Rogue FBI agent Andy Fisher is visiting New York City for the first time after saving it from a terrorist attack when he discovers that the only woman he has ever loved has been murdered. Armed with a fresh cup of joe and his characteristic disdain for authority, Fisher disobeys orders and begins investigating.
His former lover was a key employee of Icarus Sun Works. Her death threatens to delay plans to launch a satellite to harvest solar energy and beam it to earth as electricity. When perfected, the technology will power entire cities for literally pennies. And the energy will be clean: no more BP disasters, no more Fukushima catastrophes.
When the rocket carrying the satellite into space mysteriously explodes, Fisher learns that the sabotage is only the start of a complicated Chinese government campaign to thwart the project and steal the technology. After falling in love with the woman who designed the rocket, the irascible and over-caffeinated FBI agent must find a way to save her from assassination—and protect the satellite system from a wide-ranging conspiracy that will stop at nothing to destroy it.
New York Times bestselling author Jim DeFelice delivers a gripping thriller inspired by real-life advances in clean energy technology in The Helios Conspiracy.
At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.
|Publisher:||Tom Doherty Associates|
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About the Author
JIM DeFELICE is the author of many military thrillers and is a frequent collaborator with Stephen Coonts, Larry Bond, and Richard Marcinko, among other New York Times bestselling authors. His solo novels include Leopards Kill, Threat Level Black, and War Breaker. He lives in New York.
Best known for American Sniper, Jim DeFelice is the author of more than a dozen New York Times best-sellers and a host of other books, many of them celebrating the lives of unsung American heroes.
Read an Excerpt
The Helios Conspiracy
By Jim DeFelice
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2012 Jim DeFelice
All rights reserved.
NEW YORK CITY
Most people who met Andy Fisher on the job would never believe he'd been in love. They wouldn't even think it was a possibility — past, present, and certainly not to come.
This was not to say that Fisher wasn't good-looking, or attractive. He had an athletic build and a pleasing face, even if work often caused it to prune up into a scowl. He was generally quick-witted and occasionally funny, and on closer inspection proved to have few outstanding debts and a full set of straightened teeth.
There were some flaws: Anyone trying to gaze into his azure blue eyes generally had to do so through a haze of cigarette smoke. And to kiss his lips, they would generally have to pry a coffee cup away. But these were likely to be seen as eminently fixable, if they were viewed as flaws at all.
The more one knew of Andy Fisher, however, the higher the caution flags flew. For one thing, he was an FBI special agent. And special in his case meant special.
All field agents for the Bureau were, literally, "special," but in Fisher's case the adjective was not merely a product of union negotiations or civil service posting requirements. Fisher held a unique position within the Bureau. Officially, he headed an agency subunit in charge of investigating high-tech crimes; unofficially, he was a one-man problem-solver for the head of the Bureau, who though he liked Fisher's results was sufficiently horrified by his methods to keep him at least one supervisor removed at all times.
Fisher's job meant that he traveled often, kept ungodly hours, and bulged in unlikely places even when wearing a custom-tailored suit.
Or would have, had he owned such a suit.
But it was the aforementioned scowl that was the real problem for any potential lover. For Fisher, despite his excellence as an FBI agent — and his track record indicated that he really was excellent, despite his unorthodox methods and the litany of complaints from those who tried to supervise him — was a full-blown cynic. And a sarcastic one, to boot.
True, cynicism was a common trait in twenty-first-century America, where anyone over the age of five could not only artfully debunk the latest statement from the White House but identify at least three private interest groups who would increase their donations in the next election cycle because of it. But Fisher was a particularly hard case, even for the FBI, which had investigated Santa Claus for Communist affiliations during the reign of J. Edgar Hoover. (The file remains sealed.)
This did not hinder his work product. Fisher was not a vitriolic cynic, fortunately, and his habit of looking at a thing five or six times before drawing a conclusion was an asset to an investigator. He could even cite philosophical underpinnings for his approach, mentioning Aristotle or Descartes or Heidegger when appropriate, which fortunately it rarely was.
But his general distrust of all information — authority, too — hampered him in social settings. As for human relationships, it was alleged by some supervisors who knew and loathed him that he had not been born, but rather sprang directly into being full-formed. They held that no mother could have raised such a child.
Those of a more religious and philosophical bent swore that while he was in fact human, he suffered from a soul blackened by skepticism and disrespect. They believed the cigarettes he pretended to smoke were actually a cover for the fires of hell smoldering within his chest.
Fisher would have objected immediately to such a theory: What proof was there that he had a soul? No one in the Bureau could offer any such proof, not even the chaplain, who on more than one occasion had been reduced to muttering "Even God makes mistakes" after an exchange with the Bureau's most special special agent.
But Fisher had once been in love. And as great a mystery as this might seem, it would be easily explained by meeting Katherine Feder. For if there was one person in the world capable of loving someone as skeptical as Andy Fisher, Kathy was that person.
She was not gorgeous. In a certain light, with certain clothes, she could easily be called pretty, but Kathy was not a model. In photos she tended to look awkward, a little too skinny or a few pounds overweight, her hair just slightly off or too perfectly arranged.
Meeting her in person was a different matter entirely. In person, her essence shone through. Five minutes with Kathy was enough to liquefy any heart, even one made of igneous rock like Fisher's. Ten minutes might be enough to make the devil leave hell and follow Mother Theresa.
Describing why this was, however, was difficult. Fisher, with all his gifts, could not have done it. The things that made her personality shine — her generosity, her good humor, her easy laugh — when examined separately seemed common enough. Her honesty, tact, and goodwill were somewhat rarer, yet certainly not unknown. Her respect for others, her genuine concern for strangers as well as friends, her ability to make whomever she was talking to feel as if he or she was the center of the universe were rarer still, but not extinct.
The fact that she was tremendous in bed — again, an extremely admirable quality, one certainly appreciated by Fisher, but one that was not completely without peer, even in Fisher's experience.
It was the combination of all these things and more that made Kathy special. Yet at the same time she was not a Hallmark card; there was a toughness about her, and a touch of skepticism, without which a character like Fisher would never have been attracted to her. She was, in many ways, the perfect match for him — sweet where he was sour, soft where he was hard, yet unlikely to wilt under the brunt of his glare.
The relationship had begun, as many things do, in college. It had extended on afterward, even as Fisher became an FBI agent. And then it had failed, suddenly and ingloriously. It was an implosion rather than an explosion, but it was violent and tortuous nonetheless, with multiple attempts at reignition, until finally a pale of darkness settled in, and there was nothing left but ashes.
The failure of their relationship still hurt, though it was by now several years past. And so when Fisher checked his email queue that night and spotted the familiar address, he felt a pang under his ribs.
Indigestion, he would have sworn.
He looked at the address a moment, wondering if his memory or eyes were playing tricks — if perhaps he had misremembered the address or if his eyes were confusing a letter. But the address was her name, with the middle initial, at AOL, and there was no mistake.
His finger hovered over his BlackBerry, poised to delete. Then it backed off.
He moved the cursor up and down the screen, uncharacteristically indecisive.
Maybe it was the fact that he was in New York on Bureau business as a representative at a security conference. He'd always had a complicated relationship with the city.
In the end, he did what many men would do: He left the message unread, and went down to the hotel bar to have a drink.
It was a decision he would regret for the rest of his life.CHAPTER 2
NEW YORK CITY
About the time the bartender tipped a bottle of Jack Daniel's toward Fisher's glass, Katherine Feder was sitting at a table at a hotel bar across town. She had no idea that her old lover was in New York; in fact, she would have been surprised to find him here, as neither chance nor fate had pushed their paths together since they broke up. While she thought of him often — very much so in the past few weeks — her feelings toward him were no longer romantic. She had in every sense moved on, even if the fact that she had no boyfriend at present might belie that.
Her availability floated over the table tonight, subtly. She'd nursed two chardonnays over the past hour and a half, listening politely as a pair of men from one of her firm's subcontractors bemoaned the decline of the American education system, as evidenced by the lousy job their children's teachers were doing. Feder had spent most of the time listening, orat least pretending to; their firm's contribution to the project was crucial, and with Icarus's cash tight its goodwill was critical.
But goodwill was only worth so much, and finally Feder decided she had stayed long enough.
"Thank you both for a lovely evening," she said, rising from the thickly padded armless chair. "I'm going to turn in."
Both men looked a little more disappointed than they should have, Feder thought; undoubtedly they had been hoping for something beyond conversation.
Separately, she hoped. Not that she would have considered anything beyond business with either one of them. But together would have been just too comical. And sickening.
Kathy got up and began making her way out of the hotel lounge. The room was crowded with people from the alternative energy convention she was attending. She nodded as she moved through the room, first to Martin Styson from the Northeast Powergrid Association, then to Thomas Maleen from WindCentral, Janeen Ryder of Martin Lypp, William Ryder of BlueAtom.
Competitors, most of them, in one way or another. But she regarded them benignly. Unlike the group of men huddled around backless chairs near the entrance of the bar, holding court with loud guffaws.
Dressed in casual but expensive clothes, they leaned back in the sofas and easy chairs they'd commandeered, sprawling as if they were in their own living rooms. They acted as if they owned the place, and though that wasn't technically true, they did own a sizeable portion of the firms at the conference Feder was attending. They were "the money" — representatives of venture capital firms and hedge funds that invested in or loaned money to businesses involved in energy production.
And, not coincidentally, manipulated the system to make money on energy futures, directly and indirectly, with little regard for the practical effects.
The man at the far end of the table took an unlit cigar out of his mouth and smiled at Feder. She smiled back.
His smile was closer to a leer. Hers, had it been anything other than a smile, would have been a sword plunging into his heart, then chopping off his head.
The man was Jonathon Loup, and he was not only the richest trader there, he was by common agreement one of the most powerful men in the alternative energy business — the original big swinging dick, in the phrase made popular by Tom Wolfe.
He could have easily stepped out of Wolfe's novel, with a slight wardrobe change to bring him into modern times: He wore casual though pricey jeans, an Italian wool sports coat, and a thousand-watt smile. Kathy hated him for many reasons, not the least of which was that phony smile.
Loup's fund owned pieces of energy plants and firms around the country. It traded energy-related commodities in conjunction with them. Using small firms it had bought or otherwise preempted, Loup was a serious player in the sale of electricity, mostly in the west and south where the regulations were generally weaker than in the rest of the country.
Loup — and a whole host of others — speculated in the market, buying and selling futures and other contracts tied to energy production. These financial instruments were priced without real regard to the underlying value of the fuel or energy. As a practical matter, they tended to add artificially to the price, sometimes wildly.
That was bad enough. But Kathy believed Loup went far beyond speculation, actively manipulating the price of his electricity by holding it back at different times and aggressively seeking to put rivals out of business.
As far as anyone could tell, he never broke the patchwork of laws governing energy and its sale. But no one would ever say his tactics were fair.
Kathy Feder thought of the speculators as pirates; Loup was the devil himself. But he was a rich devil, and one she had to deal with, by necessity.
Two years before, Loup had loaned $10 million to her company, Icarus Sun Works. In the world of energy generation, $10 million was a relatively small sum — it took billions to build a power plant, and $10 million would not buy enough fuel to keep many plants going for a year.
The terms of the loan were not particularly onerous. Icarus paid a nominal interest-only fee each year until it reached certain milestones. At that point, it would have five years to repay the loan, or allow it to be converted to equity according to a complicated formula. The final interest rate was hefty — 23 percent — but the deal was unarguably better than Icarus or its founder, T. Parker Terhoussen, could have gotten from anyone else.
At the time of the loan, Icarus was a fledgling company with an interesting idea: to generate electricity in Earth orbit, then beam it down for consumption on Earth. Now Icarus was just a few days from launching its first satellite, proving the concept, and altering the nature of energy generation forever.
Not coincidentally, it was right before Kathy Feder had joined the company. Her work, as much as anyone's, even Terhoussen's, had made the satellite possible. But there was one thing that hadn't changed in two years: Icarus was still deeply in need of cash.
Terhoussen had refused any number of offers, including several from Loup, to sell part of the company. Loup was now offering a new loan in exchange for a series of warrants that would give him a nonvoting seat on the company board — a seemingly benign offer, but one Terhoussen and Feder viewed as the proverbial camel's nose in the tent. So far, Terhoussen had resisted, but Feder wondered how long he would be able to continue doing so.
Not very long, if something went wrong with the launch. But if Loup ever got any real say over Icarus, she would resign. Quickly.
It would kill her, because it would mean walking away not just from the company but from a dream she had nurtured long before she even decided to become an engineer and scientist. But she would not allow herself to be associated with someone so evil.
Smiling now was a way of saying fuck off.
He smiled back. Probably not thinking exactly the same thing.
Feder hadn't realized how attractive she was until she was in her senior year of high school. Until that point, her face had been dominated by glasses and thick braces. Her body had been skinny rather than lean, gawky rather than longlegged. But her real problem was that she was smart, good in math, good with words. Most of the boys were threatened by that.
And still were.
Feder left the bar and walked down the hall to the lobby elevators. The walls were made of polished marble, and the chair rail that ran along the wall gleamed of gold inlay. It was as if the place were a palace — a phony one, Kathy thought, where the guests could pretend that they were kings and queens, in charge of their own destinies.
Inside the elevator, the long day seemed to close in on her. She leaned against the wall of the car, tired, longing for sleep.
Images flitted through her mind. The satellite they'd built. The rocket to launch it — unexpectedly one of the biggest problems. The transmission network.
Computer diagrams of the systems she'd been working on ... The company financials.
Then fantasies: She and Terhoussen were accepting the Nobel Prize for their work. It was a special prize, for contributions to mankind — solving energy and pollution problems, lowering the cost of power, eliminating the root evil of many wars.
It was a great fantasy, one she'd played over in her mind in various forms since childhood. And now it was going to become a reality.
Almost. As long as they got through the other troubles. And got the launch off. And found money to keep going.
The elevator door opened on her floor. Kathy paused, unable to get her bearings. Was her room left or right?
Left, she decided.
She found it about halfway down the hall. She flipped on the television absentmindedly as she went in, the drone of a CNN anchor vaguely reassuring in the background. Feder kicked off her shoes and sat on the bed.
Maybe she should have more wine, she thought — have room service send up a glass. Or maybe a bottle.
What she'd really like was a bath, and a chocolate truffle.
Two chocolate truffles ... and a massage.
Her fantasy was interrupted by a knock at the door.
"Room service," said the voice outside.
"I didn't order room service."
"Chocolate and champagne — compliments of the gentlemen in the bar."
Good God — they'd read her mind.
"Just a minute," she said, slipping off the bed.
She cracked open the door just enough to see the cart with its white folded cloth at the top. Feder pushed the door back closed and pulled off the safety latch that kept it from opening too far. Realizing she needed money for a tip, she turned and walked to the dresser where she'd put down her pocketbook.
"Who sent this?" she asked, her back turned.
Excerpted from The Helios Conspiracy by Jim DeFelice. Copyright © 2012 Jim DeFelice. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
The Near Present,
Part One: A Heart, Battered and Scarred,
Part Two: Off Course,
Part Three: Twists and Turns,
Part Four: SE(a) A(ir) L(and) and Cigarettes,
Part Five: Damsel in Distress,
Forge Books by Jim DeFelice,
About the Author,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
DeFelice takes a break from his usual hard-core military thrillers (Leopards Kill, etc.) with a wise-cracking FBI agent. Pretty entertaining and off-beat, even when the author goes over the top.
Could not put down.
Could not put it down once I started.