Illustration by James Johnson (Mutant Comix)
Nothing from base yet again today. We remain missionless in the peat-black depths of the ocean. Our skipper Sea Daddy is gone, his face and dick-skinners blown off in the conn room explosion. And so we are practically leader-less as well, 500 feet beneath the waves.
The crew is on the brink, struggling to maintain routine and chain of command in this, our sixth month below. The 18-hour schedule, divided into three six-hour segments for sleeping, keeping watch, and free time, has become insufferable. No amount of psych evals can prepare you for this.
The worst thing is the pinging. Our active sonar went pear shaped in the explosion and won’t stop pinging, loudly. You have to go all the way to Hogan’s Alley, the dead-end section of the after battery, to get any peace and quiet, and even there you can still hear it faintly.
Another day in the life. The only thing we know is that we have to stick together. We try to rack out or read paperbacks to relax. There are fifteen feet of personal space for every sailor. We drink Yeoman Zimmer’s homemade kombucha to keep our shits regular.
To drown out the pinging we crank music, but the choice is limited – the Beatle’s Revolver and First Mate Li’s copy of Lost Classics of Salsa II playing over and over again. We dance with each other, of course, because we have to.
We all live in a yellow submarine,
We creep about the sea,
Make nightmares out of dreams.
We’re cramped and isolated, nut to butt eight days a week. The air is rife with grabass, monkey business and manky jumpsuits. We are 79 men on a heavily armed, 2.6 million dollar steel cigar of death. And we sail aimlessly on.
It’s been much too long, with no word from the shadow masters on base. Whether base even exists anymore has become a matter of speculation. The bubbleheads are restless – a crew being below for this amount of time is unheard of, so we’ve decided to go rogue. This is war and the situation is fluid. We set our course for danger.
Hurtling toward target, the damn pings are relentless. We’re not worried about detection, though. After months of fighting down here, we are the only game in town now. No more cat and mouse games. A clean sweep. Somebody even lashed a broom to the periscope, as per the old tradition. We are top of the food chain in the whole ocean blue. A ghost sub. Here, there and everywhere. Full speed ahead, Mr. Parker, full speed ahead! We’re going balls to the wall at 30 knots.
With the devil in our hearts, we breach the inlet at twilight. Rain is coming down so hard that the difference between being topside and underwater is incremental at best. Muffled tracers fly from the shore – we’re in the middle of a firefight. The sky is thick with paratroopers, some of them beginning to plop into the waves around us. There is no way to know whether they are friend or foe in the context of the current conflict. Action station! Action station! Aye, aye, sir, fire! We open fire with the guns mounted on the bridge, killing anything that moves. Soon enough the vicinity is cleared, the only sounds those maddening pings and the cries of a few orca whales, wasted in the crossfire. We turn our attention to the shore, luminous and distant in the rain and fog.
An order is given, the source of which is appropriately ambiguous. Flip the switches. Kill the sons of bitches. We’re going ballistic. We unleash a cascade of fire from the sea. From us to you. We are a vessel of death, spoiling the party. We are helter skelter soldiers of love. The whole thing takes just minutes and the Tridents do their jobs to perfection. Bravo Zulu. We flood the main ballast tanks and re-submerge, the entire crew chanting the familiar refrain:
Take her down, take her deep,
Damn the pressure, damn the heat,
Take her down, take her deep,
Make your depth 500 feet.
Like a punch in the gut, word finally came from base today. The Head Mother Fuckers in Charge have ordered us back, to a fate uncertain. The elation from the attack is long gone, and extra French toast for breakfast from Cook doesn’t help ease the tension. We retire to our fartsacks and, before too long, the old underwater ennui sets in. Blinking in the dark, we think of birthdays and anniversaries missed, of funerals and holidays and home lives passing by, of brotherhood and war crime tribunals and drift error and an entire continental coast now smoldering in ruins. The rehearsal: “I was never there, am not aware of, and have no knowledge of that particular operation.”
It’s complicated, or it’s not. Boys will be boys. War is hell. You follow orders, and when orders don’t come, you make it up as you go along. We poke a languid hole through the ocean, skimming the seabed, meandering through octopus fields and over trenches unimaginably deep and dark. It won’t be long now, and the sub seems to carry more and more weight the closer she gets to home. The pinging is incessant. We know now, the pinging will never stop.