Visions of the Night
Lee waited a half a minute until he knew the admiral was ready to say something and continued. "That crack of Sterlingís gave me an idea. ONI is going to expedite some things to make it easier, too. There is a rancher named Johnson whose familyís owned their land since the Brigham Young days and who is not too happy with the state of things since Sanders and company sailed into port. Heíll outfit me with a horse and whatever else Iíll need. Iíll take a micro-cameraóthatís to benefit ONI if I can get away with some pictures."
"But the Flying Sub will need to be close for back-up," Nelson said.
"Johnson has a large lake, large enough for FS 1 to land and hide in, if need be. Thatís been part of Johnsonís problem. Sanders wants his property in a big way. The lake, mainly, and has been harassing him over it. Johnson would like nothing more than to have Sanders taken down a notch or two."
"Still sounds too dangerousótoo shoestring," Chip grumbled.
"We have to. Scuttlebutt says that this Ďspecimení sale will be in the next day or two," Lee said grimly.
"You have quite a bit of information in a short time, Lee," the admiral said. "But not as much as I would have liked."
Rrarkgrrr sat quietly listening. Chip could see Admiral Nelson studying her just as he had and was probably coming to the same conclusionsóthat the Bigfoot could understand almost everything they were saying. Her eyes were anxious and a small moaning sound escaped from her as she listened.
"Nor I, but I was assured by ONI that this rancher is trustworthy."
"How much did you tell Angie, Lee," Chip asked.
"Hmm, only that the specimen in question needed to be freed, not kept a captive of the highest bidder. I am going to have to really treat her to something nice. She was juggling several contacts at once on this one."
"So the government is nervous about this Patriot group, too, I gather?" Nelson mused.
"Yes, they are, but so far have had no reason to deal with them openly."
"Lee, I am going with you. I canít let you try this one alone. There is so much that is variableóthat could go wrong," the admiral said, rubbing his chin.
"I think it will work better if Iím alone. You and Rrarkgrrr can play back up just outside Sanderís property line. Besides, how good a rider are you, sir?"
"Horseback?" Nelson snorted. "Probably not much worse than you."
Lee chuckled. "Admiral! I have had a little more experience, you know. And I need someone who can really back me up." He looked at Chip. "No offense."
"None taken, but where does that leave me?"
"With a broken leg," Lee said tersely. "You will be babysitting the Flying Sub. We have to minimize Johnsonís role in this. He kind of wants to stick around for another couple of generations from what I gather and the less heís directly involved, the better."
"We canít do anything before dark," Nelson pointed out.
A gruff bark brought their attention back to Rrarkgrrr. Everyone gazed expectantly at her. She signed and made drawings in the dirt.
"Sheís going to take off now," Chip translated. "Itís already late afternoon and she wants to be by this lake when we are ready to begin the operation tonight."
"But isnít traveling by day tricky?" the admiral asked.
She motioned some more. They all got the gist of that one.
"Itís for her mate and sheíll be careful. Sheíd rather do that because she doesnít think she could stand to be in the Flying Sub with the hatches shut," Chip explained.
"I can well imagine your dilemma," Crane said to the Bigfoot. "Be careful," he and the admiral said at the same time.
Rrarkgrrr whuffed softly to each of them and then reached down and touched Chipís leg. She made several motions, murmured something deep in her throat and then said, "Chip," slurring the first sound. She turned and was gone.
The three men gazed at each other in amazement for several seconds.
"I would give my eyeteeth to spend some quality time with her," Nelson murmured.
"I can imagine it would be interesting," Lee replied softly.
"It has been," Chip mused. "She is truly an amazing person. I wonder how many are left?"
"Besides her mate, I would guess very few," Nelson replied. "There probably have been only a few all along."
"I sure hope you can get her mate out alive, Lee," Chip said reflectively.
Crane only nodded. He appeared to still be trying to assimilate everything that had happened in the past few hours. "By the way, how are you feeling, Chip? I know Doc is going to have our collective hides for not getting you immediate medical attention."
"I donít think itís anything more than a simple break, Lee, and Rrarkgrrr has been taking very good care of me. You saw what she found out in the woods to help with the pain."
"Yes, I am definitely going to check that out when we get back to the Institute," Nelson said. He turned his attention to Chipís broken leg. After a few minutes, he straightened up. "I checked and youíve immobilized it pretty well. But we are going to have to head for the Flying Sub in a very short while and I know it will be difficult."
"Iíll be okay," Chip reassured them.
But when they left for the lake, it was very slow going and by the time they had reached the shore, Chip was fighting to hide the pain he was feeling. He knew Lee, on whom he had leaned the entire way from the cave, was exhausted. Between sleepless nights, the anxiety of upcoming missions, plus hauling him all the way down the path, Lee couldnít have a great deal of energy left.
As though reading the same message, the admiral said, "Iíll take us into Johnsonís Lake, Lee. You are going to get a little bit of rest."
"Aye, sir," Crane said, not arguing the least bit. Just from that alone, Chip knew that his commanding officer was tired.
The admiral donned the previously hidden air tanks and swam into the lake that was growing darker as the sun settled behind the mountains. Lee continued to let Chip lean against him. The exec had refused to sit down and Crane had not argued with him. From experience he knew that it was much more painful to get up than if he just remained standing. Within a short time, the admiral had the Flying Sub on shore and was opening the rear hatch. By this time darkness had fully descended. After helping Chip into the co-pilotís seat, Lee sat down behind the admiral and buckled himself in. He leaned back and closed his eyes.
Chip watched the admiral maneuver the Flying Sub and pondered at the same time what Rrarkgrrr, the Admiral and especially Lee were going to do in just a few short hours. He wasnít any happier about it now than he had been earlier, but he had asked for their help and they had willingly given it.
Nelson glanced over at him but only nodded. Chip took the cue and said nothing as well. Behind him, Lee appeared to have already fallen asleep. That just added to his frustration, but he simply sighed and watched out of the bow window as the admiral guided the small vessel into deeper water and prepared to take off. Within a few minutes he powered up the reactor engine and guided the sub into take-off mode.
Another few minutes and they were airborne. The trip was extremely short. The admiral circled several times before speeding off in the direction of Johnsonís Lake, consulting the map on the screen before taking the craft down again toward a dark surface that seemed to reach for them in even deeper darkness. The FS 1 splashed down smoothly and submerged. The admiral closed the collision doors and navigated by instrument, but it was only a short time before he powered the vessel down, allowing ballast enough to hover halfway between the surface and the bottom of the lake.
Nelson quietly gathered the diving gear while Crane continued to doze. Finally, he nudged Lee awake. As usual, Lee didnít waste any time coming to full wakefulness and within minutes he and the admiral were suited up. When they were gone, Chip got as comfortable as he could in the pilotís seat and kept an eye on the instrumentation.
"Are you reading us, Chip?" the admiralís voice came over the headset.
"Yes, sir, and I have you on the scope."
"Good. Weíll keep you apprised of whatís going on."
"Aye, sir," was all Chip could say. With a sigh, a very disgruntled Chip Morton sat back in the seat and continued to watch the instrumentation.
The admiral led the way to the shore, Lee right behind. A tall, slender man whose eyes glowed with curiosity met them. The two submariners noticed three horses tethered nearby. The rancher held a rifle in casual ease, but they didnít doubt that he would be ready to use it in a second. His other hand held a small lantern with muted glow.
"Admiral Nelson?" he called out softly.
"Yes," the admiral responded, taking off his fins.
"I have always thought it would be nice to meet you, but never imagined it would be like this," he said with a soft chuckle.
"Joseph Johnson**?" the admiral asked the tall rancher when he had straightened up.
"Yes, sir, at your service."
Nelson nodded and pointed to Crane, who had finished removing his fins and tanks. "My captain, Lee Crane."
"Captain." His mouth quirked into a sardonic smile. "You know I heard you Navy boys like your water, but this might be taking it a bit far."
Lee was helping the admiral off with his tanks, but chuckled at the joke. "Yes, sir, but I hear your neighbor likes your water equally well."
The smile disappeared and Johnson sighed. "Nice place here until those . . . uh, so-called survivalists showed up." The voice was bitter.
"Well, we canít tell you what weíre exactly up to, Mr. Johnson," Nelson began. "And if weíre caught there could be hell to pay."
"Yes, sir, Admiral, I realize that, but when the call came from your institute telling me that you were coming to get something that didnít belong to Sanders, I just had to agree to help." His mouth again formed a smile. "Civic duty and all that, you know."
All three men laughed softly but then sobered quickly. "We need to be briefed on the lay of the land, on Sanders, anything you can tell us," the admiral said.
"Well, first of all, youíre not going to get within that compound easily," Johnson said.
"We kind of figured that," Harriman replied. He wondered if Lee even had a plan yet. Somehow, he doubted it.
"You especially, Admiral."
"Yes, sir. Sanders has pulled within his ranks strapping young men, most of them tall, beefy and rugged types." He paused a moment and then hurried on, as though embarrassed by what he was saying. "Most of them look like theyíre from the Nordic ski team, but there are some you could pass for, Captain," he added, looking at Crane. "Beside the fact that Sanders would know a great deal about you, Admiral. Youíre fairly famous, you know."
"But by an Idaho rancher?" Nelson protested.
"Admiral, Iíd be insulted by that if I didnít know you meant nothing by it." Another pause. "Calling Sanders a rancher, I mean."
Crane snickered softly. By now, all the diving equipment had been hidden and they were walking toward the horses. Johnson swung on the largest with an easy grace, watching the other two men with interest.
Harriman studied the two mounts by the dim moonlight, while one of the horses reciprocated.
Lee handed the reins of the more placid seeming mount to the admiral. "Weíd already decided that Iíd be going in alone with the admiral standing by as back up. If anything blows up in our faces, we were on your property uninvited, Mr. Johnson," he assured him.
"No involvement that Sanders could take you to court over," the admiral said tersely and with finality. He carefully put his foot in the stirrup and pulled himself up.
Crane did the same with the assurance of one familiar with riding horse and yet not with the total ease of a practiced horseman. "Where are we going, Mr. Johnson?"
"A shed nearby, where I have some more suitable clothing for you, Captain. And a little further from the property line, just in case."
Neither submariner said anything. Johnson led the way up a trail bounded on one side by a rocky ridge. Crane, suddenly suspicious, pulled a pair of night vision goggles from the waterproof pouch he had brought with him. The lenses brought everything into sharp and clear focus. There was a slight movement among the rocks and Lee signaled the admiral.
Quickly, he slipped from the gelding and dashed into the rocks hoping that the movement he had seen indicated only one person. Lee could hear only a quick scrabbling among the rocks, then a muffled thump and a groan, then silence. Silently, he pulled out his pistol and advanced cautiously. The lenses showed a great deal, but there were still pockets of shadow behind rocks and brush. A huge shape divorced itself from behind a stand of aspen.
**Joseph Johnson is named after my great-grandfather, the son of a Danish immigrant who settled in Preston, Idaho. The Johnson family was fairly prominent in southern Idaho. And indeed, there are many modern day ranchers and farmers in Idaho and other western states who can lay claim to setting their roots in their respective areas due to directives from the nineteenth century LDS President, Brigham Young. Most of these people are friendly and fiercely independent.