Authors: Michael C. Grumley
Clay stared through the side window and watched the Mercedita runway fall away as they climbed over the south end of the island, banking to the left. The late sun reflected brightly over the crystal blue Caribbean water, and Clay gazed down wistfully at the dozens of sailboats below them.
He’d loved the ocean since the first day his father took him out on the boat. It was just a small daysailer, but he loved every minute of it. From then on, it was something they did religiously, every time he visited his father in Florida. Ultimately, it was that very same relationship with the ocean behind his enlistment in the Navy. Now he looked forward to the day he could cast off for good, traveling the globe through the blue water with nothing but a sturdy boat, stars in the sky…and of course, a woman to share it with.
Clay leaned his head back and thought of Alison, letting his lips crack into a smile. She seemed as happy to see him as he was to see her. After a few minutes, he took a deep breath and reached down for his pack on the floor.
Caesare sat across from him, studying the schematics Juan had printed out. He noticed Clay pull a shiny object from his bag. Caesare glanced up to see a small silver brick, reflecting brightly from the incoming sunlight. It was about the size of a deck of cards and Clay sat gazing at it curiously.
“You still carrying that souvenir around with you?”
Clay didn’t look up. He simply nodded and flipped it over, rubbing it gently with his thumb.
“Any idea how it works yet?”
He’d had the device for over a year, since a harrowing event which nearly ended in a global catastrophe. In the end, few people knew what really happened. That was the way it always was when the government was involved.
Clay turned the object over again in his hand. “Borger and I put it under an electron microscope but couldn’t determine what it was made from. It’s plated in silicon and its core is deuterium. But the rest is made out of elements that we can’t identify.”
“Well, you already know it’s a fusion device,” replied Caesare. “Maybe you’re not supposed to know how it works.”
Clay looked up at Caesare thoughtfully. “Then why would he let me keep it?”
“Clearly, it was to drive you insane.”
Clay smirked. “Clearly.”
Caesare watched Clay quietly examine the object. They had worked together for over twenty years, beginning with their service as Navy SEALs. Eventually moving out into Investigations once their aging bodies began to object to the constant physical punishment. There were also the questionable missions that the teams were increasingly instructed to carry out, which ultimately left some of the SEALs wondering just which side of the fight they were really on.
Caesare had seen his friend in a number of binds, even some in combat. He’d come to know the man inside and out. Through it all, he had learned one unswerving fact about John Clay; the man never gave up. No matter what the predicament, Clay’s mind simply never stopped working. He would continue studying that silver object, chipping away at logic until he figured something out. The question really was just how long it was going to take.
He mused and gave Clay a minute before changing the subject. “So listen, I’ve been looking at the design of that new vest Alison’s team developed. It’s pretty impressive. Tighter than I was expecting.”
“Yeah, IBM helped them with it.”
“There are a few things we can help them with too, particularly around the wireless. There are better frequencies they could be using, but it would probably mean testing another prototype.” He reached out and handed the sheet to Clay.
Clay reluctantly dropped the silver block back into his bag and studied the sheet, holding it up to the window for a better look. “You know, with a thicker design, I bet they could make this thing self-contained.”
Will Borger stole a look at his watch and looked back to the screen. He wasn’t going to make it.
The program he’d written was still crunching through the data, and the meeting with Admiral Langford was in fifteen minutes. In fact, the job was barely halfway done.
Behind him, his office in the Pentagon’s basement was crowded with enough computer and signaling equipment to put the displays at the Smithsonian to shame. To him, technology wasn’t just a job, it was an obsession, and Langford was happy to oblige him. Especially lately.
Borger jumped when the door opened behind him and the overhead lights suddenly came on.
“You really need to get an office with some sunlight,” Caesare announced. “We all need a little vitamin D once in a while.”
Borger swiveled in his chair, arms still folded over his stomach, which was protruding a bit from under his loud, orange Hawaiian shirt. “I take pills for that.”
Caesare raised his eyebrows. “Really?”
“No, but I should.” Borger looked to Clay, who had just closed the door behind them. “Hey, Clay. How was Brazil?”
“Who ever said getting thrown out of a country wasn’t exciting? How goes it, Will?”
“Pretty good.” Borger swung back toward his monitor. “Langford asked me to do something for him, but it won’t be done for quite a while yet.”
Caesare sat backwards in a small metal chair and rolled it up next to Borger. “What do we have here?”
“A deep scan of the North Atlantic, pixel by pixel.”
Clay and Caesare both raised their eyebrows curiously. “Pixel by pixel?”
“Just about. I got the last three months’ worth of data from the NSA, recorded by the ARGUS reconnaissance satellite.” Both Clay and Caesare were familiar with the government’s newest bird. They were also both familiar with the term
when referring to a satellite. It was the preferred term over the more accurate label “spy satellite.” The ARGUS had recently been launched under the generic name of ‘NROL-39’ and was the first with
capability. All other previous spy satellites had the ability to take increasingly sharper pictures and at frame speeds faster than video. However, what they still lacked was bandwidth and the ability to send their ultra-high definition pictures back to Earth quickly enough for a real-time experience.
That limitation had finally been rectified in ARGUS. With most of the new system’s design focused squarely on transmission capacity, the ARGUS was literally able to stream live, ultra-high definition video back to Earth, where it was recorded twenty-four hours a day. And all with a field of view that was unprecedented. It was a huge technological advance for a “reconnaissance” satellite and a capability that few countries, including allies, were even aware of.
Nevertheless, a pixel-by-pixel scan was an enormous undertaking. It was the digital equivalent of examining every grain of sand on a given beach.
Caesare leaned in closer to Borger’s monitor. “What on earth would you need three months of pixel data for?”
“For the Forel,” Clay murmured, peering over Caesare’s shoulder.
“That’s right.” Borger began typing on his computer again and brought up another window. He then used his mouse to drag the new window onto a second monitor. With a few clicks, the new window instantly filled with a blue frame of the Atlantic Ocean, detailed enough to easily make out several small white caps on top of one of the swells.
Clay and Caesare could see the computer making a thin white line as it zoomed horizontally across the image, one tiny pixel at a time. It finished scanning the frame in less than five seconds and started another. “How far along is it?”
“You must be looking for a periscope,” Caesare said.
“Or the exhaust.”
“Correct again. It’s a long way from Russia to Brazil, especially for a diesel-electric, which means they would have had to surface many times to expel their stale exhaust and recharge their batteries. I’ve got almost a thousand servers backtracking through images for a three hundred square mile area, looking in both visible and infrared.”
“Find anything yet?”
“Nope.” Borger frowned and shook his head from side to side. He swiveled his chair back to them and smiled. “But that’s the bad news.”
“There’s good news?”
“The good news is I think I know what that equipment is for aboard the Forel.” He moved to yet another screen and brought up the video that Caesare had taken before they were thrown off the sub. Borger played the video until Caesare’s camera focused on the rack of equipment. He froze the image. “I spent some time going over this with several engineers in Pensacola, and we all agree that these devices are indeed amplifiers. And you see this?” He pointed to the bottom edge of the screen. “These appear to be power cables. These other cables,” he traced up the side of the still picture, “carry the audio.”
“Audio for what?”
“Ah…” Borger clasped his hands. “That’s the million dollar question.”
Caesare smirked. “Something tells me you have a million dollar answer.”
“Why, yes, I do.” He paused, staring at them but saying nothing.
“And what is it?”
Borger grinned and held his hands up for dramatic effect. “Active Noise Control!”
Both Clay and Caesare sat motionlessly. Not because they didn’t understand; they did. Instead, they remained quiet, considering the possibilities.
Clay looked back at Borger’s screen and mumbled, almost to himself, “Noise cancellation.”
Borger leaned back in his chair. “Navies have been trying to perfect ANC in their subs for years, but so far it’s been unattainable. If you ask me, I think they’ve found a way to do it with the Forel: not just
their noise but eliminate it altogether.”
“Wow. Does Langford know about this yet?”
Borger shook his head again. “Not yet.”
Clay remained quiet, thinking. Borger’s assessment suddenly raised a number of other questions. Finally, he turned his wrist and checked his watch. “It’s time.”
To their surprise, Admiral Langford and Stan Griffith, the National Security Advisor, were already waiting in the conference room when Clay, Caesare, and Borger arrived. Langford broke off his conversation and motioned the three inside to the chairs on the other side of the wide table. The new Secretary of State, Douglas Bartman entered and closed the door just moments behind them.
“Gentlemen,” Langford began, “I’d like you to meet John Clay, Steve Caesare, and Will Borger. They came with me from Investigations.” Silent nods were exchanged while Langford continued. “Clay and Caesare were onsite to examine the Forel. Mr. Borger is our computer expert, trying to figure out exactly what we’re looking at here. Clay, want to start us off?”
“Yes, sir,” Clay spoke up. He quickly recounted their trip to Belem and time aboard the Forel submarine, leading to their abrupt expulsion. He also described their dive beneath the sub in the middle of the night, including what they saw around its tail section.
“Okay, Will, you have the data they sent. Any idea what we’re looking at here?”
“Yes, sir,” nodded Borger. “It looks like we may be looking at an operational Active Noise Control system.”
“ANC, sir,” repeated Borger. “It’s only a guess without being able to put my hands on it, but I’m pretty sure that’s what it is.”
“I’ll be damned.”
Bartman looked back and forth between them. “What’s Active Noise Control?”
“Noise cancellation,” answered Langford. “A way to render a submarine silent underwater. No wonder the Forel was so damn hard to find.”
Borger continued. “From what Clay and Caesare described, there are sensor and actuator rings around the entire tail section, which mimics some of the test designs other countries have tried, including our own.”
“So it’s completely silent?” asked Bartman.
“Well, not completely, but very close.”
Bartman pondered the Admiral’s reply. “But we still don’t know what the Russians were after.”
“Correct, but we now know what Brazil’s government is after. And why we got kicked off the sub so fast. My guess is that this is a working prototype of the technology used in Russia’s new stealth submarines. And I think the Brazilian Navy may have just realized the same thing.” Langford turned to Borger. “Anything on our other project?”
“The image scans? No, sir. Not yet.”
“Sir,” Clay spoke up. “Have the Russian’s asked for their crew back yet?”
They all looked to Bartman, who shook his head. “No, no communication yet.”
“Very,” agreed Langford.
“Sir,” Clay continued. “The initial report we received on the Forel was lacking a few details. For example, information on the actual capture itself. Was there a reason for that?”
Langford looked at Stan Griffith, who in turn exchanged a knowing expression with Bartman before speaking. “What would you like to know, Commander?”
It seemed the omission from the report was intentional. “Who exactly located the Forel?” Clay asked.
“The Brazilian Government. We don’t know who exactly.”
“They knew where it was?”
Clay frowned, confused. “Brazil has five submarines, all much closer than we are. If they already knew where the Forel was, why did they need our help with the capture?”
“It was a favor,” Griffith sighed and continued looking at Clay. “The relationship between the United States and Brazil has been slowly eroding for some time. As a major emerging market, they have voiced their displeasure over a number of recent political and economic decisions of ours, which has put our relationship on delicate footing.” He shrugged. “It was a simple political favor, nothing more.”
“So we kept quiet to give Brazil credit over the Forel’s capture,” stated Caesare matter-of-factly.
“Something like that.”
“And to avoid souring our relationship with the Russians at the same time.”
Griffith reluctantly nodded.
“Except we didn’t know what was on it,” Clay picked up where Caesare left off. “The Admiral indicated that it was harder than usual to locate the Forel. Exactly how hard was it?”
Clay and Caesare were both surprised. “Four attempts? Even after Brazil told us where to look?”
“So, it took four sonobuoys to find it?”
“That must be some damn effective noise cancellation,” Caesare mused.
Clay turned back to Griffith and Bartman, asking the question that everyone was now thinking. “So, if it took
four tries to find that sub, and our sonobuoys are better than the MADs that Brazil uses…do we actually know
Brazil knew about the Forel?”
After a long pause, Bartman shook his head. “We thought it better not to ask.”
The expression on Langford’s face told Clay that something in that discussion was a surprise, even to him. But the look was only momentary. “Okay,” Langford began, “so we have what appears to be a prototype of a new Russian technology. Their crew is obviously well-trained on it, and Russia still hasn’t made a sound.” He shot Bartman a subtle but dubious glance. “So either they’re afraid to say something, or they’ve already quietly spoken to the Brazilian government. And if that’s true, it means the Russian crew may be about to disappear on a first-class flight home.” He looked at the others. “Any other possibilities?”
Clay was chewing absent-mindedly on his lip when he looked up. “Well, there is one other possibility, sir. The simplest and most obvious.” He shrugged at Langford. “What if the Russians don’t even know it’s been captured?