A Matter of Time

 

 

 

 

Chapter 10

 

 

Nelson found himself pacing the short confines of the observation room, trying to relieve his frustrations, which had escalated into a despairingly foul temper.  Starke watched without comment.  The rest of the crew, including Morton, who was at the con, wisely did the same.   Finally, “We’re missing something!” Nelson snapped.  “We’ve made how many jumps in time and space?   A dozen and a half?  Two dozen?  We have returned to the scene of Pem’s last crime, we’ve traversed thousands of years.   Pem had to have said something to someone.”

Starke continued to gaze out of the herculite bow windows in deep thought.  “Have you asked the men if Pem said anything to them?”

“Of course, Jiggs!  The chief and….”  He looked up at his friend with sudden inspiration.  “Why the hell didn’t I think of this?  Pem wouldn’t have discussed anything, or even let his guard down among the officers or anyone who might feel inclined to come to me or anyone else in the command crew.”  Then he paused, his previous upbeat mood deflated slightly.  “But still, if he had said something about what he was planning, any of the crew members would have come to me, or the captain, Chip or Sharkey.”

“Of course they would, but Pem might have muttered something in front of a crew member who seemed less significant to him.  It may have even seemed insignificant to whoever was listening; not worth mentioning to anyone else.”

“We suspend any more time jumps until everyone who was on board at the time of Pem’s last visit has had a chance to be interviewed,” Harriman declared, willing to try anything that might help them find Lee.  

 

Several days later, the admiral was again pacing in the observation lounge, this time because of the frustration of having something so within his grasp, but not quite reachable.   “Chip, I think we have the clues, but somehow, I am not stringing them together into a solution,” Nelson said to his exec, discouragement heavy in his voice. 

“Read off what you have again, Commander,” Starke suggested.  

Every once in a while, Chip noticed the men in the control room glancing their way surreptitiously, as though urging them to come up with an answer. 

“Well, several men mentioned that Pem seemed interested in Lee and asked questions about him, mainly about the working relationship between him and you, Admiral, as well as whether they liked him or not,” Chip began. 

Nelson nodded.  “Yes, that seemed to be obvious, but not obvious enough at the time to put two and two together.”

“Harry, there is no way of knowing at the time what Pem had in mind,” Starke commented, as frustrated as his friend. 

“Most of the men mentioned how stupid such questions had seemed to them,” Chip added, then looked at his list again.  “One crewman mentioned hearing Pem ask the skipper how he liked the weather at the base.  He wasn’t sure of the answer, but thought the captain had mentioned something about it was fine, except for the heat now and then.”

“I think that supports your theory about Lee being close physically, but now to figure the temporal part of Pem’s plan…” Starke said, almost to himself.   “We can almost surely count out anytime in the last couple of hundred years.  Once the United States took over the Western areas of the continent, Crane would have at least had someone with whom he could communicate.”

Harriman nodded.  “But when would it be most dangerous for him along the west coast?”  He gazed at Morton.  “Anything else?”

“Nothing really about the captain, but about the workings of the boat.  At least that’s what the men remember most—Pem poking his nose into everyone’s business.  And even that was mostly during our first encounter with him.  He was pretty busy with his cohort, Benedict Arnold, the second time around.”

“Admiral?” Lt. Rojas asked.  He was standing by the charting table.  Harriman hadn’t even seen him approach. 

“Yes, Lieutenant?”

“Sir, I . . . uh, couldn’t help overhearing Admiral Starke’s comments and I just thought of something.  It didn’t seem important at the time.  I’m still not sure if it is.”

“Miguel, I want to know anything, no matter how trivial it might seem to you,” Nelson said amenably. 

“Well, sir, I remember during that first encounter with Pem and it was so tense, you know.”  Rojas paused and then continued when the admiral nodded his encouragement.   “Well, I kind of got frustrated and let loose some pretty nasty language—all in Spanish, of course.  But, anyway, the skipper was with me and he, uh, kind of asked me what it meant.  He said he knew it wasn’t pretty, but he wasn’t that fluent in Spanish.  I was kind of hesitant, you can imagine.” 

“Go on, Miguel,” Nelson prompted. 

“Well, while I was getting up the courage to give Captain Crane the equivalents, I noticed out of the corner of my eye, Pem standing there.   It was below decks in a corridor.   He ducked back around the corner, I guess to avoid being seen.  But I did see him and now I’m sure he understood what we were saying. He kind of had that irritating smirk on his face.”  Rojas sighed.  “I don’t know if it’s important or not, sir.”

Nelson felt something clamoring in his head and felt that this was something important.   Why would Pem be interested to know that Lee wasn’t fluent in Spanish?   California.  Spanish.  Oh, Lee, forgive me— how could I have been so stupid?  “Miguel, I think you gave us the missing clue!  Do you know when the Spanish colonization period began in California?  I can’t seem to remember the dates.”

“1769, sir,” Rojas said, “Was the date of the establishment of settlements by the Spanish missionaries.  The Spanish government relinquished control in 1821 after Mexico declared its independence from the Spanish motherland.”

“Do you think that Pem dumped Lee in Spanish California?” Chip asked, incredulous. 

“They were very xenophobic, if I remember my history correctly,” Nelson said, suddenly excited.  “It wouldn’t take that much energy to make such a time jump and it would be a dangerous place for Lee.”

“Well, the government was xenophobic, Admiral, but the people were friendly for the most part,” Rojas pointed out.

“It would be the government with the power, though,” Harriman pointed out.   “And if someone showed up who was not fluent?”  He left any further speculation to the imagination of those listening.

“And there is also that period of time when California was part of Mexico.  About twenty years,” Rojas added. 

Nelson rubbed his chin in thought and began pacing again.   He stopped in front of the large observation windows.  “I think we have something concrete to work on.  And we don’t need to waste time.  Even a hundred years leaves a great deal of chance for error.  I think we should make an excursion to the beginning of the Spanish era first, then the middle of the Spanish era, the beginning of the Mexican era, the middle, the end and then we can fill in the spaces.  Even if we miss by a few months, if Lee is still alive, and if he still has that watch, we should be able to pick up something from it.”  He pivoted to face the assemblage in the control room.  “We have a rescue to pull off, gentlemen and this time we’re going to succeed.”  His voice was even, but everyone could see the excitement that gleamed behind the penetrating blue eyes.   And it became their own excitement.

 

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

 

Lee watched the doctor unwind the bandages holding on the splints with eager anticipation.  The six weeks had been entirely too long for him, even with Diego and everyone else helping to make it more bearable.  While the pain had not entirely gone away, some had and he pushed aside the rest as he hobbled around on crutches.   He had insisted on being able to get around only a few days after the duel and had cajoled, nagged and generally made a pest of himself until a pair of crutches had been constructed for him.   After five days in bed, the limited excursions seemed heavenly.  But even without putting any weight on the leg, he could feel that something wasn’t quite right.  All during that interminable time, he hoped that he was wrong, that it was just the difference in the injury, but he had been hurt enough to know when something just wasn’t quite right.  However, the idea that he might not be able to walk normally after his leg healed was something that he had also pushed aside—vehemently.  Lee wouldn’t consider that likelihood, although as time had passed, it seemed a more and more distinct possibility. 

Now, as Doctor Avila finished, and with Bernardo’s help, pulled away the wooden splints, Lee was anxious.   All the fears returned in full force.   What if….?   What would happen?   How could he live here or anywhere if he was crippled?

“Capitán Crane, I want you to very carefully move around so that you sit on the side of the bed,” the doctor instructed.  “Continue to keep your leg straight.  I will help you.”

With a nod, Lee used his arms to lever himself around until he was sitting on the side of the bed.    Avila was as good as his word and kept his hand firmly under his ankle.

“Now, slowly, bend your knee.”

Lee did so, feeling the tight and unused muscles violently protesting. 

“How does your leg feel, señor?” Avila asked. 

“Fine.  Fine,” he said quickly.  “Can I stand up?”

“No pain?”

“Nothing except tight muscles,” he hedged.

Avila looked at him quizzically and then felt along his injured leg.  He frowned when he felt along the lower part of Crane’s right thigh.   The muscles jumped involuntarily and Lee bit his lip at the extra jolt of pain that the examination caused him. “I want you to start out using the crutches and only putting a little weight on the leg,” instructed Avila.  “It has been six weeks, Capitán.  You have to build up strength in that leg again, or you will damage it even worse and then there will be nothing I can do.”

Bernardo handed him the crutches that he had come to loathe these past couple of weeks.  Lee took them and carefully levered himself up.  He had gotten quite agile with the things, so no one offered to help him, although the doctor stayed close to his side.  Cautiously, Crane swung away from the bed and then carefully began to put a little weight on his liberated leg.  Pain messages continued to shoot through his thigh and up his side.  He ignored them as he concentrated on being able to get up, walk, do what he had done before all of this happened.   He put a little more weight down and the messages became more insistent. 

“No more, Capitán.  It is obvious that all is not healed inside,” Avila said sharply, laying a cautionary hand on his arm.

“It’s been six weeks!  How long does it take?”

“In your case,” the doctor began hesitantly.  “I cannot say.  I wasn’t sure if there had been other damage than the broken bone, but there must have been.  This must be taken slowly.”

With a sigh, Lee sat back down and eyeballed his limb as though will alone could make it better.   Bernardo tapped him on the shoulder and he looked into the mozo’s anxious eyes.   The servant began signing.  By now Lee was almost as astute at deciphering Bernardo’s hand signs as Diego was.  The mozo was offering to help him rub the atrophied muscles and help him get back in shape.  He nodded his thanks.

“It is too soon to give up, Lee,” Diego assured him.  He had been standing by the door quietly, as had Alejandro. 

Lee sighed.  “I know.   It just seems as though it has been so long already.”  And he knew that Diego understood his dual meaning.  Lee wore the little timepiece on a silver chain around his neck at all times, but he was beginning to think that he was asking too much even of the admiral.  It wasn’t that Admiral Nelson couldn’t do something like put that other timepiece together, provided it hadn’t been immediately pulverized, but how could Crane assume that the admiral could just drop everything and spend so much time and resources looking for one man.   And yet, there was that faint glimmering of hope, that desire that lay at the bottom of his heart and caused the emotion for home to well up and almost choke him.  Home—the Seaview.  Could it be that he might someday see her again?  And then reality would crash in, as it was now and he knew he would be here for the rest of his life.   Although the de la Vegas treated him like family, there was a part of him that felt just as ripped away as he had been physically when Pem’s device had jerked him off the Seaview.

“Lee, give it some more time,” Diego said softly, only slightly accentuating the word ‘time’.  

And Lee understood what his friend was saying.  Time, it all depended on time.   He nodded and got back up again.  This time he swung on the crutches just as he had when still wearing the splints and bandages, and made his way into the sala.  He continued toward the door and Bernardo hastened to open it for him.  The air had cooled a little in the late evening; the sun having set while the doctor had been caring for him.  Birds sang their evening melodies and the breeze carried the scent of juniper.  There was also a hint of the ocean.  It beckoned and he turned toward the west. 

The three Spanish American men stayed inside at Diego’s direction.  “Dr. Avila, there is something you have not said,” the younger man prompted.

“I was hopeful, but I think there was other damage that either prevented me from properly setting the bone or that is separately causing the pain and inability to walk correctly.  To the knee, the muscles….   I really cannot say, gentlemen.  But he must be coaxed to take this slowly, very slowly.  There is a chance if he does that he will at least recover enough to lessen the pain and walk more comfortably.”

Diego nodded thoughtfully and then continued out the door to join his American friend.  The other two men followed more slowly.

“I have heard theories that swimming is very good for injured muscles,” Diego said almost off-handedly from just behind Lee. 

If Lee hadn’t needed both hands for the crutches, he’d have smacked himself on the forehead.   Of course!  Therapy in the place he most wanted to be.   “A boat would be nice to go out in to do that swimming therapy,” he said, feeling pleasure for almost the first time since his duel with Ruiz. 

“I have heard of such a thing as well,” Dr. Avila contributed from the doorway.  “But one could get just as much benefit from a smaller lake.” 

“No, Doctor,” Lee said, turning and facing the men who had followed.  “I am a seaman.  I love the ocean; it holds more for me than any inland lake could.   I have been told, jokingly, but I think there may be truth to it, that some of that seawater has seeped into my very soul.  The pulse of the ocean matches the pulse of my body.  No, Diego is right.  I need to work out in the ocean.   And I am going to build a boat that will carry me on the surface even as I take time to go below the waves.”  

“Just be careful, Capitán.  The ocean can be treacherous as well as nurturing.”  Avila had been gazing at him as though he were crazy.

“Indeed it can.   I believe, without sounding like I’m boasting, that I know that more than anyone else here in this hacienda.”

So it was that for the next few days, Crane applied himself to designing a sailboat he could handle alone; one that would take him out to find the Orbe de Oro.   Diego watched over his shoulder as he sketched, figured scale and contemplated what he would need.   He also watched as his Americano friend continued to attempt walking on his injured leg without the aide of the crutches.   It was then Diego determined to do all he could to help Crane achieve his goal of building his boat.   He was not surprised when the final plans showed a name on the side—Seaview II.

 

 

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