back and maybe you can go home again in one piece.
I'm saving your two-timing Russian ass, for chrissake, so I expect a
little gratitude."

"I suppose I should be thankful, but somehow . . ." He was lighting a
cigarette. After the black lighter clicked shut, he peered through the
cloud of smoke. "But what about you? Where can you go when this house
of cards collapses? You know it will. It has to."

"Eva and I'll both be out of here too, God willing." He paused, his
mind racing. "Okay, now tell me what else you know about this
prototype."

Novosty's voice was weary. "You guessed correctly. I've been afraid to
talk about it to anybody, but now . . . you're right, it's an advanced
airplane. That's all I know for sure. The word I hear is that it's
faster than anything the world has ever seen. Much faster. A marvel of
high technology."

"We suspected that, from the runway." He glanced out the tinted
windows. The late morning above the Thames was still only a glimmer
through the misty haze. "Exactly how fast is it supposed to be?"

"Many, many times the speed of sound. Ten, maybe even twenty, who
knows. I think the project is at least a decade ahead of the U.S. or
Europe. It's almost ready for a first full test flight, or so I
understand. Needless to say, it's supposedly intended for peaceful
uses, space research, but--"

"Get serious. Tanzan Mino plays for keeps, all the way. And you were
laundering the seed money for the deal."

"When I got involved I had no idea." Novosty drew on his cigarette. "I
swear it. When Viktor Fedorovich Volodin asked me to help, he said it
was merely part of a secret trade agreement. The hardliners were being
kept out of it. Now I realize he probably didn't know the real story
either."

"Right."

"It was only later that I pieced together the rest. About the prototype
and its capabilities."

"Figure it out. Mino Industries is about to become the ultimate arms
supplier to the world, sole retailer of the newest must-have weapon,
and the Soviets and the Americans get to join each other neck-and-neck
in a 'debt race,' buying them up. Your military is just like ours; they
never saw a new weapons system they didn't like."

"Inevitably." He was trying to keep his composure. "But I don't see how
you can stop it."

"We're going to start by nailing the godfather in his tracks, and
you're part of the team. So you've got to keep yourself together.
Remember our agreement last night, what you have to do."

"Michael, Tanzan Mino is running out of time. I hear that the prototype
can't be unveiled, or the protocol brought before the Diet for a vote,
until the powers in the Liberal Democratic Party are well placated.
This time it's not just insider stock trading info he's giving out,
it's laundered cash. Since the money's still here in London, he's very
upset."

"You say you think the whole thing is scheduled to go forward in less
than a week." Vance studied him. "But it's possible only if the hundred
million is there, in hand."

"Bribes, my friend. Or as they call it, _kosaihi_. All the way up and
down the line." He smiled wryly and rubbed at his beard. "Michael, you
of all people should know how things work over there. Very little has
changed, really, from the old days when the CIA was running half of
Japan's politicians. It's an honorable tradition to take care of the
right people. But the timing is crucial."

"No _kosaihi_ payoffs, no deal."

"That's what I hear. Everybody knows the Diet is a rubber stamp.
Everything is decided at the top, a 'consensus' among the leaders of
the Liberal Democratic Party. But the behind-the-scenes powers in the
LDP refuse to endorse such a controversial prospect, a partnership with
Russia, unless it's worth their while. At least that's what I hear. So
the payoff money must be distributed, in tidy untraceable bundles with
fancy gift-wrappings and bows. It's the traditional way, Michael. The
dictates of proper etiquette. You know the system."

"Then it shouldn't be too hard to deal with the man at the top. He's in
a bind."

"I seriously doubt he will be in a mood for compromise this time. He's
used to getting what he wants, no questions asked." Novosty's dark eyes
were knowing. "I shouldn't think that would be news to you, considering
how you--"

"It has a familiar ring. But this time maybe it'll be different."

"Michael, I'm in a hopeless position. You know that. If the funds
aren't delivered to Tokyo, and soon, God only knows what will happen.
But if I don't return the money to Moscow, I am also a dead man. I
don't see any realistic way out of this. Either way I'm finished. There
is no way a hundred million dollars can be in two places at once."

"Smoke and mirrors, like you said, smoke and mirrors." He shoved the
key into the ignition and the engine roared to life. "Look, we're
dealing with perceptions now. And a tight schedule. When this thing
explodes, the money's going to be the least of anybody's problems."

"You're right. There's also the matter of the protocol. If it's leaked
before the treaty is formally announced, I'll be blamed. We'll be
blamed. He will track us to the ends of the earth. You know it and I
know it."

"It's a poker game. To win you just have to keep up the bluff."

"The problem, Michael, is that he's not bluffing."



Tuesday 1:23 P.M.



"As you can see, it's all just numbers." Eva was speaking in Russian as
she pointed to the screen. 'That's how I received it, and the NSA Cray
supercomputer I ran it through couldn't find the DES key."

"Interesting." Vera Karanova studied the lines of ice- blue numbers,
then turned and gazed out the hotel room window. The late morning
traffic blared on the Strand. "But I know what must be in it. It is a
sellout. Otherwise our intelligence service would have been informed."

"You're free to make any assumptions you like. I'm still trying to find
something that will crack it."

Vera studied her with dark, unbelieving eyes. "We know you are the best
there is. I find it hard to believe that--"

"Well, take it or leave it." Eva switched off the computer and turned
around. "I'm still working on it. I haven't given up yet."

With a sigh Comrade Karanova eased herself gracefully onto the plush
couch in the sitting area. Then she exhaled impatiently. "We know
something will happen any day now. Are you sure you did not break any
part of the encryption?" She looked up. "No dates, no deadlines?"

"Nothing." Eva poured more cold tea into her china cup. She did not
bother offering seconds to her Russian guest. The time was approaching
noon, and she'd only gotten two hours of translating done. The day was
slipping away, and her head still hurt from the dregs of alcohol.

"Then you have nothing to tell me. We are all wasting time," Vera
declared finally, rising.

"Michael will keep his end of the bargain, don't worry. Moving money is
his specialty."

"So I'm told. But if he does not return the embezzled funds by the end
of the week . . ."

"If he said he'll handle it, he'll handle it." Eva handed her the fur
coat that had been tossed across their rumpled bed. It was real sable,
the genuine article. She used to have one too. "Now if you don't mind .
. ."

"As we agreed, I have arranged for an . . . individual from our embassy
to be here outside your door around the clock. The first shift came
this morning with me and is here now."

"Inconspicuous?"

"He is wearing a tradesman's uniform."

"How about the lobby?"

"I have also arranged for one of our people to be there as well. We
haven't informed the hotel staff, for obvious reasons, so we will
rotate our people downstairs to avoid suspicion."

"Is that the best you can do?"

"It's the best I intend to do." Her voice was cold. "Getting even this
much for you was not easy. None of this is happening officially. I had
to pull strings."

"It's appreciated."

"I'll know the extent of your appreciation when the embezzled funds are
returned."

"Naturally," Eva said, and opened the door. As promised, there was
indeed an overweight Russian security man standing there, wearing an
ill-fitting telephone repairman's coveralls. His looks wouldn't have
deceived anybody, but maybe that was the point.

She waited till Vera Karanova disappeared into the elevator and then
she turned back, flashing a thin smile at her new bodyguard. He didn't
look very competent, but he was probably better than nothing.

Probably. Unless he wasn't there to protect them, unless he was there
to make sure they didn't check out and disappear.

Okay, back to work.

She closed the door and locked it. Then she took a deep breath, clicked
on the Zenith, and called up the active file.

The part of the protocol she'd translated this morning had begun
expanding on the elements of the pending deal. The Soviets were
agreeing to open their space program completely to the Japanese,
effectively making it a joint venture. In return, Mino Industries and
the Japanese government would join with the USSR to create a new trade
bloc comprising all the Asian economic dynamos that currently were
allies of the United States.

Russia shared some islands, along with its space expertise, and in
return it got bottomless financing--and a trading axis with Japan that
would, eventually, totally undermine America's hegemony in the Pacific.
The new economic alliance, an Orwellian Eastasia, would have the USSR
as one superpower cornerstone, Japan the other.



_. . . 7. Within sixty days of the formal delivery of the prototype,
the USSR will provide representatives of Mino Industries Group with
full and unrestricted access to all facilities at the Baikonur
Cosmodrome. The space program of the USSR will be integrated with that
of Japan--all personnel, equipment, and launch facilities being operated
thereafter as a single, unified entity. Future costs of the combined
space program will be borne equally by Japan and the USSR. Japanese
satellites and Japanese astronauts subsequently will be launched from
either the Baikonur Cosmodrome or the Tanegeshima Space Center as
schedules mandate.

8. Although the level of Japanese-Soviet trade is currently twice that
between the United States and the Soviet Union, it accounts for only
1.5 percent of total Japanese overseas trade. Through joint ventures
arranged by Mino Industries Group, this amount will be increased over
the ensuing five-year period to a sum representing not less than ten
percent of all Japanese foreign trade. All tariff barriers between the
USSR and Japan will be phased out over the same five-year period.

9. As part of an Asian trade and diplomatic initiative, the USSR will
join with Mino Industries Croup to begin governmental and private steps
toward establishing a Pacific Basin tariff-free trade zone encompassing
the USSR, Japan, South Korea, North Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, Hong Kong,
Singapore, and Indonesia. All offices, contracts, and trade agreements
currently held by Mino Industries Croup will henceforth be reopened to
encompass the representatives and interests of the USSR. . . .

_

It boggled Eva's mind. The alliance might be partly military, but the
Japanese and the Soviets were no fools. They realized full well that
the real battleground of the next century would be an economic
struggle, with the ultimate aim of every country being to surpass the
United States.

She stared at the blue screen, mesmerized. This secret protocol was a
detailed battle plan whereby the Soviets and the Japanese provided each
other exactly what they'd need to emerge as the dominant superpowers of
the twenty-first century. Synergism in high-tech, control of space, a
trade bloc, a defense alliance--all of it was there.

But governments weren't that smart. They usually had to be dragged into
doing what was sensible strategically. Which meant that this whole
scenario had to be the brainchild of some private genius. Only one man
in Japan, according to Michael, had the money and clout to put a deal
like this together. His name was Tanzan Mino. A Yakuza godfather.

Incredible!

What other bombshells did the protocol hold? she wondered. What was
left?

The answer to that last remaining question was the prototype. It had to
be the weapon to end all weapons.

Great. But did the Soviets really know what they were getting into?

The euphoria of the night before was rapidly dissipating. There were
too many chances for the plan to slip up. Mike always figured he could
play these things close on the wind, tempt fate, but he hadn't always
been lucky. Sometimes his luck ran out, and somehow she had a feeling
this was about to be one of those times.



Tuesday 1:28 P.M.



"Sato-sama, _ohayo gozaimasu_." Kenji Nogami rose, then bowed low as
Jiro Sato and his dark-suited bodyguard were ushered into the
Westminster Union Bank's upstairs dining room. The walls were ice gray,
with a gold-leafed Momoyama screen depicting a fierce eagle perched on
a pine branch mounted on one side. On the other was a modern oil
painting, an impressionistic rendering of the rising sun of the
Japanese flag. Both were symbols intended to impress Nogami's City
guests with Japan's new financial power.

"_Ohayo_." Jiro Sato nodded lightly in return, signifying his superior
rank. In the floor-to-ceiling mirror at the far end of the room his
light-grey hair had turned to blue steel in the subdued lighting. It
now matched the hardness of his eyes.

Jiro Sato, born in Osaka sixty years ago, was the _Mino- gumi's _London
_oyabun_, the man in charge. He had lean cheeks and wore a pin-striped
suit and dark sunglasses that further camouflaged his already
expressionless eyes. His dark felt hat almost looked like a bowler.
Although that traditional City headwear was no longer de rigueur in
London's financial district, had it been, he most certainly would have
worn one. Blending in was what he was all about.

Nogami waited until his guest had settled into one of the molded birch
chairs at the end of the long oak table, then he seated himself and
clapped for sake. The banker's personal chef, a licensed artisan he had
stolen from Tokyo's exclusive Edo Club, was already preparing raw
_fugu_, the sometimes-lethal blowfish, to be served with scorching
_wasabi_ on rare Shino ware. It was a Japanese power lunch.

Jiro Sato's career and that of Kenji Nogami had been entwined for
thirty years. They had always been in charge of Tanzan Mino's financial
matters, had never worked at street level. No tattoos, no missing
finger digits. They were part of the brains, not the brawn, of the
_Mino-gumi_.

Although they both knew that a certain bond issue of a hundred billion
Eurodollars was the purpose of the luncheon, they gave no hint as their
traditional small talk began with saucers of sake and a learned
discussion of the Momoyama screen on the wall, thought to have been
commissioned by the shogun Toyotomi Hideyoshi at the end of the
sixteenth century. From there their chat expanded to the glories of
Momoyama art, then the "nightingale" floors of Shogun Hideyoshi's Kyoto
palace--beveled boards designed to announce silent intruders--and finally
to Hideyoshi's betrayal at the hands of Ieyasu Tokugawa. The oblique
topics were standard, the Japanese way of beginning a business meeting.

Jiro Sato's official position was CEO of the London-based Nippon
Shipbuilding Company. In that role he supervised the _Mino-gumi's_
London interests with an iron hand, as was expected by those who served
him, and by his superiors in Tokyo. Nippon Shipbuilding built no ships,
nor had it for twenty years. Instead it laundered Tanzan Mino's hot
money. Funds flashed daily over the satellite link from Tokyo, and
investments ranged from real estate to British gilts to the most arcane
products of the financial markets.

Money laundering was but the latest enterprise of the Yakuza, an
ancient brotherhood rooted in over three hundred years of Japanese
history. The _kana _symbols for the syllables Ya-Ku-Za were the same as
those for the numbers eight, nine, and three--a total of twenty, which
was a losing number in Japanese gaming. The losers: that was what the
Japanese underworld, with ironic humility, had chosen to call itself.
In earlier centuries the Yakuza were carnival operators, gamblers,
fast-moving purveyors of questionable wares. They also took it upon
themselves to be a kind of private militia, protecting a defenseless
citizenry from the predations of aristocratic warlords. They were, in
their own minds at least, Robin Hoods who championed the common man,
while also, not incidentally, catering to his penchant for
entertainment, excitement, and sin.

These days the Yakuza considered themselves the last heirs of the
samurai, but they still supplied escapism, be it in the form of
nightclubs, gambling, or amphetamines. And in so doing they had grown
fabulously rich. Jiro Sato's job in London was to reinvest and clean a
portion of that wealth.

Nippon Shipbuilding was headquartered in an eight- story building in
the new Docklands redevelopment, yet another expensive architectural
nonentity in that multi-billion-dollar new city on the banks of the
Thames downriver from the financial district. It was, in many ways, the
perfect location for a Yakuza beachhead. Unlike the older parts of
London, Docklands was ready-made for the parvenu, since everything
there was new and anonymous, yet it stood only minutes away from the
City--the best of both worlds. The London operation was going well, and
with the recent construction of their new Docklands financial complex,
at a cost of fifty million pounds sterling, matters were on a solid
footing.

Jiro Sato's relations with Kenji Nogami had, until today, been
conducted within the strict social dictates of Yakuza etiquette. As the
London _oyabun_, he had, in fact, bent the rules in journeying into the
City for their meeting today. Convention required that Nogami should
have come to him. However, a recent turn of events necessitated a new
concern with discretion. A muckraking series in the Telegraph two
months before had accused the Nippon Shipbuilding Company of being an
organized-crime front. Consequently he now had to take pains not to
connect his own operations with the workings of Westminster Union. It
was better all around if Kenji Nogami were not seen entering the
Docklands office by some snooping newspaper hack. Nogami was a useful
asset who needed to be kept above press speculation.

Also, Jiro Sato was beginning to wonder if the banker would actually
have come. Kenji Nogami was rapidly losing touch with the old ways.

None of this would ever have been known from the light talk at lunch.
It was only when the meal was over, and the staffers had discreetly
absented themselves with deep bows, that things finally got down to
matters at hand. But even then, as tradition required, the opening was
Japanese and indirect.

"Nogami-san," Sato Jiro said as he leaned back and reached for his
fifth go of sake, "do you recall the famous story comparing the three
great shoguns who ruled during that unsettled period surrounding the
Momoyama? The tale says they each were once asked what they would do if
they had a nightingale who refused to sing."

Nogami nodded and sipped from his sake saucer. Of course he knew the
story. Every Japanese did.

"You doubtless recall that Ieyasu Tokugawa replied, 'I will merely wait
until it does sing.' He was a patient man. Toyotomi Hideyoshi, by
contrast, said he would prefer to try and reason with the bird, hoping
to convince it to sing." He paused and smiled. "Sometimes gentle
persuasion does work. But the great warlord Oda Nobunaga declared he
would just ring the wretched creature's neck. He had no patience with
disobedience."

"Perhaps Ieyasu Tokugawa's answer was the wisest, Sato-sama." The
banker's eyes were defiant.

"He also enjoyed the luxury of time, Nogami-san. I suppose the pace of
affairs was more leisurely back then." Sato set down his black _raku_
sake saucer and lit a Peace cigarette, the unfiltered Japanese brand.
"These days events do not always allow us such luxuries, no matter how
much we might wish it. Sometimes it is necessary to proceed
forcefully."

"There is always a problem when the bird finds the song is . . .
unsuitable." Nogami again sipped from his own saucer, meeting Sato's
gaze. "When the notes are discordant."

Jiro Sato listened thoughtfully, appreciating Nogami's indirect and
poetic answer. Then the banker went on.

"Ninjo, Sato-sama. For over three centuries _ninjo_ has been what made
our brotherhood unique. Are we to forget that now?"

They both knew what he meant. _Ninjo_ was uniquely Japanese, because no
other people in the world had Japan's sense of tribal unity. The
Western terms chivalry or compassion carried only a superficial sense
of _ninjo_. It was the inborn golden rule of Japanese culture that
surfaced daily in expressions of racial togetherness, support and
cooperation. It also was a deep-seated part of the Yakuza tradition.
Great _oyabun _of the past liked to point out that the Yakuza's
honoring of _ninjo_ was what set their brotherhood apart from the
American Mafia.

"The Yakuza have historically served the people," Nogami went on.
"Yakuza do not run dishonest gambling tables, even if the victims are
to be gaijin. It is not the Yakuza way to perpetrate fraud, which is
what the CEO's Eurobond issue amounts to."

Jiro Sato did not offer to refute the assertion. Instead he replied
from a different direction, his voice soft.

"There is _ninjo_, Nogami-san. And there is _giri_. Which do you
respect more?"

He knew he had just presented Nogami with a hopeless dilemma. _Giri_.
It was a word no _gaijin _could ever entirely comprehend. The closest a
foreign language, or a foreign mind, could manage was "duty." But that
pale concept missed entirely the reverberations of moral obligation in
_giri_. One could never fully repay such indebtedness, even with one's
life. A Japanese called it "the burden hardest to bear."

A Yakuza's foremost expression of _giri_ was to honor and obey his
_oyabun_. The great _oyabun_ of Japan's leading Yakuza syndicates were
more than merely godfathers. They were Confucian elders, patriarchs,
wisdom figures who embodied all the traditions of the clan. Their
authority was absolute and unquestioned.

Kenji Nogami owed as much _giri _to Tanzan Mino as any man could. The
Tokyo _oyabun_ had made him everything he was; it was an obligation he
could never fully discharge. One look at his face told how his heart
was torn.

But as Jiro Sato studied Nogami's pained eyes, he was

torn as well. Tokyo was near to losing confidence in him. The CEO had
just announced by telex that a team of _kobun _had been posted to
London to "assist." But if the _oyabun's_ Tokyo people had to step in
and solve the problem, a lot more would be lost than finger digits.

Finally Nogami spoke, his voice firm. "Perhaps you will be pleased to
learn, Sato-sama, that I am prepared to make certain preliminary
accommodations. An initial offering of Eurobonds will be formally
issued tomorrow."

"That is a wise decision." Jiro Sato tried to disguise his surge of
relief beneath a mask of unconcern. Nogami was going to go along after
all!

"It will be for one hundred million Eurodollars," the banker continued.
"And it is already fully subscribed, in advance."

"Only one hundred million?" Sato felt his iron facade crack. "What
purpose--?"

"It will provide the immediate funds I understand are now needed. After
that, we can discuss further steps."

Further steps? Sato thought. Yes, the Tokyo _oyabun _would definitely
see to it that there were further steps. His bird would sing. Or else.
Kenji Nogami was acting as though obligation, giri, had ceased to
exist. But such things were not possible. Giri lasted forever. Did
Nogami think the old ways no longer counted for anything?

"The debentures will be purchased by an American investor," Nogami went
on, his voice cutting through the silence. "His name is Vance."

"I have heard of him already." Sato felt his anger boil. Vance, he
knew, had the _oyabun's_ hundred million and was trying to hold the
entire scenario ransom. What he hadn't known until this instant was
that Kenji Nogami was helping him.

Well, he thought, perhaps the two problems can be solved
simultaneously. An example is going to be made of Vance, an example
that will also serve to provide a certain recalcitrant bird a needed
refresher course in _giri_.

Yes, Jiro Sato thought, the CEO's _kobun _from Tokyo are going to
arrive to find their work has been done. Enough face has been lost, not
to mention three men. The situation is intolerable. The only way to
regain the London office's tattered honor, to avenge its disgrace, is
to resolve the Vance situation immediately.



CHAPTER FOURTEEN



Tuesday 5:31 P.M.



"It's the best I can manage, Michael." Nogami's voice was apologetic.
"Nobody knows I keep this place, not even my wife."

"Afternoon business conferences."

"You catch my meaning." He smiled and walked on up the sandstone steps.

The townhouse was in the quiet residential South Kensington section of
London. From the outside, it looked to be the perfect safe house.

"So that's how the situation stands now," the banker continued. "Tanzan
Mino has agreed to your terms. He even seemed to like the idea of
laundering the hundred million one last time through a purchase of Mino
Industries debentures."

"Now we'll see if he sticks to his word."

"You've got leverage at the moment." He was fishing for his keys.
"Incidentally, I should tell you I broke the news to his London oyabun
here this afternoon. About postponing the rest of the issue. He was not
pleased. It's been a bad week for him."

"Are you planning to make this break with the organization permanent?"
Vance knew it was not something a Yakuza would do lightly.

"I'm still not sure." His voice was pained. "I don't even know if I
can."

"The long arm of the Tokyo _oyabun_. Plenty of reach."

"It's not just that." Nogami was inserting a large key into the front
door, white with Georgian decorations and a leaded glass transom above.
"You understand the kind of obligation we Japanese must bear for past
favors. It's onerous, but all the same it's very real. We can't just
say thanks for the memories."

"_Giri_." Vance nodded. "The 'burden.' "

"Ah, you know. Yes, it's called _giri _and there's nothing we can do
about it." He was switching on the hall light. "_Giri _rules our
lives."

Vance noticed the floor had a pristine carpet in conservative gray. A
polished mahogany staircase led to the upper floors.

"Nice, Ken, very nice. The quintessential banker's pad."

"I have the entire building, my little indulgence. I keep a few
antiques here, some of my art. You know, special things. Unfortunately
I don't have a chance to use it much these days. The . . . friend I
used to meet here . . . well, her husband was transferred back to
Osaka. And I haven't had time to come up with a replacement."

"First things first, Ken. You should always make time for living. One
of my few rules in life. You never get another shot."

He laughed and opened the door leading from the hallway into the parlor
suite. It smelled slightly musty from disuse. "I'm better at giving
advice than taking it too, old man."

"Touche." Vance shrugged, then looked around the spacious drawing room.
It was furnished in standard English style, with overstuffed chairs, a
Victorian fireplace, an oak tea caddy and bar. But the nineteenth-
century appointments weren't what concerned him. Was it safe?

"Michael, we both may need this place if your plan doesn't work. I
don't know where else I can go." He walked to the bar, a collection of
bottles on the bottom tray of the caddy, and selected a flask of
cognac. "Now could you repeat that story again? About the protocol. I
must confess I'm dazzled."

In the limousine driving up from Westminster Union, Vance had finally
told him the real purpose of the bond issue, what the money was going
to be used for. The banker had listened in silence, stunned.

"Well, to make a long story short, you're being used, in what's
probably going to be the biggest shell game in history. Tanzan Mino
steals unsecured billions from European tax evaders and uses it to
finance the opening of Russia's markets for Mino Industries. You're
right to bail out now. If he pulls it off, he'll look like a genius.
But if it backfires and the truth comes out, you'll get full credit.
Not exactly a terrific downside."

"I didn't get this far exposing myself unnecessarily, and I don't
intend to start now. Not for him or anybody."

"Then we'll proceed with Plan A."

"This reminds me a lot of the old days." He laughed and poured a
snifter for each of them. "Here's to the end of _giri_."

"And the beginning of a new life." Vance clicked their glasses, then
took a sip. "Now, we need to get our coordination synchronized."

"Everything is ready at my end. Tomorrow morning I'll issue the zero-
coupon debentures you're going to purchase, and you'll make the trade.
After that I'll wire your hundred million to Tokyo, and Tanzan Mino is
taken care of.  I've simultaneously arranged with Sumitomo Bank to
accept that paper as collateral for a loan. You'll get the money from
them on the spot. By the way, how do you want it?"

"Just park it in gilts, through the trading desk at Moscow Narodny
Bank, the new branch on Saint Swithins Lane."

"Done," Nogami nodded.

"Now how about the debentures that are Sumitomo's security? And mine.
Who's holding them?"

"We Japanese still act like gentlemen, Michael. At least up to a point.
They've agreed to let me hold them until we close our books at the end
of the month. I did them a similar favor last year." He sipped at his
brandy with satisfaction. "So you can still call them anytime if, God
help us, it comes to that. You'll have your leverage, and Tanzan Mino
will know it. If you should have to call them and he defaults, he'll
then have to answer to Sumitomo. And he wouldn't dare. I happen to know
they hold a forty-million- dollar mortgage on his new office building
down in the Docklands. They'd eat him and not even blink. There's some
bad blood between them, though I don't know exactly what it is."

"Okay, so far, so good." Vance looked around the room. "You're
absolutely positive nobody knows about this place?"

"It's been my little secret for four years now. I paid cash and I don't
even report the expenses on my tax forms, which gives you some idea how
I value my privacy. So there's absolutely no way anybody could know
about it."

"You never came here in your limo?"

"Only if I came without a driver, the way we did today."

"Then it sounds clean."

"This place is the least of your worries, Michael." He settled into a
chair. "After my meeting this afternoon, I have an idea that the London
_oyabun_, Jiro Sato, has every intention of taking things into his own
hands . . . to try and break me. He's going to push the pace--in swords-
manship it's called _mukatsu kasuru to iu koto_. He's lost too much
face. He can't let you get away with this and still control the
organization. After the debacle in Greece, he's near to becoming a
laughing stock among his own _kobun_."

"Can't Tokyo manage him?"

"Theoretically. But the organization is getting a little far-flung
these days. I don't know. My instincts tell me he's going to undertake
some face-saving on his own. Just temporarily overlook any agreement
you may have with the front office." He rose and splashed some more
brandy into his glass. "It's going to get rough, that's all I know for
sure. So the sooner you proceed with the rest of your plan, the
better."

"Everything's ready."

"Then I suppose it's time we wished each other well and got going."
Nogami finished off his brandy and dug the keys from his pocket. He
jangled them a moment in his hand, then tossed them over. "Take them
now. You might as well secure the place as we leave and start getting
used to that tricky front door lock. There won't be any time to
practice."

"Here's to you, Ken." Vance saluted him with the snifter,

then drained it. "And many thanks. If you ever owed me any _giri_,
consider it paid."

"That works both ways. I'm doing myself a favor too. I had to make a
break, if this financing double cross of his backfires, it could turn
into a worldwide scandal. I'd be ruined. Not to mention Westminster
Union, which the regulators here would probably padlock. With scarcely
concealed glee. It would merely confirm what everybody here wants to
think about those 'win-at-any-cost' Japanese these days."

"Well, I appreciate it. I mean that. I'm sorry we didn't get to know
each other better over the years." Vance tried locking the front door.
It was difficult, as Nogami had warned, but finally it clicked
securely. Outside the evening air was brisk, with a few of Nogami's
neighbors stoically walking large dogs and pretending to enjoy the
ambience of London's chilly dusk.

"If we both live long enough, maybe we can try. You're one of the few
Westerners I've known who ever really understood Japan."

"I had a crash course several years back."

"So I understand." He smiled as he opened the limo door. Vance would
drive. "Which is one of the reasons I wonder if this arrangement is
going to be as simple as we'd hoped. Tanzan Mino has a long memory,
Michael. He doesn't forgive or forget. I'm sure he still remembers you
were responsible for shutting down his cozy CIA arrangement."

"I thought it was time the Company cleaned up its act. But hell, that
was almost eight years ago."

"That's a mere snap of the fingers in Japanese time, as you well know."

"Well, fuck him if he can't take a joke."

"A joke is the one thing he can't take, my friend. He never smiles
unless there's a camera around."

"Look, you say he's agreed to deal. Let's assume for now he means it,
but in the meantime we proceed as planned. You trust your mother, but
you cut the cards."

Nogami settled into the seat and shut the door. Then he looked down
quizzically. "What's this? I didn't notice it before." He reached down
and picked up a black leather sachel off the floor, testing its weight.
"Somehow I've got a feeling it's not a new tie from Harrods."

"As it happens, that's a little housewarming gift from the Soviet
embassy. Part of my deal, along with the car. It's registered and
legal, or so they tell me."

"My God." He settled it back on the floor. "I must be getting old.
Hardware terrifies me these days. I'm not used to working this close to
the street anymore."

"It's only till we take care of business. You handle your end tomorrow
and we're both clear. At least for now."

"If it was really that simple, you wouldn't need this."

"The point is not to need this."

"My friend, if Jiro Sato breaks rank and moves on us, we're going to
need twenty of these. And more."



Tuesday 9:28 P.M.



"A KGB security squad was posted at the hotel, around ten o'clock this
morning, Sato-sama. They are armed."

"_Saaa_," he hissed an exhale of displeasure and leaned forward, an
unlit cigarette in his mouth. One of the black-suited _kobun
_immediately stepped up and flicked a lighter. He inhaled, then leaned
back. "I'd hoped this could be handled without any fuss. But we still
must proceed."

"Your decisions are always correct, Sato-sama." The second _kobun
_bowed. "But perhaps it might be wise to discuss the possibility of
waiting for the backup team from Tokyo, if only to convince ourselves
they are not needed."

"This office lost much face because of our problems in Greece. There's
only one way to regain it. We have to act now."

Worst of all, I've lost face too, Jiro Sato reminded himself, among my
own _kobun_. An _oyabun _has to lead. The minute he shows weakness,
he's through. Buddha only knows what would happen if I lost control
here. There's no turning back. An example has to be made of the
American meddlers, if only to make Nogami-san understand the organi-
zation still means business.

The Tokyo _oyabun's _daring project is going to succeed. In the long
run it's inevitable. The problems now are short-term. But if anything
else goes wrong with this office's responsibilities . . .

The _kobun_, five in all, bowed respectfully. They understood his
thoughts as clearly as if they had been projected in neon across the
back wall. The office had already lost three men. Face was at stake.
This problem could not be solved from Tokyo. It was time to draw
together.

The operation was scheduled to begin at 11:00 P.M. sharp. The five
_kobun_ had already synchronized their digital watches and stashed
their H&K automatics in the two gray Fords now waiting in the
building's underground garage. No flashy limousines tonight; the
operation would be lowest of low profiles.

Three more of their team were already at the hotel, with walkie-
talkies, monitoring the entrances. The KGB security in the lobby would
be quietly diverted and then neutralized. The guard upstairs would
simply be overpowered, or taken out with a silencer if the situation
got out of hand. Since they were professionals, however, matters rarely
went that far.

The time had come to move. All five lined up in front of Jiro Sato's
massive oak desk and bowed to the waist; then one by one they filed
out.



Tuesday 10:27 P.M.



It was going to be a simple operation, that much he was sure of. No
violence, no bloodshed. The bottle should take care of the situation.
All the same, he had a 9mm automatic in a shoulder holster. Life had
taught him that when something could go wrong, chances were good that
it would.

After this one last job, he was going to disappear. The situation had
deteriorated far past where any reasonable man would want to touch it.
The time had come to bail out and let the chips fall. One more day,
that was all.

Standing now at the side entrance of the Strand Palace, the small
alleyway named Burleigh that curved around the rear of the hotel and
met the main avenue, he pulled his overcoat tighter and glanced down at
his Piaget.

It read 10:28. Time to get started. Everything was synchronized down to
seconds.

He'd already made sure the service entrance was unlocked. He'd taped
the latch on the metal door during the comings and goings of the staff
during the evening shift change. Now all he had to do was slip through
and the rest should go like clockwork.

In he went. The neon-lit hallway was empty, again according to plan.
This was a slow time for all the staff except room service and the
kitchen.

He slipped off his overcoat and threw it into a large laundry hamper
parked halfway down the hall. Underneath he was wearing the uniform of
a Strand Palace security man.

He checked his watch. Sixty-five seconds . . .

At that moment the door of the service elevator opened and a tall
Irishman stepped off. He was wearing the same uniform.

It was a Strand Palace security guard, a real one. The worst possible
luck.

The moment seemed frozen in time. However, one thing was certain: the
security guard wasn't fooled for an instant by the intruder. He
automatically grabbed one of his trouser legs and knelt with a
practiced move, reaching for the holster strapped to his ankle.

The intruder was quicker. As the guard dropped down, his knee came up,
slamming against the man's square jaw. The Irishman toppled back
against the side of the elevator with a groan, but not before his fist
lashed out, aimed for the groin.

It was a glancing blow, and it was too late. The intruder chopped down
against his neck, disabling his left arm, then slammed his head against
the steel strut running down the center of the elevator wall. He
groaned and twitched backward.

Should I just break his neck? he wondered. Just kill him now? One twist
would do it.

No, he lectured himself, be a professional.

Instead he rammed the Irishman's head against the steel strut a second
time, and a third, till he felt the body go fully limp.

Not good enough, he told himself, and reached into his pocket for the
bottle. The ether was going to get more use than he'd planned.

He doused the heavy cloth he'd brought along and shoved it against the
fallen figure's nostrils. He continued to hold it on the ruddy face as
he closed the elevator door and pushed the button that would take him
up.

As the lift rose, he checked his watch and smiled to see that his
timing was perfect. Ten seconds to go.



Tuesday 10:29 P.M.



"You bastard," Eva screamed as she slapped Vance with all her might,
knocking him against the door of their room. The thin walls shook.

"Don't ever do that again." He drew up and swung for her, missing and
crashing against a chair.

"Get away from me. You're drunk." She shoved him farther into the room,
her voice trembling with anger. Then she wrenched open the hotel room
door and stumbled into the hallway. "_Pomogethya mnye!_"

Their KGB guard, Igor Borisovich, was already running down the hall,
"_Shto _. . .?"

"Help me." She seized his arm and pulled him in.

Mike Vance was standing in the middle of the room, weaving shakily, now
grasping a letter opener in his right hand.

"Get the hell out of here." He started moving on the Russian,
brandishing the weapon, but stumbled and had to pause to collect his
balance.

"He drank half a bottle of tequila and went crazy." She was shouting in
Russian. "Do something!"

Igor nodded knowingly. He came from a land where alcoholism easily
edged out soccer as the national pastime.

"What is problem?" The hulking Soviet moved forward, gingerly trying to
retrieve the letter opener from Vance's hand.

"Get away from me." Vance shoved him off, then stumbled back.

"No, you must give me knife," the Russian demanded. "We want no
trouble."

Nobody noticed, but the time was 10:30. Exactly.

The room was brought up sharp by the sound of the door slamming and a
click of the lock. They turned to see a figure wearing a black ski mask
and the uniform of a Strand Palace security guard. In his right hand
was a 9mm automatic.

"Who the hell . . . ?" Vance yelled drunkenly.

Igor whirled to stare. His hand started for his shoulder holster, but
then he thought better of it and instead he backed slowly against the
wall, silently glaring.

"Where is it?" the hooded figure demanded as he brandished his pistol
toward Eva.

"Fuck you, whoever you are." Vance tried to move toward him, still
grasping the letter opener.

"Shut up." The intruder shoved him backward, sending him sprawling onto
the couch. Then he turned to Eva. "Where's the computer?"

Almost at that moment he saw it, on the writing table by the window.
Without waiting for an answer, he moved quickly and seized it by the
handle. After he'd stationed it next to the door, he waved the weapon
at Eva again and barked. "Get your things. And all copies of the
protocol."

"Listen, you son of a bitch," Vance sputtered as he drew himself up and
moved again on the intruder. "She's not going anywhere. Now get out of
here before I ram that goddam--"

The intruder slammed the pistol across his face, sending him crumpling
to the floor. But now his back was turned to Igor Borisovich, who
lunged.

The intruder saw the movement, reflected in the tall mirror above the
dressing table. He easily sidestepped the lumbering Russian, then
brought the pistol hard against his skull. Igor Borisovich groaned and
staggered sideways flailing for balance.

The hooded figure seemed prepared. His hand plunged into a pocket and
out came a bottle whose stopper had been replaced by a wadded rag. He
flung the contents of the bottle across the Russian's face, then shoved
the soaking rag against his mouth and nostrils.

Igor Borisovich struggled and clawed limply at his face for a few
moments before lapsing unconscious.

"You fucker." Vance pulled himself up off the floor, muttering.

"Problem?" The intruder glanced at him.

"One small one, yeah. You damned near broke my jaw."

"This is the theater of the real, my friend," Alex Novosty laughed as
he pulled off the ski mask. "If you're going to be kidnapped, it has to
look authentic. I'm a professional. I never do these things by halves."

"Any problem downstairs?" Eva was already collecting her scant
belongings.

"Yes, one very big problem. I had a small misunderstanding with one of
the hotel's security people. The natives here are not friendly. He's on
the service elevator now, sound asleep like this one."

"Where did you park it?" She opened the room door and looked up and
down the hall.

"It should still be on this floor. I put it on Emergency Stop. But he's
going to wake up any time now and sound the alarm."

"Then we've got to finish here and get out fast." She slammed the door
and turned back.

They went to work, quickly turning over chairs, ripping curtains,
leaving evidence of a violent struggle. Belongings were strewn across
the bed and floor, as though there'd been a hasty search. It was done
quietly and efficiently and took about a minute. Novosty thoughtfully
positioned his black ski mask in the middle of the floor, just one more
clue in what they hoped would be signs of an abrupt, forced departure.

Then they grabbed what they needed, including the

Zenith Turbo, locked the door, and made their way down the hallway. The
Strand Palace security guard was still on the service elevator,
unconscious but beginning to stir.

"What do you propose we do with him?" Novosty gave the Irishman a
shake.

"How about a little more ether," Eva suggested. She was clasping the
Zenith next to her. "And then let's get out of here."

He obligingly gave the man a final dose from the almost- empty bottle,
leaving the rag across his face. By the time he finished, the elevator
had reached the service area in the basement. Their Soviet limousine
was parked in the alley, ready. In seconds they were in it and gone.



Tuesday 10:43 P.M.



Michael Vance, Eva Borodin, and Aleksei Novosty were luckier than they
knew. When they emerged, the Japanese guard Jiro Sato had stationed at
the Burleigh entrance had momentarily been called away by radio to
confer at the Strand corner. Since the alleyway was curved slightly, as
London alleys invariably are, the huddled Yakuza team saw nothing but
the tinted windows of a limousine with diplomatic license plates
speeding past. They paid it no heed.

Watches were checked one more time, and then the dark-suited men fanned
out. The guard stationed down Burleigh returned to his post, while the
five who had been in the Docklands office made their way into the
teeming lobby on the Strand. While two started up the fire stairs, the
other three converged on the KGB guard, disarmed him discreetly, and
then informed him that he had pressing business outside. He was shoved
into one of the waiting Fords, gagged, and handcuffed to the steering
column. It took less than a minute to neutralize him.

Then the three returned to the lobby and got on the elevator. On the
eighth floor they met the other two, who had come in from the stairway
at the opposite end of the hall. Together they swept the corridors.

The KGB guard was nowhere to be seen.

"Perhaps they pulled the security on this floor," one of them said.

"Or he has gone into the room, to piss out some vodka," another
suggested.

"This will be easier than we thought," a third was heard to observe.

Together they converged on the room registered in the name of Michael
Vance, and then they stood aside as one knocked.

When there was no answer, they elected to shoulder it in.

As they rushed the room, they were met by a fusillade of automatic
pistol fire from a boiling mad KGB security agent, nursing a headache
and crouched just inside the bathroom door.



CHAPTER FIFTEEN



Wednesday 1:09 A.M.



"Darling, do you think they'll figure out it was a ruse?"

"Who knows." He looked up from stoking the fireplace, where nothing but
embers remained. "Tanzan Mino may be a genius, but the rest of his
Yakuza hoods are not exactly rocket scientists. Ditto T-Directorate's
flunkies. With any luck both sides will think the other one's kidnapped
us and they'll go after each other. That's the idea at least."

"Well, we're pretty vulnerable." She kicked off her shoes and leaned
back on the couch.

"Look, after tomorrow Tanzan Mino won't dare send his goons after us .
. . unless he's got something up his sleeve we don't know about."

"That's just it,"she sighed. "If he manages to find us . . . why mince
words, if he decides to try and kill us again, what then? Will this
Japanese banker friend of yours stick with us? Whose side is he on, I
mean really?"

"Well, we're here, aren't we? Nobody knows about this place, not even
Alex."

They had ditched Novosty three blocks down the Strand. Trust had its
limits.

"Except, of course, your Japanese banker friend. He knows."

"The only player we can rely on now is Ken. And he's the only one--
particularly after Novosty gets his money--who's got the slightest
incentive to hang tough."

"I'm wondering what's the best way to break the story. We've got to
make sure it doesn't get away from us, get lost."

He looked up from the fireplace. "I've already told you what I think. I
say we just go see an editor friend of mine at the Financial Times,
give him a big scoop concerning a forthcoming Mino Industries Eurobond
offering. We point out there's no collateral at all behind the
debentures, and we'll also hint there's more to it, but that angle we
save for The Times of London, which will get a nicely translated copy
of the protocol. We hit the godfather with a one-two press expose, then
make ourselves scarce and let investigative journalism do its thing.
Believe me, nobody's going to ignore what could be the biggest story of
the decade. After that starts snowballing, Tanzan Mino'll have too much
on his plate to bother eating us. We'll be out of it."

"Michael," she sighed, "you're a dreamer. You don't really think it's
going to be that easy."

He rose and joined her on the couch, slipping his arm around her
shoulders. "Maybe not, but we won't be a sitting target. We'll keep on
the move. Why don't you come and join me on the boat. I may have to
postpone visiting with the Stuttgart team down at Phaistos, but we'll
find something. It'll be simple."

"Sounds really simple."

"All great ideas are basically that way."

"Well, if life's as simple as you make out, then why did you insist on
Alex's friends at the Soviet embassy lending you that thing?" She
pointed to the black leather satchel stationed next to the fireplace.

"Guess I'm nervous." He grinned weakly.

"You mean you're scared. Cut the bull. I'm scared too." She got up,
walked over and picked up the leather bag. "Now, I want you to show me
how to work this."

"What?" He didn't like the idea. "You sure?"

"Absolutely. We're in this together." She settled the bag down on the
carpet, unzipped the top, and drew out an object whose black matte-
satin finish glistened in the soft glow of the coals. "This is an Uzi,
right?"

"The tried and true. Major Uziel Gal's contribution to the mayhem of
the world." He reached over and took it. "You know, this is an
instrument of sudden death. Do you really want your finger on the
trigger?"

"Sweetheart, just tell me what I need to know." She met his gaze.

"Okay, here goes." He still hated the thought, for a lot of reasons.
The mere sight of an Uzi reminded him of things in the past he
preferred to forget. But there clearly was no stopping her. "A quick
run-through of the care and feeding of your classic assault machine."

"Good." She reached and took it, tugging at the collapsed metal stock a
second before turning back to him. "By the way, is it loaded?"

"No, but it probably should be. You can take care of that yourself in
just a second. But first things first." He pointed down. "See this
thumb button right here, on the left top of the grip? Notice there're
three positions--all the way back is the safety, next is semiautomatic
fire, and all the way forward is full-auto. There's also a backup
safety here, at the top rear of the pistol grip. The action stays
locked unless it's depressed, which happens when you squeeze down to
deliver a round."

"Two safeties?"

"Don't knock it. This baby fires ten rounds a second on full-auto.
We've only got five magazines."

"How many rounds in a magazine?"

"I insisted on the enlarged thirty-two-round version instead of the
usual twenty-five. But still, with that little button forward on full-
auto you can empty a magazine in about three seconds. It's a good way
to get the attention of everybody in the room."

"Can you actually hold your aim in full-auto?"

"Well enough. The recoil's surprisingly minimal. Remember to fire in
short bursts and you'll do okay." He pointed down. "Now, the cocking
handle is this knurled knob here on the top. Notice it's got a slot cut
in it so it doesn't block the sights. You yank it back to ready it. And
don't forget, always use your left hand to cock the action and change
magazines, and your right to operate the safety-selector switch."

"Got it."

"Okay, now you're ready to load." He picked one of the black
rectangular metal cases out of the leather satchel on the floor. "This
is a charged magazine. Always cock the action and set the thumb switch
to safety before you insert one."

She pulled the knob back firmly, then pushed her thumb against the
switch.

"Now feed the magazine into the bottom of the pistol grip"

She shoved it in with a click and it was secured.

"You're ready to party. Thumb off the safety and it's a go project."

"How do you take the magazine out when it's empty?" She aimed into the
fireplace. For a second he thought she was going to take out a few
half-burnt logs.

"There's a release catch on the bottom left side of the pistol grip.
Just depress it."

"And what about the stock? Should I bother?"

He reached and took it back. "You push the butt downward to release it,
and then you pull it back like this till it's fully extended and
locks." He clicked it into place, a hard sound in the silence of the
London night. "To retract it you just depress this locking button here
on the left front and fold it back under again."

"Okay, let me try," she said, taking it back. She folded and unfolded
it twice. "Think I've got the hang of it. But do I need it?"

"Use it if you want to. I've always thought that when they switched
over from the original wooden stock to this metal contraption they
positioned the damned thing too high. You have to bend your head down
low to align the sights. My guess is, God forbid you should ever have
to use this, you won't have time to bother with it."

"Speaking of aiming, is this what I think it is?" She retrieved a small
boxlike object from the bag.

"LS-45 compact laser sight. Probably useless for our purposes, but I
figured, what the hell." He reached out for her hand. "For now let's
just think of all this hardware as life insurance. Something you'd as
soon never use." He took the gun and laid it on the tea trolley. "In
the meantime why don't we have one last nightcap and go on up to bed?"

"Thought you'd never ask." She kissed him, deeply.

The four-poster upstairs was canopied, the mattress downy as a cloud.
They were both hungry for each other, exhausted but deliriously free.
Perhaps it was the same relish with which a condemned prisoner consumes
his last meal, the delight in every taste, every nuance. If tomorrow
brings the prospect of death, then how much sweeter is life in the
short hours before dawn.



Wednesday 2:00 A.M.



Kenji Nogami wandered alone through the bond-trading floor of
Westminster Union Bank, staring at the blank computer screens. His bank
was a member of Globex, a twenty-four-hour world-wide trading network
for currency futures, but tonight he'd ordered all his traders to
square their positions--neither short nor long--and take the night off.
Then he had dismissed the cleaning crew. He wanted to have the space
entirely to himself, to think and to reflect. Time was growing short.

         He settled in one of the traders' empty chairs, withdrew a
stubby Cuban Montecristo, a thick No. 2, from the breast pocket of his
coat, clipped the pointed end with a monogrammed implement, and swept a
wooden match against the floor and up to the tip with a single gesture.
If we're going to have a showdown, he thought, I might as well die with
a good cigar in hand.

Then from another pocket he took out the telex from Tokyo that had come
through just after midnight. The Tokyo _oyabun _was in a rare frenzy.
Tanzan Mino had never been thwarted like this--well, only once before,
when a certain Michael Vance, Jr., had blown the whistle on his CIA
connections.

Tanzan Mino was demanding compliance. Somebody had to give in. The
obvious question: Who'd be the first to blink?

The worst he can do is kill me, Nogami thought. And he can't do that
yet. If something happens to me tonight, he won't get his hundred
million tomorrow.

But then what?

You've gone this far knowing full well the consequences, he told
himself, so don't back down now. You're spitting on giri, and yet . . .
and yet it's the first thing you've ever done in your life that's made
you feel free. It's exhilarating.

Did Michael arrive safely at the South Kensington flat? He'd toyed with
the idea of calling but had decided against it. They wouldn't answer
the phone. In fact, he never answered it himself when he was there.
Thinking about it now, he wondered why he'd ever bothered to have one
installed in the first place.

He drew on the Montecristo, then studied its perfect ash. Waiting.
Waiting.

"Nogami-san, _sumimasen_," the voice sounded down the empty room,
almost an echo.

They'd arrived. Finally. Why had it taken so long?

"_Kombanwa_," he replied without moving. The cigar remained poised
above his head as he continued to examine it. "It is an honor to see
you."

There was no reply, only the sound of footsteps approaching.

He revolved in his chair to see Jiro Sato, flanked by two of his
_kobun_.

"I see you are working late," Jiro Sato said, examining the cigar as he
nodded a stiff, formal greeting. "I deeply apologize for this
inconvenience."

"I was expecting you," Nogami replied, nodding back. "Please allow me
to make tea."

"Thank you but it is not required." Jiro Sato stood before him, gray
sunglasses glistening in the fluorescents. "One of my _kobun _was shot
and killed tonight, Nogami-san, and two more wounded. I want to know
where to find Vance and the woman. Now."

"Were they responsible?"

"With deepest apologies, that need not trouble you." He stood ramrod
straight.

"With deepest apologies, Sato-sama, it troubles me very much." Nogami
examined his cigar. "This entire affair is very troublesome. In times
past I remember a certain prejudice in favor of civility on the part of
Tokyo. Have things really changed that much?"

"The moment for soft words is past. Tonight ended that."

Nogami drew on his cigar. "Assuming you locate Vance, what action do
you propose taking?"

"We have one last chance here to deal with this problem. Tomorrow the
_oyabun's_ people arrive, and then they will be in control. The
decisions will no longer be ours. Tonight I attempted to salvage the
situation and failed. Surely you know what that means, for us both. But
if you will give me Vance, perhaps we can both still be saved. If you
refuse to cooperate, the _oyabun _will destroy you as well as Vance. We
both know that. I am offering you a way out."

"With deepest gratitude, I must tell you it is too late, Sato-sama,
which I am sure you realize," Nogami said, drawing on his cigar and
taking care not to disturb the ash. "So with due respect I must inquire
concerning the purpose of this meeting."

"I need to locate this man Vance. Before the _kobun _from Tokyo arrive.
If you care about his well-being, then you should remember that his
treatment at my hands will be more understanding than--"

"When do they arrive?"

"As I said, we received word that they will be here tomorrow, Nogami-
san. With respect, you have befriended a man who is attempting to
blackmail the Tokyo _oyabun_. That is a career decision which, I assure
you, is most unwise."

"It is made. And I am aware of the consequences. So it would appear we
both know all there is to know about the future."

"Perhaps not entirely. Someone has attempted to make us think Vance and
the woman were kidnapped, that they are being held somewhere beyond our
reach. Perhaps it is true, perhaps it is not. But if the transaction
for the hundred million is to take place tomorrow, then he must appear
here. The _oyabun's _people may be here by then. If they are not, we
will be."

"But if he has been kidnapped," Nogami's brow furrowed as he studied
his cigar, its ash still growing, "then there could be a problem with
the transaction. Who do you suppose would want him, besides the Tokyo
_oyabun_?"

"That I could not speculate upon. The KGB seems to have a great
interest in his activities. Perhaps they are guarding him in some more
secure place. Or perhaps something else has happened." He bowed. "Again
you must forgive me for this rude intrusion. It is important for you to
be aware that the situation is not resolved. That you still have a
chance to save yourself."

"The CEO will receive his hundred million, if there is no interference.
That much I have already arranged for. When that is completed, I will
consider my responsibilities discharged."

"Your responsibilities will never be discharged, Nogami-san. _Giri
_lasts forever." His voice was cutting. "The sooner you realize that,
the better."

"After tomorrow, it will be over, Sato-sama." He stretched out his arm
and tapped the inch-long ash into a trash basket beside the desk.

"Tomorrow," Jiro Sato bowed, "it only begins."



Wednesday 2:25 A.M.

_

_Yuri Andreevich Androv stood facing the bulkhead that sealed the
forward avionics bays, feeling almost as though he were looking at a
bank vault. As in all high-security facilities, the access doors were
controlled electronically.

Since the final retrofits were now completed, the Japanese maintenance
crews were only working two shifts; nobody was around at this hour
except the security guards. He'd told them he'd thought of something
and wanted to go up and take a look at the heavy-duty EN-15 turbo
pumps, which transferred hydrogen to the scramjets after it was
converted from liquid to gaseous phase for combustion. He'd been
worrying about their pulse rating and couldn't sleep.

He'd gone on to explain that although static testing had shown they
would achieve operating pressure in twenty milliseconds if they were
fully primed in advance, that was static testing, not flight testing,
and he'd been unable to sleep wondering about the adhesive around the
seals.

It was just technical mumbo-jumbo, although maybe he should be checking
them, he thought grimly. But he trusted the engineering team. He had
to. Besides, the pumps had been developed specially for the massive
Energia booster, and they'd functioned flawlessly in routine launchings
of those vehicles at the Baikonur Cosmodrome.

Of course, at Baikonur they always were initiated while the Energia was
on the launch pad, at full atmospheric pressure. On the _Daedalus_
they'd have to be powered in during flight, at sixty thousand feet and
2,700 miles per hour. But still . . .

The late-night security team had listened sympathetically. They had no
objection if Androv wanted to roll a stair-truck under the fuselage of
_Daedalus /, _then climb into the underbay and inspect turbo pumps in
the dead of night. Everybody knew he was eccentric. No, make that
insane. You'd have to be to want to ride a rocket. They'd just waved
him in. After all, the classified avionics in the forward bays were
secured.

He smiled grimly to think that he'd been absolutely right. Hangar
Control was getting lax about security in these waning days before the
big test. It always happened after a few months of mechanics trooping
in and out.

That also explained why he now had a full set of magnetic access cards
for all the sealed forward bays. Just as he'd figured, the mechanics
were now leaving them stuffed in the pockets of the coveralls they kept
in their lockers in the changing room.

Time to get started.

There was, naturally, double security, with a massive airlock port
opening onto a pressure bay, where three more secure ports sealed the
avionics bays themselves. The airlock port was like an airplane door,
double reinforced to withstand the near vacuum of space, and in the
center was a green metallic slot for a magnetic card.

He began trying cards, slipping them into the slot. The first, the
second, the third, the fourth, and then, payoff. The three green diodes
above the lock handle flashed.

He quickly shoved down the grip and pushed. The door eased inward, then
rotated to the side, opening onto the pressure bay.

The temperature inside was a constant 5 degrees Celsius, kept just
above freezing to extend the life of the sensitive electronic gear in
the next three bays. The high-voltage sodium lamps along the sides of
the fuselage now switched on automatically as the door swung inward. He
fleetingly thought about turning them off, then realized they weren't
manually operated.

Through the clouds of his condensing breath he could see that the
interior of the entry bay was a pale, military green. The color
definitely seemed appropriate, given what he now knew about this
vehicle.

He quickly turned and, after making sure the outer door could be
reopened from the inside, closed it behind him. When it clicked secure,
the sodium lights automatically shut off with a faint hum.

Just like a damned refrigerator, he thought.

But the dark was what he wanted. He withdrew a small penlight from his
pocket and scanned the three bulkhead hatches leading to the forward
bays. The portside bay, on the left, contained electronics for the
multimode phased array radar scanner in the nose, radar processors,
radar power supply, radar transmitters and receivers, Doppler
processor, shrouded scanner tracking mechanism, and an RF oscillator.
He knew; he'd checked the engineering diagrams.

He also knew the starboard equipment bay, the one on the right,
contained signal processors for the inertial navigation system (INS),
the instrument landing system (ILS), the foreplane hydraulic actuator,
the structural mode control system (SMCS), station controller, and the
pilot's liquid-oxygen tanks and evaporator.

The third forward bay, located beneath the other two and down a set of
steel stairs, was the one he needed to penetrate. It contained all the
computer gear: flight control, navigation, and most importantly, the
artificial intelligence (AI) system for pilot interface and backup.

He suddenly found himself thinking a strange thought. Since no air-
breathing vehicle had ever flown hypersonic, every component in this
plane was, in a sense, untested. To his mind, though, that was merely
one more argument for shutting down the damned AI system's override
functions before he went hypersonic. If something did go wrong, he
wanted this baby on manual. He only needed the computer to alert him to
potential problems. The solutions he'd have to work out with his own
brain. And balls. After all, that's why he was there.

As he walked down the steel steps, he thumbed through the magnetic
cards, praying he had the one needed to open the lower bay and access
the computers. Then he began inserting them one by one into the green
metallic slot, trying to keep his hand steady in the freezing cold.

Finally one worked. The three encoded diodes blinked, and a hydraulic
arm automatically slid the port open. Next the interior lights came on,
an orange high-voltage sodium glow illuminating the gray walls.

This third bay, like the two above it, was big enough to stand in. As
he stepped in, he glanced back up the stairs, then quickly resealed the
door. Off went the lights again, so he withdrew his penlight and turned
to start searching for what he wanted.

Directly in front of him was a steel monolith with banks of toggle
switches: electrical power controls, communications controls,
propulsion system controls, reaction-control systems. Okay, that's the
command console, which was preset for each flight and then monitored
from the cockpit.

Now where's the damned on-board AI module?

He scanned the bay. The AI system was the key to his plan. He had to
make certain the computer's artificial intelligence functions could be
completely shut down, disengaged, when the crucial moment came. He
couldn't afford for the on-board system-override to abort his planned
revision in the hypersonic flight plan. His job tonight was to make
sure all the surprises were his, not somebody else's. There wouldn't be
any margin for screw-ups. Everything had to go like clockwork.

He edged his way on through the freezing bay, searching the banks of
equipment for a clue, and then he saw what he was looking for. There,
along the portside bulkhead. It was a white, rectangular console, and
everything about it told him immediately it was what he wanted.

He studied it a second, trying to decide where to begin.

At that moment he also caught himself wondering fleetingly how he'd
ever gotten into this crazy situation. Maybe he should have quit the
Air Force years ago and gone to engineering school like his father had
wanted. Right now, he had to admit, a little electrical engineering
would definitely come in handy.

He took out a pocket screwdriver and began carefully removing the AI
console's faceplate, a bronzed rectangle. Eight screws later, he lifted
it off and settled it on the floor.

The penlight revealed a line of chips connected by neat sections of
plastic-coated wires. Somewhere in this electronic ganglia there had to
be a crucial node where he could attach the device he'd brought.

It had taken some doing, but he'd managed to assemble an item that
should take care of his problem beautifully when the moment came. It
was a radio-controlled, electrically operated blade that, when clamped
onto a strand of wires, could sever them in an instant. The radio range
was fifty meters, which would be adequate; the transmitter, no larger
than a small tape recorder, was going to be with him in his flight
suit. The instant he switched the turboramjets over to the scramjet
mode, he was going to activate it and blow their fucking AI module out
of the system. Permanently.

He figured he had ten minutes before one of the security team came
looking to see what he was doing; he'd timed this moment to coincide
with their regular tea break. Even the Japanese didn't work around the
clock.

Now, holding the penlight and shivering from the cold, he began
carefully checking the wires. Carefully, so very carefully. He didn't
have a diagram of their computer linkages, and he had to make sure he
didn't accidentally interrupt the main power source, since the one
thing he didn't want to do was disconnect any of the other flight
control systems. He wanted to cut in somewhere between the AI module's
power supply and its central processor. The power source led in here .
. . and then up the side over to there, a high-voltage transformer . .
. and then out from . . .

There. Just after the step-up transformer and before the motherboard
with the dedicated CPU and I/O. That should avoid any shorting in the
main power system and keep the interruption nice and localized.

The line was almost half an inch thick, double-stranded, copper
grounded with a coaxial sheath. But there was a clear section that led
directly down to the CPU. That's where he'd place the blade, and hope
it'd at least short- circuit the power feed even if it didn't sever the
wires completely.

He tested the radio transmitter one last time, making sure it would
activate the blade, then reached down and clamped the mechanism onto
the wire, tightening it with thumb screws. When it was as secure as he
could make it, he stood back and examined his handiwork. If somebody
decided to remove the faceplate, they'd spot it in a second, but
otherwise . . .

Quickly, hands trembling from the cold, he fitted the cover back on the
module and began replacing the screws with the tiny screwdriver. It
wasn't magnetized, a deliberate choice, so the small screws kept
slipping between his bulky fingers, a problem made more acute by the
numbing cold.

Three screws to go . . . then he heard the noise. Footsteps on the
aluminum catwalk in the pressure bay above. . . . _Shit_.

He kept working as fast as he could, grimly holding the screws secure
and fighting back the numbness and pain in his freezing fingers.

Only one more. Above, he could hear the sounds of someone checking each
of the equipment bays, methodically opening and then resecuring them.
First the starboard side bay was opened and closed, then the portside
bay. Now he heard footsteps advancing down the metal stairs leading to
the computer bay. They were five seconds away from discovering him.

The last screw was in.

He tried to stand, and realized his knees were numb. He staggered
backward, grabbing for something to steady himself . . . and the light
came on.

"Yuri Andreevich, so this is where you are. What are you doing here?"

It was the gravel voice of his father. He felt like a child again,
caught with his hand in his pants. What should he do? tell the truth?

"I'm--I'm checking over the consoles, passing the time. I couldn't
sleep."

"Don't lie to me." Andrei Androv's ancient eyebrows gathered into the
skeptical furrow Yuri knew so well. "You're up to something, another of
your tricks."

Yuri stared at him a moment. How had he known? A sixth sense?

"_Moi otyets_, why are you here? You should be getting your sleep."

"I'm an old man. An old man worries. I had a feeling you might be in
here tonight, tinkering with the vehicle. You told me you were planning
something. I think the time has come to tell me what it is."

Yuri took a deep breath and looked him over.

No, it was too risky. For them both. His secret had to be ironclad.

"It's better if you don't know."

"As you wish," the old man sighed. "But if you do something foolish . .
."

"I damned sure intend to try." He met his father's steely gaze.

"So did you do it?" Andrei Androv examined him, his ancient face ashen
beneath his mane of white hair. "Did you manage to sabotage the AI
module?"

He caught himself laughing out loud. Whatever else, his father was no
fool. He'd been a Russian too long to believe anything he heard or half
of what he saw. Intrigue was a way of life for him.

"Let's go. They'll come looking for us soon. This is the wrong place to
be found."

"You're right."

"Go back to the West Quadrant. Listen to a string quartet." He opened
the port and waited for his father to step out. Then he followed,
closing it behind them. "There's no reason for you to be involved.
Heads are going to roll, but why should yours be one of them?"

Andrei Petrovich Androv moved lightly up the metal stair, the spring in
his step belying his age. At the top he paused and turned back.

"You're acting out of principle, aren't you, Yuri? For once in your
life."

"I guess you could say that." He smiled, then moved on up the steps.

"Someday, the Russian people will thank you."

"Someday. Though I may not live to see it."

Andrei Androv stopped, his ancient eyes tearing as his voice dropped to
a whisper. "Of all the things you've ever done, my son, nothing could
make me more proud of you than what you just said. I've thought it
over, about the military uses for this vehicle, and I think the future
of the world is about to be rewritten here. You must stop them. You're
the only chance we have left."



CHAPTER SIXTEEN



Wednesday 10:05 A.M.



The limousine had already left the Savoy and was headed down the Strand
when Alex Novosty broke the silence. He leaned forward, pushed the
button on the two-way microphone linking the passenger compartment to
the driver, and spoke in Russian.

"Igor Borisovich, there's been an alteration in our plans. We will not
be going to Westminster Union. Take us to Moscow Narodny Bank. The
trading branch on Saint Swithins Lane."

"_Shto ve skazale_?" Igor, still nursing his head from the kidnapping,
glanced into his rearview mirror. "The bank's main office is on King
William Street. We always--"

"Just do as you're told." Novosty cut him off, then killed the mike.

Vera Karanova stared at him, her dark eyes flooding with concern. "But
you said the transaction was scheduled for Westminster Union Bank, this
morning at ten-thirty."

"That was merely a diversion." Novosty leaned back. "The actual
arrangement is turned around. For security reasons."

"I don't like this." Her displeasure was obvious, and mounting. "There
is no reason--"

"It's better, I assure you." He withdrew a white tin of Balkan Sobranie
cigarettes from his coat, snapped it open, and withdrew one. Made of
fine Turkish Yenidje tobacco, they were what he always smoked on
important days. This was an important day.

As he flicked his lighter and drew in the first lungful of rich smoke,
he thought about how much he hated the dark-haired woman seated beside
him, dressed in a gray Armani business suit, sable coat, Cartier
jewelry. The bad blood between them traced back over five years, begin-
ning with a T-Directorate reshuffle in which she'd moved up to the
number three slot, cutting him out of a well-deserved promotion. The
rumor going around Dzerzhinsky Square was that she'd done it by making
the right connections, so to speak. It was the kind of in-house screw-
job Alex Novosty didn't soon forget, of forgive.

Their black limo was now passing the Royal Courts of Justice, on the
left, headed onto Fleet Street. Ahead was Cannon Street, which
intersected the end of Saint Swithins Lane. Just a few blocks more.
After today, he fully intended never to see her again.

"We've arranged for the transaction to take place through MNB's bond
trading desk," Novosty continued, almost as though to nobody in
particular. "Michael and I have taken care of everything."

"Who approved this change?" She angrily gripped the handrest.

"I did," Novosty replied sharply. "We're in charge." He masked a smile,
pleased to see her upset. The morning traffic was now almost at a
standstill, but they would be on time. "After all, he still has the
money."

"And for all you know he may be in Brazil by now. Perhaps that's the
reason he and the woman disappeared last night, with the help of an
accomplice who assaulted Igor Borisovich."

"Michael will be there," Novosty said. "Have no fear. He's not going
anywhere till this is finished."

"After this is completed," she said matter-of-factly, "he will be
finished. I hope you have planned for that."

Novosty glanced over, wondering what she meant. Had all the surprises
been covered? He hoped so, because this deal was his gateway to
freedom. The two million commission would mean a new beginning for him.



Wednesday 10:18 A.M.



Kenji Nogami sat upright at his wide oak desk, waiting for the phone to
ring. How would Michael play it? Admittedly it was smart to keep
everything close to the chest, but still. He would have felt better if
Michael Vance, Jr., had favored him with a little more trust.

On the other hand, keeping the details of the operation under wraps as
long as possible was probably wise. It minimized the chance for some
inadvertent slip-up.

Yes, it was definitely best. Because he was staring across his desk at
four of Tanzan Mino's Tokyo _kobun_, all dressed in shiny black leather
jackets. They'd arrived at the Docklands office just after dawn,
announcing they were there to hand-deliver the money to Tokyo. Jiro
Sato had directed them to Westminster Union.

The four all carried black briefcases, which did not contain business
papers. They intended to accomplish their mission by whatever means
necessary. Jiro Sato, the London _oyabun_, had not been invited to send
his people along with them this morning. He was now humiliated and dis-
graced, officially removed from the operation, on Tokyo's orders. The
regional office had failed, so Tokyo had sent in a _Mino-gumi_ version
of the Delta Force. They clearly had orders concerning what to do with
Michael Vance.

He didn't like this new twist. For everything to go according to plan,
violence had to be kept out of it. There was no way he and Michael
could go head to head with street enforcers. If Michael was thinking of
doing that, the man was crazy.

He glanced at his gold Omega, noting that it read ten- nineteen. In
eleven more minutes he'd know how Michael intended to run the scenario.

But whatever happened, he wasn't going to be intimidated by these
_kobun_ hoods, dark sunglasses and automatics notwithstanding. Those
days were over. Michael had given him a perfect opportunity to start
building a new life. He didn't care if all hell was about to break
loose.



Wednesday 10:23 A.M.



"_Polovena decyat_?" She examined him with her dark eyes.

"_Da_." Novosty nodded. "They will be here at ten-thirty. That is the
schedule."

He was feeling nervous, which was unusual and he didn't like it.
Whenever he got that way, things always started going off the track.

They were now in the paneled elevator, heading up to the sixth floor of
the Moscow Narodny Bank. The hundred million had been held overnight in
the vault of Victoria Courier Service Limited, which was scheduled to
deliver the satchels this morning at ten-thirty sharp. The location for
the delivery, however, was known only to him and to Michael Vance. He
wanted to be sure and arrive there ahead of the money. He also would
have much preferred being without the company of Vera Karanova.

One thing you had to say for Michael: He'd arranged the deal with great
finesse. He didn't trust anybody. Until he notified Victoria Courier
this morning, nobody knew where the money would be taken, not even the
Japanese banker Nogami. Still, the instruments were negotiable, leaving
the possibility of trouble if the timing went sour.

He intended to make sure it didn't. The planning had been split-second
up until now; this was no moment to relax his guard.

Yes, it was good he was here. As he studied Comrade Karanova, he
realized that something about her was still making him uneasy. So far
it was merely a hunch, but his hunches had been right more often than
he liked to think.

He tried to push the feeling aside. Probably just paranoia. She
obviously was here today for the same reason he was, to make sure the
Soviet money was returned safely. She probably was also still worried
about the protocol, but that problem was hers, not his. From today on,
the KGB would have to work out their in-fighting back home the best way
they could. The ground rules were changing fast in Moscow.

Besides, Dzerzhinsky Square was about to become part of a previous life
for him. If he could just clear this up, get his commission, he'd be
set. Forever. Enough was enough. Maybe he'd end up in the Caribbean
like Michael, drinking margaritas and counting string bikinis.

The elevator door opened. Facing them were Michael Vance and Eva
Borodin.

"Glad you could make it." Vance glanced coldly at Vera. "Right on time.
The money arrives in exactly seven minutes."

She nodded a silent greeting, pulling her sable coat tighter as she
strode past. The bank officials lined up along the corridor watched her
with nervous awe. Even in London, T-Directorate brass had clout.

They moved as a group down the long carpeted hallway leading to the
counting room. On this floor everything was high-security, with
uniformed guards at all the doorways. Negotiable instruments weren't
handled casually.



Wednesday 10:30 A.M.



An armoured van with V.C.S., Ltd. lettered on its side pulled up to the
black marble front of Moscow Narodny Bank's financial trading branch on
Saint Swithins Lane. Everything was on schedule.

"They're here." Eva was watching from the narrow window. Saint Swithins
Lane down below, virtually an alley, was so narrow it could accommodate
only one vehicle at a time. Across was Banque Worms, its unicorn
insignia staring out, its lobby chandeliers glowing. Nobody there even
bothered to notice. Just another armored truck interrupting the view.

Then three blue-uniformed guards emerged from the cab and approached
the rear doors from both sides, .38's in unsnapped holsters.

"Mr. Vance, they had better have the money, all of it." Vera stepped
over to the window and followed Eva's gaze down.

"It'll be there."

"For your sake I hope so," she replied as she turned back.

"Just hang around and watch," Vance said.

Just one more day, he told himself. One more lousy day. We'll have
enough of the protocol translated by tomorrow, the press package ready.
Then we drop it on the papers and blow town.

From the hallway outside a bell chimed faintly as the elevator opened,
a private lift that came directly up from the lobby. When he heard the
heavy footsteps of the couriers, accompanied by MNB guards, he stepped
over and quickly glanced out. The two blue-suits were each carrying a
large satchel handcuffed to the left wrist. Obviously the third had
stayed downstairs, guarding the van.

"This way." The heavy-jowled director of the MNB bond trading desk
stepped out and motioned them in. The play was on.

Kenji Nogami's issue of Mino Industries debentures had been registered
with the Issuing House Association the previous day. This morning they
would be acquired by Vance, using a wire transfer between the Moscow
Narodny Bank on Saint Swithins Lane and Westminster Union Bank's bond
desk. After that there would be a second transaction, whereby Sumitomo
Bank, Limited would accept the debentures as security for a loan of one
hundred million dollars, to be wire-transferred back to Westminster
Union and from there to Moscow Narodny Bank. Everything had been
prearranged. The whole transaction would require only minutes.

Unless there was a glitch.

Vance had fully expected that Tanzan Mino would send a welcoming
committee to Nogami's premises, which was why he'd arranged for the
money to be delivered here at Moscow Narodny's side-street branch. He
figured the Soviets, at least, would play it straight. KGB wanted its
file closed.

Then too, Eva still had the protocol. Their back-up insurance policy.

"Mr. Vance." Vera Karanova watched as the two security men unlatched
their satchels and began withdrawing the bundles of open cashiers
checks and bearer bonds. "I want to recount these securities, now."

"There're double-counted tallys already prepared"--he pointed toward the
bundles--"yesterday by the main branch of Moscow Narodny. The printouts
are attached."

"That was their count," she replied. "I intend to make my own, before
we go any further."

Which means time lost, he thought. Doesn't she realize we've got to get
this cash recycled, those bonds purchased and in place, before Tanzan
Mino's _kobun _have a chance to move on us? If the deal to acquire
Ken's new Mino Industries debentures doesn't go through, giving us
something to hold over the godfather's head . . .

She's literally playing into his hands.

"The instruments are all here, all negotiable, and all ready to go," he
said, stealing a quick glance toward Eva. One look at her eyes told him
she also sensed trouble brewing. "Now, we're damn well going to move
and move fast. We credit the funds here, then wire them to Westminster
Union. And by God we do it immediately."

"Mr. Vance, you are no longer giving the orders," she replied sharply.
"I'm in charge here now. As a matter of fact, I have no intention of
wiring the money anywhere. There will be no purchase of debentures. As
far as I'm concerned, it has now been returned." She paused for
emphasis. "But first we will count it."

"Vera, my love," Eva said, cutting her off, "if you try and double-
cross us, you're making a very big mistake. You seem to forget we've
got that protocol. What we didn't get around to telling you is that
we've deciphered it."

"You--?"

"That's right. As it happens, I don't think you're going to like what
it's got to say, but you might at least want to know the story before
you read about it in The Times day after tomorrow."

Alex Novosty's face had turned ashen. "Michael, Tanzan Mino's people
are probably headed here by now. Unless they go to the main office on
King William Street first." He was nervously glancing out the window.
"We're running out of time."

The game's about to get rough, Vance thought. Better take charge.

But before he could move, Novosty was gripping a Ruger P-85, a
lightweight 9mm automatic, pulled from a holster under the back of his
jacket. He'd worn it where the MNB guards would miss it.

The two Victoria couriers were caught flat-footed. Bankers weren't
supposed to start drawing weapons. They stared in astonishment as he
gestured for them to turn and face the wall.

"Michael," he said as he glanced over, "would you kindly give me a hand
and take those two .38's? We really must get this party moving."

Vera Karanova was smiling a thin smile. "I don't know how far you think
you will get with this."

"We seem to be working toward different objectives," Novosty answered.
"Michael has a solution to everybody's problem. I regret very much
you've chosen not to help facilitate it."

"The only problem he solved was yours," she shot back. "Mr. Vance
devised what amounts to an enormous check kiting scheme. You two
planned to perpetrate fraud. You're nothing better than criminals, both
of you, and I intend to make sure you haven't also given us a short
count."

"Comrade, fraud is a harsh word," Vance interjected.

"You are not as amusing as you think," she replied.

"Humor makes the world go round."

'This is not a joke. The negotiable instruments in this room are Soviet
funds. I intend to make sure those funds are intact. There will be a
full and complete count. Now."

She's gone over the edge, he told himself. She's definitely going to
try and screw us, either wittingly or unwittingly. But who in the room
is going to help her? That huddled group of Russian bankers now staring
terrified at Novosty's 9mm? Not damned likely. She's improvising, on
her own. But her little stunt could well end up sinking the ship.

The two couriers were now spread against the brown textured fabric of
the wall, legs apart. He walked over and reached into the leather
holsters at their hips, drawing out their revolvers. They were snub-
nosed Smith & Wesson Bodyguards, .38 caliber. He looked them over,
cocked them, and handed one to Eva.

"How about covering the door? I think it's time we got down to business
and traded some bonds."

"With pleasure." She stepped over and glanced out. It was clear.

"What do you think, Alex?" Vance turned back. "Word's going around
there's a hot new issue of Mino Industries zero-coupons coming out
today. What do you say we go long? In for a hundred. Just take the
lot."

"I heard the same rumor, this very morning," he smiled. "You're right.
My instincts say it's a definite buy."

"Fine." Vance turned to MNB's jowled branch chief. "We'd like to do a
little trading here this morning. Mind getting the bond desk at
Westminster Union on the line? Tell Nogami we're good for a hundred in
Mino Industries debentures, the new issue. At par."

"Michael." It was Eva's voice, suddenly alarmed.

"What?"

"We've got company. They look like field reps."

"Good God." Novosty strode to the door and looked out. A group of four
leather-jacketed Japanese were headed down the hallway, two disarmed
MNB guards in front. Also with them was Kenji Nogami.

Turning back, he looked imploringly at Vance. "What do we do?"

"Figure they came prepared." He waved toward Eva. "Better lose that
.38. Put it on the table for now. Maybe we can still talk this thing
through."

She nodded, then stepped over and laid her weapon beside the bundles of
securities. Vance took one last look at the Smith & Wesson in his own
hand and did the same. Even ex-archaeologists could do arithmetic.

All this time Vera Karanova had said nothing. She merely stood watching
the proceedings with a detached smile. Finally she spoke. "Now we can
proceed with the counting," she said calmly.

"Maybe you don't fully grasp the situation here, comrade." Vance stared
at her. "Those gorillas aren't dropping in for tea. We've got to stand
together."

She burst out laughing. "Mr. Vance, you are truly naive. No, you're
worse. You actually thought you could sabotage the most powerful new
global alliance of the twentieth century." Her dark eyes were gradually
turning glacial. "It will not be allowed to happen, believe me."

My God, he realized, that's why she wanted to get her hands on the
protocol. To deep-six it. She's been biding her time, stringing us
along. And today she managed to stall us long enough for Mino's boys to
figure out the switch. She's no longer working for T-Directorate; she's
part of Tanzan Mino's operation. All this time she's been working with
them.

"The negotiable certificates in this room will be delivered to their
rightful recipient by his personal jet," she continued. "Today."

"Over my dead body." He found himself thinking it might well be true.

"No, Mr. Vance, not exactly. Your contribution will be more substantial
than that."

He was speechless, for the first time.

The Russian bankers in the room were taken totally by surprise. Double-
dealing KGB games had always been part of the landscape, but this was
confusing in the extreme. Whose money was it anyway?

"Michael." Novosty's voice was trembling. "This cannot be allowed to
happen."

"I agree. We've definitely got a situation here."

He glanced around to see the four _Mino-gumi kobun _poised in the
doorway, all with H&K automatics now out of their briefcases. Kenji
Nogami was standing behind them, his eyes defeated.

Novosty still looked stunned. The range of options was rapidly
narrowing to none.

Vera indicated his Ruger. "You would be wise to put that away. Now."

"If they take these securities, my life's not worth a _kopeck_."
Novosty seemed to be thinking out loud. "What does it matter."

It wasn't a question. It was a statement.

Remembering it all later, Vance could barely recall the precise
sequence of events. He did remember shoving Eva back against the wall
as the fireworks began.

Novosty's first round caught the lead _Mino-gumi kobun_ squarely
between the eyes. As he pitched backward, arms flailing, he tumbled
against the others, giving Novosty time to fire again. With deadly
accuracy he caught another in the chest.

Kenji Nogami had already thrown himself on the thick hallway carpet,
safely avoiding the fusillade. The Russian bankers, too, had all hit
the floor, along with the MNB guards and the two couriers.

Then came a shot with a different sound--the dull thunk of a silencer.
Novosty jerked in surprise, pain spreading through his eyes. The
silencer thunked again, and again.

It was Vera Karanova. She was holding a small .22 caliber Walther PP,
with a specially equipped silencer. And her aim was flawless. Novosty
had three slugs arranged neatly down the side of his head before he
even realized what was happening. He collapsed forward, never knowing
whose hand had been on the gun.

She's probably wanted to get rid of him for years, Vance thought
fleetingly. She finally got her golden opportunity, the double-crossing
bitch.

He briefly considered grabbing back one of the .38's and avenging Alex
then and there, but he knew it would be suicidal.

"Alex, no!" Eva's voice sobbed.

"Both of you, hands on the wall." Comrade Karanova was definitely in
charge.

"Michael," Eva said, turning to comply, "what happened to our well-laid
plans?"

"Looks like too little, too late." He stretched beside her.

"What did she mean just now? About our 'contribution'?"

"Probably the protocol. My guess is she wants to see it destroyed.
Let's hope that'll be the end of it. The godfather's got his money. And
Alex's problem is solved permanently."

Now Kenji Nogami was entering the room, an island of Zen-like calm
amidst all the bedlam.

"Michael, I'm so sorry." He stepped over. "When the money didn't show
up as scheduled, they called Jiro Sato and he suggested they try here.
There was nothing I could do."

Vance nodded. "That's how I figured it'd be played. We didn't move fast
enough on this end. It was my fault."

"Too bad. We came close." He sighed. "But I'm not going to underwrite
the rest of those bogus debentures. He'll have to kill me."

"And he'll probably do just that. The hell with it. You tried, we all
tried. Now it looks like Tanzan Mino's scam is going to go through
whether we play or not. You might as well save your own skin. With any
luck, we can still sort out our end, but you--you're going to have to be
dealing with that bastard for years to come. Think about it."

"I'm still deciding," he said finally. "Let's wait and see how things
go."

"Alex opted for suicide. You shouldn't follow his lead."

"I'm not suicidal." He stepped back as Vera proceeded to pat them down.
"I think very carefully about my options."

"Get the money." She was directing the two remaining _Mino-gumi kobun
_toward the table.

"Gonna just rob the bank now, Comrade?" Vance turned and looked at her,
then at the three bodies strewn on the floor. The _kobun _seemed to
consider their late colleagues merely casualties of war. The dead men
received almost no notice. "Pretty costly little enterprise, wouldn't
you say. Not a very propitious start for your new era of world
serenity."

"You would be advised to shut up," she responded sharply.

"I feel personally violated by all this." Nogami had turned to her and
his voice was like steel. "As of this moment, you can put out of your
mind any illusion I might cooperate further. This outrage is beyond
acceptability."

"We did what had to be done," Vera said. "We still expect your
cooperation and I do not think we will be disappointed."

"Then your expectation is sadly misplaced," he replied icily. His eyes
signified he meant every word.

"We will see." She dismissed him as she turned her attention to the
money. The two _kobun_ had carefully removed their shiny black leather
jackets now and laid them on the table. Underneath they wore tightly
tailored white shirts, complete with underarm holsters containing 9mm
Llamas. The automatics were back in their briefcases, positioned by the
door. Stripped down for action, they were quickly and professionally
tallying the certificates, one handling the open cashiers checks and
the other the bearer bonds.

Guess they intend to keep a close eye on the details, Vance thought.

Well, screw them. We've still got the protocol. We've got some leverage
left.

But he was having trouble focusing on the future. He was still in shock
from the sight of Novosty being gunned down in cold blood. Alex's
abrupt death was a tragic end to an exceptional, if sometimes dubious,
career. He'd really wanted Novosty to make this one last score. The man
deserved it. He was an operator who lived at the edge, and Vance had
always admired players who put everything on the table, no matter which
side.

Well, he told himself, the scenario had come close, damned close. But
maybe it was doomed from the start. You only get so many chances to
tempt the fates. Today everybody's number came up, Alex's for the last
time.

Rest in peace, Aleksei Ilyich.

Then Vera turned back to them. "Now, I want the computer. We know it
was moved to the house in Kensington, but our search this morning did
not locate it."

So they were on to us from the start, Vance realized.

"Looks like you've got a problem." He strolled over and plopped down in
one of the straight-backed chairs along the opposite wall. "Too bad."

"No, you have a problem." She examined him confidently. "Because if
those materials are not returned to us, we will be forced to take
actions you may find harsh."

"Give it your best shot," he went on, glancing at Eva and hoping they
could keep up the bravado, "because we've got a few cards in our hand
too. Forget the money--that's history now--but we could still be in a
position to blow your whole project sky high."

"You two are the only ones outside our organization who know about the
protocol. That knowledge will not be allowed to go any farther."

"Don't be so sure. For all you know, we've already stashed a copy
somewhere. Left word that if anything happens to either one of us, the
package gets sent to the papers. Made public. Think what some premature
headlines would do for your little project."

"We have thought about it, Mr. Vance. That contingency has been
covered."

"Well, if I don't know what the other player's got, I tend to trust my
own cards."

But why play at all? he suddenly found himself musing. Fold this hand
and go for the next move.

Before leaving Crete he'd transmitted a copy of the protocol, still in
its encrypted form, to his office computer in Nassau. At the time it'd
merely seemed like prudence; now it might turn out to be a lifeline.
One phone call and it could be transmitted back here this very
afternoon. The magic of satellites in space. Knock out another quick
translation and they'd only have lost one day. What the hell. Use that
as a fallback position. Time, that's all it would take, just a little
more time.

"But what does it matter? The game's up anyway." He nodded toward Vera,
then turned to Eva, sending her a pointed signal.

"What was it Shakespeare said about discretion and valor," she
concurred, understanding exactly what he was thinking.

"The man knew when to fish and when to cut bait."

"True enough. Shall you tell them or shall I?"

"You can do the honors."

She walked over and picked up her briefcase. "You didn't really think
we'd leave it, did you, Comrade? So just take it and good riddance. A
little gift from the NSA. Who says America's getting stingy with its
foreign aid?"

Comrade Karanova motioned for the two _kobun _to take the case. "See if
it's there."

As they moved to comply, Vance found himself wondering if this really
was going to turn off the heat. Somehow it no longer seemed adequate.

"_Hai so_," he grunted through his teeth as he lifted it, "something is
here." Vance noticed that two digits of the little finger on his left
hand were missing, along with another digit on his ring finger. Good
thing Ken was never a street man, he thought fleetingly. Guess bankers
get to pay for their mistakes with something besides sections of fin-
ger.

"Then take it out," Vera commanded. "We are running out of time."

You've got that right, lady, Vance thought. Three men were just killed.
That personal Boeing of Tanzan Mino's better be warming up its Pratt &
Whitney's right now. London's about to get too hot for you.

One of the _kobun  _withdrew the Zenith. He placed it on the mahogany
table, then unlatched the top and lifted it up, only to stare at the
blank gray screen, unsure what he was supposed to do next.

Vera knew. She reached for the switch on the side and clicked it on,
then stood back and turned to Eva.

"Call up the file. I want to see if you have really broken the
encryption, the way you said."

"Truth time," she laughed, then punched up the translation.

_Project Daedalus_.

And there it was.

Comrade Karanova studied it a moment, as though not quite believing her
eyes. But she plainly had seen it before. "Congratulations. We were
sure no one would be able to break the encryption, not even you." She
glanced around. "You are very clever."

"Okay," Vance interjected, "I'm sure we all have better things to do
this morning. So why don't you take the damned thing and get out of
here. It's what you wanted. Just go and we'll all try and forget any of
this ever happened."

She flipped down the computer's screen, then turned back.
"Unfortunately nothing is ever that simple. I'm sorry to have to tell
you two that we haven't seen the last of each other." She paused, then
continued. "In fact, we are about to become much better acquainted."

"What do you mean?"

"You once told me, back when we met on the plane from Athens, you would
welcome that. You should be happy that your wish is now about to be
granted. You both are going to be our guests."

"That's kind of you." He stared at her, startled. "But we can probably
bear up to the separation."

"No, I must insist. You were right about the difficulties. Your death
now would be awkward, for a number of reasons. Alex will be trouble
enough to explain, but that is purely an internal Soviet matter. Moscow
Narodny can cover it. However, eliminating you two would raise awkward
inquiries. On the other hand, you represent a security risk to the
project. Consequently we have no option. Surely you understand."

He understood all too well. This was the one turn he hadn't figured on.

Almost eight years. It had been that long ago. But what had Ken said?
The Tokyo _oyabun _never forgot. What this really meant was that Tanzan
Mino wanted to settle the score first hand. What did he have planned?

Vance had a sudden feeling he didn't want to know. It was going to be a
zero-sum game. Everything on the table and winner take all.

The Uzi. The goddam Uzi. Why hadn't they brought it?

It was still back in Kensington, where they'd stashed it in the false
bottom of a new suitcase. But if the _Mino-gumi_ had been searching
only for a computer, maybe they'd missed it. So Tanzan Mino's hoods
could still be in for a surprise. Just make an excuse to go back.

Vera was aware an Uzi had been part of their deal for the limo, but
maybe that fact had momentarily slipped her mind, what with all the
important things she had to think about. Or maybe she'd assumed Alex
had kept it, or maybe she thought it was still in the car. Whatever she
thought, things were moving too fast now.

"I get the picture," he said, rising from his chair. With a

carefully feigned nonchalance, he strolled over to the table. "Guess
it's time we got our toothbrushes."

"You won't have to bother, Mr. Vance," Vera continued. "Your suitcases
were sent to the plane an hour ago. We found them conveniently packed.
Don't worry. Everything has already been taken care of."

Okay, scratch the Uzi. Looks like it's now or never. Settle it here.

He shot a glance at Eva, then at Ken, trying to signal them. They
caught it, and they knew. She began strolling in the direction of Vera,
who was now standing in the doorway, as though readying to depart.

"We appreciate the snappy service," Vance said. He looked down at the
computer, then bent over. When he came up, it was in his right hand,
sailing in an arc. He brought it around with all his might, aimed for
the nearest Japanese _kobun_. He was on target, catching the man
squarely in the stomach.

With a startled, disbelieving look the Japanese stumbled backward,
crashing over a large chair positioned next to the table. The other
_kobun_ instantly reached for his holstered Llama, but by then Kenji
Nogami had moved, seizing him and momentarily pinning his arms with a
powerful embrace.

For her own part, Eva had lunged for Vera and her purse, to neutralize
the Walther she carried. Comrade Karanova, however, had already
anticipated everything. She whisked back the purse, then plunged her
hand in. What she withdrew, though, was not a pistol but a shiny
cylindrical object made of glass.

It was three against three, a snapshot of desperation.

We've got a chance, Vance thought. Keep him down. And get the Llama.

As the _kobun_ tried to rise, gasping, Vance threw himself over the
upturned chair, reaching to pin the man's arms. With a bear-like
embrace he had him, the body small and muscular in his arms. Out of the
corner of his eye he saw Kenji Nogami still grappling with the other
_kobun_. The computer now lay on the floor, open and askew.

Where's Eva? He tried to turn and look for her, but there was no sound
to guide him. Then the _kobun_ wrenched free one arm and brought a fist
against the side of his face, diverting him back to matters at hand.

Hold him down. Just get the gun.

He tried to crush his larger frame against the other's slim body,
forcing the air out of him. Focus.

But the wiry man was stronger than he looked. With a twist he rolled
over and pinned Vance's shoulders against the carpet. Vance felt the
shag, soft against his skin, and couldn't believe how chilly it felt.
But now he had his hand on the _kobun's_ throat, holding him in a
powerful grip while jamming a free elbow against the holster.

Cut off his oxygen. Don't let him breathe.

The old moves were coming back, the shortcuts that would bring a more
powerful opponent to submission. He pressed a thumb against the man's
windpipe, shutting off his air. A look of surprise went through the
_kobun's_ eyes as he choked, letting his hold on Vance's shoulders
slacken.

Now.

He shoved the man's arm aside and reached for the holster. Then his
hand closed around the hard grip of the Llama. The Japanese was weaker
now, but still forcing his arm away from the gun, preventing him from
getting the grip he needed.

He rammed an elbow against the man's chin, then tightened his finger on
the grip of the Llama. He almost had it.

With his other hand he shoved the _kobun_'s face away, clawing at his
eyes, and again they rolled over, with the Japanese once more against
the carpet. But now he had the gun and he was turning.

He felt a sharp jab in his back, a flash of pain that seemed to come
from nowhere. It was both intense and numbing, as though his spine had
been caught in a vise. Then he felt his heart constrict, his
orientation spin. He rolled to the side, flailing an arm to try and
recover his balance, but the room was in rotation, his vision playing
tricks.

The one thing he did see was Vera Karanova standing over him, a blurred
image his mind tried vainly to correct. Her face was faltering, the
indistinct outlines of a desert mirage. Was she real or was he merely
dreaming?

. . . Now the room was growing serene, a slow-motion phantasmagoria of
pastel colors and soft, muted sounds. He tried to reach out, but there
was nothing. Instead he heard faint music, dulcet beckoning tones. The
world had entered another dimension, a seamless void. He wanted to be
part of its emptiness, to swathe himself in the cascade of oblivion
lifting him up. A perfect repose was drifting through him, a wave of
darkness. He heard his own breathing as he was buoyed into a blood-red
mist. He was floating, on a journey he had long waited to take, to a
place far, far away. . . .



BOOK THREE



CHAPTER SEVENTEEN



Thursday 2:28 P.M.



"The hypersonic test flight must proceed as scheduled," Tanzan Mino
said quietly. "Now that all the financial arrangements have been
completed, the Coordinating Committee of the LDP has agreed to bring
the treaty before the Diet next week. A delay is unthinkable."

"The problem is not technical, Mino-sama," Taro Ikeda, the project
director, continued, his tone ripe with deference. "It is the Soviet
pilot. Perhaps he should be replaced." He looked down, searching for
the right words. "I'm concerned. I think he has discovered the stealth
capabilities of the vehicle. Probably accidentally, but all the same,
I'm convinced he is now aware of them. Two nights ago he engaged in
certain unauthorized maneuvers I believe were intended to verify those
capabilities."

"_So deshoo_." Tanzan Mino's eyes narrowed. "But he has said nothing?"

"No. Not a word. At least to me."

"Then perhaps he was merely behaving erratically. It would not be the
first time."

"The maneuvers. They were too explicit," Ikeda continued. "As I said,
two nights ago, on the last test fight, he switched off the
transponder, then performed a snap roll and took the vehicle into a
power dive, all the way to the deck. It was intended to be a radar-
evasive action." The project director allowed himself a faint, ironic
smile. "At least we now know that the technology works. The vehicle's
radar signature immediately disappeared off the tracking monitors at
Katsura."

"It met the specifications?"

Ikeda nodded. "Yesterday I ordered a computer analysis of the data
tapes. The preliminary report suggests it may even have exceeded them."

Tanzan Mino listened in silence. He was sitting at his desk in the
command sector wing of the North Quadrant at the Hokkaido facility.
Although the sector was underground, like the rest of the facility,
behind his desk was a twenty-foot-long "window" with periscope double
mirrors that showed the churning breakers of La Perouse Strait.

His jet had touched down on the facility's runway at 6:48 A.M. and been
promptly towed into the hangar. Tanzan Mino intended to be in personal
command when _Daedalus I_ went hypersonic, in just nineteen hours. The
video monitors in his office were hard-wired directly to the main
console in Flight Control, replicating its data displays, and all
decisions passed across his desk.

"Leave the pilot to me," he said without emotion, revolving to gaze out
the wide window, which displayed the mid-afternoon sun catching the
crests of whitecaps far at sea. "What he knows or doesn't know will not
disrupt the schedule."

Once again, he thought, I've got to handle a problem personally. Why?
Because nobody else here has the determination to make the scenario
succeed. First the protocol, and then the money. I had to intervene to
resolve both.

But, he reflected with a smile, it turned out that handling those
difficulties personally had produced an unexpected dividend.

"As you say, _Mino-sama_," Ikeda bowed. "I merely wanted to make you
aware of my concern about the pilot. He should be monitored more
closely from now on."

"Which is precisely what I intend to do." Tanzan Mino's silver hair
seemed to blend with the sea beyond. "There is an obvious solution.
When he takes the vehicle hypersonic, he will not be alone."

"What are you suggesting? No one else--"

"Merely a simple security precaution. If he is not reliable, then steps
must be taken. Two of our people will be in the cockpit with him."

"You mean the scientists from Tsukuba? The cockpit was designed to
accommodate a three-man crew, but MITI hasn't yet designated the two
researchers."

"No. I mean my personal pilot and copilot. From the Boeing. Then if
Androv deviates from the prescribed test program in any way, they will
be there, ready to take immediate action. The problem is solved." He
revolved back from the window. "That will be all."

Ikeda bowed, then turned and hurriedly made his way toward the door. He
didn't like last-minute improvisations, but the CEO was now fully in
command. Preparations for two additional life-support systems would
have to be started immediately.

After Tanzan Mino watched him depart, he reached down and activated a
line of personal video monitors beside his desk.



Thursday 2:34 P.M.



Vance recognized the sound immediately. It was the harp-like plucking
of a Japanese _koto_, punctuated by the tinkling of a wind chime.
Without opening his eyes, he reached out and touched a hard, textured
surface. It was, he realized, a straw mat, and from the firmness of the
weave he knew it was _tatami_. Then he felt the soft cotton of the
padded mat beneath him and guessed he was lying on a futon. The air in
the room was faintly spiced with Mahayana Buddhist temple incense.

I'm in Japan, he told himself. Or somebody wants me to think I am.

He opened his eyes and found himself looking at a rice-paper lamp on
the floor next to his futon. Directly behind it, on the left, was a
_tokonoma _art alcove, built next to a set of sliding doors. A small,
round _shoji_ window in the _tokonoma  _shed a mysterious glow on its
hanging scroll, the painting an ink sketch of a Zen monk fording a
shallow stream.

Then he noticed an insignia that had been painted on the sliding doors
with a giant brush. He struggled to focus, and finally grasped that it
was the Minoan double ax, logo of the Daedalus Corporation.

Jesus!

He lay a minute, nursing the ache in his head and trying to remember
what had happened. All he could recall was London, money, Eva . . .

Eva. Where was she?

He popped erect and surveyed the room. It was traditional Jap anese,
the standard four-and-a-half tatami in size, bare and Spartan. A
classic.

But the music. It seemed to be coming through the walls.

The walls. They all looked to be rice paper. He clambered up and headed
for the fusuma with the double-ax logo. He tested it and realized that
the paper was actually painted steel. And it was locked. The room was
secure as a vault.

But across, opposite the _tokonoma_, was another set of sliding doors.
As he turned to walk over, he noticed he was wearing _tabi_, light
cotton stockings split at the toe, and he was clad in a blue-patterned
_yukata_  robe, cinched at the waist. He'd been stripped and re-
dressed.

This door was real, and he shoved it open. A suite of rooms lay beyond,
and there on a second futon, still in a drugged sleep, lay Eva. He
moved across, bent down, and shook her. She jerked away, her dreaming
disrupted, and turned over, but she didn't come out of it.

"Wake up." He shook her again. "The party just got moved. Wait'll you
get a load of the decor."

"What . . ." She rolled back and cracked open her bloodshot eyes. Then
she rose on one elbow and gazed around the room. It was appointed
identically to his, with only the hanging scroll in the _tokonoma_
different, hers being an angular, three-level landscape. "My God."

"Welcome to the wonderful world of Tanzan Mino. I don't know where the
hell we are, but it's definitely not Kansas, or London."

"My head feels like I was at ground zero when the bomb hit. My whole
body aches." She groaned and plopped back down on the futon. "What time
do you think it is?"

"Haven't a clue. How about starting with what day?" He felt for his
watch and realized it was gone. "What does it matter anyway? Nobody has
clocks in never-never land."

Satisfied she was okay, he stood up and surveyed the room. Then he saw
what he'd expected. There in the center of the ceiling, integrated into
the pattern of light-colored woods, was the glass eye of a video
camera.

And the music. Still the faint music.

He walked on down to the far end of her room and shoved aside another
set of sliding doors, also painted with the double-ax insignia. He
found himself looking at a third large space, this one paneled in raw
cypress. It was vast, and in the center was a cedar hot tub, sunk into
the floor. The water was fresh and steaming, and two tiny stools and
rinsing pails were located conveniently nearby on the redwood decking.
It was a traditional _o-furo_, one of the finest he'd ever seen.

"You're not going to believe this." He turned back and waved her
forward. In the soft rice-paper glow of the lamp she looked rakishly
disheveled. Japanese architecture always made him think of lovemaking.
"Our host probably figured we'd want to freshen up for the festivities.
Check it out."

"What?" She was shakily rising, pulling her yukata around her.

"All the comforts of home. Too bad they forgot the geisha."

She came over and stood beside him. "I don't believe this."

"Want to see if it's real, or just a mirage?"

She hesitantly stepped onto the decking, then walked out and bent down
to test the water. "Feels wet." She glanced back. "So what the heck. I
could use it."

"I'm ready." He kicked off his tabi and walked on out.

She pulled off his _yukata_, then picked up one of the pails and began
filling it from a spigot on the wall. "Okay, exalted male," she
laughed, "I'm going to scrub you. That's how they do it, right?" She
stood up and reached for a sponge and soap.

"They know how to live. Here, let me." He picked up a second sponge and
began scrubbing her back in turn. "How does it feel?"

"Maybe this is heaven."

"Hope we didn't have to die to get here. But hang on. I've got a
feeling the fun is just beginning."

He splashed her off with one of the pails, then watched as she gingerly
climbed down into the wooden tub.

"Michael, where do you think we are?" She sighed as the steam enveloped
her. "This has got to be Japan, but where?"

"Got a funny feeling I know." He was settling into the water beside
her. "But if I told you, you'd probably think I'm hallucinating." Above
the tub, he suddenly noticed yet another video camera.

As they lay soaking, the _koto _music around them abruptly stopped, its
poignant twangs disappearing with an electronic click.

"Are you finding the accommodations adequate?"

The voice was coming from a speaker carefully integrated into the raw
cypress ceiling.

"All things considered, we'd sooner be in Philadelphia." Vance looked
up.

"I'm sorry to hear that," the voice continued. "No expense has been
spared. My own personal quarters have been placed at your disposal."

"Mind telling me who's watching me bathe?" Eva splashed a handful of
water at the lens.

"You have no secrets from me, Dr. Borodin. However, in the interest of
propriety I have switched off the monitor for the bath. I'm afraid my
people were somewhat overly zealous, installing one there in the first
place." The voice chuckled. "But I should think you'd know. I am CEO of
the Daedalus Corporation, an organization not unfamiliar to you."

"All right," she said, "so where are we?"

"Why, you are in the corporation's Hokkaido facility. As my guests.
Since you two have taken such an interest in this project, I thought it
only fitting you should have an opportunity to see it first hand."

"Mind giving us a preview of the upcoming agenda?" Vance leaned back.
"We need to plan our day."

"Quite simply, I thought it was time you and I got reacquainted, Dr.
Vance. It's been a long time."

"Eight years."

"Yes. Eight years . . ." There was a pause. "If you would excuse me a
moment, I must take a call."

The speaker clicked off.

"Michael, I've got a very bad feeling about all this." She was rising
from the bath, her back to the camera. "What do you think he's going to
do?"

He's going to kill us, Vance realized. After he's played with us a
while. It's really quite simple.

"I don't know," he lied.

Then the speaker clicked on again. "Please forgive me. There are so
many demands on my time. However, I was hoping you, Dr. Vance, would
consent to join me this afternoon for tea. We have some urgent matters
to discuss."

"I'll see if I can work it into my schedule."

"Given the hectic goings-on here at the moment, perhaps a quiet moment
would be useful for us both." He paused again, speaking to someone
else, then his voice came back. "Shall we say four o'clock."

"What time is it now?"

"Please forgive me. I forgot. Your world is not regimented by time,
whereas mine regrettably is measured down to seconds. It is now almost
three in the afternoon. I shall expect you in one hour. Your clothes
are in the closet in your room. Now, if you will allow me. Affairs . .
."

And the voice was gone.

"Michael, are you really going to talk with that criminal?"

"Wouldn't miss it for the world. There's a game going on here, and we
have to stay in. Everybody's got a score to settle. We're about to see
who settles up first."



Thursday 3:29 P.M.



"Zero minus eighteen hours." Yuri Andreevich Androv stared at the green
screen, its numbers scrolling the computerized countdown. "Eighteen
fucking hours."

As he wheeled around, gazing over the beehive of activity in Flight
Control, he could already feel the adrenaline beginning to build.
Everything depended on him now. The vehicle was as ready as it was
going to be: all the wind tunnel tests, all the computer simulations,
even the supersonic test flights--everything said go. _Daedalus I_ was
going to make history tomorrow morning.

Except, he told himself, it's going to be a very different history from
the one everybody expects.

"Major Yuri Andreevich Androv, please report to Hangar Quadrant
immediately."

The stridency of the facility's paging system always annoyed him. He
glanced at the long line of computer screens one last time, then
shrugged and checked his watch. Who wanted him?

Well, a new planeload of Soviet VIPs reportedly had flown in yesterday,
though he hadn't seen any of them yet. He figured now that everything
looked ready, the _nomenklatura _were flooding in to bask in triumph.
Maybe after a day of vodka drinking and back slapping with the
officials in Project Management, they'd sobered up and realized they
were expected to file reports. So they were finally getting around to
talking to the people who were doing the actual work. They'd summon in
a few staffers who had hands-on knowledge of the project and commission
a draft report, which they'd then file, unread, under their own names.
Typical.

He reached for his leather flight jacket, deciding on a brisk walk to
work off the tension. The long corridor leading from the East Quadrant
to the Hangar Quadrant took him directly past Checkpoint Central and
the entry to West Quadrant, the Soviet sector, which also contained the
flight simulator and the main wind tunnel, or Number One, both now
quiet.

As he walked, he thought again about the new rumor he'd heard in the
commissary at lunch. Gossip kept the Soviet staff going--an instinct
from the old days--but this one just might be true. Some lower-level
staffers even claimed they'd seen him. The Chief.

Word was Tanzan Mino himself--none other than the CEO of the Daedalus
Corporation--had flown in this morning, together with his personal
bodyguards and aides. The story was he wanted hands-on control of the
first hypersonic test flight, wanted to be calling the shots in Flight
Control when _Daedalus I _made history.

Finally. The Big Man has decided to show his face.

"Yuri Andreevich, just a minute. Slow down."

He recognized the voice immediately and glanced around to see Nikolai
Vasilevich Grishkov, the portly Soviet chief mechanic, just emerging
from the West Quadrant. His bushy eyebrows hung like a pair of Siberian
musk-ox horns above his gleaming dark eyes.

"Have you seen her?" Grishkov was shuffling toward him.

"Seen who?" He examined the mechanic's spotless white coveralls. Jesus!
Even the support crews on this project were all sanitized, high-tech.

"The new woman. _Kracevia, moi droog. Ochen kracevia_. Beautiful beyond
words. And she is important. You can tell just by looking."

"Nikolai, there's never been a woman in this facility." He laughed and
continued on toward Security. "It's worse than a goddam troop ship.
You've finally started hallucinating from lack of _pezdyonka_."

"Yuri Andreevich, she's here and she's Soviet." The chief mechanic
followed him. "Some believe she arrived this morning with the CEO, but
nobody knows who she is. One rumor is she's Vera Karanova."

"Who?" The name was vaguely familiar.

"T-Directorate. Like I said, no one knows for sure, but that's what
we've heard."

"Impossible." He halted and turned back, frowning.

"That's just it, Yuri Andreevich," he sighed. "Those KGB bastards are
not supposed to even know about this project.

That was everybody's strict understanding. We were to be free of them
here. But now . . ." He caught the sleeve of Androv's flight jacket and
pulled him aside, out of the flow of pedestrian traffic in the hallway.
"My men were wondering. Maybe you could find a way to check her out?
You have better access. Everybody wants to know what's going on."

"KGB? It doesn't make any sense."

"If she's really . . . I just talked to the project kurirovat, Ivan
Semenovich, and he told me Karanova's now number three in T-
Directorate."

"Well, there's nothing we can do now, so the hell with her." He waved
his hand and tried to move on. "We've both got better things to worry
about."

"Just keep your antenna tuned, my friend, that's all. Let me know if
you can find out anything. Is she really Karanova? Because if she is,
we damned well need to know the inside story."

"Nikolai, if I see her, I'll be sure and ask." He winked. "And if she's
the hot number you say, maybe I'll find time to warm her up a little.
Get her to drop her . . . guard."

"If you succeed in that, _moi droog_," he said as his heavy eyebrows
lifted with a sly grin, "you'll be the envy of the facility. You've got
to see her."

"I can't wait." He shrugged and moved on toward the Hangar Security
station, at the end of the long corridor. When he flashed his A-level
priority ID for the two Japanese guards, he noticed they nervously made
a show of scrutinizing it, even though they both knew him perfectly
well, before saluting and authorizing entry.

That nails it, he told himself. Out of nowhere we suddenly have all
this rule-book crap. These guys are nervous as hell. No doubt about it,
the big _nachalnik_ is on the scene.

Great. Let all those assholes on the Soviet staff see the expression on
his face when the truth comes out. That's the real history we're about
to make here.

As he walked into the glare of neon, the cavernous space had never
seemed more vast, more imposing. He'd seen a lot of hangars, flown a
lot of experimental planes over the years, but nothing to match this.
Still, he always reminded himself, Daedalus was only hardware, just
more fancy iron. What really counted was the balls of the pilot holding
the flight stick.

That's when he saw them, clustered around the vehicle and gazing up. He
immediately recognized Colonel-General of Aviation Anatoly Savitsky,
whose humorless face appeared almost weekly in Soviet Military Review;
Major- General Igor Mikhailov, whose picture routinely graced the pages
of Air Defense Herald; and also Colonel-General Pavel Ogarkov, a
marshal of the Soviet air force before that rank was abolished by the
general secretary.

What are those Air Force neanderthals doing here? They're all notorious
hardliners, the "bomb first, ask questions later" boys. And _Daedalus_
is supposed to be for space research, right? Guess the bullshit is
about to be over. We're finally getting down to the real scenario.

And there in the middle, clearly the man in charge, was a tall, silver-
haired Japanese in a charcoal silk suit. He was showing off the
vehicles as though he owned them, and he carried himself with an
authority that made all the hovering Soviet generals look like bellboys
waiting for a tip.

Well, Yuri Andreevich thought, for the time being he does own them.
They're bought and paid for, just like us.

"_Tovarisch_, Major Androv, _kak pazhavatye_," came a voice behind him.
He turned and realized it belonged to General Valentin Sokolov,
commander of the MiG 31 wing at the Dolinsk air base on Sakhalin.
Sokolov was three star, top man in all the Soviet Far East. Flanking
him were half a dozen colonels and lieutenant colonels.

"Comrade General Sokolov." He whipped off a quick salute. Brass. Brass
everywhere. Shit. What in hell was this all about?

Now the project director, Taro Ikeda, had broken away from the Soviet
group and was approaching. "Yuri Andreevich, thank you for coming." He
bowed deferentially. "You are about to receive a great honor. The CEO
has asked for a private conference with you."

Yuri stared over Ikeda's shoulder at the Man-in-Charge. All this right-
wing brass standing around kissing his ass counted for nothing. He was
the one calling the shots. Who was everybody kidding?

Now the CEO looked his way, sizing him up with a quick glance. Yuri
Androv assessed him in turn. It was one look, but they both knew there
was trouble ahead.

Then Tanzan Mino patted a colonel-general on the shoulder and headed
over. "Yuri Andreevich Androv, I presume," he said in flawless Russian,
bowing lightly. "A genuine pleasure to meet you at last. There's a most
urgent matter we have to discuss."



Thursday 4:00 P.M.



At the precise hour, the _tokonoma _alcove off Vance's bedroom rotated
ninety degrees, as though moved by an unseen hand, and what awaited
beyond was a traditional Japanese sand-and-stone garden. It was, of
course, lit artificially, but the clusters of green shrubs seemed to be
thriving on the fluorescents. Through the garden's grassy center was a
curving pathway of flat stepping stones placed artfully in irregular
curves, and situated on either side of the walkway were towering rocks
nestled in glistening sand that had been raked to represent ocean
waves. The rocks were reminiscent of the soaring mountains in Chinese
Sung landscape paintings.

Vance's attention, however, was riveted on what awaited at the end of
the stony walkway. It was a traditional teahouse, set in a grove of
flowering azaleas. And standing in the doorway was a silver-haired
figure dressed in a formal black kimono. He was beckoning.

"Did I neglect to tell you I prefer Japanese _cha-no-yu _to the usual
British afternoon tea?" Tanzan Mino announced. "It is a ritual designed
to renew the spirit, to cleanse the mind. It goes back hundreds of
years. I always enjoy it in the afternoon, and I find it has
marvelously restorative powers. This seemed the ideal occasion for us
to meet and chat."

"Don't want to slight tradition." Vance slipped on the pair of wooden
clogs that awaited at the bottom of the path.

"My feelings entirely," the CEO continued, smiling as he watched him
approach. "You understand the Japanese way, Dr. Vance, which is one
reason we have so much to discuss."

He bowed a greeting as Vance deposited his clogs on the stepping stone
by the teahouse door. Together they stooped to enter.

A light murmur of boiling water came from a brazier set into the
_tatami_-matted floor, but otherwise the room was caught in an ethereal
silence. The decor was more modern than most teahouses, with fresh
cedar and pine for the ceiling and walls rather than the customary
reed, bark, and bamboo.

Tanzan Mino gestured for him to sit opposite as he immediately began
the formalities of ritually cleaning the bamboo scoop, then elevating
the rugged white tea bowl like an ancient chalance and ceremonially
wiping it. All the while his eyes were emotionless, betraying no hint
of what was in his mind.

After the utensils were ceremonially cleansed, he wordlessly scooped a
portion of pale-green powdered tea into the bowl, then lifted a
dipperful of boiling water from the kettle and poured it in. Finally he
picked up a bamboo whisk and began to whip the mixture, continuing
until it had acquired the consistency of green foam.

Authority, control, and--above all--discipline. Those things, Vance knew,
were what this was really about. As was traditional and proper, not a
word was spoken. This was the Zen equivalent of High Mass, and Tanzan
Mino was silently letting him know he was a true master--of himself, of
his world.

Then the _oyabun _reached over and formally presented the bowl, placing
it on the _tatami  _in front of his guest.

Vance lifted it up, rotated it a half turn in his hand, and took a
reserved sip. As the bitter beverage assaulted his mouth, he found
himself thinking this was probably intended to be his Last Supper. He
hoped he remembered enough to get the moves right.

He sipped one more time, then wiped the rim, formally repositioned the
bowl on the _tatami_, and leaned back.

"Perfectly done," Tanzan Mino smiled as he broke the silence. "I'm
impressed." He nodded toward the white bowl. "Incidentally, you were
just handling one of the finest pieces in all Japan."

"Shino ware. Mino region, late sixteenth century. Remarkably fine
glaze, considering those kilns had just started firing _chawan_."

"You have a learned eye, Dr. Vance." He smiled again, glancing down to
admire the rough, cracked surface of the rim. "The experts disagree on
the age, some saying very early seventeenth century, but I think your
assessment is correct. In any case, just handling it always soothes my
spirit. The discipline of the samurai is in a _chawan_ like this. And
in the _cha-no-yu_ ceremony itself. It's a test I frequently give my
Western friends. To see if they can grasp its spirituality. I'm pleased
to say that you handled the bowl exactly as you should have. You
understand that Japanese culture is about shaping the randomness of
human actions to a refined perfection. That's what we really should be
discussing here this afternoon, not the world of affairs, but I'm
afraid time is short. I often think of life in terms of a famous Haiku
by the poet Shiki:



_Hira-hira to

Kaze ni nigarete

Cho hitotsu.

_

"Sounds more like your new airplane," Vance observed, then translated:



A mortal butterfly

Fluttering and drifting

In the wind.



"A passable enough rendering, if I may say, though I don't necessarily
accept your analogy." He reached down and lifted a bottle of warmed
sake from beside the brazier. "By the way, I know you prefer tequila,
one of your odd quirks, but there was no time to acquire any. Perhaps
this will suffice."

He set down two black _raku_ saucers and began to pour. "Now, alas, we
must proceed."

Post time, Vance thought.

"Dr. Michael Vance." He lifted his saucer in a toast. "A scholar of the
lost Aegean civilizations, a former operative of the Central
Intelligence Agency, and finally a private consultant affiliated with a
group of mercenaries. I had your file updated when I first heard you
were involved. I see you have not been entirely idle since our last
encounter."

"You haven't done too bad yourself." Vance toasted him back. "This new
project is a big step up from the old days. Has a lot of style."

"It does indeed," he nodded. "I'm quite proud of our achievement here."

"You always thought big." Vance sipped again at his sake, warm and
soothing.

"It's kind of you to have remembered." Mino drank once more, then
settled his saucer on the _tatami _and looked up. "Of course, any
questions you have, I would be--"

"Okay, how's this. What do you expect to get out of me?"

He laughed. "Why nothing at all. Our reunion here is merely intended to
serve as a tutorial. To remind you and others how upsetting I find
intrusions into my affairs."

"Then how about starting off this 'tutorial' with a look at your new
plane?" Vance glanced around. "Guess I should call it _Daedalus_."

"_Daedalus I _and_ II. _There actually are two prototypes, although
only one is currently certified to operate in the hypersonic regime.
Yes, I expected the _Daedalus_ would intrigue you. You are a man of
insatiable intellectual appetite."

"I'm not sure that's necessarily a compliment."

"It wasn't necessarily meant to be. Sometimes curiosity needs to be
curbed. But if we can agree on certain matters, I shall enjoy providing
you a personal tour, to satisfy that curiosity. You are a man who can
well appreciate both my technological achievement and my strategic
coup."

The old boy's finally gone off the deep end, Vance told himself.
Megalomania. "Incidentally, by 'strategic coup' I suppose you're
referring to the fact you've got them exactly where you want them. The
Soviets."

"What do you mean?" His eyes hardened slightly.

"You know what I mean. They probably don't realize it yet, but you're
going to end up with the Soviet Far East in your wallet. For the price
of a hot airplane, you get to plunder the region. They're even going to
be thanking you while you reclaim Sakhalin for Japan. This _Daedalus_
spaceship is going to cost them the ranch. Have to admit it's
brilliant. Along with financing the whole scheme by swindling Benelux
tax dodgers."

"You are too imaginative for your own good, Dr. Vance," he said, a thin
smile returning. "Nobody is going to believe your interpretation of the
protocol."

"You've got a point. Nobody appreciates the true brilliance of a
criminal mind. Or maybe they just haven't known you as long as I have."

"Really, I'd hoped we would not descend to trading insults." He reached
to refill Vance's sake saucer. "It's demeaning. Instead I'd hoped we
could proceed constructively."

"Why not."

"Well then, perhaps you'll forgive me if I'm somewhat blunt. I'm afraid
my time is going to be limited over the next few hours. I may as well
tell you now that we are about to have the first hypersonic test of the
_Daedalus_. Tomorrow morning we will take her to Mach 25. Seventeen
thousand miles per hour. A speed almost ten times greater than any air-
breathing vehicle has ever before achieved."

"The sky's the limit," he whistled quietly. Alex hadn't known the half
of it. This was the ultimate plane.

"Impressive, I think you'll agree." Mino smiled and poured more sake
for himself.

"Congratulations."

"Thank you."

"That ought to grease the way in the Diet for your deal. And the
protocol's financial grab ought to sail through the Supreme Soviet. You
prove this marvel can work and the rest is merely laundering your
profits."

"So I would like to think," he nodded. "Of course, one never knows how
these things will eventually turn out."

"So when do I get a look at it?"

"Why, that all depends on certain agreements we need to make."

"Then I guess it's time I heard the bottom line."

"Most assuredly." He leaned back. "Dr. Vance, you have just caused me
considerable hardship. Nor is this the first occasion you have done so.
Yet, I have not achieved what I have to date without becoming something
of a judge of men. The financial arrangements you put together in
London demonstrated, I thought, remarkable ingenuity. There could be a
place for you in my organization, despite all that has happened between
us."

"I don't work for the mob, if that's what you're hoping."

"Don't be foolhardy. Those days are well behind me," he went on calmly,
despite the flicker of anger in his eyes. "The completion of this
project will require financial and strategic skills well beyond those
possessed by the people who have worked for me in the past."

"All those petty criminals and hoods, you mean."

"I will choose to ignore that," he continued. "Whatever you may wish to
call them, they are not proving entirely adequate to the task at hand.
You bested my European people repeatedly and brought me a decided
humiliation."

Speaking of which, Vance found himself suddenly wondering, a thought
out of the blue, what's happened to Vera? She's been European point
woman for this whole scam. Where's she now?

Mino continued. "Therefore I must now either take you into my
organization or . . ." He paused. "It's that simple. Which, I wonder,
will it be?"

Vance studied him. "A lot depends on what happens to Eva."

"The fate of Dr. Borodin depends largely on your decision. So perhaps I
should give you some time to think it over." He leaned back. "Or
perhaps some inducement."

Vance didn't know what he meant. At first. Then he turned and looked
behind him. There waiting on the stony walkway of the garden were three
of Tanzan Mino's personal _kobun_, two of whom he recognized from
London. The CEO's instructions to them were in rapid-fire Japanese, but
he needed no translation as they moved forward.



Thursday 5:18 P.M.



Yuri Andreevich was mad as hell. After his one-on-one with Tanzan Mino,
he knew he'd been screwed. Sticking a couple of "pilots" from Mino
Industries in the cockpit. It was just the old GRU trick, surveillance
under the specious guise of "support." He'd seen it all before.

But he'd had an idea. A flash. What about the woman Nikolai had seen?
The one he said was T-Directorate?

A knockout. That's what Nikolai had claimed, so she shouldn't be hard
to track down. He'd been methodically working the crowded corridors of
the North Quadrant, checking every open doorway. Although the facility
was huge and sprawling, he figured she'd probably be somewhere here
close to Command Sector.

Where the hell could she be?

One thing was sure: Tanzan Mino was as sharp as all the rumors said.
The bastard had been on-site for less than a day and already he'd
suspected that something was brewing. So he'd made his own preemptive
strike.

The problem now was, how to outsmart him.

This T-Directorate operative had to be the way. After he got her into a
receptive mood, he'd lay out his case. Point out he had enough to worry
about in the cockpit without playing flight instructor to a couple of
Mino Industries greenhorns. He'd never flown an experimental plane with
civilian copilots and he damned sure wasn't going to start now.
Especially now.

_Govno_! Where the hell was she?

He continued methodically checking the North Quadrant offices just down
from the Command Sector, hoping somebody there had seen her. The whole
place was getting hectic now: last-minute briefings right and left.
Whenever he'd spot a friendly Russian face, he'd collar its owner to
inquire about her. Fortunately he had an A-level pass, so all he had to
do was flash it to the security stiffs at each sector checkpoint and
they'd wave him past. He'd just talked to a couple of flight engineers
coming out of a briefing room who claimed they'd spotted her in the
hallway no more than half an hour ago.

But why was she here at all? It made no sense. Unless she'd defected,
gone to work for Mino Industries. Which was exactly the kind of thing
you'd expect from one of those opportunistic KGB bastards.

_Konyechnaya! _There she was, shapely ass and all, just in front of
him, headed for Sector Control and flanked by two Japanese security
types. They were striding close by, probably showing her around. Maybe
she was worried about safety here with all these sex-starved engineers.

Odd, but her walk wasn't exactly what he'd expected. Seemed a little
too knowing. Guess that's what happens when you spend too much time in
the decadent capitalist West.

He decided to just make his move right there in the hall. Truthfully
she did look like a hot number. Nikolai wasn't kidding. This was going
to be more interesting than he'd figured.

_Zadroka!_ A piece!



Thursday 5:27 P.M.



"_Strasvetye_," came a voice behind Eva. "_Kak pazhavatye_."

She whirled around. Moving in fast was a tall and--admit it--not bad-
looking Soviet major.

"_Ya _Yuri Andreevich Androv," he declared with a light, debonair bow.
His Russian was cultivated, Moscow. "They tell me you just got here.
Thought we should meet. You've probably heard of me."

"I have no idea who you are," she heard herself saying.

Where the hell did they take Michael? she was wondering. Right after he
met with Tanzan Mino, he'd disappeared. And now she was being moved.
She didn't know where, but she did know one thing: all the phony
politeness was over. Things had gotten very rough, very fast. She was
being relocated to a secure location in the Soviet section, or so she
suspected, but she figured project management mainly just wanted to
keep her out of the way.

Right now, though, she had an agenda of her own.

"I'm a servant of the people." The major who called himself Yuri Androv
winked. "Like you. I'm frequently asked to try and kill myself in their
behalf."

"I don't know--" she tried to answer, but the Japanese guards were
roughly pulling her on.

"I'm the test pilot for the vehicle," he finally announced.

"How lovely." She glared at him. "I hope it's going to be a smashing
success."

"I'm about to find out. Tomorrow morning. Right now all I want to do is
try and get back in one piece. Which is why I need to talk to you." He
caught her arm, temporarily blocking the two uniformed Mino Industries
guards. Then he continued on in Russian. "I've got a problem. We've got
a problem. I was hoping you could help me out."

When the two security men tried to urge her on, he flashed his A-level
at them and told them to lay the fuck off, in explicit Russian.
Startled, they froze.

That's when it finally dawned on her. This idiot must think I'm Vera.

Now he was withdrawing a white packet of English cigarettes and
offering her one. Instinctively, she reached out.

"So how can I help you, Major Androv?" Eva flashed him a smile as he
lit her English Oval with a match.

"It's the test flight tomorrow. Nobody should be near that cockpit who
hasn't been certified to at least ten G's in the simulator. I tried to
tell him, but he wouldn't listen."

"Ten G's?" She was trying to keep him talking. "That's--"

"Damned dangerous. But we need it to bring the scramjets up to rated
thrust, at least the first time. They've never been tested in flight.
We just don't know."

"And nobody else here has been certified?" She wasn't even sure exactly
what "certified" meant, but she tried to look concerned.

"Exactly. Now all of a sudden he wants to stick a couple of his Nips in
the cockpit there with me, probably crop-duster screw-ups from Mino
Industries." He finally lit his own cigarette, with a suggestive
flourish. Christ, she thought, why do all Soviet pilots think they're
God's gift to women. "I tell you it's idiotic." He exhaled through his
nose. "You've got to help me make him see that, before it's too late."

She glanced sideways at the two impatient Japanese. From their blank
faces she realized they hadn't understood a word.

Well, she thought, right now I've got nothing to lose.

"What you're saying, Major, is very disturbing. Perhaps we should have
a word with the CEO right away. We both know time's getting short." She
glanced down the hall toward the wide doors at the end: Command Sector.
"Why don't we just go in together and see him?" She'd noticed the
major's A-level, which seemed to carry clout. "Maybe you can deal with
these flunkies." She indicated the _Mino-gumi kobun _posing as her
guards. "Since I neglected to bring my pass, they have no idea who I
really am."

He laughed. "Guess a few assholes around here are in for a surprise."

No kidding, she thought. Mainly you, flyboy.

God, nobody can strut like a Soviet Air Force pilot. Hard currency
stores, scotch from Scotland, American cigarettes, French porno videos.
They think they own the world. Bad luck, Romeo. You're about to have
Tanzan Mino all over your case. Maybe you'll end up so rattled tomorrow
you'll crash and burn.

He turned and waved his pass at the two guards. "_Mino-san wa_.
Important business _desu_."

Then he seized her arm and pushed the guards aside. "Come on. Maybe you
can get these fuck-ups fired after we're through."

"I'll see what I can do." She smiled again. "By the way, you're
confirming that the big test flight is still on? In the morning?" She
paused, still not sure exactly what the test was all about.

"Oh-nine-thirty hours. All the way." He was leading the way briskly
down the crowded corridor.

"And you're going to . . . "

"Take her hypersonic. Mach 25. Straight to the edge. Brush the stars.
And believe me, I've got to be alone. I can't be running a flight
school." He was striding ahead of her now, talking over his shoulder.
"Which is why you've got to help me talk some sense into that old
fucker. Excuse me," he said, grinning in mock apology, "the CEO."

The guards at the wide double doors leading into Tanzan Mino's suite
just gaped as Yuri Andreevich Androv flourished his A-level at them and
then shoved his way past, oblivious to the clamor of Japanese shouts
now trailing in his wake.

"_Mino-san, pazhalsta_," he said to the figure standing in the
anteroom, scarcely noticing it was a woman, and too expensively dressed
for a receptionist. Eva watched Vera Karanova lunge for a button on the
desk as he pushed open the teakwood door leading into Tanzan Mino's
inner office.

The first thing she noticed was the wide window behind the desk opening
on a stunning view of the straits, the setting sun glancing off the
tips of the whitecaps. Seated behind the desk, monitoring a line of
computer screens, was a silver-haired executive.

So that's what he looks like, she thought. Perfect. Central casting
couldn't have done better.

"Yuri Andreevich, what . . . ?" he glanced up, glaring at Eva. "I see
you've met one of our American guests."

"American?" Androv stopped, then looked at her, puzzled.

Better make this fast, she told herself. In about five seconds Comrade
Karanova's going to take this Soviet hero's head off.

"Listen, you bastard." She was storming the desk. "If you so much as
lay a finger on Michael or me, either one of us, the National Security
Agency is going to close you down so fast you'll think an H-bomb hit
this fucking place. I want to see the American ambassador, and I want
my belongings returned."

"Everything is being taken care of, Dr. Borodin." Vera Karanova
answered from the doorway. Eva glanced back and saw a platoon of eight
_Mino-guchi kobun_, Mino's personal bodyguards, all with automatics.
"You will come with us."

Androv was staring blankly at her now, his swagger melting like
springtime Georgian snow. "You're American? National Security?"

"They kidnapped us. In London. They're going to screw you, everybody.
We found out--"

"We?"

"My name is Eva Borodin. I'm director of Soviet SIGINT for the National
Security Agency in Washington. And Mike Vance, CIA, is here too. God
knows what these criminals are doing to him right now. But they're
about to take you apart too, hotshot. So have a nice day. And while
you're at it--"

"Tovarisch Androv, you have just done a very foolish thing." Vera's
voice was frigid. "I don't think you realize how foolish."

"Dr. Borodin," Mino finally spoke, "you are even more resourceful than
I'd expected. Resourcefulness, however, is not prudence. Dr. Vance is
currently . . . reviewing a proposal I made him. You should be hoping
he will accept. As for the National Security Agency, they believe you
are still on holiday. After tomorrow, it will not matter. Nothing you
can do will interfere with our schedule."

"We'll see about that."

"Trust me," he smiled. Then his look turned grave and shifted. "Major
Androv, you will kindly remain after they have taken her away."



CHAPTER EIGHTEEN



Friday 1:17 A.M.



The room was cold. Just cold. That was the first thing he'd noticed
when they shoved him in. It still was. For nine hours he'd been sitting
on a hard, canvas-covered Soviet cot, shivering.

The place was no larger than a small cell, with a tile floor, ice gray
concrete walls, and two bare fluorescent bulbs for lighting. No heat.
There was a slight vibration--it seemed to be part of the room itself--
emanating from the walls and floor. He'd tracked it to a large wall
duct.

Ventilation system could use adjusting, he'd thought, fan housing's
loose somewhere. They also could turn up the damned heat.

He was wearing only what he'd had on in London, and this definitely was
not London. Hokkaido was a much colder part of the planet.

The room had the feeling of a quick, slapped-together job. But it also
looked like it could withstand a medium-sized nuclear detonation. One
thing was sure, though: It wasn't built with comfort in mind. The door
was steel, the same dull hue as the rest. It was bolted from the
outside, naturally.

But if isolation and cold were Tanzan Mino's idea of how to break his
spirit, to see how tough he was, the man was in for some
disappointment.

What the Mino Industries CEO had unwittingly accomplished by moving him
here, however, was to enlighten him about the layout of the place. As
he was being escorted down the crowded facility corridors by the three
leather-jacketed _kobun_, he'd passed a projection video screen
suspended over the center of a main intersection. The location seemed
to be some sort of central checkpoint, and the screen displayed a
schematic of the whole facility.

He'd faked a stumble and used the recovery time to quickly scan its
essential features.

He leaned back on the cot and ran through one more time what he'd seen
on the screen, trying to imprint it in his memory.

Insight number one: the facility was organized into four main
quadrants, with a layout like a large X. Some of the writing was
Japanese, but mostly it was Russian Cyrillic characters. He massaged
his temples and visualized it again.

The first thing he'd focused on was something called the North
Quadrant, whose Russian designation was Komendant. It looked to be the
command center, with a red-colored area labeled in both Japanese and
Russian. Next to that were a lot of little rooms, probably living
quarters or barracks. Kanji ideograms identified those, so that section
was probably where the Japanese staffers bivouacked.

That command section, he'd realized, was where he and Eva had been.
They'd been quartered in a part of Tanzan Mino's private suites, the
belly of the beast.

It got even more interesting. The other three quadrants were where the
real work was going on. On the right side of the screen was East
Quadrant, whose label was _Komputer/ Kommunekatseon, _ which meant it
contained the computers and communications set-up. Flight Control. And
the South Quadrant, the _Assamblaya_, consisted of a lot of large open
bays, probably where the two prototypes had been assembled. Those bays
connected directly to a massive sector labeled _Angar_, the hangar. But
the bays also had separate access to the runway, probably for delivery
of prefabricated sections from somewhere else.

The West Quadrant appeared to house test facilities; the one label he
could read was _Laboratoraya_. Probably materials labs, next to a
configuration that could have been a large wind tunnel. Made sense.
That quadrant also had more small rooms with Russian labels. He'd
studied the screen a second longer and . . .

Bingo. He'd realized he was being moved into the Soviet sector,
probably the barracks and laboratory area.

This had to be the least used location in the facility now, he told
himself. All the wind tunnel testing of sections and the materials
research was probably wrapped up, meaning this area was history.
Yesterday's news. So the CEO had shunted him to this obscure lock-up in
the West Quadrant, the Soviet section. What better spot to discreetly
dispose of somebody for a while?

Time to brush up your Russian.

Problem was--he grimaced at the realization--there wasn't a heck of a lot
left to brush. He'd had a year at Yale, just enough to let him struggle
along with a dictionary and squeak around some standard language
requirement. That was it. He'd never given it a second thought
afterward. Instead he'd gone on to his real love--ancient Greek. Then
later, in CIA days, the action had been Asia. At one time he'd ended up
doing some consulting for Langley's Far Eastern INTEL desk, helping
coordinate American and Japanese fieldwork.

He could swing the Japanese, but the Russian . . .

Tanzan Mino probably knew that, yet another reason why he'd decided on
this transfer. There'd be fewer people here to communicate with. Smart.

The labyrinth of King Minos, brainchild of Daedalus, that's what he
felt trapped in. But Theseus, the Greek prince who killed the monster,
got some help from Minos's daughter, Ariadne. A ball of string to help
him find his way out of the maze. This time around, though, where was
help going to come from? Maybe the first job here was to kill the
monster, then worry about what came next.

Partly to generate a little body heat, he turned and braced himself at
an angle against the door, starting some half push-ups. With his hands
on the door, he also could sense some of the activity in the hallway
outside. He figured it had to be after midnight by now, but there were
still random comings and goings. Activity, but nothing . . .

He felt a tremor, then heard a loud scraping and the sound of a bolt
being slid aside.

He quickly wheeled and flattened himself against the wall, looking
futilely for something to use as a weapon. Aside from the cot, though,
there was nothing.

Okay, this would be hand to hand. He could use the exercise. Besides,
he was mad enough.

The gray steel door slowly began to swing inward; then a mane of white
hair tentatively appeared, followed by a rugged ancient face as the
visitor turned to stare at him through heavy glasses.

"_Strasvitye_," the man said finally, uncertainty in his gravelly
voice. "_Ya Doktor Andrei Petrovich Androv_."



Friday 1:20 A.M.

_

_Would the idea work? Yuri still didn't know. As he walked between the
vehicles, the hangar's wide banks of fluorescents glaring down on the
final preflight preps for _Daedalus I_, he was sure of only one thing:
at this point, the revised plan was the only option left. Would the
American help?

The woman, the bitch, was no fool: An insight he'd come by the hard
way. But maybe the CIA guy--what had she said his name was?--Vance?

How the hell did he get here? However it had happened, he was being
kept in the West Quadrant. It had been no trick to find him.

He was a godsend; his help would make the scenario possible. Now it
merely required split-second timing.

He glanced up at the big liquid crystal display screen on the far wall,
noting it read zero minus eight hours ten minutes. He should be back in
the West Quadrant now, catching some sleep--if Taro Ikeda knew he was
here in the hangar, there'd be hell to pay--but time was running out.

Tanzan Mino had listened icily to his renewed arguments against
additional personnel in the cockpit, then declared that the viability
of the program depended on having backups. Merely an essential
precaution. End of discussion.

Bullshit. As soon as the political games were played out, the CEO was
planning to get rid of him, probably by some "accident."

Well, screw him. And that's where the American came in. The thing to do
was just appear to be proceeding with the countdown normally, keep
everything innocent. Then, at the last minute . . .

He stared up at _Daedalus I _one last time, watching as the maintenance
crews finished the last of the preflight scramjet preps. And he shook
his head in amazement that Andrei Androv and all his damned propulsion
engineers could create a genuine technological miracle and still be
total bumblers when it came to what in hell was really happening.

These technical types thought they were so brilliant! But if it had
taken them all this time to realize they'd been fucked by Mino
Industries, then how smart could they really be? Made him wonder how
the Baikonur Cosmodrome ever managed to get so much as a turnip into
orbit.

Now these same geniuses had to get _Daedalus II _flight- ready in just
a few hours, and had to do it without anyone suspecting what they were
doing. Finally, they had to be ready to roll into action the instant
the "accident" happened. No trial runs.

He checked his watch and realized his father's propulsion team was
already gathering at Number One, the final meeting. The question now
was, could they really deliver? The American was the key.



Friday 1:21 A.M.



"Your name Vance?" The Russian voice, with its uncertain English, was
the last thing he'd expected.

"Who are you?"

"For this vehicle, I am Director Propulsion System," he replied
formally, and with pride, pulling at his white lab coat. "I must talk
you. Please."

Vance stepped away from the wall and looked the old man over more
closely. Then it clicked. Andrei Petrovich Androv was a living legend.
Ten years ago the CIA already had a tech file on him that filled three
of those old-time reels of half-inch tape. These days, God knows what
they had. He'd been the USSR's great space pioneer, a hero who'd gone
virtually unrecognized by his own country. No Order of Lenin. Nothing.
Nada. But maybe he'd preferred it that way, liked being a recluse.
Nobody, least of all the CIA's Soviet specialists, could figure him.

And now he was here in the wilds of northern Hokkaido, building a
spaceplane. They'd sent over no less than the Grand Old Man to handle
the propulsion. This project was top priority.

 A s it deserved to be. But the immediate question was, What was the
dean of Soviet rocket research doing here visiting him?

"Sorry I can't offer you a cup of tea. No samovar." He looked out the
open door one last time. Several Soviet staffers were glancing in as
they walked by, obviously puzzled why the famous Doktor Androv himself
had come around to talk with some unknown civilian.

"_Shto? Ya ne ponemayu._ . . . I not understand."

"Tea. _Chai_." He shrugged. "Just a bad joke." He reached over and
shoved the door closed, then gestured toward the cot. "In the wrong
language. Please. Sit."

"Thank you." The old man settled himself. "I did not come for _chai_."
His hands were trembling. "I want--" Abruptly he hesitated, as though
searching for words, and then his mind appeared to wander. "Your name
is Vance?"

"Mike Vance."

"And you are with American CIA?"

What's going on, he wondered? How did these Soviets find out?

"Uh, right." He glanced away. "That's correct."

"Mr. Vance, my son is test pilot for the _Daedalus_." He continued,
running his gnarled hands nervously through his long white hair. "His
name is Yuri Andreevich."

"_Pozdravleneye_." Vance nodded. "Congratulations. Yuri Andreevich is
about to make the cover of Newsweek. You should be proud."

"We have serious problem, Mr. Vance." He seemed not to hear. "That is
why I am come. I am very worried for my son."

Vance looked him over more closely. Yes, he did appear worried. His
severe, penetrating eyes were filled with anguish.

"Got a problem with the CEO? Guess the godfather can be a hard man to
warm up to, even for his new allies."

"Mr. Vance, I do not know you, but there is very small time." He
continued with a shrug, not understanding. "So please, I will tell you
many things in very few minutes."

Vance continued to study him. "Go ahead."

"You may not realize, but this project is to be giant leap for our
space program. Many of our best engineers are here. This vehicle, a
reusable near-earth space platform, would save billions of rubles over
many years. It is air-breathing vehicle that would lift research
payloads directly into space. But my son never believe that its real
purpose. Perhaps I was idealist, because I believe. I always think he
was wrong. But more and more of things I have learned about its
electronics--things we had nothing to do with--make me now believe he is
right. And yesterday, when certain . . . _chelovek_ of the Soviet Air
Force come, the worst . . ." He paused, his voice beginning to betray
barely concealed rage. "I have work all my life for peaceful exploring
of space. And now I have been betrayed. The engineers I bring with me
here have been betrayed. I also believe, Mr. Vance, that the Soviet
people have been betrayed. And along with them, Mikhail Sergeevich
himself. This is part of a plot to . . . I don't know what secretly is
plan, but I am now convinced this plane must be destroyed, before it is
too late. And the world must be warned. That is why--"

"Then why don't you warn somebody?" Vance interrupted him. "Matter of
fact, there's a lot more to this setup than an airplane."

"But why do you think I am here, talking to you? The facility now is
completely sealed. I would warn Mikhail Sergeevich what is happening,
but no communication is possible." He hesitated again, painfully. "They
want to put my son in the airplane tomorrow with guards. He has been
made prisoner, like you. He does not want to fly the vehicle for
tomorrow's test, but the CEO is forcing him to do it." He looked up,
his eyes bleary and bloodshot. "Mr. Vance, I think he will be killed as
soon as this plane is certified hypersonic. They no longer trust him."

"What about you? They probably won't think you're very trustworthy
either if they find out you came to see me."

"That is correct. But the time has come for risks."

"So what do you want from me?" He stood back and looked the white-
haired old man over one last time. Was he telling the truth? Were the
Soviet engineers actually planning a mutiny?

"We are going to stop it. Tomorrow morning, just before the test
flight. It must be done."

"Good luck."

"Mr. Vance, you are with American intelligence. We are only engineers.
We know nothing about the kind of things necessary to--"

"Do you have any weapons?"

"Nothing. The guards here are all from the corporation." He lowered his
voice. "Frankly, most of them look like criminals."

"They are." Vance laughed in spite of himself.

"I don't understand."

"I know you don't understand. If you did . . . but that's beside the
point."

"Then will you help us?" His wrinkled face was fixed in determination.
"Do you know anything about explosives?"

"Enough. But are you really sure that's the way you want to go?" He
paused. "There's a lot that can go wrong in a big facility like this
without anybody knowing what caused it."

"All the sensitive areas are under heavy security now. They are
impossible to penetrate."

Terrific, Vance thought. "By the way, how does your son, the test
pilot, figure into all this?"

"All along he was planning to . . . I don't know. He refused to tell
me. But it doesn't matter. Now that two Mino Industries guards are
being put in the cockpit with him, whatever he was planning is
impossible. So we have to do something here, on the ground."

"Well, where is he?"

"He is in the hangar now."

"I'll need to see him."

For one thing, Vance thought, he probably knows how to use a gun. All
Soviet pilots carry an automatic and two seven-round clips for
protection in case they have to ditch in the wilderness somewhere. Our
first order of business is to jump some of these _Mino-gumi _goons
who're posing as security men and get their weapons.

"By the way, do you know where they're keeping the American woman who
was brought here with me?"

The old man's eyes grew vague. "I believe she's somewhere here in the
West Quadrant. I think she was transferred here around eighteen hundred
hours, and then a little later her suitcase arrive from hangar."

"Her bag?" His pulse quickened.

"Delivered by the facility's robot carts. The plane that brought you
was being made ready for the CEO's trip back to Tokyo."

"Where was it left?"

"I don't know. I only--"

"Okay, later. Right now maybe you'd better start by getting me out of
here."

"That is why I brought this." He indicated the brown paper package he
was carrying. It was the first time Vance had noticed it. "I have in
here an air force uniform. It belongs to my son."

The parcel was carefully secured with white string--a methodical
precision that came from years of engineering.

"You will pose as one of us," the old man continued. "You do not speak
Russian?"

"Maybe enough to fool the _Mino-gumi_, but nobody else." He was
watching as Androv began unwrapping the package.

"Then just let me do all talk," he shrugged. "If anybody wonders who
you are, I will be giving you tour of the West Quadrant. You should
pretend to be drunk; it would surprise no one. You will frown a lot and
mumble incoherent questions to me. We will go directly to my office,
where I will tell you our plan."

Now Andrei Androv was unfolding a new, form-fitting uniform intended
for Yuri Andreevich. The shoulder boards had one wide gold chevron and
two small rectangles, signifying the rank of major in the Soviet air
force. Also included was a tall lamb's-wool cap, the kind officers
wore. Vance took the hat and turned it in his hand. He'd never actually
held one before. Nice.

Seems I just got made air force major, and I've never flown anything
bigger than a Lear jet.

He slipped off the shirt he'd been wearing in London, happy to be rid
of it, and put on the first half of the uniform. Not a bad fit. The
trousers also seemed tailor-made. Then he slipped on the wool topper,
completing the ensemble.

"You would make a good officer, I think." Andrei Androv stood back and
looked him over with a smile. "But you have to act like one too.
Remember to be insulting."

After the hours in solitary, freezing confinement, he wasn't sure he
looked like anything except a bum. But he'd have no difficulty leading
Doktor Andrei Androv along in the middle of the night and bombarding
him with a steady stream of slurred Russian: _Shto eto? Ve chom sostoet
vasha rabota?_

How did the Soviets find out he was here? he wondered. Must have been
Eva. She'd got through to them somehow. Which meant she probably was
still all right. That, at least, was a relief.

After Andrei Androv clanged the steel door closed and bolted it, they
headed together toward the old man's personal office, where he had
smuggled drawings of the vehicle's cockpit. The hallways were lit with
glaring fluorescents, bustling with technicians, and full of Soviets in
uniform. Vance returned a few of the crisp salutes and strutted
drunkenly along ahead.

They wanted him to help blow up the plane! He was a little rusty with
good old C-4, but he'd be happy to brush up fast. After that, it'd be a
whole new ballgame.



Friday 1:47 A.M.



"Will he help?" Yuri Androv surveyed the eleven men in the darkened
control room. The wall along the left side consisted entirely of heavy
plate glass looking out on Number One. That wind tunnel, the video
screens, the instrument panels, everything was dormant now. Aside from
a few panel lights, the space was illuminated only by the massive
eight-foot-by-twenty-foot liquid crystal screen at the far end now
scrolling the launch countdown, green numbers blinking off the seconds.
Except for Nikolai Vasilevich Grishkov, the Soviet chief mechanic, all
those gathered were young engineers from Andrei Androv's propulsion
design team. Grishkov, however, because of his familiarity with the
layout of the hangar, was the man in charge.

"I just spoke with Doktor Androv, and he believes the American will
cooperate," Grishkov nodded. "He will bring him here as soon as he has
been briefed."

"I still wonder if I shouldn't just handle it myself."

"It would be too dangerous for you, Yuri Andreevich. He knows about
explosives. Besides, you have to be ready to fly the other plane,_
Daedalus II_, right after the explosion. Nobody else can take it up."

He laughed. "Steal it, you mean."

"Yuri Andreevich, we have made sure it's fueled and we will get you
into the cockpit. After that, we will know nothing about--"

"One other thing," he interjected, "I want it fueled with liquid
hydrogen."

"Impossible." Grishkov's expression darkened, his bushy eyebrows
lifting. "I categorically refuse."

"I don't care. I want it."

"Absolutely out of the question. The engines on _Daedalus II _haven't
been certified in the scramjet mode. You can't attempt to take it
hypersonic. It would be too risky." He stopped, then smiled. "Don't
worry. You can still outrun any chase plane on earth with those twelve
engines in ramjet mode."

"I tell you I want to go to scramjet geometry," Yuri Andreevich
insisted, his eyes determined.

If I can't do what I planned, he told himself, nobody's going to
believe me. I've got to take one of those vehicles hypersonic tomorrow
morning, ready or not.

"Impossible. There's no way we can fuel _Daedalus II_ with liquid
hydrogen. The Mino Industries ground crews would suspect something
immediately. It's out of the question. I forged some orders and had it
fueled with JP-7 late last night, at 2300 hours. That's the best I can
do."

_Chort_, Yuri thought. Well, maybe I can fake it. Push it out to Mach 5
with JP-7 and still . . .

"And the two 'pilots' from Mino Industries," he turned back, "what
about them?"

"If the American plays his part, they will never suspect." Grishkov
flashed a grin.

"Unless somebody here screws up," he said, gazing around the room
again, studying the white technician's uniforms, the innocent faces.

"There'll be a lot of confusion. When we start pumping liquid hydrogen
into _Daedalus /, _the site will be pandemonium," Grishkov continued.
"All you have to do is get into the cockpit of the other plane."

It would be a horrible accident, but accidents happened. They'd all
heard whispered stories about the tragedy at Baikonur in October 1960,
when almost a hundred men were killed because Nikita Khrushchev wanted
a spectacular space shot while he was visiting the United Nations. When
a giant rocket, a Mars probe, failed to achieve ignition, instead of
taking the delay required to remove the fuel before checking the
malfunction, the technicians were ordered to troubleshoot it
immediately. Tech crews were swarming over it when it detonated.

"Then I guess we're ready." Yuri Andreevich sighed.

"We are." Grishkov nodded and reached for the phone beside the main
console, quickly punching in four numbers. He spoke quietly for a few
moments, then replaced the receiver.

"They'll be here in five minutes. Doktor Androv has just completed his
briefing on the cockpit configuration."

"All right. I'm going now. Just get the hangar doors open, the runway
cleared, and the truck-mounted starters ready. This is going to be
tricky, so make sure everybody thinks we're merely taking _Daedalus II_
onto the runway as a safety precaution after the explosion." Yuri gazed
over the group of engineers one last time. Would they do it? Whatever
happened, he had to get out of there and start checking the cockpit of
_Daedalus II _before the morning's preflight crews arrived. "Good luck.
By 0900 hours I want everything set."

He gave the room a final salute, out of habit, and headed for the
security doors. In moments he'd disappeared into the corridor and was
gone.

"Let me do the talking," Grishkov said, turning back to the others.
"And let Doktor Androv translate. Also remember, he has no idea Yuri
Andreevich is going to steal the other plane."

The men stirred, and nodded their assent. From here on, they all were
thinking, the less they had to do with this plot the better.

Then the door opened. Standing next to Dr. Andrei Petrovich Androv was
a tall man dressed as a Soviet air force major. As Grishkov looked him
over, he had the fleeting impression that Yuri Andreevich had
unexpectedly returned, so similar was the American poseur to Andrei
Androv's own son. In height and build, the resemblance was nothing
short of miraculous. This was going to be easier than he'd dared to
hope. Put the American in a pressure suit, complete with flight helmet,
and he could easily pass.

"He has agreed to set the explosives," Andrei said in Russian as he
gestured toward the man standing beside him in a tight-fitting uniform.
"Meet 'Major Yuri Andreevich Androv.'"



Friday 7:58 A.M.



The room appeared to be the quarters of a high-ranking member of the
Soviet staff, now returned to the USSR. It was comfortably if sparely
appointed and even had a computer terminal, a small NEC. She'd switched
it on, tried to call up some files, but everything required a password.
She could use it, however, as a clock. As she watched the time flashing
on the corner of the screen, she tried to remember what the Soviet
major had said about the schedule . . . the first hypersonic test of
the Daedalus was scheduled for 0930. That was only an hour and a half
away.

She was wearing her London clothes again, but where the hell was her
bag? She walked over and sat down on the side of the single bed,
thinking. If she could get her hands on the suitcase, the Uzi might
still be there.

That's when she heard the sound of muted but crisp Japanese outside--the
changing of the guard. The _Mino-gumi kobun _were keeping a strict
schedule, a precision that seemed perfectly in keeping with everything
else about the facility. Life here was measured out not in coffee
spoons but in scrolling numbers on computers.

The door opened and one of the new _kobun_ showed his head. At first
she thought it was merely a bed check, but he stared at her mutely for
a moment, then beckoned. She rose and walked over. This new goon, black
suit and all, was armed with a 9mm Walther P88 automatic in a shoulder
holster. Outside, the other _Mino-gumi _motioned for her to come with
them.

That's when she noticed her bag, sitting just outside the door.

There goes my chance, she sighed. They want to keep me moving, make
sure I'm not in one place long enough for anybody to get suspicious.
This way I'll seem to be just another guest.

Without a word they were directing her along the hallway toward
Checkpoint Central. All Tanzan Mino's _kobun_ seemed to have free run
of the facility, because the uniformed security staff didn't even
bother to ask for a pass. They may have been new and alien visitors
from outside this closed world, but they represented the CEO. Carte
blanche.

Now they were moving down the crowded corridor leading to the South
Quadrant. The walls were still gray, but this was a new area, one she
hadn't yet been in. No sign this time, however, of the Soviet major
named Androv.

Guess he wasn't kidding about an important test flight coming up.
Something was definitely in the wind. The pace of activity was
positively hectic. So why was she being moved, right in the middle of
all this chaos? It didn't make sense.

She looked up ahead and realized they were headed toward two massive,
heavily guarded doors. What could this sector be? Once again the
Japanese security guards merely bowed low and waved her Mino-gumi
escorts past.

The wide doors opened onto yet another hallway, and she was overwhelmed
by a blast of sound. Motors were blaring, voices were shouting,
escaping gasses were hissing. The din, the racket, engulfed her. And
then she realized the reason: There was no ceiling! Even the "offices"
along the side were merely high-walled cubicles that had been dropped
here in the entryway of some vast space.

It was the hangar.

The actual entry at the end was sealed and guarded, but instead of
passing through, they stopped at the last door on the right.

Whoever had summoned her, it wasn't Tanzan Mino. His array of personal
_kobun_ weren't lined up outside. In fact, there were no guards at all.

The leather-jacketed escorts pulled open the door, and one entered
ahead of her, one behind. Inside was a large metal desk, equipped with
banks of phones and rows of buttons.

Sitting behind the desk was Vera Karanova.

"Did you sleep well?" She glanced up, then immediately signaled for the
_kobun_ to absent themselves.

"Did you?" Eva looked her over--the severe designer suit, black, topped
off with a string of gray Mikimoto pearls. It was a striking contrast
to the short-haired engineers bustling outside.

What riveted her attention, however, was resting on the desk next to
the banks of phones and switches. A Zenith.

"We have some time this morning." Vera ignored the

response as she brushed at her carefully groomed dark hair. "I thought
we should use it productively."

"Lots of luck, Comrade."

"It is not in either of our interests to be at cross purposes," she
continued, still speaking in Russian. It was a startling change in tone
from the evening before. "You and I have much in common. We both have
worked at high levels in the security apparatus of our respective
countries. Consequently we both understand the importance of strategic
thinking. That sets us apart." She reached out and touched the laptop
computer. "Now, to begin, I would very much like for you to show me how
you managed to break the encryption for the protocol. The CEO was most
impressed."

"If he wants to know, he can ask me himself." She helped herself to a
metal chair.

"He is very busy at the moment," Vera continued, "occupied elsewhere."

This is a setup, Eva was thinking. She wanted to get me down here for
some other reason.

But it was hard to concentrate, given the din of activity filtering in
from the open ceiling. Above them banks of floodlights were creating
heavy shadows around the office, and out there somewhere, she realized,
was the prototype.

"Why don't you tell me what's really on your mind, Comrade? Or better
yet, why you decided to throw in your lot with all these Yakuza
criminals."

Vera Karanova laughed. "You are a director with the National Security
Agency. You obviously are very competent. And yet you and the rest of
American intelligence seem completely blind. Oblivious to the
significance of what is happening around you. In case you hadn't
noticed, the Soviet military is being stripped, practically dismantled
in the interest of economic restructuring."

"High time, if you ask me."

"That is a matter of opinion. The Cold War, whether we liked it or not,
maintained a predictable structure in the world. Both East and West
went out of their way to support and stabilize Third World countries in
order to keep them out of each other's camp. But with the Cold War
slackening, there's disintegration everywhere. Demilitarization is
leading to political and economic anarchy worldwide."

Right, Eva thought. But you left out one other interesting fact: Japan
got rich while the superpowers were out there "stabilizing" everybody,
squandering resources on matching sets of military toys instead of
investing in their own infrastructure. They'd love to keep it going.

"This plane," Vera went on, "can be used to serve the ultimate cause of
restoring world order." She paused, then continued. "But only if it is
in the hands of our air force, from today forward."

"Purge the new thinking?"

"The Soviet Union is on the verge of economic disaster. Perestroika has
plunged our country into chaos. The time has come to admit revisionism
has failed."

"Where's good old Uncle Joe when you need him?" she smiled. "Stalin
made the Gulag trains run on time."

"Our restructuring has gone too far," Vera continued. "There are limits
beyond which a society can no longer endure change."

Eva stared at her. "I take it KGB and your military right- wingers are
planning to try and stage a coup?"

"There still are responsible people in the Soviet Union, Dr. Borodin,
who believe our country is worth saving."

My God, Eva thought, their hard-liners are planning to take control of
this plane and use it to re-enflame the Cold War? Just like the race
for the H-bomb, it'll rejuvenate the Soviet military.

"This is our last chance," Vera continued as she reached down and
flicked on the computer. "However, if we are to succeed, the terms of
the protocol will require certain revisions."

"Do you really think you can get away with this?"

"That's where you come in," Vera went on. "But first perhaps I should
show you something."

She reached down and pushed a button on the desk, causing the set of
blinds along the side of the office facing the hangar to slowly rise.
"I'd like you to see the _Daedalus_." She pointed out the window.
"Perhaps then you will better appreciate its significance."

Through the glass was a massive hangar engulfed in white vapor, as
cryogenic liquid hydrogen created clouds of artificial condensate, cold
steam, that poured over the army of milling technicians. Above the
haze, however, she could just make out two giant aircraft. Their wings
started almost at the cockpit, then widened outward to the plane's full
length, terminating abruptly just before the high tail assembly.
Positioned side by side, they looked like huge gliders, except that
beneath the wings were clusters of massive engines larger than any
she'd ever seen before.

"So that's the prototype, the vehicle specified in the protocol."

They were stunningly beautiful. Maybe all high-performance aircraft
looked sexy, but these possessed a unique elegance. The child's vision
of the paper airplane reincarnated as the most powerful machine man had
ever created.

"I thought you would like to witness the final preparations for our
first hypersonic flight," Vera proceeded. "Thus far one of the planes,
that one there on the left"-- she pointed--"has been flown to Mach 4.5.
Today's test will take it to the hypersonic regime, over fifteen
thousand miles per hour."

They've leapfrogged the West, Eva was suddenly realizing. It's the X-30
spaceplane America dreams of building in the next century, except it's
here now.

"From the looks of things, I'd say you're on schedule."

Vera clicked something on the desk and a blinking number appeared at
the top of a video screen. It was the countdown. Liftoff was less than
an hour away.

"Yes, so far there has been no hold. Even though today is overcast,
with a low ceiling, we don't experience weather delays like the
American space shuttle. In fact, this plane is virtually weather-proof,
since it leaves from a runway just like a normal passenger jet."

No wonder the test pilot Androv was swaggering, Eva thought. This must
be a flyboy's wet dream.

"One more question. Why are you showing me all this?"

"I told you, there's something I need." She paused, and in the silence
Eva listened to the increasing clamor of preparations in the hangar
outside. "After the test flight this morning, the prototype is
scheduled to be transferred to the Supreme Soviet. However, that cannot
be allowed to happen. Consequently, there will need to be alterations
in the protocol." She clicked on the laptop computer. It hummed lightly
as the hard disk engaged, and then the screen began to glow. "Those
revisions need to be kept out of the system computers here at the
facility for now, so your copy of the text would be an ideal place to
prepare a first draft."

"You're going to pull a fast one." Eva stared at her. "You're going to
tinker with the terms of the deal and turn this plane over to your air
force. Very inventive."

"That is correct. And you are going to help me, Dr. Borodin. You are
going to call up your text and print a copy for me."

Sweetie, you are a piece of work.

"Why bother printing it again? Sorry to tell you, but I've already run
off a copy. It's in my suitcase."

"We searched your bag. There's nothing there."

"You didn't look hard enough." Maybe this was her chance. "Send some of
your thugs to fetch it."

"Very well." She reached for a button on the desk.

Eva turned to look out again through the white mist. Something was
going on now. A motorized cart was pulling up and two men in pressure
suits were getting off. Must be the pilots.

The first to step off the cart was already waving his hands imperiously
at the Japanese technicians. He had to be the Soviet pilot, Androv.
Yep, it was him, swagger and all.

Then the second pressure-suited figure stepped down. That one, she
assumed, must be one of the Mino Industries recruits Androv had been
complaining about. Guess he didn't get very far with his demand to be
in the cockpit alone.

_The walk.

_Memories of a long-ago skin-diving trip to Cozumel flooded back. They
were off the northern reefs, wearing oxygen tanks, admiring the
multicolored banks of coral. Then later, as they staggered up the
beach, she'd laughed at his frog-footed waddle.

_Michael!



_



CHAPTER NINETEEN



Friday 8:37 A.M.



As Vance stepped off the motorized cart, the hangar around him was
shrouded in white vapor. The swirling cloud on the ground, the eerie
chiaroscuro of the lights, the amplified voice that ticked off the
countdown--all added to the other-worldliness of the scene. And above
the turmoil two giant spaceplanes loomed, silver monoliths that seemed
to hover atop the pale mist.

Chariots of the gods, he thought, gazing up.

The Russian technicians had carefully suited him exactly as Yuri
Androv, right down to his boots. Next to his skin was the dark-blue
flight suit and cotton-lined leather cap issued to all Soviet pilots,
and over these came a pressurized G-suit fabricated from a heavy
synthetic material; it felt like a mixture of nylon and Teflon. This
was topped off with the flight helmet, complete with a removable
reflecting visor, which conveniently prevented anyone from seeing his
face.

Although the helmet restricted his peripheral vision, he still could
hear clearly through headphones miked on the outside, although they did
make the din of the hangar sound tinny and artificial. A Velcro-backed
insignia of the Minoan Double Ax adhered to his chest; he was posing as
a Mino Industries pilot.

For all its unfamiliarity, however, his gear felt very much like the
rubber wet-suit he donned for scuba diving at depths. The two hoses
fastened to his abdomen could have been connectors for compressed air
tanks and his helmet the oxygen mask. He felt equally uncomfortable.
Only the damned flippers were missing.

Since his RX-10 G-suit was designed for high-altitude flight, intended
to do double-duty as an emergency backup in case of cockpit
decompression, he had to carry along his own personal environmental-
control unit, a white, battery-powered air conditioner the size of a
large briefcase. It hummed lightly as it cooled and dehumidified the
interior of his suit, keeping his faceplate moisture-free. The recycled
air he was breathing smelled stale and vaguely synthetic.

The most uncomfortable part of all, however, not to mention the most
nerve-racking, had to be the six sticks of C-4 plastic explosive and
their radio-controlled detonators now secured against his chest.

Since the Soviet engineers had suited him up in a separate room,
avoiding any contact with the Mino Industries doctors who'd been giving
Androv his preflight physical, he'd yet to see Yuri Andreevich Androv
clearly. He had a partner and he hadn't even had a good look at him
yet.

"The other M-I pilot will be arriving in a few minutes," Androv was
announcing to the white-jacketed Japanese technicians standing by the
Personnel Module. "He was delayed in the briefing." For their benefit
he was speaking English, which, to Vance's surprise and relief, was
almost perfect. They nodded as he continued. "We'll just go on up in
the module. I want to check over the cockpit one last time, make sure
there're no last-minute glitches."

The Personnel Module resembled a small mobile home, except its
pneumatic lift could elevate it sixty feet straight into the air,
permitting direct access to the cockpit's side hatch. It was worlds
away from the fourteen-foot metal ladder used to access a MiG cockpit.

"Flight deck." He was speaking through his helmet mike as he pointed
up. "Understand? Cockpit." Then he turned and motioned for Vance to
follow as he stepped in.

_"Hai_." Vance nodded gravely, Japanese style. "_Wakarimasu_."

Let's hope the haze keeps down visibility, he was thinking. This place
is sure to have video monitors everywhere. And this fancy elevator is
probably bugged too.

Intelligence from Command Central was that Tanzan Mino's two Yakuza
"pilots" were receiving a last-minute briefing from the CEO himself.
Still, they were certain to show up soon. This was no time to dawdle.

The technicians closed the door of the module, then activated the lift
controls. As it began gliding upward, Androv glanced over and gave
Vance a silent thumbs-up. He flashed it back, then set down the heavy
air-conditioning unit and shifted his weight from foot to foot, still
trying to get the feel of the suit.

Maybe, he told himself, this test pilot game is easier than it looks.
But only so long as you never actually have to leave terra firma. Then
it's probably more excitement than the average person needs.

The upward motion halted with a lurch and the module door automatically
slid open. At first glance the open cockpit of the USSR's latest plane
made him think of the inside of a giant computer. Nothing like the eye-
soothing green of a MiG interior, it was a dull off-white in color and
cylindrical, about ten feet in diameter and sixteen feet long. Three
futuristic G-seats equally spaced down the center faced a bank of
liquid crystal video screens along one wall, and lighting was provided
by pale orange sodium vapor lamps integrated into the ceiling.

The real action was clearly the middle G-seat, which was surrounded by
instrument consoles and situated beneath a huge suspended helmet, white
enamel and shaped like a bloated moth. Everything about the controls
bespoke advanced design philosophy: Instead of the usual flight stick
placed between the pilot's knees, it had a multiple-control sidestick,
covered with switches and buttons, situated on the pilot's right,
something only recently introduced in the ultramodern American F-16
Falcon.

Although the throttle quadrant was still located on the left-hand
console, in standard fashion, it, too, had a grip skillfully designed
to incorporate crucial avionics: the multiple radars, identification-
friend-or-foe (IFF) instrumentation, instrument landing system (ILS),
and tactical air navigation (TACAN).

He realized they'd utilized the new Hotas concept--hands on throttle and
stick--that located all the important controls directly on the throttle
and flight stick, enabling the pilot to command the instruments and
flight systems purely by feel, like a virtuoso typist. Even the thin
rudder pedals looked futuristic. The whole layout, in severe blacks and
grays, was sleek as an arrow.

In the end, however, maybe it was all redundant. According to Andrei
Androv this vehicle incorporated an advanced control system called
_equipment vocal pour aeronef_; it could be flown entirely by voice
interface with an artificial intelligence computer. All flight and
avionics interrogations, commands, and readouts could be handled
verbally. You just talked to the damn thing and it talked back. The
twenty-first century had arrived.

The other two G-seats in the cockpit, intended for research scientists,
were positioned on either side of the pilot, about four feet away, with
no controls whatsoever. All this baby needed was Androv and his
computer.

There was more. The space was cylindrical, which could only mean one
thing: It was designed to be rotated, again probably by the computer,
adjusting the attitude or inclination of the pilot continuously to make
sure the G-forces of acceleration and deceleration would always be
acting down on him, like gravity, securing him into that special G-
seat. And why not? Since there was no windscreen, the direction the
pilot faced was irrelevant--up, down, or even backward; who cared?

And the helmet, that massive space-moth intended to be lowered over the
pilot's head. From the briefing, he knew that the screens inside were
how the pilot "saw." Through voice command to the central computer he
could summon any of the three dozen video terminals along the walls and
project them on the liquid crystal displays before his eyes.

"So far, so good," Androv said, stepping in and down. Vance followed,
then reached back to secure the hatch. It closed with a tight,
reassuring thunk. The silent blinking of computer screens engulfed
them.

"By the way, it's up there," Vance said quietly, shifting his head
toward the newly installed video camera positioned just above the entry
hatch. Androv glanced up, nodded, and together they turned away from
it. Then without further conversation they each ripped off their
Velcro-secured insignias--Androv's, the Soviet air force red star
bordered in white; Vance's, the double ax--and exchanged them.

"How much time?" Androv whispered.

"Just give me ten minutes." He held up his heavy wrist-watch. Together
they checked and synchronized.

"Good luck." Androv nodded and gave another thumbs- up sign, then
clasped him in an awkward Russian hug. Vance braced himself for the
traditional male kiss, but thankfully it didn't come. "_Do svidania,
moi droog_," he said finally, standing back and saluting. Then he
grinned and continued in accented English, "Everything will be A-okay."

Without another word he swung open the hatch, passed through, and
stepped into the personnel module.

Vance watched him depart, then turned back to examine the _Daedalus_
cockpit more closely. It was a bona fide marvel.

Screens, banks of screens, all along the wall--almost like a TV
station's control room. Everything was there. Looking across, left to
right, he saw that the engine readouts were placed on top: white bars
showing power level, fan rpm, engine temperatures, core rpm, oil
pressure, hydraulics, complete power-plant status. The next row started
on the navigation and avionics: the radar altimeter, the airspeed
indicator, the attitude-director indicator (AID) for real-time readings
of bank and dive angle, the horizontal situation indicator (HSD) for
actual heading and actual track, and on and on. All the electronics
modules were already operating in standby mode--the slit-scan radar, the
scanners, the high-resolution doppler. Other screens showed the view of
the hangar as seen by the video cameras on the landing gear, now
switched over from their infrared mode to visible light.

The avionics, all digital, were obviously keyed to the

buttons and switches on the sidestick, the throttles, and the two
consoles. Those controls, he realized upon closer inspection, could
alter their function depending on which display was being addressed,
thereby reducing the clutter of separate buttons and toggle switches on
the handgrips.

The cockpit was not over-designed the way so many modern ones tended to
be: instead it had been entirely rethought. There were probably two
hundred separate system readouts and controls, but the pilot's
interface was simple and totally integrated. It was beautiful, a work
of pure artistry.

Which made him sad. He'd always been an aviation buff, and the thought
of obliterating a creation this spectacular provoked a sigh.

On the other hand, H-bombs were probably beautiful too. This was
another vengeful Shiva, Destroyer of Worlds. Ridding the planet of its
first hypersonic weapons delivery system would be a public service to
all humankind.

But first things first. He had no intention of allowing his next moves
to be on TV. The newly installed monitor, part of the "retrofit," was
about to get a small adjustment.

Strolling back toward the entry hatch, he quickly detached the
reflecting outer visor that was designed to drop down over the front of
his flight helmet. Then he reached up and wedged the silvered portion
against the lens. The camera would continue to operate, relaying back
no malfunction signals, but it would be sending a picture of the
ceiling. Next he unzipped his flight suit and carefully unstrapped the
package riding against his chest. Inside were the six taffy-colored
bars of C-4 plastic explosive, each an inch square and six inches long,
all wrapped in clear Cellophane. They almost looked like candy, but
they could blow this entire plane through the hangar's roof.

The charge had to be set before the two Mino-gumi pilots were delivered
by the Personnel Module. When they arrived, he'd simply pretend to be
Yuri Androv and say they all had to go back down for a final check of
their pressure-suit environmental systems. The moment they were clear,
he'd activate the radio and detonate. Then the fun would begin.

There. The two consoles on either side of the central G-seat, that's
where he'd wedge the charges. It was the perfect place, the central
nervous system. After one last, wistful look at the banks of video
displays along the wall, he set to work.



Friday 8:43 A.M.



"Do you understand?" Tanzan Mino asked. It sounded more like a command.
They were in the Mino Industries Prep Section, a preflight briefing
room that led directly into the hangar. The faceplates of the two
pilots' flight helmets were raised, allowing him to see their eyes.
"Any deviation from the prescribed maneuver blocks will signal a
problem."

"_Hai_, Mino-sama," both men nodded grimly. They had come here in the
cockpit of his personal Boeing, and they were not happy with their new
assignment. Neither had the slightest desire to risk his life in the
service of the _oyabun s _megalomania. The command to serve as last-
minute "co-pilots" in the _Daedalus_, however, was an offer they could
not refuse.

"Should anything happen, you will radio Flight Control immediately, and
we will use the plane's artificial intelligence system, the AI module,
to bring it back and land it."

"_Hai_." They nodded again.

"You will not be expected to take the controls," he went on. "The
computer can override all commands from the cockpit. You will merely
ensure the prescribed flight sequence is adhered to."

He paused, intending to collect his thoughts, but an oddity on the
newly installed cockpit monitor caught his notice. He cursed himself
for not having kept an eye on it. He'd been too busy briefing the
pilots and now . . .

Something about the picture was strange. The perspective had changed.
He reached over and, with the push of a button, transferred the image
to the large liquid crystal screen on the side wall. Yes, it was
definitely wrong. He couldn't quite tell . . .  Had someone jostled the
camera? There was still a full half hour before . . .

Something had happened in the cockpit.

The prep crews were scheduled to be finished by now--he glanced at a
screen and confirmed that the checklists had already been punched--so no
one had permission to be inside the plane. From this point on, only the
pilots were authorized to be there.

Androv. Where was he? He was supposed to be in the Soviet Flight-Prep
Sector now, across the hangar.

He turned to Taro Ikeda, who was monitoring a line of video screens.
"Check with Flight Prep. Has the Soviet pilot completed his preflight
physical? Has it been signed off?"

"Let me see." He moved immediately to comply. After he tapped a
keyboard, a number matrix appeared on his computer screen, showing the
status of all the preflight sequences. Quickly he called up the pilot
sequence.

"His physical has been completed, Mino-sama. Everything is checked off.
He logged out fifteen minutes ago."

"Then where is he?"

"I'll try and find out."

He reached for a phone and punched in the main number for the Flight
Prep sector. The conversation that followed was quick and, as it
continued, caused a look of puzzlement to spread over his already-
worried face.

"_Hai, domo arigato gozaimashta_," he said finally and hung up. As he
turned back he was growing pale. "Mino-sama, I think there may be a
problem. They say he has already left the sector, but--"

"All right then, where has he gone?"

"Sector Security says he left with one of your pilots, Mino-sama,
headed for the hangar."

The room grew ominously silent. They were both now staring at the two
Mino Industries pilots, standing directly in front of them.

"There must be some mistake." Tanzan Mino inhaled lightly. "Are you
sure you understood correctly?"

"It's obviously impossible. I agree."

"Then what's going on? Whatever it is, I think we'd better find out.
Immediately." He motioned for the two pilots to accompany him as he
rose and headed for the door. "Stay close by. We're going to the
hangar."

Taro Ikeda briskly followed after them into the corridor. If anything
went wrong now, he would be the one held responsible. Some vandal
tampering in the cockpit was the last thing he needed. Everything had
gone smoothly with the countdown so far this morning; he shuddered at
the prospect of a last-minute hold.

Ahead of him, Tanzan Mino was striding down the hallway, _kobun_
bodyguards in tow, headed directly for the wide hangar doors.



Friday 8:49 A.M.



She was still having trouble thinking clearly. Michael was in the
hangar, was actually in one of the planes. What was he doing here?

She barely noticed when a _kobun _walked in and settled her suitcase on
the metal desk. He glanced at it, said something in Japanese, and
disappeared out the door.

The case was heavy leather, acquired from a little side-street shop by
Victoria Station. It looked just as it had when she and Michael stashed
the Uzi back in London. They'd deliberately bought a case heavy enough
to conceal a weapon inside. Had Mino's people gone through it? Discov-
ered the automatic?

"Is this it?" Vera was asking.

"That's the one." She reached down.

"No," Vera said, staying her hand, "I will open it myself." With a
quick motion she pulled around the zipper, then flipped back the heavy
leather top. There lay a battered map of Crete, under it Michael's book
on the palace, piles of rumpled clothes . . .

This isn't how it's supposed to happen, she was thinking. The
automatic's down in the bottom, in a separate section, but if Vera
probes a little she'll find it. I've got to make her--

"There's no printout here." Comrade Karanova finished

digging through the clothes and looked up. "But then there never really
was, was there, Dr. Borodin? Perhaps what you'd hoped to find was this
. . ."

She pulled open the top drawer of the metal desk and lifted out a shiny
black automatic. It was an Uzi.

"You didn't really think you could do something as amateurish as
smuggle a weapon into this facility." She shoved it back into the
drawer.

"Congratulations. You've done your homework." So much for surprising
Vera Karanova. Apparently that wasn't something easily managed.

"Now we will print a new copy of the protocol," she said, shoving the
suitcase over to one corner of her desk. "I don't want to waste any
more time."

"Right. Time is money."

So now it was up to Michael. Maybe if she could stall Vera long enough,
whatever he was involved in would start to happen.

Glancing out again at the vapor-shrouded floor of the hangar, she
fleetingly wondered if maybe she'd been seeing things. No, she was
certain. That walk, that funny walk he always had when he didn't feel
in control. She knew it all too well; she knew him all too well. He'd
arrived on the hangar floor riding on that little motorized cart,
together with the Soviet pilot, and they'd both entered the hydraulic
personnel carrier and been raised up to the cockpit. Then the carrier
had come back down and disgorged the Soviet pilot, who'd immediately
disappeared into the haze. Which meant Michael still had to be up
there.

What was he doing? Had he somehow thrown in his lot with the Soviets?
He certainly wouldn't work for Tanzan Mino, so that meant there had to
be a revolt brewing. The thing now was to link up, join forces. It was
hard to figure.

Oh, shit.

Coming through the wide hangar doors, headed for the same personnel
transporter Vance had taken, was Tanzan Mino and a host of his _kobun_
bodyguards, followed by two more men in pressure suits. He looked as
though he had every intention of--yes, now he was saying something to
the operators of the personnel carrier. They all were going up.

Whatever Michael was doing, Mino-san wasn't going to be pleased. The
whole scene was about to get crazy. Did Mike have a weapon? Even if he
did, he wouldn't stand a chance.



Friday 8:52 A.M.



"Take it up."

Tanzan Mino was marching up the steps of the Personnel Module,
accompanied by six _kobun _in black leather jackets and the M-I pilots.

The operators glanced at each other, then moved to comply. One Japanese
pilot had just come down and disappeared into the haze. Now two more
had arrived, along with the CEO. Were there three Japanese pilots?
Things were starting to get peculiar. But then this was no ordinary
flight; it was the big one.

The door clicked shut with a quiet, pneumatic whoosh, and the module
began its ascent. As they rode, Tanzan Mino reflected that in less than
an hour this vehicle would be setting new records for manned flight.
The world would hear about it from a press conference he would hold in
Tokyo, carried live around the globe. That press briefing would also
announce a new alliance between Japan and the Soviet Union. It would be
a double coup. The planet's geopolitics would never again be the same.

The module glided to a halt and its door opened.

He'd been right. The cockpit hatch was sealed, which meant somebody was
inside. The Soviet pilot must be up to something. But what?

Then, unbidden, the pressure hatch started opening, slowly swinging
back and around, and standing there, just inside, was a man in a
pressure suit. There was no reflecting visor on his helmet now to hide
his face.



Friday 8:53 A.M.



Vance stared at the small army facing him, including Tanzan Mino and
his two pilots. This definitely was not the drill. Something had gone
very, very wrong. Had some of the Soviet ground crews lost their nerve
and talked? Whatever had happened, things were headed off the track.

The C-4 explosive was set. But this was hardly the moment to activate
the detonators and blow the place.

"How did you get here?" The CEO's eyes narrowed to slits.

"I decided to take you up on that tour."

"What do you think you're doing?"

"Planning a vacation. Checking out the transportation."

"Very amusing, Dr. Vance," he said, staring at a length of C-4, a glass
and metal detonator shoved into its side, wedged next to the sidestick.
"But who else is part of your scheme? You didn't arrange this
unassisted."

"Why would anybody else be involved? I just thought it'd be fun to kick
off today's celebration with a bang."

"I'm afraid you will have to be disappointed." He turned to the
_kobun_. "Clear the cockpit. Sweep it. And then," he glanced up, "after
Dr. Vance replaces the visor on his flight helmet, we will escort him
to my office for a very brief and undoubtedly very illuminating
interview."



Friday 9:03 A.M.



"What's happening?" Vera had turned to watch through the white haze as
the last _kobun _dismounted from the personnel module, following Tanzan
Mino and the three pilots.

"Maybe there's been a glitch in the countdown after all." Eva was
trying to sound casual. Vera couldn't know the tall pilot in the
middle, the one being helped along by Tanzan Mino's musclemen, was
Michael. "Looks like Major Androv has got himself into some trouble."

She could tell Vance was mad as hell. They'd probably roughed him up a
little there in the cockpit, just to get started, and now they were
intending to really go to work on him. But he must be part of a group,
so where was everybody else?

"Androv has to fly the plane today. We have everything scheduled. Why
are they taking him away?" Vera turned and stalked for the door. "This
cannot be permitted. Whatever the problem is, it has to be solved right
here. Now. The flight must go forward. Too much is riding on it."

Eva watched her stride out into the white haze of the hangar. She
wanted to follow, but then she thought of something better.



Friday 9:05 A.M.



He was wondering when to try and make a break. But how far could he
get, encumbered with the pressure suit?

Where's the backup? Are they going to let me just twist in the wind?

The original scenario had fallen apart, but that didn't mean the game
was over. The Soviet engineers he'd seen clearly wouldn't be any help
in a crisis, but the test pilot Androv was another story. He'd surely
try to pull something back together. Where was he? Probably still up in
the other cockpit, getting _Daedalus II _ready. So now . . .

That's when he saw her, coming out of an office whose doorway was only
half visible through the clouds of mist. It looked like . . . Vera
Karanova. She was striding directly toward them, intercepting Tanzan
Mino's small procession.

"Where are you taking him?" She pointed toward Vance, glancing at his
Red Star insignia, as she addressed the godfather in English.

"Are you attempting to interfere in my affairs now, too?" Tanzan Mino
demanded as he paused to stare.

"I just want to know what it is you're doing," she replied.

"I am handling a problem," he said coldly as he examined her. "There is
a traitor, or traitors, among the Soviets. I intend to find out who's
involved."

"What do you mean?" An edge of nervousness entered her voice.

Vance was coming up. "Sorry I screwed up, Vera," he said in English.
"So close yet so far. Somebody must have blown the whistle."

"You're not--" She stared as he lifted the visor of his flight helmet.

"But what the hell," he went on. "We gave it a shot. Nothing ventured,
nothing--"

"We?" She examined him, puzzled.

"I suspected all along you could not be trusted." Tanzan Mino's calm
facade seemed to crack as his face flushed with anger. "But I had no
idea you would actually betray the entire project. Sabotage the
vehicle."

"I don't know anything about sabotage." She clearly was startled,
attempting to maintain calm in her voice. "If Vance has--"

"It appears I'm surrounded by treachery and traitors." His voice
quavered as he stepped over to one of the _kobun_, then reached in and
withdrew the 9mm Walther automatic from the man's shoulder holster.
When he turned back, his eyes were opaque with anger and paranoia. He'd
clearly snapped, lost it. "Mr. Vance, I want to know the names of
everyone who was involved in this plot. Everyone. If I am satisfied you
are telling the truth, then perhaps I will consider sparing your
miserable life. Otherwise . . ."

He turned back to Vera. She was staring at the gun, her face ashen, not
letting herself believe what her eyes were telling her. The white mists
of the hangar swirled around them, creating ghostly shadows across the
expressionless faces of the _kobun_.

"You made a very grave error in judgment," he was saying to her. "I
don't yet know precisely what you were expecting to accomplish, but
whatever it was, I can assure you I am not a man who tolerates
disloyalty."

His expression was strangely distant as he raised the pistol and fired,
one precise round, a dull thunk barely audible above the din of the
hangar.

Vance watched in dismay as Vera Karanova stumbled

backward, her dark eyes uncomprehending. It was a gangland-style
execution, quick and preemptory, the time-honored way. No appeals or
due process.

He'd been hoping merely to gain some time for Androv, not cause her to
be murdered on the spot. Now Tanzan Mino turned to him, still gripping
the pistol. His face was distorted in irrational fury. "Perhaps I made
a mistake just now, Dr. Vance. What do you think?"

"Probably a pretty serious one."

"Yes, now that I reflect on it, I'm inclined to agree. The culprit we
seized red-handed was you. You are the one I should be making an
example of." He was raising the Walther again.

It began so quickly he almost didn't realize it was happening. From out
of the swirl of mist that engulfed _Daedalus_ /'s landing gear a white-
haired old man appeared, grasping a pistol. Tanzan Mino turned to
stare, just in time to hear him yelling--in Russian.

"Release him. Release my son. I order you." He was closing on the
group, about twenty feet in front of them, brandishing the weapon
uncertainly. Vance couldn't make out what caliber it was, but he
doubted it mattered. Andrei Androv clearly had no idea how to use it.
His was an act of desperation.

Then another realization clicked.

He said "my son." He thinks I'm Yuri.

Before anybody could move, a white pressure suit materialized out of
the distant haze around _Daedalus II_. It was Yuri Androv, running
toward his father, shouting. "_Nyet_! Don't--"

"Release him, I tell you." Andrei Androv didn't hear him as he
continued to move menacingly on Tanzan Mino. The outcome was
inevitable.

Vance ducked and rolled for the Personnel Module just as the _kobun's_
line of H&K automatics flared.

Andrei Androv lurched, gray hair flying, and managed to get off two
rounds. But instead of hitting a _kobun_, he caught one of the Mino
Industries pilots, visor up, directly in the face.

Comrade Doktor Andrei Petrovich Androv, dean of Soviet propulsion
technology, chief designer of the _Daedalus_, died instantly, his eyes
still fixed in determination. However, Tanzan Mino's _kobun_ weren't
tidy. One of them squeezed off a couple more rounds just as Yuri Androv
ran up and leaned over his father's crumpled body. With a groan, he
spun around and staggered against the huge 22-ply tires of _Daedalus
_/'s starboard landing gear.

It still wasn't over. As Vance scrambled against the Personnel Module,
he caught a glimpse of something that, faintly visible through the
clouds of cryogenic fog, apparently was escaping everybody else.
Another woman was standing in the door of the office where Vera
Karanova had been. Holding an Uzi.

How had she managed to get her hands on that?

Not a second too soon. She can sweep the floor. Just get out of the way
and give her an opening. Maybe there's still time.

He began scrambling for the base of the Personnel Module. Now the white
mist was obscuring everything, and Tanzan Mino seemed to have enveloped
himself in it. He was nowhere to be seen. However, his presence was not
missed by his _kobun_, who were still taking care of business.

The next agenda item, Vance realized, was himself. As he tried to roll
under the module, one was turning, raising his automatic . . .

Now Eva was yelling, "Michael, stay down."

The _kobun_ all whirled back, but she was ready. Stock extended, full
auto.

Jesus, he thought, that hood in the back is holding enough C-4 to clear
a small arena. If she hits one of the detonators . . .

It was either a lucky or an unlucky shot. After eight rounds, less than
a second's worth, a blinding ball of fire erupted where the _kobun_ had
been, sending a shock wave rolling through the open space of the
hangar, knocking over technicians almost a hundred feet away. As Vance
was slammed under the Personnel Module, out of the corner of his eye he
saw Eva being thrown against the doorframe of the office. The air
blossomed with the smell of deadly C-4, like acrid Sterno. Not for
nothing did the U.S. military swear by it.

Now Yuri Androv was peeling himself off _Daedalus II's _landing gear,
his flight suit blackened and smudged. Blood from a bullet wound was
running down the right sleeve.

They'll be coming for us all, Vance thought. Tanzan Mino's probably
somewhere radioing for more guards right now.

Eva was stalking through the smoke, still grasping the Uzi.

"Michael, are you all right?"

"Hell of a morning." He was pulling himself out from under the
Personnel Module, awkwardly trying to straighten his flight helmet.
"You took out the palace guard, everybody but Mr. Big. Congratulations.
And I thought CIA had a patent on that kind of operation."

Already emergency alarms had begun a high-pitched whine, blaring
through the cavernous hangar. Everything around them was chaos.

"You know," she yelled above the noise, "he's going to kill us
immediately. There's no way he's going to--"

"I figure we've got about two minutes to think of something," he yelled
back and pointed. "Check on the pilot. His name is Androv."

"I know. I met him last night." She turned and stared. "We had a small
misunderstanding."

"Well, let's see if he's still in any condition to fly."

"You mean?"

"How else? You got any better ideas, I'd like to hear them."

Yuri Androv had worked his way through the carnage of the explosion,
the scattered remains of Tanzan Mino's phalanx of _kobun_, to again
bend over the form of his father. Once more the cloud of obscuring mist
was flowing over the scene, blanking it.

At that moment, however, a pale glow laid itself around them, the murky
light of overcast dawn. Vance realized the Soviet technicians had
thrown open the hangar doors and were scrambling out onto the tarmac.

Good, let them. We might just follow suit.

Now Yuri Andreevich Androv was approaching, clasping his right arm.

"We've got to get him fixed," Vance said briskly, looking him over,
"put on a tourniquet."

"Think he can still fly?"

"I say we make him fly."

With his left hand Androv peeled back his helmet visor and kissed Eva.
"_Spacebo_," he said in Russian, "you did what I would have done if I'd
had a weapon. But now I don't know what--"

"How's your arm?" Vance cut in. "We've got to make a decision right
now. When the reinforcements arrive, it's game over. One little Uzi
won't handle their firepower."

Androv frowned. "Can you fly?"

"Never handled anything bigger than a Lear," Vance replied. "And then
only as copilot."

It didn't seem to matter. Androv glanced at the open door of the
Personnel Module and motioned to them.

"Then come on. Let's hurry." Now he was searching the hangar. Finally
he spotted the man he wanted.

"Pavel," he yelled in Russian, "have the starter trolleys been engaged
yet?"

"_Da_," came the reply.

"Then prepare _Daedalus I _for power-up and get the hell out. We're go
for rpm."

"What do you mean? The tow trucks haven't even been--"

"Forget the tow trucks. It's going to be afterburners, right here. Get
the rest of your people in the clear."

Afterburners were rings of nozzles that sprayed fuel into the
superheated exhaust gases of a jet engine, creating a burst of power.
In military aircraft they were used to produce surges in thrust during
takeoff and dogfights.

"Afterburners! In the hangar. Yuri, all the hydrogen storage tanks
could blow. You'd destroy_ Daedalus II_. Just incinerate it."

"That's the idea." He was already mounting the steps of the Personnel
Module, not looking back. "There's only going to be one plane left. The
one I take."

"The computer." Eva had started up the steps, but then she froze and
turned back, handing Vance the Uzi. "I have to get it."

"There's no time." He reached for the weapon, its muzzle still hot.
"We've got--"

"Michael, I didn't come this far just to let the protocol slip through
our fingers." She was running past him now, back down. "Only take a
second."

He knew it was pointless to argue. And besides, maybe she was right.
Who knew where they'd end up?

Now Androv had faltered and was leaning shakily against the open
doorway of the module, the right sleeve of his pressure suit covered in
blood. Vance took advantage of the ticking moments to step up and
examine it.

"You need a bandage." He started tearing away the synthetic cloth. "Or
better yet, a tourniquet."

"No." Androv glanced at his arm and grimaced. "There's not--"

"You're going on adrenaline right now, my friend. But when the shock
wears off . . ." He looked around the interior of the module, but there
was nothing to cut with, so he just ripped away a large portion of
Androv's sleeve and parted the material. A savage furrow was sliced
across his bicep.

"I don't want you to pass out." He tore a section of the sleeve into a
strip and then, struggling with his heavy gloves, began binding it
above the wound. The hangar was still bedlam, people running and
yelling on every side, alarms sounding. As he was finishing the
tourniquet, Eva came bounding up the metal steps carrying her Zenith.
They were ready.

Androv quickly secured the door and activated the controls. Through a
smoke-smeared window they watched the bloody hangar floor disappear
into the haze. The world suddenly turned dreamlike, an unreality
highlighted by the soft whoosh of the pneumatic lift beneath them. Then
the module lurched to a halt.

Vance led the way through the open hatch. "Looks like somebody forgot
and left the lights on."

"Pavel told me the starter trolleys were engaged," Androv said in
Russian as he climbed through, then stepped down. He continued in
English. "Petra can initiate power-up."

"Petra?" Vance turned back. "You mean the--"

"Our copilot." He pointed toward a large liquid crystal screen at the
far end of the cabin, now blank. "I want to try and use her to override
Flight Control for the rest of the sequence."

"Short circuit the countdown?"

"I've never done it, but . . ." He walked over and reached down to flip
a square blue switch on the right-hand console. "Let's see if she's
awake this morning."

He glanced up as the screen blinked on and a large black-and-white
double-ax logo materialized, set against the red and white of a
Japanese flag. Next he pushed a button on the sidestick and spoke.

"Petra, report countdown status."

"_All preflight sequences nominal." _The eerie, mechanical sound of a
woman's voice, speaking Russian, filled the space. "_Do you
acknowledge?_"

"Affirmative," he answered back. "You will now initiate ignition
sequence. Bypass remaining countdown procedure."

"_That is an override command. Please give authorization code."_

"Code P-18. Systems emergency."

"_The countdown is now T minus nineteen minutes twenty-eight seconds.
All systems are nominal. Therefore Code P-18 is not a valid command."_

"Shit," he whispered under his breath. "Petra, verify P-18 with Flight
Control." He paused for a split second, then pushed a button on the
console and commanded, "Abort instruction." Another pause, then,
"Repeat verify abort command for N equals one over zero."

"What was that?" Eva was wedging her laptop under the left-hand G-seat.

"I think, I hope I just put her command-monitor function into an
infinite loop. She'll just continuously start and stop the verification
procedure. Maybe it'll render that subroutine incapable of blocking the
other system functions."

"You're going to confuse her head? Good luck."

He settled himself in the central seat, then reached up and began
unlatching the huge flight helmet. As he did, his eyes were suddenly
flooded with grief.

"They killed him." He paused for a moment and just stared. Vance
thought he'd finally become befuddled from the shock. But then he
choked back his emotion and continued. "We're going on the deck. Under
their goddam radar."

"What did you say?" Vance strained to catch his words. The English was
slurred.

He seemed to grow faint, his consciousness wane, but he finally revived
as he finished yanking the giant helmet down over his head.

Vance's headphones came alive as he heard the Russian. "_Daedalus I_ to
Control. Do you read? I am now bringing up core rpm for starboard
cluster, outboard trident." A second later, he continued, "We have S-O
ignition."

"Yuri," came a startled radio voice, "what in hell is going on! You
can't--"

"Portside cluster, outboard. Rpm up," he continued in Russian, his
voice halting. "We have P-O ignition."

"Yuri, you can't--?"

"Starboard cluster, inboard. Bringing up. Portside cluster, inboard--"

"Androv, for godsake, have you gone mad?"

"Sergei, I told them to clear the hangar. I'm taking her to full
power."

"The liquid hydrogen tanks are in there. You could blow the whole
hangar to hell if you use afterburners. You must be crazy!"

"The bastards gunned him down, Sergei." He caught a sob. "It was my
fault. I should have warned--"

"What are you talking about? Gunned who down?"

But Yuri Androv's mind was already elsewhere, drifting into a grief-
obsessed dream state.

"Engine start complete," he continued. "Beginning pre-takeoff
sequence."

Will he be able to get this thing off the ground? Vance was wondering.
He's shot up and now he's falling apart.

Guess we're about to find out. The fuselage cameras are showing an
empty hangar. Everybody's run for cover.

"Eva, want to take that seat? I'll take this one. No free drinks in
this forward cabin section." He was speaking through his upraised
helmet visor as he eased himself into the right-hand G-seat.

"And buckle up for safety." She settled herself in the left. "Let's
just hope he can still manage this monster. It's a Saturn V with
wings."

"He's got his talking computer, if she'll still cooperate. Do me a
favor and translate now and then."

"Machines are supposed to translate for people, not the other way
around. We're in space warp."

"I believe it."

As he pulled down the overhead seat straps, he found himself wondering
what _Daedalus _would feel like in full afterburner mode. Those
turboramjets made a Boeing 747's massive JT-9Ds look like prime movers
for a medium-sized lawnmower.

"Power to military thrust." Androv was easing forward the twin
throttles, spooling them up past three-quarters power. _Daedalus _had
begun to quiver, shaking like a mighty mountain in tectonic upheaval.

"Prepare for brake release."

The screens on the wall above reported fuel consumption edging toward
three hundred pounds of JP-7 a second.

"Yuri," the radio crackled, "don't--"

"Pavel's got his men out of the hangar, Sergei. I can see on my screen.
I'm going cold mike now. No distractions. Just wish me luck."

There was a click as he switched off the communications in his helmet.
He missed a new radio voice by only a second. It was speaking in
English.

"Dr. Vance, what is going on? He's just cut his radio link with Flight
Control. He's deranged. I order you to halt the flight sequence. He
could destroy both planes by going to afterburners in the hangar. I
demand this be stopped."

Vance glanced up at the TV monitors. An auxiliary screen showed Tanzan
Mino standing at the main Flight Control console, surrounded by more_
kobun_, who had muscled aside the Russian technicians. He also noticed
that a lot of Soviet brass were there too.

"Looks like you've got a problem."

"I'm warning you I will shut you down. I can activate the automatic AI
override three minutes after takeoff. The plane will return and land
automatically."

"Three minutes is a long time." Vance wondered if it was true, or a
bluff. "We'll take our chances."

"You'd leave me no choice."

"May the best man win."

"Petra, brake release." Yuri Androv's voice sounded from beneath his
helmet.

_"Acknowledged_."

Vance looked across to see his left hand signal a thumbs-up sign, then
reach down for the throttle quadrant. The vehicle was already rolling
through the wide doors of the hangar, so if there were an explosion
now, at least they'd be in the clear.

Androv paused a second, mumbled something in Russian, then shoved the
heavy handles forward to Lock, commanding all twelve engines to max
afterburner. The JP-7 fuel reading whirled from a feed of three hundred
pounds a second to twenty-one hundred, and an instant thereafter the
cockpit was slammed by the hammer of God as the monitor image of the
hangar dissolved in orange.



CHAPTER TWENTY



Friday 9:31 A.M.



"One small step for man."

Vance felt his lungs curve around his backbone, his face melt into his
skull. He didn't know how many G's of acceleration they were
experiencing, but it felt like a shuttle launch. He gripped the straps
of the G-seat and watched the video feed from the landing-gear cameras,
which showed the tarmac flashing by in a stream of gray. The screen
above him had clicked up to 200 knots, and in what seemed only a second
the _Daedalus _was a full kilometer down the runway. Then the monitors
confirmed they were rotating to takeoff attitude, seven degrees.

They were airborne.

Next the screens reported a hard right-hand bank, five G's. The
altimeter had become a whirling blur as attitude increased to twenty
degrees, held just below stall-out by Petra's augmented control system.

When the airspeed captured 400 knots, the landing gear cameras showed
the wheels begin to fold forward, then rotate to lie flat in the
fuselage. Next the doors snapped closed behind them, swallowing them in
the underbelly and leaving the nose cameras as their only visual link
to the outside. The screens displayed nothing but gray storm clouds.

Landing gear up and locked, came Petra's disembodied voice.

"Acknowledge gear secure," Androv said, quieting a flashing message on
one of the screens.

No abort so far, Vance thought. Maybe we're about to get away with
this.

The airspeed had already passed 600 knots, accelerating a tenth of a
Mach number, about 60 knots, every five seconds.

That's when he noticed they were still receiving wideband video
transmissions from the Flight Center. The screen showing Tanzan Mino
remained clear and crisp. Surely not for much longer, but now at least
the uplink was intact. And the CEO was returning the favor, monitoring
their lift-off via a screen of his own. Vance watched as he turned to
some of the Soviet brass standing next to him and barked orders. What
was that about?

For now though the bigger question was, What do we do?

Androv was still busy talking to Petra, issuing commands. Vance
realized they were assuming a vector north by northeast, out over the
ocean. They also were probably going to stay on the deck to avoid radar
tracking, with only passive systems so that no EM emissions would
betray their heading.

He glanced up at the screens and realized he was half right. They were
over the ocean now, at a breathtaking altitude of only five hundred
meters, but Androv had just switched the phased-array radar altimeter
over to start hopping frequencies, using "squirt" emissions. Pure
Stealth technology. No conventional radar lock could track it.

"Dr. Vance, I am giving you one more opportunity to reconsider." Tanzan
Mino's voice sounded through the headphones. He was still standing at
the main Flight Control console, though his image was finally starting
to roll and break up. "You must return to base. The consequences of
this folly could well be incalculable."

"Why don't you take that up with the pilot?" Vance answered into his
helmet mike.

"His receiver has been turned off. It's impossible to communicate with
him. He's clearly gone mad. I will give you another sixty seconds
before I order the on-board guidance computer switched over to the AI
mode. Flight Control here will override the on-board systems and just
bring the vehicle back and land it."

Again Vance wondered if he really could.

Then a screen flashed, an emergency strobe, and Petra was speaking. The
Russian was simple enough he could decipher it.

Systems advisory. You are too low. Pull up. Acknowledge. Pull up.

Androv tapped the sidestick lightly and boosted their altitude a
hundred meters.

"Michael," the voice was Eva's coming through his headphones. "She--it--
whoever, said--"

"I figured it out. But did you hear the other news? Mino-san just
advised he's going to override Petra. We're about to find out who's
really flying this baby."

"No." Androv was raising his flight helmet and gesturing, his wounded
arm urging at something in his right pocket. "Please take. Do it
quickly. And then . . ."

Vance unstrapped his G-seat harness, rose, and moved over to the
central console. Androv had raised his hydraulic helmet all the way up
now and was trying to unzip the right side of his flight suit. Vance
reached down and helped him, not sure exactly what he needed.

"There." Yuri was trying to point. "The radio. Please, you must . . ."
The English began to fail him again.

"What's this?" Vance took out the transmitter, the size and shape of a
small calculator.

The answer was in Russian, complex and garbled. Something about
computer.

"He's wired something into the on-board computer, Michael," Eva began
translating. "The radio will perform brain surgery on Petra, disabling
her AI functions. It's supposed to prevent Flight Control from
overriding . . . I didn't quite get it. But he wants you to help."

Vance glanced up at the line of video screens. _Daedalus _was now
skimming rapidly over the straits, banking in the direction of the
archipelago known as the Kurile Islands, and the image of Tanzan Mino
was breaking up, almost gone. Had he heard? Maybe it didn't matter. The
allotted sixty seconds was ticking away and he could just make out the
image of Tanzan Mino, holding a microphone, preparing to give orders.

By the clock on the screens he saw that forty-one seconds had already
passed.

"Dr. Vance, we are preparing to initiate total systems override." The
CEO's voice sounded through his headphones. "You have fifteen seconds
remaining to acknowledge."

"The code," Androv was saying. "It is one-nine-nine-nine."

Vance stared at the small device in his flight glove. It had a number
keypad and a liquid crystal display.

"You have ten seconds," Tanzan Mino said. The image was ghostly, but
the voice still rang loud and clear.

He began fumbling with the device, but the numbers kept eluding him,
slipping around the thick fingers of his gloves. Finally he caught the
1. Above him the screens were still scrolling. Eight seconds.

Suddenly the cockpit seemed to sway, an air pocket that

even the _Daedalus'_ advanced structural mode control system couldn't
damp out entirely. Now Androv was talking to Petra, going for a sliver
more altitude. Seven seconds.

       "Michael." Eva was watching, her face still drawn from the
acceleration. "Is it--?"

"It's the gloves. The damned gloves. I'm . . ." Then he punched in the
first 9.

In the back of his mind he noted that the cockpit was adjusting as
_Daedalus _rotated, increasing attitude . . .

He got another 9. But his grip on the "calculator" was slipping,
pressing toward the floor as the G-forces of acceleration weighed
against him. He checked the screens again and saw that three seconds
remained.

Now Androv was grappling to keep control of the throttle, while issuing
instructions to Petra.

Am I about to disable her? he wondered. If I do, can he manage this
nightmare manually? What if Mino was only bluffing?

Two seconds.

A final, bright green 9 appeared on the liquid crystal readout.

"_Alert. AI system malfunction_." It was the toneless voice of Petra.
She sounded vaguely annoyed.

Something had happened. Two of the screens on the wall above had just
gone blank, but _Daedalus _continued to climb.

"Dr. Vance, we are now going to recall the plane. We have ordered a
wing of fighter-interceptors scrambled from the Dolinsk airbase on
Sakhalin. They will escort you back."

Whoops. So that was what he was telling the Soviet brass to do. Get up
some hardware fast. This could well be the shortest flight since the
Wright brothers'.

Then he heard Androv's helmet mike click on.

"This is _Daedalus I_. Do you copy me?"

"Major, you--" Mino began.

"Copy this, you bastard. Fuck you. Repeat. Fuck you. I've disabled your
fucking AI module."

"You disabled it?"

"That's a roger. Do you read me, you murdering son-of-a-bitch? FUCK
YOU!" He clicked off his mike

Vance was moving slowly across the cockpit, headed back to his own G-
seat. As he settled himself and reached for the straps, he glanced up
at the screens to check their flight data--altitude, speed, vector, G-
force, fuel consumption. They were still on the deck, with an airspeed
just under a thousand knots, about eleven hundred miles per hour. Not
quite Mach 2, but already it was risky. And their vector was 085, with
coordinates of 46 degrees latitude, 143 degrees longitude.

What now? _Daedalus_ had all the active radar systems known to modern
avionics. Looking at the screens he saw forward-looking radar,
sideways-looking radar, a four-beam multimode pulse-Doppler look-down
radar, terrain-following radar, radar altimeter, mapping and
navigational radar, and a host of high-powered ECM jammers. The problem
was, they all emitted EM, electromagnetic radiation. Switch on any of
those and they'd become a flying radio beacon, broadcasting their
position.

The next row of screens, however, provided readouts of their passive,
non-emitting receivers and analyzers. That clearly was what they would
have to use to monitor the threat from Sakhalin, scooping up any EM for
lightning-fast computer processing. Surely Petra could spit out a
fingerprint of everything in the skies. To begin with, there were the
basic Radar Warning Receivers (RWRs) located aft, on the tailplanes, as
well as infrared warning receivers (IRWRs) positioned high on the
outboard stabilizers. The screens showed she could analyze basic
frequency, operating mode, pulse repetition frequency, amplitude of
pulse, time of arrival, direction of arrival--the full menu.

"If it's true they've scrambled the base at Dolinsk, it probably means
the new MiG 31s." Androv was now busy switching on all the passive
systems, just the way Vance figured he would. "We have to decide what
to do. But first I want to take her up and do a quick recon. Buckle
in."

"The latest Foxhound has a multimode pulse-Doppler look-down, shoot-
down capability that's as good as any in the world," Vance heard
himself saying. "We're the biggest target in the skies, and we're
unarmed. We'd be a sitting duck for one of their AA-9 active homing
missiles. They're launch-and-leave."

"Let's check it out before we get too worried," Androv replied. "But
this has to be fast. You're about to see a Mach 3 Immelmann. Don't try
this in a 747." He laughed, then began lowering his high-tech helmet.
"I hope I can still manage it."

There was a surge of acceleration as he shoved forward the throttles,
then yanked back on the sidestick. The Daedalus seemed to kick straight
up. And up. And up. The instruments showed they were traveling skyward
in a thin arc, as though sliding up the curve of an archer's bow. Now
the altimeter was spinning, and in eighteen seconds they had already
reached twenty thousand feet. But still Androv kept the stick in, and
during the next five seconds, as Daedalus continued tracing the
archer's curve, they almost began to fly upside down.

At the last moment he performed an aileron half-roll and righted them.
The Immelmann had, in effect, taken them straight up and headed their
powerful forward-looking IR detectors and radar in the direction of
Sakhalin. Vance glanced at the screens and realized they'd climbed
thirty thousand feet in twenty-seven seconds. They'd just waxed the
standing forty-eight-second time-to-climb record of the USAF F-15
Eagle, and Daedalus wasn't even breathing hard. Even though Androv had
now chopped the power, they still were cruising at Mach 2.
Effortlessly.

No wonder he loves this bird.

The only downside was, the fuel reading showed they'd burned twenty-
three thousand pounds of JP-7 during the climb out.

"Petra," Androv said into his helmet mike, "take VSD to standby and
give me infrared laser."

Petra's interrogation revealed a wing of eight MiG 31 interceptors,
flying in formation at twenty-five thousand feet and closing. At Mach
2.4.



Friday 9:43 A.M.



"_Ya ponemaiyu_," Colonel-General Gregori Edmundovich Mochanov said
into the secure phone, the pride of Dolinsk's Command Central. "I
ordered a wing of the Fifteenth Squadron scrambled at 0938 hours.
Fortunately we were planning an exercise this morning."

He paused for the party at the other end, General Valentin Sokolov on a
microwave link from the Hokkaido facility.

"_Da_, if Androv maintains his altitude below six hundred meters, then
he will probably have to keep her near Mach 2. The vehicle, as I
understand it, is not designed for that operating regime. So with the
MiG 31s on full afterburner, we can make up the distance. But we need
his vector."

He paused and listened. "Yes, they are fully armed. AA-9s. A kill
perimeter of--" He listened again. "Of course, active homing radar and
infrared, on the underfuselage--" He was impatiently gripping the
receiver. "_Da_, but I can't work miracles. I must have a vector." He
paused again. "_Da_, but I don't want to accidentally shoot down
another KAL 747. I must have a confirmed target. I'm not going to order
them to fire without it."

He listened a second longer, then said, "Good," and slammed down the
phone.



Friday 9:44 A.M.



Guess we'd better start playing hide-and-seek in earnest," Vance
observed.

"Stealth, my American friend," Androv replied. "The hostile radar
signature of this fuselage is almost nothing. And we can defeat their
infrared by taking her back on the deck, so the engines are masked from
their look-down IR. Back we go. We'll pull out at five hundred meters,
but it'll mean about three negative G's--blood to the brain, a redout.
Very dangerous. Be ready."

Then he shoved the sidestick forward and Daedalus plunged into a Mach 3
power dive. The infrared cameras showed the sea plunging toward them.
The dive took even less time than the climb, with the altimeter
scrolling. Suddenly the voice of Petra sounded.

_"Pull up. Warning. Pull up. Pilot must acknowledge or auto-override
will commence."

_A ton of empty space slammed into them as Petra automatically righted
the vehicle, pulling out of the dive at an altitude of four hundred
meters.

Vance looked over and saw Yuri Andreevich Androv's bandaged arm lying
limp on the sidestick, lightly hemorrhaging. He'd passed out from the
upward rush of blood.



Friday 9:58 A.M.

_

_"He has disappeared from the Katsura radar again, Mino-sama. I think
he has taken the vehicle back on the deck." Ikeda's face was ashen as
he typed in the computer AI override command one last time, still
hoping. The Flight Control operations screen above him was reading
"System Malfunction," while the engineers standing behind were
exchanging worried glances. Who was going to be held responsible? The
master screen above, the one with the Katsura radar, no longer showed
the _Daedalus_. Androv had taken it to thirty thousand feet, then down
again. He was playing games.

Tanzan Mino was not wasting time marveling at the plane's performance
specs. He turned and nodded to General Sokolov, who was holding a red
phone in his hand. The MiG 31 wing wasn't flying military power; it was
full afterburners, which was pushing them to Mach 2.4. If Daedalus
stayed on the deck, they might still intercept.

"We have no choice," he said in Russian. "Order them to give him a
chance to turn back, and tell him if he refuses, they will shoot him
down. Maybe the threat will be enough."

Sokolov nodded gravely. But what if Androv was as insane as every
indication suggested he was? What if he disobeyed the commands from the
Sakhalin interceptors? What then? Who was going to give the command
that unleashed AAMs to bring down the most magnificient airplane--make
that spacecraft--the world had ever seen. The MiG 31, with its long-
range Acrid AA-9 missiles, had a stand-off kill capability that matched
the American F-14 Tomcat and its deadly AIM-54 Phoenix. Since the AA-9
had its own guidance system, the pilot need not even see his target.
One of those could easily bring down an unarmed behemoth like the
Daedalus as long as it was still in the supersonic mode, which it would
have to be at that low altitude.

A pall of sadness entered his voice as he issued the command. Androv,
of all people, knew the look-down shoot-down capabilities of the MiG
31. Maybe there was still a chance to reason with him. The _Daedalus
_had no pilot-ejection capability. His choice was to obey or die.

Reports from the hangar said he'd taken some automatic-weapons fire
from the CEO's bodyguards. How badly wounded was he?

Hard to tell, but he'd got _Daedalus_ off the runway, then done an
Immelmann to take her to ten thousand meters, followed by a power dive
back to the deck. He was frolicking like a drunken dolphin. Pure
Androv. How much longer could he last?

Sokolov glanced at the screen in front of him. The computer was
extrapolating, telling him that a due-east heading by _Daedalus_ would
soon take her over international waters. If Androv kept that vector, at
least there'd be no messy questions about violating foreign airspace.

"How long before they can intercept?" Tanzan Mino asked, not taking his
eyes from the screens. Now the Soviet interceptors were on the Katsura
radar, speeding toward _Daedalus'_ last known vector coordinates. It
should only be a matter of time.

"In five minutes they will be within air-to-air range," Sokolov
replied. He paused, then asked the question weighing on his mind. "If
he refuses to turn back, do you really want that vehicle blown from the
skies?"

Now Tanzan Mino was thinking about the Stealth capabilities of the
_Daedalus_. Was the design good enough to defeat the MiG-31s' pulse-
Doppler radar? He suddenly found himself wishing the plane hadn't been
so well designed. The stupid Soviets, of course, had no idea--yet-- that
it could just disappear.

"He could be headed for Alaskan air space. That's what the computer is
projecting. You understand the ramifications if this vehicle falls into
the hands of the Americans."

The Soviet nodded gravely. That was, of course, unthinkable. There
would be no going home again.



Friday 9:57 A.M.



"Yuri!" Eva was up like a shot. "Lean back. Breathe." She was pushing
the button that raised the huge flight helmet. As she watched, his open
eyes gradually resumed their focus. Then he snapped his head and looked
around.

"_Shto_ . . . what happened?"

"I don't think you can handle heavy G-loads. You're weak from the
wound, the tourniquet."

He straightened up, then glanced again at the altimeter. They were
cruising at three hundred meters, smooth as silk. And they were burning
six hundred pounds of JP-7 a second.

"Nothing has gone the way I planned." He rubbed at his temples, trying
to clear the blood from his brain. "We're just buying a little
breathing space now by staying down here. I think the radar noise of
the choppy sea, together with all our Stealth capability, will keep us
safe. But at this low altitude we're using fuel almost as though we
were dumping it. If we continue to hold on the deck, we've got maybe
half an hour's flying time left."

"If we gained altitude," Vance wondered, "could we stretch it enough to
make Alaska?"

"Probably," Androv replied. "If we took her above fifty thousand feet,
we might have a chance."

"Then we've got no choice. The only solid ground between here and the
U.S. is the Kurile Islands, and they're Soviet territory."

"But if we did reach U.S. airspace, then what?" Eva asked. "We'd have
to identify ourselves. Who's going to believe our story? Nobody even
knows this monster exists."

"Right," he laughed. "A top-secret Soviet hypersonic bomber comes
cruising across the Bering Strait at sixty thousand feet and into the
USAF's airspace. One hint of this thing and they'd roll out the SAMs."

"Maybe we couid talk our way down."

"Maybe."

"There's no other choice."

"You are getting ahead of things, both of you," Androv interrupted,
staring at the screens on the wall. "We still have to handle the
interceptors from Dolinsk. If we went for altitude, we'd show enough
infrared signature to make us an easy target during ascent. Before we
even reached two thousand meters, they'd have a lock on us."

Vance glanced at the IRWR. Daedalus's infrared laser scanners were
still tracking the wing of MiG interceptors, now at twenty-two thousand
feet and closing.

"It doesn't matter," he said. "We've got to get off the deck soon,
while we still have fuel. Either that or we'll have to ditch at sea."

"Comrade Vance, the Daedalus is a marvelous platform, but when we go
for altitude, we're going to be vulnerable. There's no getting around
it. This vehicle was intended to perform best at the edge of space, not
down here."

"All right," he said slowly. "Then why not take her there? Use the
scramjets. We may be running out of JP-7, but we have a load of liquid
hydrogen. Maybe this is the moment to finally find out if this thing
can burn it."

"I'm--I'm afraid. After what happened when we pulled out of the power
dive, I'm not sure I could handle the G-load necessary to power in the
scramjets." Yuri paused. "The tourniquet has almost paralyzed my arm. I
don't have the kind of control and timing we'd need. If I thought I
could--but no. I hate to say it, even think it, but maybe we have no
choice but to give up and turn back."

"Not yet," Vance said. "Maybe there's one other possibility."



Friday 10:01 A.M.



"They still are not acknowledging," Tanzan Mino said grimly. "We don't
know their exact vector, but they will have to gain altitude soon. When
they do . . ." He turned to General Sokolov. "Radio Dolinsk and confirm
the order."

This was the moment Valentin Sokolov had been dreading. The AA-9
missile, which was carried on the MiG 31's recessed underfuselage
stations, came in two versions: the active radar homing model and the
heat-seeking infrared design. He suspected that _Daedalus _had enough
Stealth and ECM capabilities to partially defeat radar, but Stealth
couldn't mask IR.

Sooner or later, Androv would have to make his move, come off the deck.
And when he did, the MiGs would pick him up and it would be over.

But that was still preferable to letting Daedalus fall into the hands
of the Americans. So if Androv refused to answer his radio and comply
with the call-back, there'd be no choice.



Friday 10:02 A.M.



"What do you mean?" Androv asked, wiping at his brow.

Vance took a deep breath. "We've got no choice. You know what I'm
thinking."

"We'll need ten G's of acceleration to power in the scramjets, my
friend." He leaned back in the seat and closed his eyes. His face was
now drawn with pain, but the bleeding had stopped. Above them, Petra
silently flew the plane and flashed messages on the screens. "I've
trained for years," he continued finally. "Even with your inflatable G-
suit, you couldn't possibly take the G-loads and stay conscious."

"What other choice is there? Either I try, or we ditch down there in
the Sea of Okhotsk. Personally, I'd rather go out like a shooting star,
taking our chances."

"It's not that simple. The scramjets are designed to be powered in at
Mach 4.8. We dare not risk that below at least forty thousand feet.
There are aerodynamic reasons. In fact, they're not really intended to
be used below sixty thousand."

"Well," Vance said, "if we started our ascent at max throttle, what
kind of airspeed could we capture by forty thousand? Could we achieve
Mach 4.8?"

"Only if we used afterburners. Which means we'd probably have only
about ten minutes of JP-7 left for landing later." He laughed sadly.
"Assuming there's anywhere we could land."

"How about Heathrow? I know a Japanese banker who'd probably love to
have this vehicle as collateral for a few billion in Eurodollar
debentures he's being forced to underwrite. He's a friend of mine and I
owe him a favor."

"You want to turn this plane over to some banker?" He was visibly
startled. "We can't ignore the fact that it still belongs, technically,
to Mino Industries."

"My friend's a big boy. He'll work it out, Yakuza-style. Don't worry."
He glanced up at the fuel gauges. They now had twenty minutes left.
Just enough to get back to the facility and give up? Or go all the way.

"Eva, what do you say. Want to give it a shot?"

"I'm game. One thing's for sure; I have no intention of going back to
get ourselves murdered by Tanzan Mino. If we can make it to the other
side of the world by burning hydrogen, then . . ."

"Maybe, just maybe Petra could help enough for you to manage it."
Androv paused to collect his strength. "I don't know if you can stay
conscious through the ten G's of acceleration needed to initiate the
scramjets. But I know for sure I can't, not in my current state. You
might as well give it a try." He turned to Eva and continued in
Russian. "There's an emergency back-up pressure suit in that locker
beneath Petra's main screen. See if you can put it on. You'll still
probably pass out, but don't worry, the 'event' is only temporary.
After we go through the hypersonic barrier, acceleration will subside.
Down to three, maybe four G's."

"I'll get the suit," she said, starting to unbuckle her straps.

"Okay, we'd better get started." Vance was crossing the cabin. The nose
cameras were showing the spray of white- caps directly below them. If
they'd passed any fishing vessels, he mused, there were probably
stories of flying saucers already going around. The passive IRWR
scanner was still tracking the wing of MiG 31s, now at a hundred and
thirty kilometers, approximately eighty miles, and closing. Daedalus
was almost within the kill perimeter of the MiG 31s and their AA-9
missiles.

The radio crackled, something in Russian. Yuri Androv stared at the
flight helmet, then looked down at the console and flipped a switch.

"I copy you, Firefight One," he replied in Russian. "Over."

"Androv, you idiot. What in hell are you doing? Defecting to the
capitalists?" The voice laughed. "We don't know what the devil you're
flying, but when you pulled that Immelmann, my IR thought you were an
An-124 Condor transport turned into a high-performance Foxbat. One in-
credible son-of-a-bitch."

"It's a spaceship, Arkadi. Excuse me, Colonel Arkadi. Congratulations
on the promotion."

"_Spacebo_," he said, laughing again. Then he sobered. "Yuri, I don't
know what this is all about, but I'm instructed by General Sokolov to
escort you and that thing you're flying back to Hokkaido. If you're
stupid enough to refuse, then I have orders to shoot you down."

"Is that any way to treat an old friend?"

"Yuri Andreevich, we go back a long way. To the Ramenskoye Flight Test
Center. You were the best we ever had. Don't make me do this."

"I'm thinking I may spare you the trouble."

"Thank God."

"Give me five minutes. If I don't turn back by then, give it your
best."

"Pull up. Show yourself on IR. We have no idea what your vector is."

"I'll take her to three thousand meters. You'll have a lock on me. But
I still want five minutes."

"That's all I can give you, Yuri. After that . . ." His voice trailed
off.

"I'm going off this frequency. Talk to you in five."

"Five minutes. Starting now."

Androv pushed a switch on the console, then said, "Petra, stabilize at
three thousand."

_"Three thousand,"_ she repeated. _"Confirmed."_

He rose from the pilot's seat, motioning for Vance. There was a surge
of acceleration as the vehicle changed pitch, the cockpit rotating to
adjust for the G-forces. The weight of two and a half G's weighed
against them as the altimeter screen started scrolling upward.

Vance walked across to the central seat, studying the console. The
throttle quadrant and sidestick he understood, but most of the other
controls were new to him. Maybe it didn't matter.

"Does Petra understand English?"

"Of course," Androv nodded. "Russian, Japanese, and English.
Interchangeable. She's programmed such that if you command her in
Russian, she replies in Russian. If you use English, that's what you
get back."

"So far, so good." He looked at the large screen at the end of cabin,
the one that displayed Petra's mindstate. She was dutifully announcing
that she'd just taken the vehicle to three thousand meters. She also
was reporting the IR interrogation of a wing of MIG 31s flying at
twenty thousand feet, with a closure rate of three hundred knots. When
Daedalus made her move, would she be able to outdistance their air-to-
air missiles?

We're about to find out, he thought, in--he glanced at the screens--three
and a half minutes. Eva was zipping up her pressure suit now, readying
to strap herself back into her seat. The helmet made her look like an
ungainly astronaut.

"Like I said, the scramjets become operable at Mach 4.8," Androv went
on. "At forty thousand feet, that's about three thousand miles per
hour. I've never taken her past Mach 4.5." He was grasping the side of
the console to brace himself. "You probably know that scramjets require
a modification in engine geometry. In the turboramjet mode, these
engines have a fan that acts as a compressor, just like a conventional
jet. However, when we switch them over to scramjet geometry, the
turbines are shut down and their blades set to a neutral pitch. Next
the aft section of each engine is constricted to form a combustion
chamber--the shock wave inside becomes the 'compressor.' " He paused.
"The unknown part comes when the fans are cut out and the engine
geometry is modified. I've unstarted the fans and reconfigured, but
I've never fed in the hydrogen. We simply don't know what will happen.
Those damned turbines could just explode."

"So we take the risk."

"There's more," he continued. "The frictional heat at hypersonic
speeds. Our liquid hydrogen is supposed to act as a heat sink, to
dissipate thermal buildup on the leading edges, but who the hell knows
if it'll work. We're now flying at about fifteen hundred miles per
hour. When you give Petra the go-ahead, we could accelerate to ten,
even fifteen thousand miles per hour. God help us, we may just melt."

"If you were willing to give it a shot, then I am." Vance looked up at
the screens. "We're now at ten thousand feet. I kick over to scramjets
at forty thousand?"

"The computer simulations all said that if we go hypersonic below sixty
thousand feet, we could seriously overheat. But maybe if we climb out
fast enough . . ."

"We'll have to take our chances. We need to minimize that window of AAM
vulnerability."

"I agree." Androv gestured for him to sit, then glanced up at the
screens. "We have two and a half minutes. I've set Petra for full auto.
All you have to do is just talk her through the key intervals of the
sequence."

Vance settled in and examined the huge flight helmet looming above him,
making him look like an alien insect from science fiction. Now the
cabin had taken on an eerie quiet, with nothing but silent screens
flashing data. He'd never talked to an airplane before, and the thought
gave him some disquiet.

Two minutes.

"What do I do first?"

"You probably should start by attaching that nozzle there on the legs
of your G-suit to the pressure hose on the console. When the G-forces
go above eight, tubules in the legs automatically inflate using bleed
air from the engines. It's going to squeeze hell out of your lower
extremities. If you begin to gray-out, try to grunt as hard as you can.
The M-l maneuver, I think you Americans call it. If your vision begins
to go entirely, just try and talk Petra through."

"What else?"

"Once you start pushing through the hypersonic barrier, keep an eye on
screens B-5 and B-6, which report engine strut temperature and stress
loads. Those are the most important data for the scramjet mode. But
first check the C-2 screen. Core rpm has to be zeroed out before the
scramjet geometry modification, since the compressors need to be
completely shut down. If it's not, then instruct Petra to abort the
sequence. It could cause a flameout."

"And that's when I switch over to liquid hydrogen?"

"Exactly. Petra will set the new engine geometry, then sample
compression and temperature and tell you the precise moment. But the
actual switch-over is manual. I insisted on it." He pointed. "It's
those blue toggles right behind the throttle quadrant. Just flip them
forward."

"Got it."

"After you toggle her over, just ease the throttle forward, and pray."
He settled himself into the right-hand seat, tugging at the tourniquet.
"When we enter the hypersonic regime, I don't know what will happen.
Above Mach 6 or Mach 7 we may begin to critically overheat. Or the
airframe stresses could just tear this damned _samolyot_  apart.
Whatever happens, though, you've got to keep pushing her right on out,
to stabilize the shock wave in the scramjets and bring them to full
power."

Vance glanced up at the screen--thirty seconds--and fingered the
sidestick and the throttles, trying to get their feel. As he began
lowering the massive flight helmet, he noted that with the engines on
military power they had exactly eighteen minutes of JP-7 left. When he
kicked in the afterburners to push them into the hypersonic regime, the
fuel readings would start dropping like a stone. But this was their
ball of string, their way out of the maze. Would it work?

"Remember," Androv said with finality, "just talk Petra through any
problems you have. And try to capture an attitude of sixty degrees
alpha . . ."

"Yuri, are you ready for us to escort you back?" The radio voice,
speaking Russian, sounded through the cabin.

"I'm still thinking it over," he answered.

"Don't be a fool. I have orders to down you with AA-9s. My weapons
system is already turned on. Warheads are locked. You're as good as
dead. If I push the fire button here under my left thumb, you're gone
in fifty seconds."

"You just made up my mind," he said, and nodded toward Vance. "Go."

"Firing one and two," was the radio response.

Vance grabbed the throttles. "Petra, do you read me?"

"_Yes,"_ she answered in English.

"Give me alpha sixty." He rammed the throttles forward, clicking them
into the Lock position, igniting the afterburners. Next he yanked the
sidestick into position.

The cockpit rotated upward, automatically shifting to compensate for
the changing G-forces. In front of his eyes now was a wide liquid
crystal screen that seemed to be in 3-D. The left side resembled the
heads-up display, HUD, common to jet Fighters, providing altitude,
heading, airspeed, G-forces in a single unified format. The right side
showed a voice-activated menu listing all the screens along the wall.

"Read me fuel," he said, testing it.

Immediately the numbers appeared, in pounds of JP-7 and in minutes,
with and without afterburners. The G-force was now at 3.5 and climbing,
while the digital altimeter was spinning.

_"Systems alert,"_ Petra announced suddenly, _"hostile radar lock. And
hostile IR interrogation. Two bogies, closure rate nine hundred sixty
knots."

_They weren't kidding, Vance thought. He glanced at the altitude
readout. Daedalus was hurtling through thirty thousand feet,
afterburners sizzling. But an AA-9 had a terminal velocity well over
Mach 3. Add that to the Foxhound's 2.4 . . .

"Petra, give me estimated time of impact."

_"Extrapolating closure rate, I estimate impact in forty- three
seconds."

_Their acceleration had reached 3.8 G's, but fuel was dwindling
rapidly, already down to twelve minutes.

"Give me RWR and IRWR, screen one," he commanded.

The liquid crystal panorama inside the helmet immediately flashed,
showing the unfriendly radar and infrared interrogations. The two Acrid
AA-9s--that's what they had to be--were gaining altitude, tracking them
like bloodhounds. One was radar locked, while the other showed active-
homing IR guidance. The exhausts of Daedalus's afterburners must look
like a fireball in the sky, he thought.

He scanned the menu for electronic countermeasures (ECM) capabilities.

"Petra, commence radar jamming."

_"Commenced. Estimated time to impact, thirty-eight seconds."

_The missiles were still closing. Even if the radar-guided AAM could be
confused, Daedalus had no way to defeat infrared homing.

The left-hand display now showed they had accelerated to Mach 4.2. The
throttle quadrant was locked into the afterburner mode, but outrunning
AAMs was like trying to outspeed a smart bullet.

He watched the dials. Mach 4.3. Mach 4.4.

_"Estimated time to impact twenty-eight seconds."

_"I'm not sure we're going to make it," he said into his helmet mike.
"We may have to try initiating the scramjets early."

"No, it would be too risky," Androv replied. "The skin temperatures at
this altitude. The air is still so dense the thermal stresses . . ."

Vance checked the screen again. "Altitude is now thirty-eight thousand
feet. I'm going to level out some, try and boost our Mach number. One
thing's sure, we can't make it if we hold this attitude. Besides, we're
burning too much fuel. Either we chance it now, or we get blown to
smitherines. We've got no choice." He shoved the sidestick forward. For
this he didn't plan to bother with Petra.

_"Time to impact, twenty seconds,"_ she reported tonelessly.

By trimming pitch, Daedalus started accelerating more rapidly. Airspeed
scrolled quickly to Mach 4.6.

"_Time to impact, fifteen seconds."_

Nine and a half minutes of JP-7 remained. Just enough to land, he
thought, if we ever get the chance.

Mach 4.7.

"Eva, take a deep breath. We're about to try and enter the fourth
dimension."

"I . . . can't . . . talk."

Then he remembered Androv had said she might pass out. Now he was
starting to wonder if he wouldn't lose consciousness too. He was
sensing his vision starting to fade to gray, breaking up into dots. The
screen noted that their acceleration had reached eight G's and was
still climbing. Fighting for consciousness, he reached down and
increased his oxygen feed, then contracted every muscle in the lower
half of his body, trying to shove the blood upward. The G-indicator on
the left-hand screen had scrolled to 9.2.

_"Time to impact, ten seconds."

_Mach 4.8.

He reached down and manually locked the pitch on the compressor fan
blades into a neutral configuration. They immediately stalled out,
causing _Daedalus _to shudder like a wounded animal. Then he heard the
voice of Petra, and a new signal flashed on his helmet screen.

_"We have nominal scramjet geometry. Commence ignition sequence."

_She'd reconfigured the turbines, meaning _Daedalus _was go for
hypersonic. He grappled blindly behind the throttle quadrant and
flicked the large blue switches that initiated the hydrogen feed. But
would the supersonic shock wave inside the engines fire it?

"_Time to impact, six seconds."_

"Let's go." Reaching for the throttle quadrant, he depressed the side
button and then shoved the heavy handles forward, sending a burst of
hydrogen into the scramjets' combustion chambers. . . .

_Daedalus _lurched, then seemed to be tearing apart, literally
disintegrating rivet by rivet.



Friday 9:57 A.M.



"We have detonation," Colonel Arkadi reported into his helmet mike. His
twin-engine Foxhound was already in a steep fifty-degree bank.

"We copy you," General Sokolov replied. "Can you confirm the kill?"

"The target is outside my radar and IR," he said, wishing he had some
of the new American over-the-horizon electronics he'd heard about. "But
both missiles reported impact. I've ordered the wing to chop power and
return to base. We're already on auxiliary tanks as it is."

"Roger," came the voice from Flight Control in Hokkaido.

"We downed her, Comrade General. Whatever she was, there's no way she
could have survived those AA-9s. The target is destroyed."



CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE



Friday 10:16 A.M.



Tanzan Mino closed his eyes and sighed. The financial portions of the
protocol would still stand on their own; the arrangement could be
salvaged somehow; it would merely require finesse.

The shocked faces of the Soviet brass standing behind him told of their
dismay. _Daedalus_, the most marvelous vehicle ever created, had
literally been within their grasp, and now . . . both prototypes
destroyed.

But at least, at least it hadn't fallen into the hands of the

Americans. No more humiliating episodes like that in 1976 when the
traitorous Lieutenant Viktor Belenko defected with a MiG 25 Foxbat,
exposing all its secret electronics to the West.



Friday 10:16 A.M.



A slam of acceleration hit him, and he felt a circle of black close in
on his vision. It was the darkness of eternal night, the music of the
spheres. His last sight was the airspeed indicator scrolling past Mach
6.1. Almost four thousand miles per hour.

The starship _Daedalus _had just gone hypersonic.

He didn't see it, but look-down radar had shown the two Acrid AA-9s
exploding a thousand feet below. When the scramjets powered in, the
infrared-homing AAM lost its lock on them and detonated the other
missile, sending a supersonic shock wave through _Daedalus_. AAMs, how-
ever, were now the least of their problems.

Skin temperature was pushing 2,200 degrees and the cockpit was becoming
an incinerator. At forty-eight thousand feet they were rapidly turning
into a meteorite.

His vision was gone, but just before losing consciousness he shoved the
hydrogen throttles all the way forward and yanked back on the
sidestick, sending them straight up into the freezing black above.



Friday 10:19 A.M.



_Altitude seventy-three thousand feet. Airspeed nine thousand knots."

_"Petra, raise helmet." He was slowly regaining his sight as the G-
loads began to recede. The cockpit was an oven, overwhelming its
environmental control equipment, clear evidence vehicle skin
temperature had exceeded design.

_"Confirmed. Helmet raising."

_Although his vision was still black and white, he started easing back
on the throttles and checking around the cock

pit. Eva was beginning to stir now, rising and struggling with her
safety straps, Androv remained slumped in his G-seat.

"You okay?" He rose and moved toward her. "I think I blacked out there
for a second or so."

"I'm going to make it." She shifted her eyes right. "But I'm not so
sure about . . ."

"Don't worry." The Russian snapped conscious and immediately reached to
begin loosening his straps. "I've been through heavy G-loads before."
Suddenly he stared up at the screens, pointed, and yelled. "Hypersonic!
_Zoloto_! You didn't tell me. I almost can't believe--"

"We almost lost it. Skin temperatures reached--"

"Japanese ceramic composites, my _droog_. No other material could have
done it. And now the atmosphere is thinning. When we hit eighty
thousand feet, or maybe eighty-five, skin temperature should stabilize
down around a thousand degrees. That's 'room temperature' for this
vehicle." He paused and grinned. "Liquid hydrogen. It's a fantastic
fuel, and a terrific coolant. Of course, if this catches on and we stop
using alcohol coolant in our MiGs, I don't know what the Soviet Air
Force will all drink before payday."

Vance glanced at their vector. They were over the Bering Sea now, with
a heading for who knew where.

Mach 11.3 and climbing. The Daedalus was pressing effortlessly toward
the darkness above. Time to think about what was next.

"How much of this wonderful liquid hydrogen do we have?"

"Just enough to do what I've been planning for a long time." He edged
over and touched Vance's shoulder. "I'm deeply in your debt. You made
it possible. Now there's only one thing left. The ultimate!"

Vance looked at him and realized immediately what he meant. Why not!

"Do we have enough oxygen?"

"Extra cannisters were loaded because of the two Mino Industries
pilots. I think we have about ten hours."

"Then I vote we give it a shot," he said, turning to Eva. "What do you
think?"

"What are you talking about?"

He flipped up his helmet visor. "If we can achieve Mach 25 by around a
hundred thousand feet, we can literally insert into orbit. It'd cause a
diplomatic flap the size of World War Three."

She slumped back in her G-seat. "Is it really possible?"

"Of course," Androv said. Then he laughed. "Well, I hope so. I've been
thinking about it for a couple of months now. I actually programmed
Petra to compute the precise thrust required, orbital apogee and
perigee, everything. The first Sputnik had an apogee of one hundred
miles and a perogee of one hundred twenty-five miles. I've calculated
that at Mach 25 I could propel this vehicle into roughly that orbit. To
get out we can just do a de-orbit burn. Set the compressors on the
ramjets for retrofire and cold-start them."

"So we can hold Tanzan Mino's cojones hostage for a while and have some
fun," Vance smiled. "What do we tell Petra?"

"I'll give her the coordinates, but you've got to handle the stick. We
need to hit Mach 25 above 98,600 feet, then shut down the engines with
split-second timing. She'll tell you when. If I computed it right, we
should just coast over the top."

"Got it." He looked up at the screens on the front wall of the cockpit.
Their altitude was now 87,000 feet, and then-speed had reached Mach 18,
over ten thousand miles per hour. They were cracking world records
every millisecond. And the cockpit was starting to cool off again as
the thinner atmosphere reduced friction on the leading edges. They'd
survived the thermal barrier. Coming up was the emptiness of space.

He watched as Androv called the routine in Petra's silicon memory where
he had stored the orbital data, then ordered her to coordinate it with
their current acceleration, altitude, and attitude.

_Confirmed_, she was saying. _Reducing alpha by two degrees._ She'd
already begun modifying their flight profile.

_         "You are approximately four minutes and thirty-seven seconds
from the calculated orbit. Will fuel controls be manual or automatic?"

_Vance glanced over at Androv. Here at the edge of space, were they
really going to turn their destiny over to a talking computer? This
game could turn serious if Petra somehow screwed up.

"Let's keep the throttles on manual."

"I agree," he nodded. "Too much could go wrong."

"If we don't like the looks of anything, we can always abort."

"Petra," Androv commanded, "throttles will be manual."

_Affirmative_. If she felt slighted, she wasn't saying anything. _Four
minutes._

"We'd all better strap in," Vance said, "till we see how this goes."

The screens above them were still flashing flight data. The strut
temperature in the scramjets, where a supersonic shock wave was
providing the compression to combust hydrogen and the rush of thin air,
had stabilized at 3,100 degrees Fahrenheit. Androv stood staring at the
screens, and a moistness entered his eyes.

"If my father could have seen this," he finally said in Russian.
"Everything he designed has worked perfectly. He dreamed of this
vehicle, talked of it for so many years, and now finally . . . to be
murdered on his day of triumph."

Eva looked at him. "Maybe his real dream was for you to fly it. To
create something for you."

He paused, as though uncertain how to respond. The look in his eyes
said he knew it was true. The pain and anger seemed to flow through him
like electricity.

"Before we are finished, the world will know of his achievement. I
intend to make sure of it."

_"Three minutes,"_ Petra announced. _"Reducing alpha by three
degrees."_

The screen above reported that they'd reached Mach 22.4. Their altitude
was now ninety-three thousand feet.

She's leveling out, Vance thought. Are we going to make it, or just
fade in the stretch?

The scramjets were punching through the isolation of near-space now,
the underfuselage scooping in the last fringes of atmosphere. He
doubted if there'd be enough oxygen above a hundred thousand feet to
enable the engines to continue functioning, but if they could capture
the vehicle's design speed, seventeen thousand miles per hour, they
still could coast into the perigee curve of a huge orbital elipse.

He looked at the screens again. They were now at Mach 23.7, with two
and a half minutes left. The complex calculus being projected on
Petra's main display now showed their rate of acceleration was
diminishing rapidly as the atmosphere continued to thin. Maybe, he
thought, there's a good reason why no one has ever inserted an air-
breathing vehicle into orbit before. Maybe all the aerodynamic and
propulsion tricks in the world can't compensate for the fact that
turbines need to breathe.

Petra seemed to sense they were in trouble. _"Constricting venturi by
seven point three,"_ she said. _"Reducing alpha by four degrees."_

She was choking down the scramjets and leveling them out even more.
Their thrust to weight ratio--which at thirty thousand feet had been
greater than one, meaning they could actually fly straight up--was
dropping like a stone. It was now down to 0.2. Daedalus was slowly
smothering.

But now their velocity had reached Mach 24.6. Almost, almost . . .

_"Thirty seconds," _Petra said, as though trying to sound confident.
She was busy sampling the combustion ratio in the scramjets and making
micro adjustments to the hydrogen feed.

Androv spoke into his helmet mike. "I'm beginning to think we won't
make it. Petra is now probably estimating thrust based on faulty
assumptions about oxygen intake. There's nothing left up here to burn.
There'll be no need to abort. The edge of the atmosphere is going to do
it for us." He looked up at the big screen and said, "Petra, project
image from the nose camera, rotated to minus ninety."

_"Confirmed,"_ she replied and flashed an image sprinkled with stars.
Then the camera swept around, and the massive screen at the end of
their cabin brought into view the edge of a wide globe that seemed to
be composed of shimmering blue. It was the North Pacific.

"I just wanted to see this," he said wistfully. "I once took a MiG 25
to seventy-three thousand feet, but it was nothing to compare. We're in
space."

"I've been eavesdropping on satellites for years," Eva commented. "But
this gives it all a whole new perspective."

_"Ten seconds. Prepare to terminate hydrogen feeds."

_The airspeed indicator now read Mach 24.8. Closing. . . .

Vance reached for the heavy throttle grips, watching the final seconds
tick down.

. . . four, three, two, one . . .

_"Terminate hydrogen feeds."

_He yanked back on the handles, feeling a dying tremor flow through the
vehicle. The airspeed indicator had just hit 17,108 mph.

In the unearthly silence that followed, Petra's synthetic voice cut
through the cabin. _"Preliminary orbital coordinates are computed as
perigee 101.3 miles, apogee 117.8 miles. Duration is one hour and
twenty-seven minutes. Radar altimeter will provide data for second
iteration of calculations in thirty-six minutes."_

The engines were completely shut down now as they coasted through the
dark. Nothing could be heard but hydraulic pumps, air conditioners,
light groans from zero-gravity-induced stresses in the massive
fuselage.

"_Zadroka!_" Androv shouted. "We've done it! Maybe there is a God."

Now, as _Daedalus _began to slip sideways, like a liner adrift at sea,
the nose camera showed they were passing over the ice-covered wilds of
northern Alberta.

Vance felt a sudden rush of fluids from his extremities, where they had
been pooling because of the G-forces, upward into his face and torso.
The sensation was one of falling, hanging on to his seat. Clumsily he
unfastened his G-seat harness and pushed up to . . .

    He sailed. Across the cockpit. At the last instant he twisted,
trying to right himself, but before he could he'd slammed into the bank
of video monitors on the opposite wall.

"Jesus!"

"Sweetie, you look like a flying fish." Eva drifted back in her seat,
loving him all over again.

"I feel like a newborn deer trying to stand up." He rotated and
carefully pushed himself off the ceiling, repressing the instinct to
kick like a scuba diver. "But remember the old Chinese proverb. Don't
criticize a man till you've floated in his shoes for a day."

"Darling, it's a dream come true. I'm finally weightless," she laughed.
"At last, no more dreading to get on a scale."

"The pain in my arm is gone," Androv spoke up again, renewed
satisfaction in his voice. "We've just performed our first medical
experiment in space. It's good for gunshot wounds."

"I'd like to perform another experiment," Eva said. She was slowly
extracting herself from the G-seat. "What kind of electrical system do
we have on board?"

"We have a massive battery section, kept charged by the turbines,"
Androv replied. "All these electronics require a lot of power."

"So we could transmit?"

"Of course. We're designed for that."

"What are you planning?" Vance looked over as he drifted back across
the cockpit.

"A small surprise for Tanzan Mino." She was twisting around as she
floated next to her straps. "Let me start preparing the laptop. I knew
there was a reason why I brought it." She reached down under the seat
and pushed it out, where it floated.

"I want to hook this into Petra." She reached up and awkwardly
retrieved it. "Is there any way I can?"

"There's provision for laptop interface. They worked so well on the
American shuttles, our people installed an identical setup here."
Androv swam slowly to the console, then flipped down a panel, revealing
a serial port. "You can connect it there. The wiring's in place."

Vance twisted and checked their coordinates. They were now at latitude
56 degrees, longitude 109 degrees, headed over central Canada.
"Incidentally, so much for North American air defenses. No radar
interrogations whatsoever."

"That's because of our Stealth design," Androv said. "We have almost no
radar signature. Not only are we a menace to the world, we're
invisible."

Vance floated down and settled into the central G-seat. The more he
learned about the _Daedalus_, the more unsettling he found it. What
should they do with this monster? Maybe turn it over to the UN as a
monument to technology gone amuck, to high-tech excess. At last, he
thought, man has achieved the ability to move anywhere on the planet,
at speeds as fast as the laws of physics will allow, and do it
invisibly. Maybe it should be called the Shadow.

"Okay." Eva interrupted his thoughts. "I've finished tying in the
Zenith. We're about to go live from the top, gentlemen, the very top.
I'm going to send the protocol to every wire service in the world. What
better credibility than to be downlinked live from space?"

Vance looked at the picture from the nose camera. They were over the
Atlantic now, which meant they'd soon be passing over the Soviet Union,
with line-of-sight horizons that stretched from Europe to Asia.

"Why settle for print?" He had a sudden thought. "How about television?
With all this video gear, we should be able to put together something
that would transmit. The Baikonur Cosmodrome has receiving facilities.
We see Soviet cosmonauts in space all the time. And they'll be directly
under us. We also could make the evening news all over Japan if we
broadcast to the Katsura tracking facility."

"Good thinking, but I've got an even better idea." She seemed to
pirouette in weightlessness. "Japan already has DBS, direct broadcast
satellites, and there are home satellite dishes all over the country.
It's the Global Village. So why don't we just cut in for a special
bulletin?"

"Why not." He pointed to the ill-fated cockpit camera Tanzan Mino's
technicians had installed above the entry hatch. "Matter of fact, we
probably could just use that, if we could hook it into some of the
electronics here on the console."

He floated up, half drifting and half swimming, and inspected the
camera, convincing himself that it was still in working condition. And
it had to be wired into something. Maybe now all they needed to do was
flip the right toggles. The console switches numbered, by his
conservative estimate, approximately three hundred.

"Let me see what I can do." Androv floated down and immediately started
to work, toggling, testing, watching the display screens as various
messages were scrolled.

"Petra," he finally commanded in Russian, "give me a positive connect
between UHF display-read and video output terminal 3-K."

_"Interface confirmed."

_Suddenly a video screen fluttered, ran through a test series of
colored bars, then threw up a picture of the cockpit as seen from the
camera above the hatch. Vance studied the image of three figures
floating in a confined space outfitted with electronic hardware and a
giant wing-shaped hood over the central seat. On TV their cockpit
looked like the flight deck of some alien vessel in Star Trek IX.

"We're on." Eva waved at the camera. Her image on the screen waved
back.

"Okay," Vance said. "Now for the tricky part. Transmission."

Androv smiled as he drifted up again. "That's actually the easiest of
all. Remember this vehicle was originally intended--supposedly--as a
near-earth research platform. There're plenty of downlinks, in keeping
with the need to transmit data, as well as general propaganda
functions. We can use any frequency you want, even commercial broadcast
channels."

"So why don't we go live worldwide? Just give everybody an inside look
at the planet's first radar-evasive space platform."

"Petra has a listing of all commercial satellite channels, just to make
sure she doesn't inadvertently violate one of them with a transmission.
Let's pull them up and see what they are." He flipped several toggles
on the wide console, then told Petra what he wanted. He'd no sooner
finished speaking than the large screen that supplemented her voice was
scrolling the off-limits frequencies.

"Okay," Eva said. "Let's start with the data channels belonging to
world-wide newsprint organizations-- Reuters, the Associated Press, all
the rest--and send a copy of the protocol. It'll just appear on every
green screen in the world. Then we can pick off frequencies used by
television news organizations and broadcast a picture postcard from
here in the cockpit."

"Sounds good." Androv turned to look at the screen. Quickly he began
selecting numbers from the banned list, moving them to a new file that
would be used to specify parameters for the broadcasts.

Vance watched, shifting his glance occasionally to the view from the
nose camera. Below them clusters of light from central Europe's largest
cities beamed up, twinkling lightly through the haze of atmosphere. He
reached over and flipped the camera to infrared and sat watching the
back-radiation of the North African deserts, now blots of deep red on
the southern horizon; then back to visible again, noticing two parallel
ribbons of light that signified habitations along the length of the
Nile. The world, he was thinking, really is a Global Village. She was
right. There's no longer any place you can hide from the truth.

"Eva, when you feed the protocol to the wire services, note that
there'll be a transmission of some live video at--" he glanced up at the
digital readouts on the screens, "how about at 0800 hours, GMT?"

"That's in twenty minutes."

"Should be enough time, don't you think?"

"Sounds good to me. And to show you I'm brave, I won't even fix my
hair."

"You never looked more beautiful, even that night out at

the palace. Don't change a thing." He turned to Androv. "How about
doing the talking? First in Russian and then in English? We'll write
the English part for you."

"It will be my pleasure, Comrade. My fucking pleasure."

_"Daedalus," _Vance said, mostly to himself. "He found a way to escape
the maze of Mino. We did too. It's easy. You just use your wings and
fly."



Friday 8:47 A.M.



Kenji Nogami settled the telephone back into its cradle and reached for
the television's remote selector. The set was currently scrolling a
special text being distributed over the Reuters financial-service
channel. Very interesting.

He shoved aside the pile of new Mino Industries Eurobond debentures, to
make room for his feet on the teakwood surface of his desk. BBC had
just informed him they'd taped an accompanying video segment and were
planning to broadcast it in thirteen minutes, at nine o'clock. At least
that's what Sir Cecil Ashton, director general, had just warned. As the
London banker for Mino Industries, he had told Sir Cecil he officially
had no comment.

No comment was required.

He reached into a drawer and drew out a box of Montecristo Habana No.
2s, noting sadly there were only three left. With a frown he picked up
his pocket Dictaphone and made a note to his secretary to stop off at
the tobacconists on Threadneedle, just down from the Bank of England,
and get another box.

A hypersonic aircraft. So that was what it had been about all along.
And now some Russian test pilot had stolen it, taken it to orbit, and
was planning to land it at Heathrow in three hours, there to turn it
over to Westminster Union Bank, the London financial representative of
Mino Industries Group.

Perfect timing. The thought immediately occurred to him that this would
be ideal collateral for the billions in phony Eurodollar debentures he
was being forced to issue for Tanzan Mino. Finally, finally he had the
man by the bollocks. Who, he wondered, did he have to thank for this
godsend?

Yes, it was shaping up to be quite a morning. Perhaps a trifle early
for a cigar, but . . .

He flicked the TV off the Reuters text and onto BBC-1.

". . . would appear to be further evidence of the growing technological
supremacy of Japanese industry. As this commentator has had occasion to
note in times past, the lines between civilian and military technology
are rapidly vanishing. That Japan's so-called civilian research sector
could create the high-temperature ceramics required for such a vehicle,
even as European and American military research has failed to do so,
speaks eloquently of the emerging shift in world . . ."

He rolled down the sound a bit. The commentator went on to mention that
all Mino Industries representatives-- both here in London and in Tokyo--
named in the announcement from orbit had refused either to confirm or
deny the story.

He noted the time on his Omega, then smiled, leaned back, and snipped
the end off his cigar.



Friday 11:00 A.M.



"Mino-sama." The man bowed low. "NHK just telephoned your office in
Tokyo, asking for comment."

"Comment about what?"

"They have received some text off a satellite."

"What? What did they receive?"

"It was purportedly the English translation of a secret protocol, an
agreement between Mino Industries and the Soviets. Naturally we denied
it in the strongest possible terms."

"It has to be some preposterous fabrication. I can't imagine how
anything so absurd could have--"

"That's actually the problem, Mino-sama. NHK says they received it from
a manned space station, but they've checked with NASDA and have been
assured there are currently no astronauts in orbit by any nation."

"In orbit?" My God, he thought. _Daedalus_ didn't go down; she went up.
With the protocol aboard.

How did they manage to get her hypersonic? Androv was wounded. He
couldn't possibly have handled the G-forces. Which meant--

Vance.

"Tell NHK if they broadcast one word of this libelous, unsubstantiated
hoax, they should be prepared to face legal action." His face had
become a stone mask as a sepulchral hush settled over Flight Control.

"I will inform them," the man bowed again. He hadn't had the courage to
tell the _oyabun_ the rest of what NHK was now receiving . . . along
with half of the citizens of Japan via their new direct-broadcast
satellite dishes.



Friday 9:00 A.M.



Kenji Nogami thought the picture was a little indistinct at first, the
hues slightly off. But then somebody in BBC's technical section
corrected the color balance, making the tape's blues and greens and
reds all blue and green and red.

Yes, now he could make it out. A cosmonaut was drifting across the
camera's view, suspended. It made him ponder briefly the phenomenon of
weightlessness. Curious, really, that it was all a matter of where you
were.

One wall of the cockpit was lined with video terminals, and at the end
was a massive screen currently displaying the Daedalus Corporation
logo, a double ax. Nice advertising, he thought. Coca-Cola probably
feels envious. Overall it was a classy job, no two ways about it. The
_oyabun _didn't do things by halves.

Well, this was one marvel Her Majesty's government would be happy to
get their hands on. For his own part, not a bad piece of collateral.
Must have cost billions in start-up investment.

Then he got a better look at the figure and realized

something was wrong. One side of his white environment suit was stained
red. And he seemed to be nursing a bandaged arm as he drifted up toward
the camera.

"_Stradstyve_," he began, "_Ya Yuri Andreevich Androv_. . . ."

The cosmonaut then proceeded to deliver a long-winded speech in Russian
that Nogami could not follow and the BBC had not yet translated. He
seemed to be growing angrier and angrier, and at one point he gave a
long disquisition about someone named Andrei Petrovich Androv. He was
obviously a Soviet test pilot. Who else could fly that creation? Given
the looks of the cockpit, it was a quantum advance in high technology.

Nogami leaned back, his match poised. The good part, the part in
English, was coming up. That's what Sir Cecil had said. The Russian
segment had been for broadcast in the Soviet Union, had the local spin.
The English part was for the world. And for Tanzan Mino.

Who was now in deep, deep trouble. Murder, fraud, a global conspiracy--
they all were there, and even more damning for the way the story had
come to light. The medium was the message.

About that time the cosmonaut who'd identified himself as Soviet Air
Force Major Yuri Andreevich Androv drifted to the side, permitting a
better view of the cockpit. That's when Nogami noticed two other
individuals. One appeared to be a woman--leave it to the Soviets, he
smiled, to know about good public relations--also wearing an environment
suit, her helmet momentarily turned away. The third appeared to be
male, also in an environment suit and flight helmet. Sir Cecil hadn't
bothered mentioning them, since Air Force Major Androv had done all the
talking.

Then the male cosmonaut in the center drifted up and began opening his
visor, some kind of curved glass that reflected the yellow sodium
lights in the ceiling. He grappled with it a moment, then in annoyance
just yanked it off and tossed it to drift across--

Nogami stared at the face. Mother of God!

He was laughing so hard he almost missed his Montecristo when he
finally whipped up his match. . . .



 *     *     *



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This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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