The Southern Approaches Command
After The Wave III
John R. Johnson
It was over a year since the Wave, as it was called, hit the United States, Canada and Mexico. Every person living in the boundaries of the tear shaped wave had disappeared. The wave had covered all of the United States, except for a portion of the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico. All of Canada south of an arc which extended from Oregon, brushing Edmonton, and the southern half of Hudson's Bay was gone. The northern two thirds of Mexico from Belize to Acapulco was lifeless. The survivors in southern Mexico had fled south. Afraid the Wave would expand and take them.
The Wave, after a year, had disappeared as mysteriously as it had appeared. During that time civilization had started coming apart at the seams. Many had celebrated the demise of the United States but were now regretting the reality. Already some people were talking about the "golden age" when America had kept sanity in the world and put limits to the ambitions of despots.
In every country were men who were trying to hold things together. Some were more successful than others. So far the most successful had been the new President of the United States, James "Kip" Kipper. Working from the new Western White House in Seattle he still controlled the U.S. military, around the world, and when push came to shove it was still the most powerful in the world. A few nuclear exchanges had convinced most of the world leaders to back off a little in their grab for power. The situation was still dangerous but slowly things were settling out and positions were becoming clear and leaders were able to see where they stood in the scheme of things.
When the Wave occurred many of the surviving Americans were evacuated to New Zealand and Australia and Asian countries. The reduced resources of what remained of the United States couldn't support all of the survivors. Since the Wave had disappeared there had been talk about what to do with the Americans but no decisions had been made about resettlement yet. China was talking about keeping the Americans who had gone there for "their own safety and well-being."
USS Matinicus (WPB-1315)
The Southern Approaches
The Gulf of Mexico
One year after the end of the Wave
William "Wild Bill" Elliott squinted against the bright sun reflected off the clear blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico. He shook his head as he looked at the huge container ship the Matinicus has intercepted. The stench of unwashed bodies was almost over powering, even a hundred yards away. He had been expecting the huge crowd refugees, men and women and children, lining the ships rail. What got him was the flag the ship was flying. He wondered when was the last time the Papal flag had flown on a ship (he had to look the flag up to know what it was) and what was going on. He watched the Matinicus' boarding party, accompanied by two passengers, heading back to the cutter. Oh well, he would be getting answers soon.
"Skipper, here's the latest intelligence from the navy." said Lt. (junior grade) Jose Cabrera, his executive officer. "Naval Intelligence says they back tracked the ship on satellite photos. Apparently it left Rome about three weeks ago. Stopped for a few days in Spain and the Azores before heading across to America. The ship stayed far enough south to miss Cuba and then turned north a day and a half ago. That's why it's so far into the western Gulf. They don't have anything else on it." He started to close the message board then stopped. "There's also a weather advisory from the Air Force. There's a storm kicking up in the South Atlantic off the coast of Africa with a possibility of turning into a hurricane."
"No suggestions on what to do with a ship full of refugees?" Elliott asked. "This is the first but I'll bet you a months pay it won't be the last. Just a few general guidelines would be nice." He picked up the bridge phone. "Cookie, it doesn't look like there's going to be a problem. I'm going to keep the crew at general quarters though, just in case. See the crew gets something to hot to eat and drink in the mean time." He felt better knowing the cook and mess steward would pass the words and the crew could relax a little. He looked back at Jose. "Sorry, don't mean to be grouchy. I think this ship is just what it seems. A refugee ship and nothing else. I want to see the petty officer in charge as soon as he before I see our guests."
Before Jose could answer he was interrupted by the squawking of the bridge phone. Elliott picked it up and listened for several minutes. "Looks like another situation developing. Remember that contact radar picked up heading this way? Radar says they have another contact which could be trying to intercept the first target. They are both about five hours away. After we finish up here we'll go investigate."
"Aye, aye, Skipper." Jose grinned and said dryly. "You know, skipper, when we got back from the mission to Miami and they said you were being given the Southern Approaches Command I kind of envisioned something a little more … impressive than one cutter trying to cover the whole Gulf of Mexico." He turned away, "I'll have the boarding party bring our guests as soon as they are aboard."
"I'm sure as soon as they send more cutters there will be a change of command to someone with a little more clout." Bill looked at the boarding party’s RHIB (rigid hull inflatable boat) pulling alongside. " I imagine this will be an interesting also."
Father John Bibzier Torbert, clutched his briefcase as he stood on the deck of the coast guard patrol boat and looked around before reaching down to give a hand to Rabbi Malachi Throne as he scrambled aboard. There were several crew members manning machine guns sipping on mugs and eating sandwiches. For a moment he looked at the refugee ship he had just come from, feeling the weight of responsibility for all the lives aboard. He wondered what the captain of the Matinicus would demand as a bribe. There were rumors the US navy was turning back all ships heading for the east coast of what had been the United States. There were also stories that the captain of this patrol boat had sunk a refugee ship trying to make its way to Florida and then left the survivors to drown. He hoped the captain would accept the bribe without being too greedy, like the patrol boats in the Mediterranean had become.
"Petty Officer Dupuis, the captain wants to see you on the bridge immediately," an alert, middle aged officer said. "I'll escort our guests to the bridge."
"Aye, aye sir," the petty officer saluted and turned to leave. "This is Father Torbert of the Knights Hospitaller and Rabbi Throne. They are in charge of the people on the ship."
"Father Torbert? I'm Lt. (j.g.) Jose Cabrera. If you and the Rabbi will follow me I'll take you to the captain." The officer waited attentatively before continuing. " I heard of your order but didn't know it still existed. But then I'm not up on the various religious orders."
"Our order is almost eight hundred years old." Father Torbert said. "Rabbi Throne and myself were picked to organize these refugees and to try to find a safe haven for them and possibly more in the future. " They followed Lt. (j.g.) Cabrera along the main deck toward the bridge.
"Skipper, this is Father Torbert of The Knights Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem and Rabbi Malachi Throne. They are in charge of the refugees." Lt. Cabrera said leading them onto the bridge. "Father, Rabbi this is Lt. William Elliot."
Lt. Elliott tilted his head for a moment listening and spoke quietly to the helmsman, before turning back to Father Torbert. "The Knights Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem? I believe your order was originally a military and medical order. Fighting the Turks and Ottomans and trying to win back the Holy Lands." Bill said. " If I remember correctly they changed their name and are now an order based out of England and France and now medical missionaries or something. So what are you doing so far from home, Father?"
" The Pope has told all the orders to help resettle the refugees as much as possible. " Father Torbert said. " Our Grand Master selected me and fifteen other priests, all with combat experience, to help these people build a new life. It was felt a settlement in America would be an enormous asset and easiest to send refugees to. At the same time even these few thousand make a dint in resources, so it relieves the pressure on resources available in Italy."
"Sounds like a pretty tall order," Bill answered. "Okay, what do you have aboard your ship and what's your destination?"
"There are four thousand eight hundred and thirty five refugees on board, plus the officers and crew of the ship," Father Torbert said. "That includes eight hundred Americans, who decided to come with us rather than wait for your government to arrange for their transportation, three hundred and fifty Spanish and Portuguese, one hundred Greeks, fifty Albanians and five hundred Jews. The rest are Italian.
"I see," Bill said softly. "Your people must be standing on each others shoulders to get that many aboard one ship. You're luck there wasn't a storm. You could have lost half your people living in the containers." He looked back at the ship again. "Just what are you planning to do in America? Almost five thousand city dwellers will find it hard to survive. What skills do you have? Do you know how to raise food? Make your own clothing and tools?"
"I thought of that when I was given this assignment," Father Torbert said. "I consulted with some experts and we picked a number of older people, in their sixties and seventies and older to teach the old skills. I picked engineers, technicians, farmers and gardeners, tailors, machinists, doctors, nurses, and teachers. We even have a retired neurosurgeon who is studying up on gynecology."
"There were a number of farmers from kibbutz' in Israel visiting family in Rome when the Wave occurred," Rabbi Throne put in. "At the suggestion of the Israeli ambassador they remained in Italy and when this opportunity was presented they volunteered to come with us and show us how to farm." Rabbi Throne shrugged, "It's felt the time is come once again for the Jews to…disperse… and give things time to settle. Even if Israel is destroyed we will survive and rebuild someday. Five other rabbi's and myself will teach the word and ensure everything that has happened is remembered."
"I see," Bill said. "The Italians, and I assume the other countries, are glad to get rid of some people they consider useless and Israel is taking the long view in case something happens to Israel. Well I can't blame them for that. But why should we allow you into the United States, what's left of it. Like I said even with someone to teach pre-mechanization skills it's going to be very hard to survive." He held up his hand. "Never mind, I see you are determined. So tell me why you should be allowed to land?"
"I have a copy of the passengers and crew manifest, by name, age, occupation and nationality," Father Torbert said, pulling a thick sheaf of papers and two envelops from his briefcase. He ignored the restraining hand Rabbi Throne put on his arm. "There is also a letter from the American Ambassador in Rome and a personal appeal from the Grand Master of our order."
"You still haven't answered my question," Bill said, taking the stack of papers and the envelopes. He handed the passenger manifest over to the messenger of the watch. "Take these to my cabin and I'll examine them later." He opened the top letter and read it. "Typical diplomatic double-talk. To hear the Ambassador tell it butter wouldn't melt in his mouth. Where were you planning to land?" He opened the next envelop and read it, face starting to turn red with rage.
Father Torbert felt his stomach clinch as he realized his mistake. He could sense the other crew members on the bridge straightening and turning hard stares on the two visitors. "Sir, please forgive me," he tried to backpedal. "I'm so used to the patrol captains in the Mediterranean I misjudged you. Please, captain, if these people, especially the Jews, are force to return to Europe they will not be allowed to land. If we go to South America there is a good chance they will be imprisoned and maybe enslaved. Don't punish them because I made a mistake in judgment."
"The Holy Father has decided to resurrect all of the military orders in their original concept. His Holiness says with the changing times we must go back to basics in the defense of the church. We must try peaceful means first and then, if that doesn't work use alternate methods." Father Torbert felt beads of sweat breaking out on his forehead. "The Pope is afraid we might be entering a new dark age and he is trying to take steps to preserve as much of the knowledge as possible. He has ordered the reopening of remote, isolated monasteries and the military orders to protect them. The Church is working to try to make things better and ease international tensions but he is also making contingency plans in case thing get worse." Father Torbert voice was shaking. "Please, Captain. You must not punish these people because of me."
"Very well, Father." Bill said, taking deep breaths to control his anger. He waved to the bridge crew to relax. "That's the kind of mistake that could get you and all your people killed. I should feed you to the sharks for an insult like that and if you do it again I will."
"I understand and it won't happen again," Father Torbert felt a chill go down his spine at the utterly calm, reasonable tone the captain had used. "We haven't decided where to land yet. We were hoping to have more information before we made a decision."
"Delays like that can be fatal," Bill said. "We escorted several contract civilian support ships here from Puerto Rico. They each carried a platoon of marines and some engineers. We left the USS Neptune in Galveston, TX. They are checking the conditions of refineries and oil wells. Another, the USS Macon, is in Mobile, AL surveying the damage and conditions along the Gulf coast from Tampa, Fl to New Orleans. They report the levees in New Orleans have broken and most of the city is flooded, also the Mississippi River is still highly toxic from the runoff from the pollution and acid rain last year."
"Thank you, Captain." Father Torbert said again, tuning to leave. "If there is ever anything I or my order can do we will be glad to help."
"Just a minute, Father." Bill held out the letter he had been clinching in his hand. "You might want to keep this in a safe place. A hundred thousand pounds stirling in a blank letter of credit on the Bank of England can be tempting to some people. Hang on to it and maybe you can use it to buy things you colony will need to survive."
USCGC Matinicus (WPB-1315)
Six Hours later
"Bridge," Elliott said into the bridge phone. He listened for several minutes. "Very well, report any changes in course and speed." He hung up the phone and turned to Jose. "That was radar. The contact should be in sight shortly. It's moving pretty slowly. We should intercept it in about an hour. Good thing we intercepted the Albatros first and got it turned around." He shook his head. "It really brought back memories seeing a Point class patrol boat again. Which reminds me on our next report we need to include the information that Venezuela has added more machine guns and a deck gun to the armament.
"What are your plans, Skipper," Jose asked? "It sounds to me like someone doesn't want to continue enjoying the socialist utopia of Venezuela."
"I'm afraid you're right," Bill said. "I'll play it by ear after I find out for sure who all the players in this little game are. Pass the word that I don't want anyone getting a little trigger happy. Intercept should be as planed so we'll go to General Quarters in fifteen minutes." He looked at the sun low in the darkening sky. "We'll come up on them from the west. If there's any light left, and it's pirates and they want to fight, that'll make it hard for them to get a good target."
"You got it, Skipper," Jose replied. He started to leave then paused. "Skipper, am I mistaken or are the number of ships heading toward the United States, what's left of it, increasing? We spent over a month going up and down the coast of Florida and Georgia and South Carolina and we only met the pirated cruise ship and the refugees from another ship who landed before we arrive on scene. We've only just arrived on station and here we have three ships in one day and I understand the navy has turned back a number of ships from Europe approaching the northeast."
"They are increasing and we'll be seeing a lot more in the coming days." Bill said. "All the navy ships in the Atlantic are tied up intercepting ships from Europe and turning them back." He smiled wearily. "I haven't had any direction but until I do I see our job as sorting the true refugees looking to build a new life from the looters and get rich quick artists. They'll all be coming and maybe I'm an idealists but I mean to sort through the … crowds… for the true seekers and turn the spoilers back, if possible."
"I hadn't thought about that," Jose admitted. "Hopefully everything will settle down now and return to some part of normal."
"Not anytime soon," Bill said. "I think we are decivilizing fast. You heard Father Torbert talking about making sure to include elderly people for their pre-industrialization skills?" He grimaced. "Look at what’s happening in parts of Africa and South America. Reports of pandemics and ethnic cleansing. They're killing off the people who know how to make things run. When those people are gone who is going to keep the machinery running, much less build new ones. And not just mechanical machinery but I'm talking about the machinery of government. That being said I think the world will be lucky if we stop at a 1930's level of technology. But it's all going to be a mix, 1930's tech next to 2000 tech. It's part of our job to see if we can lessen the slide."
"I think Southeast Asia will be okay. They grow enough food for their people and once you get out of the cities the life is still basically the same as it has been for hundreds of years." He frowned thoughtfully. "China might split into two or three new countries, their problem is two fold. The government has tried to rule by supposed committee for years, and in the process built up their own ruling elite. And a lot of farmers were displaced and thrown off the land during their industrial buildup, they are really pissed off."
"If India and Pakistan can keep from nuking each other they might be okay, too. But the next few years are going to be vital. Our job is to try and see people have those years to start recovering."
"You know, Skipper, I've known you for going onto fifteen years and I've never heard you talk like that." Jose said thoughtfully. "Maybe I've become something of an idealist too because I like the sound of that. The crew and I will back you all the way."
An Hour later
"Skipper, she's a 130 ft, fishing trawler named the Santa Maria, she must be forty or fifty years old. Looks like she's doing her top speed." Jose reported from the deck above the bridge. He was using the big eyes, 27 lb swivel mounted binoculars. The big eyes weren't infrared but their light gathering capabilities was unsurpassed. "I'm surprised they can even get eight knots out of her, much less ten knots. She's sitting low in the water like she has a heavy load. " With the big eyes he could see an ant crawling on a wall a block away. "I'm glad we intercepted that patrol boat out of Cuba first and that she decided to turn around without any fuss. Otherwise we'd be working against the clock here. "
"Jose, she's not answering any of our hails and she's altered course since they sighted us." Elliott said. He looked at the dark evening sky and reached for the bridge phone. "I'm going to put a few shots across her bow to stop her. Get the boarding party ready to go and get some spotlights on her so we can see what's happening. "
"Boarding party, what do you have?" Elliott said into the radio handset. He listened for a moment. "Bring the leader back with you so I can talk to him." He signed off and waved Jose over to him and spoke in a low voice. "The ship is Venezuelan and has almost two hundred people aboard."
"That's about par for the day," Jose said. "More refugees to vet and send on their way." He picked up the 1MC bridge public address system. "All hands, this is the XO. The trawler is full of refugees. We don't think there will be any trouble but stay on your toes just in case."
"Skipper, this is Mr. James Musco Boulware a passenger on the Santa Maria." GM2 Robert "Bobby" Dupuis spoke in a Brooklyn/Haitian accent. He was born and raised in a Haitian neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY of Haitian parents. "I felt you should talk to him and hear what he has to say."
"Captain, I'm Jim Boulware, late of Texas and Guyana. I was there on vacation with my family when the wave hit. There were about ten or twelve thousand Americans in Guyana, either living there or tourists." He grimaced. "Anyway about four months ago Venezuela invaded and took over Guyana and Brazil took Surinam. The first anyone knew was when marines started landing in Georgetown. " His face twisted for a minute. "The Venezuelans rounded up all the Americans and secretly shipped us out to a prison camp in Maracaibo." He shrugged, "There was an American trained doctor there to treat the prisoners. We became friends and he agreed to help with an escape attempt if he and his family could go with us."
"We know about the invasions. We had requests for help from the governments of Guyana and Surinam. Unfortunately there was nothing we could do. A combined Venezuelan and Brazilian army tried to take French Guyana but Sarkozy had sent troops to secure the place. They kick the Venezuelan and Brazilian armies out." Elliott looked hard at Boulware. "There was a university professor on sabbatical in Venezuela when the wave hit. It was reported he had been selected by the prisoners as their representative to Chavez and the US government. He's been reporting the internees are well treated."
"I know that tranzi son of a bitch!" Boulware exclaimed. "He and his goons come around to the camps trying to recruit people to help him "set up a new and legitimate government and a workers paradise", that will restore the rights of the little guy and stop the destruction of the planet by big corporate interests. Of course he will be the one in charge." He spat on the deck. "He thinks the sun rises and sets in Chavez' ass."
"I'll need written statements on that from you and your people." Elliott swore softly under his breath. "But first things first. Just how many are on that boat?" Elliott asked. "As low as she is in the water we were afraid she would sink. Also who's in command?"
"Yes sir," Boulware said. He took a deep breath to control his anger. "There are one hundred fifty three Americans and thirty-four Venezuelans. The ship is commanded by Jorge Hernandez. He is the grandfather of the doctor who helped us and owns the ship." His speech started to speed up. "Captain, before we left we heard rumors that President Chavez is assembling an invasion force to try to take parts of Mexico or the United States. You have the get the warning out so they can be stopped."
"Slow down so we can get this right." Bill said. "XO, get the yeoman up here to write all this down." He turned back to Boulware. "Now start at the beginning and tell us everything. Especially anything you know about the forces making up this invasion force."
USCGC Matinicus (WPB-1315)
Nearing Galveston, TX
The two days later
"Skipper, here are the latest messages, the first one is a priority." Jose said. "There are several messages there that you need to take a look at. Looks like we have new orders."
Elliott read the top message and glanced at the ones under it. He shook his head and moved over to the chart table. He looked at the chart for several minutes. "We are ordered to rendezvous with the USS Gary (FFG-51). We are suppose to cooperate with the commanding office and assist him in any way we can." Elliott shook his head again. "Doesn't tell us much does it. The rendezvous looks to be an oil platform." He looked at the chart again and measured the distance with protractors, estimated time and speed. "If we remain in Galveston just long enough to refuel we can be there the day after tomorrow."
"I looked the Gary up in Jane's as soon as I saw the message coming in. She was homeported at Yokosuka Naval Base in Yokosuka, Japan when the wave hit, part of DesRon 15." Jose said. "Don't know why she would be here now but it looks like she's going to be head honcho on this invasion fleet thing." He paused for a moment then grinned. "Skipper you might want to take a look at those two messages that came in just before the orders."
"What the hell," Elliott exclaimed. "I've only been a lieutenant for a few months. What the hell is Admiral Brimo thinking of making me a Lieutenant Commander. There must be a mistake. Get a message off asking for clarification."
"The message below that is appointing the commander of the Gary as USNAVGULFDEFCOM," Jose said. "That might have something to do with the promotion. That translates as US Navy, Gulf Defense Command." He grinned, "I'll get a message off right away though. By the way the next message down says there is definitely a hurricane headed our way."
USCGC Matinicus (WPB-1315)
At rendezvous point
Elliott stood up in the pitching RHIB and grabbed the ladder to board the USS Gary. He was in a foul mood, being summoned to the Gary stuck in his craw, but orders were orders. He straightened in surprise as the bosun's pipe thrilled. He saluted the flag and then the officer of the deck, requesting permission to come aboard.
"Lt.-Cdr. Elliott. I'm Lt. Cruz," the OOD saluted. "I've been ordered to bring you to the captain. If you will follow me, sir."
"Lt.-Cdr. Elliott, welcome to the Gary. I'm Cdr. James Tiberius Shigita," said the captain of the Gary. "And before you ask my father was a Star Trek fan." He grimaced, "We'll go up to the CIC in a moment but first I wanted to see you in private. I want to make sure we don't have any problems because it looks like your boss and my boss are in a pissing contest. I was under orders to meet a convoy of ships in the Bahamas when I got a message making me USNAVGULFDEFCOM and ordering me to rendezvous with you here. Then I get a message promoting you to Lt.-Cdr. I'm not sure what's going on but I wanted to get everything straightened out before we start planning our operations."
"Well, I hate to say it but a few months ago, when the Coast Guard Caribbean Group commander was killed in a car accident, the navy tried to take over all Coast Guard assets in the Caribbean." Elliott frowned, "I guess it left a bad taste in Admiral Brimo's mouth. He appointed me Commander, Southern Approaches' Command when he ordered the Matinicus on this mission. I think he sees another grab by the Navy."
"That's all we need," Cdr. Shigita said. "Commander, Southern Approaches' eh. I guess that explains the USNAVGULFDEFCOM. Admirals!" He shook his head wearily. "How do you think we should handle this?"
"I have no experience in naval operation," Elliott said. "Law enforcement, fisheries, smugglers, I can handle. Planning a naval battle is something new. I'll leave that to you. Speaking of which what's the latest from Naval Intelligence"
"Once they knew there was something to look for they were pretty efficient," Cdr. Shigita said. "They spotted a Venezuelan naval force leaving port and headed this way. It looks like Venezuela might have a deal with the Columbians because one of the spy satellites spotted a Columbian force headed north in the Pacific. That's why you and I are getting to play the Lone Ranger and Tonto." He looked at Bill, "What do you know about fencing? That was my favorite sport at the academy."
"Fencing, isn't that with long pointy pieces of metal?" Elliot joked. "Seriously I don't know anything about the sport. What's that got to do with our situation?"
"I always liked sabers best," Cdr. Shigita said. He stood up and headed for the hatch. "Most people believe when you block a saber swing you use the edge of your blade. Actually you try to block with the flat of the blade so you don't ruin the edge. That's what I'm going to try to do with the Venezuelans, deflect their attack. Let's go to the CIC and I'll show you what I mean."
"Why are the Venezuelans and Columbians trying this now?" Elliott asked, following Cdr. Shigita from the cabin. "I mean after what happened to Venezuela last year I would think they would be scared to try anything."
"The Venezuelans and Columbians figure they can get away with things now that they couldn't last year," Shigita said. "They think that now we have a civilian president we will be hamstrung as far as nukes are concerned. They might be right but we still have other weapons. Without the Wave the prize is much larger. Intelligence thinks the Columbians just want the Panama Canal. The Venezuelans really hate our guts so there's no telling what their objective is." He shook his head. "If this attack fails I think the whole Venezuelan, Columbian, Brazilian thing will fall apart. Each one wants to be top dog and doesn't trust the others so it's not going to hold together."
USCGC Matinicus (WPB-1315)
Underway in the Gulf of Mexico
Five Days later
"Jose, what's the status on the radar? It been down for five hours already," Elliott asked. The XO had just stepped through the hatch onto the heaving bridge. "Without the radar we're like a blind man in a crap game. We aren't going to have much luck."
"Skipper, the tech's report they've found the problem and should have the radar operational in about forty-five minutes," Lt. Cabrera reported, bracing against the heaving deck. "Looks like the antenna motor is out. Luckily we have a spare in supply. What's the situation now?"
"This weather isn't making anything easier," Elliott said, bracing against the roll of the ship. "Why did we have to have a hurricane now? The good news is the weather satellites show the hurricane turned north yesterday toward Texas or Louisiana." He shrugged. "Never mind. The situation is that without the radar we're groping like a blind man. We're relying on the Gary for position reports on the enemy fleet and that's hard while trying to maintain radio silence. We're already out of position." He held onto the bridge rail as the ship took another roll. "How do the men feel about this operation?"
"Personally I think I know how the last legion in Britain felt when Rome withdrew." Jose said. "Outnumbered by the barbarians by a thousand to one. Knowing there will be no relief. But also knowing just by being there on the wall it gives civilization one more day." He shrugged. "The men haven't thought about that aspect. They just know that you think it's important and that's good enough for them."
Elliott picked up the squawking bridge phone. "This is the Captain." He listened and then turned back to the XO. "The radar is back on line. They have a number of targets about twenty miles southeast of us. I'll be in the CIC if you need me."
As Elliott left the bridge the messenger of the watch announced, "The Captain is off the bridge."
Elliott cursed under his breath. If he was right the enemy convoy had changed course and the Matinicus was on the wrong side of the convoy formation. The original op plan called for the Matinicus and the Gary to attack in conjunction. The Matinicus was suppose to light off every piece of electronics she had to try and fool the enemy into thinking she was the major ship of the attack formation. So much for operational plans.
On the other hand it looked like the Venezuelans hadn't seen the Matinicus. They had moved three of the four frigates escorting the convoy to block the Gary. If the Matinicus could get close enough before being seen she could get in some licks on the convoy.
He looked at the intelligence summary. Four escort frigates; the General Salóm (F-25), the General Urdaneta (F-23), the Mariscal Sucre (F-21), and the Almirante Brión (F-22). The RORO (roll on, roll off) was carrying troops. That was the same ship used in the attack on the base at Guantanamo Bay last year. The oil tanker, Dixie Vengeance, was carrying fuel and the motor vessel Rim was probably carrying ammunition and supplies. Those were the major ships. There were three other smaller ships which could be carrying supplies or troops. Two LST's, the Capana (T-61) and the Los Llanos (T-64) and a Ciudad Bolívar class supply ship, the Ciudad Bolívar (T-81). The Bolívar was a new ship, only a few years old.
He looked at his watch; another hour before the Gary was suppose to open her attack. He studied the plot for a moment then picked up the phone and called the bridge. "XO, this is the captain. Bring us to three quarter speed. Change course to 213 degrees relative. We will be going to general quarters in half an hour."
He looked back at the plot. Now came the hard part, waiting.
Elliott braced against the side of his bridge chair. The Matinicus was rolling heavily, if not as heavily as the day before. Another twenty minutes before the Gary would start the ball rolling.
"What the… Shit!" Elliott spat out. He watched the distant tracers rising lazily from the sea and then there was an explosion in mid-air. He snatched up the bridge phone when it squawked and listened. "Thanks XO. Looks like enemy escorts picked up one of the LAMPS helos and shot it down. I'll be damned if I know what they were doing in the air in this weather." He listened for a moment. "Okay! Keep me informed on what the frigate on this side of the convoy is doing. Maybe we'll get a chance to slip in and get in some shots while they're distracted. Captain out."
"Godd…. ! The shits hitting the fan tonight," He growled. He watched the streaks from four separate positions on the horizon. Missiles… there was no mistaking the exhausts nor the tracer rounds arching toward the convoy. The explosions lit up the dark horizon. He grabbed the phone again as it squawked and listened. "Keep track of those torpedoes. I'd hate to get hit by one of own shots. Any indication of the damage done by those missiles?" He listened. "You think the Gary and two of the enemy escorts are damaged? The Gary and one enemy frigate has slowed down and the other is dead in the water. What's the situation on the escort on our side of the convoy?" He grinned wolfishly. "You mean she's left her position. Go to full speed and lets close on the convoy. Let's see if we can get a couple. If you can, get a course to either the RORO or the tanker."
He stepped to the bridge radar repeater and looked at the blips. Already he could tell they were changing course. The question was if it was part of a dispersal plan or more like an ant hill that had been stepped on.
"Gunny Barron, this is the captain," he said into the bridge phone. "We're headed toward two ships which I believe are the RORO and the tanker. It'll take about twenty minutes to get in range. In the dark they are going to be hard to spot visually. Let's try to get as close as possible to the targets so hold your fire until the last minute. If we're spotted then don't wait for orders to fire. The primary target is the RORO. After that lets see if we can get the tanker. CIC will direct your fire as needed. Good luck!"
Elliott looked through his binoculars. He could see the targets even in the dark. Two of the enemy ships, an escort and one of the LSTs, were burning and the convoy ships were silhouetted again the glow. Both target ships were well within range. He picked up the bridge phone to order the guns to open fire. Before he could say anything the RORO seemed to heave up out of the water. Moments later Elliott felt the shockwave.
"What the hell happened, sir?" someone on the bridge asked in a dazed voice.
"A Mk-48 torpedo from the Gary must have gone off under her keel. That will take out the surrounding buttressing, and hang the ship by the bow and stern as the shockwave does the damage. " Elliott answered without thinking. "Bring us to course 265. Now lets get that tanker." He ordered, grabbing the bridge phone. "Gunny, we're going after the tanker. Open fire as soon as you get a clear shot. Try to hit the bridge first and then try for the fuel bunkers. But take any shot you have."
Seconds later the Matinicus shuddered as the M242 25 mm Bushmaster chain gun opened fire. The first couple of shots were a little short. After that you could see the march of hits along the hull and deck of the Dixie Vengeance as the shell fire moved from the bow toward the bridge. Within seconds the glow of flames could be seen where the incendiaries hit.
Through his binoculars Elliott could see frantic activity on Dixie Vengeance's bridge. He ordered course corrections as the tanker tried to turn ponderously away from the Matinicus.
He was startled out of his concentration by the sudden blare of sirens. It took a moment to realize the Dixie Vengeance had turned into path of the Ciudad Bolívar (T-81). It was mesmerizing watching the two ships headed toward disaster. Everything seemed to move in slow motion until with a scream of tortured metal the bow of the Ciudad Bolívar slammed into the mid-ships of the oil tanker. The tanker was pushed under water as the Ciudad Bolívar rode up over it. As the Dixie Vengeance slowly came up out of the water crewmen could be seen running on both ships.
Elliott gave hurried orders for the Matinicus to change course away for the two ships. He could already see oil and fuel spreading from the two ships. He prayed the fuel wouldn't catch fire until the Matinicus was a safe distant away.
He felt the shock wave as the fuel on the tanker caught fire and exploded. He last impression was of something dark coming toward him and then blackness.
Ten Days later
Bill Elliott knew his eyes were open because he could see a white glow, even though he couldn't see anything else. He managed to blink his eyes a few times and finally he could make out some hazy details. Bending over a table next to the bed he was on was a blurry figure. He tried to speak but only a very faint croak came out. His next attempt was a little louder and attracted the figures attention.
"Cdr. Elliott, take it easy. I'm Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Fuller." HM2 Fuller said. "You've been injured and you are in the sick bay on the Neptune. Take a sip of water and then I'll notify the doctor." He used a plastic bottle to squirt water into Elliott's mouth.
Elliott hadn't realized how thirsty he was until he felt the cool relief of the water spreading through his body. He just had time to comprehend the USS Gary's ships patch on the corpsman's uniform before he drifted off into a cloud of white mist.
Elliott awoke to the sound of a chain being dragged across a deck. He opened his eyes to see his executive officer picking up his hat to leave. He cleared his throat and almost smiled at the way the XO jerked around. He stared at the beds jammed together in the sick bay as the XO jerked back the cloth divider and shouted for a doctor. Then he was floating on white clouds again.
Elliott roused with a doctor taking his pulse. He opened his eyes and looked around the small isolated area.
"Ah, good! You're awake! I'm Dr. Blau," the doctor said. "You have had some serious injuries and have been in and out of consciousness for the last two weeks." The doctor wrote on a clipboard from the end of the bed. "If you can stay awake I'll have some food brought and your executive officer is here."
"I'll stay awake and send in my XO." Elliott ordered quietly.
Elliott was propped on a pillow eating the last of the soup the corpsman was spoon feeding him when his executive office, Lt. (jg) Jose Cabrera arrived. He motioned Cabrera in with a nod of his head.
"Captain, I'm glad to see you in such good condition," said Lt. (jg) Cabrera, putting down a message board. He waited until the corpsman left then shook his head. "Bill, we've known each other for over twenty years and I've never seen you look worse." He grinned, "In fact I've see dog turds that look better than you do. Seriously though I'm glad to see you up and almost around."
"Good to see you to, Jose," said Elliott. "Give me a rundown on the situation. They won't tell me anything."
"No problem, Skipper," Cabrera said. "To start with you have a concussion, your right arm and leg are broken and you have some broken ribs…"
"I wasn't asking about me," Elliott interrupted. "I meant the Matinicus and the whole situation here. For instance, I see a huge number of beds jammed into a sickbay that was never meant to hold that many. What happened to the Gary?"
"We had 11 crew killed and twenty wounded. You are the only one on the bridge to survive." Cabrera said somberly. "The Gary took several hits and lost her propeller. We had to tow her back to port. She lost 23 killed and 40 seriously wounded. I think only about six or seven crewmen were not wounded. The only officer on the Gary that's fit for duty is an ensign. " He closed his eyes tightly trying to shut out the memory of the trip. "Cdr. Shigita is in even worse shape than you are. He's still in a coma. The doctor is setting up a med-evac. " He shook himself. "The good news is the enemy fleet turned back. Also the Columbian fleet in the Pacific turned back when they got word of the battle. We are doing what repairs we can on the Matinicus and the crew of the Gary are trying to do something to fix her up. However both ships need a period in the yard to get the job done right." He looked at Elliott. "We picked up a few survivors from the tanker. They said half the cargo was gasoline. That's why the explosion was so powerful."
"Sounds like I missed the rough part." Elliott said quietly. "What's the situation here? From the little I can see from this bed there's a lot of work to be done here."
"Well, Skipper, I'm kind of glad you asked." Cabrera stuck his head out of the partition and called, "Come on in. He can see you now."
Elliott watched in trepidation as six men crowded their way into the partitioned area. He recognized them. Capt. Doyle Ingram (USMC), Fr. John Bibzier Torbert, Rabbi Malachi Throne, Jim Boulware, Dr. Blau, and Capt. John King of the Neptune.
Elliott knew he wasn't going to like whatever was coming. He close his eyes, maybe it was a bad dream and they would be gone when he opened his eyes. He opened one eye and sighed. They were all still there.
"Okay, Skipper. the good news first," Cabrera said. He pulled a message from the message board. "Admiral Brimo is sending two more cutters, the Chandeleur (WPB-1319), the Farallon (WPB-1301). and a buoy tender, CGC Dolphin (WPB-87354). They will be assigned to the Southern Approaches Command. They will also bring extra personnel to try to get some more cutters reactivated. Families will follow when transport becomes available. They should have left San Juan today. Also two more refugee ships from Europe have arrived in Mobile and seven boats from South America arrived in Galveston. No telling how many just landed on the coast. That's the good news."
"Now for the bad news," he said, pulling out another message. "This message came in from the President appointing you, as the senior military officer, as temporary administrator of the Gulf Coast region." He grinned. "I checked with a lawyer among the escapees from Venezuela. He said in effect this make you military governor until elections can be held. Elections will be affected by whatever state laws the elections are held in. The message also orders all military commanders and civilian leaders in the Gulf region to report to you in person." The others all nodded.
"Don't try to slough this off on me," said Captain King. He had seen Elliott's eyes turn calculatingly toward him. "The Neptune is a civilian ship under contract to the Navy and the government. I'm not eligible to be the governor." He grinned happily. "Better you than me. I wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole."
"It gets even better," Cabrera said, pulling out two more messages. "A Mr. Van Jones, Assistant Under Secretary of Homeland Security, first ordered all refugees to be interned in temporary camps until a complete background check can be made on each refugee." Cabrera hesitated for a moment. "I have a few contacts in Seattle and they tell me that Jones is very liberal and is building his own empire inside Homeland Security." Cabrera held up the second message. "Then he ordered the military to collected all weapons in their areas and secure them to prevent use by unauthorized persons, because guns in private hands are dangerous. The marines have established the camps and are holding everyone as ordered."
"Why the hell did you do that, Captain Ingram?" Elliot said angrily. "I thought better of you after Florida. How the hell are you suppose to accomplish your assignments if all your men are tied up as prison guards and where are you getting the food to feed them with?" His voice was rising in anger. "On top of that what are you doing here? You're suppose to be in Mobile, f**king Alabama."
"Sorry, sir!" Capt. Ingram snapped to attention. "Orders were for military commanders and civilian leaders to report to you in person. Father Torbert is a pilot and we got a small plane operational and reported here as ordered."
"I have my men guarding the pris… er … refugees as ordered." He said rigidly. "I have been unable to search for weapons and food supplies located close to the detainee camps will soon be exhausted. Sir, I need twice as many men as I have available to carry out the orders."
"At ease, Captain. I owe you an apology." Elliott looked seriously at the marine. "I shouldn't have let my temper get out of control. I could plead my injuries or the situation I found myself in. Never the less I should have exercised better control."
Elliott looked around. "Get some chairs in here so we can be comfortable and then I want a report from each of you."
Elliott leaned back on the pillow. He was incredibly tired. His head hurt, his arm and leg ached and whenever he took a deep breath he felt a stab of pain from the broken ribs. But he couldn't afford to take a painkiller, there was too much to be done.
"Jose, send a message to the Farallon to proceed to Pascagoula, Mississippi and see what it will take to get the shipyard there operational." He took a deep breath as he mentally ticked off the first item on his mental list. "Next I want a work party, to include an corpsman, a electrician and a machinist, to check out the hospitals here in Galveston and start getting one operational. I want the wounded moved there as soon as possible."
"Captain Ingram, you do the same when you get back to Mobile. Release all the so called detainees and get back to your job. If there are any questions tell them that the refugees have all been checked by me personally." He paused to think for a moment. "Gather as many weapons as you can and issue one to every adult or individual who can demonstrate they know how to use them. Set up classes in marksmanship and gun safety. People are going to tend to scatter, especially after the orders we received from Seattle. We will not be in a position, most of the time, to protect people. They will have to protect themselves. Any questions so far?"
"What happens if someone shows up demanding the guns?" Jim Boulware asked. "After all the orders were issued to confiscate them and some official might decide he has to take them away."
"Until my orders are countermanded, after I am no longer in charge, you have my permission to shoot the son of a bitch." He squeezed his eyes shut, trying to block the pain.
"Alright! I'll make sure the word gets passed." Boulware grinned happily.
Elliott stared at Boulware after the outburst. Then he shook his head. Not even a Texan would be crazy enough to actually shoot someone like that. (He was wrong as he found out a few months later. Asst. Undersecretary Jones and fifty special security personnel, going to Texas with stated purpose of enforcing the new government regulations and arrest the 'incompetent buffoons" who failed to implement said regulation. Their plane flew into the ground half a mile from the end of the runway, during a violent storm. The investigation cleared the ground controllers of any wrong doing.)
"Next, we can't afford to screw around with six or seven sets of local laws. Post notices that state and local laws are hereby rescinded until local populations are large enough to enact new laws." He smiled wickedly. "We are going back to basics. Until we can enact new laws the US Constitution will be the law. See that copies are printed up and distributed to every man, woman and child in our jurisdiction. The Constitution and American History will be taught in every class in schools as soon as they are up and running. This might be changed later but for now it will be done, at least in the area under my control. A lot of laws have been passed over the years which are no longer applicable under the present circumstances. It would be ridiculous to try and enforce them just because they are on the books."
"Check among the refugees and see if we have any civil engineers." He said seriously. "It might not seem like a big deal now but wait until the water stops running and the toilets back up. And don't forget doctors and nurses. Also check for teachers and lets get schools back open. Until I'm over ridden the official language will be English. There are going to be a lot of people coming, all with their own language. Everyone will need a common language to be able to communicate. And History and government."
"I'll check among the people in Mobile for teachers," volunteered Rabbi Throne. "If there are no qualified teachers I'll see about finding parents to teach. I'll also make a list of subjects which must be taught and which can wait until later."
"Very good, Rabbi." Elliott said. "Mr. Boulware, do the same for Galveston. Also you and Father Torbert and Rabbi Throne, I want you to assemble a group with some legal experience to figure out how to give land titles to refugees to unclaimed land." He shook his head. "Americans with proof of ownership will still own their own land. We need a way to get title to refugees with no claim and a way to register the titles. Maybe something along the lines of the homestead laws. And I want the law easily understandable to a layman without the need for a lawyer. Also have them come up with local laws concerning murder, stealing, etc. Then have the citizens in your areas vote on them." He paused thoughtfully. "Start organizing elections so civilian government can start taking over the responsibilities of getting things organized."
"That's all for now. Any questions?" He waited a moment. "Okay, get started on everything and we will meet again tomorrow at noon. I want to see some progress on the items we just went over." He snapped his fingers. "Make up lists of things that need to be done and recommendations. We'll go over the list and decide what to do and in what priority. Capt. Ingram, Father Torbert and Rabbi Throne, you should plan to leave as soon as possible after the meeting. I'm sure you all have things waiting for you that needs to get done."
After the others had left Cabrera rolled his eyes to the ceiling. "Are you crazy? As soon as someone files a complaint with Seattle they will relieve you." He stared at Elliott in understanding. "You're trying to get relieved aren't you and you figure the quickest way is to have a lot of people start complaining about your high handed policies?"
"I estimate it will take about a month for enough complaints to go in and get me off the hook." He snorted. "Military governor, my ass! There are probably a number of liberals in the refugees who will be falling over themselves to be the first to file a complaint. Make sure everyone has access to communications with Seattle." He sighed. "I guess you had better get that lawyer you mentioned, if he can be trusted, to start going over federal laws and see what we need to maintain basic rights and see justice is done."
"I'll get on it right away." Cabrera said. "As the Chinese say it looks like we're living in interesting times." He looked down and then pulled the blanket up over the sleeping Elliott