"Due to the increasing terrorist threats, the peace talks mediated by the United States President have been transferred to an undisclosed location. No information has been released either by the State Department or the Presidential Office. All that is known at the moment is that the leaders of the two countries involved, as well as the President, have left Washington with their assistants. Further reports will follow as information is made available to this station. This is Carl Brown, News Channel."
Admiral Harriman Nelson, Captain Lee Crane and Commander Chip Morton, in full dress blue uniforms, waited, if not patiently, at least with outward calm, for the returning FS-1. Once on board, the delegates for the peace conference would continue their negotiations, while the Seaview would cruise 800 ft below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean. This was the only location which could be made available on short notice, had the sufficient defenses needed in a pinch and they would be mobile, therefore harder to find by the terrorists.
Nelson had agreed for the conference to take place aboard Seaview, knowing that peace in that region of the globe was crucial to the security of several allied nations. And, in his heart, he loathed the waste of lives and hopes that wars generated. The real losers were always those who did not carry the weapons and could not make the decisions.
The Flying Sub connected with its mother ship and the hatch was opened. The President was welcomed by Admiral Nelson, who introduced his senior staff. Then the two Generals, giving each other dark looks, were also welcomed aboard. Each man had an administrative aid for the duration of the conference.
The President was in is mid-fifties, tall but thin, with graying hair. He had not been in office very long and this was his first big test. He sincerely hoped to pull this off. It would make his Chief of Staff happy, his allies happy, and maybe get him a Nobel Peace Prize.
His assistant was a short man, thin with mousy brown hair and non-descript features. He was introduced as Henry Gwyers.
General Menza was a big man, dark of hair and eyes and a look of disdain on his face. His assistant had a definite family resemblance and was introduced as his nephew, Alvez. Since they had the same family name, only the younger man’s first name was used.
General Onrio was smaller and had dirty blond hair, but the same air of superiority. His assistant was average height, with gray hair and looked much older than his boss. His name was Piedro.
The President thanked Nelson and asked : "I was under the impression that you had an interpreter on board, in case we have some problems. Where is he?"
Nelson reassured the President. "The interpreter is on board and on her way now." Turning toward the spiral staircase, he smiled at the newcomer. "There she is. Gentlemen, I would like to introduce Ms. Cynthia Crane. She will help with any administrative tasks and translations, as needed."
General Onrio’s eyes looked over the woman in front of him. About 5 foot 6, with jet-black hair and violet eyes, she looked slightly Asian in features but more northern Arabian in coloring. This mixture was very attractive, so he did not say a word. Even if she was dumber than a block of cement, at least she was nice to look at.
Piedro did not betray any emotions, but Alvez Menza showed definite interest. Perhaps he could lure her into a little private conversation, after all, she was there to help, wasn’t she?
However General Menza clicked on her name immediately. "Crane? Like the Captain?" His tone was dripping scorn.
Cynthia Crane smiled and nodded her head, completely ignoring his attitude. "Yes, like the Captain. We have been married for almost a year now. I am pleased to meet you, gentlemen. With Admiral Nelson’s permission, I have arranged a conference room in the observation nose and seen to your cabin assignment. If there is anything you need, I can access any information database by scrambled radio signals. Just let me know."
When he realized that the woman was the wife of the Seaview Captain, Alvez looked the man over and decided that it would not be a good idea to get in his way. He was tall and lean, but he could sense strength in the way the man moved. And he had a full crew as back-up. Later, the situation might change, but not now.
After the delegates were safely in their respective cabins, the Admiral signaled Lee to close the doors of the control room. When privacy was assured, he turned to Cynthia. "Are you sure you want to go along with this? General Menza did not seem too pleased that you are a woman."
"No problem, I think I can even use that to my advantage." Cynthia reassured him.
"Oh?" commented Chip "And how do you plan to do that?"
"Ever noticed that when I want to distract anyone, I just take this blank look, tilt my head and ask questions about something I am sure they know well? This gives them the time needed to preen their egos, impress me and they are always so pleased to explain on and on. That allows me to get some clues to the real problem, which can then be worked on. You have to listen to what they mean, not what they say. And leave any susceptible nerves at the door: you cannot afford to be angry or distracted. It could make for a big mistake down the line."
Lee smiled at his wife’s explanation of one of her most intriguing behavior. Even if he knew how and when she did it, it always amazed him that it worked so well. Even on him! It was hard to keep anything from her, but she never insisted he disclosed information he could not give her because of his work. He was grateful for that. Some of his former classmates at Annapolis could not boast the same. A couple of them had even divorced over the issue.
Nelson passed his hand through his red hair and said "Well, this whole thing starts tomorrow. The delegates have cabins sufficiently distant from one another, so we should not have trouble on this point. Cynthia, I want to know why you insisted that the cabins we assigned to the Generals be identical to each other."
Chip and Lee were also curious for her reasons. This had sounded rather strange when she made the requested, but they went along with it. Cynthia was rarely frivolous in her demands, even in private, it was not in her nature.
"Territorial behavior mostly." At the look of skepticism from the Admiral, she explained. "They both consider that they are superior to others, it shows it the way they move and look at other people. If one or the other realizes that his cabin is larger, he will think that he has implicit support from us and will act as if he is entitled to more concession from the other side of the table. This would make the President’s work much harder and I think that he will need all the help I can give him. Even if it is subliminal and they do not consciously realize they are doing it."
Adding to her explanation, she went on. "The fact that I am married to the Captain of the Seaview will also protect me from any obvious overtures for my ‘favors’. In most societies, it is not acceptable to set your sights on the dominant figures’ spouse, and Lee is number three right now, after the President and you, Admiral. It will not be easy to get the Generals to agree to a peace treaty, but it has to be done. There has been enough suffering in that region. It cannot be allowed to go on."
"You are wonderfully devious. I love it." Chip said with a laugh. ‘Most people must be like open books to her. She is so quiet and unassuming, you’ll never suspect her of being so aware of everything and everyone.’
They cleared up a few last minute details and everybody went to get some rest. The coming days would be exhausting for all involved. Lee gave the boat his usual tour before giving the conn to O’Brien, late in the afternoon.
When he entered his cabin, Cynthia had finished showering and was brushing her hair. As usual, her mere presence in the room warmed him inside. He was glad she agreed to marry him, after her (no, their) daughter Brittany died. It took him close to four months to convince her and he did not regret his insistence. They were a perfect match, he was sure of it.
She turned and smiled at him when he walked into the room. Putting the brush back in her pack, she went toward him and snuggled in his arms. She always felt so loved when he held her. They did not need many words to understand each other, they seemed to know what the other needed. Cynthia tilted her head back and Lee met her lips with soft kisses.
"Mmmmmm……. I could stay like that forever!" She sighed.
"Me too." Lee agreed. He held her tighter and his kisses became more demanding.
"Captain Crane, are you trying to seduce me?" Cynthia asked with a smile and a sparkle in her eyes, as his hands started straying under the pajama top she was wearing.
"Definitely." To his delight, she had nothing underneath. She was so soft and warm!
"Think you will succeed?" Her hands were going up and down his back. When she reached his hips, he gave a sigh of pleasure and kissed her again.
"What could possibly stop me?" he whispered in a husky voice.
At that moment, the Seaview lurched, rolled and they were slammed against the wall.
"What the ….??" Lee said, getting up and helping Cynthia get back on her legs, all thoughts of love-making gone from their minds. At her nod, he knew she was not injured. He went to the intercom on his desk to get some answers, but the door burst open.
"I would not touch that Captain. It would not be very good for your health or that of your lovely wife." General Onrio’s assistant, Piedro, and Alvez Menza were holding guns aimed at both Crane and Cynthia.
Cynthia made a movement to close her robe but Alvez shook his gun in her direction to stop her. She let her hands fall back. At least she had Lee’s pajama top underneath. She was puzzled. Why were these two apparently working together? They were not on the same side or was there another faction that she did not know about?
The two gunmen stared at her with hungry eyes and Lee was fuming! ‘Think, woman, think! You can’t let Lee follow his instinct to protect you, he would be killed! Ah! Got it!’
Cynthia tilted her head on the side, looked at Alvez and asked: "Where is your uncle? I do not think he would approve this behavior from his heir apparent."
Alvez was flattered that she recognized his obvious leadership. "That old man is good for nothing! Only I can be leader of my country. I will have the power and will do as I please. All will belong to ME!"
"Alvez is right" interjected Piedro "with the Generals gone, we will rule with an iron fist and the world will listen to us! We will be the ones to make demands, not some puppet President from the United States. That one is weak! As if he could have men follow him!"
"What have you done to the President?" Crane caught on to his wife’s wish to keep them talking, so they could understand what was going on and plan accordingly.
"He is fine. We locked him in his quarters with his aide. They did not even try to fight back. I knew he was a coward! Strong men are not elected, they take what is theirs!" Alvez was getting more and more agitated. Cynthia hoped that Piedro had some control over him, otherwise this could degenerate in a bloodbath.
"Your Admiral is also fine. We locked him with the President. He was more courageous. We had to do a little convincing. Don’t worry, only a few bruises." Piedro smiled at Crane’s reaction when he mentioned that the Admiral had been beaten.
He was enjoying this, having the Captain of the famous Seaview at gunpoint. It would be so much fun to bait him until he made some foolish move. Alvez would kill him without a second thought. Might be interesting at that, but this young whelp of Menza’s was too impulsive. He could ruin the whole thing if he got too excited.
Cynthia looked at her husband and willed him to remain as calm and as expressionless as possible. She wished he could read her mind so he would know that. She turned her attention back to Alvez. He was the one that needed courting, to keep him under control, not Piedro.
With a small voice, she started talking to Alvez. "Please let me know what you will do to us. I promise to be good."
Alvez stood straighter and looked at the exotic-looking woman before him. ‘No wonder the Seaview Captain kept her close, he wants to make sure she doesn’t stray!’ But there was something else about her and he did not trust what she said. He knew of Admiral Nelson’s reputation, and the man did not hire fools. If she was more than Crane’s wife, more like a full employee? Could she be dangerous? But then again, what could she do to him? He was bigger and stronger and sure as hell smarter than any slut, as pretty as this one was.
"Piedro, get the Generals, put them in the Flying Sub and get some crewman to pilot us back home. We will return to our countries and liberate them from these tyrants. We will succeed where our terrorist allies failed."
"Do we also take the US President? He would make a good hostage." Suggested Piedro.
"Yes, and the woman. I do not want the Captain to have ideas."
Piedro took off at a run while Alvez seemed to be thinking, his eyes showing contempt and fanaticism. The latter worried Crane. That meant that the man would stop at nothing to forward his plans. And he obviously had some for Cynthia.
Lee just could not risk Cynthia getting hurt, or worse, killed by this man. He had to wait and see. He hated this!
With a wave of his gun, Alvez herded the Cranes toward the control room. Piedro was already there with the Generals and the President, waiting by the FS-1 hatch. The Seaview crew was kept quiet by the gun aimed at the President’s left temple.
Kowalski had volunteered to fly the small submarine. When he realized that Cynthia Crane was also coming along, he got worried, and angry, but did not let it show.
With the prisoners secure in the Flying Sub (with a good deal of groping on Alvez’s part when tying up Cynthia), Piedro and Alvez ordered Kowalski to take them away from the Seaview. The Generals started to protest loudly, but got a few well aimed, painful kicks for their troubles. They were much quieter after that.
Cynthia was analyzing the situation as fast as she could. Without direct help from Seaview and with only Kowalski, she did not have much hope of getting out of this easily.
And Alvez was kept harassing her, always opening and closing the buttons of the shirt she was wearing. She knew he was trying to get her to react, in fear or rage, but she refused to give in. She had to keep calm, if she panicked, Kowalski would feel compelled to protect her and could get hurt. This would not help them in any way.
‘What if Kowalski refuses to obey orders? They will not kill the Generals, they need them for their respective revolutions, the President is too valuable, so that leaves me as the only disposable. NOT good. On the other hand, we can make landfall and then see if we can do anything to get away with at least the President. As far as I am concerned, the Generals can fend for themselves! Oh Lee! I love you so much! I want to be in your arms, at home, receiving kisses and feeling your touch! Brittany, help me, honey, show me the way.’
Cynthia was lost in the thoughts about her dead daughter when Kowalski announced that land was in sight. She looked up and saw the dense foliage of the tropical forest coming toward them. An idea flashed in her head and she tried to get Kowalski’s attention. She did not have to do much, he was watching her as closely as he could, without being noticed by the two terrorists.
She mouthed one word, saw the look of shocked understanding in his eyes. He nodded and rammed the controls forward, pitching the Flying Sub in a nose dive.
All hell broke loose!!!
When things stopped spinning and screeching and snapping and reeling, Cynthia opened her eyes. The Generals were in her direct line of sight and seemed unconscious but both were breathing. She turned her head slowly and came face to face with Alvez. She recoiled in horror. The man had been impaled on a steel girder and was staring at her with empty eyes.
Wanting to scream, she breathed deeply to get her nerves under control.
"Ms. Crane, are you all right?"
Kowalski! He was alive!
"I think so. I can’t move because of the way they tied me up, but there is no major pain and I can feel and move my fingers and toes. What about you?"
"Let me get out of the harness, I’ll be right there."
She heard the metal buckle hit the floor and Kowalski moved into her field of vision. He had a gash on his forehead, but seemed OK otherwise. He started untying her.
"Piedro go thrown out of FS-1 and was crushed against a tree. The President is conscious but he may have a broken arm. I think General Menza is coming out of it. Let me check."
He turned around and Cynthia stretched her sore limbs. She was discovering muscles she did not know existed! Even her bruises had bruises. She reattached her clothing and went to help Kowalski get the President out of the wreck.
When the survivors go out of what was left of FS-1, Cynthia noticed that, all in all, her idea had some merit. At least they got rid of the terrorists, even if she regretted any loss of life. She knew how precious each one is and that once taken away, it could never be returned.
‘I just hope Kowalski does not inform the others I was behind our accident.’
General Onrio’s first thought was to start blaming the deficient security of the Seaview, Kowalski’s incompetence as a pilot and whatever else he could think of. Cynthia has pretty much reached the end of her patience and glared at the man.
"WILL YOU JUST SHUT UP!!!" Her outburst startled him out of his tirade and he fell silent. He went to Menza’s side and pouted.
Continuing with a calmer tone, she started to review the situation. "Now, everybody will check themselves over for any injury and we will see what can be done. Kowalski, please get the first aid kit from the FS-1 and also check if you can find our friends’ weapons."
When he got back, he had Alvez’s gun in his belt.
"I could not find the other one. It probably got thrown out at the same time as Piedro. We can also forget about the radio or location beacon. They are way beyond repair." he said to Cynthia.
He turned and addressed the other men : "Anybody need anything from this? Mr. President, I will need to make a splint for your arm. It will hurt at first, but you will be more comfortable later."
The President nodded and the young sailor went to work. Twenty minutes later, the President was sitting down, leaning against a tree, sweating and pale. The others did not have any injuries requiring medical attention, so Cynthia turned her attention to Kowalski’s head.
"It would be better if it were bandaged. Even if it is just to keep the insects out. Do you feel any nausea? If you start feeling sick, let me know, it could mean a bad concussion."
While she was attending his aching head, Kowalski realized that Ms. Crane had just as much guts as the skipper. ‘They sure match each other. The skipper is one lucky guy!’
"I think we have some time before the sun sets. We should get our bearings and walk toward the sea. At least get away from here. The smell of blood may attract some predators and I am through arguing for today." She said in a low voice to Kowalski. "You must take command of the situation. They would never listen to me since I am a woman. The President is out of if for now, so you’re the one who must take charge. I don’t trust either Menza or Onrio."
Kowalski nodded his agreement and started issuing orders to move away from the crash. When the Generals started to protest, he explained about possible predators and the others agreed with him.
They salvaged what they could. Kowalski offered a spare crew uniform stored in the Flying Sub to Cynthia and she smiled gratefully at him. It would definitely be better than Lee’s pajama top, but she kept it under the jumpsuit anyway. His scent was on it and she felt she closer to him that way. ‘Any port in a storm!’
Lee was pacing back and forth in the control room. The crew worked as hard as they could to track FS-1, but it soon went out of radar range. They had a general idea of the direction and Lee ordered flank speed.
The President’s assistant has suffered a heart attack when the terrorists had barged into his room and was now in sickbay, his condition serious. The doctor did not have much good news on this front. Only time would tell.
Nelson was on the radio non-stop with different agencies in order to get some help to find the President. All the people he contacted were doing their best, but they were looking for a small sub somewhere on a large continent, or worse, in a much larger ocean. Unfortunately, the news got leaked and television crews from around the world were also converging on the area.
Crane walked into Nelson’s cabin after his knock was acknowledged. Nelson was shocked by Lee’s appearance. He had dark circles around his eyes, his face was drawn and pale. He was exhausted and refused to get rest until he found Cynthia.
"Try to get some sleep Lee. You are not doing yourself or Cynthia any favors. She will need you at your best when we find them." Lee just shrugged and sat down in front of him.
Nelson continued : "The CIA, ONI, and a bunch of other agencies have started going over the two countries with fine toothed combs, but no news so far. The President of the United States has been kidnapped and we are being held responsible for this mess. I have been ordered to go back to Washington and explain all this. I refused to go on the basis that since I designed the Flying Sub, I am best equipped to find it and got a reprieve, but I don’t think it will be very long before I have to leave."
"Several Navy ships, both US and our allies, are also coming in to join in the search. The more the better at this point. There is also an aircraft carrier, so we will be able to make aerial searches, which will cover more ground much faster."
"I’m sorry to say this Lee, but they are looking only for the President and the Generals, not Kowalski or Cynthia. If they are not together when the President is found, the search will be called off."
"WHAT?!!! Sir, this can’t be! They have to keep looking for them. We can’t do it alone, we need help!"
"Don’t you think I know that? I am pulling every favor that is owed to me and I keep hitting brick walls. You have my word that we will keep looking until they are both back aboard Seaview. Lee… son… we will find them." ‘I hope, dear God, I hope!’
Someone knocked on the door and the Admiral yelled "Enter!"
Chip came in with a map of the area. "I may have an idea."
Both Nelson and Crane pounced on him.
"What is it? Did you find something?" from an anxious Lee.
Chip was very worried about his friend, but kept a calm voice. ‘I must keep focused, this is too important.’
"Since the two terrorists did not show a large amount of intelligence, it is safe to suppose that they are making a bee-line to their country. So the sub would have to follow this heading." Chip showed them the map with some vectors drawn on it. "A small civilian airport here reported a bogey late yesterday afternoon. They could not get a positive identification because it was too fast, but it went out of radar range soon after it got over land. It did not go away, it went down. I think Kowalski crashed the Flying Sub and they are now in the jungle."
"The crash could have killed every one on board." Nelson was not optimistic about survival chances. "But then, we crashed this thing often enough and we are still here. As soon as we hit the coast, I want shore parties following that path."
"I know Cynthia and Kowalski would want to go back toward the sea. I don’t know how the others would react. If the President is still alive, he will probably follow Ski’s lead, but that does not take into account the two gunmen. They may want to head into the jungle. It is familiar territory to them." Lee had a little more hope, but he was so tired!
"Lee, go to bed, I will wake you up when we get there." Chip said. "We should be there in about four hours. I will see that the landing parties are ready. I think three groups of fifteen men would cover a large enough area on either side of their suspected course. One will follow that course exactly. I will also try to get some back-up from the civilian pilots. We may need all the cash the crew has on board if we want to have planes in the air. Shouldn’t be a problem, Seaview takes care of her own."
Lee nodded and left them to finish organizing the landing parties. He went inside his cabin and sat on his bed. He was exhausted, but he just could not get his mind to stop working. Cynthia’s pack was next to him and he opened it. He had never looked in it before but he could not help himself. He up-ended it on the bed and her belongings scattered on the blanket.
Her brush and small make-up bag were the first things he noticed. She complained once or twice that there was never nice make-up for those with darker skin tones. He had replied that she was just beautiful as she was, why would she need something else? She had laughed and told him to remember that in twenty some years. He might change his mind then.
There was also the gold bracelet he gave her as a wedding gift. It was a small work of art, with a weave of red, white and yellow gold in the middle, supported by a yellow gold band, matching their wedding rings. He had wanted to get her the necklace and earrings, but she said the bracelet was more than enough. She wore it as often as possible. Angie told her that she should keep it for special occasions, but Cynthia had replied that when you are with someone you love, even doing the dishes was a special occasion.
She had some lingerie in there that he had never seen before. It was a silk teddy, made mostly of lace, with an intricate design. Running his fingers over it, he closed his eyes and tried to imagine her wearing it. She would be stunning with that deep blue color against her warm skin..
Two books then caught his attention. One was a popular novel, a paperback edition, that she would give away when she was finished. The other one was a hard cover. The title hit him like a cold shower : "Jungle survival techniques and orientation". If the crash was planned, survival was more than possible. The prisoners were probably tied up securely and Ski would be wearing the safety harness. The only two people not secured to the craft itself would be Piedro and Alvez. There were not that many seats in the small sub to begin with.
Hoping against what his reason told him, he ran out of the cabin and simply rushed into the Admiral’s. "Sir, I am sure that Ski, Cynthia and the President are alive!" He then launched into his theory and both Chip and Nelson lit up as he kept talking.
"Well, well. If you are right, they may find us before we find them. Now GO BACK TO BED! And stay there until we come and get you." Nelson pushed Lee out of the room and closed the door. "Chip, let’s plan a few more details here."
Lee repacked his wife’s bag and lied down on the bed, not bothering to undress. Holding the blouse she was wearing before all this started, he fell into an uneasy sleep.
The first night in the jungle had been awful and nobody got much sleep. Then there was this smell, like a huge, wet wool blanket. Menza was pretty sure it was a jaguar. That gave them all a really good case of insomnia! Kowalski liked cats, but not that much.
Kowalski had General Onrio open up the trail with the President right behind him. He was behind the two men and in front of General Menza. Cynthia was last, carrying the gun, as well as one of the primitive spears he had made. She was not thrilled about the weapons, but beggars cannot be choosers and made the best of it. Also, it would be harder to surprise her if all the men were in front.
The only one she trusted was Kowalski. The President was getting weaker because of the pain and lack of food, so could not be relied on in a tight spot. Menza and Onrio were just too damn annoying for her to turn her back to them. Ski had confided the same feelings about the two men, so she was pretty sure it was not her imagination. Something was nagging at her instincts, and it came from these two.
Ski’s knowledge of navigation came in handy and he was the one giving directions for walking. Menza kept complaining that going toward the sea was a waste of time, but could not (or would not?) offer any other alternatives. At least Onrio kept silent, but he was probably planning something.
Around mid-day, Kowalski called a halt and everybody sat down gratefully, just plopping down and breathing hard. He checked the President over and gave him an encouraging pat on the shoulder. The arm did not look good and would need medical attention soon, but it was not an open fracture, so infection was not a threat, so far. He passed what little water was left and made sure nobody got more than his share.
He walked back to where Ms. Crane was and sat down next to her. "How far do you think we still have to go?" He handed her the remaining water. She thanked him with a smile.
"I don’t know Ski. I did not see enough through the windshield to get even approximate distances, and you were too busy keeping us from getting killed. I think we are getting close. The wind feels different somehow. By the way, this is a rainforest. If it is true to form, it will start raining soon. Try to collect as much water as possible. Maybe we can use some large leaves as funnels."
She added as an afterthought "Keep acting as if you are in charge, even if you don’t feel it. Listen to suggestions, but make the decisions and do not tolerate back talk once you have made a choice. I will never openly disagree with you in front of Menza or Onrio, and I am pretty sure the President is only too happy to follow your lead. I hope this will keep them from getting on each other’s case, or ours."
"Good idea, I’ll put Menza on the water collection detail. It will keep him busy and out of my hair." He smiled at her and went to the sprawling General.
After a while, a grumbling Menza got up and started to collect leaves. Onrio also got up and started to help. The two men were talking while they worked, but Kowalski figured they were complaining about him, so he did not try to hear what was being said. Anyway, his Spanish was barely minimal.
‘What is that woman doing?’ Onrio’s curiosity was getting the better of him. He quietly walked toward Cynthia Crane and observed her.
She was half-crouched and still as a statue. She suddenly dove into the foliage and a lot of noise and squealing was generated. Kowalski came running and stopped when Cynthia triumphantly showed him her catch : a animal with golden-brown fur, a square snout, short tail and no hooves. He helped her dispatch the animal and everybody came in for a look.
"What is that thing anyway?" he asked, looking at her with admiration.
"It’s called a capybara. Luckily, this is a juvenile, I would never have been able to get a full grown adult. They get to be the size of large dogs and are pretty massive. They are edible if you want to know why I went to the trouble of catching it. The only other alternative I could think of was insects and grubs." She made a face at that last remark and he just had to laugh.
With the matches they got from the first aid kit, a cheery little fire was started and soon the capybara parts were being roasted. Even if the animal was ugly, it was good. Cynthia remarked that to another capybara, this one was probably the equivalent of Marlon Brando or Clint Eastwood, beauty being relative to the observer and that one should not judge others with only one viewpoint or opinion.
Getting some food helped the President enormously and he was able to start back on the trail. The walking order was changed to have Menza in the lead, followed by Onrio. The President was between Kowalski and Cynthia, who was still rear guard. With full stomachs, the mood was way better.
During the walk, Menza was thinking furiously on how to salvage this situation. Those idiots Piedro and Alvez had to get killed! But Onrio was still alive and in better shape than the Seaview sailor, who had a head injury. He was distracted and did not notice when he started walking into a clearing.
"Menza, stop!" Kowalski’s voice ordered and he froze.
A village. A real village! A couple of people came toward them and started talking to Menza. He replied in the same language and they were waved in closer. Other villagers came out of the houses to look at the strangers.
Someone started speaking in Spanish. Kowalski was out of his depth, but Cynthia spoke up a storm. In no time flat, they were herded into a hut, given food, water and someone was looking at the President’s arm.
With their needs attended to, the five survivors asked their hosts if they still had far to walk to get to the ocean. An elderly man replied that they would need at least another full day, and that it would be better to rest here tonight and start early in the morning. All agreed that this was the best course of action.
One of the village men then asked if Cynthia belonged to one of them and when it was translated to him, Kowalski just put his arm around her shoulders and that solved the problem. At least he though so. Later, a house was given to the President, Menza and Onrio. Another small one was offered to Kowalski and Cynthia.
"Might as well go along with it. We need to sleep and I will trust that you will keep to your side of the sleeping mat. After all, you do not want me to tell Lee something he might not like!"
She looked at him and started laughing. He was blushing furiously, just like a kid with his hand in the cookie jar. "Come on, I am safer with you than alone, and frankly, Captain Crane will be grateful that you kept me out of harm’s way."
"If you say so, ma’am." said an embarrassed Kowalski. If she had been single, it would have been a dream come true.
They went in, rolled in their respective blankets and fell asleep as soon as their heads hit the ground.
"Lee, wake up, we’re here." Chip gently shook his friend and waited for him to be completely awake. He did not comment on the fact that Crane was still holding his wife’s blouse.
"What time is it?" Lee asked, still muddled with sleep.
"0430, we have about on hour before daylight. The Navy has some planes on the way as well as extra people. You and I will be with the central detail. The Admiral will remain on board to coordinate everything and keep in touch with all the searchers. Sharkey and O’Brien will be in charge of the two other details. Everybody on board has volunteered, so we drew lots."
"Thank you, Chip. Are there any villages or mining camps between here and where they are supposed to have crashed? If they made it to one, it would be easier to find them."
"A few, but they are far apart and they could just have gone between them and never known help was close by. But each one will be checked, either directly by our people or by radio if they have them.""
"All right, let’s get going. We have a President to rescue and I want my wife and crewman back."
The two friends went up to the deck and looked at the preparations for the coming day. This was an organized chaos, with Sharkey giving directions, compliments and dressing-downs in no particular order. Lee gave a little smile to Chip, who answered with a shrug.
There was not explaining Sharkey. He was a good man and watched over the command crew like a shepherd watches over his flock. What happened was felt like a personal insult by the man and he wanted to make things right again.
When all was ready, the Admiral came up on deck and announced that the Flying Sub had been found, with the bodies of the two terrorists. Some things were missing from the wreck, indicating that the survivors were able to walk away and get organized. The tracks left by them were headed in the general direction of the ocean. The search party that was at the crash site would start following the tracks and the Seaview parties would start in the opposite direction. The hope was that the survivors were somewhere in between the two groups and would eventually join up with one or the other. Since the jungle was too dense to see through, the aerial searches were called off, except over waterways or villages.
Lee was so relieved that they were alive that he almost started shouting. He got himself under control and told the chief what the Admiral just said. A large smile appeared on Francis Sharkey’s face. They were alive! They would be found and brought home.
While the rescue parties were organizing, unknown to Cynthia and Kowalski, the President had been taken by Menza and Onrio. They were heading away from the ocean, pushing the injured man in front of them, deeper into the jungle.
Menza was discussing the plans he made overnight with Onrio. "We will get the President to the next mining station. The men there are loyal to my family and they will supply us with a small plane or helicopter and a pilot. Once we get to the capital, we will make our demands on the Americans. They will not refuse, they have this tendency to save those in trouble. This will be their downfall."
Onrio was in complete agreement with Menza, but up to the point of the demands themselves. The fat fool thought that he would be the one in control. Onrio could not tolerate that and would intervene at an opportune moment.
The silence woke Kowalski. This was strange, for a village to be so quiet. There should be kids and dogs playing, the sounds of living were definitely missing. Getting up, he checked over his shoulder for Ms. Crane, but she was still sleeping. Not surprising, since she was not used to so much physical labor. She was mumbling something in her dreams, but he could not make out what she said.
Getting out of the house, he froze in complete shock. Everyone was gone, some of the houses had even been partly dismantled! The President! He rushed to the house where the three men were supposed to sleep, but not a soul in sight. ‘Oh, man, this is not good!’
"Ms. Crane, ma’am, wake up!" Kowalski was shaking her shoulder and Cynthia opened her eyes.
Seeing the panic in the young man’s face, she was immediately alert. "What is going on? What’s wrong?"
"Who is gone?"
"The villagers, the Generals and the President. We are the only ones left."
Cynthia passed her hands over her face and looked into Kowalski’s eyes for the longest time. He was starting to blush again and tried to say something, but she talked first.
"Let’s review this. One, the President and two other leaders are kidnapped by the assistants. Two, you and I were also taken so they could have transportation and no immediate reprisal from Seaview. Three, the generals became quickly friendly after the crash. Four, Menza was not disturbed about his nephew’s death.
Five, we have a whole village disappearing overnight. Am I missing anything?"
"Well, the villagers seemed to be happy to see Menza. They were too friendly, if that makes any sense." Kowalski added to her list.
"Mmmmmm….. I think we have more than meets the eyes here. I will take a wild guess and say that the prime target of this whole exercise was to get the US President as hostage. In exchange of what, I will not even begin to speculate, but I don’t think anyone will like it. These two were working together all along."
Appalled, Ski asked "But the war between their countries? No one is insane enough to start a war as cover-up for a kidnapping. This is more than criminal, it is the most horrible thing I ever heard!"
"Some people will sell their souls to get power. Menza and Onrio have thrown away everything that makes them human. There is no way for us to understand what they have done and why, but we have to stop them. I’m sorry to say this, but we just transferred to the ‘disposable’ list. We are the only ones who know what is going on and we have the advantage of being close enough to act."
"I understand, ma’am. We will get the President back." Kowalski agreed.
Cynthia got up and they started to look around for anything that could be useful to them. Ski still had the gun and first aid kit. She found a knife with a slightly dull blade, but that would have to wait. They rolled the blankets and attached them with some rope found under a dismantled house wall.
Now, which direction. Not the ocean, search parties from Seaview would be coming that way. A large group of villagers would have to make a highly visible trail, so it was not probable that the Generals and their prisoner were with them.
Ski was walking the perimeter of the village when he spotted three sets of footprints.
"Over here, I think this is it!" he yelled to Cynthia.
She came running toward him. "Looks like you are right. Let’s go. The President is injured and cannot move too fast. If we make good time, we will catch up to them."
Since the two of them were younger and in better general shape that the kidnappers and their prisoner, it did not take too long to catch up. By mid-afternoon, they had the kidnappers in sight, just as they were entering a mining station.
Crawling on hands and knees, they made their way closer to the mining camp. It was well guarded, with heavily armed soldiers patrolling the perimeter.
There was a small helicopter, with rotor turning, in the large central yard. Ski and Cynthia looked at each other and saw the same worry: if the helicopter gets away with the President, there was no way they could get him back. They had to act now. But what were they going to do?
Cynthia touched Kowalski’s arm with her fingertips and nodded back toward the jungle. He followed until they were far enough away not to be overheard. They still kept their voices low.
"I have an idea" Cynthia started "and do not interrupt until I finish. Can you disable the pilot and take his place? Can you fly the helicopter?"
Ski thought about it for a second. "Yes, I think it can be done. The noise of the rotor will keep any sounds from reaching the guards, but they will surely see me."
"I will provide the distraction. They look kind of lonely, don’t you think?"
He did not like the last comment, but could not think of anything that would work fast and discreetly. Before he could ask what she indented to do, she started removing the jumpsuit. ‘If the skipper ever hears of this, I’m dead meat.’
Wearing only her husband’s pajama top, Cynthia walked out of the jungle and directly toward one of the guard. He could not believe this. A pretty girl, with only a long white shirt, was coming toward him. He looked around, making sure he was alone for the moment, and started to go to her. She returned his smile and her hands went to the buttons of the shirt. She was naked underneath! Blessing his lucky stars, he followed her when she turned back to the forest. His fantasy was interrupted by a blow to the head and he fell face first on the ground.
"One down, two to go, plus the pilot." Cynthia winked at Kowalski and they took back their respective positions.
Once the guards were tied-up, gagged and hidden some distance away from the camp, Ski manhandled the pilot out of his craft, exchanged uniforms and climbed in. Cynthia hid at his feet, where she would not be noticed by someone passing by. The waiting started.
Nelson had transferred the command post on board the aircraft carrier. Captain Miller was cooperative, but was not impressed by the Seaview owner loosing a President. The search was expanding and still nothing, with the third night of this ordeal approaching rapidly. There was something amiss, but so many things were demanding his attention, he could not dwell on it. A five mile wide band between the wreck and the sea had been searched. The remains of a fire and parts of an animal were found, indicating that starvation was not an issue. But how did they catch it? There were no bullet shells in the area.
On board Seaview, Crane and Morton were dealing with an increasingly worried crew, each other’s anxiety and exhaustion, plus Pentagon officials and journalists.
The control room crew was working quietly, not because they were worried about the missing people or particularly absorbed by their jobs, but they knew that the skipper would personally remove the head of the first idiot who crossed his path. Luckily, they had a pretty good definition of what an idiot was, so they were not worried about themselves. But which visitor would draw the jackpot? Bets had been laid and were waiting to be collected.
The first candidate strolled in, microphone in one hand, pen and paper in the other. He approached the Captain and cleared his throat. "Excuse me, sir?"
Crane looked up from the map and focused his attention on the small man. What was his name? Tanner. Yes, that was it, Tanner. What was that man doing in the control room? Sharkey was suppose to keep the journalists in the crew mess area. Poor Sharkey just could not keep up with the demands that were pilling up on him. He usually had Kowalski to take up the slack.
"What can I do for you, Mr. Tanner? You really should not come into the control room. I believe that was made clear before you came on board." Crane’s voice was raw with fatigue and worry.
Tanner chose not to notice. "I believe your wife was the interpreter kidnapped by these terrorists. Will you also cease the search when the President is found?"
Crane gave him a look that could have frozen a volcano. "I will keep looking for the people who were kidnapped along with the President. Seaview takes care of her own, first and always."
"From what our sources tell us, your wife does not have Naval Reserve status. Why was she allowed on board this submarine while the President was here? Would it be possible that she was plotting along with the terrorists? She has not always been an American citizen, and she knows people from several countries, some of which are no longer allies to the US." the journalist continued.
Morton was staring open-mouthed at Tanner. Where did he get this information? Cynthia would never betray her country and her loyalty to Lee was not even open for discussion. The crew was just as shocked. A few got up, wanting to throttle the man, who seemed obvious to the reactions his insinuations were generating.
Chip noticed that Lee was closing his fist and making the small movement that indicated a right punch, squarely aimed at the gnat in front of him.
He was too far to do anything, but Paterson stepped in front of the Captain, took the journalist’s arm and turned him around. He escorted him to the control room exit and said in a low voice "I don’t know or care where you get your dirt, but never do that again to the Captain. He has enough problems on his shoulders right now, without you adding to it. Just remain in your quarters for now and I will arrange for Chief Sharkey to have your transferred to one of the other ship."
The so-called journalist left in a huff and Paterson returned to his post at sonar. He gave a small smile to the Captain, who nodded his thanks.
On the cable services, rumors were flying about the President’s kidnappers, the main suspect being Cynthia Crane in collaboration with terrorists intent on sabotaging the peace conference. The crew of the Seaview could not believe any of these, but a lot of people, some in high places, did. Every thirty minutes or so, someone from the FBI, the Secret Services or ONI was contacting Crane with demands about his wife. The last straw came when he was ordered to let them search her belongings.
"The answer is a definite NO!" Lee was furious and Morton could only watch him pace the length of the observation nose. "I will not have anyone snooping in Cynthia’s things. She did none of the things they are accusing her of. How could they think that? Chip, what did the Institute lawyers say?"
Morton bent his head and sighed "I’m sorry, Lee. We have to let them go through your cabin. You can say that a kind of special law has been decreed and they want to check every lead. Even the wrong ones."
"I want to be there."
"It won’t be allowed, you are her husband, but I will be. I will try to keep them in check." Morton was discouraged by all that was happening. Couldn’t those officious idiots realize that Cynthia Crane was also a victim here?
"Thank you, you are a good friend." Lee gave a pat on Chip’s shoulder and left the control room.
‘My love, where are you? Come back, show them what I know is true.’ Lee silently prayed. He was so tired! He had not slept since they arrived near the shore and he could not even eat. Coffee was his only sustenance, which worried the Doctor to no end. Cookie kept sending bite-size servings of the Captain’s favorites, but most of the time the plate came back full.
Chip was taking the two Secret Service agents to Crane’s cabin. "You realize that any information concerning the Seaview and the Flying Sub cannot leave the cabin, either the original or a copy. We have Naval Reserve status and some sensitive information cannot be disclosed to other services."
"Then why is a suspect civilian even allowed on the Seaview?" The man who said that reminded Chip of a weasel. A greasy, sweaty, disgusting little weasel. The other agent was not much different, only taller with better clothes.
"Cynthia Crane passed our security screening with flying colors, so there was no reason not to have her with us. She was hired as interpreter and administrative assistant for Admiral Nelson during the conference. Her knowledge of languages is amazing. That is why she was chosen. The fact that she is Lee Crane’s wife was not a factor."
"Maybe not a deciding factor, but I cannot believe that Crane did not pressure the Admiral so he could have his bedmate with him on this cruise. How convenient for her and her accomplices."
Chip’s temper was getting shorter, but he could not jeopardize this visit by having these two thrown overboard. Preferably at a thousand feet below the surface.
"There is no proof that she is guilty of anything. I was under the impression that everyone is considered innocent until proven otherwise." he mentioned to the federal agents.
The agents entered the room and started to look into every nook and cranny. Most of the stuff in the head obviously belonged to a man, so they went through it pretty fast.
Same for the desk, since Cynthia never used it, preferring to work in an unused cabin, but Chip would never volunteer this tidbit of information to outsiders.
The closet contained only a few of her clothes. She tended to wear the same colors as the officers, only a few shades darker. Chip knew that this was a kind of camouflage for her. Not that Cynthia was shy, but she made sure that she never interfered with the functioning of the boat when she was on board. Even if it was just distracting a crewman with something that was unusual, like colorful clothes or a dress.
Her pack was still on the bed. Lee replaced it there every time he got up. They opened it and spilled the contents on the bed. Make-up kit, brush, hair clip, paperback novel, a gold bangle, some piece of silk clothing. When the agent grabbed the sapphire blue piece of lingerie, he whistled.
"That chick must be really nice to play with. If this fits her, no wonder Crane is crazy about her and believes everything she says." snickered the small weasel-like man.
"Put that down, you found nothing, now get out of here" Chip said, adding a silent ‘and go back to your sewer.’ Chip was beyond anger at their behavior, but was keeping his reactions in check. This was getting more difficult by the minute. He did not get much sleep either in the last few days.
The agents left the submarine, but the taller one commented that maybe Morton and some of the other officers were getting "private" sessions with the woman. That would explain why they were so sure she was innocent.
The tension level on the Seaview went up to powder keg levels. The next man who even mentioned a rumor about the skipper’s wife was sure to be drawn and quartered.
Paterson and Riley were worried about Ms. Crane and Kowalski, but they could not shake the feeling that something was wrong in this kidnapping. They were discussing the situation in low voices, so as not to disturb their sleeping crewmates.
"You know Pat, I would not be surprised if these two Generals were behind all this. They were just too damn angry at each other for it to be real. I mean, if you don’t like someone, you don’t go out of your way to see them. And their assistants were always talking to each other. Doesn’t add up, somehow." Riley mused.
"Riley, that’s it!" yelled Paterson, waking everybody in the room. Several pairs of eyes looked at him in confusion, one or two with annoyance.
He paid no attention whatsoever to his friends. He jumped out of bed and ran all the way to the control room, where he was sure the Captain would be.
"Sir, I think I know who the kidnappers are. And Ms. Crane is not one of them."
With the night rapidly falling, Kowalski and Cynthia were getting anxious. What if the President was taken away by some other transportation, rather than the helicopter? On the other hand, whoever came up to the craft would never recognize Kowalski.
Cynthia kept low to the floor. This was not comfortable, but she would stretch later. Maybe she could ask Lee if they could go to a spa for a while. He never refused her anything, then again, she never asked for a lot of things.
‘I haven’t eaten in a whole day, had minimal water, but all I am thinking about is getting a cold beer. Maybe being around sailors is rubbing off on me.’ She smiled at her thoughts, which seemed to puzzle Kowalski.
In a soft low voice, she explained: "I was thinking that a tall, cold glass of beer would be very good by now."
Kowalski smiled back and added "I know, especially an imported one, with a good kick. When we get back home, drinks are on me."
"It’s a date!"
Cynthia laughed and teased him "Kowalski, I swear I can make you blush anytime I want. Don’t take the bait so easily. When we get that beer, I’m sure the rest of the crew will be happy to keep us company. And I think the Admiral can be persuaded to forward the bill to the White House. They sure as hell will owe us one for this! My butt is starting to freeze."
Kowalski wisely decided to keep silent on THAT subject. He suddenly sat up straighter and hissed a warning to Cynthia. "Show time."
Movement was visible at the main building and three men came toward the helicopter.
Kowalski whispered: "Here they are, only the two of them with the President. They will probably put him on the back seat. As soon as he’s in, I’ll take off. Make sure you grab him and close the door. And be careful, they will shoot at us, I’ll bet a month’s pay on this."
"No problem." Cynthia replied with a confidence she did not feel, but in for a penny, in for a pound. They could not go back now.
Menza pushed the President on the back seat. Cynthia raised her leg, kicked Menza flat on his back and grabbed the President.
"Go, Ski, NOW!"
The helicopter raised above the heads of the stunned generals and Cynthia reached over the President to close the door, bullets whizzing by.
"Hello again, sir. How about going home?"
"Young lady, this is the best proposition I have heard in the last two days." The older man was obviously in a lot of pain, but there was nothing they could do at the moment. It would have to wait until they got to the Seaview.
Ski turned the helicopter toward the shore and pushed the engines as hard as he could. All three were rather surprised to see a complete US fleet waiting along with Seaview. Kowalski played with the radio controls and called on the Seaview frequency.
"Kowalski calling SSRN Seaview, please come in."
"This is Seaview, Kowalski, where are you?" Sparks’ voice sounded like music to them.
"We’re coming in from the West, in a civilian helicopter we, hu, borrowed. The President is hurt and will need medical attention for a broken arm and maybe some other injuries. I will land on the aircraft carrier. Make sure there is a doctor on the deck. Ms. Crane and I are OK, just bumps and scratches. Kowalski out."
A loud cheer went up and down the Seaview. They were back, alive, with the President. Crane and Morton rushed to the deck and transferred to the carrier. Nelson was already there, hugging Cynthia and whopping Kowalski on the back when they got off the helicopter.
As the President was taken away, the Secret Service agents approached Cynthia, leering at her state of undress, and placed her under arrest for attempted kidnapping of the President and treason. The handcuffs closed on her slender wrists and she looked at the Admiral in stupefaction.
"What is this?" The President has backtracked, wanting to congratulate Nelson on his crew. "Why are you arresting this woman?"
"Mr. President, Ms. Crane is suspected to have helped the men who kidnapped you. It would be safer to keep her under lock and key."
To say that Weasel’s explanation was not well received by the President was an understatement. Nelson had never heard such a dressing down, and what vocabulary! The man would do any merchant marine service proud. ‘I have to remember the last three. Never know when it can come handy.’
Cynthia was freed and she stuck out her tongue at the Secret Service agents.
All the emotions of the last days were catching up to Cynthia and she started shivering. She was still dressed in Lee’s nightshirt and the wind seemed to cut to her bones. A blanket was thrown over her shoulders and she thanked the medic who offered it. She just wanted to go home, to Lee. Where was he?
Lee Crane ran to his wife, came to a complete stop in front of her and took her hands in his. She was alive, her warmth was back in his life. Her eyes were dark with exhaustion, her hair was a mass of tangles and she was covered with scrapes, bruises and dirt. She was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. He reached for her and she came into his arms. All the stress of the last three days came to the surface and she cried softly, her face buried against him.
No one wanted to interrupt their reunion, but suddenly, flash bulbs and flood lights were upon the Cranes. Startled, Cynthia looked at Lee for an explanation.
"They thought you were the one who was responsible for kidnapping the President. It was awful, the Secret Service search our cabin, reporters were busy digging up rumors about you."
"But, Lee, Ski and I brought him back. Why would they say such things?"
"Now they know that the real culprits were Menza and Onrio. That is what we thought too, but it is hard to listen when you hold what you perceive is the truth." Lee explained to her. "Come on, let’s go home."
As one, they turned their backs to the yapping crowd of journalists and went to board Seaview. Kowalski, Morton and Admiral Nelson followed. Nelson was at peace: his family was complete again.
When she reached the bottom of the ladder, Cynthia was welcomed by the crew with hugs. Only the Admiral and Chip would dare to kiss her. Nobody forgot the way she had thrown an unwelcome visitor out of her cabin. Kowalski also got his share of back slapping and even a hug form Paterson when he got to the control room.
After the Seaview doctor cleared them both, they returned to their respective quarters.
Kowalski was assailed with questions from his friends. They just would not let him rest. He told of how Ms. Crane caught the animal with the strange name (tasted OK, but ketchup would have been nice) and how they got the helicopter. He did not mention how they lured the guards away.
He didn’t think it would be proper, after all, rumors were faster than anything else on this boat. And he now considered her as a friend. He had girlfriends, but what he felt for Cynthia Crane was admiration and, well, maybe a little bit of love, the kind you have for a sister. Yes, she was definitely sister material. He hoped she felt the same way.
He got up and went to the control room, back to his post for a while. Maybe the routine would help him relax.
Elsewhere on Seaview, Cynthia had finally reached the point of her story where she was explaining how they got the helicopter. She also glossed over attracting the guards and praised Kowalski for his piloting skills. Lee could hardly believe the tale. She was talking with Admiral Nelson and Chip Morton, who wanted to know everything.
At least, Lee held them off until she got out of the shower and detangled her hair.
"Love, you had a book in you back pack, about jungle survival. How did you know you would need it?" Lee asked, his voice warming and reassuring her.
"I didn’t. I just wanted to know more about the area the negotiators were from, and this was the only book I could find on short notice."
"What book about jungle survival?" questioned Chip. "I was there when they searched the cabin and there was no such book. Good thing too, otherwise it would have been the last thing they needed to make a kidnapping case against you."
Lee smiled "I took the book and gave it to Sharkey, so he could review some chapters with the searchers."
"Really good timing, if I say so." laughed Nelson. "The President will be giving a speech in a few minutes. I think we should listen to it."
The small group went to the control room and Sparks opened the viewscreen, tuned to the News Channel.
The President appeared on the screen, looking a lot better than the last time they saw him. He had his arm in a cast and some scratches were visible on his face. This was broadcast directly from the aircraft carrier.
"Fellow citizens, I am here tonight to tell you what happened and how the courage of two Seaview crewmembers stopped an armed conflict between two countries, saved a President and opened the eyes of the world to the dangers of dictatorship.
But first, I want to offer my most profound respects to the family of Henry Gwyers. He suffered a fatal heart attack when the terrorists assaulted him. He was a good man, who died in service of his country.
I also want to comment on the responsibilities of the media in this situation. Most behaved with true dignity and foresight, while others were only interested in market shares, copy sales and audience size in placing the blame of the situation on the first convenient scapegoat."
"I want to officially apologize to Cynthia Casavant Crane for the horrible treatment she received when we reached the US Navy aircraft carrier. Without due process, or defense, she was accused of plotting my kidnapping, even if there was no evidence to the fact.
I also offer an apology to Captain Lee Crane of the submarine Seaview, for the behavior of the Secret Service agents who searched his cabin under faulty assumptions about his wife’s supposed treason. Both these men and their department supervisors have been suspended from the Secret Service and any other Federal employment.
Current investigation into this situation has revealed that a journalist of the National Babbler, a Mr. Tanner, created rumors about Ms. Crane and these were accepted as truths, both by the mainstream media and by the different departments of this government. In his search for a ‘scoop’, Mr. Tanner has caused grave prejudice to a woman whom I hope to consider a friend. Along with the pilot from the Seaview, Mr. Kowalski, Ms. Crane showed true courage and ingenuity. I am pleased to inform you that both Senior Rating Kowalski and Cynthia Casavant Crane will receive the highest military decoration for their actions."
"Regarding the current situation between the two countries involved in this terrible armed conflict, it has been decided by the UN council that the governments of these countries behaved in a manner that is tantamount to organized murder of their own citizens. A list of these officials’ names will be distributed to all nations, for these people must be arrested and judged for their crimes."
"Again, I want to thank all those who helped in the search. Good night."
Nelson closed the viewscreen and turned to Cynthia and Lee.
"I am very happy to have both you and Kowalski back."
"Believe me, Admiral, not as happy as I am." replied Cynthia. She was warm, had a nice hot meal, her friends and husband were with her. She was home, at last.
"If you will both excuse me, I will turn in for tonight. It has been a long day."
"Good night, sir" said Lee.
"Good night, and thank you" accompanied by a kiss from Cynthia.
Standing in the observation nose, Lee turned toward his wife and put his arms around her. He held her tight for a while, inhaling the perfume in her hair. He started kissing her and she kissed him back.
While the control room crew was happy for their Captain, they did not want to intrude on this private moment. Chip moved toward the controls and closed the doors, isolating the two lovers from the rest of boat.
"Chip is a very nice man." commented Cynthia.
"Yes, a fine executive officer and the best friend there is."
"Are we going to spend the night here, kissing?"
"I want more than kisses."
"The control room is just on the other side of this door you know."
"Yeah, good things they are soundproof." Lee’s hands started to roam.
"Oh!" Cynthia tugged to remove his tie.
"And I closed the access hatch and locked it." Her shirt was now opened and he was right: that blue color was stunning on her.
"You though of everything, except one." she said, enjoying his reaction to her latest purchase.
"Which is?" He was now nuzzling her neck and sending shivers down her spine.
"The viewport windows are facing the aircraft carrier and we are on the surface." She was starting on his shirt buttons.
Lee grabbed the mike "Mr. Morton, 180 degree turn, dive to 90 feet, head for whatever direction suits your fancy and stay away from the nose."
"Yes, sir." replied Morton, with absolutely no hint of amusement in his voice.
"See, I thought of everything."
"Good. By the way, do you think I should tell Kowalski?"
"I don’t see what he has to do with anything I am planning right now."
"About the capybara."
"What about it?"
"That animal is the largest representative of the rodent family in the world."
"It’s a rat?"
"Yes. A really BIG one."
"Wait until I can get a picture of his face, it would be priceless."
The mike had not closed properly and the comment was overheard by the control room crew. Kowalski turned the most amazing shade of green, while everyone else was holding their sides and wiping tears of laughter.