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.
Thursday 8.40 pm
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 increasing 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.