by Diane Farnsworth Kachmar
ran briefly through my mind that Bert was making a mistake, but it was his
qualification, not mine. I'd have my own
turn at the conn soon enough. Even now,
it was hard to believe I'd been nuclear submarine command school for six
months. Lee Crane, submarine
Captain. The prize berth, the one we all
angled for. And they all but handed it
to me. The Admiral swore he had no part
in it, but I didn't quite believe him.
It had been a relief to leave
I turned towards the school, but it was completely enshrouded by fog. Maybe Bert had the right idea, using the fog for cover as he stalked the destroyer. On the surface, the decoy ship wouldn't be able to track us with its sounding gear. It didn't feel right to me. The whole idea was to move in silently, soundlessly, and strike without warning from under the waves. The instructing officer had no objections. Of course, if he had the cruise would have been over before it even started.
I lowered my binoculars and pulled my parka up higher around my neck. My luck to pull conning officer. Everyone else down there in a warm submarine, and I had the bridge. I glanced up at my two lookouts, dutifully doing their sweeps from the sheers. Their little platforms were less protected from the chill breeze than I was. I raised my binoculars again, feeling like a fifth wheel. Lookouts in a fog. Who could see anything?
book said, running on the surface, there had to be a
conning officer and two lookouts. I
smiled, remembering what the Old Man had said about that book. Maybe he could rewrite it and get away with
it, but I was a long way from being an admiral yet. Do your duty, mister, and be cheerful about
it. That had been drilled into me since
day one at
"Keep alert," I told my lookouts. Their "aye sirs" came back quickly. They knew what to do without me telling them, but it was expected, so I went through the routine. Beneath me the sub began to pick up speed. Must be on final approach. It still didn't feel right, but soon it would be over. I swept my glasses up river again. I should hear the target by now, even if I couldn't see it. If they had left the dock and were in a normal zag pattern -- I focused on the spot they should be. Nothing. I cocked my head sideways as a faint chuff came from port. I turned, listening intently. One of the lookouts above me also shifted, bringing his glasses around on the same bearing. What was she doing over there? I strained my eyes, trying to bring the glasses into sharper focus. The chuff grew louder, bouncing off the fog. It sounded like we were surrounded. I did a quick one eighty sweep and saw a shadow in the fog off to our port side. I put the glasses on it as the destroyer's bow broke through the fog, headed right for us.
"Sir!" My port lookout screamed at the same moment. "Target! Bearing 270!"
Collision course. Why weren't we taking evasive action? They would be on top of us any moment. "Over the side! Get clear!" There was no time to get below. As the lookouts swarmed down from the sheers, I hit the diving alarm. The klaxon cut the heavy fog, momentarily drowning out the sound of the closing destroyer's engine. I punched the bridge speaker savagely.
"Target! 270! Dive! Dive!"
There was a hiss as the ballast tanks opened, and the sub settled deeper into the water. I dropped down to the deck, and grabbed the hatch cover, pushing down to make it seal. The heavy metal resisted as the water rose around my knees. I pushed hard, coming down on the hatch with all my weight. It thunked home as the water surged over me.
I struggled to turn the wheel and lock it closed. The pressure increased as we continued our downward plunge, and I could feel the current racing past, trying to pull me away from the wheel. I had to get some leverage. I jammed my leg between the hatch and the conning tower bulkhead, pulling myself back over the hatch. The wheel finally turned, locking home with a clunk I barely heard over the deep chuff of the destroyer's propellers passing overheard.
I released the wheel, allowing the current to take me. Streaming away from the hatch I was brought up short in a sudden jerk of excruciating pain. I almost lost the last of my air. The current smacked me against the side of the conning tower. The sea erupted into flashing red streaks that blurred in front of my eyes. I shook my head, trying to fight free. I had to go up. I grabbed the interior support rail, and felt round the edges of the hatch to find what was holding me back. It took a moment to realize my shoe was jammed between the hatch and the deck. Fumbling with the laces, I loosened them, my foot came free and then I finally felt myself rising.
Next thing I knew, someone was tugging on me. There was a hissing sound next to my ear. Beyond that, someone was coughing, deep racking gasps for air. Then I was floating. Dimly, I heard a voice.
I felt something rock me. I realized then, I was the one coughing. Someone was holding my head back, keeping it out of the water. I could feel his serge jacket sleeve under my chin. Then the pain hit. Their arms were around me, keeping me from doubling over. I swallowed hard and forced my eyes open.
A blurry face bounced in front of me. I blinked, gritting my teeth against the fire in my chest, willing my eyes to focus. The blur resolved into the concerned features of Picard, my port lookout. When he saw me looking at him, a broad smile creased his face.
"We've got you, sir."
"T- target?" I had to force the word out.
The lookout's smile turned into a pleased grin. "Clean miss. You went port and down, they went starboard. Man, we scared those tin can jockeys out of a year's growth."
"Yeah." I heard Yates' voice behind me. "We thought you weren’t coming back up, sir."
"How -- long?" I couldn't get my voice to produce anything more than a hoarse croak.
I felt Yates shrug. "Couldn't rightly say ... two minutes."
"Then we had to dive down after you when you sank."
Two minutes. I had almost made that in diving school.
"We brought you up. Got your jacket inflated. Then you started coughing. Man, were we glad, sir. Up to then, it looked like you had drowned." Picard grinned again. "The brass doesn’t like to lose officers."
I tried to return his smile. "Th-thanks."
"No trouble, sir." Yates answered, easing his grip under my chin slightly.
The pain was lessening, but I couldn't be sure if it was easing, or I was getting numb from the icy water. A loud horn sounded above the swish of the waves. We heard an outboard engine closing.
"Hey, over here!" Picard yelled, waving his arm.
A moment later one of the destroyer's launches came out of the fog. They cut power when they saw us, and drifted in beside us. Much to my chagrin, Picard insisted they take me aboard first. Two pair of strong hands reached down, latching on to my life jacket. They dragged me over the gunwale. It was all I could do not to cry out when my leg hit the side.
"Hey, take it easy, he’s hurt." Picard admonished as he hoisted himself up, tumbling into the thwarts in front of me. Yates followed.
A wave of dizziness passed through me. Picard turned toward me as I grabbed the seat to stop myself from pitching forward onto my face. Everything went black for a moment, then thankfully my vision cleared again. I felt a blanket being bundled around me. The boat rocked, then began to gather speed. The destroyer must have come to full stop almost immediately after her evasive action. I forced my eyes open as I heard Picard telling the CPO at the helm what had happened.
"Belay that, Picard." I ordered, trying to get some steel back into my voice. It still sounded hoarse and weak. I was no hero. I had done what had to be done. Best nip it now, before it was embroidered and embellished into some superhuman feat. Too late. The boat crew was looking at me with awe. I wanted to crawl under the seat in embarrassment, but I couldn't do that. So I gritted my teeth, forcing the pain down. I didn't want that showing on my face.
"Here, sir." Picard slid down behind me, offering me a spare life jacket to lay my head on.
I lowered my head to the soft kapok, as I felt the lookout's hands wrapping the blanket tighter around me. That was the last thing I remembered.
tugged on me and I came awake with a start.
The rocking motion of the boat was gone. I was lying on something firm. I stared at the white lump beside me,
suddenly realizing it was a pillow. Then
the antiseptic smell became apparent.
"Doc!" he called over his shoulder. "He's come around."
"Good." I heard a voice reply. "Shock's not as deep as I thought."
I tried to roll over and see who it was. The pain tore up my leg, leaving me gasping. The room spun.
"Easy, sir." The corpsman put his hands on my shoulders, pressing me back onto the mattress. "You shouldn't move around until Doc sets your knee." He began to dress me in sick bay issue.
"Now, you two men to report to the Commissary and get Cookie to give you something hot. Then make your report to the OD." The Doctor's voice came from behind me again. "We'll send your uniforms back to your quarters when they are dry."
"Aye, sir." Yates and Picard answered. I heard their footsteps, then they stopped.
"The Commander," Picard's voice was concerned. "Is he hurt bad?"
I almost heard the smile in the Doctor's voice. "He was very lucky. He'll be fine in a day or two, only he won't be using that leg very much for the next two weeks."
Two weeks. The Admiral wasn't going to be happy about that.
"Thanks, Doc." The door opened, then closed and at last they were gone.
Picard's concern was unsettling. I certainly hadn't done him and Yates any favors by sending them over the side into the icy water. We all knew what the career servicemen thought of us command candidates, particularly when they thought we couldn't hear them. I felt a hand on my shoulder as the corpsman finished tucking in the blankets.
"Commander?" The voice was gentle. "Still awake in there?"
I opened my eyes cautiously. The room stayed still. A tall man with a wry smile and receding black hair had joined the corpsman. He wore a long lab coat. I squinted trying to read his name tag. Jamieson. The Assistant Sawbones. I knew of him but it was the first time we had met.
"Ah, that's better, Lee." He smiled down at me. "We could have all ended up on the bottom of the river if you hadn't sounded that alarm."
I felt myself grow hot with embarrassment. Couldn't Picard keep that mouth of his closed? "I was only doing my job." I clutched at the blanket, wishing I could burrow under it.
Jamieson smiled. "You're not supposed to go down with the ship until you're a Captain, mister."
His smile was infectious and I returned it. Jamieson reached down, lifting the blanket away from my leg.
"Now, let's see what we can do about -- "
Before I realized his intention, he seized my leg and yanked it straight, popping my knee back into the socket. I couldn't stop my cry of pain this time. My body jerked in response to the agonizing pain.
"Lee." The corpsman had me braced by the shoulders as the Doctor held on to my leg. "This is very important. I want you to try to move your foot."
I nodded. Slowly, carefully, I rotated my foot. My knee ached, but the shooting pain was gone.
"Good." The Doctor released my leg. "That was the worst part. Now we have to get the swelling down."
Something cold was laid on both sides of my knee.
"You want something for the pain?"
I shook my head. It was subsiding. Things were already foggy enough without a sedative. The cold around my knee soaked through and I began to shiver again, despite the blankets.
"Ben." The Doctor signaled the corpsman. Another blanket was placed over me.
At last, I began to feel warm.
"Now, I want you to sleep. You've had quite a morning and it will be better if you -- "
His words were getting fainter as I closed my eyes. A moment later I went out like a light.