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猎杀“红十月”号(chapter 7)

2006-07-07 19:13

  THE SEVENTH DAY

  THURSDAY, 9 DECEMBER

  The North Atlantic

  When Samuel Johnson compared sailing in a ship to “being in jail, with the chance of being drowned,” at least he had the consolation of travelling to his ship in a safe carriage, Ryan thought. Now he was going to sea, and before he got to his ship Ryan stood the chance of being smashed to red pulp in a plane crash. Jack sat hunched in a bucket seat on the port side of a Grumman Greyhound, known to the fleet without affection as a COD (for carrier onboard delivery), a flying delivery truck. The seats, facing aft, were too close together, and his knees jutted up against his chin. The cabin was far more amenable to cargo than to people. There were three tons of engine and electronics parts stowed in crates aft - there, no doubt, so that the impact of a plane crash on the valuable equipment would be softened by the four bodies in the passenger section. The cabin was not heated. There were no windows. A thin aluminum skin separated him from a two-hundred-knot wind that shrieked in time with the twin turbine engines. Worst of all, they were flying through a storm at five thousand feet, and the COD was jerking up and down in hundred-foot gulps like a berserk roller coaster. The only good thing was the lack of lighting, Ryan thought - at least nobody can see how green my face is. Right behind him were two pilots, talking away loudly so they could be heard over the engine noise. The bastards were enjoying themselves!

  The noise lessened somewhat, or so it seemed. It was hard to tell. He'd been issued foam-rubber ear protectors along with a yellow, inflatable life preserver and a lecture on what to do in the event of a crash. The lecture had been perfunctory enough that it took no great intellect to estimate their chances of survival if they did crash on a night like this. Ryan hated flying. He had once been a marine second lieutenant, and his active career had ended after only three months when his platoon's helicopter had crashed on Crete during a NATO exercise. He had injured his back, nearly been crippled for life, and ever since regarded flying as something to be avoided. The COD, he thought, was bouncing more down than up. It probably meant they were close to the Kennedy. The alternative did not bear thinking about. They were only ninety minutes out of Oceana Naval Air Station at Virginia Beach. It felt like a month, and Ryan swore to himself that he'd never be afraid on a civilian airliner again.

  The nose dropped about twenty degrees, and the aircraft seemed to be flying right at something. They were landing, the most dangerous part of carrier flight operations. He remembered a study conducted during the Vietnam War in which carrier pilots had been fitted with portable electrocardiographs to monitor stress, and it had surprised a lot of people that the most stressful time for carrier pilots wasn't while they were being shot at - it was while they were landing, particularly at night.

  Christ, you're full of happy thoughts! Ryan told himself. He closed his eyes. One way or another, it would be over in a few seconds.

  The deck was slick with rain and heaving up and down, a black hole surrounded by perimeter lights. The carrier landing was a controlled crash. Massive landing gear struts and shock absorbers were needed to lessen the bone-crushing impact. The aircraft surged forward only to be jerked to a halt by the arresting wire. They were down. They were safe. Probably. After a moment's pause, the COD began moving forward again. Ryan heard some odd noises as the plane taxied and realized that they came from the wings folding up. The one danger he had not considered was flying on an aircraft whose wings were supposed to collapse. It was, he decided, just as well. The plane finally stopped moving, and the rear hatch opened.

  Ryan flipped off his seatbelts and stood rapidly, banging his head on the low ceiling. He didn't wait for Davenport. With his canvas bag clutched to his chest he darted out of the rear of the aircraft. He looked around, and was pointed to the Kennedy's island structure by a yellow-shirted deck crewman. The rain was falling heavily, and he felt rather than saw that the carrier was indeed moving on the fifteen-foot seas. He ran towards an open, lighted hatch fifty feet away. He had to wait for Davenport to catch up. The admiral didn't run. He walked with a precise thirty-inch step, dignified as a flag officer should be, and Ryan decided that he was probably annoyed that his semisecret arrival prohibited the usual ceremony of bosun's pipes and side boys. There was a marine standing inside the hatch, a corporal, resplendent in striped blue trousers, khaki shirt and tie, and snow-white pistol belt. He saluted, welcoming both aboard.

  “Corporal, I want to see Admiral Painter.”

  “The admiral's in flag quarters, sir. Do you require escort?”

  “No, son. I used to command this ship. Come along, Jack.” Ryan got to carry both bags.

  “Gawd, sir, you actually used to do this for a living?” Ryan asked.

  “Night carrier landings? Sure, I've done a couple of hundred. What's the big deal?” Davenport seemed surprised at Ryan's awe. Jack was sure it was an act.

  The inside of the Kennedy was much like the interior of the USS Guam, the helicopter assault ship Ryan had been assigned to during his brief military career. It was the usual navy maze of steel bulkheads and pipes, everything painted the same shade of cave-gray. The pipes had some colored bands and stenciled acronyms which probably meant something to the men who ran the ship. To Ryan they might as well have been neolithic cave paintings. Davenport led him through a corridor, around a corner, down a “ladder” made entirely of steel and so steep he almost lost his balance, down another passageway, and around another comer. By this time Ryan was thoroughly lost. They came to a door with a marine stationed in front. The sergeant saluted perfectly, and opened the door for them.

  Ryan followed Davenport in - and was amazed. Flag quarters on the USS Kennedy might have been transported as a block from a Beacon Hill mansion. To his right was a wall-sized mural large enough to dominate a big living room. A half-dozen oils, one of them a portrait of the ship's namesake, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, dotted the other walls, themselves covered with expensive-looking paneling. The deck was covered in thick crimson wool, and the furniture was pure civilian, French provincial, oak and brocade. One could almost imagine they were not aboard a ship at all, except that the ceiling - “overhead” - had the usual collection of pipes, all painted gray. It was a decidedly odd contrast to the rest of the room.

  “Hi ya, Charlie!” Rear Admiral Joshua Painter emerged from the next room, drying his hands with a towel. “How was it coming in?”

  “Little rocky,” Davenport allowed, shaking hands. “This is Jack Ryan.”

  Ryan had never met Painter but knew him by reputation. A Phantom pilot during the Vietnam War, he had written a book, Paddystrikes, on the conduct of the air campaigns. It had been a truthful book, not the sort of thing that wins friends. He was a small, feisty man who could not have weighed more than a hundred thirty pounds. He was also a gifted tactician and a man of puritanical integrity.

  “One of yours, Charlie?”

  “No, Admiral, I work for James Greer. I am not a naval officer. Please accept my apologies. I don't like pretending to be what I'm not. The uniform was the CIA's idea.” This drew a frown.

  “Oh? Well, I suppose that means you're going to tell me what Ivan's up to. Good, I hope to hell somebody knows. First time on a carrier? How did you like the flight in?”

  “It might be a good way to interrogate prisoners of war,” Ryan said as offhandedly as he could. The two flag officers had a good laugh at his expense, and Painter called for some food to be sent in.

  The double doors to the passageway opened several minutes later and a pair of stewards - “mess management specialists” - came in, one bearing a tray of food, the other two pots of coffee. The three men were served in a style appropriate to their rank. The food, served on silver-trimmed plates, was simple but appetizing to Ryan, who hadn't eaten in twelve hours. He dished cole slaw and potato salad onto his plate and selected a pair of corned-beef-on-ryes.

  “Thank you. That's all for now,” Painter said. The stewards came to attention before leaving. “Okay, let's get down to business.”

  Ryan gulped down half a sandwich. “Admiral, this information is only twenty hours old.” He took the briefing folders from his bag and handed them around. His delivery took twenty minutes, during which he managed to consume the two sandwiches and a goodly portion of his cole slaw and spill coffee on his hand-written notes. The two flag officers were a perfect audience, not interrupting once, only darting a few disbelieving looks at him.

  “God Almighty,” Painter said when Ryan finished. Davenport just stared poker-faced as he contemplated the possibility of examining a Soviet missile sub from the inside. Jack decided he'd be a formidable opponent over cards. Painter went on, “Do you really believe this?”

  “Yes, sir, I do.” Ryan poured himself another cup of coffee. He would have preferred a beer to go with his corned beef. It hadn't been bad at all, and good kosher corned beef was something he'd been unable to find in London.

  Painter leaned back and looked at Davenport. “Charlie, you tell Greer to teach this lad a few lessons - like how a bureaucrat ain't supposed to stick his neck this far out on the block. Don't you think this is a little far-fetched?”

  “Josh, Ryan here's the guy who did the report last June on Soviet missile-sub patrol patterns.”

  “Oh? That was a nice piece of work. It confirmed something I've been saying for two or three years.” Painter rose and walked to the corner to look out at the stormy sea. “So, what are we supposed to do about all this?”

  “The exact details of the operation have not been determined. What I expect is that you will be directed to locate Red October and attempt to establish communications with her skipper. After that? We'll have to figure a way to get her to a safe place. You see, the president doesn't think we'll be able to hold onto her once we get her - if we get her.”

  “What?” Painter spun around and spoke a tenth of a second before Davenport did. Ryan explained for several minutes.

  “Dear God above! You give me one impossible task, then you tell me that if we succeed in it, we gotta give the goddamned thing back to them!”

  “Admiral, my recommendation - the president asked me for one - was that we keep the submarine. For what it's worth, the Joint Chiefs are on your side, too, along with the CIA. As it is, though, if the crewmen want to go back home, we have to send them back, and then the Soviets will know we have the boat for sure. As a practical matter, I can see the other side's point. The vessel is worth a pile of money, and it is their property. And how would we hide a 30,000-ton submarine?”

  “You hide a submarine by sinking it,” Painter said angrily. “They're designed to do that, you know. ”Their property!' We're not talking about a damned passenger liner. That's something designed to kill people - our people!“

  “Admiral, I am on your side,” Ryan said quietly. “Sir, you said we've given you an impossible task, Why?”

  “Ryan, finding a boomer that does not want to be found is not the easiest thing in the world. We practice against our own. We damned near always fail, and you say this one's already passed all the northeast SOSUS lines. The Atlantic's a rather large ocean, and a missile sub's noise footprint is very small.”

  “Yes, sir.” Ryan noted to himself that he might have been overly optimistic about their chances for success.

  “What sort of shape are you in, Josh?” Davenport asked.

  “Pretty good, really. The exercise we just ran, NIFTY DOLPHIN, worked out all right. Our part of it,” Painter corrected himself. “Dallas raised some hell on the other side. My ASW crews are functioning very well. What sort of help are we getting?”

  “When I left the Pentagon, the CNO was checking the availability of P-3s out on the Pacific, so you'll probably be seeing more of those. Everything that'll move is putting to sea. You're the only carrier, so you've got overall tactical command, right? Come on, Josh, you're our best ASW operator.”

  Painter poured some coffee for himself. “Okay, we have one carrier deck. America and Nimitz are still a good week away. Ryan, you said you're flying out to Invincible. We get her, too, right?”

  “The president was working on that. Want her?”

  “Sure. Admiral White has a good nose for ASW, and his boys really lucked out during DOLPHIN. They killed two of our attack boats, and Vince Gallery was some kind of pissed about that. Luck's a big part of this game. That would give us two decks instead of one. I wonder if we can get some more S-3s?” Painter referred to the Lockheed Vikings, carrier-borne antisubmarine aircraft.

  “Why?” Davenport asked.

  “I can transfer my F-18s to shore, and that'll give us room for twenty more Vikings. I don't like losing the striking power, but what we're going to need is more ASW muscle. That means more S-3s. Jack, you know that if you're wrong, that Russkie surface force is going to be a handful to deal with. You know how many surface-to-surface missiles they're packing?”

  “No, sir.” Ryan was certain it was too many.

  “We're one carrier, and that makes us their primary target. If they start shooting at us, it'll get awful lonesome - then it'll get awful exciting.” The phone rang. “Painter here…… Yes. Thank you. Well, Invincible just turned around. Good, they're giving her to us along with two tin cans. The rest of the escorts and the three attack subs are still heading home.” He frowned. “I can't really fault them for that. That means we have to give them some escorts, but it's a good trade. I want that flight deck.”

  “Can we chopper Jack out to her?” Ryan wondered if Davenport knew what the president had ordered him to do. The admiral seemed interested in getting him off the Kennedy.

  Painter shook his head. 'Too far for a chopper. Maybe they can send a Harrier back for him.“

  “The Harrier's a fighter, sir,” Ryan commented.

  “They have an experimental two-seat version set up for ASW patrolling. It's supposed to work reasonably well outside their helo perimeter. That's how they bagged one of our attack boats, caught her napping.” Painter finished off the last of his coffee.

  “Okay, gentlemen, let's get ourselves down to ASW control and try and figure a way to run this circus act. CINCLANT will want to hear what I have in mind. I suppose I'd better decide for myself. We'll also call Invincible and have them send a bird back to ferry you out, Ryan.”

  Ryan followed the two admirals out of the room. He spent two hours watching Painter move ships around the ocean like a chess master with his pieces.

  The USS Dallas

  Bart Mancuso had been on duty in the attack center for more than twenty hours. Only a few hours of sleep separated this stretch from the previous one. He had been eating sandwiches and drinking coffee, and two cups of soup had been thrown in by his cooks for variety's sake. He examined his latest cup of freeze-dried without affection.

  “Cap'n?” He turned. It was Roger Thompson, his sonar officer.

  “Yes, what is it?” Mancuso pulled himself away from the tactical display that had occupied his attention for several days. Thompson was standing at the rear of the compartment. Jones was standing beside him holding a clipboard and what looked like a tape machine. “

  “Sir, Jonesy has something I think you ought to look at.”

  Mancuso didn't want to be bothered - extended time on duty always taxed his patience. But Jones looked eager and excited. “Okay, come on over to the chart table.”

  The Dallas' chart table was a new gadget wired into the BC-10 and projected onto a TV-type glass screen four feet square. The display moved as the Dallas moved. This made paper charts obsolete, though they were kept anyway. Charts can't break.

  “Thanks, Skipper,” Jones said, more humbly than usual. “I know you're kinda busy, but I think I got something here. That anomalous contact we had the other day's been bothering me. I had to leave it after the ruckus the other Russkie subs kicked up, but I was able to come back to it three times to make sure it was still there. The fourth time it was gone, faded out. I want to show you what I worked up. Can you punch up our course track for back then on this baby, sir?”

  The chart table was interfaced through the BC-10 into the ship's inertial navigation system, SINS. Mancuso punched the command in himself. It was getting so that they couldn't flush the head without a computer command…… The Dallas' course track showed up as a convoluted red line, with tick marks displayed at fifteen-minute intervals.

  “Great!” Jones commented. “I've never seen it do that before. That's all right. Okay.” Jones pulled a handful of pencils from his back pocket. “Now, I got the contact first at 0915 or so, and the bearing was about two-six-nine.” He set a pencil down, eraser at Dallas' position, point directed west towards the target. “Then at 0930 it was bearing a two-six-zero. At 0948, it was two-five-zero. There's some error built into these, Cap'n. It was a tough signal to lock in on, but the errors should average out. Right about then we got all this other activity, and I had to go after them, but I came back to it about 1000, and the bearing was two-four-two.” Jones set down another pencil on the due-east line traced when the Dallas had moved away from the Icelandic coast. “At 1015 it was two-three-four, and at 1030 it was two-two-seven. These last two are shaky, sir. The signal was real faint, and I didn't have a very good lock on it.” Jones looked up. He appeared nervous.

  “So far, so good. Relax, Jonesy. Light up if you want.”

  “Thanks, Cap'n.” Jones fished out a cigarette and lit it with a butane lighter. He had never approached the captain quite this way. He knew Mancuso to be a tolerant, easygoing commander - if you had something to say. He was not a man who liked his time wasted, and it was sure as hell he wouldn't want it wasted now. “Okay, sir, we gotta figure he couldn't be too far away from us, right? I mean, he had to be between us and Iceland. So let's say he was about halfway between. That gives him a course about like this.” Jones set down some more pencils.

  “Hold it, Jonesy. Where does the course come from?”

  “Oh, yeah.” Jones flipped open his clipboard. “Yesterday morning, night, whatever it was, after I got off watch, it started bothering me, so I used the move we made offshore as a baseline to do a little course track for him. I know how, Skipper. I read the manual. It's easy, just like we used to do at Cal Tech to chart star motion. I took an astronomy course in my freshman year.”

  Mancuso stifled a groan. It was the first time he had ever heard this called easy, but on looking at Jones' figures and diagrams, it appeared that he had done it right. “Go on.”

  Jones pulled a Hewlitt Packard scientific calculator from his pocket and what looked like a National Geographic map liberally coated with pencil marks and scribblings. “You want to check my figures, sir?”

  “We will, but I'll trust you for now. What's the map?”

  “Skipper, I know it's against the rules an' all, but I keep this as a personal record of the tracks the bad guys use. It doesn't leave the boat, sir, honest. I may be a little off, but all this translates to a course of about two-two-zero and a speed of ten knots. And that aims him right at the entrance of Route One. Okay?”

  “Go on.” Mancuso had already figured that one. Jonesy was on to something.

  “Well, I couldn't sleep after that, so I skipped back to sonar and pulled the tape on the contact. I had to run it through the computer a few times to filter out all the crap - sea sounds, the other subs, you know - then I rerecorded it at ten times normal speed.” He set his cassette recorder on the chart table. “Listen to this, Skipper.”

  The tape was scratchy, but every few seconds there was a thrum. Two minutes of listening seemed to indicate a regular interval of about five seconds. By this time Lieutenant Mannion was looking over Thompson's shoulder, listening, and nodding speculatively.

  “Skipper, that's gotta be a man-made sound. It's just too regular for anything else. At normal speed it didn't make much sense, but once I speeded it up, I had the sucker.”

  “Okay, Jonesy, finish it,” Mancuso said.

  “Captain, what you just heard was the acoustical signature of a Russian submarine. He was heading for Route One, taking the inshore track off the Icelandic coast. You can bet money on that, Skipper.”

  “Roger?”

  “He sold me, Captain,” Thompson replied.

  Mancuso took another look at the course track, trying to figure an alternative. There wasn't any. “Me, too. Roger, Jonesy makes sonarman first class today. I want to see the paper work done by the turn of the next watch, along with a nice letter of commendation for my signature. Ron,” he poked the sonarman in the shoulder, “that's all right. Damned well done!”

  “Thanks, Skipper.” Jones' smile stretched from ear to ear.

  “Pat, please call Lieutenant Butler to the attack center.”

  Mannion went to the phones to call the boat's chief engineer.

  “Any idea what it is, Jonesy?” Mancuso turned back.

  The sonarman shook his head. “It isn't screw sounds. I've never heard anything like it.” He ran the tape back and played it again.

  Two minutes later, Lieutenant Earl Butler came into the attack center. “You rang, Skipper?”

  “Listen to this, Earl.” Mancuso rewound the tape and played it a third time.

  Butler was a graduate of the University of Texas and every school the navy had for submarines and their engine systems. “What's that supposed to be?”

  “Jonesy says it's a Russian sub. I think he's right.”

  “Tell me about the tape,” Butler said to Jones.

  “Sir, it's speeded up ten times, and I washed it through the BC-10 five times. At normal speed it doesn't sound like much of anything.” With uncharacteristic modesty, Jones did not point out that it had sounded like something to him.

  “Some sort of harmonic? I mean, if it was a propeller, it'd have to be a hundred feet across, and we'd be hearing one blade at a time. The regular interval suggests some sort of harmonic.” Butler's face screwed up. “But a harmonic what?”

  “Whatever it was, it was headed right here.” Mancuso tapped Thor's Twins with his pencil.

  “That makes him a Russian, all right,” Butler agreed. “Then they're using something new. Again.”

  “Mr. Butler's right,” Jones said. “It does sound like a harmonic rumble. The other funny thing is, well, there was this background noise, kinda like water going through a pipe. I don't know, it didn't pick up on this. I guess the computer filtered it off. It was real faint to start with - anyway, that's outside my field.”

  “That's all right. You've done enough for one day. How do you feel?” Mancuso asked.

  “A little tired, Skipper. I've been working on this for a while.”

  “If we get close to this guy again, you think you can track him down?” Mancuso knew the answer.

  “You bet, Cap'n! Now that we know what to listen for, you bet I'll bag the sucker!”

  Mancuso looked at the chart table. “Okay, if he was heading for the Twins, and then ran the route at, say twenty-eight or thirty knots, and then settled down to his base course and speed of about ten or so…… that puts him about here now. Long ways off. Now, if we run at top speed…… forty-eight hours will put us here, and that'll put us in front of him. Pat?”

  “That's about right, sir,” Lieutenant Mannion concurred. “You're figuring he ran the route at full speed, then settled down - makes sense. He wouldn't need the quiet drive in that damned maze. It gives him a free shot for four or five hundred miles, so why not uncrank his engines? That's what I'd do.”

  “That's what we'll try and do, then. We'll radio in for permission to leave Toll Booth station and track this character down. Jonesy, running at max speed means you sonarmen will be out of work for a while. Set up the contact tape on the simulator and make sure the operators all know what this guy sounds like, but get some rest. All of you. I want you at a hundred percent when we try to reacquire this guy. Have yourself a shower. Make that a Hollywood shower - you've earned it - and rack out. When we do go after this character, it'll be a long, tough hunt.”

  “No sweat, Captain. We'll get him for you. Bet on it. You want to keep my tape, sir?”

  “Yeah.” Mancuso ejected the tape and looked up in surprise. “You sacrificed a Bach for this?”

  “Not a good one, sir. I have a Christopher Hogwood of this piece that's much better.”

  Mancuso pocketed the tape. “Dismissed, Jonesy. Nice work.”

  “A pleasure, Cap'n.” Jones left the attack center counting the extra money for jumping a rate.

  “Roger, make sure your people are well rested over the next two days. When we do go after this guy, it's going to be a bastard.”

  “Aye, Captain.”

  “Pat, get us up to periscope depth. We're going to call this one into Norfolk right now. Earl, I want you thinking about what's making that noise.”

  “Right, Captain.”

  While Mancuso drafted his message, Lieutenant Mannion brought the Dallas to periscope-antenna depth with an upward angle on the diving planes. It took five minutes to get from five hundred feet to just below the stormy surface. The submarine was subject to wave action, and while it was very gentle by surface ship standards, the crew noted her rocking. Mannion raised the periscope and ESM (electronic support measures) antenna, the latter used for the broad-band receiver designed to detect possible radar emissions. There was nothing in view - he could see about five miles - and the ESM instruments showed nothing except for aircraft sets, which were too far away to matter. Next Mannion raised two more masts. One was a reed-like UHF (ultrahigh frequency) receiving antenna. The other was new, a laser transmitter. This rotated and locked onto the carrier wave signal of the Atlantic SSIX, the communications satellite used exclusively by submarines. With the laser, they could send high-density transmissions without giving away the sub's position.

  “All ready, sir,” the duty radioman reported.

  “Transmit.”

  The radioman pressed a button. The signal, sent in a fraction of a second, was received by photovoltaic cells, read over to a UHF transmitter, and shot back down by a parabolic dish antenna towards Atlantic Fleet Communications headquarters. At Norfolk another radioman noted the reception and pressed a button that transmitted the same signal up to the satellite and back to the Dallas. It was a simple way to identify garbles.

  The Dallas operator compared the received signal with the one he'd just sent. “Good copy, sir.”

  Mancuso ordered Mannion to lower everything but the ESM and UHF antennae.

  Atlantic Fleet Communications

  In Norfolk the first line of the dispatch revealed the page and line of the one-time-pad cipher sequence, which was recorded on computer tape in the maximum security section of the communications complex. An officer typed the proper numbers into his computer terminal, and an instant later the machine generated a clear text. The officer checked it again for garbles. Satisfied there were none, he took the printout to the other side of the room where a yeoman was seated at a telex. The officer handed him the dispatch.

  The yeoman keyed up the proper addressee and transmitted the message by dedicated landline to COMSUBLANT Operations, half a mile away. The landline was fiber optic, located in a steel conduit under a paved street. It was checked three times a week for security purposes. Not even the secrets of nuclear weapons performance were as closely guarded as day-to-day tactical communications.

  COMSUBLANT Operations

  A bell went off in the operations room as the message came up on the “hot” printer. It bore a Z prefix, which indicated FLASH-priority status.

  Z090414ZDEC

  TOP SECRET THEO

  FM: USS DALLAS

  TO: COMSUBLANT

  INFO: CINCLANTFLT

  //NOOOOO//

  REDFLEET SUBOPS

  1. REPORT ANOMALOUS SONAR CONTACT ABOUT 0900Z 7DEC AND LOST AFTER INCREASE IN REDFLEET SUB ACTIVITY. CONTACT SUBSEQUENTLY EVALUATED AS REDFLEET SSN/SSBN TRANSITING ICELAND INSHORE TRACK TOWARDS ROUTE ONE. COURSE SOUTHWEST SPEED TEN DEPTH UNKNOWN.

  2. CONTACT EVIDENCED UNUSUAL REPEAT UNUSUAL ACOUSTICAL CHARACTERISTICS. SIGNATURE UNLIKE ANY KNOWN REDFLEET SUBMARINE.

  3. REQUEST PERMISSION TO LEAVE TOLL BOOTH TO PURSUE AND INVESTIGATE. BELIEVE A NEW DRIVE SYSTEM WITH UNUSUAL SOUND CHARACTERISTICS BEING USED THIS SUB. BELIEVE GOOD PROBABILITY CAN LOCATE AND IDENTIFY.

  A lieutenant junior grade took the dispatch to the office of Vice Admiral Vincent Gallery. COMSUBLANT had been on duty since the Soviet subs had started moving. He was in an evil mood.

  “A FLASH priority from Dallas, sir.”

  “Uh-huh.” Gallery took the yellow form and read it twice. “What do you suppose this means?”

  “No telling, sir. Looks like he heard something, took his time figuring it out, and wants another crack at it. He seems to think he's onto something unusual.”

  “Okay, what do I tell him? Come on, mister. You might be an admiral yourself someday and have to make decisions.” An unlikely prospect, Gallery thought.

  “Sir, Dallas is in an ideal position to shadow their surface force when it gets to Iceland. We need her where she is.”

  “Good textbook answer.” Gallery smiled up at the youngster, preparing to cut him off at the knees. “On the other hand, Dallas is commanded by a fairly competent man who wouldn't be bothering us unless he really thought he had something. He doesn't go into specifics, probably because it's too complicated for a tactical FLASH dispatch, and also because he thinks that we know his judgment is good enough to take his word on something. 'New drive system with unusual sound characteristics.' That may be a crock, but he's the man on the scene, and he wants an answer. We tell him yes.”

  “Aye aye, sir,” the lieutenant said, wondering if the skinny old bastard made decisions by flipping a coin when his back was turned.

  The Dallas

  Z090432ZDEC

  TOP SECRET

  FM: COMSUBLANT

  TO: USS DALLAS

  A. USS DALLAS Z090414ZDEC

  B. COMSUBLANT INST 2000.5

  OPAREA ASSIGNMENT //N04220//

  1. REQUEST REF A GRANTED.

  2. AREAS BRAVO ECHO GOLF REF B ASSIGNED FOR UNRESTRICTED OPS 090500Z TO 140001Z. REPORT AS NECESSARY. VADM GALLERY SENDS.

  “Hot damn!” Mancuso chuckled. That was one nice thing about Gallery. When you asked him a question, by God, you got an answer, yes or no, before you could rig your antenna in. Of course, he reflected, if it turned out that Jonesy was wrong and this was a wild-goose chase, he'd have some explaining to do. Gallery had handed more than one sub skipper his head in a bag and set him on the beach.

  Which was where he was headed regardless, Mancuso knew. Since his first year at Annapolis all he had ever wanted was command of his own attack boat. He had that now, and he knew that the rest of his career would be downhill. In the rest of the navy your first command was just that, a first command. You could move up the ladder and command a fleet at sea eventually, if you were lucky and had the right stuff. Not submariners, though. Whether he did well with the Dallas or poorly, he'd lose her soon enough. He had this one and only chance. And afterwards, what? The best he could hope for was command of a missile boat. He'd served on those before and was sure that commanding one, even a new Ohio, was about as exciting as watching paint dry. The boomer's job was to stay hidden. Mancuso wanted to be the hunter, that was the exciting end of the business. And after commanding a missile boat? He could get a “major surface command,” perhaps a nice oiler - it would be like switching mounts from Secretariat to Elsie the Cow. Or he could get a squadron command and sit in an office onboard a tender, pushing paper. At best in that position he'd go to sea once a month, his main purpose being to bother sub skippers who didn't want him there. Or he could get a desk job in the Pentagon - what fun! Mancuso understood why some of the astronauts had cracked up after coming back from the moon. He, too, had worked many years for this command, and in another year his boat would be gone. He'd have to give the Dallas to someone else. But he did have her now.

  “Pat, let's lower all masts and take her down to twelve hundred feet.”

  “Aye aye, sir. Lower the masts,” Mannion ordered. A petty officer pulled on the hydraulic control levers.

  “ESM and UHF masts lowered, sir,” the duty electrician reported.

  “Very well. Diving officer, make your depth twelve hundred feet.”

  “Twelve hundred feet, aye,” the diving officer responded. “Fifteen degrees down-angle on the planes.”

  “Fifteen degrees down, aye.”

  “Let's move her, Pat.”

  “Aye, Skipper. All ahead full.”

  “All ahead full, aye.” The helmsman reached up to turn the annunciator.

  Mancuso watched his crew at work. They did their jobs with mechanistic precision. But they were not machines. They were men. His.

  In the reactor spaces aft, Lieutenant Butler had his engine-men acknowledge the command and gave the necessary orders. The reactor coolant pumps went to fast speed. An increased amount of hot, pressurized water entered the exchanger, where its heat was transferred to the steam on the outside loop. When the coolant returned to the reactor it was cooler than it had been and therefore denser. Being denser, it trapped more neutrons in the reactor pile, increasing the ferocity of the fission reaction and giving off yet more power. Farther aft, saturated steam in the “outside” or non radioactive loop of the heat exchange system emerged through clusters of control valves to strike the blades of the high-pressure turbine. The Dallas' huge bronze screw began to turn more quickly, driving her forward and down.

  The engineers went about their duties calmly. The noise in the engine spaces rose noticeably as the systems began to put out more power, and the technicians kept track of this by continuously monitoring the banks of instruments under their hands. The routine was quiet and exact. There was no extraneous conversation, no distraction. Compared to a submarine's reactor spaces, a hospital operating room was a den of libertines.

  Forward, Mannion watched the depth gauge go below six hundred feet. The diving officer would wait until they got to nine hundred feet before starting to level off, the object being to zero the dive out exactly at the ordered depth. Commander Mancuso wanted the Dallas below the thermocline. This was the border between different temperatures. Water settled in isothermal layers of uniform stratification. The relatively flat boundary where warmer surface water met colder depth water was a semipermeable barrier which tended to reflect sound waves. Those waves that did manage to penetrate the thermocline were mostly trapped below it. Thus, though the Dallas was now running below the thermocline at over thirty knots and making as much noise as she was capable of, she would still be difficult to detect with surface sonar. She would also be largely blind, but then, there was not much down there to run into.

  Mancuso lifted the microphone for the PA system. “This is the captain speaking. We have just started a speed run that will last forty-eight hours. We are heading towards a point where we hope to locate a Russian sub that went past us two days ago. This Russkie is evidently using a new and rather quiet propulsion system that nobody's run across before. We're going to try and get ahead of him and track on him as he passes us again. This time we know what to listen for, and we'll get a nice clear picture of him. Okay, I want everyone on this boat to be well rested. When we get there, it'll be a long, tough hunt. I want everybody at a hundred percent. This one will probably be interesting.” He switched off the microphone. “What's the movie tonight?”

  The diving officer watched the depth gauge stop moving before answering. As chief of the boat, he was also manager of the Dallas' cable TV system, three video-cassette recorders in the mess room which led to televisions in the wardroom, and various other crew accommodations. “Skipper, you got a choice. Return of the Jedi or two football tapes: Oklahoma-Nebraska and Miami-Dallas. Both those games were played while we were on the exercise, sir. It'll be like watching them live.” He laughed. “Commercials and all. The cooks are already making the popcorn.”

  “Good. I want everybody nice and loose.” Why couldn't they ever get Navy tapes, Mancuso wondered. Of course, Army had creamed them this year……

  “Morning, Skipper.” Wally Chambers, the executive officer, came into the attack center. “What gives?”

  “Come on back to the wardroom, Wally. I want you to listen to something.” Mancuso took the cassette from his shirt pocket and led Chambers aft.

  The V. K. Konovalov

  Two hundred miles northeast of the Dallas, in the Norwegian Sea, the Konovalov was racing southwest at forty-one knots. Captain Tupolev sat alone in the wardroom rereading the dispatch he'd received two days before. His emotions alternated between rage and grief. The Schoolmaster had done that! He was dumbfounded.

  But what was there to do? Tupolev's orders were explicit, the more so since, as his zampolit had pointed out, he was a former pupil of the traitor Ramius. He, too, could find himself in a very bad position. If the slug succeeded.

  So, Marko had pulled a trick on everyone, not just the Konovalov. Tupolev had been slinking about the Barents Sea like a fool while Marko had been heading the other way. Laughing at everyone, Tupolev was sure. Such treachery, such a hellish threat against the Rodina. It was inconceivable - and all too conceivable. All the advantages Marko had. A four-room apartment, a dacha, his own Zhiguli. Tupolev did not yet have his own automobile. He had earned his way to a command, and now it was all threatened by - this! He'd be lucky to keep what he had.

  I have to kill a friend, he thought. Friend? Yes, he admitted to himself, Marko had been a good friend and a fine teacher. Where had he gone wrong?

  Natalia Bogdanova.

  Yes, that had to be it. A big stink, the way that had happened. How many times had he had dinner with them, how many times had Natalia laughed about her fine, strong, big sons? He shook his head. A fine woman killed by a damned incompetent fool of a surgeon. Nothing could be done about it, he was the son of a Central Committee member. It was an outrage the way things like that still happened, even after three generations of building socialism. But nothing was sufficient to justify this madness.

  Tupolev bent over the chart he'd brought back. He'd be on his station in five days, in less time if the engine plant held together and Marko wasn't in too much of a hurry - and he wouldn't be. Marko was a fox, not a bull. The other Alfas would get there ahead of his, Tupolev knew, but it didn't matter. He had to do this himself. He'd get ahead of Marko and wait. Marko would try to slink past, and the Konovalov would be there. And the Red October would die.

  The North Atlantic

  The British Sea Harrier FRS.4 appeared a minute early. It hovered briefly off the Kennedy's port beam as the pilot sized up his landing target, the wind, and sea conditions. Maintaining a steady thirty-knot forward speed to compensate for the carrier's forward speed, he side-slipped his fighter neatly to the right, then dropped it gently amidships, slightly forward of the Kennedy's island structure, exactly in the center of the flight deck. Instantly a gang of deck crewmen raced for the aircraft, three carrying heavy metal chocks, another a metal ladder which he set up by the cockpit, whose canopy was already coming open. A team of four snaked a fueling hose towards the aircraft, eager to demonstrate the speed with which the U.S. Navy services aircraft. The pilot was dressed in an orange coverall and yellow life jacket. He set his helmet on the back of the front seat and came down the ladder. He watched briefly to be sure his fighter was in capable hands before sprinting to the island. He met Ryan at the hatch.

  “You Ryan? I'm Tony Parker. Where's the loo?” Jack gave him the proper directions and the pilot darted off, leaving Ryan standing there in a flight suit, holding his bag and feeling stupid. A white plastic flight helmet dangled from his other hand as he watched the crewmen fueling the Harrier. He wondered if they knew what they were doing.

  Parker was back in three minutes. “Commander,” he said, “there's one thing they've never put in a fighter, and that's a bloody toilet. They fill you up with coffee and tea and send you off, and you've no place to go.”

  “I know the feeling. Anything else you have to do?”

  “No, sir. Your admiral chatted with me on the radio when I was flying in. Looks like your chaps have finished fueling my bird. Shall we be off?”

  “What do I do with this?” Ryan held up his bag, expecting to have to hold it in his lap. His briefing papers were inside the flight suit, tucked against his chest.

  “We put it in the boot, of course. Come along, sir.”

  Parker walked out to the fighter jauntily. The dawn was a feeble one. There was a solid overcast at one or two thousand feet. It wasn't raining, but looked as though it might. The sea, still rolling at about eight feet, was a gray, crinkled surface dotted with whitecaps. Ryan could feel the Kennedy moving, surprised that something so huge could be made to move at all. When they got to the Harrier, Parker took the duffle in one hand and reached for a recessed handle on the underside of the fighter. Twisting and pulling the lever, he revealed a cramped space about the size of a small refrigerator. Parker stuffed the bag into it, slamming the door shut behind it, making sure the locking lever was fully engaged. A deck crewman in a yellow shirt conferred with the pilot. Aft a helicopter was revving its engines, and a Tomcat fighter was taxiing towards a midships catapult. On top of this a thirty-knot wind was blowing. The carrier was a noisy place.

  Parker waved Ryan up the ladder. Jack, who liked ladders about as much as he liked flying, nearly fell into his seat. He struggled to get situated properly, while a deck crewman strapped him into the four-point restraint system. The man put the helmet on Ryan's head and pointed to the jack for its intercom system. Maybe American crews really did know something about Harriers. Next to the plug was a switch. Ryan flipped it.

  “Can you hear me, Parker?”

  “Yes, Commander. All settled in?”

  “I suppose.”

  “Right.” Parker's head swiveled to check the engine intakes. “Starting the engine.”

  The canopies stayed up. Three crewmen stood close by with large carbon dioxide extinguishers, presumably in case the engine exploded. A dozen others were standing by the island, watching the strange aircraft as the Pegasus engine screamed to life. Then the canopy came down.

  “Ready, Commander?”

  “If you are.”

  The Harrier was not a large fighter, but it was certainly the loudest. Ryan could feel the engine noise ripple through his body as Parker adjusted his thrust-vector controls. The aircraft wobbled, dipped at the nose, then rose shakily into the air.

  Ryan saw a man by the island point and gesture to them. The Harrier slid to port, moving away from the island as it gained in height.

  “That wasn't too bad,” Parker said. He adjusted the thrust controls, and the Hairier began true forward flight. There was little feeling of acceleration, but Ryan saw that the Kennedy was rapidly falling behind. A few seconds later they were beyond the inner ring of escorts.

  “Let's get on top of this muck,” Parker said. He pulled back on the stick and headed for the clouds. In seconds they were in them, and Ryan's field of view was reduced from five miles to five feet in an instant.

  Jack looked around his cockpit, which had flight controls and instruments. Their airspeed showed one hundred fifty knots and rising, altitude four hundred feet. This Harrier had evidently been a trainer, but the instrument panel had been altered to include the read-out instruments for a sensor pod that could be attached to the belly. A poor man's way of doing things, but from what Admiral Painter said it had evidently worked well enough. He figured the TV-type screen was the FLIR readout, which monitored a forward-looking infrared heat sensor. The airspeed gauge now said three hundred knots, and the climb indicator showed a twenty-degree angle of attack. It felt like more than that.

  “Should be hitting the top of this soon,” Parker said. “Now!”

  The altimeter showed twenty-six thousand feet when Ryan was blasted by pure sunlight. One thing about flying that he never got used to was that no matter how awful the weather was on the ground, if you flew nigh enough you could always find the sun. The light was intense, but the sky's color was noticeably deeper than the soft blue seen from the ground. The ride became airliner smooth as they escaped the lower turbulence. Ryan fumbled with his visor to shield his eyes.

  “That better, sir?”

  “Fine, Lieutenant. It's better than I expected.”

  “What do you mean, sir?” Parker inquired.

  “I guess it beats flying on a commercial bird. You can see more. That helps.”

  “Sorry we don't have any extra fuel, or I'd show you some aerobatics. The Harrier will do almost anything you ask of her.”

  “That's all right.”

  “And your admiral,” Parker went on conversationally, “said that you don't fancy flying.”

  Ryan's hands grabbed the armrests as the Harrier went through three complete revolutions before snapping back to level flight. He surprised himself by laughing. “Ah, the British sense of humor.”

  “Orders from your admiral, sir,” Parker semi-apologized. “We wouldn't want you to think the Harrier's another bloody bus.”

  Which admiral, Ryan wondered, Painter or Davenport? Probably both. The top of the clouds was like a rolling field of cotton. He'd never appreciated that before, looking through a foot-square window on an airliner. In the back seat he almost felt as if he were sitting outside.

  “May I ask a question, sir?”

  “Sure.”

  “What's the flap?”

  “What do you mean?”

  “I mean, sir, that they turned my ship around. Then I get orders to ferry a VIP from Kennedy to Invincible.”

  “Oh, okay. Can't say, Parker. I'm delivering some messages to your boss. I'm just the mailman,” Ryan lied. Roll that one three times.

  “Excuse me, Commander, but you see, my wife is expecting a child, our first, soon after Christmas. I hope to be there, sir.”

  “Where do you live?”

  “Chatham, that's - ”

  “I know. I live in England myself at the moment. Our place is in Marlow, upriver from London. My second kid got started over there.”

  “Born there?”

  “Started there. My wife says it's those strange hotel beds, do it to her every time. If I were a betting man, I'd give you good odds, Parker. First babies are always late anyway.”

  “You say you live in Marlow?”

  “That's right, we built a house there earlier this year.”

  “Jack Ryan - John Ryan? The same chap who - ”

  “Correct. You don't have to tell anybody that, Lieutenant.”

  “Understood, sir. I didn't know you were a naval officer.”

  “That's why you don't have to tell anyone.”

  “Yes, sir. Sorry for the stunt earlier.”

  “That's all right. Admirals must have their little laughs. I un

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