by Sue K
Patterson sat in the mess, drinking a cup of fresh coffee when
he heard Cookie give a strangled yell and come tearing through the room,
a broom in his hand. At first Pat couldn’t figure what the problem was
until a small brown creature flashed across his foot and disappeared out
the doorway. Cookie screeched to a halt and shook his fist at the tiny
creature. He took a deep breath and then turned back to his galley. “I
keep a clean establishment,” he muttered.
Pat shrugged. “I haven’t heard of a ship afloat that
doesn’t have a few mice.”
“Not Seaview!” Cookie retorted. “Or at least it
Pat wasn’t sure he had ever seen the cook so agitated. Of
course, he had nothing against any creature . . . well, except snakes,
he thought with a shudder. But there was a part of him that agreed with
Cookie. The Seaview was really a clean ship. And how in the world
could mice get into something like a submarine? Must have come in with
some supplies. “Think there’s more?”
Cookie snorted. “They’re like cockroaches. For every one
that you see, there has to be at least a dozen more you don’t,” he
said sourly. “I got one in a trap yesterday.”
That little conversation came back to him a week later. Cookie
had continued to rail about vermin, despite putting out more traps. It
had finally been determined that the boat would be totally cleaned and
‘debugged’ as the rates were beginning to call the plans. That was
weeks in the future, though, as Seaview was in the middle of a
deep-sea exploratory mission. The only respite was today, while they
took on supplies in Wellington, New Zealand. He walked around the city
near the harbor, fascinated. It wasn’t often that they stopped long
enough to allow sightseeing, but Patterson took every opportunity he
could and he preferred to do it on foot.
An open-air market caught his attention and he walked through
it, checking out the Maori made tourist items and fruits and vegetables.
“Mister! Mister!” a small voice beckoned him even while a tug at his
pants leg further caught his attention. He turned and saw a small dark
boy, Maori, Pat guessed, looking up at him. One hand was still on the
trousers of his jumpsuit, while the other one clutched a wicker basket
that was almost as big as he was.
“What?” Pat asked kindly, guessing that the boy was trying
to beg for money or sell him something.
“You look like a kind person,” the boy said, his eyes large
Pat dug into his pocket, pulling out several dollar bills.
“Are you hungry? I can give you this little bit. It’s U.S. money,
but I’ll give it to you if you promise that you’ll use it to buy
food,” he admonished with a smile.
He refused the money Pat was offering him. “No, no, I
wouldn’t be able to use your money, but you look kind. I want a kind
person to take my friend,” the boy said, flashing a big smile and
handing him the basket. “I can’t feed her anymore. She’ll catch
many rats on an American ship. Thanks!” Even as he was talking he was
turning and running back into the crowd that was bustling in the market.
“Great,” Pat muttered. “Knowing my luck, it’s probably a
snake.” He looked at his watch and realized that he had to get back to
the boat quickly or he’d be on report. He paused just long enough to
undo the top of the basket and peek inside. He was shocked to see a very
large and furry dark gray cat. She had to be a good mouser, he thought,
her rotund sides seemed to indicate it. It was then he remembered
Cookie’s vile epitaphs toward all members of the rodent society. This
cat could be just the ticket and then when they were back at the
Institute, he would take her home to the family. With a smile, Pat set
off at a fast walk back to the port. He approached the gangplank and
saluted Lt. O’Brien.
“What do you have there, Patterson?” O’Brien asked
“A souvenir, sir,” Pat answered truthfully. “It’s a gift
for Cookie, but it’s not any kind of local produce,” he added,
knowing the regs about bringing plants or produce onboard.
O’Brien just nodded and Patterson walked past him. He went
into the wardroom and found no one there. Cookie and the galley mates
were still supervising the loading of supplies. He carefully opened the
top of the basket and talked softly to the cat. She looked up at him and
purred, her golden eyes half closed. He carefully reached in and stroked
her head. She purred louder. He opened the basket lid all the way and
she stood up and stretched.
“How about I call you . . . um, Amber?” Pat said, ending it
like he was asking the cat her approval. She sneezed and shook her head.
Hmm, he thought, maybe that was her way of saying that she didn’t like
the name. She delicately stepped out of the basket and rubbed against
his outstretched hand. He had grown up in a house with lots of pets,
cats included and he had never seen one quite so affectionate. She
obviously had Persian in her and she was almost as wide as she was long.
Her tail twitched and then lashed and she suddenly had eyes only for the
galley. With almost no noise, the cat jumped from the table and stalked
into the other room. Her passage was silent. No purring now. She was all
business. Pat hoped that what he was witnessing was an expert
exterminator in action.
He was. The tail disappeared and then there was a slight
scuffle. A few minutes later, the cat came out, a struggling mouse
dangling out of her mouth. “Wow!” Pat breathed, impressed. Then he
thought of a name. “Gray Mouser,” he said, triumphantly as the cat
growled and began to finish off the doomed rodent. While the name was
for a fictional sword and sorcery character of the male persuasion, Pat
couldn’t help but believe that it was a perfect fit for this dark
feline exterminator. He grinned broadly, then jumped at the voice behind
“What the heck is that doing in here?” Chief Sharkey
demanded. With only the mouse’s tail still hanging out of her mouth,
Gray Mouser bolted into the safety of the galley. Pat turned and faced
“Uh, sir, it was kind of shoved in my arms and . . . well, I
just thought, until we get back to the Institute, that we just go ahead
and use her to get rid of some of the mice. I mean, they do seem to be
getting out of hand and I . . . I mean….”
“Never mind,” the chief said, not unkindly. “There’s no
time to get rid of her and she does seem proficient. Just try to keep
her out of the XO’s and the skipper’s way.” He smiled quizzically.
“Don’t think the admiral would appreciate the addition of a pest
control officer, either. What’d you name her?”
“Gray Mouser,” Pat answered, relief flooding him. The cat
peered cautiously around the corner of the stove at the two men. “Uh,
that’s the name of one half of a pair of sword and sorcery characters
in a fantasy book.”
Sharkey nodded. “Hope she lives up to her name,” he quipped.
“Carry on, Seaman Gray Mouser,” he added, saluting the feline who
blinked at him and began washing her nether regions with great care.
By the time the Seaview was a day out to sea, almost all
of the rates had met the phenomenal new recruit and Cookie couldn’t
say enough good about her. She had killed at least three mice that he
knew about, having laid them at his feet before carrying them to a
private corner to dispatch them. By the second day, the khakis
suspected, but so far, except for Chief Sharkey, none of the other
officers had met her.
Then it happened. After a particularly long watch the third day
at sea, the executive officer had come down to the wardroom for a fresh
cup of coffee before heading to his cabin. It was 0400 by the ship’s
clocks and Morton was beat. He was sitting with his mug in both hands,
while Sullivan, one of the galley mates refilled it. Then he almost
dropped it when he felt something rubbing his leg and he looked down to
see a smoky gray Persian cat dropping a small dead mouse at his feet.
“What the hell?” he gasped. The cat purred loudly and then hopped up
on the table, gazing at him with her amber eyes. “So this is what all
of you have been taking great pains to hide.” He felt a small bit of
irritation flare and then just as quickly go out. She was a very
personable little creature and did seem to be making herself useful.
“Uh, yes, sir, Mr. Morton.”
Chip smiled. He had grown up with a variety of cats in his
house. With a sure touch, he rubbed her under the chin and down her
chest. She was a plump one, obviously very successful at providing for
herself. With deftness, he stroked and then felt her stomach. Growling
softly, she backed up and glared at him reproachfully.
“She’s been doing a great job catching the mice,” Sullivan
said. “But I should have warned you, sir, she doesn’t like her
“No wonder, Sulli, she’s pregnant. Probably have her litter
“What? Are you sure, Mr. Morton?”
“Of course. My mother adored cats. We had them around all the
time. Most were fixed, but some came to us already pregnant. Who brought
her on board?”
“Uh, not sure, but Chief Sharkey knows about her, sir,”
Sullivan replied evasively.
“Don’t worry. While the regulations forbid pets, I don’t
think we can place her in that category. But I wouldn’t tell the
skipper. He told me once that he didn’t like cats.” Chip began to
rub behind her ears with one hand and she quickly forgave him, butting
the palm of his hand when he slowed down. He laughed and continued
rubbing even as he finished his coffee. “I would suggest fixing her a
box in back of the galley, though. She’s going to want a safe, warm
and dark place to have her litter. Probably in only a couple of days.”
“Aye, aye, sir,” the galley mate replied in obvious relief.
Chip got up to leave. “By the way, good work, Seaman
Mouser.” The cat simply gave a demure meow in reply.
The XO’s prediction was extremely accurate. Exactly two days
later, Gray Mouser had a healthy litter of kittens. While she was
friendly to the men when away from her litter, she was very protective
of the kittens and they alternately turned up in various parts of the
sub near the galley. She was so protective of them that no one was
absolutely sure how many there really were. Cookie finally declared the
litter off limits to everyone and that seemed to mollify Gray Mouser,
although she still kept them hidden.
“Don’t worry about it,” Morton told the worried cook two
weeks later. “I always thought it was the mother’s way of cleaning
house. Freshen up the flock, get someone to clean the kids’ quarters
for her and then she brings them back for a while.” He smiled his
reassurance to the distraught cook. It was at that moment the sub
shuddered, rocked violently and then righted slowly. Chip was on his
feet in an instant, dashing for the mike. Gray Mouser disappeared out
the doorway. “Control room, report,” he barked.
“Unidentified projectile, Mr. Morton,” Lt. O’Brien
answered. “We’re sending a damage control crew to the area in
Without a reply, Morton headed to the control room at a run.
“Found out what happened yet?” he asked when he got there.
“An attack sub on maneuvers obviously got a little trigger
happy during a war game exercise. Instead of a mock firing, some airhead
sent out a real torpedo. Thank heavens the warhead wasn’t loaded. We
have a breach in compartment 43, but damage control thinks they can
contain it to that one room,” reported O’Brien.
“Good.” He reached for the mike.
“Captain’s down there already.”
Morton nodded and spoke into the intercom. “Skipper?”
“Skipper’s kind of busy right now, Mr. Morton,” came a
Chip turned to the lieutenant. “I’m going down there to see
if I can help. You still have the conn, Mr. O’Brien. And bring her to
the surface.” Without waiting for a reply, he dashed out of the room.
He met the admiral on the way and gave him a brief rundown.
With a nod, Nelson continued toward the control room and Morton
soon reached the damaged area. Water slicked the corridor, but already
the men were covering the breached hull with a containment plate,
wedging it in to reduce the influx of the sea.
“Out!” Crane ordered the men. “This may not hold until we
surface. He grabbed something from on top of a crate and shoved it in
Chip’s hands. It was a soggy two-week-old kitten.
“What?” he spluttered. Lee handed him another one.
“Gray Mouser has already been rescued, along with two of her
kittens. Take these out while I find the other one.”
“Other one?” Chip asked. “How do you know how many there
“I counted them, Chip. Now get out of here. I’ll grab the
other one and follow you!” As Chip turned he heard a plaintive howling
from the corridor. Then as he made it out the door, the hull groaned and
the pressure of seawater on the makeshift plate forced the wedge away.
The plate blew out to the opposite wall and water began to gush in. Lee
had been thrown to the floor, but struggled to his feet and pushed the
watertight door shut even as the water was beginning to spill over the
sill of the compartment.
Outside, Morton looked on in horror as the door shut and locked
in his face. “Lee!” he cried out, trying to turn the wheel at the
same time. He reached for the mike. “Control room. How long before we
reach the surface?”
“Ten minutes, sir,” came the reply.
Could Lee last that long, he wondered? There were ventilation
shafts to the cargo rooms, but they usually closed automatically in an
emergency like this. “Well, make it five. Do an emergency surface. The
captain’s locked in there.” There was a choked response on the other
end, but no other reply.
In two minutes, Admiral Nelson was beside him. “Did I hear you
right?” Gray Mouser meowed plaintively. Harriman glared at her and
then motioned for Patterson to gather her and the four kittens and get
them away from the area.
Pat did so, thinking all the time how something that had seemed
like such a good idea at the time had turned so sour on him in the end.
That the captain would be drowned because of him….
Morton nodded to the admiral. They both waited, looking at their
watches, clenching and unclenching their fists. The time seemed to go by
inexorably slow, and both the admiral and executive officer had to exert
tremendous control to keep from pacing. The faces of the other men
waiting outside the door showed the same kind of anxiety. Finally the
intercom blared. “Emergency blow!” Everyone grabbed onto something.
As soon as the sub was level, the admiral barked out, “Back
away.” It had been at least six minutes. Even though the captain was
experienced in emergency operations and could hold his breath for long
periods of time, the pressure of the water had to have been tremendous.
Finally, the wheel turned and the door blew open from the force of the
water inside. Several men were knocked off their feet, including the
exec and the admiral, but others pushed against the frigid waters and
made their way inside. They found the captain clinging to the top of a
crate, drenched. Sharkey dragged him down and into the corridor, only
far enough to keep the water from washing into his face as it slowly
dissipated. He wasn’t breathing. A seaman got on the intercom and
called for the CMO. Sharkey turned the skipper over on his side and
slapped him a couple of times on the back. There was no response at
first. Frantically, the chief prepared to begin artificial respirations.
At that moment Crane began coughing weakly and then with more force,
expelling water from his lungs. Gasping, he opened his eyes and gazed
blearily at the men gathered around him. Doc shoved his way past the
knot of men, a canister of oxygen in his hand. With help, Lee sat up and
rubbed his eyes with one hand.
“Are you hurt, Skipper?” Doc asked. Crane shook his head.
“You’re holding your arm strangely.” And indeed he was, as though
he had broken ribs.
Lee reached into his shirt and pulled out a very bedraggled
black kitten. “Give it oxygen,” he gasped, coughing some more.
“What?” Doc asked incredulous, but did as requested, the
mask enveloping the little creature. After a minute, the kitten began to
struggle, coughing and mewing.
“I can’t believe you stayed back to rescue a kitten,”
Nelson said, relieved and exasperated at the same time. Lee just smiled
“How did you know there were five?” Chip asked. “No
one’s been able to get near them.” Indeed, he wondered how Lee even
knew about them. He hadn’t told him and Lee hadn’t inquired, which
in itself was a bit strange.
“Like I said, I just counted them. I visited them every day
after my watch was done.”
Morton shook his head in disbelief. “I thought you told me you
“Well, I guess I didn’t hate them as much as I thought I
did,” came the quiet answer. The kitten was butting under his chin. He
handed him to Chip. “I need to change.” He got to his feet with the
admiral’s help. “Take SNAFU to his mother.” As an afterthought, he
added, “I think I named him well.” Then as the men stood watching,
mouths hanging open in amazement, the skipper calmly walked down the
corridor to his quarters.