It was game night at John’s place. Had several chums from his office there, and it was pretty fun. Even Betty showed up. Most recently we were playing One Night Ultimate Werewolf. I kicked so much ass at this game! My poker face is impeccable. Not a single person could play me. Managed to convince Emily that I was a villager. Bad move! Felt like such a boss.
A few rounds of this, some pizza, and everyone getting in on it. Some Apples to Apples after that, a nice way to level off the night. Once his chums were leaving, things got quieter. Ashley was also there. I couldn’t help but notice the looks she was giving me. She really is cute. Curvy in all the right places, with a little bit of fluffy. The more I got my feelings back, the more I realize how much I have been wanting the little things in life. Good company, fun games, and if this itch wasn’t gonna get off my back, to deep-six between her legs with a torpedo. Never before had I noticed it this hard until now. Every once and a while it would be on me, but right now it was in overdrive. Magazines tell me that women hit the peak in their 30’s. I’m starting to think they’re on to something.
We all ended up in the living room on the couches, telling stories. Ashley told one of a client who was all pissed off that child support wasn’t going after her ex-husband, because she saw him on the street corner begging for money. Wow. There’s petty, and then there’s that. Emily told a story about her and her dad being on a hike in the mountains, with her falling and breaking her arm. Her dad carried her down the entire mountain, not setting her down once. That was super sweet. Could see John having more than a little pride on his face. Betty told a story of one of her children getting kicked out of school for the day and her beating their ass. You don’t fuck with a southern black woman. Poor kiddo should have known better.
Getting toward the end of the night, Betty and her husband went home. Now it was just the four of us. Had a nice buzz going from this rather splendid spiked hot chocolate that I was given. Had pumpkin spice Baileys in it. Very good stuff. This drink needs a name. Any suggestions would be appreciated.
“What about you, Quinn?” John asked. “I bet you have a thousand stories from your time in the Navy. Em can’t stop talking about how cool you sound when you tell her stuff. Never goes into detail, but says you are so cool. Got a story for us?”
Ashley sat forward. “Oh yeah! You gotta give us one!”
Well shit. They had me there. And John had trusted me enough to open up his family and his life to me. I couldn’t get as deep as I had with kiddo, but they deserved something. He wasn’t wrong. There were a thousand stories I could tell on a bad day and still have thousands more.
“Alright, I got one. Lemme tell you a story about a mission where our insertion point was a submarine…”
Let me tell you something about life in the STARS – you never really know where exactly your next job is gonna take you. Nowhere was this more apparent than below decks on the USS Iowa. It had just come from its shake-down cruise, and now was pressed into service. Not a second too soon, because there was a mission that the STARS were commissioned for. Why did they have us doing this? Because this is how it work. It’s a test, you see. The Navy had this long-running gag about us. Called us the FDU, or Frigid Dykes Unit. Why? Because we are seen as cold-blooded and gay.
I’m not here to call men in the service all horny dudebros. Not even remotely. Granted, sex crimes in the military is a huge problem that all female recruits are given education in boot. But when you are part of a combat team, and training with other combat teams, and you are a woman who doesn’t put out, you get a reputation as gay. You’d think this sort of shit would stay in the Army. I expect them to be the types who ate paint chips as kids. God knows, they do enough to prove me right on that front.
The brass needed us to earn some respect. Do something big in a typically bro-tastic environment. I say typically because there was more changing than just us being in this submarine. The USS Iowa was the first of its kind in an entirely different way, which was part of why the lot of us were able to be in here. This sub was the first one crewed entirely by women.
Something to know – up to this point, there had NEVER been a submarine with a full-time female crew, because there are some things about subs to know. In a submarine, you have absolutely ZERO privacy. None whatsoever. And since you have to maximize space usage in one of these things, you can’t just have cordoned off space for women. There had been attempts to have women on a sub, but the results were disastrous. Sex crimes were insane, often the chick was used by the crew. It was horrible, and the Navy goes out of their way not to talk about that.
This ship was different. All of the talk about equality, and the brass wanted something they could show off. So, they put out a billet asking for volunteers for a brand new program. Instead of trying to integrate men and women onto a sub, why not have one exclusively for women? The concept was ambitious, and could have ended disastrously. However, female recruits jumped at the opportunity. It was a chance to do something really cool, and show the boys what we could do. The obligation was massive, and the expectations were not reduced, but those who volunteered proved that they were ready for the responsibility. The shake-down run of the USS Iowa was a proving ground for new tech, as well as a new idea in practice. Made the Navy look REALLY good.
But this was still a proving ground for the STARS in a place where people could see what we were capable of. Just meant that we were among all those of the same gender. It meant some changes to how our operation worked. Instead of our typical Lt, we had Lt. Sarah Joliffe. A very calculating woman, but not outright cold, she was a rad type. We had worked with her before. It also meant that only our female techs were with us. Not that the rest hadn’t seen us naked before, but there were rules to protect all involved. Only made sense. Rodriguez joked that I must be in my zone here, and I’d be lying if it wasn’t pretty rad. Being around fit women, who were totally cool with being naked around one-another. Candyland, for sure. A pity there is ZERO chance of privacy in this joint. Otherwise I would be all about it.
As it happened, one of the techs came over. They had learned how to be quiet. Making noise on a sub was a good way to get your ass kicked. Especially people who slammed doors. Being quiet was second-nature to us, but they had learned.
“Alpha Team, you’re up!” they said.
Getting up quick, we rushed out. I couldn’t help but notice some of the looks I got. Oh, if only this joint didn’t have some privacy. The things I would do. No! Bad Quinn! Dirty thoughts can do more than sink ships. They can sink careers too. Besides, I didn’t need CWO Beryl up my ass. I really didn’t.
We got to the Control Room, with Lt and the Sub Captain standing at the CON. They were looking at a digital map of what appeared to be a ship. We lined up and came to.
“At ease. Alright, STARS,” Lt began. “It’s time for us to get to work.”
“Yes sir,” Beacham replied. “What’s the mission?”
“You’re going to be infiltrating an enemy vessel.” He pointed to the map. “This is the (Redacted). It’s a French vessel that’s been commandeered by African pirates. The passengers are being held at the center of the ship, and demands are being made to ransom them. However, we have another problem.”
The screen changed to show a man in an Air Force officer’s uniform, holding a briefcase.
“This is Colonel (Redacted). He was in possession of a briefcase containing high-value information. There is a monitor on it in case there is an attempt to force it open. It has not gone off. We believe that the Colonel hid the case before he was captured. That information CANNOT fall into the pirates’ hands. They aren’t stupid. They would know that a ton of nations would be chomping at the bits to pay top dollar for this. Your mission is to go in, ascertain the location of the case, and liberate it from the vessel.”
“This a smash and grab, sir?” I asked.
“That’s a big negative,” Lt replied. “The enemy cannot know that we are aboard. Once you have secured the package and exfiltrated, a SEAL team will go in to mop up and rescue the hostages. But they aren’t in position yet. The USS Idaho is deploying them, and it hasn’t reached deployment radius. We’re in position, and the longer we wait, the more chance there is of the enemy discovering the package. So you’re up.”
“What’s our infil point, sir?” Pennyfeather asked.
“You’re going to be taking an SDV from here and coming in under the vessel. You’ll attach a magnetic hook to the vehicle and then surfacing. You will ascend the ship using magnetized gloves. This is top of the line gear, and you get to be lucky enough to field test it.”
Everyone smiled. I could see Bethke’s excitement at getting to test a new toy.
“You’ve done some training with this stuff, but this isn’t a simulated setting. This is the real deal. Once aboard, you will RV with the Colonel and get him to tell you where the package is, then grab it, and exfil the exact same way you came in. Keep in mind, you’ll have to lash your tanks to the side of the vessel with another mag hook. Turn off the pressure and keep them just below the waterline.
“Let me make one thing clear – you do NOT have Fifth Freedom for this operation. We cannot risk any dead crew that would incite the pirates to attack the prisoners.”
John was confused. “Fifth Freedom?”
“The freedom to break the law for the greater good. In other words, the freedom to kill.”
He looked very serious. “Damn. But I guess that’s the military for you.”
“Aye. Like you wouldn’t believe.”
TOS suits were made for all kinds of work. More top of the line gear. They might be so damn uncomfortable and skin-tight, but you work with the tools you have. Comfort is not a huge thing in any branch of the military. Why should the Navy be any different?
As we loaded up, Lt came up to where we stood.
“I know I’m sending you into the meat grinder on this one, ladies. The expectations are sky-high. So listen, consider this an auxiliary command – if there is a situation in which violence is the only option, in order to maintain secrecy or secure the lives of hostages, you do have Fifth Freedom. That is not official, but it is something to know.”
Beacham stepped forward. “We have our orders, sir. We’re wasting time. As you said, the longer we wait, the more risk the hostages are in.”
All of us nodded.
Lt smiled at her. “Alright then. Good hunting, Alpha Team.”
We all came to attention and saluted. “Hooyah!”
A SEAL Deployment Vehicle was loaded up in a launch platform accessed through one of the exterior hatches. We all went through, checking our gear. Dive equipment, prepped and ready. Pressure is good. Seals are good. SC-20K, with Five Seven sidearm. Both loaded, but also come with airfoil and shocker rounds, for non-lethal take-downs. There are also the cameras with the spikes in them that can be drilled into most any surface. Great way to get a good view. With their integrated mikes, you can also catch conversations.
The vehicle is piloted by two people. In this case, Beacham and Bethke, who have had training. The rest of us hang on to the hand-holds. Once we have the air flowing in the tanks, the submariners seal the access hatch and we are on. It’s pitch black when the lights go down, but the red emergency lights come on.
“Prep for submersion and depressurization.” A voice said in our ear pieces. We all got into position. A loud echo sound, then water flooding in. We trained for diving off the coast of Anchorage, I shit you not. This south African water was a wonderful escape by comparison. A bang, then the front of the launch tube opened with bubbles coming out. Beacham looked back to each of us. We held up the ok hand sign. Then, the motor came on and we exited.
Normally, there would be some talk of course, speed, and destination, but the STARS are silent. That’s just how we roll. OPSAT was monitoring all of us, and I guarantee the CON was watching all this in real time. The show had begun.
Time seems slower, underwater. That quiet sound of life in the dark sea. That fear as you wonder what sort of monsters are deep below you. Open ocean always did freak me out a little. I blame that fucking British dinosaur miniseries that had the giant sea monster coming up from the gloom with open jaws. Fuck sharks! That’s the shit that gave me night terrors when I was doing dive training. Looked over at the others. Just nerves, I told myself. Crow looked at me and nodded. She was so quiet, but had a very nice part of her as well. Part of me wanted to get underneath the quiet and see what she’s really like, but sometimes you just gotta accept people for who they are.
We came up under the target boat. Just a little bit of build-up underneath of grime. This was a new ship. Beacham brought the SDV to a stall. The ship was just floating. Guess they were waiting for the negotiations for the hostages. Once stopped, we disembarked. Bethke opened up the cargo section and took out one of the magnetic hooks. Such cool stuff. Coming up underneath, she attached it with a little thud. Nervous, but Beacham looked to us.
<Stay calm,> she signed. <The enemy won’t even notice that inside.>
The line was attached to the SDV, and we ascended with another hook and line. We made our way just up to where the water line was. From there, we had to act fast. We attached the hook and line. Pennyfeather attached the other end to the SDV. From there, we all took off the tanks, turned off the air pressure, and clipped them onto the line. They were secure, for now. So long as the ship didn’t go anywhere in a hurry, it would be alright. Surfacing, we activated the magnetic palms and feet.
A question – have you ever wanted to be Spider-Man? Because I shit you not, that is EXACTLY how we felt slowly making our way up the hull of this vessel. There’s cool, there’s really cool, and then there’s this. I took point, with Crow right behind me. The rest waited at the waterline. Avoid chance of detection. The moon was coming in and out of the clouds. A little worrying, but just a little.
This next bit was so damn tricky. I cannot tell you how nervous this made me. Crow came up and put her arm around my waist with the hand on the hull. She looked up and nodded. I disengaged my hands, pulling out a small wire from the wrist of my suit. At the end of it was the tiniest camera you’ve ever seen. I had it go up, looking over the top. There was one guy on this part of the ship. It was by the fan-tail. He was smoking a cigarette, looking both nervous and bored at the same time. Is that a thing? If not, he made it one. After a bit, he put it out and started moving away. That was our cue!
I motioned for the others to come in behind. Taking my goggles out of a sealed part of the TOS, I put them on and switched them to thermal vision. The back of the ship had a big cargo container not far away. That was perfect! Not only did it shield us from moonlight, but it made a nice landmark as a rally point. I motioned for Crow to indicate to the others to follow me. Coming about, I pulled my primary weapon and readied it. There was a gap of a few seconds. Regularly made sure that our lone guard didn’t come walking over. On the upper decks, there was a sense of order to this. These guys weren’t fucking around. The nervousness was real. I think they knew that the longer there was no response, the worse their position got. Which meant that their incentive to keep all the hostages alive got worse. They might be looking to kill one or two to show they mean business. We had to act fast.
Beacham came up last. Making sure everyone was safely aboard. Good commanding officer. Since she had rank, and definitely the leadership disposition, we just put her in charge. There was a title she had been given, but I could tell that it stuck in her craw.
<Alright, we gotta move quick! The enemy is getting antsy. Pierce! I want you to take Crow and get to where the hostages are. Lt gave us emergency Fifth Freedom, but we are NOT going to disobey the primary orders, understood?!>
<Hooyah,> we both signed.
<Okay.> She looked across the fantail. There was a large pole where the flag of the vessel was hanging. <Bethke, I want you up there! You’re on overwatch.>
<Rodriguez, you watch her six!>
That got her a mean look. Part of why she had that nickname in the first place.
<Pennyfeather, you are on duty when Pierce gets word about the case. We’ll have to go intercept it. Understood?>
<Alright then. Let’s move like we have a purpose.>
Crow and I disappeared into the night. They were keeping the running lights on, but the lights inside the rooms were very, very dim. Smart. If you’ve ever turned on your kitchen light and tried to look outside, you can’t see shit. They were leaving their visibility as large as they possibly could.
Long gangways on the deck, we made our way silently. Anytime we had to go under a light, we would make sure there was no one in visual range.
A comm from Bethke. We’ve got 12 enemies patrolling the hull. Six on each side. There are three decks, with ladders on each side. The enemy is alternating between decks. I can’t keep you updated regularly. The bridge is at the top deck. There is a big open area in the center on the first deck. The bulk of the guard are at the entry-points for that. I would guess that that’s where the hostages are being kept. This far away, thermal ain’t gonna see shit.
So that’s the score. Sounds like we knew what to do. God only knows how many are inside. Though, now that I thought about it, probably not many. This wasn’t a huge cruise ship. The smallest I had ever seen, now that I thought about it. Oh well. Made our mission that much harder. Bigger ships meant more places to hide. Here, it came down to being very, very careful.
Bethke provided locations as best she could. I send a Comm to Osprey to forward us the ship schematics to our OPSAT. Look at the screen on my arm, I went over. There had to be a way into that room that didn’t involve the exterior. Found it! There was an interior entry, but we would have to go along the length of the passageway on the first level. With virtually no room to maneuver in there, and us having to go past windows and the lighting in there being much better, I hated this.
We started toward the door, then Crow grabbed my shoulder and stopped me. There were no lights, but out on this fantail, I cannot tell you how exposed I felt. Looked back fast, but saw her taking her goggles off, eyes closed, as the breeze blew past. I’d seen her do this before. It was so strange. Then, she motioned for us not to go there.
The look in her eyes said one thing – trust me.
Well shit. I wasn’t much for going in there anyway. Let’s see where her idea took us. We went over to the flush deck, but saw where the enemy was just down the way. I looked at her, with an expression of – now what?
She turned on her mags on the hands. I saw what the method was, but to what end? I made to follow suit, but she stopped me. Pointed right at this spot. Again, sitting in an exposed position. Fuck me.
In a flash she was over the side. Brought my weapon to bear, looking down the sight. The ladder going up to the second deck was at the far end of where they were standing. At least I didn’t have to worry about someone coming up on my six. Not that they could. It takes a special kind of man to sneak up on me.
Got a buzz on my comm. Cued up OPSAT.
Prepare to move. Fast! It was Crow. I was already crouched. Lowered my weapon, ready to move. Thermal showed a small device go flying into the overhead, just down from their position. It started making a low beeping sound. The three guys there looked, and two started to move toward it. The third guy decided that he was going to go inside. That’s it! My padded feet made no noise as I went across the deck as fast as I dared. Crow pulled herself up right behind me. Using thermal, I had the camera look under the door. Tons of signatures! Perk was, the guy who went in was now talking to another dude inside. Seemed very busy. Worked for me! Crow hit the sensor to turn off the distraction on the sticky camera. One of the windows was open, and it wasn’t under a light! I pulled myself up by the ledge below it, dropping myself inside. Crow did the same.
Queued up the others. We’re in. Stand by for coordinates of the package.
Now to figure out where the Colonel was. This room wasn’t as stocked as I expected. There was access to the second deck via a ladder at the far end of the room. A chandelier hung on the ceiling, but was off. Only the room lights were on. Again, not to reduce visibility and also not to give away where the hostages were. Not that any reasonable person wouldn’t guess in here. Still, can’t be too careful.
There were six men inside. four on this level, around the perimeter of where the people inside were. They were gagged with zip ties on their wrists and ankles. Where we were was comfortably without lighting. It was so quiet. Eerily, ominously quiet. I turned on night vision and started looking around at the hostages. Scared families, scared couples, scared elderly people, and then someone who looked more scared than the others. He was right in front of a darkened space. They kept them all bunched up here. Hair trimmed, no facial hair, and everything was pressed. This was our guy!
I motioned for Crow to stay here. It was my turn to get some impressive maneuvering done. Making my way past them, I was a ghost’s shadow. Not only did I have to make sure that I didn’t alert the guards, I had no desire for the other hostages to know I’m here either. They could give me away in any number of ways.
Got past one couple and smelled piss. They probably didn’t let these people use the bathroom. Gross, but I could see why. Couldn’t risk it. Then, after getting by a kid cuddling to their parent, I reached our target.
From behind him, I put a hand over his mouth and pulled him into the dark.
“Sir, Chief Petty Officer Quinn Pierce. I hear you got a package that needs retrieval.”
Until next time, a quote,
“Walking in the dark with a friend is better than walking alone in the light.” – Helen Keller