top of page




IT WAS LATE, AND THE SNOW WAS GENTLY FALLING AS ALEXANDER VASILEVSKY LEFT HIS office.  He had a pounding headache which he knew would soon turn into a migraine as he fumbled for the keys of his battered Audi, then proceeded to drop them in the snow.

                “Fuck, fuck, fuck!” he mumbled to himself as he picked them up and opened his car. Nothing was going right today, but if he didn’t come up with a solution by tomorrow, Moscow would make sure he was history.   

                Alexander Vasilevsky had been born into a poor peasant family just outside St Petersburg and was oblivious to the cold. His mind was elsewhere. He had no interest in flash cars, expensive jewellery or material things. Where some men’s pulse began to quicken at the sight of a new Ferrari or the latest Bugatti, Vasilevsky’s went into overdrive at the thought of an elegant maths equation. He’d proved the almost impossible ‘Fermat's Last Theorem’ by the age of sixteen and received his PhD in something called, Acoustic Attenuation due to Thermohaline Circulation from the prestigious St Petersburg State University by the age of twenty. He was simply a maths and physics genius who’d hoped to settle down to a comfortable teaching job at the university, but his skills were far too valuable to waste on mere students, and the Russian Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki (SVR) or External Intelligence Agency, had quickly placed him into the Rubin Submarine Design Bureau in St Petersburg. 

             In fact, Vasilevsky had been on the SVR’s watch-list throughout his university studies, and they’d even secretly funded his PhD knowing that his skills could one day be of great value to Russia. By the age of twenty-five, Vasilevsky had a team of twelve engineers working for him, and by thirty he was the youngest departmental head ever at Rubin. Now at forty, he had a team of nearly 120 engineers and scientists studying the most vexing problem of the new defence paradigm, accurate submarine location. 

            To achieve his objective, Vasilevsky had ten individual laboratories working on every conceivable aspect of marine acoustics from the detailed dissection of the heads of Odontoceti and Mysticeti whales, to three dimensional hydrodynamic computer modelling of seawater where the temperature, salinity and pressure could all be studied as independent variables, to acoustic chambers where frequencies from a few hertz to gigahertz in seawater were all analysed in detail. He had a mountain of paperwork on his desk and a whiteboard full of equations that even Einstein would struggle to understand.

            As a boy, he’d soon discovered that sound travels much faster in water than in air, over four times faster, and he’d always been fascinated by the accuracy with which dolphins at the Dolphinarium could locate fish even if their eyes were completely covered. The dolphin used acoustic clicks at up to 150 kilohertz to accurately locate objects, whereas the blue whale could call a mate from a thousand miles away using a frequency of only 10 hertz but at a massive volume of 190 decibels. Vasilevsky thought that if he could only combine the two, use high frequency for accuracy and low frequency for distance, he could achieve high accuracy location over long distances. It was the Holy Grail of submarine acoustics.  That was what Moscow wanted and expected, and now demanded by tomorrow.

          Vasilevsky had crunched the complex equations a hundred times, and each time the answer was the same. It should be theoretically possible to contain a high-frequency acoustic pulse within at least two very low-frequency acoustic pulses. Similar to an optic fibre cable containing a light pulse, but all their laboratory testing proved just the opposite. Nothing worked. For the first time in his career, Vasilevsky felt that perhaps his calculations might be wrong. 

           Then late today as he was still in the acoustics lab with his dedicated team setting up what was to be the final series of tests, the quartz crystal in the precision German frequency oscillator cracked. They never cracked, so they didn’t have any spare crystals. Vasilevsky pleaded with his team to find a solution, to search the cupboards, check the storeroom for anything, anything at all that would make the frequency oscillator operational again, but there was nothing. That was it then, he knew he was finished. By tomorrow afternoon he’d be gone. The SVR would take him away, probably in handcuffs. If he was lucky he’d get a teaching job in some godforsaken place, and he didn’t like to think about being unlucky. He slammed the Audi into drive, and the wheels spun momentarily on the snow before gripping the tarmac, and he headed off home.      

         Irina Orlov watched the Audi disappearing into the St Petersburg traffic from her office window. She was Vasilevsky’s senior physics researcher but also had a huge crush on her boss. She’d seen a shattered man leaving the office and knew she had to do something. She went back to the lab and examined the cracked quartz crystal in the frequency oscillator and began to think.

        ‘There must be something, some little thing I can do,’ she said over and over again as she absently rubbed her chin and repeatedly passed her hand through her long hair. Then her fingernail serendipitously caught on one of her earrings, and it brought her back to reality.  She removed the earring and saw that her fingernail had caught on one of the small clasps holding the diamond. The clasp was bent back slightly more than the others, and then it came to her. She could replace the cracked quartz crystal with the diamond from her earring.  Orlov spent the next hour carefully removing the diamond from the claws of the setting then thoroughly cleaned it, before installing it into the frequency oscillator. The earrings were a twenty-first present from her wealthy father, and although the stones were small, they were flawless pink diamonds.

         Maybe it was the fact that diamond is the hardest naturally occurring substance on earth, or maybe because a diamond has the highest thermal conductivity of any material and dissipates heat very quickly, or maybe because it has the second highest acoustic velocity of any material exceeded only by Beryllium, or maybe it was a combination of all three properties, but the results Orlov achieved as soon as she started to run the frequency oscillator were spectacular. By five in the morning, she had proof. Her boss’s calculations were correct. It was possible to contain a high-frequency acoustic signal within two low-frequency ones. She quickly documented the results then went to the Ladies room to freshen up and apply some red lipstick. Her boss would be pleased with her. 

       Two hours later Alexander Vasilevsky saw the results and allowed himself the luxury of a small schadenfreude smile. His complex equations were correct, it was the quartz crystal that was the problem. By ten that morning, the Russian Navy’s submarine intelligence directorate, as well as the SVR in Moscow, were aware of the breakthrough.



A day later, the SVR started planning to secure the best pink diamonds on earth. 


bottom of page