dirk pitt 1 pacific vortex

Dirk Pitt 1 - Pacific Vortex
Dirk Pitt 1 - Pacific Vortex

Dirk Pitt 1 - Pacific Vortex

Every ocean takes its toll of men and ships, yet none devours them with the voracious appetite of the Pacific. The mutiny on the Bounty took place in the Pacific, the mutineers burning the ship at Pitcairn Island. The Essex, the only known ship to be sunk by a whale (the basis of Melville's Moby Dick), lies under the Pacific's waves. So does the Hai Maru, blown to bits when an underwater volcano erupted beneath her hull.

Despite all this, the world's largest ocean tends to be a tranquil place; even its name means peaceful and mild of temper.

Perhaps that is why the grim thought of disaster couldn't have been further from Commander Felix Dupree's mind as he climbed onto the bridge of the nuclear submarine Starbuck, just before nightfall. He nodded to the officer on watch and leaned over the rail to gaze at the effortless ease in which the bow of his ship pushed aside the marching swells.

Men usually respect the sea: they are even awed by its serenity. But Dupree was not like most men; he was never overcome by the spell. Twenty years at sea, fourteen of them spent in submarines, he was hungry —hungry for recognition. Dupree was captain of the world's newest and most revolutionary submarine, but it wasn't enough. He yearned for more.

The Starbuck was built in San Francisco from the keel up, as no other sub had been built before; every component, every system in her pressure hull, was computer designed. The first of a new generation of underwater ships—the beginning of a submerged city capable of cruising at one hundred twenty-five knots through the timeless depths two thousand feet beneath the sunlit surface. The Starbuck was like a thoroughbred jumper at her first horse show, chafing at the bit, ready to show her stuff.

But there was to be no audience. The Department of Underwater Warfare ordered the trials to be conducted in the strictest secrecy, in a remote area of the Pacific, and then without an escort vessel

Dupree was chosen to command the Starbuck on her maiden trial because of his outstanding reputation. The Data Bank, his classmates at Annapolis had called him: program him with facts, and then watch his mouth spit out the logical answers. Dupree's skills and talent were well-known among submariners, but personality, influence, and a flair for public relations were the necessary ingredients for advancement in the Navy. Since Dupree possessed none of these traits, he had recently been passed over for promotion.

A buzzer sounded; the officer on watch, a tall raven-haired lieutenant, picked up the bridge phone. Unseen by the voice on the other end, he nodded twice and hung up.

“Control room,” he said briefly. “Echo sounder reports the seafloor has risen fifteen hundred feet in the last five miles.”

Dupree turned slowly, thoughtfully.

 “Probably a small range of submarine mountains. We still have a mile of water beneath our keel.” He grinned and added, “No worry about running aground.”

The lieutenant grinned back. “Nothing like a few feet for insurance.”

The lines around Dupree's eyes wrinkled with a smile as he slowly turned back to the sea. He lifted a pair of binoculars which hung loosely around his neck and peered intently at the horizon. It was a gesture bom from many thousands of lonely hours spent searching the oceans of the world for other ships. It was also a useless gesture; the sophisticated radar systems on board the Starbuck could detect an object long before the naked eye could. Dupree knew that, but there was something about studying the sea that cleansed a man's soul.

Finally he sighed and lowered the binoculars. I'm going below for supper. Secure the bridge for diving at 2100."

Dupree lowered himself through the three levels of the conning tower—or sail, as the modem Navy called it—and dropped into the control room. The Executive Officer and another man, the navigator, were bent over the plotting table, studying a line of depth markings. The Executive Officer looked up at Dupree.

“Sir, we seem to have some strange readings here.”

“Nothing like a mystery to end the day,” Dupree replied good-naturedly.

He moved between the two men and stared down at a sheet of finely printed chart paper illuminated by a soft light from the frosted glass tabletop. A series of short dark lines crisscrossed the chart, edged with carelessly written notations and mathematical formulas.

“What have you got?” Dupree asked.

The navigator began slowly. “The bottom is raising at an astonishing rate. It it doesn't peak out in the next twenty-five miles, we're going to find ourselves rubbing noses with an island, or islands, that aren't supposed to exist.”

“What's our position?”

“We're here, sir,” the navigator answered, tapping his pencil at a point on the chart. “Six hundred seventy miles north of Kahuku Point, Oahu, bearing zero-zero-seven degrees.”

Dupree swung to a control panel and switched on a microphone. “Radar, this is the captain. Do you have anything?”

“No, sir,” a voice replied mechanically through the speaker. “The scope is clear... wait... correction, Captain. I have a vague reading on the horizon at twenty-three miles, dead ahead.”

“An object?”

“No, sir. More like a low cloud. Or maybe a trail of smoke; I can't quite make it out.”

“Okay, report when you confirm its identity.” Dupree hung up the microphone and faced the men at the plot table. “Well, gentlemen, how do you read it?”

The Executive Officer shook his head. “Where there's smoke, there's fire. And where there's fire, something's got to be burning. An oil slick, possibly?”

“An oil slick from what?” Dupree asked impatiently. “We're nowhere near the northern shipping lanes. The San Francisco to Honolulu to Orient traffic is four hundred miles south. This is one of the deadest spots in die ocean; that's why the Navy picked it for the Starbuck's initial tests. No prying eyes.” He shook his head. “A burning oil slick doesn't fit. A new volcano rising from the Pacific floor would be a closer guess. And that's all it would be—a guess.”

The navigator pinpointed the radar's fix and drew a circle on the chart. “A low cloud on or near the surface,” he thought out loud. “Highly unlikely. Atmospheric conditions are all wrong for such an occurrence.”

The speaker clicked on. “Captain, this is radar.”

“This is the captain,” Dupree answered.

“I've identified it, sir.” The voice seemed to hesitate before it went on. “The contact reads as a heavy bank of fog, approximately three miles in diameter.”

“Are you positive? ”

“Stake my rating on it.”

Dupree touched a switch on the microphone and rang the bridge. “Lieutenant, we have a radar sighting ahead. Let me know the minute you see anything.” He rang off and turned to the Executive Officer. “What's the depth now?”

“Still coming up fast. Twenty-eight hundred feet and climbing.”

The navigator pulled a cotton handkerchief from bis hip pocket and dabbed it to his neck. “Beats the hell out of me. The only rise I've heard of that comes close to this one is the Peru-Chili Trench. Beginning at twenty-five thousand feet beneath the surface of the sea, it climbs at a rate of one vertical mile for every one horizontal mile. Until now, it was considered the world's most spectacular underwater slope.”

“Yeah,” the Executive Officer grunted. “Won't marine geologists have a ball with this little discovery?”

“Eighteen-hundred fifty feet,” the voice from the echo sounder droned unemotionally.

“My God!” the navigator gasped. “Up a thousand feet in less than half a mile. It just isn't possible.”

Dupree moved over to the port side of the control room and placed his nose within a few indies of the glass encasing the echo sounder. According to the digital display, the sea bottom was depicted as a long zigzagged black line climbing steeply toward the red danger mark at the top of the scale. Dupree placed a hand on the shoulder of the sonar operator.

“Any possibility of a foul-up in calibration?”

The sonar operator flipped a switch and stared at an adjoining window. “No, sir. I get the same set of readings from the independent backup system.”

Dupree watched this upward trail for a few moments. Then he stepped back to the plot table and looked at the pencil marks showing his ship's position in relation to the rising seafloor.

“Bridge speaking,” a robotlike voice came through. “We've got it.” There was some hesitation. “If I didn't know better, I'd say our contact was a scaled-down version of a good old New England fog bank.”

Dupree clicked the microphone. “Understood.” He continued gazing at the chart, his face unreadable, his eyes thoughtful.

“Shall we send a signal to Pearl Harbor, sir?” the navigator asked. “They could send a recon plane to investigate.”

Dupree didn't answer immediately. One hand idly drummed the edge of the table, the other hung loosely at his side. Dupree rarely, if ever, made snap decisions. His every move went by the book.

Many of the Starbuck's crew had served under Dupree on prior assignments, and although they didn't exactly offer him their blind devotion, they did respect and admire his ability and judgment. They trusted him to a man, confident that he would never make a critical mistake that would endanger their lives. Any other time they might have been right. But this time they were all terribly wrong.

“Lefs check it out,” Dupree said quietly.

The Executive Officer and the navigator exchanged speculative glances. Orders were to test the Starbuck —not chase after ghostly fog banks on the horizon.

No one ever knew why Commander Dupree suddenly stepped out of character and deviated from orders. Perhaps the lure of the unknown was too strong. Perhaps he saw a fleeting vision of himself as a discoverer, sailing toward the glory that had always been denied him. Whatever the reason, it was lost as the Starbuck, like an unleashed bloodhound with a hot scent flowing through her nostrils, swung on her new course and surged through the swells.

The Starbuck was expected to dock in Pearl Harbor on the following Monday. When she failed to show, and an exhaustive air and sea search failed to find a single trace of oil or wreckage, the Navy had no choice but to admit the loss of its newest submarine and one hundred sixty men. It was officially announced to a stunned nation that the Starbuck was lost somewhere in the vast emptiness of the North Pacific. Shrouded in a silent mystery she vanished with all hands. Time, place, and cause unknown.

Among the crowded beaches in the state of Hawaii, it is still possible to discover a stretch of sand that offers a degree of solitude. Kaena Point, jutting out into the Kauai Channel like a boxer's left jab, is one of the few unadvertised spots where one can relax and enjoy an empty shore. It is a beautiful beach, but it is also deceptive. Too often its shores are whipped by rip currents extremely dangerous to all but the most wary swimmers. Each year, as if predestined by a morbid schedule, an unidentified bather, intrigued by the lonely sandy strand and the gentle surf, enters the water and within minutes is swept out to sea.

On this beach a six-foot-three-inch deeply suntanned man, clad in brief white bathing trunks, lay stretched on a bamboo beach mat. The hairy, barrel chest that rose slightly with each intake of air, bore specks of sweat that rolled downward in snaillike trails and mingled with the sand. The arm that passed over the eyes shielding them from the strong rays of the tropical sun, was muscular but without the exaggerated bulges generally associated with iron pumpers. The hair was black and thick and shaggy, and it fell halfway down a forehead that merged into a hard-featured but friendly face.

Dirk Pitt stirred from a semisleep and, raising himself up on his elbows, stared from deep green glistening eyes at the sea. Pitt was not a casual sun worshipper; to him, the beach was a living, moving thing, changing shape and personality under the constant onslaught of the wind and waves. He studied the swells as they rolled in from their storm-rocked birthplace thousands of miles at sea, rising and increasing their velocity when their troughs felt the shallow bottom. Changing from swell to breaker, they rose higher and higher—eight feet, Pitt judged—from trough to crest before they toppled and broke, pounding themselves into a thundering mass of foam and spray. Then they died in small, swirling eddies at the tideline.

Suddenly Pitt's eyes were attracted by a flash of color beyond the breakers, about three hundred feet from the shoreline. It was gone in an instant, lost behind a wave crest. Pitt kept gazing with intent curiosity at the spot where the color was last visible. After the next wave rose and crested, he could see it again gleaming in the sun. The shape was undis-tinguishable at that distance, but there was no mistaking the bright fluorescent yellow glint

The smart move, Pitt deduced, would be to simply lay there and let the force of the surf bring the unknown object to him; but he pushed sound judgment from his mind, rolled to his feet, and walked slowly into the surf. When the water rose above his knees, he arched his body and dove under an approaching breaker, timing it so that he only felt the surge crash over his kicking feet The water felt as heated as a tepid hotel room bath; the temperature was somewhere between seventy-five and seventy-eight degrees. As soon as his head cleared the surface, he began to stroke through the swirling foam, swimming easily, allowing the force of the current to carry him into deeper water.

After several minutes, he stopped and treaded water, searching for a hint of yellow. He spotted it twenty yards to his left He kept his eyes keyed on the strange piece of flotsam as he narrowed the gap, only losing sight of it momentarily when it dropped in the advancing troughs. Sensing that the current was pulling him too far to his right, he compensated his angle and slowly increased his strokes to avoid the dangerous threat of exhaustion.

Then he reached out and his fingers touched a slick, cylindrical surface about two feet long, and eight inches wide, and weighing less than six pounds. Encasing the object was a yellow waterproof plastic material with U.S. NAVY printed in block letters on both ends. Pitt locked his arms around it, relaxed his body, and surveyed his now precarious position some distance beyond the surf.

He scanned the beach, searching for someone who might have seen him enter the water, but the sand was empty for miles in either direction. Pitt didn't bother to examine the steep cliffs behind the shore; it was hopeless to expect anyone to be scaling the rocky slopes in the middle of the week.

He wondered why he took such a stupid and foolhardy risk. The mysterious yellow flotsam had given him an excuse to dare the odds, and once started, it never occurred to him to turn back Now the merciless sea held him securely.

For a brief moment he considered trying to swim in a. straight line back to shore. But only for a brief moment Mark Spitz might have made it, but Pitt felt certain he'd never have won all those gold medals at the Olympics while smoking a pack of cigarettes a day and consuming several shots of Cutty Sark Scotch every evening. Pitt decided to concentrate instead on beating Mother Nature at her own game.

Pitt was an old hand at rip currents and undertows; he had bodysurfed for years and knew their every trick. A man could be swept out to sea from one section of the shore, while a hundred yards away children cavorted in the diminishing waves without noticing the slightest tug from the current The unrelenting force of a rip current occurs when the longshore flow returns to the sea through narrow, stormgrooved valleys in offshore sandbars. Here the incoming surf changes direction and heads away from land, often as rapidly as four miles an hour. Now the current had nearly expended itself, and Pitt was certain he had but to swim parallel to the shoreline until he was out of the sandbars, and then head in at a different point along the beach.

The menace of sharks was his only worry. The sea's murder machines didn't always signal their presence with a water-slicing fin. They could easily attack from beneath with no warning, and without a face mask Pitt would never know when the slashing bite was coming, or from what direction. He could only hope to reach the safety of the surf before he was placed on the menu for lunch. Sharks, he knew, seldom ventured close to shore because the swirling turbulence of heavy wave action forced sand through their gills; this discouraged all but the hungriest from a handy meal.

There was no thought of conserving his energy now; he struggled through the water as if every man-eater in the Pacific Ocean was on his tail. It took nearly fifteen minutes of vigorous swimming before the first wave nudged him toward the beach. Nine more breakers marched by; the tenth caught the buoyancy of the cylinder and held it, carrying Pitt to within twelve feet of the tideline. The instant his knees touched sand again, he rose drunkenly like an exhausted shipwrecked sailor and staggered out of the water, dragging his prize behind him. Then he dropped thankfully onto the sun-warmed sand.

Wearily, Pitt turned his attention to the cylinder. Underneath the plastic covering was an unusual aluminum canister. The sides were ribbed with several small rods that resembled miniature railroad tracks. One end held a screw cap, so Pitt began twisting, intrigued by the great number of revolutions, before it finally dropped off in his hand. Inside was a tight roll of several papers, nothing else. He gently eased them into the daylight and began studying the handwritten manuscript exactingly penned among titled columns and lines.

As he read over the pages, an ice-chill hand touched his skin, and in spite of the ninety-degree heat, goose-flesh broke out over his body. More than once he tried to draw his eyes away from the pages, but was stunned by the enormity of what he held in his hands.

Pitt sat and gazed vacantly out over the ocean for a full ten minutes after he read the last sentence in the document. It ended with a name: ADMIRAL LEIGH HUNTER. Then, very slowly, Pitt gently inserted the papers back in the cylinder, screwed on the cap, and carefully rewrapped the yellow cover.

An eerie, unearthly blanket of silence had fallen over Kaena Point. As the breakers rolled in, their roar somehow seemed muted. He stood and brushed off the sand from his wet body, packed the cylinder under his arm, and began jogging up the beach. When he reached his mat, he quickly wound it around the object in his hands. Then he hurried up the pathway leading to the road alongside the beach.

The bright red AC Ford Cobra sat forlornly on the road. Pitt wasted no time. He threw his cargo on the passenger's seat and moved rapidly behind the steering wheel, his hand, fumbling with the ignition key.

He swung onto Highway 99, passing through Waialua and heading up the long grade that ran next to the picturesque and usually dry, Kaukomahua Stream. After the Schofield Barracks Military Reservation disappeared behind the rearview mirror, Pitt took the turnoff below Wahiawa and headed at high speed toward Pearl City, completely ignoring the threat of a wandering state highway patrolman.

The Koolau Range rose on his left, with their peaks buried underneath perpetual dark rolling rainclouds. Alongside of them the neat, green pineapple fields spread in vivid contrast against the rich, red volcanic soil. Pitt met a sudden rainstorm and automatically turned on the wipers.

At last the main gate at Pearl Harbor came into view. Pitt slowed the car as a uniformed guard came out of the office. Pitt pulled out his driver's license and his identification papers from his wallet, and signed in the visitors' logbook. The young marine simply saluted and waved Pitt through.

Pitt then asked the guard for directions to Admiral Hunter's headquarters. The marine pulled a pad and pencil from his breast pocket and politely drew a map which he handed to Pitt. He saluted once more.

Pitt pulled up and stopped in front of an inconspicuous concrete building near the dock area. He would have passed it but for a small, neatly stenciled sign that read: HEADQUARTERS, 101st SALVAGE FLEET.

He turned off the ignition, picked up the damp package, and left the car. Passing through the entrance, Pitt mentally wished he'd had the foresight to carry a sport shirt and a pair of slacks with him to the beach. He stepped to a desk where a seaman in the Navy summer white uniform mechanically punched a typewriter. A sign on the desk read:

 SEAMAN G. YAGER.

“Excuse me,” Pitt murmured self-consciously, Td like to see Admiral Hunter."

The typist looked up casually, then his eyes almost burst from their sockets.

“My God, buddy, are you off your gourd? What are you trying to pull, coming here wearing nothing but a bathing suit? If the old man catches you, you're dead. Now beat it quick or you'll wind up in the brig.”

“I know I'm not dressed for an afternoon social,” Pitt spoke quietly and pleasantly, “but it's damned urgent that I see the admiral.”

The seaman rose from the desk, his face turning red. “Stop clowning around,” he said loudly. “Either you go back to your quarters and sleep it off, or 1'll call the Shore Patrol.”

“Then call them!” Pitt's voice was suddenly sharp.

“Look, buddy,” the seaman's tone became one of controlled irritation. “Do yourself a favor. Go back to your ship and make a formal request to see the admiral through the chain of command.”

“That won't be necessary, Yager.” The voice behind them carried the finesse of a bulldozer scraping a cement highway.

Pitt turned and found himself locking eyes with a tall wizened man standing stiffly within an inner office doorway. He was dressed in white from collar to shoes and trimmed in gold braid beginning at the arms and working up to the rank boards on the shoulders. The hair was bushy and white, very nearly matching the tired cadaverous face beneath. Only the eyes seemed alive, and they glared curiously at the canister in Pitt's hand.

“I'm Admiral Hunter, and I'll give you just five minutes, big boy, so you better make it worth my while. And bring that object with you,” he said, pointing to the canister.

“Yes sir,” was all Pitt could reply.

Hunter had already spun and was striding into his office. Pitt followed and if he wasn't embarrassed before he stepped into the admiral's office, there was no doubt of his discomfort now that he was inside. There were three other naval officers besides Hunter seated around an ancient, immaculately polished conference table. Their faces registered astonishment at the sight of Pitt standing half naked with the strange-looking package under one arm.

Hunter routinely made the introductions, but Pitt wasn't fooled by the phony courtesy; the admiral was trying to frighten him with rank while studying Pitt's eyes for a reaction. Pitt learned that the tall, blond lieutenant commander with the John Kennedy face was Paul Boland, the 101st Fleet's Executive Officer. The heavyset captain who was perspiring profusely, possessed the odd name of Orl Cinana, the officer in command of Hunter's small fleet of salvage ships. The short, almost gnomelike creature, who hurried over and pumped Pitt's hand, introduced himself as Commander Burdette Denver, aide to the admiral. He stared at Pitt, as if trying to remember his face.

“Okay, big boy.” That term again. Pitt would have given a month's pay to ram his knuckles against Hunter's teeth. Hunter's voice oozed with sarcasm. “Now if you will be so kind as to tell us who you are and what this interruption is all about, we will all be eternally grateful.”

“You're pretty rude for someone anxious to know why I'm carrying this canister,” Pitt answered, settling his long body comfortably in a vacant chair, waiting for a reaction.

Cinana glared across the table, his face twisted in a clouded mask of malevolence. “You scum! How dare you come in here and insult an officer!”

“The man's insane,” snapped Boland. He leaned toward Pitt, his expression cold and taut. He added, “You stupid bastard; do you know who you're talking to?”

“Since we've all been introduced,” Pitt said casually, “the answer is a qualified yes”

Cinana's sweaty fist slammed to the table. “The Shore Patrol, by God. I'll have Yager call the Shore Patrol and throw him in the brig.”

Hunter struck a light to a long cigarette, flipped the match at an ashtray, missing it by six inches, and stared at Pitt thoughtfully. “You leave me no choice, big boy.” He turned to Boland. “Commander, ask Seaman Yager to call the Shore Patrol.”

“I wouldn't, Admiral” Denver rose from his chair, recognition flooding his face. “This man some of you have referred to as filth and a bastard and wish to cast into chains, is indeed Dirk Pitt, who happens to be the Special Projects Director of the National Underwater and Marine Agency, and whose father happens to be Senator George Pitt of California, Chairman of the Naval Appropriations Committee.”

Cinana uttered something short and unprintable.

Boland was the first to recover. “Are you certain?”

“Yes, Paul, quite certain.” He moved around the table and faced Pitt. “I saw him several years ago, with his father, at a NUMA conference. He's also a friend of my cousin, who's also in NUMA. Commander Rudi Gunn.”

Pitt grinned happily. “Of course. Rudi and I have worked on several projects together. I can see the resemblance now. The only noticeable difference is that Rudi peers through horned-rimmed glasses.”

“Used to call him Beaver Eyes,” Denver laughed, “when we were kids.”

“Ill throw that at him next time I see him,” Pitt said, smiling.

“I hope you... you won't take offense to... to what we said,” stuttered Boland.

Pitt tossed Boland his best cynical stare and simply said: “No.”

Hunter and Cinana exchanged looks that Pitt had no difficulty in deciphering. If they tried to ignore their uneasiness at having the son of a United States senator sitting in their midst, they failed badly at concealing it, “Okay, Mr. Pitt, it's your quarter. We assume you're here because of the canister. Would you explain how you got it?”

“ I'm only an errand boy,” Pitt said quietly. “I discovered this while sunbathing on the beach this afternoon. It belongs to you.”

“Well well,” Hunter said heavily. Tm honored. Why me?"

Pitt looked at the three men speculatively, and set the cylinder, still covered with the bamboo beach mat, on the table. “Inside, youTl find some papers. One has your name on it.”

There wasn't a flicker of curiosity in Hunter's expression.

“Where did you find this thing?”

“Near the tip of Kaena Point.”

Denver hunched forward. “Washed up on the beach?”

Pitt shook his head. “No, I swam out beyond the breakers and towed it in.”

Denver looked puzzled. “You swam beyond the breakers at Kaena Point? I didn't think it possible.”

Hunter gave Pitt a very thoughtful look indeed, but he passed it off. “May we see what you have there?”

Pitt nodded silently and unwrapped the cylinder, paying scant notice to the damp sand that spilled on the conference table. Then he passed it to Hunter.

“This yellow plastic cover was what caught my eye.”

Hunter took the cylinder in his hands and held it up for the other men to examine. “Recognize it, gentlemen?”

The others nodded.

“You've never served on a submarine, Mr. Pitt, or you'd know what a communications capsule looks like.” Hunter set the package down and touched it lightly. “When a submarine wishes to remain underwater and communicate with a surface ship following in her wake, a message is inserted in this aluminum capsule.” As he spoke he gently pulled away the yellow pfastic. ''The capsule, with a reef dye marker attached, is then ejected through the submarine's hull by means of a pneumatic tube. When the capsule reaches the surface, the dye is released, staining several thousand square feet of water, making it visible to the chase ship."

“ The fine threads on the cap,” Pitt said slowly, “they were machined to prevent leakage under extreme pressure.”

Hunter gazed at Pitt expectantly. “You read the contents?”

Pit nodded. “Yes, sir.”

Neither Boland, Cinana, nor Denver comprehended, or even saw, the sickness, the despair, in Hunter's eyes.

"Would you mind describing what you saw?* Hunter asked, knowing with dread certainty what the answer would be.

Several seconds passed as Pitt silently wished to hell he had never seen that damned capsule, but there was no avenue of escape. One last sentence and he would be rid of the whole discomforting scene. He took a deep breath and spoke slowly.

“Inside you will find a note addressed to you, Admiral. You will also find twenty-six pages torn from the logbook of the nuclear submarine Starbuck.”

The following is a summary of Commander Dupree's comments, narrated by Admiral Hunter:

There is no explaining the hell of the last five days. I alone am responsible for the change in course that brought my ship and crew to what surely must seem a strange and unholy end. Beyond that, I can only describe as best I can, the circumstances of the disaster—my mind is not functioning as it should.

The fact that Dupree was not in full command of his mental faculties is an astonishing confession from a man whose reputation was built upon a computerlike mind.

At 2040 hours, June 14, we entered the fog bank. Shortly thereafter, with the seabed only ten fathoms beneath our keel, an explosion ripped the ship's bow, and a roaring torrent of water burst into the forward torpedo compartment, flooding it almost instantly.

The commander did not reveal, if indeed he knew, whether the explosion came from inside or outside the Starbuck's hull.

Of the full crew, twenty-six had the good fortune to die within seconds. The three still on the bridge, Lieutenant Carter, Seaman Farris, and Metford, we hoped had gotten clear before the ship settled beneath the surface. Tragic events proved otherwise.

If, as Dupree indicates, the Starbuck was riding on the surface, it seems odd that Carter, Farris, and Metford could not clear the bridge and go below in less than thirty seconds. It is inconceivable that he would have secured the hatches and left the men to their fate. It is just as inconceivable that there was no time to save them—it was not a likely possibility that the Starbuck sank like a stone.

Meanwhile, we sealed off the hatches and vents. I then ordered all ballast blown and hard rise on the planes; it was too late; title tearing sounds and groans forward meant the ship had plowed into the sea bottom bow on.

It seems reasonable to assume that with all ballast tanks blown, and the bow buried in only one hundred sixty feet of water, the stern section of the Starbuck's three-hundred-twenty-foot hull might still extend above the surface. Such was not the case.

We now lie on the bottom. The deck canted eight degrees to starboard with a down angle of two degrees. Except for the forward torpedo room, all other compartments are secure and showing no signs of water. We are all dead now. I have ordered the men to resign the game. My folly killed us all.

The most fantastic mystery yet. Allowing twenty-five feet from keel to topside, the distance from the aft escape hatch to the surface was one hundred thirty-five feet; a moderate ascent for a man with a self-contained breathing apparatus, a device carried on all submarines for crew members. During World War n, eight men from the sunken submarine Tang, swam one hundred eighty feet to the surface, surviving on nothing but lung power.

The last few sentences are all the more bewildering. What precipitated Dupree's madness? Was he overwhelmed by the stress of the whole nightmarish situation? He further retreated from reality.

Food gone, air only good for a few hours at best. Drinking water gone after the third day.

Impossible! With the nuclear reactor operable—and there's no reason to believe it wasn't—the crew could survive for months. The freshwater distillation units could easily provide a more than ample supply of drinking water, and with a few precautionary measures, the life support system which purified the sub's atmosphere and produced oxygen, would have sustained sixty-three men comfortably until it ceased to function, an unlikely event. Only the food presented a long-range problem. Yet, since the Starbuck was outward bound the food stock should have been enough, if rationed, to last ninety days. Everything hinged on the reactor. If it died, the men died.

My way is clear, I feel strangely at peace. I ordered the ship's doctor to give the men injections to halt their suffering. I will, of course, be the last to go.

My Godl Is it possible Dupree could actually order the mass murder of his surviving crew?

They've come again. Carter is tapping on the hull. Mother of Christl Why does his ghost torture us so?

Dupree had fallen over the edge and entered the realm of total madness. How can it be after only five days?

We can hold them but a few hours more. They have nearly broken through the hatch in the aft escape compartment. No good, no good... [illegible]. They mean to kill us, but we will outwit them in the end. No satisfaction, no victory. We shall all be dead.

Who in the hell does he mean by “they?” Is it possible another vessel, perhaps a Russian spy trawler, was trying to rescue the crew?

It is dark on the surface now, and they have stopped work. I will send this message and the last pages of the log to the surface in the communications capsule. Good chance they'll miss it at night Our position is [the first figures are crossed out] 32°43'15“N— 161°18'22”W.

The position doesn't figure. It's over five hundred miles from the Starbuck's last reported position. Not nearly enough time between the last radio contact and Dupree's final position for the Starbuck to travel the required distance, even at flank speed.

Do not search for us; it can only end in vain. They cannot allow a trace to be found. The shameful trick they used. If I had but known, we might well be alive to touch the sun. Please see this message is delivered to Admiral Leigh Hunter, Pearl Harbor.

The final enigma. Why me? To my knowledge, I have never met Commander Dupree. Why did he single out me as the recipient of the Starbuck's last testament?

Pitt hunched over the bar of the old Royal Hawaiian Hotel, staring vacantly at his drink, as his mind wandered over the events of the day. They flickered past his unblinking eyes and dissolved into a haze. One scene refused to fade away: the memory of Admiral Hunter's pallid face as he read the contents of the capsule—the terrible senselessness of the Star-bucks tragic fate, and the bewildering, paranoiac words of Commander Dupree.

After Hunter had finished, he slowly looked up and nodded at Pitt Pitt shook the admiral's leathery outstretched hand in silence, mumbled his good-bye to the other officers, and, as if in an hypnotic state, slowly walked from the room. He could not remember driving through the twisting traffic flow of Nimitz Highway. He could not remember entering his hotel room, showering and dressing, and leaving in search of some opaque, unknown objective. Even now, as he slowly swirled the Scotch within the glass, his ears heard nothing of the babble of tongues around him in the cocktail lounge.

There was something strangely sinister about his discovery of the Starbuck's final message, he idly reflected. There was a wary, retrospective thought that fought desperately to surface from the inner recesses of his brain. But it faded and fell back into the nothingness from which it came.

Out of the corner of his eye Pitt caught a man further down the bar holding up a glass in his direction, gesturing the offer of a free drink. It was Captain Orl Cinana. Like Pitt, he was dressed casually in slacks and a flowered Hawaiian aloha shirt Cinana came over and leaned on the bar beside him. He was still sweating and dabbed at his forehead and wiped his palms almost constantly with a handkerchief he carried.

“May I do the honors?” Cinana said with a smile that smacked of insincerity.

Pitt held up a full glass. “Thanks, but I haven't made a dent in the one I've got.”

Pitt had taken little notice of Cinana earlier at Pearl Harbor, but now he was mildly surprised to see something he'd missed. Except for the fact that Cinana outweighed Pitt by a paunchy fifteen pounds, they could have passed for cousins.

Cinana swirled the ice around in his Rum Collins, nervously avoiding Pitt's expressionless gaze.

“ I d like to apologize again for that little misunderstanding this afternoon.”

“Forget it, Captain. I wasn't exactly a paragon of courtesy myself.”

“A nasty business, the Starbuck's loss” Cinana took a swallow from his glass.

“Most mysteries have a way of eventually getting solved. The Thresher, the Bluefin, the Scorpion—the Navy never gave up until everyone was found.”

“We're not repeating the act this time,” Cinana said grimly. “This is one well never find.”

“Never say never.”

“The three tragedies you mentioned, Major occurred in the Atlantic. The Starbuck had the fatal misfortune of vanishing in the Pacific.” He paused to wipe his neck. “We have a saying in the Navy about ships lost out here.”

Those who lie deep in the Atlantic Sea Are recalled by shrines, wreaths, and poetry, But those who lie in the Pacific Sea Lie forgotten for all eternity.

“But you have the position from Dupree's message,” Pitt said. “With luck, your sonar should detect her within a week's sweep of the area.”

“The sea doesn't give up its secrets easily, Major.” Cinana set his empty glass on the bar. “Well, I must be going. I was supposed to meet someone, but apparently she stood me up.”

Pitt shook Cinana's outstretched hand and grinned. “I know the feeling.”

“Good-bye, and good luck.”

“Same to you, Captain.”

Cinana turned and sidestepped through the crowd to the hotel lobby entrance and became lost in the mining sea of heads.

Pitt still hadn't touched his drink. After Cinana's departure, he sensed a maddening loneliness, despite the surrounding din of voices in the crowded room. Pitt had the urge to get very drunk. He wanted to forget the name Starbuck and concentrate on more important matters, such as picking up a vacationing secretary who had left all her sexual inhibitions back in Omaha, Nebraska. He downed his drink and ordered another.

He was just about ready to try out his soft-tongued affability when he became aware of the touch of two

soft, feminine breasts pressing into his back, and a pair of slender white hands encircling his waist. He unhurriedly turned and found his eyes confronted by the impish face of Adrian Hunter.

“Hello, Dirk,” she murmured in a husky voice. “Need a drinking partner?”

“I might What's in it for me?”

She tightened her hands around his waist. “We could go to my place, tune in the late, late movie, and take notes.”

“Can't. Mother wants me home early.”

“Oh come now, lover, you wouldn't deny an old friend an evening of scandalous behavior, would you?”

“That what old friends are for?” he said sarcastically. Her hands had moved downward and he pulled them away. “You should find yourself a new hobby. At the rate you indulge your fantasies, I'm surprised you haven't been sold for scrap by now.”

“That's an interesting thought,” she smiled at him. “I could always use the money. I wonder what I'd bring.”

“Probably the price of a well-used Edsel.”

She thrust out her chest and faked a pout. “You only hurt the one you love, so I'm told.”

Considering the exhaustive pace of her nightlife, Pitt thought she was still a damn good-looking woman. He remembered the soft feel of her body when he last made love to her. He also remembered that no matter how relentless his attack, nor how expert his technique he could never satisfy her.

“Not to change the subject of our stimulating conversation,” he said, “but I met your father for the first time today.”

He waited for a hint of surprise. There was none.

She seemed quite unconcerned. “Really? What did old Lord Nelson have to talk about?”

“For one thing, he didn't care for the way I was dressed.”

“Don't feel badly. He doesn't care for the way I dress either.”

He took a sip from his Scotch and gazed at her over the top of the glass. “In your case, I can't blame him. No man likes to see his daughter come off like a back alley hooker.”

She ignored his last remark; that her father had come face-to-face with but one of her many lovers, didn't interest her at all. She wiggled onto the next bar stool and gazed at him with a seductive look burning in her eyes, the effect heightened by the long black hair winding around one shoulder. Her skin glowed like polished bronze under the dim lights of the cocktail lounge.

She whispered, “How about that drink?”

Pitt nodded at the bartender. “A Brandy Alexander for the... ah, lady.”

She scowled a little and then smiled. “Don't you know that being referred to as a lady is very old-fashioned?”

“An old carry-over. All men want a girl, just like the girl, that married dear old Dad.”

“Mom was a drag,” she said, her voice elaborately casual.

“How about Dad?”

“Dad was a will-o'-the-wisp. He was never home, always chasing after some smelly old derelict barge or a forgotten shipwreck. He loved the ocean more than he loved his own family. The night I was born, he was rescuing the crew of a sinking oil tanker in the mid-Pacific. When I graduated from high school, he was at sea searching for a missing aircraft. And when Mother died, our dear admiral was charting icebergs off Greenland with some long-haired freaks from the Eaton School of Oceanography.” Her eyes shifted just enough to let Pitt know he was onto her sore spot. “So don't bother shedding tears over this father-daughter relationship. The admiral and I tolerate each other purely out of social convenience.”

Pitt stared down at her. “You're all grown up now; why don't you leave home?”

The bartender brought her drink and she sipped it. “What better deal can a girl find? I'm continually surrounded by handsome males in uniform. Look at the odds; thousands of men and no competition. Why should I leave the old homestead and scrounge for leftovers? No, the admiral needs the image of a family man, and I need old Dad for the fringe benefits that come with being an admiral's daughter.” Then she looked at him, faking a shy and bashful expression. “My apartment? Shall we?”

“You'll have to take a raincheck, Miss Hunter,” said a delicate voice behind them. “The captain is waiting for me.”

Adrian and Pitt both turned in unison. There stood the most exotic-looking woman Pitt had ever seen. She possessed eyes so gray, they defied reality, and her hair fell in an enchanting cascade of red, presenting a vibrant contrast against the green, Oriental sheath dress that adhered to her curvaceous body.