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Medusa's Child

Medusa's Child

by John J. Nance

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April 1997

"A thriller that grabs and absolutely doesn't let go." -Kirkus Reviews

John Nance's book Medusa's Child is a brilliant technothriller filled with unrelenting suspense and incredible insider details about corporate aviation, the military, and the very real threat of nuclear terrorism.

In the cargo hold of his Boeing 727,


April 1997

"A thriller that grabs and absolutely doesn't let go." -Kirkus Reviews

John Nance's book Medusa's Child is a brilliant technothriller filled with unrelenting suspense and incredible insider details about corporate aviation, the military, and the very real threat of nuclear terrorism.

In the cargo hold of his Boeing 727, Captain Scott McKay notices a strange crate shortly after takeoff. A terrorist team orders him to abandon his present course and fly straight to Washington, D.C., to deliver the crate. McKay takes the forced detour in stride -- until he is warned that the shipment is actually a fully armed Medusa device, a thermonuclear bomb that can obliterate thousands of innocent lives and destroy every microchip over an entire continent. And it is set to go off within hours.

Hounded by contradictory orders from the U.S. Air Force, the President, and the FBI, McKay's crew must learn everything there is to know about the Medusa and find a way to stop the seemingly unstoppable doomsday detonation.

Editorial Reviews

People Magazine
So compelling it's tough to look away.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Novelist and Alaska Airlines pilot Nance is a champ at dreaming up spellbinding premises (as in his bestselling Pandora's Clock) about doomsday threats lurking in our friendly skies. Regrettably, he also excels at sabotaging his great plot ideas with amateurish writing. When, two years after his death, the widow of a deranged nuclear scientist is charged with delivering to the Pentagon a prototype of a Medusa Wave generator, capable of creating a devastating continent-sized electromagnetic pulse, she finds herself the victim of a diabolical plot to kill millions of innocent people and virtually destroy our computerized civilization. With the Medusa device counting down the minutes until it detonates the 20 megaton nuke that keys its power, the widow, a crew of three pilots and a beautiful young female scientist are trapped aboard a Boeing 727 cargo plane, desperately trying to figure out how to disarm the device while battling the onslaught of an 800-mile-wide hurricane. Inane prose ("She gripped his seatback even harder...triggering sensations he didn't have time to consider, but which somehow inside he knew were very pleasant"), cartoonish characters and comic-book theatrics (a mid-air rescue from the wing of a 727)) abound as Nance parlays a clever idea into an unintentional homage to the slapstick film lampoon, Airplane. Crichton's Airframe is a Concorde compared to this crippled bird. Author tour. (Feb.)
Library Journal
Nance's suspenseful tale of a flight crew that discovers a disgruntled government nuclear physicist's atomic weapon aboard their aircraft suffers from sloppy production. The author's quick-paced, tense narration complements the desperate voices of the characters as they feverishly work against time to disarm the bomb. However, production errors, such as an incorrect end-of-tape prompt, overzealous government officials barking orders at annoyingly high decibels, and several narration miscues, give the program a low-budget feel. Medusa's Child won't fly with most technothriller enthusiasts.-Mark P. Tierney, The World Bank, Washington, D.C.
School Library Journal
YAFrom the intriguing jacket cover to the final page, suspense abounds in this thrilling novel. When Scott McKay, captain of his private cargo plane, takes on two passengers and their cargo crates, he and his crew discover that they are in for the flight of their lives. While over Washington, DC, a strange noise comes from deep inside the crate owned by Vivian Henry. It is the voice of her husband, a nuclear scientist who was believed dead. The people onboard are informed that the shipment that they are carrying is a fully armed Medusa device, a thermonuclear bomb that will not only kill millions of people, but can also destroy every computer chip on the continent, blasting the country back into the Stone Age. It is set to go off within hours. Panic erupts in the world of nuclear scientists who used to work for Dr. Henry, for they realize that this threat is a real possibility. Fear spreads through the White House and the general public, as a group of rogue military officers conspire to secure the bomb at any cost. Captain McKay and his crew soon discover that they are being deceived, and that everyone's life is in danger. Mistrust, deceit, and spine-chilling action flow from every page of this story.Anita Short, W. T. Woodson High School, Fairfax, VA
From the Publisher
"So compelling it's tough to look away." —People magazine

"Master of aviation suspense John J. Nance produces another high-flying thriller....BRILLIANT...He moves the action effortlessly from place to place, building the tension and heightening the drama...NANCE DELIVERS PLENTY OF PUNCH." —The Orange County Register

"This book's more addictive than morphine, a proverbial page-turner." —Dallas Morning News

Product Details

Cengage Gale
Publication date:
G. K. Hall Mystery Series
Edition description:
Large Print
Product dimensions:
6.38(w) x 9.47(h) x 1.17(d)

Read an Excerpt


The voice of the Washington Approach controller was terse.

"ScotAir Fifty, I've been handed a telephone number in Miami you're to call immediately. Do you have a phone aboard?"

Scott felt off balance. He'd never heard an air traffic controller order a pilot to make an airborne call. He wished Doc was back in the cockpit.

Scott punched the transmit button. "Ah, roger, ScotAir Fifty does have a telephone. Who's requesting the call?"

"I don't know, ScotAir," the controller began, "...but you need to call this number immediately. I'm told it's an emergency."

The controller relayed the number and Scott punched it into the Flitephone handset, his mind whirling through a variety of apocalyptic possibilities as a man answered on the other end, listened to the name ScotAir, and identified himself as an FBI agent. Scott felt himself shudder within.

"We've been trying to find you, ScotAir. You were in Miami this morning at the same time some undocumented hazardous material was shipped out. We think that material may be on board your aircraft."

The memory of Linda McCoy's pushiness in getting her two pallets aboard suddenly flooded Scott's mind, almost blocking the agent's words. They hadn't really verified her identity, had they? They hadn't even inspected her pallets, once he'd agreed to take them.

"We need you to land immediately," the agent said.

The visual memory of Mrs. Henry's single pallet also crossed his mind. He knew even less about her.

Scott realized the agent was still talking, and he wasn't paying attention.

"I'm sorry, say again."

There was a pause inMiami. "I said, we'll have the appropriate people ready to meet you to examine what you've got on board. You haven't unloaded anything since you left Miami, have you?"

Suddenly, for some reason, he felt guilty. All they'd done wrong was load someone else's pallet, and that was an innocent mistake. Yet the fact that an FBI agent was asking him questions at all was vaguely terrifying.

"No, sir, "Scott answered, "It's all still aboard, but I need to know, are we in any danger, if what you're looking for is really here?"


"Sir? Did you hear me?"

He could hear the phone being shifted from one hand to another in Miami, and at last the FBI agent's voice returned. "Ah, Captain, I doubt you're in any immediate danger, but I can't say for certain. If the...items...we're looking for are on board your airplane, it depends on how well they're, ah, packaged."

More links and connections raced through his head, none of them comforting.

Miami...drug dealers...drug-making equipment...hazardous, carcinogenic chemicals...what if we're carrying illegal drugs...

Scott heard his own voice as if it were disembodied. "Okay. Where do you want us to land? We're waiting to get into National, but right now it's closed."

There was a worrisome hesitation on the other end. Scott could hear voices before the agent spoke into the handset again.

"Okay, stay in your holding pattern. What phone are you on?"

Scott passed the number of the aircraft's Flitephone.

"Keep the line open, Captain, and I'll call you back as soon as we've decided where to bring you down."

"You do realize there's a hurricane moving in here?" Scott asked. "I...wait a minute." The agent began. Scott could hear someone talking in the background. "Okay, Captain, what did you say?"

"I said, there's a hurricane moving into the D.C. area. Whatever we do, we're going to need to do it fast. One of my clients wants her cargo to go to National, but if it doesn't re-open soon, the winds are going to go out of limits."

"You've got just one shipment on board, right?"

"No sir, we've got two. One's going to Denver, Colorado, the other was loaded by mistake this morning. We're delivering it to National."

More background discussion. Scott realized he'd flown beyond the end of the holding pattern. His right hand found the autopilot controller and began a right turn to reverse course. Even at ten thousand feet and two hundred forty knots of speed, the turbulence was getting worse, and the old 727 was bouncing around with an irritating consistency.

The agent's voice filled his ear again. Scott thought he detected fatigue. "Okay, Captain, we're going to need to inspect everything you've got aboard. Right now we're considering bringing you down at Andrews Air Force Base. Hang tight until I've got final word. I'll call you right back."

The sound of the cockpit door being flung open was punctuated by the sound of the FBI agent disconnecting.

"Scott!" Doc Hazzard laid a large left hand on the younger pilot's shoulder, turning him partly around with a startling roughness. "Scott, we've got a problem." Linda McCoy stood in the doorway, he noticed, her face ashen. Mrs. Henry was nowhere to be seen.


Doc flung himself in the copilot's seat and began strapping in. "Doctor McCoy will take you back there. I'll watch the bird. I don't know what to make of it."

"What, Doc? What the hell are you talking about?"

Doc Hazzard grabbed the yoke with his right hand and turned toward Scott.

"That warning horn? It was coming from Mrs. Henry's shipment. There's a metal container in that pallet. It looks like stainless steel. I opened an inspection hatch and found a TV screen inside with a message you've got to see. Scott, this thing may contain a bomb! And it's got an inertial navigation system in it that may be malfunctioning. It thinks it knows where it is, but it doesn't know precisely."

"Doc, for God's sake, slow down! Tell me that again. There's a huge container back there with some sort of message and you think it's a bomb? .

Doc shook his head as he scanned the instruments, trying to make sure he knew where they were. "You'll understand when you look at it."

"What's this about an inertial navigation system?"

Doc turned to him. "It thinks we're in the Pentagon. Rather, thinks it's in the Pentagon."

"Well, we flew over the Pentagon before we started holding, but what does that have to do with..." the word "bomb" was beginning to sink in.

There was true panic in the copilot's eyes, Scott noticed. For eight months nothing had seemed to rattle Doc Hazzard. He was always steady as a rock. But now he was shaken.

"Doc, does Mrs. Henry know what's inside that pallet?"

Doc shook his head vigorously. "Not a clue. She says her husband was a government physicist. Whatever that is back there, he built it. I can't get anything else out of her, except that he's dead and left instructions for her to take it to the Pentagon. It's supposed to be a mockup of some sort. That's all she'll tell me, and she looks pretty scared."

Linda McCoy's hand gripped his shoulder with surprising strength. "Captain, please follow me back. I'm really worried about this." Her voice carried a tense urgency as well, and Scott scrambled out of the seat to follow her out the cockpit door.

Vivian Henry had steadied herself against the turbulence by holding or to a small handrail above the windows, but she was aware of little more than the container before her. She'd recognized the look of alarm on the face of the young female scientist several minutes before, then had seen it consume the copilot as well. They seemed unable to tell her what they were seeing, so she'd stepped forward and looked for herself at the small screen inside her ex-husband's creation. All she could see on the screen was text, but. in her head she could hear the familiar snarl of her deceased husband's voice reaching out for her again with the horrid clarity of a can't-get-away nightmare.

What does he mean, 'detonate'?

Maybe it was a burglar alarm of sorts, she thought in a frantic search for a benign explanation. She looked at the screen again. He obviously meant those words to be threatening. Once the shipment was within the Pentagon complex, Rogers Henry had devised a plan to keep it there.

Perhaps that's it! The threat is just a ploy to make sure they really study the mockup.

Nothing would happen. Nothing would explode. Vivian knew Rogers had always been passionate about defending his country. He would never attack it.

Doc Hazzard and Dr. McCoy had disappeared toward the cockpit, leaving her alone with her husband's handiwork. For the first time, a cold, haunting shroud of fear began to cover her mind with an unexpected sense of helplessness and resignation. The old feeling of being cornered by him in some other impossible position, her back against a wall--often with his hands around her throat--came back with chilling familiarity. So many times she had assumed she was about to die at his hands--so many times she was sure he would carry out his threats. Until she'd mustered up enough courage to leave him, she'd grown used to feeling helpless and being resigned to her fate.

But there were other people involved this time, she reminded herself.

Vivian Henry looked out the nearest window, trying to shake the feeling of impending doom. Rogers had stopped appearing in her nightmares some time ago, but the rancid, electric feeling of impending attack had returned. It was a feeling she knew all too well. For years she'd had nightmares about his stalking her, nightmares she relived night after night with the visceral presence of pure hate reflected in his eyes when they fastened on her. His pupils would become tiny little pinpoints, and she would be transfixed, unable to move, until she awoke in total confusion.

She stared, mesmerized, at the partly-exposed metal canister, sensing her ex-husband at his most sadistic.

Linda McCoy reappeared with the Captain, both of them with averted eyes and strained faces as they looked inside at the glowing TV screen. She heard the young captain inhale sharply.

They would think her responsible for Rogers' threats, Vivian concluded. They would think she planned this, especially when they discovered she, too, had worked at Los Alamos.

Meet the Author

John J. Nance, aviation analyst for ABC News and a familiar face on Good Morning America, is the author of several bestselling novels including Fire Flight, Skyhook, Turbulence, and Orbit. Two of his novels, Pandora’s Clock and Medusa’s Child, have been made into highly successful television miniseries. A lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, Nance is a decorated pilot veteran of Vietnam and Operations Desert Storm/Desert Shield. He lives in Washington State.

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