“Conn, Sonar, we have a surface contact! Designate Sierra Six-One!”
The Captain, a trim man with curly blonde hair and grey-blue eyes looked up from the navigation chart at the announcement over the 1MC intercom. He reached for the handset dangling from the low ceiling and keyed it.
“Sonar, Conn, roger, let us know when you have a bearing.” Captain Lee Sanders looked at his Executive Officer Mike Pierce with a questioning look. “Did we miss something in the message traffic?”
Pierce shook his head.
“Nothing I’m aware of. We’re two hundred miles north of the shipping lanes. The only boat in our area is supposed to be the Seattle.”
“That’s what I thought.”
The USS Denver glided silently through the waters of the North Atlantic two hundred feet below the surface. The Improved 688 Fast Attack Submarine was in the final testing of its upgraded sonar suite against the USS Seattle: a Virginia-Class submarine. The two undersea giants had been stalking each other for the last three weeks but this newcomer was a surprise.
A storm battered the surface above them with high winds and thirty-foot waves that would make even veteran sailors curse. The idea that a ship was travelling in this weather was crazy enough but the fact they were suddenly in their test area made them suspicious.
Minutes passed slowly and the two men watched the Control Room Watch-Standers go about their duties.
“Conn, Sonar, Sierra Six-One is bearing One-One-Nine, range ten thousand meters making fifteen knots.”
“Sonar, Conn: are you sure about that distance? How did we not catch her before?”
“We’re not sure, Sir: she was suddenly right there.”
“Sonar, Conn: notify me if she changes course.” Sanders hung the handset up and stared at Pierce, who was now looking down at the chart of their operating area. “Isn’t that an intercept course, XO?”
Pierce looked up from the chart, the frown on his pale façade a confirmation.
Sanders calculated distances for a moment.
They were moving at one-third power, about eight knots, which already put the contact within visual range of their attack scope. He needed to report the unexpected traffic to Commander, Submarine Forces Atlantic, or COMSUBLANT before he did anything.
“COB: bring us up to Periscope Depth!” He ordered quickly and picked up the handset again.
“Periscope Depth, aye! Ten degree up-bubble, full rise on the fair weather planes!”
“Radio, Conn, send a messenger up here.”
“Conn, Radio, aye.”
The alarm claxon blared twice and the Sanders grabbed hold of a rail as the bow began to climb. Everyone secured loose equipment as the giant rose from the depths. The COB, or Chief of the Boat called out their depth in twenty foot increments.
They started leveling off as they reached one hundred feet and Sanders walked over to the well and pressed a button, announcing “Raising Attack Scope!”
Silence came over the Control room as the scope rose from its well and locked into position.
Sanders snapped the twin handles into place and stared into the eye-piece.
The Submarine began to rock hard, a testament to the heavy gale battering the surface, and the crew grabbed at anything to keep from crashing to the deck.
“Jesus Christ!” Someone cursed.
Everyone held their breath as Sanders rotated the periscope around quickly then again slower. Was someone up there? Would they have to emergency dive?”
“No close contacts.” Sanders reported and settled back on their own bearing. “Sonar, Conn: report all contacts.”
“Conn, Sonar, only contact is Sierra Six-One.”
Time for a battle drill, Sanders thought wryly.
“COB, set Battle Stations Torpedo.”
“Set Battle Stations Torpedo, Aye!”
The announcement was sent throughout the ship via the 1MC intercom.
Men raced to their assigned stations, firefighting teams donned equipment in preparation for an emergency as the crew mess was cleared and turned into an aid station. The white running lights switched to red and the already cramped control room was filled with additional watch standers manning sound-powered radios.
“Sonar, give me a bearing, I can’t see shit in this storm!”
“Fire Control, designate Sierra Six-One as Master One and get me a solution!”
Sanders felt a hand clap him on the shoulder and he pulled back from the periscope and Pierce nodded to a young Seaman standing next to him.
“Captain, your messenger is here.”
Sanders nodded and they switched places and Sanders took a clipboard from the young man. He scribbled a message and handed it back to the man.
“Get this off to COMSUBLANT.”
The man nodded and hurried away.
“Conn, Sonar, Master One is bearing One-One-Zero.”
Pierce swiveled the periscope to the bearing.
Waves crashed against the periscope causing a 3D effect that made him cringe instinctively. Everything went black and then revealed a dark sky. Lightning flashed in the distance and the sky flickered. In the distance a distinctly manmade silhouette appeared momentarily and he pulled back for a second, confused, then looked back again.
He clicked on the magnification and took a picture that appeared on the monitor at the Captain’s station beside him.
“XO, what the hell are you doing?”
“Sir, you are not going to believe this shit.”
Pierce continued to stare at two huge masts on a large ship in the distance. Large, wide sails full of air filled each mast, taking advantage of the gusting winds and hurtling the ship towards them. The boat was made of dark, battered wood that had seen much better days. High above its main mast flapped a white skull and crossbones set against a black background.
The ship bow rose over a huge wave and crashed down into a trough with a great spray and vanished from sight.
“What the hell?”
“Conn, Sonar: we’ve lost contact with Master One!”
“What? Reacquire!” Sanders shouted in a confused voice. “XO, let me see what’s going on!”
They switched positions again.
“Captain, he went over a wave and disappeared into a trough, but hasn’t come back out.”
“That doesn’t explain losing sonar contact.”
“What was the last distance?”
“Seven thousand yards.”
“What did you see?”
Pierce shook his head, still trying to decipher it himself.
“You’ll have to see this one for yourself, Captain. I took a picture of it.”
“Bullshit, you posted a picture of a pirate ship flying a Jolly Roger.”
“Yep, that’s exactly what I saw.”
“Are you high, XO?”
Pierce laughed aloud at that.
“I wish I was: that would make a lot more sense.”
Sanders looked at him for a moment, trying to figure out how to take the response before pressing his face to the periscope. Waves and lightning filled his view but nothing else. He slowly spun the periscope once around before settling back on the bearing.
The battered sailing ship was bearing down on them! Sure enough he could see the Jolly Roger flapping wildly in the wind. Sanders pulled back and looked at Pierce like he’d seen a ghost.
“You saw it too?”
“Conn, Sonar, Master One is reaquired, range four-five hundred meters!”
“Fire Control, do you have a solution?”
The Fire Control Officer glanced at the three screens in front of him and tapped the one to the left he deemed most accurate.
“Torpedo in the water! Bearing Two-Six-Eight, range thirty-five hundred meters!”
The announcement jerked Sanders from the periscope.
“COB! Emergency Deep! All ahead flank!”
Sanders flipped up the handles and lowered the periscope into its well.
The alarm claxon sounded as the COB vented the air from all the ballast tanks and the bow dropped. The huge submarine shuddered as the bronze screw dug into the water.
“Engines answering Flank Speed!”
“Right full rudder! Launch countermeasures!”
Sweat beaded on Sanders’ brow as he listened to the reports.
It didn’t make sense: the torpedo was too close and had come from the wrong direction!
“Second torpedo in the water! Bearing One-Eight-Eight! Range three thousand meters!”
Holy shit, I just turned into another one!
“Launch countermeasures! COB! Get us under a Thermo-cline and steady your rudder!”
The submarine dove deeper as she steadied on a course in a valiant effort to outrun the incoming torpedoes.
“Captain: depth is four-two-five feet on course zero-six-six.”
“Torpedoes: range two-two hundred meters, one-eight hundred meters, steady on course zero-six-seven, zero-six-five.”
“COB, Fire Control, prepare to launch more countermeasures on my mark then conduct an Emergency Blow!”
Both men acknowledged the orders and prepared to react.
“Sonar, Conn, where is Master One? I don’t want to pop up right under her!”
“Conn, Sonar, we’ve lost track of Master One.”
“Where did those torpedoes come from? I need a solution!”
“Conn Sonar: new contact classified submerged contact bearing Two-Two-Zero, range two thousand yards, Designate as Sierra Six-Two!”
“Torpedo Room, Conn: flood all aft tubes and open outer doors!”
“Flood aft tubes and open outer doors, aye!”
“All aft tubes are ready!”
“Snapshot Aft torpedoes!”
The submarine shuddered as one by one two Mark 48 torpedoes were shoved out of the two torpedo tubes located on either side of the bronze screw driving the boat. They increased their speed and headed straight for the submerged contact two kilometers directly behind them.
“Own ship units active and running normal!”
The fire control officer reported.
“Incoming torpedoes range eight hundred meters, six hundred meters.” A few seconds later another report chilled Sanders to the bone. “Incoming torpedoes have acquired! They are speeding up!”
“Fire Control: launch a full spread of countermeasures! COB Emergency Blow!”
They heard the hiss as canisters were ejected from the hull and began emitting bubbles and noise designed to lure an incoming torpedo from its intended target. A few seconds later, there was a high pitched hiss as water was forced from the ballast tanks, replaced by high pressure air and creating a huge change in the submarines buoyancy.
The crew secured prepared themselves as the subs bow slowly began to lift upward.
“Conn, Sonar, own ships units have acquired and are homing!”
Sanders glanced at Pierce who nodded and wiped the sweat from his brow.
Without warning a resounding THUD sounded throughout the ship, making everyone jump in surprise. Another one rocked the ship and Sanders realized what had happened.
“COB, secure the blow, slow to one third and come to periscope depth!”
“Secure and come to periscope depth, aye!”
As they rose through the depths the crew looked visibly relieved. The THUD was the signal to both submarines that she’d been hit and the exercise was over.
“Sonar, Conn, where is Master One?”
There was a noticeable pause.
“Master One, Sir? Only contact is Sierra Six-Two coming to periscope depth two thousand yards astern.”
“You’re not tracking…”
Sander strode angrily past the XO and headed to the Sonar Room: really a small closet that housed four men and a Sonar Officer, all of whom were sufficiently startled when he burst in on them. The Sonar Officer blushed and tried not to laugh but failed miserably and the whole compartment burst out in uncontrolled laughter.
“Can someone explain the pirate ship in my periscope?”
A Chief Petty Officer stood and cracked a sheepish grin as he stared at his Captain.
“Sir, this is my fault. I took a bribe from Captain Harris from Seattle.”
Sanders rolled his eyes and groaned.
“What kind of bribe, Chief?”
The man stifled a laugh before explaining.
“I agreed to create something to confuse you in order to give him an edge for the final training revolution. I programmed a holographic image into the number two periscope’s camera and used a recording of a trawler for Fire Control to lock onto.”
“The Pirate Ship?”
“And was Fire Control aware of this?”
Sanders shook his head and began to laugh.
“Did we at least sink Seattle before we died?”
“Yes, Sir, we got her.”
“Remind me to send Captain Harris a case of Scotch. And you: remove that Pirate Ship!”