This bit of fiction has a historical basis. Let me tell you the facts that led to inspiration, leaving out any theories of conspiracy or cover up. First, the Soviets lost a nuke sub known as K-129 in March 1968. The US wanted to find it of course and study it. With the help of Howard Hughes the CIA got a special ship built named USNS Hughes Glomar Explorer. It was publicly a deep sea exploration vessel but underneath it was a sub retrieval vessel for Project Azorian which was the CIA effort to retrieve the K-129. They did retrieve the sub and bodies to which they gave a proper funeral, the video above. Once whatever was retrieved (sources vary as to what they got) the boat was mothballed for many decades.
With this being fact I thought what if in the retrieval the ghosts of Soviet sailors started taking over the ship? What if one person who was sensitive saw them first but eventually all see them. They try the funeral but it doesn’t do it. The men’s souls have spent enough time in the sea and want the ship. The ship goes home gives up the retrieved intelligence and then the boat is mothballed to give it over to the ghosts. THAT is the story I told and here’s a part of it.
Just some fresh air, maybe some moonlight—that was what Darryl wanted. You can’t always get what you want. Mick Jagger was right about that. Instead Darryl settled for going to the moon pool. There he could get a refreshing whiff of the sea and watch the water. It was as close as he was going to get until they got back to Long Beach.
Darryl Randall was a CIA agent. He was used to being another person in other places but here on the Hughes Glomer Explorer he was himself. Only he couldn’t leave the belly of the ship, he wasn’t part of the drilling crew that was the cover operation. On the steaming out to the recovery point Darryl pondered who was crazier – the billionaire recluse who owned the ship, the CIA director who wanted code books in sunken Soviet sub, the President who took a nautical recovery operation from the Navy and gave it to the CIA, or the crew that won’t see decks and live like the submariners they would drag to the surface.
Clementine, the friendly name for the giant retrieval claw, rattled in her holder above the moon pool. The idea was simple. Just like a big erector set – lower the claw, grab the sunken Soviet sub and pull her up through the moon pool hidden in the belly of the Glomer Explorer and get a coup of information. Only this big erector set would be bobbing in the sea, reaching down three miles, pulling up almost 3,000 tones into the belly of a ship without sinking her. All this done by spies not seasoned naval forces.
“Just who is crazier?” He whispered to no one but Clementine and the moon pool. She rattled in return and the black water didn’t reply.
The briefing hadn’t been usual from the start. It was one with technical and financial difficulties. Howard Hughes had stepped in with the funds and cover story when asked. The USS Halibut’s film of the discovery of the submarine still gave Darryl nightmare. That Soviet sailor broken laying next to his sunken submarine, he was a grinning skeleton in foul weather gear. They determined he had been on top of the boat when it sank uncontrollably. His leg had been broken from whatever had crippled his ship. The white bones of it were folded back at an odd angle. His clothes were gone with his flesh but what stayed with everyone who viewed the footage was the worms, the grayish carnivorous worms that wiggled and churned about the stark white bones and undulated the remaining black rubber poncho. He could have only been about nineteen years old when he struck the floor of the Pacific, the grinning skeleton on the bed of his own cannibals. The grin, the worms, the age—all combined to strike home with even the most seasoned agent or military man. This wasn’t the enemy— this was a sailor, a boy that died tragically.
Darryl stopped his thoughts right there. Any agents knows when you go there, when you humanize your targets— that’s when you beat yourself at the game. They don’t have to do anything your image of them as their mama’s boy too does it all for you. He flipped his cigarette stub into the inky ripples of the sea. Soviets were easier to fight when they weren’t boys grinning up at you broken and fleshless.
“Anxious for the thing to get up here?” George Rankin’s Southern drawl broke Darryl’s grim thoughts. “I know I am. I can’t wait to get the code books on dry land. This scopolamine patch makes my mouth drier than the desert but beats sea sickness I guess.”
“Yeah they say it does that.” Darryl rubbed his graying afro. “Just been wondering what else we’re going to find in there. Thinking about causalities, there were about a hundred men on that ship, and we know they didn’t go nowhere.” He took a long drag on his cigarette. “We’ll have bodies of Soviets to deal with.”
“Boat, it’s a boat. The Navy types always corrected me when I called either submarine a ship.” George pursed his lips and struggled to get enough spit to swallow. “As for the causalities they’re down there. The one on the briefing film showed they ain’t gone yet. I was kinda hoping they would be.” He looked down in the inky black water with Darryl. “Those worms. I just can’t forget those damn worms eatin’ that guy.” His usual jovial smile gone his eyes were hollow. “My son is about that boy’s age. I have nightmares it’s him grinning down there. That boy needs a proper burial.”
“They all do.” Darryl tore his eyes away from the pool. “They were just doing their jobs like we are doing ours. It’s not personal. I think I’ll look into what the Soviets do for burial at sea.”
George grimly stared at the inky depths. “That’d be decent of you Darryl. You’ll have some time as we bring her up, being the code man and all. If you’ll take point on this, get things ready, I’d appreciate it.” He was team leader and it was easy to forget that in some ways. He did it in a gentle friendly manner that got things done by cooperation. Slick, that’s what George was slick. Yet in times like this Darryl didn’t forget who was boss. He’d just been given an important assignment, one with international ramifications, the proper burial of another nation’s dead, and a nation that was always on the other side of the table to the US.
Two weeks later Clementine locked onto K-129. As Darryl began his quest to find out burial at sea ceremonies, the long slow process of bring the boat to the moon pool began.
That night Darryl’s sleep was plagued with dreams of hollow eyed sailors in striped shirts. At one point somewhere between sleep and consciousness Darryl swore he saw a striped shirted sailor in his room looking through his things. When he shook his head and rubbed his eyes the sailor faded away.
While he was getting his morning coffee and reading classified telexes from those who specialized in knowing the Soviet Navy he was disappointed to learn they knew more about missile launch protocol than funeral services.
Shane Finchum joined Darryl at the table. “You look disappointed.” He held his hands out over the steaming coffee and stretched his fingers.
“Eh, not having any luck getting on the burial at sea ceremony.” Darryl put down the telexes. “It’s agreed that we’ll record it for the time we can share it with the Russians. It’s agreed it’ll be respectful. Padre’s agreed to do it with George doing the Russian translation. Even got the Russian national anthem and Navy song, just don’t know what to do.”
“If you can’t get the actual ceremony I’m sure Padre will help do something that’s fitting for the atheist communists.” Shane laughed but stopped when he saw Darryl wasn’t joining him.
“No, really I want to see these guys get a decent burial.” Darryl stared at his coffee. “They were just doing their job.”
“Yeah, I know they are their mother’s son too. I get that and a decent burial is the moral thing to do. Don’t forget the job these Ruskies were doing was the job to defeat us, we are the enemy.”
Shane was a young agent. He’d not been out off The Farm for five years yet. He’d not learned the odd respect and friendship among spies even those on opposite sides of the Cold War.
Darryl put his telexes on his tray as he stood. “Wish I saw things as clearly as you do Shane.” Darryl thought out of the corner of his eye he caught sight of Russian sailor in the striped shirt and distinctive beret looking over the food line with both longing and contempt. He turned to face him only to see there was no one there. “I’d sleep better at night that’s for sure.”
While Darryl was working with the Chaplin of the boat alarms sounded and shouts echoed throughout the belly of the ship. Clementine was grinding and then there was a metal snapping sound. “That doesn’t sound good.” Padre’s soft calm voice contrasted with the shouts of operators. “Do you need to go tend that?”
Darryl shook his head. “Nope, not part of engineering.” He turned back to the various books on the table with different funeral services marked. There was another rocking of the ship and the sound of metal tearing.
“Oh, dear.” Padre steadied his sliding books.
“On second thought I’d better go.” Darryl hurried to the control deck that looked out into the moon pool. There he learned Clementine had poked through the hull of the sub and part of the submarine fell away with the offending piece of Clementine.
As the news that half of the retrieved part was lost a depression set over the crew. With Clementine broke this had become a one shot deal, all that was left was hope the code books and nuclear material were still in the piece clamped in the remaining parts of the claw.
Darryl began to dream at night of more Soviet sailors, more of them coming out of the splashes in the moon pool as the wenches groaned to bring up part of the K-129. In his dreams the sailor came aboard roaming about with both crews unseen. He’d struggle to wake each morning. He imagined his first striped shirted sailor was joined by the beret wearing one. They seemed to have taken up residency in his quarters. He’d have rub his eyes and shake head every morning to make them go away.
He’d pour over the plans of a Golf II Sub trying to determine if the code safe would be in the part that was coming to the surface. As he and George conversed over the plans Darryl jumped at the cold hand on his shoulder. He turned to see the hollow eyes of a Soviet captain staring into his.
“You okay Darryl?” George cocked his head to one side looking up from the blueprints. “Did an idea just hit you?”
“Uh…” Darryl’s brow furrowed and he felt his hand pulled away with an icy force. “No. . .” He watched the angry Russian reach down and roll up the prints.
“Damn these things they won’t stay out.” George shoved the prints flat and weighted them down with the salt and pepper shakers on the table. “I’m thinking the break is here.”
Darryl took a deep breath adjusted his glasses and the Russian was gone. He wasn’t getting enough sleep. He was seeing things.
“Darryl, you okay? You look like you just saw a ghost.”
“Yeah, yeah I’m fine I’m just not sleeping well and it’s catching up with me.” He left the table to pour himself a cup of coffee. “You want a cup?”