BREAKTHROUGH SERIES

BREAKTHROUGH

ONE OF THE GREATEST TECHNOLOGICAL ACHIEVEMENTS IN HUMAN HISTORY.
A SECRET THAT WAS NEVER SUPPOSED TO BE FOUND.
AND A CATASTROPHE THAT CANNOT BE STOPPED.

Deep in the Caribbean Sea, a nuclear submarine is forced to suddenly abort its mission under mysterious circumstances. Strange facts begin to emerge that lead naval investigator, John Clay, to a small group of marine biologists who are quietly on the verge of making history.

With the help of a powerful computer system, Alison Shaw and her team are preparing to translate the first two-way conversation with the planet's second smartest species. But the team discovers much more from their dolphins than they ever expected when a secret object is revealed on the ocean floor. One that was never supposed to be found.

Alison was sure she would never trust the military again. However, when an unknown group immediately becomes interested in her work, Alison realizes John Clay may be the only person she can trust. Together they must piece together a dangerous puzzle, and the most frightening piece, is the trembling in Antarctica.

To make matters worse, someone from the inside is trying to stop them. Now time is running out...and our understanding of the world is about to change forever.


"As a Clancy fan and a former submariner I thought I was buying a techno thriller. The book stands alone. A great read with lots of interesting and thought provoking events. I looked forward to each chapter and the ride it provided. Well done!"

 - Robert Clark

"Right up there with Michael Crichton. Wow - where did this guy come from? Being retired and having read several hundred Kindle books, I can honestly say this has to be the most exciting heart pounding story I have yet read on my Kindle. I give it 10 stars out of 5 and - as another reviewer said "I guarantee you'll be downloading his next book.... The minute you finish this one." I sure did."

 - L. Spaiser

"Better than Dean Koontz. Five stars. I expect great things from Mr. Grumley and am looking for his next book. Five Stars!"
 

 - Sandra Rocha

 

Something out there sounded strange.  He pressed the headphones in tighter against his ears.

Sonar operators were a special breed.  Few people could sit in front of a computer screen, fighting monotony day after day, listening to the faintest of sounds through lonely ocean waters. But for the few who could, it was surprising how attuned a human sense could become.  Eugene Walker would rather be a Ping Jockey than do any other job in the Navy.  Here, he could hear everything.  Even on a boring night like this, he knew exactly what surrounded them as they slid silently through the dark waters. 

But what he was hearing tonight sounded odd. 

Walker had been listening to it for some time but couldn’t pin it down.  He shifted in his seat and studied the computer screen in front of him.  He played the sound on his computer again and again, and still could not place it.  Some jockeys were rumored to be so good that they could identify the current moving through the coral, but those guys had spent their entire lives on their boats.  He couldn’t hear currents, though he had identified some natural occurrences that the computers could not.  But this one was strange; a steady hum at a very low frequency and just barely within the range of human hearing.

 

Not more than ten feet behind Walker stood Commander Sykes, reading through yet another fascinating maintenance report.  Sykes was a stickler for detail, as most were, but even the best commanders eventually fell prey to the unrelenting boredom of perfect routine.  He picked up his warm coffee and sipped, letting his mind wander to his wife and girls at home, wondering if they were in bed yet.  He glanced at his watch absently and turned the page, now just scanning for anything that stuck out.

By pure instinct, from the corner of his eye, he noticed his Navigation Officer repeatedly looking at the instruments and then back to the table and his digital map.

“Something wrong, Willie?”

Willie Mendez didn’t reply for a long moment.  Reporting a problem to the XO wasn’t something you did without triple checking.  “Mmm…”

Sykes turned slowly, still reluctant to take his eye off the report which was now blurring into a jumble of words.

The officer looked closer at the large illuminated, three square foot map between them.  “I’m getting something strange here, sir.”

Sykes looked at the table and back up to another monitor, seeing the problem immediately.  He took the clear rule and recalculated himself.  Strange.  He frowned and looked back at the young navigator.

“How many times have you checked this?”

“Four times.”

Sykes scratched his chin while Mendez spoke.  “Plotting from our last verifiable had us here, two minutes ago.” He zoomed in on the screen, enlarging the area.  A small circle appeared next to his index finger, joined by small GPS coordinates hovering beside it.  He then moved his finger further up the chart in the same direction.  “Now it’s reporting us here.”

“In two minutes?”  Sykes’ response was rhetorical.  He shook his head and sighed.  380 knots was a bit optimistic for a nuclear class submarine.  Was it a glitch?  This wasn’t the first computer malfunction they’d had, far from it.  He knew that software written by some geek hyped up on Jolt was far more fallible than traditional mechanical or electrical systems.  Hell, even the cooks knew that by now.  “Anything else acting buggy?”

“No, sir.”

“Run integrity checks on both systems.”

“Already started, sir.”  All eyes turned to the monitor now displaying the results.  “Systems report no consistency errors.”

Great, broken software that doesn’t even know it’s broken.  Sykes looked closely at the orange GPS display.  “Try re-synching the satellites.”

Willie complied and waited.  He began to slowly shake his head.  “Birds look good.  I’ve got five…now six.  Pinpointed to one meter and reporting the same coordinates.”

The Commander didn’t respond.  He remained focused on the GPS screen, thinking.

Eugene stuck his head out of the tiny radio area and dropped his headset around his neck.  “Sir, I’ve been picking up something for the last few minutes on sonar.  It might be related.”

Sykes’ eyes trained on Eugene.  “What is it?” 

“Not a vessel, sir.  Nothin’ I’ve ever heard before.”

Sykes put the second headset on and listened as Eugene played it for him.  “What the hell is that?”

Frowning, Eugene switched back to the live feed and closed his eyes.  “…it’s gone now.”

 “Any ideas?”

Eugene sighed.  “I’m not sure.  At first I thought it may have been thermal vents, but that wasn’t it.”  He watched Sykes look back at Willie and return to the table.  After a long silence and with forced control, he put his mug down.  Stepping from the room over the lip of the hatch, he continued down the long gray, metal corridor.  “Of all the damn timing.”

 

*****

 

Captain Ashman replied to the knock on his door with a simple “Enter”.  Sykes stepped in, his head barely an inch from the piping overhead.

“What it is?” he hardly needed to look up from his own reading to know who it was.

“Sir, we seem to be encountering some problems with our navigation system. It’s put our position off by about fifteen miles.”

Ashman looked up.  “Fifteen miles?”

“Yes, sir”.

“Did you run diagnostics?”

Sykes nodded.  “Yes sir, by the book but cannot find any problems.”

Ashman tapped his finger gently against pursed lips.  “Could our speed be off?”

“No, sir.  The propulsion systems are in perfect sync.  It’s just our position that’s incorrect.  I suspect it’s a misread somewhere in GPS, but we can’t verify unless...”

“If we surface, the mission is aborted.”  Ashman’s tone was sharp.  “Did someone upgrade our systems before we left?”

“Not that I’m aware of, sir.”

“If I find out that someone was stupid enough to upgrade anything before a four-month mission, I’ll personally escort them to the brig!”

“Yes, sir!”

He took a deep breath.  It didn’t matter whether someone upgraded the system or not, it was still broken and probably could not be fixed from here.  Even if it could, it would leave enough doubt to abort the mission anyway.  No one would risk continuing on and having a problem crop up at deeper depths.  Down there you can’t just pop up to the surface. 

“Talk with the engineers and make sure no one made any changes.”  Sykes nodded.  He’d expected this order before he knocked on the Captain’s door.  Ashman retracted his legs and stood up.  “Take us up.  Tell them we’re coming back.”

By the time Sykes made it back to the bridge, he was developing a bad feeling.

 

 

2

 

 

The Cayman Islands were first discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1503.  Named Las Tortugas after the many sea turtles, the islands were governed as a single colony for centuries, until they became an official British territory in the late 1960’s.  Like many Caribbean islands, the majority of business in the Caymans was tourism, flocked to regularly by thousands of sunburned, overweight Americans with too much money and a penchant for cat naps.  Arriving in Georgetown and setting out for adventure in their sparkling rental cars and air conditioning, most visitors would be hard pressed to spot remains of the devastation inflicted by the hurricane just a few years earlier.  Progress could be simply astounding when it came to the anticipation of more money.

While undetectable from the island, Georgetown was in fact still visible, albeit barely, from the 38 foot catamaran across the stretch of ocean.  Anchored much closer to Little Cayman, the boat sat listless in the gentle ocean swell, swaying side to side just enough to allow the lazy halyard an occasional slap against the aluminum mast.  The warm winter breeze flowed gently through the lines and over the sails, which were rolled up tight.  If close enough, an observer might mistake it for abandoned with no one in sight.  Though at this distance the only neighbors were seagulls, two of which sat comfortably on the port hull.

A disturbance in the crystal blue water slowly appeared nearby and a ring of bubbles surfaced as a gentle turbulence.  A moment later, a dark head emerged and looked around.  Spotting the aft of the boat, a mask was quickly lifted over the short hair and the man swam forward.  Upon reaching the small ladder, he gently tossed the mask and snorkel aboard and with surprising ease, pulled his upper body quickly out of the water, allowing his legs to find the rungs.  He reached back and unbuckled each fin, tossing them up and grabbing his towel in the same motion.

He retrieved a bottle of orange juice from the small refrigerator and went forward to relax on the trampoline.  Peering at the larger island, he could make out the faint image of a jet ski skirting across the water.  It amazed him how many people loved noise.  Insistent that they need a break from the grind, they travel to a remote area to unwind, only to shop with a thousand other tourists, or zip across the bay on a rocket running at 80 decibels.  He smiled to himself and tipped his orange juice in their direction. 

To each his own, he thought.  He should, in fact, be thankful.  If they were not over there, they would probably be here next to him.  With that, he stood up and squinted at the glimmering horizon.  Having to decide what to do every day was just the type of problem he wanted.

His body suddenly stiffened.  The sound was extremely faint but unmistakable and he felt a flutter of grim acceptance before reaching for the binoculars.  He wiped the water from his face and peered through the lenses.  He stood, watching stoically as the tiny black dot in the distance slowly grew into the recognizable shape of a helicopter.

 

 

3

 

 

It had always surprised Chris Ramirez how busy Fridays were.  He would have guessed a Saturday or Sunday, but the last day of the school week was always the busiest.  This was thanks to all the nearby schools and their field trips, which meant playing host for four exhausting hours.  An obligation Chris had finally been freed from just three weeks earlier with the hiring of a new tour guide.  Of course, now he had to admit that giving the tours to the kids was not all bad.  It was the fact that their retention levels dropped to zero once they were through the front door that bothered him.  From there, they could see the aquarium’s star attractions, dolphins Dirk and Sally.  Not that he would have been any different at their age.

He strolled through the empty lobby sipping his coffee.  As he approached, he smiled at Betty behind the information desk and his replacement, Al, who was looking over his schedule and straightening his tie.  What a beautiful day these new Fridays were, now that it allowed him to return to his real work.

Chris glanced at his watch; thirty minutes until the doors opened.  He headed downstairs to the bottom level of the main aquarium.  There, he stood before the giant wall of glass, holding back more than a million gallons of water.  On the other side, the gentle rays of sun were already illuminating the water with a soft shade of blue from the tank’s open top.  He watched both shadows dart back and forth effortlessly through the rays of sunlight.  The dolphins were swimming about with a grace of which only they were capable.  He looked higher at the third shape.  It waved to him, at which point he smiled and waved back with a gentle swipe of his coffee cup.  The figure turned and swam back toward Dirk and Sally.  With that, Chris walked down the hall to the aquarium’s private rooms and dropped his backpack onto the desk.

 

Swimming with dolphins was beyond what most could imagine, and she should know, she did it as often as possible.  She rarely missed a Friday, as it was the one day that the aquarium opened late, leaving a forty-five minute window between feeding time and opening time.  Over the last five years, Dirk and Sally had especially come to enjoy their swims together, it was more than obvious.  They constantly swirled around her, letting her run her hands over their slick bodies, and in turn, would playfully bump her as they passed beneath.  She looked at her watch, gave them one last pat, and headed for the ladder.

Alison Shaw surfaced and held onto the ladder while she cleared her mask.  She noticed a distorted shape quickly approach and looked up, removing her foggy goggles to see Chris smiling down at her.

“Weren’t you just downstairs?” she asked, brushing hair out of her eyes.

He did not answer.

Alison looked up again with a squint.  “Something wrong?”  He continued to beam.  “Why are you smiling?”

He bent down.  “I think you’re going to want to see this.”

Her eyes shot open.  “IMIS?”

Chris grabbed her hand, pulling her out of the water with one hand, and handing her a towel with the other.  She stepped out, quickly dried off and pulled a long sleeve shirt and shorts out of her bag.  She and Chris had been friends for years, but he still snuck a glance now and then at her trim figure.  A few inches shorter than average, she was still far from the norm when it came to female marine biologists.  Hurrying to get her sandals on, they ran across the viewing area and into the building.

They burst into the research area to find Lee Kenwood in his usual spot, at a large desk crammed with monitors and keyboards with cables snaking all over the floor, something Alison always imagined the bowels of a phone company to look like.  Behind Lee and against the wall were several tall metal racks holding dozens of computer servers each.  In the middle section of one of the center racks stood a monitor, keyboard, and mouse, used for manually controlling any of the one-inch thick machines, even though it was something Lee rarely had to do anymore.  With the myriad of systems on his own desk, he could now just as easily connect to the servers remotely.

The wall opposite the servers was part of the dolphin’s tank, constructed in clear glass to allow optimal visibility for study.  Before the thick glass stood six mechanical apparatuses of varying height and complexity, with a digital video camera perched on top of each.  Around the room were several dozen books and journals on topics ranging from marine biology, to language analysis, to writing code in various computer languages.

Alison made it to Lee’s desk before her wet bag even hit the carpeted floor.  “What is it?”

He looked through his rectangular glasses at Chris.  “Didn’t you tell her?”

She pushed her way in front of the screen.  “Tell me what?  What is it?!”

He gently pushed himself away from his desk, rolling out of the way and allowing her a closer view.  “Looks like it’s done.”

“Are you sure?!” she asked looking back at the tank.  She could see Dirk and Sally on the far side anticipating the first wave of children.

Kenwood grinned “Pretty sure.”  He rolled closer again and clicked the mouse, bringing columns of various numbers and results onto the screen.  “See…Frequencies…Octave Ranges…Inflection Points-”

“What about Inter-click Interval and Repetition Rates?”  She scanned the large monitor excitedly.

“Right here.  And we have multiple video positions for each of them.”

Behind them, Frank Dubois burst into the room.  “Just got your message.  What’s up?”  By the time the last word rolled off his tongue, he realized he did not need an answer.  He knew simply from the look on their faces.  “Tell me it’s done.”

“Oh, it be done, Captain.”  Lee grinned.   He pointed to the screen as Dubois leaned in behind Chris and Alison.  “All the variables have been identified.  Look, if you add them up you get almost the exact same number listed with the video positions, divided by three.”  He clicked another button and brought up the system log.  “And look at this; it says the last variable was found almost two months ago, so there hasn’t been anything new in terms of behavior or sounds.”  He leaned back with a cocky nod.  “This envelope has been licked and stamped!”

Alison smiled.  Lee always had a creative way with words.  “I trust you’ve already made the call to IBM?”

Lee nodded.  “I did.  They’re coming down to verify.”

Now Chris turned and looked at the dolphins.  “Who’s coming?”

Lee smiled.  “Uh…everyone.”

“Fantastic.”  Dubois turned and headed for the door.  “I’ve got to make a call.  You busy today Ali?”

She laughed.  “Are you kidding?”

“Well, when you come down off of cloud nine, maybe you can spare a few minutes…we’ll need someone to write us up a press release.”  With that, he let the door close behind him.

 

 

4

 

 

The silver doors opened and John Clay stepped out of the oversized elevator. With a sharp right, he made his way down the long white hallway of the Pentagon’s D ring.  From the far end of the hall, Admiral Langford spotted Clay and broke off his conversation with another officer.  He walked to meet him and handed Clay a thick folder.

“Sorry, Clay.”  The admiral was shorter by a couple inches but moved erect and with a sharpness that always made Clay feel he was looking up.  They met several years prior when Admiral Langford took over the department.  He’d been under Langford ever since. 

Clay fell into step with Langford as he opened the folder and scanned the first page.  “A computer glitch, sir?”

“Apparently there’s more to it,” Langford responded calmly.  “It was originally filed as a glitch but we can’t replicate it.”  He nodded to a woman walking past them.  “Navigation system was working perfectly since the sub left port and then, all of the sudden, they’re fifteen miles off course.”

Clay tried to keep up while flipping through several pages of what most would consider random computer code.  “Any changes in direction?”

“No change in direction.  Same course but fifteen miles further out.”  Langford could see the problem taking hold in Clay’s head.  Clay was one of the best analysts he’d ever had, with a mind like a steel trap.  Langford never had to repeat anything to him. 

 “Sounds like that would rule out drift or cross currents.  Might be something with the engines if it were one of the older subs, but the new class measures speed by GPS too.  How about a satellite problem?”

They turned and continued down another hallway adorned with pictures of past military officers.  “That’s what I thought, but so far we haven’t had anything else reported.”

 Clay spoke without realizing it.  “Those sats are all semi synchronous.  A GPS receiver is never locked onto the same six signals.  Which means by now-”.

“They’re all part of other sets.”  Langford pulled out a security card and swiped it through the reader next to a metal door that read DNI in large blue letters.  “We identified all the sets that the Alabama was using for that entire week and ran checks on them individually.  Nothing.”  Langford swung the large door open.  “How was the trip?”

“Short, sir.”

“I’ll make it up to you.”

The Department of Naval Investigations was a large department and took a large part of the Pentagon’s second floor, rings A through E, on the west side.  Consisting of several hundred staff, most specializing in legal and personnel issues, the department was growing as a result of the softening of military policies.  Personnel issues such as harassment had skyrocketed over the last several years as the military struggled to adapt to twenty-first century expectations.  Next to legal and HR, the Navy’s technology group was small by comparison.  Clay’s team was smaller still.  Electronics and Signaling was a specialty that very few understood, let alone were interested in.  Even the brass, who were often technology’s strongest advocates, did not really want to know how.  They just wanted it to work.  Clay’s E&S team often had to find out why a technology was not working, where the failure occurred and why.  It required expert level knowledge in a wide variety of technologies including computer chip design, networking, signaling and a thorough understanding of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Clay turned a corner and passed a number of offices.  His aide, Jennifer, was clearly expecting him when he opened the door and walked through.

“Hi John.” She said, hanging up the phone.  “How were the Caymans?” 

“You would have hated it,” he smiled and moved past her into his office.  “No reality TV.”

She grinned and followed him with a folder of her own.  “I’ll be sure to cross it off my list.”  Jennifer laid the folder out and set aside his stack of messages, which Clay eyed with dismay. 

“All of these in just three days?”

“You’re a popular guy.”  She flipped through the folder for his benefit.  She pulled out a number of documents from the back.  “And these need your signature.”

“What would I do without you?”

“Oh stop.  You’re going to give her a big head.”  They both looked up to see Steve Caesare in the doorway, smiling.  At six foot, with matching dark hair and mustache, he was one hundred percent Italian but without the ties to the mob, or so he said.  Caesare and Clay had been friends since the beginning, meeting in the earliest days of their now twenty-two years of service, and working through most of those years and several departments together. 

Jennifer smiled and left the room, flicking him on the arm as she passed.

Steve entered and sat down in a chair across from John’s desk.  “Our leaves are getting shorter and shorter.  Pretty soon they’ll be shorter than our lunches.”

Clay dropped Langford’s folder onto his desk and fell into his chair, turning it toward Caesare.  “You’re lucky you didn’t come.  The shorter it is, the more depressing the return.”  He took a deep breath.  “Tell me why we do this again, for love of country or something?”

“It’s the chicks.”

“Langford talk to you already about the Alabama?”

“Yeah, I gave him that same folder this morning.”  Caesare stretched out his legs and leaned back.  “It’s strange.  I haven’t seen anything like it.  Probably not earth-shattering, but they want to put back out quickly before the crew gets lethargic.  We’ve been working with their technicians, going through everything with a fine tooth comb.”

“Find anything?”

“Not yet.  We’re about to start tracing out cables.”

Clay sighed and leaned forward, opening the Alabama’s folder.  “Were there any other vessels nearby using the same satellites?”

Caesare shook his head.  “No, the closest ship was only using four of the same birds, not enough for a true comparison-”.  He was interrupted by his cell phone.  He looked at the number before answering.  “Hey, any news?  Okay, be right there.”  He ended the call and stood up.  “Borger may have something.”

 

*****

 

Will Borger was a true throwback from the hippy generation, though technically a few years too young to actually qualify.  He wore his hair long in a ponytail, likely trying to make up for the top of his head which was losing ground.  He routinely wore round glasses and loose fitting Hawaiian shirts.  He was the epitome of the old computer geek and Clay and Caesare liked him immensely.

The two walked into the lab, filled with computer and satellite equipment, some so complex that it was almost unrecognizable even to them.  Most of the shelves were a tangle of wires and cables, connecting dozens of monitors, computers, oscilloscopes, and amplifiers.  Clay estimated that Borger had enough coax cable in his office to start a television company.  A wooden desk sat in the corner under an old lamp with almost a dozen keyboards, some stacked on top of each other.

Borger stood nearby hunched over a table covered with a giant red and white map.  He looked up with raised eyebrows.  “Hey Clay, I didn’t know you were back.”

“Yeah, almost like it never happened.”

“Ah, you must have gotten called back for the Alabama.  I hear they want to get this zipped up and back out to sea next week.”

Caesare glanced down at the map.  “What’s this?”

“The Earth. At least part of it.  I finished stress testing the sats and didn’t find anything so I decided to take a look at the coordinates using the new Jason-2 satellite.”

Clay was familiar with the Jason-2.  Replacing its predecessor, the Jason-1, which itself replaced the TOPEX/Poseidon, the first satellite designed to study the planet’s magnetic field.  Those early missions had changed how satellite computer chips were designed and significantly increased their ability to withstand high doses of solar radiation, resulting in a boon for the satellite industry.  Yet, while the first two returned a wealth of information, the Jason-2 was the first craft sensitive enough to detect fields closer to the surface.  He recalled the launch creating quite a bit of excitement among the scientific community.

Borger continued.  “The maps won’t be completed for a few more years, but because of its launch orbit, the equator was the first area to be mapped, including the Caribbean where the Alabama reported the problem.”

They moved in closer.  “And?”

“Well, here’s the rest of the equator and here’s the area around Bimini,” he said, pointing to a large darkened circle.  “According to the J-2, there appears to be a very high level of magnetism here.”

“Any chance of a fluke?  Maybe the instruments aren’t calibrated yet.”

Borger shook his head and ran his hand over the rest of the map to straighten it.  “I don’t think so.  As you can see, the rest of the measurements are accurate.  Pretty coincidental that we’d see a glitch happen right here.  If I had to guess, I would say the sea floor has an unusually dense iron composition.”

Clay looked up.  “But that shouldn’t affect GPS.”

“Well, maybe not by itself, but we’ve been having small solar flares all month, and those have been known to throw off all kinds of things especially satellites.  The flares we had on the day the Alabama experienced this problem were pretty small but with the area having a high iron concentration, the ionization may have rendered the satellites unable to accurately pinpoint their position.”

“How long did the flares last on that day?”

“Six or seven hours, I think.  I’d have to check.”

Clay stood up and tapped his finger on his chin, thinking.  “So if the flares were the cause we could expect to see inconsistencies in the sub’s data for up to six or seven hours prior?”

“Probably,” nodded Borger.  “They may be very subtle inconsistencies though, depending on how close they were to the area and their heading.”

Clay looked back to Borger.  “Can you find out exactly how long the flares lasted?”   He then turned to Caesare.  “Let’s pull all the sub data for that entire day.”

 

*****

 

Four hours later, Caesare walked in and dropped a thick stack of paper on Clay’s desk.

“The Alabama’s complete log from the 31st.  Communications, navigation, propulsion…everything except the ship’s menu.”

“And?”

Caesare shook his head.  “Nothing.  Not a single discrepancy.  And let me tell you, that is one boring read.”

Clay flipped through the pile.  “Borger says the flares lasted almost eight hours, off and on.  Anything else from the tech team on board?”

“Nope.  They’re still tracing and testing cables, but I don’t expect to find anything.”

They both knew that the cabling was more of a formality than anything else.  A last act of diligence for the sake of being thorough.  Wiring and insulation in these subs were meticulous.  Rarely was the cabling ever found to be responsible.  He pushed his chair back, finally shaking his head after a long moment.  “Well, whatever it was, it wasn’t a solar flare, or a systems problem.”

“Or wiring,” Caesare added, leaning against the door frame.  “We going out?”

Clay nodded.

 

5

 

 

Alison sipped her tea and stared intently at the screen.  It was about to start, and she could almost hear her heart beating.  What’s with the anxiety?  She thought to herself.  You’d think you were the one on television.  She was rarely nervous, if you could even call this nervousness.  It was more excitement than anything else.  Her press release had been picked up by dozens of papers and news broadcasts, all wanting an interview.  She would never have imagined that kind of response, but with the progress they had made recently, maybe it was not so surprising. 

What was surprising, was that they managed to make it on television and quickly.  NBC called and wanted Dubois to be part of their Monday show, just three days after their press release went out.  Previous announcements, albeit less exciting, had only been picked up by local papers.  Something about their latest news sure got somebody excited.  It made Alison wonder who got bumped.  Hopefully some corporate executive lined up to hype a new product line or brag about how much richer they were.

Chris Ramirez approached with his own mug and looked at his watch.  “Didn’t start yet, did it?”

She shook her head and bobbed her tea bag a couple times.

“You know you should have gone with him,” he said, taking a tentative sip.

Alison shook her head.  “Nah.  He’s better at this kind of stuff.”

“True,” Chris said, with a shrug.  “Definitely doesn’t have anything to do with him loving the spotlight.”

She raised her cup to hide the grin.

Suddenly Matt Lewis’s face filled the screen, his words barely audible until Lee turned up the volume.  “Here we go!”

“…at the Miami City Aquarium where a team of marine biologists have been trying to do the unthinkable.  Talk to another species.  With me today is Frank Dubois, the director of the center and the research being done there.  Welcome, Dr. Dubois.”

“Thank you, Matt.”  Frank’s face filled the screen and both Chris and Lee let out a whoop.   He looked good, comfortable on camera, much better than she would have.

“Doctor, I have to say, this is really exciting.  I never knew there was such research being done at the aquarium.  How did this all get started?”

Frank flashed his perfect smile and shrugged graciously.  He was a natural.  “Well the idea is not all that new, but the technology required for this approach was not available until very recently.  We started with a small grant and eventually garnered enough interest to pay some salaries.  In fact, much of the first two years of research was done on a volunteer basis by our senior researcher, Alison Shaw.”

Lee Kenwood leaned over and gave her a friendly bump.  “All right, Ali.”

“It’s a miracle,” Chris mumbled under his breath.

“Stop it!”  She blushed and stared back at the screen.  Accepting compliments was not her strong point.

Lewis continued on screen.  “So tell me about this IMIS system.”

“Well, it’s a distributed computing system which means we divvy up the load to a lot of smaller individual computers, over a hundred in this case.  This gives us processing power much greater than what we could achieve even with a super computer, and at a fraction of the cost.”

“And what does IMIS mean?

“IMIS is short for InterMammal Interpretive System.”

“And this IMIS translates the language?” asked Lewis.

Frank smiled.  “Well not yet.  But basically yes.  IMIS works by recording all of the recognizable sounds from our dolphins; all of their clicks, whistles, even postures.  Once all of those have been captured in multiple scenarios, we then start the translation process using an advanced artificial intelligence program.”  He smiled again.  “Or at least we attempt a translation.”

Lewis frowned.  “So is this going to work?  I mean, how long will it take to make this kind of breakthrough?”

“Well, the recording phase, or what we call phase one, has been completed.  Now we’ve begun phase two, which is Translation, and that’s all computer.  Unfortunately, since this has never been done before we really don’t have an estimate on how long it will take.  But the intelligence program is designed to learn as it goes, so every day it should get a little bit smarter.”

Lewis shook his head incredulously.  “How on earth do you write a program that talks to dolphins?”

 “You get IBM’s help.”  They both laughed.  “IBM is actually one of our sponsors.  They have donated most of the hardware and a lot of programming brainpower.  The software is really quite impressive.”

“I bet it is,” Lewis continued, looking down at his notes.  “It says here that NASA is also one of your sponsors.”

“That’s right.”

Lewis shook his head.  “Okay, IBM I understand, but why NASA?  What interest would they have in something like this?”

“That’s a common question.  NASA is more interested in the technology that we’re using than us actually making contact.  They are hoping to build on the technology and one day use it to communicate with an alien intelligence.  If they find one, that is.”

“Really?”  Lewis was genuinely surprised.

Frank took a sip of water and nodded.  “Yes.  Their thinking is that our hopes of communicating with aliens are pretty remote if we haven’t even learned to communicate with another species on the same planet.”  He shrugged.  “The fundamental approaches should be very similar.”

“And here you are on the verge of doing just that.” 

Frank smiled again and raised his hand in a cautionary gesture.  “Well, I don’t know if I would say on the verge.  We’re closer, a lot closer than say we were six years ago, but there is still a lot of work to do.  In all honesty, we may still be in for a very long wait.  Like I said, it’s up to the computers now.”

“So, if you are able to translate, what will you say?  Obviously, you’re not going to ask them what it’s like to be a fish.”  The audience laughed.

“Well, we might still ask them that,” Frank said with a smile.  “But no, it’s going to depend on what we can translate, if anything.  Dolphins are the second smartest animal on the planet and they are the only species besides humans that are self-aware.  For example, when you put a mirror in the tank, dolphins will actually look at themselves and even examine their bodies.  They understand the connection and the fact that there is a world around them, so the depth of exchange possible here is staggering.”

Lewis scooted forward slightly with genuine interest.  “Let me ask you this, without knowing what level of translation might be possible, what at this stage are you hoping for?  In other words what are you hoping to learn if all goes well, even if it takes years?”

Frank tilted his head, momentarily considering the question.  “Well, first and foremost, we would want to know who they are as a species.  And by we, I mean us humans, would want to know, as one sentient being to another, as one civilization to another.”

“Civilization?” 

“Yes,” he continued.  “We define a civilization as an advanced state of society.  Obviously they have no technology or industry but government and culture are huge components of what we consider a civilization.  Like humans, dolphins are social creatures.  We know they live and operate in large groups, sometimes in the tens of thousands.  But what is really exciting is the idea of culture.  Again, dolphins are extremely intelligent, compared to the rest of the animal kingdom.  They even have a sense of humor.”

Alison watched the salesman emerge in Frank.  This was how he got their funding year over year.  He was a god.

“We know dolphins have a complex language.  But imagine…if they have the ability to pass information, not just to each other, but from generation to generation.  We could be talking about a lineage, about a progressive cognition.  That is culture!” 

The idea had not been lost on Lewis.  He sat motionless for a moment before speaking.  “Wow.  That is really exciting.”  He reached out his hand.  “We wish you the best of luck and can’t wait to have you back.” 

“Thank you.”  Frank smiled and shook.

 “Dr. Frank Dubois,” Lewis said, closing.  “Director at the Miami City Aquarium.”

“Alright!”  Ken reached forward and turned the volume back down.  “Maybe now we’ll get some real funding.”

Alison smiled, her fingernail still between her teeth.  Not bad, she thought, not bad at all.

 


 

BREAKTHROUGH – Frequently Asked Questions

Thank you for reading Breakthrough.  This FAQ page is a small supplemental to the book, and answers common questions by readers.  Please note that this page contains SPOILERS to the book, so if you have not read BREAKTHROUGH, please do so before continuing.
 
Q:  Is there going to be a sequel?
A: Most definitely.  I’ve just completed my next book AMID THE SHADOWS which should be available shortly.  Next, I will begin work on BREAKTHROUGH’s sequel.


Q:  What happened to Clay after he went through the portal with the bullet?
A:  Clay was in fact shot in the process.  He was able to maintain consciousness for a short time, and with the help of Palin’s people, his life was saved.  He awoke only shortly before returning to D.C. with Palin.


Q:  How did Dirk survive the nuclear explosion in the end?
A: John Clay traveled through the portal and was able to warn Palin’s people before losing consciousness.  They were able to find and identify Dirk, but did not have enough time to intercept and disable the warhead since it was pre-programmed.   The best they could do was to protect themselves from the blast and teleport Dirk out from under the bomb before it detonated.


Q:  How could Stevas launch nuclear missiles without the President’s authorization?
A:  Stevas never actually launched nuclear missiles.  The submarine attack on the ring was a torpedo attack, and they were traditional torpedoes, not nuclear.  What Stevas did do however, was take advantage of the confusion and claim he was acting under the President’s authority, and manage to procure a small tactile nuclear warhead (of which the US Defense Department has many).  That was the warhead that was strapped to Dirk.


Q:  What happened to Neri and his village on the island of Tristan Da Cunha ?
A:  What Neri discovered near his fishing hole, was an energy portal with footprints leading out.  When Neri’s mother spotted the missile overhead and pushed him inside, she noticed the sky and surrounding buildings looked unusually blue.  This was because Palin’s people had reached the island in time to place a protective dome over the small village, allowing them to survive the blast.


Q:  Why was Palin’s son on the Pathfinder ship?
A:  Palin’s people were well aware of the episode the Alabama sub experienced near their ring, and they knew there would be an official investigation.  They later snuck aboard the Pathfinder ship in an attempt to find out how much Clay knew, and more importantly whether the dolphins had already revealed anything about them.


Q:  Why didn’t Palin’s people just teleport him out of jail?
A:  Teleporting is not that simple.  There needs to be an energy source on the other end when used over a significant distance.  The silver cube that Palin’s people carried was that energy source.  In an emergency it acted as a life saving device.  You will note that the small portals only opened when the cube’s host was near death.  However, in the case of Dirk, he was close enough that they did not need a cube to teleport him.


Q:  What happened to Stevas?
A:  That’s a very good question.
 

 
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