July 11, 2012, 08:29 GMT

Washington, DC, United States

Christine awoke to Victor pawing at her back. The Sunday morning light streamed through the crack in the thick, velvety curtains she had bought for energy saving purposes. That they were her favorite color was secondary.

'Victor, why can't Alex feed you? Oh, that's right, Uncle Sam decided that a sudden exercise was more important than making sure I slept in on the weekend.'

She drug herself to a sitting position over the side of the bed and Victor jumped off her, scampered to the bathroom and then came back when she didn't immediately follow. He sat and miaowed patiently several times before wandering back to the bathroom to show her what he meant.

'I know, I know. Give me a second to wake up. If you're as bad as kids, I'm never ever having one.'

She got up suddenly and with a burst of energy, scooped him up on his back to cradle him in her arms. She tickled his tummy while he wriggled in the undignified position. 'Never, ever, ever. Ever if they're as cutie-wootie as you are, snoogums. Ohmigod, did I just say snoogums? I'm becoming my mom. Yesh, I am, aren't I? I am, I am.' She said as she nuzzled her nose against his head and gave him a kiss before plopping him feet-side up on the floor.

She turned on the TV after feeding Victor and taking a shower. She fixed breakfast in the kitchen with one ear tuned to the morning news.

…and China continues to explode in civil unrest. Firefights between military units and rebels has continued through the evening, with Chinese air-strikes being called in the suburbs of Hong Kong

She poked her head out of the kitchen briefly to crane over the doorframe. Guiltily, she enjoyed watching clips of explosions on the news; besides, there never was any uncensored body parts or anything anymore.

A shaky handheld camera, obviously a home-movie job, was in a high-rise apartment. The camera caught a reflection of itself, and its owner, on the balcony glass door before it was slid open. The camera zoomed in on the horizon and than panned to focus in on an area which was blurry at first than crisped up. A large cloud was drifting up from the ground and a rumbling noise was heard. A huge ball of sparks and fire ballooned up before collapsing, briefly lighting up the first cloud. Several seconds later the camera shook briefly from the aftershock, and the same rumbling thunder-clap was heard. A lone car alarm started going off beneath the apartment balcony. The clip began to replay again, this time in a small box over the newscaster's shoulder, as she stared intently into the camera to read her prompter.

Christine ducked back into the kitchen. There wasn't much she as an individual could do to alleviate a foreign government bombing its own people and her stomach was rumbling.

Victor wandered back into the room.

'Hey there handsome man,' she cooed to him. He leapt nimbly up onto the coffee table infront of the TV. He began to wash his face diligently and deliberately, basking in her praise. 'You get me all to yourself now that Alex isn't here. What do you want to do today?'

Victor now ignored her as he continued to clean himself of his breakfast.

'Fine. I'll go see a matinee and see if I pick up any catnip on the way back home.'

July 11, 2012, 13:29 GMT

USS Portland, Atlantic Ocean

Alex was having a bad day. He'd been awake all night, which wasn't a problem in and of itself, but the excess coffee to stay awake made the back of his skull buzz while the front felt sleepy. And his rectum burned from all the intestinal irritation the abnormal amount of caffeine had caused. He felt a gurgling rumble and knew that he'd have to visit the head before too long again. And the ship-board single-ply toilet paper was about as comfortable as photo-stock paper.

He stood at the back of the bridge, next to the navigation charts, and watched a sailor chart out a course to the rendez-vous with a grease pencil atop the laminated map. Nothing modernized slower than the United States Navy.

Captain Michael Doyle was scanning the horizon with his binoculars. 'Alex, how much longer until we meet up with the battle-group?'

'Uh, one second sir,' he looked over the shoulder of the sailor and did a quick estimation. 'At current speed of 30 knots, probably two, three hours tops.'

'Wonderful. Just enough time for some afternoon coffee.'

Alex's stomach flipped at the mention of the acidic beverage he had partook too much of.

'Alex, I'd like it if you scheduled a CIWS practice later on today for the crew. We're still not in the group so let's squeeze off a few rounds before we have to muzzle everything for safety's sake. It'll brighten up everyone's day.'

'Sounds, good sir. I'll pass the word along.'

An hour and a half later, Alex was in the USS Portland's CIWS. Located in the belly of the frigate, the weapons system room doubled as communications for the two MH-60s kept aboard. One of them was out right now, providing the CIWS with a flying target to zero their radar in on.

'Cogniac, Portland, come left bearing two-two-four, winds are zero-five at one-eight-niner,' the onboard ATC rattled off to the pilot of the MH-60.

'Portland, Cogniac, two-two-four and one-eight-niner.'

The OOD for the CIWS looked over the shoulder of one of the men manning the radar con.

'Nice fix, sailor. What's the vector by your scope?'

'True speed forty-five kts, bearing zero-niner, sir.'

'Looks about right.'

Alex walked behind the ATC.

'Sir, tell Cogniac to drop a buoy about three nautical miles off our starboard. Captain said we can get some practice in with the nine-incher.'

The ATC looked up for a second with a mischevious grin replying, 'Yes, sir,' and proceeded to relay the message.

The sailor manning the nine-inch deck gun had a little joystick with a targeting camera that fed a real-time vision of where the deck gun was aimed at. The gun itself was fully automated, firing a nine-inch high explosive shell every two seconds for thirty seconds before the magazine was reloaded. The large brass shells ejected out the back into a mesh cage which directed them onto the ship's deck where they would be policed up after the exercise.

Alex stood with his hands behind his back, feeling very theatrical for a second, and then told the gunner, 'Commence firing.'

The sailor squeezed the joystick's trigger. Poom. From inside the CIWS the noise was felt more than heard, a differentiation of the air pressure on the eardrums. Poom. Poom. Poom.

Yellow rounds squirted out from the side view of the camera, arcing out to splash a huge geyser of whiteish-grey foam. The first shell was five hundred yards off, the second half that and the third caused the buoy to shoot up into the sky, riding the pillar of water up. The fourth hit where the buoy had been, right on target.

'Portland, Cogniac. Nice shooting, you killed our buoy for sure. Scratch one bad guy.'

'Cogniac, Portland. Come on back, boys, that's enough fun for one day.'

July 11, 2012, 22:29 GMT

USS Portland, Atlantic Ocean

Alex sat in Captain Doyle's quarters, feeling his rump extend slightly over the small wooden chair. The décor in his room was mahogany and white, very classy but very heavy. It had to be made up for my miniaturizing everything, at the cost of comfort. Such was the price of a life at sea.

Besides Doyle and Alex, four other senior officers of the USS Portland were in the room.

Captain Doyle was passing around a 10x12 glossy picture of ships at harbor. Behind him, on an LCD screen hooked up to Doyle's military laptop, a small movie was caching from the DoD secure satellite network.

'These, gentleman, are the reason we were called away,' said Doyle in his usual dramatic flair as Captain, 'and these are the reason why we are now attached to a carrier battle group.' He gestured towards the porthole where Alex could see the landing lights of a Nimitz-class carrier glowing as the crew practice night cats.

'Washington believes that China is going to be flexing her muscle in the middle east to secure herself a little more oil. Seems she didn't take so kindly the UN's ruling and wanted to take matters into her own hands.

'What you are seeing is a small, but very capable, invasion force put together with the intent of capturing one of Saudi's numero uno oil processing and exporting facilities. We've tried telling the Saudi government what we think but they aren't listening because they're still getting their pocket lined by the Chinese. Thus, we do not have any special clearance to operate in their territorial waters or airspace unless they have green-lit our passage.

'Now, the Chinese have those three frigates. Those are the newest, shiniest thing that China has to offer and come equipped with the Russian Sunburn super-sonic missile. Carrier-killer, range of a good hundred miles or so. That's going to be our main concern. Otherwise, its up to the carrier flyboys to worry about the SAMs those things carry. A great radar umbrella of fifty nautical miles, has a self-loading and firing SAM station fore and aft on each frigate. That carrier won't be too much of a problem for us. Its complement is mainly VSTOL craft plus helos to ferry their version of the marines onto land. The back has a little ramp for hover-craft to come and go for Special Ops' infiltration. And that supply ship should be easy pickings.

'However, this one boat is the special one.'

Doyle clicked the play button on his laptop. A pixilated high-resolution video of a civilian cargo ship with a crane at the front came into view. It began to pan from left to right, slowly. On the deck were multiple truckbed sized cargo containers being tied down by dock workers and sailors.

'This boat, we believe, is holding two brigades of mechanized infantry.'

Alex let out a low whistle, and murmurs of appreciation were heard around the room.

'Each cargo container either holds an APC or some supplies and equipment to support the brigade. How the hell they plan on quickly getting it off their boat with only two cranes- one on front, one in the back- remains to be seen. The number one Saudi target port has several loading docks, but those are awfully far south to be of any real use.

'So the game plan we have is pretty simple. The Saudis don't believe us, so we don't have any jurisdiction in their water. If we steam on over and park our little group's butt in their pathway, they just might have a change of heart and head back. If not, things might get a little ugly but that's up for the Chinese to decide if they want things to get that way or not. Any questions?'

Silence reigned for a few seconds. Captain Doyle smacked his thigh with the palm of his hand and simultaneously announced, 'Good! Starting at zero-hundred hours tonight, I want general quarters with an eight-hour shift. And let's make sure the crew are up on their damage control drills, too. Let's see if Uncle Sam can throw out a bar of soap for the Chinese to bend over and pick up. I don't want us to be caught with our pants' around our ankles, gentleman, it's not my style.'