“All skies clear of commercials?” Lieutenant Nengyi Yew asked his subordinates who were sitting at their workstations, staring at a half dozen large LCD monitors within the Combat Information Centre, or CIC. The screens showed a large circle circumscribed in green, within which blue boxes with various labeled slowly moved from left to right. They were fast movers—fighter jets—that appeared to crawl on the 500 kilometer diameter radar coverage. Blue triangles hovered unmoving: helicopters ferrying supplies and personnel between ships, or conducting anti-submarine warfare, or ASW, operations.
He swallowed a cup of coffee, the mug emblazoned with the ship’s seal, in just two seconds. The night had not given him any rest due to both celebration and anxiety. Even the champagne continued to burp up through his mouth. His left hand subconsciously tapped at the steel edge of a subordinate’s chair, clanking to the beat of the Rihanna song, Get It Over With. The sensation of the platinum on steel vibration sending a pulse through his skin and into his finger bone was soothing and novel as he had never worn a ring before in his life. The wedding band felt a bit loose as his fingers had shrunk from both dehydration and the chill air that blew throughout the ship’s windowless command center – not for the comfort of the crew, but to keep the hundreds of computers functioning.
“Aye aye, sir. We are tracking zero civilian aircraft. Changi and AWACS confirm the all-clear. We just have ten friendly birds flying CAP, and some rotary wings conducting ASW and general support ops.” Lieutenant Yew mumbled that he understood.
A high-pitched warble from the ship’s intercom broke Nengyi’s half-daydream of the wedding he had just had less than a day before. “This is the Captain. Sailors, we are about to embark on Operation Kaki Blue. This not only refers to the color of traditional naval working clothes, but Kaki also means friend in Malay. So as friends we are joining our international partners in Task Force South Pacific to sail to the Hainan area in order to enforce peace in the region to counter the expansionist policies of the People’s Republic of China. We will be joined by Task Force West Pacific, where we will form a combined fleet of more than fifty fighting ships. I expect every man to do his duty and make this ship proud. Helmsman, all ahead two-thirds. Captain, out.” Nengyi rubbed his cheeks, self-conscious that he had not shaved that morning in his rush to get to the ship before dawn. The Captain would understand…though his approval was a different matter.
“The skies are clear, Major. No unknowns or suspicious tracks on the Herakles,” Nengyi reported to the chief weapon’s officer a few meters away, referring to the ship’s search radar.
Nengyi rubbed his ring for the hundredth time that hour, his finger feeling itchy beneath the platinum. Twisting it, he made a prayer for a safe and quick journey, perhaps with a celebratory port call somewhere in between. He was halfway through envisioning his wife standing upon the MBS observing the ship when his immediate superior spoke. “Very good, Lieutenant Yew. Be advised that according to the police and intel services that cyber attacks, DDOS attacks, and the like were reported this morning against Singaporean computer systems. Internet, phone, and even the electricity network are experiencing some glitches. Make sure all of the safeties are on. We don’t want an errant launch that hits the city or shoots down one of our birds because our computers mix up their bits and bytes.” Nengyi affirmed the order and passed it onto the enlisted weapons operators.
White foam bubbled behind the ships as fog horns rumbled through the Straits, a surfing sound that bounced against the buildings over and over. The fleet’s propellers stirred up the water so that cavitation grew from the smooth sea at thirty-two different points. “There they go!” the uncle said to his nephew, “Like horses dashing out of the gate.” The metaphor was exaggerated to say the least, as it took several minutes for most of the ships to actually begin moving due to their mass.
Myolie had her eyes focused on the Tenacious, and her heart leaped with pride and sank with bereavement as its four German diesel engines pounded their pistons and pushed the frigate forward, its bow slicing through the Straight’s emerald green surface. The international mission’s, or the Pacific Alliance as it was being called in the press, main objective was to deter China’s claims against contested islands. Nengyi had assured Myolie that there would not be any fighting. The fleet’s strength was too much for the adversary, and in any case no one could have a war at sea these days. It was just too expensive and pointless. Make iPhones, not war was a commonly posted Facebook status the world over.
Maybe I can send him one last message of farewell, Myolie thought. Checking her smartphone, however, she saw that there was still no connection. Being atop one of the tallest buildings in the city at the edge of downtown Singapore should not have posed a challenge, especially given that it worked fine below ground on the subway system: the MRT. But though frustrated she was not going to let a StarHub glitch ruin her last moments with her husband, even if it was a moment separated by several kilometers and several meters of steel.
Her gaze shifted upwards towards the coast of Batam, Indonesia, where on the island’s south Myolie and Nengyi had spent several long weekends throughout their four years together doing nothing but loving one another. So many memories, and a lifetime to make more.
As she sighed forlornly towards Batam, she saw a puff of fire, smoke and water come from a little north of the Indonesian shore. How kind it was, she thought, to give a pyrotechnic farewell to the fleet. Indonesia, which contributed four ships to the Pacific Alliance, seemed to be celebrating in proper Asian style.