Abd Ar-Rahman was the first. The old shepherd leaned on his staff by the trunk of a gnarled thuja pine, trying to find shade. He gazed down the foothills of the Atlas Mountains to the snaking Oued Moulouya in the distance. The half— wild mouflon sheep clustered near the tree, cropping at sparse spring shoots of tough esparto grass. Ar-Rahman had the briefest impression of a noise overhead. As he raised his eyes upward, an unseen hammer blow sprawled him on his back in the dry North African dust. He was conscious of his infirmities and used to stumbling now, but this left him stunned and confused. As he gazed upward, a branch the thickness of his wizened leg cracked and sagged under its own weight like a broken arm. The bloating finally penetrated his stunned senses. He crawled to where one sheep had staggered and collapsed an arm's span from him, directly beneath the break in the branch. The animal was bleeding copiously from ragged wounds, one along its spine and one in its belly, as if it had been shot through. The old man watched in anguish as the sheep bled its life away.
Robert Isaacs tried to ignore the message from headquarters. He was enjoying himself, and did not relish facing whatever calamity had produced the summons. He kicked his fins and glided along the surface, peering through the sea-churned murk at the occasional brightly coloured fish. An old tyre caught his eye. He gulped air through the snorkel and plunged the six feet to the bottom. Grasping the outer rim, he tugged upward. The small nurse shark, startled from its resting place in the dark hollow of the tyre, dashed for the safety of deeper water.
Isaacs smiled to himself. That's life, honey, he thought, somebody just kicked my tyre, too. Surfacing, he swam to shore. After removing his mask and snorkel he balanced awkwardly, first on one foot, then the other, peeling off his flippers. He towelled himself dry, slipped into thongs, and crossed the narrow strip of beach. A spurt of traffic came along US 1, which separated the beach from Patrick Air Force Base, and he paused to let the cars pass. Immediately across the road was the blunt, brick sprawl of the Air Force Technical Assistance Center which had been his temporary base of operations. One last time his eye scanned the long line of obsolete missiles which stood sentry before the building. He crossed the road and turned left-towards the clump of visitors' bungalows, resigned to packing and catching the next flight back to Washington.
A glorious spring morning greeted him the next day as he headed out of town towards Virginia. March was departing the nation's capital in its finest style, docile, but vibrant with new life. The break in his normal routine fresh in his mind, Isaacs tried to capture the pagan urge to rejoice by foregoing the usual morning radio news and by driving with the window open to the smell of dew-dampened trees. His hands guided the wheel of the compact Mercedes 380 SL semi-automatically as he followed his habitual route. He made the light on Canal Road and swung left onto Chain Bridge across the rocky narrows of the Potomac.
The light at the far end of the bridge stopped him. He glanced back over his shoulder at the distant spires marking Georgetown University. Fragments of breakfast conversation rushed back at him. Damned if I want to foot high tuition to some experimental college to help Isabel find herself, he thought. I can't expect a high school junior to be completely level-headed, but I don't understand Muriel's resistance to a high quality university like Cornell. Hell, it was good enough for us!
The light changed and he turned up Chain Bridge Road. The feel of the accelerating car regenerated his sense of well-being for the moment. Then the tunnel of trees blocked the free blue sky, and the physical ascent towards his destination drew his mind on a parallel course. Unable to focus on the quality of the morning and not wanting to dwell on domestic problems, his thoughts shifted more frequently to the concerns of his job. By the time he made the right turn onto the George Washington Parkway , he was concentrating on his priorities for the day. Top on the list was the emergency meeting at nine o'clock. Bad news, he mused. Scheduled that leave months ago, and they've got to haul me back. Whatever it is, the bastard's going to be an ulcer-buster.
Consciously attempting to quell that unpleasant turn of mind, he admired the fresh tan on the backs of his hands as they gripped the steering wheel. As a Major in the Air Force Reserve he served two weeks' active duty a year, a welcome relief from the tension in his position with the Central Intelligence Agency, Deputy Director of Scientific Intelligence. He thought back on the past ten days, chuckling to himself, recalling his postman's holiday. Intelligence officer at a beachfront Florida base, he thought, not a bad perk. The experience resonated with memories of his younger days of patient collection of raw intelligence data. In this case, however, there had been the lure of the beach and ocean and leisurely hours snorkelling to break the tedium. Those pleasant memories buoyed his spirits as he turned off the parkway towards headquarters. He steered up the off-ramp, following it ninety degrees to the left as it crossed back over the parkway. A small jam of cars feeding into the headquarters entryway from the southbound ramp forced him to brake sharply to a halt. At the pause, his glance strayed up the green embankments to blooming stands of redbud and dogwood. The car ahead of him pulled right at the drive leading to the highway department headquarters. As he closed the resulting gap, he recognized the Fiat two-seater in front of him. It belonged to Alice Lavey, who clerked in his analysis section.
The Fiat accelerated through the gate in the high chain link fence and past the guardhouse. Isaacs did the same, receiving a curt nod from the guard on duty who sat scrutinizing the windshield passes. Isaacs detected a small smile on the guard's face which he presumed to be a remnant of the passage of the Fiat. Alice had a penchant for low necklines. He steered the car on up the winding drive and into his personal parking space. He grabbed his briefcase, checked the doors, locked the driver's side with his key, and stepped across the lot as he extracted and attached his photo ID.
'Good morning, Mr Isaacs, welcome back.'
'Good morning, Ralph. And it's a nice one, isn't it?'
Ralph had been there on duty for fifteen years and knew virtually everyone in the Agency by sight. Isaacs idly wondered whether rotating the guard to insure ID's were more carefully examined would be better or worse for security. He crossed the lobby, skirting the great presidential seal embedded in the floor, and proceeded down the corridor. He climbed six flights of stairs, eschewing the elevator, pleased with the spring in his step which eluded many at forty-five, his reward for moderate consumption and frequent handball, not to mention miles of swimming recently. Continuing along the upper hall, Isaacs glanced at his watch and noted with satisfaction that he was right on time.
Whatever the subject of the meeting, as in any gathering of influential people, there was ground to be gamed or lost. Isaacs tried to put the welfare of the Agency first and to avoid political infighting, but he had a talent for turning a situation to his advantage and protecting his flank when on the defensive. As he walked, he mentally sorted through the personalities who would be involved and the various hotspots which could be at issue. At 8:59 he stepped through the door of the top floor meeting room.
'You're late, Isaacs, take a seat!'
Brother! thought Isaacs, welcome back. He moved to an empty chair. The icy greeting had come from Kevin McMasters, the Deputy Director of Central Intelligence. McMasters, Isaacs's immediate boss, had been with the Agency over thirty years. He bridled at Isaacs's rapid rise in the organization and even more so at suggestions that Isaacs was a candidate for his position as DCI.
Isaacs sat and glared at his hands clenched before him on the table, peripherally aware of the other principals. Next to McMasters at the head of the table was Howard Drefke, the Director of Central Intelligence. A recent political appointee, Drefke leaned heavily on McMasters in questions of internal affairs and spent most of his time on relations with the President and the National Security Agency. Across from McMasters, to Isaacs's left, was Vincent Martinelli. Martinelli was Deputy Director for Collection Tasking, responsible for making intelligence gathering assignments throughout the intelligence community. To Isaacs' right was Art Boswank, whose hearty air belied his clandestine role as Deputy Director for Operations.
A minute passed in silence which reverberated with McMasters's reproach to Isaacs. Then Earle Deloach, Deputy Director for Research and Development, hustled in and took the last chair, across from Isaacs, next to McMasters, who nodded to him in greeting. Isaacs felt Martinelli nudge him and looked over to see him pull a quintessentially Italian face and roll his eyes skyward. Isaacs cracked a small smile of camaraderie. They both knew McMasters would overlook Deloach's transgressions even as he invented imaginary ones for Isaacs.
'Gentlemen,' began Drefke, 'I must report to the President. Let's summarize our situation please.'
Martinelli and Isaacs exchanged another glance, Martinelli giving an abbreviated nod. Drefke was liberal with his references to the President, and Martinelli did a devastating takeoff in which they all came out 'mah buddy, the President.' This time Drefke was referring to his Commander-in-Chief.
'Isaacs has been absent for some time,' interjected McMasters dryly, 'perhaps you should fill him in.'
You son-of-a-bitch, thought Isaacs, make it sound as if I was out 'chasing floozies on company time'.
Drefke looked blankly at McMasters for a brief moment, his tram of thought interrupted, and then turned to Isaacs. 'Of course. The Russians went on Yellow Alert yesterday afternoon,' he said curtly. 'They activated troops, moved fifteen Backfire bombers to forward holding positions, and uncapped, uh,' he checked the sheet in his hand, 'seven missiles.'
'Lordy,' exclaimed Boswank, 'they've hauled us through these dog and pony shows before. I've got the same question I had yesterday. How do we know they're not just feeling their oats?'
'We've just received word they've gone public with it, and they don't like an exposed position without good reason,' replied Drefke. 'They've walked out of the new disarmament talks in Geneva.'
'Well, what the hell?' blurted Boswank. 'They just convened a week ago.'
'Exactly,' said the Director, 'it was in their interest, as well as ours, to give a semblance of cooperation to the talks.'
'Why involve the talks?' Isaacs asked quietly. 'Why choose that particular vehicle for protest?'
'That's just the point,' said the Director, addressing himself to Isaacs again. 'They now claim we have used some unorthodox new weapon on them. They made veiled references to it in Geneva , and then the whole team just walked out and caught the first Aeroflot back to Moscow. Not the faintest charade of continuing the talks. Caught our men totally by surprise, and the press in Europe was on them like a pack of dogs. That was late morning in Geneva , about four hours ago. The Washington newshounds will be in full howl by now, too.'
'A new weapon?' asked Isaacs.
'Of course, there's no such thing, so we don't know what's caused them to be so upset. That makes the situation damned unstable. I just talked to the President. He had Ambassador Ogarkov in for a quiet evening chat last night. They talked for an hour, but aside from vague threats of retaliation, the President didn't get very much. Not even a tip about the walkout. We all know the Ambassador can be very cooperative in certain situations. In this case he's under orders to play a very tight hand. No question but that the Russians are running scared. The only substantive disclosure was that they think one of their carriers was attacked in the Mediterranean. They're hinting that some form of space-based weapon was directed at the carrier, igniting jet fuel tanks and causing quite a bit of damage.'
'There's some basis for that,' said Martinelli, leafing through a folder. 'After our meeting last night, I put out a general call for possible clues as to what triggered their alert. We've got photos of their carrier, the Novorossiisk. One of the four Kiev class Protivo Lodochny Kreyser antisubmarine cruisers. Definitely a fire on board, day before yesterday. Pretty bad, but no reason to think it was anything but someone smoking in the wrong place. Until you mentioned it, I hadn't given it any particular attention.'
'Why would they think they were attacked?' asked the Director.
'And what's this about space?' inquired Isaacs. 'What did we have up? Presumably we had no aircraft in the immediate area, and they must know that.'
'As usual, all our aircraft were maintaining a perimeter,' answered Martinelli. 'An SR-71 went over for these shots after the fire broke out. We have all sorts of space hardware up, of course, but nothing they don't know about. I can get that double-checked, but we seem to be clean. In particular, unless Defence has pulled a fast one on everyone, there's not a beam weapon in the inventory — lasers, particles, what have you — that's anywhere near ready to orbit. Hell, we all read 'Aviation Week', it's still years away.'
'That's very strange then,' Isaacs mused, 'from space, in particular, not just from above. I guess that's why they're alarmed, given that they believe it. If we did have an operating beam weapon in space, the Russians would have good reason to be frightened. They know how potent those things can be: they invented them.'
'Well, we can't have the Soviets running around with a panicked finger on the trigger,' declared the Director. 'We've got to get a handle on this and calm them down. What else, Martinelli?'
'The aircraft have been refuelling in mid-air, they're still up. The best guess is that the missiles are targeted to the eastern seaboard. Boston down to Washington.'
Drefke looked grim. 'What about you, Boswank?' The Director looked down the table at him. 'Your people turn up anything?'
A veil settled over Boswank's face, as it did whenever he had to directly discuss his men in the field. 'Sir, it takes time to reach our people in deep cover. We should know in a few days what the real view is in Moscow. Our man in the admiralty can be requested to get us the damage report on the carrier. That may give a clue as to why they think they were attacked, and how.'
Drefke was distinctly unhappy at the lack of concrete news. 'A few days,' he grunted looking around the table, 'we could be dust in a few days. I've got to go to the President. What do I tell him we're doing? Waiting for some Russian turncoat to give us the time of day?'
Boswank winced uncomfortably.
'I want to know what the hell we're doing how!' Drefke demanded.
'There's the new ultraviolet camera and spectrometer on the FireEye satellite my team launched a week ago,' said Deloach enthusiastically. 'We could divert it to have a look at that carrier.'
'We need that satellite where it is, Earle,' said Isaacs, trying to keep the patronizing edge off his voice, 'over the new industrial area in Siberia.' Typical Deloach, thought Isaacs to himself: he'd look for the lost nickel under the street lamp where the light's good. Too bad he doesn't have the same sense for good intelligence he does for good hardware.
'The fire obliterated anything useful you could have seen on deck,' added Martinelli.
'The satellite ought to be stationed over Tomsk ,' McMasters said with a hint of bitterness.
'We've learned everything we usefully can at Tomsk ,' Isaacs replied patiently. Isaacs was vividly aware that McMasters had developed the targets at Tomsk and that his ego was too tied up in them to grant that their usefulness was played out. He had not made a substantial contribution since. 'We've been through the arguments in favour of Siberia in detail,' Isaacs said, and you've resented every one I made, he finished to himself.
'Dammit, let's stick to the subject in hand,' Drefke commanded. Isaacs nodded, chagrined at letting McMasters draw him in.
There was silence for a moment, broken by Isaacs.
'Surveillance of the carrier is useless, as Vince points out. The fire will have seen to that. We have to convince them we had nothing to do with it. They'll want more than Presidential assurances. We must figure out what happened to them, or help them find out for themselves. Nobody on the Novorossiisk itself, Art?'
'The Novorossiisk?' Boswank shook his head. 'Sure, a few, but they're the worst for rapid feedback. We can't get to them until they return to Russia. We have to go through a Soviet contact: too dangerous for the source otherwise.'
'Too dangerous?' Drefke asked rhetorically. 'Danger is a paranoid with his finger on the button when someone pops a balloon. Your sources won't be worth much if this gets out of hand. Can't we get to them more quickly?'
'We could, sir,' replied Boswank, 'but if this blows over, we would have jeopardized a major component of our network. We must be very careful. In any case the earliest we could get to them would be when they put into port. We should hear from our higher source before that.'
'None on the Novorossiisk have access to a radio?'
'I don't suppose they would let us put an inspection team on board, as a gesture of cooperation?' asked Deloach.
'Out of the question!' McMasters was adamant. 'They'd never allow it.'
Isaacs nodded his assent, McMasters was on target there. 'Art can take the most direct step. We need to know what's in that damage report to really understand their reaction, but that will take a little time. How about Ogarkov? Does hе know the basis for the charges, and would he tell us? Can we find out how he was briefed, or are there any message intercepts?'
'Links to the embassy are some of the toughest to penetrate, of course,' replied Martinelli, 'but I'll put out a call for any intercepts that might give a clue.'
Isaacs looked thoughtful.
'This concrete event has grabbed our attention. What about related occurrences? Anyone know of anything that could possibly be tied to this, even indirectly?' The silence around the table answered his question. 'Okay,' he said, 'that's a loose end that we can try to follow up. I'll put some of my analysis people on it, and if we come up with anything, Vince, we'll feed it to you.'
Drefke leaned back in his chair. 'I want all the stops out on this. I'll tell the President we expect the details of the damage report in a few days, but that's not good enough. We've given the President nothing to go on; all he can do is deny our involvement, and in the present crisis atmosphere that won't wash. We need a handle on this business, and we need it now. Martinelli, if you turn up even a hint that we could use as bait or as a prybar on Ogarkov let me know immediately.'
Martinelli nodded, and scribbled a note on his pad, 'Save boss's ass.'
'Boswank,' Drefke pleaded, 'isn't there anything you can do with your d-,' he caught himself, 'with your networks?'
'I can put out a call, but I don't know much what to call for,' Boswank replied curtly. 'You tell me there's a carrier with a fire on deck. What am I supposed to do with that?'
Drefke stared at him a moment and then turned to Isaacs, 'I'll also tell the President that we're doing everything possible to determine what happened to that carrier, and why the Russians suspect we are responsible. I expect your department to give us something to go on.
'Let me remind you,' he glared around the table, 'that until the Russians come to their senses on this, they are standing with the hammer cocked and the pistol at our head. It doesn't matter that we think they're mistaken. The present situation is very delicate and very dangerous, and it will remain so until we here in this room act to defuse it.' He pushed his chair back, stood, and looked sternly around the table. Then he turned and left with a brisk stride. The others rose and filed out of the conference room.
Deloach tailed McMasters down the hall. Martinelli followed Isaacs and Boswank into the stairwell. 'Well kid,' he said to Isaacs, 'looks like it's up to us to save the bacon again.'
Isaacs smiled, then sobered, 'This one is dangerous, Vince. Too unpredictable. Neither side really knows what's going on.'
'True enough,' put in Boswank, 'but the DCI's got a case of first crisisitis if I've ever seen one. Damn, if he'd been around during that Austrian dustup he'd know what a crisis was. He's got something to learn about running networks, too.' He shuffled through the door at the next landing.
Martinelli was silent until they reached the landing on his floor. 'McMasters is really beginning to ride you. That's going to blow one of these days.'
'I'm afraid you're right,' Isaacs replied. 'I'll try to keep a low profile, but he's so stuck on those outdated programs of his, and, of course, I have to cross him every time we recommend something more useful.
'Let me know if we can do some snooping for you.' Martinelli pulled open the fire door and stepped into the hallway.
'And you let me know if you turn up anything that might be related to this carrier business.' Isaacs continued down another floor and went through the door there. He strode rapidly down the corridor, grabbed the knob on the door marked Office of Scientific Intelligence, turned it, and went in.
Kathleen Huddleston had started in the Agency secretarial pool and worked her way up. She had been Isaacs's executive secretary for three years now and was as familiar with his character as she was with the ebb and flow of the workload in this odd business. She recognized his step and put on a smile of greeting as the door opened. As he entered, she read his mood with a practised eye. The familiar figure looked preoccupied, but more relaxed than usual this morning. She took in the dark curly hair only faintly tinged with grey in front of slightly protruding ears. The ears themselves were pink from recent sunburn. The hawk nose rode above thin lips and strong chin. As usual, tile eyes stood out, dark and penetrating, surmounted by surprisingly long, almost effeminate lashes. The lashes gave him a perennial boyish look despite the otherwise rugged face. Responding to her smile of greeting, the eyes crinkled, exercising a growing crop of laugh lines.
'Hi, boss, welcome back.'
'Thank you, Miss Kate,' he said with a mock bow, 'it's good to be back.'
'How was Florida ? You certainly got some sun!'
He grinned more widely. 'I did find some time for the beach. How have things been? Any excitement?'
'Nothing the DCI and I couldn't handle. You've just come from the meeting?'
Her voice hinted at a question that Kathleen had not quite intended. Despite security there was always scuttlebutt. They both knew that Kathleen was discreetly aware of many issues that were formally beyond her ken. Documents had to be typed, and with that responsibility came necessary access. Kathleen and her cadre were too bright not to put two and two together on occasion. In this case she had heard nothing and that had caught her attention and natural, if unwarranted, curiosity.
Isaacs perceived her questioning tone and the basis for it. The worse the emergency, the tighter the security. A grimace passed briefly over his face. 'Yes,' he affirmed, 'I need you to set up a meeting with the crisis team at,' he glanced at his watch, 'ten-thirty.'
Kathleen nodded and continued, 'Bill Bans wanted some time. I suggested two o'clock and that seemed okay, unless you want to see him this morning.'
Lord, thought Isaacs, something in Africa again.
'This afternoon would be better,' he said, confirming her judgement. 'I have a present for you, just to keep you out of trouble.' He plopped his briefcase on her side table, reached for his keys and unlocked it. He extracted and banded her a fat, black-clipped, typed manuscript. 'These are the corrections for the Bulgaria report. I'll need it Monday morning.' He enjoyed her mock groan, confident the job would be done quickly and exactly.
He stepped into his inner office, deposited his case and hung his jacket on the rack. Circling his desk, he cranked open the blinds to expose the blue sky and thickly treed surroundings. His thoughts passed briefly from the carrier crisis to the sunlit morning, to Alice Lavey's neckline, and back, and he turned as Kathleen entered with a stack of intelligence summaries and a steaming cup of black coffee.
He smiled 'thanks' as he settled into his chair. She returned the smile, gave a breezy 'you're welcome' and slipped out, closing the door. He waited until the door clicked, then leaned back and propped his feet on his desk. Bad for the posture and image, but good for concentration, he thought, as he reached for the bound folder stamped 'Orbital Visual and Infrared Reconnaissance Survey — Top Secret' and arranged the coffee within easy reach.
He read quickly but thoroughly, skipping over familiar facts, pausing to sip coffee and ponder and assimilate new data. There was no question that the laborious analysis that had revealed the crucial infrared signal of the mobile launchers continued to be superlatively valuable. Each of the mobile stations had moved in the last week, and not only were the three new stations revealed, the movements of each of the old ones were uniquely determined.
Satellite identification was still proving a difficult task. The launchings could be predicted over a week in advance and followed simply. Once in orbit the reconnaissance net was sufficiently dense that each satellite could be tracked, but a few escaped classification into the offensive, defensive, or reconnaissance categories.
He finished the first report and started on the aircraft reconnaissance, continuing with desultory sips of his cooling coffee. The Chinese were beginning the reprocessing plant for their new reactor. The Warsaw Pact troops had interrupted their war games with the onset of the current crisis. He noted that two of the previously identified highspeed tanks in Poland had been reclassified as older, slower models.
He glanced at his watch as he finished with this report. 10:23. Time to start on the signal intelligence before his team assembled.
He read along, stopping at an item already covered in the other surveys, the Soviet low tonnage underground event at Semipalatinsk. The satellite photos had shown the surface activity involved in setting up the experiment, and the infrared trace had indicated when the explosion occurred. This report outlined the results of monitoring the data links, both those uncoded and those for which the code had been broken. The result was that the Agency experts knew nearly as much about the test as the Russian scientists who performed it.
The summary noted that the nature of the explosion was confirmed by the associated seismic signal. That statement caught Isaacs's eye, and he stared at the ceiling-momentarily trying to recall a related tidbit of information he had filed away. As usual, the seismic reference was added simply for completeness since the Agency was not directly involved with the seismic monitoring system. He snapped his fingers and leaned forward to punch the button on his intercom.
'Would you have — let me see, who might be available? — would you have Pat Danielson stop in just after lunch?'
'Yes, sir. Time for the meeting.'
'Right.' Isaacs swung to his feet and headed out of his office, flipping a goodbye sign at Kathleen. As he walked the short distance to his conference room, he began to sort out tactics for turning up clues to the fate of the Russian carrier. The meeting, frustrating and unproductive, lasted to noon and beyond.
Temper lengthened Pat Danielson's stride. Weasel, she thought. What garbage, lunch to discuss my report! Put a damn run in my stocking with his hangnail! She slowed her pace as she turned into the last hallway. How's a person to get any credit? He probably didn't even read it. Sure glad Isaacs is reasonable, knows I'm a woman, but listens. Hope this is good news.
When she entered Kathleen's office, the two women exchanged greetings. They were cordial to one another, but not close. Although they worked for the same man and Kathleen was only a few years older, the difference in their positions, secretary and professional, created a practical barrier. Kathleen waved the young woman into Isaacs's office and followed her with a quick eye skimming the details of dress, hair, carriage before turning once more to her tasks as the door closed.
Isaacs looked up as Danielson entered his office, her wide smile of greeting reminding him of his ebullient mood on the way to work this morning, a mood battered but not yet dead.
'Good afternoon, Pat,' Isaacs replied. 'Please sit down.' She seated herself in the chair across from his desk, a bit too tall and big-boned to be graceful, but with good control of her body, not gangly. Isaacs watched her sit and cross her legs. He caught a quick flash of a run before she reversed her legs to cover it up. He regarded her for a moment. Good worker, even disposition under everyday hectic conditions, but no real test yet. Some spine, but not bitchy. Attractive in a wholesome sort of way, wide face, high cheekbones, a vague sprinkling of freckles to complement the reddish tinge in her hair. His evaluation of her work did not depend on her appearance, but he was honest enough to admit he preferred a good-looking competent woman to an ugly one. She looked at him expectantly.
'How's your work going?'
'Fine,' she replied, but he caught the hint of distress that passed over her face.
'I can't keep tabs on everything as much as I would like to. I called you because I have a small project I'd like you to take on, but if you're having some trouble, we have a chance to talk now.'
'No, no trouble,' she said quickly, then hesitated, and fixed him with a gaze. 'My work is satisfactory, isn't it?'
'Very much so,' he said seriously. 'There's some excellent data coming from the new satellite; you're doing your part.'
'Doing my part,' she repeated quietly to herself. 'May I say something?'
He nodded. There was something she wanted to get off her chest.
'I really like this job. I think I'm doing something to help my country.' She paused. 'But there are times when I wonder whether I'm getting due credit.' She straightened up and adopted a sterner tone. 'The fact is, somebody made a pass at me at lunch, and I'm still upset. I don't want to name names, but first he complimented my work too much, and then afterwards he said some unkind things.'
'A superior of yours?'
'Well, yes, but I don't want to cause trouble.'
'Sounds like you're not the cause. Tell you what. First, let me repeat, you are doing well. That's one reason I called you in here today. I'll confess I've heard that you're better than some who get as much credit, or more. I'll try to keep a closer eye on that. As we both know, you more than I, the Agency is still a man's world. No use pretending you won't have to work hard to get ahead. About this other thing, though, I won't brook harassment.' He pointed a finger at her. 'I want to know if that happens again.'
Danielson nodded, but he knew she would not mention the subject again.
'So, can you handle another project?'
'Yes, sir, I can,' she said confidently.
'Good.' Isaacs leaned back in his chair and folded his hands across his stomach. 'You know I just came back from my tour of active duty?'
'Yes, you were in Florida , I believe I heard.'
'That's right, at AFTAC, the Air Force Technical Assistance Center on Cape Canaveral. Do you know what they do there?'
Her brow wrinkled. 'No, I guess I don't.'
'Do you know about the Large Seismic Array?'
She brightened. 'A little. That's in Montana , isn't it? A collection of seismic detectors to monitor underground nuclear explosions and such things.'
'That's right,' Isaacs nodded, 'among other things, AFTAC monitors the Large Seismic Array, other seismic detectors in a world-wide network, and a separate ensemble of underwater acoustic monitors. Basically, they maintain a surveillance system to complement the various aerial and satellite operations.'
Danielson gave a brisk nod of comprehension.
Isaacs continued, 'I was stationed in the intelligence section at AFTAC. I spent some time looking at data from the LSA and reports on the analysis of the data.'
His tone altered slightly as he added an explanatory note. 'The data's analysed at the Air Force Cambridge Research Lab in Massachusetts.'
'Anyway,' Isaacs continued his narrative, 'there was one little piece of information that piqued my curiosity. They've apparently picked up a repeated but very weak signal — only a careful analysis can pull it out of the noise — which has a period of about an hour.'
Danielson raised an eyebrow,
'At first I thought it must be the shuffling of undergraduate feet during class change at the University of Montana.' Danielson smiled.
Isaac smiled back, 'Unfortunately the signal is out of phase with the university. Still, such a period seems too anthropocentric not to be man-made, and yet no one I talked to came up with any plausible account of it. Worse yet, to my mind, no one seemed to have any inclination to follow up on it. It's probably not important, but it's the kind of item I like to put a tag on, so it doesn't cause confusion at a later date.
'I know you have heavy commitments on current projects, and this is not a crucial item, but I would like to follow up on it. You'll have to get in touch with the people at AFTAC and the Cambridge Research Lab. You'll probably want to acquire some of the data tapes. I'll give you a list of the people involved and clear the way for you through channels, but beyond that you'll be pretty much on your own. Any questions about that?'
'Not until I talk to the people and learn about the system,' Danielson replied. 'I expect their basic signal processing techniques are similar to ones I use — computer enhancement?'
'There are some differences, but that was another reason I picked you.'
'I'll have to learn something about seismology. That will be interesting.'
Isaacs supplied the young operative with a list of contacts and suggested several reports which would help to familiarize her with the nature and operation of the Large Seismic Array. She made pertinent notes and then departed.
As Danielson closed the door behind her, Isaacs swivelled his chair towards the window and leaned back, staring out. Above the trees, hazy clouds had filled the clear morning blue. It would be muggy by now. He pondered the strange seismic data a few moments to no particular avail. Then another imperative broke his tram of thought. Bans would arrive shortly to discuss developments in Africa. He glanced at his watch, groaned mentally, and squared up at his desk. An image of the fire-scarred deck of the carrier Novorossiisk filled his mind. Somewhere within that ship-bulk was the key to why we were teeing the brink yet again. He reached for the too, too thin file of notes from the morning's crisis meeting. In a few minutes he was totally absorbed in that project, straining to find a fresh approach. He took the strain home with him that evening.