The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier U.S.S. Harry S. Truman crashed through the stormy Indian Ocean at 27 knots, its enormous bow undulating heavily through the rolling swells. As a thirty foot wave lopped over the tall freeboard, crashing down across the ship's forward deck, a wall of mist whipped into the towering island superstructure.The forecast was calling for a break in the weather two-hundred miles to the southwest, and the American carrier continued running full steam toward the coast of India, where she was ordered to conduct reconnaissance sorties until the crisis passed.

The Truman carried a compliment of seventy aircraft, each possessing the most sophisticated technology and weapons in the world. The carrier's rain-slickened decks were clear now, but her runway lights remaining aglow, strings of blue dots bobbing along the sea of gray. Only two aircraft were out at sea, a pair of Sea King helicopters on routine submarine patrol. Until the weather broke, Admiral Donald Morrison wanted to keep his fighter wing in the safety of the hangars below.

Each Sea King was one-hundred miles out at sea, one off the port beam, the second off to starboard. Using sonar sensors lowered by cables, the choppers hovered for hours in stationary positions as their sensitive listening devices did their job. An enemy submarine was the Truman's biggest threat.  Until now. The windows of the Sea King were doused with windy sheets of rainfall, reducing visibility to under twenty feet; but a lighted instrument panel provided electronic eyes, feeding altitude, fuel and wind-velocity readings.  As the chopper rocked in the wind a sonar officer, seated in the belly of the Sea King, was studying a glowing feedback monitor.Several feet away were the reinforced sonar cables, which ultimately led to the stormy waves below.  And beneath them.  Suddenly, the young Annapolis graduate began to squeeze his eyes shut. And then he opened them. It was still there, the large blinking dot on the screen.

"This is King One!, Control!" he began into his radio. "I'm getting an unusual signal! Vessel is submerged directly beneath us! Are you guys getting any of this, over?"

"We don't have it King One" came the speedy reply from the Truman. "Send us your position and read-out, over."

 "They are not conventional screws! I'm getting a really bizarre signal. A whisper!" implored the Sea King signal's officer, flipping a radio switch and sending the electronic images across the ether. "It can't be a Russian boomer! They can't have anything that big!"  "We're confirming now, King One."

 "Getting what?" spluttered the admiral, turning to his weapons officer. The bridge of the Truman was a sprawl of heightened activity, and Admiral Morrison looked as if he was just ordered to clean the ship's latrines.  "Active sonar says it's nearly two-hundred meters long" continued the junior officer, shaking his head. "That's almost a quarter mile."

"Bring us around, right full rudder!" barked Morrison.

"Aye, Admiral, Right full rudder."

"King One, keep shadowing" began the admiral into a radio.

"We're going to send our Russkie buddies a little message."

"He says he doesn't think it's a boomer" commented the ship's bridge officer.

"It's got to be!" barked Admiral Morrison. "What in the hell else could it be?!"

Then the helicopter sent another message.  "King One to Control! This fucking thing just rose out of the water! No visible flight decks, portals, radio antennae or even a propulsion systems! It's just hovering above the waves!"

Admiral Morrison was literally speechless. His eyes went to the bridge officer, and then swept across the bridge, stopping at every man.

The captain approached.  "We should attempt to get some pictures."

"I have a better idea" muttered the admiral, approaching the radio. "King One, hold your position! Help is on the way!"

 As the deck heaved, twin tongues of fire blew across the blast wall, and an explosion of steam sent the catapult racing forward. Seconds later an F-14 Tomcat was hurled from the Truman's steel deck like a giant albatross. As the warplane reached for altitude, a second Tomcat shrieked into the misty expanse, quickly bolting into a vertical climb at Mach-2.  Lieutenant Harold Lansing, affectionately called Mongoose, flipped on his Heads-Up Display and began scanning the gray expanse. He noticed that an A-6 Intruder had joined the hunt, keeping low on the waves below.  And Lansing suddenly had The Thing on his display.

"Goose, this is Control, do you copy?"

"This is Mongoose" replied Lansing into a throat microphone. "I copy, over."

"Get as close as you can, and keep the footage running."

"10-4, Control."  Lansing was nestled in the cockpit as if sitting in an undersized recliner. A lighted instrument panel surrounded him, walls of glowing buttons and labeled switches. The wing man suddenly appeared off his right flank, the big Tomcat moving close to form a two-plane phalanx. Lansing could see his wing man's mask and helmet through the canopy; then he saw the pilot flip a thumb's up, followed by a quick salute.

"Let's run it up to thirty-thousand feet" replied Lansing, returning the salute. He then flipped an arming device on his weapon's console.  "And then we'll begin a gradual descent. I want to stay above the cloudbank as long as possible. It may work to our advantage."

"10-4, Mongoose."  The fighters went to after-burner and screamed high into the stormy sky.

The order to open fire, to pre-empt a strike, was never formally issued. The training manual at the Annapolis Naval Academy stated that, in times of peace, fighter pilots were permitted to engage only if fired upon.  But the circumstances surrounding the incident, those gray areas of individual judgment, were as murky as the sky.

"It suddenly dropped off our monitors!" began Goose into his throat microphone. "But Sea King One places it at 22-degrees Longitude, 90-degrees Latitude."

Whatever it was, it was gone now.  Captain Lansing continued to monitor the discussion between the chopper and the Truman, unclear as to his next course of action. Perhaps the chopper's surveillance equipment was malfunctioning, or the officer was picking up a natural weather phenomenon.

"Control, this is Mongoose, should we bring it home? Over."

"Hold it!" crackled the voice of the Sea King pilot.

"Control, we're getting another signal! Bearings 20-degrees Longitude, 89-degrees Latitude, and moving northwest. It's turning, Control! This thing is enormous!"

"Can you be a little more clear, King Two, Over?"

"I think it just saw us, Control!" spluttered the chopper pilot. "It's turning toward us, and it's coming our way! I see lights! I think it just fired on us!"

Then the signal was lost, and waves of static were filling Lansing's helmet.  That was all Goose needed to hear.  Even at fifty miles from the target, and obscured by fog and rain, the Tomcat's Phoenix missiles were well within striking range. And Goose didn't hesitate. Without clearance from the Truman, Goose squeezed a red firing button and a fat missile dropped from a wing mount, its own solid-fuel rocket igniting. Having a mind of its own, the Phoenix streaked off toward the coordinates at Mach 5, impervious to the rain as it disappeared inside the clouds.  It was to become the very last battle sortie executed by the USS Harry S. Truman.    Admiral Morrison continued staring into the luminescent glow of a sweeping radar screen. The Tomcats were represented as tiny white dots, as were two Phoenix missiles streaking across the screen, tiny points of light blinking on the monitor.

"This is King One, Control! Do you copy, over?"  It was the missing chopper, and the Truman's bridge erupted in cheer.

"We're glad you're still with us, King Two! What's your status?"

"Our electronics are shot, Control" came the voice through a wave of static. "We'll need some help getting home, over."

"10-4, King Two" grumbled the admiral. "We'll send out a beacon signal, over."

"Do you think that's wise, Admiral?" intoned the ship's captain, a look of consternation draping his face. "It might reveal our position to the enemy."

"We don't have any enemies, yet, Captain!" shot Admiral Morrison, his face turning red. "And I'm not about to let our boys drop into the drink. Iëve got four men stranded at sea. They're getting low on fuel. Just what is it you suggest I do?"

The captain did not respond, and began moving away.  "Besides" continued the admiral, more to himself: "Whatever it is, it's gone now."

"Let's hope so" said the bridge officer.

48  It hovered above the stormy waves like the crest of Poseidon, an enormous black sphere. It was twice as large as  the Truman, yet silent and motionless, sitting quietly above the rolling waves like a hovercraft, powered by some  highly-advanced propulsion system.  Sheets of rain slashed across its sleek hull, and a band of lights occasionally flashed across its long tapered body. To the crew of the Sea King, it appeared to be hiding in the storm, taking refuge in the tropical depression. What the chopper crew didn't know was that it was reading Truman's robust beacon signal.  The Unidentified Flying Object never saw the approaching Phoenix missiles.

The first Phoenix streaked down in a vertical plunge, a tailfin jutting from the rear of the rocket, adjusting its course heading several degrees. A third-stage radar sensor was activated inside the missile, and the target appeared between electronic cross-hairs; an internal arming mechanism was activated.  It struck the enormous vessel along its topside, and a great ball of light swept across the alien dome. The hovering vessel rocked and swayed, stormy winds whistling across a foreign appendage which suddenly appeared on its hull. As the gigantic vessel turned, buffeting on the turbulence, a second Phoenix came streaking through the rain, its exhaust spitting a fiery trail of solid fuel residue.

The anti-aircraft missile struck the vessel in nearly the same spot as the first, and a cascade of blue sparks began spilling into the ocean.  Before vanishing beneath the waves, the vessel's hull began vibrating like a giant tuning fork. Like giant smoke rings, three hoops of colored energy pulsated from its hull.  Growing as they moved across the waves, the radioactive funnels began sweeping toward the Truman.

Men stationed in the bridge and along the flight deck saw them first, the rolling walls of energy coming straight from the northwest, billowing toward the Truman like towering tidal waves. The first wave knocked out the ship's electronics, sweeping across the carrier in a hot radioactive wind; the gamma rays blistered and burned the entire crew, as if they were being cooked alive in a giant microwave oven. The many sailors would only have a few miserable moments of life remaining, enough time to see the second wave approaching.

The second radioactive tsunami blew across the deck like a cyclone, flipping aircraft and sending the carrier heaving to port, its superstructure resembling the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  The lift wells jammed, and anything that wasn't welded to the deck was blown into the sea. But it was the third wave which caused the most damage, in terms of radioactive disasters. The Truman's nuclear reactor was shattered, and although her warheads remained in tact, the immediate waters surrounding the warship began to boil rapidly from the radioactive heat; and her many tactical warheads were suddenly exposed.

The aircraft carrier heaved and rolled recklessly across the waves, like a huge piece of sizzling bacon drifting in a vat of grease. Her reactor was ablaze and a series of explosions began ripping through the Truman, engulfing her many decks and incinerating her crew of nearly six-thousand. In a matter of minutes the immense warship was reduced to a blackened floating shell, and the hottest waves of radiation continued to wash across her freeboard and flight deck. The USS Truman was a floating disaster area.

Tokyo Bay, Japan

 Cloud cover over the bay was minimal and Mount Fuji stood majestically in the distance, a snow capped volcano of Ice-Age beginnings. At Haneda International Airport all outbound flights had been abruptly cancelled, and the Japanese Capital continued to receive aircraft ordered to return, as well as those unable to find an open airfield at points throughout the south Pacific.

On the island of Honshu, the National Diet Building was in full session and members of the Japanese assembly were discussing the mounting crisis. The legislative epicenter showed no signs of its dark history, of the scars it received in 1923 when a massive earthquake crumbled the capital, or when Allied bombers ravaged the nation  twenty-two years later.  It was a new and contemporary Japan. Out in Tokyo Bay the fishing trawler Hideki was chugging slowly out to sea, its diesel engines blubbering rhythmically across the blue expanse. Anasi Gensho was sitting on the bridge of the fifty-foot trawler. He would later testify before the Diet as to what he witnessed:  "It rose out of the water like a dragon!"

The giant alien apparition then began moving silently across the waves, its light sensors scanning the skies above, as well as the seas below.  At first, Anasi thought he was seeing an American nuclear submarine breaking the surface, and remembered the Japanese tourists killed in Hawaiian waters at the end of the 20th Century, when an American Trident broke the surface unexpectedly. But rather than bobbing to the surface like a large cork, the vessel continued to rise, and was suddenly hovering above Anasi's boat.

Then, after a bright flash of lights, it began moving toward the capital city of Tokyo.  Belts of energy shot from its hull and whirled towards the Imperial Palace before descending rapidly onto the Ginza, Japan's immense shopping district. The colored hoops swept down with great force, blowing across buildings in a hot radioactive wind. At the Edobashi interchange more colored hoops appeared, smashing the highway and setting ribbons of traffic ablaze. And at Waseda University colored rings touched the campus with hurricane force, sweeping away a large portion of the school's roof and sending its eastern wall crumbling to the ground. But the most damaged was incurred along the shopping district known as the Ginza. A colored hoop appeared over the cluttered causeways and the conical San-ai building was vaporized, its lighted marquee reading Mitsubishi Electric, blown to dust.

And the alien craft was not acting alone.  In the southeast Pacific Ocean a second foreign vessel appeared off the Hawaiian Islands. It rose from the sea off the coast of Molokai, sweeping towards Maui like an enormous wagon wheel. Colored hoops swept across the Iao Valley, the vast crater being the world's largest dormant volcano. The hoops radiated over the Haleakala National Park and crashed onto Lahaina, the very first capital of the Hawaiian kingdom.

Boats were smashed at their moorings, and startled surfers and beach combers gazed skyward as the rainbows swept down.  Sugar fields and pineapple groves were immediately vaporized.  A third vessel broke the surface of the Atlantic off the coast of Havana, Cuba, and a fourth struck the South Beach section of Miami.

The attack had begun.

Review

Prepare to be mortified! The inevitable has befallen Mankind! And they are not of this world! What was discovered at the base of Mount Everest, along the piedmont of the world's tallest mountain, shook the world to its foundations. The alien spacecraft, buried amidst a wash of vines for over two-thousand years, was something that had motivated the ancient Hittites to pay homage through human sacrifice. But these visitors were not interested in the corpses of virgins. They wanted live meat! The ancient Greeks had proclaimed that they were the guardians of the river Styx, and the Assyrians had referred to them as "blacar," an Aramaic term for devil. But no one through the Age of Imperialism had seen anything like them. Yet when the hydraulic shovel of a Caterpillar tractor struck the foreign alloy, the lines of survival were drawn in the sand...and the planet's ingenuity and resolve was put to the ultimate test! Come now as we venture into the torrid Himalayan basin, through the Forest of Borabi, to confront the Devil! They are, quite literally, out of this world!

Dead Reckoning is available at most on-line retailers, including Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Wal-Mart and Target.com.