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猎杀“红十月”号(chapter 10)

2006-07-07 19:19



  SOSUS Control

  At SOSUS Control in Norfolk, the picture was becoming increasingly difficult. The United States simply did not have the technology to keep track of submarines in the deep ocean basins. The SOSUS receptors were principally laid at shallow-water choke points, on the bottom of undersea ridges and highlands. The strategy of the NATO countries was a direct consequence of this technological limitation. In a major war with the Soviets, NATO would use the Greenland-Iceland-United Kingdom SOSUS barrier as a huge tripwire, a burglar alarm system. Allied submarines and ASW patrol aircraft would try to seek out, attack, and destroy Soviet submarines as they approached it, before they could cross the lines.

  The barrier had never been expected to halt more than half of the attacking submarines, however, and those that succeeded in slipping through would have to be handled differently. The deep ocean basins were simply too wide and too deep - the average depth was over two miles - to be littered with sensors as the shallow choke points were. This was a fact that cut both ways. The NATO mission would be to maintain the Atlantic Bridge and continue transoceanic trade, and the obvious Soviet mission would be to interdict this trade. Submarines would have to spread out over the vast ocean to cover the many possible convoy routes. NATO strategy behind the SOSUS barriers, then, was to assemble large convoys, each ringed with destroyers, helicopters, and fixed-wing aircraft. The escorts would try to establish a protective bubble about a hundred miles across. Enemy submarines would not be able to exist within that bubble; if in it they would be hunted down and killed - or merely driven off long enough for the convoy to speed past. Thus while SOSUS was designed to neutralize a huge, fixed expanse of sea, deep-basin strategy was founded on mobility, a moving zone of protection for the vital North Atlantic shipping.

  This was an altogether sensible strategy, but one that could not be tested under realistic conditions, and, unfortunately, one that was largely useless at the moment. With all of the Soviet Alfas and Victors already on the coast, and the last of the Charlies, Echoes, and Novembers just arriving on their stations, the master screen Commander Quentin was staring at was no longer filled with discrete little red dots but rather with large circles. Each dot or circle designated the position of a Soviet submarine. A circle represented an estimated position, calculated from the speed with which a sub could move without giving off enough noise to be localized by the many sensors being employed. Some circles were ten miles across, some as much as fifty; an area anywhere from seventy-eight to two thousand square miles had to be searched if the submarine were again to be pinned down. And there were just too damned many of the boats.

  Hunting the submarines was principally the job of the P-3C Orion. Each Orion carried sonobuoys, air-deployable active and passive sonar sets that were dropped from the belly of the aircraft. On detecting something, a sonobuoy reported to its mother aircraft and then automatically sank lest it fall into unfriendly hands. The sonobuoys had limited electrical power and thus limited range. Worse, their supply was finite. The sonobuoy inventory was already being depleted alarmingly, and soon they would have to cut back on expenditures. Additionally, each P-3C carried FLIRs, forward-looking infrared scanners, to identify the heat signature of a nuclear sub, and MADs, magnetic anomaly detectors that located the disturbance in the earth's magnetic field caused by a large chunk of ferrous metal like a submarine. MAD gear could only detect a magnetic disturbance six hundred yards to the left and right of an aircraft's course track, and to do this the aircraft had to fly low, consuming fuel and limiting the crew's visual search range. FLIR had roughly the same limitation.

  Thus the technology used to localize a target first detected by SOSUS, or to “delouse” a discrete piece of ocean preparatory to the passage of a convoy, simply was not up to a random search of the deep ocean.

  Quentin leaned forward. A circle had just changed to a dot. A P-3C had just dropped an explosive sounding charge and localized an Echioclass attack sub five hundred miles south of the Grand Banks. For an hour they had a near-certain shooting solution on that Echo; her name was written on the Orion's Mark 46 ASW torpedoes.

  Quentin sipped at his coffee. His stomach rebelled at the additional caffeine, remembering the abuse of four months of hellish chemotherapy. If there were to be a war, this was one way it might start. All at once, their submarines would stop, perhaps just like this. Not sneaking to kill convoys in midocean but attacking them closer to shore, the way the Germans had done…… and all the American sensors would be in the wrong place. Once stopped the dots would grow to circles, ever wider, making the task of finding the subs all the more difficult. Their engines quiet, the boats would be invisible traps for the passing merchant vessels and warships racing to bring life-saving supplies to the men in Europe. Submarines were like cancer. Just like the disease that he had only barely defeated. The invisible, malignant vessels would find a place, stop to infect it, and on his screen the malignancies would grow until they were attacked by the aircraft he controlled from this room. But he could not attack them now. Only watch.

  “PK EST 1 HOUR - RUN,” he typed into his computer console.

  “23,” the computer answered at once.

  Quentin grunted. Twenty-four hours earlier the PK, probability of a kill, had been forty - forty probable kills in the first hour after getting a shooting authorization. Now it was barely half that, and this number had to be taken with a large grain of salt, since it assumed that everything would work, a happy state of affairs found only in fiction. Soon, he judged, the number would be under ten. This did not include kills from friendly submarines that were trailing the Russians under strict orders not to reveal their positions. His sometime allies in the Sturgeons, Permits, and Los Angeleses were playing their own ASW game by their own set of rules. A different breed. He tried to think of them as friends, but it never quite worked. In his twenty years of naval service submarines had always been the enemy. In war they would be useful enemies, but in a war it was widely recognized that there was no such thing as a friendly submarine.

  A B-52

  The bomber crew knew exactly where the Russians were. Navy Orions and air force Sentries had been shadowing them for days now, and the day before, he'd been told, the Soviets had sent an armed fighter from the Kiev to the nearest Sentry. Possibly an attack mission, probably not, it had in any case been a provocation.

  Four hours earlier the squadron of fourteen had flown out of Plattsburg, New York, at 0330, leaving behind black trails of exhaust smoke hidden in the predawn gloom. Each aircraft carried a full load of fuel and twelve missiles whose total weight was far less than the -52's design bombload. This made for good, long range.

  Which was exactly what they needed. Knowing where the Russians were was only half the battle. Hitting them was the other. The mission profile was simple in concept, rather more difficult in execution. As had been learned in missions over Hanoi - in which the B-52 had participated and sustained SAM (surface-to-air missile) damage - the best method of attacking a heavily defended target was to converge from all points of the compass at once, “like the enveloping arms of an angry bear,” the squadron commander had put it at the briefing, indulging his poetic nature. This gave half the squadron relatively direct courses to their target; the other half had to curve around, careful to keep well beyond effective radar coverage; all had to turn exactly on cue.

  The B-52s had turned ten minutes earlier, on command from the Sentry quarterbacking the mission. The pilot had added a twist. His course to the Soviet formation took his bomber right down a commercial air route. On making his turn, he had switched his IFF transponder from its normal setting to international. He was fifty miles behind a commercial 747, thirty miles ahead of another, and on Soviet radar all three Boeing products would look exactly alike - harmless.

  It was still dark down on the surface. There was no indication that the Russians were alerted yet. Their fighters were only supposed to be VFR (visual flight rules) capable, and the pilot imagined that taking off and landing on a carrier in the dark was pretty risky business, doubly so in bad weather.

  “Skipper,” the electronic warfare officer called on the intercom, “we're getting L- and S-band emissions. They're right where they're supposed to be.”

  “Roger. Enough for a return off us?”

  “That's affirm, but they probably think we're flying Pan Am. No fire control stuff yet, just routine air search.”

  “Range to target?”

  “One-three-zero miles.”

  It was almost time. The mission profile was such that all would hit the 125-mile circle at the same moment.

  “Everything ready?”

  “That's a roge.”

  The pilot relaxed for another minute, waiting for the signal from the entry.

  “FLASHLIGHT, FLASHLIGHT, FLASHLIGHT.” The signal came over the digital radio channel.

  “That's it! Let 'em know we're here,” the aircraft commander ordered.

  “Right.” The electronic warfare officer flipped the clear plastic cover off his set of toggle switches and dials controlling the aircraft's jamming systems. First he powered up his systems. This took a few seconds. The -52's electronics were all old seventies-vintage equipment, else the squadron would not be part of the junior varsity. Good learning tools, though, and the lieutenant was hoping to move up to the new B-lBs now beginning to come off the Rockwell assembly line in California. For the past ten minutes the ESM pods on the bomber's nose and wingtips had been recording the Soviet radar signals, classifying their exact frequencies, pulse repetition rates, power, and the individual signature characteristics of the transmitters. The lieutenant was brand new to this game. He was a recent graduate of electronic warfare school, first in his class. He considered what he should do first, then selected a jamming mode, not his best, from a range of memorized options.

  The Nikolayev

  One hundred twenty-five miles away on the Kara-class cruiser Nikolayev, a radar michman was examining some blips that seemed to be in a circle around his formation. In an instant his screen was covered with twenty ghostly splotches tracing crazily in various directions. He shouted the alarm, echoed a second later by a brother operator. The officer of the watch hurried over to check the screen.

  By the time he got there the jamming mode had changed and six lines like the spokes of a wheel were rotating slowly around a central axis.

  “Plot the strobes,” the officer ordered.

  Now there were blotches, lines, and sparkles.

  “More than one aircraft, Comrade.” The michman tried flipping through his frequency settings.

  “Attack warning!” another michman shouted. His ESM receiver had just reported the signals of aircraft search-radar sets of the type used to acquire targets for air-to-surface missiles.

  The B-52

  “We got hard targets,” the weapons officer on the -52 reported. “I got a lock on the first three birds.”

  “Roger that,” the pilot acknowledged. “Hold for ten more seconds.”

  “Ten seconds,” the officer replied. “Cutting switches…… now.”

  “Okay, kill the jamming.”

  “ECM systems off.”

  The Nikolayev

  “Missile acquisition radars have ceased,” the combat information center officer reported to the cruiser's captain, just now arrived from the bridge. Around them the Nikolayev's crew was racing to battle stations. “Jamming has also ceased.”

  “What is out there?” the captain asked. Out of a clear sky his beautiful clipper-bowed cruiser had been threatened - and now all was well?

  “At least eight enemy aircraft in a circle around us.”

  The captain examined the now normal S-band air search screen. There were numerous blips, mainly civilian aircraft. The half circle of others had to be hostile, though.

  “Could they have fired missiles?”

  “No, Comrade Captain, we would have detected it. They jammed our search radars for thirty seconds and illuminated us with their own search systems for twenty. Then everything stopped.”

  “So, they provoke us and now pretend nothing has happened?” the captain growled. “When will they be within SAM range?”

  “This one and these two will be within range in four minutes if they do not change course.”

  “Illuminate them with our missile control systems. Teach the bastards a lesson.”

  The officer gave the necessary instructions, wondering who was being taught what. Two thousand feet above one of the B-52's was an EC-135 whose computerized electronic sensors were recording all signals from the Soviet cruiser and taking them apart, the better to know how to jam them. It was the first good look at the new SA-N-8 missile system.

  Two F-14 Tomcats

  The double-zero code number on its fuselage marked the Tomcat as the squadron commander's personal bird; the black ace of spades on the twin-rudder tail indicated his squadron, Fighting 41, “The Black Aces.” The pilot was Commander Robby Jackson, and his radio call sign was Spade 1.

  Jackson was leading a two-plane section under the direction of one of the Kennedy's E-2C Hawkeyes, the navy's more diminutive version of the air force's AWACS and close brother to the COD, a twin-prop aircraft whose radome makes it look like an airplane being terrorized by a UFO. The weather was bad - depressingly normal for the North Atlantic in December - but was supposed to improve as they headed west. Jackson and his wingman, Lieutenant (j.g.) Bud Sanchez, were flying through nearly solid clouds, and they had eased their formation out somewhat. In the limited visibility both remembered that each Tomcat had a crew of two and a price of over thirty million dollars.

  They were doing what the Tomcat does best. An all-weather interceptor, the F-14 has transoceanic range, Mach 2 speed, and a radar computer fire control system that can lock onto and attack six separate targets with long-range Phoenix air-to-air missiles. Each fighter was now carrying two of those along with a pair each of AIM-9M Sidewinder heat-seekers. Their prey was a flight of YAK-36 Forgers, the bastard V/STOL fighters that operated from the carrier Kiev. After harassing the Sentry the previous day, Ivan had decided to close with the Kennedy force, no doubt guided in with data from a reconnaissance satellite. The Soviet aircraft had come up short, their range being fifty miles less than they needed to sight the Kennedy. Washington decided that Ivan was getting a little too obnoxious on this side of the ocean. Admiral Painter had been given permission to return the favor, in a friendly sort of way.

  Jackson figured that he and Sanchez could handle this, even outnumbered. No Soviet aircraft, least of all the Forger, was equal to the Tomcat - certainly not while I'm flying it, Jackson thought.

  “Spade 1, your target is at your twelve o'clock and level, distance now twenty miles,” reported the voice of Hummer 1, the Hawkeye a hundred miles aft. Jackson did not acknowledge.

  “Got anything, Chris?” he asked his radar intercept officer, Lieutenant Commander Christiansen.

  “An occasional flash, but nothing I can use.” They were tracking the Forgers with passive systems only, in this case an infrared sensor.

  Jackson considered illuminating their targets with his powerful fire control radar. The Forgers' ESM pods would sense this at once, reporting to their pilots that their death warrant had been written but not yet signed. “How about Kiev?”

  “Nothing. The Kiev group is under total EMCON.”

  “Cute,” Jackson commented. He guessed that the SAC raid on the Kirov-Nikolayev group had taught them to be more careful. It was not generally known that warships often made no use whatever of their radar systems, a protective measure called EMCON, for emission control. The reason was that a radar beam could be detected at several times the distance at which it generated a return signal to its transmitter and could thus tell an enemy more than it told its operators. “You suppose these guys can find their way home without help?”

  “If they don't, you know who's gonna get blamed.” Chris-tiansen chuckled.

  “That's a roge,” Jackson agreed.

  “Okay, I got infrared acquisition. Clouds must be thinning out some.” Christiansen was concentrating on his instruments, oblivious of the view out of the canopy.

  “Spade 1, this is Hummer 1, your target is twelve o'clock, at your level, range now ten miles.” The report came over the secure radio circuit.

  Not bad, picking up the Forgers' heat signature through this slop, Jackson thought, especially since they had small, inefficient engines.

  “Radar coming on, Skipper,” Christiansen advised. “Kiev has an S-band air search just come on. They have us for sure.”

  “Right.” Jackson thumbed his mike switch. “Spade 2, illuminate targets - now.”

  “Roger, lead,” Sanchez acknowledged. No point hiding now.

  Both fighters activated their powerful AN/AWG-9 radars. It was now two minutes to intercept.

  The radar signals, received by the ESM threat-receivers on the Forgers' tail fins, set off a musical tone in the pilot headsets which had to be turned off manually, and lit up a red warning light on each control panel.

  The Kingfisher Flight

  “Kingfisher flight, this is Kiev,” called the carrier's air operations officer. “We show two American fighters closing you at high speed from the rear.”

  “Acknowledged.” The Russian flight leader checked his mirror. He'd hoped to avoid this, though he hadn't expected to. His orders were to take no action unless fired upon. They had just broken into the clear. Too bad, he'd have felt safer in the clouds.

  The pilot of Kingfisher 3, Lieutenant Shavrov, reached down to arm his four Atolls. Not this time, Yankee, he thought.

  The Tomcats

  “One minute, Spade 1, you ought to have visual any time,” Hummer 1 called in.

  “Roger…… .Tallyho!” Jackson and Sanchez broke into the clear. The Forgers were a few miles ahead, and the Tomcats' 250-knot speed advantage was eating that distance up rapidly. The Russian pilots are keeping a nice, tight formation, Jackson thought, but anybody can drive a bus.

  “Spade 2, let's go to burners on my mark. Three, two, one - mark!”

  Both pilots advanced their engine controls and engaged their afterburners, which dumped raw fuel into the tail pipes of their new F-110 engines. The fighters lept forward with a sudden double thrust and went quickly through Mach 1.

  The Kingfisher Flight

  “Kingfisher, warning, warning, the Amerikantsi have increased speed,” Kiev cautioned.

  Kingfisher 4 turned in his seat. He saw the Tomcats a mile aft, twin dart-like shapes racing before trails of black smoke. Sunlight glinted off one canopy, and it almost looked like the flashes of a -

  “They're attacking!”

  “What?” The flight leader checked his mirror again. “Negative, negative - hold formation!”

  The Tomcats screeched fifty feet overhead, the sonic booms they trailed sounding just like explosions. Shavrov acted entirely on his combat-trained instincts. He jerked back on his stick and triggered his four missiles at the departing American fighters.

  “Three, what did you do?” the Russian flight leader demanded.

  “They were attacking us, didn't you hear?” Shavrov protested.

  The Tomcats

  “Oh shit! Spade Flight, you have four Atolls after you,” the voice of the Hawkeye's controller said.

  “Two, break right,” Jackson ordered. “Chris, activate countermeasures.” Jackson threw his fighter into a violent evasive turn to the left. Sanchez broke the other way.

  In the seat behind Jackson's, the radar intercept officer flipped switches to activate the aircraft's defense systems. As the Tomcat twisted in midair, a series of flares and balloons was ejected from the tail section, each an infrared or radar lure for the pursuing missiles. All four were targeted on Jackson's fighter.

  “Spade 2 is clear, Spade 2 is clear. Spade 1, you still have four birds in pursuit,” the voice from the Hawkeye said.

  “Roger.” Jackson was surprised at how calmly he took it. The Tomcat was doing over eight hundred miles per hour and accelerating. He wondered how much range the Atoll had. His rearward-looking-radar warning light flicked on.

  “Two, get after them!” Jackson ordered.

  “Roger, lead.” Sanchez swept into a climbing turn, fell off into a hammerhead, and dove at the retreating Soviet fighters.

  When Jackson turned, two of the missiles lost lock and kept going straight into open air. A third, decoyed into hitting a flare, exploded harmlessly. The fourth kept its infrared seeker head on Spade 1 's glowing tail pipes and bored right in. The missile struck the Spade 1 at the base of its starboard rudder fin.

  The impact tossed the fighter completely out of control. Most of the explosive force was spent as the missile blasted through the boron surface into open air. The fin was blown completely off, along with the right-side stabilizer. The left fin was badly holed by fragments, which smashed through the back of the fighter's canopy, hitting Christiansen's helmet. The right engine's fire warning lights came on at once.

  Jackson heard the oomph over his intercom. He killed every engine switch on the right side and activated the in-frame fire extinguisher. Next he chopped power to his port engine, still on afterburner. By this time the Tomcat was in an inverted spin. The variable-geometry wings angled out to low-speed configuration. This gave Jackson aileron control, and he worked quickly to get back to normal attitude. His altitude was four thousand feet. There wasn't much time.

  “Okay, baby,” he coaxed. A quick burst of power gave him back aerodynamic control, and the former test pilot snapped his fighter over - too hard. It went through two complete rolls before he could catch it in level flight. “Gotcha! You with me, Chris?”

  Nothing. There was no way he could look around, and there were still four hostile fighters behind him.

  “Spade 2, this is lead.”

  “Roger, lead.” Sanchez had the four Fighters bore-sighted. They had just fired at his commander.

  Hummer 1

  On Hummer 1, the controller was thinking fast. The Forgers were holding formation, and there was a lot of Russian chatter on the radio circuit.

  “Spade 2, this is Hummer 1, break off, I say again, break off, do not, repeat do not fire. Acknowledge. Spade 2, Spade 1 is at your nine o'clock, two thousand feet below you.” The officer swore and looked at one of the enlisted men he worked with.

  “That was too fast, sir, just too fuckin' fast. We got tapes of the Russkies. I can't understand it, but it sounds like Kiev is right pissed.”

  “They're not the only ones,” the controller said, wondering if he had done the right thing calling Spade 2 off. It sure as hell didn't feel that way.

  The Tomcats

  Sanchez' head jerked in surprise. “Roger, breaking off.” His thumb came off the switch. “Goddammit!” He pulled his stick back, throwing the Tomcat into a savage loop. “Where are you, lead?”

  Sanchez brought his fighter under Jackson's and did a slow circle to survey the visible damage.

  “Fire's out, Skipper. Right side rudder and stabilizer are gone. Left side fin - shit, I can see through it, but it looks like it oughta hold together. Wait a minute. Chris is slumped over, Skipper. Can you talk to him?”

  “Negative, I've tried. Let's go back home.”

  Nothing would have pleased Sanchez more than to blast the Forgers right out of the sky, and with his four missiles he could have done this easily. But like most pilots, he was highly disciplined.

  “Roger, lead.”

  “Spade 1, this is Hummer 1, advise your condition, over.”

  “Hummer 1, we'll make it unless something else falls off. Tell them to have docs standing by. Chris is hurt. I don't know how bad.”

  It took an hour to get to the Kennedy. Jackson's fighter flew badly, would not hold course in any specific attitude. He had to adjust trim constantly. Sanchez reported some movement in the aft cockpit. Maybe it was just the intercom shot out, Jackson thought hopefully.

  Sanchez was ordered to land first so that the deck would be cleared for Commander Jackson. On the final approach the Tomcat started to handle badly. The pilot struggled with his fighter, planting it hard on the deck and catching the number one wire. The right-side landing gear collapsed at once, and the thirty-million-dollar fighter slid sideways into the barrier that had been erected. A hundred men with fire-fighting gear raced toward it from all directions.

  The canopy went up on emergency hydraulic power. After unbuckling himself Jackson fought his way around and tried to grab for his backseater. They had been friends for many years.

  Chris was alive. It looked like a quart of blood had poured down the front of his flight suit, and when the first corpsman took the helmet off, he saw that it was still pumping out. The second corpsman pushed Jackson out of the way and attached a cervical collar to the wounded airman. Christiansen was lifted gently and lowered onto a stretcher whose bearers ran towards the island. Jackson hesitated a moment before following it.

  Norfolk Naval Medical Center

  Captain Randall Tail of the Navy Medical Corps walked down the corridor to meet with the Russians. He looked younger than his forty-five years because his full head of black hair showed not the first sign of gray. Tail was a Mormon, educated at Brigham Young University and Stanford Medical School, who had joined the navy because he had wanted to see more of the world than one could from an office at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains. He had accomplished that much, and until today had also avoided anything resembling diplomatic duty. As the new chief of the Department of Medicine at Bethesda Naval Medical Center he knew that couldn't last. He had flown down to Norfolk only a few hours earlier to handle the case. The Russians had driven down, and taken their time doing it.

  “Good morning, gentlemen. I'm Dr. Tail.” They shook hands all around, and the lieutenant who had brought them up walked back to the elevator.

  “Dr. Ivanov,” the shortest one said. “I am physician to the embassy.”

  “Captain Smirnov.” Tail knew him to be assistant naval attaché, a career intelligence officer. The doctor had been briefed on the helicopter trip down by a Pentagon intelligence officer who was now drinking coffee in the hospital commissary.

  “Vasily Petchkin, Doctor. I am second secretary to the embassy.” This one was a senior KGB officer, a “legal” spy with a diplomatic cover. “May we see our man?”

  “Certainly. Will you follow me please?” Tail led them back down the corridor. He'd been on the go for twenty hours. This was part of the territory as chief of service at Bethesda. He got all the hard calls. One of the first things a doctor learns is how not to sleep.

  The whole floor was set up for intensive care, Norfolk Naval Medical Center having been built with war casualties in mind. Intensive Care Unit Number Three was a room twenty-five feet square. The only windows were on the corridor wall, and the curtains had been drawn back. There were four beds, only one occupied. The young man in it was almost totally concealed. The only thing not hidden by the oxygen mask covering his face was an unruly clump of wheat-colored hair. The rest of his body was fully draped. An IV stand was next to the bed, its two bottles of fluid merging in a single line that led under the covers. A nurse dressed like Tail in surgical greens was standing at the foot of the bed, her green eyes locked on the electrocardiograph readout over the patient's head, dropping momentarily to make a notation on his chart. On the far side of the bed was a machine whose function was not immediately obvious. The patient was unconscious.

  “His condition?” Ivanov asked.

  “Critical,” Tail replied. “It's a miracle he got here alive at all. He was in the water for at least twelve hours, probably more like twenty. Even accounting for the fact that he was wearing a rubber exposure suit, given the ambient air and water temperatures there's just no way he ought to have been alive. On admission his core temperature was 23.8°C.” Tail shook his head. “I've read about worse hypothermia cases in the literature, but this is by far the worst I've ever seen.”

  “Prognosis?” Ivanov looked into the room.

  Tail shrugged. “Hard to say. Maybe as good as fifty-fifty, maybe not. He's still extremely shocky. He's a fundamentally healthy person. You can't see it from here, but he's in superb physical shape, like a track and field man. He has a particularly strong heart; that's probably what kept him alive long enough to get here. We have the hypothermia pretty much under control now. The problem is, with hypothermia so many things go wrong at once. We have to fight a number of separate but connected battles against different systemic enemies to keep them from overwhelming his natural defenses. If anything's going to kill him, it'll be the shock. We're treating that with electrolytes, the normal routine, but he's going to be on the edge for several days at least I - ”

  Tail looked up. Another man was pacing down the hall. Younger than Tait, and taller, he had a white lab coat over his greens. He carried a metal chart.

  “Gentlemen, this is Doctor - Lieutenant - Jameson. He's the physician of record on the case. He admitted your man. What do you have, Jamie?”

  “The sputum sample showed pneumonia. Bad news. Worse, his blood chemistry isn't getting any better, and his white count is dropping.”

  “Great.” Tait leaned against the window frame and swore to himself.

  “Here's the printout from the blood analyzer.” Jameson handed the chart over.

  “May I see this, please?” Ivanov came around.

  “Sure.” Tait flipped the metal cloud chart open and held it so that everyone could see it. Ivanov had never worked with a computerized blood analyzer, and it took several seconds for him to orient himself.

  “This is not good.”

  “Not at all,” Tait agreed.

  “We're going to have to jump on that pneumonia, hard,” Jameson said. “This kid's got too many things going wrong. If the pneumonia really takes hold……” He shook his head.

  “Keflin?” Tait asked.

  “Yeah.” Jameson pulled a vial from his pocket. “As much as he'll handle. I'm guessing that he had a mild case before he got dumped in the water, and I hear that some penicillin-resistant strains have been cropping up in Russia. You use mostly penicillin over there, right?” Jameson looked down at Ivanov.

  “Correct. What is this keflin?”

  “It's a big gun, a synthetic antibiotic, and it works well on resistant strains.”

  “Right now, Jamie,” Tait ordered.

  Jameson walked around the corner to enter the room. He injected the antibiotic into a 100cc piggyback IV bottle and hung it on a stand.

  “He's so young,” Ivanov noted. “He treated our man initially?”

  “His name's Albert Jameson. We call him Jamie. He's twenty-nine, graduated Harvard third in his class, and he's been with us ever since. He's board-certified in internal medicine and virology. He's as good as they come.” Tait suddenly realized how uncomfortable he was dealing with the Russians. His education and years of naval service taught him that these men were the enemy. That didn't matter. Years before he had sworn an oath to treat patients without regard to outside considerations. Would they believe or did they think he'd let their man die because he was a Russian? “Gentlemen, I want you to understand this: we're giving your man the very best care we can. We're not holding anything back. If there's a way to give him back to you alive, we'll find it. But I can't make any promises.”

  The Soviets could see that. While waiting for instructions from Moscow, Petchkin had checked up on Tail and found him to be, though a religious fanatic, an efficient and honorable physician, one of the best in government service.

  “Has he said anything?” Petchkin asked, casually.

  “Not since I've been here. Jamie said that right after they started warming him up he was semiconscious and babbled for a few minutes. We taped it, of course, and had a Russian-speaking officer listen to it. Something about a girl with brown eyes, didn't make any sense. Probably his sweetheart - he's a good-looking kid, he probably has a girl at home. It was totally incoherent, though. A patient in his condition has no idea what's going on.”

  “Can we listen to the tape?” Petchkin said.

  “Certainly. I'll have it sent up.”

  Jameson came around the corner. “Done. A gram of keflin every six hours. Hope it works.”

  “How about his hands and feet?” Smirnov asked. The captain knew something about frostbite.

  “We're not even bothering about that,” Jameson answered. “We have cotton around the digits to prevent maceration. If he survives the next few days, we'll get blebs and maybe have some tissue loss, but that's the least of our problems. You guys know what his name is?” Petchkin's head snapped around. “He wasn't wearing any dogtags when he arrived. His clothes didn't have the ship's name. No wallet, no identification, not even any coins in the pockets. It doesn't matter very much for his initial treatment, but I'd feel better if you could pull his medical records. It would be good to know if he has any allergies or underlying medical conditions. We don't want him to go into shock from an allergic reaction to drug treatment.”

  “What was he wearing?” Smirnov asked.

  “A rubber exposure suit,” Jameson answered. “The guys who found him left it on him, thank God. I cut it off him when he arrived. Under that, shirt, pants, handerchief. Don't you guys wear dogtags?”

  “Yes,” Smirnov responded. “How did you find him?”

  “From what I hear, it was pure luck. A helicopter off a frigate was patrolling and spotted him in the water. They didn't have any rescue gear aboard, so they marked the spot with a dye marker and went back to their ship. A bosun volunteered to go in after him. They loaded him and a raft cannister into the chopper and flew him back, with the frigate hustling down south. The bosun kicked out the raft, jumped in after it - and landed on it. Bad luck. He broke both his legs, but he did get your sailor into the raft. The tin can picked them up an hour later and they were both flown directly here.”

  “How is your man?”

  “He'll be all right. The left leg wasn't too bad, but the right tibia was badly splintered,” Jameson went on. “He'll recover in a few months. Won't be doing much dancing for a while, though.”

  The Russians thought the Americans had deliberately removed their man's identification. Jameson and Tail suspected that the man had disposed of his tags, possibly hoping to defect. There was a red mark on the neck that indicated forcible removal.

  “If it is permitted,” Smirnov said, “I would like to see your man, to thank him.”

  “Permission granted, Captain,” Tail nodded. “That would be kind of you.”

  “He must be a brave man.”

  “A sailor doing his job. Your people would do the same thing.” Tail wondered if this were true. “We have our differences, gentlemen, but the sea doesn't care about that. The sea - well, she tries to kill us all regardless what flag we fly.”

  Petchkin was back looking through the window, trying to make out the patient's face.

  “Could we see his clothing and personal effects?” he asked.

  “Sure, but it won't tell you much. He's a cook. That's all we know,” Jameson said.

  “A cook?” Petchkin turned around.

  “The officer who listened in on the tape - obviously he was an intelligence officer, right? He looked at the number on his shirt and said it made him a cook.” The three-digit number indicated that the patient had been a member of the port watch, and that his battle station was damage control. Jameson wondered why the Russians numbered all their enlisted men. To be sure they didn't trespass? Petchkin's head, he noticed, was almost touching the glass pane.

  “Dr. Ivanov, do you wish to attend the case?” Tail asked.

  “Is this permitted?”

  “It is.”

  “When will he be released?” Petchkin inquired. “When may we speak with him?”

  “Released?” Jameson snapped. “Sir, the only way he'll be out of here in less than a month will be in a box. So far as consciousness is concerned, that's anyone's guess. That's one very sick kid you have in there.”

  “But we must speak to him!” the KGB agent protested.

  Tail had to look up at the man. “Mr. Petchkin, I understand your desire to communicate with your man - but he is my patient now. We will do nothing, repeat nothing, that might interfere with his treatment and recovery. I got orders to fly down here to handle this. They tell me those orders came from the White House. Fine. Doctors Jameson and Ivanov will assist me, but that patient is now my responsibility, and my job is to see to it that he walks out of this hospital alive and well. Everything else is secondary to that objective. You will be extended every courtesy. But I make the rules here.” Tait paused. Diplomacy was not something he was good at. “Tell you what, you want to sit in there yourselves in relays, that's fine with me. But you have to follow the rules. That means you scrub, change into sterile clothing, and follow the instructions of the duty nurse. Fair enough?”

  Petchkin nodded. American doctors think they are gods, he said to himself.

  Jameson, busy reexamining the blood analyzer printout, had ignored the sermon. “Can you gentlemen tell us what kind of sub he was on?”

  “No,” Petchkin said at once.

  “What are you thinking, Jamie?”

  “The dropping white count and some of these other indicators are consistent with radiation exposure. The gross symptoms would have been masked by the overlying hypothermia.” Suddenly Jameson looked at the Soviets. “Gentlemen, we have to know this, was he on a nuclear sub?”

  “Yes,” Smirnov answered, “he was on a nuclear-powered submarine.”

  “Jamie, take his clothing to radiology. Have them check the buttons, zipper, anything metal for evidence of contamination.”

  “Right.” Jameson went to collect the patient's effects.

  “May we be involved in this?” Smirnov asked.

  “Yes, sir,” Tail responded, wondering what sort of people these were. The guy had to come off a nuclear submarine, didn't he? Why hadn't they told him at once? Didn't they want him to recover?

  Petchkin pondered the significance of this. Didn't they know he had come off a nuclear-powered sub? Of course - he was trying to get Smirnov to blurt out that the man was off a missile submarine. They were trying to cloud the issue with this story about contamination. Nothing that would harm the patient, but something to confuse their class enemies. Clever. He'd always thought the Americans were clever. And he was supposed to report to the embassy in an hour - report what? How was he supposed to know who the sailor was?

  Norfolk Naval Shipyard

  The USS Ethan Alien was about at the end of her string. Commissioned in 1961, she had served her crews and her country for over twenty years, carrying Polaris sea-launched ballistic missiles in endless patrols through sunless seas. Now she was old enough to vote, and this was very old for a submarine. Her missile tubes had been filled with ballast and sealed months before. She had only a token maintenance crew while the Pentagon bureaucrats debated her future. There had been talk of a complicated cruise missile system to make her into a SSGN like the new Russian Oscars. This was judged too expensive. Ethan Alien's was generation-old technology. Her S5W reactor was too dated for much more use. Nuclear radiation had bombarded the metal vessel and its internal fittings with many billions of neutrons. As recent examination of test strips had revealed, over time the character of the metal had changed, becoming dangerously brittle. The system had at most another three years of useful life. A new reactor would be too expensive. The Ethan Alien was doomed by her senescence.

  The maintenance crew was made up of members of her last operational team, mainly old-timers looking forward to retirement, with a leavening of kids who needed education in repair skills. The Ethan Alien could still serve as a school, especially a repair school since so much of her equipment was worn out.

  Admiral Gallery had come aboard early that morning. The chiefs had regarded that as particularly ominous. He had been her first skipper many years before, and admirals always seemed to visit their early commands - right before they were scrapped. He'd recognized some of the senior chiefs and asked them if the old girl had any life left in her. To a man, the chiefs said yes. A ship becomes more than a machine to her crew. Each of a hundred ships, built by the same men at the same yard to the same plans, will have her own special characteristics - most of them bad, really, but after her crew becomes accustomed to them they are spoken of affectionately, particularly in retrospect. The admiral had toured the entire length of the Ethan Alien's hull, pausing to run his gnarled, arthritic hands over the periscope he had used to make certain that there really was a world outside the steel hull, to plan the rare “attack” against a ship hunting his sub - or a passing tanker, just for practice. He'd commanded the Ethan Alien for three years, alternating his gold crew with another officer's blue crew, working out of Holy Loch, Scotland. Those were good years, he told himself, a damned sight better than sitting at a desk with a lot of vapid aides running around. It was the old navy game, up or out: just when you got something that you were really good at, something you really liked, it was gone. It made good organizational sense. You had to make room for the youngsters coming up - but, God! to be young again, to command one of the new ones that now he only had the opportunity to ride a few hours at a time, a courtesy to the skinny old bastard in Norfolk.

  She'd do it, Gallery knew. She'd do fine. It was not the end he would have preferred for his fighting ship, but when you came down to it, a decent end for a fighting ship was something rare. Nelson's Victory, the Constitution in Boston harbor, the odd battleship kept mummified by her namesake state - they'd had honorable treatment. Most warships were sunk as targets or broken up for razor blades. The Ethan Alien would die for a purpose. A crazy purpose, perhaps crazy enough to work, he said to himself as he returned to COMSUBLANT headquarters.

  Two hours later a truck arrived at the dock where the Ethan Alien lay dormant. The chief quartermaster on deck at the time noted that the truck came from Oceana Naval Air Station. Curious, he thought. More curiously, the officer who got out was wearing neither dolphins nor wings. He saluted the quarterdeck first, then the chief who had the deck while Ethan Alien's remaining two officers supervised a repair job on the engine spaces. The officer from the naval air station made arrangements for a work gang to load the sub with four bullet-shaped objects, which went through the deck hatches. They were large, barely able to fit through the torpedo and capsule loading hatches, and it took some handling to get them emplaced. Next came plastic pallets to set them on and metal straps to secure them. They look like bombs, the chief electrician thought as the younger men did the donkey work. But they couldn't be that; they were too light, obviously made of ordinary sheet metal. An hour later a truck with a pressurized tank on its loadbed arrived. The submarine was cleared of her personnel and carefully ventilated. Then three men snaked a hose to each of the four objects. Finished, they ventilated the hull again, leaving gas detectors near each object. By this time, the crew noted, their dock and the one next to it were being guarded by armed marines so that no one could come over and see what was happening to the Ethan Alien.

  When the loading, or filling, or whatever, was finished, a chief went below to examine the metal shells more carefully. He wrote down the stenciled acronym PPB76A/J6713 on a pad. A chief yeoman looked the designation up in a catalog and did not like what he found - Pave Pat Blue 76. Pave Pat Blue 76 was a bomb, and the Ethan Alien had four of them aboard. Nothing nearly so powerful as the missile warheads she had once carried, but a lot more ominous, the crew agreed. The smoking lamp was out by mutual accord before anyone made an order of it.

  Gallery came back soon thereafter and spoke with all of the senior men individually. The youngsters were sent ashore with their personal gear and an admonition that they had not seen, felt, heard, or otherwise noticed anything unusual on the Ethan Alien. She was going to be scuttled at sea. That was all. Some political decision in Washington - and if you tell that to anyone, start thinking about a twenty-year tour at McMurdo Sound, as one man put it.

  It was a tribute to Vincent Gallery that each of the old chiefs stayed aboard. Partly it was a chance for one last cruise on the old girl, a chance to say goodbye to a friend. Mostly it was because Gallery said it was important, and the old-timers remembered that his word had been good once.

  The officers showed up at sundown. The lowest-ranking among them was a lieutenant commander. Two four-striped captains would be working the reactor, along with three senior chiefs. Two more four-stripers would handle the navigation, a pair of commanders the electronics. The rest would be spread around to handle the plethora of specialized tasks necessary to the operation of a complex warship. The total complement, not even a quarter the size of a normal crew, might have caused some adverse comment on the part of the senior chiefs, who didn't consider just how much experience these officers had.

  One officer would be working the diving planes, the chief quartermaster was scandalized to learn. The chief electrician he discussed this with took it in stride. After all, he noted, the real fun was driving the boats, and officers only got to do that at New London. After that all they got to do was walk around and look important. True, the quartermaster agreed, but could they handle it? If not, the electrician decided, they would take care of things - what else were chiefs for but to protect officers from their mistakes? After that they argued good-naturedly over who would be chief of the boat. Both men had nearly identical experience and time in rate.

  The USS Ethan Alien sailed for the last time at 2345 hours. No tug helped her away from the dock. The skipper eased her deftly away from the dock with gentle engine commands and strains on his lines that his quartermaster could only admire. He'd served with the skipper before, on the Skipjack and the Will Rogers. “No tugs, no nothin',” he reported to his bunkmate later. “The old man knows his shit.” In an hour they were past the Virginia Capes and ready to dive. Ten minutes later they were gone from sight. Below, on a course of one-one-zero, the small crew of officers and chiefs settled into the demanding routine of running their old boomer shorthanded. The Ethan Alien responded like a champ, steaming at twelve knots, her old machinery hardly making any noise at all.

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