Роберт Догерти. Зона 51 (ENGL)
Doherty, Robert. Area 51
It came alive into darkness, wondering what had caused it to wake and aware at the same time that it was much weaker than ever before. The first priority was time. How long had it been asleep? The weakness gave the answer. Dividing half-lives of its power source, it calculated that almost fifty revolutions of this planet around the system star had passed since last it had been conscious.
The data from sensors was examined and found to be indeterminate. Whatever signal had tripped the alarms and kicked in the emergency power had to have been strong and vital but was now gone. Its sleep level had been so deep that all the recorded data showed was that there had been a signal. The nature of the signal, the source of the signal, both had been lost.
The Makers had not anticipated such a long time before resupply of the power source. It knew there was not much time left to its already very long life before the power sup- ply slipped below the absolute minimum to keep it func- tioning even in hibernation.
A decision needed to be made. Should it divert power to sensors in case the signal were repeated, or should it go back to deep sleep, conserving power for time? But if the signal had been vital, and the sensor log said it was indeed so, then there might not be much time left.
The decision was made as quickly as the question had
P R O L O C U E
been posed. Power was allocated. The sensors were given 1 more power to stay at a higher alert status in order to catch a repeat of the signal. A time limit of one planetary orbit about the system star was put on the sensors, at which time they would automatically awaken it and the decision could be reconsidered.
It went back to a lighter sleep, knowing that the decision to divert power to sensors for an orbit would cost it almost ten orbits of sleep when the power got lower, but it ac- cepted that. That was its job.
The grocery bag Kelly Reynolds was holding ripped open
as she unlocked her mailbox and a twelve-pack of Diet
Coke burst open on impact with the ground, sending cans
everywhere. It had been that kind of day, she reflected as
she gathered in the errant cans. She'd spent it interviewing
local bar owners on Second Avenue for an article she was
writing, and two of her five appointments had failed to
She stuffed the mail into the remnants of the bag and
made her way to her apartment, dropping the entire mess
on the table in her tiny kitchen. She filled a mug with water
and pushed it into the microwave, setting the timer, then
leaned back against the counter, giving herself the two
minutes before the beeper sounded to relax. She studied
her reflection in the kitchen window, which looked out
onto a back alley in Nashville's West End. Kelly was short,
just over five feet, but big boned. She carried her weight
well thanks to her morning routine of sit-ups and push-ups,
but the combination of bulk and lack of height made her
look like a compressed version of a person who should be
four inches taller. Her hair was thick and brown, streaked
with gray for the last ten years. Kelly had made the effort
ROBERT DOHERTY AREA 51 2 3
to keep the original color for a year or so, then had given audiocassette fall out along with several pages. She picked up, accepting what time had dealt her after forty-two years up the cover letter and read. on the planet.
The microwave dinged and she removed the mug and Hey Kelly, 3 Nov 96
placed a tea bag into it, allowing the water to soak through. While she was waiting for that, she pulled out the mail, I was trying to think of who to send a copy of this interested most in the thick brown envelope that she'd no- tape to, and you were the first name that popped into ticed as the cans had fallen. The return address made her my head--especially after what happened to you eight smile: Phoenix, Arizona. It had to be from Johnny Sim- years ago with that joker from Nellis Air Force Base in mons, an old friend from her graduate days at Vanderbilt. Nevada. Actually, more than an old friend, Kelly reminded herself I got a package in the mail last week that included a as her mind focused on those years a decade and a half letter and an audiotape--no return address and post- ago. marked Las Vegas. I think I know who sent it, though.
Johnny had caught her on the rebound after her first He wouldn't be hard to find. I want you to listen to it. husband had dumped her. She'd anchored her psyche in So go find a Walkman or go over to your stereo now. his emotional harbor for several months. When she'd fi- Don't pass go, don't collect two hundred dollars, and nally felt like something of a whole human being again, take this letter with you. I mean NOW! I knew you she'd discovered that while she truly cared for Johnny, she were still standing there. Put the tape in, but don't didn't have that special spark for him that she felt was start it yet. necessary for an intimate relationship. Johnny had been very nice about it and they'd backed off, not speaking to Kelly smiled as she walked over to her stereo system each other for a while, then slowly reentered each other's precariously perched on a bookcase made up of cinder lives, testing the waters of friendship. blocks and planks of wood. Johnny knew her and he had a
Kelly felt they had cemented that friendship after three good sense of humor, but even the humor couldn't erase years when Johnny had returned from a photojournalist the instant bad feeling the Nellis Air Force Base reference assignment into El Salvador, where he had been docu- had evoked. That Air Force intelligence officer had de- menting right-wing death squads. He'd holed up in her stroyed her career in filmmaking. apartment for two months, decompressing from that Pushing away the negative thoughts, Kelly put the tape ordeal. One or the other would call every month or so and in, then continued reading. they would catch up on their lives and know there was someone out there who cared. Last she'd heard, he was Okay. I'll give you the same information that was in also working freelance, doing articles for whichever maga- the letter I received with the tape. In fact, I'll give you zine was willing to cough up some money. a copy of the letter that came with it. Next page, if you
She slit the envelope open and was surprised to see an please.
4 ROBERT DOHERTY AREA 51 5
Kelly turned the page to find a Xerox copy of a typewrit- wasn't someone holding a tape recorder up to a radio ten letter. speaker. There was a clear hiss of static at the end of each
transmission and three distinct voices, as the letter had
In this package you will find a tape recording I made "Victor Two Three, this is Dreamland Control. You
on the evening of 23 October of this year. I was scan- are violating restricted airspace. You will immediately
ning the UHF wavelength. I often listen in to the turn on a heading of one-eight-zero.
pilots out of Nellis Air Force Base conducting opera- "Victor Two Three, this is Dreamland Control. Re-
tions. It was while doing just that, that I picked up the peat, you are violating restricted airspace. Turn imme-
exchange you will listen to. diately on a heading of one-eight-zero. Over."
As near as I can tell, it is between the pilot of an
F-15 (Victor Two Three), the control tower at Nellis, A new voice cut in, this one with the muted roar of jet
which uses the call sign Dreamland, and the flight engines in the background.
commander of the F-15 pilot (Victor Six).
The pilot was taking part in the Red Flag, force on "Victor Two Three, this is Victor Six. Comply immedi-
force, exercises at Nellis. These exercises are where ately with Dreamland Control. Over."
the Air Force trains its fighter pilots in simulated com-
bat. They have a whole squadron of Soviet-style air- "Six, this is Two Three. I'll be out of here in a flash.
craft at the Groom Lake complex on the Nellis Over."
Reservation to use in this training.
I'll let you draw your own conclusions from the "Negative, Two Three. This is Dreamland Control.
tape. You will comply with our instructions ASAP. Over."
You want to talk to me, come to Vegas. Go to the
"mailbox." You don't know what that is, ask around The commander came back on.
and you'll find it. I'll come to you.
The Captain "They got you, Slick. Comply. You know we can't mess
with restricted airspace. Over."
Kelly turned the page. She smiled as she read.
"This is Two Three, I will- What the fuck! I've got--
Listen to the tape now. Christ, I don't know what the hell it is. A bogey at
three o'clock and climbing. I've never--"
Using her remote, she turned the stereo on and pushed play. The voices were surprisingly clear, which made Kelly The quiet, implacable voice of Dreamland Control cut wonder at the machinery used to make the tape. This in.
6 ROBERT DOHERTY AREA 51 7
"Two Three, you will immediately cease transmitting, The tape ended. Kelly sat still for a few seconds, consid-
turn on a heading of one-eight-zero and descend for a ering what she had heard. She knew the name Dreamland
landing at Groom Lake. That is a direct order. Over." well. She picked up Simmons's letter.
The pilot of the F-15 was growing more agitated. Yeah, I know exactly what you're thinking, Kelly. It
could be a hoax or a setup like they did on you. But I
"This thing has no wings! And, man, it's moving. It's talked to a friend of mine over at the local Air Force
closing on me. We got a live one! I'm--" base. He said that some of that sky out there near
Nellis is the most restricted airspace in the country,
There was a hiss of static. even more so than that over the White House in D.C.
He also said that pilots in the Red Flag exercises
"--was close!" Static. "On top of--" Static. "--my sometimes try to skate the edges of their aerial playing
God! It's turning--" Static. "Jesus! It's--" The voice field on the regular Nellis Range and gain a tactical
was suddenly cut off. advantage by cutting across the restricted airspace. If
that pilot did wander over the Groom Lake/Area 51
"Two Three! This is Six. What's your status, Slick? complex or try to cut a corner, he might have seen
Over." something he wasn't supposed to. Obviously he ran
Silence. You know me. I'm heading out there to take a look.
There's enough interest in all of this that even if I get
"Break, Dreamland Control, this is Victor Six. Do you nothing about the pilot, I ought to at least be able to
have Two Three on scope? Over." write a couple of articles about the Groom Lake com-
plex. Maybe Technical or some other science-type
"Victor Six, this is Dreamland Control. You will return magazine will buy.
to Nellis Airfield immediately. The exercise is can- So I'll be out there on the night of the ninth. Now, I
celed. All aircraft are ordered grounded immediately. plan on being back home the tenth. I don't want to
You will remain in your plane until cleared by security hang around there any longer than I have to. I'll give
personnel. Over." you a call, regardless, on the tenth by nine in the
morning. At the absolute least if I can't quite make it
"I want to know the status of Two Three. Over." home by then I'll change the message on my answer-
ing machine by remote before 9:00 A.M. on the tenth.
"We've lost Two Three from our scope. We are initiat- I know all this sounds melodramatic,.but when I
ing search and rescue. Comply with orders. There are went down to El Salvador--a place no one remembers
to be no more transmissions. Out." nowadays--it stood me in good stead to have some-
8 ROBERT DOHERTY AREA 51 9
one waiting on a call. Held the assholes off from beat- NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE RANGE,
ing me too bad or keeping me forever when I got VICINITY GROOM LAKE
caught in places I wasn't supposed to be. So if you T-144 HOURS
don't hear from me by 9:00 A.M. on the tenth, it means "Wait here," Franklin ordered as he braked the battered
I got caught. Then I trust you to figure out what to do. Bronco II to a halt. There was no flash of brake lights. He
You owe me, bud!
Wish me luck. By the way, if by chance--da-da-de- had pulled the fuse for them prior to turning onto this dirt
dum--drumroll, please, I get scarfed up by the author- road. Johnny Simmons leaned forward in the passenger
ities, you have a copy of the tape and the letter, and seat and squinted into the darkness. He had to assume that
also I've enclosed a key to my apartment. Franklin was so familiar with the road that he was able to
Thanks. drive it without headlights. Although the road did stand
All of my love, all of my kisses! out as a lighter straight line on the otherwise dark ground,
the trip through the dark was unnerving.
Simmons rubbed his forehead. They were up several
Kelly didn't need to check the calendar. The ninth was thousand feet in altitude and he felt a bit of a headache this evening. She gathered the tape out of her stereo and from the thinner air. He was a tall, thin man, his pale skin took it, along with the letters, to her desk. Then she used liberally sprinkled with freckles. Simmons appeared to be the key around her neck to open the file drawer. She with- much younger than his thirty-eight years and his disheveled drew a file labeled "Nellis" and laid it on the desktop. mane of bright red hair only added to the youthful image.
Flipping it open, she saw that the first document inside Franklin walked to one side of the road and disappeared was a typed letter on official Air Force stationery. The sig- into the darker countryside for a few minutes, then his nature block at the bottom indicated it was from the Public shadow crossed the road and was gone for a few more Affairs Officer at the base: Major Prague. minutes. When he returned, he was holding four short
"Asshole," Kelly muttered as she remembered the man. green plastic rods in his hands. She place Johnny Simmons's letter and the tape inside, "Antennas for the sensors," he explained. "I found the then replaced the folder in the drawer and locked it. The sensors last month. I wondered why the camo dudes were surface of the desk was clear, except for a silver-framed always onto me so quick. They'd show up within twenty black-and-white photo of a young man dressed in khaki. minutes of me hitting this road. Then they'd call in the He wore a black beret, and a Sten gun was slung over his sheriff and it was just a plain hassle." shoulder. "How'd you find the detectors?" Simmons asked, co-
She was thoughtful as she kicked back in her chair and vertly making sure the voice-activated microcassette re- considered the photo. "Sounds like Johnny has nibbled at corder in his jacket pocket was turned on. the hook, Dad." She tapped a pencil against her lip, then "I used a receiver that scanned the band lengths. I drove sighed. "Damn you, Johnny. You're always causing trouble, around and stopped when I picked up something transmit- but this time I think you may have gone too far." ting," Franklin said. "Right at 495.45 megahertz."
1 ROBERT DOHERTY
AREA 51 11
"Why four antennas?" Simmons asked. "Wouldn't two him. They'd passed the "mailbox" farther back on the dirt do?" road about twenty minutes ago and there had been two
Franklin shook his head. "They're deployed in pairs on cars and a van parked there. UFO watchers had waved at either side of the road. That way they can tell which way the Bronco as they drove by. The mailbox, which was an you're going by the order they're tripped in." Franklin actual small battered metal mailbox on the side of the talked quickly, eager to impress Simmons with his knowl- road, was the last safe place to observe the sky over the edge. Groom Lake/Area 51 complex. To Johnny it was obvious
The simple logic quieted Simmons for a few moments. that the watchers there weren't surprised to see Franklin's For the first time he wondered if he was biting off more truck drive by. than he could chew here. Since Area 51 wasn't listed on Franklin threw the truck in gear and rolled forward any topographic maps, and all roads leading onto the Nellis about a hundred feet. "The sensors pick up ground vibes Reservation were posted with no trespassing signs with om- from passing vehicles, but they don't trip on people walk- inous threats printed in red, Simmons had sought help. ing or animals. Then they transmit that information back He'd met Franklin in Rachel, a small town on Route 375 to whoever is in charge of security for this place. Without that ran along the northeast side of the Nellis Reservation. the antennas they can't transmit. We're out of range now. Franklin was the person he'd been pointed to by "experts" Back in a second." He stepped out and was gone for sev- in the UFO field as the man to see about getting a look at eral more minutes as he screwed the antennas back into Area 51, the place the Air Force pilot had been overflying the sensors.
when he'd been accosted by Dreamland Control and what- They went another two miles down the road, then Frank- ever unknown object the pilot had seen. lin pulled off into the lee of a large ridge that rose up to
Simmons hadn't been too surprised to find Franklin a the west like a solid, sloping black wall: White Sides Moun- young bearded man who looked more like he ought to be tain. Simmons stepped out, following Franklin's lead. doing poetry reading at a college than leading people to "It's going to get colder," Franklin said in a low voice as look at a classified government facility. Franklin worked he pulled a small backpack out of the rear of his truck. out of a small, dilapidated house where he self-published a Simmons was glad he had packed the extra sweater. He monthly newsletter for UFO enthusiasts. He'd been pulled it over his head, then put his jacket back on over it. thrilled when he'd seen Simmons's credentials and publish- It had been reasonably warm in Rachel, but with the de- ing history. At last someone with a little bit of credibility parture of the sun, the temperature had plummeted. and pull, had been the way Franklin had put it, and he'd They both turned as they heard a low roar coming in promised to put Simmons as close to Area 51, the code from the eastern horizon. The sound grew louder, then name for the Groom Lake complex, as he possibly could. Franklin pointed. "There. See the running lights?" He
Simmons wondered if Franklin might not be the "Cap- snorted. "Some of the people who camp out at the mailbox tain" who had sent him the tape and letter, but he didn't mistake aircraft running lights for UFOs. When a plane's think so. There didn't seem to be any need for the subter- in its final flight path the lights seem to just hover, espe- fuge, and Franklin had seemed genuinely surprised to see cially since it comes in almost straight over the mailbox."
12 ROBERT DOHERTY
AREA 51 13
"Is that the 737 you told me about?" Simmons asked. "Ready," Simmons acknowledged.
Franklin giggled nervously. "No, that's not her." The air- "Let's do it." Franklin took a few deep breaths, then plane banked over their heads and disappeared over White headed for a cut in the steep mountainside and began Sides Mountain, descending for a landing on the other striding up. Simmons followed, his boots making a surpris- side. A second one, just like the first, came by less than ingly loud clatter in the darkness as he scrambled up the thirty seconds later. "Those are Air Force transports. Me- loose rock. dium-sized ones, probably C-130 Hercules. You can hear "Think we were spotted?" Simmons asked. the turboprop engines. Must be bringing in something. Franklin shrugged, the gesture lost in the dark. "Well, we They haul in pretty much all their equipment and supplies know the sensors didn't pick us up. If there was a camo to Area 51 by plane." dude out there in the dark and he saw my truck going down
They heard the abrupt increase in the whine of engines the road, then the sheriff will be here in about a half hour. and the sound lasted for a few minutes, then silence We'll see the lights from above. The camo dudes, who are reigned again. the outer perimeter security people for the complex, will
He held out his hand. "Camera." drive by on this side of the ridge, maybe even come up
Simmons hesitated. The Minolta with long-range lens prior to showtime if they saw we had cameras, another hanging around his neck was as much a part of his clothing good reason not to bring them. The fact we haven't seen as the sweater. anyone yet means there's a good chance we weren't spot-
"We agreed," Franklin said. "A whole lot less hassle all ted. If we weren't spotted, then we can spend the whole around if the sheriff shows. You saw the negatives and night up top without getting hassled." prints back at the office that I've already taken of the com- "Doesn't the Air Force get pissed at you for messing plex. They were taken in daylight, too, with a better camera with their equipment?" Simmons asked as Franklin led the than you have. Much better than you could get at night way. even with special film and long exposure." "Don't know." Franklin giggled again, the sound irritat-
Simmons removed the camera, the loss of the weight ing Simmons. "I imagine they would if they knew it was around his neck an irritant. He also didn't like the idea of me. But they don't, so screw 'em. We're still on public land having to pay Franklin for photos he could take himself. and will be the whole way," Franklin explained, slowing a Plus what if they spotted something happening? He had bit when he recognized his paying guest's more modest noted Franklin stuffing a camera into his backpack when pace. "But if the sheriff comes here, he'll confiscate the they were leaving earlier in the day. Simmons understood film anyway, so it's easier to simply not haul the weight up. Franklin's scam: he wanted exclusive footage if anything Plus, we got us sort of a gentleman's agreement. This is the happened and he wanted to make extra money selling his only spot left in the public domain that you can see the own photos. Simmons handed his camera to the younger runway from since the Air Force purchased most of man, who locked it in the back of the truck. Franklin the northeast section last year. Most people stay back at grinned, his teeth reflecting the bright moon hanging over- the mailbox because they don't want to get hassled, but we head. "Ready?" aren't doing anything illegal by climbing this mountain.
14 ROBERT DOHERTY AREA 51 15
"But soon it won't be legal to come here," Franklin con- the men watching a bank of computer screens announced.
tinued. "The Air Force is trying to get this land too. Once There were three rows of consoles with computers lining
they get it you won't be able to see into the lake bed from the floor of the room, facing forward. On the front wall a
anywhere in the public domain. And you sure as hell can't twenty-foot-wide by ten-high screen dominated the room. overfly this place. It was capable of displaying virtually any information that
"Earlier this year they seized a bunch of the land over was desired, from maps of the world to satellite imagery. that way Franklin pointed to the north from the Bu- The Cube operations chief, Major Quinn, looked over reau of Land Management, which had control of it. I used his man's shoulder. Quinn was of medium height and build. to watch from there occasionally." He had thinning blond hair and wore large tortoiseshell
Franklin gave Simmons a hand as they made it over the glasses to accommodate the split lenses for both distance lip of the cut onto the side of the ridge proper. "They and close up. He ran his tongue nervously over his lips, wanted it all, but the law says that over a certain acreage, then glanced at the back of the room at a figure sitting at there have to be hearings, so the Air Force seized up to the main control console. their limit the last couple of years and they'll probably do it Quinn was perturbed to have intruders nosing around again this year, until they get all they want, piece by piece." tonight. There was too much planned, and most impor-
Simmons would have liked to ask a few more questions tantly, General Gullick, the project commander, was here, but he was too winded to do anything but grunt. and the general made everyone nervous. The general's seat
"We have another eight hundred feet of altitude to was on a raised dais that could oversee all that went on make," Franklin said. below. Directly behind it a door led to a corridor, off of
which branched a conference room, Gullick's office and
sleeping quarters, rest rooms, and a small galley. The THE CUBE, AREA 51 freight elevator opened on the right side of the main gal- T-143 HOURS, 37 MINUTES lery. There was the quiet hum of machinery in the room
along with the slight hiss of filtered air being pushed into The underground room measured eighty by a hundred fee the room by large fans in the hangar above. and could only be reached from the massive hangars cu "What happened to the sensors?" Quinn asked as he into the side of Groom Mountain above via a large freigh checked his own laptop computer terminal. "I've got a elevator. It was called the Cube by those who worked it blank on the road." it-the only ones who actually knew of its existence other "I don't know about the road," the operator reported. than the members of Majic-12, the oversight committee for But there they are," he added, pointing at his screen. the whole project at Dreamland. Cube was easier on the They might have walked in, skirting the sensors." tongue than the room's formal designation, Command anc The glowing outlines of two men could clearly be seen. Control Central, or even the official shortened form: C3, or The thermal scope mounted on top of a mountain six miles C cubed. to the east of White Sides Mountain was feeding a perfect
"We've got two hot ones in sector alpha four," one of image to this room, two hundred feet underneath Groom
16 ROBERT DOHERTY AREA 51 17
Mountain, twelve miles to the west of where the two men Force Academy thirty years ago. His broad shoulders filled were. Thermal was extremely efficient in this terrain at out his blue uniform and his stomach was as flat as when he spotting people at night. The sudden drop from daylight had played linebacker for the Academy team. The only temperature made the heat difference between living crea- obvious differences the years had made were the lines in tures and the surrounding terrain a large one. his black face and the totally smooth-shaven skull--a final
Quinn took a deep breath. This was not good. It meant assault on the hair that had started to turn gray a decade the men were past the outer security, known to locals as ago. the "camo dudes," but known in here as Air Force security It was as if he could sniff trouble, Quinn thought. "We police, with low-level clearances, who could turn them have two intruders, sir," he reported, pointing at the away or could bring in the sheriff to run them off. Since the screen. Then he added the bad news. "They're already in Air Force security police didn't know what was really going sector alpha four." on at Area 51, their use was restricted to the outer perime- The general didn't ask about the road sensors. That ex- ter. Quinn did not want to alert the inner security person- planation would have to come later and wouldn't change nel yet because that would require informing the general of the present situation in the slightest. The general had the penetration. Also, he was getting more and more con- earned a reputation as a hard-nosed squadron leader in the cerned about some of the methods the inner security peo- Vietnam war, flying F-6 Phantoms in close support of ple used. ground troops. Quinn had heard rumors about Gullick, the
Quinn decided to handle it as quietly as he could. "Get usual scuttlebutt that went around in even the most secret in the security police." military unit, that the general, as a young captain, had been
"The intruders are inside the outer perimeter," the op- known for dropping his ordnance "danger close"--inside erator protested. the safety distances to friendly ground units--in his zeal to
"I know that," Quinn said in a low voice. "But let's try to kill the enemy. If some friendlies got injured in the process, keep this low key. We can pull a couple of the security Gullick figured they would have been hurt in the ground police in as long as the intruders stay on that side of the fight anyway. mountain." "Alert Landscape," Gullick snapped.
The operator turned and spoke into his mike, giving or- "I've got the air police moving in--" Quinn began. ders. "Negative," Gullick said. "There's too much going on
Quinn straightened as General Gullick turned from the tonight. I want those people gone before Nightscape massive screen. It was currently displaying the world's sur- launches." Gullick turned away and walked over to another face in the form of an electronic Mercator conformal map. officer.
"Status?" the general snapped, his voice a deep bass that Quinn reluctantly gave the orders for Landscape to reminded Quinn of James Earl Jones. Gullick walked move. He glanced up at the main screen. Just above it a down the metal steps from his area toward Quinn. The small digital display read T-143 HOURS, 34 MINUTES. Quinn bit general was over six and a half feet tall and still carried the inside of his lower lip. He didn't understand why they himself as erect as he had when he was a cadet at the Air were launching a Nightscape mission this evening with the
18 ROBERT DOHERTY AREA 51 19
mothership test flight only a little under six nights away. It "The C-130's in?" Gullick asked, this time focusing on was just one of several things that had been occurring over Quinn. the past year that didn't make sense to Quinn. But the "Landed thirty minutes ago, sir," Quinn replied. general brooked no discussion and had gotten even mood- "The Osprey?" ier than usual as the countdown got closer. "Ready to go."
Quinn had worked in the Cube for four years now. He "Start the recall." was the senior ranking man not on the panel--Majic-12- Quinn hastened to do as he was ordered. that ran the Cube and all its assorted activities. As such he was the link between all the military and contract person- nel and Majic-12. When Majic staff was gone, as they often were, it was Quinn who was responsible for the day-to-day operation of the Cube and the entire Area 51 complex. Those below Quinn knew only what they needed in order to do their specific jobs. Those on Majic-12 knew every- thing. Quinn was somewhere in the middle. He was privy to much information, but he was also aware there was quite a bit that he wasn't given access to. But even he had been able to tell that things were changing now. The rush on the mothership, the Nightscape missions, and various, other events were all out of the norm that had been estab- lished his first three years assigned here. The Cube and all it controlled was abnormal enough; Quinn didn't appreci- tate Gullick and Majic-12 adding to the stress.
General Gullick crooked a finger and Quinn hastened over to stand with him behind another operator whose screen showed a live satellite downlink, also with thermal imaging. "Anything at the mission support site?" Gullick asked.
"MSS is clear, sir."
Gullick glanced over at a third officer whose screens showed multiple video feeds of large hangars with rock walls--the view of what was right above them. "Bouncer Three's status?"
AREA 51 21
sity of Maine at Orono. That dream had been crunched
2 during a game his sophomore year by a pair of defensive
backs from the University of New Hampshire. His knee
had been reconstructed, then his scholarship terminated.
Faced with the prospect of going back to the logging
camps, Turcotte had enlisted the aid of the lieutenant colo-
nel in charge of the small army ROTC program at the
university. They'd found a friendly doctor to fudge on the
physical and the army had picked up where the football
team had fallen off. LAS VEGAS, NEVADA Turcotte had graduated with a degree in forestry and T-143 HOURS received a commission in the army. His first assignment
had been with the infantry in the Tenth Mountain Division. "Sprechen Sie Deutsch?" The pace at Fort Drum had proved too slow and first
Mike Turcotte turned with a blank expression to the man chance he had, Turcotte had volunteered for Special who had spoken. "Excuse me?" Forces training. The warrant officer giving him his Special
The other man chuckled. "I heard you came here from Forces physical had looked at the scars on his knee and those high-speed counterterrorist boys in Germany, but I signed off on the paperwork with a wink, figuring anyone like that response. Don't know nothing, didn't come from crazy enough to try Special Forces wasn't going to let a nowhere. That's good. You'll fit in well here." little thing like a reconstructed knee stop him.
The man's name was Prague, at least that was how he But it almost had. During the intense selection and as- had introduced himself to Turcotte earlier in the evening sessment training the knee had stayed swollen, causing when they'd met at McCarren Airport. Upon meeting him Turcotte intense pain. He'd walked on it nonetheless, fin- Turcotte had immediately sized up the other man physi- ishing the long overland movements with heavy rucksack as cally. Prague was a tall, lean man, with black eyes and a quickly as he could, as his classmates fell by the wayside. smooth, expressionless face. His build contrasted with After starting with two hundred and forty men, at the end Turcotte's, which was average height, just shy of five feet of training there were slightly over a hundred left and ten inches. Turcotte's physique was not one of bulging mus- Turcotte was one of them. cles but rather the solid, thick muscular physique some Turcotte had loved the Special Forces and served in vari- people are born with, not that he hadn't maintained it over ous assignments up until his last one, which had not turned the years with a constant physical regime. His skin was out well in his view. Now he had been handpicked to be dark, natural for his half-Canuck, half-Indian background assigned to this unit, of which he knew nothing except it He'd grown up in the forests of northern Maine, where the was highly classified and went by the designation of Delta major industries were lumber and hard drinking. His shot Operations, which made Turcotte wonder if the name had out of town had been a football scholarship to the Univer- been deliberately chosen to be confused with Delta Force,
22 ROBERT DOHERTY AREA 51 23
the elite counterterrorist force at Fort Bragg with whom he of work in Special Operations had cultivated, wondered if had worked occasionally when stationed with Detachment Lisa Duncan was who she said she was, regardless of her A in Berlin--a classified Special Forces unit responsible fancy ID card. This might be some sort of test of his loyalty for terrorism control in Europe. set up by Delta Operations itself.
There wasn't even any scuttlebutt about Delta Opera- Duncan had told him he was not to inform anyone of his tions, which was rather amazing among the close-knit Spe- meeting with her, but that had immediately put him in a cial Operations community. It meant one of two things: bind the minute he had met Prague at the Las Vegas air- Either no one was ever reassigned out of Delta Operations port. Withholding that information meant he was already and therefore no stories could be told, or those reassigned in subtle conflict with his new organization, not a good way out of it kept their mouths completely sealed, which was to start an assignment. What was real and what wasn't, more likely. Turcotte knew civilians found it difficult to Turcotte didn't know. He'd decided on the plane from credit, but most military men he had worked with believed Washington to Las Vegas to do what Duncan had said, in the oaths of secrecy they swore. keep his eyes and ears open, his mouth shut, and ride what-
But the thing that concerned Turcotte was that there ever roller coaster he had been put onto until he could were two levels to this assignment. As far as Prague and make up his own mind. Delta Operations knew he was just another new man with Turcotte had expected to be driven straight out to Nellis a security clearance and a background in Special Opera- Air Force Base from the airfield. That was the destination tions. But Turcotte had been been verbally ordered by the listed on his orders. To his surprise they had taken a cab DET-A commander to stop in Washington on his way from downtown and checked into a hotel. Actually they hadn't Europe to Nevada. He'd been met at the airport by a pair checked in, they'd walked right past the desk and taken an of Secret Service agents and escorted to a private room in elevator directly up to the room, which had a numerical the terminal. With the agents standing guard outside the keypad instead of a traditional lock. Prague punched in the door he'd been briefed by a woman who'd identified her- code. self as the presidential science adviser to something called Prague had shrugged at Turcotte's concern about report- Majic-12, Dr. Lisa Duncan. She'd told him that his real job ing in to Nellis, as they entered the lavishly furnished suite. was to infiltrate Delta Operations, which provided security "Don't sweat it. We'll get you in tomorrow. And you're for Majic-12, and observe what was going on. He was given not going to Nellis. You'll find out, meat." a phone number to call and relay what he saw. "What's with this room?" Turcotte asked, noting the
To all of Turcotte's questions Duncan had been evasive. meat comment. It was a term used for new replacements to She couldn't tell him what he was supposed to be looking combat units that had suffered high casualties. Certainly for. Since she was on the Majic-12 council, that made him not the situation he was in now, at least he hoped not. suspicious. She had not even told him why he was being There was only one other way to decipher the phrase, as a selected. Turcotte wondered if it had anything to do with slam. Turcotte didn't know why Prague would do that ex- what had just happened in Germany. Beyond that wonder- cept to test his tolerance levels, which was an accepted ing, the naturally suspicious part of his mind, which years practice in elite units. Except it usually involved profes-
24 ROBERT DOHERTY AREA 51
sional tests of physical or mental capabilities, not insults. hangars, towers, and antennas all laid out alongside the Of course, Turcotte knew there might be another reason extremely long runway. for Prague's attitude: maybe he knew about the meeting in "Looks like you might have come on a good night," Washington and it had been a test. Or, that Duncan was for Franklin commented, sitting down with his back against a real and Prague knew Turcotte was a plant. All this think- boulder. They'd arrived at the top of White Sides Moun- ing about plots within plots gave Turcotte a headache. tain ten minutes earlier and settled in on the edge of the
Prague threw himself down on the sofa. "We have all mountaintop, overlooking the lake bed. these rooms on a permanent basis for R and R when we "Might just be for the C-130's," Simmons commented. come into town. We get taken care of real well, as long as The transport planes were parked near a particularly we don't screw up. And no drinking. Even on R and R. We large hangar and there was some activity going on around always have to be ready." them. He focused the glasses. "They're not unloading," he
"For what?" Turcotte asked, dropping his large kit bag said. "They're loading something onto the planes. Looks and walking over to the window to look out at the neon like a couple of helicopters." display of Las Vegas. "Helicopters?" Franklin repeated. "Let me see." He
"For whatever, meat," Prague returned easily. "We fly took the binoculars and looked for a few minutes. "I've out of McCarren on Janet tomorrow morning." seen one of those type of choppers before. Painted all
"Janet?" Turcotte asked. black. The big one is a UH-60 Blackhawk. The two little
"A 737. Goes out every morning to the Area with the ones I don't know. They fly UH-60's around here for secu- contract workers and us." rity. I had one buzz my truck one day down on the mailbox
"What exactly is my job and- ' Turcotte paused as a road." loud chirping filled the air and Prague pulled a beeper off his belt. He turned off the noise and checked the small "Where do you think they're taking them?" Simmons LED screen. asked, taking the binoculars back.
"Looks like you're about to find out," Prague said, "I don't know." standing. "Grab your gear. We're going back to the airport "Something's going on," Simmons said. now. Recall."
MCCARREN FIELD, LAS VEGAS NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE RESERVATION T-142 HOURS, 45 MINUTES T-143 HOURS The 737 had no markings on it other than a broad red band "I wonder what their electric bill is?" Simmons muttered, painted down the outside. It was parked behind a Cyclone staring out across the dry lake bed at the brilliantly lit com- fence with green stripping run through the chain links to plex nestled up against the base of the Groom Mountain discourage observers. Turcotte carried his kit bag right on Range. He put his binoculars to his eyes and took in the board after Prague joked that they could carry any damn
26 ROBERT DOHERTY AREA 51 27
thing they wanted onto this flight--there was no baggage Well, actually it's on Air Force land, but it's run by an check. organization called the National Reconnaissance Organi-
Instead of a stewardess a hard-faced man in a three- zation or NRO, which is responsible for all overhead im- piece suit was waiting inside the plane door, checking off agery." personnel as they came in. "Who's this?" he demanded, Turcotte knew that the NRO was an extensive operation, looking at Turcotte. overseeing all satellite and spy-plane operations with a
"Fresh meat," Prague replied. "I picked him up this eve- budget in the billions. He'd been on several missions where ning." he'd received support from the NRO.
"Let me see your ID," the man demanded. "What exactly do we do?" Turcotte asked, pressing his
Turcotte pulled out his military ID card and the man hands against the seat back in front of him and pushing, scanned the picture. "Wait here." He stepped back into relieving the tension in his shoulders. what had been the forward galley and flipped open a small "Security," Prague answered. "Air Force handles the portable phone. He spoke into it for a minute, then flipped outer perimeter but we do the inside stuff, since we all it shut. He came out. "Your orders check out. You're have the clearances. Actually," he amended, "Delta Ops cleared." consists of two units. One is called Landscape and the
Although his face showed no change of expression, other Nightscape. Landscape is responsible for on-the- Turcotte slowly relaxed his right hand and rubbed the fin- ground security of the facilities at Area 51 and for keeping gers lightly over the scar tissue that was knotted over the tabs on the people there. Nightscape, which you are now palm of that hand. part of . . ." Prague paused. "Well, you'll find out soon
The man held up a small device. "Blow." enough, meat."
Turcotte glanced at Prague, who took the device and Turcotte had been in enough covert units to know when blew into it. The man checked the readout, quickly to stop asking questions, so he shut up and listened to the switched out the tube, and handed it to Turcotte, who did engines rumble as they made their way north toward his the same. After looking at the readout the man gestured new assignment. with the phone toward the back of the plane.
Prague slapped Turcotte on the back and led him down the aisle. Turcotte glanced at the other men gathered on board. They all had the same look: hard, professional, and WHITE SIDES MOUNTAIN competent. It was the demeanor that all the men Turcotte T--142 HOURS, 26 MINUTES had served with over the years in Special Operations had. Simmons reached into his backpack and pulled out a
As Prague settled down next to him and the door to the plastic case and unsnapped it. plane shut, Turcotte decided to try to find out what was "What's that?" Franklin asked. going on, especially since it now seemed they were on alert. "They're night vision goggles," Simmons replied. "Where are we headed?" he asked. "Really?" Franklin said. "I've seen pictures of them. The
"Area 51," Prague replied. "It's an Air Force facility. camo dudes here use them. They drive around wearing
28 ROBERT DOHERTY AREA 51 29
them, with all their lights out. They can scare the shit out goggles. "You've never played with the sensors before, of you when they roll up on you in the dark like that when right?" you think you're all alone on the road." Franklin reluctantly nodded. "Usually we get stopped
Simmons turned the on-switch and the inside of the lens down below by the outer security guys. The sheriff comes, glowed bright green. He began scanning, keeping the gog- confiscates our film. Then most of the time he lets us climb gles away from the bright lights of the facility itself, which up." would overload the computer enhancer built into them. He "Most of the time?" Simmons asked. checked out the long landing strip. It was over fifteen thou- "Yeah. Sometimes, maybe three or four times, he told us sand feet long and reputed to be the longest in the world, to go home." yet its very existence was denied by the government. Then "I thought you said this was public land," Simmons said. he looked over the rest of the lake bed, trying to see if "It is." there was anything else of interest. "So why did you leave those times?"
A small spark flickered in the eyepiece and Simmons Franklin looked very uncomfortable. "The sheriff told us twisted his head, trying to catch what had caused it. He he couldn't be responsible for our safety if we continued looked down and to the right and was rewarded by another on. It was like a code between him and me, man. I knew
that was when I was supposed to go back to the mailbox brief spark. A pair of four-wheel all-terrain vehicles were
and watch." making their way along a switchback about four miles
"And what happened those nights?" Simmons asked. away. The spark was the reflection of moonlight off the Franklin didn't answer. darkened headlights. Each of the drivers had goggles "Those are the nights you spotted strange lights doing strapped over the front of his helmet. unexplainable maneuvers in the air on the other side of the
Simmons tapped Franklin and handed him the goggles. mountaintop. This mountaintop," Simmons said with a bit "There. You see those two guys on the ATVs?" of heat in his voice.
Franklin looked and nodded. "Yeah, I see 'em." "Yeah."
"Are they the 'camo dudes' you were telling me about?" "So this is the first time you've ever been up here and
"I've never seen them on ATVs before," Franklin said, they didn't know you were up here. This might be a night "but, yeah, those are camo dudes. And, actually, I've never you were supposed to go back to the mailbox." seen them on the inside of the mountain before. They al- "Yeah." ways came up on us on the other side." He handed the That explained why Franklin was carrying the only cam- goggles back. "They can't get up here on those things any- era, Simmons realized. Franklin was using him as a cover in way. The closest they can get is maybe a mile away." case they were caught, probably hoping that Simmons's
"Have you ever pulled the road sensors before?" Sim- status would help him with the authorities. Simmons took a mons asked suddenly. deep breath as he considered the possibilities. It was dan-
Franklin didn't answer and Simmons took one more look gerous, but there was a chance here for a big story. "I guess at the two ATVs coming toward them, then turned off the we'll just have to see what happens, then."
30 ROBERT DOHERTY AREA 51 31
They both turned their heads as they again heard the "It's zeroed in on the laser out to one hundred meters, whine of jet engines in the distance. flat trajectory," Prague informed him. "Out from there you
"That's Janet," Franklin said as the 737 descended over- raise about an inch per fifty meters." Prague looked at him. head to a landing on the airstrip. He sounded concerned. "I assume you have your own personal sidearm?" "It's early. It usually doesn't come until five forty-five in Turcotte nodded. "Browning High Power." the morning." "You can carry that, but only use it as a last resort. We
Simmons looked through the goggles. The two ATVs like to stay silenced." Prague also handed him a headset had turned around and were now heading away. He with boom mike. "Voice activated, it's preset to my com- thought that even more strange than the 737 coming early. mand frequency. Always have it on and powered," he or-
dered. "If I can't talk to you, you'd better be fucking dead,
because you don't want to see or hear me again."
Turcotte nodded and slipped it over his head, sliding the GROOM LAKE AIRSTRIP, AREA 51 main battery pack on a cord around his neck. T-142 HOURS, 13 MINUTES Prague slapped him on the shoulder, much harder than The 737 came to a halt a quarter mile away from the two necessary. "Get changed and let's roll." C-130's. Turcotte followed Prague off and into a small Turcotte zipped up the coveralls and tugged on the com- building next to a hangar. Up against the base of a large bat vest, filling the empty pockets with extra magazines for mountain there was a cluster of buildings, several hangars, the Calico. He also appropriated a few flash-bang gre- and what appeared to be a couple of barracks buildings, nades, two high-explosive minigrenades, two CS grenades, along with a control tower for the runway. and placed them in pockets. He took his Browning out of
"Stow your kit bag there, meat," Prague ordered. his kit bag and slid it into the thigh holster rigged below the
The other men were opening wall lockers and pulling vest. For good measure he added a few more items from out black jumpsuits and putting them on. Prague led his kit bag: a leather sheath holding three perfectly bal- Turcotte over to a supply room and began tossing him anced and highly honed throwing knives handmade for him pieces of equipment, a similar jumpsuit leading the way, by a knifesmith back in Maine went inside the jumpsuit, followed by a combat vest, black balaclava, black aviator strapped over his right shoulder; a coiled steel wire garotte gloves, and a set of AN-PVS-9 night vision goggles--the fitted inside one of the suit's pockets; and a slim, double- hottest technology in the field. edged commando knife with sheath slid down the outside
Prague unlocked a large bin and pulled out a sophisti- of the top of his right boot. cated-looking weapon. Turcotte nodded in appreciation. Feeling fully dressed for whatever might occur, Turcotte The NRO was supplying these guys with top-of-the-line joined the other men by the doors to the hangar. There gear. Turcotte took the weapon and checked it out. The were twenty-two men and Prague was apparently in charge. gun was a 9mm Calico, with telescoping butt stock, built- He spotted Turcotte. in silencer, hundred-round cylindrical magazine, and "You stay with me tonight, meat. Do what I tell you to mounted laser sight. do. Don't do nothing you aren't told to. You're going to see
32 ROBERT DOHERTY AREA 51 33
some strange things. Don't worry about anything. We got it turboprop engines reverbrated through the interior with a all under control." teeth-rattling drone. Several chest-height, small round
If we have it all under control, Turcotte wondered, why do portholes were the only windows to the outside world. we need the guns? But he kept his mouth shut and looked Turcotte noted several other pallets of gear strapped down out at what the other men were watching. A UH-60 along the center of the cargo bay. There were other groups Blackhawk helicopter, blades folded, had already been of men already on board, some dressed in gray jumpsuits, placed inside the first C-130. Two AH-6 attack helicop- others in traditional army green. ters--"little birds," as the pilots referred to them--were "The ones in gray are the eggheads!" Prague yelled in also being loaded onto the second one. The AH-6 was a his ear. "We baby-sit them while they do their stuff. The small, four-man helicopter with a minigun mounted on the green ones are the pilots for the choppers." right skid. The only unit that Turcotte knew of that flew the The ramp of the C-130 slowly lifted and closed and the AH-6 was Task Force 160, the army's classified helicopter interior lights glowed red, allowing the people inside to unit. maintain their natural night vision. Turcotte glanced out
"Alpha team, move out!" Prague ordered. one of the small portholes at the airfield. He noted that the
Four men with parachutes casually slung over their V-22 was out of sight. He wondered where the four men shoulders walked onto the tarmac toward a waiting V-22 were jumping. Out of the corner of his eye something large Osprey that had been sitting in the dark, unnoticed until and round was moving about thirty feet above the flight now in the lee of the large hangar. Another surprise. strip, between them and the mountain. Turcotte blinked. Turcotte had heard that the government contract for the "What the--" Osprey had been canceled, but this one looked very opera- "Keep your attention inboard," Prague ordered, grab- tional as each of its massive propellers began turning. They bing his shoulder. "Your gear good to go?" were on the end of the wings, which were rotated up--a Turcotte looked at his leader, then closed his eyes. The position that allowed the plane to take off like a helicopter, then fly like a plane as the wings rotated forward. The image of what he had just seen was still clear in his mem- Osprey was moving even before the back ramp finished ory, but his mind was already beginning to question itself. closing, lifting into the sky. "Yes, sir."
Turcotte felt a surge of adrenaline. The smell of JP-4 "All right. Like I said, just stick with me for this first one. fuel, the exhaust from the aircraft engines, the sounds, the And don't let nothing you see surprise you." weaponry, all touched his senses and brought back memo- The plane shuddered as it began to slowly move. ries--some good, most bad, but all exciting. Turcotte took the Calico submachine gun and placed it in
"Let's go!" Prague ordered, and Turcotte followed the his lap. He swiftly fieldstripped it down to its component other men on board the lead C-130. The interior could parts, balancing them on his thighs. He lifted up the firing easily fit four cars end to end. Along each side of the plane pin and checked to make sure the tip wasn't filed down. He facing inward was a row of red canvas jump seats. The skin put the gun back together, carefully checking each part to of the aircraft wasn't insulated and the roar of the four make sure it was functional. When he was done, he slid the
34 ROBERT DOHERTY AREA 51 35
bolt back and put a round in the chamber, making sure the when they got there, he'd find out when they told him. It select lever was on safe. was a hell of a way to run an operation. Either Prague was
incompetent or he was deliberately keeping Turcotte in the "What do you think is going on?" Simmons asked ner- dark. Turcotte knew it wasn't the former. vously, wishing he had his camera. The first C-130 was moving ponderously toward the end of the runway. The other smaller plane had taken off like a helicopter and VICINITY NEBRASKA/SOUTH DAKOTA BORDER disappeared to the north. T-141 HOURS, 15 MINUTES
"Holy shit!" Franklin exclaimed. "Do you see that!"
Simmons twisted and froze at the sight that greeted him. The V-22 Osprey circled the south shore of Lewis and Franklin was up and running, stumbling over the rocks, Clark Lake at ten thousand feet. In the rear the team heading back the way they had come. Simmons reached for leader listened on the headset of the satellite radio as he the small Instamatic camera he had secreted inside his was fed the latest from the Cube. shirt when the night sky was brilliantly lit for a few seconds "Phoenix Advance, this is Nightscape Six. Thermals read and then Simmons saw and felt no more. clear of humans in MSS. Proceed. Out."
The team leader took off the headset and turned to the Turcotte held on to the web seating along the inside skin of three members of his team. "Let's go." He gave a thumbs- the aircraft as the nose lifted, and then they were airborne. up to the crew chief. He caught a glimpse of a bright light somewhere out in the The back ramp slowly opened to the chill night sky. mountains through the far portal. He glanced over at When it was completely open, the crew chief gestured. The Prague, and the man was staring at him, his eyes black and team leader walked to the edge and stepped off, followed flat. closely by the other men. He got stable, aims and legs
Turcotte calmly met the gaze. He knew the type. Prague akimbo, then quickly pulled his ripcord. The square chute was a hard man among men who prided themselves on blossomed above his head and he checked his canopy to being tough. Turcotte imagined Prague's stare intimidated make sure it was functioning properly. Then he slid the less-experienced men, but Turcotte knew something that night vision goggles down over his crash helmet and Prague knew: he knew the power of death. He knew the switched them on. feeling of having that power in the crook of the finger, Glancing above, beyond his chute, he could see the other exercising it with a three-pound pull, and how easy it was. three members of his team hanging up above him, in per- It didn't matter how tough you pretended to be at that fect formation. Satisfied, the team leader looked down and point. oriented himself. The target area was easy to see. There
Turcotte closed his eyes and tried to relax. It didn't take was a long section of shoreline with no lights. As he de- a genius to figure out that he wasn't going to get anything scended, he checked the terrain through the glow of the up front here. Wherever they were going, he'd find out goggles and started picking up more details. The aban- when they got there. And whatever he was supposed to do doned ski lift was the most prominent feature he was look-
36 ROBERT DOHERTY AREA 51 37
ing for, and once he spotted it, he pulled on his toggles, scended. A glance out the window showed water, then aiming for the high terminus of the lift. There was a small shoreline. The wheels of the 130 touched earth and the open field there, where years ago beginning skiers had plane began rolling. It stopped in an amazingly short dis- stumbled off as the chairs deposited them. tance for such a large aircraft and the back ramp opened,
Pulling in on both toggles less than twenty feet above the as the plane turned around, facing back down the runway. ground, the team leader slowed his descent to the point "Let's go!" Prague yelled. "Off-load everything." that when his boots touched down it was no more of a jar Turcotte lent a hand as they rolled the helicopter off and than if he had stepped off a curb. The chute crumpled into the shelter of the nearby trees. He was impressed with behind him as he unfastened his submachine gun. The the ability of the pilots. The runway was little more than a other men landed, all within twenty feet. They secured flat expanse of rough grass between dangerously close lines their chutes, then took position underneath the top pylon of trees on either side. of the ski lift, on the highest bit of ground within ten miles. As soon as they had the helicopter and equipment out, From there they could oversee the jumbled two miles of the plane was heading back down the strip, the ramp not terrain lying between them and the lake. even fully closed as the plane lifted off into the night sky.
The area was called Devil's Nest and it was rumored that Less than a minute later the second plane was landing and Jesse James had used it as a hideout over a century ago. the process was repeated. In a few minutes they had all The rolling plain of Nebraska abruptly dropped off into three helicopters and personnel on the ground. sharp hills and ridgelines, starting right where the men As the sound of the second plane faded into the dis- were and running up to the edge of the man-made lake- tance, Prague was all business. "I want camo nets up and the result of the damming of the Missouri River ten miles everything under cover, ASAP. Let's move, people!" downstream. A developer had tried to turn it into a resort area a decade ago--hence the ski lift--but the idea had failed miserably. The men weren't interested in the rusting machinery, though. Their concern lay in the center of the area, running along the top of a ridgeline pointed directly at the lake.
The team leader took the handset his commo man of- fered him. "Nightscape Six Two, this is Phoenix Advance. Landing strip is clear. Area is clear. Over."
"This is Six Two. Roger. Phoenix main due in five mikes. Out."
In the air Turcotte watched Prague speak into the satellite radio, the words lost in the loud roar of the engines. He could feel the change in air pressure as the C-130 de-
AREA 51 39
Nile were the only one still standing, and even in ancient
3 times they were considered the greatest of the seven. The
Colossus at Rhodes--which most archaeologists doubted
had even existed as reported--the hanging gardens of Bab-
ylon, the Tower of Babel, the Tower of Pharos at Alexan-
dria, and other reported marvels of early engineering had
all disappeared over the centuries. All but the pyramids,
built between 2685 and 2180 B.C. They were weathered by
the sand long before the Roman Empire even rose, were
still there when it fell, centuries later, and were standing CAIRO, EGYPT strong as the second millennium after Christ's birth ap- T-137 HOURS proached.
Their original face of hand-smoothed limestone had "I don't know what's wrong with this thing," the graduate long ago been plundered--except for the very top of the student said, twisting knobs and adjusting controls on the middle pyramid--but their bulk was so great that they had machinery in front of him. The sound of his shrill voice escaped most of the ravages of the wars that had swirled echoed off the stone walls and slowly died out, leaving still- around them. From the Hyksos invasions from the north in ness in the air. the sixteenth century B.C. to Napoleon, to the British
"Why are you so sure there's something wrong with the Eighth Army in World War II, the pyramids had survived machine?" Professor Nabinger asked in a quieter voice. them all.
"What else could be causing these negative readings?" There were over eighty pyramids still standing in Egypt, The student let go of the controls of the magnetic and Nabinger had seen most of them and explored their resonance imager that they had carried down here, with mysteries, but he was always drawn back to the famous trio great effort, into the bowels of the Great Pyramid. at Giza. As one came up on them and viewed the three, the
The effort had taken two forms: in the past twenty-four middle pyramid of Khafre appeared to be the largest, but hours the actual physical effort of carrying the machine only because it was built on higher ground. The Pharaoh through the narrow tunnels of the Great Pyramid of Giza Khufu, more popularly known as Cheops, was responsible down to the bottom chamber and, for a year prior, complex for the building of the greatest pyramid, farthest to the diplomatic effort to be granted permission to bring the northeast. Over four hundred feet tall and covering eighty modern equipment into the greatest of Egypt's ancient acres, it was by far the largest stone building in the world. monuments and turn it on. The smallest of the three was that of Menkaure, measuring
Nabinger knew enough about the politics of archaeology over two hundred feet in altitude. The sides of all three to appreciate the opportunity he was being given to use were aligned with the four cardinal directions and they this equipment here. Of the original seven wonders of the went from northeast to southwest, from largest to smallest. ancient world the three pyramids on the West Bank of the The Great Sphinx lay at the foot of the middle pyramid--
4O ROBERT DOHERTY AREA 51 41
far enough to the east to also be out in front of the Great There were those who postulated that, to the Egyptians, Pyramid, off the Sphinx's left shoulder. the finished pyramid was not so important as the process of
building; that the purpose of their construction was a de-
sire by ancient pharaohs to employ and draw together their
Great Pyramid people during the annual three months the Nile flooded
North and agricultural work came to a standstill. Idle hands led to
idle minds that could possibly think thoughts the pharaohs
Great Sphinx would not have approved of. So, this theory went, the pha-
Pyramid of Khafre
raohs placed ten-ton blocks of stones in those idle hands.
Another theory favored by the more optimistic tradition-
Pyramid of Menkaure alists was that the final resting place of the pharaohs in the
pyramids had not been discovered yet. It was perhaps hid-
den deep in the bedrock underneath the massive stone
The pyramids drew tourists and archeologists and scien- structures. tists and evoked awe among all. For the tourist the size and There were many theories, but none had yet been age were enough. For the scientist the exact engineering proven. It was a search to discover and prove the purpose defied the technology of the time in which they were built. of the pyramids that drew Peter Nabinger to them every For the archaeologist not only was the architecture amaz- year for six months. The leading Egyptian expert at the ing, but there was the unsettling question of the purpose of Brooklyn Museum, he had been coming here for twelve the buildings. That was the question Nabinger had strug- years. gled with for years, not content with the answers offered up Nabinger's area of expertise was hieroglyphics: a form of by his colleagues. writing using figures or objects to represent words or
They were commonly assumed to have been tombs for sounds. His philosophy was that the best way to understand the pharaohs. But the problem with that theory was that the past was to read what people of the time had to say the sarcophagus discovered inside of each of the pyramids about their own existence, rather than what someone dig- had been found empty. For years that had been blamed on ging up ruins thousands of years later had to say. the plundering of grave robbers, until sarcophagi with the One thing Nabinger found most fascinating about the lids still on and the seals on those lids still intact were pyramids was that if they had not been there now, in the found, and they were empty also. present, for everyone to see, it was doubtful anyone would
The next best theory, and one that logically followed the believe they had ever existed, because of the almost total previous one, was that perhaps the pyramids were ceno- lack of reference to them in ancient Egyptian writings. It taphs, funeral memorials, and the bodies had secretly been was almost as if Egyptian historians of years gone past had buried elsewhere to prevent the graves from being plun- assumed everyone would know about the pyramids and dered. therefore there was no need to talk about them. Or, Nab-
A more recent theory took a totally different approach. inger sometimes suspected, maybe even the people of the
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time of the pyramids' building weren't quite clued in them- Schliemann might have been convinced that Troy actu- selves as to the reason they were being built. Or maybe, ally existed and thus spent his life searching for it, but Nabinger also wondered, maybe it had been forbidden to Nabinger had no such convictions. Nabinger's work on the write about them? pyramids was one of detailing what was there and search-
This year he was trying something different, in addition ing for its explanation, an area that was perhaps one of the to his main project of recording all the writing and draw- most heavily studied in the field of archaeology. He had ings on the interior walls of the Great Pyramid. He was hopes that perhaps he might find something with the MRI, using the magnetic resonance imager, the MRIr to probe something that others had missed, but he didn't have a clue deep underneath the structures where the eye could not go as to what. Hopefully, it might be a new chamber with not and physical excavation was prohibited. The waves emitted only whatever was in it, but also new, unseen writings. by the imager could safely invade the depths and tell him if Welcher was looking at the readouts. "If I didn't know there were more buried wonders. At least that was the better, I'd say we're getting interference from some sort of theory. The practice, as his graduate assistant Mike residual radiation." Welcher was pointing out to him, was not living up to the Nabinger had been afraid of this. "Radiation?" He anticipation. glanced across the chamber at the group of Egyptian labor-
"It's like"--Welcher paused and scratched his head- ers who had helped haul the MRI down here. The head "it's like we're being blocked by some other emission man, Kaji, was watching them carefully, his wrinkled face source. It's not particularly powerful, but it is there." not betraying a thought. The last thing Nabinger needed
"For example?" Nabinger asked, leaning back against was the laborers walking out on them because of the threat the cool stone walls of the chamber. Despite all the time of radiation. he'd spent inside the pyramid over the years, there was still "Yeah," Welcher said. "To prepare for this I worked with a feeling of oppression in here, as if one could sense the the MRI in the hospital and we saw readings like this once immense weight of stone pressing down overhead. in a while. They came up when the reading was affected by
Nabinger was a tall, heavyset man, sporting a thick black X-rays. In fact, the technician told me they finally had to beard and wire-rimmed glasses. He wore faded khaki, the write up a schedule for the machines so they wouldn't be uniform of the desert explorer. At thirty-six he was consid- on at the same time, even though they were on different ered young in the field of archaeology and he had no major floors of the hospital and both heavily shielded." finds to stake his reputation upon. Part of his problem, he It was information not widely known, but Nabinger had would readily acknowledge to his friends back in Brooklyn, read reports from earlier expeditions that had used cosmic was that he had no pet theory that he desired to pursue. ray bombardment to search for hidden chambers and pas- He only had his pet method, searching for new writings sages in the Great Pyramid and their reports had been and trying to decipher the volumes of hieroglyphics that similar: there was some sort of residual radiation inside the still remained untranslated. He was willing to accept what- pyramid that blocked such attempts. The information had ever they yielded, but so far his efforts had not turned up not been widely disseminated because there was no expla- much. nation for it, and scientists didn't write journal articles
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about things they couldn't explain. Nabinger often won- tion--enough had been found to cause some interest. dered how many unexplained phenomena went unreported What Nabinger had stumbled across were pictures of simi- because those who discovered them didn't want to risk ridi- lar high runes from a site in South America. After a year of cule since there was no rational explanation for their find- very hard work over the few samples available--combining ings. them with those from Egypt--he believed he had manage
Nabinger had hoped to have better luck with the MRI to decode a couple of dozen words and symbols. He because it worked on a different band-width from the cos- needed more samples, though, in order to feel comfortable mic-ray emitters. The exact nature of the radiation had that the little he had achieved was valid. For all he knew, never been detailed, so he had not been able to determine his translation could be totally false and he had been work- if the MRI would be blocked also. ing with gibberish.
"Have you tried the entire spectrum on the machine?" Kaji snapped some commands in Arabic and the labor- he asked. They'd been down here for four hours already, ers rose to their feet and disappeared back up the corridor. Nabinger allowing Welcher to handle the machine, which Nabinger cursed and put his notebook down. "Listen here, was his specialty. Nabinger had spent the time painstak- Kaji, I've paid--" ingly photographing the walls of the chamber, the bottom "It is all right, Professor," Kaji said, holding up a hand of the three in the Great Pyramid. Although extensively roughened by a lifetime of manual labor. He spoke almost documented, some of the hieroglyphics on the wall had perfect English with a slight British accent--a surprise to never been deciphered. Nabinger, who was often exasperated by the Egyptian tac-
The notebook in his lap was covered with his scribblings, tic of retreating behind a pretended ignorance of English and he had been centered totally on his work, excited by to avoid work. "I have given them a break outside. They the possibility that there might be some linguistic connec- will be back in an hour." He looked at the MRI machine tion between some of the panels of hieroglyphics here and and smiled, a gold tooth gleaming in the front of his newly found panels in Mexico. Nabinger did not concern mouth. "We are not having much luck, yes?" himself with how such a connection could be, he just "No, we're not," Nabinger said, used to the strange syn- wanted to decipher what he had. And so far, a very strange tax. message was being revealed to him, word by laborious "Professor Hammond did not have much luck with his word. The importance of the MRI was diminishing with machines, either, in 1976," Kaji noted. every minute he studied the writings. "You were with Hammond?" Nabinger asked. He had
A year ago Nabinger had made some startling discover- read Hammond's report in the archives of the Royal Mu- ies that he had kept to himself. It had always been accepted seum in London. It had not been published due to the that there were certain panels or tablets of markings at failure to discover anything. Of course, Nabinger had Egyptian sites that were not classical hieroglyphics but ap- noted at the time, Hammond had discovered something. peared to be some earlier picture language called "high He had discovered that there was residual radiation inside runes." While such sites were few--too few to provide a the pyramids that shouldn't be there. database sufficient to allow a scientific attempt at transla- "I have been here many times," Kaji said. "In all the
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pyramids. Also many times in the Valley of the Kings. I below that by a caliph in later centuries. Both linked up spent years in the desert to the south before the waters with a tunnel that descended through the masonry and into from the dam covered it. I have led many parties of labor- the rock beneath the pyramid. That tunnel ended in an ers and watched many strange things at sites." intersection hewn out of the rock where two tunnels
"Did Hammond have any guesses why his machine branched off. One headed up to the middle chamber and didn't work?" Nabinger asked. the Grand Gallery, which led to the upper chamber. The
"Alas, no." Kaji sighed dramatically and ran his hand other, more recently discovered tunnel headed down into lightly over the control panel of the MRI, getting Welcher's the bedrock to the lower chamber. It was the lower cham- attention. "Such a machine is expensive, is it not?" ber that Nabinger and his crew were presently working in.
"Yes, it--" Welcher halted as Nabinger shook his head, now partially seeing where this was leading. THE GREAT PYRAMID
Kaji smiled. "Ah, Hammond, he had no readings. His man on the machine, he, too, said radiation. Hammond did The Upper Chamber
or "King's" Chamber The Grand Gallery not believe it. But the machine, it would not lie, would it?" He looked at Welcher. "Your machine, it would not lie, The Middle or
"Queen's" Chambei would it?"
Welcher remained quiet.
"If the machine does not lie," Nabinger said, "then something must be causing the readings."
"Or something was once here that still causes the read- The Lower Chamber
ings," Kaji said. He turned and headed back toward the other side of the chamber, where a large stone sarcophagus "I was here in 1951," Kaji said. "Yes, the sarcophagus rested. was empty then."
"The sarcophagus was intact but empty when they broke "Then?" Nabinger repeated. He'd worked with Kaji be- the seals," Nabinger said sharply, referring to the first ex- fore at other sites and the man had always been honest. pedition into this chamber in 1951. There had been great When he'd first hired the old man years ago, Nabinger had excitement over the discovery of the chamber and particu- checked with several others in the field and Kaji had come larly of the sarcophagus found inside with its lid still intact highly recommended. and sealed. The mystery of the pyramids was about to be "Hammond, he thought me an old fool, and I was young solved, it was thought at the time. One could imagine the then," Kaji said. "I am older now. I tried to talk to him, but dismay when the seals were broken and the lid was opened, he did not wish to talk." Kaji rubbed the fingers of one and there was nothing in the stone box. hand lightly in the palm of the other.
The interior of the Great Pyramid contained three Nabinger knew what that meant. Kaji wanted to be paid chambers. One entered the pyramid either through the de- for his information, as Nabinger had suspected, but that signed polar entrance on the north side, or one blasted just was only natural. The professor thought furiously. He had
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rented the portable MRI. The contract was billed by day of just wasted quite a bit of the museum's money and wonder- use, and he had enough funds from the museum for eight ing if he could make it up by skimping elsewhere on the days of use. If he air-shipped it back tomorrow, he would expedition fund. His mind automatically began figuring the save five days of billing. That was a substantial amount of exchange rate on the pound to dollar. money, at least from an Egyptian standpoint. The only Kaji seemed satisfied. "It was nine years before Martin's problem was explaining his receipts and billing forms to the expedition, during the Second World War. In 1942 the Brit- accountant back at the university. But there was no sense ish ruled here in Cairo, but many were not happy with that. in continuing to use a machine in a place where it yielded The Egyptian nationalists were willing to trade one set of no information. He also considered the runes he was deci- rulers for another, hoping that somehow the Germans phering in this chamber. Those alone would make the ex- would be better than the British and grant us our freedom. pedition worthwhile. The MRI had been a long shot In reality we did not have much say in the process. Rom- anyway. mel and the Afrika Korps were out to the west in the des-
Nabinger looked at Welcher. "Take a break." ert and many expected him to be here in the city before the
Welcher left the chamber, leaving the two men alone. end of the year.
"Ten thousand pounds," Nabinger said. "It all began in January of 1942 when Rommel began his
Kaji's face was expressionless. offensive. By June, Tobruk had fallen and the British were
"Twelve thousand and that is all I have." Nabinger knew in retreat. They were burning papers in the Eighth Army that was over a year's salary to the average Egyptian. headquarters here in Cairo in preparation to run. They
Kaji held out his hand. Nabinger reached into his pocket were all afraid. And Rommel kept coming. The British and pulled out a wad of bills, the week's wages for the army fell back on El Alamein. laborers. He would have to go to the bank and draw on the "I was working in Cairo," Kaji said, waving his hand expedition account to pay them now. above his head. "Even in the middle of war there were
Kaji sat down cross-legged on the floor, the money dis- those who wished to view the ancient sights. The pyramids appearing into his long robe. "I was here in 1951 with Mar- have seen many wars. There were many people for whom tin's expedition when they opened this chamber, but it was the war was a fine opportunity to travel and make money. I not the first time I was in this chamber." gave tours above. And sometimes, if the person paid
"Impossible!" Nabinger said sharply. "Professor Martin enough so I could bribe the Egyptian guards, I took them broke through three walls to get into here in 1951. Walls inside. Many wanted to see the Grand Gallery," he said, that were intact and dated. The seals on the sarcophagus referring to the massive passageway hundreds of feet above were the originals with four dynasties marked--" their heads that had twenty-eight-foot ceilings and led up
"You can speak impossible all you like," Kaji continued to the center of the pyramid and the uppermost chamber. in the same quiet voice, "but I tell you I was in here before Kaji spread his hands. "I cared not who ruled Cairo. The 1951. You have paid for my story. You may listen or you pyramids have seen many rulers and they will see many in may argue, it matters not to me." the future. And the pyramids and the other sites, they are
"I'll listen," Nabinger said, beginning to think he had my life.
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"The Germans were only a hundred and fifty miles away who were spying on Italians and around and around." Kaji and it looked as if they could not be stopped. In early July, chuckled. General Auchinleck was relieved and Churchill sent a gen- "There were fortunes made on the black market. It was eral named Montgomery to relieve him. No one thought no trouble for the Germans to send these men into Cairo. much of it here. It was assumed the British would fall back Especially that July when everyone was more concerned to Palestine, where they would block the canal with sunken about preparing to flee or how to ingratiate themselves ships, and the Germans would get Cairo. with the invaders than about strange groups of men moving
"That was when I was approached by a party wanting to in the dark." go inside this pyramid. They spoke strangely, but they paid "Where did the Germans get their drawings from?" well, which was all that counted. I bribed the guards and Nabinger asked. we entered, using the caliph's entranceway late at night, "I do not know. They used me to get inside only. From which was also strange. there they took charge."
"We moved through the descending corridor until we Nabinger asked the question closest to his heart. "Did linked up with the original ascending tunnel leading to the they know how to read what they had?" Grand Gallery. But they did not want to go up, nor did "I do not know," Kaji repeated, "but they had someone they want to go to what we now call the middle chamber, with them who could understand it in some manner, that but was then called the lower chamber. They had paper was for certain. There were twelve of them. We went to the with them with drawings on it." Kaji pointed at the walls. dip, where the tunnel turns and heads up toward the "I did not get to look at it for very long, but the writing was Grand Gallery, and halted. They searched and then began very much like that on these walls. The symbols that cannot digging. I became frightened and upset then. I would be be read." His eyes turned to the notepad in Nabinger's lap. blamed, because the guards knew me and knew that I was "Perhaps you are starting to understand those symbols?" leading this party in. They were destroying my livelihood
"Who were these men?" Nabinger asked, flipping the with their picks and shovels. notepad shut. "The German in charge"--Kaji paused and his eyes lost
"They were Germans," Kaji replied. their focus--"he was an evil man. I could see it all about
"Germans? How could they have gotten into Cairo? The him and especially in his eyes. When I complained he British still held the city." looked at me, and I knew I was dead if I opened my mouth
"Ah, that was the easy part," Kaji replied. "Throughout again. So I stayed silent. the war Cairo was one of the major centers for espionage, "They worked quickly, digging. They knew exactly what and all sorts of people came and went freely." they were doing because inside of an hour they broke
Kaji's voice became excited as he remembered. "Cairo through. Another passageway! Even through my fear I was was the place to be in World War II. All the whores worked excited. Nothing like this had happened in my lifetime or for one side or the other or many times both. Every bar many lifetimes before me. This passageway led downward, had its spies, most also working for both sides. There were toward the ground beneath the pyramid. No one had ever British spying on Germans who were spying on Americans thought of that before. No one had ever considered if there
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was a passage into the ground. They had always searched "No." Kaji sighed and all the energy seemed to drain out for ways to go up. of his body. "I don't know what it was that they found.
"They went into it and I followed. I did not understand There was a box inside the stone. A box of black metal. what they were saying but it was easy to see they were Metal such as I had never seen before nor have seen excited also. We came down the tunnel"--Kaji pointed be- since." He gestured with his hands, indicating a rectangle hind him--"as you and I did earlier today. There were about four feet high by two in breadth and width. "It was three blockages set up in the passageway. I could see the this size." original writings on the walls and knew we were entering Nabinger shook his head. "This is all a story, Kaji. I parts that had not been seen by a living man in over four think you have taken my money for a story that is a lie." thousand years. They tore through the blocking walls as Kaji's voice was calm. "It is not a lie." quickly as possible, leaving the rubble behind. "I've seen the pictures Martin took. All the walls were
"The tunnel ended in stone, but the Germans didn't let intact. The seals on the sarcophagus were intact and the that stop them as they had not let the three other walls original ones. How do you explain that if these Germans stop them. They used their picks and broke through. And did what you said? How did the walls get put back up? The then we were in here. And the sarcophagus was there just seals put back on? Magic? The pharaoh's ghost?" Nab- like you see it in the pictures of Martin's expedition, with inger was disgusted. the lid on and the seals intact. In the air I could feel the "I am not sure," Kaji admitted. "I do know, though, that presence of- the Americans and the British sealed off the Great Pyra-
Kaji paused and Nabinger blinked. The old man's voice mid for eight months in 1945, while the war was ending. No had drawn him in, the effect magnified by being in the very one could go in. Maybe they put everything back. It would room he was talking about. have been difficult but possible. When I went down with
Kaji looked at the center of the floor where the sarcoph- Martin all the walls were back up as you say. It made me agus had once been. "The Germans were not archaeolo- wonder, but I knew I had seen them broken through ear- gists. That was certain. The way they broke through the lier." walls showed that. And the fact that they broke the seals "Why didn't you tell Martin?" Nabinger asked. and lifted the lid. In 1951 Martin took six months before "I was just a laborer then. And he would not have be- his men opened the lid, carefully detailing every step of the lieved me, as you do not believe me now." operation. The Germans were into it in less than five min- "Why are you telling me?" utes after entering. They were interested in nothing but the Kaji pointed at Nabinger's notebook. "Because you are sarcophagus. Not the writings on the walls here, not the interested in the special writings that no one can read. The seals. Nothing but the stone box." Germans had those writings. That is how they found the
"Was it empty?" Nabinger asked. chamber."
"No." "This makes no sense," Nabinger exclaimed. "If the
Nabinger waited, then could wait no longer. "Did they Germans came in here and ransacked the chamber, then find the pharaoh's body?" why would the Americans and British cover it up?"
54 ROBERT DOHERTY
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