“What do they want, lieutenant?” the young, terrified sailor asked.
Yost Lauritz wished he had an answer that wasn’t the obvious one. They were aboard the Norwegian ship Hakon. Officially, they were aboard the fishing ship Hakon, returning from Atlantic fishing grounds with a cargo hold full of food. In reality, though, the Hakon was a military ship with a hold full of Norwegian gold. No one outside of their government was supposed to know the truth, but apparently the commander of the submarine which had just surfaced did.
“How could they know?”
Lauritz shook his head. The transport of all this gold was supposed to be completely secret. As far as anyone outside the crew and the Norwegian government knew, they were just a fishing boat heading for shore with a full hold.
“I don't know how, but they do."
The words seemed to be an omen, or a signal, for at that moment the hatchway of the submarine opened a number of men poured out onto the top of the sub. One raised a megaphone.
"This is Captain Johann Joniec," yelled the man in the worst Norwegian Yost had ever heard.
"Easterners," the Norwegian sailor whispered in horror.
"Don't worry," Lauritz replied, "They've got no jurisdiction."
"We know you are holding Eastern Bloc prisoners aboard your ship. Turn them over immediately, or we will board your ship and take them by force."
The captain of the Hakon had, by this time, joined Yost and the younger sailor on the deck of the ship.
"Get me my megaphone," the Norwegian captain said.
The young sailor scrambled off and returned a few moments later with the captain’s amplifier. He raised it to his lips and yelled back at the submarine crew.
"This is the captain of the Norwegian fishing vessel Hakon. We are not holding any Easterners. You are mistaken. We are a civilian ship. Any attempt to board our ship or any other aggression will be unwarranted and will be taken as an act of war."
Joniec replied, "We know you are a disguised military ship. We are within our legal bounds. I am giving you ten seconds, which is far more than you deserve, to turn over our men. Ten."
"What do you think, lieutenant? I’m sorry, I mean coxswain. Will he really do it?" the captain asked.
He had to keep up the pretense of being a non-military ship. According to the charter, Yost was a coxswain, not an officer.
"He's not stupid enough to attack us," Lauritz replied.
"What if he just wants the gold and is making up this story to make it all seem legal?"
"The government will know."
"But they can't let anyone know they transport their gold on disguised navy ships. It'd be too dangerous."
"They'd let the bastard Easterners get away with it?"
"What's one ship and one load of gold compared to your whole national treasury's safety?"
"Your time is up, Norwegians! What is your decision?"
"You know we can't return your prisoners because we haven't got any god damned prisoners! Leave now, and you might avoid war," the captain screamed.
“Does he know you’re bluffing?” Yost whispered.
“Apparently. It’s odd but I’ve never seen a submarine that could fire up before.”
Lauritz had calmly gotten down on his belly on the deck of the ship. Shells and explosives were raining down on them from the submarine. The underwater cannons were firing into the air and sending their payloads in deadly arcs towards the small Norwegian ship.
“Bastards,” the captain whispered in the seconds before he was blown to chunks of meat by an Eastern missile.
Carefully making a mental note and storing it away to have a dirge sung for his captain, Yost crawled through the blood to the crew quarters. The men and women were beginning to scramble around, but they had no real direction.
“Abandon ship!” Yost yelled, “You have to get out of here before the Easterners board!”
Satisfied that they were beginning to evacuate, Yost made his way back above deck. The Eastern Bloc submarine had stopped firing at them, because they had now come within spitting distance of the Hakon. He saw grappling hooks and other boarding equipment fly over the side of his boat. He stood up and raised his hands into the air in preparation.
A painful punch in the gut heralded the boarding of his ship. The Easterners were swift, he had to admit that. The man who had slugged him held him at gunpoint as the rest of his comrades swarmed over the side of the ship onto the deck. The last to come was the Ukrainian captain Johann Joniec, who had spared no expense in arraying his uniform. Lauritz carefully memorized all of the man’s features.
“We don’t have your prisoners, Jashu,” coughed Yost.
Joniec gave him a hard stare. Yost was playing games. Trying to call Joniec's attention by calling him a boy's nickname. He intended to be be the focus of Joniec's wrath instead of the crew. The ruse would not work.
“I don’t care,” Joniec said simply.
Then the Ukrainian slammed the man in the forehead with the butt of his gun. Yost stumbled, lost his balance, and fell into the water. One of the other Easterners went to the side and pointed a gun down. Joniec stopped him from firing by grabbing his arm.
“Don’t waste the bullets. If he’s not already dead he will be in a few minutes when he drowns.”
The other Easterner nodded.
“Search this ship. Tear it apart. There’s gold on here somewhere, and I intend to find it,” Joniec said to his crew, "Igoumensita will reward the men who bring him this prize richly."
Boards and planks began to fall around Yost’s prostrate body. He was lying unconscious and face down. The occasional board struck him and drew blood, the pain making him dimly aware that the Easterners were tearing up his boat.
With an effort he awoke and righted himself so he could breathe freely again. He fell unconscious almost immediately afterward. He began to slowly drift away from the sinking hulk of the Hakon.
"Manuscripts don't burn"
- Mikhail Bulgakov
Hi, I'm horror and science fiction author Steve Kozeniewski (pronounced: "causin' ooze key.") Welcome to my blog! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon. You can e-mail me here, join my mailing list here, or request an e-autograph here. Free on this site you can listen to me recite one of my own short works, "The Thing Under the Bed."
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