Rogue Liberator

John R. Monteith

Rogue Liberator

PROLOGUE

Lieutenant Commander Reza Jazani gulped tea and burned his tongue. He pressed the porcelain cup into its holder and inhaled to cool his mouth. “Damn it.”

His executive officer, a small-framed lieutenant in his late twenties, glanced up from a computer console. “Sir?”

Jazani waved him off. “I was talking to myself.”

“Right, sir.”

Reflecting upon the waning and uneventful three-week patrol within the cramped confines of Ghadir-957, Jazani glanced at a sonar display for evidence of an elusive enemy. The United States Navy kept its surface ships out of Iranian waters, and its stealthy Virginia-class submarines evaded detection. Sighing, he doubted he’d detect any hidden nautical trespassers.

Seated forward of the Ghadir’s commander, a thin man kept his nose in a display while speaking. “The dolphins have acquired a submerged contact.”

Unaware the cetaceans were within acoustic range of his submarine, Jazani was surprised. “You’re sure?”

The young sonar technician looked at his commander while pointing at his headphones. “The dolphins just sent out a detection alert. I can’t tell you if it’s accurate or not, but there’s no mistaking that they’ve reported finding something.”

Jazani’s kept his hopes low, like those of outmaneuvering an American Virginia-class submarine. Russian coaching had let his nation’s fleet deploy its first dolphin team, but the return on investment to date was confused mammals, frustrated submarine crews, and false alarms. “Very well. Does the mothership know?”

“I’m waiting for the next command, sir. It should come any moment now. Not yet. Okay, still waiting.”

Remembering the thin sonar technician’s talkativeness, Jazani raised his palm. “Just tell me when it comes.”

Seconds later, the sailor glanced at his commander. “The mothership just sent the order for the dolphins to investigate. They also order all capable ships to relay the order. We’re the closest to the dolphins, sir. We need to relay it.”

“Very well, then. Relay the order.”

The thin technician nodded. “I’m relaying the order to the dolphins to investigate their reported submerged contact, sir.” He pressed a button that sent a sequence of recorded cetacean calls through Ghadir-957’s bow-mounted hydrophones.

Curious, Jazani slid his headset’s muffs over his ears. The echoing undersea sounds mimicked nature to his ignorant human hearing but carried an unnatural interspecies message to a militarized dolphin duo. Then he heard rapid clicks as a response.

The talkative technician bounced his voice off his console. “They’ve acknowledged the order, sir.”

“That was hard to tell. You’re sure that was the acknowledgement?”

“That was them, sir. It’s easy to miss if you’re not trained, but all the waterfront sonar staff got training on it last month.”

“Understood.” Jazani eyed the other sonar technician who sat forward of his executive officer. The quieter of the young sonar duo nodded his agreement of the dolphins’ confirmation.

The talkative sailor seemed to enjoy proving his knowledge. “Per protocol, the dolphins will swim to the unidentified contact and photograph it from thirty meters away. After that, they’ll surface and broadcast the images along with their location. Their transmissions are limited in range since they need to keep high resolution, which is why we need ships nearby to receive them, but they actually use satellite data for—”

Jazani raised his voice. “Thank you. That’s good to know, but I assume we need to raise an antenna to listen?”

“That’s right, sir.”

“Very well, then.” The Ghadir’s commander turned his head towards his second-in-command. “Bring us to periscope depth.”

“I’m bringing us to periscope depth, sir.”

As Jazani sipped his cooling tea, he teased himself with the dolphins’ newfound contact being a Virginia-class within range of his torpedoes. He jammed his teacup into its holder, and while the deck angled upward, steadied, and rocked, he stared at his console. He kept his gaze upon a monitor showing the input of the photonics mast, and he watched water shift from opaque to translucent. Nudging the optics clockwise with his finger on a joystick, he saw tiny whitecaps. “Raise the radio mast.”

The executive officer’s tone was businesslike. “I’m raising the radio mast, sir.”

Jazani heard humming hydraulics lifting the antenna.

After the hum subsided, the Ghadir’s second-in-command sounded enthusiastic. “Sir, we’re getting the imagery broadcast from the dolphins. They’re already on the surface.”

Disciplined, Jazani kept his eyes — his submarine’s best asset for avoiding heavy oil tankers in the busy strait — on the sunlit water. “Can you make out the images yet?” Lacking a response, he risked two seconds to glance towards the curiosity on the room’s opposite side. “What is that?”

Remaining seated, the short executive officer extended a tablet to his commander’s lap showing the mammals’ gift. “You have to see for yourself, sir. I’ll watch the periscope for you.”

Accepting the tablet, Jazani glared at an impossibility. It was a submarine, but its framed dimensions suggested that his tiny Ghadir ship dwarfed it. The torpedo tubes, external and below the intruder’s belly, placed the vessel under fifteen meters in length. Then a redundant image from the second dolphin confirmed the discovery. “It can’t be.”

“But it is, sir. Unmistakable.”

“I’ll watch the periscope feed, XO. You turn us around. Maintain depth, but get us away from that abomination.” Jazani reached for his console’s handles to brace himself as the deck rolled. “Get this image to the mothership… Belay that. Get this image to the mothership and to staff headquarters with our best targeting solution.”

“What message should I include with it, sir, if any?”

“Tell them, the rumors of the Americans using undersea robots in our home waters is confirmed. Tell them, any nightmares we’ve had of such robots being armed have just come true.”

CHAPTER 1

Standing over seated shoulders, Commander Andrew Causey glared at the lines forming on a sound display. “Five blades?”

Beside him, his sonar supervisor pressed a single muff against his ear, listened to sounds from the sea, and nodded. “RPMs correlate to a speed of three knots.”

“You got anything I can use for range? Wave front curvature? Hole-in-ocean from background noise? Triangulation with the bow or conformal arrays?”

The short man with dark eyes and a tight, brown, regulation mustache shook his head. “We’ve only got it on the towed array, sir. If you want to try for a range, a broadside turn would help.”

Causey contemplated the request but denied it in favor of letting his submarine’s velocity alter the position relative to the target over time. If he remained patient, his vessel would handle the geometric dance in silence. “I’ll drive true bearing to resolve the range.”

“Got it, sir.” The short supervisor brushed his commander’s stomach while tapping one of his technicians on the shoulder. “Sorry, captain.”

Consistent with his intense and quiet demeanor, Causey remained silent about being bumped. Tight confines required the sacrifice of personal space, and he considered pleasantries and other trivial words wasteful.

After chatting with his sailor, the supervisor reestablished himself next to his commander. “The target’s drifting down the array, sir. Do you want to turn to resolve ambiguity?”

Drawing a plot in his mind, Causey envisioned two imaginary lines from the cable of hydrophones trailing his vessel, the Indiana. Since his towed array sonar system lacked a backstop like the other hydrophones attached to his boat, he had to guess if the sound came from the left or right.

“Sir? Do you want—”

“I heard you. I’m deciding.” The Indiana’s commander considered investing the time of turning to resolve the question, but he had other evidence. Heading sensors spaced along the wire defined the towed array’s deviation from a perfect line, and measurements of phase differences of the frequencies hitting the hydrophones gave clues about the left-right conundrum. The answer on the screens below him agreed with his expectations of the target’s location. “No. I believe the target’s to the northwest.”

“To the northwest, aye, sir.” The supervisor huddled over four sailors to tighten their attention in their commander’s decreed direction.

The Indiana’s commander stepped away from the sonar technicians, creating space for his executive officer to approach the men responsible for listening to the water. As the man stepped in front of him, Causey examined him and considered his qualifications.

With an average build and a softness of physique, the executive officer stank of mediocrity. He’d graduated in the middle of his class in every institution ranging from the United States Naval Academy, Naval Nuclear Power School, and his Prospective Executive Officer Course. Competent, but risk-averse, he lacked a spark, and his speech came with a taciturn reluctance. “By procedure, we should turn to verify the ambiguity, sir.”

Causey choked back chastising thoughts about ...

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