Posted 15 February 2006 - 06:55 PM
*** THIS STORY CONTAINS AFTERMATH AND AFTERSHOCK SPOILERS ***
“If we lose the war at sea, we lose the war.”
- First Sea Lord Sir Dudley Pound, 5th March 1942.
Sunday May 23, 2004
Extract from the private diaries of Commander Duncan Llewellyn.
“After months of preparation, we are now only days away from the first test of the revolutionary new Archerfish torpedo system. If the tests are successful, the Admiralty plans to make them part of the standard armament of HMS Trenchant and the other Trafalgar class nuclear submarines.
“The crew is speculating on why the Trenchant and the support ships have been sent all the way out to the seas off Bermuda for the tests. I suspect that the Admiralty wants American military intelligence to witness the tests so we can get a good price when we sell the technology.”
The first sign that something was wrong came that evening in the mess. The crewmen assigned to the fourth shift were having what for them was breakfast and talking to their friends before they went on duty.
“I had this really weird dream earlier. I dreamed that the skies had gone dark and it was raining. Only it was black rain like oil, and it was killing anything it touched. People, animals, trees, everything. Then I saw some of the dead people change. They came back to life like they was zombies or something. I woke up in a cold sweat, I don’t mind telling you.”
“Hey, I had the same dream,” commented another crewman.
“So did I.”
A quick check revealed that 22 of the 26 crewmembers on the shift had experienced the same dream. The shift commander, Lieutenant Rolfe, decided to inform Commander Llewellyn.
After interviewing some of the affected people, the commander and Dr Neil Bryson, the chief medical rating, were discussing the situation while sitting around a table in the doctors office. “You don’t think this is like the Hermes all over again?” asked the commander. A fault in the air filtration system of HMS Hermes had only been picked up when two crewmen smoked some ‘herbal’ cigarettes in their cabin, and nearly fifty shipmates reported to sickbay complaining of dizziness and nausea.
“I’m afraid not,” replied the doctor. “And neither was it something in the food. There’s no known illness or hallucinogen that can cause so many people to have exactly the same dream. So I bent protocol slightly and radioed my colleagues on the Bayleaf and the Monmouth. Don’t worry, the radio operator made sure it was coded and tight beam.”
“I should think so too. What did you find out?”
“People on those ships have reported experiencing the same dream.” Dr Bryson noticed that the commander looked disturbed by the news. “Would you mind telling me why you’re so worried by all this?”
“Okay, but I’m invoking doctor-patient confidentiality. And this is strictly off the record.”
“My grandfather was killed in the accident at Aberfan.”
“I know. It’s in your personnel files.” The doctor knew that the commander’s family had used the compensation money to give him an excellent education so that he could escape from the poverty-stricken Welsh valleys and become an officer in the Royal Navy. Although the class system had eroded in recent years, it was still unusual for someone from a working class background to achieve such high rank in the navy.
“Well, there’s one detail about my grandfather’s death that didn’t go on my record. It didn’t seem to be any business of the Admiralty, and I didn’t bring it up because I didn’t want it to damage my chances of commanding the Astute when it’s launched.”
“What was it then?”
“Well, he dreamed about the disaster the night before the coal slip. Lots of other people in the town had the same dream. He mentioned it to my grandmother off-hand before he went out to work and never came back. These dreams were a warning that went unheeded. Now it’s happening again. But I can’t work out what the danger is.”
The doctor thought for a moment. “Well, déjà vu is common enough. Hardly anybody gets flashes they can interpret at the time though. This is a bit different, I’ll grant you.”
“So what should I do?”
“I think the best thing you can do is to sleep on it. We’ll have a better idea of what’s going on if the other crewmen experience the same dream. Also, as an officer, you might get a better class of prophetic dream!”
Sleep was a long time coming for the commander. When it came, he experienced the most vivid dream of his life. He was back in Aberfan in the autumn of 1966, and it was raining heavily. He could see rivulets of water pouring down from the hills.
He could see that the piled up coal on the hillside was about to move and smother the school and nearby buildings. He tried to run and warn people, but his legs refused to respond. He couldn’t even open his mouth and shout a warning.
He had no choice but to passively watch as the coal and mud began to slide down from the hillside. Other people noticed, but it was now too late to escape. The cascade grew bigger, and ploughed into the school and houses.
But then instead of stopping, the flow continued. It went on to smother the rest of the town, and then, impossibly, it smothered the grass, heather and bracken of the nearby hillsides. In a dream, it is possible to know something without being told, and he somehow knew that this dark tide had gone on to smother the entire world.
It stopped raining, and he saw an alien figure standing where the town had once been. The alien looked like one of the stereotypical ‘Greys’ that were featured in cheesy science fiction films, as well as every single paranormal magazine ever printed. He noticed that the shadow of this alien somehow stretched to the horizon.
He seemed to have regained control over his legs, so he walked over to the alien in the hope of getting some useful answers. The alien touched a device on its belt and vanished into thin air at his approach. He looked down to where the alien had been standing, and he saw something alive. It looked like a fungal blight, a mottled orange-brown in colour with dark red veins. It grew at an exponential rate and it spread to the horizon in less than a minute.
He then saw his wife holding a child that he knew without being told was his own, even though they didn’t have any children. They were with a group of other people from various different nations who were languishing in an alien prison camp on an unfamiliar coast. He saw that they were all looking out towards the sea, and he realised that they were waiting to be rescued from the aliens. Waiting for him to rescue them.
Monday May 24th
The commander woke with a start, feeling shaken by the vividness of his dream. What did it mean? Had the other members of the first shift experienced similar dreams? The mood in the control centre gave him the answer to the second question.
The tension lifted during the course of the morning, for an understandable reason. The highlight of the week for the crew of any military submarine is when they receive the weekly batch of personal messages or familygrams via the satellite link. Unfortunately, the crew cannot respond to them even in peacetime, as the transmission would give away the position of the submarine. The weekly messages were scheduled to come through that lunchtime.
Chief Petty Officer Lantree pressed the small printout into Commander Llewellyn’s hand. As usual, the CPO had carefully folded it to protect what little privacy a crewman had on a submarine. It was always tempting to read the message immediately, but he knew that he had to set an example to the crew at all times. Besides, it would be something to look forward to when he went off duty.
The only incident of note in the afternoon came when a sonar specialist, Able Rating Khan, picked up some distant whalesong on the passive sonar array. He took a deep interest in whalesong, and had become good at deducing their emotional state from their song. This time, they had been driven to a level of mind-numbing terror he had never seen before, although there was no sign of what had terrified them. There were no Japanese research ships in the Atlantic, and nothing else is dangerous enough to induce outright terror in an adult whale.
Finally, the shift came to an end, and the commander was in his quarters, ready to read the message from his wife. Her father had been a career officer in the Navy, so he felt fortunate to have found a woman who was prepared to accept having a husband who would have to spend months at a time on patrol. He poured himself a small scotch, the only time in the week he allowed himself to drink while on patrol, sat down and began to read the message.
“My darling, wonderful news. I went to the doctor last week, and he told me that we’re going to have a baby…”
Tuesday May 25th
“What the hell was that?” asked Able Rating Khan.
“Report,” snapped Commander Llewellyn. He had not been able to get much sleep the previous night, and what little he had managed had been haunted by dreams of black tides and invading aliens.
“Something big flashed across my sonar screens. I mean, gigantic. It was airborne, but it didn’t match the profile of an aircraft or a flock of birds, or anything I’ve ever seen before.”
“Check your systems. It’s probably another malfunction. The Admiralty spent over £200 million on the damm refit, and we’ve had one bloody problem after another.”
A voice crackled over the radio a few minutes later. “This is Lieutenant-Commander Perry of the Monmouth. Did you chaps just spot something on your sonar?”
“Just now,” replied Commander Llewellyn. “I thought it was a malfunction. Like the foo-fighters the first radar systems kept picking up.”
“Well, I doubt that both our sonars would have picked up the same malfunction at the same time. Ours is older than yours, so it can’t be a problem with the controlling software either.”
“Did you pick up anything on your radar?” The commander noticed that Khan looked slightly smug at having his precious sonar array vindicated.
“Negative on both our radar systems.”
Commodore James of the Bayleaf chose that moment to interject. “Same with us. Sonar picked up something massive, but nothing on radar. My engineers are going mental trying to work it out. Any idea what it could be?”
“No idea. It must have some kind of stealth capacity, but it’s too big and fast for an aircraft. Anyway, whatever it is, it’s going to be in America by now at the rate it was going. The only thing we can do is to report the sighting to the Admiralty, and see who they pass the buck to.”
“I’m betting the chairborne warriors bounce it straight back to us,” replied Commander Perry.
In fact, the Admiralty said that the matter was already under investigation. They thanked the small squadron for the additional data they had supplied, and asked them to pass on any further information they obtained.
General Semure was giving the progress report to the other two members of the Reticulan War Committee. “Brothers, the carrier has reported that it has begun releasing the spores. No native opposition has been encountered by the escorts. However, the natives are attempting to communicate with the carrier by radio.”
“Communicate? Why would they bother to do that?” asked General Peupar.
General Ranalla had learned a great deal about humanity in his studies, and he had not been impressed by what he had learned. “Terrans yearn for contact with other intelligent races. They believe that any spacefaring civilization has evolved beyond war, and that it has nothing better to do than to sort out the mess they have made of their planet.”
“Such belief amazes me,” said General Peupar. “A species stupid enough to think that the universe is so benevolent deserves to be destroyed.”
“What amazes me is that Terrans think that other races WANT to contact them given their intolerant behaviour towards each other and their willingness to destroy the environment that gives them life,” commented General Semure.
“There is still the matter of the other representatives of our people on Earth,” reminded General Ranalla. “They think that Terrans have potential to evolve from their present state, so they will never cooperate with us. If they can, they will block our research, like they did back home.”
“The spores will kill them just as readily as if they were Terrans,” argued General Peupar. “But I think we should make doubly sure by ordering our fleet captains to bombard their facilities.” Semure indicated his agreement.
Being the oldest general on the War Committee, Ranalla pondered the matter for a few moments. The Earth Question had already cost too many Reticulan lives over the years, and he was not keen on ordering the killing of the hundreds of Reticulans already on Earth. However, they might endanger the experiment and even trigger another civil war when the Imperial Navy reaches Earth as it undoubtedly would. Perhaps a swift attack before the people already stationed planetside realised what was going on would be the best option then. “Very well, order the attack to commence as soon as the carrier has completed its mission.”
Wednesday May 26th
A brief coded signal from the Admiralty announced that the Royal Navy was going on BIKINI state amber; equivalent to the American DEFCON 2. This meant that the government had received specific information about an imminent attack, and the armed forces had to be ready for immediate action. Naturally, the planned missile test was called off. However, there was no information on the nature of the threat that had suddenly caused the alert status to jump up from black.
The civilian news channels were not carrying any reports of an international crisis, at least no more than usual. There was the daily round of terrorist attacks in the Middle East, an American diplomatic protest at Chinese violations of Taiwanese airspace, another military coup in Central America, and a rebel faction in whatever Zaire was calling itself that particular day had taken a provincial city from one of the other rebel factions. Hardly anything for the Admiralty to get worked up about.
There was one unusual item in the domestic news. During a routine press announcement to announce the weekly anti-crime initiative, a British government spokesperson had been asked if there was any truth to rumours that a large alien spaceship had been witnessed by amateur astronomers. The spokesperson, who had not seen the object in question, categorically denied the existence of alien spacecraft in general and that one in particular.
Standard procedure during such a high alert meant that the Bayleaf and the Monmouth had to sail to the nearest NATO fleet rendezvous point, twenty miles north of Hamilton in Bermuda. The Trenchant had to sail further out to sea, remaining submerged, and await further orders.
Thursday May 27th
Tensions rose throughout the morning after a routine radio message from the Bayleaf commented that the skies were much darker than they should be. Some of the news stations had apparently made the same discovery, and they were claiming that it was due to an unusually powerful solar flare interacting with Earth’s Van Allen radiation belts. They emphasised that this was a temporary phenomenon and that there was no cause for alarm.
The BBC morning news bulletins also carried an article on the numbers of people reporting the same bizarre dream that the crew of the Trenchant were experiencing. The article had a facetious tone that was dropped an hour later after the BBC switchboards, forums and e-mail accounts were swamped by the millions of people who had experienced the same dreams.
The main news story as the day progressed was a series of simultaneous attacks against military facilities in Wiltshire, Nevada and the outskirts of Volgograd among other places. Although world governments were quick to blame international terrorists, the media had latched onto eyewitness reports of flying saucers. The Volgograd reports were particularly sensational because several eyewitnesses had taken photographs of what they claimed was a UFO shot down by particularly alert Russian anti-aircraft gunners.
Royal Navy submarine crews were trained to deal with the tension associated with the immediate possibility of a conventional or nuclear war, however they were also used to having some idea who the enemy was. This time, all they had to go by was wild news stories and government denials. Commander Llewellyn came to an important decision. “I’m going to radio the Admiralty and ask them what the hell is going on.”
“Are you sure sir?” asked Lieutenant Commander McPherson. “We can’t do that without revealing our position, and you know our standing orders about that.”
“I know, but most governments are aware that we’re in this general vicinity anyway. We had to tell them, so nobody would get jumpy if they spotted the planned tests.” A nuclear war had nearly erupted in 1995 when the Russians detected a Norwegian missile test; no-one had thought to tell the Russian Defence Department that it was only a test and not the beginning of a Norwegian invasion.
When the commander asked the Admiralty what was going on, he was given the same story about freak meteorological conditions and terrorist attacks. He then asked what was really going on because nobody in the squadron believed the cover stories, and he didn’t think anybody else would either. The Admiralty curtly told him to mind his own business if he knew what was good for his career.
That night, the commander was woken up by a junior rating who told him that the Admiralty had moved the alert status up to BIKINI state red, which meant that Britain was undergoing an attack, and had given the Trenchant the launch codes for all torpedoes and missiles. No explanation had been provided.
Friday May 28th
By early morning, the only news stories were the rapidly darkening skies, the people experiencing the same dream, the UFO (or weather balloon if the news service was government controlled) shot down the previous day, and reports of massive troop mobilisations across the world. Some independent news channels came to the same conclusion that most of the public had already arrived at owing to a diet of sci-fi films: alien invasion!
Over the next few hours, news channels showed images of panic buying in supermarkets across the world – even the people who didn’t believe in the increasingly hysterical rumours joined in the panic for fear of impending food shortages caused by the panic buying. A shopkeeper who was suspected of profiteering or holding supplies back for himself could expect to be beaten up, or even killed.
Several governments condemned as twisted hoaxers a group calling itself the Old Greys that had claimed to the international media that the world was being invaded. Although they had apparently been able to produce a genuine alien for the television cameras, government spokespeople across the world pointed out that much could be done with modern special effects techniques. Unfortunately, the official denials were taken by many people as proof that something big was going on.
The panic spread to the banks as people across the world tried to withdraw all their savings in one go. No bank ever held enough cash in its safe to cover more than 15% of the savings invested there; the balance was invested in turn to make money. They were effectively running on empty, and they relied on people not realising this or losing confidence in the economy. Most banks ran out of cash less than an hour after they opened, often setting off a riot that had to be broken up by the overstretched local police. The financial collapse spread to one stock exchange after another, with over 90% wiped off share prices by the end of the day. Economy analysts were predicting that the financial collapse would plunge the world into a depression that could last a generation.
Every national government was horrified by the mass hysteria gripping its citizens. Sooner or later they each came to the same decision: use the army to help restore order. Few political leaders realised that the thousands of heavily armed young men they had ordered onto the streets were just as frightened as everybody else. There was a tragic inevitability in what happened when they encountered groups of protestors. In cities where a significant proportion of the population possessed firearms, the result was often a firefight between the civilians and the army.
As the day progressed the political leaders of the major world powers confirmed that a vast alien spacecraft had been spotted in the outer atmosphere. They reassured the population that they were communicating with the aliens, although nobody was saying what, if anything, was the alien reply. They claimed that the darkened skies were some kind of test the aliens had come up with to assess the maturity of humanity’s reaction to something new. They also unanimously claimed that the attacks of the previous day were the responsibility of terrorists who wanted to disrupt this historic contact with an alien civilization. The reassuring tone helped to calm people down over the weekend, and law and order gradually returned.
Monday May 31st
Many cities across the world were beginning to take on a festive air owing to the arrival of the aliens, although a significant minority of people still suspected that the aliens would be hostile, partly because the national governments maintained a high state of alert. Around ten pm UK time, TV stations across the world dumped their normal schedules to broadcast a live announcement from the American President that shocked the world.
“My fellow Americans. As most of you know, several days ago, a number of spacecraft of alien origin were detected in Earth’s atmosphere.
“These alien visitors demonstrated their hostile intent by launching unprovoked attacks upon several military bases in the United States, Russia, Great Britain, France, China and India. The government of the United States wishes to offer its sincere condolences to those who have lost loved ones in these brutal attacks across the world.
“Scientists and government officials across the world then attempted to open communications with the aliens, but to no avail. The alien response to our diplomatic efforts was the barbaric destruction of the International Space Station and the Hubble Space Telescope.
“In an unprecedented show of cooperation with our British and Russian allies, the US military located the position of the largest alien ship in orbit above our world. Earlier today it was destroyed in a joint thermonuclear strike.
“Although the human race now finds itself at war with these alien aggressors, it is a war that we are going to win. The aliens have already learned that we are both willing and able to defend ourselves against their aggression. The American way of life will be defended against all enemies, both human and alien.”
The War Committee took the setback and the triumphalist sabre rattling of the self-styled leader of the Terrans philosophically. The spore carrier had been destroyed, but it had already completed its mission, and the spores would soon wipe out most of the natives. Additionally, the threat posed by the Old Greys had effectively been neutralised.
Although it was expected that the transgenants would be able to eliminate the few natives who would survive the spores, Chief Intelligence Officer Potrenz Rhtahm had come up with a scheme to make things harder for them. Several large laboratory ships had been refitted with equipment that would allow them to jam Terran communications networks across the planet. By taking advantage of the natural submersible abilities of Reticulan spacecraft, they would be able to locate the refitted craft underwater, where they would be safe from native attack. With long distance communications made impossible, the Terrans would be unable to offer organised resistance to the Reticulan plans.
Tuesday June 1st
The world awoke to find itself at war with an alien race, but it seemed to be a war that was winnable. Also, a war against invading aliens felt good because there was none of the moral baggage that came with wars against other people. There was none of the mass hysteria of the previous week despite the stygian darkness of the skies, although the American led attack had triggered a wave of anti-American protests and flag burnings across the world. Such protests happened daily anyway, so the protestors were simply ignored.
People had to pay attention when the spores that had darkened skies across the world began to fall. The first panicked news reports of people being killed en-masse came from Tokyo, although over the next couple of hours it became clear that the spores were falling all over the world, and millions or perhaps billions of people were dying. It was difficult to work out how the spores were killing people from the hysterical and often mutually contradictory reports. Rumours that some people were being rapidly mutated into monsters instead of being killed outright seemed to be particularly far fetched. The news services unanimously told people to stay inside their homes and offices and keep all doors and windows closed, and not to venture outside even to save friends and relatives.
The Admiralty sent an all-fleet communiqué announcing that the spores were an alien biological attack and advising crews to stay in the airtight areas in the interior of their ships. As the air filtration systems were designed to filter out radioactive dust from a nuclear attack, they should be able to filter out the alien spores. Submarines were advised not to surface under any circumstances while the spores remained active. The Admiralty said that the spores would remain active for two to three weeks, although they did not say if this estimate was based on concrete evidence or wishful thinking. The fleet was also ordered to engage any alien target whenever practical. However, the use of nuclear weapons would not be permitted due to the risk to allied forces and civilians.
Perhaps mercifully, all communications abruptly ceased four hours after the first news reports about the spores. As every communication system on the submarine, including the radio sets in the messes and the commander’s quarters had stopped working simultaneously, it was obvious that the aliens had done something to jam all communications across the world.
Commander Llewellyn thought about what he had just witnessed. It seemed like the end of the world, but perhaps there was still some reason for hope. Since military forces across the world had been placed on the highest alert, many personnel would have been evacuated to nuclear bunkers. Some civilians would be lucky enough to get through the disaster as well. He had a moment of epiphany when he realised what his dreams had been getting at. He had a duty to prosecute the war with all the tools at his disposal, not just to Britain or NATO, but to all humanity.
The commander saw the despair on the faces of the other command centre personnel. Veteran Royal Navy officers were openly crying as everything and everyone they had known were being destroyed by a force they seemed powerless to oppose. The commander decided that he had to address the crew to prevent them from collectively falling into a pit of despair. Fortunately, the intercom (which was effectively an internal telephone network, which is harder to eavesdrop than radio) was working fine. Now all he had to do was to find a positive spin on what was going on.
“Okay, this is a summary of the current situation.
“Our world is currently undergoing a biological attack at the hands of a mysterious alien race, and there can be doubt that millions have died in the last few hours. We cannot do anything for our people while the attack continues. The aliens are jamming communications systems across the world, so we have no chance of contacting the Admiralty or anybody else by radio.
“There is only one possible reason why the aliens would go to the effort to jam our communications. They know that a lot of us are going to get through this disaster and fight back. Their cowardly attack was launched from orbit, but at some point they are going to have to come down and fight us. And they know that things will go very hard for them if we’re organised.
“Although the Trenchant is now effectively working alone and unsupported, we are well provisioned. Our mission now is to seek and destroy targets of opportunity and attempt to make contact with surviving friendly forces. The aliens think they have won this war at a single stroke, but we will show them that the war has only just begun!
“Most people think that the Trident missiles are Britain’s nuclear deterrent, but they are wrong. Our nuclear deterrent lies not with Trident, but with the men of the Royal Navy Submarine Service. Each of you has been carefully selected and trained with one purpose in mind: to continue a war even after a devastating nuclear or biochemical attack. This and nothing else is what stopped the Soviets. This is also why I know that we are destined to destroy the alien aggressors.”
The commander did not feel that it was his greatest speech, but there was little he could offer the crew apart from empty platitudes along the lines of ‘do your duty, and things will probably work out fine’. He hoped his comments about the radio jamming would at least give the members of the crew hope that their loved ones were still alive.