Fiction logo

Puahiohio

by Jet Garner 2 months ago in Short Story
Report Story

So others may live

Titanic Ship Alongside Swimmer; PC: hdqwalls.com

The SH-60 Seahawk lifted from the deck of the carrier pelting the deckhands of the USS Harry S. Truman with cold night air as it began its loud, but graceful ascent into the starless night sky. The USS Truman was underway at a southwest bound heading from Reykjavik, Iceland across the Atlantic Ocean towards home in Norfolk, Virginia. When the floating city of 5,000 US Navy souls was a few hundred nautical miles off the coast of Nova Scotia, the bridge received a distress call from a nearby ship. The flight deck became a frenzy of controlled chaos as the sailors prepared a Search and Rescue helo rigged like an ambulance spaceship for a SAR crew to go assist the troubled vessel.

The distress came in from a capsized sailboat that got caught out in the fog and capsized amidst icy waves during lightless conditions. A death sentence for anyone that cannot vacate the arctic clutches of the demons of these freezing waters. Hypothermia was likely to set in within four minutes of submersion. During the next critical moments longer than four minutes submerged, most human bodies lack the muscle control to continue treading water in even calm seas. Under turbulent conditions, the likelihood of survival is almost zero. The little sailboat had radioed before the capsize, anticipating needing the rescue that was now underway on a rotor-wing bird at break-neck speed towards the last provided coordinates. Three souls were in the water.

The Seahawk’s crew had four souls aboard as well, heading out into the void in an effort to hopefully save all passengers running out of time, now 30 nautical miles away and dropping by the moment. Among those souls was a US Navy Aviation Rescue Swimmer, or AIRR.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Makana Aikau (AIRR) was poised at the starboard side of the racing Seahawk awaiting arrival to her objective. At 22 years old and a native to Hawai’i, she had grown up on and in the water. Makana had mastered the monstrous waves on the North Shore of Oahu at a surprisingly young age. When she learned that only three women had ever successfully passed the rigorous training to become a US Navy Rescue Swimmer, she was determined to be the 4th. Shocking her family by not pursuing a career of world renown surfing, she joined the Navy to conquer this new challenge.

Makana’s emotions were running high despite her calm visage. She had donned the disciplined attitude of an elite SAR operative even though right now, she was admittedly scared. Graduating top of her AIRR class in Pensacola, FL had seen her dream realized: she was the 4th female Aviation Rescue Swimmer. However, she was still within her first year. Makana had trained for icy operations in the darkness of black water before, but this was her first real mission under such daunting conditions.

The pilot and co-pilot were bantering on about coordinates and headings over the crew’s headsets while Makana’s mind was swirling. Their job was to get her there; her job was to get people out of there. She passively listened, but remained dutifully focused on the whizzing black water underneath the Seahawk, the blinking red and green lights of the rotor-wing aircraft half blinding her every other second.

Makana lit up her watch to check the time: 0019, April 15th, 2022. Although her heart began picking up pace, her face remained a steeled mask of determination. Makana had one job. One job, she told herself. Get into that water, retrieve who you can, and survive. If she died, others would die. This is as simple a proverb as it is macabre. Such jobs are frequently macabre. Such is the cost of these daring albeit grim occupations.

After what felt like much longer than a mere three and a half minute flight, the pilot’s voice came over the headset.

“Petty Officer Aikau, we’ll be hovering over target in ten seconds. Prepare to dismount the aircraft.” His voice rang clearly over the constant loud beating of the rotor wings and whirring of rotor engines.

“Roger that, sir.” Makana said. “Count me down.”

As the helo reduced speed and lowered, the force of the beating rotors began forming a large white circle of wake from the downward pressure. A search light popped on from the front of the helo and began scanning the choppy water. It stopped on what looked like the painted white bottom of a sailboat hull.

“Target sighted. Aikau, counting you down.” The pilot said calmly over the headset. Makana did not respond. There was nothing for her to say. She rotated her flippered feet over the starboard side of the helo in her bright orange drysuit. She had a variety of first aid and life saving equipment at her disposal similar to that of a paramedic, but also with her mask, fins, and snorkel indicative of her role as a swimmer. The drysuit and her insulative layers beneath were her primary defenses against the perils of her job. Swimming skill and grit were her secondary and equally important features to complete this objective. All was prepared: she was ready. Makana unclipped her safety tether from the aircraft.

“3,” the pilot said over the headset. “2, 1,” Makana took a deep breath and pulled down her mask and bit down on her snorkel. “Jump.”

On that final command, Makana gave the deck of the helo a hard and practiced shove. She descended the 15 feet to the ocean’s surface in a blink. With a splash, Makana Aikau was officially activated. The search light illuminated the hull of the sailboat about 10 meters away. Like a dart, she began swimming towards that beacon of light in the foggy, turbulent, rolling darkness. Icy splashes of water from the beat of the rotor blades were a constant feeling against the skin of the exposed cheeks on her face.

Arriving near the hull and without a conscious thought, she deeply inhaled through her snorkel and dove under the water. Pulling her own light, she swam underneath the capsized vessel and found an open hatch leading to the main cabin. Always a good idea to check there first. When she breached the surface inside the cabin, three wide eyed pale faces with blue lips and chattering teeth looked at her. Three, she consciously thought to herself. Three souls entered the water; three souls had managed to sit in a dry place huddled together to stay warm. An ideal situation.

Makana coached the three men on what they needed to do next. What awaited them outside. How this was going to work. She chose the first man, a brown-haired, mid-chest bearded man wearing a soaking drenched outfit under a raincoat, and instructed him to swim along with her as she dragged him to the hovering helo.

Once outside, she radioed up to the co-pilot to rig and lower the rescue basket for the first survivor. After rigging him up, the sensor operator and co-pilot hoisted the man to safety and handed him hand warmers and an emergency blanket. Makana swam back to the hull and dove under again. Two more times she went down; two more times she returned with another man. She was rigging the third and final survivor to the basket when something unexpected happened.

The hull, which had a slowly filling main cabin, released a mighty burp and bubbles breached the ocean’s surface. Makana turned towards the audible belch of air that she could hear over the whirring of the Seahawk’s blades. The hull began sinking.

Refocusing on rigging the third man, she began hurrying.

“Aikau, you need to get out of there. The undertow from that vessel will have a tremendou pull. Send him up so we can send your tether down to you. ASAP.” It was the pilot announcing over the headset.

“Roger that, sir!” Makana yelled over the headset, and was forcing her hands to work the final rigging for the third survivor. Her hands were beginning to be difficult to work despite her warming layers in the arctic water.

The hoist began ascending. Makana slowly kicked her fins to tread water as she squinted up into the light shown down from the helo. Watching the final survivor disappear from the basket into that light to safety. She saw the tether being lowered down to hoist her out of the dark wet void she now found herself in.

“Hold fast, Aikau! The hull disappeared from the sur-” The transmission got cut off partially as a great force pulled Makana underwater. The headset worked underwater, but the sound of the sudden whoosh or undertow current was louder in her ears than the pilot’s voice.

Makana began swimming fiercely, trying to get back to the surface, but the undertow turned her against her will and she found herself swimming away from the searchlight where she was treading water. Pulling her knees to her chest and with a quick swathe from both arms, she redirected herself, still submerged, and re-initiated her stroke to return to the spotlight.

The sound of rushing water was growing even louder in her ears drowning out whatever the pilot was trying to say to her. Makana saw that despite how fiercely she was swimming, the light was getting farther and farther away. She was losing the battle against the undertow of the sinking vessel.

With that last beacon getting smaller and smaller from her only field of vision, Makana clenched her teeth against the force. She could feel her shoulders and thighs burning from the exertion, but she had this one chance to outswim the undertow. If she lost consciousness or lost sight of the searchlight, there would be no survival.

Still holding her breath, she desperately fought against the unseen monster dragging her to the seafloor. Hypoxia was setting in, she could feel it. It wasn’t her first scare with the Great Mother ocean she loved so much. The white light of the searchlight began to swirl with other colors. Shimmering in a myriad of rainbow colors, Makana’s entire world began moving faster and faster as the undertow suddenly intensified and sent her spinning downward.

Her body too tired to continue swimming, she accepted this fate. She saw the last man’s face as he looked down at her from the rescue basket. She imagined him mouthing ‘thank you’ down at her as she watched him disappear into the cabin light of the helo.

Confused by the sudden bright colors she was seeing in the dark swirling water as she spun, she assumed the hypoxia that would soon cause unconsciousness before she drowned must have this effect. A wonder of colorful lights zipping all around her despite it being pitch black in the depths of this frozen tomb.

Makana suddenly felt something very odd. It felt as if she was entirely weightless although being at depth, which made no sense to her. She had enough breath left in her due to the depth and her natural ability to consciously still think even though her muscles needed oxygen to do what she wanted them to do. Weightless at this depth was…impossible. Where did the intense pressure go? She wondered.

Closing her eyes as she felt another intense sensation like rushing through a great tunnel, she felt something very bizarre indeed.

Night air.

Makana opened her eyes and gasped several heaving breaths. She was on the surface. As impossible as it was, she was somehow on the surface.

Knowing she must have drowned and this was her first glimpse of whatever lies beyond, she began looking around. It was hard to discover the only object in sight:

It was a great three-stacked cruiseliner perhaps 300 meters away. The ship was clearly sinking from the aft portion, with its great nose rising towards the moonless sky. Makana could only see the great vessel because of fires burning throughout different sections visible in the windows and some lapping up towards the deck seeking yet more to consume. She looked up into the night air. The rotor-wing bird was nowhere in sight. All she saw was black, starless sky. She wasn’t sure where the helo had gone, but regardless, she knew she was on her own.

She was alone.

Makana didn’t know what had just happened, or why this ship appeared seemingly out of nowhere in her field of vision, but sinking or not, she had no choice. Pulling down her mask and adjusting her snorkel, Makana set out in the direction of the large vessel 300 meters away.

*****

As she swam towards the cattywampus, lopsided ship, she caught herself wondering about this bizarre occurrence. She was silently thankful for the ship she swam towards. Sinking or not, it represented something in her future. With the near drowning, the vanished helicopter, her only way back to the aircraft carrier, she had little to no hope of anything else besides this sinking behemoth that seemed somehow familiar. She wasn’t sure how, but those mighty stacks in the middle struck something in her memory. Makana couldn’t quite put her finger on it yet, but she was sure they were familiar. Like a distant memory.

As she got closer, she began making out sounds in the distance. A complicated kaleidoscope of noises. The most striking was the high pitched, constant hum of what sounded like people screaming. Beyond the screams, Makana could hear water vibrating moans as the gargantuan steel hull stressed to and fro in the undulating waves. Under such great weight, the hull could only last intact for so long before the weight of its massive nose and what must have been great pressure slowly built onto the aft side as it slowly sank deeper into the depths of the Atlantic.

She could feel the water shudder with the vibration of those steel groans. They made her shudder almost more than the icy water on the outside of her bright orange dry suit. Makana stole a quick glance ahead to gauge her distance. She estimated she was probably 100 meters away. As she got ever closer, she was starting to recognize the sheer size of the cruiseliner. It was the single largest ship she had ever seen besides the USS Harry S. Truman she was deployed on. However, she had never seen the USS Truman stand on its aft end and salute the sky like this vessel. That made its size seem astronomical.

As she got fairly close to the hull of the ship on the aft end that was partially submerged, she noticed that easily a dozen lifeboats were in the water. That gave her several layers of hope. She made her way to one of the rafts. Upon arriving, she grabbed a line that was threaded through loopholes fully surrounding the large, oblong, wooden craft. With a strong double-dolphin kick from her fins combined with a simultaneous pullup from her arms on the rope, she heaved herself into the raft.

The frightened raft folks were immediately standing and moving aside terrified of this strange being that just flopped onto their craft. The boat began rocking wildly as people shrieked and rushed around the now tiny feeling vessel.

Makana held her hands up as she sat up, still sitting on the deck. She pulled off her mask and snorkel and raised that above her head as well in surrender to not appear a threat to the frightened crew.

“My name is Petty Officer Aikau! I’m here to help! Don’t be afraid!” She yelled to the wide eyed white faces. “Please, return to your seats so as to not capsize the boat!” She addressed them again. They stood quite still and unsure, measuring her. She didn’t bother trying to stand yet since she was still wearing her flippers. At this moment, she was at their mercy. That’s when she noticed something.

All of these people were well dressed despite being water logged and half hypothermic. There were long dinner gowns on the women, and three-piece suits amongst the men. Big bowler hats and lacey bonnets were frequent on the heads of these people. Every single face Makana was looking at was white. Not just white because of the cold, but Caucasian. She looked around at them in surprise, not knowing what to do.

“Tell us you dark wank, you state your claim to this disturbance in your fantastic attire, or I will order to have you cast overboard!” A tall well dressed drowned rat said in a booming voice of authority.

Makana looked over at him. Dark wank? What accent was that… English? This was an English vessel then. Perhaps that explained a bit, although she didn’t know the English to be so sensitive to her ethnicity. She had never been called dark or a wank before in her life.

Makana began speaking very slowly and clearly, keeping her wits about her and her hands still raised above her head.

“My name is Petty Officer Makana Aikau. I am a United States Navy Rescue Swimmer. My helicopter has left me behind after a successful rescue mission of another maritime vessel. I intend none of you any harm and I am unarmed. In fact, I intend to help the passengers of this vessel in exchange for transport to wherever the survivors intend to go. Our countries are allied. There is no reason for rash action.” Her own professionalism surprised her in the face of so many hostile vibrations radiating from the men and women on this rescue raft. The children clung to their mothers out of fear of their recent event combined with this unwelcome stranger. The men all looked suddenly full of warmth despite the cold. Warm with need. Need and lethal condemnation from the looks of it. Their scowls reminded Makana of the dangers of racially fueled irrational fears.

The crowd seemed to collectively relax slightly. The tenseness of their muscles and grimaces faltered enough to give Makana hope they may listen to reason. The man who seemed to be in authority spoke again.

“United States Navy, you say?” He performed a great harrumph. “The United States Navy doesn’t enlist female blacks! Much less dress them up like alien animals from a Jules Verne novel!” He spouted triumphantly. It surprised Makana that if he felt this strongly about her SAR uniform that he wasn’t more afraid of her. It made her wish she was carrying a firearm.

Makana looked at him with a furrowed brow. “Sir, the US Navy has thousands of black women among its ranks. I’m also not black, I’m Hawai’ian.”

The man raised an eyebrow, but lowered his flagrant attitude a bit. Makana continued. “Sir, there is no time to discuss who the US Navy enlists. You must have more people in the water. I can help them. Do you know how many of these rafts exist? Do you know how many people are in the water? It is imperative sir. Time is of the essence if they are to survive.”

The man thought for a moment without retracting his still partially hostile gaze. “You will leave this life boat for the water? You would go attempt more passengers?” He asked her.

“Yes.” Makana answered. “That’s my job.”

He measured her for a moment. “I saw maybe twelve lifeboats on the top deck. Maybe a bit more. If you leave this lifeboat, do not return any passengers to us. We are full.”

Makana lowered her arms and looked at him incredulously. “There is plenty of room left on this boat, sir.” She snarled.

“I have taken control of this boat and I shall dictate how many people are suitable!” He barked. “One dark life means nothing if you never return. I will not trust you to rescue a single soul anyway. I do however hope to never see the likes of you again. Do I make myself clear, alien?”

Makana, now thoroughly perturbed at this man, stood up easily on the rolling boat. Pushing her shoulders back and proudly pushing her chest out, she looked this fiend directly in his dark, callous eyes. Scared eyes. A frightened little man in a big element not in his control. A great loud crrrrack! rippled through the night air. Every head on the lifeboat swiveled towards the thunderclap sound that shook them to their bones.

The ship’s great nose broke from the aft tail directly down the many decks of the ship with a cacophony of awful groaning and frenzied metal ripping sounds. The squeal of metal shearing from metal by sheer weight was deafening. Makana could see the water’s surface violently begin to ripple turbulently from the rupturing of the behemoth ship. She bent her knees in preparation for the wake from the vibrations alone.

Many of the men and women standing were thrown from their feet by the passing wake. A woman holding a child fell overboard. Another man lost his balance near the railing and grabbed the outreached arm of another, taking them both overboard into the icy darkness. Makana watched in horror as the great nose of the cruiseliner fell earthbound towards the surface of the water. The gargantuan fore two-thirds of the cruising giant, like a falling sky scraper, was about to make a tremendous impact to the ocean’s surface. A massive wake was sure to follow.

Now terrified but keeping her composure, Makana looked out over the modest lifeboat of survivors thus far.

“Everyone, hold on! The next wave will be far worse than the first! Grab anything solid and get as low to the deck as you can! Brace yourselves!” Makana yelled at the sprawling passengers. Some looked up at her in shock. Others fumbled around to grab the seats of the boat. A handful managed to hold fast to the railing surrounding the deck. A half dozen people were in the water screaming for help and desperately trying to get back into the lifeboat.

In a timeless moment while waiting for the eventual wave resulting from such a monstrous displacement of water, Makana looked over the lifeboat of survivors. We worried the wake alone was going to capsize this little craft. Particularly with the haphard way the weight was distributed amongst random parts of the deck. No one in control of oars or a rudder. The fore of the hull facing the wrong direction instead of preparing to face the wave head on. Everything about the circumstances regarding this lifeboat holding fast through this event without everyone cast overboard, Makana estimated that probability at almost zero. She saw the fear in their faces. She saw them listening to her despite their ghoulish behavior previously. She saw that despite how they must feel about her drawing from the earlier looks and words, something more important.

She saw hope.

Then the great black and white hull of the cruiseliner struck the ocean that sent an audible shockwave rumbling over the surface of the water. Makana felt the water underneath the lifeboat quiver at the impact.

Then she saw the developing wave.

The water had risen up to block out their view of both the fore and aft regions of the ship almost immediately after the tremendous impact. The wave was coming. It was likely only ten or fifteen seconds away. Makana had ten seconds to decide her course of action. It very well may be the last decision she can consciously make given the gravity of this event. If she was pulled under by a mere sailboat earlier, she quivered at thinking of how nasty the undertow would be following a vessel of this enormity.

Pushing that thought out of her mind to deal with the more immediate danger at hand, Makana focused on the approaching wave.

“Its coming eveyrone! Do your best to hold onto the boat! If it flips or if you fall out of the boat, DON’T. LET. GO!” She called out to the passengers one final time.

As the wave approached, she noticed the other lifeboats that were beyond her ability to see rising on the swell. Makana did her best to quickly count them: 7. She managed to see 7 other boats rise with the swell before the break. She could see another 2 being drawn up along the front of the wave.

The break began to form, curling over like a great black claw over the top of the 2 boats in its grip. One got sucked into the current, capsizing and dropping the passengers into the maw of the water. The other rode the crest for just a second, before also falling into the face of the wave. Now it was upon them. Makana figured it would slam either directly on top of them, or just before their boat. She hoped for the latter.

The latter took place. The concusion of the force of the water slamming only a dozen feet from their boat caused a massive amount of wake and swell that did capsize the lifeboat. Makana had timed it was well as she could to dive from the deck of the boat as it turned over to try and clear the railing of the incoming opposite side.

Feeling the icy water on her face again, she quickly donner and cleared her mask to feel operational. She swam downward as to try and not get swept too far away from the site of the capsized boat, away from the push of that monstrous amount of water. When she felt the push subside and while still underwater, Makana looked up towards the surface. Total darkness. She tried to get her bearings, and swam towards what she believed was the surface.

She breached the surface and took one massive breath after clearing her snorkel. Looking around, she spotted the lifeboat. It wasn’t capsized. It had merely dumped the majority of its passengers into the icy water.

Quickly swimming over to it, she saw about 5 souls inside the boat. That left roughly 20 or 30 in the surrounding water.

Petty Officer Makana Aikau, the shark that she was and the rescuer she had become, was activated.

She immediately thought like a shark. A shark after its targets. She began circling the the boat swimming swiftly, but totally focused. She found her first target: a mother and child. The mother nearly drowning herself to keep her little boy above water. Makana swept them into her arms without a word, and dumped them into the lifeboat uncermoniously. She kicked off and began circling again.

She found her next target: an older man who seemed unresponsive. Makana hurried over, swept him up, swam him back, and by then passengers in the lifeboat were assiting her to dump him into the lifeboat. After 22 passengers had been retrieved, her circling had gotten to large. She had to let the unknown remaining passengers go.

Refocusing, Makana looked towards the now bobbing fore half of the cruiseliner. The aft was already gone. Davy Jones had seized however many souls remained on that region of the great ship. Makana began swimming towards the general wreckage. She wanted to find more boats.

She came across a capsized lifeboat with people fighting to get on the hull and out of the water. She approached them, got their attention, then instructed them by example how to stand on the hull of the boat and gripping the threaded lines along the side, and correct the capsized small vessel. After helping all that were still alive and talking to her back in, Makana dove back into the inky black water towards yet another boat.

Over and over again she located another boat. Over and over again she did her best to assist in correcting the vessel, retrieving either hypothermic or struggling passengers from the water into the boat, then mechanically moving on to the next target.

Makana found 14 different lifeboats with passengers in them. She did her best to get as many bodies back into those lifeboats as possible. She was exhausted, she could feel it. Makana was fading quickly, between exhaustion and the cold. All that was keeping her going was the drive to help and the exertion keeping her body warm.

At the final lifeboat, she pulled herself out of the water with the help of the boarded passengers. She sat with her back to the bulkhead of the vessel while her charges looked at her with incredulity.

Another great belch and audible metal straining ringing through the distance, the nose of the ship began rapidly sinking. In a few moments, the last of this behemoth ship will disappear beneath the surface to the depths. How many more souls were in the water?

Makana tried to stand and failed at first. The passengers of lifeboat 14 helped her to her flippered feet. She looked out over the water. Many of the floating bodies she knew, were deceased. Lost souls. But the water was not yet quiet. She could hear sharp shrills still piercing the surrounding swells.

Makana Aikau stood staring into the blackness listening to the shrill survivors. She walked to the railing of this final boat. She then pulled down her mask, bit her snorkel, and dove once more into the fray of churning black water.

*****

2,240 souls went into the water at 02:20 AM April 15th, 1912. In regular history, 502 survived. An undertow turned wormwhole carried Makana Aikau from 2022 back a century to achieve a greater number before she disappeared into legend, her existence known only to and lost among the survivors that saw her. They were accused of hallucinating that she existed at all. Thanks to that fateful portal and the efforts of Makana Aikau, history now records that 706 souls survived the wreck of the RMS Titanic that night. Makana never knew she traveled back a century. She also never returned from that final dive to save yet more souls.

Short Story

About the author

Jet Garner

Enjoying my journey getting into fiction while occasionally dabbling in stories from my war times. Aspiring novelist and daydreamer. World nomad. Currently in Hawaii.

Reader insights

Be the first to share your insights about this piece.

How does it work?

Add your insights

Comments

There are no comments for this story

Be the first to respond and start the conversation.

Sign in to comment

    Find us on social media

    Miscellaneous links

    • Explore
    • Contact
    • Privacy Policy
    • Terms of Use
    • Support

    © 2022 Creatd, Inc. All Rights Reserved.