You know, the toughest thing about writing these intros for Adam is the fact that he won’t let me give spoilers!
See, from my perspective, everything in here happened decades ago. It’s old news, it’s history, hell, some of it’s actually in the history books! So how can it be spoilers?
But then I remember it’s not then, it’s now, and none of this has happened yet and won’t happen for the best part of a century. And while the odds of anything I say impacting the timeline are minimal, Cass keeps telling me not to risk it.
And Adam says if I do give anything away he’ll take away these intros from me.
So. No spoilers.
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U.S.S. Missouri, Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, Kingdom of Hawa’ii
“Where’s the number four arm?”
“Should be in the locker with the others.” Gillian Thomas, known as ‘Gilligan’, was preparing for another shift’s work on the Missouri and didn’t really have time to answer questions.
“It’s not!” insisted Tarek ‘Double T’ Tharwat. He poked his head around the corner. Gilligan was a free diver; she’d do most of her work in a wet suit with a high-efficiency reclamation pack. Double T specialized in hard suits, somewhat like old-fashioned spacesuits, which allowed him to have greater endurance underwater. Double T usually dove with Artemis Isakson, and for this job was working with the pair of Morgan Kelley and Salpi Vartivarian.
“Look behind the number three arms. They tend to hide.” Gilligan finished pulling the wet suit on. “You ready, Not Me?”
“Five minutes ago, slowpoke.” Her dive buddy, Nadine ‘Not Me’ You, walked around the other end of the lockers.
Their team, along with three more, were working on removing the propellers from the hull of the Missouri. There were four of them, two ‘small’ propellers, which were ‘only’ 5.2 meters across, inboard, and two larger propellers, which were 5.6 meters across, outboard. All four needed to come off, but they couldn’t just cut through the shafts and let them drop. It was tricky work.
“Which are we working on today?” asked Gilligan.
“We’re making the final cut and recovery on portside outboard,” said Double T. “If that goes well, we’ll be able to start on starboard outboard tomorrow.”
“I’m getting sick of staring at props,” muttered Not Me. “I know we’re salvage specialists, but this isn’t salvage!”
“It’s a job,” Gilligan replied and shrugged. “And we’re in Hawa’ii, it’s sunny, and it’s thirty degrees. Not much more I could ask from a job.”
“Besides, it’s a whole bunch better than diving in Mobile Bay in the fall.” Hard Luck was pulling on her suit’s hard torso.
“And the surfing here is choice!” added Salty.
They continued chattering as they prepared for their shift. Other teams were working inside the ship and passed through the locker room briefly.
The current major focus was the removal of the aft turret. Most of the rest of the work was on hold until the turret, with its triple barrels, was pulled and the decks beneath opened up.
Theoretically, it was a simple job. The turret was actually a free-floating structure, for all its mass. The armored gun house and barrels were attached to a collar and base, enclosed within the barbette. The base, however, merely rested atop hundreds of steel rollers which permitted the entire assembly to rotate. Cut the various hydraulic and electrical lines, sever the powder hoist, attach sufficiently strong cables, and lift.
That was the plan at first. CusslerNautics borrowed a Wolf from HLC to do the actual pulling, it being quicker than arranging to rent a floating crane of sufficient size. The assembly, though massive, was within the lifting ability of a Wolf, and all they needed to do was move it a few dozen meters onto Ford Island.
The Yang was chosen and flew out to Hawa’ii on a sunny Tuesday, after being assured that all was prepared, locked tractors on the gun house, lifted…and nearly pulled the Missouri out of the water.
The Missouri had been built in the 1940s and launched in 1944. After the conclusion of WWII she’d spent most of the next fifty years inactive but maintained as part of the naval reserve before being decommissioned and retired from service. She’d been a museum for the next sixty-odd years before the Second American Civil War erupted. The United States, desperate for any means to reinforce their military, had seized on the idea of recommissioning the Missouri and her sisters and launched a frantic modernization program. However, even though she was officially recommissioned, the program had barely begun to update the century-old electronics before the war ended and the efforts ceased.
What had gone unnoticed in the decades was the insidious corrosion caused by the warm, humid, Hawaiian air. While the exterior of the Missouri, and the areas seen by the tourists, had been scrupulously maintained, the hidden sections were sorely neglected. Rust had not only fused the collar to the surrounding barbette but the base to the rollers and the underlying floor.
When the turret hadn’t risen as expected, the Yang’s EM, Doaa Tovny simply applied more power. Some adhesion was expected, after all. It wasn’t until he’d increased to nearly half power that the scope of the disaster in the making became clear, and Mercedes Johnson, the topside manager for CusslerNautics, had screamed at them to break off the attempt.
The Missouri had dropped back, sending a wave a half-meter tall splashing outward, and Tovny had earned the new handle of ‘Too Much’.
The near-disaster had stopped operations completely for a week as the ship was carefully re-surveyed for new damage. Now, with the survey complete, welding crews were attacking the barbette and the turret’s structure to separate them, but it had to be done without bringing all the tons of steel crushing down on them.
“Watch the lines!” yelled Marc Clemens. He was the foreman, and he had to be in eight places at once. His crew were using a mix of old-fashioned oxyacetylene cutting torches and newer laser rigs. The laser rigs were worked faster, and could cut through the armor quickly, yet there were some small tasks which required the OA system. That made a challenging environment to work in, and it was his headache.
“Yeah, yeah,” answered back Houston Barnes. He was one of the more experienced welders, and he had been given one of the OA systems today.
“You worry too much,” added Joe Maddox, another OA welder. “Just because you let Cliffy use a laser head doesn’t make it my problem.”
“Hey! I resent that!” objected Cliff.
“Oh, get stuffed, Cliffy,” said Jimmy DeBruler. “He’s just jealous of your power.”
“Yeah, Cliff, he wants your rod of God,” Andy Rose chimed in.
“Knock it off, you clowns,” said Clemens. “Pay attention to your cuts! We’ve got to do it in sequence, or we’re going to jam it in further.”
There was a little more good-natured ribbing, but the eight welders returned to their tasks, Clemens’ warning taken to heart. The lines carrying the Oxygen and acetylene to the welding heads were snaked across the deck, leading back to the pressurized storage tanks located a deck lower. They weren’t in particularly close quarters, but the laser heads presented a particular hazard to the OA rigs.
Lasers attenuated due to atmosphere or other obstacles, but that was it. Laser welding heads delivered a precise streams of power into the material, either heating it to liquidity to fuse together or heating it to vaporization to cut. The power needed to vaporize metals was much greater than the power needed to melt them. The laser heads were equipped to measure the resistance and cut power automatically when the beam finished slicing. However, that system was manually selected by the user, based on the task at hand.
Houston and Joe were cutting through the powder and projectile hoists at the center of the turret, which were relatively thin steel. They had worked together for years and cut smoothly, in near-perfect synchronization. The other six, with the laser heads, were cutting through the collar. When they finished, the turret’s weight would settle on temporary supports mounted outside the barbette before the Yang returned to try again.
Gaige Mosher was one of the welders cutting the collar. He was closest to the OA welders, and well-aware of the dangers his unit posed. But he was a careful, cautious welder. He’d been working for CusslerNautics for eight years, cutting through salvage both above and below water. Usually the materials were thinner than the sixteen centimeters of obsolete but still tough armor that comprised the collar, though.
Greg Hollen was relatively new to welding, having only recently completing his apprenticeship and graduating to journeyman. For that reason he had been buddied up with Gaige to take advantage of his experience and was carefully following his lead. When Gaige cut, Greg cut. When Gaige stopped, Greg stopped. It had worked well to this point.
The seam they were trying to create was angled downward to cut through not just the collar but to separate it from the pan floor, above the rollers. Gaige’s laser head was at about 45 degrees down angle, measured by sight and experience. Greg did his best to imitate the angle, but was closer to 70 degrees down angle. His cuts were going through the collar and floor and down into the turret foundation, melting great rivulets of steel from the even-thicker armor and onto the deck below.
The deck where the paired Oxygen and acetylene cylinders stood.
They were hardened steel, yes, but even hardened steel will heat and soften when 1400° Celsius liquid puddles around the base. And anything contained in the pressurized cylinder will try to expand, as it too heats.
Softened steel subjected to high pressure?
Pops like a soap bubble.
Which the bases of both cylinders did within two seconds of each other.
Oxygen and acetylene like to combine; that’s why they’re used for welding.
Uncontrolled combination in the presence of heat greater than 300° Celsius results in ignition, releasing 11.8 kilojoules of energy per gram.
The explosion was small by absolute standards, about two tons of TNT, and it didn’t penetrate the structure of the pan floor.
It did deform it. Catastrophically. The floor, after all, was only two centimeters thick. A century earlier it would have been pointed to as a textbook example of explosive welding, simultaneously shaping a layer of metal to the underlying structure and then adhering it in place.
Mere flesh didn’t stand a chance.