‘Forced Landing’ Sample Chapters

Force Landing - by Thomas Block

 

 

Chapter excerpts from Forced Landing

 

PROLOGUE

This book didn’t start out to be anything like what the end result has become.  My original assignment had been to compile and then create a piece of historical fiction on the lives and contributions of various United States Secretaries of the Navy.  My storyline was to begin with Joseph Hewes who – in addition to being one of the signatories of the Declaration of Independence – was the country’s first Secretary of the Navy for the Continental Congress in 1776.  Beginning with him, I intended to simply progress forward in time.  Parallel to my historical research, and to counter-balance it, would be several interviews with those past Secretaries who were still alive today, to get that modern perspective.  It was here, at my very first interview, when my historical project was sidelined.

Mitchell Schroeder was a patient at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland when I went to meet him.  This elderly gentleman was, quite literally, laying on his deathbed when I walked in to do what I anticipated would be a very short interview – more of a courtesy to him than to get any material of substance.

The doctors at Walter Reed had explained to me that this man – he had been a noteworthy Secretary of the Navy for a six year period during the ‘80’s – was still basically lucid.  But his advanced stages of cancer would allow him no more than just a few more weeks of life and, because of all the medication they had him on, they also cautioned me that whatever he might say to me was to be taken with that firmly in mind.

I found Mitchell Schroeder to be alert and quite cogent during the time I spent with him – an interview that actually lasted two full days and part of a third.  He had rallied during our meetings, perhaps because he so very much wanted to get this top-secret story out and into the public domain.   There was, he announced quite firmly, no longer any need for this story to be kept secret because the world had basically “changed so goddamn much”, to quote him precisely. Three weeks after I said my final goodbyes, Mitchell Schroeder, still at Walter Reed, passed away in his sleep.

Schroeder had provided me with most of the details, some of which will be familiar to readers from the news media accounts from that period.  I verified his data where I could, extrapolated other information, and filled in the gaps within the basic framework provided by Schroeder and a number of the others….

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…The water had completely covered the teakwood deck and had begun to slap farther up the sides of the bridge. Ammar climbed another set of rungs and then another, until he was perched atop the highest structure of the submarine, the look-out’s platform. Ammar could see some of the bodies of the dead crew of the Sharaf as they began to float up from the cold water below. The sea itself, a flat plate of unrippled silver when viewed toward the glow from the half-moon on the horizon, seemed to be churned up by isolated movements in several spots. It took Ammar a few seconds to realize that the eerie forms that sliced through the calm of the silvery surface were dark, triangular fins, The numerous fins from an encircling school of sharks cut closer and closer to where Ammar would soon be in the water.

“Allah! Save me! Help me!” Ammar screamed as the last of the Sharaf’s superstructure slid into the water. The young Iranian officer let out a long, night-splitting howl as he found himself treading water. He thrashed around wildly in the cold, becalmed sea as he twisted first one way and then the other in a senseless, futile attempt to save himself.

Ammar felt something bump into his left shoulder. It caused him to scream long and hard again as he desperately paddled forward as fast as he could from whatever was behind him. When he finally looked over his shoulder, Ammar saw that what he had bumped into was the body of one of the dead crewmen that had been borne up from below by the buoyancy of the cold seawater. But at the same time, something else in the distance caught Ammar’s attention — something that caused him to begin to scream irrationally again, this time without any way to stop himself, without any hope for a pause. Less than twenty meters from where he was treading water, Hamed Ammar could make out through the phosphorescent glow of the water the hungry sharks that were coming toward him….

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…Lee Burdick was half the way through his next step when his thoughts started to focus on what his eyes had begun to see. He took that last step, then stopped. His mouth opened. The records in his left hand fell out of his fingers and dropped noisily onto the concrete pier. Ahead of him, where the dock turned at a right angle to provide for the entrance to the wooden stairs that led to the gangplank, there was…

Nothing.

The gray vapors of fog rested on the surface of the glass-smooth sea. “What in God’s name…” Burdick spun around and looked down the pier he had just walked, thinking that he must have somehow come down the wrong one. But he knew better. Impossible. There was only one pier at Patriot’s Point. This is the only pier. Christ Almighty.

He vaulted to the edge of the dock and, in amazement, looked up and down its length. “Oh, my God.” The sound of his excited, strained voice contrasted sharply with the placid quiet of the early morning and the soft lapping of the tide against the pilings. The Yorktown is gone.

Burdick rubbed his eyes. He couldn’t believe it. Yet the evidence was unmistakable. The wooden steps were still there, but their edging had been torn away. Splinters of the shattered wood lay on the surface of the water below. A dozen severed cables — telephone lines, the electric service — dangled incongruously from the adjacent poles. The Yorktown is missing.

Lee Burdick stumbled backward. He moved once, then twice, in a random, spastic motion before he finally got his wits together enough to turn himself around. “God.” He walked across the stack of records that had fallen out of his hand and onto the pier, but he didn’t feel them beneath his feet or notice the noise they made as they cracked.

Burdick took one more glance over his shoulder before he began to run. He ran back down the pier. He needed to reach a telephone, someone, anyone, to report the most insane thing he had ever witnessed in his entire life. Gone. He couldn’t imagine what he would say to whomever was the first person he spoke with. An ancient relic of an aircraft carrier — 900 feet long, 27,000 tons in weight, a permanent exhibit owned by the State of South Carolina — was gone. Missing. Vanished. Even though he had seen it with his own eyes, Lee Burdick wondered how in hell he would ever get even himself to believe it….

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…”Flight 255, this is the Lear,” a loud voice suddenly boomed out of O’Brien’s cockpit speaker. “Do you read me?”

O’Brien reached for his microphone and snatched it off the side panel. “We sure do, Lear. What are you trying to do?” There was a great deal more anger in his voice than he had intended to display, but the anger was sincere. He felt every bit of it. O’Brien had no patience for pilots who cut margins too close, who fooled around with situations that were potentially dangerous. “You’d better break off and get out of here. Right now.”

“Listen to me,” the voice from the Lear began again as soon as O’Brien had ended his transmission. “Don’t touch your microphone. I’ve got some information for you. It’s important. Very important.” There was a pause for several seconds before the Lear pilot spoke again, although his transmitter continued to put out its signal — a low, steady hum — the entire time. “No one on the ground can hear me because I’m using a special radio. Very low powered. I’m also monitoring your transmitters with a broad-band receiver, so don’t try to call anyone from this point on. What I’m going to tell you is for your ears only.” There was another pause, and this time there seemed to be the faint sound of sneering laughter in the background. Finally, the voice resumed. “Listen closely. Follow my instructions. Each to the letter. If you don’t, every one of you will be dead in sixty seconds.”….

 

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