Rock Bay Harbor, Maine
Eight Months Later
"She’s beautiful, isn’t she?" Conner parked the van on the dock and leaned back in his seat with a sigh of contentment. "She looks like a panther. Sleek, graceful, and magnificently lethal."
"My God, you’re waxing poetic." Hannah chuckled and shook her head as she jumped out of the van. "It’s a machine, Conner. A submarine. And she’s beautiful only in the way a finely constructed machine is beautiful. It was designed and built by man. It’s not as if it’s alive."
"You have no soul." Conner got out of the van and moved eagerly toward the edge of the pier. "Do you think Michelangelo’s David has no beauty because it was carved from stone? This is the same thing."
"You always say that." She followed her brother to the edge of the pier and gazed appraisingly at the black submarine. But she could see why Conner was bubbling with enthusiasm. There was something sleek and elegant about all submarines and this Oscar II was no exception although the hull showed every one of its twenty-two years. Officially named Kulyenchikov, the twin-reactor nuclear sub was dubbed Silent Thunder by its builders in the Severodvinsk shipyard, and the workers’ name stuck. An appropriate moniker, Hannah thought. The Silent Thunder’s dark, massive hull seemed to devour all light around it. At more than five hundred feet in length, it was one of the largest submarines in the world.
She glanced back at Conner. "You even thought that submersible I designed for the Titanic expedition was beautiful, and it looked like a goggle-eyed frog."
"Frogs can be beautiful." He made a face. "Well, they can be interesting-looking. Did I really say it was beautiful?"
She nodded. "But you were drunk at the time. It was the night we had the party at that bar in Halifax when the expedition was over. You were going home to Cathy and the kids, and you thought everything was beautiful."
"That was the longest time I ever had to be away from them. You had too many damn problems with that submersible."
"But interesting problems. And it performed well in the end."
He lifted a brow. "And that was all that was important to you. All the romance and excitement of the greatest expedition of the century, and you were only concerned with how efficiently your machine worked."
"You can have all the excitement." She took a step closer to the sub. "Satisfaction is enough for me. I did a good job, and it made it possible for all you dreamers to indulge yourselves to your hearts’ content."
"Well, thank God this job won’t be as all-consuming. Cathy told me she wanted me home in two weeks, or she was filing for divorce."
"Fat chance." Cathy was as practical as Conner was idealistic, and after ten years of marriage it had become second nature to her to act as her husband’s guardian as well as his lover. Since Cathy had been a high-powered and very successful aide to Congressman George Preston before the birth of their son, the transition was entirely natural. "But the job shouldn’t take more than a couple weeks. All I’m being paid for is doing a second schematic of the sub, checking it out for possible hazards, and suggesting a few tourist-friendly modifications before the museum opens it for exhibition. That’s the only reason I took the job. I needed a filler while I waited for them to be ready for me on the Marinth site."
"Oh, no, you couldn’t just sit back and rest for a little while. I’m surprised they didn’t do that check before they sailed it into this harbor. After all, it’s a nuclear submarine."
"The government did check it out for weapons and contamination last year when they discovered it hidden in that bay in Finland."
"That’s another weirdo. Why would the Russians want to hide this particular sub?"
"They say they didn’t, that they merely lost track of it during the political upheaval when the Soviet Union was breaking apart." She shrugged. "But the State Department thinks they’re giving us the usual bullshit. The Russians still don’t tell us anything they can keep to themselves. The scuttlebutt is that some Russian bureaucrat pocketed the money that had been appropriated for its dismantling. He paid off the shipyard director in Finland to hide it among the dozens of other ships and subs that the Russian Navy has there awaiting deactivation."
"There are that many?"
She nodded. "It’s expensive to scrap a submarine, especially if there are nuclear materials involved. Anyway, Bradworth says they’ve been very cooperative since the Finns discovered it."
"Dan Bradworth, he’s the State Department liaison who negotiated with the Russians for the purchase of the sub for the Maritime Museum. Though not that much negotiation was necessary. Russia is so strapped for cash, they gave the museum a bargain. But the museum didn’t want to take any chances on surprises when they brought it here to set up the exhibit. That’s why Bradworth tapped us for the job."
"Tapped you," he corrected. "You’re the expert. You know it was the Ariel that got you the job."
She shrugged. "Maybe." Four years before, she’d designed a new Orca-class U.S. Navy submarine called Ariel, and it had marked a bold departure from what had come before. Nuclear-powered submarines had changed little in their first half century of use, and her innovative concepts brought her much attention among naval buffs and marine architects. Although the Orca program was ultimately shelved due to bud get cuts, the classified plans found their way into naval magazines and Web sites, where The Submarine That Never Was and its young creator had taken on a peculiar mystique. Whenever Hannah met someone in her profession, the Ariel was one of the first topics of conversation.
Copyright © 2008 by Johansen Publishing LLP.