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Debris littered the ocean below the big Hercules aircraft. White had never seen such destruction, not even during his last tour in the war-torn Middle East.
The radio came to life, “Theresa One, provide ETA to station.”
White glanced at his copilot.
“Thirty-four mikes,” Lieutenant Tim Cedeno in the right seat of the Hercules said on the intercom. Thirty-four minutes.
White nodded and keyed the radio. “Base, Theresa One, estimated thirty-four mikes to station. Will loiter. Vector airways on station and in vicinity.”
“Roger Theresa One, please report on potential survivors found. Coast guard cutter is en-route; will retrans commo or provide local freq for on-site comm net.
“Roger base. Out.”
“Coast Guard?” Cedeno said. “You saw the port back there. It’s nothing but wreckage.”
“Boats at sea when the tsunami hit,” White said. “If they weren’t too close to shore, they could ride it out.”
Cedeno nodded and looked out the window. “Damn, it’s a mess down there.”
That it is, White thought but did not say.
The Hercules flew on in its own small world marked by overcast sky above and flotsam dotted sea below. About fifteen minutes later the radio again came to life.
“Theresa one, base, Coast Guard cutter is onsite and requesting you join their net, one four seven point two seven zero.”
“Base, Theresa One, wilco.” On the intercom he added. “Tim, dial in the VHF, pretty please.”
“Unidentified Coast Guard cutter, this is Air Force Charlie One Three Zero, call sign Theresa One, joining your net.”
Roger Theresa One, this is Coast Guard Cutter Seven Five One, welcome to the net. Our six is requesting overflight of grid coordinates One One Sierra Mike Sierra Two Eight One Four Niner Seven Eight Two One Seven to One One Sierra Mike Sierra Six Two Zero Niner Seven One Six Zero Niner Seven. Please report visual of survivors.”
“Roger that, we are inbound. One eight mikes ETA.”
“One eight mikes, Roger. Cutter Seven Five One out.”
“Survivors?” Cedeno looked at White.
White shrugged. “Boats caught offshore. People caught at the edge of the tsunami and swept out to sea who managed to grab something.”
Cedeno leaned to his right and stared down at the water. “Do you really think we’ll find anybody?”
“Dunno,” White said, “but I took the family to the beach this morning. That could have been us down there. So we’re going to take a really, really good look.”
“Harry?” White looked back at the flight engineer, Staff Sergeant Harry Antoniewicz. “Check with the loadmaster. Confirm we’re ready to drop teams.”
“On it, Captain.” Antoniewicz unbuckled, twisted out of his seat, and headed toward the rear of the aircraft.
Cunningham ascended to the flag bridge. Despite the late hour, this far north sunlight still washed across the deck of the carrier.
Kruger handed him a clipboard. “Fires extinguished on the Gonzalez and she’s got one of the turbines running. She’s creeping south for repairs. And, the Indiana is overdue for contact.”
Cunningham took the clipboard and scanned down the report it held. “And our target?”
“The contact continues to move north and nearing Indiana’s last reported position, which could explain the lack of communication. She could be deep and preparing to engage. It continues to shrug off everything we’ve dropped on it.”
“‘The contact’? Cunningham looked over the top of his glasses at Kruger. “I understand people are reluctant to name the sub, considering it was one of ours, but ‘the contact’?”
“It’s not that, Admiral.” Kruger pressed his lips together and shook his head. “You’re going to think I’m crazy.”
“Maybe. But spit it out.”
“I don’t think our contact’s the sub.”
“And what else might it be?”
“I don’t know, sir, but consider. I don’t care how good the sub crew is or how lucky, there’s just no way that they could shrug off that many torpedoes. We’ve been sending them back out as fast as we could get them refueled and rearmed and it just ignores them, just continues to move north. And they’ve dropped hydrophones. The fish are exploding so it’s not a matter of some kind of string of duds.”
“Nevertheless, it is out there. But, continue.”
“Well, how does a Los Angeles boat produce such a big return to sonar. And it’s sound? Sonar tells me they’ve never heard a sub sound like that.”
“Damage from the explosion?” Cunningham said.
“Then it would have to be damage we’ve never seen before,” Kruger said. “But what if it’s not damage we’ve never seen before. What if it’s something else we’ve never seen before.”
“I don’t know, sir. I just don’t know. But I think the explosion was on board and the Boise became part of the expanding plasma of that explosion. And what’s out there, what we’re following, what we’re torpedoing, is something else.”
Cunningham looked Kruger up and down. If his exec was getting spooked by this, what rumors were running through the rest of the crew? He shrugged. Whatever that thing was they were chasing, they would know soon enough.
He froze at the thought. Apparently, the chase was getting to him, too.
“Sir, may I see your identification please?” The security guard at the Air Force base said.
Damjan handed his license out the window of the rental car. Albertson, in the passenger seat, leaned across to hand his own license out.
“We’re here to see General Kincaid.”
The guard made a note and handed the licenses back. “Gentlemen, I’ll have to phone this in.”
Damjan nodded and the guard entered the small shack next to the gate. A moment later he returned to the car. “Gentlemen, the general is expecting you.” He gave them brief, but clear, directions to the proper building. “When you get there, check in with the NCOOD, and he’ll pass you through to the General.”
“NCOOD?” Damjan asked.
“NCO, that’s Non-Commissioned Officer Of the Day. It should be obvious when you get there.”
“Thank you,” Damjan said.
The guard gestured and the gate opened. For a moment, Damjan amused himself by thinking the guard opened the gate by magic rather than simply signaling to someone sitting by a switch in the shelter.
The directions led to a low office building. No cars occupied any of the spaces marked visitor parking. Damjan parked the car and he and Albertson ascended the short flight of steps to the entrance to the building.
A few minutes later they sat in General Kincaid’s office.
“If the pattern continues, and there’s no reason to expect it to stop, then in about six hours the Pacific Ocean is going to have the biggest earthquake the world has ever known,” Albertson said.
“And you want to go out there to see what’s happening,” Kincaid said. “And how are you going to do that when whatever’s happening is covered by fifteen thousand feet of water?”
Albertson looked at Damjan, who looked back and shrugged. “We don’t think it’s under fifteen thousand feet of water. By our measurements, and other centers confirm them, the last earthquake occurred three thousand feet above the sea floor, or where the sea floor was.”
Damjan waved at the window. “That’s why the tsunami was so bad. A huge uplift, far larger than we would normally expect from an earthquake of that magnitude. It moved a lot of water and, well, you’ve seen the results.”
“And what are you expecting to accomplish?”
“I don’t know,” Albertson said. “At this point we don’t know what’s happening. All we’ve got are seismograph readings. Satellite images are blocked by a continuous overcast that started about the time of the first earthquake and have continued ever since. The clouds block visible light and infrared both and, reading between the lines, I’m guessing it’s stopping the military stuff too, radar and whatever else you’ve got up there.” He paused, looking at Kincaid. Kincaid, for his part, sat impassively, neither confirming nor denying what Albertson had said.
A moment later, Albertson continued. “Those clouds above us now are part of the same system. A pattern of clouds stretching from there to here, nearly six thousand miles. A cloud pattern covering nearly half the world.” He threw up his hands. “And we know nothing, absolutely nothing, about what’s going on out there. Anything we can find out, anything at all, is more than we have.”
“Well, as it happens, Washington agrees with you. Unfortunately, I don’t have anything that can reach your target. Do you know what that location is called?”
Damjan looked at Albertson who looked blank.
“It’s called the Pole of Inaccessibility. It’s the spot in the ocean furthest from any land. If I had a C-17 and a tanker or two, maybe, but I don’t. What I’ve got, what I can shake loose, are a couple of C-130’s, one a tanker. Can get you about halfway there by the time you think that next earthquake will hit. You’ll still be almost three thousand miles away.”
“That’s like going to New York when you’re trying to get a look at Los Angeles!” Damjan said.
Kincaid spread his hands. “Best I can do with the resources to hand.”
“It’s not even worth…”
Albertson laid a hand on Damjan’s arm. “If that’s the best you can do, then we’ll just have to accept it. Can your, uh, C one thirty you called it, drop instruments for us into the ocean.”
Kincaid smiled, “I think it might be able to do that.”
“Then I guess that’s what we need to do,” Albertson said. “I really meant it. Anything at all is more than we have now.”
Coming soon in Paperback and Kindle.
In the meantime, you might take a look at my recently released fantasy novel, The Hordes of Chanakra: