When an American missile submarine is sunk in the Sea of Japan, it's the opening move in a madman's devious plan to plunge the world into war. A day later, the Chinese ambassador to Washington is assassinated. Meanwhile, the unstable leader of North Korea prepares to attack America with a terrible weapon.
The U.S. President calls in the Project, a deep black ops unit that goes places and does things others can't or won't do. They've had tough assignments before: but this time they're up against an unknown enemy, a man bent on vengeance against all of humanity. He won't rest until the world is turned into a radioactive hell… and when it comes to the Project, it's personal. Can the Project team find him before he unleashes nuclear Armageddon?
HIGH ALERT won the Best Indie Book Award for 2017.
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Wonsan, North Korea
The USS California lay submerged outside the harbor at Wonsan, home to North Korea's East Fleet. Captain Richard Paulson looked through the observation scope and didn't like what he saw. The harbor was crowded with patrol boats and small craft. That was normal. What wasn't normal were the hundreds of North Korean landing craft bobbing in the endless swell coming in from the Sea of Japan.
The DPRK's Great Leader was threatening again to invade the South. That was nothing new, but this time it looked as though there might be something to it. If Yun intended to carry through with his threats, it would begin with a launch from Wonsan.
The Pentagon wanted to know what the Koreans were up to, but the heavily guarded harbor was camouflaged to hide activity from the American satellites watching overhead. Paulson's mission orders were to get up close and observe. If the North sent those boats south, the mission would change to active deterrence.
USS California was an Ohio class ballistic missile submarine, modified for cruise missiles. She carried enough nuclear tipped Tomahawks to turn North Korea's armies into radioactive ash.
Paulson thought it was a mistake to place his multibillion-dollar submarine this close to North Korea's paranoid and sophisticated defenses, but orders were orders. Advanced stealth technology hid the sub from the North Korean sonic sweeps looking for someone like him hiding under the water. Even so, there was always a chance of being discovered.
Lots of activity. There are more of those craft than yesterday. They're getting ready to do something.
He rotated the scope, scanning the harbor and coastline. A thin, white wake trailed after the slender column.
Some things didn't work well in North Korea, but radar wasn't one of them. Lieutenant Yun Chul was the current duty officer responsible for surveillance of the exclusion zone outside the harbor. The enlisted man watching the radar display called out to him.
"What is it?"
"Sir, I think there's a sub outside the harbor."
"One of ours?"
"No sir, I don't think so. She made no recognition signals."
Yun came over to the screen. "Show me."
"Here, sir." He pointed. "That looks like a periscope to me."
The radar man indicated the distinctive signature on the screen. Suddenly it was gone.
"What about the sonar net? Any sign?"
Yun's authority did not extend to ordering countermeasures. That required a higher rank. He picked up the direct phone to headquarters and asked for the base commander.
Admiral Park Hwan had served the Great Leader's father before him. Not inclined to question the orders of his superiors, Yun could be relied upon to do what was needed. In a country saturated in suspicion and paranoia, he was one of a very few high-ranking officers still trusted. It was why he'd been given his important job. He had made it a point to encourage the lower ranks to speak with him first in the event of a serious breach of security. It was why Yun was able to call him directly. To Yun's knowledge, no one had ever done so, but he wasted no time making the call
"Sir, this is the Harbor Surveillance Duty Officer, Lieutenant Yun. Radar has spotted what appears to be a hostile submarine lying offshore. A periscope was detected."
"You are certain?"
Yun took a deep breath. If he was wrong he would soon be headed for one of the rehabilitation camps.
"I am not absolutely certain, sir. But I believe it was a submarine. It can't be one of ours. None of ours are in the area. From the signature, I think it's American."
"An American submarine is suspected to be in the vicinity. Very well. Return to your post. We'll take care of it. But you'd better be right."
Yun set the phone down. His hand was sweating. You'd better be right.
"Watch for any further anomalies," he said to the radar operator.
They'll send patrol boats, Yun thought, with depth charges.
Admiral Park unlocked a drawer in his desk and took out a manila envelope stamped with the red code for state secrets. Up until now, there had been no need to follow the orders contained within it.
The orders came from the Supreme Leader himself. It would do no good to point out the complications that would come if they were carried out. No one contradicted the Supreme Leader or suggested that his judgment was anything but perfect. Not unless they wanted to end up in front of a firing squad.
Park got up from his desk and grunted in pain, feeling the ache of his arthritic knees. He picked up the envelope and crossed the hall to the operations center. All communications, defense systems and combat related operations were coordinated in this room, kept fully staffed around the clock. The communications area took up one entire side of the large space. Along with the radar, radio and satellite communications were as good as what the Chinese had, which was very good indeed. That wasn't a mystery. Almost all the gear had been manufactured in China and the operators trained by their military counterparts from Beijing.
Admiral Park went to the radio officer in charge, a man named Bak. His shoulder boards bore the single star and two red stripes of a Lieutenant Commander. Bak sprang to attention at the admiral's approach. The admiral was proud of his men and knew they respected him. Respect was everything. They would follow his orders without question.
Park withdrew a single sheet of paper from the manila envelope. It contained a radio frequency and a string of computer code.
"There is a possible enemy submarine lying submerged offshore. I want you to transmit this to them."
"Sir, excuse me, but our transmissions will not reach them unless they have raised an aerial."
"Don't worry about that. Send the coding on that frequency. It will reach them, if they are there."
Bak looked at the frequency. "Ah. At once, sir."
He took the paper to an enlisted man sitting at a nearby console.
"Send this immediately."
The radio operator raised his eyebrows when he saw the frequency. He entered it and began transmitting. After a minute he was done.
"Will there be a reply, sir?" the operator asked.
Admiral Park had come up to stand near Bak.
"I don't think so," he said.
In the waters of Wonsan Bay, an underwater drone awoke. Its American codename was Black Dolphin. The North Koreans had renamed it Righteous Anger. Lieutenant Commander Bak's transmission told the drone to seek for a possible submerged submarine.
The drone went into hunting mode and detected the enormous shape of California hiding outside the harbor. It slid quietly through the water and attached itself to the hull with a dull thud that sounded through the ship.
On board thesubmarine,someone said, "What was that?"
The computer inside the drone released a device to penetrate the stealth material covering the outside of the sub, then began transmitting high-speed bursts of code using the metallic hull of the submarine as an antenna.
The Chief of Watch was monitoring the functions of the ship at his station. Now he turned to the captain, alarmed.
"Sir, someone is accessing our computers."
"What? That's not possible."
Across the compartment, the Chief Petty Officer supervising the combat control consoles called out.
"Sir, I'm starting to lose functions. Were being hacked."
"Block it. Now!"
The CPO's hands flew over his keyboard as he tried to compensate for the interference.
"Sir, the computer is dumping memory."
There was a hint of panic in his voice. Alarms began sounding throughout the boat. Computer displays in the control room began to go dark, one by one. The emergency lighting flickered on.
"Damn it, man, stop them."
With sudden, ominous movement, the sub tilted sharply down. Captain Paulson was thrown across the compartment and hard into a bulkhead. He lay where he'd fallen, unconscious. Shouts and cries came from other parts of the boat.
The submarine went into a vertical dive.
Then all the lights went out.