Liberators
Author: Godfrey Raphael

Chapter 12
Blockade Runners

Chapter Twelve: Blockade Runners

 

Aboard the submarine K-311

Somewhere in the Kara Sea

October 7, 2008 1000 Rivymiyitevko time (0600 Krakozhian time)

 

“How are our guests doing, Doctor?”

 

“We pulled them out of the water just in time, Captain,” replied Captain Third Rank Vadim Chesianka, the ship’s doctor. “Had we delayed their rescue for thirty seconds or more, we would have picked up their frozen corpses.”

 

The four survivors of the Hryvnia’s sinking had been immediately rushed to the doctor’s cabin, where he quickly set to work warming their bodies up. They were now in a specially prepared storeroom that was heated at a balmy thirty degrees Celsius.

 

“That powdered soup formula for hypothermia victims made by our laboratories was a complete success,” Chesianka continued. “It restored our guests’ body heat and replenished their bodily fluids. They are ready for possible interrogation,” he added in a lower voice.

 

“No, Vadim, we will not interrogate them,” Sheshenko replied immediately. “They are not Rivymiyitevko rebels; they are Russian and Ukrainian nationals. And we can’t just push them around after saving their lives. I’m very concerned about that Yefremov kid; I hear that he’s the son of a Russian Duma member.”

 

“But how are we supposed to know why that Polnocny approached them?”

 

“I’ll let Goran take care of it. He’s so good; he can make a tree talk.”

 

Sonolovichyrevko, Rivymiyitevko

That same time

 

“You are a lucky woman, Ekaterina,” said Konstantin Benin as Domshomidova stepped out of her personal helicopter. “You left the Kazimir Delesov just before it was sunk by Krakozhian submarines.”

 

“But that submarine also sank your friend Alenko’s vessel,” she replied. “If he somehow survived, and they somehow rescued him, your secret stash will be a secret no more.”

 

“My dear sister, you still have much to learn,” said Benin. “Never rely on only a few vehicles to supply yourself. I have submarines shuttling the supplies provided for us by our Russian friend just in case the Krakozhians step up their pitiful excuse for a blockade.”

 

Aboard the submarine K-311

Somewhere in the Kara Sea

That same time

 

Lieutenant Goran Pavlovich Marenko was the sonar supervisor for the K-311, but right now his deputy had taken his place for the current watch. While he was trying to sleep in his bunk, Captain Sheshenko had asked him if he could talk to the survivors of the Hryvnia’s sinking. Goran agreed, and that was why he was on his way to the galley, where the man named Aleksey Alenko was eating his meager lunch.”

 

“Hello, sailor,” the old man said as Marenko entered the galley.

 

“Hello, Captain Alenko,” he replied. “I believe this submarine and its crew owe you an apology.”

 

“Apology accepted, Lieutenant,” said Alenko as he sipped his lukewarm soup. “Ah, at least the soup hasn’t changed. It still tastes like old socks."

 

Marenko had to grin at that. “I’m glad you’re enjoying your food,” he said. “It looks like you know your way around submarines. Can you tell me of your career before you became a merchantman?”

 

Alenko nodded and then launched into a tirade about his life in the Soviet Navy, from his days as a lowly deck scrubber on the battlecruiser Frunze to the time he finally received his first command. After that, he began narrating his success on the shipping market before he stopped at the time that Kostantin Benin had contacted him. His jovial face was replaced by a saddened one as he thought over the experiences. “It was only a matter of time before you Krakozhians found out about Benin’s ruse,” he muttered over a glass of vodka.

 

Marenko’s eyebrows went up. “Benin’s ruse?” he asked.

 

“Yes; Benin uses foreigner’s ships as blockade runners. Did you really think he would use his clunky old merchantmen to outrun your destroyers?”

 

“Are you saying that although the Krakozhian Navy has blockaded the port of Sonolovichyrevko, freighters still come and go through the blockade?”

 

“The area in which Sonolovichyrevko is located is practically one huge harbor. Even with the best radars and equipment, ten Kirovs wouldn’t be enough to seal it off completely.”

 

And that was a huge harbor. The Kirov-class battlecruiser was one of the largest fighting ships in the world, second only to the American Nimitz-class aircraft carriers.

 

“That’s just the tip of the iceberg,” Alenko continued, now inebriated in vodka. “I’m sure you’ve seen much submarine activity lately?” he asked.

 

“How did you know that?” Krakozhian submarine exploits were not regularly publicized.

 

“Cargo submarines, Lieutenant! They’re cargo submarines!” Alenko raised both of his hands in the air. “Did you really think that Benin would send his vastly inferior force against just one of these nuclear-powered monsters of yours? He’s a practical man; he wouldn’t put all of his eggs in one basket.”

 

“Huh. Can you excuse me for a moment, Captain Alenko?” Marenko didn’t wait for a reply. Instead, he ran out of the galley and straight into Sheshenko’s cabin and told him of what he had learned from Alenko.

 

“That explains a lot,” muttered Sheshenko. “Do you remember the last time that a rebel submarine fired at us?”

 

“No, Captain,” replied Marenko. “All of them tried to run away from our torpedoes. The only time that they either fired first or fired back was back at the beginning of this conflict. You remember Tanya, Gennady, and Antonina’s stories, right, Captain?”

 

Da, Goran, but he must be aware of the losses we’ve inflicted to his fleet if your theory is correct. His forces must have suffered some losses.”

 

“Captain Alenko did mention that they were using converted cargo submarines. But even with the best engineers and all the time in the world, only a tenth of a Kilo-class submarine’s total volume could be used to carry cargo.”

 

“Then let’s hope to God that these people haven’t built or bought a real cargo sub yet. Why don’t you get some rest, Goran? We’re approaching our final search sector in three hours, and I want my whole crew to be ready once we get there.”

 

“Yes, Captain. See you in the next watch.” Marenko walked into his small, cramped cabin, which he shared with the deputy sonar supervisor and a young sailor who was still qualifying for his “dolphins,” the symbol of a real submariner. The youth was lying on the bunk that he and the deputy supervisor shared, reading a book about submarine warfare.

 

“You must want to earn your dolphins, eh?” asked Marenko.

 

“I’m just continuing the family tradition, Lieutenant. My sister’s already a captain lieutenant like you, sir.”

 

"Good to know," said Marenko as he lifted his bunk to reveal a shallow tray filled with audio cassettes. Each tape held the sonar recording of various confirmed and suspected submarine classes in service with the Rivymiyitevko Navy at different speeds. Goran took one without choosing, closed the bunk, and inserted the tape into a player as he lay down. Immediately, he heard his own voice saying, "German Type 206-class submarine going at ten knots," which was followed by the familiar whirring of a submarine screw in the deep sea.

 

Somewhere in the Kara Sea

1310 Rivymiyitevko time (0910 Krakozhian time)

 

The constant whirring of the submarine's diesel engines had lulled Vladimir Lutenin to sleep, and when the engines stopped, Lutenin woke up. He was one of a contingent of Rivymiyitevko Marines onboard a specially built Type 206-class submarine fresh from the German shipyards. All but the engineering spaces and the control room had been filled with crates of food and ammunition bound for Rivymiyitevko. Since the submarine was a top-secret project, its time in port had been limited lest the Krakozhians see it and deem it a high-priority target. One way to offload the goods without prying eyes seeing it would be to transfer it onto speedboats waiting for them at the edge of the Krakozhian radars. And this submarine was on its way to such a meeting.

 

Lutenin straightened out his rumpled uniform and made his way towards the bridge. Five men were inside the cramped conn, a fraction of the number normally required to safely run the ship. The captain was one Tadeus Duanka, a Rivymiyitevko Krav who came from a family of great seafarers. He distinguished himself in action during the Battle of Babayev Prospect, and he turned out to be an invaluable asset to Benin's new navy. When the special cargo submarine had been finished, Duanka had been chosen to skipper the sub, and he skippered it well, passing through the Krakozhian blockade without them ever being aware of his presence. Lutenin respected the man, but he couldn't stand the thought of being confined to a steel tube for weeks on end. If it would get him out of the submarine, he would openly admit that he was claustrophobic.

 

"Captain, the speedboat is standing by near our position. Based on his distance, we can safely surface without suffering damage."

 

"Very well," said Duanka. "Surface the ship."

 

The submarine began to rise as the ballast tanks were emptied of water, raising the vessel's buoyancy. Soon, the submarine broke through the surface of the water and moved alongside a black, sleek speedboat. Capable of speeds of thirty knots and beyond, and with enough space for five hundred kilos of cargo, it was Konstantin Benin's new-fangled supply vehicle.

 

Lutenin stepped out of the submarine as soon as it was level on the water, taking in a gulp of fresh, cold air. It was a vast difference from the stale, recycled air he had been breathing inside the submarine.

 

"Okay, men," said Duanka, "let's get these supplies off my ship before the Krakozhians see us."

 

Unfortunately for Duanka, the Krakozhians had already seen him. More like heard him, for he had been picked up by the K-311's sonar two hours ago. The Krakozhian sub had been following him at a slow five knots in order not to be heard on the enemy sonar.

 

"Captain, sonar, the rebel sub has stopped," said Marenko. "I'm picking up another contact near the sub. I think it's a small patrol boat."

 

"I copy, sonar," replied Sheshenko. Then, to the diving plane officer, he said, "Take us up to periscope depth."

 

"Depth is now sixty-five feet."

 

"Raise periscope."

 

"Raise periscope, aye."

 

As soon as the periscope had been raised, Sheshenko walked to the mast, pushed a button that activated the built-in camera inside the periscope and peered into the binocular eyepiece.

 

"Interesting," the captain muttered, watching as the Rivymiyitevko Marines loaded box after box of supplies onto what looked like a speedboat. He took a series of photographs of the rendezvous—only an ordinary analog camera had been installed in the submarine during its construction, but a scheduled refit was supposed to have added a newer digital video camera into the sub, but the invasion of Rivymiyitevko had pushed it to a later date.

 

"Has a firing solution on the second contact been prepared?"

 

"The computer's working on it, Captain," replied the fire control officer. "But the sonar contact is too small for a snapshot. It could be the speedboats' wakes, for all we know."

 

"Captain, sonar, Number-42's breaking off!" shouted Marenko. "Number-41 is also starting to move."

 

Damn, he thought. He was faced with two choices: wait for a firing solution to come up for the second contact, and risk letting both vessels get away; or fire at the submarine while it was still on the surface, where it was most vulnerable. Fyodor decided to shoot. The speedboat could probably carry only a token load of supplies, while the submarine could keep a small town from getting hungry with what it had onboard.

 

"Firing point procedures, tube one to Number-41," he ordered.

 

"Firing point procedures, tube one to Number-41, aye."

 

"Match bearings and shoot!"

 

"Match bearings and shoot, aye."

 

"Torpedo has cleared and left the tube."

 

"Unit is running hot, straight, and normal."

 

Rammed by a pneumatic piston, the TEST-99 torpedo shot out of its tube, activated its engine, and proceeded to its meeting with destiny; against an enemy submarine.

 

Lutenin was just stepping out of the submarine when he saw the speedboat fire up its engines and leave immediately. As he stood in silent shock, he barely heard the captain's shouts to get back into the vessel. "Why did they leave us, Captain?" he asked.

 

"There's a Krakozhian submarine trailing us," shouted Duanka. "If we don't leave now, we're dead!"

 

But Lutenin wasn't listening; for once again he was focused on something on the horizon. It began as a small white dot, and then it grew into a sleek, rectangular shape with a rounded head. Only then did he realize what it was.

 

"Torpedo!" he shouted, jumping off the sub with his hands still clutching the Styrofoam box that he was holding. He knew that he stood a better chance in the water than inside the submarine.

 

"Get back here, you coward!" shouted someone, but before that person could shout again, the torpedo struck amidships, breaking the small German submarine in half and lifting its remains a few feet above the water.

 

Lutenin hung on for dear life to the crate he was holding. It had two flotation devices attached to it that activated upon contact with water. One of the few things he kept secret to his colleagues was that he didn't know how to swim. He was regretting that decision now.

 

Suddenly, he realized that the water was very cold. It was as if he had escaped a quick death only to be faced with a slower one. A part of him didn't want to die in such shameful circumstances, and with what strength remained in his body, he began to wave and shout, even though he knew it was next to impossible that a ship—or submarine—could get to him before he froze to death. And so it was with tired relief that he saw a Krakozhian submarine rise from the depths and approached him. He didn't care if he was being captured, as long as he was out of the water and in somewhere warm.

 

Two seamen from the K-311 lifted Lutenin out of the water, his hands clutching the box in a death grip. Chesianka immediately had a thick blanket brought on top for him, and he also decided to wrap him in aluminum foil to retain what body heat remained. Sheshenko, meanwhile, walked over to the freezing man and asked him, "What's your name, Comrade?"

 

"Vladimir Maksimovich Lutenin," he replied between shaking lips.

 

"Do you mind if we take a look at your treasure chest?"

 

Lutenin let go of the box. Sheshenko picked it up, handed over the lid to another seaman, and examined the contents. He took out a green can marked "fried anchovies soaked in virgin olive oil" and tossed it over to Chesianka. Delving deeper into the box, he extracted a banana magazine for an AK-47 assault rifle. He handed it over to Marenko, who had come up out of curiosity, and said, "Looks like Captain Alenko was right, Goran Pavlovich. Konstantin Benin is smuggling his supplies through our blockades using submarines. Keep Mr. Lutenin alive, Doctor," he told Chesianka. "I have a feeling that he will be useful for our future missions."

 

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