Loloa Fononga:
The Long Journey

 

 

Chapter 8

 

 

“Chip, are you there yet?” the admiral asked over the vidphone.

Nelson looked tense, so Morton resisted making any wise cracks about childhood requests on long trips.   “Just doing a flyby now, sir,” he replied.  “They have no radio communications.”

“Keep circling,” the admiral said tersely and then related all that he had found out from Doc and Starke.  “Whatever Lee’s disposition right now, we need him to try and identify this mole.  I don’t recognize the voice, and Admiral Starke can’t pinpoint it either.”

“But you figure Lee can?”

“Yes.”  The admiral took a deep breath.   Chip didn’t think he was going to like the next part.  He was right . . . he didn’t.   “There’s a problem, though.”

“What?”

“Chip, I think you need to be ready for this.  Let me play it.”

“Yes, sir.”  And as he listened, his breath caught in his throat.  “I . . . Admiral, we can’t play that.”

“Just enough for Lee to identify the voice,” the admiral said. 

“That’s just it, Admiral.  Lee will know.  If you only play a half a minute, he’ll know.”

“We’ve got to try.  I will just tell him that’s all we have.”

“You’d lie to him?” Chip asked.

“With this, wouldn’t you?”  Nelson groaned.  “If it wasn’t so important to catch this guy and prevent him from selling out every other ONI agent, Lee would never know about this.”

Morton sighed.  “But who are we to decide something like that?”  He paused.  “What a hell of a dilemma.  I’m taking her down, Admiral.”

“Let me know when you’ve talked to Lee.”

“Aye, sir.”

 

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As they had so many nights before, Lee and La’ani sat on the beach listening to the waves crashing on the reef.  Her head was on his chest and she was listening to the strong heartbeat, lulled by the rhythmic rise and fall of his chest.  She senses, however, that something was not quite right, but she couldn’t figure out what it was.  Lee had not spoken for some time.  She knew that something was troubling him and she felt a strange sort of disquiet.  La’ani had heard rumors from the village and wondered if Lee had heard them as well.  While the people liked Lee, they were still distrustful of the motives of any mainlander toward her.  She had wanted to believe that Lee was the exception, and she knew that once they knew Lee, the rumors would go away.  It wasn’t fair, she thought, feeling tears prickling at the corners of her eyes. 

“I have to go back, La’ani,” Lee said, bringing her out of her aching reverie.  “When Mata returns I’ll return with him.”

Remembering her encouragement of just three days past, still she ventured, “Couldn’t you just send word?  Like before?”

“No.  Now that I’ve been thinking clearly these past few days, I know I need to go and tilt my own windmill.”  He turned to her and kissed her forehead.  That, too, had a different feel, as though Lee was holding back.  “And wasn’t that you who first told me to fight this?”

Yes, she thought furiously, it had been her.  She concentrated on the first thing he had said.  “Tilt your own . . . what?”

Lee smiled and explained.

If he left, he would have to come back, she thought desperately.  “You will come back.”

He smiled.  She could see his white teeth in the darkness.  They reassured her.  “Yes, when I can and we can correspond, too.”  Another pause.  “You have to get a communications center, a radio or something.  Words are fine, but the sound of a voice is much more personal.”

Despite the upbeat tone of his voice, she knew that he had heard the concerns of the people.  She wondered who had told him.  Na’alu?  Teva?  Sighing, La’ani realized that it really didn’t matter.  Sooner or later, someone would have made an issue out of Lee’s background.  It still wasn’t fair, her thoughts shouted. 

“And maybe sometime you can visit me and Meeka,” he ventured.

“And bring her to visit Hikeru,” she added.  Then with a cry, she flung herself into his arms.  “Lee, the people will get used to you.”

“I hope so, La’ani,” he said with a soft laugh.  “Because I do plan on coming back sooner than I did this time.”

“They will!” she said.  She reached up and felt the ring that had been too large to wear on her finger.  It was warm to the touch.  His hand covered hers and she felt somewhat comforted.  “They will,” she said more softly. 

“Just as long as it’s before we get too old,” he said softly, his voice more light-hearted. 

Lee wondered, though, as he held her close, what circumstances would determine the next meeting; just as he had wondered the last time they had parted.  They sat quietly for a while longer, listening to the rhythm of the waves, the soft wind in the palm trees.  Then Lee heard a soft whining sound.  It waned but he was sure he had heard it and he was also sure he knew what it was.  Sitting up slowly, not wanting to disturb La’ani, he listened more intently, trying to block out the sounds that had been so soothing and comforting before. 

“What is it, Lee,” she asked, feeling the tension in his body.  She had heard the foreign sound, too, but hadn’t been able to figure what it was.  He recognized it, though. 

“Shh!” was his only reply.  Then he heard it again.  It was unmistakable.  The Flying Sub!  He said as much to La’ani.  Then it came louder to their ears.  It was descending, getting ready to land nearby. 

“Perhaps they have good news,” she ventured. 

Lee continued listening.  The craft seemed to be circling.  It did for some minutes.  He was puzzled.  Why didn’t it just land?  Finally, it dropped closer to the island and then it splashed into the water. 

Teva rushed up.  “My queen, please come away from here!” 

La’ani laughed, but it was hollow, more to reassure Teva.  She knew that the Flying Sub was here to take Lee away.  He would go with it and she would be alone.  “No, Teva.  Lee says it’s his submarine’s little jet.  Don’t you remember from before?”

“Mmm.  The yellow boat?”

“Yes,” she replied.   A light was appearing from under the waves, coming closer.  It appeared as something eerie and mysterious as it came closer and closer.

Teva said no more about her leaving, but he didn’t leave either.  They backed away as the Flying Sub broke from the water near them and beached like some vastly overgrown outrigger. 

Lee approached as the engines powered down and walked to the rear hatch.  Banging on the hull, he heard the hatch wheel engage and he stood back.  When the hatch opened, Crane blinked at the bright light from the interior and then he grinned as he recognized the exec.    “Nice of you to drop in,” Lee said sardonically, still feeling the effects of his recent conversation with La’ani, but nevertheless glad to see Chip. 

“Good to see you again, Miss La’ani,” he said in acknowledgement to the young woman by his side.  He turned back to Lee and snorted.  “Well, someone had to make the first move.  That note didn’t quite cut it.”  He gazed at Lee in the light from the Flying Sub’s interior.  “You’re looking a great deal better than the last time you dressed like that.”

“The going thing now for desk jockeys,” he said sarcastically.  “Did they give you the ‘Lady’?”

Chip frowned slightly and then brightened.  “Yep, but I wouldn’t take her.”

Lee did a double take.  “What?  Are you nuts?  Who’s the skipper then?

Morton grinned Cheshire cat-like.  “You are, Lee, pending a new physical.  I’m only minding the boat until you get back and give credence to all the squawking we’ve done the past few weeks.”

Lee said nothing for a few minutes.  He should have known.  

Morton sobered quickly.  “Yeah, we’ve found out quite a few things.  It wasn’t just incompetence that landed you that ONI mission from hell, Lee.  And while revenge may have been a factor in the timing of that physical, it was far more serious than we thought.  There is a mole in ONI.”

“What?  What evidence do you have of that?”

Chip hesitated.  “Marcum got conscience after Doc phoned him and made some inquiries.  He sent the results of his investigation to Jamieson.”  There was a pause.  “Including part of a conversation.”

Lee was intensely curious now, as well as angry—at himself as much as at a double agent.  “The Republic?  And who was it?”

“Yes, we’re pretty sure it’s The Republic behind it.  As to who?  We aren’t sure.”

Lee looked puzzled and then comprehension dawned.  “You can’t ask Admiral Johnson because you don’t want to tip anyone’s hand there.  Bugs.”

Chip was elated, while at the same time still fearful.  This was more like the Lee he knew.  “Exactly.”

“Maybe I can recognize something from what Doc received.”

“The admiral was hoping you might be able to, having had more dealings with ONI than the rest of us.”  He paused.  “The admiral can direct it to the Flying Sub now.”

“Yes, that would expedite things a bit,” Lee mused.  He felt some tension in his companions.  La’ani was most likely thinking of what Chip’s arrival meant, but Chip?  He wasn’t sure.  Relief that he wasn’t a broken down nutcase?  A short while ago that wouldn’t have been too far off the mark.  Or was there something else they had found out?  Was Admiral Johnson involved?   Until he listened to the tape, he wouldn’t know.   Lee stepped through the open hatch and Chip and La’ani followed.  He sat in the pilot’s chair and realized then just how much he had missed all of this.  “Admiral expecting my call?” he asked. 

“Yes.”

“Your Highness!” Teva called from just outside the hatch.  Water lapped around his ankles as he stood there, seemingly at ready to come and drag her away. 

Lee found his temper flaring as he contemplated the connotation of the Polynesian’s action.  He had thought Teva a friend and now he felt as though he was a suspect in a kidnapping case.  Turning, he opened his mouth to give a quick retort, but La’ani beat him too it. 

“I am not going anywhere, Teva!” she answered testily.  She looked apologetically at Lee and Chip. 

With a sigh, Lee turned back toward the communications board.  “Let’s see if we can nail this guy.”  He reached for the throat mike and strapped it on.  Then he activated the radio.  Chip sat next to him while La’ani stood behind him.  Later Lee would remember the details.  Right now, he only noticed how comfortable he was sitting in this seat, working these controls, wondering if he dared hope that it could be his again.  “FS 1 to….”  He looked at Chip.  “They on Seaview?

Chip nodded.  “Yes, at the Institute.  Hadn’t gotten in when I left, but arrived only a few hours ago.”

“FS 1 to Seaview.” 

Seaview here,” Sparks answered, his voice uncharacteristically joyful.  “Good to hear your voice, Skipper.”  Then he cleared his throat and continued.  “The admiral’s been awaiting your call, sir.”

Lee gazed at Chip and flipped the transmit switch off a moment.  “You two had a lot of faith I’d be willing to . . . um, have anything to do with anyone.”

Chip nodded again.  “Lee, we felt that you only needed a bit of time and then you’d be up and fighting as you have every other time.”

Lee sighed.  “Chip, I’m afraid there will come a day when that won’t happen.”  He smiled softly.  “But not today.”

“FS 1, this is Seaview.  Are you still there, Captain?”

Lee flipped the switch back on.  “I’m here, Sparks.  Would you get the admiral?”

“He’s ready in his cabin, sir.  I’m switching you over.” 

“Lee!  How are you?  Switch on the vidphone.”

Crane complied and found himself gazing at an obviously relieved as well as happy Nelson.  Just barely on screen behind the admiral was Doc.  He should have known.  “You’re a sight for sore eyes, Lee.”

“Thanks.  Sorry it took so long to get back to you,” Lee said apologetically. 

“Lee, you deserved that time.  We just gave you some of that accrued vacation time.”

“Chip says you and Doc have uncovered a double agent in ONI.  That would explain some of the botched missions of the past couple of years.  Not just mine, either.  Chip also said you have a copy of a voice transmission?”

“Yes.  Not complete . . . but hopefully enough to recognize the other speaker.” 

A quick look passed between the two men in the admiral’s cabin but Lee didn’t catch enough to do more than wonder and then dismiss it.  He would remember that later, too.  “Play it.”

They did.  Lee listened intently.  Marcum and someone else.   The voice was very familiar.   He knew it!  But who?

Marcum, voice angry and strident:  ‘Why didn’t you give me Captain Crane’s background?  To administer a physical under those circumstances….’

ONI man.  The voice was harsh and openly derisive:  ‘Crane is dangerous.  I told you that!’

Marcum:  ‘If you mean dangerous to his men if he sailed in the shape he is in, he is only dangerous enough for a short medical or bereavement leave.  Do you realize that this is against all protocol?’

Other voice:  ‘Yes, I did realize it was against protocol.  A short leave was not an option.  The man is dangerous and needed to be neutralized—he needed to be gotten rid of . . . by any means necessary.’

Marcum: ‘The only threat I can see Crane offered was to an enemy.  Give me something more concrete than that, Commander.’

Other voice:  ‘Concrete?  You gutless wonder!’

The transmission suddenly ended, but Lee had determined who the other speaker was.  It was Hartfield, Commander Jonathan Hartfield.   He hadn’t liked the man since before he had become one of Admiral Johnson’s main staffers a year ago.  Lee wondered about what had been said on the tape—and what had been left off.

“Did you recognize the voice, Lee?” the admiral asked anxiously.

“I think so,” he said hesitantly, as he continued to ponder the message.  Then a very nasty thought came to him.  That nasty thought was followed by another.  He gazed directly into the admiral’s eyes.  “Admiral, was that really all of the tape?”  He turned his gaze to Jamieson.  “It had more of the sound of having been shut off.”

“Lee….”   The admiral looked decidedly unhappy. 

“Please don’t hold anything back on this.  There’s more, isn’t there?” 

“Lee, you’re not going to like this,” Nelson said softly.   He looked very uncomfortable and Lee’s suspicions grew.

“I already don’t,” Crane replied tersely.  “Look, there have been enough hidden things most of this past year.  Don’t you start, for whatever reason, Admiral.  I want to know just what I’m dealing with now.”   The admiral took a deep breath, still looking hesitant.   “‘By any means….’” Lee repeated.  “Does that mean what I think it means?”

 

 

 

Chapter 9
Chapter 1
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