The Salute

(A WHN to Eleven Days to Zero)

By sherlockette




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.

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 Viet Nam conflict but was stationed on a submarine out of Pearl Harbor before retiring to work on Seaview. Admiral Jiggs Starke, a friend of Nelsonís from his days at Annapolis , and the senior officer at Pacific Fleet Headquarters had certainly been high on the man. Phillips had been a good officer and he was nearing the end of his naval career. Starke made it clear that he thought Nelson needed a highly experienced officer to guide what would be a very young crew. Though he didnít say it, Nelson was sure that Starke felt that by using an officer approaching retirement, he would not be depleting the ranks of younger officers that were the backbone of the naval sub fleet. Nelson couldnít help but chuckle at the look on Starkeís face when he was told that Commander Lee Crane, one of the Navyís youngest submarine captains would be replacing Phillips as captain of Seaview.

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 Institute.




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