"Captain's going to be surfacing the boat soon for a swim call. He wants you to be lifeguard again. I'm to relieve you so you can go forward." Terry said.
A faint snarl escaped from Alden's throat. If there was one thing he hated, it was playing lifeguard. He had to admit that his elasticized body made him ideal for the job, but he didn't have to like it. "Again?" he growled. "I've only just got over the sunburn from the last time! Flakes in my fur make me itch!"
Terry looked at the feline furson, one of only five on the crew, and the latest to arrive. His flexible body made him the only crewman in 'M' division to get into many of the tight spaces in Engineering. Normally amiable, but his temper can be fearsome when aroused. Right now, Alden's ears were halfway back, signaling annoyance at the situation. Remembering the time when Alden lost his temper at the EM club during refit, Terry took a calming approach. "Look at it this way, Al. You're getting outside this sewer pipe for a few hours. This time, remember to wear a shirt out there- you won't burn so bad.
"Besides, I need the proficiency watch. Now, what's going on down here?"
Alden's ears returned to their normally upright position. Sighing, he gave a complete turnover, signed over the logs, then started forward to change as the call went over the 1MC, "Surface! Surface!", followed by the sound of air rushing into the ballast tanks, which always reminded him of a million toilets flushing at the same time.
Ten minutes later, Alden, wearing his trunks and a Kamfish tee-shirt, was waiting in Control for the hatch to be opened. His post would be up on the sail, where he could jump to any place forward if needed. Once everything was ready, he scrambled up the ladder to his post.
The equatorial sun was definitely bright and hot. Alden was glad he brought a cap with him, modified to suit his ears, to shade his eyes from the glare. Cargo nets were thrown over the side forward of the sail, to allow the men to get in and out of the water. The skies were clear, the seas were calm, and Alden made himself comfortable while he watched, along with the shark watch, TM2 Giusti.
After about half an hour, Alden spotted a commotion off to port- a man was struggling in the water. Alden didn't hesitate. He stood up on the edge of the bridge and jumped. Tucking himself into a ball, he bounced off the side of the hull in a trajectory calculated to put him just beyond the struggling man. Being rubbery all his life, even before the incident at prototype, gave him an unerring skill at calculating angles and ricochets, especially with his own body.
Alden splashed down exactly where he wanted to and immediately wrapped himself around the man. He noticed that it was the Weapons Officer, LT. Parcells. Once he had a firm grip, Alden did the one thing he publicly hated, but privately enjoyed. He began gulping air, inflating his chest and belly so he could have enough buoyancy to float. Once he was large enough, he rolled so that Lt. Parcells would be on top of him. It was obvious that the lieutenant was suffering from cramps and spasms. Alden stretched an arm as far as he could, having to stretch his fingers to get a grip on the cargo netting. As he started pulling himself in, other swimmers came to help push the two of them back to the ship.
After the lieutenant was lifted up topside, Alden clumsily climbed back up himself. His chest and belly were large and round, too large to fit inside the hatches. "I need a hand here, guys." He said to some of the swimmers. "I need to deflate." Four men piled on top of him, enabling him to burp out the air. That was part of his deception- he didn't need to, but his legend was that his inability to deflate was why he hated to inflate. Once deflated, Alden reached up, grabbed the bridge coaming, and pulled himself up to the bridge. "Nice save, Al." said TM2 Giusti.
"Part of my job, Tom." replied Al.
Half an hour later, the swim call was secured, the nets stowed, and the sub dove back down under the waves, back on patrol. Al showered the salt water out of his fur, changed back into his usual jumpsuit, and headed back to the Engine Room.
On his way aft, the corpsman, HM1 Hengist, stopped Al as he passed Sickbay. "Just to let you know, Lieutenant Parcells will be all right. Just a bad time to have muscle cramps."
"Glad to help, Doc. Talk to you later- got to get back on watch." Alden said politely, then hurried aft. It was not that he was eager to get back in the pit, but that he was nearly ready to qualify on other watchstations- that would give him more time to sleep when he was off-watch.
The story of Alden's rescue of the Weapons Officer spread rapidly throughout the ship- as usual, the only thing that traveled faster than light was gossip. He took some more than usual harassing from the crew, but he tolerated that- he was used to having people gang up on him, then tie his arms together with his fingers around the seawater piping. He had long before learned to untie himself. The only time he got seriously angry is when they came at him with air hoses- but the crew soon learned not to mess with him when his ears were laid back fully.
Three weeks after the rescue, the ship tied up for a week-long port visit at an island in the Caribbean. One night, Alden was sitting on the breakwater with three of his friends from 'M' division. They were all drunk, except for Alden, who didn't like getting drunk. One of the men threw an empty bottle into the ocean. Another man thought the bottle was full, and dove in after it. It was a fifty-foot drop to the water, and the man landed wrong.
"Mike, Chris, sound the alarm! I'm going after George!" Alden said as he kicked his shoes off and jumped. As he fell, he gulped air to inflate himself so he could be used as a raft.
When he landed, he reached out and wrapped George up with his arms, holding him close to his inflated belly. The waves were beating them up against the breakwater, so Alden gulped more air to get himself big enough so that George would not be battered. George was unconscious as a result of his landing, as well as being drunk.
Alden heard a commotion from above. "Do you need help down there?" Alden heard.
"Yes! Need rescue boat here fast!" he shouted.
"On its way, Al! Hold on!" came the voice from above. Three minutes later, the rescue boat was nearby, but not too close, because of the waves. A swimmer jumped out and came towards Alden, who stretched a leg out towards the swimmer.
"Grab hold and pull me clear! He needs a doctor fast!" Al shouted. The swimmer grabbed Al's foot and pulled him out past the wave action, then the boat maneuvered next to Al's inflated body.
"Okay, Al. We're here. Let's get him on the boat." said the duty rescue man, ET2/SS Champlain.
"Good. Let me hang on while you tow me back to the boat. I need help, too." Al said.
"Looks like you do, Al. I've never seen you this big before." Petty Officer Champlain said as he eased George off of Alden and into the boat. By this time, Alden was now almost 9' tall, and his belly was over 7' in diameter. Mark saw several cuts on Alden's belly where he had been bouncing off the seawall. 'Those must hurt' he thought as he checked over George. They did- the salt water in the cuts stung ferociously.
The rescue boat made it back to the Kamfish, where George was checked over by the corpsman. Alden was rolled up topside and had seven men piled on top of him to get him to deflate, after which he was washed down with fresh water and his cuts treated. There was also a lot of bruising as well, which was not easily visible under Alden's steel-gray fur. George was found to have broken ribs from his fall, as well as a massive hangover when he sobered up. The thing that angered Alden the most was ruining his clothes, which he had burst out of. He had just bought them, and had not yet treated them with elasticizer. The rest of the port visit, Alden was too sore to go out to the town, which he wanted to see. Rubberized bones don't break, but they do bruise, which can be more painful than a break.
On their way back to their homeport, Alden finally qualified for his 'dolphins'. At the qualification ceremony, the Captain not only awarded Alden his dolphins, but also read aloud the Letter of Commendation that was going to go into Alden's service record for his actions in saving the lives of Lieutenant Parcells and Petty Officer Arcton. Afterward, Alden had his dolphins 'tacked on' so often, his ribs were bruised. In fact, he was taken by surprise by Petty Officer Timms and knocked into the distilling plant. It took Timms and two others to extricate the stunned Alden out of the piping. After that, the harassment stopped. But, one side effect was that as Alden gasped for breath, he expanded. By the time he could breathe easy, he had grown to where his head was up among the padeyes while his feet were on opposite sides of the shaft! It took some time for the pain to subside to the point where he could start deflating himself enough to fit through the hatches to go forward. He explained that he could deflate himself, but it wasn't easy.