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Chapter One of Ninth Day of Creation

Copyright Leonard Crane, 1998. All rights reserved.

( Prints to approx 27 pages )

The complete novel can be obtained from

AIDS Researcher Dies, Plunges From Dam

From a Tribune Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO---An employee of a local high-tech company was killed Friday when he fell from a ridge while being chased by colleagues in a game of "tag" in a semirural area southeast of the city.
    The full identity of the scientist---known only as Dr. Frey---and the firm for which he worked, are being withheld while the San Diego County Sheriff's Department attempts to contact the victim's family.
    Frey, 30, died at the scene after falling nearly 40 meters onto the concrete floor of the Otay Reservoir, a dam about twenty-five kilometers from the city center. The incident took place at 11:15 p.m. as Frey and two other employees were running in the darkness of the hills near the reservoir. A deputy from the County Sheriff's Department said the group appeared to have been drinking after celebrating a recent success at work.
    "So far it looks like an accidental fall," said deputy Bert Sanders. "It's just very unfortunate. What gets me [riled] though is why they chose such a dangerous place to unwind. You would think three well-educated men would know better than to act like fools. But then, you can never tell with people, can you?"
    Frey, who had been with a Coronado-based company for 18 months, was the second person in recent years to have died after falling from the Otay Dam. Prior to Saturday's mishap, a Border Patrol agent was killed in 1995 when he fell from approximately the same spot while pursuing illegal border-crossers at night. County officials are now considering whether to erect a fence in the vicinity of the two accidents.

Cabeza Prieta Sector to Remain Closed

ARIZONA---Coming two years after a severe chemical contamination in the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, the Army's recommendation to prolong clean-up operations for another year was echoed yesterday by the head of the Environmental Protection Agency.
    The Tule desert site was the location of a still highly-classified incident involving the loss of a plane believed to be carrying the deadly nerve agent sarin. Although sources...

Please see TULE, A14





Richard Kirby hauled his suitcase out of the bedroom, dropped it at the front door, and hurried toward the kitchen to find his wife. His flight to Geneva wasn't for another six hours, but already Kirby was running late. Daniel Rosen had called unexpectedly, requesting an urgent meeting that morning. Now Kirby would have to stop by the office before catching the train up to Los Angeles. He found himself wishing he had followed Dan's example, and arranged to fly directly to LAX. Instead, he had chosen to take the Amtrak San Diegan to Union Station in downtown L.A., from where he would hail a taxi to the airport. It was a roundabout way of doing things, but Kirby had thought it well worth the effort since he hated to fly. This way, at least, he would avoid having to fly out of San Diego's cramped Lindbergh Field. But the added pressure of having to squeeze in his meeting with Rosen was making Kirby nervous.
     When he came into the kitchen Cassie glanced up at him. His wife was leaning over the counter, trying not to cut herself as she pushed a sharp knife down through an unthawed bagel.
     "Let me do that, honey," he said reaching for the knife. He gave her a quick kiss on the cheek as she went back to the table to finish her coffee.
     Cassie unfolded the morning paper and studied the front page closely. "You'd think somebody would have leaked it by now..."
     Kirby picked up the bagel and stared at it. "Not if they want to keep working for him," he said referring to Rosen. He tested the bagel by tapping it on the counter top. It was still frozen. "You know," he said distractedly. "It might be better if we didn't freeze them. At least until we get the microwave fixed." But what he was really thinking about was how sensational the weekend conference in Switzerland was going to be.
     Kirby was the new division manager for genetic therapies at Immunological Technologies, a fledgling biotech company that Rosen had built from scratch just three years earlier. In a few hours the two men would be on their way to the fifty-ninth General Assembly of the World Health Organization in Geneva. Kirby was about to deliver a paper which would establish Imtech as the foremost presence in the emerging field of genetic medicine.
     Rosen had been quietly planning the event for months, approaching it with his hallmark business-sense for secrecy by submitting to the conference organizers a suitably vague abstract for the conference proceedings. He wanted it to be a big surprise. He wanted to drop a bomb on the world stage and be the only one left standing when the dust settled. Making an impact was what Rosen was all about. Kirby, on the other hand, had expressed some reservation about the need to fly halfway around the world to do it. But Rosen's response had been unequivocal. "Are you kidding me?" he said. "What better way is there to reach the international market than through a WHO forum?"
     The rumor circulating in the company was that Kirby's work might get him nominated for a Nobel prize in medicine or physiology. Kirby himself downplayed the idea. But the fact was he had just solved the hottest problem in biochemistry since 1953, the year that Crick and Watson had come up with their model of a double helix for the molecular structure of DNA. If he had been sixty-two years of age, and not thirty-two, then maybe he would have allowed himself to consider the possibility of a Nobel. But he wasn't. He was a young, somewhat exceptional chemist that nobody had heard of before. And that had been the way he liked it.
     Cassie lifted her head and looked past him in the direction of the broken microwave. He followed her eyes across to it, his gaze settling on the microwave clock. At least that was still working. With a twinge of alarm, he noticed that it was 8:10---he was supposed to be meeting Dan in just twenty minutes.
     "Aren't you going to be late?"
     "I'm already late." Kirby fumbled with the door to the toaster, finally got it open, and peered in; it looked dirty inside. He decided to forgo breakfast.
     "What does Dan want to see you about?"
     "Something to do with the FDA. He's got a guy coming in before nine. Some last minute business to do with the announcement." He saw that there was a cup of coffee waiting for him on the table and went over. "Apparently the guy's requested a closed door meeting with us," he added casually.
     Cassie's face had brightened the moment he'd mentioned the FDA. Now she was staring at him. "The Food and Drug Administration has asked to meet with you behind closed doors?" She raised an eyebrow. "Richard."
     He knew what she was thinking. Could they already have got approval to market Triphylactin?
     "I know," he said. "Sounds important. But you know Dan---he makes everything sound important..." He was being purposely evasive. Really it was too soon to start getting excited.
     "Still," she said. "There's a chance, isn't there?"
     It's her way, he thought. She had always been an incurable optimist. Where he would see a frustrating delay in his work, she would see an opportunity to do it better. She had a genuine enthusiasm for everything she did; an active interest in everything that he was involved with. He had once remarked to a friend that it often seemed to him a room glowed when she walked into it. Even now, after seven years of marriage and two kids. It was both ludicrous and wonderful, he reflected, the way he saw her.
     "Of course there's a chance," she repeated. "Why shouldn't there be?"
     Kirby shrugged. He downed the last of his coffee and went off to the mirror in the hall to fix his tie. Maybe she was right about the FDA. As a pediatrician who worked afternoons at the UCSD Medical Center, she had heard enough secondhand accounts of the drug approval process to know that anything was possible.
     Rosen had felt the same way when he'd put the preliminary results of the Triphylactin trials up for review. The results seemed extraordinarily promising. Triphylactin had the look of a wonder drug---a sort of modern day penicillin that, in Rosen's opinion, was going to do for gene therapy what the earlier drug had done to initiate the age of antibiotics. It was going to revolutionize the practice of therapeutic medicine. "You watch," Rosen had said. "Not only will this thing happen fast, but those bastards will be duking it out to see whose name goes down as the one to approve it."
     Triphylactin, or TPL, had been Rosen's idea. The so-called "killer application" meant to introduce Kirby's work to the public, and pave the way for Imtech's rapid climb within the bio-pharmaceutical industry. Rosen believed the viability of a new drug technology should entail the careful selection of an affliction that was ingrained in the public conscious. And then it should be wiped out. That was why they were going after the HIV virus. Once it cleared FDA approval, TPL would be the first drug marketed as an AIDS cure.
     As Kirby fiddled with his tie, he heard his daughter calling him from the end of the hall.
     "Not now, Rebecca. Daddy's in the middle of something..."
     "Maybe I should go down there," Cassie said.
     "Down where...?"
     Kirby glanced over his shoulder as Cassie turned the newspaper toward him. He saw a picture of a navy vessel coming into port, its decks overflowing with refugees from Mexico. They had been plucking them from the waters off San Diego for over a week.
     "Down to the Naval Air Station," she said. "They need doctors. Maybe I could help out in the mornings. What do you think?"
     "...I don't know. Maybe."
     He tried to recall what he knew about the growing rift between Mexico and the U.S. But lately he had been too busy preparing for the announcement to pay the news much attention. So he wasn't sure what Cassie might be getting herself into. He wondered if it might at all be dangerous.
     "Maybe you should wait."
     "For what?"
     Kirby tugged uncomfortably at the knot in his tie. "Well. At least until I get back. I'd feel better about it." He didn't say it, but he had a feeling he'd be happier if she didn't get involved. And with any luck, he thought, by Tuesday it might all be over.
     But that was unlikely. Tension between the two countries had now been on the rise for nearly a year---ever since President Robert E. Coleman had signed legislation to seal the border with Mexico, and then implemented it. Kirby couldn't remember what had catalyzed the current situation, but what had started out as an affair of international policy dispute had by now taken on the trappings of a private vendetta between the U.S. and Mexican leaders. Kirby had given up trying to make sense of the conflicting stories offered in the papers, although it was widely believed that the ongoing sea-exodus from Mexico to the U.S. was the brainchild of Camilla Montoya---a ploy, most observers agreed, to pressure President Coleman into reopening the border.
     Cassie got up and brought the paper over. "It says here that one woman they picked up made the journey all the way from Tlaxcala."
     "Tlaxcala?" Kirby looked over his tie in the mirror. It was crooked but it would have to do. They had visited Tlaxcala the year before Rebecca was born. It was Cassie's home state. She had grown up in the town of Apizaco, then moved with her family to El Paso, Texas, at the age of twelve. "That's a long way to come," he noted.
     Down the hall, Rebecca stood outside the door to Kirby's study. She looked agitated, with her hands balled tightly into small fists at her hips, and her head pushed forward.
     "Come see my picture," she whined. "Please." Rebecca was six years old and crazy about drawing.
     "OK," Kirby said. "Daddy's still got to shave. Bring your picture into the bathroom, and we'll see what you've been up to." He turned away to shave.
     "No, Dad. It's on the computer. Come see."
     Kirby stopped and looked back at her.
     "That was quick," Cassie said, exchanging a glance with him. "I thought you said it would take her another couple of months."
     Kirby strode down the hall toward his daughter. "Hey, little missy. How'd you get on my computer, huh?"
     Rebecca giggled triumphantly. "I put out the fire, Dad."
     The "fire" she was talking about was electronic, and would ignite on the monitor of his PC every time it was powered up. It was the product of a piece of pre-login software that he had purchased at Disneyland, and meant as a clever way to keep Rebecca entertained without giving her access to the system when he wasn't around.
     The program worked by concealing the computer's "desktop" until the user was able to extinguish a cyclical fire which spread from the fireplace of the Sorcerer's castle---first to the rug, then the wooden furniture. Meanwhile one of the Sorcerer's brooms trudged back and forth from the outside well, hauling back another pale of water to quench the flames. The trick to putting out the fire was to multiply the number of brooms in service by splitting them with an axe. The good news: the more brooms there were, the faster they went about their job dousing the flames. The bad news was that they then became harder to hit...
     The first day Kirby tried out the software it had taken him a frustrating seventeen minutes to log in. But with practice he had got his time down to two minutes. He had told Cassie the process required an element of dexterity that would take a six year-old months to develop. Yet there was Rebecca, dragging him by the hand to his study, reminding him just how wrong he could be.
     As Kirby came into the room he felt a painful thud on the side of his foot. He looked down and saw his three-year old son Nathan rolling a red toy Corvette up the side of his leg. "Vrrrrm!"
     Rebecca tugged on his hand. "See, Dad!" she said pointing. "Mickey Mouse."
     On the screen was a reasonable likeness of the Sorcerer's Apprentice in a mid-air pose, his knees retracted to his stomach as he brought the axe down on top of an unsuspecting broom handle. Kirby stepped over Nathan, who went out through the door on all fours pushing the Corvette along the carpet and making car sounds.
     Rebecca went across to the computer. "Can we make me a costume like this, Dad? Not red though---"
     His daughter reached for the mouse and moved the cursor across the screen, clicking on the Apprentice's red robe. She selected the color menu, clicked again, and turned it bright orange---her favorite color. Halloween was coming up and Rebecca had been staring at Mickey's robe all week.
     "We'll see what we can do..." Kirby picked his daughter up and gave her a kiss. "You going to keep an eye on your brother for me until I get back?"
     Rebecca screwed up her face. "Do you have to go?"
     "It's just till Monday."
     Cassie leaned through the doorway. "Richard. It's eight fifteen."
     From somewhere behind his wife, a Tarzan-like shriek erupted, and Nathan came running out of the bedroom with his arms wrapped around a large cluster of balloons. They were tied together like a bunch of giant grapes. Kirby had grappled with his creation for half an hour before handing it over to Rebecca the night before. Now Nathan had it, and as he brushed past the bedroom doorway they heard a loud pop as one of the balloons burst.
     Uh-oh, Kirby thought.
     Nathan came to an abrupt halt and began crying, the balloons floating away towards the ceiling. Cassie crouched down at his side. "Come here, you," she said scooping him up. Overhead another balloon popped when it touched the ceiling. Rebecca let out a heavy sigh as her father carried her over to the door. When they got there, they both looked up.
     "Yeah, Dad?"
     "You keep an eye on him for me, OK?"
     "Don't worry," she told him. "I'll help you build another virus when you get back."




Arriving back from his morning run, Robert Coleman was surprised to find the Oval Office empty. On his desk, an unopened copy of the Washington Post lay face up, waiting for him---as did a pile of briefings from various government agencies, none of which he looked at. The routine dictated that Leon Stark, his chief of staff, recount the essential news of the day for him. But with his first aide conspicuously absent, Coleman found himself staring at the door. Finally his patience ran out, and he reached for the intercom. "Have you found him yet?"
     A small voice came back through the speaker on his desk. "Yes, Mr. President. He's on his way now."
     "Well, tell him to get his ass in here, pronto."
     The President began to pace. He was still doing so two minutes later when the door to the Oval office opened and Stark walked in.
     "Where have you been?" Despite his irritation at having to wait, Coleman took care not to raise his voice. His first aide had a habit of clamming up when that happened.
     "Simply following up on your request," Stark said.
     "Which was... what?"
     Stark went over to the couch and sat down. With his physical build slight in comparison to Coleman, the two men made something of a study in contrasts. Stark, with his immaculate blonde hair, his slender nose, and his long arching fingers, had the air of the aristocrat about him, whereas Coleman was a barrel-chested figure---the burly type who could easily have passed for a longshoreman.
     Stark pulled a page from the folder on his lap. The reason he was late, he informed the President, was that he had been keeping an eye on the First Lady, as the President himself had suggested. "This is a list of the appointments she kept last week," Stark said. "It seems that she's been busy with---"
     Coleman shook his head. "That can wait," he said picking up the newspaper from his desk without looking at it. "What about this?" He tossed the paper back down and---without taking his eyes from Stark---resumed his pacing in front of the window.
     The lead story for the Washington Post that morning was a scantily-detailed piece on "Suspicious Chinese Activity across the Strait." Filed by a reporter in Taipei, the story claimed that China had been conducting a series of top-secret military experiments on Pingtan, an island off the coast of Fujian province, not far from where the Taiwan-held islands of Matsu and Quemoy were located. Supposedly the information came from an anonymous yet highly-placed official in the Taiwanese government. The informant claimed that Taiwan had learned that an advanced biological warfare program was being carried out on the island. The said "official" called upon the Taiwan president to demand that Beijing provide a full disclosure of the facts.
     So far nothing about the report had been confirmed. But Coleman could see trouble brewing; three years earlier he had endorsed the sale of 200 F-16N fighters to Taiwan, which their navy intended to use as land-based aggressor aircraft. The USS Eisenhower was due to deliver the first batch in just over a week. The last thing Coleman needed was a heightened state of tension between China and Taiwan at a time when a U.S. aircraft carrier was headed for the region. He had enough on his plate as it was trying to resolve the problem with Mexico.
     To his relief, Coleman discovered that Stark was taking it all very calmly. That was a good sign; usually Stark was the first person to sense when something was wrong. Instead, he merely shrugged at the news.
     "My advice, Mr. President, would be to leave the Pingtan matter for another day. At the moment, it's hearsay. I'd be more concerned about how Beijing is going to react when the Eisenhower docks at Hualien."
     Hualien was a Taiwanese port city facing into the Pacific Ocean. For three years Beijing had threatened to take action if Hualien accepted delivery of the F-16N Fighting Falcons. But their warnings had lacked the specificity necessary to command Washington's attention.
     The problem was that China considered Taiwan to be a rebel province, and not an independent nation which had split off from the mainland when the Communist Party took power in China after the second World War. By selling arms to Taiwan, the U.S. government appeared to be acknowledging Taiwan's status as an independent nation. It was exactly the sort of thing to send Beijing foaming at the mouth.
     "I don't see what all the fuss is about," Coleman said. "We've sold them planes before, haven't we?"
     And they had. Years before, the Bush administration had sold Taiwan 150 of almost the identical plane. If George Bush could get away with it, Coleman wondered aloud, then why couldn't he?
     "Well, Chief," Stark said. "For one thing, you're not Bush."
     Coleman looked at him. He didn't like the way that sounded.
     Stark quickly added, "Which is a good thing for the both of us, I assure you." He then proceeded to fiddle with his glasses and gaze distractedly at the folder on his lap.
     "I think it'll blow over..." Coleman said wishfully.
     By this time he had almost forgotten the story about Pingtan. Stark was probably right---if China really had developed a biological warfare program worthy of their consideration, then surely the CIA would have brought it to his attention by now.
     "Maybe," Stark said. He shrugged again. "Might even be that some clever bastard in the Kuomintang fabricated this Pingtan business as a way of keeping Beijing on the defensive while we slip in, make our delivery, and get out again before anyone notices we were there."
     The President stopped pacing.
     "That's good, Leon. I would never have thought of that. Can we check that, somehow?"
     "I can make inquiries."
     "Good." Suddenly Coleman felt a lot better. A red herring, he thought, that's brilliant. He wandered over to the window and stared out across the White House lawn. "Yes," he mumbled to himself. "That really could explain it, couldn't it?

                                                   *      *      *

Leon Stark wondered about the explanation he had just furnished the President. He had no idea whether there might be any truth to it. As he saw it, his job was to keep Coleman focused on what the current problems were. If some convenient interpretation was enough to dispel needless anxiety on the President's part, then he was more than happy to provide it. In fact, ninety percent of his job amounted to just being able to say the right thing at the right time---which was why he was hesitant now in bringing up the matter of Montoya.
     Stark cleared his throat: his signal that they needed to discuss something unpleasant. "Chief," he said. "I really think we should talk about this refugee problem."
     "Because anytime you have to declare an immigration state of emergency we have a definite problem on our hands. That's why."
     The President glared back at him. "I don't see why the governor of California can't handle it from here. I just gave him the services of the Navy and the Coast Guard, didn't I? If that's not enough, maybe he should have thought this thing through before he asked me to seal the border... Seems to me it's his problem now."
     "No. It isn't."
     "Why not? The problem's confined to California, isn't it? San Diego?"
     "That's not the issue. Enforcing the nation's boundary is what it sounds like---a national matter, it's not a state problem. That means it's up to you to resolve it."
     "What if we bring in the National Guard?"
     Stark took a deep breath; he wasn't getting his point across. "If the Navy can't stop them, what good will it do to bring in the National Guard?"
     Coleman seemed to realize the pointlessness of his suggestion and stared down at the floor. "Hmm..." he said. "Well, why can't we just send them back? How hard can that be?"
     "I've been thinking about that," Stark said. "Unfortunately we might have more of a problem than we realized."
     "Uh-huh... Why's that?"
     "Two words: humanitarian disaster."
     To Stark, there were clear parallels between what was happening now in San Diego and the great flood of refugees from Cuba in years past. This time they issued forth from the beaches of west Tijuana, Mexico. The U.S. Coast Guard had so far intercepted hundreds of wooden rowboats hastily fitted with outboard motors and crammed with hopefuls prepared to take a risk. But many of them never set foot in the United States. To the horror of U.S. authorities watching footage of the survivors being plucked from the sea, it had soon become apparent that Mexico was sending them its terminally ill. It was exactly the sort of dirty trick that Montoya was capable of, Stark thought.
     Now poorly constructed rafts made of rope and inner tubes were beginning to appear. Towed behind small dinghies with tiny whining outboards ill-suited to the task, they at least had been found. Stories were surfacing about unscrupulous dinghy operators who had cut rafts free when they had decided the current was too strong. For every raft that had been spotted, another had probably drifted out to sea. Who was supposed to take the responsibility for finding those? Stark wanted to know. "Us?"
     "I think," he went on, "that if they want to throw themselves like lemmings into the largest ocean in the world, then that's one thing. Expecting us to go out and rescue them is something else all together." Stark's voice was rising. He could feel his face getting warmer. "We simply don't have the resources for that type of operation," he told the President. "Nobody does. That's why we need to bring it to an end. Quickly."
     "And how do you propose we do that?"
     "We bring Montoya here. Offer her something in return for bringing an end to her exodus, as it were."
     The President's eyes narrowed. He looked down his nose at Stark. The man hated her. Naturally, he was completely unmoved by the idea.
     "I'm not offering her anything," he said adamantly. "It won't work. It's a waste of time."
     A waste of time. How many times had Stark heard his boss say that before? It was nothing but an excuse not to have to deal with her. Stark felt angry at himself for not having had the courage to point that out long ago. He had always despised his own cowardliness, and now he felt resentment toward the President for being reminded of it again.
     "I'm sorry, Chief," he said, surprising the both of them. "But you need to wake up here. You've got to face her. You can't go on treating her as though she were some dreadful dentist who's asked you to climb into her chair. You're the Chief Executive of the most powerful nation on earth. She's the one who should be trembling."
     The President stiffened visibly, and pulled at his trousers. But he dodged Stark's castigatory remarks. "Do you remember what that woman said about me?" he said looking thoroughly vexed.
     "No," Stark lied. "I don't recall." But he did. In fact it would have taken something of an effort not to recall what the president of Mexico had said, because she had gleefully repeated her remarks for the press on more than one occasion. She had taunted the President. But her real sin was to have referred to him as The Scarecrow---as in The Wizard of Oz. She was said to have danced for reporters with her hands tucked beneath her chin, singing, "If I only had a brain." The President had never forgot it.
     "She's way off base, Leon... Way off."
     "I agree. She's difficult. But that's largely why she's so popular at home."
     The President's neck craned forward. "Popular?" he said. "What about that fellow who fired a couple of shots at her last year? You think she was popular with him?"
     According to a report filed with the Policia Judicial Federal in Mexico City, a lone gunman had taken several shots at Montoya outside her home, before placing the barrel of the rifle beneath his chin and killing himself as presidential bodyguards closed in.
     "He missed," Stark said. "In which case it doesn't really matter what he thought of her. Besides, it appears he went there on his own. They found a bunch of letters on him going back a couple of years that he'd written her but never sent. A real nutcase by the sound of it."
     A gleam came into the President's eyes. "Oh, well," he said, coming over and plunking himself down across from Stark on the other side of the coffee table. "There's always next year, I suppose."
     Stark took a page from his folder and pushed it across the table. "All right. This is what I propose. We send Thornton to Mexico City to meet with her first. Now, before you say anything, I know it's not his job. But---"
     "Damn right it's not his job. He's the Secretary of Defense."
     "Yes, but he's dealt with her before."
     "So has Jeremy Williams." Williams was the Secretary of State. "Let him go."
     "Trust me. She gets on better with Thornton. They respect each other. Besides, there's also the matter of this shipping embargo of hers---"
     The President exhaled noisily. "Oh, he respects her, all right. To the point where I sometimes wonder whether he's still working for me, and not her. The only reason I haven't fired the bastard is because I enjoy watching him squirm like the rest of us."
     "The reason you haven't fired him is that he's going to save our asses. She's counting on it. It's why she's done everything in her power to keep the Monterrey facility operating at full throttle. She knows how badly we need those planes."

                                                   *      *      *

Those planes were the result of a limited production run of a highly advanced tactical fighter known as the F-22N Raptor, a navalized derivative of the Lockheed Martin-Boeing F-22A. As the newly-appointed Secretary of Defense six years earlier, Thornton had developed the idea for the aircraft as insurance against unforeseen delays in the procurement of the Pentagon's JAST strike fighter for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps of the twenty-first century. Were that to happen, the F-22N promised to at least revitalize the declining health of U.S. naval aviation.
     The Joint Advanced Strike Technology program had evolved in an era of tight budgetary restraint at the conclusion of the Cold War. The result was that instead of building a separate plane for each of its three armed forces, the Pentagon operating under Bill Clinton saw a chance to save money by declaring that all three versions would be interchangeable variations of one basic design.
     Supposedly the new Strike Fighter would replace the Navy's aging F-14 Tomcat and return U.S. naval aviation to its former glory. But from the outset it had been clear to Thornton that the competing interests of the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps would seriously compromise the Navy's version of the Strike Fighter. His concerns were echoed by the press when the final design for the plane was handed down. "Fiscal prudence," had decreed that the future Joint Strike Fighter, or JSF, would be a smaller aircraft than the F-14, and be powered by just one engine instead of the customary twin jets preferred by the Navy.
     While still Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet, Thornton testified before the House National Security subcommittee on military procurement, stating that the planned JSF was a false economy. At least where it concerned the Navy, he argued, a fleet possessing a small number of highly sophisticated aircraft, like the F-22N, could do a better job of warding off future wars than a larger number of less-equipped planes. But the General Accounting Office disagreed, pointing to the recent collapse of North Korea as evidence that the most important threats to world peace---those that had initiated development of the F-22 in the eighties---were rapidly disappearing.
     By the time the incoming President placed Thornton in charge of the military it was too late to fight the GAO decision; the JSF prototype had already been selected. Thornton's only option, it had seemed, was to back the program---which was precisely what the President expected of him.
     But Coleman was in for a surprise.
     Stark had been present when the Secretary of Defense showed up at the White House for his first meeting with the President. It was supposed to have been an informal luncheon, but Thornton never touched his food. Immediately, Stark had known that something was up. But the President rattled on happily for half an hour, never once looking up from his plate as he went over his abstract plans for revamping the national defense on a shoestring budget. Finally, as he was picking up his dessert spoon, he noticed Thornton's unfolded napkin sitting on the table beside a plate of cold sautéed veal chops and mushrooms.
     "Why aren't you eating? Is there something wrong with the food?"
     "I'm not hungry."
     The President had eyed the uneaten chops with moist lips. "Because I thought they tasted rather good..."
     "I'll tell you what," Thornton said without blinking. "Why don't I sell you mine."
     The President's chin dropped and he stared at his new Defense Secretary for several seconds. "All right," he said with a grin. "I'll play along. How much? How much to buy back my own veal chops?"
     "Fourteen billion dollars," Thornton told him calmly.
     The President's spoon bounced off the surface of the polished oak table.
     Stark frowned and pushed his glasses up on his nose. "All right," he said. "What's this about?"
     Thornton produced an uncirculated memo from the General Accounting Office stating that it was about to recommend a drastic slash in funding for the JSF, completely reversing its previous support for the program. "Based on our analysis of present threats to world peace," the GAO concluded, "the need for the JSF cannot be considered urgent." This time the withdrawal of U.S. troops from east Asia, and the subsequent closure of U.S. bases in the region, provided the justification for scaling back the program. Of the 2850 JSF aircraft initially planned to go into the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps, the GAO would recommend budgeting for only two-thirds that number---a saving, by their estimate, of roughly $70 billion.
     "It'll be a disaster," Thornton told the President.
     The principal contractor had bid on the JSF with the understanding that it would build nearly three thousand of them. This had justified the extraordinarily high cost of the development phase. Now they would be forced to pass on part of the cost to their subcontractors.
     "They'll lose hundreds of their outside suppliers. It just won't be profitable for them to stay the course. It'll set the program back years."
     "How many years?" Stark asked.
     "My guess?" Thornton said, spreading the fingers of one hand. "Five years."
     The President scratched uncomfortably at his forehead. "What if Congress doesn't approve the recommendation?"
     "They'll approve it," Thornton said confidently. "Given your proposed budget, what else can they do?"
     Thornton knew it would be a waste of time trying to persuade the President to fight the GAO recommendation. He would lose face not only with Congress, but the public who had recently elected him to office. Thornton's only concern was that the Navy should somehow be protected from the cuts---which was where the $14 billion came in. For only one fifth of the $70 billion saved by the GAO's cuts to the JSF program, Thornton claimed he could supply the Navy with 100 state-of-the-art F-14 replacements, and have the first plane delivered years before the first operational Strike Fighter took to the air---even if the five-year delay he predicted never took place.
     "That's quite a claim," Stark said.
     The President said, "What sort of plane?"
     Thornton unveiled his plan for a navalized air-to-air defender which he had been working on with a team of engineers from Lockheed Martin. He spread a blueprint on the table showing the plane from three different angles.
     "It's an F-22," Stark said.
     "A derivative. It looks like a Raptor but it's more like a new plane. Only it'll be built with existing technology. That's how it can be done so quickly. We can virtually do away with the development phase."
     "And who's going to build this thing? Lockheed?"
     "Yup." Thornton said he would get them to spinoff a subsidiary division so as not to interfere with the production schedule for the Air Force's new F-22A.
     "All I need," he told the President, "is your help to get it started."
     But things did not turn out the way Thornton had hoped. The President reluctantly persuaded Congress to earmark $7 billion dollars for the navy plane, not the $14 billion originally sought. It would be enough to pay for only half of the 100 planes Thornton had planned on. It wasn't enough, and it would hardly be worth the effort for Lockheed Martin to get involved. But then Thornton had come up with a revolutionary plan to get more for both his and Lockheed Martin's dollar. They would capitalize on the new Mexican President's privatization incentives to bring business south of the border. Thornton had correctly surmised that Camilla Montoya would bend over backwards to get an aerospace industry started in her country. And for Lockheed Martin it represented a way to increase their access to the Latin defense market without having to build a base far from home. By squeezing substantial business subsidies out of Montoya, Thornton expected to get a total of sixty Raptors out of the deal---ten more than he could have by staying at home. At the time it had seemed a win-win situation for all concerned.

                                                   *      *      *

Six years later and Thornton's plan to give the Navy a "silver bullet" had blown up in their faces.
     He had got his production plant in Mexico, all right. It was based in Monterrey. The company was called The Rapaz Corporation. But only five aircraft had been delivered to the Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia when Camilla Montoya slapped on a shipping embargo in response to Coleman's closure of the border. Now she wouldn't permit anything to leave the assembly plant that couldn't be carried out in a suitcase. Nevertheless, production of the F-22N had continued unabated. In fact, she had encouraged it, knowing full well that by doing so she was upping the ante. The more planes sitting idle in Mexican hangars ready to go, the greater her chances of twisting the President's arm into reopening the border.
     It was a clever strategy; with the JAST program far behind schedule Thornton could not afford to shut the plant down. With every passing day the Raptor looked increasingly like the Navy's only salvation. In the meantime, American test pilots flew the new planes in and out of an airfield adjacent to the Monterrey plant, putting them through their paces with less than 800 liters of fuel on board, lest a cocky pilot be tempted to try his luck getting one across the border.
     "If we act fast," Stark said, "we can have Thornton meet her in a couple of days to get things started. I'll talk to him. Make sure he conveys the idea that we're serious about resolving this San Diego business."
     "I told you. I'm not offering her anything."
     "You might want to reconsider that."
     "Damn it, Leon. I'm not opening that border!"
     "All right. All right. The border's out."
     Stark slouched back on the couch wondering what else they might offer Montoya for her cooperation. What else? What are we in a position to give her that she doesn't already have? Surely there must be something...
     Then it came to him. "Wait a minute," he whispered. "There is something."
     The President looked skeptical.
     "Actually, this should interest you." Stark opened the folder on the coffee table. "As I meant to discuss earlier, I've been keeping an eye on the First Lady---as you requested."
     For several weeks now the President had been concerned that his wife, Hazel, was taking an unusual interest in the running of the west wing. He thought it was odd, and he told Stark. Coleman said that he was developing a growing suspicion that she was hiding something from him. It had bothered him enough to ask Stark to quietly look into it.
     "Have I got something to be worried about?" the President asked.
     "On the contrary. She may have provided the break we're looking for."
     After making a few discrete inquiries, Stark had learned that the First Lady had spent most of her time probing the members of her husband's advisory council on HIV/AIDS, seeking information on the latest treatments. Slightly alarmed at this development, Stark then discovered that she had traveled on three separate occasions to the headquarters of the Food and Drug Administration in Rockville, twenty-five kilometers away.
     "So I drove out there myself to see what was going on."
     "Well at first nobody wanted to talk to me. Including the commissioner. I had to rap on his door several minutes before he would open it. Then he tried to tell me she was never there. But I tell him I know he's lying to me, and that you sent me personally, and if I have to go back and report that he's covering something up... So he talks. Apparently she somehow found out that they were investigating a very promising new drug to treat AIDS. Actually, the impression I got from listening to him was that they might have found a cure."
     The President sat forward on the couch. "You mean, like a vaccine?"
     "No. An actual cure. Some sort of pill they've come up with. According to him, the preliminary testing by the manufacturer has been spectacular. So good in fact that it looks like the FDA is going to short-circuit the normal three-stage clinical trial period. They're going to approve the drug based on the manufacturer's tests alone."
     "Really... What's this got to do with Hazel?"
     "It appears she persuaded them to issue the approval."
     The President looked appalled at this. He stood up and started pacing in a circle about the two couches. "Without testing it?" he said. "On what grounds?"
     "On humanitarian grounds," Stark said. "Clearly, if this is the drug they claim it is, the FDA's going to score points for getting it to market smartly. Approving it now could save thousands of lives. Of course, you can bet they'll retract the approval if later tests contradict the evidence of the manufacturer."
     "Who's the manufacturer?"
     "Ah, the name of the company is... let's see... " Stark consulted his notes. "Here it is. Imtech. Actually they're a small vaccine distributor. Not a pharmaceutical at all. They contract mainly with the military. Big on influenza vaccines. Not the sort of place you'd expect a breakthrough like this to emerge from. Very much the dark horse by any standard."
     "Yes. All very fascinating, Leon. Only, what I really want to know is where my wife thinks she's going with all this. Any idea?"
     "You'd have to ask her that, Chief. But I think we'd be unwise to look a gift horse in the mouth, if you see my meaning. If this is a cure... Or for that matter, even if it isn't, I think we might have something to offer our Mexican friend."
     "What are you suggesting? A sort of swap?"
     "A gesture of good will. Think about it. We know the Mexican health system has been floundering for years. Montoya promised she'd put it back on track after she was elected. But it hasn't happened; it's been her one major failing. Now she's trying to turn that weakness against us by flooding our beaches with the wretched cases she can't cope with back home... The Coast Guard in San Diego has estimated that two-thirds of the rafters they've picked up have terminal AIDS. That's why we're headed for a disaster. If we send them home we're condemning them to death. If we keep them here they'll probably die anyway, because most are too far gone to help. Either way, we lose unless she calls this thing off... So, we give her an incentive---we promise her virtually unlimited access to this new drug. Make it dirt cheap. Now, doesn't that have to be worth something to her?"
     "You know, that's not a bad idea," the President said. "Not bad at all."
     "There's just one problem," Stark said. "I don't see Imtech simply handing the drug over to us to give away for free." He tried to look as if they had just lost the only chance of resolving their problems with Montoya. "On the other hand, they are still waiting to have their drug patent approved..."
     For a few seconds neither man said anything. Stark put his hands in his pockets and kicked gingerly at the leg of the coffee table while he waited for his boss to mull the idea.
     "You want us to lean on them," the President said bluntly.
     Stark backpedaled. "No... No... I wouldn't say that, exactly. Encourage is the word I'd use. We'd encourage them. That's all."
     The President pursed his lips. His head rocked gently back and forward as he feigned a gesture of complete innocence. Both of them understood perfectly well that whatever plan Stark hatched to gain Imtech's compliance would never again be mentioned by either of them. As long as it did the job, and the President himself remained untouched by it, well, that was all that mattered in the end.
     "Certainly nothing wrong with encouraging someone to do the right thing," the President said. He spoke as if an entire room full of people were present. "Especially when the lives of a great number of people may be at stake. Even if they may not be Americans... By God, what could be wrong with that, huh?"
     "Nothing at all, sir."
     The President nodded. "By the book, Leon. As close as you can get it. You hear me?"
     "Yes sir, Mr. President," Stark said bending to gather his papers. "By the book it is."




After stowing his suitcase in the trunk, Richard Kirby backed his car out of the garage at 8:20. From the road he waved goodbye to his wife and kids, and headed off to Imtech, located in the Coronado Beach area on the west side of San Diego Bay.
     Kirby was driving from the Otay Lakes region of southeast San Diego, where he and Cassie had decided to settle after moving from Massachusetts. They had been drawn to the area because of its remoteness from the city. The car he was driving today was what Cassie called the "Smokemobile." It was a fourteen-year-old Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme which Kirby had abused from the day he bought it secondhand from a dealer. In all that time he had never once willingly looked under the hood. Their new Buick Regal remained at home to shuttle Cassie back and forth from the Medical Center.
     At 8:35 Kirby turned off the I-5 and headed up toward the Bay Bridge linking Coronado and downtown San Diego. As he pulled onto the bridge a large black Chevrolet pickup passed him on the outside lane. In the back of it were piled about two dozen enormous pumpkins. They caught his eye because a severe drought in the mid-west that summer had resulted in something of a pumpkin shortage. Kirby found himself staring at the ones on the pickup because Halloween was only a week away, and he had promised Cassie that he would find one for the front porch.
     The pumpkins in the truck blazed bright orange in the morning sun, rippling as they raced through the shadows of a spoked fence. Finally Kirby had to look away. The rapidly alternating pattern of light and dark was giving him a mild case of nausea. He closed his eyes momentarily, then looked over at the fence that had caused the problem. It was new, he had been told, a suicide prevention barrier that spanned both sides of the bridge and seemed out of place in the sunny San Diego landscape.
     By the time Kirby came off the bridge the truck and its pumpkins had disappeared in the traffic. Five minutes later he was at the Imtech front gate. He waved at Nohl Patterson, the guard who operated the gate from a small booth. Patterson should have been familiar with Kirby's face by now, but still he came out of his booth. Not again, Kirby thought.
     Nohl Patterson came over and tapped on the glass. Kirby lowered the window.
     "Where's your pass, sonny? No one gets by me without a pass."
     Kirby pulled at the ID badge on his chest.
     "Richard Kirby," he said loudly. "I work on the second floor. Remember?"
     Patterson frowned. "You're the MIT fella."
     "Was," Kirby replied.
     "Hmph. Guess I should have recognized the car." Patterson stepped back and opened the gate, waving him through.
     Kirby thought it unnecessary to have a guard posted at the gate. After all, it was only a biotech company, not a restricted military zone like other places in the immediate neighborhood. But the general state of heightened alert in the Coronado area seemed to have rubbed off on Rosen. Just across Imtech's west fence was the North Island Naval Air Station. In the opposite direction, three kilometers southeast on Silver Strand Boulevard, was the Naval Amphibious Base. In fact, the entire area surrounding San Diego Bay seemed to be dedicated to the U.S. Navy.
     Kirby headed up the drive. Unlike the low-slung sprawl characterizing the naval architecture around it, the Imtech building was an elegant five-story structure which looked out over the Pacific Ocean. It resembled more a luxury hotel than an industrial research institution. Directly beneath the main entrance was a small turnabout driveway for visitors. Kirby continued past it, going around the right side of the building to the employee parking lot. Beyond the lot, a green expanse of well-tended buffalo grass stretched away to the south fence, separating the Imtech grounds from the beach. Somebody on the grass was walking back to the building when Kirby pulled up.
     He recognized the hulking figure as Eugene Anders, the division manager in charge of influenza research and prevention. Anders came over. As was usual for that time of morning, he had a discus in each hand.
     "How's my protégé?" Anders bellowed.
     Kirby grabbed his briefcase and climbed out of the car, swinging the door shut behind him. "I swear, one of these days you're going to kill someone with those things."
     Anders looked back toward the beach where a couple of beachcombers could be seen raking through the sand in the distance. "I'm good," he said. "But I'm not that good."
     Anders did not conform to the popular image of a scientist. He was tall---slightly higher than two meters---and carried around 130 kilograms of lean muscle mass. He looked formidable, and yet he was one of the most easygoing people Kirby had ever met. And one of the smartest. Anders had been teaching Kirby how to throw the discus. Once or twice a week in the afternoons he would coach Kirby out on the grass.
     "Aren't you supposed to be in Geneva?"
     "Final pit stop," Kirby said as he headed away across the parking lot. "FDA's sent someone out to meet with us."
     Anders stopped. "Already?"
     "Yup," Kirby said glancing at his watch. "And I'm late. See you when I get back."

                                                   *      *      *

On reaching the building Kirby climbed a short flight of stairs to the lobby's rear entrance. Two glass doors slid apart as he approached. The automated doors, of course, were much more than a mere convenience. As a biotech company Imtech was by definition a biological facility. Research was typically carried out inside sterilized rooms supplied by superheated air cooled to a comfortable seventy-two degrees Fahrenheit. The air was continuously monitored for microbes. For an Imtech employee to touch a commonly shared door handle, with its high bacterial count, was to risk contamination of the work environment every time they entered the lab. With self-activating doors throughout the building this problem had been virtually eliminated.
     Kirby went through to the lobby. He saw Rosen on the far side of the reception area. Two other people were with him. One was Thomas McCormick, the chief executive officer of Imtech, and Rosen's right hand man. Identifying McCormick was easy, even from a distance; he always wore blue. Besides that his bald head was reflecting light from the large overhead windows at either end of the lobby. But Kirby could not place the other man.
     The group stood in the middle of the marble floor, looking up at the Imtech logo adorning the northwest wall of the lobby. It was a gigantic reproduction of Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man, a mosaic constructed not of ceramic tiles, but millions of thumbnail-sized LCDs. To the casual observer it appeared to be nothing more than electronic art. But in fact it had been designed with a higher purpose in mind.
     Rosen had spotted Kirby and was waving him over; he hurried across the floor towards them. The stranger, a man of about sixty whom Kirby guessed to be with the FDA, was holding a small swab of cotton wool to his left ear lobe.
     "Richard. I'd like to introduce you to Marty Chapman. Marty's with the FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Review. He's chairman of the panel evaluating TPL. He's got some amazing news for us."
     "Amazingly good, I hope," Kirby said shaking Chapman's hand. "You've come all the way across the country?"
     "Straight from D.C." Chapman took his hand back and massaged it. "That's quite a grip you've got there."
     "Sorry... I didn't realize."
     Kirby watched as Chapman loosened the fingers of his hand, and he was puzzled. He had barely squeezed Chapman's hand at all.
     Chapman smiled. "Of course," he said, "having a touch of arthritis doesn't help either."
     "He's got news about the announcement," McCormick said.
     McCormick sounded as though he had a cold. His nose was red and he was sniffling.
     Chapman turned back to the da Vinci figure on the wall. "Actually Dan was just explaining to me how your RD device works. I'm really impressed." He took the cotton batting away from his ear lobe, revealing a tiny red puncture wound in the skin.
     RD stood for "rapid diagnosis," and in this case referred to a self-administered medical exam which could be taken right there in the lobby. This involved the use of a miniature biological assay station located at the left foot of the Vitruvian figure, where human blood and saliva samples could be rapidly screened for the presence of viral markers. The system was known as ADVISE, for Advanced Viral Infection Sensing Equipment, which Rosen took great pride in using to entertain his more important visitors. And in truth, despite looking from a distance a lot like a stainless steel drinking fountain, it really was a remarkably sophisticated medical tool.
     Chapman asked Rosen how long it would be before he got the results. "If you find anything other than my arthritis which I should be worried about," he added jokingly, "at least I'll know to change my physician, huh?"
     "Should have a printout in your hand before you leave the building."
     Chapman smiled again and crossed his fingers.
     "Why don't we go upstairs?" Rosen said, holding his arm toward the elevator.
     As they crossed the floor Kirby mentioned to Chapman that they hadn't really been expecting to hear from the FDA for another four to six months. Not until the drug was approved for limited distribution. "So you've got me at something of an advantage here..."
     "You're thinking there must be some other reason I'm here, because there's no free candy when it comes to the FDA, right?"
     "Halloween is just around the corner, Mr. Kirby," Chapman said. "Don't tell me you're too grown up to believe in the Great Pumpkin." He gave Kirby a broad smile. "There's free candy, Mr. Kirby. You've just got to know where to look for it. That's all."
     Kirby was stunned. "Huh?... You've got to be kidding me." His eyes darted from Chapman to Rosen and McCormick as they reached the elevator. "No way. You're going to approve---"
     Rosen cut him off. "Let's wait until we're upstairs, OK?"
     "It's only been a month," Kirby said in amazement.
     The suggestion was that Chapman had come to give them news of the FDA's early approval of Triphylactin. But as confident as Kirby was about TPL, still, he could not imagine the circumstances that might bring the chairman of their FDA advisory panel clear across the country so early in the game.
     McCormick called down the elevator by inserting an electronic keycard into a slot on the wall. It was another example of Rosen's overall strategy to maintain the strictest standards of cleanliness inside the building: no one was required to press a dirty elevator button.
     Chapman turned to Rosen while they waited. "Imtech's not what I expected, Dan."
     "How's that?"
     "For one thing, we don't use keycards in D.C. At least, not in the Food and Drug Administration. I'm kind of surprised to see it here. Why the high security?"
     Kirby was about to point out that the uninvited guests Rosen was really concerned about belonged to the microbial world, not the human one. But before he could speak, Rosen jumped to his own defense. What he had to say surprised even his own chief geneticist.
     "Well Marty, I've always believed in erring on the side of caution," Rosen declared. "You're wondering, Why bother with the added expense of security when all you see is a vaccine company? Right? Admittedly, Imtech may be state-of-the-art, but essentially that's what we are---a manufacturer of vaccines."
     "With the obvious exception of---"
     "With the exception of Richard's work. Precisely. And believe me, this is a piece of work that's going to turn the field of chemotherapy upside down. I'm telling you, it's going to be as important to medicine at large as the invention of the integrated circuit was to the emergence of the computer age." Rosen had gone into his "sell mode," which he normally reserved for visiting business associates. "But Marty, that's just the beginning of it," he went on. "We're literally at the threshold of a revolution in the way the health sciences rank the field of virology. A revolution. Instead of just dabbling with ways to keep the viral world at bay like we do now, we're going to see biotechnology transform the field of virology into an application-based industry."
     "A billion-dollar industry," McCormick emphasized.
     "When that happens," Rosen said, "companies like Imtech will suddenly find themselves in possession of a set of enormously valuable technologies. That's when the same criminal element currently siphoning billions from the pockets of the computer industry will come knocking at our door." Rosen tapped the card reader as though it stood sentry over the building. "It'll happen. When it does, we'll be ready for it."
     "Wow," Kirby said. "Sounds like we're ready for it now."
     They all looked at him. A moment later the bell chimed, announcing the arrival of the elevator.
     It was strange, Kirby thought. Rosen sounded as though he'd given that speech a dozen times before. Yet it was the first time Kirby had heard it. Not that he had any reason to dispute Rosen's claims---if there was one thing that could be said for the man, it was that he had a knack both for divining future trends in the biotechnology sector and capitalizing on them.
     Such was Rosen's reputation, in fact, that the year before Fortune magazine had elected him to its Hall of Fame. An article appeared, along with a picture taken in the fifth floor conference room. It showed him standing side-on before a square floor-to-ceiling window which framed the blue Pacific Ocean. The caption beneath it read, "Biochemist or alchemist? Daniel Rosen transformed Merck's vaccine division into pure gold, then left it to start up Immunological Technologies in San Diego." Rosen had later cut the photo directly from the magazine and framed it in his office.
     "Elevator to level five," McCormick said, still sniffling.
     Immediately the elevator started up.
     "It's based on voice-recognition software," he said pointing to console with a built-in microphone. "We had it custom-tailored by Microsoft. It'll tolerate a mild cold, but if it can't match your signature with an employee in the database it'll just sit there."
     "It's all part of the security package," Rosen explained to Chapman. "Nobody gets beyond the lobby unless they're accompanied by someone who works here."
     "This place is like something out of a seventies sci-fi movie," Chapman said. "Microsoft, huh?"
     "That's what I mean. We're in the same position now with regard to the virotechnology market as Microsoft was twenty-five years ago when it sparked the software revolution."
     Rosen patted Chapman on the back.
     "Don't worry. It's nothing spooky. I'm referring to the science we'll end up with when the fields of biotechnology and virology finally come together. TPL, of course, is a good example of what you can expect from it. But compared with what will follow, it's peanuts." The elevator stopped at the fifth floor and Rosen faced the door. "No," he emphasized. "This drug's only the tip of the iceberg."


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