Chapter One of a Novel
Five fathoms down, Marla Wilson swam past catacombs of coral sparkling in shafts of sunlight, her motion swaying sea anemones. The ocean embraced her, caressing her legs as she kicked, streaming her breasts as she stroked. A manta soared by, swift and undulant, then vanished with a whisk of tail into the sargasso forest. A gray shark with blinkless eyes cruised a school of young tarpon, who sank in slow abandon through purple shrouds of gulf surge. Jewels of nacre gleamed on the sliding bottom, luring her down, tempting her to stay, forget the surface and its flimsy air.
She was mostly water anyway, salty too.
But she had a job to do.
Dan Travers swam beside her, streaming bubbles; Grace Adams was behind, all of them held in the buoyant press of the sea. Above them the surface, a glassy roof of dancing light. Ahead the island … and a Hera missile about to be launched.
They had to stop it, at least delay it. They carried no weapons, just chains and locks. They were the weapons, their soft, warm bodies chained to fence posts ringing the launch site.
In an hour the Pentagon planned to blast off Hera, all twelve tons of her, and then shoot her down with a Patriot missile. They claimed the testing was needed for national security, but Marla and her friends were convinced it would just increase the arms race, shatter the peace of the Florida Keys, and terrify the animals. They were swimming in to put themselves on the line against it.
The military would love to fire it with them chained to the fence, barbecue them right there, but they didn’t dare: Incinerating demonstrators doesn’t play well on the evening news. So they’d have to delay the launch while they cut them loose and arrested them. Then maybe when that was on the evening news, one of the demonstrators would get a few seconds of air time to explain why this testing was a worthless idea. And maybe a few of the millions of people watching would decide to help change that.
They had spent last night hidden on a mangrove island nearby, no lights, no fire, then scubaed in under the guard boats.
It was a long swim, breath now rasping in Marla’s regulator, legs like logs. Despite her fatigue, she loved being part of the swell and flow of the ocean. Strands of sunlight skeined down over her.
A sea turtle ahead! Two! Wide as her arms, they seemed to fly, so graceful and fast down here compared to on land, limbs perfect for swimming. She’d like to hitch a ride.
She couldn’t let this boy’s toy of a rocket terrorize them into not nesting. The birds were nesting now too, and the Key Deer about to give birth. The critters down here had some rights.
Ahead, the surface burst open like a window shattering. Dark objects plunged through. Bombs? Depth charges? No, people — four, five, six divers. No boat above: they fell from the sky, Icarus frogmen.
Swimming towards them now in black wetsuits, two at each of them. Marla’s heart raced in fear. Dan crossed protectively in front of her, spread his arms to ward them off.
One of them reached behind to his tanks and unstrapped something long. He brought it to the front: a spear gun. Aiming at Dan, he fired. A metal rod streaked through the water and struck Dan in the chest; it didn’t pierce but bounced off his wetsuit: a blunt tip for stunning. The blow knocked Dan back at Marla in a helpless somersault. Air hose dangling, he drifted feet first towards the surface, eyes closed, a pink cloud flowing from his open mouth.
Where was the shark now? Marla wondered. How long would it take him to smell it?
Three men swam at her. She turned, trying to get away, but they were big and fast, headed her off. One grabbed her hand, another her leg; they yanked; she felt she was being split apart, drawn and quartered.
Seeing what was happening to Dan and Marla, Grace went limp and lifted her arms in surrender. They still tore out her mouthpiece, grabbed her around the neck, and pulled her upwards.
One of Marla’s men pulled something from his leg. Knife? No, a truncheon — jabbed her hard in the stomach. Ripped with agony, she gagged, doubled up, tasted vomit.
Truncheon man swam behind her. His tool came over her head, held at each end by gloved hands, and jammed against her neck.
The other guy tore the regulator from her mouth and pulled off her mask. Trying to breathe, she swallowed water and convulsed. She could see only red and black. They dragged her up.
Breaking the surface, she gasped for air. A rubber boat bobbed on the waves. Men inside it were hauling Dan and Grace from the water. Marla’s captors shoved her towards it. She reached up to the men on board, hating herself for giving in but too afraid of more pain to resist. They pulled her spluttering up into the boat.
Sunlight sparkled on the water, sky a deep blue with white cumulus sailing by, sea air warm and fresh — another beautiful day in the Florida Keys.
Farther offshore a helicopter was landing on the deck of a gray navy ship. Had they spotted them from the air and dropped the frogmen?
The men climbed into the boat. It was crowded now. They stripped off their wetsuits. Underneath the black rubber they were white, crew cut, muscly.
Underneath Marla’s wetsuit she was brown, long haired, slender. She left the suit on.
On the island the forty-four-foot missile stood erect, ready to blast off.
Dan sprawled face down on the floor of the boat. He seemed unconscious; the rising and falling of his back said he was alive.
“You’re all under arrest,” one of the boat crew said. “Trespassing on a US military reservation.” He wore camouflage fatigues and a pistol on his belt.
Grace had been crying and trembling against the side of the boat, but she pulled herself together and said, “We were in the ocean … not on the land.”
“Ocean’s ours too, all around the island. It’s posted,” he said. “You know that. That’s why you swam underwater. And that’s why we were waiting for you.” He looked at Marla more closely, then gave a flirting half smile.
She wanted to rip out his eyes. Waiting for us … they knew.
Dan stirred, pushed himself up from the floor of the boat, struggled to sit up. Face blanched, eyes unfocused, he shivered in the heat and clutched his chest. Marla moved next to him and put her arms around him. Her midsection quivered with pain.
The flirting guy watched with a smirk. “Cuff ’em,” he told one of the men.
This guy pulled handcuffs from the side pocket of his camouflage pants and approached them, wobbly legged.
“What’s this for?” Dan rasped through his injured chest.
“You’re criminals. It’s SOP,” said the alpha male. His flunky cuffed Dan first, bending his arms high behind his back and snapping the cuffs around his pale wrists. They weren’t metal but some kind of flexible plastic that gripped tight.
Unable to brace himself, Dan fell against the side of the boat. Marla tried to help him up, but the guy pulled her away. Not wanting to be hurt again, she put her hands behind her back and clutched her fingers. With a sharp sting he slapped the cuffs against her wrists. She fell against Dan in a heap.
Grace rolled onto her stomach with her arms behind her back, eyes closed. The soldier cinched her too.
They floundered around on the rubber floor like caught fish, then clustered together and finally were able to sit up by leaning against one another. They exchange desolate glances: They’d failed. The military had defeated them.
But there was still Davida Stein. She was going to do an air infiltration: jump from a plane, paraglide into the launch site, and chain herself near Hera. That should make the news and let people know what was happening here.
They searched the sky for the plane. Paul Branson was going to pilot her as far as he could get into the no-fly zone, and she would leap from there.
On the boat the helicopter started up with a coughing roar. It took off and circled the island around the missile. Three other military aircraft were patrolling the sky: a bubble-cockpitted observation plane, a long-nosed, twin-tailed fighter jet higher up, and a bulbous AWACS off to the side. Finally Marla saw Branson’s Cessna, far away and tiny.
Trailing a snarl through the blue, the fighter streaked up to intercept him.
“Hornet’s gonna sting!” said one of the soldiers. He went to a side compartment of the boat, pulled out binoculars, and looked eagerly up at the sky.
The Cessna veered away in retreat.
“A chute!” the guy said.
Marla saw a speck that must be Davida and her parachute. The chopper rose towards her.
Alpha male was talking on the radio; everyone else was watching the sky. If it weren’t for the handcuffs, Marla might be able to escape. But with them on, she’d drown.
The helicopter was above Davida now, tracking her descent. She was an expert sky diver, a master blaster. Now Marla could see her and the chute, a long, concave scoop of nylon for distance gliding. A loudspeaker on the chopper started blaring out to her. From here the sound was garbled but Marla could make out, “Trespass … military … turn around.” They were right above her.
How did they know?
The downdraft from their rotor was rippling her chute as she angled toward the missile. The chopper moved even closer. Her canopy fluttered and twisted to the side, then collapsed. Davida fell faster, plummeting now.
Grace screamed. Davida was a streak that disappeared when she crossed the horizon to earth.
Grace, her lover, fell too, collapsing to the floor of the boat with a shriek. The sky was the same saturated blue; white clouds drifted by. The loudspeaker from the chopper blared on. Marla and Dan huddled against each other crying.
William T. Hathaway’s nonfiction book, Radical Peace: People Refusing War, presents the experiences of peace activists who have moved beyond petitions and demonstrations into direct action: helping soldiers to desert, destroying computer systems, trashing recruiting offices, burning military equipment, and sabotaging defense contractors. Chapters are posted on a page of the publisher’s website at http://media.trineday.com/radicalpeace. A Special Forces combat veteran, Hathaway is currently an adjunct professor of American studies at the University of Oldenburg in Germany. His first book, A World of Hurt, won a Rinehart Foundation Award for its portrayal of the psychological roots of war: the emotional blockage and need for patriarchal approval that draw men to the military. He is also the author of Summer Snow, the story of an American warrior in Central Asia who falls in love with a Sufi Muslim and learns from her an alternative to the military mentality. Chapters are available at www.peacewriter.org.