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Sole Ownership

Intelligent life has been observing mankind for millennia. It's not alien. It's here. And its not going to take any more. Whales and dolphins (cetaceans) have almost always been peaceful and non-combative. But by the year 2005, their fishing grounds have been depleted to a critical level and both the cetaceans and their food supplies are being exposed to more pollution in both the water and air, further subjecting them to starvation and disease. The cetaceans have had enough. To preserve their place on this planet, they have banded together in a worldwide community effort to fight back. Since cetaceans do not construct and use tools, they resort to the next best thing for weapons: they use human-built weapons, lost or discarded at sea. Now it is up to man to decide whether to work with the cetaceans. Misjudgment could prove very costly.

A Hard Shell Word Factory Release


Douglas R. Miller

Douglas R. Miller was born in Erie, Pennsylvania sometime in the 1950's. Dr. Miller obtained his bachelor degree in biology and chemistry from Washington & Jefferson College and his Ph.D. in animal physiology from Cornell University. He has worked as a research scientist since 1977 in such diverse places as Massachusetts General Hospital (Boston), LSU Medical School (New Orleans) and a couple of small companies in College Station, Texas. Currently, he is working as a Research Associate in the Animal Science Department at Texas A&M University while his wife of 22 years, Jane, works in the Medical Microbiology Department.

Having become confirmed "damn Yankees," Doug and Jane and their two cats plan on staying indefinitely.

Dr. Miller has written over 50 scientific papers and grants, mostly in the areas of arthritis, cancer, bone and soft tissue repair, and development of medical diagnostics, but has 'dabbled' in everything from editing a graduate level book in electrochemistry to developing waste disposal technology for NASA. His current research centers on food safety, including development of a method to verify safe cooking of meats, and on development of a new type of wound repair material. This is his first attempt at writing science fiction (unless you count those 50-plus papers and grants), which was attempted because of his lifelong affection for the area.

Reviews

"The premise behind Sole Ownership is a jolly good one. The novel also has good pacing. The author switches between incidents and groups of characters very well, keeping the tension really torqued. It is also obvious that the author (who holds a PhD in animal physiology) knows his animal behavior--and that he loves the subject matter."

Thomas Myer -- SF Site


"Science fiction based on the premise that cetaceans (whales and dolphins) have the capability of banding together, forming an alliance, and teaching mankind a lesson in planetary proprietorship. Sole Ownership is logical, well-researched, and a rather disturbing read. It is a work that makes the reader think rather than just enjoy. The speculation it raises lingers, makes itself known at odd moments, and the ending only adds to that sense of disquiet, the knowledge that it could happen. A debut novel, Sole Ownership gives the reader a glimpse of what promises to be a great future for Mr. Miller as a writer of speculative fiction. Reminiscent of Arthur C. Clarke, he demonstrates a great ability in presenting his material in such a way as to make the reader willingly suspend all disbelief. If you want a book that makes you think, then this book is a must-read--and should be a must-read for more than just fans of Science Fiction."

Under the Covers Book Reviews
Excerpt

Chapter 1

He stood rigidly, gazing at the hazy, reddish-orange globe just above the horizon while listening to the activity going on below the bridge as his crew readied the deck for the morning's hunt. The mist surrounding the ship was already beginning to melt away. Droplets of half-frozen water formed on his raincap and dripped before his eyes like a light rainstorm, feeding the rivulets running down his slicker to end in the pool surrounding his feet. Turning to the other side of the bridge, the shallow but frigid breeze blowing across the Bering Sea seemed to chill his face as much as the stiffer wind which would have been felt if the Nagai were forging ahead under full throttle. That sensation of movement had been lacking for the last twenty hours, a thought which brought his attention aft. Absently rubbing the tiny ice crystals from his moustache, he scanned the deck until he spotted the familiar grease-stained yellow slicker.

"Mister Isaki," he shouted over the deck noise, "what is the status of the engines?"

"Repairs on number one are finished, and the casing is just being put back on number two. We should be ready to get under way in ten or fifteen minutes, Captain."

"Very well Mister Isaki, send word to me the moment the job is finished. We have lost enough time already."

"Aye Captain."

"The rest of you, I want those guns mounted and ready by the time the engines are fixed! We are three days out of Hakodate and have no whales to show for the trip so far. We must make up the lost time! You have had your rest, now be doubly alert for whale signs, and keep a sharp eye out for the protectorate. The first of you to bring in a kill will be given a bonus." The crew, previously uninterested in hearing the obvious, brightened considerably at the promise of additional yen, and replied almost in unison, "Aye Captain," as they bent back to their tasks.

Captain Taniguchi looked up from the navigation charts he was poring over. He could see the brilliant orange ball of the sun, now barely a quarter above the horizon, out of the side window of the control room as the Nagai continued to steam due northeast at half speed. He stretched his back and twisted his head about to relieve the stiffness gathered in his neck muscles, then bent down to resume his task. A call ring out from the fore observation nest--

"Whale off the starboard bow!"

He left the charts, grabbed the binoculars hanging by the door, and strode over to the bridge railing. "Where away?" he shouted over the ship's rumbling.

"Thirty degrees starboard, about two thousand meters."

He pressed the binoculars to his eyes and focused them in the direction the observer was pointing. A few seconds later, he was rewarded by the sight of a sperm whale breaching the water, accompanied by a twenty foot high spout of spray. "Thirty degrees right rudder, full throttle," he called inside to the helmsman. The captain watched with satisfaction as men on the deck loaded the harpoons into the guns and armed the explosive heads, checking the lines to make sure they would flow freely, checking the winch attachments, getting everything ready for the imminent kill.

"Whale fifteen degrees starboard, range sixteen hundred meters," shouted the observer. "We're..." His report was cut short by a panicked shout from the crew manning the bow harpoon gun.

"Captain, there's several metal objects floating one hundred meters dead ahead! They look like mines!"

There wasn't time to consider options. "Left full rudder! Engines full reverse!" shouted the captain as he ran back into the control room.

"Captain, several more to port!" came another shout from the deck. Seconds later, he watched as a blast nearly tore the entire bow section off, the gun crew screaming as they were thrown up and overboard through the ball of flame that enveloped them. He heard screams from other crewmen on the port side as the lurch of the ship tossed them into the icy water below. Two more explosions in rapid succession blew a huge rift at the water line amidships, sending pieces of shrapnel from the deck upward and into the control room. A smashing blow to the side of his head sent Taniguchi reeling into the helm, but he heard the final blast astern just before the sun, weakly peering in through a ragged hole in the wall of the cabin, eclipsed.

The smoke in the quarters swirled in aimless, angry whirlpools as he paced back and forth in front of his desk. He noticed that the ash at the end of his cigar was about to fall off, and paused to flip it in the direction of the ashtray at the end of the desk, then spat out a chunk of tobacco chewed from the other end into the wastebasket beside it. The smoke was allowed further respite to layer out at eye level as he answered the buzz of his intercom. "Lyle."

"Captain, Lieutenant McMurty, navigation. The faulty circuit board in the computer has been replaced and the course change to the Mendocino fracture zone has been recalculated. E.T.A. at three quarters speed is 1700 hours." "Understood Lieutenant. Proceed at depth one hundred meters."

"Aye sir. And sir, Ensign Andrews has been relieved and is headed for your quarters as per your orders."

"Thank you, Lieutenant."

"Andrews, huh," he muttered to himself as he picked up the message received earlier from Commander Grant. "Damn idiot! What kind of training is the Academy giving these new officers, anyway? First assignment on board and he screws up and gets the brass on my ass." He reread the message as he resumed his pacing.... Alter course to intercept 40 degrees 20' North, 136 degrees 35' West, Mendocino fracture zone. Unusual magnetic readings continue. Sensor signals weak. Visual out. No unusual movement detected... no further delays in rerouting acceptable.... He was interrupted by a knock on his door. "Come." An obviously nervous young ensign entered, snapped to attention and saluted.

"Sir, Ensign Andrews reporting as ordered, sir."

The captain walked over and looked Andrews up and down for what must have seemed an eternity to the ensign, evidenced by the rapidly growing stains under his armpits. Lyle finally returned the salute. "At ease, Ensign. Now, would you care to explain how we wound up ten miles off course this morning?"

"Sir, when I programmed the course change into the SINS, it checked out with the global positioning system signal from NAVSTAR on the NavCom. When the chip in the inertial navigation went out, it caused a course change which failed to signal to the NavCom, so the NavCom did not appreciate the discrepancy between the SINS and the GPS. I should have gone back and double-checked sooner than I did. It won't happen again, sir."

"It had better not, Andrews, or you're going to find your butt frozen to a chair at an outpost in the Arctic Circle for the rest of your naval career." Lyle turned back to his desk and stood silently for a moment, chewing on his cigar. "Your report has been duly noted Ensign," he said finally. "Put yourself on report and return to your post."

"Aye sir, thank you sir," he said as he saluted again, then turned and double-timed it through the hatchway.

"Christ, I shouldn't have to be bothered with every piddly-ass detail that's supposed to be someone else's routine," Lyle mumbled as he watched the retreating ensign. "I have more important concerns." His stomach rumbled, and he checked his watch, finding it to be nearly 1200 hours. Time for lunch. He started down the corridor toward the mess.

The captain looked up from his charts of sensor placements along the Mendocino trench to check his watch. It was 1630 hours. The intercom buzzed and he reached over and flicked the switch. "Lyle."

"Captain, Chief Cacaeci, sonar. I have several contacts dead ahead in the trench, range 3000 meters, depth one hundred fifty to two hundred meters. They're very faint and scattered, but definitely metallic."

"Metallic contacts? How large are they and are they moving?"

"They vary from small fragments to pieces that are one to two meters across. They are not moving sir, and they don't have the configuration of any known types of deep water mines. According to my charts, they're in the general vicinity of sensor MC-17."

Lyle referred back to the computer charts in front of him. "Yes Chief, that would be correct. Keep a careful eye on those contacts -- any one of them could be a live one."

"Aye sir, all electronics surveillance is in full enhanced operational mode."

"Find out if there have been any recent reports of ships lost in this area, or any surface vessels that have passed through here recently. Those contacts could be wreckage from a ship, or may just be garbage tossed overboard. Also check on missing aircraft."

"Aye, checking now sir. According to the readout, the only ship reported missing in the last five days is the Nagai. A Mayday was received from the vessel just this morning, but it came from the Bering Sea, south of the Aleutian Islands."

"Well, that certainly can't be it."

"No sir. Shipping and air traffic reports coming on screen." There was a pause as Cacaeci scanned the output. "Sir, nothing has been reported within five hundred nautical miles of this location in the last four days."

"Hmm, that's too far away and too long ago to be garbage just now drifting in. Home in on the tracking signal from the sensor, feed the data to navigation, and have optical activate the forward lights and camera. We'll move in and get a look."

"Aye sir, I have the signal, but it's unusually faint. Sending data to NavCom."

"Keep me informed, Chief." He punched another button on the intercom. "Navigation, this is the Captain."

"Navigation, aye sir. Ensign Thomas on duty."

"All ahead one quarter to the coordinates on your computer."

"Reducing to one quarter, aye sir."

"Proceed." He switched off and turned to his television monitor, coding it to the forward camera. The image revealed steep jagged cliffs of granite and basalt, about 400 meters to either side. The forbidding landscape was broken only by an occasional outcropping of coral, the flash of light on a crystal formation, and a few fish. The chasm narrowed as the sub proceeded ahead. Below, there was a blackness unlike that seen even in space. The thousands of meters of water quickly sucked in the ship's light, stifling as well the starlike flickers of the luminescent creatures he knew to be living in the depths. Earth's own version of a black hole. It's like looking into infinity, he thought, transfixed with an indescribable fascination that had never waned over the course of all of his voyages below. The intercom broke his musings.

"Captain, Chief Cacaeci, sonar. The contacts are now one thousand meters ahead. We should have visual on them in a moment. It's going to be a tight squeeze up there -- about fifty meters to either side and narrowing further ahead."

"Noted Chief." He continued to peer at the monitor, his patience rewarded in a few moments by a dull glint of light from one of the outcroppings of the starboard cliff. He clicked the intercom. "Navigation, all ahead slow."

"All ahead slow, aye sir."

"Optical, train the forward lights and camera on that starboard contact."

"Optical, aye sir."

As the camera pinpointed the area and zoomed in, a ragged piece of heavy metal plate about one meter square came into view. Most of it was heavily encrusted with rust, but there were a few areas where the rust had broken free. These portions were responsible for the light reflections he had seen, while the corrosion on the remainder absorbed the light almost as thoroughly as the black rocks upon which it rested. The sub continued steadily forward, finding several more pieces of debris all similar to the first. They became more plentiful as the sub approached sensor MC-17.

"Captain, Chief Cacaeci, sonar. MC-17 is fifty meters ahead to port."

The camera shifted to focus on the ledge where the sensor was located. MC-17 was one of a series of monitors first laid out during the 1960's cold war under the old Sound Surveillance System program. It had been upgraded in the 80's in the fifth generation of SOSUS development, but had served little purpose beyond monitoring ocean currents, temperature and salinity for the scientists on the Medea project for the last fifteen years. Lyle could see a portion of one side of the plastic casing surrounding the various detectors and transmitter that made up the device. The top and front portions of it were covered by another rusty piece of hull plate, resting at a slant against the housing like a lean-to. "That wreckage couldn't have just settled there like that by itself," Lyle wondered to himself while rubbing his chin. "It's too perfectly placed to interfere with the sensor transmissions." Then the other anomaly hit him. "The rust! These plates must have been down here for years to have that thick a crust, and some of it's been broken loose! Somebody's put them here deliberately, but why? It can't have been to lure us here -- only USCOM even knew we would be anywhere near the area today."

He turned back toward the intercom and hit a switch. "Control room, this is the Captain. Go to yellow alert. Repeat, go to yellow alert. This is not a drill, repeat, this is not a drill." The yellow light began to flash in his quarters, and the ship's speakers began broadcasting the order. Before it was finished, his intercom blared again.

"Captain, sonar shows two metallic objects dead ahead, falling toward us. Computer identification -- depth bombs!"

"Control room, go to red alert! Sound battle stations! Repeat, go to red alert!" He flipped another switch "Engine room, all ahead full!" he ordered as he switched back to the sonar operator. "Sonar, how much room do we have to maneuver?"

"About forty meters to either side, sir."

"Damn! Any sign of where those things are coming from?"

"No vessels, no aircraft in the area, sir. No communications or jamming signals detected."

"What the hell! Put a scanning trace on all detectors and lock on to any anomalous readings. Somebody may have come up with something new."

"Aye sir."

Moments later, the first charge exploded like a lightning strike, just above and portside to the sub, throwing Lyle across his desk. The second went off parallel to midship, and he watched the ceiling roll by amid a snow flurry of papers as he somersaulted backwards off the desk, striking his head on the floor. Momentarily stunned, he grabbed the desk chair to pull himself up, and almost fell on his face as the unlocked rollers slid away. Staggering to his feet, he fought to make sense of the noise coming from the intercom.

"Captain! Captain! Control room."

"C-control room, what is our status?"

"Two forward engine compartments taking on water. Five men injured. Damage control operational."

"Captain, sonar. Three more charges on the way."

"Navigation, full power descent!"

"Full descent, aye sir."

"Communications, send automatic Mayday. Release a signal buoy."

"Communications, aye."

Lyle could hear the forward ballast tanks blow, and braced himself against the desk as the ship nosed sharply downward. Several seconds and seventy meters deeper a third charge went off next to the starboard bow, then another immediately above midship, and the fifth just off the stern. Everything went black in the cabin as he tried to pick himself up again, fumbling for the intercom while he tried to follow the damage reports being relayed. His fingers finally found the right button.

"Control! Control! Report!" After a few dilated seconds he got a response. He could barely make out the message over the static and shouting in the background.

"Control aye. Trying to get emergency power. Damage reports still coming in. All charges detonated within fifteen meters of the ship. Forward ballast tank breached, starboard bow plane severely damaged. Fires in control room, half the instruments out. Reactor room breached. Engine room taking on water. Rudder damaged."

"Condition of the reactor!"

Pause. "Sir, reactor crew reports primary containment damaged, primary coolant system damaged, secondary system not responding. Radiation levels seventy-five rads and rising. Navigation reports no control. Depth four hundred meters and descending. We're going down!"