THE LONG WAY
It was a dark and stormy night, perfect for bowriding. The rapture of travelling through the world and the ways swiftly, without effort, was exhilarating. The pod sought out that pleasure, sliding in and out of the waves in a constant dance. They took turns running the lead, sometimes leaping in unison, or in series in the time-honored movements of the bowride, the sign of the pact between them and their kin, the finless ones. This ship was one of the pod's favorites, it would often dive below the waters to join them and oh how effortlessly it moved through the world raising the speeds of the ways, the pressure they felt in their bodies was a comforting presence. They sang to her and sometimes they thought that she sang back.
Chip Morton stood on the conning tower in heavy weather gear trying to keep an eye out for the downed satellite buoy. This should have been easy. The homing signal should have led them neatly to the package, but of course something had to go wrong. The signal kept fading in and out. They had to resort to a visual search whenever the signal would begin to fade which would happen about every five minutes or so. The weather was beginning to deteriorate further, which meant that the ride on the conning tower was beginning to get a bit rough. The Seaview was a great boat, but surface running in heavy seas was not fun.
As if to punctuate that last thought, the Executive Officer heard Seaman McGinty tossing up his cookies again over the side of the tower.
"Dammit McGinty!"he yelled at the hapless seaman,"Downwind!"
McGinty was a mistake. He was a nice young man, but lord the trouble he caused. It was just little things, a tool box left in the wrong place and Chief Sharkey with a broken toe. The mistake in the galley that left the whole of A-shift hogging all the heads. The mix-up with the Admiral's notes and his own carefully arranged system of filing. As he heard McGinty throw up one more time, he realized he'd better send him below. He was less than useless up here.
"Go on below and send up Patterson." He yelled over the rising wind to the young man. The look of relief on the man's face was almost ludicrous. He moved so quickly off the tower it was like he disappeared. Chip Morton almost envied him and wished they could find that damn buoy and submerge like a sub was meant to run. He shivered involuntarily inside his heavy life jacket. It wasn't a fit night for man nor beast. Well maybe not beast. The dolphins bowriding the Seaview were certainly having fun. He caught a flash of light off to port just out of the corner of his eye. Was it phosphorous or the buoy's beacon? He leaned over to get a better look when the ship gave an unexpected roll and dip at the same time. He found himself half thrown out of the conning tower. He was hanging on to the edge with one foot over the edge when another sharp roll caught him and he lost his grip. He fell into the dark stormy night.
"McGinty again!" Lee Crane grimaced as he surveyed the damage in the control room. The man had come down from the conning tower so fast that he literally fell, straight on top of Sharkey, who could not avoid the falling body because of his toe injury. They took Sharkey semiconscious and cursing to sickbay. McGinty went on to apologize profusely interspersed with bouts of sickness. He couldn't even go in one corner and dispose of his last three meals, no the man had to do it everywhere The contents of and the stomach muscles of the man were phenomenal. This created a chain reaction among some of the men on watch, especially those who had suffered from what everyone called the A-watch Hurl. The resulting confusion took even a man like Captain Crane more than a few minutes to sort out. So, it was sometime before Patterson got kitted out with foul weather gear and the obligatory life vest, then he climbed the tower to join the XO. By then it was way too late. Almost as soon as Patterson disappeared up the ladder to the conning tower, he came back down even faster.
"What now!"Crane barked and then got one look at Patterson's white face.
"Captain! He's gone!"
There was no hesitation as Crane grabbed the mike. "Man overboard. All hands to their stations. This is not a drill. Man overboard." The crew moved smoothly, efficiently. If Chip Morton had been ther, he would have been pleased to see that all the work he had put into "man overboard" drills was paying off. He would have never dreamed that he would be their very first real experience. Hadn't he instructed them constantly, always have a backup, never turn your back on the sea?
But with all ships, and especially a sub that was sleek and sure underwater and a tub on the surface, there is no sudden hitting of the brakes and shifting the ship in reverse to back up to where you were ten minutes ago. Running up against heavy seas made it even harder. Teams of divers waited on edge to be released. Four men were now crammed on the conning tower sweeping the storm tossed seas for any sign of the lost man. Sparks listened with every fiber of his being for the automatic beacon on the life vest. All you had to do was pull the ring and the beacon would broadcast for days. All you had to do was pull the ring...be alive to pull the ring.
The Captain led the men and the submarine through some very close maneuvers that would be spoken in awe for years to come. Nevertheless, time and tides wait for no man and by the time they had reached the area where they figured Morton had disappeared it was too late. Oh they tried. The conditions were atrocious on the surface and below. Men pushed themselves past their own limits. No one admitted that the situation was hopeless. In the end, it was the Captain who had to call them back.
Lee Crane picked up the mike. He stared at it in his hand like it was a
foreign object. He pushed the send button. "Attention all hands, stand down from
action stations. I repeat stand down. Prepare to dive." He paused. "We'll
continue the search at dawn."
Silence that could have been cut with a knife followed the announcement. It wasn't official, but they all knew Lt. Commander Morton was gone. The sea took him and she wasn't going to give him back.
"O'Brien. You have the con. Sparks get the Admiral for me and patch it
through to my cabin." Crane said as he wrote the last notation in the log:
23:57 Lt.Cmdr. Charles Philip Morton officially reported lost at sea.
"Aye sir." Sparks replied. "I'll keep listening..." he trailed off.
Lee didn't even remember walking to his cabin. He felt numb. He paused for a moment outside Chip's cabin. No, he couldn't go in, not yet. Much as he would like to sit in the dark and try to absorb the shock of what happened, he had things to do. He turned on the light and sat at his desk. They were off the coast of Mexico, not too much shipping ran these waters, but maybe the California Coast Guard could extend themselves for search assistance once the weather cleared. Who did he know in the Mexican Navy? Maybe the Admiral could get the ball rolling there.
"Sir. The Admiral is on the videophone."
"Lee. Did you find the buoy?"Admiral Nelson immediately noticed that something was wrong. The tight set of Crane's shoulders the unconscious twisting of his academy ring were signs he'd learned to read well."Lee, lad what's wrong?"
Lee Crane took refuge in the formality of Navy discipline, "I regret to inform you sir that we lost a man overboard this evening. Despite a gallant search effort under bad weather conditions we were unable to recover...find..."Lee Crane found he was unable to continue and the image of the Admiral seemed to dissolve into a mist as his eyes began to fill with tears.
"Dear God sir, we lost Chip."
The bowriding broke up as the ways began to become unstable. While they were able to move easily, they knew that the ship would not. They began to swim off to do other activities, like feeding or playing, but always within close call of one another.
She was more curious then her fellow pod members and especially liked to watch the kin at their doings. They never made much sense, but it was fun guessing at what they were up to. Therefore, she was next to the ship when one of the kin fell into the world. The ship did not seem to notice that she was causing distress to the little one by sending him deeper into the world by her passing. The dolphin could see that the little kin was in distress as it was bubbling air like a sick dolphin. She knew she had to help it to the air and quickly. She began pushing him with her nose towards the surface. Moving it was awkward and she called for help. Within seconds another dolphin had joined her and they pushed the little one to the surface. It blew like a dolphin but seemed unable to make any noises. It floated on the surface like a dead fish and if it hadn't been her hearing to confirm that it lived and breathed she would have left it for the kinless ones, the killers to dispose of.
She nudged him (she recognized that it was male) curiously. He began to make noises of distress as the world shifted and moved in it's rhythms and ways. He was worse than a baby. He could not swim. She and her partner then moved in on each side of him and kept him on the surface as he apparently was too hurt to dive. The pod took turns effortlessly carrying the kin with them through the storm. They knew what they were doing. Memory of the two kin together was long. They would take this one to the dry world where it preferred to swim. As they swam, they sang to him, ancient songs, songs of friendship, of love, and the good ways in the world, the warm and the cold.
He remembered falling and then sinking deeper and deeper in the cold dark waters. Something large was pushing him down like a hand. He knew he was going to drown, but that didn't stop him from fighting to survive. Then something was pushing at him towards the surface and he was on his back, the life vest holding him up. Heavy seas continued to toss and batter him and more often than not he got a mouthful of water rather than a gulp of air. His last coherent thought for sometime was that someone was under him holding him...there was movement, he felt as if he was flying...someone was singing...he couldn't understand the words...but he could feel ...safe.
The first real sensation was that of a bright light, then gradually he became aware of sound, a soft rhythmic sound like breathing. He little by little began to hear other noises and began to feel warmth. Other senses began to function. He was lying down on something gritty. "Sand" his mind identified. He tried to open his eyes, but they seemed glued shut. After a moment, he tried again and was rewarded by the image of something blurry and pink in front of his face. Startled, his eyes focused on his own hand. In a detached way, he moved it and watched the grains of sand shift and flow. It was the most fascinating thing he'd ever seen. The breathing sound sorted itself into the sound of waves hitting a beach...a beach he was lying on. Suddenly, everything seemed to crystallize and he realized that he was alive. He was lying on a beach somewhere and he had not drowned. Gritting his teeth, he turned onto his back and then gradually sat up.
His hands moved automatically to the ring on the life vest beacon and he pulled it. A faint hum rewarded him as the little radio began to send out an SOS.
Feeling too warm, with fumbling fingers, he began to undo the straps and buckles of the heavy life vest. It took him sometime to work at the water-soaked fastenings, but he took satisfaction in completing the task. After he stripped off the vest, he then removed the heavy rain gear. Somewhere, somehow, he had lost his boots and had on only a heavy pair of waterlogged socks. He took them off and arranged them to dry with meticulous care.
He then sat for a long time, knees pulled close to his chest arms hugging his
legs, his bare feet dug into the warm sand. He sat watching the sea pound
the beach. Off in the distance, he could see dolphins leaping through the
waves. He was alive. Help would come.
Today, the search had got underway aboard the Seaview at the crack of dawn. Nobody had got much sleep, having stood down around midnight. Dr.Jamieson had even reluctantly released Chief Sharkey from sickbay, realizing that the man was not going to rest at all. The Skipper was up all night setting up search plans and through Admiral Nelson talking to the California Coast Guard and the Mexican Navy.
The Captain also had to have a talk with Seaman McGinty. He held the brief interview with the COB Sharkey.
"I was on the conning tower with Mr.Morton, sir." The young man swallowed nervously, whether from having to face Sharkey and the Captain or from his barely recovered bout of seasickness. Lee eyed the seaman sharply and nudged the wastebasket with his foot closer to where McGinty sat.
"He said he wanted me out of trouble, where he could keep an eye on me." He said truthfully.
Chief Sharkey sighed and thought to himself, "Cause no one wanted to work with you, you jerk!" "That's right sir," he said aloud. "I wanted to put Seaman McGinty on latrine duty, but Mr.Morton said he wanted to ah - assess McGinty for himself."
Crane rubbed his jaw, not noticing that he needed a shave. Chip had such good judgement about the crew, he wasn't surprised that he took McGinty's "problems" as his responsibility. "OK. So you started your watch on the conning tower with Mr.Morton at 18:45?"
"Yessir. At first, it was actually quite exciting the ship bouncing up and down, and rolling..."he paused looking a little pale, and then continued. "I was fine at first, but then I began to get sick. I was throwing up over the side when the Exec, Mr.Morton, told me to go below and send up Patterson." He looked down at his hands and to the two men's dismay he started to cry."I guess I should have stayed there, if I had stayed Mr. Morton would still be here."
"Get a grip on yourself." Sharkey hissed at the young man.
Lee Crane looked wearily at the young seaman who was sniffing audibly. He stood up and paced around the room to stop before a picture of himself with the Admiral and Chip. It was a good photograph, but it wasn't the real thing. He wished the Admiral were here now. He wished to hell that Chip was here now.
"If you had stayed on the conning tower, you would have been disobeying orders, Mr.Morton ordered you below, you did the right thing by obeying." The Captain of the Seaview said slowly. "Mr. Morton took responsibility for being alone on the conning tower."
Sharkey looked as if he'd been poleaxed. The Skipper had just cleared that nincompoop McGinty from any blame and placed the fault on the Exec himself! His mouth must have been hanging open, because he found himself the recipient of the Captain's steely stare.
"There may have to be a formal board of inquiry about this....later." Crane said. "That will be all for now McGinty. You are confined to quarters for the time being." He watched as the young man left rapidly, sniffling so much that he almost tripped over the hatchway.
"Sir!" Sharkey said when the man was gone."You gonna let that lame-brained, ham-boned idiot off?"
"You heard me Chief. Mr.Morton knew... knows the safety rules as well if not better than anyone on this boat. He put himself in harm's way. McGinty is a screw-up, but he's not to blame." He smiled grimly and tried to lighten the tension in the room. "Executive officer or not, when I get Mr.Morton back on board he'll be doing latrine duty for a month." He eyed Sharkey who was visibly wilting in the chair in front of him. "Go get some rest, Chief. I'll be needing you later."
He went back to sit at his desk and started compiling a list of supplies they would be needing for the search.
He looked at the small pile of scavenged articles that would mean his continued survival on this desolate stretch of beach. The life vest with the softly humming beacon came equipped with a compass, a packet of shark repellent, a package with three fish hooks and two small flares. His heavy rain coat would make for some shelter against the elements, but from the looks of the dry arid area, he would be lucky if it rained at all. His pockets yielded two pens, a waterlogged list of "Things to do " with Get rid of McGinty underlined at the bottom of the list and a small pen knife.
He had never seen such a desolate stretch of coastline. The beach was beautiful white sand, which then quickly became rolling dunes covered with scruffy, dry plants and cacti. Not too far in the distance were high mountains like a wall as far as the eye could see in either direction.
They had been in international waters off the coast of Mexico looking for the beacon. Somehow, he expected the area he would be washed up on to would be more tropic. Once the stars came out he could maybe get some idea where he was. Right now, the most important thing was to get water and food. He eyed the nearest cactus speculatively. Even from fifty feet away he could see that the thorns on it were formidable.
When he pushed himself to his feet, he almost fell flat on his face. It wasn't only just dizziness, he felt as his body was one big bruise. He hurt in muscles he didn't realize he had. Gritting his teeth he started to cross to the dunes and the cactus. The fine sand of the dunes made it hard to climb, even though they weren't steep. Several times he would find himself slipping further backwards than moving forwards. He used his toes to dig in and found himself more often then not on all fours.
The cactus was easily twice as tall as he was and looked so withered and dry he wondered briefly if it was worth trying to get past the wicked looking thorns to hack off a chunk. Well, there was no other source of water in sight and he was thirsty, really thirsty. Even moving carefully, by the time he had managed to hack off a chunk of cactus with the small pen knife his hands were badly scratched and bleeding. The thorns had nasty barbs that got under the skin and were hard to pull out. He was finally rewarded with a small chunk of cactus meat and he sucked on it greedily for the moisture. The taste wasn't pleasant, very acidic, but it was wet. He looked at his bleeding hands.
"Get smart, Morton." he reasoned. Using the pen knife he managed to cut off the sleeves of his uniform shirt and wrapped his hands in the material before attacking the cactus again. Occasionally, he would stop to look towards the sea and the horizon looking for signs of rescue.
"Lee's going to go ballistic," he thought. "What kind of example are you to the crew by falling overboard Mr.Morton?" he would say and give me that look that nails you to the bulkhead and leaves you there, babbling useless excuses.
The sun was beginning to set when he went back to the beach and his little pile of earthly possessions. He carefully unwrapped the sleeves from around his hands. They were swollen already and the flesh around the thorn wounds looked inflamed. He went to the water and began to wash them, the coolness of the water seemed to take out the sting. He soaked the sleeves in the water and wrapped them up again.
He looked out at the flat calm sea, no sign of the storm of last night here.
"Come on Lee." he whispered as the sun set swiftly. "Come and get me."
Once the sun set, he began to feel chilled. Almost regretting the use of his shirt sleeves on his hands he pulled the heavy slicker around him. It was clammy and the only warmth it generated seemed to be from weight. He pulled the life vest on over it for more warmth. As he became more cold, he began to shake.
"Can't be that cold..."he thought muzzily "Must be going into shock... Can't go into shock, gotta be here when Seaview comes...Skipper? C'mon Morton, you survived drowning, can't die of shock on the beach...Dad will kill me if I miss another Thanksgiving at home. Promised Mom...I'd make it this time...I'll ask Julia out when I get back, been meaning to, what a fox...Definitely get rid of McGinty, how could I have missed his ineptitude...Lee's gonna laugh at me for years about this..." He muttered disjointedly to himself and curled into a ball around the life jacket. He then fell into an uneasy sleep.
He woke up a few hours later with awful pain in his hands and especially his left hand. The moon had risen and flooded the beach with soft moonlight. The stars shone bright and clear overhead. He sat up and almost screamed in pain as he used his hands to push himself up.
"Oh God,"he moaned, a cold sweat breaking out over his forehead. He couldn't
move his hands without excruciating pain. The left hand felt the worst. He had
to use his teeth to pick off the sleeve wrappings. His left hand was
swollen and the fingers looked like sausages, even in the moonlight he could see
that they were white. The reason for the horrible pain was his watch which was
almost sunken in the swollen flesh of his wrist.
"Damn." he snarled and with his teeth began to work at the fastening. The metal strap had a simple catch, but it was tight, that's how he liked it, no good losing your watch when things got a little rough. The relief when it snapped open was only momentary as the blood began to flow back into his hand. The pain was incredible and he screamed into the night. Before he passed out he thought he heard an answering cry from the sea.
Diego Ruiz of the fishing boat La Bonita crossed himself when he heard the unearthly cry coming from the sea. He had spent all his life on the sea and never had he heard such a strange noise. He went below to wake up the Captain, who was his father.
"Father, I have heard something." he said
"What is it Diego?" the boy was the most reliable of all of his sons and not easily given to needless alarm. He slipped on his sandals and joined the young man on the deck. They had bad luck this trip fishing and were many miles north of their usual fishing grounds. The little fishing boat was tossing gently at the end of its sea anchor on the waves. On the far horizon to the west, the coastline of Northern Baja gleamed in the moonlight.
They both then heard the sound again. It was a high-pitched squeal not unlike a whistle and scream together. Suddenly, a dolphin leapt up next to the boat causing both men to jump.
"Dios!" Luis Ruiz called out involuntarily. The dolphin then leaping and jumping began to head towards the coastline.
"Dolphins!" his son laughed in relief. "Forgive me father, I did not know it was dolphins. I would not have wakened you." He looked curiously at his father when he saw that the old man was not looking at him, but was watching the dolphins swim towards the far off shore. "Father?"
"Wake your brothers Diego. We will follow the dolphin." He began to crank up the anchor.
"Wait, Father." Diego said putting his hand on his father's arm. "The dolphins, they are nothing but trouble, tear the nets, spoil the fishing."
"Do as I say Diego, and quickly." Luis Ruiz said sharply, but then his expression softened. "It was dolphins who led us to your Tio Diego when he was drowned. You were not even born then, but it is his name that you carry. Thanks to them we had a body to bury in the churchyard. Would you have some poor soul die without that blessing?" he crossed himself and began to pull up the anchor secure that his son would follow his orders. He was no older than Diego when he went to look for his brother with his own father. Diego's boat had washed up onto shore in pieces after the storm. The other three members of the crew were snarled in the riggings. The only comfort to their families and young widows was the decent burial in the churchyard instead of the lonely grave of the sea. They had gone to search for his eldest brother when suddenly a dolphin leapt in front of the boat and then arrowed off to the north.
"Follow her." his father said curtly. "It is not unknown for them to succor a drowning man."
They had found Diego floating in between some rocks. His face was almost peaceful, but he was dead. Would the dolphin lead him to another drowned man?
His other two sons, Antonio and Pablo, were working quietly on the deck., although they shot curious glances at their father, they knew when he was the "captain" it was best to obey.
She had been uneasy for sometime, she could sense the physical illness of the kin she had rescued. When he called to her she called back, but he was swimming in the dark waters again. She would bring some other kin to him. She signaled to them and they followed. Good! This time the kin was behaving with some sense. One could never count on them to be logical or even sensible when traveling the world and the ways, or even less when they dealt with each other.
The moon had set and the soft pearl colors of dawn were beginning to appear when the little fishing boat set anchor off the deserted stretch of coastline that was studded with dunes and the occasional cactus. The body of a man or something in a bright orange vest lay visible against the white sands of the beach.
Diego and his father rowed the little dory to the shore. Luis Ruiz approached the body. It was no one he knew, and by the blond hair he figured it must be a ‘Americano del Norte'. He firmly grasped the man's shoulder to turn him over and was rewarded by a groan. The man's eyes opened and he stared at him. "Lee?" he whispered and passed out.
"Madre de Dios" Luis said. "He is still alive! Quickly Diego, we must get him to the boat." The two men carried him to the waiting dory. Diego handled the oars while his father poured some water into the man's mouth. He coughed and began to come to again. "Take her down.."he muttered feverishly. "Look out!.. Lee!... So hot...mermaids?...dive!... Make that a double chocolate shake, Cookie... Honey?" Chip thought he saw a woman's face. She was smiling at him and her eyes were a warm honey color, as he reached for her the face faded and he was looking into the dark brown eyes of an older man. His face was wrinkled and color of polished mahogany. The man was speaking to him, but he couldn't understand. He did understand when he was offered something to drink and he greedily swallowed the water. It tasted like nectar down his dry throat.
He was being handed into a small fishing boat. He stood uncertainly swaying on the deck in the gathering sunrise. The older man led him into a small cabin that was apparently the galley, the bunkroom, and living quarters for the crew. He waved him to a chair and talking to him gently in Spanish began to inspect his hands.
"This is not good, se or. The spines are still imbedded in your flesh, I must cut them out." He pantomimed his intentions to the blond man. He then offered him a bottle of some strong liquor to blunt the pain. Chip took a good swig from the bottle offered to his lips and gasped as the fiery liquid burned down to his empty stomach. He saw stars and was still gasping for breath when the old man held his hand down firmly and strongly on the table and with the tip of an incredibly large and sharp gutting knife made a cut on his hand. Pus and blood poured out along with small black pieces that were bits of cactus thorn. The second cut was too much and he slid into unconsciousness.
Luis Ruiz grimaced as he drained the wounds on the man's hand. Stupid gringo to be fooling with the cactus spikes and then bathing them in seawater. The infection was very bad, and he was sure that he would soon have to deal with fever. They had no catch to speak of, he could not return home empty-handed, his family depended upon their fishing. The blond man would have to manage with what care he and his sons could provide, until they caught some fish. He had done his rough surgery and was bandaging the man's hands when he heard Antonio shout excitedly on deck.
"Father! Come look! Such a school of fish!" The surface of the sea glinted silver in the sun as a large school of fish were milling around near the boat.
"Quickly! Set the nets!" he cried out in surprise and gave his youngest son a hit on his shoulders. He was relieved to see that Diego had already anticipated his order and was reeling the nets out and shouting instructions to his brothers. All thoughts of the strange blond man fled their thoughts as they filled the hold with the biggest catch they had in many years. Finally there was no more room for fish and the sun was beginning to set.
"Dios. I am suddenly an old man." Luis said and mopped his brow. "Where did the fish come from? Antonio?"
The young man shrugged and pointed out to sea where there were dolphins also feeding off the bounty of fish. "Perhaps his friends." He also felt as if his muscles were burning.
"Never will I curse dolphins again." Diego said solemnly. "And I promise by the Holy Virgin to cut my own net if one should ever become trapped." Luis laid a hand on his son's shoulder and squeezed it silently in approval.
"Now, we must get to work. Pablo and Antonio will start cleaning the fish, Diego you will set course for home. I will see to the ‘norte americano' and then come to help. We have done good work today and I am proud of all of you." Praise for his sons was not given lightly and even though they were all tired, his words gave them the energy to continue to work.
Chip had woken up with his head on the table before him. His hands hurt like
hell, but it wasn't the pulsing burning pain of earlier. They were roughly
bandaged. He practically fell into the nearest bunk, which wasn't far as the
cabin was very small. He could hear unfamiliar noises on deck, shouts, yells and
strange thumping and bumping. He could hear them speaking, Spanish?. They
sounded more excited than alarmed so he let himself slide into sleep.
Lee Crane leaned over the chart table and made another notation. "Rodriguez."he said to the sailor standing next to Sparks in the minute radio shack. "Ask Capt. Guitterez to check section 8 and then do a sweep of section 2. " The seaman then translated the orders in Spanish to the Mexican Navy Cruiser that was helping in the search effort.
"Sir. I have a message from the Coast Guard, they say that the choppers have been called out on another rescue. They send their ... regrets." Sparks reported.
"Thank them for their help." Crane said heavily. Another rescue, probably one with a hope of survivors. Was he wasting time and resources? One man in a life jacket. One man in the Pacific Ocean. The man that was his best friend. Each hour, every minute that passed made the possibilities of finding him slimmer and slimmer. He couldn't look at his watch. Every time he did the crew held it's breath, waiting for him to call it all off. To give up, to quit.
"You never know when to give up." Chip himself used to tease him, especially when it was the Seaview's skipper who had managed to save the day with his stamina, determination, and sheer stubbornness.
"Right. Mr. O'Brien, let's try a little further south, the current could have taken him well out of the probable search area. Take us there flank speed." His lips were set in a tight line. No, he never knew how to give up. "I'll be on the conning tower, let me know if there is any news."
"Aye, sir." O'Brien answered. The search for Lt.Cmdr Morton continued some 400 miles in the wrong the direction.
His dreams were mostly nightmares. Faceless, formless terrors that pulled and tugged and hurt. Someone was holding his hands in fire. No matter how hard he tried to pull away the vice-like grip didn't give up. There was water nearby, he could hear it running around him, if he could only reach the water he'd be safe. The water would put out the flames. Voices were all around him, some were loud, some soft, some were not..human. Eyes, soft honey eyes... He felt a sound? a vibration that centered on his heart. Cool water lapped over him from that point until it spread out over his chest and down his arms and legs. The fire in his hands seemed to flare up and then began recede.
He was swimming in the dark ways. She followed him there, much to the distress of her mate and the rest of the pod. Swimming in the dark ways for one's own mate, for one's own kind was more than dangerous, but to follow the kin there? It was liking asking the kinless ones, the sharks, to feed together, or to offer one's fin into their mouths. She saw many strange things, things she could never begin to understand. Images burned themselves onto her sensitive receptors and hurt. The hurt he felt in his fins was bad, but not as bad as his sick songs on her soul. Deep within herself she found the song of healing water and poured it out on him. It was as much for herself as him. Then they left the dark ways, he to his world, she to her's. Both of them carried with them a healing and a promise that would remain buried until the time came right and the ways moved.
Antonio rinsed out the rag he was using to bathe the American's fevered body. His father and Diego were asleep in their own bunks, while his older brother Pablo was steering the boat. The last two days had been very strange. First his brother Diego, who was 20, had heard the dolphin cry out in the middle of the night, and then his father had them follow the dolphin to the man on the beach. They had rescued the man, and his father had fixed his hands. Then, almost as if thanking them, it seemed as if the dolphin had then driven the biggest catch he'd ever seen in his 16 years into their nets. That was not all, when they set course for home the dolphins had stayed with the boat, not too close, but not too far either. He wasn't sure if he liked the idea, but his father had taken everything so calmly, there was nothing he could do but accept. The man stopped thrashing around, his eyes opened but didn't seem to focus. He sighed deeply as if in relief and closed his eyes again. Antonio then noticed that the man was covered in sweat.
"Father" The boy said alarmed. He was a little afraid, as if he were dealing with a dead man.
"Eh Tonio?" His father woke easily and slipped off the top bunk to come to his side. He placed a hand on the man's head and another on his chest. "Good. The sweat shows that the fever has broken. Put a blanket on him, so he does not get a chill. I think you need not stay up anymore. Get some sleep. Your mama will make a big fiesta for us tomorrow you can be sure. I think you will need the rest, now."
The sun set in a blaze of color. The sun dipped below the horizon and the sub-tropical night fell with it's accustomed swiftness. The Captain, had he been looking for it would have been rewarded by the rare green flash. He was looking at the waves, now relatively calm from the last 72 hours or so that they had been looking for Chip Morton or in the case of the last two days, his body. He would have liked to be alone at this moment, but there were two others on the tower with him.
"Lee." Dr. Jamieson put a hand sympathetically on his shoulder. "You have to let him go." he nodded to Patterson who was standing uneasily with them. "Go below, son. We'll be down in a moment."
Lee Crane took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "He was my best friend. I've helped him fight off death and bad injuries and he's done the same for me. But to just, be here one minute and gone the next."
The doctor squeezed the shoulder, "I know. You tried to find him, you did
more than could have been done and so did the crew. If you don't let go,
they can't either. It is tearing them apart as much as it is for you. It may
sound cruel, but you have to let the dead go and take care of the living and
"You've been talking to the Admiral."
"Yes. He knows you all too well. You'll do what's right for the Seaview even if it means leaving Chip somewhere out here." He gestured to the vast dark expanse of the Pacific Ocean. Stars were already beginning to appear in the dark skies above.
The Captain of the Seaview turned and motioning the doctor ahead of him and descended the ladder to the control room. All eyes were turned to him, he could see the strain on their faces and some looked like they were on the verge of collapse. Bobby O'Brien, who had been holding the con for the last two shifts looked like death warmed over. Sharkey was pale, and looked as if he belonged in sickbay, which was probably true.
He picked up the mike. "Pipe this through the ship, will you Jimmy?" The junior officer blinked, it was a rare day when the Skipper called him by his first name instead of the nickname Sparks.
"Aye, Captain." He said softly and blinked again. He was just tired, he wasn't gonna cry, was he?
"Attention men, this is the Captain. I want to thank you all for the effort and heart you've all put into the search for Mr.Morton. I am proud of you. He would have been proud of you. I ask that all of you take a minute of silence for the passing of our shipmate, a fine officer and a good man, Chip Morton."
As one man, the crew in the con stood up and stood at full attention for the long minute that followed. Over the ship, men stood in silence, not all eyes were dry.
Lee Crane looked at the men in his crew. "Thank you." He said softly. He then looked at Chief Sharkey. "You, get yourself to sickbay. Mr.O'Brien take her down to 200 feet and set a course for home. Sparks, when did you decide to stand three watches? Get to your bunk, now. Ski, hold the radio shack until Foulard replaces you, then I want you to get some sleep, too."
"Skipper." Bobby O'Brien said cautiously and then a little more firmer,"I'm good for another couple hours, you better get some rest, too." He stood a little more unyielding. "I'm sure the Doc will back me up on that."
"Absolutely." Jamieson said and took the stubborn Captain by the arm. You can take a four hour nap now, which is by no means enough, or I can give you an injection and knock you out for 12 hours. What will it be Captain?"
"Bobby's been on double watch already..."
"And you haven't slept more than a few hours in three days."
"Oh. All right. Four hours, no more."
He reluctantly left the con. He was so tired, he didn't even remember entering his cabin, much less falling on his bed fully clothed. The next thing he would remember was someone shaking him awake.
The next thing he remembered was that someone was shaking him awake.
He opened his eyes to stare into the round smiling face of a woman. She was talking to him a mile a minute in Spanish. She helped him sit up and put a bowl of liquid to his lips, he drank greedily at the contents, some kind of cool soothing drink. All the time she was talking to him in sympathetic tones. He noticed that his hands had bandages on them and that they hurt when he tried to move them. She clucked at him when he winced and seemed to scold him. She pulled the pillow up behind his head so he could half sit up and look around where he was. It was a simple bright room, whitewashed with a crucifix on the wall and a gaudily painted picture of an angel standing on the bow of a storm wracked ship. Colorful rugs and pillows lay on the modest furniture. He felt something wet on his feet and looked down to see a mangy yellow dog licking his feet. "Dammit. Get out of here." His voice seemed cracked and dry. The dog looked at him sadly and then went over to lick a small baby who was sitting on the floor near the doorway. The baby laughed and got up to toddle over to the bed. The lady joined in the child's laughter. It was a warm, happy sound. He felt himself yawn and slipped off to sleep with the brown eyes of the child watching him and the sound of the lady talking to him non-stop in Spanish.
The next time he woke up the lady was still talking, only there were more people in the room. A pretty young woman was holding the baby, a young man who looked no more than a boy himself had his arm around her. An older man was talking to the pair quietly. The man looked familiar.
"You rescued me." His voice was still gravelly and dry.
The man came to sit on a chair by the bed. In contrast to the woman (his wife?) he seemed slow to speak. He placed a hand on Chip's forehead and lightly touched his hands. The woman still volubly talking took one of his hands in hers and with a great deal of gentleness unwrapped the bandages. His hands were still puffy and sore, and he could see several half-healed cuts, but there seemed no sign of infection. The lady produced a pot of nasty smelling black stuff and began smearing it on his hands. He took a sharp breath when it touched the semi-healed cuts, but then he felt a pleasant warmth spread over them. She smiled at him and patted his cheek leaving a black mark on his cheek. His hands were then bandaged again.
He was introduced to the family that had rescued him. The older man was Luis
Ruiz, the younger man his son Diego and his wife Rita and the baby Mano. Two
younger men who shyly came into the room when called were ‘Tonio and Pablo. The
lady informed him that she was Mama Rosa.
"I am Chip Morton, Charles Philip Morton." he introduced himself. Mama Rosa listened to the foreign names and looked confused. She then smiled and patting his knee called him Felipé. It seemed the closest that she could get to his name and the rest of the family also began to call him Felipé.
Mama Rosa brought over a bowl of stew from which she alternately fed him and the bright eyed toddler who was clinging to the lady's knee. The child seemed fascinated by Chip and was staring at him intently. Chip winked at the child and was rewarded by a laugh. Mama Rosa was apparently trying to teach the child to talk. Chip learned the name of the dog, what a chair was, a bowl and spoon. The baby seemed unimpressed by the flow of language around him. When they had both finished eating Mama Rosa deposited the child onto Chip's lap, much to his surprise. The baby seemed fascinated by his blond hair and climbed up his chest to wind his little hands into Chip's hair and pulled.
"Ow. Cut it out." he said. The baby's lower lip started to quiver. "Oh he..darn. All right." carefully balancing the boy in his arms not using his hands he propped the child half on his shoulder. The child gurgled happily twisted his little hand in the man's hair and putting his head down on his shoulder fell asleep. Crossing his arms carefully around the warm little body he found himself slipping into a restful sleep his cheek pressed to the soft hair of the child.
He was having a good dream, no it was a great dream. A beautiful woman lay in his arms, she was soft and warm and she loved him. She was kissing him on the chin her hands wound in his hair. He couldn't see her eyes but he knew they were beautiful. Their bodies were damp from passionate love making. She was doing things to him like...like licking his feet?
He woke up with the baby still on his chest, only he was sucking happily on his chin and from the smell he needed changing. His front was damp from the overflow. The dog was assiduously licking his feet again. "Dammit!" he hissed at the dog. He tried to gently pull the child off his chin and was rewarded by suction power that would put a remora to shame. "Mama Rosa." he called out, his voice had more power, but was still rough. The young woman came bustling in and rescued him from the baby who immediately began to scream when deprived of his favorite toy. He winced when the baby very clearly enunciated his first word "Dammit!" The young woman favored him with a questioning glance before leaving the room with the wailing child.
The chair next to the bed had neatly piled onto it some clothes, including the raincoat hung over the back of the chair. The life jacket lay on the floor, he could tell that the little beacon was now silent. He sighed, somehow it must have misfunctioned or he got swept really far away by the storm. He closed his eyes and seemed to remember being pushed to the surface and carried? He shook his head. God, not mermaids please, let them chase Lee not me! Somewhere was the woman with the eyes like sweet honey. Well, it looked like it was up to him to get to a phone or civilization and let everyone know he was alive.
The official memorial service for Lt.Cmdr. Charles Philip "Chip" Morton was impressive. Navy brass and dignitaries attended the solemn ceremony that took place in the large auditorium at NIMR: His family sat in amongst the sea of uniforms, there was even a small group of women noticibly sobbing when thinking of the loss of company of the blond officer. The words were kind, meant to encourage and give hope to the living, to the survivors.
At the reception afterwards, phrases such as, "Fine man, good officer." "Cut down in the prime of life." "How tacky, she has the nerve to show up after she dumped him" "Damn shame." "No, we weren't close, but I felt I knew him well" "Try the little brown ones, they're better than the smoked salmon." "We will miss him." "They searched for three days, it would have taken a miracle to find even the body...sorry ma'am." "Crane looks like hell." were repeated in low tones.
The wake held among the crew was even more impressive. There was enough beer consumed to float the Seaview. Stories, sad and happy, important and trivial was told about their experiences with the executive officer.
"Well, I can tell you thish, um thif"Kowalski said staring owl eyed at Chief Sharkey. "Mr. Morton is prob'ly rearranging heaven at this moment. Feel damn sorry for the angels."He seemed to realize who he leaning over and breathing beer fumes on. "Shir."
"Polishing the pearly gates with their toothbrushes." Patterson added soulfully, but then Patterson always sounded soulful, tight or not.
Bobby O'Brien stood up and delivered a toast, "The Exec. God Bless Him." He knocked back his beer and knocked himself back to sit on the couch. He had been doing this regularly every time he finished a bottle. There was a number of bottles on the floor by his feet.
Sparks was crying as Stu Riley gave a rendition of "Little Surfer Girl". "God, that's so profound so moving..." he said the same about any song Stu was singing and he openly sobbed when Stu had played "The Little Old Lady from Pasadena".
The Captain and Admiral Nelson had been there earlier, shared some beers and a few unheard of stories about the XO. They left to get on with their own way of coping, Lee Crane and Harriman Nelson spent the night on the Seaview knocking back a bottle of 15 year old scotch. What was said between them or how they handled their grief was never talked about, but it seemed as if there was a acceptance of the tragedy that took a friend from their midst. A new urgent mission in the Gulf of Finland, chasing phantom Russian subs for the Swedes even helped take their minds off the fact that Mr. Morton wasn't there.
Until McGinty brought it all up again.
McGinty the cursed, McGinty the damned, McGinty the scum in the bottom of the ballast tanks. McGinty who was absolved of any blame for the accidental death of Lt.Cmdr. Morton. McGinty who was only too happy to be transferred to a desk job in Alameda.
McGinty who sold the story "Man Overboard!" to the National Inquester.
"Felipé" spent the first couple of days out of bed baby-sitting for the little boy Mano. The little boy would toddle around after him begging to be picked up. He would look into Chip's blue eyes and giggle and say "Dammit" He tried to teach him other words, but Mano would just gurgle and clamp his mouth on his chin and drool. He started to grow a beard and mustache to keep the child from eating him alive.
He was able to ascertain through sign language, pantomime and an old chart that he was in the tiny fishing village of Sierra Norte about 200 miles from La Paz. Sierra Norte was so small it had only a handful of houses and a tiny church which was visited every few months by an itinerant priest. The villagers earned their meager living through fishing. There were no phones, no electricity in this little isolated pocket of Mexico.
Chip couldn't figure out how he got so far north. Senor Ruiz indicated on the map that he had been found a further 50 miles to the north of the village. He was lucky to have been found, that part of Baja was very desolate and very uninhabited.
The fisherman had then tried to tell him something important, but all the gestures and words didn't make sense. Senor Ruiz then patiently led him to the beach and pointed out to sea. They stood there quietly for some time and then the Mexican man pointed to something moving in the water off shore. A dolphin leapt up and splashed down into the water and then disappeared. Senor Ruiz crossed himself and gestured to the sea, and Chip, and the dolphin.
"The dolphins...," he said slowly, and then with dawning comprehension. "The dolphins saved me."
What sailor has not heard the stories about drowning men. Men who were saved from their deaths by dolphins, but he never known anybody personally or even remotely who had such an experience. He recalled his last moments on the conning tower watching the dolphins bowride.
Se or Ruiz was on his knees and praying. Chip Morton awkwardly lowered himself next to the man and offered his own humble thanks to whatever power in heaven or earth or the waters in between had saved him.
In the days that followed, the evil black goo seemed to have done a good job on his hands. He was able to do a lot of things for himself now. His strength was coming slowly back into his body. Mama Rosa kept on feeding him, clucking away at him and pinching his skinny frame. His own clothes had disintegrated and he was wearing the loose trousers and shirts favored by the men of the village.
About a week after he had woke up in the Ruiz's house, a visitor came. He could see that he wasn't a very welcome guest. Mama Rosa became uncharacteristically quiet and tight-lipped. But the man spoke English.
"Well hello Gringo!" he said cheerfully. Chip immediately didn't trust him either. He had a shifty look about him and his use of the word Gringo was bordering on the insubordinate.
"My name is Paco, heh. Like Que paso Paco. A joke you know. My fren' here
Senor Ruiz, he think you maybe wanna go La Paz. I got boat. Go there t'morrow.
You come with Paco, yeah Felipé man?" He pulled out a battered pack of Marlboros
and lit a cigarette and drew on it deeply. "You wanna a ciggy, eh man?" He
winked at him. "Maybe you interested in something more?"
Chip felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. This guy was bad news, but he had to get to La Paz, he had to get home. He darted a glance at Senor Ruiz. The man nodded slowly. Chip smiled, "Why thank you Mr.Paco. I would like to go to La Paz. That is very kind of you."
The man barked a laugh. "Paco don do nothin' for kindness. Senor Ruiz he give
me some pesos, and you Felipé, you work my boat. Take us two days to La Paz.
This no cruise ship, Gringo." He grinned evilly showing two gold teeth among
blackened and nicotine stained stubs. We leave dawn, Senor Ruiz he show you my
boat, heh man." With a flippant wave and a leer at Mama Rosa he sauntered away.
The offended woman then began to volubly berate her husband. He said a few quiet words and she went into the house in a huff. Chip looked at Senor Ruiz in the eyes. The man gave him a warning gesture. Chip nodded. He understood. He wouldn't turn his back on Paco and he would sleep with one eye open. Going back into the house he was enveloped by the babbling Mama Rosa in a hug. She was crying and clearly upset. He smiled at her, the famous Morton charm stilling her tears. She began to hurry around the room packing enough food for a small army for him to take along.
The boat was worse than a tub, it was a garbage scow that still had the last twenty years of garbage still on it. He doubted if the boat had ever been cleaned. He immediately opted to sleep on the deck rather than the noisome bunk assigned to him. He also felt a bit safer on deck than in the cramped airless cabin. The only other member of the crew was a man as unsavory looking as his boss. He greeted Chip's arrival with a spit over the side. The only thing impressive about the boat was the engine. It looked well-kept after and purred like a kitten.
There was a set of fishing nets on the deck that looked like they hadn't been in the water for at least a couple of years. Paco's business wasn't fishing, that was for sure. He hoped that he wasn't going to get mixed up in something really bad.
Paco seemed slightly impressed about how well the ‘gringo' handled himself around the boat.
"Hey Felipé! You know how to run boat? Paco like you." He slammed a fist into Chip's shoulder with bruising strength. "Paco not make you clean out bilge" He laughed at his own joke wafting bad breath over Morton. "Paco let you steer. Do what I say?" His smile was suddenly evil and the eyes hard and glittering.
Chip Morton looked at him with the famous calm, no one knows what I'm thinking expression. He raised an eyebrow at the man.
"Yeh man." He replied. "Paco is Captain."
This seemed to please the man to no end. "See me. Paco the Captain." He
clouted Chip viciously on the shoulder again and went into the cabin to work on
his mysterious business.
He had been steering the boat on the course set by Paco well until after nightfall when the silent crewman came to relieve him. The man just grunted and shoved him out of the wheelhouse. Chip felt exhausted. His hands smarted from gripping the wheel and his shoulder ached from where Paco had clouted him earlier. He had just stood the equivalent of a double watch. He grinned to himself, heck he had done worse watches with worse injuries. He began to think how surprised they were going to be back in Santa Barbara when he called from La Paz. Hope I get back before my own funeral...
Despite his good intentions of staying awake he fell asleep leaning up against the cabin. He was awakened by a none too gentle kick and a glob of spit that just missed his head. The silent crewman gestured to the wheelhouse.
Paco was there pouring over some charts. "We take little side trip, eh Gringo. Pick up cargo. No smelly fish for us eh man?" Chip managed to sidestep the clout to the shoulder. Damn he'd better watch his step. The little village of Sierra Norte was beginning to look a lot better than sharing this boat with Paco and his silent henchman. He had a feeling that he was going to be in trouble before he got to La Paz.
"Paco is Captain." He managed to say calmly and eyed the chart, looking for a likely place to jump ship.
By the time the Seaview got back to Santa Barbara the story had been out in the National Inquester for a week. The secretarial staff was completely demoralized. Not only had tons of sympathy mail had poured in, but other kinds of letters arrived with alleged sightings of the missing officer everywhere from Guadeloupe to New Foundland. The phones were constantly ringing. People were calling in, sure they had seen him at the supermarket with Elvis, in a Mexican jail, ascending to heaven in a gold chariot drawn by seahorses. He was the jerk who ran off with some man's wife. Aliens had abducted him. The militaristic fascist pig deserved to die- along with all of his war-mongering buddies. She was really sorry about Cmdr. Morton, but could she have the phone number of the gallant captain?
Lee Crane paced back and forth in front of Admiral Nelson's desk. The Admiral was on the phone.
"I understand. Yes, we are just as shocked. What did National Inquester say?" There was a pause as he listened."Hmm. Yes, that is true, the facts were correct and there was no chance of libel." He paused again and Crane could almost hear the person on the other end of the line venting anger. "We have the same problem. Our legal department says there isn't much we can do. All we can do is hope that the public will get tired of the whole thing and leave us in peace. Yes, we have your new phone number. You have Lee's and mine? Thank you for calling us Mr.Morton. Tell Mrs.Morton we are sorry, too."
As the Admiral hung up the phone, Lee Crane stopped his pacing long enough to rest both of his hands on the top of the Admiral's desk and lean over.
"This is impossible!" he yelled. "Don't tell me there's nothing we can do! They've turned Chip's.."he paused, unable to say ‘death', "...this, into a circus!" he continued.
"Lee, I know that this is tough." the Admiral said sympathetically. "I had to send Angie home already today. The poor girl was in tears, some jerk had the nerve to call collect from La Paz claiming to be Chip." he shook his head. "We just need some time..."
Captain Crane stood up again, the anger fading from his face. "Sorry sir. It just seems so unfair to drag us through all that again." He sighed heavily. "We've got another problem. Bobby isn't sure if he wants to continue as Exec...I don't know what's eating him, but I sure don't want to have to break in new officer, especially now. That's why I came to see you, maybe if we can talk to him.?"
Admiral Nelson looked closely at his friend and the Captain of his ship. Lee seemed to have managed to cope with his loss of his friend and Executive Officer. There was nothing wrong with how he handled himself, the crew, or the boat, but there was something missing, something that was a part of Crane. Morton's presence was like that, you never seemed to notice the man's control, or the things that got done when he was there, it was only when he was missing or gone that things began to fall apart. Just like with Captain Crane now. His temper erupted all too quickly, small things quickly reached epic proportions. Angie was more in tears from Crane's reactions than the nuisance mail and phone calls. He wasn't surprised that Bobby O'Brien was thinking twice about the Exec position, Lee Crane was a difficult man to be around these days.
"Well Lee, I think the matter of your exec is something for you to handle. That's the business of the Captain. " Lee Crane looked startled at Nelson. "But I think handling the secretarial staff and especially Angie is mine, so I would rather that you kept your temper in check around them." he continued.
"Of course, sir. My mistake sir." Lee Crane retreated behind a mask of cold
formality. He stalked out of the Admiral's office to almost run over Lt.
"My office." he said curtly to the bewildered man who had to half run to catch up to the Captain's long strides.
Lee Crane started to sail past his secretary when he noticed that her usually calm face seemed worried. He looked at her for maybe the first time in days. He cleared his throat. "Ah May, I guess I've been a little difficult lately."
"No more than you usually are, Lee." The middle-aged woman said soothingly."I forgive you."
"I haven't said I'm sorry yet." He looked at her with a small smile on his face.
"Oh that's booked in for later on in the afternoon." she said looking at his schedule book. "Right now you have young Bobby who is waiting for you." She nodded to the young officer standing behind him.
He went into his office and waved Bobby in.
"You wanted to talk to me, Bobby?"
The young man was trying not to smile, but failed. "I'm getting married sir!" he blurted out.
Lee Crane felt himself smile, genuinely smile, for the first time in weeks. "Great! Congratulations Bobby! You finally popped the question to Carol?"
He turned pink around his ears, "Well sir, actually Carol proposed to me. She said she wasn't going to let me go sailing off without someone waiting for me to come back to. She was kind of upset about Mr.Morton you know..."
"Well," Lee said evenly and he was amazed by his own words as much as the junior officer was. "They say something good always comes out of bad things. I think it's terrific that you and Carol are getting married. When?"
"Next week. Carol's brother works on the Pacific Princess, you know the cruise liner, and he got us a honeymoon cruise for a week down to Matzatlan, Bridal Suite and all. Busman's holiday, sir."
"Well I can see one problem with your plans Mr. O'Brien." Lee Crane folded his arms and looked stern.
"What's that sir?" The young officer looked nervous again.
"Doesn't leave us much time to plan your stag party."Crane grinned.
"Thank you sir! About the XO position..."
"Look Bobby, just enjoy getting married and your honeymoon. We'll look at it again when you get back. Concentrate on Carol, she deserves it."
"Yessir. Thank you again." He went bouncing out of the office.
Lee sat behind his desk for a quiet few minutes. Then he touched the intercom button. "May, get me the Admiral please. Oh and send yourself home early today."
"Yes Lee." Nelson answered the call cautiously, unsure what mood his friend was in. He hated raking Lee over the coals.
"How's a party sound to you Admiral? Bobby is getting married next week."
"That's wonderful news Lee. Stag party, right? Just so happens I know of a club we can rent. They have a real hot singer."
"Sir? Your idea of a hot singer or my idea of a hot singer?" Crane teased him.
"Actually. She's Lucius' idea of a hot singer."
"Lucius? I thought he was only talking to dolphins these days."
"Actually they are making him listen. Look join me over at the dolphin pool this afternoon. I think you'll be surprised. Seaview's next assignment is going to be interesting."
As he suspected Paco had been up to no good. They had met up with another larger boat and a few mysterious cartons had changed hands. Paco had made him hide in the engine room during the transaction. After the other ship was out of sight, the smuggler proudly showed Chip his loot, which seemed to consist of contraband liquor and cigarettes.
Chip decide he should use the best opportunity he had to leave the dirty little boat. He waited until they had come within sight of shore and lashed the wheel to keep the boat keep on a steady course.. He then silently slipped overboard with his small bag of belongings and the biggest canister of fresh water he could find. Damned if he was going around sucking any more cactus insides. The boat would eventually run aground, unless someone went into the wheelhouse to check on him. He hoped they wouldn't notice his absence for hours. His luck held and he made it to shore and found the coast road leading to La Paz. It wasn't too well traveled. But he was sure a ride would show up eventually.
They were nervous, the ways teemed with the kinless one. The pod traveled closer together than usual. If the madness came upon the kinless even a pod of seven dolphins had a slim chance of surviving without injury, or one of them sent to the high ways to swim.
She led them now, sure in her connection to the kin. When he entered their world again she swam behind him protecting him from the kinless who sensed helpless soft kinmeat. The others whistled warning and threats to the kinless protecting her as she did for him. She swam with him even into the low world near the dry world.
It was her song to protect him even should it send her on the ways not meant
for her kind. Now, however, she knew that she did not sing alone. There was
a singer of the ways in their world again, a kin singer! The song was
faint and far away, but grew stronger when this kin was in her world. He would
lead her to the singer of the ways. She sang to the pod and they sang in
exultation with her driving the kinless far into the depths with the joy they
radiated. The message was then passed through the ways to pods, tribes, and
elders. Even the cousins, the great ones listened.
Dr. Lucius Emory, the chief researcher for NIMR in cetacean studies was waxing enthusiastic over his latest experiment to Lee Crane and Admiral Nelson.
"I have discovered that dolphin speech patterns are not only dependent on sound, but on physical contact and frequencies undetectable to the human ear. If we are missing one of these elements then communication is not possible. But of course, I have solved these problems, we are learning to communicate with the dolphins." The short scientist said with no false modesty. He waved to the complicated banks of monitors and gadgets rimming the dolphin pool.
"Now Lucius, you know the biggest breakthrough was finding Miss Chance." The Admiral directed the men's attention to the young woman swimming in the pool with the dolphins. "Miss Gweneth Chance, "he explained to Captain Crane, "is a singer. Ah in a nightclub." He grinned at Lee's raised eyebrow.
"Lucius' hot singer sir?" He watched her as she got a boost from the dolphins out of the pool, grabbed a towel off a chair and approached the three men almost cautiously. She was short and kinda skinny. Her hair hung in damp strands over an unremarkable face.
"Mr.Admiral." She nodded to Nelson.
"Miss Chance. This is Captain Crane of the Seaview. Remember we were talking about doing some trials with wild dolphins? We are planning to sail in a couple of weeks, with Lucius and of course you."
"I got another job." Her voice was surprisingly low and husky for such a small person.
"Surely, you realize how important this work is, over singing in a bar." Admiral Nelson said crossing his arms.
"You offering me a better contract?" She crossed her arms in an almost perfect imitation of his aggressive stance.
"All right. What do you want?"
Lee was finding the situation incredibly amusing. Did the Admiral know what she was doing?
"The money is ok, I can't grouse about that. I want extra for overtime, Dr.Emory doesn't watch the clock too damn close. A nice apartment to rent." She took a deep breath. "And you make him listen to me when I have ideas. He doesn't know a damn thing about how I'm communicating with the dolphins." She pointed a finger at Dr.Lucius Emory, Nobel prize winner and brilliant scientist, who was standing with his mouth open.
"Oh he doesn't does he? What makes you so sure?" Nelson's voice was deceptively soft. Lee Crane shifted from one foot to the other, he knew that tone of voice real well. It looked like the young woman was going to go back to singing in nightclubs after all.
"Because it isn't about speech or words. It's about healing, physical and psychic healing. They are teaching me to sing away pain. You haven't been to hear me sing at the nightclub. It's different, they don't come to drink anymore. They are coming to feel better. Until the owner figured on charging a cover charge, I almost lost my job. The patrons had stopped drinking. There's more." She looked at the Admiral and then Dr.Emory.
"Go on."Admiral Nelson said. Dr. Emory looked thoughtful, rubbing his ear.
She paused if making a major decision and continued in a quiet strained voice. "I've had nightmares, bad nightmares all my life. They're gone. I'm having dreams with dolphins and people in them instead. The people are in trouble and I am helping the dolphins rescue them. At first it was just feelings, but now I am getting images...there was someone swimming in warm water, lots of sharks nearby, but they were watching over him. They, we were protecting him." She ran her hand nervously through her hair. Her eyes darted between the Admiral and Lucius Emory.
"You said this work is important. Yeah I think it is too, I already turned down a record deal and concert date in Vegas, but I can still walk out of here, too." She said angrily into the silence.
"Lucius?" Nelson said.
"I don't know Harry..." He looked thoughtfully at her and the dolphins. "Can you prove it?"
"With meters and gauges? No I don't think so."She said gesturing around them at the banks of electronic equipment. "Maybe you'll just have to listen."
Chip Morton stared at the telephone receiver like it was going to bite off his ear. He expected the telephone system in La Paz less than efficient, but it was the American operator giving him grief.
He had tried to call to the Institute collect and got hung up on, by Angie of all people!. When he tried again, he didn't even get beyond the switchboard before the call was terminated. He then tried Lee's home number only to be informed by a nasty recorded message:
"I am sorry. The number you have reached is no longer in service. Please check the number you are calling, or ask the operator for assistance."
He even called his parent's and was given the same message. When he tried number information, he was informed that the numbers he wanted were unlisted. What was going on? He began to feel angry. It had taken him two long days to hitch to La Paz. His food was all gone and his last pitiful bag of belongings was stolen sometime earlier. And now this.
He had already tried to get help from the police, but had been
unconditionally thrown out with the threat of jail if he hung around pestering
them. Catching sight of himself in a mirror, he wasn't surprised that he
presented an unsavory picture. He was dressed in simple cotton peasant clothes.
His usually neatly cut hair was long enough to touch his collar and fell onto
his forehead. He had a fairly good beard and mustache already. The police must
have figured him for a hippie down on his luck, trying to mooch a ride home. The
nearest American Consulate was at Matzatlan which was only across the Gulf of
California, but might as well be on the moon. He had only a few pesos left after
his abortive attempts to call for help, just enough to buy himself a meal or
find a place to sleep for the night.
He wandered down by the docks, feeling awfully conspicuous with his fair coloring. Someone suddenly grabbed his arm and pulled him around. He found himself staring into a familiar face, Paco. All the frustrations of the last days burst out of him and he swung his fist straight into the startled man's gut and then finished with a crashing uppercut. Paco dropped like a rock. Shaking his stinging fingers he looked around and picking up the unconscious man went to look for Paco's boat. Luckily it wasn't too far. He dumped Paco on the deck and started to cast off. The silent crewman came out of the cabin, saw Paco unconscious on the deck, spat overboard and began to help Chip untie the boat and set sail across the Gulf of California 100 miles or so to Matzatlan.
Paco came to swearing obvious filthy oaths in Spanish. He got a cold glare from Chip Morton. Morton was every inch the Executive Officer of the Seaview, capable of turning junior officers and seamen into quivering bowls of jello with a mere glance. Paco was no exception, he spent the 10 hours it took to make the crossing muttering vague curses in his cabin and trying to suborn the silent crewman who just spat and did what was needed to be done, but nothing more.
They were joined by some dolphins who paced themselves besides the boat. Chip tossed them a salute. He didn't think that they were the same dolphins that had saved him off the Seaview, but he was grateful anyway. Things had to get better in Matzatlan. Lee and the Admiral would probably fly down in the flying sub. They could go out for a few beers celebrate his survival. Have a party, have fun.
Bobby O'Brien's stag party was an unqualified success. Jokes and laughter flew around the room. The singer, Gwen Chance, the Admiral and Lucius had recommended was fantastic. She could sing everything from Gershwin to the Beach Boys. She certainly wasn't pretty, but before the night was half over, several men were head over heels in love with the charming brown-eyed creature. Her songs seem to reach into hearts and make them feel happy.
Lee watched her with amazement. When he'd met Gwen some days ago, he thought her plain, insignificant, and frankly a bit off the wall. She was a different person when singing.
He felt long held tension begin to ease from him. This is what he needed, it was what they all needed, good news, a cause to celebrate. Tomorrow was Bobby's wedding and then two days later, Thanksgiving. Barring any catastrophes , the crew would be spending the holiday with their families. He would be joining the Admiral and his sister again for Thanksgiving this year. The Admiral always invited those unable to go home, or who had no family for the holidays. This year there would be Lucius and Gwen Chance joining them.
Matzatlan was a large town with a sprawling waterfront. To get from the dock area to the American Consulate took Chip Morton a good three hours walk. His heart lifted when he reached the imposing building with the American flag flapping in the sun. Two Marines the size of small tanks were guarding the gate.
"I am Lieutenant Commander Morton." He stated crisply.
"Beat it buddy." One of the men grated.
"I have important business with the Consul. I need to get word to my ship that I am alive. Now, mister, you better let me pass." Mr. Morton looked the tall Marine coolly.
The Marine unconsciously shifted in response to the bark of command. His buddy wasn't so impressed.
"I don't know what your game is but you ain't getting in to the Consulate today."
If any crew member had seen the look in Lt.Cmdr.Morton's eyes at that moment they would have known that the Exec was boiling mad and someone was going to catch it good. Unfortunately the guards were Marines and didn't know any better.
"And why would that be Mister?" He crossed his arms and looked coldly at the guard.
The first guard looked at him, "What hole did you just crawl out of, it's Thanksgiving."
"Consulate's closed for the next four days. Come back on Monday, if you're
sober or come down off your latest high." The second guard said roughly and gave
a shove with his rifle. It was a real mistake. Unfortunately, it was followed by
another real mistake. Chip Morton shoved him back.
Standing guard duty in Matzatlan was not a peach of a job, but to have to pull duty on Thanksgiving when all the rest of the Consulate staff were stuffing their faces with turkey and goodies made the Marine standing guard just a little more ‘sensitive'. He swung up his rifle and clouted the scruffy looking blond on the side of the head. The man dropped onto his hands and knees, but didn't go all the way down. He slowly got to his feet, touched the side of his head which came away bloody.
"You damn jarhead. You just hit a superior officer. I'll have you on report for this." He grated between his teeth.
The Marine was a little nervous, his C.O. wouldn't like him hitting civvies, even if they started things or were completely kookie, like this hippie. "Beat it Jack. Before I call the Federales. You don't want to serve time in a Mexican jail do yah?" He took a threatening step towards the man. He was a little taken aback when he didn't back up. He felt an uneasy chill run up his spine. "Look come back Monday. OK?"
Even with blood on his face, wearing Mexican peasant clothes, sporting a
scruffy beard and mustache Chip Morton executed an Annapolis about face and
stalked away from the Consulate .
"Darn it Frank," the first guard hissed at his partner, "why did you go and hit that guy for?"
"Crazy hippie," Frank muttered defensively.
"Reminded me of someone..."the first guard said thoughtfully. It wasn't until they were relieved from duty some four hours later that he thought of who the man resembled. The hippie was just like the CO, one hell of an ... officer.
Chip Morton had no other place to go than the harbor. Paco and his boat were of course no longer there. He had managed to clean himself up at one of the decorative public fountains. The wound on his head didn't seem to bad. He was able to stop the bleeding, but he had a hell of a headache.
There was a heck of a ruckus going on at one of the docks. A Mexican Mariachi band was playing their hearts out, women dressed in bright Hollywood versions of Mexican peasant outfits (he'd seen the real thing in Sierra Norte) were singing and dancing. The deafening blast of a ship's horn drowned the noise. A large white cruise liner slid expertly into it's berth. Tourists were leaning over the sides of the boat waving and tossing confetti at the people on the dock. He blinked at the ship for a few minutes before registering the name printed in bold flowing script on the stern.
Here was his way home. He wasn't the clever sly ONI operative like Lee, but if he couldn't stow away on a cruise liner than he wasn't worth his commission. He gingerly touched the bump on the side of his head. The headache had finally settled itself into a constant throb, and no longer felt so bad. He listened carefully to the instructions blared out on the PA system.
"Welcome Ladies and Gentlemen to the lively port of Matzatlan. You will have all day to enjoy the sights and sounds of this festive Mexican port!" The mariachi band upped their tempo to match the sales pitch. "Remember to back by 8 p.m., that gives you lots of time to shop! Don't forget tonight is the gala Pacific Princess Thanksgiving festival. Enjoy your day!"
As soon as the gangplank hit the dock, streams of American tourists streamed onto the dock and into the tourist traps of Matzatlan.
Bobby and Carol O'Brien joined the group of eager tourists getting off the boat. They were such obvious newlyweds staring lovingly into each others eyes, arms so closely entwined that the crew of the Pacific Princess guessed that they were permanently joined at the hip.
If Bobby O'Brien had looked to the right when he disembarked he would have seen a scruffy looking fellow that without the mustache and beard could have been a dead ringer for the late Chip Morton, however his eyes were looking into the bright eyes of his new bride. They stopped on the dock for a close clinch and kiss, the other passengers flowed neatly around them.
If Chip Morton had looked to his right on the dock, he would have seen his second officer performing a tonsillectomy on a beautiful brunette, however he was looking to see where the crew of the Pacific Princess was stationing themselves at the foot and head of the gangplank.
He gauged his opportunity carefully, leaving very little to chance or bad planning. He waited until one of the tourists was returning to the ship with an armload of souvenirs. Among the souvenirs was a wide colorful Mexican hat. He plopped the hat on his own head and laughing grabbed some of the packages.
"Here, let me help you with all that!" He said cheerfully, "John isn't it? We saw each other in the bar last night, remember?"
The tourist looked at him a little blankly and then smiled, " My name is Chet. You are the guy from San Berdu aren't you? Uh Mitch?"
"Nah." They were passing the purser at the bottom of the gangplank who was trying to look as if this wasn't about the most boring job in the world." Chuck from Petaluma. Computer stuff."
"Yes, right." He looked curiously at the blond's get up. "You don't look like your dressed right..."
Chip Morton forced a bright laugh. "Great get up isn't. Traded the whole outfit for my old polyester leisure suit. The guys at work are gonna bust a gut when they see this!"
"Damn!" Chet said in admiration. "Why didn't I think of that? What a great idea. Don't suppose you'd sell that to me." The crew woman at the head of the gangplank was watching them a little suspiciously, but luckily someone came up to her to ask a question. When she looked again she heard them wrangling over some souvenir good-naturedly.
"C'mon Chuck. Be a pal..."Chet was wheedling his new friend.
"Well Chet, since you are such a good fellow. I'll make you a deal..."
About 10 minutes later, Chip Morton strolled onto the deck dressed in a pair of dark blue shorts and a t-shirt that had printed on it "Property of Los Angeles Fire Department". The shorts were about two sizes too big, but he had appropriated Chet's belt when he wasn't looking. Chet was the happy owner of a genuine Mexican peasant outfit.
Casually, and with what he thought quite a bit of skill he managed to acquire a pair of sunglasses, a baseball cap, and a left over plate of sandwiches. He was studying the layout of the Pacific Princess printed on a wall chart when he heard a voice behind him.
"Looking for something, sir? Can I help?"
He turned to see a young crewman looking helpful and eager.
"No thanks. Just looking." Chip said and tried to smile. He could feel his headache coming back.
"Well, sir. Anything you need. Just ask for Gopher, Ok?" he said enthusiastically.
Somehow the young man reminded Chip of McGinty. He must have groaned out loud, because the young man was looking at him worriedly. "Are you all right sir? You don't look so good." Gopher said solicitously.
"Just a bit too much sun..."Chip explained. "I'll just go lie down in my cabin and then I'll be all right."
"Do you want any help, I'll be happy...."
"I'm fine."Morton said a little sharply. He had to shake this McGinty clone and find a place to hide. A nice quiet, dark place. "Dismissed." He turned and walked away before he realized what he had just said. He turned and saw the young man scooting off in the other direction. At least the young man obeyed orders. He made his way down to the bowels of the ship, just below the waterline. There seemed to be a lot of storage space here, maybe he could find a closet or something that wasn't locked. The headache was getting worse. He was going down a narrow flight of stairs when he felt the ship lurch and sway. He barely kept his hold on the bannister when the ship gave a nasty spin and wobble. He then realized that it wasn't the ship moving, but it was him that was swaying. He fell the last few steps of the stair, but he wasn't conscious enough to feel hitting the deck.
Purser "Gopher" Smith felt a little confused. The rest of the crew of the Pacific Princess felt that this was only normal for Gopher.
"Say Isaac," he said approaching the bartender. "Do you remember a passenger, blond with a beard and mustache?"
"Mr.Grayson, but his beard is more grey than blond."
"No. This is a young man. Pretty good shape, though he didn't look so good when I saw him last. There was something funny about the way he acted..."
"Ha ha funny or strange funny." He cocked an eyeball at his friend.
"Strange. I asked him if he was all right and he said just too much sun. I offered to help and he bit my head off then he sounded just like the Captain."
"Oh. So he hurt your feelings and you think that is strange." He waved to the cruise director who was passing by. "Gopher says we have a strange passenger on board."
"A stowaway?"The blond woman said and looked questioningly at the younger man.
"That's it. I would have remembered a guy like that. He looked like a blond pirate. I bet he's a hippie trying to hitch a ride. Remember the three we caught last month."
"Come to think of it," Julie the cruise director said, a slight frown marring her brow. "There was a passenger in a Mexican outfit that came on board with Chet, um the fireman from LA. I thought it a little strange."She blushed slightly. She and the fireman had been having a hot time together this cruise.
"Shoot! We sail in less than an hour. It will take us ages to find him." Gopher Smith said worriedly.
"Yeah Captain Stubing will have a cow if we are delayed." Isaac added helpfully.
"There goes my Thanksgiving dinner." Gopher groaned."Maybe he is a passenger..."he added hopefully and looked at his friends who looked at him sourly.
"You mean our Thanksgiving." Isaac frowned. "We better let the Captain know..."
"I don't want to tell the Captain..."Gopher began.
"And what is it that you don't want to tell me Gopher, hmm?" The smooth voice of Captain Stubing cut in.
"Ah, Umm. Well sir." Gopher stuttered.
"We think that we have a stowaway, sir."Julie cut in helpfully. "A young blond man with a mustache and a beard. I think he's an American."
"Terrific."Stubing said drily. "This time we set sail first. I'm not delaying for one hippie."
"I don't think he's a hippie..."Gopher blurted out.
"Why's that Mr.Smith?"the Captain said rather impatiently.
"He reminded me of you sir. Kinda..."
"I don't care if he is the reincarnation of Captain Kidd. No one in the crew enjoys Thanksgiving till we find the miscreant. Got that.?"
"Yes sir" The three friends echoed miserably.
"Now, lets get this cruise underway." Captain Stubing said crisply.
Thanksgiving dinner was decidedly pleasant and relaxed. Edith had outdid herself on the groaning table. Conversation was witty and relaxed. After dinner, they moved into the living room to drink brandies and talk. Edith was showing Gwen some of the pictures around the room of the Nelson family and photographs of the crew.
"They are just as much family as the rest of them."Edith Nelson laughed lightly. "Harry, we should have some of these photos done in oils, so they can hang up with the rest of the family."
"Hey! I don't want my picture next to a pirate." Lee protested from the depths of an armchair, long legs stretched out leisurely.
"Lee!" Edith turned to him with her hands on her hips. "He was a privateer, not a pirate." She giggled "Of course that was his version of how the Nelson family fortune got started."
She turned back to Gwen who was studying a silver framed portrait of Admiral Nelson, Captain Crane, and a third man. Gwen touched the third man's face lightly with her finger.
"That's Chip Morton." Edith said sadly. "He died just recently. He was the Executive Officer on the Seaview. They were all very good friends."
"I know..."Gwen Chance looked at the man in the photo. There was something familiar about him. A sudden wave of dizziness overcame her and she felt herself falling into dark water.
She called to the singer of the ways. Her kin was swimming in the dark ways again. This time she was protected by the singer. It was the singer who took the male kin's thoughts and hurts and translated them into the song of the ways. Together they found the right healing and together they swam him out of the dark ways. Before parting to their own rightful worlds the three of them met and touched. The first note of a song not sung in many many long lives was sung.
He woke up with a ringing in his ears. It wasn't too unpleasant, matter of fact when the ringing faded away he felt that he was missing something important. He was content to lie still with his eyes closed. Eyes, just like before, the honey eyes. Her eyes. The song...then there were voices.
"That's him! That's the guy!" The voice was loud and enthusiastic. "Man! He doesn't look too good. Look at the bump on his head."
"I better go get Doc Bricker.."another voice, less sharp came from nearby.
He opened his eyes to see the worried face of the Gopher McGinty two inches from his own.
He groaned more in frustration at having that face in front of him rather than the nagging pain in his head.
He felt an awkward pat on his shoulder, the shoulder that Paco had so nicely bruised. "You'll be all right. Isaac has gone to get the doctor. Are you hurt anywhere else?"
"Just a pain in the b..." Morton paused. He could feel the vibration of the motors under him. "We are underway." It was a statement.
"We left Matzatlan about two hours ago." Gopher said helpfully.
He felt a smile curve his face. He was on his way home.
Captain Stubing was checking out their course heading on the bridge before returning to the Thanksgiving dinner party.
"I take it everything is all right?" He asked his first officer
"Yes sir. No problems sir. You might want to let some of the passengers know about the dolphins, sir. It's quite a sight."
"Yes sir."his executive officer said enthusiastically. "They have been bowriding since we left port. You'd think they would get tired after four hours."
Stubing shook his head. "Well, who knows maybe they are celebrating Thanksgiving, too. Carry on Mister." The Captain of the Pacific Princess went back to his dinner, his ship escorted by over 60 dolphins taking turns bowriding the great white cruise ship.
"Well young man, I'd say you were pretty lucky. That's a nasty lump you've got on your head." Adam Bricker, the doctor on the Pacific Princess, had just finished bandaging Chip Morton's head. He looked sympathetically at him. "You know I could tell the Captain you're not in too good shape. He might go lighter on you. You could spend the rest of the cruise here in sickbay."
Chip Morton looked at him and shook his head. "Thanks, but no thanks Doc. I don't hang around sickbays one second more than I need to. By the way, thanks for the razor and change of clothes." Morton felt more like himself even though he thought the Pacific Princess version of Navy whites a mere cheap imitation of his own tailored uniforms. He had shaved off the beard, but on a whim kept the mustache. A shower, a large turkey sandwich, and a headache pill helped him feel almost human.
"Besides which," he continued. "I'm hoping your Captain is a reasonable man."
"Well...yes. Captain Stubing has been known to be reasonable, up to a point. But I have to warn you Mr.Morton he doesn't take kindly to stowaways. Matter-of-fact he gets pretty upset. Look, here's some pills for your headache, don't take more than three in a day and always at least 8 hours apart. Come and see me if the pain persists."
Despite being obviously escorted by a burly security officer, Chip Morton felt more relaxed than he had in days. This was his world, a ship at sea. He was directed to the Captain's cabin. The Captain was pacing in front of his desk. Chip minded his manners and stood at attention. The Captain automatically saluted back, then seemed to start, realizing that this was a stowaway, not a crew member.
"Well, Mr. ah Morton. I don't appreciate finding stowaways on my boat. I don't appreciate having to waste time and my crew finding you, at all. At this point, I have two options. One is just to throw you overboard" Chip flinched."or have you work your passage.
"Captain Stubing..."Chip Morton began, "I have a good explanation why I stowed away..."
The irritated man held up a hand. "Yes, yes, you people always do. But you know what? I don't give a damn what your excuse is, good or otherwise. You are a stowaway. I don't put up with stowaways on my ship. I hope you like water, because you will spend the next three days washing dishes and will be locked up in the brig for evenings. Johnson show this man to the brig. Take him in the morning at 06:00 to kitchen ‘A'. Good night."
Chip opened his mouth to protest, to say something, but then closed it again. It just wasn't worth it any more. In three days he'd be in LA, back in the States. Close enough to Santa Barbara to find his own way home. He set his jaw tight, even though it caused the headache to flare to a new uneasy tempo.
Bobby O'Brien looked at his reflection in the mirror doubtfully, the white trousers were snug, matter of fact they were tight and then flared out to what he thought was ridiculously wide around the lower part of his legs. The matching jacket fit snugly over his shoulders and the dark blue shirt had the first three buttons undone showing what Carol had loving called his wall-to-wall carpet of chest hair. The heavy gold chain he was wearing kept getting snagged in the hairs and pulling them out the hard way. He sighed and brushed his hair into it's usual neat part.
"No dear, he combs it like this." His bride of four days came up to him and
taking the comb out of his hand lovingly combed his hair straight off his
forehead. "Mmm that's better." Her eyes sparkled with love and humor seeing her
rather shy, diffident Bobby transformed into the disco king. He returned her
smile and putting his hands on her hips pulled her to him. "We could have dinner
here again..."He said suggestively his hands and eyes roaming over her silver
"Bobby, the idea of this cruise is to have fun, not spend all our time in the cabin." Carol O'Brien blushed prettily.
"Oh I don't know, I thought we were having fun..." He grinned at her and pulled her into a totally satisfying kiss.
The O'Briens showed up late for dinner, almost everyone had already gone on to the Disco Party that was being held in the grand ball room. Busboys were helping the waiters clean up.
Chip Morton was tired. The work wasn't hard, just incredibly boring. It had taken him only a few minutes for his organizational abilities to figure out the best way to efficiently stack and load the giant dishwasher. He relaxed enough into the rhythm of the dirty dishes coming in and going out clean to almost forget about his headache. He even got a certain satisfaction cleaning some of the giant pots and pans by hand. At least the food was good and plentiful.
The ship's doctor had come down to see him earlier. He snorted, Adam Bricker was no match for the wiley Commander Morton, he wasn't going to end up in Sickbay, even one that had curtains on the windows and played Muzak.
It was towards the end of his shift and he was helping some of the waiters clear the tables in the dining room. There were still a few people eating, most of them had left to enjoy other entertainments. His eyes fell on one couple a few tables over, the woman was a stunning brunette dressed in a silver number that barely covered her ample charms. He looked at her appreciatively, a much better sight than a greasy dish any day. The man she was with was kissing her hand suggestively. Chip did a double take, the guy looked just like Bobby O'Brien. Then he looked again. Nah, Bobby wouldn't be caught dead in a get up like that. He went back to his work.
Bobby was nibbling his wife's fingers when he saw out the corner of his eye a familiar face. He sat up straighter and saw a tall thin blond man clearing dishes off the tables efficiently. My God, except for the mustache the guy was a dead ringer for the late Commander Morton. He grinned. Nah, Morton bussing tables? He went back to his fun.
Captain Merle Stubing liked to visit all of his departments as often as possible. He felt that it was good for morale and a happy ship was a well-run ship. The fact that he felt a little guilty about his sharp treatment of the stowaway yesterday had nothing to do with him stopping in the main kitchen that evening. He stopped to talk to Mrs.Pearson the motherly looking manager of the kitchen.
"How's Morton working out?" He asked her, watching the man expertly stack and load.
"Well, he's being wasted washing dishes, I can tell you that. Hire him Merle,
I could use a man like him here. Look how he has arranged the stacking. He
figured that out after ½ an hour. The washline never moved so
smoothly. We didn't even have any lagging for lunch, you know that's a problem
we've been trying to solve for months."
"Well, um yes, I suppose he might need a job. You can ask him, if you really trust him enough."
"Hmm. Yes there is something about him. He reminds me of you, somehow."
"You know Gopher said the very same thing." Captain Stubing stood a little taller and subconsciously ran his hand over his balding head. "We are both good-looking men."
"Right Merle." The kitchen manager patted his arm." Oh while you are here would you mind looking at my proposal for next year's refitting of the freezers?" Mrs. Pearson went back to more pressing business than that of hiring a new pearl diver.
Admiral Nelson watched his sister talking earnestly to Gwen Chance on the other side of the large living room. The startling events of the previous evening had not been forgotten by anyone in the room. Gwen had apparently fallen into a faint or some kind of trance. When she came out of it she said that Morton was alive. They had tacitly decided to forget the incident. All except for Lucius, of course, who was tenacious and curious. Qualities that made him an excellent researcher, but as a person - a pain in the neck.
"Well Harry?" Dr.Emory prompted quietly in his ear.
"Look Lucius," Nelson growled at his erstwhile friend sitting next to him on the sofa,"I admit that she could have some psychic connection with the dolphins, but to claim that Chip Morton was alive...No, I'm sorry, that just isn't possible! Now, she has agreed that it could have been someone who looked like Chip. Or there could be many other logical explanations."
"The question is Admiral," Lee Cranes quiet voice came from behind the couch where the two men were sitting."Why would she tell us Chip was alive? It doesn't make sense."
"This is all a moot point right now gentlemen." Harriman Nelson said firmly." I promised Miss Chance that we would not approach this subject today. Now, let's join the ladies." He said with a finality that even Lucius Emory bowed to.
Mrs.Pearson pressed the envelope into Chip's hand. "You've done a good job, better than most people would have done under the circumstances."
Chip Morton opened the envelope and found two twenty dollar bills.
"I was a stowaway, I was working for my passage." He said slowly.
The kitchen manager looked him in the eye. "I pay my staff what they are worth. I wish you would reconsider a job here, with some experience under your belt in a few years you could handle my job."
He smiled at the kitchen manager, she was a hard taskmaster, but a fair one. "Thank you, but I really do have a job already."
"Oh, Executive Officer on a nuclear submarine." He said casually.
"My dear," Mrs. Pearson said sincerely, "I believe you. Now get along before the Captain comes down and finds you still here."
Chip Morton disembarked with some of the other service members of the crew. He hadn't seen the Captain, or luckily the eager Gopher fellow since they docked. The last two days of the cruise hadn't been too bad. He washed dishes and he slept. The only thing marring the fact that he was getting closer and closer to home was the constant nag of his headache.
He fingered the forty dollars in his pocket. It was late Sunday night. He could find a cheap place to sleep and try to call the Institute tomorrow morning. Or he could maybe get a bus to Santa Barbara tonight. He thought of spending the night in his own bed in weeks and that decided him. He caught a shuttle bus from the harbor to the Los Angeles Bus Station. It was well after midnight when he got to the bus station and found out that there was a bus leaving in 20 minutes for Santa Barbara. It gave him enough time to grab a cup of coffee to wash down one of the headache pills and to eat a stale danish.
The bus was packed with people returning from Thanksgiving holiday feasts or visits or whatever. He found himself wedged next to a sleepy student with a backpack and three or four extra bags draped around him. The bus trip took about three hours due to the number of passengers getting on and off despite the late hour. At one break for coffee, Chip took another one of the tablets to still the constant ache in his head. The pill seemed to ease the throbbing and he almost felt human when they finally arrived at Santa Barbara around 5:00 a.m.
Chip Morton breathed in the crisp fresh air of Santa Barbara. The tinge of salt from the nearby ocean in the scent lifted his spirits like the finest wine. He was home. He picked up a cab at the bus station and gave the man his address. When the cab pulled up in front of his quiet dark house he gave the man the rest of his money as a tip.
"Thanks bud." The taxi driver said. "Good to get home?"
"Oh yeah." Chip breathed."Real good."
Lee Crane woke up to an insistent pounding on his door, followed by the doorbell being leaned on. He glanced at the digital display on his alarm clock. Who in the hell wanted his attention at 5:45 on Monday morning?
He grabbed his robe and padded down the stairs to the front door. If it was someone from the Institute, surely they would have called.
"All right I'm coming." he muttered and then louder, "All right! I hear you." He shot back the safety lock and opened the door. He had only a glimpse of a man on his doorstep before a fist smashed in his chin. He staggered back, and then put his head down and in a flying tackle sent his early morning assailant off his front steps and onto the lawn. In the gloom of pre-dawn he couldn't get a good look at the man who attacked him, but he was good. He seemed to anticipate Lee's every move. Crane suddenly got the upper hand and had the man lying face down in the grass and in an arm lock.
"What the hell do you want? Who are you?" He hauled the arm lock up a little tighter.
"Dammit Lee, I had to practically walk home.." was the slightly muffled curse from the man with his face in the grass.
Lee Crane bounced off the body like he had been wrestling with an electric eel. He stood back and watched as Chip Morton pulled himself to his feet and turned around.
"You grew a mustache." was the only thing he could say at the moment.
Then he grinned like an idiot and grabbed his friend in a bear hug and then started pounding him on the back.
"You're alive! Chip! You're here!"
"Careful Lee...the shoulder." Chip grimaced.
"Are you hurt, do you need a doctor? I'll call Jamie."
"No. It's just a shoulder that other captains seem to like to pound on." Chip frowned remembering Paco, the smuggler.
"How? What? No, don't say a thing. I'll call the Admiral. You can tell us both at the same time. Come on into the house." He said his hand gripping his friends arm in silent need to make sure he was there. He was brought up short by a resistance he felt from Chip.
"I went home first, my house, my stuff, it was empty. Your phone number changed. My parents number changed. I tried to get a hold of you. I got hung up on! Dammit Lee! It was like I was forgotten. I had to get here on my own. Did you even try to find me? " Morton's voice became harsher. "I nearly ended up in a Mexican jail. I almost died, twice. Where were you? Where was the Admiral?" He pulled his arm out of Lee's grip. "To hell with you all!"
Chip Morton stood stiff with anger and then turned and stalked away.
"Chip...no. Wait. We looked..." He found himself talking to his friend's back as he walked away. He stood there breathing heavily as he watched him leave. Suddenly he sprinted after Morton. He swung him around by the arm.
"By God, I lost you once. I'm not going to let that happen again. I don't know what has happened to make you so angry, but we'll settle it. You hear me Chip?" He shook his friend's shoulder gently. Morton stood silently his face unreadable in the gloom of pre-dawn. He took a deep breath.
"God, Lee, I'm so tired..."He seemed to go boneless under Lee Crane's hand. He quickly put Chip's arm over his shoulder and walked him towards the beckoning light of his open front door, gradually feeling more of Morton's weight settling on him. Once inside the house he deposited his friend on the couch and got his first good look at someone back from the grave.
Morton was well-tanned, but the planes of his face seemed sharp and there were deep lines around his mouth not well hidden by the straggly mustache. His hair was shaggy and he could see a small white bandage on one side of his head. Chip looked thin, too thin, and the usually bright blue eyes looked dull and almost lifeless.
Lee picked up the phone and quickly dialed a number keeping his eyes on Chip. Chip's head had fallen back on the sofa and his eyes were closed.
"Jamie? Yeah I know what time it is. I need you here, right away. No I'm fine. Just get over here. " He hung up and walked over to the sofa. "Chip? C'mon. Lie down. Jamie will be here soon." He got only a muttered protest as he pulled Chip's legs up on the sofa and took off his shoes.
Lee picked up the phone again and called the Admiral. "Admiral...Chip.....Chip's here. No, I am not dreaming nor am I delusional. He's asleep on my sofa. I don't know how, but he got himself home. I'm not sure, I called Jamie. He'll be here in about five minutes. Yessir I swear it's Chip. He's alive. Good I'll see you soon."
"Who's next on the guest list?" Chip said sourly from the couch.
"C'mon Chip."Lee said getting a little angry at his stubborn friend. "Give me a chance to explain. I went through hell searching for you. Three days we looked. Everyone said it was hopeless from the beginning, but I still looked. I didn't want to believe it. How could you think I would forget you? Huh? You're my best friend, dammit you're like a brother. I had to leave you out there all alone..." Both men were glaring at each other when the doorbell rang shrilly.
Lee went over to answer it and silently let in Will Jamieson. Jamieson had a coat on over pyjamas. "This better be important Lee..." He then caught sight of Chip Morton lying on the couch propped up on one elbow. "Well I'll be damned." He walked over and pulled up a chair next to the sofa. "One of my favorite patients. Well, Mr. Morton let's see what kinda shape you are in." He expertly whipped a blood pressure gauge out of his bag and had the cuff on Chip before he could protest. "So, how did you get here?" He asked casually all the time taking visual stock of probable injuries. He noted the blood pressure and deftly stuck a thermometer in his mouth. "Never mind. Keep that in your mouth while I take your pulse. No, no talking yet." Lee looked on as the doctor examined Morton. Chip lay back silently, his eyes closed, passively accepting the doctor's poking and prodding. His eyes flashed open when Jamie touched the head wound.
"Concussion?" Morton nodded slowly.
"How long ago?" Jamie took the thermometer out glanced at it and raised an eyebrow at Morton.
"Three, no four days ago."
"No, not at first. Later."
"Still got a headache? Taking any meds?"
"Yeah. " He fumbled in his pants pocket and pulled out a small bottle. "Took one in LA when the ship docked, uh 20.00. Had another on the bus.. Maybe two. Look I'm ok. Just tired. Go away, leave me alone." He pulled petulantly away from the doctor. Jamieson frowned at the pills, opened the bottle and quickly counted them.
"Good. Show a little fight. I thought you were Chip Morton's doppleganger. You were too cooperative. Ok Lee, let's put him in your spare room. I think a nice nap will do the XO a world of good." As he bent to help Chip up, the front door exploded open and Admiral Nelson sailed in.
"It is you! Chip lad. You're home!" He stopped short when he caught sight of the cold glare cut him by Morton.
"Am I? Home? I don't think so. Doctor, I think I'd rather sleep somewhere else."
Jamieson shot a warning glance at Lee Crane who was moving towards Chip with an angry, but hurt expression on his face. "Fine with me Mr.Morton." The doctor stood up and started to walk to the door "Come on, I'll take you to the clinic."
Chip glared at him, swung his legs over to sit on the couch and then stood up. He looked coolly at Lee Crane and the Admiral as if to say, see I'm in control. He took about three steps towards the door when he felt the room move around him and two pairs of arms caught him.
"Gotcha" Lee said supporting him on one side.
"It's all right, lad. We're here." The comforting rumble of the Admiral's voice came on the other side. He let himself be led to a soft comfortable bed, familiar voices were talking to him quietly as he slipped into the warm comfortable waters of sleep.
She pulled him near. Her voice like liquid. As usual the eyes drew him
closer first. "Listen,"she sang to him, "Let go of the hurt. Listen. Listen to
those who care."
"They left me." he wanted to argue.
"And you left them." Her voice was soft "They are feeling the same hurt as you."
I was alone.."
There was a silence and he felt uneasy.
"Honey eyes? Honey?" Where was she?
"I - I was there" she said slowly, "I was with you and the dolphins were
"But you are a dream..."
He had a flash of an image of someone sitting by water crying as if their
heart were breaking. Three dolphins were in the water.
She was gone.
"Honey. Honey."He called but she didn't answer. Then he realized that he really was alone.
Someone was talking to him. "...then Bobby got married last week. We had a great party for him. I think it was the first time in a month that I felt I could enjoy myself. We all missed you, the crew ...well they missed you. Things just weren't the same. Chip? Are you awake?"
"How can I sleep with you talking all the time?" He cracked open his eyes and looked into Lee Crane's worried eyes. "Lee? Where am I? Did I make it back?" He lifted his hand to his head and encountered a bandage. "What happened?"
Lee Crane smiled in relief. Chip had slept for 28 hours after his collapse. Dr.Jamieson said it had been a combination of exhaustion, stress, a half-healed concussion and an overdose of the pain meds he had taken.
"You're in my spare bedroom. Yes, you're back. I don't know how the hell you did it but you came back. I guess you took the long way home."
Chip Morton frowned and picked at the blanket covering him. "Uhh did I hit
you last night?"
He lifted his eyes to look at Lee.
Crane rubbed his jaw. "Yeah, Chip. Doc said that you were still slightly concussed and that you overdid on the pain medicine. It kinda made you ah punchy."
"No, I hit you cause I wanted to." Chip sighed. "I felt like you had left me, on purpose. No wait, let me get this out, "he held up his hand as Lee began to interrupt.
"I didn't think of how you all felt. It was my fault. I sent McGinty away. I was on the conning tower by myself. I wanted to blame you for what happened. It took a lot to get here. No one would listen to me or believe my story. I was mad at all those people too. I just took it out on you. I'm sorry Lee."
Lee grinned at his Executive Officer. "You know Mr.Morton, I promised Sharkey that when I got you back on board you'd be doing latrine duty for a month. From the looks of you it looks like you already served enough punishment duty. I think we'll call it quits hmm? Are you hungry?"
"Hungry? Captain, I could eat a horse with a side of chili."
"Well I gotta a special cook waiting to practice on you." He went to the door and opened it. "He's awake and starving."
"But of course he is." Chip heard a familiar voice and his mother came bustling into the room.
"Mom! What are you doing here? How?"
His mother came and put her arms around him and hugged him fiercely. "Oh darling. We thought you were dead. The Admiral called us right away, we came yesterday, Chief Sharkey flew us in the flying watchamacallit."
"Yesterday? How long have I been asleep."
"Over 24 hours." His father was standing in the door holding a tray of food. "Just like your mom, she forgot your lunch. He put the tray on the table by the bed. He touched his son's shoulder. "Welcome back son."
A contented Chip Morton was sitting in Admiral Nelson's office at the Institute. He'd just had a massive lunch in the commissary with Lee and they were now enjoying a cup of coffee and big plate of brownies that Angie had plopped in front of him while waiting for the Admiral. His uniforms still hung on him, but with a little more spoiling from Cookie and the secretaries that wasn't going to be a problem for long.
Lee reached for one of the goodies and popped the sweet thing into his mouth.
"Hey! Angie said they were mine" Morton complained.
"You'll go into sugar shock if you eat all of those." Crane pointed out snagging another one.
Admiral Nelson came hurrying in and both men got to their feet. He waved them absentmindedly to their seats. He poured himself a cup of coffee from the coffee machine and sat down.
"Well Chip." He said and moved the plate of brownies closer to his elbow and helped himself. "I want to hear the story of how you survived. The whole story son."
Chip Morton took a deep breath. "It may sound pretty fantastic Admiral, but I seemed to have been rescued by dolphins."
Lee Crane set his coffee cup down with a distinct smack on the edge of the Admiral's desk. He shot a sharp look at the Admiral.
"Now wait a moment Chip, did you say dolphins? Are you sure?" When the Executive Officer nodded slowly, Nelson looked at him measuredly. "Lee, I think we better have Lucius in to hear this. If you don't mind Commander?"
Chip shook his head, "No sir, not at all."
Nelson spoke into his intercom. "Angie, see if Dr.Emory can join us. Right away. Tell him it's about his dolphins, that will get him here."
The plate of brownies had dwindle to two by the time Dr.Emory came to the Admiral's office. Lee, had at one point opened his mouth to say something, but a warning nod by the Admiral stilled his comments.
"This had better be good Harry. ‘That woman' has been difficult again, Nico and Milla are most upset." Dr. Lucius said hurrying into the room.
"That's so like you Emory to remember your dolphins names, but forget your assistant's name." Harriman Nelson pointed to a chair and handed him the last of the brownies."Now Mr.Morton continue with your story of how you were rescued."
"I was rescued by dolphins sir. They had been bowriding that night, so when I ahem fell overboard they were there. At least I think so, I don't have too much memory of that night." He spread his hands apologetically. "I have vague feelings, images of being pushed, or carried and ...." He paused. The other three men were watching him intently. Lucius Emory was frozen in place, a half-eaten brownie in his hand, the crumbs dribbling unnoticed onto the Admiral's carpet. Should he mention the dreams, the other things? Well it was a crazy story anyway..."songs sir. I remember music. And I had dreams about dolphins."
"Ahhhhh." Lucius Emory gave a satisfied sound. "Songs. Yes. Dreams even better. Harry.."
"Let's hear Chip's story to the end first..."Nelson interrupted the excited researcher," then we'll see about your questions."
"...when I got home and found my house locked and empty. It was just the last straw. I was really angry and went to confront Lee. I suppose I'm guilty of hitting a superior officer." Chip Morton looked around the room, at some point in his story night had fallen and soft lights illuminated the office and the three men who had listened to an amazing story of survival, stubbornness, bad luck, and miracles. "I could always go back to the Pacific Princess and wash dishes. Mrs.Pearson did offer me a job." His smile didn't quite reach his somber blue eyes.
"Oh I don't know Chip. Maybe ‘Paco is the Captain' will take you on as an apprentice smuggler." Lee smiled at his friend. It was a strange story and almost comic, yet he could see that Chip wasn't ready to laugh off his experiences.
To Dr.Emory's dismay Chip downplayed the role of the dolphins in his adventures. Chip Morton was a man with two feet planted firmly on the deck of his ship, he wasn't about to elaborate on any dreams or feelings he had. He was holding back on details, details Lucius Emory wanted.
"Commander Morton. You have left out some of the more important parts of your story." Emory began leaning towards Morton.
Chip Morton shifted uncomfortably in his chair. He was hungry, he was tired, and frankly telling the story was harder than he thought it would be. It was disturbing to talk about his experiences even in front of these men who were his friends.
"Not now Lucius." Nelson said kindly. "We've heard enough for today." He shook his head, he knew that Morton was a determined man who got things done, but to survive all he did and do what he did was amazing. The man was even unaware of the pivotal role the dolphins had in his adventure. He wasn't sure if the blond officer was ready to hear about it. It had only been two days since he got back from his travels, Jamieson had pronounced him physically fit, but said Chip's mental state would still be fragile. Telling his story helped. Telling the minute details to a picky Lucius Emory would not.
"Well Chip. I think a steak dinner was mentioned at some point." Harriman stood up as did the other three men.
"Yessir." Chip Morton said enthusiastically, "With all the trimmings. I'm starved."
"And I am buying." Admiral Nelson said smiling at his junior officer. He put a hand on the younger man's shoulder. "Good to have you home, lad." He said with real feeling, and put his other hand on Captain Crane's shoulder. "Gentlemen. See you tomorrow Lucius. Oh, and tell Gwen she was right, we should have listened."
They left a frustrated Lucius Emory behind. As they were in the hall, Lucius heard Commander Morton ask innocently, "Who is Gwen?"
He let himself into the dolphin pool area with his passcard, this seemed to be the only place at the institute where he felt some calm and peace, despite Emory's constant probing about his dolphin experiences. He'd only been gone for a few weeks and back for just as long, yet it seemed to him that nothing was right. The crew felt they had to keep him wrapped up in cotton wool and dammit they were always watching him. Things between Lee and him were strained. Lee was trying, but all he could still feel was hurt, anger, and betrayal. God knows he didn't want to feel the way he did, but it was like a poison in his system. He shook his head. He just didn't fit in anymore. It was like being in Mexico again, not understanding what was going on around him.
He was surprised to see that there was someone there already. At first he felt anger that someone had found his hiding place when he realized that the person sitting hunched up at the edge of the pool was sobbing if their heart was breaking. He stood unsure in the shadows watching. Three dolphin heads were watching the person crying and were whistling. He had an uneasy flash of dejá vu. Then he realized who it was, the young woman who was working with Lucius Emory on the dolphin speech experiments. Lucius had interviewed him closely about his dolphin encounters and had mentioned that he had someone working for him who was learning to imitate dolphin speech. He had met her briefly, said something meaningless, and left. He couldn't even remember her name. Did Lucius even give her a name? Lucius could tell you minute details about every creature he dealt with, but people and especially women were non-entities for him. Oh yeah, Gwen Chance. He was going to leave her to herself when a sharp whistle from one of the dolphins made her turn her head sharply.
"Who's - who's there?" She jumped to her feet and turned around swiftly to peer into the darkness. She seemed to lose her balance and fell into the pool. Without a thought he ran to the edge of the pool and jumped in after her. There was a confusing melee of arms, legs and dolphins pushing and prodding and then he surfaced with her held firmly in his arms. She was crying and coughing, and hitting at him, trying to push him away.
"Stop it you idiot. I'm trying to help you." he said a little more sharply
than he meant to.
"I'm not an idiot!"she sniffed, "And I don't need any help."
"Right." he said and released her. He swam the few strokes to the edge of the pool and pulled himself out. He waited at the edge of the pool for her to come out.
She was a dark blob in the water treading water. He could hear her crying still. He held out his hand. "Come on. I'm not leaving you in there." He wasn't sure if he would have to go in after her again when a hand reached out for his. It was a very strong grip, though he could feel that her fingers were cold. He pulled her easily out of the pool.
They were standing there dripping wet. He reached for her and she for him. They clung to each other, two people who had been saved from drowning in their own sorrows and losses. He was surprised how good it felt to just hold her and how good it felt to have her hold him. He suddenly realized that he was crying. All the pain, loss, frustration of his experience and the aftermath seemed to pour out of him and in its place was a warmth, a flowing in of music? She was humming against him, the sound seem to wrap around him.
When she lifted her face to him, his heart seemed to stop. It was her face he'd seen in his dreams. The warm honey eyes were looking at him straight to his soul.
"Honey?" he whispered.
"Yes." Was her answer and it was enough for now.
He surfaced on the pool and blew noisily, rather pleased with himself. It was fitting to have kin who were worth teaching. Look at Kin Who Has Fish, in all the turns of the tide they had lived near him, they had only succeeded in teaching him when to feed them and change the water in the pool.
Just one little nudge with his nose and the singer had fallen into the pool. The other kin very obligingly joined her. It had actually taken very little to bring them into the physical contact they both needed. He listened as their song began to take shape and grow. It was good. They were learning.