“Bob, can you come to my office for a minute?”
Lieutenant Commander Robert McHugh replaced the handset on the telephone, gathered up the documents on his desk, and put them into his metal security cabinet; making sure to roll the tumblers several times on the locks to be certain that they were secured. He then went up two flights of stairs to his boss’ office. Captain Edward Mitchum was in charge of the Special Projects Office of NAVFAC, the Naval Facilities Engineering Command, headquartered in Port Hueneme, California, just north of Los Angeles. The Special Projects Office was responsible for undertaking investigations of an engineering nature referred to them by other units of the U.S. Navy.
“Good morning, Sir.”
“Close the door, Bob,” said Mitchum as he took out a manila folder from his desk drawer. “Have a seat.”
Wonder what’s up, thought McHugh, as he pulled up a metal side chair.
“Two months ago, a geomagnetic surveying team encountered a strange signal during what was supposed to be a normal mapping run over the Hatteras Abyssal Plain in the Atlantic Ocean southwest of Bermuda. Apparently, none of the eggheads have ever seen anything like it. It’s got quite a few folks in Washington in an uproar. I don’t need to tell you how sensitive that area is to our national security.”
“What do they think it might be?”
“You know the usual, Bob. Some think the Russkies might have something there.”
“Isn’t that pretty deep?”
“Yes, but who knows what the Russians have.”
“How does it involve us?”
“Apparently, someone at the Oceanographer of the Navy’s office thought that NAVFAC might have some systems that could get a better handle on what is making these signals – with all our assets, that is.”
“Why did it take so long to get to us,” asked McHugh.
“How long have you been in the Navy?” chuckled Mitchum.
“Why the excitement? It’s just an anomalous signal … isn’t it?”
“The report, which I am now handing to you, tells all about it. Apparently, it was a sharp report in an area that shouldn’t have had anything like that, especially since the Hatteras Abyssal Plain in that area is pretty deep.”
“Just shouldn’t be there,” agreed McHugh.
“What’s more, less than a week following the detection of that signal, a boomer, SSBN-620, running silent in the same region was knocked around by some unknown force like it was a toy boat in a bath tub. The captain was a top-notch submariner. He had never seen anything like it.”
“Those guys sure don’t like to spill their coffee.”
“Well, this one did. Let’s run an investigation on the signal. It could be something natural, or maybe a wreck we didn’t know about. I don’t know what to make of the boomer incident.”
“By the way, Bob, we’re getting another hand in about a month or so; a young fellow from Stanford University. I’m going to assign him to you.”
“I’m glad you said that, I am a bit short – handed.”
Captain Mitchum nodded. The Vietnam War had depleted just about every non combatant force in the armed forces. Many of his best men had been re-assigned to Construction Battalions and shipped off to Southeast Asia. He was lucky to have held on to Bob McHugh, who was not only a superb ocean research engineer, but also had combat experience as an Underwater Demolition Team member.
McHugh had completed a tour in the South China Sea just prior to being assigned to the Special Projects Office. While there, he had received a bronze star for a particularly difficult extraction under enemy fire. The mission had been to run a river boat up the Mekong River and pickup a provincial official who had served the American forces well, but had come under the suspicion of local Communist cadres.
As McHugh’s crew finished boarding the official and his family, Viet Cong opened fire from the dense brush along the shore. Two Navy corps men were still in the water. McHugh grabbed an M-1 carbine and returned fire from the stern of the vessel; drawing the enemy’s attention to himself. His actions permitted the two corps men to jump aboard and the River Boat to escape, thereby allowing the safe return of all. In his usual self effacing manner, McHugh wondered aloud what an ocean research scientist was doing in a situation like that. His heroics under fire gave McHugh standing in NAVFAC, where many officers had never seen combat.
“So, do you know anything about this new guy?” asked McHugh.
“Just that he is an NROTC graduate from the University of Virginia and is completing his Masters degree in Mechanical Engineering at Stanford. I think his name is Liu; Chinese I believe.”
That was an interesting remark, since oriental officers were still a rarity in the Navy, thought McHugh. He took the manila folder from Captain Mitchum and went back to his office.
Falling Star is a very realistic science fiction thriller. 44 four and five star reviews on Amazon US and UK. 98,250+ words, 354 pages.