The Hunt (Part 2 of 2)

Posted by on Aug 16, 2011 in Blog | Comments Off on The Hunt (Part 2 of 2)

The Hunt (Part 2 of 2)

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With another deafening screech the metal beast rose from out of the sea, drawing itself up menacingly just to starboard. A massive swell rolled under the two combatants, lifting first the American vessel so that it hung just above the Ika, then plunging it back down, so that the beast cast its shadow over the deck, its dripping tentacles hovering just above the scrambling sailors. With agonising slowness the turret tracked round, and then the roar of the cannon echoed out, mixing with a simultaneous rumble of thunder. The shell blossomed on the bulk of the beast, and suddenly the deck of the cruiser was alive with rifle shots and shouts as the crew fought back. “Exec with me,” Worthing called as he ran to the ladder and hatch up to the command deck, simultaneously pulling on an oil-skin waterproof. “Stand at your posts men!” he called to the rest of the bridge staff as he swarmed up the ladder and into a swirling concert of noise. The thunderstorm still raged, whilst down on deck shots still rang out at the Ika, which remained poised over its prey.

“What the hell is it doing, sir?” called Laurel as he too arrived on deck just after his captain. “Messing with our heads, making us think our weapons are useless against it.” As if to prove Nathaniel’s point, another rattle of rifle bullets rattled harmlessly off the Ika’s bulk. Slipping and sliding over the heaving deck, Worthing ran to one of the concussion charge launchers that were mounted on the railings. Laurel followed, tacking slightly to reach the next launcher along. The turret spoke again, still trying to get a hit on the creature, and Worthing glanced up in hope, only to be drenched in spray as great gouts of water were flung in the air as the shell went wide. Focusing back on the spigot, Nathaniel dragged the tarp off the launcher and then withdrew the safety pin. Staggering round, he quickly cranked it up to suitable elevation. To his left, Laurel disappeared under a cloud of spray as he struggled to ready another launcher. A dull whumph rang out over the deck, as Worthing realised that another sailor had had the same idea. The spigot charge exploded square on the Ika’s hull, causing it to screech. With grim finality, it stuck at the Calhoun.

Nathaniel grabbed the firing pin, jumping away into a roll as he pulled it out. The spigot fire with a dull thud, then a cracking, splintering sound heralded the arrival of a tentacle, which struck straight through the planking of the command deck. The captain struggled upright, drawing his sword and cocking a pistol as he did so. His charge was checked by the sight of the decks of the American vessel heaving with knots of sailors as they tried in desperation to force the Ika to release its grip. More of the metallic appendages had stuck fast in the hull and planking, dragging the cruiser inexorably towards its maw. Others swung like deadly fails, casting sailors and marines into the torrents of the Atlantic. The Calhoun creaked and groaned in protest, the Thruxworthian engine straining against the pull of the squid. The protests of the superstructure awoke Worthing from his reverie. With a cry he made a sliding charge at the tentacle that was no doubt wreaking havoc in the bridge beneath him. His first few blows did nought but jar his arm, and he set to prowling around looking for a chink in the armour. Finding a likely spot, Worthing stuck his pistol in the gap, breathed out and fired, ducking quickly when he heard the successive plinks of a ricochet.

Rivulets of rain water and spray ran down over his peaked cap, down his face and beard as he sagged against the unwelcome metal trunk that still graced his vessel. On deck, the sounds of battle were becoming muted as sailors and marines abandoned their task as futile. With horror, Nathaniel became aware of the list of the cruiser, as it began to be drawn closer and closer to the cutting mandibles of the Japanese construction. Soon those cutters and saws would bite into the Calhoun, the Thruxworthian engine would begin to overload and a green and purple Sturginium flare would light up the stormy sea as the cruiser died. The flotsam and jetsam of the Calhoun would be all that brought news of the crew’s death back home to the States….

“Sir!” Worthing looked up and saw a staggering figure emerge through the driving rain. It was Laurel, bent under some heavy weight as he made his way across the deck. Worthing leant over to give a hand. “What the hell is this, exec?” he cried over the storm. “Concussion charge, sir! I didn’t manage to fire her in time, so I thought we might make more… er… close quarters use of the thing.” Laurel nodded at the tentacle still stuck fast in the Calhoun’s command deck. The two officers heaved with renewed purpose at the mortar shell, finally dragging it round the tentacle and lifting it up gently into the chink that Worthing had found before. The satisfying clunk of the shell was marred as both men staggered. Beneath their feet, the Lexington Cruiser groaned and creaked as the Ika began to tighten its fatal grip on the ship. Below on deck the crew cowered in fear, and dismay. Why had they hunted such a fearsome thing?

Laurel turned his eye to the mortar-cum-demolition charge with a wry look on his face, clear even with the rain that plastered down his brown hair and bedraggled his thin moustache. “Ah….now there’s the simple matter of blowing up the darned thing, sir.” Worthing looked at the charge, then once more glanced at the Ika. Setting his jaw, he drew forth his second pistol. Laurel raised an eyebrow and then stepped back slightly from the charge. Worthing nodded and stiffly moved as close as he dared. “Damn this job to hell,” he remarked to no-one in particular. “Amen to that sir!” cried Laurel. Worthing snorted, drew up the pistol and fired.

The resultant explosion flung both men onto their backs. Worthing lost his grip on his pistol, which spun into the air and clattered to the ground somewhere behind them. The Ika screeched yet again, the severed end of the now rather short tentacle flailing as if in pain. With repeated splintering cracks, the Ika withdrew its other tentacles and slowly dived beneath the heaving sea. A muted cheer resounded from the deck of the Calhoun as Worthing clambered to his feet. Stumbling over to the hatch, he dropped down into the bridge and winced at the sight that greeted him. Several of the windows were smashed, instrument panels wrecked and three officers slumped dead in various parts of the room. The rest of the bridge crew weren’t in much better shape, all nursing wounds of some form or another in their attempt to contain the flailing tentacle. The stump of the tentacle still lay in the centre of the room, lying like a massive gross caterpillar in the centre of the bridge. One end still lay deep into the Sturginium Detection Array, a greenish purple corrosion forming around the tip. Rain dripped down over almost every surface through the gaping hole in the ceiling and came driving through the smashed viewing windows.

The hatch behind Worthing creaked again as Laurel dropped into the shattered bridge. “My God….” he breathed, staring around at the destruction. He silently handed the Captain the lost pistol. “Picked it up, sir, I know you’d hate to lose it.” The subsequent grin on the Exec’s face was rather muted, the joke falling flat amidst the carnage. The Calhoun listed slightly again, creaking and groaning. “Tell engineering to drop the speed, I don’t want to tear my ship apart just after surviving that attack. Systems, I want a damage report. Detection officer, see if you can use the backup suite to track that squid. Give me its course and speed if you can. And navigations, find out where the hell we are!” The officers suddenly leapt to it. Worthing picked his way across the cabin to the speaking tube. Cranking the handle, he wired through to the medical bay. “Butcher’s bill doctor?” The thick New York accent of the ship’s doctor rolled back through the tube. “Twenty-two dead, nearly three times that number bearing small wounds, sir. I’m dispatching orderlies to deal with the crew in situ; I’m already swamped down here Captain.” Worthing winced before replying heavily, “Add another three to the bill, doctor, and when you’re ready send an orderly up to the bridge. You know the priority though.” “Aye, sir.” The speaking tube went dead; Worthing decided to let it pass. With the battle over, the doctor’s work had only just begun.

Nodding to his exec, Worthing gingerly crossed over the room and then opened the hatch door into his own quarters. Even this room hadn’t been spared damage, and a small rent in the planking was letting a steady stream of water onto some of his books and papers. Carefully moving them aside, he slumped into the stiff backed mahogany chair. Throwing his peaked forage cap aside, he ran a hand through his damp hair, letting out a sigh of exasperation. Had it been a foolish thing to chase the Ika? His orders had undoubtedly been to do so, but clearly the Secretary for the Navy and his staff had underestimated the ability of the machine. Worthing nodded; his recommendation would have to be that future operations against an Ika should be conducted at proper squadron strength. Worthing slowly stood up in his chair – clearly this situation called for decisive action.

Striding out of his cabin determinedly, he made his way to the rather battered communications console. Around him the bridge had been transformed into a slightly less dishevelled state. The detritus of the battle had been cleared away and teams of engineers were already installing new windows and fixing the consoles as best they could. Exec Laurel was overseeing the operation in fine spirits, and over all loomed the severed Ika limb, now used to plug the gap in the ceiling through an ingenious use of telescopic struts. Worthing finally sat down at the communications desk. The FSS Calhoun was equipped with a communigraph device that allowed inter-ship and extra-ship communications at certain intervals. Unfortunately, getting the thing working took some time, so most Federal captains preferred to leave it powered down. Rumour had it that the most ships had been refitted with communigraphs that also communicated within a ship, making speaking tubes obsolete, and that were also able to start at the push of a button. Worthing knew these rumours to be true, as the scheduled refit had just been about to start before the Calhoun had been ordered to sea.

All this ran through the Captain’s mind as he first cranked the battery and then began winding the transmission and receiver aerials into place. Then he pushed the start sequence buttons, hoping that the cruiser’s sturginium core hadn’t been damaged during the attack to prevent power reaching the device. A low hum coursed through the machinery, and lights blinked on in several dials. Brass needles began quivering back and forth, displaying the power level, the frequency and the rotations of the aerials. Quickly Worthing twisted several burnished wheels so the arrows pointed to the code numbers that Federal Naval Command/Operation Hunt had given him prior commencing operations. That done, he beckoned one of the crewmen over. “Keep this machine operating as best you can. I’ll be using the set in the cabin.” With that, he walked back into the berth and closed the door.

Across the room from the desk was a medium sized cabinet, looking from the outside no more than a drinks cabinet (a common enough occurrence in ocean going vessels of all nations). Indeed it had in the first instance been designed to look like a drinks cabinet, until the designers were told that a drinks cabinet with several wires and tubes leading away from it was hardly going to fool anybody. Opening the doors of the cabinet, Worthing was confronted by the discourser. It was an old model, far larger than the man-packed units now used by the Federal military (Worthing assumed that it too was due to be replaced), but the device was largely the same. Winding up the crank, Worthing drew the headphones over his ears and picked up the mouthpiece. A green light flared on when the battery had fully charged.

“Two Lamps calling Old North, Two Lamps calling Old North.” Worthing grinned despite himself: two if by sea… a pretty basic code if you thought about it. A voice, distorted by distance no doubt, came over the sets into his ears. “This is Old North, Two Lamps. Please give the call sign.” “The call sign is disquisition. I repeat disquisition.” Again, a pretty simple code, after the Calhoun’s namesake, but then the encoding on the transmitter was supposed to protect against eavesdropping, so no-one really tried to come up with more complex codes. “Old North to Two Lamps, your call sign has been verified. Patching you through now, sir.” The line went dead. The green light on the discourser flashed and Reford wound the charge lever whilst waiting to be reconnected. “Hailing the FSS Calhoun.” It was an old voice, and one that Worthing thought he recognised.

This is Captain Worthing of the FSS Calhoun receiving, sir.” “Ah Worthing, glad to see you’re still in the frontline. Now where the hell are you?” Worthing grinned, that was Commodore – no, wait – Admiral Porter all right. “Somewhere in the middle of an Atlantic storm, sir.” “Dammit man, how the blazes did you end up out there? Our last report says you sighted that Ika – don’t tell me you chased it all the way into the Atlantic!” “Yes sir we did sir. Hugged its wake ever since the sighting off Tampa. We’re just recovering from our first encounter with it.” “Good heavens, captain! Didn’t you get the Secretary’s memo? Ah… no, of course you wouldn’t have, you’re still using a second generation communigraph. You chaps leave it off most of the time don’t you?” Worthing nodded despite himself. “Well…. apparently the boffins suddenly decided it was nastier than first thought…. hang on! Don’t tell me you caught the thing?!” “Afraid not, we took a hell of a beating. The Ika lost a limb and scarpered,” Porter made a small exclamation at the other end of the line, “and now we’re just riding out the storm. I decided the best course of action was to seek further orders.”

The line was quiet for a moment. Worthing wound the charge handle again whilst waiting for a reply. The headset crackled and then the Admiral’s voice spoke strong and clear from out of the set. “Right, I’ve got new orders for you. Bring the Calhoun back to the States… the boffins have plans for her. She’s to be refitted and repaired, Captain. Then you are to report to Rear Admiral Weiss’ command in the Pacific – the war with the Empire is going up a notch, and we want you there.” Worthing nodded. “And the Ika, sir?” Even over the line he thought he could almost hear the Admiral’s smile. “That Ika is to be your primary objective. You are to have a special remit Captain: that beast is to be found – and destroyed.”

The End …for now.