“Oh, by the way, Captain, the dependents’ Christmas committee decided they wanted this year’s party on board the Seaview,” Angie mentioned at the end of a thankfully small list of things-to-do.
Lee Crane had been listening to finalized repair and refit schedules, and that addendum took him by surprise. “Uh, what?” he asked, thinking he knew where this was going. Something else to keep him in port on Christmas.
“The Christmas party committee would like to have the party on board Seaview,” she repeated.
“Why?” he asked in disbelief. “You know, with all the classified areas, that we can’t have kids running around….”
Angie’s countenance was deadly serious. “Lee, it’s very important to them. Seaview is where their loved ones work and live most of the time. It’s also been where all of you have almost died. Where some have died.” She paused to let that sink in and then continued. “The committee, and by the way, they polled most of the complement’s families, agreed. These people want to have at least part of the party on the boat. They want to give thanks surrounded by the walls that have saved you.”
Lee considered the request. If the classified areas were locked off and strict stipulations exacted, he didn’t know why not. It would be very crowded, but that, too would be an eye-opener for the crew’s dependents. “I understand, Angie and I think we might be able to swing it. I’ll have to bump it off the admiral, though.” He thought he might still be able to work it out for him and Meeka to leave for Christmas.
“He said to bounce it off you. He only balked at how crowded it would be.”
Lee nodded. “It will be up to the organizers to work around that little problem,” he commented. “Who’s at the head of the committee this year?” Kids had planned last year’s event with Angie acting as advisor. He’d talk to the coordinator about details and then leave the rest up to Chip.
Angie smiled knowingly. “Not me. Strictly the kids this year.”
They had had game rooms and very contemporary versions of Christmas carols. Pizza and soda had been the main menu items. Still, it had been fun. He waited for Angie to continue.
“Meeka Crane, Mark Hudson and Kris Jamison.” Her look was smug.
“Meeka?” he asked, feeling his half-laid out plans slide into the head.
“Committee chair.” Angie grinned at his discomfiture.
Despite this kink in his holiday schedule, he couldn’t help but feel proud. His sixteen-year-old foster daughter had become very independent, even if still devoted to her Seaview family. They had some disagreements at times, but she never forgot her roots. (The Little Army) Lee’s problem was that he had not wanted to spend Christmas here this year. He had wanted to spend it in the south Pacific. Well, perhaps New Year’s then, he thought with a resigned mental sigh. “I hope she doesn’t consult with Riley on the activities. They might end up with a roulette table in the sick bay and skateboarding on the lower corridors.”
“No, I think they’re keeping it simple this year,” Angie said with a laugh. She pulled an envelope out of her desk. “In fact they only want some kind of Christmas/Chanukah observance and a pot luck dinner.” She shook her head. “I don’t know how they will pull that off in the sub. I think the dinner will be in the subpen deployment area with just the observance on the boat. Santa Claus will appear at the end of dinner.”
Lee shook his head. “What these kids think of.”
“Actually, it’s rather wonderful that they have such initiative,” Angie replied.
“Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great, too. Last year was . . . interesting.”
Angie handed him a slip of paper. “Yes, last year was their experimental phase and I was only going to make sure they didn’t get too far out of line. This year, they are more attuned to what’s going on around them.” She sobered quickly. “I think they are more aware of their loved ones’ mortality after that near disaster last summer.” [Deadly Waters in this context]. “That slip of paper is your assignment for the little pageant they are planning.”
“You said Chanukah, too. How are they going to pull off both?”
“You’ll see,” Angie replied with an enigmatic smile.
Lee looked at the slip of paper in his hand. He read it again. A part in a Christmas ‘pageant’—a wise man. “At least it isn’t a speaking part.”
“You have to learn the song that goes with it,” Angie said with a smirk.
“What? Me sing? You’ve got to be kidding!”
“You did rather well with Katie….”
“That was different and you know it, Angie,” Lee retorted. “Who are my partners?”
Angie was enjoying this. “The admiral and Chip. Who else would it be?”
“Figures. And are they happy about this?”
“No more than you are, but they will make the effort.” Her voice told Crane there wasn’t any use arguing or complaining about it.
“Okay, I’ll get with them and we’ll practice,” he acquiesced. Stuffing the slip of paper in his pocket, he took the folders he had to work on and left the office.
Angie just watched him leave, a knowing smile on her face.
“Lee, how in the world did ONI envision you doing that code in song when you can’t read music and have trouble hitting the right notes?” Chip griped as he shelled a peanut and popped it into his mouth. They were sitting around a small table in a bar not far from the Institute. It was a comfortable place with its clientele consisting mainly of Institute employees.
Nelson chuckled and downed his last swallow of his beer. “They who lead also serve.”
Crane snorted. “Easy for you to say, Admiral. You have a great singing voice. Why don’t you do “We Three Kings” solo?” He took a sip of his beer and glared at his XO. “And don’t you give me too much grief or I might be forced to put you on mid watch when we head out.”
Chip shrugged and grabbed another handful of peanuts. “No problem. I go with the flow.”
Lee knew he was defeated, but wasn’t ready to acknowledge it. “For the whole mission?”
“Sure! Means I can order your sorry butt out of the control room when you get restless and walk the boat at 0300.”
Lee took another swig of beer and then grinned. “I wonder who has the other parts? They’ve been very tight-lipped about the whole thing.” They, being Meeka and her committee. “I’d have thought they would peg you and Nikki to be Joseph and Mary, and your baby for Jesus.”
“They finally got Nikki to consent Brandon being baby Jesus. He’s only a few weeks old but they finally told her who Joseph and Mary were going to be,” Chip explained. “Imagine, my kid’s first production at less than a month old.” He smiled wistfully.
“I was baby Jesus once, but I was almost two years old,” Lee reminisced. “My cousins lucked out because they were older. Aunt Doris and Uncle William were Mary and Joseph. Constance, Emmaline, and Nicholas were shepherds. Dora, my mother and Uncle Robert were the wise men and my grandmother was the narrator and angel.”
“You remember that far back?” Chip asked, incredulous.
“No, Dad liked to tell the story of the year baby Jesus jumped out of the manger and ran away.” They all laughed. “He said I was okay until Doris tried to swaddle me.”
The admiral sat back and watched his two commanding officers’ repartee in amusement. “My sister’s doll,” he finally added. “I was usually Joseph and Edith was Mary. Mother and Dad were everything else.”
“Well, that was what my family did after that. The doll, that is,” Crane smirked. “Safer that way.” He grabbed a few peanuts and shelled them, but didn’t eat them. Suddenly, he wasn’t in the mood. Past Christmas’s faded from his mind, as did the room. He wished he was where the sand was warm and the ocean clear and beautiful. The trips to Hikeru* to see La’ani were so few and far between. (*see Loloa Fononga)
“I’ll say this,” Chip observed after a few moments of silence. “If we had that committee working on the boat, we wouldn’t have to worry about any security leaks.”
“You’ve got that right,” Nelson concurred. “I don’t have a clue what they have in mind besides our part in the little pageant.”
“We’ll find out in a couple of days,” Lee murmured.
Two days later, while he was trying to adjust the cardboard crown and the flashy material that adorned his robe, Kris Jamison approached Lee. She gazed up at him, waiting for him to acknowledge her. The very petite fifteen-year-old was what Doc affectionately called his surprise angel. All his other children were grown and married by now, but Kris had come late. Her wavy hair glinted dark red and her blue-gray eyes glittered in distinct pleasure.
“Are the other wise men ready yet?” he asked.
She nodded. “I was told to tell you that there’s been a change in assignment.”
“Oh?” he asked, curious.
“You’re going to be Joseph,” she announced happily.
Relief and trepidation warred with each other. At least he wouldn’t have to sing—or would he? “Speaking part?”
She shook her head. “Even in the Bible Joseph didn’t have much to say. Just follow the story.” She tilted her head. Her eyes glinted mischievously. “You’ll do fine, sir. And you will get to be near Brandon.”
Everyone wanted to hold Chip and Nikki’s new baby. He nodded and handed her the crown and fancy material. “Guess you’ll have to give this to the new wise man. Who gets the honors, by the way?”
“Nobody, sir. The admiral pointed out that the Bible didn’t say how many there were anyway,” she answered with a grin, and headed out of his cabin.
He cinched up his robe belt and headed out behind her. Without the fancy stuff, the plain brown robe would serve for Joseph. The little pageant was being held in the control room; the monitors relaying it to other parts of the boat. A Chanukah observance would be held immediately after in the wardroom and then supper would be off the boat.
He had been told that there was some great food waiting. It was rumored that Cookie had whipped up some old-fashioned dishes, including plum pudding. What he was really eager to check out was the turduckhen Tom Bailey’s parents had brought in from New Orleans. Regardless, it looked to be a very good repast after the observances.
Lee eased his way into the crowded control room. During the repairs, some of the equipment had been removed and that allowed a few more people, but all in all, there was hardly room for a couple of dozen people and almost half again that were in attendance. It was a wonder anyone had room to breath. The admiral and Chip were on the staircase, waiting their cue. Sharkey and Kowalski, as shepherds were perched on the Flying Sub access rail. Mary was hovering over the little cradle that served as a manger. Chip’s son, Brandon was sleeping peacefully. An illuminated star hung from the top of one of the bow windows.
Lee couldn’t figure out who Mary was. She was kneeling and bending over the cradle. Her scarf hid most of her face. One of the crewmen’s wives, he guessed. Meeka, sitting at the navigational post, motioned him to stand closer to Mary. His foster daughter began narrating the story, reading directly from the Bible. He looked down at the peacefully sleeping baby and then at the petite woman beside him. There was something familiar about her, but what? She was so attentive to the baby, but Brandon needed no attention as sacked out as he was.
“ ‘And her days were accomplished and she delivered a newborn son....’” Meeka continued. You could have heard a pin drop in the room. ‘Mary’ tucked the little blanket around Brandon. “ ‘And there were in the same country shepherds.’”
Out of the corner of his eye, Lee watched Chief Sharkey and Ski go through the motions, as best they could in the cramped space, of being alternately afraid, awestruck and joyful. Lee had to admit that the chief emoted well.
Meeka read about the wise men, and the admiral and Chip edged through the crowd toward him. Lee was caught up in the reading. He was so proud of Meeka’s progress; how far she had come from the scared girl she had been back in her homeland five years ago.
“ ‘And Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart,’” Meeka concluded.
Then ‘Mary’ began singing a lullaby. It was a low, soft murmuring song that spoke of gentle waves and warm breezes. Crane instantly recognized it. The Polynesian wise woman, A’ona Matua, sang it to him when he had been so very sick back the first time he had been on Hikeru over four years ago. It had calmed his pounding head, his roiling stomach and helped him believe that everything would be all right. Shock coursed through his body and pierced to the depths of his soul. La’ani! La’ani was Mary?
La’ani had not left her island since she had come with him to save one of her people and help stop the madman who had planned on loosing a biological agent in California. That had been more than four years ago. She had been declared the queen of Hikeru shortly after that and the island had been closed to all outsiders. Although he was the exception to that edict, he sensed the scrutiny of her people whenever he visited. Yet, during his times alone with La’ani, Lee felt the intertwining of their souls. When he left her, he felt emptiness so powerful that his body ached.
The last time he had visited, Lee had determined to make the decision that would allow him to see her as often as he liked. But he could never say the words. The tie that linked him to his beloved Gray Lady was too strong to sever. La’ani knew that. She had never pressured him to quit his job, just as he had never suggested she leave her island and her people. Lee felt no workable outcome. But now she was here. She had come to him. “La’ani?” he said.
She let the notes of her song trail off and then she gazed up at him. Her eyes were brimming with tears. “I cannot rule with you. I will not rule without you.”
“You already rule my heart, La’ani,” he whispered so that only she could hear him. He took her hand and she slowly stood up to face him. “How…?” he began.
“Your daughter invited me and I came,” she said simply.
Lee knew there was more, but was also very much aware of their audience. “I’m so glad you came. I can’t think of a nicer Christmas present.” He pulled her close to him and reveled in the warmth of her embrace. His lips ached to smother her in kisses. But again, he remembered where he was and looked up. Chip had a huge grin on his face. Kowalski did, too. They both had known. Somehow, he felt everybody knew. Meeka was positively beaming. He recalled what La’ani had said. Meeka had invited her. Lee figured something extra would show up in his foster daughter’s stocking this year. “Mary and Joseph would like a bit of privacy now, if you all don’t mind,” he said, trying to put some authority into the suggestion.
“No way out, Lee,” Chip said with a twinkle in his eye, motioning to the crowd with a nod of his head.
Crane looked around, then grinned. “Wanna bet?” he countered. He motioned Sharkey and Ski to move.
The chief of the boat blinked in confusion. Ski nudged him and pointed. With a happy smile, he opened the Flying Sub hatch. “Merry Christmas, Skipper, Miss La’ani.” He got out of the way and Lee escorted his Polynesian queen down the stairs. They were accompanied by a hearty rendition of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” as well as applause. He closed the hatch and turned to La’ani. There was much to discuss….