Excerpt: Read the Early Michael Crichton Novel, 'Binary'
Long before mega-bestselling writer Michael Crichton wrote "Sphere," "Jurassic Park" and "Rising Sun," he was a medical student feeding his passion for writing (and paying his tuition bills) by writing thrillers under the pen names John Lange and Jeffery Hudson.
For the first time, those thrillers are available electronically, and Bookish has an excerpt of "Binary," featuring U.S. intelligence agent John Graves and a nerve-gas shipment gone missing.
Read the first chapter below, and watch an interview in which Crichton says, "I thought of these books that I was writing--which were sort of James Bond thrillers--as fairy tales for adults."
Excerpt from "Binary":
Prologue: Beta Scenario
THE FACTS ARE THESE:
1. On August 22, 1972, seven men flew into Salt Lake International Airport, Salt Lake City, Utah. The men came from Las Vegas, Chicago, Dallas, and New York. All seven men have been identified; they all have connections with organized crime. Thus far four have been picked up for questioning and their testimony provides the major portion of this report. Each man was first contacted in his home city by an anonymous telephone call. They were each paid a thousand dollars in cash to do an unspecified job. All they knew in advance was that the job would take 48 hours, and that they must bring heavy boots and dark, warm clothing. Each was given an assumed name which he was to use for the duration of the job. The men arrived in Salt Lake between noon and four p.m. local time. They were met separately. When all had arrived, they were transported in a 1968 white Plymouth sedan outside the city. The trip out from Salt Lake was made in total silence. After an hour of travel they arrived in Ramrock, Utah, a town of 407 persons located in the north-central region of the state.
2. The men remained in Ramrock until nightfall, staying in a one-story wood frame house previously rented by an unknown party. While in the house, the seven men wore surgical rubber gloves so that no fingerprints could be recovered. The men changed into their dark heavy clothing in the house, and received instructions on their job from the leader, a man identified only as “Jones.” Jones is described as a heavyset muscular man with a broken nose and graying hair. Positive identification has not yet been made of this person.
3. Jones told the assembled men that they were going to steal a quantity of insecticide from a train. He told them that he had not personally planned the theft, that it had been worked out by someone else. They believed this when they heard the plans. Although not formally educated, these men have a well-developed sense of personality and they all agree that Jones, who was described by one as a “drill-sergeant type,” lacked the acumen to formulate the plans.
4. The plans were remarkable for their detail. For example, the men were told that the train would be traveling at 35 mph, according to Department of Transportation regulations covering shipment of dangerous cargo. The men were told the timetable the train would follow from its point of origin in Dugway Proving Grounds, Utah, through the state. The men were told of the existence of impedance trip sensors in the rails, and were instructed in relay timing mechanisms involved. They were told that the insecticide would be stored in 500-pound canisters of two varieties—one kind painted yellow, the other black. They were told that they must steal one yellow canister and one black canister. Two yellows or two blacks would not do.
Equally important is what the men were not told. They were not told that the train would be guarded. This is an important point. It means either that plans were drawn up for the robbery one month before—when there were no guards on the trains—or else that the presence of the guards was known by the planners, who elected not to inform the men. This point is still in debate. The men were also not told why they were stealing the insecticide in the first place. Significantly, none of them asked. Apparently it was a matter of total indifference to them.
5. They remained in the wood frame house in Ramrock until 8 p.m. Then each man was issued a machine gun and a pistol. The machine guns were of the usual variety, that is, war surplus equipment sold with plugged barrels. Some other party had simply machined new barrels and replaced the original plugged barrels (cf. Memorandum 245/779: Abuses of War Surplus Weaponry). The men then climbed aboard a Land Rover which was stored in the garage of the house. It had apparently been there waiting for some weeks, because it was dusty. They drove off into the desert to meet the train.
6. They arrived at an unnamed site in northeast Utah shortly after 2 a.m. They carried out their preparations quickly and efficiently in the light of a full moon. One man was sent down the tracks until he found the impedance trip sensor. He blocked the mechanism of this sensor by attaching an electronic override device. Thus no one knew for six hours that the train had been stopped further up the tracks; it was assumed that the trip sensor had broken down. Meanwhile four other men walked across the sand toward a half-dozen cattle grazing nearby. The robbery site was minimal rangeland and had been chosen specifically because of this. The men shot the steer nearest to the tracks. The other cattle ran off at the sound of the shot. The men looped ropes around the dead steer and dragged it across the railroad tracks. The animal was doused with gasoline and a timing device was attached to it. Then all seven men climbed aboard the Land Rover and rode it to a nearby hiding place behind some low dunes. They waited approximately fifteen minutes before the train appeared in the distance. The men were surprised to see that it was a government train consisting of three flatcars lettered us GOVERNMENT PROPERTY on the sides. They were also surprised to see an armored caboose at the end of the train.
7. The engine slowed, apparently as the engineer sighted the obstacle across the tracks. When the train stopped, the timing device caused the dead steer to burst into flames. At that moment six of the men ran forward, intending to remove the canisters. There was some scattered firing from the armored caboose. One man ran up to it, stuck his machine gun into an armored port, and delivered a burst of fire to the interior. All five soldiers (and one physician) inside the caboose were killed. The engineer was also killed a few moments later.
8. The men unloaded two canisters from the train, one black and one yellow. Each was marked with lettering so vivid that the men remembered it well; stenciled warnings to the effect that the canisters contained highly dangerous chemicals. They carried the canisters across the desert to a flat location nearby. They set them down 100 yards apart and burned a red flare near each.
9. Two or three minutes passed, and then two helicopters appeared over the horizon. The helicopters landed in tandem alongside the flares. They were commercial helicopters of a nondescript nature. The only unusual aspect was that each had been fitted with a nylon web sling to hold a canister. The men loaded the canisters onto the slings. The helicopters lifted off again into the night.
10. The men returned to the Land Rover and drove back to Salt Lake City, arriving at 6 a.m. on the morning of August 23, 1972. Over the next 18 hours they flew out of the city to their points of origin. None had any knowledge of what happened to the canisters. None had any knowledge of the true contents of the canisters.
It is clear from the foregoing that these seven underworld figures were engaged in an activity closely approximating the RAND Corporation “Analog Scenario” sequence called CBW Beta. These scenarios were prepared in the fall of 1965 for the Department of Defense (Command and Control). They considered the options and ramifications of theft of thermonuclear bomb components and chem/biol agents.
Beta Scenario treated the possibility that a relatively small number of men, either criminal figures or political extremists, might steal these materials for blackmail, sabotage, or terrorist purposes. The consequences of theft were considered uniformly disastrous. Therefore the scenario outlined ways to prevent this occurrence.
The chief preventive mechanism was deemed secrecy in transport schedules and methods. That is, the thieves would not know where, or when, the material was being shipped. As a result of the Beta Scenario conclusions, timetables for shipment were established by a closed-code computer mechanism operating from a table of random numbers. That mechanism was regarded as foolproof and unbreakable.
However, it is obvious that these seven men received instructions derived from breaking the timetable. It is not known how the timetable was broken, enabling the men to easily, almost effortlessly, steal one half-ton of the most potent nerve gas in the world
Los Angeles: 5 a.m. PDT Hour 12
THE GRAY GOVERNMENT SEDAN was waiting in a deserted corner of Los Angeles International Airport. Seen from the air, it cast a long shadow across the concrete runway in the pale morning light. He watched the sedan as his helicopter descended and landed a short distance from the car.
The driver came running up, bent over beneath the spinning blades, and opened the door. A gust of warm, dry August air swirled into the interior of the helicopter.
“Come with me please.”
Graves got out, carrying his briefcase, and walked to the car. He climbed into the back seat and they drove off away from the runway toward the freeway.
“Do you know where we’re going?” Graves asked.
The driver consulted a clipboard. “One-oh-one-three-one Washington, Culver City, I have.”
“I think that’s right.” Graves settled back in the seat. California numbering: he’d never get used to it. It was as bad as a zip code. He opened his early edition of The New York Times and tried to read it. He had tried on the helicopter but had found it impossible to concentrate. He assumed that was because of the noise. And the distractions: when they passed over San Clemente, halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego, he had been craning his neck, peering out the window like an ordinary tourist. The President was there now, had been for the last week.
He looked at the headlines: trouble in the UN, arguments in the German parliament about the mark, Britain and France squabbling … He put the paper aside and stared out the window at Los Angeles, flat and bleak in the early morning light.
“Good trip, sir?” the driver asked. It was perfectly said—no inflection, no prying, just detached polite interest. The driver didn’t know who Graves was. He didn’t know where he had come from. He didn’t know what his business was. All the driver knew was that Graves was important enough to have a government helicopter fly him in and a government sedan pick him up.
“Fine, thanks.” Graves smiled, staring out the window. In fact the trip had been horrible. Phelps had called him just an hour before and asked him to come up and give a briefing on Wright. That was the way Phelps worked—everything was a crisis, there were no routine activities. It was typical that Phelps hadn’t bothered to let Graves know beforehand that he was even in Los Angeles.
Although on reflection, Graves knew he should have expected that. With the Republican Convention in San Diego, all the activity of the country had shifted from Washington to the West Coast. The President was in the Western White House in San Clemente; the Convention was 80 miles to the south; and Phelps—what would Phelps do? Obviously, relocate discreetly in the nearest large city, which was Los Angeles. As Graves considered it, Los Angeles became the inevitable choice.
Phelps needed the telephone lines for data transmission. It was as simple as that. L.A. was the third largest city in America, and it would have plenty of telephone lines that the Department of State (Intelligence Division) could take over on short notice. It was inevitable.
“Here we are, sir,” the driver said, pulling over to the curb. He got out and opened the door for Graves. “Am I to wait for you, sir?”
“Yes, I think so.”
“Very good, sir.”
Graves paused and looked up at the building. It was a rather ordinary four-story office building in an area of Los Angeles that seemed almost a slum. The building, not particularly new, was outstandingly ugly. And the paint was flaking away from the facade.
Graves walked up the steps and entered the lobby. As he went through the doors he looked at his watch. It was exactly 5 a.m. Phelps was waiting for him in the deserted lobby. Phelps wore a lightweight glen-plaid suit and a worried expression. He shook hands with Graves and said, “How was your flight?” His voice echoed slightly in the lobby.
“Fine,” Graves said.
They walked to the elevators, passing the ground-floor offices, which seemed mostly devoted to a bank.
“Like this place?” Phelps said.
“It was the best we could find on short notice,” he said.
A guard with a sign-in book stood in front of the elevators. Graves let Phelps sign first; then he took the pen and wrote his name, his authorization, and the time. He saw that Decker and Venn were already there.
They got onto the elevator and pressed the button for the third floor. “Decker and Venn are already here,” Phelps said.
Phelps nodded and smiled, as much as he ever smiled. “I keep forgetting about you and your powers of observation.”
“I keep forgetting about you, too,” Graves said.
Phelps ignored the remark. “I’ve planned two meetings for today,” he said. “You’ve got the briefing in an hour—Wilson, Peckham, and a couple of others. But I think you should hear about Sigma Station first.”
“All right,” Graves said. He didn’t know what the hell Phelps was talking about, but he wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of asking.
They got off at the third floor and walked past some peeling posters of Milan and Tahiti and through a small typing pool, the desks now deserted, the typewriters neatly covered.
“What is this place?” Graves said.
“Travel agency,” Phelps said. “They went out of business but they had a lot of—
“Yes. We took over the floor.”
“How long you planning to stay?” Graves asked. There was an edge to his voice that he didn’t bother to conceal. Phelps knew how he felt about the Department.
“Just through the Convention,” Phelps said, with elaborate innocence. “What did you think?”
“I thought it might be permanent.”
“Good Lord, no. Why would we do a thing like that?”
“I can’t imagine,” Graves said.
Past the typing pool they came to a section of private offices. The walls were painted an institutional beige. It reminded Graves of a prison, or a hospital. No wonder the travel agency went out of business, he thought.
“I know how you feel,” Phelps said.
“Do you?” Graves asked.
“Yes. You’re … ambivalent about the section.”
“I’m ambivalent about the domestic activities.”
“We all are,” Phelps said. He said it easily, in the smooth, oil-on-the-waters manner that he had perfected. And his father before him. Phelps’s father had been an undersecretary of state during the Roosevelt administration. Phelps himself was a product of The Dalton School, Andover, Yale, and Harvard Law School. If he sat still, ivy would sprout from his ears. But he never sat still.
“How do you find San Diego?” he asked, walking along with his maddeningly springy step.
“Boring and hot.”
Phelps sighed. “Don’t blame me. I didn’t choose it.” Graves did not reply.
They continued down a corridor and came upon a guard, who nodded to Phelps. “Good morning, Mr. Phelps.” And to Graves: “Good morning, sir.” Phelps flashed his pink card; so did Graves. The guard allowed them to pass further down the corridor past a large banner that read FIRST CLASS SERVICE ON COACH.
“You’ve got a guard already,” Graves said.
“There’s a lot of expensive equipment to look after,” Phelps said. They made a right turn and entered a conference room.
There were just four of them: Graves; Phelps, looking springy and alert as he greeted everyone; Decker, who was thin and dark, intense-looking; and Venn, who was nearly fifty, graying, sloppy in his dress. Graves had never met Decker or Venn before, but he knew they were both scientists. They were too academic and too uncomfortable to be anything else.
Phelps ran the meeting. “This is John Graves, who is the world’s foremost expert on John Wright.” He smiled slightly. “Mr. Graves has plenty of background, so you can speak as technically as you want. Decker, why don’t you begin.
Michael Crichton (1942–2008) was one of the most successful novelists of his generation, admired for his meticulous scientific research and fast-paced narrative. He graduated summa cum laude and earned his MD from Harvard Medical School in 1969. His first novel, "Odds On" (1966), was written under the pseudonym John Lange and was followed by seven more Lange novels. He also wrote as Michael Douglas and Jeffery Hudson. His novel "A Case of Need" won the Edgar Award in 1969. Popular throughout the world, he has sold more than 200 million books. His novels have been translated into 38 languages, and 13 have been made into films.