The following story is just that- a story- fiction. As such, all characters are fictitious and any similarities to persons living or deceased are purely coincidental. Some research has been done for authenticity and so I didn’t screw it up too bad. Just so I don’t receive nasty-grams from any WWII vets, the Balao class submarine, keel number 353, was never built. No military missions of this sort actually occurred in the areas at the dates specified. Furthermore, I hold the highest admiration for every submariner- every veteran, WWII or other, for what they sacrificed, endured and accomplished.
“Just a routine mission”
Pacific Fleet Headquarters, San Diego Naval Base, CA: March 18th, 1944
“Can I help you sir?” The short, fresh-from-the-academy Ensign said as he stood from his desk to salute me.
“Lt. Commander Steinert to see Admiral Demmit. I believe the Admiral is expecting me?”
“Yes sir! He’s been waiting for you sir. Called me three times in the last five minutes, Commander! Go right in sir.”
This was not good, the old man was not to be kept waiting. As I approached the thick, translucent windowed, oak door, I searched my memory trying to find a possible reason for my sudden popularity. I hadn’t done anything wrong since before our last mission. My boat, the USS Sand Shark- on which I was the Executive Officer or EX-O, had just arrived in port twenty minutes prior and I found the shore patrol anxiously waiting dockside to escort me to this office.
“Ensign, any idea what this is about?”
“Not a clue, sir. The Admiral has been very tight lipped about this one!”
“OK- but I think it best to alert the medics, Ensign- I may need them when he’s done with me”, I said jokingly as I deliberately rubbed the seat of my trousers… At least I hoped it would be a joke.
The kid probably had no idea what I meant! I proceeded past the young Ensign’s desk and entered the Admiral’s office. Closing the door, I turned and announced myself. “Sir! Lt. Commander Alexander Steinert reporting as ordered!”
The older gentleman, in his mid-to-late forties with thinning salt and pepper hair, never budged from his seated position behind the large oak desk. A half-hearted salute was sent my way as he continued to scan over some report. I noted as I approached that it was my service record.
“What took you so long Commander? I expected you here…” he glanced at his wristwatch “five minutes ago! How can I expect to win this war if my officers are as punctual as you?” he said in his trademark gravelly voice.
“Begging the Admiral’s pardon, but the Shore Patrol got me here as fast as they could. We nearly ran over eight sailors just getting off the pier, sir.”
“No excuses Commander!” His volume rose.
“No sir! No excuses, SIR!”
At my response the old man started laughing and looked up with a wry smile on his gray whisker stubble, grizzled face. The Admiral had a reputation for being a real hard-liner, but rumor had it he loved to make those under his command squirm just for fun. However, no one was willing to risk his career to find out if it was true. He took a moment to evaluate my expression.
“You have no idea why I’ve called you here, do you, son?”
“No sir, Admiral, I don’t.”
He looked directly into my eyes as if searching my very soul to confirm my response. His gaze was so intense it sent chills throughout my body. I became very uncomfortable- more so than I already was.
“Good, then I can assume the SP’s got you off the dock before anyone asked questions?”
A wider smile returned to his face followed by a low chuckle.
“Good, good. I’ll have to put Chief Parson and his men in for commendations! Alex, please sit down, son.”
As I seated myself his hard attitude vanished. He continued, “I have a special mission for you commander.” He picked up a thick manila folder and handed it across the desk to me. It was stamped ‘TOP SECRET’. “Alex, I want to first say, that I am still rather disappointed with your conduct during your last shore leave. I will not tolerate such abusive behavior from any of my officers. Is that understood?” The smile had subsided again.
“Second, I talked with Captain Hunter during the Sand Shark’s last stop at Pearl. He had nothing but praise for you, son. He seems to think you’re ready for your own command; although given the incident at that nightclub, I tend to disagree. Against my better judgment though, the War Department has seen fit to promote you to full Commander and has authorized me to give you your own boat. Congratulations Commander Steinert!” He passed me the document and my new rank.
I didn’t realize I was even in line for a command- I didn’t think I was old enough. At the ripe old age of twenty-eight, Alexander Steinert had his own command! I suppose I was dumbstruck for a minute- my jaw hitting the floor and all! “Sir!” I shot from my chair to attention, “Thank you, sir!”
The Admiral smiled then stood and offered his hand. Shaking it, he motioned for me to be seated again and continued with a slight chuckle.
“Alex, as I said before, we have a special mission for you- nothing too dangerous for your first mission, but definitely a challenge. I need you to go to Kili Island in the southern Marshall Chain and provide transport for a contingent of island dignitaries. A queen…” he paused as he picked up another file full of papers and leafed through it. Finding what he was looking for, he continued, “a Queen Mauikimau and her entourage. They have been key players in the formation and coordination of the Coast-Watchers. They have intercepted intelligence suggesting that a new Japanese surge is threatening their island and rather than risk occupation, they have asked to be temporarily relocated to an Allied held island well behind the lines. I need you to get there as quickly as possible and extract them safely. Can I count on you, Captain?”
‘Captain’… It sounded wonderful and strange all at the same time. “Yes, sir. You can count on me, sir!”
“Good Alex. Here are the specifics. The War Department has assigned you to the newest, fastest boat in the fleet. Tomorrow you fly to Mare Island and take command of the newly commissioned USS Sand Dollar and…”
The needle had just been pulled across my proverbial phonograph record. “Begging the Admiral’s pardon, but did you say USS Sand Dollar?” Submarine names were supposed to relate to fast, graceful, dangerous, and stealthy marine creatures like Sand Shark, Nautilus, Tiger Shark or at least something that swims! Somehow I couldn’t see a Sand Dollar- a sea creature that just sits around on the bottom all day, instilling any of those qualities into anyone. “Who came up with that name?”
“Eleanor Roosevelt sponsored and christened it herself, Captain! I know it doesn’t have a swell name like our other boats, but Mrs. Roosevelt thought it was a good, sound name and our Commander-in-Chief agreed. End of story! Don’t fight it, Alex! You have your boat. Just be glad you got the call!”
“Yes sir. Thank you, Sir.”
“Now here’s the specifics on your new command.”
I was handed the folder marked ‘TOP SECRET’.
“She’s the fastest, most advanced boat to date Alex, and the largest as well. She has thousands of hours of secret design time on her. She also has the latest SONAR/RADAR equipment.”
This time a larger manila envelope was offered me.
“The War Department has taken the liberty of assigning a crew of fifty for you. All are experienced and trained on the new equipment.”
“Admiral, excuse me but did you say a crew of fifty? I’m supposed to go into the war zone with two-thirds of a crew?” We both knew that a lean crew compliment like that would put added stress on the men. Not a good situation if the enemy was encountered. The Admiral seemed to foresee my objection.
“Alex, because you will be transporting royalty- the Queen and twenty of her court, you will leave port with only fifty crew members in order to leave adequate compartment space for her highness. Your crew has been selected not only for their knowledge of the new equipment but for their combat experience and loyalty to their commander as well. Each man has seen his share of action and not one has had less than two years of service, including yourself.”
“I understand, sir. When do we leave sir?”
“As I have said, you will be joining a Navy PBY training flight to Mare Island at 0800. You will inspect your crew at 1000 and thereafter begin final preparations for departure the following 0700. You will rendezvous with the tender Edmonson the next day north of Catalina and commence your deep-water test dive to finish her commissioning. If all goes well, you are to set course for Pearl. Enroute, you will drill the crew and yourself. Alex, I don’t have to tell you that a Captain needs to know every nuance of his boat and command! He needs to know that, even if severely incapacitated, he and his crew will complete their objective. Hell, I’d have the men load torpedoes with one arm if I thought it would maintain their edge! Remember also, that Queen Mauikimau is a very important dignitary and must arrive safely to her final destination. Is that clear, Commander?”
“You can count on me, sir!”
“Good Alex, now I want you to read the briefs given you, memorize and destroy them. Accommodate the Queen as best you can. I can’t stress enough that you and your crew must be on your best behavior. You know how royalty can get. Oh, and Alex, let’s not have any incidents?”
“I’ll do my best, sir, but that wasn’t my fault, sir. You must have read my report…”
“Yes, Commander. We both know I read the report and attended your hearing. We all have our little indiscretions, son. Most of us don’t get our mistakes publicized in a national newspaper though, do we?”
“No sir.” I silently cursed a certain fair-haired Navy Nurse. How was I to know that she was seeing both a reporter and me at the time?
“Any questions, Commander? If not, I wish you good luck. Congratulations again, son, you earned it.”
“No questions. Thank you, sir.”
With my reply we stood and shook hands. I turned and left the Admiral’s office. On the way out I told the Ensign to cancel the Medics.
I had an awful lot to read, but first a celebration was in order. It dawned on me that I hadn’t inquired as to my lodging for the night. Not to worry though as the Admiral had anticipated my needs. I was met at the outer office door and again promptly escorted to my temporary quarters by my favorite SP chaperones, this time at a somewhat slower speed. Apparently, I was to have no contact with any base personnel as a guard was posted immediately outside every window and door of my temporary quarters. With a well-deserved visit to the Officers’ Club denied, I begrudgingly got down to the briefings. Not even a drink to celebrate- coffee would have to suffice. Desiring to know what surprises awaited me dockside tomorrow, I opened the Sand Dollar’s dossier.
USS Sand Dollar SS353
Balao X Class…
‘Balao X? What did the ‘X’ stand for, I wondered?’ I thought as I read on.
Length: 325 feet 8 inches
‘Wow, thirteen feet longer than a normal Balao class sub.’
Beam: 28 feet
‘She’s a little fat.’
Draft: 18 feet
Displacement: 1,875 tons surfaced, 2,460 submerged
Maximum Depth: 500 feet
‘That’s one hundred feet deeper.’
22 knots, surfaced
10 knots, submerged
‘Wow, over a full knot faster than normal.’
10 torpedo tubes- 6 forward and 4 aft: 14 Mark 14 torpedoes- 10 in the tubes, 4 on racks
1 three-inch deck gun, two 40mm AA guns, and four 50-caliber machine guns
As I continued to read, I realized this was no ordinary boat. She was an out-and-out thoroughbred. Weighing three hundred tons more she would outrun anything in the Silent Service fleet and according to her specs, for a longer time submerged too. My hopes rose. As she was thirteen feet longer, I speculated, maybe I would have a little more room in my quarters. Being on the tall end of the Silent Service’s recommended height at six-foot-one, I found the officer’s quarters of submarines… well… cramped!
I read on through the night and actually grabbed about three hours of shuteye after burning all the briefings. After a quick shower and shave I downed three cups of coffee and dressed. Opening the door, I was greeted by the same two SP’s. Jeepers! Didn’t these guys ever sleep? Moreover, didn’t they ever smile? We quickly arrived at the Seaplane dock where I was escorted aboard a PBY-5 and took off for Mare Island.
Arriving at Mare an hour and a half later, two SP’s escorted me to the Sand Dollar’s mooring. I was a bit disappointed that they weren’t the same two gentlemen from San Diego.
There she was! The largest, fastest submarine in the United States Navy! USS Sand Dollar- SS353. My boat! My first command! From her outward appearance she didn’t look any bigger or faster. She looked like a typical Balao class sub- if the word ‘typical’ applied. Since the start of the war so many retrofits had been applied to the fleet that not one boat looked like another- even from the same shipyard. As I approached, I was greeted by my new Executive Officer, Lt. Commander John ‘Jack’ Cummins- a short, stocky man, two years younger than my twenty-eight years. I knew him from my crew briefs- five-five, one hundred and seventy pounds, brown hair and eyes, tenth in his class at Annapolis. I had met him once, briefly, a few years ago in Maryland.
As we talked, a parade of sailors turned the corner of the pier-side warehouse and marched toward us. I surmised correctly that this was my crew. As Cmdr. Cummins announced the men to me they boarded the boat. I knew many of them from my previous assignments. All were fine, experienced sailors.
We were still waiting on two of my officers- my dive officer and my boat’s doctor, when a truck rounded the same corner the men had marched around a half-hour before. I was handed a sealed envelope and told that these were last minute food stores, nothing more. I had Cmdr. Cummins see that it was stowed properly as I continued to wait for my remaining officers to arrive.
We had been waiting for another thirty minutes before a jeep with three occupants squealed around the now popular corner. The jeep screeched to a stop before me. The driver was a young enlisted man. In back was my dive officer, Lt. Carroll Sheldon but, in the passenger side was a lovely, well built, honey-blonde about five-six, one-hundred-ten pounds… OH, GOD, NO! No! Not her! That… that… Navy Nurse… no, wait… that wasn’t right, not a nurse…she wore the insignia of a Naval Doctor! A thousand memories came flooding back to me!
Lt. Sheldon broke my gaze.
“Sir!” He saluted me; “Sorry to delay you Cap, but our flight from Norfolk caught some bad weather. Lt. Carroll Sheldon reporting as ordered, sir!”
I refocused on my Dive officer. “Sheldon, how did you get picked for this assignment? How are things on the Swordfish? How’s old Capt. Rutledge?”
We shook hands. “Alex, I was going to ask you the same question. Rutledge is still as grizzled and ornery as ever. Just more gray hair is all- more than what you gave him, I mean. Swordfish just got back from a good patrol- added four more U-boats to her score. We would have had another but the cowards scuttled the…!”
“Um…excuse me, Sir?” A soft, sweet voice interrupted.
I was reminded that someone else desired my attention.
“Get aboard the boat Sheldon we’ll talk later.” I nodded toward the gangplank. I noticed that the young nurse… excuse me… the young doctor had handed my Ex-O her orders and was still saluting us.
“Well, Mr. Cummins who do we have here?” I said sarcastically.
Cummins cleared his throat; reread the orders while glancing at me uneasily.
“Skipper this is our boat’s doctor…um…Lt. Emily Scott.”
As he said her name the searing pain that had been building in my gut outright erupted. It suddenly jumped into my groin, traversed the length of my spine and ended in an immediate and severe migraine headache.
“Lt. Scott. I was not informed of the change in personnel. What happened to Lt. Cmdr. Hibbard?”
“I don’t know, sir!” She held her salute; “I was just informed of my reassignment two days ago sir!” She said still holding her salute.
“Lieutenant, are you aware of the regulations regarding women serving on submarines- especially in combat situations?”
“Yes sir, I am, but my orders clearly state otherwise, sir!”
I took the paperwork from my Ex-O and read, to my dismay, that Admiral Demmit had personally signed the order. This was a test…it had to be! He was making me pay for my indiscretion. Lt. Scott’s orders stated that the queen herself had requested a female doctor be aboard to render ‘female’ medicine should any become necessary.
Reluctantly I returned her salute and had Cummins show our doctor to her quarters.
“Welcome aboard, Lieutenant.” I said begrudgingly as I motioned her to the gangway.
With my dream of an ideal command thoroughly flushed, I boarded the Sand Dollar and explored my new home. I discovered that I indeed had more room in my quarters- about a whole two inches! Not much but I’d take it. The Maneuvering and Engine rooms apparently took up the added length of the boat. It worked out well that we had only boarded forty-three sailors, three Petty officers and four officers instead of the normal sixty-seven, five, and eight. This gave Lt. Scott her own quarters and the men a little more room to stretch out. The men didn’t seem to mind the Doctor’s presence onboard but I, myself, had every intention of using the extra space to give Lt. Scott a wide berth. I was dead set against being played for a fool by her again!
The rest of the day was spent preparing for our 0700 departure. As I mingled with the men and watched them work, I remembered noting from my reading the night before that everyone, including myself, was single. I had just ignored it before but now I wondered if it had anything to do with our passengers -could Admiral Demmit be playing matchmaker? After all, what woman wouldn’t be attracted to a six foot-one, hundred and ninety pound, brown haired, brown eyed Naval Commander with his own submarine or, for that matter, any of the other forty-nine eligible bachelors onboard? It would be a good way to strengthen ties with Queen Mauikimau’s government.
0500 came earlier than usual. Having splashed some water on my face and dressed, I proceeded to the coffee before relieving the watch. Chief Peterson, our cook, had just relieved his night cook and fried up some home fries and ham. After thanking him, I seated myself in the Ward Room where my Ex-O, Lt. Cdr. Cummins soon joined me.
“Well Jack, what do you think of her?”
“She can work on me any day, sir! I wonder if she has a good bedside manner?”
“I mean the boat, Commander! The boat!”
“Oh, yeah… the boat. She’s definitely top notch. Is it true she runs to five hundred?”
“Well, we’ll soon find out, Jack. I’m interested in seeing if she’s got the speed- her design claims twenty-two topside and ten below with an additional four hours on batteries!”
“If Chief Samuels has anything to do with it, she may do more sir. I’ve worked with him before. He’s damn good with Fairbanks Diesels! I heard tell of him adding something to the fuel to kick the RPMs up- claims he can get four extra knots out of them.”
“Just as long as he doesn’t mess them up too bad! I don’t want to damage her on her inaugural voyage! I have intentions of keeping her the duration of the war, Jack.”
“Sirs, may I join you?”
Yesterday’s searing pain had just reappeared and was following the previous day’s course to my forehead. Again I choked back my disdain. “By all means Lieutenant, have a seat. Mr. Cummins and I were just discussing our boat.”
“Yes ma’am, what do you think of her?”
“I’m not sure yet. I’ve only been on a submarine once before.”
“And just how did you manage that Lieutenant?” I inquired in surprise.
“I was stationed at one of our forward base hospitals in the Solomons’ when the Japanese started one of their pushes. We were ordered to withdraw to Pearl. A few other nurses and I stayed behind to care for a couple critical patients. By the time we stabilized the men enough for transport the only way off the island was by submarine. Shortly after we left the island a Japanese destroyer found us and started depth charging. Several of the men in the front torpedo room were injured- just broken bones- mostly ribs and a couple femurs, nothing severe. The Captain ordered tubes one and two reloaded. Since I was done treating the wounded and they were short-handed I volunteered to help. When we arrived back at Pearl, I was called to the Admiral’s office and given a Silver Star and my choice of assignments. I met our Captain there.” She nodded towards me.
I had never heard that story before. It was highly irregular for women to receive such awards- not unheard of- just rare.
“Oh, I didn’t realize you two knew each other, Cap.”
I shot my Ex-O an angry look.
Lt. Scott must have noticed. She gave a heavy sigh before continuing.
“I’m afraid things just didn’t work out, Commander. That’s when I made my decision. I requested the base hospital at Norfolk. I figured I had seen enough action and just wanted to continue my career in peace, less stress. I finished my internship six weeks ago. Three days ago I received orders to report here to Mare Island. I was whisked away to my quarters by the Shore Patrol. They allowed me to grab a few things, then escorted me to the base airfield and hurried me onto a C-47 cargo plane. Lt. Sheldon was already on-board. Alex…sorry…Captain, sir, what’s going on?”
Both officers were now looking for answers from me- answers I was forbidden to share with them just yet.
“I’m sorry, I’m not at liberty to say. I’m under strict orders not to reveal our mission until after we leave Pearl. I can say, however, that our mission is very important, diplomatically.”
“Ok, I’ve heard that before, Cap- makes perfect Navy sense.” My Ex-O knew the standard drill. “By the way, when do you expect the rest of our crew to arrive, Cap?”
“This is it Jack. The Navy wants to see if fewer men can run a boat- some sort of efficiency study, I guess. They figured that our mission would involve little or no enemy confrontation. I don’t have to tell you what it’s like arguing with the brass, Jack.” I thought I had made up a good story on such short notice.
“Ok, sir, that’s classified too, eh?” Lt. Scott just gave me ‘the eye’. I had never lied to her before.
“I can’t pull the wool over your eyes Jack. Yes, unfortunately it’s as classified as our destination. Right now let’s make preparations to leave port. We still have to put the squeeze on her. If you two will excuse me?” I slid between the table and bulkhead and started back toward the control room. I overheard Emily ask Jack a question.
“What did the Captain mean by we have to put the ‘squeeze’ on her?” I stopped and glanced around to see her response to my Ex-O’s explanation.
“Well this is a new submarine- fresh from the shipyard. She’s already had her ability to dive tested dockside, but we still need to see if she can reach her designed maximum depth of five hundred feet. It’s really no big deal. I’ve done a couple of them.”
Jack’s explanation was straight up and very nonchalant. Lt. Scott’s response, however, won the cupie! She went pale, eyes wide- her mouth falling open. “You mean you don’t know if this thing will be able to survive in the ocean!” The Lieutenant’s voice rose significantly in pitch. I really wanted to hear more but my presence was needed elsewhere- anywhere. I figured Jack could handle her. Ah, the privileges of command!
At 0700 the Sand Dollar cleared her moorings and made for open water. By 0900 we had left San Francisco Bay and were on course to Catalina to rendezvous with our sub tender, the Edmonson. We met up with the Edmonson just after 1300 and topped off our fuel. As was customary, I called the crew to General Quarters in preparation of our first deep dive. I gave Lt. Scott the option of her quarters or the Control Room. To my dismay she chose the Con. I ordered the watch out of the conning tower and after the Christmas tree turned green, gave the order to dive.
Our dive went well; just the normal metallic groans and creaks associated with the increasing pressure around the hull. I decided to demonstrate the effect of pressure on a sub to Lt. Scott by stretching a string from one side of the control room to the other before we started the dive. I was amused to see her expression as the string slowly loosened; developing a two-foot droop by the time we hit our final depth of five hundred and fifty feet. Designers always underrate their limits. We did develop minor leaks throughout the sub’s piping and fired a few loose rivets across the crew compartment, but that was expected. The flying rivets caused no injuries.
Now came the treat I had waited for! The four Fairbanks-Morris diesels had had plenty of time to break in on the way to meet the tender, so after signaling the Edmonson of a textbook dive we set course for Hawaii at flank speed. I commended Chief Samuels on the smoothness of his engines. I could feel the difference a few extra knots made. My Sand Dollar truly was the Sea Biscuit of Submarines!
During our cruise to Oahu I had the men continuously drill their stations. At one point I even took the Admiral’s suggestion of performing tasks with one hand. The men thought my drills excessive and a bit unorthodox- especially the one handed exercise, but performed them without question. By the time we cleared the Pearl Harbor sub nets I was confident that my crew could perform their tasks even in the severest of conditions.
Shortly after leaving Catalina I noticed that the extended duty periods were affecting everyone, but as we neared Hawaii the fatigue had subsided- we were getting used to the extended hours. Lt. Scott turned out to be a real trooper, and as it turns out, a good navigator. She only really complained the first day about the longer duty. I was surprised with her computational abilities and skill with a slide rule when I jokingly asked her where we were! She certainly is one smart dame. I found it somewhat unnerving that I had started to fall for her again in our short time onboard the Sand Dollar- if only I could forget our history.
Pearl Harbor Naval Base, Hawaii March 21st, 1944
We were greeted dockside by Admiral Demmit himself. Me and my senior officers were escorted to the Admiral’s briefing room while a full compliment of SP’s surrounded the Sand Dollar and my enlisted men were ordered to stay below. The men seemed to expect the tight security as the boat’s rumor mill had us involved in a super secret mission to the Japanese Main Island. Well, at least they were right about the ‘secret’ part of the mission. Some of the men had even spread rumors that we were going to lead an attack on Tokyo Bay similar to Capt. James Dolittle’s famous raid on Tokyo two years hence. We should be so lucky to be included in the same circle, I mused.
“Lt. Scott, Gentlemen, if you’ll all have a seat we can start this briefing.” The old man waited for everyone to be seated then continued, “I want to congratulate you all on your timely arrival, in fact you beat the old record by four hours. Chief Samuels, I hope the Captain here didn’t over work the engines?”
“No sir! Matter of fact, sir, they was just gettin’ their second wind as we reached port!”
“Good to hear.” He turned to face me, “Alex, are you comfortable with your crew?”
“Yes sir. I have very high confidence in the Sand Dollar’s officers and crew, sir. I couldn’t have picked the men any better myself- with one exception sir…” This was my chance to say my piece towards Lt. Scott, “regarding Lt. Scott sir… I wish to remind the Admiral of Naval regulations regarding women on military vessels, sir…”
“Commander!” The Admiral instantly grew loud and furious. He partially stood as his fists slammed to the table. In an angry growl he continued.
“This mission supersedes those regulations! Lt. Scott has been hand picked by me for this mission! Given her unique service record, I feel she is more than qualified!”
His look and volume softened somewhat as he reseated himself.
“Gentlemen”, he continued, “in case you are unfamiliar with Lt. Scott’s record, she is the only woman to ever receive the Silver Star for heroism and valor while attached to a Navy submarine! This woman volunteered to replace the two seamen she was treating in the forward torpedo room crew and allowed the Tunni to score two direct hits on an enemy destroyer- resulting in a kill! I’ve never met a woman that could do what she did under similar circumstances. Alex! Lt. Scott stays!” Again his face grew angry. “Is that clear, Commander?” he fumed.
“Lt. Scott is an officer in the United States Navy and I want everyone under your command to respect that! Are there any other concerns before I continue, gentlemen?”
The room was so quite you could here a pin drop. A quick glance across the table at the red-faced Lieutenant told me she had been extremely embarrassed by the Admiral’s high praise- not to mention startled by his sudden change in temperament.
“Now, let’s get on with this briefing shall we?”
The Admiral pulled down a wall map of the Marshall Islands, picked up a pointer and started his meeting in earnest. “This is your objective- a small island in the southern Marshall chain called Kili Island. The local government there has asked for our help in protecting their monarchy from the impending Japanese invasion forces. Apparently, the Japanese invasion of the Pacific chains caused considerable damage to Kili’s population. Thusly, these people have been instrumental in implementing and coordinating the Coast Watchers throughout the Pacific. I have been ordered by the War Department to relocate their Queen and twenty of her staff to Hilo until we can guarantee their home is safe from Japanese occupation- quite possibly for the duration of the war.”
“Captain, the Sand Dollar is to go to Kili Island and expedite the safe transfer of the Queen and her party to their new temporary settlement. Your passengers will be disguised as Navy Nurses/Officers in case your boat encounters enemy forces. In that regard, the War Department has granted temporary commissions to everyone in the entourage. When surfaced you will fly the quarantine flag and a Red Cross banner. I needn’t remind you that the Japanese only adhere to the Geneva Convention when it suites them. In this envelope are the commissions, coordinates of Kili, sounding charts, some history on your passengers and the official documents of introduction you will need to prove your identity. You will leave tomorrow at 0800. Prior to departure you will be given the latest reconnaissance on enemy activities in the area. Once clear of Pearl Harbor you will brief your crew as to the specifics of this mission. Oh…and I want the Islanders treated like the officers the War Department says they are…is that clear? Are there any questions?”
Again the room was silent. This mission sounded very simple but, as experience told me, no mission was ever simple.
“Sir, what do we do if the Island is compromised?”
“Captain you will exhaust every possible option at your disposal to complete this mission. These people know the names and locations of every Coast Watcher from the Aleutian’s down to New Zealand. If the Imperial Navy ever got hold of that information we could lose any advantages in the Pacific Theater- countless lives would be lost and this war would drag on longer than needed! This is why you have been assigned to the fastest submarine ever built. We know the Japanese have spies here on Oahu so the development of the Sand Dollar has been kept hush-hush. We believe they have information of a rescue attempt but will be assuming an arrival time based on the standard sub class, not the Sand Dollar. I want you to get in and get out as fast as possible- understood?”
“One more item of business. I have two additions to make to your crew, Captain.”
The Admiral picked up a phone and told whoever was on the other end to please enter.
“I would like to introduce you to your Encryption/Radioman: Marine Private First Class Joseph Two-Eagles and his body guard Marine First Sgt. Scott Williams. You will note PFC Two-Eagles here is Navajo. He is part of the Wind Talker program on loan to us from the Marines. He will receive, decode, encode and send all radio communications. At no time will the Private be without his Sergeant escort is that clear? Also, he and the Sergeant are to be considered part of your command staff. Private, Sergeant, I would like to introduce the officers of the USS Sand Dollar: Captain Alexander Steinert; Executive Officer, Lt. Commander John Cummins; Dive Officer, Lieutenant Carroll Sheldon; Ship’s Surgeon, Lieutenant Emily Scott; Chief Petty Officer Richard Samuels; Chief Petty Officer Randall Van Pelt; Chief Petty Officer Richard Peterson.”
A round of handshaking ensued.
“This concludes our briefing, see you all at the dock at 0800. My security detail will now take you back to your boat. I want to wish you the best of luck and good hunting!”
My officers and I saluted our superior and started to file out of the room.
He waited until we were alone.
“Alex, I want you to patch things up with Lt. Scott. I will not have one of my Command Officers mistreating a junior officer-is that clear! Put aside your differences. The sooner you do, the better. I hope you don’t need her, but having your trust and backing will only add to her effectiveness. You are to include her in all senior staff activities, Alex, understand?”
“Begging the Admiral’s pardon, sir, I was merely bringing to your attention the regulations governing submarine personnel assignments. It is my duty to quote regulations in such cases, sir. As you always say, sir- by the book.”
The old war-horse gave a sigh and momentarily closed his eyes.
I decided to set his mind at ease.
“You don’t have to worry, sir. On the trip over from Mare Island I found out she makes a fair CON officer and if you say she’s good under pressure, sir, she’s got my vote. I don’t think I’ll ever forgive her for what she did to me, but she is one of my officers and will be treated with all the trust and respect that that embodies. I won’t let you down sir.”
“I know you won’t, Alex.” He paused looking a bit amused. “I have to admit that I have been watching your career for a while now, and I must say you are one of the most talented, open-minded and respected officers under my command. That’s why I recommended you for this assignment, son.”
He looked down as he paused again.
He gave a slight chuckle, “Hell, any of my other boat commanders would’ve keel hauled her first chance they got and listed her as overboard if they had your history! Take good care of her, Alex. Oh, while I have you here… Make sure you read the file on the Kili Island culture, they have some rather… shall we say… unique rituals. Some are said to be similar to Voodoo, witchcraft or some fool thing like that. Just make her majesty as comfortable as possible! Oh, and Alex, bring my new boat back in one piece too, will ya, son?”
“Will do, Admiral! See you in about two weeks, sir.”
“I plan on seeing you off at 0745!”
As we shook hands, I noticed that the Admiral looked worried- concerned. What was that for? Had he neglected to tell me something? I didn’t question it, to do so would be to question a superior and was frowned upon. I saluted, turned and left the room and joined my officers outside. I just couldn’t shake the feeling that the Admiral was still hiding something.
Shortly after returning to the Sand Dollar I was informed by the watch that last minute cargo had arrived and that Lt. Scott’s and my attention were required dockside. We made our way to the gangplank and went ashore to consult with the SP in charge.
“Chief, what’s the problem? Just have my men bring that stuff aboard.”
“Sorry Captain but I was given specific instructions for you and Lt. Scott to oversee the loading of this cargo. Admiral’s orders, sir!”
“Very well. What do we have, Chief?”
“Twenty-five duffels, sir! I don’t know what’s in them- some are heavy though, sir.”
“Ok, chief, no problem.” Turning back toward the sub, I called to Chief Van Pelt. “Officer of the watch? Please have your men report topside and arrange for this cargo to be stowed in the main crew quarters.”
“Aye, Skipper, it’ll only take a minute.”
It seemed very useless for Lt. Scott to have accompanied me until the security chief saluted, then presented her with two sealed envelopes.
“Ma’am…Lieutenant, these are for you.”
“Thank you Chief.” She flashed the SP a bright smile and returned his salute with a very well postured one of her own.
Apparently my doctor made this sailor’s day as he was now sporting a…um…large… stupid grin- a grin that lasted the whole time the men unloaded his truck and probably well after he drove away and lost sight of the dock. I had to admit that Emily had the same affect on me when I first met her, but now our past history put a damper on that.
True to his word, Admiral Demmit and staff arrived dockside at 0745. The old man himself came below for an impromptu inspection- predictably he found several things out of order. An Admiral will always find fault with something- he has to- it’s his job! During his inspection he handed me a sealed envelope containing what I hoped, was the promised recon around Kili. At 0815 we slipped our moorings and pulled away from the dock and slowly made our way past Battleship Row.
Calling all hands to deck and respectfully saluting the hulk of the Arizona had become an instant tradition. We all knew of at least one soul taken when she went down that fateful Sunday morning.
That fateful Sunday Morning…the day I vowed, along with many other Americans, to reimburse the Japanese for their cold, cruel attack that destroyed so many families and brought us all into this cursed war! I remembered it like yesterday.
I had been on maneuvers off the coast of California when we received the news. Pearl Harbor, the Oklahoma, Schofield Barracks and the Arizona especially. Crews had worked for days to rescue survivors- weeks longer to identify or locate the dead and missing…the missing… I cautiously choked back tears of pain, of loss- of hatred! The haunting memory of my younger brother Brian, my only brother, still trapped somewhere within her hull. Our missions had taken on new meaning for me after that. I dedicated each and every one to him. This mission was no different.
“For you brother!” I choked out as I dropped my salute. No one questioned the fact that I, the Captain, quickly left the bridge. Almost everyone onboard knew.
Once in open water, I ordered us to seventy feet and called my senior staff to the Wardroom.
“First, I would like to pass along the results of the Admiral’s inspection- it would seem he found several paint chips of varying sizes on the valve covers of all four diesels.”
“Aw, for cryin’ out loud!” Samuels exclaimed.
“Chief. Randall, your headset cord was draping off the desk in the radio room- the old man wants it coiled.” He and Two-Eagles just rolled their eyes.
“Sgt. Williams you are to give PFC Two-Eagles a little room to breathe. The Admiral says he is not a prisoner! Jack, you left your sink down. It has to be stowed unless you’re using it!”
“But Cap! No one told me he was coming aboard! I barely had time to get dressed!”
“Relax, Jack! You know the old man will always find something. Speaking of that, Lt. Scott, Admiral Demmit commented on your creative use of the overhead compartment in your quarters- he suggests closing the overhead’s door to keep your, and I quote, ‘non-regulation, frilly undergarments’ out of sight.”
As I said that I was surprised to see every one of my officers blushing in embarrassment- apparently I was the only one that missed that display. Emily was still more crimson by far, though.
“Now to the business at hand. As you know we are to go to Kili Island and transport the local monarchy to Hilo where they will reside until their island is once again safe from an enemy invasion. Latest recon shows two destroyers and three escorts in the vicinity. There may also be a couple of enemy subs on patrol too. We are to remain at full speed- running submerged by day- only surfacing at night to charge the batteries. Radio silence will be observed at all times. Randall, besides you, PFC. Two-Eagles here is the only member of this crew to have access to the radio. He is to be called for any incoming transmissions. Jack, Carroll, we will periodically move to periscope depth for a look around- spend no more than two minutes in the peephole. Doctor, did you examine our last minute cargo?”
“Yes I did, Captain. Each duffel bag contains at least a dozen regulation nurse uniforms, several pairs of women’s shoes, cosmetics, and assorted foundation garments and necessities. The bags contain different size clothing and shoes. I guess our guests dress sizes aren’t known. As for the infirmary, with the medical supplies we took on at Mare Island we should be ready for any emergency our passengers might have.”
“Dress sizes? I thought we was transferrin’ the Queen and her royal family- maybe a royal guard or two. No one said…”
“Chief Samuels, I was just getting to that part! I want the men on their best behavior. Not only are we transporting her Royal Highness: Queen Mauikimau, but her entire court, which consists of twenty other women. That’s the reason for all the clothes. We need to appear as if we are transporting nurses back from a forward hospital. I need the men to transfer their bunking and belongings to the fore and aft torpedo rooms. I have orders to curtain off the main crew quarters for our guests. I know you’re going to get flack about it, but those are my orders. Also of note Chief, you might want to tell the men that these women, according to the report, can and WILL put a curse on them if they’re not perfect gentlemen. Our somewhat short and incomplete report on Kili Island says that the local religion is a cross between Voodoo and Witchcraft. My advice is to not cross or insult them! Lt. Scott, anything else you’d like to share with us?” I was hinting towards the recent orders handed to her last night.
“No sir. Not at this time, sir.” I detected some discomfort in her response. “I mean, I’m not at liberty to reveal those orders until we have possession of our guests, sir.”
“Very well. We all know what has to be done. Jack, I want to be alerted immediately if you sight anything out of the ordinary. Okay, carry on. Oh, Lt. Scott would you stay behind a moment? I need to discuss something with you.”
“Yes captain, what is it?” My Doctor asked once we were alone.
“Well, Emily, First I want to congratulate you on your professionalism. I had my doubts about women serving on subs or any naval vessel for that matter, but so far you have proven me wrong- keep doing that! I noticed that you are good with a compass and slide rule. I hope you won’t mind me making use of that ability to supplement Lt. Sheldon. From experience, I know that a fatigued navigator is asking for trouble.”
“Thank you sir, I will give Lt. Sheldon any help I can. You can count on me, sir!”
“Furthermore Lieutenant, I want to know if our past can or will have a negative effect on this mission. I like to think we are one big, happy family on this boat- that you wouldn’t hold anything back from me. Do you understand?”
“Yes sir. Permission to speak freely sir?”
“By all means, Lieutenant.”
“Alex, I am really sorry for what Lionel and I did to you! I know that article and photo gave not only you, but also the whole Navy a black eye. I didn’t mean for it to go so far. It was all Lionel’s doing. I didn’t understand what he was trying to prove! I really liked you Alex…I still do…and I really, really still want us to be friends.”
Her eyes filled with tears. My heart melted. I knew that what had happened between us could never really be mended.
“Come on Emily, we’ve all made mistakes. Understand that I find it hard to ever forgive you for the trouble you caused me, but I think we could start over- just friends, if you want to.”
“That would be just dandy sir!” she slid around the table and gave me a kiss on my cheek along with a big hug.
“Lt. Scott. This is not behavior becoming an officer.” I whispered to her. “What would the crew think?” She stood up smoothed out her skirt.
Sorry sir! Forgive my inappropriate behavior.”
“Lieutenant, go easy on the ‘sir’ will you? On my boat it’s Cap, Captain, Skip or Skipper got that?” She nodded. “Emily, maybe you should freshen up a bit and get some rest. I believe you’re due at the chart table in six hours? Maybe you should wear trousers instead of that dress, I want the crew to concentrate on their jobs, not you.”
“Thank you, sir…er…captain! I’ll do that. Here, let me get that.”
She produced at hanky and wiped lipstick off my cheek.
Somewhere near the Southern Marshall Islands, March 25th, 1944
The last four days had been routinely quiet. We did have one sighting yesterday morning. Commander Cummins spotted a ship on the horizon. It was hard to identify what class or whose it was. He gave it a wide berth just the same. Chief Samuels reported that, over night, one of our two desalination units went on the fritz. If he can’t get it working, we will have to take on fresh water at Kili since one unit wouldn’t supply enough fresh water for the crew, passengers, and batteries. We are on rations until then.
According to my calculations we arrive at Kili Island around noon. I plan to have a look around before we make ourselves known. The island has no formal seaport but according to our intelligence, the water is deep enough for the Sand Dollar to tie up to the longer of two wooden docks built by the inhabitants. If the dock is still intact our job will be quick and easy. According to the report I should still have six feet under the keel at low tide.
Before relieving Emily at the Con, I went back to the galley for a cup of coffee. Coming back into the Control Room, Lt. Scott was finishing her last look around topside with the periscope. It struck me as funny- a women peering through that device. Yet she appeared completely comfortable with it.
“How’s it look, Lt. Scott?”
“All clear so far, Captain, nothing to report during this watch. According to my calculations we’re four hours away from Kili, sir.”
“Thank you, Ms. Scott. You stand relieved. Nice job, Emily, go get some rest. Mr. Sheldon, make your depth six-zero feet.”
“Aye, sir. Six zero feet.”
When the Lieutenant was out of earshot, I went over to my dive officer. “Carroll, how’s she doing?”
“She’s a natural, Cap. The men seem to treat her just as they would any other officer. Her math is fast, accurate and she knows her way around the chart table like she was born there. She’s one smart broad, sir!”
“Good to hear, Carroll, Jack will be here in another hour, why don’t you go relax- have some coffee. I’ll take the Con; you’ve earned some extra time off.”
“Thanks Skip. Captain has the Con!” He announced.
An hour had gone by since I relieved Lt. Sheldon. My Ex-O had arrived on schedule. I brought the boat back to periscope depth and proceeded to have a look around. Kili Island was a speck on the horizon dead ahead. A slow, three hundred and sixty degree sweep revealed no other ships were in the area.
“Skipper, I have the bottom coming up quick. Three hundred and rising.” My sonar operator announced.
I immediately consulted the chart.
“Must be this seamount, Jack.” I pointed to a spot on the map. He nodded.
“Evans, let me know if the bottom gets closer than one hundred.”
“Aye, sir. Two hundred and still rising. One-fifty; one-ten; one hundred. Holding at ninety-five sir.”
“Well Mr. Cummins, it looks like we made it. Before we put ashore I want to have a look around the island for any unwanted visitors. How’s the bottom Evans?”
“Dropping off rapidly Skip.”
“Jack keep about seventy feet under us and circle the island slowly at periscope depth. I want to know if any ships are out there. I’m going back to see what the Chief has to say about our fresh water plant.”
I looked at my watch- 1130. We had managed to arrive at Kili a half-hour earlier then scheduled- a full five-and one-half hours faster than any other sub in the fleet. Before us lay a small, volcanic island roughly ten miles in diameter, peaking at one hundred-seventy-feet above sea level. Lush green vegetation covered the entire island and tall leaning palms lined the dark volcanic sand beaches. The island looked pleasant enough, but because of my Ozarks upbringing, I preferred a little more altitude for typhoon season.
Just past 1400 and despite his best assurances, Chief Samuels informed me that our fresh water supply was running extremely low and the desalination unit repair was still a day from completion. We were now on the West Side of the island.
“Chief, if we found a fresh water source how long would it take you to fill the tanks to a decent level so our guests won’t have to be rationed?”
“Well, skip, if we can get in close enough, me and a couple of my boys could fill a couple drums in about an hour- that should give us a hundred and ten gallons. That should keep them dames happy until the plant is up to full production again.”
“Ok, get your men and materials together. I’ll go talk to Cmdr. Cummins.”
proceeded forward to the Control Room were I informed Jack of my decision. Ten minutes later he sighted a small inlet that seemed promising. Soundings proved we could get to within one hundred yards of the shore. I gave a reluctant order to surface and Chief Samuels sent a four-man team ashore. I hoped Lady Luck was on our side- I was taking a big chance moving to shallow water when we hadn’t completed our survey of the island. We would be dead meat if an enemy ship or plane spotted us!
True to his word, the landing party returned in an hour. After securing the deck guns, Jack set the deck awash to help the men land their precious cargo. Once we resurfaced, the contents of the drums were pumped into our tanks and drums stowed. Mission complete- I was now comfortable knowing we would not lose points for rationing water. The rest of the island checked out and, after properly signaling shore, we pulled alongside the wooden pier at 1700 and tied up.
Normally I would have kept the Sand Dollar just offshore in deeper water until we were ready to leave, but since the sun would soon be setting behind the Island, I decided that she would be safe at dock for the night. As we tied off, several young ladies in traditional Polynesian attire greeted us. I set the watch, assembled my officers, and we went ashore. We were introduced to Queen Mauikimau at the base of the dock. She appeared to be in her mid to early twenties. She stood five foot-six; long, medium-brown, hair; subtle Asian features and spoke with a refined British accent.
“Your highness, I am Commander Alexander Steinert. Captain of the USS Sand Dollar and these are my officers: Lt. Cmdr. Jack Cummins; Lt. Carroll Sheldon; Ship’s surgeon Lt. Emily Scott.” I handed her my letters of introduction.
“Welcome to Kili Island, Captain Steinert. You arrived earlier than expected. I have arranged a small welcoming/farewell party for you and your crew here at sunset. Please attend.”
Without blinking she handed the documents to a brown-haired girl of no more than sixteen on her left then turned and faced my Doctor.
“Dr. Scott, one of my sisters has been running a fever. Would you mind examining her? Mia will take you to her.” She motioned for Emily to follow another beautiful, brown-haired girl of slightly Polynesian decent also in her early twenties. I noticed the queen’s demeanor soften as she talked to the Doctor. I also noticed that, so far, everyone on this island was female and roughly twenty years old.
“Excuse me, your highness? I think it would be wise to get everyone’s things loaded onboard now. Just in case uninvited guests arrive, that is.” Her demeanor went stiff again.
“Yes Captain, that is a superb idea. Ladies, would everyone come here please?”
“Ma’am, I need to know who all is going so I know how many men to assign.”
“Everyone is going, Captain. We have lost all but twenty of our loyal subjects to those Imperialist braggarts.” She said with a royal attitude. “My sisters and I are all that remain since the Japanese conscripted every last man two years ago. We could not risk the loss of our society to the Japanese, so we contacted your Admiralty, Captain. We were overwhelmed by their offer of safe haven and openly rejoiced when news came of your impending arrival, therefore, we stand adequately packed and ready to leave, please proceed, Commander Steinert!”
I assigned twenty-one men, one for each islander, to escort the women and their belongings onboard. That task was accomplished quickly. Next I informed her majesty of the nurses’ uniforms sent by Admiral Demmit and of his deceptive plan and presented her the letters of commission. I assigned Lt. Scott the task of fitting the Queen and her entourage for uniforms. That task took decidedly longer. The sun soon fell behind the island and Her majesty’s welcoming party started in earnest and soon reached full strength. The men took advantage of their unexpected shore leave to blow off some needed steam and fill their lungs with the fresh, sweet, tropical scented, island air.
The Queen had really laid out a spread- wild boar, something resembling roast chicken and sweet potatoes, an island punch of some sort, and a multitude of exotic confections. Chief Peterson chipped in with several of his famous, fresh-baked, Washington State apple pies. The islanders loved them so much that not a crumb reached my officers, my crew, or me. Queen Mauikimau seemed to relax more around me as the night went on- must’ve been the punch! I had detected its subtle bite. She was actually becoming quite friendly and we started talking about the island, it’s economy, and it’s inhabitants. I was surprised to learn that everyone on the island spoke fluent English. When I inquired as to whom had taught them, I was told that many an English sailor had visited the island during the past three centuries.
At 2100 I ordered some of the men that seemed to be having a bit too much fun (and drink) back to the boat to relieve their fellow crewmembers assigned to ship’s watch. I didn’t want it said that I hadn’t given the men equal opportunity for liberty. Surprisingly, my entire crew acted like perfect gentlemen- even Chief Samuels.
The party finally wrapped up around midnight and I suggested that everyone retire to the Sand Dollar for the night, but Queen Mauikimau vetoed the offer saying she wanted one more night in her own bed. I knew the feeling, having not seen my own bed or home in quite some time. I did specify that I wanted to leave as early in the morning as was practical. She agreed and we set 0700 as our departure time.
0600 came way too fast. I woke up with a slight hangover. Chief Peterson apparently read my mind and was ready with a steaming cup of coffee. It tasted better than usual this morning- must have been all the fresh air I got last night, I thought. After taking a few minutes in the Wardroom to wake up and finish my drink, I felt better and went topside to see if our guests were ready. What greeted my eyes surprised the hell out of me. There, at the foot of the dock, stood twenty-one of the most beautiful nurses I had ever laid eyes on- all in parade formation, uniformed, and ready for inspection. As I approached the squad, I recognized Queen Mauikimau in front fussing over the others. Turning and seeing me, she called them to attention. The whole group saluted me in unison. I was totally flabbergasted but kept my composure and returned the salute. Only Queen Mauikimau held her salute.
“Captain! All present and accounted for, sir
“Very well Lieutenant…” I glanced at her nameplate, “Lt. Smith, welcome aboard. You may board the boat.” I returned her salute.
“Thank you, Captain! Let’s go ladies, everyone on to the ship!”
“Lieutenant, a word if you please?” I reached out my hand to stop her as she started to walk by. “Lieutenant, it’s called a boat. Submariners call it a boat- not a ship. A destroyer or battleship is a ship. Got it?”
“Of course, Captain. I shall work on that.
“Alex!” My Ex-O suddenly yelled from the bridge. “Radar has Bogies coming in from the north-northeast, Cap!” he pointed in the general direction. “Hilf says about forty miles out and closing fast!”
“Bogies,” Queen…Lt. Smith asked?
“Yes Lieutenant, Bogies- as in possible enemy aircraft! We need to leave now! I can’t chance getting caught in the shallows. Please hurry aboard, your highness, you’ll be safer inside!”
“Lieutenant! It’s Lt. Smith from here on out, Commander Steinert!”
“As you wish, Lieutenant. Now get your butt in gear and get below! That’s an order, Lieutenant!”
The men were waiting for us and as soon as my feet hit the deck the gangplank was pulled and stowed and all moorings were released. My Ex-O had us underway just as two Zeroes buzzed overhead in close formation. This was going to be close. I knew they had seen us and were currently reporting our location. Within minutes they were back and lining up for an attack run.
“Bridge to Con. Jack, where’s the bottom?”
I took cover behind the bridge walls as one of the Zeeks opened up on us. The plane’s engine temporarily drowned out the roar of my four diesels as it passed about twenty feet over our periscope masts.
“Floor it, Jack. Get us the hell out of here!” I yelled into the box. As I stood and turned to follow the planes’ course I noted they were turning for another run. I also noted several splintered boards in my new aft deck planking. I cursed the Zeroes. If we weren’t going to be diving soon I’d have had the men return fire.
“Let the air out of it, Jack, I’m coming down!”
The diving alarm sounded immediately and with practiced ease I dropped through the hatch, pulled it shut and gave the wheel a quick spin to lock it. As I made my way through the lower conning tower hatch to the control room I heard bullets again hitting my deck. Again I cursed the enemy pilots.
“Excuse me Captain, but the enemy might not…”
“Ex-O. Hold at forty feet until we clear the shelf then take us to one hundred, ninety degrees starboard and run silent. Keep an ear open for their friends, they have to be close.”
“I believe we will not be pursued…”
“I want damage reports from all compartments before we hit deep water- make sure we’re airtight!”
“You got it, skip!”
“They’re probably long range scouts out on a look about, captain. My network of watchers indicated the Japanese have taken to snooping about lately- probably in preparation of their attack. That is definitely the case since you chaps have control of all aerodromes in this area. Now, since we are safely inside your sub, I suggest we relax, have a spot of tea and…”
“Right now I’m very busy, your highness. I’m more concerned with getting the hell out of here before the whole Japanese fleet converges on us. We’re not safe until we get in deeper water and if one of those Zeroes put a hole in the pressure hull or ballast tank we’re crippled! I don’t care about some damned aerodrome- what ever that is! Sonar! Where’s the bottom?”
“Sixty and dropping quickly, Skipper.”
“Commander Steinert! How dare you address me in such a rude manner!”
I turned toward my newest lieutenant. Her face was steeped in rage. Apparently, I thought, her highness was used to being the center of attention. I had more important concerns! I had the safety of my crew, passengers and my boat to warrant before I could indulge in idle conversation. Aerodrome…Aerodrome? Wasn’t that an old British term for an airstrip- an airfield? I had never actually heard of an airstrip referred to as an Aerodrome before, besides, my intelligence indicated no enemy reconnaissance missions near the Marshall chain!
“Bottom is at one hundred-ten and falling, Skipper.”
“All Compartments report no damage, Cap.”
“Continue the dive, Mr. Cummins”
As Jack gave the order to progress to one hundred feet, I allowed myself to relax slightly- enough to allow my mind to calculate other issues. Suddenly, it dawned on me that this woman, one of my officers, had provided vital information. Her presentation was informal and militarily irregular but, nonetheless, it was information that was more accurate and up to date than any previously in my possession… and I had rudely disregarded her! In the tense minutes of trying to evade two Jap Zeeks, I had inadvertently disparaged an officer under my command in front of the crew! True, she had an honorary commission, but she was an officer nonetheless. More importantly, I had insulted a foreign dignitary.
Admiral Demmit’s angry face suddenly flashed before my eyes- not the concerned man I saw before we left Pearl, but the strict Admiral at my disciplinary hearing! That image caused me more damage than any States class battleship ever could. I had given my word as an officer not to embarrass him or the Navy again. It appeared I had failed. The Admiral’s image faded away only to be replaced by the image of that dreaded newspaper article. I had gotten myself in it deep this time! You would think a farm boy from Missouri would learn to watch where he stepped! I quickly refocused my attention.
Lt. Smith was still shooting Buck Rogers-like death rays from her eyes. She looked like she was going to say something; no… she just wasn’t going to say something, she was going to let me have it! I raised my hand to stop the first class tongue whoopin’ I properly assessed I was about to receive.
“Lt. Smith, please, before you say anything, I apologize for my improper behavior. I admit I was rude, but you must understand, I was concentrating on protecting my boat and command, surviving this mission, and not spending the duration of the war in a Japanese prison camp. I’m afraid I was a bit short with you. I was inconsiderate and out of line, I’m sorry.” I stated it loud enough for everyone in the compartment to hear.
“Apology accepted, Captain,” She glared at me with only a slight smile! “We would expect future conversations to be somewhat more civilized?”
There was that cold, regal attitude, bolstered by that proper British accent again. Just like at the dock yesterday. I realized that if I didn’t censor myself better this was going to be a very long trip. I bit my lip and asked, “Lt. Smith, would you still care to have that tea now and later we can acquaint you better with the boat?”
After an attempted diplomatic tea and a somewhat detailed tour of the Sand Dollar, I presented Queen…Lt. Smith to her quarters. I hoped that I had successfully regained the lieutenant’s confidence and her forgiveness. Several hours had passed since the unexpected aerial attack and we appeared to be alone in our little section of the Pacific- just as Lt. Smith had stated. Toward dusk we surfaced and repaired any damage we could. One of the port ballast tanks had taken a hit and needed attention. As a result we were sitting lower in the water.
Having set the repair crews to task, I called Sgt. Williams and Pvt. Two-Eagles to the Radio room and had Mr. Two-Eagles send his scheduled coded message- Phase One complete. A reply came immediately, sounding just as crazy. I now knew why the War Department had chosen Navajo as a code- I couldn’t make heads or tails of it. A minute later I had the decoded message in my hand- it read ‘FRONT LOCKED, USE KITCHEN DOOR’. This was bad news. Enemy ships blocked our primary return route! My orders were clear- go around to the south and come into Hilo from the southeast. That would add a week to our mission and run us dangerously low on fuel. I gave orders to the night watch to submerge and change course after our batteries were recharged.
For dinner, Chief Peterson served some leftovers, including the island punch that he had saved from last night’s luau saying it was too good to waste. For some reason the punch had more bite than previously and tingled all the way down my throat. . The stuff must have fermented a little more, I thought. It was against regulations, but I figured it couldn’t hurt moral. Afterwards, I informed everyone that our return trip would take twice as long and that I hoped our fresh water would last.
Chief Samuels reported that both fresh water plants were now fully operational but it would take another couple hours to fill our fresh water tanks once we surfaced tonight. Emily informed me that two sailors, Richards and Hilf, were complaining of headaches and stomach cramps, but attributed it to too many sweets and way too much punch after learning that they had been assigned to the galley detail earlier. She recommended they sleep it off.
With my Ex-O in charge I went back to the crew quarters to check on our passengers. I informed them that the trip to their temporary home would take twice as long as expected and inquired about their accommodations. As expected the main complaint was lack of space to which I explained that space was at a premium on a submarine and that they should see how the men in the forward and aft torpedo rooms had to sleep. They immediately stopped complaining having been given a tour of those compartments earlier.
We began our longer return voyage to Hawaii. Silently, I hoped the second part of our mission would be less eventful than the first. I went forward to the galley and poured another cup of coffee then retired to my quarters. I closed my door, stripped to my civvies and updated my logbook after trying to find a comfortable position on my standard issue (read ‘short’) bunk. I decided to read a little but must have been more exhausted than I thought as I started to doze off within minutes.
0730 Just south of the Marshall Islands, March 27th, 1944
I awoke to the sound of the diving klaxon. My head felt like it was in a vise- in fact my whole body felt that way.
“Captain to the Con!”
I recognized Emily’s voice over the speaker. She sounded desperate! What the hell was going on? Were we under attack? What happened to Jack? Without any further thoughts I sprang from my berth- immediately wishing I had gotten up slower. I caught hold of the door handle to steady myself. Wow, what a hangover, I thought as I regained my balance. I brushed the hair from my face, and hurried barefoot into the Control Room. That island hooch had really done a number on me! What a hangover! I had never felt so strange and disoriented, and made a mental note to abstain from any more ‘Island Punch’.
“Lt. Scott! What the hell is going on?” I screeched as I entered the Con. What was wrong with my voice? I stopped short and looked around the compartment; it looked different somehow…was it slightly bigger? Unconscious women in enlisted attire were scattered about the compartment floor around Lt. Scott.
“Alex?” She asked, her voice shrieked on the verge of hysteria.
“Emily! Where’s my crew? Why are there unconscious women in my Control Room?” Again my voice didn’t sound right and I cleared my throat. She stood there staring at me- her eyes and mouth wide as if she had just seen a ghost.
“Lt. Scott! What the hell is the matter with you? Where’s my crew?” I repeated clearing my throat again, my voice still sounding way too strange. “Emily! Are we under attack? Dammit, Lieutenant, answer me!” I shrieked.
“Alex, we have a serious problem!” she exclaimed as tears burst forth from her eyes and ran down her terror stricken face, “I can’t explain it,” she cried, “but…but I want you to stay calm! Please…oh please, don’t…panic!”
Wait a minute… something wasn’t right! I was looking eye to eye with her. What was going on here? I knew I was barefoot but I was still taller than… She handed me her round pocket mirror, “Look at yourself Alex.”
I did as she asked. What I saw made my blood freeze. The reflection I saw was not Commander Alexander Steinert, but that of a lovely young woman probably in her early twenties, long unkept, dish water blonde hair that framed a beautiful face with high cheek bones, pouty lips, and a cute little nose. One of the Andrew Sisters maybe or no, my younger sister, but…I didn’t have a sister! This couldn’t be my face! I had brown eyes, not hazel! I must have let the mirror twist slightly in my hand because a woman’s body came into view- it wasn’t my body, definitely a ‘her’ body. I found the two perfectly shaped globes under the shirt undeniable proof. I recognized my own undershirt though, but the pair of large, full breasts stretched it out so tightly that it became semi transparent and revealed the unmistakable dark coloring and protrusions associated with such features. I noticed a set of dog tags hanging down into this woman’s cleavage. I could make out the last few numbers on them. My numbers! I froze.
I forced my eyes to look at the hand holding the mirror. It was slender with long thin fingers. I immediately noticed the long fingernails. This definitely was not my hand, yet I could feel the mirror in my grasp. I could feel its weight.
“What…what the hell happened to me,” was all I could muster? The mirror fell to the floor and shattered into pieces. I must have remained motionless, staring at this hand for some time before Emily broke me from my stupor.
“Alex…Alex! …Captain…oh please snap out of it! We’re in deep trouble, Alex! I think the whole crew has been affected. The ones I’ve seen are either unconscious or lying in shock in their bunks and I don’t know what caused this! Alex…Captain Steinert, I need you! Alex, I can’t steer the boat on my own!” She had grabbed my shoulders and was now shaking me furiously to get my attention. No amount of military training could have prepared me for the shock I was now experiencing- for the sensations I was feeling- mostly from my chest! I forced myself into composure, into my command persona. Emily was right; she couldn’t manage the boat alone.
“Lt. Scott, do you realize you are assaulting the ranking officer? Take your hands off me before I have you court marshaled!” Once again I noticed the high pitch of this voice- somehow it just didn’t sound commanding anymore.
“Sorry sir, but I had no other choice. I need help getting the boat under control. I have no idea where we are, or how long we’ve been on our present course, sir.”
I looked to my arm for my wristwatch- damn; it must have slipped off this narrow wrist I had acquired. I thought for a second then pushed a few stray hairs back behind my ear. “Ok, let’s take this one step at a time. First, Where’s Carroll?”
“I don’t know, sir. None of these women are wearing rank.”
I made a mental note to find my Dive officer as soon as we gained control. “Next, we need to stop the boat. I’ll see how deep we’re running.” I carefully made my way to the depth gage located directly across from where I was standing. I didn’t want to cut my feet on mirror shards or step on any crewmen. “I read one-fifty- probably a safe depth provided there are no seamounts or reefs in our path.” I made my way to the diving plane stations- I could feel my chest jiggling all over the place. It was very disconcerting. I noticed that I had automatically brought my left arm up to support my new pendulous bosom. We were holding steady at zero degrees- good. “How are we doing on battery and what is our heading, Emily? That gage over behind the chart table.” I pointed to its location.
“Heading: zero-eight-zero, batteries are twenty out of a hundred, Alex. Is that ok?”
“Hardly, We only have twenty percent charge left! We have to surface now- before we don’t have enough power to start the engines.” I carefully jiggled my way over to the intercom, I was starting to notice the way my hips swayed, but tried to pay no attention.
“Maneuvering room! All Stop!”
I got no reply.
“Alex, I checked, everyone is either passed out or curled up in a ball on their bunks. You, me, and the islanders are the only ones coherent.”
I thought for a moment- a hard thing to do when faced with such a radical alteration- especially when my civvies kept slipping down. “Ok, Emily here’s what we do,” I now had one arm holding my chest still and one holding my underwear up. “Go back and tell the queen what happened- I hope she will believe you- ask if she could spare some of her people to help us surface the boat. Show them what they have to do. I’m going straight to the Maneuvering room and get us stopped.”
As we made our way aft, I noticed a few of the crew, or what had been my crew, huddled together in the galley quietly sobbing. I knew exactly how they felt, but right now, I didn’t have the luxury of shock- that had to wait until I got back control of the Sand Dollar. Emily stopped in the crew compartment where our passengers were trying to stay out of the way, as I proceeded to the Maneuvering room. I had to carefully climb over several crewmen lying unconscious on the Engine rooms’ narrow catwalks. Entering the next compartment, I brought the motors down slowly finally hitting full stop then down into reverse momentarily, and back to stop again. I then hurried forward to the control room, again being careful not to step on anyone. The swinging weights on my chest were a constant reminder of our predicament as I moved. Somehow I had to get these things under control! My arms just weren’t able to control my newly acquired endowments, help me climb over people, and guide me through the compartment hatches at the same time.
Once I reached the control room, I tied the front of my undershirt up the way I had seen some nurses at the beach tie their blouses. That helped some, but I could feel the coarse fabric rub as I moved. I also tied the top of my civvies in a knot to make them fit my slimmer waist better. With both hands now available to work, I first went to the hydrophone and listened for any sign of propellers then cautiously made my way to the diving valves and started to blow water from the ballast tanks. I wanted to get us to periscope depth for a look around. I didn’t want to surface in the middle of a Japanese convoy!
Emily came forward into the compartment as I was doing this.
“Emily, work the periscope controls- a couple feet at a time, please.”
I was acutely aware of the new void between my legs as my civvies rode up while crouching down. I felt my bosom shift forward when I leaned over to peer though the scope as it was slowly raised. As the scope just broke the surface I told her to stop. I quickly scanned all three hundred and sixty degrees- nothing in sight- good. I had to stop to fish my civvies out of…oh, God! Focus Commander, focus! I leaned back into the lenses and adjusted the inclination of the upper mirror towards the sky. I found the sun, which, by the Control Rooms chronometer would be at its mid morning elevation and took the bearing. I then scanned the sky for any planes- all clear; next I looked over at my doctor. “Lt. Scott, did we get any help?”
“Skipper, Lt. Smith is here with some of her nurses. They agreed to lend a hand.”
While I was getting our bearings Queen Mauikimau, in uniform, had climbed through the compartment’s aft hatch. Stopping next to me, she scrutinized me from head to toe. I could see she was just as surprised by what she saw.
I waited until several of her nurses had arrived before conveying my appreciation. “Ladies I want to thank you for helping out. Please understand that I had no choice but to ask for your assistance. Please also excuse my…my appearance.” I gestured to my body nervously.
“I understand completely, Captain. Not many men that experience the Mahanilui recover so quickly. You are a strong individual, Commander Alexander Steinert, strong indeed. Place my people where you require. I think you will find they are very competent. We are yours to command.”
“Thank you, your highness.” The queen glared at me. “Excuse me…thank you, Lt. Smith.” I wondered about her statement as I selected, assigned, and instructed people I thought could handle each job in the Con. I gave Emily my orders and selected a few more nurses to follow me back to the engine rooms.
“Lt. Scott, take us to snorkel depth- three-zero feet!” I said into the squawk box when I reached the first Engine Compartment. I knew that recharging the batteries during the day was risky at best. Even though the snorkel, a brand new innovation for American subs, allowed us to remain submerged, the telltale smoke of our diesel exhaust could still be seen for quite a distance. If it caught the enemy’s attention we would be surrounded within minutes- leaving no time for any good recharge. Several more nurses appeared and helped remove the unconscious crewmembers from the compartments.
“Snorkel depth, aye sir.”
Within a minute came the reply. “Three-zero feet and holding, Captain.”
I showed my new trainees how to extend the snorkel and hit the switch to start the first diesel- it begrudgingly turned over. I was glad I didn’t have to hand crank it. I doubted I now had the strength. With one engine running I could now fire up the starboard Fairbanks in Engine room one. Now that our batteries were charging I instructed the group on how to start the other two engines, what gauges to watch and, how to shut down all engines and how to secure the snorkel. I showed them how to use the intercom and told them that if they had any questions to just call me and ask. I made my way back up to the Con stopping momentarily in the galley.
“Attention on deck!” I shouted, although it didn’t have the authority it had yesterday. The handful of huddled crewmen did not move.
“Captain on deck!” I screeched again. Slowly a couple of girls stood to attention. Apparently they slept with their shirts off as their arms were trying to cover their new attributes. I tried a third time.
“Ah-ten-shun! Captain on deck!” This time several more girls stood and assumed attention. I wasn’t going to push any harder, but I needed to get some of my crew up and working. I couldn’t just let them continue this way.
“Look at you! Acting like scared little girls! I tell you, no matter what happened or what you look like, you are all still sailors in the United States Navy! We are still the best sub crew in the whole damned service. You have also trained to be able to function under the most extraordinary of circumstances! Look at me, all of you!” I pointed to myself gently poking a breast as I did so. I was caught off guard by the not unpleasant, but foreign, sensation. I took a second to compose myself then continued.
“I underwent the same change as you. You don’t see me cowering against a bulkhead, do you? It’s 1030 and I want every soul assigned to this watch at their duty stations. That was not a request, ladies! That was an order! Anyone not reporting for duty will be charged with dereliction of duty and mutiny, is that understood?” I heard a slight murmur in reply.
“Is that understood?” I shrieked as I turned and climbed through the hatchway to the Control room. I didn’t wait for the reply.
Emily appeared to have everything under control when I returned to the Con. Someone had even swept up the mirror glass.
“Lt. Scott, any idea where the rest of my officers are?”
“They may be in they’re quarters, skipper. Do you want me to check on them?”
“No, just carry on here, Lieutenant. I’ll check on them myself. Keep an eye out topside- I don’t want any more surprises.”
“Captain, if I may, sir? It sounded like you were a bit harsh back there. May I remind you that everyone handles shock differently? This…this…change is so out of the ordinary I’m even having a hard time accepting it. Please show some compassion to the men, Alex.”
“Emily, if it were any other time…peacetime…I would show all the compassion I could, but not now. Need I remind you that we are traveling through a war zone! That requires my crew to be on the ball and ready to go into battle at a moment’s notice! We also have a mission to complete, Lt. Scott. I promised the Admiral I would bring this boat- her crew and passengers back to Hawaii safely. I intend to make good on that promise. So you’ll forgive me if I can’t afford the luxury of compassion,” with that, I turned and headed forward through the compartment hatch!
Jack’s door was closed, but unlocked. I knocked and gently opened the door. A beautiful young woman of about twenty that I assumed to be him, was laying on the floor unconscious- her head partially blocking the door. I knelt down and gently lifted her head to clear the door. I began to gently slap her on the cheek.
“Jack! Jack, are you all right? Jack, its Alex…come on now Jack, wake up. Come on Jack, I need you!” I saw the girl’s eyes start to flutter open.
“Emily? I…I…had this…this dream that I…I was someone else…Alex?” This girl- my Ex-O, suddenly sat straight up. Realizing who I was and apparently the new movement of her upper body, her eyes shot wide open. “Alex…skipper…is that…is it really you? You…you…you’re beautiful, sir, I mean... What…how…?” Her delicate fingers, which had been helping support her, instantly went to her face.
“We can figure that out later, Jack. How do you feel, are you hurt? Can you walk?”
“Uh...feels like a freight train hit me, Cap! I’m sore everywhere, but I think I can get up…maybe with a little help and a few minutes.”
I helped my Ex-O to a seated position on her rack and proceeded to check out my ‘new’ first officer. She still had brown hair- maybe a little lighter brown, but long enough now to reach past her shoulder blades. The same brown eyes stared back at me, but now they were surrounded by beautiful long lashes and appeared larger. She seemed to be the same height- maybe an inch shorter; it was hard to tell with someone as short as Jack. Even as disheveled as she was, she was a real looker. I would have stared longer, but I needed to check on the rest of my officers.
Pvt. Two-Eagles and Sgt. Williams were still in their bunks, unconscious. Apparently, this mysterious change caught them in their sleep. Pvt. Two-Eagles’ black hair, which had been regulation length, now cascaded off his rack and reached nearly down to his bodyguard’s bunk. Sgt. William’s hair appeared to have only lengthened slightly- being so curly it was hard to tell, maybe a few inches at best- nowhere near the mid-back length locks that now cascaded from my head. I decided to let them sleep and come back later after things settled down. I moved on to my dive officer’s berth. Lt. Sheldon was awake and sitting on his bunk just staring at his…no…her face in the mirror, long full bodied, wavy blonde hair fell past her shoulders and partially covered her large full breasts.
“Lieutenant, are you ok?” I realized that was a dumb question, but I felt inclined to ask it. My dive officer’s pretty face turned ever so slightly toward me.
“Do I look right to you!”? She hissed and turned back to the mirror, her eyes never leaving her reflection.
“Carroll, I’m sorry. That was a really stupid question. What I meant to ask is can you move, walk, stand- anything like that?” Again the beautiful girl’s head didn’t turn much, her reflection and face both grew angry now.
“What the hell do you care?” she again growled at me, “what doctor could possibly cure this anyway?” I saw her eyes finally glance toward me. “Haven’t you done enough already? Go back to your damn voodoo queen!”
Now I was upset.
“Lt. Sheldon, that is no way to talk to your Captain! I am still your superior officer! Show the proper respect or Capt. Rutledge will be visiting you in the brig on Pearl; is that clear, Mister Sheldon?” The girl’s mouth dropped, as did her expression in the mirror. She turned to really look at me.
“Alex? Is that…is that you? I thought you were… were one of those island witches! They got to you too? What in hell’s name they do to us?”
“I wish I knew Carroll, but for right now we could use some help in the Con. “Your ‘islanders’ are helping run the boat right now. Are you up to the job?”
“I think so, Skip, it’s just that…that…well, I feel so damned strange. This…this hair…it keeps tickling me!” He grabbed a handful. “It feels so heavy and it was all over my face when I woke up. I guess I panicked or something when I saw my reflection- must have sent me into shock. I thought I was the only one. I’m sorry about my behavior, sir, it won’t happen again!”
“See that it doesn’t, Mister Sheldon. You might want to get those under control”
I showed him how to tie up his shirt to control his new appointments and we made our way back to the Con. It was time to check on my enlisted men.
“Forward torpedo, Con.” I got no answer so I tried again. “Forward torpedo, this is Capt. Steinert in Con!”
“Um…Forward Torpedo here!” The voice was high and sweet sounding, yet I could not put a face to it.
“To whom am I talking, sailor?”
“Reynolds ma’am…er, sir”
“Reynolds, status report.”
“Um…well…I guess we’re okay up here- a little sore maybe…kind of hung over…um…but, um…Masterson’s having some trouble getting out of his…her…his bunk though, skip!”
“Why is that, Reynolds?”
“Well, skip, he…she…well it seems…um, her boobs is…um…sir, she…he’s stuck under a Mark Fourteen, sir!”
Everyone in the compartment turned in confusion toward the speaker. Lt. Scott looked amused. Carroll and I understood the predicament as soon as Emily acted out the crewman’s dilemma by resting her arm vertically in her cleavage. I rolled my eyes realizing that I was probably going to have to reassign some of my sailors to different bunks. I was also curious as to how big Seaman Masterson really was.
“Well do your best to get him…her out. Con out.”
The aft torpedo room faired better. As with the forward compartment I could not place a face to the higher-pitched voice that finally responded to my call, but everyone was reportedly in sore, but good condition. At least no one else was aground in they’re bunk, I noted. By this time, some of my Control room crew had started to regain consciousness and the ‘Nurses’ took them back to their racks to help them cope.
About ten minutes later a lovely young woman about five-five with flowing, long red wavy hair tromped through the rear compartment hatch. “I need ta see the Captain! Which one of you dames is the Skipper?” I recognized the red hair, New York accent, grease marks, diesel fuel perfume, and attitude almost immediately, but the high whiney voice did nothing to prove its owner’s identity.
“That would be me Chief Samuels.” I said as I frowned and raised my hand slightly.
“Damn!” She paused, staring at me- apparently surprised, “Skip! What’s them Island broads done to us an’ what’re they doin’ in my Engine rooms? They don’t have no clue as to how delicate them diesels is!”
I was amused at how his voice whined like a bald tire on concrete and wondered if he could hear how annoying it sounded.
“Well Chief it’s like this; we needed to get the batteries charged. Not one of you BROADS answered at your assigned duty stations. From what I could see you and your GIRLS were all SOBBING in your racks. Her highness”, I got glared at again, but ignored it, “Lt. Smith and her nurses were gracious enough to volunteer to help get the boat back under control while everyone recovered. I suggest you and your BROADS get your pretty little backsides back to your posts and do your jobs, but not before you thank those ‘island broads’ for their assistance! Dismissed, Chief!”
Samuels lowered her head and muttered, “Aye, captain.”
“Looks like we’re all dames around here now, doesn’t it? I suggest you drop the Brooklyn slang, because I for one, don’t want to be reminded” I cupped both breasts with my hands for effect.
“Sir!” My engineer snapped to attention; immediately she noticed the jiggle that movement had produced and steadied her chest with the her arm. As she made for the rear compartment hatch, I could barely make out her mumbling something about ‘these damn tits…’.
“Lt. Smith, I would like to apologize for my Chief’s brash behavior…”
“It is completely understandable, Capt. Steinert. Most men do not take the change easily. In fact, some might opt for suicide over acceptance.”
“What? Your telling me that you’ve seem this happen before?”
“Of course! Most of the women on our island have gone through the Mahanilui, Captain, including myself!”
Lieutenant’s Scott and Sheldon and I were shocked by this revelation. We were brought back to our senses by a very loud, very shrill scream…or was it two screams… coming from the Officer’s compartment.
“Your highness, we really have to talk- right after I check this out!” I made for the horrible noise.
Jack stood just outside the quarters in question, a stunned look on her face. As I suspected, Pvt. Two-Eagles and Sgt. Williams had just regained consciousness. The Sergeant had passed out again on his bunk while, in the top rack, Pvt. Two-Eagles was rambling on in Navajo. His new higher pitch made the language sound melodic and very exotic.
“Private, it’s alright! It happened to everyone. Settle down, everything will be okay! Private! Get hold of yourself!”
The chanting stopped and a lithe, tanned hand reached up and parted the long jet-black hair to reveal the beautiful, tanned, almond shaped face of what I could only describe as an Indian princess. I was taken aback by this woman’s features- perfectly arched eyebrows, cute little nose, pretty bow-shaped lips, and the most piercing, ice blue eyes I had ever seen. I just stared for a moment.
“What magic is this?” she asked, her voice quite calm and sweet. I noted that the Navajo accent made her voice sound mysterious.
“We don’t know yet, Private. I was just about to find out when you and Sgt. Williams here woke up. How are you feeling…in general that is?” I wondered how she was able to compose herself so fast.
“I…I guess I feel all right. I hurt all over- like my horse threw me!”
“Do you feel you can walk, Private?”
“I think I can walk if you could help me down from here. Who are you any way?”
“Alex Steinert, Commander, U.S. Navy. Let me help you down, Private.” I proceeded to help my Radio operator down from her bunk. I was amazed at how light she was. It took a minute for her legs to get their footing, but she finally turned and stood straight. In doing so, I noticed her hair was now long enough to cover her beautiful heart-shaped tush. Standing before me was a beautiful Navajo Indian princess, about five-three, wonderfully slender, athletic and very well endowed. I guessed this girl’s age to be all of seventeen.
“Private, there will be a briefing in the Wardroom in thirty minutes. Do you think your sergeant will be recovered enough by then?”
“I hope so, skipper, I’ll do my best.”
I turned to my first officer “we need to check the forward compartment Jack.”
“What for Cap?”
“Seems Masterson has a little problem with clearance in his bunk.”
“You’ll see, come on.”
We made our way through the compartment hatch and stood silently on the platform overlooking the torpedo room. The men were mercilessly chiding one of their own- a sleek platinum blonde. I assumed that to be Masterson, although, his… I mean her back was to us. The talk in the compartment sounded more like women gossiping then extremely shocked submariners. They all seemed to be recovering well.
“Watch this”, I said to Jack, “give the order.”
“Captain on deck!”
The chatter stopped immediately and everyone turned around, jumping to attention. Although everyone was standing still, there was still a lot of movement in the room. As if choreographed, arms of everyone raised to steady their respective chests. The blonde I had assumed correctly to be Seaman Masterson made Jane Russell look like Little Orphan Annie! I looked over to Jack and saw her eye’s bulge- mine were doing the same. I could see now how she would have gotten stuck. I suddenly realized I had been staring.
“Skip?” a cute lithe brunette off to the left chimed out.
“Are we through with the hen meeting?”
“Yes sir, Skipper.”
“Good, now where is Chief Van Pelt?”
“Here, Skip.” A raven-haired girl of maybe eighteen raised her petite hand back near the torpedo tubes.
“Do you feel comfortable enough with what happened to get back to work?”
“Uh…ya Skip, I think so.”
“Good. I want you and your girls to unload and reload one and two. See if you can get it done in the same amount of time as before, okay? I want you to practice until you do. You may want to use both hands this time.”
“Oh and Mister Van Pelt. See that Miss Masterson there gets her rack…er…make sure she’s reassigned to a bunk with more…um…clearance, will you?” The platinum blonde flushed immediately as snickers…no, definitely giggles, washed through the sub’s forward-most compartment.
“Come on Jack, I want to check the other compartments and then we have an important meeting with ‘Lt. Smith’. I want some answers!”
1200 Just south of the Marshall Islands, March 27th, 1944
I assembled my Officers in the Wardroom. I officially requested Queen Mauikimau…Lt. Smith to attend hoping that the invitation would help patch up my previous diplomatic incursion. I needed to find out what she knew of our sudden, miraculous transformations. She graciously agreed to the meeting.
What a group we turned out to be, two impeccably groomed, well-dressed women in regulation uniform and eight rag-tag women dressed in ill-fitting men’s clothing. If the old man had seen this, we’d get laughed right off base and dishonorably discharged. Desperately needing to know what happened, I cleared my throat and started the meeting. It was still very hard to accept this new soprano voice of mine.
“Ok, let’s get this thing started shall we? Her highness”, she glared at me once again- I ignored it again and continued, “has gracefully agreed to help us understand this mysterious change that we went through. Lt. Smith if you please…” I gestured to her.
“Thank you, Captain. First, the change that you and your crew have undergone is called the ‘Mahanilui or ‘renewal’. It is a sacred rite that we of Kili Island conduct when the population of our island decreases to a critical level. When we are faced with such a population decline, a call goes out to our closest neighboring islands for volunteers willing to participate. In this way, we renew the population and lessen the chance of inbreeding. By combining the powers of the mystic spring with a ritual drink, each volunteer’s body is transfigured into their female equivalent- their sister if you will. Why you, Captain, and your crew have undergone the Mahanilui is a mystery to me as I commanded the sacred spring water not be used in the preparation of our celebration.” My guest speaker paused for a moment as if having an epiphany.
“Captain, at the celebration you mentioned you had circled our island to determine if we had been compromised?” I nodded. “You also stated that your water making equipment had faulted?” Again I nodded. “Did you perchance stop to replenish your water supply on the west side of Kili at a small, deep inlet?”
A hush fell over the room; the air suddenly became thick- stifling. Only one head, Lt. Smith’s, failed to drop its gaze to the tabletop as both my officers and I began to contemplate the implication of her question. I felt her stare boring into the top of my skull, then felt the gazes of my staff raise up toward me.
The theory behind her question hit me and hit hard. Had I? No, it wasn’t possible, was it? There was no such thing as a magic spring, was there? A voice echoed through my head- ‘apparently there is a magic spring, just look at yourself and the others, Alex.’ Immediately cold sweat covered my forehead and my heart started to pound harder. I became nauseous. I needed only to look as far as my own graceful hands demurely resting on the table before me. It was true! I had brought about this calamity!
Without raising my head I quietly replied, “What have I done?” A single tear hit the table directly below me, then another and another. I was suddenly overwhelmed by a massive onslaught of feelings, feelings that until today were foreign to me. Feelings I had held in check for twenty odd years. I recognized them immediately- regret, guilt, anguish, and despair. I saw Brian’s disappointed face. Pain joined the mix. So strong was this surge of emotions over me that I felt as if I’d been swept overboard by a tempest. Every attempt I made to repel these emotional marauders dismally failed. More tears hit the table. I felt myself start to tremble, ever so slightly at first, but rapidly increasing in intensity. All at once I was filled with the overwhelming grief of what I had done- remorse so deep, I felt I was drowning, trying, but unable to reach the surface for breath. Just as suddenly tears streamed from my eyes. I clinched my fists tightly in a desperate attempt to gain my composure.
Desperately fighting for emotional control against the flood of tears, I forced myself to continue. “We were…we were running…running dangerously low on…on fresh water…because… because of a…a malfunc…a failure…in our desalination plant. I…I only wanted to…our report…it said… nothing of…magical spring…I had…had no…no…no idea!” At that moment something snapped within me, something that confused me, something that…that completely obstructed rational thought. Another emotion joined in on the chaos that had become my mind. I felt frightened, but not just frightened- scared out of my wits frightened! Frightened that everyone hated me! Frightened that I had doomed this mission. Frightened that I had lost everything! Pure fright- a feeling I had not had since I was a young boy! There was only one thought that focused in my confused mind- run! Spontaneously, I jumped up from the table, ran out of the room, across the passageway into my quarters and threw myself onto my bunk crying uncontrollably. I had lost all control. I couldn’t believe I was blubbering like a scared little girl!
Thinking about our current circumstances only fueled my uncontrollable tirade- the revelation that my entire crew, like me, had been cursed. I caused this! We were girls! I was responsible for turning my crew, my first command- the best damn crew in the Navy into weak, emotional women. I had failed the Admiral. I had failed Brian! I had failed my crew- not only by giving the order to take on fresh water, but also by my emotional performance in the Wardroom just now. I had shown frailty, me, the commanding officer! The very person responsible for discipline! Worse yet, I had lost my self-control. If I couldn’t control myself, how could I expect to command fifty men…? I couldn’t command! If I couldn’t command then I was useless- utterly useless! The more I thought about the shear bleakness of the situation, the deeper I sank into depression. Lt. Smith’s earlier statement echoed through my head, ‘some might opt for suicide over acceptance’. My crying seemed to increase ten-fold, my body convulsing uncontrollably. My mind spiraled lower, filling with darkness, with desolation. I felt lost, but even that didn’t matter anymore. Nothing mattered anymore! There seemed no way out. My life was over- I just wanted to die! I actually started contemplating…
A hand gently touched my head, its fingers began drawing slowly through my now long hair; another hand came to rest softly on my tightly clasped, trembling hands. A slight scent of a familiar perfume touched my senses.
“Alex? Alex…honey it’s not your fault.” Through the darkness that had engulfed my mind I vaguely recognized Emily’s soft, comforting voice. I had found it one of her most endearing qualities. Hearing it, the dark emptiness ebbed ever so slightly.
“Come on now Alex, you didn’t know about that magic water- how could you? Honey, I hate to admit this, but I know how you feel. You feel like everything is your fault; that the world itself is conspiring against you, trying to choke the life out of you. You blame yourself for everything that has happened and it seems like there’s no way to escape it, but you have to try, sweetie. You have to fight those feelings with everything you’ve got or they’ll consume you. I’ve been there, Alex; I know what you’re feeling! You have to search deep inside to find Alexander, the fighter- use that strength to overcome your emotional despair. You can do it! Honey, truth-be-told, until now I was amazed, no make that worried, at how well you handled all this. I honestly expected you to completely fall apart as soon as you looked in that compact mirror. You truly are remarkable, Alex Steinert! You are by far the strongest, bravest man, I have ever met and you can pull yourself out of this depression…you have to. You see we’re all counting on you, Captain.”
Her kind words started to dispel some of the darkness that had swallowed my mind and I began, ever so slowly, to reclaim my composure. Still gently stroking my hair, she continued her pep talk.
“Alex, you are by far one of the fairest, kind-hearted C-Os that I have had the privilege to serve under. You have shown me the trust and respect that other Commanders wouldn’t, despite our history! Yes, you made a decision to get water. Jack, Carroll or I would have done the same! You only wanted to make our guests comfortable, no harm in that is there? No one blames you for that decision. In hindsight though, it was the wrong choice, but…but isn’t that what command is- making choices, even though they might be the wrong ones? What defines you as a good leader isn’t how many good command decisions you make; it’s the ability to overcome the consequences of the bad ones- to keep the respect of your crew!”
By god, she was right! I followed her suggestion and, searching deep, found the soldier- the strength. I thought of the crew- my responsibility to them. I was their commander, their pillar of strength. If I failed, they would too. They needed me! The feeling of helplessness was replaced by a faint glimmer of hope. I thought of the mission- of my passengers. I thought of Emily- of my brother, Brian. I realized she was still talking.
“Right now there’s not one member of this crew that can honestly say they haven’t surrendered to their new emotions. You saw that first hand earlier. We all have our moments of confusion and doubt. Guess what, Hun, it’s all part of being human- of being a woman. We all can get extremely emotional; it comes with the territory. Alex dear, like it or not everyone onboard, including you, the Captain, is female for the time being. Until we find out if this is permanent, you need to accept who you’ve become. Come on now, honey, let me see that beautiful face of yours!”
I slowly looked up at her from behind my mess of hair. I saw her pleasant, reassuring smile- her beautiful face. Emily had made headway, but she sensed I needed more. “Hey, I have an idea. I know this may seem really silly to you, but we girls find that a good hug mends just about all hurts, physical and mental. Let me give you one- and before you start to argue with me that men don’t do that crap, just try it. Trust me, honey, I promise it’ll help…I promise!” She wiped tears I hadn’t noticed from her eyes as she said that.
I had to admit that I did feel better after our embrace, although the sensation of our breasts pressing together almost succeeded in negating Emily’s efforts. She offered me a hanky, which I made good use of. After several minutes I was able to fully compose myself. I noticed that the passageway outside my quarters’ was jam-packed with the very officers I unceremoniously deserted not thirty minutes before… thirty minutes! Had I been in this state of total hysteria for that long? I swallowed hard as I noticed Jack leaning against my doorframe- a look of deep concern etched on her angelic face. I screwed up my courage and, standing, did what I felt I needed to do.
“Cmdr. Cummins, I am placing myself on report for behavior unbecoming an officer and desertion of my post. I am confining myself to quarters. I hereby relinquish command of the Sand Dollar to you!” I noticed Emily’s expression change, her eyes grew bigger and her hand went to her mouth as she let out an audible gasp. Jack’s concerned expression quickly turned to one of anger.
“Now why in blazes would I want to take command of your boat, Alex? Just because all this has finally caught up to you, you want to quit! Is that it? What’s the matter Alex, you suddenly realized you’re human? So you lost a little control- so what! You’re not Superman…er, Supergirl… you know what I mean! Hell, if you put yourself on report then every man on this boat should do the same, including me!”
My Ex-O’s ironic statement brought a slight smile to my face and begged for a witty retort.
“But MISS Cummins, there aren’t any men on this boat- not now!” I smiled even more when I saw her lovely face flush with embarrassment. “Sorry, I couldn’t resist that one Jack.”
“Point taken, MA’AM!” The embarrassment quickly cleared and was replaced by a wonderfully devious smile. “Alex, the only way I’ll ever consider taking command is if you get severely wounded or knocked up!” The devious smile faded though as she realized the universality of her remark. We were quiet for a minute then she looked at Emily, who had been quietly taking my pulse. “Doc, what’s your prognosis? Is the Captain fit for duty?”
“I don’t see why not, Commander. She just needed some time to come to terms with her new identity and to vent all the associated feelings and tension pent up inside. After all, every GIRL needs a good cry every now and again,” she giggled! “In my medical opinion our Captain is just as healthy, just as human, and just as FEMALE as the rest of us. I can’t see confinement to quarters necessary, nor do I see a reason for any reports to be filed- except maybe for poor taste in women’s under-garments, which all of you are guilty of.” Emily smiled wickedly as she pulled the waistband of my civvies and released it with a snap.
I noticed my audience suddenly shifting down the passageway. Queen…Lt. Smith squeezed past Jack into my cabin- something that would not have been possible yesterday.
“Well Captain, it seems that even the most disciplined of officers could not deny the flood of emotions we all feel after the Mahanilui! Do not worry though, it is only the body’s way of acclimating itself to its new chemistry. I suspect that even the hardest, most callus personality on this Earth would finally surrender. I myself, wept for well over a week before finding the fortitude to leave the confines of my room.”
I was shocked at her frankness. “Lieutenant, can this be reversed?”
“I don’t know, Captain. This is the first time that we have been away from our home. Normally, we celebrate each solstice and therefore have never gone longer without the healing powers the sacred water provides.”
“Haven’t you had anyone change their mind and want to leave?”
“My dear Captain, we, the chosen, came to Kili of our own free will. It is considered an honor to be selected for such a humanitarian cause. We find it spiritually fulfilling. For us, it is a chance to start life over again- a renewal of sorts- a chance to experience life from a different perspective, to gain wisdom. No one has ever desired to leave Kili Island, Captain, until now! I submit that we will find out after six months.”
“SIX MONTHS?” Mercy, could my voice be more piercing! “Look your highness, in case y’all haven’t noticed, we’re kind of in the middle of a war here? My crew and I can’t stay like this that long. We were trained to fight! There’s no such thing as the Ladies Auxiliary in the Silent Service! It’s bad enough that most of our women stateside are working in the factories when they should be at home taking care of…”
Emily cut me off as she sprang to her feet. I could tell I hit a nerve. “Taking care of what, Alex?” She crossed her arms and glared at me. At that moment I felt like a small child caught with his hand in the cookie jar. I looked toward the floor sheepishly trying to avoid her stare.
“You mean women should be home taking care of children and keeping house, right? Is that all you men think women are good for, Alex?” The question was obviously not just meant for me as Emily looked angrily at our audience. I started to feel confused again. The crowd in the passage started to rapidly thin out.
“Look Emily, I…”
“You what, Alex! After I bared my soul to comfort you, this is how I’m repaid? I thought you were different. I had hoped that you really meant what you said after we left Hawaii! I guess you were just humoring the cute nurse, huh? You are such a piece of work, Alex Steinert! You’re just like all the rest!” she started to leave but Lt. Smith stopped her, gently shoving her down beside me.
“Emily Scott, don’t get your knickers in such a twist! I think you should be more understanding of the situation the Captain and the others are in. You must realize that they have not only lost their physical strength and bodies but they have been demoted to, what is considered in most societies, second class citizens. Only a handful of cultures around the world and throughout history truly recognize women as equals or superiors. Think about it, your country now allows women to vote, but can most truly do what they want, where they want? On the average I would say only a small percentile of women, you being included, actually dare to pursue their own ambitions! Many just conform to the excepted pattern that society has imprinted upon them. Do not blame the Captain for her social moors; they are instilled in us during childhood by parent and peer. In time she will realize these misconceptions.” The lieutenant paused.
“Was it not you who advised compassion toward the crew earlier? Also do not forget your medical training. Men and women are different physically, chemically- mentally. I speak from experience when I say that they are coping with very dramatic changes in body as well as mind; everything you take for granted is foreign to them. Liken it to the menstrual cycle, Dr. Scott; the first few times it happened I suspect you thought you were seriously ill, if not going to die. As time went on you became more accustomed.”
Lt. Smith now had everyone’s attention. I wondered were she had learned all this psychiatry. Did Emily blush? I know I did as I suddenly realized I was part of that exclusive club. Lt. Smith didn’t miss a beat.
“Think about your premenstrual attitude- generally grouchy and subject to, sometimes, severe mood swings. Your fellow crewmen are no different now except that they have never before experienced anything so alien- every emotion, every sensation, every feeling is now so alarmingly foreign, so amplified that they can become dreadfully overwhelmed. Their minds become overloaded- confused. Rational thought, as they knew it, seems impossible. Only the strongest personalities, those with the deepest, strongest, unbiased foundations will quickly accept and adapt to the Mahanilui. Your captain here is a prime example. As you have stated she, above all others, was able to defer her own feelings and fears in order to regain control of this vessel and its crew. Only after the emergency had been averted did she relinquish herself to her demons. Such determination and self-control can only be found in someone so true of heart, dedicated, and open-minded. In fact everyone aboard this shi…excuse me, captain…everyone aboard this boat is of impeccable character. I do commend you and your crew, Captain Steinert! If everyone in your military is as well disciplined, I have no doubt you will win this war. It is a shame that your government does not employ more women in its military. Emily, I have observed that you possess the same discipline, drive, perseverance, and strong character as the captain here. If you are any indication of the potential of the women in the colonies, I pity any invading force to your shores! Now, may I suggest we return to a more comfortable location? I am not accustomed to such cramped quarters and feel I am becoming claustrophobic. Ladies, if you will excuse me?”
“Your Highness, may I suggest reconvening our meeting in the crew quarters. I believe everyone has a right to hear about our situation”
“Well thought, Captain. I shall assign my sisters to all vital stations so your entire crew can attend.”
“Before you go, Lieutenant; how is it you know so much about psychology?”
“Eight years at Oxford, my dear Captain. I hold separate doctorates in sociology, psychology and anthropology. I decided to forgo Her Majesty’s scuffle with the Kaiser and joined the merchants instead. I thought it a better way to advance my understanding and to see the world. Now, hadn’t you better get your crew together, Capt. Steinert?”
“…Um…yes…I’ll get on the box right now.” Now I was really confused. I couldn’t have heard her right. Did she just say the Kaiser? That would make her…no, that can’t be right, I must have heard her wrong- must be British slang.
Within ten minutes the entire crew had arrived. Girls I didn’t recognize filled the floor and the racks. The room was very cramped but it was the biggest compartment on the boat for this type of meeting. Pvt. Two-Eagles and Sgt. Williams were the last to arrive. Somehow Two-Eagles had found the time to braid her long, raven hair. She now sported one very long braid tied with a thin strap of leather at the end. I found her calm demeanor and straight bearing rather unsettling. Sgt. Williams on the other hand, seemed reluctant to join the fairer sex so soon. She entered with a pronounced slouch trying to hide her new endowments. Lt. Smith entered through the forward compartment hatch just behind them.
“Captain, all stations have been relieved. Please proceed.”
All right. Everyone please listen to Lt. Smith. I want you to know the how and why of our situation. I ask that you hear her out and save your questions until she has finished.” With that I gave her the floor.
“Gentlemen. I guess you have noticed some minor changes to your anatomy lately and are wondering, quite frankly, what the devil is going on.” There was some quiet grumbling from the group as well as a few laughs. “Let me cut the rubbish and tell you exactly what is afoot! Each one of you has undergone a mystical transformation known to the people of Kili Island as the Mahanilui. It is an ancient ritual conceived, performed, and handed down by our ancestors in an effort to continue our society and its culture. The water that you retrieved from the spring on the West Side of our island possesses special properties that, when combined with a ceremonial drink derived from a flower found only on our Island, results in the changes you see before you. Simply stated, each one of you has become the woman that you most likely would have become had nature dictated. There is more to it than that of course, but for now I will go no further.” Everyone just looked around the room in awe- including me. So this is what I would have looked like had I been born a girl, I thought- amazing! I noticed several faces were angrily staring directly at me. Lt. Smith also noticed the stares and continued.
“First, please do not blame our Captain for this- she was unaware of the special properties of the water as it has been a well kept secret. I would like to say that Capt. Steinert and I are very pleased with your control and courage during this transition. The composure exhibited by this crew is most exemplary and I congratulate you all. Second, I know you all are wondering if it can be reversed. Quite frankly, I do not know. You see, people affected by the Mahanilui have always been volunteers; none have ever been forcibly changed or even mistakenly subjected to the change as you have been. Additionally, we conduct a partial ritual twice every year and have done this religiously for over one thousand years. In that time, nothing has ever been recorded to indicate such a reversal. I believe the only way we will find out is to wait beyond the six months we usually have between celebrations.” The group started to get agitated; clearly they were having the same reaction that I had earlier. The lieutenant did not ease up and continued speaking.
“I….” she held up a hand to silence the crowd, “I know that sounds like a ridiculous amount of time to ask of you all, but there is simply no other way I can see. I can certainly understand your position, as I have been through this very process myself. Believe me when I say I know what you’re going through, the feelings, the emotions, the general peculiarity; I have been that route too. Yet, here I am. Living proof that you can survive- it is not the end of the world! Think of it as a chance to experience how the other half lives- a first hand learning experience. It isn’t so bad; actually it does have its advantages, trust me on that point. For instance, as I look around this room, I can honestly say that not one of you will ever buy another drink in any pub ever again- provided, of course, you learn how to dress properly. I suggest you all give yourselves the chance to accept your change. Make the best of this situation. Don’t dwell on the losses incurred today- that will only lead to deep depression and isolation. Learn and experience as much about the fairer sex as you can. If this is temporary, the knowledge you gather can be used to understand and pleasure a mate later on- thereby making you a formidable lover. Think about that when you feel you’re losing control. If you feel you need to talk or discuss concerns, do not hesitate to ask any of my sisters any time during this voyage. I will now answer any questions you have.”
“I got one for ya, Lieutenant. How in the hell do I stop these damn things from shakin’? They’re startin’ ta hurt!” Chief Samuels asked as she cupped her breasts in her hands- a very unlady-like pose, I thought. Everyone in attendance nodded her question.
“I believe the U.S. Navy has already provided the solution to your question young lady. The bags sent along by your Admiralty contain women’s textiles intended for us to use as disguise. There is plenty of everything to go around, skirts, blouses, shoes, as well as undergarments, makeup and toiletries. With the Captain’s permission those of us experienced in such matters can instruct you in their use and fit.” Lt. Smith looked for my approval. I looked around the room and saw a number of ‘no’ head shakes- one of which was my chief engineer. It was my decision; it seemed like an easy, but unpopular choice.
“The Lieutenant has a good idea. I understand some of you would rather be fired out a torpedo tube at crush depth rather than dress as women, but look around you. No one would ever believe we are guys or ever were, plus we’re still all the same sex- no one here has anything different from anyone else. Personally, and from a command standpoint, I don’t see a problem. Lieutenants’ Smith and Scott, you will see to it that new uniforms are issued. Are there any more questions?”
“Um… Ya, Skip, I got one. How do we…um…um…relieve ourselves- I hear tell of a procedure for that?”
“I think you should consult the Lieutenants privately on that topic…Um…What’s your name sailor?”
I made a mental note of this girl’s face. I was going to have to re-familiarize myself with the whole crew.
“Seaman Hilf has brought up an important point. I think we all need to know the basics, so I will have either Dr. Scott or Lt. Smith instruct each compartment on proper hygiene.”
“Cap, I have another question for Lt. Smith? Ma’am, for a couple hours now, I’ve been getting real bad cramps from right about here? Do you think this change of yours can hurt our insides in any way?”
I noticed Emily’s expression as Hilf asked her question. It was one of shocked surprise. Lt. Smith also looked surprised. “You say it hurts here?” she pointed to a place below her own ribs.
“Ya! Comes an’ goes!”
“Tell me, Ms. Hilf, do you feel swollen or bloated?”
“Do you feel like you swallowed a lot of seawater… like you have a lot of gas?”
“Uh, kind of. Why?”
Now I saw Emily blush. She still looked surprised, maybe even a little horrified. She interrupted Lt. Smith’s questioning.
“Um…Excuse me, Lieutenant. Captain, I think I need to talk to Seaman Hilf right now! In…my…quarters, sir?” Her eyes motioning to the forward compartment hatch as she turned toward me. Being the man of the world I was, I had absolutely no idea what those symptoms could indicate. An earlier conversation with Lt. Smith popped into my head. Oh, hell! Was it possible?
“Very well, Lieutenant. Hilf, go with the doctor. Do whatever she tells you and don’t argue- that’s an order!”
The crewman’s lovely face filled with deep concern as she got up and reluctantly followed Emily forward. “If anyone else has symptoms similar to Seaman Hilf please let Dr. Scott know immediately, that is also an order! Any more questions?” the room was quiet.
“This meeting is over. Everyone back to your posts. Jack, recall the lookouts, make revolutions for six knots, and take us down to six-zero feet. Carry on. Lt. Smith, would you follow me to Lt. Scott’s cabin please?”
“By all means, Captain. I am also curious about your crewman’s condition.”
As we both entered the Control room Seaman Hilf’s high voice could be heard echoing further forward. I was suddenly glad I had closed the compartment’s aft hatch.
“I’m starting my WHAT? Listen Doc you got this all wrong I can’t…” Hilf shrieked.
“Sailor, is there a problem here?” I asked as Lt. Smith and I positioned ourselves in the doorway to Emily’s quarters.
“No problem, Captain. I was just going to instruct Ms. Hilf here in the use of a belt and sanitary pads. It seems she is the first lucky recipient of her monthly.”
Hilf looked like she was going to faint. I thought about how I would react when it was my turn- a chill ran up my spine and I shivered.
“Hilf listen to her- Dr. Scott has a lot of experience in this area. You’re an American sailor, Jim- you can handle it!”
“But Captain.” She said weakly. I tried to suppress the utter revulsion from my face as Emily demonstrated the proper installation of the contraption. Talk about speeding headlong into uncharted waters! Still, I stayed and watched Hilf’s training, as I would need this equipment soon enough. Another chill transited my spine.
“Lt. Smith could I see you in my quarters please?” She nodded and we went the few feet back to my cabin. “Lieutenant, is this…uh…normal…I mean, not the…oh, hell…will we all start so soon?”
“It has been known to happen, Captain, but its occurrence is extremely rare; maybe one out of every one thousand people.” I started working the odds. I wondered how many days I had left. It seemed like marking the days till my execution! Lt. Smith noticed my concern. “You look troubled,” she paused as she scrutinized my face, “I sense another question, Captain?”
“No, I just hadn’t anticipated that part of…” But she was right. How did she know? There was one question that had been nagging me since I found Jack in his cabin earlier. I had tried to push it out of my mind, but it kept resurfacing as if demanding an answer. “Well, maybe…Your Highness, earlier today when I found Commander Cummins lying on the floor in his…” I rubbed my eyebrows realizing my error, “…in her quarters, she thought at first that I was Dr. Scott. Not only that, but previous to that I noticed Emily and I were about the same height. Now I find out that you had gone through this transformation too. You say you went to Oxford, you sound British, yet appear partially Polynesian in descent. I was just wondering if…”
“If the Mahanilui had anything to do with my physical features? You are very astute, Captain! Yes, the Mahanilui essentially searches the volunteer’s subconscious for a model, a pattern if you will, to make the change as familiar as possible. It is believed this is to aid in acceptance of the new form. Would it not be easier for you to look into a mirror and see someone familiar instead of a complete stranger?”
She did have a point and as I thought about it, I realized that I was taking to these changes faster than I believed possible.
“You see Captain, when I arrived on Kili Island I fell in love with its people, especially one older woman- the Queen- she later claimed me as her daughter. When I decided to stay, she gave me the option of the Mahanilui. Being the staunch anthropologist, I jumped at the chance; after all, an opportunity to experience life from the female perspective is a rare gift indeed- one I might add, not to be wasted. The magic found her image in my mind and used it as a guide. Tell me Capt. Steinert, how long have you known Dr. Scott? I sense you have feelings for her.”
I felt my face flush and I lowered my head. For some unknown reason, I felt compelled to tell this woman our tumultuous history.
“Emily…Lt. Scott and I met in Honolulu about a year ago. I had just hit port on a two-week leave after being on patrol in the Pacific for six months and I was feeling kind of home sick. I ran into a friend at the Officer’s Club and he suggested we drive into Honolulu to a saloon run by a guy from back home. I agreed. When we arrived, I saw that a group of Navy Nurses had also found the place and were seated in three of the booths. Emily was the first to notice us. I thought she was the cat’s meow- a real looker, ya know? Since the place was small, we ended up sitting at a table right across the aisle. I started to talk with her and we hit it off immediately. She was beautiful, but she was intelligent also, not like most women I had met. Emily could carry on an intellectual conversation and strengthen her argument by adding facts and figures to back up her opinion. I found her intriguing, interesting, and very desirable. I asked her out that very day. That one night developed into almost the full two weeks. We were practically inseparable. I had never felt so happy- so alive. It had become impossible for me to think of a day without her! Deep down, I knew it couldn’t last though. Regulations specifically state that Naval Officers cannot have intimate relationships with subordinates. We both knew that we were in violation of those rules, but I couldn’t give her up. I found that I loved her! Emily is the first woman I felt intimidated by…well, not really intimidated…I guess, but I was impressed by her positive attitude, her ambition- her spirit. I realized she was my equal on so many levels that it scared the hell out of me. I loved her more than any thing else in my life!” I felt tears forming in my eyes again. Would this ever stop?
“Oh Alex! That’s the most beautiful thing that anyone has ever said about me!” Emily had apparently stopped by my cabin and had heard the whole conversation. She pushed past Lt. Smith, who graciously yielded; sat down next to me on my bunk and preceded to hug me, she then kissed me.
Strangely, the last time we kissed like that I felt ecstatic, my excitement manifesting mostly south of my beltline. This time it was different. Don’t get me wrong, this kiss was just as good as any other and I did feel aroused, but it felt different somehow. I felt stirring down below, but nothing I could relate to. In all fairness, it was nice, but I felt like I had just kissed my mother. I think Emily noticed too as she pulled back an inch or two staring directly into my eyes. Her face had lost its excitement. Her look turned sad, as did mine. After staring into my eyes a while longer, she stood up.
“I’m sorry, Captain, that will never happen again! Please forgive me.” She looked toward our guest. “I’m sorry, Lieutenant, I was out of place. That was against regulations. If you’ll excuse me?” she tried to squeeze past Lt. Smith.
“One moment, if you please, Doctor. Just now…when you kissed our Captain. What did you feel? Please oblige me.”
“I…um…I…felt…I felt like I kissed my sister, ma’am. It never felt like that before.” She turned to me- a concerned, yet worried look on her beautiful face.
“I’ve always dreamed of kissing you again, Alex, but it,” she glanced down to the floor, “…it just didn’t feel the same somehow.”
“And you Captain, how did it feel to you? Be honest.”
“I’m sorry… I felt the same way, Emily- like I was kissing my sister or mother. I don’t understand it.” I turned my head away from them both. I felt ashamed, embarrassed.
“Captain. If you will both look at me for a moment, please.” Lt. Smith grasped my chin and gently moved my head side to side while glancing up at Emily. She fussed with my hair a bit as if trying different styles. “Yes, I believe you both are right, Captain. Please stand next to Dr. Scott.” She again compared us.
“Your Highness, what is it? Why are you looking at us like that,” I asked?
Lt. Smith sighed then repeated my observations and her associated response to Emily realizing she had missed the first part of our conversation. Again my face flushed. I felt so embarrassed. Emily just stared at me through the whole reiteration. When she realized her part in my transformation, she closed her eyes and dropped her head.
“There is nothing to be ashamed of, either of you!” Lt. Smith comforted, “You have been paid the highest honor, Dr. Scott! The Captain thought so much of you that she literally could not get you out of her mind! If that is not a sure sign of love…”
“But why me? If he hadn’t been thinking of me, maybe he…he would…”
“You misunderstand, Doctor! If the Mahanilui had not found your image then it would have kept searching his mind until it found another pattern. Regardless, he would still be transformed. Look at it this way- you two pass for sisters. You both are roughly the same height, same weight, have about the same facial features and, your eyes are the same shape and color. I would be willing to bet that you even share the same dress size. Dr. Scott, why don’t you get some of your clothes and have the Captain try them on. I reckon the crew would be more cooperative if they see their Commander conforming to her own orders. Don’t you, Captain Steinert?”
Her premise hit me as hard as a speeding Packard! Her logic, unfortunately, was sound. I slowly nodded my head as Emily got a devious smile on her face. I realized all too late that I had agreed to become her life-sized dressing doll.
“I will leave you two alone as I have other matters to attend to. With your permission, Captain?” Lt. Smith smiled at me.
“Ah…dismissed, Lieutenant,” I said with a small sigh. Emily turned for the passageway. “Emily, please, nothing too frilly? Go easy on me. Remember I’m still your Commanding Officer!”
Two minutes later she reappeared carrying a small pile of clothing and a few bottles. I saw a white strap dangling from the pile and immediately recognized it as something I would need to wear for the foreseeable future- I shuddered. The doctor pushed my door to and ordered me to strip while she lowered my sink and ran some water. Removing my clothes in her presence was easier than expected. I guess I subconsciously rationalized that we now had the same equipment, so there was no problem- or was it the Mahanilui? After doing a quick wash of my hair and ordering me to shave my armpits, she showed me how to wrap a towel around my head so my wet hair would stay confined while I finished dressing. Without hesitation, Emily handed me a pair of ladies briefs- panties, she called them; I had no trouble pulling them on and marveled at how well they fit- how soft they felt. Next came the device I had more experience taking off then putting on- the dreaded brassiere. It was odd feeling my new sensitive endowments cradled by such soft material. It felt tight and very confining at first, but after Emily adjusted the straps I felt more comfortable and definitely under better control.
Next came the shirt…she referred to it as a blouse, I had no trouble with this piece of clothing after I figured out that it buttoned up the wrong way. While I worked at the buttons, Emily reattached my rank. My pants went on as usual except for the gyrations needed to clear my newly expanded hips, once past that hurdle, I easily buttoned and zipped them then threaded and fastened the belt. She told me that with my figure I really didn’t require a belt- that my pants wouldn’t get past my hips. I didn’t know if that was a compliment or not. Shoes followed socks and I noted how small my feet were now. Before I had worn size eleven shoes. Now they comfortably slipped into women’s size eight. After tying the laces my new uniform was complete- or so I thought!
From her pocket, Emily produced two things: a pair of tweezers and a tube of lipstick. I knew what the lipstick was for and felt my face burn with rebellion; what the tweezers were for I had no clue, though I soon came to realize that tweezers were the work of the devil- heathenistic little torture devices created to produce pain and suffering all in the name of vanity! After what seemed like hours of non-Geneva-convention-like treatment, Emily declared victory against my eyebrows and set about instructing me in the ways of applying lipstick. That being completed she toweled my hair dry, brushed and pulled it back into a ponytail, and aimed me at my shaving mirror. What looked back so effectively stunned me, that I saw the reflection’s mouth drop wide open- was that my mouth? I looked beautiful! I could definitely see the resemblance now; I looked like Emily’s sister! A gasp escaped my lips and I felt my knees buckle.
“Alex! Honey, wake up! Come on sweetie, please wake up.” I heard as I came to. I felt a gentle tapping on my face.
“What…what happened? Emily? What happened?”
“Alex, it’s okay! You just passed out, that’s all. Here take some water!”
“WATER!” That brought me back! I scrambled for my mirror. Damn, she was still there! I had hoped above all else that I was still on Kili caught in some inebriated, twisted dream- a vivid nightmare induced by the Islander’s concoction. Well, in a way it had been brought on by the celebration, I thought as I reaffirmed my reflection by running my fingers over my face. In doing so I noticed that my fingernails were all neatly trimmed and filed smooth. I stared at them.
“I hope you don’t mind, but I trimmed your nails while you were out. They really needed it, Alex.” I just kept exchanging glances between the mirror and my fingers, then my chest; then back to the mirror.
Emily broke my concentration.
“Captain, I’m all done and I think you’re due in Con in five minutes. Do you need help standing, Sir?”
I looked at her for a minute then weakly waved her off. Slowly I stood up not wanting to faint again. I smoothed my shir…blouse in front and checked its tails in back.
“Thank you, Lieutenant, I appreciate your help and guidance. That will be all.” She smiled and disappeared into the passageway, I presumed to her quarters. I left my cabin and proceeded to the control room.
As I made my way through the hatch, I suddenly felt as if every spotlight on Alcatraz had converged on me at once. Scanning the compartment, I realized all eyes were on me. Severe shivers danced along my spine.
“I assume you all have duties to attend to?” Everyone- including Jack quickly turned their glances elsewhere- hopefully back to their stations. “Mr. Cummins, I would like you to escort this watch to quarters and present yourselves to Lt. Smith for uniform fitting and proper instruction.”
“Second Watch to the Con.” I said into the squawk. Seconds later my watch had arrived- still looking as disheveled as before, except now everyone had their shirts tied up like I had earlier. Some had substituted rope for belts in order to hold their trousers up. Again I felt the stares.
“Skipper. Permission to speak for the rest of the men, sir?”
“What is it Jack?”
“God, Skip, You look fantastic! I’d swear you and Lt. Scott were sisters. What’re the odds?”
“I’ll tell you at our next briefing, Jack. Thanks for the compliment. I can’t believe how I look either, but Commander, I think you should clean up really nice too!”
“Well I don’t think I’d…”
“That will be all Commander. Report to Lt. Smith immediately, if you please.”
“Aye. You heard the Captain! Let’s clear the compartment and head aft!”
Within seconds the Con was emptied of the previous watch.
“After this shift, you will all report directly to Lt. Scott in the crew quarters for uniform refit and some basic survival training. Let’s go to periscope depth and have a look around. Planes up two degrees; Maneuvering, slow to two knots. Let’s see what’s up there.”
0900 hours, 450 Nautical miles, Northeast of Baker Island, March 29th, 1944
Two days had passed since experiencing the Mahanilui and I was still surprised at just how comfortable I had become- in fact, almost everyone seemed to be adjusting well. Hygiene, surprisingly, seemed to be second nature now and my reflection didn’t startle me as much as it once had. As I prepared for my shift, I glanced into my mirror one last time. I had taken to doing that lately. It dawned on me that I had put lipstick on without thinking. That made my skin crawl! I never believed I could adjust so quickly! With one final look in the mirror, I exited my cabin and headed to the Con. I glanced at my wristwatch, to which I had added several new holes in the band to make it fit my smaller wrist- I was an hour late! Me, the Captain- late for my own shift! How would that look to the crew? I realized I wasn’t that overly concerned about it. Why? I tried to think of a reason. This was not the way to instill leadership, I thought, but I made a mental note to rise an hour earlier tomorrow. Jack glanced at the chronometer and gave me a curious look when I entered the control room. I had been right when I said she would clean up. Damn, was she a gem! In fact, Lt. Smith had been right all along- there wasn’t a homely face among us!
In the two days since our miraculous change most of the crew had surrendered to or accepted the situation. Sgt. Williams was still a staunch holdout, but I could see her resistance faltering. Chief Samuels reportedly learned the hard way about binding one’s bosom…I still wince when I think of her pinching one in an oil cover while doing routine maintenance on diesel number three. Her girls had a field day with that one! Sometimes, your fellow sailors can be so cruel!
“Captain to maneuvering!” the squawk blared. I could tell by the urgency in my Chief’s voice that something was wrong.
“What is it Chief?”
“Skipper, ya better get back here!”
“Be right back, Chief. You have the Con, Mr. Sheldon.”
I wondered just what the problem was as I made my way aft.
“Skip, I don’t know how long we can keep the port shaft turning. The inner bearing is wearing hot and fast. We’ve been slinging bilge at it for over an hour now. It could go any time and take the seal with it! We need to surface to replace it.”
“Can’t you replace it while we’re underway chief?”
“No can do, Skip. We have to pull that seal to replace the bearing. If we don’t it would burn from the heat of the newly poured bearing. If I pull that seal when we’re submerged the compartment would quickly flood- no, we have to do it topside or even better, dry dock, Skip!”
“How long will you need, Chief? We’re still in enemy waters! We’d be sitting ducks.”
“I figure one, maybe two hours to pull the old bearing and redress the shaft, another two to pour and cool the new one, but I need to have fresh air or we all die from the fumes!”
“Can your crew still do it in that time, Chief? I mean none of us are what we once were. I have no problem with running on one screw the remainder of our mission!”
“Skip, I definitely think I should replace it! All these bearings were poured at the same time, they all have the same amount of run time. What’s to say they won’t conk out tomorrow or the next day? We’ll have no choice if the seal goes though!”
I had a decision to make. Risk surfacing now and head off being dead in the water or gamble on the shaft seals failing. True, we hadn’t seen any sign of enemy ships in the last couple of days, but that could change quickly. One rouge sub, off course freighter, or reconnaissance aircraft was all it would take. Within hours our position could be compromised. This decision seemed so easy, yet I was having a hard time choosing which way to proceed. A thought came to me. “Chief, how about we run at periscope depth on one screw until you’re ready to install the new bearing- how much surface time would you require?” The lovely red head squinted one eye and unconsciously put her hand on her hip and leaned against the main control panel with her other arm while thinking it through. I wondered if she realized how feminine she was acting.
“Well, at periscope depth, if the weather’s good, AND, you stayed plumb, AND, the damn Japs stayed away… we could be underway within two hours tops!”
“Fantastic! When can you get started?”
“My guys can start as soon as you give the word, but I need you to keep her above thirty feet and slow us to a knot or two, Skip. I don’t want anyone getting caught in the starboard shaft and the port shaft will be less likely to freewheel. You’ll have to compensate for the pull to port. About three degrees of rudder should…”
“I’m well aware of how to steer this boat, Chief! I’m not stupid and I still retain all my experience! I just look different, as do you! Now get started and let me know when you’re ready to surface. Don’t be afraid to ask for extra help, either. That’s an order, Chief!”
I realized that my voice had risen in pitch. I found my chief mechanic’s patronage disconcerting. It angered me that she forgot who I was and automatically based her response purely on my appearance. It then struck me that I too had treated women, except Emily that is, like lesser beings- assuming them less intelligent. I also realized that men would assume the same of me now. I grew more cross thinking about it as I reached for the squawk.
“Sonar? Where’s the bottom,” I growled?
At least I could put us on the bottom in case we were discovered- but only if Samuels finished the job before we had to dive. It would be all over if the shaft seals failed.
It was now well into the afternoon- 1435 to be exact. We had been surfaced for well over two and a half hours. Chief Samuels and her crew were still working diligently on the portside shaft bearing. Apparently she had forgotten to factor in her reduced strength. Despite a strange, nagging feeling deep down that surfacing was not a good command decision, I had agreed to the repair.
Some of Lt. Smith’s group had requested sunbathing and swimming privileges. I denied the swimming but agreed to the sunbathing on the foredeck. I also placed the lookouts, radar, and radio monitoring on top priority- I wanted to know if anyone was getting close. I decided to head topside for a look.
Looking out from the bridge, I was surprised to find that Pvt. Two-Eagles had joined the sunbathers. What surprised me more was that everyone on the foredeck had removed their blouses and pulled their brassiere straps off their shoulders. Several had even removed their slacks or shorts and were gracing the mahogany decking with their silky britches. Several days ago the mere sight of fourteen young bathing beauties in various stages of undress would have resulted in several cold showers. Now I didn’t feel excited by the sight- in fact, had I not been on duty, I seriously considered joining them.
Somehow the hot afternoon sun felt wonderful against my skin, invigorating even. I leaned with both elbows against the bridge plating, face to the heavens, ponytail blowing slightly in the wind. I tried to relax- tried to get that strange uneasiness to disappear, or at least subside. After several minutes had passed my uneasiness seemed to increase. Several more minutes crept by and the feeling got even worse.
“Cap, bearing two-zero-two degrees.” Sparks’ voice echoed from the speaker. Not a second later one of the lookouts confirmed it.
“How far?” I asked as I picked up the binoculars.
“Eighteen miles, maybe seventeen, just coming over the horizon!”
I looked to the southwest. I could barely make out the plume of smoke. Whatever it was, it had most probably already seen us. Within minutes we identified it as a Japanese light cruiser.
I stood up and looked to the stern just in time to see the aft torpedo loading hatch swing open, thereby releasing a thick plume of gray colored smoke. Through the smoke immerged Chief Samuels and her repair crew. They were coughing and rubbing their eyes. I hurried to the stern cigarette deck rail. “Chief! Report!”
“Skip, we had a little mishap. We were having trouble with the form and I let the babbitt get too hot- it started to smolder real good. We didn’t notice the smoke until it filled most of the compartment. We just need a few minutes for ventilation to clear it. Everyone’s ok though.”
“Get it cleared fast, Chief. I have a feeling we’re going to have company!” I then pointed to the southwest. “Light cruiser being two-zero-two.”
“Aw hell! Aye, Skip. We’ll make it fast!” Her crew started climbing back down the hatch.
“Stay on it, Chief!” With that I went back to my previous position. A few minutes passed and I noted the ship closing on our position. Apparently they saw our inadvertent smoke signal. “Maneuvering, bridge! Chief, we’re out of time! Tell me some good news!”
“Just poured the bearing, Skip, she has to cool. I need another fifteen before I replace the seal!”
“Blow on it hard, Chief!”
“You know it has’ta cool naturally, Skip! If not, it’ll spin for sure! I need fifteen more minutes.”
I took another look through my binoculars. The enemy ship was closing fast. I had to do something and fast! A crazy scheme suddenly popped into my head as I was about to recall everyone from the deck. I ran the scenario through as many derivations as I thought I had time for. It was wild, but I felt it just might work!
“Forward torpedo room, bridge.”
“Reynolds here, Skip.”
“Tubes one through six loaded and ready, sir”
“Good, flood tubes five and six only; open their outer doors and stand by. Aft torpedo room. Status.”
“Hilf here, skipper. Tubes seven through ten loaded and ready!”
“Flood tubes nine and ten only; open their outer doors and stand by! Con, bridge! Carroll give me half a knot and full starboard rudder and I need something up here to lash this mic button so it stays on! Maneuvering, bridge! Chief, I want all but diesel number two shut down and readied for dive.” I looked forward. “Two-Eagles, get below on the double!” I shouted. The startled Navajo sprang from the deck so quickly that she forgot to refasten her top. It beat her to the forward hatch! The sight would have made my eyes pop out days earlier! That gave me another great idea. “The rest of you! I need you to act LIKE women when the Japs arrive! Remember, we’re all just nurses on a quarantined boat. We need to act like we are just that- got it?” Everyone nodded. Emily appeared in the hatch below me.
“What’s the plan Alex?”
“One minute, Emily.”
“I want you all to stay as you are- better yet remove your tops and go back to your sunbathing. When the enemy sends one over our bow, I want you to scream, pick up your clothes, cover your chests and make for the nearest hatch. I want to hear loud shrieks and screams just like in the horror movies!” I yelled forward.
“Alex, what are you doing? They’ll sink us on the spot!”
“If I’m right, my dear doctor, they will take pity on the ‘dumb American women’ and send over a few men to ‘help’ us back to their base. I want you to issue sidearms to everyone below and wait for my signal. You’ll know it when you hear it and keep everyone clear of the hatches. In the meantime, here take my clusters- even the Japanese know that there are few Commanders in the Nurses Corp.! Tell Carroll to prepare to fire tubes five and six on my first mark- nine and ten on my second. I want all hatches locked after the crew is below. Be ready to dive on my command.”
“Aye, aye Captain!”
Within minutes, the cruiser came into range and fired a warning shot over the bow. That was everyone’s cue to start our display. Everybody on the foredeck jumped up and ran screaming to the nearest open hatch. I expected that to raise a few…um… eyebrows. I also expected the Japanese not to honor the quarantine ensign on our mast. To my amazement, the cruiser closed to within three hundred yards and held her distance with guns trained on us- or were they? No, from my perspective the angle didn’t look low enough. That was it! Their guns were made for overhead and distance not close quarter fighting. Unfortunately, her Captain realized the problem and dispatched rifled sailors to the rails. The Sand Dollar continued turning smartly to starboard.
“Stop boat, so-ren-der!”
This was my cue to go for an Oscar. “What?” I yelled putting a hand to my ear.
“Stop! Boat! You So-ren-der!”
“We! Don’t! Know! How!” I yelled at the top of my lungs.
“HOW?” I raised my arms, like I hadn’t a clue. A rifle fired and a round glanced off the conning tower several feet from me. I jumped aside and let out a blood curdling scream-mercy, did that come out of me? Here we go! “Wait!” I screamed, “I’ll call my Lieutenant!” I began to look around the bridge. “This must be it! One minute, I’ll get her.” I hit the collision alarm. Noise sprang from the loudspeakers. I screamed again and ducked down. Another shot ricocheted off the conning tower armor. I continued to scream. In between screams, I called Lt. Smith to the bridge with a bullhorn. When I saw her enter the hatchway, I instructed her to tell our unwanted guests our cover story and that every last man onboard was incapacitated or dying. I kept up my screaming act.
“Please hold your fire!” She stood, held her free arm up and yelled. “We will comply, but we don’t know how to control this ship! We are trying to save lives here. Our crew has taken ill and none are well enough to help!” Lt. Smith said in fair Japanese as she stood waving her arm above her head. She reached past me pretending to turn off the alarm, which I covertly did. She reached down, pulled me to my feet then embraced me pretending to comfort me.
I played along by burying my face into her shoulder while curtailing myself to sobbing. Helpless, naive blonde scene- cut and print! Proceed to act two. Definite Oscar material, I thought. Bette Davis, eat your heart out!
Even over the distance, laughing could be heard plainly from the enemy ship. My ‘dumb girl’ act apparently amused some of her crew.
“Stop the boat and surrender!” Came the reply from the cruiser.
“Look! If any of my girls knew how to run this bloody thing, do you think you would have found us? Why don’t you come over here and stop it yourselves! Or are you afraid of a few nurses?”
“I want to talk to your Captain!”
“You can’t do that! He’s not himself!” Boy, she had that one right. “He’s delirious with fever! I’m Lt. Philamina Smith, USN. I’m in charge.”
“I need to get close to the microphone.” I whispered to her.
“Alexandra, go below. I’ll handle this!” she said as she set me loose from her embrace.
“It’s okay, Ma’am. I’m okay now, I want to stay with you.”
“Right then. Stay close and no sudden moves Love, and for God’s sake don’t touch anything, young lady!”
“Sorry, Lieutenant.” I turned my back to the cruiser and whispered. “Any idea where the magazines are, Lieutenant?” She answered back by quietly tapping her long fingernail on the plating. I recognized the code immediately.
“I am sending a boarding party to take control and to assess your situation. You will not interfere!”
“Who are we to argue with the Japanese Navy?”
Again I turned away from the ship.
“Start dive preparations. Tell Chief Samuels I need that port screw now. Torpedoes ready on my signal.” I said loud enough to be heard by the microphone. I had hoped they wouldn’t be boarding us. Not a problem though, as Jack could handle it. I still had to figure a way of ordering which tubes to fire. Figuring that the Japanese would not fire on their own boarding party, I had a few minutes to devise a way of requesting ordinance.
Within five minutes, our guests were on their way. Chief Samuels appeared at the hatch ladder and gave me thumbs up. After another five minutes, one officer and three armed sailors prepared to make a landing near the aft loading hatch. They gingerly made their way up to the deck of the Sand Dollar after securing their skiff. They seemed in no hurry and took their time; after all we were just women. Our tight circle afforded by full rudder had made their landing very difficult and time consuming. The cruiser was again coming across our bow. I quickly calculated the necessary lead and began my spoof.
“Lt. Smith?” I said loud enough for everyone to hear, “I don’t think I like those men on the back of the sub. They look like they might hurt us- especially Carroll and Emily! Why couldn’t they send over those two men right there ahead of us? They’re much cuter!” “Go with it.” I whispered. Lt. Smith winked at me. She understood. I just hoped my officers got it.
“Which ones would they be, Alexandra?”
“Why those two sweeties right there!” I said in a sugar-sweet voice as I pointed at the ship. “Fifth and sixth from the right in the front row. They’re in front of us… right… now!” I smiled and waved. Several sailors began to wave back, but were immediately reprimanded by their superior. I felt two familiar shudders that confirmed my instructions had been understood. Unfortunately the telltale bubbles from the bow announced our forthcoming attack. The ship’s railing became alive with shouts, pointing, and downward gunfire as the frothing exhaust from the two torpedoes closed on the cruiser’s side.
Less than a minute later, the Sand Dollar had scored her first two hits of the war on an enemy vessel! The resulting explosion they caused sent out a shock wave that knocked the two of us over. I hoped that it had done the same for the enemy boarding party. It also told me that we had hit the ship’s sweet spot- her munitions magazine. I grabbed Lt. Smith’s hand and pulled her back to a crouched position behind the armor plating of the bridge as more gunfire erupted from the railings of the enemy ship. “It’s time to leave, Lieutenant! Con! Set the deck awash- no alarm! Now, Mr. Cummins!” I had no idea where the Jap boarding party was, but I was determined they weren’t going to stay! I took one last, quick, glance over the bridge wall. Japanese sailors filled the water. “Fire nine and ten…now!”
Again I felt the welcome pair of shudders.
Once Lt. Smith was safely inside the Conning tower, I made for the hatch amid a rain of ricocheting bullets only to feel a very strong hand grab my hair; another grabbed my arm as I reached to free my hair. Wheeling around, I instinctively struck out at my attacker with a right hook. It had little affect and I found myself lifted onto the lookout deck, but I gained the release of my hair. I jabbed again with another right, then a left. The Japanese officer was stronger than I expected. I let him have it with everything I had and succeeded in knocking him away, only to feel him grab my legs as I turned to head back to the bridge. I was pulled off my feet as he started dragging me along the lookout deck. Struggling with everything I could muster I managed to grab a railing and freed one leg by kicking furiously. All I could hear was the compressed air blasting from the ballast tanks and enemy bullets whizzing. I needed to get this guy off of me and quickly. Suddenly, I sensed a quick, sharp, searing pain from somewhere on my body. I knew I had to get through that hatch- the thought of drowning or worse yet, being taken prisoner sent me into panic.
My attacker screamed- was it in pain? I didn’t know or cared. He had succeeded in pulling me to the edge of the lookout before I had caught myself- my lower half being held suspended over the aft machine gun deck by him. The main deck was now fully submerged. Time was running out quickly! I continued kicking my attacker in the face with my only free heel. As I looked back at him, I noted that I had bloodied his face quite well. Bullets continued to whiz past us as I placed two more hard kicks to his nose, the resulting snap was barely audible over the gunfire and exhausting compressed air. He reeled back against the fifty-caliber mount screaming, blood pouring from his face- I was free! The water was reaching the gun deck.
Not stopping to look back a second time, I scrambled for the bridge hatch, scampered down the ladder with practiced ease, grabbing the hatch wheel as I did so. Once closed, I gave it a quick spin to lock it. From the other side I heard pounding, yelling emanating from the jammed loudspeaker. Holding tight so as to lock the mechanism I screamed “Dive! Three-zero-zero feet! Full down on the planes! Five degrees port rudder! Revolutions for ten knots.” I hadn’t heard or felt the two simultaneous explosions that I hoped would seal the Cruiser’s fate, nor did I hear the multiple explosions thereafter. The loud pumping of blood in my head overrode all sound and thought!
My lungs were chugging faster than a late DC to Philly passenger train. I felt time slow. Seconds seemed like hours. I could now feel myself shaking terribly- my whole body seemed to be one large tremor. I hoped that I could find the strength to hold onto the hatch wheel for another minute- just another minute- that’s all! I realized that tears had been streaming down my face, but I failed to notice that the pounding on the hatch had stopped. After what seemed like a day, Jack broke my concentration.
“Captain, we’re passing forty feet. You can let go now!”
Emily came up the ladder and helped to pry my fingers off the hatch wheel and helped me climb down into the control room. I was still shaking violently and felt cold. My body was still pretty numb. Jack gave the order to continue the dive then moved in behind me and rechecked the hatch.
“Passing four-five feet, Cap. Orders?”
I could hardly talk- my breathing still too fast and erratic. “Ship?” I managed to gasp.
“Sounded like four good hits and a lot of smaller explosions. I think we got her, Cap!”
“I… I want some…put distance… between us! Angle us… off at…thirty degrees. I need time to… to catch my breath. Let me know if…if she follows us. I’ll be…in…quarters.”
My bunk never felt so inviting. I was just about to curl up on it when Emily sat down beside me.
“Alex, you’re as white as a sheet! What happened up there?”
As I told her, I noticed that she was looking intently at my right leg. I hadn’t realized she was holding a cloth of some kind to the back of my thigh. I paid no attention though as I continued on. She continued listening to me and talked back in a calm, pleasant tone that helped slow my racing heart beat- did I detect concern there also.
“How did you manage to stay focused? I don’t think I could’ve done it. You stay right here and hold this gauze. I’ll be back with some coffee. It will help settle your nerves while I get my bag.”
“I could use a cigarette and some bourbon instead!”
“I’ll get some coffee. Lie still until I get back. Hold this.” She placed my hand on the cloth and left the room.
Paying no attention to my leg, I instead reached under my pillow and retrieved the pack I kept there. Now, I’m not a big smoker and had a rule about smoking onboard, but I needed this! I placed a cigarette in my mouth and lit it, then proceeded to take a good hard tug. It tasted awful! I broke into a coughing fit, leaned over to my sink and crushed the foul tasting stick out. I felt that strange, searing pain again, but could not trace it. What happened? Why was I hacking like a rookie?
Those answers could wait until later, right now my boat and crew was still in danger. I got up from my bunk and made for the control room. I felt that pain immediately and also started to feel nauseous. Nerves, I thought. I continued into the compartment.
“Carroll, how’s it look?”
“Hydrophone says its quiet, Skip. No depth charges and we’re coming up on two-five-zero feet. Shall I continue the dive?”
“No level us off, all stop and go silent. See if they’re still up there.”
“Aye, Skip.” Lt. Sheldon finally glanced around at me and I saw her face drain of all color. “Holy shit, Alex, you’re bleeding!”
The searing pain came back in spades. This time I was able to determine where it was coming from- my right thigh! I looked down and remembered the cloth Emily had told me to hold. It was nowhere to be seen. What I did see was a deep cut about two inches long and a stream of blood running down my leg. My right shoe was stained red.
“Dr. Scott to the Con,” Sheldon shrieked into the mic!
“I already know, Lieutenant. Captain, please come with me.” There was that pleasant, calming voice again as she took my hand. “I thought I told you to stay put, Alex. You’re just going to make it worse.”
In no time at all, Emily had my wound cleaned, stitched, and bandaged. “Now take care of this, let it heal and you won’t have to use make-up to hide the scar. How are you feeling?”
I pulled myself to a sitting position on her bunk. The morphine had numbed the pain and allowed me to calm down. I reached for the coffee that had arrived sometime during my repair. The warmth of the liquid running down my throat felt good. “Emily, I was scared! Truly scared! I forgot all of my combat training and resorted to kicking like a girl- and the feeling of weakness! Mercy, I felt… helpless; I couldn’t get control! I couldn’t break free. Losing control- I think that scared me the most.” I took another swig of coffee. “What’s wrong with me, Emily? Am I going crazy? Am I losing my edge?” I felt I was about to break down and cry.
“Nothing is wrong with you, Hon!” She said while teasing my hair.
“But, something has to be wrong! I’ve never felt this way before!”
“You’ve never been a girl before, Alex. That’s the only thing I can see that’s any different about you. As for feeling weak and unable to get control… well, welcome to the club! I wish I had a nickel for every time I felt that way! I’d be living the good life by now. It’s something you’ll just have to get use to, sweetie. All us girls feel powerless at times-especially where men are concerned!”
I just stayed still and looked into her eyes. I felt secure with her so near. It dawned on me that she had referred to me as ‘Hon’ and ‘Sweetie’ lately in our conversations. One does not speak to her captain in that manner although, that wasn’t as disturbing to me as I would have thought. Instead their use had served to calm me- soothe me. I decided to forego any reprimand and remained quiet allowing Emily to console a while longer as it felt good.
“Oh, excuse me. Um, Cap, Doctor, sorry to interrupt you, but it’s been over two hours since we hit our depth. We haven’t heard a peep and we’re still stationary at two-five-zero. How much longer do you want to stay?”
Had it been that long? I looked at my wristwatch- the large face still looked out of place on this new, thinner wrist of mine, even though I had put several more holes in the band and cut nearly half of the leather strap off. Jack was right! Were had the time gone? “Plot a course back to the cruiser’s last position and stand by, I’ll be there shortly. I want to confirm the kill.”
“Aye, Cap! By the way how’s he doin’ Doc? You had us all concerned back there, Alex!” There was real concern showing on my ex-O’s lovely face. It only made her look prettier.
“The Captain lost some blood Commander, but she should recover fully. I recommend taking it easy for a few days and try to refrain from wearing high heels for at least two weeks until those stitches heal thoroughly.” Emily had a mischievous grin on her face. I fired back with an angry glare of my own.
“Glad to hear it, Doc. I’ll tell the crew. You know you scared the shit out of Carroll, Alex! Pardon the cussing, ma’am… um, ladies… oh hell, I’ll be in the Con, sir.”
Jack turned around and moved down the passageway looking a bit confused. Obviously, his manners hadn’t caught up with her body yet. I too kept forgetting the change that had befallen us, but for another reason- it just felt so normal now. In just this short period of time, this new body felt like… well, like me! Except for my experience topside that is. I despised my behavior up there, hated myself for panicking, for being so weak, for forgetting all my training, for acting like a damn girl! I would not accept this part of my new persona- I must not accept it! Doing so would be like losing an important part of who I am… I felt my eyes start to tear up and made an effort to calm down and rationalize what I had been thinking. ‘Doing so would be like losing an important part of who I am… or was, I told myself! I was no longer the same person that started this mission. I had changed-quite literally and physically. The realization sunk in that I couldn’t keep chastising myself for not doing things the way the old Alex Steinert did. I needed to develop the new Alex Steinert using the old as a base reference, while adapting, modifying it to my new limits. Limits; were they really limits or mere obstacles I had to over come to adapt. That had to be figured out. I had to find the limits of this being. My crew- my boat demanded that I know my limits and fast. I could not afford to play anything by ear like I had been these last few days. A captain knows exactly what he can and can’t do, but there was the paradox- he? She? How could I adapt this female Alex Steinert or more precisely, how could I modify the training and experience of the male Captain Steinert to work for the female Captain Steinert?
“Alex. Alex? Penny for your thoughts, honey?”
“Sweetie, you looked lost in thought- a million miles away. Care to share them with me?”
“I was just waging my own personal war, Emily.”
“Care to share the outcome Napoleon, or are you just going to keep it to yourself- like you always do?”
“Since you asked in such an eloquent way; the outcome was a truce- a conditional cease fire of sorts where no one wins or loses, but both come out gaining respect for each other and learning from each other.”
I could see her confusion.
“On one hand Emily, I was angry that I didn’t handle myself with the character and control of my commission, experience and training. On the other hand…”
“You’re mad that you can’t do the things that that experience and training dictate- that being a woman has somehow downgraded your effectiveness.”
“Well Alex, I can’t help you there. I don’t have any experience in that area- few people would. I’m afraid you and the rest of the crew are lone explorers on those shores. I think maybe you should have a chat with Mina.
Now it was my turn to look confused.
“Oh come on Alex! You mean you never asked Lt. Smith her first name? Really, Alex!” she shook her head, “Lt. Smith’s first name was Philip before her change. She told me that she adopted Philamina afterward. She only uses it when she talks to Westerners. We women take pride in proper introductions. Honestly, Alex, you can be such a man sometimes!”
She actually started giggling at me! I didn’t know how to take that. For some reason I started to cry.
“Oh, Alex, I’m sorry! I keep forgetting, honey! Forgive me?” She leaned over and hugged me again. ‘Women really hug a lot’ I thought to myself, but I couldn’t deny it felt good. I figured I would ask the question.
“Emily, I’ve noticed that you’ve been hugging me a lot lately. Do women always comfort each other like this?”
“Well… I never really thought about it. It’s just something that we do naturally, I guess. Why? I’ll stop if you feel uncomfortable about it.”
“No, that’s ok. I… I mean, it has a calming effect and… well, I guess it does feel… um, good. I guess I still have a lot to learn. I better get back to the Con. Thanks, Emily.” I got up and started to leave her quarters. I paused in the doorway and turned back to her.
“One thing is bothering me, Lieutenant. I must ask you to refrain from your cute little references toward me of ‘Sweetie’ and ‘Honey’ or ‘Hon’. I’m still your Captain and your superior even if we are sisters. You need to be careful. The men must know exactly who’s in charge or the command structure will fall apart and seriously reduce the effectiveness of this vessel.
I stared at her a moment before I headed for the Con. In the back of my mind I could not figure out why she had that silly grin on her face. Had I said something funny? I had no idea what it was if I did.
“Mr. Cummins, has anyone shown an interest in our actions yet?”
“No, Skip. Hydrophone has been quiet since she sunk. Randy said they got off a few messages prior though.”
“Ok, so they know we’re here. Let’s see if we can get a quick confirmation on our kill. Make your course with revolutions for five knots back to the spot then all stop and take us to periscope depth. Let me know the second you hear screws.”
When we were stopped, I raised the scope slowly and peered into the eyepiece. What met my view confirmed that we had indeed scored a kill. As I looked over the myriad of floating corpses and burning debris, part of me felt terrible for the carnage and destruction we had wrought. What a waste! Though, I reminded myself that militarily it must be done. We were, after all, at war. A shudder went through me as I imagined what would have been our fate had I just surrendered. That rationalized, the action was necessary.
As I started the last quarter of my surface scan something caught my attention- an overturned lifeboat not one hundred yards from our location. There were fingers grasping at its keel. As I lingered for a moment, I saw the appendage twitch as if trying to reset it’s grip- a survivor. Deep within I felt a surge of relief. Carefully, I finished my sweep and then searched the sky for aircraft. I doubted any would be close by since the sun was starting to set. It would be dark soon and any rescue would have to wait till first light. Part of me wanted to rescue this poor sailor. Another part insisted ‘Let the sharks get him- after all he is the enemy. He killed your brother!’ And so the two sides of my internal peace council began the debate.
‘That’s not the way to be- he didn’t kill Brian’, stated one side.
‘He won’t last very long if he’s hurt and bleeding.’
‘What’s wrong with you!’ The other side argued. ‘If you bring him aboard he could get loose and kill everyone- or worse have his way with the women.’
‘We’re all women, remember?’
‘So! We’re all trained sailors to, so what! Leave him there and you won’t be taking the risk!’
‘But if you leave him to the sea he would die thinking that we are no better than the barbarians they think we are.’
‘Barbarians! Who are you kidding? We don’t use suicide planes! We don’t slaughter whole towns or villages!’
‘He might have a wife and family waiting for him. Would it be right to deny him that? Surface and help the poor soul. Show some mercy, girl.’
‘Bullshit! Let him rot just like he did to Brian!’
“No!” I yelled. I had everyone’s attention.
I decided I had to find a better way of moderating my internal debates! If not, I was going to get myself locked away. I made my decision. I felt one side of my personality grow stronger, growing slightly louder- the other side screamed foul, but at a lower volume.
“I have a survivor bearing three-five-five degrees. It’ll be dark in another fifteen minutes. We’ll surface and bring him aboard if he’s still alive, Commander. This will be a quick one though- I don’t want to take any chances.”
“Are you sure you want to do that, Cap? We’re not obligated to pick up enemy survivors!”
“I just got done debating that issue, Mr. Cummins!” My Ex-O looked confused.
“The order stands! Prepare a rescue party. We surface in fourteen minutes!” After I took another look around in the scope, I left the Con and headed forward. I found Emily in her quarters rechecking her supplies. “Lieutenant, we found a survivor and will be attempting rescue in another ten minutes. I’d like you to prepare.”
She looked at me with a little concern. “Alex, is that wise? I mean… considering… um…” she stopped to search for the right wording, “I mean since… since the… um… change?”
“I know it’s not the smartest thing to do, but I feel we should at least try. Part of me thinks it’s a good idea- call it a feeling, I guess.”
“A feeling, Alex?” She had a slight gleam in her eyes and a slight grin. “Or maybe intuition? Maybe ‘women’s intuition, Alex?”
“Don’t push it Lieutenant! Just get ready.”
Before I gave the order to surface, I had one last look around- all clear. The recovery went without incident and we were underway within twenty minutes. I wanted to get as far away as possible before sunrise, especially after Chief Van Pelt monitored Tokyo Rose’s broadcast. Normally we didn’t listen to the propaganda and Empire-swayed stories she voiced, but tonight I wanted to hear if our exploits warranted her attention. We had been mentioned and she had twisted it slightly, but how much more could you mangle a story like ours!
Emily reported on our new guest’s condition. He was bad- several broken ribs, a broken leg, concussion, and slightly dehydrated, but he would survive. To be on the safe side, I ordered him restrained and posted a guard. He had regained consciousness long enough to take some water before passing out again. I asked Lt. Smith to be present to interpret and while there he did slur something before blacking out. I asked the lieutenant what he said. Roughly translated she said it was ‘Beautiful angels! I’m in Heaven!”
0700 hours, Pearl Harbor Naval Base, March 30th, 1944
“Good morning, sir. Lt. Forbes from Communications is waiting in your office, sir. He says he has something he’d like you to hear.”
“Well what is it, Ensign?”
“I don’t know sir. He insists its ‘Top Secret’, sir.”
“Wonderful! As if I don’t have enough of that around here already! Thanks, Jason.”
“Lieutenant, this had better be worth my time,” Admiral Demmit growled as he entered his office!
“Um… Yes, sir. Last night my department recorded a portion of Rosie’s broadcast. I think you’ll be interested in what she said, sir.”
“Since when did I ever give a damn about what that traitorous bitch has to say, Lieutenant?”
“It concerns SS353, sir.”
“The Sand Dollar? By all means, Lieutenant, play it!”
“…So give up while you still can- you allied soldiers fighting a losing battle at Oiwa Jima! Your American sailors are already giving up! Our Imperial Navy representative has informed me, that your Navy has fallen to enlisting women to do your dirty work! This afternoon we received reports that an American submarine, 353, run by women, mercilessly attacked and sunk an unarmed merchant ship. Shame on you America, for sending women to do your cowardly acts…”
“Turn it off Forbes- I’ve heard enough.”
“Then you don’t think it means anything, sir?”
“It tells me that 353 has her first kill, Lieutenant.”
“But women, sir?”
“Forbes, 353’s mission is highly classified! I am not at liberty to reveal any facets- and neither will you or your department- is that clear, Lieutenant? Tell no one and destroy that recording!”
“Forbes, keep me advised of any further references toward 353, understood?”
“Close the door on your way out. Dismissed.”
“Just what in hell are you doing out there, Alex?”
0530 hours, 540 nautical miles Northeast of Baker Island, March 30th, 1944
“Captain? Sir, I’m sorry to wake you, but the prisoner is awake. I thought you would want to know.”
The light knocking at my door had just rescued me from a very strange dream. I had been on a beach somewhere sunbathing. I was lying on my back, an umbrella blocking the sun from my face. I turned my head to the side and came face to face with some guy I vaguely recognized; strangely though, I didn’t feel alarmed as I realized he was my husband. I felt comfortable, safe. It was very disconcerting. Now that I was awake, I considered it a nightmare- I mean me, married to a man- ya, and a man will walk on the moon too! I turned on my light and shuddered as I looked into my lavatory mirror.
“Damn, could be possible now”, I whispered.
I inwardly cursed.
“Captain. Are you awake? Our Japanese guest has regained consciousness, sir. I thought you…”
“Yes! Yes, I’m up doctor. Thank you, I’ll be there shortly! Let me get myself together. Please ask Lt. Smith to join us.” I said through my quarters’ door. I hurried to make myself presentable. As I finished my cleanup, I glanced at my wristwatch; fifteen minutes had gone by! I had to admit to myself that I had been taking more time lately to get ‘seaworthy’, but I was becoming more comfortable with my new face. ‘I do look pretty good,’ I thought to myself. I left my quarters and headed the five odd feet to Emily’s quarters. I was the last to arrive.
“Did you get anything out of him yet, doctor?”
“No, Captain. Lt. Smith and I were waiting for you. He’s still a little out of it, so go easy on him, sir.”
“Has he had anything to eat or drink since we rescued him?”
“Just some water late last night, nothing this morning yet.”
“Lt. Smith, please introduce me and ask for his name.” Just as with the previous day, I could not understand the dialect of our enemy. I did pick up on the fact that he was extremely angry though. His answer was short and heated.
“He will not tell ‘mere’ women anything, Captain! He says he would rather die!”
“Tell him that if he doesn’t show a little more respect to the Commanding officer of this vessel that I can and will honor his last wish! I will also make it a point to note in my report that he has dishonored the very people that showed him mercy- the very women that saved his lowly carcass- is that clear! Exact translation, Lieutenant!” I had some knowledge of Japanese manners and I was not going to take his deliberate insult. It took a minute to translate my rather lengthy statement. Our guest’s reply was longer than before and his tone was softer.
“He says that he is indeed thankful for his rescue, but he says you cannot possibly be the Captain, as women are forbidden to command naval vessels on both sides.”
“Explain to him that this was not our choice- that we were once… oh hell! Tell him it is a test by our military to show that even American women can beat the Imperial Navy. See how he reacts to that.”
Both officers gave me a questioning glance and Mina, Lt. Smith, translated the message. I agreed it was a lie, but why would this enemy sailor even half believe the real story when I still couldn’t believe it!
My statement had the desired result. He became infuriated- so much so that spit flew from his mouth as he made his next statement. This time I recognized some of the words having had a few Japanese-American classmates in high school- very derogatory, very filthy! The context of which confirmed by the very prominent blush of Lt. Smith’s face. There was only one option available to show this…to show him some manners and that I was in charge! I quickly turned, grabbed the guard’s pistol, roughly pulled back its action and just as swiftly grabbed our rude guest’s shirt collar putting the muzzle to his temple.
“Listen you arrogant, Jap asshole! If I say I’m the Captain of this boat you damn well better believe me or I’ll blow that offensive foul mouth off of your arrogant, slant-eyed face. No one talks to me or my officers like that! No one! Now, are you going to talk or do you take a trip out a torpedo tube!” I pressed the muzzle a little harder and twisted it a little for effect.
I now had everyone’s attention: My officers; the surprised guard stationed at the door; however many crewmen that heard me in the Con, but most importantly, I had our guest’s undivided attention! I knew this because his eyes were almost popping from his sweat-covered head and he was swallowing hard. Apparently, he now realized I was a women to be reckoned with. I was in command!
“Well, well, you do understand some English! Look ladies he speaks Colt! Now, Lt. Smith, if you’ll please introduce us again? Inform him I know many of the ‘more colorful’ facets of his language.” He was much more cooperative this time around.
“He says his name is Takashi Moritsu, Ship’s Cook and he is sorry for offending us with his dishonorable language. He was not aware that Americans- especially American women knew such crude phrases! He will not dishonor us in the future.”
I released our guest’s collar, removed the Colt 1911 from his forehead and handed it back to its owner only after resetting the safety. I then stood and bowed slightly towards him, “Dommo.” I stated. I wanted to show that I accepted his apology. “Lt. Smith, would he like some food and does he have any additional medical requirements?”
After some back and forth conversation, Lt. Smith replied. “He says he is hungry, but is reluctant because of what he has been told about the American’s treatment of prisoners. I have reassured him that those reports are erroneous and unfounded. He agreed to eat only after you assure its safety.”
“Tell him I like our cook, but I can’t vouch for anyone’s safety after eating it- not even my own!” I laughed. Mr. Moritsu looked slightly insulted then laughed and said something else while shaking his head.
“He says you officers are all alike! You all expect exquisite meals from pig slop! Captain, I quite like the chief’s culinary skill. I am particularly found of his apple pie!”
“Ap-prel pry? Ah… BraseBrawl! Brabe Root! Ahhg.” The man spouted. He also winced with pain from his ribs.
I guess everybody knows about American culture. I couldn’t help but laugh.
“Tell him I think we’re out of pie, but I’ll try to find something edible in the galley.” I was about to leave when Moritsu’s eyes went wide. I turned to see Two-Eagles in the doorway. She gave our guest a gentle smile then turned her attention back to me.
Moritsu started jabbering away to Lt. Smith.
“Private, I’ll meet you in the Wardroom. Lieutenant, I would like to be briefed on this later.” I gestured to our talkative guest. “Emily, if you think our guest is ready, I want him put in the brig. I don’t want any chance of him taking advantage of us.”
“Aye, Skipper, if you think its necessary.”
“I just don’t trust him- he is a Prisoner of War. Private…the Wardroom.” I pointed.
My lovely Navajo Windtalker reminded me that we had a scheduled radio communication tonight and asked if I wanted her to inform headquarters of our ‘situation’. She had concerns that HQ would not respond because of her new voice- maybe even dispatch a task force to sink us. I told her I had the same concerns, but we had to chance it anyway. Lt. Smith knocked on the doorway.
“Lieutenant?” Two-Eagles started to get up to leave as I offered her a seat.
“Ms. Two-Eagles, please stay, this involves you. Apparently, Mr. Moritsu is a bit taken by you! You remind him of his fourteen-year old niece, and also of a painting he once saw of an American Indian Princess years ago in the Tokyo Art Museum. He requests a formal introduction, Captain. I reminded him of where he was.”
Was Two-Eagles blushing? It certainly looked like it! “Don’t forget, private, that he is technically a prisoner of war and I will not stand for fraternizing- is that clear, Ms. Two-Eagles?”
“As you wish, captain.” She sighed slightly.
“That includes flirting, Private!” Her tanned face turned even redder. I noted that, of all the crew, she had taken to the change faster and more naturally than anyone. One of these days I would have to ask her why. Flirting…hmm…I had an idea. “Lieutenant, do you think Moritsu is sweet on the private here and could we maybe take advantage of this to get some information?” Two-Eagles’ eyes widened, her mouth opening in surprise.
“Captain! I’m surprised you even thought of such a thing! That’s not very cricket, what? Sex as a means to an end and all,” Lt. Smith exclaimed!
“Look, if we could just find out if the route back to Pearl is clear, that would be the cat’s pajamas! Maybe he has that information- maybe not, but I’m figuring he’s not going to give that out to his enemy without some sort of persuasion! If Pvt. Two-Eagles could become a friend- not seduce him, mind you…”
Both women stared at me like I had a third eye growing out of my chin.
What was I saying! Dear God, how could I expect one of my crew to do something that I would not do myself! Flirt with the enemy to gather information. Flirt with a man! Flirt with a man…it wouldn’t be that bad…after all the method had been used many times in past wars with favorable results… Someone in my mind screamed ‘WRONG’- and just kept screaming!
“Alexandra! What the devil do you think you’re doing asking a girl to offer herself to a total stranger for the sole purpose of gathering intelligence? To prostitute herself!”
I looked at Lt. Smith, surprised at her outburst. I was aghast that I was being scolded like a child- in a feminine name no less! It dawned on me that I was not as upset about her using the name ‘Alexandra’. I kind of liked it. “Lieutenant, I had no intention of prostituting anybody! I’m just suggesting that, with the Private’s approval, we try to ease our guest’s trepidation toward us. He might behave himself better if he feels we mean him no harm.”
“That would be against my standing orders, Captain!” Sgt. Williams appeared in the doorway, a raging fire shown in her eyes. “Sorry Captain, but I respectfully request you drop this plan immediately! Joseph will not be participating in any covert operation that can possibly jeopardize my mission, sir. You have been briefed of that, Captain?” She snarled.
“Yes I have, Sergeant, although I don’t fully agree with all the facets. Please, have a seat Ms. Williams.”
“I request that I be addressed simply as Sgt. Williams and not by Miss or Ma’am anything, sir. I find the recent softening of discipline onboard highly irregular and insubordinate to the regulations of military conduct. Sir.”
“Sergeant, how long have you been a marine?”
“Ten years, sir. Why do you ask?”
“And how many campaigns have you participated in Sergeant?”
“Counting this assignment sir, twenty-four. What’s this got to do with anything, sir?”
“Would you consider this assignment more challenging or less than any of the last twenty-three?”
“Answer the question, Sergeant! Do you consider this job to be a challenge or baby sitting, Sgt. Williams?”
“Sir, I don’t understand what that has to do with…”
“Soldier, it has everything to do with this mission! Scott, I studied your record. Those twenty-five, by the way, campaigns you participated in were covert in and of themselves. In several, you returned alone. You have received the meritorious conduct award four times; three medals of honor and a Purple Heart!” Lt. Smith’s eyebrow rose as I announced the awards as did Two-Eagle’s. I guess you marines would consider those missions routine, but what about this mission is ‘routine’? So you’ve crept up on an enemy and taken out a gun emplacement or two! All that pales in contrast to what we’ve had happen to us, don’t you think? I consider this, by far, the most arduous assignment I’ve ever had.” I let it sink in for a moment.
“Look at yourself or anyone onboard for that matter and tell me that any of this is ‘regular’! I seem to remember a few days ago that two people screamed their pretty heads off after waking to find they had changed. I even recall one of them passing out again, Ms. Williams! And as far as regulations go, I don’t think there’s any sections in the manual pertaining to ‘sudden and extreme gender change’ do you? Section eight is the closest I can think of! In case you haven’t noticed since you’ve been basically brooding in your quarters, discipline has not declined much at all! So everyone is on a more personal footing now. That does not degrade the chain of command, does it? This crew’s effectiveness under battle conditions was proven yesterday, wouldn’t you agree?”
“Yes. But, Captain…”
“No buts, Marine! The commander of the Pacific Fleet has assigned you, my dear, to this boat- under my command! I have weighed my options and come to a viable conclusion. I’m leaving the decision up to Ms. Two-Eagles here as to whether or not she will participate. Damn your mission parameters, girl! As far as I’m concerned, we have only one mission now- to get back safely with our passengers! And before you start spouting off again about protecting the secrecy of the Windtalker program, don’t worry, if this boat goes down, more than one secret will go down with her; rest assured! You stand dismissed, Sergeant, that is unless you have something constructive to say!”
“No sir. I just…”
Tears began running down her face. Although I felt bad about the tongue-lashing I had just given her, she deserved it. Of everyone onboard, Williams had been the staunchest holdout- that is next to Chief Samuels. I hoped I had made my point to her though.
“Captain, was this really necessary? Ms. Williams is not the only person unexcepting of her situation. She will come around, I am certain.”
"Lieutenant, do you realize what Sgt. Williams’ orders are- besides being a bodyguard to Pvt. Two-Eagles that is?”
“Her job, in case their position is taken or revealed, is to kill the Windtalker before the enemy can interrogate her and jeopardize the code. Ms. Williams here is a cold-blooded assassin, nothing more! Pvt. Two-Eagles is to be used as a nameless machine and then destroyed when or if, compromised. She is to be silenced rather than rescued- not given the slightest thought towards saving! That’s what I find so appalling. A soldier bound by orders to deny self-preservation to a comrade!”
“That’s not the way it is at all, Captain!” Williams screamed as she slammed both fists to the table! Her tear-streaked face beet-red in anger. “At first that was it, but as we got acquainted; as we fought beside each other, things changed! We became friends despite my orders to remain unbiased! I would do whatever possible to get her back safely- regardless of what happened to me!”
“Scott’s right, Captain. In the six months I’ve known him, Sgt. Williams and I have become close. She is no different now. I consider her my friend.” The Navajo stood and leaned her petite hand on William’s shoulder to comfort her bodyguard and friend.”
“I’m sorry…I had no idea.”
Two-Eagles looked back at me. “It’s okay Captain, even our fellow Marines feel that way. Many don’t even want my people in this war. I’ll do what I can to help, but please give Sarge some slack; she’s having such a hard time accepting this whole thing. Her father would never understand what has happened. He’s third generation Corp and served in France in 1918. Losing his son like this will devastate him, sir!”
“That’s if the Navy Department even allows us to go home, Joseph. Think about it. How could they admit to our real identities- that would mean they would have to admit that magic exists! No, we’ll be lucky if we’re sent to some remote institution, forever isolated from everyone we hold dear! They may even have some of us poked and prodded like lab rats!”
“Alexandra, do you think your futures are that dismal? Remember that I am still a foreign dignitary with some political pull. I believe they will keep us together and consider everyone a part of the Kili contingent.”
“That’s very hopeful thinking Lt. Smith, but our government has not always made sound decisions concerning its people. Just ask Two-Eagles about her people’s history.”
“I have studied the plight of the indigenous peoples of the southwestern United States, Captain, and am well aware of their tragic relations with you colonists. I once had a long talk with President Roosevelt on that matter and found his views very intriguing.”
“Wait, you talked with the President?”
“Why, yes! I found his notion of a National Park system quite revolutionary!”
“I don’t recall hearing any of FDR’s radio talks mention any National Parks, Lieutenant, I listened every night."
“Silly girl, not Franklin Roosevelt, Theodore! We had a lovely exchange over a spot of tea during one of his visits to London. I think it was the summer of 1901…what, have I suddenly grown feathers?”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! How old was this woman? She actually spoke with Teddy Roosevelt? That couldn’t be possible. I just had to ask the taboo question.
“Just how old are you, Lieutenant?”
“Alexandra! You know it’s impolite to ask a woman her age! But if you must know, I’ll turn sixty-six this September. Yes, you heard right, dear girls! You see Captain, the Mahanilui not only changes one’s body- it extends one’s life span. My adoptive mother passed on at two-hundred and seventy-two.”
“Absolutely incredible, but how; I mean… I thought you were pulling my leg with that Aerodrome and Kaiser nonsense!” As I said it I looked across at Two-Eagles and Williams, they showed two different expressions. Williams shared my shocked look, while Ms. Two-Eagles looked as impartial as she did that first evening after the change. Emily passed the doorway and I asked her to join us.
“Captain, there are more things to learn about the Mahanilui, some are advantages, but many more can be considered disadvantages. For instance…”
“Not to interrupt you, Lieutenant, but I would like to know more about you, if I can be so bold.”
“Right. Well, I suppose it would help illustrate some of the facets of the Mahanilui.” Lt. Smith stopped to think for a moment. “I was born Philip Reginald Smith in the Year of our Lord, 1878. My father was a Member of Parliament, the House of Lords, and the Ministry of Defense. I was destined to follow in his footsteps. I attended Cambridge from 1894 to 1901 during which time I received separate doctorates in sociology and anthropology. I met and conversed with Mr. Roosevelt at a tea given in his honor by the Ministry in 1901.”
“I didn’t follow my father’s lead though, I felt restless. I wanted to experience the world- to use what I had learned in university. After many losing debates with my father, I joined the crew of a merchant ship and set off to see the world. Over the following years, I got to experience many ports, some very exotic, some disgusting. I learned of the start of the Great War while we were transporting a cargo of Chinese textiles to Sydney. There, I learned the Admiralty had recalled my ship and its Captain to Britain. Needless to say, the ship sailed without me- at thirty-eight, I felt I was past my prime to fight the Hun.”
”Previously, we had stopped off in the Marshall Islands to deliver supplies to some British patriot landowners. There I learned of the Kili ‘legend’ as they called it. The Kili culture had fascinated me. So, from Sydney I booked passage back to the Marshall’s and took up residence on Majuro. I studied and researched every nuance of the culture I could. I journeyed to Kili many times and befriended the Island’s royalty. A few years later the call came for volunteers. I figured this was the chance of a lifetime and joined the five other participants. Her Majesty was overjoyed that I was among the group- in fact she was so excited that within six months she had, according to Island law, adapted me and on the next solstice, I participated in the Mahanilui. Over night I changed from a male, forty-one year old, slightly overweight balding British Socio-anthropologist to the female, twenty-year-old Polynesian Princess of Kili Island. Normally, volunteers were given a year to adjust and become acquainted with they’re new home and community, but as I had been adapted by their leader, I was granted special dispensation. In April of 1925, Her Majesty, my mother, stepped down because of failing health and I became the new Ruler of Kili. She died two months after that.”
“A year prior, I met a handsome young sailor from Brisbane and had a go with him. Though we never married I gave birth to a healthy baby girl. He visited Kili at irregular intervals for four more years before he just disappeared. Never hearing from him again, I conducted an investigation and discovered that a Japanese gunboat looking for so-called contraband had boarded his ship off the coast of Saipan. Only a few men escaped to relate the story, my beloved Lyle did not survive.” At this point she stopped and wiped her tear-swollen eyes- she wasn’t the only one.
“So you had a daughter? Where is she? Why didn’t you bring her with you?” Emily asked.
“I did- Mia, Ensign Hastings, is my oldest. I have three others: Kayla, Lailu, and Nina- they are also here. Nina turned sixteen two weeks ago. You know them as Ensigns Langford, Hardt, and Truman respectively. My daughters and I and the rest of my ‘Nurses’ are what are left of our female population. All of our men evacuated to other islands as coast watchers or volunteered to fight.”
“So, aside from answering the captain’s question and demonstrating that this Mahanilui gives extended life, why inform us about your daughters? I don’t get the connection.” Sgt. Williams asked quite frankly. I was asking myself the same thing.
“The reason, Ms. Williams, is that if our secret got out and any of the women of Kili were to be captured, we would be used as breeding stock! To illustrate another of the Mahanilui’s benefits, I would ask that you remove your leg bandages, Captain.”
“But Mina, I just stitched her up yesterday! She might tear them out. They need more time to heal,” Emily said, alarmed at the request! She gave me an ‘I don’t think that’s wise’ look.
“I don’t know, Lieutenant. The doctor’s right. What if I rip out the stitches?”
“I assure you, Captain, you have nothing to fear.”
“But I’d have to drop my pants for that.”
“Alexandra…you yourself stated that we all have the same equipment. Don’t be shy, love.”
I stood just inside the doorway and carefully slid my trousers down past my hips and gently down my legs being careful not to bump Emily’s work.
“Doctor, would you please remove the bandage.”
Carefully, Emily pulled back the wrapping. To our astonishment, the gauze pad fell away.
“I can’t believe it! The wound is almost healed and the stitching is stuck to the bandage! How…I…Alex? Mina, how did you do this?”
“I had nothing to do with it, Love! Not only does the Mahanilui grant long life; it accelerates the healing process. Both gifts are inherited by our offspring. Do you understand the ramifications of that?”
“Yes, I think I understand. What your saying is that if we,” I pointed to Two-Eagles, Williams, and myself, “were captured and forcibly…um…bred,” I swallowed hard, “we would give birth to some type of superman?”
“In a nutshell, yes, but not only you three, Captain, the doctor here as well. Do not forget that she too participated in the Mahanilui- what it granted you, it also gave her. Think of it- Japanese troops wounded one day would return for more the next! Can you imagine if some of us were traded to the Nazis? I should say that Adolph would get his Arian race, what!”
This was absolutely incredible! No wonder the secrecy of our mission! Her Highness was right though; if the enemy caught us and discovered our secret, we’d become prostitutes, breeding slaves of the Empire- possibly to the Nazis too!
“And I fell right in and increased their chances by fifty-three, didn’t I?” I felt the guilt building again, but fought it back. As I looked about the Wardroom, I again noticed how Pvt. Two-Eagles seemed extremely comfortable with the whole conversation. I was itching to find the answer to this quandary.
“Private, you seem very accepting of this whole situation- even after you first changed. Are the Navajo naturally so accepting of such magic?”
“Yes, Ms. Two-Eagles I have observed your composure also. Except for the short outburst at discovery, you have been the most accepting. Could you elaborate?”
“Yes Josie. Why have you been so calm about all that’s happened?” Emily added as my face, as well as Sgt. Williams, asked the question, ‘who is Josie’?
“Why Skipper, you don’t think the name fits? I mean, come on, I don’t look like a Joseph any more, do I?”
She waited for any response.
“My people, the Navajo, believe that everything on the earth has a spirit: trees, fire, wind, earth, but especially animals. Many of my people practiced what translates as spirit walking. It is said that some could leave their bodies and share another spirit’s body- usually a wolf or coyote. I believe Hollywood calls them something like werewolves? My grandfather practiced this ritual.”
“He and several of my older male relatives would meet inside a sweat lodge absent of light for days at a time smoking a ceremonial pipe and eating sacred fungus found in the shade of the high desert mountains. A Vision Quest he called it. In this state of enlightenment they claimed to venture out and share the bodies of our closest competitors- the coyote. They claimed the experience cleansed them of the boredom of reservation life. I joined them once; just before I joined the Marines, but I never reached full enlightenment. Lieutenant, your Mahanilui helped me achieve that spiritual illumination. It has cleansed my spirit and I thank you for the opportunity. Should this all prove permanent, I will not resist. I am at peace- content that whatever has happened has been by the Great Spirit’s design.” The beautiful Navajo paused momentarily to sort her thoughts.
“Skipper, what you said to Sarge…you were absolutely correct about this being the most challenging assignment we’ve ever been on. It is also the most revealing from a personal standpoint. I now see how others react to a similar situation. Lt. Smith, I believe the Sociologist in you to be quite thrilled.”
“That was quite eloquent, Josie. And the Colonists call you the savages?” Lt. Smith glanced around the table as she spoke. She settled on Sgt. Williams. “Ms. Williams, you should take notes from your companion, she is quite the pragmatist. Captain, with your permission I will take my leave?”
“Yes, lieutenant, dismissed. Could you join me here for dinner around 1800? I’m sure the rest of my officers and I would like to hear more about the pluses and minuses of your Mahanilui.”
“Skipper, I’d like to talk to you about our upcoming transmission tonight. I don’t think they will believe it’s us. Headquarters will probably think we’ve been compromised. We may need to prove who we are, sir.”
“Alex?” Emily spoke up, I believe I can help prove our identity…”
2000 hours, Pearl Harbor Naval Base, March 30th, 1944
“At ease gentlemen.”
“Admiral, I wasn’t informed of your visit, sir.”
“Has 353 checked in yet, Forbes?”
“No sir, not yet. I expect they will any time now, though.”
“Lieutenant, if you will; all non-essential personnel?”
“Alright men, you heard the Admiral, everyone but Ensign Redhorse clear the building- on the double.”
“Did you intercept anymore propaganda on 353, Lieutenant?”
“Nothing yet, sir. Just the usual chatter is all.”
“Lieutenant, I’m getting something here!”
“Is it 353, Ensign?”
“I think so Admiral, but its a woman’s voice, sir.”
“Is the call-sign valid for 353?”
“Yes sir, but I know Joseph Two-Eagles personally sir, and this is not his voice!”
“Could it be Lt. Scott?”
“Negative sir, Navajo is not an easy language to learn- especially in such a short time. Whoever it is, she’s definitely Navajo!”
“Forbes, do you think 353 has been compromised? Is it possible the enemy has captured one of your Codetalkers?”
“At last report all my people had been accounted for- dead or alive sir. Anything is possible though, Admiral. Should we continue?”
“Ensign, you say you know the Private? How well?”
“We’re from the same Reservation, sir. I talked him into joining the Corp.”
“Very well then, ask something that only the Private would know.”
“Admiral this would be just like the Japs! Do you think they captured or sunk 353?”
“Forbes, Captain Steinert is one of the best in the fleet. He is a very resourceful officer. He wouldn’t settle for capture and if the Sand Dollar were sunk, Tokyo Rose would be rubbing it in our faces by…”
“Admiral, Lt. Forbes, I can’t explain it, but it’s Joseph. I just asked if he remembered what we called our third grade teacher back on the Reservation- no hesitation, sirs. I don’t understand it, but it’s definitely him.”
“I don’t like it, Admiral- too strange.”
“I agree, Forbes. Get your men back here on the double. I want to know where this transmission is coming from! Ensign, send this message to Lt. Scott and Lt. Scott only: Who’s playing and what’s the score?”
“Just do it, Ensign!”
“Admiral, it will take a few minutes to triangulate their position. On the off chance this actually is 353, we could be putting them in danger, sir.”
“I understand that Forbes, but I have to know where they are before I make my decision.”
“Yes, Forbes. The decision to let them come home or hunt them down!”
“Admiral, this decodes as ‘Rockville and Springfield. Fifty-two to twenty-one. Top of the sixth, one out, no strikes, one foul, no balls.’ I don’t get it, sir?”
“Are you definite about that message, Ensign? Are you sure you decoded that right?”
“Completely sir. What’s it mean?”
“It means, Ensign, that I don’t have to call out the dogs- at least not yet.”
“Let’s just say that Lt. Scott was given special instructions and codes in case she found herself in any compromising situations. Something strange has happened on board the Sand Dollar, but everyone is okay. They even picked up a prisoner- probably a survivor from their first kill.”
“You got that from a baseball score? What do you need the Navajo for, Admiral?”
“One of my better ideas, Ensign Redhorse. We still need you Windtalkers though, so don’t get any ideas. Forbes, Redhorse, good job; congratulate them on their first kill and tell them we look forward to their return. Give them an update on enemy movements between us and schedule the next radio transmission for 2200 tomorrow. Alert me to any problems and I want that location on my desk in the morning. Goodnight Gentlemen.”
2010 hours, 650 nautical miles East of Baker Island, March 30th, 1944
“They don’t believe it’s us, Skipper. I hope Lt. Scott can convince them. Wait…” Two-Eagles paused then replied to a supposed question. “They’re testing me. They want to know my third grade teacher’s nickname.”
She giggled and she smiled as she gave her reply.
“I thought I recognized that voice! Skipper, I think I convinced them. My longtime friend Adam Redhorse is on the other end…” She raised her lithe hand to indicate another message.
“Skip, I have a message for Lt. Scott.”
“What is it, Josie?”
“It says: Who’s playing and what’s the score, Lieutenant?”
“He’s testing me…to make sure we haven’t been captured.”
“Who, Emily?” I asked.
“Ah…Admiral Demmit. He gave me a special code before we left San Francisco- in case I needed…um…special help.”
“What kind of special help, Emily?” I had an idea, but I wanted to hear it from her.
“Um…in case…um…you or the crew…well you said it yourself, Alex- women haven’t served on submarines!” Bingo! Give the man…er…woman a cigar- I thought the old man would find some way of checking up on his premier crew. He didn’t trust us with a woman onboard! I felt hurt. My face must have spoken volumes. “I’m sorry Alex! The Admiral just wanted to make sure I was treated properly. I guess he’s just an old school gentleman- Chivalry… you know?”
“I had a sneaking suspicion he would do something like that…with our history and all. Go ahead and give him your report.” I waved to Two-Eagles.
“Send this Josie: Rockville and Springfield.” She thought a second as if counting to herself. “Fifty-two to twenty-one.” She paused again. “One out, no strikes, one foul, no balls. That’s it, Josie, send it.”
“Boy, with a code like that what am I here for?”
“Just send the message, Private.”
“Emily, you want to decode for your C.O.?”
“Well…I shouldn’t but…Okay, here goes. Rockville is my favorite women’s baseball league team. I won a bet with the Admiral last year that they would beat Springfield. The score, fifty-two to twenty-one, gives crew compliment at the time of message- in essence, all crew and passengers accounted for; including one survivor.”
“Okay, I got that part, but the count- what’s that mean?”
“Well…one out is Mr. Moritsu’s ship and…no strikes indicates no one has been severely injured. One foul says that we have had some sort of incident. Just a status report that’s all, Captain.”
At this point the lieutenant’s face flushed deep crimson. She purposely left out the last segment. I wasn’t going to leave her off the hook; I wanted to hear the meaning of the last part of her message.
“Don’t stop now, Doctor, what’s the last part mean!”
“It’s not that important, Captain, it’s…” I glared at her. “Alex, I don’t think you want to hear this, it’s not that important- he may not even get it…”
This time I crossed my arms and leaned against the bulkhead as I increased my glare. “It’s just an explanation of the incident…um…sort of.”
I waited for her to continue.
“No balls? Alex, you figure it out, alright?” Two-Eagles turned from her equipment and stared at Emily in astonishment. “Well, it’s the only thing I could think of that fit!”
Two-Eagles raised her hand again- another message. This time she wrote the long message down and gave her acknowledgement and signed off.
“Headquarters sends congratulations on our first kill and looks forward to our return to Pearl. Stay on current course. Next contact at 2200 tomorrow.” She said as she handed me the message.
“Thanks, Ms. Two-Eagles. I’ll pass this along to the crew. It should boost morale.”
“Skipper? What’s going to happen to us when HQ finds out? Will they send us all to some… place…for experiments? You don’t think they’ll just let us go, do you?”
“Private, I don’t have a clue as to what the future holds for us once we reach Pearl. I suggest we just keep hoping for the best. I don’t think any of us want to become guinea pigs. I recommend you consult your Great Spirit, Ms. Two-Eagles.”
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