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猎杀“红十月”号(chapter 8)

2006-07-07 19:13

  THE EIGHTH DAY

  FRIDAY, 10 DECEMBER

  HMS Invincible

  Ryan awoke in the dark. The curtains were drawn on the cabin's two small portholes. He shook his head a few times to clear it and began to assess what was going on around him. The Invincible was moving on the seas, but not as much as before. He got up to look out of a porthole and saw the last red glow of sunset aft under scudding clouds. He checked his watch and did some clumsy mental arithmetic, concluding that it was six in the evening, local time. That translated to about six hours of sleep. He felt pretty good, considering. A minor headache from the brandy - so much for the theory that good stuff doesn't give you a hangover - and his muscles were stiff. He did a few sit-ups to work out the knots.

  There was a small bathroom - head, he corrected himself - adjoining the cabin. Ryan splashed some water on his face and washed his mouth out, not wanting to look in the mirror. He decided he had to. Counterfeit or not, he was wearing his country's uniform and he had to look presentable. It took a minute to get his hair in place and the uniform arranged properly. The CIA had done a nice job of tailoring, given such short notice. Finished, he went out the door towards the flag bridge.

  “Feeling better, Jack?” Admiral White pointed him to a tray full of cups. It was only tea, but it was a start.

  “Thank you, Admiral. Those few hours really helped. I guess I'm in time for dinner.”

  “Breakfast,” White corrected him with a laugh.

  “What - uh, pardon me, Admiral?” Ryan shook his head again. He was still a little groggy.

  “That's a sunrise, Commander. Change in orders, we're heading west again. Kennedy's moving east at high speed, and we're to take station inshore.”

  “Who said, sir?”

  “CINCLANT. I gather Joshua was not at all pleased. You are to remain with us for the moment, and under the circumstances it seemed the reasonable thing to let you sleep. You did appear to need it.”

  Must have been eighteen hours, Ryan thought. No wonder he felt stiff.

  “You do look much better,” Admiral White noted from his leather swivel chair. He got up, took Ryan's arm, and guided him aft. “Now for breakfast. I've been waiting for you. Captain Hunter will brief you on your revised orders. Weather's clearing up for a few days, they tell me. Escort assignments are being reshuffled. We're to operate in conjunction with your New Jersey group. Our antisubmarine operations begin in earnest in another twelve hours. It's a good thing you got that extra sleep, lad. You'll bloody need it.”

  Ryan ran his hand over his face. “Can I shave, sir?”

  “We still permit beards. Let it wait until after breakfast.”

  Flag quarters on HMS Invincible were not quite to the standard of those on the Kennedy - but close. White had a private dining area. A steward in a white livery served them expertly, setting a third place for Hunter, who appeared within a few minutes. When they started talking, the steward was excused.

  “We rendezvous with a pair of young Knox-class frigates in two hours. We already have them on radar. Two more 1052s, plus an oiler and two Perrys will join us in another thirty-six hours. They were on their way home from the Med. With our own escorts, a total of nine warships. A noteworthy collection, I think. We'll be working five hundred miles offshore, with the New Jersey-Tarawa force two hundred miles to our west.”

  “Tarawa? What do we need a regiment of marines for?” Ryan asked.

  Hunter explained briefly. “Not a bad idea, that. The funny thing is, with Kennedy racing for the Azores, that rather leaves us guarding the American coast.” Hunter grinned. “This may be the first time the Royal Navy has ever done that - certainly since it belonged to us.”

  “What are we up against?”

  “The first of the Alfas will be on your coast tonight, four of them ahead of all the others. The Soviet surface force passed Iceland last night. It's divided into three groups. One is built around their carrier Kiev, two cruisers and four destroyers; the second, probably the force flag, is built around Kirov, with three additional cruisers and six destroyers; and the third is centered on Moskva, three more cruisers and seven destroyers. I gather that the Soviets will want to use the Kiev and Moskva groups inshore, with Kirov guarding them out to sea - but Kennedy's relocation will make them rethink that. Regardless, the total force carries a considerable number of surface-to-surface missiles, and potentially, we are very exposed. To help out with that, your air force has an E-3 Sentry detailed to arrive here in an hour to exercise with our Harriers, and when we get farther west, we'll have additional land-based air support. On the whole our position is hardly an enviable one, but Ivan's is rather less so. So far as the question of finding Red October is concerned?” Hunter shrugged. “How we conduct our search will depend on how Ivan deploys. At the moment we're conducting some tracking drills. The lead Alfa is eighty miles northwest of us, steaming at forty-plus knots, and we have a helicopter in pursuit - which is roughly what it amounts to,” the fleet operations officer concluded. “Will you join us below?”

  “Admiral?” Ryan wanted to see Invincible's combat information center.

  “Certainly.”

  Thirty minutes later Ryan was in a darkened, quiet room whose walls were a solid bank of electronic instruments and glass plotting panels. The Atlantic Ocean was full of Russian submarines.

  The White House

  The Soviet ambassador entered the Oval Office a minute early, at 10:59 A.M. He was a short, overweight man with a broad Slavic face and eyes that would have done a professional gambler proud. They revealed nothing. He was a career diplomat, having served in a number of posts throughout the Western world, and a thirty-year member of the Communist party's Foreign Department.

  “Good morning, Mr. President, Dr. Pelt,” Alexei Arbatov nodded politely to both men. The president, he noted at once, was seated behind his desk. Every other time he'd been here the president had come around the desk to shake hands, then sat down beside him.

  “Help yourself to some coffee, Mr. Ambassador,” Pelt offered. The special assistant to the president for national security affairs was well known to Arbatov. Jeffrey Pelt was an academic from the Georgetown University's Center for Strategic and International Studies - an enemy, but a well-mannered, kulturny enemy. Arbatov had a fondness for the niceties of formal behavior. Today, Pelt was standing at his boss's side, unwilling to come too close to the Russian bear. Arbatov did not get himself any coffee.

  “Mr. Ambassador,” Pelt began, “we have noted a troubling increase in Soviet naval activity in the North Atlantic.”

  “Oh?” Arbatov's eyebrows shot up in a display of surprise that fooled no one, and he knew it. “I have no knowledge of this. As you know, I have never been a sailor.”

  “Shall we dispense with the bullshit, Mr. Ambassador?” the president said. Arbatov did not permit himself to be surprised by the vulgarity. It made the American president seem very Russian, and like Soviet officials he seemed to need a professional like Pelt around to smooth the edges. “You certainly have nearly a hundred naval vessels operating in the North Atlantic or heading in that direction. Chairman Narmonov and my predecessor agreed years ago that no such operation would take place without prior notification. The purpose of this agreement, as you know, was to prevent acts that might appear to be unduly provocative to one side or the other. This agreement has been kept - until now.

  “Now, my military advisers tell me that what is going on looks very much like a war exercise, indeed, could be the precursor to a war. How are we to tell the difference? Your ships are now passing east of Iceland, and will soon be in a position from which they can threaten our trade routes to Europe. This situation is at the least unsettling, and at the most a grave and wholly unwarranted provocation. The scope of this action has not yet been made public. That will change, and when it does, Alex, the American people will demand action on my part.” The president paused, expecting a response but getting only a nod.

  Pelt went on for him. “Mr. Ambassador, your country has seen fit to cast aside an agreement which for years has been a model of East-West cooperation. How can you expect us to regard this as anything other than a provocation?”

  “Mr. President, Dr. Pelt, truly I have no knowledge of this.” Arbatov lied with the utmost sincerity. “I will contact Moscow at once to ascertain the facts. Is there any message you wish me to pass along?”

  “Yes. As you and your superiors in Moscow will understand,” the president said, “we will deploy our ships and aircraft to observe yours. Prudence requires this. We have no wish to interfere with whatever legitimate operations your forces may be engaged in. It is not our intention to make a provocation of our own, but under the terms of our agreement we have the right to know what is going on, Mr. Ambassador. Until we do, we are unable to issue the proper orders to our men. It would be well for your government to consider that having so many of your ships and our ships, your aircraft and our aircraft in close proximity is an inherently dangerous situation. Accidents can happen. An action by one side or the other which at another time would seem harmless might seem to be something else entirely. Wars have begun in this way, Mr. Ambassador.” The president leaned back to let that thought hang in the air for a moment. When he went on, he spoke more gently. “Of course, I regard this possibility as remote, but is it not irresponsible to take such chances?”

  “Mr. President, you make your point well, as always, but as you know, the sea is free for the passage of all, and - ”

  “Mr. Ambassador,” Pelt interrupted, “consider a simple analogy. Your next-door neighbor begins to patrol his front yard with a loaded shotgun while your children are at play in your own front yard. In this country such action would be technically legal. Even so, would it not be a matter of concern?”

  “So it would, Dr. Pelt, but the situation you describe is very different - ”

  Now the president interrupted. “Indeed it is. The situation at hand is far more dangerous. It is the breach of an agreement, and I find that especially disquieting. I had hoped that we were entering a new era of Soviet-American relations. We have settled our trade differences. We have just concluded a new grain agreement. You had a major part in that. We have been moving forward, Mr. Ambassador - is this at an end?” The president shook his head emphatically. “I hope not, but the choice is yours. The relationship between our countries can only be based on trust.

  “Mr. Ambassador, I trust that I have not alarmed you. As you know, it is my habit to speak plainly. I personally dislike the greasy dissimulation of diplomacy. At times like this, we must communicate quickly and clearly. We have a dangerous situation before us, and we must work together, rapidly, to resolve it. My military commanders are greatly concerned, and I need to know - today - what your naval forces are up to. I expect a reply by seven this evening. Failing that I will be on the direct line to Moscow to demand one.”

  Arbatov stood. “Mr. President, I will transmit your message within the hour. Please keep in mind, however, the time differential between Washington and Moscow - ”

  “I know that a weekend has just begun, and that the Soviet Union is a worker's paradise, but I expect that some of your country's managers may still be at work. In any case, I will detain you no further. Good day.”

  Pelt led Arbatov out, then came back and sat down.

  “Maybe I was just a little tough on him,” the president said.

  “Yes, sir.” Pelt thought that he had been too damned tough. He had little affection for the Russian but he too liked the niceties of diplomatic exchange. “I think we can say that you succeeded in getting your message across.”

  “He knows.”

  “He knows. But he doesn't know we know.”

  “We think,” the president grimaced. “What a crazy goddamned game this is! And to think I had a nice, safe career going for me putting mafiosi in jail…… Do you think he'll snap at the bait I offered?”

  “'Legitimate operations?' Did you see his hands twitch at that? He'll go after it like a marlin after a squid.” Pelt walked over to pour himself half a cup of coffee. It pleased him that the china service was gold trimmed. “I wonder what they'll call it? Legitimate operations …… probably a rescue mission. If they call it a fleet exercise they admit to violating the notification protocol. A rescue operation justifies the level of activity, the speed with which it was laid on, and the lack of publicity. Their press never reports this sort of thing. As a guess, I'd say they'll call it a rescue, say a submarine is missing, maybe even to the point of calling it a missile sub.”

  “No, they won't go that far. We also have that agreement about keeping our missile subs five hundred miles offshore. Arbatov probably has his instructions on what to tell us already, but he'll play for all the time he can. It's also vaguely possible that he's in the dark. We know how they compartmentalize information. You suppose we're reading too much into this talent for obfuscation?”

  “I think not, sir. It is a principle of diplomacy,” Pelt observed, “that one must know something of the truth in order to lie convincingly.”

  The president smiled. “Well, they've had enough time to play this game. I hope my belated reaction will not disappoint them.”

  “No, sir. Alex must have half expected you to kick him out the door.”

  “The thought's occurred to me more than once. His diplomatic charm has always been lost on me. That's the one thing about the Russians - they remind me so much of the mafia chieftains I used to prosecute. The same smattering of culture and good manners, and the same absence of morality.” The president shook his head. He was talking like a hawk again. “Stay close, Jeff. I have George Farmer coming in here' in a few minutes, but I want you around when our friend comes back.”

  Pelt walked back to his office pondering the president's remark. It was, he admitted to himself, crudely accurate. The most wounding insult to an educated Russian was to be called nekulturny, uncultured - the term didn't translate adequately - yet the same men who sat in the gilt boxes at the Moscow State Opera weeping at the end of a performance of Boris Gudunov could immediately turn around and order the execution or imprisonment of a hundred men without blinking. A strange people, made more strange by their political philosophy. But the president had too many sharp edges, and Pelt wished he'd learn to soften them. A speech in front of the American Legion was one thing, a discussion with the ambassador of a foreign power was something else.

  CIA Headquarters

  “CARDINAL'S in trouble, Judge.” Ritter sat down.

  “No surprise there.” Moore removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes. Something Ryan had not seen was the cover note from the station chief in Moscow saying that to get his latest signal out, CARDINAL had bypassed half the courier chain that ran from the Kremlin to the U.S. embassy. The agent was getting bold in his old age. “What does the station chief say exactly?”

  “CARDINAL'S supposed to be in the hospital with pneumonia. Maybe it's true, but……”

  “He's getting old, and it is winter over there, but who believes in coincidences?” Moore looked down at his desk. “What do you suppose they'd do if they've turned him?”

  “He'd die quietly. Depends on who turned him. If it was the KGB, they might want to make something out of it, especially since our friend Andropov took a lot of their prestige with him when he left. But I don't think so. Given who his sponsor is, it would raise too much of a ruckus. Same thing if the GRU turns him. No, they'd grill him for a few weeks, then quietly do away with him. A public trial would be too counterproductive.”

  Judge Moore frowned. They sounded like doctors discussing a terminally ill patient. He didn't even know what CARDINAL looked like. There was a photograph somewhere in the file, but he had never seen it. It was easier that way. As an appellate court judge he had never had to look a defendant in the eye; he'd just reviewed the law in a detached way. He tried to keep his stewardship of the CIA the same way. Moore knew that this might be perceived as cowardly, and was very different from what people expect of a DCI - but even spies got old, and old men developed consciences and doubts that rarely troubled the young. It was time to leave the “Company.” Nearly three years, it was enough. He'd accomplished what he was supposed to do.

  “Tell the station chief to lay off. No inquiries of any kind directed at CARDINAL. If he's really sick, we'll be hearing from him again. If not, we'll know that soon enough, too.”

  “Right.”

  Ritter had succeeded in confirming CARDINAL'S reports. One agent had reported that the fleet was sailing with additional political officers, another that the surface force was commanded by an academic sailor and crony of Gorshkov, who had flown to Severomorsk and boarded the Kirov minutes before the fleet had sailed. The naval architect who was believed to have designed the Red October was supposed to have gone with him. A British agent had reported that detonators for the various weapons carried by the surface ships had been hastily taken aboard from their usual storage depots ashore. Finally, there was an unconfirmed report that Admiral Korov, commander of the Northern Fleet, was not at his command post; his whereabouts were unknown. Together the information was enough to confirm the WILLOW report, and more was still coming in.

  The U.S. Naval Academy

  “Skip?”

  “Oh, howdy, Admiral. Will you join me?” Tyler waved to a vacant chair across the table.

  “I got a message from the Pentagon for you.” The superintendent of the Naval Academy, a former submarine officer, sat down. “You have an appointment tonight at 1930 hours. That's all they said.”

  “Great!” Tyler was just finishing his lunch. He'd been working on the simulation program nearly around the clock since Monday. The appointment meant that he would have access to the air force's Cray-2 tonight. His program was just about ready.

  “What's this all about anyway?”

  “Sorry, sir, I can't say. You know how it is.”

  The White House

  The Soviet ambassador was back at four in the afternoon. To avoid press notice he had been taken into the Treasury building across the street from the White House and brought through a connecting tunnel which few knew existed. The president hoped that he had found this unsettling. Pelt hustled in to be there when Arbatov arrived.

  “Mr. President,” Arbatov reported, standing at attention. The president had not known that he had any military experience. “I am instructed to convey to you the regrets of my government that there has not been time to inform you of this. One of our nuclear submarines is missing and presumed lost. We are conducting an emergency rescue operation.”

  The president nodded soberly, motioning the ambassador to a chair. Pelt sat next to him.

  “This is somewhat embarrassing, Mr. President. You see, in our navy as in yours, duty on a nuclear submarine is a posting of the greatest importance, and consequently those selected for it are among our best educated and trusted men. In this particular case several members of the crew - the officers, that is - are sons of high Party officials. One is even the son of a Central Committee member - I cannot say which, of course. The Soviet Navy's great effort to find her sons is understandable, though I admit a bit undisciplined.” Arbatov feigned embarrassment beautifully, speaking as though he were confiding a great family secret. “Therefore, this has developed into what your people call an 'all hands' operation. As you undoubtedly know, it was undertaken virtually overnight.”

  “I see,” the president said sympathetically. “That makes me feel a little better, Alex. Jeff, I think it's late enough in the day. How about you fix us all a drink. Bourbon, Alex?”

  “Yes, thank you, sir.”

  Pelt walked over to a rosewood cabinet against the wall. The ornate antique contained a small bar, complete with an ice bucket which was stocked every afternoon. The president often liked to have a drink or two before dinner, something else that reminded Arbatov of his countrymen. Dr. Pelt had had ample experience playing presidential bartender. In a few minutes he came back with three glasses in his hands.

  “To tell you the truth, we rather suspected this was a rescue operation,” Pelt said.

  “I don't know how we get our young men to do this sort of work.” The president sipped at his drink. Arbatov worked hard on his. He had said frequently at local cocktail parties that he preferred American bourbon to his native vodka. Maybe it was true. “We've lost a pair of nuclear boats, I believe. How many does this make for you, three, four?”

  “I don't know, Mr. President. I expect your information on this is better than my own.” The president noted that he had just told the truth for the first time today. “Certainly I can agree with you that such duty is both dangerous and demanding.”

  “How many men aboard, Alex?” the president asked.

  “I have no idea. A hundred more or less, I suppose. I've never been aboard a naval vessel.”

  “Mostly kids, probably, just like our crews. It is indeed a sad commentary on both our countries that our mutual suspicions must condemn so many of our best young men to such hazards, when we know that some won't be coming back. But - how can it be otherwise?” The president paused, turning to look out the windows. The snow was melting on the South Lawn. It was time for his next line.

  “Perhaps we can help,” the president offered speculatively. “Yes, perhaps we can use this tragedy as an opportunity to reduce those suspicions by some small amount. Perhaps we can make something good come from this to demonstrate that our relations really have improved.”

  Pelt turned away, fumbling for his pipe. In their many years of friendship he could never understand how the president got away with so much. Pelt had met him at Washington University, when he was majoring in political science, the president in prelaw. Back then the chief executive had been president of the dramatics society. Certainly amateur theatrics had helped his legal career. It was said that at least one Mafia don had been sent up the river by sheer rhetoric. The president referred to it as his sincere act.

  “Mr. Ambassador, I offer you the assistance and the resources of the United States in the search for your missing countrymen.”

  “That is most kind of you, Mr. President, but - ”

  The president held his hand up. “No buts, Alex. If we cannot cooperate in something like this, how can we hope to cooperate in more serious matters? If memory serves, last year when one of our navy patrol aircraft crashed off the Aleutians, one of your fishing vessels” - it had been an intelligence trawler - “picked up the crew, saved their lives. Alex, we owe you a debt for that, a debt of honor, and the United States will not be said to be ungrateful.” He paused for effect. “They're probably all dead, you know. I don't suppose there's more chance of surviving a sub accident than of surviving a plane crash. But at least the crew's families will know. Jeff, don't we have some specialized submarine rescue equipment?”

  “With all the money we give the navy? We damned well ought to. I'll call Foster about it.”

  “Good,” the president said. “Alex, it is too much to expect that your mutual suspicions will be allayed by something so small as this. Your history and ours conspire against us. But let's make a small beginning with this. If we can shake hands in space or over a conference table in Vienna, maybe we can do it here also. I will give the necessary instructions to my commanders as soon as we're finished here.”

  “Thank you, Mr. President.” Arbatov concealed his uneasiness.

  “And please convey my respects to Chairman Narmonov and my sympathy for the families of your missing men. I appreciate his effort, and yours, in getting this information to us.”

  “Yes. Mr. President.” Arbatov rose. He left after shaking hands. What were the Americans really up to? He'd warned Moscow: call it a rescue mission and they'd demand to help. It was their stupid Christmas season, and Americans were addicted to happy endings. It was madness not to call it something else - to hell with the protocol.

  At the same time he was forced to admire the American president. A strange man, very open, yet full of guile. A friendly man most of the time, yet always ready to seize the advantage. He remembered stories his grandmother had told, about how the gypsies switched babies. The American president was very Russian.

  “Well,” the president said after the doors closed, “now we can keep a nice close eye on them, and they can't complain. They're lying and we know it - but they don't know we know.

  And we're lying, and they certainly suspect it, but not why we're lying. Gawd! and I told him this morning that not knowing was dangerous! Jeff, I've been thinking about this. I do not like the fact that so much of their navy is operating off our coast. Ryan was right, the Atlantic is our ocean. I want the air force and the navy to cover them like a goddamned blanket! That's our ocean, and I damned well want them to know it.“ The president finished off his drink. ”On the question of the sub, I want our people to have a good look at it, and whoever of the crew wants to defect, we take care of. Quietly, of course.“

  “Of course. As a practical matter, having the officers is as great a coup as having the submarine.”

  “But the navy still want to keep it.”

  “I just don't see how we can do that, not without eliminating the crewmen, and we can't do that.”

  “Agreed.” The president buzzed his secretary. “Get me General Hilton.”

  The Pentagon

  The air force's computer center was in a subbasement of the Pentagon. The room temperature was well below seventy degrees. It was enough to make Tyler's leg ache where it met the metal-plastic prosthesis. He was used to that.

  Tyler was sitting at a control console. He had just finished a trial run of his program, named MORAY after the vicious eel that inhabited oceanic reefs. Skip Tyler was proud of his programming ability. He'd taken the old dinosaur program from the files of the Taylor Lab, adapted it to the common Defense Department computer language, ADA - named for Lady Ada Lovelace, daughter of Lord Byron - and then tightened it up. For most people this would have been a month's work. He'd done it in four days, working almost around the clock not only because the money was an attractive incentive but also because the project was a professional challenge. He ended the job quietly satisfied that he could still meet an impossible deadline with time to spare. It was eight in the evening. MORAY had just run through a one-variable-value test and not crashed. He was ready.

  He'd never seen the Cray-2 before, except in photographs, and he was pleased to have a chance to use it. The -2 was five units of raw electrical power, each one roughly pentagonal in shape, about six feet high and four across. The largest unit was the main-frame processor bank; the other four were memory banks, arrayed around it in a cruciform configuration. Tyler typed in the command to load his variable sets. For each of the Red October's main dimensions - length, beam, height - he input ten discrete numerical values. Then came six subtly different values for her hull form block and prismatic coefficients. There were five sets of tunnel dimensions. This aggregated to over thirty thousand possible permutations. Next he keyed in eighteen power variables to cover the range of possible engine systems. The Cray-2 absorbed this information and placed each number in its proper slot. It was ready to run.

  “Okay,” he announced to the system operator, an air force master sergeant.

  “Roge.” The sergeant typed “XQT” into his terminal. The Cray-2 went to work.

  Tyler walked over to the sergeant's console.

  “That's a right lengthy program you've input, sir.” The sergeant laid a ten-dollar bill on the top of the console. “Betcha my baby can run it in ten minutes.”

  “Not a chance.” Tyler laid his own bill next to the sergeant's. “Fifteen minutes, easy.”

  “Split the difference?”

  “Alright. Where's the head around here?”

  “Out the door, sir, turn right, go down the hall and it's on the left.”

  Tyler moved towards the door. It annoyed him that he could not walk gracefully, but after four years the inconvenience was a minor one. He was alive - that's what counted. The accident had occurred on a cold, clear night in Groton, Connecticut, only a block from the shipyard's main gate. On Friday at three in the morning he was driving home after a twenty-hour day getting his new command ready for sea. The civilian yard worker had had a long day also, stopping off at a favorite watering hole for a few too many, as the police established afterwards. He got into his car, started it, and ran a red light, ramming Tyler's Pontiac broadside at fifty miles per hour. For him the accident was fatal. Skip was luckier. It was at an intersection, and he had the green light; when he saw the front end of the Ford not a foot from his left-side door, it was far too late. He did not remember going through a pawnshop window, and the next week, when he hovered near death at the Yale-New Haven hospital, was a complete blank. His most vivid memory was of waking up, eight days later he was to learn, to see his wife, Jean, holding his hand. His marriage up to that point had been a troubled one, not an uncommon problem for nuclear submarine officers. His first sight of her was not a complimentary one - her eyes were bloodshot, her hair was tousled - but she had never looked quite so good. He had never appreciated just how important she was. A lot more important than half a leg.

  “Skip? Skip Tyler!”

  The former submariner turned awkwardly to see a naval officer running towards him.

  “Johnnie Coleman! How the hell are you!”

  It was Captain Coleman now, Tyler noted. They had served together twice, a year on the Tecumseh, another on the Shark. Coleman, a weapons expert, had commanded a pair of nuclear subs.

  “How's the family, Skip?”

  “Jean's fine. Five kids now, and another on the way.”

  “Damn!” they shook hands with enthusiasm. “You always were a randy bugger. I hear you're teaching at Annapolis.”

  “Yeah, and a little engineering stuff on the side.”

  “What are you doing here?”

  “I'm running a program on the air force computer. Checking a new ship configuration for Sea Systems Command.” It was an accurate enough cover story. “What do they have you doing?”

  “OP-02's office. I'm chief of staff for Admiral Dodge.”

  “Indeed?” Tyler was impressed. Vice Admiral Sam Dodge was the current OP-02. The office of the deputy chief of naval operations for submarine warfare had administrative control of all aspects of submarine operations. “Keeping you busy?”

  “You know it! The crap's really hit the fan.”

  “What do you mean?” Tyler hadn't seen the news or read a paper since Monday.

  “You kidding?”

  “I've been working on this computer program twenty hours a day since Monday, and I don't get ops dispatches anymore.” Tyler frowned. He had heard something the other day at the Academy but not paid any attention to it. He was the sort who could focus his whole mind on a single problem.

  Coleman looked up and down the corridor. It was late on a Friday evening, and they had it entirely to themselves. “Guess I can tell you. Our Russian friends have some sort of major exercise laid on. Their whole Northern Fleet's at sea, or damned near. They have subs all over the place.”

  “Doing what?”

  “We're not sure. Looks like they might have a major search and rescue operation. The question is, after what? They have four Alfas doing a max speed run for our coast right now, with a gaggle of Victors and Charlies charging in behind them. At first we were worried that they wanted to block the trade routes, but they blitzed right past those. They're definitely heading for our coast, and whatever they're up to, we're getting tons of information.”

  “What do they have moving?” Tyler asked.

  “Fifty-eight nuclear subs, and thirty or so surface ships.”

  “Gawd! CINCLANT must be going ape!”

  “You know it, Skip. The fleet's at sea, all of it. Every nuke we have is scrambling for a redeployment. Every P-3 Lockheed ever made is either over the Atlantic or heading that way.” Coleman paused. “You're still cleared, right?”

  “Sure, for the work I do for the Crystal City gang. I had a piece of the evaluation of the new Kirov.”

  “I thought that sounded like your work. You always were a pretty good engineer. You know, the old man still talks about that job you did for him on the old Tecumseh. Maybe I can get you in to see what's happening. Yeah, I'll ask him.”

  Tyler's first cruise after graduating from nuc school in Idaho had been with Dodge. He'd done a tricky repair job on some ancillary reactor equipment two weeks earlier than estimated with a little creative effort and some back-channel procurement of spare parts. This had earned him and Dodge a flowery letter of commendation.

  “I bet the old man would love to see you. When will you be finished down here?”

  “Maybe half an hour.”

  “You know where to find me?”

  “Have they moved OP-02?”

  “Same place. Call me when you're finished. My extension is 78730. Okay? I gotta get back.”

  “Right.” Tyler watched his old friend disappear down the corridor, then proceeded on his way to the men's room, wondering what the Russians were up to. Whatever it was, it was enough to keep a three-star admiral and his four-striped captain working on a Friday night in Christmas season.

  “Eleven minutes, 53.18 seconds, sir,” the sergeant reported, pocketing both bills.

  The computer printout was over two hundred pages of data. The cover sheet plotted a rough-looking bell curve of speed solutions, and below it was the noise prediction curve. The case-by-case solutions were printed individually on the remaining sheets. The curves were predictably messy. The speed curve showed the majority of solutions in the ten- to twelve-knot range, the total range going from seven to eighteen knots. The noise curve was surprisingly low.

  “Sergeant, that's one hell of a machine you have here.”

  “Believe it, sir. And reliable. We haven't had an electronic fault all month.”

  “Can I use a phone?”

  “Sure, take your pick, sir.”

  “Okay, Sarge.” Tyler picked up the nearest phone. “Oh, and dump the program.”

  “Okay.” He typed in some instructions. “MORAY is…… gone. Hope you kept a copy, sir.”

  Tyler nodded and dialed the phone.

  “OP-02A, Captain Coleman.”

  “Johnnie, this is Skip.”

  “Great! Hey, the old man wants to see you. Come right up.”

  Tyler placed the printout in his briefcase and locked it. He thanked the sergeant one more time before hobbling out the door, giving the Cray-2 one last look. He'd have to get in here again.

  He could not find an operating elevator and had to struggle up a gently sloped ramp. Five minutes later he found a marine guarding the corridor.

  “You Commander Tyler, sir?” the guard asked. “Can I see some ID, please?”

  Tyler showed the corporal his Pentagon pass, wondering how many one-legged former submarine officers there might be.

  “Thank you, Commander. Please go down the corridor. You know the room, sir?”

  “Sure. Thanks, Corporal.”

  Vice Admiral Dodge was sitting on the corner of a desk reading over some message flimsies. Dodge was a small, combative man who'd made his mark commanding three separate boats, then pushing the Los Angeles-class attack submarines through their lengthy development program. Now he was “Grand Dolphin,” the senior admiral who fought all the battles with Congress.

  “Skip Tyler! You're looking good, laddy.” Dodge gave Tyler's leg a furtive glance as he came over to take his hand. “I hear you're doing a great job at the Academy.”

  “It's all right, sir. They even let me scout the occasional ballgame.”

  “Hmph, shame they didn't let you scout Army.”

  Tyler hung his head theatrically. “I did scout Army, sir. They were just too tough this year. You heard about their middle linebacker, didn't you?”

  “No, what about him?” Dodge asked.

  “He picked armor as his duty assignment, and they gave him an early trip to Fort Knox - not to learn about tanks. To be a tank.”

  “Ha!” Dodge laughed. “Johnnie says you have a bunch of new kids.”

  “Number six is due the end of February,” Tyler said proudly.

  “Six? You're not a Catholic or a Mormon, are you? What's with all this bird hatching?”

  Tyler gave his former boss a wry look. He'd never understood that prejudice in the nuclear navy. It came from Rickover, who had invented the disparaging term bird hatching for fathering more than one child. What the hell was wrong with having kids?

  “Admiral, since I'm not a nuc anymore, I have to do something on nights and weekends.” Tyler arched his eyebrows lecherously. “I hear the Russkies are playing games.”

  Dodge was instantly serious. “They sure are. Fifty-eight attack boats - every nuclear boat in the Northern Fleet - heading this way with a big surface group, and most of their service forces tagging along.”

  “Doing what?”

  “Maybe you can tell me. Come on back to my inner sanctum.” Dodge led Tyler into a room where he saw another new gadget, a projection screen that displayed the North Atlantic from the Tropic of Cancer to the polar ice pack. Hundreds of ships were represented. The merchantmen were white, with flags to identify their nationality; the Soviet ships were red, and their shapes depicted their ship type; the American and allied ships were blue. The ocean was getting crowded.

  “Christ.”

  “You got that one right, lad,” Tyler nodded grimly. “How are you cleared?”

  “Top secret and some special things, sir. I see everything we have on their hardware, and I do a lot of work with Sea Systems on the side.”

  “Johnnie said you did the evaluation of the new Kirov they just sent out to the Pacific - not bad, by the way.”

  “These two Alfas heading for Norfolk?”

  “Looks like it. And they're burning a lot of neutrons doing it.” Dodge pointed. “That one's heading to Long Island Sound as though to block the entrance to New London and that one's heading to Boston, I think. These Victors are not far behind. They already have most of the British ports staked out. By Monday they'll have two or more subs off every major port we have.”

  “I don't like the looks of this, sir.”

  “Neither do I. As you see, we're nearly a hundred percent at sea ourselves. The interesting thing, though - what they're doing just doesn't figure. I - ” Captain Coleman came in.

  “I see you let the prodigal son in, sir,” Coleman said.

  “Be nice to him, Johnnie. I seem to remember when he was a right fair sub driver. Anyway, at first it looked like they were going to block the SLOCs, but they went right past. What with these Alfas, they might be trying to blockade our coast.”

  “What about out west?”

  “Nothing. Nothing at all, just routine activity.”

  “That doesn't make any sense,” Tyler objected. “You don't ignore half the fleet. Of course, if you're going to war you don't announce it by kicking every boat to max power either.”

  “The Russians are a funny bunch, Skip,” Coleman pointed out.

  “Admiral, if we start shooting at them - ”

  “We hurt ”em,“ Dodge said. ”With all the noise they're making we have good locations on near all of 'em. They have to know that, too. That's the one thing that makes me believe they're not up to anything really bad. They're smart enough not to be that obvious - unless that's what they want us to think.“

  “Have they said anything?” Tyler asked.

  “Their ambassador says they've lost a boat, and since it has a bunch of big shots' kids aboard, they laid on an all-hands rescue mission. For what that's worth.”

  Tyler set his briefcase down and walked closer to the screen. “I can see the pattern for a search and rescue, but why blockade our ports?” He paused, thinking rapidly as his eyes scanned the top of the display. “Sir, I don't see any boomers up here.”

  “They're in port - all of 'em, on both oceans. The last Delta tied up a few hours ago. That's funny, too,” Dodge said, looking at the screen again.

  “All of them, sir?” Tyler asked as offhandedly as he could. Something had just occurred to him. The display screen showed the Bremerton in the Barents Sea but not her supposed quarry. He waited a few seconds for an answer. Getting none, he turned to see the two officers observing him closely.

  “Why do you ask, son?” Dodge said quietly. In Sam Dodge, gentleness could be a real warning flag.

  Tyler thought this one over for a few seconds. He'd given Ryan his word. Could he phrase his answer without compromising it and still find out what he wanted? Yes, he decided. There was an investigative side to Skip Tyler's character, and once he was onto something, his psyche compelled him to run it down.

  “Admiral, do they have a missile sub at sea, a brand new one?”

  Dodge stood very straight. Even so he still had to look up at the younger man. When he spoke, his voice was glacial. “Exactly where did you get that information, Commander?”

  Tyler shook his head. “Admiral, I'm sorry, but I can't say. It's compartmented, sir. I think this is something you ought to know, and I'll try to get it to you.”

  Dodge backed off to try a different tack. “You used to work for me, Skip.” The admiral was unhappy. He'd bent a rule to show something to his former subordinate because he knew him well and was sorry that he had not received the command he had worked so hard for. Tyler was technically a civilian, even though his suits were still navy blue. What made it really bad was mat he knew something himself. Dodge had given him some information, and Tyler wasn't giving any back.

  “Sir, I gave my word,” Skip apologized. “I will try to get this to you. That's a promise, sir. May I use a phone?”

  “Outer office,” Dodge said flatly. There were four telephones within sight.

  Tyler went out and sat at a secretary's desk. He took his notebook from a coat pocket and dialed the number on the card Ryan had left him.

  “Acres,” a female voice answered.

  “Could I speak to Dr. Ryan, please?”

  “Dr. Ryan is not here at the moment.”

  “Then…… give me Admiral Greer, please.”

  “One moment, please.”

  “James Greer?” Dodge was behind him. “Is that who you're working for?”

  “This is Greer. Your name Skip Tyler?”

  “Yes, sir.”

  “You have that information for me?”

  “Yes, sir, I do.”

  “Where are you?”

  “In the Pentagon, sir.”

  “Okay, I want you to drive right up here. You know how to find the place? The guards at the main gate will be waiting for you. Get moving, son.” Greer hung up.

  “You're working for the CIA?” Dodge asked.

  “Sir - I can't say. If you will excuse me, sir, I have some information to deliver.”

  “Mine?” the admiral demanded.

  “No, sir. I already had it when I came in here. That's the truth, Admiral. And I will try to get this back to you.”

  “Call me,” Dodge ordered. “We'll be here all night.”

  CIA Headquarters

  The drive up the George Washington Parkway was easier than he expected. The decrepit old highway was crowded with shoppers but moved along at a steady crawl. He got off at the right exit and presently found himself at the guard post for the main highway entrance to the CIA. The barrier was down.

  “Your name Tyler, Oliver W.?” the guard asked. “ID please.” Tyler handed him his Pentagon pass.

  “Okay, Commander. Pull your car right to the main entrance. Somebody will be there to meet you.”

  It was another two minutes to the main entrance through mostly empty parking lots glazed with ice from yesterday's melted snow. The armed guard who was waiting for him tried to help him out of the car. Tyler didn't like to be helped. He shrugged him off. Another man was waiting for him under the canopied main entrance. They were waved right through to the elevator.

  He found Admiral Greer sitting in front of his office fireplace, seemingly half asleep. Skip didn't know that the DDI had only returned from England a few hours earlier. The admiral came to and ordered his plain-clothes security officer to withdraw. “You must be Skip Tyler. Come on over and sit down.”

  “That's quite a fire you have going there, sir.”

  “I shouldn't bother. Looking at a fire makes me go to sleep. Of course, I could use a little sleep right now. So, what do you have for me?”

  “May I ask where Jack is?”

  “You may ask. He's away.”

  “Oh.” Tyler unlocked his briefcase and removed the printout. “Sir, I ran the performance model for this Russian sub. May I ask her name?”

  Greer chuckled. “Okay, you've earned that much. Her name is Red October. You'll have to excuse me, son. I've had a busy couple of days, and being tired makes me forget my manners. Jack says you're pretty sharp. So does your personnel file. Now, you tell me. What'll she do?”

  “Well, Admiral, we have a wide choice of data here, and - ”

  “The short version, Commander. I don't play with computers. I have people who do that for me.”

  “From seven to eighteen knots, the best bet is ten to twelve. With that speed range, you can figure a radiated noise level about the same as that of a Yankee doing six knots, but you'd have to factor reactor plant noise into that also. Moreover, the character of the noise will be different from what we're used to. These multiple impeller models don't put out normal propulsion noises. They seem to generate an irregular harmonic rumble. Did Jack tell you about this? It results from a backpressure wave in the tunnels. This fights the water flow, and that makes the rumble. Evidently there's no way around it. Our guys spent two years trying to find one. What they got was a new principle of hydrodynamics. The water almost acts like air in a jet engine at idle or low speed, except that water doesn't compress like air does. So, our guys will be able to detect something, but it will be different. They're going to have to get used to a wholly new acoustical signature. Add to that the lower signal intensity, and you have a boat that will be harder to detect than anything they have at this time.”

  “So that's what all this says.” Greer riffled through the pages.

  “Yes, sir. You'll want to have your own people look through it. The model - the program, that is - could stand a little improvement. I didn't have much time. Jack said you wanted this in a hurry. May I ask a question, sir?”

  “You can try.” Greer leaned back, rubbing his eyes.

  “Is, ah, Red October at sea? That's it, isn't it? They're trying to locate her right now?” Tyler asked innocently.

  “Uh huh, something like that. We couldn't figure what these doors meant. Ryan said you might be able to, and I suppose he was right. You've earned your money, Commander. This data might just enable us to find her.”

  “Admiral, I think Red October is up to something, maybe even trying to defect to the United States.”

  Greer's head came around. “Whatever makes you think that?”

  “The Russkies have a major fleet operation in progress. They have subs all over the Atlantic, and it looks like they're trying to blockade our coast. The story is a rescue job

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