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Installments will be posted on Wednesdays.
For a full list of chapters, see the table of contents.
In recent installments…
Petur’s Island Project has attracted the brightest business and scientific minds and the facilities are fully constructed and projects are progressing that are hoped to yield such enormous wealth that the world will be entirely changed. Their first new energy source, a giant Ocean Thermal Energy Convertor, sank before it was deployed. Petur sent Jeff to investigate why and prevent the next OTEC from suffering the same fate.
Chapter 23. The Manner of Destruction
Jack Gaimey was waiting in the helicopter, tapping his hands repeatedly on the control stick. Petur could tell from inside the air terminal building that the man was getting impatient. But his impatience was understandable. He wanted to see the OTEC, just as badly as did Petur.
The whole island was anticipating its arrival, and they planned a celebration for the night when it would begin operations — only two days from now, if all went well. The champagne would flow profusely, assuming the contraption worked.
Petur moved on out of the terminal. To his left, two US Navy planes, which linemen had just parked after a flight, sat together just off the runway. Each of the gray planes had four Allison T-56 turbine engines, with four-bladed Hamilton Standard propellers that were slowly winding down. They had few windows, unlike passenger planes. A couple of the Island’s regular pilots came out to meet the Navy planes.
The helicopter lay to his right, and Petur moved toward it rapidly. He had thrown his small day bag over his shoulder. As soon as the pilot saw him coming, he started going through the last minute pre-flight checks. The rotor was already spinning rapidly, and, although he did not need to, Petur ducked in an effort to stay far below the whirring blades. He climbed into the small Hughes 500-D four-seater, put on his headphones, and within two minutes they pulled away from the ground and flew up above the trees.
Jack Gaimey piloted the helicopter gracefully, but aggressively. Petur was excited to fly with the roguish pilot, who had almost developed into a daredevil. He let out a loud “Yeehaw!” as he made a sudden turn north and almost deafened Petur through the amplified headphones.
It was a beautiful day, which surprised no one.
“Should be about twenty-five minutes before we get there,” the pilot said into his microphone.
Petur turned the volume back up on his headphones in time to catch the last part of Jack Gaimey’s statement.
“Sure is taking you long enough! Can’t this bucket go any faster?”
The pilot pressed something with his foot and moved the control stick. Petur felt his stomach squeeze against his backbone as the little helicopter jumped forward and upward. Jack Gaimey laughed.
At about the same time that Petur felt he could breathe again, the tall shining shape of the silver OTEC, trailing far behind the forty-meter tug, became visible on the horizon. The helicopter seemed to accelerate even further, and they approached quickly.
“Look at that, man!” Petur stared at the monstrous machine, which stood tall in the ocean, strong and confident.
Jack Gaimey replied, “Unbelievable!”
“Circle it, will you?”
The helicopter made a gentle slow turn around the massive cylinder.
“It’s beautiful! And it’s finally here!”
“Yes,” Jack Gaimey replied. “But the first one was almost this close to Paradise when it sank. Let’s not count our chickens before they hatch.”
“Stop being the pessimist. It’s not in your nature.”
They headed back toward the tug and Jack Gaimey hovered directly above her aft deck. The helicopter had no way to set down. Petur knew this and was ready for the challenge.
“Well, Petur, time to get the hell out of my helicopter! Go on! Off with you.”
Petur removed his headphones and climbed around to the rear seating area. Without the ear protection, the noise was deafening. He buckled an orange harness around his waist, between his legs, and over his shoulders. He tugged on it to assure its integrity. He then attached the cable from the helicopter’s winch to the metal ring on his harness. He tapped the shoulder of Jack Gaimey, who gave a thumbs-up, and out the door he went.
The helicopter inclined as his weight shifted over the side, and then again when the cable was holding all of his weight. But it soon steadied, and the pilot pressed a button on his console to signal the electric winch to lower. The winch obeyed. Petur, his blond hair fluttering in the winds, which the rotors caused to blow at typhoon speed, rocked and twisted his way down to the deck. Two pairs of hands reached up to guide him down. As soon as he touched something solid, he yanked the cable’s shackle off his harness, freeing the helicopter from its human anchor. Quickly, he dashed for cover behind a nearby bulkhead.
Jack Gaimey pulled the chopper rapidly up and away, and in a moment, spun toward the OTEC and took one more turn around it. Then he flew off in a beeline for the white cumulus clouds, which almost always hovered far above the Paradise island chain during the day.
As the noise from the helicopter decreased to a distant hum, Petur turned to walk toward the bridge. In front of him stood Jeff Baddori.
“Hello, old friend! Welcome aboard the Elijah Lewis — the finest tug of her kind.”
“Good to see you, Jeff. How are things here?”
Jeff led Petur up the ladder toward the bridge. He called down behind him, “I’ve seen no sign of problems, but then, I am not really expecting much warning.”
“I’ve had only a few contacts from you in the last three months. Can you fill me in on what’s been happening?” Petur inquired.
“Sorry about that, Petur. I’m not accustomed to even having the opportunity to communicate with my bosses. I work alone. Mostly.”
They entered the bridge and found the captain gazing out the windows. He was tall and thin, and his dark eyes were deep-set and experienced. He heard them enter and turned immediately.
“Captain Stouffer, this is Petur Bjarnasson,” said Jeff. “Petur, this is Tom Stouffer.”
“Captain Stouffer. You were XO of the Mary Brewer,” Petur stated. “I am sorry about the men that were lost.”
Stouffer nodded his head slowly. “It is not too often these days that a sailor has served aboard a ship that sank. Not an experience I would like to repeat.”
“I am sure it is not. Have you had a good trip so far?”
“Much better than the last one,” replied the captain, “and in every respect. We’ve had no storms, and no sabotage, either. The OTEC has behaved himself well. Relatively speaking, that makes for a good trip!”
“You referred to the OTEC as male. I haven’t heard that on the ocean before.”
Stouffer smiled and nodded. “The crew did that on their own. Happened last time too. Guess they had trouble thinking of that big phallus-shaped energy generator as a female. Understandable, really.”
Petur agreed. He had not given it much thought before now, but the shining cylinder with its large round head, certainly did stand firm, proud, and erect in the waves behind.
“Jeff, have you had a chance to fill Mr. Bjarnasson in on your concerns?”
“Not yet, but it wasn’t going to be long.” He moved to the small coffee mess in the corner of the bridge and filled a styrofoam cup partway. Nods from both Petur and the captain prompted Jeff to fill two more.
“Let’s go back here,” Jeff requested, guiding them into the small office tucked next to the radio room behind the bridge. He closed the door.
“Petur, I have some notions, none of which I am sure is correct. First, as we suspected, the Mary Brewer did not sink by accident. After questioning everybody I could find, there’s no reason to suspect that there was any excessively combustible material available for an explosion of the size that could cause a ship to sink as quickly as she did. The fuel was nowhere near there either. I think accident can be ruled out entirely.”
“I have to agree. I knew that ship very well. It was not an accident.” Stouffer was quite certain.
Petur nodded. He had kept a glimmer of hope that Jeff might reassure him by finding that the catastrophe was an accident. It would have been much easier than trying to protect against villains who attempted to interfere with the Project.
“So I continued my quest to determine who might want to blow up either the ship or sink the OTEC. At first I thought, perhaps someone planted the bomb before they left Seattle. But with a timer set for seven weeks? That didn’t seem logical. And if they were trying to sink the OTEC, then had they been one day later, they would have missed it. The OTEC was less than a day from Paradise 1. And, furthermore, it had only been planned as a six-week tow. It is unlikely that the bomb was pre-planted.
“I went through the entire complement of the crew of the Mary Brewer. No one had the motive, as far as I could ascertain. None had any big cash deposits or changed their lifestyle much. I was getting to a dead end. Also, for insurance purposes the security on that ship was somewhat tight, so getting a bomb on board would have been difficult, although not impossible.”
The captain interrupted to reassure Petur, “The Elijah Lewis would have been harder yet to bring a bomb on board. Your man here saw to that. He had my crew and ship locked down tighter than you would believe. My crew calls him ‘the Jailer,’ but they still seem to like him. Why is that, Jeff?”
“‘Cuz I deliver the women! What other possible reason could there be?”
“So, things are pretty safe, then, for the ship and OTEC?” Petur asked, hopefully.
Jeff looked up at the captain for a moment and then turned to Petur. “Well, no, not really. Today is not a particularly safe day to be on the Elijah Lewis.“
“I fly all the way out here to hang from a cable by a harness attached with nails to my scrotum, almost breaking my ankle on the deck, only to find that I should have come another day?” Petur’s humor didn’t even begin to suppress his growing concern.
“I had been trying to sort things out these past few weeks. I remained unsure that I had covered all the bases,” Jeff said. “Then last week, I bumped into one of the engineers in a passageway and knocked a couple of movie videos out of his hand. I stooped down to pick them up, and one of the movies was Sink the Bismarck. It hit me like a ton o’ bricks. I have no idea why I hadn’t thought of it before. Comes from too much world peace, I suppose.”
After too long a pause, Petur prompted him. “What are you saying, Jeff?”
“Well, you see, Petur, one day away from the Paradise Islands, the Mary Brewer was torpedoed.”
The gray Navy P-3 Orion flew low over the Elijah Lewis, causing the men on the vessel to duck reflexively, before it continued over the OTEC. In the cockpit of the plane, Commander Robert “Cleveland” Grover, the crew’s patrol plane commander (PPC), spoke over the InterCom System to his tactical coordinator (TACCO), Lieutenant Commander Tom “Gun-Gun” Thompson and his copilot Lieutenant Michael “Eppster” Epps.
“I’ve never seen anything like it.”
The TACCO, from behind the bulkhead demarcating his station, replied back over the ICS, “That’s because it’s the only one of its kind.”
“Yeah. How do you know that, Gun-Gun?”
“I got a chance to talk to a couple of people this morning while we were having some donuts after the mission brief,” replied the TACCO. “They were pretty excited about it coming. Supposed to be able to generate a whole ton of electricity just by sucking water up from the depth.”
“Sounds pretty nifty. Well, let’s make sure it doesn’t get sunk.” Commander Grover rolled the yoke to begin a gentle turn to the left, and they headed back to the tug. “Chief, don’t let me see something before you do,” he said to the flight engineer.
He received a competent “Aye Aye” in reply from the FE, chief jet engine mech ADC Austin, who, despite sitting between and just aft of the pilot and copilot, somehow always saw surface activity before anyone else did.
Directly over the vessel, Grover said “TACCO, Flight, mark on top,” as he hit the yoke’s mark on top button that placed a point on both the flight and TACCO electronic scopes.
The TACCO replied, “Flight, TC, got it.”
The P-3 then began gradually widening arcs around the tugboat, now and again dropping sonobuoys in the ocean in a predetermined search pattern around the OTEC. These buoys had both passive and active sonar capabilities, and, as directed during the mission brief, they sent out pings almost immediately upon entry into the water. The acoustic sensor operators, enlisted men known as Sensor 1 and Sensor 2, kept a close watch for suspicious sounds as displayed by the onboard computer on each operator’s waterfall displays. This colorful video display gave Sensor 1 and Sensor 2 a detailed view of the discrete frequencies emitted by all surface and subsurface sources, as well as the range and bearing from whatever sonobuoy was detecting it.
“We are actually on the lookout for enemy subs again,” noted Grover. “I think it’s been years since we even had a real contact outside of a drill situation.”
“Well, it would help if DC let us track foreign subs again. Our constant overland tasking in the Middle East and deployments nowhere near potential enemy subs makes for piss-poor preparation.” Lieutenant Epps didn’t shy from revealing his occasional irritation that he had joined the anti-submarine forces about two decades after its prime. In his mind, it wasn’t nearly as fun as it once had been.
“Well, our ASW prowess may not be what it once was, but we still owe it to the folks back home to be better than anyone else. They will likely need our services someday. See, we’re useful even right here and now. As far as I know, this is the first time a P-3 has carried war reserve Mark 46 torpedoes and been given the green light to sink a sub since the Gulf War. And we never found any there. Eppster, we’re making history. And you’ll never see a crew as pumped as this one was while we were being briefed to be ready to sink one of the bad guys.”
“Makes me really want to find this thing.” Lieutenant Epps said, with some excitement.
“Well, let’s shut up and find it, then!” Grover smiled as he spoke.
Petur and Jeff stood on the starboard bridge wing looking toward the west. The sun was setting. The Paradise Islands were still not visible over the horizon, although the gradually dissipating clouds that hovered over them during the day still marked their location. It had been a quiet day. But neither man would sleep tonight.
The comforting hum of the Navy P-3s loitering over the area gave the men on the Elijah Lewis a bit more confidence that they would survive the night. Most of the men on this vessel had served on the Mary Brewer, and many had been aboard her the day she sank. Nobody wished to go through that experience again.
“What else can we do, Jeff?”
“Nothing now. No submarine is going to get through the Navy. This is what they do best.”
“So there is no chance of us getting torpedoed?”
“No. I don’t think so.”
“What if the sub is just sitting out there, with all its power off, knowing we are coming?”
“The Navy is using active sonar. Even if there were a submarine quietly lying in wait for us, active sonar would find it. Commander Grover reported nothing suspicious for over a hundred miles around.”
“But what if they miss it?”
“Well, then they’ll find it when the first torpedo gets fired. And they’ll sink the sub then.”
“Won’t that be too late?”
The wide globe of the sun settled below the waves in a beautiful burst of red light, leaving the sky pink for minutes after. As always, darkness came fast in the tropics. There were stars tonight. Tomorrow night there might not be, for a storm was coming.
Chapter 24. Arrival and Assault
It was morning, and Akheem Azid walked along the beach while gazing over the open ocean. The waves gently and rhythmically slid up the sand, foamed at their peak, and quietly returned to the sea. It was highly relaxing. He needed to relax.
Khamil was back in the resort hotel room, watching a cartoon perhaps. His friend and partner led an exciting but nonetheless empty life. Khamil found enough joy in the little things that Azid presumed his friend was happy enough. He certainly could smile and tell jokes readily. Indeed, sometimes he laughed too much. Killing people prompted Khamil to joke the most. Azid used to think the jokes were a defense mechanism to avoid unwanted guilt about killing, but he learned that Khamil had no feelings about it at all.
Azid was different. His feelings were mixed and always had been. On the one hand, he felt discomfort at killing people who were not military, who had invited no battle. On the other hand, all Westerners, if for no other reason than that they tacitly approved of their long-standing trade embargo against his home country during Saddam’s rule, were guilty of causing the Iraqi population untold suffering. They had interfered with Iraq’s access through Kuwait to the shipping channels of the Persian Gulf. They had used their military might to deny the Iraqi people what was rightfully theirs and had long been their property, many years ago when Azid was a young officer in the Republican Guard. And, led by the United States, these people had later invaded and occupied Iraq, sending Saddam, his friend and leader, first into hiding and then to death.
New leaders arose now — not, perhaps, with Saddam’s skills or motivation, but their confidence would grow. Azid had always been proud of Saddam. Hussein would stand up in the face of great opposition — stand up for what was right. He would not be intimidated. The great military might of the self-righteous United States could overpower a smaller army but was no match for the sheer will and determination of the man who would pay any price and accept any cost to forever prevent the West from imposing evil controls upon him and his people. He would sacrifice his army, his machines, and his men, women, and children in any effort that might anger or impede the enemies of Iraq.
And Saddam’s forethought — he recognized the value of planning for the future — inspired Azid and committed him to his former leader, for they shared the trait of forethought. Forethought, so many years ago, had prompted Saddam to send him on missions to seek and destroy any threat to Middle Eastern oil. Saddam had been convinced that the oil — all of it — would belong to Iraq someday. The mission didn’t stop once Saddam was executed. Azid had no doubt that Iraq’s power in the region would grow rapidly again. With America now believing that it was Iraq’s ally, it provided enormous economic support, and Iraq was rapidly regaining its muscle. This time, Iraq would be armed with US military weapons and training, which would allow Iraq to become a dominant player in the region once again. And the Mideast oil was the critical power center that must not be weakened. It was a careful political process to manipulate American fears so that their military and diplomats would work to weaken Iraq’s enemies, but not go so far as to compel the Americans to entirely take over the oil supplies of the Mideast with their military might. Step by step, Azid continued to accomplish his mission. In the past year, he had been in no place, except for that blasted submarine, for more than a few weeks. And each place he visited suffered some disaster.
Victims of most of the disasters saw them as accidents. They thought some were intentional acts of destruction by various terrorist organizations. Azid reflected on his list of accomplishments: Three missiles fired from a rusty Norwegian fishing vessel destroyed the British Petroleum–owned North Sea–oil platform. Azid had ensured that the victims credited corporate incompetence and disregard for safety regulations. Then, outside of Novosibirsk, a massive oil-production field had caught fire, which the victims thought Kazakhstan rebels had ignited. That field was still burning now, six months later. Then the torpedoed wellhead deep underwater in the Gulf of Mexico had caused enough environmental concern that the US government panicked as usual and, predictably, shut down oil drilling offshore. If the damn Chinese hadn’t started drilling off the American coast, filling in where the Americans failed, he would have had the whole American sub-oceanic oil resources turned off for years.
His pièce de résistance, perhaps, had been the least destructive of them all. The earthquake in Japan, which threatened Japan’s nuclear plants and made headlines around the globe, planted the seeds of fear of nuclear dangers. Within three weeks of that natural disaster, a truck carrying waste from a nuclear power plant to a nuclear waste disposal site outside Madison, Wisconsin, jack-knifed on a highway in the middle of a residential suburb, spilling its contents all over the road. No one was killed, and no radiation leaked. But the effect was immeasurably powerful, as the news media fed the Americans’ growing irrational fears of nuclear danger. The intellectual elite rallied the weak-minded to vote away nuclear energy for good. A snowball turned into an avalanche. It was perfectly planned and the Americans were perfectly predictable. A simple loosening of a clamp on a brake line was all that had been needed.
The Iraqi smiled as he remembered looking in his rearview mirror as he slammed on the brakes in his rented Ford Taurus only two cars ahead of the truck. The police car behind likewise screeched to nearly a halt, and the truck behind tried also, but failed. The Ford Taurus then accelerated down the highway while the policeman extracted himself from the twisted wreckage of car and truck. It was a happy memory, one that would accompany Azid to his grave.
Azid pulled himself out of his reveries with great effort. The sound of the waves washing on the beach was hypnotic, he recognized. Few things could break his concentration, but this beach had made him daydream. He would need to be cautious of this in the future.
Looking around, he saw that nobody was paying attention to him and that he needn’t worry. He had been a guest at the Paradise Island resort now for two days, and no one had any reason to mistrust him. This was an international resort, where the guests arrived from multitudinous countries, as did the employees. Azid and Khamil were not at all conspicuous.
He had rented a small boat from the resort complex, and it would be waiting for them at the pier at 1500. It was just a few minutes to Paradise 3. They would wait there when the OTEC arrived. They would soon send another of the metallic beasts to a cold and dark grave.
“TACCO, Sensor 1, I’ve got a 50-hertz line, but I believe it’s surface.” Grover heard the ICS chatter come from the small earpiece molded to fit snugly into his left ear. A moment later this was followed by “Hey, Flight, Sensor 1, do you see any surface traffic bearing 235 from buoy 16?”
Commander Grover spoke into his mike. “Negative, Sensor 3. Flight, you got anything on the radar?”
It was just another nothing. There weren’t even many of these nothings way out here off the shipping lanes, and indeed the ICS had been unusually quiet for a patrol, as the lack of contacts meant there was little cause for electronic chatter between the cockpit officers and the enlisted men in the back.
The P-3 Orion finished sweeping another fifteen-nautical-mile radius around the OTEC, again with no remotely suspicious contacts. Commander Grover was beginning to think that this was just one more training exercise. To the others in the cockpit, he said, “Looks like we have a bit of cloud cover working its way in.”
Lieutenant Epps turned his head to the north. He nodded and looked pensive as he protruded his lower lip. “It was what the weather guessers forecast for us.”
Chief Austin ventured, “It’s going to be a very dark night to park that big shining phallic thing off the islands.”
“That’s for certain,” Grover replied. “Looks like our job is going to be done before the bad weather comes, anyway. Good thing, since our fuel-on-top requirement means we’ll have to leave early in case we have to divert due to the weather.” He could instinctively calculate how much fuel they would require when operating out of remote islands such as this or Diego Garcia, and the only alternative to a fouled runway is a thousand or more nautical miles to a suitable alternate.
“You think, sir? They have no defenses here. Perhaps they want us to stay around and guard the thing for the next few years!” An old salty chief, the flight engineer had liked his brief glimpse of Paradise Island, and knew the crew’s stop there earlier that day had excited them all. Liberty could be good on that island.
Grover considered for a moment. “Who knows? Maybe this whole operation was just staged as a more realistic exercise for us.” Over his ICS he said, “Hey, TACCO, any chance this whole operation is just a drill?”
“It’s anyone’s guess,” his long-time friend replied, “but the mission briefers certainly treated it like the real thing. How about you, Eppers?”
Lieutenant Epps shrugged, but no one saw the movement. “Do you think they would really send two P-3s and twenty-two guys eleven hundred nautical miles off course to set down on an island in the middle of nowhere for a drill? Hell, we didn’t even know for sure that they would have any JP-5 for us to make it home with!” He referred to the standard Navy kerosene fuel that powered the four turbine engines, which provided the rotation for the quad propellers.
Grover replied, “God knows we need something more realistic. Hell, I think it was a great idea. Sure, it was a long trip, but we’ve been taking this thing real serious. Have you seen the way the men are extra sharp today?”
“Yeah. Sinking an enemy sub would buy us beer in any club for life. It’s going to be a letdown for them to hear it was a drill. They’ll be pissed. I don’t care if the liberty on Paradise is as good as rumored; no liberty is that good.”
“It isn’t a drill… yet. Not as far as we know. We may still get lucky.” He checked his fuel gauges, turned to the west, and said, “TC, are you ready to check out the far side of Paradise 3 more carefully? That’s where they plan on bringing that machine. It’s deep water over there too — maybe better acoustics.”
“Yeah, it’s time we moved on. I’m reviewing the briefing data, and you’d think someone would have had a better idea what our target is. Seems likely we’re looking for a diesel, so, better acoustics may not help. Those boats are wicked quiet underwater.”
“That’s what I’m thinking. Cuz how in the hell could they get their hands on a nuke? Wouldn’t we know if one were missing? Regardless, they told us to sink it, but a nuke? Can you imagine if we toasted a nuke sub?” Grover did not even want to think about the outcome of that.
“Well, if it is, then they’re the ones who sank the first OTEC. This is the second one of these machines.”
“This is some serious shit, then.”
“Yep. I really doubt this is a drill.”
The night and day passed without incident. The Elijah Lewis was now only an hour from its intended destination — the western coast of Paradise 3. A cloudbank moved overhead from the north, but the western horizon was crystal clear, allowing a wondrous view of the sun — which was just beginning to set. They came full circle around the island and now moved southeasterly over the very deep water in which they were to secure the OTEC.
More than thirty boats of various sizes gathered to welcome the long-expected symbol of the Island Project. Horns blasted, champagne poured, and music blared in celebration of the arrival of the OTEC. An hour earlier, a boat had pulled alongside the tug to offload eight engineers, whose job was to prepare the OTEC for anchoring. Also, Tim Bellamy, the harbor pilot, had hopped nimbly aboard.
Captain Stouffer signaled to the engine room, “All Stop.” Petur, standing on the port bridge wing looking astern, watched the thick hawsers slacken as the OTEC continued toward the slowing tug. The repetitive clank, clank, clank of the powerful winches was loud enough to make his teeth vibrate. The winches rapidly took in the cable, the unused portions of which were channeled via massive chocks to a hidden storage area below the deck. The aft deck was soaked with water pouring from the hawsers as they were hauled from the ocean. Much of the water went down below decks to the cable storage area, where electric pumps attempted to keep up with the flood.
After several minutes, the hawsers started to get taut again, and Captain Stouffer ordered the engines, “Slow Astern.” The winches were then able to bring aboard much of the residual cable as the Elijah Lewis closed the distance to her charge. Soon, the OTEC stood tall above the large tugboat and cast its long shadow over her.
“Mr. Bellamy, she’s all yours,” said Stouffer, transferring the next phase of the positioning to the local harbor pilot — the man who had the most knowledge of these waters.
“Thank you, Captain.” Bellamy, a quick-minded young man, loved his work. His shoulder-length blonde hair made him appear somewhat Amish — or perhaps more like a surfer. In fact, his passions were neither God nor hanging ten, but rather ships and computers. Petur had learned from the many ship captains who had come into Paradise’s difficult harbor that Tim Bellamy was a polite and expert ship-handler. He had great confidence in him.
Bellamy glanced at the GPS display and the depth sounder. He examined a small hand-drawn chart that he had removed from his pocket and unfolded. “All Ahead Slow. Left Full Rudder,” he stated calmly into the microphone that connected him directly to the engine room. As the tug slowly pulled away from the OTEC, the hawsers tightened until they rose fully out of the water. Then both vessels made a gradual turn to the left.
“Rudder Amidships,” he said after the tug had turned fifty degrees. Within ten minutes, they settled in exactly where Heinrich Poll, Paradise Islands’ chief engineer, had told Tim he wanted to be.
“I would anchor your vessel for you, Captain,” the pilot told Stouffer, “but we are in almost two thousand meters of water.”
“Well then, I would appreciate it if you wouldn’t attempt it,” joked Stouffer. “We’ll be able to keep her on station in these calm seas without too much difficulty, as long as the OTEC behaves. The engineers will have to take over the OTEC anchoring soon though.”
The end of the day was upon them. The last rays of the descending sun seemed to bend around the shining cylinder of the monumental power station, creating an eerie glow that enveloped the men on the darkened tug. The waves reflected the sun’s dying light in a dance of fleeting red flashes that cast a surrealistic pall on the surrounding sea.
Bellamy signaled “All Stop,” and soon the two floating vessels — the tug and the OTEC — sat still in the water, almost touching. Captain Stouffer then joined Petur on the wing and looked high up at the OTEC. It now seemed afire in red light. Then, as the last crescent of sun dipped below the horizon, the red dancers suddenly disappeared. All the men on the ship knew what would happen next.
The rapidly darkening sky, the ocean, the Elijah Lewis, and the OTEC abruptly were all immersed in a dazzling green radiance. Had a man blinked, he would have missed it, for the green flash disappeared as rapidly as it had begun. Then the sky darkened completely. The first mate flipped a few switches on the bridge to turn on the deck lights and the bright spotlights on the tug’s aft deck, thereby lighting the OTEC up like a candle.
Petur turned toward Stouffer. “Each sunset here is memorable.”
“It surely is.” Stouffer then asked, “What’s the next step now? I think I’m almost done with my part.”
“Yes. And you’ve done a great job. Thank you. We need you only for tonight, the engineers tell me, to help keep the OTEC on station. Then, tomorrow morning, you can bring your ship to Paradise 1, and you and your crew can enjoy our island hospitality.”
“Are you sure you want my crew running around your island?” The captain was rather concerned for the reputation of his ship and his crew. Or perhaps he was aware of their reputation. In either event, he was worried.
“We are the only R&R spot within a thousand kilometers. Your men will be treated like heroes there tomorrow. They’ll have fun. And we need a little raucous activity now and again to break up the monotony. ” Petur paused . “On second thought, do ask them not to cause too much damage. It can be hard enough to get replacement parts here, to say nothing of trying to replace a young woman’s virtue.”
Tom Stouffer laughed. “I can make no promises, but I’ll do what I can to put them on their best behavior.”
“Good enough. And now, let’s see what those engineers are up to.”
Petur and Stouffer walked down the ladder from the bridge wing and aft to the winch deck. Three of the engineers loaded equipment aboard a heavy duty Zodiac with an orange deep-vee aluminum hull. The boat, with its inflatable pontoons, hung, bow and stern, from two small derricks. It was level with the winch deck of the tug to allow easy loading. Petur walked up to the man in charge.
“Heinrich, my good man. How does it look to you?”
The German project head shook his hand. “It’s going to be a piece of cake, as the Americans say. We were ready four months ago, and we are no less ready now.”
“What exactly are you going to get done tonight?”
“Tonight we anchor her and lower her deep water inlet piping. That will be more than enough for this evening. Tomorrow, we get the rest of the equipment inspected and greased up, you might say. And tomorrow night, Mr. Bjarnasson, you can press the button to turn it on. God knows we all hope it works!”
“Damn well better. We’ve no reason to think it won’t.” He leaned over the edge of the winch deck and looked into the inflatable. “Hey, do you have room in there for me to go too? I would love to get aboard her tonight.”
“No problem at all. It’ll be a bit dark over there until we can get the gas generator running. Then we’ll get some emergency lights on. But initially you’ll have to watch your step, and take a flashlight of course. It is going to be pitch black in that rig.”
“Great. Thanks. When are you heading over?”
Heinrich looked about. “Looks like we’ll be ready in about five minutes.”
“I’ll be right back, then. Don’t go without me!”
Heinrich Poll nodded and Petur walked off toward the bow of the vessel where he knocked on the door of Jeff’s small cabin.
“Enter,” called Jeff, from inside the room.
Inside was a bed and a desk, with perhaps a half-meter space in between — not the lap of luxury.
“Hey, I’m heading over to the OTEC. Want to go?”
Jeff was sitting on the bunk, in shorts but no shirt. He nodded, and then reached under his bunk, removing a handgun and a cigar box. Petur could not see what he pulled out of the cigar box, but he seemed to be loading his pockets. The pistol he tucked in his waistband, then pulled a loose shirt over his head, covering his weapon.
“What have you got there, Jeff?”
“Nothing I hope to need, Petur.” Bjarnasson knew that this was not an answer, but he also recognized that he should not have asked the question in the first place.
Khamil was at the wheel of the twenty-four-foot center-console open boat. It was well equipped for big-game fishing, a sport for which the Paradise Islands had recently been gaining a reputation. This evening the fiberglass craft was on its way to hunt even bigger game.
The water was calm but for the steady gentle swells, which always rolled in, driven from far away by the distant northwesterly prevailing winds. On the way to Paradise 3, the boat, broadside to these swells, rose and rolled over the hills on the ocean. No local wind blew to raise any smaller waves. A well-delineated front of clouds just to the north moved toward them through the rapidly approaching sunset.
Azid was in the bow, looking ahead toward the island. He watched as the OTEC, trailing behind the ocean-going tug, slowly came to a stop in the water. As they neared, he was awed by the size of the thing. He had not seen the first one from so near a distance, and then only through a periscope. The ocean swells affected it little, for its inertia was so great. It was stately, tall, and unperturbed.
Khamil slowed the boat and they slid in quietly, far to the rear of a group of boats that came out to greet the Elijah Lewis and its tow. The OTEC lay close astern of the tug now. Azid assumed they would soon send people over to get her ready for anchoring. They had little time.
The cloud line moved in overhead and seemed to pick the small island chain to shroud in gray. The sun set spectacularly in the cloudless west, and the sky’s transition from light to dark was almost immediate — a feature of the tropics that Azid would use to his advantage. Soon the only illumination came from the dim running lights of the small boats and the tug’s spotlights, which shined on the nearer half of the OTEC. The backside of the machine was completely shrouded in darkness.
Loud music blasted across the water — a constant and irritating beat from speakers aboard several of the pleasure boats. The cacophony drowned out any noises that Azid and Khamil might make.
“Let’s get going, Khamil.”
“You know I do not like to swim, Akheem. Should I stay here with the boat? We don’t want to be suspicious.”
“Get your suit on.”
Khamil frowned, and then struggled to get his thick body into the short wetsuit. “Assist me, please,” he said to Azid and indicated a black scuba tank attached to a small buoyancy compensation vest. The vest pockets were filled with bags of stainless steel pellets to keep a diver from bobbing on the surface like a duck, but the whole apparatus was difficult for one man to manage while out of the water.
They helped each other don their equipment, briefly checked it all for function, and then they dropped over the side into the darkness. Hand in hand, they dove ten meters and swam in the direction they hoped was correct. Shortly, Azid could make out the dim glow of the Elijah Lewis’ spotlights, which reflected off the metal of the OTEC. Khamil saw it too, and together they moved to the light.
They soon found themselves along the submerged portion of the immense cylinder. Shy of the light, the two men worked their way around to the side invisible to the men on the tug, and then moved upward.
It was almost completely dark where they broke the surface. Azid was again grateful, for now and then one of the spectator boats might circle around the OTEC, but the darkness would keep them hidden.
A metal staircase circled the cylinder like the threads of a screw. It was the only way up. If they were to use it, that would mean three times crossing the brightly lit side. Azid had prepared for this; he lifted a rope and small, rubberized grappling hook out of the water. With a quick throw, he snagged the hook onto the metal grating of one of the stairs about ten meters overhead. With a smaller piece of line, he tied his tank, vest, fins, mask, and snorkel to one of the eyebolts that was placed evenly around the cylinder at water level. Khamil did the same but held onto a black nylon bag tied around his waist.
Now unfettered by his heavy scuba equipment, Azid began pulling himself, hand-over-hand, up the dangling rope. At the top, he swung himself over a rail and onto the stairs. Khamil was right on his heels, and in a moment he had joined Azid ten meters above the water. That was the easy one. He looked upward at the next spiral of metal stairs. It looked to be another twenty meters. Azid coiled the line they had ascended and swung the grappling hook in ever-widening arcs. Then he released the line and upward the hook went into the dark night. But he missed, and the hook fell with a terrific splash.
“Good try, my weak friend,” whispered Khamil. Even in the dark, Azid had enough light to see the sly grin on his friend’s face. “My turn.”
Khamil succeeded, and in a few minutes the two men were together again, now halfway up the cylinder. It took three throws to get the next successful hook, and with one of the misses the grappling hook swung hard into the side of the cylinder below. To the men standing next to the hollow tube, the reverberation sounded like Big Ben, but no one on the surrounding water took any note at all.
Azid looked up as he climbed. There was nothing but blackness above, for the large disk on the top of the monstrosity shielded what starlight tried to squeeze through the encroaching clouds. It took them eight minutes to scale the tower. By luck, the door to the control section was on the dark side. It was also unlocked. Khamil coiled the rope, and attached it to his waist in place of the black nylon bag that he had just removed. They stepped through the heavy metal door, securing it behind them, into the pitch-black darkness of the OTEC’s lower control deck.
“Flashlight,” whispered Azid, unnecessarily. Khamil was already fumbling through the bag. In a moment he retrieved a sealed plastic bag with two small cylinders. He pulled the bag open and handed one of the lights to his friend.
Now gently illuminated, their environment was revealed. They were in a short hall, which connected the outside with a gently curving corridor that paralleled the circumference of the power station’s control decks. It was carpeted and lined with closed doors. There was no way to tell that they were not in a darkened office building in the middle of New York City.
Khamil removed three more plastic bags from his nylon sack. One contained two small-caliber pistols, one of which he handed nonchalantly to his partner. Another bag contained two small canisters of blue liquid. The last had one tube of yellow liquid, and some electronic apparatus.
Through the hallways, dimly lit by Azid’s small flashlight, the two men reconnoitered. They had perhaps only a few minutes to do what they needed and get out before men from the tug would be over.
Heinrich Poll was waiting by the inflatable boat. “Two of you now, is it?”
Jeff nodded while Petur replied humbly, “If that’s okay.”
“All right. But stay out of the way of my men.” For a moment he looked like Mr. Clean, with his arms akimbo and his bald head reflecting the glare from the spotlights.
Petur and Jeff stepped gently into the large inflatable along with several other men. The boat rocked and tilted with every little move, which did not give Petur much confidence in the design. There was not a lot of space left for Heinrich, but he sat on one of the pontoons contentedly.
“Lower us down!” Poll called to two crewmen on the tug. Then, down they went into the water.
As the metal portion of the hull settled into the sea, Petur could tell that the boat was back in its element. The instability was gone, and the little craft was firmly held in the water by its two inflatable pontoons.
They loosed the cables bow and stern, and started the forty-horsepower Mercury outboard motor with a single pull on the cord. The Elijah Lewis‘ second mate held the control arm of the motor, and expertly guided them away from the tug’s hull and back around toward the OTEC. In less than a minute, they were landing alongside a small metal platform that lay at water level at the base of a long stairway.
Petur looked up the stairs as they wrapped their way around the tall cylinder. They turned around the backside and disappeared. Far above him they reappeared. In a few minutes he would be up there.
They had tied the boat to the tiny dock. Jeff loaded a heavy satchel over his shoulder, and Heinrich handed Petur a sizable metal toolbox.
“Since you are here, you are going to have to work,” Poll said in his thickly accented English. “You cannot be tourists, you know!”
Jeff and Petur were the first to start up the stairs. They were made of anodized steel in a rough grated pattern — not the kind of thing one would want to walk on in bare feet. The two men quickly reached the dark side of the OTEC. It took them each a minute for their eyes to adjust to the darkness before either was ready to continue.
Within four steps, Petur’s foot slipped on a wet area of grating, and he smashed his knee hard on the sharp metal edge of a stair. The toolbox was wrenched from his hand and clattered down the steps behind.
“Damn! That hurt!”
“Are you broken?”
Petur rubbed his knee. “No, just embarrassed. I’ll be fine.” He stood up and hobbled back down to recover the tools.
“I bet your friend Heinrich would have been ticked had that thing gone for a swim!” commented Jeff.
“I’d have had to go in after it, I bet.”
Jeff asked, “How deep is it here, again?”
“Yeah, yeah.” Petur acknowledged the sarcasm. He pointed upward. “Let’s go.”
In another thirty steps they were back in the light and looking down upon the engineers who had yet to even begin the steep ascent. Six men gathered on the small platform below, still trying to figure out how they could get all the supplies up in one trip. Petur, not particularly fond of heights, leaned back against the wall of the cylinder. He felt the handle of a heavy metal access door indent the small of his back. He wished they could just enter the OTEC here, but knew they had to go in near the top.
Two more uneventful but exhausting laps upward brought Petur and Jeff to the thick metal hatch — the entrance to the inside of the OTEC. Petur looked down through the grated stairs toward the dark ocean far below. He could see nothing but blackness. Jeff reached down into his pocket and removed a small penlight. With a twist, it cast a bright glow on the dark door. He grasped the metal handle and gave it a heave. It moved easily and the door swung outward.
They were met with darkness and stale air. Jeff walked down the short hall. He shined the light down on the carpeted floor, and then, aiming the light at the ceiling, he noted the sleeping fluorescent bulbs that would brightly light the place when the OTEC began operations. At the corner, where the hall intersected a wide corridor, lay a box with two spotlights — obviously emergency lighting. These would run off the gasoline generator or their own batteries. Jeff flipped a switch on the battery box with no response. With no power, they had not kept their charge. For now, they would have to wait in the corridor until one of Heinrich’s men arrived to start up the generator.
“Where are we?” Jeff asked.
“This is the lower operations deck.” Petur turned on his own flashlight and shined it down the circular corridor. “Those outboard doors lead to offices, computer rooms, a small lounge, and the berthing quarters for workers who stay overnight here. There are also emergency supplies stored in several lockers.” He paused. “Well, at least there will be when the stuff is brought aboard. For now, those rooms are mostly empty.”
“How about inside this ring?” Jeff asked, smacking his hand against the corridor’s inner bulkhead.
“In there is the meat of the place: the pumps that move the water and ammonia around, three large turbines connected to generators, and a rather extensive condensing chamber.”
“Just how does this thing work?” Jeff asked. “No one on the Elijah Lewis had much of a handle on it.”
“Pretty simple, really. The water at a thousand meters here is fifty degrees Fahrenheit cooler than the water at the surface. The temperature at the surface is warm enough to turn ammonia into a gas, and the water from depth can condense it back into a liquid.”
“So, you’ve got yourself a great big steam locomotive here, haven’t you?”
Petur nodded, although Jeff couldn’t tell in the dim light. “Essentially. It is just like most other techniques to generate electricity, including nuclear power plants. They all use steam turbines. We just use a different steam.”
“It does seem pretty simple. So, you pump the cold water up from depth then?”
“Well, mostly it comes up on its own. We only have to add a little pump pressure to help it.” He moved up in front of Jeff to draw with his finger on a bulkhead.
“See here,” Petur continued. “Here is the long cylinder. When extended, it goes down 1000 meters. That’s what Poll and his men are setting up to do tonight. It gets all filled with water, warm surface water initially, to prime it. Then the bottom of the cylinder is opened up. The warm water at the top is pumped off, and the cooler water is pushed in the bottom by the weight of the ocean. Pretty soon the cool water is up at the top, with just a little bit of help from some more pumps, and we are rolling. Warm surface water makes the ammonia into steam, turbines turn and make electricity, and then the ammonia is recondensed with the cool water. It’s simple.”
“But impressive. How much electricity can this thing generate?”
“It is supposed to produce more than one hundred and fifty megawatts, with the temperature gradient we have here. Enough to power a small city.”
“Damn. How come no one has done this before?”
“Who knows? People have been working on it for years. There was even a working prototype in Hawaii — a small one — but no one has gone out and done it big until now. We just did it.”
There was distant clank of metal hitting metal. Jeff’s ears perked up immediately.
“Shhhh, Petur. Did you hear that?” whispered Jeff.
“Yes. One of the engineers slipped on the steps.” He grinned. “Happens to the best of men.”
“No. It was inside. Turn off your light.”
“Jeff. This place is going to echo sounds all around. There is no way to tell where the sound came from. I am sure it’s from the stairs outside.”
“Turn off your flashlight, Petur. Now.” Jeff was insistent.
Petur obeyed this time. The corridor quickly became totally dark.
Jeff came over closer to Petur. He whispered a question. “Why did you slip on those stairs, Petur?”
“I’m a klutz. There was a wet area. I didn’t see it in the dark, and it was slippery.”
“Has it been raining today?” Jeff whispered, even more silently.
“You know it hasn’t.”
“Then why was one stair, fifteen meters above the waterline, wet?”
Petur did not answer. Jeff took him by his elbow slowly down the corridor, feeling his way along cautiously and silently.
Jeff whispered in Petur’s ear. “How do you get inside to the ammonia tanks?”
“Any of the doors on the inner bulkhead here will lead into the condenser level,” Petur replied quietly. “That’s where the ammonia is.”
“Good. Let’s just take a look in there.”
They were soon at a door, and Jeff silently turned the latch and opened it. A faint light came from within. Fifteen meters above, a row of portholes circled around the top of the cylinder. Beams from the Elijah Lewis‘ spotlights shined through a few of those portholes and reflected off the shiny metal surfaces of the machinery within the guts of the OTEC. Some, but very little, of this light trickled down through the apparatus above, and even less made it through the metal-grating-style floor that supported that machinery and constituted the ceiling of the level they were on. It was just enough to cast shadows, but not enough to see any dark lurking figures who might be inside.
There were indeed two dark figures inside the guts of the OTEC. Azid heard Petur and Jeff talking outside in the corridor and quickly silenced Khamil’s incessant chattering. The two Iraqi men switched off their flashlights and quietly nestled close to the wall of the condenser level.
Azid whispered into his friend’s ear, “Go quickly to the other side. If they come in, we can hit them from two angles, if we need.” And then, “But remember, we want to leave here undetected if we can.”
Khamil nodded and felt his way through the unfamiliar machinery around the circumference of the cylinder.
Working in the dim light that came through the windows above, Azid used duct tape to attach a small canister full of blue liquid explosive behind a thick insulated pipe. The pipe led directly into the ammonia storage tanks. He flipped a switch on a small plastic box that was wired into both ends of the tube. He then slid in behind a large ventilation duct, removed his gun from his dive belt, and crouched low.
Khamil felt ahead into the dark shadows. His eyes were just now beginning to adjust to the absence of the flashlights, and his hand found the safety rail designed to protect the OTEC workers from falling to their deaths below. He slid his hand along the rail and it guided him around. At one point he stepped on a slightly bent grating. It felt loose to Khamil, who picked his foot up as slowly as he could. Despite his effort to the contrary, the lifting of the foot caused the grating to settle back into its place with the loud and recognizable sound of metal scratching against metal.
It had taken Khamil two minutes to move around to the far side of the room, during which time the voices outside in the corridor faded. Removing items from his bag, he worked expeditiously to connect three thin wires to the ends of the yellow canister, which was taped to the remaining tube of blue liquid. If used correctly, even this small explosive could destroy the OTEC, which had been designed to survive mighty thirty-meter waves, not carefully planted bombs.
In the inadequate light, Khamil struggled to connect the trigger wires. He reached into the tight pocket of his wetsuit to remove his flashlight. Just as he was about to turn it on, he heard a gentle click immediately to his right. He turned silently and held his breath as two ghostly figures emerged out of the black doorway less than three steps away. He looked down at his flashlight to assure himself that the silver mirror inside would not reflect the minimal ambient light and give him away. When he looked back up, the two ghosts had melted into the shadows.
Khamil looked over to where his friend had been. Between them was the whole diameter of the central column. Immediately adjacent to him was a three-meter ring-shaped swath that had been cut out of the floor and that went all around the cylinder. The chest-high metal guardrail fenced off this ring. The inner circle of floor was connected to the outer circle by four short bridges that spanned the swath at the four points of the compass. To fall through this gap in the floor would lead to certain death.
He knelt on the floor and gently slipped the wires through their receiving clamps on each end of the yellow canister. A gentle tug assured him that they were secure. Silently, he reached into his black nylon bag and slowly withdrew a spool of fishing line. It took him a moment to find the free end in the dark, but then he grasped it between his little finger and his thumb. Tying a double-clove hitch, he secured the yellow and blue canisters tightly. He toggled a switch on the small electronics box and slid the apparatus through the guardrails. Then, careful to keep it from knocking into the walls, he lowered it into the dark hole in the floor.
He spooled out the fishing line carefully at first. Then, impatient, he grasped the center of the spool between his thumb and middle finger and let the combined weight of the canisters pull down on the line, causing the reel to spin sluggishly in his grasp. He let up his hand pressure slightly and the line sped forth as the intensely powerful explosive device dropped rapidly but silently downward. Tightening, he slowed the fall, and in thirty seconds, there was a distant thud and the weight on the line was gone. The deadly liquid was now armed and ready to explode, at the bottom of the OTEC’s not-yet-extended massive pipe, 160 meters straight down below the surface of the water that splashed gently against the outside of the giant machine.
Khamil tried to break the eighty-kilo test fishing line, but even with his great strength he could not. If he dropped the spool over the side, it would crash and fall all the way down. The faint noise of the gently lowered bomb might go unnoticed by the men who had intruded on them, but the loud crash of the spool falling at near-terminal velocity would further arouse suspicions. He did not want anybody looking down there.
Reaching to his waist, he removed a serrated knife. It was not his usual knife: it had a shining steel blade, unlike his own, which was blackened. He turned his head slowly from side to side and let his eyes search the surrounding darkness. Then he stayed completely still, held his breath, and let his ears seek out the nearby threat. Hearing nothing, he slid the blade up toward the fishing line to cut through it. It should take but one stroke.
Petur wished he could have treasured this moment. It was his first view of the internal workings of the massive device that he had planned to build since he was young. But instead of glowing and glorious, it was dark and foreboding. In the minimal light, he was unable to appreciate the size of the place, although he knew it was expansive. With no turbines spinning, no pumps sending water and ammonia through complex paths and no condensers dripping, the place was completely silent. The only sound he heard was his own breathing, which seemed to echo loudly throughout the chamber.
Jeff indicated that he should stay put, and so he did. Jeff then slipped off toward even deeper shadows and became invisible within a few seconds. Petur looked around. The whole floor level was black. It was only by looking upward that he could make out any of the interior features. The huge turbines were overhead, attached to the generators. He could see up and through the grated access pathways for the individual turbine-generator pairs. Below the turbines, on the level he now stood on and at the moment invisible to him, sat rows upon rows of condenser arrays, already filled and primed with pressurized ammonia.
It takes thirty minutes for the receptors of light in the human retina to fully acclimate to low light conditions. As Petur stood there, his retinas continued in their efforts. Ever so gradually, he could make out more and more shapes. To his left and right were rows of piping, penetrating the grated floor on which he stood, aiming down toward where the cooling water would be when the entire system was activated. Those were the pipes filled with fairly toxic ammonia. A leak could be fatal. Ammonia had not been ideal, but it would work, and it was the only option. It was not the only risk that he and the Project was taking.
A flash of light caught his eye and drew his attention to a dark shape low to the floor. The flash was gone instantly, but Petur stared at the spot. The shape moved slightly, and Petur caught his breath. He aimed the flashlight toward the shape on the floor. He pressed the switch.
The man on the floor snapped his head toward the flashlight and then tucked his head behind his arm. He was solid and stocky and dressed only in a short wetsuit. He held in his hand a glimmering knife adjacent to a shiny thick thread. The shimmering nylon fishing line was highlighted well by the bright beam of the light. Petur saw that it led over part of a guardrail and then downward. The man quickly sliced through the line and rolled out of the beam of the flashlight.
Petur searched around again, but with the flashlight marking his position he was a perfect target. Quickly, he switched the light off and moved to an area dense with vertical condenser piping. He hoped he would be invisible there.
Three gunshots echoed loudly throughout the metal chamber. The noise of several ricochets led Petur to compress himself firmly between the wide insulated pipes. He looked out at a flashlight that flew through the air to the floor in the middle of the giant chamber. Its beam spun around the chamber wildly. It landed on the metal grating of the floor with a crash but miraculously stayed lit. It aimed straight at the door through which they had entered.
Petur watched as the stocky man in the wet suit ran from the shadows and out the now-well-lit door. Petur took a long breath and extracted himself from the piping.
“Jeff!” he called loudly. “Are you all right?”
There was no response.
“Shit, Jeff. Talk to me!”
Still no answer. Petur flipped the switch of his flashlight and aimed the beam around the ring of piping and machinery. Almost immediately he heard Jeff shout.
“Turn it off, Petur! And get down, dammit!”
Petur dove to the deck as he flipped the light off. Several gunshots echoed throughout the chamber. It seemed as if they were being fired in random directions. He rolled along the metal grating away from the illumination provided by the flashlight on the floor. He peered through the shadows, futilely trying to determine how many men remained in the room.
A loud crash reverberated, followed by the grunting of two men locked in combat. Petur could see nothing, but he could hear the sounds of the scuffle well: the sound of a fist striking a cheek and the groan of a man having been struck in the abdomen, perhaps with a knee. Then he heard the dull thud of a man falling hard against a bulkhead. Next were the footsteps of someone running on the metal grating.
He saw a rapidly moving dark figure. Petur felt the foot of the shadowy figure catch firmly on his own legs, which were stretched low along the floor. The man went down hard, and Petur could now see him, as he was backlit by the beam of the flashlight. Petur dove at the shadow, landing firmly on the man. Another wetsuit. He threw his fist into the man’s right kidney with all his might, then reached up for his neck and squeezed.
“Jeff, I got him! Get over here!” But he spoke to soon. The man under him spun one arm between his attacker’s arms, and with one motion, he twisted and broke free of Petur’s stranglehold and rolled on top of him. Petur groaned as the man drove his knee solidly into his groin. He was unable to take a breath. He felt himself shoved along the floor toward the safety rail. Grabbing one of the metal supports, Petur struggled as his legs and hips were forcefully pushed under the lowest horizontal bar. He kicked violently but had no target. Another shove and he was on his belly, his head out beyond the edge of the metal floor, looking down into the deep darkness far below. He felt himself slipping over the brink. He locked his left elbow firmly around the metal railing as the shadowy attacker lunged against his side. The force of the impact pushed Petur over the edge.
Petur hung by his left arm as his feet searched frantically for a foothold. He reached his right arm upward as the first kick slammed hard into his elbow. Another kick, and another. The kicks were not effective, for they did not diminish Petur’s hold. The man pried at Petur’s elbow, searching for the pressure points that would force Petur to release his grip.
Petur’s foot caught on a metal protrusion on the wall to his right. But then gravity swung him down and away. He struggled to bring his leg back over to that place again, to no avail and at the sacrifice of his elbow’s fast grip on the rail. He was now only a moment away from falling 160 meters to his death — he knew it. He flailed his right fist wildly out into the darkness again and again, but made no contact. Then he reached for the horizontal bar of the rail under which he had been shoved, firmly grasping it in his right hand just as his left elbow finally wrenched free. He swung precariously from his fingers, but now his foot had found that protrusion once again.
It was the metal rung of a ladder that saved him. Petur searched along the metal surface above his foothold with his free left hand, twisting freely as he hung there. There it was. Another rung. He grasped the ladder with one hand, as the other hand above was assaulted by the heel of his attacker’s foot. Had there been a shoe, his fingers would surely have been crushed, but the assailant wore a soft rubber scuba boot which cushioned the blow as a boxing glove would. The hand, nonetheless, was kicked free of the safety-rail. But it did not matter. For Petur, now securely on the ladder, scurried downward as fast as his hands and feet would move.
Above, Jeff began to recover from the disabling blow he had received a moment earlier. He could hear Petur’s struggle but had no way to determine its outcome. He did not hear the crash of a body falling from the great height — and no further gunshots — and this reassured him. But the sound of a blade slicing a throat, or piercing an abdomen, would not be audible. He hoped that Petur was safe.
Jeff rolled across the floor to the side wall and stared toward the doorway. It was well-lit by the flashlight on the floor. He had seen the first man run out the door there but had not seen the other man leave after his battle with Petur.
After struggling to his feet, he moved toward the door. His foot caught on a prominence on the floor, and the soft noise that this produced was enough. Three more shots sounded. Jeff heard the first ricochet off the thick steel bulkhead immediately behind him. The second shot flew right by his ear. The third found its mark, striking him in the fleshy part of his upper left arm.
Jeff let his arm hang loosely by his side and raised his right hand — his pistol firm in his grasp. He aimed toward the light.
A dark figure raced toward the door, ducking and rolling as he rushed. Jeff squeezed the trigger twice as the man dodged. One of the bullets impacted and twisted the man around wickedly as he fell to the floor. But he rolled out the door and out of sight.
Jeff ran across a catwalk to the center of the chamber and grabbed the flashlight. Flipping it off, he moved through the shadows to the doorway. He cautiously peered out into the corridor and, seeing nothing, lighted the flashlight. The hallway was empty.
Turning back into the chamber, he called, “Petur. Where are you?”
No answer. Again he called, more loudly this time.
A distant and muffled voice replied, which echoed up from far below.
“I’m all right, Jeff. I am in the shaft.”
Jeff ran over to the precipice, shining his lamp downward. Far below, he could barely make out the descending figure of Petur.
“My God, man! What are you doing?” Jeff cried.
Petur’s face reflected the light back upward as he answered. “One of them lowered something down here on a fishing line. I am going to check it out.”
“Do you have your flashlight?”
“No. I dropped it up there somewhere. But I’ll be okay.”
Jeff called down to him. “Be careful, and be fast. What you are trying to get closer to is likely to be a bomb.”
“I know. Did you get the bastards?” Petur asked hopefully.
“No, but I’m on my way. Hurry up down there.”
Jeff turned quickly away and raced across the room and into the corridor. If there was a bomb, there would likely be a signaling device to detonate it. He had to reach that device before Petur, and his dreams, were blown to kingdom come.
Jeff ran down the corridor and turned left into the short hallway leading to the outside spiral staircase. He burst through the door onto the platform and suddenly was face-to-face with a man in a wet suit. Jeff’s flashlight lit the face well. He was an Arab. And he held a gun, pointing it directly at Jeff’s forehead.
With the sky completely black, and the only light shining from the narrow spotlights of the Elijah Lewis, the shadows were as dark as the darkest pitch. Jeff’s foe was well lit, his eyes glowing intensely. Jeff’s face, however, was completely obscured by shadow, and his own gun hung low by his side, invisible.
“Goodbye,” the man said, in Arabic. Jeff understood. As the trigger squeezed, Jeff lunged at the arm holding the weapon, and sent the shot harmlessly into the night sky. He struck the man’s head with his flashlight. It was only a glancing blow. Another round fired wildly as he smashed the man’s arm into the railing of the metal staircase. The gun spilled from the Arab’s bent hand, spinning down into the sea below.
Jeff pulled as far back as he could, and raised his own gun into the light. He said nothing as he shined his flashlight up and down the Arab, who now stood still. He indicated with his gun that the Arab should turn around, which he did. An examination of his back revealed no equipment other than a knife. Jeff moved forward quickly, took it, and threw it into the sea. Satisfied that the man had no detonator device on him, Jeff allowed him to turn around.
“Down the stairs,” Jeff said in English.
The man did not move. Jeff reached over and shoved him viciously downward. The Arab stumbled toward the stairs but caught his balance. Then he stopped. At least two shaking spotlights, searching for the source of the gunshots from the spectator boats, had turned on. The Arab man now appeared only as a shadowy wraith.
Jeff was cautious, but not cautious enough. Reflecting on the situation later, he decided he should have just shot him dead. But he did not do that. Instead he moved close enough to give another shove.
A fist shot out from the glare of one of the spotlights and connected with Jeff’s side, knocking the wind out of him. And then another sent him smashing into the frame of the open doorway — his gun flying from his hand and back into the hallway. The flashlight in his hand hit hard the metal floor, flickered twice, and then died.
The Arab saw Jeff’s weapon on the floor inside and seemed to consider lunging for it. But Jeff was much closer.
Without further hesitation, the man turned and leaped over the railing, and dropped out of sight immediately. It seemed a long moment before Jeff heard the splash of the man plunging into the water far below.
“Damn! Crazy bastard!” Jeff muttered as he scrambled for his gun. Then back out the door he moved, and he navigated down the metal stairs. Around and around he went, much faster going down than up.
He saw the engineers huddled against the wall of the OTEC one spiral below him in the bright light. They held their hands up high. A stocky man in a wet suit stood on the small docking platform with them. This was the other man — the one Petur saw lower something down the shaft. Jeff watched as he climbed into the inflatable boat and shoved off. The boat accelerated, and the man steered it around to the dark side of the OTEC. Jeff ran down the spiral after him, closing the distance between him and the boat with every step.
Jeff launched himself over the safety rail and flew into the darkness, as he spun his arms to stay upright. He landed — heavily, but feet first — in the metal hull of the blackened Zodiac. The boat almost flipped under Jeff’s weight. The propeller of the outboard motor whined to complain as it spun fiercely in the air — the boat’s port side completely lifted out of the water. The stocky Arab was thrown off balance and, overcompensating, dove toward the port pontoon. The boat careened precipitously to starboard, and its bow slammed into the painted dark steel wall of the OTEC.
Jeff was on his knees on the floor of the boat and so was fairly stable when the boat bounced violently off the OTEC. But the Arab was driven forward along the pontoon, rolling out of control. Grasping desperately, his hands found nothing but the slick rubber surface of the pontoon. With a gasp, he rolled off into the water and under the boat. The whine of the spinning propeller suddenly changed to bone-crunching groan as it made certain contact with human flesh.
Jeff raced back toward the controls on the outboard motor, but the going was not easy. The throttle was set fast, and the inflatable kept smashing back and forth — glancing off the great steel impediment ahead. Jeff felt as if he were on a demented carnival ride as he was thrown wildly about. But with effort, he made it back to the engine, and decreased the throttle.
Dropping into neutral, he searched the black water for the Arab. He saw nothing at first. It was so very dark. He saw a flashlight in the bilge, perhaps the one that his adversary had been carrying. He picked it up and felt around for its rubberized toggle switch. Aiming the flashlight in sweeping arcs, he sought in vain for a bobbing head or a spreading stain of fresh blood. Finding nothing, he turned the flashlight to the water line of the great steel cylinder. He twisted the handheld throttle of the outboard motor very slightly and the boat moved around the OTEC.
Jeff felt that it was unlikely that the man died when he fell from the Zodiac. So he searched diligently. Furthermore, the taller man — who had bravely, or insanely, leapt from the high tower — may well have survived also. But the flashlight’s beam revealed no one.
Jeff was just about to give up when his eye caught something unusual near the OTEC’s side. He was again on the dark side, and the lights from the spectator boats were not aimed this way. In the insufficient light, he could just discern a faint disturbance in the water. Bubbles broke the surface — not popping, but staying intact and sticking to the steel bulwark. They formed a little mountain of foam before the topmost bubbles became unstable enough to silently burst. The reflecting steel of the side of the OTEC seemed to have a rusty patina here where the bubbles were carrying blood to the surface. Jeff searched the length of the visible waterline and noted no other such effects.
Quickly, he withdrew his gun once again and placed it on his lap. He turned the Zodiac toward the area where the bubbles still formed on the surface. As he approached, the bubbles suddenly moved to his left, became difficult to track, and then disappeared. Jeff knew what those bubbles meant. At least one of the men had survived and wore concealed scuba gear. He suspected that both of them had.
“Crap!” he shouted. He was worried about Petur. Assuming that these men had been planting a bomb — a reasonable assumption — they would likely detonate it as soon as possible. But Peter therefore still had some time. The attackers swimming below surely would be killed by the underwater blast if they triggered it now. No, they would wait until they could climb safely into their boat, likely very nearby.
Jeff turned the throttle to full as he swung the Zodiac around to the bright side of the OTEC. He aimed straight toward the small metal dock and the awaiting engineers, cutting the engine and running toward the bow as the boat’s momentum carried it alongside. One of the engineers deflected the bow with his arms and simultaneously grasped the line.
“Where is Heinrich Poll?” Jeff demanded, looking around at the engineers intently.
One of them responded. “He went up looking for Petur. Is he all right?”
“He was when I left. He was climbing down the cylinder. Look, there is a bomb in the OTEC!” Jeff pointed to the Zodiac. “Get in this thing and get back to the Elijah Lewis. Tell the captain that there are two terrorists in scuba gear. They’ve got to be going to a boat nearby. See what he can do about finding them. They will probably be armed.”
Jeff knew there was pretty much nothing that Captain Stouffer would be able to do. It was up to Petur now to save the OTEC and his own life.
“You’ve been shot!” one of the engineers stated plainly in a pronounced German accent.
Jeff looked down at his left shoulder to see a large crimson patch growing slowly on his shirt.
“Indeed I have.” Jeff replied. Then he picked up the flashlight, stuffed his pistol back in his pants, and bolted up the stairs, two and three at a time. By the time he reached the top, he was out of breath. His lungs, damaged by the Russians, were no longer up to the task. His recent blood loss probably was not helping much either.
He ran down the short hallway and turned quickly into the wide corridor. Light came in from the door to the condenser level. He rushed within to find the chamber fairly well lit. He heard the gentle hum of what had to be a generator echoing within the structure. Heinrich Poll leaned over the metal safety railing to look down into the depths of the shaft far below.
“Heinrich!” called Jeff as he approached.
The German project director turned with a start, revealing a powerful spotlight with a long electrical wire attached.
“Mr. Baddori. Mr. Bjarnasson is at the bottom. He has found something.”
Petur was halfway down the deep cylinder when Jeff rushed off after the second invader. The faint light trickling from the portholes far above was just sufficient to identify which way was up. It did nothing to illuminate the ladder on which Petur was descending. He felt carefully for each rung, never convinced the next one was going to be there until his foot rested on it securely.
His foot slipped once, and his chin struck hard against a rung on the ladder before his hands got a solid hold and stopped his fall. He felt a gritty sensation in his mouth, and several particles. Petur wondered if some flecks of sand or rust got into his open mouth at the time of impact. He spit out some grainy material. His tongue searched around for more of the grit, but it felt as if it was not his own mouth. Several of his back teeth were now rough and sharp. He realized what the gritty material was: pieces of his back teeth that fractured when his chin was smashed. Blood from the laceration on his chin slowly dripped down his neck and onto his chest. He wiped the wound with the back of his hand. The blood felt warm and sticky. He spit out some more small shards of his teeth and cursed the darkness as he continued downward.
It seemed an interminable descent. Petur imagined that the shaft was infinitely deep and that this expedition was his own personal torment in hell. But he pushed the foolish notion aside and plodded onward, rung by rung. The air was getting thicker. It smelled of oil, salt, and chemicals.
He developed a rhythm in his climbing, and so it came as a small shock when his probing foot suddenly found solid metal flooring. Petur settled onto the broad, circular ledge within the shaft, far below the water level. Under the ledge, he knew, was housed a thousand meters of telescoping metal cylinder. In the middle of the ledge, the shaft, now greatly narrowed, continued down another fifty meters.
Petur figured that there was little chance that something lowered to here from the condenser level would have found that central shaft by luck. He therefore carefully felt his way around in the darkness in search of anything that lay on the floor.
It did not take long before his hand found a loose tangle of thick fishing line. He felt around in the darkness a bit more and soon found his target: two tubes taped together, with wires coming from each end entering a small box attached to the middle. As he cautiously turned the contraption in his hands, he felt the contents of the canister shift, and he knew it was liquid.
A flash of light penetrated the near-complete darkness, and Petur looked up toward the top of the shaft. Like a headlight in the distance on a foggy night, the spotlight above was better at pinpointing its own location than finding objects in its beam. Petur ducked against the wall rapidly, for he did not know if it was friend or foe that peered down from above. In a moment, the light turned away and only the faint glow from the portholes remained.
Petur coiled the fishing line in the dark and then used some of it to tie the canisters of explosive to his hip. It wasn’t comfortable, but he would need his hands free for the long climb back up. It took him a full minute of fumbling along the wall to locate the metal ladder again. Petur sighed and shook his head at the thought of starting back up in the blackness. He chuckled slightly as he considered that this time, he navigated the ladder with some unknown explosive strapped to his hip.
He heard a familiar accented voice echo down the shaft. It was very muffled. But it was certainly Heinrich.
“Heinrich, I am down in the shaft! Can you hear me?” Petur called upward as loudly as he could. The echo of his voice was deafening in the confines of the metal cylinder.
To the German engineer at the top, the words emanated from the shaft as if they had come from a megaphone: loud, echoing and almost uninterpretable. Heinrich ran over to the edge and aimed his spotlight back over the precipice. He saw nothing before, but this time he looked more intently and as reward saw the light reflect from Petur’s face a football field’s length below.
Petur called up to the light that shined from above. “Heinrich, there is a bomb here. I am bringing it up!”
Petur was unaware of just how unfocused his voice was by the time it got to the top.
“Petur, hurry up, man!” It was Jeff’s voice. More words followed.
Petur heard the urgent tone but couldn’t catch the words. He doubled his effort and lost interest in his safety. He rushed to get his explosive payload to the top. To this point he had not thought about the effect of the bomb on his own body. He had only worried about the effect of this liquid on his OTEC and therefore on the Project as a whole. But now, as he felt the weight of the canisters on his waist, he imagined the damage to him if this thing went off. He shook his head as he realized he wouldn’t even feel the blast as he tore into unrecognizable shreds.
Petur looked upward again at the circular light coming from above. He was making progress, and the spotlight now appeared more like sunlight. The glow filled the whole opening at the top. The salty stale air began to irritate his eyes and made his lungs feel heavy. It was just like in his recurring dream. But this time, Petur was sure that he was not sleeping.
Jeff stood looking down the shaft. He was very impatient, but he could do nothing but wait. He held the spotlight and aimed down the shaft at the opposite wall. That way it would not be shining too brightly in Petur’s eyes as he worked his way up.
Heinrich had gone off to adjust the emergency generator and to get the communications system on line. Jeff was eager to communicate with Commander Grover. He wanted those P-3 Orions back in the air again. The Arabs hadn’t torpedoed the OTEC this time, but they would need some way to get away once it sunk. He thought it was unlikely that they would rely on routine air transportation off the Islands. No, those two had swum underwater to where one of the pleasure boats waited for their return. They would head straight out to sea, away from Paradise 1. Then they would meet up with larger transportation far off shore. The P-3s would be able to find either a surface vessel or a submarine — and sink it.
Jeff called down the shaft again. “You doing all right down there, pal?” What he really wanted to say was, “Hurry up, or we are going to die when that bomb is triggered!” But he refrained, although it took effort.
Petur’s voice came up from below, more comprehensible now as he moved up the shaft.
“Take a chill pill, Baddori! It’s not like this is a walk in the park!”
Jeff clenched his jaw, resigned to being powerless for the moment. Something else was bothering him too. Something else was very wrong here.
In the next installment (Chapter 25: A Righting; Chapter 26: Abuse; Chapter 27: Search and Destroy), Petur and Jeff race feverishly to save the new OTEC from being destroyed. We return to Mexico where the conspiracy to control the country continues and Juan Marcos and his son fight. The Navy P-3s seek the vessel on which the men who want to destroy the OTEC may be trying to get away.