One of our submarines is missing
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Chapter Two: Steady as she goes
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a lean, grey beast, the frigate sliced through the dark waters between
the Scottish Isles. Calm on this dark October night, but deceptively so,
for as Captain Jack St John* RN knew only
too well, a Russian submarine had been seen several times in the past
week. St John’s mission was to find the sub and shadow it until
it left British waters. The bridge was dark except for the faintest of
glows from the instruments, turned low to maintain night vision. St John’s
square jaw and chiselled features were just visible to 1st Lieutenant*
James Mainwaring* ("Jimbo" to his
many friends in the officer’s mess). Mainwaring became fascinated
by the way the sweeping light of the RADAR glittered on the grey hairs
that had invaded the captain’s beard in recent years.
"What are you thinking about, Jimbo?" the
They had known each other since they were Snotties at Dartmouth twenty years earlier. Even then St John had seemed to stand apart from the other students. Often they would see him at night standing in front of the window of his room, adjusting the table lamp to illuminate his chiselled features and checking the effect in his reflection in the glass. At the time they had chided him and tried to get him to join their high spirited games when they de-bagged the female ratings during rum-fuelled carousals in the officers' mess, but he seemed drawn to the lonely road to an early command. In the final examinations St John had passed amongst the top four candidates in every subject. In the practical examination he had stood in a poorly lit room with his chiselled features illuminated by the same brass binnacle which had been used to test Nelson, Jellico and Mountbatten. The marks he earned were a high-water mark for naval deportment and are still talked about in hushed tones to this very day. American naval cadets on exchange programmes have entered that room as brashly confident young men and staggered out, weeping wrecks, fit only for shore duty.
"Something on your mind?" St John asked.
There was a knock at the bridge door. "Cover
eyes," called Chief Petty Officer Featherstone. They covered their
eyes against the glare from the lit corridor as a thickset able seaman
entered with a tray of tea.
"Bought one for yourself, Staines?" asked
St John. "Good man."
"Come up for the change of watch, Staines?"
asked St John.
Suddenly the boat came alive with thundering feet as men ran from their berths to their stations. A knock at the bridge door presaged the arrival of 2nd Lieutenant Cathy McVitie who would take over from Mainwaring for the next watch.
At 27, McVitie was young to be a senior watch officer. She was one of a new generation of career women who had recently entered the Navy straight from university and expected to be accepted on equal terms. Mainwaring didn't much care for the new ways.
McVitie had found it hard to break into the male world of a British warship, years of unspoken tradition seemed designed to thwart her at every turn. Just now, for example, a tradition of strict adherence to uniform code meant that the unaccountable inability of the naval dockyard to supply cold weather female officers' uniform, or regulation naval flash resistant brassieres, left her in flimsy tropical kit comprising khaki shorts and a white blouse, when all the other officers wore duffle coats against the chill autumn wind.
"Lieutenant McVitie reporting Sir," said
Cathy. The chill wind blowing through the open bridge door tugged at
her long, blond locks and caused a wisp of hair to sweep across her
finely chiselled face.
and McVitie exchanged detail of course and heading. She stepped up to
the instruments and leant forward to peer into the RADAR screen. The
dim light illuminated her pretty nose and high cheekbones. Behind her,
the officers and other ranks stared as the sweep of the RADAR shone
through the transparent fabric of her thin blouse, silhouetting her
firm, jutting breasts and erect nipples. Mainwaring crossed his legs
self-consciously as captain St John cleared his throat. They stood in
silence for what seemed like hours and then, quietly at first, Seaman
Staines began to sing in a rumbling baritone. "Hooray and up
she rises, hooray and up she rises, hooray and up she rises."
Oblivious, 2nd Lieutenant McVitie tugged her
shorts further down her long, tanned legs in an attempt to shelter them
from the October wind. Unfortunately, this exposed more of the regulation
navy blue knickers to which Seaman Staines' eyes became riveted with
puppy-like devotion. Captain St John cleared his throat theatrically.
"Watch dismissed," he barked. "I’m going below.
Number two, you have the bridge. Steady as she goes."
Story © 2005 How Tenji & Miranda Givings.
Pictures and construction © 2005 utterpants.co.uk / 051105