The Traitor Awakes
Despite the midnight hour, there remained a shroud of grey daylight as the Victor class submarine slipped silently up the Beloye Moye channel out of Arkhangel - seeking the freedom of the open sea Her crew were excited, inquisitive and eager - like gun dogs the morning before a shoot. Tired of long months in port, seamen above all, they craved the wide ocean.
Now - just inside the Arctic Circle, where it was still daylight for an entire twenty-four hours - enjoying the precious weeks before the brief northern summer died - the crisp air already hinted of autumn and the long harsh winter that would follow.
The matt black, three hundred and forty seven foot vessel slid easily through the mirrored water. Yielding scarcely a ripple the gunmetal surface parted briefly for her passage, shimmering iridescent under a pale sky as she carefully tracked the deep channel.
Her captain was pleased to be afloat again - such trips were rare now, years after the collapse of the Soviet empire. Most of the Northern Fleet's submarines had been scrapped and Russia had no money to waste on deploying its remaining hunter-killers continuously at sea. Only occasionally was a voyage now authorised to maintain a semblance of training and an attempt at improving the diminishing morale.
He longed for the way it had once been - ten years before they'd have stayed out of the deep-water channel, wary of colliding with a big Ushakov nuclear powered cruiser or even a Kiev class aircraft carrier. Now, in these days of austerity, the passage of these huge warships was a rarity - most vessels were rusting, confined to dockyards for lack of a refit, or in the long queue for a recharge of enriched uranium for their reactors.
As his sleek Victor slowly edged along the channel, Commander Rudolf Nurenko could almost smell the open Arctic a hundred miles ahead and his heart beat faster as he tasted the salt spray. Two pressurised water reactors generating steam for the powerful turbines were hardly working at this pedestrian speed, but once in the open ocean they could dive, manoeuvre and test the full performance of this beautiful craft, prettiest of all submarines.
Nudging four thousand nine hundred tons on the surface and six thousand submerged, she was small by Russian nuclear standards - some of the big missile boats displacing an astonishing twenty thousand tons. Even so the Victor was modern, needing only a crew of eighty-five, and having virtually unlimited range. Only the food supplies and the stamina of her crew limited her capacity She was deadly too, with six tubes firing nuclear tipped torpedoes - and she was fast, very fast, able to make forty five knots submerged, more than a match for the best British or American boats.
It was almost as if the boat itself had a soul, a mind of its own that sensed the great sea ahead, as occasionally a slight almost imperceptible shudder, perhaps from excitement or anticipation, vibrated through the black hull - a tiny palpitation in her great heartbeat as she nosed relentlessly northwards, towards her real world
Nurenko had once been a proud man - commanding this vessel at the height of Soviet power.
But now? It was difficult to be proud of the mess they'd got themselves into.
In the past he wouldn't have agreed to the proposition put by the retired Field Marshal in Archangel, a crook who stole and exported weapons and explosives.
There was even a rumour he'd sold a Mig 29, although Nurenko personally doubted that. There had been a time when he would have reported the man as an enemy of the state, but sadly things were now different and the whole dammed country was corrupt. Finally he'd given in and let himself be persuaded - seduced by the lure of the US dollars.
'Commander Nurenko,' the old warrior had beckoned
'After your many years serving Mother Russia, you deserve a better pension than the state provides. Your family deserve more than a truck full of roubles worth nothing.'
Dollars, US dollars, tens and tens of thousands of them, were what he'd been offered. A long serving navy man, a top commander, shouldn't retire a pauper, so he'd succumbed to the general's inducements.
Now, gazing wistfully northwards towards the peace and solitude of the Arctic - into a purple-grey sky where the midnight sun aimed its best shot at becoming night - he regretted his decision. It wasn't so much what he was doing - not even what his crew thought. Unlike him they didn't know what the sealed green steel container really held - but illicit arms deliveries to foreign shores were nothing new. They'd been taking place as long as he had served in the navy - supplying tin pot terrorist operations around the world attempting to destabilize legitimate governments.
Rather it was a regret sadness that it had come to this - a senior captain in the remnants of the world's greatest underwater fleet, reduced to smuggling weapons stolen from his own people - from his old comrades.
An accomplice to theft and treason in order that he may live near his grandchildren, buy them presents and survive comfortably in his old age. As he gazed into the pale distance where the Arctic horizon etched the edge of the world, a large oval tear rolled reluctantly down his weathered old face
Peter Hunter 2012
This short story is extracted from peter Hunter's thriller Time Of The Eagle on Kindle