Dr. Linda Kipling has had her share of excitement working as a meteorologist with the Naval Research Laboratory. Twice in four years, she and her boss, the arrogant Dr. Victor Silverstein, have faced international crises requiring heroic action. Now, in 2011, Kipling faces her most formidable foe yet: her only remaining relatives, the Müller family.
Debates about climate change continue as two researchers in Greenland mysteriously disappear. Kipling soon comes to a horrific realization: not all observed climatic aberrations are coming from natural variation or an increase in greenhouse gases. Instead, someone is tampering with nature, risking a cataclysmic event that could destroy the world. Her dying father is suspicious; he believes distant relatives in South America are involved.
The Müller family was once part of Hitler's inner circle. They escaped from Germany in 1945 with a fortune in gold, and now they hope to alter the world's climate for their own purposes. Kipling must head to Greenland under the guise of familial reunion in order to dismantle the Müller plan and save the planet from a climatic apocalypse.
"Paul Mark Tag['s] books never disappoint. He is a gifted writer and knows how to craft a great story. ... White Thaw takes us on a great adventure [involving] global warming [and] poses the question of just how far would a group go to win."
-Simon Barrett, Blogger News Network
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White Thaw: The Helheim Conspiracy
By Paul Mark Tag
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2013 Paul Mark Tag
All rights reserved.
Gremikha Naval Base, near Ostrovnoy, on the Kola Peninsula, Russia: 68°04'29"N Latitude, 39°27'47"E Longitude Thursday, 10:25 p.m., September 30, 2003
Captain Alexseyev Gudrinko glanced about the bar, waiting for the upcoming meeting when he would sell his soul to the devil. He focused on the yellowing, multiyear calendar on the wall above the hard liquor, confirming that it was the one-month anniversary of the sinking of K-159. With that disaster in mind, he now rationalized that his treachery might actually be warranted.
The navy captain drew his hand across his face and downed a shot of vodka. At least this clear liquid was plentiful and of good quality. You couldn't say that for much else in this godforsaken spot three hundred kilometers east of Murmansk, and home of the Gremikha Naval Base.
Why had the Kremlin chosen a location that had no road or railroad access, where the sea was the only supply route? Worse, once the year 1997 had passed, Russian bureaucracy decided that Gremikha would no longer serve as a submarine base for the Russian Navy. As if Gremikha had not been punished enough, God then gave the devil free rein to choose a demoralizing purpose for this once proud naval base. It would remain as a repository for the dying, decommissioned submarines that had once sailed proudly from these shores.
Gudrinko's job description was hardly an encouraging reference for future employment. With his fifty-five-man crew, his responsibility was to maintain the decaying former stalwarts of the open sea, primarily by pumping air into the rotting hulks so they would not sink while tied up by their moorings. Part of his job was also to prevent theft; formal security was almost nonexistent. Many of the submarines had rusted so much that they couldn't float on their own. To his chagrin, K-159 had once sunk at its mooring. Of course, these weren't just any submarines—they were nuclear powered. Most contained spent uranium fuel, more radioactive and dangerous than the potent uranium-235 isotope from which it had started.
It had happened one month earlier. On August 30, K-159, with its twin reactors and eight hundred kilograms of spent fuel, sank beneath 240 meters of water. If the radioactive fuel had leaked into the surrounding waters, it would have been an environmental disaster. The Norwegians were beside themselves with concern, and for good reason: the Barents Sea was one of the richest fisheries in the world.
Gudrinko checked his watch and looked up, not surprised that Herr Müller had arrived on time. You could count on the Germans for punctuality.
Müller, a tall, good-looking man with sharp features, took a seat. This was to be their third and final meeting.
Gudrinko wanted to appear hospitable. His people were like that—generous, kind individuals, a local population forsaken by the Kremlin. "May I offer you vodka?" he asked in a German dialect he knew to be less sophisticated than his client's native tongue.
"But of course." Müller smiled. "Your vodka is excellent. I should purchase some to take home."
Gudrinko raised his hand, caught the bartender's attention, lifted his glass in that direction, and pointed to his companion.
"I am sorry for your country's loss." Müller appeared sincere. "Have the authorities determined what happened?"
The bartender arrived quickly, snapped a glass onto the old wooden table, and poured. Gudrinko motioned that he should leave the bottle. He raised his glass and waited for his tablemate to do the same. "To your good health. Vashe zdarovye."
"To you, as well."
The details were disgusting. Most of the world already knew what had happened. "You already know it was a November-class submarine, K-159. Twin nuclear reactors. A tug was towing it to the Polyarny shipyard for salvage. What is there to tell? Someone had decided to move it on pontoons. The weather came up, the pontoons came loose, and the ship sank. Nine men dead, only one survivor, and I understand he is a basket case. Who wouldn't be after seeing your friends die and then spending two hours in the freezing water?"
Gudrinko smirked. "I understand that Minister of Defence Ivanov gave him a watch for his courage. The regional governor gave him ten thousand rubles. Do you know how much that is? About three hundred thirty American. I understand that's the same amount they're giving to his dead comrades." He shook his head in disgust. "Assholes. The only reason this happened is because of politics, because the Defence Ministry had to keep its greedy fingers on the money. The Polyarny shipyard is one of the few remaining yards under their control. If the Russian Shipbuilding Agency had gotten the salvage job, this never would have happened." His face flushed. "And if that weren't enough, there was no reason for anyone to have been aboard that submarine. It was a dead ship with no power. It was being towed, for God's sake! Such a foolish loss of life."
Gudrinko purged these thoughts of death from his mind. Müller's arrival here had nothing to do with the past, but with the future. Although there would be hell to pay after it was over, neither he nor the fourteen men with whom he would carry out this treason would be around to accept the blame. Müller had agreed to arrange for their relocation. His cash payment would be enough to fund each of their retirements, if perhaps only modestly by Western standards. And there would be little chance that word of this theft would escape the intense secrecy maintained within Putin's Russia.
Müller got back to the situation at hand. "Can you assure me that they are seaworthy?"
It was a valid question, one that Müller had asked before. "Most of the boats in this port are not. But the two you are getting are the best of what we have. You already know that they will require considerable repair and maintenance, but they will not sink on you. I promise you that the hulls are intact."
Gudrinko pushed his glass to the side. Time to discuss finances. He had already checked with the bank to confirm the initial amount. "And you'll deposit the remainder as soon as delivery is complete?"
Müller finished off his drink. "Two million more, as agreed."
It was time to be a little less serious. "I don't suppose you'd care to tell me what you intend to do with them."
"That's none of your concern. Once this is over, you will forget this entire transaction." Then Müller lightened up. "If it will make you sleep better tonight, I can tell you that your equipment will be used to better the world. What's the saying? We plan to turn swords into plowshares?"
Gudrinko cocked his head at that last comment. Interesting. But it was time to return to business. "How soon do you wish to take delivery of your two submarines?"
Federal Center for Data Examination, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA: 36°7'51"N Latitude, 115°10'13"W Longitude Tuesday, 5:55 p.m., November 25, 2003
"Really? And you say you've confirmed this with two sources?" Tom Uphouse wasn't used to analyzing incidents occurring in real time. Most of the data feeds that the FCDE dealt with were hours old at best, and usually days, before their banks of electrified silicon pulled up an inconsistency or abnormality. In this case, the incident had occurred only thirty minutes earlier, according to Stigler.
Navy Lieutenant Commander Jane Stigler, the only military person on Uphouse's staff, was a plank holder, meaning that she had been with the organization since day one. Now serving the second year of a three-year assignment, she had become one of Uphouse's leading knowledge engineers. Her cute, perky demeanor—picture Demi Moore in A Few Good Men—belied her considerable intellect. She elaborated on the computer data. "Within three minutes of each other, sir. SOSUS and seismographic records positioned this event at the same geographic location, give or take."
"More than one seismograph?"
"Affirmative, sir. Bermuda, Guantanamo Bay, and Barbados."
"Did they triangulate it?"
"Yes, sir. About one hundred thirty kilometers north of Puerto Rico."
Uphouse continued his barrage. "How strong?"
Stigler was up to the challenge. "Not very, sir. Golden didn't pick up anything."
It took a moment for Uphouse to recall that Golden, Colorado, was the home of the National Earthquake Information Center. He knew Colorado well because it was that state that had the most fourteeners—mountains with peaks of at least fourteen thousand feet—of any state in the union. Uphouse's goal was to climb all fifty-five of them.
"Could the SOSUS people make any sense of what they heard?" Uphouse knew that not much came out of SOSUS these days. SOSUS, the Sound Surveillance System, was a relic of the Cold War. A navy system originally intended to track Soviet submarines as they passed between Greenland, Iceland, and the United Kingdom (the GIUK Gap), SOSUS represented a series of sensitive microphones, called hydrophones, that rested on the ocean floor. They were connected to land stations by underwater cabling. These days, scientists were the primary users of SOSUS, particularly oceanographers who studied whales.
"Same as the seismic signals, what they heard was very weak. But our expert who understands these things says that they did sound like implosions. And catch this! Whatever happened, happened twice."
Uphouse found this statement ridiculous. He stood. "What do you mean, twice?"
"That's what's strange about these data, sir. About two hours apart, the same sequence of signals occurred. Identical, both for SOSUS and the seismographs."
Uphouse blinked. "So let me hear this again. Whatever happened, it happened twice?"
"Affirmative. With almost the same time spacing between the SOSUS and the seismograph readings. The seismic readings occurred after the SOSUS signals."
Uphouse knew that Stigler would relish giving her opinion. "What do you make of this, Commander?"
"The SOSUS signal suggests a submarine in trouble. Assuming that all turned to shit, sir, the seismic sounds could then be the final throes of a submarine hitting the ocean floor."
Uphouse shook his head. "That's what's coming to my mind, too. But twice? What are the chances of two subs having the same problem at the same time and in the same place?"
"Not likely, sir. Unless two collided, of course."
Uphouse glanced at the wall clock and added four hours. "Can you superimpose satellite surveillance?"
"Already on it, sir. In twenty minutes, we'll have a bird within range. Have to use infrared. It's already dark there."
"Okay, here's what we need to do. First thing, call the joint chiefs and see if our navy is having any sub problems. Then follow up to see if anybody else's subs are in the area." The navy tracked those sorts of things. "And I want to hear from you the moment we have satellite recon."
Stigler hurried from his office.
The organization Uphouse headed was used to finding inconsistencies in their data; his team of scientists called them puzzles. Solving those riddles was what they were paid to do. Tom Uphouse had been the director of the FCDE since its inception one year earlier, on September 11 of 2002, one year to the day after 9/11.
The Federal Center for Data Examination was established because of 9/11. Even the less perceptive members of Congress recognized that this disaster should never have happened. Clues that pointed to the event should have been used to nip the disaster in the bud. Of course, even those who suggested the creation of FCDE understood that most of those clues came from human intelligence, with all its inherent fallibility. Notable among those lapses were reports from Colleen Rowley, an FBI agent from Minneapolis, Minnesota. She testified before Congress regarding information she had forwarded through channels concerning Zacarias Moussaoui, a suspected terrorist. As it turned out, those reports could have led to advance knowledge of the plane hijackings. Because her bosses chose to ignore her—and to make certain that such an oversight didn't happen again—a major reorganization of the FBI took place.
At the same time that this weakness in the nation's intelligence came to light, members of the government's in-house scientific pool made an astute point. They stated that, although human-observed intelligence could always be overlooked or ignored, most data in the modern world were sensor detected, not human detected, and available in digital format. Foremost among such records were myriad derived parameters from satellite imagery and sensors. Other more conventional sources of data, such as electromagnetic, seismic, acoustic, financial, and medical, were also available.
It was at this new organization that Tom Uphouse found himself the director. With a yearly budget of $125 million, most of their expenditures went toward the purchase and upkeep of an imposing bank of networked Cray XMT supercomputers and associated storage, all of which would make Silicon Valley proud.
With such mountains of data, Uphouse's staff required sophisticated methods to mine the information. That's where his elite team came in. Computer maintenance personnel, database managers, and computer software designers represented a third of the sixty-plus personnel. The rubber met the road with the remaining two-thirds. They were the knowledge engineers, experts in artificial intelligence who wrote the software designed to glean the precious seeds from their mountain of chaff. On this day, the output from the seismic and SOSUS data represented those seeds.
The only person in the organization with a window to the outside from the thirty-second floor, Uphouse looked back toward the opulence of the Las Vegas Strip. The government, in its infinite wisdom, had chosen the top floor of a major hotel for their organization. As a measure of ingenuity that the federal government rarely displayed, they had acquired this high-rent space for minimal expenditure. Zero, in fact. Government auditors considered the deal a win-win compromise with a hotel owner who hadn't paid his taxes.
Although the FCDE was not a secret organization, per se, Uphouse's bosses in Washington preferred that their new organization remain private, with communication with the outside world on an as-needed basis. As needed meant that Uphouse would make contact only when he and his team discovered something of interest. And what better way to keep their organization out of the public's eye than by planting it in the middle of Entertainment Central and tens of thousands of people. Uphouse figured that whoever had made this seemingly illogical decision had been a fan of Edgar Allen Poe's The Purloined Letter. In that story, police conducted an elaborate search for a stolen letter using logical methods of investigation; in the end, the letter was discovered out in the open for all to see.
The knock at the door signaled Stigler's return. "None, sir. There are no submarines of ours near the data source."
"What about the infrared?"
"There appears to be one large shipping vessel in the vicinity, but nothing else."
Uphouse contemplated the implications of this statement and waved off Sigler. "Okay, I want you and your team to brainstorm what happened."
"Yes, sir." Stigler practically ran from the office.
Uphouse, still standing, rotated to take in the view outside. The sun had set, and the brilliance of the Strip's lights had taken hold. He knew that although he could order his team to come up with possibilities, that didn't absolve him of his own responsibility. They didn't pay him the big bucks to just sit around and give orders. With PhDs in both mathematics and knowledge engineering, his bosses expected him to use his brain, too.
Another thought came to mind. This would be an excuse to check in with his brother, Rick, also a scientist. Rick worked for another federal agency, one more public and well known: the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington DC. Tom smiled. His older brother never hesitated to remind him that Tom was the dumber of the two sons in the Uphouse family. Tom had graduated second in his class at MIT, whereas Rick, who had sown his oats while spending a few years in the navy before college, completed his undergraduate degree in the same year as Tom. Rick had graduated number one.
Tom checked the time and decided to call his brother in the morning. Rick could provide some insight here. Although Rick now spent his days worrying about the retreat of glaciers around the world, during the time he spent in the navy, he had served two years aboard a submarine.
Outside a Secret Location for Operation Helheim in Greenland Thursday, 7:15 a.m., September 29, 2011
"What's that?" Peter Armstrong, in front and driving the snowmobile, shouted above the engine's roar to his partner, Henry Smithkline. Ahead stood an unusual pattern of ice. As they approached the forward sloping surface, Armstrong slowed their Ski-Doo Skandic Tundra to a halt.
Excerpted from White Thaw: The Helheim Conspiracy by Paul Mark Tag. Copyright © 2013 by Paul Mark Tag. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc..
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
It appears that the action-drama line of novels has a strong female protagonist to counter-balance Ludlum's Jason Bourne character. Dr. Linda Kipling is the type of heroine that we need to see more of...smart, resourceful, and determined. And as with Ludlum characters...the reader gets a feeling that being a hero isn't all that it's cracked up to be.
White Thaw: The Helheim Conspiracy is Paul Mark Tag's best thriller yet. I was hooked from the first page as the all-too-plausible story of a diabolical Nazi resurgence began to unfold. Linda Kipling, familiar to Tag fans as the engaging meteorologist and protégé of the brilliant Victor Silverstein, takes center stage in this novel as she struggles to defeat her German-born relatives' ingenious plan to bring about a global climate catastrophe - thus to set the stage for the rebirth of the Third Reich. To tell more would risk the need for a "spoiler alert" warning. Suffice to say that readers looking for edge-of-the-seat suspense and fast-paced action within a realistic scenario for global meltdown will not be disappointed.
Young Michael Crichton meets young Tom Clancy in Paul Mark Tag. This is a really good story that is developed very well with good pacing and mixes good science and real government in a plausible plot. What did not sell me were the details of fight scenes and love scenes, hence the loss of stars. I'm looking forward to his growth as a writer.