By Matthew Reilly
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 1999 Matthew Reilly
All rights reserved.
Monday, January 4, 0910 hours
William Race was late for work. Again.
He'd overslept and then the subway had been delayed and now it was ten after nine and he was late for his morning lecture. Race's office was on the third floor of the old Delaware Building at New York University. The building had an ancient wrought-iron elevator that traveled at a snail's pace. It was quicker to take the stairs.
At thirty-one, Race was one of the youngest members of staff in the Ancient Languages Department at NYU. He was of average height — about five-foot-nine — and handsome in a very unassuming kind of way. He had sandy-brown hair and a lean physique. A pair of wire-rimmed glasses framed his blue eyes and an unusual facial mark — a triangular brown birthmark situated directly below his left eye.
Race hurried up the stairs, a thousand thoughts running through his mind — his morning lecture on the works of the Roman historian Livy, the parking fine from last month that he still had to pay, and the article that he'd read in the New York Timesthat morning saying that because 85 percent of people based their ATM numbers on important dates like birthdays and the like, thieves who stole their wallets — thus obtaining not only ATM cards, but also drivers' licenses containing the owners' dates of birth — were finding it easier to break into their bank accounts. Damn it, Race thought, he was going to have to change his PIN number.
He came to the top of the stairwell and hurried out into the corridor.
And then he stopped.
Two men stood in the hallway in front of him.
They were decked out in full battle dress, too — helmets, body armor, M-16s, the lot. One stood halfway down the corridor, nearer to Race. The other was stationed further down the hall. He stood rigidly to attention outside the door to Race's office. They couldn't have looked more out of place — soldiers in a university.
Both men snapped around immediately when they saw him burst out from the stairwell. For some reason, in their presence, Race suddenly felt inferior — somehow unworthy, undisciplined. He felt stupid in his Macy's sports coat, jeans and tie, carrying his clothes for a lunchtime baseball game in a battered old Nike sports bag.
As he approached the first soldier, Race looked him up and down — saw the black assault rifle in his hands, saw the velveteen green beret slouched on his head, saw the crescent-shaped patch on his shoulder that read "SPECIAL FORCES."
"Uh, hi. I'm William Race. I —"
"It's okay, Professor Race. Please go in. They're expecting you."
Race continued down the corridor, came to the second soldier. He was taller than the first one, bigger. In fact, he was huge, a mountain of a man — at least six-feet-four — with a soft handsome face, dark hair and narrow brown eyes that didn't miss a trick. The name patch on his breast pocket read "VAN LEWEN." The three chevrons on his collar indicated that he was a sergeant.
Race's eyes drifted to the man's M-16. It had a state-of-the-art PAC-4C laser sighting device mounted on its barrel and an M-203 grenade launcher attached to its underside. Serious stuff.
The soldier stepped aside promptly, allowed Race to enter his own office.
Dr. John Bernstein was sitting in the high-backed leather chair behind Race's desk, looking very uncomfortable. Bernstein was a white-haired man of fifty-nine and the head of the Ancient Languages Department at NYU, Race's boss.
There were three other men in the room.
Two soldiers, one civilian.
The two soldiers were dressed and armed in much the same manner as the guards outside — fatigues, helmets, laser-sighted M-16s — and they both looked extremely fit. One appeared to be a little older than the other. He held his helmet formally, wedged firmly between his elbow and his ribs, and he had close-cropped black hair that barely reached his forehead. Race's sandy-brown hair fell constantly down into his eyes.
The third stranger in the room, the civilian, was seated in the guest's chair in front of Bernstein. He was a big man, barrel-chested, and dressed in shirtsleeves and trousers. He had a pug nose and dark heavy-set features that were weathered with age and responsibility. And he sat in his chair with the calm assurance of someone who was used to being obeyed.
Race got the distinct impression that everyone had been waiting in his office for some time.
Waiting for him.
"Will," John Bernstein said, coming around the desk and shaking his hand.
"Good morning. Come on in. I'd like you to meet someone. Professor William Race, Colonel Frank Nash."
The barrel-chested civilian extended his hand. Strong grip.
"Retired. Good to meet you," he said, looking Race over. He then indicated the two soldiers. "This is Captain Scott and Sergeant Cochrane of the U.S. Army Special Forces Group."
"Green Berets," Bernstein whispered respectfully in Race's ear.
Then Bernstein cleared his throat. "Colonel — er, I mean, Doctor — Nash is from the Tactical Technology Office at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. He's come here seeking our help."
Frank Nash handed Race his photo-ID card. Race saw a mug shot of Nash with the red DARPA logo on top of it and a whole lot of numbers and codes beneath it. A magnetic strip ran down one side of the card. Beneath the photo were the words "FRANCIS K. NASH, U.S. ARMY, COL.(RET)." It was a pretty impressive card. It screamed: important person.
Uh-huh, Race thought.
He had heard of DARPA before. It was the primary research and development arm of the Department of Defense, the agency that had invented the Arpanet, the military-only precursor to the Internet. DARPA was also famous for its participation in the Have Blue project in the 1970s, the top-secret Air Force project that had resulted in the construction of the F-117 stealth fighter.
In fact, truth be told, Race knew a little more about DARPA than most, for the simple reason that his brother, Martin, worked there as a design engineer.
Basically, DARPA worked in partnership with each of the three branches of the U.S. armed forces — the Army, the Navy and the Air Force — developing high-technology military applications appropriate to the needs of each force: stealth technology for the Air Force, ultra-high-tensile body armor for the Army. Such was DARPA's status, however, that its accomplishments often became the stuff of urban legend. It was said, for example, that DARPA had recently perfected the J-7 — the mythical A-frame rocket pack that would ultimately replace the parachute — but this had never been proved.
The Tactical Technology Office, however, was the spearhead of DARPA's arsenal, the jewel in its crown. It was the division in charge of developing the bigstuff — high-risk/high-return strategic weaponry.
Race wondered what DARPA's Tactical Technology Office could possibly want with the Ancient Languages Department at NYU.
"You want our help?" he asked, looking up from Nash's photo-ID card.
"Well, actually, we came here specifically seeking your help."
My help, Race thought. He lectured in ancient languages — mainly classical and medieval Latin — with a little bit of French, Spanish and German on the side. He couldn't think of a single thing that he could help DARPA with.
"What sort of help?" he asked.
"Translating. Translating a manuscript. A four-hundred-year-old Latin manuscript."
"A manuscript ..." Race said. Such a request wasn't unusual. He was often asked to translate medieval manuscripts. It was unusual, however, when it was asked in the presence of armed commandos.
"Professor Race," Nash said, "the translation of the document in question is a matter of extreme urgency. In fact, the document itself is not even in the United States yet. It is en route as we speak. What we would require of you is to meet the document at Newark and translate it in transit to our destination."
"In transit?" Race said. "To where?"
"I'm afraid that is something I am unable to tell you at this stage."
Race was about to argue when suddenly the door to the office opened and another Green Beret entered. He carried a radio pack on his back and he walked quickly over to Nash, whispered softly in his ear. Race caught the words: "— been ordered to mobilize."
"When?" Nash said.
"Ten minutes ago, sir," the soldier whispered back.
Nash looked down quickly at his watch. "Damn it."
He swung back to face Race.
"Professor Race, we don't have much time, so I'm going to give this to you straight. This is a very important mission, a mission that seriously affects the national security of the United States. But it is a mission that has a very short window of opportunity. We must act now. But in order to do that, I need a translator. A medieval Latin translator. You."
"I have a car waiting out front"
Race swallowed. "I don't know ..."
He could feel everyone's eyes on him. He felt suddenly nervous at the prospect of traveling to destination unknown with Frank Nash and a team of fully armed Green Berets. He felt like he was being railroaded.
"What about Ed Devereux at Harvard?" he said. "He's a lot better at med-Latin than I am. He'd be faster."
Nash said, "I don't need the best and I don't have the time to travel up to Boston. Your brother mentioned your name to us. He said you were good and that you were in New York and quite frankly, that's all I need. I need someone close who can do the job now."
Race bit his lip.
Nash said, "You'll have a bodyguard assigned to you for the entire mission. We'll pick up the manuscript at Newark in about thirty minutes and get on the plane a few minutes after that. If all goes well, you'll have the document translated by the time we land. You won't even have to get off the plane. And if you do, you'll have a team of Green Berets looking after you."
Race frowned at that.
"Professor Race, you won't be the only academic on this mission. Walter Chambers from Stanford will be there; Gabriela Lopez from Princeton; and also Lauren O'Connor from —"
Lauren O'Connor, Race thought.
He hadn't heard that name in years.
Race had known Lauren back in his college days at USC. While he had studied languages, she had majored in science — theoretical physics. They'd dated, but it had ended badly. Last he heard, she'd been working at the Livermore Labs in their nuclear physics department.
Race looked at Nash. He wondered just how much Frank Nash knew about Lauren and himself — wondered if he had dropped her name deliberately.
The thing was, if he had, then it worked.
If Lauren was anything, she was street-smart. She wouldn't go on a mission like this without a good reason. The fact that she had agreed to be a part of Nash's adventure gave it instant credibility.
"Professor, you will be amply compensated for your time."
"It's not that —"
"Your brother is also part of the mission team," Nash said, taking Race by surprise. "He won't be coming with us, but he'll be working with the technical team at our offices in Virginia."
Marty, Race thought. He hadn't seen him in a long time — not since their parents had got divorced nine years ago. But if Marty was also involved, then maybe ...
"Professor Race, I'm sorry, but we have to go. We have to go now. I need an answer from you."
"Will," John Bernstein said, "this could be a tremendous opportunity for the university —"
Race frowned at Bernstein, cutting him off. Then to Nash: "You say it's a matter of national security?"
"And you can't tell me where we'll be going."
"Not until we get on the plane. Then I can tell you everything."
And I'm going to have a bodyguard, Race thought. You usually only need a bodyguard when somebody wants to kill you.
The office was silent.
Race could feel everyone waiting for his response. Nash. Bernstein. The three Green Berets.
He sighed. He couldn't believe what he was about to say.
"All right," he said. "I'll do it."
Race walked quickly down the corridor behind Nash, still dressed in his jacket and tie.
It was a cold and wet winter's day in New York and as they made their way through the maze of corridors toward the westernmost gate of the university, Race caught the occasional glimpse of the heavy rain falling outside.
The two Green Berets who had been in the office walked ahead of him and Nash; the other two — the two who had been out in the corridor — walked behind. Everyone was moving quickly. It felt to Race like he was being pulled along by a strong current.
"Will I get a chance to change into something a little less formal?" he asked Nash. He had brought his sports bag along with him. It had his change of clothes inside it.
"Maybe on the plane," Nash said as they walked. "All right, now listen carefully. See the young man behind you. That's Sergeant Leo Van Lewen. He'll be your bodyguard from here on in."
Race looked behind himself as he walked, saw the mountain-sized Green Beret he had seen earlier. Van Lewen. The Green Beret just gave him a curt acknowledging nod as his eyes swept the corridor all around them.
Nash said, "From now on, you're a real important person and that makes you a target. Wherever you go, he goes. Here. Take this."
Nash handed Race an earpiece and a wraparound throat microphone. Race had only ever seen them on TV before, on footage of SWAT units. You strapped the throat mike around your neck and the microphone picked up the vibrations of your voice box.
"Put it on as soon as you get in the car," Nash said. "It's voice-activated, so all you have to do is talk and we'll hear you. If you get in any trouble, just say the word and Van Lewen here will be at your side in seconds. You got that?" "Got it."
They came to the western entrance of the university, where two more Green Berets stood guard at the door. Nash and Race stepped past them, out into the pouring rain.
It was then that Race saw "the car" that Nash had said was waiting out front.
On the gravel turnaround in front of him stood a motorcade.
Four police motorcycle outriders — two at the head of the line of cars, two at the rear. Six plain-looking olive-colored sedans. And wedged in the middle, cocooned by the outriders and the sedans, were two heavy-duty armored vehicles — Humvees. Both were painted black and they each had deeply tinted windows.
At least fifteen heavily armed Green Berets stood with M-16s at the ready all around the motorcade. The pouring rain hammered down against their helmets. They didn't seem to notice.
Nash hurried over to the second Humvee and held the door open for Race. Then he handed Race a thick manila folder as he stepped inside the big vehicle.
"Take a look," Nash said. "I'll tell you more when we get on the plane."
The motorcade sped through the streets of New York.
It was mid-morning, but the eight-car procession just raced through the soaking city streets, whipping through intersection after intersection, getting green lights all the way out of the city.
They must have set the traffic lights like they did for the President when he visited New York, Race thought.
But this was no presidential procession. The looks on the faces of the people on the sidewalk said it all.
This was a different kind of motorcade.
No limousines. No flapping flags. Just two black heavily armored Humvees hovering in the middle of a line of drab olive cars, slicing their way through the pouring rain.
With his bodyguard seated beside him and his earpiece and throat mike now in place, Race stared out the window of the speeding Humvee.
Not many people could claim to have experienced a clear passage out of New York City in the middle of the mid-morning rush, he thought. It was a strange experience; otherworldly. He began to wonder just how important this mission was.
He opened the folder that Nash had given him. The first thing he saw was a list of names. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Temple by Matthew Reilly. Copyright © 1999 Matthew Reilly. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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