I froze as I watched the helicopter approach from the south. I started to unzip my life jacket, just in case I had to dive to avoid detection or drown myself to avoid capture.
The helicopter spotted me, turning slightly towards me. I had the life jacket off at this point, just holding on to it, when I recognized it.
And SH-60 Skyhawk. American.
I waved, and it came to a hover near me. A rescue swimmer jumped into the water about twenty yards from me. He swam over as I cried in relief. “Are you all right,” he said.
“I will be once I’m out of here,” I told him.
He grabbed the rescue sling, a foam band with a strap on the inside that was attached to a cable and winch. Wrapping it around me under my shoulders, he clipped it in place. “Hold onto the sling and don’t fight it, we’ll have you out of here soon,” he said. I held on, and he gave the thumbs-up signal to the hoist operator. I was pulled up out of the water, and soon was pulled into the open door of the helicopter.
“Sit down here,” the crew chief told me after a crewman unsnapped the sling.
“I’m Ben, I’m with the CIA. There’s two more Americans out there, plus one dead,” I shouted over the sound of the rotors. “Let me talk to the pilots.”
“Shit.” He grabbed an extra helmet with communications gear and plugged the cord into a box. “Sir, he says he’s CIA and there are three more Americans out there, one of whom is dead.”
“No time, we’re at bingo fuel,” the pilot responded. “Where is there last known position?”
“Thirteen miles west of Bushehr, just outside Iranian waters,” I said. “KIA is fourteen miles west, likely has been picked up by Iranian Revolutionary Guard patrol boats.”
“It’s hot up there, lots of Iranian activity,” he said. “Returning to the Chosin.”
“Let the Captain know that the newlyweds are the missing two, and the Commander is KIA,” I said. “He’ll know what I mean. I need a secure line to Langley when I return.”
“Roger that. Flight time is forty minutes. Chief, get the man some food and water while we talk to the Captain.”
The rescue swimmer had been hoisted up while we were talking, the door was closed, and he was now sitting next to me. “Thanks, guys. You can’t know how happy I was when I realized you weren’t Iranian.”
“It’s the least I could do for giving us an unscheduled port call in Bahrain,” he said as he took off his fins. “Whatever was under that tarp, the CIA had a hard-on for.”
“I bet. Glad you enjoyed it.”
The pilot’s voice came over the headset. “All right, I’ve talked with the Captain and he thinks putting out a missing mariner report will be more dangerous to your friends than saying nothing. Do you agree?”
I thought about it; Charlotte had stayed below decks the whole time the Iranian patrol boat was alongside, so as far as they knew we had a crew of three. Letting them know more were in the water would not help. “I have to agree, we’re in their backyard. They’re busy recovering their own, too. We splashed an Iranian Navy helicopter and took out a Revolutionary Guard speedboat when we scuttled our boat,” I said. “Those two will be smart enough to head southwest into international waters, and the current will help.”
“The second helicopter is spinning up now. The Captain is going to send them north, just outside Iranian airspace, and offer to assist in looking for the missing personnel. They’ll refuse, but we can still fly around,” he said. “Best we can do. It’s going to take a day for the Chosin to get on station, and even then we stay fifteen plus miles away from their waters. Pretty tight quarters up there.”
“Yeah. I’ll need to get to Bahrain as soon as possible, I have to talk to my bosses, but I don’t want to divert you guys from search and rescue.”
“We’ll see if we can get a helicopter from the Lincoln to come get you,” he said. “Stand by.” It took another twenty minutes to get everything arranged, then we were landing on the deck of the cruiser USS Chosin. I shook hands all around, then I was escorted straight to the Captain’s cabin.
“Jesus, Ben, you lost them?”
“Yes Captain.” Going to the chart he had posted on the wall, I marked the positions as best I could. “Our boat was here, that’s where we took out the Iranian helicopter. We headed west and when it blew, we were about here,” I said as I circled a point. “That took out a Guard patrol speedboat. There were three of them, one stayed to pick up survivors, the other came east towards where I had bailed out. I pointed at the mark in the middle. “One of the patrols fouled its propellers in the cable going to the minisub, but that cable snapped somewhere when we had to take off.” I just pointed to a spot just over a mile inside Iranian territorial waters. “The dive point was here, the sub got stuck and James and Charlotte took a sled out and dove on it to free it up. They were in the middle of their dive when the Iranians went after us.”
“Wait, the sub isn’t tethered, are they using that?”
“I hope so. It’s programmed to return to where we originally were, but if they are using it, they’ll steer well south of the helicopter crash.” I circled an area to the southwest. “If they made it out, they’ll swim for this area,” he said. “They’ll do what I did, swim south and west to get away from Iranian waters and let the current push them down the Gulf. They’ll have the sub or the scuba sled to make a run for it, then when it is dead, they’ll just keep swimming. Both are wearing black wetsuits.”
He took out a pair of navigation calipers, marking out the distance. “Eighteen miles bearing 242 from Bushehr terminal to the center of the search area,” he said.
“I don’t know how close to the top of the box they’ll let you go, but you should expand south and west with time.” I thought of something else. “When the Iranian patrol stopped us the previous day, I put all our real identifications next to the charges.Commander Mark Walters will be carrying a passport identifying him as Mark O’Malley, a British oil technician under contract to the CIA shell company. James and Charlotte are under Martin and Gwen Childs, both British subjects. If you decide to put out a missing mariner report, only list the men.”
“FLIGHT QUARTER, FLIGHT QUARTERS,” the announcement came over the 1MC. “I have to go,” he said.
“Captain Parks? Thank you for everything.”
“I’ll send Doc up here to check you out, then you need to eat something. The helicopter from the Lincoln should be here in forty minutes, and I’ve got to get the next helicopter launched." He walked through the hatch, turning towards the bridge.
An hour later, after three bottles of water and some food, I was headed southeast towards Bahrain. I almost felt sorry for my bosses. The Iranians were sure to be up in arms about spying, I’d lost three people and another boat.
The good news is that I could shit out the evidence that would rock their worldview.
I handed her over to the Cherubim who was kneeling in front of me. He stood up, holding her to his body as a pair of wings encircled her in his arms. “Goodbye, my love,” I said as I watched him move away.
I was about to swim off when the second angel appeared at my side. “Follow me, the boss wants to see you.”
”God. Didn’t you do any research? You’d think you’d know these things.” I swam forward, following him as his big legs moved through the water with his flaming sword lighting the way. I was terrified of him; up close, his power was undeniable. He was many times my size and strength and wielded that sword underwater like I might wield a soda straw.
It didn’t take long for us to reach the glowing entrance of the Garden. I didn’t see the other Cherubim, and I was a little shocked when a huge angel hand grabbed my tanks and pulled me forward. He kept walking towards the barrier between air and deep water, pulling me into his side as he did. I put my arm up as we walked to the barrier, then lowered it in shock when we just walked right through.
He set me down on the ground, and I fell to my hands and knees. “You can take that stuff off now,” he said, this time speaking normally in the air. It sounded just like it did in my head, powerful and rumbling. I pushed my mask off, then spit out my regulator. I took a deep breath, the air was clean and fresh, the smell of fruit and flowers in the air. “Where is my wife? And the other angel?”
“She is safe. He took her to the Tree of Life, so that she would heal. Your prayers were heard, James. She will survive, and the two of you will gain dominion over the place, just as it was originally intended.”
“When can I see her?” I unbuckled the tanks and let them fall to the grass below me, then removed my weight belt, compensator and fins.
“When she returns. You are both safe here, your pleas were heard and answered. You will have that life together you wanted so badly.”
The relief washed over me like a wave, and I sat and looked around. We were on top of a small mountain, the dome-like sky above us glowed evenly. There was no sun or moon, just light. Birds flew around and rested in the tops of the trees. The unicorn we had seen on camera was not around, but a pair of African lions were moving through the bushes at the edge of the trail. I froze, not wanting to attract the attention of the largest predators I’d ever seen. I watched in fascination as they plucked berries from the bushes. “They are eating fruits?”
“All animals in Eden do. Fruits, nuts, grasses, all the bounty the Earth provides. It is only outside of the garden where death occurs. That was never the plan for here.”
The air was warm and humid, so I pulled down the zipper of my wet suit and pushed it off, leaving me only in a pair of swim trunks.
“Haven’t lost the modesty despite all the years since Adam and Eve,” a voice said with a chuckle from behind me. I turned around and a man was standing a few feet away, naked and unconcerned. His features were a little blurred by the glow that came from him, and his hair and beard bore a slight resemblance to the paintings I had seen of him in my Bible studies.
“HOLY HOLY HOLY IS THE LORD OF HOSTS, THE WHOLE EARTH IS FULL OF HIS GLORY,” the Cherubim behind me rumbled as he dropped to a knee. I quickly followed, bowing my head to him.
“Rise, my son,” he said. “I am pleased to have my creation back where it all started.”
I stood, unable to look at his face. “You are…”
“Yes.” He waved his hand, and the clear barrier to the Gulf waters disappeared, replaced by a wall of rock. He turned to the Cherubim who was still on his knees. “You have done well, and your task is complete. You and your brother may return to the Throne Room, for the entrance to the Garden is now closed forever.”