With Friends Like That…
by Trisha Allen
The density of the tree canopy kept out a high percentage of the daylight. Or perhaps it wasn’t even daylight any longer. The heavy rain and dark clouds had long since obliterated what light there had been. The man wasn’t even sure if it had stopped raining. The constant dripping of water from the branches imitated the downpour, and even the giant leaves of the native tree "Sombrilla de Pobre", or "Poor Man's Umbrella", hadn't helped protect him. He was already soaked to the skin, so whether or not the storm had passed was a moot point.
He stopped for a moment, leaning against a particularly broad tree trunk in order to catch his breath. He needed some luck at the moment and at least the weather was in his favour. He hoped that he was unlikely to be followed in this. He looked back in the direction from which he’d come. His footsteps now resembled little more than the surrounding muddy puddles, almost indistinguishable despite the fact that he’d only passed that way moments before. It probably didn’t matter that he’d made some noise hacking through the forest; the beating of the rain and the rumbles of thunder would have drowned out the sound of anything – including his trackers, he thought ruefully.
He began to shiver. Standing still made him realise just how cold and wet he’d become, and he felt feverish as well. He instinctively looked down for his watch, but saw only his bloodied and bruised arm.
He found himself thinking of the woman, but mentally pushed those images away. I’ve got to find my way to the river. Wearily, he forced himself upright, breathing deeply as the pain from his injuries threatened to overcome him. Dear God, do I have the strength for this? He considered his surroundings. Wet, dank leaves, vines, ferns, branches, mud… everything looked the same. He tried to picture in his mind the map he’d seen, way back ... when? … on Seaview. He couldn’t recall this trail, but she’d told him it was the right way. When they’d escaped from the camp it had been dry, and he’d been able to make out the arc of the sun. That was good, providing him with some orientation. But then the storm had blown up, as quickly and as unexpectedly as only tropical storms can. The sunlight disappeared, their escape was discovered and the trackers with their dogs had started after them.
The torrential downpour had become a welcome friend, washing away traces of their scent from the leaves and the ground but still the dogs had come, howling in the distance. His trousers were ripped and his shirt was plastered to his body. I’ve got to push on. Got to get to the rendezvous… Two meeting places, eighteen hours apart. He'd already missed one, and tried not to think of what might happen if he missed the back-up. He moved off, but missed his footing on the slippery ground and fell over a tree root, sprawling helplessly in the sticky mulch of the forest floor. Struggling to rise, he froze when he heard a quiet but very distinctive hiss. Lifting his head cautiously, he saw a small snake just inches from his leg, next to a very dead-looking cat-like animal. Inconsequentially, he noted that the snake was very pretty but also clearly very angry. Just lie still, he thought. It won’t strike if you don’t threaten it. Mentally, he berated himself. How stupid are you? Nearly landing on it isn't going to make it your friend! Even as these thoughts went through his mind, he watched the reptile as it launched at him. He felt the sting as the fangs embedded themselves in his calf muscle. Just as suddenly it withdrew and slithered away into the undergrowth.
In the depths of his mind, he tried to remember what to do about snake bites. He dimly recollected that he shouldn’t put a tourniquet on, but that the wound should be immobilised to slow the flow of the venom round the body. How long would that take? He considered his options. There weren’t many. He could lie still, let the poison seep gradually through his body, and die slowly but surely here in the mud. Or he could struggle on, try to make his rendezvous and hope that they’d have some anti-venom. At least the latter would give him a fighting chance, a feeling of being in control of his own destiny.
As he lay there, he became aware that the thunderous roar he could hear was no longer the rain. It sounded like a waterfall! I must be near the river! Once again, he heard the barking of dogs. That’s it – I don’t have a choice. With an effort, he struggled to his feet once more. A feeling of dizziness threatened to overwhelm him, but he fought it off and headed in the direction of the roaring water. Pushing his way through the undergrowth, he noticed that the foliage was thinning out. But the dogs also seemed to be getting nearer. He pressed on, aware of his increasing weakness. Suddenly he broke through the trees and almost fell into the river. Looking upstream, he could see the spray from a waterfall not 500 yards away. The rendezvous was downstream, he thought. Must get there… As he turned, the numbness radiating out from the bite wound made his injured leg give way and he fell, landing half in, half out of the water. Dark spots flickered before his eyes and he rubbed his hand across his face angrily. No! Don’t give in to it. You’re nearly there. Resting on his hands and knees, his head hanging down, he heard the dogs again. Keep going… he lifted his head and looked down the river once more.
In the distance he thought he could see a small boat moored under some branches. Suddenly his vision blurred and he couldn’t make out who it was, but maybe it was close enough to be his rendezvous. He staggered to his feet. The mangrove swamp came right down to the water’s edge, leaving him little choice but to force his way through the tangle of vegetation on the riverbank. This at least would provide him with some cover and hopefully he’d be able to make out who the occupants of the boat were before they saw him. After a short while, fighting the waves of faintness and nausea now washing over him, he broke through the undergrowth into a small clearing. As he did so, an oppressive darkness surrounded him and he fell to his knees, his eyes closing. As he surrendered to oblivion, he heard a shout.
Several days earlier, Admiral Harriman Nelson had settled back in his chair and looked at the sealed envelope lying on his desk. Having left Santa Barbara just hours earlier, he’d been putting off the moment when he found out what mission his submarine and crew were to be sent on.
He had a bad feeling about this one. Fleetingly, he wondered why he'd accepted the official financing all those years ago to finish getting Seaview built, but knew that deep in his heart he couldn't have refused. He couldn’t have done it by himself – and the pride of his dream had made impossible to decline the bribe – because that's what it had been. And now, along with his cherished research and scientific projects, the Government had first call both on Seaview's spectacularly enhanced technical resources - its design making it far superior to any submarine in the regular Navy - and its efficient and capable crew.
Nelson picked up the envelope he'd just removed from his personal safe and turned it over and over in his hands. Finally, taking a deep breath, he ripped it open and perused the contents. Sighing deeply, he flicked the intercom on his desk.
"Captain Crane, would you report to my cabin?"
"On my way, Admiral."
Within a couple of minutes there was a quiet tap on the door.
The door opened and Seaview’s captain strode into the room.
"Sit down, Lee." Nelson waved his young friend to a chair. "I've opened the orders for this trip."
Crane gazed at him quizzically. "Trouble?"
Nelson frowned and passed the sheet of paper to Crane. "Let's say, I'm not too happy about it."
The captain scanned the paper quickly. He looked up and stared at Nelson. "They’re kidding! Aren’t they, Admiral?"
"Unfortunately not, Lee."
"It's going to be tough.” Crane leant back in his chair and sighed. “Finding a defector in a nomadic camp in the middle of the Costa Rican rainforest… that’s a tough place to be at the best of times!"
"Yes, but it’s also one of the best ways of never being found." Nelson stated.
The two of them sat in silence for a few moments, then Nelson spoke again.
"It's got to be you, Lee. Chip's blond hair would mark him out as a foreigner straight away. You'll need to brush up on your Spanish - and stop shaving! At the moment you look too much like an American submarine commander," he smiled.
"I saw who signed off the orders, Admiral." Crane commented. "If I was being paranoid, I'd think it had been kept especially for me!"
Nelson sighed. He too had noted one of
the supporting signatures. Admiral Jiggs Starke, one of Nelson's oldest friends
but also on occasion one of his fiercest critics. Jiggs had noted and disapproved
of Crane's relatively relaxed ‘new Navy’ attitude to command ever since he'd
been on board Seaview when she was despatched to search for the
"Have you spoken to Admiral Starke? I wasn’t aware he dealt with ONI."
"Me neither. Maybe they’ve called him in as an advisor. But to answer the question, no I haven’t spoken with him. As you can see, we're ordered to maintain radio silence until the mission's completed. Even the order to sail came by courier.”
Nelson was uncomfortable, and, so he could tell, was the captain. Their instincts had served them both well in the past. But without evidence to the contrary, at the moment everything seemed in order. He continued.
"Get the course set. We’ve got a week before we drop you off.” He paused. “I’m sorry, Lee.”
His friend nodded gently and, jotting down the co-ordinates, rose and left the room.
Crane closed the door quietly behind him and walked slowly along the corridor and down the staircase leading to the control room. Instead of going immediately to the chart table, he wandered over to the enormous observation windows that stretched across the front of the submarine. He loved this unique view of the oceans but on this occasion, lost in thought, he gazed out without really seeing anything. He didn’t hear Chip Morton, his executive officer and close friend from the Academy, come up behind him but gradually became aware of his presence nearby and turned around.
"Sorry, Lee." Chip apologised as soon as he saw his friend's face. The man looks like he lost a dollar and found a dime. "I just need to know a course and speed."
Crane handed a slip of paper to his exec. "These are the co-ordinates. We need to arrive in one week."
Chip frowned. "
“Just set the course, huh, Chip?” The captain turned forward again as the exec walked back to the control room.
As the week progressed, Lee handed more and more control of the boat to the exec. The crew became used to seeing their captain unshaven and developing an unusually unkempt appearance. They didn't have to ask, knowing instinctively that the skipper had been assigned an ONI mission. Crane spent time with Nelson going over the details of the mission. Morton knew little about the actual mission but was uneasy about the details he was privy to. His own role would be to make sure that neither Crane nor Nelson had anything to worry about in regard to Seaview; and also to be at the rendezvous with Lee. He'd picked his team - Sharkey and Kowalski - who had been briefed on the 'need-to-know' practicalities.
In due course, they reached Crane’s drop-off point. They were to stop one mile offshore, just long enough for Lee to leave from the escape hatch in wetsuit and scuba gear and head for the meeting with his contact. The meeting point was a small beach indicated on the charts, about five miles north of a river mouth. Crane had studied the maps night and day for hours. He’d agreed two meeting places with Chip – the first 48 hours later, the second in a different location 18 hours after that. Neither of them discussed a third option.
Checking his wetsuit and grasping a waterproof bag, Crane turned to the Admiral.
“See you in a couple of days, sir.”
“We’ll be there, Lee.” Nelson wasn’t one for long goodbyes. He signalled to Chip, who opened the escape hatch. Crane stepped into the chamber.
“Don’t be late,” he grinned at the exec.
“Skipper, don’t fret.” Chip murmured. “We’ll be there, okay?”
At a nod from Crane, he swung the hatch closed. Sharkey opened the pumps to the sea and Lee swam his way up into the dark waters, kicking hard in the direction of the coast.
Twenty five minutes later, he broke the surface a few hundred yards off-shore. The ‘beach’ was no more than a small area of land where the vegetation didn’t quite meet the waters edge and he could see it gleaming in the moonlight. He’d hoped for cloud cover but luck wasn’t going his way. He kept his fingers crossed that to anyone watching, he resembled nothing more than a curious porpoise or seal. Did they have porpoises or seals in these waters? he wondered idly. Diving under again he swam in the rest of the way, rising to his feet only when his body brushed along the sandy ocean floor. Dragging off his flippers, he ran for the shelter of the tree line, where he stripped off his tank and wetsuit. Having dressed quickly in the peasant-style clothes from his bag, he buried the lot and covered the mound with branches. Looking at his watch, he smiled. Almost spot on. As if on cue, a brief flash came from the other side of the beach. Lee took his own torch and flicked it on and off twice, quickly ducking to one side in case it was a trap and someone were to open fire. But the only response was an answering signal. He waited until he saw a dark shadow detach itself from the rocks and make its way towards him.
“Crane!” A hoarse whisper reached him through the darkness.
“Who is that?” Lee replied.
“It is Miguel. You should be expecting Juan but he is ill. I am here in his place.” Crane relaxed a little. It was the coded answer he’d been expecting. However he was still not entirely comfortable.
He moved to the front of the trees.
“So, Miguel, what next?” He still stood in shadow, waiting for the other man to appear clearly in the moonlight. He had only moments to wait, as the man from the photos in the briefing pack moved forward.
“Where are you, Crane?”
Lee stepped from his sheltered spot. Miguel stared at him and chuckled.
“You can pass for a local, my friend! I was worried they would send the blond one.”
Lee stiffened in alarm. Was the intelligence better than they’d anticipated?
“The blond one?” he queried.
“I mean, a light-haired man. A dark-haired man is so much better. Come, my friend, we must leave this place. It is late and you need to eat and rest before your task.”
“When do we leave to find the camp?” Lee asked.
“Tomorrow, Captain. Now, come.” Miguel led the way off the beach into the trees. Within a short time they came to a small clearing illuminated by a campfire. Crane saw two small tents off to one side. Miguel gestured to one of them.
“That will be yours for what remains of this night. Now, we will eat.” Miguel smiled. ”You are hungry, Captain?”
Crane simply shrugged. Doc was always telling him to eat more. He felt the hairs on the back of his neck rising. He still had that nagging doubt at the back of his mind that things weren’t right.
He sat down on a log near the fire. A woman emerged from one of the tents, carrying two dishes of food. For the first time he became aware of an enticing aroma on the air. The woman handed one of the dishes to him, and he gazed at her. She was tall, with long, straight jet-black hair and an olive skin. Her eyes were also dark but sparkled in the firelight. She wore a full skirt cinched tightly at the waist with a wide leather belt, and a white lacy blouse, close-fitting and off the shoulder. Anywhere else… his train of thought was interrupted by a laugh from Miguel.
“She’s yours, Captain, if you want company tonight.”
Crane shook his head, but watched closely as she handed the other dish to Miguel and then disappeared back from whence she’d come. He wrenched his thoughts back to the food in front of him. There was something in the way Miguel watched him, and the man hadn’t yet tasted his meal. Why not?
“Your hunger has abated, Captain? Or perhaps you are suspicious…” Miguel deliberately took a forkful of the rice concoction and after eating it offered the dish to Crane. He swapped it for his own without a word, and took a mouthful. It was surprisingly tasty, and he realised he was actually quite hungry. The woman came out again and placed a pan of water on the fire to boil. As it began to bubble, she dropped in some leaves, and set out two small wooden bowls. Crane watched her carefully. She poured some of the steeped liquid into each, and handed one to each man. Crane nodded his thanks and was rewarded with a quick but brilliant smile in return. Miguel blew gently on the liquid to cool it and took an obvious and very noisy slurp of the drink. The woman picked up Crane's empty food dish. As she turned away, she tripped and fell against him, knocking his drink to the floor. The hot liquid splashed onto her leg and she cried out, dabbing at it ineffectually. Lee jumped up to help her and was rewarded once more with that smile. A sharp word from Miguel, however, had the woman gathering up the dishes and scurrying back to her tent. Lee took his seat again, wondering about the language. It hadn’t been Spanish. Probably some local dialect, he considered.
“You turned her down, Captain. Perhaps you have changed your mind?” The tone was sarcastic and Lee frowned, then shook his head.
“Here, give me your dish. Share my drink.” Miguel poured half of the liquid from his bowl into Crane’s and handed it back to him. Crane thanked him and took a mouthful. It was good, like a herbal tea, he thought, sipping at it. As he did so, Miguel scrambled to his feet. Hearing sounds behind him, Lee turned quickly and saw several men in combat fatigues entering the clearing. He blinked hard and shook his head slightly. Something wasn’t right and he tried to stand. But he had no strength and his legs buckled beneath him. His body felt like lead and sounds came as if from a distance. Concentrating hard, he tried to reach for the gun in his waistband, but without success. The drink! But how? He’d seen Miguel taste it – no! Only the first bowl, before he had been distracted by the woman’s accident. Miguel must have added something… These thoughts went through his head as one of the group came and stood before him.
“It is good of you to join us, Captain Crane. I hope you are enjoying our hospitality.” The man was clearly the leader. Lee focussed with difficulty. He felt so sleepy! Must stay awake... but even as he formed the thought, his eyes closed and he toppled from the log to the ground.
Miguel stepped forward, fawning over the man. “Please, jefé, you will eat with us?”
“This time, no. But you will of course return with us. I’m sure the general will wish to thank you personally.”
Miguel turned as the leader nodded to one of the guards, but wasn’t in time to dodge the swinging rifle butt which caught him across his face. As he crashed to the ground like a fallen tree, a scream rang out from the other side of the clearing and the leader turned to see the woman staring in shock. He raised his gun, then smiled and lowered it again. He turned to his men.
“She will make good entertainment. Bind her and bring her,” he ordered. Two of them grabbed for her. She screamed again and one of them slapped her across the face, knocking her to the ground. He reached down and dragged her to her feet, holding her wrists together while the other bound them tightly with cord. As he did so, she looked across the clearing towards where Crane lay motionless in the firelight. The leader noticed the look and kicked out at Crane.
“This man means something to you?”
She shook her head quickly and gazed down at the ground.
He grunted. From the trees, he had watched the interplay between them when she had spilled the drink.
“Take the captain’s gun and tie him as well. The drugs will not last long.”
Crane gradually became aware that he was lying on his side on a very hard surface. Slowly he opened his eyes and waited while they adjusted to the dim light. He tried to sit up, but found that his hands were tied behind his back. His head ached and his arms were going numb from the awkward position in which he’d been bound. A man was sitting nearby, a rifle across his knees. When he saw Crane move, he rose and pushed his way out of a flap in the tent. Lee heard a shout.
“Jefé! The American has awakened.”
Moments later, a tall dark man entered. Dressed like the others in combat fatigues, this man had an insignia on his battle-dress that Crane did not recognise. He spoke to the guard, who moved in front of Crane and dragged him to a sitting position. The senior man addressed Lee in heavily-accented English.
“So, Captain, how are you feeling?”
Crane started to respond but his throat was dry and no sound came out. His captor smiled, but it was humourless and didn’t reach his eyes.
“Give him some water.”
The guard took a jug from nearby and threw the contents over Crane’s face. He licked his lips and welcomed the relief offered by the moisture. He tried again to speak.
“Who are you? What do you want?”
“I am General Yan-Lim. Who I represent is of no consequence. I am sure you know exactly what we want. But I will remind you. The designs behind Nelson’s latest research. They will make my country much more powerful.”
“I don’t know about them.”
“Come now, Captain, do not try my patience.”
“How did you know where to find me?”
“You were exactly where we expected you to be. There is no nomadic camp, Captain. Miguel works for us, as does the American agent.”
“So this was a trap all along.”
“Indeed. Oh yes, it was easy to devise something for which Seaview would be used. Admiral Starke’s signature was easily obtained. He thinks that Seaview is on a supply run. Now, Captain, let us discuss Nelson’s new designs.”
Crane frowned and shook his head. As he did so, his attention was caught by a muffled sound in a darkened corner of the tent.
The General turned. “Ah, Miguel has decided to join us!”
Crane twisted round and saw Miguel lying nearby, bound and gagged. The general nodded to the guard who dragged the man to his feet. He staggered slightly. Despite the darkness, Lee could tell that the man was terrified. The guard pushed him out of the tent flap.
“Now, Captain, you were about to tell me Nelson’s plans.”
“I think you will. I know you are a strong man. You have a stubborn streak within you. It has stood you in good stead many times, this I also know. You can help us voluntarily, or I will have the information another way. Our methods will not be denied by your training, Commander.”
At that moment, the two men heard a single gunshot followed by a cacophony of barking outside the tent.
“Ah, feeding time. Our dogs are hungry beasts. Perhaps you would like to watch.”
Lee knew it wasn’t a question. He was hauled to his feet and pushed through the tent flap. He faced a small clearing, around the edges of which stood three tents, his own included. On the far side, there was an enclosure with high wire fencing and his attention was drawn towards a pack of ravenous dogs which were attacking something lying on the ground.
“Nothing is wasted here, Captain.”
Instinctively, Crane knew what he was witnessing, and he fell to his knees and retched violently. The General laughed.
“Take him back inside while we prepare for his questioning.”
Lee’s guard pulled him to his feet, pushing him back inside the tent. Crane collapsed on the dirt floor, shaking his head to rid himself of the images he had seen. From outside he could hear the sound of hammering and wood striking wood – some kind of construction was being built. He had no doubt that he would find out its purpose before too long.
Back on Seaview, Nelson had been summoned by Sparks to the radio shack. There was an incoming message from Admiral Starke. Nelson was concerned. It must be something serious for Jiggs to break his own orders of radio silence.
“Harry, where the devil are you?” Jiggs’ voice echoed through the radio shack. Nelson frowned.
“You should know, Jiggs.”
“Stop playing games, Harry. You’ve been out a week and nobody’s heard from you. Your secretary keeps fobbing me off with something about maintaining radio silence. Who needs that for a supply run?”
“What supply run? We’re picking up a defector. Your signature was on the orders, Jiggs.”
“My orders? I signed nothing of the kind!” The splutter of indignation across the airwaves was clearly audible throughout the control room.
“We had orders, Jiggs, co-signed by you, for a mission to pick up a defector.”
Nelson was sharp and succinct. The worry for his friend intensified as he looked around the faces of the men. They had all heard the exchange and had been quick to realise that the skipper had been sent into an ambush.
“But – who else signed these so-called orders?”
Nelson named another individual from ONI. He’d had no qualms about that person. It had only been the inclusion of Jiggs’ name that had made him uncomfortable in the first place. Perhaps it had been used to give the mission credence. Instead…
“You need to check out your staffers, Jiggs,” Nelson snapped. “I’ve got a man out there in hostile territory and there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it. Nelson out.”
He handed the microphone back to Sparks and turned to face the crew.
“I guess you all heard that. We have no way of contacting Captain Crane and we now know he’s walked into a trap. Mr Morton, come up to my cabin in five minutes.”
“Aye aye, sir.”
At the appointed time, Chip knocked on the door of Nelson’s cabin and entered at the sound of his voice.
“Sit down, Chip.”
Nelson’s face was drawn and he was smoking – something he’d tried very hard to give up and now resorted to only in times of great strain. Chip perched on the edge of the desk as the Admiral looked up.
“We have no options, Chip. We have to make the rendezvous. But check out alternatives. Lee may need us sooner than we think.”
”Why target Lee, sir? What does he know…” he stopped. “The new designs.”
“But he doesn’t know the detail, just the ideas. Once they discover that – he’ll be worth nothing to them, Chip.”
Deep in the rainforest, Crane shifted uncomfortably as the bonds cut deeper into his wrists. The tent, an old-fashioned army utility issue, was hot and sweat dripped from his body. There was no internal groundsheet, and he was filthy from the dust and dirt that constituted the ground. For some time, he’d been feeling light-headed, probably as a result of the drugs he’d received, and knew that he had to get some liquid inside him. He called to the guard by the entrance.
“I need some water.”
The guard merely glanced at him and went back to his apparently sole occupation of sitting by the door. Crane tried again. This time, General Yan-Lim entered.
“You are thirsty, Captain? Perhaps I will give you water in exchange for your information.”
“You won’t get anything if I’m unconscious.” Crane pointed out.
“That is true, Commander. Joachim! Get the captain a drink.”
The guard stood and ambled across the tent to a pitcher of water. At a gesture from the general, he held it while Crane gulped down the tepid liquid. Lifting his head, he looked up at the man.
“So – the designs, Commander.”
Lee swallowed. The drink had helped, but he was still not going to tell this man anything.
“You should know better, General.”
The man cursed. “It is you who should know better, Commander. Bring him!” The guard dragged Lee unceremoniously to his feet and shoved him through the flap of the tent. The bright sunlight made him blink, but in the recess of his mind he noted that the sun was below its highest point. All he had to do was notice if it rose higher, or if it was on its downward arc, from which he’d be able to identify the compass points. That would give him a direction for his rendezvous with Chip, assuming he could escape! But when was that? How long had he been unconscious? He asked the question.
“The drugs were not long-lasting, Captain. It has only been twelve hours since you arrived at Miguel’s camp. I assume you have a rendezvous planned. But nobody will find you here. We are deep in the jungle. If you try to escape, the dogs will track you. Meat tastes so much better when flavoured with adrenalin.”
Lee heard the words but paid little attention. Only twelve hours! That made it around midday. He had thirty-six hours to the first rendezvous back at the beach; eighteen hours after that to their fallback location at the river. After that… his mind shied away from the thought of failure and he knew he had to start plotting an escape.
At that moment, a movement caught his eye. On the other side of the clearing, a man was practising what looked to Lee like rope tricks, looping and whirling a length of thin leather like a cowboy’s lariat, which, Lee realised, was exactly what it was. Lee was pushed towards two sturdy poles planted upright in the ground, about seven feet apart. Whilst one guard covered him with a rifle, the other untied his wrists and re-bound one to each pole at head height, so he was spreadeagled uncomfortably between them. A bandanna was tied around his eyes and his shirt ripped from his body. He heard the whip crack nearby. The General’s voice sounded softly in his ear.
“I will give you another chance, Captain. Tell me about the designs.”
Lee remained silent.
“Very well, it is your choice. When you change your mind, just say the word.”
Lee heard footsteps as the man walked away, then the whistle of the whip as it flew through the air. A sudden searing pain cut through his body as the strap made contact with his shoulders and before he could help himself, a gasp erupted from his lips.
Without warning, the whip was wielded again and again and each time the pain ripped through him. He suppressed the agony by biting down hard on his lip and as the lashing continued, he turned his thoughts inward, concentrating on the view from his office at the Nelson Institute. Focus on something else. Find a safe place. Visualise it. Go there. Ignore the pain. The mantras learned long ago ran through his mind and the pain began to fade. Part of his mind recognised what was happening to his body, but now it was remote. To all intents and purposes, he was unresponsive, oblivious to the torture being inflicted upon him. His head fell forward and his wrists took the strain as his body hung limply. The watching general frowned. After twenty lashes, he stopped the guard. They watched silently as Crane’s subconscious told him the pain had ceased. Slowly his alertness returned and he lifted his head and straightened up. Yan-Lim nodded, and the guard swung the whip once more. A sharp intake of breath from Crane told the general that he had broken the defence – at least this time. He gestured to the guard to stop and walked back in front of Lee. Tearing the blindfold away, he indicated his satisfaction. Instead of their alert expression of earlier, the captain’s eyes were dull and glazed with pain and despair.
“Now, perhaps we will talk.”
Crane shook his head slowly. “No.”
The general called the guards. “Take him back to the tent and re-bind his hands. He is not yet in a co-operative frame of mind.”
The guards released Lee’s bonds and he staggered, dropping to his knees before being yanked to his feet and back to the tent. Through the pain, he looked up at the sky, noting the downward arc of the sun. That’s my direction, he thought. As he was shoved back into the tent, he lost his balance, rolling onto his back and feeling the agony as his flayed skin made contact with the ground. One of the guards pulled him roughly to a sitting position and bound his hands tightly behind his back once more. The two men then walked from the tent, leaving Crane alone in the dim light, alone with his pain and his thoughts. He gave in to the light-headedness, and slipped sideways in a dead faint.
Some time later, a noise from outside dragged him back to consciousness. As the tent flap was pushed aside, two silhouettes were framed in the doorway before the canvas was dropped back once more. The guard carried an oil lamp and by its glow, Lee saw that the other person was the woman he’d met at the first campsite. She carried a bowl of food which she held out to him, raising a spoonful of the mixture to his mouth, offering to feed him. He looked at her closely. Was she working for them? Was the food drugged? Lee noticed that she had bruises on her face and arms; her skirt was dirty and her blouse was torn. She was obviously a prisoner too. His anger rose as he contemplated what they might have done to her. Aware of his scrutiny, she smiled sadly at him and gestured once more to the food. Still he hesitated. Finally she realised his concern, and ate a spoonful of the mixture herself. This time, when she offered the spoon, he accepted. Despite feeling sick from his beating, he knew he had to keep some vestige of strength if he was to escape from here.
When the food was finished, she rose to leave. Without thinking, Lee shifted position to get more comfortable, but the sudden movement made him groan in pain. She knelt down again quickly and placed a hand on his shoulder, making him lean forward. Her gasp as she saw the abrasions on his back was loud in the silence. She ripped a strip of cloth from her skirt and soaked it with some of the water from the pitcher. Gently, she dabbed at the bloody wounds. It felt good to have the water on his skin. Lee had been aware of the increasing heat of his injuries and knew it wouldn’t be long before infection started to take hold. Doc would have him captive in sickbay again, he mused, and smiled at the memories of the times he’d been there and the battles with Jamie before the medical man would let him return to duty.
After a few minutes, she’d finished her self-appointed task. The guard spoke sharply and she rose gracefully to her feet, passing through the tent flap as he held it back for her - but not before giving Crane another glimpse of the brilliant smile he’d seen yesterday.
Despite the pain, Lee must have dozed off, because he suddenly became aware of someone standing over him. Trying to focus in the darkness, he saw the general and two guards. The general spoke.
“Nelson’s designs are radical, are they not, Captain Crane?”
“You think I’d tell you even if I knew?”
“As Seaview’s Captain I am quite sure you will be aware of them. After all, they will affect your grey lady.”
Lee just shook his head. He knew what would happen next. As the guards to dragged him out of the tent, he saw that the campsite was lit by torches at strategic places around the clearing. A large fire burned in the centre and the flames illuminated the beams where he’d been bound earlier. Once more he was tied to the structure and the general stood before him and looked into his eyes.
“Go to hell.”
The general took two paces back and the guard wrapped the bandanna around Lee’s eyes. Yan-Lim inclined his head a fraction and the torture began. Once again, Lee tried to find his way back to his haven – the green grass stretching away from the Institute building down to the road; the sea, sparkling in the warm sunlight and Seaview lying quietly at her mooring, gleaming from the reflected light. This is where he would ride out the pain – but the general had other ideas. Just as Lee reached his safe place, the general stopped the beating, interrupting the process. After a few minutes it would start again, stopping just as suddenly. As a result, he felt every lash, every blow, every cut of the whip and after twenty-five strokes he welcomed the oblivion which overcame him. His head lolled forward and his body sagged, held up only by the ropes around his wrists, which by now were raw and bleeding.
The general kicked the ground in disgust.
“We’ll get nothing from him tonight. Take him back. We’ll try again in the morning.”
Between them the men dragged Crane’s limp body back to the tent where they dropped him unceremoniously on the floor. His back was now a skinned and bloody pulp; as he landed, the pain penetrated his subconscious and a deep groan emanated from him. It was clear to the guards that he was deeply comatose, however, and they left him where he fell, the blood that seeped from his wounds making tracks through the dirt on his body towards the ground.
Chip Morton watched quietly as the admiral paced relentlessly up and down the control room. Every so often, he would pause by the observation windows, gazing out into the dark waters of the Pacific. Chip glanced at the chronometer. Twenty-four hours before the first rendezvous; twenty hours before they were due to leave. They had brought forward the departure to allow them time to hide out in case there was an ambush. This time last night, Lee had headed into this mission – no, this trap – and heaven only knew what was happening to him now. Would he make it? Chip looked at the charts, identifying the location once more, then pushed them away in irritation. He’d already committed it to memory – looking again wouldn’t help Lee now. Nelson paused in his incessant pacing and turned to Chip.
“When did your watch end?”
“About two hours ago.”
“Turn in, lad. You need the rest. Mr O’Brien – take over.“ Nelson ordered.
Morton and O’Brien exchanged glances and Chip wandered towards the staircase that would take him up to Officer country, then turned back.
“Call me if there’s any news, about anything,” he said, and the younger man nodded.
Chip went up to his cabin and prepared for bed. Lying down on his bunk, he turned out the light and closed his eyes. But sleep was an elusive commodity. He tossed and turned, thinking of all the scrapes that he and Lee had been in as a result of serving on Seaview. But this was different. It was clear that Lee had been directly targeted, by a traitor. You can get through this, Lee, he thought. Just hang on. We’ll be there to get you out.
Deep in the forest, Lee had come round from his beating, but was beginning to wish he was still unconscious. Rest was elusive for him too. His back was on fire from the lashings and he found it almost impossible to lie in any semblance of comfort. Even resting on his side resulted in pain and he knew he was gradually becoming weaker. Apart from the two dishes of food he’d received, he’d had no sustenance since leaving Seaview. Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem but the beatings and the drugs had sapped his strength, both mental and physical. Water was a luxury he was learning to live without. He had to form some plan for escape. He began to go over what he’d seen of the campsite and what he knew of the routine of the guards. There was his own tent, one for the general and one for the guards. He wondered where the woman was being held. Perhaps I could enlist her help. There was the dog pen – he shuddered as he recalled the vision of the frenzied feeding. He tried to sit up, but pain flooded his body as the cuts re-opened and began to bleed once more. Beads of sweat broke out on his face and he surrendered to the darkness.
What seemed like moments later, he felt himself being shaken awake. With an effort, he forced his eyes open and focussed with difficulty on the woman who was kneeling before him with another bowl of food. She helped him to a sitting position, a look of concern crossing her face as his own reflected the pain from his injuries. As before, she ate a spoonful before offering it to Crane and this time he accepted it without hesitation. He noticed it was daylight and wondered what time it was. He asked her the question but she looked at him blankly, shrugging and shaking her head slightly. After he had finished eating, she held the water pitcher to his mouth. He drank deeply, feeling the heat of fever developing from the lacerations. Barely had he finished and she'd put the jug down, when the general entered the tent.
“Good morning, Captain Crane. I trust you slept well?”
Crane merely stared at him and the general scowled.
“Very well. Let us talk business. I want to know how the designs will be applied.”
Lee sighed and remained silent. The general smacked his fist into his palm in anger.
“You are stubborn. It will not benefit you. Tell me what I ask.”
“Even if I knew, I wouldn’t tell you if my life depended on it – and I’m sure it does.”
“You are perceptive. However I will give you every opportunity to stay alive.”
Once more the guards pulled him to his feet and pushed him outside. As he was tied to the wooden structure, he glanced up at the sky. It was bright, but the sun was not yet above the trees. Mid-morning, he thought. Another 14 hours or so to the first rendezvous, and, as yet, no plan. He watched with detachment as the guard practiced his rope tricks, and as the man walked behind him, he heard the crack of the whip against the ground and waited for the first blow to fall.
The sound of the whip whistling through the air made him flinch but this time, there was no pain. He had not been blindfolded on this occasion, and he looked up as the general walked over and stood before him.
“Anticipation is everything, Captain Crane.” The general’s voice was very soft and all the more menacing for it. “You can wait for the pain and not know when it will fall. I told you – your training will not deny us that which we want to know.”
Time went by. The sun followed its inexorable path across the sky and dropped down below the trees. Sweat dripped from him and each time his body sagged the whip fell. The sun burned the few areas of his body which were not pulped raw by the lashings he’d received and the intense heat and humidity, coupled with the pain, started to take their toll. He slowly began to lose his grip on reality, seeing Chip, Nelson… they were talking to him, and he responded. Generally these conversations were not intelligible, but the general watched and listened and interacted with Crane as he fell deeper into his imaginary world. Suddenly, he picked out a few words, repeated again and again.
“Chip, the rendezvous. Don’t be late.”
The general responded quickly. “Tell me again, Lee, where is it?”
“The beach. You must remember!”
“Of course – and the time?”
The general gestured to the guards and they came forward and loosened Crane’s bonds. Semi-conscious, he fell forward. They caught him before he hit the ground.
“Get him back to the tent. Watch him.”
He called to his second-in-command, who approached through the early evening shadows.
“There will be some men from Seaview coming to the beach at midnight. Take a detail and be there to welcome them. Bring them here. Perhaps their presence will make him more amenable.”
The man saluted and moved away, calling to three of his guards. They made their way out of the clearing and headed west, back towards the beach area. It was some five miles away and they would need to be there before the group from Seaview arrived.
Chip Morton came down the spiral stairs to the control room. He wore a dark sweater and trousers and carried a dark cap to cover his light hair. He stood by Sharkey and Kowalski, similarly dressed. Nelson looked them over and picked up the microphone.
“Engineering – all stop. Mr O’Brien – douse the running lights and surface the boat.”
Lt O’Brien gave the necessary instructions and the Seaview rose slowly until her bulk broke the tops of the waves. He cracked the hatch and ordered lookouts to the bridge. Nelson turned to Chip.
“Ready, Mr Morton?”
Chip glanced at the others and they nodded.
“Be careful. You don’t know who’s going to be waiting for you or what you’re heading into.”
Sharkey patted the gun holster at his hip.
“We’ll give as good as we get, sir.”
“Yeah. They won’t know what’s hit them.” Kowalski agreed.
“If Lee’s not there…” Chip started.
“…then we go to the backup tomorrow.” Nelson finished. “Good luck, men.” He swung round to Patterson. “Launch the raft.”
Patterson shinned up the ladder to the deck, closely followed by Sharkey and Kowalski. As Chip began to climb, Nelson restrained him.
“Chip, we don’t know what’s happened out there. If Lee’s there, it could be as a decoy. Go carefully, but get him back.”
Morton looked closely at the admiral. He could see the strain etched on the older man’s face. Chip knew the deep friendship he had with the young captain, and understood the concern he was experiencing – much as Chip himself was.
“Admiral, we’ll bring him home.”
Chip followed his men up on deck and dropped down into the raft where they were waiting. Quickly and quietly they headed off into the darkness, watching as the shadow that was Seaview slid slowly back under the water. As they closed on the shoreline, Chip cut the motor and they rowed the last few hundred yards towards the beach where Crane had swum ashore two days previously. Chip looked at his watch. Nine o’clock. They were three hours early – hopefully early enough to avoid an ambush.
They dragged the raft under some overhanging branches and took up positions nearby in the shelter of the trees. They had barely got comfortable when Kowalski heard rustling in the undergrowth. He nudged the exec and nodded in the direction of a particularly deep patch of shadow. Chip stared hard, trying to make out the different shapes, and as he watched, two of the shadows seemed to move. Sharkey then pointed to a spot just a few yards away. Another two men, this time more careless, had allowed the moonlight to glint from the weapons they carried. Chip held up his hand with four fingers raised. The others indicated their agreement.
“Wait.” Chip mouthed. There was still some time to go before Lee was scheduled to show up. The four men might be an advance group. Others might come with Lee to flush out the landing party, and if they did, they’d be expecting their colleagues to be there. One thing was clear – if he did come, Lee would be in bad shape. Chip knew that it would have taken a lot to break his friend and find out about the rendezvous.
Don’t think about that now, he admonished himself. Don’t let it distract you from what you’ve got to do.
The hours crept by until midnight approached. Their eyes had adjusted to the darkness and they could make out their four opponents more clearly. Suddenly, Chip stiffened. He sensed, rather than saw, a movement on the opposite side of the beach. A single man rose and moved forward, but remained in shadow. His voice came across the clearing in a hoarse whisper.
“Chip! Chip, where are you?”
Morton pulled Sharkey back down as the man began to rise, and put his finger to his lips.
“Sir, it’s the skipper!” Sharkey mouthed the words at the exec.
Morton shook his head.
“That wasn’t the signal. If it is the captain, he’s warning us. If it’s not…” he left the sentence hanging. As they watched, the outline stepped forward. Chip could now see that he was a tall man, with dark hair, wearing peasant-style clothes similar to those Lee had taken with him. The voice echoed again across the beach.
“Chip! It’s me. I can’t see you.”
Morton slowly raised his gun and took a sighting down the barrel at the man standing opposite. It wasn’t Lee, that much he knew. Beside him, he felt Sharkey and Kowalski lift their own weapons. They’d already agreed which of the targets they would take. He looked down the sights and squeezed the trigger. The gun recoiled as the bullet sprang from the barrel and the man in front of him fell to the ground. Almost simultaneously, Sharkey and Kowalski fired their own weapons and grunts from the other locations signalled their success. Cordite flared from the tree line opposite as the fourth man in the ambush retaliated and Chip took aim on the position and fired once more. Silence fell as the three men waited, then they heard a rustling as someone tried to escape. Sharkey jumped to his feet to follow, but Chip pulled him down again.
“This is their territory, Chief. You could be going into a trap. We need to get back and report to the admiral.”
Sharkey re-holstered his gun reluctantly.
“Mr Morton, what about the skipper?”
Chip shook his head. “You heard what the admiral said, Chief. We try again tomorrow. The skipper’ll be in bad shape. He wouldn’t have given this information easily.”
The three of them were downcast as they pushed their raft out to sea. Stealth was no longer a necessity so, as Sharkey and Kowalski fired up the outboard motor, Chip set up the radio and contacted Seaview. Sparks answered immediately.
“The Admiral’s right here, Mr Morton. Passing you over.”
“Chip, what happened?” The admiral’s voice was eager and Chip so much wanted to give him good news, but knew there was none.
“Admiral, it was an ambush.”
Nelson was silent for a few moments. His heart sank as he considered the implications of what that could mean. I sent him out there. He could be dead.
“Chip, are you on the way back?”
“Yes Admiral. ETA fifteen minutes.”
“Belay that. I want you to turn around and head for the second rendezvous. Lee might still be alive, might be heading for the second place. If he can make it, and gets there early, I don’t want him hanging around. You’ll also be able to dig in and be aware of any hostiles.”
Chip looked at his two companions. Both nodded in the darkness, and Sharkey angled the boat back along the coast towards the river mouth.
“Aye aye, sir. We’ll report every two hours. Morton out.”
Chip closed down and repacked the radio.
“Kowalski, have a look and see what supplies we’ve got.”
“A couple of blankets, some rations, first aid kit, a torch, water… we’ll be okay, Mr Morton.”
“Hand me the torch and the charts, Chief. We’ll need to hole up at the next rendezvous.” He lowered his head over the maps and shielded the torch beam. As they drew closer to the river mouth, the strong tidal stream made itself felt. Some thirty minutes later, they nosed the raft into the roots and branches of a mangrove swamp along the river, pushing through to a small clearing. In the stillness of the night air, they could hear the rumble of a waterfall upstream.
“Sounds pretty close, sir,” Sharkey commented.
“Chief, you know sound travels easily at night. It’s far enough away not to worry us,” Morton replied. “Now, let’s get some rest. I’ll take first watch and wake you in two hours, Kowalski. Then you take two hours, and then the Chief.”
The other two men took a blanket each and tried to make themselves comfortable. Meanwhile, Chip cradled his gun in his hands and settled down to listen to the sounds of the night.
Dawn broke with the swiftness of a tropical sunrise but the sun barely broke through the trees, merely lighting the sky above the clearing. Since his last ordeal, the general had left Crane alone, but Lee was now running a fever and had experienced a disturbed night. As the night had moved towards day, he’d fallen into a restless sleep and this was how the woman found him as she brought his meal. For a few seconds she stood and watched him, unwilling to disturb him, knowing that he needed the rest just as much as the food. She saw the sunburn on the few areas of his skin that were unmarked by the whip; the mass of abrasions that covered his back; the skinned and raw marks around his wrists where he’d struggled against his bonds. She knew he would not last much longer at the hands of the general, and vowed to help him escape. He was the only one to show her any kindness and she owed him something. Perhaps he would take her with him, she mused. She knew the medicines of the forest and could heal his wounds.
One of the guards entered the tent and saw her standing watching Crane. He spoke angrily and she reluctantly knelt beside the sleeping man and reached for him. Gently, she shook him by the shoulder. Somewhere between sleep and unconsciousness, Lee was aware of her presence but was averse to opening his eyes. That would only bring back the pain – but her touch was tender, and insistent, and reluctantly he submitted to her encouragement.
She held the bowl towards him and he struggled to sit up. He was getting weaker and knew he had to get away – and soon. For some reason he had been left untied, so he didn’t bother to wait for her to taste the food – he simply took it and spooned the mixture greedily into his mouth. She watched as he grabbed for the water and gulped down the liquid, coughing as he tried to swallow it too quickly. After he had finished, she soaked a cloth in the jug. Moving behind him, she squeezed the material and the water trickled down across his wounds. She dabbed carefully, cleansing and cooling them, knowing that she had to do this even though she felt him flinch at every touch.
Lee was aware of her ministrations but his mind was elsewhere. The arrival of morning led him back to thoughts of escape. It was clear that he’d missed the first meeting – he had to plan for the second. He had to get out of there. He glanced at the guard, who was gazing out of the tent flap to where the dogs were being fed. Carefully, Lee drew a rough outline in the dirt of the coast and the river, and a small stick-figure with a question mark. He turned to the woman and pointed to his sketch. Would she understand what he was asking? She looked down at the ground and her eyes widened as she saw the shapes in the dust. After a brief look at the guard, she placed a small cross next to his stick-figure, but it meant nothing to Crane. Between her cross and the river he drew a line and another question mark, then, like a child, he ‘walked’ his fingers along it. Immediately she understood and drew a small circle then the number 5. Lee took that to mean it would take 5 hours for him to walk to the river from the camp. Or maybe it was 5 miles. No, surely the circle indicated a clock? Tough, particularly in his current condition, but he would have to do it. At least he knew in which direction to head.
He noticed that she had continued to draw and was surprised to see another stick-figure appear, this time unquestionably female. She wanted to go with him! That was okay with Lee – he’d need her help anyway. He nodded and she smiled. His mind began to race. Five hours to get to the river. The rendezvous was set for 6pm. He had no illusions that he’d need more than the 5 hours she estimated, which meant there was no time to lose. Frustrated, he wished he knew what time it was now. From the relative coolness and low humidity in the tent, he estimated it was still early in the morning. The unknown factor was when the general might come in to continue his questioning. Lee knew he wouldn’t be able to cope much more, not now that the man had broken his concentration technique.
Just then, the subject of his thoughts entered the tent. Crane shifted position in order to erase the drawings in the dust.
“Good morning Captain Crane. It has been an eventful night.”
Lee frowned in confusion.
“What do you mean?”
“Your friends came to collect you. My men were waiting. Thank you for that, Captain.”
Lee’s heart sank. What had he said? What had he given away? Had Chip and the others been captured? He had to know.
“What have you done to them?”
“They fought bravely. Only one of my men was able to return. Nevertheless, perhaps now you’ll realise that it is pointless to resist me.”
Lee recoiled in shock. “No! Not my crew, not my friends…”
“I will destroy you, Commander Crane, just as I will destroy them, and your submarine.”
Lee's shoulders slumped and his body sagged. No longer the proud submarine captain, his whole demeanour now portrayed that of a broken man. The general smiled as Crane’s resistance visibly disappeared.
“You win, General. I’ll tell you what you want to know. Give me some time to rest. Then we can talk.” Crane’s voice was low and monotonous; he was totally cowed and dejected as he looked up at the general. The general’s eyes gleamed.
“I will allow you a few hours. Please don’t try anything foolish – you will be guarded and you can be killed with no more energy than it takes to swat a mosquito. Later I will return, then you will answer all my questions.” Chuckling at the prospect, he turned and left the tent.
While they had been talking, the woman had sat quietly in the corner. It was possible the general hadn’t even noticed her presence. However, the guard stood and gestured at her with his rifle. It was clear he wanted her to leave. She rose and looked down at Lee. He pointed to the water jug, indicating that it was empty and he wanted some more. She picked it up and spoke to the guard, who pushed her roughly outside. Lee watched as she tripped and almost fell, feeling the anger rise within him to see her treated so brutally. However, he didn’t have long to wait. Within a few minutes she returned. Kneeling beside him, she offered the re-filled jug. He took it and tipped it to his mouth. Suddenly, he choked on the water and dropped the container, grabbing at his throat and gasping for air. She panicked and stood up, turning to the guard and imploring him to help. The guard dropped to his knees as Crane bent double, struggling to breathe. Grabbing Crane by the shoulders, he pushed him upright. As he did so, Lee’s hands moved from his own throat to that of the guard. Mustering all his strength, he fastened his fingers around the man’s windpipe and squeezed as hard as he could. Taken by surprise, the guard had no opportunity to respond and after a brief struggle, his eyes bulged and he went limp, falling against Crane who overbalanced and fell back on the floor. His gasp of pain drew the woman’s attention and she rushed to him. Holding out her hand, she pulled him up and with an effort, he rose to his feet.
He smiled at her and held his finger to his lips. Going to the tent flap, he pulled it carefully to one side, and looked through the chink across the campsite. On the far side two guards were standing smoking beside the dog enclosure. He decided that they would need to slit the canvas at the rear of their tent and leave that way. But first he needed a shirt. Lee knelt by the dead guard and began to undo the shirt buttons, pushing the body over so he could remove it easily. Slipping his arms into the sleeves, he then searched the body and found a knife, which he showed to the woman in triumph. He searched some more, but found nothing further that might have been of use. He looked longingly at the rifle, but as he had found no additional ammunition, decided that it wasn’t worth carrying it with them.
He unsheathed the knife and sliced quickly and quietly up through the canvas from the bottom edge. When he had cut a slit of about three feet, he drew it back carefully and looked out. The tent was close up against the trees, which would give them almost instant cover once they had got clear of the fabric. He held the canvas aside and waved the woman through. She bolted into the shelter of the bushes. Once she was there, he followed, trying to ignore the burning sensation of the rough shirt fabric against the open wounds on his back.
Crouching within the trees, he looked up at the sky. He noted the angle of the sun and identified their direction. They would need to skirt the campsite to get to the southern edge. That would be dangerous as the dogs might pick up their scent. He stood up and tested the direction of the soft, prevailing wind. Luck appeared to be on their side momentarily as it was coming from the south-east, but that might not help once they got downwind of the dogs.
Lee extended his hand to the woman, who reached out and grasped it tightly. He set off slowly, pushing the branches aside carefully, anxious to make as little noise as possible. Through the leaves, he could see one or two guards wandering round the campsite but nobody seemed to be taking any interest in the tent they had left. He just had to hope that it was a situation which would continue for a while longer. Bit by bit they crept through the trees and bushes, eventually getting to the far edge of the camp. Now they had moved downwind of the site, and Lee mentally crossed his fingers that their scent wouldn’t reach the dog enclosure. Glancing once more at the sky, he gauged their bearing and set off in what he thought was the direction of the river.
Once they got away from the camp, the tree canopy cut the available daylight in half. Soon the two of them were pushing through thick bushes, brushing aside the hanging vines and trying to avoid falling over tree roots. All their attempts at stealth had disappeared. Lee didn’t even know how far from the camp they had got. Every now and then, he caught sight of the sun, and tried to make sure they were heading in the right direction. After what seemed like hours, they came to a small glade. It had two overgrown tracks leading from it in different directions. Which way? He knelt down, trying to catch his breath. His back was on fire and he felt light-headed. She seemed to realise that he was struggling and slipped off to the edge of the clearing. Picking a few leaves, she came and sat beside him, putting a couple of the leaves into her mouth and offering him some. He watched as she began to chew and tentatively followed suit. After a few moments he began to feel more alert and realised that the leaves she had found were some kind of natural stimulant.
She picked up a small twig and began to draw in the dirt. He watched as the shape of the coast appeared and the inlet that formed the river mouth. She marked a cross, which he assumed was the campsite, and a small circle with two lines going from it. She had identified the clearing they were in. He could tell that one of the paths went towards the river, the other wound its way back towards the camp they had just left. He looked up and identified the one they would need to take. As he did so, he realised that it had got noticeably darker. Glancing up through the branches, he saw some heavy rain clouds scudding across the sun and became aware that the wind had increased significantly.
Suddenly he heard shouting and a strident barking. Their escape had been discovered and from the sounds emanating from the camp, they weren’t as far away from it as he had hoped. He stood up and grabbed her wrist, dragging her with him along the track leading towards the river. There was no chance to rest now. They had to make good their escape. Once the dogs found their trail, they’d be caught in no time. All they’d have to do would be to follow – he and the woman had to hack their way along this overgrown trail.
The howling of the dogs was getting louder and he could hear the shouts of the handlers when suddenly Lee felt a heavy drop of water on his arm. It was followed by another and another. As he looked skywards, he realised that a tropical storm had blown up. The wind direction had shifted and was no longer carrying their scent back to the dog pack. As he stood and looked at the clouds, the heavens opened and torrential rain fell through the branches and the leaves, soaking them both in moments. This could be the luck they needed! The trail would be washed clean, the dogs wouldn’t be able to follow their scent. Lee looked back at the woman. Her blouse was plastered to her body, outlining her figure. Her long hair was dripping and the rain was washing the dirt from her face in streaks. Nevertheless, she looked beautiful, so serene and calm. He turned and wiped a thumb gently over her cheek, cleaning the filth from her skin. His tenderness reached her and she stretched up and kissed him softly. Standing there in the rain, they could have been a thousand miles away, but just then the barking of the dogs broke into Lee’s reverie and he pulled away from her. I don’t even know her name.
They turned back to the jungle and Lee pressed onwards, slicing at vines and pushing back branches. The rain he had welcomed now presented a different problem. The ground and roots underfoot had become wet and slippery; the earth was turning to mud that sucked at their feet and threatened to trip them. He looked back and saw their footprints in the sludge slowly filling with water as the rain continued to fall. They were leaving a trail after all – hopefully one that would be harder for the trackers to follow but, nevertheless, still a trail. They came to another small clearing. Lee could barely see across to the other side, so heavy had the rainfall become. However he could make out another two tracks leading off and sighed, absentmindedly pushing his hair back off his forehead. Which way now? There was no longer any sunlight, the wind direction had changed, he had to face it – he was completely lost. He could no longer recall the maps he’d seen. The woman tugged at his arm. She pointed to the track on the right – she was telling him the way to go. He looked curiously at her and she nodded vigorously. She could no longer draw the map on the ground but drew a diagram with her hands in the air, indicating the river and the track they had to take. He stumbled across the clearing, feeling the power of the raindrops on his shoulders and back. The shirt was stuck to his wounds and the driving rain intensified the pain. He had to keep going. This was their only chance.
He broke through into the depths of the trees once again and felt her hand pulling him back. Why? This was the way she’d indicated. He looked at her. She nodded down the trail – he was going the right way. But she was going to take the other track. The dogs would follow them – this would split them up and give him a chance. He watched as she eloquently sketched this message in the air, then shook his head violently. She had to come with him. He would get her away, to safety. No. She pulled back and outlined a house; pointing to herself, she managed to convey that she would find her village, return to her family. Lee would return to his world – the two were so different. She kissed him once more and turned away, walking down the opposing track. Slipping and sliding in the mud, he ran after her. Pulling at her arm, he turned her around and clasped her to him in a tight embrace. As he loosened his grip, he pointed to himself and said “Lee”. She smiled, mirrored his action, and said “Melitta.” He took her hand and, raising it to his lips, kissed it gently.
“Thank you, Melitta.”
“Thank you, Lee.”
She turned once more and headed down the track. He watched her go until she was obscured by the heavy downpour. Rubbing his hand across his face, he realised that it wasn’t just the rain blocking her from view. He headed back towards the clearing and followed the other track. Was it his imagination or had the rain lessened? Once more he could hear the dogs in the distance, and slithered and slid his way towards what he hoped would soon be the river.
In the raft, Sharkey was soaked through and miserable - and letting everyone know about it. As if we’re not all in the same situation, Chip grumbled to himself. He’d tuned out from the chief’s constant carping and was about to make their regular contact with Seaview. He’d pulled one of the blankets over his head to protect the mechanism of the radio from the pounding of the rainfall, and was just in the process of sending the signal when Kowalski touched his arm. Emerging from his cocoon, Chip looked at him.
“What’s the matter, Kowalski?”
”Sir, I thought I heard dogs barking.”
Sharkey looked over at them and scowled.
”Ski, don’t be ridiculous. What would dogs be doing out here? I mean, d’you think someone’s taking them for a walk?”
Chip glanced at Kowalski. He was less inclined to dismiss the man’s comment. Kowalski had sharp ears; his sense of hearing was almost phenomenally developed from long hours on sonar watch.
“Could you pick out a direction, Kowalski?” he asked.
“Well sir, I’d say it came from our side of the river. But it’s difficult with the noise of the rain on the water an’ all.”
Chip nodded. “OK, ‘Ski, thanks. Keep listening, huh?”
He went back to the radio and made contact with Seaview. Immediately, Nelson’s voice came across the airwaves.
”Chip – any news?”
“Lee hasn’t shown up, if that’s what you mean, Admiral. But Kowalski just thought he heard some dogs in the distance. The trouble is, we’re in the middle of a torrential storm and hearing anything is difficult.”
“We noted that. The storm seems to be centred over landfall, Chip.”
“Great,” Chip commented wryly. “Sharkey doesn’t like it much, Admiral.”
“For someone working on a sub, Sharkey has an intense dislike of getting wet, Mr Morton,” Nelson chuckled.
“I guess that’s healthy – after all, nobody working on a sub wants to get their feet wet.“ Chip responded. “Anyway, we’ll check in again in another three hours, Admiral.”
“OK, Chip. Nelson out.”
Kowalski looked at his watch and glanced at the chief as Chip broke down the radio. If they didn’t get the skipper back by then, they’d be checking in – and then out – without him. Sharkey saw the younger man’s look and shrugged.
”Keep listening for those dogs, ‘Ski. As they get closer you can bet the skipper’ll be right in front of them.”
Kowalski nodded, and settled down again, trying to ignore the heavy drops of rain falling down his neck. Each man sat quietly with his own thoughts, listening hard for anything that might indicate that the captain had made good his escape. Only the exec had any idea just how serious a condition his friend might be in. For Lee to have given away the details of the previous nights rendezvous… his mind danced away from the imagery that faced it and he focussed instead on getting them – all four – out of there when the time came. Suddenly, the three men jerked their heads up. This time there was no doubting it – they all heard the dogs barking. Sharkey jumped to his feet, tipping the raft wildly from side to side and nearly sending the exec overboard.
“Mr Morton, do you hear that? It’s gotta be the skipper!”
“I hear it, Sharkey. Now will you sit down? You nearly had me over the edge!” Chip responded angrily.
“Sorry, sir, I guess I was just excited. The skipper’s got to have escaped. He must be on his way here! We’ve got to get out there and find him!”
Sharkey’s enthusiasm was contagious, but Chip tried to keep both him and Kowalski calm.
“OK, Sharkey, you may be right. But if they’ve got dogs, the captain’s not out of danger just yet. He’s got to get here, where we’ve got guns and can make a difference. We can’t just go charging into the jungle to look for him. You probably wouldn’t meet unless you ran into each other. A yard off the track and you’d walk right past. Now, we’ve just…”
His voice was cut off mid-sentence as they heard a gunshot. All three looked at each other in shock and their hearts sank. No, not the skipper, not Lee…
In the jungle, Lee had been making quite good progress. Unlike the other track they’d followed, this one seemed to be more clearly defined, suggesting that it was used more often. He’d had less cause to use the knife to cut his way through and in other circumstances he might have taken some time to admire the wild, untamed beauty of his surroundings. Or maybe not, he mused, thinking back to the time when an enemy had turned Seaview into his own personal jungle complete with silver-faced alien combat fighters.
The storm was still raging around him and on a couple of occasions he’d instinctively ducked as a loud crack signified a lightning strike on a nearby tree. Looking up through the layers of leaves and branches above him, he saw that the sky was still dark, covered by the heavy rain clouds that obliterated any sunlight. Without it, he couldn’t measure any passage of time, let alone work out which direction he was moving in, but he trusted that Melitta had set him on the right path and all he had to do now was follow it to its conclusion. He’d heard the dog pack less frequently and when he did, they seemed to be further away. He hoped that Melitta was managing to outpace them and make her own escape. It certainly seemed that her plan to split up had drawn the attention away from him – at least for the moment. It dawned on him just how much help he had received from her during his period of capture. He didn’t know how instrumental she had been in the initial seizure – perhaps the spilling of his drink had been a genuine accident – but her actions since had gone some way to atone for the results.
Suddenly in the distance he heard a gunshot. The sound cut through him like a knife. They must have caught her! Before he could help himself, a single, agonised shout emanated from the depths of his soul. “No!” He fell to his knees, beating at the ground with his fists at the waste of her life, the tears falling unchecked onto the already sodden earth.
After a few moments, he scrambled to his feet, giving in to the instinct that drew him back down the path towards the sound. Maybe she’d only been injured. Perhaps he could still help her to get away. He had to try!
As he retraced his steps, the sound of the dogs got closer and penetrated the curtain of despair. Instead of the howling and barking of a pack in chase, he could hear the more frenzied sounds of snarling and snapping. His mind was jerked back to the vision he’d witnessed on his first morning in the campsite, and the matter-of-fact way the general had referred to meat tasting better when flavoured with adrenalin. Dropping to his knees and retching as the memory crowded his thoughts, he knew in his heart that if he did get back to her, there wouldn’t be much to recover. The only thing he could do now was to succeed in his own escape. If she was dead, it wouldn’t be in vain. He’d get to his rendezvous; he’d get back to Seaview and they’d find the traitor whose actions had resulted in this. He turned round and stumbled forward again, barely noticing that the storm clouds were lifting and the rain easing.
After what seemed like an age, he leaned against a tree to get his breath back. He’d slipped so often that his trousers were ripped and caked in a gelatinous muddy mess; his shirt was sodden with rainwater and clinging to his flayed skin. As he stood there, he became aware of just how cold he’d become as he began to shiver violently. But he also knew this wasn’t just the cold. Keep going, he ordered himself. Reach the river… He listened for the dogs. Yes, they were still there, still coming for him. Looking up, he felt his spirits lift slightly. Had the rain finally stopped? Then he remembered that the storm had, in a way, been their friend. It had covered the noise as they’d pushed through the jungle; the rain had filled their footprints and slowed down the hunters. Now the ground was so wet that his tracks were merely puddles of water. Lee turned quickly to hurry down the track but slipped almost immediately on a tree root, sprawling headlong into the sticky mud. Momentarily winded, he struggled to sit up, then stopped, dead-still, the pain of his injuries forgotten as he heard the quiet but menacing hiss of a snake. Lifting his head carefully, he noticed a small but very pretty snake just inches from his leg, alongside a cat-like animal, clearly already dead from the snake’s poison. Keep still, he told himself. Don’t frighten it…the absurdity of such a thought threatened to break out into hysteria as he considered that he’d almost just landed on the creature. With a strange detachment, he watched as the reptile drew back then plunged its fangs into his calf muscle. He felt a small sting, then it slid quietly into the dense undergrowth, leaving both Crane and its meal lying in the mud.
Back at the raft, Chip, Sharkey and Kowalski had hardly spoken since they’d heard the gunshot. Each of them was willing with every heartbeat that the gunshot hadn’t taken their captain and friend. Chip looked at his watch. There was barely another two hours until the time for their rendezvous. If he made it…no! Chip thought angrily, when he made it, they’d be there for him. Kowalski spoke quietly.
“Hey, Mr Morton, it’s stopped raining.”
Chip glanced up. Kowalski was right. They were still being dripped on almost constantly, but the clouds were thinning and there was still some light in the sky above them. Maybe it would be enough to help Lee find his way to them, he reflected. He sat very quietly, listening intently to see if he could still hear the dogs. Don’t know why I’m bothering; if Lee’s dead they’d have no reason to still be out there. He heard all the sounds of a rainforest - the cicadas, the unusual bird song, the croaks of frogs. And then his ears strained as he heard something else – the howling of a dog pack, on the trail of something.
“Kowalski – listen. Can you hear it?”
Kowalski looked at the exec, then his face took on a wide-eyed wonder as he too caught the sounds.
“The dogs! Mr Morton, the skipper must still be on the run!”
“Just what I think, ‘Ski.”
Sharkey was on his feet in an instant.
“Mr Morton, please, you gotta let me go out there and see what I can find. I’ll stick to the trail…”
“OK, Sharkey. You win. But – don’t go off the trail at all, and if it stops, come straight back. Keep in radio contact every 5 minutes, you got that?”
Sharkey grabbed one of the portable radios and jumped into the mud along the shore. Kowalski threw a handgun to him and he headed off into the undergrowth. They could hear him pushing his way through the vegetation but he’d been gone only a few minutes when he returned.
“What’s the problem, Chief?” Kowalski asked.
Sharkey looked very dejected.
“The track just ends. It just becomes a tangle of thicket and vines. There’s no way it’s been used in years.”
“Possibly months or maybe even just weeks, Chief,” Chip replied. “In the tropics, everything grows so much quicker. But nevertheless, if it’s a dead end, I don’t want you going off striking your own path.”
“But how will the skipper get through?”
“Chief, if he’s escaped up ‘til now, he’ll find a way, I promise you.” Chip said. “All we can do is wait.”
Time passed very slowly for the men at the river. The exec checked his watch. The deadline was looming and there was still no sign of the captain, but he could still hear the howling of the dogs, which seemed to be getting a lot nearer. Maybe it was simply that night was drawing in and every noise was enhanced. Chip was determined to remain at the meeting spot until all hope was gone – there was still a little light in the sky and he knew that Lee’s tenacity would drive him on while there was still breath in his body. He put the proposal to Sharkey and Kowalski who agreed immediately. Chip set up the radio to call Seaview and confirm their revised plans with Nelson. The admiral answered almost instantly and his worried tones echoed through the headphones.
“You’re early, Chip. Trouble?”
“No Admiral, nothing’s changed,” Chip replied. He went on to outline his proposal that they remain on station for as long as seemed practical. Nelson concurred with his thinking, and agreed that whilst a hunt still appeared to be in progress, there was a good chance that Lee was still alive and trying to reach them. Chip was just making arrangements for his next check-in call, when Kowalski let out a shout.
Chip looked up to see a dishevelled figure stagger from the trees and drop to the ground. As Kowalski jumped from the boat, Chip spoke quickly.
“He’s here, Admiral! I’ll check in again shortly.”
As he cut the signal a shot rang out and ricocheted off a branch just above his head. Looking back up the river, Chip could see a lone figure standing in the shallows of the river some two hundred yards distant. He grabbed a handgun, cursing the fact that he’d decided against bringing a rifle. No good for close-quarter combat, he’d reasoned back on Seaview! The exec took careful aim at the figure, offering covering fire as Kowalski and Sharkey lifted the captain into the boat. As they laid him in the footwell he groaned; a deep, agonised sound that chilled the three men.
As Kowalski flung himself back on board, Sharkey pushed them out from under the branches and caught the gun that the exec threw to him. As they drifted into the centre of the river, the chief saw several dogs appear on the bank from where they’d just recovered the skipper. He took a couple of pot-shots and was gratified to see two of the hounds drop to the ground, but heard more noise in the undergrowth as the handlers followed closely on the heels of their animals. He fired wildly as the raft spun round in the current then threw the gun down in disgust as the clip emptied. The exec was beside him, loosing off bullets at the shadowy figures that were materialising on the bank in the gathering gloom.
Kowalski took over control of the raft and turned it downstream as the three men heard bullets whizzing above their heads. Shots were hitting the water around them and throwing up little fountains. Suddenly the boat jinked sideways as a round hit it. Sharkey yelped in pain as the bullet passed threw the thick rubber and caught him in the leg. He clamped his hand over the wound and slid down into the footwell next to the captain. As the exec continued to return fire, Kowalski gunned the outboard motor and the raft careered down the river at full tilt.
“Chief – what happened?” The exec crouched beside Sharkey, who was cursing fluently and tying a pad around his lower leg.
“Caught me in the calf, Mr Morton. I’m okay though. How’s the skipper?”
Chip turned to the captain. He was horrified at what he saw. Covered in mud from head to toe, Lee’s clothes were shredded to ribbons, with the remaining fabric soaked through and plastered to his body. Chip began to make a more detailed inspection as the captain once again moaned in pain. There were some severe chaffing marks around his wrists – he’d clearly been tied up, presumably to prevent escape, Chip surmised. Lee’s breathing was very shallow, and Chip was just about to check for other injuries when Crane’s eyelids fluttered open.
“Chip… snake… snake bite…”
The exec stared in dismay.
“Sharkey – first aid kit, now!” he demanded.
The chief grabbed it from the floor beside him and threw it over. Chip tipped the contents out, rummaging through the kit for the anti-venom and a syringe. Snapping the cap off, he plunged the needle into the foil of a small bottle and drew out a measured dose. Clearing the air bubbles, he caught hold of Lee’s arm and pushed the ragged sleeve up past the elbow. Rubbing a small patch of skin clean with his fingertips, he sank the needle into the captain’s bicep and depressed the syringe.
“OK, Lee, that’s the anti-venom. Try and relax, we’re on the way back to Seaview.”
The captain nodded almost imperceptibly; then his eyes closed and his head fell gently to one side as he lost consciousness.
The exec motioned to Sharkey to pass the radio, and made contact again with Seaview.
“How is he, Chip?” demanded Nelson.
“He’s out of it right now but was able to tell us he’d got a snake bite. I’ve administered some anti-venom. Other than that, he’s soaked through and his wrists are rubbed raw – I guess he’s been tied up.”
“Any other injuries?”
“Nothing obvious yet, but he seems to be in a lot of pain. I’m going to try and get these wet clothes off him and warm him up a bit. We’ve got a blanket we kept dry just in case. Can you manoeuvre Seaview in any closer, Admiral? The Chief caught a bullet and the raft is holed. I’m pretty sure it’s above the waterline but I don’t want to take any chances once we get to open water.”
“No problem. We’ll surface and make our way closer to shore. We’ll meet you just by the river mouth – from your position you should make it in about 15 minutes. Nelson out.”
Chip closed down the radio. As he did so, Sharkey began to cut away the shirt stuck to the captain’s body. The chief paused in his task, and glanced at the exec.
“Mr Morton, take a look. This is blood, not mud!”
As the chief held the unconscious man, Chip began to peel the material back very carefully. As he did so, the full extent of Lee’s ordeal began to emerge. Deep welts showed around his ribs and he could see that the injuries extended around to the captain’s back. Chip stopped pulling on the material so as not to do more harm than good.
“He’s been beaten - extensively and severely.” Chip commented. “No wonder he was in so much pain when you guys laid him down here. I’m amazed he managed to get away – he must be in agony. Let’s get this blanket round him and try to warm him up until the doc can take care of him.”
He turned away and grabbed the dry blanket, pulling it over Crane.
“How’s the leg, Sharkey? Are you okay to help me hold him steady until we get to Seaview?” he asked.
The chief nodded, although Chip could see the strain of his own injury beginning to show in the man’s face. It was the longest fifteen minutes of the exec’s life as they made their way down the now darkened river towards the sea. Every moment he expected to hear the bullets flying around them once more. Crane’s experiences since he’d left Seaview had clearly taken their toll. Despite their best efforts, as the raft bumped over hidden branches or small waves, he roused slightly and uttered a muted cry. By the time they reached the river mouth, they were having to restrain him from tossing and turning in delirium, and Chip was worried the anti-venom hadn’t been administered in time. He scanned the horizon and saw the shape of Seaview outlined against the sky not more than half a mile offshore.
“Not long now, Lee.” Chip leant down to talk to his friend. “We’re about to meet up with Seaview. It’s going to be a bit bumpy, pal, but we’ll try and hold you as we hit the swell. Just hang in there a few more minutes.”
The raft jolted its way across the breakers of the open sea and after a couple of minutes Chip saw the deck hatch on Seaview open as Nelson came out to meet them. He was relieved to see the doc there as well, plus a couple of corpsmen with a stretcher. Kowalski secured them alongside and Chip called up to the doc.
“The captain’s got serious back injuries, Doc. No medication administered except the anti-venom. He’s running a fever and is delirious. And the Chief’s stopped a bullet.”
Jamie acknowledged Chip’s brief report and spoke to the corpsmen. They stretched out to help Kowalski up as the doc hopped down into the raft. He gave a cursory examination to the Chief’s leg, then he too was helped aboard. With a worried backward glance, Kowalski assisted Sharkey off the deck as Chip was hauled up. His place was quickly taken by the corpsmen who secured Crane on a brace-style stretcher. Nelson and the exec reached down to help pull the unconscious captain back on to Seaview. Just once, the stretcher collided with the hull and the sound that came from Lee’s throat tore through all those around him.
As he watched the captain taken below, Nelson turned to Chip.
”What happened to him?” Nelson asked.
“I don’t know any more than I’ve already told you.” Chip replied. “He hasn’t been able to tell us anything, sir.”
Nelson nodded absent-mindedly as a frown creased his features. “Alright. I’ll be down in sickbay. Go get dry, Chip.”
Chip headed up to his quarters and tore off his wet clothes. A quick towel-down warmed him up a little and he dragged on a clean uniform. Making his way quickly down to sickbay, he pushed open the door and saw Frank, one of the corpsmen, tending to the chief’s leg wound. Sharkey was looking grim, but it didn’t seem to be as a result of his own injury. As the exec stepped into the room, his attention was caught by the scene before him. He stood aghast as he watched the doc working on the skipper. They’d stripped him and Jamie was attempting to clean away the engrained dirt and grime. Lee’s back was a mass of festering lacerations, and there was hardly any unbroken skin visible between his shoulders and his waist. Although barely conscious, at each touch he moaned in pain. Nelson stood to one side, visibly shocked.
Jamie glanced up briefly.
“Stand next to the admiral and keep quiet.”
Chip moved next to Nelson, who was leaning against a wall. A few moments later, Kowalski slipped quietly into sickbay and joined them. As they watched, the extent of the injuries became more obvious, and Chip wondered at the levels of mental and physical strength that the captain had needed to draw upon.
“Frank, when you’ve finished with the chief, set up a drip of broad-spectrum antibiotics. John, check the bloodwork, will you?” Checking the captain’s pupils in turn, Jamie shook his head. “Come on, skipper, don’t do this!”
John came into the room with a printout and a pile of sterile dressings. As Jamie carefully dried the excess water from the torn skin, the dressings were gently placed across the captain’s back. Frank moved across the room from where the chief was now sedated and sleeping peacefully, and hooked up an IV while Jamie scanned the printout.
“Thank goodness that’s clear. It looks like the venom has been completely neutralised. Good work, Mr Morton. Some low-level infections but that’s to be expected. He’s a bit warm but at least his breathing’s even. It looks like he’ll make it.”
Nelson breathed a deep sigh of relief.
“Can we stay for a while, Doc?”
“I know I’d have a mutiny on my hands if I tried to say no,” Jamie replied. “But keep quiet and don’t interfere!”
Just then, the captain moved slightly and muttered incomprehensibly. Instantly, Nelson leaned down towards him, talking quietly and smoothing the dark hair.
“Lee, it’s Nelson. You’re back on Seaview. You’re going to be okay, lad. We’re going home.”
The other three men exchanged glances. Chip gestured to Kowalski and the two of them made their way to the door.
“Admiral, we’re going to the control
room. I’ll set in a course for
Chip grinned ruefully and followed Kowalski up to the control room. As he entered the room, he was aware of the sea of expectant faces. Riley broke the silence.
“Mr Morton, how’s the skipper? And the chief?”
The exec looked around and smiled one of his rare smiles that had the effect of lighting the room.
“The captain’s in bad shape, but doc says he should be okay. The chief’s got a flesh wound in his right calf and he’ll be up and around in a day or so.”
He paused and walked over to the chart table as an excited chatter broke out, then continued.
“Let’s get on the move for home. Navigation, come to course 170 relative; helm – ten degrees down-bubble; engineering, all ahead flank.”
The following evening, Chip was just handing his Officer of the Watch duties to O’Brien when Doc Jamieson’s voice came over the intercom.
“Mr Morton, the captain’s awake and asking for you.”
“I’ll be right there.” Chip replied and headed aft.
Pushing open the door, he saw Nelson asleep with his head down on his arms on the table. The exec’s gaze swept the room, noting Sharkey dozing in a bunk nearby. Finally he saw the captain. Lee was sitting up, supported with several very soft, plump pillows. He too looked to be asleep, but as Chip moved further into the room, he opened his eyes and smiled tiredly.
“Lee! Welcome back! How is he, Doc?” Morton’s soft voice nevertheless carried an air of authority, and this last was directed towards Jamieson who had just emerged from his office at the far end of sickbay.
“Exhausted, hungry, some infection and still a bit feverish, but he’ll survive,” stated Jamie matter-of-factly. “The bite was from a Coral snake, one of the most poisonous in this region. Luckily for the captain, it seems to have killed just before striking; otherwise he’d almost certainly have died.”
“And the chief?”
“A flesh wound. It’ll hurt for a while but he’ll be fine.”
Chip lowered the safety railing and sat at the foot of the bunk. Lee spoke softly.
“The Admiral’s filled me in on what happened and why I got sent there, Chip. Thanks for waiting for me!”
“Well, timekeeping’s never been your best trait,” replied Chip, trying to keep the mood light. The captain seemed lost in thought.
“They killed her, Chip.”
“Who was she?”
“Melitta. She helped me escape. They shot her…”
Crane’s voice faded as he struggled with his memories, and the exec remained silent as he saw his friend’s eyes fill with tears. After a few moments, Lee regained his composure and continued.
"I tried to blank out the pain, but they broke the technique."
Chip frowned - he'd been through the ONI training himself but Lee had been the star pupil and as a result usually drew the short straw for missions.
“After each beating, I was never sure what was happening. I was usually out of it before they’d finished anyway. She'd bring food and water. On one day, it just went on and on, intermittent beatings and pauses – I couldn’t concentrate. It was so hot, I was so thirsty… I guess that’s when I gave away the rendezvous. I’m sorry, Chip…”
The captain’s dark eyes looked into the exec’s blue ones, and Chip could see the pain that he felt. Reassurance was needed and he gave it quickly.
“We were prepared, Lee. We knew what had happened, why you were there, and what sort of reception we might get. It wasn’t your fault. Nobody could have stood up to what you went through.”
Doc Jamieson had been listening and now he spoke up.
“Your injuries were nasty, Captain, but
they’ll heal quickly and the physical marks will fade in time. But when we get
“What you mean is, you want to make sure I’m mentally up for the job, huh, Doc?” Lee frowned.
“You’ve had a tough time, skipper.”
Jamie knew when to stop pushing this particular patient, and he left the two friends alone. Maybe he’ll talk it out with Chip and the admiral, he thought to himself. That would be better than nothing, but I’m going to fight like crazy to get him into rehab.
Morton sat quietly and waited for Lee to continue. Bit by bit, the story of the last few days was told. Chip made very few interjections. He knew that Lee needed to get it out of his system and if something didn’t quite make sense he waited to see if it came up again in another context. After an hour or so, the captain was beginning to repeat things and Chip knew he was getting tired. He saw his friend wince as he tried to get more comfortable, and discreetly he motioned to Jamie, who strolled over.
“That’s it, skipper. I think you need to rest now.”
“He’s right, Lee. Get some sleep and I’ll come back in the morning. I need to get the admiral to his bunk as well, I think,” Chip commented.
Crane looked to where the admiral was sleeping, and nodded. Doc inserted a syringe into the IV and within a few moments Lee’s eyelids closed as he drifted off. Chip stood up, and gently shook the admiral by the shoulder.
“Admiral! Come on, sir, let’s get you to your cabin.”
Nelson blinked and raised his head. He immediately looked towards Crane and started to his feet.
“How is he?”
"He’s alright, Admiral. We’ve been talking and Doc’s just given him a light sedative. Sharkey’s okay too – he’s sound asleep and will probably stay that way for a few hours. Sir, you need to get a decent night’s rest yourself.”
“Take one of these before you go, Admiral.” Jamie held out a small pill and a glass of water. “It’ll help you get off to sleep but won’t knock you out so much that you feel useless when you wake up again.”
Nelson glared at him but knew he wouldn’t get out without following the doc’s orders, so he swallowed the tablet and went out into the corridor. Chip was right on his heels. Jamie’s voice wafted through the door after them.
“If there’s any change I’ll call you.”
The two men arrived at Nelson’s cabin. As he opened the door he paused and turned to Morton.
“Would you care to join me for a glass of Scotch, Chip?”
The exec looked at the admiral. The man showed no effects of the sleeping pill that Jamie had given him, but it probably wouldn’t take too long if he was going to mix it with some alcohol. He inclined his head. “Thank you, Admiral.”
They went in and Chip sat down, watching Nelson as he retrieved a bottle and two glasses. He splashed the deep golden liquid into each glass and handed one to the exec, then took his seat behind the desk. He raised the glass.
”To life,” he stated.
“To friendship.” Chip replied.
Each man sipped at their drink in silence, lost in their own thoughts. Nelson spoke quietly.
“I didn’t think we’d get him back.”
“We nearly didn’t. But he’s stubborn. All the time we could hear those dogs I knew we had to wait for him.”
“He told me about the girl. He’s upset about what happened to her.”
”That’s natural. She helped him escape. Maybe she was never part of the betrayal anyway. But she paid for it with her life, in what seems like a particularly nasty way - and he’ll feel guilty about that. You know Jamie wants him to have a psych consult when we get back?”
“He mentioned it. I don’t know, Chip…”
“The Doc’s the expert, Admiral, but you know what Lee’s like for buttoning up,” the exec said. “It’s important that he knows we’re there for him. But maybe Doc’s right.”
Nelson looked up at Chip and smiled.
“We both know that Lee hates anything medical with a passion. He’d probably pretend everything was fine just so he could get out of there. Now, if you’ll excuse me, that pill Jamie gave me is beginning to hit home!”
“Of course. Thanks for the drink. Good night, Admiral.”
The exec let himself out of the cabin and turned to go to his own. Entering the room, he shrugged off his uniform and stretched out on the bunk. Turning out the light, he expected to lie awake for a while, but tiredness overwhelmed him and he slept soundly.
The next morning found the exec and the admiral in the control room. Jamie had informed them that both the captain and the chief were still sleeping, but that they were comfortable and had had a good night.
Nelson headed over to the radio shack and spoke to Sparks.
“Get me Admiral Starke, please, Sparks.”
”Certainly, Admiral. Do you want to take it here?”
“Pipe it through to the control room.”
Nelson went back and stood by the monitor. A few minutes later, Sparks called over.
“Admiral Starke for you, Admiral Nelson.”
The screen flickered into life as the face of Jiggs Starke appeared on the display. Nelson beckoned Chip to join him.
“Harry! What news of Crane?” Admiral Starke’s voice boomed out into the control room.
“More to the point, have you found the traitor, Jiggs?”
“Investigations are underway, Harry. You know these things take time.” Starke was clearly irritated at Nelson’s demand. “Now, what news of Crane?”
“There was a reception committee at the rendezvous which nearly killed our landing party.”
Chip frowned but stayed silent as Nelson glanced at him.
“I’m sorry to hear that, Harry. Crane was a good man.”
“You never liked him, Jiggs. Don’t come over all sentimental – it doesn’t suit you.” Nelson responded.
“I didn’t like his command style, Harry, that’s all. He was a courageous officer.”
“Well, find the traitor who betrayed him and you’ll have gone some way to making things better, Jiggs. How are the investigations going?”
“Harry, we’re doing our best but the person concerned will have covered his tracks well. Plus, one of my aide’s gone off on compassionate leave and we’re stretched. The forwarding number is out of order. I’ve got the military police trying to track him down.”
“Jiggs, there’s someone on your team
who’s been turned and you need to find who it is,” Nelson snapped. “Anyway
we’re on our way back; we should be in
“I’ll contact you if there’s any news, Harry.”
Nelson grunted and flicked off the monitor. Chip looked at him carefully.
“Why didn’t you tell him the captain was on board, Admiral?”
“I hoped that somehow he might know that Lee had escaped. That would have given us a clue about who betrayed him.” Nelson was thoughtful. “We have to flush out this person, Chip – and I didn’t actually say that Lee wasn’t back on board!”
The exec raised an eyebrow at that. “Who gave you the envelope containing the orders?” he queried.
Nelson glanced at him. “They came by express messenger. Sharkey passed them directly to me. Why? What are you implying, Chip?”
“Nothing, Admiral. I just wondered if we knew that it was a bona fide courier.”
Nelson picked up the microphone.
“Doc, is Chief Sharkey able to talk to me?” He received a response in the affirmative and replaced the mike. “Okay, let’s go and ask Sharkey what his impressions were.”
Minutes later, Nelson and Morton arrived in sickbay and were about to go to where the chief lay in his bunk. Doc Jamieson headed them off.
“A couple of minutes only, Admiral, and don’t disturb the captain.”
Nelson nodded and went over to the chief.
“How’re you doing, Francis?” Nelson was the only one aboard who could use Sharkey’s first name without getting a thump for it.
“Just fine, sir. Doc says I’ll be up and around in no time.”
“Excellent. Tell me Sharkey, when you took delivery of the orders, just before we sailed, did you notice anything unusual about the courier?”
“Begging the Admiral’s pardon, but, sir, I didn’t receive the orders. The new kid took delivery and handed them to me. I just brought them up to your cabin, Admiral.”
“Which new kid, Sharkey?”
“Young Vaughan, sir. Works in Engineering. Keen as mustard, he is, too.”
“Okay, thanks, Chief.” Nelson turned to the exec. “We may be getting somewhere, Chip. I’d like you to be present when I talk to this young man. Have you had any dealings with him since we sailed?”
“I can’t say that he’s made any impact, Admiral. I recognise the name from the roster sheet, but haven’t had any direct contact with him. I think Lee met him on the day we sailed but you know that Lee always likes to make a point of welcoming a new face on board.”
“Well, we can’t ask him at the moment. Er – Mr Morton, would you ask Vaughan to come up to my cabin?”
The exec nodded and headed aft towards Engineering. A few minutes later he stood outside the admiral’s cabin with the young rating, and knocked quietly. A voice from within bade them enter. Chip stood to one side and allowed the man to precede him through the door.
"Seaman Vaughan, Admiral."
"Ah yes. Thanks for coming up, Vaughan.”
"Is there any more news of the Captain's condition, sir? And the Chief?" Vaughan asked.
"Not recently. I don't mind telling you, Vaughan, I'm still very worried." Nelson said, as he settled himself behind his desk. "I know we got him back on board okay, but his injuries are serious, and the doctor is concerned. The Chief’s doing well, though. Anyway, enough of that for now. I wanted to ask you about the courier who delivered the envelope before we sailed last week. The Chief tells me you took the delivery."
"Yes sir." Vaughan confirmed.
"Well, what can you tell me about the courier?" Nelson asked.
"Nothing much, Admiral. He was just an ordinary motorbike courier."
"What did he say about the package?"
"Just that it was from Admiral Starke, for your eyes only, sir. I saw it was stamped Top Secret so I brought it straight down to the control room. Then I saw the Chief and told him about it and he took it from me to take up to you."
"And you noticed nothing - out of the ordinary, shall we say - about the courier?"
"No sir. But I'm not sure I'd really know what to look for. He was - well, sir, he was just a courier."
"OK, Vaughan. Thanks. You can go back to duty now." Chip dismissed the young man as Nelson sat deep in thought. As the rating closed the door behind him, the exec pulled a chair up to the desk.
"What do you think, Admiral?"
"Hmm? Oh, I don't know, Chip. He seems to be on the level. It's his first trip; he simply took a package from a messenger. He wouldn’t think it unusual for Jiggs to send something by courier."
They exchanged glances, both wondering if there had in fact been a courier. Anyway, that could be checked out easily enough with the gatehouse at NIMR.
"Why did you suggest that Lee is in a worse condition than he is?"
"I'm not sure I did. We both know he's been through a lot these past few days. But if I did exaggerate, and Vaughan's our man, then perhaps it'll force his hand."
The exec nodded in agreement and rose to leave. As he opened the door, the intercom on Nelson’s desk buzzed and Doc Jamieson’s voice sounded loudly in the cabin. Chip paused to listen, what he heard causing him to go back into the room.
“Yes, Jamie. Is there a problem?”
“No, the skipper’s still sleeping. But
I thought you might like to know that the new rating,
“Oh?” Nelson scowled. “What did you tell him?”
“Simply that he was under sedation right now, but despite the fact that he seems to be responding to treatment, I’m still worried.”
“Good. Did that seem to satisfy him, Doc?”
“He went off without asking anything else. Just said to look after him, Admiral.”
“Okay. Thanks, Jamie.”
“What’s that about, Admiral?” Chip asked.
“I don’t know. Maybe you should have another chat with young Vaughan, Chip.”
Morton nodded and headed aft towards Engineering. As he stepped through the hatchway, he saw Kowalski hanging up a microphone and walking towards him.
“Mr Morton, sir, a message from the Admiral. He said to tell you to cancel what you were going to do.”
“That’s it, ‘Ski?”
“Yes sir. He didn’t tell me anything else, Mr Morton.”
Chip looked around the compartment. All the crew he could see were busy with their regular chores. Over by the torpedoes he spotted Vaughan, who looked away quickly as the exec’s gaze rested on him. Guilty? Chip wondered. Why? But he had his orders, and turned back to Kowalski.
“Very well, ‘Ski. Thanks. Carry on.”
As he walked back to the control room, the exec suddenly found himself sprawling across the floor as the submarine rocked violently. As he pushed himself to his feet, the discordant sounds of the klaxon blared out announcing General Quarters just seconds before O’Brien’s voice confirmed the situation. At a run, Morton arrived in the control room to see Nelson already there, bending over sonar with Riley.
“What’s going on, Admiral?” Chip asked.
“Torpedoes. They were close – but not too close. It was almost like a warning shot.”
“Enemy sub now two thousand yards astern, sir.” Riley intoned, counting down quickly as the vessel drew closer.
At a signal from Nelson, Chip picked up the microphone.
“Engineering – ready tubes one and three to fire on command.”
“Aye aye, sir.” Kowalski’s voice came back clearly into the control room.
Nelson’s gaze was glued to the radar array. He raised his hand, lingered a moment, then brought it sharply downwards.
“Fire one and three!” Morton ordered, then checked his watch, counting down the seconds until the torpedoes reached their target. With growing anxiety, the men waited, long after the explosions should have happened. The exec looked at the admiral.
“Both?” Nelson was incredulous. “The
only time we’ve had that happen was when
The crew looked at each other. They all remembered that occasion, when the skipper had been trapped in FS-1 while they‘d been searching for a hidden submarine pen. Beach had been identified as the traitor. Nelson and Morton each knew what the other was thinking. Vaughan. Morton grabbed the mike again.
“Kowalski! What happened?”
“I don’t know sir. It’s never happened to me before. There was just that once, when CPO Beach…”
“Yes, we remember.” The exec cut him off. “Who was on firing duty?”
“Patterson, Vaughan, and Thompson loaded. I fired.”
“Yes sir. A new guy, replaced Marks who got a broken arm just before we sailed.”
“Is everyone still there, ‘Ski?”
“Yes, Mr Morton. Just a minute, no. Thompson’s gone.”
“Just him?” Chip glanced at Nelson. As he did so, Riley let out a yell. “The Flying Sub!”
All eyes turned to the observation nose where they were just in time to see the hatch closing. Chip dashed forward but was too late to do anything. He tried to undog the entrance but found it impossible.
“It’s been jammed from below, sir,” he said to Nelson.
“Admiral, the Flying Sub is launching.” Riley reported.
Everyone watched as the familiar yellow craft cut through the water in front of them. Nelson picked up a microphone.
“Kowalski, this is Nelson – get forward torpedoes ready to fire.”
“Aye sir. On your command, Admiral.”
“Bearing, Riley?” Riley checked carefully and read the bearing off to Nelson, who repeated it to Kowalski.
“Fire when ready.”
“Torpedoes away, Admiral.”
The men in the control room watched as the missiles sprang away from the submarine and arced through the water. Riley was glued to radar, watching the narrowing gap, then gasped in surprise as some very acrobatic manoeuvring from FS-1’s pilot allowed the torpedoes to pass harmlessly underneath. The speakers crackled.
“Nice try, Admiral, but a foolish waste of firepower.”
Nelson frowned. The voice sounded familiar. "Who is that?”
“Not important, Admiral. However, the Captain’s remarkable escape leaves me no choice. If we cannot have the secrets we crave, we cannot allow you or Seaview to remain in existence.”
“Mr Morton,” Riley cut in, “the other sub is still on our tail. One thousand yards and closing.”
“All ahead flank, dive to 200 feet.” Morton snapped the commands. Those men who were standing lurched slightly as the powerful submarine increased speed and angled downwards. Riley was still watching the radar and the ominous blip that signified the approach of the other craft.
“It's stationary at the moment, Mr Morton. Still at one thousand yards. FS-1 seems to be docking with it. Wait - no, it's closing again.”
Morton breathed deeply. “Manoeuvring – take evasive action.”
The two men at the helm began a series of apparently random but carefully planned and choreographed series of course changes, amending both depth and direction in equal measures. Nelson drew the exec to one side.
“We could let off a decoy,” he murmured. Chip considered the suggestion and nodded slowly.
Nelson picked up the microphone.
“Kowalski, load aft torpedo tube 4 with remote detonation explosive and be ready to fire on command. Load number two tube with torpedo.” he ordered.
Down in the missile room, the senior technician looked at the microphone in disbelief. “Admiral?” he queried.
“Just do it, ‘Ski! I’m coming down there.” Nelson retorted.
“Aye sir.” Kowalski hung up the mike and looked at the crew.
“Well, you heard the Admiral. Let’s jump to it!”
“They look fine
“Mr Morton, what’s the situation with the sub?”
“Still on our tail, Admiral. It’s now…” he paused, and Nelson heard Riley in the background, “about 500 yards off.”
“We have to wait for the next salvo, Mr Morton. Let’s hope we can evade it!” Nelson commented.
“We don’t have long to wait, sir. Torpedoes in the water. All hands, brace for explosion!”
The exec’s voice rang out through the sub as the helmsmen threw Seaview into some vigorous evasive manoeuvres. As they did so, Nelson snapped at Patterson.
“Launch remote explosives. Fire tube number 4!”
The men in the missile room heard the swish of the enemy torpedoes as they sped through the water just a few feet above their heads. As they did so, Nelson pressed the remote control and detonated the two small charges that Patterson had fired from the torpedo tube. The sub rocked slightly from the shockwave.
“Mr Morton – all stop. Rig for silent running.” Nelson ordered.
The exec repeated the order to Engineering and the crew, and Seaview began to drift slowly downwards as she lost trim.
“Kowalski – is tube two ready?” Nelson asked very softly. Kowalski nodded.
“Set bearing 140 on torpedo. Ready to fire... now!” Nelson glanced at his watch as he spoke the order.
Seconds later, the men on Seaview heard a dull noise as the torpedo met its mark. Once again, the sub rolled from side to side, this time a little more violently, as the impact reverberated through the water.
Up in the control room, Morton picked up the microphone. “Secure silent running. Engineering, ahead one-third. Damage Control, report!”
“Tight and dry throughout, Mr Morton,” was the immediate response. Morton replaced the mike and turned to face the admiral as he came forward through the hatchway.
“Looks like it worked, sir.”
“Yes Chip. Making them think we’d taken
a hit, then playing dead, gave us a small window of opportunity. Shame about
the Flying Sub but at least we’ve got the replacement back in
“And it seems that we’ve tracked down the traitor as well.”
“Only at this end. There’s someone shore-side too, don’t forget. There’s no way that Jiggs would have initially approved the mission if he hadn’t seen the documentation.”
Nelson paused suddenly as a thought struck him.
“Kowalski said Thompson replaced Marks at short notice. Jiggs said one of his aides is off on compassionate leave and supposedly uncontactable. What if…”
“…the two are one and the same person?” Chip finished.
The exec tilted his head thoughtfully. "I didn't meet Thompson, Admiral."
"Neither did I, Chip, but that's not unusual. Lee would have done though. Jiggs’ aide, Tom Jackson, is a good friend of Lee’s, and he’s also met most of the others. That's the only thing that's giving me pause for thought right now."
Nelson called through to the radio
shack. “Contact Admiral Starke’s office and ask for photos of all his aides to
be sent through, please,
An hour later, Nelson and the exec were sitting with Crane in sickbay. The captain was holding a photograph in his hand, looking perplexed.
“Admiral, why are you asking me who this is? It’s Tony Pearson. He’s one of Admiral Starke’s junior aides. I’ve met him a few times, and I thought you had too.”
“Did you meet the new crew members before we sailed, Lee?” Nelson asked.
“Yes, Vaughan, nice kid. Very enthusiastic. I gather from Jamie he called in here earlier. That was good of him."
“What about the other new person?” Chip asked. “Thompson?”
“Sharkey mentioned him but he never seemed to be around when I called by. In the end, what with the mission and everything, I just let it go. What’s all this about?” Lee looked from one sombre friend to another.
“Lee, this is the person who got you sent into the rainforest. Pearson set it all up, then masqueraded as a crew member - Thompson - to make sure that the mission - as he saw it - was a success; in other words, that you were captured and killed.” Nelson spoke gently as Crane paled. "The fact that you managed to escape and get back here meant that he had to make sure Seaview was destroyed. In fact, that was probably a part of their plan all along."
“But - why…?”
Lee's voice tailed off as he tried to reconcile the news he’d just received with his knowledge of someone who, while not being a close friend, was a person whose integrity he would have trusted – with his life, he thought ironically.
“We don’t know why, Lee. But Sharkey has confirmed that this is the man he knew as Thompson."
Crane glanced over at the chief, who just shrugged.
Doc Jamieson came over and spoke quietly to his most awkward patient.
“Are you okay, Captain?”
Lee looked up and nodded. “Yes, Doc, I’m fine. It’s just a bit of a shock, that‘s all.”
Jamie raised a cynical eyebrow but knew better than to ask any more and retreated back to his office. Nelson placed a hand lightly on Crane’s arm.
“Jamie wants you to see someone when we dock, Lee.”
Crane scowled. “He told me. Admiral, really, I don’t need to.”
“Despite this extra piece of news?”
Crane smiled at his friends. “Look, if I can come and talk things through with you then I’d rather not see a shrink. I’d probably end up more screwed up afterwards!”
Nelson and the exec exchanged glances and came to a tacit agreement.
“OK, Lee. But if either of us think that you’re withholding stuff, then we’ll put you back in Jamie’s clutches.”
“I heard that. Admiral, I don’t agree. The Captain needs professional help to get over this.” Jamie’s voice was hard and unrelenting, and the three men looked over at him. Chip left the discussion to Nelson.
“Jamie, we all know how much Lee dislikes hospitals…”
The doctor shook his head.
“No, Admiral. I’m going to put my recommendation in writing. The captain needs more than we can give him on this one.”
Nelson remained silent for a few moments then, with a glance at Crane, waved his hand in Doc’s direction.
“We’ll talk about it later, Jamie.”
The captain had been watching the proceedings and knew what was going to be said out of his earshot. Doc would want him to see a shrink. Nelson would try to get him out of it. He knew who he’d be betting on. He handed the photograph back to Nelson.
“What did Admiral Starke say?”
“He's horrified, of course. You know him. The security agencies are going to be taken apart to find out where their checks failed.”
Crane smiled slightly. "I almost pity the person on the receiving end, Admiral, but not quite."
Nelson frowned. "I'm glad to hear it, Lee. Tony almost got you - and the rest of us - killed, and would have done if things had gone according to plan. I for one will be waiting in the wings to tear into anyone Jiggs misses out."
"I wouldn't be surprised if you had a whole bunch of the crew queuing behind you, Admiral." Chip grinned.
The two of them glanced at the captain. He'd closed his eyes, but hearing the silence lengthen, he opened them again and looked up at his friends.
"When do we get home, Admiral?"
"Soon, lad, soon."
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