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This book is written in US English.
It all started when Clueless…that is, when Lt. JG Edward Cluze staggered onboard from liberty in a little town that shall remain nameless, somewhere above the Arctic Circle.
I could tell you the port, but then I’d have to kill you, military secrets being what they are and you not having the clearance I do.
Strictly speaking, I’m joking. After all, when a nuclear sub comes up, the heat bloom on satellite tells the whole fucking world where we are, but I’ve always wanted to say that to someone, and you seemed like a good bet for believing it.
Anyway, back to the story.
Clueless made it back. Pissed me off, because when 0200 local time. came and went, I’d bet he’d passed out somewhere in town and was busy making himself into an Officer-sicle that wouldn’t be discovered until the sun rose fully in a couple of months.
It wouldn’t have made me cry not to see him come back before we cast off, but it sure did tick me off to see him half-falling down the ladder, because that meant I was out twenty-five bucks to Diamond Dallas. Well, that and the fact that I’d have to deal with him for the rest of the underway. I could be one EOOW short, if it meant losing Clueless.
Who am I? Sorry about that. Maybe, I should have started with my name, but since this fuck-up wasn’t my fault, I figured I should start with Clueless Cluze. My name is Bob Leonard, otherwise known as Petty Officer Len. I run E-Div.
Yeah, Clueless thinks he has some say in it, but as I noted, he’s clueless. When the orders come down, the men listen to me, not Cluze. Why? Because they want to be alive at the end of the day….whenever that is.
You see, when you work on a sub, there is no night or day, really. There’s no going topside to see the sunlight. You don’t even keep the clocks on ‘home port time’ or even on the time of whatever time zone you’re in at the moment. The minute you cast off, you go to Zulu time, also known as Greenwich Mean Time. And that, my friend, is what started this whole mess rolling.
So, Clueless made it down the aft hatch in one piece, a miracle in the making, if you’re the praying sort. It might have been better for the crew of the MSP, if Clueless had been the praying sort, but he wasn’t. I’ve come to learn that you never could tell when a cross will come in handy, but we can get back to that later.
If he’d been an enlisted man, someone might have lifted a hand to help Cluze back to his rack. We’d been known to drag guys down and heft them into top racks, when they were far gone, but that was what we did for other enlisted guys. He wasn’t enlisted; he was an officer. A snot-nosed nub with a lot to learn about the Navy and submarines and…well, you can guess what I was going to say.
I can report, with confidence, that the nickname was a fitting one, because I was one of the luckless bastards who had to train him at S1C, the Nuke prototype that used to stand in Windsor, CT. About half of the pups who came through S1C were certifiably idiots, possessing two-five knowledge, at best. Two-five is the lowest passing score, and it essentially means that a student is smart enough to agree with the right answer to a question when told it by someone training him. Clueless was smart enough to agree…most days, or at least he was at S1C.
Cluze was worse than most. When the new bar code qual system was instated, we once qualified a box of grease pencils, just as a lark. I’m sorry to report that the grease pencils had a higher GPA than Clueless did. For that reason alone, when I’m particularly annoyed with Clueless, I tend to call him Greasy. He’s never understood it; typical for him.
At any rate, I gave Clueless just the right amount of shit for costing me twenty-five and not having the good grace to die like a man in the sub-zero temps. For those of you who have never been on a submarine, the right amount would be a verbal trouncing the likes of which sent one E-Divver off the sub in a straight jacket.
The weak link, as always, must be eradicated.
I paused in mid-rant, staring at his collar. For a moment, an instant in time, I would have sworn that he had lipstick on the white shirt. Then the blue…
Let me tell you a little something about ‘Navy Blue.’ It isn’t blue, at all. It’s black. What sick psychopath named it Navy blue, I will never know, but trust me on this one. There’s nothing blue about a Navy uniform, unless you’re talking dungarees or poopie suits.
Anyway, his jacket collar shifted and hid the spot of red from me, and common sense intruded rather quickly. Clueless was a long, tall drink of water with wild, red hair and an oversized nose that not even a Tromso-babe looking for an open wet bar and a US Navy baby would have taken up on a roll in the hay.
That was saying a lot, considering the fact that the US Navy was banned from Tromso, Norway after the first…and last visit a US Navy submarine had made there. It seems that the government of Norway didn’t like the population explosion some nine months later, courtesy of their universal health care system, from young women giving only “some US Navy submariner” as the Daddy’s name on the birth certificate.
It was no great surprise that the MSP had been the only sub to stop there. That was why we were stuck going even further north for a port than we had the last time.
So, it wasn’t lipstick. There was no way it was lipstick. Clueless must have cut himself shaving and managed to make it across the brow without someone noticing it and ruining his chances of down time in port. No one took more than one dress uniform on a cruise, so someone sending him back would have screwed Clueless completely, though the only reason it would have was because the CO was being an asshole and making us wear uniforms ashore in the first place.
Usually, we wore civvies, but when the Petty Tyrants start up, there is no reasoning with them. When the CO, also known as ‘the old man,’ though he was only ten years my senior, put that one down, there had nearly been a mutiny right then and there. Even the COB and Senior hadn’t been able to talk him down that time. But, liberty was liberty, even when you were freezing your ass off in sub-zero and perpetual night in uniform. It was better than being inside the black tube of death, and no one could argue that logic.
I may have lost twenty-five bucks to Diamond Dallas, but there I was with a piss-drunk JO who needed correction, on my way to the rack for a few hours down after standing my port and stupid. So, I blasted him properly and sent him to the rack, fully prepared to make sure he was the first one racked out when the start-up came due. I grinned the whole way back to the rack, imagining Clueless hung over on watch…or better yet, suffocated in the puddle of his own puke he’d likely soon be sleeping in.
I should probably warn you that submariners chuckle over things like that. Our unofficial motto is “Everything is funny until someone dies. Then it’s fucking hysterical.” That’s a code those of us who survive submarines live to religiously. You never know when someone is going to flick your balls or rim a mug just for the laugh.
Of course, if he’s stupid enough to rim it with the coffee in it… Believe it or not, that’s a standard nub mistake! Well, if he’s that stupid, he learns our second motto: “Stupidity should be painful.” In a case like that, the joke’s on him, you know?
Getting Clueless racked out was easier said than done. It took Cat Man and Diamond Dallas combined to get him up. By the time they finagled him out of the rack, looking a little worse for wear, they’d disturbed two other officers, and that is never a pretty sight.
When Cat Man practically pushed Clueless out of the tunnel and into the engine room, he announced that he’d never seen anyone manage ‘the sleep of the dead’ on board before. Usually submariners sleep light; even the ventilation fans cutting out will wake them, but not Clueless. Not that night or any night after that he slept.
Or was it day? I guess it was day, though we were so far north that there was little or no day to the day. Never mind that. I’ve gotten off the subject again…sort of.
Torturing Clueless that watch was sweet justice. It was always good entertainment when some nub thought he could drink with the big boys. In ten years, I hadn’t met a nub that could drink me under the table, and that included Lonnie, a monster of a man who weighed in at more than double my one-seventy-five and stood a full six-feet-four in height.
It didn’t surprise us that Clueless couldn’t look at food or stand the smell of coffee. That’s how you can tell a true submariner, by the way. A true submariner can drink tar-thick coffee in any state from hung-over to state five seas.
Clueless had never been cut out to be a submariner, and we all knew it. The only thing we had to do was drive him crazy…or drive him to go AWOL. We’d done both to weak links before, and he was undeniably the weak link of the current underway.
If he was an older man, we could drive him to a heart attack, as Cat Man and I had done with the former COB, but that was unlikely with Clueless. He worked out and ate as healthy as one could on a submarine. No, it would have to be insanity or UA with Clueless.
We cast off near the end of the watch, and everyone back aft waited patiently, hoping Clueless would lose what little he had in his stomach before we managed to dive.
The time a submarine spends on the surface is the roughest it gets. It’s made to be steady as a rock underwater; but in all honesty, a submarine is little better than a bobber up top.
Once again, Clueless disappointed me, but at least I didn’t lose any money on him that time. That bet was between Diamond Dallas and Lonnie, and Lonnie was none too happy about losing five on the nub, though Diamond was rolling in dough after two winning bets in the past twelve hours.
The fact that Clueless slept a portion of his down-time, ignoring his forward quals, and didn’t eat added fuel to the fire. He was easier to rack out for the next watch, but he still wasn’t eating…and he was looking more than a little pale.
Maybe, we should have seen something bad coming then, but who expects anything but what we see every day?
He took shit when he was still dragging the next day, but it was the third day that finally snapped me.
“What is wrong with you?” I finally demanded, not bothering with the ‘sir’ that we both knew was said with the highest disdain and distaste when I did bother with it.
Clueless pushed at his collar, fidgeting, brown eyes half hidden by the dark circles beneath them. The bruises on the side of his throat caught my eye, and I grabbed his collar, uncovering them.
“What is this shit?” I asked, more interested than frustrated now.
It wasn’t a hickey. Not that I thought Clueless could get a hickey. No, this looked more like two fingertip bruises. The certainty that someone was testing out the Vulcan neck pinch on him brought a smile to my face. Now, would Clueless admit to it or not?
“She bit me.”
“She? She who?” There were no women on submarines. Maybe it worked. Maybe he’s finally cracking, and we can get rid of him.
“The woman in port. The one I…” He darkened, yet more proof that he didn’t belong on a submarine. “The one I picked up at the bar and took back to her room.”
I pushed Clueless away. “Nice try. Why don’t we try something believable, like aliens or the Loch Ness Monster?”
“You don’t think I can get laid?” It was a petulant complaint at best.
“No, I don’t.” Might as well be honest, right? “What really happened? Did Diamond Dallas play Spock on your ass?”
“Can it, Len. I got laid, and she bit me.”
I couldn’t help it; I laughed. “No, really. What woman would—”
“A really gorgeous one, now can it. I wish I knew what the hell she did to me.” Clueless wandered off, looking befuddled, murmuring something about seeing Doc.
A niggling of unease settled in my stomach. He’d sounded rational about the whole thing. My hopes that he was going over the edge sank. I’d seen more than a few men crack in ten years, and none of them went with such quiet confusion.
It was three days later when things started to get really weird. Clueless was looking healthier, but the COB was looking pretty rocky, not that the COB ever looked good, especially since his wife had left him a week into that deployment. Now, I probably don’t have to note that I was no sadder to see the COB under the weather than I was to see Clueless there, but a COB in a foul mood is even more of headache material than a JO that thinks he knows what he’s doing.
After little more than a minute’s consideration, I decided that it was boat crud snapping at their heels. I grumbled at the COB to keep his distance and not give it to me, though I knew from long experience that no one escaped boat crud. With the air recirculation, it just kept circling and getting more virulent until it was a near-death sentence for the folks back home, but we became immune…after three or four passes with mutated strains.
Would that it had actually been boat crud, I wouldn’t be writing this shit down now. Of course, no one ever said life was fair or boring, especially not on a submarine.
It moved quickly after that. Every three to five days, an increasing number of the crew came down ill, staggered cases appearing over a few days. The worst part was that those who’d been sick before seemed to only have a few days’ reprieve before going downhill again. It was downright weird, like nothing Doc had ever seen.
As each man fell ill, he exhibited the same ugly bruising, some on their throats and some on their shoulders or wrists. Some were confused about how they got them, some royally hacked off that they’d managed to catch “the new crud.” It was nearly always two bruises…sometimes four, about the same size and the same distance apart. Damn, it was spooky.
If we’d been on a carrier, we’d have had the ability to check CBC or other blood tests that might have given us insight into what the problem was, like Doc itched to. Of course, if we were on a carrier, there would have been other ways to find out precisely what was going on.
But, Petty Tyrant hadn’t given up on his power trip yet, so there we were, cruising around the North Atlantic while the crew fell ill, one after another…after another after another.
People started getting edgy. Everyone was watching their backs. Rack assignments were switched around. Those who were well refused to hot rack with those who were sick. In short order, they had separated sick from well and shuffled all the sick into nine-man berthing. When the affected overran nine-man, then twenty-one man and moved into forward berthing, things really got tense…mutinous tense.
Planning a mutiny on a submarine isn’t usually what civilians imagine it to be. Normally, it falls into the sanity-saving column of aberrant behavior. Every once in a while, someone gets bored and just a tad over the whole ‘Petty Tyrant’ routine and blocks out how he could best accomplish taking over the boat, getting it to port and getting the hell off…or he plans how he would take out all but a dozen or so of the crew and go smuggler with the sub. Your shipmates might even look over your shoulder, offer hints and move on. If it’s a really bad cruise, the Chiefs might get in on the fun.
It’s when things start getting serious that you should worry about it. It got serious pretty quickly. It wasn’t just me planning a mutiny anymore. It was every man left in aft berthing, and since none of us were hot racking it, that made about a hundred and twenty guys down from a crew of just over a buck-fifty…and thirty or so planning not to go next, planning so hard that we’d welded the door between us and forward berthing shut. It had only been a little over a month since Clueless had gone sick, so we were understandably concerned about being next.
Luckily, Rosenbloom, a stand-up A-ganger worth his weight in approved leave chits, had been cross- trained as a Naviguesser, so figuring out where we were and where we wanted to be wasn't all that difficult. Unfortunately, we were far from anywhere we could find shelter once we'd escaped the boat. That complicated things.
Diamond Dallas suggested that we had one more possible ally, someone we hadn’t brought into our little mutiny scam thus far, someone that could make our flight to freedom a hell of a lot easier, if he stopped playing Petty Tyrant long enough to do it. As it was, it was likely that the CO was only healthy because of his state room; the seclusion probably saved his ass…and the lock on his door.
Appealing to his non-existent concern for his men was a waste of time. That was evidenced by his refusal to tell SUBLANT about our medical mess, his refusal to seek port and medical aid, his refusal to ease off on our ‘mission’ in any way. The only thing left for us was appealing to his common sense.
Unfortunately, Petty Tyrant, or PT for short, had no common sense. That’s probably how he reached the position of CO in the first place.
“What is it now, Petty Officer Leonard?”
Oh, yeah. Did I mention that I got the shit duty of trying to talk the Tyrant down? Probably not. To this day, I don’t know if Diamond Dallas honestly thought I could do it, or he hoped I’d snap and kill the son of a bitch.
“I think something very wrong is happening here, sir.” Hell, yes, I said sir! I was pulling out all the stops on this one. I’d play to his vanity if it got me off the damned boat.
He sighed. “For instance?”
“The Mess Decks has used one-fifth of the usual rations for the last three days.” We were getting ready for the next batch of ill, and based on the progression, there wouldn’t be a single man well when that time came.
“And this is news? Every time you start planning a mutiny, people stop eating.” He didn’t even snap it. Didn’t the man have the… Okay, everyone knew he didn’t have the sense God gave a goose, but it was his ass on the line, here.
“It’s not that simple, sir. Some of these people haven’t eaten in the last month.”
“They must have found some great hideaway,” he mused.
I could tell he was replaying the drawings of the sub in his head, trying to figure out where anyone would hide a month’s worth of food.
I shook my head. “No, I don’t just mean they aren’t eating Gorilla Head. I mean…they aren’t eating at all.”
“That’s impossible,” he dismissed me.
“Oh, it’s possible. To top it off, some of the men aren’t sleeping.” Mainly, it was Clueless and the COB, those that were afflicted longest.
“What do you mean? They have insomnia? That is a concern for Doc, not—”
“Again, I mean…at all. I charted out what Clu… I mean, I charted out what Lieutenant Cluze has done in the last three days. He’s either been on watch, getting quals or attending meetings twenty-four-seven for the last three days. Not an hour of down time anywhere in there.”
And not a shower or head break that I could verify, though he didn’t smell it. The two good things about this whole situation were no prima donnas hogging the shower and no lines on the Mess Decks.
“Good man. Maybe I’ll put him in for a commendation.”
I bit back the urge to throttle him. “Don’t you think that’s just a little weird, sir?” I inquired.
“What? You’ve never gone a few days without sleep. I seem to remember, when the TG went—”
“In an emergency,” I conceded. “This is no emergency.”
It was usually the Nukes who got screwed in an emergency, hence the old adage: “One ship, one crew, one shaft, back aft.” Nukes got the punch line of that ditty in every possible meaning of the word.
Nukes learned to hate the Navy quicker than most rates, at least on a submarine. The worst possible thing you could taunt the average Nuke with was drinking him to death and putting ‘lifer’ on his gravestone.
Don’t let anyone fool you with stories to the contrary. The truth is that the only reason for SRBs is to avoid paying to educate a whole new batch of Nukes every six years. You have to appeal to the base interests of the Nukes. Better than most, they realize they are prostituting themselves, selling body and soul for a few bucks.
The lure of money works once. Maybe twice. After that, sanity kicks in and most of them dive for the door rather than sign on. Who can blame them?
Right about then, I was cursing myself for re- enlisting the second time. The multiple had been stellar, but the payoff had ceased to matter about the time that deployment had been moved up by three months.
The PT’s voice broke through my exhausted musings.
“You’re right. It’s not an emergency.” His raised eyebrow let me know that he considered the matter closed.
Again, the need to throttle him rose up, stronger than it had been when he’d decreed the food poisoning on the last deployment was the fault of E-Div for the sanitizer being two degrees low and not the fault of the cooks for leaving food in the warmer for eight straight hours, stronger even than it had been when PT had announced that sending mail home from a port was a threat to National Security. As if ‘I love you’ would be the loose lips that would sink us, but I’m off topic again.
I managed to nod and made my way down to the Mess Decks again. After all, since they obviously didn’t eat, it was relatively safe.
Cat Man looked up, a cup of the paint thinner that passed for coffee in hand. We’d run out of the good stuff we’d brought on board with us some time earlier; Navy fare was all we had left, but it would keep us awake, and that was the important thing. We slept in shifts, never all of us at once and never leaving a sleeping crew unprotected in aft berthing.
The Navy had trained us well for this, since the rules state that they only have to give us one meal and one hour of sleep in every twenty-four. I’d been short-changed on that more than a few times in my life, and so had every man I trusted.
“So?” Cat Man queried, though I could tell he already knew the answer I had for him.
“Asshole,” I grumbled.
Diamond Dallas snorted in mirthless laughter. “Did you kill him?”
“If I had, I’d already be in the weapons locker, don’t you think?”
“Guess so. What now?”
My silent musing that I only needed three minutes to crack the weapons locker was cut short by Garibaldi barreling toward us, wide-eyed and pale for a man with an olive complexion. “I saw… I know…”
He gasped it out, making me raise an eyebrow in disbelief. The semi-annual brush with death required a mile and a half run, and there was nowhere on a sub that you should be able to wind yourself.
Garibaldi wasn’t my favorite person on the best of days. I respected him, because he could take an order, he did his job well and he was one of the best for looking the other way when someone had to break a few safety protocols along the way. If he’d just keep religion out of the engine room, I’d probably like him a lot more, but I’ve come to appreciate a little religion over the last few weeks.
“Cat got your tongue,” Cat Man taunted.
Garibaldi turned beat red then rushed into the galley and grabbed a plastic shaker the size of his forearm, knocking over several others in his haste. He ignored the crank’s shout of protest and returned to us, opening the cap and sprinkling the powder over himself…then us.
I sneezed, waving my hand in front of my face, coughing on the cloud of garlic dust. “What the fuck are you doing, Garibaldi?” It was the wrong day to mess with me.
Don’t take me the wrong way. There were days I would have loved to crack Garibaldi, though he was a productive body, and we needed those, but this wasn’t that day.
“Protecting us…well, if the stories are true.”
Diamond Dallas wiped garlic away from his eyes with a look of disgust. “He’s left the torpedo tube,” he quipped.
“Just wait. They’ll be here in a minute. Then you’ll see. Or, if I’m wrong…we’re dead, I guess.”
Cat Man stared at Diamond Dallas, and then they both turned to stare at me.
Great! Usually, I like being the LPO, but sometimes, it really sucks the big one. I sighed. “Just slow down and tell me—”
“Cluze and Adams. I saw them in the laundry room, and—”
Diamond Dallas cursed softly. “Is that all? Come on. We catch guys every couple of deployments. You know—”
“Not screwing, you idiot!”
I held up my hand for the break I needed to try and make sense of this, waving away the crank who’d come out to complain about the mess of garlic powder. “Start at the be…”
The words stuck in my throat at the sight of Clueless in the doorway. His skin was a ruddy hue again…well, as ruddy as it gets when you’ve seen nothing but fluorescent for the last eighty or so days, but that wasn’t what made my heart skip to a non-rhythm.
That was accomplished by the fangs in his mouth, little pointed teeth about half again as long as normal canine teeth and thin as needles for the extra length, and the drops of blood just south of his lower lip. I no longer had to ask what Garibaldi had seen in the laundry room. I was pretty certain I had the full story unfolding in my brain.
As unlikely as it sounded, Clueless had really gotten laid in port, and the bitch had really bitten him. Of course, she was probably pretty hard-up. She’d wanted a meal. By all accounts, Clueless didn’t have much else to offer a woman, so the meal must have been the sum total of her interest in him.
The crank’s scream made me jump, but I found myself rooted to the bench as he grabbed the garlic out of Garibaldi’s hands and dumped a healthy dose over his head.
“This is a joke, right?” the skinny teen asked. “This is some sort of hazing?”
“Fuck, no,” Cat Man whispered, shaking his head as if he could dislodge what he was seeing. I could tell his mind was as blank a void as the railing he’d put the ball bearings in; in fact, I could almost hear the same metal swish and tink as he moved his cranium back and forth.
For a long moment, no one moved. Clueless bobbed forward then back again, his eyes narrowing, his tongue cleaning the blood from his face. He stepped toward us then recoiled, his fangs receding. “Garlic? Shit, I won’t be able to pass through here until it’s properly cleaned up. That was cold, Garibaldi.”
"Bite me," the big Italian managed in a half- laugh.
It was so out of character for him that I found myself laughing too.
The crank squeaked then cleared his throat. “If that’s true, I’m never cleaning it. I’ll go to mast first. Green carpet, here I come.”
Clueless wasn’t amused. He stepped toward us again, and Garibaldi fumbled the heavy silver cross from under his poopie suit, holding it out in front of him like a shield. Based on how quickly Clueless backpedaled, I gathered that part of the legend was true too.
“You can’t stay in here forever,” he spat at us.
The truth of the matter stunned me. “Don’t have to. If you can’t come near the garlic, all I have to do is walk past you and…” I stood and strode to him, ignoring the crank’s groan.
As I expected, Clueless backed off, bolting halfway down the passageway.
Hot damn! Now we’re cooking with fire. I turned to the others. “Grab as much garlic as you can find. Powder everyone who’s healthy down then meet me in the engine room.”
“Anything you say,” the crank professed.
“Not you, nub. You stay here and protect our food stores.”
“What? Are you nuts? They’ll—”
Cat Man smacked him in the back of the head. His smile announced how good it felt to do it. “What are you? Stupid? You heard…that thing. You’re covered in garlic and have it all over the Mess Decks. You’re safe here. Just stay between them and the food, or we’re screwed.”
“If they can’t come in here, why do I have to guard it?” He was being petulant now, showing his youth and inexperience…and pissing me off.
I turned on him with the look that sent men scrambling. He swallowed hard, a sure indication that he knew murderous intent when he saw it.
“Better,” I growled at him. “Now… If you’re not here, they can just get a couple of sacrificial lambs to clean the shit up and starve us out.”
“And what the hell am I supposed to do if they do show up here?” he asked hopelessly. “Attack them with my bare hands or something?”
Cat Man barked in laughter. “Try crossing two knives in front of you,” he suggested.
I sighed, a headache coming on from the overpowering scent of garlic and lack of sleep. “Try walking toward them. They have to back off. Isn’t that right…”
I swallowed the rest, along with a bitter curse. Clueless was gone. That meant it was a race against time, and like it or not, Clueless wasn’t completely clueless.
“Let’s move it,” I ordered. “On second thought… Garibaldi! You’re double-protected. Collect Lonnie and clean out the ammo locker. Bring it all down to the engine room.” Between Garibaldi and Lonnie, they could carry everything we needed and more.
“Drop one off to me on the way,” the crank suggested.
“Fuck, no,” I replied, unable to stop myself from abusing the new weak link among us. “I’m not giving you a chance to create a casualty we’ll have to fix. The men with Fish get the guns. They know what not to shoot at.”
He mumbled a couple of curses that earned him another warning look from me. Confident that he knew I’d kill him with little provocation, we set out to accomplish our many tasks.
We racked everyone out. Some of them weren’t happy with the situation, but that was their problem, not mine. They sobered up PDQ and got with the program when they realized we were serious and sane… well, as sane as any submariner who has done three deployments in less than two years can be.
We managed to get them down to the engine room without interference from the undead. In fact, we didn’t see hide nor hair of them, which probably meant they were having their own powwow, deciding how to get the last of the blood on board.
All said, twenty-six of the thirty made it safely to the engine room and tunnel. We figured that the vamps got the rest of us, a belief that was later proven sound. We talked over the sound of cutting metal and welding, and before long, we all had the extra layer of protection a quickly-constructed cross offered.
Rosenbloom fingered his in distaste, but he left it hanging around his neck.
About halfway through this little adventure, Lonnie and Garibaldi showed up, banging on the closed hatch, carting M-16s, shotguns and pistols, along with all the ammo on board. There weren’t enough guns for everyone, so most of the guys were assigned work-teams, one gun between them. They would eat together, sleep in shifts and even go to the head together. We weren’t taking chances on anything, now that we knew what we were dealing with.
The manic glee on Cat Man’s face as he loaded his shotgun made me smile.
“What are you thinking?” I asked, knowing his sense of humor…and of irony matched my own pretty well. In short, I could take a solid guess what was running through his mind.
He didn’t disappoint me. “Remember when we talked about your plan for downsizing the Navy?” he asked.
I grinned, nodding. Oh, yes. I remembered it well. As I recalled, I said that we should give the Nukes handguns and set them loose with them. After a few days, one of them would snap and kill some dead weight. When word got around that he hadn’t been punished, the weeding out would start in earnest. The weak links would go. The dead weight would go. The annoying assholes would go. About ninety-five percent of the officers would go.
Speaking of which, Clueless was a lot more clueless than I’d given him credit for. His grand plan involved getting the PT involved. I would laugh at the absurdity of it, if it hadn’t been such a serious moment. Okay, I’m lying. It was a riot, even then.
The CO walked onto the Mess Decks, puffed up, his eyes moving from the crank sharpening a knife welded to a metal mop handle to Cat Man, busy cleaning his shotgun. His face paled. In true form, he decided to attack the most inane thing first.
“What is this mess? Jakes, clean this up!”
The crank looked to me, noted the minute shake of my head and went back to sharpening his weapon. I didn’t argue it. The nub was a lot less dangerous with a spear than a projectile weapon. At least, he couldn’t cause flooding with it.
Petty Tyrant lunged to grab Jakes by the collar, and the teen moved, bringing his weapon up to just beneath the CO’s chin. No one offered outrage. No one was surprised by the turn of events. It had been inevitable that one of us would end up with a weapon to the old man’s person sooner or later. If it hadn’t happened there and then, it was going to happen in another twelve hours. So, what was the difference if we got in on the action a little early?
“I told you, Captain,” Clueless intoned. “They’re not kidding this time. It’s mutiny. We should head south. Let the Marines handle this.”
I held my breath, praying that PT would stay true to form. Clueless’s plan was all too clear to me. Sure… Pop the hatch to bring in the Marines, overpower them and you have a hundred plus vampires on a feeding frenzy on a ship that carries a normal compliment of seven-thousand men.
Shit! That sucks.
I needn’t have worried about PT. Once a tyrant, always a tyrant. “And have it said that I need the Marines to keep order on my own boat? Hell, no.” And we all knew he wouldn’t report a mutiny and risk having another fast attack sink us.
“They have the weapons, Captain. How else do you suggest we stop them?” His eyes glowed red, probably a sign of his fury and frustration, but the PT couldn’t see that with his back turned.
A sudden inspiration struck me. “You know, you don’t have any more fresh blood flowing around here, Clueless. None that isn’t protected pretty damned well, that is.”
I hadn’t thought it was possible for a vampire to blush, but he did, probably high on the infusion he’d gotten from Adams earlier in the day. Or was it night? As I said, it’s easy to lose track on a submarine.
I smiled at his reaction. “Unless, of course, you want to count the pain in the ass, over here. He’s too much trouble to be an ally to us. He might as well keep being an enemy. Don’t you agree?”
Cat Man snickered. I imagine he was trying to hold it in, but the mental image of the fallout from this one was too much for him. It was nearly too much for me.
Clueless was a little slower on the uptake. His smile widened, and he drooled. I’m not kidding! The son of a bitch actually drooled. “Well, of course the Captain is my ally and not yours,” he answered silkily.
Jakes shot me a look of disbelief.
I shrugged. “Well, he’s always been something of a bloodsucker,” I offered brightly. Why not let him become a more visible one? And, better that I arrange to make PT a pain in Clueless’s ass instead of mine. That was sure to happen, even if Clueless was too stupid to see it coming.
The pup nodded and pushed the CO to Clueless, shuddering.
“Maybe, you shouldn’t watch this, Jakes,” I instructed.
After all, he was a nub. Even if he wasn’t one of my own sea pups, I had a duty to protect him from himself and anything else I could. Weak link of the lot or not, he was one of us, and we couldn’t afford to lose too many more. Besides, he was a better cook than anyone else we had left, and as a crank, it wasn’t even his rate to be one. Truth be told, Jakes was a sonar man in training, but he made a mean trapezoid.
“This is a sight for men,” I finished.
Jakes nodded and hurried into the galley, turning his back on the scene to come.
Garibaldi followed him with a grumbled, “I’ve seen it.”
No one argued him leaving. He had seen it, and it had been Garibaldi’s quick thinking that had saved the rest of us.
I was wrong. I just want to mention that. I was right in that Jakes didn’t need to see it. I was wrong when I said it was a sight for men. It was safe to say that the bulk of our security force were stalwart men, but it was a little much, even for us.
The first moves Clueless made were sensual, uncomfortably so. Submariners make jokes about their bitches, but the truth of the matter is, it’s still very much a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ situation.
A couple of us knew that Lonnie swung both ways, but he kept it at home and never came on to anyone. Besides, he was good people, always on the scene of a casualty and on top of repairs. The crew owed their lives to me a couple of times over, but they also owed them to Lonnie, and that wiped away a lot of mistrust in the submarine force.
Clueless locked eyes with the PT, and whatever the older man had been shouting about died out. I can't tell you what he was going on about. True, I filtered out about seventy percent of what the old man said anyway, but I was paying even less attention than usual, my hair standing on end as Clueless's eyes turned fully blood- red.
The feeding wasn’t sensual at all. It was noisy, stomach-turning stuff. For one thing, a vampire’s jaws unlock, leaving him looking like a scarier version of the Guinea Pig scene from V. There was something wholly disconcerting about the PT standing there, taking it like he would die without being sucked nearly dry, sighing in contentment.
Diamond Dallas screwed up his face, looking a little green around the gills.
The sound of retching brought my head around. Tachi had lost his lunch on the deck plates closest to the action, and shivers wracked his body.
I forced myself to speak. “Now you know for sure. Don’t forget it. It’s us against them, and I don’t intend to lose.”
There were a few murmurs and nods, but the majority of the men stood stock-still, watching the feeding in dumbstruck horror.
Things moved quickly after that. The vampires were always around our groups, but they never dared come close. They’d tested our safe areas and found them secure. Amazing what a little spray adhesive and garlic powder will do when placed on a door or threshold.
We extended our safe zones little by little, chasing the vampires out of control, then securing the space. That was a timed effort, held in conjunction with driving them out of the engine room. The hatch back aft was booby trapped along with the rest.
This was necessary, you see. If the vampires held either the engine room and reactor or the con, they could destroy us all. We needed both.
Of course, no plan is perfect. Just as we were feeling damned proud of ourselves for taking the boat without a fight and holding it for almost a day, they fired a torpedo tube…one of the two Tomahawkes we had on board. At least, we assumed it was a Nuke. That was what had been staged and ready.
There was silence. With the map on the monitor, I searched for anything close enough for them to have hit. Fuck me! There was a small port in the ice-locked northern Russian states not too far off the starboard side.
My mind worked fast. We could listen in on civilian bands. If they took out anything of note with the Nuke, we’d know soon enough. Even if they’d set it off on the ocean floor that close to a population center, it had attracted a hell of a lot of notice, without doubt. Either way, they had probably just started World War III. Every Russian boat and ship within range would be swarming for us. It was time to go deep, go straight south and go like a bat out of hell.
“Fuck me,” I grumbled. “They still have another one.”
“And the conventionals,” Cat Man reminded me. “They can do damage and make a lot of noise with those, too. The only thing in our favor is that this isn’t a boomer. No ICBMS.”
My frustration got the better of me. “Why the hell did we bring Nukes with us?”
The silence was absolute. I’m sure no one could formulate an answer that wouldn’t entice me to pull up my shotgun to open fire, though whether we carried Nukes wasn’t a decision anyone in the room had made.
The whoop of the sound-powered phone broke the stillness, and everyone turned to look at it. No one moved.
Again, it was going to fall to me. “I never knew carrying out a mutiny would be such a pain in the ass,” I growled, grabbing it up. “Having fun, Clueless?” I asked. I didn’t question who would be calling me. Who else would?
“Loads,” he gloated. “Like the fireworks? It’s like the Fourth, huh? Well, except for the itty bitty mushroom cloud, that is.”
Fuck! It was a Nuke. “If you turn the Earth into molten slag, it’s going to be a little difficult for you to get food, you know.”
“I won’t turn it all to slag. I’ll just take out the big players and then enjoy the rest.”
“What? You’ve never read On The Beach?” I challenged.
“What’s that? Some beach bunny porn novel?”
“I should have remembered my audience. You know… Only you could be stupid enough to pick up a vampire in a bar and become dinner, Greasy.”
“I don’t recall movie monsters being on my qual card at S1C.”
“I don’t recall much of anything being on that qual card that wasn’t a mercy grade, and I scrubbed as many of those as I could.”
“I’m still here, aren’t I?”
“Yeah. And, I’m still here. One way or the other, we’re getting off this tin can. Where you go after that is none of my concern. Go as far north as you can find settlements and keep your ass there for all I care. Feed on polar bears or something. The only thing I ask is for you to back off and let us go.”
“It’s not that simple. We have to eat. We’re going to eat, Len.”
“Eat each other. You’re not getting one of us.”
His laughter echoed over the line, a truly mad sound, and then he was gone.
I hung the phone back on the hook, my mind working fast. What could his plan be?
His plan, it turned out, was using hoses and seawater to try and wash the garlic off of the men in the Mess Decks. ‘Mess’ was the right word for what happened. Not only had Clueless forgotten the crosses, but he’d forgotten some of his vampire lore. Shotgun blasts to the heart or neck did a pretty good job of killing them.
I had a momentary rush of hope. If we could kill them all off… The reality of the situation crushed that in moments, the pure math our enemy. We didn’t have all that many shotgun shells, and some would surely miss. It would take a lot more bullets from an M-16 or 9mm to accomplish the same level of damage. And, we were facing one-hundred and twenty-six undead. No fucking way could we kill them all! It was better to save the ammo for emergencies like the one we’d just faced.
Worse, the vampires went on some sort of feeding frenzy, probably the smell of blood from their dead buddies. In short order, the bodies had been drained dry and carted off to the torpedo tubes for disposal. One rather overzealous undead tried to lick the cooling blood from the deck plates. That didn’t last long. There was wet garlic mixed in with the blood, and he left in disgust.
The next four days were pretty damned tense. I didn’t sleep more than a few catnaps here and there, and I don’t think anyone else fared better. We had one eye on the vampires roaming the boat and the other on the Russian subs we could hear trailing us.
Of course, we were all worried that there might be another fast attack we couldn’t hear trying to trail us as well. At least, the living crew members were worried about it. Not that there was a thing we could do about the situation. Since both boats were so quiet, it was likely we’d crash into each other before either one of us knew the other was there.
Then what would we do? If we tried to run, they’d blast us out of the water. If we admitted what we were doing, they’d blast us out of the water, either because we were mutineers and somebody on board had fired a Nuke at a civilian target without orders…or because they believed nutcases had control of the ship and had fired… Ah, forget that discussion. You get the idea.
Apparently, Clueless decided my idea for keeping themselves alive wasn’t half bad. I almost regretted goading him about it three days into our flight from the Nuke incident. Almost… As long as they were living off of each other, they weren’t trying to lay into our necks, and that was good news.
The PT went first. I imagine that Clueless got tired of the old man insisting that he was in charge. It’s occurred to me many times that vampires have little use for rank outside of who created whom. Since Clueless was the master creator on the sub, he had the clout, and he didn’t take kindly to the old man demanding the same standing he’d had before he’d been turned.
After that, they took down their weakest and least useful members to sustain the strongest core, weeding the ranks as I’d once suggested doing with handguns. By the time we neared the port we intended to use, they had weeded themselves down to forty-five vampires. I realize that’s still an enormous threat, but it was a hell of a lot better than a hundred and twenty-six, you know.
The port was in chaos. If you want to know the truth, it was hell on Earth. There were riots and panicking people in the streets. We figured the war had started without us. The docks were abandoned, which made offloading twenty-six weary and half-crazed sailors in stealth a breeze.
That was both good news and bad. The good news was that the governments of the world would be too damned busy to worry about the heat bloom on satellite. The bad news was that we’d have to tough it out, hope we weren’t shot as spies and try to convince the US government that we weren’t defectors or deserters when we finally managed to make it back to a friendly Marine at a consulate somewhere.
Then again, we were leaving an armed US submarine in the hands of a hostile force, but we could fight the right and wrong of that situation with whatever higher power was left alive in a year.
We took our weapons, personal belongings, food and as much ‘special supplies’ as we could haul with us. As a last challenge, Clueless offered us the chance to join him. I won’t repeat what I said to him verbatim, but I’m sure you know me well enough to figure out which four-letter terms of endearment I used. I even told him that the first to follow us would be shot with the remaining shotgun shells.
No shit, there we were: twenty-six completely wired US Navy submariners in civvies, sea bags strapped to our shoulders, weapons in hand, standing on a foreign dock in the North Atlantic. Damned if it didn’t feel great to be out of that tin can, better than it had ever felt before, and I’d had ten years of ‘before’ to compare it to.
Sure, we were standing in hell, fires burning on the horizon.
Fires will keep us warm tonight.
We didn’t speak the language.
Hell, a lot of people in this area speak passable English.
We had military IDs but no passports.
So what! Military IDs will get us all over Europe and even home.
I took a deep breath. “Well, let’s get the fuck out of here.”
“Where are we going to go?” That came from Jakes, his nose dark red and his breath so thick, it looked like cream filling.
“Away from the gunfire. Anywhere but back to the damned black tube of death.” Funny, that term had never been more appropriate.
It was cruising away slowly, probably cautious because of the lack of a tug to help them out of the harbor.
We were off the pier and skirting around town when the group surrounded us. We had no question what we faced. We’d seen enough of the undead in the last few weeks to imprint the breed into our senses. Their non-smell gave them away…and the way they moved. Most of all, those red eyes and fangs did.
“Fuck me,” I breathed. “Can’t I get a break?” The certainty that Clueless knew very well what we’d been walking into assaulted me, making me cold as even the night wind north of the Arctic Circle couldn’t.
I didn’t question why he didn’t tag along for the fun. On the sub, he was king of the vampires. Out here, there were likely higher-ranking ones than him. Better to stay ahead of the war and make his followers think he was top of the food chain than end up someone else’s midnight snack when they ran out of humans.
“What the hell is going on here?” Jakes asked in a cracking voice.
“The apocalypse,” I guessed. “Only World War III isn’t about Nukes and Daisy Cutters, pup.” Not yet, anyway! Sooner or later, someone’s going to decide to try an incinerate them all. Then all bets are off. It will be the MOAB then and nothing less. “It’s the war with the vampires.”
“Very good,” one of the undead answered in a heavy accent.
The ring took one step toward us, and twenty- six crosses came up in unison. They stopped, and the leader scowled at us.
“Just what I’d expect from an American,” he spat. “But, how long can you hold out against us?”
I didn’t answer, my mind working hard at that. At this longitude, we’d have only a few hours of sunlight per day. Those would probably be best spent sleeping safely. If we went south, we’d gradually gain equal days. If we stayed north, we’d ping pong between the long winter and the bright summer. Either way, we’d be hunted to extinction eventually.
“Petty Officer Len?” Jakes pleaded, his hands shaking.
“Yes, Petty Officer Len,” the lead vampire chuckled. “How long can you hold out?”
I smiled, the same manic smile I’d used to scare off JOs on the MSP when I was about to do something highly illegal. The vampire’s smile faltered. He was playing with a master, and it was time he learned what a real monster I could be.
“We have tradesmen of all sorts and training to boot.” My hand landed on Jakes’ shoulder. “And, we like Italian food. Can eat it every damn day.” If it meant getting the upper hand for a while, we’d live on garlic bread. I was certain we could find stores of garlic in the ruins. It wasn’t like they would touch the stuff, after all.
I met the undead eyes, staring me down. “How long will we fight you? Until we have only a bullet left for each of us, Dracula. Take it to the bank.
“And if any of you are stupid enough to attack us… We’ve killed your kind before, but try it. You see, we have a couple of mottos we live by. The first goes ‘Stupidity should be painful’.”
“And the other?” he growled, his eyes a hotter shade of red that warmed my resolve.
“Everything’s funny until somebody dies. Then it’s fucking hysterical. Eighty-three men have died in the last couple of weeks. I should probably warn you that none were my own.”
He backed off a step, scenting the madness of a Nuke submariner in full bloom. Oh, yes. This was one challenge I was more than looking forward to. Seeing the vampire die would be more than hysterical, and enlisted Nukes are anything but stupid.
About the Author
Brenna Lyons wears many hats, sometimes all on the same day: former president of EPIC, author of more than 100 published works, owner of Fireborn Publishing, columnist, special needs teacher, wife, mother…and member in good standing of more than 60 writing advocacy groups.
In her first ten years published in novel-length, she’s won 3 EPIC e-Book Awards (out of 15 finalists) and finaled for 3 PEARLS (including one Honorable Mention, second to NY Times Bestseller Angela Knight), 2 CAPAS, and a Dream Realm Award. She’s also taken Spinetingler’s Book of the Year for 2007.
Brenna writes in 26 established worlds plus stand-alones, poetry, articles and essays. She’s a bestseller in indie/e fantasy and horror, straight genre and cross-genres thereof. Brenna has been termed “one of the most deviant erotic minds in the publishing world…not for the weak.” (Rachelle for Fallen Angels Reviews) Milieu-heavy dark work is practically Brenna’s calling card, with or without the erotic content.
She teaches classes in everything from POV studies to advanced editing, networking to marketing. Brenna enjoys hearing from people who read her work and can be reached by e-mail.
Email: [email protected]
Also by this Author
Available from Fireborn Publishing
KEIF’S DEN AND PACK
Mother of the Keif
Keif’s Den (Coming Soon)
The Prophet’s Mate
Prophecy: Rampage – Meet Gavin
Prophecy: Rampage (Coming Soon)
THE FANTASY CLUB
[_Alpha House _](Coming Soon)
Catch Me, If You Can
Temptation of Eve
[_Put on Your Dancing Shoes _](Coming Soon)
With Great Power
Beyond the Veil
Fairy Wishes (Coming Soon)
Mine for the Night
Once in a Blue Moon
Stay With Me
The Fire God’s Woman
The Punishment of Phoebus Apollo
Available from Fireborn Publishing in PRINT ONLY
Will of the Stone
Veriel’s Tales I: Crossbearer Turned
Veriel’s Tales II: Losing Regana
The Blutjagdfrau Chronicles
Fire and Ice
Lovers’ Kiss anthology
Monsters and Mayhem anthology
Paranormal Paramours anthology
Available from Phaze Books
Sons of Heaven: Beldon
Daughters of Man: Prize Match
Sons of Heaven: Unexpected Mates
Daughters of Man: Claiming a Princess
Poison, Lies, and No-Win Choices
COLOR OF LOVE
The Color of Love
FIRE AND ICE
The Last of Fion’s Daughters
Last Chance for Love
Rites of Mating
In Her Ladyship’s Service
The Lady’s Lowborn Lover
Will of the Stone
Choosing a Mate/Starting a War
Raised to Be His Own
Veriel’s Tales I: Crossbearer Turned
Veriel’s Tales II: Losing Regana
The Warrior’s Man
Damsel in Distress
The Master’s Lover
All I Want for Christmas is You
Phaze in Verse
We Shall Live Again
May the Best Man Win
And It Was Good
Available from Mundania Press
Written in the Stars
Monsters of Myth Anthology
Available from Under the Moon
Evil Overlords Union Issue #1 Anthology
“Playing Games” _]in [_Forbidden Love: Bad Boys
“Marked” _]in [_Forbidden Love: Wicked Women
“The Master’s Lover” _]in [_Forbidden Love: Sacred Bands
Available from Logical Lust
“Mine for the Night” in [_The Cougar Book _]Anthology
Available from Coming Together Charity Anthologies
“Foundling” in Coming Together: Into the Light Anthology
“Claim Mate” (available separately and as part of the Coming Together: Against the Odds Anthology)
“The Fire God’s Woman” in Coming Together: Under Fire Anthology
Graham: Training the Earth-Born Lord
Claiming a Lady
COLOR OF LOVE
A Safe Heart
Snapshots from a Poet’s Life
EPPIE/EPIC eBOOK AWARDS WINNERS
[_ Coming Together: Against the Odds- 2010 _]
[_ Time Currents- 2010 _]
[_ Coming Together: Into the Light- 2011 _]
EPPIE/EPIC eBOOK AWARDS FINALISTS
[_ Fion's Daughter- 2004 _]
[_ Collected Poems: Book One- 2005 ] (now titled [_Snapshots of a Poet’s Life])
[_ Renegade's Run- 2005 _]
[_ Rites of Mating- 2006 _]
[_ All I Want for Christmas- 2006 _]
[_ Phaze in Verse- 2008 _]
“The Fire God’s Woman” [_ in Coming Together: Under Fire- 2009 _]
[_ Three Wishes- 2010 _]
[_ Matchmaker's Misery- 2010 _]
[_ The Cougar Book- 2011 _]
[_ The Master's Lover- 2011 _]
[_ Bride Ball- 2011 _]
DREAM REALM AWARDS FINALIST
[_ Last Chance for Love- 2003 _]
PEARL HONORABLE MENTION
[_ Night Warriors- 2004 _]
[_ Schente Night- 2003 ] (now included in [_The Last of Fion’s Daughters])
[_ König Cursebreakers- 2004 ](now titled [_Will of the Stone])
JOYFULLY REVIEWED BEST BOOKS OF 2010
[_ Written in the Stars- 2010 _]
SPINETINGLER’S BOOK OF THE YEAR 2007
[_ NOBODY: An Anthology of Dark Fiction- 2007 ] (Brenna’s pieces of the anthology can be found in [_Beyond the Veil])
TRS’s CAPA FINALISTS
[_ Ultimate Warriors- 2004 ] (Brenna’s portion is now available as [_With Great Power])
Written in the Stars
LOVE ROMANCE AND MORE CAFÉ BOOK OF THE YEAR RUNNER UP
[_ Last Chance for Love- 2008 _]
ROAD TO ROMANCE REVIEWERS’ CHOICE AWARD
[_ Prophecy: Revelations- 2004 _]
LOVE ROMANCES REVIEWERS’ CHOICE AWARD
[_ Black Sail- 2003 _]
ROMANCE JUNKIES BOOK CLUB STAFF PICK
[_ TYGERS- 2003 _]
FALLEN ANGELS ROMANCE RECOMMENDED READ
Devon’s Price-2005 (now available in Bearing Armen)
JOYFULLY RECOMMENDED READ
[_ Fairy Dreams- 2008 _]
[_ The Last of Fion's Daughters- 2009 _]
TREBLE HEART FINALIST
Prophecy: Revelations- 2003
The black tube of death never seemed a more appropriate name. When Clueless (Lt. JG Cluze) stumbled back from shore leave above the Arctic Circle, little did Petty Officer Len know that the life-sucking US Navy submarine was about to be overrun by blood-suckers. Full of irreverent humor, it's military horror told from the point of view of a Nuke submariner. CONTENT ADVISORY: This is a re-release title.