I'll Be Home for Christmas--
by Sue Kite
|Iíll be Home for ChristmasóHopefully
December 25th, 0300 hours, North Pacific
Four men sat in the quiet of the closed off observation nose, silently nursing their respective eggnogís. Each drink had been spiked to the degree that the owner had desired. The captain, who was planning to go on watch in an hour, even though not on the roster, had opted for no addition to his eggnog. In the case of the President of the United States who didnít have to do more than watch the passage of Nelsonís marvel through the sea, the addition had been more liberal.
It had been a very difficult several weeks for all involved and for pretty much the same reasonóLee Crane.
As for Crane, he sat contemplatively, gazing at the dark, mysterious ocean laid before them, his drink ignored in his hand, his long legs propped up on the desk before him. "Still hard to believe Iíve only been on board for just a little more than eighteen hours," he murmured.
"Damned good to have you where you belong," the president assured him.
"Thank you, sir," Crane said yet again. He felt he couldnít say it enough.
"Itís worth whatever it cost to get you back, although I have to admit, the cost to me wasnít much. When I was briefed about this situation, I wasnít happy that you were moonlighting for ONI. Too many blasted irons in the fire, son. Stick to what you know best, Lee!" He smiled at Craneís discomfiture and then turned to Nelson. "A little more of that delicious eggnog, Harry, and without the added kick. Too early in the morning. Youíll ruin my reputation."
Nelson smiled and then sobered almost immediately. "Yes, sir," he said, pouring a healthy amount of the thick drink into the presidentís mug. "For the record I wasnít happy about Leeís involvement with ONI either," Nelson replied, gazing meaningfully at Lee. "And Iím certainly grateful for you giving me back a full time captain."
There was a half second of companionable silence and then Chip sat up straight. "Could you three back up there? Am I missing somethingóuh, sir?" he said, glancing at the president. Then he turned his attention to Lee, glaring at him for a moment. "Whatís this about ONI? What the hell are they planning on now? Didnít that experience in The Peopleís RepublicÖ."
"Hold on, Chip," Lee said, suddenly realizing that Chip hadnít been briefed. He hadnít been briefed on everything until mid-afternoon yesterday, and he and Chipís paths hadnít crossed much since then. He had just assumed that the admiral had told him. "Sorry, you didnít get the full terms of the pardon?"
"No, and I wasnít listening to the scuttlebutt, either," Chip said with another sip from his eggnog. "And there was plenty flying around."
The president answered. "I had to promise that Captain Crane would never again enter the Peopleís Republic for espionage reasons. In order to do that, I told Kocerin that I would make sure the captain was removed from the rolls of any agency that had been using him for spying purposes."
Although his friend tried hard to hide it, Lee saw a variety of emotions playing across Chipís face. There was silence for the space of several heartbeats while Chip gazed at him. Lee felt communication from those intense blue eyesóa communication that reverently said, Ďthank God.í Lee knew how Chip felt about his espionage involvement, but hadnít really understood the depth of those feelings until that instant of non-verbal communication.
Suddenly Chip glanced away and flashed a monster grin. "Hallelujah! Thank you, Mr. President. I donít think Iíll know what to do with Captain Crane here full time, but I sure will try." Chip got up and poured himself some more eggnog. "Anyone like a refill?"
Lee looked at him warily, shaking his head and sensing something more from his friend.
Chip raised his glass. "Hereís to ONI, which might possibly survive without Captain Lee Crane." He took a long drink.
The president and Nelson laughed jovially as Lee pierced Chip with a look that boded ill for the immediate future.
"Kocerin sort of addressed that during our late night chats," the president said contemplatively.
"Oh?" Nelson asked. The others silently watched, curiosity on their faces.
"Yes," the president began innocently. "He said you should keep a tighter rein on your boy there, Harry."
Nelsonís eyes widened a bit in surprise. Crane felt his cheeks redden in embarrassment, but wasnít surprised that Kocerin would say something like that. Chip began laughing heartily. The rest soon joined him.
"He really said that?" Nelson asked.
"In so many words, yes."
Then Crane pondered the events of the past few days. Still the only word he could come up with was miraculous. "I wonder how President Kocerin has fared. That was quite a risk he took."
"We can find out," said Nelson, picking up a mike. "The new news channel dotes on stuff like this and we can get the feed off satellite." He made the call to have the broadcast sent to the front porch and then he turned on the small monitor sitting on the desk. Sure enough, that was what they were talking about. Lee saw a picture of he and Chip at the airport and realized, in embarrassment, that there had been reporters in attendance. At least one, anyway. He fumed, but was glad that the only demonstration of their emotions was that big bear hug. Craneís other thought was that they could have at least asked, but then they began talking about Kocerin and he focused on events in the Peopleís Republic. To his embarrassment, Kocerin had divulged all of what had happened during that blizzard. The president next cited the centuries old code of honor among his ancestors that made it impossible to allow Leeís sentence to stand. There were some outcries among his detractors and some anti-Kocerin sentiment among the public, but all in all, Crane felt that Kocerin had handled it well. As they continued to watch, he saw that the story was certainly playing well in the states. Suddenly, the Peopleís Republic was more than some unholy evil or a patriotic whipping boy.
"Ah, Lee, the ladies are going to be on your doorstep," Chip said with a laugh. "They showed your best side with that recent Navy photo. Would you like me to hire you a bodyguard?"
"Yeah, from smart-mouthed executive officers," Lee fumed. He took a sip from his cup to try to salvage his decorum. It didnít help that the admiral was grinning right along with Chip.
The president ignored the banter, though. "Well, I told Kocerin that the press could be a very good ally," he mused. "I just pray that my other promise ends up being more than just hot air. Thatís the disadvantage of being a lame duck president."
"What other promise, sir?" Chip asked, setting aside his joking.
"To try to convince Congress to ease up the trade sanctions against the Peopleís Republic," the president replied. "I told Kocerin there were no guarantees, but I would do my best." He turned to Lee. "Perhaps you can help me in that convincing, Lee, if the admiral and your exec are willing to let you play politics away from the boat a little bit."
"I can spare him," Nelson said. "At least Iíll know where he is and that the only danger would be a few wind-bag Congressmen."
Crane resisted the admiralís joke. "Of course, Mr. President. I owe both you and President Kocerin a great deal."
"Lee, there is really only one person who made this event happen the way it did," the president said softly, his gaze penetrating. "You. By doing what you did during that storm, you set the stage."
"But, sir, if you hadnítÖ."
"If, maybe, perhaps, could have been, might have been, whatever," the president mused aloud. "There are many factors in this old world that lead up to the conclusions we pick apart later. Maybe itís something more than someoneís personal integrity or someone elseís sense of honor."
Lee felt the wash of embarrassment, but it left quickly as other sentiments floated through his consciousness. It was silent on the Front Porch for several minutes. Finally he was left with his first impression. "Maybe it was just something miraculous, something we arenít meant to understand," Lee said, his voice low with barely contained emotion.
"Maybe itís the season," Chip murmured, gazing at the tree blinking in the corner. The soft lights reflected off the herculite windows making it appear almost surreal.
"Maybe itís all of the above," Nelson added. And he began to recite:
"Like a bairn to its mither,
A wee birdie to its nest,
I fain would be ganginí noo
Unto my Faetherís breast;
For He gathers in His arms
Helpless, worthless lambs like me,
Aní carries them to Himselí
To his ain countree." *
Only the soft motion of Seaview could be felt, the soft sigh of agreement could be heard. The men watched the water of the dark ocean slide along the bow, and felt the wonder of Christmas sluice around and through them. The feeling was unbroken for several minutes.
Then a voice came over the intercom, "Will the captain please report to the wardroom?"
"Welcome home, Lee," Nelson added with a contented smile.
*Kate Douglas Wiggin, The Birdsí Christmas Carol.