The War At Sea!
As our hovercraft slid through the night, I could make out shadows grouped on the horizon. I took another bite of my tomato and let the juice dribble down my chin. It was a little over ripe, making loud squishing noises.
“The blockade fleet,” Seaman Mylar pointed out as he, too, munched unenthusiastically on a tomato. “They’re on constant patrol all through here.” One of the hovercraft crew, Mylar was a fit young man with the bronzed skin and muscular build characteristic of his Maori heritage. Though he told me he had joined up six months ago, just after his eighteenth birthday, I’d have never guessed it; already he spoke with the calm certainty and bore the tomato-stained battle blouse of a veteran. To a man, despite their ages or ranks, the Hovermen showed an emotionless acceptance; other fruits and vegetables had long been left behind. For an army man it’s the Thousand Yard Stare. For these navy files it’s the Twenty Mile Squint.
As I tried to focus my eyes on the vague BGN ships in the distance, I couldn’t help but feel the beginning strain of the Twenty Mile Squint. It was hastened by the remaining hangover I was experiencing after a night playing cards and drinking homebrew Cayton (tomato liquor) with the seamen below decks. I’m still absolutely positive on how I ended up on a hovercraft trying to sneak through the Bad Guy’s blockade with 20 tons of tomatoes and other provisions, and I’m upset about it. It all began two days ago in New Zealand.
The recent skirmishes are the largest naval campaign since the Second World War. The last battles in the 50th Parallel Engagement left both sides frantically attempting to bring their guns to bear, escalating the conflict into what appears now to be something mostly like a war, but with some other bits quite like an amateur basketball game. Neither side seems in possession of a good power forward.
On the 28th of June, after a near-disastrous defeat at Battle of the Bering Sea, Bad Guy Grand Admiral Tsotsigo sent the bulk of his forces steaming south where they joined up with the Third Water Danger Squadron off Argentina. In response Marshal Kreiguerre deployed of the 512th Steam Armor Division and 113th Entertainment Auxiliary to McMurdo Station in order to defend and entertain the Continent of Ice. Coal-laden transports sent to supply the 512th, however, proved to be too fragile to resist damage from the lovesick sperm whales of the Antarctic. With the Good Guy Navy’s closest attack group at least nine days from the Tasman Sea, Tsotsigo saw his chance and surrounded McMurdo Sound with his 9th Task Group in a matter of days, fortifying his airbases in the South Shetland Islands.
As these developments unfolded, I was in New Zealand, on assignment covering the infamous Porridge Festival, which for no apparent reason is held only once ever 38 years. A profanity-filled telegram had me, at my editor’s suggestion, meeting one Tim Friskin at Thatcher’s Tavern, a local bicycle enthusiasts’ favorite. Like every bicycle bar between here and Timbuktu, the place was rife with contrast and semi-pleasing odors.
“The boys have it rough down there,” said Friskin, downing a half a pint of Gi Sum and a quite unhealthy number of black licorice whips. His face displayed some rather dangerous scars and his arms were covered with fake tattoos, one of which pictured a naked woman barely draped in a New Zealand flag with the caption “The Northern Island is superior by far.” “For one,” he continued as he struggled to light a massive cigar “it’s cold as hell. Now don’t tell me that’s an oxymoron, because I don’t care.”
As instructed I ignored his blatantly oxymoronic remark. I wasn’t in the mood for a hearty sack punch this late in the day. “Those Steam Tankers are down to saltines and penguin meat.”He didn’t mention any more about the conditions down at McMurdo Station, though he did go on about a girlfriend, Betty, he had in San Diego. I had seen some photos and after five days the food, coal and other supplies had yet to reach the 512th. One could only imagine their walkers frozen and useless without coal for power and the oil and wiper fluid necessary for maintenance, reminiscent of the photo Tim had shown me of Betty. With a few of his men, Friskin had concocted a plan. Formerly a navy man and freelance sloop pilot, Friskin convinced a number of New Zealand’s many hovercraft crews to run the blockade.
Into the Night: One of the Hovercraft Patrol brings much needed supplies to Antarctica.
There was no other choice before me; I grabbed my camera and hopped aboard. Just after dusk we set out; the wide ocean before us like a sea, only bigger. The stars slowly came out providing the only light apart from the thin red pencil points of the sailors’ smokes. It was here that I first met Mylar and became familiar with the men of the tomato run. The trip had been long, agonizingly long. Landlubbers like myself often fail to recognize the vast distances between landmasses. Water going out endlessly from horizon to horizon. Each day the air got a bit chillier as we moved further toward McMurdo Station. Every hour, day or night, two crewmen stood watch for the blockade fleet, although luckily they never saw us.
Finally, we reached McMurdo Station, offloaded our gear and exchanged a few words with the Americans there. I met First Lieutenant Avery Fox, who told me “These hovercraft are keeping us alive right now. Hopefully the Fleet will reach us soon. I’m sick of waiting for BGN raspberry bombs to hit us and I’m damned tired of tomatoes.” After offering him a cigarette, whereupon he gratefully accepted the whole pack, I asked him how the units’ morale was. “It’s easy for the boys to get down. It’s easy to think you’ve forgotten us, but every time we see the hovercraft, laden with supplies, we know we haven’t been forgotten. We haven’t been forgotten. And we’re gonna show these Bad Guys what we can do. We’re ready to go on the offensive, we’re ready to win this war. We’re ready to move on to victory and we’re ready to throw these tomatoes at the swollen, rotten bodies of the Bad Guys.”
As our hovercraft slips away from the sound, headed back through the blockade to its New Zealand homeports, I take my first taste of salted penguin meat, look back over the Continent of Ice and realize that while times look dark right now, victory will be ours. Then I retch over the side of our hovercraft, disliking my first taste of Southern cuisine. There are men like Mylar, Friskin and Fox who are willing to fight on regardless of the odds or the amenities. Just like them, I’m looking forward to victory. Hopefully it will be soon.
Bottom of the World: The dangerous McMurdo Run.