Tom Clancy's Power Plays #3: Shadow Watchby Tom Clancy, Jerome Preisler
The year is 2001, and American businessman Roger Gordian has extended his reach into space. His company has become the principal contractor in the design and manufacture of Orion, a multinational space station.
But the launch of a shuttle carrying parts for the station is sabotaged. Mysterious guerrilla attacks occur at the manufacturing facilities in Brazil and… See more details below
The year is 2001, and American businessman Roger Gordian has extended his reach into space. His company has become the principal contractor in the design and manufacture of Orion, a multinational space station.
But the launch of a shuttle carrying parts for the station is sabotaged. Mysterious guerrilla attacks occur at the manufacturing facilities in Brazil and Kazakhstan. And Gordian's deepest fears are confirmed...
The Orion project has been targeted by an international terrorist whose criminal enterprises thrive on violence and political instability. Harlan De Vane's goal is to cripple Gordian's intelligence and security tean, while stowing a high-powered electromagnetic pulse generator aboard Oriona state-of-the-art weapon with the capacity to throw every major American city into chaos...
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KENNEDY SPACE CENTER CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA APRIL 15, 2001
Later, when it became both her job and obsession to determine what happened at the pad, she would remember how everything had gone just right until it all
went terribly wrong, turning excitement and anticipation into horror, and forever changing the course of her life. Astronaut, media celebrity, role model, mother the world's easy reference tags for her would remain the same. But she knew herself well. There was the Annie Caulfield who had existed before the disaster, and the Annie Caulfield who eventually arose from its ashes. They were two very different women.
The morning had promised ideal conditions for the launch: calm winds, moderate temperatures, a clear blue spread of sky running off toward the eastern rim of Merritt Island, where the sun was shining brightly over Pad 39A at the ocean's edge. Annie would never forget that gorgeous sky, never forget looking out a window in the Launch Control Center and thinking it was like something from a Florida postcard or tourist brochure, the sort of roof NASA mission planners frequently wished for and rarely got.
Indeed, the preparations for Orion's launch had gone without a hitch from the beginning. There had been no false starts, none of the frustrating last minute technical snags that often caused countdowns to slip, and sometimes even forced missions to be scrubbed entirely.
Everything, everything, had seemed just right.
At T minus two hours, thirty minutes, Annie had joined members of the Mission Management Team and other NASA officials in accompanying the flight crew--her crew, as she'd called it, as she referred to all of the teams under her supervision--to the transport vehicle that would ferry them to the pad. While this was typically staged as a photo op by NASA's Public Affairs people, she was still a little surprised by the number of newsies waiting outside headquarters, their microphones covered with those furry wind baffles that looked like oversized caterpillars. There had even been a host from one of the network morning shows, Gary Somebody-or-other, who'd dragged her before the cameras for a comment.
In hindsight, Annie supposed she should have been prepared for the attention. NASA was intent on working the media, and she was aware that her strongly requested presence at the Center on the launch date, and to some extent even her appointment as Chief of Astronauts--a position very much at the upper level of the agency's organizational hierarchy--were calculated to draw a larger than normal press contingent. But she accepted her value as a PR tool, and sincerely believed the mission warranted its hype.
Long delayed due to funding problems, and of major importance to the International Space Station, the facility's first laboratory module was at last being sent into orbit, where it would be connected to the building-block segments already in place just two weeks before another research module was to launch from a Russian cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Far beyond their political merits as concrete examples of East-West cooperation, the two missions were at the very heart of ISS's future scientific endeavors, opening up a new era in space exploration, and Annie was sure this was why she'd been so focused on their nuts and bolts and uncharacteristically oblivious to the surrounding hoopla. Together, they represented the largest step ever toward realizing a dream that had held her in its grip since childhood, and cost her dearly as an adult. With success for the ISS program within reach, Annie was hoping the pride she felt over her contribution might finally eradicate the guilt and pain that had been its lasting by-product.
But such thoughts had their proper time and place, and Annie's personal trials had been the furthest thing from her mind as she stood there outside the restricted access buildings of Launch Complex 39, watching Colonel Jim Rowland lead Orion's crew into the bus-like silver transport with the circular blue and white NASA insignia on its side. Those five men and women had been scheduled to make history, and while her job required that she remain physically earthbound, Annie had felt as if a part of her would be going with them nonetheless.
They were her training group, her extended family.
She would always remember how Jim paused before entering the vehicle, his eyes scanning the crowd, seeking out her face amid the many others turned in his direction. The mission commander, and a fellow graduate of the astronaut class of '94, Jim was a strapping, vigorous man who seemed to pulsate with confidence and enthusiasm and, at that particular moment, an impatience that only another astronaut who'd seen the Earth from 250 miles up could fully understand.
"Turnips, first and always," he said, knowing she'd be unable to hear him in the commotion, moving his lips slowly so she could read them without trouble. Grinning at her, then, he cocked a thumb at one of the breast patches on his carrot orange launch/reentry suit.
Annie chuckled. Her mind flashed back to Houston, and the old training school motto they'd cooked up together, and the missions on which they'd flown as teammates. Ah, mercy, she thought. Once you'd been in space, it never stopped calling to you. Never.
"Terra nosn respuet," she mouthed in Latin.
The earth spits us up and out.
Jim's grin widened, his eyes showing wry good humor. Then he tipped her a rakish little salute, turned, and entered the transport, the rest of the crew following him aboard in orderly procession.
Soon afterward, her functions as window dressing concluded, Annie broke free of the gathered reporters, ate a light breakfast in the commissary, and then headed
for the mission's designated firing room, one of four expansive areas in the Center capable of directing a shuttle flight from prelaunch testing to takeoff, at which point operations would be shifted over to Mission Control in the Johnson Space Center, Houston. Filled with aisles of semicircular computer consoles, its enormous windows looking out toward the pad, the room was an
impressive sight even while unoccupied. On launch days, when it bustled with ground controllers, technicians, assorted NASA bigwigs, and a smattering of guest VIPs from outside the program, it was something else again. For Annie, the atmosphere never ceased to be electrifying.
As she took her place in the Operations Management Room section of the firing room--which situated both the invitees and high ranking personnel whose roles were nonessential to the countdown--Annie noticed the man seated to her right flick her an interested glance, instantly categorized it as the sort of I've-seen-your-picture-on-a-cereal-box look to which fame had made her accustomed, and then just as suddenly realized she was studying him in an almost identical manner. Not many businessmen were also household names, but only somebody who'd been sleepwalking for the past decade could have failed to recognize the founder and CEO of UpLink International, one of the world's leading tech firms and, most notably insofar as Annie was concerned, prime contractor of the ISS.
He extended his hand. "Sorry for staring, but it's a great thrill to meet you, Ms. Caulfield," he said. "I'm-"
"Roger Gordian." She smiled. "Our program's foremost civilian standard bearer. And just `Annie' would be fine."
"First names all around then." He nodded toward the woman on his opposite side, a striking auburn brunette in a crisp business suit. "Let me introduce you to my
Vice President of Special Projects, Megan Breen. One way or another, she's generally behind whatever good things our company manages to accomplish."
Megan reached over to shake Annie's hand.
"I hope you'll attest to hearing Roger say that when it's time for me to renegotiate my salary," she said.
Gordian gave Annie a wink. `Poor Megan's still got a lot to learn about the unshakeable loyalties between former warbird pilots.'
All at once, Annie's smile became overlaid by something other than humor.
"You were downed over Vietnam, weren't you?" she said.
Gordian nodded. "By a Soviet SA while on a low-alt sortie over Khe Sanh." He paused. "I'd been flying with the 355th out of Laos for about a year, and spent the next five on the ground at Hoa Lo Prison."
"The Hanoi Hilton. My God, that's right. I've read how its inmates were treated. About its star chambers ..."
She let her voice trail off. These had been rooms eighteen and nineteen of what American POWs called the Heartbreak Area, known as the Meathook and Knobby
Rooms, the former for reasons that were self-explanatory, the latter because of the clumps of plaster that covered the walls to dampen the screams of the tortured. Say what you wished about the French, who had left Hoa Lo as a legacy of their colonization of the region--just as the notorious penal colony on Devil's Island was a historic testament to their rule of Guiana in South America--they had to be respected for having built escape-proof prisons that could impose behavioral modifications on the most hardened incorrigibles, the brutal inhumanity of those facilities notwithstanding. And quick studies that they were, the North Vietnamese had made full practical use of their inheritance.
"I've likewise heard about your exploits," Gordian said. "Six days evading enemy soldiers in the Bosnian countryside after an E&E from an F-16 at twenty-seven thousand feet." He shook his head. "Thank heaven you were rescued."
"Heaven, my survival manual, my radio beacon, and an iron stomach I've been razzed about my whole life, but that's uniquely suited to the consumption of grubs and insects," she said. "These days, with the GAPS FREE recon and guidance systems you designed available on almost every fighter plane, it's less likely a
pilot's going to be blindsided the way I was."
Gordian looked a bit uncomfortable.
"You give me too much credit, and yourself too little," he said, and then gestured around the room. "Though I'd bet we agree that this is really remarkable."
Annie nodded. Unless her judgment had gone totally awry, she'd just gotten a flash of genuine modesty from Gordian--a rare trait for someone of his stature, as working around powerful men had taught her, often through lessons of a highly unpleasant nature.
"This your first launch?" she asked.
"Other than as a tourist, yes," he said. "When our kids were, well, kids, my wife Ashley and I got a car pass and took them to see an Endeavor takeoff from the public viewing site. That was spectacular enough, but to be inside an actual firing room ..."
"Makes your fingertips tingle and your heart go pitter-pat," Annie said.
He smiled. "Guess I can assume you haven't gotten blasé about it yet."
"And I never will,' Annie said, smiling back at him.
A moment later Gordian rose as NASA Administrator Charles Dorset arrived, clasped his hand, and bore him off to meet a group of officials in one of the adjacent rooms.
"So what's next?" Megan asked Annie, leaning across Gordian's vacated chair. "With so much going on at once it's hard to absorb everything."
"Don't sweat it. Sending human beings into space is a complicated process," Annie said. "Even the astronauts can't remember all their tasks without cue cards, and that's after years of training and a full dress rehearsal."
"Are you serious? About the cards, I mean."
"They stick 'em right on the instrument panel," Annie said. "One small step for man, a giant step for Velcro." She glanced at her wristwatch. "To give you a sense of where we stand, there's about an hour left till takeoff, and everything seems to be looking good. The closeout team's already secured the side hatch, and in a little while they'll be leaving the pad for the fallback area.
Prelaunch checks started hours ago and are automatically sequenced by the computers, but there are a lot of switches aboard that spacecraft, and right about now the crew's going to be making sure they're in the correct
"The number of personnel jammed into this room comes as a revelation," Megan said. "I've watched launches on television and expected we'd have plenty of
company but there have to be, what, two hundred people at the consoles?"
"Good guess," Annie said. "Actually, the total's a little higher, maybe around two hundred fifty. That's half as many as there were back in the days of Apollo, and a third less than were needed just a few years ago. The new CLCS--that's Checkout and Launch Control System--hardware and software we've been adding have
consolidated most launch operations."
Gordian was working his way back from the aisle.
"Sorry to have left in the middle of our conversation, but Chuck wanted me to meet some of his deputies."
Chuck to you, Mr. Dorset to me, Annie thought. In the future, she would remember trying to conceal her amusement out of concern Gordian might take offense.
I suppose it really is first names all around for some of us.
Megan had turned to Gordian. "I wasted no time picking Annie's brain while you were gone. It's been quite an education."
"I hope one more eager pupil won't be too much trouble then," he said, taking his seat.
Annie smiled. "Not at all. As long as we keep our voices down, you can both ask any questions you'd like."
Which was precisely what they did for the next fifty minutes or so. Then, at T minus nine minutes, a hold was put on the countdown and a waiting hush fell over
the firing room. For the most part, the ground controllers sat at their stations in silent readiness. Across the room, however, the Mission Management Team--a group of key NASA officials and project engineers--began having quiet, serious discussions, a few reaching for telephones on their consoles.
Annie noticed her new acquaintances looking intently over at them.
"The hold's altogether routine," she explained in a low voice. "Gives the astronauts and ground personnel a chance to play catch-up with their task list and see if any last minute corrections are necessary. It's also when
the managers make their final assessments. Some of them will want to teleconference with engineers in Houston before committing to the launch. Once they arrive at their individual determinations, they'll take a poll,
see whether there's a consensus that it's okay to proceed." She motioned toward the lightweight headphones on her console, then at two additional sets in front of Gordian and Megan. "When the event timer starts again, you'll want to put them on and eavesdrop on the dialogue between the cockpit and ground operators."
"The polling you mentioned," Megan said. "Does it take very long?"
"Depends on the weather, technical snags that might have cropped up along the way, a bunch of factors. If one of the managers gets uneasy over something in his daily horoscope, he could theoretically force a postponement," Annie said. "Though I've never heard of that happening, there have been some oddball occurrences. Five, six years ago, for example, a Discovery launch was
tabled for over a month, thanks to a pair of northern flickers."
Gordian looked at her. "Woodpeckers?"
"You know your birds." Annie grinned. "Unfortunately, these two were pecking at the external fuel tank's insulation covering instead of tree trunks. After it was repaired, an ornithologist was called in to scare off the little pests. I think he wound up hanging owl decoys around the pad area."
"Incredible." Gordian shook his head. "I don't remember hearing anything about it."
"Tales of the Cape. I can tell more of them than you'd ever want to hear." Annie chuckled. "But have no fear. Based on what I see, it'll be an easy `go' today," she said.
And she was correct. Shortly after making her prediction, Annie saw the management team take their launch positions and reached for her phones. On the big wall screen across the room, a closed circuit video feed showed what was usually referred to as `the stack'--this consisting of the Shuttle's two solid rocket boosters, its massive 150 foot external fuel tank, and the Orbiter--in its vertical launch attitude. But Annie knew the space craft from the inside out, knew it as only someone who had flown aboard it could, and saw other vivid, detailed images in her mind's eye: Jim and his pilot, Lee Everett, harnessed into their seats on the flight deck, the sun streaming into the nose of the vehicle and reflecting off the lowered faceplates of their helmets. Payload Specialist Gail Scott and Mission Specialist Sharon Ling directly behind them, the remaining three crew members below in the mid-deck. All of them in sitting positions on their backs to reduce the effects of g-forces on launch and ascent. Though she had never experienced space sickness, Annie knew they would have time release scopolamine patches behind their right ears to alleviate potentially debilitating symptoms caused by acceleration and a microgravity environment.
Yes, in her mind, in her heart, she was right there in the spacecraft with them, right there, experiencing what they went through at every stage.
It was T minus five minutes and counting.
Annie listened to the voices in her phones.
"--Control, Orion here. APUs juicing up," Jim was saying. "It's HI green for one and two, starting three, over."
"Roger, proceed, over," the controller replied.
"Okay, we're three for three. Humming away."
"Roger, Orion. Beautiful."
Annie felt her eagerness building. What she'd heard indicated that the hydrazine fed auxiliary power units that would gimbal the space shuttle's main engines--or
SSMEs--during ascent were on and functioning normally.
They were down to the wire.
She continued listening in as the shuttle went to independent power and its external tank pressured up. Beside her, Gordian stared out the heavy windows facing the pad with rapt fascination. Only the controllers were speaking now; this close to liftoff, firing room protocols required absolute silence from everyone but those in the launch communications loop. The rules were strictly observed, although Annie guessed the overwhelming exhilaration of the moment would have rendered her speechless even if they hadn't been.
At T minus two minutes the controller declared they were okay for launch, and Annie felt the expectant tingling that had started in her fingers rush through her entire body.
She would remember checking the countdown clock on her console at T minus six seconds--when Orion's three SSMEs were to have ignited exactly a half second
apart in a sequence controlled by the shuttle's onboard computers.
Instead, it was when things went wrong.
Terribly, unforgettably wrong.
From the time Annie picked up the first sign of trouble over her audio link to the disaster's tragic final moments, everything seemed to worsen with dreadful rapidity, giving rise to a stunned, dreamlike sense of unbelief that, in a way, would almost prove a blessing, numbing her to the full impact of the horror, allowing her to cope with what might otherwise have been overwhelming.
"Control ... I'm seeing a red light for SSME Number Three." The urgent voice belonged to Jim. An instant later Annie heard something else in the background, the piercingly shrill sound of the master alarm. "We've got a hot engine[bu7]LH2 pressure's dropping ... smoke detectors activated ... there's smoke in the cabin."
Shock bolted through the control room. Her eyes going to the video monitor, Annie reflexively clenched her hands into fists. As she'd glanced at the screen, an inexplicable streak of brightness had shot from Orion above its main engine nozzles.
The controller was struggling to remain calm. "We're aborting at once, copy? Evacuate Orbiter."
"Read you" Jim coughed. `I-we ... hard to see ..."
"Jim, white room's back in position, get the hell out of there!"
Annie swallowed hard. She had performed the emergency evac drill many times during her flying years, and knew it as well as anyone. The `white room,' a small environmental chamber, was at the end of the crew1 access arm, which reached from the service tower to Orion's entry hatch. Having automatically retracted soon after the ten minute hold was completed, it now had been moved back into place. According to established abort procedure, the crew was to exit the hatch, then quickly pass through the access arm to a platform on the opposite side of the tower, where five high-tension slide wires ran down to an underground bunker 1200 feet away. Each wire supported a steel basket that was large enough for two or three astronauts, and would deliver them to a nylon catch net at the opposite end.
But first, Annie knew ...
First they needed to reach the baskets.
On the screen, she could see flames discharging from the SSMEs in bright orange white bursts. Oily black plumes of smoke had enveloped the pad and were churning up around the spacecraft's aft section and wing panels. The blaze was hot, and it was getting hotter. While Annie believed Orion's thermal shields might prevent its exterior fuselage from catching fire, the heat and fumes in its interior compartments would be lethal to their occupants. And if the fuel in the ET or solid rocket boosters ignited ...
But she refused to let her mind go racing down that path. Her hands still tightly balled at her sides, Annie sat with her attention riveted on the monitor. Communication between Jim and the firing room had broken off, and she could scarcely make sense of the confused, anxious, over lapping chatter of the controllers in her headset.
Come on, she thought. Keeping her gaze on the screen, waiting for the crew to emerge from the spacecraft. Where are you?
Then, suddenly, she thought she saw several figures appear on the railed platform on the west side of the service structure--the side where the escape baskets were located. But the distance of the video cameras from the pad, and the obscuring effect of the smoke, made it hard to be immediately certain.
Annie watched and waited, her eyes still narrowed on the screen, locked undeviatingly on the screen.
She had no sooner grown convinced that she had, in fact, spotted Orion's crew, or at least some of its crew members, than the first explosion rocked the service structure with a force that was powerful enough to rattle the LCC's viewing window. Annie seemed to feel rather than hear that sound, feel it as a sickening, awful percussion in her bones, feel it in the deepest part of her soul as a huge blast of fire ripped from the tail of the shuttle, leaping upward, engulfing the lower half of the stack.
She snapped forward in her seat, mouthing a prayer to any God that would listen, watching the tiny human shapes on the tower scramble into the rescue baskets as
the flames rose behind them in a solid shaft. She couldn't distinguish one from another, nor even be certain how many of the astronauts were on the platform. From her perspective they were barely larger than insects.
The rainbirds above the pad had activated, flooding it with water. For a long, excruciating moment Annie could see nothing through rising clouds of steam and smoke ... nothing except the hideous glare of the fire raging, unquenched, around the shuttle.
And then one of the baskets was released. It arced toward the ground with tremendous speed, moving away from the tower just as a ragged tendril of a flame shot through its metal framework, lashing greedily at the platform. Horrified, Annie could still see members of the team on that platform, their bodies outlined against the flaring edges of the blaze. And then a second basket was
released, descending the slide wire ten or fifteen seconds behind the other--a delay that would have been unacceptable during practice aborts. Annie wondered about it briefly, but pushed her thoughts aside before they had a chance to fully form.
Yet she had seen what she had seen ... and would later reflect that the thoughts you tried not to let into your head sometimes turned out to be the ones that took deepest hold, lingering with the tenacity of restless ghosts.
The next few minutes were sheer torment. Along with everyone around her, she had been unable to do anything but wait for the astronauts to resume communications from the bunker. Wait, and stare at the monitor, and try not to surrender to the madness of what she'd been witnessing.
There was silence. And more silence.
Annie gnawed at her bottom lip.
Finally she heard an excited voice in her headset.
"Launch Control, this is Everett. Second basket's down and I think we're all--"
He abruptly broke contact.
Annie sat without moving, her heart slamming in her chest. She didn't know what was going on, didn't even know what she was feeling. The relief she'd experienced upon hearing Lee's voice had gotten all tangled up with profound despair. Why had he ceased to respond?
Control was hailing him now. "Lee? Lee, we're reading you, what is it?"
Another unbearable measure of silence. Then Everett again, his tone distraught, almost frantic: "Oh, God, God where's Jim? Where's Jim? Where's?"
Annie would remember little about the moments that followed besides a sense of foundering helplessness, of the world closing in around her, seeming to suck her
into an airless, shrinking hole.
And there was one other thing that would stand out in her memory.
At some point, she had glanced over at Roger Gordian. His face pale, his posture somehow crumpled, he appeared to have been violently thrown back into his
seat. And the empty, blown away look in his eyes after hearing Lee's anguished question--
It was a look that told Annie he knew its answer as well as she did, knew it as well as anyone else in the room.
Colonel Jim Rowland ...
Jim was gone.
Reprinted from Shadow Watch by Tom Clancy by permission of Berkley Books, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2000 by Tom Clancy. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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