On September 22 1979 at 00:53 GMT the American Vela Hotel satellite 6911 detected the telltale flash of a low yield nuclear detonation in the Indian Oceanm southeast of South Africa. No nations took responsibility for the blast. Due to a malfunction in the satellite’s other sensors, there was doubt as to whether or not the blast had actually happened.
Captain second rank Kuznetsov surveyed the control room and was content that the crew of the K-495 had shaken out nicely. There had been turmoil when he’d first taken command, and that was exacerbated by the boat new orders to join the Pacific Fleet. Most of the sailors onboard have never been to Asiatic Russia, and the order wasn’t a popular one.
The K-495 was ordered to take the long cruise around the Cape of Good Hope. En route they were to collect intelligence on the South African Navy. There had been some reports that they were cooperating with Israel. The K-495 was to see if there was any Israeli activity in the area.
“Con, sonar unknown contact 3 kilometers astern!” announced the soar operator.
“Quick quiet!” ordered Kuznetsov.
“Quick quiet!” repeated Lieutenant Petrov into the submarine’s intercom system.
Kuznetsov stood and moved quietly to the sonar station.
“American?” Kuznetsov asked the operator as he came up behind the man. They’d had to dodge America patrols to get through the Atlantic.
“I do not know, Captain. It’s like nothing I’ve ever heard before, and it’s moving at incredible speed. It’s now one and a half kilometers and closing!” the enlisted operator said.
Kuznetsov switched the sonar to speaker and was greeted with a roaring sound like a jet engine. Looking at the sonar screen he could see that the contact was moving at over a hundred knots! That’s just not possible, he thought. Just the same, his training kicked in.
“Ahead flank! Emergency dive! Take her to three hundred meters! sound collision!” he ordered. A horn sounded the collision alarm as the deck slanted downward. The control room crew responded to Kuznetsov’s order with a minimum of words as the junior officers guided the crew through the dive.
The tension in the control room grew to an almost physical presence as the K-495 dove deep. The roaring sound increased until it was audible through the hull of the Soviet submarine. As the K-495 leveled off at three hundred meters the roaring seemed to be right beside the boat. Then it changed pitch and started to slowly decrease.
“Unknown contact now ahead range increasing.” The relief in the soar operator’s voice was palpable.
“Secure from collision; ahead standard; give me a heading on that target. We’re going to follow it.” Ordered Kuznetsov.
Two hours after first contact with the unknown, Kuznetsov ordered all department heads to a meeting. The small wardroom was cramped as the ten most senior officers voiced there opinions on what had happened. Looking around the table the men squeezed around, Kuznetsov looked at his engineering officer as the man spoke.
“I have not heard of anything remotely like what we detected. It is beyond anything known.” Captain Lieutenant Sidorov stated.
“And the Americans? Can they have built it?” asked Andreev, the K-495’s political officer.
“No, it is even beyond them. It is an USO,“ the engineer declared. Kuznetsov raised an eyebrow, but caught himself before he said anything. An unidentified submerged object was the undersea equivalent of a flying saucer.
“An USO? How absurd! It’s American, South African, or worse: Israeli!” Ivanov said. He was the K-495’s executive officer.
“American, Israeli or alien, it doesn’t really matter. It’s our duty to find it, and determine if it is a threat to the motherland,” Kuznetsov declared with authority. The officers around the table nodded their agreement as he continued, “We will continue the search. Have all your departments ready. We cruise on wartime routine from this moment on. Dismissed!”
The men slowly left the wardroom. Some had fear on their faces. It was one thing to play tag with the American Navy, but aliens? That was something else. After a few minutes only Kuznetsov and Andreev were left seated.
“Can I help you comrade?” asked Kuznetsov.
“I believe it is time to open Special Order Number Six, comrade Captain.”
Kuznetsov smiled, then said, “Meet me at my cabin in five minutes comrade commissar.” Andreev hated to be called a commissar, and the captain enjoyed needling him. He didn’t push the political officer enough to get himself in trouble, of course, the Catain wasn’t a fool, just enough to remind the man who was the master of this vessel. Andreev stood and left as Kuznetsov poured himself some tea.
Kuznetsov made Andreev wait ten minutes before he came back to his cabin, and found the man standing in the corridor, smoking. He gave him a sour look. Kuznetsov disapproved of smoking, and all but the political officer refrained when he was near.
‘In a sane world, it would be the XO here instead of a party bulldog.’ thought Kuznetsov as he entered his small private cabin and motioned Andreev in. He closed the cabin door, turned and worked the first of two combinations on a safe mounted in the bulkhead.
Andreev worked his own combination next, and opened the safe’s door. Kuznetsov reached in and shuffled through a pile of flat manila envelopes until he found the one marked ‘Special Order Six.’ Handing the envelope to the political officer, Kuznetsov sat on his bunk to get a little elbow room. Having two grown men in his cabin was like having a meeting in a phone booth.
Without even asking permission, Andreev seated himself at the Captain’s small desk and broke the seal on the envelope. He read the single sheet that was inside. Kuznetsov saw Andreev’s eyes go wide, and then the color drained from his face. His hand shook noticeably as he passed the orders to Kuznetsov.
As a commander of a nuclear powered attack submarine, Kuznetsov had dealt with dangerous, high level orders before, but never had any of them come as big shock as what read now. They weren’t from the normal Soviet Navy command, but came direct from the Politburo. They detailed the actions to be taken in the event that an aerial or submerged unknown was encountered: They were to collect all possible intelligence on the object, and determine the point of origin. If a hostile act was witnessed, Kuznetsov was ordered to destroy the object. Now came what made the political officer blanch: the use of tactical nuclear weapons was authorized!
Kuznetsov looked up from the orders to see Andreev was holding two plastic cards, one green and the other red. He just looked at his political officer for a moment and then resignedly held out his hand. Andreev passed him the green card. These held the authorization codes for a nuclear launch. If the need arose, Kuznetsov and Andreev would break them open and compare the codes. If they matched - and obviously, they would -then they could use their keys to arm the warheads. Disturbed to have so much power at his disposal, Kuznetsov placed the green card in his shirt pocket without saying a word.
As was routine, the K-495 came to within fifty meters of the oceans surface every twelve hours to receive any radio traffic from command to the submarine fleet. Long wave transmissions could penetrate the ocean, unlike normal radio frequencies.
“Captain, coded message being received. It is addressed to Commander K-495.” The radio operator reported over the intercom. Kuznetsov had only a short wait until the message was brought to him.
Northern Fleet Command to Commander K-495 flash:
Intelligence reports South African Coast Guard finding Norwegian Oceanographic Ship adrift. Crew missing: investigate if possible.
The message ended with a set of map coordinates. Kuznetsov looked at the chart and swore under his breath. The abandoned ship was on a direct line with the last known course of the unknown.
Low bandwidth long wave radio messages frustrated Kuznetsov. Messages had to be short and usually uninformative. Just knowing that a ship had been found with no crew increased Kuznetsov’s unease, but it shed no light onto his situation. Since the K-495 was on patrol, they were running under radio silence. That meant the American Navy could not find them by radio triangulation, but it also meant that fleet command didn’t know that they were tracking an unknown and that the report of a derelict ship was more than a curiosity.
The K-495 moved in silence over the imaginary line from the Atlantic into the Indian Ocean. It had been twenty hours since they started to search for the unknown, moving in a steady southeasterly course.
“If we keep going much longer we’ll be in the Antarctic,” Ivanov said, looking down at the chart table.
“Well then, XO, you should feel at home,” Kuznetsov joked light heartedly. His executive officer grew up in Siberia.
“Con, sonar contact ahead!” interrupted the sonar man. Kuznetsov moved from the chart table to the soar station.
“Range: twenty kilometers. Speed: six knots. It sounds like a Type Two-oh-Six snorkeling at the surface.”
A West German sub? Kuznetsov wondered. Under normal circumstances, this would be a tense situation, but after a few days of chasing aliens under the sea, he found it refreshingly mundane. Now why would they be all the way out here? he mused, then realized the answer.
“All ahead slow,” he ordered, “Course?”
“It’s on a parallel course, Captain. Their diesels have stopped. It is now diving.”
“Ivanov, follow that contact. I believe it’s looking for our mystery.”
“Is it Israeli, or South African?” asked Ivanov
“It could be either. The West German’s have sold these things to both countries.”
“God, when will we be done with German trouble making?” Ivanov sighed.
“When the world studies war no more, comrade.” Kuznetsov answered, with a sad voice.
“Con, sonar contact lost.”
“Give the XO the last course and speed,” the Captain ordered, then continued in a voice only Ivanov could hear, “Follow them carefully my friend, we would not want to start a war.”
The officers and crew of the K-495 had settled into a tense-but-calm routine. They’d had intermittent contact with the German-built diesel boat. It had kept on the same southeasterly course that the Unknown had taken. Kuznetsov kept his boat at the extreme detection range in the hope they would stay unnoticed. Nuclear submarines were easier to track than a diesel electric because of the machinery noise produced by the reactor. If the sub was South African, they would have outdated sonar equipment due to the American arms embargo. If it was Israeli, they would have the latest in American detection gear. The wiser choice was to assume they were Israeli, even if they weren’t.
“It is nice to be the hunter for a change, eh Captain?” Ivanov commented.
“Yes comrade, but let us hope we are not hunting a bear while armed only with a slingshot.”
“The Two-oh-Six would need a lucky shot to kill us. Captain.”
“It’s not the U-boat I’m worried about.”
“You cann’t really believe the Unknown is a threat?”
“Ivanov, my friend, you read the orders: Moscow must be afraid to authorize nuclear weapons.”
“The fear of old women of things that go bump in the dark.”
“You are a fine officer, Ivanov. but you lack imagination.”
The conversation died as Kuznetsov sat back in his chair next to the chartable. What his XO didn’t know was that Kuznetsov had read intelligence reports of the Americans having trouble with USOs off the Florida coast. It was also believed that the Skipjack-class nuclear attack submarine the American’s had lost in 1968 was tracking an USO at the time.
Life on other planets was something that the Soviets took seriously. Unidentified Objects had been bedeviling both them and the Americans since the end of the Great Patriotic War against the fascists. What the Americans called ‘UFOs’ had almost triggered a nuclear war on one occasion, so Kuznetsov wasn’t inclined to write off Special Order Six as the normal Moscow handwringing. He had to believe his leaders had a good reason to be fearful.
He was taking a catnap in his cabin when the intercom awoke him.
“Radio room to Captain.” Kuznetsov grabbed the phone.
“Sorry to disturb you sir, but we just monitored a distress call from the South African weather station on Prince Edward Island.” Kuznetsov snapped instantly fully awake at the news.
“The nature of the distress?”
“They reported themselves to be under air attack from an Unknown when the signal was lost.”
“Sound general quarters, Lieutenant. I am on by way up.”
When Kunznetsov reached the control room, Lieutenant Petrov came over to him looking as if he had seen a ghost.
“What is it Lieutenant?”
“Sir, the radio call was strange. It reported that people were being sucked up into the air.” Kuznetsov gave him a questioning look.
“The messaged ended with a blast of static and at about the same time the hydrophones picked up the sound of a large explosion.”
Placing his hand on the shaken Lieutenant’s shoulder Kuznetsov told him to keep the information from the crew, and to write a report for him when he was off watch. Petrov returned to his station and Kuznetsov noticed his exec giving him a strange look from across the chartable. He motioned him to come to his side.
“You have a comment, Ivanov?” he asked.
“It just sounds crazy to me Captain.”
“When I was on the Northern Fleet’s staff, I read a few intelligence reports about Unkowns. Human Abduction was frequently mentioned.”
“Human Abduction for what reason and by whom?” the XO asked.
“If Moscow knows, they have shared the reason, nor the responsible parties with the fleet.” Said Kuznetsov sourly.
The hours dragged on. Kuznetsov, Ivanov and Andreev stayed in the control room even when they weren‘t on duty. There had been no further radio traffic after the reported attack. Prince Edward Island was only one hundred fifty kilometers from their current location so Kuznetsov kept the K-495 at alert stations.
At that particular moment, Lieutenant Petrov had the con. He was showing that he would be a fine commander one day. Kuznetsov was thinking of breaking the normal radio silence of patrol to ask for instructions from Moscow, when his thoughts were interrupted.
“Con, sonar picking up transients! It’s the Two-oh-Six. She’s flooding her tubes and opening the outer doors.”
“Range” demanded Kuznetsov.
“Fifteen kilometers. Now picking up the unknown at extreme range.”
“It can’t be us it’s targeting.” Ivanov stated.
“Explosions in the water close to the two oh six,” the sonar man said.
“Source!” Kuznetsov and Ivanov shouted at the same time.
“Unknown. The object could be masking aerial depth charges.”
The soar man continued to describe what he heard over his headphones, it became obvious that the unknown and the Two-oh-Six were fighting each other. Kuznetsov ordered battle stations and all weapons to be readied.
“Who are we going to fight?” Ivanov asked.
“Our orders are clear: if the Unknown takes hostile action we are to destroy it,” Kuznetsov said as he motioned the political officer to his side. Any protests that Ivanov might have made were silenced with a sharp look from his captain.
“It is time, comrade Andreev,” Kuznetsov said in a voice that was almost a whisper. He removed his greed card and broke it open. The political officer did the same and both men compared the two slips of paper.
“Code verified. Political Officer, do you agree?”
“Ivanov, please verify that both codes match.”
With a look of shock on his face, the executive officer looked at both and nodded his head.
“A verbal confirmation, please.” Said Kuznetsov gently.
“They match Captain,” Ivanov said. There was a slight catch in his voice as he spoke.
The sonar man reported that the Two-oh-Six had been hit and was going down. Kuznetsov went to the sonar station and picked up the secondary headphones. Even through the Unknown’s roar, he could hear the unmistakable sound of the other subs pressure hull imploding as it sank to the bottom with its crew. A Two-oh-Six holds eighty men, he thought.
“Unknown now surfacing, Captain,” Reported the sonar man with a dead voice.
“Periscope depth. Ready tube eight.” Tube eight held a short range cruise missile armed with a five kiloton tactical warhead. As the deck slanted upward, Kuznetsov went to his weapons control station and opened the door covering the nuclear lock. Andreev went to his own station without being ordered, and did the same.
“Insert key,” Kuznetsov said.
“Key inserted” echoed Andreev.
“On my mark turn the key…Mark.” Both men turned their keys and the stations sent an encoded signal to the warhead in tube eight, arming it.
“All lights green the warhead is armed,” Reported Petrov, still with a catch in his voice.
“Flood tube eight and open the outer door. Up scope and up radar mast,” Kuznetsov ordered like a man sleepwalking.
When the deck returned to level and Petrov reported the boat at periscope depth Kuznetsov looked through the scope’s eyepiece. It was nighttime, but on the horizon the Captain could see as many lights as if a city were sitting on the ocean.
“Target mark. Get me a radar fix,” he said. After a moment, Ivanov reported a radar lock on the target.
“The weapon is programmed,” Reported Petrov. Kuznetsov waited a heartbeat that seemed to last a century, and then…
On Kuznetsov’s order, Ivanov launched the missile.
“Crash dive! Take her to five hundred meters!” Kuznetsov barked.
The missile broke the surface and its solid fuel rocket motor fired. It took less than a minute to travel the twenty kilometers to the target. The detonation lit the sky like a second sun. High in an orbit above the Van Allen belts, an American spy satellite reported that it had detected a nuclear explosion. Due to a malfunction in the satellite’s other sensors, there was doubt as to whether or not the blast had actually happened…
The Deputy Director of the Science and Technology Directorate removed his glasses after finishing the twenty year old account. He looked up at his pretty executive assistant.
“I see they found nothing after a two day search?”
“Yes, and our flights over the area right after the detection didn’t find anything. Not even fallout.” The thirty-something redhead replied. She’d bulled her way very near to near the top of the agency.
“What did we give the Russians for this?” the Deputy Director asked.
“Some of the data from Roswell, and one of the recovered bodies from ’72.”
“Okay, good. The President agrees with us that it isn’t time to go public. File this with the rest of the Majestic Twelve materials.”
The redhead gathered up the report and left the office. The Director sighed as the door closed. It was getting harder every day to keep a lid on the covert war the Earth was fighting. He faintly damned Truman for not coming clean about this whole mess when it started back in 1947.
Copyright 2010, Richard Anderson