Into The Shallows A Clive Cussler Story From the Oregon Files
Two longshoremen leaned on the railing and casually looked out into the bay. They were a rough pair and drank and gambled to excess. Each held much sought after jobs in an otherwise impoverished third world country. At that moment their attention was directed towards a ship moving away from the port and out to sea.
"I wonder if she'll make it out of the bay?" The tallest of the two said, then spit over the railing. The short one laughed and also spit. "It sure won't last out even a mild storm." He replied. "Don't see many like her now days, you know a bulk carrier." The tall one added, again spitting. Yea everything's containers now." The short one replied.
The short one thought for a second and added. "Strange crew. I saw some in the customs shed. They were all clean cut Americans, even some darn pretty looking women. Most rusted hulks like that have a mishmash of rough types from all over the world. This bunch looked military to me." This got the tall one's attention. "Hmm" the tall one added deep in thought. "Well we'll never know will we."
"What's it's name, can you read it?" He asked. The short one strained his eyes, "ORE-GUN, Oregun mispronouncing it as "gun" and not the correct "gon."
To the untrained and even trained eye the good ship Oregon was a rusting hulk. On the hull the only area not carefully disguised as rusted and chipped was it's name. By international maritime law the ship's name must be clear and ledge-able at all times. Other than that she was a sad sight what with rust everywhere, rivets missing and voluminousness black smoke pouring from the smoke stained stack. From across the bay you could even hear it's ancient triple expansion engine straining, beating out a raw and loud metal-to-metal sound that would give a shudder to any mechanic.
Both longshoremen sighed when they heard the familiar sound of a horn announcing they end of their break. Watching the Oregon leave port was a momentary distraction and soon would be forgotten. Also forgotten would be the spot on observations of the short dock worker, "they looked military to me." The crew of the Oregon didn't need or want that type of attention. No attention at all was their goal.
The captain of the Oregon, or chairman to some, looked out to sea. Captain Juan Cabrillo was the CEO and captain of the Oregon, a lethal floating high tech weapons platform in the guise of a decrepit old bulk carrier. He was not muscle bound or overly developed but had tremendous endurance. His endurance was being put to a test. He could walk or even run for miles but idle standing on the bridge brought pain to what was left of his legs.
He lost both legs in a mission and was successfully fitted with prosthetic legs. They took many hours of sweat and pain to get used to. Captain Cabrillo also had to deal with phantom pain; Severe pain in his legs that no longer existed. Standing, shifting his weight from leg to leg was no use, he had to sit. The old warn and duck tapped captains chair offered him momentary relief.
When he could Juan Cabrillo would play a rousing game of tennis for disabled Iraq and Afghan veterans. Both he and his opponent would bounce all over the court, diving, returning and having a spirited game. Then, at the end of the match they would show the veterans their prosthetic legs. "Hey, if we can do it so can you." He felt a warm glow in his heart to see these brave broken men and women taking courage from his affliction.
"Course Captain?" the helmsman asked from below decks. The true "bridge" was an ops center located below decks and accessible via a secret elevator. The helmsman was, like most of the crew decorated former military. Eric Stone. It took him real effort to make the nimble and fast Oregon behave like an old wreck while in port and around other ships. When out in the open sea he could maneuver her as her envisioned. Captain Cabrillo looked at a chart and read off a heading. Seconds later all 560 feet of high tech and lethal equipment responded to Helmsman Stone and turned.
The ship's engine was an experimental Magneto-hydrodynamic drive or MHD. It involves passing an electric current through seawater then interacting with the magnetic field of current through the water causing forward motion. It was far from a developed system but was silent, simple and capable of tremendous speeds.
Below decks and where the engines of a normal ship might be were 4 large hydrogen fuel cells. They were of the latest design and used sodium silicide. This advancement did away with the expensive proton exchange units. The ultimate product of these hydrogen cells was heat in the form of steam which turned electricity producing steam turbines.
While on a recent mission down the Congo River it was evident that more battery power was needed as the MHD could not operate in fresh water. When in fresh water the ship used powerful jets of water for its forward motion and steering. The Chairman vowed to correct a lack of electrical power. Besides new energy hogging advanced systems were being fitted constantly. One possible solution involved experimental and expensive satellite quality solar panels. They provided up to 50% more power than conventional panels. The panels were layered just under the deck and behind Guerrilla Glass. When not around curious eyes a quick flick of a button and the metal deck would slide away to expose the panels to sun light.
Out on the desk was Able Bodied Seaman Mark Dietrich or ABS Dietrich. His eyes were dark brown as was his hair. Though thoroughly Americanized he was of German stock. His family had migrated a number of years previous. His father was in the German Air Force during the 70's and flew the dangerous F104's. He was stationed in Texas for training and liked the wide opened spaces so much the family eventually emigrated.
ABS Dietrich was assigned to watch the uncovering of the new solar panels. Since this was a new "gimmick" aboard a gimmick laden ship it had to be tested under close scrutiny. When the unmasking of the solar panels went as expected ABS Dietrich gave a quick call on his walkie to the ops center.
The Oregon's crew was composed of highly technical people, commando's like former SEALS, Special Forces and Force Recon, as well as the Executive Staff (Officers). ABS Dietrich, as with a number of the crew, not part of the "glory boys and girls." The duties ABS Dietrich performed were necessary but dull and repetitive. For every combat soldier on the line were perhaps dozens of support personnel. He was former U.S. Navy with one tour in the Gulf. His career was uneventful, just boring duty on a supply ship.
When he got out he was all fired up with three goals dancing before his eyes. Get a job, get a girlfriend and lastly buy a brand new Camaro ZL1. The first one, the most important one "get a job," was difficult with the whole world in recession. The girlfriend and Camaro would have to wait. Then this friend told him a merchant ship, The Oregon was interviewing for jobs.
You would think he was getting a job with CIA because of the detailed security check he had to endure. The pay, wow, well off the scale. He figured it was some sort of black ops ship and was proven correct when he was hired. His hand was tired from signing a ton of non-disclosure agreements. Then the tour of the ship. The Oregon truly was a wolf in sheep's clothing.
ABS Dietrich did have his sights on a cute young gal aboard ship. He was terribly shy and couldn't hardly look a young woman in the eyes much less ask her for a date. The object of his attentions was far from his reality. She was a stunning beauty with long light brown hair and mesmerizing hazel eyes. Gale Turner was her name and she was part of the commando team. When he did get a glance of her she was always working out in the ship's gym with her beefy male commando types. A few times he'd caught a glance of her on a training mission; climbing in or out of a Zodiac dressed in a tight fitting all black jump suit, camo face paint and armed to the teeth.
Though he had not done anything to draw her attention it seemed that she was aware of his interest. While passing in a narrow companionway she would look right at him and smile. She even said Hi to him once. Mark was just a lowly cog in a wheel. How could this very hot, commando GI Jane that spoke 5 languages fluently, was well versed in every form of hand-to-hand combat and could fire most every weapon imaginable be interested in him. Mark was handsome enough but couldn't hold a candle to a muscular SEAL's or Special Forces. Mark sighed, Gale Turner was a full 10 and he maybe a 6 and that was on a good day.
Captain Cabrillo gathered his ranking members of the ship in the main conference room. In attendance were Franklin Lincoln former SEAL and de facto Executive Officer. Next the always full of energy Mark Murphy, Chief Weapons Operator and a certified genius. Max Hanley, on a regular ship would be the dirty grimy Chief Engineer but on this ship he wore spotless light blue coveralls. Eddy Seng as Shore Operations Specialists formerly of the CIA. The last was Hali Kasim Chief Communications Specialists.
"What mission does the captain have for us today," Max said in a joking manner. "Don't you know, old lady Heppelwife's cat is stuck up a tree and we have to rescue it post haste." Eddy Seng added. "Ha, ha, all very funny." Captain Cabrillo said while unfurling a map. He then began to speak. "As you know we have to actually take on and deliver small amounts of real cargo sometimes to keep up our cover. I want this ship to be a regular fixture in ports throughout the world. I know while traversing in and out of ports our smudge pots in the stack have sent us all into fits of coughing. Not to mention the loud engine noise." Franklin then added, "Well if we look like a duck we've to smell and sound like one as well."
The meeting was interrupted by the arrival of Maurice, the Chief Cook. He was more like a gourmet chef. Formerly of the British Navy he could cook up anything your taste buds desired from Beef Wellington to SOS. At that moment he was handing out life giving fresh hot coffee to the assembled ship's officers. There was no need to take your order in advance, Maurice had most everyone's coffee preferences down pat.
After they all had a good drink of coffee their attention was again drawn to the map. Captain Cabrillo went on to explain their next mission was a bit of dull surveillance. It seems the Chinese were perhaps supplying Iran a number of ICBM's. Having the missiles delivered right to an Iranian port such as
Chabahas was out of the question. Too many prying eyes. The missiles were un-assembled and in large crates marked "farm tools." These crates would be transferred from a Chinese freighter, at sea, to an obscure freighter with a dubious chain of ownership. The freighters would be shadowed by a Chinese Type 054A frigate and a Type 052C destroyer NATO code of Luyang II. It was just a humdrum surveillance mission and didn't pay much but the folks at Langley wanted a bit more than just satellite coverage. We were to keep our distance and listen for radio chatter. Langley figured we were good for one innocent looking pass bye without raising suspicion. Perhaps the Oregon could follow at a discrete distance the as yet nu-named ship carrying the so called "farm tools."
The crew was duly informed via the PA system of the mission and reacted with a universal yawn. Mark Dietrich finished the rest of his watch and went below decks. No hot bunking on the Oregon; most members of the crew had their own private quarters. Private quarters went with seniority though. He shared a rather spacious room with two other seamen.
ABS Harris lay on his bunk listening to an ipod. It was hard not to find him listening to his ipod. Harris was an easy going sort not prone to anger; when off duty he just wanted to be left alone. Harris was tall and lanky with a profusion of freckles across his face. He kept his hair short, almost bald, which was popular with many young men now. Harris was also a U.S. Navy vet with much the same background as Mark with no Purple Hearts or Navy Crosses in his service record. Mark didn't know much about him as Harris was not much of a talker.
Mark's hardly knew his other roommate Greg Johnson since they were on opposing watches. Greg's equivalent Navy rank would be PO 3rd Class. He was a handsome young man with a sever problem of balancing his large harem of girlfriends. Tall, well tanned and possessing a quick mind he was destined to go places. Duty on the Oregon was a brief stepping stone for something greater. Make a pile of dough, see the world and get out was his mission. Ultimately he wanted to be a lawyer, however law school wasn't cheap. Mark was glad he didn't see much of Greg as Greg tended to be a know-it-all and was always hyper active.
On and on the Oregon trudged across the South Atlantic from the coast of Africa towards it's AO, an area south of Cuba in the Caribbean. ABS Mark Dietrich went about his repetitive and boring tasks with a resigned sense of duty. "Just like the Navy" he murmured under his breath. Yet each day two of his goals came closer to reality; a job and a hot Camaro. His third, a girlfriend, remained an elusive dream. He stopped in his tasks for a moment and looked up towards the beautiful clear tropical sky. Many miles away, and in fact, many years away sat Professor Viktor Friedman or "man of peace" in German. He was far from it. He ignored the tropical sky, any sky or natural phenomenon, his mind was always a whirl of complex equations.