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Jason looked over to his right, his eyes barely able to focus themselves on the subject of his attention. His neck ached terribly from the strenuous movement. He was tired.

The captain’s gaze came to rest on the rookie sonar operator sitting tense at his station along the starboard side of the control room; a man of moderate height, moderate weight, and moderate intelligence. He had only just joined the crew last month, completely inexperienced, but very eager to learn. Most of the crewmen were fond of him and he didn’t get on people’s nerves much, having a rather withdrawn personality. He was primarily concerned with doing his job well, which is exactly what you want in a crewman. But therein also lay a problem- hard work was not enough to succeed in the navy. It was a profession requiring some level of innate brilliance, a thing which even the strongest work ethic could not fully replace. And so despite his every effort, the operator currently under Jason’s command lacked that nuanced discernment which separated the decent sonar men from the ones you would want by your side in combat.

To be fair, it wasn’t really anyone’s fault; the rookie hadn’t chosen to be this way after all. But at that moment, Jason hated that sonar operator with every fiber of his being. It was a boundless, venomous hatred which surged through his heart with terrible ferocity. It was however, a very brief moment of hatred, for an instant later, a powerful shockwave made contact with the submarine’s hull. Jason was flung headlong out of his chair and onto the floor, colliding with something cold and metal. His head rang from the impact and a sudden urge to curse overcame him as the pain began to properly register. Fortunately, an adrenaline-fueled burst of willpower allowed him to resist this urge.

“Are you alright?” came a voice which Jason recognized as belonging to Matt Palmer, his executive officer.

“I’m fine” replied Jason, squinting out at the blurry outline of the control room around him. He could partially make out Palmer’s silhouette against the background of flashing lights and blurred control panels.

“We’ve lost the mains, but emergency generators are coming online now.” continued Palmer, struggling to keep a steady tone in his voice as he helped Jason to his feet.

With his rapidly improving vision, Jason examined his surroundings. Most of the crew had resumed their stations, though some were still recovering themselves from the jolt. The majority of the controls appeared operable, but it was difficult to know for sure.

“I believe we may have lost the portside engine, but I’m not certain.” added Palmer. “Communication is very patchy in the aft sections, so we don’t know for sure. But we know the starboard engine has definitely failed.”


“No chance.”

Jason looked over at the sonar operator, who seemed to have kept his seat.

“Sonar!” he yelled viciously. “What’s happening out there?”

Jason watched with a desperate impatience as the rookie scrambled to probe the seas for their enemy. The man’s panic was obvious. His shirt was already soaked through with sweat.

“Well?” asked Palmer, after a moment.

The room was beginning to settle, and Jason could feel the eyes of his crew directed at him, but he did not lift his hateful gaze from the sonar operator. He waited, trying to ignore the incessant throbbing in his head.

“They’re re-flooding their torpedo tubes.” came the operator at last. “They’ll be able to fire again in about twenty seconds.”

A few nervous mutterings emanated from around the control room, which Palmer stopped with a harsh glance.

“Get in touch with damage control and tell them to standby.” ordered Jason.

“Losing trim, sir.” broke in the navigator. “Depth is increasing rapidly.”

“Compensate with ballast.”

“Controls inoperable.” replied the ballast controller, struggling to keep his voice even.

Ignoring the sudden onset of nausea and whispering curses to himself, Jason tried to think through the wall which now separated his mind from the much needed solution to this situation.

“Our rate of descent is accelerating.” added the navigator.

The ship’s hull creaked as their descent began to accelerate. Jason knew that with every passing second, the sinking sub put another ten metres between them and the surface. Looking down at his feet, Jason imagined the floor dissolving into transparency, giving way to a sickening picture of the endless dark depths into which he was plummeting. He felt terror creeping over him, preparing to engulf him as they silently descended into the abyss bellow.

“They’ll be firing any moment now.”

Jason wasn’t sure who had spoken, but it didn’t really matter. He knew his enemy was offering him a swift alternative to the death he had dreaded all his life- a death composed of staring into that bottomless void as he plunged down into its endless depths. Another minute or so would secure his fate. He prayed that he would be able to keep his sanity for just another minute. He could feel the pressure mounting around the feeble metal shell slowly falling into a kilometre of endless darkness. He shivered at the thought.

“Sir, I’m detecting torpedoes in the water.”

“Just another minute,” he thought. “Just hold on for another minute and die like a man.”

“I think they’re coming from one of our own subs.” came the operator’s voice.

Jason must have misunderstood. As far as they knew, his crew was the only one which had survived.

“They’re definitely ours. The enemy sub is turning to evade.”

Jason raised his head and scanned the room. Palmer was hunched over the sonar station, his eyes fixated intently on the screen in front of him. The rest of the crew were staring intently at the operator, as he listened with his utmost attention to the sounds of the undersea battlefield.

“They’re hit!” cried the operator in disbelief.

“Who?” asked Jason, barely able to understand what was happening.

“The enemy sub is hit! It’s been taken out.”

Jason closed his eyes, his head throbbing violently.

“Are we still descending?” came Palmer’s voice.

“Still descending.” confirmed the navigator.

Jason’s head throbbed again. He winced, then shivered as he felt himself vomiting into his mouth. Half gagging, he leaned forward and swallowed it back down his throat, barely being able to stifle a hopeless groan. His brain seemed to swim in his skull. His eyes were staring into a blur, his mind imprisoned inside a doomed body, trapped inside the damp fabric of his sweat drenched uniform. Again, the hull creaked, only this time with a far louder report, as if the ship itself was crying out in protest of its fate.

“Sir? Where are you going?” asked Palmer.

But Jason was already stepping through the hatchway. He leaned against the side of the hull as he slowly made his way down the tight corridor towards where his quarters lay. Two technicians rushed past him in a panicked sprint towards the control room. They barely noticed him standing there, head pressed against the door, as he fumbled with the door handle.

It was at that moment that the sub lurched sideways without the slightest warning, sending Jason barrelling through the door and into his cabin. He scrambled to his feet only for the sub to heave the other way, landing him on the corner of the doorway. There was a distant sound of shattering glass which seemed to emanate from the control room. Paying no attention, Jason began to crawl along the floor towards his desk drawer. The chaos in the control room was rapidly fading from his perception.

At last, Jason yanked open his desk drawer and removed the standard issue pistol from inside. He had cleaned and loaded it this morning in preparation for the expected battle. He saw his distorted reflection in the polished barrel and found himself staring into his own half maddened eyes. There was a cut on his lip, and an emerging bruise on his forehead.

The sub pitched forward, flinging him into the side of the desk. Jason seated himself securely against the side of the desk, pressing his feet into the floor to steady himself. He gripped the pistol more firmly in his hand and studied the weapon, turning it over in his hands.

The question of where he would place it was a matter which he had devoted considerable thought to in the leadup to this moment. He had ruled out putting it under his chin, fully aware that it could partially miss the brain, thus preventing the swift death which he now desired. A childhood friend had put a gun in his mouth and that had worked quite well, but Jason had already settled on the side of the head. He considered the three options once again. There was no doubt that the side of the head was the best.

It was at this moment that Jason heard a series of rapid thuds against a metal floor. Someone was running down the outside corridor, their footsteps very close now.

Jason unceremoniously shoved his pistol back into the desk drawer, slamming it shut with excessive force. He turned to see the sonar operator just coming into view, gripping the side of the doorway to steady himself. There was a slight smile on his face, indicating a strange sense of hope. The smile only grew as the operator opened his mouth to speak, his eyes retaining their lively tint, even now.

It is unsurprising that Jason did not take kindly to this display of optimism. The human mind has a way of rejecting anything that does not translate well to its current situation, completely alienating all empathy for incompatible beliefs. As captain of a submarine, Jason was well aware of this, but at this moment of hopelessness, he did not find this element of his experience particularly relevant.

The human mind also has a way of laying blame on another person without any qualms over the effect this could have down the road, and this is especially true when the mind is under pressure. Having never been in such a hopeless situation, one which could only end with the worst manner of death his imagination could conceive, it was safe to say that Jason was indeed under pressure.

There was the operator, standing there, leaning into the cabin, and glancing down at his captain, unsure whether to deliver his message or wait. Jason glared back at the operator, his left hand searching for a grip on the desk drawer. The operator took a step into his cabin, his eyes glancing nervously at Jason’s hand. Jason ignored this stare as he began to pull open the drawer. He evaluated how quickly the operator would react, reminding himself that the pistol safety was still on and would need to be switched off. He would have to act like he was going to use it on himself and hope that the operator would step in to save him.

He pulled open the drawer and began feeling for the pistol. He examined the operator’s face, which was quickly filling with uncertainty. He would have to say something to keep the operator from fleeing too early.

“Leave me.” Jason whispered, carefully measuring out the volume of his words. Just loud enough for the operator to hear, but just quiet enough that he’d need a second or two to process the order.

Jason found the pistol and gripped it firmly in his hand. He would need to try and tackle the operator and restrain him until he could get an unmissable shot.

“But sir, we’ve restored auxiliary ballast control.” came the operator, at last processing through Jason’s order.

Jason hesitated mid-pounce, falling forward on the balls of his feet. He swung inwards, hinging on his armed hand, which had caught itself against the side of the draw, while breaking his fall with his free hand. Without hesitation, he swung himself back around, falling backwards into his previous pose. He looked up at the confusion on the operator’s face.

“Wait outside.” ordered Jason, bring all the command he could muster into his voice.

“Yes sir.” replied the operator, recognising the tone. Yet Jason could clearly identify the suspicion now present in the man’s voice. A dangerous suspicion, with an undertone of deep-set mistrust. Jason hesitated, his left hand still gripping the pistol in the drawer. Only a fool would have missed the implications of such a conspicuous attempt to conceal something. The operator was not particularly intelligent, but he was no fool.

Jason adjusted his grip on the pistol and quickly withdrew it from the drawer, ignoring the faint voice of rationality which urged him to reconsider his intended course of action. With his free hand, Jason reached back into the drawer and withdrew a small silencer which he clumsily screwed on to the pistol with a shaking hand. Pulling himself to his feet, he hurriedly stuffed the pistol into his belt, covering it with his sweat-soaked shirt so that only a small bulge remained visible.

The captain took a breath, preparing himself for the onslaught of activity which the task ahead would consist of. Exhaling loudly, he made his way out of the cabin.

* * * * * * * * * *

Jason stepped into the control room, standing aside to make way for the damage control team behind him. Looking around, he observed the room in a state of chaos. There was frantic yelling, drowned out by more frantic yelling, drowned out by wild swearing. A small fire had sprung up near helm control and was being fought by the helmsman and the radio operator, neither of whom had a fire extinguisher. Their frantic efforts to snuff it out with their shirts did little to mitigate the growing blaze. In a corner, Palmer was sweeping aside shards of broken glass with his shoe while yelling orders over his shoulder.

Jason struggled up through the control room towards his executive, now aware of the sharp angle at which the sub was pitched and balancing himself against the side of the hull.

“We’re holding our depth for now, sir.” said Palmer, catching Jason’s approach.

“Can we ascend with just the port engine?” asked Jason, passing by the ballast controller as they frantically adjusted the controls in front of them. Their eyes flicked rapidly between the numerous dials on the wall as they struggled to keep the sub from resuming its descent.

“Engineering is trying to increase rotor power now. So far, we’ve gotten as high as 20%.”

“What’s the story with ballast control?”

“Main ballast is locked at neutral buoyancy, but there’s some minor flooding in the aft. We’re holding our own with the auxiliary, and if we can get the engine up another 5%, we should have enough power to ascend.”

As the executive spoke, a sudden violent shudder reverberated through the hull, almost knocking them all from their feet. Jason was sure he felt the hull of the sub stretching and wrinkling under the immense strain of the water pressure. Jason glanced at the growing fire, which threatened to engulf the half-unconscious helmsman who continued to battle the blaze with the scorched remnants of his shirt.

“Excuse me, sir.” said Palmer, pushing past him to grab a small fire extinguisher which had been brought up to the control room by a young lieutenant.

As they passed each other, Jason felt the executive’s hip brush against the cold metal of the pistol still concealed under his shirt. Hastily stepping back, Jason thought he saw Palmer hesitate in thought for a moment, as if registering what had just happened. It was a brief hesitation, which might be justified by the gut-wrenching reverberations from the shudder, although Palmer was rarely unsettled by a mere noise. The executive, passing off the extinguisher to another crewman, turned to speak to the lieutenant. As he turned, his eyes seemed to rest for a second on Jason’s left hip.

As Palmer and the lieutenant conversed, Jason carefully studied their faces, catching every movement of their eyes and tilt of their heads. Their conversation seemed to be directed at the state of the engines, judging by their repeated glances towards the aft. As the lieutenant turned to leave, Jason stepped forward, attempting to remain as inconspicuously nonchalant as possible.

“What’s the situation?” he asked Palmer, somewhat too light-heartedly. Palmer seemed not to notice. After a brief pause, he answered.

“Engineering is struggling to bring up engine power, but they say we risk rotor failure if they go any faster. I’d recommend that you resume command while I go take a look at the situation.”

“We’ll both go.” replied Jason in a well-measured voice of authority. “Leave the lieutenant in command.”

Palmer could only give a respectful nod. There was little time for debating the matter.

“Lieutenant, you have the conn.” he yelled.

The two men made their way out of the control room and down the officer’s corridor, both studying the other’s movements out of the corner of their eye, trying to deduce meaning from the most minor details of their posture and expression. Both knew the irregularity of Jason’s decision to join Palmer, but neither dared to bring up this point without a better understanding of the other’s intention. A brief glance from Jason caught Palmer’s eye. Following his gaze, Palmer noticed a large storage locker bolted to the wall, originally containing medical supplies which had since been used up. Its metal door was secured by two large padlocks, both of which appeared to have been unlocked. There was nothing particularly unusual about it, except for the lack of use this locker had seen since its supplies had been spent.

Jason followed Palmer’s gaze to the same destination, and quickly turned to assess Palmer’s reaction.

“What is it?” he asked, with genuine uncertainty.

Without answering, Palmer crossed over to the locker in two strides and removed the two padlocks. Jason followed behind him.

Opening the locker, Palmer found himself face to face with the blank stare of the sonar operator. He jumped back in surprise, partly catching a quiet gasp of astonishment from Jason. The corpse tumbled out of the locker, head first, landing on the floor with a series of loud thuds.

The two looked at each other, balancing their focus between managing their own facial expression and studying the expression of the other man. Turning their attention to the body, both pairs of eyes came to rest on the small hole in the back of the operator’s head, visually charting the bullet’s course through the crewman’s brain. There did not appear to be an exit wound.

Palmer turned to Jason, about to speak. His first word was drowned out by the sudden blare of the lieutenant’s voice over the intercom. “Control room to Mr Palmer.”

Palmer turned away before Jason could see his face again. The executive pressed a small button on the wall and leaned forward into the speaker.

“Go ahead.”

“Engineering reports that the port engine is up to almost 30% and that the rotor is still going strong. We’re now able to surface on auxiliary ballast.”

Jason’s thoughts began racing through him. He became suddenly aware of the cold metal pressed against his hip; the silencer still attached. He saw clearly where a single word from Palmer could lead, once they’d returned home.

Glaring up at his executive, who had just finished on the intercom, he quickly refreshed himself on the location of the nearest three storage lockers. The dying whisper of reason cried out in desperation as he lifted the pistol from his belt. A slight movement of a finger and the safety catch had been switched off. The pistol glided up through the air in his hand, stopping just a few inches from Palmer’s head. Jason hesitated, an unexpected wave of pity sweeping over him, paralysing him. He stared at the back of his executive’s head, afraid to kill.

As he stood there, the gun poised in his hand, the first officer began to turn around. Jason felt the expression on his face become one of silent apology for Palmer, his friend, who he now intended to murder. But as he turned, Jason saw a look of hatred on the face of his victim. As their eyes met, Jason saw the hatred intensify. It was a special kind of hatred, the kind stemming from betrayal, the kind of hatred which can drive a man for years. Jason’s mind threw itself into motion, flowing through every look that Palmer had given him in the past five minutes. Every single look had been one of increasing suspicion, accompanied by a growing fury towards the killer who had once been his captain. Palmer was now staring right into the barrel of the pistol. Jason fired twice.

As the dead officer’s body sagged quietly to the floor, Jason heard a sudden gasp. In front of him stood a young crewman, no older than the sonar operator had been. In one hand, he held a fire extinguisher, while the other had an injured look to it. The crewman’s face was grimy, and his uniform was soaked through with grease and sweat. A dumb smile of uncertainty appeared on his face as he stared intently at the two bodies at Jason’s feet. Jason fired once and hesitated. He fired again.

The captain spun around, pivoting on his right leg. Behind him, three pairs of footsteps had stopped. The crewmen raised their hands over their head and began to back away, one of them nearly tripping over himself as he did so. Jason’s focus wandered. His grip became loose. He saw himself sitting behind a desk, dozens of eyes glaring at him as they told the world what he had done. People - people who he had once considered friends - would look at him with horror and hatred. He shuddered at the thought and gripped the pistol with a new ferocity as he cut the last tie.

He saw in his mind the fastest route to the engine room, through a series of winding corridors. An image of the technicians in engineering cowering in a corner appeared in his eyes with crystal clarity. With one shove of a leaver, the port engine would tear itself apart and his fate would be sealed. Raising the pistol in front of him, he walked quickly, firing once as he approached the technicians. The remaining two turned and broke into a run, leaving their dead comrade where he lay. Jason’s pace quickened. He too began to run, the gun still raised in front of him. Around the corner and down the next corridor, around another corner and on towards engineering.

As he ran, the floor seemed to dissolve under his feet, giving way to the vast abyss below him. He imagined the sub once again plunging down into that abyss, creaking and shuddering as its hull gave way to the unbearable pressure. He imagined the speeches and memorials back home, praising the sacrifice of a captain and his crew. He saw himself standing there in engineering, the technicians cowering around him, watching with fearful awe as he let the empty pistol fall from his hand, his eyes closed in acceptance as he and his crew plunged to their deaths.



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