The Little Army

 

 

Chapter 11

 

 

“Admiral,” Sparks began.  “A scrambled call for you, sir.”

They were less than five hundred miles from the coast of Tirea.  Nelson walked over to the radio shack.  He read the coded message without saying a word.  However, his deepening frown told the radioman that it wasn’t something boding well for them.  When he was through, the admiral turned and left, the message crumpled tightly in his clenched fist.  “Um, I’ll acknowledge receipt, Admiral,” Sparks said to the retreating back.  A grumble was his only answer. 

In the control room, Lt. Rojas was at the conn.  He was next to the sonar man, listening and watching the screen.  “Lieutenant,” Nelson announced.  Rojas jerked around abruptly.   “I want you to prepare for the arrival of the HMS Hermes.  Let me know when sonar has it in range and when communication has been made.  We will be taking on a very high ranking guest,” Nelson told him. 

“Should I have the guest quarters made ready?”

“No, Lieutenant, I want Captain Crane’s quarters prepared.  They are a little more spacious and fitting for the ranking of the individual in question,” the admiral replied evenly. 

“Admiral, may I ask who is coming aboard?”

Nelson sighed.  He might as well tell them now.  “President Laronne Brakas,” he said, reaching for the mike to tell the rest of the crew.  

   

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Crane looked outside for perhaps the twentieth time in an hour.  Still too early.  He sat down in a chair by the dining room table and a large, long-haired farm dog padded up to him and laid his head on Lee’s lap.  Absent-mindedly, he scratched behind the dog’s ears.  It sighed in contentment.  He wished he could feel so content.  Anna, the farm women, put Stefan to work around the house—cutting wood, handing her what she needed to cook supper, anything she asked.  Lee was left mainly to watch.  He had offered to help with something, but she had insisted that he rest.

Finally, the sun dropped behind the western hills.  Anna handed him a leather pouch with a strap.  Looking inside, Lee saw a great deal of food—breads, cooked and sliced meat, fruit, cheese and a bottle of wine.  Stefan received a smaller pouch, but Crane assumed that it had similar contents.  He threw the strap over his shoulder and thanked her with a smile and a quick kiss on the cheek.  She blushed and returned the kiss. 

She spoke quickly to Stefan, and then the two fugitives slipped out the door in the growing dusk and walked down the farm road.  Before it got too dark, the boy motioned to Crane, apparently relating what Anna had told him.  “Something ahead?”

Stefan nodded and pantomimed a vehicle. 

“Guards?”

Stefan shook his head and just motioned for Lee to follow him.  With a shrug, Lee did just that.  He studied the boy and decided that it wasn’t anything dangerous, or Stefan would have been more insistent on his understanding him.  They continued down the darkening trail, listening for the sounds of anyone approaching on the farm road.  They walked the length of the small valley and crested the hill on the far end.   In front of them was the dark shape of what appeared to be a large pickup truck.  Stefan motioned for him to follow and they approached the vehicle. 

Even in the dark, to Lee’s eye, it appeared very old and dilapidated.  Stefan dug around for something and then looked at Crane, visibly disappointed.  He motioned the use of a key.  Then it dawned on Lee.  The woman had arranged for this truck to be out where they could make use of it. Either way, he felt even more gratitude in his heart for her generosity. The tires appeared filled and with enough tread to do them for the night.  The bed had been patched with pieces of plywood, but there were no holes large enough for anyone to fall through.  No tailgate, no back window.   That was all right, too, thought, Lee, but there was the problem of no key.  He figured he could eventually figure out how to hotwire it.  Years ago, Crane had watched a buddy of his hotwire his father’s car.  It seemed to him, though, that if the woman had expressly mentioned the truck to Stefan that she wouldn’t make it terribly difficult for them to use.   Stefan continued to look inside the cab while the captain thought about the situation.  He thought of the pouch of food and he began digging through the packets and bottles.  His hands felt a small piece of metal and pulled it out.  It was an old key.  “Stefan,” he called out softly. 

The boy peered out of the truck and his jaw dropped before a large smile spread across his face.  His grin had to have matched his own. 

Lee opened the creaky door and got in.  There were no handles to roll up the windows, but Crane figured there probably weren’t any windows to roll up.  The seat was almost non-existent, but he perched on the frame and pushed in the clutch.  With a silent appeal in his mind, he turned the key.  The engine groaned, coughed and then sputtered to life.  It sounded like half of its spark plugs were missing, but still the truck was running and that was all they needed.  Now if it would just get them the twenty miles they needed to go, that would be great.  It would be crowded, but better than walking, especially since Chip wouldn’t be able to walk anyway.  He called softly to Stefan to get in and the boy tried to open the passenger door.  It wouldn’t budge, but with a slight laugh, he simply crawled through the gaping window and was soon sitting next to him. 

Lee handed him his pouch of food and gently pushed on the gas petal.  He had no way to tell how much gas there was as nothing on the dashboard seemed to work.  Below them was another, more sprawling valley.  They quickly crossed that at its narrowest point and crested another hill, below them, filling a large expanse to their left was a dark forest.  Chip and the kids should still be there.  As they lurched down the hill, Lee cut the engine and shifted into neutral.  They rattled to the edge of the forest and then just a few feet in. 

Crane listened for any sounds out of the ordinary, but heard nothing except for a few night animals.  Not wanting to make any unnecessary noises, he pulled himself out of the window, much as Stefan had done.  They stood side by side, listening, and then Stefan led the way to the refugees’ camp.   

 

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Rika flew into the camp, panting almost too hard to give her report.  “What is it?” Meeka asked, feeling panic trying to take hold of her.  She forced it down.  With the worry over the missing Captain Lee, Stefan and the XO’s condition, she didn’t need more, at least until it was necessary. 

“What?” murmured Commander Chip, coming out of a fevered sleep.

“A truck stopped at the edge of the forest.  Two people got out.  I couldn’t tell who they were because it was so dark.  They didn’t say anything,” Rika said in one breath.  “But they are heading this way!”

“Could it be the skipper and Stefan?” Chip ventured, sitting up with a soft groan. 

Meeka pondered.  Could it be after all this time?  They couldn’t take a chance.  “Dasha, you, Birnok, Gunnar and I will go to intercept these people.  We will watch before doing anything.”  She quickly translated her decision in English for the XO, but didn’t wait for his response.  The four children moved quietly through the forest.  They had practiced this during the latter part of the day and they felt ready for anything.    Deep in her heart, she hoped that it was the two missing members of their group, but it had been all day….

They moved quietly together, but when they were halfway to the edge of the forest, she motioned for Birnok and Dasha to move to the other side of the trail.  She and Gunnar continued parallel to the path, slowing as they began to hear sounds of approaching footsteps.  The two people were not trying to hide their movements.  She gestured for Gunnar to stop and she did the same, waiting.  Her sling was out, a stone in the small piece of leather inside.  She saw Gunnar do the same. 

It was almost too dark, but she could barely make out the two intruders.  One was quite tall, the other not much bigger than she herself.  Her heart leaped, but still she wasn’t going to jump to conclusions.  “Stop,” she called out in Tirean.  “Or we will shoot you.”

The two figures stopped abruptly.  “Meeka?” a deep voice asked from the trail. 

She said nothing, but was almost positive it was the skipper. 

“Meeka, it’s the skipper and Stefan.”

That was definitely Captain Lee, but there could still be a trap.  She eased around to the trail and slipped behind the two people, pulling out a pistol.  “Turn around slowly.”

Stefan faced her first and Meeka put away the pistol and hugged him.  The skipper turned and then laughed.  “Well done, Chief Meeka,” he said when she had pulled away from Stefan. 

She hugged him, too.  “I was very scared for you.  Stefan, too.”  Gunnar, Birnok and Dasha joined them. 

“Let’s go back to the camp and Stefan and I can tell you what happened.  Then we need to leave,” the skipper said. 

“XO is not well.”

“I know,” Lee said seriously.  “But I have some medicines that might help him.”

They soon reached the camp and Lee sat down near Chip.  As much as the light allowed him, he took in the XO’s condition. 

“Lee, you’re a sight for sore eyes,” Chip said happily, reaching over to grasp his friend’s arm. 

Lee grinned, then sobered quickly.  Chip didn’t look well at all.  “I got some antibiotics from a sympathetic doctor.  He would have liked to have come to care for you personally, but the government is keeping an eye on him,” Lee said.  “Someone have the flashlight?”

Meeka handed it to him and Crane turned it on to distribute what was in his pouch.  The food went to Gunnar and he handed the wine to Chip.  “You have to have something to wash the meds down,” he said sanguinely.  Chip snorted.  Lee found the bottle of antibiotics at the bottom and pulled them out.  He pulled out a couple of the pills and handed them to his executive officer, then he took the bottle back and opened it. 

Chip popped the pills in his mouth and took several swallows of the wine.  “I won’t feel a thing after this,” he said with a chuckle.  “Anything for pain?”

Lee did a double take.  “Since when do you ask for pain medication?”

“Well, Meeka said you two showed up in a truck, so I assume that means we’re moving.  And yeah, Lee, I’m asking for something to make that move a bit easier.”

“Sorry, didn’t mean to make light of your injury.”

Chip sighed.  “No, not your fault.  I shouldn’t have bitten your head off.  What happened to you anyway?”

“Guess that truck didn’t appreciate being deep-sixed in a local lake.  The door swung me into the body and knocked me cold,” Crane said with a slight chuckle. 

“Are you all right?”

“Sure.  Even the headache’s gone.  I only have a couple of stitches to show for my stupidity.”

“Skipper, everyone wants to know why you not come,” Meeka said as Lee gave Chip some pain medication. 

“The quick story, Meeka, because we need to move out,” Crane told her.  As briefly as he could, he told them what had happened to him and how he came by the truck.  After he had finished, he pulled out the map and spread it on the ground.  With Willam holding the flashlight, he showed where they were and where they needed to be by morning.  “If we travel away from the main road, it will take us a little longer, but we’ll be safer.  They know about us.  Well, they kind of know about us.  They think we’re some kind of fledgling army.  Men, women and children.  I don’t want any trouble.  I just want to get to the coast and get away.”

“So how are we going to get out to one of these pick-up ships, Lee?” Chip asked. 

“While he was working on me, the doctor told me about some inflatable rafts that have been placed in various locations near the coast.  The only problem we have to deal with is stepped up patrols,” Crane explained, pointing to the map.  “We need to get to the coast and scout out these locations and the patrols.”

Morton nodded.  “Okay, now that you’ve explained it, let’s get a move on.”

“Not so fast, Mister,” Lee said, laying his hand on his exec’s shoulder.  Antibiotics aren’t the only thing that doctor gave me.  He sent some antiseptics.”  The captain turned to Leela.  “Let me help you change the XO’s dressing and then I’ll help him to the truck.”

The CMO nodded after Meeka’s translation.  She, in turn, ordered her assistant, Mirko to hold the flashlight for her.  Lee unwound the bandages and was horrified to see how angry and infected the wound was.  Leela said something.

“The CMO said she ran out of . . . things,” Meeka explained.

“I understand,” Lee said softly.  He could only see that Chip wouldn’t last much longer without competent medical attention.  The infection, if it spread too far, or got into the bone, might end up too far gone to treat without drastic action.  He didn’t want to think what that drastic action might entail. 

“Get on with it,” Chip hissed. 

Leela pulled out the medicines that Doctor Rallos had given him.  One of the packets included clean bandages.  While he held down Chip’s leg, Leela poured on some of the antiseptic, using one of the bandages to clean the worst of the pus and infection away.  With a sharp cry of pain, quickly bit off, Chip grabbed a hold of Lee’s shoulder and gripped painfully hard.  Crane just tried to ignore it as Leela continued.  Carefully, and as gently as she could, the girl finished cleaning the wound and then wrapped Morton’s leg.  Lee bit off a strip of tape for the girl and the job was done.

“Sorry, Chip,” Lee murmured. 

“Nothing to be sorry about,” Morton finally gasped out.  “I just hope those painkillers finally kick in. 

“After we get to the truck, then you can sleep through the night,” Crane said.  Turning to Meeka, he ordered, “Get everyone ready to leave.  I’m going to help Commander Morton to the truck.”

“I’ll help,” Stefan said.  He had been strangely quiet since they had returned. 

Lee nodded and then he helped Chip to his feet.  The XO wavered slightly and then gave his commander a thumb’s up.  Lee stepped to his side and put his arm around his shoulder.  “Just let us take your weight, Chip,” Lee said gently.   Without another word, they left, leaving Meeka to organize the rest to follow. 

 

 

 

Chapter Twelve
Chapter One
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