For those that have read my debut novel The Remarkables they will be aware that the titular ragtag band of heroes were thrust together during the Second World War.
Whilst there is a bit of backstory in the book, nearly everyone I have spoken to about it has wanted to know more about their escapades during the war. With this in mind, the sequel Reaching Out will feature several of their adventures against the forces of evil. I’ve already popped a sneak peak of The Remarkables taking on a tank in a previous post; below is a more nautically themed escapade.
Captain Ernst Reeder sat in his quarters and stared at the maps in front of him. They had been patrolling the waters for three months without a successful attack. The Allies, having begun the war with poorly defended convoys, were now becoming frustratingly adept at detecting their movements. Command had speculated that they had developed a new form of sonar that was able to detect submersibles at a far greater distance and depth than previous machines were capable of. Others believed that they had cracked their secret codes. He had even heard some of his crew speculate that they had recruited the services of mermaids or other mythical creatures to come to their aid.
Captain Reeder shook his head. Such foolish notions about the occult were usually reserved to those at the top, not those on the front line. He was about to check their course against their latest orders, when he felt a gentle thud. Most of his crew would not have noticed such a subtle event, but Captain Reeder was renowned for how sensitive he was to variations in the normal vibrations felt aboard a serving U-boat. He lied down on the floor and spread his hands out, listening intently and feeling for any further sounds or vibrations.
It hadn’t been a metallic sound so he doubted that it was a mine or similar offensive weapon. Occasionally they hit a dolphin or small whale; they sounded similar to what he had just heard. After a few moments he was satisfied that a small marine mammal was the most likely cause so he stood up, straightened his uniform, and decided that he would go to the command room to boast about how finely tuned his senses were.
Just as his hand reached for the door handle, the entire cabin shook violently. Captain Reeder was knocked back to the floor, where he was serenaded by a loud screeching sound from the hull and the wail of a siren. He leapt back to his feet, leaning against the wall to steady himself as the entire submarine lurched starboard.
He wrenched the door open and staggered down the narrow corridor past alarmed looking submariners. “Were we hit?” he asked one of the off-duty engineers, who shrugged his shoulders before knocking his head against a metal pipe as the U-boat jolted again and falling to the floor unconscious.
Captain Reeder swore at the fallen man, berating him for not having more seaworthy legs. He staggered onwards to the command room.
“Report,” he ordered the First Officer. Before he could answer the submarine lurched upwards.
“We’re breaking water!” someone shouted.
Captain Reeder was clinging onto his command chair. “Why did you make that command?!” he bellowed at his First Officer, who he noticed was also unconscious.
“He didn’t order us to do so,” a voice cried out, “we just started rising.”
Captain Reeder grabbed the periscope as they emerged from the depths, and looked around. There were no ships to be seen around them. “What the hell is going on?” he shouted.
As they bobbed on the surface, a silence surrounded them, indicating that the engines had been switched off.
He could hear a gentle knock knock knock against the hull, as one would expect a small child to do so on a neighbour’s door.
“What’s that noise?” one of the navigators asked.
“Mermaids!” someone declared.
“Shut up!” Captain Reeder ordered, and walked towards the sound of the knocking, negotiating the U-boat’s corridors in a way akin to a bizarre and one-sided game of ‘Marco Polo’. The noise became louder as he approached the torpedo room.
As he entered the area he saw that the two crewmen stationed there were backed against the rear wall, both looking terrified and white as sheets.
“What’s the meaning of this?” Captain Reeder asked, referring to both the noise and their behaviour.
One of the men responded by feinting, whilst the other just pointed at the torpedo bulkhead. Captain Reeder swore at him and approached the torpedo tube. The knocking continued. He looked at the remaining conscious man, who in response ran out of the room and emitted a high pitched scream hitherto unheard of on any of the Kriegsmarine vessels that Captain Reeder had served aboard.
He shook his head and spun the door to the tube open. A torrent of water entered as if the outer door was open. He pushed against the door and tried to close it. He eventually managed to do so, but not before three black shapes flopped inside with the water.
As he closed the door he slowly turned around, fearful that the crew’s suspicions were correct and they had been attacked by mermaids (although the rational part of his brain reassured him that it was more likely to be large fish).
Stood in the centre of the torpedo room of the German U-boat that he had commanded to victory after victory for four years was a dark skinned boy of about ten, and a fair skinned man and woman both in their twenties.
“Hello,” she said in English.
“Hello,” Captain Reeder repeated, also in English which he spoke fairly well.
“Permission to come aboard?” asked the man.
“Granted,” replied Captain Reeder, deciding that politeness was perhaps the best course of action considering that he had clearly become detached from reality. “Can I help you?”
“Yes you can,” replied the woman. “I would like to know why you felt the need to attack a small battleship off the coast of my island last summer? Have you any idea the upheaval it has caused my brother and me?”
“I’m sorry?” Captain Reeder replied, very confused at these turn of events.
“So you should be,” the woman replied. “Caspian?” she said to the boy.
The boy smiled and spoke with a mischievous grin. “Abandon ship.”
The crew of the sunken U-boat floated on flotsam for several hours before the British cruiser rescued them. The officer that initially debriefed Captain Reeder was incredulous regarding the explanation given as to how the ship was sunk. Notwithstanding the unlikelihood of three individuals entering the vessel via the torpedo tube, the description of how the young Indian boy had produced a corrosive gas from his hands that ate through the hull was dismissed as the ravings of a man affected by some form of nautical shellshock. And when the German continued to describe how the three aquatic intruders had been seen to speed away underwater in some strange air bubble that the woman seemed to be creating with her hands, the British officer stormed out of the room.
It was only when the debriefing resumed with the tall man in the suit with the bald head was Captain Reeder’s account was accepted. After allowing him to give his full description the bald man simply smiled and commented:
“They are remarkable, aren’t they?”