by Diane Farnsworth Kachmar
This story was printed in Seaview Sextant # 3
Nelson let the guards manhandle him into the general's office, inwardly pleased at the surprise that flashed across Chou's face. Harry stumbled as they pushed him again, knowing it would make him look even more pathetic. Chou had no concept of passive resistance.
The guard shoved him again. Harry fell in a heap at the general's feet. Nelson had not wiped his face, knowing Chou wouldn't understand honest tears. He would only think Nelson the weaker for them. Harry's anger threatened to spill over at the sight of his captor. He forced his ire down. No, not yet.
It took all Nelson had to lie quietly. This island meeting had been a bad idea from the start. Washington wanted the weapon. Damn greedy fools. There was no weapon here, only a power mad general with arms needs of his own. He hadn't given away anything to Chou and he wouldn't. Not now.
The impatient tap of jackboots passed by his head. Harry braced for a kick in his ribs. The general's boots stopped next to his head.
"You Americans!" Chou sneered. "You're always tough until someone kills one of your men. Your captain told me 'to go to hell' before I had him shot. That you would never talk. Now, you are going to tell me the missile codes, or I will shoot you."
Harry only half listened to the general's ranting. He was studying the room's layout. There was Chou and two guards. He'd have to move fast.
"Some Admiral! At least, you could die as well as your captain. Stand him up!"
The nearest guard reached down to grab his arm. Harry tore the machine gun from the unsuspecting man's slack grip. Nelson swung savagely, smashing the gun butt into the guard's face. The man fell down, screaming.
Rolling onto his stomach, Nelson leveled the gun on the other guard as he squeezed the trigger. The short burst cut the man in half, his return fire skittering across the floor. The guard cried out once as the bullets hit, then lay still.
Harry flung himself aside, rolling behind the shelter of the desk. Rising to his knees, he swept the gun in an arc, sighting Chou. The general had his gun drawn. Nelson ducked as several shots slammed into the desk. Then the general's hammer clicked on an empty chamber.
Harry rose to a half crouch. "Hold it, Chou!" Nelson brought the machine gun to bear. "Drop the gun!"
The general glared back with hate filled eyes, not moving.
Harry sighted down the gun, squeezing the trigger once.
The general's pistol flew out of his hand as Chou screamed in agony and blood spurted from his hand.
"I said, drop the gun!"
"Animal!" Chou screamed, clutching his wounded hand.
Nelson rose, keeping the gun aimed and ready. "You don't listen very well. Too many years of giving orders?"
Chou snarled something ugly in Chinese.
Harry moved from behind the desk, smiling coldly. "Really. I thought our little game had no rules."
"You have gained nothing, Nelson. The minute you leave this room, my guards will kill you."
"Not if they have to shoot through you, general. Now," Harry prodded Chou in the side. "Shall we go?"
"Where Captain Crane is."
Chou stared at him, surprised. "He cannot help you now, Nelson."
Harry lowered the gun muzzle below Chou's belt. "Either you can take me, or I give you another reminder who's in charge!"
The General blanched as he backed away. "I do not understand you, Nelson."
"No, you don't. Let's go."
Harry eased the door open. The path was clear. He pushed Chou out, keeping the gun pressed into his back. "Don't try anything, or I'll splatter you all over the courtyard. Move!"
Nelson warily crossed between the buildings. There were several discarded shell casings in the sand. Harry felt sick inside. He waited for an alarm to sound. There were no guards in sight.
Chou stopped at another door in the building where they had held Nelson prisoner. He fumbled for the key.
Harry reached down, taking the key ring. "Which one?"
"The large silver one."
Harry opened the padlock. Then he pushed the door open, shoving Chou in before him. The room was empty, save a pile of filthy mattresses in the center of the floor.
Lee lay face down. Blood stained his dirty khaki in several places. Harry shoved Chou to the far side of the room, slamming the door behind him. He knelt quickly beside Crane's limp figure, keeping his gun trained on Chou. Nelson did not want to verify his worst fear. There was no mistaking the slender build, the dark curly hair. He leaned over to check for a pulse in Lee's carotid artery. Something whistled past his ear.
Harry ducked, his hand falling from Lee's shoulder as he heard a thunk. He whirled, finding a knife buried to the hilt in the wall behind him. He raised the machine gun and fired, pulling the trigger over and over.
A red haze clouded his vision. For a moment nothing moved. Then Harry realized the machine gun was clicking on empty chambers. The room was full of smoke. Chou lay lifeless on the floor.
Sickened by the blood, Harry dropped onto the mattresses. He bowed his head, letting the gun fall slack to his side. The man deserved to die, but he hadn't wanted to butcher him like that.
Nelson drew himself up, wanting to fling the gun away.
No, he might still need it. The clip was empty, but the guards wouldn't know that.
Harry had to decide. Chou was dead and the remaining guards would have heard the shots. He had to get out. Except he couldn't leave Lee. Nelson’s pain turned into a gnawing ache in the pit of his stomach. He had to take Lee home. To be laid to rest by friends. Harry reached out to gently tousle Crane's dark hair. Lee was no longer the plebe he had 'adopted' so many years ago. It was too much to think he could never do it again.
Tears welled in his eyes, unwanted, blurring the scene before him. Harry rubbed a hand across his eyes. He heard a soft moan. Chou lay unmoving, that only left ....
"Lee?" He placed his hand on Crane's neck, hope welling up out of his despair. Cold, clammy -- but not stiff. After a moment of desperate searching, he found the weak, rapid pulse beat. Lee wasn't dead. At least, not yet.
He rolled Crane over gently, cradling his head. There was no blood on Lee's chest, only on his sleeves, his right shoulder and one pant leg. A trick?
"Lee, can you hear me?"
Crane's eyes fluttered, sliding half-open. They were glassy with shock. He had to stop the bleeding.
Harry wrested the knife from the wall, using it to rip the remains of Chou's shirt off his stiffening body. Nelson tied several bloody strips of shirt tightly around each of Lee's wounds. He had to get Lee to Doc.
Crane moaned again as pressure was applied to his shoulder wound. He moved his head slightly to one side, his eyes opening again.
"It's all right, son." Harry squeezed Crane's other shoulder. "We're going home."
"S -- sir?" Lee's voice was barely audible.
"I'm here, Lee."
"Shot -- to wound -- not kill -- didn't tell -- "
Nelson put his fingers lightly over Crane's lips. "Chou is dead. Nobody's telling him anything." Harry checked the shoulder bandage again, pulling the knot tighter.
"Wasn't -- much help -- " Lee's left hand lifted slightly, reaching for Harry, then fell back onto the mattress.
"Don't worry about that. Let's get out of here."
"No -- only slow -- "
"We go together!" Nelson put command into his voice.
Lee's eyes cleared for a moment as he tried to smile. "Aye -- sir," he whispered.
Nelson checked his other two bandages. They were staunching the bleeding. It was all he could do here. Chou had destroyed their raft and their radio transmitter, so he couldn't contact the sub. He had instructed Chip not to follow. Harry's feeling about the mission had been correct; it was a trap.
Their only option was the scuba tanks they buried on the beach. Could Crane survive the trip back to Seaview? If they stayed here, Lee would bleed to death.
Harry went to the door, easing it open. The courtyard remained deserted. Where were the other guards? Chou always threatened to send for them. He returned to Crane's side, shaking his good shoulder. "Lee? Are you with me?
Crane forced his eyes open with an effort. A moment later, he nodded weakly.
"Can you sit up?"
Harry slid his hand under Lee's shoulder, lifting. Crane winced, then bent forward.
Nelson rose, pulling Crane up after him by his uninjured arm. "Lean on me, son," he urged.
Lee's wounded leg buckled. Nelson caught him, then lowered him back to the mattress.
"No good -- can't -- "
"I'll carry you, son."
Lee shook his head.
"I've carried you before."
Crane smiled sheepishly, then nodded again. He went limp as Harry lifted him onto his shoulder's in a fireman's carry, taking care to hold onto the uninjured leg.
Nelson left the compound, making a beeline for the beach. He kept expecting a shout of alarm, but the only sound that pursued him was rustling palm trees. Could there be no others? He only ever seen two guards.
Harry dropped to the sand, sliding Crane off his shoulders. Lee moaned, his eyes glassy again.
Taking a quick bearing, Nelson moved to the rocks off to their left. A few swift digs into the soft sand and he struck metal. He pulled out the tanks, knocking the sand off them. He started to rig both units, then realized Lee couldn't carry a tank now.
Harry turned over the regulator in his hand. He'd have to rig for two and share the tank. He lifted one tank from the sand and turned it over, unsealing the cap on the second air outlet. He hooked in one regulator, testing it, then hooked up his own.
He shook the sand out of a face mask. He pulled it on, leaving it up on his forehead. Taking up the other mask and the double rigged tank he carried them to the edge of the surf.
He walked back to Crane. Lifting him again, Nelson moved him into ankle deep water. Lee drew back in pain as the salt water soaked his wounded leg. Harry braced him, reaching for the tank. "Lee." He waited.
Crane's head came up. Nelson gently fed the mouthpiece between his teeth as he turned the valve on the tank. The oxygen seemed to revive Lee a bit.
He fitted Crane’s mask carefully, taking care to make a good seal. Then Harry pulled down his own, shrugging the tank over one shoulder. He checked to make sure the air lines were clear and untangled. He didn't have much room for maneuvering.
He tugged, pulling Crane deeper. Checking Lee's mouthpiece once more, he made sure Crane was breathing regularly. Then Nelson dove beneath the water, taking Lee with him. Seaview had better be where he left her.
Lee was limp by the time the sub's silvery hull came into view. Harry came over the top, thumbing the hatch control and diving down into the tank. The cycle light inside flashed twice in rapid succession. Emergency. Nelson braced himself against the ladder as the water rapidly drained, letting Lee sag to the deck beside him.
The hatch door wheel spun and the door opened. Jamieson hopped over the sill, followed closely by his corpsman, Frank and Chip Morton. The doctor knelt beside Lee. Harry pulled his mask off, letting his tank slide to the deck.
After a cursory glance at his makeshift bandages, Will pushed up Lee's shirt sleeve, baring his wrist to quickly insert an IV. The corpsman wrapped a blanket around Crane. Chip reached for the scuba mouthpiece. He tugged, but Lee would not release it.
Harry reached over, giving Lee a gentle shake. "You can let go now, son."
Crane twitched, his eyes half opening. Chip tugged again. This time the mouthpiece came free.
Lee looked up at Morton a moment, then his eyes slid from side to side. "Home?" he whispered. Then his eyes rolled up and he sagged sideways, falling against Nelson.
Crane’s weight was only on him for a moment. Frank and Chip moved in, lifting Lee gently up from the deck. Harry felt a touch on his shoulder. He looked up.
"I have a stretcher in the missile room. Meet me in sickbay after you change."
Harry knew that if he stayed out of the way Will would not make him leave. He walked over to the other the examining table, opposite the one Frank and Chip had Lee laid out on and hoisted himself up on it. Jamieson had worked fast. Lee's wet uniform had been replaced by sickbay greens and more blankets. Frank moved the IV drip to the table pole, then began laying out other equipment.
Jimmy, the pharmacist's mate, came out of the dispensary, carrying blood paks. He placed them on the table tray. "X-rays?" he asked.
Will shook his head. "Later, shock's too deep. He needs that blood now. Once he's stable, I'll check for bullets."
"Better use all four. Pressure's way too low."
"I'll rig it right away."
Harry became aware Chip was standing beside him. He looked over at Morton and tried to smile.
"What happened?" Chip asked quietly.
"Chou tried to convince me he killed Lee. If I wouldn't talk, he was going to torture Lee for the missile codes. Provided Lee didn't bleed to death, first. There wasn't any new weapon, he wanted to steal ours." Harry felt his anger burn anew. "Tried to play us off each other." Nelson returned his gaze to Crane, who was too pale for comfort. "He paid for it."
Chip looked startled for a moment, then nodded. "You had us worried."
"I know." Harry met the exec's eyes. "Sometimes I
think you have it tougher, waiting for us to come back. I will speak to
Chip grinned. "They don't like it when you blast their ears off."
Harry raised an eyebrow. "Then they'd better start giving us better intelligence." He gestured toward the bed. "Lee wouldn't let me go alone and the only reason he's still alive right now is because Chou was sure he could break him!"
"Admiral." Jamieson's soft interruption was a warning.
"Sorry, Will." Nelson lowered his voice. "I hate bringing him home like this."
Doc smiled. "You know he'll say better him than you."
"That doesn't make it right!"
"Then you tell him."
Nelson glared at the doctor, who was helping Jimmy hook Lee into the transfusion unit. "He doesn't listen to me, either!"
Harry heard Chip laugh softly. Nelson had to smile as he met the doctor's eyes. Jamieson's two assistants kept their eyes down, engrossed in their work, but he knew they were grinning, too.
Jamieson checked the blood flow, then stepped back.
"Well? How is he?"
"He was very close to circulatory collapse." Will smiled. "We usually don't tie off bleeders with half hitches, but I won't complain. You saved his life. His bullet wounds are mostly superficial flesh creases, except his shoulder. As you said, they weren't trying to kill him, but he was bleeding to death."
"I listen when you lecture, Doc. I saw he was in shock."
Will sighed. "He owes his life to that refresher class."
"I'm glad you made me take it." Harry pushed off the bunk. "Are we ready to sail, Mr. Morton?"
"We can get underway anytime. Do you want me to set a course for
Harry thought a moment. "No, let's go to
Will laughed. "You'd better take me along to sew Admiral King back together once you finish ripping him to shreds."
Harry grinned. "That's not a bad idea. Him and his top secret missions!"
They all laughed. Now, if he could only persuade Lee not to go with him on missions. Harry shook his head as he walked out the Sickbay hatch. There wasn't much chance of that.
Nelson did not remember when he dozed off, but a quick glance at his watch confirmed he had been sleeping for nearly two hours. He wondered idly if Will had put something in his soup earlier. It hadn't tasted like medicine. Harry pushed himself back upright in the chair. Lee was still asleep. Will promised he would sleep into the next day.
Nelson smiled. Chip had bet Lee would try to get released in two days. Jamieson had laughed. Four days, Will replied, whether he likes it or not.
Doc wanted him to sleep in his cabin, but Harry was still wound up from the mission. They compromised on a rack here. He had tried sleeping. After an hour of tossing and turning, he decided to sit by Lee.
Jamieson had discovered him there on rounds. He assured him the cardiac monitor would alert them if Lee's pressure dropped suddenly. Doc had accepted his lame excuse he couldn't sleep and didn't mind keeping watch. The monitor peeped softly in background. Nelson shook his head. That lulled him to sleep.
Harry rose from the chair, stretching. He was stiff. Getting too old for this. He paused by the bed. Lee had lost some of his pallor. Crane lay curled in his normal sleep position, on his side.
He wasn't keeping much of a watch. Might as well go to bed. Nelson tousled Lee's dark curly hair. Sleep well, son. You're home, now.
To his surprise, Lee responded to his touch. His eyes fluttered open. "Admiral?" Crane's eyes moved, trying to focus on him in the dim light.
"Steady," Harry answered quietly. "Didn't mean to wake you."
Lee smiled. "Must be pretty bad if you're sitting up with me." Crane's voice was weak, but the bantering inflection that crept in filled him with relief.
"Will says I worry too much."
"You lost a lot of blood, son."
Lee's eyes held his. "I knew I'd be all right when you said you’d take me home."
Harry laid his hand on Crane's shoulder. "You almost didn't make it."
Lee gazed up at him for a long moment. "I didn't let go. I didn’t want you blaming yourself."
Harry tightened his grip. "I don't like when you get hurt because of me."
"It wasn't you."
"Our mission, sir. It's my job to carry out orders. Whatever the consequences."
Harry sat down on the edge of the bed. "No mission is worth your life, son."
"Look. This is where I want to be -- " Crane paused, his eyes traveling around the room. "Well, maybe not here."
"I understand." Harry had to smile. "You're not to get yourself killed on my account, " he replied, sternly.
‘Do you hear me, mister?”
Their eyes met.
Lee smiled, the shy, sheepish smile of acknowledgment. "Aye, sir."
Harry pushed off the bed. "Go back to sleep. Doc will skin me alive if he finds out I woke you."
Lee nodded. "Jamie gets testy about that, doesn't he?"
Harry laughed softly. "We give him cause."
"True." Lee settled deeper into his pillow, his eyes half closing. "See you in the morning."
"I’ll be here. Now, go to sleep."
Lee closed his eyes. A few moments, he was asleep.
Harry crossed the room quietly, sliding into the other rack. One of
these days ... Harry forced that thought from his mind. He
pulled the pillow under his head, settling in under the covers. Tomorrow
they would be in