Not Your Typical Death… A Sneak Peek into Red Sounding

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Chapter Four

     Mikhail raced through the shipyard. He dodged forklifts laden with crates and ducked cranes as they swung tons of steel. Ice patches had sent him tumbling twice already and he vaulted more between him and the dry dock. Lungs on fire, fingers frozen numb, he fought not to fall down the ship’s brow as he raced across. The sentries topside saluted with raised AK-47’s. Mikhail’s stomach fluttered as he slid down the ladder into the control room.

     “Looks like you found a woman worth your time,” Gravill observed, “and your money.”

     “Yes,” he answered between gasps.

     “Be glad I’d had my fill of her nights ago, then.” The broad-shouldered squat man slapped Mikhail’s shoulder as he passed. “Otherwise she’d been in no shape for even a soft-spoken gentleman like you.”

     “Yes,” Mikhail replied. “Very kind of you.”

     Gavriil shook his head, followed behind Mikhail and entered the wardroom of K-389. Anatoli sat in his chair, his head hung just above a steaming cup of tea. The man’s pallor looked sickly, even for the pasty skinned doctor. Others gathered around the blue felt table leaned into their tea and groaned as the wardroom door closed with a slight click. The small quiet room seemed set for a funeral, with all the mourners gathered.

     Captain Borodin entered from his stateroom’s door to the officer’s wardroom. As one, the officers stood to attention and waited for their commander’s nod before they sat again.

     “What happened last night?” the captain asked, a somber expression draped over his features.

     Each officer looked to their comrades for an answer.

“What happened to Seaman Yanukovich?” With a finger leveled at Gavriil, Captain Borodin continued. “Lieutenant Pelyovin, he was in your division, was he not?”

     Gavriil stiffened. “He is, comrade captain.”

     Captain Borodin shook his head. “Was, he died last night in his bunk. His chief discovered this after he failed to muster this morning.” With a frown he added, “Have you not seen to your men yet this morning?”

     “No comrade captain, like many of us, I was a little late returning aboard last night.”

     The captain drove his fist into the table, sending all the china rattling. “We’ve been in the shipyard too long!”

He stood and looked to the plaques on the wall, commemorations to K-389’s accomplishment over its decade long life. “It’s been my philosophy that the rigors of in-port repairs make a sailor yearn for the sea. The shipyard is different. We watch as strangers work on our systems, many sit by and wait for the fire brigade to save their home.”

     He turned to examine his officers and winced at what he saw. “Doctor, I need you to examine the body. Lieutenant Koryavin, I want you to conduct an investigation. I must know why and how this happened.”

     Mikhail’s throat dried in that instant. The room rippled with heat as he felt himself flush. “I’ll do my best, though I’m hardly qualified.”

     “You are an officer of the Red Fleet,” Borodin growled. He paused, cooled, and took a deep breath. “We solve our problems or we invite another stranger to our home. The NKVD would love a witch hunt to occupy their time and possibly promote themselves closer to Moscow.”

     A hushed meeting followed, the business of the ship pushed on. Full of reports and graphs, each officer bemoaned their meager progress and the lack of resources to see the work through. Once the meeting ended and everyone filed out, Captain Borodin motioned for Mikhail to remain and shut the door.

     “Our professionalism slips, one drunken night at a time.”

     “So it seems, comrade captain.” Mikhail felt his captain’s gaze weighing heavy on him. “I must admit, I too arrived late this morning.”

     The captain’s iron stare softened. In that instant the man looked tired but also paternal, like a father who’d caught his son making the same mistakes he’d made decades ago. He wagged a gnarled finger at Mikhail.

     “That, that is why I’ve appointed you as investigating officer into this matter. You’re young enough, idealistic enough, to value honor and justice… even if it means convicting yourself.”

****

     “The cause of death seems simple enough,” Anatoli explained. “This boy was beaten to death.”

     Doctor Anatoli and Mikhail stood within Sick Bay, an elongated closet bordered by a medicine cabinet, book shelves, a typewriter, and an ‘examination table’ that normally doubled as a desk and Anatoli’s bunk. A heap of medical records sat in the corner, tossed there to make room for a haphazard autopsy. The corpse of Seaman Yanukovich lay before them on the table, sealed in a black plastic body bag.

     “But the watch found him in his bunk,” Mikhail countered. “And he didn’t look nearly as bad as what you’ve indicated.”

     “The bruising took some time to rise to the surface,” the doctor replied. “Not a single bone broken, he’d been pummeled in a way that left no outward marks.”

     At that last comment, Anatoli looked up from his work, over his spectacles. An expectant pause blossomed.

     “What is it Doctor?”

     “You do not know what that likely implies?” he asked in a whisper.

     “Something sinister based on the look you’re giving me.”

     Anatoli reached past Mikhail and shut the door to his office. “Sometimes men take matters into their own hands. A bar of soap in a pillow case has been used to punish thieves in the past. They swing the pillowcase with such speed, the pain is sharp. Such punishments take a couple of men to pin their subject down with a sheet while others hammer him repeatedly.”

     “I’ve heard of this, but never known anyone to die from a blanket party.”

     Anatoli leaned over and unzipped the body bag. Inside Seaman Yanukovich lay naked, covered in narrow bruises each from an inch to three inches in length. With a small, bright flashlight, the doctor illuminated the boy’s temple. The bruising there seemed diffused and larger than the rest.

     “Most of these ‘trials’ end with a severe beating about the torso but it appears someone got over zealous.”

     Mikhail met the doctor’s grim gaze. “Did he die in bed as it appears or did someone tuck this corpse in?”

     “He may have been alive when he entered the bed, but there’s no way he climbed into that bunk with that injury.”

****

     “I don’t know who did it, but everyone knows why.” Gavriil’s smug response trickled a chill down Mikhail’s spine.

     The two sat in the wardroom while the rest of the crew assisted the shipyard in getting K-389 back on schedule. The grating peel of metal grinders and the rat-tat-tat of the impact wrenches set Mikhail’s teeth on edge.

     “And what,” Mikhail asked slowly, “was that, Lieutenant Pelyovin?”

     “Yanukovich was,” Gavriil Pelyovin shrugged, his features soured, “you know, a pidor.”

     “Pardon me, a what?”

     Gavriil’s face whitened as he scowled. “You know, a pederast, a lover of boys and men.”

     Mikhail continued to feign ignorance. “A homosexual? Seaman Yanukovich, a sailor in the Red Fleet?”

     “It happens more than you realize,” Gavriil insisted. He grinned. “I had my doubts about you until you met Nika.”

     “I pour my heart into my work and my duty, not women.”

     “Poor substitutes. As much as I adore my Motherland,” he continued with a sardonic tone, “I’ve never had patriotism take my breath away the way a good woman or a very bad woman has.”

     “Back to the murder of our crewmate, Seaman Yanucovich.”

     “No one intended to kill him,” Gavriil said with a shrug. “But no one will mourn his passing either.”

     “How can you be so smug about it, so nonchalant?”

     Gavriil threw his hand up. “Look, I don’t even know what happened. Maybe he got in over his head in the Chernyy Prichal.”

     “And what do you know about it, the area they call Black Wharf?

     Gavrill’s gaze narrowed, his brow creased. “I only know as much they told everyone when they arrived in Komsomolsk, it’s where perversions abound… and sailors die. We’ve all been warned not to go but deviants will go where their tastes are satisfied.”

     “Yet you’ve no desire to see justice done?”

     “Fate judged him harsher than any of us dared.”

     Mikhail thought of his stepfather, of all the dark moments alone with him, of how he’d prayed for deliverance. He’d thought on murder many times, especially afterward, in those strange moments where his abuser offered condolences and kind words. Through the pain, shame, and tears, he’d prayed for an accident to claim his stepfather’s life. He’d even held the instrument in his hands. On that farm death lurked in every task, every labor. He’d lacked the courage, not to kill him, but to explain his motive and survive the life he imagined. He’d have been labeled a pidor for having allowed it for so long and a murderer for having ended it with patricide. He swallowed hard, focused on his duty, and leveled his glare at the stocky lieutenant across from him.

     “Will your crewmates feel any more comfortable knowing they might stand beside a murderer?”

     Gavriil withdrew a cigarette, lit it, and took a long drag. He stared back at Mikhail and exhaled a great smoky sigh. “I don’t like what you’re implying. And I especially don’t like who you’re implying is involved.”

     Mikhail grabbed the wardroom phone to the control room, pressed the buzzer, and waited.

     “Duty officer; this is Lieutenant Koryavin. Have all missile division personnel arrested and confined to the torpedo room.”

     Gaviriil frowned. “The torpedo room; why not there quarters?”

     Mikhail unclenched his jaw. “I’ll need to examine their pillow cases and shower kits.”

Character Interview: Mikhail Koryavin, from the upcoming novel: Red Sounding

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Character Interview Questions Mikhail Koryavin

Thanks for joining us! Have a seat, and tell us a little more about yourself. Have you always lived in Petropavlovsk?

                I am Mikhail Koryavin, a lieutenant in the Pacific Red Banner Fleet of the Soviet Union. For me it is the year 1983. I serve aboard the K-389, a Yankee class ballistic missile submarine. I grew up near Donetsk in a farming community. The sea beckoned in my teens, anything to get far from the farm.

What was growing up like? Did you have any brothers and sisters?

                I was born in a Ukrainian collective farm in 1960. There were several families living in a Soviet Commune alongside fields and fields of wheat. We worked together, played together. The families celebrated birthdays and May Day together.

The youngest of three boys, they were rough and tumble brothers. They taught me early on to work hard and play hard. I watched them others move away, the first in 1966 and the second in 1968. They joined the army.

I watched my father die of emphysema. My mother remarried when I was twelve, in 1972. Everything changed afterward.

Have you changed much since you were a kid? Do you still have some of the same fears?

                I used to know how to have fun. I used to play with others. All my fears grew out of my relationship with my stepfather.

What’s one quirk even your best friend or significant other doesn’t know about?

                I puke at the slightest intimacy with anyone but my mother.

What about your current family? Do you have any kids of your own?

                The navy is my family, the submarine K-389 my home.

What is the one thing about yourself you are most proud of?

                I am an officer in the Soviet navy and ready, eager even, to die serving my country.

What about the thing you are least proud of?

                My stepfather sexually abused me. What’s worse, I lacked the courage to kill him then and he haunts my every relationship now.

Your most embarrassing moment?

                My eldest brother came home once. He found me and my stepfather together. He cried out in disgust and ran away before I could explain that I was not consenting to this. I fear what he thinks of me, of what I do to my mother with this.

What is your favorite thing to do with your free time?

                I cannot survive free time. Though Lieutenant Pudovkin shared some contraband music from America. I enjoy Van Halen.

What is your favorite season?

                Fall. I love the colors and the promise of rest after the harvest.

Favorite color?

                Blue, a deep dark blue.

Do you get stage fright?

                I feared public speaking until the naval academy cured me. My roommate, Zhora Ivankov, helped me find courage.

Do you believe in love at first sight?

                I may have found it in an odd place. I’ve fallen for a whore in the town of Komsomolsk. It so happens we share a similar dark past. She’s opened the shutters and allowed the bright light of love to burn away the cobwebs in my heart.

What about ghosts?

                No. Life is life, death is nothing.

If you had to choose between immortality alone and mortality with family, would it be a difficult choice?

                Mortality with my friend Nika, that’s all I need.

And for the future… Where do you see yourself in ten years?

                Captain of my own ship. Buried in my own secrets.

If you could have one wish granted right now, what would it be?

                I would go back in time and kill that man and save the young wonderful boy I was.

Work in Progress: Red Sounding

CHAPTER THREE: Image

                “As your ship’s doctor, I prescribe a night of drunken debauchery,” Anatoli said with a gurgling chuckle.

Rosie highlights adorned the doctor’s sallow features. Mikhail had considered it ironic that the ship’s physician seemed in the poorest of health amongst the crew. But though he appeared only a wrinkled drape of skin on a knobby boned skeleton, the doctor’s constitution always withstood the harshest treatment, especially when drinking.

                Mikhail pulled his shipmate closer. “I know Anatoli, you’ve said this three times tonight.”

                The doctor snickered as he collapsed into his drink. “So get drunk already.”

                Mikhail surveyed the smoky bar and shook his head. Half the officers of the K-389 stood along a wall, leaning over the high tables or sitting in the stools. Their objective, a row of women dressed and painted to negotiate their evening, a sailor’s wages for a night of passion.

A bench made of thick wood ran the length of that wall. The women here guarded their purses more closely than their modesty or pride. They winked and nodded, laughed and gasped with practiced skill at all the proper cues.

Posters plastered the concrete walls, a collage of propaganda, health reminders and factory slogans. In a few small niches, minute pieces of crude art hid the blistered paint, a tug boat, the shipyard landscape, a faceless portrait.

From a bar whose lacquered surface faded away years ago, shipyard workers eyed their naval comrades, not a cheerful face amongst them. The bar tender and his staff served as ambassadors between the two crowds as much they did vodka, black bread, and goat cheese. Komsomolsk-on-Amur stood a city besieged by lonesome young sailors anxious to squeeze a lifetime of revelry into every evening ashore.

                “I think we’ve enough drunk sailors for one establishment,” Mikhail cautioned. “I only came to sickbay hoping to play another game of chess. My heart belongs to the K-389.

                Anatoli followed Mikhail’s gaze and snorted. “Not to worry, after you saved the ship with a fountain of turds and toilet paper, I gave you enough immunizations to protect you against anything these tramps carry.” He nudged Mikhail. “Go on, like the submarine, you need some upkeep if you’re to stay together in the upcoming patrol.”

                Mikhail studied each of the remaining solitary women. Uniquely unappealing to most, the dregs of Komsomolsk’s gutter, one caught his eye. Scrawny even by gulag standards, she met his gaze with cool blue eyes unwavering and unashamed. She raised her shot glass to salute him without a false smile or a forced twinkle in her eye.

                An iron hammer drove between his shoulder blades and Mikhail’s drink tumbled to the floor with a crash.

“Go on, latrine commissar,” a raspy gravel voice commanded. Mikhail winced as he looked over his shoulder.

Gavriil Pelyovin’s goading grin completed the block-headed missile officer’s taunting efforts. “She’s thin as a fishing pole, but just as flexible. If I couldn’t break her, you’re in no danger.”

Mikhail drew in a deep breath and held it while he sought a suitable retort. With an exhale through clenched teeth he forced a smile. “I’ve no intention of breaking the lady. I’d rather treat her like a gentleman and see where that leads.”

“She’s no lady,” Gavriil snickered. “And gentlemen don’t shower themselves with the crew’s filth.”

Mikhail stood, turned, and looked down at the stocky lieutenant. He mustered his sternest glare. “Better a filthy survivor than a tidy corpse. I know you don’t think much of me or the woman over there, but give us both a break.”

“You’re drunk, Lieutenant Pelyovin,” Anatoli observed. “Go on and bother someone else.”

Gavriil stepped back, frowned and examined Mikhail from beneath his broad Neanderthal brow. His fists clenched and unclenched. He shifted his footing to a boxer’s stance.

“Are you looking for a fight?” Gavriil asked with a crooked grin.

“I’m not,” Mikhail explained as he took a defensive posture, “but I’ll not back down from one, ever.”

He leaned in and slapped Mikhail’s upper arm. With a devilish grin and a sharp laugh he replied. “We’re going to have fun at sea, I can see that already.”

“Damn your foolish pride,” Anatoli cursed in a low shaky voice. “Take your frustrations out some other way, or I’ll have you both taken back to the ship in irons.”

A hand gripped Mikhail’s shoulder from behind and he whirled about, ready to fight. His jaw dropped as his fierce gaze met that of an equally fierce woman. Something seeped in from the hard edges of her eyes and showed in her faltering thin frown.

“Would you rather spend tonight in a hospital bed, or mine?” Her stern set features softened and she smirked. “I can provide the irons too, if you like.”

Gavriil chuckled and retreated to join Anatoli. With no seat to go back to, and everyone watching, Mikhail offered an arm to the slim woman.

“Lieutenant Mikhail Koryavin, of the Red Fleet, at your service.”

“Nika, simply Nika,” the woman replied. “Unless you prefer another name, I’ve had several.”

He ushered her to the bar and ordered a bottle of vodka and two glasses. He leaned against the thick wooden bar. “You’ll not find I’m not nearly as rambunctious as my shipmates, hardly any fun at all, really.”

Nika set the glasses atop the bottle and nodded toward the stairs. “As long as you’re paying, I’ll be fine. I could use a break from rowdy sailors.”

The stairs and hallway felt drafty and were littered with merriment’s debris, cigarette butts, cans and bottles. Nika looked to him while she unlocked the door. “You can pay, can’t you?”

More concrete greeted him, though devoid of posters to hide its peeled skin of paint. A bed, a hotplate on a table, a bathroom, and four factory sized windows with only whitewash to offer privacy or shield against the bitter winds rattling against the thin panes. Inside the drafty apartment, Mikhail still felt the heat of his anger, and something else, fear.

“What’s your flavor, sailor?” Nika asked as bent down, unzipped and peeled off her plastic boots. At his silence she looked back at him. “Oh, did you like the boots?”

“They’re nice,” he whispered.

“Ah, I’ll put them back on then.” She sat on the edge of her bed. Rusty bedsprings squealed at her waifish frame. “Anything else you’d like me to wear?”

“All of it,” he murmured.

Nika’s eyes widened. “What is this? Are you here to arrest me? The bar tender told me he took care of all that.”

“No,” Mikhail said.

“What’s wrong with you?” she wondered with a scowl beneath eyes alight with fear. “You were full of fire downstairs, but now…

As her voice trailed off her fear faded in favor of a snide crooked smile. “I’m not exactly your type, am I?”

“What?” Mikhail asked his shock came out, barely a whisper.

Nika sprang up from the bed, raced to him and put a finger to his lips. “Shush, there’s no cause for alarm. As long as I can get a finder’s fee, I’ll fetch you a handsome young man to keep you warm. I know a few in town.”

Mikhail grabbed her by the wrists and pushed her backwards until he threw her onto the bed. “Don’t you dare say that,” he growled. “I’m no pidor and I’m no policeman either.”

“Alright, don’t pick a fight with me,” she cried as she rubbed her reddened wrists. “I only wanted to figure you out so we can move this along. I’ve got a long night ahead of me and I’d just as soon get the pleasantries over if I’m to make any money.”

Mikhail bent down and pulled her skirt off and threw it across the room. He grasped the waistband of her leggings and started to peel them off. Nika squirmed backwards on her elbows until she lay diagonally across the bed in only a sweater and a leather jacket.

Mikhail unbuttoned his tunic and pants, letting each drop as he shed them. He crawled onto the bed over top of Nika, examining her as he inched up to meet her astonished gaze. She brought her hands up between them.

“No kissing,” she whispered with a pouting frown. She began rubbing her hands together.

“What’re you doing?” Mikhail muttered.

“Getting ready to do… this.” She grabbed him and all his muscles drew taught. From the shadowy corners of his mind, unwelcome demons leapt. Memories of his stepfather and their evenings together flooded in. The way he’d groped and grabbed, whispering kind words, loving words all the while.

“You sick bastard,” she yelled. “I don’t do that!”

Mikhail examined her, panicked by the loss of time between nightmare and chaos.

In his shock induced stupor, he’d puked, all over her. He scrambled to his feet as Nika shoved him away.

“Nika,” he began, his voice trembling still from the wake of fear and hurt a decade old. “Nika, I don’t know what happened. I’m so sorry.”

“What was that?”

“Shut up and let me think,” Mikhail spat back. “If you hadn’t been so damned pushy… I tried to tell you…

Nika stood and marched into the bathroom. The pipes groaned and thumped as she turned on the faucet, cussing under her breath all the while. Soon she emerged with a bucket, a sponge, and disinfectant.

“I’ll buy you a new mattress and new sheets,” he promised.

“Where?” She shook her head and peeled away the soaked bedding. “There’s none in Komsomolsk to buy, comrade.” Her final word stung Mikhail with its tone. “This isn’t some naval academy dorm. I had to steal these from a hospital.”

She turned from her work and glared. “The least you can do is clean up after yourself.”

As the layers of sheets came off, Mikhail heard the mattress crinkle; a layer of yellowed plastic protected the mattress. Nika shrugged as she noticed Mikhail’s surprise.

“This isn’t the first time someone’s messed up my bed.”

Once they’d finished, Mikhail stood and stumbled to a nearby chair.

“And I thought I was fucked up,” Nika observed.

Mikhail ran his fingers through his hair. “I don’t even know where to begin, how to…”

Nika dropped her sponge and bucket, shuffled closer and took his hand in hers. As she did, Mikhail realized how much it trembled.

“I think I understand,” Nika whispered.

Mikhail’s lungs seized up. He looked into her eyes and felt himself growing fragile, like newspaper dissolving into embers in the fireplace.

“I was a shivering mess the first few times as a teen.” Her gaze lowered and drifted into dark memories.

“I’m no pidor,” Mikhail insisted. “I like women.”

A harsh laugh escaped Nika. She offered an apologetic glance and a wry smile. “You’ve a funny way of showing it.”

“I would love to bed you,” Mikhail continued, his voice sounding like a plea. “It’s just… hard.” He let out a nervous laugh. “I mean, difficult.”

Nika turned from him and walked to where her leggings lay. As she bent to retrieve them, Mikhail admired her long legs and firm bottom. Were she not a continent away from Moscow, she might’ve been a gymnast.

After a long silence between them, Mikhail marched to the table, poured himself a tall glass of vodka and gulped it down. As the liquor slid down his gullet and stung every inch on the way, he let out a great sigh. Eyes closed, inhaling the odors of a filthy apartment, old garbage, mildewed shower curtains, and the musky undercurrent of sex; he turned to face Nika.

“I don’t suppose you play chess?”

“You’re still paying, right?” she asked with a half-smile. It faded as she explained. “I’ve got people to pay. I don’t pay, I sleep in the street. The whore commune has some pretty harsh rules.”

Mikhail grinned and shook his head. “What else have I to spend my money on except a quiet night with someone who understands me more than anyone else?”

“Calm down, sailor, I’m nobody’s counsellor or confessor.”

Red Sounding Preview: Chapter Two

CHAPTER TWO Leninskiy Komsomolsk Shipyard, Aboard the Soviet Submarine K-389 November 1982

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     The klaxon sounded twice before the announcing system blared.

     “Fire in compartment five, level two.”

     Mikhail jumped from his bunk and scrambled to pull his boots on as he hopped into the passageway. Not tonight, not while I’m on my duty. He buckled his belt as the raced through the forward compartment, past the zampolit’s office, the fan room, ducking into the water tight door. He stopped to slam the heavy door shut before he resumed his sprint between the missile tubes.

      Stinging odors, burning rubber and ozone, assailed his nostrils. At the door from the aft missile compartment to compartment five, a pair of crewmen stood and watched the flames wax and wane atop a motor generator. Insulation melted from a conduit, sparks crackled and jumped from the exposed copper.

    “Shut power for this equipment!” Mikhail ordered, slapping one sailor on the shoulder. The man leapt into action, darting through the knee-high flames. The second sailor turned to Mikhail and shrugged.

     “The shipyard is responsible for manning the fire brigade.”

     Mikhail’s heart sunk as his blood boiled. “If we don’t act, we die.”

     The sailor threw his hands up. “The firefighting system is torn apart, like everything else. What will we do except wait for hoses from the pier?”

     With a quick glance at his surroundings, Mikhail fought to find an answer. No water, a spreading fire, and no time to wait for assistance; something had to extinguish the flames. The air thickened and new odors crept in. The hull’s insulation if set ablaze would transform this compartment into an oven.

     Mikhail clutched the sailor by his shoulders. “Go pressurize the waste tank, open the valves and leave them open.”

     The sailor’s eyes widened. “But lieutenant-

     “Now, do it, help save us all.”

     With a terse nod the young man ran off. Mikhail tore off his undershirt and fashioned a mask before he picked his way through the flame riddled room. He dove for the ladder leading to the upper level and nearly fell back into the flames. The steel ladder rails had singed his hands. He peeled strips of his shirt and used them to hold the ladder as he ascended. A distant hiss reverberated in the pipes below gave him hope. The orange glow intensified below; the fire began to spread. Mikhail grabbed a pipe wrench from a nearby tool bin and struggled to remove the end cap placed by the shipyard. With the hull valve gone from the waste tank, safety demanded the backup valve be capped off. Now he prayed for the strength to overcome their effort. His vision dimmed and his ears rang. Not yet, not now. He threw the blanking flange aside and clamored for the valve. In the thickening smoke and blossoming heat, he strained to stand and tugged the valve open. A high pitched squeal grew to a throaty roar as the waste tank’s contents geysered into the ceiling and plumed out to fall down all around Mikhail. Coughing, choking, exhausted, Mikhail crumpled to the deck and shut his eyes. He allowed a smile as consciousness faded; a fitting death.

                                                      ****
      “Der’mo, and ssat’ all over the machinery!” the zampolit screamed. That Mikhail’s efforts drenched every inch of the compartment in human waste wasn’t the issue; the ship’s political officer questioned the justification

      Mikhail stood at attention in the captain’s stateroom. Though the zampolit’s interests revolved around the ideological integrity of the crew, he’d taken particular interest in the ship’s schedule and the avalanche of technical difficulties which pushed the launch date further beyond the horizon.

      “The shipyard fire brigade and everyone in that compartment will need shots for the filth you subjected them to.”

      Captain Borodin drew in a deep breath that caught in his throat. Mikhail clamped his jaw tighter, stifling a chuckle. Despite a hot shower and fresh uniform, the stench seemed to ooze from his pores.

      He’d awoken on the pier, the shipyard’s medical staff tending to him. Only at Mikhail’s insistence did the doctor allow him to return to the ship. The fire brigade had plucked him from the fetid, smoking submarine.

      “If not for my actions, the compartment would’ve been gutted,” Mikhail said flatly.

      Zampolit Dimitriev stood and wagged a finger at him. “You don’t know that.”

      The captain clasped a hand over the fuming political officer’s forearm and stood. “And you don’t know anything about submarines Comrade Dimitriev.”

      Captain Borodin looked old, too old to shepherd a crew of inexperienced and exhausted sailors out on an unseaworthy submarine. Thick iron-grey brows shaded watery blue eyes. Broken blood vessels kept his complexion rosy for all the wrong reasons. Vodka and frost bitten winds had marred the man’s face. The man’s spine, too tall for hours at the periscope, bent forward in a permanent slouch. His uniform bore the stains and wrinkles of a man with no time for politics or sleep.

      “The man attended to his ship as best he knew how,” Captain Borodin explained, his gravel voice sounding tired, annoyed. “We’ll recover from the filth with some elbow grease.”

      “Mikhail Koryavin, the miracle of compartment five, should spearhead the cleanup effort.”

      Captain Borodin shook head. “As division officer, his men will bear the brunt of his decision, but I believe they’ll be pleased to have equipment to clean rather than a charred room of rubble. You too, I thought, would be equally pleased with Comrade Koryavin’s efforts to keep us on schedule.”

      “But the-

      The zampolit stopped the moment he met the captain’s gaze. A counterfeit grin hung beneath a warning glare. The captain held little patience reserved for fools, even a Party appointed watchdog.

      Dimitriev looked to Mikhail and offered a shallow nod. “Thank you comrade, for your zeal, may it yield less odorous successes in the future.”

      The zampolit excused himself and shut the door behind him as he left.

      “He’s just jealous,” Captan Borodin said with a sneer.

      Mikhail frowned. “Captain?”

      The captain chortled until a cough cut him short. “You spread derm’o with more efficiency than any Politburo member.”

      “I only wanted to save the ship,” Mikhail offered. “I didn’t see any other way to quickly dowse the flames.”

      Captain Borodin shook his head. “No, no, you did a good thing.” His brows furrowed. “What concerns me more, your haste to sacrifice yourself for your ship.” The captain opened his door and led Mikhail out. Shorter, the aging sea captain didn’t need to duck beneath the dangling cables and makeshift lighting strung amongst the pipes above. The staccato of impact wrenches, whining grinders, and hissing leaks in the pneumatic hoses strewn throughout the compartment; all these spoke to the harried pace to complete the ship’s repairs. The captain watched as Mikhail took in the filthy din-filled chaos.

      “This is not truly a ship,” the captain shouted above the shipyard symphony. “And we’re not yet on a critical mission for our people. Why throw your life away for this hulk of steel so easily?”

      “Is it not my duty, captain?”

      A coughing chuckle erupted. “A hundred days beneath the waves lies ahead. And a month or two after we recover from that, we’ll dive into it all over again. This ship will claim your youth soon enough, boy, chase women and capture love while you’ve energy enough for the pursuit.”

     Mikhail swallowed hard. The grit of metal dust, adrift in the ship’s wheezing ventilation ducts, itched in his lungs and dried his throat. Breaking his captain’s hopeful gaze, he stared at the cable runs in the outboards. The pungent aroma of copper brazing stung his nostrils. The refrigeration unit on the deck below, they’d begun work on the leaking unit weeks ago. The captain’s charge, to pursue love like a predator, to embrace the comfort of another, the agony of a month ago burned hotter than any welding torch across the cracked vessel that was his heart. He felt the pressure of his captain’s stare, blinked out any threatening tears and answered.

      “This ship and the sea are my love anymore, comrade captain.”

      Captain Borodin’s iron gaze probed Mikhail. Like the ship’s sonar, his captain seemed to silently examine him for clues, answers from his depths without actively probing. But like an active ping, Mikhail thought he caught a glimpse of his captain’s heart’s position. But before he could discern more, Captain Borodin nodded and turned.

      “Aye, some of us find more solace in a mistress whose vices and virtues stand out more clearly. Keep your wits and ration your courage, lieutenant, and you may survive the bride you’ve chosen.”

Zealot’s Folly: Rex’s Crusade Takes a Dark Turn

Ever feel alone in knowing what’s best for the world? Ever feel compelled to fight for your viewpoint? Has anyone ever accused you of adopting your enemy’s tactics to see your crusade through? That’s where Rex finds himself in Zealot’s Folly.

Having seen the truth behind The Veneer Clause, machine-kind imprisoned him.

Cover Art for The Veneer Clause

Having seen the origins of his predicament through The Perfect Telescope, he fought for his freedom. Now he feels compelled to carry his message to the rest of humanity… and they’re not having any of it.

Book Cover for The Perfect Telescope

In a world where everyone can customize the life around them, where perfect mimics make solitude more palatable and human companionship seem a chore, Rex must convince others that all the conflict that comes from real friendship and real love outweighs the strife it invites.

Zealot's Follly

Third in the Veneer Series, Zealot’s Folly begins Rex’s darker days in a golden future of opulence and sloth. No one sees it that way, of course. Imagine being able to customize the company you keep. With friends who laugh at all your jokes and enjoy every hobby you desire, no one’s in any hurry to invite strangers with their own opinions and interests into their lives. Worse, everyone’s dream date tends to their needs with no opposing or competing needs of their own. No more messy break ups if it doesn’t work out. Simply dismiss your mimic and commission another to take its place.

If Zealot’s Folly interests you, please check out the first and second stories in this series: The Veneer Clause and The Perfect Telescope.

 

Big Blue Dork

                Ever try to have a conversation about “The Watchmen”? Ever have someone’s first counterpoint sound something like this, “Oh, the movie with the big blue naked guy?”

                The book chronicled a group ofImage superheroes sort of like the Avengers or Justice League but more real, more psychologically warped. They had their version of Batman, The Punisher, a conspiracy-theory-mad pulp detective, a perfect human specimen, and some others. Oh, and there was a big blue naked guy, Doctor Manhattan. His super powers put him in a completely different category. With the ability to manipulate and perceive energy and matter on both a grand and microscopic level, his interests and curiosities put many concepts (like modesty, relationships, pride and humility) out of whack or out of his sphere of concern altogether. He’s got more important things to concern himself with. America relied on his abilities the way we’ve relied on military superiority, to enforce our foreign policy. But eventually powerful people began to distrust him and a plot developed to unite humanity and alienate the Doctor.

          That seems to be where my first horror novel is headed, too much focus on the wrong thing. Red Sounding is a vampire novel set in the Soviet Union during the Cold War. With no daylight to fear and few places to hide, Mikhail Koryavin must find a way to survive, to save humanity from a submarine roving the coasts and preying on the world unchallenged. What I haven’t mentioned, what might detract from the primary focus, is that one of the main characters is a homosexual. It plays into an underlying theme of how harsh judgments drive people to dangerous extremes for survival.

          Is it a gay vampire novel? No. Is it a call for all of us to re-evaluate our treatment of those different from ourselves? Definitely. In my decades of judging others, I’ve not spent enough attention on correcting my own misgivings and counting my many blessings. Rather than tell you what you’re ‘doing wrong’, I should concentrate on what I need to make right and let you discover your own path. If you ask me my opinion I’ll readily deliver, but except when I’m asked I’ll try to leave my nose out of others’ business.

          Love who you love but don’t hate who you hate. Rather, try to give those contrary to your ways grace enough to not feel the heat of your disdain.

Crave Me Like a Candy Bar: A Poem… I Think.

     Ever love someone with such a smushy mushy feeling you get all glowy inside when you look in their eyes? Fate has a way of matching smushy mushy with a porcupine or a hedgehog or somebody that just isn’t into all that touching and smooching. I’m going out on a limb sharing this. I’ve put my man card in jeopardy, but damn it, I’m doing this. I’m a writer eager to get something launched from my heart into the aether like a signal flare, a beacon to all the other melty hearts out there. You’re not alone. Or maybe I’m just trying to reassure myself I’m not alone. I love my wife and enjoy something as simple as the look in her eyes when I make her laugh. I’m dancing around the issue. I’ll get on with it. Here’s the poem I had to get it out:

Crave Me Like a Candy Bar

Image

I see your eyes and my smile rises

I hear your voice and my heart palpitatizes

A touch of your hand brings on a fever

A sample of your soul has made me a believer

 

But when will my racing heart have a companion?

Won’t you please embrace me with reckless abandon?

I ache for you, would break for you

I need your affection

Crave me like a candy bar

Your favorite confection

 

Wallowing in fantasy dreams I know you aren’t perfect

But I need your love’s lighthouse before I am shipwrecked

A kiss, a touch, a passionate message from your heart

I need that connection

Please crave me like a candy bar

I envy that confection