Turcotte took thirty minutes to cautiously move down the last fifty meters. It had taken him an hour to walk around the mountain and climb over the top, but the last part was most critical. He quietly wove his way through the pine trees clinging to the mountainside until he saw what he was searching for--a small, level spot where a prow of rock thrust out from the steep hillside.
The watcher was long gone, but to Turcotte's trained eye there was no mistaking the imprint of a tripod and other signs in the ground. The grass and pine needles had been disturbed ever so slightly. Turcotte scanned the area for other clues. In his time in the Special Forces he'd spent time on hillsides just like this, doing nothing but watching and recording what he saw, so he knew what to look for.
Whoever had been there the previous night was good. That bothered Turcotte. There were a large number of alphabet-soup organizations--CIA, DIA, NSA, ISA, to name a few--from his own government that might want to keep an eye on him and Duncan. Then there were all the foreign agencies. But what truly disturbed Turcotte was that not only didn't he have a clue who had been there, but the person might have been from an organization Turcotte didn't know about. An unknown enemy was much more dangerous than a known.
Finally he spotted something. Against the bark of a pine tree there was the smallest of imprints, just under half an inch in diameter. As if someone had pressed the tip of a weapon against the tree. Turcotte looked at it closely. The imprint was circular. In view of the care the watcher had taken, this mark seemed strange. Turcotte pondered it for a few moments, but there was nothing more he could make of it.
He looked across the gorge at Lisa's house. He had left her sleeping comfortably, the thick blanket covering her naked body. The sun was coming up over the high plains to the east. Turcotte took the direct route back to her house.
* * *
The stone face of Kon-Tiki Viracocha frowned down on the traveler. Hewn out of a solid block of andesite and weighing many tons, the Gateway of the Sun was the entrance to the center pyramid of the city of Tiahuanaco. The sun god Viracocha's presence at the top of the archway told the traveler this was a most sacred site high in the Bolivian highlands.
"This way." The guide was anxious. The site was off-limits by decree of the government, and soldiers patrolled the area frequently.
The Russian who followed the guide through the gate was a huge man, almost seven feet tall and wide as a bear. Even his bulk, though, was dwarfed by the ruins he walked through. They approached the Pyramid of the Sun, a massive earth-and-stone mound over three hundred feet high. At the very top of the pyramid, a stone altar had been placed millennia before. On its flat surface thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people--prisoners, criminals, volunteers, the unlucky chosen ones--had had their still-beating hearts ripped out of their chests, the bodies thrown down the steeply stepped side.
The Russian was known by only one name--Yakov. Whether it was his first or last name didn't matter. Nor did it matter whether it was his given name. He had been operating in the gray covert world for all of his adult life, and that was all he knew.
Yakov cared little for the outside of the pyramid. His research had led him here and he knew what he wanted to see. The guide was clambering over a pile of broken rocks at the base of the pyramid, searching.
"Here!" The man pointed down.
Yakov joined him and looked. There was a black hole between two large rocks. It would be a tight fit. The guide held his hand out and Yakov tossed him a wad of local currency held together with a rubber band. The guide was gone.
Yakov paused before pushing himself into the dark hole. He took several deep breaths, his lungs laboring in the thin 13,000-foot atmosphere. He looked around, taking in the sight of Tiahuanaco as it caught the first light of morning. One of the two great ancient cities of the New World, Tiahuanaco was much less well known than the other, Teotihuacan, outside Mexico City. That could easily be explained by Tiahuanaco's remote location high in the Andes Mountains. Just getting there required an arduous journey from La Paz, the capital of Bolivia. But there was also a very negative policy enforced by the Bolivian government toward visitors desiring to see the ruins. Getting a travel permit to come to Tiahuanaco was almost impossible. Yakov had bypassed that requirement by ignoring it. He was well-versed in the techniques of entering countries illegally and moving about in the black world.
Both New World cities, because of their greatness, their pyramids, their sudden appearance at the time of the waning of the Egyptian Empire, had raised speculation that they were founded by remnants of that civilization. Now, with the awareness that there really had been an Atlantis, destroyed by the Airlia, the speculation had shifted that perhaps these Central and South American cities--along with the Egyptian, the Chinese, all the Old World civilizations--had been founded by those fleeing that disaster; this, the diffusionest theory of the rise of civilization, claimed that the various civilizations around the world had arisen at the same time because they were founded by people from an earlier, single civilization.
Yakov thought the diffusionest theory was likely, and he also felt there was much more to history than the books recorded. He was a member of Section IV, a branch of the Minister of Interior, sister to the KGB. More a bastard stepchild. Section IV had been formed by the Soviet Union to investigate UFOs and the paranormal. As the years had gone by, after various discoveries, the Soviets had little doubt that Earth had been visited by aliens at some time in the past, although the exact extent of alien involvement in human affairs had been unknown up until the cover being blown off of America's Area 51 just several weeks before and the information received from the guardian computer.
Yakov, while taking the new revelations in stride, was still on the path of something he had been tracking down for years. Today he hoped to find another piece in the puzzle. He turned toward the dark hole and lowered himself into the bowels of the Pyramid of the Sun. Turning a powerful flashlight on, he made his way through the stone hallways, hunching over to keep his head from hitting the roof.
At Area 51, Major Quinn was inside one of the surface buildings that had been turned into a makeshift morgue. In the middle of the Nevada desert, this location was also well off the beaten track. Part of Nellis Air Force Base, the location had gotten its designation from that post's map, being designated with that number training area. Quinn knew the entire history of the place, having been assigned as operations officer to the Cube, the command-and-control center for Area 51, five years before.
The location had been chosen because it was where the mothership had been found during World War II. The facility had grown over the years, especially when most of the bouncers--seven of the nine atmospheric craft of the Airlia--had been brought there after being recovered from their hiding place in Antarctica. Test flights of those craft had led to the rumors of UFOs for decades.
Two doctors from UNAOC--the United Nations Alien Oversight Committee--wearing their white lab coats, masks, and goggles, were preparing to do an autopsy on one of the two bodies of the STAAR representatives who had been killed trying to stop the mothership from taking off.
Zandra had been her code name, Quinn remembered as one of the doctors pulled back the sheet covering the first's body.
"Could have used some sun," the first doctor remarked. His name tag read "Captain Billings."
The body was milky white, the skin smooth. The other doctor set up a microphone on a boom in front of Billings. He clicked on a recorder. "All set."
Billings picked up a scalpel but simply stood over the body for a few seconds as he spoke. "Subject is female; age approximately forty, but it is difficult to determine. Height . . ." He waited as the other doctor stretched out a tape measure. "Seventy inches. Weight"--Billings looked at the scale reading on the side of the portable cart--"one hundred and fifty pounds."
Quinn stepped out of the way as Billings walked around the body. "Hair is blondish, almost white. Skin color is very pale white. Body is well muscled and developed. No obvious scars or tattoos. There are six bullet entry wounds on the chest. Four exit wounds on the back."
Billings leaned over and pulled up the left eyelid. "Eye color is brown . . ." He paused. "Looks like there's a contact." He put down the scalpel and picked up a small set of tweezers. He plucked out the contact lens and looked at it against the overhead light. "Hmm, the contact might have been cosmetic, as it is brown-colored." Billings looked down.
"Jesus!" Billings exclaimed. "What the hell is that?"
Quinn stepped forward as the doctor gasped and moved back. Quinn looked into the right eye. The pupil and iris were red, the pupil a scarlet shade darker than the rest of the eye and elongated vertically like a cat's.
Quinn pulled his cell phone off his belt and punched in to the Cube. "I am isolating this building as per National Security Directive regarding contact with alien life-forms. Request immediate bubble protection be put over us ASAP to prevent further contamination!"
In the Cube, the operations center for Area 51 buried deep underground, Larry Kincaid heard Major Quinn's call over the speaker. He'd worked at NASA for over thirty years, and STAAR personnel, with their sunglasses, pale skin, and strange-colored hair, had been around for every space launch. They had been there under the authority of a top-secret presidential directive and as such had had complete access to every NASA facility. It was the way of bureaucracy that the correct piece of paper could override every suspicion and every bit of common sense for decades. The warning that they weren't human was startling but not earth-shattering, given all that had happened in the past several weeks.
So as everyone else scrambled to comply with Quinn's request to quarantine the STAAR personnel autopsy area, Kincaid's attention was focused in an entirely different direction. He was tapped into the U.S. Space Command's Missile Warning Center.
The Center was located deep inside Cheyenne Mountain on the outskirts of Colorado Springs, alongside the headquarters for NORAD. The Space Command, part of the Air Force, was responsible for the Defense Support Program (DSP) satellite system, which Kincaid knew quite a bit about from his work for JPL, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which had been responsible for coordinating the construction of the boosters that had put those satellites into space.
He knew that DSP satellites in geosynchronous orbits blanketed the entire surface of the Earth from an altitude of 20,000 miles. The system had originally been developed to detect ICBM launches during the Cold War. During the Gulf War, it had picked up every Scud missile launch and proved so effective that the military had further streamlined the system to give real-time warnings to local commanders at the tactical level.
Every three seconds the DSP system downloaded an infrared map of the Earth's surface and surrounding airspace. Kincaid knew that most of the data was simply stored on tape in the Warning Center, unless, of course, the computer detected a missile launch, or something happened to one of the objects already in space that they were tracking. Right now, his computer screen showed the current DSP projection and nothing out of the ordinary was happening.
Kincaid looked like a burned-out New York City cop. He was one of the few left at JPL and NASA from the early, exciting days of the space program. He wasn't a specialist, but a jack-of-all-trades. He had been mission head for all Mars launches, a job that had thrust him into the spotlight when the Airlia base on Mars had been uncovered in the Cydonia region.
Kincaid checked his watch. He'd been staring at the computer for the past three hours. He decided he'd give it another half hour--then he froze as a small red dot began flashing on the screen.
Kincaid used the mouse to put the point over the red dot and he clicked.
A code came up on the screen:
The code told Kincaid several things: First that it was a man-made object--a satellite. Second that it was a contracted, privately financed, civilian project. Third, that it had been launched by the European Space Consortium, Ariane, from their launch site at Kourou in French Guiana. Kincaid searched deeper into the database.
He was surprised to discover that the satellite had been launched only two days before. And it was currently highlighted on the DSP because its orbit was decaying, a further surprise. No one put a satellite up for only two days unless they had a very specific mission for it, or something had gone wrong and the decay was the result of a mishap.
Kincaid checked the decay as DSP continually updated his screen. TL-SAT-9-3 was coming down into the Earth's atmosphere in eight minutes. Kincaid stared at the red dot for a few seconds, then brought up a display underneath that showed its position relevant to the Earth below it. The satellite was currently passing over the eastern Pacific, heading toward South America.
Kincaid picked up a secure phone and called Space Command, asking for the officer in charge.
"Colonel Willis." The voice on the other end was flat, a result of the phone's scrambler.
"Colonel, this is Larry Kincaid from JPL. I'm currently following the data on a satellite you have decaying, TL-SAT-9-3. Do you a projected impact point?"
"Wait one," Willis said. "I have my people plotting it."
Kincaid knew that the staff at Space Command delineated four categories of objects in space. The first was a known object in stable orbit, such as a satellite or some of the debris from previous space missions. Each of those had a special code assigned to it and the data was stored in the computer at Cheyenne Mountain. There were presently more than 8,500 catalogued items orbiting the planet that Space Command tracked.
The second category was a known object whose orbit changed, such as when a country or corporation decided to reposition one of its satellites. The third was a known object whose orbit decayed, which was what Kincaid was looking at. When that happened Space Command put a TIP--tracking and impact prediction--team on the job to figure out where it would come down. TIP teams had been instituted as a result of the publicity after Skylab came down years before. The fourth category was an object that has just been launched and had yet to be assigned a code.
"Why's it deteriorating so fast?" Kincaid asked.
"It must have been planned to be brought down now," Willis said.
"Why else would someone bring a satellite down?" Willis asked, to Kincaid's irritation. Before he could retort, Willis had the information he'd originally asked for.
"She's coming down in western Brazil. We'll be able to narrow the location once it's down, but it's still under some flight control and the descent is being adjusted."
Kincaid watched as the red dot crossed South America. It suddenly disappeared.
"She's down," Willis said needlessly.
"At least it didn't strike a city," Willis said.
"It probably hit jungle," Kincaid said, noting the location where the dot had disappeared, the western edge of the Amazon rain forest. "Can you backtrack the satellite's orbit?" he asked. "I want to know if it passed close by either the mothership's orbit or the sixth talon's."
"Wait one," Willis said. He was back with the answer in less than a minute. "Negative. Closest it came to the mothership was over fifteen hundred kilometers. Farther for the talon."
Kincaid frowned. "All right. Forward all data on this to me. Out here."
He stared aimlessly at the computer screen for a long time. Then he cleared the screen and accessed the Interlink, the U.S. Department of Defense's secure Internet.
He checked his electronic mailbox. It was empty. Opening his file cabinet, he retrieved an e-mail that had been sent to him three days before. It was a short message:
Watch DSP downlink 0900-1200 MST.
Kincaid hit the reply button on the e-mail. He typed:
Watched DSP downlink.
Saw TL-SAT-9-3 come down.
Why is it important?
Kincaid sent the mail. He waited. Ten seconds later, his computer announced he had mail. He opened the box, only to find his message returned to him, undeliverable.
"Damn it," Kincaid whispered as he signed off the Interlink. He sat back in his chair and pondered the map that was now on his screen. After several moments of thought, he went to work.From the Paperback edition.
Excerpted from Area 51: The Mission by Robert Doherty. Copyright © 1999 by Robert Mayer. Excerpted by permission of Random House Audio, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.