Sparrow passed a hand across his forehead. His head ached strangely. Is there a spy aboard? he asked himself. Is it Ramsey? Is it Les? Is it Joe? The EPs are hoping we lead them to the well. He looked blankly at the open wiring before him. Then why set off a tracer now? To test our alertness? The obvious time for a signal will be when we're sitting on top of the well.
A strange vibration inside his head distracted Sparrow. He was startled to discover he'd been grinding his teeth. When we're sitting on the well! God help me! How will I prevent it? I can't remain awake the whole time.
"That's the last one," said Garcia. He indicated a tube which Sparrow had automatically placed in the balance scales.
Sparrow shuddered, drew himself back to the present. "Put it back," he said. Garcia complied.
Sparrow looked at Bonnett. "Les, start checking the spares in E-stores."
"Aye," said Bonnett.
Sparrow spoke to Garcia: "Stay on watch here."
Garcia nodded. "Are you going to rest, Skipper?"
Sparrow shook his head from side to side. "No. No, I have to go back to the shack and help Ram --" He stopped, glanced at Garcia. "We've engaged the enemy and come through." Sparrow stepped to the door leading aft. "I'm going to help Johnny check out the tubes in the shack."
"What about that?" Garcia indicated the tube Bonnett had left in the tray of his tool box.
Sparrow returned, picked up the tube, went back to the door, examining the tube. "We'll have a look. Maybe it'll tell us something." He glanced at Garcia. "You be thinking about how we can contact base."
He was gone through the door.
Garcia clenched his fists, turned to face the master board. His gaze fell on the sonoran chart and its marker: a red insect creeping across vastness. Where? Where's the well?
Ramsey looked up from his instruments as Sparrow entered. "Anything new, Skipper?"
"Les found this." Sparrow placed the tube on the felt padding of Ramsey's bench. "It's five ounces over."
Ramsey looked at the tube without touching it. "Has it occurred to you that thing could be set to explode on tampering?"
"Some of the old Salem sea captains used to attend their own funerals before embarking," said Sparrow. "Figuratively, I'm in the same frame of mind."
"That's not what I mean," said Ramsey. "A half ounce of nitrox could get us both. Maybe you'd better leave me alone with it."
Sparrow frowned, shrugged. He thumbed his chest mike: "Joe, Les -- hear this. This tube may be booby-trapped. If anything happens to Johnny and me, you two drop the tow and head for home. That's an order."
Johnny! thought Ramsey. He called me Johnny! And then he remembered: We've met the enemy. The old magic is dead. Enter the new magic.
"We'll want a record of this," said Sparrow. He took a camera from a drawer, racked it above the bench, focused it. "Okay," he said. "You're the expert on these gadgets."
Ramsey spoke without looking up from the tube: "A half hour of just looking at this thing, studying all the angles, could mean the difference between success and failure."
"What're we looking for?"
"I don't really know. Something different. Something that hits a sour note."
Sparrow bent over the bench, grabbed a handhold as the Ram's deck slanted to the upflow of an undersea current. Ramsey steadied the tube with one hand, brought up folds of the felt padding to keep the tube from rolling. The amber light of the temperature-gadget indicator on the board ahead of them flashed off, on, off.
Ramsey switched on the thermo repeater above the light: thirty-four degrees.
Sparrow nodded at the repeater. "The Arctic bottom drift. It's full of food. There'll be a sonic curtain of sea life above us." He smiled. "We can breathe a bit easier."
Ramsey shook his head. "Not with that thing to solve." He stared at the tube on the bench. "If you were going to trigger that to explode, how would you do it?"
"A tiny wire maybe. Break it and --"
"Maybe," said Ramsey. "A better way would be to set a trigger keyed to pressure change -- if the vacuum breaks . . ." He straightened. "First some infra and X pictures. Then we'll rig a vacuum jar with remote controls, handle the tube in the vacuum. After that we'll break the seal."
Sparrow touched the tube with one long finger of his left hand. "Looks like standard heavy-pressure glass."
"I don't understand something," said Ramsey. He spoke as he worked, setting up the portable infra camera on the bench. "Why did this thing start when it did? That wasn't smart. The clever thing would've been to wait until we reached the well."
"My idea exactly," said Sparrow.
Ramsey focused the camera. "How much longer until we reach it?"
The casual way of the question caught Sparrow off balance. He looked up to the shack-room sonoran chart, started to say, "Well, it's on the flank of --" He froze.
Ramsey made an exposure, turned the tube to a new angle.
He's too casual, thought Sparrow.
"You were saying." Ramsey spoke without looking up from the tube.
"Mr. Ramsey, a subtug's destination is known only to its commander until the immediate area of that destination is reached."
Ramsey straightened. "That's a stupid order. If something happened to you we couldn't go on."
"Are you suggesting I should confide our destination in you?"
Ramsey hesitated, thought: I already know it. What would happen if I indicated that to Sparrow? That'd confirm his opinion that I'm Security.
"Skipper, I asked you a civil question. Phrased a bit loosely, perhaps. What I want to know is how much longer until we reach Novaya Zemlya?"
Sparrow held himself in rigid control, thinking: Security? A spy trying to draw me out with a clever guess? He said, "I don't see where it's your concern how long it takes us to get anywhere."
Ramsey returned his attention to the tube. Is he convinced that I'm a Security officer?
I could ask him for the exact coordinates, thought Sparrow. But would it prove anything if he doesn't know them? Or if he does know them?
Ramsey set up a bell jar and vacuum pump, the tube resting on the black mastic sealer inside the jar. He removed the jar, arranged a small remote-control console, replaced the jar.
Sparrow watched carefully, still undecided about Ramsey.
"This is going to be slow," said Ramsey.
Lord in heaven, if I only knew! thought Sparrow. Is he a spy? How can I tell? He doesn't really act like one.
Ramsey locked a stool in place before the bench, sat down. "Slow and easy," he said.
Sparrow studied him. It could be a clever act. I'll get busy checking the shack tubes, watch him. He said, "I'll start checking out your tubes." He removed a cover plate at the left, found scales, began removing tubes, weighing them.
Minutes ticked away -- an hour, two hours . . . two hours and forty minutes. Inside the bell jar, the parts of the tube were laid out in rows. Sparrow long since had finished his job, was watching the work at the bench.
"No booby trap," said Ramsey. He activated a magnet arm inside the jar, lifted a grid section. "And I still don't see how they rigged this thing to go off. This looks like standard stuff." He rotated the part on the magnet. "There's nothing arranged to fuse with an overload. Nothing extra at all except that micro-vibrator and its capacitor power source." He replaced the grid section. "Our boys are going to want to see that." He picked up a cathode segment, turned it over, set it down. "No trigger. How was it done?"
Sparrow looked to the camera which had been capturing every movement of the examination, turned back to Ramsey. "We have another problem."
"What's that?" Ramsey straightened, rubbed the small of his back.
Sparrow slid off his stool. "How're we going to get word of this back to base? If the EPs get us, the things we've discovered are lost. But I have an iron-clad order against breaking radio silence."
Ramsey stretched his back. "Do you trust me, Skipper?"
Before he could stop himself, Sparrow said, "No." He frowned.
Ramsey grinned. "I'm still the one with the solution to your problem."
"Let's have it."
"Put the whole story onto a squirt repeater and --"
Ramsey bit his lip, coughed. Damn! Another BuPsych-Security secret. It had slipped out.
"I've never heard of a squirt repeater," said Sparrow.
"It's something new in . . . uh . . . electronics. You code a message onto ultra-stable slow tape, then speed up the tape. You set the message to repeat -- over and over -- a little squirt of sound. It's recorded at the receiver end, slowed for playback and translation."
"That's still breaking radio silence."
Ramsey shook his head. "Not if the message is broadcast by a little set in a floater rigged to start transmitting long after we've gone."
Sparrow's jaw fell. He snapped his mouth shut. Then: "Could you rig it?"
Ramsey looked around him. "We have all the essentials right here."
Sparrow said, "I'll send Garcia in to help you." Ramsey said, "I won't need any help with --"
"He'll help you anyway."
Again Ramsey grinned. "That's right. You don't trust me."
In spite of himself, Sparrow grinned back at the amusement in Ramsey's face; then wiped the grin from his features and from his thoughts. His brows drew together. Is this all an act on Ramsey's part? he wondered. Amuse me. Throw me off guard. It could be.
Ramsey glanced at the wall chrono. "My watch." He indicated the parts in the bell jar. "This'll keep."
"I'll stand your watch," said Sparrow. He thumbed his chest mike. "Joe, come to the shack. Johnny's figured out how to get a message to home base. I want you to help him."
"This shouldn't take more than a couple of hours," said Ramsey. "It's really a simple rig. I'll report in as soon as we've finished."
Sparrow pursed his lips in thought, stared solemnly at Ramsey. "There's something else. I'm instituting a new watch procedure: two men on duty at all times, never to leave actual sight of each other."
Ramsey's eyes widened. "There are only four of us, Skipper."
"It'll be rough," said Sparrow. "Well stagger the watches, change the second man in mid-watch."
"That's not what I meant," said Ramsey. "It'll be more than rough. There are only four of us. Isolated. Under your plan, well obviously be watching each other. When you watch another man it tends to make you suspicious. Suspicion sets up a paranoiac situation where --"
"Your reluctance to accept an order for the general safety is being noted and will be entered in the log," said Sparrow.
Ramsey's face took on a look of watchful remoteness. He thought: Take it easy. This is the paranoiac leaning that Obe mentioned. He said, "Efficiency will suffer if we're --"
"I'm still the captain of this vessel," said Sparrow.
"Yes, Captain," said Ramsey. He made the title sound faintly reproachful.
Sparrow's lips thinned. He whirled, left the shack, hurried aft to his quarters, bolted the door behind him.
He sat down on his bunk, swung the folding desk into position. The faint whispering of the induction drive resonated through the wall behind him. The Ram had an uncertain, shifting motion; the bottom turbulence of the Arctic Current.
He thought: We've a spy aboard. It's obvious someone activated that spy beam. I wish I'd had Joe checking Ramsey when he opened that tube. He says there was no internal trigger system in the thing, but he could've hidden something from me.
From a recess in his desk, Sparrow removed his private log, opened it to a clean page, smoothed the log flat. He took his pen and, in a neat cramped hand, wrote the date, then: "This date Ensign John Ramsey made objection to a Security procedure designed to . . ." He paused, remembering that he'd ordered Garcia to the shack. He thumbed the switch on his chest mike: "Joe, are you in the shack?"
Garcia's voice came out of the wall speaker. "Righto."
"Just checking," said Sparrow. "Would you have a look at that spy beam, see if there's anything about it we may have missed?"
"Righto, Skipper. Been doing just that."
"That's all," said Sparrow. He turned back to his log.
In the shack, Garcia looked up from the bell jar. "You're dead right, Johnny-O. No trigger."
"What's that thing look like to you?" asked Ramsey. "Only one thing it could be," said Garcia. "A relay amplifier."
Ramsey nodded. "Right. The actual signal's coming from someplace else."
"It'd have to be close," said Garcia. "Just giving you a free-hand estimated-type guess, I'd say within ten feet."
Ramsey rubbed the back of his neck. "What're you wearing a phone for?" asked Garcia. He nodded toward the monitor phone in Ramsey's left ear.
"Monitor on the seismo," said Ramsey. "If another spy beam goes off --"