Global Explorer II
by David McLeod
May 15, 2018 @ 0300
A phone call woke Nicky and me. I was a little groggy, so I answered the phone, "Alexander." I think it startled the kid.
"S . . . sir? Commander Anconia?"
"Sir, secret message from US Navy. Our submarine escort has been diverted to waters off western South Korea because of increased North Korean naval activity. An Australian submarine is on the way, but won't be here until 1800 hours, tomorrow."
Although Russia was no longer an enemy, the governments of the USA, England, Canada, and Australia still had submarines shadowing us. If nothing else, it provided some realistic training for their crews.
"Have you told Captain Izzard?" I asked.
"Yes, sir. He said, and I quote, sir, 'Be damn sure we stay in international waters."
"Sounds like good advice to me," I said. "Thank you. And, who are you?"
"Oh, sorry sir, Cadet Eisenman, sir. Duty comms, sir." I recognized the name—one of Bobby Bell's protégés.
"Thank you, Mr. Eisenman."
I went back to sleep, expecting to be wakened at 0600 by the alarm clock. However, it was the ah-ooga horns of the General Quarters alarm that woke me—at 0400. I'd been asleep less than an hour.
Captain Izzard was bent over the detailed sensor displays when I reached the bridge.
"Ships coming from the direction of North Korea. They don't have radar transponders, so we're not getting an IFF," he said. "I would go with foe."
"When will the reach us?" I asked.
"We're at 20 knots—the max with the sensor cable extended. They'll likely reach us in four hours."
"Any chance of relaxing GQ and letting folks get breakfast?" I asked.
"We can handle that," the captain said.
Everyone had been fed and was back to their GQ stations by 0730. At 0745 the first of the NK ships appeared off our stern. She was a light cruiser of some kind, and capable of perhaps 35 knots. We couldn't make flank speed while the sensor cable was still out; we'd be hard pressed to outrun her. Besides, we were in international waters and I was determined that we'd not be intimidated. Even though I was. Intimidated, that is.
"What is he doing?" Captain Izzard was watching the screen that showed the North Korean ship. It had caught up to us and abruptly swung to port, crossing our wake only a few yards behind the ship. Lights on my console flashed red as strain gauges on the sensor cable signaled that the North Korean ship had run into, perhaps entangled the cable.
I didn't need orders; I mentally crossed my fingers, and pressed the button. I knew the guillotine had worked when the red lights went out and I felt the Explorer's speed increase.
"All ahead flank," Captain Izzard ordered. "Activate tectonic test stations. Lock down the bridge."
"They're calling us on international guard frequencies," Bobby reported.
"On speakers, please."
"American navy ship reduce speed to five knots and prepare to follow us to port." The message was repeated.
"Captain? Should we launch the Clippers and helos?" I asked, quietly. The weaponry the helos and fixed-wing could carry was still a secret.
"That ship has too much antiaircraft weaponry," the captain replied. "Our plane and helos would be sitting ducks."
"Sir? More ships approaching. Two at least. They're fast. Faster than anything I've seen on water. Like 65 knots!" Cadet Randolph reported from the radar position.
"Hydrofoils?" Captain Izzard said. "But whose? From what direction?"
"From the northeast . . . 30 degrees off the port bow. There's another I think. Radar's cluttered. They're low and small. Two at least, and there may be a third."
"Sir, the NK ship is firing toward the hydrofoils. Something that looks like Tomahawks. Four birds, sir." That came from a cadet lookout on the flying bridge.
"Radar is tracking," Cadet Macon reported. "Hydrofoils are jinking. Miss. Miss. Miss. Miss."
"Sir? Torpedo sounds on sonar. 30 degrees off port bow. From the direction of the hydrofoils."
"Helm hard to starboard. When the torpedoes are closer, we'll swing to port to present a smaller target and just maybe fool their terminal guidance. Sound collision alarm."
"Solid bearing on the torpedoes, sir. They'll pass . . . well to port. They're headed for the Korean ship, sir."
The North Korean ship had passed behind us but had not yet turned. It presented its flank to the torpedoes. Two struck within seconds of one another.
"All stop. Reverse engines. Prepare to launch boats to recover survivors from the Korean ship. Cancel collision alarm. And find out who the hell those hydrofoils belong to."
"Lookout reports they look like the US Navy's CH-4, sir."
"We're being hailed, sir."
"Global Explorer is Lt. Anatoly on Russian Navy hydrofoil. On orders from my Tsar, my crew and I pleased to offer you protection. My Tsar perhaps two hours behind me asks if he may come on board."
"Secure call, November circuit. It's Jonathan, sir."
The November phones were self-authenticating. Jonathan's phone wouldn't work unless it was in his hand—his living hand. The call was definitely from Jonathan.
"Sir? I have a huge echo coming over the radar horizon."
"Lt. Anatoly just said to expect a battleship to join the party—his words, sir."
Things were happening entirely too quickly, but Captain Izzard had no trouble sorting through them. He turned rescue operations over to Lt. Anik. He told Bobby to tell Lt. Anatoly that as soon as we were closer to the North Korean ship—which was in flames and rapidly sinking—we'd lower boats for rescue operations. And he told me to get on the November circuit and talk to Jonathan. "Oh, and as soon as we stop, you might want to launch a submersible and retrieve the sensor cable. The coordinates are in the log computer."
I flashed a quick thought to Nicky, and he left the bridge for the submersible control room.
Nicky and his crew were still "in" the submersible when the Князь Потёмкин Таврический slowed to a stop about 50 yards to our starboard.
"Holy Moly!" one of the cadets said. "She's ginormous!"
"That's the Lenin, or the Putin they call her, now-a-days," the Chief of the Boat said. "But that's not what's written on her bow."
"Prince Potemkin of Tauris," Pavel said. "That's weird! They were the crew that led a rebellion against the Tsar's officers in 1905. Whose side do you suppose they're on, now."
Jonathan's aboard! I hope they're on his side! I thought.
I watched for a moment as Sea Cadets, our band, and—it seemed—everyone on the ship not involved in the rescue operations gathered to render honors. Captain Izzard pointed out that I had less than five minutes to get into dress uniform, myself.
"But it's just Jonathan!" one of the Sea Cadets who'd been with us last year, said.
"Yes, but he's the Tsar of Russia, and he just saved out butts!" Macon called as he ran to change.
"That's got to be the world's biggest battleship," I said. After the welcome ceremony, Nicky and I had escorted Jonathan and Davey to the conference room for a private welcome that involved a lot of hugs before bringing in others.
Davey, in his uniform as Captain of the Standart, answered that. "She was built at the height of the Cold War, and her size was to have been a propaganda weapon. Her original name was Lenin. She underwent refit in the 1990s and was renamed Putin. After learning that the officers and crew had been instrumental in securing for Jonathan the loyalty of the Russian Navy, it was decided to rename her Potemkin. While it was the crew of the original Prince Potemkin who led a rebellion against Jonathan's ancestors, it was the crew of this one who welcomed their new Tsar."
"The rebellion on the Potemkin is an important part of Russian history, and an important symbol," Jonathan said. "We are coopting as many symbols as possible, and turning them to our use. The Standart, the Winter Palace, now the Potemkin."
"What are your plans?" Jonathan asked when he and I were finally alone.
"North following the Kuroshio current through the Nevelskoy Strait—if you will allow that. Then south, through the Sea of Okhotsk and through the Kurile Islands. The waters are disputed between you and the Japanese, you know, as are the islands.
"Then south, skirting Japan to measure residual radioactivity in the water from Fukishima before heading east to the Pacific Garbage Patch. "
"Actually," Jonathan said, "that's something I want to talk to you, about. Not the garbage patch, but the Kuriles. I'd like to settle that problem. I don't want to win, but I don't want to lose, either. If the Japanese would go along with it, I would agree to turn the islands over to their native peoples as a UN protectorate.
"But I need your help."
I thought it would be a good idea to ask Dad before I agreed to host an international conference on the Explorer. It felt really good when he let me know both that he was happy I'd asked and that he'd have been just as happy if I hadn't asked. "You're growing up, Alexander. Part of that is making decisions and accepting responsibility for them. Be sure to tell Cousin Barbara, won't you? She's helped Jonathan a great deal, and she'll likely get a kick out of this."
It would take several calls on the N-circuit and some very high-level diplomatic cables—which were really emails but they still called them cables—before everything was arranged and the Japanese agreed to meet on the Explorer with Jonathan on June 1. Before all that, however, we had to deal with North Korea.
Captain Izzard, Jonathan, Lt. Anatoly, Davey, Nicky, the senior naval aviator and army helo pilot, and Sean Casey, de facto commander of our strike teams, met in the conference room.
"What can we do about North Korea? They've already released statements threatening you, the Explorer, and the United States for an unprovoked attack on their ship." Captain Izzard had called this meeting. That meant he was worried.
"Our news crew has already sent video of the North Korean ship endangering the Explorer and firing missiles toward the Russian hydrofoils, and of our boats plucking the survivors from the water. I'm not worried about international opinion, and, frankly, if I see another North Korean ship . . ." I wisely did not say what I would do.
"Would Francesca help? And can she put together a team of native Korean speakers?" Jonathan asked.
"I'm sure she would, and could, but North Korea is locked tighter than a drum, isn't it?"
"You know Davey has recruited Jaf. He may be the world's best hacker. Now, we've gotten the second best, a kid named Viktor Tchekov. Neither of them—or Viktor's friends—have been able to break Anconia systems, but they did blast the NSA out of Russian systems!"
I didn't contradict Jonathan, but I suspected that Francesca and her team were probably as good as either of his hackers.
"Do you know about the hack attacks on that self-proclaimed Christian radio network?" Nicky asked.
"Yes, but it wasn't they," Davey said. "These kids can break into North Korea if anyone can. And then inject Francesca's messages. If you agree, we will put one of them on the neutrino circuit to Francesca."
I looked around the room and got nods from everyone.
"When do you expect another submarine?" Jonathan asked.
"Already on station," Captain Izzard said. "Contacted us just before this meeting started."
"Still, if you agree, the Potemkin will shadow you for the next week or so. Do you suppose Davey and I could get a ride home on one of the Clippers?"
The naval aviators managed to settle without shedding any blood who would make that flight. When they returned, several crates were unloaded and quickly taken to the Officers' Club below decks. I was pretty sure the crates were vodka, and wondered if they were going to share.
I knew we were taking a great risk by not censoring the news crew's broadcast of the North Korean attack. Less than ten minutes after the report reached the mainstream media, our voice and data circuits were flooded with calls and email from anxious parents. Some demanded that the kids return home.
Dr. Gannon had been appointed Dean of the college and was, by default, principal of the floating high school. We asked him to join the conference.
"Parents are legitimately concerned. All the high-schoolers are kids of Anconia employees. They're not demanding that their kids be sent home, but they're hinting very strongly. The Sea Cadets' parents are a little more forceful. This could utterly destroy—"
"You've got to see this," Nicky interrupted. He switched the display of his terminal to one of the large screens.
"They're sending email messages to their parents, cc you," he said.
The messages scrolled slowly down the screen. They all said pretty much the same thing. "Mom, Dad, I'm doing something important, something really important, for the first time in my life. Please don't take that away from me."
"Look! They're also cc-ing the news crew! Oh, boy. When this hits the news . . ."
"It could be the best thing that comes out of this," I said and picked up my neutrino phone. I pressed the digits to reach Dad.
He agreed. The triplets would fly out and meet us before we passed Sapporo. That news would be released to the media as soon as their plane took off from the Montana compound. Their presence on the Explorer would, we hoped, alleviate the fears of the other kids' parents.
@sciencetruthnolies: stone age trogs of north korea can't frighten seekers of the truth
After reading that message, I remembered the 2012 NASA photo of the world at night. It was a composite that showed lighted cities. South Korea appeared to be an island west of Japan because North Korea was almost totally dark. Knowing that, it was easy to understand what Sciencetruth meant by troglodytes.
One of the messages from a parent was a surprise. Someone managed to use a Navy channel to send a message to one of the sea cadets. Perhaps a father or mother who was on active duty.
"He wants to talk to you," Bobby said when he returned to the bridge after delivering the message.
Macon held out the message. "Sir, I don't want to leave!"
I read the message. You are to return home immediately. I will have nearest US Navy ship arrange transportation. The signature was Senator Macon Randolph, II.
"Your dad's the senator?"
"You didn't know?" Macon was so surprised he forgot to say sir.
"Not until this moment," I said. "I know who the senator is. I had just not made the connection. That is somewhat . . . embarrassing."
"I still don't want to go, sir. Can you do something? Please? I'll do anything!"
He was close to tears, and that was something that didn't need to happen on the bridge.
"Follow me." I led him to the conference room.
"It would help me if you would tell me why you don't want to leave," I said.
"Because you treat me like a person, like an adult. You apologized when you were wrong. He treats me like I'm still a kid, and like I'm his property or something. And he's never admitted he was wrong or noticed when he's said something hurtful. I don't want to go back to that."
His father is a strong critic of Anconia, and he'll be Todd's opponent in the next presidential election. Sciencetruth warned us about him, and Sciencetruth has been an ally. This is going to open a can of very angry worms. How will this affect the family? How . . .
"Commander? Sir? Please?" I focused. And saw tears run from his eyes. Still, he stood tall and his voice was firm.
Do it because it is right, I thought. Dad and the president will understand.
"Macon? How old are you?"
"Huh? Eighteen, sir."
"Macon, you are of age by US law. If you accept a commission as Ensign in the United Nations Science Corps, it will come with a contract enforceable under US and international law to serve on the Global Explorer for no less than one year. The downside is that you'll have to move from cadet quarters to officers' country, you will have to eat at the captain's table, and you will get a salary. Oh, and you will have a great deal more responsibility."
I offered coffee to give me time to think and him time to . . . wipe his eyes, and think.
"You will probably piss off your father," I said. "He will probably be pissed off at me, as well."
I explained some of what I knew about the relationships between his father, the Anconia family, and the president. "I need a couple of hours to tell my father and he needs some time to get his ducks in a row before you tell your father."
"Yes sir. Thank you, sir."
"Macon? Off duty, I'm Alex. Off duty, I'm a friend."
That earned another hug.
Chapter end note: See the NASA composite of the world at night at http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/NaturalHazards/view.php?id=79765 or Google "NASA city lights 2012."