Disclaimer: All characters are the property of Twentieth Century Fox and Irwin Allen Productions. No infringement on copyrights held by either the TCF or the estate of Irwin Allen is intended. This is a labor of love, not money.
Standing Stronger Than Ever
Carol A. Bell
El Yakim Gulf
"Unknown surface vessel, range fifteen hundred yards off our port bow, sir!" Randís voice was louder than usual and at least a couple of notes higher. His hands tightened on the console.
Captain Lee Crane and Admiral Harriman Nelson bounded to his side. Blue eyes met hazel eyes for a few grim moments before returning their attention to Randís screen. Radbhat Zahim was now testing the UNís economic embargo against shipping more and more frequently. Yesterday, it had been three oil freighters. This morning, a cargo ship carrying food and other supplies to Daskthut Empire had been intercepted before it could land and turned back to Johannesburg, its point of origin.
Captain Crane grabbed the mike and pressed the button. "Take us to periscope depth," he ordered. Releasing the button, he set the mike down.
"Periscope depth, aye aye," echoed the voice of the man in charge of the ballast tanks.
The sub began to rise. Soon they were at sixty feet. Captain Crane and the Admiral stood on the periscope island. Captain Crane flipped the switch; the periscope ascended out of its well. Captain Crane unfolded the handles and looked into the eyepiece.
What the hell! It was a pleasure yacht, and displaying the flag of Sybran. Something is definitely amiss here, thought Lee.
Captain Crane stood aside so the Admiral could look. "What the blazes are they trying to prove?" Nelson exploded. "If one of Zahimís ships or planes sees them, they wonít know what hit them!"
"Sir, Iíd like to surface and check out that vessel. A pleasure craft in the middle of what could turn into a war zone at any minute? Itís sheer madness," Lee stated.
"Or pure desperation," said Admiral Nelson.
Captain Crane grabbed the mike on the periscope island and keyed it. "All ahead flank speed!" he ordered, and then resumed looking through the periscope. They were within hailing distance now; time to pay them a surprise visit. Again, Captain Crane picked up the mike and spoke. "Surface! Surface! Surface!"
In the forward Crewís Quarters, Kowalski slipped the letter from his mother under his pillow and ripped open Teresaís letter. When they had received mail right before Christmas, he had gotten two letters and an expensive cable knit heather brown sweater and a pair of matching slacks to match the color of his eyes.
He had sent her a beautiful silk dress and a necklace and earrings. He hoped she would be wearing it when they pulled into Santa Barbara when he gave her the big oneÖ an engagement ring.
Patterson was lying on his bunk directly above Kowalskiís. He was reading one of his letters, his brows knit together. He was shaking his head. "This is crazy!" he mumbled.
"Hey, Ski, another letter from your newest lover girl?" Riley called to him, then puckered his lips and made loud kissing noises. The others in the room laughed.
"Which one?" asked Riley. "He has more girlfriends than a cat has lives. Hell, if he was lying on his deathbed, heíd still be trying to pinch the nurses on the butt or the titty."
"What is she like?" asked Adams.
"Sheís Kowalskiís typical favorite female, between eighteen and eighty and not over two hoursí dead," Riley yelled.
"Thatís Kowalski for you," Seaman Clark chimed in.
"Thatís sick!" Adams exclaimed.
Kowalski grinned at them, then unfolded the letter from Teresa and began to read it.
I have thought about this for a long time and I wasnít sure until now, but I realize I am in love with another man. I guess I should have told you before this, but I didnít know what to say.
Your best friend, Pat, is so wonderful. His blue eyes, his arms around me when we danced slow, his body against mine, all made me know I wanted him more than anyone else in the world. It would not be fair to you not to tell you and let you think I really loved you.
I wish you good luck in your life.
The blood drained from his head; he would have hit the deck if he had not sunk onto his bunk.
The Klaxon sounded. "Battle stations! Battle stations! This is the Captain speaking." His voice continued to explain, but Kowalski and the others threw down letters or magazines onto their bunks and bolted for their stations. When Battle Stations was over, they would police the Quarters. Sharkey would have a Giga-fit if he saw such a mess!
The sensation of an ascending elevator indicated they were surfacing. Soon, the boat was rolling with the waves.
"Stop engines!" Captain Crane ordered, which was echoed by the Engine Room rating.
Kowalski stared at the radar screen over Randís shoulder, feeling as though he had taken several punches in his midsection. He kept his eyes fixed on the screen, trying to blot out everything else. Why!? Kowalski silently fumed. Weíve been best of friends for so long. Weíve saved each otherís lives more times than either of us can count. Weíve been there for each other no matter what! Weíve laughed together, cried together, and got drunk together. Weíve shared an apartment on shore the last several years. My parents think of you like one of their own kids. I have trusted you with my life and my immortal soul; you repay me by ruining my life!
"Kowalski!" Chief Sharkey shook his shoulder, and then turned to Follman and Riley, who were standing nearby. "Report to the armory. "Riley, Follman, you come, too."
They broke into a run behind Chief Sharkey. "Whatís up?" Kowalski asked and they descended the ladder to B Deck and darted down the corridors. Men backed against the walls to let them pass. The Armory Room was starboard of the aft missile compartment.
Upon reaching the Armory Room, they caught their breaths while Chief Sharkey reached into his shirt and pulled out a chain holding his dog tags and a set of keys. He unlocked the heavy metal door and pushed it open.
"Come on!" Sharkey ordered, his expression as serious as his voice. "No telling what those bastards are up to."
Her husband, Habib El Kytim, had been in France on government business when the forces of the Daskthut Empire had invaded Sybran.
Her children had been at her motherís while she had been recuperating from a particularly nasty bout of stomach flu. Her parentsí home had been a few kilometers from the Sybrani-Daskthut Empire border; her mother and father, along with her children, ages five and three, had been taken prisoner alive. At first, she had thanked Allah that they had been spared, even though they had been taken to Al-Skandar for "safekeeping". She had fled her home, living with the resistance forces commanded by Captain Balthasar Nasser of the defeated Army of Sybran. She had helped them tend the wounded and learned to reload the spent ammunition cartridges the men had salvaged as they had fled after their raids on Daskthut Empire troop encampments.
Then, nineteen days after Kwanzaa, soldiers of the Daskthut Empire had overrun their camp. She had been captured, along with several of the guerillas that had been recovering from wounds and were not able to be out on their latest mission. She had been tied to a tent pole for several hours and given no water. Her captors had slapped her and fondled her through her clothes, but had carried their indignities no further at that time. Then General Abdul Bashari had come to the camp. "You damned fool! Donít you know who this woman is? Donít you pay attention to your Intelligence reports? She is the wife of the Minister of Health and the daughter of Sybranís Minister of Justice. We have much better uses for her!"
She had been remanded to the custody of General Bashari and his aide, who had commandeered her parentsí home for his headquarters. Although she had had restrictions placed upon her, she had been allowed to stay in her own room and had been allowed to have food and drink. Although the enemy soldiers had glared at her with open hatred, no one had touched or insulted her.
Then, the President of the United States had threatened to order air strikes against military positions in Daskthut Empire if Radbhat Zahim did not back down. U. S. Navy ships, submarines, and planes had been sent to the area, poised to strike. The climate of General Bashariís headquarters had turned hostile. He grabbed her by the arm, gripping it so tightly that it had tingled and turned blue. In his other hand was his AK-47.
"What are you doing?" another officer had demanded.
"Iím taking this Sybranian bitch out and shoot her! She makes me sick!" the captain had told him.
At that moment, General Bashari had stepped outside. "No, you wonít. I have plans for her," he had told him.
Admiral Nelson looked at Captain Crane who was sitting at a chair beside his desk. "Itís time," he told the Captain. With that, he stood and walked to his safe, dialed the combination, and opened it. He reached in and withdrew a brown envelope slightly larger than a number ten envelope. Opening the letter as he took his seat behind his desk, he read it carefully. It was from COMSUBPAC.
Damn! The Navy had pulled a fast one! As far as he knew until this point, Seaview was only supposed to stand by in the El Yakim Gulf to assist the Navy in enforcing the blockade. Still, Admiral Nelson had thought it odd when Admiral Stark had suggested that Adams, Follman, Sparkman, and Stevens be attached to his crew to observe the leadership techniques of Seaviewís commanding officers.
The four new men were actually Marine commandos. The mission plan: Seaviewís flying sub would take the men to Al-Skandar and insert them there. It was strongly suspected that Radbhat Zahim was experimenting with biological warfare and was working toward nuclear capability as well.
The commandos were to retrieve whatever information they could, in any manner they could, and destroy the facilities. The Flying Sub would pick them up at Twiskar on 15 January.
If not possible to retrieve the men, they would have to remain there until ground troops went in after the extensive aerial bombardment scheduled to begin 16 January.
Admiral Nelson grunted, feeling ashamed at his initial resentment of their being assigned to his boat before they left Santa Barbara. He had especially been pissed off at Follman for filing that complaint with COMSUBPAC. To further irritate Admiral Nelson, COMSUBPAC had sustained Follmanís complaint.
He handed the orders to Lee, who read them and handed them back to him. Their eyes met. "Thatís suicide," he stated.
Aboard the yachtÖ..
Shashayka twisted her already chafed wrists against the handcuffs that secured her hands to a pipe running along the wall. The odorous heat from the menís bodies in the confined space added even more warmth. She tried to turn so that the men could not see her through the rips in her clothing. General Bashari ran his hand over her long skirt and fondled her thigh. His aide held a camel whip.
"I told you I had big plans for you, Sybran sow. There is a certain United States submarine out here, the Seaview. Intelligence reports say it is in the area. It has a distinctive reading our instruments can pick up. Its two highest-ranking officers are Admiral Harriman Nelson and Captain Lee Crane. You are to shoot Admiral Nelson, and Captain Crane, too, if possible. But the main target is Admiral Nelson." General Bashari outlined in exact detail what he expected her to do."
"Go to Hell!" she had told him.
"I am a patient man," stated General Bashari, his tone controlled, almost emotionless. "But I will not tolerate the disrespect of a Sybran bitch."
General Bashari nodded to his aide, who grinned evilly. Then, he raised the whip and struck her again and again, then laid the whip down and struck her in the face repeatedly with his fists.
A few moments later, General Bashari leaned over and took her face between his thumb and fingers, squeezing so hard that she cried out in pain. "Listen to me," he spat menacingly. "You had better learn some respect for your betters very, very quickly. If you do not--." He fell silent, his left hand plunging under her skirt. "Iím sure Iíll enjoy your company. And I know that my loyal aide will relish having someone as comely as you."
The aide grinned, his face a mask of pure evil.
"And if you still wonít cooperate, I will take you back to camp and turn you over to the soldiers." He smirked. "You know what they can be like so far away from home and without homeís comforts, you knowÖ." General Bashari declared, an unholy fire burning in his eyes.
Now, she was in a red haze of pain, despair, and terror.
Again, General Bashari outlined what he wanted her to do.
The radio crackled into life, claiming their attention. "Supreme Headquarters to General Bashari," an authoritative voice blared from its speakers.
General Bashari put on a pair of headphones and flipped some switches. Then, he spoke into the microphone.
When General Bashari came back, he was very confident. "I have been in contact with General Aabeem discussing your lack of cooperation. He is in charge of the headquarters where your parents and your children are being held." He paused, smiling wickedly. "If your attitude does not change, he sees no need of keeping them around. After all, with the economic embargo and sanctions against us, food and medicines are in short supply." He paused again, much longer this time. "Now, do you understand the needóthe very URGENT needófor your cooperation?"
Sashayka understood, all too well.
General Bashari continued, driving home the point. "Youíre an intelligent woman, Iím sure. Surely, you donít want your children to suffer, to starveóitís a very ugly way to die, you knowóor your parents to die for lack of medication
Her life may be gone, but if she could save her children, a part of her would live on. And anything to make change his mind about--. She nodded, tears streaming down her face.
General Bashari took an ornamental dagger from his belt and cut the bonds. He and his aide gently helped her stand. The room spun and began fading to gray.
"Get her some water!" ordered the General. "Give her a little bit of our rations."
Soon, she was feeling stronger. They handed her the pistol and the bullets she was to use, wrapped in plastic. She put them into the folds of her bosom and replaced the veil that was supposed to cover her face when she was in the presence of any man except her husband or her father. Then, the two men went up to the yachtís deck, half carrying, half dragging her with them.
"Allah will make you pay for this!" sobbed Shashayka. Her body ached from the beatings of her two captors.
"On the contrary, Allah is going to reward me!" General Bashari declared, looking out the glass-enclosed room. "If Intelligence reports donít indicate that you have done what we have told you--." He grinned, and then pointed out to sea. "Thereís a periscope. Get ready to run for it!" he told his aide.
The generalís aide started the engines and revved them.
General Bashari grabbed a cushion and thrust it at her. "Hold onto this. It will help you keep afloat until they pick you up." Blue-white water cascaded off the gray metal as the submarine broke the surface. Immediately, he heaved her overboard. Her heavy clothing soon filled with seawater. Although she could swim, she would surely have drowned if she had not had the boat cushion. The salt water stung her many wounds. She considered letting go of the cushion, but the images of her children being denied food until they died and her parentsí not being allowed the medicines they needed gave her the strength to hold on.
"Help!" she yelled. The patriotic Sybran part of her hoped they would not rescue her; the part that was the mother of two small children prayed they would.
In the Armory, Chief Sharkey unlocked the weapons locker and handed them each a sidearm holster holding a 9mm and two clips of ammunition. He also reached for helmets and handed one to Kowalski, Riley, and Follman before donning one himself.
"Remember, donít open fire unless we are fired upon," instructed the Chief. "Our weapons are simply a precaution." Hopefully, he thought, strapping on his sidearm. Would this incident trigger the war that had been building in the region for the last few months?
Then, he grabbed two more sidearms; ammo clips and helmets before locking the cabinets. They left the Armory Room; Chief Sharkey secured the door.
"Iíll go first," Chief Sharkey said, cracking the hatch and stepping onto the conning tower. The water turned from bright blue to light gray as clouds occasionally obscured the sun. He squinted through his binoculars, scanning the yacht. He caught the sight of a manís back as he went below.
Sharkey heard footsteps on the ladder almost directly below. As he turned, Admiral Nelson emerged, followed by Captain Crane. Both men had on the helmets and sidearms that he had brought for them. Sharkey knew there would be no way to keep the Skipper and the Admiral from checking things out for themselves.
What had they not faced together? Amongst phantoms, aliens and other deadly creatures, terrible diseases, evil scientists, enemy agents and their manipulations, various tyrants, as well as betrayal by members of their own Government, the Admiral had also added "hero" to his already awesome reputation as a scientist and inventor.
Over the years, the Admiral and Captain Crane had become extremely close friends, and had fused into an unbeatable team. If something happened to one of them, would the other be able to function capably alone?
The thought chilled Sharkey. Instinctively, his hand went to his pistol. It would not happen if he could prevent it. He would lay down his own life for either one of them if it became necessary. God knew, they would put the welfare of the crew and the Seaview before their own. They proved that many times in the past.
Kowalski, Riley, and Follman emerged from the emergency hatch located in the Technical Room on A deck. Good. They would have some backup if needed.
At that instant, the yacht shot forward and began traveling away from them, flank speed! Chief Sharkey looked into the binoculars hanging around his neck and saw someone clinging to a cushion. Whoever it was had on heavy clothes and very long hair. Then the battered, purple face and neck came into view! Both eyes were swollen almost shut. The nose was probably three times the size it should have been; the lips were split and swollen as well.
"Damn! Do you see that?" Sharkey asked, pointing in the direction of the person struggling in the water. "Who could that be?"
"Let me see those," Admiral Nelson requested.
Chief Sharkey handed his highest commanding officer the binoculars. He adjusted them and looked. "Iíd say itís a woman. Looks like the she got the worst end of a bad deal," he related, passing the binoculars to Captain Crane. "Get Doc. Have him send a corpsman up here on the double."
Chief Sharkey descended into the control room and called Sick Bay, then went topside again.
Captain Crane gazed briefly into the binoculars. "I donít know, but I intend to have some answers," he declared, and then turned to his left. "Kowalski, get a line and a flotation ring. Sheís hurt, so youíre going to have to help her onto the deck. You and Riley, swim out to her and see to it that she has the flotation ring."
Kowalski quickly clipped the ring to the line and tossed it to her. Then, he and Riley stripped down to their briefs and dived into the water. They swam to her and slipped the ring over her head and arms. Follman then pulled steadily on the line.
Kowalski and Riley swam right behind her to see that she did not slip out. When she reached the boat, they climbed onto the deck and helped Follman pull her onto the deck and lay her on her back. Admiral Nelson, Captain Crane, and Chief Sharkey had jumped down to join them, along with Frank, Docís senior corpsman.
Admiral Nelson knelt on one side of the woman; Captain Crane on the other. "I am Captain Crane. You have been brought aboard the SSRN Seaview. The man to the right of you is Admiral Harriman Nelson."
She smiled weakly, but there was a troubled look in her eyes. She sat up for a moment, and then fell over. Admiral Nelson felt her carotid artery for a pulse. It was weak and very fast.
Nelson nodded to Frank, who took over helping the battered woman below.
Dr. Will Jamison rubbed his eyes and leaned back in his chair, stretching. He looked at his Pharmacistís Mate, who was clicking the mouse button to close the file. "All the men have had all the immunizations theyíre supposed to." He ticked them off. "And, of course, the rabies vaccine. But several of the men need their rabies vaccine booster shots."
"I know," said Pheerse as he wrote down their names.
Since a rabid dog had savagely attacked Lt. Commander Chip Morton and Kowalski while rescuing Admiral Nelson and Captain Crane from the clutches of General Vladimir Zykorski nearly three years ago, Admiral Nelson had insisted on every crewman receive the vaccine for the rabies virus. Thank God, they all had been rescued in time to begin treatment before the onset of symptoms. If symptoms had begun, the disease would almost certainly have been fatal.
"Patterson, Riley, Sparkman, OíBrien. Follmanóheís on temporary duty and has not had any of the rabies series. He went over Admiral Nelsonís head and filed a formal complaint with COMSUBPAC. Said he had not been bitten by a rabid animal and there was not enough danger of being bitten by one to warrant having to take the vaccine. He also stated in his complaint that the serious risks in taking the vaccine were also not warranted because he would not be assigned permanently to Seaview. COMSUBPAC decided he did not have to take the rabies series."
Pheerse grunted. "I remember. The Admiral was fit to be tied. Said if the Navy decided Follman did not have to live by his rules, then they could have him back and assign him someone who would."
"Can you blame him?"
"No." Pheerse handed the piece of paper to him. "Jamie, you should have heard Follman talking about the Admiral. ĎHeís a damn eagle hovering over us with its huge wings spread out as far as they could reachí," he said, mocking Follman. "The way he said it made me so mad I wanted to knock his teeth down his throat."
"Personally, I want the wings of that eagle sheltering me." Dr. Jamison posted the note on the wall in front of his desk before turning back to Pheerse. "Getting those booster shots will have to wait until we get back to Santa Barbara. We donít have any diploid cell vaccine or RI globulin on board," Doc stated. He laughed. "Itíll wait. We donít have any mad dogs around here, unless you count Radbhat Zahim. Iím not sure, but I think dogs are eaten in these countries. If thatís true, there wonít be too many running around."
"Iíve eaten one when we had shore leave in Seoul. I didnít know what it was until after I had eaten it. It was quite good, until I found out what it was. Then, I felt sick. I had a pet dog before I left home to join the Navy, and I could imagine him as the one that I had just eaten."
Dr. Jamison laughed and clapped him on the upper arm; glad Pheerse had been assigned to him. Granted, Frank and John were highly competent; all of them worked well together. "If it ainít broke, donít fix it," had been his reaction to the Pharmacistís Mateís being assigned to him. It was only going to be six months, so Dr. Jamison had not protested.
That was almost eighteen months ago. Not only was Pheerse a highly competent man, but also their work methods meshed as well as their personalities. More times than not, they could read each otherís minds. Now, despite the fact that he was an officer and Pheerse an enlisted man, they were close. When they were alone, Pheerse called him Will or Jamie; he called Pheerse by his first name.
There was a commotion in the next room. Frank stuck his head through the open door. "Our new patient is here. She looks bad, Doc," he said, keeping his voice low.
Kowalski and Riley were laying the unconscious woman on his examination table when Dr. Jamison emerged from his office, with Joe behind him. Admiral Nelson, Captain Crane, and Follman clustered around her.
Dr. Jamison edged through the men and gingerly touched her face, noting that there was nothing broken except her nasal septum. "Excuse me, gentlemen, but I need everyone to leave except my Pharmacistís Mate and my corpsmen."
Her eyes fluttered open and met his gaze.
"Do you speak English?" he asked as gently as possible.
"Yes," she replied.
Dr. Jamison explained to her that he wanted her to disrobe so that he could examine her. A look of sheer horror crossed her face. She began to scream.
He put his hands on her shoulders. "No one is going to hurt you. Iím a doctor. These are members of my staff. We are only going to see how badly youíre hurt. We will treat any injuries we find. That is all. We will not harm you in any way," he explained. "Then we will make arrangements for you to shower and give you some new clothes."
She began crying. As she raised her hands to cover her face, Doc looked at her wrists. They were bruised and raw. Blood oozed from several places where the skin had been rubbed away.
"Itís okay. Just calm down." Dr. Jamison did not want to hurt her, but her condition warranted a complete physical examination. He would be remiss as a doctor if he did not do so.
Considering she was Arabic, the examination was going to be much more embarrassing for her than it would be for a woman from the United States or many European countries. If there were a female aboard, he would have asked that she be present. Since there were no women in the crew, Joseph would remain to assist him and insure propriety.
Dr. Jamison motioned for the two corpsmen to leave the room as he took a sheet from the cabinet and handed it to her. As the other men departed, he pulled the privacy panel around the examining table where she lay. "Please remove your clothing. You can put this sheet around you if you would like," he instructed. "Let me know when youíre ready."
Joseph turned and began getting out a speculum and other things they would need to examine her.
After several minutes, she indicated that she was ready. He parted the panel and stepped in. The lady was drawn up, covered almost completely by the sheet.
Gently, he uncovered the areas to be examined. Damn! Purple bruises and gouges covered her torso and thighs. Blood also seeped from many welts on her legs and thighs. Dr. Jamisonís heart went out to her. Nobody should have to endure such abusive treatment.
He found no more fractures, so he and Joseph began cleaning the welts and scratches with Beta dyne. As they cleaned each area of her body, Dr. Jamison carefully draped it with the sheet until she was covered once again. As an added precaution, he gave her a shot of a broad-spectrum antibiotic and one of tetanus antitoxin. "After weíre finished, you can shower and change," Dr. Jamison assured her. "Then, I will give you a sedative to help you rest."
Dr. Jamison made eye contact with her and lowered his voice. "We need to do a complete physical. A gynecological exam. Are you okay with this?"
As he conducted the exam, he explained what he was doing, and why. He sighed with relief to see that her captors had not violated her.
As soon as the exam was over, Chief Sharkey brought three smaller pairs of blue coveralls.
She was allowed to shower in the facilities next to Sick Bay. Then, she returned to the alcove where she had been placed and retrieved her clothes. Through the doorway, he saw her take something from her clothes and put it in her pocket.
Dr. Jamison pressed a button on his interphone and advised the Skipper and the Admiral of his findings. His line worked, but when Admiral Nelson replied, it was barely intelligible.
"Admiral, somethingís wrong with your interphone. Youíre breaking up," Doc told him. "And thereís a lot of static, too. Youíll have to repeat it."
"Sheíll have to stay in Sick Bay. Lee and I will be down there in a minute," said Admiral Nelson, his words much clearer that time. "We need to take a statement from her. I want to find out whatís going on."
Upon hearing "Secure from Battle Stations", the men who were not on duty returned to their quarters or went to eat.
Kowalski returned to his quarters and picked up the letter and the envelope that had fallen to the floor beside his bunk. He picked it up and began to reread the letter. Wait! This wasnít his letter!
My Dearest Pat,
I am writing to tell you something I think you should know. I have thought about this for a while, but I now realize I am not in love with Kowalski. I am hopelessly in love with you.
When you put your arms around me and pulled me close when we slow danced together, your gentle blue eyes, the feel of your body against mine made me realize it was a mistake to continue with that lout any longer. YOU are the one I want to be with. I know I havenít known you very well, but I know how I feel about you.
I realize now that Nathan Kowalski could never be as right for me as you. I just want to see you again and hold you and be with you.
I know this might be a shock to you. It did to me when I first thought about it, but I thought you had to know.
All my love,
Now that they were topside, they would operate radar as well as sonar. Rand, having been relieved on radar by Clark, strode into the quarters and flopped down on his bunk. Patterson and Riley walked in together, laughing and talking; Stevens and Adams entered behind them.
Pattersonís gaze locked with Kowalskiís. His expression suddenly became serious. "Ski, I need to talk to you," he said.
Kowalski took a step toward Patterson, his teeth clenched. "If you mean about you and Teresa, I already know," he snarled, flinging Pattersonís letter at him.
"Ski, yóyouíve got it all wrong! Nónothingís going on between Teresa and me. The only times Iíve seen her were the times we all went to The Bad Jamn. I slow danced with her a couple of times during the last time we went; you danced with the girl I was with. Iím nónot interested in her, believe me!" he stammered.
"Donít give me that. She wrote me a letter breaking up with me. To top it off, I just read that letter she wrote to you. It was on the floor. I recognized the handwriting as Teresaís, so I thought it was mine." Kowalskiís throat tightened; his hands balled into fists. "You sorry bastard!"
Patterson backed up. "Settle down and listen, Ski. I--I didnít come betweenó."
Kowalski swung on him and caught him squarely on the jaw, knocking him into the bulkhead; before Patterson could hit the deck, he grabbed the front of his coveralls and rammed him against the bulkhead.
Patterson brought his arms up, knocking Kowalskiís hands away, then landed a punch to his eye and nose. Kowalski tasted the blood as it oozed over his lips. "You lousy son of a bitch!" Kowalski threw another punch, feeling Pattersonís nose crunch as his fist hit home. With the nails of his right hand, he gouged Pattersonís left cheek.
"Chill out, you two!" Riley shouted.
Patterson kicked him in the mid-section, knocking the wind out of him and stunning him. Before he could recover, Patterson punched him in the eye; Kowalski felt it begin to swell almost immediately.
Both men lunged at each other. They grappled and dropped to the deck, rolling, kicking and punching each other. Finally Kowalski rolled on top of Patterson and pinned his arms down.
Suddenly, Riley and Adams grabbed him around the chest, pinning his arms to his sides as they hauled him to his feet. Stevens and Rand helped Patterson up, supporting him.
"Knock it off, you two. If the Chief or the Skipper comes in here and sees you two fighting, youíll be in serious trouble," Riley growled. "Besides, weíre going to be at war with Daskthut Empire any time now. If you two want to fight, save it for the Daskies."
Kowalski relaxed; Riley and Adams released him. As Stevens and Rand let Patterson go, he bit his lower lip and whirled around.
"When we get back to Santa Barbara, you can just pack your gear and get the fuck out my apartment and out of my life!" yelled Kowalski. "I hope you die. Then I wonít have to see you on Seaview again either. Seaview would be better off without you, too. I hope you die IN AGONY, you bastard!"
Patterson turned and flipped him off, his bloodstained face contorted. "Fuck you, asshole!" His voice broke as he turned away.
"Shut up, both of you," snapped Riley.
Riley and Stevens stood between them now.
Chief Sharkey entered. "Our passenger will be staying in Sick Bay," he told them. You will probably be seeing her in the passageways and the mess area. Be polite. No whistling or lewd comments of any kind. Is that clear?" He looked around. His eyes narrowed as they surveyed the two men. "Kowalski? Patterson? What the hell happened to you two?"
The men were silent. "Come on, whatís going on?" he snapped.
Kowalski looked at a point beyond the Chief. "Hand to hand combat practice," he said.
Chief Sharkey looked at Patterson, who nodded. "Thatís right, Chief. We were practicing some moves andóand we just got carried away."
"You two come with me," ordered Sharkey. They followed him into the corridor. "Better let Doc look at you." He walked to Sick Bay between them. As they reached Sick Bay, Chief Sharkey scrutinized one man, then the other, giving them his famous "donít fuck with me" look. "And there will be no more hand to hand combat sessions. If it happens again, you will regret it for a long time," he said severely. "Do you read me?"
"Yes, Chief," both men managed without looking at each other.
After taking her statement in Sick Bay, Admiral Nelson and Captain Crane sat at the Admiralís desk in his cabin. Both men felt greatly relieved. "That explains why that son of a bitch did what he did. A Sybranian woman whose husband was highly placed in the defeated Sybranian government would be badly treated by someone of Zahimís or Bashariís ilk," Admiral Nelson said. "Doc said
they had not taken Ďlibertiesí with her."
"Iím surprised the bastard didnít, and then finish her off," Lee commented. "From what weíve learned about Bashari, it isnít his style to allow captives to live once heís through with them. He usually imprisons them and gives them very little food or water. His guards beat them, or whatever. Between the God-awful heat and the abuse, his prisoners usually donít last long. The ones he singles out for special attention, he usually puts a bullet in them, but not to mortally wound them. They just lie there and die a slow death." He paused, shaking his head. "I donít know what he gets out of doing that."
"I donít understand it either, but some people are twisted that way." He had faced many vicious enemies; he had killed his share of them in self-defense or to save the lives of his men, but he had never prolonged their deaths just to make them suffer.
The interphone buzzed. Admiral Nelson answered it. "Admiral Nelson."
As he listened, he could tell someone was talking, but it was garbled.
"Damn!" Admiral Nelson jiggled the wires and connections in several places. "Iíll have to have Patterson and Kowalski look at this. Itís getting worse. My computer has been fading on and off on occasion, too. I was downloading a program from Admiral Stark when it went off yesterday." He spoke into the interphone. "Repeat what you just said. Iím having trouble with this phone again."
"Sir, itís Mr. Morton. Our guest has asked to see the boat. Would it be okay if I showed her around?"
Admiral Nelson raised his eyebrows in surprise. "I thought the Arab women were content to be hidden away," he said in an aside to Lee, who shrugged.
"Some of the restrictions on women have moderated during the last few years," Lee told him.
The U. S. forces were here to free Republic of Sybran from Zahimís tyranny. Her background had checked out, so she should pose no security risk. "All right, Mr. Morton."
Back in the crewís quarters, Kowalski popped a pain pill Doc had given him. Patterson walked through the door a couple of minutes later, wiping his eyes with his fingertips. The other men were cleaning up, talking to Riley in whispers as they did so. Riley nodded.
After laying his broom against the bulkhead, Riley approached Patterson and guided him away from the others. He laid his hand on Pattersonís shoulder as they talked earnestly for several moments. Patterson nodded; wiping his eyes several more times.
Kowalski grabbed a bottle of spray cleaner and a damp cloth and began cleaning one area on the bulkhead that looked slightly dirty, glancing at Patterson and Riley.
Iíll be damned! Patterson steals my girl. Then, when he gets his just desserts, itís "Oh, poor Pat! Ski shouldnít have done what he did", he fumed silently. Kowalski ached all over, but if he sat down, he would start thinking again. If he did, he would end up doing something he would be very sorry for.
Kowalski had just finished his cleaning when Chief Sharkey came in. "Kowalski, Patterson, report to the Admiralís cabin. Heís having some problems with his phone systems and his computer connections. Sounds like wiring problems."
"Iím headed that way, Chief," Patterson said.
Seeing Kowalski hesitate, the Chief frowned.
Kowalski had to act fast. He was not going to work with that life-wrecking son of a bitch today, or any other day, if he could help it. "Chief, I really need to lie down right now. Iím starting to feel dizzy," he lied, swaying very slightly and sitting on his bunk.
"Do you need to go back to Sick Bay?"
"Might have to if this keeps up. Iím hoping taking it easy for a little while will help."
Chief Sharkey studied him closely.
"Iíll go," spoke up Follman.
Follman was a skilled electronics technician, so he was qualified.
Sharkey nodded; Follman departed.
Frowning at him, Sharkey walked out.
Kowalski lay on his back and placed his hands behind his head, fingers interlaced.
Riley walked over and stood beside his bunk, leaning over. "Kowalski, you know Patterson is not the type to double-cross anyone, especially you. Youíre rated as high as the Skipper and the Admiral in his eyes."
"Yeah, right," snapped Kowalski. "So heís wrecking my life."
"You need to apologize and give him a chance to explain. Heís not responsible for what Teresa did," Riley persisted. "Did you see Patterson when he came back from Sick Bay? Youíve torn him to pieces."
"I wish he was dead!"
"No, you donít!" Riley shook his head, frowning. "Whatever caused you and Teresa to break up, it wasnít going to work out. Itís best you found that out now."
"Just what the hell do you mean by that?"
"Just what I said. There is a lot more at stake than Teresa saying she wants Patterson. Youíve been on edge even before Teresa came along; Patterson hasnít quite been himself eitheróeven more quiet than usual, like something big was on his mind."
"Well, ĎDr.í Riley, before you buy you a couch and set up practice, did it ever occur to you that I just want to get married and have a family? Did it ever occur to you that I want someone to grow old with?" If I get old, Kowalski finished silently. The missions the Seaview undertakes canít exactly be called naptime in kindergarten.
"You two need to have a long talk and get your problems hashed out."
"Maybe later, Riley," he said, fighting to keep the edge out of his voice. It was all he could do to keep from turning Rileyís lights out. What the hell business was it of his?
"Would you at least talk to Patterson when he gets back?"
Kowalski shrugged. "Iíll think about it," he said, hoping Riley would quit bugging him. It worked; Riley straightened up and walked away.
Kowalski turned onto his side, sticking his hand under his pillow. His hand brushed against an envelope. Pulling it out, he saw it was from his parents. What I wouldnít give to be able to sit with Mama in her kitchen and talk to her right now, he thought as he ran his finger under the flap and pulled out the letter.
Dear Nate and Pat,
How are you and Pat doing? With the state of affairs in the Mid-East right now, I know you two wonít be home soon. I love you and I want to hug you both and know that you two are all right.
Something happened the other day that I donít know if I ought to tell you, Nate. Teresa was at the bank when I went to check on one of our CDís. A young man dressed in what looked like an expensive business suit was standing beside her, holding her hand. I walked up to her and spoke to her. She did not look happy to see me at all. Finally, she told me that she had decided that it would not work out between you. That was bad enough. The reason she gave was crazy. She told me she would not stand in line behind Seaview. Can you imagine that? Seaview hasbeen in your life when she met you. Why should that bother her?
She said she was going to write to you and tell you she had found somebody else.
Nate, I know this will be a bitter disappointment to you, but Pat will be there for you to help you get through this. Iím glad you have him for a friend. You and he are closer than most brothers, but Iím sure you already know this.
You two take care. May God keep you both safe and bring you back home to us.
All our love,
Mom and Dad
Damn conniving bitch! All Teresa had wanted to do was cause a row between him and Pat; and he had fallen for it. GOD! When I screw up, I do it BIG TIME. Like Jumbo Family Pack, he berated himself.
If he had not been so intent on running from himself like a scared child, he would never have gotten seriously involved with her. If he had not let his temper get the best of him--. If he had listened when Patterson tried to explain--. If he had opened the letter from his parents before opening the one from Teresa--.
If! If! IF!
Sashayka paid attention to every detail as she toured the submarine. Her main concern, however, was to learn where everything was and to find out as much as possible about the officersí activities. It would help her in planning how to go about killing Admiral Nelson and Captain Crane.
General Bashari was right about one thing: they would never suspect a woman, especially a native of the very country they were attempting to liberate from Zahimís iron fist. One thing Arabian and many American men had in common was they underestimated women, she decided.
An hour and a half later, the blond man they called Mr. Morton was through showing her the workings of the vessel. "Dinner is being served in the galley now. I was about to eat. Would you like to join me?"
"That is very kind of you," she consented. "Iíd like that very much."
As the hours passed, everyone was eager for word as to how the negotiations were going. There had been no progress. Sashayka could have told them they were wasting their time. Radbhat Zahim would die before he would back down.
Allah, I donít want to hurt Admiral Nelson or any of these men! They could have left me out there to drown. This submarine is on an official mission on behalf of my country. What an awful thing to do! Even that doctor and that man with him did not deserve what General Bashari had planned! But if I donít kill Admiral Nelson and as many others as I can, I might as well be killing my own two children. Theyíve been born through no choice of her own. They were innocent of any wrongdoing, no matter whose justice was applied to their case. I HAVE to save them!
After Mr. Morton had finished showing her around, she returned to Sick Bay. She had been there a little over an hour when she made up her mind: Now was the time. The doctor and his assistants paid no attention as she walked out of Sick Bay. She heard the clatter of pots and pans in the Galley; the smell of the food that was being prepared, though strange, was not unpleasant.
Turning left, she walked a few feet down the passageway until she came to an open hatch. There she stepped over the sill and continued walking until she came to an intersecting passageway. There was a ladder leading upwards. She climbed it and came out in front of a large room. NCO QUARTERS in large letters was written on the door leading to that room.
She walked forward a few feet, then turned left walked forward before coming to another open hatch. She walked through that one and continued to walk forward, her heart beginning to beat faster as she reached her destination. A passageway intersected this one. She was almost there. Her stomach tightened. She broke out in a cold sweat.
She walked left at the intersection. Proceeding, she arrived at a door on her left. She heard a familiar voice behind the door with a large nameplate reading ADMIRAL HARRIMAN NELSON. She also recognized the voice of Captain Crane. Two other men were talking in the room with them, but she did not know who they were. Something was not working properly and the Admiral was discussing its repairs. "Mr. Morton will be off watch in a few minutes. He said he wanted to discuss something before eating and turning in."
Slipping her trembling hand in her pocket, she removed the small loaded pistol and the larger barrel attachment that fastened on the muzzle. She fumbled with it, her hands shaking so badly that she was afraid she could not fasten it into place. Finally, she managed to slip it into place.
She had to act fast. Opening the door, she stepped in.
Admiral Nelson and Captain Crane looked up, smiling. Captain Crane stepped forward just as Sashayka raised the pistol and fired. A scarlet circle appeared on his right side about four centimeters above his belt buckle. A man with medium brown hair dressed in light blue coveralls shoved Admiral Nelson down as she fired again. That bullet hit the crewman in the upper left chest. Another man in blue coveralls lunged for her. She shot him in the upper right shoulder.
She backed out of the doorway. The blond man who had shown her around the submarine was approaching from the forward area she remembered being referred to as the Control Room. At first, he smiled at her, but his expression changed to bewilderment, then to alarm as she fired at him, striking him in the shoulder.
He whirled and retreated the way he had come.
She fled, in panic now. There were over a hundred men aboard Seaview. There was no telling what they would do if they found her. Blindly, she ran, descending back down to the level Sick Bay was on, but she ran past it.
"Now hear this! Now hear this! Need Dr. Jamison in the Admiralís cabin! Men down! Men down!" Mr. Mortonís voice rasped over the loudspeaker system. He gasped before speaking again. "Security details assemble in the Armory Room."
Kowalski, Stevens, and Adams ran down the passageway and descended the ladder to B Deck.
Chief Sharkey arrived a couple of minutes later, his uniform stained with blood. More men came in behind them.
"What the hellís going on?" several men asked almost as one voice.
"Mr. Morton had just got off watch. He was on his way to the Admiralís cabin to talk to the Admiral and the Skipper. When he got there, that damn Arab bitch shot at him and ran down the passageway. Hit him in the shoulder. He made it back to the control room and called Dr. Jamison to come to the Admiralís cabin. Mr. OíBrien and I carried Mr. Morton to Sick Bay. They were bringing in the Skipper and Follman. The Admiralís okay, though. Patterson pushed him out of the way, but he got wounded doing it," informed them as he opened the Armory with his key.
"How are they?" asked Stevens.
"Doc doesnít know yet. They were all still alive when I left." He opened the lockers and quickly dispersed weapons and ammunition. Patterson looked like he was wounded the most seriously. His wound was in the upper left chest."
Kowalski numbly donned the helmet that was handed him. He closed his burning eyes and took several deep breaths, his legs suddenly weak. Chief Sharkey continued to talk, but it sounded to him as if the Chief were talking underwater. He slapped an ammo clip into place; his fingers closed around the cool metal.
When everyone was ready, Sharkey spoke. "This situation is highly irregular. Since she is the wife of a member of the Sybranian government, she is to be taken alive and unharmed if possible. Orders of the Admiral."
But even an excellent marksman can miss his aim, Kowalski thought to himself. He was not going to stand and watch while any of his fellow crewmen, especially the Skipper, Mr. Morton, and Pat got murdered and do nothing about it.
"Letís move out," Sharkey said, motioning the men into the passageway and securing the Armory Room door.
Even if Dr. Will Jamison were not his best friend and mentor, Pheerse would still have had to call him awesome. Although he had known these men for years and was close friends with the Captain and Mr. Morton, he was a total professional. He knew his business; he performed flawlessly and without an instantís hesitation.
Since triage showed Pattersonís condition to be the most critical, they operated on him immediately.
Pheerse handed Doc the surgical instruments as he called for them, while suctioning the blood from Pattersonís chest so Doc could see.
Frank and John had started IVís and were monitoring the vital signs of the other men.
"Doc, Mr. Mortonís BP is starting to fall," Frank told him. "Heís becoming diaphoretic. Respirations are rapid and shallow."
Mr. Morton was going into shock despite the IV and meds.
"How are the Skipper and Follman?" Doc asked, never taking his eyes from the incision in Pattersonís chest. His hands moved swiftly and deftly.
"Stable for now."
Doc paused for a few seconds, staring into the incision. "I donít see any more bullet fragments. Everything looks good."
"Just look at the path of the bullet and they way it broke up when it hit that rib," Doc said as he continued to repair the damage to Pattersonís left lung and chest wall. "Why at least one of these fragments did not penetrate the major vessels, Iíll never know. If one had, he would have crashed and bled out before we could have carried him down here." They began closing Pattersonís chest. "Heís young and strong, but itís still going to be touch and go," stated Doc as the two corpsmen took him to a bunk; they began getting Mr. Morton ready for surgery.
When they had finished performing surgery on the last wounded man, both men retreated to his office where Doc sat at his desk. Pheerse pulled a spare chair to the desk, then poured Doc a cup of coffee and handed it to him before sitting beside him.
Doc was silent, staring at the wall in front of him. His brows furrowed; his teeth nipped at his lower lip.
"You okay, Jamie?"
Doc nodded. "Yeah." Again, he fell silent for a few moments. "Iíve treated more bullet wounds than any ten doctors."
Seaview had had more than her share of run-ins with despots and those who took lives without a thought. If he had not had any experience with gunshot wounds before coming on board Seaview, he would have more than made up for it afterward.
"Those bullets retained most of their shape and broke cleanly apart, even when they did not strike a bone," he told Joe.
He had been so busy assisting Doc that he had not thought about it before. Most bullets broke apart when they hit bone; some flattened out and made a huge exit wound. When a bullet hit organs, it usually passed intact through the victimís body. "That is strange."
Where could that Arab bitch have gotten? Was she really that sheikís wife or some mercenary impersonating her? Kowalski wondered as the security detail made their way down the passageway, which ran the length of the boat.
As they came to each room, they searched it very carefully. Finally, they came to the missile compartments.
The footfalls were outside the door now. "When we find that bitch, Iíd love to shoot her with that same pistol she shot the Skipper and Mr. Morton with," snarled a manís voice.
What could she do? If she tried to flee, she would run right into them.
They might shoot her, but it would not be with those vile bullets that General Bashari had given her. They would have to use their own arms.
There were six metal cylinders protruding through the deck and the ceiling of the room. They were close enough together that she might be able to squeeze between the two middle ones and avoid detection if the men entered.
The doorknob turned. She tried to ease between the rows of cylinders, but she lost her balance and fell against one of them. A dark-haired man dressed in red coveralls pushed the door open. He and several other men burst into the room, pointing pistols at her. "Freeze!" he snarled.
A man with chevrons on his shirt stepped forward and spun her around, pressing her against the cylinder as the man in the red suit took the pistol away from her. "Put your hands in the air; donít even breathe!" he ordered.
"Open the door," Admiral Nelson ordered the Brig security guard.
The guard complied, glaring at Sashayka, who huddled, shivering violently, on the bunk within.
Admiral Nelsonís eyes were fixed on Sashayka as he and Mr. OíBrien stepped into the small brig cell where she had been taken after her capture, stopping only inches from her. The Admiral was not in the habit of beating women, but his fists ached to pound her until she was only a red grease spot on the deck.
He leaned toward her. "Just who the blazes are you, really?" he asked through clenched teeth.
"I have already told you that," she replied, her voice shaking as tears began streaming down her cheeks.
"In that case, are you a defector? A traitor to your people?" he hissed.
"No," she quavered, sobs shaking her slender body now.
Admiral Nelson watched her, trying to decide which "button" to push next. He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. His voice was very low, almost a whisper. "We rescued you. A military vessel. We took you on board, which is contrary to regulations." His face became very red as he ran his fingers through his tousled red hair while he was pacing the floor. Then he leaned down where his face was only a few inches from hers. "Then you REPAID that kindness by trying to kill my men and me!"
"You donít understand," she wailed, trying to back away from him. "I had to do it!" She began keening as she rocked back and forth.
"Please talk to the Admiral," Mr. OíBrien advised, trying to make his voice as gentle as possible. "The Admiral will let you have something to drink and make your stay much more comfortable. If you donít--." He left the sentence unfinished.
Actually, Admiral Nelson would have let her have food and water eventually, but she didnít have to know that.
Sashayka continued to cry. The Admiral and Mr. OíBrien waited for her to compose herself and explain why she had done it.
As Admiral Nelson listened to her 'why's, a part of him could not help sympathizing with her. Lord knows, Iíve done what I had to do to save my men and this boat. No mother is going to let her children be killed if she can stop it, whatever that takes.
When he spoke, it was the Naval officer part of him he let show. "But every man on this boat is somebodyís child," he snapped. "Many of my men are fathers as well."
Tears began trickling down her cheeks once more. "I just wanted to give my children a chance to live until Zahim is defeated and we can all go home again," she told him.
He walked away a few steps, running his fingers through his red hair as he thought. Maybe there was a way to save those Sybran government officials and their children being held at General Aabeemís headquarters. When will I learn? Why canít I be as hardened and cruel as these tyrant sons of bitches I deal with? he wondered. I stuck my neck out ten miles when I fished her out of the drink. Here I go again!
At television and radio stations all over the worldÖÖ
"We now interrupt our regular broadcasting to bring you a special news bulletin. We have just received word from the Nelson Institute of Marine Research that there has been a shooting aboard the SSRN Seaview. Admiral Harriman Nelson and Captain Lee Crane were wounded. Several other crewmen have been wounded as well. The Seaview was on a special mission in the El Yakim Gulf due to the recent hostilities between Daskthut Empire and the UN Peacekeeping Forces. There are no further details at this time. We will bring you any further developments. Please stay tuned. Once again, this just inÖ"
General Abeem settled back in his chair, sighing with profound relief. Sashayka had done it. What a coup! If he were a drinking man, he would now be wasted on date wine right now, but unfortunately for him, Allah would not allow it. Still, it was exhilarating to know that those meddlesome Americans were reeling from the blow that he had authorized. He was not sure how General Bashari had persuaded her to do it and did not want to know. The details were sometimes quite messy. Knowing them could dampen the satisfaction.
The end result was all that mattered, anyway.
Feeling more optimistic than he had in months, he stood and stretched. It was past time for him to retire for the evening. He left his office in the Army headquarters building and walked across the hall to his quarters. He entered and closed the door behind him. A second after he locked the door, someone threw an arm around his neck and squeezed, cutting off his wind. His assailant spun him around; he saw movement and felt a sting in his stomach and a thud against his spine. He sank to the floor, vainly pulling at the knife. He felt his hands being folded around the knife just before all awareness left him.
All lights in Sick Bay except the small desk lamp in his office were now off. He, Pheerse, and his corpsmen now wore sneakers, as per his "Quiet Steps Order" for Sick Bay to be observed by everyone, including himself. They talked only in whispers in an attempt to eliminate all possible noise. Those measures, combined with the sedatives he had administered, had all the patients seizure-free for the moment.
Dr. Jamison was becoming more baffled as each hour passed. He had seen similar symptoms before, but not from patients recovering from gunshot wounds.
Admiral Nelson was hovering around Lee, Chip, and Patterson. Occasionally, he stopped at Follmanís bunk to check on him, too. His expression was somber and pained.
"Could I have some water?" asked Lee.
Admiral Nelson got him a small cup of water and put it to his lips. Lee took a sip. His eyes bulged. Suddenly, his body began jerking as his eyes rolled back in his head. Jamie immediately grabbed a bite stick and forced it into Leeís mouth, then applied the restraint straps loosely enough for him to thrash about, but sufficient to keep him from falling out of his bunk.
Admiral Nelson grabbed Leeís shoulders. "Hang on, Lee. Iím here. Youíre going to be all right," he whispered, trying to keep his voice steady and soothing.
It took almost three minutes for the seizure to pass.
"Follman did the same thing about eight hours ago, Admiral."
"What in blazes is wrong with them?"
Dr. Jamison shook his head. "Iíll have to run some tests. Thereís no sign of infection, but they are all still running fever, though not high enough to cause convulsions. Theyíre complaining of headaches, too. Theyíre also developing difficulty in swallowing. It seems to be getting worse. Any noise or bright lights puts them in orbit."
"Strange," agreed the Admiral in a whisper.
"Very," Doc agreed, "but that isnít all. Follman woke up yesterday complaining about strange tingling, throbbing pain at his wound site. He said itís spreading and getting more severe. This afternoon, Lee, Chip, and Patterson have complained about the same thing."
As his gaze met Admiral Nelsonís, he hoped his eyes did not betray his growing fear.
Doc, Frank, and John were trying to restrain Follman enough to keep him from hurting himself as he trembled and twitched uncontrollably.
Patterson was asleep. It would be a good time to draw blood from him. If he were careful, he could draw the blood sample without even waking him. Without looking, Pheerse reached into the box containing the syringes used for drawing blood. Damn! They had just used the last ones drawing blood from Captain Crane, Mr. Morton, and Follman.
There were plenty in the Medical Storage Pantry, but since the Doc and the corpsmen were attending Follman, he did not want to leave, even if it was directly across the hall.
To save time, he would simply use a standard hypo.
Pheerse picked up an alcohol swab, a hypodermic syringe and a constriction band and placed them on the gurney beside Patterson. He carefully pulled the constriction band tight and tied it into place. Tearing open the packet, he removed the swab and carefully turned Pattersonís arm over. Even in the subdued lighting, a long, blue vein was already bulging. He dabbed a small area and uncapped the needle. He stuck the vein, noting the slight "pop" that indicated he had cleanly punctured it.
As he slowly pulled back the plunger, the dark red liquid flowed into the barrel. He gently removed the constriction band with his left hand and laid it aside, and then removed the needle, holding it in his right hand. The cap had rolled a couple of inches from where he had placed it.
As Pheerse reached over with his left hand to pick up the cap, Pattersonís body began bucking and shuddering. His legs rose. Pheerse felt the needle stick deep into his arm and felt the contents go in as the plunger depressed. Instinct took over. He yelled, grabbing a bite stick and wedging it between Pattersonís jaws. Although Patterson was strapped down, his arms and legs were very minimally restrained. The object was to prevent a seizure victim from hitting things as he thrashed about, not to prevent him from thrashing. That would cause as much harm as no restraints at all. There was nothing more to do but wait until the seizure passed.
Pheerse stared in horrified disbelief at the needle in his arm.
"Pheerse!" Doc shouted as he darted to his side. Then, he saw the syringe. For a long moment, Doc stood there, looking as if he had just seen the end of the world.
Then, Doc pulled the syringe out. "Go to the head and wash the site with bleach," he instructed, his voice hoarse as he placed the syringe in the sharps disposal on the wall.
Pheerse walked out of the sick bay and across the passageway to the head. He grabbed the bleach located under the lavatory and opened it, pouring it onto his arm. He winced as he rubbed it into the needle site. After capping the bleach and putting it up, he rinsed his arm thoroughly.
Doc entered and stood next to him. "Pheerse," he rasped, "Did you inject the IV port or him directly."
"I had drawn blood. He had a seizure. I was capping the needle."
Doc suddenly became paler. "What the hell were you thinking of?" he thundered, grabbing Pheerse by the upper arms and shaking him. "That would never have happened if you had used the vaccutainer tubes like you were supposed to do!" He whirled around, turned on the cold water, and splashed his face repeatedly, taking deep breaths between splashes. Pheerse laid his hand on Docís shoulder and discovered he was shaking.
Frank entered the head. "Doc, the Skipper and Mr. Morton are both having another seizure."
Dr. Jamison stared into the binocular eyepiece of the microscope in horror. The damning evidence lay before himóthe rhabdovirus in all its wicked, deadly glory. If he could not come up with a major miracle, Captain Crane, Mr. Morton, Patterson, and Follman, and Pheerse were gonersópure and simple.
"The dFA test on the Skipper is positive," declared Pheerse who sat at the workstation at his right.
Dr. Jamison suddenly felt weak and numb; cold tendrils of despair brushed against his mind. He peered at the specimen, only to feel those same cold tendrils curl around his mind and squeeze. The specimen was teeming with the telltale magenta-colored Negri bodies. The other telltale signs were also there, leaving no doubt.
Pheerse looked at him, puzzled. "But everybody except Follman has received the rabies vaccine. No one should have even become ill except him."
"They shouldnít have, but they did." Doc kneaded his aching temples with the thumb and fingers of his right hand. At the moment, he would have preferred to be doing hard labor in Folsom Prison. Doc regarded Captain Crane and Commander Morton as close friends, not simply his patients or superior officers. Patterson and he also knew each other well. Pheerse had become a part of him, a part he did not want to be without.
Even if he had the proper antigens, the only one who had a good chance of survival was Pheerse. He was not yet symptomatic. Once symptoms developed, the vast majority of rabies patients died
Doc sat in front of Admiral Nelsonís desk, relating his findings to the Admiral. As he talked, the Admiralís face became red as his blue eyes narrowed.
"Rabies?" roared Admiral Nelson, springing to his feet. "There has to be a mistake. Rerun the tests."
Doc met his stare. "Admiral, all the men have a very elevated white count. Theyíre spiking fevers of 101.5 up to 102.8. They began having difficulty swallowing and now have severe laryngeal spasms if they attempt to swallow. Even the sound of a faucet running in the sink when I wash my hands will cause Follman and Patterson to have throat spasms. All four men have had seizures. Iíve given orders for the lights in Sick Bay to be dimmed as much as possible. Even bright lights will bring on a bout of convulsions. The virus isolation on their saliva tested positive, as well as the dFA tests run on the skin biopsies from the napes of their necks. The Sellers Stains were chock full of Negri bodies. The virus is bullet-shaped. The outer membrane bilayer contains glycoprotein spikes. The RNP has beehive striations. What more proof do you need?"
The Admiral was a scientist; as a result, he knew about the detection of rhabdoviruses and other diseases. At the moment, he was obviously exhausted mentally, emotionally, and physically. He resumed his position behind his desk. "They havenít been exposed to any animals. They were shot with a pistol at close range."
That was true. Only the men who were shot had become infected.
Dr. Jamison felt his eyebrows draw together as he bit his lower lip for a moment. "Those bullets were filled with the rhabdovirus. I conducted tests on one of the bullets that they confiscated from the woman," he rasped past the lump in his throat. "The disease has been altered slightly to make it more virulent.
"Jamie, I was under sealed orders to deploy four Marine commandos behind enemy lines. Adams and the other commandos are going into the biological warfare labs to gain information and set bombs to blow them up. If we can get some of the antidote, we can manufacture the antiserum."
Jamie shook his head. "We could only manufacture a fraction of what we will need. The only labs equipped to manufacture large quantities of antiserum are the World Health Organization, the Center for Disease Control, and USAMRIID. Admiral, there is just not enough time," he stated, his voice hoarse and shaking. "Those men can go at any minute."
"But theyíre NOT DEAD YET! Admiral Nelson roared, slamming his fist down on his desktop. His blue eyes blazed. "By God, weíre going to look for a way to stop this thing until the last one of those men draws his last breath! And weíre going to KEEP looking. If this happens again, weíll be ready for it!"
This was not Admiral Nelsonís first time to stand vigil over his men, with the outcome looking bleak. Many times he had also lain near death. Obviously, it had not gotten any easier with time. If Lee died, it would take a whole lot more help than Dr. Jamison were capable of giving him to help him pick up the pieces.
What would happen to them in the meantime?
Adams, Stevens, and Sparkman sat in front of Admiral Nelsonís desk. "Your mission has been revised slightly," he informed them. "We will take you in our Flying Sub. Pay especial attention to anything you find on rhabdoviruses. If there is an antigen or antiserum, get it no matter what." He punctuated each of his last words by a staccato tap of his pencil. "You are to be at the retrieval area no later than thirty-six hours from the time you parachute in. The lives of three of my men depend on the success of your mission.
Adamsí eyes, blue like his own, met his. "And my manís life depends on it, too," he said somberly.
Kowalski banged on the door to Sick Bay. Pheerse, his Pharmacistís Mate, yanked the door open and glared at him. "Knock it off!" he hissed through clenched teeth as Kowalski pushed his way in.
Kowalski looked past Pheerse. Doc and his corpsmen were standing by a gurney. Doc looked across at the men, shaking his head.
"Youíre going to have to leave now," Pheerse hissed. He placed a hand on his shoulder and began to push him out the door.
He knocked Pheerseís hand away. "Iím here to see Patterson. Iíve got to see him!" His lowered voice broke; tears blurred his vision. He took a deep breath as a shudder coursed through him. The only way Pheerse could stop him would be to kill him. "By God, youíre going to be a patient in your own sick bay if you donít get back. I may go to the brig, but I will see him!"
Doc stepped forward. "Pheerse, check Pattersonís IV," he instructed.
Pheerse glared at Kowalski and walked away.
Doc laid a hand on his shoulder. "Kowalski, I canít let you in here right now. Iím trying to keep these men sedated to keep the seizures down. Right now, their senses are so sensitive. Any kind of stimulus could kill them right now," he stated, his voice barely above a whisper. "Patís in bad shape, Ski
"Doc, heóhe aóand I had aóa fight. I said some really awful things. I didnít mean them. I--Iíve got to tell him. IóI should have straightened this out before now." His voice shook; he wiped away a tear with the back of his hand.
Doc shook his head, his expression somber and pained. "Iím sorry, Kowalski. Itís just too risky."
Kowalskiís eyes met Docís red, dark circled eyes for a moment. "Doc, could I just stand by him? I wonít try to talk to him. I just want to be with him." He would rather be beaten down than beg for anything, but he was begging now. "PLEASE, Doc!"
Doc paused, then nodded. "Just for a minute. Heís over there," he told him, pointing to the gurney. "Remember. Donít talk to him or even touch him right now."
Kowalski stood, staring down at his friend as he folded his arms on the raised rail of the gurney. Pattersonís ashen face was almost as white as the sheets. His light brown hair, darkened by dampness, stood out against his forehead. It was all he could do to stop himself from reaching out and brushing it back. The area around his mouth was stained with copious amounts of dried white crusts and streaked with blood from his cracked, bleeding lips. Kowalski cringed.
The quiet young man had become a stabilizing influence on Kowalskiís high-strung temperament; conversely, Patterson had become more assertive.
They had worked on their cars and motorcycles together, getting greasy and sweaty in the process. There were the friendly "conflicts" at the pool table in the rec hall of their apartment complex. Anyone looking on would have thought they were going to fight at any minute, but it had all been in fun.
Face it! Youíll never find a closer, better friend if you live another million years. He spends all his Christmas and other holidays with you and your family at your parentsí home. Remember when Mom had a cake made by the local bakery for his birthday three years ago? It said, Happy Birthday, SON. Granted, they had never formally adopted him, but Ďsoní on that birthday cake had carried more emotional impact than ten formal adoptions.
The many dangers they had faced together on Seaview swirled into a dizzying maelstrom.
Then, the memories of the fight broke into his mind. "I hope you die in agony, you bastard!" The cruel words echoed and reechoed inside his head.
God, I didnít mean it! Please donít let him die! He raised his right arm and rested his forehead on his hand. Kowalski could no longer stop the tears from flowing down his cheeks. He bit his lip to keep from crying out as sobs shook his body.
A hand rested on his shoulder, squeezing it briefly. He looked up. Docís kind brown eyes met his.
"Ski, youíll have to leave now," Doc told him gently. "Weíre doing everything we can for him. If anything changes, weíll let you know."
"Thanks, Doc," he said. Reluctantly, Kowalski left Sick Bay.
Throughout Seaview, there was an uncharacteristic hush. No one spoke except in line of duty. It was almost as if they had been given the order for silent running.
"FS1 to Seaview." Sharkey gripped the mike a little tighter than usual. "Request another radio check.""
"Seaview to FS1," the voice of Mr. OíBrien came clearly through his headphones. "We read you loud and clear."
Sharkey switched off the mike and firmly gripped the controls. "Open bay doors."
"Bay doors open." Water skirled around the small stingray shaped vehicle until it was completely covered. It was almost totally dark except for the glow from the various instrument panels. Sharkey felt a sticky, thin film began seeping from the pores of his skin; his breath quickened as his stomach knotted.
"Releasing FS1," was the response.
The grapnels released; FS1 began to sink.
Sharkey turned and looked at the men behind him. "Okay, guys, time to go," he said as he leaned forward and switched on the engines.
Chief Sharkey glanced at Kowalski, who stared straight at the instrument panel. He had known him long enough to know that something was eating him alive. Randís telling him in private about his coming to blows with Patterson confirmed it. Rand had said it had something to do with Pattersonís stealing Kowalskiís girlfriend.
Kowalski was definitely not himself. Usually, he loved to fly the Flying Sub. He had flown right seat on several practice missions and had ferried the Admiral or Captain Crane to Washington or Groton for high-level meetings. Usually, his contagious enthusiasm got everybody else going.
Not today. When he had asked Kowalski to fly right seat on this mission, Kowalski had protested going until Sharkey had directly ordered him to go. Now, he silently stared at his instruments or out the Plexiglas in front of him.
FS1 broke the surface and skimmed the waves before becoming airborne.
Sharkey looked around. Adams, Stevens, and Sparkman were all gripping their harnesses, their wide eyes staring straight ahead. "Weíll be over Al-Skandar in a little over an hour," Sharkey informed them.
As FS1 swished through the air, keeping low to avoid detection by Daskthut Empire radar, Adams, Stevens, and Sparkman checked their equipment and strapped on their parachutes. On 15 January, they would retrieve the men off the coast of Alyon, Daskthut Empire if all went well.
Chief Sharkey checked their position. They were nearing Al-Skandar. There were the landmarks indicating where the biological warfare facilities were located. General Abeemís headquarters was not far away.
Adams, Stevens, and Sparkman stood. It was time.
Chief Sharkey sharply cut the power, slowing the craft almost to stalling speed. "Open the doors."
Kowalski flipped a switch. The doors in the floor of the Flying Sub descended. "Doors open." Air rushed in from the slipstream.
Kowalski turned in his seat. "Good luck, men."
A lump rose in Chief Sharkeyís throat as the men parachuted into the night sky. He did not dare to speak; he was very close to tears. Much of the foundations of all their lives depended on the three men successfully carrying out their mission and getting back to Seaview.
It was the only chance the Skipper and the others had.
As Kowalski closed the doors, Sharkey increased power. The craft began to climb back into the night sky.
Suddenly, something ripped into the craft from below. Sparks flew everywhere. Warning lights and sirens sounded.
Sharkey and Kowalski fought to keep the Flying Sub airborne. It must not fall into Daskthut Empire hands! As minutes dragged on, the craft became more unstable and harder to control.
"Thereís no way we can rendezvous with Seaview," Kowalski said. "Weíd never make it to her coordinates; even if we did, we canít submerge. Weíd leak like a strainer."
"I know!" snapped Sharkey. He picked up the radio. "FS1 to Seaview. Do you read?"
Sharkey released the mike key and waited a moment before keying it
again and repeating his message. There was still no answer.
Several bullets, this time from above, penetrated FS1, sending renewed showers of sparks everywhere. The smell of burning circuitry filled the air, burning their nostrils and lungs.
Sharkey increased power again, almost losing control as FS1 slipped and lurched. Their one chance was to try to make it to Yifar Air Base in Republic of Kavat. If they could get their landing gear down, they could land on the runway and repair the Flying Sub. If not--.
The flying sub was long overdue. There had been no word from the men after the craft had left Seaviewís berthing bay.
Admiral Nelson could contain his anxiety no longer. He burst into the radio shack, Mr. OíBrien behind him. "Is there any word from FS1?"
"No, sir." Sparks noted the grim expression on his face.
"See if you can get through to them," ordered the Admiral.
Suddenly, the radio crackled into life. "Mayday! Mayday! Mayday! Seaview, this is FS1. Weíve been hit by enemy fire. We cannot rendezvous. We are trying to make it to the new air base at Yifar. We will try to effect repairs there," came the excited voice of Chief Sharkey over the radio. He gave their present coordinates.
"Damn!" Admiral Nelson reached for the mike. "Go back on radio silence. Get a message to us when you get to Yifar," he said. "Seaview out."
If there were any stray enemy planes in the vicinity, FS1 could be attacked again. Since it was already damaged, it could not endure another attack.
Sparksí eyes met the Admiralís. He noticed the worry lines that seemed to etch themselves deeper into his face by the minute. His bloodshot eyes looked more moist than usual. He probably had not slept since the Skipper and the others had been shot.
"Iíll let you know as soon as they contact us at Yifar, sir," Sparks told him.
IF they reach Yifar, Sparks saw his own unspoken fear mirrored in the Admiralís eyes.
"Thanks, Sparks. Iíll be in Sick Bay if you need to reach me."
Right now, Admiral Nelsonís strong presence was the only one holding everything together. If he did not get some rest soon, he would collapse.
Sparks shivered despite the warmth of the radio shack.
As Admiral Nelson entered Sick Bay and walked to the bunks where his men lay, Doc and his medical staff were clustered around Follmanís bunk.
Pheerse was giving chest compressions while Frank was breathing through an adjunct over Follmanís mouth.
Dr. Jamison flipped the switch of the defibrillator. He picked up a paddle and squirted some gel onto it, then picked up the other paddle and rubbed them together. "Clear!" he shouted.
Pheerse and Frank immediately stood back; he shocked Follmanís heart. The EKG jumped momentarily, and then resumed its steady crawl across the screen.
After another shock, he administered a hypo directly into the heart muscle, and then shocked him again. "Come on, man. Donít quit on me!" shouted Jamie as he and his corpsmen and Pharmacistís Mate continued their resuscitation attempts.
After almost an hour, Dr. Jamison stopped. His staff did the same. He shook his head. "Time of Death: 2250 hours," he said hoarsely.
Admiral Nelson could not watch as Dr. Jamison covered Follmanís face with the sheet. He stared in turn at Lee, Chip, and Patterson; his eyes burning with unshed tears. How long would it be before one of them died?
He and Lee had been best friends for years; Lee was the heart of Seaview. To tell the truth, Lee understood her "soul" even better than he, and he was the one who had designed her. Admiral Nelson was not as close to Chip; still, he thought of Chip as a good friend. Patterson was highly intelligent and extremely competent and loyal. If Pat had not pushed him out of the way, he would be lying in that bunk near death right now.
Admiral Nelson left Sick Bay as tears spilled down his cheeks.
Admiral Nelson hastily retreated to his cabin. Lord knew, the crew did not need to see him this upset, especially now.
He sank into his chair at his desk and wiped away the flowing tears. Taking deep, slow breaths, he constricted his abdominal muscles as he attempted to compose himself.
The telephone deedle-deedle-deedled into life. He picked up the receiver. "Nelson."
"Admiral, this is Sparks," the voice of the radio operator came clearly over the headset. "I have your call from the French Consulate from Habib El Kytim. It is encrypted and scrambled."
Shit! Anything but this, he raged silently. "Put him on." Admiral Nelson flipped the ĎSCRAMBLEí switch and activated the decryption computer. That way, he could use the phone normally.
The other man lost no time coming to the point. "Sir, I have been told that you have a woman named Sashayka on board and that she is responsible for shooting several of your men," he stated.
"She did shoot several men here. We had our reasons for giving the information to the press," stated Admiral Nelson. He went on to convey the information that Sashayka had given him.
"I must know. What are you planning on doing with her?"
"I am going to see that she stands trial as an international terrorist and receives the maximum sentence, up to and including the death penalty," stated Admiral Nelson.
"Donít you need to reconsider how you handle the situation?" asked Habib El Kytim.
"Why? Captain Lee Crane and Lt. Commander Chip Morton are in Sick Bay in extremely guarded condition." He knew he was being dangerously tactless to an eminent Sybranian government official, but he could not stop the bitter words. "Another man, a very competent technician, will probably die as well."
"Iím sorry about your men."
"That isnít going to help them one iota." Admiral Nelson paused. "Have you ever seen men die of hydrophobia? Lyssa? Rabies? Whatever you want to call it, it is one of the most hideous ways to die. That is what I have to thank her for."
"But there are vaccines for the disease," Habib El Kytim protested.
"Thatís right, but we have no RI globulin on board. Even if we did, it would be useless. My men have all had the vaccine for rabies, but they developed symptoms anyway. It was a creation of Radbhat Zahimís biological warfare research facilities. Itís ironic, but part of our mission here was to deploy some commandos to obtain what information they could and to destroy the biological warfare laboratory facilities."
"What is this disease caused by?"
There was silence for several moments. "I cannot make any solid promises, but I might be able to help you." He paused again. "But it will only be on one condition," the Arab official stated.
Admiral Nelson could have turned somersaults the entire length of Seaview in his elation. "Of course! Anything you ask!"
"No record must remain of Sashaykaís shooting your men. You must announce that the information you gave the press was incorrect. And you must see that my wife is not prosecuted."
Admiral Nelson felt the world crash back in on him again. "Sir, I cannot do that. As far as immunity is concerned, I cannot grant that. That will be a decision for an international court of law to make."
"Then, I can do nothing to help you," Habib El Kytim told him firmly.
The rage, grief, and feelings of helplessness now burst forth. "Your government wanted our country and other UN members to help you fight Radbhat Zahim. Your own wife performed an act of terrorism for themóreluctantly, of courseóbut an act of terrorism nonetheless. We gave the information to the press that there had been a shooting aboard Seaview and that men were wounded to try to buy your childrenís lives. NIMR and the Navy are ready to ask the President to pull our vessels out of the El Yakim Gulf. And you sit in our Consulate and play bullshit games while my men are dying?" roared Admiral Nelson into the receiver. "Let me tell YOU how itís going to be. You get the antiserum to me and save my men. Then and only then, I will consider your request. If they die while you stall around, I will personally use my influence to see that she is prosecuted as a terrorist and I will release to the presses of the world that she was a traitor to the Sybranian government. Is that clear?" He slammed down the receiver.
Despite the fans, the massive hangar was like an oven. Kowalski had unzipped his coveralls and had slipped out of the top portion. Spools of wire in various gauges and colors stood in front of his worktable. Containers of P and J contacts and crimpers for them lay on the extreme right of the table.
If Iíve ever been more tired, I donít remember when. And this God-Awful heat! Maybe Iíve died and gone to hell, he thought. Then, he caught himself. No, I guess I havenít. They bring us water and salt tabs with electrolytes regularly. Besides, when we heard from Seaview a little over an hour ago, OíBrien said that Pat was still hanging on.
Chief Sharkey was pacing a few feet from the Flying Sub. "Come on, you clowns!" he fumed. "What the hellís taking you so long?"
A man who had introduced himself when they had landed as T/Sgt. Gavin Novsky glared at Chief Sharkey. "Chief, I am going as fast as I can," he growled. "You Navy guys get yourselves shot all to hell, then expect us drop everything to put you back together. This metal is a thin, highly specialized alloy, not some chunk of steel you can simply braise together and have it hold properly. It takes a long time to get it to temperature, but when I do, I donít have long to weld it properly before the temperature gets too high. That would weaken the metal very bad. Another few seconds and it will be ruined for anything but scrap. Now, if you want me to repair youróyouróflying saucer, get the fuck out of my face!" Kowalski raised his dark wraparound sunglasses as he looked up from the last fried circuitry panel lying on his workstation and watched as Chief Sharkey stalked off.
"Hey, Kowalski, how do you stand that prima donna son of a bitch?" called Novsky as he made some adjustments on his welder.
"Heís an all-right guy most of the time," Kowalski countered. "Heís concerned. Menís lives are riding on getting this flying sub back in operation, and we donít have long. You canít knock him for that." Sometimes, he could have called him far worse, but heíd be damned if heíd let some flyboy run him down.
"No, guess not." Novsky lowered his welding helmet and turned on his torch.
Kowalski put his shades back on as painful brightness and even greater heat filled the area. He picked up the wire cutters and cut the various lengths of wires in the required colors from the spools in front of him.
He had at least ten more hoursí work in front of him; he needed to be finished in seven.
Adams and Stevens crept through the concrete and steel complex. The bombs were in place now. All they had to do was set them off with the small radio transmitter when they were a safe distance away.
They edged to the back of the building where the labs were located. Sparkman should be almost finished. They had to get the hell out of here and get to their retrieval point. Adams knew Admiral Nelson did not want to be involved in their mission. That had been the main reason that he had received sealed orders to be opened only after they had gotten underway.
The door opened a little; Sparkman squeezed through. "I photoed as many documents as I could and I found this in their stores. He opened up his clothing. There were several small plastic containers with what looked like blood in them. "This is it, Sarge," Sparkman told Adams.
"Good! Letís get out of here."
As they walked through the entrance, something crashed into the back of his head. He slumped to the ground amid the sounds of blows contacting bodies and the moans of Stevens and Sparkman.
When he regained consciousness, he was staring into the face of an Arab holding an AK-47 on him. "American!" he hissed, spitting in his face. His eyes, wide open and unblinking, showed there would be no reasoning with him. "Unholy filth! Even pigs are better than you!"
He knew he had better not move, even to wipe away the spit, or he would be made into hamburger for the vultures.
The black-clad Arab shouted orders in Arabic. Other men stepped forward and hauled them roughly to their feet and carried them back into the building. Inside, their captors slammed them against the wall, and then made them stand with their backs to one of the support pilings. Two more men came and bound their hands and feet tightly together.
"Sir, why donít we just shoot them and get it over with?" one of the men asked. "Allah has more important callings for us than to handle thisóthisópig shit."
The man who was obviously the leader whirled on the man who was speaking. "I will decide what Allah is calling us to do!" he shouted. "And if you ever doubt it again, it will be the last thing you ever do!" He turned the AK-47 on the man for a moment.
"Forgive me! I am overwhelmed at seeing the enemy, especially here in the middle of our holy city."
The leader then turned his attention to the Americans. "I am going to kill you, but you will die so horribly that even the djinn will be moved to pity," he stated.
Adams thought he heard the barest movement a short distance away, but he did not dare turn his head to look. Instead, he breathed slowly and deeply, trying to fight the nausea that was becoming worse by the minute.
Suddenly, two men stood up, wearing black Arab clothes similar to the maniac in front of him, and opened fire with what looked like 9mmís. Their captors were knocked back as huge holes seemed to erupt in them, gushing scarlet.
Two more men entered; one began cutting them free.
"Come. We donít have much time," he said in English.
Adams was not going to argue. Anyone else had to be more reasonable than the men who had captured them.
He and the others left the building.
"This way." The leader motioned to a covered half-track used for carrying troops and climbed into the cab. As the others climbed into the back of the truck, he started the engine. Three more men were sitting on the long benches. Two children were also with them. They were asleep between the men. A man and a woman leaned against the supports holding the heavy canvas in place. They opened their eyes, and then closed them again.
"Who are these civilians?" asked Adams.
"They are the Sybranian Minister of Health and his wife. Our Minister of Justice, Habib El Kytim, is married to their daughter. These two children belong to Minister El Kytim and his wife," one of the Arabs told him in English.
The half-track stopped. The men spoke in Arabic to someone, probably the guard. After what seemed like an hour, the truck started forward again.
When they were almost a mile from the compound, Adams activated the radio transmitter and set the frequency and the time, then pressed the TRANSMIT button.
Thirty seconds later, a tremendous BOOM-BOOM shook everything as huge orange flowers festooned the night sky. Adams smiled, admiring his handiwork for a moment, and then turned to the men who had rescued them. "Thank you for getting us out of there. You donít know how important it is that we get out of here."
"Yes, I do," he told them.
"Who are you?" asked Adams.
He held out his right hand. "I am Captain Balthasar Nasser of the Army of the Republic of Sybran. These are my men."
As Chief Sharkey flipped on the breakers to D instrument cabinet, sparks spewed from one of the panels. He immediately flipped off the breaker. A small tongue of fire licked out of the panel.
Grabbing a fire extinguisher, Kowalski put out the fire, then began gingerly opening the circuitry cabinet, burning his fingers as he did so. "Shit!" As he pulled the door open, a puff of smoke billowed out, burning their eyes and nostrils. As soon as it cleared enough to keep his eyes open, he grabbed a screwdriver and began removing the panels in the cabinet.
Sharkey stood inches from him. "Kowalski, Iíll have you court-martialled. What the hellís the matter with you? If something was still wrong, you shouldnít have overlooked it. Now get your head out of your ass and get this damn thing fixed right now!"
Kowalski was on the last screw when Sharkey finished his diatribe. He laid down the screwdriver, his hands were clenched into fists and his spread his feet more, crouching slightly. He glared into Sharkeyís eyes, brown like his own. "If you are going to court-martial me, Iíll make it worthwhile," he hissed.
"What the hell will we do now? We need to take off in fifteen minutes!" Sharkey shouted.
"Iíll have to troubleshoot the panel and the wiring inside the FS1 itself, but Iíll find the problem and fix it." Kowalski wiped his burning eyes and picked up his meter to begin checking the panel. If Sharkey didnít get off his case, it would take a lot longer; he might even wind up in the brig before he completed the repairs.
Sharkey was on a roll. "I pray to God those Marines bring back that medicine the Admiral wanted them to find. The Skipperís and Mr. Mortonís lives depend on our getting back with that medicineólike yesterday!"
Rage surged through Kowalski. He dropped the meter probes and slammed his fists down on the worktable. "So does Patís!" he forced past the lump in his throat.
The woman suddenly sat rigidly upright for a few moments, and then slumped over. Two of Captain Nasserís men and her husband rushed to her side. One of the men felt her neck for a pulse.
She gasped for breath through open, bluish lips, her eyes wide.
"Her pulse is erratic and weak," he stated in Arabic. "We have to get her to a hospital."
Adams did a quick calculation. They were due at the rendezvous point in less than an hour; it would take them at least two to get there.
"The Seaview has an excellent medical facility," Adams told them. "Their doctor is the best Iíve ever seen."
"She probably wonít last that long," the Arab checking her pulse stated in a whisper as he and her husband helped her to a semi-sitting position.
"Didnít you Americans build a new base at Yifar?" asked the Arab that Adams assumed was Captain Nasserís second in command.
"One was scheduled to be built, but I donít know if it was really built or not," Adams informed him.
He pulled back the canvas flap at the front of the truck and motioned for the truck to stop. As the truck squealed to a stop, Captain Nasser alighted; his second in command filled him in.
"Weíre still in enemy country," protested Captain Nasser. "And weíve got a long way to go until we reach the retrieval point. Patrols may be on the lookout for us, so itís going to be bad if we run into these Shiites. And weíre dressed in their clothes. We will be executed as spies for sure if weíre caught."
"Weíre far closer to Yifar than we are to Twiskar," his second in command told him. "The American air base will have medical personnel there."
Captain Nasser climbed back into the cab of the half-track. "Letís go!" he ordered.
Allah, please donít let them catch us! Not now! Weíre almost to the border, Captain Nasser prayed as the three jeeps and a truck rapidly became larger in his rear-view mirror. There was no way the heavy half-track could
Outrun the lighter jeeps. He picked up his AK-47 from behind the seat. The bastards might get them, but it would not be without a fight.
He could see the Republic of Kavatyn border in the distance. Just a couple of kilometers more and they would be in friendly territory.
Bullets spurted up the sand on each side of the half-track, pointedly reminding them they were not out of danger yet.
Several plinks against the heavy metal bumper sent both Sybran and American soldiers alike diving to the floor.
Adams grabbed the children and dropped them on the floor, falling on top of them in an effort to shield them from the bullets. They squirmed and began to cry, but he did not have time to comfort them. "Stay down!" he instructed, then crawled to look out the canvas flap on the back.
Three jeeps were rapidly gaining on them!
Sparkman pulled a grenade off his cartridge belt and looked at Adams. He nodded, pulling his Beretta from his sidearm holster and laying down what little suppression fire he could. Sparkman pulled the pin and tossed the grenade. It exploded in front of the lead jeep; it careened off the road. Two men rolled a short distance in the sand, and then lay still.
"Cover me!" Adams ordered, picking up a grenade and pulling the pin.
Sparkman and Stevens fired their pistols, trying to stay behind cover as they did so. The Sybran soldiers fired their AK-47s.
The two jeeps swerved as the second grenade exploded, causing them to momentarily lose control. Seconds later, the drivers straightened out and continued to advance as the men in the back fired on them.
Suddenly, there was a loud pop; the half-track veered to the left and would have turned over if the driver had not been very skillful.
"It seems that they got our left front tire," remarked the second-in-command.
The half-track continued to move slowly ahead. Then, two huge BOOMs went up behind them as the two remaining jeeps suddenly exploded into balls of flame. The truck turned and retreated, bullets kicking up the sand behind them. The half-track stopped. Several men opened the flaps and trained the muzzles of their AK-47s on them.
"Who are you and what is your business?" asked a man Adams could not see.
"I am Captain Nasser of Sybran. We have children and an important official of the Sybran government with us. We have a contingent of American Marines who are trying to rendezvous with their boat. They are late. We also have a woman who has probably had a heart attack. We were trying to get to the air base at Yifar."
"I will have a contingent of my men escort you," the man told Captain Nasser. "I warn you. If you try anything, you will be shot immediately."
Kowalski and Sharkey screwed the panel in. It was fixed now. A tiny piece of shrapnel had nicked one of the small wires. That was enough to create a short and burn up a lot of good wire.
Sharkey and Kowalski completed the checklist.
Sharkey picked up the mike. "FS1 requesting clearance for taxi."
"Permission denied. Wait out ten to fifteen. There has been an important development. I canít pass along any details at this point."
Sharkey picked up the mike again. "FS1 to Yifar Control. We have men to pick up. We are very late retrieving them. They have vital information and medicine that may save American lives," Sharkey protested.
"You are to remain here until you receive the go-ahead," the controller told him.
"Shit!" Sharkey slammed the mike roughly into its slot. "Hurry up and wait. Weíve got men dying and we canít even go see if those men got the medicine that would save them."
"Let me have the left seat, Chief. Iíll take this flying sub out of here and dare anybody to say shit about it."
"And youíll be spending a lot of years in Portsmouth. Do you want that?"
Kowalskiís wide, bloodshot eyes had an almost febrile look in them. "No, but if I can save the Skipper and Mr. Morton and Pat, Iíll do it."
Although Kowalski was loyal to both officers, Chief Sharkey knew his main thoughts were with Patterson. "Ski, I hope they all make it," he said, not trusting himself to say any more for a moment.
Kowalski nodded. "Me, too."
Sharkey laid a hand on Kowalskiís arm. "I got a little hairy for a while. I was just upset. I have to hand it to you. You did a great job."
Several minutes later, someone banged on the hull. Sharkey and Kowalski unstrapped and undogged the hatch, then climbed on top of the craft. Several men in Arab dress stood beside FS1 as well as the Marines that they had inserted into Al-Skandar what seemed an eternity ago. Two small children were with them, their eyes wide. A man wearing an Air Force uniform with eagles on its collars stepped forward.
"Iím Colonel Reese, the Base Commander. I believe youíre looking for some Marines," he told them. "Sergeant Adams has a lot of information and some specialized medicine that he said your men need very badly."
"But how did you know where to find us?" stammered Sharkey.
The Colonelís lips twitched in a smile. "Itís a long story. Iíll let them fill you in on the way back to Seaview."
Sharkey did some quick calculating. The FS1 would be carrying a heavy load with the Arab men aboard.
"Get in," Sharkey told everyone.
Adams extended his hand to the Arabs. "Thanks for everything, Captain Nasser. I hope Mrs. Dharat gets along all right." After handshakes all around, Adams and Stevens each lifted a child and climbed in the hatch.
The Arab men stepped back. "We will not be going with you. Our duty is here," stated the one who was obviously in charge.
Once the Marines and the children were strapped in, Sharkey and Kowalski flipped switches and turned dials.
Sharkey picked up the mike. "FS1 to Yifar Control. Request permission to taxi."
"Yifar Control to FS1, you are cleared for taxi. Proceed to Runway 180 and you will be go for takeoff," the air traffic controller told them.
As FS1 ascended into its berthing bay aboard Seaview, Kowalski and Sharkey unstrapped. When the grapnels engaged, the other men released their harnesses and stood.
Sharkey opened the hatch; the Marines climbed out first, followed by Kowalski. Sharkey was the last one out; he dogged the hatch.
As they stepped from the berthing bay, the Admiral, Doc, and Pheerse converged on them.
"I believe youíre wanting this," Adams stated, handing what looked like miniature IV bags to the Admiral.
Admiral Nelson handed them to Doc, who looked at them carefully. Then, he smiled and slapped Pheerse on the back.
"Come on!" Doc ordered his Pharmacistís Mate, the elation evident in his voice. Both men turned and bolted down the passageway.
Doc attached the RI globulin for Rhabdovirus SXII to Pattersonís IV pole, while Pheerse set up one for the Skipper and Frank set up one for Mr. Morton.
There were three left.
Dr. Jamison then motioned for Pheerse to lie down and set up an IV with the new antiserum. "Your turn, my friend," he said jauntily. His eyes, though, were bright with excess moisture.
He quickly inserted the IV into Pheerseís arm, then fled to his office and shut the door.
He locked his office door as the tears began coursing down his cheeks. There was no guarantee that Lee, Patterson, or Chip would recover. Their bodies were so weak; they were so far gone that by all medical standards, they should be dead already.
Pheerse would be all right; he had received the treatment in time.
Doc folded his arms on his desk and rested his head on them as the tears continued to fall. This was not like him, but stress, days without sleep and the prospect of losing patients who were also good friends of his had taken its toll.
Kowalski went to the locker by his bunk and got underwear and a clean pair of coveralls, and then went to shower.
As the warm water and soap took away the powerful body odor and tension, the room seemed to shift slightly. He suddenly felt as if his legs were made of rubber; his hands shook as he lathered himself. Get a grip, man, he scolded himself. Itís over. Youíre back on Seaview. Get some of Cookieís coffee and go see Pat, then turn in.
He shut the water off. He toweled himself dry, then put on underwear and went to the lavatory to shave. He finished shaving and was rinsing the residual lather off his face when he became so weak he could not stand without leaning against the sink. He felt a cold sweat form on his body as everything began to turn gray. He bent forward at the waist for a moment. His vision cleared a little.
He put on deodorant and dressed, then stumbled to the Crewís Quarters and collapsed onto his bunk just as the darkness claimed him.
Doc stared at Chip. His skin color was definitely better than a few hours ago. When he checked his temp, it was 100.4! He opened his eyes for a moment.
"Hey, Chip," Doc said gently. "You gave us quite a scare for a while."
Chipís cracked lips moved, but only rasping and clicking noises came out.
"Donít try to talk just yet. Your throat and mouth are very dry. Just go back to sleep."
Chipís lips twitched in a smile, which cracked his dry mouth. Blood stood out. His tongue swiped it as he closed his eyes.
Doc snatched a tissue and dabbed away the blood.
When his condition indicated that he could safely tolerate water, Doc would let him have it.
He moved on to Captain Crane, whose eyes were open, although they were still slightly glazed and did not seem to be focusing normally. "Lee, you were really sick for a while, but youíre starting to turn it around. You had me worried there."
Lee opened his mouth, but no sound came out.
"Just rest, Lee. Youíll be even better in a few days," he assured him.
Doc walked to his next patient. Patterson opened his eyes and closed them periodically. His face was still very pale.
"Hey, Pat. Youíve had a rough go, but youíre going to be all right," Doc told him gently. "Ski has been by here. We couldnít let him talk to you; you were heavily sedated to try to manage the convulsions. We let him come in and stand beside you for a few minutes. If we hadnít, he was going to turn this place out. Heís been really worried about you."
The corners of his mouth turned up in a smile for an instant, then his eyelids closed.
A few hours later, Pheerse drew blood for a CBC and brought the vaccutainer tubes to the lab. He and Doc prepared the slides.
Doc looked into the eyepiece. The white count of each man was considerably lower than it had been since they had become ill. He grinned and briefly threw a friendly arm across Pheerseís shoulders.
"You did it, Jamie!" Pheerse exclaimed, lightly gripping his upper arm.
His human ego would have liked to claim the credit, but he knew his expertise alone was not responsible. "No, a much greater power was at work here," he corrected. "You and I just helped out a little."
Admiral Nelson showered and shaved and put on a clean uniform. The two children sat on his bunk, looking around, their eyes wide in astonishment.
Iíve broken at least a dozen regulations, but it was for a good cause. If the Navy or NIMRís contractors learn of half of what happened down here, they would string us all up.
Yes, I could have stuck with the letter of the law, even though it would have been counterproductive and even harmful, or I could bend a few regulations and acquire the means to enable Lee, Chip, and Pat to recover.
By the letter of the law, perhaps Sashayka should stand trial. However, sheís no terrorist. Sheís a woman who was tortured, threatened, and intimidated in the most hideous fashion. Unlike Armed Forces personnel, she had not received any training that would enable her to cope with it. Many good men have broken under less than what she went through.
He pressed the radio shack code on the interphone. "Admiral Nelson to Sparks. Set up a link to the United States Consulate in France. Put through a call to Habib El Kytim." The Admiral then pressed another number. "Admiral Nelson to Brig Security, release the prisoner and have her brought to my cabin," he ordered.
There was a long pause. "You mean she is free to leave?" asked the guard.
"Bring her to my cabin first, then she is to remain free. Turn in all paperwork to me when you come."
There was a knock on the door. "Just a moment," called Admiral Nelson.
He motioned for the two children to go in the head. They hesitated at first, but then walked into the bathroom. Admiral Nelson shut the door.
"Come in," he called, sitting at his desk.
The door opened; the guard motioned for the orange-clad woman to enter. "Please sit down," he said, gesturing to a chair beside his desk for Sashayka. He jerked his thumb toward the door, indicating to the guard that he wanted him to leave and close the door behind him.
Admiral Nelson was silent for a moment. "Mrs. El Kytim, I regret to say that one man attached to this vessel on special duty died of the disease," he told her.
Her expression crumbled. Tears began trickling down her cheeks. "I didnít want to hurt anyone," she sobbed.
"I donít believe you did," he told her.
She continued to cry.
Admiral Nelson handed her a tissue. "Your husband and I have talked. We have reached an agreement. He sent men in to help a Marine unit with their mission to Al-Skandar. They brought back the antiserum for the mutated strain of rabies and photos of many documents. Due to the information, we can effectively counter almost any tactics the Daskies use. They were planning to launch SCUD missiles, some with warheads containing germ warfare. However, the most insidious one is a virus which attacks theóumm--." He paused, searching for a delicate way to word it. "The male reproductive cells. It breaks down the gene patterns and will cause multiple birth defects if a baby survives its gestation. Many pregnancies will result in spontaneous abortion."
"Thatís so horrible!" she said.
"Your husband helped us. Now, we shall help him. All records will be changed, indicating the shootings were accidental. I have already announced to the world that I am alive and well and that Captain Crane and Mr. Morton are also unharmed; that the gunshot aboard Seaview was due to a misfire during a small-arms drill."
She wiped her eyes and nose. "I only wanted my babies to live, Admiral," she wept.
The interphone deedled. He picked the receiver up. "Admiral Nelson."
"I have your call, sir," Sparks told him.
"Put him through."
Admiral Nelson greeted him; they exchanged pleasantries. Then, he told him of his decision not to prosecute Sashayka.
"Thank you, Admiral Nelson," Habib El Kytim said.
"Thank you, sir. If you had not helped those Marine guerillas get that antiserum, my men would have died." A lump came into his throat. "Iím grateful."
They talked cordially for several more minutes. "There is another person here who would like to speak with you." Admiral Nelson extended the receiver to Sashayka. "There is a high-ranking government official who wants to talk to you," he told her, putting on his most serious expression.
Her eyes widened; with a trembling hand, she took the receiver. "Hello," she said, her voice shaking.
She listened a moment, then began talking rapidly in what Admiral Nelson assumed was an Arabic dialect. At first, she seemed happy, and then she began crying so hard she could not speak for several moments. Then, she cleared her throat and began talking, her voice shaky. Finally she was quiet, listening intently.
She began smiling radiantly once more. Finally, she said something in a soft, hushed voice and gave the receiver back to Admiral Nelson.
"When I told Habib why I had agreed to attack you and the men, he said that under the circumstances, he does not hold it against me and that--." Her voice became low and shaky. "He loves me very much. He understands, just as you have."
Admiral Nelson smiled, feeling a lump well up in his throat. His eyes began to burn as moisture built up in them. He cleared his throat. "Now, I have a couple of small surprises for you." He stood up and opened the door to the head.
The two children eyed him warily, but obeyed him.
As they walked through the door, they began jabbering and squealing as they ran to their mother. Laughing and crying, she took them in her arms.
Kowalski stirred and sat up, looking at his watch. Shit! He was only going to lie down for an hour and go to Sick Bay to see Patóif Pat would talk to him.
Riley and Clark walked into Forward Crewís Quarters. "Hey, Ski, you going to live?" Clark asked, clapping him on the shoulder. "You were out of it for over twelve hours."
He swung his legs over the side of the bunk and stood up. "Working on it," he mumbled. "I was up for over two days before we got back. Guess I tried to make up for it."
He put on his shoes and started for the door.
"Hey, Ski, where you going?"
"Sick Bay. Iíve got something Iíve got to do."
He stepped inside Sick Bay. Pheerse met his gaze, and then motioned to a bunk. "Heís over there."
Kowalski strode past the bunks where the Skipper and Mr. Morton were being attended to by Frank and John to the bunk where Pat lay. The dried mucous was gone, but his lips were still cracked and bleeding. His eyes were closed.
Kowalski eased down on the edge of the bunk.
Patís eyes fluttered open.
"Pat," Kowalski began, trying with difficulty to keep his voice steady. "Doc says youíre doing lots better."
Patterson smiled wanly.
Kowalski laid one hand over Pattersonís and clasped his shoulder with the other, wincing at the unusual thinness of his friend.
Patterson grimaced as a groan escaped his lips. "God! That hurt!"
Kowalski recoiled. "What did I do?"
Pat took a quivering breath. "Itís not your fault. I had so many seizures. Itís like severe muscle strain, multiplied by a hundred times. My nerves are still so sensitive, too. Doc says itíll go away, but that doesnít help me right now."
Kowalski relaxed his grip on Pattersonís shoulder until it was only a feather-light touch, leaning down so that only Patterson could hear. "Pat, Iíve been wrongódead wrongóabout a lot of things. All Teresa Taltman wanted to do was see how many problems she could cause for somebody, and we were it." He paused briefly. His heart pounded like a jackhammer. What would Pat do? After the way he had treated Pat, Kowalski knew he could lose his friendship forever. Whatever the consequences, he would face them like a man. "I shouldnít have gone off on you like I did. Iím sorry."
Pattersonís eyes filled with tears. He turned his head away as they spilled down his cheeks.
Ski brushed Pattersonís arm with his fingertips. His vision blurred as his own eyes misted over. "Hey, buddy, cut it out. Youíre going to have me doing it."
Patís eyes met his again as he lifted a hand and placed it on Skiís arm, his grip tightening very slightly. "Iím sorry about Teresa. I never encouraged her, believe me."
"I know that."
Pat smiled, which caused his lips to begin bleeding again. Kowalski pulled a paper towel from the dispenser located above the sink and softly blotted away the blood. Pat squeezed his arm again. "IóI always thought weíd both be married by now and have some kids. And theyíd be bust buddies, just like us." His face clouded over. "But it hasnít happened yet."
"No, and timeís going by. Weíre not getting any younger. IóI just want us to have families waiting for us. When we have to leave this world, I want a part of me to live on. Thatís what Teresa represented to me. When she dumped me, I saw myself old and alone and no one to live on after me. I just freaked."
Patís hand tightened again. "You just havenít found the right one. When you do, youíll have a house full of kids." He paused. "While youíre at it, letís be sure to find one for me, too!"
"Are you ready?" Admiral Nelson asked his passengers.
Sashayka and her children nodded.
As the FS1 descended from its berthing bay, Admiral Nelson switched on the engines. The water became constantly lighter as the little craft climbed toward the surface.
After a stop at the Air Force base at Yifar to pick up Sashaykaís parents, they would continue to France, where they would land at a small airport about seventy kilometers from Paris. A car would take her, the children, and her parents to Habib El Kytim.
The little boy said something to his mother, who frowned and replied in a stern voice.
"What is he needing?"
"He wants you to let him fly."
Admiral Nelson laughed, putting the FS1 on autopilot. "Unstrap him."
She complied. Admiral Nelson let him climb into his lap.
"Put your hands here," he instructed, indicating the controls. "Now, just fly it," he said. Several times, the boy made comments, which his mother interpreted.
After several minutes, he let the little girl have a turn at the controls.
However, the simple joy the children showed did not need translating.
For the man who helped him get the antiserum so that Lee, Chip, and Patterson could live, it was the least he could do.
Dr. Jamison looked up from the monitor screen of his computer as Pheerse entered the office and poured two cups of coffee. He perched on the edge of Docís desk and set a cup in front of him.
"Thanks," he said, taking a grateful sip of coffee. Pheerse made the ideal cup of coffee: not too weak; not too strong.
Pheerse gestured with his own cup at the monitor. "Keep that up and youíll become rich and famous."
Doc laughed, grinning at Pheerseís compliment. "I donít know about riches and fame, but this research will save a lot of lives."
With Lee, Chip, and Pat on the road to recovery, he now had time for research and to write up his findings.
"Jamie, Iíve been wondering. Those men became symptomatic, but they still made it. You can count on one hand the number of people who survived actually becoming ill with rabies. What did you find out about that?"
Dr. Jamison leaned back and stretched. "I believe that Lee, Chip, and Pat had enough antibodies in their systems to give them some resistance to the disease because they had received the rabies vaccine. Of course, it took its toll on them. If we had not gotten the RI globulin that was strain-specific, they would not have made it. Follman, on the other hand, had no immunity because he had never received the rabies vaccine."
"That sounds right," Pheerse said as he sipped his coffee. He was silent for a moment, but continued to look thoughtfully at him for a time. "When we get back home, Iím going to go to my folksí cabin. The fishingís great and the water is cold and clearógreat for swimming. Youíre welcome if you want to come."
"Thanks. Iíd like that," he told him. "Just donít say anything to anyone about it." It was against regulations for officers and enlisted personnel to associate outside of the line of duty, but what he needed most was to rest his body and let the quiet, quality time spent with a close friend heal his mind and soul.
The men stood in formation on the deck at Attention, clad in Class A uniforms. Admiral Nelson stood, front and center, with Captain Crane, Commander Morton, and Mr. OíBrien behind the Admiral.
"Gentlemen, in the last few months, we as a nation have faced great challenges," Admiral Nelson began.
"In years past, this country was divided in its goals and purposes. Only now, are the Viet Nam veterans being properly recognized for their contributions and sacrifices in the cause of democracy.
Then, another threat to basic human decency, the cause of world peace, and democracy arose. Radbhat Zahim attacked Republic of Sybran without provocation, destroying a small peaceful nation in an attempt to further his own misguided purposes.
The United Nations responded with censure, sanctions, and when no other options were left, with military intervention.
We as a nation changed from one of apathy and division to unite in the cause of human rights and freedom. Now, as a nation, we are proud in the defeat of this oppressor; we, as a nation, are standing stronger than ever.
The victory over Radbhat Zahim did not come without a price. As in all wars, some men had to make the ultimate sacrifice. As we go to our homes, let us remember those who laid down their lives."
The ceremony seemed to take forever, but finally, "Dismissed!" rang out. Everyone was free to leave Seaview and join friends and family on shore.
"Can you manage okay?" Kowalski asked Patterson.
He nodded, but he looked tired. Even after almost two months, he easily became fatigued. Kowalski picked up the two large, heavy bags and left the two lighter ones for Pat. He would have carried the others, too, but he knew Pat would resent being treated like an invalid.
"I just want to go home," Pat said. "We have a month before we have to report back aboard. Right now, I think I could spend the entire time sleeping."
At the Security booth, they showed their IDís and walked through the gate to the parking area designated for crew members and their families.
Kowalski would know his motherís voice anywhere. She and his dad ran toward them.
When his parents reached them, Kowalski and Patterson hugged them as well as they could while burdened with their gear. "We were just heading home," he told them, meaning their apartment.
"Nothing doing," laughed his dad, taking one of the big bags from his son and a small one from Patterson. "Marsha and David and their kids are waiting at the house. Stan and Denise are coming over. Steve and Nichole had to work late. They all should be there when we get back. Weíve got potato salad, peas, corn, salad, and desserts ready. Stan and David are supposed to be grilling the meat as we speak."
"And Teresa Taltman came by. She was crying her eyes out. Said she had made a mistake and wanted to make up with you. I started not to tell you, but you do have the right to know," said Elani Kowalski. "Iíve seen people I couldnít stand before. Some of the girls Stan has run through wouldnít be fit for skidrow bums. She gave me a couple of letters to give to you." She opened her purse and pulled out two envelopes.
"Just rip them up and put them in that trash can over there," said Kowalski, nodding toward a large barrel standing in the parking lot. "Her breaking up with me was the best thing that could have happened to me." His gaze met Patís; the corners of Patís mouth turned up in a brief smile.
His motherís expression became serious, as she looked them both over again. "Pat, are you all right?" she asked as the four of them walked to the elder Kowalskisí car.
He nodded. "Just a little tired."
"You can make yourself comfortable in Nateís room. I hope youíre not catching something."
If she knew what hell he went through, thought Kowalski with a shudder.
"Heíll be all right, Mom," Kowalski assured her, not wanting to talk about Pattersonís nearly fatal illness at the moment. "Now, letís get there before the meat gets coldóor burned, if David cooks it. If Steve gets hold of it, it will still be on the hoof."
Everyone laughed as Mr. Kowalski unlocked the Buick LeSabre and pressed a button to open the trunk. As soon as he and his dad stowed the bags, they were on their way.
Kowalski and Patterson rode in the rear seat. "Thank you for thinking of us," Patterson said as he smiled and leaned back.
"It isnít very often that we welcome our sons back from war," said Mr. Kowalski. "Believe me, itís our pleasure!"
Seaview sat alone and empty, for now. In a month, her crew would return and she would leave the safety of the dock for the dangers and adventures of the ocean depths. Whatever lay in store for them, she and her crew would be ready.