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.
a half an hour, Lee> Krilore
responded. <Your crew
was very quick to follow your orders>
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.
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.
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.
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
am happy to be returning to my own people, and yet, I fear for Neelis>
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.
feel the same way, Lee>
decided to let it drop for the moment.
Did the bonding go all
right? I don’t remember
went fine. Neelis has all
the memories of the ancestors who had bonded and passed their
remembrances and characteristics on to me>
Then Krilore was silent and Lee wondered if he had caused her any
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>
now you have someone else who holds those memories and characteristics,
Lee said softly.
She let her thought hang for a moment before letting it go and
Lee wondered what else she might have been thinking of saying.
we are getting hailed by the camp,” Sharkey announced.
glanced at him and Lee simply nodded.
“FS-1 to base, come in,” Chip said.
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.
sir,” Chip answered. “ETA
in three minutes.”
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.”
course, Skipper,” Sharkey said brightly.
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.
taken, Lee. Not knowing
what is going on at the base, that is a wise precaution>
split this up between us.” Crane
looked up at Sharkey. “But
I want you to have your hands free to play shotgun, Chief.”
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.
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.
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.
directed his human companions to take some of the supplies and then he
approached Lee. “You are
looking better than the last time, Captain.”
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
admiral nodded. “Let’s
get in from the cold and get those parts where they are needed. Let Mertree take those from you.”
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?
of course, Lee. One is a
trusted commander and the other his aide>
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.
people have had to learn well the art of disguise> Krilore said
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.
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."
is something wrong, Lee!>
know! Let me deal with
it!> She shut up immediately.
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.
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?”
experience with the Vreestrich,” Nelson replied. There was something in his eyes that further alarmed 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.
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
thought so,” Lee said. “But
the admiral fought him, otherwise I - and you - would already be
you knew because you know the admiral intimately. But is he….>
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….
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?>
there are five more cartridges.
we don’t know the effect of the drug on your people,” Lee said out
doesn’t matter, Lee. Right
now, Trinish cannot be allowed to take possession of anyone else>
nodded and then aimed and fired.
How do we remove him?
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>
Crane pulled off the **vreestrich.
Now what, Lee asked, holding the alien gingerly in his
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.”
why you changed weapons,” Chip murmured.
“How the hell did you know?
You were out until after we left the boat.”
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."
sense,” Dr. Mertree answered, obviously relieved. None of the other humans in the small group had
must check the hosts. These
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.
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.
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.
are you feeling better?” Krilore asked through the host.
although I’m still tired. And
has been a very hectic day.”
How long have I been asleep?”
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.”
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>
it is done on occasion. I,
myself, had thought that way after Neelissen was killed>
glad you didn’t, Lee said ardently.
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>
was stunned at how quickly things had progressed from the time the
admiral had sent his first message.
Admiral Nelson was extremely helpful.
In more ways than one>
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
<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>
miss you, Krilore. Despite
everything, I’ll miss you,
Lee told her.
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.
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.
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.
breakfast is ready,” the rate said from behind him.
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.
is mighty good for your appetite, Skipper,” Doc said between
wasn’t that bad B.V. Doc,” he growled good-naturedly. The crash doors closed as the galley mate left, leaving them to
Vreestrich,” Crane said, adding another biscuit to his plate.
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.”
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.”
just glad Krilore and Neelis weren’t harsh passengers like Trinish
was,” the admiral added, before taking a sip of coffee.
gingerly tasted his, almost expecting Krilore to say something.
hundred percent pure Vreestrich poison, Lee,” Chip added, eyeing him
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.”
just laughed as the admiral and Doc looked at each other, confused.
Then he explained. The admiral chuckled then looked thoughtful.
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
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.”
others nodded and then continued eating in silence, each thinking his
own private thoughts.