For a modern day sub, being hungry was a rare occurrence like a once in a lifetime occurrence. They didn't need to catch food or have it served to them in their tanks. Give them a fistful of Uranium and they'd be good for 20 or so years. So actually feeling hungry was unusual and at times a bit scary and USS Pennsylvania found out why.
It was just a typical patrol for her. She'd left base at Bangor a few days earlier and had just found her own spot in the Pacific to cruise around it. Running at around 160 feet, she maintained a state of readiness for the call to come through to launch her nuclear weapons. While Pennsylvania enjoyed getting calls from other submarines back at base and hearing the chatter of surface ships could get amusing sometimes, that was one call she hoped she never had to receive. For a few days now the nearly 20 year old submarine had been getting a funny feeling in her stomach, an empty feeling like she was going to be sick. She didn't understand it but she wasn't going to whine about it. As long as she could still perform her duties. It would prove to be a near fatal mistake.
As her patrol wore on, the feeling in Pennsylvania's stomach grew worse. Soon she began to have cramps, sometimes so severe it was a struggle for her just to keep floating at 160 feet. The effort left her breathless and she'd be forced to breach to take a new breath before diving again. Submarines were much like whales only they could hold their breath and stay submerged for a full 90 day patrol if need be. Previously, Pennsylvania had no trouble with it and now her captain inquired into her unexpected action.
"Just-just didn't take a deep enough breath before diving captain." Pennsylvania gasped as she held her bow clear out of the water, breathing in deep. Her planes helped steady her.
After a few minutes, Pennsylvania dove back down to 160 feet and continued on her cruise, settling into a lawnmower like pattern, sweeping back and forth across her patrol area. Other than a few schools of fish and one surface freighter going by, she saw nothing of consequence.
It was on her fifth line that it happened. Pennsylvania's stomach seized up on her and for the first time in her career, the big boomer submarine lunged forward and puked into the water. A white foamy substance came out of her mouth and Pennsylvania grimaced at the foul taste. Her captain, quick to respond, took control of the helm and raised the periscope so he could see what was wrong with his sub. The young ensign manning it, fixed it on Pennsylvania's bow as she lunged forward and a second later, a cloud of white entered the water. The ensign grimaced.
"Permission to speak sir?" He said to the captain.
"Permission granted, go ahead ensign." Pennsylvania's captain replied. "What did you see?"
"I think the only way to put it frankly sir is Pennsylvania's throwing up." The ensign replied.
Captain Bradford F. Ness was a man with 30 plus years of experience in the submarine force. He'd spent several years on Pennsylvania and knew every knook and cranny of his Ohio-class submarine. But this, this was new but not entirely unexpected. Every submarine captain had been warned to watch for signs that their submarine needed refueling. The first sign was feeling hungry. Following that would be abdominal cramps. The third stage was where Pennsylvania was at now. The white foam she was puking up came from the Krypton in her reactor. Krypton in small amounts was harmless, but in large amounts it could quite easily kill a sub like Pennsylvania. As the reactor grew older, the Uranium content within it went down as Barium and Krypton took its place as part of a chain reaction of nuclear fission. Eventually, it'd come to the point where there was no Uranium left to break apart and the Krypton and Barium would take over, continuing to break down into smaller and smaller, less volatile elements. It was when this happened that the submarine, lacking the food, aka: Uranium, that they needed to function, that these signs would appear. Unfortunately for Pennsylvania, Krypton would begin to break down her DNA. The white foam Pennsylvania was puking up now were former blood cells, now dead.
Ness had been expecting something like this from Pennsylvania but his submarine wasn't one to whine. She'd no doubt been feeling hunger pains for days if not weeks but never said anything. It was so like her.
"Pennsylvania, before this did you feel hungry?" He asked her though he was certain he already knew the answer.
"I-blagh! I felt this emptiness in my stomach but I didn't know what it was." Pennsylvania replied.
"You should've talked to me Penn. This is serious." Ness scolded her.
"It didn't seem like it at the time." Pennsylvania whimpered.
"I know that. You're not used to being hungry." He said.
"Hungry? So that's what it was. Um, what do you mean, being hungry?" She asked.
Despite the seriousness of the situation, Ness had to laugh at this. For such a sophisticated creature, Pennsylvania sure could sure be ignorant at times.
"It's your body's way of telling you, you need food." He explained.
"So my reactor..." She broke off, vomiting again.
He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "I'm taking you back to Bangor right now." He said.
"But the patrol, captain I can finish it. It's only a few more days!" She cried.
"The patrol be damned Pennsylvania. This is beyond hunger now, you've got Krypton poisoning." He snapped. "Helm 180 degrees rudder, steady course." He ordered.
"180 degrees rudder, steady course aye." came the reply.
"Surface." Ness ordered.
The alarm was wrong. "Surface, surface!"
It took Pennsylvania longer than normal to rise up, she was struggling so much to angle herself right.
"Come on old girl. You can do it." Ness encouraged.
"I'm trying sir." Pennsylvania panted.
Under normal circumstances, Ness would reprimand his sub for the talk back but this time he led it slide. His first priority was seeing her safely back to base.
Eventually, Pennsylvania's teardrop shaped bow broke the surface and she gasped in the clean Oxygen gratefully. Vomiting had taken a lot out of her in terms of air supply and it was a good thing she surfaced when she did.
Once she settled on the surface, Pennsylvania lacked the strength to remain there and began to sink down again.
"No, Penn. Stay up!" Ness cried.
His response was another round of vomiting, then a weak "I-I can't sir. It hurts..."
"Penn, come on." Ness said. "If you don't find a way to stay up, we're all gonna die when you sink below crush depth."
Somehow, Pennsylvania managed to stay afloat and Ness had his engineers take over the propulsion so his submarine could concentrate solely on staying afloat.
Now surfaced, Ness did what every submariner was told not to do. He sent out a call over an open channel. Several ships were close enough to help. One was a cruise ship that deviated from its original course towards Alaska. Another was a freighter outbound from Seattle. And the third was a lone supply ship. The cruise ship arrived first. She was a pretty thing, freshly painted with gleaming paintwork. Her name, Carnival Paradise, was written on her bow and stern in fancy letters. She was stunned at the sight of the submarine and her passengers lined the decks to see what perhaps would be the only active duty submarine they'd ever see.
"You poor thing." Paradise said, nuzzling the top of Pennsylvania's sail.
"Can I lean on you? I can't, blagh! I can't really keep stable very well right now." Pennsylvania groaned.
"Of course sweetie." Paradise replied.
"Ugh, do me a favor would you?" Pennsylvania asked.
"Of course. Anything." Paradise answered.
"Don't call me sweetie!" Pennsylvania groaned.
Paradise stifled a laugh. If the submarine still had a sense of humor that was a good sign at least.
"What would you like to be called then?" She asked.
"Penn, just Penn." Pennsylvania replied.
"Okay then Penn, you just keep your head above water and all will be fine, I promise you." Paradise said.
"Ngh, I hope so. I can't stay up much longer." Pennsylvania groaned.
"Just keep trying sweetheart." Paradise said, doing what she could to take some of the submarine's weight for her.
By the time the supply ship arrived it was dark and the seas choppy. It made for a dangerous scenario as the supply ship flooded her ballest tanks and dropped her deck below the water so Pennsylvania could climb on. Problem was, the submarine was too weak to even move or even float on her own. She was being held up by the cruise ship and the tanker.
"Come on Penn, try." Paradise begged her.
"I can't..." Pennsylvania gasped.
"Yes you can, come on old girl." Ness said. He stood out on her deck, kneeling down to stroke her sweaty sides.
The freighter and the cruise ship sailed as close to the supply ship as they dared.
"You have to go the rest of the way Penn." Paradise said.
Pennsylvania tried but as soon as the two let go of her she began to sink. She just didn't have the strength or the buoyancy to counteract this.
Paradise caught her. "Easy now, I've got ya." She said.
"Ngh, thanks." Pennsylvania whimpered. With tears in her eyes she cried "I can't do it! I'm going to die out here!"
"No you're not!" Paradise growled. She looked at the freighter, an idea forming in her mind. Clearly the freighter was thinking the same thing for she nodded.
Together the two ships lifted Pennsylvania clear of the water.
"How good are you at catch?" Paradise asked the supply ship through a mouthful of submarine.
"Wha, you're not really gonna..." Pennsylvania cried.
"I'm ready when you are." The supply ship replied.
"One." The freighter said.
"Oh no you don't!" Pennsylvania growled.
"Two." Paradise growled.
Pennsylvania gulped and closed her eyes.
The submarine screamed like a human little girl as she was thrown through the air and landed rather painfully on her side in the center of the supply ship's deck.
"As you navy folk would say, on target!" Paradise exclaimed.
Ness, who'd been transferred to the supply ship a few minutes earlier gave the cruise ship a salute. "Thank you for your help, Paradise." He said.
"My pleasure, captain." Paradise replied. "See that Penn gets medical attention. Krypton poisoning can be nasty if left untreated."
"I'll make sure she gets the best care we have to give her." Ness promised.
The cruise ship dipped her head and sailed off. The freighter stayed only long enough to ensure the liners securing Pennsylvania to the deck were secure before racing back to his original course.
Pennsylvania had her bow facing the water so she could puke over the side. Most submarines were used to sailing below the water where it was calm and there wasn't any motion to it. So as the seas became rougher, Pennsylvania felt what most all rookie sailors felt, seasickness.
"A curious sensation." She thought.
Her sensitive ears worked against her as the gel within went crazy, pushing against the hairs and making her lose all sense of direction. She was hurling over the side every few minutes, matching it in time with several others, some her own crew who were doing the same thing. She saw chunks of their vomit float past.
Ness stayed out on deck with her for as long as he could, covered in protective rain gear. He'd had a tarp laid out to cover his submarine as a means of protection against the rain with layers of blankets under it to keep her warm, anchored to the deck so they couldn't be blown away. Though Pennsylvania was used to cold depths she was running a very high fever and despite the protection the layers offered, she was still shivering. Her teeth clacked together and every few minutes she'd lunge forward, her bow dipped to hurl whatever dead cells she had over the side. Ness ran his fingers down her hull in soothing circles.
He would've said something but he doubted she'd hear him anyway. She was so disorientated. Already feeling ill from the Krypton, she now had seasickness on top of it. Ness had seasickness once before and he knew how miserable it could be, let alone already being ill on top of that. It was a double blow he wished on no one. It sucked, period!
The weather quickly began to worsen and it was announced they were sailing headlong into a massive hurricane, and it was called a hurricane in this part of the Pacific. Normally the captain would change course and try to skirt around it but their wasn't time. Pennsylvania needed to get back to Bangor and receive proper medical care and the fastest way was through the hurricane.
A man, fully laden in rain gear came running out on deck up to Ness.
"Excuse me, sir!" He shouted over the wind. "You must come inside. It's too dangerous."
"I'm staying with my sub!" Ness shouted back.
"Orders sir." The man replied.
Ness nodded and turned back to Pennsylvania who was looking at him with clear understanding in her eyes.
He leaned down to hear what she had to say.
"Go captain." She rasped. "It's safe indoors."
"I can't just leave you like this." He said, trying hard to keep his voice from breaking.
Seeming to sense this, she nudged her snout against his left hand.
"Don't worry about me. I'm built to take crushing pressure. I can handle a little storm." She answered.
Gently, Ness moved his right hand and placed it on top of her muzzle.
"You hold on Penn. We'll make it through this. I know we will." He begged.
She smiled faintly, nudging his left hand more insistently this time.
"Go on." She rasped.
Ness leaned down and kissed Pennsylvania's nose which made her blush a bit but she touched her muzzle to his cheek in return. Ness then turned and followed the man inside, glancing back once at Pennsylvania who'd resumed her vomiting. She was an Ohio-class submarine, the best in the world. If anyone could make it through this storm, it was her. But she was weak, burning with fever. Even with her reactor shut down, Pennsylvania still wouldn't stop vomiting. With worry clouding his mind, Ness wondered if this would be the last time he saw his submarine alive.