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猎杀“红十月”号(chapter 16)

2006-07-07 19:23



  The East Coast

  The USS Pigeon arrived at her dock in Charleston at four in the morning. The Soviet crewmen, quartered in the crew's mess, had become a handful for everyone. As much as the Russian officers had worked to limit contact between their charges and their American rescuers, this had never really been possible. To state it simply, they had been unable to block the call of nature.

  The Pigeon had stuffed her visitors with good navy chow, and the nearest head was a few yards aft. On the way to and from the facilities, the Red October's crewmen met with American sailors, some of whom were Russian-speaking officers disguised as enlisted men, others of whom were Russian language specialists in the enlisted rates flown out just as the last load of Soviets had arrived aboard. The fact that they were aboard a putatively hostile vessel and had found friendly Russian-speaking men had been overpowering for many of the young conscripts.

  Their remarks had been recorded on hidden tape machines for later examination in Washington. Petrov and the three junior officers had been slow to catch on, but when they did they took to escorting the men to the toilet in relays, like protective parents. What they were not able to prevent was an intelligence officer in a bosun's uniform making an offer of asylum: anyone who wished to remain in the United States would be permitted to do so. It took ten minutes for the information to spread throughout the crew.

  When it came time for the American crewmen to eat, the Russian officers could hardly prohibit contact, and it turned out that the officers themselves got very little to eat, so busy were they patrolling the mess tables. To the bemused surprise of their American counterparts, they were forced to decline repeated invitations to the Pigeon's wardroom.

  The Pigeon docked carefully. There was no hurry. As the gangway was set in place, the band on the dock played a selection of Soviet and American airs to mark the cooperative nature of the rescue mission. The Soviets had expected that their arrival would be a quiet one given the time of day. They were mistaken in this.

  When the first Soviet officer was halfway down the gangway, he was dazzled by fifty high-intensity television lights and the shouted questions of television reporters routed out of bed to meet the rescue ship and so have a bright piece of Christmas season news for the morning network broadcasts. The Russians had never encountered anything like Western newsmen before, and the resulting cultural collision was total chaos. Reporters singled out the officers, blocking their paths to the consternation of marines trying to keep control of things.

  To a man the officers pretended not to know a word of English, only to find that an enterprising reporter had brought along a Russian language professor from the University of South Carolina in Columbia. Petrov found himself stumbling through politically acceptable platitudes in front of a half-dozen cameras and wishing the entire affair were the bad dream it seemed to be.

  It took an hour to get every Russian sailor aboard the three buses chartered for the purpose and off to the airport. Along the way cars and vans filled with news crews raced alongside the buses, continuing to annoy the Russians with camera lights and further shouted questions that no one could understand. The scene at the airport was not much different. The air force had sent down a VC-135 transport, but before the Russians could board it they again had to jostle their way through a sea of reporters. Ivanov found himself confronted with a Slavic language expert whose Russian was marred by a horrendous accent. Boarding took another half hour.

  A dozen air force officers got everyone seated and passed out cigarettes and liquor miniatures. By the time the VIP transport reached twenty thousand feet, it was a very happy flight. An officer spoke to them over the intercom system, explaining what was to happen. Medical checks would be made of everyone. The Soviet Union would be sending a plane for them the next day, but everyone hoped their stay might be extended a day or two so that they might experience American hospitality in full.

  The flight crew outdid itself, telling their passengers the history of every landmark, town, village, interstate highway, and truck stop on the flight route, proclaiming through the interpreter the wish of all Americans for peaceful, friendly relations with the Soviet Union, expressing the professional admiration of the U.S. Air Force for the courage of the Soviet seamen, and mourning the deaths of the officers who had courageously lingered behind, allowing their men to go first. The whole affair was a masterpiece of duplicity aimed at overwhelming them, and it began to succeed.

  The aircraft flew low over the Washington suburbs while approaching Andrews Air Force Base. The interpreter explained that they were flying over middle-class homes that belonged to ordinary workers in government and local industry. Three more buses awaited them on the ground, and instead of driving on the beltway around Washington, D.C., the buses drove directly through town.

  American officers on each bus apologized for the traffic jams, telling the passengers that nearly every American family has one car, many two or more, and that people only use public transportation to avoid the nuisance of driving. The nuisance of driving one's own car, the Soviet seaman thought in amazement.

  Their political officers might later tell them that this was a total lie, but who could deny the thousands of cars on the road? Surely this could not all be a sham staged for the benefit of a few sailors on an hour's notice? Driving through southeast D.C. they noted that black people owned cars - scarcely had room to park them all! The bus continued down the Mall, with the interpreters voicing the hope that they would be allowed to see the many museums open to everyone.

  The Air and Space Museum, it was mentioned, had a moon rock brought back by the Apollo astronauts…… The Soviets saw the joggers in the Mall and the thousands of people casually strolling around. They jabbered among themselves as the buses turned north to Bethesda through the nicer sections of northwest Washington.

  At Bethesda they were met by television crews broadcasting live over all three networks and by friendly, smiling U.S. Navy doctors and corpsmen who led them into the hospital for medical checks.

  Ten embassy officials were there, wondering how to control the group but politically unable to protest the attention given their men in the spirit of detente. Doctors had been brought in from Walter Reed and other government hospitals to give each man a quick and thorough medical examination, particularly to check for radiation poisoning.

  Along the way each man found himself alone with a U.S. Navy officer who asked politely if that individual might wish to stay in the United States, pointing out that each man making this decision would be required to make his intentions known in person to a representative of the Soviet embassy - but that if he wished to do so, he would be permitted to stay. To the fury of the embassy officials, four men made this decision, one recanting after a confrontation with the naval attaché。 The Americans had been careful to have each meeting videotaped so that later accusations of intimidation could be refuted at once.

  When the medical checks were completed - thankfully, radiation exposure levels had been slight - the men were again fed and bedded down.

  Washington, D.C.

  “Good morning, Mr. Ambassador,” the president said. Arbatov noted that again Dr. Pelt was standing at his master's side behind the large antique desk. He had not expected this meeting to be a pleasant one.

  “Mr. President, I am here to protest the attempted kidnapping of our seamen by the United States government.”

  “Mr. Ambassador,” the president responded sharply, “in the eyes of a former district attorney, kidnapping is a vile and loathsome crime, and the government of the United States of America will not be accused of such a thing - certainly not in this office! We have not, do not, and never will kidnap people. Is that clear to you, sir?”

  “Besides which, Alex,” Pelt said less forcefully, “the men to whom you refer would not be alive were it not for us. We lost two good men rescuing your servicemen. You might at least express some appreciation for our efforts to save your crew, and perhaps make a gesture of sympathy for the Americans who lost their lives in the process.”

  “My government notes the heroic effort of your two officers, and does wish to express its appreciation and that of the Soviet people for the rescue. Even so, gentlemen, deliberate efforts have been made to entice some of those men to betray their country.”

  “Mr. Ambassador, when your trawler rescued the crew of our patrol plane last year, officers of the Soviet armed forces offered money, women, and other enticements to our crewmen if they would give out information or agree to stay behind in Vladivostok, correct? Don't tell me that you have no knowledge of this. You know that's how the game is played. At the time we did not object to this, did we? No, we were sufficiently grateful that those six men were still alive, and now, of course, all of them are back at work.

  We remain grateful for your country's humanitarian concern for the lives of ordinary American citizens. In this case, each officer and enlisted man was told that he could stay if he wished to do so. No force of any kind was used. Each man wishing to remain here was required by us to meet with an official of your embassy so as to give you a fair chance to explain to him the error of his ways. Surely this is fair, Mr. Ambassador. We made no offers of money or women. We do not buy people, and we damned well do not - ever - kidnap people. Kidnappers are people I put in jail. I even managed to have one executed. Don't you ever accuse me of that again,“ the president concluded righteously.

  “My government insists that all of our men be returned to their homeland,” Arbatov persisted.

  “Mr. Ambassador, any person in the United States, regardless of his nationality or the manner of his arrival, is entitled to the full protection of our law. Our courts have ruled on this many times, and under our law no man or woman may be compelled to do something against his will without due process.

  The subject is closed. Now, I have a question for you. What was a ballistic missile submarine doing three hundred miles from the American coast?“

  “A missile submarine, Mr. President?”

  Pelt lifted a photograph from the president's desk and handed it to Arbatov. Taken from the tape recorder on the Sea Cliff, it showed the SS-N-20 sea-launched ballistic missile.

  “The name of the submarine is - was Red October,” Pelt said. “It exploded and sank three hundred miles from the coast of South Carolina. Alex, we have an agreement between our two countries that no such vessel will approach either country to within five hundred miles - eight hundred kilometers. We want to know what that submarine was doing there. Don't try to tell us that this missile is some kind of fabrication - even if we had wanted to do such a foolish thing, we wouldn't have had the time.

  That's one of your missiles, Mr. Ambassador, and the submarine carried nineteen more just like it.“ Pelt deliberately misstated the number. ”And the government of the United States asks the government of the Soviet Union how it came to be there, in violation of our agreement, while so many other of your ships are so close to our Atlantic coast.“

  “That must be the lost submarine,” Arbatov offered.

  “Mr. Ambassador,” the president said softly, “the submarine was not lost until Thursday, seven days after you told us about it. In short, Mr. Ambassador, your explanation of last Friday does not coincide with the facts we have physically established.”

  “What accusation are you making?” Arbatov bristled.

  “Why, none, Alex,” the president said. “If that agreement is no longer operative, then it is no longer operative. I believe we discussed that possibility last week also. The American people will know later today what the facts are. You are sufficiently familiar with our country to imagine their reaction. I will have an explanation. For the moment, I see no further reason for your fleet to be off our coast. The 'rescue' has been successfully concluded, and the further presence of the Soviet fleet can only be a provocation.

  I want you and your government to consider what my military commanders are telling me right now - or if you prefer, what your commanders would be telling General Secretary Narmonov if the situation were reversed. I will have an explanation. Without one I can reach one of only a few conclusions - and those are conclusions I would prefer not to choose from. Send that message to your government, and tell them that since some of your men have opted to stay here, we'll probably find out what was really happening in short order. Good day.“

  Arbatov left the office, turning left to leave by the west entrance. A marine guard held the door open, a polite gesture that stopped short of his eyes. The ambassador's driver, waiting outside in a Cadillac limousine, held the door open for him. The driver was chief of the KGB 's political intelligence section at that organization's Washington station.

  “So,” he said, checking traffic on Pennsylvania Avenue before making a left turn.

  “So, the meeting went exactly as I had predicted, and now we can be absolutely certain why they are kidnapping our men,” Arbatov replied.

  “And that is, Comrade Ambassador?” the driver prompted. He did not let his irritation show. Only a few years before this Party hack would not have dared temporize with a senior KGB officer. It was a disgrace, what had happened to the Committee for State Security since the death of Comrade Andropov. But things would be set right again. He was certain of that.

  “The president all but accused us of sending the submarine deliberately to their shore in violation of our secret 1979 protocol. They are holding our men to interrogate them, to take their heads apart so that they can learn what the submarine's orders were. How long will that take the CIA? A day? Two?” Arbatov shook his head angrily. “They may know already - a few drugs, a woman, perhaps, to loosen their tongues.

  The president also invited Moscow to imagine what the Pentagon hotheads are telling him to think! And telling him to do. No mystery there, is there? They will say we were rehearsing a surprise nuclear attack - perhaps even executing one! As if we were not working harder than they to achieve peaceful coexistence! Suspicious fools, they are fearful about what has happened, and even more angry.“

  “Can you blame them, Comrade?” the driver asked, taking all of this in, filing, analyzing, composing his independent report to Moscow Center.

  “And he said that there was no further reason for our fleet to be off their coast.”

  “How did he say this? Was it a demand?”

  “His words were soft. Softer than I expected. This concerns me. They are planning something, I think. Rattling a saber makes noise, drawing it does not. He demands an explanation for this entire affair. What do I tell him? What was happening?”

  “I suspect that we will never know.” The senior agent did know - the original story, that is, incredible as it was. That the navy and the GRU could allow such a fantastic error to take place had amazed him. The story from agent Cassius was scarcely less mad. The driver had passed it on to Moscow himself. Was it possible that the United States and the Soviet Union were both victims of a third party? An operation gone awry, and the Americans trying to find out who was responsible and how it was done so that they might try to do it themselves? That part of the story made sense, but did the rest? He frowned at the traffic.

  He had orders from Moscow Center: if this was a CIA operation, he was supposed to find out immediately. He didn't believe it was. If so the CIA was being unusually effective in covering it. Was it possible to cover such a complex operation? He didn't think so. Regardless, he and his colleagues would be working for several weeks to penetrate any cover there was, to find out what was being said in Langley and in the field, while other KGB sections did the same throughout the world.

  If the CIA had penetrated the Northern Fleet's high command he'd find out. Of that he was confident. He could almost wish they had done so. The GRU would be responsible for the disaster, and would be disgraced after profiting from the KGB's loss of prestige a few years back.

  If he was reading the situation correctly, the Politburo was turning the KGB loose on the GRU and the military, allowing Moscow Center to initiate its own independent investigation of the affair. Regardless of what was found, the KGB would come out ahead and deflate the armed services. One way or another, his organization would discover what had taken place, and if it was damaging to his rivals, so much the better……

  When the door closed behind the Soviet ambassador, Dr. Pelt opened a side door to the Oval Office. Judge Moore came in.

  “Mr. President, it's been a while since I've had to do things like hide in closets.”

  “You really expect this to work?” Pelt said.

  “Yes, I do now,” Moore settled comfortably into a leather chair.

  “Isn't this a little shaky, Judge?” Pelt asked. “I mean, running an operation this complex?”

  “That's the beauty of it, Doctor, we're not running anything. The Soviets will be doing that for us. Oh, sure, we'll have a lot of our people prowling around Eastern Europe asking a lot of questions. So will Sir Basil's fellows. The French and the Israelis already are, because we've asked them if they know what's happening with the stray missile sub. The KGB will find out quickly enough and wonder why the four main Western intelligence agencies are all asking the same questions - instead of pulling into their shells like they'd expect them to if this were our operation.

  “You have to appreciate the dilemma the Soviets face, a choice between two equally unattractive scenarios. On the one hand, they can choose to believe that one of their most trusted professional officers has committed high treason on an unprecedented scale. You've seen our file on Captain Ramius. He's the Communist version of an eagle scout, a genuine New Soviet Man.

  Add to that the fact that a defection conspiracy necessarily involves a number of equally trusted officers. The Soviets have a mind block against believing that individuals of this type will ever leave the Workers' Paradise.

  That seems paradoxical, I admit, given the strenuous efforts they expend to keep people from leaving their country, but it's true. Losing a ballet dancer or a KGB agent is one thing - losing the son of a Politburo member, an officer with nearly thirty years of unblemished service, is quite another. Moreover, a naval captain has a lot of privileges; you might call his defection the equivalent of a self-made millionaire leaving New York to live in Moscow. They simply will not believe it.

  “On the other hand, they can believe the story we planted through Henderson, which is also unattractive but is supported by a good deal of circumstantial evidence, especially our efforts to entice their crewmen to defect. You saw how furious they are about that. The way they think, this is a gross violation of the rules of civilized behavior. The president's forceful reaction to our discovery that this was a missile submarine is also evidence that favors Henderson's story.”

  “So what side will they come down on?” the president asked.

  “That, sir, is a question of psychology more than anything else, and Soviet psychology is very hard for us to read. Given the choice between the collective treason of ten men and an outside conspiracy, my opinion is that they will prefer the latter. For them to believe that this really was defection - well, it would force them to reexamine their own beliefs. Who likes to do that?” Moore gestured grandly. “The latter alternative means that their security has been violated by outsiders, but being a victim is more palatable than having to recognize the intrinsic contradictions of their own governing philosophy. On top of that we have the fact that the KGB will be running the investigation.”

  “Why?” Pelt asked, caught up in the judge's plot.

  “In either case, a defection or a penetration of naval operational security, the GRU would have been responsible. Security of the naval and military forces is their bailiwick, the more so with the damage done to the KGB after the departure of our friend Andropov. The Soviets can't have an organization investigating itself - not in their intelligence community! So, the KGB will be looking to take its rival service apart. From the KGB's perspective, outside instigation is the far more attractive alternative; it makes for a bigger operation. If they confirm Henderson's story and convince everyone that it's true - and they will, of course - it makes them look all that much better for having uncovered it.”

  “They will confirm the story?”

  “Of course they will! In the intelligence business if you look hard enough for something, you find it, whether it's really there or not. Lord, we owe this Ramius fellow more than he will ever know. An opportunity like this doesn't come along once in a generation. We simply can't lose.”

  “But the KGB will emerge stronger,” Pelt observed. “Is that a good thing?”

  Moore shrugged. “Bound to happen eventually. Unseating and possibly killing Andropov gave the military services too much prestige, just like with Beria back in the fifties. The Soviets depend on political control of their military as much as we do - more. Having the KGB take their high command apart gets the dirty work done for them. It had to happen anyway, so it's just as well that we can profit by it. There's only a few more things we have to do.”

  “Such as?” the president asked.

  “Our friend Henderson will leak information in a month or so saying that we had a submarine tracking Red October all the way from Iceland.”

  “But why?” Pelt objected. “Then they'll know that we were lying, that all the excitement over the missile sub was a lie.”

  “Not exactly, Doctor,” Moore said. “Having a missile sub this close to our coast remains a violation of the agreement, and from their point of view we have no way of knowing why she was there - until we interrogate the crewmen remaining behind, who will probably tell us little of value. The Soviets will expect that we have not been completely truthful with them on this affair. The fact that we were trailing their sub and were ready to destroy it at any time gives them the evidence of our duplicity that they'll be looking for. We'll also say that Dallas monitored the reactor incident on sonar, and that will explain the proximity of our rescue ship.

  They know, well, they certainly suspect, that we have concealed something. This will mislead them about what it was we really concealed. The Russians have a saying for this. They call it wolf meat. And they will launch an extensive operation to penetrate our operation, whatever it is. But they will find nothing. The only people in the CIA who know what is really going on are Greer, Ritter, and myself. Our operations people have orders to find out what was going on, and that's all that can leak out.“

  “What about Henderson, and how many of our people know about the submarine?” the president asked.

  “If Henderson spills anything to them he'll be signing his own death warrant. The KGB deals severely with double agents, and would not believe that we tricked him into delivering false information. He knows it, and we'll be keeping a close eye on him in any case. How many of our people know about the sub? A hundred perhaps, and the number will increase somewhat - but remember that they think we now have two dead Soviet subs off our coast, and they have every reason to believe that whatever Soviet sub equipment turns up in our labs has been recovered from the ocean floor.

  We will, of course, be reactivating the Glomar Explorer for just that purpose. They'd be suspicious if we didn't. Why disappoint them? Sooner or later they just might figure the whole story out, but by that time the stripped hulk will be at the bottom of the sea.“

  “So, we can't keep this a secret forever?” Pelt asked.

  “Forever's a long time. We have a plan for the possibility. For the immediate future the secret should be fairly safe, what with only a hundred people in on it. In a year, minimum, more likely two or three, they may have accumulated enough data to suspect what has happened, but by that time there won't be much physical evidence to point to. Moreover, if the KGB discovers the truth, will they want to report it?

  Were the GRU to find out, they certainly would, and the resulting chaos within their intelligence community would also work to our benefit.“ Moore took a cigar from a leather holder. ”As I said, Ramius has given us a fantastic opportunity on several levels. And the beauty of it is that we don't have to do much of anything. The Russians will be doing all the legwork, looking for something that isn't there.“

  “What about the defectors, Judge?” the president asked.

  “They, Mr. President, will be taken care of. We know how to do this, and we rarely have a complaint about the CIA's hospitality. We'll take some months to debrief them, and at the same time we'll be preparing them for life in America. They'll get new identities, reeducation, cosmetic surgery if necessary, and they'll never have to work another day as long as they live - but they will want to work. Almost all of them do. I expect the navy will find places for them, paid consultants for their submarine warfare department, that sort of thing.”

  “I want to meet them,” the president said impulsively.

  “That can be arranged, sir, but it will have to be discreet,” Moore cautioned.

  “Camp David, that ought to be secure enough. And Ryan, Judge, I want him taken care of.”

  “Understood, sir. We're bringing him along rather quickly already. He has a big future with us.”

  Tyuratam, USSR

  The reason Red October had been ordered to dive long before dawn was orbiting the earth at a height of eight hundred kilometers. The size of a Greyhound bus. Albatross 8 had been sent aloft eleven months earlier by a heavy-lift booster from the Cosmodrome at Tyuratam. The massive satellite, called a RORSAT, for radar ocean reconnaissance satellite, was specifically designed for maritime surveillance.

  Albatross 8 passed over Pamlico Sound at 1131 local time. Its on-board programming was designed to trace thermal receptors over the entire visible horizon, interrogating everything in sight and locking on any signature that fit its acquisition parameters. As it continued on its orbit and passed over elements of the U.S. fleet, the New Jersey's jammers were aimed upward to scramble its signal. The satellite's tape systems dutifully recorded this. The jamming would tell the operators something about American electronic warfare systems. As Albatross 8 crossed the pole, the parabolic dish on its front tracked in on the carrier signal of another bird, the Iskra communications satellite.

  When the reconnaissance satellite located its higher flying cousin, a laser side-link transmitted the contents of the Albatross' tape bank. The Iskra immediately relayed this to the ground station at Tyuratam. The signal was also received by a fifteen-meter dish located in western China which was operated by the U.S. National Security Agency in cooperation with the Chinese, who used the data received for their own purposes. The Americans transmitted it via their own communications satellite to NSA headquarters at Fort Meade, Maryland. At almost the same time the digital signal was examined by two teams of experts five thousand miles apart.

  “Clear weather,” a technician moaned. “Now we get clear weather!”

  “Enjoy it while you can, Comrade.” His neighbor at the next console was watching data from a geosynchronous weather satellite that monitored the Western Hemisphere. Knowing the weather over a hostile country can have great strategic value. “There's another cold front approaching their coast. Their winter has been like ours. I hope they are enjoying it.”

  “Our men at sea will not.” The technician mentally shuddered at the thought of being at sea in a major storm. He'd taken a Black Sea cruise the previous summer and become hopelessly seasick. “Aha! What is this? Colonel!”

  “Yes, Comrade?” The colonel supervising the watch came over quickly.

  “See here, Comrade Colonel.” The technician traced a finger on the TV screen. “This is Pamlico Sound, on the central coast of the United States. Look here, Comrade.” The thermal image of the water on the screen was black, but as the technician adjusted the display it changed to green with two white patches, one larger than the other. Twice the large one split into two segments. The image was of the surface of the water, and some of the water was half a degree warmer than it should have been. The differential was not constant, but it did return enough to prove that something was adding heat to the water.

  “Sunlight, perhaps?” the colonel asked.

  “No, Comrade, the clear sky gives even sunlight to the entire area,” the technician said quietly. He was always quiet when he thought he was on to something. “Two submarines, perhaps three, thirty meters under the water.”

  “You are certain?”

  The technician flipped on a switch to display the radar picture, which showed only the corduroy pattern of small waves.

  “There is nothing on the water to generate this heat, Comrade Colonel. Therefore it must be something under the water. The time of year is wrong for mating whales. It can only be nuclear submarines, probably two, perhaps three. I speculate, Colonel, that the Americans have been sufficiently frightened by the deployment of our fleet to seek shelter for their missile submarines. Their missile sub base is only a few hundred kilometers south. Perhaps one of their Ohio-class boats have taken shelter here and is being protected by a hunter sub, as ours are.”

  “Then he will soon move out. Our fleet is being recalled.”

  'Too bad, it would be good to track him. This is a rare opportunity, Comrade Colonel.“

  “Indeed. Well done, Comrade Academician.” Ten minutes later the data had been transmitted to Moscow.

  Soviet Naval High Command, Moscow

  “We will make use of this opportunity, Comrade,” Gorshkov said. “We are now recalling our fleet, and we will allow several submarines to remain behind to gather electronic intelligence. The Americans will probably lose several in the shuffle.” “Quite likely,” the chief of fleet operations said.

  “The Ohio will go south, probably to their submarine base at Charleston or Kings Bay. Or north to Norfolk. We have Konovalov at Norfolk, and Shabilikov off Charleston. Both will stay in place for several days, I think. We must do something right to show the politicians that we have a real navy. Being able to track on an Ohio would be a beginning.”

  “I'll have the orders out in fifteen minutes, Comrade.” The chief of operations thought this was a good idea. He had not liked the report of the Politburo meeting that he'd gotten from Gorshkov - though if Sergey were on his way out, he would be in a good place to take over the job……

  The New Jersey

  The RED ROCKET message had arrived in Baton's hand only moments before: Moscow had just transmitted a lengthy operational letter via satellite to the Soviet fleet. Now the Russians were in a real fix, the commodore thought. Around them were three carrier battle groups - the Kennedy, America, and Nimitz - all under Josh Painter's command. Eaton had them in sight, and had operational control of the Tarawa to augment his own surface action group. The commodore turned his binoculars on the Kirov.

  “Commander, bring the group to battle stations.”

  “Aye.” The group operations officer lifted the tactical radio mike. “Blue Boys, this is Blue King. Amber Light, Amber Light, execute. Out.”

  Eaton waited four seconds for the New Jersey's general quarters alarm to sound. The crew raced to their guns.

  “Range to Kirov?”

  “Thirty-seven thousand six hundred yards, sir. We've been sneaking in a laser range every few minutes. We're dialed in, sir,” the group operations officer reported. “Main battery turrets are still loaded with sabots, and gunnery's been updating the solution every thirty seconds.”

  A phone buzzed next to Baton's command chair on the flag bridge.


  “All stations manned and ready, Commodore,” the battleship's captain reported. Eaton looked at his stopwatch.

  “Well done, Captain. We've got the men drilled very well indeed.”

  In the New Jersey's combat information center the numerical displays showed the exact range to the Kirov's mainmast. The logical first target is always the enemy flagship. The only question was how much punishment the Kirov could absorb - and what would kill her first, the gun rounds or the Tomahawk missiles. The important part, the gunnery officer had been saying for days, was to kill the Kirov before any aircraft could interfere. The New Jersey had never sunk a ship all on her own. Forty years was a long time to wait.

  “They're turning,” the group operations officer said.

  “Yep, let's see how far.”

  The Kirov's formation had been on a westerly course when the signal arrived. Every ship in the circular array turned to starboard, all together. Their turns stopped when they reached a heading of zero-four-zero.

  Eaton set his glasses down in the holder. “They're going home. Let's inform Washington and keep the men at stations for a while.”

  Dulles International Airport

  The Soviets outdid themselves getting their men away from the United States. An Aeroflot Illyushin IL-62 was taken out of regular international service and sent directly from Moscow to Dulles. It landed at sunset. A near copy of the British VC-10, the four-engine aircraft taxied to the remotest service area for refueling. Along with some other passengers who did not deplane to stretch their legs, a spare flight crew was brought along so that the plane could immediately return home.

  A pair of mobile lounges drove from the terminal building two miles to the waiting aircraft. Inside them the crewmen of the Red October looked out at the snow-dusted countryside, knowing this was their final look at America. They were quiet, having been roused from bed in Bethesda and taken by bus to Dulles only an hour earlier. This time no reporters harassed them.

  The four officers, nine michmanyy, and the remaining enlisted crew were split into distinct groups as they boarded. Each group was taken to a separate part of the aircraft. Each officer and michman had his own KGB interrogator, and the debriefing began as the aircraft started its takeoff roll. By the time the Illyushin reached cruising altitude most of the crewmen were asking themselves why they had not opted to remain behind with their traitorous countrymen. These interviews were decidedly unpleasant.

  “Did Captain Ramius act strangely?” a KGB major asked Petrov.

  “Certainly not!” Petrov answered quickly, defensively. “Didn't you know our submarine was sabotaged? We were lucky to escape with our lives!”

  “Sabotaged? How?”

  “The reactor systems. I am the wrong one to ask on this, I am not an engineer, but it was I who detected the leaks. You see, the radiation film badges showed contamination, but the engine room instruments did not. Not only was the reactor tampered with, but all of the radiation-sensing instruments were disabled. I saw this myself. Chief Engineer Melekhin had to rebuild several to locate the leaking reactor piping. Svyadov can tell this better. He saw it himself.”

  The KGB officer was scribbling notes. “And what was your submarine doing so close to the American coast?”

  “What do you mean? Don't you know what our orders were?”

  “What were your orders, Comrade Doctor?” The KGB officer stared hard into Petrov's eyes.

  The doctor explained, concluding, “I saw the orders. They were posted for all to see, as is normal.”

  “Signed by whom?” .

  “Admiral Korov. Who else?”

  “Did you not find those orders a little strange?” the major asked angrily.

  “Do you question your orders, Comrade Major?” Petrov summoned up some spine. “I do not.”

  “What happened to your political officer?”

  In another space Ivanov was explaining how the Red October had been detected by American and British ships. “But Captain Ramius evaded them brilliantly! We would have made it except for that damned reactor accident. You must find who did that to us, Comrade Captain. I wish to see him die myself!”

  The KGB officer was unmoved. “And what was the last thing the captain said to you?”

  “He ordered me to keep control of my men, not to let them speak with Americans any more than necessary, and he said that the Americans would never get their hands on our ship.” Ivanov's eyes teared at the thought of his captain and his ship, both lost. He was a proud and privileged young Soviet man, the son of a Party academician. “Comrade, you and your people must find the bastards who did this to us.”

  “It was very clever,” Svyadov was recounting a few feet away. “Even Comrade Melekhin only found it on his third attempt, and he swore vengeance on the men who did it. I saw it myself,” the lieutenant said, forgetting that he never had, really. He explained in detail, to the point of drawing a diagram of how it had been done. “I don't know about the final accident.

  I was just coming on duty then. Melekhin, Surzpoi, and Bugayev worked for hours attempting to engage our auxiliary power systems.“ He shook his head. ”I tried to join them, but Captain Ramius forbade it. I tried again, against orders, but Comrade Petrov prevented me.“

  Two hours over the Atlantic the senior KGB interrogators met aft to compare notes.

  “So, if this captain was acting, he was devilishly good at it,” the colonel in charge of the initial interrogations summarized. “His orders to his men were impeccable. The mission orders were announced and posted as is normal - ”

  “But who among these men knows Korov's signature? And we can't very well ask Korov, can we?” a major said. The commander of the Northern Fleet had died of a cerebral hemorrhage two hours into his first interrogation in the Lubyanka, much to everyone's disappointment. “It could have been forged in any case. Do we have a secret submarine base in Cuba? And what of the death of the zampolit?”

  “The doctor is sure it was an accident,” another major answered. “The captain thought he had struck his head, but he had actually broken his neck. I feel they should have radioed for instructions, though.”

  “A radio silence order,” the colonel said. “I checked. This is entirely normal for missile submarines. Was this Captain Ramius skilled in unarmed combat? Might he have murdered the zampolit?”

  “A possibility,” mused the major who had questioned Petrov. “He was not trained in such things, but it is not hard to do.”

  The colonel did not know whether to agree. “Do we have any evidence that the crew thought a defection was being attempted?” All heads shook negatively. “Was the submarine's operational routine otherwise normal?”

  “Yes, Comrade Colonel,” a young captain said. “The surviving navigation officer, Ivanov, says that the evasion of imperialist surface and sub forces was effected perfectly - exactly in accordance with established procedures, but executed brilliantly by this Ramius fellow over a period of twelve hours. I have not even suggested that treason might be involved. Yet.” Everyone knew that these sailors would be spending time in the Lubyanka until each head had been picked clean.

  “Very well,” the colonel said, “up to this point we have no indication of treason by the officers of the submarine? I thought not. Comrades, you will continue your interrogations in a gentler fashion until we arrive in Moscow. Allow your charges to relax.”

  The atmosphere on the aircraft gradually became more pleasant. Snacks were served, and vodka to loosen the tongues and encourage comradely good fellowship with the KGB officers, who were drinking water. The men all knew that they would be imprisoned for some time, and this fate was accepted with what to a Westerner would be surprising fatalism.

  The KGB would be working for weeks to reconstruct every event on the submarine from the time the last line was cast off at Polyarnyy to the moment the last man entered the Mystic. Other teams of agents were already working worldwide to learn if what happened to the Red October was a CIA plot or the plot of some other intelligence service. The KGB would find its answer, but the colonel in charge of the case was beginning to think the answer did not lie with these seamen.

  The Red October

  Noyes allowed Ramius to walk the fifteen feet from sick bay to the wardroom under supervision. The patient did not look very good, but this was largely because he needed a wash and a shave, like everyone else aboard. Borodin and Mancuso assisted him into his seat at the head of the table.

  “So, Ryan, how are you today?”

  “Good, thank you, Captain Ramius.” Ryan smiled over his coffee. In fact he was hugely relieved, having for the past several hours been able to leave the question of running the sub to the men who actually knew something about it. Though he was counting the hours until he could get out of the Red October, for the first time in two weeks he was neither seasick nor terrified. “How is your leg, sir?”

  “Painful. I must learn not to be shot again. I do not remember saying to you that I owe you my life, as all of us do.”

  “It was my life, too,” Ryan replied, a little embarrassed.

  “Good morning, sir!” It was the cook. “May I fix you some breakfast, Captain Ramius?”

  “Yes, I am very hungry.”

  “Good! One U.S. Navy breakfast. Let me get some fresh coffee, too.” He disappeared into the passageway. Thirty seconds later he was back with fresh coffee and a place setting for Ramius. 'Ten minutes on the breakfast, sir.“

  Ramius poured a cup of coffee. There was a small envelope in the saucer. “What is this?”

  “Coffee Mate,” Mancuso chuckled. “Cream for your coffee, Captain.”

  Ramius tore open the packet, staring suspiciously inside before dumping the contents into the cup and stirring.

  “When do we leave?”

  “Sometime tomorrow,” Mancuso answered. The Dallas was going to periscope depth periodically to receive operational orders and relaying them to the October by gertrude. “We learned a few hours ago that the Soviet fleet is heading back northeast. We'll know for sure by sundown. Our guys are keeping a close eye on them.”

  “Where do we go?” Ramius asked.

  “Where did you tell them you were going?” Ryan wanted to know. “What exactly did your letter say?”

  “You know about the letter - how?”

  “We know - that is, I know about the letter, but that's all I can say, sir.”

  “I told Uncle Yuri that we were sailing to New York to make a present of this ship to the president of the United States.”

  “But you didn't head for New York,” Mancuso objected.

  “Certainly not. I wished to enter Norfolk. Why go to a civilian port when a naval base is so close? You say I should tell Padorin the truth?” Ramius shook his head. “Why? Your coast is so large.”

  Dear Admiral Padorin, I'm sailing for New York…… No wonder they went ape! Ryan thought.

  “We go to Norfolk or Charleston?” Ramius asked.

  “Norfolk, I think,” Mancuso said.

  “Didn't you know they'd send the whole fleet after you?” Ryan snapped. “Why send the letter at all?”

  “So they will know,” Ramius answered. “So they will know. I did not expect that anyone would locate us. There you surprised us.”

  The American skipper tried to smile. “We detected you off the coast of Iceland. You were luckier than you imagine. If we'd sailed from England on schedule, we'd have been fifteen miles closer in shore, and we would have had you cold. Sorry, Captain, but our sonars and sonar operators are very good. You can meet the man who first tracked you later. He's working with your man Bugayev at the moment.”

  “Starshina,” Borodin said.

  “Not an officer?” Ramius asked.

  “No, just a very good operator,” Mancuso said, surprised. Why would anyone want an officer to stand watch on sonar gear?

  The cook came back in. His idea of the standard U.S. Navy breakfast was a large platter with a slab of ham, two eggs over easy, a pile of hash browns, and four slices of toast, with a container of apple jelly.

  “Let me know if you want more, sir,” the cook said.

  “This is a normal breakfast?” Ramius asked Mancuso.

  “Nothing unusual about it. I prefer waffles myself. Americans eat big breakfasts.” Ramius was already attacking his. After two days without a normal meal and all the blood loss from his leg wound, his body was screaming for food.

  'Tell me, Ryan,“ Borodin was lighting a cigarette, ”what is it in America that we will find most amazing?“

  Jack motioned to the captain's plate. “Food stores.”

  “Food stores?” Mancuso asked.

  “While I was sitting on Invincible I read over a CIA report on people who come over to our side.” Ryan didn't want to say defectors. Somehow the word sounded demeaning. “Supposedly the first thing that surprises people, people from your part of the world, is going through a supermarket.”

  “Tell me about them,” Borodin ordered.

  “A building about the size of a football field - well, maybe a little smaller than that. You go in the front door and get a shopping cart. The fresh fruits and vegetables are on the right, and you gradually work your way left through the other departments. I've been doing that since I was a kid.”

  “You say fresh fruits and vegetables? What about now, in winter?”

  “What about winter?” Mancuso said. “Maybe they cost a little more, but you can always get fresh produce. That's the one thing we miss on the boats. Our supply of fresh produce and milk only lasts us about a week.”

  “And meat?” Ramius asked.

  “Anything you want,” Ryan answered. “Beef, pork, lamb, turkey, chicken. American farmers are very efficient. The United States feeds itself and has plenty left over. You know that, the Soviet Union buys our grain. Hell, we pay farmers not to grow things, just to keep the surplus under control.” The four Russians were doubtful.

  “What else?” Borodin asked.

  “What else will surprise you? Nearly everyone has a car. Most people own their own homes. If you have money, you can buy nearly anything you want. The average family in America makes something like twenty thousand dollars a year, I guess. These officers all make more than that. The fact of the matter is that in our country if you have some brains - and all of you men do - and you are willing to work - and all of you men are - you will live a comfortable life even without any help. Besides, you can be sure that the CIA will take good care of you. We wouldn't want anybody to complain about our hospitality.”

  “And what will become of my men?” Ramius asked.

  “I can't say exactly, sir, since I've never been involved in this sort of thing myself. I would guess that you will be taken to a safe place to relax and unwind. People from the CIA and the navy will want to talk to you at length. That's no surprise, right? I told you this before. A year from now you will be doing whatever you choose to do.”

  “And anybody who wants to take a cruise with us is welcome to,” Mancuso added.

  Ryan wondered how true this was. The navy would not want to let any of these men on a 688-class boat. It might give one of them information valuable enough to enable him to return home and keep his head.

  “How does a friendly man become a CIA spy?” Bor

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