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Author: Michael Crichton

Casey wrote: Cycles = Takeoffs and Landings.

"What about inspections?" Doherty asked gloomily. "I suppose we'll have to wait weeks for the records..."

"It had a C check in March."



"So maintenance was probably good," Casey said.

"Correct," Marder said. "As a first cut, we can't attribute this to weather, human factors, or maintenance. So we're in the trenches. Let's run the fault tree. Did anything about this aircraft cause behavior that looks like turbulence? Structural?"

"Oh sure," Doherty said miserably. "A slats deploy would do it. We'll function hydraulics on all the control surfaces."


Trung was scribbling notes. "Right now I'm wondering why the autopilot didn't override the pilot. Soon as I get the FDR download, I'll know more."


"It's possible we got a slats deploy from a sneak circuit," Ron Smith said, shaking his head. "I mean, it's possible..."


"Yeah, powerplant could be involved," Burne said, running his hand through his red hair. "The thrust reversers could have deployed in flight. That'd make the plane nose over and roll. But if the reversers deployed, there'll be residual damage. We'll check the sleeves."

Casey looked down at her pad. She had written:

Structural  -  Slats Deploy

Hydraulics  -  Slats Deploy

Avionics - Autopilot

Electrical  -  Sneak Circuit

Powerplant  -  Thrust Reversers

That was basically every system on the aircraft.

"You've got a lot of ground to cover," Marder said, standing and gathering his papers together. "Don't let me keep you."

"Oh hell," Burne said. "We'll nail this in a month, John. I'm not worried."

"I am," Marder said. "Because we don't have a month. We have a week."

Cries around the table. "A week!"

"Jeez, John!"

"Come on, John, you know an IRT always takes a month."

"Not this time," Marder said. "Last Thursday our president, Hal Edgarton, received an LOI from the Beijing government to purchase fifty N-22s, with an option for another thirty. First delivery in eighteen months."

There was stunned silence.

The men all looked at each other. A big China sale had been rumored for months. The deal had been reported as "imminent" in various news accounts. But nobody at Norton really believed it.

"It's true," Marder said. "And I don't need to tell you what it means. It's an eight-billion-dollar order from the fastest-growing airframe market in the world. It's four years of full-capacity production. It'll put this company on solid financial footing into the twenty-first century. It'll fund development for the N-22 stretch and the advanced N-XX widebody. Hal and I agree: this sale means the difference between life and death for the company." Marder placed the papers in his briefcase and snapped it shut.

"I fly to Beijing Sunday, to join Hal and sign the letter of intent with the minister of transport. He's going to want to know what happened to Flight 545. And I better be able to tell him, or he'll turn around and sign with Airbus. In which case I'm in deep shit, this company is in deep shit - and everybody at this table is out of a job. The future of Norton Aircraft is riding on this investigation. So I don't want to hear anything but answers. And I want them inside a week. See you tomorrow."

He turned on his heel and walked out of the room.


7:27 A.M.

"What an asshole," Burne said. "This is his idea of motivating the troops? Fuck him."

Trung shrugged. "It's the way he always is."

"What do you think?" Smith said. "I mean, this could be great, great news. Has Edgarton really got an LOI from China?"

"I bet he does," Trung said. "Because the plant's been quietly gearing up. They've made another set of tools to fab the wing; the tools are about to be shipped to Atlanta. I'll bet he's got a deal."

"What he's got," said Burne, "is a major case of cover my ass."


"Edgarton might have a tentative from Beijing. But eight billion dollars is a big order from a big gorilla. Boeing, Douglas, and Airbus are all chasing that order. The Chinese could give it to any of them at the last minute. That's their style. They do it all the time. So Edgarton's shitting rivets, worrying he won't close the deal and he'll have to tell the board he lost the big one. So what does he do? He lays it on Marder. And what does Marder do?"

"Makes it our fault," Trung said.

"Right. This TPA flight puts them in perfect position. If they close with Beijing, they're heroes. But if the deal falls apart..."

"It's because we blew it," Trung said.

"Right. We're the reason an eight-billion-dollar deal cratered."

"Well," Trung said, standing, "I think we better look at that plane."


9:12 A.M.

Harold Edgarton, the newly appointed president of Norton Aircraft, was in his office on the tenth floor, staring out the window overlooking the plant, when John Marder walked in. Edgarton was a big man, an ex-fullback, with a ready smile and cold, watchful eyes. He had previously worked at Boeing, and had been brought in three months earlier to improve Norton's marketing.

Edgarton turned, and frowned at Marder. "This is a hell of a mess," he said. "How many died?"

"Three," Marder said.

"Christ," Edgarton said. He shook his head. "Of all the times for this to happen. Did you brief the investigation team on the LOI? Tell them how urgent this is?"

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