I'll Be Home for Christmas--
by Sue Kite
December 16th, 1000 hours UTC+8
Neera looked out over the almost park sized back yard and sighed. It had been a week and while she was happy to be home, happy that things were normal and quiet again, she continued to wonder where Andjen was; if he had gotten to his home. When asked what had happened for that four days during the storms, she had said very little. They had not pushed her, especially her parents. Indeed, Papa hadnít been home more than to make sure she was all right when she had first come home. Since then he had been back in his office. She missed him. She truly wanted to tell him about Andjen and how he had saved Grandper. And her, too, Neera realized. But Grandper said not to say anything for a few days. It had been more than a few days.
Of course, there had been Uncle Wu-jinís funeral. She couldnít say anything or even think about anything else in the days before it. All the aunts, uncles and cousins had pet, cooíed and cried over her, telling her how fortunate she was to have survived up on the mountain. They told her what a remarkable girl she was to have taken care of her sick grandfather. They praised her endlessly, patted her on the head, told Mama and Papa what a wonderful daughter she was. She wanted to tell them about her andjen, whoever he was and that it was he who had saved them. But she held her tongue and just let them talk and talk.
Then they would talk about how unfortunate it was about Uncle Wu-jin and their eyes would fill with tears. They would turn away, trying to keep her from seeing, but she knew what they were saying. Of course, she was sad about Uncle Wu-jin and wished that he hadnít died, but it irritated her how they all acted around her. Like she was still a baby. She wasnít. Then there was the actual funeral. Even television people had been there, talking about what a hero he had been. The funeral had been sad, but her Papa had said nice things about him and so had Mamaís other brother, Uncle Shonin. There had been so many people there, more than she could count. They kept saying something about an awful enemy spy killing her uncle. All the talking, all the crying. It had been terrible and had almost made her sick. Kroshna had brought her home early and she hadnít been sorry. But that was two days ago, couldnít she tell Mama now? Or Papa?
With another sigh, she left her bedroom and wandered down the hall. This had once been belonged to a king, but that was many years ago and now it was her home. Sometimes she felt she could get lost in it. So many of the rooms were huge for when her papa and mama had parties, or when Papa had big meetings. There were rooms for some of the people who took care of themóher teacher, their cook, the gardener. Some of the rooms were just empty and locked.
She felt lonely back here. There were times she wished she was back in Grandperís little cabin listening to his and Andjenís stories. Some of what he said had sounded so fun. How his father would put him on his shoulders to put a star on top of a very large Christmas tree, how he and his friends would play ice hockey on a frozen pond. Then there was the story of how a friend of his named Chip had dared him to climb up a flagpole just before Christmas one year and put a Santa hat on top, then had dared him to paint a face under the hat. She had laughed at that one. Andjen said he was in college that time and most of his friends liked to play silly things like that. He had talked about the ocean and how beautiful it was, about putting a Christmas tree on a boat and everyone putting on an ornament they had made.
"Are you all right, Neera, dear?" Mama asked.
Neera started. She had been thinking so hard she hadnít heard any footsteps echoing in the big hall. "Yes, Iím fine, Mama." She turned to her mother. "Can I go see Grandper today? I mean, surely heís well enough by now." To herself, she thought he had been well enough before, but she had been ignored during the time of the funeral. Everyone had been too busy.
"Iíll check and see if the doctors will allow it. If they say yes, we will go to the hospital and visit."
"And when is Papa going to come home?"
Mama sighed this time. "Neera, darling. Papa is very busy. There are so many things going on. Things with the court, his upcoming trip."
"Will he see the ocean when he goes on his trip?" she asked, still thinking about Andjenís stories about the ocean. He had told her many during the first long day after he had come.
"Why yes, he will," Mama replied. "Why do you ask?"
"I want to go, too. I have never seen the ocean and I want to see if itís as pretty as AnÖ. As pretty as people say."
"I doubt heíll let you go with him. These trips arenít for a little girl like you, dear."
Neera felt like stomping her foot, but knew it wouldnít help, not with Mama and certainly not with Papa. "You go with him," was all she said in reply.
"Yes, because I am his wife. I am expected to go. But with you itís different," she tried to explain.
Mama sighed again. Seemed to Neera that they were all sighing today. "Iíll let your father explain that to you. Personally I would enjoy you coming, but there are things that make that difficult."
And Neera knew that was that. She would make sure to ask Papa when he finally came home, because by then, Mama would most likely forget. "Do you believe in angels?"
Her mother looked startled. "What?"
"Angels, Mama. Do you believe in them? Grandper does."
"Well, I really donít know, Neera." She smiled. "Have you seen one?"
"Kind of," Neera replied vaguely.
"When was that?" Mama asked, looking a bit concerned. "Up at the cabin?"
Neera simply shrugged. "Iím worried about Grandper." That was a sure fire way to get off a subject she didnít want to talk about anymore. She needed to talk to Grandper.
"Iíll check and then weíll decide when to go. Right now, you need to go to back to your class and when youíre finished, Iíll be able to tell you more about your grandfather."
Neera had to be satisfied with that. She walked down the long hallway to the room that had been set up as her classroom. It made her think of the story Andjen had told her about when he went to school and she wondered what it would be like if she could go to school with lots of other boys and girls.
December 16th, 1900 hours, UTC+8
Kocerin sighed and twisted the end of one of his mustaches. It was late, heíd not been home in time to tuck his daughter into bed in six days and do more than kiss his wife before collapsing into bed himself. There had been Wu-jinís funeral, all the attendant headaches relevant to the upcoming trip, and now there were still more papers to sign. He glanced over them and noted the one that set the date for the Americanís trial. December eighteenth. He nodded and signed it, adding a paper noting the need for a lawyer to be assigned to himóand for the lawyer to talk to Crane before the trial. That was something very important to the Americans. It wouldnít make a difference either way in the outcome, but at least no one could say he wasnít attentive to the spyís rights.
Rights! He snorted. What rights? The intercom buzzed and he flipped the receive switch. "Yes?"
"Your wife, Mr. President," came the voice of his secretary, Ahneen.
Ah, that was a most welcome reprieve, Kocerin thought. He picked up the phone without even answering Ahneen. "My beloved, it is wonderful hearing your voice!" he boomed into the phone. "How are you and Neera doing?"
"Ah, it would be much better if you could come home and hear us in person," she said without any rancor.
"I hope to be home shortly. I have to read the report on the American and then Iíll be coming. It will be so good to be home before midnight," he said with a lusty sigh.
"Indeed it will. If you could come sooner that would be much better. Neera would very much like you to tuck her in tonight. Sheís been concerned about your father and they wonít let us come to see him until tomorrow." Vidraan Kocerin paused and then continued. "She has asked me about angels, saying that she has seen one. Kroshna said something about her mentioning an angel helping them at the cabin, but she didnít elaborate. I think you need to talk to her and Nicoli about what happened up there. Did your fatherís doctors tell you anything?"
"No, I have not had a chance to talk to them."
"The doctors have said that there was no possible way for Neera to have helped your father and accomplished all the other things that were done up there."
"Could Wu-jin have done some of that before he left?" Kocerin interjected.
"I have no idea, Nirhan. She has been very cagey about that time up there. I had thought it might have to do with your fatherís injury, the storm and Wu-jin leaving the way he had and his subsequent death. But now, Iím not so sure."
Kocerin realized that he had left a great deal undone and most of that in his own house. He hadnít doubted Craneís role in the death of his brother-in-law, but had not thought about just how his daughter and father had survived up there for that four days. And with Father so badly injured. Could it be? No! Then he dismissed the thought. He would talk to Neera first. He called Ahneen into his office to give her the signed documents for the Americanís trial. If he knew his secretary, someone from the state lawyers office would be called before another half hour had passed.
Kocerin looked at the mound of paperwork and began plowing through it. An hour later, he paused. Neera first. Muttering an expletive, he filed it all in his to do drawer and locked it. Gathering up the reports about the American, Kocerin marched out of his office. Ahneen looked up in surprise. "Iím going home," was all he said.
"A lawyer has been assigned to the Americanís defense," she told him. It was as he had thought. He nodded his thanks to her and wished her a good night.
December 16th, 2000 hours, UTC+8
Lee Crane had finished his dinner over two hours ago and was now doing push-ups on the cold floor. Not much had varied the past few days. How many days had it really been? He had tried to keep track, but it was hard when you couldnít even see marks on the wall. A bit of mental math and Lee figured it had been close to a week if not more.
The trick was counting the meals. Meals were twice a day with a jug of water. He had found out the first day that he had to shove out the old containers before they would give him the new ones. It had been a very quick finish of the last of the morningís water before he gave them back the thermos-sized container. Dinner had a bit more substance with some chunks of undecipherable meat in a kind of greasy broth. There were some veggies, in there. He could tell because the meat was stringy and tough. Not that the vegetables were much better in their texture. But like the concoction of the morning, it did assuage his hunger a bit, even if occasionally it made him a bit queasy.
They had shoved in a blanket that first day in his cell and although it was of the same course material as his clothing, he was grateful for the warmth it provided. During the long dark hours between meals, he alternated exercise with light sleep and that with thinking. At times his thoughts were military exercises, remembering theoretical tactics from his classes at the academy. He wove those exercises into some of his real adventures, trying to keep his mind sharp with alternate scenarios. Sometime he would digress into memories, mainly of his boyhood. There were dark times when he would simply fall, or allow himself to fall into moods of misery and depression, wondering how long he would be in this hellhole and how long he would be able to keep his sanity. He had been imprisoned before, even been more harshly treated, but never before had Crane felt that there was no escape like he did now. Sometimes he would feel deep angeróat ONI, at Admiral Johnson, definitely at himself and finally at Neera and her grandfather. Then heíd feel guilty for blaming the injured man and his granddaughter. Still in all, Lee wished there had been another way to take care of them and still get out. Heíd been too complacent, too arrogant in his own abilities. Finally, Crane would jerk himself out of his pity party and begin a mental game of chess with himself.
Lee slowly rose to his feet. He had gotten up too fast one time and in the dark bashed his head against the bottom of the metal rack. After he had totally regained his senses, he was much more careful whenever he moved around the tiny cell. Lee sat down on his bunk, leaning against the wall, his ear pressed tight to the blocks of concrete. It was almost like a game, trying to hear something, anything beyond the confines of his stygian world. He had gotten very good at it. Of course, having served on a vessel where metal carried sound in subtle as well as not so subtle ways, he had an advantage. It was much harder with concrete, but occasionally heíd hear heavy footsteps, screams and shouts, slight bangings, which he associated with a similar sound in his youthóthat of heated water going through pipes leading to radiators. Each time he heard the sound, Crane wished heartily for some radiator heat to his cell. He wondered if heíd ever be warm again.
December 16th, 0700 hours, PST
Kowalski, with Patterson right behind him, approached the XO. Most of the men had already left for several daysí liberty. Kowalski and Patterson had not changed out of their jumpsuits.
Morton noted that immediately. "Why havenít you headed out?"
"Uh, sir, we have a question."
Morton suspected he knew what it was. "And that is?"
"Why are we just sitting on our sixes doing nothing? Why arenít we heading east to try to get the skipper out?"
Chip sighed. "Ski, Pat, you both know that would not only be futile now, but it would be considered an act of hostility that could trigger a war. You know how the Republic has tried to start something in the past."
"Yes, sir," Patterson spoke up. "But it almost seems . . . seems, well, it almost seems obscene for us to sit here all comfortable when Captain Crane is in that hole."
Kowalski nodded his head in agreement. "I donít think I could enjoy my liberty, sir."
Chip nodded knowingly. "In other words you feel guilty that youíre able to do what you please, while the captain is a captive."
"Yes, sir," Kowalski replied.
"As much as I hate to say it, Lee Crane knew what he was doing, what could happen." He didnít say anything for a moment and the horror of his next thought took hold. "And what could happen is that he could very well never get out of that prison alive."
The two men looked horror stricken. "You donít mean that, do you, Mr. Morton?"
"I would dearly love to say that I was jerking your chain, but I canít," Chip continued somberly. "The admiral is in Washington trying to see what diplomatic avenues can be taken." He studied the two men carefully. "I do know thisówhen the admiral tells us to be ready to leave, weíll leave. And if anyone can figure out a way to get the skipper out, he will. So the best thing would be to get the hell off the boat, get some rest and be ready to come back anytime weíre called."
"Thank you, sir," Patterson said.
"Aye, aye, sir," Kowalski said at the same time.
Morton watched the two men depart and wondered at his blunt words about Leeís chances. A chill went up and down his spine. He knew the reputation of that prison. He also knew the reputation of the Republic. That British spy. When was that? Last January, he believed. Would they really do that with Lee? Chip seriously hoped not, but would life in that place be better? Not really, he thought. The admiral was in Washington. Hopefully, he would be able to come up with something. Chip sighed and returned to his reports.
December 16th, 2130 hours, UTC+8
Tomarin Kovitch gazed at the dispatch in dismay. He had received orders that made him the defense counsel for the American spy. What a good way to become a prosperous lawyer, he thought sarcastically.