Read an Excerpt
Thursday, 25 June 1987
Spook Hut, USS Parche
South of Magadan on the Sea of Okhotsk
0445 hours local time
Commander James Edward Travers pressed the headset against his ear, listening to the warble of coded transmissions plucked from the cold, wet air somewhere above the spaghetti of pipes and wiring bundles that decorated the Spook Hut's overhead. An adjustment on one of the verniers ... there!
Red lights flickered across the array on the receiver mounted on the bulkhead in front of him, an extremely sophisticated and expensive broad-bandwidth scanner that one sailor had irreverently referred to as his "big-ass CB . " Citizens band it certainly was not; each flash of a red LED pinpointed a different transmission on a Soviet military frequency. He made another slight adjustment on the console, as the big tape heads on the cabinet at his back rolled.
"Neechivah ni slishna! " a voice said with explosive clarity and strength. "Gavaritee medlina, Yedenitsa P'yat-dvah-adeen!"
"Shtob! Shtob!" a second voice came back, distant but shrill, almost hysterical. "Zdess Pyat-dvah-adeen! Amerikanskyy podvahdnya lahtka . . ."
The burst of Russian, sent in the clear, was startling. The Soviets were usually meticulous in their use of coded and scrambled transmissions. Travers listened with intent fascination, translating the exchange as the tapes rolled.
"Unit Five-two-one, this is Headquarters," the near voice said, interrupting. "You are in violation of regulations. Cease transmission at once.
"Fuck the regulations!" the shrill voicereplied. 'The American submarine is getting away! He- is maneuvering now for the Proliv Yekateriny. We need antisubmarine air to cut him off!"
Travers smiled. Whoever Unit Five-two-one was, he had a dung or two to learn about tact. Or, possibly, he was well connected enough that he didn't need to worry about tact ... or the penalties for transgressing the regulations regarding unsecured radio transmissions.
Still, it was exactly this type of unguarded moment that ELINT specialists lived for, a brief and narrow window into the forest of scrambled signals and fiendishly convoluted encryptions
Additional forces are on the way, Unit Five-two-one. Cease transmission on this channel. Switch to scrambled mode at one-five-nine-nine."
"Bastards! I know reinforcements are coming. Deploy them to the Proliv Yekateriny if you want to slam the gate on this pig!"
The hairs at the back of Travers's neck prickled with excitement. He'd definitely picked up a part of the search net cast for Parche's fellow provocateur in this exercise, the LAclass boat Pittsburgh, some thousand miles almost due south of the Parche's current lurking point. He made a note on a piece of paper on the console before him and continued listening.
But this window, at least, had just closed. He heard no more outbursts of unguarded plain Russian. The warbles and chirps of coded, burst transmissions, however, continued to fill the air above.
He turned in his swivel chair to the Radioman First Class crowded into the cramped confines of the Spook Hut at his side. "Keep on 'em, Joe:' he said. "I've gotta get this to the skipper."
"Aye, aye, sit," RM/1 Joseph McNally replied. He, too, wore a radio headset as he monitored the Soviet transmissions. "Maybe bring me some coffee, huh?"
"You got it." He shook his head as he squeezed out of the Spook Hut ... which was in fact the Sturgeon class boat's torpedo room, redecorated for the occasion as an intelligence ESM listening suite. As with the Navy's submarine service, the SEALs, and a handful of other elite groups that prized professionalism above the formal hierarchies of rank and privilege, Naval Intelligence operatives-at least in the field tended to accept casual fraternization between officers and enlisted men more than was possible within the regular naval service. You would never find a full commander fetching coffee for an enlisted man in the real Navy.
Ducking out of the cozy confines of the Spook Hut, he made his way aft along the main corridor, trotted up a companionway ladder, then entered the larger but still claustrophobic enclosure of the Parche's bridge and combat center, red-lit, now, to preserve the night sight of men whose duty schedules took scant notice of whether it was light or dark in the world above. Commander Richard Perrigrino, Parche's captain, stood at one of the two gleaming, silver tree hunks in the compartment's center, the housing for one of the boat's periscopes. With eye pressed against the rubbercushioned ocular, his arm draped over one of the turning arms, he looked every inch the rugged U-boat skipper he sometimes pretended to be. Skip Jones, the boat's Exec, stood beside him.
"Whatcha got, Commander?" Jones asked, looking up from the clipboard and pen he held in Ins hands. "What brings you out of your cave and into the red light of day?"
"Something the captain might be interested in," Travers replied.
"Hang on just a sec, Commander," Perrigrino said. "Got a hot one here. Smile for the birdie. . . ." He touched a button on the side of the periscope housing, snapping a rapid-fire series of high-resolution photographs through the scope's lens. "Mark, Sierra Six-one, bearing three-three-four. Log it. "'Sierra Six-one, bearing three-three-four, aye, Captain," Jones said, noting the information on his clipboard.
Captain Perrigrino pulled back from the scope and grinned at Travers. "Hey! You want to see something damned cooI?"
"Certainly, Captain." It wasn't every day that anyone other than the tight little coterie of senior submarine officers got to have a peek through the boat's periscope. He walked across the combat center to the periscope housing, leaned forward, and pressed Ins eyes up to the objective eyepiece.
The low-light image-intensifier system was on, flooding his eyes with a green-yellow glow. It took him a moment to begin to pick out shapes and meaning from the jumble he was swing...