Merkel pulled on his wetsuit as the four metre electric powered rigid inflatable boat (RIB) he was sitting in slid to a stop. The sea was calm tonight; a slow half metre swell gently rocked the boat as two other RIBs slowed and came to a stop beside his. The sliver of the moon shed just enough light for Merkel to see his comrades donning their own equipment.
They had been waiting for the call to launch the assault for months, now they were a go; the call had come from their man on-board the vessel two weeks ago. Two weeks’ notice gave them plenty of time to make all the preparations necessary for this dive. It was going to be a long, hard, cold one and all the divers wore 7mm wetsuits and re-breathers to accomplish their mission.
One by one the men slipped into the inky black water to begin their six nautical mile underwater swim. They checked the GPS navigators strapped to their wrists, orienting themselves toward their destination, submerged and set off a minute apart.
The surveillance and security equipment both the ship and at the on-land security and communication centre possessed were formidable, necessitating such a long dive both there and back. Nevertheless the men were well prepared and had trained for this event for months. If all went well they would rendezvous with their RIBS in seven hours and be away before they were detected.
The defence system was multi-layered. The ship itself possessed two radar systems; the first the latest Sea Hawk system capable of detecting small craft such as the RIBs, up to five nautical miles away. And the second, an eight foot X Band antenna with a two hundred and fifty mile range, but unable to detect such small craft. There was also a sonar system. The Doppler Multi Beam Sonar was primarily an underwater navigation device but was also capable of detecting underwater objects approaching the ship. This was augmented by a system of Sonar Buoys that hung in the water forming a two mile perimeter all around the vessel.
On land there were larger X band systems, hook-ups to the military satellite systems and of course fast response helicopters capable of responding within thirty minutes. Nothing not even the smallest and stealthiest of crafts could approach, either on the surface, in the air or underwater within five miles without being detected.
The RIBs had left from a deserted beach, on the Orange River estuary at 6.00 PM, just after sunset, making their drop-off point a little after 8.00. As the last of them submerged the only sound to be heard was the gentle lap of the waves against their small boats. All of them were keenly aware that they had to make it back to the RIBs by 3.30 AM, to allow them enough time to rendezvous with their ship before sunrise at 5.30. Those that didn’t would be left behind, with little chance of making it back to shore.
Operations on the one hundred and sixty nine metre Peace of South Africa ran twenty four hours a day. Never was there a moment of silence. Pumps throbbed and the conveyor belts groaned under the weight of their loads. And lights blazed everywhere.
She was operating some forty nautical miles off the Namaqualand coast in the Northern Cape. One hundred metres below her on the sea floor, a monstrous tractor slowly crept along the bottom. It sucked up everything in its path, passing it through a metre wide tube and delivered it to a processing plant mounted on the back of the ship, at a rate of four tonnes per minute. Two more tubes, one mounted each side of the vessel spat the spoil back into the sea. Daylight would have exposed a slick miles long, the sea now longer blue but tainted dark brown, with the dredging operations waste.
A crew of seven, on eight hour shifts operated the dredging process and a security contingent patrolled the decks constantly, reporting back to the security and communication centre hourly, on the hour.
Petre, the new man on the security crew opened the door to the control centre, to be greeted by a draft of cold conditioned air. He relished his hourly visits for the brief respites it offered from the noise and stifling heat upon the decks he patrolled.
Jack looked up from his desk.
“How’s it going out there?”
“Seems fine, the dredge is working well it seems. I can’t believe we haven’t had to shut down except the regulars for over three weeks. Our bonuses are going to be good this month”
“Grab a coffee” Jack said “And bring me one, this chair might be great but my back is killing me. I’m spending far too much time hunched over these damn screens. Take over for a while.”
The ship although not new, had only just been converted for this operation, and every fitting from its galley, through its dredging and sorting operations, to this communication centre was state of the art. Petre took the command chair as Jack stretched out his aching back; he then grabbed a cigarette from the packet on the console. Taking his coffee with him, he went out onto the walkway and peered down into the murky water below him as he lit and sucked on his cigarette.
He exhaled wafts of white smoke with a satisfied ‘arhh’. Within a few minutes he was back, relieved to be away from the cacophony of sound that washed over the ship.
“Give us my seat back mate”
As Jack settled back into his seat a small blip appeared upon the sonar display.
“What’s that?” asked Petre
“A shark, most probably, don’t go swimming round here mate, got Great White’s round here you know.”
Had the full spectrum of the Multi Band Sonar been running, it would have given an accurate visual representation of the disturbance the dredge created, showing huge clouds of debris thrown up into the surrounding water. As it was only the side beams were running, which showed a visual of the surrounding ocean. Large fish and sharks were sometimes detected on the sonar, but as Petre pointed out, they tended to be frightened off by the noise generated by the dredging operations.
“Catch ya later, better be going, thanks for the coffee. See ya in an hour.”
“Yeah, later mate.”
As Petre closed the door to the communications centre the first of the divers arrived under the keel of the ship, there to wait for the rest of the men. Although it was a long underwater swim, he was as with all of them were supremely fit, and despite the pitch blackness underwater he had easily navigated the distance. The GPS on his wrist showed not only his destination and their start point but also all the other divers trailing behind For the last mile or so the ever increasing noise of the dredge guided him in and for the final few hundred metres the blaze of lights hanging on the stern of the vessel illuminated their target.
Over the next twenty minutes the rest arrived, there were nine in all, and all had made it as easily as the first. Seven of them would board the ship, all equipped with waterproofed and silenced MP5’s, the other two would stay under the ship having other duties to perform. They all rested for ten minutes before making their way to the stern of the vessel past the two huge stern azimuth thrusters.
Thirty minutes now remained to make it onto the vessel, through the well deck cut into the stern and to be in position for the next security patrol. One by one they each crawled up over the well deck, careful to remain in the shadow of the enormous derrick attached to the tractor below and into to their allotted positions. This part of the assault had been meticulously planned and rehearsed on a mock-up of the ship, and by five minutes before midnight all were in place.
At precisely midnight Petre re-entered the communications room just as expected, giving Jack and nod and a smile.
“Just going to use the head,” he said and received a nonchalant wave from Jack.
As Petre left the head, Jack was just finishing his two hourly report back to the on-land control centre located in Alexander Bay.
“Yep, it’s all going great, see ya,” were the last words he would utter.
As Jack hung up the microphone, Petre slid out the black ceramic blade that had been secreted in his sleeve, plunging it deep into Jack’s throat, and then pushed it forward to instantly severe Jack’s vocal cords. Jack was dead within seconds, his blood spurting from his severed carotid artery all over the desk in huge gouts. Casually Petre pulled Jack’s body out of the chair rolling it under the console with his right foot. Then sitting on the chair himself he reached forward, mindful of Jack’s blood pooling on the lip, and turned off the work lights at the stern of the ship.
At this signal the men secreted away knew they were on, each in addition to his MP5 had night vision gear which each slipped into place.
The grave yard shift consisted of six men working on the dredge with a further man at the dredge controls. It wasn’t uncommon to have technical problems, so the fact they were suddenly plunged into darkness didn’t particularly trouble them. It had been a trouble free three weeks and all of them expected something to break somewhere soon. Before any of them could reach for the radios they were cut down with multiple rounds from the silenced MP5’s.
One member of the assault team had been allotted the bridge as his target, one to the remaining security guard on duty and one more to the engine room. Each took down his targets in the same manner, within five minutes of the lights going out the all fourteen active grave yard shift members lay in pools of their own blood.
The assault team now had effective control of the ship along with all its communications equipment. The remainder of the crew another thirty men were all below decks and most would probably be asleep. No personal mobiles were allowed on the ship so they weren’t concerned on that issue. No communication to outside was possible and the next scheduled report was nearly two hours away.
The assault team split up, one stayed on the bridge and two went below decks to ensure they weren’t disturbed by any off duty personnel that happened to be awake. Two of them stayed on deck, leaving two: Merkel and Gunter to complete their mission.
Merkel and Gunter descended into the bowels of the ship, the final sorting area of the dredging operations, eventually stopping a large steel door. On this door was attached a security key pad, they weren’t going to bother with that. They knew that the security procedures of entering this room dictated that three people had to enter together, all entering their own passwords along with their finger prints.
Merkel pulled out a small shaped explosive charge and attached it to the door along with a detonator. Nodding to Gunter they retreated around the corner and blew the door. Inside they were greeted by a similar door and repeated this performance again.
With the doors blown they made their way into the final room, both now eager to get the job finished.
In the middle of the room stood a large automated machine totally encased in glass, floor to ceiling. Merkel’s eyes widened as he peered through the glass. A huge grin appearing on his face.
To one end stood thirty three tins, each the size of a soup tin, completely unadorned with the exception of a small white label, on which was a bar code.
At the other end of the machine stood a single tin as yet neither unsealed nor labelled by the automated process. Above which was a narrow stainless steel tube extended from the ceiling above, and as they watched a small white diamond slid from the tube into the tin, sparkling as it fell. Merkel looked at Gunter, neither able to hold back their chortled laughter.
“It’s all true” he said. “Up until now I could hardly believe it, but there it is.”
On the other side of the glassed enclosure stood two hundred and fifty million dollars worth of uncut diamonds, untouched by human hands and utterly untraceable.
They’d waited until a rich deposit was hit by the dredging operation. Normally at the end of every month there would have been at least forty million up for grabs, but this month the ship had hit pay dirt, discovering the richest deposit by far, astounding the ship’s owners back in South Africa.
They were still on the clock, and they wasted no time attaching another small piece of Det-Cord and detonator, just enough to breach the glass. With the glass cleared away, both men grabbed the tins depositing them into a back pack each carried, and then ran out of the room along the companion way and toward the deck of the ship. They had been on the vessel for fifty five minutes and now five minutes remained before they were due back in the water.
Precisely on time they all met back at the well deck, below which they had stowed their diving equipment hanging from carabineers under the water. The assault team, now accompanied by Petre, slipped back into the water to begin their long swim back to the rendezvous, no longer were they assaulted by the roar of the dredger beneath them. Thirty minutes later a sharp crack, followed by a roar issued through the water, as the explosives detonated under the keel of the Peace of South Africa and ripped her apart. It would be another fifteen minutes before anyone at the on-land communication centre realised there was a problem on the ship and at least an hour after that, before they managed to get a helicopter over the area. By then the ship would be on the bottom of the ocean and they would back in the RIB’s soon to rendezvous with their ship, the Guardian of the Seas, which would deliver them home.
Alec Shepherd sat transfixed by the horror that was being revealed on the TV screen in front of him. Tears welled up from his large blue eyes, ran down his face and onto the paperwork on the desk in front of him. Those once clear sparkling eyes which usually captivated women were now rimmed with red as he watching a SBC news broadcast. Within a minute he could no longer see the screen clearly in front of him: his vision so blurred with the tears.
He would like to have said he was surprised by what he’d seen, but that was not the case, he had been expecting this for a long time.
These were the first shots to be taken of the disaster, and were provided by an Arctic survey crew that had been hurriedly dispatched contamination suits to protect themselves while their helicopter flew over the area. For an area of over five miles in all directions, radioactive dust from the explosion settled upon the water and the ice. Initially the black dust was slow to settle with just a peppering over the ice but now fell as if heavy rain, blackening whole areas of sea and pack ice, and with it the unseen but far more deadly radiation.
As radiation rained in from the sky more radioactive contamination seeped from the shattered hulls of the two sunken ice breakers. The radiation was making it virtually impossible to approach the area to even assess that damage, never mind begin cleaning it up. The radiation detectors the entire helicopter’s crew were wearing were already in the caution zone after only a few minutes of exposure.
The oil slick was plain to see and with it the deadly radiation, stretching into the distance slowly pulled by the current toward the cod fishing grounds of the Northern Atlantic. The last shot Shepherd was able to see before his tears completely obscured his vision, was of huge pieces of ice loosened in the blast, blackened by the oil, drifting over the ever-increasing oil slick.
Of the four nations that were extracting oil from deep within the Arctic Circle the Russians had decided due that to the extreme conditions and the large amounts of electrical power that were necessary for these operations, they would use nuclear reactors to provide this. They had designed the Prirazlomnaya platform, the first ice-resistant oil drilling rig in the world which had been installed in the Pechora Sea and used small nuclear power plants fitted to some ancient ice breakers to power the drilling operations.
Shepherd, as had many others, had warned of the incredible dangers of such a risky methodology. No one had listened and now the world was going to pay an unbelievably high price of this gluttony.
The nuclear power plant on one of the three ships had gone critical, and could not be shut down in time before it exploded. The result was catastrophic. The blast damaged and sank both the other two nuclear power ships; their reactors breached they began leaking radioactive material into the surrounding sea. The well head, rig and pumping station were practically vaporized by the explosion of the ship moored alongside, severing the undersea well, from which was spewing out thousands of barrels of oil an hour.
Shepherd, unable to watch more of this devastation, clicked off the TV remote and rubbed the tears from his eyes. He walked over to the windows of his Orchard Towers’ office, high above Orchard Road in Singapore, and looked down at humanity flowing through the streets below. Still only mid-morning but the pavements teemed with people and it would only get busier as the day drew on.
Orchard Road never really slept. Once the office workers went home, and the shops closed which rarely happened before 10, not the tourist based shops as most were, then the nightlife would begin. Orchard Towers was pretty much the epicentre of that. The building was dubbed locally as the Four Floors of Whores, not that that was entirely true but the floor floors above the bottom two shopping levels did contain an assortment of clubs, karaoke bars and massage parlours along with the odd sex shop thrown in. Alec’s home and office comprised the top floor when in Singapore.
Alec Shepherd was known the world over, some thought him deranged, others that he was a criminal and yet others worshiped the man. He was a gregarious and flamboyant character from his early days when he first came to the attention of the media as the captain of a converted trawler chasing down Japanese whalers operating in the Pacific to what he was now the CEO of the largest marine environmental company.
For nearly thirty years he had campaigned, protested and lobbied for clean energy production and marine conservation always believing that mankind would eventually see the light. He and his company made huge strides in marine aquaculture and energy production and were working with many countries across the world. But, the events in the UK and then the Middle East a year ago changed all that, and now his operations were limited to South East Asia and New Zealand.
The regime changes in Iran to a pro-western government along the discovery of the huge oil deposits that existed there unbeknown until that time to all but the ruling elite, resulted in a tripling in the output of oil from the Middle East. That coupled with the discovery and exploitation of massive shale gas reserves in Europe, The USA and South America meant that the world was more reliant on fossil fuel energy resources that ever before. Energy was cheap again, and many of the world’s governments had turned their backs on renewable energy, citing that this was good for the planets flailing economies.
Nobody could argue against this. It was a statement of fact; cheaper oil meant an increase in output and a reduction in costs. Manufacturing was up and so was construction, and most importantly unemployment was down. The man in the street now had a little more money in his pocket and the weight of the depression the world had endured over the past few years was lifting. And, that was the way governments and the oil companies wanted it to remain. Almost all of the renewable energy projects around the world came to standstill: off shore wind farm development was halted and in those few that were completed maintenance stopped and soon were being subject to breakdowns which went unattended. Tidal and wave energy projects were mothballed and along with them the aquaculture projects that were intrinsically tidied to them. Even work on the huge floating platform in the Mediterranean which was about to go online was halted.
The description floating platform really wasn’t adequate it was more a floating city. The structure was oval in shape, 7 miles long and 5 miles wide. Once commissioned it would house a marine research centre, hospital, schools, a manufacturing centre and living space along with the entire gamut amenities one would expect in a city even to a runway which ran down the centre of the structure that would cater to the biggest planes.
Alec’s company designed and supervised the construction of the platform as the first serious step toward the Hydrogen Economy. The perimeter structure contained wave and current electrical generation devices with enough power production to run the entire city. On the southern edge sat a cargo terminal that would rival any other in the Med and beside that a hydrogen refuelling and export dock sat capable of servicing several large ships at the same time. A third of the structure was dedicated to aquaculture; here kelp would have been grown to be later converted into hydrogen, in a balanced ecosystem with fish and shellfish.
The aquaculture system was revolutionary and Alec’s pride and joy: all the feeds were produced within the system and the system itself produced no waste products or pollution. Once fully functional it would produce 100,000 cubic metres of hydrogen annually and increase the seafood production of the Mediterranean by 40%. But, now only a skeleton crew remain upon the mammoth structure, their job to mothball it and then remain as the security crew. It now appeared as though the only use it would see would be the housing of (name) Alec’s research marine institute, which up until recently was distributed amongst several universities. The work on marine energy and aquaculture systems had been spread amongst Plymouth, Karlsruhe in Germany and Canakkale in Turkey, with their work on Zebrafish and heart disease along with the human genome project at NIH in the US. Three years ago it had made economic sense to house all their research in one state of the art facility, now Alec had serious misgivings about this decision but it was too late for that, and he would have to find another means of supporting their ground breaking research.
Alec drew away from the window, his heart slowing and his eyes drying. He had nothing against any individual that he could see walking with the masses below the Orchard Towers and the many that he interacted with on a daily basis. But, together the congregated masses of the planet formed a disease, a disease that was slowly killing mother earth.
He knew what he had to do.
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I hope you have enjoyed this sneak preview of Gaia’s Warriors, the sequel to A Plague Of Dissent. Gaia’s Warriors will be published later this year.