Chapter 11

 

 

Crane sat up slowly and immediately noticed that someone had dressed him in a clean uniform and a flight jacket.  He watched the crystal blue sky through the Flying Sub’s front windows and wondered how close they were to their destination. 

<Only a half an hour, Lee>  Krilore responded.  <Your crew was very quick to follow your orders>

Lee saw Sharkey piloting, Chip in the co-pilot’s seat and Riley and Doc in the seats behind.  All were armed with laser pistols.  There was one hanging from the side of the bunk.   He reached for it and snapped the belt around his waist.  When he looked back up, he saw Doc and Riley gazing at him. 

“Welcome back to the land of the living, Captain,” Doc said with the barest hint of a smile.  It was obvious that he was pleased to see Crane up and totally aware of what was going on.

Chip turned in his seat and grinned, not saying anything, but just giving a thumb’s up.  “The cavalry will soon be at the fort, Lee.  You and Krilore ready to mount up?”  Anticipation lit the bright blue eyes; overshadowing the fatigue that Lee could see on his friend’s face.  

Despite his anxiety and uncertainty, Lee couldn’t help but feel Chip’s optimism.  Smiling, he slid off the bunk and sat down in the extra seat next to Doc.  From his new vantage, he could see the white vista below, only broken by small hillocks and mounds of drifted snow.  In the distance a large mountain loomed and Crane knew that was their destination. 

<I am happy to be returning to my own people, and yet, I fear for Neelis>

By any other name, a mother, Krilore, Lee replied with humor.   Then he sobered.  There is something nagging at me.  Something that I feel I should be figuring out.

<I feel the same way, Lee>

Crane decided to let it drop for the moment.  Did the bonding go all right?  I don’t remember most of it.

<It went fine.  Neelis has all the memories of the ancestors who had bonded and passed their remembrances and characteristics on to me>

Including Neelissen?

<Yes>   Then Krilore was silent and Lee wondered if he had caused her any pain.    <The pain of his death was already there, Lee.  It is good and bad.  He was a very good partner in our hard times and the memories of his wisdom and strength are what have kept me alive and kept me struggling>

And now you have someone else who holds those memories and characteristics, Lee said softly.

<Yes>  She let her thought hang for a moment before letting it go and Lee wondered what else she might have been thinking of saying.  

“Skipper, we are getting hailed by the camp,” Sharkey announced. 

Chip glanced at him and Lee simply nodded.  “FS-1 to base, come in,” Chip said. 

There was the click, screech of the host language and then the admiral’s voice.  “Commander Morton, there is a smooth stretch twenty-eight degrees west of the camp site that you can land on,” Nelson said. 

“Aye, sir,” Chip answered.  “ETA in three minutes.”

“Good.”   The communication switched off and Lee was left wondering again.  Apparently, Chip had some thoughts of his own, because his eyes met the captain’s.  Again, Crane felt that uneasy feeling that they were walking into a lion’s den.   “Bring her down easy, Chief.”

“Of course, Skipper,” Sharkey said brightly. 

Crane could see the tension building in the COB’s shoulders, though and his knuckles whitening around the control sticks.  Landing the Flying Sub was always much more tricky on land, and even though the landing gear had been changed to accommodate the ground conditions, it was still touch and go.   Sharkey, for all his anxiety, made an almost perfect landing, only having a little trouble with a bit of gusting wind.  After the engines had been powered down, Lee got up.  The rest followed suit.   Crane gazed at the supplies that had been secured in the storage areas.  They would divide them up and carry everything to the base themselves.  He didn’t want the other **vreestrich monkeying around inside the Flying Sub.  No offense, Krilore.

<None taken, Lee.  Not knowing what is going on at the base, that is a wise precaution>

“Riley, split this up between us.”  Crane looked up at Sharkey.  “But I want you to have your hands free to play shotgun, Chief.” 

The chief just nodded and put on his parka.  The rest did the same.  Riley passed out the materials.  Thankfully nothing was terribly heavy.  As Crane was bending to pick up his load, he had a sudden thought and turned toward the arms locker.  He pulled out another weapon and replaced the laser weapon with it, then he picked up the supplies.  Chip watched him curiously, but Lee didn’t venture to explain and the exec turned away to undog the aft hatch.  

When they got out into the bitter cold, they saw several figures coming toward them about a quarter mile off, not all of them human.   One of them could have been the admiral, Lee thought, watching the approaching party.   It was hard to tell for sure with the glare of the sun in their eyes, along with the bulky parkas the approaching party was wearing. 

As the two groups approached one another, Crane could see that the admiral was indeed with them.  There were three humans and two hosts in protective gear along with their **vreestrich companions.  The admiral looked well, in the physical sense.  Until Lee could talk to him, he couldn't be sure of anything.  He felt elation, but was still cautiously apprehensive. 

Nelson directed his human companions to take some of the supplies and then he approached Lee.  “You are looking better than the last time, Captain.”

Lee couldn’t help but wonder at the formality, but mentally shrugged it off as something brought on by the stress of the past few days.  “I’m feeling better, Admiral.  And certainly relieved to be here and see that you’re all right.”

The admiral nodded.  “Let’s get in from the cold and get those parts where they are needed.  Let Mertree take those from you.”  

“Aye, sir.” 

One of the scientists took the armful of parts.  Lee was not ungrateful, but still, there was something not quite right.  The admiral wasn’t acting like himself.   What was most frustrating was the fact that Lee couldn't pinpoint the source of his paranoia; there was no single thing he could nail down.   Krilore, what about the hosts.  Do you recognize them--in the sense of knowing their companions?

<Yes, of course, Lee.  One is a trusted commander and the other his aide>

That didn't help any, Lee thought sourly.  They continued across the frozen, snow-covered surface until they came to what appeared to be more ice and rock.  The admiral pushed a plate and a crack appeared in the middle of one of the slabs of rock.  It was ingeniously hidden. 

<My people have had to learn well the art of disguise> Krilore said smugly. 

Nelson motioned him into a small room that reminded Crane of an airlock.  It probably was something of a similar purpose.  Lee pulled off his gloves and stuffed them into a pocket.  The sun goggles followed.  “There is only room for a few at a time.  The others will follow," the admiral explained, pushing buttons that closed the door behind them.   

The alarm bells that had been silently waiting in the back of his mind began giving soft warnings in Lee’s mind.  There was room for a several more people right now.  “A few more can come now, sir,” Lee suggested.  "Especially since it's so cold outside."  

<There is something wrong, Lee!>  

I know!  Let me deal with it!>  She shut up immediately.  

“No, there are things I want to talk to you about before the rest come in,” Nelson said in a deliberate voice, his eyes locked on Lee’s.  

The warning bells in his mind were clamoring now.  Crane reached under his parka, all the while trying to hide the movement by continuing the conversation.  “About what, Admiral?”

“Your experience with the Vreestrich,” Nelson replied.  There was something in his eyes that further alarmed Lee.   

Lee pulled the pistol out only to find himself staring at another pistol.  The admiral’s hand wavered.  This wasn’t like the time with Krueger.  This time the admiral really was possessed and Lee knew who was behind it.   He leaped to one side and then fired his gun.  A laser beam from the admiral’s pistol shot three feet wide from the intended target and splashed intense light against the airlock door, but the tiny dart from Lee's weapon was right on the mark.  It hit the admiral on the side of the neck.  There were a few seconds delay while the drug took effect and Nelson's pistol moved again to target Crane.  Again the hand shook, and Lee realized there was an intense struggle inside the man before him.   Then the pistol dropped from lifeless fingers and the admiral slumped to the ground.  But as he did so, Nelson flashed a quick smile of approval to Lee.  Then his eyes closed and he lay still. 

Lee reached down, undid the parka and jerked it off.  He undid the top button of Nelson’s shirt and pulled back on the collar.  A slightly quivering, pancake-shaped **vreestrich lay just below the line of the collar.  Trinish?

<Trinish!>

“I thought so,” Lee said.  “But the admiral fought him, otherwise I - and you - would already be dead.”

<And you knew because you know the admiral intimately.  But is he….>

He’s alive.  I used a stun gun.  And yes, I do know the admiral quite well, Lee said with conviction.  I wasn’t sure I was doing the right thing, but….  

<You followed an almost instinctive hunch.  Do not touch him yet.  I believe that the drug in your stun gun has slowed Trinish, but we cannot be sure.  I really don’t wish you to become a battlefield.  Do you have another one of those stunning darts?>

Yes, there are five more cartridges.  

<Stun Trinish>  

“But we don’t know the effect of the drug on your people,” Lee said out loud.  

<It doesn’t matter, Lee.  Right now, Trinish cannot be allowed to take possession of anyone else>  

Lee nodded and then aimed and fired.   How do we remove him?  

<I am feeling nothing from him, so I think he is totally drugged now.  He should be relaxed enough so that he will not be fully attached to the admiral.  But just in case, put your gloves back on.  Pull him off carefully, but quickly, so that the stunning drug from the second dart does not also affect Admiral Nelson>  

Deftly Crane pulled off the **vreestrich.  Now what, Lee asked, holding the alien gingerly in his hand.     At her instruction, he left the alien commander on the floor in the corner of the small room for the moment.  Then Lee reached for the outer controls and opened the hatch.  Meeting his gaze was a very worried group of people.  Chip saw the admiral on the ground and his eyes locked on Lee’s.  Crane quickly reassured him, “Just stunned.  Trinish had taken him over.”  

“That’s why you changed weapons,” Chip murmured.  “How the hell did you know?  You were out until after we left the boat.”  

“I didn’t know.  It was just a hunch,” Lee replied with a shrug of the shoulders.  “I’ll need your help to get him inside,” he told Riley.  He paused and studied the other scientists.  “Drop the hoods of your parkas and let me see the back of your necks," he ordered.  At their confused and indignant looks, he added, "It's the only way I can tell if anyone has . . . become a host."

“Makes sense,” Dr. Mertree answered, obviously relieved.    None of the other humans in the small group had any **vreestrich.  

<We must check the hosts.  These first>

At her direction, Lee touched each of the other **vreestrich and let Krilore examine them.  The aide recoiled from the touch and Lee stunned it immediately.  The host was temporarily given to Neelis.  Once inside the hosts gathered around a makeshift dais and the **vreestrich met together, just as they had in Lee’s dream.  

Lee sat on a chair near the admiral, who was now stretched on a bunk, sleeping off the drug.  Doc began examining him.  Chip sat in a chair next to him.  Lee dozed off, leaning his head on the bunk railing and not caring at this point what the **vreestrich decided to do, politically or militarily. 

Crane awoke on a bunk to find a host standing near him, watching him.  His muscles were cramped and sore and he still felt tired.  Krilore had not returned to him.  He glanced around the room and saw the admiral sleeping on another bunk.    The host began the screeching, clicking of its speech and Lee sat up straight to listen more closely.   Surprisingly, he still understood the language, even though Krilore wasn’t with him.   It was then he realized that she was with the host in front of him.  

“Lee, are you feeling better?” Krilore asked through the host. 

“Yes, although I’m still tired.  And you?”

“It has been a very hectic day.”

“Day?!  How long have I been asleep?”  

“For almost twenty-four of your hours.  Once we realized that Fallin’s aide was the only other confederate here, we could get on with the important work.”

“Trinish?”

“Touch me and we can communicate more quickly, Lee,” Krilore suggested through the host.   He did so.   <Trinish is no more.  Neither is his accomplice.   The drug and the lack of a host were too much.  They willed themselves dead>

Willed themselves?

<Yes, it is done on occasion.  I, myself, had thought that way after Neelissen was killed>  

I’m glad you didn’t, Lee said ardently.  

There was warmth in Krilore’s thoughts.   <As am I.  Repairs are proceeding rapidly now that we have the needed supplies and we will be leaving soon>  

Lee was stunned at how quickly things had progressed from the time the admiral had sent his first message.  Already?  

<Yes, Admiral Nelson was extremely helpful.  In more ways than one>

More ways?  

<Yes, Lee>  She sounded almost sad. 

But you don’t have to go so soon.  I’m sure that Admiral Nelson would like to talk with you, Lee said.   

<We have already talked, my friend.  No, we cannot delay further.  Our enemies continually hunt for us and I do not want them to find your planet.  I would never forgive myself.  We will leave and also do what is necessary to confuse them> 

I’ll miss you, Krilore.  Despite everything, I’ll miss you, Lee told her. 

<As I will miss you, too, Lee.  I have learned . . . much.  Maybe I can come back and visit in the future when we have found a way to neutralize our enemy>

I would like that, Krilore.  I wish you and your people every success.  It can’t be easy continually looking over your shoulder, so to speak.

<No, it’s not>  She ordered the host to back away and after a pause, it bowed to him.  Then the host turned and walked toward the air lock.  As he didn’t see any more of the hosts, Lee could only assume that the others had already left.   Krilore walked into the airlock and closed the door.  Lee could only sigh and then he turned to find Chip. 

 

 

A day and a half later, Lee stood at Seaview’s bow windows, his eyes taking in the sparkling, diffused light from the surface eighty feet above as the sub sliced through the Antarctic waters.  After another good night’s sleep, he was feeling almost back to normal.   There was something lonely in that normalcy, though.  All the while Krilore had been with him, he had felt at first invaded, then simply—strange.  It had happened so quickly.  Now the **vreestrich were gone.  Behind him a galley mate was laying plates of food on the table that had been folded out for the command officers’ use.  Eggs, ham, biscuits, jelly, and something else.  Lee pondered a moment, even as he continued watching the waters sluicing aside as the mighty submarine passed through its realm.  Gravy; that’s what it was; made with the leavings of ham slices fried in a skillet.   It wasn’t red-eye; Cookie had used milk to make it.  Another good use of milk, he thought, especially the canned variety.  Smelled mighty good, too, he added, as his stomach growled ferociously. 

“Captain, breakfast is ready,” the rate said from behind him. 

Turning, Lee saw the admiral, Doc and Chip waiting for him.  “Thanks, Lewt,” he told the seaman.  Taking his seat, he eyed the food hungrily.  That was something he did welcome; a return of all his senses to normal.   The four men dug in, Lee not the last one to partake.  Everything tasted delicious and there wasn’t even a hint of rebellion on the part of his stomach.   

“Post-Vreestrich is mighty good for your appetite, Skipper,” Doc said between mouthfuls.   

“It wasn’t that bad B.V. Doc,” he growled good-naturedly.  The crash doors closed as the galley mate left, leaving them to their privacy.

“B.V?”

“Before Vreestrich,” Crane said, adding another biscuit to his plate.

Doc laughed heartily.  “By the way,” he added.  “I suggested having breakfast up here in honor of your statement about the exchange being followed by a relaxing meal on the front porch.”

Crane thought about Doc’s comment and then remembered.  “Well, I wasn’t totally off the mark.  The reception at the base wasn’t as pleasant as I would have liked it.” 

“I’m just glad Krilore and Neelis weren’t harsh passengers like Trinish was,” the admiral added, before taking a sip of coffee.

Lee gingerly tasted his, almost expecting Krilore to say something. 

“One hundred percent pure Vreestrich poison, Lee,” Chip added, eyeing him mischievously. 

“And that’s something else,” Lee added with a grin.  “Not being able to delve into the thoughts of my dirty-minded executive officer is a plus, too.” 

Chip just laughed as the admiral and Doc looked at each other, confused.  Then he explained.  The admiral chuckled then looked thoughtful.

“Seriously, though, Lee, having only fleetingly talked to Krilore,” Nelson began.  “What was it like being her host; especially with her being a female of her species?  And pregnant.”

Crane wasn’t sure where to begin, but he tried to give his impressions as best he could.  The rest ate in silence.  Lee looked back out the windows again.  “Funny thing is, as intrusive as it seemed throughout the experience, as well as painful, right now I feel, well,” he stumbled for the right words.  “Right now it feels a little lonely in my mind.”  He paused.  Then he added, “I just hope they find the peace that’s been missing for them for so long.” 

The others nodded and then continued eating in silence, each thinking his own private thoughts.  

 

 

 

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