The Little Army

 

 

 

 

Chapter 16

 

 

 

The admiral was piped aboard.  After exchanging salutes with Commander Vincent, he turned to Crane and the group of children.  It was as he had deduced from the message.  His only surprise was how Lee had been able to deal with this many kids, a couple of whom were still in diapers.  This was not the same man who had complained about Prince Ang and his behavior.   Nelson also wondered where Commander Morton was.  The message had spoken of both men having been rescued. 

He was also amused at the uniforms.  All them were in British uniform, except the very youngest.  Lee called the children to attention and they saluted.  Harriman returned their salute.  Lee made a quick explanation to the oldest girl and she, in turn, translated to the rest of the group.  “I must admit you all make a very striking group of seamen,” he said with a chuckle before turning his attention solely to Lee.  “Where’s Chip?” he asked. 

“He was wounded early in our escape from Tirea and is in sickbay, Admiral,” Crane replied.  “He’ll be all right, but he was pretty sick by the time we got here.  He sends his greetings.”

“Would you care to give me your explanation of all of this?” Harriman requested, indicating the children.

Crane nodded.  “Let me dismiss my crew first, sir.”

“Yes, good idea, Lee.”

“Chief Meeka, take the group to the ward room.  I’ll join you later.”

“Are we going to America on your boat?” she asked, pointing to Seaview floating serenely a hundred yards starboard. 

“That’s up to the admiral now.”

“You promised that we could go to America with you and Commander Chip,” Stefan reminded him bluntly. 

“The captain and I have to discuss a few things, then we will come and talk to all of you,” Nelson told the children.  Meeka nodded and escorted all of the crew below decks.   “Lee, you’ve put everyone in a precarious position.”  

“Admiral, let me tell you just what happened back there and then maybe things might be easier to figure out,” Crane suggested. 

“Let’s go visit Commander Morton while you do so,” Nelson said. 

Crane nodded and Captain Vincent escorted them to the sickbay, where they found Chip sleeping peacefully.  When Lee and Harriman sat down in the officer’s mess with a cup of coffee, Crane gave him the full story, as many details included as he could remember in the frenetic chaos that was the past week. 

When he had finished, the admiral nodded.  “Personally, I think you and Chip did exactly the right thing.”  He gazed deeply into Lee’s amber brown eyes.  “But I’m not sure what the state department will say.”  He sighed and then smiled.  “Bring them aboard.  If they have half the discipline you seem to have instilled in them, they will do fine until we get back to the states.”

“They already had discipline, sir,” Lee replied with a relieved smile.   “You did say President Brakas was on board Seaview?  Perhaps he could exercise some influence.”

Harriman snorted.  “Influence?  He claims to only have token influence.”

“Admiral, you are wrong there.  The people were ready for a more democratic form of government and they would like nothing more than for Brakas to resume the position for which he had been elected.”

Nelson rubbed his chin.  “Yes, but let me ask you this—where will these kids go?”

“Some of the men are married, Admiral.  Couldn’t they foster them until they are adopted into permanent families?”

“I don’t know.  That is a possibility, but I doubt you will get them back in an orphanage.”

“Oh, that’s a given,” Lee agreed. 

“We’ll talk to Laronne.  I’ll contact the state department.  We can always say we granted them asylum.”

“Basically, I did.”

“Yes, well….”  Harriman began and then changed tack.  “Let’s get you and Chip back in Doc’s care and your crew on board as well.  We have an appointment to get the overthrown president back on Tirean soil tonight.”

 

When Brakas heard the story, he burst out laughing.  “So you are the Little Army that has been such a thorn in Niros’ side!”

The children sat on the deck at the observation nose of the submarine, alternately looking in awe at the ocean beyond and their president within. 

“I suppose so, sir,” Crane admitted. 

“You have no idea of the total situation, do you, Captain?”

“Not really, Mr. President.  We were too busy trying to stay alive and free from capture. But I do know that most of the people we had contact with would prefer you back in power.”

Brakas nodded.  “Thank you.   Basically, the people are revolting in various towns and cities around the country.  They have freed political prisoners from the jails and conscripted workers from the labor camps.  They have enacted more reform in a week than I could have done in months.”

“I assure you, Mr. President,” Lee repeated.  “Our motives were purely self-preservation.”

“Does not matter, Captain Crane, what your original intent was, the result has been momentous.  When I am back in control of the government, you and commander Morton and these children are receiving fitting recognition.”

“And you are still going ashore tonight, sir?” Nelson asked, not really doubting the answer.

“Yes, I must.  Now more than ever!” Brakas exclaimed.  “This usurper must be dealt with and the right government restored.”

“I go with you, sir,” Stefan said suddenly. 

Lee gazed at the boy who had grown so much in the past week. 

“You’re much too young, lad,” the admiral protested. 

“Admiral,” Lee said softly.  “After what he’s done, I think he has some say in such a decision.”

“Are you sure, Stefan?” Brakas asked, looking into the boy’s eyes.  Then he nodded.  “Yes, you are sure.”

Stefan beamed.  Brakas gazed at the rest and then spoke to them in their native language.  He repeated himself in English for the Americans  “I only make this offer to the leaders.  Is there anyone else who wishes to return to Tirea with me?”

Gunnar and Dasha’s hands shot up at the same time.  Lee felt his anxiety rising, but he said nothing.  Despite his personal feelings, what he had said was true—they had earned the right.   They were no longer children, if they had ever been.

Brakas turned to Nelson and Crane.  “By no means will I be putting machine guns into their hands, gentlemen, but their presence alone will help speed Niros’ overthrow.  And I guarantee you that they will have families to care for them.”  He paused, gazing carefully at each child.  “As will the rest of them if they wish to return when the country is stabilized. 

“It is my duty to take care of crew until we get to America,” Meeka said.  “But I would want to go even if no crew came.”  She paused, turned and gazed intently at Lee.  “Can I be daughter to you?  I want father.  I want to have name.  Your name.  I have no family name.  No family.”

It suddenly grew very silent and in that silence, Lee knew what Chip had been hinting at before their escape from the Tirean shore.  The admiral coughed, Brakas smiled indulgently, but still no one said a word.  Even the littlest children were quiet.  Crane had never been so openly, innocently, and yet, sincerely flattered in his life.  His eyes smarted and he blinked to gain control.  Were kids the reason that parents were so emotional at times, he wondered?   Somehow, though, he found himself not minding that much.   He brought his mind back to Meeka’s question.   “You don’t have a last name?”

Meeka shook her head.  “Most of us do not.  Most have no parents. Like Arion and Shonna.” 

Lee figured she meant that most of them had been orphaned as babies and didn’t have last names.  He couldn’t imagine what that would be like.   All the children gazed at him expectantly and the admiral had the look in his eyes that said, ‘This one is all yours to explain.’   Like so many times before, he could only hope that he was saying the right thing to this girl who was on the threshold of adulthood.   “Meeka you can’t imagine what an honor you have given me.”  At her puzzled look, Lee turned to President Brakas.  “Could you help me in the translation?”  He nodded solemnly and spoke to the girl. After the president had finished, Lee continued.  “In the old days, immigrants’ names were changed to make them easier to pronounce or names were simply assigned to a person coming into the country if they couldn’t give their own.  When they ask you your name….”   Lee smiled.  “Just tell them you are Meeka Crane.  If there is a problem, I will explain it to the officials.”

She grinned back at him.  “And I be daughter?”

Lee sighed.  “Meeka, I don’t think that is possible.”  Her smile faded.  “Not that I wouldn’t love to have you as a daughter.  However, there is a kind of hard and fast rule that only those who are married can adopt orphans, especially from foreign countries.  I know there are exceptions.”  He paused to let Brakas translate while he gathered his thoughts.  “But they are very few.  I not only am a bachelor, but I work on a submarine and am at sea for weeks, sometimes months at a time.”  He wasn’t going to go into the fact that some of the missions were extremely dangerous and that she would not only see him very seldom but that she might even become an orphan again at the blink of an eye. 

“That is okay,” she said, hopefully.  “I wait.”

Lee was reminded somewhat of a Kenny Rogers song—Brandy— and the girl who waited in vain….  “But who would you stay with in the meantime?” Crane asked pointedly.   “You need someone to be with you all the time.  To help you with your homework, your problems and your decisions; someone to listen to you when you want to talk.”   He could see the tears form in the corners of her eyes and then spill over.   He leaned forward to pull her in his arms.  She began to cry, her breath coming in heaving sobs, her tears dampening his shirt.  Somehow, Lee felt she was releasing more than just momentary disappointment; this was something that had built up for years.  Several of the other children began silently crying, and Shonna, as though picking up on the emotions, began to cry out loud.  Arion joined her.  The older children and adults sat quietly, while Meeka vented her emotions.  Finally, her crying became softer and then ceased.  She pulled back gently and took the handkerchief the admiral offered her.   

She saw his wet shirt and looked chagrined.  “Oh, Skipper, I made your shirt wet.”

“I work on a submarine, Meeka.  It’s not the first time,” he said with a soft smile.  He saw quickly that his little attempt at humor wasn’t going to work this time.

“Maybe I can offer a solution that would be suitable for both of you,” Nelson said.

Everyone looked at him curiously, Lee gratefully.   The admiral studied the younger man for a few seconds.  “You actually came up with it, Captain.  You mentioned some of the crewmembers’ wives fostering the kids until they were legally adopted.  It seems to me that kind of arrangement could be made for Meeka.  That would make it much easier for you to see her when we’re in port.  And she would have adult supervision when you aren’t.”

“That is possible?” Meeka asked when the president had translated.  “What is ‘foster’?”

Lee chuckled and explained. 

“I do that.”

“If there is someone able to foster you, Meeka,” the admiral qualified. 

“And if you study hard, you will be able to attend an American college when you are old enough,” Lee told her, vowing to himself that he would do all he could to get her into one.

“I will go to same college you went to,” she declared.  “Someday I want to be Chief of real boat.”

“Not a submarine, but you can learn a great deal in America, Meeka, that will help you achieve your dreams,” Lee told her, his eyes showing pride.  “Someday, Chief, you will command your own crew and whatever I can do to help you, I will.”  He gazed at all the children.  “We’ll do that for all of you,” he added. 

“Thank you, Captain Lee,” she said, her head held up proudly.  Then she threw her arms around his neck again.  “Thank you,” she repeated in a whisper.  “Thank you.”

 

 

Epilogue:  When the Seaview arrived at the Institute, various state department officials were waiting.  Behind them were members of assorted news organizations.  This story was considered news with a capital N.    When the children gave their names, though, not a few eyebrows reached skyward.  Along with Meeka’s declaration of being a Crane and Leela’s strident pronouncement that she was a Morton, there were other Cranes and Mortons, and children who decided that they wanted to belong to the Nelson, Sharkey, Kowalski, and Patterson clans.  The admiral hastened to explain the situation and after a moment’s hesitation, the names were filled out as declared. 

 

 

Author’s note:  In my universe, I see Meeka not only going to Annapolis, but also being a captain.  Isn’t fiction wonderful?

 

 

Let me know what you thought. 

 

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