Loloa Fononga:
The Long Journey

 

 

 

Chapter 9

 

 

“I believe so, Lee,” came the admiral’s subdued voice.

“Play it all.  Please.”  He reached forward and turned off the vidphone.  He didn’t really want the two men scrutinizing him as he listened to what he felt would not just be a call for his downfall but a death knell for others.  There was silence.

“Lee?”

“Play it.”

The tape resumed.  Crane listened as the confirmation of his suspicions seemed to be played out.

Marcum: ‘What are you talking about-by any means?  This is America, not some repressive dictatorship!’

Hartsfield, derision and sarcasm even more pronounced.  Lee knew this was Marcum’s death sentence.  ‘Indeed, it is where one has more freedom to complete one’s agenda.  You are so naïve, Doctor.  Don’t you think the agendas of free countries are the same as those of any other?’

There was a gasp from Marcum.  ‘But why would Crane be dangerous to our country?  His has been exemplary service.  I wished I had dug that out before this damned physical.’

Lee snorted as he listened.  But still the horror gripped his heart and squeezed.  Ice flowed through his veins.  Okay, where was the proof that Hartsfield was an enemy agent, not that he doubted it for an instant.  ‘….by any means.’

Hartsfield: ‘I didn’t say to whom he and his associates are dangerous….’

Marcum, another gasp:  ‘This is inconceivable.  You didn’t arrange for Crane’s mother’s accident?’

Hartsfield, a short derisive laugh.

Marcum: ‘Who do you work for?’

Lee could hear the doctor’s understanding of what he had done and how dangerous it was for him creeping into Marcum’s voice. 

Hartsfield: ‘You are getting that fat bonus to keep quiet, Doctor.  I suggest you do so.  Crane is dangerous and has been neutralized.  And don’t forget this . . .’  The voice was almost an oily purr.  ‘I can make anything look accidental.  Good day, Doctor.’

The click of a phone line and a soft groan signaled the end of the tape this time.  Lee sat rigid, his eyes tightly closed, the words echoing around and around in his head.  He felt hot tears like lava, but he couldn’t let them go.  He would not.  He locked them in the icy glacier that was forming around his heart.   All the while, he vowed he would find and take down Hartsfield.

He felt a hand on his arm and another grip his shoulder.  Still he kept his eyes closed. 

“Lee, are you all right?” Chip finally asked.

He didn’t trust himself to say anything.  He simply nodded.  La’ani’s hand gripped his shoulder and he heard her stifled sob.  He couldn’t look at her, he wouldn’t, or he would feel that urge to cry with her.  Finally, Lee opened his eyes.  Feeling the slickness of a single tear, he swiped it away fiercely with his hand and gazed at Chip.  “I’m all right,” he assured his friend.   Leaning forward, he flipped the vidphone switch and saw a very worried admiral and doctor.  “I’m all right,” he repeated.  “Commander Jonathon Hartsfield, one of Admiral Johnson’s administrative officer’s.  I thought he was a weasel when he began handing out assignments.”  Crane smiled coldly.  “Apparently I was off the mark.  He’s a snake.  I’m coming back with Chip.”

“Good.”  Nelson glanced over Lee’s shoulder where La’ani was still standing.  “We’ll be awaiting your arrival, Lee.”  He leaned forward and switched off the vidphone on his end.  Lee did the same.

Slowly standing up and facing La’ani, he said nothing for a while. Tears streaked down her cheeks, but Lee steeled himself from their influence.  Instead he thought of Hartsfield and what he had done.  And Crane thought of what he planned on doing.  It closed off sorrow and tears just as surely as the collision doors sealed off the control room from the sea.  “I have to go, La’ani.  I have to take care of this.”  He reached over and wiped away a tear with a gentle finger.  “You know that.”

“Yes, I knew that even before you found this out.  I knew you would leave, Lee, but I hope that when you leave you will still have a part of my heart in yours.”  She reached up and touched the ring that hung from her neck and rested just above the hollow between her breasts. 

Lee reached up and covered her hand with his.  “Oh, La’ani, you most sincerely have.”

“Please be careful.  And come back to me, Lee.”

Suddenly, he didn’t trust himself to say anything again.  He could only nod, and then he leaned over and kissed her long and hard, pulling her close to him until he could feel the beating of her heart.  Finally he backed away.  “You are truly a queen, La’ani,” he whispered. 

She threw her arms around him, her face tight against his chest.  After a few moments, she released him, turned and fled from the Flying Sub.

Lee sighed and closed the hatch.  He stood for several minutes with his head against the cold metal and then he turned and sat down in the co-pilot’s chair.  

Chip gazed at him, wanting to console his friend but not knowing just what to say.   Somehow he felt as though Lee had lost not one person, but two.   "You sure you don't want to pilot her?"

"Maybe later, Chip."  Lee's voice was subdued.  It was a voice filled with infinite sadness, a gut-wrenching sorrow; and Chip knew it had more than one source.  He also suspected that it was held in check by anger. 

Chip did the pre-flight checks.  He paused a moment to look through the bow windows into the darkness before he continued.  With a flip of a switch the reactor engines powered up and Chip pulled the Flying Sub’s throttle into reverse.  With skill and deftness, he maneuvered the saucer into a deep enough channel and there began the takeoff.  Soon they were in the air, the skipping of the little craft minimal and the ascent sharp but smooth. 

"You didn't really answered La'ani's question, Lee," Chip finally said quietly. 

"Question?"

"Well, it really wasn't a question, but when she told you to come back, it was as though you couldn’t answer her request.  Couldn’t commit."  

Lee took a deep breath.  "I can't, Chip."

"Can't commit, can’t answer, or can't come back?" Chip asked softly as they soared into the darkness. 

"Can't come back, Chip."  Lee's breath caught in his throat.   "If my enemies can kill an innocent like my mother....   Chip, he killed my mother because of me!  I can't let anyone else die . . . because of me."

"Lee, we'll catch Hartsfield.  We'll find out who his boss is..."

"And then I'll have a rollicking long distance relationship with a woman who thinks, with Polynesian pragmatism, that I'll always come back."

"How often do you think any of the married men see their wives?" Chip argued. 

"Come on, Chip, you're grabbing."

Chip set the autopilot and turned to his companion.  "Lee, do you really love her as much as I think you do?"

"I care for her enough to keep her safe," Lee replied. 

"You are not answering my question.  Do you love her?"

Lee said nothing for several moments.  "I have spent the past week asking myself the same question."

"And what answer have you come up with?"  There was only silence.  "Lee, I could see something in your eyes that I have not seen before."

Lee shook his head.  "When I got that damned letter, I didn’t know what to do.  The Chief asked me where I was going.  I really didn’t know.  I packed a few things, went to the airport and stood there in the terminal wondering where the hell I was going to go.  I found myself in a line, buying a ticket.” 

“With cash, apparently,” Chip interjected. 

“Was it?  I guess I did.  I remember vaguely that I didn’t want to use my credit card.” 

Chip nodded in understanding.  “Can’t say as I blame you, buddy.  I think I’d want to be left alone for awhile, too.”

Lee gave him a look of gratitude.  “Anyway, I found myself on American Samoa and then the decision to go to Hikeru just hit me.  I didn't even wonder why.  I just did and when I got here—there, it seemed right.    There’s so much I don’t remember after I left the Seaview; like I was in some kind of stupor or daze.   When I got to Hikeru--when La'ani greeted me, it was as though I woke up.  As though she woke me up.”  He gazed into Chip's eyes.  “Does that make sense?”

“Perfect sense, Lee.”  He thought of some of his past relationships and of regrets in not following through on one in particular. 

"She wanted me to go back to Santa Barbara and fight what happened.  She didn't try to convince me to stay on Hikeru."

"How do you feel about her, Lee?”  Chip thought he already knew the answer, even if Lee couldn’t verbalize it.

Gazing out the bow window, Lee said so softly that Chip had to listen closely, "Like she holds a part of my soul back on that island.  And to answer your question—yes, I do love her."  He rubbed a hand across his eyes.  "But I have to think of Meeka, too.  I haven't given her what she needs and wants." 

“You don’t think you have enough love for both of them?” Chip ventured. 

Lee laughed.  “Not love, Chip.  Time!  You don’t develop a relationship by spending a week or two out of the year with someone.”    He paused and then his features became hard.  "And then there's Hartsfield."

"Well, we're going back to take care of that."

Lee nodded.  "I think I'm ready to take the controls, Chip."

Morton just smiled and flipped a couple of switches that would give control of the small craft to the skipper.  "Happy flying."

They flew in silence for a while, then Lee checked the course, making changes that while subtle, were indicative that he was not planning to return directly to Seaview. 

"Where are you taking us, Skipper?" Chip asked, concerned.

"Suitland."  Crane stared straight ahead at the instrument panel.

That startled Chip, but it wasn’t something unexpected.  He figured Lee would head east rather quickly, just not this quickly.   "ONI headquarters?"

"Yes."

"What are we going to do when we get there?"

"We?" Lee asked, finally looking into his exec's face.  "I am going to find Hartsfield and kill him."

"I'm not sure that Admiral Johnson would quite approve of you marching into the main offices and gunning one of his men down."  Chip was not happy with this line of talk.  He didn't blame Lee one bit, but he knew what the result would be of such a simple solution. 

Crane laughed derisively.  "Don't have a gun.  Don't think I need one."

"Hard to hide one in a lava-lava anyway," Chip observed, trying to lighten the deathly somber mood of his commander.

Lee glanced down in chagrin.  He had totally forgotten his state of dress. 

Chip couldn't help it; he began to laugh. 

Lee looked annoyed, but said nothing.  His mouth twitched but didn't allow any smile.  "Okay, Commander, what do you suggest?  Because I have no plans...." He paused to check the rate of fuel consumption.  "....of making any detours to the Institute."

Morton continued to chuckle.  "Well, we knew you hadn't brought any uniforms with you...."

"What?  You cased my apartment?"

"Guilty as charged, Lee.  We were worried about you.  You hadn't left any kind of word as to where you were going and well...."

"Wouldn't have mattered much anyway, since I didn't bring my luggage with me," Crane admitted. 

"So there's a uniform in the locker you can change into."

Crane looked into his exec's smiling face and then he half-smiled.  He shook his head.  "Thanks, Chip."

"Well, I knew you would most likely want to go back to the mainland in uniform."

Nodding, Lee continued flying, not saying any more.

Morton fell silent as well for a while.  He wondered just exactly what Lee would do when he got to the ONI headquarters outside of DC.  Somehow, he felt that Lee meant what he said and Chip had to make sure that he didn't follow through.

"You know I'm a bit worried."

"About what?" Lee asked. 

"I made a vow with myself," the exec said seriously. 

"What kind of vow?" Lee asked hesitantly.  Chip was using his beat around the bush concern tactic.  He wasn't about to be deterred from his goal--get Hartsfield.

Chip took a deep breath.  "I vowed to get to get you back on the Gray Lady."

Crane said nothing, knowing that little needed to be said.  Yes, he did want to be back on board.  "But....   You know I have to do this."

"I just don't want to have to testify in your behalf at a murder trial, Lee."

With a sigh, Lee shook his head.  "I know what I said earlier, Chip and there is nothing more I would love to do than to put my hands around Hartsfield's neck and just squeeze the life out of him, but I know the repercussions as well as you do."  He looked deeply into his friend's intense blue eyes.  He saw only concern in them.  "I will try my best to avoid anything that would land me in a Suitland jail, Chip, but I have to confront Hartsfield.  You know that."

 

 

 

Chapter 10
Chapter 1
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea Contents
Main Page