Wednesday, November 16, 2005

What They Called Things...

Jack double-timed it across the empty hangar bay--the air wing wouldn't fly aboard until that afternoon--trying not to gag on the smell of metal and jet fuel that stank up every corner of the ship.

He slipped through a hatch on the port side. They called it a hatch; it was just a big door with a watertight fitting. He started climbing ladders. They weren't ladders, really. They were more like stairs. They went up at an angle like stairs, and had handrails like stairs, and had steps instead of rungs. They probably called them ladders because that's what they'd really been on old Navy ships, and when they switched over to stairs, they forgot to change the name. Or something like that.

He'd taken this route to his stateroom so many times that his head didn't have to think about where it was going, because his feet knew their way by heart. Pretty soon, though, his legs started bitching at the rest of him that the rest of him was making them work too hard.

Jack realized he'd gone up three flights of stairs you called ladders too many. He slammed his gym bag against the wall you called a bulkhead, looked up at the ceiling you called an overhead, and begged God to spare him this shit right now. He turned around and started back down ladders. He tried not to think about why you called them ladders so he wouldn't go past the O3 level again (where his stateroom was), and keep on going until he was going down decks instead of levels.

Levels turned into decks when you got to the first deck, which was the hangar deck, also known as the hangar bay. Deck numbers got bigger as you went down--second deck, third deck, and so on. Level numbers got bigger as you went from the hangar deck, except that as you went up levels, you used different kinds of numbers to count them: O1 level, O2 level, etcetera.

It was an easy system to keep straight in your head, because it was all very consistent. Except that the flight deck was up on the O4 level. And you always called the floor a deck, regardless of whether you were standing on a deck or a level.

Jack didn't have a clue who had come up with the Navy's system for naming and numbering things. But he'd like to meet the bastard someday, and put a boot in his ass, because with all this interior monologue about why you called things what you called them on a Navy ship, he'd gotten himself all the way down to the hangar deck again.

This was just the sort of thing that happened when you drank like a whale for three days to get ready to go to sea.

He should be grateful, thinking about it. Being underway for two months would do him good. You couldn't drink alcohol on a U.S. Navy ship, so he'd get a good detox thing going. But he didn't want to think about his drinking too much either, because he didn't want to climb past the O-3 level again.

Up at the O3 level, Jack got off the ladder and turned left, which, when you were on the port side, was forward. Port and starboard were easy to keep straight too. Port was left and starboard was right, unless you turned aft and faced the ass end of the ship. Then everything turned ass-backwards, and port was right and starboard was left.


Jack made his way forward, reflecting that as ass backwards as things on a Navy ship were, he understood them a damn sight better than he understood anything in the real world, where you called things by their right names.


In his stateroom, he threw his civvies and flight jacket on the lower bed, which you also called a berth, and sometimes a bunk, but that you normally called a rack. From a metal closet welded to the bulkhead, he pulled a fresh set of brutally starched khakis. He put them on the way he'd learned to from the Marine drill instructors at Aviation Officer Candidate School: the shirt (that nobody called a blouse anymore) first, then trousers (which real people called pants). The shirt tucked in neater that way. He slipped on tan socks and aviator's brown shoes, and looked in the mirror over the stateroom's metal sink.

Shit. He'd forgotten to pin his shirt shit on his shirt.

Come on Jack, he thought. Focus.

He draped the shirt that wasn't a blouse anymore over the back of his metal chair and jerked open the metal dresser drawer where he kept his shirt shit. Lieutenant bars went on the collar points. Nametag over the right breast pocket, dual anchored naval flight officer (NFO) wings over the left. On the button flap of his left pocket, Jack attached his Surface Warfare Pin.

He'd been all shot up about qualifying as a surface warfare officer when he'd wrangled his way into this assistant navigator job. You could count the number of Navy pilots and NFOs of his rank who were also qualified to drive ships on one hand. That might mean something to the ship drivers on his captain and admiral selection boards--if he made it that far before he pissed off the entire known universe.

He'd paid a price to earn the surface pin, though. Thousands of extra hours aboard the ship when it was home, studying engineering and weapon systems. Hours that Liz had loudly complained he should be spending with her.

Fuck Liz. Jack had been a naval officer for six years when he met her at the Miramar Officers' Club. First thing out of her mouth, when she saw his two anchored NFO wings, was that cheesy crack about "non-flying officer." What a crack she turned out to be. He'd told her on their first date that he was a career man, and that the Navy would always come first. Maybe he shouldn't have told her that; let her figure it out for herself. What he should have done was tell her to go take a non-flying fuck at a rolling donut from the get go.

He buttoned the shirt, jammed its tails into the waistband of his trousers, and grabbed his flight jacket from his rack and his sunglasses and Connie ball cap from his metal nightstand. Sixty-two seconds later, up on the O-9 level, he breezed onto the navigation bridge, which you sometimes called the pilothouse, and flipped a two fingered salute at the Officer of the Deck.

"OOD, request permission to enter the bridge."

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