Three

DeGroot and Cromwell walked in to an unusually tense atmosphere on the command bridge of the Arkangel. The command crew, usually reassured by the duo’s presence and experience, now barely noticed them. As the destroyer bore down on them, all assembled focused on their tasks at their stations. Some of them seemed a little uneasy, but they were alert. There had been close squeezes before, but this was perhaps the most danger they had ever faced. Bearing down on them was a top-of-the-line British warship.
Cromwell wondered about them, his crew. He reflected for a moment on their families and children, who their friends were, and if they had considered they would be in serious peril. Sure, they had all trained for this day, but reality was a far cry from any training exercise.
Even though Cromwell was a tall man, he was not built like the soldiers and sailors around him. Though he was their leader, Cromwell was not the alpha in the room. That honor belonged to DeGroot. Cromwell radiated force of character and was respected for his genius level of intelligence, but he was not known for making quick decisions.
The bridge, despite being lined with pipes and instrument panels, was one of the most spacious areas in the submarine. Few on board had clearance to be there, and with the addition of DeGroot and Cromwell there were only six men present. Nonetheless, it felt claustrophobic.
The captain glanced up from where he stood in the middle of the deck, feet widespread and hands behind his back. He was a middle-aged man whose impassive face, lean figure, and gruff manner displayed his years of military leadership and command. His uniform was pristine, the folds sharp, the buttons gleaming. To complete the caricature, he bore a salt-and-pepper beard of intermediate length.
"We’ve already submerged," he said gruffly. "We have a firing solution for the destroyer. It's closing on our position and will have a fix on us shortly."
The hollow sound that always filled the submarine echoed unpleasantly in DeGroot's ears. Most sailors learned to tune it out after a few days, but in times like this it asserted itself. It accentuated the anxious footfalls and heavy breathing of the crew as they rushed around, preparing to fire. The sounds of the instruments were louder than usual. Even the needles on the gauge panels seemed to tick as they moved back and forth.
DeGroot gave a slight nod at the captain’s words.
Cromwell lifted his chin and tightened his jaw, his body radiating his dissent even before his reply. He looked to DeGroot. “Find another way.” Cromwell’s mind couldn’t work out how it had come to this. He wished he were any place else but here. What he wouldn’t give to go back to before, back before this had started.
DeGroot heard the emotion in Cromwell's voice despite his attempt to control his tone. He ignored it, knowing he could offer his friend no reassurance. There were no other options and no more time. DeGroot's hand shook, but his voice did not waver.
"We've no choice. They're blocking the harbor. There is no way out."
"There has to be another way!" Cromwell pressed, his voice filled with desperation. He took an anxious step forward. "There has to be…”
DeGroot was a man who lived by a code dictated by reason. He despised emotion and tried his best to purge it from his body, but now it was a losing battle. He felt his temper flare. This wasn't the time to expect the impossible; it was fight or die. DeGroot clenched his fists. He emphasized each word as he hissed, "There is no way out of here except through that ship."
He paused, then added quietly, "Freedom has a price. We knew this day would come."
Cromwell just stared, feeling lost. Emotion after emotion flickered across his face. With those words, Cromwell felt like he had lost something valuable. At least he didn’t have to be the one to give the command. No, that was on DeGroot’s shoulders.
DeGroot nodded at him curtly, not willing to show that he too felt the despair evident on Cromwell's face. He said a small prayer to himself as he turned to the weapons officer. The South African blew out a breath and straightened up to his full height. "Fire."
The Arkangel fired a VA-111 Shkval, a missile of the ocean. After a prior close call, the crew of the Arkangel had concluded it was time to acquire defensive armament. Through DeGroot's contacts, they found a shady FSB agent in St. Petersburg who could make a few torpedoes disappear from the Russian arsenal.
The weapon was designed to create a gas bubble by deflecting the water from the nose cone, and by keeping water from coming into contact with the torpedo, drag was nonexistent. This design allowed for a rocket engine to propel the Shkval at 230 miles per hour.
The torpedo found its target and hit the HMS Dauntless with staggering force. Cromwell braced himself as the Arkangel rocked from the massive explosion and he felt the shockwave vibrate through the submarine.
Flames from the wreck reflected on the water and bathed the Scottish Harbor in a red glow. The water surged with waves filled with debris.
Underwater, the Arkangel cruised by the burning shell of the ship that had once carried hundreds of lives. The sub traveled toward the vast Atlantic and the refuge the abyss ahead afforded. They were free of the threat, but Cromwell felt something akin to physical pain. He thought only of the lives that he had just extinguished.

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