Capt. Steinert and her crew continue their first mission, but what does the future hold for the crew of the Sand Dollar as they make their way home to Pearl Harbor?
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.
0400 hours, 700 Nautical miles East of Baker Island March 31st, 1944
“Andrews, I’m here to relieve you. How’s the prisoner?”
“He’s been moanin’ pretty loud. His ribs must be hurtin’ but good. I thought Hilf was ‘spose to be my relief.”
“She asked me to cover for a few minutes while she took care of some…um…business… if you know what I mean.”
“Ya, I heard. You think about it any?”
“Trying not to- it’s still too embarrassing to think about, ya know? Hey, I got the last of the island hooch from the cooler and it’s got one hell of a bite now. Here take the last swig, it’ll put the hair back on your chest!”
“Wow! Hot dog that’s got a kick! Reminds me of the stuff my Pa use to make back home! Here, you better rinse this out before the skipper finds out. You know she disapproves of spirits onboard- especially this potion!”
“Don’t worry, I’ll wash it good.”
“Hey, drinkin’ that stuff isn’t going to…you know make us any ‘girlier’, is it?”
“Naw, Lt. Smith says it can’t hurt us anymore, besides, this was the last of it.”
“Good, I was startin’ to worry. Too bad too, it was just getting’ aged proper.”
“Speakin’ ‘bout aged proper, I managed to get my hands on some of that Mexican stuff before we left San Francisco- Tequila, I think it’s called- kind of tastes like the Island stuff only stronger. Want to try some?”
“No that’s okay. I don’t want the Skipper smelling liquor on my breath. …I guess I better go find Hilf- Cmdr. Cummins might get mad if she finds out that we messed up her duty roster.”
“Mind you, Hilf has been kind of on edge these past couple of days. Best to go easy on the teasing.”
“I’ll remember that. I also expect you to go easy on me when my time comes. Thanks for fillin’ in Tom.”
“Hilf, what took you so long? Richards is down waitin’ for ya. If Miss Cummins finds out you’re late she’ll put you on report for sure!”
“Just get off it Andrews! I’d like to see you do any better! It hurts like hell and I haven’t been able to sleep a wink since Lt. Scott had me start wearing this damn belt!”
“Easy now, don’t get all grumpy with me. I’m not responsible for your situation! We’re all in the same boat, remember?”
“Just get out of my way and let me get down to the Brig so I can get this watch over with. I tell ya, I wish I had some whiskey to dull this cramping.”
“Ask Richards. He said somethin’ ‘bout hiding some Tequila- says its stronger than the island hooch. That might help your crampin’ some.”
“Thanks Andrews, Something stronger might just do it.”
“What’s Tojo been up to Tom?”
“Just a lot of moaning is all. I guess it’s easier to give pain than receive it huh? How you feeling?”
“It still hurts like hell. The pain hits every few minutes or so then fades back to something manageable…makes it hell to get any shuteye. How do women put up with it?”
“Don’t have a clue and I’d rather not find out, but I guess we all will- only a matter of time.”
“Andrews said you had some Mexican rot-gut hidden somewhere. You think it could take off the edge?”
“It might, but we can’t have too much, Cummins will pitch a fit.”
“All I want is to dull it some. Might even help and keep Tojo quiet, you know?”
“That’s a good idea. It couldn’t be worse than anything the Doc’s got him on, right? Be right back.”
“Richards, you sure this stuff is good to drink? You do know there’s a worm in the bottom?”
“Don’t worry, I asked the same thing when I bought it. The guy that run the bar says every bottle has one.”
“But that’s so disgusting!”
“Aw, quit cryin’, you sound like my sister. Be a man and try it! Here, hand me his cup, I’ll pour one for Tojo too.”
0600 hours, 720 Nautical miles East of Baker Island March 31st, 1944
I awoke to the feeling that something was going to happen. The feeling, similar to the one I had a few days ago, was not as strong but concerned me nonetheless. Unlike the previous feeling this one remained constant, yet tolerable. Hopefully this was an indication that it, whatever the ‘it’ was, would be minor.
Last night I had given the order to move our Japanese guest to the brig. I didn’t want to take any chances of his getting free and harming any of my crew. Five days ago I wouldn’t have thought twice about him getting loose- now it scared me.
Another thing that scared me was the fact that my basic morning routine had changed so much and had become normal so fast. Without a second thought I had washed, brushed out my hair, put it in a ponytail, checked my armpits and legs, put on a brassiere, fixed my face, applied lipstick, and had gotten dressed as if I had been doing it all for years- not four days. Surely Lt. Smith’s Mahanilui couldn’t be responsible! I made a note to ask her about it as I went aft to the Con.
“Jack, anything happening?”
“All quiet, skip. You look nice today.”
“Thanks, how’s Mr. Moritsu this morning?”
“Andrews said he was still hurting pretty good when she came up from her watch.”
“Who’s watching him now?”
“Hilf was suppose to take this watch but Richards had to fill in a few minute so she could change…take care of…um…you know.”
“Jack, a person’s cycle isn’t any excuse to be tardy for a watch. I hope you…”
“Alex, I just thought that…well…she’s been complaining an awful lot and she’s just been so much fun to be around the last couple of days. I get scared just thinking about how I’ll handle it. I figure if I show the crew some leniency, maybe you all won’t be so hard on me when it’s my turn. By the way, if you talk to Richards today don’t let on that I know she covered for Hilf, okay?” My Exec said sheepishly.
“I’ll take it under consideration, Jack.” This was way out of character for my usually strict Ex-O. Jack had been a staunch supporter of crew discipline. Now she actually looked distressed that they would dislike her if she had to administer punishment. Concerned as I was about my first officer, I had to agree that Seaman Hilf should be given a little more latitude. She was the first, and so far the only, member of my once male crew to take the full plunge into womanhood. I proceeded to head back to the galley for my usual coffee before I relieved Jack.
“HELP! Anyone! It’s happening again”, screamed a shrill voice from below deck! One of my crew shot up through the floor hatch from the storage/brig compartment nearly colliding with several others transiting the passage past the galley. “Shit! It’s happening. It’s happening!” I recognized her as Hilf.
“Sailor! What’s happening? Why did you desert you post?”
“Skip, it’s the Jap- he’s…he’s…changing! Someone get Doc Scott, please?”
“What do you mean he’s changing? That’s not possible!”
“It’s the honest-to-God’s truth, Skip- we gotta stop it somehow!”
“Settle down Hilf!” I smelled alcohol on her breath. “Have you been drinking, sailor?”
“A little bit sir, but I’m not that drunk! You have to help him, please?”
Immediately I called for Emily and Mina to meet us down in the brig then proceeded down the ladder.
“See? I wasn’t lying, Skip, he’s changing. Look, he’s got a full head of hair already!”
Truth be told, I would have never believed it if I hadn’t seen it firsthand. Our Prisoner was slowly, inevitably changing! How was this possible? The Islander’s punch had long since been consumed and our fresh water tanks had been refilled several times from our own condensers. The two of us just stood in awe at the phenomenon.
“Is that how it happened to us Skip?”
“Most certainly, Miss Hilf.” Lt.’s Smith and Scott had joined us in the already crowded hold that served as pump room, cargo and food storage, and brig.
“I wish I had a camera to document this. Navy Medical would never believe this otherwise.”
“Emily, I don’t think anyone would believe this with pictures. Look, his clothes are starting to fit differently.”
“Permission to be excused, Captain? I’m starting to get nauseous, sir.”
“Very well Hilf but consider yourself on report! Don’t be surprised if you’re the next occupant of this brig, sailor. What is wrong with you? Drinking while on duty! On second thought, I want you to wait in the Wardroom until I arrive. Is that understood sailor?”
“Yes, sir. I’m sorry sir! I just needed to dull this pain, sir. I…” Tears started to stream down her lovely face as she turned for the ladder.
“And before either one of you accuses me of being too hard on her, may I remind you that the penalty for such an offense is incarceration and court-martial! I went easy on her.” In the time it took me to reprimand Hilf, more changes had presented themselves on Moritsu, most notably, a developing bust. Our sleeping prisoner had quietly and easily rolled over on the cell’s small bench- apparently so unconscious that little attention was paid to any pain or discomfort from his broken ribs or leg. Moritsu’s face was now definitely female- and a little familiar. What I saw through the lengthening coal black hair reminded me of an Asian version of Private Two-Eagles.
“Captain, this is quite strange. I have never seen the Mahanilui progress so rapidly! What we have witnessed in these last few minutes would normally take several hours! I can’t explain this conundrum.” Lt. Smith said in a quiet but concerned tone.
“I just can’t believe my eyes, Mina! This is so fantastic- like I’m actually watching Superman change clothes, only in reverse!”
“You mean Supergirl don’t you Emily? I just can’t believe it’s happening again. We have to find out how this happened.” I paused to work out a plan to investigate this mystery. “Emily, you and Lt. Smith stay with Moritsu. When he wakes up I want you here to make sure he doesn’t do anything foolish. Let him know he’s not alone in this. I’m going to ask Hilf, Richards and, Andrews what exactly they saw or did down here. I’ll send someone down on guard duty.” I turned for the ladder to the main deck. “I can’t believe it happened again!” I whispered as I climbed. As I lowered the trapdoor I noted that my ‘nagging feeling’ had vanished. Could Moritsu’s change have caused the feeling? Was Emily correct when she called it women’s intuition? Whatever ‘it’ was, it was very disconcerting.
When I reached the Wardroom I could see that Hilf had been really crying. Her eyes were red and she was still sniffing fairly often. She delicately held a crumpled hanky on the table in her clasped hands. “Jim, I’m sorry I had to come down on you so hard. You know my rules on drinking. What were you thinking?”
“I’m sorry, skipper! It’s…it just hurts so bad sometimes…I…I just wanted to stop it from hurting so much…just for a little while…” she started to break into tears again. I extended my hands to hers trying to comfort her.
“Look, I can’t say I know what you’re feeling…yet… but scores of women live through it every day. You’re a soldier; you should be able to handle this too. I expect you to act like one. Mr. Cummins and I have already given you much more slack than the rest of the crew. Now where did you get the punch from, I thought that was gone already?”
“Skip, I didn’t have any of that island booze.”
“Look, Hilf, it had to be the punch and you had to give some to Moritsu- how else do you explain what happened?”
“I didn’t drink any punch, sir! I can’t explain what happened to the Jap- he just started changing! Look all I had was some tequila that…”
“Just where the hell did you get tequila from sailor?”
“I’d rather not say sir.”
“Do you really want to share the cell with Moritsu for the rest of the mission, Jim?”
“No sir, but…”
“…but you don’t want to rat on your fellow crewmen, right? Well, let’s just see what they have to say, shall we?” I leaned over to the intercom. “Seamen Andrews and Richards to the Wardroom, immediately!” I think Hilf was surprised that I knew who was involved. She immediately started to cry again. “Jim, the crewmen aren’t the only ones with a grapevine. I’m the Captain! I have to know what is going on all the time. Now, I understand your loyalty to your shipmates but we need to find out what precipitated this change.”
Presently, Hilf’s accomplices arrived and I indicated for them to be seated. “Ladies, I think you know why you’re here. I’ll get straight to the point. I want to know exactly what went on down in the brig; I want to know where the tequila came from and I want to know who gave Moritsu the island punch. Yes, I know about the booze. No, Hilf didn’t turn stoolie! Who wants to start?”
“Nobody gave him any Island hooch, Cap! Me and Andrews, we had the last of it. Honest! Not unless Hilf had some more stashed, that is!”
“You bitch! If I did, I would have drunk it by now!” Hilf shouted venomously at Richards. “I didn’t have any, Skip! All I had was some of that tequila that Richards here brought onboard!”
“You little Snitch! I’ll scratch your eyes out you damn prissy tattletale!”
“You try it and I’ll rip every hair from your head!”
“That’s enough! I will not have members of my crew fighting one another! Is that clear?” I noticed how their voices shrieked and their clearly female threats seemed so natural. Andrews just sat staring unbelievably at the whole situation.
“Captain, Richards is right. The two of us finished the stuff off before Hilf got there. She said she had gotten it from the Galley. Tom and I finished it. There is no more. She told me that she had hidden some tequila onboard at Mare. I told Hilf that Richards had some thinking it would help with her cramps!”
Richards took over. “When Jim finally came down she mentioned that Andrews had told her about my stash. I thought it was a good idea. I was only trying to help you!” she said as she looked pleadingly at her crewmate. “Jim and I thought that it might also help make Tojo more comfortable. We only gave him a cup, skip- just enough to take the edge.”
My mind started to sort the information these three had given me. Could it be possible that some other liquor could interact with the spring water? Wouldn’t the water we took from that spring be so severely diluted by now that its special properties were neutralized? I thought a little deeper. Could it be that the magic or whatever it was in the water had been absorbed by our system and would linger? If that were true then I could not let Sand Dollar pass into the hands of any other crew less they would suffer our fate. All the pieces fit together too well. Certain alcohol and the water, the magic, in our fresh water pipes could lose the Mahanilui on others. I realized that my beautiful Sand Dollar was also cursed!
Another dilemma crossed my mind: how would I explain this to the Admiral? “Sorry sir, but I can’t let anyone else take command of this boat unless you want more women in the Navy.” Maybe, “Sir, you should really consider all women sub crews because that’s all the Sand Dollar will let run her!” Better yet, “sir, I added one more feature to your brand new sub- ta-da! It makes girls out of your best crews!” That would be real swell!
“Skip, Phones has screws in the water bearing three-five-eight degrees. Pretty far off, but closing.” Jack interrupted from the doorway.
“General Quarters, Commander. Where’s the bottom?”
“Take us to four hundred and rig for silent running.”
“Aye, aye Skip.”
“As for you three…get to your stations! We’ll continue this later. Who’s on guard duty?”
“I have one more hour then Norquist relieves me, Skipper” Hilf stated.
“Then get down there and make sure she stays quiet when she wakes up! I don’t want a repeat of Sgt. Williams’ wake and discovery. They’d find us for sure.”
1400 hours, 800 Nautical miles West-Southwest of Palmyra Atoll, March 31st, 1944
For the last six hours we had been followed by what my hydrophone specialist says is a Japanese destroyer. I ordered all stop and hoped they would pass us by. My gut said they didn’t know we were here but I didn’t want to take a chance. Moritsu still hadn’t regained consciousness, which in a way, was good. I asked Lt. Scott and Smith to stay with her hoping they would mute any audible outbursts. As of yet my intuition, that strange feeling I’ve been getting lately, had not appeared. I consider that a good omen.
“Skip, they’re pinging- right over our heads. Do you think they know we’re here?”
“We’ll know in a minute, Carroll. Let’s hope our guest doesn’t announce us. Get ready to take us to four-fifty. Just in case.”
“Screws have stopped, Skip.”
You could feel the tension increase. We all, my crew that is, had been through this most nerve racking of drills many times. We expected to hear depth charges any minute now and all we could do was keep quiet. This was the hardest part of the Silent Service- waiting.
“Skip, I have another set of screws bearing zero-one-zero degrees. Sounds like a sub. Three thousand and closing.”
Wonderful. Reinforcements! At this point I wondered if my newfound intuition had abandoned me. Had they found us and called in the dogs? We waited quietly for, what seemed to be, hours. No tin cans. What was going on up there, I asked myself?
“Skip, all screws have been stopped for a while now. Sounds like there’s some banging going on topside.”
“What kind of banging?”
“Kind of like pipes- big metal pipes.”
I thought about it for a minute…something is being loaded from one vessel to another…metal…sounds like pipes. Could they be refueling the sub or re-arming her. I had an idea. “Is it loud enough to hide our screws?”
“Probably skip. They’re making a lot of noise up there.”
“Helm ease us away at present course then put us in a five degree arc to port until we’re about nine thousand yard out. Maneuvering, ahead slow.”
“Skip, what are you thinking?” asked my Ex-O.
“Well, maybe we can circle around while slowly coming to periscope depth and see what's going on- maybe bag number’s two and three.”
“Gotcha’, skip. Do you really think we can sneak up quietly enough, I mean what about their lookouts?”
“Jack, it’s late enough in the day that the sunset reflecting across the water would hide our wake. If we come at them from the west, that is.”
“Might just work. If they don’t hear us before.”
It took forty-five minutes to complete our wide turn. According to the compass we were heading due east. We had gradually made our way up to periscope depth- so far, so good. “All stop. We’ll let her coast to a stop. Phones, are they still there?”
“Aye, skip. Sounds like they’re packing everything up.”
“Jack ease up the scope a little, I’ll tell you when to stop.” As the lens broke the surface I sighted our pray. Before me was an Imperial submarine and what looked like a freighter, only this freighter had some big deck guns- a supply ship! “Jack, ready forward torpedoes.” We were eight thousand yards out. I had to get a little closer. Without warning, that feeling appeared. Ok…If I can’t get closer…but I had to get closer. One hundred more yards would do it, but how? This intuition thing was starting to annoy me so I decided to dig deeper into it.
‘Ok,’ I thought, ‘I won’t get closer.’ The feeling eased. ‘I’m going closer.’ The feeling came back. Well that was interesting. I started running different attack scenarios past my ‘intuition’. I finally got no response from one of my plans. ‘That must be the way to go’, I thought, ‘I’ll do that.’ No feeling. It was one of my more bazaar plans but not as foolish as my previous ‘Damsels in distress’ plan.
“Alex, awaiting your orders.”
I realized quite some time had passed and Jack was getting concerned. “Sorry Jack, I was just considering my options.” I noticed Emily had just entered the Con. “Jack, you’re not going to believe this, but I’m going to rely on my intuition for this one. Trust me. Ready tubes one through four for firing.” Jack relayed the orders. Emily just looked at me and raised a concerned eyebrow.
“Tubes one through four ready. Outer doors are open and tubes flooded, Skip.”
“Good, let me get you some bearings and I’ll tell you the rest of my plan.” After I called out the numbers, I voiced the plan.
“You mean we’re going to go underneath them as they blow up?” Emily expressed her concern.
“Yes, Lieutenant. Don’t worry though; I hope to have enough water between us.”
“I think it’s a fantastic idea- a true attack run! They won’t know what hit them.” Jack said in excitement.
“Well, Jack? Times a wastin’!” I said as I picked up my stopwatch.
“Aye, Skipper. Helm: bring us to zero-eight-seven; planes hold steady. Maneuvering all ahead full.” As I started the count I felt the Sand Dollar surge forward. I took one last look at our targets. “Down scope. Sonar, one ping! Just a warning.”
The seconds counted off on my watch, ten…eleven…twelve… “fire one and two!” As I gave that order Jack gave her own.
“Helm, hard starboard to zero-nine-zero! Flood all tanks! Planes, keep us steady.”
“One and two away!”
“Fire three and four.” I said in a cool steady voice.
“Three and four away, Cap!”
“Three degrees down on the planes, negative buoyancy, take us to four hundred.” Jack continued in a similarly cool voice.
“Everyone hold on.” I said as I eyed my watch, mentally calculating when we should hear the explosions.
“Charges in the water, Skipper”
“Passing seventy feet.”
The first tin can went off ahead and way below us, the second was closer but did little damage. By my calculations we should hear the first two explosions any time now.
“Two separate explosions, Skipper. Now a few smaller ones.”
“Score one for our side.” Ten seconds more would decide our fate.
“We’re directly under them, Skip. Sounds like all hell is breaking loose up there.”
“Passing one hundred-fifty feet.” Jack announced. Her pitch had risen slightly.
“Another explosion…wait…make that two, skip!”
“Any more tin cans?”
“Can’t tell, skip- too much noise up there.”
“Good, continue the dive.”
“I hear screws, bearing two-six-five degrees two thousand yards and closing. Sounds like a Jap sub, Skip!”
Damn thing must have been hiding behind the supply ship. “Sonar, where’s the bottom?”
“Three thousand, Skip.”
Well, hiding on the bottom was out of the question. We could try to out run them but I had a feeling its commander would continue to stalk us. I couldn’t blame him, I would do the same thing had someone just scuttled my sister sub, supply ship, and whatever sinister plans I had made. Would he continue to pursue or was he the type to know his limits? I had to know.
“Sonar, can you get a fix on that sub? Heading and depth.”
“He’s coming in on an intercept course, bearing two-zero-zero, seven hundred yards and closing. About one hundred above us and falling.”
“Stay active Sonar and stand-by.”
“Alex? What are you planning?” Emily asked with concern.
It was at this time that I noticed Lt. Smith had joined us in the compartment. “Well Lieutenant, I don’t think this guy liked our crashing their party. I want to see how important his plans really were. If he gives up right away then it was just a standard re-supply, but if he persists that might mean we broke up some sort of secret attack plans. What I’m doing is baiting him to see what he does. How far will he follow us? How aggressive is he? Will he expend every resource, maybe even his boat and crew, to catch us, or will he give up and retreat? I have to know.”
“Isn’t that pushing it a little, Alex?”
“You forget the limits of this boat, Emily. A typical Japanese sub is three knots slower and can only dive to four hundred feet, tops; we’re good to over five. If he’s as obsessed with catching us as I think he is; he will follow us to his demise. We just have to tease him into making that mistake.”
Jack, level us off at three seventy-five, continue course and make revolutions for eight knots. Sonar let me know when his depth levels out and he’s just out of torpedo range.”
“Captain, what happens if your enemy will not follow you?”
“Then, your highness…we entice him.” Lt. Smith just looked at me. I couldn’t tell if she didn’t understand or if she was questioning my intentional title slip. “Jack, depth and tube status.”
“Three-seventy-five and steady. All forward tubes are reloaded and ready. Tubes seven though ten show green as well, Skip.”
“Sonar, where’s our friend?”
“Bearing one-eight-zero, about five hundred yards- he’s falling back, Skip.”
“Flood tubes seven and eight. Open outer doors.”
“Alex, it’s not recommended to fire at this depth. We could lose the compartment!” Jack said quietly as she calmly reminded me.
“Can’t be helped, Jack.” I grabbed the intercom. “This is the Captain! I want all compartments sealed immediately. Report in.”
“Captain, is this action necessary? What harm would running cause? You said yourself that we could out run them! Why cause more carnage?”
“With all due respect, Lt. Smith, if you are going to question my command, I suggest you return to your quarters. Lt. Scott, escort the Lieutenant there at once! Please remind the Lieutenant that this is still a U.S. Navy vessel and that we are at war! Dismissed!”
“Lt. Smith, if you please?” Emily said with trepidation as she signaled the way aft.
Once clear of the bulkhead Lt. Scott turned and sealed the hatch.
“Well that was rather rude! I was merely presenting alternative options!”
“It’s not that Alex wouldn’t consider your suggestions Mina, you questioned her authority and experience. She won’t put up with that on her boat. Trust me, Alex is very resourceful and if she feels that sub will follow us back to Hawaii then I trust her. Submarine Commanders are very special people- usually top of their class at Annapolis. She knows how to read the enemy and for you to openly question her tactics is grounds for court marshal.”
“I see…what I don’t see is why our Captain assumes the offensive every chance she gets. Prudence being the better part of valor and all, I sense she has an axe to grind with our enemy. You know her best, what is this all about?”
Emily paused for a moment while she decided how much to disclose about Alex Steinert’s past. “Alex had a younger brother, Brian. Brian, despite their father’s wishes, joined the Navy in July of 1940 at the age of seventeen. He finished his training and was assigned to the USS Arizona as an assistant gunner’s mate. During the attack on Pearl Harbor in December, 1941, Brian was trapped below deck in his compartment.”
At this point Emily became visibly shaken. She paused and retrieved a hanky from her pocket. Gently dabbing away the tears and clearing her nose, she continued. “I believe its location was behind gun turret number two of the ship. The Arizona took several torpedoes to its midsection, and a bomb ignited her forward magazine. All but three hundred and thirty-seven of her crew were killed, burned alive or trapped below deck when she sunk, including Brian. Alex had been on maneuvers off the California coast when he heard of the attack. His submarine was ordered to San Francisco for refit instead of heading to Hawaii. He tried every channel available to get to Pearl Harbor; transfer, leave, you name it he tried it, shy of court marshal that is- I don’t think Alex would ever jeopardize his career intentionally. Finally, after six long months, he made it back to Pearl. Although he again tried to arrange for leave he was ordered to ship out three days later. Salvage crews were still working to recover what they could from the ship. His brother’s body was never found.” Again Emily wiped moisture from her eyes
“My word! That explains the vengeful look in our Captain’s eyes!”
“Alex isn’t the only one on this boat that has it out for Japan, Mina. Chief Van Pelt lost his wife of two months when a stray bomb bounced into their living room just off base and exploded. Seaman Sommers lost two brothers aboard the Oklahoma. I think everyone aboard this sub lost family or friends in that one attack. My own father was severely wounded when Schofield Barracks exploded that Sunday morning. He lost a leg and three fingers on his right side along with third degree burns. Excuse me…” her handkerchief again wiped her eyes.
“Doctor, I understand. If you want to stop.”
“No, Its…I’m okay…at least he’s out of this war, safe at home in Hartford. Mina, I can’t begin to describe the carnage I saw that day. It was as if I had stepped into some never-ending, grotesque nightmare. Patient after patient, it seemed like the wounds kept getting worse! Every ward was filled to overflowing before the attack stopped yet they just kept coming! I don’t know how any of us survived that day. I never want to experience that again!”
“You poor girl! Come here.” The two women embraced. “You’ve painted a rather vivid and disturbing portrait my dear! I quite understand the captain’s motivations. To lose one’s sibling then lose ones manhood because of a silly war. I can see where she would partially blame us…blame me…for her current situation.”
Emily broke their embrace. “Oh, Mina, Alex doesn’t blame you for any of this. He’s…She’s not like that! If she was like that my…ah, Admiral Demmit would’ve never given her this command.” Lt. Smith raised an eyebrow at the slip in the Lieutenant’s last statement.
Two distinct shudders echoed through the compartment.
“Seven and Eight are away, Miss Cummins.”
“Fish are running straight and hot, Skip.”
“Aft torpedo room indicates no damage. Outer doors are closed, Alex.”
“This is the Captain…good job everyone stand down from compartment seal.”
“Do you think that will draw him back in Alex?”
“I hope so Jack. If someone fired torpedoes at me I’d want to sink them. I’m banking on the Japanese form of honor being his downfall.”
“He’s catching up Skip!”
“Jack let him catch up and take us to four hundred feet. Let’s see if he follows.”
“Seven hundred yards and closing. He’s right behind us, Skip!”
“Four hundred feet, Alex.”
“Good! I want a half bubble down. Slowly take us down another ten feet.”
“Six hundred and closing.”
“Alex, do you think he’ll really compromise his boat?”
“Skipper! I just heard a faint explosion!”
“Negative Skip it was too faint! It sounded like it was several hundred yards behind him.”
Jack and I looked each other in the eyes. What had our torpedo hit? Did we unknowingly have another guest?”
“Four-ten, Miss Cummins.”
“Sonar, is he still with us?”
“Aye skip, five hundred and closing.”
“Jack take us down another ten.”
Aye, take us to four hundred and twenty feet. How long before he folds, Alex?”
“Soon I hope. They have to be leaking like crazy. Slow to five knots.”
“Aye, five knots.”
“Skip I’m hearing a lot of metallic groaning back there. I think he’s starting to break up.”
“Is he still closing?”
“No, sir he’s slowing…WOW!” My hydrophone operator pulled off her headphones. “That was loud! Skipper, I just had a loud series of explosions directly off the stern.”
We immediately felt the concussion.
“Sounds like he bought it, Skip. I don’t hear him anymore but I still hear small implosions below us.”
“Think he’s really gone, Alex?”
“One way to find out. Rudder, ten degrees to port. All stop. Rig for silent.”
It amazed me that anyone would intentionally destroy themselves just to make a kill, although the Japanese did employ kamikaze planes as a means of sinking our ships. I still wondered what we hit with that torpedo. Had there indeed been a second sub chasing us or did we accidentally hit a whale? I doubted we would ever know.
We sat quietly for fifteen minutes before resuming our course back to Hawaii. Everything was quiet around us. At 2000 hours we surfaced for battery recharge and our scheduled communication. Unfortunately I could not visually confirm our three kills for the day. I asked Chief Van Pelt to monitor Tokyo Rose for any information. I was informed that our passenger, Miss Moritsu, momentarily regained consciousness only to pass out again after catching sight of her new developments.
My thoughts now turned from recapping the day’s events to concern for the future of the Sand Dollar crew and passengers. I still had no idea how our situation would be addressed when and if we were allowed to reach port.
“Excuse me skipper, but the lookouts are reporting that the weather is turning. Waves are starting to break over the bow and the wind is picking up.”
“Will it hold for a few more hours, Carroll? We need to call in at 2200.”
“It might but the lookouts are complaining that the wind is messing up their hair.”
My, how things had changed aboard the Sand Dollar! Before all this had happened none of the crew would have ever worried about their hair, nails or appearance! “Tell them never mind their hair and do their job, they’ll have time to primp later!”
“I’ll tell them, Skip! By the way Alex, I don’t want you to think I’m prying but have you thought any more about what you’ll say to Pearl or what you’ll do if they change our orders?”
“Every waking moment since this happened, Carroll! I can’t decide to surrender quietly or run and hide somewhere. I think I’m just going to start with today’s kill report and wing it from there. Maybe our recent performance will cause them to reexamine our effectiveness to the fleet. I’m not going to hold my breath though.” I sighed, just thinking of our situation.
“Well, whatever you decide Captain, the crew and I will stand with you- no matter what happens.”
“Thanks, Carroll. I appreciate the show of loyalty. I was afraid that my display of emotions and questionable command decisions over the last few days had eroded the crew’s confidence in me.”
“Quite the opposite, Captain Steinert!” Lt. Smith said as she re-entered the compartment through the aft hatch. “Your actions and strategies since the Mahanilui have impressed not only your crew, but your passengers as well. I speak for the entire Kili contingent when I say that we consider it a privilege to serve under you. Trust me when I say that your leadership skills and military strategies have impressed several of my sisters that had, shall we say, previous naval experience? We shall abide by any and all commands given, Captain.” She went to attention.
“Thank you, your highness”, I said back as I wiped a tear from my eye. “Sorry, I don’t know why that happened.” For some reason I felt overjoyed that I had Lt. Smith and her sister’s respect. I had considered them a quintessential part of my crew since that first morning of our change. Without their competency and willingness to assist we would have, by now, been adrift, prisoners, dead, or worse.
“Alexandra Steinert, I thought I told you that I am to be referred to as Lt. Smith- not ‘Your Highness’ or ‘Your Majesty’ on this voyage?”
I lowered my head in embarrassment. Somehow, it always felt wrong not to show her the proper respect despite orders to the contrary. “I guess it was just the way I was raised, Ma’am.”
“Captain, I must insist that I be referred to as Lt. Smith when in the presence of the crew while on assignment. Since you consistently feel the need to pay proper respect to me, I suggest you pay me the ultimate respect and call me Mina- after all a person’s given name is far more important than any ridiculous title. Actually, friends should be on a first name basis anyway- wouldn’t you agree, Alexandra?”
I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t understand how she could consider me her friend in such a short time especially after I berated her in front of the crew the morning of our island departure. “I…how can you call me a…a friend? You really don’t know me.”
“Trust me, Captain. I consider myself a good judge of one’s character; after all, I’ve been around a lot longer than you or any of your original crew. I’ve also learned to trust my intuition on the matter. From the moment we met I could see that you were an honorable and reliable individual. The impeccable manners you showed on our pier. You’re chivalrous treatment of me and my sisters. The respect and trust paid you by your officers and crew. The admiration Emily has for you. Her love for you! You have a kind, caring, and gentle soul combined with a strong will. You continually see to the safety and well being of others even if it means damaging one’s feelings. You admit when you’re wrong and assume full responsibility for any and all circumstances…I could go on if you wish but only half of these criteria are needed to realize you make an ideal friend.”
Again I had no response. I felt another tear escape down my cheek as I just stared.
“Ma’am, that was the most beautiful thing I ever heard. It’s the first time I’ve seen the Captain lost for words. Do they teach that at Oxford?”
“Not really, Miss Sheldon, observation as well as compassion for our fellow man cannot be taught in university, it must be learned firsthand in the real world.”
I snapped back to reality. “Con, go ahead Bridge.”
“Skipper, it’s getting pretty bad up here. It’s rainin’ buckets. Swells are getting heavy and the lightning will be here any minute. What are your orders?” Jack asked over the sound of distant thunder.
“Jack, pull the watch.”
“Carroll, as soon as the watch clears have the chief shutdown the engines and take us down to periscope depth. We’ll resurface at 2200. Hopefully the weather will clear a little by then.”
“Aye, three-five feet. Prepare for dive.”
“I’m sorry Lt. Smith, did you want to see me?”
“Yes, Captain, Emily wishes to inform you that the prisoner is starting to regain consciousness.”
“Lt. Sheldon you have the Con. Lt. Smith and I will be down in the brig with our guest.”
We proceeded below to the brig.
“Well, Doctor how’s your patient?”
“Still woozy Alex. She keeps repeating something. I wish I knew what she was saying. Can you make it out, Mina?”
“Something about being damned by the angels, I think. She’s slurring her words too much.”
“Alex, with your permission I need to go in and examine her wounds.”
I nodded. “Just be careful.” As I opened the cell door Moritsu tried to become part of the rear bulkhead. I had never seen anyone so scared before- she literally rolled herself into a tight ball and started crying profusely. Her mantra changed and she began repeating that anew. Both Emily and I looked toward Mina for the translation.
“Now she seems to be praying for forgiveness and deliverance from the…”she stopped as if searching for the proper translation. It took a moment. “…from Lucifer’s demonic legion, I think. She’s using an old Feudal Japanese term I’m not familiar with.”
I thought a minute. She thought we were demons? What if I let her believe that? No, I couldn’t do that in good conscience, yet I couldn’t tell her about the Mahanilui either. To do so would mean certain torture if we were captured- but would anyone believe her? What should I do? I knew how hard the change had hit us, I could only imagine what she was feeling- waking from the change while incarcerated by your enemy.
“Alex, Mina, look at this! The leg splint I put on her broken leg is loose to the point of falling off! And look here…” Emily eased up the bandages around Moritsu’s ribcage as best as she could, “…Not a bruise, not even a scratch! It’s like she was never hurt! I’ve never seen anything like this!”
“Yes you have, Doctor!” I pointed to my leg. “It’s magic, remember?” I got an idea. “Mina, I need you to translate what I say word for word if you can. First try to get Moritsu’s attention.” It took a while to calm our prisoner down. When she did, I asked Mina to start translating. “Mr. Moritsu, We mean you no harm. I assure you we are not demons or angels, but regular sailors like you. I know what you see is hard to believe. You must understand that I warned you about our cook’s food. I heard he learned to cook from a Philippine witch doctor right after he broke up with a Voodoo Priestess from Haiti. He’s vowed to curse the whole United States Navy for stealing his favorite goat! Now do you believe that?” Lt. Smith eyed me curiously.
“Alex Steinert! How dare you tell her such lies! I don’t think that’s a good way to gain her trust.” Emily scolded.
Moritsu lifted her head slightly so I could just see her pretty new face. She looked me straight in the eye and plainly spoke. I recognized the last word.
“She says you officers don’t know what real food is and, that you are full of…”
“Yes, Mina, I recognized the last word. Thank you. Tell her, the truth is we still don’t know what happened, but it happened to us too- a few days ago. Tell her it’s not so bad and we suffer no ill effects.”
“Really Captain, I cannot understand your verbal assaults toward the Chief’s culinary prowess. I’ve heard no complaints about any of her meals.”
“Mina, throughout history commanders, be they Generals, Admirals, Khans, or Sheiks, have always sparred with their cooks. It’s like a show of respect…kind of. Moritsu said she was a cook. I’m just trying to make her relax. Please finish the translation. Emily, how is she?”
Emily waited until Mina had finished my message, then she proceeded to remove the leg splint. She gently pressed the shapely leg while Moritsu curiously looked on. Finding no tenderness or break, she moved to remove the wrappings on her chest. The new girl raised an arm in apprehension. A gentle touch from Emily’s hand moved it away and continued. Finding nothing but clear undamaged skin and no tenderness, she removed the head bandaging to reveal no sign of the forehead gouge. Holding her finger in front of her patient, Emily checked for concussion.
“I just can’t believe it! She’s perfectly healthy…like she never suffered any trauma at all. Amazing!”
“Mina, tell her that I’m sorry that this has happened. Remind her though that she is still our prisoner and therefore must stay here in the brig. We will provide suitable clothing for her. If she is hungry I’ll have something sent down. If you’ll excuse me I have to prepare my report to HQ.”
“Alex, what if Admiral Demmit doesn’t believe you? What if he wants proof?”
“I concur with the Doctor, Alexandra. Indeed, what if he needs proof? Could he not meet us on Hilo?”
“The Admiral is too cautious to risk a meeting that close to Pearl. If he had a doubt as to our identities we wouldn’t get within a thousand miles of Hawaii! He would have every available depth charge toting vessel searching for us.”
“Hawaii? I there once!”
The words came out clear. Startled by the outburst, the three of us just stared at the pretty, little half-Japanese girl. “I’ll be in the Wardroom. Emily, Mina, feel free to join me after she gets dressed.” On my way there I tossed around something I had just said. ‘We wouldn’t get within a thousand miles of Pearl.’ I stopped in the Control room to consult the charts. After looking over a few I formed a plan and selected one to take with me. Carroll watched and waited as I returned the others to their pigeonholes.
“I know that look,” she said, “care to let the rest of us in on it, Skipper?”
“Not yet, Carroll. Have the Officers meet in the Wardroom in thirty minutes, including Lt. Smith. I’ll let Jack know.”
2145 hours, 700 Nautical miles West-Southwest of Palmyra Atoll, March 31st, 1944
“…So that’s my plan. Emily do you think you can use that code of yours to convince the Admiral to send someone to meet us?”
“I can try, Alex. I’ll see what I can put together. Do you think it can work?” she said with concern.
“Skipper, there’s a fairly big reef surrounding the whole place- about half a mile in places and only one way in. We’d be visible from the air, not to mention sitting ducks!”
“I realize that Chief. Are you always going to remind me of things that I haven’t forgotten, Miss Samuels? No? Good, then are there any other concerns or thoughts? Jack?”
“Alex, what makes you think that anybody would believe us, even if they saw us in person- I mean…I…I still don’t believe! They could storm the boat and lock all the crazy women up in some asylum! Now if we could get the old man to see for himself…”
“It would never happen, Jack- Demmit’s no fool. Even to me that screams trap.”
“Alex, let me see what I can do.” Emily interrupted. We all looked at her a moment. Had she hidden something else from me?
“Randy, look up the code designation and see that Josie gets it. Emily get that code written up and meet me in the radio shack in ten minutes. That’s all I have, let’s get to it.”
“Captain, a word if you please?”
“Sure, Mina, what’s on your mind?”
“Some of my girls have been feeling a little claustrophobic lately- I believe the cramped spaces are making them feel that way. I would request that, if this goes to plan, we delay our departure a day for some needed exercise? I believe everyone would benefit.”
“I’ll see what I can do. I can almost guarantee that the Admiral will have something to say about it though.”
“Then I shall, as the reigning Monarch of Kili Island, formally declare a holiday to celebrate our liberation and temporary relocation from Imperial tyranny! I shall insist that you, our gallant rescuers, participate!”
I caught myself giggling- not because Mina’s posture noticeably stiffened as she raised her right arm and pointed skyward in a John Adams type pose, but because it was most likely to work!
“What…do you think it was a bit over the top?” she asked stifling giggles of her own.
“No Highness, it’s just how can the old man refuse a royal decree like that- especially if he were invited?”
My word, Alexandra, you are the devious one. I am starting to understand why the Admiral picked you for this assignment!”
“Excuse me Captain. We’re ready to transmit on your orders.”
I felt the smile fade quickly from my face. It was replaced by a somber look as I took a large breath and let out a heavy, audible sigh. “Well, here we go,” I said in a tone that matched my face.
2200 hours, Pearl Harbor, March 31st, 1944
“Admiral, I think I’m receiving 353, sir.”
“Are you sure Ensign?”
“Sounds like the same voice as before, sir. I’ll confirm, sir.” Redhorse broadcast his question while Lt. Forbes and the Admiral looked on awaiting an answer.
“Yep, it’s Joseph, sirs.” He confirmed with a laugh, “but I still can’t get over it!”
“Shall we continue, Sir,” Forbes looked toward his Commander. Admiral Demmit just nodded a cautious affirmative. Ensign Redhorse asked for a status report.
The Code Talker jotted down the reply then read the decoded message. “353 reports crew and passengers okay; one prisoner recovering; three unconfirmed kills- two subs and one light cruiser, one unknown fish explosion. Additional message to follow.”
“Forbes, get reconnaissance on the line. See if we can get confirmation.”
“What’s an ‘unknown fish explosion’, sir?” Redhorse inquired.
“It means that 353 fired a torpedo at someone and hit something else, Ensign. It happens sometimes; usually it means they hit a biological- most likely a whale, maybe a seamount. It depends on how deep they fired from. Let them know we’re awaiting the second message.”
After a moment the Ensign motioned for his Lieutenant. A small discussion ensued. The two men seemed to be in a hot debate.
“Forbes? Ensign, what the hell is going on? Are you going to decode the message or am I going to have to do it myself?”
“I’m sorry Admiral, 353 is making a very unorthodox request, sir. It breaks all military protocol. Maybe we’ve been fooled, Admiral!”
“What is it, Forbes? Before I start court marshal proceedings on the both of you!”
“It’s Lt. Scott…she will only talk to you, personally, Admiral. She refuses to talk to Ensign Redhorse.”
Admiral Demmit angrily took the headset from Ensign Redhorse and grabbed the microphone. “This had better be good Rockville! You know I can have you thrown out of the game for this…what? You want my team? …Mudhens…he WHAT? …Explain yourself! L…this is highly irregul…wait, I’ll write it down,” he wrote something down and tearing the note off, placed it in his shirt pocket. “ …this better not be some sort of trick…oh, she wants to what? …I am? …well I…understood, stand-by, Springfield out.”
“What is it, Admiral?”
“Forbes, have the Ensign send this command: divert to requested position and hold for further orders. Next contact…2135, two days hence. As usual this conversation never happened. Destroy all notes and logs. Is that understood, Forbes?” The Admiral turned and hurried out of the room.
“At once, Admiral Demmit. I wonder what that was about?” the two men looked at each other in confusion.
“I don’t know, I still don’t understand why you need the Navajo! The Admiral seems to have a very good code of his own.”
“Just do as the Admiral ordered, Mr. Redhorse.”
2200 hours, 650 Nautical miles West-Southwest of Palmyra Atoll, March 31st, 1944
“Got them, Captain. It’s Adam Redhorse again.” My petite radio operator said then giggled. “He wants to know if I remember what we did to little Jonathon Clayton when we were thirteen.” She giggled once again and gave her answer. She paused until she got the okay to continue then gave our report.
“Josie, tell your friend that I need to speak directly with Admiral Demmit and that I will speak with no one else.”
“Yes, Ma’am but that is a direct breach of protocol. That might make them start to question our identities.” She relayed the message then she handed the headset and mic to Emily. We waited several minutes for a reply. Finally Emily began to speak.
“Yes, I understand that Springfield but this is important. Something has happened to everyone here. We need to talk to you. Before we do though, can I ask your team, sir? Thank you, sir. The Blacksox request a private, business meeting with you. I can’t, sir, I can’t explain over the radio. The Blacksox also need to discuss relocation plans for the bleachers with you in private…it is a matter of life and death for the franchise. Uncle Richard, please meet us in section NB-34 at the game in two days. We will be waiting just to the south of centerfield. It’s not a trick! On my mother’s grave, please believe me! It concerns the future of the entire franchise. The visiting team has put together a party to celebrate their safe season and their coach says you are invited, sir. I wish there was another way to do this, but we can’t disclose our trades to just anyone. It could possibly add games. Meet me at the stated location, Rockville out.”
“Admiral Demmit is your Uncle?” I asked flabbergasted. Things were starting to come together now. I felt…um…I don’t know how I felt just now- confused, used, betrayed- take your pick. How could I have let her do this to me again!
As if reading my mind, Emily lowered her eyes to the deck. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you Alex. The Admiral…Uncle Richard ordered me not to disclose our relationship, he thought it would ruin my chances of finding someone…you know?”
“Captain, we have orders to proceed to Palmyra Atoll and hold there. Next contact 2135, April 2.”
“Thanks, Miss Two-Eagles. I’ll be in my quarters.” I passed the order to change course to my Ex-O as I passed through the Con.
“Alex? Alex, wait! We need to talk.” Lt. Scott caught up to me just before I closed my door.
“A little late for that don’t you think? Why didn’t you tell me? What other national secrets are you withholding from me, Lt. Scott?”
“Alex, I already told you why. Admiral Demmit figured, if word got out that I was his niece, people would treat me differently, like some kind of royalty- that they would use me to get into his good graces! He wanted me to get promoted for what I could do and not for whom I was related to. Can’t you understand that? You don’t realize how much I had to plead with him not to court marshal you. He felt you were reckless and unprofessional, that you were a danger to me. He thought you actually started that brawl in the bar. I pleaded and pleaded with him that you were the perfect gentleman and that you were only protecting my honor! Finally, I had to promise him that I would go back to finish medical school by accepting reassignment to Norfolk- that I would stay away from you. He didn’t understand at first that you…that both of us had been set up. Halfway through your hearing he learned that Lionel only wanted to embarrass the Navy and sensationalize it for a byline. It wasn’t until after that came to light that he realized what I told him about you was correct. Uncle Richard prides himself on knowing the personality and character of all his officers. That’s why he promoted you and gave you the Sand Dollar. He hoped it would make up for the embarrassment and mistrust you suffered as a result of your discipline hearing. In several letters that he wrote to me he stated that he felt terrible for not giving you the benefit of doubt. He really likes you, you know! He was ready to give his recommendation to my father if we got back together.” She paused as her tear filled eyes finally overflowed. “I guess…I guess that will never happen now.”
Emily collapsed into my arms crying. I couldn’t help feel sorry for her. I could understand the Admiral’s reasoning- the military had a history of nepotism. Relatives seldom make good commanding officers. To my chagrin, I felt pride for Emily’s achievements- she had proven herself, by herself. I held her in a firm embrace.
“I would never intentionally keep anything from you, Alex,” she whispered from behind my shoulder. “I love you too much to do that, sis.”
“What did you call me?” I eased Emily back from my shoulder until I could see her face.
“I would never keep anything from you?” she said while still not meeting my eyes.
“After that. You said you loved me then you called me ‘Sis’- as in sister- why?”
She finally looked up as if searching for the answer in my eyes. “I…I don’t…I don’t know. It just came out- I mean, look at us, Alex! We look similar; we’re roughly the same height and shape; our hair color is similar; our voices even sound similar if you would lose that Missouri drawl! Face it Alex, the way we look now, we could be sisters. No one would question it. Anyway, would it be so bad? At least we’d have a reason to stay together if things don’t work out, wouldn’t we?”
“Look Emily, I just felt hurt that you didn’t tell me, that’s all. As far as us agreeing to be sisters, I saw the similarities as soon as Mina pointed them out. I’d feel honored to be considered your sister, it…it just seems right somehow.”
Somewhere in my mind a voice yelled “hurray!” the volume of which caused me to glance around the room for its source.
“What’s the matter, Alex?”
“Oh…um, nothing. I just thought I heard something, that’s all. It was nothing.”
“Now who’s holding back, Alex? Sisters can tell when the other’s not telling the truth! Own up.”
I felt my face flush. “Since the change, I’ve had these voices in my head- well at first there were a few but now it seems like just two. I’ve also noticed that one of them lets me know which plan or tactic will work best- like it knows the future…You think I’m nuts, don’t you?”
“I don’t think you’re nuts, Alex, I just think you have a conscience that wants to protect you like you protected me that evening in Honolulu. Maybe they’re part of the Mahanilui- sort of like a guide to help you adjust to your new appearance.” Emily stopped then smiled at me. “Could be the mysterious ‘Women’s Intuition’!” Her right fist came up and gently grazed my chin as she giggled. “Come on, Sis. Time to turn in, we both have duty at 0700. Get some sleep.” She hugged me and left my quarters.
Jack had been in the passage as Emily left and gave me a questioning look. I still couldn’t get over how pretty she looked when she was confused! I closed the door, sat back on my rack, and made my nightly log entry before turning in.
1600 hours, Admiral Demmit’s office, Pearl Harbor, April 1st, 1944
“Excuse me, Admiral, Commander Wilson from Air/Sea Rescue would like a word, sir?”
Admiral Demmit sat quietly behind his desk deliberating last night’s radio conversation with his niece. ‘She felt it necessary to reveal our relationship to the crew- why? What has happened aboard the Sand Dollar that would justify that? Had they been boarded and subjugated into revealing the mission. Will I be walking into a trap as Lt. Forbes had initially suggested? If so, why pick an island so far behind the lines? Palmyra Atoll was nothing more than a Navy Air strip used for refueling and staging. There was only one way into its lagoon. Why lore me to such an isolated location? Emily’s previous report specified ‘no balls’, what the devil did she mean if everyone was accounted for? Was she trying to tell me something about the prisoner? No, that would have been ‘fouls’. Did she do something unthinkable to Steinert? She is a doctor, isn’t she? And what about Two-Eagles? Ensign Redhorse did say that his voice sounded like a girl’s. Yet he assured us it was definitely him. How does it all tie in? Does it have something to do with the Queen? Voodoo…No, I can’t believe it actually exists. That’s too far out to even consider. Isn’t it?’
“Eh, hem! Admiral Demmit? Commander Wilson to see you, sir.”
“What? Oh, Commander, what can I do for you?”
“If you’re busy, sir, I can come back later.”
“Nonsense, have a seat. Now, what is it?”
“Admiral, one of our recon flights reported thick smoke about 500 miles northeast of Howland Island. Thinking the worst he reported it. Our PBY at Howland flew to the coordinates this morning after comparing the coordinates that Lt. Forbes sent us last night. I just got off the radio with them an hour ago. Sir, it was carnage out there. The pilot reported bodies everywhere, Admiral, mostly Japanese sailors but several Germans as well. They found evidence of at least two Jap subs, a surface vessel, and what appears to be debris from a U-boat! Here’s my report, sir.”
Wilson passed the folder to Admiral Demmit.
“You say a U-boat? What the devil are the Germans doing this far East in the Pacific? Would it be safe to say Commander that these vessels were on the receiving end of Allied torpedoes?”
“Entirely possible, Admiral. The PBY crew couldn’t say for sure but, given Lt. Forbes’ investigation request last night, I believe that to be the case. Chalk up four for our side!”
“Yes, Commander, chalk up four more for our side.”
“I’d like to meet the man that was lucky enough to sink a German U-boat in the Pacific Ocean. Do you realize the odds? Especially considering he got three Japanese boats at the same time. This guy’s the luckiest bastard of the whole war!”
“Thank you, Commander. I’ll tell him that when I see him. That will be all.”
The two officers shook hands and Commander Wilson exited the office.
“The luckiest man of the war! I’ll tell him when I see him! If he’s still alive! Steinert? What the hell are you doing out there? I guess I’ll just have to see for myself!” Demmit said to himself, making up his mind then and there whether or not to agree to Emily’s requested meeting.
“Ensign!” the old man yelled. “Make arrangements for a plane to take me to Palmyra Atoll first thing tomorrow morning, on the double!”
1100 hours, Palmyra Atoll, April 2nd, 1944
“Bottoms coming up fast, Skip! Sixty feet and rising.”
“Surface the boat, Lt. Scott. Looks like we’re here.”
“Aye, Captain. Prepare to surface! Maneuvering- All Stop. Blow all tanks. Look-outs to the Con.”
“Thank you Miss Scott, fine job! Care to join me on the bridge? Lt. Smith, if you please?”
“But of course Captain. I’d be delighted.”
True to her ability, Emily had piloted us right up to the southern edge of the reef that surrounded Palmyra Atoll. I decided to hold position here on the surface to see what would unfold. I figured we would appear less imposing this way. I had the lookouts run up the Stars and Stripes followed by our quarantine ensign. As I looked back at my two lookouts, something worried me…their hair! Who ever heard of a sailor with shoulder length, billowing hair or a foot-long ponytail? I ordered the two to hide their hair up under their helmets. I followed suit. As two of the twenty-one known women onboard, Emily and Mina could leave theirs be. The weather, I noted, couldn’t be better- Clear skies, mild breeze, smooth seas, twenty feet of water under our keel- it couldn’t get any better. In short, we were sitting ducks!
“Skipper, Radar says we have a bogie coming in at zero-zero-two degrees, twenty miles out.”
“Thanks, Jack.” I looked at my two officers, “Here we go ladies. Jack, sound Battle Stations. Get the gun crews up here just in case- full battle gear.”
Within five minutes all the deck guns were manned. Pride raced through me as I realized I still had the best crew, even if we were all women! “Stand-by your stations. Hide your hair in your helmets!” I shouted. From a distance we looked like a typical submarine crew on patrol- at least I hoped we looked that way. I was very nervous about our planned meeting with whomever the Admiral sent. Our fate was in his hands. Strangely, my little pain hadn’t appeared. I took that as a good omen.
“Skip! Bogie at zero-zero-two,” one of my lookouts announced.
“I hope I’m doing the right thing!” I said aloud as I placed my binoculars to my eyes. Emily put her hand on my shoulder in support.
“It’s one of ours, Skip. A Catalina,” a lookout said a moment later.
A minute later the seaplane over-flew us at low altitude then started to come about for another pass. After a second pass the plane took a wide arc and started its approach. Ten minutes later the PBY taxied up along our port side. Several of the crew waited patiently for the Seaplane’s mooring ropes to be thrown. Once secured, an inflatable raft appeared and three men entered it and began paddling the short distance between us.
I stood dumbfounded as I recognized one of them.
“Shit! It’s the Old Man! He really came!”
“Really Captain, such language!” Mina chided.
“Emily you better get down there and greet Uncle. I’m going to need an introduction.” I gave a heavy sigh.
“It’ll be okay, Alex. Just relax; you look like you’re ready to pass out, Sis!”
Mina eyed us both curiously. “Sis…as in sisters? Positively wonderful! I was wondering how long it would take you two.”
Emily hurried down the ladder to the foredeck. She arrived just as the Admiral reached our side. Two of the crew grabbed and secured the lines as two more helped Admiral Demmit and his two escorts to the deck, but remained quiet. I noticed the Admiral doing a double take as he was helped aboard but did not seem concerned. Apparently he thought they were Islanders- I hoped.
“Lt. Scott, permission to come aboard?
“Of course, Admiral Demmit. Welcome aboard, sir! Captain Steinert had some business to attend to and should be here momentarily.” She cheerfully stated while saluting.
That was my cue. “Lt. Smith, if you would accompany me to the deck?”
“By all means, Captain.”
Down on the deck I could hear Admiral Demmit.
“Lieutenant cut the bull! What the devil has been going on? Why isn’t the Captain here to greet me? You know the protocol!”
“Yes sir, we all know the protocol,” I said as my feet touched the deck. “As Lt. Scott stated, I had some business to attend to, Sir. Namely preparing myself for this meeting!” My legs were trembling badly as I reached up and removed my cap. My hair immediately fell about my shoulders.
“Ruthie?” the Admiral sputtered as his jaw hit the ground.
“Uncle…this is Commander Alex Steinert, Captain of the Sand Dollar and also, may I present Lt. Philamina Smith from our Kili Island detachment?”
I stopped and held my salute, as did Mina.
The old man almost had a heart attack. He quickly recovered though.
“Emily? Where’s the Captain?” He focused his attention on me. “Young lady I don’t like games or charades! I suggest you go get Steinert out here immediately before I lose my patience and have him hanged!” I had heard that tone once before.
“But Uncle Richard this is why we requested this meeting! This…this is…Alex Steinert!” she gestured to me with both hands.
“Nonsense, Emily! This is not Captain Steinert. Why are you protecting him again? What did he do to you that you would lie to me. Did he get you…”
“Uncle!” she shrieked.
“Admiral Demmit!” I dropped my salute and approached him. I was angry now. I poked at him. “I never laid a hand on Emily nor did we ever do anything inappropriate- here or on Hawaii! I demand an apology, Admiral!” I growled, my Missouri drawl very evident. ‘My God did I really just assault an Admiral?’ I thought. “Sir, I’m sorry I…you accused…I…”
Mina, assuming her royal persona, interrupted. “Captain Steinert is right, Admiral Demmit! I should think a Senior Officer would never state such derogatory allegations of those under him without proper substantiation. I believe an apology IS in order, Admiral!”
“And just who are you, miss?”
Emily interrupted this time. “Uncle Richard, I told you, this is Lt. Smith! Queen Mauikimau of Kili Island. Mina this is my Uncle, Admiral Richard Demmit.”
The Admiral seemed confused at first then calmed slightly as he offered his hand. “I’m sorry, you’re Highness. I didn’t realize… please forgive me. I never pictured such a lovely young woman as yourself to be leader of her own monarchy!”
Mina let the compliment drop flat, her royal bearing continued. “Admiral, I suggest you listen to our Captain! She has something very important to discuss with you. But first you must be convinced she is whom she claims. May I suggest questions that only the Captain herself would know?”
Again Admiral Demmit turned his attention to me. There was that intense gaze again- like he was looking for any evidence of my true identity in my soul. It was still very unnerving yet I stared back. He finally broke his gaze deciding to concede to Mina’s request when she interceded.
“May I ask what you saw, Admiral?”
“Sorry, you’re Highness. It’s just that I consider myself a good judge of character. I have this knack for looking into their eyes. My mother called it looking into the soul.”
“I’m not sure. At first I thought I saw a glimmer of Alex, but I just can’t be sure.” He thought a minute. “Alright, we’ll try it your way, ma’am.” He glanced back over to me. “Tell me miss, what was the name of the senior SP that first brought you to my office in San Diego?”
“Parson, sir. Chief Parson. He also escorted me to the Seaplane landing the following morning. I half expected him to meet me at Mare, sir. You said you were going to put him up for commendations.” I stated matter-of-factly.
He glanced to the side in thought. He looked back. “And you say he almost hit four sailors just getting off the dock?”
“No, sir. I believe I stated the number at eight, sir.” Again, I answered with little emotion or delay.
He looked into my eyes again.
“Sir, I would request that you stop doing that, it’s very unnerving. I was nervous enough when I got rushed into your office. You sat there and stared into my eyes just like now, after which you laughed at me for not knowing why I was there. You then handed me my new commission! A promotion that, I might add, I didn’t know I was even in line for! You said you had a special mission for me- nothing too dangerous for my first mission, but definitely a challenge, you said! You don’t realize how challenging it’s been, sir!” I indicated my new form. “Look, either you believe I’m Alex Steinert or you don’t, sir. There’s no way to prove it conclusively!” I paused only long enough to sort out an idea.
“Here, sir, take a good look at Emily.” I pulled her close to me. “She’s your family. To your knowledge does she have a sister or a cousin that looks like her? The answer is no, she’s an only child- she told me that after we met. What would be the chances of finding a woman on an eastern Marshal Island that looked so similar that she could be a long lost sister? If you need further proof allow me to provide you with it. Everyone,” I shouted, “remove your battle gear for the Admiral!” Admiral Demmit and his two companions just looked around in awe of all the hair that was falling out from the helmets- of what had been hidden under our flak jackets. “I can provide even more proof if you’ll follow me below, sir, and if you want to court marshal me for insubordination that’s your option, too!”
“Found quite the set of balls haven’t you, Captain?” roared the old Salt. “I mean that figuratively of course. You’ve proven your point, Alex. If I were you, I’d refrain from ripping the seat from an Admiral’s trousers or you will face that tribunal! Now would you care to settle down and explain how this happened?”
I was shocked! He actually believed me! I glanced toward Emily then Mina. Both shared the same look of outright astonishment. I felt my face flush. “I’m sorry sir. I don’t know where that came from, I…I just couldn’t let you impugn that I compromised Emily’s honor. I vowed I’d never let that happen again- no matter who it was!” I paused to think.
“If I may sir- what finally convinced you?”
“Son…Alex, the only one that ever gave me that much of a bowel cleansing was my niece…it was right after I had hastily decided to wash you out without knowing all the facts. Emily stormed into my quarters and proceeded to read me the rulebook. Her mother Ruth used to do the same thing when she felt I was going off half-cocked. Did she ever tell you she was my only sister- looked just like you, Alex! Now, how is this possible? What happened?”
Now Emily was staring intensely at me. “Now that you mention it, she does look like that old photograph of Mom! I never saw the resemblance before this.” I could hear the excitement in her voice.
“Admiral Demmit, the tale of how Captain and crew came to be this way is of utmost secrecy- very sensitive in nature.” Mina stated as she gestured toward the two other men.
“Oh, excuse me your Highness. May I introduce, on my right, Marine Maj. Canton. Maj. Canton is in charge of our Code Talker project. To my left is Ensign Adam Redhorse. I insisted he tag along to help verify your identities. Mr. Redhorse is a personal friend of PFC. Two-Eagles. Both men can be trusted and have the highest clearance.”
A gunshot rang out and echoed across the water.
“Skipper! We have motion on the beach!”
In a flurry of motion my deck crew donned helmets and flak jackets. Seconds later all guns were again manned and pointing toward the section of beach in question.
“Impressive Captain! Good to see your men…haven’t lost their edge! At ease Men! Rest assured that small company of men means you no harm. Remember, you requested a little shore leave for your passengers, I took the liberty of providing shelter and refreshments…you do know what a luau is, your Highness?”
“Yes, how wonderful, Admiral Demmit. I trust there will be enough for everyone?” Mina motioned to everyone on deck. “After all, if it hadn’t been for Captain Steinert and her heroic submarine crew, this day wouldn’t have been possible. I must tell you, Alexandra has gotten us out of a few rather difficult scuffles. She deserves to celebrate just as much.”
“Alexandra?” the Admiral raised an eyebrow.
“Well she doesn’t look like an ‘Alexander’ now does she?” Mina replied.
“Admiral, if you will follow me below, I’ll try to explain all this.” I said flushed with embarrassment. As I turned and walked back to the Conning tower ladder I felt three separate stares watching my backside. It made me very self-conscious and somewhat annoyed. I glared back at the three men only to see Emily and Mina stifle laughter. I didn’t find it funny.
1300 hours, Palmyra Atoll, April 2nd, 1944
“…So that’s what happened sir. I agree it’s an incredible story, but it’s all true. Unfortunately, we have found that tequila is a far more potent substitute for the ‘Kili Punch’. I’m sorry to say that our Japanese prisoner has undergone the same transformation only in half the time, sir. You can imagine, Admiral, how Mina and the rest of us would be treated if anyone found out about the Mahanilui. That’s why she asked for your help in relocating her people. Think of the ramifications it would pose to the war effort- not to mention that lunatic, Hitler, getting his Arian race!” I paused. I purposely had left out the part about longevity.
“I guess what we’re all most afraid of is that our own government will try the same thing. I speak for the whole crew when I say that we’ve been traumatized enough by this. If we don’t change back…” I fought back tears. “I…I realize we can’t stay in the Service. Don’t get me wrong, we all would rather fight aboard the Sand Dollar then get sent stateside but, given the options, I think living free on some out of the way island is preferable to becoming rats in some secret laboratory.”
“Amazing! Absolutely amazing! To think magic really does exist in these modern times. And you say the change is total?”
“Jim Hilf is proof. She started menstruating just hours afterward. Mina says it’s rare but happens. Sir, is there any way that you can suppress this? Maybe we can all go to Hilo for the duration of the war? Mina and her people certainly deserve their privacy.” The tears were getting harder to hold back now. I took a large breath in preparation of what I had to say next. “Sir, I recommend the Sand Dollar be scuttled so that no one else will suffer our fate. She’s a fine boat and has served us well. I hate to lose her, but I see…see…I see…sorry… no other way.” The floodgates opened.
“Alex come on, the Admiral will do whatever he can to help us. Won’t you Uncle Richard? Tell her!” Emily consoled me and demanded an answer through tears of her own.
“I’ll see what I can do, don’t get too excited though! The War Department frowns on false reports. Nimitz and Halsey both would have my head if they found out!”
“What about the ship…”
“BOAT” Emily and I yelled at Mina.
“What about our boat, Admiral Demmit. I’ve grown rather fond of him. Does he really have to be sunk?”
“Mina, we refer to all Naval vessels as her not him, you know that!” I chided.
“Does it not shoot torpedoes?”
The Admiral annoyingly looked her way and cleared his throat. “In this case, your Highness, I would have to agree with Captain Steinert. I can’t risk the transformation of any more of my men. I’m afraid, given the situation; she’ll have to be scuttled…unless you can give me another option. It would be a shame to see such an advanced and distinguished vessel destroyed so early in her career. What would be worse would be to lose such an experienced crew and Captain, especially when they’re the only ones to sink a U-boat on our side of the dateline!”
We all looked up in surprise. “A U-boat? We sunk a German U-boat? I thought we hit a whale or something.”
“Congratulations, Alex, you have five confirmed kills. Air-Sea confirmed it yesterday. Three Japanese and one German. Any idea what they were up to, Commander?”
“We heard a lot of metallic noises on the surface- like they were loading torpedoes or something. When we went up for a look, I spotted a sub alongside the cruiser that had been following us- well, we thought it was following us anyway. I never saw the second sub behind the cruiser. After we made our attack run the second sub came after us. I decided to see how big of a plan we thwarted so we went deep. I egged him on by firing two aft torpedoes. We heard a detonation way behind him. Whatever they were planning must have been big- he crushed at four hundred and twenty feet still chasing us. What a waste!”
“So you have no idea what they were doing this far east? Hmm…Well maybe it’s better we not know. If the Germans were involved it couldn’t have been good. Congratulations Alex, well done!” He reached across the table and shook my hand. The hand seemed to engulf mine. I stared at the way he grasped my hand while shaking it- very gentle. Admiral Demmit must have noticed as his face suddenly showed confusion. He immediately revoked the hand and, clearing his throat, continued. “Good job, Commander!” Focusing his attention toward Mina, “I…um…I took the liberty of having a few tents set up on the beach for you to relax, your Highness. I hope you find them to your liking.”
“Excuse me Admiral, but can I ask the Captain were PFC Two-Eagles might be? I have yet to see him.”
“Yes Commander where is your Communications Specialist?” The old man raised an inquiring eyebrow.
“I’m sorry, I forgot to tell you that Two-Eagles is off duty right now. She should be getting ready for…”
“Captain? Sorry to interrupt but…Adam? Adam Redhorse is that really you?” Two-Eagles had entered the doorway. Her voice rose with excitement at seeing her friend.
“Joseph?” the Ensign’s face went white- a major achievement for a Navajo, and his jaw dropped open for several seconds. Finally, he muttered something in his native tongue.
“Why thank you Adam, how kind of you to notice!” Josie flashed her marvelous smile at him. Admiral Demmit turned to look and did a double take.
“Private! Is that anyway to greet an officer?” The Admiral barked.
Josie snapped to attention. “Sorry sirs! Um…nice to see you again Ensign Redhorse. Please forgive me.” I noticed neither officer was looking any higher than her neck. The old man looked like he was going to take a heart attack any minute.
“Private, I don’t think we have to prepare for a transmission tonight.” I said it more to snap the Admiral and Ensign Redhorse back to reality then to state the obvious. “Don’t you agree, Admiral Demmit?”
“Um…ah…I…No, no I…I mean yes…yes, you still have a scheduled transmission to make.”
Now it was our turn to look surprised. “Transmit tonight, sir? I don’t get it. Why would we do that when you and Redhorse are right here?” A thought then occurred to me. “No one knows you’re here! You took a big chance, Admiral! Why?”
“It was something that Lt. Scott reported four days ago. I got to wondering about the possible meanings of her score call ‘no balls’. Very unorthodox but very imaginative my dear!” He winked at Emily. “Don’t worry, I won’t tell your father about your, shall we say, unladylike language.” Emily blushed profusely. “Captain, you make your scheduled contact tonight! You report that you are having trouble with the pumps- damage from the recent attack. I think you might find you’ll start having steering problems- maybe even compass errors- something that would delay your arrival here.”
“I don’t follow, sir.”
“It’s fairly simple, Captain. If you had some sort of problem that kept you from getting here…”
“Then this meeting could never have taken place- of course, but what about your report, sir? Won’t you draw attention from the War Department?”
Alex, as far as the War Dept. is concerned I was following diplomatic protocol by organizing and attending a welcoming gala for our Kili dignitaries and they never showed. I won’t find out the specifics until I get back to Pearl. And, since this Atoll has little food or water on its isolated southern side we had to eat something! Canton? Red-Horse, did either of you see a sub around here anywhere?”
Both men shrugged and shook their heads.
“Good, and I’ll bet the PBY crew saw the same. Now can we get this Luau underway? I’m hungry.”
“I must admit Admiral, you do have a certain penchant for command. I should say my dear friend Teddy Roosevelt shared that quality.” Lt. Smith got out before I nudged her. Both Emily and I gave her highness a dirty glance.
“Teddy Roosevelt? You knew President…”
“It’s a long story, Uncle Rick. Believe me, you really don’t want to hear it right now, the food is getting cold.” Emily said cutting him off.
The old man looked a bit confused, shook his head and shrugged his shoulders.
“Captain, assign a watch. I want you and your officers and the off duty crew on the beach in an hour!”
“Aye, sir. One hour.” I responded as we all stood to attention.
“Lt. Smith, I took the liberty of setting up a couple changing tents and brought some non-regulation apparel in case anyone cares for a swim- I hear the water here is marvelous.”
“Thank you Admiral, I shall spread the word.” She replied cheerfully.
“Lieutenants, Captain, an hour then?”
“Aye, sir. Until then.”
Admiral Demmit was helped back into his waiting inflatable and ferried back to the seaplane, which then taxied on one engine toward the beach. Meanwhile, I set the watch and gathered all my officers, royal and otherwise, while our own boats were inflated.
All I can say is Admiral Demmit sure knew how to put on a good spread! How the Officer’s Club could survive without four of its finest chiefs was beyond me. The shot we heard earlier turned out to be dinner- roast wild boar. As with everything served it was delicious!
Almost everyone decided to take a dip. I believe mostly because it was the closest thing to a bath or shower any of us had had in a week. The crew and I were a little hesitant at first to don the female swimsuits provided, some opting to swim in their old male civvies and T-shirts, making all male eyes take notice. Sgt. Williams had elected to stay aboard after requesting Maj. Canton escort Josie Two-Eagles.
After dinner, I ordered the watch changed so everyone had a chance at shore leave. Sgt. Williams was a no-show again. Admiral Demmit and Lt. Smith seemed to be getting along rather well. I could only imagine the stories she had told him- how much would he believe?
Just after dusk the Admiral asked Emily, Mina, Jack, Carroll, and I to join him by the fire pit. After the Admiral personally guaranteed Josie Two-Eagles and Adam Redhorse’s safety, Maj. Canton flew back to the base on the north side of the atoll with the chefs and serving staff. The PBY would refuel and come back for the Admiral and Ensign Redhorse in the morning.
“Alex, I have to make a decision and for once I’m not sure which option I should take. On one hand, you would complete your mission, return to Pearl as normal. I would have the dubious honor of informing families that, because of a secret Navy experiment, they now have daughters instead of sons, take the heat and ultimately relinquish my command. Spending the rest of my life in the nuthouse while all of you get poked and prodded by everyone or thing calling themselves a doctor. Not a very enticing career move- for any of us.” He looked around at each of us, getting the same reaction.
“Another is for everyone to go ashore on Hilo and scuttle the Sand Dollar off the coast. List her crew as missing or killed in action. Again I would take the heat for losing my top sub crew in the Pacific- not too bad unless some bean counter decided to do a head count on Hilo. The results would then be similar to option ‘A’” Again he looked around- same reaction.
“Yet another option would be to secretly change the site of the Kili settlement to one of the smaller islands in the Hawaiian chain. Unfortunately, supply runs would be questioned and draw attention. It might take longer but the story would still reach the War Department. It seems I have no clear-cut direction in this matter! Can any of you think of other options?”
“Sir, there is still one option open to you. You could let us drop off Mina and her people on Hilo and we could turn rogue and continue fighting this war. It would take some doing but if we could rearm and refuel in secrecy, say under the guise of experimental weaponry…” I looked around to see all the disbelieving faces. “ya y’all are right. That is a little crazy isn’t it?” I shook my head and let out a discouraged sigh as that annoying little feeling came back.
“Admiral, perhaps Alexandra could complete her mission and just disappear. By that I mean everyone disperse and take up new identities in the colonies. Maybe even start families. You would report the crew as missing. Emily, being the only survivor, would tell the tale of how her gallant captain ordered her to stay on an island they had visited to take on supplies whilst he drew the Japanese away after being discovered. You both could retain your commissions and your government would have a hard time finding everyone- not knowing what they looked like, if they would look at all.”
“Mina, that’s probably the best idea I’ve heard so far but, sir, my crew is in top form. I’d like to point out that all of our kills have been since our change, not before it. We may look different, but we still do our jobs just as well. In fact, some things we do better. Admiral, we need to get back out there! We’re all still soldiers. We can still help win this war!”
“Captain’s right, Admiral. We may be girls but we still got our spirit.” Jack stated.
“Jack’s right, sir! We’re women, but we still got the old piss and vinegar! Let us go back out and sink some more Jap ships!”
While Jack and Carroll voiced their opinions, Emily stared at me. Could she see the real reason behind my pleading statement?
“I agree with Alex, Admiral.” Emily spoke up. “The crew seems no less efficient and morale is high. Everyone thinks highly of the Captain and will do whatever she commands. The Sand Dollar is a war machine and a good one at that. Scrapping her would be a waste of the country’s finances. But instead of sending her off to hunt, why couldn’t she be used for more sensitive missions? Missions, which would require medical personnel- evacuations, rescues, re-supplying the coast watchers perhaps? Missions, which would require little or no communication, yet benign enough not to draw undue attention? Unscheduled and hurried re-supply would be common in such situations. A medical triage unit could be attached to the Sand Dollar thereby explaining the women aboard her. It might even be a good excuse for relocating Mina to another island and legitimately supplying it- a new sub base similar to the small air squadrons and PT bases that dot the South Pacific. Alex could still blow up things if the need arose.”
“Lieutenant, you throw one hell of a sales pitch.” The Admiral quietly thought over his new options. Several minutes passed in silence. My officers and I spent the time nervously looking back and forth at each other, each expecting the others to predict an outcome. The old man then did the unexpected- he simply got up and quietly walked away, heading down to the water’s edge. He continued to walk down the beach for quite some distance- well away from the fire’s light.
“Emily, what’s going on?” Carroll asked, voicing the common question.
“Father told me he does this when he really needs to think. He did this before your hearing, Alex. He was out for three hours that night.”
“Perhaps I may be of some assistance.” Mina said as she got up and hurriedly followed the Admiral down the beach.
“I hope the Lieutenant doesn’t try to talk the old man into her plan. I’m not ready for a new identity and I’m sure not real comfortable with starting a family, Skip! Just the thought gives me the willies!” Carroll said as she noticeably shivered.
“Carroll, I don’t think any of us are ready for that! I prefer torpedoing ships to changing diapers- at least you know what to expect with the Japs!” My Ex-O commented.
“Amen to that, sister!” Emily added to my surprise.
“I whole-heartedly agree but I know of at least one of our crew that would certainly think about it.” I turned my watch to the firelight to get the time- 2105. “Speaking of that has anyone seen Two-Eagles? She has to get back to the ship to transmit our ‘situation report’.”
The four of us looked at each other in silence for a time.
“I saw her with Ensign Redhorse shortly before dusk. They were walking up the beach the opposite direction from the Admiral…Oh my! You don’t think she…they…” Emily said as her hand went to her mouth. Jack and Carroll’s jaws dropped open.
“I don’t know, Emily. What I do know is that of all of us PFC Two-Eagles has accepted this,” I gestured to my body, “the fastest. I also know that certain thoughts have been sneaking into my dreams. At first they scared me to death, now…well now, it’s not that frightening- must be the Mahanilui. Mina said it helps us warm to our changes.”
“Well I’m in no hurry to embrace my maternal side anytime soon, Skip! Although Maj. Canton is kind of han…” Jack’s eyes opened wide as she didn’t finish her sentence. “Um…I’m, ah…I’m just going to keep my yap shut for a while…now.” She said as she moved her fingers across the imaginary zipper on her lips.
“I hate to admit it but I’ve caught myself thinking about some of my former shipmates and believe me we weren’t just having a friendly drink at the Officer’s Club! Disturbing…very disturbing…at first…” Carroll let the statement drop. Even in the dimming firelight we could see her blushing.
“Well, for me, the man I love is gone. I’ll never see him again, but I’ll always be reminded of him- every time I see your face! The thought of finding someone else like him seems daunting.” Emily turned and took my hands in hers, “Alex, I don’t mean to be hurtful or confusing, but I miss Alexander. I loved him from the moment I saw him and I thought about us…about starting a family! It was the first time I had ever had thoughts like that. I would have resigned my commission for him…you…oh, Alex, why did this have to happen! What did we ever do to deserve this fate? Twice now we’ve been torn apart. It seems we’re not meant to be happy!” She crumpled to my shoulder crying. We were all crying.
“I’m sorry Emily. I wish things were different. I don’t want to hurt you either. I’m sorry that all we can be now are friends. I guess, whatever the Admiral’s decision is, we’ll be separated yet again- maybe for the better. If I can, I think I’d just like to go home, well not home, but I’d like to get as close to it as I can in my present condition. Maybe I could rent a place close to my Pa… become a good…a good neighbor to him and Ma…work my way back into my family that way… You wouldn’t…have to…to see me and be reminded of…of us…” I fought the tears back with everything I had.
“Alex Steinert, you will not just up and disappear into those hills of yours! And we are more than just friends! Mina’s Mahanilui has joined us by blood instead of marriage. We aren’t just friends, we’re sisters. You said it yourself a few days ago. As much as I loved Alexander Steinert, I will not let my sister Alexandra drop out of sight because she reminds me of a man I once knew! Whatever happens; whatever Uncle Rick decides, we will always be sisters- family. My family sticks together no matter what.”
“Emily’s right, Alex. Family sticks together- no matter what!” Admiral Demmit said as he came into the firelight. We all jumped. To cover being startled we continued on up to standing and saluted.
“Sorry sir, we didn’t see you come back.” Emily replied.
“At ease everyone.” He returned our salute. “Mina here has convinced me that I should not be hasty to make a decision. She suggested I sleep on it- weigh all my options and decide in the morning. I find that a suitable compromise. Shall we end the Luau and head back to your boat, Captain?”
My little friend was back. Not too strong but it was back. Something was going to happen. I set about questioning my little friend.
“Alex? Why are you staring out to sea?” I heard someone say as I continued my internal inquiry.
“I’ve seen that look before! Alex is getting one of her feelings- aren’t you Alex?” Jack said as I came back to the beach.
“Admiral, I think we should get back to the boat. Don’t ask me how I know; you’ll have to trust me, sir.”
“Are you sure, Captain?” the old man growled.
“Aye, sir! But first we have to find PFC Two-Eagles and Ensign Redhorse.”
“Oh? Where did those two get off to?” Mina asked.
“Dr. Scott saw them head off in that direction earlier- just before dark.” I pointed up the beach. “I’ll go find them. Josie Two-Eagles?” I called out as I started away from the fire.
“We’ll be right there!” a male voice called back faintly.
Two dark figures walked into view a moment later, holding hands. Both wore smiles. They really made a pretty couple, I thought…wait…what was I thinking?
“Marine, where have you been?” the Admiral scolded.
“It’s not her fault, Admiral. I asked Josie if she would like to take a walk. We went about a mile down the beach and watched the sun set.” Redhorse stated.
“Ensign, the sun went down two hours ago. It doesn’t take that long to walk back. What were you and the private doing all this time?”
“Just talking…we were just talking, Admiral Demmit. Nothing… else…just talking.” Josie said with a quirky smile and guilty tone to her voice. She also released the Ensign’s hand.
Thankfully, Jack suddenly changed the subject. “Signal from the Boat, Skipper!”
We all turned to watch the signal light. “Screws bearing two-zero-four. No radar contact. Hurry back” it said and then repeated.
“Admiral, we have to get back to the boat, now!”
“I can read, Commander. Leave everything here and get this fire snuffed!”
“Belay that order! Sorry, Admiral, but in this case I have to disagree with you. Carroll and Jack take care of the fire! Mina and Emily stow the coffee and as much water as you can in the inflatable. Admiral, if you would help me get it into the water.” I snapped.
“Alex, you better have a damn good reason for doing that!”
“I do sir, but I can’t go into it now- we need to get aboard the boat and get you out of here. Trust me.”
Within minutes we were paddling the small rubber craft back to the Sand Dollar. As the watch deflated the inflatable and stowed the few supplies we brought with us, I voiced my concern about our fresh water system.
“You mean to tell me that you think the fresh water pipes carry this Mahanilui and because Redhorse and I drank some alcohol we could end up changed like you?”
“If you drank our water, sir.”
“If we drank your water? Commander that is the craziest thing I’ve heard all day!”
“Admiral Demmit, that’s the only logical reason we have come up with to explain our and our prisoner’s change. I know it sounds nuts, but it makes sense. The stronger the hooch the faster the change.”
Reaching the bridge I asked how far away the contact was.
“Skip, contact is still a couple of miles away, but it’s definitely heading this way. Radar still has no contact. It has to be a sub.”
“Make ready to get underway, Miss Van Pelt. Clear the deck watch.”
Five minutes later we were underway and prepared to dive.
“Where’s the bottom.”
“Take us to periscope depth, Commander Cummins”
“Aye, Skipper, three-zero feet.”
“Dive control take us to three-zero feet.”
“Where’s the contact now? Have they changed speed or heading to follow us?”
“Still bearing two-zero-four, Skip, a mile and closing at the same speed.”
“Sailor, how far away was it when you first heard the screws?”
“About eight miles Admiral, why?”
“How could you have heard a contact at that extreme range? Four miles is the best that I’ve heard of?”
“Sir, I told you that we do some things better now- that’s one of them.”
“Amazing! Carry on Captain. I’ll be in your Ward Room drinking some day-old coffee.”
“I’m sorry sir but…” I passed one hand down my body, “you understand.”
“Just do the job I pay you for Captain!” I heard the old man say as he cleared the forward hatch.
“Jack, let’s see if they know where we are. All stop, rig for silent. Sparks, I want to know the minute the contact changes course to intercept us.”
“Alex, aren’t you taking a chance with the Admiral onboard? If we get caught or fired on…”
“Don’t worry Jack, I have a hunch they don’t even know we’re here.” My Ex-O looked at me in confusion.
“Just call it intuition, Jack.”
“Women’s intuition, Alex?” Emily had just entered the Control Room as I said this.
“Call it what you like, but I have to go with it. It hasn’t been wrong yet, whatever IT is. Sparks? Any change?”
“No change, Skip. Still heading for the island.”
“Can you make out what it is?” I inquired.
“Sounds like a sub, Skip. I’m not sure. The bottom is interfering- making an echo.”
“Can you tell how far the bottom is?” I knew it was a long shot given Sonar was out of the question while running silent.
Jack cut in, answering that question. “According to the chart we should have forty feet under the keel, Captain. Shall I take us deeper?”
I decided to quiz my ‘intuition’. ‘Should I go deeper’ I thought? I got a reaction. ‘Shall I see what’s up there’? No reaction. ‘Shall I turn and fight’? Big reaction. “Miss Cummins, raise the periscope. Let’s see who’s out there.”
“Captain?” Jack’s voice jumped an octave.
“You heard me, Commander- up periscope.” I said calmly.
“Aye, Captain. I hope you know what you’re doing or is this that intuition you were talking about?” she said with some sarcasm.
“Find out in a minute, Jack.”
As the masthead broke the water, I turned around to see the shoreline lit by moonlight. We were now roughly five hundred yards from our previous position. I started to scan the surface around us.
“Sparks, talk to me.” I said as I looked into the eyepieces.
“Contact slowing; bearing one-eight-zero, Skip.”
Turning to look directly behind us I just caught the flicker of moonlight off the wet masthead of another submarine. Within another minute I could make out the Conning Tower as it too reflected moonlight toward me. Another minute and the mysterious sub had fully surfaced.
“Jack, what do you make of this?” I asked as I let her have a look.
“Looks like one of ours, but I’m not sure. Something about it looks wrong, Alex.”
“I thought the same thing. Jack, would you ask the Admiral to come and have a look? Maybe the Sand Dollar isn’t the only experimental sub out here.”
“Good question, Alex, I’ll get him.”
“What have you got, Captain?” Admiral Demmit asked as I conceded the scope to him.
“Looks like one of ours, Admiral, but it doesn’t.”
“Could you be more vague, Commander?”
“Sorry sir, it just looks wrong for some reason. Jack and I thought it might be another new class of sub.”
“Sorry Captain. It looks like one of ours, but I can see your point. There is something definitely strange about it, since you mentioned it.” At that point in the conversation he flipped through the multipliers to full magnification and adjusted the focus. “I don’t know, Alex, I can’t see anything out of the ordinary with the superstructure. Try to signal her and…”
My internal ‘it’ went crazy. “Sir, I don’t think that’s a good idea!” I exclaimed.
“Twice in one day, Alex? May I remind you of whom you are questioning?”
“Admiral, I’m sorry but, technically you haven’t assumed command of my boat and since I’m still in command…” I hung my head, embarrassed by what left my mouth. Technically, I was right in what I said, but it was a matter of respect to let the senior officer assume some command responsibilities. In a smaller voice I added, “I just have this feeling…” and let it drop.
“Admiral, what Captain Steinert means is that her intuition suggests an alternate course of action,” Lt. Smith said as she appeared from the aft hatch.
“I’m sorry Lieutenant but I expect my officers to rely on more than ‘intuition’; experience and training come into play too.”
“Admiral Demmit, Alexandra has used her intuition on more than one occasion to escape detection and/or capture and turn disaster to victory since she first received her gift. I trust her decisions explicitly. Let’s hear her out, shall we? Captain, what would you have us do?”
As was becoming habit, mentally I weighed my options. Do I signal as the Admiral ordered? That was a loud ‘No’. Should I surface? Again, the answer was a resounding ‘No’. Maybe I should try to get closer for a better look- quiet, huh, what do you know! I went a step farther. Should I just torpedo them now and hope for the best? The alarm was not so loud. Would a torpedo be out of the question? Quiet. Interesting! Just to confirm my decision, I restated the plan. Get in closer and shot if I need to, right? Quiet. Really interesting!
When I looked up I saw four faces waiting for my response.
“Well, Alex? Enlighten us.” The old man said with some sarcasm.
“Maneuvering, make revolutions for slow astern. Helm, back us up nice and level and straight. Prepare for all stop on my mark. Aft torpedo room, I want two fish in the tubes.” I responded. “Admiral, with your permission, I’d like to take a closer look- then I’ll decide if I want to blow something up!” I smiled as I glanced over at Emily, who promptly stuck her tongue out at me.
“It’s your boat, Commander.” Admiral Demmit conceded as he relinquished the periscope to me.
“Aft torpedo, Con; Skipper, tubes seven and eight loaded and ready.”
“Flood seven and eight, open outer doors and stand by aft torpedo room.” I acknowledged.
Three minutes later I ordered all stop and proceeded to focus in on the mysterious sub, now about two hundred yards off our stern. I glanced at the compass markings- it indicated one-eight-zero degrees. I had them well within range of our aft torpedoes. Looking back into the lens I suddenly realized what had looked so strange.
“Admiral, do we have a hull numbered eight-seven-three in any class of boat?”
Jack smacked her delicate hands together palm to back. “That’s it! That’s what looked strange! I knew it! I had a feeling!” We all gave her a questioning ‘Not you too’ look.
“You may be on to something, Alex! No sub I know of has a designation higher than seven hundred.”
“And it would be easy to make a three into an eight.” Carroll added. “Like making an ‘F’ into an ‘A’ on a report card!” she blushed as she said the later.
I didn’t want to know or even ask. Maybe later. Instead, I continued to watch our secretive visitor. We were close enough that I could see the faces of any crew should they appear topside.
My waiting paid off. After twenty minutes I spotted several crewmen move to their deck gun and proceed to ready it.
“Admiral, I count four men making ready to fire the three-inch gun. Any reason one of ours would take aim at our air station?”
“None what-so-ever, Captain. Looks like you get to blow something up after all!” Both Admiral Demmit and I smiled.
“Care to do the honors, Admiral?”
“Thank you, Alex, this more than makes up for your latest indiscretions. Fire tubes seven and eight, Lieutenant Sheldon!”
“Aye, sir” Carroll acknowledged with a wicked smile.
For the fourth time this mission we felt the shudder of two torpedoes escaping the Sand Dollar. At the exact same instant my whole field of view through the eyepieces lit up in a bright flash- they had fired their deck gun. An instant later we heard it’s muffled blast. A full two seconds later the scope again lit up with two bright flashes. Two louder but still muffled blasts followed. High pitched cheers sounded through the compartments.
“Congratulations Admiral, two direct hits! Have a look.” I stepped away.
“I’m disappointed, Captain! Their bonfire is bigger than ours! I’m so sorry about this your highness, maybe, once we get you situated I can top this.” He motioned for Lt. Smith to have a look. She declined.
“I’m sorry, Admiral Demmit. I find it hard to gaze upon such barbaric destruction, even if necessary. I will still hold you to your generous offer though!”
“You’re on, Mina!”
“Alex, should we look for survivors?” Emily asked, changing the subject.
“Admiral’s discretion, Lieutenant.” I pointed to the old man, who had resumed command of the scope.
“What does your ‘intuition’ say, Captain?”
As I blushed, I weighed the issue. Quiet either way. I would have narrowed my options down more but I was interrupted.
“Damn, they hit something at the Air Station! I hope it isn’t too serious.” The old man pulled back from the eyepiece, “Sorry, please excuse my language, ladies.”
“Quite alright, Admiral! Chief Samuels still has you trumped in spades!” Mina admitted.
“Sparks do we have any other visitors?” I asked, just to be sure.
“Negative, Skipper, all I hear is the sub burning.”
“Miss Cummins, surface the boat and prepare to take on survivors, though, I doubt we’ll find any.”
“Aye, Skip. Dive Control, blow the tanks. Lt. Scott, assign side arms to the search detail.”
0600 hours, Palmyra Atoll, April 3rd, 1944
A thorough search of the area turned up no survivors. Several recovered articles proved the sub’s crew to be Japanese. How they had obtained an American submarine was still under debate.
Recalling the search detail around 0120, I ordered the Sand Dollar to set course and hold just outside the Naval Air Station channel on the west side of Palmyra Atoll until morning. Admiral Demmit’s plan was to personally see to our refueling needs while Lt. Scott and a detachment of ‘Nurses’ went ashore under his orders to lend medical assistance.
“Admiral, if technically, we haven’t made our meeting with you, how could we be here to refuel- with you onboard?” I had to ask the obvious.
“Never underestimate the power of an Admiral, Alex! By the way, nice call! I could’ve gotten us killed if you had listened to me. You were also correct in your assessment of command…I had no right assuming command without due course.” The old man actually looked apologetic, as we talked quietly- until Emily walked into the compartment, that is! His demeanor abruptly changed, as did his volume. “You were right this time, but don’t push your luck too far, Commander! I will not stand for my officers constantly contradicting my orders! Is that clear Captain?”
Emily just continued on through to the next compartment rolling her eyes, shaking her head, and stifling a giggle or two.
“Yes, sir, thank you, sir. It will never happen again, sir!” I said as I stood to attention.
“Enjoying the gossip, Ladies?” he glared around at the Control Room crew. “Captain, we will continue this on the bridge. After you, Alex.” He growled.
Once on the bridge, I relieved Jack from the watch. Now that we were alone, except for the lookouts, our conversation continued. The full moon’s light and reflection off the gentle ocean swells lit the world around us in a surreal gray cast. The thrum from the diesels was loud enough to hide our conversation from the lookouts.
“I’m sorry about that Alex. You, of all people know about keeping up appearances. I noticed our conversation drawing attention…then Emily entered the area, and…”
“I understand Admiral. I don’t think Emily bought into it though. I noticed her shaking her head and smiling as she went forward, sir.” I interrupted as a smile crept onto my face also.
“What? Oh…um…well, anyway, that was a well thought out strategy. Most of my sub captains wouldn’t have been so observant- or patient. I mean that Alex…good job!”
“Thank you, sir. Getting back to my question, Admiral. How are we going to refuel if you personally give the order? I’m sure a clerk somewhere is going to make a log entry or note it to inventory.”
“The base commander is a friend of mine, Alex. Any and all traces of our visit here have already disappeared. Like I said: Rank has its privileges. If I deem this visit secret, then it never happened- period!”
“But you said that Admiral’s Halsey and…”
“Halsey and Nimitz have enough going on with their own Task Forces. If my report ever gets to their attention it will just state that a sub stopped at Palmyra to refuel- nothing more. Alex, your log must follow suit. Not one word of my attendance.”
“Couldn’t I just log it that we were in the area, saw the artillery flash, and altered course to render assistance?”
“No, we can’t do that just yet, Alex. There is no way I could officially recognize the Sand Dollar this far southeast of Pearl. It’s best that we leave it a secret.”
“If you say so, Admiral. I just don’t like all this cloak and dagger.”
“You sound just like mother.”
“Excuse me, sir?”
“Oh…sorry, Alex. Just a…umm….slip of the tongue.” Admiral Demmit stared at me another minute. “It’s…it’s just that you remind me so much of my sister Ruth…Emily’s mother…” the old man’s gaze turned and dropped to the foredeck. “It really is true then- this Mahanilui- it used my niece as a template?” He glanced back up at me a second then returned to looking at the bow. “Preposterous.” He began shaking his head side to side slightly. I nodded. We were both quite a few moments before he continued. “You were that much in love with her? Even after what happened?” Demmit again faced me.
“Yes sir. I hate to admit it, but I never truly stopped loving her. I guess I just used that to try and forget; to stop the pain I felt; the loneliness of not having her near me, sir. Unfortunately, thanks to this Mahanilui, I’m only capable of…of loving her… like… a sister, Admiral” It was now my turn to drop my gaze to the foredeck. I felt a tear run down my cheek. Several more followed.
Demmit moved his hand closer to mine, but stopped short.
“I’m sorry, sir. Since the change I haven’t been able to control these tears. I know it’s a weakness and I’m trying to cope with it. It’s hard though, sir.”
The old man said nothing, but just looked at me.
Somehow I ended up wrapping my arms around my commanding officer, crying into his solid shoulder. It felt good- secure. I felt safe.
“It’s okay, Alex, things will work out.” He said quietly as he held me.
A few minutes passed. I started to feel small spasms from the man in my embrace. Was he laughing? Immediately, I realized what I was doing. I released my hold and stepped back.
“Begging the Admiral’s pardon, sir. I…I…I don’t know what came over me.”
Admiral Demmit said nothing, but continued to chuckle.
“Why are you laughing, sir? What’s so funny?” I questioned.
“The whole situation, Commander; this whole implausible, but undeniably real situation. Why, Freud would have a field day with all of us! Plus, I would have never expected to have one of my finest Sub Commanders fall into my arms in need of comforting.”
“Maybe more of them should do that, Uncle Rick.” A faint voice said from behind and below us.
Emily emerged from the hatch behind us.
“Lt. Scott? I wasn’t aware you were scheduled for watch?”
“Please just give it a rest Uncle Rick? I’m off duty so I can talk to whomever I want- even my hard-as-nails, teddy bear of an Uncle! Besides, I came up to see how my sister is surviving.”
“Yes, Admiral. My sister. You said it yourself yesterday. You thought she was Mother. So how could she look like your sister, Ruth, if she wasn’t related somehow?” Emily said logically- the devil in her voice.
“Alex may look like your Mom, but he…she has her own family, Emily” Demmit said being caught totally off guard by her reasoning.
“Does she really, Uncle Rick…anymore?” Emily continued. “Has she the luxury of returning home, a respected and decorated war hero like you or I?”
“Emily, please…The Admiral wa…”
“On her return home, will her mother welcome her back unconditionally with arms opened wide?”
“Emily, don’t do this…”
“Will her proud father shake her hand with excitement, pat her on the back, or even treat her with renewed respect for HIS son? I’m sure Alex’ family will except their daughter, Alex, without question, as will the other fifty families represented on this boat! Yes, Uncle, they all have families of their own!”
Emily made sense.
“Young lady, you are way out of line!” Demmit growled.
“I don’t think she is, Admiral. I think Emily gave a fair assessment, sir. I have to say, my Ma and Pa would never accept me like this. Even if Ma halfway believed me she would say it was the work of the devil and reject me. Pa would probably dismiss me as some gold-digger Alex had met. How could they- how could anyone- believe such a thing happened to their son? Just the other day Sgt. Williams was saying how her Marine Corp. father would probably kill her before accepting her.” I argued back.
Admiral Demmit started to say something, but instead remained silent for a moment. His eyes alternately switched between Emily and I.
“You two really do act like sisters. Well, you look like sisters and you both have Ruthie’s hard headed…stubbornness…her determination anyway.” The old man said as he continued to eye us up.
“I would appreciate it if you two would stop double teaming your Uncle. He’s a very busy man with plenty on his mind. Now if you two will excuse me, I’m going to turn in. You both have given me a lot to think about.”
“Emily? Do you think he said that intentionally or unconsciously?”
“What? Oh, you mean did he just acknowledge you as my sister, Alex? I think so. In his own suave way.”
“Hey, Masterson. What do you think that’s all about?”
“Whatcha talkin’ bout Reynolds?”
“The Captain and Lt. Scott. Just after the old man went below, all the sudden they hugged each other and jumped up an’ down like some schoolgirls. Good thing the Admiral didn’t see that!”
“Ahhh, that’s so sweet…oh…ya…good thing he didn’t. You think the Admiral finally conceded that they’re sisters now? I couldn’t hear for certain, maybe I could ask the lieutenant…?”
“Leave it ‘lone, Reynolds. Just leave it ‘lone. Our watch is done in two hours. Best that we didn’t see a thing- especially on the bridge!”
0600 hours, Palmyra Atoll, April 3rd, 1944
Having signaled Palmyra of our arrival, we proceeded into the dredged out lagoon that served as the base’s harbor and tied up. The base Commander greeted the old man at the dock, exchanged pleasantries, and talked for a while. Every now and then the commander would look toward the conning tower where Lt.’s Smith and Scott and I watched from the bridge and waited.
At last the two men shook hands and Admiral Demmit boarded the Sand Dollar and climbed up.
“Walter…Commander Clayson, will have his men refuel the Sand Dollar. Alex? You, Emily, Mina, and a few of her girls will take some medical supplies and go see if the base medic could use any help. I’ll remain here and supervise refueling. I’m afraid you’re out of luck on ordinance though, Captain.”
“Begging the Admiral’s pardon, sir. The Captain or Ex-O should be the ones overseeing refueling.”
“Alex, I told Cmdr. Clayson that you were ill and under orders from the boat’s doctor to remain confined to quarters. He has been advised of the quarantine imposed on the Sand Dollar. I do need you to look around the base and assess the damage from last night’s attack. Clayson is a good commander, but he is ashamed to report the attack on a rear area base- especially his!”
“Aye, sir. I guess it would be odd for Jack or I to be nosing around the men working on deck.” I sighed a little realizing this may become habit.
“Sorry, Alex. It’s the only way I can see to keep you and your crew hush-hush.”
“Aye, sir. We’ll start getting ready to go ashore immediately.” I said dejectedly before turning to climb through the hatch.
“Oh, one other thing, Alex.” I stopped and looked back up at him. “Alex? Today you’re just going to be Lt. Alexandra Scott. Emily? Could you lend Lt. Scott here some rank?” Emily nodded and grinned. “Lt. Smith, I would like you to inform the rest of the shore party of Lt. Scott’s existence.”
“It would be a pleasure, Admiral.” Mina replied, a huge smile on her face.
“I knew I should have watched my mouth yesterday! I’ve just been demoted! That’s what I get for saving the high brass’s butt.” I quietly muttered as I descended through the hatchway.
“What was that, Captain?”
“What? Nothing, sir.” I said louder as I continued down into my boat.
The old man just smiled.
As we walked through the base, it became evident that we women were a sorely missed commodity. I could feel the lustful stares undressing me from all angles. My uneasiness must have been very noticeable.
“Alex, will you just act natural? You look like you’re going to faint!” Emily warned me.
“Yes, really Alexandra, you should loosen up before we have someone to treat. They’re just regular men who haven’t seen a lady in…oh, say…six months to a year.”
“Maybe more.” Emily added with a giggle.
“You two are not helping! It feels like everyone is undressing me with their eyes. How do you stand for this?” I said quietly through gritted teeth.
“This? This is nothing, Alex. Try walking down a street at Norfolk- better yet, New York! Now that’s when a girl gets self-conscious!” Emily chirped.
“I understand fully, Alexandra. I too feel the stares of the masses. This is the first time I have ever been off Kili since my…” Mina paused as a young, well-built, Navy pilot sauntered by. He looked right at me. I tried to control my eyes, but they tracked the target until it was out of range. Damn this body! I turned forward in time to see both Mina and Emily glancing at me- wide smiles on their faces. “As I said, Alexandra, this is the first time I have been off Kili since my rebirth. Did you find him attractive Cap…Lt. Scott?” Mina continued. Emily started to giggle.
“You have good taste, Alex.” Emily laughed.
“Good taste in what, Lieutenant?”
“Why, in men of course, Alexandra.” Lt. Smith chimed in with a laugh.
“Oh give it a rest, sis. Mina and I both saw you checking that pilot out! What color were his eyes, Alex?”
“I thought you weren’t looking, sis?”
I heard the others in our small group start to giggle.
“My feet are getting tired. I’m going back to the boat.” I grumbled.
Both women grabbed an arm. “Oh no you don’t, ‘Lt. Scott’! These shoes are nothing compared to high heels! If we can walk in them, so can you! Look, Alex, it’s okay to look at a good-looking fella. You’re a woman. We can do that. You can do that. Don’t be ashamed of it.”
“But it’s not right!”
“Oh poo, Alexandra! It’s the most natural thing in the world, dear. Stay with us, we’ll protect you.”
“I’m not so sure who I need protected from; y’all or them.” I nodded toward a small group of sailors we were just passing. One or two of them winked at us. I started to resist more hoping Emily and Mina would release me.
“Come along now, Alexandra. The gentlemen can wait. We must check in with the Base Physician.” Lt. Smith decreed loud enough for everyone in earshot to clearly hear. My face felt ablaze with embarrassment.
“You two just wait!” I hissed. “I’m sure I can find some dirty, disgusting duty task for y’all when we get back aboard the Sand Dollar.”
“Quoting your former President, Alexandra. Bully!” Lt. Smith said as she formed her right hand into a fist and swung it low across to her left.
Returning to the dock, we noticed that Major Canton had arrived and that he and Ensign Redhorse were talking with the Admiral and Cmdr. Clayson. Dockside, the men were just finishing stowing the fuel hoses. As we approached several of them whistled at us.
“Hey, sweetheart! I got this scrape. Could you treat it?” One said.
“Baby, I got a real bad head ache, can you do somethin’ for me?” said another.
“You broads lookin’ ta get lucky tonight?”
“Ya, we have a lot that needs fixin’. Hahahaha.”
For whatever reason we all flashed them our best and brightest smiles…including me!
“Lt. Scott? Report!” Admiral Demmit exclaimed.
“No casualties. Base Medical is stocked and ready, Dad.” Emily said loud enough for our antagonists to hear while gripping my arm.
Once hearing ‘Dad’, plus noting his rank, they quickly finished, climbed into and onto their waiting fuel truck and drove away.
Crossing the gangplank, I heard Cmdr. Clayson ask “So Richard, tell me again how you and a submarine full of beautiful nurses just happened to be near Palmyra just in time to sink an enemy submarine then arrive to render assistance and refuel?”
“Afraid I still can’t divulge that information, Walt. Nimitz and Halsey would have my ass if this ever leaked out. I want you to send a salvage crew to the south end. She’s in about forty feet of water. Captain Steinert and I think it’s one of ours they were able to capture. The Japs changed the three into an eight. I guess they thought we wouldn’t notice.”
“But why all the pretty…” Cmdr. Clayson paused as he noticed us reach the deck. “…nurses?”
“I’m afraid I can’t answer that one either, Walt. All I can say is that this has been a pivotal mission for Captain Steinert, his crew, and the Navy itself. If the Captain were feeling more himself I’m sure he would agree.”
Admiral Demmit winked at me.
“Walt, I don’t believe you’ve met my nieces? This is Lt. Emily Scott and her sister Lt. Alexandra Scott. Girls, this is an old friend of mine, Cmdr. Walter Clayson. Walt and I served together on an old juggernaut some years ago.”
“Glad to meet both of you! Actually it was an old freighter the Navy rebuilt into an Aircraft Carrier. It was a total piece of junk! And your uncle was my C-O.”
“Yes, Walt, but it was my piece of junk!” The old man laughed.
“Ladies, if you will get below and have Cmdr. Cummins make ready to get underway. Cmdr. Clayson, Maj. Canton, Mr. Redhorse, and I have a date at the Officer’s Club. Tell the Captain I hope he recovers before reaching Pearl, and that I await his written report on this mission. You girls try to stay healthy, you hear?”
Emily and I looked at each other with devious smiles and both answered at the same time, “Oh, we will, Uncle Rick!”
‘Uncle Rick’ just rolled his eyes.
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