The Little Army

 

 

 

 

Chapter 15

 

 

Admiral Harriman Nelson sat in the observation nose, watching the water sluice over the herculite hull plates as he drank a well-deserved cup of fresh coffee.  President Brakas sat beside him, tapping nervously on the arm of the chair.  He was dressed in camouflage gear, ready to go ashore.  Indeed, he had been waiting all night, but unusually heavy activity all along the coast had made that extremely difficult.  It would seem, from underground reports, that there had been an attack on several ground patrols as well as on a patrol boat.  Brakas had been delighted at the news. 

There had been no activity for the last several hours, but Nelson still felt caution was the better course.  His companion felt otherwise and was not remiss in letting him know that. 

“Harriman, I feel I need to go ashore now.  It’s already light enough outside to make the landing even more difficult,” Brakas huffed. 

“Laronne, please.  I know you’ve worked in the underground; you know your own country, countrymen and General Niros.  However, it would be devastating if you were killed or captured.  Let this latest unrest spread today and you can more safely go ashore tonight,” Nelson reasoned. 

“Sometimes I think you Americans are too cautious,” Brakas replied with a sigh.  “If I sit here too long, I might become used to the luxuries of your miracle submarine.”

The admiral snorted.  “I doubt that.”

“Admiral,” a young voice interrupted. 

Nelson looked up and saw Preston, the radio operator on duty.  “Yes?”

“This just came in from the Institute, sir.”

Harriman took the page and read it.  His eyes lit up with joy before settling into momentary puzzlement.  Looking up, he asked, “This all, Preston?”

“Aye, sir.  The message was relayed to the Institute and sent here without change,” the seaman reported.  “A response, sir?”

“No.  No one is supposed to know we’re out here this close to Tirea,” Nelson said offhandedly. 

“Admiral, does that mean that the captain….”

“Indeed, it appears that way, Preston,” Nelson interjected with a satisfied smile.

“Well, Admiral,” Brakas queried when the radioman had left.  “What is it?”

“It’s from the HMS Signet.  I’ll read it.  ‘We have your two packages.  We also have fourteen smaller ones for you to take care of.  Please instruct on disposal of packages.’” 

Brakas’ eyebrow rose considerably.  “Obviously Captain Crane and Commander Morton are safely out of my country, but what the devil did they mean by the smaller ones?”

Nelson had his suspicions, but he kept them to himself.  “I think we should go and find out.  They aren’t far from here and we can get you into your country tonight.”  Harriman smiled.  “Perhaps my men will have something that will be of use to you and your efforts.”

Brakas sighed and then nodded. 

Nelson got up and went into the control room.  “Lieutenant Rojas, set a course for the light cruiser, HMS Signet.   We had her on the scope yesterday and she shouldn’t be far off.  We can most likely identify with the sonar signature, then verify with periscope sighting.  Let me know when you have her in sight.”

“Aye, aye, sir,” Rojas replied.  

 

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

 

Lee Crane woke with a pounding headache and a raging thirst—and to the most welcome sight he could imagine.  He was on board a ship of some kind.   It appeared to be military escort or some kind of small destroyer.  That it wasn’t Seaview didn’t matter.  Also it didn’t matter that it was sickbay—for the moment.   They had made it.  The kids had pulled it off when he and Chip were unable to.  Chip!

“Well, my friend, I was wondering when you were planning on joining the land of the living,” a friendly, British-accented voice greeted him. 

Crane turned his head slowly, not wanting to give his headache reason to get worse.  The man had the look of a medical officer.  “My friend, Chip Morton.  How is he, Doc?”

“Ah, so that means you are Captain Lee Crane,” the doctor said without replying.   “By the way, I am Lieutenant Robert Maxwell, the chief medical officer on board this ship.

Lee wasn’t to be diverted from his question.  “Glad to meet you, but how is Commander Morton?” he insisted. “And how’s my crew?”

“Commander Morton is still feverish, but the bullet is out, the wound cleaned and he’s being pumped with antibiotics and fluids.”  The doctor’s eyebrow lifted slightly.  “Your crew?  Oh, right.  The children.  I quickly checked them out and they are all fine.  A bit dehydrated and in need of a few good meals, as are you and your executive officer, but all in all they are really a fit group of kids.”  He smiled again.   “Unlike their leaders….  At first, Captain; I thought you had a concussion, however, I think most of your symptoms are due to exhaustion.  You do have a bruised rib and are also under hydration therapy.   I’m going to give you something to allow you a more restful sleep.  How long has it been since you slept more than four or five hours?”

Lee bristled, but didn’t make any kind of retort. Right now, this doctor seemed to be in a good mood and he figured he’d humor him.  But when he tried to count the days, they seemed to flow into one another.  It was when the truck attacked, he decided.  “It’s been….”

“At least a couple of days, I would imagine.  I also noticed a couple of stitches in your scalp.  Fairly recent, too.  What was that from?”

“A truck with a nasty streak,” Crane said wryly.  He explained quickly.  “By the way, any chance of getting up, putting on something a bit more comfortable and seeing my XO and crew?”

“I insist you stay here for at least another eight hours—sleeping, Captain, then I will reassess your condition.  As to seeing Commander Morton; that I will allow, probably in a few hours.  I will allow your ‘senior crewmembers’ to come and visit you, since it’s been all that Captain Vincent could do to keep them from sneaking down here on their own.”

Lee grinned.  He wasn’t surprised.   “Thanks.  I would like to talk to Chief Meeka and Chief Stefan."

“So you really did give them all rank and duties?” 

“Just seemed like the right thing to do at the time,” Crane replied, hesitantly.  The last thing he wanted right now was to have to explain his reasoning from a time when everyone seemed to want to kill or capture them all.

“Whatever the reason behind it, Commander Crane, it worked and you are all alive; probably because of it,” another voice interjected from the other side of the room.  A tall, slender, brown-haired British officer came to stand next to his bunk.  “I am Commander Michael Vincent, captain of the HMS Signet.  Welcome aboard, Captain.”

“It’s good to be aboard, sir,” Lee answered sincerely.  He sat up slowly, not wanting to talk to his rescuer flat on his back.  The doctor scowled slightly, but said nothing.  His headache remained at a tolerable level.  “And I thank you for your hospitality.”   

“Anyone who arrived as you did deserves more than mere hospitality.  I believe in your country that would entitle you to a book and movie deal?”

Lee grimaced.  “For me?  Not in any country!”

Vincent laughed.  “May I chat with you for a while?”  He looked over at Maxwell, who just shrugged and pushed a chair across the room for Vincent to sit in. 

“I guess that means it’s all right,” Lee said with a smile. 

“It means that I’ve won a battle but not the war,” Vincent returned. 

Glancing over to the doctor, Crane said, “I promise.  I will stay put.”

Maxwell sighed.  “I think I will go check on a patient who appreciates my services.”

“If you’re talking about Commander Morton, he’ll appreciate them until he’s awake, Doc.”

“Well, Captain, where did you find these children?” Vincent asked.

Keeping to the most important facts, Lee recounted his and Chip’s adventures for the past six days.  When he was finished, Vincent just shook his head.  “And I suppose that would account for the reports of families rising up against General Niros.”

“By the way, would you like a report from your Chief of Boat?” Vincent asked.  “She’s been very worried about you.  Keeps telling me something about almost killing you.”

“Friendly fire,” Crane said, rubbing his chest where one of the stones had hit him.  He winced at the sharp pain that caused.  Must be the bruised rib Maxwell was talking about.  “She and the rest were only doing what I had trained them to do.”

Vincent nodded.  “I thought it interesting that when she was giving me her ‘introductory’ report she said you called them a, uh, and I quote, ‘a damned fine crew.’”

Lee felt a bit of heat on his cheeks while he tried to remember the incident.  After they had fired on him, when they were all on the patrol boat.  “I guess I was half out of it.  I don’t usually teach children such language.” 

Vincent laughed.  “I thought it was a fine tribute to what those kids have accomplished.”  He ordered a sailor to get Meeka.  

Soon the girl was standing next to Vincent.  She had been dressed in a British sailor’s outfit.  It was a bit long in the arms and legs, but it became her well, Lee thought.   Her countenance was still gloomy.  She gazed at the bandage on his head, but said nothing.  Crane was afraid the girl was going to start crying.  In all of this, there had been no crying.  “Report, Chief,” he said gently. 

“All safe, Captain Lee.   All but you and XO.  I ordered stones fired.”

“Chief, what did I say to you on the patrol boat?”

“You asked for report.”

“What else?”

Meeka paused a moment and then said, “You said we were fine crew.”

“Indeed I did and I meant it then and I mean it now.  I haven’t served with a more loyal and dedicated group in my life.”

“You mean that, Skipper?”

“Yes, I do!  All of you have been superb.  This crew’s bravery saved me and the XO.”

Meeka smiled.  “Thank you, Captain Lee.”  And she leaned forward and threw her arms around his neck.  “Thank you.  We free now.”

“Yes,” he murmured.  “You are all free now.”

She stepped back and gave a smart British salute.  Lee returned the salute.  “Orders, Skipper?” she asked. 

“Relax for now, Chief.  If there is something Captain Vincent would like you and the others to do, fine, but otherwise, enjoy your first day of freedom.”

“Aye, aye, Captain,” she said with a grin. 

“Later I would like to see both you and Stefan,” Lee said.

She nodded and left with the sailor.

The intercom sounded.  “Captain Vincent.”

He excused himself and went to the wall phone.  “Yes.”   Lee watched as the British captain glanced over at him and then replied to whatever information he had received.   “Of course.  Have them come along side, Lieutenant.”  He placed the receiver back on the cradle and turned to Crane.  “We are about to have visitors, Captain.  The Seaview is approaching below on the starboard side.  ETA approximately ten minutes.”

“Seaview?  She’s here?” Crane asked, incredulous.  Vincent nodded.   He grinned.  “Maybe the children would like to watch her surface.” 

“I think they would like that very much.  I will gather them on deck to watch and as soon as Admiral Nelson is aboard, I’ll escort him down.”

“Thanks, Captain,” he said and then surreptitiously looked toward where the doctor was checking out Chip.  “You know, I would really like to greet the Admiral on deck with my crew.”

The doctor straightened up immediately and pivoted to face him.  “Captain….”

“I’m fine, doctor, just a slight headache and some bruises.  I really would like to be on deck to greet my boat with my young crew,” he repeated firmly.

Maxwell threw up his hands in disgust.  “No dizziness?” 

“No,” Crane responded.  “No weakness, no excessive pain, no double vision….”

“Apparently you’ve heard all the questions, Captain,” the CMO said sarcastically.  “And driven another doctor crazy.  All right, get up slowly and then I’ll decide.”

Lee got up, pushing the insistent headache to the background of his conscious thought.  “See?”

“I see that you are still exhausted, but I concede.  Go meet your admiral.  I daresay that your ‘crew’ will look better than you will,” Maxwell said irritably.  But Lee could see a smile quirking the corners of his mouth.  

Crane looked down at his attire.  Standard hospital.  Not even the decency of being an orderly’s outfit.  “Uh, Captain Vincent?” he asked his British counterpart.

Vincent grinned, seeing the American’s consternation.  “I believe we’re close enough in size that you can wear one of my uniforms until you can get one of your own.”  He turned to the seaman who had been helping the doctor.  “If the doctor doesn’t need you, Barston, please go to my quarters and get a spare uniform.”

At Maxwell’s nod, the young man saluted and left.  Lee took those few moments to walk over to Chip’s bunk and study his friend.  He looked a great deal better than the day before.  “We did it, buddy,” Crane murmured to Chip.

“Yeah . . . good job, pal,” Chip said as he slowly opened his eyes and focused on the captain.  “But don’t try to talk me into any espionage assignments in the future.”

“Hey, this wasn’t my idea, Chip,” Crane protested.  “And those kids would have mutinied if you hadn’t been there.  We were a team.”

Chip smiled and gazed at Lee’s bandage.  “You okay?”

“Just a bit of friendly fire that raised some bruises.”

“Did I hear someone say that Seaview is here?”

Crane nodded.  

“Say hi to the admiral for me,” Chip said with a wan smile.  “And tell the kids that I think they did a fabulous job.”

“I will,” Lee said, as a sailor handed him a uniform. 

By the time the admiral had arrived by skiff, to the Signet, Lee had taken his place with the fourteen children on deck—in a British Naval officer’s uniform and minus the bandage.

 

 

Chapter Sixteen
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