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Terminal Run


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1

Доступ к книге ограничен фрагменом по требованию правообладателя.

To the love of my life, Patricia DiMercurio Who is to me as the land is to the ship

Desired and missed.

My beginning and my destination,

My purpose and my hope.

My future and my past.

EPIGRAPH

“Gentlemen, one thing I’ve learned at sea is that the procedure manuals are written by people who have never been on the business end of a torpedo with the plant crashing around them, with the captain shouting for power, where a second’s delay can mean death. The meaning of being an officer in our Navy is knowing more than those operation manuals, knowing how to play when you’rehurt, when the ship is going down and you need to keep shooting anyway: That’s reality, isn’t it, men? The ability to play hurt. That’s the only way we’ll ever win a war. And in fact, that’s the only way you can live your lives. Do that for me, guys. Learn to play hurt. “

— Admiral Kinnaird R. McKee, Director Navy Nuclear Propulsion Program and Former Superintendent, U.S. Naval Academy, Addressing the Atlantic Fleet Submarine Officers. Norfolk, Virginia

“The U.S. Submarine Force will remain the world’s preeminent submarine force. We will aggressively incorporate new and innovative technologies to maintain dominance throughout the maritime battle space We will promote the multiple capabilities of submarines and develop tactics to support national objectives through battle space preparation, sea control, supporting the land battle, and strategic deterrence. We will fill the role of the Joint Commander’s stealthy, full-spectrum expeditionary platform. “

— U.S. Submarine Force Vision

1

It had been a month since he had flown to Washington to demand a demotion.

The boss had protested, of course. Every other candidate for his job was dead, killed last summer in the disastrous terrorist attack that had robbed them of more than a thousand of their most senior people. But failing a reassignment back to his old job, he would have no choice but to resign, and that would leave two jobs vacant. He had returned home successfully demoted, and the demotion seemed to set the world right again. The staff had shaped up, the operations personnel were improving, and the equipment was in excellent condition.

On this sunny May Saturday he had gone through eighteen holes and pounded out six kilometers before lunch. After a brisk shower at the club, he had donned chinos and a golf shirt and climbed into his convertible Porsche for the twenty-kilometer drive to the office. With the staff home and the phones quiet, he could do more real work in three hours than he could accomplish in a week. He put the top down and drove out of the lot until he reached the coast highway, then opened up the smooth engine, the car accelerating, taking the curves easily, the wind blowing in his hair and taking away his few remaining problems.

As the road rushed toward him, he considered the situation that awaited. For the last year the world situation had been relatively peaceful, but now there were rumors of sparks flying between the Peoples Republic of China and the Hindu Republic of India, bitter enemies since India’s land grabs during the first and second Chinese civil wars. But any resulting global hostilities would be someone else’s problem, since a full-out war would certainly take years to develop, or even decades.

He had barely completed the last thought when the rearview mirror startled him back to the moment. The state trooper was so close that he couldn’t see the cop’s headlights, only the Smokey Bear hat and the mirrored shades and the flashing lights. He cursed as he pulled the Porsche over, knowing he’d pulverized the speed limit. He’d been driving like a maniac on this highway for two years and had never once seen a local constable, much less a static. He became more dismayed as he came to a stop and a second state trooper cruiser pulled in ahead of him, the little sports car now trapped between the two patrol cars. He cursed again as he fished for his wallet and registration. When the jackbooted Ray Ban-wearing trooper came to the car, the glove compartment was open, papers falling onto the floorboards.

“Put both hands on the steering wheel immediately, sir,” the trooper commanded in a deep iron voice, his hand on his unbuckled holster.

With both hands back on the wheel he looked up at the cop and opened his mouth to speak, but never got a word out.

“Identification, sir.”

He handed over his driver’s license and his military ID. The cop scanned them for a moment, comparing the photographs to the driver.

“Mr. Egon Ericcson?”

“It’s Vie,” he said. “Call me Vie.”

The cop opened the car door. “Step out of the vehicle, Mr. Ericcson. Slowly. Don’t speak, don’t say a word.”

What the hell was going on? he wondered as he climbed to his feet. Once a varsity football warrior, Vie “The Viking” Ericcson towered over others, with broad shoulders, a flattop blond crew cut, ocean-blue eyes presiding over the broken nose and square jaw of an amateur boxer, his weathered face showing the hard wear of years in the outdoors.

A second trooper approached from the rear cruiser and climbed into the Porsche’s seat, shutting the door after him.

“Hey, goddammit, that’s my car!”

“Please remain silent, sir,” the first trooper said. “Your vehicle is impounded. Please turn around slowly and walk to the patrol car, sir.”

“Officer, look, I know—”

“Quiet, sir.”

The trooper forced him into the back of his cruiser and shut the door, then took the driver’s seat. The cop backed up, then peeled out into the highway and rocketed down the asphalt toward the city. Behind them the second cruiser was escorting the Porsche, but the two cars soon vanished in the distance as the trooper accelerated.

“Where are we going? The courthouse? State Police HQ?”

The trooper said nothing. Finally the airport exit came up, and the cruiser pulled off, eventually coming to a stop at a large fence gate, which rolled open. Ericcson had the momentary thought that they must have a police facility inside the airport grounds, but the cruiser flew over the tarmac of the airport for a few minutes until it screeched to a stop at a gigantic commercial Boeing-Airbus 808, the plane’s jets idling far from the terminal.

He started to ask the obvious question, but before he could, the rear door opened and two new state troopers pulled him unceremoniously from the car and led him up an old-fashioned wheeled stairway to the jet’s door far above. He was escorted quickly inside the cool airplane, and as his eyes adjusted from the harsh noon sunlight he saw that the interior was empty except for two men in nondescript suits, who waved him to a seat in the middle of the firstclass section.

He looked at the suits and decided to see if they would prove more understanding than the uniforms who’d brought him and who were currently handing over a clipboard for signatures. As the cops withdrew, he looked up and started his complaint. “Look, guys, I was speeding. I admit it, but—”

One of the troopers suddenly turned and handed something down to him. He stared dumbly at his driver’s license and his U.S. Navy identification. Obviously, whatever was happening to him had nothing to do with a traffic violation.

“Who are you guys? What’s going on? Is this coming from Washington?”

“Sir,” the first suit said formally, “please strap yourself in. We’re leaving immediately.”

“Goddamnit, what the hell?” he grumbled, but decided to shut his mouth. He looked down at himself, at his casual clothes, the odd thought coming that he hoped he was dressed for wherever they were taking him.

The jet reached the end of the runway and throttled up, climbing out east over the Pacific. With his escorts insisting upon remaining silent, there was nothing to do but sleep in the large comfortable firstclass seat. It was hours later when he woke up, the windows dark long after local sunset.

“May I get you something, sir?” The first suit stood over him.

“Coffee would be great,” he said in his gravelly voice. “And then some information. And a phone.”

“Coffee is the best we’ll be able to do for you, sir.” The steaming coffee landed on the tray in front of him, and the smell of it made him want to dive into it, the aroma reminding him of his younger days at sea.

“Then tell me one thing — may I take it that we’re headed for Washington?”

“I can neither confirm nor deny, sir.”

“It’s John Patton, isn’t it? He ordered this?”

“Again, sir, I can neither—”

He waved the man to silence and waited for them to arrive wherever it was they were taking him. As the plane descended, he asked permission to move to a window seat, surprised when they let him shift over. The jet made a night approach toward nothingness, the absence of lights odd, as if they were landing in a deserted cornfield. This might not be the East Coast at all, he thought. Eventually the jet turned and flared out, the heavy airframe touching down gently and braking at the end of the darkened runway the aircraft turning at the end and taxiing back to where they’d touched down. The agents pulled him out of his seat as the forward hatch opened. He stepped out into warm, humid night air, insisting on taking a look around at the top of the steps at an unlit compound of aging huts and derelict outbuildings. By this time he wasn’t surprised by the lack of a greeting party.

3

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