James Woodley’s POV
I was shaking uncontrollably.
I’ve been in combat, I’ve been in training, I’ve seen shit that no one should ever have to see. Buddies shot next to me, their blood splattering my face. I’ve walked through battlefields filled with gore, I’ve seen the aftermath of suicide bombers, I’ve watched through the rifle scope as a man’s head blew apart like a watermelon at my shot. All this was nothing compared to the absolute terror of the last twenty minutes.
I looked at the dive computer strapped to my left forearm as we zipped across the water in the Zodiak I’d been pulled into. I was still supposed to be at fifty feet, letting the nitrogen in my bloodstream slowly release. The problem was I had panicked, the first time in my life I had done so on a dive. I still couldn’t get my head around what we saw down there.
I couldn’t get the image of Tim’s severed leg floating past my mask out of my head. The blood was everywhere, clouding the already limited visibility. I couldn’t have seen what I thought I saw in that instant, it was impossible.
I kept hearing the voice that told me to leave before I die.
Grabbing the tether that attached me to the anchor line of the diving sled, I pulled myself backwards as I kicked away from whatever it was who killed him. I was panicked as I started rising, barely able to keep a hand on the line. My breathing was fast and shallow, using up the air in my tank faster as I fought to control myself. I went up too fast, unable to think clearly to adjust my buoyancy vest, and unwilling to stop.
Only one thing mattered, getting the hell away from that thing.
As soon as I broke the surface, I was grabbing my emergency beacon and setting it off. The strobe started flashing and the radio signal would tell everyone I was in trouble.
I kept my tanks and helmet on just in case the Iranians got here first, it would give me a chance to evade. I hit the switch to raise the anchor on the sled, and as soon as it broke free I turned it west and gave it full power. It wasn’t much, but at least it was taking me away from the dive spot.
I had only gone for a couple minutes when I saw the trawler’s lights, it was coming fast. My sled had a scuttle setting, I lifted the cover and pressed the button. A set of valves opened, removing all the air from the buoyancy tanks. I let it go as it sank to the bottom.
I could hear the trawler now, the engines backed down and a searchlight found me as I bobbed in the shallow waves. They had a cargo net out, I turned just before it scooped me up and felt the net hauling me out of the water. I released my deepwater dive helmet, tossing it up to one of the deck crew. “WHERE’S THE OTHER,” I heard someone shout.
“DEAD, GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE,” I yelled, then reached for the guys and they pulled me up over the rail and onto the deck. The engines roared back to life and the trawler heeled over as the Captain turned it around. I pulled the triple tanks off, leaving them on the deck as I sat up and removed my fins. My helmet was sitting a few feet away, I pulled it to me and unclipped the GoPro camera from its mount next to my right ear. Whatever happened down there, the camera was probably more reliable than my brain now. I zipped the camera into a pocket on my wetsuit.
“Shit, they’re onto us,” one of the men said as he pointed. I looked back over the port quarter, there were running lights and searchlights moving fast over the waters. We were pretty fast, but we had nothing on these guys. The lights got closer by the minute.
“EMERGENCY SANITIZE, EMERGENCY SANITIZE.THREE MINUTES TO ABANDON SHIP,” the announcement said.
“FUCK! Help us with the Zodiaks,” one of the men said. They went over to the big compartments that the nets used to be stowed in, and two of them moved the hatches aside. Two Zodiaks were stacked vertically, bow out. Two men grabbed the bow line and pulled, while I helped another guide it out the rails. We pulled it across the deck to where the stern ramp started and lashed it in place. I was wondering how the second boat got down, but one of the guys hit a lever and the front of the rack dropped down, causing the second Zodiak to slide towards us. We caught it and moved it to the other side of the ramp.
“What now,” I asked.
“We have about ninety seconds until this thing goes up,” he said as men rushed out of the hatchway from the compartments below. They loaded up the first Zodiak, then with all the men staying low we gave it a push and it headed down the ramp. The driver quickly lowered the outboard engine and started it, immediately turning around and racing past the side of the ship. Mark was running that one.
“Count good,” the Captain asked as he came down from the bridge.
“Fourteen, all accounted for,” the crewman said. We released the line and pushed the zodiac towards the ramp, jumping in as it started to slide. The engine fired up and we made a wider circuit around the trawler which was now running on autopilot. We were a few hundred yards ahead of it and maybe fifty to starboard when it blew up. A series of explosions rocked the ship, and the white phosphorous charges shot flaming metal high into the air. We raced through the night, staying low as we bounced over the waves.
Two minutes later, Ben looked down at his portable navigation computer. “We’re outside Iranian waters,” he said and the men cheered. “Keep going, steer ten degrees to port. Head towards that oil rig there on the horizon,” he told the coxswain before handing him the receiver.
“Where’s the other Zodiak,” I asked.
“Headed for our rendezvous point. I sent the abandon ship message out before we left, the Navy has ships in the Northern Gulf. There is a primary and a backup rescue location, we’re heading towards the primary. As long as we get picked up before dawn, we’ll be fine.”
I ran my fingers over my knife, I was already starting to feel itchy, and my shoulders were starting to hurt. “There’s one more problem, Captain. My ascent from depth was way too fast, I’m already feeling symptoms of decompression sickness. I need to get to a hyperbaric chamber, fast.”
He looked at me, then looked out at the dark waters. There was barely any moon tonight. “Anything we can do for you in the meantime?”
“Keep me horizontal,” I said as I laid back down. “And get us the hell away from the Revolutionary Guard.”
He laughed and patted his holster. “I cannot be taken alive, too many secrets and I know too well what awaits me.”
“Shoot me first,” I said as I laid back down. My skin was all tingly, and the fatigue was setting in. I could recognize the feel of the adrenaline crash on top of the decompression sickness, it was going to be rough. I started to shiver.
“You don’t look good,” he told me. “You’re going into shock.” He picked my feet up and put them on top of his. “We’ll do all we can, I need you to hang in there. Don’t drop out on me.”
“It’s not going to be easy,” I said. The fatigue was dragging me down, all I wanted to do is sleep.
“Talk to me, James. What happened down there?”
I looked up at the night sky, that wasn’t what I wanted to talk about. “I really don’t know what the hell it was,” I told him. “We got to the dive spot fine and dropped anchor. The descent was good, it was two hundred and eighty-five feet with twenty minutes bottom time. We started moving in circles around the anchor. Visibility sucked, I kept Tim about ten feet outside of me and I could barely see his lights from his helmet. We made the first circuit, let out twenty feet from our lanyards to the anchor cable, then started the next. I never saw it until it was too late.”
“Fire. Moving flame, I couldn’t see too well but all of the sudden there was fire blazing and the sea lit up. It moved fast, really fast, and hit Tim right below his hips. It sliced right though, severing both his legs.” I closed my eyes, I still didn’t believe it. “Blood was everywhere in the water, and there was not a fucking thing I could do. The thing moved again, I swam backwards and just avoided it.”
I knew he didn’t believe a thing I said, and there was no way I was going to tell him that the glow revealed a creature that looked like a bull with wings swinging a sword, or that the thing yelled into my head and told me to leave or die. That’s the kind of shit that ends up with you in a padded room in a military hospital, never to come out again. “I know what you’re thinking, and no, I don’t know what it was.”
“It’s possible to have welding equipment, something like that with a flame underwater, that was used as a weapon,” he said.
“At two hundred and eighty-five feet in the middle of the Gulf, why the hell would you set a booby trap like that? We’re looking for a torpedo, Captain. There was no torpedo there.”
He didn’t say anything for a while. “We don’t know what they have, James. It could be some kind of mine, or antiship weapon. Maybe it’s like a magnesium flame, that’ll cut through anything and it will burn underwater.”
The engine slowed down, and I looked at him in panic. “We’re here, Captain,” the coxswain said as he idled the engine. I felt a bump, and heard the men greeting their friends in the other boat. The two inflatables were quickly tied together, and it was time to wait.
I was itching badly and my joints hurt like hell when I heard the Captain hail the destroyer on the radio. The ship maneuvered just upwind of us and lowered cargo nets for the men to climb up. I got the special treatment; their rescue swimmer was lowered down with a litter basket, and I was moved into it and winched onboard. I was quickly shifted by the medic and aircrew to a litter that was carried onboard one of the embarked MH-60 helicopters, which was already spinning up.
I was strapped onto the floor of the helicopter; looking up, I could see Mark and Ben were already seated and strapped in. “Thanks, guys,” I said to all of them. The corpsman just patted my leg, his “USS JOHN PAUL JONES DDG-53” ballcap in his hand.
“Good luck, sir. Here, take this as a memento of your five minutes on board,” he said as he tucked the hat under my hand. The crew closed the door, and the rotors spun up before we were lifting into the skies.
The flight time to the USS Abraham Lincoln was only about twenty minutes. I tried to relax and stay awake, but I just couldn’t do it.
I woke up inside a cylinder. I tried to sit up, but it hurt like hell. “Relax, James,” a voice came. “You’re in a hyperbaric chamber on the Abraham Lincoln.”
I relaxed, this was exactly what I needed. The hyperbaric chamber raised the air pressure to simulate being at a depth of thirty to sixty feet, helping to force the nitrogen back into the bloodstream. Over a period of hours, the pressure would be slowly reduced as my body removed it slowly. “How long was I out?”
“Three hours. It was a good thing you still had your dive computer on, we were able to reconstruct the pressure profile and set a recovery plan.”
I felt around, I was in a gown. “Where’s my gear?”
“It’s not here, the spooks took it. As soon as they had everything, they took off again.”
“Yeah, they are like that,” I said. “I prefer to just come and go without anyone noticing.”
“SEAL’s are like that,” he said. “Anyway, I’m Doctor Jenkins, I’ll be checking in on you periodically. You have six hours left in there.”
“Thanks, Doc. I think I’m going to try and nap while I can’t do anything.” I closed my eyes and drifted off, waking every time the nightmare came. The creature with the head of a bull and an eagle, the body of a man, and wings.
The CIA had the camera now, and I probably would never see it.
Maybe I was just hallucinating, because that shit couldn’t be real.