Only a few weeks after reporting for duty aboard the U.S.S. Samuel T. Mortimer, Nash was coming face to face with a whole new way to bring peace to the troubled nations of the world.
Being a hundred miles out to sea wasn't as isolated as it sounded.
Or as safe. Show Less
USS Samuel T. Mortimer - Indian Ocean
No one was answering.
He didn't realize he was sweating until a glob dripped from the tip of his nose. Hell. The room wasn't even hot.
Nash guided the phone with both hands into its cradle. Not a single person had answered. Over four hundred men and women on board and who knew how many phones. A hundred? Two?
He’d called every single one and no one—not a single soul—had picked up.
He forced in slow breaths. In through the nose, out through the mouth.
He’d heard the call to General Quarters blaring over the ship’s 1MC public address system when he was fast asleep in the Ops department berthing. He’d jumped up, barely awake, pulled on his NWUs and bolted down the crowded passageway. Ducking outside through a light locker and running along the main deck would have been faster but he obeyed the captain’s recent order to stay inside the ship until further notice. Hell, he hadn't seen the sun in days. No one had.
Initially, he’d headed away from his battle station, disoriented by the commotion. Being the new guy sucked bad enough in normal circumstances. He didn’t know the layout of the ship very well at all and it was an old one too. No logical arrangement that he could discern, resurrected from a war long over and put back into service before it was ready. Needs of the Navy and all that shit. Even though the Samuel T. Mortimer was a relatively small vessel in the fleet by modern standards, it was still a bitch to learn your way around.
And what was going on? Was this a real GQ or just another damned drill? He'd caught clipped bits of shouted exchanges between other crewmembers as they rushed by one another, each headed for their own assigned areas. Those little tidbits of conversation had only filled him with more questions.
The rescued life boat from three nights ago. Ships from other navies. The Japanese. The Brits. And something about fights breaking out all over the Mortimer. Nothing made sense, especially his crewmates fighting amongst themselves. That couldn’t be right. Tensions were high, sure. But that high? It didn't add up.
He'd wished there was someone he could ask, but being the new guy, no one knew him well enough to take a moment to stop and chat, especially with the deafening GQ tone coming out of every speaker. He'd ask the others when he got to Radar One.
Nash had managed to make it to his battle station, the room containing the electronic guts powering the ship’s air and surface search radars. The other two sailors assigned to man the space with him had yet to show. He hadn't been sure what to do, so he’d waited.
He’d jumped when the speaker set in the ceiling crackled to life instructing all hands to secure themselves in their spaces, to set Condition Zebra, and not venture forth until ordered to do so. Not a minute later, the Executive Officer herself had come on the circuit, her voice strained as if she were fighting back anger or tears, commanding everyone to set William throughout the ship. Setting William involved closing off ventilation and various other systems in order to contain contamination or damage. That was not good. Her microphone still keyed, she’d begun to scream and then cough as if choking or drowning.
A second later, as if acting as punctuation, ship’s power failed, plunging Radar One into darkness.
The comforting buzz of RF energy moving down waveguides, the whirr of cooling fans, the chatter of tiny air compressors vanished. All gone. The ship was silent. DIW, they called it. Dead in the water.
Now, hours later, Nash understood true quiet as a man only can when he has acclimatized to the din of sensory inputs that is everday life aboard a US Navy destroyer only to have them snatched away. Isolated in this room with the dimming emergency lights that had snapped on when ship’s power died, he found himself remembering odd bits of poetry from high school. His favorite lines from a host of movies. The Sailors Creed popped into his head. Maybe all that boot camp training had taken after all.
I am a United States Sailor. I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America and I will obey the orders of those appointed over me. I represent the fighting spirit of the Navy and those who have gone before me to defend freedom and democracy around the world. I proudly serve my country's Navy combat team with Honor, Courage and Commitment. I am committed to excellence and the fair treatment of all.
For all its bluster, the singsong mantra offered no comfort at the moment.
All he’d heard since the room went dark was pops of distant gunfire and an occasional rising and falling roar. Helicopters maybe. The Mortimer didn't have a helipad like the more modern ships, so they couldn't land. So what were they doing?
And he had to stop saying the Mortimer. It was just Mortimer as if the ship were a person. He was tired of being corrected by Chief Saunders and laughed at by the other guys in the work center.
A series of sharp blows shook the door to the space. Nash felt frozen, unable to push himself away from the bulkhead. His mouth moved but he couldn’t make the words.
The pounding at the door returned, more insistent. “Open up!”
He stared, transfixed on the gray door, its emergency escape plan laminated and affixed squarely at eye level. “Wh-who's there?”
“It’s Calloway. I got Finn with me—Nash, is that you?” The door knob shook violently, unable to turn and fully unlatch. “Open the door. Open the door now!”
Nash burst away from the wall.
Calloway was an electronics technician too. A muscular black man in his late twenties. Nash tripped the double latches on the door and it flashed open, striking him and sending him sprawling across the rubber deck matting. The silhouette of a large man charged into the room, followed by a second who immediately began shouldering the door against the reluctant hydraulic closer attached to its top.
The door was inches from seating into the door frame, and Finn, a brick-shaped Tongan Nash met during his welcome aboard indoctrination, leaned harder to rush it home. Arms erupted around the edges, writhing like tentacles in a flurry of odd shadows created by the emergency lights aimed at the room's only exit. Nash couldn’t guess how many, only that they seemed oblivious to the vise-like crush of the door as Finn strained to close it.
Calloway rushed the door and smashed into it, adding his strength and weight to Finn’s faltering battle. An arm reached around the door, fingers clawing madly for purchase, followed by a shoulder and then the upper half of a head, striped with blood and grit, hair matted. Calloway and Finn were screaming.
Push harder! Look out! Nash, help us! But he couldn’t move. Why couldn't he move?
Calloway and Finn, each easily twice his own weight, bounced at the door, no doubt hoping to hurt the intruder and force him to withdraw but with each bounce their attacker worked more of his body through the gap.
The face was mangled, the eyes dark. Something dark and viscous dripped from between his teeth as he craned his neck at Finn and Calloway, teeth snapping together with bone-splintering clacks.
Nash caught a glint of silver from the left side of the attacker. A metal swirl like waves. A surface warfare pin. The man wore a chief petty officer’s insignia and above the breast pocket was stenciled SAUNDERS.
Chief Saunders. Nash's own work center supervisor. What the hell? The chief's right cheek hung down like an open inspection flap for his jawbone.
Grabbing Finn by his shirt, Chief Saunders yanked him around causing him to stumble away from the door. Two hundred fifty pounds suddenly absent from the joint barricade, Calloway couldn’t hold the front line and the door swung inward, Finn falling to the deck and the Chief tumbling on top of him.
Two more figures stumbled through the door as Calloway snatched something from his belt. A flash of light bloomed in Nash’s eyes and thunder slammed against both sides of his head. A second explosion cracked the air and Nash saw the newcomers fly back into the passageway.
Calloway jumped to the two struggling men on the floor, grabbing the chief’s collar and hauling him off of Finn, tossing him flailing to the deck. He brought the pistol up and without the slightest hesitation, shot Chief Saunders between the eyes. A shower of blood and bone sprayed the equipment rack behind him, some of it striking the deck and bouncing like grains of sand.
He moved back to the entrance, shoved the lifeless leg draped across the threshold clear and pushed the door closed, the latches snapping home.
Nash looked at Calloway and then at Finn. He’d not moved the entire time except to watch events unfold before him. Nothing more than a spectator. What kind of a person was he?
A shudder passed through him. No. This could not be happening.
He blinked hard, gaze suddenly freed and darting around the room for normal as though it were a tangible object that might be stowed in a locker or bolted to a bulkhead. Dark stains spread on the floor and around the door frame. Chief Saunders, his superior, lay in an expanding puddle of blood, pieces of his face missing.
“Does it hurt?” Calloway asked Finn.
“What? No…not really.” His voice had a gurgling quality like he was talking around a mouthful of water. He fumbled with a section of his neck that hung from something red and ropelike jutting from inside his collar. “But, but that could be endorphins, man. It don’t mean—“
“Yes, it does.” Calloway placed the gun to Finn’s forehead.
“Ain’t this some shit.” Finn shook his head slowly, eyes closed.
“Watch your language,” said Calloway.
Finn grinned but didn’t look up, then nodded.
"I don't know if I can," said Calloway.
"You've got to. I don't want that." Finn tilted his head left and right, the bones in his neck cracking. "Do it."
Nash stepped forward. “Now guys, just calm—“
The report was deafening.
Staggering back a step, Nash’s right shoulder blade dug into the edge of the upright klystron cabinet for the primary air search radar. He could feel the residual warmth still radiating through the gray enclosure from the heat exchanger inside.
Calloway crossed himself and took a step toward him. Nash dropped to his knees, covering his face with his arms, sobs escaping from his lips. Calloway grabbed his forearm and lifted him to his feet. “Secure that, Nash. You can cry like a little girl, but not now.”
Nash looked around the room. At the Chief’s body. At Finn’s body crumpled across it.
With a heavy sigh, Calloway holstered the gun. “We’ve got to get off this ship.”
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