Polaris: New Excerpt

Polaris by Todd Tucker is a submarine-based military thriller and a riveting tale of warfare in the not-too-distant future (Available June 14, 2016).

One day in the not-too-distant future, Pete Hamlin regains consciousness deep inside the nuclear submarine Polaris. He's got a gun in his hand, a fire raging outside his door, and a dead man at his feet. Soon Pete discovers that the ship is in the middle of a mutiny – and he has no idea what side he's on.

He finds the ship is now commanded by the beautiful but volatile Hana Moody. She's locked the former captain, Finn McCallister, inside a steel trunk, accusing him of treason. Frank Holmes is Moody's loyalist, an imposing physical presence who shares Moody's unquestioning devotion to the cause of the Alliance. The ship's feckless doctor hovers in the background, unable to help Pete find out the truth about the Polaris. And outside the ship's steel hull lurks another submarine, yet another presence that might be either friend or deadly foe.

To save himself and discover the truth, Pete must journey with Polaris back to a forlorn piece of rock in the middle of a dangerous ocean: Eris Island. To get there he must fight murderous shipmates, a swarm of bomb-dropping drones, and a plague that is attacking everyone on both sides of a battle that Pete barely understands. Only on Eris Island does Hamlin finally learn the truth.

BOOK ONE

WELCOME ABOARD THE USS POLARIS

A Legacy of Freedom

The officers and men of the USS Polaris extend to you a sincere WELCOME. It is our pleasure to have you as our guests. As your hosts, we hope that your visit on board will be informative, interesting, and enjoyable.

Watchstanders will be happy to answer any questions you may have as long as they do not interfere with assigned duties.

EMERGENCIES

Should any emergency situation arise, alarms will be sounded and the word will be passed. You are requested to STAND FAST, BUT CLEAR of all passageways and operating areas. Do not obstruct ladders, hatches, or watertight doors. Allow ship’s personnel to perform required action without interference. Members of the ship’s company will explain the situation as soon as possible.

OPERATION OF SHIP’S EQUIPMENT

Do not operate equipment or switches, position any valves, or enter any posted areas without prior approval from ship’s force to do so. Observe posted precautions and procedures in all operations.

SECURITY

Certain aspects of the ship’s operational characteristics and certain areas of the ship are classified. The Radio Room, Sonar Room, Navigation Center, Missile Control Central, and the Engine Room are classified areas.

CHAPTER ONE

He sensed the pain before opening his eyes. Slowly he regained consciousness. It was dark and loud, his eyes stung from smoke, and his ears rang from the multiple discordant alarms that rang just outside the door. His face was pressed against a steel floor. He rolled over onto his back and looked upward, trying to get his bearings and let the splitting pain in his head subside, but there was nothing to see, just more steel, pipes, and cables. He felt a momentary panic, afraid that he’d been swallowed whole by a giant machine.

He sat up, felt something heavy in his hand. He was startled to see he held a nine-millimeter pistol.

CHAPTER TWO

“The control room is secure,” she said as they walked briskly through the narrow passageway. “Along with missile control. The good guys are back in charge now.” She was moving fast, a natural athlete riding a charge of adrenaline.

“Good,” said Hamlin. He somehow knew they were moving forward in the ship, but little else seemed familiar to him. He felt the comforting weight of the pistol in his pocket as they moved.

They stopped at a motor generator room, scarred heavily with streaks of black soot and charred insulation. A heavy layer of smoke clung to the overhead, and thick gray foam dripped from every surface.

“The automatic extinguishers kicked in immediately, put the fire out. But both motor generators are trashed. We’ve switched all the vital loads, but there are some lighting busses we can’t reenergize. There are parts of the ship that are dark, parts of the ship that are cold, and probably will be for a while. Especially with our engineer—” She pointed back toward his stateroom. “—gone.”

Hamlin started to reach out to touch the damp wall when Moody grabbed his hand with surprising force.

“You know better than that,” she said. “We haven’t overhauled this yet, might still be energized and dangerous. We can’t lose you now.”

He put his hand down.

“Are you hurt?” she asked.

He shook his head. He thought better of telling her about the complete amnesia that seemed to have befallen him. “My head,” he said truthfully. “It’s killing me.”

She reached up and touched his forehead with surprising tenderness. “The bastard got you good,” she said. “We’ll get that bandaged up. When we can.”

They walked by the radio room, where a half dozen computer monitors blinked and an acrid smell hung thick in the air. “He started with radio,” said Moody. “Took out communications before he did anything else. It’s completely wrecked, we’ll be lucky to get any of it working.”

As they continued forward they came upon a room that Hamlin knew was sonar. They approached a screen.

Moody pointed at a symbol, an upside down V in the center of the screen. “Our shadow. No change. We’ve made their job easy today, with all the noise we’ve been making. No change in range, about one nautical mile behind us, as always.”

She hit some buttons on the screen, and the display changed, a banner reading DRONE CLOUD appearing at the top of the screen. The thought of drones resonated with Pete; he knew that once he’d had deep familiarity with them. Along with all his memories, that was gone, but it left a shadow of dread inside him.

“Normal,” she said. “Medium density. Direct overpasses every fifteen minutes or so.” They continued walking.

“Propulsion is in good shape,” she continued after a moment. “I think that was probably going to be his next stop, before you got him. The screw is still turning and the lights are still burning. Most of the lights, anyway.”

Hamlin had a sudden vivid memory of close-quarters fighting: fists, blood, and screams. His head hurt with the memory.

They were nearing the control room, Hamlin knew. Immediately aft of it was an escape trunk, a large steel egg with beveled ends that was designed to allow an emergency escape from a crippled submarine. The bottom of the trunk penetrated from the overhead. Its access hatch at the very bottom was open, its ladder cast aside.

“You need to see this,” she said. “We converted the forward escape trunk into a makeshift brig. There’s actually a procedure for that, believe it or not.”

Hamlin stepped beneath the trunk.

“Be careful,” she said. “He’s dangerous.”

Hamlin looked up and saw that a heavy steel grid had been affixed to the bottom of the trunk, fastened by heavy bolts on the outside. He could also see the soles of two shoes on the grid above his head, a pair of standard-issue Navy oxfords.

Suddenly the prisoner looked down, between his legs, and saw Hamlin. He immediately threw himself to his hands and knees.

“Pete!” he said. “Thank god you’re here!”

His face was dirty and his eyes were frantic, but Pete thought he recognized something just as he had in Ramirez: a friend.

“Finn,” he said, surprising himself with the memory of a name.

“You’ve got to get me out of here!”

Suddenly Moody stepped to Pete’s side, into the view of the prisoner.

McCallister’s face darkened. “Moody? Pete, why are you with her?”

“That’s right, McCallister, he’s with me. And you’re in there, trapped like the animal you are.”

“Pete!” The intensity of his shouting made Hamlin wince. “You’ve got to get away from her!”

“Shut up, McCallister,” she said.

“She’s going to destroy us all!”

Moody suddenly pushed Pete aside and pulled something from her pocket. She pointed it up at the steel grid and fired it.

An electric blue arc jumped from her hands to the steel grid that McCallister knelt upon. Sparks shot across the chamber. McCallister howled and tried to jump away from the pain, but there was nowhere to hide inside the metal cell. He screamed and bounced off the sides of it in agony as Moody held her finger down on the trigger, a grim smile on her face.

When she finally relented, McCallister collapsed to the grid, his face pressed against it, breathless, almost unconscious. A thin stream of drool escaped his mouth and fell between Moody and Hamlin.

“I guess you’re done talking now,” she said, reholstering the Taser.

McCallister muttered in pain. “Pete…” he said. “Help me.…”

“Ignore him,” said Moody. “He’s a traitor.”

He slowly pulled himself to his feet, waiting for the disorientation to pass. Where am I? He saw the sweeping arc of a yellow alarm light through the crack in the door. Several kinds of smoke combined in the air he inhaled: the sharp ozone of electrical fire, the sour tang of gunpowder. He shook his head, but the disorientation didn’t pass.

He made his way to a small metal sink at the end of the bunks. The sink was made to fold into the wall. Reluctantly putting the gun down, he pushed a button, and a narrow stream of cold water ran out. He filled his hands with the frigid water and buried his face in them, savoring the coldness that snapped him awake. For the first time, he looked into the mirror that was above the sink.

A bumper sticker, cracked and faded, had been pasted across the top: POLARIS: A LEGACY OF FREEDOM. The silhouettes of two submarines faced each other in the background, one very old, he somehow knew, with a flat missile deck and a boxy tower, and one very new and much larger. A big, modern submarine. The submarine he was aboard.

Focusing suddenly on his own reflection, he saw he was in the blue uniform of a submarine officer, a nametag embroidered onto his chest: HAMLIN.

Only then did he notice the gash above his left eye, caked in blood.

He heard hard, quick footsteps outside the door, hurried climbing down a metal ladder, but somehow sensed he wasn’t ready to venture outside the stateroom yet. He desperately wanted some idea of what was going on first. Taking the gun back off the sink, he turned and faced the darkness.

The bunks were made with military precision, a contrast to the papers that had been thrown around the rest of the room. Military documents stamped SECRET combined with personal effects on the floor: photos of girlfriends, of dogs, handwritten letters in pastel-colored envelopes. For the first time Hamlin became aware of movement, a slight rolling at his feet; the ship was under way. Where it was going, and where it came from, remained a mystery. At least to him. A battery-powered battle lantern was affixed to the overhead. He found the switch and turned it on. Its single beam of light crossed the room, landing on the form of a person, sitting, head slumped forward.

Pete raised the gun, startled. “Hey!” he said. No response.

He stepped forward just as the ship rolled again, and the body fell over, revealing a stark, lifeless face, a hole in the middle of his forehead. The light of the battle lantern reflected a thick streak of gore on the bulkhead where he’d been leaning.

Hamlin read his nametag: RAMIREZ. He felt a stab of sadness and knew somehow that Ramirez had been his friend, even though he didn’t remember him. He stepped back and felt a growing sense of horror as the dead man stared at him accusingly, and he felt the weight of the gun in his hand.

Someone grabbed his shoulder from behind.

He whipped around, gun raised.

It was a strikingly beautiful woman wearing a uniform like his, but with oak leaves embroidered on her collar. Her nametag read MOODY. She had a wound, too, a torn sleeve that revealed a gash on her upper arm, and she looked breathless with exhaustion. Unlike Hamlin, though, she seemed to know exactly what was going on. Also unlike Hamlin, she seemed exhilarated.

“Jesus, Hamlin, relax. It’s me.”

Slowly he lowered the gun.

She stepped past him into the stateroom and looked at Ramirez. Amazed, she looked back at Pete, and then back at the corpse again.

“Is he dead?”

Pete nodded.

She knelt down, searched his pockets, looked at the papers that had fallen from his desk onto the floor. “Good. You stopped him before he did any more damage.”

Satisfied with her search of the body, she stood and looked at Hamlin quizzically. “Are you okay?”

“I’m … really not sure.”

She stepped toward him and looked him in the eye. “I’m sorry you had to do this,” she said. “Truly. But you did the right thing. You might have saved the ship. And—you’ll never have to prove your loyalty to me again.”

They both looked down at the body a final time.

“Let’s go,” she finally said. “We’re not out of the woods yet.”

 

Copyright © 2016 Todd Tucker.

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Todd Tucker attended the University of Notre Dame on a full scholarship, graduating with a degree in history in 1990. He then volunteered for the United States Navy's demanding nuclear power program, eventually making six patrols onboard a Trident submarine. In 1995 Tucker left the Navy to return with his family to Indiana to pursue a career in writing. Tucker's previous novels include Collapse Depth, Ghost Sub, and Zulu Five Oscar.

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