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Breakthrough

By´╝ÜMichael C. Grumley

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Special thanks to Kelly Foster, my number one fan. Without her this book would never have been written. Thanks also to Andrea, Mom, Steve, Richele, Jennifer, and Dan, for their proofreading and expert feedback.


1


Something out there sounded strange. He pressed the headphones in tighter against his ears.

Sonar operators were a special breed. Few people could sit in front of a computer screen, fighting monotony day after day, listening to the faintest of sounds through lonely ocean waters. But for the few who could, it was surprising how attuned a human sense could become. Eugene Walker would rather be a Ping Jockey than do any other job in the Navy. Here he could hear everything. Even on a boring night like this, he knew exactly what surrounded them as they slid silently through the dark waters.

What he was listening to tonight was odd though. He had heard it for some time but couldn’t pin it down. He shifted in his seat and studied the computer screen in front of him, listening to the strange sound picked up by his computer. He played it again and again, and still could not place it. Some jockeys were rumored to be so good that they could identify the current moving through the coral, but those guys had spent their entire lives on their boats. He couldn’t hear currents, though he had identified some natural occurrences that the computers could not. But this one was strange; a steady hum at a very low frequency and just barely within the range of human hearing.



Not more than ten feet behind Walker stood Commander Sykes, reading through yet another fascinating maintenance report. Sykes was a stickler for detail as most were, but even the best commanders eventually fell prey to the unrelenting boredom of perfect routine. He picked up his warm coffee and sipped, letting his mind wander to his wife and girls at home, wondering if they were in bed yet. He glanced at his watch absently and turned the page, now just scanning for anything that stuck out.

By pure instinct, he noticed from the corner of his eye his Navigation Officer repeatedly looking at the instruments and then back to the table and his digital map.

“Something wrong Willie?”

Willie Mendez didn’t reply for a long moment. Reporting a problem to the XO wasn’t something you did without triple checking. “Mmm…”

Sykes turned slowly, still reluctant to take his eye off the report now blurring into a jumble of words.

The officer looked closer at the large illuminated, three square foot map between them. “I’m getting something strange here, sir.”

Sykes looked at the table and back up to another monitor, seeing the problem immediately. He took the clear rule and recalculated himself. He frowned and looked back at the young navigator.

“How many times have you checked this?”

“Four times.”

Sykes scratched his chin while Mendez spoke. “Plotting from our last verifiable had us here, two minutes ago.” He zoomed the screen in, enlarging the area. A small circle appeared next to his index finger joined by small GPS coordinates hovering beside it. He then moved his finger further up the chart in the same direction. “Now it’s reporting us here.”

“In two minutes?” Sykes’ response was rhetorical. He shook his head and sighed. 380 knots per hour was a bit optimistic for a nuclear class submarine. Was it a glitch? This wasn’t the first computer malfunction they’d had, far from it. He knew that software written by some geek hyped up on Jolt was far more fallible than traditional mechanical or electrical systems, hell even the cooks knew that by now. “Anything else acting buggy?”

“No sir.”

“Run integrity checks on both systems.”

“Already started, sir.” All eyes turned to the monitor now displaying the results. “Systems report no consistency errors.”

Great, broken software that doesn’t even know it’s broken. Sykes looked closely at the orange GPS display. “Try re-synching the satellites.”

Willie complied and waited. He began to slowly shake his head. “Birds look good, I’ve got five…now six. Pinpointed to one meter and reporting the same coordinates.”

The Commander didn’t respond. He remained focused on the GPS screen, thinking.

Eugene stuck his head out of the tiny radio area and dropped his headset around his neck. “Sir. I’ve been picking up something for the last few minutes on sonar. It might be related.”

Sykes’ eyes trained on Eugene. “What is it?”

“Not a vessel sir. Nothin’ I’ve ever heard before.”

Sykes put the second headset on and listened as Eugene played it for him. “What the hell is that?”

Frowning, Eugene switched back to the live feed and closed his eyes. “…it’s gone now.”

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