“Port Lookout, Bridge.”
“Steady white light bearing red 45 Sir. Distance, far.”
“Seen. Thank you Port Lookout.”
9° 3′ 31.3272” S
101° 26′ 51.9144” E
With the motion of the ship moving through the water; listing and heaving, every passage and companion way altered between incline and decline. On a bad day, due to the list of the ship, you could walk on bulkheads. Thankfully today was not one of those days. Clear skies and a reasonably gentle metre and a half swell; from the fight deck you could see the horizon twelve miles distant. Small white caps, ambient temperature around 30 degrees centigrade, the occasional school of flying fish skimming across the water. Anywhere else and it would have been a beautiful day.
He felt as though he had been walking up and down hills since being shaken from his rack some thirty hours earlier. Sunburn covered his blonde shaven head. He dripped sea water as he went down between decks and then for’ard to his mess. He was cold, drenched with sea water, and entirely over it. The grey overall’s he wore; crossed anchors, golden atop his shoulders, highlighted by their black background, ‘Australia’ embroidered beneath them; crusted in salt from lengthy exposure to the sea and sun.
Leaving his saturated boots outside of the mess, Petty Officer Medical Phase 4 Florence, RAN, stepped through the mess entry and stripped naked in the vacant space. Depositing his ‘rall’s into the communal dhobi bag, he stalked into the darkness. Men, stacked three high slumbered, the movement of the ship working with the skills of the sandman.
Unclipping his towel from the side of his rack, he donned his tubs getters, and gratefully returned to the light; making the short distance through the mess to the heads and showers. On securing a shower cubical, he pulled door closed behind him, flicking on the hot then cold taps. Standing away from the stream, and doing his best to avoid the cold drops as the ship moved around the flow, Florence waited for the comfort of warm, salt free, water.
“POMED, Captain’s cabin.” The pipe declared; shower water temperature now perfect. He turned off the taps for the shower he had yet to have; chin on chest, exhaustion had him surrounded, and was making all effort to invade. Inwardly swearing, he stepped back out of the cubicle, walked back into the darkness to his rack. Reclipped his towel, quickly rummaging through his locker, Petty Officer Florence found a clean pair of socks. On return to the mess space, he lifted a cushion of the mess couch, and located a clean pair of rall’s, ‘Florence’ written across the left breast, and attached his SRI’s.
Wet boots soaking through dry socks, he politely knocked on the Commanding Officers cabin door. The word “enter” arrives in immediate and sharp reply.
“POMED Sir. You had me piped.”
He had worked in a number of warships in his eight years of service to the RAN. In that time he had never encountered a Commanding Officer that he disliked on a personal level. Professional and personal being poles apart. Charlie Oscar in this HMA Ship was a completely different kettle of fish. More a kettle of mud with a frog doing its best not to be there.
“PO,” he began. “I have neither the time nor the energy for this.”
“The ‘X’ has informed me that you deliberately and directly disobeyed my orders regarding the SUNC’s extraction from the water; not less than an hour ago.”
“What order did I disobey Sir?” Said with great indifference and little care, for whatever question or consequence would follow.
“My order sending all able bodied ships company into the water, to retrieve those from the sinking vessel.”
“You ordered all junior sailors to remain onboard and not to enter the water after my command was issued.”
“Apparently you threatened a follow Petty Officer with violence if he let any of his sailors over the side.”
“So PO, why did you so blatantly disregard my orders.”
“I believed your orders would have lead to souls lost to the sea Sir.”
“Petty Officer Florence, that was my order and the intent of my order, and you still disobeyed it?! To save the loss of souls to the sea!”
“Aye it was Sir. Two hundred and forty six souls in the water was two hundred and forty six souls essentially dead until proven otherwise, Sir. To send our sailors, on your Command Sir, without life jackets, to swim fully kitted into a decent swell, to then be put among people unable to swim, all of whom wearing buoyancy vests.” Florence continued. “At that time, Sir, we were in the process of throwing life rafts into the ogen, plus two RHIB’s were already in the water and removing as many from the sea of their own accord.” He said, his career burying itself with each word passing his lips. “Our ships company, should more have enter the water; if they were not drowned by a mass of people clinging to them, forcing those souls of our ships company beneath the waves, in an attempt to cling to something more buoyant than themselves; and either be run over by a RHIB, or have a life raft land on them on being dropped from the ships side to the water, causing further possible death than what was already on display. Aye Sir, I did deliberately disobey your command. The chance of more lives lost out weighed your order Sir.” Not a flicker of emotion creasing his exhausted brow.
Silence is often described as palpable. This silence, the silence emitted by the Commanding Officer radiated heat and venom and hate.
The silence from POMED4 Florence came from the part of the brain saying go and have a shower and a sleep, then take time in digesting this.
“Petty Medic Officer Florence.”
“Never again will you disobey an order from me, or any person of higher rank than yourself. You are a disgrace to refuse to carry out my orders, regardless of perceived consequence. Never do I want to have this discussion again! And not a word of my interview with you regarding the same is to be mentioned without my direct authority!” Cold fury sliding from each word escaping Charlie Oscars’ tight mouth.
“Moving on PO. What is the condition of the SUNC’s?”
“Two hundred and forty six men, women, and children accounted for Sir. No life threatening injuries; no obvious contagious illness and all have made it soundly through the quarantine process. I have run up 14 bags of intravenous solution due to dehydration, and as per your orders sir, I have given them nothing more. They are now being fed Sir.”
“I am pleased to hear that. However, as I have expressed, these SUNC’s are only to receive medical treatment and supplies in emergency and only under direct order from myself, or, if they are in some way a direct threat to the ship and her company. If you give them so much as Panadol, PO, I will have you on a plate. Do I make myself clear?!”
“Aye Sir. Shall I report to the Chief Coxswain now Sir, and under what charge?” With a slight pause, “Sir”.
“No. Get out of my sight PO.”
He made it back to the mess. “Water restrictions are now in force” was the pipe that was made as he turned on the hot water tap.
For the second time in three hours, he directly disobeyed his Commanding Officers’ orders, and then went back to work.
Whilst POMED4 Florence was enjoying the warmth of his tubs, little did he know the Captain’s Steward had been in Charlie Oscar’s tiny galley, attached to his day cabin, door wide open.
The Kellick Steward silently stepped out of the galley, placing a mug of coffee before the Captain, surprising him as he did so. Completely forgotten in the undertaking of his duties, yet hearing all that had just been said.
The Captains Steward was posted to the eastern states immediate upon arrival at Fleet Base West.
You can never be too security conscious. Apparently loose lips sink Commanding Officers.
Fin – 1390 words.
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