Excerpt: TOM CLANCY’S OP-CENTER: FALLOUT by Jeff Rovin (St. Martin’s Griffin)

RovinJ-OC-FalloutUSHCToday, we have an excerpt from the latest (22nd) novel in Tom Clancy’s Op-Center thriller series: Jeff Rovin‘s Fallout. First, here’s the synopsis:

As fears of a dangerous nuclear confrontation between China and the US escalate, China targets individual members of the Black Wasp team in this heart-pounding entry in the bestselling series.

After successfully extricating one of Beijing’s top scientists from captivity and escorting him to America, the Black Wasp commandos find themselves targeted by Chinese assassins. The killers are not only highly trained but invisible, launching tactical strikes from multiple embassies in Washington, D.C. The Chinese squad has also infiltrated American intelligence and is aware of every move Black Wasp makes. Complicating matters, the new president of the United States seems willing to let Op Center take the fall for the mission that precipitated the crisis.

The shocking murder of one of their own forces the surviving team members to seek both a safe haven and an ally in the fight for survival — an unexpected partner who might, in fact, be part of the problem.



19 miles above the Western Coast of Africa
March 22, 5:45 P.M., Central Daylight Time

“So, Senator?” Colonel Timothy Malo said. “What are you going to tell the press when you land? It’s got to be something for the ages.”

“Why?” Senator Yvonne Malo replied. “I’m not even the oldest politician who has gone into space.”

“True, but John Glenn is not the sitting chair of the Subcommittee on Space and Science. You are. C’mon. Your astutest critic wants to know.”

Senator Yvonne Malo smiled. She had no idea—had not even thought about it. Strapped to her couch, forming a circle with her three crewmates, the woman looked up through the large window over her head. The gold tint of her helmet’s face mask killed the glare from inside the spacecraft so that all she saw were stars and blackness.

The three days of talking to the scientists, of watching them dry-run equipment, of conducting Senate business from low Earth orbit—that was a first—and of learning to eat, sleep, and use the toilet in zero-gravity, all that had been big and preoccupying.

“You’ve got about thirty seconds until I’ve got to return the mike,” her husband pressed.

“Okay, Colonel. I’ll tell those pudknockers that space flight is like sex,” the outspoken Arizonan replied. “You can take the classes, you can watch the videos, you can use your imagination. But nothing can prepare you for the reality. What do you think?”

Her husband laughed. “Can I take that as a compliment?”

“You most certainly may.”

“Bless ya, girl. That’s as good a sign-off as I can think of. I’ll let CAPCOM know that our PTC has ended.”

“I love you, too, and I’ll see you within an hour.”

The line went cold for a few seconds as her partner of forty years terminated the private- time communication. It was a chat allowed each astronaut before the fiery and dangerous reentry. The next voice the sixty-three-year-old heard was the capsule communicator letting them know that their automated deorbit burn was just two minutes, thirty seconds away.

Senator Malo settled back into the couch of the Phoenix One. The seat was comprised of two sections connected by a flexible joint, assisting blood flow and decreasing the gravitational forces of leaving and returning to the Earth. Its recliner was not so much comfortable as reassuring, holding her spacesuited-self snug and plugged in to all communications, air, and the electronic heads- up display. She kept that turned off since the readouts were foreign to the onetime rodeo rider and obstructed her view of space.

She thought about what she had told her husband. It was no exaggeration. The maiden voyage of NASA’s new research ship had been a powerful, emotional experience. It was incalculably larger-than-life, from the ferocious thrust of liftoff, through the rattling climb when she feared her bones as well as the rocket would come apart, to the sudden onset of weightlessness. Below the crew section was the science module that was designed to conduct experiments for which the International Space Station was not equipped—or that the Department of Defense did not wish to share with the international community.

“Heatshield alignment in progress,” she heard Commander Dick Siegel say. He was in the seat directly to her left in an array she jokingly referred to as “our pie chart.”

“Azimuth nominal,” CAPCOM answered.

The spacecraft system was fully automated, the exchange simply confirming that both crew and command center were reading the same data.

“Deorbit burn in two minutes—mark,” Commander Siegel said.

“Roger that,” CAPCOM replied.

It was a surreal moment for the senator, weightless and waiting. With nothing tangible happening and the universe sprawled before her, time did not seem to exist. Except for memory, it was like being a fetus—

And then everything but the stars went away. For a moment, Senator Malo wondered if one of the crewmembers had pushed something by accident. But there was no activity that she could hear or see.

“Commander?” she said into the ominously silent darkness.

She heard her voice in the helmet but not through the audio unit. There was no response, but then everyone was as tucked-in as she was, and she would not have heard anything that did not come through the ship communicator. Her helmet afforded very little mobility, but she turned her head very slightly in Siegel’s direction.


There was no answer. She went immediately to her training, quickly filtering all worries and extraneous thoughts; none of that would help. She wondered if a swarm of micrometeoroids had impacted the Phoenix One and damaged its circuits.

“Hello? CAPCOM?” she said. When there was no response, she repeated the call with greater urgency. “CAPCOM? Do you read?”

Save for the hollow sound of her own breath, there was silence—frustrating at first and then, despite her best efforts, it became unnerving. She noticed then that the air was growing warm, that she was suddenly straining to breathe.

You have now to fix this, she reminded herself. Do it! What is your status?

The air was not being refreshed behind her visor. There was no communication, no light, no electronics— there had been a catastrophic failure. Even the backup systems had not clicked in.

The senator raised a gloved hand. She touched the right side of her helmet to raise the visor. Its faceplate did not move. That should not be—the suit electronics were not linked to the ship’s systems. They should not be nonresponsive.

Fighting down rising panic, she brought her hands to the base of her neck to manually unlatch the helmet. Just then she heard muffled, distant voices.

“CAPCOM?” she asked. “Hello?”

No, she thought. Those were her crewmates. They only seemed distant because of the damned helmet. She realized suddenly that she had to remove the gloves first and did so clumsily but swiftly. She left them floating where they were and hurriedly undid the latches that held the helmet to the connective neck ring. She got it off with a combination of tugging and wriggling in the confined space. At once, the disembodied voices became clear.

“. . . batteries are dead!” astrophysicist Dr. John Todd said thickly.

“How is that possible?” Commander Siegel asked.

“I don’t know,” Todd admitted. “No single radioactive source could do this.”

“Sabotage,” said embedded technology scientist Dr. Bart Singh. “That’s the only explan— ”

“Save that for later!” Siegel interrupted. “Jason, we’ve got about a minute before the reentry maneuver!”

“I’m engaging manual thruster control,” said pilot Jason Goodman. “I’ll use the angle of the stars to time the burn. We may end up in Iceland, but we’ll be down!”

Senator Malo knew that the problem was more complex than that. This low, if Goodman did not fire the rockets at exactly the right moment to reduce reentry to idle velocity, the Phoenix One would clip the outer edge of the Earth’s atmosphere at 17,500 miles an hour and go skidding off into space.

No one spoke after that, and the dwindling air supply made it incumbent to be still and silent. She relaxed back into the seat, trusting Goodman to get them out of this. He had trained for it. She had observed him, marveling at his instincts. If anyone could pull this off—

Suddenly, there was a spine-rattling jolt from below. The cabin filled with a yellow-orange glow as the spacecraft’s four hydrocarbon-fueled rockets ignited. After the period of deep blackness, the flare was so intense that Senator Malo felt a sharp burst in the back of her head.

Through the unexpected movement and light, the woman heard Goodman shout, “That wasn’t me!”

It was the last articulate human voice she would ever hear. Shrieks came from all four mouths as the burn sent the Phoenix One into the atmosphere at an improper angle. Instead of skipping into the void, the spacecraft plunged Earthward with its heatshield improperly aligned. The reaction was severe as the atmosphere poured around it, friction igniting everything that was not the concave steel, fiberglass, and basalt bulwark. The fire melted or vaporized every structural piece of the ship that it came in contact with on its way to the cabin. That process took under three seconds, during which time the passengers experienced heat rising swiftly to 2,750 degrees Fahrenheit—three seconds in which they were able to scream their last mortal sounds.

The flames quickly immolated the chairs, the controls, and finally the crew. The one mercy is that all four astronauts were already dead, their chests having burst from the rapid expansion of heated air in their lungs.

After just seven seconds, no trace of the Phoenix One remained.


Jeff Rovin’s Op-Center: Fallout is due to be published by St. Martin’s Griffin in North America and in the UK, on May 30th.

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