Read Skydancer Online

Authors: Geoffrey Archer

Skydancer

Contents

About the Book

About the Author

Also by Geoffrey Archer

Title Page

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Copyright

About the Book

Project Skydancer was the brainchild of the Ministry of Defence. Beautiful and terrifying in its simplicity, DS29 had designed new warheads for Polaris missiles, warheads that with consummate ease could evade the new batteries of anti-ballistic missiles the Russians had set up around their prime military targets. For Aldermaston scientist Peter Joyce, it was the pinnacle of his career.

Until his documents from the project turned up one chilly October morning on Parliament Hill, and the Ministry's prime suspect committed suicide leaving him with only two alternatives: write off a billion-pound project, or approve tests which could give Russia the power to wipe out the West at the touch of a button . . .

About the Author

Geoffrey Archer is the former Defence and Diplomatic Correspondent for ITN's
News at Ten.
His work as a frontline broadcaster has provided him with the deep background for his thrillers – the bestselling
Skydancer, Shadow Hunter, Eagle Trap, Scorpion Trail, Java Spider, Fire Hawk, The Lucifer Network
and
The Burma Legacy.
A keen traveller, he now writes full time and lives with his wife and family in Surrey.

ALSO BY GEOFFREY ARCHER

Shadow Hunter

Eagle Trap

Scorpion Trail

Java Spider

Fire Hawk

The Lucifer Network

The Burma Legacy

Dark Angel

Skydancer

Geoffrey Archer

Chapter One

THE STRENGTHENING SOUTH-WESTERLY
wind scooped the slate-grey waters of the Gare Loch into small foam-crested peaks. To his right, towards the open sea, the angler watched a stubby naval launch butt its bows into the waves. At the sight of the white ensign streaming from its stern, he turned his head to one side and spat on to the ground in a private ritual. It was still early in the afternoon, but the sky had darkened as if it were dusk. Rain threatened.

The fisherman pulled up the zip of his drab-green waterproof to shut out the early autumn chill, and settled himself on to the canvas seat. His twelve-foot glass-fibre rod reached out from the tree-lined bank, the float cast well out on the water. His tackle box was well stocked, and a small bucket of maggots seethed by his side.

The man seemed curiously inattentive to his float, however, and before casting he had omitted to bait the hook.

‘Crawford' was the name the angler used in the seedy drinking places that passed for bars on the Clyde Estuary. He had lived in the area for years, though no one seemed sure of his ancestry. He owned a small motor-boat and sometimes attended lobster-pots – with little enthusiasm.

Crawford found fishing a tough life, and a hard one in which to make money. But he had long since ceased to work at it, apart from for appearance's sake. He had found an easier way to earn the price of a drink – just by
watching the comings and goings on the other side of the loch.

The Royal Navy's shore base at Faslane is the home of the 3rd and 10th Submarine Squadrons. To Crawford the vessels that slipped silently to and from the quayside, with its towering cranes, were like iron sharks piloted by silent and secretive men with arrogant eyes.

At first the boats had all looked the same to him, black and sleek with smooth, square fins; but he knew better now, thanks to a man he had met one night in Kath's Bar in Helensburgh. ‘Donald' was what he had called himself, but Crawford had not been fooled; the man's accent was foreign.

They had met again the next night and had talked about the sea. Crawford had begun his habitual slander of the men of the Royal Navy, ‘toffee-nosed pansies' as he called them. He had loathed them since leaving school, when the Navy had rejected him for service. It had been a bitter blow not to have been accepted; from a young age he had boasted to his classmates that he would be a sailor when he grew up. He had never forgiven the callous indifference of the recruiting officer who had turned him away.

What the foreigner had offered him that second time they met was a chance to get even with the men in dark blue – and an easy way to make money took. ‘Donald' had given him pictures of the different submarines that visited Faslane, showing him how to tell them apart. Crawford had agreed to phone London at prearranged times to report what he had seen, and for his trouble ‘Donald' came north once a month to hand him an envelope full of banknotes.

The vessel Crawford was studying now, through a small but powerful pair of binoculars focused half-a-mile
across the water, was the most deadly submarine of all, a Polaris boat, HMS
Retribution.
Behind the fin, the long blunt-ended casing housing the sixteen nuclear missiles made its identification unmistakeable.

Suddenly he was startled by a noise. He snatched at the bucket of maggots and slipped the glasses under the recess of its base. On the road just twenty yards behind him, a vehicle slowed to a halt, its rattling diesel sounding alarmingly like a police patrol from the dockyard opposite.

Checking that his float was still bobbing freely, he pulled a small square tin from his pocket, and began to roll a cigarette. His heart was pounding, fearing that his trick with the maggot bucket had been spotted. He felt the steely glare of the security men on the back of his neck, and he shivered.

It seemed as if they watched him for a full five minutes. Then he heard the crunch from the gearbox and the judder of the engine as the police van moved on again. When the noise faded he chanced a glance after it, confirming that his identification of the motor had been correct.

The police were ignoring him. He whistled with relief, then drew on his cigarette. The smoke bit sourly into his throat.

There was nothing illegal about fishing in the loch, nor about looking at submarines through binoculars, but if the security men took an interest in him and learned what he did with the information he gathered, he would be in trouble. Crawford did not know exactly who the foreigner was, but he knew damned well where the information went.

He did not consider it
spying.
There was nothing secret about the information ‘Donald' wanted. After all, the Navy did not try to hide the comings and goings of
their ships. But by ensuring that the ‘other side' knew what those self-satisfied submariners were up to, his need for revenge was beginning to be fulfilled.

His brief use of the binoculars was enough for his purposes. He had seen fresh food being taken on board. HMS
Retribution
was making ready for sea. High tide was in two hours; Crawford guessed the submarine planned to sail when it ebbed.

Two days earlier he had watched
Retribution
emerge from the enclosed dock at Coulport, on the other side of the spit of land that separates the Gare Loch from the open sea. He knew it was there that the missiles were stored: the Polaris rockets with their nuclear warheads. ‘Donald' had told him the submarines never go to Coulport during normal routine because their missiles are kept on board, sealed beneath deck hatches.

But
Retribution
had gone there, so something was up – something out of the ordinary. ‘Donald' had been most interested in that particular news when Crawford had phoned the London number to tell him about it. He had asked him to ring again as soon as the submarine had sailed.

Crawford shivered as the water gusted across the open water. That police patrol was certain to come back again before long. There was only one road around the loch.

He reeled in his line. The hook spun and danced in front of him. He grabbed for it and impaled a pair of maggots on its barb. He would have to be there for a few more hours yet, and the best way to curb the suspicions of the police was to catch some fish.

Two weeks later, in north London, General David Twining, British Army retired, struck out across
Parliament Hill Fields for his early morning constitutional, sucking a throat pastille to counter the effects of the cold, damp air.

The dog at his feet looked ridiculously small to belong to such a tall man. Short-haired and almost legless, the bundle of wiry brown fur darted backwards and forwards across the path, tracing complex and invisible smells.

Mist clung firmly to the ground. It was late October and wet leaves made the path slippery where it passed under the almost bare trees. The sun had only recently risen, and showed no sign yet of burning through the grey.

Twining's bearing was unmistakeably military, his back parade-ground straight. A brown felt hat covered his balding head, and he wore a dark green loden coat, acquired during his days commanding a division of the British Rhine Army. Most mornings he could be seen striding up this path on Parliament Hill, but only by the few who arose as early as he did. Recently his wife had urged him to choose a less lonely route for his morning walk; Hampstead Heath had become a haunt for muggers in the past few months. He had scoffed at her worries, but had to admit to himself that this morning the gaunt branches of the old oaks did look curiously menacing in the fog.

Suddenly his scurrying dog stopped dead in its tracks. Hackles raised like a worn scrubbing brush, the animal began to growl.

‘Ollie, you fool! What's the matter?' snapped the retired soldier. He shared some of the dog's alarm, though, and strained to identify the vague noises he could hear above the dull dripping of the wet branches.

His walking stick had a heavy handle carved from bone, and he reversed the cane in his hand, ready to use
as a weapon if necessary. The sound was eerie in the gloom – the rustling of paper and the clatter of tin cans. The general's pulse quickened; he was not as young as he once was, and felt unsure whether he could defend himself against determined muggers, whatever blustering assurances he had given his wife.

The dog, still growling, had taken up a position behind his master now, as Twining walked cautiously forward towards the source of the noise. Slowly, through the mist, he began to make out a dark figure rummaging through the contents of a litter bin.

‘Huh! It's a bloody tramp!' Twining muttered to himself, slightly ashamed at having allowed himself to fear something worse.

The dog darted forward, hurling a torrent of barks at the figure wearing an oversized black coat, who pulled back in alarm from his investigation of the rubbish. The tramp's face was obscured by upturned lapels and, with a curse and an ill-aimed kick at the dog, he turned and shuffled hurriedly off into the mist.

Ollie made as if to give chase to the departing itinerant, but after a sufficient show of bravery he scurried back to his master, wagging his tail in anticipation of praise.

‘Good boy, Ollie! Good boy!' the General murmured, patting the animal as much to steady his own nerves as the dog's.

‘Look at this mess!' he exclaimed, as he straightened his back, and stared at the litter bin. In his eagerness to find something of interest, the tramp had strewn its contents all over the path. Twining swore angrily; he loathed litter, and would frequently clear up after untidy tourists on summer evenings here. He bent down and began slowly to collect the rubbish and return it to the bin, taking care there was nothing unsavoury amongst it to foul his pigskin gloves.

Halfway through his task, he suddenly stopped in surprise. In his hand he held something that had been tediously familiar during his military career – a buff-coloured folder with the letters MOD. stamped on it. The initials stood for Ministry of Defence, and the cardboard file looked fresh and clean.

Startled, he opened the folder and took out the single sheet of paper it contained. He had left his reading glasses at home but, holding the document at arm's length, he could still make out the words ‘R.V. Separation Mechanism', and the acronym AWRE.

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