The Hunt for the Venison Camper
An Undersea Adventure
The events of that evening certainly did not go as I had expected. The basic tale begins abruptly, but the events which preceded the start of this narrative are rather dull and of little interest. It was near the end of December, 1900. We, my fiancee, Anna, and I, had just been announced and walked, arm in arm, down the large marble staircase at the diner's waltz which followed the reception for the new graduates -- a fresh new set of members of Her Majesty's Navy. No sooner did we unlink our arms, move apart, and come back together to begin our first dance, when I felt a tap upon my shoulder.
"Captain Paul? Captain A. Paul? I have a message for you, sir."
"I am he. Who is inquiring?" I asked, looking at the small bespectacled young man in front of me.
"Seaman Peters, sir. Sorry about the lack of uniform, but I was off duty when I was called in by Admiral Knauer and told to come here to request your presence in the Admiral's office as soon as possible." Peters gave a push to his glasses, which had been sliding down his perspiring nose. He was visibly nervous, uncomfortable both with his lack of uniform and his having to bother me in what was obviously an off-duty situation.
"And what matter is this in regards to?" I asked.
"Sir, I really haven't the slightest idea, but we really must hurry, he stammered. "The admiral promised to demote me a rank a minute for every minute past nine o'clock we arrive."
"Darling," I said turning to my fiancee, "I hope you will accept my apologies but I must go."
Anna curtsied. "Of course, Andrew," she said with an unhappy smile. Despite her obvious disappointment, her voice, coy, sang to me. "But I won't be held responsible if I should happen to find a new fiancee at the ball who is not already married to the Navy."
I glanced around at men ranging from the newest graduates to the old non-commisioned officers to the high-ranking ones, all wearing starched uniforms. I looked back at her and replied "I believe, my dear, that you are in the wrong place if you are in the market for a different sort of man." I bowed, and took my leave, following seaman Peters, hearing in the background a violin playing the song which should have been my first dance with Anna.
Peters was noticably relieved when he saw that we arrived before his deadline (eight fifty-three, to be precise). "I brought him up, sir, as quickly as I could, sir," he offered.
"Come on!" said Admiral Knauer gruffly, not acknowledging the fact that Peters had spoken. I followed, as he left his office, at a distance of three paces with Peters an equidistant three paces behind me. The Admiral turned to Peters and said "Seaman!"
Peters stopped instantly and began stammering " ark... erg... ask...." He looked as if he wondered whether the Admiral would let him live or lop off his head the next instant.
"Dismissed!" commanded the Admiral.
Peters stood in his place as we continued on, and whether he went on his own way or fainted to the ground after we had rounded the corner, I do not know. I would say the chances were about even either way. Having long known Admiral Knauer, I was well aware of his ability to strike fear into his men without having to raise his voice. It pains me, yet at the same time amuses me, every time I witness this.
I followed Admiral Knauer to what looked like a lab in a part of the building which I had never noticed before but which at a second glance was extremely well guarded. I watched him walk down the hall, nod to the guards, causing them to immediately step aside and let us pass. "Captain Paul, you are about to see a sea ship such as you have never seen before, something unheard of except to readers of an adventure story written by Jules Verne back in the seventies." I looked in the direction in which his arm swept, and saw a strange ship, with no deck. The ship was in a drydock, right next to a water-filled canal that led into a tunnel.
"What you see before you," said the Admiral, "is a ship that travels not only on the waves, but beneath them!" My jaw hung open, incredulous. "The ship is bare by Navy standards. Along the center of the ship, the aisle is barely wide enough for two people to squeeze past one another. The spartan inside is necessary to keep the ship light, ensuring that it would be buoyant enough to return to the surface. For the same reason the engines are not the largest ones we had available. While they are effective, this ship will not be winning any speed contests. That steel member you see jutting out from the rear of the ship is what we call a "land fin," those loops stave off weight shifts and prevent the ship from falling over when it's in drydock. It does not remain with the ship once it's placed in water.
"The armaments consist of ringed hub of special cannons we have developed for underwater firing, located at the front of the ship. Each of these guns fires a cylindrical charge with a mined top. They activate upon firing, after which they explode on contact with a target. The "politest" cannon aboard fires charges that are two inches in diameter, and the most powerful gun fires charges that are six inches in diameter." Again for weight considerations, there are only two units of ammunition for each gun in the hub, so there aren't too many chances at destroying a target.
I listened in awe, reasoning that a ship such as this could revolutionize warfare. It was a truly amazing thing. The Admiral interrupted my thoughts by saying "It's yours."
"What?" I asked, incredulous.
"Time is short, and there isn't enough of it to provide an explanation. Your crew is already aboard and trained in the operation of the ship." He signaled to a man off to the side whom I had not seen until now. The man pulled a lever and the polar tug, a complex system of weights and pulleys commonly referred to by seamen as a big mule, swung the ship off of its drydock and lowered it into the water. "Here are your orders," the Admiral said, handing me an envelope. "The canal before you runs through that tunnel and leads to the bay outside. Get aboard, get your ship moving out of port, and read them when you have a chance." When the Admiral says "Jump," you jump. I jumped.
Once we exited the tunnel, I gave the order to submerge. I stared out a porthole, mesmerized. I glimpsed a giant luminescent snail shell, enhancing the fact that now underwater, we were in a different world. By its glow, I caught site of a manta ray that lay on the sea bottom, undoubtedly waiting for a meal of some sort. That ray is five feet long if it's an inch, I thought to myself.
My thoughts returned to my mission. I saw the last of the glow in the porthole run by, dug from my pocket the sealed envelope of orders the Admiral had given me and turned it several times in my hands. I bent the wax seal back to open it and read: "Captain Paul, you are to proceed to the following location: [A set of longitude and latitude coordinates were given.] Once there, you are to wait. At some time between three and four o'clock in the morning, a ship will pass nearby. This ship is called The Venison Camper, and is carrying enemy spies back to their homeland, an acclimated nation in the Middle East. Once there, these tense Arabs will meet with representatives of several nations' armies, sell the secrets stolen from The Crown, and put the security of our nation in danger. Your orders are to destroy it before it can reach its destination. We send you, our must trusted captain, with this ship, our most secret weapon. We hope for the rapid return of both. Good luck."
Following the clean chart notation I read from the orders, Jameson, the first mate, got us to the specified location. Once there, we emerged from beneath the sea and Jameson and I went above with my spyglass. It was dark, but the deck of the distant ship was well lit and I quickly found it as I scanned the horizon. Lanterns by the side of the ship allowed me to read the name on the hull. I glanced up at the flag, acting like a vane in the wind which was clearly blowing in from the south. The scoundrels were flying under a British flag! I handed the spyglass to Jameson and asked him to confirm. "The Venison Camper, sir." We went below and submerged as our target approached our location.
The Venison Camper was nearly upon us, and I began issuing orders to prepare to fire. Jameson passed these orders on to the other seamen. From a distance I watched a discussion ensue and Jameson returned, looking a little nervous. "Sir, I've made a dreadful mistake. I mentioned the flag I saw through the spyglass and now the seamen want entries reread from the log to confirm that they are being ordered to fire on a ship flying our flag.
"Blast you!" I growled. Buffoons alight in this man's Navy, I thought to myself...they should never have let those trainee tradesmen near sea ships of any sort, let alone one such as this. I had no doubt that my expression would evince my frustration and said no more. Time was rapidly passing and it was nearly too late. I reconfirmed my entry in the log and started ordering the crew about, bypassing Jameson out of anger and to save valuable seconds. "Aim! Oh be quick about it," I shouted. "We haven't much time -- just let the fool gun fly!" He took aim near the front of the other vessel, anticipating where it would be in just seconds and fired. Despite his self-imposed calm, because of the rush his aiming was simply a bad setup. The other ship veered slightly in its course at the last possible second; the charge missed, the shot near, but not near enough, to the other ship. It sank, whereupon it exploded upon contact with the sea floor.
We had now informed them of our presence. Wary, on alert, they ran their engines at full power and began to pick up speed and pull away from us, although they undoubtedly had no idea from where the attack was coming. The captain of The Venison Camper started to steer it erratically, hoping to prevent any subsequent attacks from being successful.
"With the engines we have aboard, the enemy ship will certainly outrun us," I said. "We've only one more chance. As they run, aim a barrage of shots from all guns, to be fired on my word." I didn't know how many direct hits this ship gets per burst of the whole array of cannons, but it was our only chance. I waited a few seconds until The Venison Camper stopped accelerating, having reached its maximum speed, and yelled "Now!" A slew of charges exploded at the same time, and several of them struck home.
We surfaced and I once again went above, knowing that in the dark I would not be spotted. I was glad that Jameson remained below as I was still fuming from the near-failure of our mission. I saw the ship come apart; steel panels would rip as if made of wood because of the stress on the hull, much in the same way as a sheet of paper parts much more easily once a small tear is started. A shiny tear near the name of the ship on the bow was visible, from which an oily tar-like substance was leaking and bubbling in a frantic hoar; any cuts or breaches in the ship's hull were clearly beyond repair.
As I watched I knew that as the last part of the ship sank beneath the waves, a noise in a few minutes would mark the end of The Venison Camper and its crew of treacherous dark men. I heard a cry, paid heed to by nobody, which stopped abruptly. I felt my tension ease, an age went by, and then with a gurgle the ship was gone.
We sailed back home, returning from our sorry hike out to sea and leaving the headlong blight at the bottom of the ocean, far behind us. Within hours I was back in Anna's arms, telling her all about the events of the day that passed since I had last seen her. The taste in my mouth was acrid as I ate a dinner for which I was not particularly hungry. Upon expressing my regret at having taken the lives of innocent people who had been aboard The Venison Camper, Anna said "It sounds as if a war was averted by your actions...surely they were justified". I agreed, but was not particularly assuaged. I apologized for not eating much of the meal she had prepared and went off to bed, still in a melancholy mood, a glib aura about me.
It was only the next morning that I thought putting my thoughts down as words might help me feel better. And so I sat down and began to write:
The events of that evening certainly did not go as I had expected....
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