2 of 6 | Chapter 14

*

Heading South-Southwest, the twelve thousand kilometers—even in the mesosphere—took a good four hours, though it was just a moment according to the clock after crossing four time zones. As they approached the Antarctic Circle, the rigid craggy contours of icy nature did not exactly seem to welcome them with open arms. Monotonous white spread out across the sky from the horizon, and icebergs pierced the surface of the Southern Ocean, rising from the water implacably against the angry sea. A crescent shaped archipelago of tiny islands appeared in the hazy distance, each island equidistant from the next. Saunders island, their destination, was located in the middle of the island chain.

The Condor's sensors did not detect any military presence on the island, but in the water along the western coast they did. A submarine hung stationary beneath the surface, and on detecting the presence of a strange aircraft, it began to rise from the depths. That day, there had been particularly strong cyclonic storms in the region that had stirred the water into a turbid opacity that hid the grey monster until it broke the surface of the water, cutting through the large turbulent waves.

The newly developed American submarine was larger by far than any ocean liner in existence, at nearly 500 meters in length, with a wide hull and a defiantly flat nose. Near the aft section huge reactors bulged from both sides. The whole body shuddered to a complete stop, effortlessly controlled by the massive nuclear powered drives. The water quickly ran in rivulets from the upper side of the vessel—aided by a state of the art water repellent coating; and as it dried, a sizable landing platform emerged smoothly from the deck. The Condor sank lightly onto the platform and, as soon as it touched the deck, the platform began to sink into the depths of the submarine with the giant cargo doors gliding shut above them.

*

Although they did not arrive to an openly hostile environment, a certain reserve and a surreal quality characterized the encounter, partly because of the circumstances. Steersman had no desire to overwhelm his hosts and was accompanied by only three of his robot guards when he stepped off the ship. The remainder stood alert, surrounding the ship.

The sounding alarm blared out through the cavernous hangar, and the submarine was once again shrouded in the icy ocean waters, though, their descent was barely noticeably to the passengers. The hangar looked like a huge underground bunker that was bathed in a warm artificial light. Four types of vertical take-off fighters were ranked in countless rows throughout the hold, but one aircraft stood out: a giant Russian military personnel transport. These colossal beasts were able to take off from a standing start with the massive booster jets that jutted out from the fuselage. Surprisingly, there were only a few armed soldiers scattered around them as they stood waiting, and most of them seemed preoccupied with other matters, suggesting that his arrival had been expected.

“Greetings, Mr Steersman,” said an officer as he arrived next to him on a six-wheeled vehicle that resembled a quad bike. “Let us adjourn to the meeting room. The commander in chief is looking forward to seeing you.”

“Okay, let's go,” assented Steersman, sitting next to the officer. The robots were immediately at the ready, floating a few centimeters above the ground. The vehicle moved out and the robots followed, gliding closely behind.

“I'm terribly sorry, Mr Steersman, they cannot not be present,” the officer said apologetically, noticing the robots filling his rear view mirrors.

“They'll wait outside the meeting zone.”

The submarine was like an intricate honeycomb of corridors, levels and merging sub-levels that intersected and wound through the hull of the ship, but it resembled nothing so much as a subterranean city. There were traffic signals at intersections, roundabouts, and even vehicle charging stations as well, where it was also possible to grab a coffee and a sandwich.

Only the robots aroused any attention, standing at a red light, otherwise Steersman's arrival was greeted with polite disinterest. After about half an hour, they stopped, and a gate opened.

“Here we are, sir,” said the officer, as they passed through the gate and into an area that had the air of a top-secret intelligence base. Accordingly, the number of armed soldiers was significantly higher than had previously been visible anywhere else on the vessel. Robot vehicles were fitted with long-range weapons and rested in a large pool filled with sea water that adorned the center of the room. Steersman surmised they had reached the lowest level of the submarine, as the pool appeared to link directly with the ocean.

The officer stopped in front of a smaller armored iron door that was flanked by two commandos. They were covered from head to toe in combat suits and their faces were obscured by masks and communications equipment.

“This way please, Mr Steersman.”

The officer nodded his head toward the door.

Steersman stepped off the strange six wheeled vehicle and approached the commandos.

“Are you carrying any weapons, sir? asked one of the commandos as Steersman stepped closer.

“I have more than weapons,” said Steersman, pointing back to his robot entourage, “but I'll leave them here for you to look after.”

“Stay!” he ordered tersely, and the robots appeared to stiffen into position opposite the two rather surprised commandos. On a signal from the commando on the left, Steersman opened the door and steeped through into a narrow hallway. It looked like a disused maintenance and, at the end, there was another identical armored door waiting. He stepped briskly along the metal floor and the door creaked open in front of him revealing a lavishly furnished lounge. Inside, there were three people, all of whom appeared to be expecting him.

“Welcome aboard the DeepHarbor, Mr Steersman,” said Diane Monroe, the President of the United States of America.

“Thank you. It's a very impressive place you have here. Please, call me Sean,” he responded.

“Very well, Sean. I'm Diane. Have you met these gentlemen?” she asked, turning to the two men standing nearby.

“We've met before,” William Doyle, President of the United Nations of Europe, extended his hand. “Please, call me William.”

“A pleasure to see you again, William,” said Steersman.

“We haven't had the pleasure, Mr Steersman. I am Vitaly Gorbunov, but please call me Vitalic,” said the President of the Russian Federation.

“Honored to meet you, Vitalic. Please! Sean!” He shook hands with the president.

“Nice to meet you, Sean.”

“What can I offer you? Whiskey, vodka, gin, rum?” offered Diane Monroe.

“Rum, please,” replied Steersman, looking around the room with a quiet curiosity. The room was decorated in a traditional XIX. century naval theme, with heavy oak furniture, ornately framed paintings, aged wood floors, an old globe, sea chests, and yellowed paper scrolls. Against one wall rested an old weathered chest of drawers, the lacquer chipped and faded, unadorned by any decorations other than a US seal. Nothing about the room betrayed that it was the technological center and heart of the US navy, submerged nearly 700 meters below the surface of the Southern Ocean.

“How was your flight?” inquired Monroe, handing Steersman a glass of rich amber liquid.

 

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CHAPTER 1 | EXCOLOPOLIS
CHAPTER 2 | MACHINES
CHAPTER 3 | A NEW TECHNOLOGY
CHAPTER 4 | ATTACK
CHAPTER 5 | THE SOURCE
CHAPTER 6 | THE SCIENCE CENTER
CHAPTER 7 | UNIVERSITY CITY
CHAPTER 8 | GLIDECRAFT
CHAPTER 9 | SECTOR TWO
CHAPTER 10 | THEY KNOW WE ARE HERE
CHAPTER 11 | GRAVITOR
CHAPTER 12 | INSTALLATION
CHAPTER 13 | ENERGY WAR
CHAPTER 15 | INITIATION
CHAPTER 16 | PREPARATION
CHAPTER 17 | DEFENSE CORPS
CHAPTER 18 | TRUTH
CHAPTER 19 | BEYOND EARTH