All Aboard the Cyclops
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Howard stepped out of his room and into the drizzling night. The raindrops were light, so he didn't bother buttoning up his uniform or putting on his hat. Making his way across the iron floors and past the floodlights, he approached the four men who were gathered beside the railings. Three were in matching Navy attire and saluted him as he grew nearer, while one was hunched on a large tarp-covered object, clutching his gray jacket like a cloak and shivering underneath it.

One of the crew, a towering man with ginger hair, stepped forward and loudly said, "Good evening, Captain Trench." It was the owner of the same voice that convinced to come out here.

Howard put on a stern face in response, trying to hide his exhaustion. He'd have to make this quick before it was past midnight. "I'd say it's already night, but whatever. What exactly did you call me here on the walkie for, James?"

James quickly responded with, "We've found someone in an escape pod, captain. The markings indicate it to be one of our own."

Now this was quite unforeseen. A military vessel stranded on foreign waters wasn't really a usual sight, let alone one that belonged to his own country. "And where would this escape pod be?"

James gestured his hand at the other two crewmen, and all three of them lifted up a small part of the tarpaulin beside them, revealing a small compact vessel, half his height and twice as long. It bore a close resemblance to an armed torpedo, the only difference being the small snout-like window and the large metal hatch on top.

"And our stowaway?" Howard asked coldly.

James marched towards the man in the gray jacket and patted him on the back. "On your feet, soldier. The captain wants to talk to you."

The shivering man slowly stood up, revealing a head whose top was mopped with black hair, disheveled and curled up in a mess. There were large bags under his eyes, perfectly matching the utter lack of spirit on the rest of his face. It was a state of a man trying to recover from the depths of utter despair.

Howard felt some semblance of pity for him, wondering on what kind of tragedy even befell upon him. "What's your name, son?"

"Lisbon Numan, sir," muttered the disheveled man. "Crewmate of the USS Cyclops."

"I see." So he was from the submarine that broke off contact a week ago. There was probably a long tale behind it, but to question him now would be quite inhospitable. Howard pointed at the crewmates in front of him and said, "Men, clean up one of our spare quarters and prepare a set of dry clothes for this gentleman. We'll be asking Mister Lisbon and put this on our report first thing tomorrow."

Two of the crew nodded and headed off to the deck's entrance. Howard approached Lisbon, still shaking under his uniform, and placed a hand on his shoulder. Lisbon jolted slightly to the side, but slowly looked up to meet the captain's gaze. "Rest easy, son," he said. We'll get you back to shore in the morning."

Lisbon kept on looking down, but Howard thought he saw some life return to the poor kid's face. With a slightly better change in his voice, he uttered, "Thank you, sir."

"Don't mention it." A smile nearly formed in Howard's lips, for he could see that there was still a chance that this young man could return to a somewhat normal life. "I hope you don't mind, but I'm afraid we have to check on all your belongings," he said, his gaze slightly wandering to the interior of the pod. "Mandatory protocols and all that."

Lisbon silently nodded with the strength of a quarter of a child. Howard didn't want to bear witness to it anymore and returned his gaze to James, asking him "How many guards are still on duty?"

"Seven, captain." Less than a quarter. Would be a bit cruel to force them to another job after their shift. He also felt some kind of strange intuition about it, a feeling in his guts as some would say. Something deep below his conscience told him that he had to take whatever was inside the pod, that he needed to at least see it to satiate his curiosity.

There was never a choice to begin with. "I'll confiscate these belongings myself. They will be taken to the evidence locker on the first light of day. In the meantime, please escort Mister Numan to his room."

"Very well, captain," nodded James. With that, he took Lisbon's hand and led him away from the deck. Howard waited until both of them disappeared inside the entrance and picked up the rest of the materials from the pod. Bottled water, oatmeal cookies, and a large notebook. Nothing too strange, from an outsider's view.

Carrying those miscellaneous items, he hurried back to his room, his boots slightly soaking the fine carpet layering his floor. He put the rations away on a silver platter, yet made sure that the notebook remained in his hand.

He sat down behind his desk and propped his feet atop it. He inspected the notebook in his hand, a bundle of paper slightly drenched at the edges with a thin acrylic sheet slapped on both sides as covers. Surely there was something of value written here, maybe an entertaining tale or even some decent blackmail material. Howard convinced himself to stop fantasizing, that the true worth of this book could only be decided by thoroughly examining its contents.

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