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Decision   By: (1926-)

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The captain had learned to hate. It was his profession and his personal reason for going on. But even hatred has to be channeled for its maximum use, and no truths exist forever.

The battle alarm caught him in the middle of a dream, a dream that took place in a white house in a small town in Ohio, when both he and Alice had been very young and the grown adults he now called his children had really been little more than babies.

He rolled out of his bed immediately on hearing the gong, as any good sailor would, and slipped into his pants and shoes and felt around the bulkhead for his life jacket. He slipped into it and tightened the buckles, then put on his cap with the captain's insignia.

He opened the hatch and stepped out into the passageway, blinking for a moment in the unaccustomed light and trying to shake away the remnants of his dream. Officers were boiling up the passageway and up the ladder, some eager ensigns dressed only in their shorts and their life jackets. It was more wise than funny, he thought slowly. Ships had gone down in a matter of seconds and anybody who spent precious moments looking for his pants or his wallet never got out.

Harry Davis, the Exec, a portly man in his fifties, burst out of his stateroom, still trying to shake the sleep from gummy lids.

The Captain shook his head, trying to alert his mind to the point where it could make sensible evaluations, and started up the corridor.

"Any idea what it is, Harry?"

Davis shook his head. "Not unless it's what we've been expecting."

What we've been expecting. The Captain grasped the iron piping that served for railings and jogged up the ladder. Fifty miles north, lolling in the North Sea and holding maneuvers, was the Josef Dzugashvili , a hundred thousand tons of the finest aircraft carrier the Asiatic Combine had produced, carrying close to a hundred Mig 72's and perhaps half a dozen light bombers.

The Josef had been operating there for nearly a week. The Oahu had been detached from the Atlantic Fleet only a few days ago, to combat the possible threat. Maybe the ships were only acting as stake outs for the politicians, the Captain thought slowly. The tinder waiting for the spark. And it wouldn't take much.

A curious pilot who might venture too close, a gunner with a nervous temperament ...

And now, maybe, this was it. It had to come some day. You couldn't turn the other cheek forever. And he, for one, was glad. He had spent almost all his life waiting for this. A chance to get even ...

Davis opened the hatch to the wheelhouse and the Captain slipped in, closing it tight behind him. It was pitch black and it took his eyes a few moments to adjust to it. When they had, he could make out the shadowed forms of the OD, the first class quartermaster at the wheel, and the radarman hunched over the repeater, the scope a phosphorescent blur in the darkness.

The ports were open in violation of GQ it was a hot summer night and the slight breeze that blew off the swelling sea smelled clean and cool. It was the only kind of air for a man to breathe, the Captain mused abstractly.

He glanced sharply through the ports. There was nothing that bulked on the dark horizon, and so far as he could tell, all the stars were fixed there were none of the tell tale flashes of jet exhausts.

He walked over to where the OD stood by the radar scope, seemingly fascinated by the picture on it. McCandless had the watch, a young lieutenant of not more than twenty five but one with good sense and sound judgment nonetheless. A man who wasn't prone to panic, the Captain thought.

"What's the situation, Lieutenant?"

McCandless' voice was nervous. "I'm not exactly sure, sir. Not ... yet."

A brief regret at an interrupted dream of Ohio flickered in the back of the Captain's mind.

"What do you mean, you're not sure?" His voice was a little sharper than he intended, a little more querulous than he had meant it to be... Continue reading book >>

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