fodschwazzle: (Sandy hole)
The Underwaterer whirred as it went dark, a high whinny indicating the age of the vessel. Mary was not old, laughing at the animal squeal of the engine. Beyond the glass panels surrounding her, she could start to see the sea. Dim lines of sunlight pierced the depths, catching schools of fish and dolphins as they sailed past. One seahorse idled, spinning its tail around the metal docking loop. Mary couldn’t stop giggling. As her eyes adjusted, even the coral reefs on distant stones waved hello. Mary pulled out a book and a tiny flashlight and began identifying creatures.

“Pleh-cost-o-muss,” Mary carefully muttered, sounding out each letter. As soon as she said it, she saw the fish stuck to the glass pane, sucking and scrubing away algae. “Gnama-gnama-gnama,” Mary added, captioning the sound of the plecostomus’ mouth as it rubbed the glass. Even though it was the most hilarious fish she could find, as soon as she read that it was a fresh-water fish, Mr. Plecky disappeared.

Large fish and long words flowed deliciously through her teeth as she pronounced them. With every word, emperor angelfish, orchid dottybacks, and sea anemones swarmed her vision and her capsule. The Underwaterer chirped with each newly registered fish, and Mary hugged her tools furiously. Suddenly, a giant shaft of light pierced the ocean, and Mary had to stifle her fear and surprise, tucking the blankets tighter around her tiny feet and turning off her light. The ultimate anglerfish arrived!

“Mary. Really?” the Anglermom pleaded. “You have school tomorrow. Could you get some sleep?”

The Underwaterer’s capsule was slow to open as it rose to the surface. Standing in the pod after a successful dive, Mary was reluctant to end her trip. “OK, mommy. I’ll sleep soon.”

The Anglermom smiled and shook her head. Mary was wearing a life vest and goggles, making her small head look unnaturally bulbous. “You can’t sleep in those, silly. You’ll wake up with big rings around your eyes.”

When her mother walked away, Mary took a calculated risk and tried using the Underwaterer without the goggles, finding it much easier to see without them in the way. The world was beautiful underwater.

*****

The world was beautiful everywhere. It challenged and demanded more from Mary than she ever could have imagined, every day.

Her peers—other women who had, three years ago, become the first female submariners—were stationed on the USS Wyoming when the “shower tape” scandal came around.

“I’m not going anywhere,” Mary calmly informed the jeering young petty officer across from her during mess. Her duty on the USS Virginia had only just begun.

“Really, Mary?” the fool responded, using her first name on purpose. “I won’t be surprised at all if the same thing happened here. I would watch for cameras if I were you.”

“If you were me, you’d know why I am immovable. I dreamed this, Stevens,” Mary replied, making sure to emphasize his last name. “I’ve wanted two things my whole life: to be here and to serve. I am not remotely fazed by the idea that men can sometimes be pricks. I deserve this assignment as much as you.”

Women had been placed on other sea vessels for many years, but the tight spaces of a submarine somehow enabled those last influential vestiges of institutionalized sexism to opine about the “risks” of women underwater. Even the Navy’s plans to have 20% of a submarine’s enlisted crew be female by 2020 were still relatively limited in the scope—especially considering how many highly qualified candidates Mary could think of who might be interested in the experience.

More would be on the way. Sometimes, when Mary would crawl into her bunk and try to tuck her sheets underneath her feet, she could see others through the immense, dark ocean: young girls floating in submersibles with only a book light to guide them, the world becoming more beautiful and possible with every blink.

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