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猎杀“红十月”号(chapter 11)

2006-07-07 19:19



  An A-10 Thunderbolt

  It was a lot more fun than flying DC-9s. Major Andy Richardson had over ten thousand hours in those and only six hundred or so in his A-10 Thunderbolt II strike fighter, but he much preferred the smaller of the twin-engine aircraft. Richardson belonged to the 175th Tactical Fighter Group of the Maryland Air National Guard. Ordinarily his squadron flew out of a small military airfield east of Baltimore. But two days earlier, when his outfit had been activated, the 175th and six other national guard and reserve air groups had crowded the already active SAC base at Loring Air Force Base in Maine. They had taken off at midnight and had refueled in midair only half an hour earlier, a thousand miles out over the North Atlantic. Now Richardson and his flight of four were skimming a hundred feet over the black waters at four hundred knots.

  A hundred miles behind the four fighters, ninety aircraft were following at thirty thousand feet in what would look very much to the Soviets like an alpha strike, a weighted attack mission of armed tactical fighters. It was exactly that - and also a feint. The real mission belonged to the low-level team of four.

  Richardson loved the A-10. She was called with backhanded affection the Warthog or just plain Hog by the men who flew her. Nearly all tactical aircraft had pleasing lines conferred on them by the need in combat for speed and maneuverability. Not the Hog, which was perhaps the ugliest bird ever built for the U.S. Air Force. Her twin turbofan engines hung like afterthoughts at the twin-rudder tail, itself a throwback to the thirties. Her slablike wings had not a whit of sweepback and were bent in the middle to accommodate the clumsy landing gear. The undersides of the wings were studded with many hard points so ordnance could be carried, and the fuselage was built around the aircraft's primary weapon, the GAU-8 thirty-millimeter rotary cannon designed specifically to smash Soviet tanks.

  For tonight's mission, Richardson's flight had a full load of depleted uranium slugs for their Avenger cannons and a pair of Rockeye cluster bomb canisters, additional antitank weapons. Directly beneath the fuselage was a LANTIRN (low-altitude navigation and targeting infrared for night) pod; all the other ordnance stations save one were occupied by fuel tanks.

  The 175th had been the first national guard squadron to receive LANTIRN. It was a small collection of electronic and optical systems that enabled the Hog to see at night while flying at minimum altitude searching for targets. The systems projected a heads-up display (HUD) on the fighter's windshield, in effect turning night to day and making this mission profile marginally less hazardous. Beside each LANTIRN pod was a smaller object which, unlike the cannon shells and Rockeyes, was intended for use tonight.

  Richardson didn't mind - indeed, he relished - the hazards of the mission. Two of his three comrades were, like him, airline pilots, the third a crop duster, all experienced men with plenty of practice in low-level tactics. And their mission was a good one.

  The briefing, conducted by a naval officer, had taken over an hour. They were paying a visit to the Soviet Navy. Richardson had read in the papers that the Russians were up to something, and when he had heard at the briefing that they were sending their fleet to trail its coat this close to the American coast, he had been shocked by their boldness. It had angered him to learn that one of their crummy little day fighters had back-shot a navy Tomcat the day before, nearly killing one of its officers. He wondered why the navy was being cut out of the response. Most of the Saratoga's air group was visible on the concrete pads at Loring, sitting alongside the B-52s, A-6E Intruders, and F-18 Hornets with their ordnance carts a few feet away. He guessed that his mission was only the first act, the delicate part. While Soviet eyes were locked on the alpha strike hovering at the edge of their SAM range, his flight of four would dash in under radar cover to the fleet flagship, the nuclear-powered battle cruiser Kirov. To deliver a message.

  It was surprising that guardsmen had been selected for this mission. Nearly a thousand tactical aircraft were now mobilized on the East Coast, about a third of them reservists of one kind or another, and Richardson guessed that that was part of the message. A very difficult tactical operation was being run by second-line airmen, while the regular squadrons sat ready on the runways of Loring, and McGuire, and Dover, and Pease, and several other bases from Virginia to Maine, fueled, briefed, and ready. Nearly a thousand aircraft! Richardson smiled. There wouldn't be enough targets to go around.

  “Linebacker Lead, this is Sentry-Delta. Target bearing zero-four-eight, range fifty miles. Course is one-eight-five, speed twenty.”

  Richardson did not acknowledge the transmission over the encrypted radio link. The flight was under EMCON. Any electronic noise might alert the Soviets. Even his targeting radar was switched off, and only passive infrared and low-light television sensors were operating. He look quickly left and right. Second-line flyers, hell! he said to himself. Every man in the flight had at least four thousand hours, more than most regular pilots would ever have, more than most of the astronauts, and their birds were maintained by people who tinkered with airplanes because they liked to. The fact of the matter was that his squadron had better aircraft-availability than any regular squadron and had had fewer accidents than the wet-nosed hotdogs who flew the warthogs in England and Korea. They'd show the Russkies that.

  He smiled to himself. This sure beat flying his DC-9 from Washington to Providence and Hartford and back every day for U.S. Air! Richardson, who had been an air force fighter pilot, had left the service eight years earlier because he craved the higher pay and flashy lifestyle of a commercial airline pilot. He'd missed Vietnam, and commercial flying did not require anything like this degree of skill; it lacked die rush of skimming at treetop level.

  So far as he knew, the Hog had never been used for maritime strike missions - another part of the message. It was no surprise that she'd be good at it. Her antitank munitions would be effective against ships. Her cannon slugs and Rockeye clusters were designed to shred armored battle tanks, and he had no doubts what they would do to thin-hulled warships. Too bad this wasn't for real. It was about time somebody taught Ivan a lesson.

  A radar sensor light blinked on his threat receiver; S-band radar, it was probably meant for surface search, and was not powerful enough for a return yet. The Soviets did not have any aerial radar platforms, and their ship-carried sets were limited by the earth's curvature. The beam was just over his head; he was getting the fuzzy edge of it. They would have avoided detection better still by flying at fifty feet instead of a hundred, but orders were not to.

  “Linebacker flight, this is Sentry-Delta. Scatter and head in,” the AWACS commanded.

  The A-10s separated from their interval of only a few feet to an extended attack formation that left miles between aircraft. The orders were for them to scatter at thirty miles' distance. About four minutes. Richardson checked his digital clock; the Linebacker flight was right on time. Behind them, the Phantoms and Corsairs in the alpha strike would be turning toward the Soviets, just to get their attention. He ought to be seeing them soon……

  The HUD showed small bumps on the projected horizon - the outer screen of destroyers, the Udaloys and Sovremennys. The briefing officer had shown them silhouettes and photos of the warships.

  Beep! his threat receiver chirped. An X-band missile guidance radar had just swept over his aircraft and lost it, and was now trying to regain contact. Richardson flipped on his ECM (electronic countermeasures) jamming systems. The destroyers were only five miles away now. Forty seconds. Stay dumb, comrades, he thought.

  He began to maneuver his aircraft radically, jinking up, down, left, right, in no particular pattern. It was only a game, but there was no sense in giving Ivan an easy time. If this had been for real, his Hogs would be blazing in behind a swarm of antiradar missiles and would be accompanied by Wild Weasel aircraft trying to scramble and kill Soviet missile control systems. Things were moving very fast now. A screening destroyer loomed in his path, and he nudged his rudder to pass clear of her by a quarter mile. Two miles to the Kirov - eighteen seconds.

  The HUD system painted an intensified image. The Kirov's pyramidal mast-stack-radar structure was filling his windshield. He could see blinking signal lights all around the battle cruiser. Richardson gave more right rudder. They were supposed to pass within three hundred yards of the ship, no more, no less. His Hog would blaze past the bow, the others past the stern and either beam. He didn't want to cut it too close. The major checked to be certain that his bomb and cannon controls were locked in the safe position. No sense getting carried away. About now in a real attack he'd trigger his cannon and a stream of solid slugs would lance the light armor of the Kirov's forward missile magazines, exploding the SAM and cruise missiles in a huge fireball and slicing through the superstructure as if it were thin as newsprint.

  At five hundred yards, the captain reached down to arm the flare pod, attached next to the LANTIRN.

  Now! He flipped the switch, which deployed half a dozen high-intensity magnesium parachute flares. All four Linebacker aircraft acted within seconds. Suddenly the Kirov was inside a box of blue-white magnesium light. Richardson pulled back on his stick, banking into a climbing turn past the battle cruiser. The brilliant light dazzled him, but he could see the graceful lines of the Soviet warship as she was turning hard on the choppy seas, her men running along the deck like ants.

  If we were serious, you'd all be dead now - get the message?

  Richardson thumbed his radio switch. “Linebacker Lead to Sentry-Delta,” he said in the clear. “Robin Hood, repeat, Robin Hood. Linebacker flight, this is lead, form up on me. Let's go home!”

  “Linebacker flight, this is Sentry-Delta. Outstanding!” the controller responded. “Be advised that Kiev has a pair of Forgers in the air, thirty miles east, heading your way. They'll have to hustle to catch up. Will advise. Out.”

  Richardson did some fast arithmetic in his head. They probably could not catch up, and even if they did, twelve Phantoms from the 107th Fighter Interceptor Group were ready for it.

  “Hot damn, lead!” Linebacker 4, the crop duster, moved gingerly into his slot. “Did you see those turkeys pointing up at us? God damn, did we rattle their cage!”

  “Heads up for Forgers,” Richardson cautioned, grinning ear to ear inside his oxygen mask. Second-line flyers, hell!

  “Let 'em come,” Linebacker 4 replied. “Any of those bastards closes me and my thirty, it'll be the last mistake he ever makes!” Four was a little too aggressive for Richardson's liking, but the man did know how to drive his Hog.

  “Linebacker flight, this is Sentry-Delta. The Forgers have turned back. You're in the clear. Out.”

  “Roger that, out. Okay, flight, let's settle down and head home. I guess we've earned our pay for the month.” Richardson looked to make sure he was on an open frequency. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is Captain Barry Friendly,” he said, using the in-house U.S. Air public relations joke that had become a tradition in the 175th. “I hope you have enjoyed your flight, and thank you for flying Warthog Air.”

  The Kirov

  On the Kirov, Admiral Stralbo raced from the combat information center to the flag bridge, too late. They had acquired the low-level raiders only a minute from the outer screen. The box of flares was already behind the battle cruiser, several still burning in the water. The bridge crew, he saw, was rattled.

  “Sixty to seventy seconds before they were on us, Comrade Admiral,” the flag captain reported, “we were tracking the orbiting attack force and these four - we think, four - racing in under our radar coverage. We had missile lock on two of them despite their jamming.”

  Stralbo frowned. That performance was not nearly good enough. If the strike had been real, the Kirov would have been badly damaged at least. The Americans would gladly trade a pair of fighters for a nuclear powered cruiser. If all American aircraft attacked like this……

  “The arrogance of the Americans is fantastic!” The fleet zampolit swore.

  “It was foolish to provoke them,” Stralbo observed sourly. “I knew that something like that would happen, but I expected it from Kennedy.”

  “That was a mistake, a pilot error,” the political officer replied.

  “Indeed, Vasily. And this was no mistake! They just sent us a message, telling us that we are fifteen hundred kilometers from their shore without useful air cover, and that they have over five hundred fighters waiting to pounce on us from the west. In the meantime Kennedy is stalking us to the east like a rabid wolf. We are not in an attractive position.”

  “The Americans would not be so brash.”

  “Are you sure of that, Comrade Political Officer? Sure? What if one of their aircraft commits a 'pilot error'? And sinks one of our destroyers? And what if the American president gets a direct link to Moscow to apologize before we can ever report it? They swear it was an accident and promise to punish the stupid pilot - then what? You think the imperialists are so predictable this close to their own coastline? I do not. I think they are praying for the smallest excuse to pounce on us. Come to my cabin. We must consider this.”

  The two men went aft. Stralbo's cabin was a spartan affair. The only decoration on the wall was a print of Lenin speaking to Red Guards.

  “What is our mission, Vasily?” Stralbo asked.

  “To support our submarines, help them to conduct the search - ”

  “Exactly. Our mission is to support, not to conduct offensive operations. The Americans do not want us here. Objectively, I can understand this. With all our missiles we are a threat to them.”

  “But our orders are not to threaten them,” the zampolit protested. “Why would we want to strike their homeland?”

  “And, of course, the imperialists recognize that we are peaceful socialists! Come now, Vasily, these are our enemies! Of course they do not trust us. Of course they wish to attack us, given the smallest excuse. They are already interfering with our search, pretending to help. They do not want us here - and in allowing ourselves to be provoked by their aggressive actions, we fall into their trap.” The admiral stared down at his desk. “Well, we shall change that. I will order the fleet to discontinue anything that may appear the least bit aggressive. We will end all air operations beyond normal local patrolling. We will not harass their nearby fleet units. We will use only normal navigational radars.”


  “And we will swallow our pride and be as meek as mice. Whatever provocation they make, we will not react to it.”

  “Some will call this cowardice, Comrade Admiral,” the zampolit warned.

  Stralbo had expected that. “Vasily, don't you see? In pretending to attack us they have already victimized us. They force us to activate our newest and most secret defense systems so they can gather intelligence on our radars and fire control systems. They examine the performance of our fighters and helicopters, the maneuverability of our ships, and most of all, our command and control. We shall put an end to that. Our primary mission is too important. If they continue to provoke us, we will act as though our mission is indeed peaceful - which it is as far as they are concerned - and protest our innocence. And we make them the aggressors. If they continue to provoke us, we shall watch to see what their tactics are, and give them nothing in return. Or would you prefer that they prevent us from carrying out our mission?”

  The zampolit mumbled his consent. If they failed in their mission, the charge of cowardice would be a small matter indeed. If they found the renegade submarine, they'd be heroes regardless of what else happened.

  The Dallas

  How long had he been on duty? Jones wondered. He could have checked easily enough by punching the button on his digital watch, but the sonarman didn't want to. It would be too depressing. Me and my big mouth - you bet, Skipper, my ass! he swore to himself. He'd detected the sub at a range of about twenty miles, maybe, had just barely gotten her - and the fuckin' Atlantic Ocean was three thousand miles across, at least sixty footprint diameters. He'd need more than luck now.

  Well, he did get a Hollywood shower out of it. Ordinarily a shower on a freshwater-poor ship meant a few seconds of wetting down and a minute or so of lathering, followed by a few more seconds of rinsing the suds off. It got you clean but was not very satisfying. This was an improvement over the old days, the oldtimers liked to say. But back then, Jones often responded, the sailors had to pull oars - or run off diesel and batteries, which amounted to the same thing. A Hollywood shower is something a sailor starts thinking about after a few days at sea. You leave the water running, a long, continuous stream of wonderfully warm water. Commander Mancuso was given to awarding this sensuous pastime in return for above-average performance. It gave people something tangible to work for. You couldn't spend extra money on a sub, and there was no beer or women.

  Old movies - they were making an effort on that score. The boat's library wasn't bad, when you had time to sort through the jumble. And the Dallas had a pair of Apple computers and a few dozen game programs for amusement. Jones was the boat champion at Choplifter and Zork. The computers were also used for training purposes, of course, for practice exams and programmed learning tests that ate up most of the use time.

  The Dallas was quartering an area east of the Grand Banks. Any boat transiting Route One tended to come through here. They were moving at five knots, trailing out the BQR-15 towed-array sonar. They'd had all kinds of contacts. First, half the submarines in the Russian Navy had whipped by at high speed, many trailed by American boats. An Alfa had burned past them at over forty knots, not three thousand yards away. It would have been so easy, Jones had thought at the time. The Alfa had been making so much noise that one could have heard it with a glass against the hull, and he'd had to turn his amplifiers down to minimums to keep the noise from ruining his ears. A pity they couldn't have fired. The setup had been so simple, the firing solution so easy that a kid with an old-fashioned sliderule could have done it. That Alfa a had been meat on the table. The Victors came running next, and the Charlies and Novembers last of all. Jones had been listening to surface ships a ways to the west, a lot of them doing twenty knots or so, making all kinds of noise as they pounded through the waves. They were way far off, and not his concern.

  They had been trying to acquire this particular target for over two days, and Jones had had only an odd hour of sleep here and there. Well, that's what they pay me for, he reflected bleakly. This was not unprecedented, he'd done it before, but he'd be happy when the labor ended.

  The large-aperture towed array was at the end of a thousand-foot cable. Jones referred to the use of it as trolling for whales. In addition to being their most sensitive sonar rig, it protected the Dallas against intruders shadowing her. Ordinarily a submarine's sonar will work in any direction except aft - an area called the cone of silence, or the baffles. The BQR-15 changed that. Jones had heard all sorts of things on it, subs and surface ships all the time, low-flying aircraft on occasion. Once, during an exercise off Florida, it had been the noise of diving pelicans that he could not figure out until the skipper had raised the periscope for a look. Then off Bermuda they had encountered mating humpbacks, and a very impressive noise that was. Jones had a personal copy of the tape of them for use on the beach; some women had found it interesting, in a kinky sort of way. He smiled to himself.

  There was a considerable amount of surface noise. The signal processors filtered most of it out, and every few minutes Jones switched them off his channel, getting the sound unimpeded to make sure that they weren't filtering too much out. Machines were dumb; Jones wondered if SAPS might be letting some of that anomalous signal get lost inside the computer chips. That was a problem with computers, really a problem with programming: you'd tell the machine to do something, and it would go do it to the wrong thing. Jones often amused himself working up programs. He knew a few people from college who drew up game programs for personal computers; one of them was making good money with Sierra On-Line Systems……

  Daydreaming again, Jonesy, he chided himself. It wasn't easy listening to nothing for hours on end. It would have been a good idea, he thought, to let sonarmen read on duty. He had better sense than to suggest it. Mr. Thompson might go along, but the skipper and all the senior officers were ex-reactor types with the usual rule of iron: You shall watch every instrument with absolute concentration all the time. Jones didn't think this was very smart. It was different with sonarmen. They burned out too easily. To combat this Jones had his music tapes and his games. He could lose himself in any sort of diversion, especially Choplifter. A man had to have something, he reasoned, to lose his mind in, at least once a day. And something on duty in some cases. Even truck drivers, hardly the most intellectual of people, had radios and tape players to keep from becoming mesmerized. But sailors on a nuclear sub costing the best part of a billion……

  Jones leaned forward, pressing the headphones tight against his head. He tore a page of doodles from his scratch pad and noted the time on a fresh sheet. Next he made some adjustments on his gain controls, already near the top of the scale, and flipped off the processors again. The cacophony of surface noise nearly took his head off. Jones tolerated this for a minute, working the manual muting controls to filter out the worst of the high-frequency noise. Aha! Jones said to himself. Maybe SAPS is messing me up a little - too soon to tell for sure.

  When Jones had first been checked out on this gear in sonar school he'd had a burning desire to show it to his brother, who had a masters in electrical engineering and worked as a consultant in the recording industry. He had eleven patents to his name. The stuff on the Dallas would have knocked his eyes out. The navy's systems for digitalizing sound were years ahead of any commercial technique. Too bad it was all classified right alongside nuclear stuff……

  “Mr. Thompson,” Jones said quietly, not looking around, “can you ask the skipper if maybe we can swing more easterly and drop down a knot or two?”

  “Skipper,” Thompson went out into the passageway to relay the request. New course and engine orders were given in fifteen seconds. Mancuso was in sonar ten seconds after that.

  The skipper had been sweating this. It had been obvious two days ago that their erstwhile contact had not acted as expected, had not run the route, or had never slowed down. Commander Mancuso had guessed wrong on something - had he also guessed wrong on their visitor's course? And what did it mean if their friend had not run the route? Jones had figured that one out long before. It made her a boomer. Boomer skippers never go fast.

  Jones was sitting as usual, hunched over his table, his left hand up commanding quiet as the towed array came around to a precise east-west azimuth at the end of its cable. His cigarette burned away unnoticed in the ashtray. A reel-to-reel tape recorder was operating continuously in the sonar room, its tapes changed hourly and kept for later analysis on shore. Next to it was another whose recordings were used aboard the Dallas for reexamination of contacts. He reached up and switched it on, then turned to see his captain looking down at him. Jones' face broke into a thin, tired smile.

  “Yeah,” he whispered.

  Mancuso pointed to the speaker. Jones shook his head. “Too faint, Cap'n. I just barely got it now. Roughly north, I think, but I need some time on that.” Mancuso looked at the intensity needle Jones was tapping. It was down to zero - almost. Every fifty seconds or so it twitched, just a little. Jones was making furious notes. “The goddamned SAPS filters are blanking part of this out!!!!! We need smoother amplifiers and better manual filter controls!!” he wrote.

  Mancuso told himself that this was faintly ridiculous. He was watching Jones as he had watched his wife when she'd had Dominic and he was timing the twitches on a needle as he had timed his wife's contractions. But there was no thrill to match this. The comparison he used to explain it to his father was the thrill you got on the first day of hunting season, when you hear the leaves rustle and you know it's not a man making the noise. But it was better than that. He was hunting men, men like himself in a vessel like his own……

  “Getting louder, Skipper.” Jones leaned back and lit a cigarette. “He's heading our way. I make him three-five-zero, maybe more like three-five-three. Still real faint, but that's our boy. We got him.” Jones decided to risk an impertinence. He'd earned a little tolerance. “We wait or we chase, sir?”

  “We wait. No sense spooking him. We let him come in nice and close while we do our famous imitation of a hole in the water, then we tag along behind him to wax his tail for a while. I want another tape of this set up, and I want the BC-10 to run a SAPS scan. Use the instruction to bypass the processing algorithms. I want this contact analyzed, not interpreted. Run it every two minutes. I want his signature recorded, digitalized, folded, spindled, and mutilated. I want to know everything there is about him, his propulsion noises, his plant signature, the works. I want to know exactly who he is.”

  “He's a Russkie, sir,” Jones observed.

  “But which Russkie?” Mancuso smiled.

  “Aye, Cap'n.” Jones understood. He'd be on duty another two hours, but the end was in sight. Almost. Mancuso sat down and lifted a spare set of headphones, stealing one of Jones' cigarettes. He'd been trying to break the habit for a month. He'd have a better chance on the beach.

  HMS Invincible

  Ryan was now wearing a Royal Naval uniform. This was temporary. Another mark of how fast this job had been laid on was that he had only the one uniform and two shirts. All of his wardrobe was now being cleaned and in the interim he had on a pair of English-made trousers and a sweater. Typical, he thought - nobody even knows I'm here. They had forgotten him. No messages from the president - not that he'd ever expected one - and Painter and Davenport were only too glad to forget that he was ever on the Kennedy. Greer and the judge were probably going over some damned fool thing or another, maybe chuckling to themselves about Jack Ryan having a pleasure cruise at government expense.

  It was not a pleasure cruise. Jack had rediscovered his vulnerability to seasickness. The Invincible was off Massachusetts, waiting for the Russian surface force and hunting vigorously after the red subs in the area. They were steaming in circles on an ocean that would not settle down. Everyone was busy - except him. The pilots were up twice a day or more, exercising with their U.S. Air Force and Navy counterparts working from shore bases. The ships were practicing surface warfare tactics. As Admiral White had said at breakfast, it had developed into a jolly good extension of NIFTY DOLPHIN. Ryan didn't like being a supernumerary. Everyone was polite, of course. Indeed, the hospitality was nearly overpowering. He had access to the command center, and when he watched to see how the Brits hunted subs down, everything was explained to him in sufficient detail that he actually understood about half of it.

  At the moment he was reading alone in White's sea cabin, which had become his permanent home aboard. Ritter had thoughtfully tucked a CIA staff study into his duffle bag. Entitled “Lost Children: A Psychological Profile of East Bloc Defectors,” the three-hundred-page document had been drafted by a committee of psychologists and psychiatrists who worked with the CIA and other intelligence agencies helping defectors settle into American life - and, he was sure, helping spot security risks in the CIA. Not that there were many of those, but there were two sides to everything the Company did.

  Ryan admitted to himself that this was pretty interesting stuff. He had never really thought about what makes a defector, figuring that there were enough things happening on the other side of the Iron Curtain to make any rational person want to take whatever chance he got to run west. But it was not that simple, he read, not that simple at all. Everyone who came over was a fairly unique individual. While one might recognize the inequities of life under Communism and yearn for justice, religious freedom, a chance to develop as an individual, another might simply want to get rich, having read about how greedy capitalists exploit the masses and decided that being an exploiter has its good points. Ryan found this interesting if cynical.

  Another defector type was the fake, the imposter, someone planted on the CIA as a living piece of disinformation. But this kind of character could cut both ways. He might ultimately turn out to be a genuine defector. America, Ryan smiled, could be pretty seductive to someone used to the gray life in the Soviet Union. Most of the plants, however, were dangerous enemies. For this reason a defector was never trusted. Never. A man who had changed countries once could do it again. Even

  the idealists had doubts, great pangs of conscience at having deserted their motherland. In a footnote a doctor commented that the most wounding punishment for Aleksander Solzhenitsyn was exile. As a patriot, being alive far from his home was more of a torment than living in a gulag. Ryan found that curious, but enough so to be true.

  The rest of the document addressed the problem of getting them settled. Not a few Soviet defectors had committed suicide after a few years. Some had simply been unable to cope with freedom, the way that long-term prison inmates often fail to function without highly structured control over their lives and commit new crimes hoping to return to their safe environment. Over the years the CIA had developed a protocol for dealing with this problem, and a graph in an appendix showed that the severe maladjustment cases were trending dramatically down. Ryan took his time reading. While getting his doctorate in history at Georgetown University he had used a little free time to audit some psychology classes. He had come away with the gut suspicion that shrinks didn't really know much of anything, that they got together and agreed on random ideas they could all use …… He shook his head. His wife occasionally said that, too. A clinical instructor in ophthalmic surgery on an exchange program at St. Guy's Hospital in London, Caroline Ryan regarded everything as cut and dried. If someone had eye trouble, she would either fix it or not fix it. A mind was different, Jack decided after reading through the document a second time, and each defector had to be treated as an individual, handled carefully by a sympathetic case officer who had both the time and inclination to look after him properly. He wondered if he'd be good at it.

  Admiral White walked in. “Bored, Jack?”

  “Not exactly, Admiral. When do we make contact with the Soviets?”

  “This evening. Your chaps have given them a very rough time over that Tomcat incident.”

  “Good. Maybe people will wake up before something really bad happens.”

  “You think it will?” White sat down.

  “Well, Admiral, if they really are hunting a missing sub, yes. If not, then they're here for another purpose entirely, and I've guessed wrong. Worse than that, I'll have to live with that misjudgment - or die with it.”

  Norfolk Naval Medical Center

  Tait was feeling better. Dr. Jameson had taken over for several hours, allowing him to curl up on a couch in the doctor's lounge for five hours. That was the most sleep he ever seemed to get in one shot, but it was sufficient to make him look indecently chipper to the rest of the floor staff. He made a quick phone call and some milk was sent up. As a Mormon, Tail avoided everything with caffeine - coffee, tea, even cola drinks - and though this type of self-discipline was unusual for a physician, to say nothing of a uniformed officer, he scarcely thought about it except on rare occasions when he pointed out its longevity benefits to his brother practitioners. Tait drank his milk and shaved in the restroom, emerging ready to face another day.

  “Any word on the radiation exposure, Jamie?”

  The radiology lab had struck out. “They brought a nucleonics officer over from a sub tender, and he scanned the clothes. There was a possible twenty-rad contamination, not enough for frank physiological effects. I think what it might have been was that the nurse took the sample from the back of his hand. The extremities might still have been suffering from the vascular shutdown. That could explain the depleted white count. Maybe.”

  “How is he otherwise?”

  “Better. Not much, but better. I think maybe the keflin's taking hold.” The doctor flipped open the chart. “White count is coming back. I put a unit of whole blood into him two hours ago. The blood chemistry is approaching normal limits. Blood pressure is one hundred over sixty-five, heart rate is ninety-four. Temperature ten minutes ago was 100.8 - it's been fluctuating for several hours.

  “His heart looks pretty good. In fact, I think he's going to make it, unless something unexpected crops up.” Jameson reminded himself that in extreme hypothermia cases the unexpected can take a month or more to appear.

  Tait examined the chart, remembering what he had been like years ago. A bright young doc, just like Jamie, certain that he could cure the world. It was a good feeling. A pity that experience - in his case, two years at Danang - beat that out of you. Jamie was right, though; there was enough improvement here to make the patient's chances appear measurably better.

  “What are the Russians doing?” Tail asked.

  “Petchkin has the watch at the moment. When it came his turn, and he changed into scrubs - you know he has that Captain Smirnov holding onto his clothes, like he expected us to steal them or something?”

  Tait explained that Petchkin was a KGB agent.

  “No kidding? Maybe he has a gun tucked away.” Jameson chuckled. “If he does, he'd better watch it. We got three marines up here with us.”

  “Marines. What for?”

  “Forgot to tell you. Some reporter found out we had a Russkie up here and tried to bluff his way onto the floor. A nurse stopped him. Admiral Blackburn found out and went ape. The whole floor's sealed off. What's the big secret, anyway?”

  “Beats me, but that's the way it is. What do you mink of this Petchkin guy?”

  “I don't know. I've never met any Russians before. They don't smile a whole lot. The way they're taking turns watching the patient, you'd think they expect us to make off with him.”

  “Or maybe that he'll say something they don't want us to hear?” Tait wondered. “Did you get the feeling that they might not want him to make it? I mean, when they didn't want to tell us about what his sub was?”

  Jameson thought about that. “No. The Russians are supposed to make a secret of everything, aren't they? Anyway, Smirnov did come through with it.”

  “Get some sleep, Jamie.”

  “Aye, Cap'n.” Jameson walked off toward the lounge.

  We asked them what kind of a sub, the captain thought, meaning whether it was a nuke or not. What if they thought we were asking if it was a missile sub? That makes sense, doesn't it? Yeah. A missile sub right off our coast, and all this activity in the North Atlantic. Christmas season. Dear God! If they were going to do it, they'd do it right now, wouldn't they? He walked down the hall. A nurse came out of the room with a blood sample to be taken down to the lab. This was being done hourly, and it left Petchkin alone with the patient for a few minutes.

  Tait walked around the comer and saw Petchkin through the window, sitting in a chair at the corner of the bed and watching his countryman, who was still unconscious. He had on green scrubs. Made to put on in a hurry, these were reversible, with a pocket on both sides so a surgeon didn't have to waste a second to see if they were inside out. As Tait watched, Petchkin reached for something through the low collar.

  “Oh, God!” Tait raced around the corner and shot through the swinging door. Petchkin's look of surprise changed to amazement as the doctor batted a cigarette and lighter from his hand, then to outrage as he was lifted from his chair and flung towards the door. Tait was the smaller of the two, but his sudden burst of energy was sufficient to eject the man from the room. “Security!” Tait screamed.

  “What is the meaning of this?” Petchkin demanded. Tait was holding him in a bearhug. Immediately he heard feet racing down the hall from the lobby.

  “What is it, sir?” A breathless marine lance corporal with a .45 Colt in his right hand skidded to a halt on the tile floor.

  “This man just tried to kill my patient!”

  “What!” Petchkin's face was crimson.

  “Corporal, your post is now at that door. If this man tries to get into that room, you will stop him any way you have to. Understood?”

  “Aye aye, sir!” the corporal looked at the Russian. “Sir, would you please step away from the door?”

  “What is the meaning of this outrage!”

  “Sir, you will step away from the door, right now.” The marine bolstered his pistol.

  “What is going on here?” It was Ivanov, who had sense enough to ask this question in a quiet voice from ten feet away.

  “Doctor, do you want your sailor to survive or not?” Tait asked, trying to calm himself.

  “What - of course we wish him to survive. How can you ask this?”

  “Then why did Comrade Petchkin just try to kill him?”

  “I did not do such a thing!” Petchkin shouted.

  “What did he do, exactly?” Ivanov asked.

  Before Tait could answer, Petchkin spoke rapidly in Russian, then switched to English. “I was reaching for a smoke, that is all. I have no weapon. I wish to kill no one. I only wish to have a cigarette.”

  “We have No Smoking signs all over the floor, except in the lobby - you didn't see them? You were in a room in intensive care, with a patient on hundred-percent oxygen, the air and bedclothes saturated with oxygen, and you were going to flick your goddamned Bic!” The doctor rarely used profanity. “Oh sure, you'd get burned some, and it would look like an accident - and that kid would be dead! I know what you are, Petchkin, and I don't think you're that stupid. Get off my floor!”

  The nurse, who had been watching this, went into the patient's room. She came back out with a pack of cigarettes, two loose ones, a plastic butane lighter, and a curious look on her face.

  Petchkin was ashen. “Dr. Tait, I assure you that I had no such intention. What are you saying would happen?”

  “Comrade Petchkin,” Ivanov said slowly in English, “there would be an explosion and fire. You cannot have a flame near oxygen.”

  “Nichevo!” Petchkin finally realized what he had done. He had waited for the nurse to leave - medical people never let you smoke when you ask. He didn't know the first thing about hospitals, and as a KGB agent he was accustomed to doing whatever he wanted. He started speaking to Ivanov in Russian. The Soviet doctor looked like a parent listening to a child's explanation for a broken glass. His response was spirited.

  For his part, Tait began to wonder if he hadn't overreacted - anyone who smoked was an idiot to begin with.

  “Dr. Tait,” Petchkin said finally, “I swear to you that I had no idea of this oxygen business. Perhaps I am a fool.”

  “Nurse,” Tait turned, “we will not leave this patient unattended by our personnel at any time - never. Have a corpsman come to pick up the blood samples and anything else. If you have to go to the head, get relief first.”

  “Yes, Doctor.”

  “No more screwing around, Mr. Petchkin. Break the rules again, sir, and you're off the floor again. Do you understand?”

  “It will be as you say, Doctor, and allow me, please, to apologize.”

  “You stay put,” Tail said to the marine. He walked away shaking his head angrily, mad at the Russians, embarrassed with himself, wishing he were back at Bethesda where he belonged, and wishing he knew how to swear coherently. He took the service elevator down to the first floor and spent five minutes looking for the intelligence officer who had flown down with him. Ultimately he found him in a game room playing Pac Man. They conferred in the hospital administrator's vacant office.

  “You really thought he was trying to kill the guy?” the commander asked incredulously.

  “What was I supposed to think?” Tait demanded. “What do you think?”

  “I think he just screwed up. They want that kid alive - no, first they want him talking - more than you do.”

  “How do you know that?”

  “Petchkin calls their embassy every hour. We have the phones tapped, of course. How do you think?”

  “What if it's a trick?”

  “If he's that good an actor he belongs in the movies. You keep that kid alive, Doctor, and leave the rest to us. Good idea to have the marine close, though. That'll rattle 'em a bit. Never pass up a chance to rattle 'em. So, when will he be conscious?”

  “No telling. He's still feverish, and very weak. Why do they want him to talk?” Tait asked.

  “To find out what sub he was on. Petchkin's KGB contact blurted that out on the phone - sloppy! Very sloppy! They must be real excited about this.”

  “Do we know what sub it was?”

  “Sure,” the intelligence officer said mischievously.

  “Then what's going on, for Lord's sake!”

  “Can't say, Doc.” The commander smiled as if he knew, though he was as much in the dark as anyone.

  Norfolk Naval Shipyard

  The USS Scamp sat at the dock while a large overhead crane settled the Avalon in its support rack. The captain watched impatiently from atop the sail. He and his boat had been called in from hunting a pair of Victors, and he did not like it one bit. The attack boat skipper had only ran a DSRV exercise a few weeks before, and right now he had better things to do than play mother whale to this damned useless toy. Besides, having the minisub perched on his after escape trunk would knock ten knots off his top speed. And there'd be four more men to bunk and feed. The Scamp was not all that large.

  At least they'd get good food out of this. The Scamp had been out five weeks when the recall order arrived. Their supply of fresh vegetables was exhausted, and they availed themselves of the opportunity to have fresh food tracked down to the dock. A man tires quickly of three-bean salad. Tonight they'd have real lettuce, tomatoes, fresh corn instead of canned. But that didn't make up for the fact that there were Russians out there to worry about.

  “All secure?” the captain called down to the curved after deck.

  “Yes, Captain. We're ready when you are,” Lieutenant Ames answered.

  “Engine room,” the captain called down on intercom. “I want you ready to answer bells in ten minutes.”

  “Ready now, Skipper.”

  A harbor tug was standing by to help maneuver them from the dock. Ames had their orders, something else that the captain didn't like. Surely they would not be doing any more hunting, not with that damned Avalon strapped on.

  The Red October

  “Look here, Svyadov,” Melekhin pointed, “I will show you how a saboteur thinks.”

  The lieutenant came over and looked. The chief engineer was pointing at an inspection valve on the heat exchanger. Before he got an explanation, Melekhin went to the bulkhead phone.

  “Comrade Captain, this is Melekhin. I have found it. I require the reactor to be stopped for an hour. We can operate the caterpillar on batteries, no?”

  “Of course, Comrade Chief Engineer,” Ramius said, “proceed.”

  Melekhin turned to the assistant engineering officer. “You will shut the reactor down and connect the batteries to the caterpillar motors.”

  “At once, Comrade.” The officer began to work the controls.

  The time taken to find the leak had been a burden on everyone. Once they had discovered that the Geiger counters were sabotaged and Melekhin and Borodin had repaired them, they had begun a complete check of the reactor spaces, a devilishly tricky task. There had never been a question of a major steam leak, else Svyadov would have gone looking for it with a broomstick - even a tiny leak could easily shave off an arm. They reasoned that it had to be a small leak in the low-pressure part of the system. Didn't it? It was the not knowing that had troubled everyone.

  The check made by the chief engineer and executive officer had lasted no less than eight hours, during which the reactor had again been shut down. This cut all electricity off throughout the ship except for emergency lights and the caterpillar motors. Even the air systems had been curtailed. That had set the crew muttering to themselves.

  The problem was, Melekhin could still not find the leak, and when the badges had been developed a day earlier, there was nothing on them! How was this possible?

  “Come, Svyadov, tell me what you see.” Melekhin came back over and pointed.

  “The water test valve.” Opened only in port, when the reactor was cold, it was used to flush the cooling system and to check for unusual water contamination. The thing was grossly unremarkable, a heavy-duty valve with a large wheel. The spout underneath it, below the pressurized part of the pipe, was threaded rather than welded.

  “A large wrench, if you please, Lieutenant.” Melekhin was drawing the lesson out, Svyadov thought. He was the slowest of teachers when he was trying to communicate something important. Svyadov returned with a meter-long pipe wrench. The chief engineer waited until the plant was closed down, then double-checked a gauge to make sure the pipes were de-pressurized. He was a careful man. The wrench was set on the fitting, and he turned it. It came off easily.

  “You see, Comrade Lieutenant, the threads on the pipe actually go up onto the valve casing. Why is this permitted?”

  “The threads are on the outside of the pipe, Comrade. The valve itself bears the pressure. The fitting which is screwed on is merely a directional spigot. The nature of the union does not compromise the pressure loop.”

  “Correct. A screw fitting is not strong enough for the plant's total pressure.” Melekhin worked the fitting all the way off with his hands. It was perfectly machined, the threads still bright from the original engine work. “And there is the sabotage.”

  “I don't understand.”

  “Someone thought this one over very carefully, Comrade Lieutenant.” Melekhin's voice was half admiration, half rage. “At normal operating pressure, cruising speed, that is, the system is pressurized to eight kilograms per square centimeter, correct?”

  “Yes, Comrade, and at full power the pressure is ninety percent higher.” Svyadov knew all this by heart.

  “But we rarely go to full power. What we have here is a dead-end section of the steam loop. Now, here a small hole has been drilled, not even a millimeter. Look.” Melekhin bent over to examine it himself. Svyadov was happy to keep his distance. “Not even a millimeter. The saboteur took the fitting off, drilled the hole, and put it back. The tiny hole permits a minuscule amount of steam to escape, but only very slowly. The steam cannot go up, because the fitting sits against t

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