Ramsey again sent them shooting ahead. Five minutes. Drift and listen. Five minutes. Drift and listen. Five minutes. Drift and listen.
"Set us into the mud again, Johnny."
The Ram slanted down, grounded on a ripple surface of black manganese pebbles.
"We've come eight miles from the gut," said Bonnett. He looked at the pressure gauge: 300 pounds. "It's only 700 feet deep here."
"What do we care?" asked Ramsey. "They think we're in that slot. They'll be scraping the bottom of it."
Sparrow said, "And there goes the whole shooting match."
Ramsey looked at him sharply. "What do you mean?"
"They spotted us too close to target. And right on the trail leading to the well."
"How do they know it wasn't a feint?"
"No. They know we were hiding. They know --" He fell silent.
"You mean we're going to slink home empty-handed?" It was Bonnett, voice bitter.
"I wouldn't give them the satisfaction." The voice came from the aft door: Garcia.
The three in the control room whirled.
Garcia stepped fully onto the control deck. "We've got to thumb our noses at them, Skipper."
"How long've you been there?" asked Sparrow.
Garcia frowned. "Maybe ten minutes. I heard the shift in speed and felt --" He broke off. "Skipper, we've come too far to --"
"Relax," said Sparrow. "We're going through."
"Were going to sit here."
"How long?" asked Ramsey.
"Maybe a day; maybe longer. Until they get tired of looking or decide they've missed us."
"But they're sure to leave a stake-out around here on just that chance," protested Bonnett.
"Let's just pray that they do," said Sparrow. "Les, take over the controls and stand-by search. Johnny, you and Joe come with me." Sparrow led the way across to the chart board. He swept his earlier work aside, pulled out a fresh sheet of scratch paper, began drawing cyclic curves across it. He took a second sheet, repeated the performance.
Ramsey watched, puzzled, Garcia bent close to the work.
Presently, Sparrow straightened. "What do I have here, Johnny?"
"It could be a sonic curve, but --"
"It's the modulated beat of one of our A-2 fish," said Garcia.
Sparrow nodded. "Now watch this." He lifted one of the sheets, placed it over the other, held both to a light and adjusted them. He clipped the sheets together, still holding them up to the light, began to draw a new freehand curve, a broken scrawl on the surface. "That's rough," he said, "but it gives the idea."
"A silencer-damped screw beat from the Ram," said Ramsey.
"Two of our A-2 fish hooked in tandem and their screws set to resonate," said Sparrow.
"It might fool an EP until he got close enough to detect the difference in mass," said Ramsey.
Sparrow nodded. "And what if our pair of fish carried a scrambler set to go off before they could detect mass difference?"
Ramsey stepped back from the board, stared at Sparrow.
"These are shallow waters," he said. "The EPs would blanket the distortion area and flood it with seeker fish and --"
"And they'd get a very satisfactory explosion," said Sparrow.
"This is all very well, but how're we going to rig our fish out there when we're in 700 feet of water and unable to start our engines?" asked Garcia.
"We've a perfect stabilizer," said Sparrow. "The slug. We bleed air into our tanks until we gain enough buoyance to lift; then we pay out towline until we reach 300 feet where we can go outside and do our work. The slug anchors us."
"Balance on the four points of the towlines," muttered Garcia. "It'll bloody well work. It will." He looked up at Sparrow. "Skipper, you're a genius."
"Can you two rig those fish to fake the sound of our screw?" asked Sparrow.
Ramsey grinned. "Just let us out there."
"One more thing," said Sparrow. "I'll want you to alter the drive speed controls like this --" Again, he bent over the chart board, scribbling on the scratch pad.
Ramsey shook his head. "Just a minute, Skipper." Sparrow stopped, looked up at Ramsey. The electronics officer took the pencil from Sparrow's hand. "To the devil with speed only. That's too complicated. What you want is a sound variation: first the sound of a Hell Diver subtug under quarter speed, then half speed, and then full speed to simulate flight." He sketched in a series of matched harmonics. "We'll just change the resonating factor and --"
"The adjustments to change resonance won't give it much increase in speed," said Garcia.
"It'll be enough," said Sparrow. "They won't be looking for refinements. Johnny's plan is simpler, less likely to break down." He put a hand on the sketch pad. "Can you two do it?"
Garcia nodded. "Get us up there."
Sparrow turned back to the control board, strode across to Bonnett. "You hear that, Les?"
"Enough to get the idea." He tilted his head toward the search board. "Still no sounds of those boys."
"Let's hope they run right up onto Novaya Zemlya," said Sparrow. "Give us a half a percent buoyancy in the bow tank."
Bonnett stepped to his left, turned a valve wheel a fraction of a degree, watched a dial above it, closed the valve.
"Joe, play us up on the towlines," said Sparrow.
Garcia moved to the tow controls, released the magnetics clutch on the big master reel. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the Ram lifted off the bottom, slid upward.
They watched the static pressure gauge climb through 200 pounds to the square inch, 180 . . . 160 . . . 140 . . .
"Slow us down," ordered Sparrow.
Garcia fed a little power into the magnetic brakes. 130 . . . 120 . . . 115 . . .
"Snub us," ordered Sparrow.
The needle stopped on 110 pounds.
"That's close enough to 250 feet," said Sparrow. "Joe, Johnny, this is your show."
Garcia secured the tow board. "Better watch the balance on these lines," he said. "If the current shifts --"
"That's our worry," said Sparrow. "I'd blow tanks before I'd pull you two down into high pressure."
Garcia smiled wanly. "Sorry, Skipper. You know how I feel about --"
"You've a good electronics man with you," said Sparrow. He nodded toward Ramsey, looked significantly at Garcia.
"I'm with you, Skipper," said Garcia.
Ramsey thought: Why doesn't he just say, "Keep an eye on this suspicious character?" He looked at Garcia. "You afraid of the water?"
Garcia's dark features paled.
"That will be enough," said Sparrow. "You've a job to do."
Ramsey shrugged. "Let's go swimming," he said, turned toward the forward door and led the way out onto the engine-room catwalk, up the ladder to the escape hatch.
The sea suits and aqualungs were in a slide locker beside the hatch. Ramsey yanked one set out, stepped aside for Garcia, fitted himself for the sea. Finished, he undogged the hatch, climbed inside, and leaned against the ring rail.
Garcia followed, checked his mouthpiece, pulled it aside, and glared at Ramsey. "Somewhere, someday, someone is going to thump your head for you."
"Yeah, head thumper."
Ramsey stared at the engineering officer. "What do --"
"You psycho boys are all alike," said Garcia. "You think you're the custodians of deep, dark knowledge . . . sole custodians."
"I don't --"
"Come off that," said Garcia.
"But I thought you --"
"Yes?" Garcia grinned at him -- a mirthless expression.
"Well, I --"
"You thought I had you pegged for a spy, a jolly old sleeper," said Garcia. He shook his head. "None such. I'm quite certain you're not."
"What gives you the idea I'm a psych man?"
"We're wasting time," said Garcia. He jammed his mouthpiece into place, pulled up the hatch, and dogged it.
Ramsey put the cold rubber of the mouthpiece between his teeth, tested the air. It tasted of chemicals, bitter.
Garcia spun the sea valve.
Cold water rushed in around them, spewing upward onto the circular walls, whirling in swift currents.
A kick of fin flippers took Ramsey to the open hatch. Outside was utter blackness broken only by the glow from the escape compartment and the small hand lamp carried by Garcia. The long Arctic night on the surface and the cover of water conspired to create an utter absence of light. In spite of the reflecting layers of his sea suit, Ramsey could feel the chill of the water begin to bite into him.
Garcia held to the hatch guard with one hand as he rigged a safety line onto his belt. The hand lamp clipped to his wrist pointed down toward the waist rack of torpedoes: thin deadly shapes stuck through the metal guide slots like bullets in a belt.
Ramsey fastened his own belt clip to the safety line.
Garcia pointed his hand lamp back into the hatchway, indicated another line snaking out of the green gloom of the escape compartment. Ramsey pulled on the line, brought out a tool kit.
A current caught at Ramsey, pulled him away from the hatch. He was snubbed short by the safety line, swam back and caught up the kit.
Garcia kicked off the hull, swam down toward the torpedo rack. Ramsey turned for one look upward toward the night-cloaked surface, followed. The engineering officer stopped at a torpedo low down on the rack, keeping well clear of the finned arming rotor on the torpedo's nose. Yellow stripes behind the arming rotor identified it as a short-range, low-blast model for infighting.
Row on row of the deadly metal fish extended upward around the Ram's waist.
Garcia patted the torpedo, looked at Ramsey.
Ramsey shook his head, pointed to one below it: red stripes -- a long-range seeker.
They dropped down to the torpedo, cautiously disarmed it. Ramsey noted the number: fourteen, pointed to it. Garcia nodded.
Ramsey unhinged the side plate, motioned for the light. Its beam shone into the torpedo. He had already figured out the changes necessary: disconnect seeker circuit, reset for level course; drive-timer coupling racked back to new control order -- 400 revolutions, 600 . . . 800. He forgot to worry about Garcia in the concentration of work.
Presently, it was done. They dropped down to another torpedo of the same model, repeated the changes except for the calculated resonance factor. Then it was time to disconnect the upper torpedo, lower it down beside the second, link the two carefully with swivel bolts.
Below the altered torpedoes, Ramsey sought out the solid yellow and red nose of a scrambler model, inserted the seeker capsule from the first unit they had changed. He tied this torpedo to the other two with a length of light cable.
Toward the last he found himself working in less and less light. He seated the final cable clamp, looked up the hull.
Garcia floated high along the rack; now he was swimming toward the escape compartment. Swimming fast. The sea's darkness swept down around Ramsey.
Is he going to trap me out here? Close the hatch against me?
Panic washed over him. He flailed the fin flippers, swept up toward the receding light.
Garcia could wait in the compartment until he was almost out of air, knowing I'd be in the same fix. Then he could go inside to safety. I'd drown before they could come back out. He'd have a plausible story about me disappearing.
Garcia's light sank into the escape compartment, leaving the darkness behind.
I'm not going to make it!
The safety line abruptly snubbed him up short. Ramsey tugged at it. Fouled on something! He fought the belt connection, freed it, resumed his flailing progress toward the hatch, a faint glow from Garcia's light against the blackness.
Now, he was over the hatch. Ramsey grabbed the rail, felt a hand take his, pull him inside. Garcia! Ramsey felt a wave of relief. The light in the compartment showed that Garcia had been reeling in the safety line. It stretched taut between reel and hatch. The snag. Garcia pointed toward the hatch.
He wants me to go out and free it, thought Ramsey. He shook his head.
Again Garcia pointed toward the hatch.
Again Ramsey shook his head.
Garcia hesitated, then swung up the line and out the hatch, taking the portable light with him. Presently, he returned and the line sagged. He reeled it onto its drum, sealed the outside hatch.
Ramsey opened the high-pressure air valve. The water level began to lower.
When it reached their shoulders, they unhooked the face connections of the aqua lungs. Garcia's mouth held a subtle hint of amusement.
He knows he frightened me, thought Ramsey. He did it deliberately.