“We’ll circle around this area here,” Kolchak said, pushing a yellowing fingernail at their navigation computer’s interface. “The Pyotr Velikiy has a tethered submersible aboard that is going to place an explosive cutting charge on the cables.”
“How large is the charge?” asked Farshad.
The captain brought his eyes out of his binoculars. From over his shoulder, he glanced at them warily.
“Just enough to do the job,” said Kolchak.
The captain made a face, and then a transmission came over the radio in Russian. Kolchak snatched the receiver and promptly replied while the captain dipped his eyes back into his binoculars and continued to scan the open sea. The Pyotr Velikiy was recovering its submersible, the charge having been set. Planted on the horizon was the Kuznetsov, its decks crowded with aircraft. Kolchak continued to check his watch, the second hand making its steady orbit around the dial as they waited.
More minutes passed in silence.
Then an explosion, a geyser fountaining upward from the seabed. Followed by a shock. And a sound, like a clap. The entire ship rattled. The water splashed back onto the surface of the ocean. Another radio transmission came into the bridge. The voice was excited, congratulatory. The captain answered the call in the same congratulatory manner. The only person on the bridge who didn’t seem pleased by the result was Farshad, who was confused. Grasping Kolchak by the elbow, he said, “That must’ve destroyed more than one or two cables.”
The smile vanished from Kolchak’s face. “Perhaps.”
“Perhaps?” answered Farshad. He could feel the old familiar rage brimming up from the center of his chest, into his limbs. He felt duped. “That explosion must have destroyed every cable.”
“And so what if it did?” answered Kolchak. “A de-escalation between Beijing and Washington hardly benefits us. It doesn’t benefit your nation either. Let’s see what happens now. The result of this disruption will be advantageous, for both of our countries. Who knows, then we might—” Before Kolchak could finish the thought, the ship’s collision alarm sounded.
Orders were rapidly shouted across the bridge—a new heading, a new speed (“Reverse right rudder, full ahead left!”), a reflexive set of impact-avoidance measures—while both Kolchak and Farshad scanned off the bow. At first, Farshad couldn’t see the obstacle that threatened collision. There was no ship. No iceberg. No large object that assured catastrophe. There was only clear sky. And a mist of seawater that still lingered in the air after the explosion.
It was the mist that concealed the obstacle.
Sharks, dozens of them, an entire school, bobbing upward like so many apples in a barrel, their white bellies presented to the sun. The evasive maneuvers continued. Farshad could do nothing; a sailor in name only, he couldn’t help the crew avoid the collision. The Rezkiy plowed through the field of dead fish, their bodies hitting the thin hull, reminding Farshad of the ice floes that had so often kept him awake at night—dong, dong, dong. Then a far sharper noise combined with this hollow thudding, a noise like a fistful of metal spoons tossed down a garbage disposal; the shark carcasses were passing through the twin propellers of the Rezkiy.
Farshad followed Kolchak out to the bridge wing. They turned to the stern of the ship to assess the damage. The seawater mist still lingered in the air. The sunlight passed through it, casting off brilliant rainbows—blues, yellows, oranges, reds.
So much red.
Farshad realized the red wasn’t only in the air; it was also in the water. The slightly damaged Rezkiy set a new course, leaving a wide swath of blood in its wake.
21:02 JUNE 26, 2034 (GMT+8)
300 NAUTICAL MILES OFF THE COAST OF ZHANJIANG
The internet was out across the entire eastern seaboard. Eighty percent of the connectivity in the Midwest was gone. Connectivity on the West Coast had been reduced by 50 percent.
A nationwide power outage.