Back to the Desk

©2016 Levite

(the following story is fiction, we hope, see below. -thank you.)


"Sir, We have a Cold War Problem."

(NOTE: Many of the conversations and activities take place in the native language of the individuals involved. For simplicity's sake, they have been here rendered into English.)
"Help us do what?"
3 March 2020

      It had been a beautiful and slightly chilly early March day at NATO, but to Admiral Bouchard, it felt warm enough to go for a walk during the lunch hour. And, compared to the forecast for his home in Canada, it was warm.
      On his way back to the NATO naval standing force operations building he saw one of his junior staff officers standing nervously by the door and just knew instinctively that something was wrong. Probably, he felt, a seaman had gone missing during a drill in the North Sea. Something terrible for his family and friends, but not significant on the scale of matters his joint submarine services coordination office usually dealt with.

      "Sir." Sub-Lieutenant Goossens said sharply as he snapped to attention, but without a salute because he had an electronic pad in one hand and a stack of papers in the other.
      "Lieutenant. I..." Bouchard paused as he heard and then saw another of his staff running down the hall toward them in a flurry of clattering heels. "I think Ensign Monette has news for both of us."
      The running woman stopped suddenly, then saluted, and panted for a second.
      "I'm sorry, Admiral, there's been a development. Has Lieutenant Goossens filled you in?"
      "No," he looked from one to the other and back, "let's head back to the office and you can both bring me up to date."
      "I don't know where to start," Monette said.
      "At the beginning. Where else?"

      And so Goossens began with, "During the build up of the various military forces facing the old Soviet Union in the mid-nineteen-eighties, several European NATO countries decided that they could not rely on the nuclear weapons of the United States as a deterrent. What if Russia hit, say Germany or Spain but first warned the US that they would not launch against North America unless the Americans reacted. Yes, there was the 'all for one and one for all' thing, but that was political. The European powers wanted their own assurances, even with France and some of the others had their own nuclear arsenal, they had nowhere near the capacity of the superpowers."
      Bouchard nodded, "This is history, and?"
      Monette picked it up while the Belgian caught his breath after his speech, "One of the European programs involved a separate command of nuclear attack submarines under exclusive European control. They were not part of the larger joint command that involved North America. There was subs from the UK, France, then West Germany, and Spain. The Portuguese had promised a sub, but their boat was never delivered."
      "Also history. But they have been decommissioned and dry docked. The program was abolished before I came here."
      Monette and Goossens both stopped walking.
      The Admiral knew what that meant. He nodded to them and then looked toward the ceiling imploring what lay beyond the tiles for strength and patience. "There was something not part of the briefing packet that has come back to haunt all of us." His gaze lowered to the two junior officers. "Correct?"
      "Yes, sir."
      "Do you want to tell me here, or inside," he gestured to the door to their offices.
      "Inside would be better," Goossens answered.
      "Sir, we have a cold war problem."

      "It's all in here, Admiral," Goossens said as he opened the door for the senior officer.
      "And so is General Sayer," Admiral Bouchard stood to attention and saluted the British Liaison Officer who returned it with all the formality one would expect.
      The two lower ranking officers immediately froze in place.
      "Come in, come in," Sayer said after a moment, "this is most serious I can assure you, and, given the nature of the emergency, and its politically sensitive nature, we cannot disclose it to the larger NATO command, or to the Americans, or Russians, or anybody else at this time." Sayer made strong eye contact with them. "You understand don't you?"
      "Yes, sir."
      "I'm sorry, General, I'm still not up to speed on what's going on. The old cold war deterrent boats, what about them?'
      "There's something unusual about them that I'm not sure your staff is even aware of."
      Monette seemed put off by that statement, "Sir? I can assure you I have read all of the relevant material."
      "No, you haven't." Sayer said without emotion. "You haven't because it was redacted before the program was even up and running. The four boats that were deployed in 1987 weren't manned after the initial sea trials of the control system."
      The silence in the office confirmed the General's statement.
      "Yes, these were autonomous vessels. Launched with 1985 computers and programming, all systems were controlled by a, then, third generation complex machine built around a stack of 680 chips that were capable of true multitasking. At the time, they were state of the art, for the boat and the computer." The General nodded, "and I was quite proud of what we did with them, then. I was a very young man then, on my first classified assignment. I was on the team that tested the weapons systems response to the computer controls on the 'Tireless', the British boat assigned to the fleet. They've got torpedoes and even automatic machine guns in hardened positions to repel a boarding party. Just in case. And they all work. You could call them a final, doomsday, weapon of last resort."
      His face let them know that he wasn't done speaking, so the others just stood there for a moment until he continued.
      "But that was a very long time ago. Another career ago so to speak. In your reading, Ensign, you probably came across the note that all of these boats were decommissioned and dry docked in some fiord in Norway."
      Bouchard nodded, "Yes, sir, I remember reading that when I took this job."
      "Yes, and it is true, mostly."
      "Mostly, sir?"
      "Yes, but they were never totally demilitarized. The control systems and reactor were powered down to a stand by level, but left ready to refire and go on short notice and run at full power for at least three years. And the missiles were never deactivated. The four active boats were subject to routine maintenance and status checks, just as a final assurance that the situation we faced before would never happen again. In fact, they'd just gone through the routine before this happened."
      "So how did three of them, get away, for lack of a better way to put it?" Goossen asked, then added, "Sir."
      "We're still not sure. The 'Tonina' was out of the water, going through her maintenance and weapons upgrade when it happened, or she'd be gone too. During a routine base alert test and drill, the three powered up and took off at full speed out of the inlet." He gestured with his hand, down out and away. "I would suggest you begin at the base, and with the remaining sub. See what you can get out of the Spanish boat's command system, maybe it'll help you."
      "Help us do what, General?" Bouchard asked.
      "Help you find the other three before they do something we'll all regret." He held up a finger, "And before you say anything, we've tried to recall them, to order them to stand down, to scuttle themselves, all of it, they're not responding, but they are still communicating with each other, and the 'Tonina' as well. They had an on board communications stack to talk to each other for weapons targeting, but not for anything else. Given the age of the equipment, that may be due to systems failure. Even by the original estimates, these things are now about five years beyond their expected service life. That might be part of the problem."
      The silence that followed spoke volumes.
      "Which three are missing?" Monette asked finally.
      The General took a breath, then answered one by one. "The French boat, it was the fastest, she could do thirty-five knots for hours on end..."
      "The 'Terrible' it was called," Monette finished to his pause as Goossens brought up the picture on the data pad and showed it to the Admiral.
      "Yes. The British submarine, she could dive the deepest if memory serves," The general answered and waited.
      "'Tireless'." Came the answer and the photo.
      "And the German."
      "The 'Tiefsee'. A 206 that was refitted to type A standards, and then was re-refitted as a type B, as a nuclear propulsion demonstrator."
      "And the one that is in dry dock, was...?" Bouchard asked trying to remember what he'd just heard.
      The General nodded slowly, "The Spaniard."
      The others took over. "'Tonina'. It is a Spanish version of a French diesel design. Later it became a test platform for nuclear, like the 'Tiefsee'."
      The Admiral was already working the problem, "How long can these things stay out?"
      "On active patrol, six, maybe eight months. They were built for four month rotations. Emergency deployment could be double that. If they pushed it..." he paused, "My God, man, I'm talking about these things like there's a captain on board."
      "There is, it's just made of old computer parts."

      Admiral Bouchard stood there for a second looking at the picture of the Spanish sub on the pad. "Well, when can we leave for Norway?"
      "In about three hours. A 340 and crew has been placed on standby to fly you to... oh, give me a second." You could see him thinking, "Hammarvika, off the coast near Tondheim. This entire operation is under your direct command, and you will report to me. I don't think I have to impress upon you how serious, and secret, this matter is."
      "Yes, sir. What happens when we find any or all of them?"
      "You track them and relay to me their location, if we have to, we'll take measures to disable them by force. But remember, these things are fully armed."
      "Are they programmed to retaliate against a threat?"
      General Sayer took another deep breath, "They weren't originally, but that was included in one of the software updates."
      "I'd like to see that programming," Bouchard said.
      "I'll have it sent to you."
      The Admiral nodded to his aides, "I guess it is Stekte polser for dinner. Let's get ready to go."
      "Yes, sir." They answered.
      "And, Admiral."
      "Yes, sir."
      Sayer presented his hand to him, "Good hunting."

"I guess it won't float any more."
5 March 2020

      The drive out to the base was very scenic. But the trio in the car didnít pay a lot of attention to the sights as they rehashed everything they had read about the project that had ended up turning loose three deadly weapons.
      "Very well, sir. Weíve been expecting you and your party. Follow this road up and turn left, you canít miss it. Iíll notify the Colonel youíve arrived." the guard at the entrance said to them.

      It was Monette who was driving while the others were reading and discussing that saw the Spanish boat up on several rolling trellises and made the crucial observation that it wouldnít float any more.
      "I guess not," Admiral Bouchard said as his eyes took in the sizable hole that had been cut in the side of the body of the sub to allow for the reactor to be removed. "And half of its missiles were still on board? Heaven help us."
      "They said it was still operating. It was in communication with the others," Goossens wondered.
      "Shore power. Literally." The Admiral muttered nodding toward several thick black cables that snaked across the ground and then up into the boat.

      An American Air Force Colonel stood and saluted them smartly. "Colonel Smith, USAF, welcome to Hammarvika. I was told to put the entire base and its personnel at your disposal. Sir."
      "American Air Force?" The Sub-Lieutenant wondered a little too loudly.
      "Iím sorry, Lieutenant Goossens, but since the activation of the weapons, this matter has been moved to the top drawer of security inside NATO. I am not here. My people are not involved, at all. And I will deny to my dying breath that Iíve ever even seen you or this ship. Now, Admiral, would you like to see inside the 'Tonina'?"
      "Yes, sir."

      If you hadn't known the history of the boat, you would have thought that the crew had just been granted extended shore leave. There were even some personal effects like photos taped along the sides of bunks, and a forgotten shaving kit on a shelf in officer's country.
      Bouchard saw an antique but active CRT monitor over a central console. He nudged Monette and glanced at it, "What's it telling us?"
      It only took Monette a moment to digest the information and then prove his value to the team. "'Tireless' just corrected course five degrees off true west to avoid suspected commercial traffic. Speed, constant. Depth, two hundred forty seven feet, holding."
      "Does it say where it is?"
      "It might, but it's in machine language code. I might be able to break it eventually."
      The Sub-Luitenent had an idea, "If we track these sorts of course changes, and know what kind of traffic they're avoiding...."
      "Maybe," Monette answered.
      "It is information, we'll work with it," the Admiral answered, then he looked over at the Colonel. "Where's the brains to this outfit?"
      "All around you, sir. My computer guys tell me that because they didn't want a single point of failure besides the reactor, there are multiple processors and all that. Everywhere." The Colonel gestured to racks and stacks of equipment, most of it with blinking lights of various colors indicating that it was still working. "This monitor is one of the three the original master control monitors, if the system is on, one of them on."
      "I see."
      "Here's another update, Admiral." Monette paused for a second. "I don't believe it."
      "Sir, the 'Tonina' just told the other three that we were here and watching them."
      The Colonel didn't believe it. "Confirm that Ensign."
      "There is it, sir." Monette pointed to the screen, "I'm reasonably sure that that's the code for NATO Atlantic Fleet HQ, the numbers are the ID for 'Tonina', and the rest you can read, it was sent in the clear."
      The Colonel bent down to read off the old screen, "'flg offr, stfprsnl abrd, observe, stnd by, op nominal."
      "They wanted us to know they know," Bouchard said softly. "That complicates things a bit."
      Goossens looked around at the equipment, "and since it is all active, and they'll know if we're doing anything, even just watching them, we have to be really careful."
      "That would be my take on it."
      "Admiral, we have arranged quarters for you."
      "Thank you, Colonel, but I'd like to stay on board. It looks like there is adequate room. Is the head working?"
      "We have run a water line to it for our crews."
      "Then it's settled, no better way to get to know your enemy than by moving in with them."
      "Yes, sir."

      There was no lack of space, and soon they'd picked their own quarters from the available crew options and moved their overnight cases in. With assorted necessities brought in from the base, like linens and food, soon Monette felt like he'd been reassigned to the Submarine Service.
      "I'm on board a boat that is, what? Almost twenty years older than I am, but, still."
      Goossens laughed at him, "You can go bunk down at the base, they're holding the guest quarters for us."
      "I'm good."
      She gestured with the old steel frying pan she was warming up the dinner that had been delivered from the base kitchen. "You may change your mind about that. I'm not a cook."
      "Is he down with the brains?"
      "Yeah, watching the communications."
      "I was going to try to get the other monitor back online. The one that shows what they can see of our side."
      "That'd be good."

      Monette worked steadily for an hour, then, just as the monitor lit up, it went dark again.
      "Damn," he exclaimed.
      "I was thinking about that," the Admiral said softly.
      "You said earlier that that monitor should be working."
      "Yes, sir. The box itself is good, the output from the card is OK. I don't know why it isn't working."
      "I do."
      "'Tonina' doesn't want us seeing what they're seeing. There is something there that they don't want us to know about."
      "Just like they know we're here and what we're doing."
      "Yeah." The Admiral put a finger to his lips, then he pointed to his laptop. "I sent a message to the Colonel about that. On the wifi."
      "It don't do wifi," Monette was catching on.
      "No. Not in any way, shape, or bandwidth."
      The Ensign went to the laptop and as the Admiral nodded he looked at the last email sent. There he read that the Admiral wanted somebody from the base to tap into the communications information about civilian and military ship movement that would be available to the subs and relay it to his team over a feed that the subs couldn't access, namely, through a live wireless digital feed.
      "Ingenious, sir."
      "I have my moments. My only question is, why would they be so concerned about us knowing that side of things? Unless that's what upset them in the first place, there was official channels they couldn't monitor."
      The ensign could be seen to be thinking, then light dawned.
      "Don't say it, type it."
      "Understood," he hit the keys that said that he believed there was a pattern of response to the subs movements within their assigned areas in response to the movement of other ships.
      As he typed it out the Admiral nodded, "My thinking exactly. But I'd like to confirm that."
      "Between the two, I might be able to...." he gestured to the boat.
      Soon there were several laptops lined up on a folding table. All isolated from everything on the sub, including their AC power, run through a shielded cable all the way from an outlet on the pier.
      Now, one of the three from Brussels were almost always in the control room watching the screens, taking written notes, biting their lips because they knew they were being listened to, and they even felt like the sub was even watching them although the only cameras attached to the system were part of the periscope and could not see the inside the boat itself.
      Colonel Smith would admit that to him computers and all their related parts were a closed book. But he did understand security and military procedure. Even when he would then tell you point blank, "this conversation never took place and that laptop is still in London. Correct?"

      "Every hour, the three change course, maybe just minutely, but they do. Practically all at once." Bouchard said nodding at the note on the monitor the next morning.
      "Don't the Americans have submarine tracking sensors on the ocean floor?" Sub-lieutenant Goossens asked as an answer.
      "Yes, but not where we need them. Most of those are off the coast of North America, in The Channel, and like that. And, our friends out there know to avoid those areas."
      "You know where they are?"
      "No, I am just getting a feel for where they're not. Monette has been trying to triangulate their positions based on the messages, but it's not going well."
      "Oh, OK. So where do you think they're not?"
      "I'm pretty sure the German boat is not in the Atlantic."
      They sat and watched the updates on the monitor and the feed on the laptops that eventually would show up on the sub's monitor, or not.
      "Sir." Monette answered. "I almost forgot, I figured out how the 'Tonina' knew we were here."
      "I was wondering about that earlier. Go on."
      "They monitor radio traffic and have basic speech to machine language capability."
      "The 'Tonina' is monitoring the radios here on the base. When the MP called the Colonel. It sat on that information as irrelevant until we boarded the boat and began looking around then it put the two together and passed it on to the others."
      "I see. Don't say any more about that now. And I'm going to tell Goossens the same thing when she relieves me, if you have any new ideas, write them down, and we'll talk about them later."
      "Yes, sir."

The Plan
9 March 2020

      Two days later the Admiral Bouchard called for them to all 'go ashore' to have a conference out on the pier. Well away from the sub. At least that was the idea.
      "I know, let's just have some casual conversation here, then, we'll take the car up there for lunch."
      Goossens had missed something, "What's going on?"
      The Admiral was facing the inlet when he whispered, "'Tonia' is watching us."
      She looked around.
      "The periscope is active. It was down and closed when we left. I checked. It might even be able to hear us as well with the passive sonar as well as the on board mics."

      So they talked about the cold water in the shower. The head that took forever to flush. How Goossens had failed so badly as a ship's cook that the Admiral had asked for one of the base's cooks to come on board and take care of their meals. And why hadn't Monette used the on board laundry.
      In short, they talked about everything, including the European football tournament, instead of anything to do with their mission.
      "Let's go see what they're having for dinner on base before we go back on board."
      "Yes, sir."

      "I see it like this. The subs are monitoring all the communications they can, They can't, hear, I guess, digital communications because they're effectively deaf to it. They are avoiding all contact with NATO, with civilian traffic, and pretty much everything and everybody else based on their own internal communications and sonar." He paused.
      "Yes, sir."
      "I think we've overlooked one very important aspect of their inner-fleet communications," he looked at them seriously, "when the recall order was sent out to the three that are out there, how was it sent?"
      "Over the radio...." Monette started to answer. "The radios we are using today, using the old code."
      "Exactly. You said the sub picked up the MP's announcement that we had arrived. I checked. It's a quiet area, so, on base they're still using the older radios. 'Tonina' could hear it. But it doesn't even know our laptops exist."
      "It's worth a shot," Goossens answered.
      "You mean, issue the recall order over an old analog radio?"
      "Isn't that what you were suggesting, sir?"
      "Yes, ma'am."

      They sat in the control room and watched the monitor as the request was sent to the few remaining broadcast facilities that could handle the task.
      Then they waited.
      "There, 'Tiefsee' is requesting the confirmation code," Monette said under his breath.
      "But only that one." Goossens added.
      They waited. The code was transmitted. Then repeated with the code for the original 'return to base and stand down' order.
      "It is acknowledging that the order was received," the Ensign translated the codes on the screen for them. "Changing course, coming to west by north west."
      "But just the German boat," Bouchard said. "They were all to respond to the central codes," he thought about it for a minute, then he went to the laptop linked to Brussels. "I'm telling them to send individual codes to the other boats and request confirmation."
      And then more waiting.
      "'Tireless' just rejected the code. It is requesting a confirmation of its original mission."
      "Damned, sounds British," Bouchard muttered. "What about the other one?"
      "Nothing from 'Terrible'."
      "I'll have them re-transmit it in an hour or so."

      Now it was a test of wills. With the subs having the ultimate poker face.
      "'Tiefsee' still on course. From this, you were right. It almost had to have been in the Arctic ocean," Monette read off the screen. "Absolutely nothing from the 'Terrible'."
      "Is the 'Tireless' still confirming orders?"
      "Yes, sir. The last I saw was it was relaying the output of its electric generator."
      "And our friend here is just sitting there, not doing anything," he nodded toward the rack of equipment that was the 'Tonina'."
      "Yes, sir."
      "So we have one that is behaving as ordered, one that is arguing, ours that is sitting and watching us, and one that's gone silent. Well, we tried."
      "I just had a cold chill run down my back, sir."
      "I'm glad I'm not the only one."
      "Maybe I should go check the status of the...." Monette made a two handed gesture that indicated he wanted to see what the status of the submarine's weapons was.
      "Good idea."
      "Should I wake up Goossens?"
      "On your way back."

      "Oh, you're in here," Monette said when he walked into the launch control room.
      "Don't close that hatch." Goossen said sharply. "I couldn't sleep. Something just seemed wrong. And I just found out what it is. Then it locked the door to keep me in here."
      "What is it?" Monette froze. But he held the door open while he looked at the row of computer indicators that indicated that the remaining missiles on the sub were sitting in cold stand by.
      "Watch," she went to the original manual control panel that had been built into the sub when it was constructed and flicked a switch.
      "They've been prepared for launch, and it's lying to us."
      "Yeah. I was just coming to tell the Admiral. And it locked the door on me."
      Monette pushed it back open all the way, "Let's go."
      Goossen tapped the empty hole in the passage bulkhead, "I'm really glad they took the anti-boarding weapons out."
      "Me too."

      Bouchard took the news in stride. Then he gestured to his notepad and began writing out ideas and orders.

      Goossens took the first page of Bouchard's hand written orders to the Colonel's office and got on the secure line to Brussels. Then they all sat in the command room and watched the monitors.

      "There it is, sir. The order to the boats to cycle their launch systems to verify firing capability."
      "Are they doing it?"
      "No sir."
      "That means all launch systems remain active."
      "Yes, sir."
      "Damn, ... there's got to be a way to tell them to stand down that they'll listen to."

      The Colonel startled the Admiral from wherever his thoughts had taken him by climbing down the ladder with Goossens right behind him.
      "We tried something, Admiral. On a hunch. It should be coming through any time now."
      "Well, let's see."

      It took a few minutes, then Monette saw something unusual on the master monitor, "I'm not sure what that code means. But all four boats are acknowledging it."
      "It should be the code that confirms that they are not authorized to launch a preemptive nuclear strike," the Colonel said.
      "They are confirming it," the Ensign said, "there's the 'Terrible' as well. That's the first communication I've seen from it in ages."
      "I'll check our weapons," Goossens said, "and I won't close the hatch behind me."

      It was a long few minutes before she came back. And when she did her face told most of the story, "It is standing down by half. There's six missiles in pre-launch, and seven that have reverted to maintenance."
      The Admiral glanced at the Colonel, he had his cell phone out. "I'll get the guys in here to disable those seven."
      "Good. Less bullets in the gun."
      "Yes, sir."
      "Is there any way to know what's going on on the other boats?" he asked Monette.
      "No, sir."
      Goossen turned abruptly from the laptop she'd been sitting at, "Sir! A message from the Norwegian Kystvakten, they've got a submarine in their waters with NATO telemetry. They've been referred by NATO to you for instructions."
      "Tell them, in these exact words: 'for the Love of God DO NOT engage that boat at all. Let it do whatever it is doing'. And have them repeat it back to you."
      "Yes, sir." Then in a few moments, "Kystvakten patrol boat acknowledging to the letter, they will observe only. From a distance, they added."
      Bouchard sighed, "Good. Any idea which one it is?"
      Monette had been working furiously to decipher the now busy master monitor. "I think it's the 'Tireless', it is the only one that could be that close to shore. The 'Tiefsee' is still in deep water and running south at speed. I have no idea where the 'Terrible' is, other than its still making patrol turns in the open sea."
      "So we know where two of them are."
      "No sir," Goossens said, "We have three of them."
      He looked around, "Yeah, this one, too."

      For several hours nothing changed, then the Norwegian Coast Guard alerted them to the presence of another rogue sub in their waters, and it was headed at good speed for the base.
      "It's the 'Tiefsee'," Monette confirmed from the monitor. "It just turned into the fjord and is slowing."
      "Any word on its weapons?"
      "No, sir. But it is about to surface."
      "Where's the 'Tireless'?"
      "Still off shore, down fifty meters. And, I think, she's ready to launch at the drop of a hat."
      The Colonel did not smile when he said, "nobody drop any hats, and that's an order."

      A few minutes later one of the men on watch along the pier called in to them and the Admiral and the Colonel went topside to see what was going on.
      "There it is," the Colonel said as they stared at the submarine sitting in the middle of the inlet that made up the base's primary feature. "Now what?"
      "Now we try to get it to agree to be boarded."
      "Without either starting a nuclear war or killing whoever goes out."
      "Well, yeah."

      "Sir, both of you, sirs, something new," Monette said when the two officers rejoined them. The 'Tiefsee' just sent the same stand down code to the 'Terrible' and the 'Tireless'."
      "You mean the sub that is right off our pier there just told the others that everything is OK here."
      "Essentially, yes, Colonel. That is exactly what it did. And the 'Tireless' acknowledged."
      "What about our boat here?" He patted the wall next to him.
      "I didn't see anything from the 'Tonina', she's been really quiet lately."
      The Admiral had an idea, but he wrote it out and gave it to Goossens to send to Brussels via email.
      It took a few minutes.
      "There it is, 'Tonina' just acknowledged the stand down code," Monette read to them.
      "Confirmed, sir. The on board missile monitor just came back up, all weapons now showing on stand by or off line."
      "So, what about the French boat?"
      "Nothing since 'Terrible' acknowledged the 'stand down from launch' message other than patrol course changes. It's still out there, and still making its circles in the ocean."
      The Admiral made a hard decision quickly, "OK, let's deal with the ones we've got. Call Colonel Smith, get crews out there on that boat, and onto this one, and see if they can disable the missiles on them without ticking off the computer. And, do NOT disable the CPU or cut its communications, that might upset the others."
      "Yes, sir."

      It just took a few minutes, then a couple of small boats launched from shore and headed out toward the 'Tiefsee'.

      A very tense few moments passed. They waited for everything from machine gun fire to a missile launch from the sub, then the radio spoke.
      "'Tiefsee' to shore command, human crew is in command of all systems, we're taking her into dock. Missiles and other weapons systems have been manually disabled." There some background noise while several people spoke back and forth in their language. Then the radio spoke to the base again, "Sir, we will need a reactor team, there are yellow warnings that I am being told are not good."
      "Thank you 'Tiefsee', bring her in, the message is being relayed."

      It wasn't long after that message that an officer came into the command center and after a very formal salute reported in Norwegian that all the remaining arms on the 'Tonina' had been rendered physically inert and they were in the process of removing them from the boat.

      The Admiral stood straight and stared at the map showing the positions of the subs.
      Finally he spoke softly, "Two of them still sitting out there. What are they waiting for?"
      Ensign Monette spoke softly, almost as if he didn't want something else in the room with them to hear, "I'm not sure sir, but I have an idea."

The Idea
21 March 2020

      The silence around the briefing table well away from any large object with the words 'submersible vessel' in the description was deep and extended.
      General Sayer's frown covered his entire face, "I'm sorry, ensign, but I would like the matter confirmed by somebody with a bit more experience."
      Admiral Bouchard had expected him to dismiss Monette's discovery, so he was ready for it. He nodded to Goossens and the display screens changed to a very impressive logo, then in a moment, they changed again to a summary paragraph while he spoke with great patience, "Colonel Smith has some friends that understand this kind of thing and have the highest levels of security clearance. He bounced the data we collected off of them, with only the barest sketch of specific information that they needed to run it."
      "Colonel Smith?" The General turned his attention toward him.
      "Yeah. A couple of guys I went through the academy with are working with DARPA on their review committee, I believe you've heard of that program. Sir."
      "Go on."
      "They ran everything the Ensign and the Sub-lieutenant collected through a legacy emulator and then ran an AI simulation based on it."
      "Excuse me, can you explain that?"
      Colonel Smith nodded toward Ensign Monette and Sub-lieutenant Goossens, and the young ensign took over. "Yes, sir," the ensign replied, "They had to use the emulator so that the mainframe could process the information the same way the legacy processors on the subs would. Like when you play an old DOS game on a brand new machine."
      "OK, that I understand."
      "Very good, sir."
      Goossens continued the explanation, "The 'AI' is an artificial intelligence simulator that runs on a region of the mainframe."
      "I see. And they confirmed that the four boats that were built with hardware that is older than either of you are, are now operating as one?"
      "Yes, sir, and they have exceeded their programming as well," Monette said.
      Goossens resumed the explanation, "It is Davi's theory, as confirmed by Colonel Smith's friends that after this last refit and equipment upgrade that something, in a word, 'clicked', and they effectively became one unit. The four linked processors and programming began to function as a unified whole."
      "So together they're intelligent?"
      "That would explain why they chose the German boat to come in as a test. Even though it had a problem in its circulating pump that would fail eventually, it could have stayed out for a long time."
      General Sayer's gaze went from one to the other, then back, "It, or they, or whatever you would say, tested us? To see if we were on the up and up?"
      The answer was in stereo, "Yes, sir."
      Bouchard nodded, "there is no other reasonable explanation."
      "And the two computers on the boats we have disabled are still running. ... and apparently happy with us disarming them."
      "So far, yes, sir."
      And then there was more silence around the table.

      "Nothing has changed, sirs." Ensign Monette said when the ranking officers stepped onto the command deck. "The 'Tireless' withdraws about twenty kilometers further from shore every time the ferry goes by, then it comes back to its picket position, the 'Terrible' is still circling in deep water. Both have cycled their launch systems and reported all weapons on standby. But they're still out there."
      "Do you have a position for the French boat?" General Sayer asked him.
      "We get closer every time it calls in. But it appears to be leaving its normal orbit just slightly to send its transmission. Eventually, we'll be able to plot it close enough to call in a hunter, but right now, they'd be a sitting duck for the sub's automated defense systems."
      The senior officer stared at the map, then looked at the others, "remind me to throw my laptop in the recycling bin when I get back to my quarters."
      "Yes, General."

      After lunch there was a sudden bit of excitement.
      "Sir! Sirs! The 'Tireless' is coming in. It went out to wait for the ferry to depart, but then instead of going back to where it was, it's coming up the fiord, and surfacing."
      "Call Colonel Smith," Admiral Bouchard ordered, "have his team standing by."
      "His phone is already ringing, sir."

      They stood on the seawall and watched the sub slowly cruise in from the open sea.
      "Hard to believe there's nobody on that thing," Colonel Smith said softly when he joined the others.
      "Yes, sir, and if anybody ever suggests doing something like that again, I'd like to have a private meeting with them."
      "You and me both, Admiral." General Sayer whispered.

      The 'Tireless' sailed in, but instead of taking up a position just off shore where the 'Tiefsee' had stopped, it came in, turned end for end slowly, then partially submerged, and sat there.
      "OK, back to the command center and we'll see what's up."
      "Lead the way, Admiral."
      "I'll stay out here, let me know what's going on," Colonel Smith said.

      "It's asking for confirmation. I don't have a code for this," Monette said.
      Goossens was shaking her head, "I've no idea what it is looking for. But I'm working on it."
      "Me, too," the Ensign added as he ran a search program through a lengthy document.
      "I've got an idea," Admiral Bouchard said, "Just send back one word, 'confirmed'."
      "Could it be that simple?" The General asked.
      "One way to find out," Monette said and relayed the message.

      There was silence for a few minutes, then somebody called in from outside, "It's surfacing, sir."
      "It is sending the stand down signal, again!"
      "Let the Colonel know."

      "Decom crew, get out there before it changes its mind."
      "Sir. Yes, sir!"

      "That's three."
      "One more to go."

"Damned French"
21 May 2020

      "The closest I can get to plotting the course for the 'Terrible', is right here," Monette drew a large somewhat wobbly thousand kilometer oval on the map that covered the western end of the feature just off the European coast called the Biscay Plain. "Its loops cover about three thousand kilometers, give or take. But alters its course significantly given surface traffic, other subs, and other variables. Clockwise for a while, then the other way. And it usually runs very nearly at maximum depth for that boat, between three and four hundred meters. And its changed speed dramatically at times, once I thought it had been at a dead standstill for about three days."
      "So it can be, at any given time, anywhere within what? Eighty Thousand square kilometers, or so, and running at up to almost fifty kilometers an hour," Goossens added. "And it appears to have moved its operating center point by several hundred kilometers north or south, apparently at random."
      "Yes, that circle is just what I've plotted in the last couple of days. Before that, it was a bit further east."
      General Sayer sighed, then spoke, "So unless it decides to come in, or, as you said, the other boats can convince it to come in, it'll be out there until the reactor runs down, or something on board breaks, or, it starts a war."
      "Yes, General." Bouchard answered.
      "Damned French," he scowled for a second then looked at the junior officers in his presence, "present company excepted."
      "I think, at this point, we would all agree with you, sir."

      They sent recall and stand down orders to the French sub through every means they could think of, including a cautious bit, done with Monette wearing a rosary, using command code in what he called machine language, fed through the three disabled subs telling all units to report for service. The 'Terrible' replied with its recent service schedule and kept circling in the deep Atlantic.
      For its part, the French boat had moves slightly further out to sea, and had taken to making the occasional figure eight, running as far north as the gap between Scotland and Iceland before returning to the open ocean.

      Using discrete channels NATO asked for naval and civilian assistance in locating a test vessel that may have communications problems and not know it. They were asked to relay any indications of a submerged vessel that might be the research boat.
      It didn't take long to get a smattering of contacts that confirmed Monette's pattern, but it didn't assist them in predicting where the 'Terrible' would go next.
      On one 'out of loop' loop, the boat ran as far south as to make a swing just south of the Azores.

      Goossens interrupted the Admiral's supper one afternoon, "Sir, I saw something about an hour ago and Davi just confirmed it, the 'Tireless' just requested that the 'Terrible' join them in port. All on its own."
      "Well, at least it is on our side. Any response?"
      "No, sir. Last tracking communique was from a British Coast Guard boat last night. They tracked an unkown bogey for a few minutes. But then it vanished. It was about a hundred and fifty K southwest of Cork, running due south, when it detected them it accelerated to about thirty knots. They lost it."
      "Thank you. Let me know if the other two make the same suggestion to it."
      "Yes, sir."

      For the next week, there was the occasional call from one of the three to the rogue. The messages the boats sent included standard housekeeping notes such as the outputs from their reactors and the fact that they had not made a course correction to avoid other traffic for so many hundreds of hours. But the French boat maintained functional silence.

      "Nothing, sir. No response at all. Not even the acknowledgment code from the comm system that indicates it is recieving the messages," Monette said.
      Goossens agreed, "All listening posts and naval ships are reporting last possible contact, east of Santa Cruz de la Palma. Then it was running at speed, north by slightly west."
      "The Canaries." The Admiral shook his head, "Damn, I was afraid of that. It made a break for it."
      Monette nodded, "it knew we were learning how to track it, so it changed the equation."
      "It could end up anywhere."
      "No, sir, I don't think so. Its core programming is to protect Europe against Soviet aggression. I think it is going to stay in missile range of Moscow."
      "The Med?"
      "No, it won't take the chance to be boxed in in the smaller water. She's going to stay in the Atlantic or southern Arctic, and sit just out of our reach. Maybe even on the bottom on a seamount or something."
      "And do what?"
      "Listen. And wait until it is needed."
      "I've said it before, and I'll say it again...."
      "Damned French, sir?"
      "Yes, indeed."

maybe the end

      "And that, General, is my recommendation."
      "A bit idealistic, Admiral Bouchard."
      "Yes, sir. But it's the best we can do. Unless you want to take a chance on depth charging an autonomous submarine with a full compliment of nuclear warheads on board."
      "I don't think that is an option."
      "Then there it is, sir. Recommend with all seriousness and in all earnestness that the Russian government avoid attacking the West in any way, or we cannot be responsible for the repercussions."
      General Sayer was silent for a long moment, then he closed the file, "I'll relay it to the Diplomacy Division. Thank you."

end Subs

[NOTE: No Sentient Nuclear Attack Submarines, or anybody else, were harmed in the writing of this story. All characters are FICTIONAL. Overall this Piece Is A FICTIONAL STORY, enjoy it as such.
Thank You the Author. ]

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