"What the hell is a Somalia?" (A Titanic ISOT)—Story Only

April 14, 1912—11:30 AM, North Atlantic

RMS Titanic First Officer William Murdoch felt fear as icy as the obstacle that now threatened his ship strangling him like a great sea serpent. “Hard-a-starboard,” he barked to the helmsman. “Hard-a-starboard, aye,” the man affirmed, spinning the great wooden wheel that governed the ship’s bearing. Murdoch leaped to the engine telegraph and signaled “Full Astern” to the engine room. He looked desperately at the white mountain he could just begin to see emerging out of the darkness. Would it be enough? He watched the iceberg grow closer and closer, and knew with growing dread that it would not. They would strike it. He watched as the prow of the Ship of Dreams loomed over it, waited for the shudder…and then opened his eyes even wider in astonishment. The ship had somehow simply stopped. Murdoch was an experienced seaman. He knew that ships did not go suddenly from speed to inertia. As he tried to understand how such a phenomenon had occurred, he became conscious of a growing, dawn-like golden light on the horizon and a great beating noise from up above. Turning his eyes skyward, he saw a sight he could not place in any logical context. A massive black bat the size of a zeppelin was flapping its wings slowly above and looking down as the light grew brighter. But something was off…it wore a clear glass bubble around its head that seamlessly flowed into an all-encompassing white suit. The rig looked vaguely similar to fanciful cartoon depictions of moon men Murdoch had seen as a child. The last thing he saw before the light became too bright to bear and he closed his eyes was the unearthly creature’s wide grin. He heard a great voice boom, “Have fun in the future, lads!” before he felt a great rush of wind and the deck fell away beneath his feet.

April 8th, 2009—1:00, 200 Miles Off the Coast Of Somalia

Good God this sucks, thought Abduwali Muse as his skiff bounced like a superball on the wake of the merchant ship he was chasing in his skiff. He was getting seasick and his ass hurt bad from all this time in a small boat bobbing up and down. The shithead skippering the other boat had waved off in response to an obviously fake radio message in which some English speaker on the blue container vessel had tried his valiant best to pretend air support was about to arrive and said they were readying their guns for immediate action. Idiot. Muse had been in this game for a long time. He knew full well that western merchant ships didn’t carry guns and that help from the international naval force that lurked off Somalia’s shores wouldn’t arrive that quickly. But the other guy had decided to leave him and his three guys in the lurch to bring down and control this huge beast and its dozens of crew and get it to shore. Whatever. He’d do this himself. More ransom pay him and his crew. Muse sharpened his khat enhanced focus on his prey. The ship was a formidable target. It was lumbering away as fast as it could and dozens of high pressure water cannons were spaced equidistantly along the deck rails to capsize any raider’s boat it came too close. Muse’s eyes probed for an attack angle, a vulnerability that could be exploited, and then closed almost involuntarily as a blinding flash of light scorched his retinas. He kept his eyes closed for a few seconds after it subsided and then noticed a very odd sensation: frigid cold. It was as if he had somehow motored into a bubble in which the temperature had dropped twenty degrees in seconds. He curiously opened his eyes and looked around. What he saw boggled his mind. A graceful, four funnel steamer was sailing gracefully a quarter mile away on a parallel course to his quarry, the container vessel. A plume of black smoke, fading to brown as it dissipated more and the sunlight came through, gracefully trailed above and behind her black iron hull that faded to a superstructure and gunwales trimmed in white. Muse looked at the sight in pure confusion. What the actual fuck? How did that get there? His initial laser like, drugged focus on that blue whale of a freighter dissipated in a haze of befuddlement. One second…then another…how…Was something badly wrong with this khat, maybe? He looked at his three fellow pirates. Nour Najee, Walid Elmi, and Adan Bilal looked every bit as flabbergasted as he did. “Guys,” yelled Elmi cautiously over the engines, “Do you see it too?” Muse held up a hand. “Tell me what you see first!”, he yelled back. “An old ship, four smokestacks, like the one Leonardo DiCaprio was on,” yelled Najee impulsively. Elmi and Bilal nodded furiously. OK. That settled it. The ship was real. No way they were all having the exact same collective hallucination. “Uh…guys!”, yelled Bilal, the young rookie of the lot. The skiff drifted off course and the container ship began to gain distance. Muse thought quickly as the others shouted at him. He needed to make a decision. It came easily. He could see it was a passenger ship. There was no visible cargo. It had portholes. No firehoses spewed white streams from its promenade decks and railings. And it would clearly have more people than the container ship. Unlike pirates of a bygone age, Somali pirates did not look to plunder cargo, at least not primarily. Their wealth grew from hostages and the insurance money that would be paid for them. Accordingly, they looked to maximize the amount of people they could kidnap. A passenger ship would clearly have more.

But Abduwali Muse instantly felt something was off. Why would a passenger ship that could be a hundred be traveling here, completely alone, with no one around? What company would allow something so reckless? Then he felt a blast of panic. Could it be a bait for pirates? A trap like those old Q-ships, designed to draw people like him in and then blast them with cannons hidden beneath fake deck mounts? Did those staterooms not hold wealthy white vacationers but squads of armed men? But even as he thought it he quickly realized it didn’t change the calculus. If that thing was a fighting ship of some sort he was already dead. Still in the water with nothing between his boat and them and no hostages to use as shields he would be smoked either way. Better to take the chance it was a real target. If it wasn’t he would be dead anyway. “Ok boys!”, he howled over the twin engines of the boat. “Change of plan!” His crew howled their affirmation.

April 8th, 2009—1:05, 200 Miles Off the Coast Of Somalia, Maersk Alabama Bridge

Captain Richard Phillips was looking off his bridge in wonderment, which was quickly becoming a very common emotion in a certain grid square of the Indian Ocean. He looked through his binoculars at a relic of a bygone era that had somehow apparated beside his own command. He watched the skiff pull away and turned to his First Officer, Shane Murphy. “So…uh…I guess that just happened,” he stuttered unintelligently. Murphy didn’t look any less vapor locked than he did. They both turned towards the other ship and looked again through their binoculars. Phillips’s eyes swept towards her bow, looking for the name of the vessel. That can’t be. “The Titanic?!” both men said in thunderstruck unison. They each grew slightly worried expressions as both men doubted their sanity. “Did any of those projects to build a Titanic Two ever get off the ground?”, Phillips asked his second in command. “Not that I know of,” Shane Murphy replied. There was silence on the bridge of the ship, every crew member still there looking incredulous. Phillips spoke first. “Somewhere at the bottom of all this there is a logical explanation, and we will find out what it is eventually. Right now, it looks like those fucking assholes are going after them instead. Radio it in to London and tell them what’s going on.”

April 8th, 2009—1:05, 200 Miles Off the Coast Of Somalia, RMS Titanic Bridge

William Murdoch slowly flexed his hands and fingers, feeling the blood flow, taking in the input of his senses. He appeared to be alive and not in a dream. That was…this current situation was so outlandish that it seemed to transcend the parameters of being either bad or good. It just was. “Well I’ll be goddamned,” he muttered to himself. Murdoch slowly turned to the helmsman, another solid Scottish seaman named Robert Hichens. “Helm…” he trailed off. Hichens looked as bug-eyed as he did at the instant transformation of the night to day, of their circumstances, and of the temperature. Whereas Murdoch had shivered in his blue peacoat moments ago, now he felt very overdressed. This was almost tropical! Just then the distinguished whiskered face of Captain Edward James Smith stumbled onto the bridge. Murdoch groaned internally when he saw that red, urgent, desperate quality to the captain’s face. If a master had that look on him then shite was about to roll downhill. “Officer of the Deck, report”, he snapped. It was the only time since the HMS Hawke collision Murdoch had ever seen the older man look flustered. “Sir, I can only guess you want to know what the bloody hell just happened, pardon my language sir. I wish I had the slightest idea myself.”

April 8th, 2009—1:10, 200 Miles Off the Coast Of Somalia

Muse almost cackled in disbelief. What ship would sail in this part of the world so undefended? By Allah’s holy name, they deserved to be captured! The men were now directly alongside the passenger liner and had hoisted their hooked ladder up, catching the railing just aft of the Titanic’s forecastle deck where it was somewhat lower and close to the bridge. The four men climbed up and over the rail, AK-47s at the ready. The decks were devoid of passengers for some reason Muse could only guess at. Didn’t fancy Americans or whoever lounged on these things like to tan their pale skin lounging on the decks? Oh well, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. No panicked people to sort through. That was nice. Now to find their way to the bridge. The lanky Somalians swept the decks for hostile presences. There were none down here. They quickly scrambled inside through a completely unsecured door and found themselves in a long corridor paneled in white wood and gold furnishings. They scrambled up a staircase, then another, then another. Finally, being able to look straight up at the sky, Muse knew they were on the top deck. He crept quietly forward towards what he knew was the bridge. “Get ready brothers,” he whispered. They smiled back in apprehensive excitement. “Go!” he yelled. They burst in through the side, waving their guns and yelling at everyone to get down. Shocked figures in neat blue uniforms trimmed in gold braid greeted them.

April 8th, 2009—1:10, 200 Miles Off the Coast Of Somalia

Murdoch and his superior were having a spirited argument, each vocalizing their complete disorientation and talking loudly past the other. “Mr. Murdoch, perhaps it is customary for the sun to blaze at midnight in Scotland, but I am not familiar with it occurring in any other area of this planet!”, cried Captain Smith. “Sir, what has occurred here is completely beyond my ability to explain…”, began Murdoch. “Well, given that you are the Officer of the Deck and hold the power of life and death over my ship while I am away and that this all happened while you held it, I suggest you come up with an explanation *right* quickly! And what is that…that thing I am looking at outside?!” To a man raised on the distinguished paddle steamers and sleek Atlantic greyhounds of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the massive blue bulk of the Maersk Alabama did not even resemble a vessel so much as some alien object. Murdoch tried again. “Sir, with all due respect…” And then for the who knew which time that day all hell broke loose all over again. Four negro men in loose khaki pants and shorts tore onto the bridge, screaming in an exotic language the First Officer could not fathom and waving rifles unlike any he had ever seen. This latest assault on his senses made Murdoch blow up. “Now just what the bloody hell do you bastards think you’re doing up here?!”, he roared back, reverting in anger and bewilderment to the language of a common seaman. His words seemed to have some effect. One of the men chattered to the others in their strange tongue to be silent, or so he guessed since they calmed some. The man cautiously moved closer to him. “You the captain?”, he queried. Murdoch hesitated. He could not claim that title, but neither did he want to draw the attention of these brigands to the older and frailer man who it belonged to. Smith, however, spoke up. “No, I am,” he snapped. “And who exactly are you.”

The skinny black man took several steps closer to him, that strange rifle with the curving metal object in the bottom held at hip height.

“Look at me,” he said. “I am the captain now.”

April 8th, 2009—1:15, 200 Miles Off the Coast Of Somalia, RMS Titanic Bridge

Abduwali Muse sized up the man he was speaking to. On some level, he was impressed. The man had bearing and he had gravitas. His immaculately pressed uniform, ramrod posture distinguished white beard and hair, and lack of any apparent fear was classic ideal of a ship captain. “What is your name?”, Muse asked in accented English. “You may address me as Captain Smith,” the old man growled back. Muse laughed, showing teeth stained orange and black like a jack-o-lantern from the khat he chewed. “You got balls. I give you that. But a ship only has one captain, right? That’s me. So from now on, you English. I like that better.” The pirates chuckled and Muse continued. “What is this ship?” Smith turned red at the impudence of this…this…this damn kaffir! “This is the Royal Mail Steamer Titanic and I remind you, boy, that piracy is a felony offense punishable by hanging!” Muse’s demeanor changed. He stepped forward and pressed the muzzle of his AK into Smith’s lower abdomen. “You think I am stupid? You think all this is a joke? I know Titanic. It sank a hundred years ago. And you call me captain. No disrespect!” Smith’s stiff upper lip held but he became a little less aggressive. This black scoundrel did have him and his officers at gunpoint. “Well, captain,” said Smith, layering the title with the unique, dripping contempt only a British accent could achieve, “I think you must be thinking of a different Titanic, because since you and I are standing on it with daylight pouring in I am fairly certain is has not sunk.” Muse snapped the hard point of his muzzle into Smith’s solar plexus, causing his frame to contract slightly as he tried to catch breath. “No lying! WHAT IS THE NAME OF THIS SHIP!” Murdoch pushed Smith back and stepped in front, exciting the other pirates, who began waving their guns and yelling in their language. “Kill this infidel to make the point!” roared Nour Najee, the thickheaded muscle of the crew. “No you idiot!” Bilal, the youngest, yelled back. “We need them alive for ransom!” “Quiet!” screamed Muse. Murdoch broke into the pirates’ argument. “We are the Titanic! Look at the stationary”, he said, grabbing a notepad out of his pocket. “Look at the life preservers! Look over the edge at what’s stenciled on either side of the bow!” Abduwali Muse looked at the notepad Murdoch was shoving under his nose. It did say “White Star Line” and “RMS Titanic”, and it had an embossment that was clearly the ship’s profile. “Our company logo and the ship’s name are on everything all over the place! Look, for the love of Christ!”, Murdoch pleaded in his thick Scottish brogue. Muse paused. Like many others in the third world he was familiar with James Cameron's 1997 blockbuster movie, and this ship really did look very much like it. And now that he remembered, he thought he had seen a life preserver with “RMS Titanic” stenciled around its ring in thick black letters on his way up, he just hadn’t quite taken it in. Something was clearly getting lost in translation, some subtlety his English was not good enough to pick up. Whatever. They’d sort it out later. Maybe this was some nutty western theme park at sea.

“Alright,” said Muse. “You want to be Titanic, you can be Titanic. I don’t really care. All I want is the money. Turn this ship around and take it to Somalia.” Hichens, the helmsman, had been watching all of this bug-eyed from his post, hands still in a death grip on the ship’s wheel. The black man calling himself captain had given a navigational order, and somehow that cut through his trance. “What the hell is a Somalia?” he blurted out. Muse walked over to him, motioning to the other three to keep their guns on the Titanic’s officers. “You know, Somalia?” he said. “The country you’re passing by to the west? Turn ship that way.” It was all gibberish to Hichens. For all he knew a Somalia could be an African garment, delicacy, or jungle tribal leader’s title. But he understood one word. Their hijacker wanted him to turn west. He looked at the officers in pale silence, a vein pulsing in his forehead. “We’re not going anywhere with you, you bastard!” Smith yelled in red-faced anger. “Now get off my ship and go back to the jungle before…” Najee shot out every window on the front of the bridge with a mighty blast from his AK, firing for several seconds until every round was gone. Glass flew and sparkled in the Indian Ocean sun as it landed many decks below. He reloaded while visibly seething, the drugs making his eyes bulge and his breathing fast and shallow. “Stop it you idiot!” yelled Muse in Somali, whose eardrums had been just about blown out and who had been scared out of his wits by the outburst. “We need them to drive the fucking ship!” He turned around and decked the English sea captain hard in the face, feeling the man’s nose break (and a lot of pain in his own knuckles to boot). “Do I need to fuck kill someone before you get it! I’m the captain! You do as I say! TURN WEST!” Streaks of scarlet blood now clashing with his silver whiskers, Smith’s composure finally broke a bit. It was clear the man was serious, and he didn’t have many cards to play. For now. He turned to Quartermaster Hichens. “Alright,” he said. “Do as he tells you. West, dead slow”, he ordered, hoping the kaffir wouldn’t know enough to realize that although he was complying with the specified bearing he was dragging his feet as much as he could while doing it. “You go full speed!” snapped Muse. Spying the engine telegraph, he examined what was written on it. It had a very simple layout, being divided hemispherically into portions labeled “astern” and “ahead”, with various measures of speed from stop to full specified. Muse threw the indicator to the “full ahead” position himself. Feeling his heart sink, Smith’s thoughts raced, trying to find a way out of this predicament he now found his vessel in.

April 8th, 2009—1:25, 200 Miles Off the Coast Of Somalia, RMS Titanic Crow’s Nest

Reginald Lee and Frederick Fleet lay crouched on the metal floor of their position in the ship’s crow’s nest, each turned circular to fit in the cramped space. Both were on the edge of panic. As if the complete shock of the night being turned into glorious day were not enough, they had now been shot at and shot. Lee lay at the bottom of their post, stifling groans from a very unlucky ricochet that had made a wide, shallow impact on his ribcage. A brilliant stain of crimson lay on his uniform tunic beneath which the white of shattered ribs and the pink of torn flesh was visible. All that kept Reggie from screaming at the top of his lungs was the knowledge that something very, very deadly was aft of them, and he figured it would be a very bad idea to let the bastards know they were still alive. Fred Fleet was examining the mess and trying to cover it with torn strips of his own overcoat, now quite unneeded in the heat of this very unexpected daylight. “It looks right nasty but you won’t die,” hissed Fleet in a voice that belied his own panic. “There’s nothing spurtin’ or anything so the blood loss won’t get you, and it didn’t go deep enough to hit any organs. You’ll be back to your vigorously unpleasant self in no time.” The ministrations of Fleet’s rough seaman hands were none too tender and he pushed hard on some bone splinters as he tried to dry the wound, forcing Lee to suppress a mighty howl of pain. “That’ll be quite enough thank you very much, now sod off,” he hissed balefully at the other seaman. “I’m just trying to bleedin’ help,” Fleet yelped back. “Fine. Then why don’t you tell me what the hell is going on out there?” asked Lee, closing his eyes as a wave of pain dazed him. Fleet began to poke his head up very cautiously. “Not with your cap on, dummy,” Lee snapped. Fleet sheepishly laid it beside him and peeked above, looking around aft. He immediately noticed the shattered glass on the bridge, followed by the black men with rifles yelling at the officers. “There’s a few blacks with rifles on the bridge. So that’s where that came from. Looks like they’re trying to take over.” “Well how the hell did they get there?” demanded Lee. Fleet just looked at him. “Ok, you don’t know either. Silly Reggie I guess. Well, one of us has got to climb down from our perch and go for help and I’m thinking it’s not going to be me.” Fleet nodded grimly and narrowed his eyes. “Right then, see you later.” Fleet turned to the oval hole in the mast where the ladder down was located. But then something struck him. “Where do you think I should go when I get down? The bridge is taken over, and that’s most of the officers.” Lee furrowed his brow for a moment, then spoke. “Lightoller,” he said. “I think he was on watch right before it changed, so he’ll be in his cabin. Go find him and tell him what’s going on.” Fred Fleet nodded. “Ok. Goodbye for real this time.”

Fleet took a deep breath, stepped onto the ladder, and began scampering downward. After several minutes, he stepped out of the bottom of the mast on D Deck in the forward crew spaces, bent over and breathing heavily from the speed of his journey. He wracked his brain to try and find the quickest way to officer country. With the pirates being able to take the whole bow of the ship under fire, that left making his way along D deck through the First Class areas. He paused for a moment, reflexively thinking he couldn’t very well do that; average seamen couldn’t go into First Class areas uninvited, only properly attired stewards and valets could. Then he chuckled. The sun was rising at midnight and pirates had taken over his ship. Lord knew he had bigger worries than some toffee-nosed twit complaining to an officer that a lowly commoner had invaded his pristine personal space!

Fleet took off at a dead run, moving through the 3rd Class Lounge. A couple wops sleep would not come for paused from gesturing to each other to watch him move through their space, cigarettes dangling from their mouths. He kept on, heading to the crew-only access hatch used by the stewards to move about this part of the ship. Fleet found it and after a minute found himself in the wealthy part of the ship, running down a long hallway covered in plush dark carpeting and lit by soft golden light. At this hour it was deserted. Despite the harsh mid-day sun outside it was an hour and a half after midnight on the internal clocks of the Titanic’s crew and passengers and nearly all were still in their beds. As he neared the end of the corridor one male passenger came out in a paisley bathrobe and quizzically looked around. Perhaps someone who had seen the daylight streaming in through his porthole and felt something was off. He held up a hand, perhaps to query Fleet, who shot past, bellowing a, “Sorry, pressing business, sir!” over his shoulder. After a minute more of searching, he finally found the staircase he was looking for. Several minutes after that, he had made it to B Deck and was running along an open promenade deck covered in White Star lounge furniture that gave the ship’s wealthiest passengers a good view of the endless blue sea. Let’s see…Officer country is up on the very top, on the Boat Deck…there we are! Finally finding the last unobtrusive staircase upwards, Fleet arrived a minute later at the outside door of the officer staterooms gasping for air with his blue sailor suit dark with sweat. He stumbled inside and started looking for his final destination. With tremendous relief he finally saw the door with the words Charles Lightoller, Second Officer stenciled upon it. He ran up to it and began banging with both fists. “Sir, we’ve got an emergency sir!” he yelled. After about ten seconds and some thumping, a barefoot Lightoller opened the door in white pajamas with narrow, bleary eyes. “Yes, sailor?” he asked in a thoroughly threatening tone. “Sir begging to report, pirates have taken the bridge and the officers and shot Reggie Lee!” Lightoller cocked his head and gave him a look somewhere between nonplussed and concerned. “Son, we’re in the middle of the North Atlantic, and it’s the year 1912, not 1712. I highly doubt we have been boarded by pirates.” Fleet gestured to the blood he still had on his clothes from dressing poor Reggie’s wounds. “Sir, they shot the other lookout in the crow’s nest; he’s still up there wounded! You didn’t hear that great bloody burst of gunfire ten minutes ago?!” Lightoller paused. He had heard what his ear thought a sort of cracking, even thought of checking it out before end of the shift exhaustion won out, but…for that to be gunfire, it’d have to be a Maxim gun, for what else could fire in such a regular steady stream? And how would the pirates be able to board with such a great, heavy, unwieldy thing and the ponderous weight of the ammunition and tripods. Ah well. Either way he supposed he had better go check it out. Probably just some sort of disturbance and a sailor with an overactive imagination, though he couldn’t explain how the lookout might have come to be wounded. He said, “Wait a moment” and shut the door. He emerged moments later dressed in trousers and a coat over his nightwear and gestured for Fleet to follow him towards the bridge. Then he paused. “Alright,” he said, “If there is a disturbance maybe best to bring a gun of some sort just in case order needs to be reestablished.” Maybe some drunk with a gun he had brought aboard that he had accidentally discharged and the sailor had mistaken all this somehow? He tried to remember where they had put the shooting irons on board. Ah yes, in Murdoch’s cabin. He had never thought he’d need to get one of the things, considering them completely superfluous, but he stepped towards Murdoch’s door. “Let’s arm ourselves,” he said. He stepped into the First Officer’s tidy quarters and removed a heavy gray Webley Mk IV .455 revolver, sidearm of standard issue throughout the British Empire. He looked at the anxious young seaman standing outside his door. “Can you handle a gun, son?” Fleet had never shot one before but he figured he’d better. “Yes sir, I’ll be fine,” he said. Lightoller handed him another and pecked out a dozen rounds. “Alright, we should be fine,” he said. “Off with us, then.”

April 8th, 2009—1:25, 200 Miles Off the Coast Of Somalia, Maersk Alabama Bridge

“London, I’m telling you that’s what happened! They just split off and hit that other ship!” The watch officer on the other end replied, “You didn’t mention anything about any other ship in your initial distress call, captain.” Phillips replied, “It just appeared! There wasn’t anything to report when I first called!” Far away the controller in the piracy crisis center rolled her eyes. Not the brightest bulb in the bag this guy, she thought. Sails at half the distance he should be from Somalia, all alone, and forgets the minor detail of an ocean liner being right next to him when he makes the call! “Sir, can you identify the other vessel?” she tried. “Uh…not at this time,” stammered Phillips. “Sorry.” That was a lie. He could make out the lettering clear as day on her side through his binoculars but he could already this lady thought he was a hammerhead. Telling her the RMS Titanic had apparently decided it had rested long enough and decided to start sailing the seas again might just make her hang up on him. “I can describe it, though,” he lamely volunteered. “Alright, do that,” replied the voice on the other end. “She’s got four tall funnels, about a thousand feet long, black hull, white superstructure. She’s producing a lot of smoke, a lot more than I think is allowed. That’s the other thing. Maybe the pirates damaged her somehow?” Even the controller heard what happened next. Gunfire carries a strikingly long way. “London, London, shots fired!” screamed Phillips into the radio. “They’re firing…” “Roger Alabama,” replied London. “We read you. Sending assistance now.” Weird as this all was, something was definitely going on out there, the woman thought. She picked up another phone and made her next call.

April 8th, 2009—1:45, USS Bainbridge

Commander Frank Castellano read the encrypted telex and then handed it to his navigation officer. “Proceed to these coordinates at full,” he ordered. Then he made his way to the 1MC. “Crew, this is your captain speaking. We’ve received word of a possible hijacking of a cruise ship and a threat to another ship nearby. We are on our way to the location of all this now. Keep your heads up and do your jobs like you’ve practiced. Let’s get these people home.” He hung up and told the XO, “Get the ScanEagle up. We need eyes on all this.”

“Proceeding to coordinates at full,” called the navigator.

April 8th, 2009—1:35, 200 Miles Off the Coast Of Somalia, RMS Titanic Bridge

Lightoller strode down the boat deck towards the bridge, shiny black corframs striking the pine of the deck. He thought quickly as he walked. The Titanic’s Second Officer had both great strengths and great weaknesses. Extremely bold, headstrong, intense, and well-spoken, he had tremendous charisma and capacity for decisive action that made men follow him. He was also rigidly inflexible and prone to be impulsive when deliberating would have served him a good deal better. The latter traits had caused him to pull a prank simulating a raid in Sydney Harbor during the Boer War in his younger and more foolish days. That had come close to capping his career before it had even really started. His plan right now was to do a cursory poke around the bridge to determine what he was up against and then stride aboard and take control of the situation. Lightoller simply could not conceive of a force within the time or place and his own frame of reference that could take over the RMS Titanic. Accordingly, he and his one-man backup force had stopped and were peeking out from behind the forward-most funnel. They were standing on the raised roof above the boat deck that directly abutted the funnels and allowed the seamen to perform maintenance on them. The very front of it formed the roof of the bridge and wheelhouse. Lightoller felt a familiar force swaying his body as he peered towards it. Turning around behind him towards the stern, he saw it confirmed by the curve in the ship’s wake; Titanic was turning. He looked up at the sun’s position in the sky. The new bearing looked to be roughly west as opposed to the more southerly direction they had been going in before. Something was definitely not right up there. But that did not make Lightoller move with more caution. “Right then,” he said. “Here’s the plan. You stay here and cover me. If anyone comes up here and it looks like they may be trouble you tell them loudly to stop and fire a warning shot if it looks like real trouble. If they fire at you fire for real. I’m going to go forward, creep onto the roof of the bridge, and try to listen and maybe peek in and see what’s going on.” Fleet thought he could see some flaws in that plan. “But sir,” he began. “Enough,” said Lightoller, cutting him off. “Away I go.” He moved forward in a crouch, one hand on the pistol whose butt stuck out of his coat pocket. Lightoller tried to tread quietly as he came to the small square wooden area he knew was the roof the bridge. He was not quiet enough.

April 8th, 2009—1:35, 200 Miles Off the Coast Of Somalia, RMS Titanic Bridge

Abduwali Muse’s lanky black frame walked the floor of the bridge from wing to wing, trying to think of how to skin this very large, lion of a cat as he paced. Truth be told he did not plan on hijacking a cruise ship when the day started. Four men with AK’s were sufficient to control a crowd of a few dozen mariners but this ship could have thousands and thousands aboard. That meant there was no way for him to control all of it or any more than a fraction of its people at once. And given that this state of affairs could last a while until they got to Somalia, he might have to start rotating his men in shifts, which would reduce their effective strength at any moment to even less than four. Not for the first time he cursed the other coxswain for bailing when that phony baloney radio message went out from the container ship. Four extra trigger pullers would have made this easier, if not exactly easy. But there was no use in idle wishing. He turned back to his manpower problem in his head. I can control the bridge, but not anywhere else, he thought to himself as he grew more agitated. Once somebody figures out we’ve got the ship, and word starts to spread…yes, that could be quite a problem. Let’s see: how long would it take to get to Somalia, anyway? He looked over at the Titanic’s de jure captain. “English,” he barked, startling the old man. “Who? I,” asked Smith. “Yeah, you. English,” said Muse. “How fast do this ship go?” Smith drew himself up and said, stiffly and with a note of pride, “The RMS Titanic can make 23 knots.” Muse nodded. “Ok,” he said. He thought some more to himself. So about…what, 30 kilometers an hour? He did the math in his head. Ten, maybe eleven hours until we hit Somalia. Ok…it’ll suck but we can do that without shifts. Good. The thing to do here is to try and keep the passengers and the rest of the crew in the dark for as long as possible. Abduwali Muse had not yet seen any indication the rest of the ship knew they had been hijacked. Eventually someone would try to enter the bridge, and they would take them hostage one by one. It would probably be too much to assume they could keep them in the dark all the way to the Somali coast, but they might be able to maintain the illusion of normality for another few hours if they were lucky. These people are civilians. They’ll be surprised, totally off guard. They’ll eat up at least a few hours rousing everyone and trying to work out a plan. We can threaten the hostages to try and keep them off their other guard. Yeah, we can make this work.

Then he jerked his head up as heard a subtle tapping on the roof. Muse frantically gestured to his other three pirates, waving from his ear upward. Could somebody be up there? He gestured furiously to Nour Najee to move outside the bridge onto the port bridge wing while he tried to move. Najee looked at him in confusion, brow furrowed. He aimed his AK at the ceiling and moved his finger to the trigger. Muse virtually jumped through the roof to get him to stop it, frantically waving his hands over each other in an -x in the cutoff motion while shaking his head. This completely brain-dead idiot! Najee looked at him with a defensive, questioning look. Muse just shook his head disdainfully and walked tensely out onto the starboard bridge wing, AK-47 turned skywards. He took a deep breath as he walked backwards, looking to get a better angle of view over the top of the bridge.

Even being tensed up, he still reared in shock when he saw the small, dark, disheveled British officer creeping along on the roof. “Shit!” he exclaimed. The man’s head shot around and Muse saw his eyes widen like a kudu in the headlights. The man stumbled back, trying to draw his handgun from his blue coat in a panicked, jerky motion. He was bringing it up one-handed when Muse ripped off a long burst from his rifle. It missed the Brit over his right shoulder. The man fired back, looking almost as frightened by the revolver’s report as Muse imagined he did from being shot at. He managed to get off three shots, firing them in less than a second and a half. Even with his senses degenerating into the characteristic crazed blur of a gunfight, Muse could tell he had missed by a ludicrously large amount. If any of those rounds had come within ten feet of him he’d be shocked. Muse heard Najee yell from the other side. The officer looked frantically towards port, then ran as fast as he could. He made it about ten feet before slipping on the smooth white pine in his dress shoes, falling straight over and landing flat on his ass. Muse cursed again and fired another burst, partly to keep the man’s head down but mostly to make himself feel better. He heard a sound like a large animal flopping about and knew the man was desperately crawling away, trying to escape. He heard Najee perform his signature move of uselessly ripping off the better part of a magazine on his side of the ship, then heard several more revolver shots answer him. Had to be from someone other than the officer on the bridge. Those were fainter, coming from too far astern to be from the same source. So this fucker has backup. Terrific. He stood still for five seconds or so, frantically trying to think of something useful to do, when he heard a noise like pounding from the top of the superstructure above him. He knew what it was. The officer had crawled away out of his line of sight and upon getting enough distance between him and Muse had started running again. He heard someone call “Seaman, retreat, they’ve got us outgunned!” before the man popped into view again. He had been forced to come to the edge of the superstructure again as the funnel took up the center space. This brought him into Muse’s view again, but the officer had managed to anticipate this. He turned around and squeezed off another two shots. These were aimed a little better and Muse reflexively dropped into a crouch. He brought his AK up again and…Damn! The man had managed to sprint around the funnel again. Muse slammed the butt of his AK on the deck in frustration. Well, he thought grimly to himself, If they didn’t know we’d taken them before they do now.

April 8th, 2009—1:45, 200 Miles Off the Coast Of Somalia, RMS Titanic Boat Deck

Lightoller bent over and tried to restore his composure, his prior cockiness completely vanished. He felt a simultaneous urge to vomit and urinate in fear. Whatever else could be said of him, he was no coward, but he had been utterly unprepared psychologically for what had taken him. It was true! Pirates, on a British ship in the North Atlantic! And by bloody God almighty, what the hell kind of guns were those?! Lightoller screamed in his head. Nothing had prepared him for this. Of all the dangers and issues that an officer could be confronted with, never in even the darkest and weirdest recesses of his brain had the ship’s Second Officer thought he might one day have to deal with a pirate attack. Fleet stood beside him, revolver trained toward the bow, covering in case those bastard munts with their terrible rifles tried to follow them. “You get that little peek you were looking for sir?” Fleet couldn’t resist asking sarcastically. “Careful, seaman,” said Lightoller, venomously stressing the man’s rank and reminding him who was in charge. Nonetheless, he had clearly been right. “Alright,” he gasped through the adrenaline. “So it appears we have been pirated. Noted. We need to get back and try to organize. Grab whatever guns, officers, and crew we can get and try to keep them out of the passenger areas and bottled up in front. Let’s go!” Fleet nodded his affirmation and the two men ran further astern in a crouch.

April 8th, 2009—2:00, 200 Miles Off the Coast Of Somalia, USS Bainbridge

Commander Frank Castellano got out of his swivel chair on the starboard corner of the bridge. “XO’s deck,” he called out. “XO’s deck,” his immediate subordinate chimed back, acknowledging he was in charge until Castellano came back. The ship’s captain walked quietly back to the real nerve center of the ship: her Combat Intelligence Center, or CIC. Every part of the room was crammed with screen, monitors, and control panels monitored by a force of dozens of coffee-fueled petty officers, chiefs, and officers of every description. “Atten-shun!” the first person to see him called. Everyone shot out of the chairs. “As you were,” he replied quickly. Castellano walked over the young Lieutenant Junior Grade who was operating the ship’s Boeing ScanEagle Drone. The small, gray, unmanned UAV was a dead useful beast. Forty pounds soaking wet, it could be launched and recovered from a mast, had a decent endurance of twenty-four hours, a service ceiling of around twenty-thousand feet, and could about make ninety miles an hour in a dead sprint, though that would hurt the endurance. Best of all, it could beam back crystal clear video footage of whatever its human masters wanted it to while it was in the air.

“We receiving okay?” Castellano queried the junior officer. “Yes, sir” the man replied, turning the camera to the drone’s rear to show the ship small in the distance. “For a few minutes now. I’ve got her running as fast as can, about ninety miles an hour. She should be there in a few; this’ll about cut her endurance in half but by the time she runs out of gas we’ll be on site.” Castellano nodded. “Ok, good. Just get her there. We’ve gotta get an eye in the sky on this mess.” “Yessir,” the JG enthusiastically agreed.

April 8th, 2009—2:25, 200 Miles Off the Coast Of Somalia, RMS Titanic

Second Officer Charles Lightoller was holding a council of war in the ship’s 1st class reading and writing room. Beside him were the two Masters at Arms, Thomas King and Henry Bailey, Third Officer Herbert John Pitman, Fifth Officer Harold Lowe, the ship’s builder Thomas Andrews, and the ship’s owner Joseph Bruce Ismay. The final member was not a nautical man but was among the most valuable in Lightoller’s corner. Major Archibald Butt was the influential and experienced U.S. Army aide of both Teddy Roosevelt and Big Bill Taft. The men were engaged in a frantic, huddled conversation in the richly upholstered Victorian chairs around a well-set table with an embroidered cloth. The scene struck several as being ludicrously out of touch with the events occurring around them. Lightoller had sent stewards and Frederick Fleet to retrieve these men from their cabins when the direness of the situation became apparent. The hurriedly dressed and disheveled men were now desperately trying to come up with a way to resolve the crisis.

“Alright,” said Major Butt, his fingers steepled in front of him. “So we have been pirated. That much is indeed clear. Do you have any idea the numbers we are up against?” Lightoller was leaning back in his chair with his hands planted stiffly on his knees. The extent to which the previous events had rattled him betrayed itself in the unnatural deliberation with which he moved and spoke, without fillers and after pauses, each word measured out. He was a man struggling to keep his composure in a very intense situation, and doing a reasonable job of it. After a pause, he said, “At least two. That was all I saw, the ones that shot at me. One on each side of the bridge. I did not actually see any more, but Seaman Fleet told me he saw around four or five on it when he was looking in from the crow’s nest. I suspect it is more. I cannot imagine such a small number of men trying to take over a vessel as sizable as this one.” Butt leaned back and nodded. “That is indeed very likely. And the rest of the ship’s officers?” Lightoller gestured to the rest at the table. “This is all we have been able to find. Everyone else is assumed captured on the bridge. As of this moment, I appear to be in effective command of Titanic.” Lightoller’s dark, piercing eyes widened in disbelief at his own words. Butt, recognizing how overwhelmed the Scotsman across from him must be, smiled through his whiskers and said, “Yes, and a fine job you are doing, sir. We’ll sort this out. Chin up.” The Second Officer returned a weak smile. “Thank you, Major.” Butt’s face turned business-like once again. “Alright. Now you say that they turned the ship?” Lightoller replied, “Indeed. I saw the curve in the wake myself.” “Then we need to find a way to stop the vessel. I have no idea where these negroes plan on taking us but if they want to go somewhere then we need to make sure we don’t go wherever that is.” Andrews raised his hand from the table where it lay. “If the wheelhouse and bridge are taken, the logical answer is to go straight to the engine room and tell them ourselves. There isn’t another outlet on the phone system from the bridge, so we’ll have to send a runner.” Ismay, who had remained quiet until now piped up. “Should we turn off the lights as well? They don’t know the ship. If we deny them that we should be able to prevent them from easily finding their way into the passenger areas.” There was a moment of pause while everyone considered the suggestion. Then Lightoller answered carefully, “I think not, at least not for now. They could cause a panic, and the darkness is a double-edged sword. It would make it very difficult to coordinate and any evacuation would be impossible.” Butt nodded while stroking his gray moustache. “I agree,” he said. Lightoller turned to the Third Officer. “Herb, go down there and tell them to come to a dead stop until instructed otherwise. Everything else runs as normal.” The younger man sprang up. “Yes, sir,” he said as he dashed off. “That being done,” said Butt, “I agree with your earlier inclinations. The key thing is to evacuate people from around the bow and forward superstructure to keep them from gaining any more hostages and try to deny them the rest of the ship. You sent stewards to do this, yes?” “After they got you I told them to get some more seamen and start spreading the word. They should be going towards the stern now,” replied Lightoller. “Alright with that taken care of we need to hem them in at the bridge.” This made the Titanic’s acting captain twitch uneasily. “We have very few guns, sir. I will man that line myself but all we have that I know of are some more Webleys.” Butt grinned slightly. “Well, if that’s what we have then that’s what we’ll just have to use,” he said.

April 8th, 2009—2:35, 200 Miles Off the Coast Of Somalia, RMS Titanic Bridge

Muse leaned against the ship’s wheel and pondered his assets. He had the helmsman, the ship’s captain, and its Chief, First, Fourth, and Sixth officers hostage. The most important crew. So that was nice. The problem was that the rest of the ship was still not in his hands. And now they knew they’d been hijacked. He took another opportunity to curse at himself for not killing that fucking guy who had been creeping about. He’d had the opportunity. And boy had Najee made sure he knew it. What, you can’t shoot straight? he’d taunted. Do I have to do everything here? The smirks on faces of his prisoners rubbed further salt in the wound. Let your men speak to you in such a way, captain? For shame they seemed to say. His finger had itched to shoot someone to put the fear of God back in them but he wasn’t that petty. God, why did I bring this prick along he groaned internally. Not even from my village! Now he had to decide what to do. And indecision was killing him. The shock from the gunfight seemed to have boggled his wits and frozen his synapses.

Najee walked back up to him. “We need to go deeper into the ship. Kill some people to make the point maybe, take more hostages.” Muse held up a hand to stop his fourth or fifth reiteration of this same point. He turned to Smith. “Ok, English,” he said. “Time for the truth. What other kind of guns you carrying aboard?” Smith looked up and lied purely out of instinct. It seemed like a time to bluff. “We are carrying a couple of hundred Enfield rifles for shipment to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Canada along with thirty-thousand rounds of ammunition. About the same in Webley revolvers, and also the rounds for those.” Smith’s heart pounded and he stared down his captor with all the bearing he could muster. The Somali leader looked at him hard to see if he would look away or fidget, searching for any sign of untruthfulness. Then he turned back to Najee. “The old guy says they’ve got an armory aboard and a lot of guns. They’ve definitely got at least some, because two different guys shot at us. They know the ship, we don’t, and now they’ve got warning. There’s places in there that they could ambush us. As long as the ship is moving towards Somalia, we’re good. If that stops, then we sort it out from there.” Najee turned around and went back to the corner of the bridge to sulk. I should be running the show, he thought. Not this skinny little pussy! Then he noticed a subtle sensation in his legs, a difference in the way his weight felt. He thought he knew what it was. Najee walked over the bridge wing, looking cautiously around in case any seamen with revolvers were waiting to nail him. He looked down at the water and realized it wasn’t his imagination. The wake of disturbed white water the ship cut through was narrowing in width. It was now barely as wide as the hull, and the height of the wake was growing visibly shorter.

“Oh my great captain,” he called sarcastically towards the ship’s conn, “Our vessel seems to be coming to a stop.”

April 8th, 2009—2:45, 200 Miles Off the Coast Of Somalia, RMS Titanic Bridge

If human thought were an audible sound, if the contents of the head could be broadcast to the ears of others without speaking, then the volume on the bridge of the RMS Titanic would have been that of a KISS concert. Every person there, hostage and captor alike, frantically tried to out plot the other, to play the hand dealt to them as best as possible, and to find a way to turn the tables on their enemy. Nour Najee and Abduwali Muse shoved Captain Edward Smith and the granite-nosed Fourth Officer Joseph Boxhall to their feet and forced them in broken English and the universal language of the angrily waved rifle to raise their hands over their heads and walk forward. Muse and Najee were planning to get this great smoky iron beast lumbering towards Somalia again or kill some Englishmen in the attempt. Muse was pondering whether to swap out the hot-headed Najee for Elmi or Bilal, but decided that the only thing that scared him more than having this asshole watching his back in a high-pressure situation with the rest of the ship’s passengers and crew was the thought of leaving him at the controls to mind the ship. Smith and Boxhall tried to think of a way to overpower their captors, their thoughts being governed by their respective physical capabilities. The younger Boxhall’s bloody thoughts were of how to lead the Somalians past fireaxes that could be grabbed and swung or places where they could be pushed overboard. Smith struggled to find a way to lead them forward to a place where the rest of the crew could cut them off, or into a dark place where they could slip away. Perhaps, he reasoned, if they could lead them through the engine room, they could get the stokers to rush them with their heavy shovels from the innumerable nooks, crannies, and void spaces down there. He was no coward, but neither did he think that he had the strength in his sixth decade of life to overpower two young men with rifles. Meanwhile, the others who would remain on the bridge coldly planned on how they would neutralize each other. Walid Elmi and Adan Bilal nervously moved to areas of the bridge where they thought they could cover all the hostages if they were rushed. James Moody, William Murdoch, and Henry Wilde glowered at their captors and pondered a way to rush them. None was able to come up with any reasonable plan. The bridge of the Titanic was a bare, wide space, offering little opportunity to get close to the pirates and even fewer loose objects that had any potential of being used as weapons. Despite their best designs, fate, luck, and the flow of events would dictate the outcome more than any grand schemes.

Muse prodded Smith forward with the muzzle of his AK. “OK, English,” he barked. “Take us to other crew. We’re going to get this bitch going again.”

Smith bristled internally at the insult to the honor of his command even as he recognized the petty uselessness of the feeling. “Right this way, then”, he replied flatly. The men set off aft of the bridge down one of the Titanic’s innumerable white paneled corridors. Smith struggled mentally with where exactly to take them. The engine room was the obvious place, as it was chock full of places where these bloody pirates could be waylaid. The trick was that he also had to avoid bringing them through passenger areas where they could pose a danger to the men and women in his charge. Leading them straight down from the top deck of the ship to the bottom without passing through at least some such places would be…tricky. Alright, master, thought Smith. Time to see how well you know your ship. He thought he saw a way. They would go aft towards the Marconi rooms, officers’ quarters, and gymnasium. There would likely be other crew there, revolvers were stored in the officers’ quarters, and he knew they had forewarning. Hopefully they would find friendly faces who could fight back. If not, he could get them down lower from there. Then four men continued walking, Smith and Boxhall with their hands on their heads, Muse and Najee a few feet behind them, automatic rifles held loosely at their hips. They were around the corner from the Marconi Room when a tidal wave of blue uniforms and tweed suits crashed around it, screaming and waving revolvers. Smith’s heart leapt with savage joy.

April 8th, 2009—2:40, 200 Miles Off the Coast Of Somalia, RMS Titanic Marconi Room

CQD This is the Royal Mail Steamer Titanic Stop We are being pirated Stop Four men armed with rifles on the bridge Stop Assistance urgently required Stop Any nearby navy ship please respond Stop Last measured coordinates 41°46' N, 50° 14' W CQD

Harold Bride turned to the Second Officer. “This is the message you wish me to send, sir?” he asked.

“Yes, as quickly as possible,” replied Charles Lightoller. “Click like lives depend on it, because you had better bloody believe that they do.”

The pale, ectomorphic radioman turned to his machine and began to send the message. Lightoller pondered the large black metal rig in silence. Amazing thing, technology he thought. What a strange device to be putting our hopes in. And then a panicked seaman came tiptoeing around the corner. “A group of people’s comin’, sir”, the man whispered. “At least a few of them.”

There was only one group of people that would be likely to be coming their way from the bow of the ship. Lightoller took his Webley back from the seaman (they had so few he’d had to give it up to the sentry, who he doubted could use it well anyway) and looked at Major Butt, Master-at-Arms Thomas King, and Fifth Officer Harold Lowe. Butt smiled and gave a small nod while removing the .45 Army Colt he had luckily been carrying on the voyage. He held a finger to his lips and beckoned the men out of the Marconi Room. They tiptoed up the corridor, their shaking hands grasping gray gunmetal. When they reached the corner, Butt held up a hand to stop. Ever so quietly, he poked one eye around the corner. He quickly moved it back. “Yep, it’s them,” he said. “Two negroes, rifles, and they’ve got Captain Smith and one of your other officers walking in front of them. Get ready. We’re going to try and give them a shock.”

Lightoller gulped. He felt like he was riding a car full speed over the cliffs of Dover and the edge was a second away. It was time to face those hell-sent guns again. Hopefully this time would go better than the last. The Second Officer held his breath, then felt a sensation like a blast of wind as Butt waved for them to go and charged around the corner, revolver held out straight in front of him. The other three men shot forward. “Drop your weapons and put your hands up!” roared Archibald Butt.

It was extremely lucky that the pirates’ instinct was to yank their hostages closer and press their guns into their backs rather than to fill the entire corridor with sixty rounds of 7.62 x 39 mm Chinese rounds on full auto. At that range everyone would have almost certainly killed each other. Instead they simply screamed, each man vocalizing his fear and determination in a shouted cacophony.

“Shut fuck up and get floor we kill you all!,” Abduwali Muse howled back, raw adrenaline making his normally imperfect English wholly unintelligible.

“Calm, calm, calm down!” Smith bellowed.

“Drop your guns!” snarled Lightoller, he and Butt repeating the command as many times as they could. After what felt like a standoff of hours but was only about twenty seconds, the noise quieted down. The two sides settled into a Mexican standoff, the pirates with their arms tight around their captives’ necks and rifles pressed into their backs.

Muse finally spoke, struggling to consider his words amidst the khat and the human rocket fuel that was the neurochemicals in combat. “You make the ship go again,” he said. “Full speed. If you don’t I start killing. You get it?”

Butt summoned up all the military bearing he could and barked back, “Let’s get one thing clear between us, boy. If you start shooting, or if I even think there is a strong probability you will start shooting, I will pull the trigger first, and these men will follow my lead. You will kill them and probably us, but at ten paces like the ones we’re at, at least a couple of our rounds are going to get each of you, too.”

Muse knew he was right. He also had no idea what else he could do. He needed to get this fucking ship moving! “Ok,” he said. “No killing. But you gotta drop the guns and come back with us. Ok?” He knew even as he said it that it was a fool’s request. The large, barrel-chested, icy-eyed white man in front of him was not stupid. He answered more or less as Muse had expected.

“I’d shoot myself or any other man on this ship before I gave you bastards a single other hostage,” replied Butt. “And furthermore, I’m getting impatient. You are not pirating this ship. Drop your guns.”

Unsurprisingly, the pirates did not comply. A proper Mexican standoff we have here, thought Archibald Butt. The men stared at each other, quivering from adrenaline, sweat beading on their visage. There was silence for fifteen seconds, a silence that roared in the ears of every man in the corridor like a runaway train. Then Butt had an idea. He began sliding forward, purely on instinct. His chest felt like it was pulling apart from fear. It was like committing suicide. But onwards he crept, revolver in front of him, moving towards the smaller black pirate. Another five feet and not even a blind man could miss. There was no hiding behind a hostage at that range. “Stop! STOP!” screamed Muse.

Onwards the Major kept, a foot a second. Then Lightoller began to shuffle forward, moving towards the bigger pirate off to Butt’s right. Butt kept his focus on the smaller one. His entire world shrank to the five feet between him and his quarry. He could smell the man’s sweat, see it on his upper lip, count the stains on his tattered cotton shirt. And then Muse folded. He knew the score as well. He could not shoot his hostage. If he did there was nothing to stop the others from blasting him with their revolvers. His power was an illusion. He could not actually kill Captain Smith. There was, in fact, only one thing he could do. Muse began to scuttle backwards, sandals of chopped rubber tire thudding on the deck, hauling with him the white-haired sea captain whose face was now turning dull scarlet from the grip of Muse’s arm around his neck. Nour Najee began to slowly follow. Lightoller and Butt quickened their pace. The pirates answered with a quick walk; Lightoller crouched to sprint ahead and they began to run backwards. Both their hostages fell to deck and they hauled them backwards, crouched down to try to use them for cover. Butt held out his left arm, the one that to stop Lightoller. “We can’t push them too hard,” he whispered sideways out the corner of his mouth. “They might panic.” Lightoller slowly came to a stop. A few second later, the pirates disappeared around another corner, their hostages now frantically twisting the ground to try and get some oxygen as they were pulled along.

“We can’t let them get away,” said Lightoller quietly, pressing against Butt’s outstretched arm.

“Yes, we can”, said Butt firmly. “If we press them too hard they might panic and kill them anyways. We won this round, Charles. Don’t lose sight of that.” He thought for a moment and then fired a shot at the very end of the corridor, startling all present. “To give them a little extra reminder not to try that again,” he said with a grim smile. Ears ringing, Butt pulled the Second Officer back towards the Marconi Room. He could still see the pain in the man’s eyes from having to watch his friend and his mentor be dragged back by these brigands, though. “We’ll get them,” he said. “Food and water are going to start running out on that bridge, and someone will come for us. Their position is hopeless. Make no mistake of that. We’ve just got to press gently and eventually they’ll get back on whatever boat they came here on.”

Lightoller nodded slightly. “Thank you, sir,” he said. “You’re handling this much better than me.”

Butt laughed. “All part of being a soldier, m’boy.”

April 8th, 2009—2:40, 200 Miles Off the Coast Of Somalia, USS Bainbridge CIC

Eyeing the drone feed from the corner of the room, Frank Castellano attention snapped on it as he saw the image of the clear blue see dissolve in a haze of gray. “Dammit,” its operator grumbled, tapping at the keyboard. Castellano bounded over.

“What’s going on?” he demanded urgently.

The JG scratched his head. “We’re getting some kind of weird interference. It’s full-spectrum and it covers every damn frequency. The only thing I know of that do this is a really, really intense thunderstorm, too intense to even think of flying it.” Castellano stared back. It was a brilliant, sunny blue day outside.

“She’ll fly fine on her own,” volunteered the JG. “Keep going right to the coordinates I put into her, just like a missile. It’ll probably resolve at some point.”

The Commander eased back. “Ok, get it back up,” he said. “We need that drone. Need it bad.” Then the JG sat up straighter.

“Sir…” he trailed off. “Look at the pattern of the static.” Castellano stared at him, wondering what on earth there was to see in the gray bee swarm of static. “Watch how it pulses in and out,” clarified the younger officer.

Castellano watched quietly, focusing on the waves of gray. He began to see it. They seemed to change somehow, getting…busier, somehow, at random intervals. Then as he watched for a few seconds and the pattern built in his head, it hit him. Those weren’t random intervals. They were dots and dashes. “Morse code!” he cried.

The JG nodded. “Somebody wants to have a chat. A very loud one.”

Castellano shot away, moving towards the Comms station. “I see it, sir,” said the chief sitting at a monitor. Let me run that through a computer for you.” He pulled up a program, specified the time at which the bizarre static code had begun, and clicked, ‘Run.’ It was as fast as a Google search. The message wasn’t done yet, but Castellano watched as it took shape, his brows furrowing more and more. Finally, after a minute and a half, it lay in front of him.

CQD This is the Royal Mail Steamer Titanic Stop We are being pirated Stop Four men armed with rifles on the bridge Stop Assistance urgently required Stop Any nearby navy ship please respond Stop Last measured coordinates 41°46' N, 50° 14' W CQD

“The drone’s back up,” its operator called out as the static faded out.

The chief guffawed before seeing Castellano’s reddening face. “You sure this is right?” the Commander growled.

“Uh…yeah sir. Definitely. I promise I wouldn’t screw around like this if that’s what you mean.”

Castellano shook his head angrily. “Well, clearly someone else would. Some shithead thinks hammering us with a prank message on a full spectrum emitter during a crisis situation is a good idea.” He continued, “Can you tell where it came from?”

“From ought-ought,” replied the chief, referring to the bearing that lay dead ahead. “Range and direction is from the reported position of the ships, exactly where we’re headed.”

“Which fucktard is doing this?” demanded Castellano. “Somebody on Maersk think this is funny?” The chief shook his head.

“Sir, whatever it is, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t them. Whatever this came from is *powerful*, sir. To block out the entire spectrum you’d need to pour electricity straight into the antennae. You couldn’t do it with anything satellite-based and it wouldn’t be a setting on any maritime radio. And you’d need a lot of power. Be a hell of a rig.”

Castellano rubbed his chin, considering. “Might be the pirates screwing with us somehow. Whatever. We’ll figure it out and thump ‘em extra hard.”

Then he started. “Aren’t those coordinates…”

“Yeah, somewhere in the North Atlantic I think,” laughed the chief. “They must have brought some weed brownies along to think up something this stupid.”
April 8th, 2009—4:40, 200 Miles Off the Coast Of Somalia, 17,000 ft.

As human crisis and drama played out more than three miles beneath her, the sterile mechanical eye of the USS Bainbridge’s Boeing Insitu ScanEagle arrived on scene. Its lens swept the water, beaming images of the ships that transversed it back to its human masters in the CIC of Bainbridge. One particular detail grabbed their attention.

“Is she on fire?” Castellano asked. “I’ve never seen that amount come out of a ship before.” The ship was at a dead stop, but an obscene (and likely illegal) amount of very thick black smoke was rising straight into the air, obscuring the view of the decks.

The XO walked over to the radio telephone. “Alabama, this is the Bainbridge. Can you tell us anything about all that smoke that’s coming out of her? Any signs of a fire?”

After a lag time of a couple seconds, the crackly voice of Richard Phillips replied. “Other than the sheer amount, negative, Bainbridge. All of it’s coming out of the funnels. There’s none coming out of any hatches or portholes. If that’s from a fire it’s most likely an engine room fire.”

“Thanks Alabama. Bainbridge out.” The XO put the phone back in the holder and walked back to the feed, fingers rubbing his chin. “She looks almost like she’s coal-fired. Four funnels, all that smoke, looks like she’s designed to mimic an older liner. But who the hell would build something like that today?”

Castellano simply stared at the blue screen. “Operator,” he said, “I think we’re going to need to do a low fly-by. That smoke is blocking everything; we’re not going to see much from up here. Move across her bow, try and hold the camera on her bridge, foredeck, and bow gunwale. We’ll see if we can get a ship ID and figure out where these pirates are.”

“Wilco,” said the JG pushing the joystick simply. “It’ll take a couple minutes for me to descend that far and loop her back around. Bear with me for a moment if you would.” It actually took a little over five minutes of impatient steering and growing tension in the air. Exceeding time limits given to the captain could be bad for a junior officer’s health. Finally, the ScanEagle finished its diving loop and turned to fly across the forward part of the mystery vessel like a shot across its bow. “A few seconds now, sirs,” said the operator.

The clarity of the images grew and grew as the drone flew. So did the size of the eyes watching them as they processed what their vision could behold but their brains could not reconcile. The white stenciled lettering on the bow could not have been clearer if it had been written in neon lighting. Titanic. “What. The. Fuck.”, muttered the XO quietly to no one in particular.

Castellano had his hands on his hips and was looking around at the faces of the people around him with agitated, jerky motions. No commanding officer in any navy in the world liked not having the slightest idea what was going on. “Would someone care to tell me what I’m looking at?,” he demanded. “Because I’m pretty sure I know that ship, and I’m pretty sure it’s also a very large artificial fish habitat in a very cold grid square in a different ocean.”

The XO scratched his head. “Haven’t there been some crank proposals to try to float a sequel vessel? Like as a tourist attraction or something? I think there was a movie called ‘Titanic 2’.”

The drone operator enthusiastically chimed in. “Yeah, and wasn’t there also that one Raise the Titanic?,” he asked. He paused as he reconsidered his words. “But…”

Castellano rolled his eyes. “Nobody has raised the wreck of the Titanic you hammerhead,” he said. “Go back to playing with your toy.”

“Yessir,” said the drone operator, suitably chastised.

Castellano looked concerned as another possibility occurred to him. “Could our drone somehow be hacked? Could it be CGI? Could it be someone trying to make a point or showcase a capability? I mean it’s pretty farfetched, but so is the RMS Titanic apparently being hijacked by Somali pirates.”

The XO stroked his chin for a moment, then lowered his hand and shook his head. “That would be very, very hard. You’d have to not only get into the drone and make this completely seamless CGI thing, which I think is pretty hard. They only do it for specific scenes in movies from different angles. But you’d also have to figure out a way to I guess subvert the Maersk Alabama, because if it’s somehow not real they’d have to be in on it since they sent up the original distress call and have been sending us updates.”

He took a breath and continued. “I’d be lying if I said I know what this is. But I think the images don’t lie. Best thing would be to get there ourselves and get mark one eyeballs on it. Then we’ll know for sure.”

Castellano slowly nodded his head. “Yeah, I guess that’s right,” he affirmed. “By the way, where are those SEALs at?”*

“Tiger platoon is on their way from Somalia. Be here in an hour or so,” replied the XO.

“Good. Keep me updated.”

April 8th, 2009—4:40, 200 Miles Off the Coast Of Somalia, RMS Titanic First Class Reading and Writing Room

Thomas Andrews, ace naval architect of White Star Line, was having a very interesting sensation consisting of intellectual titillation mixed with the low-boiling, twitchy anxiety. For an hour or so after a panicked, wide-eyed steward had physically dragged him out of his cabin (“Deepest apologies sir, but there is a terrible emergency! You must come at once!”), he had been doing his level best to contain the fluttering feeling in his heart and chest and the blush in his face that signified how afraid he was. He had a great deal of responsibility for this ship, and would do anything he could, but he had no idea exactly what that was. After getting a brief line in at the original crisis meeting to send runners to the engine room to idle the propellers, he had puttered about trying to find something useful to do. Archibald Butt had politely refused his request for a revolver, saying, “Sorry, sport, but giving an untrained person this in a gunfight is a good way to get someone shot who shouldn’t be. Your bravery does you credit though.”

Andrews, inadequate as he’d felt, had to grudgingly admit the American Major was probably the right. The quiet, introverted, but friendly and well-liked Ulsterman engineer really was not the right sort of man for this. After that rejection, he had tried to find other roles. He had helped move passengers aft, though eventually the Chief Steward told him they had it under control and he had shambled back to Lightoller’s impromptu command post in the reading and writing room. He had later helped look for guns in the hold. The search had turned up a couple Lee-Enfield .303 bolt actions and some ammunition, with other parties in the first class cabins finding a pair of enameled Benelli 12-gauge double-barreled shotguns and some shells that some businessman had been taking back to his second home. All were now in the hands of some seamen who had been found to have experience in the old Rifle Volunteer Corps that had been merged into the Territorial Army a year ago. They and the other Titanic officers except for Lightoller, who remained behind in the reading and writing room to exercise overall command with Butt as his adviser, formed a stronger, more organized blocking force that would keep the pirates from moving out of the bridge and wheel house. They were well and truly sequestered in there now, and the only thing to do was wait and hope a Navy ship responded or that something changed in some fortuitous way.

So that had left the ship’s builder sitting in a large, overstuffed gold chintz armchair in the reading and writing room stewing in his anxiety and embarrassment at being so useless. Until he had heard two crewmen talking about “that enormous blue ship thing outside.” He had gotten up, told them to stand at ease when they sprang to attention, and inquired as to what they were speaking of. A great blue vessel of extraordinary size outside, and covered with what looked like children’s blocks. Were they sure? Oh, yes, certainly. They had both seen it with their own eyes. Why, he could see it if he looked out the window of the very room he was in! In all the excitement, he had not thought to do any such thing. His interest piqued, Andrews thanked them and walked away to the port windows. When he looked through and forward of the ship, his mind almost literally boggled. An enormous monster of a vessel was idling slowly off their port side. Andrews’s experienced eye sized it up and he became astonished upon realizing that it must be the biggest cargo ship in the world! The hull of the beast was aquamarine, except for the place where the word ‘Maersk’ was screamed in enormous black block lettering. The deck was completely flat except for at the very stern, where the ship’s superstructure stood straight up as though it were an apartment building. And it was indeed covered in…well, what were they? They did indeed resemble blocks a child might play with, but these blocks were taller than a man and longer than several cars parked bumper to bumper. Wait, and what was that bulge that cut through the water just beneath the prow? How on Earth could that be efficient?

Andrews knew he was looking at something remarkable. In the world he knew this must be the largest cargo hauler afloat, and of a completely new class and type apparently. He knew he had to document it, and to that effect strolled down to the drawing room, collected some materials, and got hard at work making engineer sketches of it. What yard produced it? How could they do it in complete secrecy? As Andrews continued to assess the ship, he felt he began to understood certain aspects of the design. It was rather clearly a cargo ship. The lack of portholes, recreational areas, or many visible people attested to that, as well as the cranes covering the deck. And if it was a cargo ship, then the blocks on deck were probably where it was stored. As he pondered them, he felt he understood their function as well. The difference in colors and logos and the visible lines between them indicated they were separate entities. If that was where the cargo was stored, then it was probably possible to offload them one by one using those cranes. Andrews understood how that could be very useful. More deck space and capacity, quicker loading and unloading times, less personnel required to do the job…would put a lot of stevedores out of work, though! But there were still aspects he could not quite fathom. What was the point of that bulge on the prow that he could just see? What about all those things that looked like black growths on top of the superstructure? He thought that one might be the antennae of some sort of Marconi-like technology, but the ones that looked like a shallow gray metal dish with a bent protractor in the middle and a large black net or grid he could not place. Then he noticed something else. The other ship was a good distance away, but Andrews’s eyesight was good enough to note that the ship’s hull lacked the scaly rivets that were supposed to hold a ship together. It must be welded, he thought. Incredible. How is such a thing even possible?

He sprang up as he saw Charles Lightoller striding towards him. “Don’t worry sir, it’s nothing,” he said quickly. “Thought I’d update you, though. That wounded crewman, Reggie Lee, is recovering. John Simpson, the assistant surgeon operating on him, did a good job and he’ll be alright. Nothing knew to report with the pirates. They haven’t tried to come off the bridge yet. So we all just bide our time.”

Andrews nodded. “That’s good, I suppose.”

Lightoller realized what had been drawing Andrews’s attention and looked out, shielding his eyes with his right hand. “Quite a sight, isn’t she?”

Andrews nodded. “I don’t even know how she was built. I couldn’t have done it if you offered me ten million pounds and unlimited time and money. I can only hope a German yard didn’t do it. If that’s the level of technological advancement they have it their warships would clean up the Home Fleet like grease on a pan.”

Lightoller just grimaced. “Magic cargo ships, magic rifles, magic daylight, maybe magic negroes. I can do without anymore surprises for a while, but I doubt I will be so lucky.”

*Author's note: In OTL DEVGRU were not the first SEALs on the scene of the Maersk Alabama hijacking. An element of SEALs from a different team was already working in Somalia and was placed on Bainbridge when the crisis began. For obvious reasons their identities and callsigns are not known; they names I have given them are products of my own imagination. Anyways, DEVGRU was called in when the pirates tried to break away in the lifeboat and storming it was clearly impractical. Snipers were needed, but there were not any sniper rifles aboard the Bainbridge, so DEVGRU got the call to come and bring their equipment.
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One day later

April 9th, 2009—4:00, 200 miles off the coast of Somalia, RMS Titanic Bridge

The overall situation had become desperate for the Somalians. Their realization of this fact had been delayed somewhat by more immediate bodily concerns. Namely the fact that they were out of khat…and food and water. At least their was a bathroom a short distance away that the ship’s crew didn’t have guns trained on yet. The pirates lolled about on the bridge, groaning and wiping beaded sweat from their foreheads. At least it wasn’t that hot. The ocean cooled the temperatures to around twenty-three or twenty-four degrees, far less than the scorching heat that covered the sunburnt Somali plains like a blanket. Muse couldn’t decide exactly what to do about the ship. But he needed to fix this water problem first and foremost.

“Bilal,” he finally said. “You and me will go back with English and try to find some water.” He had decided taking Najee up to a gun line again with a hostage was too risky.

The younger man looked at him in panic. “But…they could shoot us,” he said in an alarmed voice.

Muse rolled his brown eyes. “It’s either that or die of thirst you pussy. Now get your ass off the floor and put in gear!”

Adnan Bilal sighed and dragged himself up off the deck, taking his rifle from where it lay across his knees and pointing it at Smith.

“You, get up!” barked Abduwali Muse in English. “We going to get some water!” Captain Smith jumped up, almost eagerly. Like everyone else, he was very thirsty, and none of the hostages were coping well. While the pirates had their khaki short-sleeved shirts, pants, and makeshift sandals or bare feet, the Titanic’s men had been dressed for the bitter cold of the North Atlantic. Heavy layers had been shorn throughout the day and all were dressed merely in pants and white undershirts now. Their pale faces shone red in the heat.

“Very well,” said Smith simply. The men led him down the corridor with his hands on his head.

The pirates walked down the way they had come previously, rifles trained straight ahead, their breathing growing ragged as their suspense grew. At any moment they feared one of those quaintly dressed seamen in a blue sailor suit would jump out of a door way, big-ass revolver in hand. Finally, they reached the last corner they had gone around before the shooting started.

Muse filled his lungs with air and screamed in a raspy voice, “We want food and water! Bring it or we kill now!” There was no reply. After a few seconds, he shouted out in an even more agitated voice, “You think I joking! Food! Water! Right Now!”

This time, a voice, deeper and more measured than his, boomed back down the corridor. Muse recognized it as belonging to the large, mustached American with the revolver who had forced them back earlier. “We will give you water but no food. If you want that you will have to go back to Africa where you came from!”

“Motherfucker!” was all Muse could think to scream back in response. His rage was made all the worse by the fact that he couldn’t do much else. Executing a hostage would probably make these guys rush him all at once, starting a gunfight they couldn’t win.

“Come back here and we will give you your water!” the unruffled voice called back.

“No! You come here!” answered Muse.

“Uh…gentlemen?” Smith spoke while turning to his captors with his hands still on his head, showing sweatbands from his armpits to his belt. “May I negotiate?”

Muse glanced at him hard, then shrugged and jerked his head as if to say, “go ahead.” Smith cleared his throat. “Major Butt, this is Captain Smith,” he called his voice catching from lack of water. “May I suggest we leave the water in the center of the corridor, and then I will go get it and bring it back to the pirates while they watch from their side with their guns?” A moment passed.

“That is acceptable,” boomed the voice of Archibald Butt.

Smith turned back to the pirates. “Very well then, they will leave it in the middle and I will fetch it for you.”

“No!” barked Muse, his eyes narrowing. “I go out with you in front and my hand around your neck. Bilal will follow just behind, and he will get it while you shield us.” Suspicious that Smith planned to run for it, he suddenly grabbed his shoulder and jerked him further away from the corner, just in case.

Smith’s heart sank. Oh well, worth a try, he thought.

“Tell us when the water is in place!” Smith called out.

“Will do!” Butt called back.

It took about ten minutes, the Somali pirates pacing and peering about, trying to make sure they weren’t being flanked or tricked. Finally, Butt’s voice rang out, “Here’s the water!”

Muse wrapped his arm around Smith’s neck in an unintentional imitation of a rear naked choke and pushed him forward. Bilal followed behind in a crouch. All three breathed heavily as they turned the corner. In the middle of the corridor lay four buckets filled with water and a couple of mugs to boot. However, as Muse looked down at the end of the it, he could see eyes poking around the edge of the far corner.

The three-man procession moved cautiously forward. “Take two buckets, English!” Muse hissed in his hostage’s ear. Captain Smith bent over and complied, straining under the considerable weight. Bilal reached through their legs and dragged back the other two, spilling a little. He placed the mugs in one of them so he could carry them and slung his rifle back over his shoulder.

“Ok, move back!” whispered Muse. The men scuttled back towards the bridge, precious water in hand.

A corridor away, Charles Lightoller turned to Major Butt. “Well, that went alright,” he allowed. “Why didn’t you give them food if you did give them water, out of curiosity?”

“We need to give them enough to keep the hostages and themselves alive while reinforcing that long-term their situation is hopeless,” replied Butt confidently. “They can’t get the ship going and they have no food and they can’t take what they don’t have. Eventually they’ll have to either make for the lifeboats or surrender.”

“Makes sound enough sense,” replied the Second Officer. “I just wish someone would come to help. We haven’t had a single reply in the wireless room. Ah well, I’ll take the ship’s position tonight in a few hours with the star compass and Bride will send it out again with the new coordinates…”
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April 9th, 2009—8:30, 200 miles off the coast of Somalia, RMS Titanic Bridge

Charles Lightoller felt a sense of profound disorientation. The complete dislocation of the laws of time and space left him feeling completely unmoored, as though he could simply fall away from Earth and into the stars. He looked up again then he looked down at his charts, running over them with his red, tired, bloodshot eyes. No. That is not possible. He walked back inside and found a seaman. “Fetch Herb Pitman”, he said curtly.

“Yes, sir”, the nineteen year-old said. Lightoller had to wait fifteen minutes, the impatient stamping of his feet betraying his fear for his sanity. Finally a red-faced and hard-breathing Pitman arrived.

“Third officer, take the coordinates with the star compass,” ordered Lightoller curtly.

Pitman stared back. “Sir…?” His eyes asked the unspoken question: What, you can’t do it?

“I’m afraid the exhaustion and the excitement might be getting to me and affecting my navigation. I want my measures confirmed. That’s an order. Take the coordinates,” snapped Lightoller. In common English instead of stiffupperlipese that would be, “I don’t have a fucking clue because the Powers That Be have repealed all the natural laws and I want to make sure that it isn’t just me, groused the Second Officer in his head.

The process took some time, and Lightoller dropped his composure a bit and lay down on the deck, staring up at the silver belt of stars. They were clear and beautiful as they only could be at sea. God, what was this heat, though? He was jolted out of his reverie by Pitman making a small, surprised sound. He looked over at him. “Are you done, Pitman?”, he demanded.

“Ummm…sir,” stuttered Pitman, “I’m afraid I might need to do this over again.”

“Would that be because you recorded us as being some distance off the coast of Somaliland in the Indian Ocean?”, asked Lightoller quietly. Pitman just stared at him in shock.

“I got the same coordinates”, stated the Second Officer quietly, cutting off whatever was going to come out of the junior man’s mouth next.

“How?”, asked Pitman simply.

“I don’t know,” said Lightoller. “As God is true I do not. But I don’t disbelieve it. Magic daylight, and this temperature…we’re not in the North Atlantic, and the stars do not tell the same lie to two men.”

Pitman looked back up at the Milky Way and chuckled softly. “Well, they will think you mad when you go back to the reading and writing room and tell them that the nearest port that can take us is in the Raj.”

Lightoller laughed back. “They can come out here and see for themselves if they want.”
April 9th, 2009—9:00, 200 miles off the coast of Somalia

The brilliance of stars at sea, arranged in the silver river of the milky way that becomes visible without land’s light pollution, is a sight to behold. In their billions, they reflected gently in the calm water, marred only in that part of the world by the clouds of black coal smoke emitted by the iron traveler from a different era. The whole scene was taken in by binoculars on the deck of the USS Bainbridge as they at last arrived on scene to aid the RMS Titanic. Commander Frank Castellano stared at the ship avidly. “Well, this all is apparently not a figment of our imaginations after all,” he murmured quietly in the soft red light of his darkened bridge. He turned to the SEAL lieutenant who stood across from him. “Ok, son,” he said, “We’ve taxied you this far. Ready to deploy?”

The buff, crew cut twenty-something who commanded Tiger Platoon nodded. “Yessir,” he replied. “There aren’t any deck plans we’ve been able to find in any maritime records or anything of course, so we’re going to launch the zodiacs and mosey around it, try to figure out how we can board her without attracting attention. It’s fantastically unlikely they have enough men aboard to completely watch every potential boarding point, so we want to know where exactly their sentries are and get eyes on them. Once we’ve got it penciled out, we’ve got our grappling hooks. We will board, make contact with the crew, glean their knowledge, and then flush the skinnies out of the ship.”

Castellano put down his binoculars and looked back to him. “The Alabama though first, right?”

The SEAL officer started in embarrassment. “Yes, of course, sir. Sorry, I got a little zoned in on the main part. Yes, we ferry your VBSS team to the Alabama with the zodiacs first and they will escort them to Mombasa.”

Castellano nodded slowly. “Ok then. We’re slowing down to the predetermined speed. Get going.”
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April 9th, 2009—9:10, 200 miles off the coast of Somalia

The three SEAL zodiacs slid away from the Bainbridge’s beam, moving towards the Titanic. It was going to be a tricky approach. The coxswains would have to avoid making a wake or disturbing bioluminescence, that glowing devil of all naval commandoes, and also keep their noise signature to a minimum while avoiding easy angles of observation. It was a treacherous balancing act, but the men the U.S. Navy beat to a pulp and reforged in the soft sands of Coronado Island were the best in the business. The zodiacs moved in an arrowhead formation towards the MV Maersk Alabama, the first objective of the night. This would be the relatively easy part. The crews of the merchant ship and destroyer had carefully coordinated their angles, placing the Alabama between the Titanic and the Bainbridge to ensure the former would block the smaller boats from easy view by any Somalian eyes. This was the first of the night’s objectives. While the coxswains of each boat were SEALs, their cargo were members of the destroyer’s Visit Board Search and Seizure (VBSS) Team. They were regular sailors given additional training in firearms, boarding procedures, and naval close quarters combat to allow them to search suspicious vessels and provide maritime security. They would perform the somewhat anticlimactic job of escorting the Alabama to Mombasa, ending its all-too-exciting journey and keeping it safe from any other marauders it might encounter.

When the boats were alongside the freighter and the proper radio signals sent to the bridge, nets were lowered quietly over the side by its crew members and the VBSS Team boarded, bearing MP-5 9mm submachine guns and clad in green BDU’s and body armor. On the bridge, Captain Phillips breathed an enormous sigh of relief as he saw the first Navy sailor come aboard. “Oh man, I can’t even tell you how glad we are to see you guys,” he gushed, pumping the man’s hand.

The J.G. commanding the detail smiled and shook it back. “Thanks for keeping an eye on this shitshow. You guys did good, but now you can stand down. We’ll be taking y’all to Mombasa now, sir.”

“You know the heading,” Phillips called to his navigator.

As the zodiacs untied and sped back towards the Bainbridge, the coxswains, who would work the longest hours this night, each had the same thought in their heads: “Well, that was the easy part.” Now came the tricky one.

The zodiacs retied themselves to the railing of the destroyer and their assault teams climbed in. Of the three zodiacs, two carried fifteen of the sixteen men of Tiger Platoon (the last man coxswained the third zodiac). The third contained surplus equipment, as well as an EOD tech and a Somali-speaking interpreter. The forces circled slowly around in a half-circle motion to come towards the Titanic from its stern. The angle of attack had been chosen, with some trepidation, by a relatively simple process of elimination. They knew that there had to be pirates on the bridge and possibly in the ship’s vital spaces, but it was very unlikely based on the information provided by the crew of the Maersk Alabama that they had many men given that only one boat had been observed. This meant they could not cover every angle effectively. The ScanEagle had detected thermal signatures on the bow, bridge, and port and starboard of the ship, but the stern was relatively clear. The SEALs’ Leading Petty Officer and CO had decided in the zodiacs that this made it their best chance for getting aboard. They would enter the ship quietly from the stern well deck, just forward of what they could not know was the Third Class Smoking Room. They would then move forward onto the superstructure, taking the ship room by room and hopefully defeating the pirates in detail, taking their sentries out one at a time with suppressed 9mm bullets before storming the bridge.

It took the SEALs forty minutes to finally sidle up alongside their target. Their curved course was intended to keep the boats far away and their noise and visible signatures low when they were at an angle that would allow easy observation from the bow or either side of the ship. Circling around and approaching straight from the stern, getting close only then, was the best way to limit the number of angles they could be detected from. As the boats slid up to the Titanic, all of the operators felt apprehension grow inside of them as they came up to the sheer black iron cliff of the ship’s side. It was game time. The first task of boarding was done by the forward man in each of the three zodiacs. All were equipped with a Plummet Gun, a system that could quietly shoot a grappling hook and kevlar line onto the deck of a ship with compressed air. It was a quiet and effective way of boarding a hijacked ship, and the SEALs regularly used it in training. There were three soft thumps and somewhat louder clangs as the devices fired in unison, hurling their hooks onto the deck. Every shot was successful, with each payload tightly gripping the railing of the Titanic. Next, the line was anchored and each SEAL hooked up to it. They would now have to climb onto the deck like climbers using prelaid ropes. It took a nerve-wracking ten minutes for each man to ascend via the three lines, with only one delay when a SEAL’s ropes became intertwined with his web gear. Every boarder feared this stage because if an enemy should come into contact with only a few men on the deck and the rest on the ropes, they would be able to bring little of their force to bear while having their freedom of movement severely restricted. Luckily, this did not happen. When the SEALs were fully assembled in a half-circle with their backs to the deck, their commander gestured. First, half of them would ensure their rear, specifically the sterncastle, was clear of any potential thread while the other half of the boarding force trained their guns forward to form a rear guard while the task was accomplished. The nine SEALs stacked up on the door, and the officer gently put his hand on the latch. It opened easily enough. The swept in, rifles covering the room, before lowering them again in surprise at the huge numbers of pairs of eyes staring back at them.

A white brunette woman dressed in what struck the CO as an archaic and unflattering dress piped up in a sharp New York accent. “Who the hell are you?” she demanded.

“Lieutenant Jamie Jefferson, U.S. Navy,” replied the SEAL lieutenant. “What’s your name and what is this ship?”

“Margaret Brown. And she’s the the RMS Titanic, of course. Don’t you read the papers?”

Now it was the SEALs’ turn to stare back in wide-eyed incomprehension.
April 9th, 2009—10:10, 200 miles off the coast of Somalia

Somewhere around half a day before (she wasn’t sure of the exact time), Margaret “Maggie” Brown had been fast asleep in her bed, ensconced in her luxuriously appointed, gold-trimmed stateroom in first class, when a steward had rushed inside. The man had stuttered, “Deepest apologies ma’am, but there has been some sort of emergency on the bridge of the ship. You and all other passengers must proceed immediately to the stern.”

Brown looked at him in bleary-eyed disbelief and demanded, “What sort of an emergency?”

The steward shook his head. “I am not sure at this time ma’am, but it may be some sort of fire. We were simply ordered to get everyone to the stern. It is critically important that you evacuate at once.” Torn between the coziness of her soft warm bed and the urgency of his tone, Maggie finally put on a dress over her bedclothes, slipped on her shoes, and began hurrying towards the stern, following the stream of other passengers heading that way. As she moved, she suddenly noticed the daylight pouring in through the portholes along the ship’s corridors. How long have I been asleep, anyways?, she wondered to herself. Based on the murmurings and disbelieving squints her fellow passengers directed towards the sunlight, she was clearly not the only one disoriented by the shift. Directed by stewards and White Star employees placed throughout the corridors at the turns to tell people where to go, Maggie finally arrived in the third-class smoking room. It was in the sterncastle of the vessel, as far away from the bridge and bow of Titanic as it was possible to get unless one leaped off of the ship. There were no plush armchairs and tinkling chandeliers in this austere dark room, only hard brown wooden benches like those in a train station. It was filled with other first class passengers, all huddled and urgently talking. The lucky few to arrive first had claimed the bench space, while everyone else stood around in clumps. All were trying to get the lowdown on what exactly had happened to necessitate such an odd evacuation. Searching the room, Maggie at last identified a familiar face: Madeleine Astor, the pretty, youthful, outgoing wife of John Jacob Astor IV. The two had become friendly during the Astors’ vacation in Egypt, visiting the pyramids and cruising the Nile. She had not been quite sure what to think when they had first met given Madeleine’s age and the scandal it had caused, but her liveliness, intelligence, passion, and charm had grown on Maggie during their time together. She made her way over, feeling a bit less tense than before. Madeleine, brow furrowed with confusion, visibly sighed with relief when she saw her and reached out with an embrace as she came over.

“Do you know anything about what’s going on?,” asked Maggie.

The other woman (still a girl, really), shook her head. “Nothing definitive, but…” she trailed off.

Maggie squinted at her. “What? What?,” she demanded.

“Well,” said Madeleine, “some people were saying they heard gunfire coming from the bridge.”

Maggie Brown stared back in disbelief. “That can’t possibly be right,” she said. “All kinds of nonsensical rumors go around in emergencies. That must be one. What…who on Earth could possibly be having a gunfight here?”

“I don’t know,” replied Madeleine. “You’re probably right. But I haven’t seen any smoke or smelled any, and the ship isn’t listing, and we aren’t going to the lifeboats, so just what is it?”

Maggie nodded. “It is weird, I’ll say that much. Well, let’s wait. At some point, they’ll tell us exactly what’s afoot.”

Maggie, Madeleine, John Astor, and a couple of other friends from the Astors’ Egypt trip made quiet conversation for the next hour as still more passengers filtered in, sitting on the floor when standing became too uncomfortable. The smoking room and the area underneath it was positively jammed with first class passengers. Ironically, the people in second class as well as the poor Italians, Irish, Russians, and other third class passengers who usually had to put up with the engine room noises and other indignities of steerage got the better end of the deal at first. The second class, quartered in the stern, were able to stay in their staterooms and lie on their beds, while the third class sat in their rooms with them as they came aft. It was a much more comfortable arrangement than that enjoyed by the rich Englishmen, Americans, and others crammed onto the benches in the smoking room. This caused some grumbling amongst the first class passengers, many of whom asked to go downstairs…until the mysterious scalding heat began to really bake the ship.

John Astor frowned after fifteen minutes and took off his jacket while loosening his tie. “By God, what is this temperature?” he exclaimed. “It’s like being in Egypt!”

Madeleine’s eyes widened slightly. “Could we really be on fire?,” she asked quietly. “Is it spreading below decks?”

Maggie shook her head. “If we were close enough to feel the heat of the flames, we would smell some smoke. Do you?”

Madeleine shook her head. “I suppose not. But what explains this in the North Atlantic? We’re not on the Nile!”

Maggie Brown stood up in irritation and walked up to one of the seamen stationed at the doorway to supervise and prevent people from going back to their staterooms, drawing herself to her full height. “Now see here young man,” she snapped angrily, the heat, frustration, and unease getting to her. “I am about perspired out, I am hungry, I am disheveled, and I at least want to know what the hell is going on!,” she declared, raising her voice with the last words. The seaman looked apologetic. “Ma’am, I am sorry, but I cannot let you leave this part of the ship…”

“Fine then,” Maggie interrupted him, “but I demand to at least know why it is I am here and why you cannot do that.”

The seaman relented a bit. “You didn’t hear this from me, but the word among the crew is that there has been some sort of…security incident, up on the bridge. No one’s heard from Captain Smith or a lot of the other officers since, and Mister Lightoller looks to be running the show. There was gunfire earlier, and one of the lookouts took a gunshot wound. He was operated on earlier. Some of the petty officers were saying…” He paused for a moment, aware it sounded absurd. “Pirates,” he said finally.

Maggie looked at him sharply. “Son, this is not the time to be having me on if that’s what you’re…”

“I am not, ma’am,” he said. “I swear I would never, especially not in this situation.” He glanced about nervously. “I don’t think I’m supposed to tell you any of that, so don’t go around spreading a panic or saying I told you so.”

She gave him a long look before deciding he was indeed telling the truth. Thanking him curtly, she walked back to the others, who all looked at her with anticipation. “What did you find out?,” John asked urgently.

Maggie looked at Madeleine hesitantly. “You know that stuff you were saying earlier about a gunfight on the bridge that I bollocked right off? Maybe I shouldn’t have been so quick to do that.” She told them what she had heard, including the bit about the seaman in the crow’s nest who had supposedly been shot.

John Astor looked at her in disbelief. “How can that be possible? How could pirates find and board a ship in the middle of the Atlantic at night? How?” He shook his head, trying to find some more plausible explanation. “Could it be some madman passenger or crewman with a private firearm who went crazy up there? A mutiny of some sort?”

Maggie shrugged in tired confusion. “In all honesty, your guess is as good as mine. All I know is that’s what he told me, and it lines up with the scuttlebutt from earlier.”

The state of affairs continued until the sun went down. Stewards came by with sandwiches, water, and other quickly-made food to keep people hydrated and alert, a necessity since the heat was becoming a real problem. It was truly infernal, in at least the triple digits. And if it was this bad up here, Maggie couldn’t imagine what it was like below decks. Clearly, the answer was ‘very.’ Earlier in the evacuation, the crew had insisted on buttoning up the lounge and allowed no one on open, exposed deck. They were forced to amend themselves, however, as a trickle, then a torrent of howling infants and panting, red-faced elderly people made their way up from the second class areas, dangerously overheated. The first class passengers, to their credit, sprang up and tried to help, upper crust people in fine cloth doing what they could for their poorer fellow passengers. Water was produced, men and women attempted to fan the overtaxed with superfluous outer garments they had taken off, and endangered people were carried out on decks get a bit of fresh air, staying carefully in the well deck areas. All portholes and hatches were opened to air out the smoking lounge. Eventually, a sea breeze did start coming through, and the crew ordered everyone back inside the smoking room, rotating vulnerable people through it to prevent overexposure. They’re acting like there is someone out there with a gun, able to sweep the decks, Maggie thought quietly to herself.

Then, at around four o’clock, just as the rumors and tension seemed to reach a fever pitch, an officer came quietly into the area and stood on a bench to make an announcement. There was instant silence, with every red face in the room looking at what he had to say. “Ladies and gentlemen, I am here to give you some word on exactly why you have been forced into these circumstances. Earlier today, there was an incident on the bridge. A few men with guns went up there and took six crew members hostage. No one has died, although one crewman was hurt superficially and has been treated.” Herbert John Pitman cleared his throat and drew in his breath against the heat as worried muttering broke out among the passengers. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he said again, holding up a hand and closing it into a fist for quiet, “The situation is being dealt with now. We know exactly where all of them are and have them penned up on the bridge. We have arms ourselves, and can keep them up there and prevent them from moving around the ship. Help is coming as we speak. You have done very well so far, and I must ask that above all else you please remain calm and stay here. That is the single most important thing you can do to ensure that we all get through this safely. It is being dealt with, and all will end well.” The moment he stopped talking, a small degree of pandemonium broke out, with everyone shouting questions to him.

“Is there anything we can do to help you?,” called John Astor. “Manning the line ourselves, or…?” Many other men made similar offers, feeling compelled to try and protect those around them. Others demanded to know who was in charge, or the veracity of various rumors that had been circulating in the prior hours.

“No, no, no,” shouted Pitman. “Just stay here, remain calm, and follow instructions. Anything else will be harmful to good order and discipline. Just stay here.” He turned tail and walked back out of the room, leaving the seamen stationed in it to make sure everyone calmed down and didn’t stampede, and headed back to the impromptu war room in the first class reading room. Well, that wasn’t an utter catastrophe, he thought to himself. He had doubts himself about the wisdom of telling the passengers everything when the order came down to do it. Lightoller and Butt, however, had thought otherwise. They knew that in any case the truth would leak out and were worried that in the meantime the fear of the unknown coupled with the discomfort of the passengers’ state would eventually push things past the breaking point. That could cause the stampede or mutiny they had otherwise hoped to avoid. It appeared they had been right in their thinking, as things were still under control.

Back in the smoking room, which many of its occupants had taken to called The Oven, everyone tried to digest the staggering news they had just received. “Pirates!,” exclaimed Maggie Brown. “Never in all my days…”

“God, the rumors were right!,” said Madeleine Astor in horrified wonderment.

“Alright, alright,” said John, trying to calm everyone down. “Stiff upper lip. It will be fine. All will be fine.”

Whether or not that was true, things eventually settled back down somewhat. On John’s suggestion, people tried to find hard objects to defend themselves with if the conflict on the bridge should somehow come to them. A fire axe, some pipes, brooch pins, and even a blade normally concealed within an umbrella were produced. Having done something that made them feel a bit more secure, people settled back down, sighing in relief when night came and things turned a bit cooler, but also wondering with growing apprehensiveness when exactly help would come. At long last, ten minutes after ten, they got their answer. Margaret had gotten up for the hundred-and-something time to pace with agitation, as much as she could in the crowded room. As she came past the hatch that opened onto the stern well deck, a remarkable thing happened. It opened, and she started, looking to see if perhaps another officer had come with news. But she could not place the sight that met her eyes.

Maggie stared with intense focus at what appeared to be some sort of armed bug-men, not sure quite what to think. They were in the shape of humans, but were covered in equipment she could not name, wearing clothes patterned with an odd swirl of green and brown, and wore bizarre head gear that contained piercing green dots of light in the center. Her curiosity warred with the feelings of unease this situation was giving her. These humanoid beings were completely foreign to anything in her experience, but the objects they were carrying were clearly firearms of some sort, and based on the way they were carrying them they were here to use them. Considering the circumstances that had led her out of her tony stateroom to be stuffed into the Titanic’s stern so many hours before, strange people with firearms very possibly did not signify anything good. Finally, her curiosity got the better of her and she asked who they were. The being in front replied in American English devoid of any regional accent that he was a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy. He asked who she was and which ship this was. Huh? Who doesn’t know what the Titanic is? Has this fellow been living under under a rock? The thing didn’t reply. Finally, it lifted off its bizarre headdress, revealing a fit, clean-shaven white man underneath. So these were indeed humans. “Ok,” Jefferson said. “Ok. One more question: where did you leave from?”

“Portsmouth? We also hit Cherbourg and Cork before we crossed the Atlantic,” she replied.

The lieutenant cocked his head like he hadn’t heard her quite right. “Ma’am, when did you leave and where were you heading?”

“To New York, stopping at Halifax first. We left on April 10, 1912. What is anyways, twenty questions?”

There were a couple soft chuckles from the men fanned out in a half circle behind Jefferson. The man himself started to look a little peeved. “Does this seem like the time and place to fuck with me?,” he barked testily. Maggie reared back a bit at the salty language.

“Watch yourself,” she snapped. “I may be from a mining shantytown, but I am still a lady.”

He held up his hands. “Ok ok, fine, sorry. My bad. But seriously, who are you and what is this this ship?”

She was getting seriously annoyed. “I don’t know what you’re blathering about. I am Margaret Brown, and this ship is the RMS Titanic. I have no idea what more you want to hear.”

This time he cocked his head with an expression of concern. “Ma’am, are you feeling alright? It’s pretty hot in here, right? Have you been drinking water?”

“I’m just fine, thank you very much,” she snapped. God, was this person an imbecile?

“Ok,” he said. “Ok.” Then he stepped forward and called out to the room, “What ship is this and when did it leave port?”

A chorus of people called back some variation of “The RMS Titanic on April 10, 1912” in voices rendered raspy by the heat and stuffiness of the room. Jefferson stared back in dumb incomprehension. Of all the copious training he had in hostage rescue and maritime operations, none of it covered the proper handling of apparent mass delusions among the passengers and crew. Finally, he decided use the phone a friend option available to all junior officers: ask a trusted NCO for advice. He turned to his platoon chief, a Vietnamese guy from San Jose, California named Vince Truong. He was a good leader and had seen Jamie through many a firefight on the sunburned plains and ruined cities of the Horn of Africa and the snowy peaks of Afghanistan.

Crouching and leaning over, he queried, “So, um…any insight here, Chief?”

“I don’t have a fucking clue either,” the other man said. Then he laughed. “Maybe a troop of method actors that got a little too deep into their role?”

Jefferson looked at him balefully. “Not the fucking time, shipmate.”

“Ok, ok. I don’t know, honestly, but we’re here to deal with the pirates. The people on Alabama were being chased and heard the gunshots, so that part is probably real. Let’s get back to that.”

Jefferson turned back toward the passengers and noticed something he hadn’t before: a man who was clearly a crew member, dressed in the timeless blue jersey and round cap of a junior seaman. He hadn’t noticed him before because he had focused on the person closest to the door, which had been the Brown lady.

Turning to address him, he asked, “Seaman, the info we have is that you were hit by pirates earlier today. Is that true, or did you smack an iceberg?”

The man gave him a bit of an odd look, as if the last part was sort of random. “Yessir, we were boarded by pirates this afternoon. They took six crew members hostage on the bridge, one of them the captain, and they are still up there. There is a blocking force of some crew and an army major on board keeping them penned up in there. Our ship’s Second Officer, Charles Lightoller, is running things from the first class reading and writing room.”

“Alright,” said Jefferson, thinking he was getting somewhere. “Alright. Let’s go up there and talk to your officers. We’ll wind their perimeter in so no one shoots each other and then storm the bridge. Please take us to them, sailor.”

The man from 1912 had found Jamie Jefferson as weird as the SEAL had found the people of the RMS Titanic. He, too, had wondered initially if this fellow was friendly or not, but after their conversation he relaxed. He had heard that the pirates were, of all things, black Africans, and these men were clearly not that. They talked like Americans, their technology seemed to be beyond what any pirate could be expected to possess, the situation was desperate, and since they had guns and he did not (there were only enough for the crew near the bridge), they could force their way up anyway. He decided to trust the mysterious men.

“Yessir. Follow me, sirs.”
April 9th, 2009—10:10, 200 miles off the coast of Somalia

The atmosphere in the first class reading and writing room cum command center was sweaty and lethargic. Charles Lightoller and Archibald Butt sat in armchairs, Butt fanning himself with some loose papers. Thomas Andrews was looking at some maritime engineering sketches more for the sake of something to do than anything else. Thomas King, one of the masters at arms, lay on a couch slack-jawed in sleep, thoroughly exhausted from the day’s events. A couple of other seamen and petty officers waited around to be given messages to send or to handle other business. The initial adrenaline of the day’s unexpected events had worn off, and the ordeal and the heat had everyone feeling sleepy. Now there was nothing to do but play the waiting game. Waiting for help, for the pirates to somehow give up, for anything else to happen. It came as a surprise, though, when something did happen.

A seaman walked in and made eye contact with Lightoller, who immediately sat up. The look on his face said he had news.

“Sir…,” said the man, “may I present the U.S. Navy.”

Then more than a dozen men walked in quietly behind the sailor, somber-faced and dressed in that totally unfamiliar clothing and gear that had so boggled the passengers in the stern. The one in front who seemed to be in charge stopped dead when he saw Charles Lightoller, who looked at him a bit puzzled. Besides the general strangeness of his person, the man really did look like he had just seen a ghost.

Lieutenant Jamie Jefferson had studied the tale of the Titanic in some level of detail at Annapolis. The lessons in damage control, emergency management, safety procedures, and ship handling that had been sorely learned from the tragedy were critical knowledge for all mariners. One of the principal characters of focus had been one Charles Lightoller, the senior ranking officer to survive the sinking. He had stuck in Jefferson’s mind: his colorful exploits from the Boer War to the Dunkirk evacuation made him a memorable guy. The portrait photos he had seen in those lessons matched the man who now stood across the room from him to a tee.

Lightoller spoke first. “I am bloody glad to see you gentlemen, although I must ask you, how on Earth is an American ship present in the Indian Ocean in exactly the time and place to respond so quickly?”

“You know where you are then?,” said Jefferson. “Let’s just say that this is a dangerous neighborhood you’re in. We’re part of an international anti-piracy patrol that plays sheriff around here.”

He should have wondered about the guy’s sanity or grown angry again at whatever joke this was, but some vague and growing sense that there was more going on here than he knew prevented him from doing that. The SEAL didn’t know precisely what all this was, but it now seemed a good deal less ludicrous. Something…real was happening, and he would take things at face value.

“Ok. Mr. Lightoller, we will deal with things from here. I want my guys to replace yours in the blocking positions you have near the bridge. We’ll move up and get you your crew members back. Can you tell me how many different ways there are to get to and from the bridge?”

“There are four ways to get to the area of the navigating bridge and the wheelhouse just behind it,” replied the Second Officer without missing a beat. “It can be entered through either wing of the navigating bridge, through a corridor that goes past the officers’ quarters and into the wheel house, and through the captain’s sitting room, which in turn has a door to the navigation room, which in turn opens into the wheel house.”

“I have a diagram of all this,” piped up Thomas Andrews in back, shuffling through the pile of papers in front of him on the coffee table to pull out the correct design schematic.

“Fantastic,” said Jamie Jefferson as the men huddled around it. “Ok,” said Jefferson. “So show me where your sentries are.”

Lightoller pointed to positions on the officers’ promenade decks on each side of the Titanic, a position in the corridor that joined the captain’s sitting room, and the corridor onto which the port side officers’ quarters opened. “In addition to the named, there is also another one with one of the Enfields in the crow’s nest. I put him up there in case they tried to move down onto the foredeck, descend into the ship, and then head aft on one of the lower decks.”

Jefferson visibly perked up at the last bit. “The crow’s nest…,” he replied, thoughtfully stroking his chin. “Hmmm. How is it entered? Are you observable from the pirates’ position while doing so?”

“No,” said Andrews, finally feeling useful and in his element as he described the interior of the ship he had built. “The mast on which it is mounted is hollow. It is accessed via a ladder on the inside.”

Jefferson smiled widely. “That’s great. That’s really great. How many shooters do you think I can put up there?”

“Two,” said Andrews. “I do not think any more would fit easily.”

“One more thing. I assume you have had this one sentry up there for a while. In that time, can you tell me how many different pirates have been observed?”

“Precisely four,” replied Lightoller. “From the reports, there are three up on the navigating bridge and wheelhouse at any given time and one off in the back rooms, probably resting.”

“Ok, that will do. I can put them there and get updates in real time on where the pirates are and what they’re doing. Maybe, just maybe, they can take the four of them out and save us the trouble of an explosive breach.”

Lightoller looked at him utterly blankly. “…Lieutenant Jefferson? You’ve lost me. How are two marksmen going to communicate with the rest of your detachment? By shouting very loudly? Won’t that alert the pirates?”

Jefferson sighed, used to the routine by now. “Has no one here really ever heard of a radio?”

“Well, yes, but obviously…”

Jefferson cut Lightoller off.

“Chief, put your earpiece on him,” he said to Truong, jerking his head at the Second Officer.

The man took it out and stuffed the bud into Lightoller’s ear as he cringed slightly, looking vaguely weirded out. Jefferson pressed a button on his own equipment and spoke into his throat mic. “Mr. Lightoller, do you believe me now?”

The man jumped in shock, and jerked the thing out of his ear in surprise. “Bloody hell,” he cried. “That’s…that’s…It was IN MY HEAD!”

He looked sharply back at Jefferson after a second of stunned silence. “And these telephone radios of yours, they can do that over longer distances than within a room?”

“Of course,” replied the SEAL. “They’ll reach for miles with that same level of clarity.”

“Fuck,” swore the Second Officer in wonderment. “Well, isn’t that something.”

“Ok,” said the SEAL. “Here’s what we’re gonna do. Please take those two of my guys through the lower decks to the start of the crows’ nest ladder.” While saying it, he pointed at a pair of his men with ACOG scopes on their M4s. “Day, Lutza, that’s going to be you guys.” Turning back to Lightoller, he said, “Sir, we’re going to take over from your sentries and have them withdraw. You guys have done really, really fine work, but we’ll take it from here. Having untrained sailors that can’t communicate working with my people is going to get someone other than the pirates killed.”

The Second Officer nodded in hard, vigorous relief, feeling as though a weight had been lifted from his shoulders. Finally, some people who appeared to actually know what they were doing were going to call the shots. Thank God. “Yes, yes, that sounds good. I’ll send a seaman with you to each sentry location so the sentries don’t get spooked at all these unknown people with guns.”

Jefferson nodded. “Ok, one man to each location,” he said, pointing to four other men in his platoon and telling them which points to go to. Lightoller gave his sailors orders to partner with each one. Then men departed together, and the SEAL turned back to the other men at the table, who leaned forward eagerly. “Alright,” he said. “I don’t suppose these officer quarters happen by any chance to have windows facing the promenade deck, do they?”

“Yes, they do,” said Andrews. “Brass-rimmed, each a little less than three feet wide.”

“Good. Good,” said Jefferson. “I think I know what we’re going to do, but we’ll wait and see and maybe tweak it a little depending on where exactly our eyes in the crow’s nest report back to us. Let’s wait for them to get into position…”

Fifteen minutes later…

“Tiger actual, this is Tiger 7 and Tiger 9. In position, ready to report, over.”

“Copy Tiger 7,” replied Jamie Jefferson. “Proceed, over.”

“Tiger actual, they’ve got the hostages in the wheel house. One tango in there watching over them, two more on the navigating bridge. We do not have eyes on the fourth one, over.”

“Copy that. Can you confirm all six hostages present in the wheel house, over?”


“Do you have a shot on the two tangos on the navigating bridge?”

“Double roger, Tiger actual.”

“Ok then, let us know if the fourth one pops out or if anything else changes. Tiger actual out.”

Jefferson turned to his men. “Ok,” he said, holding up the blueprint for all to see and pressing down on his transmit switch so the SEALs outside the room could hear what he was saying. “That all having been settled, here’s how we’re going to swing it. The Chief Officer’s Quarters are closest to the skinnies and the hostages, so we’re going to go in through the port promenade deck windows with the crowbar. Once inside, we will stack up and move outside into the corridor, stopping at this corner. Our overwatch will put a round in each of the ones on the navigation bridge, and on their go we will roll hard around the corner and toss a flashbang into the wheelhouse. While they’re dazzled, we move in and nail the one in there. Tiger 15 and 16 will secure the hostages while the rest of us hunt down the remaining tango. I’d bet actual money that he’s off shift and is lying down in the pilot room. There’s a bed in there. Is everybody understanding the plan and good to go? Sound off in order of callsign.”

Tiger 2 to 16 affirmed that they were ready to rock and roll.

April 9th, 2009—10:45, 200 miles off the coast of Somalia

The night was stolid and dead still as Lieutenant Jefferson led the SEALs down the wooden promenade deck of the Titanic, each man’s boots falling softly as they tried to make as little noise as possible. Finally, they arrived at the last set of shuttered windows on the promenade deck, the ones that opened into the quarters of Chief Officer Henry Wilde, currently a thoroughly miserable guest of the Somalians on the bridge. The men fanned out in a semicircle as one of their number slid a crowbar into the space between the window and the brass frame and forced it open with a sturdy push. Looking inside to ensure it was clear, the point man put the tool away and crawled inside, bringing his M4 up and pointing it at the door on the right side of the room, waiting to see if anyone had heard the noise and would come to check it out. No one had, and after ten seconds he raised his hand and beckoned his compatriots forward. One by one, they crawled through the window and crammed themselves into the room. At ten men, it was an excruciatingly tight squeeze, and the men nearest to the doors instinctively slung their M4 5.56 mm rifles and withdrew their Sig Sauer P226 9mm handguns, which could be employed more easily in the limited space. After they had oriented themselves, Jefferson, the second man to the door, motioned quietly. “Everyone get switched on,” he said. “When 7 and 9 knock down the two on the navigating bridge, we roll.”

“Tiger 7-9, you guys ready to take the shots?,” he hissed into his mic.

“Affirmative, over,” replied the marksmen.

“Weapons free. We move on your go, over.”

April 9th, 2009—10:25, 200 miles off the coast of Somalia

Abduwali Muse was now distinctly frightened. He had been surrounded by death all his life, growing up in the divided slum of Galkayo, awash in poverty and violence. He had seen the bodies of friends and enemies torn to pieces by bullets, bloated by hunger, and ravaged by disease. He had been through many close shaves himself, and he certainly hadn’t chosen a profession calculated to better his chances of longevity. Most people who played this game didn’t come back. They were swallowed by the endless blue sea, picked off by foreign soldiers, sailors, and mercenaries who protected the commerce they preyed on, or met any number of other possible fates. Somewhere at the bottom of it, though, he had thought that it wouldn’t be him. He hadn’t felt completely invulnerable, but no matter how much death he had seen, as a twenty-year old he could not easily conceive of his own mortality. But even he had to admit to himself that this might be it.

They were finished. He knew it in his bones. They had all seen the warship, catching a glimpse of it from far off when the container ship had pulled away. They could not force their way into the rest of the ship or exert control over the areas beyond the bridge. They could not go back to Somalia. And surrendering meant spending decades in a western prison, or maybe just being shot and thrown over the side like spoiled bait. They had no cards to play, unless maybe, somehow, they did. They still had the hostages and their guns. Maybe, just maybe, some miracle could occur and they could negotiate a way out. They’d drop all demands for ransom pay and agree to let these miserable whites go in exchange for being allowed to go back to Galkayo. It had been many hours since anyone had cared about ransom money, except maybe that moron Najee, who had been raving about blasting away anyone who tried to take the ship back from them. He must store all that hot air right between his ears, thought Muse. The pirate paced a bit on the starboard wing of the navigating bridge to clear his head. He was rotating his men off duty one at a time, giving them each a couple hours to rest before they came back. Nour Najee stood on the other wing, looking his usual pissed-off and vaguely psychotic self. The khat really didn’t react well with that one. Walid Elmi, who Muse liked best for being quiet, low-drama, and fairly competent, was standing watch in the wheelhouse keeping an eye on the hostages. Muse trusted him to not get jumpy and shoot them unnecessarily if he thought they might be trying to rush him, or to taunt and provoke them unnecessarily. Adnan Bilal, the baby of the bunch, still just a teenager, was resting in the back room, snoozing for a couple hours on the bed they had found in the pilot room behind the wheelhouse. Poor kid. Muse was fond of him and hoped to get him back alive to his mother. He lived in awe of the older men on Muse’s crew and of football stars, whose ranks he harbored a dream of joining one day. He should have been playing that game, not this one. If only Somalia wasn’t such a fucked-up place, he thought.

A death in combat is almost always grotesque and disfiguring. The only question is whether the unfortunate soul fated to experience it suffers excruciating pain in the process. If one is lucky, the damage is extreme and instantaneous, hurling one off of the mortal coil before what happened can even be comprehended. Abduwali Muse was fortunate enough to experience this sort of death. The 5.56 NATO round that flew through the bridge window whizzed through his right arm before entering his trunk. Flattened and deformed from its passage through glass and flesh, it tumbled in the exact way that it was designed to do, making steak tartare of the pirate’s heart and pancreas and causing severe, though entirely redundant, damage to his liver, lungs, and kidneys from the temporary cavity it created. It exited his body through one of his false ribs, flew through the bulkhead in the rear of the bridge, and ended its flight in the navigating room. Muse was pushed to the floor, dead before he could even feel the pain as the blood supply to his brain stopped instantaneously.

Nour Najee’s death was quicker still. The projectile delivered to him by callsign Tiger 7 hit him where his upper back met his neck just as he turned around to look at the hostages in the wheel house with hate in his eyes, wishing he could take his rage and fear out on them. Despite the impeccable training of the marksman targeting him, no bullet could ever be completely predictable when fired through glass. The round tumbled higher than the SEAL firing it had intended, striking him directly on the C5 and C6 vertebrae and imploding the rest of his upper spine with the expansion of the temporary cavity before flying through his esophagus and trachea. The effect was the same as if he had been beheaded with a guillotine, with all air supply and nerve signals cut between his body and his head. He collapsed, dead less than a second after impact. Before the first pain of glass broken by the windows had hit the deck, all pirates on the navigating bridge of the RMS Titanic were eliminated.

Walid Elmi’s death was slightly delayed compared to the others. He heard the windows break in the neighboring room and looked up sharply in surprise towards the navigating bridge, wondering where Muse and Najee had disappeared to. Then he heard footfalls slamming down loudly outside and jerked his head around just in time to see the door to the wheelhouse open a crack and a small, dark object get tossed in before it was shut again quickly. An M84 flashbang creates 180 decibels of sound and one million candela of light in a fraction of the time it takes a human to blink, blinding anyone caught in its radiance for at least seven seconds. Elmi cried out and staggered as the supernova in front of him overloaded every optical and auditory circuit in his brain, filling his eyes with a screen of brilliant white light that would not leave. The pain the stun grenade caused his senses was quickly alleviated by the seven different bullets that struck him in the arm, chest, neck, and head as the SEALs stormed into the room. He felt the first couple of impacts before the white light in his eyes was replaced eternally with black.

Even through the bulkhead and closed door that separated the wheelhouse and the pilot room, the blast many decibels louder than a 747 engine that the grenade emitted was overwhelming. Adnan Bilal, jolted out of sleep, leaped off the bed and fell to the floor in astonishment. When he heard the shots, deep inside he knew what was happening. Those could only be the sounds of rescuers coming to get their prisoners, and there could be no hope of resistance against such a violent and immediate assault. He instinctively grabbed his AK off the floor for protection, then with a sudden jolt thought he should drop it and surrender. The indecision paralyzed him, and tragically sealed the young teenager’s fate. Out of the ten SEALs serving as breachers, two had quickly secured the hostages while the other eight, working in two squads of four, had stacked up to move into the pilot room and chart room behind the wheelhouse immediately after clearing it, knowing the elusive fourth pirate must be in one of them. In a similar sight to Walid Elmi’s last coherent one, Bilal saw the door quickly open and shut, saw the dark object fly quickly in and stared at it unknowingly as it turned the dark quiet of the room into glorious light. Bilal threw his arm instinctively over his eyes, trying to block out the light that scorched his retinas. He instinctively held onto his rifle, not being able to think to drop it as he focused only on trying to regain his senses. The first SEAL through the door saw the young black man with a rifle and ended his life with a burst to his chest. Bilal, the only one of the four to truly comprehend his end collapsed on the floor as his life drained away. He would have no more dreams of soccer or of the money that might just buy him a ticket to someplace better now.

“Clear,” called the SEAL who had shot him.

Outside, Jamie Jefferson sighed in relief. All four accounted for, he thought quietly. Mission accomplished.

He put his hand to his transmit switch and reported. “Bainbridge, Tiger actual. Tangos down, all hostages accounted for and secured, over.”

“Copy your last,” replied the destroyer.

Fewer than eight seconds had passed between the first two pirates being sniped and the last one being killed in the pilot room. After more than nine excruciating hours, the hostage crisis aboard the RMS Titanic was over.
April 9th, 2009—10:50, 200 miles off the coast of Somalia

Jefferson winced as he swept his flashlight through the black, dusty mechanical guts of the Titanic’s engine room, feeling like he was about to drop from the heat. The crew said it was a little better than it had been in daytime, but that still meant it was over 120 degrees Fahrenheit. The black gang had been working in shifts of no more than hour each, with only a skeleton crew remaining below decks to produce just enough steam pressure to keep the electricity on. God, this place is definitely not up to fucking code, he thought. How do they not drop dead with so little ventilation? This was the part of the night no one relished. There was a 99.9% chance all the pirates were dead; none had been reported in any place but the bridge, but they still had to sweep the ship’s vital spaces to ensure it was clear before anything else happened. They didn’t have the men to fully search a ship of this size and complexity, so a full sweep would have to wait until they made port. Until then a few SEALs would stand guard in the bridge and engine room with others on roving patrol through the rest of the decks to respond quickly if one had slipped through the net. Jefferson already knew which of those duties his men would be fighting to avoid. Jesus, hopefully Tricare covers black lung…

Truong walked up to him and switched off his flashlight. “All clear, sir,” he said with a look of slight wonderment on his face. “Hey, do you know what seems just as ridiculous as the actual Titanic jumping a hundred years into the future and a couple oceans over?”

“What?,” asked Jefferson.

“A yard managing to produce a fully-functioning, full scale, coal-fired perfect carbon copy of the Titanic, fill it with period actors, and then get it to set sail. Without ANYBODY hearing anything about it.”

“Yeah, you kind of have a point there, Vince.”

April 9th, 2009—4:30, in the White House

Barack Obama leaned back in his chair in the Oval Office, coat off and sleeves rolled up, as he read a particularly dull report from Health and Human Services on the likely impact of various reforms to the insurance industry. He looked up in surprise as Rahm Emmanuel, General Peter Pace, Admiral Gary Roughead, Bob Gates, and three more junior officers walked into the room. Obama immediately sat up and looked at them with curious apprehension. Well, this day just got a hell of a lot more interesting. The Chief of Staff, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the SecDef, and the Chief of Naval Operations showing up together unscheduled with those vaguely ashen faces meant that something really, really…unusual, at least, was going on. And given the specific portfolios of everyone in the party except Rahm, it probably wasn’t unusual in a positive way. The men stood in front of the Resolute Desk as no chairs had been brought in for the surprise meeting, and after a moment of painfully awkward silence, Rahm Emmanuel spoke up. “Mr. President, something really, really bizarre just happened. You remember that ocean liner off the coast of Somalia that got boarded by pirates?” Obama did; one of the navy people from the National Security Council had given him a short briefing on the situation right after he had woken up in the morning and he had verbally authorized a boarding if an opportunity emerged. The officer had vaguely mentioned something about the ship was odd; it might be on fire and they couldn’t identify conclusively exactly which one it was, but the President had brushed that off and moved about the rest of his day.

“Yeah, what happened?”

Emmanuel looked at the CNO, who cleared his throat. “Well, Mr. President, we have good news. The ship was boarded and all of the pirates were neutralized without any casualties to the team, crew, or passengers. However…” He took a deep breath. “Mr. President, the ship and its officers swear up and down they’re the RMS Titanic. Yes, the one that hit the iceberg. And the team aboard is saying that they think, somehow, that it actually is. All the people look and talk like they’re from 1912, it uses coal boilers, and the pictures they’ve sent back of some of the famous crew members look exactly like the ones from the actual ship.”

Obama sat back and looked at them with an amused smile that trailed off into a look of befuddlement as no one cracked a grin or said anything to the effect of “April fools!” “So…is this some kind of institutional tradition nobody warned me about? Once a term, you walk into the Oval Office and brief the President on a totally ridiculous made-up crisis with a straight face just to see what he says, or what?”

All of them shook their heads vehemently. “No Mr. President, we wouldn’t do that. God’s honest truth, to the best of our knowledge, we are not joking,” said General Peter Pace. He gestured to one of the lower-ranking aides.

“Show him.”

The man produced a laptop and opened it in front of the President, pulling up a powerpoint presentation. “Mr. President, these are relevant screen captures from the video taken by the cameras the Navy SEALs who boarded the ship have on their helmets. As you can see, some of the photos are side by side with historical ones we’ve been able to find from the original Titanic. The colored ones are from today, the black and white from back then. The President motioned him aside and looked at the slides, clicking his finger on the space bar to move through them. First was a photo of the bridge, looking very sparse and austere compared to the control spaces of the ships he’d toured. It was clearly the same room, the vast difference in the quality of the photos and some shattered windows and dark spots on the floor aside. “That’s where the engagement with the pirates happened, sir,” the aide said as Obama moved to the next one. Next was a brown-paneled room with a lot of benches that reminded the President of a train station, one that was very full of people dressed in bizarre clothing. The aide told him it was the third class smoking room, and that a lot of the passengers had been stuffed in there to get them away from the action. There were about eight or nine more pictures of various rooms before the presentation switched to side by side color and black and white photos of faces. The first one was of a sweaty, red-faced, disheveled old man with snowy white hair and beard next to a black and white one of him in a uniform, looking more better groomed and more composed. The latter stirred something in his memory. “That’s the captain, right?,” he said, remembering him from a book somewhere.

“Yes, that’s Captain Edward Smith. The next ones are of the ship’s other officers. We ran them through the facial recognition software in comparison with the old photos, and it came back with about an 85% chance of them being the same people, a little lower than usual because the old ones are grainy and black and white.”

Obama leaned back and closed his eyes. Nobody spoke while the President digested what he had been told. Finally, he leaned forward. “Ok, well, I’ll roll with it. Someone tell me what I should be thinking here. Is there something I need to do, or a designated national protocol for when God puts the time-space continuum through the woodchipper, or?…”

General Pace spoke up.

“The main thing now is to get the passengers off and to get it to port. The ship doesn’t have any sort of climate control, and the temperatures by day could get dangerous. The Boxer is the ship most equipped to handle this sort of thing, so she’ll take point on that when she gets on station, which will happen soon. She’ll take on as many as possible, in particular any that need medical attention, and the other ships in the task force will handle the rest. After that, we’re going to try towing the Titanic to port in Oman. They have the best facilities for this sort of thing. The passengers are gonna go to Mombasa. State is working out all the details right now.”

“Ok,” said the President. “Sounds good. Any idea how we’re supposed to tell the public about this?”

Emmaneul, ever the politics and PR guru, spoke up at that. “Let’s wait until daybreak when we can get some good photos for the media. It’ll make us sound a little less crazy, and we’re looking into getting DNA tests done on known descendants of the crew members and the crew themselves to get ironclad evidence.”

“Sounds good. Anything else?”

“That pretty much covers it, Mr. President,” said General Pace. “We’ll keep you updated as the situation develops.”

“Yeah, you do that,” said Obama. They took their cue and filed out. The President of the United States stared off into space, feeling utterly vapor locked. “Holy fucking shit,” he said out loud. So, this was gonna be his first real legacy moment in office, the one history would remember. He would shortly become the first President to go on TV and announce the repeal of the Laws of Physics. Man. Lincoln, Washington, FDR…they didn’t get to do that, he thought with a slight chuckle.