Shrouds of Grey

It was 1915, and though we weren't in the war yet, the United States and United Kingdom were secretly sending envoys back and forth as we discussed buisness pertaining to the Great War. That's what I was then, in fact it was my first assignment, and to this day those screams haunt my memory, urging me to tell the tale of what happened that day in May all those years ago.

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8. The Beginning of the End


   ~May 7th, 1915; Just before 2 pm

   George strode about the port deck on the topside of the ship as he watched the emerald coast of Ireland come into view. From his vantage he could make out what appeared to be a small cottage with a tower, no, his mind corrected the thought as it processed the faint white structure as that of a small lighthouse. He stood there leaning against the rail as he gazed at the coastline which told him that to his relief his journey was almost over.

   "If I'm right, that's the Old Head of Kinsale," George looked over to see a young man perhaps only a little older than he point out the structure to a young women, a fiance perhaps? 

   "Old Head of Kinsale, huh," George smiled to himself, "Yup, definitely close to the end of this one. I will be so glad once I'm on solid ground again." Moving through a companion way, he mosied over to the other side of the vessel. As he was about to go through the doorway to the deck his partner caught him for a quick chit chat. 

   "Hey now George," he called, "We're almost there, how're you feeling?" 

   "Not too bad, where've you been?" George queried as he noticed the false smile hiding a grimace on his partner's face, "What's wrong Joe, the thought of being in a war zone got you all riled up or something?"

   "Actually yes, it does and more importantly the movement of this ship worries me," he grumbled slightly, "That idiot captain must know about zig-zag maneuver tactics when dealing with submarines and yet the plonker's got his ship sailing in a straight bloody line! It's almost like the idiot wants a sub to find us and sink us."

   "Lusitania's an unarmed cruise ship carrying passengers, I doubt the Germans would torpedo her," George returned in comment. If I only knew then how wrong I was, I would've easily shared Joe's worry but as it was thus far, we seemed like we made it safe and sound with no problem.

   ~May 8th, 1987; 15:45 hrs. 

   The lab sat quiet as the man paused to watch the submersible come to rest on what remained of the shattered stern of the ship. Only the quiet hum of the fans on Bret's laptop broke the otherwise static silence of the room. Quietly from another corner of the room Eugene came in with some coffee on a tray for the three of them.

   "George, there was no way you could've known about the U-boat in the vicinity, the U-20 was last known to be almost twenty miles from the ship's position-"

   "Bad Intel as it were," Eugene cut in as he cautiously wandered into the room, "The Admiralty thought she was proceeding on an Easterly course; they didn't know that she had looped around for a final sweep before heading home." 

   "Still," the elder gentleman sighed as a tear escaped his eye, "If only..."

   "If only what, Mr. Callahan, is there something you're omitting from the story?" Eugene asked as he set down the coffee on a table and drew up a chair to sit in as took a spot beside Bret.

   The elder man only briefly looked at the two youthful men from the corner of his wrinkled and faded face before looking back the ship as she lay like he felt, beaten battered and broken; a shell of his former self. "There are so many things that should've gone differently, so many things... so many 'if onlys.'" 

   "Hindsight," Bret blurted out in a low mutter, "It always gets us in the end when all has occurred and can no longer be changed, only then do we see what could've been different if only... if only things had occurred in a different light, regret almost for the things we can't change but want so bad to change... am I correct?"

   "Painfully so," Mr. Callahan sighed, "If only we'd sailed around the north of Ireland, through the route set up for when U-boats were reported in the area we so blindly sailed into; if Turner had taken the proper precautions and zig-zagged the ship as according to anti-submarine tactics..."

   "If he had only done evacuation drills before leaving port," Eugene again cut in as he drank from his coffee, "Perhaps the evacuation would've gone better, smoother and maybe more lives would've been saved." 

   "Perhaps," Mr. Callahan mumbled as he returned to the screen, "Perhaps some, but never all... never all."

   ~May 7th, 1915; 2:05 pm

   Having said goodbye to Joe I remember wandering out on deck for a stroll to clear my now heavy mind. It was a clear day, perhaps the clearest day George had seen in a long time as he approached the forward end end of the upper boat deck. As he strode forth he heard a commotion from behind and turned to see a small crowd of fellow passengers gathering at the railing and looking out at the water at something.

   "What the devil!?" one of the men called, "Is that a torpedo!?"

   "My god!" someone else cried, "It is, the Germans aim to sink us!" At that comment, George raced forward to the opening between two of the lifeboat davits to get a look at the water. To his horror he could see the streak in the water, a wake with no surface source and then he caught a glimpse of the shining steel tube in the water that propelled a harbinger of death straight towards them.

   "Son of a bi-" there was an explosion as the torpedo hit, sending water rocketing into the air, followed shortly by a second, more powerful blast that knocked George up against the the outer bulkhead of the ship's superstructure where he fell limp and blacked out briefly; it was 2:10 pm.

   "George! George, wake up!" the voice was minorly gruff, sounded like Joe almost as he found himself wandering in a haze, slowly replaced by a stinging sensation which grew progressively worse until he came to and found Joe Slapping him. "I said wake up!"

   "Alright, alright!" he yelled, "I'm up. Now why are you- augh, my head... what the hell?" He felt his skull and found a patch of warmth and stickiness as he pulled his hand away he discovered blood and became chilled to the bone as he froze up in terror. Seeing his inherent terror, Joe tugged him to his feet and examined his skull.

   "Nothing but a minor scrape, you'll live kid," he smirked, "Now then, in case that nap of yours screwed up anything, let me catch you up to speed, about four minutes ago we were torpedoed. As you can tell, the ship has already taken on a shit load of water as we're listing to starboard by a good few degrees."

   "Shit, that means we're sinking then, doesn't it?" George quickly snapped to the reality of the situation, "Wait, the ship's got watertight bulkheads, right? Has Turner sealed them?"

   "Most likely, he's also got the ship plowing full speed towards the Irish coastline with aims to beach her on the shore," he paused to look at the rushing crowds and the ailing list of the ship, "I doubt she'll make it to shore though," his remark came in a low whisper as the thought sank in; they were going to sink and people were most likely going to die.

   "Joe, the case in the cabin," George suddenly remembered as he stumbled against the list towards the open doorway inside. He began to semi run-stumble through the ship as he raced towards the stairwell and down into the ship's interior as he tried to race against the clock to get the case in time as it was the key to their mission and he wasn't going to fail his first mission as an agent. 

   "That damn kid's gonna get himself killed," Joe grumbled as he raced after him into the ship, "This is the beginning of the end, and we're playing a dangerous game of life and death now... I hope to Hell we don't lose."

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