The Little Army

 

 

 

Chapter Four

 

“What is S-S-R-N Sea-view?” Meeka asked.  “And Captain.  You are soldier?”

“Not exactly.  Like a sailor.”

“Ah, a ship.”

“Meeka, please, just translate as much as you can, especially the last.”  Lee continued to hold the boy’s chin in his strong grasp.  Two sets of eyes bored into each other.

Stefan quit jerking his head and listened as Meeka translated.  Chip heard the word Seaview in the conversation and knew she was trying to say as close as she could to what Lee had said.   Not waiting to see what effect the words would have on the boy, Lee released Stefan and shifted the truck into low gear.  Slowly they drove out of the town and into the moonlit countryside leading toward the ocean.  What had Lee told him--about a hundred or so miles from the coast?  They had already gone several on the motorcycle.  A couple of nights, perhaps, if they could hold on to the truck.  He felt his leg throbbing, but it wasn’t as bad as it had been.  Right now, though, he would welcome Doc’s ministration and fussing.  It was better than showdowns between an irate commander and a group of kids.  If that priest had only known what he was asking when he made Lee give his word to take the kids.   But what else could he do?  What else could either of them do?

Stefan began to speak. 

Meeka translated.  “Stefan says he has been in caves in the hills some eight or nine kilometers ahead.  He says we can all hide there.  He also says it is not big enough for truck.”

Lee nodded his approval.  “Keros—thank you,” Lee replied.  To the girl, “Meeka, ask Stefan to let me know when we are near the spot where we would turn off to go to the caves.” 

Stefan muttered after the translation, but Lee made no further comment, only concentrated on the dimly illuminated, pot-holed road ahead of him.  They rode on in silence for another half an hour, then Stefan said something and pointed.  Crane nodded.  “I am going to drive a bit further and then we are going to leave the truck.”

Meeka nodded and Stefan asked a question. 

At the girl’s translation, Lee answered.  “I have been thinking.  We cannot use this truck beyond sunrise.  So we will have to leave it somewhere.  If we leave it near the cave, we’ll be found.  If we leave it in some other place and in another direction, then the guards will not be able to find us.”  Suddenly he braked and brought the truck to a stop.  “Okay, I want you three to get the others and walk to the cave.  Make sure someone gets rid of any tracks that you leave.  I will get rid of the truck and find you.”

“Wait a minute, Lee,” Chip protested. 

“That’s an order, Commander,” Lee said forcefully, precluding argument.  Then he seemed to soften.  “Chip, you need to be with the kids, whether you were hurt or not.  The truck needs to be disposed of.  I can do that.”

“But will you find your way back?”

“I saw a couple of landmarks as we passed.  You keep a lookout near the cave and watch for me,” Lee told him and then added.  “I’ve kind of done this sort of thing before.”

“Lee….”

“Look, I’ll be all right and I have an idea how we’re all going to get out of this.  I’ll tell all of you when I get back,” Crane said, with a reassuring smile.  “Now go on.”

With a sigh, Chip eased out of the truck.  He, Meeka and Stefan called softly to the kids and when they were all out, he slapped the side of the truck.  Lee drove off into the darkness, lights off, slowly—then he was swallowed up.  The sound of the truck quickly disappeared as well. 

With Stefan in the lead, they walked up the hill toward the cave.  A child stayed behind and obliterated their footprints.   The walk couldn’t have been more than a quarter mile, but Chip was panting by the time they reached Stefan’s hiding place.  His shoulders and ribs ached from using the crutches.   When they reached the cave, and Stefan showed them the interior with his flashlight, the children gasped in wonder.  The ceiling rose from the low point at the entrance to a vaulting expanse at the back.  The softly hummocked floor looked very inviting, but Chip stayed at the entrance, waiting for Lee. 

After a while of staring out into the darkness, he felt a hand on his arm.  He turned stiffly to see Meeka gazing up at him.  “Please, Chip Morton, please come and talk to us.  We do not understand.  What will we do?”

There were unshed tears in the dark eyes and Chip turned from the entrance and sat down near a tiny fire at the back of the cave.  He hadn’t even realized that the children had built one.  Again, he was amazed at their resourcefulness.  That priest had taught them a great deal and it wasn’t just catechism.   Still, they were only children.  Meeka’s plaintive eyes continued to haunt him. “What do you want to know?”

“Who are you and Lee Crane?  He said something about sailor, but he is captain.  Captain say to priest that you and he are American.  You were in Tirea with president.  New president?”

“Lee Crane is the captain of a submarine called the Seaview.  We were….”

“What is submarine?  A ship?” Meeka asked. 

“It is a ship that goes under the water.”

When Meeka translated, all of the children gaped at him in awe.  “I have heard of sub . . . marines,” she said.  “And you?”

“I am his XO—executive officer.”  Seeing their puzzled looks he tried to explain in a different way.  “Captain Crane is the skipper.  He is in charge.  The leader.” 

Meeka nodded her understanding.  “Skipper.  Captain.  Leader.  Yes.”

“I help him.  I am the leader under the Captain.”

“Ah, understand.”  She listened to one of the smaller children and then turned back to Chip.  “Why are you here?”

He wasn’t about to go into all the nuances of political dealings and doings.  “We were asked to come to the new president’s party.  To celebrate.”

Meeka nodded.  “We heard today about the old leaders killing the new leaders.”

Chip shook his head.   “Some friends came and took President Brakas away to a safe place.  As far as I know, he is still alive.”

The children smiled softly at this news.  “Father Vincente said new president was good man.  That is good news.”

“These friends were not able to take us with them.”

“So you try to get out away on your own.  Where?   Ocean?” Meeka asked, pointing toward the coast. 

“Yes,” Chip answered.  They were sharp, he had to give them that.

“What will you do when you get to ocean?” she asked, her voice holding a plaintive note. 

“We will take a boat out in the ocean and our countrymen will rescue us.”

“You and Captain.”

Chip studied her carefully and immediately realized what was going on in hers, and subsequently the other children’s minds.  “No, all of us.  That is what the captain said he was going to do.”

“All of us?” Meeka repeated.

Chip nodded.  “We wouldn’t leave you.  Not after promising to help all of you.”  He looked deeply into her eyes.  “You heard Lee in the truck.”  She nodded, smiling at the confirmation. 

Stefan fed a small stick into the fire and muttered something.   Meeka began a translation, but Chip cut her off. 

“Why was the captain so hard on you, Stefan? Is that what you’re asking?”  Chip smiled as Meeka translated and the boy nodded.  “First of all, you were kind of . . . uh, nasty.”  Stefan bristled and began to speak, but Chip cut him off, too.   “Really though, Lee was only thinking of keeping everyone safe.  He could not do that if someone was trying to….”  How could he say that Stefan was in a battle for dominance against a stranger so that these people could understand? 

“Be boss,” Meeka supplied with a grin.  “Stefan always try to be boss.”

“That’s the word.” He looked at Stefan and then at Meeka.  “Something else to think about.”  He was about to explain that Lee was not comfortable around children, but then realized that wouldn’t help the situation any.  It seemed for the moment, that most of the children recognized Lee’s leadership, even if they weren’t happy with the captain himself.  “Never mind.  It wasn’t important.”

“Captain Lee say he have plan.  What is plan?” Meeka asked. 

Chip smiled.  “I have no idea.  I guess we’ll find out when he gets here.”  

 

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

 

Admiral Harriman Nelson watched in satisfaction as the new lab equipment was safely stowed on board the Seaview, even as he tried to rub the vestiges of a headache from behind his forehead.  For right now, everything was still boxed up and sitting in the lab, but within the next few days it would be safely stowed in various compartments for easy access when the crew returned from their leave. 

He was equally happy to have finally been released to return to light duty.  That flu bug had been nasty and he still felt a few minor effects, like this persistent headache.  But still, he was up and about, and eager to get back to work.   As soon as Lee and Chip were back from Tirea they would shove off.  The new equipment, when installed, would allow them to map the ocean floors with even more accuracy.  It would augment the refittings that had taken place several months before that had made the submarine able to withstand even greater depths than before.   He felt excitement building and like an inquisitive child, couldn’t wait for the next mission. 

“Admiral,” a voice interrupted his reverie.  It was Patterson.

He turned and faced the senior rating.  “Yes, Pat?”

“A message from the State Department, sir.”

Nelson frowned.  What he didn’t want right now was another politically motivated mission.  He took the folded note and opened it.  It was short and to the point—and uncoded, which meant that it was common knowledge.  ‘A military coup took place in Tirea.  President Brakas and heads of state safely out of the country.  Approximately a dozen deputies, Brakas loyalists and ‘enemies of the state’ were taken prisoner.  Use coded line for further details.’

Harriman reread the message and then cursed softly under his breath.   This meant only one thing.  Lee and Chip were in the hands of the former leaders of the country.  Guilt swept briefly through his body before he shoved it away.  Why in the hell had Brakas even invited him and Lee to his inaugural, he couldn’t imagine.  Just because the newly elected president had been on the Nautilus at the same time that Lee had, even to serving there for a while after Harriman had saved him from Niros’ assassins.  It had been an interesting experience and apparently Brakas had remembered it fondly.  Nelson sighed and then coughed softly.   Was this what the CIA was worried about when they suggested that Morton go with Lee in his place?  If so….   “Thanks, Patterson.  I’ll respond in my cabin.”

“Aye, sir.”

Within minutes he was in his cabin and at his vidphone, requesting hook up with the State Department.  After giving the secret access codes, he was connected quickly.  The face before him was familiar—the Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs Martin Edman.  Nelson got right to the point.  “What’s the status of my captain and XO?”

“First of all, Admiral, I want you to know that we are doing all in our power to get your men out,” Edman said, his demeanor composed and business-like.

“Cut the bull, Mr. Undersecretary, what about my men?”  Harry knew he should calm down, but it was a struggle just to keep from shouting at the face before him.  “And did you know this was going to happen?  Was that why it was suggested that Captain Crane and Commander Morton be sent in my place?”

“No, Admiral, I assure you, we didn’t.  We knew that there were members of the old regime trying to stir up trouble, but this?  No, we didn’t get any intelligence that this would happen.”

“Then what about my men?” Harriman growled. 

“I was getting to that, Admiral.  They were not among those captured and being held, which means they are part of the group listed as missing or at large,” Edman told him. 

“Are you sure?” Harriman asked, leaning closer to the screen as though to coerce more information.  He forced himself to lean back and relax. 

Edman backed away from the screen a couple of inches as though Nelson might reach through and grab him.  “Yes, we have been in contact with the underground and they reported that they were able to get about twenty dignitaries, including President Brakas, out of the country.  The rest were ordered to local embassies or to flee to a specified location off the coast.”  The undersecretary sighed and continued.  “It’s more sketchy as to the status of those individuals.  Most of the captured were grabbed from over-run embassies.  The underground did say that they told most of those they weren’t able to spirit out of the country to make their way to the coast, as they didn’t believe that the new regime would honor the sovereignty of the various embassies.  Apparently they were right.”

“And this location?”

“I will send it on the ultra secure line, Admiral.   I have said all I can say on this line,” Edman replied tersely. 

“This line isn’t secure enough?” Nelson asked caustically.

“There is always the chance,” the undersecretary said with a half-hearted smile.

“Yes.  Then I will say good afternoon, Mr. Undersecretary,” Harriman dismissed him.  He quickly cut the connection and then called his secretary, Angie. 

Her smile faded when she saw the gloomy look on his face.  “What’s wrong, Admiral?”

“You heard about the coup that took place in Tirea?”

She went pale.  “No!   Lee and Chip?”

“Yes, I will fill you in at the office.  Right now, I want you to send out a call for the crew to return to the boat.  We are going to head out as soon as everyone is back on board.”

“Yes, sir.  I’ll do that right away.”  She paused.  “Uh, Admiral?”

“Yes, Angie.”   Harriman wished he had a cigarette right now. 

“What about the sea floor expedition?”

“What about it?  We’ll be over the area when we get back from rescuing Lee and Chip.”

“I’ll inform the men ASAP, Admiral.”  A slight smile softened the look of anxiety on her face.  “They’ll be all right, Admiral.”

He nodded and cut the transmission, even as he was grabbing his jacket to go on shore.

 

 

Chapter Five
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