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Tasting Freedom by Hawkeye Pete Egan B.
 

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  • The adrenaline of that moment washed over and through me, like a huge wave of mixed, conflicting emotions, swirling with the instantaneous knowledge of the power of the act that had caused this powerless situation to happen. Both reactors had scrammed, the ship was effectively “Dead in the Water” with no means of propulsion, and would remain so for hours, as it would take that long to go through the entire checklist required to bring each of the reactors back up on line, especially after emergency scrams had occurred. It could limp along on its backup generators, at best, but could not possibly keep up with the rest of the convoy of ships it was a part of. It was crippled, and everyone in the entire Navy would know it.

    Then there was the Captain – good lord, we’d been experiencing how he treated us just because we had a chief he didn’t like. What would happen now, as he realized what we surely knew – that this could not have been an “accident” – that someone had to have caused this to happen? And, it had happened in both Engine Rooms, not just ours – this was bigger than just us. Hell, who knew, maybe it was an act of God, some freak accident that caused both reactors, completely independent of one another, to scram within minutes of each other? Highly unlikely, but I guess stranger things had been known to happen. One shuddered to even imagine what his reaction to all of it would be. We’d already been living in the hell of his fear and intimidation tactics. What would he do now?

    But, strangely, he seemed to let up and back off after the incident. If anything, the silence, the lack of a reaction to all of this, might have been even scarier than if he’d immediately responded by lashing out at us. He had to be cooking up something diabolical, I just knew it, some kind of hideous punishment for all of us, just because we were there when it happened. Of course, we were only there because he had forced us down in that hole on a Sunday morning, when everyone else on the ship was catching a break. Hell, he’d been punishing us for months simply for the sin of working for someone he’d had a beef with from a previous ship, a different lifetime. The man was certifiably nuts, we knew this, and he was capable of just about anything. We braced for the worst.

    Despite all of this, the whole thing had some sort of a liberating effect on me. A part of me just didn’t care anymore. The end of the cruise was coming soon – we had less than a month to go. I felt like I had been sleepwalking through most of the cruise, and now I was waking up, emerging from my hibernation. I’d felt like a victim of this tyrant for months now, and a victim of my own body and mind betraying me before that – but now, I no longer felt victimized. Someone had struck back at him, albeit in a most dangerous and reckless way, and I knew that it could easily have been me, given the ability to think such a thing through – I had to laugh at myself –“ yeah, right, you were ready to go wailing on something or someone with a big ol’ wrench. A lot of good that would have done – wound you up in Leavenworth, and the captain would have been no worse for the wear”. Whoever did this had struck him right where the maximum damage could occur – right in his ambition. He’d allowed his ship, a proud Nuclear Guided Missile Cruiser, one of the elite vessels of the fleet, to go dead-in-the-water. His career, like the ship, was now dead-in-the-water. This would forever be on his record. He’d be lucky if he didn’t get tossed out of the Navy over this one. Someone had struck back.
  • As for my own condition, I supposed I’d been through the worst – I’d gone through the hell of those early months on the cruise, when I could no longer get my drugs of choice or my regular dose of alcohol poisoning (without completely checking out) – I’d gone through months of only smoking Dave’s kickass hash, that just mellowed you out, and made you want to sleep – now, I felt like I was past all of that. I was coming back to life. I had gained 35 pounds on the long cruise – the ship had an outstanding mess decks, great food for a ship, and in addition to breakfast, lunch, and dinner, served a midnight meal, for those who had to stand the mid-watch (12-4), and those coming off the late night watch (8-12). I’d gotten into the habit of eating 4 meals a day, and was now weighing in at nearly 210 lbs, when my “playing weight” before the cruise had been 175 pounds. I started working out and running, while I began cutting back on the food intake.

    Coming back to the states, we rushed across the northern Atlantic. While it had been a liesurely 10 day crossing going over back in July (I’d thought we’d never get across – I was going through withdrawal at the time, and felt like that crossing took months), it took us a mere 5 days heading back in February, through rough weather and high seas, as we were trying beat a big storm heading up the East Coast as we made our way down to Norfolk harbor. They were having a record cold winter back home, rivers that never froze were frozen over, and lots of snow. As we raced across the ocean, all engines maxed out, balls-to-the-wall steaming, the excitement of the cruise coming to an end was heightened to a fever pitch. But, who knew what kind of inquiries awaited us once we were back stateside? Who cared? We were finally heading home! We’d be freed, at least temporarily, from our floating prison. I’d even felt it at our final port stop, in Rota, Spain, before we made our way back through the Straits of Gibraltar and back out into the rough Atlantic – freedom! I could already taste it, and I was ready to break out of this prison of an existence I’d felt trapped in, for far too long.
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