Miranda Chase—the heroine you didn’t expect. Fighting the battles no one else could win.
An AC-130J “Ghostrider”—the latest variant of America’s most lethal aerial gunship—goes down hard in the Colorado Rockies. Except the data doesn’t match the airframe.
Air-crash genius, and high-functioning autistic, Miranda Chase leads her NTSB team in to investigate. But what they uncover reveals a far greater threat—sabotage.
If she can’t solve the crash in time, a new type of war will erupt. One far too close to home which threatens to shatter her team.
Aboard Shadow Six-four Elevation: 27,000 feet (23 seconds before impact)
As soon as Lieutenant Colonel Luis Hernandez broadcast the final report from aboard the diving plane—“Negative recovery. Negative control.”—he released his seat harness.
The plane wasn’t quite in freefall, so he fell into the yoke and flight console. “Aw, fuck.” Like it was going to hurt anything now other than his ego. The plane was safely past recovery and no one was left aboard to see anyway.
He pulled off his headset and began climbing uphill through the Hercules’ cockpit. He moved fast in the near freefall. Two of the thirteen bodies scattered strategically through the plane had ended up in the aisle and he was forced to crawl over them. They were wearing his and Danny’s dog tags. They were also close to their build and coloring just in case anything survived the crash. Hopefully not, they weren’t that close because no way did he look like the fake Luis. Homely bugger.
He continued aft quickly, having to struggle to shake off the memory of the last time he’d done this. He’d crawled over the bodies of his own crew when his C-130 Hercules had been shot down in Afghanistan due to insufficient fighter support in a war they never should have been in. He’d fought the plane all the way down—been one of the few to make it. He came to, crawling from body to body looking for other survivors.
At least this time, neither the iron stench of hot blood nor the stinging kerosene of burning Jet A fuel permeated the air. Everyone except he and Danny had been dead before they boarded this flight.
The ladder down to the main cargo deck was easier to navigate. They were in true freefall now and he could just pull himself along it.
Major Danny Gonzalez had left the forward passenger door open after popping it at thirty-nine thousand feet. Though, Luis supposed, his copilot was just Danny now. Their military rank was one more thing they’d all agreed to leave behind along with the dead.
Luis shrugged into the parachute rig.
He took a moment to ensure that he was oriented properly and then grabbed the bottom edge of the door. It wouldn’t do to fling himself out of the plane and straight into the massive four-blade propeller of the Number Two engine spinning at a thousand RPM.
The fuselage twisted sharply and he almost lost his grip as it began to tumble.
Looking out into the darkness once more, he saw that the propeller was no longer an issue—the entire wing had ripped off.
The temperature was a bitch though.
Even on a warm June evening, ten thousand feet above Aspen was damn cold. Be lucky if he didn’t have frostbite by the time he got down. But no time to pull on a balaclava—the ground was coming up fast.
He still made a point of flinging himself downward as he exited, just in case the tail was still attached.
As soon as he’d ejected, he opened his black tactical ram-air chute. It was for night insertions deep behind enemy lines, and, like his specialized clothing, had the radar signature of a bird—a small one.
He watched the plane continue down. Less than five seconds after he had his chute deployed and stable, the Hercules impacted at twelve thousand feet atop a high peak. It was supposed to plunge into the back-country wilderness beyond, but it didn’t really matter. At almost five hundred knots, the destruction was more than sufficient.
As rigged beforehand, one of the rounds of 105 mm ammunition for the big howitzer—the main weapon of the AC-130 series of gunships—ignited on impact.
In a single moment, the other eighty rounds lit off.
The combination of all of the forty-two-inch-long, thirty-three-pound rounds igniting simultaneously unleashed sixteen hundred pounds of high explosives in the heart of the plane.
If there had been anything left of the fuselage, it was now shattered. Probably the top of the mountain as well by the scale of the blinding fireball that lit the surrounding mountains like daylight. He hoped that no one was looking in his direction for the one moment he was starkly lit against the night sky.
The wings landed farther down the slope, bursting into flame when the fuel tanks breached. The conflagration spread rapidly upslope. In minutes, any remains of the plane would be engulfed as well.
Then the shock wave caught up with him.
“Didn’t think of that one, did you, Luis?”
For a thousand feet of descent, he could do nothing but curse and flail as the shock wave dragged him wherever it wanted to.
Once it cleared, he was amazed to still be holding the control toggles. The wonders of stark terror.
He hadn’t jumped much since Basic, just enough to stay qualified. But the loud roar of the wind had to be a bad sign. Yanking on the toggles didn’t seem to do much either.
Not daring to let go in case he couldn’t find the handles again, he almost snapped his own neck from nodding hard enough to flip down his night vision goggles. He managed it just in time to see what was happening above him.
“Shit!” He didn’t have a parachute. He had a ripped-up mess of tangled nylon. It looked as if half the chute was missing and the rest was snarled.
He yanked the cutaway. The general was going to be pissed if someone spotted the errant chute, but Luis was out of options.
One side of the risers released, but not the other.
Dragging the main chute along off his right shoulder.
Out of time.
Deploy the reserve and pray it didn’t snarl in the crippled main. It came out clean and almost gutted him with hard deceleration.
He was well past Snowmass, but nowhere near the Aspen car racing track where Danny and their motorcycles would be waiting.
Down below there was no sign of anything except sharp peaks and deep valleys.
The wind still seemed too loud. Up above, two-thirds of the reserve was drawing clean, the last third was fighting with the trailing main—and losing.
“Two thirds has gotta be better than nothing, right?”
A massive edifice loomed up in front of him.
Want more? Start this amazing adventure and hang on because the crisis is only beginning.
I’ve previously mentioned my utterly awesome proofreader, Colleen. She does, however, consistently lodge three complaints against me: my abuses of the English language (though she does admit to some minor improvements under her incredible tutelage [read as a lot of red marks on my raw pages]), my forcing her to stay up all night to read the book the first time before she starts to work on it (making me smile hugely), and…the food.
She complains greatly about the food. “You keep making me hungry from reading your books. Then I have to go and find the recipes and ingredients to make that dish.” (Which is apparently tricky as she lives way off the beaten track in southern Utah.)
Well, after proofreading Condor(Miranda Chase #3, which just released on Tuesday), she was “forced” to make Syrniki. These are Ukrainian/Russian Cheese pancakes (or fritters depending on who’s translating) that one of my fliers speaks of with fond recollection.
Holly eased the pilot into the small shed with the others as the knock-out drug took him under. “Tom and Tim. You stay here. Find something to make sure they won’t freeze to death before they wake up. Keep an eye out, we’ll try to get the loadmasters over here next.”
“Twelve hours, they won’t freeze,” Tim poked one guy in the gut now bulging prominently above the waistband of his underwear after stealing his uniform.
“Living on too much beer,” Tom agreed.
“A little fried brown bread.”
“With that cheesy mayo-ketchup dip.”
“Syrniki fried curd fritters.”
“With honeyed sour cream?”
“Ah, Russia,” they sighed happily in unison.
It seemed a simple line, but it was enough to inspire Colleen to make them (after protesting to me). So, I finally gave in and decided to try them myself. However, I had to NerdGuy over them a bit because, hey, it what I am. And I discovered that they’re very yummy! So good, in fact, that they’ve now replaced the recipe that our family has been using since my wife learned it from her Mum.
A Syrniki has three distinct advantages over normal pancakes:
There’s a toothsomeness to them that’s more fun to eat.
Because of the cheese, it’s a lot of protein without the massive cholesterol hit of just eggs.
They’re much more fun to say: Sir-nih-kee or Seer-nih-kee (I found both).
NOTE: This is actually two recipes in one. I couldn’t find Farmer’s Cheese at first, which Wikipedia lists as “pressed cottage cheese.” So, I pressed low-fat cottage cheese for four hours (which removed about 2 Tablespoons of liquid – probably not worth the effort) and ended up with a very loose batter. Thicker than pancake batter, but still pour-able rather than shape-able. Then we went out and found Farmer’s Cheese (3rd supermarket), but I actually liked the first variation better (which also was lower fat).
Makes 12 pancakes (and 3-4 is definitely a meal with a little bacon or a smoothie).
16oz – farmer’s cheese or low-fat cottage cheese
3 – eggs (if big), 4 eggs if small
3/4 c. – all-purpose flour (+ more for dusting per below)
3 T. – sugar (the Russian version looks to be sweeter with less flour and more sugar – 1/2 c. flour to 1/4 c. sugar)
1/2 t. – salt
1 t. – baking soda
1 t. – vinegar (white or cider-we preferred the latter)
1/2 c. – raisins
vegetable oil or extra light olive oil for frying (butter also works)
toppings: jam (apricot or blueberry), syrup, powdered sugar (a particularly wonderful addition), honey, sour cream, (honey and sour cream, oh yeah!)
Farmer’s Cheese variation: beat eggs, sugar, and salt in a bowl, then mix in flour and cheese with a fork.
Cottage Cheese variation: throw first 5 ingredients in blender or food processor. Blend until curds broken up and well mixed (10-15 seconds).
(See the pictures below. A fork drag through the farmer’s cheese leaves a trough. Through the cottage cheese, only a small furrow that fills in.)
Mix baking soda and vinegar in a small bowl, stir so that it fizzes. Mix into batter.
Stir in raisins. (Don’t blend or they turn to mush.)
Large skillet with 1-2 T. oil, heated on med-low. (The temperature is critical. These pancakes are going to rise and expand greatly. Even medium heat will burn the outside before the inside is cooked.)
Farmer’s Cheese variation:
Dust flour on the counter
Drop 1/4c. of thick batter onto flour.
Dust with more flour.
Pat down into a disk shape.
Knock off excess flour as transfer to pan.
Cottage Cheese variation:
Dollop a scant 1/4c. into pan.
Slap once with a wet spatula to flatten it into a disk. (If you use a dry spatula, it will stick and make a mess.)
Keep them spaced way apart. The pancakes will at least double in size. (And if they merge, they’re a real pain to flip.)
Cook 4-5 minutes / side. Refresh oil between batches. (I found 5 minutes was best. Unlike normal pancakes, don’t wait for air bubbles that pop and not fill in before flipping. That will be too late for the turn. The edges will look massively underdone up until the final minute. When that goes away, you know the interior need just one more minute.)
Toppings and enjoy. (They sit on a warmed oven plate with less collapse than normal pancakes while you’re cooking next batches. Pretty good zapped in the morning, too.)
“Tom Clancy fans open to a strong female lead will clamor for more.” – Publishers Weekly
“Superb!” – Booklist starred review
“The best military thriller I’ve read in a very long time. Love the female characters.” – Sheldon McArthur, founder of The Mystery Bookstore, LA
“Miranda Chase is an intriguing combination of Sherlock Holmes, Adrian Monk, and Commander Data. And she never lets go of a mystery.”– Jim Lynch
A US Air Force C-130 transport plane, bearing top secret cargo, lies shattered in the Nevada desert at Groom Lake. China’s prototype fifth-generation jet fighter goes missing.
Far above, a US supersonic, stealth drone flies a very lethal Black Op. The CIA, the US military command, and the secretive National Reconnaissance Office are all locked in a battle for control of the nation’s future.
Miranda Chase, the National Transportation Safety Board’s air-crash savant, lands in the center of the gathering maelstrom. Burdened with a new team and a polarizing personality, she must connect the pieces to stay alive. And she must do it before the wreckage of her past crashes down upon her and destroys US-China relations forever.
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