Authors: Michael C. Grumley
After unlocking two deadbolts, Clay pushed open the door and stepped into the still darkness of his apartment. Flicking the light switch revealed a large, sparsely decorated living room that looked as though it hadn’t been used in months. It hadn’t.
In the bedroom, he parked his suitcase near the bed and dropped his bag onto the blue and grey striped comforter. He was looking forward to a good night’s sleep, and had a feeling he was going to need it.
Unfortunately, Clay’s sleep only lasted until 4:10 a.m. when his cell phone rang. He picked it up off the nearby nightstand and squinted at the bright screen.
He answered and sat up, groaning. “Will, do you
Borger chuckled on the other end. “Probably more than you do. Sorry to wake you up, but it’s important.”
“What do you have?”
“I found something with my pixel scanning. I think it’s significant.” Borger switched the phone to his other hand and used his mouse to enlarge the picture on his screen. “It’s not what we were expecting.”
“Have you called Langford?”
“Yes. He should be online in a few minutes. He told me to get you and Steve on too.”
Seven minutes later, Clay sat hunched in a dining room chair, staring at his laptop screen. Langford and Caesare were doing the same on theirs. They were all looking at the display Borger was sharing from his own monitor. He enlarged a picture of the Atlantic Ocean so everyone could see it.
“I came back to my lab last night after our meeting,” Borger began. “Clay’s comment about the simplest answer got me thinking. What if what we were looking for was more obvious? We’ve been scanning data from thousands of miles of ocean looking for the signs of the Forel. It would have taken the sub weeks to get here. And knowing that the longer they were out, the higher the chances of somehow being discovered, probably means a direct route.” Borger zoomed out to a larger picture, highlighting the area he was scanning. “But what if we were approaching this from the wrong angle, or more specifically the wrong angle? Or more specifically, the wrong direction? The Forel was captured here.” A bright circle appeared off the northern coast of Brazil. “From there, pretty much anywhere south has a higher chance of being patrolled by the Brazilian Navy. So I decided to take a look to the north.”
Borger double-clicked his mouse. Again, the picture zoomed in, but this time closer to the northeastern coastline of South America. The next countries north of Brazil were the small countries of French Guiana, Suriname, and Guyana, lastly followed by the larger Venezuela at the top of his picture.
“I managed to commandeer more servers to run another search and went north instead. And this is what the program found.” He typed something on his keyboard and his map zoomed in even further, down to the individual wave level where a tiny red cloud appeared.
All three of the others stared at their own screens, studying the red image. “That’s it,” said Langford.
“Yes, sir,” answered Borger. “The Forel’s exhaust plume. Or at least the heat from it. But that’s not the best part. Look at
I found it.” He zoomed out yet again and the other three on the line fell silent.
“Guyana,” repeated Borger.
Caesare tilted his head curiously at the image. “What on earth was it doing in Guyana?”
“That’s where it gets weird.” Borger leaned forward again in his chair and resumed typing. “It’s not just that the Forel was submerged off the coast of that country. “It’s
it was submerged for.”
“Two months?!” cried Langford. “Are you sure?”
“Yes, sir. Once I found it, I downloaded another two months of data and started going backward. The exact location varies a little, but not much. That Russian sub had been sitting there for exactly two months and four days.”
The conference line fell silent again as the three digested the information. Modern submarines could, of course, remain stationary for a long period of time. Although no one really ever did it for that long, outside of running drills.
“What the hell were they doing?”
Clay spoke up. “Will, can you tell in which direction they were pointed?”
“I certainly can!” Borger smiled. Clay was one sharp cookie. “Because subs need to approach the surface to discard their exhaust, I was able to identify the outline of the sub pretty easily. We can see that the sub’s direction was almost always pointed toward the city it was nearest to, which was Guyana’s only major city: Georgetown.”
Clay was interested in the direction the Forel was pointing for one reason. Aligning either the bow or stern with a target gave a submarine the smallest possible profile.
“So, it didn’t want to be seen by the city of Georgetown?”
“Not the city,” corrected Borger. “Something
Borger continued typing and the picture on their screens scrolled slightly south, traveling through the wide mouth of the Demerara River where it met the Atlantic Ocean. Approximately two miles upriver sat an unmistakable shape.
“This is why I woke you all up,” said Borger.
The others were quiet yet again, this time studying the crystal clear image of a ship. It appeared to be anchored near the only bridge crossing the Demerara from Georgetown.
“It’s big,” Caesare offered. “Do we know whose it is?”
“The Chinese,” answered Langford solemnly.
“What do the Chinese have a ship in Guyana for?”
Langford’s voice was slow and deliberate as he continued studying the picture. “This came across my desk a few weeks ago. It wasn’t a priority. The word the CIA picked up was that it was there for minor repairs. They had been caught in a storm.”
Clay spoke up. “What kind of ship, Admiral?”
“A warship. A Corvette Class.”
“So is it just me,” Caesare said, “or is anyone else wondering what a Chinese warship is doing in the Atlantic?”
The Admiral said nothing, still staring into the eerie glow of his laptop screen.
“Will,” Clay changed the subject. “Any idea how long the Corvette has been there?”
“I only have three months of data. But it’s been there the whole time.”
“Can you zoom out again so we can see them both on the screen?”
Borger complied, zooming out until both vessels were visible as two large dots inside of the same shot.
Clay held up a piece of paper to his screen and angled it slightly. “Line of sight.”
“Ideal observation through a periscope,” Caesare added. “And pointing directly at it not only gives the Forel its smallest profile, but would also allow it to fire right up the mouth of that river. Potentially before that ship could even make it out.”
After a long pause, Admiral Langford cleared his throat. “I need to make some phone calls.”
Alison awoke and rolled toward the illuminated clock on her desk.
She pressed her eyelids shut, hoping to drift off again, but eventually she gave up. It was no use. Her mind was already racing.
She lay in the darkness for several more minutes before sitting up on the edge of the firm couch. She used it often, especially when Dirk and Sally were there. With a sigh, Alison stood up and turned on the light, briefly blinding herself. She waited a moment before taking her hand away from her eyes and double-checked the time using her wristwatch.
Quietly opening the door, she walked down the dark hallway, feeling her way along the wall. She took the stairs down slowly and walked the length of the hallway until she spotted the wide door under a pale reflection from the moon outside. She opened it softly and stepped in.
The water in the huge tank was lapping softly. Near the surface of the tank, Alison could see the darkened shapes of Dirk and Sally, floating motionless as they slept.
Sleep was a very different experience for water-born mammals such as dolphins and whales. The ocean was teeming with danger, which made the practice of completely shutting down the brain during sleep, the way humans did, a dangerous prospect. Instead, the mammals slept by shutting down only half of their brain at a time. This allowed them to remain in a semi-conscious state for protection, yet still garner the eight hours of rest they needed.
Alison approached the tank, watching them sleep. Sally’s eyes suddenly opened. After a brief pause, she used a very soft sway of her tail to move down and forward. Sally stared through the glass at Alison but said nothing. Instead, she turned and looked at the microphone.
Alison took the hint and turned on the computer screen atop Lee’s desk. She then opened the window, which allowed her to turn down the volume of the speakers. When it was done, she leaned into the microphone and whispered, “Good morning, Sally.”
Sally moved in close to the microphone.
Good morning Alison. You no sleep.
She shook her head at Sally’s question. She hadn’t been sleeping much at all lately. “Not much tonight.”
Why you no sleep.
“Too much work.” Interestingly, one of the several words IMIS seemed to have trouble translating was ‘work.' It appeared dolphins didn’t have a precise equivalent in their language. As a result, when Alison said “work,” the dolphins heard something more akin to their sound for “effort.” Nevertheless, Sally seemed to understand.
You work much Alison.
“I know I do.” She smiled at her own next thought.
You know it’s a problem when it’s not just your mother saying you work too much, but the dolphins too.
Alison continued watching her float in place until Sally spoke again.
You no happy Alison.
You no happy.
Alison frowned. “I am happy, Sally. I’m just tired.”
Sally emitted a very soft set of clicks and whistles for Dirk’s sake, as he was still sleeping near the surface. The external speaker on Lee’s desk emitted more of the translated words.
Me happy. Me with Dirk.
Alison was about to reply when Sally’s next statement cut her off.
Where you friend.
She meant John Clay. Sally had picked up on Alison’s relationship with Clay from the beginning. “He’s working too.”
He work much too.
Alison shyly nodded.
Why humans work much.
Alison took a deep breath. It was a simple question, but hardly a simple answer. She thought it over and finally shrugged. “To make the world good, I guess.”
Sally was quiet for a moment, as if considering her reply.
World good now.
Alison smiled. “Maybe to make things better then.”
“Better is making things more good.”
Sally was quiet again. She remained floating in the water, looking at Alison and barely moving.
World more good before.
She stood still, staring at Sally. Alison was overcome by a frightening thought.
They were making the world better, weren’t they?
To change the world; that was the point of the whole project. It was what she told herself year after year, working eighteen-hour days and having to overcome obstacle after obstacle.
They wanted to change the world. But had they?
The initial breakthrough they made with IMIS shocked the world. There was no doubt. But through it all, what surprised her the most wasn’t the overwhelming press, the interviews, and torrent of visitors. It was the critics. She would never have imagined how strong the backlash from them would be. Skeptics in the scientific community were to be expected, but the nastiness from people in so many other fields was surprising.
The number of articles attacking the validity of their data was tremendous. Many of them were written by people who knew far less about dolphins or marine biology. She and her team initially thought it was just the conservatives, but a significant number turned out to be liberals too. Some claimed it was a hoax for more attention, or more funding. One talk show host insinuated that it was a simple “trick” using sophisticated software, never meant to do anything but fool the public.
For what? What on earth did she stand to gain by fooling the world?
It was then she realized that being under the scrutiny of public opinion had a very dark side. Yet fortunately, for every doubter, there were many more believers.
But had they really changed anything?
Alison remained motionless, staring at her own reflection in the thick glass. It was true. They had gotten an awful lot of people excited, but was the world fundamentally any different or better? She thought about what Sally had said. Was the world better, or could it really be worse?
The United States was arguably the epicenter of recent technological advancements, on virtually every level. The computer changed everything, and then the internet came along and accelerated it all again. Everyone now had phones that were more powerful than the first space shuttles. Televisions were almost the size of an entire wall, and video games made real life look downright boring to most kids. And to top it off, diseases like heart disease and obesity were at record highs.
she working for? In many ways, the world was getting worse. She dropped her head, struck by a wave of shame, but immediately pulled herself out of it. She knew the answer. Now she was working to prove the critics wrong. To prove the communication was genuine. That it was real. That was the whole reason for the vest; to be able to travel out into the wild, where she could show and immerse herself in the real world of dolphins, and to do so out from under the shadow of a man-made tank and any supposed tricks.
Nevertheless, Sally’s remark had caused Alison to step back abruptly and consider whether what they were doing now was truly for the science…or for her.
Go sleep Alison. Rest,
Sally said softly.
Alison shook herself out of her trance and managed to grin.
Sally studied Alison through the thick glass, standing in the darkness.
Tomorrow we show you.
Tomorrow we show you world is beautiful.
She sighed, with just a little of the smile still remaining, and gently reached out for the tank, pushing her palm against the clear glass.
Slowly, Sally floated forward and touched her bottlenose to Alison’s palm, separated only by the thick pane of glass.
Alison sat behind her desk. She stared out the window and watched the sun rise into the morning sky over the bright green hills of Puerto Rico. The scattered, white clouds crawled across the endless expanse of blue. Behind her, the sun’s warm rays slowly crept across the wall of her office.
Her laptop sat on the desk in front of her, displaying a detailed budget sheet. She hated running everything. All right, hate was a strong word. Resentment, perhaps. Deep down she resented having to do it, but the old director was gone, and no one else knew as much about the project details as she did. She had been the lead since the very beginning. The driving force.
Now it was all on her: the vision, execution, details, budgeting, everything. The truth was that it was too much. The difference between being the lead researcher and actually running the place was huge. She was constantly bogged down in administrative minutia, and it was keeping her from doing the one thing she wanted most: to be free. Alison yearned to be back on the front line doing nothing but pure research. Instead, she was stuck in her office much of the day, making sure that everything else was done. She’d thought about stepping down, but she was deathly afraid of what bureaucrat would replace her.
She tilted her head, listening to the loud murmur of children downstairs. It was the last class visit before the big trip tomorrow. Alison smiled at the thought of the small, excited faces pressed up against the glass.
A moment later, there was a knock on the door. Her administrative assistant, Bruna, opened it and poked her head in.
“Good morning, Bruna.”
The assistant smiled. “There’s someone here to see you. He said he doesn’t have an appointment.”
Alison rolled her eyes. “I’m not in the mood for solicitations. Whatever it is, just tell him I’m not interested.”
Bruna blinked. “Um…actually, he said he’s here to ask for your help. In fact, he asked to see DeeAnn too.”
“Help with what?”
“I don’t know. But he sure doesn’t look like a solicitor.”
Alison raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”
“Well, he’s old. And he’s dressed in the nicest suit I’ve ever seen.”
DeeAnn had just joined Alison in her office when Bruna escorted the old man in. He entered with the help of a cane and a young female assistant attentively at his side. His hair was completely white, combed straight back and neat. His face bore a deep tan highlighted by his crème-colored dress shirt, which he wore beneath a dark blue, and very expensive, Kiton suit. His cane looked to be made of ivory.
The man smiled sincerely at Alison and then DeeAnn. With a brief nod, he staggered eagerly across the room toward them.
“Ah, Ms. Shaw and Ms. Draper, it is an honor to make your acquaintance.” His accent was noticeable but subtle. “I very much appreciate you meeting me without an appointment. I’m afraid there is a certain urgency to my trip.”
He reached them and held out his hand. “My name is Mateus Alves.”
Alison shook his hand politely. His aged skin was soft and cool. Standing next to her, DeeAnn did the same. “What can we do for you, Mr. Alves?”
“Please,” Alves waved his hand humorously, “call me Mateus. Being called by my first name may be the only thing left that helps me feel young.” He motioned to his aide next to him. “This is Carolina, my assistant. Please excuse her silence. She knows very little English.”
Both ladies smiled politely at Carolina.
Alison motioned to one of the chairs in front of her desk. “May I offer you a chair?”
“Wonderful, thank you,” Alves replied. He turned around and fell gently into the seat with a welcomed sigh. “Please excuse our abruptness. I hope I haven’t intruded too much.”
“Not at all.” Alison relaxed and watched the man curiously. “We were just doing some planning for a trip.”
Alves raised his cane and nonchalantly propped it up in front of him, resting on it. “I’ll be as brief as I can. I know you are very busy. I’ve come to see you both, as I am a follower of your work. And a big fan, I might add. I’m a businessman in Rio de Janeiro. I own a number of hotels and, as you might guess, have done rather well.” He made a humble gesture at his clothing. “As you can also see, I am an old man. And as such, I have spent a number of my later years trying to give something back.”
Alison and DeeAnn glanced at each other. “That’s very kind of you, Mr. Alves.” Alison caught herself. “I mean, Mateus. But we’re not actually in need of additional funding at this time. We have a number of-”
“Forgive me, Ms. Shaw,” he interrupted. “That’s not what I meant. My visit is of a different nature entirely.”
A flash of embarrassment passed between the women. Alison motioned for him to continue.
“You are correct. I am somewhat of a philanthropist, but my efforts reside more around my home country than outside. In fact, it is one of those endeavors that brought me to you.” He glanced up at Carolina as he went on. “I have spent a number of years building a wildlife preserve for the indigenous animals of South America. I’m sad to say many are now threatened. I’ve spent all my life in South America, and wanted to build something that would help preserve the beauty of our continent well into the future, both flora and fauna.”