www
jamesphogan
com
The Proteus Operation
Order by Mail
or Online

Sample Pages

Sunday, November 24, 1974, dawned sullenly over the Virginia coast, with raindrops spitting from a wet, overcast sky, and ill-tempered squalls scuffing white the wavetops of a choppy, gunmetal sea. Looking like a flecked carpet unrolled upon the surface, a straight, foamy wake extended out of the eastern mists to mark the course of the nuclear-driven attack submarine USS Narwhal, now within sight of its home base at Norfolk and being escorted over the last few miles by a flock of lazily wheeling seagulls, filling the air with their raucous lament. From the sinister black of the submarine’s hull to the dirty off-whites of the seagulls and the spray, the world was a composition of soggy grays.

The grayness seemed fitting, Commander Gerald Bowden thought as he stood with the first navigation officer and a signalman, looking out from the bridge atop the Narwhal’s twenty-foot-high "sail." Color came with babies and flowers, sunny mornings and springtimes: new things beginning. But corpses were pale; the sick, "ashen-faced"; the ailing, "gray with exhaustion." Along with strength and life, color drained from things that were nearing their end. It seemed fitting that a world without a future should be a world without color also.

At least, barring some kind of miracle, the free world of the West that he was committed to defend—what was left of it—had no future. The latest Japanese provocations in the Pacific were clearly the long-expected prelude to a move against the Hawaiian Islands, aimed at the final strategic isolation of Australia. There was no possibility of the U.S.’s meekly acquiescing again to such an aggression, as had happened with the annexing of the Philippines to the Japanese Empire five years previously. War would automatically mean taking on the might of Nazi Europe plus its Asian and African colonies, too, with the Fascist South American states doubtless joining in at the last moment to pick up their share of the spoils. Against such odds there could be little doubt of the outcome. But the nation and its few remaining allies were grimly resigned to go down fighting if they had to. President John F. Kennedy had spoken for all when he pledged America to a policy of "No more surrenders."

Bowden shifted his gaze from the harbor entrance ahead to the fourth figure on the bridge, whose Russian-style fur cap with backflap turned down against the wind, and paratrooper’s jump-smock worn over Army fatigues contrasted with the Navy garb of the ship’s officers. The dress was an assortment of oddments from the ship’s stores that the soldier had changed into from the workman’s clothes he’d been wearing when the Narwhal picked him and his party up. Captain Harry Ferracini, from one of the Army’s Special Operations units, commanded the four-man squad and its accompanying group of civilians that had come aboard several days previously at a rendezvous with a fishing boat off the southwest English coast. What their mission had been, who the civilians were, and why they were being brought to the U.S., Bowden had known better than to ask; but clearly, for some branches of the U.S. military, an undeclared, undercover war against the Third Reich and its dominions had already begun.

Ferracini had clear, still predominantly youthful features, with fine, handsomely proportioned lines, smooth skin, and a sensitive mouth. His complexion was dark, his eyes large, brown, and brooding, as befitted his name. If he felt any sentiments about the fate of the nation or the demise of democracy, his expression revealed no hint of them as he took in the indistinct Norfolk skyline, his eyes missing nothing, but shifting with the practiced laziness of somebody adapted to existing inconspicuously for long periods in hostile surroundings. Bowden guessed the soldier to be in his late twenties, although his disinclination to smile and the air of seriousness that he wore most of the time were the characteristics of an older man grown cynical with living.

True, Ferracini’s kind of business bred inscrutability as a safeguard and taciturnity as a habit; but in their few, brief conversations, Bowden had discerned a remoteness in the young soldier’s manner that went beyond professional habit and revealed an emotional chasm by which he, and others like Ferracini whom Bowden had met on previous missions, seemed to distance themselves from the world of personal feelings and everyday human emotions. Or was it from the world of meaningful things with beginnings, which now meant nothing and led nowhere? Bowden wondered. Was it a sign of a whole generation reacting instinctively to protect itself from the knowledge that it, too, had no future?

"Welcome home, Narwhal," Melvin Warner, the first navigation officer, read aloud as a light began flickering from the harbormaster’s shack at the end of the outer breakwater. "Pilot dispatched. Regret lousy weather."

"Somebody’s awake early," Bowden said. "Either they’re expecting VIPs today, or the war’s started already." He turned his head to address the seaman. "Make a signal back. ‘Thanks. Compliments on speed of service. Weather better three hundred feet down.’ "

"Launch approaching, starboard bow," Warner reported as the signalman’s lamp began chattering. He gestured toward the lines of sleek, gray warships moored in the outer harbor. "There’s one of the big carriers in, Gerry. Looks like the Constellation."

"Reduce speed, open up for’ard, and prepare to take on harbor pilot," Bowden said. He turned toward Ferracini while Warner translated the command into orders and relayed them below. "We’ll get you and your people ashore first, Captain. That’ll free you up as quickly as we can manage." Ferracini nodded.

A message had been received in mid-Atlantic, sent by a Navy VLF transmitter in Connecticut on the long wavelengths that submarines could pick up while submerged, advising that Captain Ferracini and Sergeant Cassidy were urgently required for other duties and would be met at the dock to receive further orders. "They don’t give you guys much of a break," Bowden commented. "I’m sorry you’ll be going so soon. At least it isn’t that way all the time, eh?"

"Not quite all the time, anyhow," Ferracini said.

"Just when we were starting to get to know one another."

"That’s the way it is sometimes, I guess."

Bowden looked at the soldier for a moment longer, then abandoned his attempt at conversation with a sigh and a barely perceptible shrug. "Okay, well, we’ll be docking in a few minutes. You’ll need to be getting back down to join the others in the wardroom." He extended a hand. "A pleasure to have had you aboard, Captain. Glad we were able to help. And good luck with whatever they’ve dreamed up for you next."

"Thank you, sir," Ferracini said, sounding formal. He shook hands first with Bowden, then with Warner. "The men asked me to express their appreciation for the hospitality. I’d like to add mine, too." Bowden smiled faintly and nodded. Ferracini climbed down into the bridge hatch and began descending the ladder below.

From the compartment below the bridge, Ferracini squeezed through another hatch and entered the pressure hull of the ship, beyond which yet another hatch and a third ladder brought him into the forward end of the control room, with its confusion of machinery, consoles, dialed panels, and equipment racks, the purpose of most of which he didn’t understand. Crewmen were busy at stations extending away on both walls aft of the twin periscope stand and huge chart table. On the port side stood two padded leather chairs with cockpitlike control columns and arrays of hooded instruments, looking more like an aircraft flight-deck than the helmsman’s and diving officer’s positions on a ship. The seats were fitted with safety belts, which said enough about the Narwhal’s maneuvering capabilities; the dynamics of handling fast submarines came closer to flying through water than anything that resembled sailing in the traditional sense.

Bowden’s executive officer and a detail of seamen accompanied Ferracini forward through the passageway leading between the captain’s cabin and sickbay to the wardroom, where the passengers had been given bunking space for the voyage. He found Cassidy and the two privates, Vorkoff and Breugot, packing away final items of kit and helping the eight people they had brought out of England into top clothes suitable for going outside. Several of the civilians still looked drawn and emaciated, although traces of color were beginning to show on their faces after four days of rest, proper medical care, and the Narwhal’s generous rations.

"Pretty well done, Harry," Cassidy drawled, zipping up the last of the bags he had been packing. "How are things doing outside? Are we almost there?"

"Just coming into harbor. They’re taking on the pilot," Ferracini replied.

"So how’s home sweet home?"

"Wet, cold, and windy. Everyone ready down here?"

"All set."

Mike "Cowboy" Cassidy had a long, lanky frame, which he carried with an easygoing looseness that could be disarmingly deceptive, clear blue eyes, thick yellow hair, and a ragged mustache. Special Operations troopers were trained to work in pairs, and he had been Ferracini’s regular partner for over three years. By all the measures of mood and temperament that the psychologists made so much of, they should have been incompatible, but each had refused obstinately to work with anyone else.

While the seamen carried the kit out, Ferracini looked around at the people in the wardroom. This would no doubt be their last time together as a group. Just as they had begun getting to know something about one another after four days in the cramped confines of the submarine, the voyage had ended, and they would all be whisked away in different directions. It was like life in general—nothing permanent; nothing lasting; nothing to attach roots to. Ferracini felt weary at the futility of it all.

The two scientists, Mitchell and Frazer, were still wearing oddments of the homemade uniforms of the Prison Guard Section, British Security Police—effectively a locally recruited branch of the SS—in which they had contrived their escape from the political concentration camp on Dartmoor. In earlier years, Mitchell, a specialist in high-temperature corrosion chemistry, had been forced to work in the program that was supposed to have led to the first German lunar landing in 1968. Frazer had been working on inertial guidance computers before Berlin ordered his arrest for alleged ideological failings.

Smithgreen—certainly not his real name—was a Jewish Hungarian mathematician of some kind who had managed, incredibly, to evade detection ever since England’s surrender to Germany on the first day of 1941. Maliknin was an escaped Russian slave laborer who had worked on the German ICBM silos in northern Siberia. Pearce—again, undoubtedly a pseudonym—had bleached his hands and facial skin and straightened his hair in order to survive the African genocide of the sixties.

Then there was the woman who was called "Ada," slumped in a chair at one end of the wardroom table and staring vacantly at the bulkhead as she had for most of the voyage. England might have surrendered in 1941, but Ada never had. She had continued fighting a one-woman war against the Nazis for over thirty years, ever since the day when, as a young schoolteacher in Liverpool, she had watched her husband, father, and two brothers being marched away as labor conscripts for deportation to the Continent, never to be heard of again. Revenge had become her way of life. Using forged papers, disguises, and a score of aliases, she had reputedly killed one hundred sixty-three Nazis, including a Reich Governor, three district commissioners, the Gestapo chiefs of two British cities, and dozens of British collaborators in local government. She had been arrested repeatedly, had suffered interrogations, beatings, and torture; she had been sentenced to death six times, escaping on four occasions and twice being left for dead. Now, in her fifties, she was burned out, aged prematurely by a life of hatred, violence, and ordeals of the kind evidenced by the gnarled scar tissue at the ends of the fingers of her right hand, where nails used to be. Her fighting was done, but the information that she carried in her head would be priceless.

Ferracini’s survey of the wardroom finally brought him to the young man with the mustache and the blonde girl who were known only by their code names "Polo" and "Candy." Both of them were U.S. agents returning home after an operational tour. Ferracini had no idea what they had been involved in, and it was better that things remain that way.

Vibrations shook the structure, and the sounds of machinery came from nearby. There were no pointless dramatics among the company, or pretensions that their relationships would endure. After briefly muttered thanks and farewells, Ferracini and Vorkoff led the way into the wardroom passage, down a level, and forward into the torpedo storage room, where one of the main loading hatches had been opened. They exchanged more good-byes with the ship’s officers standing around the ladder below the hatch and then preceded their charges up and out through a hooped canvas shelter onto the narrow working space crowning the ship’s precipitous sides. Ferracini went ahead up the gangway to join the sailors who had carried the kit ashore, while Vorkoff stayed at the hatch to help the civilians across the wet steel plates. Cassidy and Breugot brought up the rear.

The first thing that Ferracini saw as he came up to the level of the dock was a naval lieutenant standing in front of a bus that was waiting to take the civilians. The second thing he saw was the olive drab Ford sedan bearing government plates and parked fifty or so yards back, with a uniformed driver inside and an indistinct figure watching from the backseat. Although the window was misted, making details impossible to distinguish, the figure, with its rounded facial silhouette and the floppy hat jammed squarely on its head, could only be Winslade. That the car was flying a general’s pennant and Winslade wasn’t even in the Army meant absolutely nothing. In fact, it would have been typical. He should have expected as much, Ferracini told himself. He had never heard of personnel on active duty being intercepted for the next mission like this, before the current one was officially over; and whenever things started moving in the direction of the highly irregular, Winslade was usually involved somewhere.

The lieutenant, it turned out, wasn’t authorized to accept the handover documents for the civilians. The bus was just to take them to the airfield on the far side of the base, he informed Ferracini, where planes were waiting to fly them to their respective destinations. The people who would be taking charge of them formally were at the airfield. "I’ll see what’s happening here," Ferracini told Cassidy. "You’ll have to go with the bus to take care of the formalities. We’ll pick you up later."

Cassidy nodded. "I’d hate to see ’em all sent back because we did the paperwork wrong."

"You guys can go with Cassidy, too," Ferracini told Vorkoff and Breugot. "You’ll be able to find out over there about transportation back to base."

They exchanged farewells with Ferracini and boarded after the civilians. The naval lieutenant followed last, and the bus pulled away. Ferracini looked up and saw the white-capped figure of Commander Bowden watching from high on the Narwhal’s bridge. The figure raised a hand, and after a few seconds Ferracini raised his own in response. Then he shouldered his kitbag, turned away, and walked across the dock to where the Ford was waiting.

The driver, who had got out and was standing in front of the car, took Ferracini’s bag and stowed it in the trunk. Inside, Winslade leaned across to open the door opposite him. Ferracini climbed in and shut the door. Succumbing to the texture and smell of the padded leather upholstery, he stretched back with a grateful sigh and closed his eyes to savor for a few precious moments the unaccustomed feeling of luxury and warmth enveloping him.

"I take it we have to collect Cassidy," Winslade’s precisely articulated voice said while the driver was getting in. "Where to? The air base?"

Ferracini nodded without opening his eyes. "He’s taking care of the papers."

"The air base," Winslade said, in a louder voice. The car moved smoothly away. "So, Harry, how did it go this time?" Winslade inquired genially after a few seconds.

"Okay, I guess. We got set up as planned. We got them out. We brought them home."

"All of them? I counted only eight."

"The three that were supposed to come through from London didn’t show up. We never found out what happened. Pluto thinks there’s a leak at that end."

"Hmm . . . that’s unfortunate." Winslade paused and digested the information. "Does that mean Pluto’s compromised?"

"Maybe. He’s closing down the operation as a precaution—moving to Bristol and opening a new shop there, probably inside a month."

"I see. And our dear friend, Obergruppenf├╝hrer Frichter? How is his health these days?"

"Lousy. He won’t be hanging any more hostages."

"How tragic."

Ferracini opened his eyes at last and sat up with a sigh, at the same time pushing his cap back off his forehead. "Look, what is this, Claud?" he demanded. "There are proper places and procedures for mission debriefings. Why are you handling it, and why are we riding around in a car?"

Winslade’s voice remained even. "Just my personal curiosity. The regular debriefing will be held later by the appropriate people. However, there’s more pressing business to be attended to first. To answer your other question, we’re not simply riding around, but going somewhere."

Ferracini waited, but Winslade left him hanging. He sighed again. "Okay, I’ll buy it. Where?"

"We were going to the air base, anyway—flying to New Mexico."

"Where, specifically?"

"Classified."

Ferracini tried another approach. "Okay—why?"

"To meet some people whom I have no doubt you’ll find interesting."

"Oh, really? Such as?"

"How about JFK for a start?"

Ferracini frowned. He knew that while Winslade had a way of playing with people sometimes, he never joked frivolously. Winslade smirked, his pale gray eyes twinkling behind rimless, semicircular spectacles, and his mouth stretched into a thin, upturned line.

In his late fifties at least, with a rounded face, ruddy complexion and nose to match, medium build, and white wisps of hair showing above his ears, Winslade would have cut a good figure as a jovial but slimmed-down Mr. Pickwick. In addition to his soft, floppy-brimmed black hat he was wearing a gray overcoat with fur-trimmed lapels, a dark silk scarf, and brown leather gloves. He was clasping the carved top of an ornamental cane standing propped between his knees.

The most anybody seemed to know about Winslade was just as much as they needed to, which was never very much. Ferracini, for sure, had never really figured out exactly who Winslade was or what he did; but he did know that Winslade walked in and out of every department of the Pentagon with impunity, dined regularly at the White House, and seemed to be on first-name terms with the directors of nearly every major scientific research institution in the country. Also, in talking with Winslade over the several years in which their paths had been crossing intermittently, Ferracini had formed the distinct impression of Winslade as a man who was far from new to the business of undercover operations—and not only theoretically, but in terms of hard, firsthand experience as well. He suspected that Winslade had been operationally active himself once, long ago, possibly; but he couldn’t be sure because Winslade never talked much about himself.

The sedan slowed as it approached the gate leading out of the dockyard area. The barrier rose, and a Navy Police corporal waved them through while the two guards presented arms. Once through the gate, the car accelerated and turned in the direction of the air base.

Refusing to play further question-and-answer games, Ferracini clamped his jaw tight and thrust out his chin obstinately. Winslade shrugged, then smiled and reached into the briefcase beside him to draw out a neatly made, pocket-size portable radio, with a black front panel, silver knobs, and chrome trim. It was smaller than anything Ferracini had seen before, apart from secret military devices, and had a hinged cover on the front.

"Empire-built Japanese," Winslade commented as he flipped the cover open with a thumb. "You won’t see anything like it here, but the children there carry them around in the streets. It even plays recordings on magnetic cassette tapes. Want to hear one?" He produced a tiny cartridge, inserted it into a space behind the cover, snapped the flap shut, and pressed a switch. Then he rested the radio on his knee and sat back in his seat, watching Ferracini’s face.

Ferracini stared in disbelief as powerful, swinging music poured from the speaker, with clarinet leading over several saxophones to a lively, thumping rhythm of accentuated bass. It was unlike anything that he had ever heard. The popular music of the seventies tended to be a mixture of militaristic and patriotic marches, Wagner and the dreary dirges of the people who thought America could save itself by going Fascist, and the wailing about doom and destruction of liberal-minded adolescents. But this? It was crazy. It didn’t go with the times, either—or with Ferracini’s present mood.

After a few bars of incomprehensible vocal harmonizing, a male soloist came in with the lyric. Winslade tapped his fingers on the armrest beside him and nodded his head in time with the beat.

 

Pardon me, boy,

Is that the Chattanooga choo-choo?

Yeah, yeah, track twenty-nine,

Boy, you can gimme a shine.

Ferracini brought a hand up to cover his brow and shook his head, moaning tiredly. "Claud, gimme a break. I’ve just got off a sub that we’ve been cooped up in for days. We were over the other side for six weeks. . . . I don’t need this right now."

 

You leave the Pennsylvania station ’bout a quarter to four,

Read a magazine and then you’re in Baltimore,

Dinner in the diner,

Nothing could be finer,

Than to have your ham n’ eggs in Carolina.

Winslade turned the volume down. "Glenn Miller. Would you believe I used to dance to that?"

Ferracini stared at him incredulously, as if seriously wondering for the first time if Winslade really had gone insane. "You? Dance?"

"Certainly." A faraway look came into Winslade’s eyes. "The Glen Island Casino was the best spot, off the Shore Road in New Rochelle, New York. That was the prize booking for all the big bands then. It had the glamour and the prestige. The main room was up on the second floor, and you could walk out through big French windows and look right across Long Island Sound. All the kids from Westchester County and Connecticut went there. Ozzie Nelson played there, the Dorsey Brothers, Charlie Barnet and Larry Clinton. . . . You really don’t have any idea how the world was before the fall of Europe and the Nazi atomic attack on Russia, do you, Harry?"

Ferracini stared dubiously at the box in Winslade’s hand and listened for a few seconds longer. "It doesn’t make sense," he objected.

"It doesn’t have to make sense," Winslade said. "But it’s got a positive, confident sound to it. Doesn’t it give you an uplift, Harry? It’s happy, free, alive music—the music of people who had somewhere to go, and who believed they could get there . . . who could achieve anything they wanted to. What happened to that, I wonder."

Ferracini shook his head. "I don’t know, and to be honest I can’t say I care all that much, Claud. Look, if you want to take off on a nostalgia trip or something, that’s okay, but leave me out of it. I thought we were supposed to be talking about the assignment that Cassidy and me were radioed about, that you said had something to do with the President. So, could we get back to the subject, please?"

Winslade cut off the music and turned to look directly into Ferracini’s face. Suddenly his expression was serious. "But I never left the subject," he said. "This is your next mission . . . or I should say, our next mission. I’ll be coming along, too, this time—heading up the team, in fact."

"Team?"

"Oh, yes. I told you we’re on our way to meet some interesting people."

Ferracini struggled to make some kind of connection. Finally he shook his head. "So where are we going—Japan? Someplace in the Japanese Empire?"

Winslade’s eyes gleamed. "Not where, Harry. We’re not going any where at all. We’re staying right here, in the States. Try asking when."

Ferracini could do nothing but look at him blankly. Winslade made a pretense of being disappointed and nodded toward the radio as if giving a hint. "Back then!" he exclaimed.

Nonplussed, Ferracini shook his head again. "It’s no good. Claud, I still don’t get it. What the hell are you talking about?"

"Nineteen thirty-nine, Harry! That’s the next mission. We’re going back to the world of 1939!"

 
Content © The Estate of James P. Hogan, 1998-2014. All rights reserved.

Page URL: http://www.jamesphogan.com/books/info.php?cmd=sample&titleID=23