“I heard your call, sir. What do you need?”
Chip handed Sharkey the list. “Get a detail to load these things on the Flying Sub as quickly as possible. I also want her ready for launch at any time.”
Sharkey perused the list. “This is the skipper’s handwriting.”
Chip didn’t say anything. He knew a question was coming.
“Sir, there’s a lot of scuttlebutt going around,” Sharkey began.
“About what, Chief?”
“Is Captain Crane all right? Malkin saw you taking him to sickbay earlier. All this business about aliens and hosts and such has a lot of the guys talking—has them worried.” Sharkey stopped as though he might be saying something he shouldn’t be repeating. “I talked to the skipper this morning and he seemed all right even though he told me he wasn’t feelin’ too good. Skipper doesn’t usually admit to such things that often. I’m just worried, that’s all, sir.”
“I know, Chief. Rest assured, Captain Crane is going to be fine.”
“But, Mr. Morton, if he still has that alien….”
Chip hesitated, but knew that the COB needed to know at least a little bit, since he was going to be part of the upcoming mission. “The Vreestrich is no longer with him….” That was the truth, just less of it. However, Morton didn’t really want to divulge any more than that. “So he should be recovering quickly now.”
“That’s good, sir.” Sharkey looked at the list again, taking stock of where he needed to go first and who he needed to put on the detail.
“You’ll be piloting the Flying Sub to Vinson Massif when the skipper is ready to go,” Chip added.
Sharkey looked sharply at him. “But Mr. Morton, if this alien isn’t with him anymore, he wouldn’t need to go. We could go now, get the admiral and the rest and head back home.”
Chip could see the wheels turning, but before he could say anything, Sharkey continued.
“If the skipper doesn’t have Krilore with him, who does?”
Morton sighed. “Just between you and me, Chief, I do. Don’t ask anymore questions, because I can’t tell you more than that, at least not until we are in the Flying Sub.”
“Yes, sir. I’ll get everything ready.” He studied the exec a bit longer. “You seem to be more, uh, compatible to it, sir.”
Morton smiled tiredly, knowing that the main reason for that was residing with the captain in sickbay. “I guess so, Chief. Now let’s get to work. I want to be ready for this mission. And by the way, get a half dozen laser pistols out of the arms locker and load them into the Flying Sub, too.” Chip could see the abject curiosity on the COB’s face, but to his credit, Sharkey said nothing, only nodding in acknowledgement of the new orders.
<Captain Crane> There was a pause. <Captain Crane> The tone was demanding, more insistent. It reminded him of something—or someone. <Captain!> Exasperation, irritation and disgust dripped in the tone of the voice.
Voice? That wasn’t a voice voice. It was in his head. Krilore? No, he knew as soon as he thought the question, that it wasn’t Krilore. Another name came from his subconscious. Neelis? But who the hell was Neelis? Then he remembered. Crane remembered everything and groaned at the remembrance.
“Skipper? How are you feeling?”
That was a real voice—Doc’s voice. He felt the glare of the light even through closed
eyelids. “You really
don’t want to know.”
A soft chuckle, then, “Well, at least by that
answer, I know you’re going to live.”
Neelis was calling him again.
Neelis could wait a moment, though.
Slowly, he opened his eyes.
No dizziness. He had
been moved to a bunk. “Help
me up, Doc.”
Are you okay with the new Vreestrich?”
Crane nodded and slowly sat up. He realized even as he did, that the only thing he was in any
shape to do was to sleep for twenty-four hours, but he just didn’t
have that luxury. Right
now, every muscle, every joint in his body ached.
He remembered a line from an old movie….
Even his hair hurt. “Oh,
man. Doc, I don’t think,
if I ever make it to the altar, that I’m going to have kids.
I couldn’t put anyone else through that….”
This time Doc didn’t hold back. He laughed uproariously for a moment, then he sobered and began to examine his CO. “My wife tells me it’s worth it, though. And the times when the kids greet me back in Santa Barbara, I believe her.”
“Well, this kid is obnoxiously clamoring for
my attention and he’s not even mine”
“Answer him, Lee. You seem to have gotten good at holding down a silent conversation while I’m working on you and this is the son of the what did you call Krilore? Supreme Commander?” Doc said with a smile. “And say hi to . . . him or her?”
“Say hi for me.”
Lee just snorted.
Hello, Neelis. Had
to let Doc know I was still alive.
How are you feeling?
<How should I feel?
I am all right. The
replication was a success. Was
the replication that difficult for you?>
could be considered an understatement.
I could feel your mother’s distress, so I guess you might say
it was difficult.
That is a human term, is it not?>
Yes, it is,
Lee began patiently, then paused. Doc
was taking another blood sample. Besides, he was too tired to be
anything else but patient. When
Doc had finished, Crane continued. A
mother is the female that has borne offspring.
Mothers nurture, protect, raise and teach their young. Thoughts
of his own mother flashed through his mind.
What do you call Krilore?
simply the source of my existence.
As you can tell, we **vreestrich are capable of independence from
the moment of replication>
Except for needing a host, of course,
Lee pointed out. And
if you don’t need the female ‘source’ for anything other than
breeding, why the bonding?
told you about that?>
Yes, she has told me quite a bit, he replied somewhat smugly. Did
she have time to tell you that most hosts aren’t as independent as
tell me that you were an unusual host and that I was to learn from you.
I have no reason to doubt her advice, at least until the bonding.
And to answer your question, I was told that the bonding allows
each individual the cumulated wisdom of **vreestrich who have come
that while he had the chance, he needed to clarify a few things with the
Neelis, let’s begin with the basics.
I am the captain of this submarine we are on.
I am responsible for over one hundred humans.
Therefore, if I seem distracted or have to cut our conversation
short, that’s the reason. Also,
even though I am what you might consider simply a host, I am a thinking,
reasoning entity—someone who, for over thirty-five years has worked
without the assistance of a symbiot.
So the way you woke me up isn’t going to be repeated, right?
The tone of ‘voice,’ that is.
There was a
flash of irritation, but it was quickly shut off.
<It is reasonable> was the simple answer.
Thank you, Neelis.
Now to be totally fair, I will try to devote as much time to
answering any questions you have or letting you know what’s going on
as I can. As to what you might want me to do, I will consider anything
for at least a minimum of thought.
I also need to warn you, I am sometimes a bit short tempered when
I don’t feel that good.
And Lee wondered why he was even admitting that.
Neelis was not a normal kid; he came already grown.
mixed with puzzlement colored Neelis’ thoughts.
<When you are able, you will have to tell me more about human
development. It sounds
Being a kid has its advantages, though.
However, I will be happy to, when all this is over.
is over, Captain? I
felt something from the Supreme Commander . . . my mother . . . before
she took another host>
Seems that not every one of your people agrees
with the Supreme Commander’s way of doing things and she is afraid
that one of her underlings will try to do something to her and you when
the two of you bond. It is
up to us humans to prevent that. That
is why I won’t be able to devote a lot of time to answering your
And that reminded Lee, who actually was hosting Krilore now?
Somehow he didn’t think it was Doc, although Crane knew that
Doc had volunteered. The
only other person in the room at the time, was . . . Chip?
Doc was finishing the exam and filling a syringe.
“Okay, what’s in that?” he demanded.
energy booster, but not epinephrine this time, Captain.
I will only risk that once.”
In a softer
tone, Lee said, “Oh, okay, thanks, Doc.
Who has Krilore? Chip?”
“Yes, and he’s getting the Flying Sub ready for launch.”
Lee nodded and
leaned one shoulder against the wall while Doc stuck the syringe in the
other shoulder. “Is he
doing all right?”
you are, a bit hard on him when Krilore transferred, but otherwise
ago did he leave?”
an hour ago, I’d say,” Doc told him.
“He said he’d be back when all the arrangements were made.
So I would suggest that in the meantime you simply rest.”
you to say,” grumbled the captain.
chuckled. “Maybe while
you are waiting, you can tell me what I can expect at Vinson Massif,
since I am going to be coming with you.”
the question. Neelis was
very quiet, probably just listening and learning.
Lee felt a quick moment of concern, but shrugged it off.
If there were going to be any bad guys in this whole business, it
would be Trinish and his cronies. “I
wish I totally knew, Doc. Somehow
I am thinking it’s not going to be a simple case of making some kind
of exchange, coming home, putting our feet up, enjoying a good meal on
the front porch and laughing about symbiotic relationships.”
thinking there was something going on behind the scenes.”
told me to contact him when we are ready to go in, but I keep feeling
that such a move would be dangerous,” Lee mused out loud.
Is Admiral Nelson in danger?”
Chip replied from just inside the sickbay door.
“From Trinish, most likely.”
up and studied his friend. Now
he understood why everyone had seemed so concerned and solicitous during
that first day he had hosted Krilore.
Chip looked ready for a day of sleep.
What a fine pair the captain and exec were, Lee thought.
“Krilore’s been briefing you?”
and plopped down into Doc’s chair, immediately leaning forward as a
concession to Krilore, Lee supposed.
“I have been told that although they are inferior hosts, the
salstrin replicates are still strong enough to subdue a human if ordered
to,” Chip began. “The admiral and the rest of the scientists could already
have been forced to host various Vreestrich favorable to Trinish.”
what worries me about taking Krilore and Neelis back to their home base.
If Trinish is trying a power play, then this would be the perfect
opportunity. I think I have
played into his hands, so to speak.”
puzzled and then it was like a light dawned in his head.
“You did that?” he asked, a quick grin on his face.
Doc asked, seeing that there was an unheard conversation going on in
“When I was
talking to the admiral earlier today, Trinish was getting a bit
pushy,” Lee began. “It
is still today, isn’t it?”
midnight, so technically, yes,” Doc answered.
uh, had picked up on Krilore’s thoughts and when Trinish got even more
uppity, I made a gesture that the Vreestrich hosts use to not so nicely
indicate the enemy. Didn’t
show much restraint that time. It
showed that Krilore and I were in more of a partnership than her calling
all the shots with her new host. I
believe that he could very well be using that to show the other
sub-commanders that the Supreme Commander has totally lost her ability
to lead the Vreestrich,” Crane explained.
“Krilore alluded to that right after it happened.”
told me that it could work either way.
She also said not to blame yourself as she got great pleasure out
of it at the time, too,” Chip added.
sighed. And then it
came to him—the solution to the whole situation.
With renewed vigor, he slid off the bunk and approached Chip.
“I need to communicate with Krilore; see what she thinks about
Lee.” And to be
accommodating, Krilore slid from beneath Chip’s collar and rested
below the executive officer’s hairline.
As he reached
out to touch the **vreestrich supreme commander, Lee felt Neelis’