Damjan woke with a groan. "Who designed these seats? I thought torture was illegal." He sat up. "Professor?"
Albertson was not in his seat, nor anywhere visible in the aircraft cargo bay. One of the aircraft crew was sitting slumped over a small table, fast asleep.
"Professor?" Damjan called.
Damjan stood up and walked to the front of the Aircraft. The door in the side of the aicraft was open, the air-stair extended.
"He couldn't have," Damjan said.
Damjan tapped the sleeping crewman, Andoniewicz, on the shoulder. “Hey. Excuse me.”
The crewman opened his eyes and sat up. “Huh? What?”
Damjan waved at the open door. “I think Doctor Albertson has gone loco.”
Antoniewicz scowled for a moment at the open door. “Shit. All right. Let me tell the Captain.”
A few minutes later the two of them crowded into the flight deck along with the two pilots.
“You’re telling me he just wandered off,” White said. “He just opened up the hatch and wandered off.”
Antoniewicz spread his hands. “Sorry, Captain. Article Fifteen me if you want, but I was sitting going over supplies and the next I knew Bankovich was tapping me on the shoulder. I guess I fell asleep.”
“You fell asleep.” White said. “A civvie, with no previous experience in military aircraft, let alone the C-130, gets up, opens the front hatch, lowers the air stair, and wanders into the night because you fell asleep.”
“No excuse, sir.”
White pinched the bridge of his nose and shook his head. “All right. We’ll deal with that later. As tempted as I am to just leave him out there, Washington would have my ass. So you, Sergeant, are going to take our young friend here and go look for him. You will stay within sight of the airplane at all times. You will take extreme care. You will not get yourself or your companion killed or lost. Am I clear?”
“Yes, sir,” Antoniewicz said.
Antoniewicz turned and motioned for Damjan to precede him through the door.
“This is just lovely,” White said softly behind Damjan as he left. “Just lovely.”
Antoniewicz followed Damjan out of the flight deck and closed the door. At the open exit to the aircraft. he said, "Wait here."
Damjan waited. Antoniewicz spun the knob on a locker quickly and soon had it open. He pulled out a vest, which he tugged over his shoulders. He removed several long, curved magazines from the locker and stuck them into pouches on the vest. Finally, he removed a short machine gun, An M4 or M16, Damjan was not sure how to tell them apart, from the locker, snicked a final magazine into the gun, and slung it over his shoulder.
"There's never a damn Seal around when you want one," Antoniewicz said as he reached Damjan. "Look, kid, I'm not special forces or anything. They issued this gear after Sheberghan but--" He reached up and patted the wall of the plane. "--I'm just the guy who takes care of this bird. But, I'm the guy who's here and since I figure the two pilots have to stay with the plane, that means I'm the guy who has to go looking for your boss." He frowned. "You're not under the UCMJ, but I think you'll find in an emergency like this he's got a lot of authority. Still, there's limits on what we can order you to do so..."
"I'll go," Damjan said. "I'll do whatever you say. He's not just my boss. He's my friend."
"Good." Antoniewicz nodded. "Shouldn't be any problems. We haven't seen sign of anything living near here. Still, just because we haven't seen anything doesn't mean it isn't there. We'll take it carefully. I've got the carbine, so I'll lead." He pulled his helmet onto his head. A light mounted on the right side of the helmet, just above eye level. "Stay close behind me, but not to close. Couple steps maybe. And if you could keep an eye behind us and shout if you see anything, that would be good."
"I'll do my best," Damjan said.
Damjan followed Antoniewicz out of the plane. The heat hit at him like running into a wall. Damjan scowled and looked back at the plane. With the engines shut down since they landed, and thus no air conditioning, the interior of the plane should have been as hot, if not hotter. It was almost as if the heat was in his mind, not his body. He shook the idea off as nonsense. It was hot. Of course it was hot. They had flown probably more than a thousand miles south of Los Angeles. That put them into the tropics. The same clouds that would keep it cooler during the day would hold heat in during the night, keeping it warmer.
The plane had just somehow remained cool in this tropic location. Good insulation? Maybe.
"Any," he whispered then stopped and swore at himself. He continued in a normal voice. "Any idea where to start first?"
Before Antoniewicz could answer, a scream split the night.
A rap at the door woke Cunningham. He sat up in his bed. "Come."
Kruger opened the door and stepped into the room. "Sorry to wake you, Admiral, but we just got a report from the Gonzalez."
Cunningham nodded. The Indiana remained missing, contact long overdue. Wider searches still showed no sign of the Boise. Cunningham believed that Kruger was right; the nuke had destroyed the Boise. But Washington insisted they continue the search.
With the tsunami disaster in the Pacific, the Navy had no other assets to assign him. His battle group, the handful of other vessels he had acquired previously, and the aircraft flying from Thule were all he had to pursue the search.
"All right." Cunningham held out a hand.
Kruger hesitated a moment. "You're not going to believe this, sir."
"After everything we've already been through?" Cunningham said. "I think you'd be amazed at what I can believe."
Kruger shrugged and handed the notepad over. "They sent in Morse, on an odd frequency. One of the intercept techs picked it up."
Cunningham nodded. He fumbled for a moment for his glasses, then slid them onto his face and looked down at the notepad.
ALL STATIONS, USS GONZALEZ. MEGAFAUNA NOT AQUATIC. AMPHIBIOUS. MADE LANDFALL, KILLINIQ ISLAND, CANADA. REPTILIAN APPEARANCE. BIPEDAL. HEIGHT ESTIMATED ONE TWO ZERO METERS. DISPATCHED SEAHAWK TO RECORD CREATURE. CREATURE EMITTED A HIGH TEMPERATURE GASEOUS STREAM FROM MOUTH. STREAM ASSOCIATED WITH DIRECTED EMP, ABLE TO AFFECT HARDENED SYSTEMS. HELICOPTER DAMAGED, ATTEMPTED TO RETURN TO GONZALEZ, PURSUED BY CREATURE. GONZALEZ IN SUPPORT OF DAMAGED HELICOPTER ENGAGED CREATURE WITH FIVE INCH. NO EFFECT. CREATURE EMITTED GASEOUS STREAM AT GONZALEZ RENDERING ALL RADIO AND RADAR EQUIPMENT INOPERATIVE. ELECTRONICS FORWARD INOPERATIVE. INTERNAL HARDENED ELECTRONICS AFT REMAIN FUNCTIONAL.
FOLLOW UP LAUNCH SINGLE HE TOMAHAWK. CREATURE DIVERTED, RETURNED TO SOUTHERLY COURSE. SUCCESSFULLY RECOVERED HELICOPTER. PENDING FURTHER ORDERS, CONTINUING SOUTH ATTEMPTING TO KEEP CREATURE UNDER SURVEILLANCE.
Cunningham looked over the top of his glasses at Kruger. "So we're faced with semi-aquatic fire-breathing dragons now?"
"Sounds more like a Japanese giant monster to me."
"I'd like to believe that Commander Smith has lost his mind," Cunningham stood and reached for his uniform shirt. "But I know Chris. He's entirely too sane and too mindful of his career to even consider something like this as a joke." He pulled the shirt on over his arms and began buttoning it. "All right, send out a Hawkeye to locate them. Follow up with someone to pick them up, render aid as needed, and keep an eye on that thing if they can. Have them keep their distance from the creature until we know more, or get orders."
He sat on the bunk to pull on his trousers. "EMP, huh? We need to see if they have any surviving video because, frankly, when I report this to Higher, they're going to think I've lost my mind."
Coming soon in Paperback and Kindle.
In the meantime, you might take a look at my recently released fantasy novel, The Hordes of Chanakra: