Evans peeled himself off the deck and looked around. Everything looked normal, except that it was way too quiet. Standing next to the shaft as it rotated should be very loud. This was very quiet.
A moment later, his Chief walked over and stared at the gigantic pipe that allowed seawater to come in and cool the reactor. “I was sure that thing had sprung a leak. It started out making a hissing noise and then it seemed to let loose. Hundreds of gallons a second. We took a hit on the reactor and then it went dark just as I figured out where the leak was. Leak, hell, more like a gaping hole. The welds just let loose. But here we are and it looks like it just came out of the yards. What the heck is going on?”
Evans shook his head in dismay and realized that his stiff neck wasn’t so stiff anymore. “Hey, Chief, is your knee still sore where you got whacked Monday?”
The Chief picked his foot up and flexed his knee a couple of times. “Nope, feels great. Hey, looks like we’ve got an up-angle on the boat. Wonder what’s up?”
The 1MC speaker in the compartment was clearly heard for the first time in memory: no engine noise to drown it out. “Attention all hands. We’re still trying to figure out what happened a few minutes ago. We’re at 450 feet depth and headed to the roof. The XO and I are still trying to put that in order with our excursion to test depth just as the lights went out. We’ll keep you updated.”
Ten minutes later, they hit the magic mark for periscope depth. The scope went up and the Captain gave the all clear, no shadows no objects in sight. Up to the surface they went, and the bridge was manned, allowing fresh air into the boat for the first time in days. While all this was going on, damage control parties scoured the boat, but could find nothing out of order.
Once on the surface, the lookouts started pointing out smoke and the wakes of other ships in the area. It was as if they’d appeared out of thin air.
Twenty minutes later, with a full repel boarders team on the sail armed to the teeth, the first of the mystery vessels hove to just abeam of the boat. A pasty faced man with a megaphone stood in the conning tower of a Gato class boat – which hadn’t been around for decades at this point. What navy still sailed these ancient boats?
That question was answered a moment later when the man with the megaphone identified himself as the skipper of the U.S.S. Grunion. “Ahoy, United States Submarine to my starboard. This is the Grunion. Can you hear me?”
The skipper of the nuclear boat shook his head. He must be hallucinating, because he remembered the fate of the Grunion from his time at the Naval Academy. While he thought of his response, another boat pulled up on his other side. And her hull number showed her to be the U.S.S. Thresher. Another boat that was lost before he was born. What the heck was happening here?
“I hear you, Grunion. What’s going on here? You were reported lost in the early days of WWII?”
“It’s Memorial Day back home, Captain. Each year we all meet up and have a steel beach party, or head to that island off your nose for a big barbecue. This year it’s the beach for us. All of us on Eternal Patrol have but each other in this afterlife. And while we still patrol for the United States Navy, we are due some beer and brisket once a year. Today’s the day.”
The boat’s captain just stared at the dozens of boats now gathered around him, most hooting their horns in welcome. “Is there a port on the island?”
The Grunion’s captain laughed, “No need. The laws of physics are suspended on this day each year. Just drive up on the beach at a couple of knots. Tide comes in about 8 hours from now and we just float off and go back on patrol. You’re our newest boat, you guys just joined this elite fleet a week ago. They’re still looking for you off the Canary Islands. But don’t worry, they’ll find you Thursday and let your families know.”
The Captain keyed the bridge microphone and directed the helm to make for the island at 3 knots. He turned to the X.O. (Executive Officer) and said, “I knew we were screwed when we passed through test depth. But this looks to be interesting. You sure the boat is absolutely perfect physically?”
The X.O. nodded. “Yessir, and it appears we have stores on board for a very long patrol.
The Captain smiled. “Like on Eternal Patrol?”
“Yessir, exactly like that. But I can’t wait to hear the stories those smoke boat guys have to tell. I’ll get the cooks to make that vanilla pudding you like so much and pull all the scoopie ice cream out of the reefers for the beach. And, Sir, I’m glad it’s this crew for the rest of eternity. Best bunch of sailors ever.”
“Thanks, X.O. Looks like we might even get every NUB on board qualified before we go on to the next stop. First boat in a long time to manage that trick.”
And one-by-one, all of the boats in the flotilla pointed toward the island just off their bows and headed to meet the other men who had been on patrol for decades.