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Alarmed by the potential dangers of the Chrysalis project, extraterrestrial secret agent Gary Seven teams up with human Roberta Lincoln to neutralize the growing threat of Khan Noonien Singh, an ambitious, teenage, artificially enhanced human who is determined to seize control of Earth. 35,000 first printing.
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Greg Cox, author of The Eugenics Wars: Volume One, also wrote the bestselling Q Continuum trilogy, as well as such popular Star Trek® novels as Assignment: Eternity, The Black Shore, Devil in the Sky (with John Gregory Betancourt), and Dragon's Honor (with Kij Johnson). Greg is also the author of Roswell?: Loose Ends, and his short fiction has appeared in several anthologies, including Star Trek: Enterprise Logs and The Further Adventures of Xena: Warrior Princess. He lives in New York City.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
JUNE 14, 1992
One hundred and seventy feet above the concrete launch pad, Roberta Lincoln crawled out onto one of the horizontal swing arms of the towering rocket gantry. A small green gecko scurried out of her way as the fortyish American woman clambered on her hands and knees across the steel bridge toward her target: an Ariane rocket primed for takeoff.
The more things change, the more they really do stay the same, Roberta thought wryly. Twenty-five years ago, her longtime friend and supervisor, Gary Seven, had crept across a similar elevated platform to sabotage another rocket launch. His mission then had been to prevent a weapon of mass destruction from being launched into orbit, initiating a full-scale outer space arms race. A quarter century later, Roberta's agenda was pretty much the same. The only difference is that this time I'm the one performing without a net.
Just to play it safe, however, she clipped one end of a safety cord to the metal grating beneath her, keeping the other end securely attached to her belt. A cool, dry wind rustled her honey-blond hair as she came within reach of the powerful European booster rocket, designed to place commercial satellites in orbit high above the Earth. Roberta briefly wondered what kind of bribes and/or extortion Khan had employed to get his hands on the Ariane, let alone transport it to this remote launch site in the South Pacific, previously occupied by the French government's now-defunct nuclear testing program.
From her lofty perch upon the gantry, Roberta could look out over the entire atoll: a circular ring of greenery surrounding a large moonlit lagoon. Leafy palm trees and mangroves covered much of the island, although she could also spot the lights of the Mission Control center, nestled amidst the lush tropical flora.
"Let's just hope they don't spot me," she whispered to herself, acutely aware that her green camouflage shorts and tank top, which had blended perfectly with the tropical shrubbery on her way here, now clashed alarmingly with the industrial-red paint job on the rocket gantry. According to their most recent intel, Khan himself intended to be present for this launch, and Roberta sincerely hoped to get in and out of Muroroa without actually running into the man himself.
The last thing I need right now is a reunion with that smug, so-called superman, she thought. She and Seven had their hands full these days, coping with the crisis in Bosnia, not to mention all the other international mischief stirred up by Khan and his genetically engineered siblings. In their eagerness to assert their self-proclaimed destinies as rulers of the Earth, the Children of Chrysalis, as Roberta still thought of them, had sparked civil wars and unrest all over the globe, in Eastern Europe, Liberia, Somalia, Peru, and elsewhere. This had not made her and Seven's primary mission -- preventing World War III -- any easier. And to think that, after the Cold War ended, I had briefly thought that Seven and I could retire! If anything, their job had gotten even more complicated since the Berlin Wall came down.
And now Khan had to up the ante with this stunt! Roberta scowled and glanced toward the horizon, glimpsing a faint rosy tint where the night sky met the Pacific. The Ariane was scheduled to launch at dawn, so Roberta knew she had to act soon; the sun rose very quickly this close to the equator.
Her all-purpose servo device, cunningly disguised as a silver fountain pen, projected a beam of white light onto the outer casing of the Ariane's main rocket, which was flanked by two solid-fuel boosters, intended to provide the initial thrust upon lift-off. According to the diagrams she'd memorized earlier, the rocket's primary guidance system was just behind the metal panel directly in front of her, bearing the snazzy blue logo of Arianespace, the French manufacturer of the rocket. Roberta's plan was to tweak the controls so that the rocket would self-destruct harmlessly in the upper atmosphere, taking its insidious cargo with it. With any luck, Khan's latest scheme would be over before it even began.
That was the plan, at least. Trying hard not to think about the twenty-five tons of liquid hydrogen stored beneath her, just waiting to be ignited, she switched the servo to laser mode and began cutting a hole in the side of the rocket with what she hoped was surgical precision. The ruby-red beam traced a charred black line around the company logo, quickly forming a complete loop. Roberta gave the melted metal a few minutes to cool, then carefully lifted the newly created circular segment away from the rest of the rocket, revealing the intricate circuitry beneath.
Pretty smooth, she congratulated herself. A few deft moves and -- voilà -- Khan's high-tech hardware was more exposed than Sharon Stone. Grinning triumphantly, she cautiously laid the displaced metal disk aside, making sure it wouldn't topple off the edge of the gantry, and turned her servo back into a flashlight. She gripped the slender silver instrument between her teeth, to keep the incandescent beam focused in front of her, then reached carefully into the electronic innards of the Ariane satellite launcher.
A high-voltage jolt caused her entire body to stiffen in shock. A moment before she lost consciousness, she thanked heaven for the safety cord binding her to the steel platform. At least she wasn't going to fall to her death!...
"She's waking up, Your Excellency," a gruff male voice intoned, penetrating the fog receding from her brain. Roberta struggled to lift her eyelids, half-surprised to find herself alive and not electrocuted.
She suspected the good news ended there.
"Thank you, Joaquin," a familiar voice replied, confirming Roberta's worst expectations. Oh no! she thought, genuine apprehension sending a chill through her recently dormant body. As far as she could tell she seemed to be lying sideways on some sort of couch or cushion. Not him!
Blinking, she opened her eyes to see a tall Indian man looking down at her with an amused expression on his strong, handsome features. Piercing brown eyes inspected her as they might an exotic animal securely caged in a zoo; that is, with total confidence and an unchallenged sense of superiority. He was clean-shaven, with thick black hair tied neatly behind his head, and wore a spotless white Nehru jacket with matching cotton slacks. "Ah, Ms. Lincoln," he greeted her with a mocking pretense of warmth. "How good of you to rejoin us!"
"Hello, Khan," she said icily. Raising herself to a seated position, she tried to stand up, but found her legs still a little too wobbly. A quick glance around revealed that she was in a luxuriously appointed office decorated with traditional Polynesian art. An original Gauguin hung on one wall, while an authentic Melanesian wood carving of a cruising shark sat atop an executive-size desk. A colorful mat, woven from dyed pandanus fibers, carpeted the floor. Roberta did her best to meet Khan's gaze defiantly, despite a profusion of tropical butterflies in her stomach. "Long time, no smirk."
Looming a few feet behind Khan, a large, muscular brute with a sullen expression and light-brown hair glowered at Roberta. A plain black T-shirt was stretched tautly over a Schwarzenegger-size torso, above a pair of simple gray slacks. Compared to Khan's crisp, snow-white suit, the scowling bruiser's attire was dull and unremarkable, except for a large brass belt buckle that bore the visage of a snarling grizzly bear. "You will address His Excellency with more respect!" he warned her balefully, raising a meaty hand as he stepped toward her ominously. She flinched in anticipation of the blow, which would no doubt carry the full force of genetically augmented bones and sinews.
But Khan shook his head, dismissing his henchman's concerns with an airy gesture. "No need to stand on formality," he insisted. "Ms. Lincoln and I are old friends." He smiled coldly at her. "Isn't that so?"
In a manner of speaking, Roberta admitted silently. She had first met Khan Noonien Singh eighteen years ago, in a vast underground laboratory hidden beneath the scorched sands of India's desolate Great Thar Desert. Khan had only been four years old then, one of hundreds of genetically engineered children produced by the top-secret Chrysalis Project, but he had already possessed the confidence and charisma of a born (or, in his case, manufactured) leader. Even after she and Gary Seven had shut down the Chrysalis Project, they had kept careful track of Khan and the other superkids, now scattered throughout the world.
Impressed by Khan's obvious brilliance and potential for good, Seven had even made a determined effort to recruit the teenage Khan into their own covert peacekeeping operation, but that bright idea had backfired spectacularly; in the end, Khan proved too ambitious to keep under control, and he had turned against her and Seven, stealing all their information on the Chrysalis Kids in the process. That was three years ago, and Khan had already rounded up several dozen of his supersmart and superstrong siblings, including Joaquin here, and enlisted them in his grandiose campaign to "save" the world by placing it under his complete and total control. Unfortunately, Roberta had the sneaking suspicion that Khan was just warming up....
"What's up with the close shave?" she asked him glibly, stalling for time while she recovered from her shock-induced trip to dreamland. "The last time I saw you, back in eighty-nine, you were sporting a respectable-looking beard. I thought that was mandatory for all male Sikhs?"
Khan nodded, smiling appreciatively. "Very good, Ms. Lincoln. I applaud your cross-cultural erudition." He thoughtfully stroked his smooth and stubble-free chin. "With all due respect to my heroic Sikh ancestors, however, I eventually came to the conclusion that I should not be bound by the traditions of the past. I am a new breed of human being, after all. A new and superior kind of warrior. Thus, on my twenty-first birthday, I shaved off my beard, in recognition of the revolutionary turning point that I, and the others like me, represent in the history of human evolution. Henceforth, I resolved, I would make my own traditions, chart a new path for mankind."
"I see you're still as humble as ever," Roberta observed dryly. As discreetly as possible, she searched her pockets for her servo, but the versatile device eluded her fingers. Had she dropped it back on the gantry, or had Khan and his people confiscated it? "Frankly, I always kind of hoped that your delusions of grandeur were just a phase you were going through, something you'd outgrow eventually." She stopped fishing for the servo and started looking for an escape route; from what she could see, the office had only a single exit. "I guess that was wishful thinking."
Khan scowled, his bogus bonhomie slipping. "Hardly delusions, Ms. Lincoln," he said curtly. "Or have you forgotten how easily I have eluded you and the enigmatic Mr. Seven these past few years, despite the considerable resources at your command?"
True enough, Roberta conceded. Using data stolen from Seven's advanced Beta 5 computer, Khan had even found a way to protect his strongholds against transporter technology, forcing her and Seven to use far more primitive techniques in their periodic attempts to infiltrate Khan's hideouts and headquarters. Just to reach Muroroa, in fact, Roberta had needed to teleport to another island, several miles south of this one, then brave the treacherous currents and coral reefs in an outrigger canoe until she came close enough to the forbidden atoll to jump overboard and scuba-dive the rest of the way, dodging sharks, moray eels, and poisonous jellyfish as she swam to shore not far from the rocket launch pad. A damp wet suit, along with a set of oxygen tanks, were presumably still hidden amidst the sword-shaped leaves of the bushes at the edge of the shore. Sadly, the scuba gear was too far away to do her much good at the moment. Some South Seas vacation this is turning out to be, she thought sarcastically.
"Maybe we've been keeping our eyes on you all along," she challenged Khan, then wondered if she had said too much. What if Khan demanded to know the name of her chief informant? "Imagine our disappointment when we found out what you were up to here. Even Seven never thought you'd go this far...."
Khan's face hardened. "Seven has always lacked vision," he said scornfully. "That is why he is content to skulk in the margins of history, when he possesses the means to do so much more. And why I broke with him years ago. The problems of the world require bold, decisive action, not timid, cautious half-measures of the sort you and Seven specialize in."
Roberta didn't back down. "We put out fires. You start them. That's a big difference, as far as I am concerned."
"Fire can be a transforming force, Ms. Lincoln," he stated, "clearing away the rotting debris of the past and making room for new growth." He lifted the carved wooden shark from his desk, crushed it to splinters within his fist, then wiped the dusty residue from his palms. "But enough philosophical debate. Your presence raises crucial questions: Where exactly is Gary Seven at this moment? Can we anticipate his arrival as well, in an attempt to rescue you, or perhaps complete your mission?"
I wish, Roberta thought. In fact, Seven was currently attending a key environmental summit in Rio, while recovering from injuries sustained during the fall of Kabul a few months back. Despite his own superhuman physique, the result of years of selective breeding on a planet light-years away, Seven was in no shape to stage a commando raid on the secluded and well-protected island.
"For someone with a superior brain," she told Khan, "your math needs work. Seven is in his sixties now; he lets me handle all the house calls."
This was a slight exaggeration, but close enough to the truth that she hoped Khan would buy it. Over the years, she had indeed taken over more and more of the field work, leaving Seven to concentrate on the big picture. One of these days, we really do need to bring in a new junior operative, she mused. Heaven knows I could use some backup right now.
"So Seven is finally feeling his years, is he?" Khan's voice assumed a magnanimous tone, leading Roberta to suspect that he had taken her protestations at face value. "In a way, this saddens me. In his own fashion, he was a worthy adversary."
A buzzer sounded behind Khan and he strode across the spacious office to answer the intercom on the desk. "Khan here," he declared crisply. "What is our status?"
"We're about ten minutes from launching, sir," a disembodied voice spoke from the intercom. Roberta thought she detected a trace of a Scottish accent, along with the distinctly deferential tone. Her heart sank at the implications of the announcement. She hadn't prevented the launch at all; the Ariane was still ready to deliver its obscene payload int...
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