“A high-tech launch site, a missing nuke, and Arab terrorists with nothing to lose . . .” In the sun-dappled waters of the Aegean, ex-agent Michael Vance pilots the Odyssey II, a handmade replica of the sailcraft of the ancient hero Ulysses. Out of nowhere, a Russian Hind gunship with Arab terrorists at the helm fires upon the tiny ship below. The terrorists’ destination is a tiny Aegean island where a U.S. aerospace corporation carefully guards the Cyclops 20-megawatt laser launch facility. But the company security force is no match for the firepower of the Arab invasion and the launch site is quickly overrun. With helpless horror, the executives can only watch as renegade technicians convert the launch vehicle into a ballistic missile that can deliver their stolen thermonuclear warhead to any city in the U.S. Left for dead amid the smoking ruins of Odyssey II, Michael Vance washes up on the occupied island – and becomes America’s only hope.
"Keep her above three hundred meters on the approach." Ramirez's hard voice cut through the roar of the 2,200-hp Isotov turboshafts. Down below, the cold, dusk-shrouded Aegean churned with a late autumn storm. "Any lower and there'll be surface effect."
"I'm well aware of that," the Iranian pilot muttered, a sullen response barely audible above the helicopter's noise and vibration. It stopped just short of open disrespect. Sabri Ramirez did not mind. The two Iranians had been an unfortunate necessity, but in three days they would be dead. The others, the professionals, were the ones who counted. When he hand-picked the European terrorists now resting on the four litters in the main cabin, he had gone for the best. Each man had a track record and a purpose. Ramirez, however, was the leader, fully in control. He had planned, financed, and now commanded the operation.
In the ghostly light of late evening, his sleek cheeks, iron- shaded temples, and trim mustache gave no hint of the extensive plastic surgery that had created this, his latest face. He wore a black jumpsuit, like the others, but under his was a $2,000 Brioni charcoal double-breasted—perhaps more suited for a three-star dinner in Paris, at L'Ambroisie or La Tour d'Argent, than the operation at hand. All the same, he felt comfortably at home in this Hind-D helicopter gunship, the most lethal assault machine ever. Their operation had two objectives, and the first had just appeared on the bright green cockpit radar. It was the 2,600-ton U.S. frigate Glover, Garcia class, which the National Security Agency had converted into a Mid-East spy platform. Loaded with missile-tracking and communications-monitoring antennas, it had to go.
Ramirez expected no difficulties. Like the USS Stark, the frigate disabled by Iraqi Exocet missiles in the Persian Gulf in 1988, it was a perfect target. With only one gun, it would be child's play for a fully-armed Hind.
"Activate IFF," he ordered, glancing back at the instrument panels. "They should acquire us on radar within two minutes now."
"IFF on." Salim Khan, the still-brooding Iranian, nodded and reached for the interrogator/responsor in the panel on his right. They were using the NATO Identification System, a low-band interrogator, into which they had programmed the false Israeli Identification Friend or Foe code. The gray box would receive the electronic query, "Are you a friend?" and it would automatically reply, "Yes, this aircraft is friendly."
Ramirez watched with satisfaction as the green numbers flashed. Deception, he thought. The key to everything.
In the intelligence dossiers of Mossad, and the U.S. CIA, he was known as the Hyena, killer of hundreds in Europe and the Middle East. But his most cherished recent fact in those dossiers was the item declaring the disbanding of his private organization. He thankfully had been written off. Of course, the self-important analysts reasoned over their pipes and printouts, of course the chimera named Sabri Ramirez must be dead. His unmistakable touch had not been on a bombing in years. The playboy terrorist who flaunted silk suits, had cellars of rare vintage wines in Tripoli, Damascus, Baghdad, and Beirut . . . that man wouldn't just retire. He had to be gone.
They were half right. He had wearied of the squabbles and disputes of a far-flung organization; however, he had not lost his taste for money. Or his hatred of the United States.
Now that NATO was falling apart, America was trying to take over the Middle East—aided by its European lackeys. But he had put together a plan that would end America's global military intimidation once and for all. Not coincidentally, he was going to acquire eight hundred million dollars in the process.
"We'll be exposed," he continued, "but just for about three minutes. They only have one gun, a .38 caliber DP Mark 30, mounted on the forward deck. It is in plain view. Remember I need a clear ten-second window for the Swatter. After we neutralize their main ordnance, we come about and strafe the communications gear."
He hoped this dense Iranian understood the approach profile. He had briefed the man over and over, but still he was not sure it had sunk in. He examined Salim Khan one last time—the bulky face with sunken, almost depressed eyes—and stifled a sigh of exasperation. Iranians.
Still, he had better not offend the man's much-vaunted honor. After all, Salim had single-handedly stolen the Hind gunship they were now flying from the Iranian Air Force, providing a crucial component in the overall operation. A rare prize, the Hind had been secretly purchased by the IAF from an Afghan rebel unit—which had captured it in 1987. Iran had wanted to see one up close, against the day the Soviets might turn their anti-Islamic paranoia against them and try to invade. That day had never come. And now this disaffected air force lieutenant had simply stolen it. At last, Ramirez thought with satisfaction, their valued prize would be put to use.
Salim Khan had mastered the Hind's controls years before, had flown it often, and just four days ago he had taken it up, shot his weapons operator, and used a fake identity to file a new flight plan, setting down to refuel in Rawalpindi. The theft had caused a tempest. When they discovered it, the mullahs had blamed America and engineered a demonstration in the streets of Tehran so they could bray in the press.