His fingers paused impatiently on the keyboard, which was connected to an odd-looking apparatus that appeared to have more in common with an octopus than with IBM or Compaq. Its nerve center was contained in a temperature-controlled glass tray, and through its sides, one could see silver-blue gel packs immersed like translucent eggs in a jellied, foamlike substance. Ultrathin tubing connected the gel packs to one another, while atop them sat a lid. Where it interfaced with the gel packs was a coated metallic plate. Above it all stood an iMac-sized machine with a complicated control panel on which lights blinked like impulsive little eyes. From this machine, more tubing sprouted, feeding into the pack array, while wires and cables connected both the tray and the machine to the keyboard, a monitor, a printer, and assorted other electronic devices.
Dr. Chambord keyboarded in commands, watched the monitor, read the dials on the iMac-sized machine, and continually checked the temperature of the gel packs in the tray. He recorded data in his notebook as he worked, until he suddenly sat back and studied the entire array. Finally he gave an abrupt nod and typed a paragraph of what appeared to be gibberish letters, numbers, and symbols and activated a timer.
His foot tapped nervously, and his fingers drummed the lab bench. But in precisely twelve seconds, the printer came to life and spit out a sheet of paper. Controlling his excitement, he stopped the timer and made a note. At last he allowed himself to snatch up the printout.
As he read, he smiled. "Mais oui."
Dr. Chambord took a deep breath and typed small clusters of commands. Sequences appeared on his screen so fast that his fingers could not keep up. He muttered inaudibly as he worked. Moments later, he tensed, leaned closer to the monitor, and whispered in French, "one more one more there!"
He laughed aloud, triumphant, and turned to look at the clock on the wall. It read 9:55 p.m. He recorded the time and stood up.
His pale face glowing, he stuffed his files and notebook into a battered briefcase and took his coat from the old-fashioned Empire wardrobe near the door. As he put on his hat, he glanced again at the clock and returned to his contraption. Still standing, he keyboarded another short series of commands, watched the screen for a time, and finally shut everything down. He walked briskly to the door, opened it onto the corridor, and observed that it was dim and deserted. For a moment, he had a sense of foreboding.
Then he shook it off. Non, he reminded himself: This was a moment to be savored, a great achievement. Smiling broadly, he stepped into the shadowy hall. Before he could close the door, four black-clothed figures surrounded him.
Thirty minutes later, the wiry leader of the intruders stood watch as his three companions finished loading the black van on the rue des Volontaires. As soon as the side door closed, he appraised the quiet street once more and hopped into the passenger seat. He nodded to the driver, and the van glided away toward the crowded rue de Vaugirard, where it disappeared in traffic.
The lighthearted revelry on the sidewalks and in the cafs and tabacs continued. More street musicians arrived, and the vin ordinaire flowed like the Seine, Then, without warning, the building that housed Dr. Chambord's laboratory on the legendary Pasteur campus exploded in a rolling sheet of fire. The earth shook as flames seemed to burst from every window and combust up toward the black night sky in a red-and-yellow eruption of terrible heat visible for miles around. As bricks, sparks, glass, and ash rained down, the throngs on the surrounding streets screamed in terror and ran for shelter.
The U.S. Navy Support Facility, the host command for this strategically located, operationally invaluable base, kept all of them busy with its support of sea, air, and surface flight operations. The payback was the island itself, a remote place of sweeping beauty, where the easy rhythms of routine duty lulled ambition.
He was seriously contemplating a long swim the instant he was off duty when, one minute later, at 0655 hours, the control tower lost contact with the base's entire airborne fleet of B-1B, B-52, AWACS, P-3 Orion, and U-2 aircraft, on a variety of missions that included hot-button reconnaissance and antisubmarine and surveillance support.
The tropical lagoon vanished from his mind. He bawled orders, pushed a technician from one of the consoles, and started diagnostics. Everyone's attention was riveted on the dials, readouts, and screens as they battled to regain contact.
Nothing helped. At 0658, in a controlled panic, he alerted the base's commanding officer.
At 0659, the commanding officer informed the Pentagon.
Then, oddly, inexplicably, at 0700, five minutes after they had mysteriously disappeared, all communications with the aircraft returned at the precise same second.
Smith made an adjustment, bringing the image more clearly into focus. "Good," he muttered, and smiled. "There's hope."
An expert in virology and molecular biology, Smith was also an army medical officer in fact, a lieutenant colonel temporarily stationed here amid the towering pines and rolling foothills of Colorado at this Centers for Disease Control (CDC) facility. On unofficial loan from the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), he was assigned basic research into evolving viruses.
Except that viruses had nothing to do with the delicate work he was watching through the microscope this dawn. USAMRIID was the army's foremost military medical research facility, while the CDC was its highly touted civilian counterpart. Usually they were vigorous rivals. But not here, not now, and the work being done in this laboratory had only a peripheral connection to medicine.