“In Nuclear War all men are cremated equal.”
-2:56 AM March 30, 1988, Cosoleacaque, Veracruz, Mexico
Every fucking night, every goddamn night.
PFC Marc Dickens mentally cursed his impatient bladder as he rolled out of his sweat soaked bunk and slid down onto the deck. When his feet hit the cool linoleum, he was reminded that this nightly ritual wasn't entirely horrible.
Despite the dozen or so fans situated by the gargantuan windows endlessly laboring to ventilate the gymnasium that they had turned into an ad-hock barracks, it was still hot as hell in there and if not for the grueling schedule that Lt. Barret had thrown at them every day, nobody would ever get any sleep at night.
As quickly as possible and with as much care as he could manage, Marc turned and headed toward the hatch marked with a dimly lit sign that read 'SALIDA.'
As he made his way across the gymnasium, he listened to the sounds around him. The occasional Marine tossing in his bunk and the distant thumping of helicopters that managed to cut through the soft rumble of the fans. He chuckled mentally at the thought that this would be about as peaceful as this area would ever get and that line of thinking was cut off suddenly as he came to the realization of what it would mean if it actually got quieter and quickly put that thought aside when he reached the hatch.
If the gym was hot, the hallway outside it was downright sweltering. Doing his best to let the hatch close quietly behind him, he futilely attempted to wipe the sweat from his forehead. He didn't need to look hard to find what he was looking for, a bright white rectangle outlined where the hatch to the head was.
With less care taken to minimize noise this time, Marc made it to the hatch in no time and thought nothing of it when he walked through it and into the room. When his eyes finished adjusting, Marc found himself confronted with five Marines sitting around what looked like an oil drum, and they appeared to be playing cards.
Silence filled the room as Marc stared at them and they stared back.
After a minute, someone broke the silence.
“He look like an officer to you? Now show us whatcha got.”
The tension broken, the other Marines all started chuckling, and Marc in turn smirked as he turned and headed for the row of urinals along the far wall.
Despite the faint but unpleasant odor that permeated the entire room, Marc was hardly surprised at their presence in there. It was easily a good ten degrees cooler in there and quite possibly the coolest part of the entire building.
Without paying much attention to such considerations, he wasted no time getting down to business and before he knew it he was emptying his bladder in relative peace.
It was not to be. Within seconds the tranquility of the night was shattered by the distant but unmistakable roar of an ancient sounding air raid siren.
The room filled with a veritable explosion of of expletives and chaos as five Marines stumbled to their feet. Marc jumped so hard from the surprise that he almost pissed all over himself.
Seconds later, the six of them scrambled out of the head and into the corridor, this time it was filled with lots of noise and people running in every direction.
Marc grabbed someone who was moving a little slower than everyone else, a kid who looked even younger than he did and who was still trying to pull his uniform on “what the hell is going on?!” he shouted.
The other Marine looked at him with a slightly annoyed expression “what the fuck do you think?! It's the damn skinnies, they're coming!”
-10:02 AM March 30, 1988, Orange-Caritat Air Base, Orange, Vaucluse, France
Hundreds of feet pounded on pavement as the distance between Jean and his plane shrunk.
The seconds passed excruciatingly slow and lightning quick at the same time, and he and his ground crew reached the Mirage in short order.
He wasted no time or momentum and didn't break stride in order to leap onto the ladder leading up to the waiting cockpit. With the kind of agility only earned with hundreds of hours spent learning every inch of his plane, he launched himself off of the top rung of the ladder and into his pilot's seat without getting hung up on a single thing or even brushing against any of the various knobs or toggles lining the cockpit interior.
Taking no time to catch his breath, he buckled himself in and threw his helmet on, then went about the task of checking his cockpit to make sure everything was ready for takeoff. Deciding to take a second, he glanced back to catch a glimpse of his ground crew running last second checks and unhooking various cables and hoses from his plane with a rehearsed precision that seemed almost inhuman in its perfection.
They had done this far too many times. He and his fellow pilots had launched themselves at the enemy with reckless abandon, made the ultimate sacrifice, fought a life-and-death struggle, they had done it all too many damn times, with far too much regularity, and now this.
Silently he wondered if they would ever be able to come back from battle and actually count it as a true victory, one that would last, and that would matter in the grand scheme. Then he caught himself wondering if this would be the last time the sun would rise over France.
Almost as if on cue, something bright flashed over the southern horizon.
He didn't know what it was, although he had a few guesses. What he did know was that whatever was coming for him and his homeland that day, whether it be aliens or the devil himself, he would make them pay a hefty price before he went on his merry way, there was little more that he could guarantee that day.
-0905 Zulu March 30, 1988, somewhere off the Mexican Pacific coast
“This is the captain, that concludes today's torpedo drills. Nice work people. Carry on.”
Captain Reginald Ackerman's lips twitched in the slightest indication of a grin as he hung up the growler. He looked over at Commander Sinclair who was marking some notes on a clipboard “not bad at all, that was a whole minute faster than the previous record” he said with an impressed look on his face.
Ackerman nodded as he crossed his arms “I guess sending Lieutenant Commander Rollins down there to... lend a hand had the desired effect” he said with a small grin.
It had been no secret that the torpedo room's morning watch had been suffering from 'less than desired' performance of late. It also had been no secret that the Lieutenant Commander's ability to motivate was of almost legendary status. So it came as little surprise to anyone(with the possible exception of perhaps the men in the torpedo room at least) when Ackerman had decided to take his executive officer's advice and send his second officer down to the torpedo room to 'motivate' the men there to improve their performance.
Under normal circumstances an alternative response to the situation would have been used, but being that the most likely reason for the faltering performance of the men in question had been due to an accident which resulted in the death of a young ensign a week earlier.
It wasn't anyone's fault, merely a mounting bracket on one of the loading racks had given way, crushing the skull of the poor young man. A faulty piece of equipment had been the cause, not enemy action, or even the negligence of a fellow crew member. No, a simple act of god, a random chance. Tragically, not a rarity in this line of work.
The whole crew had taken it poorly, but they who had actually been there for the incident in question and seen one of their comrades die right before their eyes had taken it the hardest. Normally, a more punitive response would have been used, but Sinclair decided(and Ackerman had agreed) that a more nuanced approach would be more productive, and it seems that they had been right.
He would have to remember the Lieutenant Commander's motivational abilities when writing his next evaluation.
The XO grinned back “quite” he said with a chuckle.
Straightening his own expression, Ackerman returned his attention to the business of running his boat “helm, make your depth three hundred feet and come to a heading of oh-two-five, twenty degree up angle” he ordered.
The helmsman's response was almost instantaneous “making my depth three hundred feet and coming to a heading of oh-two-five, twenty degree up-angle aye” he repeated.
Ackerman braced himself against a railing as the entire boat angled upward “I guess we-” he was cut off as a voice from the growler interrupted him.
“Conn, radio, we have an emergency action message from the NCA. I say again, we have an emergency action message.”
Lieutenant McKern's voice sounded as though it was quavering, whether it was a result of distortion over the growler or actually due to the radio officer's own anxiety was unknown, although no one could blame him if the latter was the case. Everyone on board knew what all of the possible implications of an EAM from the National Command Authority were, and with the possible exception of a missile drill, none of them were even remotely good, especially under the present circumstances.
He exchanged concerned glances with his executive officer as he reached up to grab the hand set and held it up to his mouth “radio, this is the Captain, understood. Lieutenant McKern, meet me at the authenticator safe on the double” he said.
“Aye Captain” came the simple response, this time McKern's voice sounded more solid, Ackerman hoped that his sounded as calm.
Flipping the switch on the boat-wide intercom, Ackerman spoke again “this is the Captain, we have an emergency action message from the National Command Authority. Lieutenant Commander Rollins, meet me at the Authenticator safe on the double” he ordered, again trying his best to keep his voice as steady as possible.
With deliberate steps, he and his first officer moved down the corridor and around a corner. It was a struggle to make the move, not just because of the awkward angle at which the decking was inclined due to the boat's present maneuvers. While he was anxious to find out exactly what was contained within the transmission so as to break the tension and anticipation, he also dreaded just what the contents of the message would be.
They passed two enlisted men as they rounded the corner and his eyes reflexively went to the safe down the corridor.
A few seconds later the two of them were standing in front of the safe, and a few seconds after that McKern and Rollins rounded the other corner, a printout clutched in the radio officer's hands, a grave look on his face.
The four men stared at each other in awkward silence, and after what felt like an eternity, McKern broke it “sir, I have a properly formatted message from the National Command Authority for strategic missile launch” he explained “-sir” he added awkwardly just before handing the printout to Rollins gor examination.
After a few more seconds of silence, he looked up at Ackerman, the color drained from his face “I concur, sir” he simply said.
Ackerman nodded gravely “authenticator” he said with a deep breath.
Both of the junior officers nodded “sir” they both said as McKern reached over to work the dial on the safe. His hands worked frantically to spin it to the right combination, and soon enough the door to the safe swung open to reveal a second door with another dial.
Wordlessly, the radio officer stepped aside and Rollins reached over and repeated the process again.
A few seconds later the second door was open, both men had a slight sheen of sweat on their faces and both of them appeared to be slightly short of breath, Ackerman suddenly realized that he had been holding his own breath and started to breath again. Without delay, Rollins reached into the safe and pulled out two items, one was the Captain's launch key, the other was the authenticator.
Rollins met his captain's gaze “requesting permission to authenticate” he said.
Ackerman gave a nod “permission granted, authenticate the message” came his reply.
Taking the authenticator in both hands, Rollins snapped the plastic sheath, pulled out the red card contained within, and began to read from it “echo, echo, baker, zulu, charlie, delta, delta, alpha, romeo, sierra” his voice was almost mechanical in nature.
McKern then read from the printout “ echo, echo, baker, zulu, charlie, delta, delta, alpha, romeo, sierra” he said.
Each word felt like a punch to the gut for Ackerman one more step toward armageddon he thought to himself. Although in reality, he knew that no matter what transpired on board his boat, actions well beyond the control of him or any of his crew would continue moving right along, almost as if to mock them.
The radio officer barely twitched a muscle as his gaze went back up to his captain “message is authentic captain” he said, again without emotion.
Like actors in a well rehearsed play, the other two officers played their parts “I concur sir” said Rollins.
“I concur sir” Sinclair said immediately afterward.
And just like that Ackerman and the other two officers brought their attention back to McKern who looked back down at the printout and read aloud:
“To the USS Henry M. Jackson SSBN-730, Enigma airborne elements have broken up into small groups of varying size and composition and begun moving outward from initial bases of operations en-mass in multiple directions. The aims and objectives of these forces are unknown but presumed to be hostile. All strategic and tactical nuclear forces have been ordered to assume condition RED GERONIMO. Specific orders of Henry M. Jackson are as follows:
1.)At exactly 1048 Zulu, launch twelve Trident missiles to detonate over the Gulf of Mexico at the coordinates 25.461792 by -88.374023 at an altitude of eight thousand feet above sea level.
2.)Hold depth and position and await further launch orders.”
McKern fell silent, then “sir, your missile key” he said as he handed over the key and lanyard which Ackerman accepted with a curt nod before putting it around his neck. The radio officer then turned and headed back the way which he had come.
Wordlessly, Ackerman turned and headed back toward the conn, the other two in tow.
The three of them entered the conn silently “Lieutenant Sikorski, I have the conn” Ackerman said as he passed through the hatch.
The Lieutenant nodded in assent “aye, the Captain has the conn” he said as he stepped aside to allow his captain back to his station.
Grabbing the handset on the growler, he flipped the switch for the boat-wide intercom, taking a deep breath, he slowly began to exhale before talking “this is the captain, orders have been received for missile launch. Set condition one-sq, spin up missiles thirteen through twenty-four, the use of nuclear weapons has been authorized. This is not a drill” he announced before handing the handset to Sinclair.
The XO paused and took a lengthy breath as he looked at Ackerman, then around the conn. Finally he raised the handset to his mouth and spoke “this is the XO, orders have been received for missile launch. Set condition one-sq, spin up missiles thirteen through twenty-four, the use of nuclear weapons has been authorized. This is not a drill.”
The next hour was filled with hurried activity, but none of it frantic. The crew had drilled the very actions they were undertaking time and time again, to the point that they all knew exactly what to do without question.
Every single man on board the boat knew exactly what was happening all over the world and what was about to happen. At that very moment, dozens of other ballistic missile submarines around the world under French, British, Russian, Chinese, and American flags were undergoing identical preparations, thousands of aircraft were scrambling, and millions of brave men and women around the world were getting ready to quite possibly breath their last breaths, and billions more people were watching their televisions or listening to radios as their governments told them to get ready for full scale war, quite possibly in their own backyards.
Very little was known about this new enemy, except that they had so far proven to possess capabilities quite far beyond anything the human race was able to do and that so far they had proven more than capable of handling any response that the combined military's of the world could throw at them. And while he would never say it out loud, and the powers that be quite similarly were tight lipped on the issue, it was widely accepted that under the current circumstances, it was entirely possible that the by the end of the day the war would be over, and the human race would be no more.
The one (very small) mercy, was the fact that their target was over the Gulf of Mexico, meaning that if any people were caught in the blast radius of these warheads, they would be relatively few in number, but then Ackerman's mind went to the remaining twelve missiles that were going to stay in their tubes after the first launch.
As he had been been briefed, he knew just what condition RED GERONIMO meant: enemy air elements were being broken up into smaller groups, thus diluting their ability to concentrate fire, and allowing for the possibility to get nuclear weapons through their defenses. However, due to a lack of knowledge of the true limits of their point defense capabilities, the initial nuclear weapons release would be somewhat limited, in order to allow for a second or possibly even third release of weapons to take care of any enemy forces that survived the first launch.
Yes, their orders meant that they would not be killing millions of people, but next time they received launch orders, it was all too likely that the target coordinates would be over a populated area, and worse, it would most likely be over their own country, not that the nationality of the victims mattered much when one was ordered to kill millions of people.
He wondered if their next launch orders would have them killing the families of his crew. The bitter irony of the situation was that despite being sworn to protect their country from every threat, they would very likely be killing millions of their own countrymen(and possibly even friends and family) in doing that duty.
“Conn, sonar, we've got contact. Contact is designated sierra-two.”
Pulled out of his own thoughts by the voice coming from the growler, Ackerman grabbed the handset “sonar, this is the captain, what do you have?” he asked.
There was a pause “...uh, that's a good question sir. Maybe you should come down here and take a look” came the reply.
Ackerman scowled “Chief Ibanez, we are thirty-two minutes away from missile launch” he said, annoyed.
“Understood sir, it's just that... I really think you should take a look at this.”
Without responding, Ackerman hung up the handset and headed toward the forward hatch “Commander Sinclair, you have the conn” he said on his way out.
“This better be damn important chief” Ackerman said as he entered the sonar room.
Chief Warrant Officer Ibanez gave him a nervous look “understood captain, it's just this contact. I've never seen anything quite like it before” he indicated the bank of monitors in front of him.
Ackerman glanced at the monitors before him as the Chief handed him a pair of headphones which he placed up to his ear, the sound he heard was indeed perplexing, it sounded like some kind of animal “biologic?” he said with a raised eyebrow.
The Chief shook his head “that's what I thought too, but it's far too deep and loud to be one” he furrowed his brow “now I slept through most of biology in high school, but I've never heard a whale make that kind of noise before, and the computer doesn't know what to make of it either” he explained.
Pulled out of his sense of impending dread for a moment “a sea monster Chief Ibanez?” he said with what could have almost been mistaken for a grin.
Ibanez gave a abrupt and nervous chuckle “I dunno sir” then his expression got a bit more serious “the only thing I do know for sure is that in order to make a noise like that, you would need something a hell of a lot bigger than any animal that I know of” he said.
The slight grin on Ackerman's face disappeared as he felt a deep sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach start to materialized.
Suddenly he is back in Bangor sitting in a conference room, sipping on the shitty coffee they serve there while some Lieutenant from ONI is droning on and on about some scattered reports from a gunnery officer on board the IIIDeweyIII and a couple sailors on some Japanese cruiser who claimed to have spotted some kind of creature drag a cargo ship down under the waves during the evacuation of Peru. There was no distress call from the cargo ship in question and no other sign as to the cause of its disappearance.
Back in the present, Ackerman realized that while he was somewhat dismissive of the claims made in the ONI briefing, he suddenly realized that he had been a fool not to at least take into account the possibility that the bozorgs had started fielding some kind of sea-going forces. Taking a deep breath and giving the contact another quick look he turned and faced the chief “alright, give me the details” he said.
“Right now it doesn't seem to be too interested in us, it is currently at a heading of about one-seven-five moving at a perpendicular course to our own, at a range of about eleven thousand yards , contact's speed seems to be somewhere around twenty knots.”
There was a pause, then “you want us to ping it?” asked Ibanez.
Ackerman shook his head “whatever it is, it doesn't seem interested in us, and I don't want that to change” he turned to head back to the conn “watch that thing like a hawk, if it so much as twitches I want to know about it” he said as he left the sonar room.
“Aye sir” replied Ibanez nervously.
About half an hour later he was standing in the conn, listening to the sound of the final missile in their salvo leave its tube.
For a moment, the entire conn sat in silence as each man there most likely came to the realization of just how much firepower they had launched off in such a short time.
Ackerman finally broke the silence “as you were gentlemen” he said to the men under his command before grabbing the growler handset and flipping it over to the sonar room “sonar, this is the Captain, what's the status on contact sierra-two?” he asked.
About a half a second later came the response “no aspect change from contact in the past ten minutes, looks like that last course correction was a false alarm” he explained.
Nodding in understanding “very well, carry on chief, you know what to do if that changes” he said before hanging up.
Attention returned to the helm “alright, let's get some more distance between ourselves and whatever the hell that thing is. Helm, change heading to oh-nine-five, make your depth four hundred feet, thirty degree down-angle, and make your speed all ahead half” he ordered.
The helm officer repeating the order in affirmation, Ackerman finally turned to Lieutenant Cleefeld at fire control and the two of them exchanged glances but no words. He was sure he had no need to explain the situation to him, but the unsaid command was clear 'no matter what it looks like it may be doing, if it so much as looks at us funny, blow the damn thing into orbit.'
Personally, he wondered if anything short of the nuclear ordinance in their missile tubes would be enough to take out that mysterious contact. He decided that he would perfectly happy if he never found out.
-10:07 AM March 30, 1988, Eastern Syunik Province, Armenia
Sweat poured down Ming's face, he was concentrating so hard that he didn't even notice it until some of it dripped into his eye, prompting him to quickly wipe it away as it stung him. His heart was pounding and he wasn't quite sure just how he was going to handle this situation, not like he was particularly adept at this sort of thing.
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath to steady his nerves.
With that accomplished, he opened his eyes again and flung himself forward. First one foot, then the other. Three steps later he swung his right leg back and with all his strength and concentration he sent the ball sailing up into the air over the tightly packed row of defenders. His eyes followed it as it hooked to the right in midair, he clenched his fists in anticipation as he watched the goalkeeper; an American Lieutenant named Tracy, throw himself at the ball... and just missing as it flew past his hands and between the two tanks they had positioned to act as their goalposts.
“YES!” Ming shouted as he threw his arms up in celebration, and with that the rest of his teammates ran forward to join him.
“Alright everybody, game's over!”
Colonel Yu was standing atop one of the new Huang Dis “time to get to work, the enemy has decided to come pay us a visit” he announced.
Ten minutes later Ming found himself climbing down through the main hatch into the crew compartment of his Huang Di. Despite the new(and comparatively spacious) crew compartments of the first production model Huang Dis which finally allowed the entire crew to all sit together for once, it was still just about as cramped as the old type 69 that he had been assigned to before the war.
Descending the last rung of the ladder, he crawled over to his seat and snatched his helmet off of it. With a gentle grunt he pulled it on and plugged in his radio “radio check, can everyone here me?” he asked while tightening the chinstrap.
The rest of his crew answered back in the affirmative as they too fitted their helmets “roger- understood” said Lieutenant Carter in broken Mandarin before following up with “apologies lieutenant, is a hard habit to break.”
Ming chuckled slightly “not to worry Lieutenant, despite the strange way it sounds, there is a certain charm to your slang” he replied. He was still a little hazy on the exact origin of that particular piece of vernacular, something to do with the English alphabet. Of course, by definition that meant that it was one of the more difficult pieces of vocabulary for him to understand, and getting to understand the Lieutenant was made all the more difficult by his incredibly thick accent.
Granted, Ming was well aware that his own English was hardly anything he would take pride in at the moment. Then things were only made all the more convoluted by the tendency that the entire squadron had adopted where they occasionally took to speaking in a rough mix of both English and Mandarin. It was almost a separate language unto itself.
The Lieutenant was one of the Americans that had been sent to their unit for training purposes in preparations for the eventual introduction of production models of American made versions of the Huang Di, and despite possessing equal rank to Ming(in fact having considerably more time in grade than he) for the duration of Carter's tour, he would be subordinate to Ming, a fact that he found some amusement at but did his best to keep said amusement from the Lieutenant.
Another look around the crew compartment, and Ming began a general inspection of the interior of his vehicle “status report” he said toward his crew which was answered with various positive responses. Then he gave his own status panel a quick look with its various LED indicators to make sure that everything was in order before heading back up the ladder.
With a nod to no one in particular, he switched over to the squadron channel “this is vehicle three, all systems are status green” he announced before heading back up the ladder.
The sounds of ten other vehicle commanders reported in to Colonel Yu a similar status and in the space of just about two minutes they were all moving in single file down the dilapidated road that had once been a well traveled highway.
Ming glanced westward in the direction that they were headed and he could see the occasional flash reflected in the sparse cloud cover over the horizon, and just like that all of his thoughts about pride and marvel at the beauty of their vehicles had faded with thoughts of what was coming for them out there and if any of them would live to see the next day, a feeling of uncertainty the likes of which he had not encountered since that fateful day in Xinjang.
Two vehicle crews had not survived on top two type 88 tanks and he still didn't know how many fighter pilots, and that was just from that day, all in the interest of taking out one enemy target. Many more brave men and women had not managed to make it to this particular day, and chances were that many more would be joining their fallen comrades before the next sunset. There wasn't much for him to do about that anyway, so he turned his attention to the task they had been given, it was the best he could do.