The setting for this novel is predominantly on the Russian archipelago of Novaya Zemlya, which consists of two main islands, Severny in the north and Yuzhin in the south, separated by the narrow Matochkin Strait. Severny has a network of tunnels in the lower half, created by the Soviet Union in the last century to build and test nuclear weapons. Today, part of these tunnels is used by the Russian Federation for both military and scientific purposes to ostensibly establish themselves for strategic and commercial advantage within the Arctic Circle. Climate change has brought about melting ice, opening up access to vast mineral resources and potentially creating new sealanes that reduce by thousands of nautical miles, the old traditional trade routes. Those who have control of these new sealanes can conceivably have control of the region. Military bases established within the Arctic Circle go a long way towards making this happen; therefore, much of what takes place within, from a militarily and scientific standpoint, is classified as secret. The indigenous peoples have survived thousands of years against the inhospitable and unforgiving forces of nature that prevail in this part of the planet. Living in these majestic but barren lands, lands of mystery and wonder, and accepting the many unexplained happenings and phenomena, which are the hallmarks of this tempestuous region, signifies the indomitable spirit and character of the natives and others who choose to live there and to manipulate it. This story attempts to encapsulate the essence of both as a work of fiction. To the best of my knowledge, none of the events described herein happened, and none of the characters contained in the narrative are based on any persons, living or dead. However, I shall leave it up to the reader to judge what elements can be separated between fiction and, what might be considered, fact.
Northern Hemisphere above Latitude 50DegreesN
In a secluded bay off the southwest coast of Severny, the north island of the Russian archipelago, Novaya Zemlya, a low mass of thick cloud and heavy mist engulfed a small expeditionary ship anchored not far from the shore on the still, oily waters. Visibility had all but faded as the dark mass rolled on to the shore and across the barren landscape, blocking out the midnight sun of an Arctic summer. At the edge of the bay, where the base of a craggy, snow-blotched mountain plunged down to meet the Barents Sea, four men focused telescopic lenses on a pack of wolves attacking a small herd of caribou half a mile away on a rocky, moss-covered plateau. The cloud and mist engulfed the men, and when the mass had passed, all four, together with their equipment, had completely disappeared.
Sometime after the cloud eventually vanished into the ranges, an object flew soundlessly and at low altitude in an erratic and unstable manner, yawing and oscillating in the high winds that funnelled through the jagged, mountainous terrain. Swerving left, right, up, down, narrowly avoiding the peaks and sheer rock surfaces, the object raced over the rugged ground, miraculously remaining in flight as it negotiated deep gorges and valleys until, ultimately, it skimmed the lower slopes of a ragged-shaped dormant volcano. Here the object’s smooth underbelly hit the ground, slid and bumped, seemingly in a controlled fashion, over the gently sloping snow-covered surface, finally coming to rest imbedded in a deep snowdrift. No flames, no steam, no movement, just silence followed.
As the long dark nights of an Arctic winter began to give way to the increasing daylight of early summer, strong winds and icy snow swept across the rugged tundra of the Svalbard archipelago. In one of a cluster of small buildings situated in the tiny village of Ny-Alesund, on the shore of Kings Bay, a UK Arctic Research Station operator sat in front of an array of radio receiver equipment, listening for traffic over northern Russia between Murmansk and the Severnaya Zemlya Islands. With wind whistling and howling outside, he reached to fine-tune the dials.
Suddenly, the audio speaker sprang to life, making a series of highspeed, pulsed sounds. Needles on the graph machines swept quickly back and forth and the station’s computers began to chatter wildly. The emission lasted all of thirty seconds, and he was stunned by its speed and intensity.
Two minutes later, the signal burst through again; this time it lasted a full minute. Its pulse remained at the same steady rate with some variation in frequency, its rate in the narrow frequency range was only 0.20 seconds, indicating the source to be very small. The emissions had a bandwidth of 10 kilohertz, suggesting they were not from a natural source. The signals did not return. The operator logged this strange and unusual event and reached for the phone.
Sixteen hundred kilometres away to the west of Kings Bay, the US military base at Thule, Greenland, recorded the same strange emissions, as did the Russians at their military base at Rogachevo, on Yuzhin, the South Island of the Novaya Zemlya archipelago.
Early evening sunshine bathed the forest of antennae and dishes over the General Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), on the outskirts of Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, home of British SIGINT operations, and regarded as one of the most sophisticated, high-tech communication establishments in the world, affectionately known locally as the ‘Doughnut.’
“Well, Bill,” said the director, Bob Skillard, smiling at the man sitting opposite him in one of the many decoding rooms. “What do you have for me?”
Bill Littler, a rotund, bespectacled man, and a senior cryptographer with British Intelligence, removed a USB stick from his jacket pocket and plugged it into the side of the computer on the desk. “The content on this stick is a recording of what happened at the station in Ny-Alesund earlier today. We’re not sure what to make of it; a very unusual emission.”
Shortly, linear images flickered across the screen in a regular stream of pulsating white blips broken by smaller blips. The two men watched the display for its full run. Littler then replayed it at a much slower speed. The sequence of pulses became erratic. Both men had to admit it made little sense, but at the slower rate, a pattern did seem to emerge. The cryptographer tested for zip code delivery; however, when expanding the molecular makeup of the blips, they were found to be broken and not continuous as one would expect if a signal had been compressed for speed of transmission.
Littler adjusted the modulator, but this time, with both emissions strung out one behind the other for the full length of one minute and thirty seconds, exactly in the sequence in which they were recorded. He ran the disc several times more at varying speeds, applying various standard techniques to break down and make sense of the signals. Finally, he made a printout and handed it to the director.
Skillard ran his eyes along the line of medium and short-length pulses. “Definitely not the usual Russian stuff. The bandwidth is quite narrow, what you would expect from a powerful transmitter. The fragmented pulse line is so irregular, yet appears to have some form of order, making the emissions unique, I agree.” The 10 megahertz bandwidth broken down into thousands of simultaneous narrow channels can be analysed for signals detection by high-powered computers. Each digital band-pass filter divides its input bandwidth into approximately one hundred smaller bands with adjacent isolated filter bands. This high degree of out-of-band rejection prevents strong signals from contaminating the entire observing band. “Have we put it through the network?” he ended.
“Yes, but the process is still ongoing. We believe it could be based on some sort of a very advanced binary code.”
“Bill, are you telling me our computers have yet to determine that and to fully decipher?”
“Due to the unusual nature of the pulses and their erratic sequence
and complexity, the speed at which they were delivered, and also possible atmospheric interference.”
The director glanced at the printout showing what little the computers had deciphered so far. “Not much to work on, Bill,” he said, looking at the few numerals and symbols that appeared to indicate broken coordinates. “Do we have a projection analysis?”
“Still working on that, sir. However, prelim triangulation has given a rough source somewhere between Murmansk and the Severnaya Zemlya Islands.”
“That’s a whole wide area. Pity our sats didn’t catch it, too. Did anyone else?”
“Only the Yanks that we know of at their Thule base. We’ve assumed it’s the Russians. Has to be, but more intriguing is: why was the signal sent and what is its point?”
“We won’t know the answer to that until the network spits it out.” Skillard rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “So, we have a seemingly undecipherable signal that most likely was sent by the Russians, probably from somewhere within the Arctic Circle The transmission, or should we say transmissions—plural—has gained interest by the unusual format in which it was sent and by the fact that it did not fit with current signals protocol and technology. Would that be right?”
“Yes, sir. But these emissions are unusual, to say the least, so, who knows? I’ve not seen anything like it before. If indeed we dare think it is extraterrestrial, the sender must use a language based on universal mathematical principles to represent the signals in a coherent form. This could be it.”
The director raised his eyebrows. “Let’s not get too carried away here, Bill,” he said with a smile. “Our equipment up there is not capable of hearing from the stars, you know that. I suspect your imagination is beginning to cloud your judgment.”
“Right!” voiced Littler, looking a little peeved. “Where do we go from here?”
“I accept there’s something about the frequency and shape of the emissions that warrants further investigation, so, do a detailed analysis. Chase up the network analysis; we have the best equipment; see what comes out. At least we might get a lead on the location.”
At the headquarters of the Russian Aerospace Forces in Moscow, Major General Mikhail Petrov, sat with the director of the Russian Special Communications Service, Colonel Sergio Andropov, discussing the Rogachevo signal.
“Ne ochen podrobno . . . . Not much on detail, Colonel. Why could the source not be pinpointed?” the Aerospace commander growled. “Your report states the signal was transmitted from somewhere at the bottom of Severny, just north of the Matochkin. Christ, man! That’s less than 300 Ks from Rogachevo.”
Colonel Andropov, responsible for Russia’s collection and analysis of foreign communications and signals intelligence, was not going to be intimidated by the all-powerful head of the Russian Air Force and Aerospace Defence Force. “Because it was not transmitted in normal radio format. The pulse sequence was fast, sporadic, and came in short bursts, suggesting a binary code. Atmospheric interference could also have been a factor. Whatever the reason, the computers are having difficulty in deciphering.”
“Difficulty! How can that be?” Petrov all but shouted at his colleague. “You have the best computers technology has to offer. You are aware the area immediately north of the Matochkin is militarized and highly sensitive, and to know that someone is sending unknown signals within is, to say the very least, a worrying factor.”
“So far, this has been deciphered.” Andropov handed Petrov a sheet of paper.
The Air Force Defence chief studied what was printed on it. A . . . V . . . D . . . TEC . . . D . . . TR . . . Y . . . L . . . 7.5N . . . 4.7E and seconds later, looked up and snapped. “Your projection?”
“Advanced technology . . . defence system compromised . . . LAT73.5N LONG55.3E.”
Mikhail Petrov’s features froze and he turned a slightly whiter shade of grey. Not the exact coordinates, but near enough. After several seconds, he blustered out, “How did you determine those?”
“These coordinates, 7.5 degrees North and 5.3 degrees East would pinpoint somewhere in Nigeria. As the computers triangulated the source to Severny, we have assumed they were meant to read: 73.5 North, 55.3 East.”
“The area each side of the strait allows only a few fishing villages to operate along its banks. There should be no unauthorised persons permitted, especially on the north side,” said Petrov, regaining his composure.
“Who would send a signal like that and for what purpose?” Colonel Andropov asked, a little surprised at the major general’s reaction.
Petrov found the question difficult to answer; although he thought he could possibly guess, he suppressed it and replied sharply, “This we must find out, Colonel,” said a worried-looking Petrov, standing to indicate that the meeting was over. As Andropov left the room, the major general grabbed the phone and ordered more troops to be sent to Severny and that greater security be arranged in the area north of the Matochkin. He then instructed his personal assistant (PA) to cancel all appointments for the next few weeks and arrange a visit to the island. Project “Titan” could not be compromised in any way.