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Alistair MacLean

Ice Station Zebra

To Lachian, Michael, and Alistair

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Commander James D. Swanson of the U.S. Navy was short, plump and crowding forty. He had jet-black hair topping a pink, cherubic face, and with the deep permanent creases of laughter lines radiating from his eyes and curving around his mouth, he was a dead ringer for the cheerful, happy-golucky extrovert who is the life and soul of the party where the guests park their brains along with their hats and coats. That, anyway, was how he struck me at first glance, but on the reasonable assumption that I might very likely find some other qualities in the man picked to command the latest and most powerful nuclear submarine afloat I took a second and closer look at him and this time I saw what I should have seen the first time if the dank gray fog and winter dusk settling down over the Firth of Clyde hadn't made seeing so difficult. His eyes. Whatever his eyes were, they weren't those of the glad-handing, wisecracking «bon vivant». They were the coolest, clearest gray eyes I'd ever seen, eyes that he used as a dentist might his probe, a surgeon his lancet, or a scientist his electronic microscope. Measuring eyes. They measured first me and then the paper he held in his hand but gave no clue at all as to the conclusions arrived at on the basis of measurements made.

'I'm sorry, Dr. Carpenter.' The south-of-the-Mason-Dixon-line voice was quiet and courteous, but without any genuine regret that I could detect, as he folded the telegram back into its envelope and handed it to me. 'I can accept neither this telegram as sufficient authorization nor yourself as a passenger. Nothing personal, you know that: but I have my orders.'

'Not sufficient authorization?' I pulled the telegram from its envelope and pointed to the signature. 'Who do you think this is — the resident window cleaner at the Admiralty?'

It wasn't funny, and as I looked at him in the failing light I thought maybe I'd overestimated the depth of the laughter lines in the face. He said precisely, 'Admiral Hewson is commander of the Nato Eastern Division. On Nato exercises I come under his command. At all other times I am responsible only to Washington. This is one of those other times. I'm Sorry. And I must point out, Dr. Carpenter, that you could have arranged for anyone in London to send this telegram. It's not even on a naval message form.'

He didn't miss much, that was a fact, but he was being suspicious about nothing. I said: 'You could call him up by radio telephone, Commander.'

'So I could,' he agreed. 'And it would make no difference. Only accredited American nationals are allowed aboard this vessel — and the authority must come from Washington.'

'From the Director of Underseas Warfare or Commander Atlantic Submarines?' He nodded, slowly, speculatively, and I went on: 'Please radio them and ask them to contact Admiral Hewson. Time is very short, Commander.' I might have added that it was beginning to snow and that I was getting colder by the minute, but I refrained.

He thought for a moment, nodded, turned and walked a few feet to a portable dock-side telephone that was connected by a looping wire to the long, dark shape lying at our feet. He spoke briefly, keeping his voice low, and hung up. He barely had time to rejoin me when three duffel-coated figtires came hurrying up an adjacent gangway, turned in our direction and stopped when they reached us. The tallest of the three tall men, a lean, rangy character with wheat-colored hair and the definite look of a man who ought to have had a horse between his legs, stood slightly in advance of the other two. Commander Swanson gestured toward him.

'Lieutenant Hansen, my executive officer. He'll look after you till I get back.' The commander certainly knew how to choose his words.

'I don't need looking after,' I said mildly. 'I'm all grown up now and I hardly ever feel lonely.'

'I shall be as quick as I can, Dr. Carpenter,' Swanson said. He hurried off down the gangway, and I gazed thoughtfully after him. I put out of my mind any idea I might have had about the Commander U. S. Atlantic Submarines picking his captains from the benches in Central Park. I had tried to effect an entrance aboard Swanson's ship, and if such an entrace was unauthorized he didn't want me taking off tifi he'd found out why. Hansen and his two men, I guessed, would be the three biggest sailors on the ship.

The ship. I stared down at the great black shape lying almost at my feet. This was my first sight of a nuclearengined submarine, and the «Dolphin» was like no submarine I had ever seen. She was about the same length as a World War II long-range ocean-going submarine, but there all resemblance ceased. Her diameter was at least twice that of any conventional submarine. Instead of having the vaguely boat-shaped lines of her predecessors, the «Dolphin» was almost perfectly cylindrical in design; instead of the usual V-shaped bows, her fore end was completely hemispherical. There was no deck, as such: the rounded sheer of sides and bows rose smoothly to the top of the hull then fell as smoothly away again, leaving only a very narrow fore and aft working space so treacherous in its slippery convexity that it was permanently railed off in harbor. About a hundred feet back from the bows the slender yet massive conning tower reared over twenty feet above the deck, for all the world like the great dorsal fin of some monstrous shark; halfway up the sides of the conning tower and thrust out stubbily at right angles were the swept-back auxiliary diving planes of the submarine. I tried to see what lay further aft but the fog and the thickening snow swirling down from the north of Loch Long defeated me. Anyway, I was losing interest. I'd only a thin raincoat over my clothes and I could feel my skin start to gooseflesh under the chili fingers of that winter wind.

'Nobody said anything about us having to freeze to death,' I said to Hansen. 'That naval canteen there. Would your principles prevent you from accepting a cup of coffee from Dr. Carpenter, that well-known espionage agent?'

He grinned and said: 'In the matter of coffee, friend, I have no principles. Especially tonight. Someone should have warned us about those Scottish winters.' He not only looked like a cowboy, he talked like one. I was an expert on cowboys, as I was sometimes too tired to rise to switch off the TV set. 'Rawlings, go tell the captain that we are sheltering from the elements.'

While Rawlings went to the dock-side phone Hansen led the way to the nearby neon-lit canteen. He let me precede him through the door, then made for the counter while the other sailor, a red-complexioned character about the size and shape of a polar bear, nudged me gently into an angled bench seat in one corner of the room. They weren't taking too many chances with me. Hansen came and sat on the other side of me, and when Rawlings returned he sat squarely in front of me across the table.

'As neat a job of corralling as I've seen for a long time,' I said approvingly. 'You've got nasty, suspicious minds, haven't you?'

'You wrong us,' Hansen said sadly. 'We're just three friendly sociable guys carrying out our orders. It's Commander Swanson who has the nasty, suspicious mind, isn't that so, Rawlings?'

'Yes indeed, Lieutenant,' Rawlings said gravely. 'Very security-minded, the captain is.'

I tried again. 'Isn't this very inconvenient for you?' I asked. 'I mean, I should have thought that every man would have been urgently required aboard if you're due to sail in less than two hours' time.'

'You just keep on talking, Doc,' Hansen said encouragingly. There was nothing encouraging about his cold blue Arctic eyes. 'I'm a right good listener.'

'Looking forward to your trip up to the ice pack?' I inquired pleasantly.

They operated on the same wave length, all right. They didn't even look at one another. In pefect unison they all hitched themselves a couple of inches closer to me, and there was nothing imperceptible about the way they did it, either, Hansen waited, smiling in a pleasantly relaxed fashion until the waitress had deposited four steaming

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