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“Truxton reports sonar contact, Admiral,” Kruger told Admiral Cunningham. “She’s launched Seahawks and is preparing to engage with torpedoes.”
Kruger stood at the communication terminal, his hand cupping an earpiece to the side of his head as he repeated key information for Cunningham.
“Contact has reversed course. Heading toward us. Speed, twenty knots. Depth, seventy-five meters and decreasing.” Kruger looked up. “She’s heading for the surface.”
Kruger spoke briefly into the microphone. Cunningham could not hear what he said. A moment later, Kruger looked up, “If the contact maintains current course and speed she’ll pass about a mile off our starboard bow.”
Cunningham smiled. “I think not. It’s time to send this thing to the bottom. All ships and aircraft, weapons free.”
“Periscope wake sighted!” Kruger said, echoing what he heard on the channel he monitored.
Cunningham reached out a hand and touched Kruger on the shoulder. He pointed, out past the carrier’s starboard bow.
White curls cut through the surface of the sea, far too big to be the wake of a periscope. More wakes appeared before and behind the first as rows of large irregular plates broke the surface and cut through the swells. The plates, a dull blue-green, rose out of the water in a long string. Large plates getting smaller to the front and, more slowly, to the rear, of their direction of travel.
As Cunningham watched, a scaly head rose from the water at the front of the rows of plates with the plates now evident as running along the spine of some enormous creature.
The blunt, wedge-shaped head was huge, easily the size of a two story house. The jaws opened wide, revealing rows of jagged teeth. The whole creature had to be at least the size of a Virginia class submarine, if not an Ohio.
A moment later, the head dipped back into the water and the plates, the dorsal plates, began to sink back into the sea.
Kruger swore softly. “That’s what we’ve been tracking?”
Cunningham turned and looked at Kruger. “Tell me someone got video of that.”
Cunningham sighed. “All right. Get on the horn with Washington. I want sonar mapping and maybe ROVs where the nuke went off. I’m going to presume that it’s not just coincidence that this thing came up where the De Moines’ nuke went off. Let’s see what we can find out. Put our assets on tracking this thing but cease fire. Just track it for now.” He rubbed his lips for a moment. “And send some Seahawks out to see if they can find what happened to the Indiana.”
“Aye aye, Admiral.”
“And put together any footage we got along with every instrument reading on that thing. This is going to be a hard sell.”
“We’ve lost GPS signal,” Cedeno said.
White nodded. “They warned us that might happen. Whatever’s blocking satellite radar is also blocking GPS.”
The Hercules had been flying for six hours. They had topped up from their companion tanker three hours previously and were now flying alone under the heavy cloud layer.
They had stripped the Hercules to the bare minimum for this mission. Even so, in another three hours they would have to turn around.
“What do you think’s doing that?” Cedeno said, pointing at the dead GPS unit.
“Radar’s still working,” White said. “Got to be something in the clouds. Maybe some kind of salt being thrown up by whatever’s causing all this. Gets into the upper atmosphere, mixes in with cloud droplets and boom, instant microwave shield. Or maybe not. Ask the professor types in the back.”
At Cedeno’s shrug, White leaned back and went into what he thought of as his pilot’s trance. In this state he was alert, able to respond if anything needed his attention, but those parts of his mind which grew distracted or bored simply shut down.
“Coming up on the drop zone,” Cedeno said just as White opened his mouth to say the same thing.
“Right,” White said. “Ping Harry to tell the professors to get their gear ready to drop.”
“Roger that,” Cedeno said, “Just let me…what the hell?”
“Where the flying fuck did that come from?”
“What are you…” From the corner of his eye, he saw Cedeno looking out the window to the right. He leaned forward to look past him.
In the distance, a smudge marred the horizon–land, where no land should be.
“What the hell?”
“We’re lost,” Tim said. “Whatever screwed up GPS must be doing something to the inertial and our compass.”
“That’s impossible,” White stabbed a finger at the screen displaying the Inertial Navigation System readout. “Inertial’s entirely self-contained. And remember what we were taught? First thing people tend to do when they’re lost is stop trusting their compass.”
“An island that size not on any chart? It’s got to be at least twenty miles across.” Cedeno waved outside at the island. “You think they’d miss a twenty mile, or more, island out here? We’re fucked!”
White chewed on his lower lip for a moment. If they were lost, and it looked like they were, their reserve allowance for fuel suddenly became very important. Still… “All right, let’s head over that way and see if we can get some idea where we are, what island that is. And see if we can find the nearest place for a great landing.”
As the old saying went, any landing you walked away from was a good one. A more recent addition to the saying held that a great landing was one where you can use the plane again.
Ditching in the ocean was never a great landing and rarely a good one.
“And let’s get the professors up here. Maybe they know something.”
Cedeno nodded. “On it.”
As the Hercules banked into a gentle turn, White stared at the island in the distance. Where were they? And where had that island come from?
Coming soon in Paperback and Kindle.
In the meantime, you might take a look at my recently released fantasy novel, The Hordes of Chanakra: