A Matter of Time

 

 

 

 

Chapter 12

 

 

Crane stared at the treasure that was stored in the chest.  This must be the fabled treasure of the Orbe de Oros.    And he had found it.   As he gazed in shock, Lee felt his lungs burning and he grabbed a jeweled necklace before he pushed the lid back on top of the chest.  He would bring Diego tomorrow to help him.  For all that the caballero was a rancher’s son, Diego was becoming quite a sailor, coming out with him about half the time. 

Lee swam steadily toward the surface, bypassing the breathing tube, seeing by the increasing dimness that the clouds must be overhead by now.  Popping above the surface, he gasped in a great lungful of air and swam the short distance toward his boat.  The waves were getting choppy and slapped him in the face a couple of times before he pulled himself onboard.   Securing the breathing pipe, all the while perusing the distance from the shore of the island, trying to eyeball measurements for a return trip, Lee decided to try something he had also been working on—a buoy marker.  Untying the anchor rope from the back of the boat, he pulled out the cow bladder he had requested from the de la Vega ranch hands.  It was still taut with air and tied off, the neck also sealed with pitch and had lost nothing in transition.  He attached the end of the anchor rope and then tossed it over the side, hoping it would outlast the approaching storm.  

With that taken care of, Lee carefully put the necklace into a leather bag and tied it with a smaller rope around his waist.  Then he untied the tiller and turned the boat toward San Pedro.  As the wind was mostly from the south, it was difficult, but by maneuvering back and forth, he managed to go in the general direction he wanted.  At times, the wind filled the sail and made the little boat skip on top of the water.  As he drew close to the harbor, Lee had to cut the sail away from the mast in order to keep from ramming the Costa’s main fishing boat at its moorings.  The rain began blasting him in the face as Luis watched him approach with something akin to panic.  The fisherman took the tossed rope that Lee threw to him. 

“You waited too long to come in, Capitán,” Luis chided. 

“Sometimes you get so engrossed in what’s under the waves that you forget what is going on above them,” Lee said with a penitent smile.  “Besides, this is the first storm I have seen since I have been here and I’m afraid I got a bit complacent.”

Luis gazed at the dark clouds.  “It is a bit early for any storms of this magnitude, but it has also been a dry spring and summer, so we do not complain.  You handle that boat so well, or we would both be replacing timbers after this storm passes,” the fisherman replied with a relieved laugh. 

“I think there was a lot of luck more than there was skill,” Lee admitted ruefully.  Luis gave him a helping hand to the low dock, which Crane accepted, being less agile on land.  Together they moored the larger boat against the storm with stout ropes and then moored the Seaview II far enough away to avoid banging against the dock or the larger fishing boat.   Lee braced himself with the cane as the wind had become almost gale strength.

“You have developed strength in your arms,” Luis told him, shouting against the howling of the wind.  “Now, Capitán, can we go somewhere out of this storm?  Perhaps the nearby tavern?”

Lee nodded.  He wouldn’t be going to Los Angeles or the de la Vega hacienda until this storm cleared away anyway.  Feeling the pouch resting at his waist, he transferred it inside his shirt for even safer keeping.   Then he limped beside the fisherman toward shelter as the winds continued to buffet them.   He sat quietly sipping on a small glass of wine as he contemplated what lay against his chest and what remained on the ocean floor. 

Later that night, when the storm had ended and he made sure that his boat was all right, Lee took the gelding and rode back to the hacienda.   By then, he was so tired that even the pain of his leg couldn’t keep him from dozing.  The only thing that kept him awake was the passing of a squall line about a mile from the casa grande.  When he arrived, a servant took the horse and Bernardo helped him into the house and his room.  Diego met him at the door, his face a study of concern.  “This storm had us worried, Lee.  I was ready to ride to San Pedro when Manuel told me you had arrived.”

“Barely made it, but what I discovered makes it all worth while.”

“Dying is not worth anything, Lee,” Diego replied solemnly, even though he could tell that despite the tired demeanor, the American had something exciting to reveal.  “Let’s get you in some dry clothing, bring you something warm to drink and then you can tell me what valuable you found.”

“That apparent?”

Diego laughed merrily.  “Yes, Lee, it is.”

Soon Lee was in the library, in front of a cheery fire, drinking a mug of champurado with Diego and Alejandro.  He put the cup down and pulled out the pouch.  “Do either of you recognize this?”   He handed it to Don Alejandro. 

The old man opened the mouth of the pouch and gasped.  Then he carefully pulled out the necklace.   Diego leaned forward, his eyes studying the bejeweled object.  “Incredible!” Alejandro said in awe.  “This appears to be the property of a noble family.”

“Would it fit with what might have been on the Orbe de Oro?” Lee asked. 

“Did you find anything else that would identify the source of this necklace?” Diego asked. 

Lee shook his head.  “However, there was a whole metal chest filled with such things.”  He paused and took a deep breath.  “I had plans to salvage all of it, but only on one condition.”

Alejandro studied the capitán.  “What is that condition?”

“That the only thing that gets turned in to the authorities is anything you recognize as property of the Church.  I would not want to keep anything that belonged to a religious organization.” 

Alejandro smiled.  “But how does one keep this kind of thing a secret?”

“You keep most of it in a safe place for a hard time.”  Here Lee paused and hesitated and then chose his words carefully.  Alejandro still did not understand all the nuances of this time travel thing, even after Lee had explained it to him, but even he could see the ramifications of someone from a future time doing something in the past that might change that future.  “There will be a hard time ahead for anyone of Spanish decent,” Crane continued.   “This will help your descendants keep this land you have worked so hard to build, Don Alejandro.  I hesitate to give details, but you have to trust me on that.” 

Alejandro didn’t question the younger man.  With all the change that had happened in the past five years, nothing in the future would surprise him. 

“The jewels alone in a few such necklaces would be worth a fortune,” Diego commented.

“And that is what you can do.  Some of the pieces that seem to be of less value can be taken apart and the jewels sold or traded for what you need.  It appeared that there was gold in the chest, too,” Lee elaborated.   He smiled and took a sip of his chocolate.  “At least I will have paid you back for the boat and everything else you have done for me.”

“You know that we didn’t expect anything in return for helping you, Capitán, but it is most appreciated.”  Alejandro felt his esteem of this man increase.  Suddenly he was hoping very much that the friends of such a resourceful and courageous seaman would be able to find him. 

 

 

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“Harry, we can’t stay out much longer,” Starke spoke from the chair by Nelson’s desk in his cabin.  “That time travel device uses tremendous amounts of energy and we are almost at a point of having to return to our time to refuel.”  Left unsaid was the fact that as soon as Seaview returned to Santa Barbara, they would be pounced on by everyone from the press to the president.  You couldn’t hide a submarine for that long and not have someone ask questions.  Then he shook his head.  They could return to the future at almost the same time as they left it, or nearly at the same time.  The problem was that there were slight aberrations in the temporal placements of the timepiece that even Harriman Nelson couldn’t explain.  It was nothing earth shattering, but they had appeared on a couple of their jumps by as much as a month off what Nelson had set it for.  

Come to think of it, Starke thought, it was the last several jumps that had been off, each one wider than the last.  Could the timepiece be getting overloaded; becoming defective?  They had been making a jump a day for the past three weeks, working in ten-year increments from 1770.  Mostly they had jumped and then listened for evidence of Crane’s timepiece.  Then they had jumped in five-year increments and periodically sent Lt. Rojas and Seaman Morales on shore to listen for any evidence of the captain.  Surely if Lee Crane had shown up on the shores of California someone would be talking.   Then he began to wonder if their search was too narrow in geographical terms, limiting it to Santa Barbara.  It was then he realized how terribly difficult the scope of their hunt was and how incredibly lucky they would be to find the young captain if they weren’t able to pick up any emanation from the timepiece.

He returned his gaze to his friend and saw that Harriman was most likely thinking the same thoughts he was.   “Jiggs, are we just spinning our wheels?  Is Santa Barbara the right place?” Nelson asked.  “Or would San Diego be better?   And how do we explain the expenditure of nuclear fuel in the short period of time that we will appear to have been gone?” 

“And what about the growing variances in our jump coordinates, Harry?”

“I’ve been trying to figure that one out, Jiggs, and can only assume that something inside the time travel device is in need of replacement or readjustment.   We’ll have to go back to the Institute to do that, though.  I don’t want to monkey around with this thing while we’re in the past.”

“I agree.  So do we announce a return today?”

“No, I mean, I believe we can safely make one more jump.”

“Are you sure we can do this one more time?” 

“Yes.  There is an emergency canister of fuel pellets that will build the reactor’s reserve and allow us the safe time jump two more times; the one temporal jump and the return home.”   Harriman seemed to be agonizing over something and Starke thought he knew what it might be.  “And I think, Jiggs, that it will be our last time jump.”  He got up and began to pace the confines of his small cabin.

“Harry, you can’t mean that?”

“Jiggs, you were the very one who reminded me that my resources are limited.  Even I didn’t realize how quickly this device would use power.  We’ve been out a month and found nothing that would even give us a clue that Lee was even here.  What if we’ve been wrong all along?  What if he’s not anywhere near, either temporally or geographically?”

Starke could see how much this search and rescue mission had been affecting his friend and then he understood the wisdom of what Harry was saying, even as painful as it was.  It would be agonizing to know that they were leaving their colleague in hostile ‘territory,’ so to speak, but it would be brutal to keep on searching with no idea if such a search was even coming close to reaping anything of substance.  Right now, Starke figured that Harry had used more than three-quarters of his liquid assets on this venture and probably some funds that were not really his to use.   As much as people wanted to make out that Seaview was Harriman Nelson’s private property, the sub really wasn’t.  Oh, yes, it had been his fortune that had begun the project, his money and his good name that had allowed building to begin, but Nelson could no more have completed the project and continued to run his ship with his own funds than he could have teleported himself to the moon.  The Navy had several fingers in Seaview’s pie; several other government agencies were backing her, as well as some private backers.  They would all want Nelson’s head on a platter if they knew what he was using the boat for. 

Lee Crane was one man, important to be sure, but indispensable?  No.   He could be replaced and he would have to be.  Even Crane himself would agree with that.  “Where, or rather, when did you want to make this jump for?” he asked softly. 

Harriman perused his chart, gazing at the already recorded jumps and the spaces that indicated unexplored years.   He stood up and held his pen over the large piece of paper.  “I have no idea of the most logical last stop, Jiggs, so I am going to leave this open to providence.  I am going to let God or luck or whatever choose this jump.”   Nelson gazed up at his friend for input, but Starke could only nod. 

“And may God grant us a successful jump,” Starke breathed fervently.

“Amen.”   Harriman closed his eyes, held the pen a bit higher and then hesitated.  His eyes remained closed, but his fingers began to tremble.  Finally he let the pen drop. 

 

 

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It took three days to get most of the contents of the trunk to the hacienda, even with Diego’s help.  The unusual weather remained unsettled with intermittent storms rolling in the late afternoons or early evenings, so that curtailed their time at the site.   Lee was exhausted by the third day, but was determined to get the rest of the things from the wreck, so after a particularly stormy day, he went out again, this time alone. 

“Lee, if you will wait a day or two, I can go out with you again,” Diego suggested.   “You need some rest, too.”  He gazed at his friend, a puzzled expression on his face.  “Why do you feel the need to get all of it and so speedily?”

“I am not totally sure, Diego,” Lee admitted.   “Maybe it’s just so I can say I finished it; did it here, now and without technological help.  Maybe it is because there is something inside that says this is important.  I really cannot say.” 

Diego figured it most likely had something to do with Lee’s injury and the need to prove himself in this situation he was in.  “That treasure was there before you came, it will be there a couple of days from now.  This strange weather does not make it very prudent to go out that far.  Even Luis and his brothers are not far from shore with their fishing.”  He paused.  “I think we have been very lucky so far, Lee.”

“I know and I cannot explain it.  It’s something that seems to be driving me,” the American replied stubbornly. 

Diego believed him. He knew it wasn’t greed for the jewels, coins and gold.   They had salvaged almost all of those already.  There seemed to have been something driving the young captain from the time he began building his boat and it still was—a kind of nervous energy of some kind.   “I can go out with you if you wait a day.”

“I know, but I think I can go out quickly, get the last few artifacts and then return by noon.”

“Be careful, Lee.”  Diego felt something inside troubling him, just as something inside seemed to be driving his friend, allowing him to forget the possible danger. 

The next day, Lee sailed his boat back out toward the site.  His buoy was still floating, by now only barely above the water, but it wouldn’t be needed after today.  Quickly he put the reed pipe together, pulled off his shirt and pants, leaving only the makeshift trunks and then he slipped on the fins and mask.  The sky was overcast, but the breeze wasn’t too strong.  There was a yellow cast, but Lee figured that only a couple, maybe three, trips to the bottom would be sufficient to get the rest of what he wanted.   Even though he had found the treasure, he wanted proof of which wreck he had discovered.   He had never found anything that positively linked all of this to the Orbe de Oro. 

With no further thought, he splashed into the water and swam toward the bottom.  Perhaps an hour of searching later, he had found what he was looking for, proof that he had indeed discovered the wreck of the Orbe de Oro.  His pouch was full but he spent another few moments looking around the area for more artifacts when he noticed the increasing darkness in the depths.  With a feeling of foreboding, Lee headed toward the surface.  When he reached his boat, he had trouble grasping the side; it was pitching so violently.  A shrieking wind along with the yellow tinted sky told him of the quick approach of a major storm, one that would rival the squall that he had barely beat to the harbor almost a week ago.  

Throwing his mask into the bottom of his boat, he hauled himself aboard, pulled off his fins and cut away the breathing pipe.  Unfurling the sail, he felt the boom almost torn from his grasp.  Only with great effort was he able to control the tiller enough to turn the craft toward the shore.   In all his years at sea, he had never seen a storm come up so quickly, especially in California.  

 

 

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