Ground Zeroby Bonnie Ramthun
"Hurtles out of the chute with nonstop action and more twists than a space probe."-Carolyn Hart,
When a computer War Game at a high-security military complex ends in the brutal death of a programmer, a homicide cop and a CIA analyst follow a trail of clues through a maze of international intrigue and treachery-and learn that one murder was only the beginning.
"Hurtles out of the chute with nonstop action and more twists than a space probe."-Carolyn Hart, author of Death on the River Walk
"A well-conceived tale of murder, espionage, and terrorism."-Publishers Weekly
- Penguin Group (USA)
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 6.38(w) x 9.32(h) x 1.14(d)
Read an Excerpt
Colorado Springs Investigations Bureau
"Hey, Rosen, see those?"
"See what?" Dave Rosen was hunched over his computer. He was typing rapidly with two fingers, but stopped and looked over at Eileen Reed.
"Those flashes up at NORAD," Eileen said. "What're they doing up there?"
Rosen looked, shrugged, turned back to his screen.
"Probably nothing," Eileen said. "But I wanted you to see it. You know, if we both get blasted into hash by The Big One about ten minutes from now. We'll be playing our harps, halos on our heads, and I'll turn to you and say"
Rosen mistyped, cursed, and rested his forehead with a dull clunk against his computer screen.
"I'm going to kill you," he said. "If you don't shut up."
"I went inside the Mountain once," she said. The North American Air Defense Base, called NORAD, was buried inside Cheyenne Mountain. The cavern had been carved out of solid rock sometime during the 1950s. The only remnants of that huge excavation were a length of road and a tunnel opening. Her office window faced the mountain and she had been looking out the window instead of working on her own report.
"I know you did," Rosen said. He turned his head, his forehead still resting on the screen, and glared at her. "And I'm going to finish this report before Harben puts me back out clocking speeders on 1-25."
Eileen pretended to be contrite. Rosen had beenin the Special Investigations Division for only three months. He was tall and broad-shouldered, with a firm nose and straight ink-black hair. He was originally from New York. To a lot of people in Colorado, he looked Navajo. Eileen suspected this was a source of amusement to him, having seen his reaction when people asked about his tribe.
"Okay, I'll shut up," Eileen said brightly, and tried to turn back to her own incomplete report.
But instead Eileen found herself looking at the flashes. There were more of them now, colored blue and red and white. Now she didn't feel like joking any more about The Big One. The pulse of lights from the tunnel that led to NORAD looked ominous. They looked serious.
She'd gone inside the Mountain, not on police business, but as a civilian on tour. Once she'd heard about NORAD, she had to go inside. Her mother told her she must be half cat on her father's side; Eileen poked her paws into everything. NORAD had a waiting list three months long for civilians. Eileen signed up and waited impatiently. She did not jiggle and hop from foot to foot when she finally boarded the NORAD bus that would take them down the entrance tunnel and into the base. She'd learned stillness long before. But if she had a tail, it would have been twitching back and forth when the ancient bus lurched and started down the tunnel.
The tour itself had been a bit of a disappointment. The cave was huge and damp and smelly, like old wet clay. The office buildings were sitting on monstrous metal coils, ready to hold steady under nuclear blasts. But they were drably colored and shabby. The buildings looked like old office structures just about anywhere. Then Eileen looked up, and saw the roof of the cavern. Rusty steel nets held back the crumbling rock. This sent a chill through her. There was solid rock over her head, hundreds of feet of it. She wouldn't even be a rust stain if some of that rock decided to come down. The nets looked as frail as cobwebs in the gloom of the cavern's ceiling.
Colorado seemed like such a safe place back in the early fifties, the tour guide explained. Eileen, standing at the back of the group with her hands shoved into her pockets and contemplating the roof, smiled. A mountain was no protection against hydrogen bombs. The tour guide went on to explain that Cheyenne Mountain still operated as the early warning center for any ballistic activity on the planet. The Mountain was not perfectly safe, but it was still the safest place there was. This, too, was chilling.
"Good thing the Cold War is over, right?" The guide laughed, and the tour group obediently laughed with him.
"Now here, these are water caverns. The excavators struck a spring when they were digging, so NORAD has an internal water supply ..."
Eileen blinked and woke from her reverie as an enormous lightning bolt smashed down from the thunderclouds and danced across the rods at the top of Cheyenne Mountain. The entrance lights continued to flash.
She picked up the phone. She hesitated, wondering whom she could call to ask. She thought of Gary Hillyer. Hillyer was a journalist on the Gazette Telegraph. He would rib Eileen unmercifully if those flashes were some kind of standard Air Force drill. But Hillyer would know. He knew everything and everybody in Colorado Springs.
Captain Nick Harben saved her the call.
"Reed!" Harben could have used the phone's paging system, a simple matter of pressing a button, but Harben just liked to yell. Eileen figured Harben would be much happier in a police office from the forties, smoky and grimy and full of atmosphere. Instead, the Investigations Bureau offices were offensively clean and full of sunlight. Plants clustered around large windows that framed a beautiful view of the mountains. Personal computers sat on every desk, linked by a communications network to the rest of the police department and, by special access keys, to the countrywide law- enforcement network. Eileen had a good desk, close to the windows and not too close to Harben. She headed for Harben's glass cube.
Harben looked at her, his narrow face expressionless. He was just hanging up the phone.
"A body was found out at Fort Carson just now. That AWOL soldier, Jerry Pendleton."
"Oh great," Eileen said. "Hey, did you see those lights up at NORAD?"
"I didn't," Harben said with a frown. He looked out his window, squinting a little, then shrugged. "I've seen them once or twice before, Eileen. They might be having some sort of war game."
"Okay," Eileen said, relieved. She'd lived in the Springs for six years. Harben had lived there all his life. "I was beginning to think there was something wrong up there."
"Well, if there was, we wouldn't have to think about it long." Harben didn't smile at his own grim joke. Colorado Springs was one of the first targets for any major nuclear attack, and everybody knew it. The common phrase was "Ground Zero." Colorado Springs was just about as ground zero as Washington, D.C. NORAD was the wartime command center, where the President was supposed to relocate if Washington, D.C., was destroyed. There was supposed to be another huge underground base somewhere in the Russian steppes, similar to NORAD, and undoubtedly targeted by American missiles. None of it made much sense to Eileen, but she had never worried much about it until this morning.
"So let's talk about Pendleton."
"Yeah, right, I know. Why did I get saddled with this assignment?" Eileen dropped into a chair. She was the new Police Liaison for Fort Carson, Peterson, Schriever, NORAD, and the Air Force Academy, the five military establishments in Colorado Springs.
"You're the best person for the job," Harben said dryly. "You were in the Air Force once, as I recall."
"I don't want the Liaison job. I didn't want it. I hated the Air Force. I still hate it."
"You'll have to go talk to the new Air Force Medical Examiner. This is Army, by the way. The Air Force ME handles all the cases."
Eileen sighed. She was sarcastic around military people, and she had a tendency to be rude. Having been in the military, she couldn't help teasing the officers she met, like an unchained dog running outside a kennel. She just couldn't stop herself from barking through the bars.
"This is out at Fort Carson, so you can ask around and see if there are Games going on today," Harben suggested. "I'm sure it's nothing important, but that way you'll stop wondering about it."
Harben glanced at the faint flickerings from the hole in the side of the mountain, and a puzzled crease developed in his forehead.
"Well, I guess it has to be some kind of drill" he said.
North of Bermuda
The Unified German submarine Edelweiss dove hard, cutting through layers of cold seawater. She launched chaff, but the Subroc torpedo closed without hesitation. The USS Guitarro had been too close when the Edelweiss launched her missile. The German sub didn't have a chance.
There was a sound like the ringing of a bell, clearly audible to the frantically scrambling men inside the Edelweiss. Some hadn't even made it to their battle station when the bell rang through the hull.
The Subroc's motors stopped. A small flotational pack popped from the stern of the missile and it started to drift slowly to the surface.
"Damn," the German captain said. "We're dead." His crew was more eloquent in their disappointment, and for a few moments the air rang with curses. The crew of the Unified German sub hadn't even known that their own side in the Joint War Games was tracking them. They knew, of course, that they were to be the "rogue" submarine that unexpectedly attacks the United States, but security had been good. The crew hadn't even known their assignment until they'd left port and were in the open sea.
"We avoided her for almost a minute," the Fire Control officer reported quietly when the volume dropped. "Pretty good for this old girl."
"I didn't know a sub was tracking us," the Radar officer said. He was wooden-faced but still clearly upset. "I'm sorry, Captain."
"We got our missiles off before they killed us," the Captain said thoughtfully. "We learn from them. When it is our turn to play the hero and theirs to play the rogue, we'll do better than they did."
The Captain nodded at his first officer. The command was sent. The Edelweiss stood down from battle stations. Her part in the Game was over.
Washington, D.C., and NORAD
Washington received the signal while the Guitarro was still accelerating. The Secret Service hustled the President to his helicopter in thirty-seven seconds. Since everyone knew the drill was going to happen, the President's schedule was clear and he was sipping coffee in his office when the Secret Service notified him of the alert. Not a particularly realistic drill for the President, but he was, after all, the President. Air Force One was in the air twenty-four minutes later.
NORAD saw the missiles leave the ocean surface. The latest satellite technology sent the information to the computer screens just slightly slower than the speed of light. Air Force Major General Jeremy Kelton didn't change his usual calm expression. He was drinking from a can of soda. He put the can down carefully, reached over, and flicked open a plastic cover. He turned a key.
NORAD buttoned up. The outside lights, flashing for half an hour now in warning of a simulated attack, stopped. Whoever was inside would stay inside. Whoever was outside would not be able to get in until the emergency was over. A quiet tone sounded throughout the cavern. The outside air fans died. There was a faint, almost imperceptible flicker as the power system shunted over to internals. The only door to the gigantic tunnel swung shut with a crash. Air Force personnel raced to their positions. Some still had thick sandwiches clutched in their hands. The cafeteria at NORAD Air Force Base had a reputation for good food, and a number of the shift workers were eating lunch at the time of the alarm.
Colorado Springs Investigations Bureau
"I'm going to try one more time to get out of this, boss," Eileen said earnestly. "I hate the military. I'll be rude. I'll spit in all the wrong places and I'll call colonels by their first names. I'll step on their shiny shoes and get them all muddy. I can't help it."
"I want you to step on shoes, Eileen," Harben said coldly. "That's the general idea. Congress passed the law about civilian police being involved in military investigations just last year, and the military hates it. But there were too many scandals. Like what happened to your friend."
Eileen had told Harben about her friend Bernice when she received her promotion to detective. She figured Harben should know. Harben never showed any emotion, which Eileen thought a relief. She couldn't stand sympathy, particularly about Bernie.
Captain Bernie Ames was flying a standard training flight in Arizona when her A-10 broke away from the formation and headed north. She didn't respond on the radio to the increasingly frantic attempts to contact her. Search planes found the remains of her body and her A-10 two weeks later at the top of a Colorado mountain.
The resulting Air Force investigation concluded "pilot error." Worse, the gossip always added "female" to "pilot error." Eileen, feeling as shredded as Bernie's A-10, could do nothing about the verdict. The records were sealed. No real explanation was ever found for why Bernie decided to fly her plane hundreds of miles north and nose-dive into a mountain. Her friend went into her grave as a bad, possibly suicidal pilot. A bad woman pilot.
"I don't want to deal with their garbage," she said heavily. "I doubt I can help. But I'll do it."
Harben regarded her for a moment. She couldn't tell what he was thinking. But then again, she never could. Harben was the definition of a closed book.
"Good. Thank you." Harben picked up a pen and wrote briefly. "Here's the access name for the Pendleton file." He looked up. "What is it?"
"The flashes," Eileen said. "They stopped. I guess it was nothing after all."
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Set in Colorado Springs, where we currently live. I found it captivating from start to finish. Having spent time affiliated with the Silent Warriors by being married to a military man who spent the majority of his service time in Security Service, I thought this was spot on. The secrecy, intrigue, mystery, and spy games are all there. Knowing there are far reaching ramifications if the mystery isn't solved is a definite plus for me. Ms. Ramthum wrote like she'd lived it all. The affects on private lives while balancing national security is indeed difficult and she made it real. I've told everyone I know that enjoys this genre that it's a must read. I also enjoyed the fact that it was set in our home town & I recognized all the places, roads to places & precise descriptions of places. If she isn't from around here, she's done a lot of research to make the settings accurate. I plan on reading the entire Eileen Reed trilogy.
Little bit of mystery, techy, and romance for a great read. Looking foward to reading her next book.
Well written page-turner. It gave a glimpse into military intelligence seldom revealed to the public.
To say that this book belongs with Tom Clancy, Stephen Coonts, and P.T. Deutermann would be an insult to this author. As the aforementioned authors' books become more and more unreadable the more they write, I am glad to see that there is a fresh writer. I disagree with a previous reviewer's statement that there is too much technology in the book. There was just enough to set the stage for the story and did not digress beyond that.
I felt that he book titled Ground Zero By:Bonnie Ramthun was a very good book. It kept me on the edge of my seat. One thing I liked about it was, it kept jumping back inforth to different places and you really have to pay attention to fallow it. Also i liked how they added the terrest into it to keep the action going. Evan know i am a 15 year old student i enjoyed this book very much.
I love mysteries, and I love strong woman roles, but I hate stupid actions by the characters, so this book got a high rating from me, because it meets all the criteria. By page 18, I was caught. I wanted to know how the murder happened, and why. Then I started to care about the people. Maybe the sex scene was a little contrived, but since I know how it can happen, it only seemed natural-- sometimes it happens that way. And I also like techno-thrillers and this was a whopper, an unexpected bonus. Anyone who likes a wild ride where you have got to know what happens, this is one you will love! It would make a great movie.