Read Arctic Gold Online

Authors: Stephen Coonts

Tags: #Fiction, #Suspense, #Intelligence Officers, #Americans, #Thrillers, #Espionage, #Action & Adventure, #Kidnapping, #Americans - Russia (Federation), #Russia (Federation), #Spy Stories, #Dean; Charlie (Fictitious character)

Arctic Gold

BOOK: Arctic Gold
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Deep Black 7 - Arctic Gold

Deep Black 7 - Arctic Gold
Deep Black 7 - Arctic Gold
PROLOGUE
Latitude
1445 hours
IT WAS, FEODOR GOLYTSIN THOUGHT, like touching down on the surface of another planet.
Ostorojna!
Captain Third Rank Dmitri Kurchakov warned. Careful! Reduce speed of descent!
Da, Kepitan,
the helmsman replied.
Vasily. Give me a readout on the depth below keel.
Deseet’ metrov, Kepitan,
the diving officer replied. Ten meters.
Golytsin stooped to peer through the thick quartz window into the alien world beyond. Another planet, yes a very dark
planet. Blacker than the surface of far Pluto, for there, at least, there was a sun, if one shrunken and wan. Here there was nothing save the luminescence of the abyssal fauna, banished now by the light the submarine brought with her from above.
A dark planet, and a deadly one. At a depth of just over forty- two hundred meters, the pressure bearing down on each and every square centimeter of Nomer Chiteereh
outer nickel- steel hull was almost two tons.
Muck swirled up off the bottom by the minisub side thrusters danced in the harsh white glare of the forward
lights, like drifting stars. Briefly, something like a worm, half a meter long and fringed with myriad legs or swimmerets, twisted through the unaccustomed light, casting bizarre and writhing shadows within the cold and watery haze.
Astonishing. Even here, four thousand meters beneath the ice, within this frigid eternal night, there was life.
The submarine was a new, experimental, and highly secret military model with the less- than- glamorous name of Nomer Chiteereh, Number Four. Twenty- nine meters long and with a displacement of 150 tons, Nomer Chiteereh
could reach depths of six thousand meters and could stay submerged for several days. A pair of external robotic arms operated from the forward observer seat gave the tiny vessel considerable dexterity beneath the glare of her external lights. She could be handled by a crew of four, but there was space in the cramped and cold- sweating pressure hull compartment for four additional passengers or a squad of elite Spetsnaz in the cargo bay aft.
Today, however, there was only Golytsin.
The submersible sonar chirped, with ringing echoes. The diving officer read off the depth beneath the keel as they continued to descend, an almost mournful litany. Vaseem metrov sem shest’ metrov
I see the bottom, Kepiten,
the helmsman reported.
Side by side, heads nearly touching, Golytsin and Kurchakov leaned forward and peered down through the second of the forward view ports. There! the normally impassive Kurchakov said. He sounded uncharacteristically excited. A dour and taciturn man by nature, he now seemed almost boyish.
White light glared against the blackness, highlighted by drifting bits of organic debris. The bottom appeared disappointingly flat and featureless, an endless gray desert of fine silt and decayed plankton.
Mingled with the chirp of the sonar, the litany continued. Chiteereh tree dvah
Halt descent! Kurchakov ordered. Maintain position!
The submarine side thrusters whined more loudly, gentling the beast to an awkward hover. The sharp increase in the thruster wash kicked up additional billowing clouds of fine silt from the bottom beneath the sub keel, filling the night with brightly illuminated particles. A blizzard, Golytsin thought. A winter squall such as he’d once known in the St. Petersburgno, the Leningrad
of his childhood.
So where is our flag? Golytsin asked, peering into the murk as it gently subsided. As he leaned forward, the light reflecting back from outside illuminated the web of blue lines etched into his arm and the back of his hand.
Kurchakov didn’t reply at first. He was staring at Golytsin tattoos. Then Kurchakov looked away and shrugged. It could be anywhere, just a few meters away, beyond the edge of the light, and we’d miss it, he said. Don’t worry. We will drop another.
No need, sir, the diving officer reported. I have it on sonar. Bearing one- one- nine range thirty- seven meters.
Helm. Take us there. Slow ahead.
Da, Kepitan.
In August of 2007, a pair of Russian Mir deep submersibles had reached this, the Arctic seabed at the North Pole. They’d taken readings, collected samples of the sea floor, and planted a large, rustproof titanium flag.
Since then, the Mirs had returned several times, taking further readings for the PP Shirshov Institute of Oceanology and extending Mother Russia claim in this freezing wasteland. And today the Mirs were back, shepherding the much larger and more sinister Nomer Chiteereh
to the cold, black depths of the Amundsen Plain.
An apparition emerged from the shadows beyond the light, broad rectangular, held above the muck by weights deeply imbedded in the sediment. As Nomer Chiteereh
drifted forward, the colors emerged as well the white, blue, and red horizontal bars of the Russian Federation.
The Pole, Golytsin breathed. The real
Pole.
Not the imaginary point on the ever- drifting, ever- changing pack of ice four kilometers overhead, but the actual
pole of the planet, on the seabed 4,261 meters beneath the surface.
A point now claimed by Moscow as a portion of the Eurasian landmass and part of the sovereign territory of the Russian Federation.
A point, Golytsin thought, that would very soon return the Rodina
, Mother Russia, to greatness.
Deep Black 7 - Arctic Gold
1
British Airways Flight 2112
JFK International Airport
1015 hours EDT
SO, DOC, IS IT TRUE WHAT THEY SAY? Kjartan Magnor- Karr said with a breezy insouciance as the two men strode down the boarding tunnel. About you and Big Oil, I mean?
Dr. Earnest Spencer scowled. Young man, I haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about.
This solar theory thing of yours, Karr said. They reached the entryway of the British Airways 747 and he grinned and winked at the welcoming flight attendant.
Welcome aboard, sir, she said. She had the most gloriously pale blond hair. May I see
Instead of his ticket, he flashed an ID at her, together with his special clearance. The ID, of course, was a fake. Despite what it said, he was not a special agent of the FBI, though the lie, the legend,
as it was known in intelligence circles, occasionally was a useful fiction. Everyone had heard of the FBI; very few even knew there was such an organization as the National Security Agency. The clearance was real enough, however. It gave Karr permission to carry a firearm on the flight.
Thank you, sir, she said. I’ll inform the captain.
You do that, sweetheart, Karr told her.
He and Spencer filed aft and found their seats, located toward the rear of first class. For a few moments, the two men were preoccupied with putting their carry- on luggage in the overhead compartment and getting themselves settled in. Spencer had the window seat, Karr the aisle. As planned.
Spencer appeared ready to ignore the topic Karr had just raised, but the younger man persisted. Aw, c’mon, you
know, Doc. Everyone says the oil companies pay you to tell everybody that global warming is nonsense.
Young man , Spencer began.
Tommy.
Eh?
Call me Tommy. All my friends do.
Spencer frowned at him in a way suggesting that he most assuredly did not consider Karr to be a friend. Young man, he repeated. If the oil companies were paying me, perhaps I could afford to buy their product. Secondly, global warming is not nonsense. It is real. All too
real. My solar model simply demonstrates that human activities have little effect on the world climate.
Sure, Karr agreed. So people can drive gas- guzzling SUVs all they want and not melt the ice caps, right?
Tell me, Spencer said, glaring at him over the top of his glasses. Are all
FBI agents as irritating as you?
Well
But Spencer had produced a copy of American Scientist
he’d purchased at a kiosk inside the JFK terminal, and made a production of opening it and beginning to read.
Jeez, Tommy! a voice boomed inside his head. Lay off the poor guy, how ‘bout it?
Karr chuckled in answer but didn’t say anything out loud. Spencer glanced at him suspiciously, then returned
to his magazine. Like all Deep Black field operatives, Karr had a minute speaker surgically implanted in his skull just behind his left ear, and he also had a microphone sewn into the collar of his pastel blue shirt. The transmitter hidden inside his belt linked him via satellite with the Deep Black nerve center deep beneath Fort Meade, Maryland, the Deep Black command center within OPS 2 known as the Art Room, to be precise.
Everything look okay at your end? the voice continued.
Karr glanced around the first- class cabin. Three other men in plain, dark suits had taken their seats, along with the other first- class passengers. FBI, all three of them, though all were taking care not to meet one another eyes. The economy- class passengers were filing past, now. The agents surreptitiously watched each as he or she entered the plane and walked down the aisle.
Mm- mm, Karr grunted the affirmative. It wouldn’t do to have Spencer or the other passengers hearing him talk to himself.
I’ll take that as a yes,’ the voice said. The speaker was Jeff Rockman.
The last of the passengers, a frazzled- looking woman with two small and screaming children, herded her charges past Karr and into the aft section of the plane. The attractive blond flight attendant Karr had flirted with stood at the front, preparing to go into her spiel about oxygen masks and flotation cushions. She began with the usual admonition to turn off all electronic devices during the takeoff portion of the flight.
Okay, we’re gonna sign off for a while, Rockman told him. Wouldn’t do to get in trouble with the FAA.
Mm- mm.
And for the love of God, stop annoying Doc Spencer! He not the enemy!
Karr didn’t reply, of course, but the statement brought a renewal of recurring questions. Just who was
the enemy? Why would anyone want to kill Earnest Spencer and, perhaps more to the point, why was the threat serious enough that the NSA and Desk Three were involved? It was a waste of time, money, and vital personnel assets, having him here, pretending to be an FBI agent while babysitting an Ivy League professor type from the U.S. Department of Energy.
Well, at least he was off the Art Room radar for a precious few moments. Aircraft navigation systems could be thrown off by signals from a field op comm unit, hence the injunction to turn off all electronic gear during takeoff and landing. If anyone was going to try something stupid, this would be the time to try it, with the Art Room effectively out of the picture.
But save for the somewhat too- obvious watchfulness of the FBI guys, everyone in first class appeared to be acting with complete indifference both to him and to Spencer.
Karr caught the pretty attendant glance as she chattered on into her microphone about wing exits and emergency landings, and winked.
He wondered if he would be able to get a phone number from her before they reached London.
DeFrancesa
Operation Magpie
Waterfront, St. Petersburg
0024 hours
Lia DeFrancesca took a moment to run the palm- sized lock scanner along the entire perimeter of the door and around the lock itself, its powerful magnetic field probing
for wiring or other signs of hidden electronic devices. The digital readout remained unchanging, indicating the presence of iron and steel but not of electric currents.
Slipping the scanner into a thigh pocket in her black field ops suit, she produced a set of lock picks and began to work at the ancient padlock securing the door hasp.
Hurry; hurry, her partner whispered with fierce urgency. If we’re found
Patience, Sergei, she replied. We don’t want to rush this.
She was having more trouble with the rust than with the padlock mechanism. With a click, the lock snapped open, and she pulled it off the hasp.
A foghorn mourned in the damp night air. The warehouse loomed above the waterfront, overlooking Kozhevennaya Liniya
to one side, the oily black waters of the southern mouth of the Lena River on the other. A chill and dripping fog shrouded their surroundings, muffling sound. Carefully she edged the sliding door open, but stopped after moving it only a couple of inches.
What is it? her companion asked. What wrong?
She didn’t answer immediately, but pocketing the lock tools, she pulled out a cell phone and a length of flexible tubing, as thick as a soda straw. One end of the tubing attached to the cell phone; the other she inserted into the partly opened door to the warehouse, turning the fiber- optic cable this way and that to let her peer around the corners. On the phone screen, an image painted in blacks, greens, and yellows shifted and slid with the movements of her hand, giving her an infrared image of what lay beyond the door. She saw large open spaces piles of crates a trash can near the door discarded junk but no glow from warm- blooded humans lying in wait.
Okay, Lia said at last. It clear.
Sergei Alekseev rolled the door far enough aside that they could enter. He was scared. Lia could almost smell his fear, could feel it in the way he stared and started at shadows, the way he moved, hunched over and rigid. Replacing the IR viewer, on the ground beside the door she placed a motion sensor, like several dozen button- sized devices she’d already dropped around the area. Only then did she extract a small flashlight and switch it on. Which way?
Over here, Alekseev said, pointing. I think.
You’d better know.
Da.
This way.
Before moving deeper into the darkness, Lia tried her communicator again. Verona, she said aloud. This is Juliet.
A burst of static sounded in her ear, loud enough to make her wince. She thought she heard a voice somewhere behind the audio snow, but couldn’t make out the words.
It would help if Romeo were here. Where the hell was he, anyway? With a small satellite dish on top of one of the surrounding buildings, they might have a chance of punching through this interference.
Verona, she said again. Juliet. Initiating Magpie!
Again, static.
Damn.
The Art Room
NSA Headquarters
Fort Meade, Maryland
1624 hours EDT
What do you mean, we’ve lost her? William Rubens demanded.
We’re just getting fragments, sir, Sarah Cassidy
replied from her console. Her signal is intermittent. It might be the sunspots.
Rubens bit back a most unprofessional word. Sunspots
.
Desk Three communications system depended upon a necklace of military comm satellites parked in geosynchronous orbit twenty- two thousand miles above the equator. Lia currently was working pretty far northat sixty degrees north, in fact, the same latitude as the southern tip of Greenland. That meant that in the city of St. Petersburg, the comsats hung low in the southern sky, subject to interference from buildings, transmission lines, and any other horizon- blocking obstacles.
Add to that the fact that the sun was approaching the most active phase of its regular eleven- year cycle. Increased sunspot activity, solar flares, auroras in the highly charged upper atmosphere in the far north and south it all meant that communications with field operatives could be a bit ragged at times.
But damn it all! He looked around the huge high- tech chamber known within the NSA as the Art Room, scowling at communications consoles and computer displays and satellite feeds. Hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of technology. What good was it all if it didn’t work
?
What about her backup? he demanded.
Romeo not in position yet, Sarah told him. She indicated the big screen dominating one wall of the Art Room. It showed a highly detailed intelligence satellite photo of St. Petersburg waterfront district, the southern shore of Vasilyevsky Island close against the southern estuary of the Neva River. A winking white point of light marked one of a line of warehouses along the wharf, together with the name DeFrancesca in white letters. A second white marker blinked several blocks away, on the Kosaya Liniya
, accompanied by the legend Akulinin.
It these buildings, sir, Jeff Rockman said. He used a laser pointer on the screen, indicating several tall warehouses and skyscrapers across the river on the south bank of the Neva. They must be blocking her signal.
Rubens picked up a microphone. Romeo. This is Shakespeare.
Copy, a voice said from an overhead speaker, harsh with static.
Where are you?
If you’re in the Art Room, I assume that a rhetorical question, sir, Akulinin replied. But he added, I’m driving southwest on Kosaya. Just passing Detskaya.
Rubens glared at the satellite map on the wall above him, which mirrored Akulinin description. Damn it, Lia should have clapped a hold on things until her partner could get into position
. Alekseev, their Russian contact, had been too anxious, however, too skittish, and Lia had told the Art Room that she was going in, whether she had backup or not.
We think Lia is inside the building. We’re not getting a clear signal. We need you in place to relay her transmissions and to watch for the opposition.
Yes, sir. Akulinin voice was momentarily garbled by static. Then, I should be there in five minutes.
Make it faster. I don’t like the way this one is playing out.
Operation Magpie had been running rough since its inception. A good intelligence op flowed, like a carefully orchestrated ballet. Every operative had a place and a task, a precise and meticulously choreographed passage of a ballet. Of course, many of the dancers didn’t even know they were performingthe local contacts, the informers, the marks, the opposition. The only way to keep them in the dance was for the operatives to stay in complete control of the situation
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