I'll Be Home for Christmas--



by Sue Kite





Chapter 11



December 19th, 1100 hours, UTC+8

There was no seat in the cubicle, so Crane continued to stand, at the closest approximation to parade rest that he could get with the chains on his wrists and ankles. He glanced at Kovitch, who motioned that he would have to stand silently for however long the judges deliberated. Mentally shrugging, Lee continued to take in his surroundings as surreptitiously as he could. It was a matter of pride that he was determined not to fidget or act the least bit nervous. As a middie, he had stood for much longer periods of time, under a variety of conditions. He would just consider this to be a slightly different condition.

He had absolutely no doubt that he would be found guilty of all charges, including the one he really wasn't responsible for. Zu-shin had been a very high ranking military official, one who didn't hide his animosity for any western nation, especially the United States. Rumor had it that the general had been in charge of several failed operations against the Seaview as well as against the United States and several of her allies. How the mighty had fallen on both sides of the struggle, Lee thought sardonically. He continued to stand, even as the heavy handcuffs finally began to put a strain on his back. Finally, after what seemed an interminably long time, Lee began to think back to his academy days. He remembered his roommates, Chip included, and instructors. His focus turned inward and he didn't see the courtroom anymore, nor did he hear the slight whispering in another language, or feel the weight of the restraints.

He had gone beyond the academy, his first assignment and was remembering his first days on Seaview when he heard doors opening, the young bailiff calling everyone to attention and Kovitch getting up from his seat next to the cubicle. Lee brought his attention directly back to the five judges who were just sitting down. Lee noticed that Zu-shin looked somewhat pleased with himself. That certainly didn't bode well, he thought.

"Accused Lee Crane," one of the other judges called out.

Lee didn't move, only kept his gaze on the speaker.

"It has been determined that you are guilty of the charges of espionage and of illegal entry into the sovereign nation of The People's Republic. It has been determined that although the evidence was inconclusive in regards to the death of Shan Wu-jin, you have been instrumental in the deaths of citizens of our nation due to your captaincy of the enemy vessel, Seaview." He paused and took a couple of breaths. "In accordance to our laws, which are fair and just, it has been determined that your service to the citizens of The People's Republic will be no less than hard labor for the rest of your life. This arbitration is final and is not subject to appeal. Do you have any words of contrition to give to this court?"

Crane wasn't sure of the entirety of the sentencing speech, but the sentence itself was totally clear. It was his worst fear. Life in prison. He doubted that life would be very long, but for however long it was, it would be hell on earth. It was the worst possible sentence, and Zu-shin knew that. "Yes, I have," Lee said quietly. "I have no intention, as a member of the United States Navy, to do anything other than what I have done in the past, and that is to quit myself with honor. And as to the deaths that you lay at my doorstep, General," he said, gazing directly into Zu-shin's small, glittering eyes, "when you send someone to kill the more than one hundred men under my command, it is an act of war and I have responded accordingly and with all diligence."

Zu-shin almost snarled in his anger. He turned to the bailiff. "Prisoner will be remanded to the Zinitch prison until a suitable work assignment is determined."

Kovitch looked genuinely sorry, if not for the verdict, then for the sentence. Lee motioned a request to him and the lawyer nodded. The guard led Lee to the room that they had conferred in before the trial. The clock on the wall said that it was thirteen hundred hours. The judges had deliberated for over two hours?

"Wait here," the guard growled. "Although why is beyond me."

A few minutes later, Kovitch entered the room. He seemed nervous.

"Can I assume that they gave you a hard time about seeing me?" Crane asked in English.

Kovitch made it a point to speak in his own language this time. Crane knew why and knew he would have to be careful of his words. "They gave me five minutes. I don't know why, because they said no at first. I would guess that you only have about four and a half minutes, now. What did you want to tell or ask me?"

"Not tell you. Do you have a paper and pencil? I want to send a message, if you can manage it, to settle my affairs in the states."

Kovitch's eyes widened. "You don't have any kind of disposition of property?"

"In the event of my death, but I'm not dead right now. Paper, please?"

With a curt nod, Kovitch pulled a clean paper and a pen from his brief case and handed it to Lee.

Crane wrote what he had mentally composed during the short time after his sentencing. It wasn't much, but he knew that those closest to him would understand. "Here," he said, handing the paper to Kovitch even as the door opened, admitting two other guards. "If you can get this to the Nelson Institute of Marine Research, they will pass it along to the proper individuals."

"It's straight-forward—no codes? And you do know that it will be read before I can send it anywhere."

"Mr. Kovitch. Little late for that, isn't it? No, this is a straight-forward farewell to my friends and loved ones. I realize it will be read, but hopefully not published," he said, hopefully. "Don't you think I should be able to ask for that?"

"Yes, Commander. That is not an unreasonable request."

"Thank you, Mr. Kovitch. And thank you for doing your best to help me. It couldn't have been an easy or even a desirable assignment." He stood up.

Kovitch nodded. "Thank you for your kind words, Commander Crane. I would wish you good luck, if it was possible that it would do any good." He leaned forward to shake Crane's hand, an act that would have surprised Lee had not the next thing surprised him more. "May God be with you," the lawyer said softly.

Lee followed the waiting guards out of the room.



December 19th, 0800 hours, EST

Nelson stubbed out the cigarette and nervously reached for another. His eyes looked out of the windows of the Eisenhower Office Building, but they weren't seeing anything but the face of his captain, as he first assumed command of Seaview. He saw the happier moments when all was well aboard the amazing vessel. Now? He had been told when the trial would be. Now he was nervously awaiting word as to the verdict. The telephone rang and the admiral jumped, its shrill ring jerking him back to reality.

The secretary, barely arrived and frowning at the too quick beginning to her day, answered it. After a few seconds, she looked up and beckoned to him. "Admiral, it's for you. State Department."

He was at the desk in two quick strides. "Yes?" His worst fears were confirmed. Lee had been sentenced to a life term of hard labor. "Yes, I understand. Thank you for letting me know, Mr. Cochran." He handed the phone back to the secretary and walked over to the window that showed the activity of Washington D.C. below. He turned back to the secretary. "Please let me know when the president is ready to leave. I am going to contact the Institute."

She seemed to sense something amiss. "Admiral Nelson, would you care to use my phone? It's secure and I need to step out for a moment."

He looked at her gratefully and nodded. "Thank you, Ms?"

"Candice Adams," she said with a reassuring smile.

"Thanks, Ms. Adams," he said, suddenly tired beyond measure. She got up and he sat in her seat. Quickly he dialed the Institute receptionist, grateful that he insisted that there be shifts posted twenty-four hours a day. A voice promptly answered. "Tish? You on the early shift?"

She made no attempt at small talk. "Have you heard about Lee?" she asked.

"Yes, he was sentenced to life."

He heard the barest hint of a sob on the other end, but she quickly controlled herself. "Do you want me to contact Commander Morton?"

"Yes, please and tell him that I'll be calling a little later to discuss this and other things."

"Yes, sir, and Admiral?"

"Yes, Tish?"

"I'm so sorry." She abruptly broke off and Nelson was sitting at the desk with a buzzing phone in his hand. He gently set it down and then he slammed his hand down on the desk. "Damn!" Then in a quieter voice, almost a whisper, he added, "God help him."




December 19th, 1900 hours, UTC+8

Nihran Kocerin sat in the overly large reception room in silence, staring at the small fire in the massive fireplace. He had watched the trial, felt the emotions run through his body. Too many emotions, too confusing. Neera climbed up on his lap and sat quietly. His wife stood in the doorway.

"Papa, what happened to Andjen?" she asked.

Oh, that he could have spared her this, but he had promised himself when she was a baby that he would be upfront and honest with his child as she grew up. "He is being taken back to prison. He is a spy and was here without permission."

"But Papa, if he hadn't been, Grandper would have died." The tears were filling her eyes. "I think I would have, too," she added softly. "Papa, how long will Andjen have to stay in prison this time?"

He mentally groaned. "Until he dies, my child."

He knew she had been holding in her emotions, but now she buried her face in his chest. "Papa, please, isn't there anything you can do? You are president! There has to be something," she sobbed.

Little did she know, he thought, just how little power he held. He remembered well the fate of the president before him--ignominious defeat in both the People's Council and the People's Protective Council, i.e. the military. It was the military that bothered him the most. While they didn't have the same power they used to, the generals and admirals still wielded a great amount of power and voice in the government. It wouldn't take much for them to overthrow the Council and him, and re-establish a military dictatorship if he didn't show the proper strength of leadership. "It's not that easy, little one."

"Papa, why? Why isn't it that easy? Andjen saved our lives, can't you save his?"

Nirhan Kocerin saw his wife standing just in the room, his father, on crutches in the doorway.

"I raised a smart boy," Nicoli said softly. "Smart enough to rise to leadership of a troubled country and give it hope of greatness."

Kocerin sighed lustily and pulled at his mustache. "Flattery will get you nowhere, Father. You are also a smart man and you know the consequences of such a thing as blatantly letting the American go, especially when it is learned what happened during that snow storm."

His father shrugged. "You got to your position not only by being intelligent, but also by being honorable in a very cruel world. You have now found honor among the enemy."

"I know," Kocerin groaned, laying his head back and closing his eyes. Neera still sat on his lap, but her tears were falling silently now. He opened his eyes again and looked at his wife.

"You know, Neera, that your Andjen has been in our country before, has helped traitors and others escape with valuable information that our people could have used," his wife commented.

Kocerin felt grateful for her loyalty, but somehow it didn't make him feel much better.

"Andjen was nice to us, why would he do that?"

Again, Kocerin sighed. "I guess because his country asked him to," he answered honestly.

"You have always served when you were called to and without hesitation or excuse," his father said, his voice still soft.

Kocerin wondered sardonically why his father didn't just knock him over the head with his crutch, his point was so blatant. "I can at least interview the man. Make my own judgments."

"Would you, Papa?" Neera asked, hopefully.

Yes, he thought, but where? He wanted to talk to the man privately, without fear of any of the conversation leaking out to anyone. Anyway he did it, the military would be aware of his actions. Both councils would be.

"Son, I cannot tell you what to do, but I believe that there could be benefits to being merciful with the American," Nicoli commented.

He nodded and then lay his hand against his daughter's cheek, wiping away some of her tears. "I can make no promises, but I will talk to Captain Crane. If he is your Andjen, then I will do what I can for him. Right now, I want you to finish getting ready for bed. I have to make arrangements."



December 20th, 1700 hours, UTC+8

Crane sat in the secure cage in the back of a People's Republic sedan, wondering what the hell was going on. He had been unceremoniously pulled from his cell shortly after his evening meal and hustled to the prison administrator's office. That the man was very incensed, was a given, but why? The administrator had lectured him on proper behavior and how the least little infraction on Lee's part would result in automatic execution. Then the cuffs and manacles were put back on and he was escorted, under heavy guard, to the sedan. The windows were darkly tinted and therefore he wasn't able to see out. When he had been transferred to the car, Lee had noticed that there were no stars and the air felt like snow. The wind was biting and he was still wearing only what he had been given for the trial. Still, he was thankful they hadn't traded the new clothes back for his old rags.

After a short distance, the car stopped and a guard opened the door. He was in the back of a very large building, almost mansion-like. This couldn't be his new 'hard labor' assignment.

"Move, prisoner. Why you are being singled out for this honor, I wouldn't know," the guard grumbled. "The president must be crazy."

Wet snowflakes began to fly in his face, made more forceful by the strong wind, but he didn't try to wipe them away. Lee struggled up a flight of stone steps, made difficult by not only the wind and snow, but also the manacles that weighed his legs down.

Someone opened the door to them and they were soon in a pleasantly warm pantry area. The steamy smell of some kind of spiced coffee wafted from the kitchen just beyond the inner doorway and Crane had to restrain himself from trying to peer into the room for a better scent of something denied him for almost three weeks.

"Wipe your feet, prisoner, and follow me," a very tall, austere man told him. He was dark, with heavy brows that made one black, bushy line across his face. The eyes were expressionless, but wary and Lee didn't doubt that he would wipe the floor with him if he got out of line. Doing what he was told, Crane followed the man, one of his prison guards taking up the rear.

The large man led him to a room that appeared to be some kind of office, although it had a fireplace, couch and bookshelves. "You will wait, Commander Crane," the large man instructed.

"May I ask for whom?" Lee asked.

"For me," the newcomer said, coming in behind the trio.

Crane turned and was astonished to see President Nirhan Li Kocerin gazing at him. "President Kocerin?"



Chapter 12
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