CHAPTER ____: FOUND
Kairiru Island, Papua New Guinea
The little boy ran as fast as he could through the thick mangrove trees lining the shore and into the dense rainforest. There was terror is his dark brown eyes as though he had seen a ghost. What he had seen was something that his eight year-old eyes had never seen before. He had been fishing in the shallow beach when he first saw the glint of the object, far off in the breakers. It was monstrous.
Finally, he reached the small encampment of straw thatch houses. He made a bee-line for the home of his maternal grandfather.
“Papa, Papa”, he screamed uncontrollably as he ran. Breathless, he stopped at the doorway to his grandfather’s house.
“That is the matter, child”, his grandfather asked, worried about the timbre in his youngest grandchild’s voice. His grandfather had been sleeping when he heard the child come rushing into the village. The ruckus had drawn a small crowd around the grandfather’s home. He was one of the elders of the small village and its inhabitants looked to the grandfather for guidance on all matters.
“Come quickly”, the child cried. “There is something in the water and it looks scary.”
A small crowd followed the young child and his grandfather through the rainforest and mangroves to the pristine, white sand beach. The clear azure waters extended for some distance, but the villagers could see the white object off in the breakers. It was not any use trying to reach the object without sturdy canoes. There were some encampments along the shore that had canoes, but tribal disputes were such that even a request to borrow a canoe would often take days of negotiation and often resulted in violence and bloodshed. Even in this age, the Sepik remain a highly territorial, tribal society.
The grandfather turned to his villagers and said, “Let us go back to the haus tambaran.”
Leaving two teenage boys to stand guard, the men of the village walked back to their village to consider this event. Once back in the relative security of their village, the men gathered at their sacred meeting lodge, the haus tambaran to discuss their dilemma.
“Elder”, addressed one of the younger men to the Grandfather. “I have seen many ships on the horizon, but this is unlike anything that I have ever seen.” This sentiment was uniformly agreed by all the men of the village.
After much discussion about what they should do, the grandfather said, “Two of you will go to Kairiru and seek out the advice of the officers there. The others will take turns watching this object, whatever it is. This may be a gift from the gods, but it may also be evil and approaching it without proper precautions would be foolhardy.”
The little boy watched these proceeding with wide open eyes; this was the first time that he had been allowed to sit with the men in haus tambaran.
Two of the strongest young men in the village were appointed to go to Kairiru, the main settlement on the island. The trip would take several days, mainly because of the perils that awaited them on the journey of both the animal and human kind. The women of the village packed meals of sacred yam to sustain them on the journey and the grandfather said a special prayer for their safe return.
Casper Whitbey was taking a mid-afternoon nap when he heard a rustling in the forest near his small bodega. Whitbey was used to how the Papua New Guinea natives would appear mysteriously on you when you were most unaware. However, he was not worried, because he made it his purpose to treat the natives fairly and with respect, something that other traders living on Kairiru did not necessarily do, some of whose decorated skulls now rested in haus tambarans in remote villages deep in the jungles of Papua New Guinea. Having studied anthropology at university, Whitbey had stayed on after the war in the Pacific to set up a trade store.
So it was no surprise to Whitbey when two young Sepik men showed up as silently as jungle cats on the prowl. He got up and faced the young me, who were unknown to him. Whitbey’s years on Kairiru equipped him with fluency in Nok Pisin, the pidgin language spoken throughout the islands.
“Good afternoon,” said Whitbey. “Welcome to my home.”
“We have traveled far and we are hungry,” said the older of the two.
“Then we shall eat, and then we shall talk,” responded Whitbey as he went into his shack to find some suitable food.
After eating their fill, the two young men told Whitbey about the mysterious white object grounded on the breakers near their village and that the elders had sent them to him for help. Whitbey went directly to his short-wave radio and reported the incident to mainland police. Afterwards, Whitbey provisioned the two messengers and sent them home.
Off-shore, Kairiru Island, Papua New Guinea
The people of northeastern Kairiru Island had never seen such a vast armada of naval vessels and helicopters before in their entire lives. Australia, responding to the request of the Papua New Guinea Navy had dispatched a small fleet of vessels. Two of them, the HMAS Betano and the HMAS Brunei were amphibious warfare rated vessels capable of dispatching smaller vessels that also could reach the stranded object. They were assisted by the HMAS Benalla, a catamaran used principally for hydrographic research. The Benalla had a relatively shallow draft and could also reach the mysterious craft, but was not as maneuverable as the smaller boats from either the Betano or the Brunei. Sitting further off the shoreline was the HMAS Darwin, an Adelaide Class, escort frigate. A Sikorsky S-70B-2 Seahawk helicopter had been deployed by the Darwin and now hung motionless in the air above the beached white vehicle.
“What do you make of it?” asked Commander Jeremy Hasting, RAN, as he stood in the deck of the Darwin and looked at the activity around the strange white object.
“It’s a mystery, sir”, replied Timothy Blandings, a lieutenant commander in the Royal Australian Navy and the executive officer on the Darwin. “I’ve never seen anything like it; I wonder whose it is.”
Blandings stood alongside Hasting and also watched the events unfold through binoculars.
Through their binoculars, the two officers watched members of Clearance Diving Team 4 who had been dispatched from the Betano who were already at the mysterious vessel.
“Do we have a patch?”
“Aye, Sir,” replied Blandings as he signaled to the bridge to direct radio transmission from CDT4 to the two officers.
“Damnedest thing I ever saw, Mate,” quipped one of the clearance divers. “It looks like a submersible, but there aren’t any markings.”
“Hold on, the thing is hot.”
“Get the radiation detector out,” replied another clearance diver.
“Aye, Sir,” replied the first clearance diver. “Positive.”
“Get that clearance team out of there” said Hastings.
Blandings replied, “Aye, Sir. Darwin to CDT4. You are ordered to pull back. Do you understand?”
The four man clearance team backed away from the mysterious vessel grounded off of Kairiru Island and sped back to the Betano.
“Have the team launch over from the Betano and come to the wardroom when they get back onboard, Jeremy,” said Hastings. “I want a debrief on what they were able to find.”
“Aye, Sir.” Replied Blandings as he left his commanding officer standing on the deck. Hastings continued observing the white object through his binoculars.
After CDT4 changed on the Betano and had been brought over to the Darwin, they proceeded to the small wardroom of the oceanographic research vessel.
As Commander Hastings entered the room, all the assembled officers and ranks snapped to attention.
“As you were,” said Hastings as he took the head chair of the conference table. “O.K. what do we have?”
The first to speak was Sub Lieutenant Jeffery Townsend, who led the four man team to the stranded vessel. “Sir, we approached the object from the beach side of the location and took photographs of a white vehicle which appears to be intact despite having gone through the breakers and been beached; remarkably without any scratches or other damage. It looks like a submersible of unknown manufacture. There were no visible markings on any part of the vehicle.
“As we got nearer to the vessel, we saw that it has portholes and a fairly large front window. However, all the windows have been darkened and we could not see inside. There does not appear to be any passengers in the vehicle. We did not see any hatchways on the upper part of the object.
“I dispatched CPO Waterson to swim under the vessel. Upon surfacing, Waterson reported that there is a hatch and locking mechanism on the underside. Again, there were no markings to indicate the country of origin.
“We measured the vessel and the readings came out most logically in English measurement.”
“What do you mean, ‘English’ measurement? asked Hastings.
“Sir, the craft measured out in feet and inches and there is only one country that still maintains that system of measurement.”
“The United States,” uttered Blandings.
“Aye, Sir. I think we have a United States vessel. Given the size and lack of markings, I suspect that it is from their Navy.”