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DECEMBER 3, 2015
SEA OF OKHOTSK


The worst part of the job, Leon Coltrane had long since decided, was not the part where strangers shot at him on a semi-regular basis. Oh, that part sucked, sure, but it wasn't the worst. Neither were the interrogations, the moments spent hiding while angry men with loaded weapons searched for him, the face-to-face meetings with psychopathic terrorists or even the food at the commissary at Ft. Meade.

No, the worst part was the throbbing headache he got every time he had to spend an hour and a half hanging upside down, trying to disable some tin-pot dictator's security system without touching the floor. The headaches lasted two days, on average, and damned if every single op he got assigned to didn't call for some variation on the old trapeze act that Sam Fisher had made legend.

Privately, Leon suspected that Director Grimsdottir had it in for him. Why else would she keep on assigning him to crap like this – infiltrations of unmanned nuclear-powered lighthouses on Russia's northern shore, hacking a Swedish air defense command outpost from the inside, personally and permanently disabling a Russian listening station, all in the interest of following up on one word in a dead man’s communiqué: Snegurochka.

And now this, infiltrating a top-secret Russian research lab hidden on a deep sea drilling platform. One of the smart boys back in Maryland had noticed on satellite imagery that the rig didn't seem to be doing a whole lot of drilling, and even less pumping, and that meant it was very interesting to certain people who didn't like the Russians keeping secrets.

People like Director Grimsdottir.

All of which meant that he was out here in the middle of the Sea of Okhotsk, hanging upside down in the control room of a research facility that had no right existing.

Of course, it was also a research facility that had pressure-activated floor trigger alarms tied into a multiply redundant lockdown system, not to mention armed guards who looked to have been drawn from the Delfin unit stationed at Russkyy Island. Leon had run into four of them already, had sent three over the side while stuffing the fourth’s corpse into an equipment storage locker, but he had no desire to try his luck with a fifth.

“Could use a fifth of something,” he muttered to himself as he lowered himself to the floor. Workstations covered one wall of the room; the other was dominated by a high window that looked down on a large test chamber half-filled by a large glass tank full of water. There was equipment down there as well, some of it submerged, some of it ominously left half-out of the tank.

Or, he realized, half-in.

Cursing under his breath, Leon extracted what looked like a USB key from his belt pouch and plugged it in to one of the workstations. Immediately it lit up like a Christmas tree, as lines of text scrolled frantically across several of the monitors. Leon studied them for a moment and decided he didn’t like what he saw. It was clear now what the platform’s real purpose was, and while a transmitter in his goggles sent a direct visual feed of everything he saw back to Third Echelon, some things you needed to say to another human being directly. That was especially true, he thought, when what you saw involved the potential to turn the entire West Coast into a giant bulls-eye.

“Control, this is Icefish. Do you read me?”

Static crackled in his ear for a moment, the sound of his transmission fighting its way through the miles and the storms between him and the nearest friendly listener. Outside, the weather was picking up. He could hear the heavy thud of the waves slamming against the sides of the rig like a man chopping wood with a dull axe. If he didn’t get out of here soon, he realized, he wasn’t getting out of here at all. The weather would keep him here, and the Russians would see to the rest. Feeling a little more urgency, he tried again. “Control? This is Icefish. Come in.”

“I read you, Icefish.” The voice on the other end of the line was cool, professional, and female.

“Director Grimsdottir. This is an honor.” That wasn’t exactly true. Having the Grim Reaper on the line with you meant two things, neither of which was an honor. It meant that what you were doing was top-line priority, and it meant that you were screwed.

“Spare me. What have you got?”

Leon coughed, softly. “Nothing on Snegurochka, but there’s more than one kind of bad news. I’m uploading the data now, but it looks like this is a testing site for the new generation of Shkvals.”

“Supercavitating torpedoes. Wonderful.”

“It looks like they’ve solved the guidance problem.” He checked the progress on the upload, then checked his divers’ watch, then checked the upload again. 22%, steady progress. Another two minutes and he’d be done, and then it would be time to get the hell out of Dodge.

“That’s going to make Annapolis really unhappy.” She chuckled, an unpleasant sound. “Right. Leave a couple of obvious surprises, and then bury the real killer deep.”

“You don’t want me to wipe it?” Leon was surprised.

“No. Not yet. I want to be able to trigger that remotely when it’s going to do the most damage. In the meantime, I want you to let them know they’ve been hit, let them know we’re watching, let them know we’re not going to just let them walk in the back door – and then we’ll see what they do next.”

He groaned. “Please tell me that whatever they do next, they’ll do someplace warm.”

“Why, Icefish. You sound like Sam.” And with that, she cut the connection.

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