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2006-07-07 19:26

  “Right,” Jones nodded. “Vic-six, bearing still zero-five-zero.” He plugged the mouthpiece into his headphones. “Conn, sonar, we have a contact. A Victor class, bearing zero-five-zero, estimated target speed thirty knots.”

  Mancuso leaned out into the passageway to address Lieutenant Pat Mannion, officer of the deck. “Pat, man the fire-control tracking party.”

  “Aye, Cap'n.”

  “Wait a minute!” Jones' hand went up. “Got another one!” He twiddled some knobs. “This one's a Charlie class. Damned if he ain't digging holes, too. More easterly, bearing zero-seven-three, doing turns for about twenty-eight knots. We know this guy, too. Yeah, Charlie II, number eleven.” Jones slipped a phone off one ear and looked at Mancuso. “Skipper, the Russkies have sub races scheduled for today?”

  “Not that they told me about. Of course, we don't get the sports page out here,” Mancuso chuckled, swirling the coffee around in his cup and hiding his real thoughts. What the hell was going on? “I suppose I'll go forward and take a look at this. Good work, guys.”

  He went a few steps forward into the attack center. The normal steaming watch was set. Mannion had the conn, with a junior officer of the deck and seven enlisted men. A first-class firecontrolman was entering data from the target motion analyzer into the Mark 117 fire control computer. Another officer was entering control to take charge of the tracking exercise. There was nothing unusual about this. The whole watch went about its work alertly but with the relaxed demeanor that came with years of training and experience. While the other armed services routinely had their components run exercises against allies or themselves in emulation of Eastern Bloc tactics, the navy had its attack submarines play their games against the real thing - and constantly. Submariners typically operated on what was effectively an at-war footing.

  “So we have company,” Mannion observed.

  “Not that close,” Lieutenant Charles Goodman noted. “These bearings haven't changed a whisker.”

  “Conn, sonar.” It was Jones' voice. Mancuso took it.

  “Conn, aye. What is it, Jonesy?”

  “We got another one, sir. Alfa 3, bearing zero-five-five. Running flat out. Sounds like an earthquake, but faint, sir.”

  “Alfa 3? Our old friend, the Politovskiy. Haven't run across her in a while. Anything else you can tell me?”

  “A guess, sir. The sound on this one warbled, then settled down, like she was making a turn. I think she's heading this way - that's a little shaky. And we have some more noise to the northeast. Too confused to make any sense of just now. We're working on it.”

  “Okay, nice work, Jonesy. Keep at it.”

  “Sure thing, Captain.”

  Mancuso smiled as he set the phone down, looking over at Mannion. “You know, Pat, sometimes I wonder if Jonesy isn't part witch.”

  Mannion looked at the paper tracks that Goodman was drawing to back up the computerized targeting process. “He's pretty good. Problem is, he thinks we work for him.”

  “Right now we are working for him.” Jones was their eyes and ears, and Mancuso was damned glad to have him.

  “Chuck?” Mancuso asked Lieutenant Goodman.

  “Bearing still constant on all three contacts, sir.” Which probably meant they were heading for the Dallas. It also meant that they could not develop the range data necessary for a fire control solution. Not that anyone wanted to shoot, but this was the point of the exercise.

  “Pat, let's get some sea room. Move us about ten miles east,” Mancuso ordered casually. There were two reasons for this. First, it would establish a base line from which to compute probable target range. Second, the deeper water would make for better acoustical conditions, opening up to them the distant sonar convergence zone. The captain studied the chart as his navigator gave the necessary orders, evaluating the tactical situation.

  Bartolomeo Mancuso was the son of a barber who closed his shop in Cicero, Illinois, every fall to hunt deer on Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Bart had accompanied his father on these hunts, shot his first deer at the age of twelve and every year thereafter until entering the Naval Academy. He had never bothered after that. Since becoming an officer on nuclear submarines he had learned a much more diverting game. Now he hunted people.

  Two hours later an alarm bell went off on the ELF radio in the sub's communications room. Like all nuclear submarines, the Dallas was trailing a lengthy wire antenna attuned to the extremely low-frequency transmitter in the central United States. The channel had a frustratingly narrow data band width. Unlike a TV channel, which transmitted thousands of bits of data per frame, thirty frames per second, the ELF radio passed on data slowly, about one character every thirty seconds. The duty radioman waited patiently while the information was recorded on tape. When the message was finished, he ran the tape at high speed and transcribed the message, handing it to the communications officer who was waiting with his code book.

  The signal was actually not a code but a “one-time-pad” cipher. A book, published every six months and distributed to every nuclear submarine, was filled with randomly generated transpositions for each letter of the signal. Each scrambled three-letter group in this book corresponded to a preselected word or phrase in another book. Deciphering the message by hand took under three minutes, and when that was completed it was carried to the captain in the attack center.

  NHG         JPR         YTR

  FROM COMSUBLANT TO LANTSUBS AT SEA  STANDBY

  OPY   TBD       QEQ        GER

  POSSIBLE MAJOR REDEPLOYMENT ORDER LARGE-SCALE

  MAL         ASF         NME

  UNEXPECTED  REDFLEET OPERATION  IN PROGRESS

  TYQ           ORV

  NATURE UNKNOWN   NEXT ELF MESSAGE

  HWZ

  COMMUNICATE SSIX

  COMSUBLANT - commander of the Submarine Force in the Atlantic - was Mancuso's big boss, Vice Admiral Vincent Gallery. The old man was evidently contemplating a reshuffling of his entire force, no minor affair. The next wake-up signal, AAA - encrypted, of course - would alert them to go to periscope-antenna depth to get more detailed instructions from SSIX, the submarine satellite information exchange, a geosynchronous communications satellite used exclusively by submarines.

  The tactical situation was becoming clearer, though its strategic implications were beyond his ability to judge. The ten-mile move eastward had given them adequate range information for their initial three contacts and another Alfa which had turned up a few minutes later. The first of the contacts, Vic 6, was now within torpedo range. A Mark 48 was locked in on her, and there was no way that her skipper could know the Dallas was here. Vic 6 was a deer in his sights - but it wasn't hunting season.

  Though not much faster than the Victors and Charlies, and ten knots slower than the smaller Alfas, the Dallas and her sisters could move almost silently at nearly twenty knots. This was a triumph of engineering and design, the product of decades of work. But moving without being detected was useful only if the hunter could at the same time detect his quarry. Sonars lost effectiveness as their carrier platform increased speed.

  The Dallas' BQQ-5 retained twenty percent effectiveness at twenty knots, nothing to cheer about. Submarines running at high speed from one point to another were blind and unable to harm anyone. As a result, the operating pattern of an attack submarine was much like that of a combat infantryman. With a rifleman it was called dash-and-cover; with a sub, sprint-and-drift. After detecting a target, a sub would race to a more advantageous position, stop to reacquire her prey, then dash again until a firing position had been achieved. The sub's quarry would be moving too, and if the submarine could gain position in front of it, she had then only to lie in wait like a great hunting cat to strike.

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