The accident changed everything... One moment, Lieutenant Jake Slate was going about his duties aboard the ballistic missile submarine, USS Colorado. The next second, he was sprawled on the deck plates in a spreading puddle of blood and hydraulic fluid. But it wasn't the injury that ruined his life and doomed his military career. It was the rescue effort.
Now he's being thrown to the wolves to cover up the misdeeds of a superior officer, and Jake doesn't care for the role of sacrificial lamb...
May 10, 2006
Naval Submarine Base, Kings Bay, Georgia:
David Bass, a stocky man in his early twenties, sat before the reactor panel, a sprawling table of controls and gauges that climbed up the forward wall of the engine room’s maneuvering control center.
Beside him, a junior electrician named Dowd bit his nails while glancing at displays that resembled the reactor panel but instead routed electric power. To Bass’ other side stood the steam panel that controlled vapor flow to the submarine’s twin main engines.
Bass heard Lieutenant Jake Slate’s voice crackle through the wireless unit at his hip.
“This is the duty officer,” Jake said. “Report shore power load.”
Bass glanced over Dowd’s shoulder at gauges on the electric panel.
“Nine hundred amps aft, eight hundred forward, sir.”
Bass reached behind his shoulder for the engine room announcing circuit. He pulled the handset to his mouth, clicked it, and paused. The microphone click signaled his accomplice to join him in maneuvering.
“What’s wrong? Cat got your tongue?” Dowd asked.
“I was going to ask Gant to run forward and get me a Coke, but then I remembered that the crew’s mess is not a happy place right now.”
“No kidding! Running a security drill the night before patrol is a bunch of crap. Everyone is just trying to get some sleep. I can’t believe Mister Slate would do that.”
Bass pretended to listen as Michael Gant, a lumpy, bucktoothed Tennessee native in his mid-twenties, snuck up to maneuvering’s open entryway and struck Dowd’s head with a three-foot torque wrench.
Dowd recoiled onto the electric panel. He staggered to his feet and pressed his palm against his wound. Bass punched him in the stomach as Gant crashed the wrench down again. Dowd fell to the floor.
While Gant mummified his victim with industrial tape, Bass reached for the electric panel. Trembling hands twisted voltage and amperage control knobs, straining the submarine’s battery and reducing the load on shore electricity. Bass returned to the reactor panel and called Jake Slate.
“Sir, we’re set down here,” he said. “Ready to divorce from shore power and commence a reactor startup.”
“Got it. What about Dowd?” Jake asked.
“He’s wrapped up.”
“It’s fine. Everything’s fine,” Bass said.
“Okay, commence a reactor startup. Have Gant bleed steam around the number two main steam valve and start the port side of the engine room. Cut any corner to get it done.”
Paranoid, Bass glanced down the eight-foot wide tunnel, a radiation-shielded passage through the reactor compartment that provided the only path between the engine room and the rest of the USS Colorado. No one was coming.
He crossed in front of maneuvering where gray towers of reactor circuitry covered the deck plates. Kneeling between symmetric panels, he slid a toolbox to his knees and flipped open the lid to expose the specialized fuses that operated the reactor’s control rods. He unlocked a Plexiglas shield and popped a fuse in a socket, completing a circuit to a motor on top of the reactor.
Gant appeared from behind the corner.
“Bass, I bypassed the port main steam valve,” he said. “I need to place the aux steam reducer on line and draw vacuum in the condenser. Then I’m going to place feed and condensate on line. It’s going to take me a while by myself, but I’m making good time. How are you doing?”
“Don’t worry, dude. We’re going to limp out of here on the emergency propulsion motor anyway. We’ll have the main engine up before anyone even knows we’re gone.”
Bass could see the veins in Gant’s neck throbbing. He heard tension in his voice.
“I think I killed Dowd. Are we crazy, man?”
“Get over it,” Bass said. “He’ll be fine. The whole crew is going to be fine. Hell, they ought to thank us for getting them out of the patrol. We take this pig and they get a vacation. And we get ten million each. No more debt and no more Navy.”
“What if something goes wrong?”
“It won’t. Mister Slate knows what he’s doing. This is money in the bank.”
Topside, Jake scanned the explosive handling wharf to verify that no one was watching him. Below the pier, two of the six Taiwanese commandos who had just swum to the submarine slinked along a wooden catwalk toward electrical junction boxes.
Jake tugged his ball cap. The Taiwanese swimmers tripped breakers that cut the Colorado from shore power and left it to rely on its battery. The commandos slipped into the water and mounted the rounded bow where they unraveled nylon ropes from the submarine’s cleats.
Jake shifted his gaze to the stern and saw swimmers unscrewing shore power cables from the Colorado’s aft external power connections. He craned his neck the opposite way and studied two more commandos as they removed the forward electric cables.
Pierre Renard, an international arms dealer, and Sergeant Kao Yat-sen, a veteran Taiwanese commando, waddled toward Jake in swim fins while balancing the weight of their rebreathers.
Panting, Renard seemed uncomfortable with the equipment. Kao appeared older than Renard but moved fluidly.
“Mister Slate,” Kao said in accented but confident English, “I am Mister Lion, leader of your commando team. Have you prepared the ship for boarding?”
Renard had informed Jake that the Taiwanese Para-Frogmen at his disposal would guard their identities. Mission names had to supplant real names, and Jake had suggested predatory felines. Given that the Taiwanese culture respected large cats – naming most of its submarines after them – the names fit.
“We’re ready,” Jake said.
Kao snapped an order in Mandarin. Two men dropped mooring lines and walked toward Kao, their fins slapping the hull with each step.
“The rest will join us after the electric cables are removed,” Kao said. “May we begin the insertion?”
“Follow me,” Jake said.
Jake descended a ten-foot ladder through a dual hatch into the Colorado’s missile compartment. Green lights on parallel gray switchboards indicated that the submarine’s battery bore the electrical load. No loss of lighting or equipment had alerted the crew.
Three commandos and the Frenchman surrounded him at the bottom of the ladder. They tossed their fins, rebreathers, and facemasks behind a switchboard.
Jake felt the commandos’ eyes on him as he trotted to a metal locker. He reached for a key dangling from a lanyard on his belt and slid it into the Colorado’s gun vault. The door creaked open, revealing rifles, pistols, shotguns and ammunition. Commandos encircled the locker.
Jake slid to a nearby workbench. He jammed another key into the bench’s top drawer and pulled out a Jacksonville Jaguar gym bag that contained silencers, ski masks, and sunglasses. It also held three pairs of handcuffs he had purchased from a pawn shop.
Jake watched the warriors attach silencers to the barrels of their small arms and prepare rifles for their comrades who remained topside. The eldest commando readied a pistol for Jake.
“The weapon is silenced and loaded with seven rounds. The trigger safety is engaged,” Kao said. “Your backup clips hold seven rounds each.”
Jake pushed the slide safety of his Beretta to the right with his thumb, arming the weapon. The remaining commandos descended into the missile compartment and grabbed weapons from their comrades.
Six armed commandos, disguised in black, faced him.
“Which ones are Mister Cheetah and Mister Tiger?” Jake asked.
Two frogmen raised fists. The duo represented the insertion team’s physical extremes.
Cheetah stood five and a half feet tall. Jake noticed small bumps on his wetsuit that indicated lean muscle underneath.
Wiry guys are scrappy, Jake thought.