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Straits of Power
By Buff, Joe
William Morrow & CompanyISBN: 0060594683
Commander Jeffrey Fuller stood waiting in the warmth on the concrete tarmac at a small corner of the sprawling U.S. Navy base in Norfolk, Virginia. He looked up at the very blue sky, telling himself that today was a good day for flying: sunny, with almost no haze; easterly breeze at maybe ten knots; and a scattering of high, whispy, bright-white clouds. Noise from helicopters taking off and landing assaulted his ears. Another helo sat on a pad in front of him, as its powerful twin turbine engines idled. The main rotors above the Seahawk's fuselage, over the passenger compartment, turned just fast enough to be hypnotic. Jeffrey had been badly overworked for much too long. He fought to not stare at those blades, and abandon himself to being mesmerized, and letting his mind go blank and drift away. But the intoxicating stink of sweet-yetchoking helo exhaust fumes, mixed with the subtler smell of the seashore wafting from the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, stirred his combat instincts, helping him stay alert and on his toes.
Jeffrey glanced at his watch, then at the cockpit of the matte gray Seahawk. The pilot and copilot sat side by side, running through their checklists. The helo should be ready for boarding soon.
Jeffrey was glad. Ever since he'd woken up before dawn this morning, for some reason he felt the loneliness and burdens of command with added poignancy. Thisseemed a warning of bad things to come, things he knew in his bones would happen soon -- Jeffrey had learned to trust his sixth sense for danger and crisis through unforgiving, unforgettable experience. The ceramic-composite-hulled nuclear submarine of which he was captain, USS Challenger, sat in a heavily defended, covered dry dock at the Northrop Grumman Newport News Shipbuilding yards not far from here, northwest across the James River. For several weeks now she'd been laid up and vulnerable, undergoing repairs and systems upgrades after Jeffrey's latest hard-fought battle, thousands of miles away, deep under the sea.
His rather young and clean-cut crew were working on Challenger around the clock, side by side with the shipyard's gruff and gritty men and women who applied their skills to Jeffrey's ship with a vengeance. Vengeance of a different sort was on everyone's mind, because this terrible war against the Berlin-Boer Axis was by no stretch of the imagination close to being won. Atomic explosions were devastating the Atlantic Ocean ecosystem, and stale fallout from the small warheads being used sometimes drift to settle in local hot spots even well inland. Gas-mask satchels were mandatory for all persons east of the Mississippi; radiation detectors were everywhere. Some reservoirs, too contaminated, were closed until further notice; entire industries, including East Coast beach resorts, were wiped out, even as other industries thrived because of the war. Only price controls, and price supports, prevented rampant hyperinflation or a regional real estate market crash.
A messenger had arrived, just as Jeffrey sat down to go over today's main progress goals with his officers. And now here he was, thanks to that message, not in the wardroom on Challenger but waiting for a helo shuttle at barely 0800-eight A.M. Taken from his ship and crew on short notice, and ordered at once to the Pentagon without even the slightest hint as to why, left Jeffrey distracted and concerned. He was a man who liked control of his destiny, and was addicted to adrenaline: Deny me these and I'm almost half empty inside. The ribbons on Jeffrey's khaki short-sleeved uniform shirt did little to console him.
Even thoughts of his recent Medal of Honor, and his brand-new Defense Distinguished Service Medal, couldn't disperse Jeffrey's mental unease. Strong as they were in traditions and symbolism, the ribbons were merely small strips of metal and cloth. They paled compared to the draining things he'd gone through, and the awful things he'd had to do, to earn these highest awards from a thankful nation. The medals grated on Jeffrey's conscience too, because they made him be a hero and a national celebrity, but said nothing of those who'd been killed under his leadership. Jeffrey sometimes felt haunted by the faces of the dead; he had a keen sense of cause and effect, of the link between his actions and their consequences, and he remembered clearly every person who died while doing what he as captain had told them to do.
Jeffrey perked up when a crew chief came out of the back of the Seahawk carrying a bundle of head-protection gear with built-in soundsuppression earcups, and inflatable life jackets. Jeffrey put on all the safety equipment, donning the big, padded eye goggles last. He picked up his briefcase and his gas-mask bag.
Conversation was impossible now. The crew chief told his passengers what to do by using hand signals. The other passengers, junior officers and chiefs who were strangers to Jeffrey, seemed to know the routine. By privilege of rank and standard navy etiquette, Jeffrey got in last. He took the place reserved for him, among several running down the center of the fuselage and facing sideways, so he could look out a window. He buckled in, then shifted to get more comfortable on the black vinyl sheets of his seat.
The crew chief stowed the luggage; his assistant slid the door closed. The crew chief came around and quickly checked everyone very carefully. He pulled Jeffrey's seat-harness shoulder straps uncomfortably tight, then gave a firm tug to the chin strap of his helmet. Jeffrey and the crew chief made eye contact. The navy didn't salute indoors, but the chief had seen Jeffrey's ribbons. The chief gave Jeffrey a look of acknowledgment, and extra respect. Jeffrey, never more rank conscious than he needed to be, returned the look and gave a quick nod ... Continues...
Excerpted from Straits of Power by Buff, Joe Excerpted by permission.
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What People are Saying About This
“Joe Buff takes the reader through a labyrinth of action and high adventure.”
“[A] hair-raising trip to the bottom of the ocean.”