"A thriller that grabs and absolutely doesn't let go." -Kirkus Reviews
John Nance's book Medusa's Child is a brilliant technothriller filled with unrelenting suspense and incredible insider details about corporate aviation, the military, and the very real threat of nuclear terrorism.
In the cargo hold of his Boeing 727, Captain Scott McKay notices a strange crate shortly after takeoff. A terrorist team orders him to abandon his present course and fly straight to Washington, D.C., to deliver the crate. McKay takes the forced detour in stride -- until he is warned that the shipment is actually a fully armed Medusa device, a thermonuclear bomb that can obliterate thousands of innocent lives and destroy every microchip over an entire continent. And it is set to go off within hours.
Hounded by contradictory orders from the U.S. Air Force, the President, and the FBI, McKay's crew must learn everything there is to know about the Medusa and find a way to stop the seemingly unstoppable doomsday detonation.
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IN FLIGHT--SCOTAIR 50--4:05 P.M. EDT
The voice of the Washington Approach controller was terse.
"ScotAir Fifty, I've been handed a telephone number in Miami you're to call immediately. Do you have a phone aboard?"
Scott felt off balance. He'd never heard an air traffic controller order a pilot to make an airborne call. He wished Doc was back in the cockpit.
Scott punched the transmit button. "Ah, roger, ScotAir Fifty does have a telephone. Who's requesting the call?"
"I don't know, ScotAir," the controller began, "...but you need to call this number immediately. I'm told it's an emergency."
The controller relayed the number and Scott punched it into the Flitephone handset, his mind whirling through a variety of apocalyptic possibilities as a man answered on the other end, listened to the name ScotAir, and identified himself as an FBI agent. Scott felt himself shudder within.
"We've been trying to find you, ScotAir. You were in Miami this morning at the same time some undocumented hazardous material was shipped out. We think that material may be on board your aircraft."
The memory of Linda McCoy's pushiness in getting her two pallets aboard suddenly flooded Scott's mind, almost blocking the agent's words. They hadn't really verified her identity, had they? They hadn't even inspected her pallets, once he'd agreed to take them.
"We need you to land immediately," the agent said.
The visual memory of Mrs. Henry's single pallet also crossed his mind. He knew even less about her.
Scott realized the agent was still talking, and he wasn't paying attention.
"I'm sorry, say again."
There was a pause inMiami. "I said, we'll have the appropriate people ready to meet you to examine what you've got on board. You haven't unloaded anything since you left Miami, have you?"
Suddenly, for some reason, he felt guilty. All they'd done wrong was load someone else's pallet, and that was an innocent mistake. Yet the fact that an FBI agent was asking him questions at all was vaguely terrifying.
"No, sir, "Scott answered, "It's all still aboard, but I need to know, are we in any danger, if what you're looking for is really here?"
"Sir? Did you hear me?"
He could hear the phone being shifted from one hand to another in Miami, and at last the FBI agent's voice returned. "Ah, Captain, I doubt you're in any immediate danger, but I can't say for certain. If the...items...we're looking for are on board your airplane, it depends on how well they're, ah, packaged."
More links and connections raced through his head, none of them comforting.
Miami...drug dealers...drug-making equipment...hazardous, carcinogenic chemicals...what if we're carrying illegal drugs...
Scott heard his own voice as if it were disembodied. "Okay. Where do you want us to land? We're waiting to get into National, but right now it's closed."
There was a worrisome hesitation on the other end. Scott could hear voices before the agent spoke into the handset again.
"Okay, stay in your holding pattern. What phone are you on?"
Scott passed the number of the aircraft's Flitephone.
"Keep the line open, Captain, and I'll call you back as soon as we've decided where to bring you down."
"You do realize there's a hurricane moving in here?" Scott asked. "I...wait a minute." The agent began. Scott could hear someone talking in the background. "Okay, Captain, what did you say?"
"I said, there's a hurricane moving into the D.C. area. Whatever we do, we're going to need to do it fast. One of my clients wants her cargo to go to National, but if it doesn't re-open soon, the winds are going to go out of limits."
"You've got just one shipment on board, right?"
"No sir, we've got two. One's going to Denver, Colorado, the other was loaded by mistake this morning. We're delivering it to National."
More background discussion. Scott realized he'd flown beyond the end of the holding pattern. His right hand found the autopilot controller and began a right turn to reverse course. Even at ten thousand feet and two hundred forty knots of speed, the turbulence was getting worse, and the old 727 was bouncing around with an irritating consistency.
The agent's voice filled his ear again. Scott thought he detected fatigue. "Okay, Captain, we're going to need to inspect everything you've got aboard. Right now we're considering bringing you down at Andrews Air Force Base. Hang tight until I've got final word. I'll call you right back."
The sound of the cockpit door being flung open was punctuated by the sound of the FBI agent disconnecting.
"Scott!" Doc Hazzard laid a large left hand on the younger pilot's shoulder, turning him partly around with a startling roughness. "Scott, we've got a problem." Linda McCoy stood in the doorway, he noticed, her face ashen. Mrs. Henry was nowhere to be seen.
Doc flung himself in the copilot's seat and began strapping in. "Doctor McCoy will take you back there. I'll watch the bird. I don't know what to make of it."
"What, Doc? What the hell are you talking about?"
Doc Hazzard grabbed the yoke with his right hand and turned toward Scott.
"That warning horn? It was coming from Mrs. Henry's shipment. There's a metal container in that pallet. It looks like stainless steel. I opened an inspection hatch and found a TV screen inside with a message you've got to see. Scott, this thing may contain a bomb! And it's got an inertial navigation system in it that may be malfunctioning. It thinks it knows where it is, but it doesn't know precisely."
"Doc, for God's sake, slow down! Tell me that again. There's a huge container back there with some sort of message and you think it's a bomb? .
Doc shook his head as he scanned the instruments, trying to make sure he knew where they were. "You'll understand when you look at it."
"What's this about an inertial navigation system?"
Doc turned to him. "It thinks we're in the Pentagon. Rather, thinks it's in the Pentagon."
"Well, we flew over the Pentagon before we started holding, but what does that have to do with..." the word "bomb" was beginning to sink in.
There was true panic in the copilot's eyes, Scott noticed. For eight months nothing had seemed to rattle Doc Hazzard. He was always steady as a rock. But now he was shaken.
"Doc, does Mrs. Henry know what's inside that pallet?"
Doc shook his head vigorously. "Not a clue. She says her husband was a government physicist. Whatever that is back there, he built it. I can't get anything else out of her, except that he's dead and left instructions for her to take it to the Pentagon. It's supposed to be a mockup of some sort. That's all she'll tell me, and she looks pretty scared."
Linda McCoy's hand gripped his shoulder with surprising strength. "Captain, please follow me back. I'm really worried about this." Her voice carried a tense urgency as well, and Scott scrambled out of the seat to follow her out the cockpit door.
Vivian Henry had steadied herself against the turbulence by holding or to a small handrail above the windows, but she was aware of little more than the container before her. She'd recognized the look of alarm on the face of the young female scientist several minutes before, then had seen it consume the copilot as well. They seemed unable to tell her what they were seeing, so she'd stepped forward and looked for herself at the small screen inside her ex-husband's creation. All she could see on the screen was text, but. in her head she could hear the familiar snarl of her deceased husband's voice reaching out for her again with the horrid clarity of a can't-get-away nightmare.
What does he mean, 'detonate'?
Maybe it was a burglar alarm of sorts, she thought in a frantic search for a benign explanation. She looked at the screen again. He obviously meant those words to be threatening. Once the shipment was within the Pentagon complex, Rogers Henry had devised a plan to keep it there.
Perhaps that's it! The threat is just a ploy to make sure they really study the mockup.
Nothing would happen. Nothing would explode. Vivian knew Rogers had always been passionate about defending his country. He would never attack it.
Doc Hazzard and Dr. McCoy had disappeared toward the cockpit, leaving her alone with her husband's handiwork. For the first time, a cold, haunting shroud of fear began to cover her mind with an unexpected sense of helplessness and resignation. The old feeling of being cornered by him in some other impossible position, her back against a wall--often with his hands around her throat--came back with chilling familiarity. So many times she had assumed she was about to die at his hands--so many times she was sure he would carry out his threats. Until she'd mustered up enough courage to leave him, she'd grown used to feeling helpless and being resigned to her fate.
But there were other people involved this time, she reminded herself.
Vivian Henry looked out the nearest window, trying to shake the feeling of impending doom. Rogers had stopped appearing in her nightmares some time ago, but the rancid, electric feeling of impending attack had returned. It was a feeling she knew all too well. For years she'd had nightmares about his stalking her, nightmares she relived night after night with the visceral presence of pure hate reflected in his eyes when they fastened on her. His pupils would become tiny little pinpoints, and she would be transfixed, unable to move, until she awoke in total confusion.
She stared, mesmerized, at the partly-exposed metal canister, sensing her ex-husband at his most sadistic.
Linda McCoy reappeared with the Captain, both of them with averted eyes and strained faces as they looked inside at the glowing TV screen. She heard the young captain inhale sharply.
They would think her responsible for Rogers' threats, Vivian concluded. They would think she planned this, especially when they discovered she, too, had worked at Los Alamos.
I played sports in school, but I've never been a big sports fan in terms of watching games. I would say the most dynamic sports figure in history is Jim Thorpe, because he excelled in so many areas and did so against great odds.
Do you have a worst date story? Would you tell us about it?
I really don't have a worst date story. I was one of those people who never went out on dates unless he had a pretty good idea of compatibility from the start. Sort of like a lawyer not asking a question he doesn't know the answer to.
What books did you read as a child? Are they the same books you would read to your children?
All the standards, Dr. Seuss, etc. My favorite was a book called Artie the Smartie, about a fish who managed to avoid every hook and trap, and kept from being caught. Perfect bible for a control freak. I probably won't read that book to my kids. I don't want them to be as uptight as I am when they grow up.
Do you like to cook?
I do like to cook, but with a three-year-old and a two-month-old, I don't have much time for it.
What, to you, is the most important day of the year?
The most important day of the year is when I finish whatever novel I'm working on, because that's the only day of the year when I relax at all. The problem with that is that day only comes once every two years!
Before the live bn.com chat, John J. Nance agreed to answer some of our questions:Q: Who do you think is the most dynamic sports figure in history?
A: I played sports in school, but I've never been a big sports fan in terms of watching games. I would say the most dynamic sports figure in history is Jim Thorpe, because he excelled in so many areas and did so against great odds.
Q: Do you have a worst date story? Would you tell us about it?
A: I really don't have a worst date story. I was one of those people who never went out on dates unless he had a pretty good idea of compatibility from the start. Sort of like a lawyer not asking a question he doesn't know the answer to.
Q: What books did you read as a child? Are they the same books you would read to your children?
A: All the standards, Dr. Seuss, etc. My favorite was a book called Artie the Smartie, about a fish who managed to avoid every hook and trap, and kept from being caught. Perfect bible for a control freak. I probably won't read that book to my kids. I don't want them to be as uptight as I am when they grow up.
Q: Do you like to cook?
A: I do like to cook, but with a three-year-old and a two-month-old, I don't have much time for it.
Q: What, to you, is the most important day of the year?
A: The most important day of the year is when I finish whatever novel I'm working on, because that's the only day of the year when I relax at all. The problem with that is that day only comes once every two years!
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I enjoyed Medussa's Child. Action packed at every turn. It felt like you were on board. I hope the armed forces brass aren't this dense.
Fun and super fast paced. Well done!