This is the introduction to a book I’ve been working on. Don’t look for it anytime soon, but I’ll post parts as i get them finished.
The January night breaks cold and fast along the coast of Maine. When the overcast thins, and the ambient light dims, the heavens are ablaze with frost-burnt suns. Below them, ice-clad rivers and lakes reflect the moonlight while snow covered fields lap up against the black of human shelter, road and parking lots.
Just outside the small town of Brunswick, and alongside the Androscoggin River, sits Naval Air Station Brunswick. NASB in the parlance of the locals. In it’s golden time, the base was home to six squadrons of P-3 Orion aircraft, long-range patrol planes whose chief mission was Anti-Submarine Warfare. They are all gone now, save a lone example, acting sentry to a field of empty space, and a monument to those who left and never came home.
Back in the faraway time, in the longago days, the dark tarmac was lined with aircraft. Modern predators whose prey was a real-live Kraaken, a black-skinned monster with a belly filled with nuclear fire, quietly, slowly, drifting in the darkness of abyssal depths, waiting for it’s master to slip the chains of restraint and unleash unspeakable horror upon the world above.
In those days, the crew of the Orion would arrive while she sat cold and silent, hibernating in the sharp air that crackled whiskers and stung the exposed flesh. The first man up the ladder would open the hatch, and with flashlight in hand move forward to the flight station. Almost always he was the Flight Engineer, and it was his job to awaken the plane. Checking the circuit breakers, and following a short list, he would start the APU, the Auxiliary Power Unit. This is a small jet engine mounted behind and beneath the flight station, which powers generators, and provides pressurized air to start the big Allison engines on each wing. It allows the Orion to operate from virtually any airstrip, with no need of extra equipment.
With the APU up and running, the bird starts to come to life. Lights flicker on throughout the fuselage and heaters begin to warm the internal compartment. Outside, the Pilots are doing their walk-around inspection, while the Ordnanceman checks the bomb bay and the internal sonobuoy launch system. While he is doing this, the expendable stores cart arrives with the load of sonobuoys, and the AW’s begin to daisy-chain them aboard. At about 28 pounds each, it takes a bit of time and effort to load the 100 or so aboard by hand, and, despite the cold, sweat begins to form underneath their insulated flight jackets.
As the buoys are being loaded, a fuel truck arrives and one of the crew slips beneath the starboard wing, and unfastens a drop-down panel to expose the fuel management system. He hooks up the fuel line, opens the switches, and monitors the gauges until the tanks are full and balanced. He must be careful not to overpressure the tanks, lest one burst with potentially fatal consequences. The Orion is a thirsty creature, and she will easily down 30,000 pounds of JP-5 in a single session.
Once the stores and fuel are loaded, the tactical crew begin to preflight their stations. Equipment is energized, checklists followed, and everything determined to be ready before a single engine is started. Once the preflight checks are done, the crew gathers together behind the tactical compartment for a final brief. Everyone goes over the mission, the call signs, the area of operation, and reviews all emergency procedures. Nothing is left to chance, everything is reviewed and understood by all. Everyone is held accountable.
When everything that needs to be done is done, then it’s time to go. The ladder is hoisted aboard and locked into it’s stowed position, and the door closed and locked. As the final pieces of gear are stowed, the pilots start the engines. As the big four-bladed props begin to rotate, the soft whine of the Allison jet engines begins, and increases in pitch. The plane shudders slightly when the jet ignites, and spools to it’s operating speed. From port to starboard, the four engines ignite, and the big blades of the propellers align themselves in pitch.
The crew takes their positions, and pull their helmets on, locking the visors into place. Their harness is strapped on and tightened deeply, and their chairs rotated to face aft and locked. One by one, each check in, identifying their station and readiness, as the big Orion taxis to the runway. Approaching the active, the interior lights are extinguished, and darkened ship is observed. Finally the plane turns onto the runway and sets the brakes.
When cleared for takeoff, the Flight Engineer advances the Power Levers, and the massive variable-pitch props bite deeply into the cold air, producing a hurricane of turbulence burbling over the wings and headed aft. The Orion shudders, like a steed in the gate, waiting and gathering energy. Finally, the brakes are released and the plane leaps forward, crewmen being pressed back as their bodies try to catch up with the aircraft’s quick acceleration. She hurtles down the hardened tarmac, rumbling through her frame, lift building under her strong gray wings, and then abruptly rises from the earth. The rumbling stills, and a silence, of sorts, settles over the interior of the plane. Pumps hiss, and there is a bum bump… bump. As the landing gear are retracted and locked, their doors closing beneath them.
The Orion is free now, and in her element. She turns slowly out to sea, through the star-lit night, to that place where the monsters lurk and the dark sea rises to swallow the frost-burnt stars. The Kraaken is out there, and the hunt is on.