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Chapter Two of Ninth Day of Creation

Copyright Leonard Crane, 1998. All rights reserved.

( Prints to approx 24 pages )

The complete novel can be obtained from



Rosen led them along the hall to the conference room. It was the place he often took prospective customers and VIPs to talk, not only because it afforded a view of the ocean and was soundproofed, but because it was where he kept part of his collection of rare snowglobes. They sat on display in a cabinet. He prided himself on their rarity, and he never let anyone touch them. But whenever he could, he loved to show them off.
     Today, however, Rosen ignored the showcase and led the group around the conference table to the window, where they stopped to look out over the water. A few sea birds hovered on a breeze high above the lawn.
     "We'd like you to announce the approval this weekend," Chapman said. "At the World Health Assembly."
     Rosen was grinning like a kid. The WHO conference he and Kirby would be attending was more a meeting of international players in the high-stakes battle for control over HIV, the virus that caused AIDS. Many of Rosen's old friends and colleagues from Merck, all of whom had since become competitors, would be there. Even before news of the approval, he had been looking forward to their unveiling of Triphylactin. Now he was really going to be able to stick it to the competition.
     But Kirby was confused. They all seemed to have overlooked an important consideration.
     "Wait a minute," he said. "I'm missing something here. What happened to the new testing phase?"
     "It's OK, Richard," Rosen replied. "We've settled on an arrangement which we think will be suitable for all parties involved." He smiled at Chapman. "Very fair, I'd say."
     What arrangement? Kirby wondered. Also, it struck him as odd that Rosen had referred to the FDA and Imtech as "all parties." Didn't he mean both parties?
     "In return for your cooperation now," Chapman told Kirby, "the Food and Drug Administration is prepared to grant approval of TPL on the basis of preliminary testing alone. Based on the results you've supplied us, we don't see any reason to wait. We want to help you save lives now, not six months from now. Therefore, in return for a share of the credit in bringing this product to market, what we're prepared to do---"
     "Hold on. A share of the credit? How exactly does the FDA gain a share of the credit by simply approving a product with a perfect safety record?" Kirby shook his head. What were they trying to tell him?
     McCormick was standing with his back to the window, leaning against the glass. "Well," he said, folding his arms across his chest. "It wouldn't exactly be the FDA, Richard."
     Kirby did not like McCormick. For a CEO of a biotech company he offered remarkably few suggestions about how to implement Rosen's ideas. When he did speak, it often sounded as though he was repeating something he had heard before, usually from Rosen. Kirby found it difficult to understand why Rosen had hired him. Yet ironically, despite McCormick's shortcomings, Rosen behaved as though the man was integral to every move he made. It was like a blind spot he had.
     "It seems," Rosen continued, "that someone in the White House has expressed an interest in the company."
     "The White House?"
     "That's right," Chapman said. "The First Lady, in fact. Evidently she thinks very highly of the work being carried out here. And if she'd like to see you do well, then so would we."
     "I don't get it. Why would she be interested in how well we do? I mean, Why us? There's a hundred other companies out there doing similar---"
     "Like I said," Chapman cut in. "The arrangement would be contingent upon a small share of the credit. You just happen to be coming to market at the right time. Or will be."
     Kirby was still trying to understand where Chapman was coming from. He could see how a good word in the President's ear could benefit the Food and Drug Administration. But what was in it for the First Lady?
     "What does she get out of it?" he asked.
     Chapman shrugged. "From what I gather," he said, "Hazel Coleman thinks a close working relationship between herself and your company could indirectly generate a lot of good publicity for her husband right now. But she wasn't about to associate him with just anyone. She wanted the best, and you're what she came up with."
     "Imtech," Kirby said thinking aloud.
     "No. You. Richard J. Kirby. The guy who developed the AIDS cure."
     Kirby gave a nervous laugh. He glanced at Rosen who affirmed Chapman's suggestion with a nod. "You've got to be kidding me," Kirby said. "What are you talking about?"
     McCormick laughed. "He's talking about you, dummo."
     "You're going to be a public hero, Dr. Kirby," Chapman said with a smile. "A real celebrity. The First Lady knows that, and so should you. She just wants to come along for the ride... I'm sure I don't have to spell out how cooperating in this matter could really open doors for you. Certainly I don't think anyone invited to dine at the White House ever regretted the opportunity."
     "No arguments here," Rosen said. "What do you say, Richard? Are you ready to be the Wonder Boy?"
     Kirby was trying to take it all in. Sure, he had thought about the possibility of fame before. But beyond having his face splashed across the national publications and being touted as the next scientific genius, what did it really mean? After all, who was going to want to know about the science, as opposed to where Kirby shopped for food, or what movies he liked? Where was the entertainment value in his research? Achieving an understanding of how a successful AIDS cure worked might have seemed like the Superbowl of medicine to him, but as a news story in America it was never going to beat out a good game of football. Because of that, Kirby wasn't sure how he should feel.
     And something else was bugging him. Something Chapman hadn't elaborated on.
     "Actually," Kirby said, "I'm not clear on the nature of this close working relationship you mentioned. The one between the President's wife and the company? What did you mean by that, exactly?"
     Rosen looked sharply at his watch.
     "Marty," he said. "I think we can wrap up the details over coffee. If I could have a moment alone with Richard, and meet you in my office in, oh... fifteen minutes? Thomas here will look after you."
     McCormick tried to show Chapman toward the door.
     "I'm happy to have met you, Richard," Chapman said reaching over to shake Kirby's hand. "Good luck in Geneva."

                                                   *      *      *

When they were alone, Kirby turned to Rosen.
     "What's going on?"
     Rosen sat down at the head of the conference table and tucked his hands behind his head. He stared directly at Kirby. "Would you say I've treated you well over the years? Given you free reign over the direction of your research?"
     "Of course. You know you have."
     In fact they were both acutely aware of it, because their early working relationship had for many years been atypical of the way the commercial and academic worlds normally interacted. Rosen had been the director of Merck's vaccine division the year the company offered a summer scholarship to a promising twenty-two year old organic chemistry student from the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research. By that fall, Rosen and his new protégé had hatched a revolutionary plan to target disease at the level of the gene. With Rosen's personal support Kirby had continued his studies at the Institute well beyond the duration of his initial three-year fellowship. In fact, he had generously financed Kirby's work for ten years.
     "On Sunday," Rosen said, "I want you to get up there on the podium and tell the world what you've done. Just like we planned. Only now we sweeten the pie with news of FDA approval. However, before I introduce you, I'll be acknowledging Hazel Coleman's contribution as the anonymous sponsor who financed your work at Whitehead. And at the conclusion of your talk, you will also acknowledge your thanks to her."
     Kirby couldn't believe what he was hearing.
     "It's a lie."
     "Who's to say? It was my money, Richard. If I choose to say it came from the First Lady, then that's my business, OK?"
     Kirby didn't reply. He wanted to tell Rosen he couldn't do that. But he knew it wasn't up to him. It had already been decided. He turned away and stared out at the water, feeling greatly disappointed with the way things were shaping up.
     "Listen," Rosen said. "I know you might not always agree with the way I do business, but that's my concern. Not yours. Fact is, this arrangement will work out nicely for a lot of people. You included. And it's not like we're shortchanging anyone with this. Not a bit. We're getting a valuable product to the consumer the fastest way we can. To be honest, considering the number of lives at stake, I'd have thought you'd be a little more excited about the whole thing. That's what we're supposed to be doing, right? Saving lives?"
     "I just don't think lying is a good idea."
     "But you'll do it."
     "I'd prefer not to."
     Rosen got up and put his hands either side of Kirby's shoulders. "I knew you wouldn't let me down," he said.

                                                   *      *      *

Kirby left the conference room feeling robbed. It should have been a triumphant moment for him, but it didn't feel that way. On his way to the elevator he thought about what Rosen had told Chapman---how he expected that Imtech would eventually dominate the biomedical industry the way Microsoft had cornered the software market in its day. In getting Microsoft to the top, Bill Gates had demonstrated time and again the importance of using ruthlessness and cunning in every important move he made. Considering the result of the meeting, it struck Kirby that maybe there was a little more of the Gates persona in Daniel Rosen than he'd so far given him credit. He wondered what else he might have missed.
     By the time the elevator arrived he had decided to call Cassie from his office. Maybe hearing her voice again would cheer him up.
     "Elevator to level six," Kirby said, knowing there was no such floor as he stepped inside.
     "Floor levels are restricted from One to Five, plus Ground and Basement," a soothing female voice told him. "Please select among these for your destination, Dr. Kirby."
     Chapman had been right. It was like something out of a sci-fi movie.




Level Two looked much like any other work space in which the practice of biology and chemistry merged---except perhaps on the beach side, which offered a spectacular view of the ocean.
     The personnel offices were positioned around the outside of the floor. They were fitted with extra large windows, the most highly-prized offices looking southwest, over the Pacific. As Division Manager of Genetic Therapies, Kirby had accordingly inherited the large and well-lit corner office with the panoramic view. It was located at the southern-most part of the floor, three stories directly beneath Rosen's office.
     Then there were the laboratories at the center of the floor, separated from the offices by a square-shaped hallway. These provided the common working space for the primary research arm of the company. If Rosen was right, some of the most important advances for gene therapy in the twenty-first century would emerge directly from these laboratories.
     It was 9:07 when Kirby stepped out onto Level Two. Not surprisingly, most of the offices were empty, since the real work took place across the hall. Only infrequently would someone be seen scurrying out of one room or another carrying a photographic plate or a missing piece of equipment that had jumped between labs.
     Going down the hall, Kirby heard footsteps behind him. He turned to see Karl Schiller making his way toward him. Karl was a research fellow from Konstanz whose heavy German accent was all that marred an otherwise perfect command of the English language. Kirby wondered if Karl or anyone else had heard the news.
     "Dr. Kirby, could I speak to you for a moment?"
     "Sure. I've got a couple of minutes. What's up?"
     "We've lost our Taq supply."
     The Taq Schiller spoke of was like a biological Xerox machine which was used in the lab to make lots of copies of a single gene. Because the enzyme had evolved inside a bacterium which lived in hot springs, it survived the heating cycle used to separate the double-helical structure of a DNA gene into its two complementary strands. Both would then be separately rebuilt by the Taq, doubling the number of genes with every cycle. The polymerase was normally carried in plentiful supply in every laboratory where genetic engineering was carried out.
     "What do you mean by lost?" Kirby asked.
     "Somebody under-stocked again," Schiller said.
     Kirby gathered the "somebody" was Mitch Boehlert, the storeman responsible for ordering supplies. Boehlert was a jovial character who was fond of telling stories about the great figures in American science for whom he had worked over the years. But lately his performance on the job had been slipping. Rumor had it that he'd come into work one day smelling of liquor. But if Boehlert had a drinking problem it had so far escaped Kirby's attention. He was seventy-two years old; more than likely his poor performance was just old age catching up on him.
     "You spoke to Mitch?" Kirby asked.
     Schiller frowned. "He says he put the purchase order in last month, and that it's the distributor's fault. But I checked with Applied Biosystems this morning. They never received it."
     "Can't they Fed-Ex us some?"
     "Backlogged," Schiller fumed. "One week, minimum."
     "What about another supplier?"
     Schiller shook his head. "If we go anywhere else the startup time will kill us. And I'm half way through the experiment now!" He patted his pockets for cigarettes. But to light up he would have to leave the building---so he folded his arms instead.
     Kirby decided not to mention anything about the announcement. The news could wait. Besides, Schiller's mind was elsewhere. "You can use Klenow," Kirby told him. "It's not thermostable like Taq, but it's much cheaper, so you can use as much as you need. It's what they used before Taq was discovered."
     Klenow was also a polymerase.
     "You mean I have to replace it every time it goes through the heat cycle?" Schiller's face had a look of horror on it.
     "Pretend you're a pioneer, Karl."
     Schiller didn't seem to know whether to thank Kirby for this new information. But he did, turning about and going off in the direction from which he had come.
     Kirby made a mental note to follow up on Boehlert. He would go see him before he left. But first he wanted to phone Cassie.

                                                   *      *      *

The door to Kirby's office slid open as he approached. Inside, he stopped at his desk and picked up the phone. He dialed his home number and then scanned the room while he waited. On one of the inner walls was a large black-and-white poster of Linus Pauling, winner of the 1954 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Pauling was shown holding up a 3-D model of the alpha-helix, his famous guess as to the molecular structure of a well-known class of proteins. It turned out he had guessed right. Pauling had always been Kirby's idea of the Great Scientist. The only other thing on the wall was a map of Mexico which had been there when he moved in.
     Cassie picked up the phone.
     "The FDA is going to approve us now," he told her.
     "What happened?"
     "It's a long story. I'll tell you about it when I get back."
     "Oh, Richard," she said. "That's fantastic! I'm so proud of you!"
     Kirby thought about the business with the First Lady, and how he was expected to bend the truth in Geneva. He didn't feel so proud about his involvement in that.
     "Ah... Yeah," he said. "It's good news." He found it difficult to feel enthusiastic, but at the same time he didn't want to spoil it for her by revealing the whole story. Still, trying to keep things from Cassie wasn't easy for him. He had never had to do it before.
     "What's wrong?" she said.
     "It nothing... It's just that it could get pretty hectic over there this weekend. When the press finds out, I mean... Cass? If anyone comes to the door looking for a statement, just tell them to wait until I get back. OK? Don't tell them a thing."
     "You really think they'd come here?"
     Kirby hesitated.
     "Rosen's going to get up there and say Triphylactin was a White House-funded project."
     "What?... That's not true, is it?"
     "Of course not. It's a publicity scam. But I'm not sure what I can do about it."
     "How's that going to affect your presentation?"
     "Hopefully it won't." Kirby told her that Rosen was going to be doing all the talking---but he really hadn't thought it all the way through yet.
     "Whatever you do," she told him, "I'm sure it'll be the right thing."
     "I hope so..."
     "Listen," she said. "Before you go. I spoke with somebody over at the Naval Air Station."
     "Next door? Already?"
     Cassie said she had arranged to go there Monday to lend a hand. "They're short of doctors," she reminded him. But Kirby still had doubts. Besides, he pointed out, her training was in pediatrics: she wasn't a general practitioner.
     "You're underestimating me," she told him. "At the very least I can translate, can't I?"
     She was right, he thought. He was being too protective of her.
     "Maybe I'll go over there with you."
     "I'm sure Dan would be delighted with that," she said sarcastically.
     "Believe me," he assured her. "After this weekend he'll owe me."




After Kirby said goodbye to his wife, he remembered that he had wanted to speak with the store man. Leaving his office, Kirby wandered down to the storeroom where Boehlert had a desk. But Boehlert was not there.
     Kirby started back for his office, but paused when he heard a woman's voice---an unfamiliar voice---coming from a room down the hallway. She seemed to be speaking French---cursing by the sound of it. Walking down to her room, he saw a young woman inside perched over a computer screen. She looked up sharply at him when he stopped outside her door. When he saw the expression on her face Kirby felt like he had been caught spying.
     "Sorry," he said. "I heard you from a couple of doors down. Can I come in?"
     She nodded.
     "I'm Richard Kirby," he said stepping into her office. "And I have a feeling that I should know you, right?" Kirby wasn't sure why he hadn't met her before.
     "You should," she said evenly. "You're my boss."
     He tried not to look surprised at her remark.
     "I guess I don't come in so often these days..." she added casually. "I've been avoiding you."
     "Uh huh." Kirby didn't know what to make of her.
     "My name's Catherine." The name plate on her door read: Catherine Debreu. Research Fellow from the Pasteur Institute in France.
     "Well," Kirby said. "Now that we've met, perhaps you could come see me sometime. I'm busy till Tuesday, but---"
     "Oh, right. The WHO conference thing. Congratulations."
     "...Yeah. Thanks."
     There was no mistaking Debreu's touchiness. Kirby wondered whether it was just a case of French sang-froid, or if maybe something else altogether was the cause of it. Then he noticed the columns of numbers stretching across the screen of her workstation. "What's this?"

0x000003c0 61 6e 64 20 49 20 53 54 49 4c 4c 20 66 65 65 6c
0x000003d0 20 74 68 65 20 73 61 6d 65 20 77 61 79 2e 20 52
0x000003e0 6f 73 65 6e 20 73 68 6f 75 6c 64 20 6e 65 76 65
0x000003f0 72 20 68 61 76 65 20 70 69 63 6b 65 64 20 6d 65
0x00000400 20 74 6f 20 67 6f 0a 74 6f 20 4a 75 6e 65 61 75
0x00000410 20 69 6e 20 74 68 65 20 66 69 72 73 74 20 70 6c
0x00000420 61 63 65 2e 20 49 74 20 77 61 73 20 61 20 6d 69
0x00000430 73 74 61 6b 65 2e 20 54 68 65 20 77 68 6f 6c 65
0x00000440 20 62 75 73 69 6e 65 73 73 20 6a 75 73 74 0a 67
0x00000450 69 76 65 73 20 6d 65 20 74 68 65 20 63 72 65 65
0x00000460 70 73 2e 20 46 72 61 6e 6b 6c 79 2c 20 49 27 6d
0x00000470 20 73 75 72 70 72 69 73 65 64 20 74 68 65 20 72
0x00000480 65 73 74 20 6f 66 20 79 6f 75 20 64 6f 6e 27 74
0x00000490 20 66 65 65 6c 0a 74 68 65 20 73 61 6d 65 2e 0a
0x000004a0 20 20 49 27 6d 20 74 68 72 6f 75 67 68 20 77 69
0x000004b0 74 68 20 69 74 2e 20 59 6f 75 27 72 65 20 6f 6e
0x000004c0 20 79 6f 75 72 20 6f 77 6e 20 61 73 20 66 61 72
0x000004d0 20 61 73 20 49 27 6d 20 63 6f 6e 63 65 72 6e 65
0x000004e0 64 2e 04
Segmentation fault (core dumped)

Debreu spoke with a kind of haughty vexation. "Every time I try to link my program to the protein-folding library I get this mess. It shouldn't do that!"
     "Was it working yesterday?"
     "Last time I tried was six weeks ago. Same thing. I decided to go onto something else for a while. Like an idiot I thought it would be fixed by the time I tried it again."
     "You think it's the library?" Kirby was surprised to hear they might have a problem with one of the software modules. Imtech paid top dollar to use the best software available.
     "I hope you're not suggesting it's my program," Debreu said warily.
     Uh-oh, Kirby thought. Watch your step. This one's a prima donna.
     "Hey. Don't ask me," he said. "Protein folding I have some idea about, but when this sort of thing happens I call Ben. Have you talked to him about it?"
     Ben was Benjamin Tao, the systems administrator for the research divisions. He had worked for Silicon Graphics before being traded to Imtech as part of a deal Rosen made with the company to purchase fifty state-of-the-art workstations. At Silicon Graphics he was just another programmer. At Imtech he instantly became the computer whiz-kid amongst a bunch of biologists who generally treated computers and the software that ran on them like black boxes. Most of the time they had no idea how it worked. All they cared about was whether it did the job. And they trusted Tao to take care of that.
     "I don't think he likes me," Debreu said of Tao.
     "Check it out anyway," Kirby told her, "and come see me Tuesday."
     He went back to his office to collect his briefcase with the slides and notes for his talk on Sunday. As he walked the hall the meaning of the morning's news finally hit him. Christ, he thought. We've actually done it.

                                                   *      *      *

Daniel Rosen was looking down through his window at Anders---the division manager was still throwing discus on the lawn---when McCormick came back from seeing Chapman out of the building. McCormick came over and stood beside him.
     "It's a wonder that guy gets any work done around here," McCormick said.
     "That's not your concern," Rosen said. "Eugene's all right."
     McCormick wiped the back of his hand across his nose and sniffed. "Yeah, maybe."
     Rosen glared at him. "Use a handkerchief, would ya?"
     "I don't like them," McCormick said. He held out to Rosen a narrow strip of paper which looked like a receipt. "Here. You might want to look at this."
     "What is it?"
     Rosen took the slip of paper and saw that it was an ADVISE printout. It was Chapman's.
     "Take a look at the PSA value."
     The paper was folded back at the bottom, concealing part of the printout. Rosen straightened it out and read the last few lines.

PSA = 220

Rosen sighed. "Great," he said. "Just great. Did you let him see this?"
     "No. I thought I'd better check with you first."
     The last thing Rosen needed was to see the chairman of their FDA advisory panel checking himself into the hospital for a cancer screen. They were too close to being approved. If they lost Chapman now there was no telling how it might affect them.
     "Do you think he knows?" McCormick said.
     "I doubt it. If it was me and I knew, I sure as hell wouldn't let you find out. Not at two-twenty."
     What Chapman had mistaken for a mild case of arthritis was actually advanced prostate cancer. With a prostate specific antigen level, or PSA, of 220, and soreness in the joints of his hands, it was probably too late to do anything for him. Anything above a PSA of four was considered something worth worrying about. Chapman's antibody count was more than fifty times this level.
     "Are you going to tell him?" McCormick asked.
     "Not yet."
     Rosen crumpled the paper into a little ball and threw it in the waste paper basket. "In a month we'll let him know there was a screw up in the test, and that by luck we happened to catch it in a randomized check. By then TPL will be on the shelf."
     "He's going to pissed as hell."
     Rosen shrugged and looked out the window. "That's not our fault," he said. "Old Marty shouldn't have missed his checkups."




The afternoon sun brought out a layer of hovering insects that hung like black specks just beyond his reach. From the edge of the crowd he watched them swirling overhead while he waited for his contact to show. The group nearby consisted of foreigners, mostly American tourists. Half an hour earlier three dirty buses from Mexico City had turned up in a cloud of dust and diesel fumes and promptly disgorged them into the parking area for the two o'clock tour. Now they stood quietly in the center of the Avenue of the Dead, listening like children as the tour guide explained the significance of the ruins around them.
     It was a meaningless waste of time as far as he was concerned. He didn't give a damn about some piles of ancient stone. As for the people who had put them there, it amused him to think of them suddenly rising from the dead and tearing down the kiosk at the end of the Avenue before sending the crowd fleeing for their lives. That was how he liked to picture them. As warriors. Like him.
     "---record of them traveling in six-fifty A.D. to a hilltop observatory in Morelos," the guide was saying, "to synchronize their sundials."
     This remark was followed by burbled laughter from the crowd. Someone asked the guide if he was kidding them.
     "No. That's the truth. We know it because they carved a record of the event into the base of the pyramid. The equivalent structure on this site is just behind me. Of course, if there's any one thing that people come to Teotihuacán to see, then this is it, the pyramid of the Sun..."
     As the crowd pulled away, an under-dressed figure burst out from behind a nearby tree, slapping madly at his thighs. He wore a loose-fitting white shirt and a pair of orange pants cut too short---an attempt, no doubt, to make him look like one of the visiting tourists. He came forward, waving one hand about his head to ward off the flies which followed him out from the tree.
     His name was Martinez and he was a congressional representative of the Chamber of Deputies. Yet, he was not a prominent political figure; a pair of dark sunglasses and a dab of white zinc cream applied liberally across his puffy cheeks more than disguised his identity. He carried his portly frame across the stones and stopped a few meters away to study the young man sporting a newly-grown mustache.
     "You're late."
     "I got lost," Martinez said.
     "I don't like to be keep waiting," Velarde said. He walked over to where his contact was standing and continued past him without stopping. "Why am I here?" he demanded to know.
     "It's all changed," Martinez said running after him. "We only found out this morning. It seems she's been invited to the White House."
     Velarde stopped. He turned around. "When?"
     "When do you think? Same weekend. We need a new plan."
     Velarde studied Martinez. He watched as the sweat on Martinez's forehead pooled into a single drop and trickled down the side of his greasy face. It was crystal clear to Velarde that this fat diputadito who had so confidently recruited him two months earlier was now shit scared and unable to hide the fact. For that reason alone he despised him.
     "If you want to reschedule it's going to cost you."
     "No!" Martinez said. "No rescheduling. It's got to be the same weekend."
     Velarde stared at him in wonder. "And how am I supposed to manage that?"
     "Follow her."
     "To the States. You can follow her."
     "You want this operation carried out on U.S. soil? Are you out of your mind? Whose idea was that? One of your Chinese friends?"
     The remark caught Martinez off guard. "What do you know about that?" he asked hesitantly.
     "What?" Velarde said. "You think I wouldn't check you out? Two million is a lot of money, Martinez. Even for a guy like you. For a job like this I make it my business to know where the money's coming from."
     Velarde told Martinez that he had had him followed---even before their initial meeting eight weeks ago. On three occasions---each of them on the evening preceding his meetings with Velarde---Martinez had visited the Chinese Embassy in Mexico City. "Frankly, as long as the money is real, I don't care who's paying for it."
     "Oh, it's real," Martinez said. "Trust me. But the job must be done next weekend. Do you understand? There can't be any delay."
     For weeks Velarde had thought about Montoya and the moment of death. But now he was no longer sure. "You're asking a great deal," he said. "You know her itinerary? Where she'll be at every moment?"
     "I'll get it."
     Velarde shook his head. "It's too risky. It's not worth it. Not for two million."
     "We had a deal!" Martinez yelled under his breath. "A million before. A million after. That was the deal!"
     "My men won't do it. I'll need five million."
     "Are you crazy!"
     This time Martinez's words were heard by several tourists standing about thirty meters away. They turned to stare from the other side of the Avenue. Martinez dropped his head and looked at the ground. "Three million," he fumed. "I'll try to get you three."
     "Five," Velarde said. And with that, he turned toward the parking lot and walked away.




The Black Star photographer had been allocated exactly twenty minutes to capture her image. To do so he requested that the President's bodyguards drag a heavy gold-leafed Louis XIV chair over to the window where the light was good. But his petition had been viewed with suspicion. It was not until the photographer's identity had been checked and rechecked, and six of her men dispatched to the balcony to shield against a potential sniper's bullet, that Camilla Montoya's chief of staff had acceded to the photographer's request. The President herself showed no such concern for her safety.
     "Make me look like a warrior," she told him.
     That won't be difficult, he thought moving around her, snapping pictures.
     Her face had the chiseled look of royalty. It was even said she looked like Nefertiti, the Egyptian queen of fourteenth-century B.C. And that was how the cartoonists for the Mexico City newspaper El Universal had portrayed her. As a petulant queen.
     It didn't bother Montoya. She even helped them by perpetuating the idea through the careful application of makeup, painting on high cat line eyebrows which had since become her trademark. To contrast her inky black eyelashes and pale-brown eyes, she added lipstick, bright red, like the color of fresh blood. Vivid, was the term the Black Star photographer would later use to describe her to his colleagues. "Like an exclamation mark."

                                                   *      *      *

Camilla Montoya was the leader of the National Action Party, and the President of Mexico. Six years earlier her election to office had made history by removing the Institutional Revolutionary Party from government for the first time since 1929.
     At the time she had been just thirty-four years old. Even Benazir Bhutto, she was fond of reminding the press, had not become Prime Minister of Pakistan until she was thirty-five. "But unlike Bhutto," she had promised them, "I will integrate Mexico's economy into the world market. Whereas she failed her country, that will be my greatest accomplishment." She promised to pave the way for an ambitious privatization program which would reform Mexico in the eyes of the world.
     So far she had made good on her promises. But despite her rising popularity, she had made many enemies along the way. Critics lambasted her, claiming that she was selling off the country's assets at bargain basement prices. They worried that she was following too closely Egypt's ill-fated attempt to privatize in the early nineties.
     But Montoya's gamble paid off.
     The big companies came, inspired by her willingness to embrace drastic reform strategies. When she enlisted the aid of Merrill Lynch to help privatize the Mexican oil industry the investment world gasped for only a moment before rushing in to stake a claim, instantly ready to do business with "the new Mexico." In the long run, she told herself, even the mudslingers would be forced to admit that victory had always been hers.
     Oh, she had her detractors, all right. But none of them could match her for sheer exuberance. And the people listened to her. They did not understand where her courage came from, but it fired them from within. She was a strong leader, and if strength was what she was selling, they were buying it---because they believed the time had come for Mexico to be led out of darkness.
     After the picture-session ended Montoya went back to her bedroom and checked that her assistants had correctly packed her suitcases. Then she had them carried down to the car.
     Outside she found her chief of staff in a pair of blue overalls. Miguel Ramirez was inspecting the underside of the vehicle from a pit which had been specially dug in the driveway. It allowed him to check that the car had not been tampered with overnight. Ramirez insisted on doing the job himself, as he trusted no one.
     The car itself looked like a regular Lincoln Navigator, which it had been, until the customized-vehicle firm of O'Gara-Hess & Eisenhardt reinforced it with light armor. The roof and the floor of the car were now fortified with seven layers of glass-reinforced polyester impregnated with resin. This was meant to impede high-rise snipers, and at the same time it enabled the floor to soak up grenade blasts. The twelve-millimeter-thick windshield and the rear and side windows were made from multilayered ballistic glass. Not even a .38 revolver at point blank range could pierce them. And the tires were armored. You could shoot them full of holes and the occupants of the car could still make a high-speed getaway.
     At the behest of her chief of staff Montoya had agreed to shell out $200,000 for a pair of the reinforced Navigators, after Ramirez learned that the CEO for the cement company Cemex had foiled an armed kidnapping attempt in Monterrey by simply locking himself inside his car. Six weeks later the pair of jungle-green Navigators had turned up less than 300 kilograms over factory weight, and she fell in love with them. Now she refused to travel anywhere unless one of the cars was available.
     "Miguel," she shouted. "Are you finished down there?"
     Ramirez called out to the driver to move the car forward, after which Montoya's chief of staff climbed out of the pit and peeled off his overalls, leaving him standing there in a black suit ready to go.
     On their way to the airport Montoya sat up front the way she always did. Ramirez sat in the back going over the proposed itinerary for their trip to Washington the following week. "They want to provide us with full transportation and security," he told her. "From the moment we land."
     Montoya removed a lighter from her pocket and lit up a thin cigar. A second later white smoke was streaming from her mouth. "You can tell our hosts thank-you-very-much but we shall not be needing their services. We will be providing our own security."
     "Do you think that's wise? A week isn't very long to plan---"
     "Miguel, Miguel. Don't argue with me on this one. You've kept me safe till now. I trust you. You will arrange for the car to be on hand when we arrive."
     Ramirez ground his teeth. "I suppose I should be happy you didn't insist upon hauling it to Geneva."
     "Don't be silly," she said. "Nobody knows I'm coming."
     She was sure of that. Even Ramirez hadn't known about it until two days earlier. But that was why she had proved such a difficult target for a would-be assassin. It wasn't out of character for her to cancel appearances carefully organized weeks in advance, just so she could take off to some place on a whim. This weekend it was to Geneva to attend the International Forum on Epidemiology. It was to be held in conjunction with the World Health Assembly. She was annoyed because nobody had thought to invite her. But that wasn't going to stop her. She had to go. She had a problem to solve.
     Despite her successful efforts to jump-start the Mexican economy, the effects had not been uniform. Mexico's health system in the rural sector remained at Third World levels and refused to budge. With growing indignation, she had discovered that while the world was more than willing to invest in her nation's treasures, it had apparently decided that these did not include her people. Private city hospitals flourished in the affluent regions while underfunded government clinics struggled to assist forty million Mexicans who lived in poverty. Infant mortality was up; cholera and dengue fever had skyrocketed in populations weakened by malnutrition; AIDS was on the rise. Montoya's deputy secretary of health tried to downplay the problem, but the opposition chairman of the Congressional Health Commission had rightly called it a public health care disaster.
     To be seen attending the meeting in Geneva could certainly do her no harm. What it would do was provide her with a rebuttal she expected might come in useful at the White House. Sooner or later President Coleman would get around to blasting her for endangering the lives of her AIDS-stricken rafters. When he did, she would look him in the eye and say, "Mr. President, when the world convened to discuss ways to limit this dreadful disease, I heard no one questioning the sincerity of my efforts to be a part of that. I was there, señor. Where were you?"
     Montoya knew exactly what she was doing. If the conference turned out to be the staid and hopeless fiasco that she suspected it would be, then she would upstage those meek-eyed scientists and make so much noise that she would be heard all the way back to Washington.
     She remembered the way the Black Star photographer had flittered about her like a frightened bird around a cat. It would be the same with the press in Geneva, she told herself. When their lenses caught her looking back at them they would tremble. I am not gentle, she thought. I am fearsome.




Eighteen time zones ahead of San Diego, it was 9 A.M. Saturday morning on the tiny western Pacific island of Guam when Mark Greenberg drove a borrowed jeep up to the main gate of the Apra Harbor Naval Base and flashed his ID at the civilian guard. Greenberg was a lieutenant junior grade in the U.S. Navy. He had just come from the Guam Naval Facility, where his programming genius had been put to use for the last two weeks by the personnel in charge of SURTASS shore support operations.
     On loan from San Diego, Greenberg had been looking forward to going home that weekend when new orders arrived. He was informed that the USNS Impeccable had berthed at Apra Harbor, and that when the ship headed back out of port later that morning, he would be going with it. Carrier assignment detail. That was all he'd been told.
     The guard at the gate dutifully checked the lieutenant's face against the one in the laminated photo in Greenberg's wallet. He grinned, as though grateful for the distraction. Apra Harbor had once been a port for the Navy's nuclear missile submarines. But when the U.S. nuclear arsenal was pulled back to the mainland, the base had assumed a more relaxed mood. Today the Marine detachments which had once roamed the waterfront were gone. There were, however, plenty of sailors in blue shirts and jeans, Greenberg saw. They worked the pier, ferrying fuel and supplies aboard a pair of ageing frigates. From the gate he could make out the hull number of one of the ships. It was FFG 34, the USS Aubrey Fitch. The lieutenant gestured at the two ships as he tucked his wallet back into his pocket. "They came in with the Impeccable?"
     The guard raised the gate, glancing across to where the frigates were secured to the pier by heavy mooring lines. "Fitch came in yesterday afternoon. Jarrett this morning. You going out on one of 'em?"
     "Not this time... Where can I leave the car?"
     The guard noted the vehicle number and jotted it down. "There's a yellow hatched area around to the left here." He pointed. "Just leave the keys in it."
     Greenberg drove the jeep around to the parking area, stopped on the hatching, and switched off the engine. But before he could jump out he caught sight of someone jogging toward the car.
     "Lieutenant Greenberg?" It was an enlisted woman, short blond hair, an engaging face---the girl next door type.
     "Yes?" As Greenberg hopped from the jeep he grabbed his seabag from the back seat.
     The sailor saluted him. "Petty Officer Amy Ross, sir. I've been sent to escort you to the Impeccable."
     Ross. He saluted back to her and glanced at the rating badge worn on her upper left arm---a pair of headphones in the shape of a capital omega, with an arrow-shaped dial superimposed over them. "You're the sonarman---woman, that I was meant to hook up with?"
     "Sonarman third class. Yes, sir. Can I take your bag, sir?"
     Greenberg shook his head. "No, you cannot." How would that look, he thought, a woman carrying his bag? No, he'd carry his own bag, thanks all the same. "And if you don't mind, we'll drop the sir. Name's Mark." It was "Mac" to the half-dozen engineers on his design team back home at the Ocean Surveillance Laboratory, but that wasn't where he was. Greenberg started moving toward the end of the pier. "Any idea what this is about?"
     "No, but I could have done with the shore leave," she said, allowing a touch of irritability to show. Well, the Navy didn't expect to turn out automatons, did it? This one was definitely human. Pretty too, he might have allowed, if he hadn't been married. "This came for you earlier." She handed him a neatly folded telex.
     He opened it and read. An Indonesian gunboat on patrol near the Natuna Islands had gone missing. The Chief of Naval Operations was considering diverting the Eisenhower task group to the area if the boat did not turn up in the next few days. That meant the carrier group would be diverted, because patrol boats did not get lost. If the gunboat had suffered some kind of mechanical failure the skipper would have radioed back to base for assistance. If no one had heard from him it was because someone else had interfered with his boat. Sunk it, most likely.
     "Can I ask if we'll be out long, sir---Mark?"
     Greenberg pocketed the message. "Long enough. Seems the Indonesian Navy's lost a patrol boat in the South China Sea. We'll be tagging along with the Eisenhower group while it goes in and checks the area out."
     "Oh." Petty Officer Ross sounded disheartened. A round-trip journey to the South China Sea meant they would be out for at least two weeks. Greenberg didn't say it, but he wasn't too thrilled either.
     They walked in silence along the pier, dodging the sailors and forklifts, and passing between the two gray hulks he'd seen from the gate. The USS Aubrey Fitch and the USS Jarrett were easily distinguished as Oliver Hazard Perry class guided missile frigates. The telltale features were the low flat after decks---the helipads for each ship's anti-submarine warfare helicopter---and the forward missile launcher. Greenberg had once spent three months on a Perry class ship while working as an SQR-19 towed array sonar technician. But he preferred working back in the lab. Writing software---on shore.
     "Ever been out on a T-AGOS before, sir?" Ross was having difficulty breaking with the formality of rank, but Greenberg let it go.
     "Once or twice. But not on one of the new ones."
     The Impeccable was T-AGOS 23, the twenty-third in the series of Ocean Surveillance Ships, but the first built specifically to carry the Navy's new Low Frequency Active sonar array.
     "You'll like it," Ross said. "Not much different from the Victorious class, of course, but light-years up from the fishing-trawler design they started out with. Can I ask what sort of work---"
     "Tweaking the software for the TB-29 follow on. That kind of thing."
     "Ah..." Ross said falling quiet. The TB-29 was the passive sonar "thin line" towed array which the Navy used on its newest attack submarines. In this instance, "follow on" translated to classified, and "that kind of thing" meant don't ask.
     "I'm on the SPAWAR payroll," he volunteered. "San Diego." Greenberg, in fact, was attached to D71, the Maritime Surveillance Division at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center, San Diego.
     The lieutenant lugged his bag past the bow of the Jarrett and continued on down to the end of the pier with Ross in tow. When they reached the mooring for the USNS Impeccable he stopped and set the bag down by the gangway. Sailors shuffled back and forth with supplies while he studied the ship. Although painted Navy gray, the Impeccable was a non-combatant vessel whose operation fell to Military Sealift Command---as was indicated by the blue and gold bands around the ship's smoke stacks. The new T-AGOS ships were unusual in that they were built on not one, but a pair of hulls, both of which pinched down to knife-edges at the water surface. On top of these, joining the two hulls above the water, sat a low superstructure which granted the Impeccable something of the appearance of a gigantic twin-bladed ice skate. Below the waterline, Greenberg knew, each of the tapered hulls secured to propeller shafts that looked like ship-length battery-powered torpedoes---which was basically what they were.
     Although the Impeccable was staffed by a mostly civilian crew, its primary purpose was to conduct submarine-hunting patrols for the Navy. These were carried out using two large arrays of hydrophones which were towed by the ship. One array generated sonar signals to bounce off the hulls of enemy submarines, while the other listened for the returning echoes. For the low speeds at which the towed arrays were deployed, the twin-hulls improved ship handling and reduced the noise contamination introduced to the hydrophones from the ship/water interface. This listening technology, known as the Surveillance Towed Array Sensor System, made the Impeccable a SURTASS vessel. If there were any Chinese subs lurking in the shallows of the South China Sea, it would be Greenberg's job to make sure the Eisenhower and her escorts knew about them.
     "We're due out again within the hour," Ross told him. "If you'll follow me, sir, we'll get you stowed away." She stepped onto the gangway and started up to the ship.
     Lieutenant Greenberg hoisted his seabag over his shoulder with one hand and grabbed the gangway rail with the other. Two weeks, he thought with a grimace. Marvelous.

                                                   *      *      *

Ninety minutes later, Greenberg was standing fore of the bridge, as the USNS Impeccable sliced its way through the glassy harbor entrance at a steady twelve knots. The captain of the ship stood at the lieutenant's side. His name was Arthur Harris, and he leaned forward against the handrails to steady the heavy binoculars in his hands. Three nautical miles ahead of them was the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, CVN 69. Further out were her surface escorts---the destroyers Paul Hamilton and Fletcher, the guided missile frigate Gary, and an underway fuel replenishment ship, the USNS Yukon. Harris had been trying to identify the ships by visual inspection. In addition to the escorts he could see, a Los Angeles class nuclear attack submarine---the USS Columbia---stood sentry somewhere beneath the waves to the west of Guam.
     "Anything I should know about?" Harris asked.
     While the captain and his civilian crew were responsible for the logistics of steering the Impeccable, tending to its diesel-electric propulsion system, and seeing to the careful deployment and retrieval of the towed hydrophone arrays, they did not always know the reason behind the orders handed them. This was something which came down through the SPAWAR chain of command, in this case to Lieutenant Greenberg who would be acting as chief of the sonar watch, and effective commanding officer of T-AGOS 23. Where it concerned questions on the collection of sonar intelligence, Captain Harris would defer to him.
     "We might be looking for a sub," Greenberg told the captain. He related the news of the Indonesian patrol boat which had gone missing. The lieutenant had also received a second dispatch since arriving on board. "Their Navy thinks the Chinese have a boat off Natuna, so the Indo President says he would be obliged if we took a look-see for them."
     Harris, who had known only that they were headed to the South China Sea, lowered the eye glasses. "We're going all the way in?"
     Greenberg shook his head. But he understood the captain's concern. The Natuna Islands---there was actually more than one of them, the largest being Besar---were located in the shallow waters of a sea shelf that ran from the Gulf of Thailand out to Malaysia's Sarawak. Average sea depth in the area was one hundred meters, too shallow to comfortably operate the blue water vessels of the U.S. Navy. The Eisenhower would confine her activities to the central reaches of the South China Sea, where depths in some places plunged to 3000 meters.
     "Our job is just to show Beijing that we're interested in what's going on down there. If we spot one of their boats on its way back to base, even better. Makes it harder for them to deny they had a hand in the sinking of our friends."
     "Friends?" Harris said skeptically. "Since when were we so cozy with the Republic of Indonesia?"
     Greenberg shrugged his shoulders. "Customer relations, I guess. Taipei isn't the only player in the region willing to buy F-16s from us. If Coleman's running to form, what's the bet Jakarta isn't next in line for an order?"
     This was pure speculation on Greenberg's part. Yet, if he could not say why the convoy was being diverted, the reason for the Impeccable's attachment to it required little in the way of guesswork. The South China Sea represented one of the few bodies of sea water in the world still safe from the prying electronic ears of SOSUS, the U.S. Navy's sound surveillance network of sea-based hydrophone arrays. Designed to detect noisy Russian submarines at long-range, the western Pacific segment of the network had been installed along the seafloor to the east of the Philippines. Since the South China Sea lay directly to the west of the islands, it remained acoustically shielded. It would be the Impeccable's job to establish mobile surveillance of the area for the time that the Eisenhower and her escorts passed through. This she would do by deploying her passive towed sonar array. If the People's Liberation Army Navy had made the mistake of stationing one or more of their old Han class attack subs in the area, then there was an excellent chance that the Impeccable would detect them.
     As the T-AGOS vessel departed the harbor, Greenberg wondered about its ability to keep up with the convoy. The earlier T-AGOS ships had been capable of sixteen knots---four knots faster than the speed they were traveling now. But the Impeccable was a bigger boat. He asked Harris about its top speed.
     "We're doing it." The captain gestured to the ships ahead of them. "To keep up with these guys we'll be getting an assist. The Yukon's traveling light---so she'll be able to drop us a tow line for the journey in. With a little care we should be able to handle twenty knots. Enough to put us where you want to go in just over six days." Harris gave him a quizzical squint. "Why? You're not in a hurry are you, Mr. Greenberg?"
     "No," the lieutenant said, bending the truth as he thought about what waited for him back home. "...No hurry, Captain."




After a tense taxi ride from Union Station---the train had come in on time, but rarely did one escape completely the effects of Los Angeles freeway traffic---Kirby had arrived at LAX to find Rosen sipping scotch in the Swissair terminal while he looked over his speech for Sunday.
     Now the two of them were somewhere over the North Atlantic ocean in complete darkness. Rosen was slumped down on his seat fast asleep, but Kirby felt wide awake. According to his watch---still running on San Diego time---it was only 11:15 P.M. Friday night. He didn't normally fall asleep until midnight, and being in the air only made it that much harder to relax. To distract his mind from the unsettling thought that he was hurtling along ten kilometers above a pitch black ocean in a long metal cylinder, he had brought along The Prophet. It was a volume of mystical pronouncements written by the Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran in 1923. It was more for luck than anything else; the book was rumored to have been in the possession of two separate Nobel-winning biologists at the time they did their most important work. Kirby had found a copy in a second-hand bookstore, but so far he hadn't had the time to even glance at it.
     With his view of the world based on a strict diet of scientific training, Kirby found it easy to dismiss the more mystical side of Gibran's writings. He trusted his own senses first and the accounts of others second. Still, some of Gibran's passages made an impression on him. Apparently they'd had a similar effect on the previous owner of the book, who had taken a high-lighter to almost every page. As he tried to forget where he was, Kirby's eyes fell on one of the passages marked in orange: "It is well to give when asked, but it is better to give unasked, through understanding; and to the open-handed the search for one who shall receive is joy greater than giving."
     He looked inside the cover for the name of the previous owner. But it had been scratched out. Probably some New Age mystic, Kirby thought closing the book. He glanced across at Rosen, whose silver hair reflected the overhead lighting in the window beside him. Kirby wondered if guys like Rosen ever took the time to read the writings of guys like Gibran.
     He wasn't sure. But it didn't seem likely.


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