Navy SEAL Lieutenant David Sam tapped on the glass separating him from the biohazard lab. On the other side, wearing isolation suits, Dr. Rick Kanger and Joe Revard looked up from their work. They were deep inside the building that housed the Allen Institute for Cell Science on the shore of South Lake Union in Seattle, Washington.
Kanger’s journey to get there from Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City had been both exhilarating and terrifying. Within an hour of being pulled into a meeting with Colonel Crawford, he had been stuffed into a too tight G-suit then into the back seat of an F-15 that had rocketed off the runway like a screaming banshee.
Once they had completed their mid-air refueling the pilot had gained altitude and pushed their speed to well above Mach 1, or the sound barrier. They had flown level and straight and in only ninety minutes the pilot had announced they were over Seattle.
“Where are we landing?” Kanger asked. He was somewhat familiar with the area, having travelled there several times for conferences.
“Whidbey Island Naval Air Station,” had been the reply.
Kanger didn’t know where that was, or why they weren’t landing at the airport. Leaning his helmeted head to the side he looked down but there was nothing other than an impenetrable layer of clouds beneath the aircraft. Moments later the pilot pushed the nose of the aircraft over and they streaked down directly into the overcast.
They came out of the clouds not far above the ground, rain sounding like the impacts of shotgun pellets when it spattered against the canopy. Whidbey Island was large and long, surrounded by a storm tossed, steel grey ocean. Turbulence buffeted the jet as they roared along over emerald green forests so dense the ground wasn’t visible.
Soon they flashed over a small town, a fence passed under them and the F-15’s tires slammed onto a runway. They slowed to taxi speed quickly, the pilot falling in behind a Hummer outfitted with flashing orange lights and an illuminated “Follow Me” sign on the back.
Pulling through into a large hangar, the pilot raised the canopy and shut down the engines. Cool, damp air mixed with the smell of jet exhaust and swirled into the cockpit. There were a couple of thumps as a portable staircase was wheeled against the side of the plane, then a young black man poked his head up. He was dressed in militaryish clothing, which lacked any name or rank insignia, and was well armed.
“Dr. Kanger, I’m Lieutenant Sam, US Navy. Come with me, please.” He disappeared back down the stairs as quickly as he’d appeared.
Kanger unstrapped himself and took the helmet and oxygen mask off, dropping them on the seat. He thanked the Air Force pilot for a safe ride and wished him good luck before stepping out onto the ladder and slowly climbing down. Lieutenant Sam and three other similarly dressed men stood waiting for him.
“This way, please.” The Lieutenant said and turned, but Kanger held up his hand for him to stop.
“I’m sorry, but I’ve been needing to pee for two hours. Where’s the restroom?” He asked.
“There’s a head on the way, sir. Now, please. We need to move.” Sam turned and began purposefully striding towards a door in the back wall of the hangar. Kanger fell in behind him, failing to notice that the other three men formed up in a protective bubble around him.
After a quick restroom break in an adjacent building they climbed into a waiting Humvee. One of the other men, who hadn’t been introduced, was behind the wheel. Sam and a man sporting a shaved head and an impressive beard sandwiched Kanger between them in the backseat, the fourth riding shotgun.
The man drove fast and sure, quickly leaving the aviation area of the installation behind and driving down a gentle slope towards a large harbor. A variety of small Navy ships were tied up, but in Kanger’s opinion all of them looked too small to be going out into the rough seas he’d seen just before landing.
The Hummer wheeled into a spot at the entrance to a long, wooden dock. On either side floated a ship, grey hulls rising well above his head. OK, maybe they weren’t so small after all.
Climbing out, Lieutenant Sam held the door for him then led the way through the rain. Kanger expected to be boarding one of the two ships that he now realized were each over a hundred feet in length but Sam strode past their access ramps. He kept following the younger man, coming to a stop when the only vessel remaining came into view.
It was a small boat, no more than thirty feet long, with a pedestal that held a steering wheel and throttle about twenty feet from the stern. There was a short windshield for the driver but the entire boat was open.
“What the hell is that?” He asked.
Sam stopped and turned around, his face a mask of professionalism.
“It is a RIB, sir.”
“A Rigid-hull Inflatable Boat. That’s how we’re getting to our destination, sir.” He said patiently.
“Seriously? Have you seen the waves out there?” Kanger gestured at the mouth of the harbor where white caps were clearly visible. “Don’t you have a helicopter or something?
“A helo would just draw unwanted attention to our destination. I’m fully aware of the weather and we’re well within the operational parameters of this craft. Now, we need to move to catch the tide.” Sam stood staring at him, not even blinking as the wind driven rain pelted his face.
“There’s got to be another way. Maybe one of those,” Kanger said, starting to take a step back and gesturing at the larger ships.
Sam moved forward until he was standing very close to him. “Doctor, there is no other way. I don’t have time to explain all of the requirements and limitations of this operation to you. You’re going to have to trust me and get in that boat.”
“I don’t have to do anything!” Kanger said, fear causing his voice to raise several octaves.
He loved to fly and had thoroughly enjoyed the ride in the F-15 Falcon, but he couldn’t swim and was terrified of water. He got nervous standing at the edge of a lake and just being on the wide dock was causing him to start hyperventilating. The thought of going out in that tiny boat onto the wind tossed ocean petrified him.
The man who had been standing at the wheel of the RIB stepped up onto the dock and began walking towards the small group. He was older than all of what Kanger suspected were SEALs. As he drew closer the Doctor could tell he was quite a bit older, probably in his early sixties. He had broad shoulders with a powerful chest and arms despite his age and walked with the rolling gate of a lifetime sailor.
“Sir, I’m Coast Guard Boatswains Mate Master Chief Mark Stag.” He had pronounced Boatswains as ‘Bosuns’, and held his hand out in greeting after pushing past the younger men.
Kanger automatically extended his and Stag grabbed it in an iron grip, pulled them close together and pressed a Taser against the Doctor’s neck. He held it there briefly before quickly shoving it in a pocket and gently lowering Kanger to the dock. He pulled his hands behind his back and secured them with a zip tie.
“Think you ladies can get him on the fuckin’ boat now?” He turned and glared at Lieutenant Sam. “We miss the goddamn tide we aren’t going in until tomorrow.”
Sam gestured at two of the men and they moved to each side of Kanger, grabbing him under the arms to lift him to his feet. Stag led the way to the RIB, the SEALs following with Kanger in tow.
“Goddamn squids,” Stag muttered as he started the engines.
“You remember I’m an officer?” Sam said as the men got settled and strapped Kanger to an empty seat.
“You remember I’m retired and don’t have to put up with any shit from wet behind the ears kids?” Stag growled, feeding in throttle as soon as one of the men released the last line that was securing them to the dock. “Better have a seat, sonny. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.”
With the bow pointed at the open water of the harbor, Stag shoved the throttles forward and the RIB leapt ahead. The harbor was sheltered but the water was still choppy. It was nothing like the eight and ten foot waves breaking in the open water of Puget Sound.
The rain was coming harder and as they approached the transition to unprotected sea the weather picked up and Stag had to turn the wheel into the teeth of the wind to keep them on course. Adjusting his speed he timed it so that they exited the harbor into a trough between two waves, cutting the wheel hard left and feeding in more throttle to get the small boat in sync with the water.
A large storm was pushing down from the Gulf of Alaska, bringing strong winds and lots of rain to the region. The wind pushed on the surface of the Sound, lifting it into rank after rank of waves rolling south towards Seattle. They were moving fast but Stag wanted to move faster. Once they reached Seattle they would have to enter a ship canal and then transition through a series of locks into Lake Union. Their destination was on the south shore of the lake.
The locks were the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, or the Ballard Locks to the locals, and had been built by the Army Corps of Engineers. They separated several large fresh water lakes, Lake Washington the largest, from the salt water of Puget Sound, keeping the level of the lakes several feet above the sea.
Boats moving from the Sound into the lakes, or vice-versa, could pass through and be lifted or lowered to the level of the water they were transitioning to. Unlike the ocean the lakes didn’t have tides. As the water level in Puget Sound went up and down with the position and phases of the moon, the difference in levels controlled by the locks changed significantly.
High tide was in another ninety minutes and if they didn’t get there in time they wouldn’t make it through. Without the higher water level brought by the tide, and to a lesser degree the storm surge, there would be too much of a difference in levels between the canal that was open to the ocean and the lake. There was no electricity to run the powerful pumps once a boat was in the lock, so they needed every inch of height they could get from the ocean side.
The massive gates that controlled the locks could be manually operated, but if the water levels were more than a few feet different, transition through would be too dangerous. As they approached the first gate they would be floating on water open to the sea. The SEALs could crank the big wheel that would open the salt-water side gate, letting the lake level water trapped inside the lock flow out until it equalized with the sea.
Stag had already made a scouting run and knew the current water level in the lock. When the outer gate opened the extra water would come surging out in a flood, but he could have the boat far enough away that it would only be a ripple when it passed under his hull. The height would now match sea level and he could motor into the lock. Once the SEALs closed the outer gate, they could open the inner.
At high tide there was approximately a two and a half foot difference between sea level and the lake surface. When the inner gate opened, a thirty-inch high wall of lake water would rush into the lock, hopefully not smashing the RIB into one of the concrete walls with enough force to damage it.
Thirty inches didn’t sound like a lot, but Stag had lived and worked on the water his entire life and knew how deceptively powerful and devastating it could be. The small lock they would be using was thirty feet wide and one hundred fifty feet long. Thirty inches of water depth meant more than eleven thousand cubic feet of water would come boiling in as soon as the inner gate was opened.
A cubic foot of water weighs about sixty-three pounds. Conservatively, Stag estimated, there would be about seven hundred thousand pounds of water come crashing in when they opened the lakeside gate. And the fucking squids wondered why he was in such a goddamn hurry to get there at high tide.