Read Breakthrough Online

Authors: Michael Grumley

Breakthrough

 

"If you like Clive Cussler you will love this book!" - Gail Ward

 

"I just read your book, Breakthrough, and I must say it ranks up there with those of Vince Flynn, David Baldacci, Brad Thor and others! A great read!" - Tony Diaz

 

 

Deep in the Caribbean Sea, a nuclear submarine is forced to suddenly abort its mission under mysterious circumstances. Strange facts begin to emerge that lead naval investigator John Clay to a small group of marine biologists who are quietly on the verge of making history. 
Alison Shaw and her team are preparing to translate the first two-way conversation with another animal species, but they are about to discover much more than they ever expected.
When a mysterious object is found on the ocean floor and an unknown group suddenly becomes interested in her work, Alison learns that Clay may be the only person she can really trust. Together they find themselves embroiled in a desperate attempt to stop a catastrophe that spans the Atlantic Ocean and reaches all the way to Antarctica.

Breakthrough

 

 

 

 

Michael C.
Grumley

 

 

 

Copyright © 2013 Michael Grumley

All rights reserved.

ISBN:

ISBN-13:
978-1475031904

ISBN-10:
1475031904

XV
II

DEDICATION

 

 

To Autumn and Andrea, two of the most wonderful women to bless this Earth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

 

 

Special thanks to Kelly Foster, my number one fan.  Without her this book would never have been written.  Thanks also to Andrea, Mom, Steve,
Richele, Jennifer, and Dan, for their proofreading and expert feedback.

 

 

 

1

 

Something out there sounded strange.  He pressed the headphones in tighter against his ears.

Sonar operators were a special breed.  Few people could sit in front of a computer screen, fighting
monotony day after day, listening to the faintest of sounds through lonely ocean waters. But for the few who could, it was surprising how attuned a human sense could become.  Eugene Walker would rather be a
Ping Jockey
than do any other job in the Navy.  Here he could
hear
everything.  Even on a boring night like this, he knew exactly what surrounded them as they slid silently through the dark waters. 

What he was
listening to tonight was odd though.  He had heard it for some time but couldn’t pin it down.  He shifted in his seat and studied the computer screen in front of him, listening to the strange sound picked up by his computer.  He played it again and again, and still could not place it.  Some jockeys were rumored to be so good that they could identify the current moving through the coral, but those guys had spent their entire lives on their boats.  He couldn’t hear currents, though he had identified some natural occurrences that the computers could not.  But this one was strange; a steady hum at a very low frequency and just barely within the range of human hearing.

 

Not more than ten feet behind Walker stood Commander Sykes, reading through yet another fascinating maintenance report.  Sykes was a stickler for detail as most were, but even the best commanders eventually fell prey to the unrelenting boredom of perfect routine.  He picked up his warm coffee and sipped, letting his mind wander to his wife and girls at home, wondering if they were in bed yet.  He glanced at his watch absently and turned the page, now just scanning for anything that stuck out.

By pure instinct, he noticed from the corner of his eye his Navigation Officer repeatedly looking at the instruments and then back to the table and his digital map.

“Something wrong Willie?”

Willie Mendez didn’t reply for a long moment.  Reporting a problem to the XO wasn’t something you did without triple checking.  “Mmm…”

Sykes turned slowly, still reluctant to take his eye off the report now blurring into a jumble of words.

The officer looked closer at the large illuminated, three square foot map between them.  “I’m getting something strange here
, sir.”

Sykes looked at the table and back up to another monitor, seeing the problem immediately.  He took the clear rule and recalculated himself.  He frowned and looked back at the young navigator.

“How many times have you checked this?”

“Four times.”

Sykes scratched his chin while Mendez spoke.  “Plotting from our last verifiable had us here, two minutes ago.” He zoomed the screen in, enlarging the area.  A small circle appeared next to his index finger joined by small GPS coordinates hovering beside it.  He then moved his finger further up the chart in the same direction.  “Now it’s reporting us here.”

“In two minutes?”  Sykes’ response was rhetorical.  He shook his head and sighed.  380 knots per hour
was a bit optimistic for a nuclear class submarine.  Was it a glitch?  This wasn’t the first computer malfunction they’d had, far from it.  He knew that software written by some geek hyped up on Jolt was far more fallible than traditional mechanical or electrical systems, hell even the cooks knew that by now.  “Anything else acting buggy?”

“No sir.”

“Run integrity checks on both systems.”

“Already started, sir.”  All eyes turned to the monitor now displaying the results.  “Systems report no consistency errors.”

Great, broken software that doesn’t even know it’s broken.  Sykes looked closely at the orange GPS display.  “Try re-synching the satellites.”

Willie complied and waited.  He began
to slowly shake his head.  “Birds look good, I’ve got five…now six.  Pinpointed to one meter and reporting the same coordinates.”

The Commander didn’t respond.  He remained focused on the GPS screen, thinking.

Eugene stuck his head out of the tiny radio area and dropped his headset around his neck.  “Sir.  I’ve been picking up something for the last few minutes on sonar.  It might be related.”

Sykes’ eyes trained on Eugene.  “What is it?” 

“Not a vessel sir.  Nothin’ I’ve ever heard before.”

Sykes put the second headset on and listened
as Eugene played it for him.  “What the hell is that?”

Frowning,
Eugene switched back to the live feed and closed his eyes.  “…it’s gone now.”

“Any ideas?”

Eugene sighed.  “I’m not sure, at first I thought it may have been thermal vents but that wasn’t it.”  He watched Sykes look back at Willie and return to the table.  After a long silence and with forced control, he put his mug down and stepped from the room over the lip of the hatch, continuing down the long gray, metal corridor.  “Of all the damn timing.”

 

Captain Ashman replied to the knock on his door with a simple “Enter”.  Sykes stepped in and stood with the military’s exaggerated erectness, his head barely an inch from the piping overhead.

“What it is?” he hardly needed to look up from his own reading to know who it was.

“Sir, we seem to be encountering some problems with our navigation system. It’s put our position off by about fifteen miles.”

Ashman looked up.  “Fifteen miles?”

“Yes sir”.

“Did you run diagnostics?”

Sykes nodded.  “Yes sir, by the book but cannot find any problems.”

Ashman tapped his finger gently against pursed lips.  “Could our speed be off?”

“No sir.  The propulsion systems are in perfect synch.  It’s just our position that’s incorrect.  I suspect it’s a misread somewhere in GPS, but we can’t verify unless...”

“If we surface the mission is aborted.”  Ashman’s tone was sharp.  “Did someone upgrade our systems before we left?”

“Not that I’m aware of, sir.”

“If I find out that someone was stupid enough to upgrade anything before a four-month mission, I’ll personally escort them to the brig!”

“Yes sir!”

He took a deep breath.  It didn’t matter whether someone upgraded the system or not, it
was still broken and probably could not be fixed from here.  Even if it could, it would leave enough doubt to abort the mission anyway.  No one would risk continuing on and having a problem crop up at deeper depths.  Down there you can’t just pop up to the surface. 

“Talk with the engineers and make sure no one made any changes.”  Sykes nodded, he’d expected this order before he knocked on the Captain’s door.  Ashman retracted his legs and stood up.  “Take us up.  Tell them we’re coming back.”

By the time Sykes made it back to the bridge he was developing a bad feeling.

2

 

 

 

The Cayman Islands were first discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1503.  Named Las Tortugas after the many sea turtles, the islands were governed as a single colony for centuries until they became an official British territory in the late 1960’s.  Like many Caribbean islands
, the majority of business in the Caymans was tourism, flocked to regularly by thousands of sunburned, overweight Americans with too much money and a penchant for cat naps.  Arriving in Georgetown and setting out for adventure in their sparkling rental cars and air conditioning, most visitors would be hard pressed to spot remains of the devastation inflicted by the hurricane just a few years earlier.  Progress could be simply astounding when it came to the anticipation of more money.

While undetectable from the island, Georgetown was in fact still visible, albeit barely, from the 38 foot catamaran across the stretch of ocean.  Anchored much closer to Little Cayman, the boat sat listless in the gentle ocean swell, swaying side to side just enough to allow the lazy halyard an occasional slap against the aluminum mast.  The warm winter breeze flowed gently through the lines and over the sails which were rolled up tight.  If close enough, an observer might mistake it for abandoned with no one in sight, though at this distance the only neighbors were seagulls, two of which sat comfortably on the port hull.

A disturbance in the crystal blue water slowly appeared nearby and a ring of bubbles surfaced as a gentle turbulence.  A moment later a dark head emerged and looked around.  Spotting the aft of the boat, a mask was quickly lifted over the short hair and the man swam forward.  Upon reaching the small ladder, he gently tossed the mask and snorkel aboard and with surprising ease pulled his upper body quickly out of the water, allowing his legs to find the rungs.  He reached back and unbuckled each fin, tossing them up and grabbing his towel in the same motion.

He retrieved a bottle of orange juice from the small refrigerator and went forward to relax on the trampoline.  Peering at the larger island he could make out the faint image of a jet ski skirting across the water. 
It amazed him how many people loved noise.  Insistent that they need a break from the grind, they travel to a remote area to unwind only to shop with a thousand other tourists or zip across the bay on a rocket running at 80 decibels.  He smiled to himself and tipped his orange juice in their direction. 

To each his own, he thought.  He should in fact be thankful.  If they were not over there
, they would probably be here next to him.  With that, he stood up and squinted at the glimmering horizon.  Having to decide what to do every day was just the type of problem he wanted.

His body suddenly stiffened.  The sound was extremely faint but unmistakable and he felt a flutter of grim acceptance before reaching for the binoculars.  He wiped the water from his face and peered through the lenses.  He stood, watching stoically as the tiny black dot in the distance slowly grew into the recognizable shape of a helicopter.

3

 

 

 

It had always surprised Chris Ramirez how busy Fridays were.  He would have guessed a Saturday or Sunday but the last day of the school week was always the busiest, thanks to all the nearby schools and their field trips which meant playing host for four exhausting hours.  An obligation Chris had finally been freed from just three weeks earlier with the hiring of a new tour guide.  Of course, now he had to admit that giving the tours to the kids was not all bad.  It was the fact that their retention levels dropped to zero once they were through the front door that bothered him.  From there, they could see the aquarium’s star attractions, dolphins Dirk and Sally.  Not that he would have been any different at their age.

He strolled through the empty lobby sipping his coffee.  As he approached, he smiled at Betty behind the information desk and his replacement
, Al, who was looking over his schedule and straightening his tie.  What a beautiful day these new Fridays were now that it allowed him to return to his real work.

Chris glanced at his watch; thirty minutes until the doors opened.  He headed downstairs to the bottom level of the main aquarium.  There
, he stood before the giant wall of glass, holding back more than a million gallons of water.  On the other side the gentle rays of sun were already illuminating the water with a soft shade of blue from the tank’s open top.  He watched both shadows dart back and forth effortlessly through the rays of sunlight, the dolphins swimming about with a grace of which only they were capable.  He looked higher at the third shape.  It waved to him at which point he smiled and waved back with a gentle swipe of his coffee cup.  The figure turned and swam back toward Dirk and Sally.  With that Chris walked down the hall to the aquarium’s private rooms and dropped his backpack onto the desk.

 

Swimming with dolphins was beyond what most could imagine, and she should know, she did it as often as possible.  She rarely missed a Friday as it was the one day that the aquarium opened late, leaving a forty-five minute window between feeding time and opening time.  Over the last five years, Dirk and Sally had especially come to enjoy their swims together, it was more than obvious.  They constantly swirled around her, letting her run her hands over their slick bodies, and in turn, would playfully bump her as they passed beneath.  She looked at her watch, gave them one last pat, and headed for the ladder.

Alison Shaw surfaced and held onto the ladder while she cleared her
mask.  She noticed a distorted shape quickly approach and looked up, removing her foggy goggles to see Chris smiling down at her.


Weren’t you just downstairs?” she asked, brushing hair out of her eyes.

He did not answer.

Alison looked up again with a squint.  “Something wrong?”  He continued to beam.  “Why are you smiling?”

He bent down.  “I think you’re going to want to see this.”

Her eyes shot open.  “IMIS?”

Chris grabbed her hand
, pulling her out of the water with one hand, and handing her a towel with the other.  She stepped out, quickly dried off and pulled a long sleeve shirt and shorts out of her bag.  She and Chris had been friends for years, but he still snuck a glance now and then at her trim figure.  A few inches shorter than average, she was still far from the norm when it came to female marine biologists.  Hurrying to get her sandals on, they ran across the viewing area and into the building.

They burst into the research area to find Lee
Kenwood in his usual spot, at a large desk crammed with monitors and keyboards with cables snaking all over the floor, something Alison always imagined the bowels of a phone company to look like.  Behind Lee and against the wall were several tall metal racks holding dozens of computer servers each.  In the middle section of one of the center racks stood a monitor, keyboard, and mouse, used for manually controlling any of the one-inch thick machines even though it was something Lee rarely had to do anymore.  With the myriad of systems on his own desk, he could now just as easily connect to the servers remotely.

The wall opposite the servers was part of the dolphin’s tank
, constructed in clear glass to allow optimal visibility for study.  Before the thick glass, stood six mechanical apparatuses of varying height and complexity with a digital video camera perched on top of each.  Around the room were several dozen books and journals on topics ranging from marine biology, to language analysis, to writing code in various computer languages.

Alison made it to Lee’s desk before her wet bag even hit the carpeted floor.  “What is it?”

He looked through his rectangular glasses at Chris.  “Didn’t you tell her?”

She pushed her way in front of the screen.  “Tell me what?  What is it?!”

He gently pushed himself away from his desk, rolling out of the way and allowing her a closer view.  “Looks like it’s done.”

“Are you
sure?!” she asked looking back at the tank.  She could see Dirk and Sally on the far side anticipating the first wave of children.

Kenwood grinned “Pretty sure.”  He rolled closer again and clicked the mouse bringing columns of various numbers and results onto the screen. 
“See…Frequencies…Octave Ranges…Inflection Points-”

“What about Inter
-click Interval and Repetition Rates?”  She scanned the large monitor excitedly.

“Right here.  And we have
multiple video positions for each of them.”

Behind them Frank Dubois burst into the room.  “Just got your message, what’s up?”  By the time the last word rolled off his tongue he realized he did not need an answer.  He knew simply from the look on their faces.  “Tell me it’s done.”

“Oh, it be done, Captain.”  Lee grinned.   He pointed to the screen as Dubois leaned in behind Chris and Alison.  “All the variables have been identified.  Look, if you add them up you get almost the exact same number listed with the video positions, divided by three.”  He clicked another button and brought up the system log.  “And look at this; it says the last variable was found almost two months ago, so there hasn’t been anything new in terms of behavior or sounds.”  He leaned back with a cocky nod.  “This envelope has been licked and stamped!”

Alison smiled.  Lee always had a creative way with words.  “I trust you’ve already made the call to IBM?”

Lee nodded.  “I did.  They’re coming down to verify.”

Now Chris turned and looked at the dolphins.  “Who’s coming?”

Lee smiled.  “Uh…everyone.”

“Fantastic.”  Dubois turned and headed for the door.  “I’ve got to make a call.  You busy today Ali?”

She laughed.  “Are you kidding?”

“Well, when you come down off of cloud nine maybe you can spare a few minutes…we’ll need someone to write us up a press release.”  With that he let the door close behind him.

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