I’ve got some great Free Reading for you today, courtesy of Paul Byers . 🙂
Today, Wednesday and Friday I’ll be posting the story, Annihilation, one of the tales in Paul’s Science Fiction short story collection, Act of God. I’ll leave my review of the tale until Friday, when everyone’s had a chance to read it, but I guess the fact that I’m posting Annihilation says enough, doesn’t it? 🙂
As well as posting the tale for you to read, Paul has also contributed three guest-posts, which I’ll attach at the end of every tale-section. 🙂
So, let’s get to it, shall we?
Annihilation by Paul Byers (Part One)
“The last of the shore support crew has disembarked and all provisions have been stowed below.”
“Thank you XO,” The Captain said. “You know,” he continued, “I really hate taking on this many supplies and having to stack boxes in the passageways. Having to walk on our dinner just isn’t very appetizing. It looks like a sidewalk sale at K-mart down there. And whose bright idea was it to stuff that bag of oranges up in the piping outside the officers’ quarters anyway?” I’ve nearly hit my head on that bag twice.
“No doubt an enlisted man sir,” the XO replied with a straight face.
Captain Brett Deacon smiled at his Executive Officer, Lieutenant Commander Abe Hollis.
“One hundred days’ worth of food, ten more than normal, for 130 men is a lot of chow sir. “ Hollis replied.
“True. Just tell the crew to tread lightly on my dinner; I want grill marks on my steak, not footprints. Oh, and take that sack of oranges down before someone gets hurt. I’d hate to have to sign a report from sickbay about a crewman who couldn’t report for duty because of a sack of fruit.”
Hollis smiled. “Yes sir. Any idea where we’re going? It’s highly unusual not to have our orders before we leave port.”
Deacon shook his head. “I know. I hate all this cloak and dagger stuff myself. Go west, is the only thing I know right now. I couldn’t say much as Admiral Martin himself gave me the orders. Our operational orders are down in my safe and to add to the mystery, I’m not to open them until we’re ten miles out and 300 feet down. You’ll know as soon as I do.”
“Madman Martin himself gave you the orders?”
“Yup,” Deacon nodded.
“Is it true how he got his nickname? That when he was shot down over Vietnam and captured, that he acted insane and was able to overpower two guards and escape because the VC didn’t think he was dangerous?”
Deacon nodded again, then added, “That’s what I hear, but if you ever want to get a boat of your own, I wouldn’t be calling him ‘Madman’ to his face.”
“True,” Hollis reflected, then continued, “but they’re still damn odd orders.”
“That they are XO, that they are.”
Deacon inhaled deeply, drawing in the fresh air, enjoying the earthy smells of the island itself and the gentle fragrance of its famous orchids. Like the warmth of the sun, the smell and taste of fresh air would soon be a fading memory.
“Cast off bow and stern lines.” Deacon called down from the bridge in the sail, his mind back on business. “Ahead slow until we clear the mooring then five knots through the channel.”
“Aye sir.” Hollis responded, then echoed the orders to the helm.
The USS Texas slipped from her berth at Pearl Harbor and glided gently through the channel, heading for the open waters of the blue Pacific.
“Attention starboard.” Deacon commanded. “Render honors.”
A muffled sound was heard as legs slapped together as the crew of the Texas went from parade rest and snapped crisply to attention and saluted. The crew lined the narrow deck of the sleek submarine, standing in reverent silence; all eyes focused on the oblong white building that came into view as they glided by.
The 184-foot-long building sat quietly above the calm harbor waters just off Ford Island in what used to be called Battleship Row. The unassuming building is visited by more than a million people each year who come to pay their respects to the final resting place of 1102 sailors, the memorial to the USS Arizona.
As soon as they had passed the famous WWII battleship, Deacon dismissed the crew to go below. They continued slowly on, now passing the USS Missouri on whose deck Japan surrendered, ending WWII. Deacon thought it rather fitting that two of the most famous ships in the Navy, representing both the beginning and ending of WWII, were moored so close to each other.
The seas were calm as the Texas cleared the harbor entrance and made her way into the vastness of the Pacific. Deacon watched as the water rolled up and over the graceful curves of the hull. He always thought that it was more natural for a submarine to move through the water rather than slice through it like the bow of a ship. He felt a tap on his shoulder and looked over to see Abe pointing to their starboard side. A school of about twelve dolphins were swimming beside them, darting in and out of the water, splashing like kids at the local swimming hole.
Deacon smiled; it was not only fun to watch as they played leapfrog with each other but it had always been seen by sailors, both modern and ancient as a good omen, and he was no exception. He watched them for another few minutes but knew the time had come. With one more glance at the sun to hold its memory and drawing in a deep breath, he turned to Abe.
“Take her down XO.”
“Aye sir.” Hollis reached over and hit the alarm. “Dive, dive, dive!” The klaxon sounded and the two lookouts who had been on the bridge quickly disappeared down the hatchway, followed by the XO. Just before Deacon pulled the hatch closed to seal them in, he heard a cry of a lone sea gull, as if it were saying good bye.
He smiled as he closed the hatch and the Texas disappeared under the waves into her true element. The Texas was a Virginia Class fast attack boat and was a far cry from the first US submarine, the USS Holland, that first sailed in 1900. From a crew of seven, a top speed of 6 knots and armed with one 18-inch torpedo tube to a 377-foot-long, 7800-ton nuclear vessel capable of striking targets on 75% of the earth’s land masses. Her only limitation was the amount of food she could carry for her crew.
“Conn, set course 270 degrees, set depth at 300 feet.”
“Course 270 degrees, aye sir. Depth 300 feet, aye.” the helmsman echoed.
“XO, you have the conn, I’ll be in my cabin.”
“I have the conn.” Hollis replied, casting a quick, knowing glance at his captain.
With great anticipation, Deacon entered his cabin, locked the door and opened his safe. Twenty minutes later, he called for a meeting with his Executive Officer and the Chief of the Boat in the submarine’s tiny ward room. Deacon poured himself a cup of coffee, then poured one for each of his men.
“Is this about our orders sir?” the Chief said, grabbing a couple of sugar packets.
“What are you talking about Chief?”
“Scuttlebutt has it that this is some kind of top secret mission and that even you didn’t know what our orders were until you went to your safe a few minutes ago.”
Deacon started to say something but the Chief continued, not giving him the chance to speak. “And don’t even try to deny it sir; I saw the glance that the XO gave you.”
Deacon smiled. “You don’t miss much do you, Chief?”
“No sir I don’t, after all, this is my boat.”
Deacon laughed, “And I thought it was mine.”
Deacon laughed even harder. “We’ll arm wrestle for her later. But it’s for that very reason of scuttlebutt that, yes, we did receive our orders while we were underway.” He took a sip of his coffee then continued. “Naval Intelligence has learned than China has completed a new fast attack boat.”
“What’s new about that skipper?” Hollis asked. “China or Russia or somebody is always coming up with something new.”
“True, but Intel thinks they have some new propulsion design that’s supposed to make it quieter than our boats. And since we have the quietest boats in the world, that could pose a major threat. We’re to wait for her to slip out of the Yulin Naval base on Hainan Island and track her once she hits the open sea.
“If their new boat is quieter than we are, then the information we gather would be invaluable. COMSUBPAC wants to make sure we aren’t followed in either direction, so we’re to take an indirect rout, both going in and coming home. We don’t want to give the Chinese or the Russians, who you know we might run into, any idea of what we’re up to. That’s why we have all the extra stores. Mission length is expected to be right around the 100 day mark.”
Deacon paused and got up and looked in one of the pantries and a frown creased his brow. It turned into a major scowl when he opened a second cupboard door and didn’t find what he was looking for.
“No doughnuts? One hundred days at sea and no doughnuts? What’s this?” he said as he pulled out a small box and read the label. “Decadent Chocolate Biscotti, less than 100 calories per bar, individually wrapped, all natural. What is this junk? Who brought this aboard my boat?”
“Some of the crew wanted something a little healthier, sir.” Hollis began but was cut off as the captain continued ranting.
“Healthy? I’ll give them healthy. Chief of the Boat!” He said in his command voice. “Effective immediately, I want you to begin a new, intensive regimen of PT for the entire crew.”
“Yes sir!” the Chief barked back, doing his best to hide a smile.
“Healthy, I’ll show them healthy.” Deacon muttered as he threw the box back on the shelf.
“Sir,” Hollis began, “the doughnuts are on the other side.”
“Chief of the Boat!”
“Belay that last order.”
Deacon grabbed his favorite, an apple fritter, refilled his coffee, and then sat back down and continued. “This mission should prove to be both exciting and tedious at the same time. We will be playing cat-and-mouse with a new and unknown menace and it is an honor for our boat to be selected to gather this vital information.
“Secrecy is paramount for our mission so we will maintain radio silence for the entire duration of the mission. We don’t want a stray communication to be intercepted and tip our hand to the Chinese. Any questions? Good, let’s go track us a submarine.”
End of Part One
And here’s the first of Paul’s guest-posts:
Here are a few thoughts and comments I’ve put together about, Annihilation, one of the stories from my collection of sci-fi shorts, Act of God. These comments are about how writing short stories differs from writing full length novels,about research that went into this particular story and about writing science fiction.
There are pros and cons,similarities and differences between writing short stories and full length novels, and as a writer, I enjoy both. Both must have a good storylines and both should be built around honest, believable characters.
For me, I find that one of the biggest draws as a writer for the short story is that you can take greater risks with the story and get a greater pay off at the end. With the short, you can built it up relatively quickly and at the last possible moment, hang a sharp right with a surprise ending that you couldn’t do in a full length story. In a novel, you would either see the twist coming a mile away or else it would lose most of its punch.
While as I said earlier, good characters are important to both types of stories, the novel gives you the room and freedom to fully develop your characters with backstories and motivations while shorts, as a general rule, are more story driven.
From the practical standpoint, short stories are popular for our busy lifestyles, allowing the reader to enjoy themselves without the commitment of a novel. As a writer, it is quicker to write, though not necessarily easier, plus it gives us a chance to break out of our usual genre and try something new.
To order your copies of Acts of God, featuring Annihilation and much more, click here for Amazon US. 🙂 That’s it for today – come back on Wednesday for Part 2 of Annihilation and the second of Paul’s guest-blogs. 🙂