The Yonoa shuddered a final time and sank below the epipelagic zone as it zoomed away from its home nation and made for their destination. The crewman manning the helm breathed a sigh of relief as their Commander said, “Hmm, good man, excellent piloting that.”
Sith’s adjutant’s voice boomed through the intercoms overhead, rolling through the small submarine and making each crew member jump to attention. “Attention, attention: we shall be at sea for one week, men. I shall be seeing to the Commander’s needs, but our guests will need tending when you are off-watch, men.” He paused, but before they could relax, continued, “The duty roster has been posted in the mess hall, men. Starting now, all crewmembers are to hot rack in the Commander’s escape pod and observe 6-hour watches, men.”
“Confound it, my good man, they know what to do,” Sith’s voice screeched from the intercom, making the spy who’d been introduced to the crewmen as Beauty wince from where she lounged in the mess hall. “Let them do it.”
“Yes, sir.” The intercom went silent for an instant, the hum of dead air filling the space. “All personnel to their duties, men.” It clicked off.
“Yes, sir,” mimicked a crew member sitting in the mess. “That thing’s just too off, you know.”
“Namourei, shut up!” The crew member cooking turned and glared at him. “If you have nothing to do go clean the pod or it’s going to stink—” He raised his ladle and made a threatening gesture.”
“Yeah, yeah—” Namourei caught one of their guest’s eyes. The little man gave him a lazy wink from where he sat opposite Beauty. The crewman gulped. “Er, yes sir, Inadakase sir.” He got up and nearly ran out, shoes clanking over the metal floors. The cook turned, taking plates to the small table of their guests.
“Dinner’s up,” he said, smiling nervously at the one with glasses, who seemed almost asleep with his hat pulled low over his face.
“So I see. Is it worthy of the next head of the hitman division?” the hitman questioned, hands shooting out to take the plate.
His counterpart leaned forward and peered at the food. “Yes, so I’ll take it.” He took it out of the first hitman’s hands and plunked it on the table in front of him. “One step ahead don’t mean nothin’ if you don’t follow through, Tengo,” he said in response to the glare he received.
“Hah! That’s a good one!” the one dressed in scrubs at the end of the table said. He’d refused to give a name, but the crewmen were calling him “Scrubs” since he’d come aboard wearing the scrubs and a doctor’s headlamp. “Jeego, you’re all right.”
“Ugh,” Beauty said, and recrossed her legs, drawing away from the table a bit. “Nothing about this is “all right.” All this technology…” her nose wrinkled, “And a week in this dank little… vehicle with the four of you? Dandy is bad enough without adding the rest of it.”
“If you say, “but that’s why I love you” one more time—” the fake doctor interjected, and Dandy turned wide, shocked eyes toward him.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Sure you don’t,” Jeego snorted, and took another bite as the cook laid down more plates. “Hey, this ain’t half bad. What do ya call this thing?”
“Er—I was told to call it “Des Curieux et des Bouts avec la Boue de la Mer,” the cook said with a nervous look at the ceiling above, where the Commander’s bedroom lay. “We um… we had to leave very quickly and our provisions for everyone but the Commander were a bit rushed…”
“Huh, rushed or not, just by fanciness of name alone the menu sounds worthy of my attention,” Tengo said, and grabbed a fork. “When I’m the head of the hitman division perhaps you can come work for me. What do you say?”
“Er, yes, sir, I hope you’ll give me a call when that day comes. I’ve been thinking of turning over a new leaf,” the cook said diplomatically. “Is there anything else I can do for you?”
“Nah, go get your dinner or whatever,” the Doc said, eating busily. “Or Mr. Head of the Hitman Division here will find something else for you to do, probably.”
Inadakase took another look at the table. The Yonoa’s guests were busily eating with every sign of enjoyment and he sighed with relief as Beauty waved him away. He stepped out of the mess hall, took off his chef’s hat to hang it on the hook by the door, and demoted himself back to normal crewman as he headed forward.
As he stepped into what normally would have been the crew quarters, a basketball landed on his head. Not for the first time, he grimaced at whoever was the bright spark who’d decided to hang it on the entryway from the mess.
“I’m gonna toss that ball off the ship one day,” he said to Namourei, who was the one playing. “You know we’re not even supposed to have stuff like that on board.”
“Yeah, well, what the adjutant doesn’t see the Commander doesn’t care about,” retorted Namourei, who nevertheless put the ball down. “’Kase, you’re always so serious. Let’s play a game.”
“Hey. We’re on a black ops mission. Of course I’m serious and those hitmen in the mess make me nervous.” Inadakase rolled his neck and shrugged his shoulders. “But, uh… they’re sure an odd bunch, huh?”
“I agree,” Namourei said.
“Me, too,” said another crewman, who had just entered from the mess. “I was scared of them, but you know they’re sitting in there talking about skincare now?”
“Yeah, apparently the small blond one said the sauce on the food looked like the stuff the lady exfoliates with.”
“Er…” said Inadakase. “Maybe I should—”
“Nah, don’t worry about it,” the crewman said. “They ate it, no problem.”
“Wow. I hope you guys are that undiscriminating when you eat,” the erstwhile cook mumbled to himself.
“What was that?”
“Nothing. Hey, Namourei, you wanted to play a game… how about Go Fish?”
“Precious little chance of that when we’re under the water,” Namourei snarked. “But hey, if it would make dinner better—”
“Shut up.” Inadakase glared at him. “I’m working with what I’ve got.”
“Anyway, no cards. I forgot ‘em.” He thought for a moment. “We’re not the spies, they are, but how about I Spy?” Namourei said. “Ugume, you wanna play?”
“I hate that game,” Ugume complained. “There’s nothing new to see here. We’ve only been at sea for an hour and I’ve been all over the boat twice.”
“Fine, what do you suggest?”
“Too much sinking,” Inadakase said with a nervous shudder as he looked around the submarine. “I’d rather not, if you don’t mind.”
“If you don’t like it why’d you sign on for this mission?” Namourei teased him.
“Same reason as you, and you know it,” Inadakase said. “Besides, Battleship is only two players and we have three.”
“Actually, I’m on watch now,” Ugume said. “Gotta go relieve Murasa in the control room. I don’t like it there either… it’s creepy.”
“You don’t like it anywhere,” Indakase said mildly.
“Yeah, well--!” Ugume fidgeted. “There’s always weird noises back there! Like ghosts…”
“Ohhhhh, restless ghosts are coming to haaaunt you!” Namourei smirked. “C’mon, man, you’re ridiculous.”
“Shut up,” Ugume snapped. “I’m not alone in this—if Murasa was here, he’d agree with me.” He started to leave, but poked his head back in. “Hey, by the way, Namourei, aren’t you supposed to be piloting?”
“Nah, I handed off the ol’ paddle to the XO and we’re on autopilot for now,” Namourei said. “I’m off-watch.”
“Ugh. I guess it’ll be my turn in the control room in 6 hours,” Inadakase said. “Maybe I should go get some sleep.”
“I don’t know how they expect us to run this thing with only four crewmen, even if it is just a week,” Namourei scowled. “I mean, we still have to get back, don’t we?” His face contorted in thought. “We don’t have enough provisions to go back, though…”
“Surely we can take on more when we get there,” Inadakase said, nose wrinkling. “I know I sure don’t want to eat what I’m cooking all the way back…”
“What does that mean?”
“Nothing. I’m going to bed.”
“Fine, go sleep—the pod was already clean. I’ll take care of the guests. Maybe they’ll want to play something.”
Inadakase nodded, then put a hand on Namourei’s shoulder. “Just be careful playing with them, OK. They seem a little…cut-throat.”
“Ugghhhhh. You and that serious face and then you make with the morbid puns.” Namourei’s groan reverberated around the empty quarters. “Why did I sign on for this mission with you?”
“Same reason as me, and you know it.” Inada grinned at him and went up the ladder and through the hatch into the pod room.
The next week passed in much the same way. Their guests slept in the crew quarters, with the exception of Beauty, for whom they had set up a spare bed in the control room. Jeego and Tengo bickered constantly, Dandy fawned over Beauty, and the bescrubbed man took to pestering the crewmen, citing the idea that he might need to pretend to be a sub-mariner at some point. Provisions became ever more erratically prepared, although the hitmen seemed to eat them without much discrimination. Perhaps the elegant names, for which Inadakase had to start recruiting his fellow crewmember’s help, made the difference. Inadakase stayed nervous for the day when it did not.
In the hours before they were to get to their destination, the Commander declared he had a headache and went to bed. Scrubs peered through the door to the mess hall at Murasa and Inadakase, whose turn it was to cook again.
“Hey, you’re both “off-watch” right now, right?” he said, the quotation marks around the unfamiliar words sliding neatly into place.
“Er, yes sir?” Murasa said, and saluted nervously. “Do you need something?”
“Nah, just thought you might join me and the others in watching a movie.”
“A movie?” Inadakase frowned. “We don’t have a television, sir.”
“Yeah, but ol’ Sith has a projector, up in his ready room,” Scrubs said casually. “And that adjutant of his has a selection of stuff to watch.”
“We can’t go in there!” Murasa said, horrified. “That’s for the Commander only!”
Scrubs snorted. “He’s lying all comfy in that bed of his, eating his grapes and whatnot, and you’re letting him tell you not to watch a movie? Have some guts.”
Murasa’s face went purple. “Excuse me—”
“Sir!” Inadakase said, putting a warning hand on Murasa’s shoulder. “Thank you for the invite, but we’ll pass—just because we’re off-watch doesn’t mean we’re off-duty.”
“Suit yourself.” Scrubs shrugged and went out, Inadakase and Murasa trailing behind him. Dandy joined him at the top of the ladder, and they closed the door to the ready room in the crewmen’s faces.
Inadakase put his ear to the door, just out of curiosity.
“What will we watch, Beauty my dear?” Dandy’s voice was so oily Inadakase half expected it to keep seeping under the door and mess up his shoes.
“How about The Fly?” Scrubs’ voice was amused.
“Ugh! Nothing with little bugs of any sort, thank you,” Beauty’s voice was petulant. “There’s no room in here. Can’t you go somewhere else?”
“No, miss.” The adjutant’s voice was even as ever. “I must remain at my station, miss.”
“C’mon, Beauty, you know he has to control the projector—”
“I could do it, and better than he could too.”
“Shut up, Tengo. You wish you had the big guy’s accuracy and precision.”
“Jeego, you can’t even see the movie so why don’t you—”
“You’re going to wake up Sith if you don’t all shut up.”
“You should know that it is my duty to inform the Commander of what may transpire here, everyone.” The adjutant said.
“Don’t care. Just pick a movie—no bugs for the lady—and play it.”
“Yes, sir.” The sound of the adjutant slapping his control stem reverberated as the room went dark and light shone through the cracks in the door.
Murasa began pulling Inadakase away. “Come on…”
Inadakase sighed and headed for the ladder. “At least they’ll all be occupied for an hour or two,” he said. “And then they’ll be getting off to do…whatever it is they’re supposed to do here.”
“Yeah…” Murasa looked with loathing at the pod. “I hate sleeping in that thing, you know.”
“Well, when they leave we won’t have to anymore, I hope,” Inadakase returned. “We definitely didn’t bring enough water and provisions for them to be coming back home with us so they must be staying.”
“Huh.” Murasa made a face. “Not that I don’t like the odds and ends with sea mud—”
“That’s des curieux et des bouts avec la boue de la mer to you—”
“Yeah, well, actually I DON’T like it. Please say we have something else on the way back…”
Inadakase remained diplomatically silent. Murasa groaned.
The movie ended. Sith awoke, and made a predictable fuss. The submarine surfaced and everyone rushed to the surface to get a breath of fresh air as the hitmen met their contact, a tall man in red, and went with him in a boat back to land. Murasa shone a spotlight on them as they climbed down, and they waved him off irritably as they sailed away into the sunset.
“Egads men, I had no idea how revolting the smell is on these submarines,” Sith sniffed, then recoiled. “Something must be done. Perhaps technology to fix smells—”
“The way we use technology really… smells off, is that it, sir?” Namourei said innocently.
“Yes indeed, my good man, well said.” Sith shuddered. “When we return we shall use the new resources we gain from this trip to make that a priority.”
“Can we stay surfaced for a while, sir?” Murasa asked.
“No, indeed, I have calls to make and orders to give.” Sith harrumphed. “Put down the anchor, or whatever, my good men.”
“Yes sir,” they chorused, grimacing, and filed back into the Yonoa, which, although they had little time to enjoy it, felt almost roomy for the first time in a week.
Hours later, as the Yonoa sank deep and yet deeper, Inadakase found himself making a call of his own, listening to the dead space over the airwaves, although he was fairly sure that everyone was in the pod. But something had made him call—he wasn’t sure what, but he’d scrambled down the ladder even though Namourei had pleaded with him to come back.
“So it’s true what they say, that there are restless ghosts on board…” he gulped, and hung up. “That new leaf is sounding better and better.” He climbed up the ladder without looking back and scrambled into the pod, fitting himself around his other crewmembers.
“This is the worst.” Namourei announced after a moment of uncomfortable squirming.
“Shut up, the Commander will hear you,” Ugume said automatically.
“I don’t care, he’s the one that—”
“Namourei. He did it for our nation,” Murasa snapped back, his tone pompous. “So suck it up.”
“No thanks, I’ll just hold my breath.”
“Stop talking, you’ll just make it hotter in here.” Inadakase scowled.
“Fine.” They fell silent as the airlock filled with water and the escape pod jetted forward. They could hear the Commander humming a little tune and, although none of them could believe it, eating something which was probably grapes. Where he’d hidden them in the close confines of the pod, the crewmen couldn’t say.
“I’ve got some leftover curious boots here—” began Ugume, and Inadakase finally snapped
“Enough with the stupid des curieux et des bouts avec la boue de la mer!” He swiped the jar from the startled Ugume’s hands and, before anyone could stop him, opened the hatch between the Commander and the crewmates as he threw the goopy concoction directly into Sith’s face, closing the hatch behind him and subsiding into sulky silence with his face pressed against the glass.
At last, Namourei spoke, as the Yonoa sank behind them and they flew through the water into the darkness of time unknown. “So uh… how about that game of I Spy?”