5: Into the Blue
28 August, 0500 Hours (Greenwich Mean Time)
USS Pasadena, West Pacific Ocean
“An alarm, you say?” Captain Sailor was dubious about his ST’s report.
“Yes, sir. Bearing 1-5-8, below the thermal layer. No clear sounds of propulsion, but it’s moving... probably southeast to northwest. And quickly, at that...”
“Let’s hear it, then.” He took the man’s headset and put it to his ear. He could hear a siren blaring like a wild beast’s howl; behind it was a calm, feminine voice. It was saying something in English, but it was too soft to make it out.
“Hmm...” Captain Sailor found himself pondering. Could someone have had an accident? The noise had to be coming from some kind of submarine. He could tell that it was moving quickly, and so quietly that the siren was the only thing giving them away; there was no detectable cavitation, even to the Pasadena’s powerful sonar array. On top of that, the Pasadena was the only submarine he knew about in the area. Which meant the sound had to be coming from—
“Captain, it must be the Toy Box!” XO Takenaka said, beating him to the punch.
Sailor grimaced, hackles up. “Why do you always... No, I think I know.”
“Forget it,” Sailor grumbled. “So the damned thing’s shown its ass, at last. All ahead one-third, increase depth to 180! We’re setting a trap for the Toy Box!”
“Aye, sir. All ahead one-third! Make your depth 180!” The Pasadena rose slowly to a shallower depth in order to better hide itself behind the veil of seawater.
Main Hangar, Tuatha de Danaan
An ear-splitting alarm sounded out accompanied by AI warnings. The crew, awakened by the commotion, flooded into the main hangar en masse. There was no fear in their expressions; just confusion, and a sort of weariness. They moved briskly enough as they handed out oxygen masks and life preservers, and they’d get top marks in efficiency in the transfer of all weapons and ammunition closer to the bow for safety, but there was still a lot of grumbling and complaining all the while.
That Testarossa girl has a sick sense of humor, making us run fire drills at this hour—That was the feeling that pervaded the crew.
All crew evacuate to fore, main hangar. Repeat. There is a fire in the second engine room. This is a drill. Move to first compartment—?The announcement described a fire in the engine room at the far back end of the submarine that was producing a great deal of smoke and toxic gas, and an additional loss of reactor control that was creating dangerous neutron leakage. It was the kind of catastrophic situation that could only happen if the AI or the captain lost their minds. Preparedness was all well and good, of course, but...
It’s odd, Sousuke thought, and many of his fellow NCOs—and a handful of officers—seemed to share the sentiment. They had a crucial hostage on board, and US military ships might still be in the local waters. Who would hold a fire drill under conditions like these? Why would that brilliant girl play around with them like this?
Sousuke was running, weaving in and out among the 200 busy crew members who currently packed the main hangar. Chidori... where’s Chidori? he wondered. He couldn’t find her. He accosted various sailors to ask, but none of them had seen her. Not even Private Kasuya, the cook, could account for her whereabouts.
At last, he approached the door that would take him to the submarine’s aft. The man standing there, a first lieutenant, stopped him. “Sorry! We’re about to lock down here!” In the drill’s scenario, there was currently poison gas on the way.
“Our guest—Chidori Kaname is missing,” Sousuke told him. “You need to let me find her!”
“No! Anyone still beyond this door is dead!” The first lieutenant declared—referring to the scenario’s fiction, of course.
“If you see her later, tell her she died,” the first lieutenant said, cutting him off. “Now stand down; that’s an order!”
“I said, that’s an order!” The lieutenant initiated the closure of the heavy, watertight door. The power of an independent servo motor caused the 40cm slab of metal to turn, slowly. The closing of this door—which was practically unbreachable once locked—would completely seal off their half of the sub from the aft.
Sousuke had a bad feeling about this: the suspicious fire drill; the silence from Tessa; the presence of Gauron; the absence of Chidori Kaname... But his commanding officer had told him to stay put, and he couldn’t defy orders. Sousuke stood stock still, watching the door close. Kaname was on the other side.
“Chidori...” An inexplicable feeling overwhelmed him—If I don’t go, I’ll never see her again. Sousuke remembered her face, the last time they’d met. Her eyes, gray with despair and despondency.
Then, the words she had said... I’m worried about you, okay? But you just...
And yet, here I am again, with a decision to make. If I let “orders” stop me... Sousuke was through the door in an instant.
“Ah, hey!” the first lieutenant shouted. “You!”
The watertight hatch closed behind Sousuke a second later, followed by the sliding of thick cylinders within. There was a tinny buzzing and the sound of an electromagnetic lock snapping sharply into place. All at once, the noise of the hangar was gone, leaving only the alarm.
Before him stood nothing but empty passageway; red emergency lamps blinked in the dim light. Sousuke only got about ten steps before he noticed a man in battledress, standing in the doorway to one of the crew quarters. He was leaning against the frame, his arms folded. It was Kurz Weber.
“Kurz?” Sousuke ventured cautiously.
“You sure you want to go against orders?” Kurz asked, his eyes on the ground.
“If you think it’s so bad, then why are you here?”
“I’m not exactly the follow-the-herd type. Especially when it comes to that evacuation drill crap.”
“Is that all?” Sousuke wanted to know.
“Yeah, that’s all.” Kurz snorted. “But... I didn’t think you’d be the one joining me.”
“Is it strange?”
“Heh... no, maybe not. Maybe it’s totally expected.”
The two finally made eye contact, and there was no awkwardness at all.
“I think something’s wrong,” said Sousuke, after a beat.
“Yeah. I can’t find McAllen,” Kurz agreed. “And it’s not just him... I asked Auntie Peggy, and she said Mao’d gone missing from the sick bay.”
Kurz must have noticed something off about the alarm, too. Something was wrong—Sousuke felt sure of that, now.
Kurz approached Sousuke and slapped him on the back. “Ready to roll?”
“Sure,” Sousuke said shortly, and the two of them took off running. They had no weapons, no information, and a lot of ground to cover, even if they were limited to the aft. Visibility was poor, and they were completely on their own.
But, at the very least, they were the best team on the boat.
The Tuatha de Danaan was an enormous, complex structure, but it had two clearly delineated halves: the fore and the aft. The fore contained the hangar, torpedo and missile tubes, munitions room, and other “weapon”-related functions. The aft contained the control room, engine room, reactor, crew quarters, mess, and other “boat”-related functions. The two were separated by a thick, sturdy partition, so that even if one half took catastrophic damage and got flooded, the other half would remain safe.
Gauron’s evacuation order had moved everyone to the hangar in the fore, but the control room was in the aft; in other words, he’d cut them off from the crew.
Tessa’s people weren’t stupid, but they weren’t about to ignore an emergency evacuation order, either. They would do what they were told without objection. Once the evacuation was complete, they would close the door, and the mother AI, Dana, would seal the two halves off from each other. It would then be impossible to open the door from the hangar side.
“In other words, no help is coming,” Gauron concluded.
The crew in the control room—Tessa and Kaname excepted—had been handcuffed together in a chain in the corner. They couldn’t charge them now, even if the wanted to.
“So it seems I’m fully in control,” Gauron gloated. “Smart thinking, eh?”
“I don’t agree,” Tessa said, coldly. “There are ASes in the hangar, and a monomolecular cutter could tear through the partition. Then dozens of my subordinates could storm the control room, fully armed.”
“Oh, of course,” he agreed. “Which is why I was about to do this. AI-kun?”
“Reverse life support to the fore, would you?”
Reverse life support—in other words, he was going to stop the flow of oxygen to that side of the submarine. Most of her crew—200 people—were on that side. If he did that, they would all eventually die of asphyxiation. “Don’t!” she cried.
“But I have to,” Gauron argued. “I need to put a check on those clever subordinates of yours, so they don’t go concocting some little scheme on me.”
“They’ll all die first,” Tessa pleaded. “You have to give them oxygen, at least a little bit!”
“I wouldn’t give orders, if I were you,” Gauron advised her coldly. “Try that again, and I might really overload the reactor... or I’ll send the boat into somersaults, that might be fun. Or maybe I could take it deeper and deeper until it’s crushed by the pressure...” he cackled.
The boat was currently running on full autonomous mode, meaning that it was under the complete control of Dana. That made Gauron’s threats more than just sick jokes; he had the power to make them reality. The sophisticated digitalization of the Tuatha de Danaan’s systems meant that—within limits—it could function entirely under one person’s command.
Of course, running it this way meant utilizing only the bare minimum of the vessel’s potential. A crew of a few dozen specialists was required to correctly interpret prodigious amounts of data, analyze situations, and make smart calls. Even just for moving the rudder, an experienced helm officer was better than a computer; maintenance checks, too, had to be done by human hands.
The boat’s greatest assets—the superconductive drive and electromagnetic fluid control system—also needed a proper crew to function. Full autonomous mode put all of that under the purview of one AI, which could introduce inefficiencies that specialists would avoid, cause fatal accidents, and make strategic blunders. The control mode was there for worst case scenarios, but it left them wide open to detection, even from standard battleships.
Even beyond the imminent danger to everyone in the hangar, sooner or later, the entire submarine would be at risk.
I need to do something... Tessa told herself. The weight of her crew had never felt so heavy on her shoulders before. Her people were going to die. The men and women with whom she had shared so many highs and lows. Every single one of them...
Even with all that dizzying pressure, Tessa continued to rack her brain. The vessel’s AI, Dana, currently considered Gauron the captain. There was no way to change that through normal procedures, because doing so would require Gauron’s approval. This meant she would have to take back control of Dana at the root.
Dana’s core was located in the central computer room known as the Lady Chapel. It contained a special device that Tessa could use to merge her consciousness with the submarine; this would let her operate the submarine directly and take control back from Dana and Gauron. Her actual control would be as limited as the autonomous mode’s, of course, but if she could save the crew in the hangar, they could probably get things back to normal soon enough. Merging with the submarine was a dangerous task, and they’d never tried it on maneuvers before, but it was the only option available.
The question was, how to do it? The Lady Chapel was on deck three, one floor down from their current location. It was close, structurally speaking, but Tessa’d have to take detours to get there—She’d also need the universal key, located in her quarters, if she wanted to get inside. Could she really give Gauron and his men the slip, and then travel all that way?
She did have a gun they didn’t know about yet: a German .22-caliber pistol, hidden underneath her chair. It was small, with only seven rounds, and it barely had enough power to put down a small dog. Would it really be enough to get her past three professional combatants?
It wouldn’t. They’d catch her or kill her—one or the other—immediately. Tessa wasn’t especially good with a gun, and worse, she was slow. Her lack of athleticism was critical, and couldn’t be overcome with gumption alone.
Still, she was the only one on board who could fuse with the submarine in the Lady Chapel, take control of Dana, and temporarily act in her place. Only her, a Whispered. No one else in the crew could do it. No one else—
Wait, she thought, and turned to the person sitting right next to her…
Kaname, who had been watching things quietly up until now, felt an internal jolt of surprise. Tessa was looking at her. There was something strange in her expression, as if she were holding her at gunpoint. Her usually beautiful eyes were wide open and desperate; signs of mental strain and indecision flitted in and out them. It was as if she was commanding her to die.
She’s about to push something on me... something serious, Kaname realized, instinctively. She looked around in silence.
Gauron was sitting on a console a little ways away, eating some ham slices. The large man known as Dunnigan occasionally looked in Kaname’s direction and grinned, while the one called Nguyen leaned against one of the control room’s two entrances, smoking a cigarette.
After a moment, Tessa gently took Kaname’s hand. Her delicate fingers were soaked in sweat. When she released her, Kaname felt two things enclosed in her palm—a strip of paper, and a small key.
Hey, what are you— she began to think, and then she heard the voice.
That’s the key to my safe. It was Tessa’s voice... wasn’t it? No, nobody was speaking—not even whispering. Neither Gauron nor Dunnigan nor Nguyen nor any of the rest of the crew had said anything, nor did they notice anything being said.
There was only Tessa, her unfocused eyes gazing emptily in the direction of the front screen. ...cus. Focus... This is... resonance. Feel it...
Huh? Kaname felt the sensation of something seeping deep into her mind, something soft and pliant. A set of thoughts, unknown to her, that echoed through her skull.
Take another key from the safe... the universal key, Tessa thought at her. Find the Lady Chapel... on the third deck... and then do this... resonate... again...
Wait, Kaname thought back at her. What’s the Lady Chapel?
It’s about to begin... Tessa replied. We’ll have to... gamble...
What are you talking about? What’s the key for? Hey! Hey! Hey?! Kaname gasped when she realized she had shouted that last “Hey!” out loud.
Gauron and the others looked at her suspiciously. “‘Hey,’ what?” he asked, while chewing on a bite of ham.
“Oh... w-well...” Kaname stammered, barely managing to palm the key and the paper. Beside her, Tessa let out a sigh; deep, but not quite hopeless.
“Now I’m curious. Why would you shout out ‘hey’? Nothing happened to prompt it. I’d love for you to tell me. How about it?” Gauron came closer. His pace was relaxed. His gaze fell on Kaname’s closed fist. “What do you have there? Show me.”
Kaname said nothing.
“I said, show me,” he told her flatly. “Didn’t you hear?” Kaname just stood there, motionless, as he reached for her arm.
Then, Tessa took action. There was a small pistol in her trembling hand. She turned the gun to Gauron and, with her eyes almost closed, she pulled the trigger. A light, sharp gunshot echoed through the control room. Gauron lurched back, clutching his neck.
“Kaname-san, run!” Tessa cried, and fired repeatedly at Nguyen, who stood in the doorway. Her shots were wild and reckless, but the man instinctively threw himself to the floor—a less remarkable soldier might have stayed upright and taken a bullet for his trouble.