PRELUDE: Chapter 1

Prelude front cover

Part One: The Sally’s Pride

Chapters 1 scenes –  Acquisition, The Good Night, Fight and Flight, The Rescue Team, Arrested Flight, The Rescue Strategy

*Uploaded 4/7/18

Fight and Flight

Mitch hit the warm water and swam immediately for the raft. Tossing the ship’s EPIRB was the best he could do for the one who insisted on remaining. He could only hope they’d come to their senses, grab their life jackets, and follow his example. But Mitch knew he couldn’t help anyone if he didn’t at least ensure his own survival. He’d spent some time on subs with the Navy. He knew what the US had, and pretty well everyone else when it came to submarines. Whatever this was, it wasn’t a sub, but he still knew a threat when he saw one. When no one else got it, and they all refused to act, he still knew he must leave. If they came to their senses and jumped, he’d at least be there ready to pull them to safety.

When Mitch reached the raft, he grabbed a paddle and tried paddling away from the ship towards the perimeter of lights. But with only one person, it seemed useless. Then a strange thing happened. A sudden current was began pushing him away from the ship. Whatever was coming up was displacing the water and pushing him away. But would his raft make it to the edge before he was stranded high and dry? He paddled even faster.

Just as it looked like he’d make the edge, the flow of water slowed. He looked behind him. Whatever it was, the object began surfacing. It was immense! Mitch could still see the Sally’s Pride’s silhouette, but her bow was partially obscured now by the rising hull. As the leviathan rose, it reminded him of a giant dry-dock. No one in the water. They’re still on board! He realized that once the Sally’s Pride was safely in its grasp, the intruder wouldn’t be hanging around. He began paddling again.

He was only a few feet from the edge when the raft’s safety line snagged. The raft stopped. He looked back. The mammoth hull was mostly out of the water now. It was gray-black and and appeared to be saucer-shaped. Christ! This worried Mitch all the more. The Sally’s Pride was almost gone now, somewhere in its hold. He decided to chance climbing out of the raft, and found he could stand. He worked quickly to find the snagged line, unhooked it, and started pushing the raft towards the blue lights that marked the perimeter.

Suddenly those lights went dark. As last-minute fear kicked in, so did his adrenaline; he pushed the raft faster. The water was receding around his ankles. It was all happening too fast, and the raft snagged again. Then Mitch felt new movement beneath his feet. The saucer was beginning to rise. With the perimeter lights out, he could now see the EPIRB flashing about 20 yards away. It was stranded at the very edge of the huge hull, but too far away to retrieve. He knew he must get the raft free.

With all his remaining strength he heaved up one end of the raft and pushed. It immediately teetered and fell over the edge, and Mitch nearly fell over with it, but released his grip. The strange ship was rising steadily now, fighting the suction of the ocean. He regained his wits and glanced one last time at the EPIRB. At least it was active, he consoled himself. Then he jumped.

The drop was farther down than he’d expected, but when he bobbed back to the surface the raft was at least still close. A short swim, and Mitch dragged himself back up and through its canvas door. Both arms were sore, but he when he fell backwards into the raft he laughed, feeling more embarrassment than relief. “Damn,” he thought aloud, “I’m getting soft!”

Outside the flap, a giant, unending wall was rising up out of the water. A moment later the wall ended and began curving back down and towards its center. Almost immediately he felt the raft being sucked back in under the saucer. His adrenaline surged back, but it took a moment before he realized he couldn’t fight the current. As the saucer’s hull lifted out of the sea, the ocean raced back in to fill the void.

He twisted his body to look up. The underside of the saucer now blotted out the sky; its hull still hadn’t even completely cleared the water. The rushing water still drew him toward the center. After what seemed like an eternity to him, the saucer broke free of the water. Without the slightest noise except the water’s flow, it simply accelerated upward.

Mitch stared as it rose out of sight. He figured it would be his first and last good look. Definitely, he thought numbly, not a sub.

His small raft rocked and bounced in the turbulence until the waves settled down into a familiar swell. Mitch slid back inside the door, resting against the inflated tube. Then full realization of all that happened struck him. “They’ll never believe me,” he said to no one in particular.

The Rescue Team

Petty Officer 3rd Class John Peters received an EPIRB alert message on his screen at the Rescue Coordination Center in New Orleans. Each unit has its own unique vessel ID number assigned, so he was able to quickly identify the ship in trouble as the Sally’s Pride. With only a few more clicks, he could view her specs, call sign, emergency contact information, and her exact position.

Peters tried twice unsuccessfully to reach the vessel’s satellite phone, then dutifully notified his superior on duty. Following the established protocols, his supervisor told him to notify USCG-Marine Safety Office Miami and the station at Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico. Peters contacted both, forwarding them the data from his console.

Then he closed the pop-up window on his computer and returned to the streaming EPIRB data on the original display. An odd figure caught his eye: the altitude now showed over 500 feet above sea level. That’s screwed up, Peters thought. And he immediately wondered if the longitude and latitude were wrong as well.

The duty officer was still nearby, so Peters called him over. But when they both looked back at the screen, the reading showed sea level again: it had probably just been a fluke. Or maybe, he thought, he just needed a break and a cup of coffee. He wouldn’t remember the anomaly again until much later.

Arrested Flight

 What the hell? Amid the confusion in the C-40’s cockpit, Lieutenant Commander Fitz Richards stared at the instrument panel: engines and all the controls dead – everything dark except for some emergency lights. But his greatest shock was that they were level, and the plane’s altitude hadn’t changed. Manual override controls seemed to work, but nothing he did with them appeared to make any difference. Outside, the clouds seemed to swirl confusedly around the plane. They clearly weren’t moving, just idly floating – suspended. How? By what? God? They ought to be in a nose-dive, full stall. They should be falling.

His co-pilot, Fred Lucas, tried vainly to get the radio to work, and had already passed word to the rear to brace for impact. Now, minutes later, nothing made sense. Fitz saw some thunderheads flashing brightly and silently about a hundred miles to the south. There was always a beauty to it…but his engines were silent too. And that was a cause for great concern.

Major John Cantor entered the cockpit, forehead creased, looking concerned yet dutifully calm. “What’s going on?”

Hah! Fitz didn’t have a clue. “Major,” he confessed with a tired grin, “unless we’re dead or dreaming, we’ve just stopped. No power, no controls – something like a EMP attack. We’ve lost airspeed. Hell, we should be falling like a rock! But we’re not. And I don’t have any answers. We’re just sitting up here, floating.” And on that note, Fitz suddenly felt dizzy. Cantor begin to stumble forward, then collapse, unconscious, and Fitz felt his own consciousness slipping into darkness. What the hell?

It would be hours before anyone aboard awoke to understand what had gone wrong.

The Rescue Strategy

It had taken little over four hours for help to locate Mitch. By then he was half-asleep on the floor of the raft, and barely heard the sound of the Coast Guard chopper until a diver was in the water. Toward the east he could see the sky growing lighter. It was nearly dawn.

Mitch knew the routine, having been well-trained himself for such extractions. He simply followed the diver’s instructions, secured himself in the harness, and let them haul him up. He noticed the diver’s eyes narrow when he explained he was alone, but there was nothing else to be said. The Coast Guard team spent another 20 minutes sweeping the area for signs of anyone else, then decided to head back to Roosevelt Roads.

Mitch had spent some time thinking about what he should say. If he told them what actually happened, they’d assume he was either delusional or crazy. Still…for a whole ship to disappear without any trace on a clear night – they’d at least suspect foul play.

A Coastie gave him a set of ear protectors against the deafening noise of the copter’s engine, and Mitch leaned back and closed his eyes, determined no one would bother him. Unavoidably, his thoughts returned to Mike, Alex, and his friends. He wished again he could have convinced them to leave, but knew he’d done all he could, short of force. Whatever happened now, God help them – no one else could. And the only choice left to him was to move forward. Go home, find a new job, and get on with his life. Why? How the hell could this happen?

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