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Mid Pacific Ocean
The small navy patrol boat USS Neponset was two hours out of Oahu, Hawaii, when it happened.
It was a cloudless day, a Sunday, and very hot for December. The seas were extraordinarily calm. There was no wind. The commander of the vessel had stopped and allowed his crew a 10-minute cool-off and swim.
Half the men were in the water; the others were sunning themselves on deck. They were just kids mostly, the oldest among them was twenty-two. World War II had ended two months before, and all the fighting had taken place in Europe. The crew of the sleek, wood-and-plastic Neponset had been half a world away from the hostilities. None of them had ever seen combat.
Nor had their commander, Lieutenant A. J. Noonan. Compact, rugged, with a friendly face and a lightning-quick mind, at twenty-four, he was barely older than his men.
It had started out as a routine patrol. The Neponset was a TPB, a torpedo patrol boat. It had made this trip every other day for the past six months. Basically two hours out and two hours back, these voyages were always uneventful. Occasionally the crew would help civilian boats in trouble, or serve as navigation beacons for off-course aircraft. But the guns on the patrol boat had never been fired except in training. Same with its air torpedoes.
So the crew was swimming and Lt. Noonan was in the chart room below, rechecking his navigation plots, when the world suddenly turned upside down.
The first indication of trouble came when Noonan heard his men gasp—all at once. Then the shouting began. Then came cries of disbelief. He hurried up to the deck and the first thing he saw was a wall of water heading for his vessel. One word flashed into his mind: tsunami. A huge tidal wave was coming right for them.
Noonan reacted instantly. He yelled for the men in the water to get back onboard fast. None of them needed further prompting—they were already scrambling up the access ladder onto the foredeck. Noonan hit several buttons on his control panel at once. The boat's powerful engines immediately roared to life.
Then he spun around and activated the boat's Main/AC battle management computer, the "thinking machine" which was aboard every U.S. Navy vessel, big and small, as well as every Air Corps airplane, every Army tank, jeep, and helicopter. Noonan hastily typed two words into the keyboard: tidal wave. When he looked up again, the wall of water was just a mile away.
But there was something else too—something more frightening than the tsunami. For now, Noonan could see beyond the wave. And what he saw just didn't seem real.
It was a submarine. Yet it was enormous. Bigger even than the largest Navy megacarrier—and that was one mile long!
This ship, this monster, was longer than a mile, and wider by half. It was flat, squat, like a huge, metallic hammerhead shark. Still, it was at least ten decks thick. The whole thing seemed so unnatural; like a huge floating city had just popped up from beneath the waves.
In a second Noonan knew what had happened. This tidal wave bearing down on them had been caused not by an undersea earthquake or some other natural event, but simply by the monstrous ship breaking the surface.
It was that big.
As soon as all his men were safely on board, Noonan hit the ship's throttle and the TPB took off like a rocket. The vessel could top 100 knots, but he knew he could not outrun the tidal wave. No ship was that fast. His only option was to face the tsunami head-on.
He turned the TPB hard to port and pointed the nose right at the coming wall of water. At the same time he shouted an order for all his men to get below and strap down.
The wave was 750 feet away now and seemed to be growing by the second. Noonan increased throttle to 100 percent and locked his steering column down. He pushed a button which sealed every window, bulkhead, and weapons port on the ship. This was called cocooning. Another lever lowered a glass canopy, which fit snugly over the open bridge, sealing him in with just his navigator and boatswain.
Now the wave was just 250 feet away. The TPB was heading for it at nearly ninety-five knots. Noonan had time to yell Hang on! just one more time.
Then it hit ...
And then everything went black.
The thirty-five-foot patrol boat collided with the wave with such force, it was lifted two-thirds of the way up the side of the 100-foot wall of water. Only then did its forward momentum kick in and knife the bow through the swell, popping the boat out the other side. The Neponset plummeted down sixty feet, nose over and straight into the ocean, hitting the surface hard and going completely under.
But Noonan had performed well. He'd done everything right. The vessel was watertight and thus buoyant. It popped back up to the surface almost immediately, and though battered and woozy, was still afloat.
More important, everyone on board was safe.
The TPB stabilized, the engines coughed a few times, but then came right back on line. Noonan heard the Main/AC beeping and when he turned around he saw the computer was advising him to meet the tidal wave head-on. He even smiled a bit—his quick thinking had beaten the thinking machine by several crucial seconds.
But now Noonan and his crew had other problems. Bigger problems. There was no great wave blocking them from the huge ship anymore. It was just 2500 feet away, in all its monstrous glory. Noonan immediately called his crew to battle stations. Those men running to their deck guns just stared in utter disbelief at the gigantic ship.
Noonan had never seen anything like it. No one in the crew had. The sub was not of U.S. military design, that was for certain. First, it was dark green, not the usual drab Navy gray. And it just didn't look "Navy." It was sharper, more extreme than any current Navy design, with many angles and attachments. It really did look more like a mechanical creature than a ship, especially with its wide mouth, expelling steam, and the four-stories-high multi-window bridge. Its aqua-tinted Plexiglas windows looked like a set of giant green eyes.
Noonan cut back all speed, and hastily called the boat's cameraman to the bridge. The man arrived a few seconds later, wearing a bulky battlesuit complete with flak jacket and helmet, and lugging a large insta-film movie camera. He took one look at the floating monster and almost went right over. Noonan steadied him and told him to shoot the length of the ship twice, and then concentrate on the bridge. Meanwhile, Noonan punched the Main/AC options panel and began the process of sending a secure message back to his home port at Oahu.
He had to tell someone about this.
The cameraman had just started rolling when something else happened. About five miles beyond the first ship, another monstrous sub had surfaced. This one in a gentler fashion, causing little of the tsunami effect. But this sub was just as big as the first monster and it too opened a giant mouth and began belching steam as soon as it surfaced. Then three miles beyond that one, another giant broke the waves.
Noonan and his crew were astonished at what was happening. One moment they'd been enjoying a leisurely, peaceful patrol. Now it seemed as if some hell beneath the ocean had opened up and its worst creatures were coming to the surface.
The cameraman ran out of film or courage or both, and quickly scrambled below. Noonan put the TPB into a 180-turn, not quite sure what to do next. He was still a minute away from getting a secure line back to base. Until that happened, he felt his duty was to stay where he was and report back what he was seeing.
His headphones began buzzing. It was his radar man. An aircraft was approaching from the northwest. Noonan saw it a moment later. He recognized the plane right away. It was CB-201, a huge twelve-engine maritime cargo airplane. The crew of Noonan's vessel saw this particular aircraft frequently while patrolling these waters. It was an island-hopper, delivering supplies, food, and mail to far-flung U.S. Navy posts.
Now it had blundered into this nightmare.
The airplane was flying at 6,000 feet, but its pilots, obviously not believing their eyes, were descending to get a better look at the three giant ships. Suddenly one section atop the first ship opened and an array of antiaircraft muzzles appeared. They turned toward the CB-201 and fired at once. Each shell contained a tiny radi-seeker nose cone. Each one scored a direct hit either on one of the airplane's twelve engines or on its cockpit, the hottest places on its airframe.
The mammoth airplane simply disintegrated in flight. One moment it was there—the next, it was just a huge cloud of tiny debris. No fire, no smoke. Forty-five lives and a gigantic aircraft gone. Just like that.
Suddenly, the steam stopped belching out of the great ships. A tremendous roar was heard—so loud it stung Noonan's ears. He would later discover this was the sound of many jet engines revving up at once. A few moments later, an airplane came roaring out of the mouth of the first monster sub. There was another one right behind it. Then another, and another.
The airplanes were huge! They had long slender fuselages, swept-back wings with eight jet engines per side. Each airplane was carrying a huge bomb under each wing. The bombs were so big, they were nearly one-third of the length of the airplane.
Now planes began flying out of the other two great ships as well. They, too, were huge. They, too, were carrying enormous bombs under their wings.
Noonan took only a few moments to decide his next course of action. These ships were alien to him, as were the airplanes. They were obviously taking off to bomb something, somewhere, and the only likely targets around were American military or civilian sites. Plus, they'd just shot down an American plane.
So there really was only one thing he could do ...
He keyed his microphone.
"Prepare for action," he told his crew.
If the crew was astonished by his order, they did not show it. Bells began blowing and Klaxons screaming. Yet the men stayed calm. Noonan soon had twice as much power at his disposal as before. The TPB's double-reaction engines were now kicking up to 150 percent.
He turned his bow toward the first big ship. It was about half a mile away and still disgorging the huge bombers. The TPB had sixteen air torpedoes on board, plus ten triple-fifty machine guns on deck. But this ship was the size of a small city. It was bristling with guns and radar dishes and missile launchers. David had had a better chance against Goliath.
Still, Noonan knew his duty.
He put on his helmet, hit the throttle, and made sure his vessel's battle seals were still tight and in place. Then, at 2000 feet out, he ordered the first air torpedo launched.
It went off the front rail clean, displaying its characteristic yellow plume of smoke. The fifteen-foot-long silver tube rose steadily, leveled off at exactly fifty-five feet and began its target run. Noonan watched the torpedo's progress on his weapons management screen. The Main/AC computer behind him was buzzing about something, but he had no time to attend to it now.
The torpedo gained speed as it neared the huge ship. Noonan took over manual steering at 750 feet out and turned the weapon toward the control window of the monster sub. At 500 feet out, the torpedo's impact motor clicked on, and suddenly the weapon and its substantial warhead were streaking up toward the sub's eyelike control bridge at more than 300 knots.
Impact came three seconds later. The missile smashed through the window and exploded. A good hit!
But Noonan was already turning the TPB hard to starboard and booting all power. They had barely scratched the huge ship—and now it knew they were here.
He ordered a second air torpedo launched. Like the first, it rose in a cloud of yellow smoke, leveled off, and began looking for an impact point. Noonan steered its nose toward the end of the giant ship—maybe he could hit a crucial propulsion component and at least disable the behemoth.
But this was not to be. Just as the air torpedo's impact motor was turning on, an antimissile missile shot out from the foredeck of the sub and in a burst of amazing speed, hit the torpedo and simply vaporized it.
Noonan was astounded at the gigantic ship's lightning-quick defenses. This thing really did act like it was from another world!
Still, he ordered a third air torpedo launched. For this one, he would swing back around and try for a hit on the sub's huge mouth, which was still expelling huge bombers at a rate of one every ten seconds.
The third torpedo went off the rail and made it to within 200 feet of the sub's bow before another antimissile missile materialized from the foredeck and blew it up.
Noonan swung the TPB around a fourth time—he was running on pure adrenaline now. The engines were screaming, the chatter in the ship's radio was deafening as his men shouted out targets and defenses on the side of the nearest mystery ship. They were within 500 feet now and the thing looked like a huge floating skyscraper lying on its side. By comparison, they were like a gnat trying to take down a buffalo—or more appropriately, a minnow trying to stop a whale. The dreamlike quality of the whole thing was the strangest of all. Noonan kept asking himself over and over: Is this really happening?
Then he started picking up puffs of red smoke coming from the bottom two levels of the ship. Then the air around him literally began shaking.
"Disruption shells incoming!" his sea defense officer's voice shouted in his headphone.
Those three words were enough to make anyone's stomach turn. If a disruption shell made a direct hit, it would destroy the TPB in two seconds. Or even if a DS hit the water near the ship, its disruption waves could fry all the electronics onboard, blow up the engines, and leave them powerless and unarmed.
Three disruption shells went screaming over the TPB and landed about 1000 feet beyond. Their shock waves still shook the vessel from stem to stern, but no permanent damage resulted. It would have been prudent to withdraw.
But Noonan would have none of that—he was furious that such a huge ship would dare to destroy his own and hurt his men. He turned the TPB back toward the front of the sub and ordered another air torpedo be fired.
At that moment, all defensive fire from the big ship suddenly ceased. It was so quick, so strange, Noonan took it as a bad omen. Behind him the Main/AC had been buzzing wildly—only now did he turn around and hit its "reveal" function The Main/AC spit out a ticker tape that said just one thing: initiate evasive action.
But it was too late for that. Noonan looked beyond the computer to the rear of the ship and saw another amazing and frightening sight. Another vessel, smaller than the aircraft-carrying subs, but just as terrifying and alien, had surfaced off his stern and was coming at full speed right at them!
Noonan initiated the Main/AC advice and began to twist the little patrol boat out of the way—but it was not soon enough. The sharp bow of the enemy vessel sliced right through the middle of the patrol boat, killing seven of his men instantly and tearing the little vessel in two.
The engines blew up a second later. The next thing he knew, Noonan was flying through the air, his hair on fire, the combat gloves burning right off his skin.
In his last conscious moment, he saw many things: His men in the water. His vessel in two pieces, smoking and sinking. The wake of the strange ship that had split them in half. And beyond, the big, bombed-up airplanes still flying out of the mouths of the huge submarines. And in that last blink, he saw a flag flying above both the huge aircraft carrier sub and the ship that had just destroyed his own.
The flag was white with a huge red ball in the middle.
The Rising Sun symbol—the emblem of the Armed Forces of Japan.
Two hundred and fifty-five miles to the southeast, a B-17/52 super-heavy bomber was about twenty minutes away from landing.
The crew of the gigantic aircraft, forty-four men in all, were strapping down equipment, securing weapons, and stowing away all loose gear.
The airplane was a cross between a B-17 Flying Fortress and a B-52 bomber. The nose and fuselage were reminiscent of the famous Fortress; the swept-back wings and high tail came from the '52. The monstrous airplane had sixteen engines; six of them were now shut down for the landing approach. There was a total of twenty-six gun stations up and down the fuselage, each one bearing a triple- .50 caliber machine gun. Each of these weapons now had to be locked down and their ammunition belts secured.
Excerpted from Wingman by Mack Maloney. Copyright © 1998 Mack Maloney. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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