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Nighttime at Kittery naval ship yard was always a pain, but even more so when one drew the mid-watch. At night nothing happened. The silence was so deafening many had gone mad. This night, not even a breeze wished to stir. The ever present 10 pound seagulls had long since retired for the evening, their source of food, scraps from shipyard workers, never worked past sundown. The birds just nested in the cranes or floated sound asleep on the water.
On the outside edge of a recently flooded dry-dock, a berthing barge bobbed lazily in the calm night. This large white box was never truly stable, structurally it could not be. Bright white lights illuminated the water line on the outside, but inside only the blood red floorboard lights cast an eerie glow on the interior. Slowly the barge rover watch made his way to the bunk of the relieving petty officer of the watch.
This berthing was a cramped room with coffin sized bunks stacked three high on both sides of short corridors stretching like knurled wings from the central aisle. The rover stepped with a purpose down the last cross aisle
“ET2 Hanover.” He whispered loudly as he struck the thick blue fabric of the middle bunk of the set, “Kevin, Watch in three zero minutes!”
But Hanover was not snoozing soundly in his bunk like he should be. Instead, he was already making his way to through the barge. Hanover’s dark hair was buzzed close so that he didn’t have to worry about keeping it in regs. His digital blue camo was clean and serviceable. His lean 5’11" frame was at once weary and ready. While not that impressive to look at, his lean yet muscular frame was enough to put shame to most. He was not one to play politically correct, he was a fan of just saying what needed to be said, keeping it real, so to speak. Don’t think that this attitude had not gotten him in trouble on multiple occasions.
“Hey, Hanover,” HM2 Vanessa Hutchington greeted him at the bottom of the stairs that lead up to female berthing, “looks like we drew the short straw again, hunh.”
The compartment was an atrium that led toward the chow line in the front of the barge, the barge quarterdeck to the left, female berthing up the stairs, the male head, or bathroom, towards the aft, and the rest of the barge to the right. Barges were never laid out with logic.
“Yeah, lucky us.” He replied, deciding to not notice the way she tried to casually brush his hand with hers as they went forward towards the galley.
Vanessa was easy on the eyes, she had long dark hair that was always in a tight bun, except when she was on the mid-watch with Hanover, then it was just a ponytail, he did tell her he liked that look better. Despite the god awful hour, her eyes were bright and energetic. She had awoken extra early to be sure to look as good as she could, she had even decided to put on some make up for him, blue blush was against regs, but it did contrast well with her brown eyes.
Though she had switched with Cora to get this watch, Cora was trying to leave early and wanted to be fresh, Vanessa hated everything about this watch, except Hanover. Not that Hanover would care that HMCS had taken over as duty corpsman so she could help out a friend, this was the only time she could talk to him and he would really respond.
The mess decks were, surprise, surprise, empty. The tables and benches were welded to the floor. The pair carefully made their way through, Vanessa pretending to trip a few times so Hanover would help her. He may not respond to anything else, but he would always catch her if she fell.
“Do you want to sneak into the galley and get a sandwich?” he asked as they passed the door, “CS1 usually leaves some PB&J…”
“You know, that sounds nice, assuming its grape and not that nasty apple crap.” She smiled, opening the door.
The galley had been given a weak once over, all the pots and pans had been cleaned, but not put away. Hanover pulled out his rigged-for-red mini-mag and they made their way to the industrial fridge.
“Hey,” Vanessa stepped up to the stainless prep surface, “There’s a note, ‘left you doves some feed, bone apatite’?”
“When you don’t know a language you sound so stupid using it.” Hanover sighed, opening the door, “But he made us two sandwiches each, triple deckers, that’s something, I guess.”
He pulled out the saran wrapped sandwiches and shut the door with his leg. Rather than walking back to the mess decks proper they stood across from each other at the central counter table.
“How did your sister’s bar exam go?” Hanover asked handing her her sandwiches.
“You remembered?” she asked, accepting the food.
“Of course, you’re a friend.” He shrugged.
“Well, she passed, barely,” she took a bite, then chewed a bit, “She did get a job as a court appointed whatever for the Chicago DA’s office.”
“Well, it’s a start.” He had already finished his first sandwich.
“What about your friend Byron, Henson was it, still at Harvard?”
“He still goes there, yeah, currently in Central America though, some kind of dig I guess.”
“Why did he ever get into that, didn’t he start out at Caltech doing robots and stuff? You want my second sandwich?”
“Hutch, com’on, you know if you don’t eat it, you’ll be hungry again in an hour, you never need to worry about your weight…”
“Well, I, I suppose you right.” She relented and took a bite, “Byron?”
“Don’t you remember, that whole blew up the lab thing?”
“Oh yeah, right, you know the strangest people.”
“You’re not so bad, Hutch,” he smiled, “Com’on let’s get this watch started.”
The armory was housed in the lowest level of the barge, but tomorrow it would be moved to the recently completed and certified ship’s armory. As it was, the creaks of the metal on metal caused by the motion of the water was creepy.
“Watch your eyes.” Hanover warned as he pulled the string on an incandescent bulb at the foot of the stairs.
Vanessa stumbled a bit, as Hanover went directly for the cage door of the armory. The armory cage was, as expected locked, dark, and empty.
“Ugh, don’t have time for this.” Hanover groaned, beginning to pound on the door.
“I hear ya I hear ya.” Groaned a voice from the back as the cage lights turned on, “Let’s just get this over with.”
Gunner's mate second class Gary Carpenter hadn’t shaved in a few days, it was Saturday after all and the duty chief did not care so long as turnovers happened on time, but it did look odd because he kept the top of his head clean shaven. He grumpily opened the weapons ready locker and pulled out the weapons check binder.
“You know you don’t have to bang on the door when you get down here, Hanover.”
“If you want to sleep in, you can give me the keys…” He shrugged putting on a gun belt.
Gary pulled out an M9 from the weapons ready locker, barely glanced at the serial number as it was the same gun every time, noted it in the binder, and checked it for clear.
Weapons assignment was a relatively simple activity. First the new watch standers would put on their gun belts, then the gunners mate would pull out a clear and safe weapon, verify serial numbers, write it down, and provide it to the oncoming watch stander, then provide the magazines for the watch stander to put into place in the magazine well of the gun and spare slots in their gun belts, then repeat for all watch standers, and reverse for reliving of a weapon. Simple but many a sailor had been burned by the process and busted in rank.
“Blow it out your ass, your serial number is 8-4-6-5-9-3,”
“846593 it is,” Hanover verified the number and placed the weapon in the clearing barrel, “slide forward, mag in, safety on.”
Technically, he was supposed to wait for instructions, but all three wanted this done as quick as possible. As they were still in the shipyard they did not have to worry about rifles, so the turnovers were quick. In short order they were all decked out and heading to the quarterdeck, and Carpenter was fighting the urge to go back to sleep, he had to take the weapons of the off going watch standers too.
They emerged from the top of the barge moments later. The crisp air hit their faces and the brisk sea spray kind of invigorated them. The shipyard was dark and quiet, the halo of Kittery’s lights hovered over the water in the distance. Slowly the clouds drifted over the stars.
“Kind of inspiring, isn’t it?” Vanessa asked sliding closer.
“I’m just glad we’re getting out of the yards next week, this is ridiculous.”
“We're just relocating to Newport News yards for final checks, baby steps, Hanover, baby steps.” She chuckled coyly as they made their way to the boat.
Their ship towered above the barge. The lights beyond creating an odd halo, an almost impressive aura of might and power. This was the Tesla, LPDN 56. She was the newest and highest tech ship in the US navy’s fleet. This ship was home to a mini reactor, still larger than a small apartment, but smaller than was standard, and it was state of the art. It was the first significant redesign of a nuclear reactor since the legendary Hyman G. Rickover perfected the submarine reactor some thirty odd years prior.
The government was understandably eager to get this ship off the line, out into the world. While no corners were cut, this ship, the first to be made with a modular mind set, was going to be completed far faster than an equivalent ship. Once the hull was made, it could be outfitted with any number of discrete packages that could be built in tandem, increasing the versatility of this wondrous craft.
The gangway from the barge to the ship was on the top of the barge and went into the side of the ship, through a hatch that could close and become almost seamless. Though there was not a lot of wave action, Vanessa pretended to stumble a bit.
Without thinking, Hanover automatically caught her, careful to avoid the bosoms that she was trying to get him to touch, “Careful, Hutch, we still need you to pretend to guard our ship.”
“Yeah, it’s all pretend with you, isn’t it?” She sighed.
“What are you getting at?”
“Never mind.” She sighed, “Com’on, Moats and Gibson will be waiting.”
They entered the ship and passed quickly through the water lock into the ship's cavernous vehicle transport bay. Currently the space was empty as a ball park parking garage in the off season. Words, footsteps, even breaths echoed off the many metallic surfaces. The lights were bright white LEDs and they flooded every corner of the gray interior.
Vanessa experimentally brushed Hanover’s hand as they made their way around a central wall that could divide the bay if needed. He did not shy away, he never did. She grabbed his hand and he acted as if nothing was amiss, but he also said nothing.
“Why do they have to put the quarterdeck on the other side of the ship.” He groaned, opening the door with his free hand.
“So we can talk and stuff and know when we are about to be disturbed and get back in line…” Vanessa suggested.
“I’m sure HMCS Sweeting wouldn’t care either way, so long as we don’t sleep.” He shrugged, “Best not try that with Caravel, though, he’s kind of an ass.”
“Welcome to mid-watch.” The current Petty officer of the watch, OS1 Moats harrumphed, “Glad to see you two are getting along.”
For the first time it seemed Hanover noticed his hand in Vanessa’s, for the briefest of seconds, it looked like he was going to smile, but instead he dropped it.
“Well, Hutch was thinking about not showing up, she needed persuasion.”
“And you expect us to believe you ‘persuaded’ her?” MM3 Gibson scoffed.
“Yeah, I convinced him, let’s get this over with.” Vanessa groaned, putting her arms across her chest.
“It’s mid-watch in the yards, ain't shit to report, don’t even think those sub guys are on watch.” Moats shrugged.
Kittery was normally a shipyard solely for nuclear submarines, all other nuclear ships, carriers, were built and serviced elsewhere. But it was decided, in order to increase security and spread funding around, and increase the speed at which this ship was to be built, that Kittery should have the contract.
Though the sub force was still part of the navy, it was worlds apart from the surface fleet, just as the navy air battalions were completely different. The groups did not mesh well, and each looked down on the other branches of the navy. At least the sub guys left them alone, after Hanover put them in their place for ogling Hutchington, something he had ignored for the rest of the time.
“Yeah, same here.”
“They’re in their stupid building.” Vanessa harrumphed, “Why do they get one and we don’t?”
Though women had been slowly introduced to the sub force, they were mainly in the ballistic subs, again a different world. The fast attack sub-mariners currently occupying the yards could be a bit uncouth, most of the women attached to the Tesla avoided them.
“Because we have a ship to break the wind and they would be standing in the middle of nowhere.” Hanover shrugged, “Stand relieved, better get to the armory before Carpenter dozes off.”
“Yeah, Gibbs, let’s get out of this shit, let the love birds have their nest.”
The others left and quickly shut the door, “Sorry you had to hear that love bird stuff, Hutch, they just kid.”
“Not as sorry as I am.” She sighed to herself then aloud, “You're reading…”
“Why not, do it every mid…”
“You don’t want to talk?”
“I am more than capable of reading, talking, and keeping watch.” He glanced at her, “Is there a problem?”
“No, I guess not.” She sighed, knowing the battle was lost, “Whatcha reading this time?”
“Von Braun’s lost work, as compiled by Einstein…”
“It’s in German…”
“It’s actually a deceptively complex code, but yeah it’s based on high German.”
“Where did you get it?” she hoped feigned interest would lure him out.
“A gift from a friend.”
“That Beverly girl, you like her, don’t you?” she sighed defeated.
“Beverly Henson is a well-educated, smarter than super genius sociopath, whom I’m quite certain killed her parents, as well as an untold number of others that have crossed her, or were merely involved in dog fighting rings. She also holds multiple PhDs, in numerous fields.” He shrugged, “So no, I don’t like her, I fear her. You have a better shot than she does, Hutch.”
Despite herself, that last comment made her smile, “Thanks, I mean it.”