By Lieutenant Commander Jon Paris
“Right full rudder. All engines ahead, Flank Three!”
Jet engines spooled.
Hands shot to the steel cable running overhead, taking a death-grip.
The lieutenant junior grade looked over her shoulder. With a wry smile, she quipped to her Sailors, “Hold on to your butts.”
The ship heeled to port. They shifted their weight, eyes focused on the thermal camera.
An arm reached out to the bitch-box.
“Combat, Captain. Warship, ten to port, 3000 yards. Ten rounds SWARM, batteries released!”
Four seconds. Then, a BOOM.
The five-inch Surface Warfare Advanced Robotics Munition zoomed down-range towards its target. The Navy designed the rounds for up-close use in a communications-denied environment. They housed four small artificial intelligence-powered charges – flying baked potatoes, as the Sailors called them.
Each sub-munition contained a shot-gun blast of 88 micro-bots. Like a swarm of locusts, they feasted on radars, antennae, and fragile topside weapons. They homed-in on radiated energy, heat, and communications frequencies. Sharp claws latched onto their prey before the bots blossomed into a combined high-explosive and electromagnetic blast, snuffing out the ability to see, speak, and fight.
Not bad for a potato.
Flashes in the distance lit up the night. The camera showed a smoking frigate.
A Sailor growled, “Fear the Kraken!”
The young lieutenant slowed the ship and turned east. Shaking off exhaustion, she offered a sing-song, “Next, please.”
400 miles astern, an island suffocated in ash.
Three Days Ago
Grace awoke with a start. Curtains drawn, her room was pitch black. Four fifty-eight in the morning. Two minutes before her alarm.
She glanced at her phone and saw an alert:
“State of Hawaii: Ballistic Missile Threats Inbound! Take Deep Shelter Immediately! Civil Collapse Imminent! This Is Not A Drill!”
Grace’s high-rise condo shuddered and swayed. What the hell?
A hymn filtered from her TV.
She sat transfixed by the grainy image of an old-fashioned military band playing a mournful tune. When the music stopped, the screen turned to color bars.
Grace rushed onto her balcony. Fireballs crossed the horizon, shrieking like banshees. They raced over the nearby beach and slammed into the sleeping city.
A massive blast echoed through her neighborhood. The shockwave knocked Grace off balance, and she tumbled towards the edge – saved by a wobbly railing. Steadying herself, she watched in horror as the upper floors of a skyscraper avalanched onto the quiet streets below. Fire flickered off the low overcast.
Amidst the madness, an unexpected period of hyper-clarity. Sounds of destruction muffled. A naval professional, she worked the problem in a moment of Zen.
DF-30s, Grace observed. The only conventional missiles able to reach the Islands. We dodged a bullet, she thought sardonically. At least they’re not DF-41s…
A tremendous flash.
Blindness, fading quickly.
A mushroom cloud emerged from the mountains. Another one rose from the sea.
Tsunami sirens wailed and sputtered.
Well, air raid sirens, really.
Grace’s soot-covered Fiat weaved through apocalyptic destruction. Buildings lay flattened into rubble. Deep craters marred every street. She absorbed nightmares in slow-motion. Burning vehicles with drivers visible through flames. Live power lines slithering and hissing like angry cobras. A bus stop awash in a soupy heap of pulverized bodies and fluids.
Where am I going?
On autopilot, the junior officer drove in a zombified state. Her subconscious clocked the emergency broadcast system screeching from the car’s speakers. After thirty minutes weaving through gore, Grace rolled past an abandoned gate and into a noxious haze. Pearl Harbor was on fire.
She crept down the waterfront. A submarine’s propeller jutted out of the harbor and another boat wallowed on its side. A cruiser’s main mast pierced the roof of a nearby McDonald’s. Camouflaged corpses littered a crosswalk. Six ships stood damaged and sinking on the sea wall. Another drifted in the harbor. Total devastation.
Her ship – somehow – remained intact.
Grace rushed onto the quay and up the brow.
Survivors from the duty section stood topside in knots. They coalesced and stared.
Grace noted their expectant faces. “Where is the CO? The XO? The CDO?”
A Senior Chief swept her arm at the surrounding hellscape. “Dead, like everyone else. You’re the first person we’ve seen come onto the base.”
Grace was a woman of action. The crew – her crew – needed orders.
She locked onto an engineer. “Chief, place all Mains online and roll shafts. On the double!”
“Aye, aye, ma’am!”
To another – “Boats, grab some axes. Cut these lines.”
To the group – “We’re the last of the Pineapple Fleet. Station the sea and anchor detail. Let’s get the hell out of here.”
The destroyer slid down the channel. The ship’s senior surviving officer supervised two Sailors pilot the ship into the Pacific. Pillars of smoke marked Honolulu. The mushroom clouds loomed menacingly.
What do I do now?
Only one answer: fight.
Scuffed black boots rested on a teak rail. Grace’s bloodshot eyes took in the sea as she leaned back in the Captain’s chair.
“…that’s the thing, there is no COP! No imagery, no communications. No intelligence or reachback support. It’s all dark. Nothing left. We are the Navy. The crew is exhausted. No rest. No relief. No mission. No hope! They want to go home. What are we doing out here?”
Grace stared straight ahead and snarled back, “What are we doing out here, Captain.”
She shifted in her chair and scowled. “Senior Chief, there is no home. They nuked us.”
She shook her head, frustrated.
“What are we doing out here?” Grace gestured to the sea.
“Gee, Senior, what do you think? Dammit – we are independent steaming with a crew of 35 facing an enemy who wiped out our country. We’re going to die out here. I’d like to get in a few punches before we’re through.”
The Captain leaned forward and pressed fingers into her temples.
“I’m 25 years old, I am tired, and I don’t want to die. But we witnessed The End! It’s over. Let’s go down fighting, eh?” She sat up with palms on her knees. “We need answers. We’re going to find the enemy and shoot until we’re Winchester – or dead.”
Senior Chief stood with her arms crossed and raised an eyebrow at the young officer. “Well… Captain. You won’t get much from this crew if you tell them the world is over.” She pointed into the bridge at the 1MC general announcing system. “After you, ma’am.”
Grace took a beat and then brushed past her senior enlisted leader.
“Team Kraken, Captain here. I wish I had better news. None of us ever imagined we would see Doomsday, but here we are. They attacked our country. Unprovoked and overwhelming. Death on an unprecedented scale. The End of all we know and love.”
She paused, then gulped.
“You 35 survived – to fight! The enemy is out here – I know it! I offer one thing: revenge! Our country won’t burn in vain. It is a terrible thing, but our families are gone. Today, we fight for their memory. And for each other! We will do our part – kill the enemy. Our final act. Harness your courage. Stoke the fires of hate in your hearts. Sail with me into the last pages of human history. Fear the Kraken!”
Grace un-clicked the 1MC mic and stared at her Senior Chief. “Time for work.”
The blue lights cast an other-worldly glow over the group huddled around a glass-top table in the Combat Information Center.
“Ma’am, last night we were dark and silent. We got lucky by stumbling into their blind spot. Today we stalk them… then kill them.”
The speaker was two years younger than Grace, but the Captain had aged decades since leaving port. She side-eyed the Electronic Warfare Officer, “SLQopters?”
The ensign tapped his knuckles twice on the table. An impish grin, “SLQopters, ma’am.”
The SLQopter brought a revolution in the supremacy of electronic warfare at sea. Built off the frame of a commercial quadcopter, it was solar and wind powered. Along with an AI mission computer, it carried the newest SLQ-32(V)8 sensor – the size of a hard-cover novel. The SQL-32(V)8 EW Suite detected and categorized electronic emissions. Radars. Each ship carried three SLQopters, facilitating long-range electronic surveillance and, when integrated with the destroyer’s onboard suite, precision location and targeting.
“Ok, Team. Flight quarters in one hour. We’re going to unleash our tentacles and see what we wrap up.”
The assembled crew milled about. No enthusiasm. Grace pursed her lips and continued, “…it won’t be a surprise this time. They’ll see the attack coming… and where it came from. I expect a response.”
To her Senior Chief, “If we live to see sunrise, I’ll take your recommendation and sail to Alaska – somewhere like that. If not – at least we’ll have gone down like Kraken.”
Her fingers tapped a code on the cypher-lock. A loud click. She pushed through the heavy door into a dark alcove. The crew’s only rated-communicator sat slumped over his keyboard. A desk lamp cast his shadow along the bulkhead.
The Captain shook his shoulder.
The young petty officer startled. He could not meet Grace’s eyes.
“Ma’am, I’ve been trying. Twice an hour, every hour. Over SATCOM and secure email. Nothing. No answer. I… I think we’re it, Captain.”
He choked back sobs.
Grace glanced at the green logbook on the desk and at the computer screen. Both showed the same repeated entry:
“Third Fleet, this is Kraken. Island of Oahu attacked in massive conventional/nuclear strike. Pearl Harbor destroyed. 36 Kraken crew only survivors. Underway Middle Pacific hunting prc warships. No communication with friendly forces. USS Kraken assumed last remaining. Request assistance, orders, and nearest safe harbor. Standing by this net, out.”
Disappointment, but not surprise.
If they nuked Hawaii, they nuked San Diego, Norfolk, and Washington – probably Annapolis. Her home in New York City. Probably a dozen Chinese cities. Europe, too? She supposed it didn’t matter much with fallout.
Of course there was no response.
Knees weak – Grace felt alone.
Wiping her face with the sleeves of her coveralls, she offered the Communicator a chuck on the shoulder. She walked out and heard his next futile transmission:
“Third Fleet, this is Kraken…”
Grace hunched over the tabletop in on the port side of the Combat Information Center. A hologram of the EW battlespace projected over the station. She watched the SLQopters flit about like dragonflies over the horizon. The system was passive. The SLQcopters executed their own program and reported back when they sniffed out prey.
The EW Officer sat at a nearby console. With eyes closed, he listened intently to his headset. His fist popped up as a straight blue line materialized out of the southern-most SLQcopter’s symbol. “Dash One, contact. Dragon Eye, bearing 320 True.”
The news electrified the watch team in CIC. A Dragon Eye radar belonged to a Chinese destroyer.
A junior Sailor yelled, “Mother, contact. Dragon Eye, bearing 290 True.” The ship held the electronic emission. A green line streaked out of the own-ship symbol on the 3-D display. Yellow and white lines materialized from the remaining SLQcopters. All lines intersected in a tight pinwheel.
“Captain, EW, we have a precision track, classified as PRC destroyer, unknown type. Bearing 290 True, 72 nautical miles.”
A red diamond showed on every screen in Combat. Track 8762.
There would be no second salvo. When Kraken powered its sensors and loosed its weapons, the sky would fill with gigawatts of radiated energy and dozens of enemy missiles.
They still had an out.
Kraken was invisible – outside the enemy’s radar range. Not emitting a peep. They could remain silent, maneuver, and sneak away unscathed. Sail north to the Aleutians and find a patch of unpoisoned land. Catch fish until the radiation got them. Or bears.
The destroyer was buttoned up. Sailors dogged watertight doors from stem to stern. Every member of Grace’s crew was at a battle station – driving the ship, overseeing its engines, here with her in Combat. One below in Radio Central.
This Chinese ship represented those who wiped out America and ruined the world for all mankind. This enemy killed everyone her crew ever loved. It was time to make them pay.
“TAO, set Robo Ship.”
The Chief standing TAO responded, “Aye, aye, ma’am,” and mashed a series of glowing variable action buttons.
“Ma’am, the ship is ready in all respects.”
Grace thought of her 13-year-old dog, Max. Of her boyfriend, her parents, and friends from Annapolis. She recalled wild port calls throughout Asia. Fun parties in Waikiki. Tailgating at the North Shore polo fields. Road trips across the mainland.
“TAO, Naval Strike Missile mission – salvo size, 10. Simultaneous Time on Top, Track 8762.”
The TAO conferred with the Strike team.
“Mission set, ma’am.”
Grace’s focus narrowed.
“TAO, Captain, kill Track 8762, Naval Strike Missile.”
The Communicator jumped.
The sound of launch cells slamming open would wake the dead. He felt the vibrations and heard the SWOOSH of each missile leaping into the air.
Top of the hour. Would this be his final transmission?
A nearby Sailor called out, reporting new enemy emissions.
Well, we’re in it now. They’ve returned fire down our bearing.
Time to defend.
Kraken’s monstrous SPY-8 3-D radar came alive, tingling with energy. One-by-one, five new radar tracks popped up, their vectors boring in on the ship. Along with reporting the missiles’ seekers, the SLQcopters picked up three new Dragon Eye radars.
Not unexpected, but a major bummer, nonetheless.
She shouted an order, “Set SLQopters to JAM!”
Kraken heeled hard to port, unmasking its sensors.
Meanwhile, the Communicator pecked at his keyboard. Finishing the last sentence, his eyes registered a blink on the screen. His outbox, which once held dozens of attempts to reach higher headquarters, now read zero.
All my work!
“Dammit,” he shouted. He slammed his fists down and wailed, delaying his voice transmission.
SWOOSH. SWOOSH. SWOOSH. The cacophony from the fusillade above drowned out the newfound buzzing and squelches in his headset.
Grace sat in Combat and watched the red and blue vectors merge on the large screen displays. Sweat glistened. Her salvos of surface-to-air missiles knocked down all but one inbound threat. Her chain gun nabbed the leaker. The Naval Strike Missiles made it through and slammed into the hull of the original Chinese destroyer.
The watch team in Combat erupted in cheers.
Static. A quelch.
High-pitched screeches. “…report… position. Mainland…proceed direct…Diego.”
The Communicator bolted upright.
The ruckus died down on Kraken. The Captain leveraged the chaos and ordered the bridge to turn north at max speed. She took a calculated risk and silenced her radar. It was time to affect their escape, leaving SLQopters as their only defense. The bow dug into the waves and the ship sped through 30 knots.
A deck below Combat, the Communicator strained his ears.
A distinct voice!
The petty officer did not trust himself. The radio whined in his ears as he spun a tuning dial.
With concerted effort, the static disappeared. The circuit was crystal clear.
“Kraken, this is Third Fleet. Proceed direct to San Diego at best speed. Acknowledge, over.”
The young man’s mouth went dry.
On the bitch box, “Captain, report to Radio! Captain, report to Radio!”
Grace acknowledged the call and stood.
Before she could hustle out, the EW Officer let loose a string of expletives. The Captain saw a tangled web of colored lines from the SLQopters.
The angles marched towards her ship.
More enemy threats inbound.
She lit off Kraken’s radar. Her remaining missiles belched into the sky.
The Communicator tried the radio again.
“Third Fleet, this is Kraken. Engaged with Chinese warships, over.”
More static washed out the response.
After the final cell emptied above, quiet blanketed the ship.
A DING from his computer broke it.
The inbox showed a new message:
“Kraken, copy destruction of Pearl Harbor. fleet commander offers bz for taking your ship to sea! PRC missile attack limited to Hawaiian islands – CONUS threats neutralized. Surgical counter-strikes executed. Mainland recovering from cyber-attack; Fleet and civilian infrastructure intact. Regret communications blackout.
Orders: take all measures to avoid enemy. preserve asset for future employment. Proceed San Diego at best speed for refit and debriefing. Acknowledge receipt. Third Fleet sends.”
The EW battlespace hologram showed 36 YJ-18 anti-ship cruise missiles converging on the American destroyer.
Grace and her crew had displayed unmatched courage. Each crew member saw their lives flash in front of them, proud of their roles as the final surviving Americans.
They were ready.
The ship’s guns fired their last rounds from glowing barrels, then fell silent. In the background, the Communicator screamed for the Captain’s attention.
With fire in her stare, Grace keyed the ship-to-ship radio:
“FEAR THE KRAKEN!”
Time froze. The world flashed white.
“Kraken, this is Third Fleet, over…”
“Kraken, this is Third Fleet, over…”
LCDR Jon Paris is a passionate Surface Warfare Officer and writer. His service spans six ships, including a minesweeper, destroyers, cruisers, and an aircraft carrier. The above story is a work of fiction and the author’s imagination. It is meant purely for fun and does not reflect the official positions of the U.S. Navy or Department of Defense.
Featured Image: Art created with Midjourney AI.