Five Seconds

Author’s note: While my intent for Project 52 is to release an original short story each week, this was a story that I’ve always liked, and after polishing it a bit more, I decided that I wanted to release it back into the wild. I would love to hear any thoughts or comments.

John Sperry’s heels clicked off the tile floor, echoing off the poured concrete walls.  The sergeant walking in front of him hadn’t spoken more than six words to him since he arrived.  The long underground hallway was lined with yellow light bulbs surrounded with wire cages, and the walls were completely bare except for some warning signs delineating the proper steps in the event of a power failure/bombing/hurricane.  Sperry paused to examine one of the signs, but before he could read more than a few lines, the sergeant spoke.

“Please keep up, Senator.”  His voice was low and gravelly, clawing up somewhere from the laces of his perfectly polished boots.  “The admiral asked me to bring you directly to him.”

“I know what your orders are, Sergeant.”  Sperry continued to read the sign.  He wasn’t interested, but had no intention of allowing the soldier to drag him around like a show dog.  “Admiral Ryland is ninety feet down this hallway.  A five second delay won’t kill him.”

The sergeant didn’t say anything, but his eyebrow climbed up his face further than should be physically possible.  After a few more moments, Sperry straightened up and nodded.  “We can go now.”

Spinning sharply on his heel, the uniformed soldier resumed his walk down the hallway.  Sperry fell into step next to him.  “Why are we meeting here instead of Ryland’s office?”

“I was ordered to take you directly to the admiral.  I don’t know the details, sir.”  They reached the end of the hallway.  In front of them was a solid metal door.  The sergeant stopped, turned and settled into a parade rest position.  “Go on in, Senator.”

“Aren’t you coming in?”

“No, sir.  I was instructed to only permit you to enter.”

Sperry watched him for a moment, and then reached for the handle.  He opened the door and walked in.  The room was dim, filled with a massive conference table that stretched at least twenty feet in length.  The walls were lined with flat screen monitors that were all switched off, and a coffee cart was right next to the door.

“Close the hatch, John.”  The voice emerged from the far end of the room.  Sperry squinted, peering through the sickly yellow lighting to the man slumped in a chair.  Shutting the door, he walked around the table so he could get a better look.  What he saw tightened his stomach to a hard ball.  The man sitting across the table looked nothing like he used to.  His face was drawn and pale, the circles under his eyes like dark pools.  His lips were so pale that it was difficult to see them, and the stubble on his cheeks showed that he hadn’t seen the inside of a shower in a few days.  A wrinkled white uniform seemed to hang off his frame.

“Ted?  Are you…”  Sperry sat down in the chair across the table.  “Are you all right?”

Admiral Ted Ryland chuckled, the sound hollow.  “Are you asking as my friend, or as head of the investigative senate sub-committee?”

“Right now?  I’m wondering why my old college roommate looks like he hasn’t slept in a week.”

“It’s been a long week.”  Ryland gestured at a pile of boxes in the corner.  “It’s all there.”

Sperry stared for a moment.  “That’s it?”

Ryland shrugged.  “Arguing with a subpoena from the attorney general doesn’t seem to have much point.  You made it impossible for me to do anything else, Senator.”

Sperry stood up, and opened the first box.  It was stuffed full of files and CDs.  “This wasn’t how I wanted to do this, you know that.  I still don’t understand why you made it necessary.”

“I know you don’t.”  Ryland reached into a box next to him, and pulled out a tape recorder.  “Sit down, John.”

Sperry glanced over at him.  “I don’t really have time.  We have forty analysts waiting to look this stuff over.  We have a press conference tomorrow, and want to have something to say…”

“Sit down.”  Ryland’s voice was flat and hard.

Sperry paused for a moment, watching his old friend.  Finally, he slowly returned to his chair.   “I know you’re angry.  But what exactly did you expect?”

“I told you I needed more time.”

“You’ve had five weeks!” Sperry barked.  “Five weeks since the worst naval disaster since the USS Forrestal fire, and you haven’t given us a bit of information!  Jesus Christ, Ted, what the hell did you think we were going to do?”

Ryland slammed his hand against the table.  “You could have trusted me!  You could have realized that I wouldn’t have held off if I had any other option!”

“No!  I couldn’t!”  Sperry threw his hands up in the air.  “I’m not your friend in this situation.  I’m not your best man, I’m not your kid’s godfather, I’m a goddamn United States senator!  I have twelve families from my state that had family on the Pennsylvania!  I have environmental groups beating down my fucking door trying to tell me that the wreckage of that submarine has to be recovered so the warheads and reactor don’t destroy the ocean!  I have defense contractors, lobbyists, reporters, ambitious congressmen that see this as a path to the White House, and about two million letters from constituents all demanding to know what the hell happened.”

Ryland opened his mouth, but Sperry bulled on.  “No, it’s your fucking turn to listen, Ted!  You’re the investigating officer.  You were assigned by Congress to figure out what the hell happened to 160 sailors and a 12 billion dollar warship, how a mission to investigate some noisy fart in the ocean turned into a complete catastrophe.  You were supposed to be a liaison between the representatives of this country and the investigation, to communicate with the press.  Instead, you’ve shut yourself away from the press and anyone outside of the investigation, ignored repeated requests, ignored repeated orders, ignored four congressional subpoenas, and finally forced me to go through the attorney general.  I didn’t want to do this, but you didn’t respond to any attempt I made to get in touch with you to try to sort this out.   So exactly what should I have done?  You backed me into a corner until I was forced to use the only avenue I had left.”

Ryland stared at the table for a full minute.  Finally, he spoke.  “I know.”

Sperry looked hard at his old friend.  “Ted.  What the hell is going on?”

The admiral fidgeted with the tape recorder, pushing it back and forth on the table surface.  “How much do you really know about the USS Pennsylvania’s mission?”

Sitting back, the senator sighed.  “I’ve read the official report.  The Pennsylvania was redirected to the South Pacific to investigate the bloop, some unidentified sonar transient the naval sonar nets picked up.”

Ryland nodded.  “We spent about ten years trying to figure out what it was from the recordings.  We determined that it was probably biologic, but it was also about fifty times louder than anything we’d ever recorded.  For a while, it was just an odd mystery, but the Pennsylvania was doing oceanographic studies in the Bering Straits, and we decided that she could use a speed run for reactor trials.  Her captain sent a request to check out the area the bloop was detected.”

“I’d heard Timothy Darrow was a bit of a hobbyist regarding the bloop.”  Sperry stood up and walked over to the coffee cart.  Pouring himself a cup, he continued, “I was actually fairly surprised the Navy gave the okay.”

Ryland said, “We didn’t think it was important.  It was a simple sonar scan.”

“Apparently not.  You want a cup?”  Ryland shook his head, and Sperry returned to the table, saying, “How long did you maintain communications after they arrived in the area?”

“About an hour.  After that, the Pennsylvania stopped transmitting her identification codes to NORAD.    We thought she had started running silent for some reason, but after four more days, her distress buoy started broadcasting the catastrophic failure signal.”

“I know that part.  Hell, the whole damn world knows that part.  But you and your office have been completely stonewalling all of us after the first few days of the investigation.  The only other thing we heard was two weeks ago when you declared the Pennsylvania a loss.”  Sperry took a sip.  “Hell, we didn’t even hear where you found the wreckage, let alone how the ship was lost.”

“It’s all in there.”  Ryland gestured at the stack of boxes.  “The only thing not in there is Darrow’s audio logs.  Those are right here.”  He tapped on the tape recorder.

“I don’t understand,” Sperry said.

Ryland let out a breath.  “I want you to listen to what I have to tell and show you.  After I’ve finished, you can take it all and leave.  But I hope you’ll make the same decision that I have.”

Sperry shook his head.  “Ted, you know I can’t do that.”

Ryland laughed.  There was no humor in it.  “I thought the same thing.”  He stood up and stretched, his knees popping.  Leaning back against the wall, he said, “The Pennsylvania isn’t lost.  She’s holding position six hundred miles off the coast of Chile, at four hundred feet depth.  I have four fast attack submarines in a holding pattern around her, and the task force that is supposedly searching for the wreckage is simply making sure no one comes close to approaching.”

Feeling like he’d been punched in the stomach, Sperry opened and closed his mouth for a minute.  “Are you fucking kidding me?  The Pennsylvania didn’t sink?  The crew’s alive?”

“I didn’t say that.  We know where she is.  She’s not moving, but I’m fairly sure that there’s no one left alive on board.”

“Fairly sure?”  Sperry shook his head.  “That seems to be something that you’d want to be certain about.  Is there some way to board a submarine when she’s submerged?”

“DSRV.  Deep submergence rescue vehicle, the Dolphin.  She linked up and boarded two and a half weeks ago.  The rescue team recovered the captain’s audio logs after nine minutes on board, and left.  They made it about four hundred feet away from the Pennsylvania before they came to a complete stop, and we lost all contact with them as well before we could get their report,” Ryland said.  “We sent another DSRV to the Dolphin.  Everyone on board was dead.”

“Some kind of disease?” Sperry leaned forward as Ryland continued.

“They died of massive blood loss and trauma.”

“Ted, what in the name of God is going on?”  Sperry was starting to get impatient.

“This is what we recovered.  We’ve started a new process where naval commanders record a voice log on a daily basis.  The theory is that we’ll be able to discern something from their tone that can tell us something about their state of mind that a written log wouldn’t be able to do.”  Ryland leaned forward.  “Most of the audio was damaged, but our techs were able to reconstruct a few entries.”

He pressed play.

A think crackling emerged from the speakers, but quickly resolved itself into a steady, deep voice.  Commander Timothy Darrow’s voice echoed off the concrete walls, giving it almost an ethereal quality.

“Log of September 26, 2011, Timothy Darrow.  We are now in the second day of radiation and sonar scans for the fourth sector in this area.  Still haven’t gotten any positive results, but we do have three more sectors before the Navy’s going to insist that I bring us home.”  A chuckle.  “If anyone asked me in private, I’d tell them that I thought we had a better chance of hearing Bigfoot farting than actually getting any sign of some sonar transient from a decade ago, but that’s another matter.

“On the positive side, the only departments involved in the scanning are sonar and reactor division, so the rest of the crew is catching up on training.  The XO is working up a more intensive drill schedule for the next two weeks.”

Darrow cleared his throat, sounding like a burst of static on the cheap speakers.  “I’m still not used to these damned voice logs.  I think I sound like Morgan Freeman after a bender.”

There was a five-second delay.  “Log of September 27, 2011, Timothy Darrow.  At 0340 today, I was woken and asked to join the XO in Engine Room Middle Level.  Petty Officer Hillaire was standing watch and found an object during his station inspection.  Neither Hillaire nor the engine room supervisor, Chief Tyroll, knew where it came from.  They asked both the engineer and the XO, who then made the decision to call me.

“The object is about four feet tall, matte black, and shaped like a tall skinny pyramid.  Four sides, looks pretty damn square, and has a base almost a foot wide.  Seaman Hollis called it a spire.  I guess that’s as good a term as any.  It’s located about three feet forward of the #2 air conditioning plant.  Hillaire tried to pick it up, and was unable to move it.  After that, the XO left orders not to touch it.  I agree, with the exception of Petty Officer Stokes, who I’ve told to take detailed measurements of the entire object.  I’ve also ordered photographs taken, but as of right now, it’s not interfering with ship operations, so we’re continuing the scans as scheduled.

Darrow sighed.  “The XO seems convinced that this is a prank by one of the crew.”  A chuckle.  “I don’t think he’s quite gotten over the missile techs filling his car with shaving cream.  Still, I think he’s probably right.  If the damn thing is glued or welded to my deck, I’ll have someone’s ass.

“Scans are proceeding as normal, but still nothing.  Five more days, and we head home.”

Ryland pressed pause.  “The team we sent on board from the Dolphin took a lot of photographs.  We recovered them.”

“Did you get a look at this spire thing?” Sperry asked.

Shaking his head, Ryland said, “No.  The photos from the forward half of the boat came out fine, but the further toward the engine room they got, the more the photos came out blurred.  Anything taken aft of the reactor compartment tunnel was worthless.”

Sperry frowned, and gestured for Ryland to press play.  After five seconds, Commander Darrow’s voice filled the room again.

“Log of September 28, 2011.  Petty Officer Hillaire reported to the corpsman with a bad nosebleed.  He woke up in his rack, and panicked when he saw that his pillow was soaked with blood.  Chief Campbell assures me that it shouldn’t be a problem.  I’ve asked him to keep me updated.

“Scans have continued, with no results.  One of the junior sonar techs commented that he hasn’t heard anything down here, not even biologics.  I thought this was the gray whale season down here, but apparently not.  He’s right, though.  I listened to the sonar input for a few minutes.  It’s pretty damn creepy.  Sounds like the entire section of ocean is empty.

“The spire remains in Engine Room Middle Level.  I offered a blanket amnesty if the person responsible confesses, but no one has come forward.  I went and inspected it again last night.”  A pause.  “It feels… I don’t know.  It feels wrong somehow.  If we still don’t know anything by tomorrow, I’m going to tell Chief Tyroll to find a way to move it to the 3-inch launcher room so we can lock it up.

“I’ve also told Petty Officer Stokes to retake the measurements of the spire.  The data he gave me is sloppy as hell.  The four angles of the sides add up to 390 degrees.  That’s not possible.  It’s a quadrilateral, so they have to add up to 360 degrees.  He’s probably just tired.”

Five seconds.  Darrow began speaking again.  His voice sounded hollow and shaky, and kept pausing to audibly swallow.

“Petty Officer Hillaire is dead.

“Chief Campbell is in a state of shock.  He’s taking this really hard.  He blames himself.  I was there during the last five minutes.  I don’t know who’s to blame, if anyone.  The bleeding just wouldn’t stop.  Campbell said that it just kept getting worse.  By the time I was called to the infirmary, Campbell was stuffing cotton balls into Hillaire’s nose, but the blood kept dripping out, faster and faster.  Hillaire was white, his lips were so pale I couldn’t tell them apart from his skin.  He kept…” Darrow’s voice broke, and it took a moment for him to compose himself.  “He kept grabbing at my hand.  He was so scared.  I promised him he’d be okay.

“When he passed out, Chief Campbell tried everything he could.  He poured coagulant powder from the trauma kit into Hillaire’s nostrils, clamped the nose shut.  He even tried to use a soldering iron to burn the inside of his nose.  Nothing worked.  The blood just kept dripping out.  It kept dripping fifteen minutes after Hillaire’s heart stopped.”

Darrow swallowed.  “I have to write the official report.  I’ve only lost one other man under my command before, and that was due to an epileptic seizure.  That was hard to deal with, but I could at least understand.  I met Hillaire’s mother last month at his reenlistment.  How do I tell that woman that her 20-year-old son just died from a nosebleed?”

Five second pause.

Darrow’s voice continued, “Log of September 29, 2011.  I’ve now made five attempts to acquire the STS communications satellite in order to report on Hillaire’s death.  All five attempts have failed.  Our comm officer has tried every encryption code and frequency we have, but we can’t even get an acknowledgement of transmission.  It’s like the satellite isn’t there.  We’re going to keep trying.  I’m hoping it’s due to solar flare activity, in which case it should clear up soon.

“The crew is trying to adjust to Hillaire’s death.  They’re taking it hard, and the stress is starting to get to them.  Chief Campbell has reported the seven crewmen have reported nightmares bad enough that they… ah, soiled themselves.  I’ve been moving around the boat, talking to the crew, trying to let them know that things will get back to normal.”

A hollow laugh.  “I’m trying to convince myself of that.

“Petty Officer Stokes has now completed three sets of measurements of the spire, all of which match his original data.  They don’t make any sense.  The angles measure exactly as I stated earlier, but when he measured the height of one side of the spire, it was three inches shorter than the other.  But there isn’t any tilt or lean to the damn thing, so they should be exact.

“That’s not all.  In my log entry a few days ago, I said that the spire was matte black, but that’s not exactly right.  Petty Officer Stokes shined a flashlight on the surface, and there was no reflection at all.  No bright spot, no sign that the light was even there.  It was as if the surface was absorbing every bit of the light.

“I don’t think this was a prank.  I’ve ordered Chief Tyroll and the engineer to take any and all steps necessary to remove the spire from the engine room, and relocate it to the 3-inch launcher room.  I don’t have any concrete reason to believe this thing was responsible for Hillaire’s death, but I’ll feel much better when it’s locked behind two inches of steel plating.”

Five seconds.

“Uh, September 29, entry two.  The engineer and four chiefs have now spent four hours trying to move the spire, with no success whatsoever.  I’m now very worried.  I watched Chief Peterson, who’s the strongest man I’ve ever known, hit the spire with a twenty pound sledge at full force.  There was absolutely no effect.”

There was a scraping sound, and Darrow’s voice got louder and breathier, as if he had scooted closer to the recorder.  “Let me be very clear on this.  There was no movement in the spire, there was no mark on the surface, the sledgehammer didn’t bounce at all, and there was no sound whatsoever when the sledge hit it.  There was no effect at all.  They tried rigging equipment and a plasma cutter.  Nothing.

“While this was attempted, Chief Campbell reported that over two dozen of the crew have now reported hearing voices.  Petty Officer Stokes, the only person other than Hillaire to come into physical contact with the spire, is suffering the worst.  He says the voices are screaming into his ear.  He doesn’t know what they’re saying, but he’s terrified.

“I think we all are.”

Darrow cleared his throat, took a deep breath, and said, “I have decided that this situation poses an immediate threat to the safety and security of the USS Pennsylvania and her crew.  I am aborting the mission, and we are proceeding towards Pearl Harbor at flank speed.  I will accept any and all responsibility for this decision, but I want this damn thing of my ship.  Let the shipyard crews tear it out of the hull if they have to.

“Still no luck with communications.  I’m considering broadcasting on an open frequency.”

Five seconds.

Darrow began speaking again.  His voice was audibly trembling.  “September 30.  I have four more dead sailors.  All suicides.  All happened within five minutes of each other.  Seaman Hollis and Chief Tyroll both hung themselves in the forward missile compartment.  Chief Campbell slashed his wrists with a scalpel.  Petty Officer Stokes sawed his throat open with a Leatherman tool.

“No one will enter Engine Room Middle Level.  The spire is still there, but no one will go near it.  The crew is no longer capable of performing their duties.  They’re paralyzed with fear.  With Chief Campbell dead, we have no medical support.  More sailors are hearing voices.  My XO is hearing them.

“I don’t know if they’re hallucinations any more.

“We aren’t moving.  We’ve been at flank speed for eight hours, and every instrument we have says that we’re moving forward at 18 knots and have not changed direction.  Every instrument we have also says that our position hasn’t changed one inch.  We’ve tested and retested every piece of our equipment.  It’s all working.  I don’t know how this is possible, but we seem to be trapped.

“We are trapped.”  Darrow took a long, shuddering breath.  “I think I may abandon ship.”

The five second pause seemed to take forever.  It was deafening in its silence.  When Darrow’s voice began again, Sperry jumped slightly in his seat.

“We can’t surface.  Every ballast tank we have is dry.  We’ve got so much buoyancy that we should be popping out of the water like a cork, but we aren’t moving.  We’re pinned in place.  Our depth is holding at 400 feet, no matter what we do.

“We are trapped.

“I hear them now.  The whispers.  I think we all hear them now.  They were quiet, but they’re louder now.  It’s not a hallucination.  I don’t understand what they’re saying, but I know they’re there.  When my eyes are open, I hear them.  When…”  Darrow’s voice gave out in a choked off sob.  He gulped air for a moment.  “When I close my eyes, I can feel it.  Hot breath on my neck and ear.  Stinking breath.  It smells like a wound that’s been rotting.  It sticks to my skin like garbage and corruption, like that slime on top of maggoty rotting meat.  Even when I open my eyes, the foulness is still there.  I don’t dare to close my eyes.  I can’t sleep.  I don’t think anyone is sleeping.

“Nine more suicides which I know of.  The freezer is full of the dead.  Our frozen food is melting on the deck because there’s no room because of the corpses.  The men have abandoned their posts.  They are hiding.  I am floating the distress buoy.  I don’t know if anyone will hear.  Maybe the reason no one is answering us is that there isn’t anyone to hear.”

Five second pause.  Sperry wanted to reach over and stop it, but felt frozen in his chair.  He didn’t want to hear more.

Darrow’s voice was flat and monotone, drained of all emotion.  “I went into the crew’s mess when I heard the screaming.  Six sailors were watching, paralyzed.  I don’t blame them.  I couldn’t move for a moment myself.

“Chief Green was dead on the floor, with Seaman Bennington kneeling over him.  Bennington was gnawing at his throat, pulling chunks of red and dripping flesh away, chewing and swallowing.  Bennington was sobbing.  His shoulders were heaving and tears were sliding down his face, cutting channels in the blood that soaked his mouth.  He was crying and choking out that he was sorry, but only long enough to take another bite.  We pulled him off, tied his hands behind him.  Threw him in the damage control locker.  Don’t know what else to do.  I don’t think he’ll starve soon.  He ate a lot.”

Five seconds.

“It’s not a hallucination.

“It’s not in our heads.

“Ensign Patterson was killed today.  She was leading a prayer session in the missile compartment.  There were lots of us there.  At this point, we’re all begging God to help us.  I don’t know if He can hear us.  He didn’t today.

“She was kneeling, praying.  She had her rosary beads in her hands, and her head was bowed.  Something grabbed her, pulled her back to the deck, hard.  Pulled her arms and legs so she was spread eagle.  We could see her skin, indented in like fingers were grabbing her arms and ankles.  I tried to grab whatever was holding her.  There was nothing there, but it was there.  It clawed at her chest, ripping her coveralls open.  Her breasts were free, and I could see something chewing on them, ripping tiny chunks away.  We beat at her, tried to get it off her.  There was nothing there.  It tore her belly open, tugged on her intestines like a puppy with a rope.  She howled and screamed and we couldn’t do anything.  The tear in her stomach bulged and stretched, like something was crawling inside her.  It was.  She thrashed and shuddered and died, and I stared as something tore its way out of her throat.

“We left her on the deck.  There’s no more room in the freezer.

“God help us.  That was what we were begging.  He can’t help us.  Maybe He’s not there anymore.  Maybe he’s watching, and just doesn’t care.

Five seconds.

Darrow’s voice was light and dreamy.  Static kept surging up, making his voice difficult to hear.  In spite of himself, Sperry leaned forward to hear better.

“I need to tell someone about the blood.  There’s so much blood on the deck.  No one ever tells you how slippery blood can be.  I almost fell down.  If I can find someone else still alive, I should tell them to lay down a towel.  Someone could sprain an ankle.

“I have memories now.  They aren’t mine, but I remember them.  I remember waking up next to Ellen on my last leave.  We’d just made love, and she lay there naked, her body glistening, the breeze from the ocean coming in through the open windows.  She smiled at me, and told me she loved me.  I smiled and told her I loved her too.  I held her down as I worked my index finger through her eye.  It’s harder than you think.  She struggled a lot, and her body was sweaty and slippery.  Like the decks.  Her screams hurt my ears, but she stopped when I felt my finger sink to the knuckle.  Wriggled it around, felt the squish.  It was better that she stopped screaming.  I don’t want her to wake the children.

The static surged for a moment, obscuring his voice, but faded back again. “… don’t think I really did that.  Maybe I did.  Maybe everything I thought was real is a lie.  Maybe the voices are God, telling me that my reality is just a thin blanket covering up what is true.  Maybe he’s telling me that the good and decent memories are the dream, and my wife twitching under me as I root around in her brain is the reality.

The static got louder.  It sounded odd.  Sperry leaned closer, his ear only inches away from the speaker.  Darrow’s voice struggled past the static.  “I don’t think I want to hear any more.  I hope it will turn it off.  I want to hear nothing.  I’m scared that when I pull this trigger, I’ll still have the memories.”

A brief pause, punctuate by the familiar rack of a pistol’s slide.  “If you find this, stay away.  The door is open.  We didn’t mean to open it, but it’s open.”

A few seconds, then Darrow choked out a sob.  “I’m sorry, Ellen.”

The gunshot barked out of the speakers.  Sperry jolted back, his eyes wide and hands shaking.  He felt his stomach lurch, and barely made it to the wastebasket in the corner on time.  The only sounds in the room were his retching and the static which was now blaring out the speakers.  He wiped his mouth, and gasped, “Turn it off.”

“Wait.”  Sperry turned and stared at Ryland in disbelief.  His old friend was white, and trembling, clutching the arms of the chair so hard his arms were shaking.  “There’s more.”

“How can there be more?  That was…”  Sperry’s voice trailed off, and he rose to his feet, slowly turning towards the recorder.

The static was becoming coherent, snaps and crackles merging together into syllables.  Barely coherent at first, the voices started scrabbling out of the cheap speakers, like ants boiling up from a destroyed anthill.  The words were alien and wrong, syllables that shouldn’t fit together merging to form words that were completely foreign, yet horribly familiar.  The words came together, until there was no static, no interference, just a snarling voice, neither female nor male, ancient and malevolent.

Baktosh mech lokrach R’yloth paroch medom fead baktosh mech lokrach R’yloth paroch medom fead baktosh meck lokrach R’yloth paroch medom FEAD BAKTOSH MECH LOKRACH R’YLOTH PAROCH MEDOM…”

Sperry leapt forward, grabbed the recorder, held it high above his head as if making an offering to some heathen god, and smashed it against the bare concrete floor.  The device exploded into shards of circuits and plastic, the voice cutting off abruptly, plunging the room into a deep and deafening silence, punctuated by small fragments and screws bouncing and rolling across the floor.

He stood, breathing heavily, goose pimples the size of grapes all over his exposed flesh.  His body was trembling, and he tried to bring himself under control.

“Did you…” Ryland took a deep breath, and stood.  “Did you hear it too?”

Sperry nodded slowly.

Ryland rubbed his face with his hands, wiping sweat off his brow.  “Did you understand it?”

Not wanting to look at his friend’s face, Sperry stared at the wreckage of the tape recorder for a full minute before whispering, “Yes.”

Letting out a deep breath, Ryland nodded.  “Me too.”

Sperry slowly walked back to his seat, and collapsed into it.  “The door is open.  The way…”

“The way is clear.”  Ryland walked around the table, and sat next to his friend.  Sperry turned to face him, and they both leaned forward, taking some comfort from the proximity.

Sperry looked his friend in the eye, and said, “What are you going to do?”

“We’ve destroyed every record we actually have of the event.  Those boxes are filled with false information documenting the events leading up to a torpedo malfunction that caused a hot run, a torpedo exploding in its tube.”  Ryland reached into his pocket, and pulled out a radio.  “The USS Greenville is standing by.  When I give the order, she’s going to fire two torpedoes into the Pennsylvania, sinking her.  The water’s about three thousand feet deep in that part of the ocean.”

Sperry nodded slowly.  “You’ll need help.  I can handle the subcommittee and the press if you can make sure that the military personnel involved stay quiet.”

“That won’t be a problem.  Only a dozen people know there wasn’t a hot run,” Ryland said.  Lifting the radio to his mouth, he spoke into it, his voice sounding strong and steady for the first time.  “Sergeant, contact Captain Granger on the Enterprise.  Tell him to execute orders Black Omega.”

The radio crackled.   “Yes, sir.”

Ryland sat back in his chair, tossing the radio on the table.  “That should do it.  The water’s over three thousand feet deep in that area.  Whatever’s on board that ship should stay there.”

“Really?”  Sperry rubbed his nose, closing his eyes tightly.  “We don’t have any idea what the hell that thing was.  It got loose on the Dolphin, so who’s to say that it didn’t get onto the other DSRV?”

“It’s been days.  We would have heard something by now.”

Sperry chuckled.  There was no humor to it.  “You know, I remember reading somewhere that when the Black Death first started appearing in Europe, the leaders of the Catholic Church said that those who fell victim to the disease did so because they hadn’t been to confession recently.  The population flooded to the churches, and everyone relaxed, certain that disaster had been forestalled.”

He stood up, and buttoned his coat.  “Over two million people had died before the Church admitted that they might have been mistaken.   We just ordered that sub torpedoed, and sent the mortal remains of over 150 servicemen to the bottom of the ocean.  That’s what we know for sure.  Beyond that, are we just trying to reassure ourselves that we know how to stop this thing?”

Ryland opened his mouth to speak, but he was interrupted by a knock at the door.  He held up a finger, and Sperry folded his arms, leaning back against the wall.  Ryland said, “Come in.”

The door opened, and the sergeant stepped inside.  “Admiral, I just got off the phone with Admiral Kellerman over in Pearl Harbor.”

Ryland nodded impatiently.  “Did he give confirmation?”

“No sir,” the sergeant said.  He frowned, and looked down at the notepad in his hands.  “He says he’s having trouble establishing contact with the Enterprise.  He tried three other ships in the task force, but no luck.  The admiral says he’ll contact you as soon as he makes contact.”

Blood thundered in Sperry’s ears as he met Ryland’s stare.  The sergeant was saying something else, but it sounded as if it was coming from far away.  Ryland was silent for a few moments, then quietly said, “Thank you, Sergeant.  That will be all.”

The sound of the door closing was the only thing in the room.  The room was silent, until Sperry sank into his chair and said, “What do we do now?”

Ryland shook his head slowly, the gesture erratic and jerky.  “I don’t know.”

  1. I am a total sucker for these kind of stories. Well done sir! :)

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