In R. J. Pineiro's The Fall, a sci-fi thriller, a man jumps from the upper-most reaches of the atmosphere and vanishes, ending up on an alternate Earth where he died five years earlier.
Jack Taylor has always been an adrenaline junkie. As a federal contractor, he does dangerous jobs for the government that fall out of the realm of the SEALS and the Marines. And this next job is right up his alley. Jack has been assigned to test an orbital jump and if it works, the United States government will have a new strategy against enemy countries.
Despite Jack's soaring career, his personal life is in shambles. He and his wife Angela are both workaholics and are on the verge of getting a divorce. But the night before his jump, Jack and Angela begin to rekindle their romance and their relationship holds promise for repair. Then comes the day of Jack's big jump. He doesn't burn up like some predicted—instead, he hits the speed of sound and disappears.
Jack wakes up in an alternate universe. One where he died during a mission five years earlier and where Angela is still madly in love with him. But in this world, his boss, Pete, has turned to the dark side, is working against him, and the government is now on his tail. Jack must return to his own world but the only way for him to do that is to perform another orbital jump. This time is more difficult though—no one wants to see him go.
Jack's adrenaline is contagious—The Fall will keep readers on the edges of their seats, waiting to find out what crazy stunt Jack will perform next and to learn the fate of this charming, daredevil hero.
|Publisher:||St. Martin''s Publishing Group|
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About the Author
R.J. PINEIRO is a 27-year veteran of the computer industry, where he held various positions at Advanced Micro Devices, Inc., retiring in 2011. He is the author of many internationally acclaimed novels including Shutdown, Firewall, Cyberterror, and Havoc, as well as the millennium thrillers, 01-01-00 and Y2K. He makes his home in central Texas, where he lives with his wife, Lory Anne, and his son, Cameron.
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By R. J. Pineiro
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2015 St. Martin's Press LLC
All rights reserved.
A WORTHY CAUSE
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause.
— Theodore Roosevelt
What goes up must come down, thought Jack Taylor as his gloved hands gripped the handles framing the oval-shaped exit hatch of his windowless capsule.
He loved the adrenaline rush, riding atop the booster that had shot him off the Florida peninsula like a cannonball, giving him the gut-wrenching, suborbital ride of a lifetime for the past few minutes.
And that was the easy part.
The stereoscopic image painted on his helmet's polymer faceplate, slaved to the external cameras, displayed the rocket booster's fall to Earth as he rapidly decelerated while approaching the apogee of his programmed sixty-two-mile ballistic flight, skimming the Kármán Line, the official threshold where space began above sea level.
But Jack was far more engrossed in the splendor and magnificence projecting beyond the spinning booster as it vanished in the vast carpet of mountains and plains dotted with dozens of lakes and meandering rivers stained with vivid hues of orange, red, and yellow-gold by the looming sun's wan light.
He flew temporarily weightless now, as his ballistic flight reached its zenith high above glaring mirrors of infinite shapes and sizes surrounded by forests, agricultural crops, mountain ranges, cities, and grids of roads and highways — all framed by endless coastal plains, by the eastern seaboard projecting far north into the darkening curvature of Planet Earth and the stars beyond.
The soft whirr of his suit's environmental control and life support system broke the silence of space, the dead calm that Jack enjoyed as much as the cold and wonderfully refreshing pure air sprayed gently inside his helmet from the suit's liquid oxygen supply.
The familiar aromas of plastic and sweat filled his nostrils as Jack inhaled deeply, his gaze gravitating to the west. Tropical storm Claudette, which had moved up his launch schedule, gathered strength over the warm Gulf of Mexico, bright flashes of cloud-to-cloud lightning trembling across hundreds of miles as it twisted its way north.
"Stay the fuck away," he mumbled, glaring at Claudette's swirling clouds.
"Phoenix, KSC, we didn't quite copy that. Say again."
Shit. "Ah, nothing, KSC. Just enjoying the view," he replied to Pete Flaherty, his boss and longtime friend, who was acting as capsule communicator, or CapCom, for this mission down at Kennedy Space Center.
Jack heard a slight pause, probably Pete trying not to laugh, followed by a lively, "Copy that. Sixty seconds to Kármán."
"Roger," Jack replied, scanning the myriad displays projected all around the periphery of his helmet, marveling at his wife, Angela, the genius behind this amazing piece of hardware that he hoped would bring his ass down through sixty miles of hell in one piece to a smooth touchdown in a designated grassy field northeast of Orlando.
The Orbital Space Suit, nearly six years in the making, had his wife's ingenuity written all over it, from the amazing helmet displays, to the retina-controlled systems, integrated stability jets in the gloves and boots, a closed-loop oxygen system to eliminate the need for large tanks, and multiple of layers of titanium, Nomex, nylon, Mylar, and graphite to keep the intense heat from reaching the sensitive inner layers — all packaged in an incredibly light and flexible one-piece jumpsuit. The OSS just flowed. It was elegant, clean, and highly intuitive, minimizing the time it would take the wearer to grow familiar. Plus Angela had designed it with full modularization so it could be mass-produced for a new generation of American fighting forces.
And all courtesy of the slice of the DOD's extensive budget that Pete had managed to channel to this project.
"Thirty seconds to Kármán."
"Roger, KSC. All good up here," Jack said, glancing at the video projecting a vast void below him, feeling the reassuring mild stiffness of pressurized oxygen inside the suit.
Trapped inside this tiny pod hurtling at more than five thousand miles per hour to reach an altitude two and a half times as high as the well-advertised jump by "Fearless" Felix Baumgartner a few years earlier, Jack couldn't help but wonder if he had gone just a bit too far this time. This was not one of the relatively easier jumps from the Stratosphere that Baumgartner and USAF Colonel Joseph Kittinger before him had accomplished. Jack was at the official edge of space, deep in the unforgiving thermosphere, about to reach the exact height where Alan Shepard flew Freedom 7 back in 1961, marking America's entry into the space race with that historic fifteen-minute suborbital flight.
Yeah, but Shepard stayed inside the capsule, Jack.
He shook the thought away while tightening his grip on the handles, becoming hyperaware that everything sounded right. Inside his suit, sound was a primary sense, and Jack's trained ears listened to the whirring pumps not only feeding oxygen into the suit but also dumping exhaled carbon dioxide to keep his blood oxygenation at the proper level. Their constant — and reassuring — humming mixed with the occasional sound of nylon creaking as he inched closer to the exit hatch.
Just a walk in the park, he thought, remembering his prior job as a federal contractor for the U.S. government, testing gear and tactics before they became plans of record for SEAL teams, Army Rangers, and other elite fighting forces. The assignments had taken Jack from desert sands to icy mountain peaks, from the depths of the ocean to stormy heavens while pushing prototype equipment to the breaking point. From the latest skydiving rigs to leading-edge underwater gadgets, rappeling equipment, and every conceivable type of weapon, Jack was the Pentagon's leading test warrior, wringing out the kinks of prototype hardware and tactics for the benefit of America's fighting forces.
And this assignment was just another stepping stone in Jack's uniquely dangerous career. Pete had wasted no time signing him up for the elite Project Phoenix.
NASA hoped to breathe new life into its dying operations by proving to the Department of Defense the immense value of space jumps. If NASA perfected orbital jumps, the Department of Defense could have soldiers jumping from so high up that the enemies of the United States would never detect them in time. And this suborbital flight was the first step in the process. Angela was already finalizing the computer design of a suit that would allow a true orbital jump directly from the International Space Station — an assignment that Pete was already hard at work lobbying to fund.
But first, Jack had to succeed today.
Everything depends on it, he thought, activating the suit's BIST — Built-in Self Test — an algorithm developed by Angela to have the suit's master computer system test every module of the OSS, displaying the results in Jack's faceplate as well as in one of the large monitors in Mission Control. His primary concern was damage by the Gs he had endured during the ascent phase.
"All systems in the green, Phoenix," reported Pete from the Cape.
"Roger," Jack replied.
The press, which was under the impression that NASA was simply testing an early prototype suit designed to help astronauts abandon the International Space Station in case of emergency, was certainly having one hell of a field day with his latest stunt. From passing out and failing to open his chute to breaking up when hitting the speed of sound, or — Jack's favorite — his eyeballs and heart exploding while burning up in the atmosphere, the pundits were going crazy with their —
"Ten seconds to Kármán, Phoenix. OSS looking good."
Focus, Jack, he thought, scanning the telemetry displayed on his visor, confirming that the OSS — the single-most compact and complex piece of equipment ever made by NASA — was fully functional, making this mission a go.
"Five seconds ... All systems nominal."
His tactile gloves clutching the handles flanking the exit hatch, his power boots pressed hard against the Velcro floor pads, Jack watched a single bead of sweat momentarily floating right in front of his eyes before the suit's recirculating system sucked it away.
"Three ... two ... one ... Kármán."
Point of no return. Jack took a deep breath as he watched, completely devoid of sound, the oval-shaped hatch blasting into space courtesy of a dozen explosive bolts in a pyrotechnic display of oranges and reds that ironically matched the myriad hues from the tunnel-like image of Earth beyond the pod's large opening.
Right up to Kármán, Jack had the ability to abort the mission and use the capsule's heat shields to return to Earth safely, just as Shepard had done decades before. NASA had built the pod as Plan B in case of a suit malfunction during the ascent phase. But just as Cortez burned the ships when conquering the New World to force his troops inland, NASA had also technically just burned Jack's ship. There was now no other way down but to jump.
"Well, good thing the suit's holding up," he said, before thinking, Thank you, Angie.
"Roger, Phoenix. All looks good down here as well ... hold on."
Jack dropped his gaze at Pete's last two words.
"Phoenix, this is General Hastings."
Really, dude? Right now?
The Pentagon had decided to place the entire operation — just twelve damned hours before the jump — under the direct command of General George Hastings, a senior member of the DOD overseeing committee who had never set foot at the Cape before. Jack had nearly lost it when he'd arrived at Kennedy Space Center last night to find an entourage of dark SUVs packed with a small army of soldiers and a couple of scientists from Los Alamos. Then an hour later, as NASA technicians were going through the process of getting him inside the multiple modules and layers of the OSS, Hastings made his appearance and had gone straight into a discussion about changing the descent profile, in direct conflict with Angela's instructions. A heated exchange followed between Hastings, Jack, and Angela.
No offense, General, but she's got the MIT Ph.D., not you, Jack had finally told him, prompting the general to storm out of the suit-up room to call the Pentagon. But in spite of clashing personalities, there was simply too much at stake, and there was no one else skilled enough — and perhaps crazy enough — to make this jump. So after a ten-minute conference call between the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the White House Chief of Staff, Hastings, and Pete, it was decided that the jump would go on as planned but with the reprogrammed descent profile requested by Hastings, and that Pete would find a way to keep Jack on a leash.
"General?" Jack finally said.
"Jack, you must accept the reprogrammed Alpha-B profile when you reenter the atmosphere. It is critical that ..."
Jack tuned the general out while watching the Earth below him, leaning forward into the abyss, freeing his boots from the Velcro straps on the floor while still holding on to the exit handles, trying to listen to his suit rather than to Hastings. His mind focused on the job ahead, letting the general continue to rattle off the same garbage he had spewed back in the suit-up room.
This is the precise reason why so many well-planned military operations turn to shit, General.
But Jack held his tongue, trusting his wife, deciding to accept whatever descent profile appeared in his display.
Instead, he gazed at the nearly surreal view beyond the capsule as he waited for the timer to start the jump countdown sequence. It was one thing to view the world painted on his faceplate display by exterior cameras. It was an entirely different animal to actually see it from this altitude with his own eyes. No camera could capture the incredible depth and colors of planet Earth as he swung forward as much as he could while still holding on to the handles, projecting half of his body beyond the opening, milking the moment for as long as he could.
Even Claudette looked amazing from this altitude, its angered clouds alive with pulsating lightning resembling balls of light arcing across its twisting mass, trembling wildly in a rainbow of colors contrasting sharply with the bluish hues of the Gulf of Mexico as it slowly turned east towards the middle of the Florida peninsula.
Although seldom easily impressed, Jack took it all in, enjoying his very own fireworks show, filling his lungs, savoring the moment before his jump window opened, listening to his suit, to the droning pumps keeping the OSS's internal temperature at 70 degrees Fahrenheit, to the light beeps made by the master computer system as it ran yet another diagnostic, and even to the sound of his own breathing as he became nearly hypnotized by the view.
Somewhere in the background, Hastings was still talking, still dispensing orders.
Jack continued to ignore him, his eyes scanning his faceplate displays, confirming proper operation of all his systems, before returning to the cloud-to-cloud lightning, framed by the ocean and the Florida peninsula. Beyond it a sea of stars outlined Earth's delicate curvature, countless points glittering against the darkness of space.
A green numeral 20, projected in the middle of his faceplate, disrupted his cosmic sightseeing.
Lock and load time, he thought.
As the timer turned red and began the critical twenty-second countdown before the jump window closed, Jack remembered Alan Shepard in Freedom 7, recalled what later became known as Shepard's Prayer in the aviator's community thanks to the movie The Right Stuff.
"Dear God, please don't let me fuck up," he said, interrupting Hastings's monologue.
Then Jack lowered the heat shield over his visor and jumped into the abyss.
* * *
"He'd better know what in the fuck he's doing, Flaherty!" hissed George Hastings, the oversized Army general, while standing next to Pete at the CapCom station in the relatively modest Mission Control Room, occupying the second floor of an old space shuttle–era building recently refurbished for Project Phoenix in Launch Complex 39. In this windowless room, eighteen mission specialists sitting in three rows of six monitored every aspect of the launch. If successful, the next Pentagon grant would allow Pete to expand this Mission Control Room, add a second one at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, and add an OSS Launch Module to the International Space Station, where America could house its first platoon of orbital jumpers ready to be deployed to any location on the globe.
"I thought you were going to keep him on a leash, dammit!" the general snarled before stepping back and crossing his massive arms while looking at the large displays monopolizing the entire front of the room.
Dr. Angela Taylor, sitting at the far end of the last row, shook her head while sipping her third energy drink in two hours, finishing it, and tossing it over her head and directly into a waste basket just five feet from the growling general with the blazing orange hair and freckles. The can banged loudly against the other two she had previously deposited in the same trash can.
That's another three-pointer, Grumpy.
Angela felt his stare on her as she loudly popped the lid of a fourth drink while glancing at her short fingernails, painted black to match her lipstick, before shifting her gaze between Jack's vitals, the descent profile display, and the suit's hundreds of internal monitors — telemetry that was broadcast through two passing satellites and one in geosynchronous orbit right above the jump as backup. In addition, the pod's final task was to shoot off in a parallel descent path to Jack's while providing them with high- resolution imagery for the first few minutes of the jump, before it burned up on reentry at around mile thirty. Then the cameras aboard a dozen high- altitude balloons parked along his planned route would pick up his epic fall right up to his final chute deployment, when ground cameras and several spotting helicopters would be waiting to record the final descent.
Everyone in that room — with the exception of Hastings and his annoying crew — had a specific task to handle, from managing the capsule's trajectory and tracking satellites, to the incoming weather system, the high-altitude balloons, distance to all other orbiting objects, and even working real-time with central Florida's air traffic controllers to create a twenty-mile-wide temporary flight restriction around Jack's planned descent path, also known as the "pipe."
On top of all that, the Air Force had a dozen fighter jets hauling high-frequency transmitters meant to keep all birds away from the pipe. The stakes were high, and the last thing NASA and the Pentagon needed was for Jack to hit a chunk of space debris or a damned seagull on his way down. But even the finest rocket-scientist minds couldn't anticipate every possible thing that could go wrong with a project of this complexity, and that very, very small — but still very, very real — probability of something going wrong kept Angela's heart rate high and her throat dry.
Excerpted from The Fall by R. J. Pineiro. Copyright © 2015 St. Martin's Press LLC. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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Table of Contents
1. A Worthy Cause,
2. Levels of Consciousness,
3. Problem-Solving 101,
5. Time and Data,
6. The Return of the Warrior,
7. Pressure Point,
8. Connecting the Dots,
11. Misguided Men,
12. The Big Kahuna,
13. Good Enough,
14. Risks and Costs,
15. Real Fear,
16. Running Man,
17. Blinded by the Light,
18. Take Me Home, Country Roads,
Epilogue: New Beginnings,
About the Author,
Also by R. J. Pineiro,