Chapter 1: Subi, the Archduke Ferdinand

Forward to Chapter 2

Subi Reef, the Archduke Ferdinand
Subi Reef, the Archduke Ferdinand

It was a humid Tuesday. Every day had its humidity of various drench quotients.

This one felt like it also had soot.

“Peoria said, ‘there’s no soot here.’ But she’s clearly wrong,” explained Martin on the video to his brother in Paradise, CA, home of the Bobcats, undefeated in league play for over 3 years.

Martin first met Peoria on his 3rd posting with Whidbey Island raincoasters.

She was only intolerable at the start but her memory was useful at times of crisis, equipment failure, command breakdown on exercises, or informal drunken trivia gambling. That, and she was largely immune to alcohol. So truly impervious to error.

Maybe it was Wednesday. Peoria knew, but few others cared too much.

Their rigging done, they stopped caring about the next several hours. But when the launch arrived alongside the USS Gabrielle Giffords at dusk, Peoria wandered around gathering data.

“The fancy flag is, it turns out, of the Sultan,” she whispered to Martin, Hogg, Briss and Complex.

“Brunei.” Complex blurted, almost a question.

“No way,” Briss hissed.

“Wealth of knowledge,” Peoria gloated. “So that tweet wasn’t a lark, or even intel, it was just more BigHands.”

Martin remembered his much older brother, even with failing memory, ranting on about an erratic strain of 3am-ers from BigHands, about how the Sultan is good people, how the Sultan is a man of fairness. How the Sultan reminds him of the Bear.

RT News even began reporting on the Sultan’s business acumen and goodwill on three continents. Out of the blue. The Times and The Post began scouring Oligarch holdings for intersections with the Sultan or his interests. Emptiness. Void. Nothing since BigHands bought the Sultan’s yacht in the 80s.

Peoria continued, “Nav has us north-northwest of TSBK.”

“English?” hissed Briss.

“No, Malay. Terumbu Semarang Barat Kecil. Louisa Reef, near Brunei.”

Martin knew they were gliding around the Spratlys for days. He’d lost track and lost interest of where. This feeling of soot, remember.

Hogg’s bunkmate sought out Peoria with news. The launch landed, and three people came aboard. One, a woman even. But dusk was invading so no one knew much. They all went directly to the captain’s quarters.

Less than half an hour later, Martin heard the commotion of crew hustling about, then the launch departed. Fast. And G-G turned northwest and dropped the pedal.

A little more than six hours later they stopped. Everything became silent. They entered dark mode. The combat alert refocused everyone.

The package crew jogged about the ship. Martin, in his support position, with no data, but a very very Black Hand from his gear.

Later, Peoria relayed what the package dudes dealt. They were at Subi Reef, an island which China was creating out of the sea itself: the three firings, one bisecting the 3k runway, one torching the northeast barracks and the last taking down the airport tower and command structures. They were now headed at moderate speed for a shelter off Jerudong, Brunei where the package team would depart silently under darkness.

Three days later was Inauguration +6, and they were almost to Subic Bay near Manilla. Comms block was lifted. Martin dialed his old old old brother. They’d been briefed on the core details, less than what Peoria distilled. But Martin’s brother had only one thing to say. “The bloggigentsia are calling Subi the Archduke Ferdinand. China had mobilized. BigHands had been in an undisclosed location for 44 hours, but his Twitter feed just wouldn’t stop.”

Martin knew then that the Subic turnaround would be high speed and they would be in open ocean for a long time. And as much as he washed, he could still see his hand was completely black.

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