The Mini-burger

FanFic in the Birmoverse

Fish Guts – John R. Johnson & Jose J. Clavell

 

USCGC Matinicus (WPB-1315)

 

On Patrol in the Caribbean

 

            Chief Warrant Officer William “Wild Bill” Elliott, Commanding Officer of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Matinicus, carefully eyed its deck as he followed his morning inspection ritual. He was the only warrant officer in the post wave Coast Guard commanding a 110 ft. cutter and his ship filled him with pride. Still, after thirty days underway there were specks of rust starting to show through the paint on the bulkheads and sides of the cutter. The Matinicus could cruise for 60 days with ample provisions but with the all new crew members that he had recruited that would be shortened. He ignored the men and women sleeping on the deck, but froze for a moment when he saw the covered five gallon bucket secured near the fantail and smelled the pungent odor emanating from it.

Elliott sighed, he knew what was in the bucket, fish bait; fish heads, guts, blood and all that implied. Even a year after the wave destroyed America and isolated the islands, cutting off supplies, especially food; it was necessary to supplement the ships provisions. It was easier to trade with the fishing boats which came out from the islands but in the evening and at night, the Matinicus would often anchor and the crew would fish. Sharks were especially attracted to the blood and he had even developed a taste for shark fin soup. Fishing was always good in the Caribbean but it wasn’t like what he had seen as a young petty officer on fisheries patrol off of Newfoundland and Alaska. Still the fish being brought in was the only thing keeping some of the island populations alive.        

When the Wave hit North America and Cuba, it had missed Puerto Rico and the other Antilles. The island had been very lucky in that it had a fairly well developed agricultural base and after a year the food shortages had started to ease regardless of the significant increase in the population made by displaced refugees. The government in Puerto Rico had taken immediate action after the wave and not hemmed and hawed and temporized like governments in some other countries had done. Things had been tight but there had not been the starvation which had plagued other parts of the world.

            Since the Wave the mission of the Matinicus and the remaining Coast Guard units in Puerto Rico had changed. Before their primary focus has been the interdiction of illegal migrants seeking to enter the United States in small, barely seaworthy wooden boats called yolas. In addition to Alien Migration Interdiction Operations (AMIO), they had also conducted anti-drug smuggling patrols, fisheries and law enforcement patrols, and of course they were always on standby for Search and Rescue (SAR). Now the focus was anti-piracy patrols, anti-slavery and of course SAR. Even now, a month after the wave had disappeared, most of the yolas that they saw were headed for Cuba. Why make a long, dangerous voyage to America when Cuba was so much closer and mostly depopulated. Besides who knew if the Wave was going to come back or not.

            He sighed again. You would think after all the problems and heartache of the last year people would work together but it hadn’t happened. Many of the island were originally settled by pirates three or four hundred years ago and they had slipped naturally back into the life. This new version of the old scourge of the sea once had been attacking the pleasure boats that had been at sea when the Wave hit. However, the pirates were now going after the fishing boats, taking the catch that was needed for the islands survival and even hitting the few inter-island tramp steamers trying to restart some trade and commerce among the surviving Antilles populations. They had even dared raiding coastal villages for food and slaves.

            Still deep in thought, Elliott climbed the ladder to the bridge. “Captain is on the Bridge!” The helmsman sang out. He knew it was procedure but still found it grating and it showed. At least his grinning Puerto Rican executive officer, BMC Jose Cabrera, hadn’t saluted…this time.

            “Here’s the list of discrepancies, Jose. Unless headquarters in San Juan sends new orders we should be headed back to port in about two weeks. See if you can find some paint, especially red lead and let’s try getting the old girl looking good again.”

            “No problem, Skipper.” Cabrera said, “I’ll put it in the list with the others and get them corrected as soon as we get some supplies.”

            “Good, we also need to do something about the berthing situation, Jose. Because is getting ridiculous. We were designed for a crew of twelve plus officers. We have now over forty men and women in the same space. It’s bad enough trying to hot bunk and sleep on the deck much less move about but in bad weather there are going to be people with no place to sleep.” Elliott said as he looked through the radio traffic copied during the previous watch. He paused at one entry and then re-read it, checking the time stamp against the clock in the instrument panel. It had come in about half an hour before.

            “What’s the story on this, Jose?” Elliott asked curiously, handing over the message board.

            “It’s a message from a Navy P-3 Orion patrol plane out of Rossi Roads.” Cabrera replied after looking at the message.

            “It’s not really addressed to us, Bill. But we have intercepted several other messages from them. It seems that the P-3 has spotted two targets and they might be headed toward Florida. One looks like a Venezuelan patrol boat escorting a larger container type ship. The Orion called for a destroyer to investigate. After what happened last year, with the Venezuelan attack on Gitmo, the Navy is keeping a pretty close eye on anything the Venezuelans do.”

            “Please, show me their position on the chart, Jose.” Elliott asked. He started doing rapid calculations in his head. “Hmmm… we can be there in three hours. It will take a destroyer at least a day to get there from San Juan at flank speed.” He thought for a moment.

            “Get a message off to headquarters, reference the P-3’s message and tell them we are going to investigate. Then contact the P-3 and ask them if they can hang around long enough to cover us.” He looked up from the chart. “Have all the department heads on the bridge in fifteen minutes. I’ve got a feel about this and it’s not a good feeling.”

 

***

 

            “Folks, one of our patrol planes spotted a couple of targets headed toward the coast of Florida. We’re going to intercept and investigate,” Elliott paused as he looked at the other men around him. “I want everyone on their toes and all departments ready for anything. Now how are the new crewmen we took on coming along?”

            “Well, that retired Marine gunnery sergeant, Bill Barron, knows as much, if not more about weapons than I do.” GM2 Darryl Szarka said quietly. “Skipper, I’ll admit that I’ll be glad to have Barron on the chain gun backing me up, especially if I have to lead a boarding party.” He grinned, “And that Samoan partner of his. He’s built like a brick wall and I’ve never seen a better boatswain’s mate.”

            “Okay, I wasn’t worried about those two,” Elliott said. “The new crew members recruited from the islands and survivors of pirate attacks are the ones that worry me. They don’t have the training or experience.” He sighed, “Well it’s too late now. We’ve trained them the best we could in the few weeks we’ve had them. Try to team them up with older crew members as much as possible. That should help keep them steady. Issue weapons about a half hour before we intercept the contacts.”

            “Cookie, make sure everyone has a hot meal before we go to quarters. If they look peaceful we’ll send a boarding party to inspect the ships and see what they’re carrying. Folks, if there are no questions, let’s get back to work.”

            His XO waited until the others had dispersed to their duties before approaching. “Okay, Wild Bill, what’s bothering you? It’s not usual for you to call everyone together and give them a pep talk before a boarding.” Cabrera murmured quietly, shaking his head. “What’s really bothering you?”

            “It’s not knowing what’s going on that’s got me in an uproar,” Elliott replied in a equally subdue voice. “Jose, when we decided to take on more crew three weeks ago after tangling with that pirate and almost getting swamped. We knew there was no other choice. We were lucky that time because we couldn’t have stood off and sank the pirate, not when all of their slaves would have been killed, too.” Elliott said and wearily shook his head.

            “Two years ago who would have believed that, in this day and age, we would have slavery and piracy in these water again.” He closed his eyes for a minute. “Like I said, we were very lucky and we got Gunny Barron and the Samoan and ten other men out of the deal. Then afterwards, when we broke up that pirate raid on that fishing village we got plenty of volunteers more. I realized then that we needed a larger crew if we were to survive and continued to be effective. My problem is they aren’t trained. No boot camp, no service schools, just what we have managed to teach them ourselves.”

            “They’re good men and women and they hate pirates. That will provide them a good motivation, Skipper.” Cabrera said quietly. “We’ve trained them the best we can in the time we’ve had so don’t worry about it.”

            “It’s not really that. I know they’ll do well,” Elliott returned. “It’s also not knowing what’s happening back at headquarters. I sent a message about the new crew and all I got back was an acknowledgement. I sent them a second message today saying that we were going to intercept these two ships and all I got was another acknowledgement. This is worse than when that state senator from Illinois, here on vacation, tried to claim he was the president of the United States because there was no one else and the American people wanted change. I found this equally odd and I don’t like it.” Cabrera nodded slowly in agreement and in companionable silence, both contemplated the passing sea.

 

***

 

            The Matinicus was barely moving as the boarding party’s RHIB pulled away. The weather had taken a change for the worse and the water had turned gray and choppy. Lightning flashed on the horizon where a storm was moving into the area. Elliott wondered where the Orion was, they hadn’t seen it since arriving on station.

            He ordered increased power to the engines to keep the Matinicus stationary relative to the large container ship, the Maersk Alabama. Through his binoculars, he could see that the railing of the ship was lined with men and women. Her captain claimed there were almost three thousand refugees on board. The boarding party would inspect the ships papers and look over the refugees. If everything seemed to be on the up and up he would probably let them proceed.

            He trained his binoculars on his other source of concern, the patrol boat over a mile away. The Armada de la República Bolivariana de Venezuela Patrol ship Constitución, hull number PC 11, was a Vosper type 37 meter boat, home ported in Cuba since the Venezuelan takeover of the island. Venezuela maintained an uneasy truce with the United States since their unprovoked attack on the former American base at Guantanamo Bay and the nuclear demonstration that they got in return. Relations between the two countries remained tense to say the least because the Venezuelans still took any opportunity available to harass and hurt American interests. There even have been a couple of mysterious incidents where navy ships on patrol had simply disappeared but no one could prove anything against them.

            Now the Constitución’s capitán claimed they had happened across this refugee ship and had been ordered to escort it to Florida. Elliot could see where the Catholic Venezuelans might not want any Muslim refugees settling in their new territory despite the chumminess that Chavez used to share with their cause prior to the Wave. Still the whole situation made him uneasy. He looked back at the Alabama and wondered again what had happened to the original captain and crew. Her present master was an Arab who claimed the ship had been purchased from the Maersk branch office in Kenya.  

            He checked the ship’s positions again. The Constitución was about a mile off the port side, holding position. The Alabama was a little over a hundred yard to port. He ordered speed increased to close the distance with the refugee ship.

            Just as the Matinicus speeded up there was suddenly heavy machine gun fire bursting from several points on the container ship. He could see hits on the boarding party’s launch and at least one of its crew thrown violently overboard. At the same time three rocket propelled grenades were fired at the Matinicus. Two of the RPG’s fell short and exploded in the water, the third flew safely over the bridge of the Matinicus, barely missing it.

            At that moment the speaker connected to the radio blared excitedly, “Coast Guard 1315, this is Papa Tango 38, torpedo in the water, Repeat, torpedo in the water. We got a submarine hiding under the patrol boat.”

            “Helmsman, full speed ahead,” Elliott ordered. Only the fact he was already giving orders kept him from freezing for a moment. “Get us in right next to the Alabama.”

            As the Matinicus surged ahead, deck vibrating from the straining twin diesel engines, he could hear, clearly audible, a loud ululating cheering sound coming from the Alabama. The last time he had heard a similar sound was in news footage after 9/11, of Palestinians celebrating the event. As the Matinicus moved behind the Alabama, the Orion, burst across the sky from the low hanging clouds about two hundred feet above the water. Small parachutes popping open behind her as she dropped sonobuoys near the Venezuelan patrol boat, ignoring its feeble anti-aircraft fire.

 

****

 

            Gunnery Sergeant Bill Barron (USMC-Ret) was ready on the M242, 25 mm Bushmaster chain gun. He rubbed his hand lovingly over the receiver and ignored his “assistant gunner”. He strongly suspected that the kid had lied about his age and was not old enough to shave yet and returned his attention to the weapon. It was the same gun as the LAV 25 mounted and he had used it in the Persian Gulf in 1991. The thing he truly loved was that all makes and models of the Bushmaster Auto Cannon have an excellent dual feed system with left and right hand feeds, so the cannon can be loaded with two different type rounds at the same time, such as the mix he presently had of AP rounds and HE rounds. AP rounds, including Sabot and Solid Shot have a very flat, very fast trajectory. You can fire HE rounds at a spot on a building, or other target and then follow up with a quick burst from the other feed, with AP rounds. The AP rounds will zoom past the HE rounds and punch a hole for the HE rounds to follow through.

            But it has another interesting capability and this is that it can fire off 100 rounds at 100 different trajectories so all 100 rounds will hit on target at the exact same time, this could be stupefying to troops or anyone else on the receiving end. Firing solutions mostly come from a computer and computers work very fast, but it can be switched to manual mode by the flick of a single switch. Barron with the help of the kid had loaded the chain gun with MK210 High Explosive Incendiary and the M919 Armor-Piercing, Fin-Stabilized Discarding Sabot with tracer rounds and set it to fire on low rate fully automatic. He could fire 100 rounds per minute, plus or minus 25 rounds.

            The ambush caught him initially by surprise but Barron quickly recovered and opened fire with the chain gun as he joined the Matinicus’ complement of Ma Deuces and 60s, turning the cheers into shrieks of terror and pain. He marched the chain gun HE rounds from the bridge forward along the deck of the container ship. When the Matinicus got too close to be able to fire at the packed deck, he switched to armor piercing and started firing at the Alabama’s waterline. 

 

 

 

            It was hard to estimate damage but the depleted uranium rounds stitched a line from the Alabama’s amidships to the bow.  Barron kept firing, trying to hurt the enemy ship as much as possible, until he and the kid were knocked down by a gigantic explosion that seemed to lift the container ship out of the water.

 

***

 

            “Helm, go hard to starboard and bring us around 180 degrees,” shouted Elliott. “Reverse course. They’ll be expecting us to come into sight by the Alabama’s bow. I want to fool them.” He then yelled into the handset to the engine room. “All back on the starboard engine and full ahead on the port engine.”

            Elliott could see the rivets in the Alabama’s hull as the Matinicus, deck shuddering, started to reverse course. There was a huge explosion and the Alabama seemed to stagger. He clung to the bridge rail as the explosion threw everyone else on the bridge, except the helmsman, to the deck.

            Elliott grabbed the handset to the 1-MC and announced to the crew. “The torpedoes hit the enemy ship instead of us. Let’s see if we can do some damage to that patrol boat before the submarine can fire another load of torpedoes.”

            The Matinicus swung slowly around on its new course, the stern of the cutter actually touched and gave a glancing blow to the Alabama’s hull. Bill ignored the screams now coming from the already listing ship. Looking forward he could see that the chain gun had started firing again joined soon by the cutter’s machine guns, raking the hull of the Alabama as the Matinicus slowly gained speed on her new heading.  

 

****

 

            The Matinicus cleared the stern of the Alabama just in time to see two objects dropping from the Orion’s bomb bay. Moments later, the sea heaved from the explosions of the depth charges and after a few minutes of blessed silence later, the radio crackled to life.

            “Coast Guard 1315, this in Papa Tango 38, we got the submarine. We are hearing breaking up noises on the sonobuoys. It looks like we just cut the Venezuelan submarine force in half. Anything else we can do for you before we head for the barn? Over.”

            “Papa Tango 38, this is Coast Guard 1315, we appreciate the help but can you give me a status on the Patrol Boat,” Elliott asked, ignoring the cheers from his crew.        “Coast Guard 1315 this is Papa Tango 38, copy that,” the P-3 answered. “The patrol boat is headed toward Cuba at full speed. Guess that the bastards don’t realize that we only had the two depth charges. We are getting Bingo on fuel so if you have nothing else we’re headed home.”

          “I think we can handle it from here, Papa Tango 38. You got our thanks for the assist and the save, Coast Guard 1315, out.” Disappointed that the Constitución had escaped his wrath for now, Elliot returned the handset back to its cradle as Cabrera quietly ordered the helmsman to steer towards their drifting launch.

 

****

 

            The Matinicus was stationary alongside the battered RHIB while they brought its crew aboard. Elliott wearily made his way aft from the bridge hoping they were only wounded. The Alabama had sunk in a few minutes and he could hear calls for help from the survivors in the water.

            “Skipper, you better see this,” Cabrera said. He pointed angrily to the bodies lying on the deck near where four prisoners were being held.

            “They were alive when these four … gentlemen… climbed onto the launch.” He pointed to knife wounds in GM2 Szarka’s stomach. “They killed Darryl and the others while they were helpless.”

            Elliott looked at the four prisoners. Three of them were waiting stoically. The fourth one was all puffed up and grinning. Before he could speak the prisoner sneered in easily understood but accented English, “You Americans, you can’t prove anything and a court will never be able to convict us,” he laughed.

            “Your country is dead and Sheik bin Laden has promised us the land in America. There is nothing you can do to stop us.” The prisoner gestured condescendingly, “Just bring our people aboard, we shall report everything to the international press.”

            Bill could feel the raw flames of rage building but suddenly he turned cold inside. He looked at the survivors still struggling in the water and smiled coldly. “Maybe you’re right and I can’t prove anything in a court of law.”

            The sailors guarding the prisoners grabbed them at a nod from Elliott. “But after all that’s happened in the last year, I would think that you would have gotten the word. I don’t know how long it’ll take America to come back, but we will. In the meantime we’ll take justice where we can get it and we no longer felt constrained by the rules.”

            At his gesture, the sailors threw the four struggling prisoners overboard. Their spokesman assisted by the Samoan flew a bit farther than the rest. Expressionless, Elliott watched them surface sputtering in the water and pointed. “Cuba is about 50 miles in that direction. Oh, I almost forgot. You’ll need food for the trip.” He picked up the bucket of blood, guts and fish heads and poured it over the side.

 

****

 

              A day later as the Matinicus steamed back to its assigned patrol area. Elliot, perched on his captain’s chair, nodded to the XO as he entered the bridge. “As soon as my report percolates up the chain of command I expect we’ll be getting a message reliving me of command, Jose. As the executive officer you’ll be ordered to replace me,” he concluded, philosophically.

            “Skipper, I think that you’re wrong about that.” Cabrera said and handed over the message board. Elliot took a look and felt his jaw drop in surprise.

            “The Matinicus is being ordered back to San Juan, Lieutenant Elliott. And it’s no mistake, Wild Bill. They’ve promoted you…SIR.” He grinned.

           “I had to call for the status of our requisitions and happened to talk to an old buddy of mine. Turns out the sector commander and his exec were killed in a car crash right after we left port. It’s been kept under wraps because when the captain at Coast Guard Air Station Borinquen tried to assume command the navy blocked it and tried to put one of their officers in charge instead.” Startled at the news, Elliott looked up as Cabrera continued.             

            “They wanted our assets and since we were not put under their command after 9/11, they were trying to take us over under the table. Apparently our actions yesterday tipped the scale in the Coast Guard’s favor with the President in Seattle.”

            Elliott looked at the message form in his hands, as relief washed over him. The Matinicus would continue to be his.

 

***End***

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4 May, 2009 - Posted by | Without Warning

4 Comments »

  1. Any comments?

    Comment by El Coqui | 5 May, 2009 | Reply

  2. Nice work. Gotta love the chain gun!

    Comment by Therbs | 7 May, 2009 | Reply

  3. John & Jose.
    Very tidy work.
    I was a bit lost why the Chaingun crew prioritised the container ship, I guess the incoming RPGs made it the target of “most immediate concern.” I would have thought the Patrol Boat had more menace though. If it had come to the party with it’s main deck gun (80mm Bofors?) that would have seriously aggravated the situation.

    As a boarding officer (fisheries) I had particular feelings for the boarding party. It is a unique feeling coming up on a unwelcome / uninvited boarding. As a mate put it as “You could sharpen a pencil with my @rse.”

    The 2ndary explosions on the Maersk? Was she carrying some hidden boom?

    I liked the new rules of engagement.

    Top work fellas, keep it up.

    Comment by NowhereBob | 8 May, 2009 | Reply

  4. Bob:

    Thanks, John came with the original idea and the first draft and I rounded the story with insights and character development. I posted an updated draft of this story in Alternatehistory.com website. If you have an opportunity, go and check the new changes.

    The way that John wrote it, the clear and present danger was the Alabama with his machine gun and AK-47 fire. The Venezuelan patrol boat main mission was to cover the venezuelan diesel sub. You could presume that they had used that trick successfully twice before ergo the missing Navy ships.

    However, when the Al queda sympathizers opened fire, they jumped the gun and certainly were not expecting the Orion dropping down like the proverbial CAV from the clouds.

    The secondary explosions were the venezuelan torpedos hitting the Alabama but knowing the RIFs, I’m pretty sure that they have quite an arsenal aboard to help them establish the new caliphate on the Great Satan Land with the help of American Nukes.

    I too liked the new ROE, just wish that they were for real.

    Thanks for your comments.

    Jose

    Comment by El Coqui | 8 May, 2009 | Reply


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