The Butterfly Dragon: Night Boat - Episode 06 (Updated June 4, 2024 3:00 PM)

 



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Warning: This episodic story is intended for adult readers and contains content intended for a mature audience. Reader discretion is advised.

The Secret Romance 


Francis kept a firm purchase on his SMG. In fact, one of the most potent available and certainly used by the various special forces around the globe. However, Francis had no such special training and could not truly appreciate the precision of the weapon he wielded. It was a tool to him, and a potent one at that, but on this particular night, that was not his concern, for he had much greater aspirations aboard the Many Faced Maiden than had most others.

Sure, he'd been trained by Steadman's cream of the crop. The frontline preservers of of the front of the  modified Gearing Class Destroyer. But he was far from being a soldier. He instead was a man carrying machine gun, in possession of the skill to point and shoot and not much more, and yet this perfectly suited Steadman's purpose, for Francis was now the most important sailor on the boat. From the midsection foward that is.

Zek in the meantime was in full command of the aft of the ship. Guards posted along the midpoint perimeter, ensuring that Steadman's crew never set foot over that line, for Steadman might have been the mind, but Zek was the motor. The destroyer simply did not move with his approval, and this was the nature of their stalemate.

This is where Francis came in. You see, when the crew had been one, operating as a unit rather than a duality, Francis had been the lover of another sailor. A man, much like himself. Thin, fit and full of vigor for life and adventure.

The two of them had managed to keep their secret for the entirety of the trip. Darvana was one of the senior members of Steadman's staff and as such, had his own cabin. A place where Francis and he would meet to express their love and passion for one another in secret.

They would in each other's arms, confess to their future plans. Aspirations. Goals. Dreams. Whatever else they had in mind, given their romance on board the Many Faced Maiden.

"When we're done here, I want to find us a Hacienda with our pay. A place where you and I could build a life together... In Columbia," Darvana admitted to Francis.

"I would love nothing more than to spend my life with you, my love..." Francis laid a delicate peck upon Darvana's cheek.

And then Francis dreams would become the nightmare day that the boat became divided.

The crew became two different sides.

He and Darvana were now on opposite sides of the proverbial fence.

Darvana had joined the revolution. The forces of Zek, while Francis had remained loyal to Steadman.

The two were now on the two sides of their own Shakespearian drama. Romeo... and Romeo.

And yet, in their separation, Francis somehow found renewed purpose, for it was his goal to reunite with his lover on the other side of the boat, not matter the risks.

It was this obsession that had eventually caught the attention of Steadman himself, and it was he who first approached Francis with an offer that he simply couldn't, nor wouldn't refuse.

The galley was empty, except for the one and only kitchen staff finishing the cleaning. Given the reduction in overall crew, many systems on the Destroyer simply weren't manned. In a sense, thhe Many Faced Maiden had become somewhat like a ghost ship. The crew were few and far between. Spread out between the two sides of the boat. The bow end of the ship was lacking in support staff, while the stern was overpopulated. 

Steadman sat at a table in the galley, awaiting Francis' arrival, a plate of food and a bottle of win in front of him as a decoy to his purposes.

When Francis finally arrived, Steadman gestured to the man, inviting him over to his table to join him, sounding half intoxicated, the smell of alcohol thick in his breath.

"Francis my good man... come over here and join me for a bite," Steadman smiled for show as he chewed his last mouthful of food.

Francis had known about the meeting, though he still played naive, for he loved drama. He saw this latest invitation as another unfolding story in his life's romantic journey and one that would eventually reunite him with Darvana.

Steadman was sound of purpose, and respected the differences of his crew, no matter how far and different they were from his own. He knew for instance that several members of his crew had same sex lovers, and yet their relations had never interfered with the sound functioning of his ship, and certainly not as much so as their shortage of crew. Therefore, he always respected their secrecy and privacy, regardless of his own direction in matters of love and gender.

"Got a glass?" asked Steadman, playing up his intoxication slightly.

Francis pushed a cup forward towards Steadman, who looked at it somewhat unimpressed.

"Is that it? Alright. Hold it still while I pour..." Steadman demanded of Francis, who seemed somewhat confused by Steadman's request.

Regardless, he held the cup in place as Steaman poured, getting most of the nectar into the glass before returning his attention to his nearly empty plate of food.

"I take it there was a purpose to your calling me here?" asked Francis, who waited for Steadman's answer before daring to take so much as a sip from his own glass of wine.

"Purpose? There's a purpose to everything, Francis," Steadman responded, taking a gulp from his own glass.

"Then what is mine here?" asked Francis, now very curious as to why the Captain had suddenly seemed to take such an interest in him.

"You tell me," Steadman replied, scooping the last bit of his food into his gullet, chewing it carefully before washing it down with another mouthful of wine.

"I am but a mere crewman aboard a very large and understaffed ship..." Francis responded.

"You're also a valued member of our crew, aren't you?" Steadman looked at Francis, more so looking through him.

Like a drunk who suddenly found something behind a person more interesting than the person themselves.

"I think he really loves you," Steadman continued, leaning back in his chair comfortably and watching Francis carefully for any reactions.

"Who?" asked Francis, very obviously playing naive.

"Don't play me like this, sailor. Especially when I'm trying to help you..." Steadman paused, looking at Francis' chin.

"I have a wife back in San Salvador who is..." Francis began, lying through his teeth.

"...who is waiting loyally for you to return after your duties on the Many Faced Maiden, at which point you'll be married and retire together, am I right? You practically cookie-cuttered that response from  every other sailor on board, when I know that your lover is on the other crew of this boat... his loyalty served to Alomera Zekestes," Steadman laid it out firmly for Francis, who immediately looked down in disgrace.

"I just told you that my Christina-Maria is waiting for me back in San Salvador. That is the only secret there is...!" Francis responded somewhat frustrated now by Steadman's lack of faith in his answer.

"Have it your way. What if I told you that I could arrange for you to have your own personal quarters? A place where you could secretly meet with your good friend from the other crew, without any prying eyes to act as a barrier between you? Hmmm? Would that work for you?" asked Steadman of Francis, presenting the crowning glory of his offer.

Francis considered what was being offered very carefully. Such an offer if it were true, would indeed solve many of the problems with his secret relationship with Darvana, but it would not solve the one obstacle to their relationship and that was the fact that they were on opposite sides of a ship-wide conflict. One albeit that had been composed of a reluctant peace for the last thirty-six hours, but one that was still a nearly insurmountable barrier for their secret affair.

"And what would be expected of me in return for such grandioso el apoyo?" asked Francis.

"Nothing much really. Given our over abundance of resources, I'm feeling generous. I want to reward the more loyal of my crew by sharing this wealth..." Steadman immediately emptied his wine glass after he'd spoken the words, pouring himself another while offering a top-up to Francis who'd barely touched his at all.

"And...?" Francis responded, being no fool.

He could see something calculating behind Steadman's glassy eyes. Something was going on inside the matter in that skull of his.

"...And, in return for this gesture and luxury, you'll obtain information about Zek's plans. Detailed information given the fact that I already have it under good authority that Darvana is a trusted member of Zek's most prized advisors. Out of their entire crew, he's the only one with a College degree. He's no chump, but he is your lover. I want you to obtain detailed information relating to Zek's plans. We're due to arrive at Cora Hau in under three days. I want complete operational awareness of Zek's plans in two. To the man... <ahem> men that bring me this, I will offer them the world..." Steadman's gaze upon Francis remained unblinking and full of a determined intensity that Francis had never seen on Steadman's face before.

For the most part, many of the men who worked under Steadman's command had assumed him to be somewhat of an idiot savant. One who by sheer luck had landed himself in the position of owning a fifty-million dollar heavily modified Gearing Class Destroyer, and then having millions left to spare. On board the ship however, he was simply lost. He relied mostly on the Helmsman, Norman, for keeping the day to day operations on board the ship running smoothly.

He even seemed lost behind the trigger of small arms, which was evidenced during the revolution of a few days earlier. He could barely operate a standard 9mm handgun, let alone the MP5s with which most of the crew were armed. It was as if he'd dropped into this role from a cushy office job, given him by his rich uncle or some other similar story of gross fortune.

However, when Francis looked at this same man before him, he saw something much, much different. Not a man who was lost at all, but a cold and calculating leader, not far from the charisma possessed by his opposite on the other end of the boat. What Steadman lacked in the raw charismatic presence held by Zek, he more than made up for as a devious and calculating adversary of hidden depths.

Francis at that moment realized that he and many others on board had far underestimated the man seated across from him.

"I'll expect an answer in two hours. If you breath word of this to anyone, especially your lover..." Steadman looked to the far wall behind Francis, where a photo of a Great White Shark was centered on the wall as it devoured an unfortunate Sealion.

A cruel smile broke away ever so slightly from Steadman's lips.

Francis turned to the photo and upon truly seeing it for the first time, his spine shuddered as shivers spread throughout his body.

"See you in two hours..." Steadman picked up his wine glass and the empty bottle, placing it in a plastic bin fastened to the wall near the dishwasher.

He then emptied his last glass of wine and left Francis alone in the galley to consider his offer.

...

On the bridge of the Many Faced Maiden, Norman increased the ship's speed to three quarters given the fact that the Sun was now tucked well behind the horizon and the risk of detection as a result had diminished significantly when compared with any sensor technology about which he was aware. As a former man of the Navy himself, he had much awareness regarding these systems.

He however had no awareness of the Archimedes AI analysis suite, a new rackmount system that was in the process of being integrated into the entire American fleet of Seawolf SSNs (Nuclear Powered Strategic Submarines).

Regardless of the fact that hydo-oxidation could not be detected at night without a polarized light source (like the Sun's rays passing through the Ionosphere), Archimedes and its corresponding AI suite of analysis systems could detect so-called bubble trails in any light, day or night, by merging both radio and auditory data sources from the submarine's sensor array.

Regardless of its state of the art stealth technology, the Many Faced Maiden was essentially now nothing more than the Seaion wading through shark infested waters. The fluttering of its tail through the water could now be seen and heard by every proverbial shark beneath the surface.

It wasn't Steadman that was the shark to Francis' potential betrayal as he'd so callously implied in order to intimidate Francis. It was a Seawolf Attack Class Submarine that was the real shark, while the Many Faced Maiden would eventually become the helpless Sealion.


Bigger Fish

The gentle movement of the Seawolf through the water was lulling, especially to those onboard and in their quarters. For the Senior Officers, this meant three to a bunk. On this particular shift, Captain Spiers had the entire bunk to himself while the remainder of senior Officers worked the night shift.

He dreamt of his wife, and of a hang gliding trip they'd had ten years earlier, and one that had ended with him suffering a compound fracture during his landing. He recalled the sharp and numbing pain as his tibia broke in two places. How his wife had come running over to him as he lay on the ground, his teeth clenched in pain.

This memory then combined with something related to the Navy, and he found himself swimming during a rescue exercise, while his wife sat in a boat with their pet dog (Reggie), who apparently were out for a walk in the family boat.

As he swam, he then heard a screeching noise of some kind nearby. He looked around half expecting to find a dolphin nearby, when he felt his hand reaching over to open his eye and rouse him from his dream.

He awoke to the sound of the nearby phone, which rang screeching from its receiver on the wall within hand's reach of his bunk.

"Captain Spiers here..." he answered the phone groggily.

"Sir, sorry to wake you, but we've got a contact. Thirty degrees at about a hundred and twenty clicks..." one of his Officers reported to him.

"That's in the location of the hydro-oxidation trail Archimedes detected, isn't it?" confirmed Captain Spiers.

"In the dead center of the route mean square of the predicted trajectory Sir..." Tagman responded.

"Have we got an ID on the vessel?" asked Captain Spiers, who was now out of his bunk and getting dressed as he held the phone to his ear.

"Not specifically, but we do have a rough idea of its displacement and rate of travel Sir. Its a military vessel, somewhere between the class of Cruiser and Destroyer... Archimedes is interfacing with the satellite data now and we should have a positive ID on the exact vessel in a few shakes..." Tagman reported.

"I'm on my way. Have ordnance prepare a Tomahawk. Standard anti-ship payload, high-explosive armour piercing (HEAP) warhead. I'll be there shortly. Over and out," Captain Spiers ordered Tagman.

"Yes Sir," Tagman hung up after he was sure his Captain was finished.

At once, he relayed the Captain's orders to ordnance, who immediately began preparing tube six for rapid deployment of a cruise missile.

To be continued...

Credits and attribution:

Artwork: Amy WongWendy PuseyGhastlyBirdman, Brian Joseph Johns, Daz3DUnreal Engine...

Tools: Daz3DCorel PainterAdobe PhotoshopLightwave 3DBlender, Stable Diffusion (Easy Diffusion distribution), InstantIDSadtalkerGoogle ColaboratoryMicrosoft Copilot (Windows 11), Hitfilm, Borderline Obsession...

InstantID by: Wang, Qixun and Bai, Xu and Wang, Haofan and Qin, Zekui and Chen, Anthony. Research Paper Title: InstantID - Zero-shot Identity-Preserving Generation in Seconds.

Sadtalker by: Zhang, Wenxuan and Cun, Xiaodong and Wang, Xuan and Zhang, Yong and Shen, Xi and Guo, Yu and Shan, Ying and Wang, Fei.
Research Paper Title: SadTalker: Learning Realistic 3D Motion Coefficients for Stylized Audio-Driven Single Image Talking Face Animation.

Gratitude: Our Mentors, Senseis, Sifus, Sebomnims, lifetime inspirations, family, friends, the Nomads (ask Stanton about that one), the Music, the Movies, the Theatre, the Arts, ASMR, (both YouTube and Bilibili and the many other creators on those platforms), the Gaming and Developer communities and of course, the audience.

Martial Arts (in the words of real experts and at least one comedian): https://brucelee.com (home of the real Dragon and an entire family of inspirations), http://iwco.online International Wing Chun Organization (International presence of a very scalable intensity martial art, protected and developed by Shaolin Nun Ng Mui) and the alma mater of Jinn Hua's own specialized variation thereof, https://iogkf.com International Okinawan Goju-Ryu Karatedo Federation (even Hanshi had his teachers), https://itftkd.sport International Taekwondo Federation (Here there be Taegers), https://tangsoodoworld.com Tang Soo Do World (the path of Grandmaster Chuck Norris), https://www.aikido-international.org International Aikido Federation (how else would Navy Chef Steven Seagal liberate a Nimitz Class Aircraft Carrier from a team of hijackers?), https://www.stqitoronto.com Shaolin Temple Quanfa Institute (The City Of Toronto's own Shaolin Temple), https://www.enterthedojoshow.com Master Ken's Ameri-Te-Do presence (If we can't laugh at ourselves, then we can at least laugh the loudest at others, and other Zen)

Special thanks to AitrepreneurMickmumpitzHugging Face and the YouTube educational content producers, including those catering to the AI content production pipeline and of course AlphaSignal.

Something to give you perspective: The very first teacher had no formal education, didn't graduate and was self taught, but only because they had no other choice. We do.

This content is entirely produced in Toronto, Ontario, Canada at 200 Sherbourne Street Suite 701 under the Shhhh! Digital Media banner.