(A WHN to Eleven Days to Zero)
Admiral Harriman Nelson tossed his cover on the
seat and slid behind the wheel of his Buick sedan. He sighed as he
pulled the door closed and sat, temporarily immobilized by his thoughts.
It was the first time he had driven himself anywhere in nearly a month.
Truth be told, it was practically the first time he had been alone in at
least that long. Threats had
been made on his life and feeling that Nelsonís scientific knowledge
was far too valuable to the country to risk, the President had insisted
he have an armed escort for all travel. Nelson had reluctantly agreed to
the restrictions. Unfortunately, no amount of caution was able to
prevent the tragic loss of five good men, including John Phillips, the
captain of Nelsonís submarine Seaview, at the hands of enemy agents.
Nelson had, in proper military fashion, put all
thoughts of the attack aside in order to complete a mission to detonate
a nuclear bomb on the Arctic ice that would prevent massive flooding in
the northern hemisphere. Dubbed Operation Counter Force, the mission was
successful but now that it was over and the adrenaline rush had
subsided, he was beginning to feel some degree of survivorís guilt. He
had lost men before, both in battle and in accidents but this time
things were different. He had been the target and his men, men he knew
personally, had died because they were with him doing their duty.
It was a word he lived and breathed, but in dealing with politics it was
a word he sometimes hated. While he felt obligated to serve his country
and to follow its leaders, the line that defined his moral obligations
had always been a moving target, a gray area as deep as any fog. As
governments, leaders and expectations changed, the challenge was always
there to continually check his moral compass. While the military could
dictate his actions, he had always upheld his own personal code
instilled in him in his youth by his extended family. Men with no such
conscience had killed Phillips and the others and almost cost the lives
of everyone aboard his submarine. He had fleeting thoughts of
retaliation but he refused to be drawn down to their level.
Now there were things he had to do so Nelson
mentally shook himself and let out another long breath. He reached and
turned the key in the ignition and the engine roared to life. He drove
through the gates of the Institute and within ten minutes he turned onto
the coast highway. In a few more minutes he reached a roadside turnout,
where he pulled over, clicked off the engine, donned his cover and
climbed out. Walking over to the edge of the road he surveyed the
hillside that still showed scars of the recent calamity. There were
large gouges in the earth, and the vegetation had been scraped away.
A large area of the hillside was burned and blackened. When he
had been under attack on that fated day his focus had been on survival
and at the time he could not recall some of the details of what had
happened. Now, in reflection, he could count the rifle shots, smell the
gasoline and hear the screams of his men who had died as their car had
plunged down the hill and burned. It
was a memory he hoped would soften over time. Experience and his
understanding of how the brain worked its magic wound ensure he would
never truly forget.
Oblivious of passing cars Nelson walked over to the
spot where the security vehicle had left the road. While his eyes
focused on the site, his mind wandered back to the time when he had
first met John Phillips. In their initial interview Phillips had told
him about the highlights of his career, things Nelson could easily
verify. He also described growing up with a father who was a scientist,
and explained that he understood how intense and demanding research
could be, on everyone, not just the scientist.
Despite his reservations about the candidateís training, in
that the man was a walking poster for the stiff old naval traditions,
Nelson had greed to have a second interview and in that session he
talked over his plans for building of Seaview. He
had been impressed with Phillips, and never really regretted his choice.
That is, until seventeen days ago.
Nelson carefully picked his way down the hillside,
taking everything in. His mind worked that way; he couldnít stop it.
Once halfway down the incline he looked back up, and caught a glimpse of
something metal reflecting in the sunlight. He made his way to the spot
and reached over and picked up the object. Dusting it off, he recognized
it as the silver oak cluster commanderís pin worn by John Phillips. Nelson
clutched it tightly in his hand then placed the pin in his pocket as his
thoughts again returned to the past.
Phillips had been a decorated veteran of the
Nelson schooled his features and climbed back up to
the road. Upon reaching it he shuddered slightly as if a chill wind had
blown through the canyon. He knew it was unlikely since it was summer
and seventy eight degrees. He didnít believe much in omens but he was
open to the possibility that there was an afterlife or at least a place
for the dispersed energy of the dead to go. He turned again to the face
the hillside and stood up straight, snapped a crisp but lengthy salute
and whispered. ďTo all men who die for a just and righteous cause, I
salute you.Ē He dropped
his arm to his side. Phillips,
Martin, Zakowski, Merris and ReelingÖyou will not be forgotten.
With his task completed he walked back to his car. Patting his pocket he
eased himself behind the wheel once again and headed back to the
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