Mercury, The


By Brian Ramirez Kyle

At 26 Caleb Johnson thought he was much to young to command a Navy submarine, even a small, cramped, little-noticed vessel like the Mercury. But he took some solace from the fact that his fresh-faced crew was even younger—even his exec, Martins, was only 23.

Still, the reflection that looked back at him from the tiny mirror in his quarters looked even younger than his years. He still looked like the 17-year- old who’d lied about his age to get into the Academy, he thought ruefully, examining the smooth jaw and dimpled smile and sea-gray eyes that seemed to twinkle with youthful exuberance, even now that he was burdened with command of a ship. The crew was calling him “Old Man Johnson” already, but he couldn’t tell if it was a jibe at his youth, or the fact that he looked like one of them (some of the 19-year-olds aboard looked older than he did, and his young exec certainly did)—or maybe it was a genuine recognition of whatever experience he had on them. He sighed and reached for his shirt.

The door to his quarters opened and Martins slipped in. Even the commander’s quarters on a small sub like this were tiny, and so there was just room for the two of them. Lucky Martins is built like a pole, Caleb thought idly. If he was built like me we’d never both fit in here. Caleb was naturally broad-shouldered and rangy, like the ideal of a midwestern farmboy. He’d had pecs before he’d ever even heard of working out, and his body always processed away fat, leaving him as trim and tight as—well, as a 17-year-old. He pulled on his shirt, noting that the baby-faced Martins was trying not to watch. He sighed again inwardly—he was sure now, three weeks out of Honolulu, that Martins was hung up on him. He hoped he wouldn’t have to set him straight. Set him straight! Caleb smiled unexpectedly at the pun in his own thoughts. Martins smiled back almost automatically, then suddenly assumed a studiously blank expression. His body was stiff and at attention. I wonder if anything else is stiff and at attention? Caleb thought idly, looking for more support for his theory. Alas, the uniform slacks revealed little, especially in this light. He shrugged and nodded for Martins to speak.

“Sir,” Martins said, staring straight ahead as Caleb buttoned his shirt, “I thought you should know we’ll be reaching the Tamiki Island group at 1135 hours.” They were standing close enough that Caleb could taste his breath— it was sweet, and warm. In fact the little room seemed warm.

Caleb struggled to consider what Martin had said. He wasn’t reporting for no reason. 1135—over two hours from now. Wait—that’s well ahead of schedule. “Why so early, Doug?” He watched Martins blink at the use of his first name, just like he always did. Perhaps he thought it unbecoming. Caleb didn’t care. He wanted a close relationship with his men—that would be crucial in a crisis.

“The crew have been driving the engines, sir,” Martins responded stoically, meeting Caleb’s bright gaze and then looking away. “There’s rumors of R&R on Tamiki Atoll, and—”

“I’ve ordered no R&R. Great guns, we’re only three weeks out of port!”

“So I’ve been telling the men, sir,” Martins said unhappily. “But you know what they say about Tamiki Atoll, sir.”

“No, what?”

Martins was surprised enough to look straight at his commander. Their eyes met, as they were of a height, both the tallest aboard the cramped ship apart from the unfortunate crewman Stretch Maletsky, who the crew said laughingly hadn’t been able to stand up straight since he’d joined the Navy.

“I thought everyone knew, sir,” Martins began.

Sensitive about his youth, Caleb disliked hearing he was ignorant of something well known. He snapped, “Get on with it.”

Martins gulped but did not turn his gaze. “There’s supposed to be a hidden pool, within a cave lost deep in the brush, or so they say. The pool has a stone flower at its center. Men who drink from it are supposed to increase their virility tenfold. That’s what they say,” Martins added distractedly. His eyes were drifting down Caleb’s frame, transparently wondering what his already hot superior officer would look like with virility increased tenfold.

“And the crew want to go find the pool,” Caleb mused, both amused and irritated.

Martins snapped his attention back to Caleb’s face. “Particularly Ensign Juarez,” he said nodding.

“Juarez! Geez, that musclehead is already as virile as two men,” Caleb said. Martins swallowed. “And twice as horny, from what I hear. I know you can see that boner of his from a mile away, all day every day. Christ, you think he’d want to decrease his sex drive, not increase it.”

Martins had greeted this speech with increasing embarrassment, evidenced by bright red ears. All he was able to say now was, “Yes sir.” Caleb regretted his little off-the-cuff speech. He wondered what Martins thought of Juarez, and suddenly felt—how peculiar!—a faint twinge of jealously against the bigger and hunkier ensign.

Caleb shook his head decisively, partly to clear his mind. “Tell the crew we don’t have time for R&R. We will finish this observation mission and return to Honolulu in six weeks as ordered.”

“Yes sir.”

“Well? Dismissed!”

“Yes sir!” In a moment Martins was gone, but the quarters still seemed curiously small.

* * *

His watch on the bridge proceeded uneventfully for nearly two hours. Caleb was deep in thought about his secret orders—there was a submarine of unknown origin in these waters somewhere, and he was to find out everything about it should he encounter it—when a blaring klaxon jolted him back to his senses.

“Report!” he hollered over the alarm.

“Starboard engine is overheating sir!” yelled back the helmsman—Juarez, as it turned out. “We’re going to have to shut it down!”

Caleb looked hard at the musclebound ensign, packed tight into a skintight uniform. Even now a huge erection was profiled in the tight uniform slacks plastered onto his thickly muscled lower half. Was this some kind of ploy? Still, he had few options. “Do it!” he roared. “Mr. Martins, make ready to rise to the surface!”

Repairing the engine will take at least a day, Caleb thought grimly. Looks like the men will be getting their R&R after all.

* * *

Caleb himself joined the first shore leave party, which consisted of himself, Martins, Juarez, and three strapping young crewmen who seemed to be hanging close to Juarez. Barely 21, Juarez through sheer poise seemed their senior by five or ten years. Caleb wondered if he could take some pointers from Juarez about appearing older than he was.

They pulled their shuttle boat up onto the beach and stepped out, their boots in their hands, into the shallow clear blue water lapping the pristine white beach. They stood amazed, the cool clean water playing lightly with their bare feet. The beach was perfect, and there was no one in sight, nor any evidence of humanity at all!

Suddenly Juarez whooped with joy and leapt forward, and was running madly along the beach, yelling and whopping. His three companions quickly followed suit. Caleb watched the young men frolic, amused, but Martins frowned and yelled, “Stand to, there!”

“Let ‘em go,” Caleb said. But after a moment, he called, “Hey there, Mister Juarez!”

Juarez guiltily stopped cavorting and trotted over to stand in front of his commander. He saluted, and Caleb returned the salute.

“Mister Juarez, we need a project. I firmly believe idleness leads to mischief.” He paused, toying with the ensign. “Tell me all you know about this mysterious pool.”

Juarez raised an eyebrow, then slowly allowed a grin to steal across his face. •

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