A funny thing happened on the way to the shipyard...

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(Written by Duane Peters, posted January 6 and 17, 2007)

The scene at the Philadelphia Navy Yard was its own usual brand of highly-organized chaos. On the dock next to SSN 2161-X, a tall, balding, somewhat sardonic man in the khaki uniform and dolphins of a US Navy sub commander stood next to a shorter man in pristine Navy dress whites and the insignia of an admiral. The crew of the sub was busily engaged in re-painting the hull; strangely, a large logo was being roughed out on both sides of the boat's sail above her hull number and the rest of the hull was being painted bright silver, instead of low-visibility grey. Civilian representatives of the Electric Boat Company and Grumman Aerospace were also visible, installing some kind of equipment in clusters around the bow and stern of the large Seawolf-class nuclear attack boat. Odd protrustions spotted the hull here and there, and what looked like fairings for huge jet engines were mounted low on the hull. There was also a mini-sub similar to the NR-1 nuclear rescue vehicle docked over her aft escape hatch.

They both watched the bustle of activity in companionable silence. The taller man finally spoke to the admiral. "So we're still go for launch on Sunday, sir?"

"Yes. The Navy still hasn't changed its mind, and I don't think they're going to at this late date. We need a presence out there too badly to turn back at this point. The modifications are done, we've culled the right crewmen from all over the sub service. I think we're ready, what's your assessment?"

The tall man looked pensive. The faint strains of some kind of music were briefly heard over a lull in the usual background noise, and the boat seemed to quiver momentarily. "I've been reading my XO's reports almost hourly, sir. I think we'll make launch without problems. I'm more afraid of interference from the rest of the brass when they get wind of this. We may be a black project, but we're not that black, if you catch my drift. We could still get out asses kicked."

The admiral snorted. "Let 'em try. Personally, I'm going to fight for this project tooth and nail; it's my last chance to poke a sharp stick in Admiral Graham's eye before I retire. Besides, if we're ever going to get a handle on the situation in the Solar System, we've got to get out there where we can do something."

A willowy blonde woman walked down the gangplank and up to the two men, saluted and then held out a clipboard. "Supplies are all loaded, sir," she said to her captain.

"Admiral, I don't know if you've ever met my exec, Lieutenant Emily Lake?"

"A pleasure, Lieutenant." He turned back to the commander. "I've got to fly out to New York tonight, but I'll try to be back for the launch. Good luck and Godspeed to you and the Stingray, Commander Dodge."

He turned and saluted the Admiral; as he did, the ship's patch on his shoulder came into view; a stingray, in a sailor's hat and chomping a cigar, with a skull-and-crossbones flying from its erect tail. "Thank you, Admiral Winslow."

The noise cleared enough to finally recognize the background music being played over large loudspeakers: the Village People's In the Navy...

Captain's Log, 31 March 2012. LOCATION: Somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, on course to Norfolk, Virginia.

The Stingray's sea trials are completed, and we're running on the surface back to Norfolk. The new drive system works as advertised, not bad for something yanked out of a bad spy novel. I have entered into the ship's log official commendations for Electronic Technician 2/c Nitro Jones and Sonar Technician 2/c E. T. Lovachelli for work above and beyond the call of duty rigging the new systems, as well as Seaman Brad Stepanik-Winslow's successful completion of the coursework for promotion to Reactor Technician 1/c. The rest of the modifications we won't be able to test until next week, when we officially...

Just then, a knock came on Commander Dodge's door. Manouvering with the ease of long practice in the cramped compartment, he opened it to find Lieutenant Lake waiting. "Sorry to bother you, sir, but we've got several surface ships on intercept, and the task force commander demanding to speak to you. They won't talk to me at all."

"No indication of what this is about, hmm?"

"No, sir."

Tom Dodge sighed. "Well, I suppose I'd better talk to him, then." Waving Emily on ahead of him, he watched her walk into the control room. Not for the first time, he regretted the fact that the Navy had chosen to keep her on as his executive officer. Not because she wasn't competent, but because as long as she was under his command, they couldn't continue what had started at the Norfolk Inn after the end of the voyage of his previous command. The upside of this was that the Navy had decided to continue and expand Admiral Graham's "pilot program", so now the Stingray had the highest percentage of female crew in the entire submarine service. Coming into the control room, he saw his new dive officer, a perfect example. Lieutenant j.g. Wilhemina "Willie" Grumby was a stunning slim redhead with an Irish temper and a spine of carbon steel. Even if I don't believe her stories, what she did to get back at Stepanik and Buckman was worth having her on board... Passing the chart table, he moved into the radio room.

Nitro was pulling things apart and rewiring them, and as usual, crooning. This time, it was Frankie Avalon. "Beauty school dropout, no graduation day for you..." Dodge looked at him and said, "Nitro, there's a radio call for me?"

"Oh, yeah, Cap'n, lemme just..." Grabbing a loaf pan he'd raided from Buckman's galley, he scooped parts off the bench, then did something amazing.

He flipped two switches on the board and the radio panel came to life. "Submarine Stingray, this is task force leader Delta-one. Put your commander on now, dammit!"

With an annoyed look, Dodge picked up the mike. "This is submarine Stingray, Stingray-One speaking. What can we do for you, Delta-One?"

"You are hereby ordered to heave to and surrender your vessel, by order of COMSUBLANT. You and your crew are accused of possession, trafficing in and intent to utilize controlled substances. Your crew will be taken off and sent to Norfolk for questioning by NCIS."

Dodge grimaced. This is all because Admiral Graham is annoyed that he hasn't got clearance or need-to-know about this project, I'll bet... "And who signed those orders, Delta-One?"

"Admiral Yancey Graham. He's head of COMSUBLANT, now that Admiral Winslow's retirement is official."

"Admiral Winslow's retirement doesn't take effect for another two weeks, and my orders were cut directly by the Secretary of the Navy. This is a classified project, and I cannot allow her in the hands of an untrained crew."

"Dodge, I've got a personal message for you from Admiral Graham. It reads, 'You're not getting out of this one, Popeye. Since Admiral Winslow's on leave for his last two weeks, the Secretary of the Navy has appointed me acting CO COMSUBLANT.' Now, my orders are to take you into port. Should you refuse, I am authorized to tell your XO to take you into custody. Should she refuse, I am authorized to assume this is a 'broken arrow' and open fire. I'm telling you for the last time, heave to and prepare to be boarded."

Finally something clicked in Dodge's head. "Marty? Marty Pascal? Graham sent you out to capture me?"

"He sure did, Captain Crossbones, and I'm here to tell you, that I'll love being a witness at your court-martial. And seeing Lake broken back to the secretarial pool would be fun too, so she'll surrender if she knows what's good for her."

Dodge snapped off the radio link, then spun and vaulted through the hatch into the control room. "Willie, crash dive. Put 'er on the bottom. Our mission profile just got moved up a week." Clicking on the "squawk", or ship's intercom, he continued, "Howard, I'm gonna need you to tickle the worms as soon as we take on enough reaction mass."

Down in the engine room, CPO Aldous Howard stepped up to the squawk and replied, "Aye, aye, sir! We'll be ready!" Walking over to a piece of decidedly non-regulation equipment, he expertly snapped on a few controls, then watched with satisfaction as a tiny digital display powered on. Scrolling down the menu, he stopped at a particular selection, then grinned broadly. Yep, that'll do it fer sure., he thought to himself. As his finger stabbed down, the first strains of John Philip Sousa's Stars and Stripes Forever erupted from the speakers at an eardrum shattering level...inside the reactor compartment. Outside, it was only turned up to somewhere around 11. Howard stood in the center of the reactor control compartment, grinning like a madman and waving an imaginary baton. The magnetohydrodynamic "worm" drives, taken straight out of The Hunt for Red October, began spooling up slowly to full operating power.

In the control room, Sonar reported, "Active pinging, sir! All quadrants!" just as Lt. Grumby declared "ALL Stop!" and there was a tiny lurch as the sub touched down on the bottom mud. Sonar continued on, "The surface ships are deploying side-scan as well, sir, I can hear 'em. They'll spot us pretty quick."

Lt. Lake turned to Dodge. "Sir, what's going on?"

"Marty Pascal and Admiral Graham are upset that we didn't invite them to the launch, Emily. They want to take us back to port to discuss it, as well as your and my career prospects."

Lt. Grumby reported, "Ballast tanks are full, sir. Internal gravity is switching over...now." A queasy feeling gripped all of them as the internal gravity field came online. "Are we go for launch?"

"Sorry, Grumby, but I'm going to have to say we are. I know you were hoping to get a little leave with your family beforehand, but..."

"Oh, that's all right, sir, Pappy Grumby and Mama Ginger won't mind none. Pappy Gilligan may get a might bit sore, but he'll get over it."

Once again, he was struck by the humor of having the daughter of the castaways who had inspired Sherwood Schwartz to create the immortal comedy as his dive officer. "We'll try to get you back down as soon as possible, Grumby. Anybody else have any problems with taking off early?"

"Er, sir," "Spots" Sylvesterson said from the diving planes controls, "once again, we prefer to go with the bizarre and risky."

"OK, Grumby, shift hats. You are now the Manoeuvring officer, not just our dive officer. Secure the valves, and let's kick this pig!"

Aboard DD-984, the Paul S. Foster, Marty Pascal was scanning the sea to port with binoculars. The task group was already preparing depth charges to force the errant sub to surface, and the Orlando was also scouring the area. No way he's getting out of this one, Marty thought to himself.

Just then, smack in the center of the convoy, a large, pink, submarine-shaped missile burst from under the waves. Marty was nearly drowned as the wash from the impossibly flying submarine washed him off the deck and into the shining blue sea.