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Home > Sphere(10)

Sphere(10)
Author: Michael Crichton

Norman looked over at the final member of the team, Arthur Levine, the marine biologist. Levine was the only person he didn't know. A pudgy man, Levine looked pale and uneasy, wrapped in his own thoughts. He was about to ask Levine what he thought when Captain Barnes strode in, a stack of files under his arm.

"Welcome to the middle of nowhere," Barnes said, "and you can't even go to the bathroom." They all laughed nervously. "Sorry to keep you waiting," he said. "But we don't have a lot of time, so let's get right down to it. If you'll kill the lights, we can begin."

The first slide showed a large ship with an elaborate superstructure on the stern.

"The Rose Sealady," Barnes said. "A cable-laying vessel chartered by Transpac Communications to lay a submarine telephone line from Honolulu to Sydney, Australia. The Rose left Hawaii on May 29 of this year, and by June 16 it had gotten as far as Western Samoa in the mid-Pacific. It was laying a new fiber-optics cable, which has a carrying capacity of twenty thousand simultaneous telephonic transmissions. The cable is covered with a dense metal-and-plastics web matrix, unusually tough and resistant to breaks. The ship had already laid more than forty-six hundred nautical miles of cable across the Pacific with no mishaps of any sort. Next."

A map of the Pacific, with a large red spot.

"At ten p.m. on the night of June 17, the vessel was located here, midway between Pago Pago in American Samoa and Viti Levu in Fiji, when the ship experienced a wrenching shudder. Alarms sounded, and the crew realized the cable had snagged and torn. They immediately consulted their charts, looking for an underwater obstruction, but could see none. They hauled up the loose cable, which took several hours, since at the time of the accident they had more than a mile of cable paid out behind the ship. When they examined the cut end, they saw that it had been cleanly sheared-as one crewman said, 'like it was cut with a huge pair of scissors.' Next."

A section of Fiberglas cable held toward the camera in the rough hand of a sailor.

"The nature of the break, as you can see, suggests an artificial obstruction of some sort. The Rose steamed north back over the scene of the break. Next."

A series of ragged black-and-white lines, with a region of small spikes.

"This is the original sonar scan from the ship. If you can't read sonar scans this'll be hard to interpret, but you see here the thin, knife-edge obstruction. Consistent with a sunken ship or aircraft, which cut the cable.

"The charter company, Transpac Communications, notified the Navy, requesting any information we had about the obstruction. This is routine: whenever there is a cable break, the Navy is notified, on the chance that the obstruction is known to us. If it's a sunken vessel containing explosives, the cable company wants to know about it before they start repair. But in this case the obstruction was not in Navy files. And the Navy was interested.

"We immediately dispatched our nearest search ship, the Ocean Explorer, from Melbourne. The Ocean Explorer reached the site on June 21 of this year. The reason for the Navy interest was the possibility that the obstruction might represent a sunken Chinese Wuhan-class nuclear submarine fitted with SY-2 missiles. We knew the Chinese lost such a sub in this approximate area in May 1984. The Ocean Explorer scanned the bottom, using a most sophisticated sidelooking sonar, which produced this picture of the bottom."

In color, the image was almost three-dimensional in its clarity.

"As you see, the bottom appears flat except for a single triangular fin which sticks up some two hundred and eighty feet above the ocean floor. You see it here," he said, pointing. "Now, this wing dimension is larger than any known aircraft manufactured in either the United States or the Soviet Union. This was very puzzling at first. Next."

A submersible robot, being lowered on a crane over the side of a ship. The robot looked like a series of horizontal tubes with cameras and lights nestled in the center.

"By June 24, the Navy had the ROV carrier Neptune IV on site, and the Remote Operated Vehicle Scorpion, which you see here, was sent down to photograph the wing. It returned an image that clearly showed a control surface of some sort. Here it is."

There were murmurs from the group. In a harshly lit color image, a gray fin stuck up from a flat coral floor. The fin was sharp-edged and aeronautical-looking, tapered, definitely artificial.

"You'll notice," Barnes said, "that the sea bottom in this region consists of scrubby dead coral. The wing or fin disappears into the coral, suggesting the rest of the aircraft might be buried beneath. An ultra-high-resolution SLS bottom scan was carried out, to detect the shape underneath the coral. Next."

Another color sonar image, composed of fine dots instead of lines.

"As you see, the fin seems to be attached to a cylindrical object buried under the coral. The object has a diameter of a hundred and ninety feet, and extends west for a distance of 2,754 feet before tapering to a point."

More murmurings from the audience.

"That's correct," Barnes said. "The cylindrical object is half a mile long. The shape is consistent with a rocket or spacecraft - it certainly looks like that - but from the beginning we were careful to refer to this object as 'the anomaly.' "

Norman glanced over at Ted, who was smiling up at the screen. But alongside Ted in the darkness, Harry Adams frowned and pushed his glasses up on his nose.

Then the projector light went out. The room was plunged into darkness. There were groans. Norman heard Barnes say, "God damn it, not again!" Someone scrambled for the door; there was a rectangle of light.

Beth leaned over to Norman and said, "They lose power here all the time. Reassuring, huh?"

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