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Chapter 7

A small hole appeared in the thick plate of the hull just to the port side of the keel. A disturbance winked through the fuel oil stored in the large ballast tank shaped to the hull. Brief instants later similar holes were created in the top of the fuel tank and then in the floor of the engine room. In the next moment a deep score ran across the shaft atone of the four large General Electric gas turbines. A crack sprang out from this defect augmented by the huge centrifugal force, and the multibladed shaft went careening like a rip saw towards the turbine casing as yet another hole penetrated the ceiling of the engine room. On went the succession of holes as if on a rising plumbline, through decks, furniture, equipment, until a last long gash ripped through the floor of the helicopter pad.

' — ro!'

The damaged turbine exploded, filling the engine compartment with high velocity titanium'-blade shrapnel and burning fuel. Weakened by the small incident hole, the floor buckled under the disintegrated turbine. Flame leapt down along the vapours leading to the fuel tank. After the briefest hiatus, the fuel tank exploded. The force of this release was directed upward along the rising line of perforations. The penetrated structural members gave way, and a violent stream of shredded metal and superheated gas blew a cavity upward into the guts of the ship. The explosion also tore like a rocket into the surrounding water. In reaction, the destroyer listed rapidly and severely to starboard. As the ship pendulumed back to port, water rushed into the new gaping hole and splashed upward following the path of the blast into the ship. Great portions of the upper midship sections filled with water. The ship was rendered top-heavy. As it rebounded, its natural capacity to right itself was destroyed, and it carried on over. In the space of a minute the Stinson capsized, floating bottom up, the ragged hole in the hull aimed at the sun, narrowly above the horizon. A handful of men survived. Avery Rutherford was not among them.

That evening, still numb from loss, Isaacs stared at the draft of the memo he had carefully composed. He was reticent to commit himself to writing, but he could not just go bursting into McMasters's office and demand that Project QUAKER be reinstated. McMasters would never hear him out. Instead, he had put all the arguments he could muster into the memorandum. McMasters would not want to read anything from him, but he would read it, out of selfdefence.


To: Kevin J. McMasters,

Deputy Director of Intelligence

From: Robert B. Isaacs,

Deputy Director for Scientific Intelligence

Subject: Connection between the loss of the USS Stinson, the Novorossiisk, and Project QUAKER

On June 14, the Navy Destroyer USS Stinson was lost at sea while on a mission indirectly related to our now inactive Project QUAKER. The circumstances bear marked resemblance to those involving the Soviet carrier Novorossiisk. In this memorandum, I set forth the case linking the USS Stinson, the Novorossiisk, and Project QUAKER and call for the immediate reactivation and vigorous prosecution of Project QUAKER.

Isaacs pictured McMasters resisting the urge to scrunch the memo into a ball and toss it in the can.

As you will recall. Project QUAKER produced evidence for a source of seismic waves which moved in a regular pattern through the earth. The trajectory of this motion is fixed in space independent of the rotation of the earth or its motion in orbit around the sun. The source of seismic waves always approaches the earth's surface at 32° 47' north latitude. Approximately forty and one— quarter minutes later it has passed through the earth and approaches the surface again at 32° 47' south latitude. It then returns to the northern hemisphere nearing the surface at a position about 1170 miles west of the previous location of surfacing, due to the rotation of the earth in the intervening eighty minutes and thirty seconds.

One day later, the source of the seismic signal will return to the surface about 190 miles west of the point where it surfaced at nearly the same time the previous day. The source of the seismic waves has approached the surface about 2000 times since it was first detected. Because of the incommensurate motion of the seismic source and the rotation of the earth, however, the probability of the source returning to the surface within even a few miles of any previous point of surfacing is very small. Despite the underlying regularity of the motion of the source of the seismic waves, the effects manifested at the surface will be perceived to be highly irregular.

Isaacs paused at this point. McMasters presumably knew the basic facts and he did not want to overdo here nor delay getting to the meat of his argument, but he felt compelled to summarize the issues to provide a context for the pitch to come. His mind whirled with details which he would have added for someone who wanted to really know what was going on, but he pictured McMasters' sneering scepticism and decided for the fifth time that this was the best he could do.

I have learned through informal sources

Ha! Let the bastard chew on that one, thought Isaacs. He'll discover that Rutherford was on the Stinson and dig like a dog to find some proof I violated his stricture. Well, let him dig! I don't confess to any active role for either me or the Agency, so he'll stew, but there's not much he can do. Except summarily reject the proposal. Damn!

that the Navy has sonar data which correlate with the motion of the seismic source. The source of the seismic noise apparently

Apparently. He pondered whether to leave that word to honestly portray the possibility, remote to his mind, that the strong circumstantial evidence had not been rigorously confirmed, that there was no case in which both seismic and sonar detectors picked up the signal of a single event to prove they were related. McMasters might seize on such a subtlety. Isaacs sighed and opted for honesty.

proceeds into the ocean. The source of the sonar signal goes to the surface, ceases for about forty seconds, then proceeds back to the ocean bottom. There is a strong presumption that the source of seismic and sonar waves is in the atmosphere for those forty seconds. The seismic and sonar waves generated by the source of energy propagate over great distances, contributing to their detect— ability. The lack of above-surface confirmation suggests that the effects there are very localized.

Now for the pitch, if he hasn't set fire to it by this time.

To conclude from the evidence that the phenomenon is innocuous at the surface would be a grievous error. The fates of the Novorossiisk and the Stinson show that this phenomenon is destructive and must be understood and eliminated. The Stinson was on a mission to investigate the sonar signals which are the counterpart of the seismic signals tracked under Operation QUAKER. On June 13, the Stinson witnessed the rising and falling sonar signal from a thousand yards, with no appreciable surface effect. An associated hissing noise was reported. On June 14, it was stationed directly on the path of the rising sonar signal. The ship exploded, capsized and sank with the loss of all but 23 of her crew of 259. Fragmentary evidence from the survivors suggests that the fuel tanks exploded.

I believe the facts show that the Novorossiisk suffered a similar fate. The Novorossiisk was at 32° 47' when the incident occurred. Within the accuracy of our records, she was at a location that would have been in phase with the rising of the seismic/acoustic phenomenon. A hissing noise was reported on the Novorossiisk before the fires broke out. A sonar signal was reported afterwards.

The similarities between the Stinson and the Novorossiisk events and the relations to the signal of Operation QUAKER are too striking to be coincidence. There is every reason to believe that the phenomenon that made the holes in the Novorossiisk and triggered the fires on board had a similar, but unfortunately more destructive, effect on the Stinson. This phenomenon also generates the signals studied under Operation QUAKER.

The present facts are disturbing enough. Men have died, equipment has been destroyed and we have drawn closer to war. Even more troubling is that the underlying phenomenon is completely without precedent, and its nature totally unknown. In our present state of ignorance we may have no inkling of the true magnitude of the problem that besets us.

We must take immediate action to discover the nature of this phenomenon. I strongly recommend two steps. One is the reinstatement of Project QUAKER and the enactment of similar projects in all relevant agencies of the government. The second is to communicate these findings to the Soviet Union to forestall the developments which have succeeded the Novorossiisk event. In this regard, I recommend a query to the Soviets regarding the detection of a rising sonar signal just prior to the Novorossiisk event. Confirmation of this prediction would help to convince the Soviets of the innocence of the United States in the Novorossiisk affair and tie together more firmly the disparate phenomena described here.

When he finished reading the draft, Isaacs stared at the last page, his eyes defocused, straining with his mind's eye to see where this attempt would lead. Despite himself, his mind filled with an image of Rutherford , those last seconds, desperately trapped in the submerged bridge. He shook his head and rose from his desk. Something fearful was at work here. McMasters had to free his hands to go after it. Kathleen was gone for the day. He unlocked a cabinet and placed the clipped sheaf of paper in the front of her work file.

In the parking lot he unlocked the door of the car and half-tossed his briefcase into the passenger seat. He sat behind the wheel a moment, feeling like driving, but with no particular place to go. Finally, he wheeled out of the lot to the rear exit from the grounds, past the guardhouse and down the long leafy lane. He turned right on Route 123, but the traffic heading into McLean was still fairly heavy, the driving unsatisfactory. He joined the throng on the throng headed north. He took the first turn-off after crossing the Potomac and headed home, still frustrated and deeply troubled.

A week later, Isaacs stood with his back to the wall, away from the early Sunday crowds beginning to fill the Air and Space Museum. He came here sometimes for the pleasure of it, sometimes to think. This was a thinking time. His eyes caressed the old F-86 Sabrejet. It was his favourite craft in the whole place. The first grace of swept-back wings and tail. The captivating curve of the intake maw, surmounted by the subtle outward swell of the radar housing, a puckered lip to kiss the wind. With none of the venomous dihedral of today's fighters, the Sabrejet gave him the profound feeling of inner peace that came from witnessing perfect design.

He could not hold it. The peaceful feeling slipped, shattered and fell away from him. Rather than despoil his favoured icon with secular thought, he wandered back towards the main rooms. Starting with the loss of Rutherford and the Stinson, the last week had been horrendous. Just like a roller coaster, Isaacs had known what was coming as the chain ratcheted him towards the top, but that did not keep his stomach from leaping as the dizzying fall began.

The Soviets had completed preparations at Tyuratam and launched their second laser flawlessly at midweek. The President immediately put the armed forces on full alert. Around the world, attack submarines encircled Soviet flotillas and Russian and American aircraft flew sorties eyeing one another on radar. A hundred hair triggers waited for the slightest pressure.

Drefke had returned from the NSC meeting nearly hysterical. Hysteria may have been the only sane response. Myriad alternatives sifted, the President had chosen the one he felt most appropriate. Specifically targeted to the task. Limited enough not to demand full-scale war if implemented. Stark enough to be impossible to ignore. The US spelled out its position in graphic detail to the Soviets at all diplomatic levels. If they used the laser, retaliation would be swift and sure, treaties to the contrary notwithstanding.

Isaacs stood looking up at the Mercury capsule. Is this where it began? he wondered. Or maybe with his Sabrejet out in the far wing. Or, over there, with the Wright brothers. Or with the goddamned wheel! He gritted his teeth in despair and frustration and wandered up the stairs towards the Saturn booster. The new plateau of crisis had made him easy pickings for McMasters. He reached in and felt the letter from McMasters folded in his jacket pocket. Coincidence. No proof. Crisis. No time. The fool! McMasters couldn't, wouldn't see the truth. Of course the Agency was in overdrive, with no resources to spare. But the root of the crisis was not in the White House, or even in the Kremlin. It hurtled through the earth, a sly unknown enemy that had us at each other's throats. If the world proceeded to nuclear holocaust would this thing care? Would it continue to sift through the seared rubble?

Isaacs followed the crowd into the auditorium and sat, his eyes blitzed by the recorded history of the air, his mind in its own warp. Subconsciously, he had known it would come to this. His alternatives were sorted and banded up to him even as he read the letter from McMasters. Someone had to focus on this evil in the earth. He had to go it alone. His career, his rapid rise to authority, all his hard work, seemed like a fragile bird in his hand. So easily it could die, or fly away. But what alternatives did he have? To watch the world careen to disaster? A disaster that might be forestalled if only they knew the true origin of this thing? He thought of Muriel, her successful career built on the precarious sands of political influence. If he failed, were found out, disgraced, she'd have a lot at jeopardy as well. They would go down together. Would they go down together? Would they be together? Would she forgive him for sacrificing her to a cause of which she was ignorant? What of his daughter? How would she take the news of her father's ejection from the Agency for wilful violation of policy? What would she think of a father in a unique position to stem the rush to war who lacked the courage to act? Disgrace or the prospect of nuclear war. Could there be any real choice?

One step at a time. He fumbled his way out of the auditorium, the aisle sporadically lit by the flashing screen. He pulled up his steep driveway twenty minutes later and stared for a moment at the house, picturing the occupants, before getting out of the car. As he closed the front door behind him, he could hear the perpetual music from Isabel's room and the rustle of paper from the front room, Muriel digesting the Sunday Post. She looked up as he came in.

'Hi!' she said cheerily. 'Have a nice drive?'

He sat on the edge of a chair next to her. 'I worked some things out.'

She sobered at his look.

'I need to talk to you. Can you get some clothes on? I'd just as soon get out of the house.'

'Well, sure.' She pinched at the lapels of her robe. 'I'll just be a few minutes.' She gave him a perplexed look and headed up the stairs. Five minutes later, he heard her knock on Isabel's door and announce they were going for a ride.

'My hair's a mess. We're not going anywhere in public are we?' she asked as he joined her in the hallway.

'No, you look fine. I just want to find a quiet place to talk.'

In the car he headed them towards the Naval Observatory grounds and found an empty turnoff where they could park. He turned off the ignition and looked out over the rolling lawns.

Muriel broke the silence.

'This is a little frightening, you know.'

'I am frightened,' he said with a shy grin. He half turned in his seat to face her. 'I'm about to take a big step. I've never involved you in Agency business, but if I miss my footing here, it could be very bad.'

'You know I trust you.'

'You trust a guy who has always played by the rules. I have to break some rules now.'

'Maybe I shouldn't know.'

'According to the rules you shouldn't. That's one of the rules I need to break. I can't go into this leaving you in the cold.'

'It's got to do with Avery, doesn't it?'

He nodded. 'You read about the alert?'

'What there is to read,' she said, befuddled. 'Rumours of a full alert, unconfirmed by the White House. Official mumblings about routine training exercises.'

'And you remember my last dust-up with McMasters.'

'Humble pie.'

'They're all tied in together. I don't have to tell you the details, but I need to sketch it for you, to explain what I'm going to do.

'There's some influence moving through the earth. We picked it up by seismic signals, microscopic earthquakes. Avery stumbled onto it by sonar signals. We have no idea what causes the noise as it goes, but, whatever it is, it moves back and forth through the earth. No one seems to have noticed it above the surface, but Avery was on a mission to investigate that, and I'm convinced it sank his ship.'

'It? You mean you have no idea what sank a ship?'

'That's right. Incredible as it seems, there's something deadly out there, down there, and we have no clue to what it is. Last spring a Russian aircraft carrier was damaged in a mysterious way. All the evidence points to the same phenomenon. The carrier was in the right place at the right time to have run into this flung. They blamed us, thought we had some mystery ray. They zapped one of our spy satellites with a laser satellite; we snatched their laser with the shuttle.'

'Oh, yeah.' Muriel wagged a finger in memory. 'There were some reports of skullduggery with the shuttle. Someone high up sat on that one very hard.'

'Right. Well, it's continued to escalate. The Russians have launched another laser. That's led to the alert.' He paused. 'I know you realize that this is all confidential, but what I'm going to tell you next, you really have to regard in the strictest confidence. If it gets out, then the whole works go down the drain.'

'Don't tell me.'

'This is the crux. You won't understand my motivation otherwise.'

'It seems pretty clear. Something strange is going on. You've lost a good friend to it. We and the Russians are at odds over it, without even knowing it. That neanderthal McMasters has blocked your way, and you're going to defy him by continuing to dig when he has forbidden you to. If he catches you, he skins you and makes a gift of your tanned hide to the Director, no matter the motivation.'

Isaacs smiled. 'An admirable summary, counsellor. You're right. It was the investigation of these seismic signals that McMasters squelched. I appealed to him last week, but with this alert on he just slapped me down, got to tend to the business in hand. The problem is, of course, that I think the business at hand is the outgrowth of this mystery noise. We must understand that.'

'Then go after it.'

'If I'm wrong, or if I'm found out mucking around before I can come up with incontrovertible proof, I'll be kicked out, disgraced. I'm worried about your position, about what Isabel would think. It wouldn't be worth the risk if all that was at stake was my concern for what happened to Avery.'

'No, not just for a personal question,' Muriel agreed, 'but other men have died. This thing sounds dangerous on its own, even if it didn't lead to lasers and shuttles having at it in space.'

'Muriel, men die all the time, and we and the Russians are always involved in some skirmish or other, some of which I can influence, others I can't. The stakes are a lot bigger here.'

She looked thoughtful for a long moment. 'Okay, tell me if you have to. But for your sake, not mine.'

'We launched a nuclear device this morning. It'll track the laser. If the laser is used, we explode it.'

'Oh, Bob. Oh, my god. What would the. Russians do?'

'Who knows? That's just the worry. What would we do if they used a nuclear device against us in space? We'd retaliate somehow. Two things frighten me. That unknown flung in the earth, and the knowledge that we're as close to the brink as we have ever been.'

'Bob, this is insane. You have the key to defuse this, and only McMasters in the way. Can't you go to the Director? Go to the President, for god's sake!'

'I have a pile of circumstantial evidence, no real proof. I think that with some thought and work the connection can be established, but doing that in an open fashion, never mind with the full-scale interagency cooperation that's required, is just what McMasters has blocked. If I get myself sacked, then I really am useless. Somehow, I've got to assemble a stronger case so I can circumvent McMasters. And I've got to do it in the midst of this goddamned fullscale alert, when they want to know everything that's happening, and why — yesterday.'

She reached over and touched his arm. 'Bob, you do what you have to do. Take me home.'

He started the car and drove, barely seeing the road. He slowly realized that he had, besides Muriel, two possible allies. Maybe there was hope.

Korolev sat at his desk and stared at the incredible document in his hand. It was postmarked from New York , a simple attempt at subterfuge. Naive? Or sophisticated in its attempt to hide in plain sight? The fact that this letter was mailed to him just like any other piece of scientific correspondence that he received regularly from colleagues worldwide appealed to him greatly. What was the chance that this piece went unscreened by the authorities? Small, regrettably.

What a delight to see his confidence in this American vindicated. In the letter he confesses to pushing the meteorite idea, even as his confidence waned. Here is a man of conscience, trying honestly to struggle with forces beyond his control. How clearly he sees the disaster that has followed like night the day from the damage to the Novorossiisk.

And what a bizarre case he has compiled! A seismic signal that traverses the earth every eighty and one half minutes. The Novorossiisk in the way. This destroyer of theirs also in the path, and sunk! Could we have such seismic data? Korolev sighed. Probably far inferior, and locked in tight bureaucratic compartments. Could he prise it out? What an effort to ask of an old man. Expend much of the capital of his prestige in an effort like that. But this Isaacs fellow had now neatly forced his hand. He must try.

What a nice touch, the straw on the camel's back that would force him into action. Why, he queries, did the Novorossiisk not report a rising sonar signal? Ah, the subtleties of Soviet militarism. Isaacs must know that we do not keep tapes of sonar signals. There would be no point, without the ready computer power to analyse them. Our records are in the memories of men and the written page. What Isaacs does not know is that one of those memories was erased. The sonar man, not so far from retirement, had finally worked his way up to chief sonar officer on the Novorossiisk. No one was surprised at the heart attack that felled him. Until now, no one had questioned why his collapse had preceded the emergency, the fires on the ship. His second had taken over and had heard the descending signal. What had the first man heard that instigated his attack? Isaacs had asked a key question. Korolev was convinced he knew the answer.

Two problems. Could the disastrous chain of events be broken? From the Novorossiisk to the FireEye, the Cosmos, the shuttle, the new Cosmos, and now this evil new device of the Americans. Did this linkage have a momentum of its own that could not be stopped? Could he make a case that would cause his government to defuse the issue, to look to the common problem? If he could get independent evidence, beyond this document, to whom would he turn? Who in his stolid conservative government would respond to this outrageous tale?

And what was this common enemy? This motive force within the earth, that punched holes in ships, and frightened men to death? What could be so omnipresent and yet so surgically precise that death can come and go and leave scarce a trace?

Korolev wrote a word in heavy blunt pencil in the margin Isaacs's letter: TUNGUS.

On the following Saturday the precious morning slipped away, but Pat Danielson still wore her nightgown and robe. She had worked late the night before, responding to the crisis atmosphere that gripped the Agency, trying to monitor and anticipate the Soviet response to the orbiting nuclear device. She was due back by two in the afternoon. Now she kept that tension at bay by methodically devouring the morning paper. The condominium ads had caught her attention. After a brief stay with friends of her father upon her arrival in Washington , she had moved into the present high-rise apartment. She shared the rent with her roommate, Janine Corliss, a secretary in the FDA, an amicable arrangement, but looked forward to the independence and tax advantage of owning her own dwelling and had nearly accumulated a down payment.

A key rattled in the lock and Janine came in clutching a tennis racquet and a handful of mail, sweaty from an early match with the young lawyer from down the hall. She threw the mail on the coffee table and extracted one piece. She walked down the hallway and into Pat's room and tossed the letter on the stack of discarded newspaper sections.

'A letter for you.'

She bustled into her own room and then into the shower. Danielson picked up the envelope and examined the address written in a strong hand. She ran through her brief list of friends, unable to place the writing. She opened the envelope and looked at the terse message in surprise:


Please meet me at the Olde English Pub, 87412 Wisconsin in Bethesda tomorrow (Sunday) at 3:00 P.M. Please do not mention or show his note to anyone.

Bob Isaacs

Danielson read the message three times quickly and then stared at it. They had ample opportunity every day of the week, and then some lately, to discuss Agency business. She had spent a half hour with Isaacs the previous Wednesday and their interchange had been routine, although he had been more preoccupied than usual. The message was so oddly clandestine; that wasn't even their branch of the " Agency. That it represented the prelude to some romantic entanglement seemed preposterous. Not that it couldn't happen, but there would have been some other clue. She thought back to their conversation after the cancellation of Project QUAKER. The question of her social life, or lack of it, had come up. Had she sent him some kind of false signal? Had she misread him so badly? He seemed straightforward and sincere, but how could you ever tell what people were thinking?

Whatever its motivation, the request put her on the spot. She realized after some reflection that she would keep the appointment, but knowing she would have a few more hours off tomorrow afternoon, she had accepted a rare date for a concert at Wolf Trap. How did Isaacs know she wouldn't be working? Easy enough for him to check the roster, she supposed. Anyway she would have to break the date. The easiest flung would be to claim that something had come up at work, but especially if it were true, that would violate the spirit of Isaacs's request for discretion. Maybe Janine would get sick, and she would have to stay home with her.

Janine came into Pat's room dressed in her robe and wringing her hair in a towel. Danielson recognized that to ignore the note would be the best way to arouse her roommate's interest. She waved the letter by one corner and then tossed it into the wastebasket.

'An insurance salesman, begging me to call him and compare policies when my auto insurance comes due. Apparently, a struggling independent who can't afford his own stationery.'

Janine shrugged.

'Well, he shows initiative. Maybe you should call him up and check him out.'

Danielson grinned. She felt she had pulled off her little lie, but her pulse pounded with the effort. She recalled the polygraph test which had constituted part of her screening for the Agency position, glad not to be hooked up to it now.

Janine plopped down on Pat's bed and began to comb her hair.

Isaacs sat in the back of the bar where the afternoon sun barely penetrated from the opaque plastic panels in the front windows. He had debated the alternatives: to meet in a crowded place where strangers would take no note, but where the probability of a chance acquaintance was higher; or to pick a quiet spot where the bartender and the few patrons might have some vague memory of their presence, but their chances of being recognized together were near zero. He opted for the latter.

Isaacs dawdled over his drink, feeling alternately morose, angry, and expectant. He recalled his attempt at fatherly advice to Danielson and felt the sting of irony. This was not the way to get ahead in the Agency. He smiled with relief when the door opened, revealing her silhouetted in the doorway. He was grateful that his confidence in this competent young woman had not been misplaced. The thought also passed through his mind that his goal could have been personal, rather than the business at hand, and she would have responded the same.

Danielson stood for a moment as her eyes adjusted from the sunlit afternoon. She instinctively peered towards the darkest area of the room and saw Isaacs arise from the booth. As she strode to greet him her senses were alert to his manner and carriage. His smile was warm, but did not quite reach his eyes, which looked troubled. He clasped her hand firmly, maintaining his grip just a fraction longer than necessary before giving it a last small pump and gesturing her into the seat.

'Thank you for coming,' he said.

Before she could respond the bartender had rounded the bar and sauntered to their table. He glanced at Danielson and raised an eyebrow towards Isaacs.

'Will you have a drink?'

'Well, it's early, but it is hot out. I'll have a gin and tonic.'

The bartender nodded and lackadaisically retraced his path.

'I hope I haven't inconvenienced you, springing this on you. I know you have precious little time off these days.'

'I did have a date this afternoon.'

'I'm sorry. I tried to give you a day's notice. I'm afraid I haven't played the dating game in quite a while.'

Danielson raised an eyebrow. Was he playing it now?

'I did try to pick a time when I thought you'd just be relaxing at home.'

'I might have been, but this afternoon's concert happened to fit my schedule. Anyway, I told him my hay fever had flared up, and I couldn't face either sitting in the grass sneezing or doping myself silly with antihistamines. I got a ram check for next week at the Kennedy Center , safely inside and air-conditioned. Now if I can just get the Del to let me off-.'

Her voice trailed off, her real question left floating in the air. Isaacs sensed her reserve and grinned nervously as the bartender arrived with her drink. He put down a fresh coaster, then promptly soaked it as he deposited the glass too abruptly. Danielson started to take a sip, but the coaster stuck to the bottom of the glass. She looked on with mild surprise as Isaacs unpeeled the coaster, reached for the shaker, and shook some salt on it. He gestured at the coaster. She placed her glass down and then lifted it. The coaster stayed nicely in place on the table. She took a sip, then raised her glass in an abbreviated toast. Isaacs nodded his appreciation. After a moment a serious look settled on his face.

'I need to talk to you about Operation QUAKER.'

Danielson smiled wryly to herself. She had been right: romance was a preposterous notion. Aloud she said, 'I find myself pondering it on occasion.' She glanced around the bar. 'Do we need to meet here to beat a dead horse?'

'Circumstances have changed. I think it's imperative that Operation QUAKER be revived.' Isaacs looked down into his drink and then up at Danielson. 'I need your help, but the political roadblocks still exist so there are risks.' He smiled briefly. 'That's the reason for this skullduggery today.'

He leaned forward and spoke intently.

'Let me explain what has happened.'

Isaacs described his relation with Rutherford , the naval operation that had ensued, and its connection to the Novorossiisk. He gave a brief, professional description of the fate of the Stinson and her crew, but Danielson felt his pain. She sensed that his personal loss spurred him on in this venture. She asked herself how much of his renewed enthusiasm for Operation QUAKER was a reaction to his grief, how much a need for retribution against McMasters, and how much a cool objective decision that he alone must shoulder the responsibility.

'If you're right about the Stinson and the Novorossiisk, then the whole situation we're caught up in now,' Danielson looked around and lowered her voice even further, 'the Russian satellite and our, uh, device, stems from whatever is causing the seismic signal.'

'That's my reading.'

Danielson leaned back in the booth, her mind swimming, trying to assimilate all that Isaacs had said. 'This damage,' she mumbled, almost to herself, 'how could the seismic signals I was tracking possibly sink a ship?' She looked directly at Isaacs. 'What could this thing be?'

Isaacs shrugged his shoulders and looked pained.

'I've asked myself that over and over. I don't have a single rational suggestion. Only a profound vague fear.'

'Could it be a Russian weapon of some kind? But why would they use it on their own ship? An accident? And why would they blame us? Bluster to cover up?'

Isaacs shook his head again in worried fashion. 'My instincts tell me the Soviets aren't behind this. They really don't understand what happened to the Novorossiisk. Everything else has followed naturally, god forbid.'

'Then who?'

'Who? What? No answers.'

Danielson was silent for a moment, thinking.

'What is the Navy doing about it? It was their destroyer that was lost.'

'The Navy is continuing its surveillance, but sporadically and from a great distance. Of course, they're on full alert as well, so the energies of any of their brass who could make some constructive decisions are focused on what they see as the immediate problem — trying to monitor everything in the world that floats and flies a red star.

'There's a self-defeating dichotomy in their approach. They don't really know what happened to the Stinson and won't officially admit any direct connection to its mission. And yet, they're afraid there was some direct cause and won't commit any ships or equipment to close surveillance. As it stands, they aren't learning anything new, not even establishing in their own minds that this thing is definitely dangerous.'

'But you think it is.'

'I'm convinced of it.'

'What you suggest is so totally inexplicable, maybe coincidence is the only reasonable explanation after all.'

'There's the slimmest chance that I'm overreacting to some outrageous coincidences. But I think the situation must be resolved one way or another. I'm certainly convinced that the present hiatus is unacceptable. Someone must take steps to determine what is really happening here.'

'Can't you go back to McMasters and appeal to him to reopen the file on its merits?'

'I tried that. I drafted a long memo setting out the case. It only succeeded in getting him more angry. He suspects I had some role in the Navy's interest, but can't prove it. In any case, he's clever enough to turn it around on me. He made an issue of the fact that there is no proof that the loss of the Stinson was not coincidence and that the Novorossiisk was not, after all, sunk, and hence that there is still no evidence that anything important is going on, much less for a connection between the two. I sent him the memo, what, eleven days ago, the day before the second laser was launched and we started this whole new loop. So he also gave me a healthy dose of "Don't you know there's a war on?", ignoring my argument that the issues are one and the same. He also maintains that since the Navy now has some official interest in the phenomenon, there is no reason for the Agency to duplicate the effort.'

Danielson toyed with a small puddle of spilled tome on the table, tracing a random pattern with her finger. She looked up.

'AFTAC is still collecting the seismic data — and sonar data from the undersea network, from what you say.'

'That's right,' confirmed Isaacs, 'but the Cambridge Research Lab stopped analysing this particular signal, once we terminated our official interest in it. The AFTAC sonar data would help to pin down accurate positions, but since I didn't have enough sense to make the connection, there's been no analysis of it whatsoever. By rights the Navy should at least be studying the AFTAC sonar data, but from what I can tell, they're not.'

'So all the data are piling up,' Danielson summarized, 'but no one is looking at them.'

'True. And we can't get at it. None of this is official Agency business, so a special request through channels is necessary — and McMasters has that approach effectively blocked.'

Danielson concentrated. 'There are the data we gathered before the halt came. But that's all in the inactive file. I didn't save anything out.'

Isaacs punched a finger into the table. 'I flunk we must start there. I'll have to camouflage my request, but I can get some of that retrieved without it necessarily coming to McMasters's attention. Particularly if you can give me an idea of the few things, data tapes and such, which would be of greatest use.

'The problem,' he continued, 'is that I can't do any of the analysis. I'm rarely directly involved with raw data and computer analysis any more. If I were to go anywhere near that data on a regular basis, McMasters would be on my back immediately. Any kind of blowup is apt to foreclose the investigation completely.'

'On the other hand,' Danielson looked at him Godly, 'I interact with other data and the computer on a routine basis.'

Isaacs returned her level gaze. He knew he did not need to spell out the situation for her further.

Danielson lowered her eyes to the damp spot on the table again. Isaacs watched her averted eyes and noted the crinkling between her brows. When she looked up there was a hint of mischievousness and triumph on her face.

'I can do it! I can add a couple of subroutines to my fourier transform package. Then I can read in and print out the seismic data interspersed with the results of other projects at intermediate stages when no one routinely examines the output but me. The chances of someone noticing without going through step-by-step would be very small.'

'I'm sure you can do it. The question is whether you should and will. If we're caught at it, your job could be at stake. I would take responsibility for giving you the order, but that might not be sufficient. I'm asking a great deal of you.'

Danielson paused. 'Do you really think we can do any good? We can rehash the old data, but if that's all, can we accomplish any more than the Navy?'

Isaacs suddenly pounded his fist onto the table and then hunched in chagrin as the bartender looked up in their direction.

'We can think!' he whispered intensely. 'The Navy is sailing in circles, no one is really trying to understand what is going on!'

He relaxed and put his hand momentarily on hers. 'There's no doubt we'll be at a handicap. This analysis by subterfuge will be far less efficient and useful than the way we proceeded before. But we can use our heads on the data at hand rather than hide from it. Any effort at analysis will be preferable to the fiddling which is going on now. Our Rome is up there in orbit,' he glanced at the coifing, 'and it could burn any minute.'

Danielson looked at him. She concluded that he acted from a variety of motives, but that the overriding one was a deep concern to prevent the escalation of the conflict with the Soviets by understanding what was happening to the earth. She could not readily accommodate the notion that she might personally affect global power politics, but she keenly felt the need to come to grips with the mysterious motions in the earth that she herself had coaxed into rational form. Could the alignment of the Stinson and the Novorossiisk with the trajectory she had mapped out be only a coincidence? To believe that would be so easy, but, like Isaacs, she could not do so. The alternative was horrendous to contemplate, but impossible to ignore. Whatever drove the seismic signal, killed. What bizarre, implacable thing plagued them?

She recalled her notion that Isaacs might have had some romantic motive for this meeting. A wave of embarrassment burst upon her. How trivial that notion was compared to the fearsome reality.

The idea of violating a directive both fascinated and terrified her. She nodded at Isaacs, and he leaned back in satisfied relief.

Jason, he thought to himself. The next step is to call Jason. Aloud to her he said, 'Next weekend is the July Fourth holiday. I'll have to ask you to keep it open. We may have to take a trip.'

Chapter 6 | The Krone Experiment | Chapter 8