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And, after sabotage causes 14 airplanes to crash in one day, it appears that Japanese industrial espionage may achieve what military might could not.
"Hagberg is a major find!"—Dean Koontz
"Stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Michael Crichton's Rising Sun."--Mystery Sun
Anarrow beam of light flashed suddenly in the dark confines of the airliner's electronics bay. A slightly built man dressed in the white coveralls of an American Airlines maintenance technician directed the penlight toward a particular equipment rack. The boards were all dead. Not even standby power was being supplied to the jetliner parked at the ramp. The man studied the rack, and those on either side of it in the cramped quarters, then turned his flashlight away.
Hunching down on his knees, he opened his tool kit and took out a plastic box, barely one inch on a side, laid it on the deck, then took out a screwdriver and began removing the six screws that held a narrow electronics panel marked HEAT MONITOR/ALARM, ENGINE, PORT in the center rack.
Miyazaki Oshima's movements were as precise as they were soundless. He had practiced the drill dozens of times so that he could not possibly make a mistake. When he finished he set the screwdriver aside, slid the panel out from its slot in the rack, and propped it at an angle against his knees. Holding the penlight in hismouth and directing it on the subassembly's innards, he slid the cover panel back until its spring-loaded catches released, then removed it and put it aside. The unit was crammed with electronic modules each containing one or more computer chips. Few other components or wiring were visibile from the top. A metal tag bore the legend PE171.314.LP522, INTERTECH CORP:, SAN FRANCISCO, CA., which matched the number on the small plastic box lying beside him on the deck.
Oshima cocked his head to listen for any sound from above that might indicate someone was coming. But the equipment bay was utterly still. The air was close. It smelled of lubricating oil, hydraulic fluid, kerojet, and electronics. Irrationally he thought of this place as a coffin.
Using a special tool that looked like a four-inch plastic pry bar, he removed one of the modules from the heat monitor/alarm subassembly, and replaced it with the one from the plastic box. Both modules were identical to the naked eye, and no routine maintenance diagnostic test would tell them apart.
Making sure that the replacement module was firmly seated in its receptacle, he replaced the subassembly's cover panel, reengaging its catches, then slid the entire unit back into the equipment rack, pushing firmly to make sure the contact bar pins fully mated. Forcing himself not to speed up, not to make any mistake, he refastened the six screws holding the unit in place, returned the screwdriver, pry bar, and plastic box that now contained the original module to his tool kit, and carefully examined the area immediately around each screw head in case he had inadvertently scratched the metal. If he had, he could touch it up, but he had not, and he was satisfied.
He remained crouched for a moment or two, listening, feeling, trying to sense the essence of the jetliner and the people who would fly in her soon. And die in her.
He switched off the penlight and by touch returned it to his tool kit. The feeling of distress, he was taught, wasthe root of benevolence. He felt as if he was finally becoming gishi—a man of rectitude. Of giri—duty.
"It is true courage to live when it is right to live, and to die only when it is right to die." The precepts of Bushido, the Japanese warrior's code of honor. "But courage is a virtue only in the case of righteousness."
Hiroshima. Nagasaki. These abominations to the Yamato Damashi—the soul—of Japan could not be forgotten. He'd been taught that, too, from childhood. He carried the resentment like a Samurai carried his swords.
But the parliament's kowtowing to Washington over nothing more than commerce also ate at Japan's soul.
At twenty-six, Oshima was not old enough to remember Yukio Mishima, Japan's greatest post-war novelist, who committed seppuku in 1970 to illustrate his belief that Japan's soul could be saved only by a return to Bushido. But he believed in what the master had taught, and at certain times his belief was clearly visible on his face as a saintly, beatific smile. He smiled now. By being here, by doing this thing, he was helping to preserve Japan.
"I want you to have no illusions about the job you are being asked to do," Arimoto Yamagata told him six months ago. "You understand everything?"
"Hai, Yamagata-san," Oshima had answered sharply.
"If your true purpose is discovered and you are arrested, we will deny any knowledge of you. The United States authorities will punish you, and when you finally come home you will be tried again, found guilty, and will be sentenced to a very long time in prison."
"There will be no honorable death for you, if you fail."
Yamagata's expression was stern, but the implication of what had gone unsaid made Oshima swell with pride. In failure there would be dishonor, but in success there would be rewards.
"I will not fail, Yamagata-san."
"I'm sure you will not," Yamagata said, finally smiling. They were seated alone, fifty miles outside of Tokyo, on a broad scrubbed teak deck that overlooked a pleasant garden. The gentle sounds of running water mingled with the musical tinkling of a windchime in the single, gnarled tree in the middle of the garden. The sand had been freshly raked, and Oshima had been asked to bear witness to the placing of a new rock near the pool. Yamagata called it "future," with a second name of "hope."
"I will think of this place often," Oshima had said.
"Yes, Oshima-san. And here I will think of you."
Yamagata worked for the powerful Ministry of International Trade and Industry—MITI—which was the nearest thing to an intelligence agency that Japan maintained. The ministry had influence in every corner of Japanese science, business, and government, and therefore nearly unlimited resources. Training Oshima on the proper equipment, in secret, getting him to the United States on a U.S. passport as Michael Oshima, and getting him the proper credentials so that he had access to the restricted sections of Chicago's O'Hare Airport had been no problem. Nor had getting through security this morning presented any difficulties. As a technician with the proper badges and work orders his presence was barely noticed.
Now it was time to leave.
Careful to make no noise, he picked up his tool kit, got to his feet, and climbed to the top of the ladder, where he stopped a moment to listen. So far as he could tell no one was aboard the aircraft. It was before 4:30 in the morning and this plane's first scheduled flight wasn't due out until 7:30 A.M. The first of the maintenance technicians and housekeeping crew wouldn't be showing up until 5:30, which left him a full hour to get out.
Plenty of time, he told himself. But he was jumpy.
He pushed the trap door open a crack. The interior of the plane was in darkness, only a dim light came through the windows from outside. He hesitated a momentlonger, then eased the trap door the rest of the way open. Laying his tool kit on the deck, he climbed up into the cockpit, careful to keep below the level of the windshield so that if someone outside happened to look this way, they would not see him.
He closed and relatched the trap door, picked up his tool kit, and scrambled back to the galley where he straightened up a few feet forward of the main hatch.
The weather was warm so the hatch was open directly onto the jetway back to the boarding gate. It had been figured into their contingency plans. If someone were on the ramp when he was ready to leave through the flight service area he could use the jetway and make his escape through the terminal.
"It will not do to simply replace the central processor," Yamagata had said. "You must not be discovered. You must make your escape."
Yamagata had shown up at Narita Airport a half-hour before Oshima's flight to Chicago. His presence came as a complete surprise and honor. Oshima had been deeply touched.
"You must know that you are part of a large team that has worked for Japan's honor for a long time. This will not be a random act of violence."
"I don't understand."
"No need for you to understand, except that you are not a terrorist."
Yamagata smiled. "Yes. You will be our shield, Oshima-san."
The novelist, Mishima, had maintained a private army to defend the emperor when the time came for revolt. It was called the Shield Society. Oshima was very proud that Yamagata had made such a reference even if it was obscure.
He glanced a last time back toward the cockpit, then stepped out of the galley and through the hatch into the jetway. Act of terrorism or not, he felt queasy thinking about what would happen here shortly after American'sFlight 413 took off. The crash would be blamed on a catastrophically sudden port engine overheat. The fanjet would disintegrate in midair, taking all or most of that wing with it. There would be no chance of recovery. Not one in a billion.
No one was below on the ramp. Oshima unlocked the jetway service door and hurried down the stairs. The night air smelled of burned kerojet. The flight service area was lit up, but no one was in sight.
Oshima pulled up short. A half-dozen suitcases tagged for Houston were piled on a baggage trailer. They'd not been there ten minutes ago when he'd come this way. While he'd been aboard 413, someone brought the baggage out.
Now he could hear voices from somewhere in the back. In the direction of the break room.
He stepped into the shadows. Ten minutes ago the field had been quiet. But now a pickup truck, orange lights flashing, crossed 14L toward a Delta hangar three-fourths of a mile away. The hangar's main bay doors were open, and a big jetliner, all lit up, was parked inside.
It was too early by at least an hour. No one was supposed to show up until after five. It was only 4:30. Something was wrong.
No alarms had been sounded. No airport security officers were swarming around. But that wouldn't last long. The first American Airlines supervisor he encountered would probably ask questions that Oshima couldn't answer.
He would be searched. The replacement module would be found in his tool kit. He would have failed.
"There will be no honorable seppuku for you," Yamagata's words came back. His comrades would not rejoice in his passing.
But he had forgotten nothing. He'd watched the airport through March and the first week of April. Timing the comings and goings of the maintenance and security staffs, the service people, the flight crews, and flights themselves until he could safely predict the day-to-day,hour-to-hour activities anywhere within the O'Hare complex.
He had picked this hour, four in the morning, on this day, Sunday, because this was the time when the airport was the quietest.
He had forgotten nothing. But the airport was coming alive an hour too early!
Somebody said something and laughed, and the swinging doors to the baggage service area opened.
Oshima sprinted back out to the ramp as a truck pulled up fifty yards away. The driver got out and went into the service area.
More service crew were coming into the baggage area, leaving Oshima no option except the route through the terminal. Forcing himself to remain calm, not to panic, he hurried upstairs, unlocked the door, and slipped into the jetway, hoping that no one had spotted him.
Somehow he had his times mixed up, although he couldn't see how that was possible. But as long as he could get away clean it wouldn't matter.
He started down the jetway toward the boarding gate when he heard voices coming his way, and he froze.
"No firearms," his trainers had told him. "If you get yourself into a situation where deadly force is needed, you will have already failed."
But he hadn't counted on being cornered like this.
He turned back to the window in time to see a man in white coveralls start up the stairs. There were no options now.
With only a few seconds leeway, Oshima reboarded the jetliner, yanked open the cockpit trap door into the electronics bay, scrambled down into the darkness, and closed and relatched the door overhead. His heart pounded, and he had to force himself to take even breaths lest someone come into the cockpit and hear him panting like a cornered animal.
At first he heard nothing, but then someone came aboard. They stopped, then came forward into the cockpit directly over his head, and Oshima held his breath.
There was silence for a few seconds, until something thumped against the hull, and a man in the cockpit spoke as if on a radio.
"That's roger. I'm bringing up standby power for one minute to finish that ... ah, diagnostic on bus two-four-two-baker."
A second later LED indicators on a dozen electronics panels around him suddenly came to life, and he nearly fell down, his knees weak, his breath catching in his throat.
There was enough light for him to see the racks and wiring and hydraulic lines, and enough light for someone to see him if they opened the trap door.
He eased back into the darkness as far as he could go, taking care to make no noise.
Had he been stopped in the terminal he might have been able to bluff his way out of the airport. But to be caught here, like this, there would be no explanation other than the truth: He had sabotaged the airplane. But if he was trapped down here and could not get off, he would have to fly at 7:30.
He sat down on his knees and heels, set the tool kit aside, and concentrated on his breathing so that he could fight off the rising panic that threatened to block his sanity and his courage. If this were the time and place for him to die, then so be it. In a way it would be a form of seppuku, and therefore honorable. He would not have failed.
The panels went dead, plunging the electronics bay into complete darkness again. Oshima flinched despite himself.
"I'm down," the technician radioed. "Looks like a broken connection on f-thirty-three-fifteen-baker. That's the circuit breaker for ... ah, the forward galley. Looks like an auxiliary. No, it's for one of the coffeemakers."
The radioed reply was too faint for Oshima to make out.
"The prep crew won't be aboard for another twenty minutes. I should have it done by then."
It was ironic, Oshima thought, that a man's life couldhinge on something so insignificant as an electric coffeemaker.
"Roger that," the technician said. "I'll set both panel clocks forward."
Oshima looked up sharply.
The technician chuckled. "It screws me up every spring, too."
Daylight saving time, the thought suddenly crystallized in Oshima's head. Since he had arrived in Chicago six weeks ago he'd been too busy to give more than cursory notice to the newspapers or the radio or television. If he had paid more attention he would have realized that on this Sunday clocks across the United States were set one hour ahead. It was not 4:30 A.M. now; it was 5:30 A.M.
That irony was even more bitter to Oshima than the coffeemaker's faulty circuit breaker, and he almost laughed out loud.
As he had promised Yamagata, he thought of the garden, and the windchime, and the rock named "future" and "hope," while with one ear he listened to the sounds from the cockpit and from the belly of the airplane as the first of the luggage was loaded aboard.
Future and hope were meant to symbolize Japan's Yamato spirit. The rock placed in such a setting so obviously at peace and harmony with itself was meant as a focus or catalyst for the thoughts.
Yoshida Shôin once wrote:
Full well I knew this course must end in death: It was Yamato spirit urged me on To dare whate'er betide.
Someone else came aboard the jetliner, and later others, after which the panel LED indicators came on again, and more baggage was loaded aft and below.
Oshima became calmer as his fear peeled away from him like layers of onion. He carefully examined each line of the verse that Shôin had composed on the evening before his execution for being a traitor against the turnof the century "New Japan," and he understood its meaning. He knew the fatalism that Shôin had felt, as well as the sense of inner peace that came before death.
The master had been a bu-shi, in the old meaning, a fighting knight. It had been his only crime against modernism.
But now in Japan the belief that the old ways were the best was coming back. Japan had lost her greatness, but she would regain it in this century, or within the first years of the next. The return to power was as inevitable as it was just and righteous.
Oshima was barely conscious of the passage of time, although he was aware of the continuing preparation for the jetliner's first and last flight of the day.
A fundamental difference between Americans and Japanese was that Americans believed anything worth doing was worth doing right. The Japanese, however, believed that anything worth doing was worth dying for. It was one of the reasons Japan would be victorious morally, financially, and, given the time, militarily.
Oshima was startled when the engines came to life, one at a time. The noise was loud in the equipment bay.
He could hear announcements being read over the airplane's public address system, though it was hard to pick out the exact words.
The jetliner lurched, then moved slowly backward from the boarding gate.
For a second, Oshima considered bypassing the heat monitor/alarm panel so that he could replace the original module without the flight crew becoming aware of it. But he dismissed the idea.
The airplane turned and then started forward, bumping along the uneven ramp toward the taxiway.
In the old days Samurai warriors learned to compose poetry in order to cultivate a gentleness of spirit to temper their passion for killing. Oshima had read about one ancient master who had instructed his warrior-pupil to construct a verse about the Uguisu, the warbler, or Japanese nightingale.
The young warrior made a first crude effort:
The brave warrior keeps apart The ear that might listen To the warbler's song.
The airplane stopped, then the engines roared and they accelerated down the runway, the noise rising sharply, and then even more sharply as they became airborne.
The master continued to work with the young warrior until his soul awakened, and he wrote:
Stands the warrior, mailed and strong To hear the Uguisu's song, Warbled sweet the trees among.
The jetliner banked left as it continued to climb, and Oshima's thoughts turned again to the rock, "future" and "hope."
At twenty-three thousand feet the airplane's port engine disintegrated without warning, shearing off the entire wing to within five feet of its root, blasting a hole seven feet in diameter in the side of the hull halfway back to the tail surfaces, and taking out all electrical power to the cockpit so that neither the twenty-five-year veteran captain, nor the ten-year veteran first officer had a chance to radio Mayday.
Oshima was conscious all the way to impact in a farm field south of Joliet, and on the way down he wondered if a poem would be written about him someday.
Copyright © 1995 by David Hagberg