From the author: An alternate WWII where magic and monsters exist, but you can still fight with submarines... mostly...
"You check those corners, sailor?" the Chief of the Boat barked. "Those lines are off by half a degree and our visitor doesn't materialize!"
"Re-measuring now, Master Chief!"
The COB was exaggerating, but I'd learned early in my naval career not to argue with a superior. If it wasn't likely to kill me, I just did it.
I placed my protractor on the dowstone panel we had strapped to the deck and re-checked all the angles in the chalked pentagram, then inspected every stroke of every rune around the circle. Then I climbed the ladder and verified the matching dowstone on the ceiling. Satisfied both stones would activate correctly, I stepped back and reported my progress.
"Very well," the COB grumbled. "Rosebud!"
The seaman's real name was Roseler, but after that Orson Welles flick, everyone called him ‘Rosebud’ as a tease. He jumped forward, holding his clipboard. I did my best to get out of the way. The COB's quarters weren't exactly spacious. Roseler and I didn't both need to be here, but we were apparently the only two sailors on the Bowfin rated for magic, and the Master Chief wanted us to double-check each other.
"You got the incantations there?" the COB asked Roseler.
"Aye, Master Chief!" Roseler said, his voice cracking. And people said I sounded like a girl.
"Corrected for position and depth?"
"Aye, Master Chief! I've got the math right here—"
"I can't read your damn chicken scratches." The COB waved the clipboard away and checked his wristwatch. "Rendezvous in twenty seconds. Make sure you're doing it right."
Roseler looked like he might cry. "M-maybe you'd like to do it yourself, Master Chief?"
"Do I look like a motherfucking magician?" the COB roared into Roseler's face. Their noses couldn't have been more than half an inch apart. "Now incant that fucking spell so we can receive our goddamn visitor!"
"Aye, Master Chief!" Roseler buried his face in the clipboard. I made a fist with one hand, ready to give him a kidney-punch if I heard the slightest mispronunciation. I didn't want to be within a hundred yards of the Bowfin if anything went wrong on the receiving end of this teleport.
"Five seconds, sailor!" the COB shouted.
"Aye, Master Chief!" Roseler began making unnatural noises with his mouth.
"Hagitaa, moro-ven-schaa, inlum'taa..."
Both pentagrams pulsed blue and white. Roseler finished the incantation, only going a little flat on the last syllable, and a pillar of light flashed into being between the two circles. A moment later, the light faded, and an officer stood inside the pentagram, carrying a large suitcase and wearing a... skirt?
"Permission to come aboard, Master Chief," the woman said.
She looked to be about my mother's age. Unlike my mother, she wore lieutenant's bars and the most perfect makeup I'd ever seen. But the expression on her face and the fact that she'd just teleported nearly seven thousand miles onto a submerged attack boat in the South Pacific told me she wasn't here to entertain anyone. Her nametag read: MARKEY.
"Permission granted, ma'am," the COB said without missing a beat. I guess you don't get to be a Master Chief by balking at the unexpected. "Sorry the captain couldn't be here to greet you himself. We're playing hide and seek with the Japs."
As if on cue, the entire boat groaned and rolled to starboard. I was impressed that the lieutenant kept her balance in those heels.
The COB shoved Roseler and me back. "If you'll follow me, ma'am?"
Markey looked at the pentagrams. "You're not going to clean this up?"
"These two can handle—"
"You secure those surfaces, Master Chief," Markey snapped. She looked straight at me. "You. What's your name?"
I blinked, surprised that she would address me directly. "Uh, Hatcher, ma'am."
Markey nodded. "Seaman Hatcher can escort me to see the captain."
"A kraken?" Captain Channing glared at Lieutenant Markey. "Is this a joke?"
Everyone else in the control room, myself included, was doing their best to listen in without looking like they were eavesdropping. Markey had handed over an official envelope from COMSUBPAC, and the captain and XO had verified the code sigils with their authorization amulets before unsealing the Bowfin's new orders.
"No joke, Captain," Markey said.
"We're at war, and some egghead in OP-20-G wants us to go hunting for a sea monster?" The captain turned over the paper in his hand as if looking for something more on the back. "What makes you think this creature even exists?"
"The Japanese are very chatty," Markey said. "They don't know we've broken their codes, and they talk about all kinds of things over the wireless. Lately they've been diverting their ships away from the western side of Kyushu Island, to avoid disturbing something they call nemuru kaiju—a 'sleeping beast.' Surely you've noticed the changes in your patrol routes."
"Yeah, we noticed," the captain said. "But maybe they do know you've cracked their codes and this is a trap. We've been doing a lot of damage to their merchant fleet. They must be looking for ways to kill more of our subs."
"I'm not here for a conference, Captain," Markey said. "You have your orders."
"I've got a question," the XO said.
Markey looked up at him. "Yes?"
"Let's suppose this kraken is real," the XO drawled, "and as powerful as you say it is. How come the Japs haven't already woken it up and sicced it on us?"
"The people of Japan live on a collection of small islands surrounded by the entire Pacific Ocean," Markey said. "Most of their mythology tells of how dangerous the sea and its inhabitants can be. They live with that danger every day. The Japanese aren't going to risk waking the monsters under their bed." She turned back to the captain. "But we can."
"Okay, fine," the captain said. "If the Japs are busy fighting off this kraken, they're not making war on us. Good plan. But we have to find the damn thing first."
Markey smiled. "That's why I'm here, Captain."
Lieutenant Markey insisted on using the head right after leaving the control room. I didn't understand why she would need to piss when it had been only minutes since she'd left the comfort of Main Navy. There was no privacy door for the toilet, so I stood in front of Markey with my back turned while she squatted. My body also blocked the sound of her voice when she spoke.
"So how long have you been using that glamour, Miss Hatcher?"
My stomach leapt into my throat and my heart rate must have tripled. I was glad she couldn't see my face. "I'm sorry, ma'am, I'm not sure what you mean."
"Please. I know a conjured disguise when I see one. Can I give you some advice?"
My fear soured to irritation. "Can I stop you, ma'am?"
"You need better scent concealment," Markey said. "I'm guessing that's a fake bandage on your hand, to explain the smell of blood, right? But that trick won't work every month. And you don't want to get a reputation for being clumsy."
My hands were both behind my back, at parade rest, and I fidgeted with my bandaged left palm. "Do you have a suggestion, ma'am? Other than dousing myself with cheap cologne?"
"Yes." Markey stood and flushed. "But we should talk in private."
The COB wasn't happy about giving up his quarters for our visitor, but the captain refused to have a woman sharing rack space with a bunch of sailors. I wondered what he would do if he ever found out the truth about me.
Markey interrupted the COB as he and I were preparing to carry his personal effects to a temporary bunk. "Excuse me, Master Chief. I'd like to speak to Seaman Hatcher alone."
I winced. The COB looked from Markey to me and back again, his eyes wide. I had no doubt I'd get a good yelling-at later. "Of course, ma'am." He glared at me. "You know where to find me, Seaman."
"Aye, COB," I said. He shut the door behind him.
I turned back to Markey, who was already making herself comfortable on the COB's bed. She kicked off her shoes and rubbed the soles of her feet.
"With all due respect, ma'am," I said, "I'm trying to not call attention to myself here—"
"Relax," Markey said. "I'm just a crazy dame from Washington. They won't suspect anything. Now."
She reached into her wavy hair and pulled out a bobby pin. Then she twisted the metal—it looked like copper—until it became an impossible shape, and even I could see the energy rippling off its surface like a heat mirage.
"You're using a visual glamour," she said. "This will extend the illusion to mask odors. Just keep it in contact with your skin at all times."
She held out the object and I took it with a trembling hand. If Lieutenant Markey could turn a bobby pin into a charged talisman, and if the Navy had sent her, alone, to locate a kraken, she would be one hell of a powerful friend to have.
She also scared the shit out of me. People who seem too competent always make me nervous.
"Thank you, ma'am," I said. "This is—I mean, I don't know how I can repay you." What I really meant was: I don't know why you're helping me.
"Well," Markey said, "you can start by finding me some trousers and boots. I don't plan to spend the next two weeks showing off my legs."
"Yes, ma'am." I tucked the hairpin under the bandage wrapped around my left hand. "If there's nothing else?"
Markey looked at me with dark, unfathomable eyes. "Tell me how you ended up here."
"In the Navy?" That was easy: I wanted to kill Japs. I tried to think of a nicer way to say it.
"On the Bowfin," she said.
I frowned. "I didn't exactly get to choose my posting."
Markey shook her head. "Why disguise yourself as a man?"
I should have figured she'd ask that. "I knew Uncle Sam wouldn't let a girl do any real fighting. And that's bullshit. Pardon my French."
"Why do you want to fight?"
"You're kidding, right?" I gaped at her. "They attacked us! Stabbed their damn aluminum planes through the Pacific defense screens and into Pearl Harbor. I was born in Honolulu. When I saw the photos—all that black smoke filling our sky—I hated them. I wanted revenge, I'm not afraid to say it."
I felt my hands shaking, and I folded my arms to hide them. "Not to mention their Nazi pals are killing or enslaving their way through all of Europe. If we don't stop the Axis, ma'am, they're going to take over the world, and I don't want to live in that world."
Markey nodded and seemed to relax. "Sorry to interrogate you like that, Hatcher, but I'm never sure whether to trust people in disguise."
"Yeah, well, we can't all look like movie stars."
"Don't imagine for a second that makes things any easier for me," she snapped. "And I will thank you to address me as 'Lieutenant' or 'ma'am', Seaman Hatcher."
I looked down at the floor, my face warm. "Yes, ma'am. Sorry, ma'am."
"This is not a costume I'm wearing." Markey touched her uniform. "I earned my rank. I had to fight to get this job, and I fight every day to keep it.
"Yes, there are advantages to men finding you beautiful, but that perception also limits you. They think all you are is a pretty face and a nice body. They only care about what they can see." She shrugged. "But I don't have to tell you how appearances can be deceiving."
Markey sighed. "What you're doing now is very brave, Hatcher. But when this war is over, you'll have to go back home—back to being a woman. Have you thought about how you're going to handle that?"
"Well, ma'am, since most of my time in the Navy's been spent cleaning one thing or another, I expect I'll be well trained to be a housewife." My words came out sounding more bitter than I intended.
"You have the talent, Hatcher," Markey said. "More than that, you clearly have the will. These two things are powerful in combination."
This conversation was becoming very uncomfortable. "With all due respect, ma'am, why the hell do you care? You don't even know me."
Markey stood and walked over to me. "I won't be pretty forever. I'll get old, and men won't want me anymore. But this?" She held up a hand, then snapped her fingers to create an illusory flame bobbing in midair. "The talent will be with me until the day I die. And to know that, to have that and not use it for something good—that would be such a waste."
I couldn't decipher the expression on her face. Was she feeling some misplaced maternal pity for me? Or did she have another agenda?
After a moment, I decided I really didn't care.
"Thanks for the advice, ma'am," I said, "but we both have to survive the fucking war first."
The floating fire winked out. "Dismissed."
I couldn't get out of there fast enough.
I did my best to avoid Lieutenant Markey for the next several days. It wasn't easy, since we were both stuck on the same three-hundred-foot, sixty-person submarine. And it wasn't that I didn't respect her. She clearly had major pull in OP-20-G to rate a teleport halfway around the planet. But she was calling as much attention to me as she was to herself, and I didn't need that kind of exposure.
Fortunately, she spent most of her time in the control room or the conning tower, doing whatever she did to track down the mythical kraken, and I was assigned to the aft torpedo compartment. The captain had decided we would fire the fish from there once we were ready to wake the beast—we'd be facing away and ready to run like hell.
Markey had brought aboard divining bolts to replace the magnetic detonators in our Mark 14s. The magnets were supposed to explode a torpedo right underneath a ship's hull, causing more damage than a broadside impact, but the damn things had never worked right. Markey's instructions were to replace the magnets with D-bolts, which would make our fish detect monsters instead of metal.
The plan was to find the kraken, poke it with a couple of torpedoes, then skedaddle before it was fully aware of its surroundings. The kraken's reported location was close enough to populated areas that it should—should—hear the noise from those cities and move toward Japan instead of anywhere else.
Working on the torpedoes occupied me for most of the time, but Markey's questions kept bugging me. What was I going to do after the war ended?
Maybe I wouldn't survive. Maybe that would be the best outcome for everyone: if I died in the line of duty, and my family didn't find out until later what had happened to their daughter—that she'd given her life for her country.
Maybe they'd be proud of me. And maybe the good ol' U-S-of-A would stop questioning our loyalty then.
I hadn't thought about my future in a while—not since I first enlisted. It had always angered me to know how limited my options were, and now I was angry at Markey for reminding me, for making me worry about things I couldn't change. That's what I was thinking about that day, when the COB pulled Roseler and me out of the torpedo bay for another special assignment.
"We're submerged in hostile waters, less than a hundred miles from enemy shore," the captain said as I climbed into the conning tower. "We can't surface, and we can't outrun anything that swims. Anything goes wrong here and we are fucked."
He was talking to Lieutenant Markey. Roseler was already crowded into the tight space around the periscope. I handed him the Bowfin's codex, which I had retrieved from the control room. He gave me a clipboard and a frantic look as I wedged myself into a corner next to the captain and the COB. It didn't seem like all five of us needed to be here, but I wasn't going to debate that.
"This will be a one-way tunnel," Markey said. She might actually have looked better in trousers than a skirt. I tried my best not to feel jealous and failed. "There's no danger of us being detected."
"But why does Rosebud have to do the spell?" the COB asked. "Aren't you the professional, Lieutenant?"
"Seaman Roseler is doing the easy part," Markey said. "We don't have a focus object, so I'll need to guide the far end of the tunnel."
The COB did a double take. "You're going to be his crystal ball?"
Markey sighed and looked at the captain. "We can spend all day discussing the finer points of scrying procedure, Captain, or we can get this done."
"Carry on, Lieutenant," the captain said.
I made as little eye contact with Markey as possible while she read off map coordinates for me to inscribe. I joined our target location and Bowfin's mantic signature into the spell, combining sonants and inflects from the codex reference tables and triple-checking each finished sequence. In principle, writing up the scry tunnel was simpler than describing a teleport path, but I did not want to be on the hook if this thing went sideways.
A few minutes later, Roseler and Markey were holding hands, their eyes closed as Roseler recited the full incantation.
Next to me, the captain muttered, "I'll be glad when we're done with all this black magic bullshit."
"Yes, sir," I said.
He glanced over as if noticing me for the first time. "Your family have talent, Seaman?"
I thought of my grandmother. She had introduced me to the occult, sneaking some mystical instruction into my language lessons every week. We never told my parents. They would have disapproved, to say the least.
I said, "Not that I'm aware of, sir."
"Thank fucking God," the COB said, on my other side. "Give me science and engineering any day of the week. I don't trust anything I can't take apart and see how it works—"
Roseler started screaming. It came suddenly, without even an intake of breath, and the sound was inhuman. He shrieked like an animal caught in a trap. I dropped the clipboard and covered my ears with both hands.
"Get the doc!" Markey shouted. "We need a tranquilizer!" Roseler's body began convulsing. She wrestled him to the deck. "Hatcher! Help me hold him down!"
The captain leaned down the ladder and yelled for the corpsman. I jumped over him and grabbed Roseler's shoulders. His eyes had rolled back into his head. He was still screaming, and his legs kicked around despite Markey's iron grip.
"What the hell's wrong with him?" the COB asked.
"He made contact!" Markey said. "Dammit, COB, you didn't tell me he was a sensitive!"
"How the fuck were we supposed to know?" the COB said.
My stomach knotted. Not because I was concerned for Roseler, but because I was afraid if he died, Markey would order me to incant her spells.
"As you were, both of you!" the captain said over the screaming. I could swear Roseler hadn't taken a breath in more than a minute. "Doc's on his way. Now how do we—"
Roseler stopped screaming. His mouth closed, then opened again, and he said a word which was not a word.
My head exploded with pain. No, pain's not the right thing to call it. It wasn't just that I hurt. When that not-word entered my brain, suddenly nothing in the world seemed right. What I saw, what I heard, what I felt—from the dinner I was still digesting to gravity itself—everything was wrong, and my body wanted it to stop.
I saw the captain fall to his knees, clutching for a handhold. A dark stain spread across the front of his trousers. Behind him, the COB vomited all over one wall of the compartment. Markey doubled over, blood dripping from her nose.
Roseler's lips parted again. I slapped both hands over the bottom half of his face before he could make another sound. He kept shaking, and the only thing I could think was: I'll kill him if I have to. How do I kill him? What's the fastest way to kill him?
"Good," Markey grunted, pressing her hands over mine. She turned her head and spat out a mouthful of thick, dark blood. "Keep him quiet until we can sedate him."
"What the fuck just happened?" I asked.
"Our intel was wrong," Markey said. "They're not kraken."
Some small part of me was happy that she'd screwed up. Most of me wanted to shit my pants. Then my brain finished processing Markey's words.
"Wait, 'they'?" The urge to empty my bowels increased. "There's more than one?"
By the time the corpsman had chloroformed Roseler and tied him down to the bunk in Markey's quarters—she ordered him gagged and isolated; nobody argued—I had finished collecting all our gear out of the conning tower and cleaning it off. The captain and the COB had changed into fresh uniforms and regrouped in the control room. They argued with the XO in low tones as I stowed the codex above the weapons station, locked the safebox, and returned the key to the captain.
I was just about to leave the control room when Lieutenant Markey came in, blocking my exit. Her face and uniform were still smeared with blood. Most of the officers and crew looked away. I backed myself into a corner and did my best to seem small.
"Two knots, Captain," the helmsman whispered. We had been running silent since we made contact with the monsters.
"Very well," the captain said. He turned to Markey. "Lieutenant, what are these torpedoes going to do to the kraken?"
"I'm aborting the mission, Captain," Markey said.
The captain frowned. "Come again?"
"We cannot disturb those Things," Markey said, lowering her voice. "We need to get the hell out of here."
"Oh, we're moving," the captain said. "But we did not come all the way into the goddamn lion's den just to have a look-see. We are going to do some fucking damage before we leave."
"Aft tubes loaded, Captain," the weapons officer said behind me.
"The intel was bad," Markey said. "Those are not kraken out there. They are Elder Things. Two of them."
"Older than what?" the XO asked.
"Elder," Markey repeated. "Not 'older'. Elder Things."
I didn't recognize the name, but ‘elder’ usually refers to something supernatural that's had centuries to develop its powers. And that's always bad news.
"That's not real descriptive," the XO said.
"They are unlike any other life form in Creation," Markey said. "We don't know what to call them, except... Things."
"I don't care what fucking kind of sea monsters they are," the captain said. "I just want to know what's going to happen when we wake them up. The Mark 14s have a nine-thousand-yard range—"
Markey stepped closer and glared at the captain. "I don't know what will happen if we disturb those Things, Captain. But it's going to be at least a thousand times worse than what happened to Seaman Roseler."
"I don't care," the captain said, "as long as it happens to the Japs and not us. Now how far away do we need to be when we shoot off these fish?"
"No," Markey said, her voice tight. "Elder Things are not just monsters. They are the worst monsters ever. They are beyond imagination. You saw—you felt what a single word in their language did to us."
I shivered at the thought of what might have happened if we hadn't silenced Roseler. The sounds and symbols we use for magic aren't human—they're ancient, prehistoric—and we don't even understand how most of them work.
"Cults have worshipped Elder Things as deities—Old Gods," Markey continued. "Do you understand? The mere sight of one can cause madness. If these two Things wake up, it could mean the end of the world."
The XO grunted. "You just said you didn't know what would happen. Now you're saying it's Arma-fucking-geddon. Which is it, Lieutenant?"
Markey replied without breaking off her staring contest with the captain. "We don't know exactly how bad it would get. But I am not authorized to take that chance. And neither are you, Captain."
"Then you get authorization," the captain said. "Use a comm spell to contact your superiors."
"I can't," Markey said. "We're too deep. Too much water, too much iron." She touched a pipe above her head. Both of those substances restricted the range of any enchantment. It was tough enough for me to maintain my glamour in this steel tube; there was no way she could send a message through several hundred feet of seawater.
"Eighty-five hundred yards, Captain," the helmsman said.
"Eighty-five hundred, aye," the captain repeated. "Weapons, flood aft torpedo tubes."
"Aye, sir, flooding aft tubes," the weapons officer said.
My stomach fluttered, but it wasn't fear. It took me a moment to understand that I was actually excited. I wanted the captain to go through with this.
"Captain," Markey said. She clenched both her hands into fists. Was she actually thinking about throwing a punch? "Listen to me, please."
"Master Chief, get our latest orders and bring them in here," the captain said.
"Aye, sir." The COB turned and maneuvered his way forward.
"Lieutenant, in seven minutes we're out of range and we don't get another shot at this." The captain spoke softly but firmly. "So we're both going to look at those orders and see precisely what the fuck we're authorized to do."
"Listen to me, Captain," Markey said with an unnatural calm. "You cannot do this. You cannot unleash those Things upon the world."
Why not? I thought. The Japs brought the war to us. The least we can do is return the favor.
"Aft tubes flooded, sir," the weapons officer reported.
"Open outer doors," the captain said.
"Opening outer doors, aye."
Yes. Hell yes. I wanted us to shoot off those fish. I wanted those monsters to wake up and destroy our enemies. So what if we got caught in the crossfire? This was war. One little submarine for untold devastation on their shores was more than a fair trade.
And if I died out here, I would never have to worry about going home. I would never again need to worry about fitting in, either with or without a disguise.
The sea would take me, and the sea didn't care about my race, sex, or skin color.
The COB shoved his way back into the control room. "Our orders, Captain."
The captain took the folded paper. "Thank you, Master Chief."
"Eighty-eight hundred yards, Captain," the helmsman said.
"Very well." The captain unfolded the orders. His eyes scanned across the page once, twice, three times. How many times was he going to read it?
I looked at the clock above the weapons station. Less than two minutes until we were out of torpedo range. And what if the captain decided to abort?
No. I had decided. If Captain Channing was just going to stand there with his thumb up his ass, if Markey didn't have the balls to follow through on her own goddamn orders, I would fucking do it myself.
The weapons officer on duty was Lieutenant Goldman. I didn't know him well, but I had played a trick on him in the mess hall once, making him think he was taking the last piece of cake. In fact, he had grabbed a bowl of coleslaw, and I got that delicious cake.
I had glamoured him once, and I could do it again.
I moved toward the weapons station, wriggling between other sailors and around their control stations. I had to be close for this to work. I closed my left hand into a fist to help focus my energies. My disguise might falter for a second when I bore the new glamour, but nobody here was watching me anyway.
The captain looked up from his orders.
"Captain?" Markey said quietly.
The captain handed her the paper. "Weps, close outer doors and stand down."
That's what he actually said. What Goldman heard, loud and clear, was: "Fire torpedoes."
I don't know how long it took for the commotion in the control room to settle down. As soon as our fish flew out the back door, the captain ordered Goldman placed under arrest, and the COB and the XO seized him. I followed them out of the control room, hoping to slip away in the chaos, but Markey grabbed me and dragged me back to her quarters. I hadn't expected her to be so strong.
"Why?" she asked after locking us inside. "Why did you do it, Hatcher?"
I stared her down and spoke slowly. "Do what, ma'am?"
She shook her head. "It's my own fault. I should have been paying more attention to you instead of the captain."
There was something about the way she said that— "Jesus fuck. You! You put a glamour on the captain."
"Nice to meet you, too, kettle," Markey said.
"You disobeyed your own orders!"
Markey's eyes flashed. "You don't know what my orders are, Seaman. I couldn't gamble on the captain making the right decision on his own."
"Yeah, neither could I."
Markey glared at me. "You know why I wanted to stop those torpedoes. Why did you want to fire them so badly?"
I took a breath. "Like the captain said, ma'am. We came here to put some hurt on the Japs. Didn't seem right for us to leave without doing something."
"No. It's more than just that." Markey studied me for a moment. "What's your real name?"
"No," Markey said. "Your real name. The one you were born with. The one that's on the books at whichever Japanese-American internment camp you escaped from."
I felt suddenly deflated. "You—you knew?"
"I saw past your glamour when you took my bobby pin. That's why I asked you all those questions. You can disguise your looks, but you can't disguise your emotions." Markey sat. "I had to make sure you weren't a spy."
I clenched my teeth. She had never really wanted to help me after all. She had only kept me close in case I turned out to be an enemy.
"My family name is Hachiya," I said. "I am a native-born American citizen, and I am loyal to my country."
"I'm not questioning your loyalty! I'm concerned about your judgment," Markey said. "Would you really rather die here, under a false identity, instead of facing life as your true self?"
An unearthly roar saved me from having to answer. The entire boat shuddered, and I imagined the ocean itself trembling.
"Guess they're awake," I said.
"You don't know what you've done," Markey said. "No matter how much you might hate them, the Japanese don't deserve what's going to happen when those Things reach shore."
"War is hell, ma'am."
She grimaced. "You know nothing about Hell, little girl."
Captain Channing surfaced the Bowfin as soon as we were back in international waters. Official information about what was happening in Japan remained spotty, but Markey, or rather, Roseler, had a direct line to a primary source. She was still able to connect to the now-catatonic seaman—just like she had during the scry—and report what she saw through the monsters' eyes. That lady never stopped scaring me.
The Things were faster on land than anybody had expected. Both surfaced on the western shore of Kyushu Island and crawled into the nearest population centers, causing massive damage by their sheer bulk—news reports varied, making them anywhere from fifty to two hundred feet tall, with claws, wings, tentacles, or some combination of all three.
But the worst of it radiated outward from them, as people apparently driven mad by the Things' mere presence set upon each other. Simple killing was the least of the atrocities Markey reported seeing, and which she ordered me to transcribe in gruesome detail.
She was right. Nobody deserved this, not even the Japs. I wouldn't have wished this fate on Hitler himself.
But I refused to let myself feel guilty about it.
I hadn't created those monsters. They were older than humanity. Someone or something would have roused them sooner or later. And no matter what Markey said about their cultural inhibitions, I knew the Japs would have eventually unleashed every weapon in their arsenal and every kind of magic they could muster against the Allies. Just like we were doing all we could to defeat them.
It was inevitable. This was war, all-out war, world war. It was them or us, and I would always choose us. My country; right or wrong.
Every nation in this conflict was doing terrible things. Every single person was doing things that would have been unthinkable before the war. Like me breaking out of Manzanar, disguising myself as a man, enlisting in the fucking Navy? That was three hundred percent insane. But I had done all of it in the name of victory. I had to do it. I couldn't have stayed in that internment camp for one more hour. I refused to continue being a victim. I needed to fight back. I had to do it.
It didn't stop the nightmares or bring my appetite back any sooner, but that dense nugget of conviction gave me something to hold onto. And I needed it as Markey spent hours on end dictating the relentless details of every hideous, profane, revolting scene she witnessed through Roseler's link. I did my best to write down her words without thinking about their meaning, repeating slogans in my head to block out comprehension.
This is war. Kill or be killed. Better them than us. I had to do it. I had to do it. I had to do it.
In the end, OP-20-G was right. The Elder Things didn't seem interested in moving out of Japan any time soon. Mission accomplished.
Markey code-named the monsters ALFA and BRAVO. The Japanese evacuated their coastal cities and mobilized heavy artillery. They bombarded both creatures for days. BRAVO didn't budge, but the ground forces managed to drive ALFA back into the ocean. Less than twenty-four hours later, ALFA resurfaced at the southwestern tip of Honshu Island and headed inland. The Japs finally surrounded ALFA at Second Army headquarters and kept it from going anywhere else.
But stopping the Things was one matter; killing them seemed to be impossible. Machine guns, Howitzers, and even high explosives only irritated them. According to OP-20-G's researchers, ALFA and BRAVO were immortal, had existed for millions of years before mankind evolved, and we might have to invent completely new weapons if we actually wanted to destroy them.
For the foreseeable future, the cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima would remain sealed quarantine zones.
Markey summoned me to her quarters the day she left Bowfin. She had changed back into a standard woman's uniform, presumably to avoid ruffling any brass feathers when she arrived in DC. Her eyes were as dark and unreadable as ever.
"I teleport out in a few minutes," she said, gesturing at the dowstone circle she'd inscribed herself. A fat bundle of files sat inside the pentagram on the floor. "I need you to wipe the inscriptions after I'm gone."
"Yes, ma'am," I said.
She stepped around me and closed the door. "I also want you to know that I'm not going to expose you."
I blinked. "Uh, thank you, ma'am."
"Lieutenant Goldman will go before a court-martial. There's no way around that," she said. "But I'll testify on his behalf, tell the jury his mind was touched—a side effect of Bowfin's proximity to ALFA and BRAVO. Nothing anybody can disprove. He'll be fine."
"That's good," I said, not knowing what else to say.
"But you, Hatcher," Markey said, "you will have to live with what you've done. Disguise yourself all you want, run away from home, hide under the sea, but you can never escape who you are on the inside, Miss Hachiya. Remember that."
"I'm not a coward," I said. I wasn't sure if I believed it.
"No, you're not." Markey stared at me. "That's why I like you so much."
I had no response to that. After a moment, Markey's wristwatch made a noise. She stepped into the pentagram, picked up her files, and said, "Do you enjoy serving on this boat, Seaman?"
I raised an eyebrow. "Is that a rhetorical question, ma'am? I'm trapped inside a metal tube with sixty men who don't wash for weeks at a time and smoke like chimneys every second they're awake."
"Well, then," Markey said, "can I give you some advice?"
I was sure I wouldn't like what came next. "I can't stop you from talking, ma'am."
"Maybe it's time you considered a less forward position in the Navy," she said. "This war isn't just about combat. The President has ordered the formation of a new, covert intelligence agency: the Office of Strategic Services. And OSS could use people like you."
I felt blood rushing to my cheeks and ears. "Are you offering me a job, ma'am? Or just blackmailing me?"
Markey's wristwatch chirped again. I stepped back as she incanted her end of the teleport spell. Then she looked at me, grinned, and vanished in a flash of light. A second later, I realized her final words had been in English:
"I'll be seeing you, Seaman Hatcher."
This story originally appeared in SNAFU: An Anthology of Military Horror.