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Authors: Sidney Elston III

Razing Beijing: A Thriller

BOOK: Razing Beijing: A Thriller
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R A Z I N G   B E I J I N G
SIDNEY ELSTON
Copyright © 2012 Sidney Elston III
Cover Design by Juli Watson
Edited by Emily Bestler
First eBook Edition 1.3
This title is also available in print. Simply visit:
.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters,
places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are
used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead,
business establishments, or locales is entirely coincidental. The author does
not have any control over and does not assume responsibility for third-party
websites or their content.
License Notes
Copyright © 2012 Sidney Elston III
All rights reserved, including the right to
reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. Doing so without
the permission of the publisher constitutes unlawful piracy and theft of the
author’s intellectual property. If you would like to use material from the book
(other than for review purposes), prior written permission must be obtained by
contacting the publisher.
Published by Sidney Elston III
ISBN  :  978-0-9882540-0-8 (eBook)
ISBN:  :  978-0-9882540-1-5 (Paperback)
eBook Edition 1.3, November 2012
Cover Design by Juli Watson
Edited by Emily Bestler
The production of this eBook is neither sponsored
by, endorsed by, nor related to Simon & Schuster and Emily Bestler Books.
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For Lynn
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The nooses have been fashioned by the Americans themselves
and by nobody else, and it is they themselves who have put these nooses round
their own necks, handing the ends of the ropes to the Chinese people, the
peoples of the Arab countries and all the peoples of the world who love peace
and oppose aggression.
If the U.S. monopoly capitalist groups persist in
pushing their policies of aggression and war, the day is bound to come when
they will be hanged by the people of the whole world.
—Mao Zedong, speaking to the Supreme State Conference,
Beijing, September 8, 1958
We Chinese will prepare ourselves for the destruction of
all of the cities east of Xian. Of course the Americans will have to be
prepared that hundreds of cities will be destroyed by the Chinese.
—General Zhu Chenghu, Peoples Liberation Army, July 15,
2005
1
Monday, March 23
Mojave, California
SANDRA COLE SWEPT HER EYES
over the instruments, searching
for proof of the disturbing vibration while fearing she might actually find it.
Like the proverbial gremlin of aviation myth, the aircraft engine designer’s
worst nightmare defied her every effort at hunting it down, except through the
seat of her jump suit, where it seemed to be getting worse. Her mounting sense
of loss of control tightened the tendrils of panic around her chest—she
envisioned the erupting fireball that would end her life miles above the Sierra
Nevada mountains.
Sandy took a breath, sat back from her instrument console
and rubbed her eyes. Summoning calm, the flight test engineer gazed out over
the cavernous, military-style austerity of the airliner’s cabin. All of the passenger
seating and overhead compartments had been removed; bolted down to the bare
aluminum deck in their place was row after waist-high row of sophisticated
electronics cabinetry. The ground test program had yielded three fairly
spectacular engine explosions. As a result, of the company’s two-hundred or so
qualified engineers only she had volunteered to board the flight with the
pilots today. And while hurtling across the sky at 500 miles per hour was no
time to doubt her own judgment, she could not help but acknowledge that this
would be a decidedly lonely place to die.
Sandy brushed aside her macabre thoughts. She lifted her
headphones clear of her ears but heard nothing aside from the peculiar drone of
the prototype engine. Among her array of electronics was a fast-Fourier
analyzer, a device that reduced measured vibrations to their discreet harmonic
constituents. She scrolled through the various channels, and that’s when she
saw it. The frequency spike was lower than expected. No, she thought, frowning,
running the numbers in her head. Not low, sub-harmonic. She tapped the monitor
with her fingernail. However unexpected, the worst part was that she could
feel
it building through her seat.
She toggled the microphone switch to speak with the pilots.
“Chris, Sandy.”
“Go.”
“I found some sort of anomaly. Can you pull up channel
fourteen, or eighteen?”
“Vibration? Where?”
“The engine rear bearing support.”
“No, we can only monitor a couple of fan blades up here.”
Outside the oval window to Sandy’s immediate right was the
forward nacelle of the prototype engine. Glancing back she could see the
swirling blur of counter-rotating propeller blades to which the pilot referred,
the sophisticated engine’s most prominent feature. Strapped in her military
four-point restraint chair, all that separated her from the tips of the blades
were several layers of Kevlar, aluminum, and sixteen inches of air.
“Sandy?”
“This vibration appears to be within limits. I still don’t
like it. I’m calling it in.”
“While you’re at it, dial me up a pepperoni with extra
cheese, would you?”
Sandy smiled. “Anchovies for you.”
“I’d settle for a bag of peanuts. Keep us in the loop.”
Her smile faded when her eye was drawn to a yellow no.
2 pencil on the workspace in front of her. The pencil had begun to bounce
end-to-end of its own accord, ever so slightly, and drift toward the edge of
the countertop. Our gremlin is baring his teeth, she thought.
ROBERT STUART WALKED
in the desert brush beneath an
oppressive sun, from which only the small cluster of buildings behind him
harbored relief. Eventually he was far enough away from the municipal airfield
that only his cell phone or the occasional departing aircraft could disturb the
silence. Before long the myriad distractions that competed to dominate his life
began to fade away. He and his team had accomplished their mission—the flight
test of the most fuel efficient jet engine in commercial aviation history—on
exactly the day agreed to some three years earlier.
His reprieve ended with the sight of a man, recognizable in
the distance by his gait, approaching from one of the buildings. Stuart
suspected the young man’s annoyed frown had little to do with having to venture
out into the heat.
The news delivered by his trusted colleague was, indeed, not
good.
Stuart turned from the engineer and squinted...there, still
barely visible to the north was the jet, two hours into its flight, a lone
silvery speck of reflected sunlight high over the Sierra Nevadas. He also
recognized a much closer source of reflected light. Beyond the phalanx of
concrete administration buildings and through the shimmering heat of the runway
was what the locals called the ‘airplane graveyard.’ He had heard that, in the
current economic downturn, the desert repository for sun-bleached hulks of
surplus passenger jets was turning a respectable profit.
Stuart turned toward Ian Vickers. “Do we understand the
source of the problem?”
Vickers stood with his arms hanging loosely at his sides,
shirtsleeves rolled up and weary eyes in a face that looked older than his thirty-five
years. “Like I said, it’s still within allowable vibratory limits. We don’t
know exactly why it’s gotten worse. I’d have paged you if I really wanted to
sound the alarm.”
Stuart nodded—Vickers was one engineer whose opinion he trusted,
despite the Brit’s former alliance with those who were hostile, often openly
so, with Stuart’s approach to management. Any prescribed action was usually
pretty obvious, but he made it a point to first listen to people whose job it
was to diagnose data. So he listened to Vickers’s assurance and thought: yet
it’s important enough that you walked out here to tell me about it.
“Has anyone else seen anything unusual?”
“They’re all checking a little more closely now.” Vickers
ran his hand up his glistening forehead and back over his hair. “Maybe we should
go and see what they found.”
TWO DOZEN
or so engineers bantered and joked as
they shuffled into the conference room—the young ribbing the old, the Brits
scoffing at the Americans, the Japanese simply polite while the Italians along
with everyone poked fun at the French.
Stuart would have preferred not to deny them this moment. Their
successful race against time had begun some three years earlier outside
Ensenada, Mexico, with Thanatechnology International’s bargain-basement
purchase of a thoroughly scavenged and abandoned airliner, by then the adoptive
home to an unyielding pack of coyotes. The jet engine company’s crack
technicians managed somehow to get the old hulk airborne and limp it over the
border. Several dozen aerospace engineers—many of them here in this room—and a
team of technicians stripped and refurbished the plane, equipping it with $33
million worth of computer and monitoring gear. They removed one of the two
Pratt & Whitney turbofans from the rear of the fuselage and
then—finally—attached in its place the product of over $1 billion in
development, upon which all of their futures depended. Today they celebrated
what for most would be the climax of their careers; such was the infrequency of
groundbreaking projects.
Using the rolled-up blueprint clenched in his fist, Stuart
swept discarded sheets of paper and coffee cups from the conference table onto
the floor. The men crowded around the table and eyed Stuart apprehensively as he
instructed Vickers to describe the situation for them.
The engineers huddled for several minutes while mulling the
news. Vickers removed the pencil from behind his ear, leaned over and pointed
to a spot on Stuart’s blueprint of the engine cross-section. “Here on the aft
bearing support, both sensors registered the vibration increase to about 90% of
limits.” Vickers’s British accent, slurred with fatigue, reminded Stuart of the
risks of exhaustion. Glances exchanged around the table revealed similar
concerns.
“Asynchronous vibration, tracking just below the forward
spool rpm.” Vickers straightened from leaning over the blueprint. He looked his
boss in the eye. “It might be due to the increased physical speed during flight.”
He shrugged. “It’s just as likely some benign effect related to pressure
altitude—”
“The spool’s filling with oil,” Stuart interrupted.
The conference room fell deathly silent, all eyes on Vickers.
He scratched the back of his head. “I guess that’s possible.”
“But this is a very rash deduction,” announced the leader
of the French engineering delegation, launching the room into raucous debate. He
proceeded to insist that their computer simulations proved how engine sump
pressures during flight would limit the possibility of oil leaking into the
spool. Then the Italian project director rebutted, citing how the results of
their forced vibration model made the French numbers moot. The debate
intensified after Stuart’s lead structures engineer entered the room to
announce more disturbing news, that Ian’s vibration had also been measured on
the pylon where the engine attached to the fuselage.
Stuart noticed carbon seal designer Albert Federov standing
safely beyond the ring of combatants who encircled the conference table,
nervously biting his lip, eyes studying the blueprint. One odd thing about the
Russian immigrant was that every now and then he emitted a terse little grunt,
as if to make evident a concentration so profound that he could not possibly
know there were people around to hear him. Stuart was reminded of the telltale
signs of oil found on the tarmac following high-speed taxi tests earlier in the
week. This had led to the discovery of oil pooling inside one of the
sophisticated engine’s multiple spools. Consultation with Federov’s seal vendor
led them to suspect a moderately leaky yet stable seal performance issue, conveniently
explained by a decision five months earlier to relax surface finish
requirements in order to meet the schedule. Now Stuart wondered if these
initial warnings could possibly have been pointing to something far worse. Had he
lulled himself into allowing the team to assume the lesser of two evils?
BOOK: Razing Beijing: A Thriller
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