Part of the Crew
Senior Rating Robert Kowalski grumbled into his coffee cup. He was sitting with several friends in the crew’s mess, but his dark mood precluded much conversation. His friend, Matthew Patterson, leaned over. "What, Ski?"
"You heard me.... I said I can't believe after all this time we're playing nursemaid to some alien. He’s getting palsy-walsy with the khaki's, too. Jeez, I'm surprised the admiral hasn't make him a lieutenant or something."
"Did seem rather quick," Patterson began.
"Yeah, like he had the skipper eating out of his hand in double time. And do you believe his story about being the only one of his bunch left?"
"Uh, well, yeah, I do," Patterson admitted. Several others nodded in agreement.
"He hasn't done anything rad and he's been awful friendly," Stu Riley added.
"I think he took over the skipper and did something to the admiral, too," Ski continued.
"He'd have pulled something by now if that was the case," Pat pointed out.
“Yeah, but you should have seen the look on the skipper’s face when he
touched the guy in the cave,” Ski said, his voice low. “It was like someone had
knocked off his mother or something. Then he was back to normal. It’s happened
before, you know.”
Outside in the corridor, Captain Lee Crane was listening, his mouth set in a hard line. He started toward the door.
“Captain, please. It does not matter,” Sargo said. “They have a right to their suspicions considering what you have told me has happened to you and your crew.”
“But that kind of scuttlebutt can be damaging,” Crane replied tersely.
“Did you not say that you came aboard under less than optimal circumstances,” Sargo began. “And you had to prove yourself to the crew.”
“Well, yes, but….”
“No, let it go. Hopefully, I can prove my worth to your vessel as well as your men.” What Sargo didn’t say was if he and the humans couldn’t get used to one another, he would leave.
Crane nodded and the two continued down the corridor, leaving the rates to their musings.
At eight hundred feet light fades and color is muted, so the bright bow lights scattered surprised aquatic life in all directions. It also showed the hulk of a destroyed science lab in shocking detail. It was as if a can opener had sliced off the top. Lee Crane didn’t think much of the chances of any of the four scientists, even if they had made it to the emergency pressure chamber. Now as he and Kowalski suited up in special diving suits and others readied the diving bell to pick up survivors, he felt bad vibes. Sargo stood quietly by the diving chamber.
Soon the three were swimming toward the scene of the disaster. Sargo went ahead, unencumbered by equipment. There was no need to bother with the air lock. They cautiously swam in through the breach and surveyed the damage. Surprisingly a couple of the systems were still operative with blinking lights. That puzzled Crane, knowing the sea lab was a closed air-type system that wouldn’t have been adapted to a water environment. “Kowalski, check the outside of the lab. See if you can make out what happened.”
“Aye, sir,” came the reluctant answer.
“Sargo, you check the pressure chamber for any signs of life, while I check out these systems.”
“Yes, Captain.” Sargo swam with effortless grace. The only equipment he wore was a communicator. At times Crane envied him. Most of the time he didn’t. He knew Sargo was lonely. It didn’t help that most of the crew still didn’t trust him. Lee also knew Sargo wouldn’t stay forever in an environment of such distrust, not that he blamed him.
Sargo swam up to the chamber’s hatch and placed his hands on it. He sensed no human life functions, felt no soft sighing that would indicate the beating of a heart. There was something that didn’t seem right, though. A slight hum; a metallic click that was almost too high for even his keen audio senses to pick up. It raised in timber, pitched higher than his ears could pick up. He could feel it though. A slightly different vibration. He reported to Capt. Crane.
“Get the hell out of here!!” the captain shouted into the communicator.
“Sir?” Ski asked.
“Bomb! Move it, everyone. Seaview, back full! Don’t know big this is.” He swam out of the breach and toward the sea floor.
Kowalski wasn’t quite as fast. The pitch of the device rose enough for Sargo to detect it away from the pressure chamber. Why would the humans try so hard to destroy each other? No time now for philosophy. Crane had the right idea for survival. Kowalski was heading for the submarine. He wouldn’t have a chance if the blast caught him in the open. With little effort, Sargo caught up with Kowalski and grabbed him by the arm. The diver shook him off. “Skipper ordered….”
“He ordered us to get away,” Sargo responded. “We cannot get to the Seaview before the device explodes!” Sargo pointed to the direction Crane had taken.
“Says you,” Kowalski snapped.
Sargo knew there was no time to argue. With his more-than-human strength, he grabbed Kowalski’s air tank harness and pulled him toward the bottom.
“Hurry, Ski, Sargo,” Crane called.
Sargo quickly caught up to the captain and saw they were still too exposed. “Come,” he ordered the two humans. Kowalski hesitated, but Crane followed with a motion to the rate. Sargo scanned the bottom with eyes that could see quite well in the depths. It was his ears that picked up what might save them as well as what was about to kill them. He pointed to an outcropping and urged the two men behind it. A crevice opened behind and under the encrusted rock. Crane didn’t take time to study it but ordered them in. Sargo pushed the rate into the crevice and then Crane, just as the bomb exploded. He braced against the rock and hoped it was enough. The shockwave of water slammed into the outcropping, toppling it, flattening him. The ground seemed to quiver beneath him.
“Sargo!” Crane called to him from below.
The Temulite felt Lee Crane’s touch against his chest and in his mind. There was massive weight on his back. It was hard to breathe. Sargo tried to gather his arms beneath him to push the rock off his back. It was useless. He felt his consciousness drifting.
“Maybe if we increase the pressure in one of the tanks. Use air to push the boulder off him,” Kowalski suggested.
“It won’t be enough, Ski,” Crane said. “Help me dig this side out. If I take off my tank I can slide out,” he said. “Crane to Seaview!” He called several more times before giving up. He squirmed and finally got the tank off with Kowalski’s help. He squirmed some more and then slid out of their refuge. Sargo lay unconscious in front of him, the collapsed outcropping pinning him. Crane braced his legs and tried to push, but his lungs were demanding air and he grabbed at the tank Ski had pushed out for him. He pulled his tank back on and tried again. Ski was soon beside him and pushing with him. The only movement threatened to crush the alien even more.
“We need to brace this before we try to lift it again,” Crane said. A crackling in his communicator and he heard Chip calling him.
“We need another dive team to save Sargo, Chip,” Crane answered. “He’s pinned under fallen rock. I don’t know how long he can hold out.”
“Skipper, if we use my tank here to keep the rock from shifting,” Ski began, pointing, “we can dig underneath him.”
“We’ll have to buddy up,” Crane reminded him.
“That’s all right. We have to do something. Even a fish can’t survive with all this weight on him.”
Crane glanced at the rate, but didn’t see any malice behind the mask. “Let’s do it then.”
By the time the rescue team reached them, the two divers had almost exhausted themselves trying to dig and share a tank at the same time. They had made some progress. With the help of a pneumatic underwater jack, the divers moved the boulder enough to get Sargo free.
Sargo woke up slowly, his mind trying to figure out just why he felt so tired. He had rested recently. When he swam to the top of his resting tank, he felt pain in his joints and wondered about that, too. His normally private time was being monitored and watched by humans as well. Then it came back. The destroyed research facility, the bomb and the explosion. Captain Crane watched him with a relieved expression. Doc did, as well. The water that flowed around him was oxygen rich, which was exactly what he had needed after such an event as being half-crushed. Activating the communications device, he said, “I am sore, but otherwise physically well.”
Doc turned to Crane with a sardonic look on his face. “At least he will admit to his trauma.”
Crane ignored the doctor’s jibe. “You had us worried. That boulder was half a ton if it was an ounce.”
Sargo gingerly climbed out of his tank at the far end of the laboratory and let the water pool beneath him where it would drain back into the water purification system. “But your doctor is very capable and I am well.”
“Before I announce you totally well, I’d like to examine you again in sick bay, Sargo,” Doc told him.
Sargo just nodded, then watched as Kowalski came in. The young sailor glanced at everyone and then at Sargo.
“Before you do that, Doc, don’t I need to get your report?” Crane asked. It was definitely not subtle.
Doc nodded. “Come and see me when you’re through here, Sargo.”
The men left and Kowalski said nothing for the space of twenty dorlens of time.
“Uh, sir, I, uh, want to apologize. I mean, I was kind of a jerk.”
There was a pause and Sargo was able to process the word ‘jerk.’
“I didn’t trust you. We’ve been invaded so many times and everyone of them wanted to take something . . . or take over someone.”
Sargo started to say something, but Kowalski interrupted him.
“I mean I’m the one that started all the scuttlebutt going around and, well, Sargo, you’re okay. You saved me and the skipper and that’s A-okay in my book.”
Sargo wasn’t sure just how to respond at first. “Thank you, Kowalski. I appreciate your confidence. I can also assume by my being here that you had something to do with saving my life.”
“Well, maybe a little,” Kowalski admitted. “By the way, what do I call you? I mean while we’re on duty or something. Do you have some rank or something?”
Sargo shook his head. Rank meant nothing to him now. Only trust and ability and friendship. “How about hrith?”
“What does it mean?” Kowalski asked, trying the word out loud a couple of times.
“It means friend.”