John R. Monteith
Dmitry Volkov straightened his back beside the navigation table and questioned the definition of victory.
For the moment, survival sufficed.
“Any chance our weapon will hit?” he asked in Russian.
“Impossible,” the sonar operator said. “The Israeli torpedo has a better chance of hitting us than vice versa.”
“Very well,” Volkov said. “Our shot was reactive garbage, but I doubt the Israeli shot was much better aimed.”
“Not much. You’re on the proper course to evade, and eight knots is adequate to make it pass safely behind us.”
Volkov’s heart rate slowed.
“You’ve turned off our phantom noise?” he asked.
“Of course. I did so the moment I heard the hostile weapon.”
Volkov had hesitated to play the recorded propulsion sounds of an Egyptian
After transiting the Suez Canal, leaving Port Said, and crossing Egypt’s twelve-mile boundary into international waters, he’d transformed his ship, the
Now that one had shot a torpedo at him, he considered a significant tactical goal achieved by making the Israeli Navy suspicious that its southern neighbors were sending submarines to challenge their superiority off the coasts of the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula.
“Good,” Volkov said. “I’m glad that step is behind us and that accursed signal generator is off.”
“I understand, but I think that piping out an abnormally loud signal strength may have had an unexpected benefit. It convinced the Israelis that we were closer than we really were. That threw off their targeting.”
“Perhaps. Or perhaps their torpedo attack was designed to be no more than a warning to their neighbors to remember who possesses the stronger undersea fleet.”
The sonar operator showed increased interest in the conversation as he turned his head towards Volkov and lowered an earmuff to his jaw to better hear his commander.
“That’s an interesting theory, but we may never know.”
“I’m sure we’ll never know” Volkov said. “And, thankfully, I’ll also never have to broadcast my position to a hostile submarine again. That was disquieting.”
“There was never any real danger in that shot. You’d think we’d all be used to running from torpedoes by now, anyway.”
“I fear you’ve lost your sense of reason, Anatoly. I hope that running from torpedoes never becomes a habit. We can tempt fate only so many times.”
“That’s not what I meant,” Anatoly said.
“What did you mean, then?”
“I mean if we have to keep running from torpedoes, nobody’s better at it than us.”
“That much I can concede,” Volkov said. “And we evaded yet another, but now we have an angry adversary.”
He recalled that Egypt had offered to delay any military escalation while diplomats sought peaceful resolutions to the Israeli prime minister’s threats of expansion.
The southwesterly presence and violent response of the
One errant hostile torpedo told him that fifty-one years had healed nothing.
Though split among dissenting factions of its military, government, and public opinion, Israel followed its prime minister’s push to reclaim lands it had won in past wars. Some feared disobeying their nation’s leader for the risk of his retribution. Others feared his warmongering for the risk of collateral damage.
Grateful to avoid becoming the first naval statistic counted in that collateral damage, Volkov represented the inception of the effort to prevent aggressive political speech from growing into unchecked military tension and the rekindling of war.
“We need to maintain eight knots for ten minutes,” Anatoly said. “I still can’t hear the Israeli submarine yet.”
“I don’t expect that you’ll hear it ten minutes from now either, when we slow.”
“No, Dmitry. It must be too far away.”
Volkov turned his thoughts towards his special weapons and glanced at the gray-bearded mechanical technician seated at the panel that controlled his ship’s propulsion, depth, and steering.
“Tell the trainer to get his dolphins ready,” he said.
The gray beard lifted a sound-powered phone to his cheek.
“He’s getting them loaded into the tube,” he said.
Volkov looked at the display on the navigation table and watched the icon of an Israeli torpedo drift behind his vessel. He realized that a lucky steering command sent up the hostile torpedo’s guidance wire could prove deadly, but he trusted fate to protect him from such misery.
While glaring downward at raw sonar data on a screen-within-screen view, he pondered his mission.
He understood why the Israeli prime minister sought expansion. Though the Sinai Peninsula presented few immediate problems to his nation, three conquered but non-annexed areas provided continual unrest.
Covering an area one-fourth that of Israel proper, the West Bank fell under a blend of Israeli governance, Palestinian governance, and mixed rule depending on the block-by-block location. Despite tensions, the strange mélange of culture and religion functioned, although the United Nations exacerbated the pressure by condemning anything the prime minister ordered that resembled permanent Israeli settlements.
The Gaza Strip, walled and blockaded while under Palestine’s Hamas rule, was worse. And the Golan Heights, which provided crucial water to Israel, offered another front that included spillover problems from the failed nation of Syria and from Lebanese Hezbollah militants.
Volkov understood why the prime minister felt compelled to push his military influence deeper into the dangerous regions surrounding his nation.
But he understood why people would resist. Backlash, desperation, violence. Diplomacy was imperfect, but it had held the disparate people in neighboring and intertwining lands together in some semblance of a functioning existence.
“It’s hard to choose a side,” he said.
“Excuse me?” the gray beard asked.
“Nothing. I was just thinking out loud.”
“About the problems in Israel?”
“Well, yes,” Volkov said. “It seems so desperate from every angle. The only thing that gives me any hope is the position of the Israeli Military Intelligence Directorate, which makes perfect sense to me and is the one we’re supporting.”
He glanced at a young man wearing the green uniform of an Israeli Army Captain, who nodded his concurrence. Some factions of the military resisted the prime minister, and the intelligence officer rode Volkov’s ship as a gesture of trust, a measure of oversite, and as a conduit to possible real-time information. He also proved useful as a backup translator.
“The situation in Israel has always been unstable,” the gray beard said. “The Six-Day War more than doubled their land, most of which they gave back, but they kept their military presence in the Golan Heights, West Bank, and Gaza Strip.”
Volkov raised an eyebrow.
“I didn’t know you were a student of history.”
“I’m not. I’m just an old man with a memory.”
“You certainly don’t remember nineteen sixty-seven.”
“No, but I remember the aftermath in the seventies, including another short war. You can’t expect peace when two peoples have deeply rooted disagreements about their worldviews and about who owns the land.”
“So should we give up and go home?” Volkov asked. “You make lasting peace sound hopeless.”
Volkov scolded his veteran.
“Don’t tell me you consider this mission folly.”
“Of course, I don’t. I’m here to stop aggressions. I also hope that my participation helps get supplies to women and children who would otherwise suffer without.”
The comment reminded Volkov of his second fringe role in as many missions with his mercenary teammates. Though working in the same sea as his comrades, he felt unsure if they accepted him as an equal.
Having assumed he’d been undergoing a rite of passage in their prior mission, he’d accepted being a distraction in distant waters. But now he wanted to fight where his skills could harmonize with those of his elite colleagues to create profound outcomes.
He stuffed the doubt inside his gut and forced himself to focus on the positive. Lifting his chin, he summoned a lively tone.
“Don’t be so negative,” he said. “You’re talking like a jaded pessimist. We might actually contribute to an enduring peace.”
“I disagree, Dmitry,” the gray beard said. “If there were a path to lasting peace in these lands, humanity would’ve found it by now. People like us can only right the wrongs within our grasp.”
“Yes, I’ll agree to righting wrongs we can change. Let’s get back to such business if that torpedo’s a concern I can consider a matter of history.”
After glancing at his display, he deemed himself safe and aimed his voice at his sonar guru.
“Does your hearing align with the solution in the system?”<...