Code to Zero
January, 1958—the darkest hour of the cold war and the early dawn of the space race. On the launch pad at Cape Canaveral sits America’s best hope to catch up with the Russians—the Explorer I satellite. But at the last moment, the launch is delayed due to weather, even though everyone can see it is a perfectly sunny day.
The real reason for the delay rests deep in the mind of NASA scientist who has awoken that morning to find his memory completely erased. Knowing only that he’s being followed and watched at every turn, he must find the clues to his own identity before he can discover who is responsible. But even more terrible is the dark secret that they wanted him to forget. A secret that can destroy the Explorer I—and America’s future…
A Main Selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club, Literary Guild ® and Doubleday Book Club
5 a.m.“Gripping.”The New York Times
The Jupiter C missile stands on the launch pad at Complex 26, Cape Canaveral. For secrecy, it is draped in vast canvas shrouds that hide everything but its tail, which is that of the Army’s familiar Redstone rocket. But the rest of it, under the concealing cloak, is quite unique . . .
He woke up scared.
Worse than that: he was terrified. His heart was pounding, his breath came in gasps, and his body was taut. It was like a nightmare, except that waking brought no sense of relief. He felt that something dreadful had happened, but he did not know what it was.
He opened his eyes. A faint light from another room dimly illuminated his surroundings, and he made out vague shapes, familiar but sinister. Somewhere nearby, water ran in a cistern.
He tried to make himself calm. He swallowed, took regular breaths, and attempted to think straight. He was lying on a hard floor. He was cold, he hurt everywhere, and he had some kind of hangover, with a headache and a dry mouth and a feeling of nausea.
He sat upright, shaking with fear. There was an unpleasant smell of damp floors washed with strong disinfectant. He recognized the outline of a row of washbasins.
He was in a public toilet.
He felt disgusted. He had been sleeping on the floor of a men’s room. What the hell had happened to him? He concentrated. He was fully dressed, wearing some kind of topcoat and heavy boots, though he had a feeling that these were not his clothes. His panic was subsiding, but in its place came a deeper fear, less hysterical but more rational. What had happened to him was very bad.
He needed light.
He got to his feet. He looked around, peering into the gloom, and guessed where the door might be. Holding his arms out in front of him in case of invisible obstacles, he made his way to a wall. Then he walked crabwise, his hands exploring. He found a cold glassy surface he guessed was a mirror. Then there was a towel roller, then a metal box that might be a slot machine. At last his fingertips touched a switch, and he turned it on.
Bright light flooded white-tiled walls, a concrete floor, and a line of toilets with open doors. In a corner was what looked like a bundle of old clothes. He asked himself how he got here. He concentrated hard. What had happened last night? He could not remember.
The hysterical fear began to return as he realized he could not remember anything at all.
He clenched his teeth to stop himself from crying out. Yesterday . . . the day before . . . nothing. What was his name? He did not know.
He turned toward the row of basins. Above them was a long mirror. In the glass he saw a filthy hobo, dressed in rags, with matted hair, a dirty face, and a crazy, pop-eyed stare. He looked at the hobo for a second; then he was hit by a terrible revelation. He stared back, with a cry of shock, and the man in the mirror did the same. The hobo was himself.
He could no longer hold back the tide of panic. He opened his mouth and, in a voice that shook with terror, he shouted, “Who am I?”
The bundle of old clothes moved. It rolled over, a face appeared, and a voice mumbled, “You’re a bum, Luke, pipe down.”
His name was Luke.
He was pathetically grateful for the knowledge. A name was not much, but it gave him a focus. He stared at his companion. The man wore a ripped tweed coat with a length of string around the waist for a belt. The grimy young face had a crafty look. The man rubbed his eyes and muttered, “My head hurts.”
Luke said, “Who are you?”
“I’m Pete, you retard—
“I can’t—” Luke swallowed, holding down the panic. “I’ve lost my memory!”
“I ain’t surprised. You drank most of a bottle of liquor yesterday. It’s a miracle you didn’t lose your entire mind.” He licked his lips. “I didn’t get hardly any of that goddamn bourbon.”
Bourbon would explain the hangover, Luke thought. “But why would I drink a whole bottle?”
Pete laughed mockingly. “That’s about the dumbest question I ever heard. To get drunk, of course!”
Luke was appalled. He was a drunken bum who slept in public toilets.
He had a raging thirst. He bent over a washbasin, ran the cold water, and drank from the tap. It made him feel better. He wiped his mouth, then forced himself to look in the mirror again.
The face was calmer now. The mad stare had gone, replaced by a look of bewilderment and dismay. The reflection showed a man in his late thirties, with dark hair and blue eyes. He had no beard or mustache, just a heavy growth of dark stubble.
He turned back to his companion. “Luke what?” he said. “What’s my last name?”
“Luke . . . something, how the hell am I supposed to know?”
“How did I get this way? How long has it been going on? Why did it happen?”
Pete got to his feet. “I need some breakfast,” he said.
Luke realized he was hungry. He wondered if he had any money. He searched the pockets of his clothes: the raincoat, the jacket, the pants. All were empty. He had no money, no wallet, not even a handkerchief. No assets, no clues. “I think I’m broke,” he said.
“No kidding,” Pete said sarcastically. “Come on.” He stumbled through a doorway.
When he emerged into the light, he suffered another shock. He was in a huge temple, empty and eerily silent. Mahogany benches stood in rows on the marble floor, like church pews waiting for a ghostly congregation. Around the vast room, on a high stone lintel atop rows of pillars, surreal stone warriors with helmets and shields stood guard over the holy place. Far above their heads was a vaulted ceiling richly decorated with gilded octagons. The insane thought crossed Luke’s mind that he had been the sacrificial victim in a weird rite that had left him with no memory.
Awestruck, he said, “What is this place?”
“Union Station, Washington, D.C.,” said Pete.
A relay closed in Luke’s mind, and the whole thing made sense. With relief he saw the grime on the walls, the chewing gum trodden into the marble floor, and the candy wrappers and cigarette packs in the corners, and he felt foolish. He was in a grandiose train station, early in the morning before it filled up with passengers. He had scared himself, like a child imagining monsters in a darkened bedroom.
Pete headed for a triumphal arch marked exit, and Luke hurried after him.
An aggressive voice called, “Hey! Hey, you!”
Pete said, “Oh-oh.” He quickened his step.
A stout man in a tight-fitting railroad uniform bore down on them, full of righteous indignation. “Where did you bums spring from?”
Pete whined, “We’re leaving, we’re leaving.”
Luke was humiliated to be chased out of a train station by a fat official.
The man was not content just to get rid of them. “You been sleeping here, ain’t you?” he protested, following hard on their heels. “You know that ain’t allowed.”
It angered Luke to be lectured like a schoolboy, even though he guessed he deserved it. He had slept in the damn toilet. He suppressed a retort and walked faster.
“This ain’t a flophouse,” the man went on. “Damn bums, now scram!” He shoved Luke’s shoulder.
Luke turned suddenly and confronted the man. “Don’t touch me,” he said. He was surprised by the quiet menace in his own voice. The official stopped sh
“This spy thriller is Follett at his best.”People
“Code to Zero’s split-second suspense proves that nearly a quarter century after his breakthrough novel, Eye of the Needle…[Follett is] still a hell of a storyteller.”Entertainment Weekly
“Absorbing, tightly plotted…Suspense junkies won't be disappointed.”Publishers Weekly
“Starts off fast and never slows down…Follett creates a rousing story that never flags.”Chicago Tribune
“Flawlessly plotted, tautly told and suspenseful.”Minneapolis Star Tribune
“A winner…a jolting joyride.”St. Louis Post-Dispatch
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