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Classification Drama, Adventure, Romance (H/M)
Length Approximately 27,000 words; 91 pages (8 ½” x 11”)
Spoilers Through “The Four Percent Solution”
Rating IM15

 

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4

 

 

 

0450 Hours
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.

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your fault.”

“Head hurt?”

“Yeah, probably too much alcohol.”

“Harm, please tell me you’re not about to face Cresswell while under the influence.”

“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 several months.

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 moaned.

“Any idea what’s going on?” Sturgis asked stepping up energetically behind them.

“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 perish.”

“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.

 

0500 Hours
General Cresswell’s Office
JAG Headquarters

 

“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 describe it.

“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 the Bradford?”

“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 it up.

“Colonel, you’ll be advising on the installation process of new software and hardware being installed on the Bradford by a third party vendor.”

“Understood, Sir.”

“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 assignment.

“Unfortunately. He dropped dead of a heart attack two weeks after retirement. Evidently the book was through the editing process by that time.”

“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 happ…”

“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 replied.

“Hey, at least I’m the one going.”

“Don’t let it go to your head. They’re not offering you a set of Dolphins.”

“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 turned uglier.

 

Hours Later
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 three-alarm chili.”

“Why didn’t you say something sooner? Here.”

“Thanks,” Harm said, accepting the roll of antacids Mac produced from her purse.

“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 literary critique.

“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 day.”

“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 Nautilus?”

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 all.”

“You’re hiding something. I can tell.”

“There’s nothing to hide.”

“It’s a romance!”

“What part of ‘separate assignments’ did you misunderstand?”

“You’re blushing!”

“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?”

“Nope.”

“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
Keflavik, Iceland

 

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 Incorporated.

“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.”

“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 cold water.

“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 civilian.

“Thanks for the hand, Commander,” Cline breathed heavily.

“You’re welcome.”

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 area.

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.

“No, Sir.”

“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 mock salute.

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.

 

Control Room
SSN Bradford

 

“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 charts.

“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 imminent departure.

“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 into him.

“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 ordered.

 

Sonar Room
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 viable solution.”

“That’s where high-frequency active sonar comes into play?” Mac sought clarification.

“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 wrap.

“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 Morgan added.

 

Same Time

 

“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 honor.”

“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 well.

“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 Captain Morgan.”

“That’s all true. But it was his people skills that made him an asset.”

“How so?”

“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 distributed?”

“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 man.

“Thank you, Sir.”

“Some things don’t change,” Harm said after the young man left.

“Sir?”

“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.”

“ILY?”

“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 morale problems.”

“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.”

“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.”

“Really?”

“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 one.

 

Control Room
SSN Bradford

 

“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 said.

“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 dolphins?”

“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 the most.”

“If it’s longer than that, you can say good-bye to your future as a submariner.”

“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 designation.

“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 sat up.

“Thanks.”

“For what?”

“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 at mid-rats?”

“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 the bulkhead.

“Ah, Harm?” she asked uncertainly, her own head swiveling to take in the massive armament surrounding them.

“Yeah?”

“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.

 

0600 Hours
Sunday

 

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 leadership.”

“So far the Captain in the book comes off looking good,” he paused, acknowledging several officers and the two Soundex reps joining them at the table.

“Feeling guilty about your stature as ‘water slug’, Commander?” Miles Skibinski asked.

“What?”

“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 plate.

“I’d of thought you have more important things to worry about, Sir,” Skibinski said.

“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,” Skibinski answered.

“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 the book.

 

 

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