This takes place after Breaking Point and A Matter of Trust (Seaview Stories)
Many wonderful thanks to Kate for being my beta, and to Pauline and Fidelma for helping with information.
TRACES OF COMPASSION
By Sea Spinner
Captain Lee Crane felt the needle puncture his arm. “I’ve already told you I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he snarled.
His head started to spin behind the thick blindfold. He was still feeling sick from being drugged, and he longed to tear off his clothes, his body felt so overheated. It must have been the chemicals flowing through his system. Lee had no idea what he’d been dosed with, but figured it had to have been at dinner with Moana.*
“You were the only person implicated by Guang. He uttered your name seconds before his death. I cannot ignore that information,” a male voice replied.
Lee started to feel sick as the spinning got faster and he felt sweat begin to trickle down his face. “I…I don’t even know who your brother is,” he stammered, forcing bile back down his throat.
A female hand ran down the side of his face. “Sorry, Captain, you have to be questioned before we can be certain you are telling the truth.”
He heard Moana’s voice call for a cool towel, which he felt placed on his forehead, then he lost all grip on reality as the truth serum molded his mind to her will.
Moana stared at the handsome Captain tied to the chair before her. He was already suffering, she could see that, but there was nothing for it. The sodium thiopental would either incriminate him or set him free. She was certain it would set him free, but her colleagues had insisted on the interrogation.
“Captain Crane, who do you work for?”
Even with the truth serum he resisted her questions. She was about to ask him again when Guang’s brother, Chaoxiang stepped in.
“Who employs you, Captain?” he snapped angrily.
Lee’s lips twitched and his mouth opened, but he stayed silent. The effort was telling on him. Moana saw more perspiration dripping down from his neck and the veins began to protrude.
“We need more of the drug,” insisted Chaoxiang.
She nodded. “Only enough to bring him up to the maximum. I will not use any more.”
The Captain moaned, and she thought he said ’no,’ but couldn’t quite hear it before the second needle found its mark. His head drooped onto his chest.
“Captain, who do you work for and why are you here?”
Lee continued to fight the drugs but it was fast becoming an overwhelming task. Answers began to form in his mind before he could stop them. He knew how to beat the drugs, but these were his friends and he hadn’t raised a barrier around his mind. He didn’t even have any credible lies drilled into his subconscious as he normally did during a mission. Even if he told them he worked with the Nelson Institute and that Seaview sometimes carried out missions under Naval command, they already knew that. They didn’t know he worked for ONI, because there was an ONI go-between that he contacted when he needed to see Moana. He somehow didn’t think Chaoxiang would be satisfied with the answer that they already knew. He’d already found him guilty.
“Put him back in the room,” he heard Moana say after a long space of time.
“No! We must have the answers, use more of the drug.”
“We can’t, if we do that it might kill him.”
“Alexei,” mumbled Lee, trying to focus on the one person who might stop him thinking or speaking about Seaview or ONI.
Moana and the other voice stopped. “Who is Alexei?” she asked softly.
“He works for a Russian?” hissed Chaoxiang. “I told you we should have killed him as soon as he set foot on dry land.”
“No, I don’t believe it,” Moana defended Lee. “Put him in the room while I try to get in touch with our ONI contact again,” she ordered, her voice strong.
He felt roughened hands grip his chin, then abruptly let it go. “We will see. I do not believe you, Captain Crane. I think you are a traitor. My brother would not have lied about such a thing,” growled Chaoxiang.
Lee was pulled to his feet, but his consciousness was fleeting and it was the last thing he remembered.
Chip looked over the manifest for stores, trying to overcome his worry that Lee hadn’t reported back to Seaview since he left Seaview twenty-four hours before. They were due to sail in two hours, and he should have been back over an hour ago. Lee had left the submarine early to make contact with Moana. When Seaview had docked, the FS1 had been waiting for them with no Lee in sight.
“Nelson to Morton, please report to my cabin,” came an announcement over the intercom.
“Patterson, can you finish up here? These are the only items outstanding,” said Chip, pointing to a few entries on his clipboard.
“Aye, Sir. Uh, Mister Morton, do you think the Skipper’s alright?”
Chip wished he’d had a dollar for every time a crewman had asked him that same question – and a dollar more for the answer he was about to give. “I’m sure he’s just been delayed with something.”
He could see that Patterson was still worried. He’d have to start figuring out a better reply to the awkward questions that arose when Lee was missing or injured. Thinking back to the moment Lee had stood at the top of the ladder ready to disembark on the FS1, he wished he’d made more of an effort to make him take Kowalski, or Patterson – even Riley.
“Lee, do you really think it’s a good idea to go on your own?”
Lee had given him an indulgent look and pulled on his leather flying jacket. “Chip, I know Moana, she’s a friend. Nothing’s going to happen.”
“Something always happens,” he said softly, almost hoping Lee hadn’t heard.
The Captain had looked down at the hatch, his repentant expression almost hidden, but for a brief moment Chip thought he might have changed his mind.
Then he looked up and Chip knew he’d lost. “Sorry, Chip, this is something I have to do on my own. She doesn’t trust anyone else and asked for me specifically.”
He’d replayed the scene in his mind a few times and always came back to the same conclusion that he should have insisted instead of letting Lee go on his own. He stopped before Nelson’s door and knocked.
Chip opened the door. “You wanted to see me, Sir?”
Nelson’s eyes were troubled. “There’s been no word on Lee from the resistance movement. I’ve tried everything. Also, nobody seems to be able to get in touch with our ONI contact. He’s either dead or captured.”
The XO sat in the chair in front of Nelson’s desk. “Is that the only contact we have? Do we know his identity? What about Moana herself?”
Nelson lit a cigarette, taking a hefty drag before he spoke. “The ONI contact was our go-between and he never met anyone in person. I’m afraid the only information I have on Moana’s whereabouts are what Lee gave me before he left.” Nelson got up and went to his safe, extracting a journal. “It’s sketchy at best.”
He opened the journal at the appropriate page and put it in front of Chip, waiting for him to read it before he spoke again. “As you can see, he was supposed to meet Moana at the Jade Empress bar. Those are all the details we have.”
Chip pushed the book over the table towards the Admiral. “What are we going to do?”
“We’re going to find Lee. Put some civilian clothes on, we’ll go into the city as tourists. We’ll take Sharkey with us as well. He knows Moana.”
Chip nodded. At least they were going to do something. Doing nothing would be too hard for him to stomach with Lee possibly in danger.
Lee woke slowly. He’d been in and out of consciousness and finally felt well enough to push himself up off the rough hemp mat he’d found himself lying on. He recalled being sick twice, probably from the truth serum. Coming to a rest against the wall, he closed his eyes against the raw light of the single light bulb in the room and tried to remember what he’d said. Vague snatches of conversation came back to him, including saying Alexei’s name.
He had thought of the only other person who meant anything to him apart from his friends on Seaview. A smile came to his lips as he remembered how he and Alexei had met.** Since then he’d grown to love the small child as his own. It hadn’t been hard. Alexei craved love and attention, and he gave Lee so much in return just by enjoying the world around him.
Another wave of nausea rippled through his belly and up into his throat. Lee swallowed again, trying to keep what was left of his stomach contents where they were. He managed to overcome the feeling and opened his eyes as he heard a key turn in the old lock. Chaoxiang walked into the room. He struggled to his feet, fighting the rapidly returning nausea all over again.
“Who are you?” he asked hoarsely.
“I am Chaoxiang. It’s time for your next session, Captain.”
“More drugs, is that it? Where’s Moana?”
“The truth serum has been useful, but I do not think it is entirely effective. Moana has gone to try to find the ONI agent, but I think she will be disappointed. You will surely have disposed of him, as you did Guang.” Chaoxiang motioned to two guards to hold Lee. “We must know who Alexei is.”
Lee almost laughed. “He’s my son.”
“Do not waste our time, Captain. We know he is your Russian contact, but we also want to know when you will next meet him. I want a location and a time.”
“If you ask Admiral Nelson, he’ll verify everything I’ve said. This is nothing more than a witch hunt. You have no evidence at all that I’ve turned. I’m no traitor.”
Chaoxiang walked towards Lee, flexing his fingers as he did. “Prepare yourself, Captain. You will wish you’d told us the truth when you had the chance.”
“I have told you the truth,” he growled. “Who was the man I supposedly killed anyway?”
“He…was…my…brother!” replied Chaoxiang, emphasizing each word. “You were responsible for his death.”
Chaoxiang launched a vicious attack on Lee, leaving him reeling against the guards. “I was with him when he died. Your name was the last word on his lips. Do not tell me he was lying,” he shouted.
Lee spat some blood on the floor. There was no point in trying to convince Chaoxiang that he hadn’t sold his brother out. He’d just have to weather the storm and hope that Moana tried to contact the Admiral - quickly.
Nelson and Chip sat in a back table at the bar waiting – they’d arrived at first light, waited until the bar opened and been there most of the day
“We don’t even know if she’s anywhere near the city?” asked Chip, forcing himself to sit still.
“Begging your pardon, Sirs,” said Sharkey, nodding towards the door. “She’s just walked in.”
Nelson glanced up and spotted a young raven-haired beauty walking in their direction. She slid into the shadowed booth beside Nelson in one fluid motion.
“Admiral,” she greeted him with a slight but tense smile, then gave Sharkey a bigger smile. “Chief, I had hoped you would come.”
“How did you know who I was?” asked Nelson.
“Lee spoke about you. He described you the first time we met.” She turned to Chip. “You must be Chip. There’s no mistaking your blue eyes.”
He nodded towards her but left the Admiral to do the talking.
“He is being held by some of my men.”
Nelson frowned. “What! Why?”
“I needed to know he could still be trusted. He was named by Chaoxing’s dying brother as the man who betrayed him.”
“Lee would never have done that,” insisted Nelson. “Is he alright?”
“For the moment, we only used a truth serum on him.” She clasped her hands together. “Answer me one question and I will take you to him.”
“That depends on the question,” Nelson said guardedly.
“Who is Alexei?”
Nelson snorted. “Why do you want to know?”
“Please, Admiral, it is important.”
Chip answered for Nelson. “He’s Lee’s adopted son.”
The Admiral watched as the color drained from her face. “I will take you to him, and explain everything later. Right now, we must hurry.”
“Because I do not know how much longer Chaoxiang will be able to restrain himself.”
The three men looked at each other and quickly rose. Nelson threw some money on the table and quickly walked out behind Moana.
“He’s not here,” said Moana. “Chaoxiang must have taken him.”
Sharkey knelt down to look at the floor. “Sir, there’s blood here. It’s already dried.”
Chip grabbed Moana’s shoulders. “I thought you said you only used truth serum on him,” he accused, his voice harsh.
She looked distraught. “We did. I told Chaoxiang to leave him in this room until I came back with the information from you.”
“You met Lee, you know that he would never betray you.”
“Under the truth serum he said the name Alexei. Chaoxiang though it was his Russian contact. He thought that Lee had really killed his brother,” she said.
The distress on Moana’s face told Nelson she thought Lee had already been disposed of. “Where would he take Lee?”
“I…I’m not sure.”
“Think, Moana. It’s important we find him as quickly as possible,” stressed Nelson.
Moana leaned against the wall. “I…I really don’t know. There is one…no. He wouldn’t take Captain Crane there.”
“Where?” asked Chip, obviously trying hard to keep his temper.
She looked up at him. “For a moment I thought he might have taken your Captain to his home.”
Nelson put a restraining hand on Chip’s arm and stepped between him and Moana. “Why would he take him there?”
“We have an ancient tradition. It is rarely observed, but I believe Chaoxiang and his family were raised in the old ways.”
“What type of tradition?” asked Nelson, becoming more anxious with each passing second.
“If someone kills a family member, the murderer is to take their place as a slave. He would work in the fields and undertake all the duties that member of the family would have been responsible for.”
Nelson almost sighed with relief. He’d thought it meant execution. “Do you know where their family home is?”
“It is in the mountains, a few hours from here, just over the border in the People’s Republic.”
Sharkey glanced at Nelson. “Do you think we’ll need more men, Admiral?”
“No,” Moana answered for him. “His home is so far from the capital that soldiers rarely ever go there. The border to this country is only a mile from the farm, so it is easy to avoid the troops.”
Chip looked at his watch. “How long ago did you leave Lee with Chaoxiang?”
“We have to find him as quickly as we can. He could be injured judging by the blood Sharkey found,” urged Nelson.
“We cannot travel tonight.”
“Why not?” asked Nelson, aggravated by all the obstacles he was facing.
“There is a curfew. Since the new ruler has been in power, the people have become restless. From time to time there is trouble, which is why the curfew is enforced.” She bowed her head. “I cannot tell you how sorry I am. I should have trusted Captain Crane.”
“You’ll come back to the submarine with us and we’ll leave at first light. Agreed?” said Nelson, ready to pile her into a sack and drag her back with them if necessary.
“Of course, Admiral.”
“Sharkey, once we get back onboard, get our equipment ready for tomorrow. We’ll get a car then go across the border on foot until we get to the farm.” He drew the Chief to one side. “Make sure Moana is given quarters – but under guard. Understood?”
Nelson looked towards Chip. “I’m sure he’s fine, Chip, but we’ll take Will with us just in case. Now let’s get back onboard and get some sleep before we head off.”
Shuddering beneath him stirred Lee from his unconsciousness. Once he was awake he wished he’d stayed out to it. He stayed still for a minute and let his senses figure out where he was. It felt like the trunk of a car, the carpet beneath his torn shirt was short and abrasive and the movement was like tires going over a rough surface. The air inside was dusty and stale and wasn’t doing his stomach any good. Nor, he thought irritably, were the bruised muscles he could feel all over his body, which weren’t helped any by the bindings on his wrists. His face felt the worst. Chaoxiang had really enjoyed himself at his expense. Easy for him, he thought bitterly, when the subject of his violence couldn’t fight back.
Lee grimaced as he thought of the lecture he’d get from Chip if he ever made it back to Seaview about going off on missions alone. He remembered what Chaoxiang had said about his name being the last one to leave his brother’s lips. The only contact he’d had with the resistance apart from the mole claiming to be Major Lee Chang had been with Moana. He didn’t know who Chaoxiang’s brother was, and right now he didn’t particularly care. All he wanted to do was get out of the trunk and find a way of escaping from his captors before it was too late.
His wish was answered a short while later when the car came to a halt and the lid was opened. Lee blinked and stared outside into the afternoon sunlight with half-opened eyes.
“Get him out,” ordered Chaoxiang.
Lee was roughly dragged out and pushed away from the car. Maybe he wouldn’t have to worry about Chip’s lecture after all, he thought grimly.
“Bring mother out.”
Lee raised his head to watch one Chaoxiang’s men walk to an isolated mud brick hut. He slowly observed his surroundings, trying not to make any sudden moves for two reasons; firstly that he might attract more painful attention from his captor; secondly his head was pounding badly already and he didn’t want to make it worse.
His eyes flicked back to the hut as an elderly peasant woman walked out, followed by another two teenagers and a small boy a little older than Alexei.
“Is this him?”
“Yes, Mother.” Chaoxiang threw Lee to his knees. “You will show proper respect for my Mother, the Mother of my eldest brother.”
Lee looked up at the woman to see anger and sadness combined in her face. She looked away from him and spoke to Chaoxiang.
“Why did you bring him here?”
Chaoxiang lashed out at Lee, throwing him to his side in the dirt. “He killed my brother and your son. He will do his work.”
“No,” said Lee breathlessly. “I didn’t. I never even met him.”
“Silence!” shouted Chaoxiang.
The woman knelt beside Lee. “You are badly hurt?” she asked, but there was little sympathy in her voice.
Lee didn’t speak.
She looked towards her son. “Why did you do this to him?”
“He will stay with you and work as a slave, to make up for Guang’s death.” He stood menacingly above Lee, the tip of his right foot touching his head. “When I have decided you have repaid his death, Captain, only then will I allow you to die.”
“Two wrongs do not make a right,” said Lee. “I didn’t betray your brother. I told you the truth. I have a son named Alexei.”
Lee coughed and closed his eyes as Chaoxiang scuffed dirt into his face. “Take him to the fields and guard him from a distance. He is trained in hand-to-hand combat. If he refuses to work, you know what to do.”
“Wait, at least let him eat and have something to drink before he works,” said Chaoxiang’s mother. “He is no good to us if he cannot work.”
“Get up, Captain!”
Lee rolled onto his stomach and with great difficulty got to his knees, breathing hard from the pain and exertion. He staggered to his feet and faced Chaoxiang’s mother. “Please believe me when I tell you that I did not kill or betray your son.”
He fell to his knees again groaning after a cane rod found its mark behind his knees.
“Do not speak directly to my mother again, or you will suffer far worse.” Chaoxiang laughed. “Since you have so much energy, you do not need food or water. Take him to the fields now.”
Lee closed his eyes, clenched his jaws together, and made another attempt to stand up. As soon as he was on his feet he was quickly taken away from the farmhouse and down to a field. One of the men set his hands free while the other two stood a short distance away, training their pistols on him. He was shoved towards a plough and shown how to pull it.
“If you stop you will be punished,” threatened the guard. “This must be ploughed by nightfall or you will also be punished.”
“Is there anything around here that doesn’t end with punishment,” muttered Lee, too quietly for the man to hear as he started his backbreaking task.
It was well past dark when Lee finished and finally stumbled back to the farmhouse. He could barely move, his hands were raw and badly blistered, and muscles he barely knew he had ached painfully. If it had been at all possible to sleep while he walked, he was sure he would have managed it.
One of the guards shoved him into a small room at the back of the house, and the door was locked behind him. Leaning against the rough wall, he slid to the floor, oblivious to the jagged edges that scratched his back through his near useless shirt. The floor was only dirt, but he couldn’t have cared less. Closing his eyes, he quickly went to sleep, his mind completely numbed from the hours of physical punishment he’d taken.
Nelson couldn’t sleep. He’d been pacing since midnight and wandered restlessly into the control room, still in his pajamas and dressing gown. O’Brien only gave him a cursory glance before returning his attention to the watch, but that one glance told him a lot. The crew had surreptitiously looked at him as a group the moment he’d walked into the room, and their concern for their Captain had been the same as O’Brien’s.
“Bobby, why don’t you come into the nose and have a coffee?” asked Nelson.
Nelson smiled. “It’s not an order, man.” If nothing else, I need someone to talk to – to take my mind off Lee.
O’Brien looked back at the crew. All of them were doing their jobs, and as it was they were in a relatively safe port.
“I’d appreciate a coffee, Sir.”
“Then come on, my shout,” he joked lightly, but felt anything like it.
Once the stewards had brought the coffee, Nelson settled into his seat. “How are the men holding up, Bobby?”
“Not well, Sir. They’re worried about the Skipper.” He took a sip of his coffee, holding the cup in both hands. “What can I tell them?”
“Tell them we’re going to get him back,” replied Nelson, suddenly serious. He looked at his watch. “It’s three hours to the end of the curfew. We’ll leave immediately for the border as soon as it’s zero six hundred hours. At that point, you’ll be in charge. I want you to head out to sea and wait for us. When we’ve found Lee, we’ll contact you to send the FS1 for pickup. As we’re so close to the People’s Republic, there won’t be any communications until then unless it’s an emergency. If the army is around, we’ll try to make our own way back rather than endangering the men and Seaview.”
Nelson stared out at the myriad of lights that crisscrossed the dock area. He finished his coffee and stood up. “Just keep reminding them that we’ll have him home before too much longer. I’ll see you in two hours.”
As he moved to the steps, Nelson gave some of the crew a nod and a smile. If he didn’t bring Lee back…he abruptly shoved that unwelcome thought away and headed towards his cabin and sleep.
Lee forced his burning muscles to respond, but they were telling him he’d put his body under enough stress already. He’d had a rude awakening when a bucket of cold water had been thrown over him early in the morning, before dawn. Right now he was trying to chop wood for the breakfast fire. At least the cold water had cooled him down. He had no idea what the temperature was, but the humidity must have been around saturation point. Sweat dripped off him and his hair had long since turned into a messy gathering of curls. Both his hands stung badly when he tried to wrap them around the abrasive wooden axe handle.
“Work harder,” snapped one of the guards.
When the axe slipped out of his bloodied hands he fell onto the ground, exhausted. A thin cane hit him across the back, stinging like a wasp. He turned to see who had attacked him this time, and was shocked to see the young child standing there, holding the cane up ready to deliver another blow.
“I have a son around your age,” he said wearily, not wanting to tell the child off for something he’d probably been told to do.
The boy held the cane where it was then slowly lowered it. “What is his name?”
“Alexei. He has the same colored hair as yours, too, only his is curly, like mine.”
“How old is he?”
“He’s just turned seven.”
The child sat on the ground beside him. “I’m eight.”
Lee smiled. “Alexei was only six when I adopted him.”
The boy gave him a puzzled look. “What is adopted?”
“Alexei had no mother or father, so he came to stay with me.”
“Is he alone at home because you are here?”
Lee shook his head. “No, he’s with a friend. She looks after him while I’m gone.”
He felt a sharp prod in his side.
“Get up and work,” came a growl from behind him.
“I am sorry I hit you,” said the boy.
Lee pushed himself slowly to his feet and scuffed the child’s cheek softly with the back of one hand. “It’s alright. Alexei did a lot of things he felt bad about when he lived on the street, but he had to do them to survive. You don’t need to say sorry to me, I understand.”
The boy stared at him for a while, then ran back towards the farmhouse, leaving Lee to finish his task. He looked at the pile of uncut logs and closed his mind to the pain as he started to chop again.
Lee collapsed back against the heap of freshly chopped wood, grateful for the brief respite. He pulled his shirt off and tore away the sleeves to wrap around his hands for protection. His face felt red and hot, and he wondered if one of the many cuts from Chaoxiang’s beating had become infected. He hadn’t been given any water for washing, and had tried to use a small amount of water from what he’d been given for drinking, but he’d been too thirsty. He refused to think about what would happen when he couldn’t work any longer and hoped he could manage an escape before that time came.
He rested his head on his knees and dozed off, grateful for any respite from the endless hours of grueling work.
“Stand up, Captain,” came Chaoxiang’s voice from a distance.
Lee shook himself awake to find him standing over him once again. With a supreme effort he managed to get to his feet and swayed where he stood. “What now?” he asked through swollen lips.
“Why do you insist on lying about Alexei?”
“I’m not,” said Lee, barely able to speak. “He’s my son.”
“With a name like Alexei?” sneered Chaoxiang.
“Tell me the truth and I might let you go.”
“It is the truth. Figure it out for yourself,” said Lee irritably. “Your brother got killed because of someone else, not me. I can’t explain what I know nothing about. I have no idea how he even knew my name.”
“Put him to work in the rice fields.”
Lee moistened his split lips. “If you’re ever out of a job, I’m sure you’d do well in the People’s Republic.”
“If you insist on insulting me, your life will be very hard here.” Chaoxiang nodded to the bottom rice paddies. “Put him to work at the very bottom, in the one next to the river.”
“Do as you are ordered.”
The man shook his head. “No, I will not do that. It isn’t part of the tradition.”
Chaoxiang took his rifle from his shoulder and pointed it towards Lee. “I’ll do it myself,” he said in a disgusted voice. “Take off your shoes and socks.”
“Why?” asked Lee.
“You don’t want to get them wet, do you?”
Lee stood where he was. “I’m not taking them off.”
“No matter, move! Down there.”
Lee stumbled and tripped the whole way down the side of the hill until he stood shakily in front of a rice paddy. “What have you got in store for me now?”
Chaoxiang pointed the rifle at Lee’s knee. “If you don’t, I’ll shoot you in the leg and drag you in.”
Lee knew he had no choice. Chaoxiang wasn’t close enough for him to tackle, and in the state he was in he would probably have lost anyway. With his back turned to Chaoxiang he was taken unawares when he felt a foot hit his back. Lee ended up face down in the knee deep water with water and mud clogging his nose, ears and mouth. He spat the dirty muck out and got to his feet. Chaoxiang threw him a sack of plants to dig into the mud below. His hands stung anew from the stagnant-looking water.
“You must finish putting the rice into the ground before nightfall or I will beat you.” He stared at Lee with hatred. “Perhaps you should try telling me the truth.”
Lee turned his back on him and pulled a rice plant from the sack. He was about to plant it when a small voice screamed out from behind.
“Brother! Help me!”
It was the opportunity Lee had been waiting for. His captor’s younger brother came running down the hill as Chaoxiang spun around to see what had happened. Lee surged from the water, grabbed Chaoxiang’s rifle with two hands and held it tightly against his throat until he’d lost consciousness. It had taken almost all of his strength.
“Run, Captain. I do not like to see you hurt this way, I want you to go back to your son so he can have a father,” called the boy.
Lee stared at him briefly then took flight across the river, the dark jungle swallowing him up immediately.
“Moana, are you sure this is the place?” asked Nelson, lifting his binoculars to his eyes one more time.
“Yes, I am sure. I have been here several times, Admiral.”
Nelson sighed and looked back at the other four men. In the end he’d opted for Chip, Sharkey and Kowalski with Jamie as security in case Lee had serious injuries.
“There doesn’t seem to be anyone around.”
Chip continued to look at the apparently abandoned farmhouse through his own field binoculars. “Admiral, look!”
Even without the binoculars, the Admiral could see three men emerge from the jungle – each of them had a rifle over their shoulder and all held machetes.
“We wait until they’re in the farmhouse and come at them from the corners. Understood?” Nelson turned to the doctor. “Will, you wait here with Moana.”
“I’m coming with you, Admiral.”
The corner of Nelson’s mouth lifted in a half-humorous gesture. “No, young lady, you are staying here with Doctor Jamieson, or I’ll have Kowalski hog-tie you.”
Moana acquiesced gracefully. “If you insist, Admiral.”
“Let me know when they’re all inside, Chip.”
Nelson picked up his rifle and made sure there was a round in the chamber. He slammed the bolt home and waited for Chip’s signal. When he’d seen the men come out of the jungle, he’d had only one thought – that they were too late to save Lee. He tried not to think of the shallow grave he might well be lying in right now. A hand fell onto his shoulder.
“Harry, we don’t know if anything’s happened to Lee. He’s probably fine, and sitting inside the farmhouse,” reassured Jamie.
Nelson snorted. “You ever think about being a shrink? You’d make a damned fine job of it.”
Jamie smiled. “And leave all this behind, not in a million years. I’d be bored within a week and begging you to come back for less money.”
“Admiral, they’ve gone into the farmhouse.”
“Right, let’s go. I’ll signal you from the doorway when it’s safe to come in.”
“Yes, Sir,” replied Jamie.
Together with Chip, Sharkey and Kowalski, Nelson moved slowly towards the house. There was barely any cover until they reached the top, so they split up and moved up the hill as one, using the corners of the house as a shield.
At the top, they joined up at the front and back of the farmhouse. Kowalski with Chip and Nelson with Sharkey.
“Let’s make our presence known, Chief,” said Nelson, kicking in the back door and moving in to the house.
The seven occupants were taken by complete surprise. “Who are you?”
“I’m Admiral Nelson and we’ve come for Captain Crane. Now where is he?” snapped Nelson, keeping his weapon on the man who had spoken.
The man spoke in a dialect Nelson only slightly understood. He had an idea that the man spoke English, but to be certain he needed Moana.
“Kowalski, give the others the signal.”
He looked around for Chip, but couldn’t see him. “Kowalski, after you’ve done that, see where Mister Morton is.”
Ski nodded and stepped outside. Nelson looked down as a small boy tugged at his sleeve.
“Captain,” he said and pointed towards the jungle.
Nelson glanced back at the adults. The man who’d spoken sat on a chair with a sulky look on his face. He felt relief flood over him, Lee couldn’t have been killed, he’d obviously given these men the slip and was out in the jungle somewhere – in danger, but still alive.
Moana and Chip stepped through the door with Jamieson bringing up the rear. The large man’s expression turned to dismay when he saw her. Before Nelson could act, Moana strode forward and struck the man on the face.
“Where is he?” she asked coldly.
“Why did you bring him here?”
“To pay off the debt to my mother from the loss of Guang.”
“There was blood on the floor at the house where he was confined. What did you do to him?”
“He was lying, I wanted the truth,” he snapped.
“You should not have touched him. We had better find him alive, because he was telling the truth.”
Nelson heard the man’s sharp intake of breath. “What?”
“You heard me.” She
took a photo from Nelson and handed it to Chaoxiang. “This is his son, Alexei. He was adopted in
Nelson watched as the elderly woman he took to be the mother took the photo from her son’s shaking hands.
When she looked up there were tears of remorse falling from her eyes. “I am very sorry,” she said in halting English. “I am ashamed that we would do such a thing.”
Moana muttered something under her breath and turned to Nelson. “They were following an ancient tradition that is rarely used today. Guang was the eldest son. He supported the family after his father died. Lee was brought back here to work until the debt of Guang’s death was repaid.”
“How badly was he injured?” asked Jamie.
Moana flung the question at Chaoxiang and listened to his answer, his eyes facing the ground. “He was beaten before he came here and he looked sick when he escaped into the jungle.”
“We have to go after him,” said Chip, coming forward.
Nelson looked outside. “It’s nearly dark, Chip. We can’t track him at night. In his condition he won’t go very far.”
Sharkey glanced out the window. “But, Sir, what if he gets caught by the military? The Skipper…” he didn’t finish the sentence.
Nelson looked at each of the men. “I realize this is hard for all of us, but it won’t do anyone much good if we’re injured or taken by soldiers before we’ve found Captain Crane.”
Chip nodded. “Yes, Sir, you’re right.”
“We’ll leave at first light. Moana, is it safe to stay here?”
“Yes.” She hesitated. “I wish to come with you.”
“You should have believed him,” Nelson said to Moana, then glared at Chaoxiang. “Lee knows us and he trusts us. We’ll go on our own.”
Neither Moana nor Chaoxiang replied, but both looked suitably mortified over their actions.
Chip rubbed a hand over his neck. “Admiral, where do you think he’s headed?”
“If I was him, I’d head towards the coast.”
The XO nodded. It was going to be a long night.
Lee stumbled into the clearing and fell to his hands and knees. There was nothing left to run with, he needed a rest. He figured he’d put about eight miles between himself and the farmhouse, but that was all he could manage until daybreak. Crawling along the mossy jungle ground, he found two rotting logs, dragged himself over one and fell in-between.
His right hand was swollen and sore from when he’d been pushed into the rice paddy and fallen on a rock. He hadn’t really felt it at the time. It was only now that his adrenalin had run out that it started to ache. Add to that the burning on his face, hands and sore and angry muscles and he realized he was a mess. Since he’d entered the jungle it had been impossible to take a bearing from the stars. The upper canopy was dense enough to keep even the sunlight from penetrating to the jungle floor. Even the air felt so thick that he had to work harder just to breathe.
He tore some moss from the trunks of the logs, cursing softly as the action aggravated the injuries on the palms of his hands. An irritation below his knees made Lee lift up his trouser legs. Leeches! He’d been in enough jungles to know that the only way to remove a leech was with a knife – and it was something he didn’t have. The leeches would have to stay until they’d gorged themselves on his blood, then they would drop off on their own. He shivered with the realization that Chaoxiang had known the parasites were in the bottom rice paddy – no wonder it hadn’t been sewn with rice.
Rolling his trousers back down, Lee tried to figure out what it was that had caused this whole mess in the first place. Try as he might, nothing came to mind. He closed his eyes and felt the forest insects biting at the bare parts of his flesh. At best if he got out alive he’d probably end up with malaria – at worst he wouldn’t make it out at all, but he knew that Alexei would be waiting for him, and that alone gave him the will to survive.
After each mission, Claire brought Alexei down to the dock the day he returned. As soon as he walked off the boat, Alexei ran to him and gave him a hug that only a biological parent should expect. His heart swelled painfully with the feelings it had woken up in him, paternal feelings he’d never known to be possible. Lee tried to remember exactly what day it was, the best he could do was three or four days to Christmas. This return trip would have been even more special - their first Christmas together. It was all organized, Mary was flying over to spend the holiday with Claire and they would have Christmas Eve and the next day together with he and Alexei.
He wrapped his arms around his chest, worrying that he might not be back in time buy Alexei his Christmas presents and fell into a restless sleep.
Lee woke to the sounds of feet trampling through the jungle. There were definitely more people than the three men who had tried to pursue him after his escape.
“Search everywhere, I want him found,” he heard someone in charge order.
He risked a look and was sorry he did. The People’s Republic soldiers were all around him, it was only the filth on his body, the moss and a couple of low-lying shrubs that had saved him from discovery. Lee lay back where he was, careful not to make any sound that would give his position away. Now he was awake, he felt a feverish chill make its way through his body. He tensed as he began to shake, making hiding even harder.
“He must be here,” growled the same voice.
“I told you we should have taken him when the flying submarine arrived in port. It would have been easy for our agents to remove him from the resistance.”
He heard a laugh. “I think Chaoxiang and his friends did a far better job of breaking him than we have in the past.”
“He’s been in our hands before and we let him get away?”
The leader growled a response. “He broke the conditioning. We were so close to having him do our bidding.”***
“How did you know the resistance had him?”
“Chaoxiang’s brother worked for their Office of Naval Intelligence. Not even his brother knew about it. Under torture he revealed when the craft was going to fly in. I naturally assumed that Captain Crane would attempt to meet with his contacts and I had him followed.”
So that was why Guang knew his name, thought Lee. He must have been trying to tell Chaoxiang to get to the Seaview or to him to give a warning.
“We’ll keep moving, he won’t get very far.”
Lee waited for a long time before he tried to move. While it had sounded like a good idea at the time, his muscles screamed in agony after the long period of forced inactivity. He eased an arm over the log and forced his body to a kneeling position where he rested until the pain died down. Calling on the dregs of his willpower, he grabbed hold of a small tree limb and dragged himself to his feet, continuing his slow progress through the jungle.
The soldiers had moved off on a tangent to the path he was taking. It was possible they could backtrack or change direction to find him, but it was a chance he had to take. Negotiating the jungle was becoming torturous, his entire body shivered from time to time and his hands and face had begun to swell. He looked down at his hands - the infection was setting in, he noted dully. Ahead through the growth Lee could hear water flowing through the thick growth. If he could make it to a stream he could bathe his wounds.
He trudged along but kept the thought of Christmas with Alexei firmly in his mind. As minutes turned into an hour he began to wonder if he’d imagined hearing the rush of water. Was it yesterday that he’d had a drink and something to eat, or had it been two days? A sudden raging thirst gripped him and he pushed himself a little faster.
Shouting behind him jolted him out of his stupor and he knew the soldiers were closing the net on him. Lee stared ahead, wiped the droplets of sweat from his eyes and squinted through the vegetation – the river was right in front of him. He hurried towards it, gripping his left side as the pain of a stitch almost doubled him over at the waist. It seemed to take forever then he broke through, teetering on the bank.
The side was steep, but not far above the river. Another shout, much closer now, spurred him into action and he grabbed hold of some small plants to lower himself down.
“There, he’s over there!” came a shout.
Lee had no choice but to let the shrubs go as a bullet flew overhead, sending himself tumbling into the fast-flowing river. As soon as he hit it he was pushed under the surface by the force of the water. By the time he’d struggled to the top his lungs were bursting. He fought just to keep his head above the churning froth and, after being immersed for the third time, his body could no longer cope and he passed out.
Chip stood up and nodded. “He’s been through here. Look.” He held up a small piece of bloodied cloth that used to be khaki.
“How fresh is it?”
“It’s hard to say, Admiral. The air’s so humid here it could be older than it looks.”
Nelson kept him emotions on a tight rein when he spoke again. “What’s your best guess, Will?”
The doctor took the cloth. “I’m afraid Chip’s right. It could have been here for a few hours. Liquids and bodily fluids just don’t dry out as quickly in this environment. Especially here, away from direct sunlight.”
The Admiral sighed. “Very well, let’s keep moving. I want to try to make up time, but not at the expense of passing something that will give us a clue as to Lee’s whereabouts.”
Over the next two hours the men made good progress, but Nelson kept his own counsel about his worry that the People’s Republic soldiers might have taken Lee. They’d followed Lee’s tracks as far as they could until the tracks had been overrun by a large number of people. Nelson could only think of one type of group that would have that many men in it. He hoped he was wrong.
“Sir, over here,” called Kowalski quietly as they reached the side of a river.
“What is it, Kowalski?”
Ski bent down to show the others a clump of bloodstained shrubs on the riverbank. The blood continued down the side of the bank and Nelson could clearly see smudges of it at intervals until it stopped at the water. He looked up and down the river, but couldn’t see an easy way over to the other side.
“What now, Sir?” asked Sharkey, his expression gloomy.
“Will, given his injuries, do you think…could Lee have survived the river?”
“If it was any other man I’d say no, but the Skipper’s got a lot to live for, Admiral, and he doesn’t give up too easily.”
Nelson looked across the river again. Would it be possible to get to the other side, or was it too dangerous? It was extremely high, but he couldn’t see any debris floating down that might injure his men.
“Chip, do you think you can make it with Kowalski over to the other side? You’ll have to keep a sharp eye out for the military as well.”
Chip’s eyes narrowed. “Do you think he made it across, Admiral?”
Nelson shrugged. “I don’t know, but we can’t take any chances. That’s the seaward side of the river. A few miles further on and it flows into the ocean. That might be where Lee is heading.”
“Ski?” asked Chip.
“I’ll give it a try, Mister Morton. Anything for the Skipper.”
“Only take what you need, if your pack gets caught you’ll get dragged under with it,” said Chip.
“Break radio silence only if you find Captain Crane,” ordered Nelson.
Chip nodded and, together with Kowalski, started the treacherous river crossing. Nelson caught his breath twice as both Chip and Kowalski slipped on rocks.
“Admiral, do you think I should go with them?” asked Jamie.
“To be honest, Will, I’m not sure which side of the river Lee might be on. It’s better you stay with us. Further down, there might be a crossing.” Nelson rubbed his neck. “I just don’t know.”
“We’ll find him, Admiral,” said Sharkey.
“Thank you Francis.” He realized that the Chief had caught the frustration he felt at being helpless to locate Lee.
If he was caught by the army, he didn’t have enough men to mount a rescue. Lee would be gone forever if that happened.
“Well, we’re not doing Lee much good standing here staring at the others,” snapped Nelson as Chip and Kowalski made it to the other side. “Let’s go, and keep an eye out for any signs that Lee may have made it out of the river.”
Something cool was draped over Lee’s face. He couldn’t open his eyes, so he assumed it was a cloth. His hands were wrapped up in something tight but not tied. The ride down the river had been bumpy, resulting in a whole suite of new aches and pains in his body from where he must have made contact with rocks.
“Don’t try to move yet, you’ve had a rough time.”
Lee flinched as a metal cup touched his lips.
“I know your mouth’s sore, but you need to drink.’
He tried to speak, but no words came out. His mouth and throat were parched, so he allowed his mysterious rescuer to tip some drops in and swallowed greedily before the cup was taken away.
“That’s enough, you’ll make yourself sick.”
“I…” Lee started before a coughing fit interrupted him.
“You need to rest after your ordeal, and you swallowed a lot of water.”
“Who…are…you?” he whispered.
“Don’t you recognize my voice, Captain?” he asked, softly. “I should think this makes us somewhat even.”
Recognition suddenly sparked through Lee as he fell into a fitful darkness.
“Ski, look at this.”
Chip bent down and pointed to similar scuffmarks to the ones they’d seen on the other bank, only there were more.
“Mister Morton, do you think someone pulled him out?”
The XO followed the trail for a few yards. It seemed like the other person had picked Lee up. “Looks like it. We’ll follow it for a bit longer then contact the others.”
“This is a good sign, right, Sir?”
Chip had to admit there was only one set of footprints after the drag marks finished. It was a positive sign. “I think so, Kowalski. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll get our Christmas wishes early.”
Dark was falling by the time Lee opened his eyes. The cool cloth was still on his head, but just above the eyebrows. A small candle cast an amber light around the cabin cloaking the room in flickering shadows and hiding the face of the only other person there.
“John, what…?” Lee coughed again, but his chest felt clearer this time.
John Drake leaned forward and gave him the half-mocking smile that Lee always associated with the British agent. “I happened to be here on business when you, shall we say, dropped in.”
A violent shudder suddenly wracked Lee’s body.
The smile quickly left Drake’s face to be replaced by worry. “I’m afraid you’re not in very good shape, Captain.”
“I need to…to get back to Seaview.”
“It’s dark outside, and the soldiers are still hanging about. That’s why only the small candle and why the windows are all shut up.”
Lee looked down at his hands and then up at Drake who frowned.
“I don’t have any antibiotics. I put some cream on them and dressed them, but they’re infected. As soon as it’s daylight if you are able to move, we’ll make our way to the ocean, but it’s a bit of a trek.”
“What’s the date, John?”
“Today’s the twenty-third. Why?”
“I promised someone I’d be home for Christmas.” Lee started to feel very weary again. “Now I won’t make it.”
He closed his eyes and started to drift off.
“Who did you promise?”
“You have a son?” asked Drake, shocked, but there was no reply.
Drake looked down at the Seaview’s
young Captain. It seemed so long ago
they’d gone on that first damned mission.
He’d looked even younger back then.
A few years later he’d come to learn that Lee Crane was a completely
different man to the one he’d blamed for the failure of that particular
mission. A mole in ONI had passed on information
that had led to their capture and torture in
He hadn’t really kept tabs on the Captain since they worked together off Malaysia. That had been twelve months ago, he realized, almost to the very day. Perhaps it had been fate giving him an opportunity to even up the scorecard to where he thought it should be. It had been pure coincidence that he was even in this part of the world, and to be here right now to save Lee’s life was a miracle.
He checked him over once more. His skin was still hot and dry to the touch and the infection was fast reaching a point where he couldn’t do any more to help. His face was swollen from it as well, but he hadn’t wanted to burden the Captain with that fact. What had happened to the man lying before him was still very much a mystery, but it had obviously sapped all his strength.
Drake stood up and stretched his muscles before checking outside the hut. He’d been doing some surveillance on the construction of a new submarine base at the mouth of the river. It was a long hike every day there and back, but the country between was swarming with soldiers so it was safer to spend his nights as far away as he could. Only the need for water had driven him upstream that evening, to find a body floating down with the current. Something about the man had seemed familiar, so he ran downstream, waded in and caught him. Dragging him to the bank, he’d been shocked to find that not only was the ‘body’ alive, but it was Captain Lee Crane. He pulled him up the bank and carried him back to where he now lay.
Twelve months ago, Drake might even have thought about letting Crane die, such was the hatred that he harbored for the young man. Now he wanted him to live more than anything, but his patient didn’t look good. He wanted to know why Crane was in the People’s Republic. When he’d found him his shirt had been missing, but he’d been wearing uniform trousers and one regulation issue shoe. He couldn’t have been on an ONI mission wearing his uniform, and Drake knew he would never have crossed the border willingly.
The jungle was quiet, so he returned inside to sit with Crane. He reached over to a tin of cooled boiled water, pulled another swathe of cloth out and wiped it gently over Crane’s face, hoping to at least ease some of the swelling. The antiseptic cream could only do so much until the raging infection became life threatening. His body was a kaleidoscope of injuries – deep bruises and lacerations marred all of his exposed skin. Drake put a hand to his still hot forehead then carefully drew the light blanket down to check Crane’s wounds again. He didn’t think the Captain had any broken bones. As soon as Drake had made it back to the hut, he’d given him as thorough an examination as he could and found five leeches gorging themselves on his legs. He’d quickly disposed of them and put cream on the fresh wounds before treating another three open sores he expected had been made the same way.
It was the injuries on his hands that puzzled him the most. It almost looked as if the skin had been damaged or torn through manual labor. He didn’t know how that was possible, but since it was Crane, often the truth was more fanciful than fiction.
Sighing, he pulled the blanket up again before sitting back in the chair, prepared to mount a midnight vigil. With the soldiers around, there wasn’t much hope he’d get very much sleep.
“Here they come now, Mister Morton,” said Kowalski, pointing towards the Admiral, Doctor Jamieson and the Chief.
Shortly before dark, Chip had made the decision to radio Nelson and inform him of their find. As of yet, there was no sign of Lee and, since the light had faded, it made following the tracks nigh on impossible. For obvious reasons, they couldn’t use torchlight for fear of alerting any stragglers from the army.
“Chip, what have you got?” asked Nelson, his face tight with worry.
“We found tracks. We think someone pulled Lee from the river and took him in that direction.”
Nelson checked his compass. “That’s heading towards the ocean. We’ve got about thirty minutes until we run out of light completely.”
“What are we going to do, Admiral?” asked Sharkey and Kowalski at the same time.
“We’ll continue for as long as we can, then we’ll have to find a hideout for the rest of the night.”
Chip looked around, noting everyone looked worried and frustrated. Even Jamie’s normal ability to detach from these situations when necessary was showing cracks. “It’s a good sign. If he was dead, his body would have been left on the side of the river,” Chip pointed out.
“Yes, you’re right, Chip,” Jamie agreed, as they continued to track their Captain into the dark and foreboding forest once again.
“Captain, come on, wake up. It’s almost dawn and we need to get a head start if we’re to make the ocean by sunset.”
Drake had spent the night replacing hot dressings with cool ones and was pleased to find that despite his grim predictions, the Captain had improved.
“What time is it?” he asked, his voice still hoarse.
The older man grinned. “You don’t want to know.”
He watched as his eyes flicked open then helped Crane sit up. It was a slow and agonizing process, and he wondered how the Captain would be able to make it to the rendezvous point. The younger man was obviously in a lot of pain, but trying hard not to show it.
“How far is it?”
“You don’t want to know that, either,” Drake joked. “I’m afraid I couldn’t find a pair of shoes for you. I’ve torn the webbing off one side of my pack and managed to construct a makeshift sole from the base. I happen to have a spare shirt, so you’re in luck there.”
Drake nodded, glad the Captain’s spirit and determination hadn’t been an isolated occurrence during the last mission. He put the plastic against Crane’s foot and wrapped the webbing around it as tightly as possible without cutting off his circulation.
“You still haven’t told me why you’re here,” Drake pointed out as he helped him to his feet. “I’ve already decided it’s nothing to do with a mission.”
“You’re right. It’s not. It’s a very long story and I don’t even know where to start. I came to meet a member of the resistance over the border and ended up being accused of murdering the ONI contact.”
Drake shrugged. “It always has been an unpredictable occupation.” He pulled his backpack on with the single remaining strap. “Shall we make a move, Captain?”
Crane nodded. “No time like the present, and don’t you think we’re past the formality of ‘Captain’?”
“Yes, you’re quite right, Lee.” Drake laughed as he helped him from the hut.
Drake could see that Lee was about ready to collapse. A mile into the journey, he had needed help. He hadn’t admitted it to Drake, but after he’d tripped for the second time the agent had supported him from then on – ignoring his protests until the Captain had fallen silent.
“I think we need to rest,” he said.
“No,” Lee said through clenched teeth. “We keep going.”
“You should know by now that I don’t make suggestions.”
“I…I guess I could do with some water,” replied Lee, somewhat grudgingly.
“You don’t give in easily, do you?” asked Drake, easing Lee onto a log and handing him the canteen.
“Years of practice,” he said, smiling tightly.
Drake looked at him appraisingly. “You said you had a son, named Alexei. I had no idea.”
Lee sipped at the water before answering. “Yes, he’s just turned seven. I adopted him from
Lee pushed himself unsteadily to his feet. “If we keep going I’ll tell you,” Lee said doggedly.
Drake sat where he was. “You need rest or you won’t make it.”
“I don’t need to be told when I need rest by you or anyone,” snapped Lee.
“Your son means a lot to you, I can see that.”
He saw the Captain sit back and take stock of the situation. “Is that a trace of compassion I see, John?” he nodded to himself. “You sure have changed since that first time.”
Drake was about to deny it, but he’d also worked out that Lee was first-rate when it came to character studies. “I suppose you could say that,” he admitted quietly. “In fact, in part you were responsible for some of those changes.”
“Me?” said Lee.
Before Drake could reply he watched as Lee was beset by coughing. His eyes narrowed – water on the lungs was serious. He hoped he was wrong about the Captain’s intermittent coughing fits. He supported Lee’s back until he was able to breathe normally again.
“Th…thanks,” said Lee, as Drake handed him some water.
“I think you’re right, we’d better keep going.”
He already knew the response he’d get from Lee, and wasn’t surprised when he agreed. “Yes. Exactly where are we going to?”
“I’ve organized for an extraction. My business was completed anyway. There was no point to staying here any longer.” Drake helped Lee to his feet. “Your appearance merely provided me with a convenient reason to leave.”
He saw the beginnings of a smile on Lee’s face, then pain as the action pulled at his infected wounds. After that there was no more conversation, both men lost in their own thoughts.
After two hours, Drake realized they weren’t going to make it before dark. Lee was almost out on his feet and his chest was getting worse – neither man had said anything when Lee began coughing up frothy blood. They both knew what the problem was.
Drake guided Lee towards a tight gathering of trees and eased him to the ground. “Rest here for a…” he looked behind him into the thick jungle.
“What…what is it?” asked Lee.
The agent pulled out his pistol and handed it to Lee. “I have the feeling we’re being followed. I shan’t be long.”
Lee’s golden eyes looked up at him. “Just make sure you come back alive.”
“You can count on it,” he said, reassuring himself as much as Lee as he disappeared into the shadows.
Chip looked around him. He couldn’t see any of the others, but knew they were there, following a parallel line to him. Half an hour ago they’d split up. The ground had changed and the tracks were no longer easily visible.
He passed a thicket of bamboo when he stopped cold. The knife at his throat hadn’t cut the skin, just pressed into it enough to let him know the owner meant business.
“Don’t move or it’ll be the last thing you do.”
“Who are you?” Chip felt the pressure increase.
“I’ll ask the questions. What are you doing here?”
A glimmer of recognition stirred in Chip’s memory. He would never forget the cold blue eyes of
the man. “You’re that British agent,
Drake. The one that was responsible for
Lee getting caught in
The knife disappeared and Drake circled around to stand in front of him. “I’m flattered you remember me,” he replied dryly. “It seems I’ve found something you’ve misplaced.”
Chip’s heart missed a beat. “You’ve found Lee? Is he…is he alive?”
“Yes, but he’s quite ill. He needs better medical attention than I can provide.”
The XO looked to his left. “Our doctor’s with us.”
“Ah, the infamous Doctor Jamieson, yes, I recall him from my last meeting with Lee.”
Lee! Now they’re on a first names basis? Since when had Lee made friends with this cold, uncompassionate agent?
Before he had a chance to ask Drake anything else, he heard twigs snapping behind him.
“Would that be your men?”
“No, it sounds like too many of them. We spread out when we lost your tracks.”
“We’d better find the rest of your crew and get back to your Captain before he’s found,” said Drake with a concerned urgency in his voice Chip had never expected to hear.
“This way,” murmured Chip, taking off as quietly and quickly as he could.
It didn’t take long to meet up with the other four men. In any other situation, Chip might have found their reactions highly amusing when they set eyes on Drake. All were shocked at his appearance and none looked very pleased to see him again.
“Uh, Admiral, you remember John Drake,” said Chip.
“I suggest we forgo the pleasantries and get back to Captain Crane.”
Nelson looked shocked and overjoyed in the same moment. “You’ve found Lee?”
“Yes, he’s a few hundred yards away.” Drake looked over his shoulder. “I really think we should move, the soldiers have found your tracks and are not too far behind.”
As they started moving, Jamie hurried to his side. “How is he?”
Drake sighed. “He’s obviously been through a lot. I pulled him out of the river, but I suspect some water has gone into his lungs. He started coughing up frothy blood about an hour ago.”
“Other injuries?” asked Jamie, trying to keep the worry from his voice but not quite succeeding.
“His face and hands were badly cut, there’s some infection. I applied antibiotic cream, but I suspect it’s only just holding it at bay.”
Chip watched the exchange and started to feel guilty. He’d despised Drake when he’d met him, but since his actions had most likely saved the life of his best friend, he was prepared to cut the man some slack. There was time for that later, right now they had the double problem of the soldiers and Lee.
“How much longer?” asked Nelson.
Drake pointed to where he’d hidden Lee. “He’s right there.”
Jamie surged ahead and slipped through between two of the trees with Chip just behind him.
He managed to catch a glimpse of Lee before Jamie crouched over him, and the sight curdled his blood. Who knew what might have happened to him if Drake hadn’t found him. The cuts on his face were swollen and angry, bulging Lee’s normally slim facial lines out of proportion. His hands were protected with bandages but Chip could see blood stains on them.
“Skipper,” said Jamie quietly. “Can you hear me? Lee, it’s Jamie.” He looked to Drake. “Was he unconscious when you left him?”
Chip was amazed to see Drake looked distressed. “No, he was alert. The walk from the hut to here must have been too much for him. I wanted him to get to help as soon as possible.”
“What’s your extraction plan, John?” asked Nelson, looking equally worried. “The soldiers are too close for me to call in Seaview.”
Drake took a map from his backpack and held it against one of the tree trunks. He pointed to their position then a place about a mile from the river mouth. “In…” he looked at his watch. “In three hours we’ll be picked up by one of our submarines.”
Nelson looked back towards Jamie. “What’s the verdict, Will? Is he going to make it?”
Chip stood still, as did the other three men, hanging on any words the doctor might utter.
Jamieson shook his head. “I don’t know. I don’t have the supplies to treat this, Admiral. We need to get him back to Seaview as soon as possible.”
The XO looked at Drake thoughtfully. “Your submarine, does it have a fully equipped sick bay?”
“Yes, it does.” Drake looked behind him. “I’m sorry, gentlemen, but we need to leave right now”
Nelson didn’t hesitate, neither did Sharkey or Kowalski. Chip noted before the Admiral even had a chance to order the men to pick Lee up, Sharkey had helped Ski put him over his shoulder.
Drake hesitated. “I’ll join you momentarily, Admiral. I’d like to give you a head start, if you don’t mind?”
Chip looked at Nelson. “I’ll stay too, Sir.” He glanced at Drake. “In case Mister Drake needs some help.”
“Mister Morton, I think you’re needed with the others. If you don’t mind, I believe it’s my turn to put my life on the line,” said Drake, the barest of smiles creasing his tired face. “After all, it wouldn’t do for your Captain to miss seeing his son on Christmas day”
“Lee told you about Alexei?” asked Nelson, unable to keep the surprise from his voice.
“We had quite a bit of time to become re-acquainted, Admiral.” He checked the clip in his pistol. “Now, if you’ll excuse me I have a job to finish.”
All five of the men looked at each other and nodded. Chip knew they understood what Drake was doing, and how risky it was, but they accepted it for what it was – a gesture of comradeship and sacrifice if necessary.
“Very well, we’ll wait for you at the rendezvous point on the beach,” Nelson acknowledged. “I expect you to be there by the time we’re ready to leave.”
“I’ll try my very best, Sir,” replied Drake, giving him a mock salute before vanishing behind them.
Chip jogged up to Jamie as they made haste to leave. “How is he really, Jamie?”
The doctor looked at Chip. “I’m not making any promises. If he isn’t treated for the pulmonary edema it could kill him. As for the infection, at least Drake managed to get it under control, though I have no idea how.”
The XO wondered how many miles his friend and the agent had travelled. He was still amazed at how Lee managed to escape from the farm and ended up being found by Drake. He looked down at him. He hadn’t regained consciousness and they were halfway to the beach. To say he was very concerned was a vast understatement.
“Kowalski, if you want a break I’ll take Lee,” Chip offered.
Although he was drenched with sweat, Kowalski shook his head, barely breathing hard. “No, Sir, I’m fine. I want the Skipper to get to the submarine as quick as we can get him there.”
“Alright, but yell out if you need a break.”
After another half hour Nelson ordered a halt. “Kowalski, let Doctor Jamieson have a look at Lee.”
Sharkey and Chip helped put Lee on the ground, leaning him against a tree trunk as Jamie pulled out his stethoscope and gave the Captain a brief examination.
Jamie leaned back on his haunches. “He’s going to be alright, but only if we get him to a proper medical facility quickly. How long do we have before Drake’s submarine arrives?”
Gunfire shattered the oppressive silence of the jungle before Nelson could reply.
“Right, Will, give him a shot of whatever you’ve got. We have to make the beach in forty minutes. No more stops.”
Chip turned to Nelson. “Let me go back, Sir. We can’t…I… can’t leave Drake to keep the soldiers away on his own.”
Nelson looked uncertain but nodded. “Very well, but I don’t want to have to come back looking for you. Understood?”
“Yes, Sir,” replied Chip, hurrying off in the direction of the gunshots.
“Sharkey, you and I will scout ahead,” said Nelson. “I don’t want to get caught now, not when we’re so close to getting Lee out. Will, you and Kowalski look after Lee and bring up the rear.”
“Yes, Sir,” replied Sharkey.
Jamie was too busy with Lee to reply.
“Jamie,” Lee’s voice was below a whisper.
“Skipper, you’re back with us,” said Jamie, moderating the worry in his voice.
“How did you find me? Where’s John?”
Jamie heard gunfire behind them as Kowalski raised Lee carefully to his feet.
“Sorry, Sir, the explanations will have to wait. The army’s not far behind us,” said Kowalski.
Lee felt his eyes drooping and the scratch of a needle as Jamie shot him with what he suspected was a sedative. “Can walk…” he protested weakly.
“Not this time, Skipper,” said Jamie firmly as Lee’s eyes shut.
“Kowalski, let’s go.”
Ski hoisted Lee onto his shoulders and set off towards the beach at a punishing pace. Jamie risked a look behind them, before catching up with Kowalski. He fervently hoped that Chip and Drake would make it through.
Chip came across Drake just as the shooting stopped. The British agent was slumped against a tree, blood oozing from a shoulder wound.
“What the hell are you doing here?” he snapped.
The XO knew it was bravado. He’d seen it enough times in Lee to recognize it and the pain hidden behind it. He took Drake’s hand away from his shoulder and shoved a field dressing onto the wound, making the man flinch.
“I guess I deserved that for last time,” he murmured, his lips stretched in a tight grimace.
“We’re getting out of here,” Chip said, physically dragging the agent along behind him without waiting for a reply. “Come on, the others must have just about reached the beach by now.”
“For once, I’m inclined to agree.”
They moved quickly through the undergrowth and before long met up with the others on the beach. Kowalski and Sharkey had set up a perimeter and Nelson and Jamie were bent over Lee. The bandages on Lee’s hands had been changed. His face was also bandaged up, with only a few tufts of hair, his mouth, nose and eyes showing. He still appeared to be asleep.
Drake looked at his watch- it was growing dark again. “Any moment now we should see a signal.”
While they waited, Chip went to Drake’s side. “You saved Lee’s life. I don’t know how you came to be here at the right time, but I guess he wasn’t meant to die.”
Drake was about to reply when Jamie walked over with his first aid pack. “Let me have a look at your shoulder, John.”
“I’m fine. Tend to your Captain. He needs your attention far more than I do.”
Chip raised an eyebrow and couldn’t stop a smile from reaching his lips. “I guess you’re a lot more like Lee than you think,” he smirked.
Jamie shot Chip a glare. “I seem to remember someone else like that.”
“Um, I think I’ll go help Sharkey and Kowalski,” muttered Chip, moving into the scrub.
“Seriously Doctor, I’ll survive until I’m onboard.”
“You could be bleeding under that bandage. I’d like to have a look,” he said stubbornly, depositing his kit beside the agent.
Drake sighed and sat on a rock. “Now I understand what Lee was talking about when he mentioned you.”
“Yes, the Skipper and I…well, we’re slowly developing an understanding. I think we’ve got a ways to go yet.” Jamie carefully removed the bandage without causing the injury to bleed again. “The bullet’s still lodged in there. Once we’re onboard I’ll take it out.”
“Since we don’t have a surgeon, I would appreciate that, Doctor.”
“Please call me Will. I think you’ve deserved that privilege for saving the Captain’s life and treating his injuries,” offered Jamie, neatly tying off another bandage and fitting a sling around Drake’s neck. “I’m going to give you a shot of antibiotics to prevent your own infection.”
He administered the injection just as Drake saw the signal from the submarine. “Admiral Nelson, our ride has just turned up, a little late, admittedly, but in the nick of time.”
“Kowalski, Sharkey, Chip,” called Nelson in a low voice. “Keep a sharp eye, the submarine’s here.”
Nelson, Jamie and Drake watched as three dark shapes left the boat and drifted silently towards them. Drake met the men at the waterline as they dragged their rafts onto the beach. Within a few short minutes everyone had been evacuated and was on their way to the British boat.
Chip sat in the raft with Jamie and Lee. He looked down at his friend and couldn’t help laying a hand on Lee’s chest, just to check that he was still breathing. Reassured, he sat back and waited until they boarded.
Lee woke slowly. He tried to remember what had happened, but his last coherent memory was a few sketchy moments with John in the hut. Opening his eyes he was surprised to see John sitting beside him instead of Nelson. Lee followed Drake’s eyes to the other side of the treatment table where Admiral Nelson sat.
“It’s good to see you’re awake, lad,” said Nelson, putting a hand on Lee’s arm.
“Where am I?” he asked, looking around at the stark interior of what he assumed was a sick bay. The only thing out of the ordinary was a bent green tinsel Christmas tree that had seen better days, resting on one of the cabinets.
“You’re on the HMS Sovereign, and if you hadn’t guessed, you’re in Will’s clutches,” replied Nelson, giving Lee an evil grin. “They’ve got a doctor, but he’s given Will free reign after he mentioned something along the lines of you being a difficult patient.”
“How do you feel, Lee?” asked Drake, his own arm in a sling.
Nelson held a cup of water up for Lee, which he drank from before speaking again. “Thanks Admiral.” He nodded towards Drake’s arm. “I feel…okay, considering. What happened to you?”
“It’s just a scratch.”
Nelson glanced at Drake and shook his head. “After leaving you in our care, he went back to hold off the soldiers. He was shot just before Chip found him.”
Lee tried to sit up, grimacing with the pain it caused him. Both Nelson and Drake reached for a spare pillow at the same time. They looked at each other and chuckled.
“Where is Chip?”
“He’s getting a tour of the boat.”
Lee glanced at Drake. “It seems every time we cross paths, we end up the worse for wear, John,” remarked Lee as the two men fussed over him, then he became serious. “Admiral, can you tell me the date?”
The Drake looked at Nelson before the Admiral spoke. “It’s Christmas Eve, lad. Sharkey and Kowalski took the FS1 back to the Seaview and we’ll rendezvous with her at twenty-four hundred hours.”
Lee closed his eyes and lay back against the soft clean
sheets. It didn’t look like he’d be home
for Christmas after all. Bitter
disappointment cut through his heart.
He’d been so pleased to discover that this mission would end back in
“Alright you two, it’s time Lee had some more rest.”
Lee heard Jamie’s voice but he was so disheartened that he didn’t trust himself to open his eyes again. He knew all of the men would see through him quickly. Drake had proved to be just as gifted at reading him as Chip, much to his exasperation.
“I’ll be back to see you before we meet up with your submarine,” said Drake, as Lee heard the chair scrape.
He guessed rightly that Nelson was still beside him and felt him pat his arm. “Get some rest, Lee. I won’t be far away.”
Lee heard a door close softly and sighed with relief before opening his eyes to see Drake standing over him.
Drake raised one eyebrow. “I thought as much, you’re pining after that child of yours. Don’t worry too much, Lee, things always have a way of working themselves out. As I said, it’s an unpredictable profession, but a rewarding one at times,” the agent said quizzically before giving Lee a broad grin and disappearing from sick bay.
As soon as Drake had gone, Jamie began hovering around him, checking his vitals. “I see you’ve made a new friend.”
“He’s turned out to be a good friend,” Lee agreed.
“I wonder if you’ll run into him again.”
Lee laughed, his depression finally easing. “I hope not if this is how I end up every time.”
He cringed as his damaged lips protested along with all the other muscles in his body.
“I know, I know, it’s not your fault this time,” muttered Jamie. “Okay, do you want the good news of the bad?”
“Give me the bad first.”
“You’re going to be off for a few weeks because you had pulmonary edema in your lungs from swallowing too much of that river water. Next time you’re unconscious in a river, try to keep your mouth closed,” he added resignedly. “There was also a nasty infection in both your hands and in the lacerations on your face. I’ve sorted that out, and stitched the couple of cuts that needed to be done.”
“What’s the good news, or were you just having some fun?” groaned Lee.
Jamie smiled. “You’ll be spending…”
Lee saw something akin to fear in Jamie’s eyes as he looked up at Admiral Nelson, who’d just entered sick bay unseen.
“Uh, what I mean is that with some time off, you’ll be able to spend it with Alexei.”
Lee saw Jamie look to Nelson for corroboration.
Nelson gave him an innocent smile. “That’s right, Lee.”
The Captain rolled gingerly onto his side and nodded. “I suppose you’re right.” He started to feel drowsy again and drifted off to a comfortable sleep for the first time in three days.
The next time Lee woke up he was completely disorientated. He thought he was in the sickbay at NMIR but that was impossible. The Admiral had spoken about a transfer to Seaview and he’d insisted he could walk onboard. That was the last he remembered. Jamie! Jamie must have given him something to knock him out. He and the doctor would have words before the day was out, he thought irritably.
Lee looked around and saw Christmas decorations everywhere. A flare of hope shot through him. He gingerly sat up to find that his muscles were still stiff, but not getting any worse. His hands were still heavily bandaged, as was his face, and a drip was lodged in his arm. He swallowed nervously before lying down again. What right do I have to expect Alexei to see me like this, with my face bruised and battered and lying in a hospital bed?
“Hey, buddy. You’re awake.”
Lee looked up again to see Chip standing in the doorway, a steaming cup of coffee in one hand and some Christmas cake in the other.
“How do you feel?” he asked, plunking himself into a chair.
“Alright,” he said flatly, still pondering his conflicting emotions.
Chip frowned. “Are you in pain?”
“No,” Lee said quickly. “Nothing like that.”
He almost groaned as he saw the wheels turning in Chip’s mind.
The XO carefully put the coffee and cake on the beside table and sat up. “Well, what is it?”
“Nothing.” He tried to change the subject. “How did I get here?”
“We decided, I mean…Jamie decided that it was better for you to come back to NIMR ASAP to do some more tests on you, and clear up your lungs.” Chip offered Lee some cake and sat back to munch on it when he shook his head. “So what were you thinking about when I came in just then?”
“Hmm, lots of nothing is coming out of your mouth right now. You were thinking about Alexei, weren’t you?”
“I…” Lee wanted to deny it, but he was still so tired and sore that he wasn’t up for a verbal fencing match with Chip. Instead he closed his eyes and admitted it. “Yes.”
“Well don’t be. The Admiral’s explained everything, how you got ‘dragged down a river and cut your hands and face’.”
Lee heard him take another bite of cake, the icing crunching between his teeth.
“I suppose we could always send him back to
“Chip! I could never do that!” Lee growled, abruptly opening his eyes to see a broad grin on his friend’s face. He sank back against the pillows. “Hmm, I walked right into that one, didn’t I?”
Chip nodded, still smirking. “Yep, you must feel worse than you look, which is hard.”
Lee looked for something to throw, but there was nothing in range.
“Oh, John Drake gave me something to pass to you when you woke up.” Chip opened the bottom drawer of the table and pulled something out. He held it up and pointed to the Christmas bag. “Don’t ask me where he found this bag on a nuclear sub.”
Lee held his hands out. “Can you take it out for me, Chip?”
He watched as Chip pulled out a miniature Swiftsure Class nuclear submarine. Shaking the bag upside down, he picked up a note.
“It’s from Drake,” said Chip. “It reads ‘Lee, I realized you hadn’t bought Alexei a gift, so I improvised and hope you will be able to give it to him Christmas morning. Next time we meet I hope it’s over a glass of scotch, John.’”
Lee clasped at the submarine with both hands and carefully replaced it in the tinsel-covered bag. Emotion choked his throat up. He wished he’d had the chance to thank the British agent. Deep in thought, he missed Chip’s stealthy departure and was shocked when Alexei ran into the room.
The boy’s face lit up with joy when he saw Lee. “Father, I missed you so much,” he gushed in Russian.
The lump in Lee’s throat grew and he hugged his son until his arms ached. “Alexei, I missed you, too,” he replied in the boy’s native language.
He must have looked a sight with his bandages and almost a week’s growth of beard.
Alexei’s hand went to Lee’s face, softly touching the bandages. “You are hurt, Father,” he said in English this time.
Lee clasped his hand awkwardly between his. “Not too badly, but I’m going to be on leave for a while. I thought maybe we could go on a holiday.”
“I would like that very much.” Alexei looked around as a crowd of people walked through the door.
Jamie, the Admiral, Claire and Mary all walked in holding presents.
“We thought since you couldn’t spend Christmas with us, we’d bring it to you,” explained Claire, giving Lee a hug.
“Uh, it is Christmas day, isn’t it?” asked Lee shyly.
Alexei sat carefully on the bed. “Yes, Father, it is, and it is the best Christmas I have ever had.”
As the celebrations got underway, Chip stood at the door
smiling. It had taken some persuading,
but he and the Admiral had finally managed to convince Jamie to allow them to
take Lee back to
*The Silent Saboteurs – Season 2
**A Time for Trust
***Saboteur – Season1
Note: John Drake is not my character and was created by someone else from the television series Danger Man or Secret Agent (USA)