24 August 2012
By Curtis C. Chen
The first thing Markey thought upon seeing COMSUBPAC was: He looks like my grandfather.
Of course, her grandfather was dead, buried in a mass grave outside Mauthausen-Gusen, and he had never worn any kind of uniform. That hadn't stopped the Nazis. Sometimes Markey wondered if anything could stop them.
Well, that was why she'd fought so hard to get here—pulled every string she could in Hollywood, burned every favor to get her US citizenship and her military rank. Not honorary. Not clerical. She wanted to be in a position to make a difference.
And now what?
The man behind the desk stood and smiled at her, the skin around his dark eyes crinkling behind round eyeglasses. He also very quickly flipped shut the file he'd been studying.
"Lieutenant Hedy Markey, reporting as ordered, Rear Admiral," Markey said.
Rear Admiral Withers—Commander, Submarine Force, Pacific Fleet—stepped around his desk and hesitated. "They told me I shouldn't touch you."
Markey resisted the urge to roll her eyes. "I hope that's because I just got over a bad cold, Rear Admiral. Anything else is an old wives' tale."
"Well, I didn't hear it from any old wives, I can tell you that." Withers continued smiling at Markey. She did her best to smile back, but she'd already seen his eyes. She didn't need to touch him to know he didn't have good news for her.
Withers turned to the officer who'd brought Markey in. "Captain, I'd like to speak to the Lieutenant in private."
"Aye, sir." The Captain left the room and closed the door.
Withers walked over to the sideboard and poured a drink. "Scotch, Lieutenant?"
Markey shook her head. "They told me I shouldn't drink while on duty."
Withers chuckled, took his glass back to his desk, and sat down. He dug through a pile of folders and slid one across the desk. "You may change your tune, after you see what's in there. Have a seat."
Markey sat and opened the folder. She concealed her surprise at what she felt when she touched the paper. Someone with the talent had prepared this file.
But then, as she read the contents of the file, she understood why.
Withers' glass was empty when Markey looked up. Was I reading for that long?
"This is incredible, sir," she said. "If it's true."
"Well, that's what you're going to find out," Withers said. His smile was gone, and Markey finally recognized the look in his eyes: resolve, mingled with sadness.
"I'm not a zoologist," Markey said.
"No, but you can sense the—what is it? The life aura of different creatures, from a distance."
"That only helps me locate animals," Markey said. "I've never tried it underwater, and I wouldn't know how to study anything as... exotic as this."
"We're at war, Lieutenant," Withers said. "I'm not sending you to study these damned things. I want you to find them, provoke them, and turn them loose on the fucking Japs."
Markey nodded. "I think I will have that drink after all, Rear Admiral."
Image: SS-287 by Vards Uzvards, April, 2007