words; 91 pages (8 ½” x 11”)
||Through “The Four
Saturday, February 5
“Talk about timing,” Harm groaned easing out of the SUV, careful not to
bang his door into the side of Mac’s Corvette.
“Are you commenting on the early hour or the fact that all three of us
arrived simultaneously?” Mac smiled pointing in the direction of
Sturgis’ car. He too had just pulled into the nearly-deserted,
snow-covered parking lot in front of JAG headquarters.
“Zero-five-hundred on a Saturday is not early, it’s ungodly,” Harm
grimaced adjusting his Navy-issued wool scarf inside his overcoat as he
braced against the cold wind.
“You look a little worse for wear, Sailor,” Mac eyed him casually,
noting his slightly sub-standard appearance.
“Give me a break. I just got home two hours ago.”
“Oh, that’s right. I’d forgotten you and Sturgis were getting together
with some old Academy pals. How’d that go?” Mac asked warily waiting for
Sturgis to catch up with them.
“Let’s just say it’s going to take more than a few drinks to get our
friendship back on track,” Harm sighed, massaging his temples.
“It’s not your fault.”
“Yeah, probably too much alcohol.”
“Harm, please tell me you’re not about to face Cresswell while under the
“Like I’d be driving if I was,” he replied not caring if he faced the
General at all such was the turmoil he’d been dealing with the past
Meeting her eyes, the genuine concern he read in her expression helped
temper his unease. Unless their CO derailed his plans, he had every
intention of rectifying part of the problem at dinner this evening.
“You’re right. I wasn’t thinking. But you know how the General can be.
Reporting to him in anything less than one-hundred percent readiness
will only support his low opinion of Squids.
“I switched to coffee hours ago. Now lack of sleep I can’t deny,” Harm
“Any idea what’s going on?” Sturgis asked stepping up energetically
“You obviously got some sleep,” Harm said.
The irritation in Harm’s voice was not lost on Mac. The tension bouncing
between the former friends was palpable.
“It’s known as power sleep. As a submariner you acquire the skill or you
“More like perish the thought of you not acquiring the skill,” Harm
muttered under his breath.
“Shall we report as ordered, gentlemen? It’s too cold out here to
discuss sleep patterns.”
“By all means, Colonel, lead on,” Sturgis nodded, holding the door open.
General Cresswell’s Office
“Good morning, Sir,” Mac smiled brightly, sneaking a quick but impish
smirk in Harm’s direction.
“Morning it is. Have a seat,” General Gordan Cresswell, recently
appointed Judge Advocate General of the Navy, minced few words when his
three senior attorneys entered his office.
“I don’t doubt you have a sea bag packed, Colonel. Dare I assume the
same of you Commander Rabb?” he continued.
“Yes, Sir,” Harm perked up, letting the gibe roll off his back sensing
he and Mac might be heading out of town.
“I understand you and the Colonel have worked together before on a sub,
the Watertown I believe. How did that go?”
Harm struggled to keep his face impassive. How did it go indeed? He
couldn’t help but wonder if the General had some knowledge regarding the
state of his and Mac’s relationship during that investigation. It had
occurred during one of the low points of their personal and professional
association. To say they started the assignment at each others’ throat
was an understatement.
Their investigation uncovered that Corpsman Chief Hodge perpetrated
several mishaps onboard the Watertown. That discovery led to a deadly
confrontation – a confrontation that put both their lives at risk. But
it also got them over that particular ‘bump in the road’ as Mac liked to
“It ended well with a positive result,” Harm replied, choosing his
response carefully, not daring to look at Mac.
“It ended well…,” Cresswell mumbled.
“Yes, Sir,” both Harm and Mac replied in unison.
“Well this time you’re heading to the SSN Bradford. The two of you have
separate assignments. Commander Turner, I take it you’re familiar with
“Yes, Sir, it’s a Los Angeles class, same as the Watertown. As Commander
Rabb knows, he can expect no joy ride given his 6’4” frame.”
Harm silently moaned, his current headache reminding him of the
collision between his head and a low-hanging pipe on the Watertown.
Nevertheless, despite the validity of Sturgis’ comment and the fact his
body was hurting from the ‘boys-night-out,’ he had no choice but to suck
“Colonel, you’ll be advising on the installation process of new software
and hardware being installed on the Bradford by a third party vendor.”
“Rabb, you’re helping in the vetting process of a book recently written
by the SSN Bradford’s retired Chief of the Boat, Herbert Watters. For
some reason publication is being held up and the COB’s widow is
threatening to sue the Navy for lost income. She claims her husband’s
story contains no classified technical information.”
“He’s deceased Sir?” Harm clarified, unsure of the importance of either
“Unfortunately. He dropped dead of a heart attack two weeks after
retirement. Evidently the book was through the editing process by that
“Sir, given that both of these assignments could be handled by junior
officers, do you really think it’s a good use of our time….”
“Commander Rabb, do you see an abundance of junior officers around here?
Furthermore, as I understand it, the last time one was sent from this
office on a ‘watch and advise’ project, he ended up stealing a $900
million dollar submarine!”
“Sir, in all fairness to Mister Roberts, that’s not exactly how it
“May I continue, Commander Rabb?”
“Certainly, Sir, I apologize for the interruption,” Harm answered,
looking suitably contrite.
“Good. Now as Commander Rabb so aptly pointed out, we are in fact short
handed. That’s why you only have 72 hours to wrap up this nonsense the
SECNAV insisted on sending our way.”
“Sir, are you aware that when the Colonel and I went to the Watertown it
was ordered under the Arctic Ice before we could get off? It was three
weeks, not three days, before we got back.”
“Rabb are you intentionally trying to tick me off?”
“No, Sir. I was just…”
“Good, report to Andrews for a flight to Keflavik.”
Fifteen Minutes Later
JAG Parking Lot
“For a minute, I thought the General was going to send Sturgis as a
chaperone, ala Petty Officer Coates,” Mac said.
The two men stopped what they were doing, namely Sturgis transferring
Mac’s sea bag from her car to the SUV while Harm scraped the stubborn
ice from the its windshield.
“A chaperone? There’s zero privacy on a sub as it is. It would be a
waste of resources.”
“You’re right, Sturgis. The General has his sights set on more important
things for you. You’ll do a fine job with all that paperwork,” Harm
said, intentionally drawing attention away from Mac’s comment before
Sturgis delved further into it.
“It’s Iceland not Florida, Harm, But then again, I can see why you’d be
excited. It’s the same caliber case you’ve been drawing lately,” Sturgis
“Hey, at least I’m the one going.”
“Don’t let it go to your head. They’re not offering you a set of
“You never know…”
“The day they give the likes of you a set of these, will be the day I
turn mine in.” Sturgis pointed to the gold Dolphins above his ribbons to
emphasize his point.
“Gentlemen, we only have 72 hours,” Mac interrupted before the banter
In the Air
300 Miles from Iceland
The military transport lacked the amenities of a commercial flight.
Still Mac had no problem catching several hours of sleep before a patch
of turbulence woke her from a pleasant dream. She wiped the remnants of
sleep from her eyes then focused on the main figure of those dreams.
Harm stifled a yawn in the process of rubbing his chest with one hand
while turning the page of the two-inch sheaf of paper with his other.
“Have you had your nose in that manuscript since we left Andrews?”
“Afraid so,” he answered.
“Don’t you want to try and catch some sleep?”
“As you pointed out, the clock is ticking and it’ll help if I know what
all the fuss is about.”
“Are you feeling all right?”
“Heartburn. I’m kicking myself for letting the guys talk me into the
“Why didn’t you say something sooner? Here.”
“Thanks,” Harm said, accepting the roll of antacids Mac produced from
“So how’s the story?”
“I can’t see where Watters violated anything remotely covered in his
non-disclosure agreement. It’s not like a Tom Clancy novel.”
“What do you mean?”
“Two-thirds of Clancy’s fictional technical information in ‘The Hunt for
Red October’ turned out to be right on the mark.”
“If I recall, there were those in the Navy who didn’t want to give him
the go ahead to publish. While fiction, they felt the book would give
the Soviets information about U.S. submarine capabilities.”
“Yeah, talk about irony. The Soviets ended up believing the bogus
one-third and not the rest.”
“So can I expect to see Herbert Watters’ book on the best sellers list
as the next big techno-thriller?”
“Hardly. There’s little action, no depth to the characters, too much
extraneous description, and quite frankly, the credibility is suspect.”
“Well listen to you, Mister Reviewer,” Mac laughed, amused by the
“Hey, I know what I like and this isn’t it.”
“If I gave you an Edward Beach novel, you’d be happier?”
“If nothing else, rooming with Midshipman Sturgis Turner gave me an
appreciation for good sub stories – Torpedo Alley, The Enemy Below, Up
Periscope. So yeah, I’d take ‘Run Silent, Run Deep’ over this drivel any
“What’s the name of this drivel?”
“What the Future Holds -- it takes place on the fictitious SSN Erie.”
“Eerie like in spooky and along the lines of mad Captain Nemo on the
Harm shifted uncomfortably in his seat while Mac craned her neck for a
glimpse of the open page.
“Mac, Walt Disney produced ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’. This isn’t in
the same ballpark. Now I think I would like to get some sleep after
“You’re hiding something. I can tell.”
“There’s nothing to hide.”
“It’s a romance!”
“What part of ‘separate assignments’ did you misunderstand?”
“I am not. Now are you done interrogating me?”
“No. Is it along the lines of Harlequin and Silhouette? You know, not
exactly serious prose but a fun, amusing read.”
“I wouldn’t know.”
“I love Harlequins. You can always count on a happy ending.”
“You’re not going to give me any peace until I tell you, are you?”
“Fine, it’s a sappy rendition of the trials and tribulations of a
Nuclear Reactor Officer’s frustration in maintaining a relationship
while serving in the ‘silent service’.”
“Is it smutty – you know filled with spicy love scenes?”
“I know what smut is,” Harm sighed, accepting the fact he had lost
control of the discussion. The only thing that might side track her was
the more serious topic he needed to discuss, but he definitely wasn’t
feeling up to that.
“Well does it?”
“I can appreciate why some consider that an integral part of romance
novels. But in this case they’d be disappointed. There are thousands of
miles of cold water separating the key parties.”
Harm marked his place and secured the document in his bag. Pulling a
blanket up to his chin, he closed his heavy eyes, effectively bringing
the potentially embarrassing discussion to a close.
“Sweet dreams, Harm.”
Three Hours Later
Mac watched the winter light cast a penetrating darkness over the open
water. Behind her, the yellow and orange lights of Keflavik’s business
district poked holes in the snow-covered landscape. Key West it was
definitely not. The 72 degrees inside the ship beckoned as she watched
her breath vaporize in the frigid air.
Standing watch topside on the SSN Bradford, Petty Officer Hajec met the
group of four as they waited to board.
“The Captain’s anxious to get underway. We haven’t taken time to power
down and connect to shore power. As soon as you’re onboard and we’re
outside the harbor we’ll dive.”
“In other words, the Bradford’s nuclear reactor is still critical. Why
didn’t you just say so?”
The question was posed by the younger of the two civilians. He stood two
inches shorter than Harm, but outweighed him by thirty pounds. As such,
twenty-five year old Miles Skibinski looked like a member of a college
football team rather than a software technician for Soundex
“Uhh, yes, I suppose that’s another way of putting it,” Hajec said.
“Behave Miles. Don’t make me regret bringing you along instead of
“Callahan’s in bed with the flu. You had no choice.”
Harm, Mac, and Hajec listened silently to the exchange between Skibinski
and Robert Cline, Soundex’s senior specialist. Earlier inside the port
authority building, Mac had spent twenty minutes with the two civilians
while Harm plugged away at the allegedly controversial novel. The older
man was pleasant enough. But she found the younger one a little too full
of himself. She quickly admonished herself knowing she shouldn’t let
their personalities influence her report.
Bracing against the Arctic cold, all proceeded anxiously to the gangway
leading from the pier to the submarine’s black hull poking through the
“Watch your step. The surface is icy,” Hajec said.
Mac’s heart was gently warmed when Harm grabbed hold of her elbow and
guided her across the narrow crosswalk.
Stepping onto the Bradford’s hull, Mac couldn’t help but wonder if this
was what the back of a whale felt like. The soles of her shoes cut
through the light coating of ice and sought purchase on the black
foam-like, sound-absorbing surface.
“It feels like a high school wrestling mat,” Robert Cline said,
inadvertently ruining the picture in her head.
“The hatch is just aft of the conning tower,” Skibinski stated.
Squeezing impatiently past the group, the bulky man knocked Harm roughly
into the gangplank stanchion and the other technician. The unexpected
jostling caused Cline to trip over a fairing on the hull. Harm’s quick
reflexes saved him from a dangerous slide into the ominous water.
“Hey Skibinski, slow down,” Mac said.
“I know where I’m going.”
“Somehow I doubt that since it hasn’t been called a conning tower for a
decade,” Harm muttered rubbing his side as he watched the software
technician make his way toward the 20-foot-tall sail that housed the SSN
Bradford’s masts, antennae, and periscope.
Mac’s eyes narrowed. She acknowledged Harm’s scowl with her own frown,
both wondering what else they could expect from the recalcitrant
“Thanks for the hand, Commander,” Cline breathed heavily.
Waiting a few more seconds, they surveyed the bullet-nose curve of the
Bradford’s elliptical bow. Once the older man was composed, the three
resumed their journey aft behind the sail. The ship’s rudder, not unlike
that of an airplane tail, was barely visible at the other end where the
massive sub vanished below the surface.
Petty Officer Hajec waited for the group to join Skibinski before
opening the thick metal hatch. He nodded respectfully to Harm and Mac to
proceed towards the 25-inch wide hole.
“Go ahead, Mac. You can have the honors,” Harm motioned, ignoring the
disgruntled look on Skibinski’s face.
“Down ladder!” Mac shouted the required warning into the open maw before
proceeding down into the submarine. Her feet expertly found the first
rung of the ladder while her hands followed. Disappearing, she exited on
the middle level of the ship, just outside the enlisted crew’s mess
The laughter and camaraderie emanating from the area reminded her of a
cozy restaurant. Numerous booths were arranged on one side of the room
with the food service area on the other. Although cramped, it could seat
two-thirds of the 100 enlisted crew members.
The smell of bodies, lubrication oil, and ozone from the high-voltage
electrical systems mixed with a whiff of dinner. She felt her stomach
growl, unable to hear it over the loud baritone sounds of the air
processors and high pitched whine of the electronic systems. The noise
was louder further aft where the generators and turbines were firing up.
Her eyes adjusted to the fluorescent lighting while the rest of the
group made their way down.
Harm’s careful maneuvering of his head out of the access trunk reminded
her how low the ceilings were. Skibinski’s grunt as he plastered himself
sideways against the bulkhead reaffirmed the narrowness of the
passageways when a crew member squirmed by.
“Captain Morgan wants to see you,” Hajec explained passing out a
dosimeter to each of them.
“Do you call him ‘rum-n-coke’?” Skibinski asked.
“I bet,” Skibinski snickered, attaching the plastic cigarette-lighter
like device to his belt.
“Regulations require you where the dosimeter at all times. It’ll track
your total radiation exposure while on board,” Hajec continued.
“Like we don’t know that.”
The snide comment was the proverbial last straw. Mac placed her hands on
her hips and squared off against the annoying man.
“Look mister, you may not be formally under anyone’s chain of command on
this ship, but I’ve had enough of your impertinence. Start acting in a
professional manner or I’ll have no choice but to recommend to the
Captain that you be replaced. Am I clear?”
“Yes, Ma’am!” Skibinski replied, coming to attention and firing off a
Mac stole a glance at Harm. She expected to see the same amusement in
his expression that he exhibited on the Watertown when she had
over-reacted and dressed down a group of young enlisted men. She and
Harm had been the target of their innocent prank when they intentionally
set off the trash compactor while they slept. There was no such reaction
this time. Instead, his grim expression and a nod of his head verified
he supported her actions.
“Thank you,” Robert Cline sighed, grateful for the attempt to rein in
his disrespectful associate.
Mac nodded as she finished securing the dosimeter. Its presence on her
hip was a constant reminder of the inherent dangers of the place. Given
the Russian disasters at Chernobyl and onboard the Kursk, as well as
Three Mile Island, she was grateful for the stringent safety standards
and precautions Admiral Rickover had insisted upon since the inception
of nuclear reactors on U.S. ships.
“Taking in all lines,” the OOD’s voice came across the intercom as
Captain Morgan motioned the group to enter the Control Room.
“The Officer of the Deck is up in the sail scanning the area with
binoculars and directing the tugs as we pull away from the dock,” the
forty-five year old Captain explained, directing the JAG officers to
stand at ease.
“Tugs?” Mac asked looking around the small room filled with piping,
cables, and valves as well as high-tech electronics, lighted consoles
and touch screens lining every wall.
One panel of the Star Wars-like setting was manned by two very young men
holding onto airplane style yokes controlling the ships horizontal fins
and rudder. There was little extraneous chatter while the delicate
maneuvers took place.
“Tug boats are used to avoid breaking the fiberglass sonar dome on the
bow. That and because subs don’t handle well at slow speeds in shallow
water. Once they get us clear of the harbor, we’ll proceed for an hour
on the surface under our own power before submerging.”
A navigation technician stood on the elevated stand that dominated the
center of the Control Room. Peering through the periscope, he relayed a
fix from a GPS satellite in orbit. Two others, standing at plotting
tables behind the periscope, manually plotted the location on huge sea
“Coordinates entered into SINS,” a technician informed the Captain after
putting the coordinates into the Ships Inertial Navigation System.
The deafening blare of a foghorn originating from the sail above
abruptly interrupted the exchange. Sounding not unlike a 747 engine, it
blared fifteen seconds alerting everyone in Keflavik harbor of their
“Harbor patrol has been informed we’ve detached from the pier and are
underway via tug,” the OOD’s voice reported over the intercom.
“Very well,” Captain Morgan replied returning his attention to the
visitors in the Control Room.
“Now tell me which of you two officers is reporting on the process to
upgrade our High Frequency Sonar?” he asked looking from Mac to Harm.
“That would be me, Sir, Colonel Sarah Mackenzie. Commander Rabb is
investigating the claims brought by Chief Watters’ widow regarding
attempts to stonewall the publishing of her husband’s book.”
“Is that so.”
Mac watched uncomfortably as the Captain stood slowly. He crossed his
arms and came around to stand directly in front of Harm, his eyes boring
“I’m going to need some time to interview you, at your convenience of
course,” Harm explained.
“You’re damn right it will be at my convenience. Your investigation is
the equivalent of a high school book report and is an affront to the
sacrifices made by every man on this ship! Sending a ‘nub’ is a waste of
valuable space, air and food.”
Mac bit her tongue to keep from saying something inappropriate; unlike
the Captain who tactlessly referred to Harm as a ‘non-useful body’. It
was clear Morgan had no qualms about ‘shooting the messenger’ despite
the fact the messenger had no choice in the matter.
A pang of concern stabbed Mac as she watched Harm work at controlling
his own reaction. Uncharacteristically, a fine sheen of perspiration
broke out on his forehead as his complexion alternated with what she
assumed were a myriad of emotions engendered by the Captain’s open
confrontation and hostility.
“Commander Rabb, perhaps you could see to the stowing of everyone’s
personal gear and arrange rack assignments. Dismissed.”
“Yes, Sir,” Harm replied, surreptitiously acknowledging the sympathetic
look from Mac as he vacated the Control Room.
“All right people, let’s get down to some real business,” Morgan
5 Minutes later
“It’s important we continually enhance the capabilities of our high
frequency active sonar,” Captain Morgan explained to Mac while the two
civilian technicians organized the equipment they brought on board.
“Why is that?” Mac asked.
“Years ago our main mission was the tracking and containment of noisy
Soviet subs in deep water. Back then our passive sonar got the job down.
We just had to sit still until we heard them coming.”
“And now that the Cold War is over?”
“Emphasis has shifted to countering the threat of extremely quiet,
state-of-the-art subs acquired by third world countries -- particularly
those in politically unstable regions of the world.”
“How are the subs obtained?”
“From several European sources not as discriminate as the U.S. would
like them to be about their customers. Such sales threaten even the most
protected coastal areas. That and the ease with which cheap,
unsophisticated mines can be laid in shallow water and you’re looking at
an enormous potential for danger. Relying solely on a passive sonar
system that listens for sounds generated by the target is no longer a
“That’s where high-frequency active sonar comes into play?” Mac sought
“It has a higher range and resolution. But more importantly, it’s much
better at differentiating between sea life, ships, pipelines, and mines.
The ability to do so is key to operating in coastal waters.”
“I assume you also use it to navigate more effectively under the ice.”
“Correct,” Morgan agreed.
“The HF active sonar still sends out pulses of sound waves just like its
mid-frequency cousins. The advantage is our ability to interpret the
wave echoes reflected back. The resolution is so good we can
differentiate between a straight and Phillip’s head screw,” Robert Cline
explained unpacking a small modular device from its protective bubble
“Using high precision CAD algorithms, we can electronically tag ice and
seabed features. Combined with existing on-board navigation data, the
Bradford can assist in correcting existing charts, ultimately enabling
us to move faster through dangerous water if the need arises,” Captain
“Master Chief McDonald?”
“Yes, Sir,” the older enlisted man stood when Harm entered the
administrative workspace allocated to the COB.
“Congratulations on your promotion to Chief of the Boat. That’s quite an
“Thank you, Sir. It’s usually given to the most senior enlisted man and
that would be me. How can I help you?”
“To start with I need a copy of the personnel manifest,” Harm replied,
taking the nearest chair while motioning the Chief to resume his seat as
“Is this about Chief Watters’ book?”
“Word does travel fast,” Harm sighed, chewing another antacid while
rubbing his face and willing away the discomfort and malaise that still
plagued him from the night before.
“Yes, Sir, you’ll find we’re a close knit group.”
“My understanding is that as Chief of the Boat, Watters was one of the
most influential men onboard. He even had more experience logged than
“That’s all true. But it was his people skills that made him an asset.”
“Chief Watters was the liaison between the Captain and the enlisted men.
And as such was responsible for their morale. Being COB involves acting
as coach, mentor, and problem solver – particularly for the new guys
coming aboard. Dealing with hot bunking, mess duty, loneliness….What is
it Petty Officer?” McDonald paused, acknowledging the knock at the door.
“I’m sorry COB. I didn’t realize you weren’t alone.”
“It’s okay, Petty Officer,” Harm motioned the young man to enter while
he perused the list of 130 names on the manifest.
“What did you need Simpkins?” McDonald asked.
“We’re wondering when the recently transmitted familygrams would be
“Like always, as soon as the XO is done reviewing them.”
“It’s just that some of us are expecting. I mean our wives are expecting
any day now.”
“I’ll ask the XO when I see him,” McDonald smiled, reassuring the young
“Thank you, Sir.”
“Some things don’t change,” Harm said after the young man left.
“I had a buddy who has every familygram ever sent him, well probably
most,” Harm answered.
He recalled how Sturgis treasured the 40-word telegrams he received
while underway. Most were from Chaplain Turner. He wondered if the
bubblehead still had the several he had sent him. He couldn’t help but
smile thinking back on the time and creativity put into the messages
given their meager 40-word limit.
“I have every one of mine too. At most we might get one a week. Two a
month is more the norm when we’re on patrol -- news of babies on the
way, babies born, first words, and birthdays. For most of us, ILY is the
only news we really want to hear from the outside.”
“I love you.”
“Oh,” Harm grinned sheepishly.
“When you’re completely out of contact for two months, that 40-word
message from home is a toehold on reality. It’s a reminder you’re not
living in a vacuum.”
“I take it the isolation and separation can cause stress and potentially
“Long separations remain one of the hardships of submarine life. When
operations permit, email provides some relief, but never enough.”
“Dreams of home and family are always the center of a submariner’s
thoughts?” Harm asked, making correlations with Watters’ book.
“Yes. Unfortunately, there’s little the Navy can do to provide the means
to communicate with home more often. Our missions require stealth and
radio silence. What news we do get is limited and censored.”
“Before distribution, each familygram is read by the XO to insure there
aren’t any ‘Dear John’, death, or illness messages. Anything that could
cause morale problems gets forwarded to the Captain for disposition.”
“It sounds like you close ranks when there is potential for trouble.”
“That we do. You’ll not find a stronger ‘esprit de corps’ anywhere than
the submarine service.”
“Is that why the crew is generally more informal?” Harm asked, recalling
his time on the Watertown and scenes in Watters’ book.
“I’d describe it as relaxed but professional. Officers and enlisted work
shoulder to shoulder around the clock. In such close quarters some
aspects of protocol are set aside. There’s a lot of good-natured
teasing. It’s a stress reliever.”
“So being a loner wouldn’t be a successful coping strategy?”
“No. In fact, it’s unlikely anyone with that personality trait would
make it out of Boat School and onto a sub.”
“Master Chief Watters described the CO of his fictitious ship as running
a ‘loose’ wardroom where friendly ribbing was acceptable. Does that
describe Captain Morgan?”
“Very much so.”
“We all have bad days. And you have to remember the CO is held
personally responsible for the safe operation of his entire ship.”
“I suppose,” Harm winced, accepting the fact he too was having a bad
“It’s really just a high-priced fish finder.”
Commander Potchatko, the XO, summarized while Mac watched Robert Cline
snap the final metal panel back in place. Meanwhile, Miles Skibinski
remained surprisingly quiet since Mac threatened to have him replaced.
“The beauty of the Navy’s utilization of COTS, commercial off-the-shelf
systems, is in its modularity. It enables us to upgrade systems in a
matter of days while underway rather than spending weeks in port while
entire banks of equipment are gutted and replaced,” he continued,
watching every move the civilians made.
“So it’s much the same as one might upgrade a new CPU or add memory to a
personal computer?” Mac clarified.
“Pretty much, but we’ll test the upgrade over the next two days making
modifications and corrections to the software on the fly,” Skibinski
“But first we’re going to put the Bradford through some standard drills.
It keeps the crew’s skills honed and confirms the hardware updates are
functioning. XO prepare our first evolution,” Captain Morgan ordered.
Before heading off to their berthing assignment, Harm re-familiarized
himself with the sub layout. He shook his head ruefully when the mess
area abruptly vacated as he approached. He hadn’t intended to corral
anyone just yet. But it was obvious from the mass exodus that he
shouldn’t expect a warm reception once he did.
With the mess now almost empty, he studied the ‘Dolphin Qualification
Status Board’ posted just inside the room. It showed how each man was
progressing toward earning his coveted ‘Dolphins’ -- the pin submariners
proudly wore, much like an aviator’s wings.
“Earning one’s Dolphins is the goal of every submariner. Until you do,
you’re just another ‘non-qualified puke’ in the eyes of your shipmates,”
McDonald explained coming up behind Harm.
“Is that what it takes to be accepted around here, a pair of silver
“New guys need to make their actions speak louder than words. Everyone’s
watching to see what they’re made of.”
“It sounds tough. How does the Bradford rate?”
“Excellent, eighty-percent of the crew is qualified. It means we can
rely on them to do practically anything in any compartment.”
“It looks like becoming qualified takes six to eight months, twelve at
“If it’s longer than that, you can say good-bye to your future as a
“And I thought carrier quals were rough,” Harm said, turning to leave.
“Have a good evening, Commander.”
“Hey COB, I almost forgot. Can you stow something for me in the safe. I
don’t want it falling into the wrong hands.”
5 hours later
Making her way down to the lowest level of the Bradford, Mac was
oblivious to being in the bowels of the ship. Despite the long day, her
spirits were flying high.
She was hard pressed to say which had been more exciting – the emergency
dive or the emergency blow. Both drills served as bookends to the four
hours of exercises she witnessed. The maneuvers tested not only the crew
but the hardware’s ability to hold up to the rapid course and depth
changes, all while being virtually blind and relying solely on Sonar.
Fortunately her stomach didn’t rebel when the Captain ordered changes in
depth from 60 to 600 feet and everything in between. Her calves were
another matter, however, as he repeatedly alternated putting the ship on
30-degree up angles followed by an equally precipitous down slope. Those
not strapped in remained standing, relying on handholds as the floor
slanted steeply beneath their feet.
She chided herself thinking back to how she nearly jumped out of her
shoes when the alarm sounded just over her head. Its deep howling
OOOOOOOH-GAAAAAH, OOOOOOOH-GAAAAAH sounding on the heels of the ‘Dive,
Dive’ command heard over the P.A. system throughout the ship.
“Can I help you, Ma’am?” Petty Officer Curtis asked, startling her as
her mind wondered.
“Yes, I’m looking for Commander Rabb,” Mac said, noting his Radioman
“Straight ahead. If you can’t find him, just ask Petty Officer Maughn.”
“Thank you,” she answered dubiously, seeing the direction he pointed.
Entering the cave-like room, her frown deepened. Dim red lights
ominously illuminated the shiny green bodies of eighteen Mark 48
torpedoes. One of which was stored in a firing tube tucked into a
complex of tangled piping, valves, and gauges. The small propeller on
its tapered end stuck out of an open breech door. Another three tubes
remained empty, eagerly awaiting one of the spare 21-foot long weapons.
To her left, a single watchman, presumably Petty Officer Maughn,
acknowledged her presence. He stood hunched over a console with more
controls than she remembered seeing in Harm’s F-14 cockpit. Making her
way uncertainly through a narrow path of 3,200 pound stacked torpedoes,
she suddenly paused, overcome by a myriad of emotions.
Tucked between and dwarfed by the formidable ordnance, lay Harm. He was
sleeping on a bunk suspended over one of the empty torpedo storage
racks, his sea bag doing double duty as a pillow. One sock-clad foot was
planted firmly on the floor, reminiscent of her attempts from long ago
to stop the world from spinning after a night of drinking. The
troublesome manuscript was splayed open across his chest.
On a fairly roomy bunk above him sat her sea bag and a pillow, complete
with fresh white slip. Next to both sat a neatly folded set of navy blue
coveralls and a ‘SSN Bradford’ ball cap. She loved the comfortable
‘poopy’ suits and was glad to see Harm had changed into a set himself.
Grabbing a spare blanket, she proceeded to cover him.
“Hey, are you all done playing?”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“No problem.” Yawning, Harm set the manuscript aside as he cautiously
“The coveralls, the pillow, and the top bunk,” she answered, getting
better at appreciating how he let his actions speak louder than words.
“I thought it only fair since I had it last time. As far as the pillow,
well they’re in short supply. So did you enjoy ‘angles and dangles’?”
“It’s the most fun I’ve had in uniform in a while. They finished up an
hour ago,” she replied taking a seat in the spot he had cleared for her
on his bunk.
“Yeah, I could tell.”
“Are you all right?”
“I got a little nauseous trying to read with all the motion.”
“A seasick Harmon Rabb? That’s an oxymoron. Is that why I didn’t see you
“Yeah. What did I miss?”
“Leftover lasagna. Our two techno friends are still chowing down…What?”
she asked, hearing him chuckle.
“That’s what I was going to make for you. Remember we were scheduled to
meet at my place four hours ago?”
“It probably wasn’t as good as yours would have been.”
“Wow, a compliment,” he replied amicably, leaning his head back against
“Ah, Harm?” she asked uncertainly, her own head swiveling to take in the
massive armament surrounding them.
“Why are we in the torpedo room?”
“The bunks here are from accommodating two SEAL teams on-board last
week. The red lighting keeps it relatively dark in deference to those
sleeping here. It’s quieter than the crew quarters and there’s a lot
less foot traffic. Plus when given the choice of hot-bunking it again
with the enlisted men or sleeping in our own racks for the duration of
our stay, I chose the latter. Did I screw up?”
“No hot bunking!”
“I guess I have my answer,” he grinned.
Taking a seat, Mac set the tray on the table in the Officers Wardroom.
Harm’s eyes shifted from the book in his hands to the food on her plate.
“Ham and eggs, it must be morning.”
“You zoned out on me last night before I asked how your investigation is
coming along,” she said.
“It’s difficult to glean fact from fiction when all the names and
ratings have been changed to ‘protect the innocent’. And so far, the
crew hasn’t exactly been forthcoming.”
“Submariners are notoriously tight-lipped because of the secrecy
inherent in the sub service.”
“Well it seems like they’re avoiding me because I’ve got the plague.”
“Maybe that’s because you don’t look like your normal self.”
“Funny. Can we get back on point?”
“Okay, who would have a reason to see the book isn’t published? Captain
Morgan sure sounded annoyed and, given that Watters was under his
command, the book could be construed as being a reflection of his
“So far the Captain in the book comes off looking good,” he paused,
acknowledging several officers and the two Soundex reps joining them at
“Feeling guilty about your stature as ‘water slug’, Commander?” Miles
“I think he means Captain Morgan wouldn’t bark if you took more than two
pieces of toast, Commander. Then again, Mister Skibinski appears to be
eating more than his and your share combined.”
Harm looked up to see XO Pochatko nodding towards the civilian’s heaping
“I’d of thought you have more important things to worry about, Sir,”
“Did you get up on the wrong side of the rack or can’t you function
civilly on six hours of sleep?” Pochatko asked.
“It was less than six hours and if you kept banging into a hydraulic
torpedo ram every time you tried to turn over, you’d be grumpy too,”
“Well you have ten minutes to eat that and then we begin configuring the
parameters on the HF sonar.” Pochatko’s eyes scanned the odd group
around the table. “Colonel, I assume you’ll be joining us?”
“Yes,” Mac replied, wanting to chastise Harm herself for his skimpy
breakfast but holding off seeing he was concentrating on something in