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To Novaya Zemlya

To Novaya Zemlya

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To Novaya Zemlya

Length:
350 pages
5 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Jun 28, 2013
ISBN:
9781301353637
Format:
Book

Description

A research scuba diver is many miles offshore in the Caribbean at night when he is nearly killed by a new class of a highly secret, offensive submarine. His luck further plunges when he returns home to find that he has been let go from his academic position. His resurrection comes through an attractive naval officer he earlier met at a seminar. She confirms his fear that the sub belongs to a country which has become hostile--due to the Arctic riches made progressively more accessible by global warning. His familiarity with the sub--and his exceptional hearing--make him invaluable to the Navy. Soon, he finds himself on a SEAL team, headed to one of the most desolate parts of the globe. All too soon, his survival is again threatened on a military excursion to a frozen Russian island that contains a highly secret Russian nuclear base.

Publisher:
Released:
Jun 28, 2013
ISBN:
9781301353637
Format:
Book

About the author

Jerry Wible is a retired physician who has been writing for almost 8 years. He retired from the U.S. Army Reserves. His hobbies include hunting and fishing. Other interests include; snow skiing, scuba diving, collecting, and being a private pilot. Jerry's writings are diverse in topic and interests that range from Young Adult to Action/Romances and even soft Sci-Fi.


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To Novaya Zemlya - Jerry Wible

Prologue

The year 2020 was quickly approaching and, despite the implications of a year thusly named, there were still many unseen hazards in the world. From the vast expanses of the world’s oceans to the tiniest fingers insinuated through coral reefs, seawater teemed with plankton. Some plankton were hunters, some the hunted. Some had armor, others not. Under a microscope, each one looked as unique as a snowflake, with their contours and configurations seemingly limited only by one’s imagination in describing them. Who would pay any attention to the tiniest creatures on earth? Anyone interested in staying alive should.

A shadowy might had begun creeping throughout the seas of the world, threatening to destroy the US’s military superiority, as well as degrading the very building blocks of life. The US Navy could only hope the American public would never experience firsthand the threatening destructive force that was approaching.

Chapter I

Twenty-eight year old marine biologist, Charlie Mason, anticipated a pleasant, routine evening as he prepared to take ocean samples in the Bahamas of plankton. It was a sultry July 6th evening when he began.

He was unaware he would be the first American to fall prey to an electrifying watery grip. Like a creature of lore haunting little children, it would cast no shadow, leave no trail; but it would forever haunt him.

Charlie worked in Miami at the newly founded Florida Southern College, and was recognized as an authority on marine plankton. He specialized in the bio luminosity given off by dinoflagellates—the tiny single-celled creatures that all life ultimately depended on. He was also interested in finding archeological evidence of their existence from tens of millions of years ago, or perhaps even billions--if such specimens could be found.

The new college was still in the process of finding a niche. Charlie’s knowledge was vertical, more than broad. He delved deeply into research objectives that mattered to hardly anyone else. Well-tanned, with wavy light brown hair and an athletic physique, he looked more the part of a prancing beach bum than the academician he was.

Studying plankton from the world’s oceans made for an interesting life for Charlie, the mundane terrestrial world less so, at least to him. A mate had yet to appear, as time ticked away far too quickly. Charlie had lost himself in his work for years.

He rarely stayed in touch with any family, although he got the occasional Christmas card from one of his many foster homes. The ever-changing homes had left him goal-oriented, but with a quirky way about him and with an odd sense of humor, as described by who knew him well.

Was it Miami being at the tip of the Bermuda Triangle which caused Charlie his ups and downs in life while living there? Often it seemed so.

*****

After the drudgery of making travel preparations and getting to the airport, Charlie and his research assistant, Sam Worthington, then had to climb into a hot, twenty-four passenger turbojet for the short hop across the Atlantic. Without the funds to buy and maintain a boat of its own, the college had flown the two researchers on Chalk’s Seaplane Charter to North Bimini Island. With the economy in the tank, there were lots of open seats, but that didn’t make the cramped ones Charlie and Sam took any larger.

Half-an-hour after leaving, they touched down in a screech of burning rubber on the hot island tarmac before taxiing along the sole public airstrip in Alice Town.

Arrangements had already been made for Charlie to rent a tired old fishing boat. When Charlie had called from Miami, the captain of the boat said he had the flu, and that’s why the boat was available; but as much as he drank, Charlie had heard, the captain had the flu a lot. In addition to fishing, the crusty boat owner sometimes did salvage work, too. Charlie had never met the man, but by his gruff voice and tattered thoughts, it seemed better that way. The rented room where they stayed was quite a distance from the pier where the boat was moored. Even a modest nearby resort was too pricy for the college’s dainty budget. But all the speed bumps would be overcome. All the effort would be worth the boat rides and collection of his venerated samples of sea life. The specimens were the altar on which he prayed, where he groveled to find meaning in his otherwise dreary life.

Charlie and Sam moved into their single ramshackle room, let by the day. It had two small and too worn beds. Insects crept and crawled and flew by as if on a schedule of their own. The bathroom wash basin was spotted, with rusty pipes and handles. Disgusting smears of black fungus lay in repose around the shower at the calking, between the indecorous and fractured pseudo-slate tiles. After a brief inspection by the two men, the room’s appeal went down from there.

Alice Town had rum and swaying locals and loud Calypso music; none of it interested Charlie. By day, the emerald green waters and pristine sandy beaches drew those in retreat from life to its regenerative shores. People visited the island to rest, not labor like Charlie and Sam. Concerns of the world, the country, and the family were washed away with sweating glasses and their fruity mind-numbing contents and counterparts made of hops. Foam mustaches made from Corona beer graced many a smiling face at the loud resort.

After teaching the same goofy graduate students year after year, Charlie felt he was due a break from the monotony of the classroom and from the din of students who were more interested in the next Friday night’s entertainment than in the Krebs cycle of cells. Only the students’ names and faces changed, not their tangled questions or stunted replies. There was one lolling wave of students after another, day by day, year by year. But it paid the bills, while Charlie sought out a reason or reasons for the unsettling decline in plankton life. That was his self-assumed, hard-won purpose for the trip. He hardly noticed the revelers, day and night, or the fruit stands teaming with produce.

A commercial lab for analyzing Charlie’s samples was available, but its location at the far end of town would require them to travel five miles from the room Charlie had rented. The lab and a security card to get in with his samples were all he really needed for his analysis. As at times before, on similar outings, the trip was a barebones endeavor.

Just at the edge of the Gulf Stream, the waters off Bimini drew marlin and other game fish to the rippling aquamarine shallows. Numerous large fishy things, and air breathers too, prowled those waters in search of prey. Charlie had always wanted to take just a single day off and go out into the Stream and fish for pleasure; but he could never justify the personal expense. Besides, petting a grouper by day dampened the pleasure of eating it that night.

He was there to obtain seawater specimens at a variety of depths, and to compare the number of luminescent plankton at night with those found at that depth in the day.

By suppertime the first day, he and Sam had already collected the first samples and had analyzed them at the lab. By the time they collected and analyzed the nighttime samples, it would be early morning, making for a very long day. The trip was funded with a research grant through the Environmental Protection Agency because of alarming reports coming out of Miami, only fifty-three miles away. The reports showed a sharp recent decline in the numbers of dinos in the waters off Florida, and Bimini Island was in the EPA’s sphere of interest.

*****

Charlie told Sam to cast off the line fore, and Charlie would aft, from the dark wooden oily pier where their charter boat was docked. The boat rocked lightly from ticklish waves that tried to lull them back to bed. Charlie and Sam were alone in the twenty-seven-foot Sea Ray Cabin Cruiser, an older and cheaper model than most of its peers amongst the fishing fleet on hand.

It was a dark still night, with the water calm for July. The air smelled of fish and of salt, and of diesel fumes belching out from the stern of the roughly idling boat. A four-knot northerly current awaited them in the Gulf Stream, nearly thirty miles to the west of Bimini Island where they would obtain their samples. They would also take samples nearer the island, but they were of lesser importance.

The two men headed out from the bay where the boat was kept, skirting around a rocky point and well wide of the orange buoy that marked it. They continued to the west where a light chop on the water halfway lulled them into a trance, as the boat lunged ahead in one slow hypnotizing roll after another. The boat took the quartering waves well, then sliding down into the dark troughs and up again where the moon gave them yellowish highlights.

Charlie stared over at Sam for a moment. Sam’s father was Mexican and his mother Japanese. Sam had wide prominent cheeks, a petite nose, and thin drawn looking lips with a pencil mustache that wouldn’t interfere with the seal of his diving mask. He had short hair which was blacker than the night they were in, and Charlie doubted it had ever seen two full weeks’ growth. Haircuts were a major source of Sam’s socializing.

A loud splash, some dim distance off to starboard, caught Charlie’s attention and he could just make out the dark twinkling ripples left behind from a leap. Perhaps a swordfish or marlin had found a meal, or a manta ray had been startled by their boat.

Finally, they arrived where the Bahamian flats dropped precipitously into the Gulf Stream abyss. They tied up the bow of the boat to a submarine buoy, which they located off-shore by GPS coordinates.

The stern rocked side-to-side pleasantly as it trailed downstream from the large buoy. It reminded him of his rocking head in the lap of an old girlfriend, once. All things considered, the sea was more forgiving than her and a lot less trouble to Charlie than women, in general.

Rum Alley was stenciled on the boat’s stern, just above where the inboard engine exited into the water. After hearing about the boat’s owner, Charlie thought the boat’s name seemed appropriate enough. Economy was at a premium, but the rented boat came with a winch on the port side of the stern. The winch was all important. Using it, Sam would lower specially constructed watertight cages of a hundred cubic centimeters to obtain samples of seawater. At a given depth, cage doors were tripped open and then quickly closed by a pressure-sensitive locking mechanism, thereby obtaining the specimens. With the winch, Sam would then raise the little metal cages and pour the seawater into labeled bottles, rinsing out the cage with alcohol and then distilled water between runs, in order to keep dinos from one specimen out of the next. The dinos couldn’t survive without salty water, so each specimen would accurately represent the living organisms present at that depth. At the lab, the aliquots would be gently spun in a centrifuge. Then the creatures would be analyzed by microscope and the results recorded in Sam’s meticulously organized ledger.

Charlie brought along an Analytical Marine Turbidity Monitor in order to study the water’s opacity and correlate it with the number of dinoflagellates found in the seawater. It was a bulky hand-held contraption. The greater the turbidity, the greater the number of dinos, as a rule. It was cruder than counting dinos individually, but infinitely quicker; and Charlie needed to correlate the two factors for future studies for when large numbers of specimens needed to be quickly processed.

The marine biologist noted the gentle high-pitched whine the winch’s motor made, as Sam sent down the stainless steel cage for the first of their specimens.

Charlie set up his scuba gear by rote memory, hardly aware when it was done. He double-checked the turbidity monitor to be sure it would work properly when needed. As he finished checking everything over, Sam began a second run with the specimen cage. This one would be obtained at four-hundred-fifty feet.

Nice night for a dive, Sam mumbled as his winch came to a stop off the side of the boat. He would gather additional samples from four-hundred feet to the surface, in fifty-foot increments.

Yeah, it’s still amazing, isn’t it? Charlie droned, unconsciously reflecting on the gorgeous night that cradled them like newborn babies in their mothers’ eager arms. He paused for a moment to gaze at the stars and then looked out across the lazy placid sea. Warm calm seas were especially delectable, the reward for all the previous hassle and for a lifetime of preparation just getting there. Angry waves large enough to knock off a mask or to toss a diver fifteen feet--against the stern--weren’t at all a pleasant part of the job. Charlie still occasionally rubbed a scar in his hairline from one such rough night.

All the creatures visible at night. The stars. A gentle breeze on us. It’s a perfect night, Charlie mused. He fiddled with his scuba gear for another moment. There! I think everything’s ready. Hand me the monitor once I’m in the water, Sam.

Sam picked up the turbidity monitor. He glanced at the electric winch, stopping it for the sample at four-hundred-fifty feet.

Charlie clenched his pliable mouthpiece firmly between his teeth and rolled backward off the boat’s stern platform and into the eighty-degree water, holding his facemask in place as dark bubbles erupted all around. He floated on the surface for a second, his inflated dive vest crowding his neck and head. He noted the warmth of seawater against his bare skin. His air came easily, with mechanical hollow-sounding breaths drawn through the regulator. He adjusted the weight-belt evenly as it rested against his hips and in the small of his back. He tugged one last time to be sure the weight belt wouldn’t slip around to one side or the other.

After taking the monitor from Sam, he casually flippered to the bow and found the anchor line where it dangled in open water. A bow rope on a cleat secured the boat to the buoy. At two-thousand feet, it was too deep to anchor there; but Charlie could use the anchor line for orientation on his descent to a hundred-feet, and for general orientation thereafter. He would be that deep only for the minute or two necessary to take opacity readings of the water and jot them down on an underwater writing tablet. A strobe light was tied on at the end of the anchor line, just above the anchor itself. Charlie carried a small underwater flashlight that he would have to hold in his left armpit as he scribbled down his findings with his right hand. Dropping the light in nearly half-a-mile of water would mean a return trip to the boat to obtain another, so it was attached to him by a nylon cord. The wasted time would have also shortened the remaining bottom-time available, without him risking nitrogen narcosis.

For accuracy, turbidity measurements would be obtained in four horizontal directions approximately ninety degrees apart, at each depth; and he would later calculate the average. Presumably, the measurements would all be the same; but in science, nothing was taken for granted.

In the darkness, interspersed between strobe flashes, each wave of his hand was accompanied by sparkles of brilliant green fluorescence as his hand movements induced the single-celled dinoflagellates to toss off light from their photophores. It would be four in the morning before he and Sam got back the results for that night, and he was anxious to confirm his concerns of further erosion in the overall plankton count.

Charlie worried about the downward trend in the numbers of such organisms found in the waters off Florida and in the Caribbean and elsewhere, including the nearly three-thousand individual reefs in the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Some recent drops had even been reported in the Red Sea, jewel of the oceans amongst coral reefs. The US seemed to be on the most severe end of the plankton-decline slope, compared to other coastal countries that had been checked so far. The decline wasn’t yet alarming, but there was a worrisome trend.

The worldwide downward trends seemed to be a consistent finding, although less so at greater distances from shore--from shorelines where coral bleaching had become more and more of a problem. No one liked dead or dying coral. Their stark eggshell whiteness was appalling to the eye, after the rainbow of colors seen in healthy coral reefs; and it was precisely Charlie’s little micron-sized friends which were responsible for the dazzling colors of the coral reefs.

Dinoflagellates called zooxanthellae lived in symbiosis inside coral polyps. Their silicated cell-walled bodies gave life to the colorful, carbon-based, corals that attracted human visitors, year after year. Like the tourists, Charlie loved the reefs and the diversity of life they exhibited. But blooms of a million zooxanthellae per milliliter in open water could cause illness. Such Red Tides killed fish. Ciguatera was the illness in man resulting from an accumulation of the toxins in fish and shellfish, which were in turn eaten by people. There were occasional deaths from the neurotoxin, and no tests were available to detect it. Divers like Charlie checked regularly on such things, but no one took it any more seriously than he.

Non-photosynthesizing dinoflagellates were primary producers in the food chain. All of life ultimately depended on the creatures which were unfamiliar to much of mankind. Monitoring the dinos’ health was vitally important, and Charlie was determined to help do it. It was, after all, his only real purpose in life.

Swimming up to fifty-feet, and using the anchor line as a handhold, Charlie completed his second set of measurements and jotted them down. Immediately afterward, he noticed a low static-like hum--like a bee circling around and somehow mistaking his head for a nectar-filled sea-flower. Then he noticed a tingling creeping sensation on his skin. He turned off his flashlight, thinking it might have a short which was leaking electrical current. When there was no improvement, he also turned off the turbidity monitor, but the tingling persisted. A faint glow of light could be seen to the west, well off in the clear water. It was coming in his direction, and up from even greater depths. It was rising up and out of the Gulf Stream’s chasm and appeared as an expanding, chartreuse bubble coming at him; but not enough to alarm Charlie, at least not quite yet.

His exposed skin began to crawl as if prickly-toed insects were crawling on him. His skin began to painfully tingle even more, and he assumed he must have run into a swarm of non-bioluminescent jellyfish, just then. He’d encountered them innumerable times, but this little party was really having fun at his expense; and he still didn’t know what was causing the greenish glow in the distance. The increasing pain then redirected his focus to the water immediately around him.

The tingling discomfort gave way to stinging, like those from wasps. He thought of anaphylaxis cases—people dying from the jellyfishes’ nematocysts that carried their toxin. Vinegar and meat tenderizer, once again onboard a boat, was sufficient for most cases; but deaths had been reported. Topside, Charlie had a pocket knife in a pants pocket. He could get Sam to scrape off any nematocysts remaining on him. He knew he should have worn a light dive-skin at night, just because such organisms rose close to the surface then. He reluctantly granted that there was usually a good reason for following such precautionary routines; but the immediacy of such a pleasant night had caused him to relax his protocol.

Curiosity was commingling, now, with low-grade panic. What the hell could it be, he wondered? And was it somehow related to the green thing out at a distance, now veering slightly away from him? Only a whale or a submarine could be that large, and subs didn’t go around electrocuting people.

In a few seconds, the vexing stinging sensation gave way to a more electric-like, persistent, and sharper discomfort. Charlie turned on his light and shined it around, looking for the little one-millimeter to one-centimeter sized jellies that he suspected as his tormentors. They could have been used with great effect during the Inquisition, he sourly mused. He didn’t see anything that might be responsible for such a bizarre occurrence as he was experiencing. Except for the greenish bubble.

Fledgling panic gave way to grave concern. The lancinations of pain began to overtake him. If he stayed in the water with stinging jellies, he might drown from paralysis induced by their stings. Now, worried for his very life, he looked up and could see the lights of his boat, bow and stern. The water around the boat glowed milky white from sea snow. The anchor strobe flashed brightly below him, still at the end of the line. Off in the distance was an unnatural green. He’d heard reports of alien ships flying up out of the seas as reported by mariners of old, and even from some more recent reports. Until then, he had always discounted them; but even US presidents had reportedly seen such things.

He had noticed the tingling begin only twenty or thirty seconds earlier, and now he was in very big trouble. He started up the anchor line, turbidity monitor in hand. Collection of the dino samples was clearly finished for the night, he realized. He’d never been a quitter and it galled him.

At thirty-feet, he could feel his muscles beginning to involuntarily twitch, and the pain became truly intense. He forced his gaze upward, despite convulsing neck muscles, and wondered if Sam had any idea what was taking place. Being so many miles offshore, and in a continual current, Charlie thought that any search party might never recover his body, should the lancinations not stop soon. He knew he couldn’t dash for the surface without risking an air embolus; but at that point, he gladly would have. He could barely kick with his flippers, his muscles were so rebellious against his intent.

Larger muscle groups began contorting his body, causing even more trouble controlling his arms. It was getting harder and harder to gasp in even tiny breaths of air. He watched stupidly, rigidly, as his hands fumbled and shakily loosened around the turbidity monitor--which was then headed to the bottom. He could no longer grasp the anchor line and felt himself drift away from it. His abdominal muscles contracted fiercely, doubling him over into the fetal position. Better that than his back muscles winning, he calculated, and breaking his spine. He struggled trying to make himself breathe, air only coming in the tiniest of gasps.

Suddenly, Charlie could no longer breathe at all. In less than a minute, he’d gone from a pricking sensation to near total convulsions. He wondered if he could maintain a bite on his mouthpiece. Could he even remain conscious much longer? Sometimes panic was a good thing; he should have shot to the surface when he first noticed he was in trouble. It felt like Neptune had his arms around Charlie’s chest. Thoughts of drowning flashed through Charlie’s mind. What a brief and unfulfilling life he’d had, he brooded. Scorned as a foster child, evilly envied as a successful adult, on occasion. Making his way through life sometimes seemed like trying to ford a tar pit.

The electrical sensation gradually began to taper off. In another few seconds, he was able to take stunted little explosive gasps of air again; but he still felt intense air hunger. He felt like his body would explode from more pain than it could accept. He didn’t know if he could make it long enough to take another real breath. He was in agony for air and was still twitching all over, muscles contracting, but as weak as jelly now; and that was an improvement. Then, a breath, finally; then another. From his skin feeling like being on fire, he noticed it now merely hurt like the stings from a bee swarm. Finally, he was just a pin cushion—a greatly improved condition which he graciously accepted. Another breath. Another two. Soon, he could move his hands again without the choreiform motions of a brain-injured patient.

Charlie noticed the strobe light far below him and checked his depth monitor with the flashlight tied on a generous cord to his dive vest. He was at eighteen feet. Good. He’d floated up a little instead of down, but he had drifted well away from the boat. He kicked a few times and began to rise more quickly. Now, the discomfort was more a nuisance of sharp tingling than anything actually painful. He dumped a little air out of his dive vest so as to not rise too quickly the last few feet. He was finally in charge of his own body again.

His head broke surface and he filled his dive vest with air in order to remain floating on the surface. He strained to call out to Sam as he flippered backwards toward the boat, where a ladder awaited him. He was almost thirty-yards away and had to fight the current that had carried him off.

I’m at the stern, Sam hollered back, peering out through the black veil that enclosed the dimly lit boat.

Help me out! Charlie yelled as he waved around his flashlight. Grab me when I get to the boat!

You okay? Sam asked, surprised, as he scrambled for the bow of the boat where Charlie was headed. Turn to your left a little!

Charlie was too weak to watch where he was headed; he made small corrections as Sam directed. Each miscalculation cost him more energy, and he had precious little remaining. His windpipe burned from breathing dry tank air so fast; and his voice seemed to not want to come.

No! Sam, help me out! I can barely move, I’m so weak!

Sam grabbed a long gaff from the charter boat’s external cabin wall. He was finally able to secure the hook-end around the top of Charlie’s dive tank, and he dragged Charlie up to the bow of the boat. Then he began pulling Charlie alongside the boat, back to the stern which rode much lower in the water. He pulled Charlie around the corner to the ladder on the busy port side of the stern.

Just hold me here a moment, Charlie gasped. I can’t climb up yet.

Charlie floated on his back, having dropped his dive mask around his neck. After regaining

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