Author’s note: During World War II upon returning to port US submarines would tie a broom to the periscope shears to indicate a "clean sweep", that is, the submarine sank every target she engaged.
C. Lyn Barrow
Lee Crane hunched over, his hands braced against his knees as he fought to regain his breath. He had managed to by-pass his first two adversaries but now he could feel the effects of the exertion burning through his body. His heart leaped within his chest and pounded loudly in his ears. Flares of light burst behind his closed eyelids. His knit shirt was soaked with perspiration and still the sun beat mercilessly down on his back and his unprotected head. Did he have enough strength left for the last effort that would take him home? He could only try, but this time it was not solely up to him.
Jamie had warned him that he was not ready for this undertaking, that his last ONI mission had taken too great a physical toll on him, and the loss of half his team had affected him emotionally. It was too soon after his release from the hospital, the CMO had warned, and he had made dire predictions of failure. But Lee had been adamant. Duty was everything to him, and he had felt this obligation strongly. He had faced these Bandits twice before, and although he had come away victorious both times their last encounter had nearly ended catastrophically for him and his team.
But now his legs were trembling with exhaustion and he realized just how right Will Jamieson had been.
The humid air was split by a loud cracking sound, and for a moment Lee was back in the jungles of Borneo, the undergrowth being shredded by a hail of bullets, then he heard a voice in the distance, like someone shouting the words from a children’s book.
“Lee! Run, Lee! Run!”
It was Chip Morton, and his voice was moving as if he was running, moving away, off to his left, and Lee found himself moving as well, running, charging forward. He felt as though he was moving in slow motion, his feet thudding into the smooth ground one after the other, but slowly, so very slowly. He wasn’t going to make it. He heard another shout behind him, then another from ahead and he knew that they were trying to cut him off. He had to make it. He had to. Everything depended on him now. He’d made it fifty feet without being intercepted. Only forty more to go and he would be safe. His legs were like rubber. His breathing was harsh and labored, each breath like acid in his throat.
Then he was throwing himself forward, sliding through the dust.
There were hands on his arms pulling him to his feet. Other hands pounding on his back.
“Safe?” he choked out.
“You’d better believe it, Skipper!” It was Kowalski’s voice and Lee blinked urgently, focusing on the Sailor’s rugged features. “You did it, sir!”
“Let me through here!” Dr. Will Jamieson’s voice barked out the order fiercely.
Lee was aware of Chip standing at his shoulder, then the blond Exec was pressing a cool bottle of water into his hands even as Jamieson was peering into his eyes, flashing his little light back and forth across his range of vision.
“Is he okay, Will?” Admiral Harriman Nelson asked as he approached.
“Well, he’s been better, Admiral. I warned you both that this was not a good idea. See!” Jamieson howled as Lee’s legs buckled and gave way beneath him, dumping him to the ground once more.
“But he is all right, isn’t he?” Nelson grumbled in that inimitable way he had.
“I’m all right, Admiral,” Lee attempted, but the other men ignored him as if he had not spoken at all.
Chip dropped to his knees beside him, removing the water bottle from his hands, twisting off the cap, and touching it gently to his friend’s mouth.
“Drink, buddy,” he urged quietly.
Lee nodded, and took possession of the bottle from Chip, drinking the tepid water greedily.
“Will?” Nelson persisted.
The CMO cleared his throat noisily. “If there’re no repercussions tomorrow I’ll be surprised, but....” He sighed wearily, tired of going through the same mantra each time his captain was injured. “I think he’s all right, Admiral. But, Captain, I want to see you in Med Bay first thing in the morning. That was our deal, remember?”
Lee looked up into the worried hazel eyes and managed a radiant smile. Jamieson just shook his head and straightened even as Nelson squatted down in front of him, his own seamed, ruddy face wreathed in smiles.
“I had my doubts there for a minute, son, but as Ski said, you did it.”
“You had doubts, Admiral?” Lee questioned dryly. “I’m crushed.”
“Yeah, sir,” Chip put in exuberantly. “They thought they had us beat until you put Lee in to pinch hit for Sharkey. It was the greatest move I’ve ever seen in baseball! They knew Lee’s just out of the hospital! They figured with him benched they had the game in the bag! But we won anyhow! We beat the Santa Barbara Bandits for the third year in a row! So far it’s been a clean sweep!”
Nelson stood up, beaming paternally at his officers for a moment before he turned away, going to speak to the Bandits’ manager in a ritual as old as the game.
For a moment the two younger men watched after him, then looked at each other, their eyes sparkling boyishly.
“I love April,” Lee said quietly, then both began to laugh.