It's been awhile --tho not long enough, I'm sure some sarcastic Faithful Readers feel-- since I posted an excerpt from the now-in-negotiations FIRE OF THE PROPHET.
To that end, I now append this "teaser" prologue from the second in this (we hope) series --PROPHET AND EAGLE-- intended to be tacked-on at the conclusion of FireProphet --as, of course, a cynical marketing ploy to entice readers to the next book.
Enjoy, I hope.
-- Earl Merkel
An excerpt from…
Prophet And Eagle
A Beck Casey Novel
• • •
P&E Release Date: Summer, 2013
21° 49’ 46” N, 61° 25’ 03” E
Depth: 104 Meters
Gulf Of Oman
• • •
It was never really dark here, despite the efforts made to duplicate a true circadian cycle for the benefit —both physical and psychological— of the crew. Humans have evolved to need the rhythms that are so taken for granted on the surface world, and despite the tweaking required to provide for a four-watch system of six hours each, the illumination system of the Tanin did its syncopated best to mimic the patterns so essential to human health and efficiency.
But here, in the submarine’s Combat Information Center, such pretext was neither possible nor desired. Banks of computer screens stacked in pairs lined the side bulkheads, adding their blue-white glow to that from the overhead lighting panels; control touch-screens in twenty-four-unit rectangular blocks shone in vivid yellow at each station; and even the high-resolution displays of the periscopes added their own eerie glow, despite being retracted and in stand-by mode.
Nearly two dozen officers and seamen —a misnomer; a third of the watch were women— crowded the CIC. The Tanin was at full combat alert, and had been so since word of the terrorist attack on the American capital had reached it, now almost a day before.
“Washington… gone.” The words were in Hebrew, though the Executive Officer spoke English almost as well as his own language. He shook his head, in disbelief and sympathy. “You had friends there, Captain?”
Jonah Rothberg nodded, a single dip of his head. “Many. I spent two years as Naval liaison at our embassy.”
Both had listened to the news broadcast —at least, the audio of it— that detailed the nuclear irradiation of America’s capital; it had been relayed by the Israel Navy’s submarine center near Haifa, using the extremely low frequency network that allowed the Jewish authorities to communicate with submerged submarines at sea. Mindful that two of their crew had been Americans —Israeli submariners were unique in the Israel Defense Force in being required to renounce any dual citizenship— shortly after the broadcast began the captain had ordered it switched on throughout the ship’s com system.
It had been chilling. Even now, as the complicated plot was still being unwound, the knowledge that it had been but an opening chapter of a far wider conspiracy was nonetheless staggering in its implications— to America and its attackers, certainly… but just as certainly, all aboard realized, to Israel.
They were now entering the second day of Combat Patrol, haunting the deep waters where the Persian Gulf became the Indian Ocean. To the east sat Murray Ridge, part of a submerged mountain range that marked the edge of the abyss carved out over millennia by the Indus River; to the west lay the Horn of Africa; to the north rose the lands of the former Caliphate that encircled their own tiny nation.
Once again, Rothberg studied the master display: all systems within normal parameters; depth holding steady—as steady as the damnable currents here allowed, he corrected himself; speed at a dead-slow three knots.
All four torpedo tubes were also loaded and ready, though an additional four still stood empty. These latter, significantly larger than the standard tubes, would remain so— at least, unless and until the order came to load them with the specialized ordnance onboard for which they were designed: four Popeye-Turbo cruise missiles, each tipped with a nuclear warhead a magnitude more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb.
They could be loaded quickly; as part of Israel’s relatively new strategic defense plan, the crew had trained and drilled in the horrific event that they would someday be needed. Today —in the wake of yet another American tragedy, one which all evidence indicated was rooted in the conspiracies of Israel’s own sworn enemies— that need might well be realized.
Israel fielded five of these German-built Dolphin-class subs, their Popeye cruise missiles part of a desperate strategy of Mutually Assured Destruction. Like the erstwhile Cold War opponents who first devised that terrifying deterrent, Israel had constructed a seaborne nuclear-delivery force: a loaded gun to the head of those whose own arsenals —now, it appeared, also nuclear— were themselves placed firmly against the Israeli forehead.
Arrayed against them was a virtual fleet of hostile-or-potentially-so Russian-built Kilo-class attack submarines —Iran alone possessed four, with other Islamic powers a dozen more— purchased and re-fitted for the various Muslim countries. These were supplemented by all the land-based, ship-carried or airborne anti-sub weapons that staggering oil wealth could obtain.
Mossad had only recently reported on the latest of such threats, this one aimed directly at Rothberg’s own vessel: Iran had, the spies said, reverse-engineered what had been a closely held Russian superweapon. The secrets of the Shkval torpedo —rocket-powered, propelled along in an almost friction-free supercavitation bubble created by the nosecone design— were now in Iranian hands, with the unintentionally ironic nomenclature of “Hoot,” Farsi for “whale.”
It was decidedly no whale. At underwater speeds in excess of two hundred miles per hour, Hoot was a super-fast killer shark, the harbinger of a new, even more lethal era in sub-versus-sub warfare. When it was deployed —and not even Mossad could guarantee that the Russian Navy still remained the sole proprietor of an operational Shkval-style torpedo— Rothberg knew that it would turn even high-tech marvels like the Tanin into relatively slow-moving submerged skeet.
Tanin’s sole advantage was in its own advanced technology, centered largely in the ability of its electric propulsion system to operate at a level of stealth that made even nuclear subs noisy by comparison. Skillfully manned, the Tanin was a lethal specter, a virtually undetectable hole-in-the-water.
But Rothberg recognized that similar technological attributes were held by his opponents’ submarines, even if he prided himself that their level of command competence was somewhat lower.
A low voice sounded in his wireless earphone: “Captain, XO—sonar station.”
Ari ben Shilboh — nicknamed “Oznayim,” Hebrew for “Ears”— was the boat’s senior sonar operator; his tone sounded worried, and a worried sonar-man is a submarine captain’s worst nightmare.
Rothberg and his exec pushed through the packed CIC to the station. There, Oznayim gestured at an oversized screen whereon a constant cascade of lines and dashes fell top-to-bottom.
“Sir, the waterfall picked up sometime a few seconds ago. Just for a flash, sir, then it was gone.”
“Picked up what, Oz?”
Oznayim hesitated. “Dunno, sir; it was too fast and faint even for the earphones. A blip on the screen, but something was there. I mean, I think.”
The XO spoke up. “A ship, a sub… a whale? Was it a biologic, or man-made? A false-bounce off the bottom?”
Oznayim stared helplessly at the waterfall display. He reddened, and swallowed hard.
“Is there something, or is there not?” Rothberg demanded.
“Captain… I… it isn’t there now…”
Behind him, Rothberg heard the XO grunt. “Damn it, Oz— Captain, most likely we’re just picking up a transient echo. There’s been no indication of any—“
At that instant, Rothberg saw Oznayim stiffen.
Almost simultaneously, a sharp inverted “V” spiked on the waterfall display.
“Contact, bearing one-nine-zero! Range fifteen-seventy meters, sir!” Oznayim frowned, eyes closed and intent on his earphones. “Multiple evolutions now… doesn’t sound mechanical, Captain… kind of a low-frequency roaring, sir…”
Not a torpedo then, Rothman told himself. Thank God for—
But the sonar technician’s fingers were already dancing over his keypad.
“Computer searching audio signature… match! Oh, my God…torpedo in the water, Captain! One of those damned rocket-fish!”
“All ahead flank!” Rothberg shouted. “Helm, hard right rudder, evasive! Emergency dive, maximum angle!” Immediately, he felt the submarine lurch wildly in the desperate, twisting maneuver.
Rothberg’s mind raced. Sixteen hundred meters-minus, at three hundred kilometers per hour… He did the math: perhaps twenty seconds, perhaps less…
“Tracking us, sir! Now bearing one-six-two relative… range, six hundred meters and closing… estimate eleven seconds to impact, Captain—“
Rothberg was surprised to find his own voice was level, even calm.
“Rudder, come hard left to course two-nine-zero. Radio, dump the computer log, high-speed squirt over ELF.” Even submerged, the extremely low-frequency transmission would be picked up by Israel Navy monitors.
As the boat corkscrewed violently yet again for the next few seconds, Rothman took a deep breath.
At least Haifa will know what killed us, he thought.
“Sound collision alarm,” he said aloud, just as the torpedo struck.
• • •
The death of the Tanin came over the com-speakers in an ongoing series of grinding, crunching, screaming sounds —much of the latter that of tortured metal imploding at depth, but some of it indisputably human— that lasted long minutes after the initial detonation.
“Take us to nine hundred meters, and lay in a course that takes us out of this damnable pocket,” the captain said to his second. “Maintain strict sound discipline— the last thing we require is to be picked up on a sonobuoy or by an Western submarine until we are far, far from this place.”
“We flee the scene of the crime,” the second said. “As the Americans say, a ‘clean get-away,’ yes?”
The captain chuckled, amused.
“You spend too much time watching your cinema,” he said. “Yes. A get-away. Make it so, Nicolai. And make it 'clean.'”
His words, like those of his subordinate, were spoken in Russian; his tone was of a man who had carried out his orders, with success.
- ∞ -