Illustration by Andres Garzon
“For all men tragically great are made so through a certain morbidness…all mortal greatness is but disease.” – Herman Melville, ‘Moby Dick’
Blades of grass whipped around the solemn ceremony with ease, the blustery winds not towing the line for anyone. Clouds of a dark grey floated high above, as if they wanted to drop rain below, but were content just showing up and looking menacing. The priest from the local Catholic church had brought the service to conclusion. Some of the guests had left quickly because of the ominous weather, while others lingered to pay their final respects. The young man who had died in the line of his duty was well-liked and respected by many, navy officers and friends from his hometown had flooded the cemetery to salute him. He’d been taken from the world far too soon.
His father, Captain Robert Drexler, both loved and respected his son. A career navy man, Drexler stood alone under one of the large maple trees, remembering his son. He was in his early fifties, but he didn’t have as much grey in his hair or beard as others would have at this age. Instead, he had lines in the corners of his eyes and down his face, the lines of a man who had seen many battles, and who had been through many things in the navy. He had been put in command of a new class of warship and had been hoping that his son would be transferred under him, so that he could teach him everything he knew. Drexler knew his son could have risen through the ranks to get his own command one day, and he would have been so proud.
But that dream died with his son. His only son. Ryan’s death a week earlier had not broken him, not at all. He cried and grieved like any father would, but he had also lost a part of himself. The loss that he distanced himself from and kept subdued would only grow larger as time passed, none of which was his concern right now. Drexler would finish mourning and then he would do what he had always done in the face of adversity: be a navy officer as best he could. He would carry on with the career that had come to define him. Looking to the grave, he took off his aviator-style sunglasses and wiped his eyes. “I will avenge you son,” he said quietly. “When the time is right.”
Someone was walking up to him. “Rob,” said Admiral Charles Coxwell, the fleet admiral in charge of his navy’s Atlantic operations. “No matter what happens, we’ll get those sons of bitches that did this. Mercenaries have no place on the oceans!” He ran his fingers through his short grey hair to smooth it out. “This is all off the record of course.”
Drexler nodded. “Thank you, sir.” he replied. He put his sunglasses back on. “I’ll see you back on base.”
“I understand. Take care.” said the Admiral, before walking away.
“We won’t get them.” Drexler whispered, once the Admiral had left. “I will get them, all of them.”
Five Years Later
“There is a wisdom that is woe, but there is a woe that is madness.”
The reinforced steel bow of his ship cut through the water like a hot knife through a block of butter. Waves rippled from the powerful vessel, the wake enough to capsize a small ship or boat easily. Captain Drexler smiled from the bridge of his war ship, the Ellesmere, a heavy missile cruiser and the second ship of the class. The captain’s arms were crossed as he stood between his command chair and the forward windows of the spacious bridge. Crew members milled about as the ship continued forward on its’ patrol route in the north Atlantic, like it had done many times before.
“Commander, you have the conn,” said Captain Drexler to his executive officer, Commander Clive Drummond.
“Aye Captain,” Drummond replied confidently.
Drexler grinned at his XO and walked around the weapons console on his way out of the bridge. “I’ll be in my cabin.” he said, before heading out the door.
Drummond walked over to the space between the captain’s chair and the forward windows and clasped his hands behind his back. “Steady as she goes.” he said to the helmsman.
“Steady as she goes, aye.”
Drummond had served with Drexler for almost ten years now, and he had spent the last three as Drexler’s executive officer aboard the Ellesmere. They had first met onboard a destroyer in the Pacific fleet when Drummond was a lieutenant and Drexler was the executive officer. Later, after Drexler had been promoted to captain and had been given command of the Ellesmere, he requested that Drummond be transferred a board, which promoted him to full commander just a couple years ago. It was a great honour to be first officer under Drexler, and it was a duty he did not take lightly. He was very loyal to the captain, carrying out his orders to the letter, all while still maintaining the delicate tightrope that was his relationship with the rest of the crew.
Minutes turned into hours as he kept watch on the bridge, keeping the ship along its patrol route. Sightings of mercenaries and privateers had grown exponentially as of late, with two yachts being attacked and boarded in the last month. No one had been hurt, but there needed to be a solution to the problem regardless. The Ellesmere, along with a few other ships of various navies had been sent to patrol their own sector of the north Atlantic, in hopes that the sight of several heavily armed warships would deter anyone from commencing any more acts of hostility on the open seas. ‘If they come, we’ll be ready.’ thought Drummond.
“All that most maddens and torments, all that stirs up the lees of things, all truth with malice in it, all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain, all the subtle demonisms of life and thought…”
Lights dimmed quickly all over the ship, with some turning a bright red hue as the alarm klaxons began to sound. General quarters had been sounded, with every member of the crew snapping to attention and hurrying to their stations. Drexler was reading froma favourite novel of his when all hell started to break loose. He grabbed his jacket and left his quarters, already on his way to the bridge when Drummond’s voice summoned him there through the intercom. It took him seconds to reach the bridge from his cabin, and he emerged onto the deck ready for action.
“Status report, Commander?” he asked his executive officer.
Drummond was looking out the window with a pair of high-powered binoculars. “Sir,” he began. “Distress call received from a yacht ten kilometers away. They’re being chased by an unknown hostile vessel.”
Drexler looked to his helm officer, Lieutenant Rick Barnes. “Rick?”
Barnes glanced at his instruments, then looked to the captain. “Speed is 24 knots, holding steady.” he replied.
Captain Drexler nodded, then looked back to Drummond. “I want more information.” he said. “We need to know as much as possible before we get there. Contact that yacht again, and keep scanning on the radar.” He walked over to his command chair and took a seat. “Lieutenant Barnes, increase speed to twenty-eight knots.”
Barnes nodded. “Twenty-eight knots, aye.” He made the necessary adjustments on his controls. The ship’s speed climbed as it continued to knife through the waters of the ocean, making its way towards the site of the disturbance with all due speed.
Then, Drummond spoke up from the communications console. “Captain, we have just received confirmation from the yacht. They have identified the intruder as a mercenary ship.”
Drexler’s eyes narrowed, and his pulse sped up, Was it the same ship? Did these mercenaries belong to the same group that killed his son? “Right.” he said “Battle stations! Prepare for combat!”
Drummond didn’t think much of his Captain’s miscue—he turned to the intercom and issued the orders given to him. “Attention all hands! Battle stations, I repeat: Battle stations! This is not a drill!” He hung up the microphone as the alarm again sounded off, with more red lighting coming into being. A glance back to the captain told him that Drexler was distracted, but he assumed it was just a consequence of having the responsibility and stress of making the big decisions.
“Talk not to me of blasphemy, man – I’d strike the sun if it insulted me.”
“We’ve got company!” exclaimed one of the higher-ranking men on the mercenary ship, jumping up from his station at the radar and communications area.
The captain got up out of his chair and walked over to his communication officer. “Do tell.” he said, a little annoyed at the lack of open conversation about these types of things.
The young officer looked dismayed. “Spotted a warship heading this way at high speed! They may have picked up the distress signal from that damned yacht we’ve been pursuing.”
The captain nodded and walked back to his chair. He was in his late thirties and considered young by his ragtag crew. He had earned their respect and trust from many operations that he had led, and from distributing the spoils of victory to each and every one of them in ample amounts. He sat down in his chair. “We have the firepower to take them on, but I believe we can out run them.” he said. The had engines retrofitted onto their converted mini-cruise ship. He had stolen the vessel some time ago and kept her in a safe place until he had the necessary funds to refit her and hire a more experienced crew, not to mention add the complement of weapons to her.
Since then, he and his men had made millions exploiting lesser ships, always staying one step ahead of the authorities. “Forty-five degree turn to starboard.” he ordered. “Let’s see if that floating pile of guns will follow us into the ice field.” He was betting on the fact that the warship wouldn’t take the chance to pursue his vessel into the dangerous pack ice and risk-taking damage to the hull. Suddenly, his communications officer spoke out: “She’s matching our maneuvers, captain!”
“The game’s afoot then.” muttered the Captain.
Drexler slipped his hand into the left pocket of his jacket and pulled out a photograph. It was of a white-hulled cruise ship that was pulling away from the camera, a ship that had markings that would be reserved for pirate or privateer vessels instead. He compared it to the image on the communications monitor on the console. The ship was identical to the one in the picture. And since he didn’t know of any other small cruise ship converted to fight and pillage on the oceans, he concluded that this ship was the same one that caused his son’s death.
He knew what had to be done now. “Mirror their course, helmsman.” he ordered. “Take us into the pack ice.” He took a seat in his chair.
Drummond frowned. “Sir, may I remind you that our hull isn’t designed for icebreaking?”
Drexler smiled. “I appreciate your input, commander. But we’re going after them.”
Drummond nodded. “Yes sir.” He turned around and went back to doing his job.
‘I’ll be damned if I let that ship get away!’ thought Drexler. “I will avenge my son, if it’s the last thing I ever do!” His anger and hateful thoughts about the privateers and their ship began to swirl around in his head. He was no longer a rational man.
“Commander,” he said to his first officer. “Fire a warning shot across their bow with the forward gun. Let them know we won’t stand down.”
Drummond nodded. “Yes captain.” He issued the appropriate orders, and the Ellesmere fired a burst from her forward Bofors cannon. The shell splashed down right in front of the enemy vessel but was unable to provoke a reaction or hail of any kind.
“No change in their course,” said the commander.
Drexler’s eyes narrowed. “Oh no,” he said quietly. “You’re not getting away.” He focused on his quarry. He would not let it out of his sight until he witnessed its destruction.
“To the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee.”
Ellesmere shook slightly as she took some fire from the enemy vessel’s rear guns, her reinforced hull taking the brunt of the hits, the damage minimal. Captain Drexler got up out of his chair and looked out the windows. His anger was rising.
Drummond rushed up beside him. “Minor damage sir. The hull is holding. Suggest we move out of range and regroup. We can contact the rest of the task force and then—”
“NO!” yelled Drexler. “We go after them and take them down. They must not be allowed to hurt any other vessels!” Some people from the bridge crew started to look up from their stations.
“Very well sir.” replied Drummond. “What are your orders?”Drexler looked to the window port, then back at Drummond. “Return fire!” he ordered.
Drummond issued the commands, and the forward Bofors turret let loose several shots, all of them striking the enemy vessel amidships, smoke starting to swirl out of it. The Ellesmere rocked again. They had been hit by more cannon fire from the mercenaries, and this time they had incurred some damage. Drummond waited for the damage report to come in before informing the captain, who was already issuing new orders and trying to out-maneuver the enemy vessel.
Before Drummond could deliver his report, the ship lurched violently. He heard an explosion. A couple of the bridge windows cracked, but they did not shatter. Crew members that had been thrown off their feet picked themselves back up off the deck and hurried to their stations. “Captain!” said Drummond, turning to face Drexler. “Forward Bofors cannon destroyed! Looks bad!”
Drexler got out of his chair and looked down to the gunnery deck. “Damn!” he said. “Get some men on the fifty caliber machine guns! Activate Harpoon launchers! Those bastards are going to pay for this!”
The Ellesmere lurched again, shaking from another hit. Just as Drexler was about to ask where they had been hit, he heard the chief engineer’s voice on the intercom. “Bridge! Engine room! We can’t keep taking hits like this!”
Captain Drexler activated the intercom control and spoke to the engine room. “Engine room, bridge. Keep her together and give me all available power! That’s an order!”
Drummond felt they should pull back and regroup. He was about to suggest this idea to the captain, but an explosion knocked him to the ground. It was an impact from a weapon that had delivered a direct hit to the starboard wing of the bridge.
“And he piled upon the whale’s white hump the sum of all the rage and hate felt by his whole race. If his chest had been a cannon, he would have shot his heart upon it.”
Smoke filled the bridge compartment. Fires were starting to rage all over. Captain Drexler coughed and wheezed as he regained consciousness. When he opened his eyes, he could see how big of a disasterthe bridge was. Control stations were wrecked, there were bodies lying on the deck nearby. He crawled over to the nearest body on his hands and knees, only to find Commander Drummond. Drexler put his fingers to his commander’s neck. No pulse. “No,” he muttered, looking across the bloody uniform of his first officer. Drexler coughed again as he struggled in getting to his feet, using the nearest console as an aid.
The smoke was pouring out a gaping hole in the bridge, giving him enough visibility to look out for what was left of the forward windows. The mercenary ship was ahead by a few kilometers, “Not getting away.” mumbled Drexler. He noticed his right hand was covered in blood, and it was also dripping from his forehead. On the weapons board, he saw that one Harpoon missile launcher was active and locked on target. The key was in, and power was still available. “My turn.” he said, turning the key all the way, and pushing the red launch button with his index finger.
A single Harpoon missile lanced out from its launcher, the flames of its engine the only thing visible. Drexler watched as it struck its target with efficiency, wiping out the whole upper rear deck, and mangling their weapons and other vital machinery. The explosion blew pieces of the mercenary ship into the water, and as he watched. Drexler smiled maniacally. He saw the ship start to turn and try to get away, and he started to scream. He was losing his grip on reality. “No!!” yelled, moving back to the helm controls. He was starting to lose consciousness again.
“The line must be drawn here! This far! No further!” he yelled, the grin on his face now sinister. “And I will make you pay for what you have done!” He slammed the speed control to full, power still routing to the engines. The ship started to move forwards, and as it did, he got to his feet and looked out ahead. The mercenary ship was now dead in the water, its white hull and decks now a mess of fire damage and smoke, men scurrying back and forth on her main deck. Drexler looked around his own bridge at the dead, and the damage done. Fires were still burning, and the ship was almost beyond repair. He calmly sat down in his command chair and gripped the armrests as the ship careened towards the mercenaries. “For you, my son” he whispered. He thought about his boy and slipped into unconsciousness for the final time.
“Thus, I give up the spear!”
“Tell the men to amp up their efforts on the engines! If we can’t get her going, we’ll have to—”
The captain’s order was interrupted by another one of his bridge crew. “Sir!” yelled the man. “She’s going to ram us!”
The captain rushed to the bridge’s starboard viewport. He gasped and was left speechless as he saw the damaged warship heading straight for his vessel, smoke billowing from the battle damage, fires burning all over her. The forward Bofors gun was bent and its housing destroyed, and yet the ship continued on its heading on a collision course with his own vessel!
He knew that there was no time to move his ship. “Brace for impact!” he yelled, running for his own chair in vain. Ten seconds later, the warship’s hull tore into the mercenary’s converted cruise ship, ripping it apart like it was made of paper. Men were thrown onto the deck, or into the water. As the captain crashed into the deck, the deafening sound of metal against metal filled his ears. Then, explosions tore through both ships, and the unused armaments caught fire. Fireballs ripped through both ships, before two massive explosions blew both vessels to pieces, sending debris and fire shooting in all directions, oil slicks surfacing and igniting as well.
Not a man was left alive, as the two burning wrecks slowly slipped below the waves of the ocean, along with one man’s hatred, sorrow, and obsession.
“And the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago.”
JASON J. BUCHHOLZ has been writing fictional works and such for quite some time now, and has finally made the decision in regards to becoming a published writer. The story Obsession is a modern day take on the classic Moby Dick.
Copyright © 2018 by Jason J. Buchholz. All rights reserved.