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Authors: Gordon Kent

Damage Control

BOOK: Damage Control
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Gordon Kent


To the men and women, Japanese and American, who stopped Aum Shinrikyo


In a porcelain bowl floats a single lotus flower, waiting.

Meditation appears to the untrained as a passive activity. To the observer, the practitioner’s body seems poised but relaxed, the breathing even, the face calm. Westerners speak dismissively of men “studying their belly buttons.”

Mohenjo Daro sits easily on a low leather divan, his long legs crossed under him and his arms relaxed, hands resting easily on his knees. Aside from his pose, little about him suggests meditation. He wears a simple silk sweater from Italy and jeans. His face is that of a warrior from ancient Indian art, with rugged features and a pale walnut color. He was, and is, handsome, in a military way, the iron gray in his hair accenting the strong wrinkles in his skin. Nothing about him speaks of the ascetic except that his feet are bare.

His eyes are open. The pupils are huge, black, and blank, the irises almost as dark under heavy brows. And between them, exactly where a Brahmin’s caste mark would be, there is a birthmark, a third eye placed by nature.

The lotus flower. Daro sees it, regards it as a composite of organic material, as a symbol, an object of power. He seeks to know it without effort, to comprehend both the flower before him and the totality of the lotus. And having accomplished this to his satisfaction, he watches this blossom curl and close and then open, the water undisturbed beneath it, the petals
of the flower uncurling like stop-action photography. The petals reach their full, erotic opening, and then he watches them wilt and decay, the first touch of orange brown on the edges to the last black organic mold resting on the surface of the unmoving water. And then he begins to restore the flower, working the mold back to the ravaged blossom and then seeking the full bloom of perfect health. When the petals have risen from their watery grave and stand, shriveled but extant, once again attached to the stamen, Daro gives a sudden gasp as intense pain floods his abdomen, snapping his focus from the life of the flower to the dying of his own body.

In a porcelain bowl floats a single lotus flower, unchanged, but the man is writhing on his divan. The spasm passes, and he is angry, although the mood passes as quickly as the unfolding of the flower. He rises and zips on a pair of Spanish leather boots and crosses to the door, the flower abandoned. One hand remains on his abdomen.

He reentered his household when he left his meditation chamber. Outside waited the cares of the world as represented by his aide, Vashni, who bowed. He smiled at her. “Give me a lemon drop, Vash.”

She produced one, her head tilted to one side. She could read that his meditation was not satisfactory. “I have all the reports, sir. Our military situation is good. I have reports from each of our member units with their status and preparedness. Only the
has not reported in, which was to be expected.”


“Some of the financial information is late from Delhi because the government closed the exchange early.”

“Really? Whatever for?”

“There was the threat of a terrorist act. Or so the television claims.”

“Any effect on us?”

“None.” She was confident, arrogant.

He was walking now, leaving meditation for business and chewing his lemon drop. She followed him, reading figures on the output of factories and the price quotes of stocks that he assimilated without need of a pen and paper in much the way he could know the fullness of the lotus. Details of military units loyal to him and prepared to act. As he expected. He was making enormous sums of money, also as expected. He went to his office, nodded gravely to his private secretary in greeting as he passed through the outer office and continued to his desk, his attention on Vash unwavering. She had already prepared his laptop with input from her own files and he clicked idly through PowerPoint slides that illustrated the points she was making.

“What a pity that we cannot simply buy the world and fix her,” he said with a smile, looking at the vast sums of money they were compiling.

Vash smiled in return.

Daro touched a button on his desk and ordered tea. Then he reached under his shirt and withdrew a small golden plastic shell and plugged it into his laptop. The screen cleared and another image took its place, then passed away in a swirl of graphics, to be replaced by a word-processing screen.

His private secretary, once a devout Muslim, came in with a tray of tea and set it on his desk. He paused expectantly, and Daro motioned him to sit and join them. “Really, Ali, you might as well drink tea with us. A few more people might help create a sense of drama.”

Both of them laughed. “Drama” was usually a word of opprobrium to the believers. In this case, the absence of drama was clear, and almost comic given the gravity of the moment.

“I could not sleep last night, sir,” Ali murmured. He was an old man; the admission seemed boyish.

“Goodness, Ali. You don’t have reservations? If you do, please tell me.”

“Not reservations, sir.” A certain gleam came into Ali’s eyes, almost rakish. “Eagerness.”

Vash nodded as well. “So long in the planning,” she murmured. “So quick in the execution.”

Daro smiled, opened his mouth, and was hit by another spasm. He put his head down and held his abdomen with both hands, and when he raised his head, much of the color had left his face. “It won’t be so quick, my friends, because something will go wrong.”

They looked startled.

He nodded and took a lemon drop from the bowl on his desk. “No plan survives contact with the enemy. We will act, and someone will react, and we will react to their reacting, and there will be conflict and uncertainty and death. Something will surprise us, and our true test will not be in the years we prepared but in the moments where we must react to something we have not expected. That is the way.”

Vash, the consummate businesswoman, shook her head. “After all this preparation, I expect better. I expect victory.” She sounded as if she demanded it.

“Have I taught you nothing?” The color was back in his face, and his left hand had moved from his abdomen. He sat straighter. He looked at Vash. “There will be no victory, Vash. Or if there is a victory, it will be so impersonal that we will not recognize it, and few of us will see it, or even enjoy it. That is what it means to be a servant rather than a master. We serve the earth. The earth will never thank us except by surviving and thriving when we are gone.”

She nodded with her eyes cast down. “I spoke rashly.”

“Excellent! If everyone remembered every lesson and had no thoughts of his own, we would be working for the opposite of entropy, I think. Are we ready?”

“I would have liked this naval exercise with the Americans to have finished.”

“Like all elements in strategy, the naval exercise will pose us both problems and solutions. I admit that your part would be easier if there were no exercise, but the greater plan would be harder.” He looked at Ali. “Are we ready?”

“Your household is ready to move to the secure location.” He nodded sharply, as if, unlike Vash, he had no doubts and that scored him a point.

Daro turned his attention back to the laptop and typed “Chaos” into the screen.

He moved the mouse arrow to the send button and caught their eyes with his, deep pools of black that gave away little light.

“Here we go,” he said, and clicked the mouse.

West Fleet HQ, Indian Navy, Mahe, India

For Commander Alan Craik, Fleet Exercise Lord of Light was the culmination of six months of work, and, with six minutes to startex, he was angry because he, as umpire, could see that one side was already cheating—the US side. He looked around the large room that housed exercise planning and control—banks of computers, a central console that blocked his view of part of the room, ratings and a couple of officers in Indian naval khakis, and his own two US personnel.

“Sir?” Benvenuto was a skinny kid from the boonies of northern New York, a long way from home in this Indian naval headquarters. “Admiral Rafehausen’s on the net for you, sir.”

Craik walked around the big console. In front of him was a bank of encrypted radios that kept him linked to the US forces at sea, four hundred miles to the west. He grabbed a head mike with earphones. “Good morning, sir.”

“You’re late.” He knew Admiral Rafehausen’s voice—an old friend, pilot of the first aircraft he ever flew on. “You sleep in, Al? Leaving Rose for a nautch dancer?”

“I don’t think they even have nautch dancers anymore.”

“You should get out more often, Commander. What you got for me?”

“I have startex minus six, and you have an S-3 way out of exercise start parameters, sir.” He trailed the mike cord so
he could lean over the JOTS terminal—the Joint Operational Tactical System, which showed the entire exercise and could, if asked, show US and other forces all over the world—watching a lone S-3 Viking move at low altitude along the eastern edge of the Lakshadweep Islands.
Paul Stevens,
Alan thought to himself.
“I see him, Al. I guess he didn’t get the message.”

“I have to hold exercise start until that aircraft is within start parameters, sir.”

“Hey, Al, lighten up. I got my beach recon teams in the water now. I’ve got my decks full of guys waiting to launch and I can’t exactly call them off. My Combat Air Patrol is up and already needs fuel from the tankers on the deck. You know the drill, Al. Let’s just say I’ll ignore AG 702 for a while, okay? Can we get this thing underway?”

Alan ran the trackball over the American and Indian battle groups. The JOTS on Rafehausen’s carrier would show only the Fifth Fleet units, and the Indian admiral on board the Indian light carrier
would see only his. It had taken weeks of computer work by the two nerds in Alan’s exercise detachment to make this mutual blindness happen, and now one pilot was screwing it all up. He wanted to argue, even to use his supposed power as umpire to stop the exercise, but the big point was to cooperate with India and make diplomatic points. Canceling would be
bad diplomacy.

Alan sighed. “Okay, we’ll go for startex. But you’re on your honor about reports from that S-3.” In fact, Rafe probably wouldn’t be forced to his honor; the S-3 was a long way south of the Indian battle group, and if Stevens turned on his radar before startex, he’d be admitting he was cheating.

The hell with it. Get it over with and go home.
touchy because the umpire’s job had been wished on him only forty-eight hours ago. He had been supposed to honcho the intel
side for the US and then go home, where right now he could be enjoying his wife’s birthday.
For once.

“Four minutes to exercise start, then,” he said into his mike. Then Rafe, knowing Alan was angry, maybe feeling guilty, made small talk for forty seconds, and they ended the conversation as friends.

Alan turned to Benvenuto. “Three minutes to exercise. Start the message traffic feed.”

“Aye, aye, sir.”

Across the room, Indian ratings were feeding the scenario setup into the two comm nets.

Everything was going to be fine.

Aboard Indian Submarine
Arabian Sea

The communications officer coughed into his fist for the second time and read the message again. He couldn’t control his thoughts, which twisted and turned through his convictions and his fears faster than he could clutch at them.

The day.

Around him, the enlisted men on the comms station reacted to his all too visible nerves. Ram Vatek, his most senior technician, raised an eyebrow.

He knew Vatek as one of the faithful. He leaned back and coughed into his fist again, focusing on Vatek’s loyalty, using the man’s face as an anchor to reality. He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.

“It’s a new day,” he murmured and watched Vatek’s usually confident expression turn to apprehension.

The comms shack became still. Every man on duty knew what the words meant. Many of them knew parts of the overall plan. Knowing the plan and facing the grim reality of the message were different beasts.

No one in the comm shack flinched, however. They opened an arms locker that should not have been there behind the
central computer processor and took out pistols, Tokarevs loaded with special low-power ammunition.

He pressed the push-to-talk button on the main comms console and spoke to the whole ship.

“Today is a new day,” he said, his voice unsteady as he spoke.

On the bridge, the navigator reached under his chart table and drew a Makarov pistol from its holster, turned, and shot the captain in the face. Under the pressure of the moment, he shot him repeatedly, pulling the trigger until the slide clicked open and the noise and smoke filled the bridge.

In the engine room, the second engineer drove a screwdriver into the abdomen of the engineer and stood appalled at the amount of blood that pooled on the smooth gray deck as his superior writhed. A rating shot the dying man in the head and seemed to enjoy the act. The engineer had not been a popular officer.

The second engineer looked at the blood on his hands and uniform and wanted to scream. And he looked at the wild eyes of the rating with the smoking gun and wondered what they had unleashed.

In the weapons space forward, two of the faithful shot their way through with smuggled Uzi Combat Commanders, killing every crewman in the space and inadvertently wrecking one of the operational weapons stations. A lot of the weapons techs were Sikhs and other unrecruitable sectarians, so they had to be killed.

In ninety seconds, the mutineers had control of the ship. Every man they believed might not be loyal to their cause, including a few who had received the indoctrination, was herded into the mess deck and locked down. Many others were killed because the mutineers, once blooded, were vicious. On the bridge, the navigator settled into the newly
cleaned command chair and tried to ignore the smell of blood and feces.

“Make revolutions for five knots. Dive to one hundred fifty meters. Helmsman, make the course zero eight nine.”

“Aye, aye, sir.”

The Kilo-class submarine turned to port and headed away from the exercise area and back toward the west coast of India.

In the comms shack, the communications officer sent a coded message using the small golden egg he wore around his neck. The message went out through the VLF antenna and was received at West Fleet Headquarters, Mahe, where it was routed with other exercise traffic to its addressee at a small naval test facility in southern India—and to the Indian exercise-control officer at exercise headquarters, where Alan Craik waited.

West Fleet HQ, Mahe, India

Intel officers wait,
Alan thought as he watched a digital clock tick down toward the beginning of the fleet exercise. Two minutes twenty to startex.
And worry.
He was standing by the JOTS repeater, staring at it as if memorizing the position of every ship in both fleets, but he was thinking about his wife, Rose, wanting to be with her. He tried to focus on the exercise. He called across to a female US rating, the only other American there besides him and Benvenuto. “Borgman, give me an update on my comms with the two fleet commands.”

“Good to go, sir.” Borgman was a heavy-bodied woman with an almost childishly pretty face, a plodder who got things done with tenacity rather than brilliance.

He nodded and went back to the JOTS terminal and the glowing blobs that represented the American and Indian ships. Nothing had changed. He looked up and let his eyes swing over the room. An Indian rating named Mehta looked
up and let their glances meet as if to say,
We’re doing the best we can here.

A little more than a minute to go. Alan raised his eyebrows at Benvenuto.

“Good to go, sir,” Benvenuto said. He was looking at something over Alan’s shoulder as he said, “Data’s streaming—”

Aware then of somebody behind him, Alan turned, saw an Indian officer standing there, registered the single star on the collar, produced a name without having to look at the man’s tag—Commodore Chanda, the Indian exercise-control officer. Alan smiled, guessed that the answering scowl was prestart nervousness.

“Sir,” Alan said.

The commodore was watching the clock, must have been watching it when Alan turned around. Across the room, a nervous Indian lieutenant was also staring at the orange numerals.

The commodore was standing too close. Alan wanted to elbow him out of the way, of course couldn’t. He bent over the terminal, pretending to study the location of the American flagship. The commodore was right behind him.
Well, he’s a commodore; he can stand where he—

The crease in the commodore’s trousers brushed the back of Alan’s right thigh; Alan shifted left to make room for the more senior man, shifted his eyes for a fraction of a second off the terminal, catching a whiff of some scent the Indian officer used, then flashed back to the terminal as it—inexplicably, surprisingly—darkened and lost its picture, like an eye blinking. He caught movement below him—

—and saw a hand emerging from a uniform sleeve with a commodore’s broad stripe on it, holding something glittering and brassy to the input port of the JOTS repeater.

“Hey—!” Alan started to say, grabbing, without thinking, at the hand. Then, too late, he said, “Sir—!” but the commodore’s enraged eyes had already locked into his.

AG 702, 20 NM WSW of the Lakshadweep Islands

In AG 702, the cheating S-3 that Alan Craik had seen on the JOTS and complained about to Rafehausen, Commander Paul Stevens was enjoying his nugget TACCO’s nerves. “Hey, Collins, you got that back end sweet yet?” Stevens tried not to lose an opportunity to give the kid the gears. In fact, as far as Stevens could tell, the “back end”—the big bank of antiquated computers that drove the airplane’s sonar-receiving and tactical displays—was functioning as well as it ever did, but the new LTjg didn’t know that.

“It’s, uh, it’s up, sir. I mean—”

“Jeez, Collins, either it’s up or it ain’t. I’m the pilot, not the TACCO. Which way do you want it?”

“It’s up.” Collins’s voice rose so that the response sounded more like a question than an answer.

Stevens hit his intercom so that only his copilot could hear him. “Kids ought to be out of diapers before they leave the RAG.”

“Give him a rest,” she muttered. Lisa “Goldy” Goldstein had fought her way out of the girl jobs in naval aviation and she had plenty of spine to stand up to Stevens, who was a great pilot and an okay squadron CO, but sometimes a total asshole as a human being. “Skipper, you blow that kid’s confidence, we still have to live with him the whole cruise.”

Stevens smiled. He liked Goldstein, and he liked that she stood up to him. “I can hear the snot in his nose every time he talks.”

“Yeah, skipper, and I can see the dust when you fart. Can we get this show on the road?”

Stevens grinned. “Roger that.” He cycled the intercom to the back end. “Collins, if you’ve got us a working computer, you and Whitehorse better start thinking of your sonobuoy pattern.”

Bobby Whitehorse, the enlisted SENSO Officer, or SENSO,
was a shy, silent Indian kid from a reserve in the Dakotas. He listened, said nothing, and started to enter his projected pattern into the computer in front of him. As his facial expression rarely changed, it was difficult for the other troops in the squadron to figure out whether he was sullen-silent or shy-silent.

Stevens saw the little symbols on his pilot’s display. “Way over there?” he said. “You guys in back trying to run us out of fuel?”

“That’s where the ASW module told us to go, skipper,” Goldy said.

“Yeah, yeah. I came out this way to keep that big island between us and their radar.” Stevens was holding the plane about ninety feet off the waves beneath them, flying with one hand and turning his head to Goldy when he talked. One bad twitch and they’d have a wing in the water, but Stevens always flew this way and his crews got used to it. And they
to be under the opposing force’s radar horizon, because they were cheating—flying to a target before startex.

Stevens pushed the throttle forward and banked to the left, heading for the entry point to the pattern the SENSO had marked twenty nautical miles to the west.

“I have an ESM cut just beyond the island. Russian airsweep radar, second generation.” Collins sounded less nervous. He was better with the radar detection than with the sonar. “I’m putting it on screen. Second cut. Got a triangulation. See it, skipper?”

Stevens flicked his eyes from his instrument scan to the little screen on his console and winced. The Indians had at least a radar picket, maybe more,
closer to him than he had expected. This is where he and Rafe and the crotchety bastards in the anti-submarine warfare module had guessed they’d find the Indian sub early in the exercise. Rafe wanted it found and tagged from the get-go. And here the Indians
were, with a radar picket right at the edge of the start area, looking out for someone like—

“Looks like we’re all cheating together,” Goldy said.

“Jeez, Craik might have warned us the Indians were this far south.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Stevens saw the flash off her visor as Goldy turned her head and looked at him. Clearly she didn’t agree with his views on cheating, either.

“Got another cut, skipper. Another air-search radar.”

“They shouldn’t be seeing us yet,” Stevens said, banking sharply to keep the bulk of the forty-mile-long island between his plane and the radar pickets on the other coast.

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