Authors: Michael Grumley
The Pathfinder was an oceanic research and survey ship. At just under three thousand tons she was capable of an impressive sixteen knots fully loaded. Commissioned in 1994, the Pathfinder, was one of the Navy’s most modern and capable science vessels, performing experiments throughout the Atlantic Ocean. Clay could see the ship’s unmistakable white hull from the window of the Sikorsky Seahawk helicopter, even at altitude, and at two hundred feet long the Pathfinder was large, though still one of the smaller ships in the research fleet. He knew landing a helicopter of this size was going to be tight.
The helicopter banked slightly and began a gradual descent. Clay relaxed and laid his head against the headrest. Next to him Steve
Caesare slept soundly, almost in a catatonic state. A trick many learned in their early days of service was “sleep when you can”, and Caesare had taken the lesson to heart. Clay often joked that had he been there; Caesare would have slept through the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Clay watched through the window as the helicopter
dropped closer to sea level. After a few minutes, the pilot leveled off and skimmed the last mile at just under a hundred feet, low enough to see schools of colorful fish below the clear blue water. He slapped Caesare awake and fastened his seat belt.
The helicopter slowed and hovered as it positioned itself over the ship’s black landing pad. It
floated close to the deck until the pilot could match the rising and falling of the ship on the ocean swells. Reaching the last few feet, the craft dropped suddenly and bounced onto the pad. An ensign trotted out beneath the slowing blades and pulled the door open. With a quick salute, he unfolded the small set of stairs outward and motioned for Clay and Caesare to follow him.
They grabbed their bags and made their way off the pad and across the deck.
After climbing two flights of stairs, they opened a white steel door and stepped onto the bridge.
Captain Emerson looked up
as the two men stepped inside and saluted.
Emerson flashed a salute and extended his hand to Clay. “Clay, how the hell are you?”
“Good Rudy, how are things in paradise?”
“Not bad. I don’t think I’ve worn long sleeves in two years
,” he said smiling. He turned to Caesare. “And, who do we have here?”
“Rudy, this is
Lieutenant Commander Steve Caesare, he’s in E&S too.”
Caesare’s hand and eyed the small trident pin on his collar. “Pleased to meet you. You were a SEAL too, were you?”
, sir. Yes, some time back. Was in Somalia in ’93. Got transferred out a year after that.”
” Emerson sighed. “That was a real mess.”
“Yes sir, it sure was. Lost some friends.”
Emerson frowned and nodded. “So what is it that has us racing across the whole damn Atlantic to meet you fellas?”
Clay smiled. Like
Caesare, Emerson was another old Navy friend. And though he took great pleasure maintaining his gruff exterior, much like the old sea dogs, he was never able to fully pull it off. Nevertheless, Emerson had fun playing the part. He was a good friend to have, being skipper of one of the leading research vessels in the Navy’s Military Sealift Command. A large part of the MSC’s primary mission was to provide a wide range of support operations including fueling, vehicles, ammunition, and supplies. Being part of the support system for the entire U.S Navy gave Emerson a deep insight into many things which the military arm was involved.
Clay shrugged. “Just some signal interference. We need to put it to bed so the Alabama can go back out.
We lucked out that you were closest and have the new ROV on board.”
, we’re certainly one of the more comfortable ships.” He signaled to a subordinate to take over the bridge. “You’ll like the rover called Triton II; no tether and uses ultra-low frequency which gives it a damn impressive range.”
“How deep have you taken her?” asked
“Four thousand feet, maybe more. We’ll have to ask Tay
; he’s the lead engineer.”
Caesare were impressed. Almost a mile without a tether was nothing short of astounding.
Emerson led the men outside and back down the way they came.
At the bottom of the stairs, a female officer stopped and saluted. The captain returned it quickly without slowing. He saw the men exchange looks from the corner of his eye and replied without being asked. “We have six female officers on board. Bit of a pain to set up separate quarters and all, but it’s worth it. Having them aboard raises the level of professionalism, contrary to popular belief.” He ducked and stepped through a doorway and after a left turn stepped into the galley. “Coffee?” he asked, picking up a pot and selecting a mug from a neatly stacked pile.
, they both accepted a cup in turn.
, what kind of interference you guys having down here?”
Clay shrugged. “Not entirely sure. Nothing too serious, probably just interference based on high iron in the soil. We need to get some samples for analysis.” He sipped from his mug. “We may have to come back out with an old sub and spot check if we don’t find something obvious.”
Caesare looked at Emerson. “Incidentally Captain, we’d like to get some system logs from the Pathfinder too and compare them with the sub’s. It’s likely an issue with depth or proximity to pockets of mineral concentrations, so we should eliminate surface ships from the list while we’re here.”
,” Emerson nodded. He looked at his watch. “We should head aft. Tay and the team should be about ready to launch the Triton. We’ll be at your coordinates within a few minutes.”
Reaching the stern of the ship
, Clay and Caesare found several of the team slowly lifting the Triton II up and off the deck. The craft was a noticeable change from most of the Navy’s previous remote operated vehicles. Unlike the older tubular designs, the Triton was closer to U-shaped with most of the craft built around a clear, giant sphere. A number of motors and fins were attached to what was considered the back, though the entire craft was still more round than anything else. Unlike the traditional designs of submarines, a sphere or globe maintained perfect pressure on all sides as it descended, in essence making the craft stronger the deeper it went. By designing the Triton around such a shape, it was able to reach deeper depths without special efforts to increase body strength required in older tube shapes. The tradeoff, of course, was speed. With more surface area meeting the water while it moved, Clay guessed that the Triton was likely twenty-five percent slower than older models. Nevertheless, with the benefit of a deeper limit without a ship having to carry thousands of feet of thick cable to use as an umbilical cord, he could see why the Triton II was so popular.
Edwin Tay was of Chinese descent and looked to be in his late thirties. He was shorter than the rest of
the team but was clearly in charge. He was giving a steady stream of instructions as they smoothly moved the rover out and over the water, suspended by a long, thick articulating arm. He finally turned and motioned for one of his team to lock it in place just moments before the drone of the engines disappeared and the ship began slowing to a stop. Emerson caught his attention and waved him over.
“Mr. Tay, meet lieutenants John Clay and Steve
Caesare. Our friends from the E&S team in D.C.”
Tay shook their hands. “Welcome aboard. I hear you’ve come to have some fun with our new rover.”
Clay laughed. “I’m afraid it’s a bit more boring than that. We just need some soil samples to take home. We were fortunate that you were in the area, especially with the new rover.”
Tay looked back at the craft, hanging suspended in the air and swinging slightly from side to side. “Yeah, she’s a beaut
y. Battery life is a little limited, but I suspect that will be improved in future versions. Even with that we’ve had her down to forty-three hundred feet without a glitch. Pictures as clear as cable TV,” he said with a wink.
“She’s a nice looking sub,
” Caesare replied.
Tay quickly wiped his forehead. “We still need to run some checks, but we should be ready to
launch within about fifteen minutes or so. In the meantime, we have a pretty decent galley if you guys are hungry.”
Clay put a hand on his stomach. “Sounds good to me.”
“Let’s go round something up then,” said Emerson, nodding his head back the way they came. “It’s almost lunch time anyway.”
Captain Emerson removed his hat and scratched the base of his hairline. His gray hair was cut short, a style many in the military never outgrew. He dropped his hat on the seat next to him and picked up his second cup of coffee for a drink before continuing. “Getting a bit of pressure to resolve this are
ya? I’m sure Washington isn’t happy with that large a crew and sub sitting idle dockside. What’s it costing them, a million a day?”
“One point four actually.” Clay frowned.
Emerson grimaced. “I hope Langford is backing you guys up.”
“He’s pretty good about that,
” Clay said, watching Caesare take a bite of his pork chop with raised eyebrows. The food was excellent. “Still he’s got Miller breathing down his neck with the cost, but he can only stand on procedure for so long. He made sure to mention the number a couple of times.” Clay reached for his own mug. “I suspect we’re looking at an anomaly here, but we have to go by the book. We haven’t found anything wrong with the sub or the satellites which means a site survey. If we find the soil rich in iron or other minerals we’ll need to file a report with a theory which means scientific testing and peer reviews. We may not have an answer for years.”
Emerson nodded. “If it comes down to a theory, they’ll ship out the next day. Nothing more that can be done until more testing bears something out.”
Clay took a bite of his salad. “So, anything interesting on the research front?”
Emerson shook his head. “Only on how we are becoming more and more commercial with each project. Corporations are driving it all with their friends in Washington beating their ‘in the interest of national security’ drums which means that anything connected to energy these days, especially the black liquid kind, is considered national security. Most of our projects in the last few years have been soil and drilling samples thinly disguised as marine research which really means looking for new oil reserves for the conglomerates.” He leaned back in his chair unable to hide his irritation. “I’ll tell you this, corporations have become the puppet masters behind the government.” Emerson exhaled heavily. “This is not the same Navy we started with, gentlemen.”
“Agreed,” Caesare said with his final swallow. “It’s not an adventure anymore, it’s just a job.”
Emerson laughed. “Maybe it’s time we reversed our motto.” He leaned forward again and picked up his fork. “Don’t get me wrong though, there are still some interesting things happening in the research area.
Hell, just our ability to probe deeper with better systems like this new Triton generates a fair amount of excitement. The level of detail we’re able to track has the Navy talking about fields of underwater sensors and the idea of developing a living map, all live data and changing as it happens...pretty amazing stuff.”
Caesare emptied his water glass. “I wonder how much we’ll spend trying to weaponize it.”
Emerson laughed again, harder. “I like you
Caesare. A fellow cynic. How’d you ever get mixed up with Clay?”
He smiled at Clay befo
re replying. “Ah we met in SEAL training, back in ‘89. Clay got thrown out a while later…what was it again?” he asked jokingly, “wearing dresses or something?”
Clay grinned. “Bad knees.”
“Right. Anyway he ended up in intelligence working with some of the old members of SEAL Teams One and Two, so we worked together on and off for a couple years until he went off to Investigations. We stayed in touch and one day he said he was looking for someone to join his team.”
“So you moved to Washington.” Emerson was clearly enjoying this.
“I had no choice,” he shrugged. “He had too much dirt on me.”
“Sadly,” added Clay,
“everyone has dirt on Steve.”
“So from SEAL
team to an electronics expert. That’s quite a jump,” Emerson said.
“Well, like Clay, I had a science backgr
ound before joining the SEALs.”
The Captain nodded. “Well I’m surprised we haven’t met before, this isn’t the first time Clay has hijacked one of my ships in the name of
, well, the last time,” Clay mused, nodding at Caesare. “He was getting married…again.”
“A girl in every port, I’m sure.” Emerson looked at his watch. “The team should be about ready. I’ll drop you off at the
comms room before I head back up to the bridge.”