Foam on the Large Wave

 

(Fisi 'o e nauaoam)

 

 

 

  Chapter 16

 

 

The next morning had the feel of rain, so Crane knew it was overcast.   That would help them in the escape efforts.  La’ani confirmed it as the men set out for their fishing just before the sun rose.  As soon as the fishermen had left, A’ona Matua and La’ani prepared an outrigger for their journey. 

“You want me to do what?” Lee asked, incredulous. 

“You will handle the steering paddle,” La’ani said matter-of-factly. 

“But I am effectively blind,” he protested.  The word almost froze in his throat, but he forced it out anyway. 

“You are the captain of a sea-going vessel and you cannot follow steering directions?” she asked softly, with no hint of derision in her voice.  A’ona Matua was chanting softly in the background.

Lee was speechless for a moment.  Was what she was suggesting any different than what he required the navs to do when he called out the numbers?  “Of course, I can,” he said tersely, trying to hide his embarrassment. 

“Good, then we will go shortly,” La’ani declared. 

A’ona Matua had given him some of the same medicine she had given him the day before, except a somewhat healthier belt of it.  Although he still felt the heat of his fever, Lee was literally feeling no pain.  He heard the distant beat of an engine over the pounding surf.  “They out there?” he asked.

“Yes, it is time to go,” La’ani said, her voice tense.   She still felt confident, though, something that she attributed to A’ona Matua.  “Here, stand next to Atu as he pushes.  When I tell you to get in, do so.” 

Lee nodded.  He hung on to the aft prow as much for balance as anything else.  And forget helping the boy push the canoe into the surf, he thought.  A slight shifting told him that A’ona Matua was onboard. 

“Get in, Lee,” La’ani said, her voice close to his ear.  He staggered as the waves pushed against him, but managed with Atu’s help to get in.  He felt La’ani climb in and heard her paddling.  He felt the steering paddle at his feet and picked it up quickly, transferring it under his left arm, freeing his injured hand from the job. 

The small craft rose on the waves, lightly balanced, sleek.  Lee felt it slicing through the tops of the waves and was reminded of the Seaview.  He tried to push the little craft forward with his thoughts, but it needed scant help from him. 

“To the right, Lee,” La’ani directed. 

“How many degrees?” he automatically asked, but moved the steering paddle so that the canoe shifted slightly starboard. 

“Good, good,” she shouted.  The roaring of the surf grew louder and he knew they were navigating through the reef.  The noise grew louder and louder.  La’ani continued to direct him and then they were in open sea and the roaring was behind them.  A cool breeze came from portside, bringing gooseflesh to his skin.  Lee heard La’ani unfurling a sail even as he continued to hear paddling.  A’ona Matua’s strokes were every bit as strong as the younger woman’s.  He heard the rustling of the mandamus fiber sail and then felt the lurch of the canoe to even faster speeds.   “To your left, Lee,” La’ani instructed.  She was nearby and laid her hand on his steering arm.  “Just a little.”

“The gunboat?” he asked.

“Still checking the others.  The cloudy skies are helping us to stay hidden a little longer.”

The canoe continued its speedy progress.  As it rose and fell, Lee’s stomach gave a lurch, but he just clamped his lips together and concentrated on La’ani’s voice.  The sail billowed, telling Lee his steering was still true and he felt some small satisfaction.  Spray dampened his hot skin and he shivered, although he felt it was as much from excitement, though, as from any fever.  La’ani still kneeled in front of him.  She had begun paddling again, occasionally pausing to look around, Lee presumed.   A gasp made his own heart skip a beat.   “They spotted us?” he asked. 

“Yes.  Continue to hold the paddle.”

“How far out are we?” Lee asked, figuring the Seaview was keeping close to the three-mile limit.  “A mile?”

“Yes,” she replied.

Come on, Admiral! he urged in his mind.  See us!  He coaxed the outrigger to faster speed, but it was already hurtling along as fast as it could.  Finally when he began to hear the roar of engines, Lee could stand it no longer.  He ripped off the bandage.  The world was extremely hazy and the air stung his watering eyes, but even blurred, he could see the gunboat bearing down on them.   Hear its predatory roar.  Immediately Lee knew that there was no intention of letting them surrender.  Someone appeared to be at a large machine gun, but wasn’t using it.  They were going to run them down. 

“La’ani!” he shouted.  “You and A’ona Matua jump overboard!”

“But Lee….”

“Do it!” he bellowed.  “This time do as I say!  Now!!”

The old woman said something and both women leaped out of the canoe.  Lee shifted the tiller and the canoe slid sharply away from the two women.  Somewhere in front of him the water was behaving curiously.  Seaview!   But the ship behind him was bearing down even faster.  It had swerved when he had, as he thought it might.  They wanted him dead before he was rescued.  Adrenalin pumped through his body giving him a measure of increased strength.  Lee saw the submarine rise in an emergency blow with amazing clarity, but realized at the same time that memory and knowledge was sharpening what he was seeing as well.  Glancing over his shoulder, the blurred but horribly enlarged cutter was drawing closer and closer.  A hundred feet, seventy.  Lee took several deep breaths and dove, to his surprise finding use of both hands as well as his legs to take him as deep beneath the waves as he could.  He had almost cut it too close.

As the gunboat passed overhead, Lee felt buffeted, beaten as though in a gauntlet.  Roaring filled his ears and he was pummeled on all sides.  The booming of propellers above and his heart in his chest seemed to be all that existed in this moment in time.  A thumping sound, then the water seemed to erupt all around him.  His ears popped painfully and his body was shoved around as though by an invisible giant’s hand.  It was impossible to tell up and down.  His lungs burned.  He needed air.  Hot water currents vied with cold, metal flotsam, slowly drifting past him.  Up, his mind screamed, and he clawed for where he thought the surface was.  The water was chaos, his mind a maelstrom, his body past feeling anything.  Air!  It was the one factor that all of him agreed on. 

Suddenly a hand grabbed his shirt.  He was pulled past the flotsam, which still continued to drift past him.  His lungs were bursting and suddenly his head was above the surface.  He was gasping for the only thing that he cared about; the only thing that mattered.  Air!!  Thank God for air!  His gasps turned into heaving sobs.  He couldn’t get enough.  A voice was yelling close to him, but it was unimportant—only the primal need, air….

                 

                      ====================================

 

Chip Morton continued to scan the island through the periscope.  He had commented earlier that he felt his face had probably affixed to the device.  Nelson understood just how the XO felt.  He had spent some time leaning against the periscope himself.  It was just past dawn, and vigilance had been almost feverish since the message had come to them in the night.  Trap or genuine?  Did it matter?  They had to keep watch. 

Without taking his eyes away from the periscope, Morton rubbed the small of his back. 

“Let me take over for a while, Chip,” Nelson said, stepping up on the platform. 

“I’m all right, Admiral,” Morton said.  But his voice sounded fuzzy with exhaustion. 

“You’ve been at it for over two hours now.  It won’t do any good for you to be permanently bent over,” Nelson said.  “I don’t have to bend that much anyway,” he added wryly.

With a sigh, the exec relinquished his post.  Nelson stepped up and began scanning.  What they had designated as Bomar’s compound was quiet.  It was the village and the mountains beyond that most interested him.  That was where the signal had come from.  “Activity,” he said, knowing someone would be taking down all such comments for the mission log.  “About a dozen outriggers.  Appears to be fishermen, just like yesterday.”  He kept watching, occasionally perusing the compound.  “Here comes that cutter.  Again, the same protocol as yesterday morning.”  Then he saw something he had almost missed before.  A lone outrigger, manned by two, no three people riding toward the rugged reef.  Why in the world would they be going fishing in that direction?  Then it dawned on him.  They were using the reef as part of a diversion.  The fishermen were the other.  “Someone coming this way.  Outrigger, three people.  Two of them women, one….”   Could it be?  But the distance was too great.  He couldn’t tell if it was Lee or not.  “One man.”

“Skipper?” one of the crew, Riley, asked. 

“I don’t know,” Nelson answered tersely, still watching.  In his heart, though, he was sure it was Lee.  There was a bandage around his head.  The canoe shot deftly through an opening in the reef and one of the women hoisted a small triangular sail.  It caught the breeze and propelled the little ship even faster.  They were speeding at a very good clip and were well beyond the reef, perhaps a mile from the island now.   Then Harriman saw the gunboat.  It, too, had seen the single canoe and was roaring to meet it.  “Bring us in, heading 114.3, full.  Battle stations.  Gun crew ready aft--50 mm gun at my command.  Rescue crews on alert, main and emergency hatches!” he ordered. “Emergency blow!  Surface!” the admiral barked, still watching.  The man jerked the bandage off.  Yes!  It was Lee! 

“Two hundred yards, Admiral,” Chip called out. 

It was getting hard with the angle of the submarine to view clearly through the periscope.   “Starboard cameras, on the screen,” he ordered.  A visual showed in horrifying detail all that was going on outside. 

The gunboat was closer.  The two women jumped overboard and Lee changed the heading of the canoe away from them.  The cutter bore down on him.  It was Lee they wanted, only him.  And they were out to kill, not capture.  “Jump, Lee,” he whispered.  “Jump!” he said louder. 

“Surfacing!” Chip shouted. 

As though hearing him, Lee dove into the churning waters. 

Rescue team one was already assembled in the control room.  Harriman assumed the others were ready as well.  He hung on as the sub rose at the steep angle of the emergency blow and then fell back onto the surface like a breaching whale. 

“Rescue team, medical team, on deck!” Morton called over the intercom.  “Gun crews, blow that ship out of the water.  One shot only.  The captain and two civilians are out there.”

The teams were opening the hatch and on deck before the boat had fully settled.  Nelson was right behind them.  Water sprayed down on them, but it was ignored in the overwhelming desire to rescue the captain and his companions.  Even as he climbed to the conning tower, Harriman heard the gunners calling out trajectories.  Before he was on deck, the gun fired.  A single shell hit the gunboat square, tearing it apart.  Fuel exploded, further annihilating the ship. 

Several of the rescue crewmembers had already dived into the turgid water, dodging unignited oil slicks while other let down a life raft to rescue the women. 

Nelson almost dove in himself, but felt the hand of his exec on his shoulder.  “They know what they’re doing, sir.  And Lee knew what he was doing, too,” Chip said softly. 

“Been under too long,” Harriman murmured, feeling the anguish almost choking him.

 

                          ===================================

 

RJ Porter was in the mess room, drinking coffee.  He kept nervously drumming his fingers on the table.  They had been at the island since the previous morning.  What were they waiting for?  If they knew the skipper was there—but then he knew the answer to that one.  RJ knew it but it didn’t make him feel any better. 

“What are they waiting for?” Williams asked sourly.  “The surf to rise?”

RJ snorted.  Williams glared at him, saw the same frustration that was in his own eyes and sighed.  RJ sipped the coffee but quickly put it back down.  The two men’s previous animosities were erased by one commonality—the Skipper.   “You think he’s here?” RJ asked quietly. 

This time it was Williams’ turn to snort.  “If the admiral thinks so, then he’s here.”

RJ nodded.  “It’s the waiting,” he murmured, thinking how short a time it had been since the captain had interviewed and hired him as the Seaview’s first black crewmember and how quickly he had come to respect Crane. 

They both jumped when the intercom shattered the silence.  “Rescue crews on alert, main and emergency hatches.”  The gun crew was also called. 

The men looked into each other’s eyes and then raced for their respective duty stations.  RJ grabbed his gear as he raced toward the control room.  He was ready by the time he got there and saw with horrible clarity what was going on.  By that time an emergency blow had been announced and he grabbed onto the conning tower ladder as the sub went into a steep assent.  The gunners were climbing the ladder before Seaview had righted on the surface.  RJ was on their heels.  Water sluiced down the sides of the conning tower.  He was directed into the water portside to find the captain.  Diving in, he quickly adjusted his mask and began swimming through the flotsam and debris that had resulted in the quick kill of the gunboat.  He searched, diving deeper, his mind willing the captain to appear.  Then he saw him desperately trying to reach the surface one-handed.  With determined strokes, RJ swam toward the skipper and grabbed his shirt.  His legs kicked powerfully and they quickly broke the surface. 

Crane gasped and choked, then sucked in gulping breaths of air.  “Gotcha, Captain,” RJ shouted over the din and splashing of water.  Then he shouted toward the ship.  He inflated his preserver and began to put one around the captain.  A sharp gasp of pain caused him to stop.  “Captain, broken bones?”

“Dunno, right arm maybe,” Crane choked out. 

“Okay, I’ll be careful.  You able to breath all right?”

There was a slight nod.  “Would it help . . . help diagnosis, if I t . . . told you I feet l . . . like hell?”

“Yessir, it would,” Rashard said.  But then, Crane didn’t really need to say anything.  The man in his arms looked like death warmed over and the seaman knew that he needed the doctor soon.  He was appalled to think that this was the same person who had played baseball all afternoon that day several months ago, and then had had the energy to scandalize several of the older women when Tamika asked him to dance with her.  “We’re almost there, sir.”  Several men were hanging from a rescue net, reaching out.  He warned them about the skipper’s arm and then followed his captain up the ropes and onto the deck of the Seaview. 

 

 

Chapter 17
Foam on the Large Wave Prologue
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea Contents
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