By Matthew Reilly
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2003 Matthew Reilly
All rights reserved.
26 October 0900 Hours (Local Time)
E.S.T. (New York, USA) 2100 Hours (25 Oct)
Modern international bounty hunters bear many similarities to their forbears in the Old American West.
There are the lone wolf bounty hunters — usually ex-military types, freelance assassins or fugitives from justice themselves, they are lone operators known for their idiosyncratic weapons, vehicles or methods.
There are the organizations — companies that make the hunting of fugitive human beings a business. With their quasi-military infrastructures, mercenary organizations are often drawn to participate in international human hunts.
And, of course, there are the opportunists — special forces units that go AWOL and undertake bounty hunting activities; or law enforcement officials who find the lure of a private bounty more enticing than their legal obligations.
But the complexities of modern bounty hunting are not to be discounted. It is not unknown for a bounty hunter to act in concert with a national government that wants to distance itself from certain acts. Nor is it unknown for bounty hunters to have tacit agreements with member states for sanctuary as payment for a previous "job."
For, in the end, one thing about them is clear; international borders mean little to the international bounty hunter.
— United Nations White Paper: Non-Government
Forces in UN Peacekeeping Zones,
OCTOBER 2001 (UN PRESS, NEW YORK)
Airspace above Siberia
26 October, 0900 hours local time
(2100 hours E.S.T. USA, 25 October)
The airplane rocketed through the sky at the speed of sound.
Despite the fact that it was a large plane, it didn't show up on any radar screens. And even though it was breaking the sound barrier, it didn't create any sonic booms — a recent development in wave-negativing sensors took care of that.
With its angry-browed cockpit windows, its black radar-absorbent paint and its unique flying-wing design, the B-2 Stealth Bomber didn't normally fly missions like this.
It was designed to carry 40,000 pounds of ordnance, from laser-guided bombs to air-launched thermonuclear cruise missiles.
Today, however, it carried no bombs.
Today its bomb bay had been modified to convey a light but unusual payload: one fast-attack vehicle and eight United States Marines.
As he stood in the cockpit of the speeding Stealth Bomber, Captain Shane M. Schofield was unaware of the fact that, as of six days previously, he had become a target in the greatest bounty hunt in history.
The gray Siberian sky was reflected in the silver lenses of his wraparound anti-flash glasses. The glasses concealed a pair of vertical scars that cut down across Schofield's eyes, wounds from a previous mission and the source of his operational nickname: Scarecrow.
At five-feet-ten-inches tall, Schofield was lean and muscular. Under his white-gray Kevlar helmet, he had spiky black hair and a creased handsome face. He was known for his sharp mind, his cool head under pressure, and the high regard in which he was held by lower-ranking Marines — he was a leader who looked out for his men. Rumor had it he was also the grandson of the great Michael Schofield, a Marine whose exploits in the Second World War were the stuff of Marine Corps legend.
The B-2 zoomed through the sky, heading for a distant corner of northern Russia, to an abandoned Soviet installation on the barren coast of Siberia.
Its official Soviet name had been "Krask-8: Penal and Maintenance Installation," the outermost of eight compounds surrounding the Arctic town of Krask. In the imaginative Soviet tradition, the compounds had been named Krask-1, Krask-2, Krask-3 and so on.
Until four days ago, Krask-8 had been known simply as a long-forgotten ex-Soviet outstation — a half-gulag, half–maintenance facility at which political prisoners had been forced to work. There were hundreds of such facilities dotted around the former Soviet Union — giant, ugly, oil-stained monoliths which before 1991 had formed the industrial heart of the USSR, but which now lay dormant, left to rot in the snow, the ghost towns of the Cold War.
But two days ago, on October 24, all that had changed.
Because on that day, a team of thirty well-armed and well-trained Islamic Chechen terrorists had taken over Krask-8 and announced to the Russian government that they intended to fire four SS-18 nuclear missiles — missiles that had simply been left in their silos at the site with the fall of the Soviets in 1991 — on Moscow unless Russia withdrew its troops from Chechnya and declared the breakaway republic an independent state.
A deadline was set for 10 a.m. today, October 26.
The date had meaning. October 26 was a year to the day since a force of crack Russian troops had stormed a Moscow theater held by Chechen terrorists, ending a three-day siege, killing all the terrorists and over a hundred hostages.
That today also happened to be the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, a traditional day of peace, didn't seem to bother these Islamist terrorists.
The fact that Krask-8 was something more than just a relic of the Cold War was also news to the Russian government.
After some investigation of long-sealed Soviet records, the terrorists' claims had proved to be correct. It turned out that Krask-8 was a secret that the old Communist regime had failed to inform the new government about during the transition to democracy.
It did indeed house nuclear missiles — sixteen to be exact; sixteen SS-18 nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles; all contained in concealed underground silos that had been designed to evade US satellite detection. Apparently, "clones" of Krask-8 — identical missile-launch sites disguised as industrial facilities — could also be found in old Soviet client states like the Sudan, Syria, Cuba and Yemen.
And so, in the new world order — post–Cold War, post–September 11 — the Russians had called on the Americans to help.
As a rapid response, the American government had sent to Krask-8 a fast-and-light counter-terrorist unit from Delta Detachment — led by Specialists Greg Farrell and Dean McCabe.
Reinforcements would arrive later, the first of which was this team, a point unit of United States Marines led by Captain Shane M. Schofield.
Schofield strode into the bomb bay of the plane, breathing through a high-altitude face-mask.
He was met by the sight of a medium-sized cargo container, inside of which sat a Fast Attack "Commando Scout" vehicle. Arguably the lightest and fastest armored vehicle in service, it looked like a cross between a sports car and a Humvee.
And inside the sleek vehicle, strapped tightly into their seats, sat seven Recon Marines, the other members of Schofield's team. All were dressed in white-gray body armor, white-gray helmets, white-gray battle dress uniforms. And they all stared intently forward, game faces on.
As Schofield watched their serious expressions, he was once again taken aback by their youth. It was strange, but at 33 he felt decidedly old in their presence.
He nodded to the nearest man. "Hey, Whip. How's the hand?"
"Why, er, it's great, sir," Corporal Whip Whiting said, surprised. He'd been shot in the hand during a fierce gun battle in the Tora Bora mountains in early 2002, but since that day Whip and Schofield hadn't worked together. "The docs said you saved my index finger. If you hadn't told them to splint it, it would have grown in a hook shape. To be honest, I didn't think you'd remember, sir."
Schofield's eyes gleamed. "I always remember."
Apart from one member of the unit, this wasn't his regular team.
His usual team of Marines — Libby "Fox" Gant and Gena "Mother" Newman — were currently operating in the mountains of northern Afghanistan, hunting for the terrorist leader and longtime No. 2 to Osama bin Laden, Hassan Mohammad Zawahiri.
Gant, fresh from Officer Candidate School and now a First Lieutenant, was leading a Recon Unit in Afghanistan. Mother, an experienced Gunnery Sergeant who had helped Schofield himself when he was a young officer, was acting as her Team Chief.
Schofield was supposed to be joining them, but at the last minute he'd been diverted from Afghanistan to lead this unexpected mission.
The only one of his regulars that Schofield had been able to bring with him was a young sergeant named Buck Riley, Jr., call-sign "Book II." Silent and brooding and possessed of an intensity that belied his 25 years, Book II was a seriously tough-as-nails warrior. And as far as Schofield was concerned, with his heavy-browed face and battered pug nose, he was looking more and more like his father — the original "Book" Riley — every day.
Schofield keyed his satellite radio, spoke into the VibraMike strapped around his throat. Rather than pick up actual spoken words, the vibration-sensing microphone picked up the reverberations of his voice box. The satellite uplink system driving it was the brand-new GSX-9 — the most advanced communications system in use in the US military. In theory, a portable GSX-9 unit like Schofield's could broadcast a clear signal halfway around the world with crystal clarity.
"Base, this is Mustang 3," he said. "Sitrep?"
A voice came over his earpiece. It was the voice of an Air Force radio operator stationed at McColl Air Force Base in Alaska, the communications center for this mission.
"Mustang 3, this is Base. Mustang 1 and Mustang 2 have engaged the enemy. Report that they have seized the missile silos and inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy. Mustang 1 is holding the silos and awaiting reinforcements. Mustang 2 reports that there are still at least twelve enemy agents putting up a fight in the main maintenance building."
"All right," Schofield said, "what about our follow-up?"
"An entire company of Army Rangers from Fort Lewis is en route, Scarecrow. One hundred men, approximately one hour behind you."
Book II spoke from inside the armored Scout vehicle. "What's the story, Scarecrow?"
Schofield turned. "We're go for drop."
Five minutes later, the box-shaped cargo-container dropped out of the belly of the Stealth Bomber and plummeted like a stone toward the Earth.
Inside the container — in the car resting inside it — sat Schofield and his seven Marines, shuddering and jolting with the vibrations of the terminal-velocity fall.
Schofield watched the numbers on a digital wall-mounted altimeter whizzing downward:
50,000 feet ...
45,000 feet ...
40,000 ... 30,000 ... 20,000 ... 10,000 ...
"Preparing to engage chutes at five thousand feet ..." Corporal Max "Clark" Kent, the loadmaster, said in a neutral voice. "GPS guidance system has us right on target for landing. External cameras verify that the LZ is clear."
Schofield eyed the fast-ticking altimeter.
8,000 feet ...
7,000 feet ...
6,000 feet ...
If everything went to plan, they would land about fifteen miles due east of Krask-8, just over the horizon from the installation, out of sight of the facility.
"Engaging primary chutes ... now," Clark announced.
The jolt that the falling container received was shocking in its force. The whole falling box lurched sharply and Schofield and his Marines all shuddered in their seats, held in by their six-point seat belts and rollbars.
And suddenly they were floating, care of the container's three directional parachutes.
"How're we doing, Clark?" Schofield asked.
Clark was guiding them with the aid of a joystick and the container's external cameras.
"Ten seconds. I'm aiming for a dirt track in the middle of the valley. Brace yourselves for landing in three ... two ... one ..."
The container hit solid ground, and suddenly its entire front wall just fell open and daylight flooded in through the wide aperture and the four-wheel-drive Commando Scout Light Attack Vehicle skidded off the mark and raced out of the container's belly into the gray Siberian day.
The Scout whipped along a muddy earthen track, bounded on both sides by snow-covered hills. Deathly gray tree skeletons lined the slopes. Black rocks stabbed upward through the carpet of snow.
Stark. Brutal. And cold as hell.
Welcome to Siberia.
As he sat in the back of the Light Attack Vehicle, Schofield spoke into his throat-mike: "Mustang 1, this is Mustang 3. Do you copy?"
"I say again: Mustang 1, this is Mustang 3. Do you copy?"
He did the same for the second Delta team, Mustang 2. Again, no reply.
Schofield keyed the satellite frequency, spoke to Alaska: "Base, this is 3. I can't raise either Mustang 1 or Mustang 2. Do you have contact?"
"Ah, affirmative on that, Scarecrow," the voice from Alaska said. "I was just talking to them a moment ago —"
The signal exploded to hash.
"Clark?" Schofield said.
"Sorry, Boss, signal's gone," Clark said from the Scout's wall console. "We lost 'em. Damn, I thought these new satellite receivers were supposed to be incorruptible."
Schofield frowned, concerned. "Jamming signals?"
"No. Not a one. We're in clear radio airspace. Nothing should be affecting that signal. Must be something at the other end."
"Something at the other end ..." Schofield bit his lip. "Famous last words."
"Sir," the Scout's driver, a grizzled old sergeant named "Bull" Simcox, said, "we should be coming into visual range in about thirty seconds."
Schofield looked forward, out over Simcox's shoulder.
He saw the black muddy track rushing by beneath the Scout's armored hood, saw that they were approaching the crest of a hill.
Beyond that hill, lay Krask-8.
At that same moment, inside a high-tech radio receiving room at McColl Air Force Base in Alaska, the young radio officer who had been in contact with Schofield looked about himself in confusion. His name was Bradsen, James Bradsen.
A few seconds before, completely without warning, the power to the communications facility had been abruptly cut.
The base commander at McColl strode into the room.
"Sir," Bradsen said. "We just —"
"I know, son," the CO said. "I know."
It was then that Bradsen saw another man standing behind his base commander.
Bradsen had never seen this other man before. Tall and solid, he had carrot-red hair and an ugly rat-like face. He wore a plain suit and his black eyes never blinked. They just took in the entire room with a cool unblinking stare. Everything about him screamed ISS.
The base commander said, "Sorry, Bradsen. Intelligence issue. This mission has been taken out of our hands."
The Scout attack vehicle crested the hill.
Inside it, Schofield drew a breath.
Before him, in all its glory, lay Krask-8.
It stood in the center of a wide flat plain, a cluster of snow-covered buildings — hangars, storage sheds, a gigantic maintenance warehouse, even one 15-story glass-and-concrete office tower. A miniature cityscape.
The whole compound was surrounded by a 20-foot-high razor wire fence, and in the distance beyond it, perhaps two miles away, Schofield could see the northern coastline of Russia and the waves of the Arctic Ocean.
Needless to say, the post–Cold War world hadn't been kind to Krask-8.
The entire mini-city was deserted.
Snow covered the complex's half-dozen streets. Off to Schofield's right, giant mounds of the stuff slouched against the walls of the main maintenance warehouse — a structure the size of four football fields.
To the left of the massive shed, connected to it by an enclosed bridge, stood the office tower. Enormous downward-creeping claws of ice hung off its flat roof, frozen in place, defying gravity.
The cold itself had taken its toll, too. Without an anti-freeze crew on site, nearly every window pane at Krask-8 had contracted and cracked. Now, every glass surface lay shattered or spider-webbed, the stinging Siberian wind whistling through it all with impunity.
It was a ghost town.
And somewhere underneath it all lay sixteen nuclear missiles.
The Scout roared through the already blasted-open gates of Krask-8 at a cool 80 kilometers an hour.
It shot down a sloping road toward the complex, one of Schofield's Marines now perched in the 7.62mm machine-gun turret mounted on the rear of the sleek armored car.
Inside the Scout, Schofield hovered behind Clark, peering at the young corporal's computer screen.
"Check for their locators," he said. "We have to find out where those D-boys are."
Clark tapped away at his keyboard, bringing up some computer maps of Krask-8.
One map showed the complex from a side-view:
Two clusters of blinking red dots could be seen: one set on the ground floor of the office tower and a second set inside the massive maintenance shed.
The two Delta teams.
But something was wrong with this image.
None of the blinking dots was moving.
All of them were ominously still.
Schofield felt a chill on the back of his neck.
"Bull," he said softly, "take Whip, Tommy and Hastings. Check out the office tower. I'll take Book II, Clark and Rooster and secure the maintenance building."
"Roger that, Scarecrow."
The Scout rushed down a narrow deserted street, passing underneath concrete walkways, blasting through the mounds of snow that lay everywhere.
It skidded to a halt outside the gargantuan maintenance warehouse, right in front of a small personnel door.
The rear hatch of the Scout was flung open and immediately Schofield and three snow-camouflaged Marines leaped out of it and bolted for the door.
No sooner were they out than the Scout peeled away, heading for the glass office tower next door.
* * *
Schofield entered the maintenance building gun-first.
He carried a Heckler & Koch MP-7, the successor to the old MP-5. The MP-7 was a short-barrelled machine pistol, compact but powerful. In addition to the MP-7, Schofield carried a Desert Eagle semi-automatic pistol, a K-Bar knife and, in a holster on his back, an Armalite MH-12 Maghook — a magnetic grappling hook that was fired from a double-gripped gun-like launcher.
In addition to his standard kit, for this mission Schofield carried some extra firepower — six high-powered Thermite-Amatol demolition charges. Each handheld charge had the explosive ability to level an entire building. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Scarecrow by Matthew Reilly. Copyright © 2003 Matthew Reilly. 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.