Authors: Marc Cerasini
by Marc Cerasini
To my father, who called me away from my
toys to watch my first Godzilla movie on
television - way back in 1960.
"If I'd known where this would all lead,
I would have become a watchmaker"
- Albert Einstein, shortly after the
detonation of the first hydrogen bomb
May 3, 1996, 4:53 P.M.
The Pacific Ocean
The sky was slate gray and overcast. It was late afternoon, and the sun struggled to break through the thick cloud cover. The wan light tinted the ocean a dark green. Dirty white foam capped the rolling waves.
Because this barren patch of water was so far from land, no bird flew in the sky. No fish or whale broke the surface. No living thing was visible.
But suddenly the silhouette of an immense creature appeared just beneath the surface. Eerie blue flashes of ghostly radiance danced along the shadowy figure under the water - water that began to churn and bubble with tremendous heat.
Then the ocean itself began to ripple. Three parallel rows of huge, irregular bone spikes cut through the waves. They were massive, serrated, and definitely reptilian. Charcoal gray in the center, they faded to a bony white color at the edges. The spikes clacked and clattered together like monstrous steel plates.
A muffled roar bellowed from beneath the ocean's surface, and neon blue lights rippled across the three rows of spikes. The intense heat they gave off turned the ocean around them to steam in an instant.
Then they slowly sank beneath the surface. Blue incandescence shimmered deep under the water until the silhouette finally vanished. In the ageless Pacific, under a sun that is more than a billion years old, similar reptiles were once a common sight - four hundred million years ago.
Today, only one remains.
* * *
Captain First Rank Alexei Sterenko dropped the pen onto the map table and clicked off the overhead light. He rubbed his tired eyes and yawned.
, he thought.
Sterenko reached for his cup of tea, but found that it had gone cold. In the darkness of his cabin, he listened to the throb of the pumps, the hum of the reactor, the muffled voices of men. These were sounds he was accustomed to, sounds he had learned to love - the quiet sounds of a Russian
-class nuclear submarine on patrol in hostile waters.
And now we are going home.
It had been a long tour of duty. A few weeks ago, Captain Sterenko and his hundred-man crew had been watching and recording China's annual military exercises off the coast of Taiwan.
The Chinese test-fired missiles and cannons and sent aircraft on mock attacks against the island of Taiwan. This made the government of Taiwan angry, and tensions were high between the two countries.
For the Russians, it was a chance to watch the Chinese Navy in action and gather valuable intelligence.
After observing the exercises, Captain Sterenko and his crew headed for nearby Okinawa. They spent another few days listening to the radio transmissions from the American base located there. The Cold War was over, and the United States was no longer the enemy - technically. Yet the Russians still watched the Americans, and the American Navy still followed the Russians.
In truth, not much had changed, Sterenko thought. But the urgency was gone now that Russia and the United States didn't have nuclear arsenals pointing at each other.
Sure, we're one big happy world now,
At last the mission was over, and Captain Sterenko felt a wave of sadness. The truth of it was that part of him did not want to return home to Russia. His wife was five years dead, his children grown and on their own. He had nothing back home - nothing but confusion and economic chaos. Since the Communists had fallen from power, uncertainty was all the Russians had.
Uncertainty and fear.
Not like out here, on duty,
Here there is order. Each man knows his duty and does it.
There are no surprises at sea.
"Captain Sterenko." A voice crackled over the sub's intercom.
Sterenko reached out and flipped the switch. "Yes?"
"First Mate Vossolov asks that you report to the bridge immediately. We have spotted an unidentified object on our instruments."
Sterenko recognized the urgent voice. It was Mikail Ivanovich, the young man who was manning the sonar.
A good seaman, but excitable,
He probably spotted a pod of whales.
Captain Sterenko rose and made his way down the narrow corridors to the command deck.
When Sterenko stepped onto the bridge, First Mate Marko Vossolov saluted and relinquished the command chair.
"What's going on?" Sterenko asked, returning the salute.
"Sir," said Ivanovich, the sonar man, "we have a strange object on our scopes. It's moving parallel with us and matching our speed."
"Is it an American submarine?" Captain Sterenko asked the young man. "Or one of the new
-class submarines the Japanese Self-Defense Force is deploying?"
Ivanovich shook his head. "No, sir," he replied. "I've never seen anything like this before. This object's sound signature is unique - it is not on our tapes."
is on our tapes," Vossolov said confidently. The Russian Navy had a recording of every type of underwater sound, from American subs to natural underwater phenomena.
Sterenko looked at his first mate. Vossolov shrugged his shoulders and smiled at the young sonar man's zeal. Captain Sterenko walked over to the sonar screen and peered at it over Ivanovich's shoulder. His eyes widened when he saw the blip on the screen.
"It has not reacted to our sonar probe?" Sterenko asked. Ivanovich shook his head.
, Sterenko thought.
If it's another ship, it should have reacted to our sonar sweep....It must be fish, or perhaps whales.
"Are you sure there are no whale sounds?" Sterenko demanded. "That's much too big to be a single object. It has to be a pod of whales...or a huge school of tuna, perhaps?"
"No, sir," Ivanovich stated flatly. "That's a single, solid object. And look at the radiation sensors."
The captain peered over the sonar man's shoulders again. There was some residual radiation coming from the object.
Captain Sterenko picked up a spare set of headphones and put them on. He listened to the sounds of the ocean outside the
hull. His face grew more puzzled.
"There's no sound of metallic pumps or engines... just a steady thumping that sounds like... like a giant's heartbeat."
Sterenko looked down at Ivanovich. "Is it still following us?" he asked.
"Yes, sir," the young man replied, wiping sweat from his forehead. "It's behind us and portside. The object is still matching our course and speed."
Captain Sterenko pulled the headphones from his head. "Then let's
our course and speed," he said with a confidence he did not feel. Sterenko turned back to his first mate.
"Sound red alert."
"Sound red alert!" Vossolov repeated, hitting the alarm button.
Klaxons began to blare throughout the ship. The fluorescent lights dimmed and the red crash lights came on. They illuminated the submarines bridge with an eerie scarlet glow.
Sterenko turned to another man on the bridge.
"Helmsman," he barked. "Take us down to five hundred feet. Increase speed to forty knots."
"Aye, Captain," the helmsman answered.
shot forward in the water. The nose of the bullet-shaped ship tilted and the submarine slipped deeper into the Pacific Ocean.
Sterenko watched Ivanovich at the sonar screen.
"Sir," the young man spoke after a moment, "the object has changed course. It's matching our speed. No! It's going faster." Ivanovich was tense now, and his fear was contagious. Everyone on the
bridge was nervous as they listened to the sonar man.
"The object is passing us. It's moving ahead of us. I - I can't believe how fast it is going! Its speed is... impossible."
"Calm down, Ivanovich!" Sterenko barked. "I want information, not opinions!"
Ivanovich nodded. He began to sweat again as his eyes followed the blip on the screen.
"It's seventeen hundred meters in front of us now, Captain, and moving away," Ivanovich reported. Then his head jerked. "Wait!" he cried. "It's slowing down."
Ivanovich looked up from the sonar screen. His eyes were wide. "Captain, the object is directly in front of us. It's blocking our way!"
"All stop!" Sterenko cried. He turned to Vossolov. "Order the torpedo room to ready tubes one and two!"
As the first mate passed along the command to the weapons room, everyone on the bridge grew more tense. They'd gone from a peacetime intelligence mission to armed conflict in a few brief minutes.
But armed conflict with
The officers and men on the bridge exchanged nervous glances. They could feel the boat slowing. Seconds later, the
was at a dead stop. So was the unidentified object in front of them. The bridge was silent now, except for the hum of electronic instruments.
"Captain!" Ivanovich cried, his voice shattering the tense stillness. "The object is moving again. It's made a 180-degree turn and is heading for us on a collision course!"
Sterenko didn't hesitate. "Launch torpedoes one and two!"
"Torpedoes launched!" First Mate Vossolov answered. The
shuddered twice as the two anti-submarine torpedoes left their tubes and raced toward the target. Each torpedo had a computer guidance system and was packed with enough explosives to sink an American
Sterenko watched the sonar screen over Ivanovich's shoulder.
"The object is still moving closer," Ivanovich cried again. "Sixteen hundred meters... fifteen hundred meters... fourteen..."
"Five seconds to impact," the first mate interrupted.
Exactly five seconds later, the
was rocked as the two torpedoes detonated. The bridge was shaken as the force of the explosion Slammed against the submarines titanium hull.
"Direct hit! Both torpedoes!" Ivanovich announced before his sonar screen went white. During the four seconds that the submarine was buffeted by the explosions, the sonar was useless. Those seconds seemed like an eternity to Sterenko. Finally, the sonar screen cleared.
"Captain!" Sonar man Ivanovich shouted. "It's still out there! The object is still coming. Nine hundred meters... eight hundred..."
"Take evasive action!" Sterenko screamed. "Right full rudder!"
The helmsman jerked the sub's controls. The
turned to the starboard, but it wasn't fast enough.
"It's almost on us, sir!" Ivanovich cried.
Just then, the entire submarine shuddered as over six hundred tons of force struck it. The submarine spun like a balloon on a string. Men and machinery were tossed about. Systems shorted out in showers of sparks. Collision alarms went off all over the ship. The hull was ruptured in a dozen places. Even the bridge began to fill with water.
"Damage report!" Captain Sterenko cried.
"Captain!" Vossolov answered. "The nuclear reactor has been damaged. It is leaking radiation. We must surface immediately!"
"Blow the ballast tanks!" Sterenko commanded though he knew it was probably too late. The submarine had already lost hull integrity. The
was taking on far too much water.
Sterenko had trained his crew well. The men did their best to save the ship. They sealed watertight hatches and cut off the reactor from the rest of the ship. As the power died, the emergency lights flickered and went out.
Far from the bridge, near the center of the hull, the submarine was rocked by a secondary explosion that blew a ten-foot hole in the hull. It was a mortal wound. The boat dipped nose-down, and Sterenko felt the dying shudders of the