Viktor Korolev forged down the sidewalk with long solid strides, his black mood radiating ahead, parting grumbling pedestrians like the bow wave of a ship. They had offered him a ride, but he needed to walk to work off his frustration.
So the Americans had done it! This inconceivable dung. He'd had to lay his proof before the generals. After that, none of his bellowing power could dissuade them from narrow thoughts of retribution. Granted the Americans were formally at fault, this thing was too different to be handled with old-fashioned polarized modes of behaviour. Good arguments, to no avail.
Korolev thought of his message to Zamyatin, a meagre return for gifts received. The American would rue the day he had proffered his insights, seeking help. Korolev sighed. Had this Robert Isaacs not catalyzed events, the day of reckoning would only have been postponed.
Korolev slowed his pace, frustration waning, pushed aside by the need to develop a constructive response. He began to mentally list others in the power structure to whom he could take his case for moderation, cooperation. Whatever the generals plotted now, he hoped it would involve no loss of life.
On Thursday morning, Isaacs studied each one of the photographs as Vincent Martinelli banded them over. He set one of them aside. All the others ended up in a neat stack of rejects. He picked up the special one and peered at it closely again.
'These are all the possible sites?'
'Every one Danielson gave us.'
'And this is the only one that shows anything but natural terrain and vegetation?' He flapped the photo in his hand.
'The only one.'
'Okay, so I'll bite. Where is it?'
' New Mexico.'
' New Mexico ! Good god! Then this thing may have begun in the United States ?'
'Looks like it. We took five shots of New Mexico. That one is in the Guadalupe Mountains to the east of the White Sands missile testing range.'
'Hmmm. Some connection there, you think?' Isaacs asked. 'What is the place?' He waved the photo again.
'Hey, don't ask me.' Martinelli protested. 'You're the smart guys that figure 'cm out.'
'No, seriously. I came up here as soon as they came out of the print machine. All I've got is the coordinates. They're on the back.'
Isaacs turned the print over. The numbers meant nothing to him.
'I'll get Saris on this.'
'Anything else from my side?'
'Not until we know what we're dealing with here.'
'Okay, give a holier if you need something.'
'Right, thanks for the quick work, Voice.' Isaacs waved a salute as Martinelli let himself out.
Mid-morning was slow time. Esteban Ruiz sat in the guard house at the front gate of CIA headquarters trying to pick a rim of varnish from under his fingernail. A quiet smile reflected his thoughts. Tonight he would put the final coat on the new desk and shelves, and by tomorrow they could permanently set up the small computer he had scrimped and saved to buy his children. It was not the biggest, but it had been on sale, and when he lugged it in the door the children had shouted with surprise. Carlos, the oldest, had grumped a bit that it did not have enough memory, but Esteban's heart swelled with pleasure that his son even knew to question such a thing. Esteban did not know computers, was more than a little frightened of them, but he did know wood. The new shelves, the product of his hands, mind, labour, and love, looked good. He was proud of them and proud of his children who yearned to embrace a world he would never know. Ruiz was not aware of the black limousine until it slid to a quiet stop in front of him. Without quite focusing on detail, he knew what it was.
Holy Mary, Mother of God! he exclaimed to himself. Russians! He stepped quickly from the gate house, right palm on the butt of his service revolver, and tried to adopt his most gruff manner, but his voice shook, betraying his shock.
'Hold on there! Where do you think you're going?'
He addressed himself to the stolid-faced driver, but received no reply. Instead, the rear window whisked down in response to an inner button.
'We don't intend to go in, Sergeant,' Grigor Zamyatin used his most appealing tone. 'But I have an urgent message for Mr Isaacs, your Deputy Director of Scientific Intelligence.' He put a core of steel in the next words. 'I must see that he receives it.' Then he spoke smoothly again. 'Could he possibly come here to the gate and receive it directly?'
Ruiz could not help the edge of respect that crept into his voice. His hand slipped off his pistol butt. The driver of the limousine surreptitiously shifted his body and relaxed slightly as well.
'Sir, I can't comment on specific personnel. If you have a message, I'll take it.'
Zamyatin smiled slightly at this expected, but cumbersome subterfuge. No one knew who worked at the CIA except every spy in the world, and anyone else who cared to check. He reached into his jacket pocket and extracted the sealed envelope with Isaacs's name carefully handwritten across it. He extended it to the guard, but kept his grip as Ruiz reached for it. Zamyatin locked eyes with him.
'This is extremely urgent. It must be delivered to Mr Isaacs, and no one else.'
'I'll see that it is put into the proper channels,' Ruiz said noncommittally, but his voice rang with sincerity.
Zamyatin would have preferred to deliver the envelope personally to Isaacs, but this was the most he expected. He was confident Isaacs would have it within the hour. He released his grip on the envelope, and the window swished shut. Ruiz stepped back as the limousine backed up, performed a U-turn and accelerated out of the entry drive towards the Washington parkway. He stepped back into the gate house, placed the envelope gingerly on a shelf, and grabbed the phone.
'Ralph? This is Steve at the east gate. Damn car full of Russians, embassy types, just dropped off an envelope they say has to be delivered to Mr Isaacs. I think you'd better send somebody from the bomb squad down here. Right. You bet your ass I won't!' He punched the button disconnecting the phone and cradled the receiver on his shoulder while he flipped through the directory and ran his finger down the page until he came to the Office of the Deputy Director of Scientific Intelligence. Then he dialled again.
Bill Baris left the document section with as much material as he could conveniently carry in both hands. He walked rapidly down the corridor, intent on his destination. Earls was in his late forties, sharp-featured with thinning blond curls. He rarely stopped to ponder the fact that he was good at what he did. He just continued to do what felt right. This felt right, he thought of the material in his hands. Isaacs had nailed it.
He passed through Kathleen Huddleston's office giving a nod to her and barged into Isaacs's with a familiarity born of long comfortable association.
'Here you are, Bob.' He deposited the files on Isaacs's desk.
'What have you got?' Isaacs inquired.
'It's a private lab, about two years old. Strictly devoted to weapons research subcontracted from the Los Alamos National Laboratory.'
There was something very familiar about that description. Isaacs couldn't quite place it.
'Who runs it?' he asked.
'Guy name of Krone.'
'Paul Krone!' Isaacs slammed his fist on his desk, remembering Zicek talking about Krone in La Jolla , suggesting he be brought in. Looks like he was already in, Isaacs thought grimly.
'Sir?' Kathleen spoke over the intercom.
'Yes! What is it?' Isaacs was more abrupt than he intended.
'Sir, I just got a call from the guard at the front gate. Apparently a car from the Soviet embassy dropped off a note they insisted be delivered to you. It's being processed through security.'
Isaacs's mind raced through the possibilities.
'From the embassy, you say. Did the guard recognize anyone?'
'Not specifically. The car was an embassy limousine. There was a chauffeur and some official in the back seat who banded over the note and did all the talking.' Isaacs had a vivid mental image of looking out through his rear window and seeing nothing but the grill and long hood of Zamyatin's limousine.
'Ask security to have him check some mug shots of embassy personnel. Make sure one of Colonel Grigor Zamyatin is among them.'
'Yes, sir.' Kathleen rang off.
What could Zamyatin want? Isaacs asked himself. Why would anyone else in the Soviet embassy hand-deliver a note to him? He put these questions aside and picked up the pile of material Earls had brought in.
'Let me see some of that,' Earls requested. 'I only took time' to skim it.' He riffled through the pile of folders looking for some specific ones; then they settled down to read. Isaacs paused occasionally to make notes on a pad. Ten minutes passed in silence broken only by the shuffle of paper in the folders. Then the intercom buzzed again.
'Sir, Sergeant Ruiz, the guard, identified Colonel Zamyatin. He, Colonel Zamyatin that is, was very adamant that you get the note quickly and personally.'
'Where is it then?'
'Sergeant Ruiz said someone from the bomb squad picked it up.'
'The bomb squad!'
'Well, yes, I suppose they were concerned about letter bombs, that sort of thing.'
'Letter bombs are anonymous. Not likely that the Colonel would drop by in his official lime to deliver one. Tell them to get that note up here. On the double!'
Isaacs waved his arms at the ceiling in a gesture of desperation. 'What a world,' he exclaimed.
'So what kind of picture do we have here?' he asked rhetorically, addressing Saris. 'Krone Industries set up this lab to do research on contract to Los Alamos. They've done work on particle beams and lasers, particularly using them to implode material to high density and temperatures, just as Zicek said. That could be directly relevant.'
'It's not just Krone Industries,' said Earls. 'I've been reading quarterly reports the lab submitted to Los Alamos. Krone himself is chief man on the spot, devoting himself one hundred per cent to the effort.
'And not just his time,' Saris continued. 'Out of curiosity, I got a list of the companies in Krone Industries and looked up their financial reports.' He betted one of the folders he had selected. 'That lab is not just running on its consulting contract with Los Alamos. Every one of these companies under Krone's thumb has diverted significant portions of their resources to the lab. There's an immense effort going on there. Far more than required by the government contract.'
Isaacs leaned back in his chair to digest this information and looked up at a rap on the door. Kathleen opened it and ushered in an energetic young man with close-cropped hair. In his hand he clutched a mangled envelope.
'Mark Burley, sir. From counteractivity. This is the note delivered to you half an hour ago. We processed it as quickly as we could.' He banded over the envelope.
Isaacs took it and raised a sceptical eyebrow. The envelope was crudely ripped open and both the envelope and the portion of the enclosed note, which was exposed through the ragged flap, were wrinkled.
'You opened it?'
'Yes, sir,' Burley replied with deep sincerity. 'We deter— named it was not a letter bomb by certan physical tests, but we wanted to check the contents for contaminants. Contact poisons. If we'd had time we could've opened it so you'd never have noticed.' A small, proud smile came and went quickly. 'As it was, we did the most thorough job we could, in the shortest time.'
'I'm sure you did.' If Burley noticed Isaacs's facetious tone, he gave no sign.
'Thank you, Mr Burley. I appreciate the fast work.'
'Anytime, sir. That's our job.' The young man spun smartly on his heel and marched out. Isaacs exchanged an amused, wry smile with Bans.
'Boy Scout. Place is crawling with them,' said Bans.
Isaacs's smile faded as he extracted and read the hand— scrawled note. It was very brief.
I know. I have to tell them. You must hurry.
Isaacs had briefed Baris on his interchange with Korolev. He banded the piece of rough, light brown Russian paper to Earls.
'Know?' he asked. 'Know what?'
'I'm afraid damn near everything we do,' Isaacs replied. He thumbed the intercom.
'Kathleen, get me Martinelli.'
Isaacs put a hand on the phone in anticipation and looked at Bans.
'At the very least Korolev knows everything we did when Pat and I first went to talk to Jason because of the synopsis I sent him. There's a very good chance he followed the same line of reasoning as Runyan. As wild an idea as a black hole is, it has a certain inevitability in hindsight. Korolev didn't have direct access to our physical evidence from Nagasaki and Dallas , but he had his own from the Novorossiisk.'
The phone buzzed and Isaacs jerked the receiver to his ear.
'Vince? I want to know about Soviet ship deployment. Particularly along thirty-two degrees forty-seven minutes, both north and south longitude.' He listened for a moment. 'Anytime in the last six weeks. I'd rather have that now and fresh stuff when you can get it.' He listened again. 'That's just the ticket. Thanks, Vince.'
He hung up and looked intently at Baris. 'We have to assume Korolev also guessed we were dealing with a black hole. I sent him my memo in late June. He's had six weeks to ponder it and move to do something about it. I also tipped off Zamyatin to watch Nagasaki. We can also assume they have at least a rough idea what went on there. If they have penetrated the Japanese with any efficiency, they probably have the full report. Korolev could pick up quickly on the parallels between the holes drilled in Nagasaki , and those in the Novorossiisk. For that matter, they may know about Dallas.
'In any case,' Isaacs continued, 'we lost three weeks sitting on our duffs waiting for Dallas to happen, three more before we got back to Jason, and Gantt got the real dope. That's six weeks when Korolev could have been pushing for some monitoring programme in Russia. The trajectory doesn't pass through Russia , so they'd have to mobilize somewhere else. It makes most sense to me to use their Navy. We would have moved faster if ours hadn't been so recalcitrant.
'I don't know what their response time would be, but I certainly got the idea from Zamyatin that Korolev has clout at high levels in the Kremlin. If they put properly instrumented ships on the trajectory, they could learn everything we have.'
'I see what you mean,' Baris said. 'If Korolev suspected a black hole, he'd have a gravimeter put on board to measure the mass.'
'Seems obvious enough,' Isaacs agreed. 'Gantt considered a shipboard experiment, but elected to put his apparatus on dry land to make it as stable as possible. We know now it wouldn't have made much difference. They'd have to be a bit careful, but an inertially mounted device, isolated from the worst pitching of the ship, would do the job.'
'Accurate timing would be easy,' Isaacs continued. 'With sonar monitors and some regular data acquisition they would know how long the thing hovered above sea level and could figure out the altitude to which it rose, just as we did.'
'So they'd look along the trajectory at that altitude, just as we did,' said Saris following the logic.
'And they would find this lab,' Isaacs slapped his palm on the stack of folders in front of them, 'just as we did. I think that must be what Korolev's note means. He's found Krone's lab, and, having raised a ruckus, he has to report his findings to the boys at the top.'
The phone rang and Isaacs jerked it up.
He reached for a pad and scribbled some numbers.
'Yes. Yes. Got that.' He listened, then spoke again. 'How far is that? Yes, dammit, no question. They're onto it. Sure, when they come in, but this is just what we needed. Thanks for the quick work. Great. Right.'
He hung up and relayed the message from Martinelli to Baris.
'There are five small flotillas in the Pacific, three along thirty-two degrees forty-seven minutes north, two south. Each has a research vessel, a tender, and a destroyer. They're spaced 1170 miles apart, sailing steadily westward, about 190 miles per day.'
'So they're tracking it,' Earls summarized.
'They're tracking it,' Isaacs confirmed.
'How long?' Saris inquired.
'Seven to ten days. Some got on station earlier.'
'That's plenty of time to collect a good timing record,' said Baris.
'I think there's no doubt now that Korolev has followed the same path that Runyan led us on,' Isaacs said. 'We've got to get to that lab and find out what's going on.'
'And damn quickly,' Saris said. 'If you've got this right and Korolev reports to the top brass in the Kremlin that a black hole was made and released at a secret US government lab, oh, boy.' Saris leaned back in his chair. 'Can you imagine what the chest-medal crowd will do with that? We'll be right back to square one when they thought we'd zapped their carrier. Damned if they weren't right!'
Isaacs stood up and moved to the window. He clasped his hands behind his back and stared out over the trees, rocking up on his toes. He could feel the mid-August heat which smothered the tree tops.
'We've got a powder keg already up there in orbit,' Isaacs mused. 'I don't know whether we can possibly move quickly enough to neutralize this situation. We've got to hope we can find an explanation that will satisfy the Soviets that this wasn't an intentional, government sanctioned plan.'
He spun suddenly.
'It wasn't, was it?'
'Whoa,' said Saris thoughtfully. 'There's no clue in any of the files here.' He pointed at the material on Isaacs's desk. 'But that's pretty clean stuff. I just pulled it out of our library. Our job's to know everything the bad guys are up to, not everything our team does, so maybe there's an outside chance. Still, if I read this guy Krone right, he's the kind who would tackle something like this on his own. Remember these were Krone Industries resources being squandered. Unless there was some heavy-duty laundering, there wasn't much government funding. I'll check more deeply, but I think we're clean.'
'We've got no choice but to get the whole story on Krone and that lab as fast as possible,' said Isaacs, regaining his seat. 'Bill, I want you to keep digging here. Track down everything you can going in and out of that lab that could be related to the manufacture of a black hole.
'Someone's got to go out to the site, though, and under the circumstances, I think I'd better take that one on myself.
'I'll call Pat and get her there too. And I might as well bring Runyan along. He knows Krone and is on top of the scientific aspects. I want you to get a team busy working up a reaction estimate. As things stand, how will the Soviets react if they're informed of Krone's lab? What will it take to keep them under control? Okay?'
'A procedural one. Before you go, have you told the Director yet?'
'I spent three hours with him last night. Trying to explain about the black hole. Left him numb. I'll have to see him now and report on Krone and the message from Korolev. I guess we'll see what kind of stuff he's really made of.'
'Is he going to want to go to the President? Or expect us to draw up a national intelligence estimate to circulate? The black hole is one thing, and perhaps an emergency in itself, but potential Russian reaction is a key issue now.'
'We're in a bind. We've been waiting to get all our facts straight before dumping something like a black hole in the President's lap. Of course, until this morning we didn't know that it was made here, nor that the Russians were on to us.
'There's no time now for a formality like an NIE,' Isaacs continued. 'We've got a real crisis. We must get the story from that lab and then pass it to the President directly. I think the Del will see it that way, but that's why I want you to get on that reaction estimate. We'll want that a part of the package.'
Isaacs looked at his watch. 'It's 10:45 now, 8:45 in New Mexico. I should be able to catch something at Andrews that will get us out there by mid-afternoon, local time. It'll take a few hours to check out the lab. I might make it back here by midnight.
'I'll suggest to the Del that he lay the groundwork for an emergency meeting of the National Security Council about then. And just hope the Russians don't push the button for twelve hours.'
.'All right,' said Earls, rising to leave. 'I'll get on it.' He strode quickly across the room and out the door.'
'Kate?' Isaacs called, and she appeared in the doorway, attuned to the emergency atmosphere.
'Tell the DCI I'm on my way to see him. Top priority. Order a helicopter to Andrews Air Force Base. Forty-five minutes from now, maximum. Half hour better. Arrange for a flight out of Andrews for me and two agents. Call Boswank and get him to assign me two of his people. Call Danielson and Runyan in Arizona and arrange for a flight for them. Destination for all of us is Holloman Air Force Base near White Sands, New Mexico. Arrange ground transportation there. We're headed for a laboratory about forty miles away, up in the mountains. Better yet, see if you can get another chopper to take us from Holloman to the lab. Here's the name of the lab and of the guy in charge.' He scribbled on a memo pad and banded it to her. 'I'll want to talk to him when I get back from seeing the DCI. And call Plumps in La Jolla and taut to Gantt while you're on the line to Arizona. I want Phillips here this evening prepared for an NSC meeting. They may want to get together in Pasadena to assemble the relevant information.'
'Yes, sir.' Kathleen finished making notations on her pad and hustled back into her office.
Isaacs steeled himself and then headed off to hand his boss the second shocking revelation in less than twelve hours.
Danielson awoke in her tent in the waxing Arizona heat with the smell of Runyan about her. Over breakfast she felt as if she were two people. One of her talked business with Gantt as if nothing had happened. Her other self was full of Runyan and jolted every time he seemed to give her a special knowing glance. Gantt displayed no reaction,, just smiled discreetly to himself.
The call from headquarters came as they were finishing breakfast and galvanized them into action. They barely had time to throw their things together before the whupping of the Marine helicopter from Yuma broke the desert stillness. At the Yuma Air Station Danielson chatted casually with Runyan for the benefit of the strangers around them and continued to shout her secret messages until the transport was warmed up, ready to ferry them east to New Mexico.
Back in the desert, the camp settled into busy routine. Late that morning, one of the Marines relaxed in front of his tent, waiting for lunch. He didn't understand the technical functions of the camp and didn't expect to. He was assigned his job and did it. Nevertheless, he thought it strange that the chief of the operation would take time out to squat, motionless, at the edge of the camp with his index finger thrust past the second knuckle into a small hole in the ground.