Psychologist John Ramsay has gone undercover aboard a Hell Diver subtug. His mission is to covertly observe the remainder of the four-man crewand find the traitor among them. Sabotage and suspicion soon plague the mission, as Ramsay discovers that the stress of fighting a war a mile and a half under the ocean exposes every weakness in a man. Hunted relentlessly by the enemy, the four men find themselves isolated in a claustrophobic undersea prison, struggling for survival against the elements . . . and themselves.
A gripping novel by the legendary author of Dune.
|Publisher:||Tom Doherty Associates|
|Edition description:||First Edition|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.61(d)|
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The blonde WAVE secretary at the reception desk took the speaker cup of a sono-typer away from her mouth, bent over an intercom box.
“Ensign Ramsey is here, sir,” she said.
She leaned back, stared up at the redheaded officer beside her desk. His collar bore the zigzag of electronics specialist over the initials BP—Bureau of Psychology. He was a tall man, round-faced, with the soft appearance of overweight. Freckles spotted his pinkish face, giving him the look of a grown-up Tom Sawyer.
“The admiral’s usually a little slow answering,” said the receptionist.
Ramsey nodded, looked at the door beyond her. Gold lettering on a heavy oak panel: CONFERENCE ROOM—Sec. I. Security One. Above the clatter of office sounds, he could hear the tooth-tingling hum of a detection scrambler.
Through his mind passed the self-questionings he could never avoid, the doubts that had made him a psychologist: If they have a rough job for me, can I do it? What would happen if I turned it down?
“You can rest that here on the desk,” said the receptionist. She pointed to a black wooden box, about a foot on a side, which Ramsey carried under his left arm.
“It’s not heavy,” he said. “Maybe the admiral didn’t hear you the first time. Could you try again?”
“He heard me,” she said. “He’s busy with a haggle of braid.” She nodded toward the box. “Is that what they’re waiting for?”
Ramsey grinned. “Why couldn’t they be waiting for me?”
She sniffed. “Enough braid in there to founder a subtug. They should be waiting for an ensign. There’s a war on, mister. You’re just the errand boy.”
A wave of resentment swept over Ramsey. You insolent bitch, he thought. I’ll bet you don’t date anything less than a full commander. He wanted to say something biting, but the words wouldn’t come.
The receptionist returned the sono-typer cup to her mouth, went back to her typing.
I’ve been an ensign so long I’ll even take lip from a WAVE yeoman, he thought. He turned his back on her, fell to musing. What do they want with me? Could it be that trick on the Dolphin? No. Obe would have said. This might be important, though. It could be my big chance.
He heard the receptionist behind him take a sheet of paper from her machine, replace it.
If I got a big assignment and came back a hero, she’d be the kind who’d try to beat Janet’s time with me. The world’s full of ’em.
Why do they want me in Sec. I?
Obe had just said to bring the telemetering equipment for the remote-control vampire gauge and show up on the Sec. I doorstep at 1400. Nothing more. Ramsey glanced at his wrist watch. A minute to go.
“Ensign Ramsey?” A masculine voice sounded behind him. Ramsey whirled. The conference-room door stood open. A gray-haired line captain leaned out, hand on door. Beyond the captain, Ramsey glimpsed a long table strewn with papers, maps, pencils, overflowing ash trays. Around the table sat uniformed men in heavy chairs, almost like fixtures. A cloud of blue tobacco smoke hung over the scene.
“I’m Ensign Ramsey.”
The captain glanced at the box under Ramsey’s arm, stepped aside. “Will you come in, please?”
Ramsey skirted the reception desk, entered the room. The captain closed the door, indicated a chair at the foot of the table. “Sit there, please.”
Where’s the boss? Ramsey wondered. His gaze darted over the room; then he saw Obe: a hollow-cheeked little civilian, straggly goatee, thin bird features, seated between two burly commodores like a prisoner under guard. The little civilian’s radiation-blinded eyes stared straight ahead. The mound of a radar bat-eye box atop one shoulder gave him a curious unbalanced appearance.
Ramsey sat down in the chair indicated, allowed himself an inward chuckle at the thought of the two commodores guarding Dr. Richmond Oberhausen, director of BuPsych. Obe could reduce them to quivering jelly with ten words.
The captain who had admitted Ramsey took a chair well down the table. Ramsey moved his black box to his lap, noted eyes following the movement.
Obe has briefed them on my little invention, he thought.
The hum of the detection scrambler was strong in the room. It made Ramsey’s teeth ache. He closed his eyes momentarily, blanked off the pain, opened his eyes, stared back at the men examining him. He recognized several of the faces.
Very high braid.
Directly opposite at the other end of the table sat Admiral Belland, ComSec, the high mogul of Security, a steely-eyed giant with hook nose, thin slit of a mouth.
He looks like a pirate, thought Ramsey.
Admiral Belland cleared his throat in a hoarse rumble, said, “This is the ensign we’ve been discussing, gentlemen.”
Ramsey’s eyebrows went up a notch. He looked to Dr. Oberhausen’s impassive face. The BuPsych chief appeared to be waiting.
“You know this ensign’s Security rating,” said Belland. “It’s presumed we can talk freely in front of him. Would any of you care to ask him—”
“Excuse me, please,” Dr. Oberhausen arose from between the two commodores with a slow, self-assured movement. “I have not acquainted Mr. Ramsey with any of the particulars of this meeting. In view of the assignment we have in mind, it would appear more humane if we did not treat him like a piece of dry goods.” The sightless eyes turned toward Belland. “Eh, Admiral?”
Belland leaned forward. “Certainly, Doctor. I was just coming to that.”
The admiral’s voice carried a tone somewhere between fear and deference.
Ramsey thought: Obe is running this meeting pretty much as he wants, and without these birds being certain they’re outmaneuvered. Now, he probably wants me to pick up a cue and help him apply the clincher.
Dr. Oberhausen sank back into his chair with a stiff, stick-like gesture. A punctuation.
Belland’s chair rasped on the floor. He got to his feet, went to the side wall at his left, indicated a north-polar projection map. “Ensign Ramsey, we’ve lost twenty subtugs in these waters over the past twenty weeks,” he said. He turned to Ramsey altogether like a schoolteacher about to propound a problem. “You’re familiar with our pressing need for oil?”
Familiar? Ramsey restrained a wry smile. Through his mind sped the almost interminable list of regulations on oil conservation: inspections, issuance forms, special classes, awards for innovations. He nodded.
The admiral’s bass rumble continued: “For almost two years now we’ve been getting extra oil from reservoirs under the marginal seas of the Eastern Powers’ continental shelf.” His left hand made a vague gesture over the map.
Ramsey’s eyes widened. Then the rumors were true: the sub services were pirating enemy oil!
“We developed an underwater drilling technique working from converted subtugs,” said Belland. “A high-speed, low-friction pump and a new type of plastic barge complete the general picture.”
The admiral’s mouth spread into what he probably imagined as a disarming grin. It succeeded only in making him appear even more piratical. “The boys call the barge a slug, and the pump is a mosquito.”
Dutiful chuckles sounded through the room. Ramsey smiled at the forced response, noted that Dr. Oberhausen maintained his reputation as Old Stone Face.
Admiral Belland said, “A slug will carry almost one hundred million barrels of oil. The EPs know they’re losing oil. They know how, but they can’t always be sure of where or when. We’re outfoxing them.” The admiral’s voice grew louder. “Our detection system is superior. Our silencer planes—”
Dr. Oberhausen’s brittle voice interrupted him. “Everything we have is superior except our ability to keep them from sinking us.”
The admiral scowled.
Ramsey picked up his cue, entered the breach. “What was the casualty percentage on those twenty subtugs we lost, sir?”
An owl-faced captain near Belland said dryly, “Of the last twenty missions, we lost all twenty.”
Copyright © 1956 by Herbert Properties, LLC. All rights reserved.