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猎杀“红十月”号(chapter 2)

2006-07-07 19:08

  “Why is it, Comrade Captain, that you always seem glad to leave the Rodina and go to sea?”

  Ramius smiled behind his binoculars. “A seaman has one country, Ivan Yurievich, but two wives. You never understand that. Now I go to my other wife, the cold, heartless one that owns my soul.” Ramius paused. The smile vanished. “My only wife, now.”

  Putin was quiet for once, Marko noted. The political officer had been there, had cried real tears as the coffin of polished pine rolled into the cremation chamber. For Putin the death of Natalia Bogdanova Ramius had been a cause of grief, but beyond that the act of an uncaring God whose existence he regularly denied. For Ramius it had been a crime committed not by God but the State. An unnecessary, monstrous crime, one that demanded punishment.

  “Ice.” The lookout pointed.

  “Loose-pack ice, starboard side of the channel, or perhaps something calved off the east-side glacier. We'll pass well clear,” Kamarov said.

  “Captain!” The bridge speaker had a metallic voice. “Message from fleet headquarters.”

  “Read it.”

  “ 'Exercise area clear. No enemy vessels in vicinity. Proceed as per orders. Signed, Korov, Fleet Commander.' ”

  “Acknowledged,” Ramius said. The speaker clicked off. “So, no Amerikantsi about?”

  “You doubt the fleet commander?” Putin inquired.

  “I hope he is correct,” Ramius replied, more sincerely than his political officer would appreciate. “But you remember our briefings.”

  Putin shifted on his feet. Perhaps he was feeling the cold.

  “Those American 688-class submarines, Ivan, the Los Angeles. Remember what one of their officers told our spy? That they could sneak up on a whale and bugger it before it knew they were there? I wonder how the KGB got that bit of information. A beautiful Soviet agent, trained in the ways of the decadent West, too skinny, the way the imperialists like their women, blond hair……” The captain grunted amusement. “Probably the American officer was a boastful boy, trying to find a way to do something similar to our agent, no? And feeling his liquor, like most sailors. Still. The American Los Angeles class, and the new British Trafalgar, those we must guard against. They are a threat to us.”

  “The Americans are good technicians, Comrade Captain,” Putin said, “but they are not giants. Their technology is not so awesome. Nasha lutcha,” he concluded. Ours is better.

  Ramius nodded thoughtfully, thinking to himself that zampoliti really ought to know something about the ships they supervised, as mandated by Party doctrine.

  “Ivan, didn't the farmers around Gorkiy tell you it is the wolf you do not see that you must fear? But don't be overly concerned. With this ship we will teach them a lesson, I think.”

  “As I told the Main Political Administration,” Putin clapped Ramius' shoulder again, “Red October is in the best of hands!”

  Ramius and Kamarov both smiled at that. You son of a bitch! the captain thought, saying in front of my men that you must pass on my fitness to command! A man who could not command a rubber raft on a calm day! A pity you will not live to eat those words, Comrade Political Officer, and spend the rest of your life in the gulag for that misjudgement. It would almost be worth leaving you alive.

  A few minutes later the chop began to pick up, making the submarine roll. The movement was accentuated by their height above the deck, and Putin made excuses to go below. Still a weak-legged sailor. Ramius shared the observation silently with Kamarov, who smiled agreement. Their unspoken contempt for the zampolit was a most un-Soviet thought.

  The next hour passed quickly. The water grew rougher as they approached the open sea, and their icebreaker escort began to wallow on the swells. Ramius watched her with interest. He had never been on an icebreaker, his entire career having been in submarines. They were more comfortable, but also more dangerous. He was accustomed to the danger, though, and the years of experience would stand him in good stead now.

  “Sea buoy in sight, Captain.” Kamarov pointed. The red lighted buoy was riding actively on the waves.

  “Control room, what is the sounding?” Ramius asked over the bridge telephone.

  “One hundred meters below the keel, Comrade Captain.”

  “Increase speed to two-thirds, come left ten degrees.” Ramius looked at Kamarov. “Signal our course change to Purga, and hope he doesn't turn the wrong way.”

  Kamarov reached for the small blinker light stowed under the bridge coaming. The Red October began to accelerate slowly, her 30,000-ton bulk resisting the power of her engines. Presently the bow wave grew to a three-meter standing arc of water; man-made combers rolled down the missile deck, splitting against the front of the sail. The Purga altered course to starboard, allowing the submarine to pass well clear.

  Ramius looked aft at the bluffs of the Kola Fjord. They had been carved to this shape millennia before by the remorseless pressure of towering glaciers. How many times in his twenty years of service with the Red Banner Northern Fleet had he looked at the wide, flat U-shape? This would be the last. One way or another, he'd never go back. Which way would it turn out? Ramius admitted to himself that he didn't much care. Perhaps the stories his grandmother had taught him were true, about God and the reward for a good life. He hoped so-it would be good if Natalia were not truly dead. In any case, there was no turning back. He had left a letter in the last mailbag taken off before sailing. There was no going back after that.

  “Kamarov, signal to Purga: 'Diving at-,'” he checked his watch, '“-1320 hours. Exercise OCTOBER FROST begins as scheduled. You are released to other assigned duties. We will return as scheduled.'”

  Kamarov worked the trigger on the blinker light to transmit the message. The Purga responded at once, and Ramius read the flashing signal unaided: “IF THE WHALES DON'T EAT YOU. GOOD LUCK TO RED OCTOBER.!”

  Ramius lifted the phone again, pushing the button for the sub's radio room. He had the same message transmitted to fleet headquarters, Severomorsk. Next he addressed the control room.

  “Depth under the keel?”

  “One hundred forty meters, Comrade Captain.”

  “Prepare to dive.” He turned to the lookout and ordered him below. The boy moved towards the hatch. He was probably glad to return to the warmth below, but took the time for one last look at the cloudy sky and receding cliffs. Going to sea on a submarine was always exciting, and always a little sad.

  “Clear the bridge. Take the conn when you get below, Gregoriy.” Kamarov nodded and dropped down the hatch, leaving the captain alone.

  Ramius made one last careful scan of the horizon. The sun was barely visible aft, the sky leaden, the sea black except for the splash of whitecaps. He wondered if he were saying goodbye to the world. If so, he would have preferred a more cheerful view of it.

  Before sliding down he inspected the hatch seat, pulling it shut with a chain and making sure the automatic mechanism functioned properly. Next he dropped eight meters down the inside of the sail to the pressure hull, then two more into the control room. A michman (warrant officer) shut the second hatch and with a powerful spin turned the locking wheel as far as it would go.

  “Gregoriy?” Ramius asked.

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