It is Lieutenant Ahtera's last Navy dive assignment.
Oct 31, 2010
LIEUTENANT AHTERA CONTINUED DRIVING TO HIS ASSIGNMENT. He followed the four-lane main road as it twisted around the far edge of the base. The dark shadow and wing flapping sounds he heard continued to accompany him. The base posted speed was twenty-five mph; Austin increased his to over thirty-five. The shadow advanced ahead of his truck revealing a large eagle no more than twenty feet above his vehicle and traveling at a greater speed. Upon discovering it was a large bird, Austin let up on the gas pedal.What's up with that bird? The sound of the whining differential gears complemented the bellows from the twin exhausts. Burnt diesel aroma was evident as the wind shuttled through the truck cab. Soon the road narrowed into one lane constructed from compressed sand and loose gravel. The Humvee rumbled on the stones for a short distance enabling any components that were worn or loose, their chance to be heard.
He turned off the main road and accelerated; kicking up sand and loose gravel, he abruptly straightened out and headed toward the bay. Within a quarter mile he approached the dock's security post. He slowed down then came to a stop at the checkpoint. As the dust settled, he removed his sunglasses then displayed his security badge.
Man, that felt cool. I love this Humvee, he mused.
"Good morning, Sergeant," he addressed the Marine at the dock check point.
"Good morning, Lieutenant. For a moment I thought you weren't stopping. Looks like you're headed for a dive assignment, sir. Say, Lieutenant, this is some tough-looking piece of hardware you're driving, Sir. It developed that deep sound as the exhaust pipe's rolled just before you stopped. "
"Thank you Sargent, I wish it were mine, but I did, sort of have my way with the motor pool guys, they were cool-dudes"
"Can't say I blame them, I love working on trucks, I only have a smaller 4 by 4. Will you sign here, please?" He handed the roster to the officer.
The lieutenant signed the roster then handed it back.
"Thank you, sir. Have a safe dive, Lieutenant," he gave a snap salute.
The officer returned the Sergeant’s salute then continued to his destination. Within several minutes the truck started to shake, he down shifted to low gear. The tires chirped as they slipped, then the truck jolted as it climbed onto the wooden deck section of pier 11. The aroma of the sea and burnt diesel fuel filled his nostrils. Yea, a manly thing. As the wind shifted directions above the bay the sound of seagulls faded in and out In the distance. The pier's end location considered to be one of the best, was known for its wind exposure.
The large, seagull-stained sign, posted on the dock landing read, THIS IS ONE OF THE 61 PIERS SURROUNDING LITTLE CREEK CHANNEL. IT IS STILL UNDER CONSTRUCTION. PROCEED WITH CAUTION.' The weathered wooden planks made a dull knocking sound as they depressed under the heavy truck tires. Austin stopped, shifted into reverse, then backed up into the dock parking area.
Seagulls lined the railing behind the truck. They appeared to be everywhere. Some fed off the water surface while others were still in flight. Their bird droppings landed like a B-52 blanket bombing and resembled arbitrarily placed graffiti, with vehicles and people their preferred targets. Austin always found the birds amusing, as long as they kept their distance with their unwanted, droppings.
Austin snapped around as flapping wings and squawks caught his attention. He watched as the seagulls and feathers scattered in all directions. It is common knowledge that birds, all animals for that matter, will flee from danger given the opportunity unless cornered into fighting. Looking toward the sky away from the sun, he noticed a large bird circling up high. The bird appeared to be traveling at a good rate of speed. Austin felt a little apprehensive seeing any large bird these days.
The strong breeze that usually entertained the dock landing, escalated into a warm wind that kicked up the sand around him. He turned his face away from the blowing debris to protect his eyes. As he opened them blinking, he looked up to notice the large bird was no longer in the sky. It had come down and sat on the fence behind his vehicle. The bird was actually an eagle and faced away from him.
Perhaps it too had sand blown into its eyes, he thought.
The blowing wind suddenly subsided as the eagle turned. The lieutenant was standing the length of his Humvee away from the large bird. He could plainly see that this was the same eagle, the one with the golden-green eyes.
This looks like the same eagle I saw in mountains and the rehabilitation hospital. How in the world did it travel all those miles and now showing up on the east coast of the United States?
He whispered, although not expecting an answer, so no one would hear him talking to a bird. "Hey bird, what's the story with you? How and why are you following me?"
The eagle tilted its head in both directions and made gurgling sounds each time the officer had spoken a different word.
The officer observed that the bird's body shook several times, as it became surrounded by a strange golden glow that slowly expanded and increased in intensity. With no apparent reason the eagle leapt into the air. A powerful wind was felt as it took to the sky. The glowing energy still surrounded the bird as it flew toward the water's edge. It landed on the dock's main support beam. The eagle had turned to look at him, then flew down toward the bay and disappeared from sight.
Austin wasted no time and ran to the location where the eagle had landed. As he approached he heard a splash and several thumps. Within seconds he stood on the edge just in time to see a silvery tail slip through the water then dive from sight. He looked down and around but there was no bird to be seen. He returned his view towards the bay and saw something in the distance that made an occasional splash on the water's surface.
What the hell did I just see? Am I loosing my mind? Perhaps I have some rare jungle fever. I have to make sure and get checked out before I get discharged this week. Too bad I have to see birds, why can't I be seeing naked women, I could live with.
Austin, shook his head and turned. He briskly walked to the rear of the vehicle as he brushed off sand that had swirled around him moments before. Before dropping the tailgate, he hesitated, remembering something important. He turned in a snap and headed for the dockside communications trailer.
Briskly, he took two steps at a time up the creaky planks to the top of the landing and opened the trailer door. A two-tone pleasant sounding chime interrupted the silence as conditioned air tumbled out. It was a welcome contrast to the Virginia humidity. Pulling the door shut, he stepped into the trailer and waited patiently.
He heard a man's voice grumbling and slamming objects, perhaps that was his old friend Schultz having a bad hair day. After a few minutes, he called out," Hello Schultz! Is anyone home?"
"Just a second. Damn it. Shit, what the hell do these guys do to this equipment. Alright, alright. I'll be right there!"
The brawny sun-tanned radio technician entered the small counter area. "Oh, good heavens, he tucked in his shirt and secured his shirt sleeve buttons, it's you man, in the flesh. Good morning, Lieutenant. I was just checking my day's com-unit workload. Damn...it's good to see you, sir. It's been quite a while. I take it you want your DiveLink headset, right? I have it ready for you. It's all checked and re-certified." Schultz disappeared into the back room, returning with a sealed bag, placing the underwater two-way radio mask on the counter.
"Now that's service. You're sure on the ball, Schultz. Did you re-certify it yourself, or one of your staff? I know you're the best communications tech on the base. You're the only one I trust." Both men shared a hearty handshake followed by an extended hug.
"You know, Lieutenant," pausing, "I’ll repeat myself–it's really good to see you, sir."
"In all honesty... same here, Schultz. It’s been a while and much has gone down during that time. So what’s going on with you these days?"
Schultz still held the handshake."Lieutenant, how the hell are you? I heard you were in critical condition after your mishap; the Navy almost lost you. Man, I can't get over it. You look great! Wait till I tell the missus. It has been about two years if my memory is correct."
Schultz remembered how kind and caring the lieutenant had been when Schultz's young daughter became very ill and needed platelets. He had been the first to give a life-saving transfusion, which helped save the young child's life.
"Yeah—it's a long story, Schultz. I had the best team members, caring doctors willing to take a chance and prayers." He paused and thought of the eagle. "It turned out well, so here I am. Thanks for asking." The lieutenant was humbled.
"Lieutenant, you know ... it has been my little girl's blessing. Anna, asks about you from time to time, as she plays with the Navy SEAL doll we gave her out of respect for you and your great bunch of guys. Oh, gee, I'm sorry, Lieutenant. To answer your question, yes, I checked your DiveLink myself. However, I'm not sure I am the best on the base as you said. In addition, if I may add," hanging his head," I know you're just being modest. I've heard about your advanced short-wave radio knowledge." Schultz was a proud man who had the greatest respect for the lieutenant. He fumbled with some paper clips as he waited for a response.
"Well, Schultz, radios have been my hobby since I was a kid. I just take an interest in different radio frequencies, range capabilities and limitations, including their specific uses. It's fun," beaming a broad smile "I did build a few radio kits, even the old crystal types. Really though, I know nothing compared to your special skills. You can trouble-shoot and rebuild them," Austin said with admiration in his voice.
"Yeah, I'll accept that, but it just comes with the territory. When I come to work, I'm in my own little world. Say, Lieutenant, I heard during shop-talk that you had purchased some fancy-designer frequency scanner. What the hell is that about?"
"Yeah, can’t keep a secret around this old Navy. I sure did, Schultz; it's my new toy you could say. This new one will actually measure the radio frequency waves and 'capture' or lock in the frequency. Then it will show the actual digital numbers on the big LCD including the type of radio band ranges like VHF, SW and HF radio, that sort of stuff, this unit does it all. I can't wait to set it up once I get myself situated in my own home." The lieutenant's face lit up into a contented smile.
"In fact, last weekend I had my real estate agent assist in the closing of my home. I purchased an old Victorian house at a good going price, although it's in need of some work. It's overlooking the ocean just south of here, something I've always wanted," Austin remarked.
"It sounds great, Lieutenant and good luck in your civilian endeavors. Oh, here's your unit, Sir. It should be good underwater for a range of 1000 feet and includes new software to transmit and receive by a compatible headset on the shore or boat. Oh, Lieutenant, some of your team's headsets are due for re-certification this month." Schultz smiled, handing the transmitter receiver mask to Ahtera.
"Sure thing.Thanks Schultz. It looks in great shape and I'll make sure my men return their radio headsets for certification after today's dive." The lieutenant tried the mask on and adjusted the headset straps.
"Have a safe dive, Sir. Oh, would you say hello to Chief Bronson from me? "
"Thanks Schultz. I'll relay it to the Chief. Well, it's soon my last military dive and it’s time for my team to arrive." The lieutenant exited the trailer and returned to his vehicle. He dropped the tailgate and skillfully removed his dive gear. Everything was placed on a rubber roll mat. Gripping its handles Austin took long strides to the pier's end, against the gusting wind.
At 07:55 his crew of four SEALs arrived at the end of the pier. The Navy's rack-truck air brakes hissed as it rumbled to a stop. Its driver then backed up close to the personnel benches and locker shack. The experienced SEAL team members jumped off the truck bed like high school football players joking and laughing. Their high degree of training and professionalism showed in their effortless moves, as they disembarked and unloaded their personal dive gear in record time.
The dive assignment was familiar to them. This site was similar to the one used at their BUD’s, basic underwater demolition training facility, at the Naval Amphibious Base, Coronado, across the bay from San Diego, California. Safety-inspection of the old training shipwreck was accomplished based on time; they were important for current and future Navy divers. That last dive for the lieutenant with a combat-hardened SEAL team was enjoyable to say the least.
They couldn’t ask for better weather. With abundant sunlight and choppy waters, accompanied by a brisk south-west breeze, that blew through and ruffled even their short hair. The many flying seagulls had to make corrections by banking their bodies and flapping their wings just to stay over a fixed water feeding location. The smell of the bay water, mingled with that of the pier’s treated timbers permeated the air.
"Good morning, gentlemen." Austin set his gear on the deck near the benches. He faced his crew with a contented smile. "This is it men, my last dive." Proudly he stood with his hands on his hips.
"Say, Lieutenant, is it true that you're going to quit the Navy? I hope it's only a rumor. Man, the navy just got you trained. Come on, I hope it isn't true," said Chief Bronson wearing a broad smile, as the two men stood, their eyes affixed.
"Yeah you heard it right, Chief; I finally decided to retire from the Navy to be a schoolteacher. I love to teach and spend time with children. Small kids, you know, not like you guys." Austin, smiled looking down at the deck. He slowly kicked a pebble back and forth between his boots as he searched for the right words for the occasion, but they wouldn't come.
"Yeah...I will be participating in the education of America's fine children. There is a great need for proper guidance. In fact, I accepted a position teaching the earth sciences, something I've always enjoyed," he said smiling with pride.
"Lieutenant, really, it is good news. The few missions we'd been on together I just started getting to know you. What I've experienced so far I can't help but respect. Aside from your tough nature, you're really an honorable man and the team members look up to you," replied Chief Bronson, while toying with his tank support hardware.
“Chief, SEALs are trained to function as a team or individually. Each man has to become an extension of his unit. We accept to live, fight, and, if it is our fate, die together. I am leaving alive with the memory of working with the Navy’s greatest men.”
Word Count. 2,339}
Continued in Chapter Four: "NEREID.Chapter Four. 2,430 Words"