Nemesisby Bill Napier
THE CODE BURIED IN A CENTURIES-OLD MANUSCRIPT…
From a remote Scottish mountain, Dr. Oliver Webb--one of the world's great physicists--is whisked away by a military helicopter and routed to the Mexican border. Along with the leading men of physics and one sexy atom smasher, Webb is given an impossible task: identify the asteroid--codename/b>… See more details below
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THE CODE BURIED IN A CENTURIES-OLD MANUSCRIPT…
From a remote Scottish mountain, Dr. Oliver Webb--one of the world's great physicists--is whisked away by a military helicopter and routed to the Mexican border. Along with the leading men of physics and one sexy atom smasher, Webb is given an impossible task: identify the asteroid--codename Nemesis--that is on course to collide with and destroy America. They have five days to stop it. If they can't, the President will retaliate first by ordering the U.S. military to pull the nuclear trigger...
IS THE ONLY SALVATION…
But when one of Webb's colleagues is found dead, he has every reason to suspect that there is more to Nemesis than he knows. Then, he makes a staggering discovery: That the secret to saving the world is hidden in a 17th Latin century manuscript that has gone mysteriously missing.
FOR THE SURVIVAL OF THE U.S.
An electrifying race against time, NEMESIS spans centuries and the globe in a white hot journey through physics, history, and geopolitics--and mankind's ultimate duel with the unknown.
"Incredible…extraordinary…a really terrific novel!"
--Jeff Long, New York Times bestselling author of The Descent on Splintered Icon
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By Bill Napier
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 1998 Bill Napier
All rights reserved.
THE FIRST DAY
E = 107 Mt, I = 45°,
Target = Tertiary Andesite
The meteor comes in high over the Gulf of Mexico, in a blaze of light which darkens the noon sun from the Florida Keys to Jamaica.
Two thousand miles to the north, and four minutes before he dies, Colonel Peter "Foggy" Wallis is in his office watching television. The office itself is dark and comfortable, a restful place. It is made of steel. It sits on springs whose coils are made from steel rods three inches in diameter. Steel walkways connect the office to another fourteen similar, self-contained rooms. The entire office complex is contained within a giant cavern hollowed out from a granite mountain. Steel pins up to thirty feet long are driven into the cavern walls, and steel mesh is suspended below the ceiling high overhead, to protect him from dislodged boulders should a hostile giant ever strike the mountain. Access is through steel doors, each weighing twenty-five tons, and along a tunnel fourteen hundred feet long.
The television picture comes from a camera twenty-five thousand miles above the surface of the Earth. It is beamed down into a huge antenna near Alice Springs, relayed across two oceans, cabled a thousand feet into the bowels of the Rock and then up into the colonel's television set for his personal perusal.
The colonel pulls open a Seven-Up and sips at the fizzy lemonade. An oil well is burning in Iran. Its long smoky trail, bright in the infrared, has been longer at every shift for days, and now it has at last reached the northern Himalayas. Otherwise nothing much has changed. He flicks a button and the black night-time Pacific now appears, ringed by lights. To the left, the Sea of Japan glows softly, illuminated from within by the lights of the Japanese shrimp fishermen. Hawaii appears as a central dot. Idly, he flicks a switch and the dot resolves itself into a string of coastal lights dominated by Honolulu on Oahu and Hilo on Big Island.
Suddenly the lights fail; the VDUs dissolve into snow and die. A chorus of surprised profanity begins to emerge from the dark, but almost immediately the lights flicker and come back on, and the screens return to life.
"Now what was that?" Wallis asks nobody in particular. Rapidly, he scans the screens, flicking through the signals from sensors on land, sea, air and space. They reveal nothing: no anomalies, no intrusions. On the other hand, power cuts have never happened before.
"David, check it out."
While the young major sitting to the left of Wallis speaks into a telephone, Wallis himself taps out a command on the console in front of him. A mass of coloured symbols obscures his god's eye view of the world. He types again, and all but a handful of the symbols vanish.
Over the Barents Sea, just north of Novaya Zemlya, a patrol of ageing Tupolev Blackjack bombers is high over the pack ice and the seals; another three hours on that bearing and they would invade Canadian air space, heading south for the Kansas silos. A flock of MiG 23s is heading out over the sea of Japan: six hours, if only they had the range, and they would reach Hawaii.
Only ten minutes ago a big KH-11 satellite passed over Kirovsk on the Kola peninsula, recording the Badgers, Back-fires and MiGs which swarm like bees in and out of the four military air bases surrounding the city; elsewhere inside the mountain, careful men watched their movements; they collated and analysed, using massive computers: alert for the unusual, paranoid towards the unexpected. But the computers detected no strangeness in the patterns, and the careful men relaxed.
For twenty years following the collapse of the Empire, Kirov has been a ghost city. The bees flew to distant Eastern bases, or were executed by order of disarmament treaties. Some of the careful men were reassigned to tinpot dictatorships; most left to take up lucrative jobs with McDonnell Douglas or IBM. They no longer collated and analysed. But then came the food riots; and the Black Sea mutiny, which spread like a plague first to the Pacific Fleet and then to the elite Tamanshaia and Kanterimov divisions; and the chaotic elections in which Vladimir Zhirinovsky, heavily supported by the Red Army, swept to victory. The man who had publicly threatened to nuke Japan and the United Kingdom, and whose declared intention was to expand the Russian Empire by force, was in the Kremlin.
And now the Badgers are back in Kola, and the careful men have returned to the mountain.
Stuff like that doesn't bother Wallis in the slightest. It just makes his job more interesting.
He types again. Thirty assorted ships in formation. Slava and nuclear-powered Kirov cruisers, skirting Norway and heading for Scapa Flow.
A handful of dots appears on the screen, obtained at vast expense from hydrophone arrays sprinkling the seabed along the GIUK Gap, the choke-point bridging Greenland, Iceland and the Orkneys. A couple of ancient Yankees and a Foxtrot are heading out into the North Atlantic. Yesterday, the combat team followed a Typhoon heading north, twenty-four thousand tons of displacement whose signals were soon lost in the clicking of shrimps and the cry of whales.
The hell with it. There are no abnormal movements; thecomputers are seeing no suspicious patterns. It has been a long shift, and the colonel, three minutes and twenty seconds before he dies, leans back in his chair, stretches and yawns.
It strikes ground in the Valley of Morelos, a hundred miles south of Mexico City. It is sparse, hard land, a countryside of dry, stony tracks, overloaded burros, maize fields and giant cacti.
In the time it takes Wallis to yawn the asteroid has vaporised, ploughed to a halt ten miles under the ground and generated a ball of fire five miles wide and a hundred thousand degrees hot. Shock waves carrying four million atmospheres of pressure race outwards from the fireball, ancient granites flow like water.
"Sir, the generator people say it was some sort of ground surge. It seems the national grid got it too."
"Any reason for it?"
"They're checking it out. There's a big storm complex around Boulder."
"Okay. You're looking bushed, boy."
The major grins. "It's the new baby, sir. She never sleeps."
"The first sixteen years are the worst," Wallis says.
In the time it takes to discuss the major's baby the fireball scours out a hole fifty miles wide from the Mexican countryside. The hole is ten miles deep and a sea of white hot lava pours upwards through the cracked and fissured mantle. Around the rim of the big hole, a ring of mountains builds up from the torrent of rock. Molten mountains are hurtling into the stratosphere, leaving white-hot wakes of expanding air. The blast moves out over the map. Mexico City vanishes, an irrelevant puff of smoke.
The ground waves too race outwards from the hole, leaving a wake of fluidized rubble. The rubble is forming into ripples and the ripples, tumbling rocky breakers reaching five miles into the disturbed sky, roar towards Panama, Guatemala and the United States.
All the way up the Pacific seaboard the morning mists are rolling in. Foghorns wail round Vancouver island like primeval monsters, a thick white shroud blankets San Francisco and the traffic is snarling up in downtown LA. But now electric currents surge overhead as the fireball pierces the stratosphere, rising back through the hole punched out by the asteroid, and electrons spiral back and forth between the Earth's magnetic poles. Spears and curtains burst into the black Arctic sky and dance a silent, frenzied reel, while the frozen wastelands below reflect the shimmering red and green. Counterflowing currents surge over the Americas; cables melt, telephones die, radios give out with a bang, traffic stops in the streets.
Just over the border from Mexico, early morning shoppers in Tucson, Yuma and San Diego see long black fingers crawling up from the horizon to the south. The fingers reach out for the zenith. And as the shoppers stop to watch, the blue-white fireball too rises over the horizon like a bloated sun, and with it comes the heat. Everything combustible along the line of sight burns; and all living things along the line of sight crisp and shrivel.
And in Wallis's office, apocalypse stirs.
"Sir, we have a system interrupt on OTH," says the major. "We're losing Chesapeake and Rockbank."
"Hey Colonel, I'm not getting a signal from the DSPs." This from Lieutenant Winton, the solitary woman on the team.
"Sir, Ace has just bombed out."
"What the ... ?" Wallis says as the images in front of him dissolve once again into snow.
"Sir. We've lost Alaska, Thule and Fylingdales. Colonel ... we've lost all coverage on the Northern Approaches." Wallis goes cold; he feels as if a coffin lid has suddenly opened.
"Okay, soldier, keep calm. Get the general down here. Major, would you get me Offutt? Pino, interrogate REX, get a decision tree on screen Five." Wallis issues the orders in a level voice.
"Sir, are we under attack?" The nervous question comes from Fanciulli, a tough, grey-haired sergeant to Wallis's right.
"Pino, where are the warheads?"
"Yeah but we got some sort of EMP ..."
"Nuts; all we got is cable trouble."
"Negative, sir." It is Lieutenant Winton again, her small round face unusually pale. "We have tropospheric forward scattering modes up top, and we've lost on VHF. There's some sort of massive ionospheric disturbance."
"No way, sir."
"Colonel we have reduced bandwidth on all —"
An alarm cuts into the chamber and a light flashes red. Somebody wails. And Pino, his face wax-like, mutters a string of profanities as he types rapidly on a keyboard.
"Colonel, Screen Three."
Covering the walls of the office are enormous screens. Mostly these show arcane lists of data — coded refuelling points, the tracks of satellites in orbit, numbers of aircraft aloft — but one of them is instantly comprehensible. It is a map of the USA. And on the map, red lights are beginning to wink.
"The General, sir." Wallis looks up at the glass-fronted observation room. General Cannon has appeared, flanked by a civilian and a second general: Hooper, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Wallis snatches up a telephone, but Cannon, impassive as an Indian chief, ignores the urgent ringing.
One of the screens has changed. There is a blurred, jerky picture. Somebody is pointing a camera from an airplane cockpit. They are flying high over a city and the plane is tilted so that the camera can look down. There are skyscrapers, and long straight roads with cars, and parks. The camera pans and there is an ocean wave. It is almost level with the aircraft, and it covers half the city. Here and there, on the lower slopes of the wave, the tops of the skyscrapers protrude, some of them already slowly tilting over. Wallis stares in utter disbelief. The wave towers high over the remaining buildings; it looks frozen, but white specks are falling off the top and tiny cars are dotted here and there in the broad rising sheet of water. Someone shouts, in a voice edging on panic, That's San Diego! Wallis kills the alarm.
The camera points backwards. It is unsteady, like an amateur movie. The ocean stretches into the distance and the wave with it. There is a long smoky contrail and a glimpse of wing, and racing up from behind is a churning black wall as tall as the sky, and then the camera shakes and there is a helmet in close-up, and inside a young black face, eyes staring in fright, is shouting silently, and then the screen goes blank.
The major gabbles into the phone. Fanciulli, tears streaming down his cheeks, points to one of the big screens. New red lights are winking on virtually every second. Winton is saying Sir, why doesn't the General answer. Then:
"Offutt, sir." Wallis snatches up another telephone, the blue one. But already new messages are flashing; lists of names are tumbling down the screens faster than they can be read. Wallis, his ear still to the telephone, stares at the map of the USA. The red lights, each one a Strategic Air Command base scattered to the winds, have formed a broad front, slowly creeping up from the south.
The decision tree is up. REX is requesting more data.
A voice on the telephone. It speaks in harsh, staccato tones. Wallis forces his attention from the advancing wave and listens. He replies, hearing in astonishment that his own voice is shaking and frightened: "Sir, I agree a threat assessment conference ... no sir, we lack dual phenomenology ... negative, negative ... not if we go by the book ... we have no evidence of hostile warheads or hostile intent ... agreed ... agreed ... sir, how the fuck would I know? Some sort of blast coming from Mexico ... I urgently advise we do not get Eagle into Kneecap ... repeat do not get the Chiefaloft ... no sir, keep the B-2s on the tarmac, their wings would just tear off ... sir?"
The line has gone dead.
There is a stench of fresh vomit. Wallis feels a tug on his sleeve. The major has apparently lost the power of speech; he is staring ahead, as if looking at his own death. Wallis follows the young man's line of vision. The wave of red lights is now passing in a long arc from California through Kansas to Virginia. Its progress is slow but steady over the map. It has almost reached the Rock.
"Sir, we're buttoned up. Hatches closed and filtration on. Sir?"
But Wallis is looking helplessly up at the observation room. The civilian and the generals look stonily down.
Then it reaches them.
Buachaille Etive Mor, Glencoe, Scotland. 0630 GMT Something.
The young man opened his eyes with a start, some dream fading from memory, and stared into the dark. Unaccountably, his heart was thumping in his chest.
At first he could make out only the flap-flap of the canvas inches from his head, and the Whee! of the wind around the guy ropes. And then it came again, a distant roar, deep and powerful, coming and going over the noises of the storm. Puzzled, he strained his ears.
Then it dawned.
He shot out of his sleeping bag and tugged frantically at the rope lacing up the front of the hurricane tent. The knot was an impenetrable tangle and the noise was growing in intensity. Desperately he scrabbled in the dark for a bread-knife, found it, cut the rope, hauled back the canvas and pitched head-first into the dark night.
The blizzard hit him with a force which made him gasp.
For a panicky moment he thought to run into the dark but then remembered where he was: on a mountain ridge next to a precipitous drop. And the roar was coming from the gully below.
He dived back to the tent, and felt for the paraffin lamp and a box of matches. The wind blew the match out; and the next and the next. The fourth match worked, and he hooked the glowing lamp up to an aluminium pole. He looked around. Snowflakes like luminous insects were hurtling from the void into a circle of light about ten yards in radius around the tent; he could just make out the edge of the ridge, about twenty yards away.
A cone of bluish-white light rose out of the gully, passing left to right before disappearing from the man's line of vision.
Avalanches don't come with blue lights.
The man's legs were shaking, whether with cold or relief he didn't know. The light cone was drifting up and down in a sweeping pattern, snow hurtling through the beam.
It occurred to him that a man in a Glencoe blizzard, dressed only in boxer shorts, probably had a life expectancy of minutes. Already his back was a mass of sharp, freezing pain. Hastily, he reached in for corduroy trousers and sweater, pulled them on and slipped into climbing boots. He tripped over untied laces, picked himself up and ploughed through deep snow to the edge of the ridge overlooking the Lost Valley. The sweater, he realized, bought him at most another five minutes: the wind was going through it like a chainsaw through butter.
The light cone rose and approached. It was scanning the mountain slopes. Suddenly light flooded the ground around him. An intense spotlight rose into space and approached; the roar became overwhelming; the ground vibrated. Dazzled, the man caught a glimpse of a whirling rotor passing straight overhead. A giant insect, a yellow flying monster of a thing, circled him and then sank towards a sloping patch of snow about thirty yards away. It almost vanished in the blizzard kicked up by its rotors. It tried to settle down, backed off, tried again, but its undercarriage slithered over the snow and the machine slid perilously sideways towards the edge of a precipitous drop. The pilot gave up and rose over the man's head.
A spider emerged in silhouette from the side of the machine, and began to sink down on a swaying thread. It settled on to the knee-deep snow within arm's length of him, resolving itself into a young airman in a khaki-coloured flying suit. "Flt Lt A.W.L. Manley" was stencilled on his helmet. "Doctor Webb?"
Webb stared in astonishment, and nodded.
"You're coming upstairs. Quickly, please."
Excerpted from Nemesis by Bill Napier. Copyright © 1998 Bill Napier. 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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