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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

Stephen Coonts' Deep Black: Payback

Deep Black (Volume 4)

Stephen Coonts and Jim DeFelice

St. Martin's Paperbacks

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STEPHEN COONTS' DEEP BLACK: PAYBACK (Chapter 1)
Charles Dean glanced toward the sky as he stepped away from the building, noting the direction and speed of the clouds as they moved. It was an old sniper's trick, a habit burned into his being long ago, so ancient he did it unconsciously. And yet if he had to use the information—if he were sighting a target at five hundred yards across a hill obscured by thick vegetation—his eyes and upper body would adjust to the light breeze as automatically and easily as his feet adjusted to the uneven sidewalk.

"How's it lookin', pardner?" boomed a voice in his head.

Dean pulled a satellite phone from his pocket, fussed with it for a few seconds, then held it to his ear. The phone was just a cover—like all Deep Black field ops, he communicated through a device implanted in his skull behind his ear. A tiny microphone sewn into his clothes picked up his voice; his belt held the rest of the unit, which transmitted through a satellite system.

"Same as yesterday afternoon," he told Kjartan "Tommy" Magnor-Karr. "Two guards outside. I just finished setting up the video bugs."

"Booster transmitter is set."

"Signals are strong," said a third voice. Though the other words were as loud as Karr's, the man who said them—Jeff Rockman—was sitting in an underground bunker some five thousand miles to the north.

The video bugs were miniature video cameras about the size and shape of a button. Their signals went to the booster Karr had planted. The booster uploaded the video stream to a satellite, which then relayed it to Rockman in the Deep Black nerve center known as the Art Room.

"We have sharp visuals all around," said Rockman. "You're good to go. Lia's plane is on schedule. Estimated time of arrival at Lima airport just over two hours."

"Rockman, you sound like you're an air traffic controller," said Karr.

"Is that supposed to be an insult or a compliment?"

Dean turned and began walking down the street as Karr bantered good-naturedly with Rockman, who was their mission "runner." During a mission, the runner maintained communications and coordinated operational support for the team in the field. The runner could access a wide array of intelligence, ranging from radio intercepts to satellite imagery, in real time.

He could also be a bit of a noodge.

"You guys ought to get hopping if you're going to make the airport in time," said Rockman.

"Plenty of time," said Karr.

As Rockman began lecturing the other agent about the notoriously heavy Lima traffic, Dean stopped at a small newsstand and bought a newspaper. The headlines shouted about a car bombing in the city the night before, the work of terrorists the government had claimed were stamped out months ago. Dean considered practicing his Spanish with the vendor, but the man's somber face warned him off.

Karr was waiting in the rented car around the corner.

"What do you say to a little breakfast, Charlie?"

"At the airport, sure."

"Airport food? Aw, come on."

"We don't want to be late."

"We won't be. I'm driving."

"We also want to get there in one piece."

"Always," said Karr, squealing the tires as he lurched into traffic.

STEPHEN COONTS' DEEP BLACK: PAYBACK Copyright © 2005 by Stephen Coonts