Air Force One lifted off a few minutes sooner than expected, speeded on her way by the early hour. Reporters were already up and moving before the VC-25B reached her cruising altitude, coming forward to ask the President for a statement explaining the premature departure. Cutting short a state trip was something of a panic reaction, wasn't it? Tish Brown handled the journalists, explaining that the unfortunate developments on Wall Street commanded a quick return so that the President could reassure the American people…and so forth. For the moment, she went on, it might be a good idea for everyone to catch up on sleep. It was, after all, a fourteen-hour flight back to Washington, with the headwinds that blew across the Atlantic at this time of year, and Roger Durling needed his sleep, too. The ploy worked for several reasons, not the least of which was that the reporters were suffering from too much alcohol and not enough sleep, like everyone else aboard—except the flight crew, all hoped. Besides, there were Secret Service agents and armed Air Force personnel between them and the President's accommodations. Common sense broke out, and everyone returned back to the seating area. Soon things were quieted down, and nearly every passenger aboard was either asleep or feigning it. Those who weren't asleep wished they were.
Johnnie Reb's commanding officer was, by federal law, an aviator. The statute went back to the 19308, and had been drafted to prevent battleship sailors from taking over the new and bumptious branch of the Old Navy. As such, he had more experience flying airplanes than in driving ships, and since he'd never had a command afloat, his knowledge of shipboard systems consisted mainly of things he'd picked up along the way rather than from a mutter of systematic study and experience. Fortunately, his chief engineer was a black-shoe destroyer sailor with a command under his bell. The skipper did know, however, that water was supposed to be outside the hull, not inside.
"How bad, ChEng?"
"Bad, sir." The Commander gestured to the deck plates, still covered with an inch of water that the pumps was gradually sending over the side. At least the holes were sealed now. That had taken three hours. "Shafts two and three are well and truly trashed. Bearings shot, tail shafts twisted and split, reduction gears ground up to junk—no way anybody can fix them. The turbines are okay. The reduction gears took all the shock. Number One shaft's okay. Some shock damage to the aft bearings. That I can fix myself. Number four screw is damaged, not sure how bad, but we can't turn it without risking the shaft bearings. Starboard rudder is jammed over, but I can deal with that, another hour, maybe, and it'll be 'midships. May have to replace it, depending on how bad it looks. We're down to one shaft. We can make ten, eleven knots, and we can steer, badly."
"Time to fix?"
"Months—four or five is my best guess right now, sir." All of which, the Commander knew, would require him to be here, overseeing the yard crews, essentially rebuilding half the ship's power plant-maybe three quarters. He hadn't fully evaluated the damage to Number Four yet. That was when the Captain really lost his temper. It was about time, the ChEng thought.
"If I could launch an air strike, I'd sink those sunzabitches!" But launching anything on the speed generated by a single shaft was an iffy proposition. Besides, it had been an accident, and the skipper really didn't mean it.
"You have my vote on that one, sir," ChEng assured him, not really meaning it either, because he added: "Maybe they'll be nice enough to pay for the repairs." His reward was a nod.
"We can start moving again?"
"Number One shaft is a little out from shock damage, but I can live with it, yes, sir."
"Okay, get ready to answer bells. I'm taking this overpriced barge back to Pearl."
"Aye aye, sir."
Admiral Mancuso was back in his office, reviewing preliminary data on the exercise when his yeoman came in with a signal sheet.
"Sir, looks like two carriers are in trouble."
"What did they do, collide?" Jones asked, sitting in the corner and reviewing other data.
"Worse," the yeoman told the civilian.
ComSubPac read the dispatch. "Oh, that's just great." Then his phone rang; it was the secure line that came directly from PacFltOps. "This is Admiral Mancuso."
"Sir, this is Lieutenant Copps at Fleet Communications. I have a submarine emergency beacon, located approximately 31-North, 175-East. We're refining that position now. Code number is for Asheville, sir. There is no voice transmission, just the beacon. I am initiating a SuBMiss/SusSuNK. The nearest naval aircraft are on the two carriers—"
"Dear God." Not since Scorpion had the U.S. Navy lost a sub, and he'd been in high school then. Mancuso shook his head clear. There was work to be done. "Those two carriers are probably out of business, mister."
"Oh?" Oddly enough, Lieutenant Copps hadn't heard that yet.
"Call the P-3s. I have work to do."
"Aye aye, sir."
Mancuso didn't have to look at anything. The water in that part of the Pacific Ocean was three miles deep, and no fleet submarine ever made could survive at a third of that depth. If there were an emergency, and if there were any survivors, any rescue would have to happen within hours, else the cold surface water would kill them.
"Ron, we just got a signal. Asheville might be down."
"Down?" That word was not one any submariner wanted to hear, even if it was a gentler expression than sunk. "Frenchy's kid…"
"And a hundred twenty others."
"What can I do, Skipper?"
"Head over to SOSUS and look at the data."
"Aye aye, sir." Jones hustled out the door while SubPac lifted his phone and started punching buttons. He already knew that it was an exercise in futility. All PacFlt submarines now carried the AN/BST-3 emergency transmitters aboard, set to detach from their ships if they passed through crush depth or if the quartermaster of the watch neglected to wind the unit's clockwork mechanism. The latter possibility, however, was unlikely. Before the explosive bolts went, the BST made the most godawful noise to chide the neglectful enlisted man…Asheville was almost certainly dead, and yet he had to follow through in the hope of a miracle. Maybe a few crewmen had gotten off.
Despite Mancuso's advice, the carrier group did get the call. A frigate, USS Gary, went at once to maximum sustainable speed and sprinted north toward the area of the beacon, responding as required by the laws of man and the sea. In ninety minutes she'd be able to launch her own helicopter for a surface search and further serve as a base for other helos to continue the rescue operation if necessary. John Stennis turned slowly into the wind and managed to launch a single S-3 Viking ASW aircraft, whose onboard instruments were likely to be useful for a surface search. The Viking was overhead in less than an hour. There was nothing to be seen on radar except for a Japanese coast-guard cutter, heading in for the beacon, ahout ten miles out. Contact was established, and the white cutter verified its notice on the emergency radio and intentions to search for survivors. The Viking circled the transmitter. There was a slick of diesel oil to mark the ship's grave, and a few bits of floating debris, but repeated low passes and four sets of eyes failed to spot anything to be rescued.
The "Navy Blue" prefix on a signal denoted information that would be of interest to the entire fleet, perhaps sensitive in nature, less often highly classified; in this case it was something too big to be kept a secret. Two of Pacific Fleet's four aircraft carriers were out of business for a long time. The other two, Eisenhower and Lincoln, were in the IO, and were likely to remain there. Ships know few secrets, and even before Admiral Dubro got his copy of the dispatch, word was already filtering through his flagship. No chief swore more vilely than the battle-force commander, who already had enough to worry about. The same response greeted the signals personnel who informed the senior naval officers on Pentagon duty.
Like most intelligence officers in a foreign land in time of danger, Clark and Chavez didn't have a clue. If they had, they would probably have caught the first plane anywhere. Spies have never been popular with anyone, and the Geneva Protocols merely affirmed a rule for time of war, mandating their death as soon after apprehension as was convenient, usually by firing squad. Peacetime rules were a little more civilized, but generally with the same end result. It wasn't something CIA emphasized in its recruiting interviews.
The international rules of espionage allowed for this unhappy fact by giving as many field intelligence officers as possible diplomatic covers, along with which came immunity from harm. Those were called "legal" agents, protected by international treaty as though they really were the diplomats their passports said they were. Clark and Chavez were "illegals," and not so protected—in fact, John Clark had never once been given a "legal" cover. The importance of this became clear when they left their cheap hotel for a meeting with Isamu Kimura.
It was a pleasant afternoon made less so by the looks they got as gaijin; no longer a mixture of curiosity and distaste, now there was genuine hostility. The atmosphere had changed materially since their arrival here, though remarkably things immediately became more cordial when they identified themselves as Russians, which prompted Ding to speculate on how they might make their cover identity more obvious to passersby. Unfortunately civilian clothing did not offer that option, and so they had to live with the looks, generally feeling the way a wealthy American might in a high-crime neighborhood. Kimura was waiting at the agreed-upon place, an inexpensive drinking establishment. He already had a few drinks in him.
"Good afternoon," Clark said pleasantly in English. A beat. "Something wrong?"
"I don't know," Kimura said when the drinks came. There were many ways of speaking that phrase. This way indicated that he knew something. "There is a meeting of the ministers today. Goto called it. It's been going on for hours. A friend of mine in the Defense Agency hasn't left his office since Thursday night."
"You haven't seen it, have you? The way Goto has been speaking about America." The MITI official finished off the last of his drink and raised his hand to order another. Service, typically, was fast. They could have said that they'd seen the first speech, but instead "Klerk" asked for Kimura's read on the situation.
"I don't know," the man replied, saying the same thing again while his eyes and tone told a somewhat different story. "I've never seen anything like this. The—what is the word?—rhetoric. At my ministry we have been waiting for instructions all week. We need to restart the trade talks with America, to reach an understanding, but we have no instructions. Our people in Washington are doing nothing. Goto has spent most of his time with Defense, constant meetings, and with his zaibatsu friends. It's not the way things are here at all."
"My friend," Clark said with a smile, his drink now untouched after a single sip, "you speak as though there is something serious in the air."
"You don't understand. There is nothing in the air. Whatever is going on, MITI is not a part of it."
"MITI is part of everything here. My Minister is there now, finally, but he hasn't told us anything." Kimura paused. Didn't these two know anything? "Who do you think makes our foreign policy here? Those dolts in the Foreign Ministry? They report to us. And the Defense Agency, who cares what they think about anything? We are the ones who shape our country's policies. We work with the zaibatsu, we coordinate, we…represent business in our relations with other countries and their markets, we make the position papers for the Prime Minister to give out. That's why I entered the ministry in the first place."
"But not now?" Clark asked.
"Now? Goto is meeting with them himself, and spends the rest of his time with people who don't matter, and only now is my Minister called in—well, yesterday," Kimura corrected himself. "And he's still there."
The man seemed awfully rattled, Chavez. told himself, over what seemed to be little more than some bureaucratic turf-fighting. The Ministry of International Trade and Industry was being outmaneuvered by someone else. So?
"You are upset that the industry leaders meet directly with your Prime Minister," he asked.
"So much, and so long, yes. They're supposed to work through us, but Goto has always been Yamata's lapdog." Kimura shrugged. "Perhaps they want to make policy directly now, but how can they do that without us?"
Without me, the man means, Chavez thought with a smile. Dumb-ass bureaucrat. CIA was full of them, too.
It wasn't all the way thought through, but such things never were. Most of the tourists who came to Saipan were Japanese, but not quite all of them. The Pacific island was a good place for a lot of things. One of them was deep-sea fishing, and the waters here were not as crowded as those around Florida and the Gulf of California. Pete Burroughs was sunburned, exhausted, and thoroughly satisfied with an eleven-hour day at sea. It was just the perfect thing, the computer engineer told himself, sitting in the fighting chair and sipping a beer, to get a person over a divorce. He'd spent the first two hours getting offshore, then three hours trolling, then four hours fighting against the biggest goddamned albacore tuna he'd ever seen. The real problem would be convincing his fellow workers that it wasn't a lie. The monster was too big to mount over his mantel, and besides, his ex- had the house and the fireplace. He'd have to settle for a photo, and everyone knew the stories about that, damn it. Blue-screen technology had reached fishermen. For twenty bucks you could have your choice of monster fish hanging from its electronic tail behind you. Now, if he'd caught a shark, he could have taken home the jaw and teeth, but an albacore, magnificent as it was, was just tuna fish. Well, what the hell, his wife hadn't believed his stories about the late nights at work either. The bitch. Good news, bad news. She didn't like fishing either, but now he could fish all he wanted. Maybe even fish for a new girl. He popped open another beer.
The marina didn't look very busy for a weekend. The main port area was, though, three big commercial ships, ugly ones, he thought, though he didn't know exactly what they were on first sight. His company was in California, though not close to the water, and most of his fishing was of the freshwater sort. This trip had been a life's ambition. Tomorrow, maybe, he'd get something else. For the moment, he looked left at the albacore. Had to be at least seven hundred pounds. Nowhere close to the record, but one hell of a lot bigger than the monster salmon he'd gotten the year before with his trusty Ted Williams spinning rig. The air shook again, spoiling his moment with his fish. The overhead shadow announced another goddamned 747 coming out of the airport. It wouldn't be long before this place was spoiled, too.
Hell, it already was. About the only good news was that the Japanese who came here to kick loose and screw Filipina bar girls didn't like to fish much. The boat's skipper brought them in smartly. His name was Oreza, a retired Master Chief Quartermaster, U.S. Coast Guard. Burroughs left the fighting chair, headed topside, and sat down next to him.
"Get tired of talking to your fish?"
"Don't like drinking alone, either."
Oreza shook his head. "Not when I'm driving."
"Bad habit from the old days?"
The skipper nodded. "Yeah, I guess. I'll buy you one at the club, though. Nice job on the fish. First time, you said?"
"First time in blue water," Burroughs said proudly.
"Coulda fooled me, Mr. Burroughs."
"Pete," the engineer corrected.
"Pete," Oreza confirmed. "Call me Portagee."
"You're not from around here."
"New Bedford, Massachusetts, originally. Winters are too cold. I served here once, long time back. There used to be a Coast Guard station down at Punta Arenas, closed now. The wife and I liked the climate, liked the people, and, hell, the competition statewide for this sort of business is too stiff," Oreza explained. "What the hell, the kids are all grown. So anyway, we ended up coming out here."
"You know how to handle a boat pretty well."
Portagee nodded. "I ought to. I've been doing it thirty-five years, more if you count going out with my pop." He eased to port, coming around Managaha Island. "The fishing out of New Bedford's gone to hell, too."
"What are those guys?" Burroughs asked, pointing to the commercial port.
"Car carriers. When I came in this morning they were moving jeeps out of that one." The skipper shrugged. "More goddamned cars. You know, when I came here it was kinda like Cape Cod in the winter. Now it's more like the Cape in the summer. Wall-to-goddamned-wall." Portagee shrugged. More tourists made for more crowding, spoiling the island, but also bringing him more business.
"Expensive place to live?"
"Getting that way," Oreza confirmed. Another 747 flew off the island. "That's funny…"
"That one didn't come out of the airport."
"What do you mean?"
"That one came out of Kobler. It's an old SAC runway, BUFF field."
"Big Ugly Fat Fucker," Portagee explained. "B-52's. There's five or six runways in the islands that can take big birds, dispersal fields from the bad old days," he went on. "Kobler's right next to my old LORAN station. I'm surprised they still keep it up. Hell, I didn't know they did, even."
"I don't understand."
"There used to be a Strategic Air Command base on Guam. You know, nukes, all that big shit? In case the crap hit the fan, they were supposed to disperse off Andersen Air Force Base so one missile couldn't get them all. There's two big-bird runways on Saipan, the airport and Kobler, two more on Tinian, leftovers from World War Two, and two more on Guam."
"They're still good to use?"
"No reason why not." Oreza's head turned. "We don't get many hard freezes here to rip things up." The next 747 came off Saipan International, and in the clear evening sky they could see yet another coming in from the eastern side of the island.
"This place always this busy?"
"No, most I've ever seen. Goddamned hotels must be packed solid." Another shrug. "Well, that means the hotels'll be interested in buying that fish off ya."
"Enough to cover the charter, Pete. That's one big fish you brought in. But tomorrow you have to get lucky again."
"Hey, you find me another big boy like our friend down there, and I don't care what you charge."
"I love it when people say that." Oreza eased back on the throttles as he approached the marina. He aimed for the main dock. They needed the hoist to get the fish off. The albacore was the third-largest he'd ever brought in, and this Burroughs guy wasn't all that bad a charter.
"You make a living at this?"
Portagee nodded. "With my retirement pay, yeah, it's not a bad life. Thirty-some years I drove Uncle's boats, and now I get to drive me own—and she' s paid for."
Burroughs was looking at the commercial ships now. He lifted the skipper's binoculars. "You mind?"
"Strap around your neck if you don't mind." Amazing that people thought the strap was some sort of decoration.
"Sure." Burroughs did that, adjusting the focus for his eyes and examining Orchid Ace. "Ugly damned things…"
"Not made to be pretty. Made to carry cars." Oreza started the final turn in.
"That's no car. Looks like some kind of construction thing, bulldozer, like…"
"Oh?" Portagee called for his mate, a local kid, to come topside and work the lines. Good kid, fifteen, might try for the Coast Guard and spend a few years learning the trade properly. Oreza was working on that.
"The Army have a base here?"
"Give me a light and follow me on this," Jones ordered. He flipped another page, checking the 60Hz line. "Nothing…nothing. Those diesel boats are pretty good…but if they're quiet, they ain't snorting, and if they ain't snorting they ain't going very far…Asheville sprinted out this way, and probably then she came back in…" Another page.
"No rescue, sir?" It had taken fully thirty seconds for the question to be asked.
"How deep's the water?"
"I know that, but the escape trunks…I mean, I've seen it, there's three of them."
Jones didn't even look up, taking a puff off his first smoke in years.
"Yeah, the mom's hatch, that's what we called it on Dallas. 'See, mom, if anything goes wrong, we can get out right there.' Chief, you don't get off one of these things, okay? You don't. That ship is dead, and so's her crew. I want to see why."
"But we already have the crush sounds."
"I know. I also know that two of our carriers had a little accident today." Those sounds were on the SOSUS printouts, too.
"What are you saying?"
"I'm not saying anything." Another page. At the bottom of it was a large black blotch, the loud sound that marked the death of USS Asheville and all—"What the fuck is this?"
"We think it's a double-plot, sir. The bearing's almost the same as the Asheville sound, and we think the computer—"
"The time's off, goddamn it, a whole four minutes." He flipped back three pages. "See, that's somebody else."
It was then that Jones felt even colder. His head swam a little from the cigarette, and he remembered why he'd quit. The same signature on the paper, a diesel boat snorting, and, later, a 688-class sprinting. The sounds were so close, nearly identical, and the coincidence of the bearing from the new seafloor array could have made almost anyone think…
"Call Admiral Mancuso and find out if Charlotte has checked in."
"Right now, Senior Chief!"
Dr. Ron Jones stood up and looked around. It was the same as before, almost. The people were the same, doing the same work, displaying the same competence, but something was missing. The thing that wasn't the same was…what? The large room had a huge chart of the Pacific Ocean on its back wall. Once that chart had been marked with red silhouettes, the class shapes of Soviet submarines, boomers, and fast-attacks, often with black silhouettes in attendance, to show that Pacific SOSUS was tracking "enemy" subs, quarterbacking American fast-attacks onto them, vectoring P-3C Orion ASW birds in to follow them, and occasionally to pounce on and harry them, to let them know who owned the oceans of the world. Now the marks on the wall chart were of whales, some of them with names, just as with the Russian subs, but these names were things like "Moby and Mabel," to denote a particular pod with a well-known alpha-pair to track by name. There wasn't an enemy now, and the urgency had gone. They weren't thinking the way he'd once thought, heading "up north" on Dallas, tracking people they might one day have to kill. Jones had never really expected that, not really-really, but the possibility was something he'd never allowed himself to forget. These men and women, however, had. He could see it, and now he could hear it from the way the chief was talking to SubPac on the phone.
Jones walked across the room and just took the receiver away. "Bart, this is Ron. Has Charlotte checked in?"
"We're trying to raise her now."
"I don't think you're going to, Skipper," the civilian said darkly.
"What do you mean?" The reply caught the meaning. The two men had always communicated on a nonverbal level.
"Bart, you better come over here. I'm not kidding, Cap'n."
"Ten minutes," Mancuso promised.
Jones stubbed his smoke out in a metal waste can and returned to the printouts. It was not an easy thing for him now, but he flipped to the pages where he'd stopped. The printouts were made with pencils that were located on metal shuttle-bars, marking received noises in discrete frequency ranges, and the marks were arranged with the low frequencies on the left, and the higher ones on the right. Location within the range columns denoted bearing. The tracks meandered, looking to all the world like aerial photographs of sand dunes in some trackless desert, but if you knew what to look for, every spidery trace and twist had meaning. Jones slowed his analysis, taking in every minute's record of reception and sweeping from left to right, making marks and notes as he went. The chiefs who'd been assisting him stood back now, knowing that a master was at work, that he saw things they should have seen, but had not, and knowing why a man younger than they called an admiral by his first name.
"Attention on deck," some voice called presently, "Submarine Force, Pacific, arriving." Mancuso came in, accompanied by Captain Chambers, his operations officer, and an aide who kept out of the way. The Admiral just looked at Jones's face.
"You raise Charlotte yet, Bart?"
"What are you telling me, Jonesy?"
Jones took the red pen to the bottom of the page. "There's the crush, that's the hull letting go."
Mancuso nodded, letting out a breath. "I know, Ron."
"Look here. That's high-speed maneuvering—"
"Something goes wrong, you go max power and try to drive her up to the roof," Captain Chambers observed, not seeing it yet, or more probably not wanting to, Jones thought. Well, Mr. Chambers had always been a pretty nice officer to work for.
"But she wasn't heading straight for the roof, Mr. Chambers. Aspect changes, here and here," Jones said, moving the pen upward on the printout page, backwards in time, marking where the width of the traces varied, and the bearings changed subtly. "She was turning, too, at max power on a speed screw. This is probably a decoy signature. And this"—his hand went all the way to the right—"is a fish. Quiet one, but look at the bearing rates. It was turning, too, chasing Asheville, and that gives these traces here, all the way back to this time-point here." Ron circled both traces, and though separated on the paper by fourteen inches, the shallow twists and turns were almost identical. The pen moved again, upwards on the sheet, then shot across to another frequency column. "To a launch transient. Right there."
"Fuck," Chambers breathed.
Mancuso leaned over the paper sheet, next to Jones, and he saw it all now. "And this one?"
"That's probably Charlotte, also maneuvering briefly. See, here and here, look like aspect changes on these traces to me. No transients because it was probably too far away, same reason we don't have a track on the fish." Jones moved the pen back to the track of USS Asheville. "Here. That Japanese diesel boat launched on her. Here. Asheville tried to evade and failed. Here's the first explosion from the torpedo warhead. Engine sounds stop here—she took the hit from aft. Here's the internal bulkheads letting go. Sir, Asheville was sunk by a torpedo, probably a Type 89, right about the same time that our two carriers had their little accident."
"It's not possible," Chambers thought.
When Jones turned his head, his eyes looked like the buttons on a doll's face. "Okay, sir, then you tell me what these signals denote." Somebody had to goad him into reality.
"Settle down, Wally," ComSubPac said quietly, looking at the data and searching for another plausible interpretation. He had to look, even in the knowledge that there was no other possible conclusion.
"Wasting your time, Skipper." Jones tapped the track of USS Gary. "Somebody better tell that frigate that it ain't a rescue she's on. She's sailing in harm's way. There's two SSKs out there with warshots, and they already used them twice." Jones walked to the wall chart. He had to search around for a red marker, lifted it, and drew two circles, both about thirty miles in diameter. "Somewhere here. We'll get a better cut on them when they snort next. Who's the surface track, by the way?"
"Reportedly a coast-guard cutter, one of theirs, heading in for the rescue," SubPac answered.
"We might want to think about killing it," Jones suggested, marking that contact in red also, then setting the pen down. He'd just taken the final step. The surface ship whose position he'd marked was not "she," but rather it. An enemy. A target.
"We have to see CINCPAC," Mancuso said.
Jones nodded. "Yes, sir, I think we do."