Area 7by Matthew Reilly
It is America's most secret base, hidden deep in the Utah desert, an Air Force installation known only as Area 7.
And today, it has a visitor - the President of the United States.
He has come to inspect Area 7, to examine its secrets for himself. But he's going to get more than he bargained for on this trip. Because hostile forces are waiting inside.</p>/p>… See more details below
It is America's most secret base, hidden deep in the Utah desert, an Air Force installation known only as Area 7.
And today, it has a visitor - the President of the United States.
He has come to inspect Area 7, to examine its secrets for himself. But he's going to get more than he bargained for on this trip. Because hostile forces are waiting inside.
Among the President's helicopter crew, however, is a young Marine. He is quiet, enigmatic, and he hides his eyes behind a pair of silver sunglasses. His name is Schofield. Call-sign: Scarecrow. Rumor has it, he's a good man in a storm. Judging by what the President has just walked into, he'd better be...
Matthew Reilly dazzled the world with his electrifying thrillers Ice Station and Temple. And now, Shane "Scarecrow" Schofield returns with his most harrowing and explosive adventure yet.
"Reilly has a gift for sustaining momentum that never lets up." Publishers Weekly
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By Matthew Reilly
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2001 Matthew Reilly
All rights reserved.
3 July, 0600 Hours
The three helicopters thundered over the arid desert plain, booming through the early morning silence.
They flew in tight formation — like they always did — shooting low over the tumbleweeds, kicking up a tornado of sand behind them, their freshly waxed sides glinting in the dawn light.
The giant Sikorsky VH-60N flew out in front — again, like it always did — flanked on either side by two menacing CH-53E Super Stallions.
With its pristine white roof and hand-polished dark-green flanks, the VH-60N is unique among American military helicopters. It is built for the United States government in a high security "caged" section at the Sikorsky Aircraft plant in Connecticut. It is non-deployable — meaning that it is never used in any operational capacity by the United States Marine Corps, the branch of the military charged with its upkeep.
It is used for one thing, and one thing only. And it has no replicas on active duty — and for good reason, for no one but a few highly cleared Marine engineers and executives at Sikorsky can know all of its special features.
Paradoxically, for all this secrecy, the VH-60N is without a doubt the most recognized helicopter in the Western world.
On air traffic control displays, it is designated "HMX-1," Marine Helicopter Squadron One, and its official radio call-sign is "Nighthawk." But over the years, the helicopter that ferries the President of the United States over short-to-medium distances has come to be known by a simpler name — Marine One.
Known as "M1" to those who fly in it, it is rarely observed in flight, and when it is, it is usually in the most demure of circumstances — taking off from the manicured South Lawn of the White House or arriving at Camp David.
But not today.
Today it roared over the desert, transporting its famous passenger between two remote Air Force bases located in the barren Utah landscape.
Captain Shane M. Schofield, USMC, dressed in his full blue dress "A" uniform — white peaked hat; navy-blue coat with gold buttons; medium-blue trousers with red stripe; spit-polished boots; white patent leather belt with matching white holster, inside of which resided an ornamental nickel-plated M9 pistol — stood in the cockpit of the Presidential helicopter, behind its two pilots, peering out through the chopper's reinforced forward windshield.
At five-ten, Schofield was lean and muscular, with a handsome narrow face and spiky black hair. And although they were not standard attire for Marines in full dress uniform, he also wore sunglasses — a pair of wraparound antiflash glasses with reflective silver lenses.
The glasses covered a pair of prominent vertical scars that cut down across both of Schofield's eyes. They were wounds from a previous mission and the reason for his operational call-sign, "Scarecrow."
The flat desert plain stretched out before him, dull yellow against the morning sky. The dusty desert floor rushed by beneath the bow of the speeding helicopter.
In the near distance, Schofield saw a low mountain — their destination.
A cluster of buildings lay nestled at the base of the rocky hill, at the end of a long concrete runway, their tiny lights just visible in the early light. The main building of the complex appeared to be a large airplane hangar, half-buried in the side of the mountain.
It was United States Air Force Special Area (Restricted) 7, the second Air Force base they were to visit that day.
"Advance Team Two, this is Nighthawk One, we are on final approach to Area 7. Please confirm venue status," the pilot of M1, Marine Colonel Michael "Gunman" Grier said into his helmet mike.
There was no reply.
"I say again, Advance Team Two. Report."
Still no reply.
"It's the jamming system," Grier's copilot, Lieutenant Colonel Michelle Dallas, said. "The radio guys at 8 said to expect it. These bases are all Level-7 classified, so they're covered at all times by a satellite-generated radiosphere. Short-range transmissions only, to stop anybody transmitting information out."
Earlier that morning, the President had visited Area 8, a similarly isolated Air Force base about twenty miles to the east of Area 7. There, accompanied by his nine-man Secret Service Detail, he had been taken on a brief tour of the facility, to inspect some new aircraft stationed in its hangars.
While he had done so, Schofield and the other thirteen Marines stationed aboard Marine One and its two escort choppers had waited outside, twiddling their thumbs underneath Air Force One, the President's massive Boeing 747.
While they waited, some of the Marines had started arguing over why they hadn't been allowed inside the main hangar of Area 8. The general consensus — based solely on wild unsubstantiated gossip — had been that it was because the facility housed some of the Air Force's top-secret new airplanes.
One soldier, a big-smiling, loud-talking African-American sergeant named Wendall "Elvis" Haynes, said that he'd heard they had the Aurora in there, the legendary low-orbit spy plane capable of speeds over Mach 9. The current fastest plane in the world, the SR-71 Blackbird, could only reach Mach 3.
Others had proffered that a whole squadron of F-44s — ultra-nimble, wedge-shaped fighters based on the flying-wing shape of the B-2 stealth bomber — were stationed there.
Others still — perhaps inspired by the launch of a Chinese space shuttle two days previously — suggested that Area 8 housed the X-38, a sleek 747-launched offensive space shuttle. A black project run by the Air Force in association with NASA, the X-38 was reputedly the world's first fight-capable space vehicle, an attack shuttle.
Schofield ignored their speculation.
He didn't have to guess that Area 8 had something to do with top-secret airplane development, probably space-based. He could tell it from one simple fact.
Although the Air Force engineers had concealed it well, the regulation-size black bitumen runway of Area 8 actually extended another thousand yards in both directions — as a pale concrete landing strip hidden beneath a thin layer of sand and carefully placed tumbleweeds.
It was an elongated runway, designed to launch and receive aircraft that needed an extra-long landing strip, which meant aircraft like space shuttles or —
And then suddenly the President had emerged from the main hangar and they were on the move again.
Originally, the Boss had intended to fly to Area 7 on Air Force One. It would be faster than Marine One, even though the distance was short.
But there had been a problem on Air Force One. An unexpected leak in the left wing's fuel tank.
And so the Boss had taken Marine One — always on stand-by for precisely this situation.
Which was why Schofield was now gazing at Area 7, lit up like a Christmas tree in the dim morning light.
As he peered at the distant hangar complex, however, Schofield had a strange thought. Curiously, none of his colleagues on HMX-1 knew any stories about Area 7, not even wild unsubstantiated rumors.
No one, it seemed, knew what went on at Area 7.
Life in the immediate vicinity of the President of the United States was a world unto itself.
It was at the same time both thrilling and frightening, Schofield thought.
Thrilling because you were so close to one with so much power, and frightening because that man was surrounded by a great number of people who claimed his influence as their own.
Indeed, even in his short time on board Marine One, Schofield had observed that at any one time, there were at least three competing power clusters vying for the President's attention.
First was the President's own staff, those people — largely self-important Harvard types — whom the President had appointed to aid him on a range of matters: from national security and domestic policy; to the management of the press corps or the management of his political life.
No matter what their field of expertise, at least insofar as Schofield could see, each of the President's personal staff seemed to have one all-encompassing goal: to get the President outside, onto the streets, and into the public eye.
In direct contrast to this objective — indeed, in direct opposition to it — was the second group vying for the President's ear: his protectors, the United States Secret Service.
Led by the stoic, no-nonsense and completely impassive Special Agent Francis X. Cutler, the Presidential Detail was constantly at loggerheads with the White House staff.
Cutler — officially known as "Chief of the Detail," but known to the President merely as Frank — was renowned for his coolness under pressure and his complete intransigence to pleas from political ass-kissers. With his narrow gray eyes and matching crew-cut hair, Frank Cutler could stare down any member of the President's staff and rebuff them with a single word, "No."
The third and last group pressing for presidential attention was the crew of Marine One itself.
Not only were they also subjected to the inflated egos of the presidential staff — Schofield would never forget his first flight on Marine One, when the President's Domestic Policy Adviser, a pompous twenty-nine-year-old lawyer from New York, had ordered Schofield to get him a double latte, and to "make it quick" — they were also often at odds with the Secret Service.
Securing the President's safety may have been the job of the Secret Service, but when he was on HMX-1, so the Marine Corps reasoned, the Boss had at least six United States Marines on board with him at any given time.
An uneasy truce had been brokered.
While on board Marine One, the President's safety would be in Marine hands. As such, only key members of his Secret Service Detail — Frank Cutler and a few others — would fly with him. The rest of his personal Detail would fly in the two chase helicopters.
As soon as the President stepped off Marine One, however, his well-being was once again the exclusive responsibility of the United States Secret Service.
Gunman Grier spoke into his helmet mike. "Nighthawk Three, this is Nighthawk One. Go and check on Advance Team Two for me. This radiosphere is screwing up our long-range comms. I'm picking up their All-Clear beacon, but I can't get any voice contact. They should be over at the exit vent. And if you get close enough, see if you can raise Area 8 again. Find out what's happening with Air Force One."
"Copy that, Nighthawk One," a voice replied over the short-wave. "On our way."
From his position behind Grier and Dallas, Schofield saw the Super Stallion to their right peel away from the group and head off over the desert.
The two remaining choppers of Marine Helicopter Squadron-1 continued on their way.
In a darkened room somewhere, a blue-uniformed man wearing a radio headset and seated in front of an illuminated computer display spoke quietly into his wraparound microphone.
"— Initiating primary satellite signal test ... now —" He pressed a button on his console.
"What the hell —?" Dallas said, touching her earpiece.
"What is it?" Gunman Grier asked.
"I don't know," Dallas said, swiveling in her seat. "I just picked up a spike on the microwave band."
She looked at the microwave display screen — it depicted a series of jagged spikes and troughs — then shook her head. "Strange. Looks like an incoming microwave signal just hit us and then bounced away."
"Antibugging was done this morning," Grier said. "Twice."
Comprehensive sweeps for listening devices planted on Marine One — and her passengers — were done with rigorous regularity. It was nigh on impossible to plant a transmitting or receiving device on the President's helicopter.
Dallas peered at her screen, shrugging. "The signal's too small to be a location beacon. Ditto, speech or computer data. It didn't send or take any information — it's as if it was just, well, checking to see if we were here." She turned to Grier questioningly.
The Presidential Helicopter Pilot frowned. "Most probably it's just a surge in the radiosphere, a deflected microwave signal. But let's not take any chances." He turned to Schofield. "Captain, if you wouldn't mind, would you please do a sweep of the aircraft with the magic wand."
"— Return signal received," the console operator in the darkened room said. "Primary signal test successful. The device is operational. Repeat. The device is operational. Switching back to dormant mode. All right. Commencing test of secondary signal —"
Schofield stepped into the main cabin of Marine One, waving a AXS-9 digital spectrum analyzer over the walls, seats, ceiling and floor, searching for anything that was emitting an outgoing signal.
As one would expect of the President's helicopter, the interior of M1 was plush. Indeed, with its deep maroon carpet and widely spaced seats, it looked more like the first-class section of a commercial airliner than the hold of a military aircraft.
Twelve beige leather seats took up most of the main cabin. Each seat had the Seal of the President of the United States embroidered on it, as did the oversized armrests that adjoined each chair and the scotch glasses and coffee mugs, just in case anyone forgot in whose presence they were traveling.
At the rear of the central area, guarded at all times by a Marine in full dress uniform, was a polished mahogany door that led to the aft-most section of the helicopter.
It was the President's private office.
Small but elegantly appointed — and featuring an amazingly compact arrangement of phones, faxes, computers and televisions — Marine One's office allowed the Boss to monitor the nation's business wherever he happened to be.
At the very rear of the President's office, behind a small pressure-sealed door, was one final feature of Marine One which was reserved for use in only the most dire of circumstances — a small one-man ejection unit, the Presidential escape pod.
Schofield waved his spectrum analyzer over the seats in the first-class section, searching for bugs.
Seated there were Frank Cutler and five of his Secret Service people. They peered out the windows, ignoring Schofield as he did his sweep around them.
Also there were a couple of the President's advisers — his Deputy Chief of Staff, his Communications Director — both of whom flicked through thick manila folders.
Standing above them, manning the two exit doors at either end of the main cabin, were a pair of straight-backed United States Marines.
There was one more person seated in the main cabin.
A stocky no-necked man dressed in an olive U.S. Army uniform, sitting quietly at the back of the cabin, in the first-class seat closest to the President's office.
To look at him, with his carrot-red hair and bushy orange mustache, he didn't seem like anyone special, and truth be told, he wasn't anyone special.
He was an Army warrant officer named Carl Webster, and he followed the President wherever he went — not because of any special expertise or knowledge he possessed, but because of the extremely important object handcuffed to his right wrist: a stainless-steel briefcase that contained the codes and the activation switches to America's nuclear arsenal, a briefcase known as "the Football."
Schofield finished his sweep, including a short "excuse me" check of the President's office.
There was not a single bug to be found on the helicopter.
He returned to the cockpit, just in time to hear Gunman Grier say into his mike: "Copy that, Nighthawk Three, thank you. Continue on to the vent."
Grier turned to his copilot. "Air Force One's back on deck. It was just a valve leak. It'll stay at Area 8. We'll bring the Boss back after our little visit to Area 7. Scarecrow?"
"Nothing," Schofield said. "The helicopter's clean."
Grier shrugged. "Must have been the radiosphere. Thanks, Scarecrow."
Suddenly Grier touched his helmet as another message came through.
He sighed wearily as the voice at the other end nattered into his ear.
"We'll do our best, Colonel," he said, "but I make no promises." Grier switched off his mike and shook his head. "Fucking Ramrod."
He turned to Schofield and Dallas. "Ladies and gentlemen, our esteemed White House Liaison Officer has asked us to pick up the pace a little. Apparently, the Boss has an afternoon tea with the Washington Ladies' Auxiliary to get to, and Liaison Officer Hagerty thinks we're not going fast enough to meet his schedule."
Dallas snuffed a laugh. "Good ol' Ramrod.'
When it came to the use of Marine One, all White House-Marine Corps correspondence went through a Marine colonel called the White House Liaison Officer, a position which for the last three years had been held by Colonel Rodney Hagerty, USMC.
Unfortunately, Hagerty, forty-one years old, tall and lanky, with a pencil-thin mustache and a far too proper manner, was regarded by many in HMX-1 as the worst kind of soldier — a ladder climber, but also a ruthless expert in office politics, someone more interested in getting stars on his shoulders than actually being a United States Marine. But as so often happens, the upper echelons of the Corps didn't see this and kept promoting him nonetheless.
Excerpted from Area 7 by Matthew Reilly. Copyright © 2001 Matthew Reilly. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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