Destroy the Kentucky
CHAPTER ONE NATO Air Force Base, Scotland
This night security was doubled.
Armed soldiers covered the airfield and the surrounding woods from guard towers twenty feet over the tarmac. Automatic weapons twitched like deadly divining rods covering the dead zone between perimeter fences topped with barbed wire and razor sharp concertina coil. In the shadows, restless guard dogs pulled at their sharp-eyed handlers’ leashes, scurrying back and forth, panting hotly.
The reason for all the extra security had just landed on the runway and sat bathed in the light of the control tower floods. At first glance it was just another Boeing 747, but upon closer look the familiar silhouette was distorted by an odd “hump,” actually a second craft mated to the fuselage between the cockpit and wings. This particular 747 belonged to NASA and was used to ferry space shuttles back to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida after desert landings on the west coast. The black “hump” on the 747’s fuselage, now the center of intense activity by coveralled technicians, was not a shuttle, however. It was the navy’s newest minisub, the USS Kentucky. The Kentucky had just completed the first leg of its journey from the construction yards at Newport News to its eventual destination—the sub pens at Holy Loch, the American fleet’s main submarine base in this hemisphere.
The black, teardrop shaped Kentucky, perched piggyback on the big plane’s spine, sat outlined in the glare of truck
lights and runway beacons. Crewmen crawled over the hull to release the transport moorings, their breaths misting in the cold Highland air.
The navy had experimented with minisubs before, but none had come near the Kentucky’s striking success. Ultra-fast computers and superlight alloys had made it possible to cut the size of the ship radically, and thus the size of the crew. Only three men were needed to operate the relatively simple controls. The propulsion system was based on new high-temperature superconductors that eliminated the need for noisy nuclear reactors with their attendant large cooling pumps and heavy turbines. Unique in the world, she was very fast for such a small ship.
Miniaturization made armament smaller, too, enabling the Kentucky to carry two modified MK-48 torpedoes that could be fired quickly and efficiently from Kentucky’s single torpedo tube in a kind of automatic weapon “clip” arrangement. Her combat system was an advancement on the latest BSY-2 carried by the new SS-21 USS Seawolf, but much smaller, with navigational satellite relays. By far, the Kentucky’s biggest offensive threat was her four tube-launched cruise missiles, modified Tomahawks designed to wield a limited nuclear capability against poison gas-capable enemies. All this was contained in a forty-foot hull with a twelve-foot beam, shaped by the new stealth technology into a flattened teardrop coated with black sound-absorbing tiles.
A honey of a ship, the Kentucky could dive to five thousand feet, more than twice the depth of our deepest diving sub, or if need be, operate in shallow water less than thirty feet to back up a land invasion. Her deep-diving ability gave her “bottoming-out” capabilities in most oceans of the world. She had a bathyscaphic sphere amidships with a viewport and, like the Deep Sea Rescue Vehicles from which she was partially descended, a remote controlled manipulator arm which stored within the outer hull.
Potentially, the Kentucky’s greatest strength, one that made the Anti Submarine Warfare boys in the navy think tank at Crystal City in Washington jump for joy, was that
the Kentucky had proved virtually impossible to detect at speeds up to twenty knots by any sonar the navy possessed, including those of the Seawolf.
Crewmen with hooded flashlights jockeyed the big unloading crane into position, a three-story boxlike affair built like an inverted U, open in the center. There was a coveralled air force driver in the cab and a computer operator. They rolled the crane slowly over the nose of the 747 and sat poised like a huge spider. When the last bolts holding the Kentucky to the 747 were removed, grapple arms reached down and lifted the minisub off the plane.
The crane rolled back from the 747 and a sixteen wheeler transport slid into the space underneath it. The minisub was lowered onto the flatbed and crewmen threw special tarps over the black hull, securing them with heavy line. The truck started up and drove along the tarmac, moving through its gears with a higher and higher whine. At the main gate a jeep with four armed marines and a .50 caliber machine gun mounted on the back gunned out of the darkness and moved in front of the truck. A second similarly armed jeep slid in behind it. The three vehicles passed under the raised barrier and out onto the dark and winding road that cut through the heathered moors and low hills of the Scottish countryside.
A short distance away, a fisherman watched the convoy’s steady approach from a concealed position. As it left the main gate he spoke into a radio in his native language, Turkmeni, a derivative of Turkish spoken by the Moslem inhabitants of Turkmenistan, one of the Soviet Central Asian Republics.
“They’re coming, Raza. Two jeeps, one in front, one in back, each with four marines and a fifty caliber gun.”
“Acknowledged. Pull back,” came Raza’s voice.
Raza, the leader of the operation, was crouched three miles away in the darkness on the crest of a hill overlooking the road. Dressed in the combat fatigues of a colonel in the Soviet Special Forces—Spetsnatz—Raza shook his head at what he had just heard. “Stupid,” he muttered, pulling the bolt back on his assault rifle. Raza also spoke in Turkmeni, forsaking the despised Russian whenever he could. All the
men he brought with him spoke Turkmeni, most born in Ashkhabad, the capital city of Turkmenistan.
“Criminally stupid,” he amended to himself. “Guard the plane with a hundred men, guard the truck with only eight.”
He waited until the convoy drew close. Three of Raza’s men were in a trench on the side of the road below his position, three on the other side of the road where the grade was lowest. All were armed with grenades and assault rifles and wore starlight-gathering night glasses. Raza motioned to his second-in-command across the highway, a big man with a dark, scraggly beard and no mustache, named Azrak. Azrak nodded in the darkness, made a sign with his hand and then dropped out of sight.
The first of the jeeps was no more than a hundred yards away. Raza fingered the detonator in his hand. The American soldiers were lazy. One was smoking. The soldiers manning the .50-cal guns hung casually over their weapons. Raza doubted the guns were even cocked. After all, who was expecting anything? This was Scotland and the cold war was over. Wasn’t it?
The truck and the jeeps were almost upon them when Raza pressed the detonator. As he had instructed his men to do, he kept his eyes closed to avoid any night blindness the plastique flash would create, depending only on the sounds his ears picked up to know that the explosion had not caught the first jeep underneath as he had wanted, but a little ahead, so that it spun into the trench at the side of the road rather than going up in flames.
The sound of gunfire told Raza his men were already up and onto the road before the jeep stopped spinning. Two of the marines tumbled out of it only to be mowed down, jerking like crazed marionettes under the withering fire. With a sudden crack wumpf, the jeep’s gas tank exploded.
Behind the truck, Azrak and his men had made short work of the second jeep. But the truck driver was nobody’s fool. He gave no thought to the slaughter going on around him and gunned the engine, sliding off the road onto the treacherous shoulder. The truck inclined so acutely that it almost tipped over. He managed to hold it steady and steer
around the burning jeep. He shot past Raza’s men who brandished their weapons to get him to stop, but feared harming his cargo too much to shoot directly.
Raza dropped his rifle and raced down the hill toward the truck. They had to end this quickly. The truck certainly had a radio and help would soon be on its way. Ahead, he saw a boulder jutting out from the roadside. With a little luck . . .
The truck was closing the distance and for a moment he feared he might not make it. But too much was at stake. Too much planning and too many lives. Clamping down on his doubt with a will that years of Spetsnatz training had forged into steel, he shot forward with a burst of speed, jumped onto the boulder and leapt into the air as the truck, still held back from full speed by the narrow road and the weight of its cargo, passed.
Raza hit the truck bed and felt the thick tarpaulin under his hands. It stopped his fall. Righting himself, he crawled toward the truck cab. The wind blew his hair back and made his eyes tear. He drew a pistol from his tunic.
In one motion he swung down onto the running board outside the driver’s door and plunged the gun through the window glass. It shattered, spraying the wide-eyed driver who for the first time had believed himself safe. Raza pressed the barrel into the driver’s neck and pulled the trigger. The explosion was barely audible above the wind noise but the force of the blast almost wrenched the driver from behind the wheel. Yanking the body out of the way, Raza slid in and applied the brakes carefully. The truck came to a stop on the suddenly quiet road.
Raza forced his pounding pulse under control. The light from the burning jeep cast strange gyrating shadows on the hills around him. He saw his men coming in the truck’s big rearview mirrors.
Azrak was the first to reach him. His smile was fierce. “And here I thought so many years with the Russians made you slow and fat,” he said proudly.
Raza laughed. “Teach you to think ill of your betters.”
“It was a good run. Maybe you haven’t lost your nerve yet.”
Raza motioned back. “Do we have any casualties?”
“None. There are three of them left alive. We did what we could for them. I think they will live.”
“Good. Get the men on the truck. We must go.”
Azrak disappeared for a moment, then came back and slid into the cab. “All loaded, including the lookout. How much time do you think we have?”
“This will amaze you. Look.”
Azrak did, his craggy face suddenly breaking into a grin. The radio was in shambles from a direct hit.
“We’ve done it, Raza. Praise Allah!”
“Allah be praised,” avowed Raza with appropriate gravity. His reputation for piety needed shoring up anyway. He slid the truck into gear and moved it down the road, picking up speed for the short run to the coast.
* * *
Two wooden fishing trawlers were harbored in the rocky basin. The ancient pier that led out to them looked barely able to support the weight of a few men, much less the Kentucky, but Raza’s men had reinforced the old timbers with steel beams months ago, publicly, the prelude to a never-to-come cannery.
Here we are then, he thought, walking down the path to the pier. What was ordained has come to pass. On the road above the rocky crags his troops had been met by fishermen from the trawlers and together they were working the off-loading ramps from the truck. He felt a sense of awe that it had all worked. Who knows? he wondered. Maybe I am getting religion in my old age.
Slowly, the soldiers and the fishermen slid the Kentucky’s great black mass onto a trolley which rested on a set of steel rails leading all the way down the cliffs and along the pier to the ship. Raza saw Azrak and another man raise a black hatch and disappear inside the Kentucky. Using only pulleys and sweat, the rest of the men hauled the Kentucky toward the boat that was to be its home for the next few critical weeks while they uncovered its secrets.
The Kentucky reached the side of the first trawler. It was far too big to be put down any of the hatches and Raza
wondered idly how they would get it on board. He shouldn’t have. Ancient tools. That was all they had, anyway. Ancient tools and ancient ways. And his training. The entire side of the trawler was lifted away, revealing a hold large enough to contain the minisub. Once it was inside, the side was replaced and a horde of fishermen swarmed over it, nailing and caulking and resealing.
Azrak emerged on deck and signaled to someone. A boom with a cargo net was lowered into the hold. When it appeared again, it carried two eight-foot cylinders with tapered nose cones, ten feet shorter than the original Tomahawks—half the Kentucky’s complement of cruise missiles. They were transferred to the second trawler and disappeared down into its hold.
Azrak came down from the trawler and walked up the pier. “Allah has two hands,” Raza quoted when he was in earshot.
Azrak made a fist, his face serious. “Open for the righteous, closed for the infidel,” he finished the quote.
Azrak didn’t know it, but Raza had spent considerable time collecting a list of these little pieties to be parceled out at moments like these, half-remembered from their shared boyhood and the underground schools that had been the foundation of their Islamic education years ago. The Russians had taught him that a good officer understood what motivated his men. God, how little they had understood what motivated him. Turkmenis were driven first and foremost by a fierce and unorthodox piety. A simple pat on the back or a “good job” wouldn’t be enough for men who were risking their lives for God’s will and their country’s future. He had spent too many years away. For them to follow him with his suspiciously secular reputation, piety was doubly important.
“We must go, Azrak. The tide is ours only for a little while longer. Tell the men they fought well.”
“The killing was justified, blessed by Allah.” Azrak’s eyes had a heretic twinkle. “The Russians taught you that well enough.”
“Be careful in the desert,” Raza said seriously. “The way
will be long and dangerous and they’ll come after their prize. Be sure of it. And remember what I taught you.”
“The day I need an old has-been to teach me anything is the day I teach my children Russian.” Azrak laughed. “You be careful, Raza. This sea is not the kind one of our youth.”
“You set the timer?”
Azrak nodded. “You worry too much.”
They embraced, clapping each other on the back. Then Azrak boarded the trawler with the missiles and Raza got onto the trawler that held the Kentucky. A half mile out to sea, Raza looked back.
The first explosions ripped through the steel railings and sent them tumbling down the cliffs into the sea. The pier was dragged under by rocks the size of small houses. The road crumbled, sending the truck tumbling in slow motion down the cliffs into the sea. More explosions followed. A cloud of black dust rolled out over the water.
When the smoke cleared, the cove was empty.