Unexpectedly, long thought lost, the first manned Jupiter probe has returned - but only a madman would have tried to land it at Kennedy International! The result is the biggest air disaster in history. And that's only the beginning . . . At the publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied.
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March 15, 1987
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Excerpt from The Jupiter Plague by Harry Harrison
Dr. Sam Bertolli hunched forward over the tiny computer chessboard, frowning in such concentration that his thick, black eyebrows met and formed a single ridge over his eyes. He reached out slowly and advanced his king's pawn one square.
"That is correct," the computer said in a tiny voice, and he relaxed. He had made the same move that Fischer had played in 1987 in Berlin. Then the computer buzzed and a dotted line of lights stretched across the board from the opposing bishop. Sam slid the piece along the diagonal to the illuminated square and the lights went out. The computer was playing Fischer's opponent in that historical game, Smyslov, and the move was an unexpected and subtle one. Sam frowned again and bent over the board.
On the other side of the stainless-steel tableKiller turned the page of a magazine: it rustled loudly in the intense silence of the Emergency Room. Outside of the hospital the city rumbled and hummed to itself, surrounding them yet keeping its distance--but always ready to break in. There were twelve million people in Greater New York and at any moment the door could open and one or more of them would be carried in, white with shock or blue with cyanosis. Here on this table--on which they leaned so casually--blood-soaked clothing had been cut away, while the now silent room had echoed with the screams of the living, the moans of the dying.
Sam moved out his queen's knight to halt the developing attack. The screen flashed red--this was not the move that Fischer had played--and at the same instant the gong on the wall burst into clanging life.
Killer was up and out of the door almost before his magazine hit the floor. Sam took the time to slide the chessboard into a drawer so that it wouldn't get stepped on; he knew from experience that he had a second or two before the call slip could be printed. He was right; just as he reached the call-board, the end of the card emerged from a slot in the panel, and as he pulled it free with his right hand he hit the accepted button with his left thumb, then hurried outside. The cab door of the ambulance was standing open and Killer had the turbine roaring. Sam jumped in and grabbed the safety handle to brace himself for takeoff: Killer liked to hurl the heavy machine into action with a bank-robber start. The ambulance was shudderingas the turbine revved and only the brakes were holding it back. At the same instant Sam hit the seat Killer released the brake and stood on the throttle--the ambulance leaped forward and the sudden acceleration slammed the door shut. They hurtled down the ramp toward the street entrance.
"Where's this one, Doc?"
Sam squinted at the coded letters. "At the corner of Fifteenth Street and Seventh Avenue. A 7-11, an accident of some kind with only one person involved. Do you think you can keep this hurtling juggernaut going straight for about one hundred feet while I get out the surgical kit?"
"We got three blocks yet before I gotta turn," Killer said imperturbably. "The way I figure it that gives you at least seven full seconds before you gotta grab onto something."
"Thanks," Sam said, swinging through the narrow walkway into the back and unclipping the gray steel box from the wall. He sat down again and braced it between his legs on the floor, watching the buildings and motionless cars whip by. Their emergency call was being broadcast to traffic control, which flashed a warning light on the panel of every car within a four-block radius of the ambulance, ordering them to the curb and bringing all traffic to a standstill. The signal lights turned green in their favor and the warble of their siren kept the street clear of pedestrians. They hurtled through a landscape of frozen vehicles and staring faces where all the eyes turned to follow the rushing white form of the ambulance.
Dr. Sam Bertolli sat stolidly, swaying with the swift motion, his square-jawed face relaxed and quiet. This was Killer's part of the job, getting him to the scene of the emergency, and he considered it foolish to waste his time in speculation as to what he would find there. He would know soon enough. Sam was a big man, with big hands that had black hair curled over the knuckles, intensely dark hair. No matter how often he shaved his cheeks had a blue tone and this, along with the permanent groove that was beginning to form between his eyebrows, gave him more of the look of a policeman or a prizefighter. Yet he was a doctor, and a fine one, in the top five of his graduating class the year before. Within a few weeks, by the end of June, his internship would be finished and he would begin a residency. He had his life under control.
Killer Dominguez appeared to be the direct opposite. A slight man with an oversize head, he was as wiry and nervous as a bantam rooster on an eagle farm. His skinny hands were clamped tightly to the steering wheel, his muscles knotted and tense, while his jaw worked nervously on a wad of gum. A thick pillow propped him up into driving position and his tiny feet seemed to be barely able to reach the pedals--yet he was the best driver on the staff and had started at the hospital only after sixteen years' experience behind the wheel of a hack. The streets of the city were his world, he only felt comfortable when he was hurtling a few tons of steel along them, and as an eighth-generation New Yorker he was attuned perfectly to thislife, could imagine no other.
The tires squealed as they turned into Seventh Avenue and headed for the crowd of people on one corner: a blue-coated policeman waved them to the curb.
"An accident, Doctor," he told Sam as he climbed down with the heavy steel box. "He was operating a street elevator, one of those old ones, and somehow got his leg over the edge. Almost tore it off before the elevator stopped. I was just around the corner here, I heard him scream."
Sam shot a quick glance at the policeman as the crowd parted before them. He was young--and a little nervous--but he was holding up. Then the elevator was before them and Sam gave the scene a slow, thorough look before he snapped open the emergency kit.
The elevator had halted a foot below ground level and on its floor lay a heavy, gray-haired man about sixty years old with his left leg buckled underneath him in a pool of dark blood. His right leg was pinched between the metal edge of the elevator and the bottom of the ground level opening. The man's eyes were closed and his skin was waxy white.
"Who knows how to work this elevator?" Sam asked the crowd of staring faces. They were moved aside by a teen-age boy who pushed rapidly through from the back.
"Me, Doc, I can work it, nothing to it. Just press the red button for down and the black one for up."
"Do you just know how it works--or have actually worked it?" Sam asked as he pushed his telltaleagainst the inside of the patient's wrist.
"I've worked it, lots of times!" the boy said with injured innocence. "Brought boxes down for--"
"That's fine. Take control and when I tell you to, lower the elevator a foot. When I say up bring it up to ground level."
The dials of the telltale registered instantly. Body temperature below normal, blood pressure and pulse too low and too slow for a man of this age. Shock and probable loss of a good deal of blood; there was certainly enough of it on the elevator floor. Sam saw that the right pants leg had been cut open and he spread the flaps of cloth wide. The man's leg had been almost completely severed just above the knee and there was a black leather belt around the stump cutting deep into the white flesh. Sam looked up into the worried eyes of the policeman.
"Did you do this?"
"Yes. I told you I was near when it happened. We're not supposed to touch a case except in an extreme emergency. I thought this was one--the way the blood was pumping out he was sure to be dead quick enough no matter what else was wrong with him. I pulled off his belt and put it around his leg, then he passed out."
"You did the correct thing--he can thank you for saving his life. Now get the crowd back and tell my driver to bring the stretcher."
Sam's hands never stopped while he talked, taking the powered tourniquet from the box and pushing the stiffened tongue of metal under the injured leg. As soon as it emerged a touch on theswitch restored its flexibility; he wrapped it around the leg and inserted the end into the control box. When the sliding spheres were positioned over the major blood vessels he flicked on the power and it tightened automatically, applying the correct pressure to cut off all flow of blood.
"Take it down," he said, giving the man an intravenous injection of 0.02 mg. of ephinephrine to counteract some of the effects of shock. The elevator shuddered and dropped. The man groaned and rolled his head from side to side. Sam looked at the injured leg: it was very bad. Caught between the two metal edges it had been chopped through and almost severed, the femur was sheared and the lower part of the leg dangled, connected only by some skin and the crushed remains of the rectus and sartorius muscles. He made a quick decision. Slipping a large, razor-sharp scalpum from the kit, he took a firm grip below the blood-stained knee with his free hand and severed the connecting flesh with a single stroke of the blade.
With the amputated limb wrapped in sterile sheeting and the injured man pulled away from the edge, he had the elevator brought back to ground level. Killer was waiting with the stretcher and, aided by the policeman, they lifted the wounded man onto it. With a professional flick of the blanket Killer covered him to the chin, then wheeled the stretcher toward the waiting door of the ambulance. They moved smoothly, an experienced team, and while Sam latched the stretcher to the wall Killer closed the door.
"In a hurry, Doc?" he asked as he climbed intothe driver's seat.
"As fast as you can without any sharp turns. I'm giving him plasma."
As he spoke Sam pulled the tube down from the overhead container, broke the seal on the sterile needle and slipped it into the antecubital vein in the patient's forearm through the swabbed skin.
"How's he doing, Doc?" Killer asked, accelerating smoothly into the emptied street.
"Good as can be expected." Sam strapped the recording telltale to the flaccid wrist which, in addition to displaying the vital information on its dials, made a continuous recording of everything on a solid state memory chip. "But you better get through on the radio so they can set up the operating room."
While Killer made the call Sam turned the ultraviolet spotlight on the injured man's chest to reveal the invisible tattooing there: blood type, blood groups, date of birth and drug allergies. He was copying these onto the form when the overhead speaker scratched to life.
"Perkins here, in emergency surgery, I'm washing up. What do you have?"
"I have an amputation for you, Eddie," Sam said into his lapel microphone. "Right leg severed four inches above the patella. Patient is sixty-three years old, male, blood type O ..."
"What happened to the leg, Sam? Are you bringing it in for me to sew back on or should I start warming up one from the locker?"
"I have the old one here and it will do fine after a little debridement."
"I read you. Give me the rest of the report and I'll start setting up for him."
There were orderlies waiting on the receiving platform to throw open the door and wheel out the patient.
"You'll need this too," Sam said, passing over the sealed bundle with the leg. There was only a single space left on the report form now; he entered the time of arrival here and slipped the filled-out form into the holder on to the side of the stretcher as it passed. Only then did he notice the unusual bustle around him.
"Something big, Doc," Killer said, joining him, his nose almost twitching as he sniffed excitement. "I'm going to find out what's going on." He headed quickly toward a group of orderlies who were piling up sealed boxes at the edge of the platform.
Something was definitely going on, that was obvious. At the far end a truck was being loaded with medical supplies, while next to it two interns were climbing into a waiting ambulance.
"Dr. Bertolli?" a woman's voice asked from behind him.
"Yes, I am," he said, turning to face her. She was a tall girl whose eyes were almost on a level with his, greenish-gray eyes with a steady gaze. Her hair was a natural red that bordered on russet, and even the shapeless white lab smock could not conceal the richness of her body. Sam had noticed her before in the hospital--was it in the staff cafeteria?--but had never spoken to her before.
"I'm Nita Mendel from pathology. There seems to be some sort of emergency going and Dr. Gaspard told me I would be going out with you."
She was not wearing a pin, nor did she have a cap on, so Sam was sure she couldn't be a nurse.
"Of course, Doctor, this is our ambulance here. Do you know what's happening?"
"Nita, please. No, I have no idea at all. They just called me out of the lab and sent me down here."
Killer hurried over, feverishly chomping on his wad of gum. "Here we go, Doc. Hello, Dr. Mendel, must be big if they dragged you down from the seventh floor." Killer knew everyone in Bellevue and heard all the gossip. "There is something big brewing but no one knows what. Hop in. The Meatball Express leaves in six seconds."
"Where are we going?" Sam asked, looking at the dozen boxes labeled MEDICAL EMERGENCY KIT that had been shoved in on the floor of the ambulance.
"Kennedy Airport," Killer shouted over the whine of the turbine, making a tire-squealing turn around the corner and diving into the mouth of the Twenty-third Street Tunnel under the East River.
The two doctors rode in the back, sitting opposite each other, and there was no way that he could avoid noticing that her lab coat was very short and, when she was seated, rode well above her knees revealing a most attractive length of tanned leg. Much nicer than the last leg that he had brought under his arm. He would rather look at this kind. The medical profession tended to be stern, sterile and well ordered, so that whenever abit of visible femininity managed to penetrate he went out of his way to make sure that he appreciated it.
"The airport," she said, " ... then it must be an accident. I hope it's not one of the Mach-5's--they carry seven hundred passengers ..."
"We'll find out soon enough, there should be something on the radio." The sunlit mouth of the tunnel was visible ahead and he called through to the cab. "There might be a news broadcast, Killer, tune in WNYC."
As they came out into the open Ravel's Bolero swelled from the loudspeaker. Killer tried the other stations, but none of them were carrying a news broadcast so he switched back to the official city station as the one most likely to get the news first. They tore down the deserted expressway with the Bolero throbbing around them.
"I've never rode an ambulance before, it's quite exciting."
"Weren't you ever on emergency duty while you were interning, Nita?"
"No, I stayed on at Columbia after I had my M.D. because cytology is really my field ... have you noticed, the road is empty of traffic?"
"It's fully automatic, a radio warning is sent to all cars for miles ahead so that they've pulled over by the time we reach them."
"But--there aren't any cars pulled over, the road is just empty."
"You're right, I should have noticed that myself." He looked out of a side window as they roared by one of the entrance roads. "I've neverseen this happen before--there are police blocking that entrance and they're not letting any cars through."
"Look!" Nita said, pointing ahead.
The ambulance rocked as Killer eased it over to an inside lane to pass the convoy, seven bulky Army trucks rumbling after a command car, bouncing and swaying at their top speed.
"I don't like this," Nita said, her eyes wide. "I'm worried. What could be causing it?" She was suddenly very female and very little like a doctor: Sam had to resist the impulse to reach his hand across to hers, to reassure her.
"We'll find out soon enough, anything this big can't be concealed for long ..." He stopped as the music died in midswell and an announcer's voice came on.
"We are interrupting this program to bring you an important news flash. Two hours ago satellite tracking stations were alerted by the lunar radio telescope that an unknown object had been detected approaching the Earth along the plane of the ecliptic, and this was quickly identified as the 'Pericles,' the ship designed to penetrate to the surface of the planet Jupiter ..."
"But--it's been years!" Nita gasped.
" ... would not respond to attempts at radio contact. This continued after the 'Pericles' went into orbit around the Earth, making six revolutions in all before breaking orbit with what the space service has called very faulty control of the rockets, and then proceeded to make a landing approach. However, in spite of all radio and visualwarnings, the 'Pericles' did not attempt to land at either Sahara or Woomera spaceport but instead made an almost vertical descent on Kennedy Airport in New York. Normal flights were interrupted and there was a certain amount of damage that occurred during landing as well as feared loss of life. Stay tuned for further bulletins ..."
"How--how bad can it be?" Nita asked.
"It could be pure hell," he said grimly. "There must be two thousand flights a day in and out of the field and it sounds as if they had very little warning. Then it depends where the spacer landed, far out on the runways ..."
"Or on the buildings!"
"We don't know yet. But I do remember that the 'Pericles' is as big as an apartment house and just about the toughest thing ever constructed by man. It would be hard to hurt the ship but I pity anything it sits down on top of."
"But why--it seems to stupid! Didn't they know any better?"
"You heard the news, they said the ship was badly controlled. It's been out there for over two years, no one ever expected it to come back. There's no telling what shape the survivors are in and I suppose that it's lucky they were able to land at all."
"Mother of God--look at that," Killer said between tight lips, pointing ahead through the windshield.
The expressway rose up here on giant pillars in order to span the complex traffic junction where the Long Island, city and airport traffic met. Fromthe summit of this arching bridge they could see across the width of the airport, over the low, widespread buildings and hangars. A new structure had been added to this scene, a dark bulk that rose high up, five times higher than the control tower, a rounded and scarred mass of metal as wide as a city block. There was a haze of smoke across the scene--then everything vanished as they swooped down from the bridge.
"Could you see where it was?" Nita asked.
"Not clearly--but it was away from the passenger depot, I'm sure of that."
Policemen--and military policemen--waved them on, guiding them through the maze of access roads and into a gate that led directly onto the field itself. A policeman held his hand up for them to stop, then threw the driver's door open.
"You got the medical boxes from Bellevue?"
"Yeah, in back," Killer jerked a thumb over his shoulder.
"They want them, over by the SAS hangar, I'll show you where." The cop pushed in next to Killer and held onto the open door. There was grease on his face and his uniform was wrinkled and dusty. "That's it, where the other ambulance is, you can stop behind it. What a goddamn mess. That blowtorch came straight down, cooked a D-95 taking off, blew another one out of the air, landed right on a fuel truck. It's not sorted out yet. I never seen bodies like this ..."
The policeman jumped out when they stopped and called to some nearby mechanics to unload the medical boxes. Sam started to help Nita downwhen a haggard-looking police captain appeared.
"Are you doctors?" he asked.
"Yes," Sam said. "Where do they need us?"
"Out at the end of the runway. They've been trying to stop all the incoming flights and are diverting them to Newark. But nothing's working right. Just had a report of a sighting out there, maybe another crash. I'll show you where."
Killer burnt rubber in the direction indicated. They twisted their way through the parked planes and out onto a service road. Then Killer floored it as they hurtled past the cargo hangars and towards a growing pillar of smoke.
A fire engine was there before them, its great nozzle pouring foam over the small sports plane that lay crumpled and torn in the grass beside the runway. Killer braked to a stop by the Fire Chief who was directing the operation.
"Anything that I can do?" Sam said.
"We'll know in a moment. I don't want to go near that plane while there is a chance of her blowing. Give it a few seconds more. The damned thing came in and hit some debris on the runway. You see what happened. I think it's safe now, but no guarantees ..."
"I'll go," Sam said, jumping down. "Nita, stay here until I give you a shout."
Then he was running towards the wreck. It was tilted on its side, one wing sticking straight up like a hand beckoning for help. The firemen had the door open and were reaching inside when he came up.
"Don't touch them!" he called out, pushing themen aside.
There were two people in the plane. The pilot and an elderly man. The passenger had to be dead; his head had impacted the control panel with destructive results. The pilot was unconscious but appeared to be still breathing. Sam made a quick check for broken bones or possible spinal injuries, then called for the stretcher. Killer helped ease the man onto it and they quickly carried it back to the ambulance. The police captain was talking on his radiophone when they came up.
"Got another report of a possible plane down. Can you do anything?"
"In a moment," Sam said. Nita was bent over the patient. Then she straightened slowly and shook her head.
"He's dead," she said. "Has been for some time."
"I thought he was breathing ..." Sam didn't finish the sentence. She was telling the truth. "All right, captain, we'll go take a look. Where is it?"
"Out there past the damned spaceship. There was a report from the tower that a company jet was last seen on the taxiway when that thing came down. They haven't been able to check on it, there was too much to do here. Could you take a look, it would be around the other side somewhere. All air traffic has been diverted, you can cut across the field."
"Of course, we'll go now, did you hear that, Dominguez?"
"We're rolling, Doc--better hold on," Killer shouted, gunning the heavy ambulance into a leaplike a jackrabbit. Sam knew what was coming and caught Nita around the waist before she fell. Killer threw the switch and the rear door closed while they raced ahead. "That thing is really a monster," he said.
The ambulance curved in an arc around the base of the "Pericles" like a bug circling a tree, keeping clear of the churned-up soil and buckled slabs of concrete that were still smoking from the landing. The Jupiter rocket was shaped like a squat artillery shell with the rounded swellings of rocket tubes about its base. It was built of incredibly thick metal, they could tell this by the meter-deep holes that had been gouged in the sides without penetrating, and it was grooved, scarred and pitted like a piece of furnace slag. They could only stare at the great bulk in silence while they swept out and around it.
"There's the plane ahead," Sam shouted, and Killer jammed on the brakes.
They saw at first glance that there was very little they could do, nevertheless they tried. The small jet had been flipped onto its back and crushed, then burned into a twisted and blackened ruin. Sam managed to pry the side door partly open and one look at the charred bodies inside was enough.
"We better get back," he said. "They may need our help." He put his hand under Nita's arm, ostensibly to steady her over the broken ground, but he had seen her face go white.
"I--I don't know if I can be of any help," she said. "I never practiced after I took my degree, I've been in research, in the lab ..."
"It's just like school--you'll be all right. It hits us all like this the first time, but you'll find your hands automatically doing all the things that you have learned. And I'll bet that you're a good doctor."
"Thank you," she said, some of the color coming back. "For helping. I didn't mean to make a fool of myself."
"You're not a fool, Nita. There's nothing to be ashamed of in not enjoying the sight of sudden death, particularly as drastic as that ..."
"LOOK!" Killer shouted. "Up there!"
There was a squealing from the side of the ship, about twenty feet above the ground, and bits of metal flaked down. A circle appeared and a portion of the ship ten feet in diameter began to revolve like a giant plug.
"It's the air lock," Sam said. "They're coming out."