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Gregory Topozian has waited half a lifetime for the opportunity to get even with Russian billionaire Viktor Karenkov. In 1986 gangster Karenkov corruptly acquired Topozian’s mining licence and the equipment at his oil exploration site in a remote part of the USSR, in the process murdering his deputy in cold blood. The incident was recorded on CCTV tapes. Topozian swore vengeance but could not use the tapes while Karenkov was in Russia building his fortune, protected by his private army and politicians in his pay.
Nearly thirty years on, Topozian has built a business empire in England. Ten years earlier Karenkov had fled to London to escape prosecution for tax evasion in Russia. Topozian keeps track of his enemy who protects himself with tight personal security, but when Karenkov books a flight on the Celeste Three space plane, Topozian sees an opportunity to exact his revenge. He plans to divert the flight to a private Greek island, where a landing strip will be prepared.
Celeste Three, the world’s first earth-orbit passenger flight service, takes off twice-weekly from its base in Arizona. The rocket-powered craft is launched from the belly of a converted Boeing 747 and after completing one orbit, must glide back to its base because it cannot land anywhere else. Celeste Three has been operating faultlessly but its prototype, Celeste Two, had an intermittent fault that was never really identified.
On Karenkov’s flight Celeste Three disappears and Topozian’s plan works until re-entry, when Celeste is buzzed by a fighter jet. Worse, the craft’s telemetry fails and the pilots are horrified to learn that the landing strip is not ready. Pushing their skills to the limit, the pilots crash land Celeste. The passengers are unharmed and ransom demands are sent out for them. Topozian then learns that Karenkov has put in place a safeguard to ensure that if he is ever kidnapped, no ransom would be paid. The measure was necessary in Russia in the nineties and Karenkov set it up again when transferring his business empire to London.
All the hostages except Karenkov are released in bizarre circumstances, each time as part of an elaborate practical joke, and all the ransoms are returned. This is Topozian’s way of showing that the hijack was not about money. Shortly before US and Greek forces land on the island, Topozian hands Karenkov over to the Russian police at sea. He tells Karenkov that he will be tried for murder.
Topozian’s plan had two objectives: bringing Karenkov to justice and making him repay what he stole. He is resigned to having achieved only the first of these, but shortly after handing him over, he learns that Karenkov’s ransom has been paid, unexpectedly, by his wife from her own private funds.