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.


10. The Final Moments and Aftermath

   ~May 8th, 1987; 16:32hrs

   It was some time before the group of three regroup within the confines of the empty lab to continue the tragic tale that was quickly unwinding before the two scientists and would be historians. The sun was beginning to set into it's first stage of descent as the Celtic Explorer set about on it's final sweep before recovering the Rovs and the Sea Robin for the final time as it had gone down there twice now. Meanwhile, in the case of the three gentlemen, they had finally returned to the lab and taken up their original spots as if they were in a scene of a play they had rehearsed many times.

   "So we've gotten up to you jumping in after Joe and getting to the boat," Bret spoke up as they returned to their positions and Eugene poured a second round of coffee which he prepared as iced coffee as it stood now chilled to room temperature.

   "Mr. Callahan, would you care for some iced coffee?" Eugene asked as he poured himself a cup. The elderly man eyed him with anticipation and nodded with a distinct grin of contentment. 

   "I wasn't aware Englishmen were adept to such things, they weren't in 1915 for sure," He laughed again but this time softly so as not to aggravate his lungs. "That aside, I suppose we should get back to what we were discussing I suppose."

   Only if you're ready, Mr. Callahan," Eugene answered as he handed the elder man his cup of refreshment. Quickly he moved back to and sat down beside Bret who sat with the laptop at the ready.

   "Son," he answered, "I'm as ready as I'll ever be so let's go," he sat back and and closed his eyes which twitched nervously as if they were watching a film that disturbed them. The images played back in his mind as the memory once more flooded back into his conscious thought. "The water was icy cold, even for early May, it was bloody cold."

   ~May 7th, 1915

   He swam frantically the moment he hit the water with a hard, almost bone breaking splashdown. His body almost immediately spasmed as the feel of the turbulent icy water slammed against his skin. The shock made him want to gasp for breath but he forced him to keep it shut for he knew that should he open his mouth, it would not be air he swallowed. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, he broke the surface of the churning sea. The sting of salt on his eyes were fierce but he forced them open anyways in an attempt to locate Joe and the floundering lifeboat. 

   "Where'd you go?" He thought to himself as he frantically searched, "C'mon Joe, I know you saw me jump, now where in the Hell are you!?" The suction of the sinking ship tugged on him which instinctively he began to furiously kick and stroke to maintain position as he searched for his partner and lifeboat. "JOE!" He screamed at the the top of his lungs "JOE, WHERE ARE YOU!?"

   "Over here!" a voice called out finally, "Follow my voice if ye can!" As his partner began to bellow for his partner, George began to swim towards the source, his damaged shoulder aching and his body feeling like lead as swam along trying to avoid the mighty suction of the steel leviathan as it died a most unseemly death.

   "George, I see you now!" Joe called from somewhere close, "George! Glad to see you made your choice." He came from behind, a rope draped over his shoulder. "C'mon, follow this ropen with me and we'll get to the boat."

   "R-right," George shivered slightly as he began to swim along the rope. The temperature of the water was beginning to catch up to him as he kept going along the rope which seemed to never end. "Ah, this is tougher than I'd thought it be."

   "Just keep goin'," Joe spat water from his mouth as he cam up from behind, "Don't think about the pain or numbness. Just keep goin'." The water was biting cold and with every stroke George felt more and more exhausted and having a damaged shoulder didn't help any either. Finally after what seemed like forever they reached the boat which had begun to pick up a few other jumpers here and there.

   "Give me your hand son," a gentleman in a brown overcoat called as he stretched out his hand, pulling George aboard with one good heave. Next the man and a younger boy of no more than perhaps fourteen pulled Joe in much to the discomfort of the others in the boat as pulling him in caused an unpleasant rocking of the already unbalanced craft. 

   "Can you row?" One of the other asked us, "We need some strong rowers as we've been struggling to stay clear of the ship's suction." Almost immediately the two men sat down and grabbed an oar with another boat goer with them they soon had the six other rowers following a strict pattern of 'ready, stroke' as gradually the boat broke free of the suction of the sinking Lusitania

   "My god," George whispered as he watched the once majestic vessel shudder as it seemed to finally level out. With one last expulsion of black smoke from the stacks the ship's engines finally died as the screw slowed in their once violent churning of the water. "God I hope someone's coming to get us as there's no way with the boats that made it that we have enough room for everyone." 

   "George," Joe's voice came as a distant mumble, "It's war, nobody comes out the same, and some... never make it out. It's part of the life we live in..." The thought revolted George and for the longest time as we watched the ship slide beneath the waves he envisioned a slew of rescue ships on the horizon but in reality, none were there. It wasn't however until the ship went under and an enormous bubble of gases and air escaping from the ship broke the surface with a minor rumble of that of far off artillery that it finally sank in to him.

   "So many people... so many are going to die," he began to breakdown a little, "And there's nothing I can do... to help them..." He fought back the tears but his body shook violently the whole time as their boat picked up a few more survivors and than tried to gather up with the other boats that were launched successfully which were far and few between. 

   The cries of agony and torment that surrounded them were unbearable, even worse was the eventual die off and silence that followed. It was a painful symphony to be induced to, the sound of people drowning and freezing was of the most lamentable sounds ever heard by human ears.

   Eventually a few craft from the Nearby Irish towns began to show up, mostly trawlers and fishing boats as they dredged the wreckage for any potential survivors to which there were almost none to be found. Those that were pulled from the water, about a quarter of them died on the way to shore from exposure and some more in the hospitals from complications. The row to shore was horrible and quiet, the only noise being the casual crowing of seagulls above and the gentle roar of the sea around them as they neared shore.

   ~May 8th, 1987; 17:15hrs

   There was a solemn feeling in the air as no one spoke having heard the last bit of the tale. The sorrow was evident on everyone's face in some way; Mr. Callahan sat in his wheelchair with tears streaming down his old and wrinkled face while Eugene held his face in his hands and tried to imagine the sheer amount of pain one event could have on a person whilst trying to avoid shedding a tear. Bret sat there, staring blankly into space as a feeling of dread and remorse swept over him like a wave on the seashore in summer as one lay in the sand.

   The images played back on the monitor of the ship as she lay now, broken on the bottom which seemed to personify how everyone in the room felt at the time as even after ten minutes passed the suffocating silence held firm until Bret finally gathered the courage to speak once more.

   "That's just... You read the statistics in the books, you watch animations on the documentaries but this..." he spoke with reproach, "this just hits you like nothing else can, Christ to think of the sheer horror of being there... my god."

   "Aye, it was terrible then and even now, it feels like it was only yesterday I staggered ashore with a boat of other survivors," Mr. Callahan murmured quietly as he tried to wipe away the tears with his handkerchief. 

   "1,959 people went into the water that day... and only 764 came out," Bret spoke as he wiped his face with his hand in exasperation, "That's a tragedy if I ever saw one, and to think 128 of the dead were innocent Americans which weren't even involved with the war either... my god."

   "Well if you'd paid attention to my story then I'm sure someone would beg to differ," Mr. Callahan sighed as he turned away from the monitor, "Joe and I being there sort of means the US was involved, just not well... officially."

   "Espionage is a tricky business I guess," Eugen finally spoke as he stood up and stretched. "I believe we've had enough for today, who's up for dinner?"

   "Dinner sounds lovely," Mr. Callahan mused as Eugene got behind him and carted him off. Bret was left alone as he stared at the pale lit screen of his laptop as he read over the conversation and side notes. The thought of publishing the material ran through his head though he began to weigh the consequences of his actions on what would happen if he did or not.

   "It's almost infuriating though," he spoke to himself, "Imagine all that work that no one knew of, all the spies that crossed into and out of our borders conducting various businesses for their respective countries, all hidden behind these... Shrouds of Grey... the Fog of War is an impressive force indeed as it would seem." As he put down the laptop and went off to join the others the thoughts of the aftermath of the disaster bounced around in his skull.

   The Lusitania had been sailing with various materials listed on her manifest that though could be seen as materials for war were, in terms of the Cruiser Rules allowed at the time, however by painting out her stacks and flying no flags she was in violation of the rules as appearing as an unmarked vessel could be seen as an act of treachery on behalf of the British. By this time in the war the Lusitania was also listed as an Auxiliary Cruiser and thus a target of war. The path she sailed was a straight line which, in war zones ships should adapt to and adhere a strict course of zig-zagging or "tacting" to avoid submarines prowling the shipping lanes, of which, Captain Turner of the Lusitania took no such actions. The debate went on for months after the disaster to which the Germans put out a final doctrine to never again target cruise liners as long as they adhere strictly to the Cruiser Rules.

   In the United States, uproar over the 128 Americans killed in the disaster shook the Congress deeply especially with the loss of the author Elbert Hubbard and his wife who were last reported as returning to their cabin presumably having accepted their fate. However, with such deep dissention within about the possibility of secret negotiations leaking out and still a deep sense of Isolationism with the American People the event was pretty much swept under the rug which upset Bret as he thought about it. That was the aftermath of the disaster in the eyes of many, and what a cruel aftermath and lesson learned was it, even now it stung him as he thought about those final moments and the aftermath.




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