The CNN newscast was talking about the Revolution in the tiny republic of San Renáldo. "There are reports that the Revolutionaries are guilty of major Human Rights violations. Reports have surfaced that they are using slave labor to support their cause… Harriman Nelson, of the Nelson Institute, and a leader in the cause of Human Rights, has offered his fabulous Submarine, Seaview, to aid in the investigations of the allegations…"
Chip Morton stood at the window and stared out. The steamy warmth of the jungle permeated the small cell. The dirt-floored room was big enough for three men. Chip ran his hand through his hair and wondered what the hell was going on with Lee. Their captors had taken the Seaview’s Captain, roughly from the cell, over an hour ago, when Lee had let it be known that he was fluent in Spanish. Chip was concerned. Lee never should have let their captors know that he understood the language. It could have been their ace in the hole! Sometimes, the Captain made some rash decisions according to his Exec.
Morton paced around the small cell. The chains connecting the shackles on his wrists and ankles clanked as he walked.
Seaview’s Exec looked toward the door of the cell/shack. He heard it … the sound of voices at the outer door.
The leg shackles were chained to the wall, and prevented any prisoner from getting too close to the door, as Chip Morton had discovered. Morton stood, inwardly cursing himself for his lack of fluency in any language. If he had been interested, in even one, maybe he could, at least, understand what was being said at the door. The hairs on his neck rose as he realized that it sounded like a body was being dragged. The voices got louder and he heard the key turn. The door was pushed open and a body dragged in. A heavily accented voice said to him, "Your Captain!" and two guards dropped Crane’s unconscious body on the floor. The Major bent down and took the wall chain and attached it to Crane’s leg manacles. "There…" he took a small device from his pocket and aimed it at the connection point. A flash of light and the smell of burning metal and he turned to leave… He looked at Chip, with an evil glare on his face… "You are next, Commander…We will come for you!"
He walked out of the cell humming to himself, and shut the door behind him. Chip dropped to his knees next to Lee, and turned him onto his back. He checked him as best as he could. The Captain’s face and body was bruised and bloody, his shirt torn in several places, but he was breathing regularly, and his heart beat sounded steady…
He moaned and his eyes flew open. He saw Chip’s face as his eyes focused, a picture of concern. "Chip! … You… ok?"
" I’m fine, Lee…you?"
He groaned. "Bit of a rough interrogation, that’s all. I didn’t give them the answers they wanted…" he gave Morton a half-hearted smile "I’m ok…"
"Yeah, …Skipper… right! You look...ok…" Reluctantly, he asked, "…find anything out, Lee?"
Crane pulled himself to a sit, and winced as he did. Chip watched him carefully, as he tried to make himself comfortable.
"Seems this is a rebel base. The Revolution against Presidente Huarté is being financed from here…It’s a silver mine. They’re using local labor… ‘Volunteers’ they call them! " Chip nodded without comment as Lee continued… "They’ve got the FS1. They want to know how to fly it…how to use her weapons. Seems like that blow on the head that I took has given me amnesia as to how to do that… I can’t seem to remember a thing! Do you remember anything?"
Chip looked at his commanding Officer and friend and gave him a blank look… "Remember…? Remember what?"
Crane grinned back at him. Chip extended a hand to the Captain, "Now why don’t you let me give you a hand to one of the cots, and you try and rest. Hopefully, the homing beacon on the FS1 was activated and the Admiral and the boat will find us."
"Yeah, Chip, hopefully!!"
Morton helped him to his feet and he swayed once, and then steadied himself. "Are you sure you’re ok, Lee… You look like hell!!
Lee chuckled softly "I’m ok…believe me…I don’t feel even half as bad as I look!"
Morton gave Crane a hand and helped him over to a cot. Lee reluctantly gave in and lay back… and in a few moments he was asleep. Chip moved toward the wall with the window and after looking out once more, sat on the floor of the cell leaning against the wall.
Several hours later, Chip woke with a start. He hadn’t planned to fall asleep, but he had, and the only thing that woke him was the awareness of movement outside the tiny prison. He heard the sound of keys in the lock, and knew that the rebels were coming for his interrogation. He stood, and as the three men came into the cell, Lee Crane came awake. He started to rise as the men began to remove the chain holding Chip’s shackles to the wall, and was roughly pushed back onto the cot. Chip grinned at him.
"Don’t worry, Lee!" he tapped his forehead… "Amnesia!!" as they hustled him out of the cell.
Crane was growing anxious about his friend. It had been hours since their captors had taken Chip from the cell. He admittedly had slept some of the time. His battered body had demanded it. But he’d been awake for the last two hours, and there was no sign of Chip. Crane had no idea of what fate held for the two Seaview officers. Something deep in his gut told him, it wasn’t going to be easy!! But then, easy wasn’t the way anything associated with their lives ever turned out. It always amazed him how a simple mission or assignment became complicated once the boat became involved! He heard movement outside and looked toward the door. Two guards filled the entranceway, and dragged the limp body of Chip Morton into the cell. They let him fall to the floor and fussed with the chain to attach the shackles to the wall. When they finished, they simply left, one of them delivering a vicious kick to Chip’s stomach as he exited.
Morton didn’t react, driving Crane to his side and pushing him to try to determine what damage had been done to his friend. That Chip had received a vicious beating was evident by the condition of Morton’s face and body. Several large purplish bruises lay on his ribcage, and Lee was concerned about one particular area that seemed to give readily at his touch. To Crane it felt like broken ribs, but Morton hadn’t stirred, so he had no way to confirm or deny his suspicions. And he was too weakened from his own beating to try and move Chip without hurting him. Instead, he got a shabby blanket from his cot, along with a thin pillow and tried to make Chip at least look more comfortable. Then he leaned back against the wall to wait and see how long it would be before his friend returned to the land of the living.
In the long, sultry, jungle night, animals stirred and called out. The two Americans in the cell slept fitfully. Chip had come around more than an hour after he had been returned to the cell. Battered and in pain, he’d accepted Crane’s offer of help to get to a cot, but, even together, they had failed badly. He had been unable to even get to his knees, much less his feet. The only good thing about the situation was that with his help, Crane was able to determine that there were no broken ribs, just some very bad, very colorful bruising! Both officers were in a great deal of discomfort, but had not been seriously injured. In spite of the seriousness of the situation, they were not in that bad physical shape.
When the morning sounds of the omnipresent jungle animals began to intrude on their fitful sleep, both officers roused quickly. Stiff and sore, they were anxious to find out what else their captors had in store. They had not been given any food or water since their capture, and both were thirsty and hungry.
There was a great deal of activity in the compound outside of the door and they strained their ears to hear what was going on. Then, there was activity at the door, and it was flung open by the Major. He was followed by five soldiers, armed as well as carrying several bundles that were dropped at the feet of the two officers.
"You will take off those uniforms and put on the clothes that we have brought for you. You are political prisoners of the Revolutionary Government of San Renáldo and you have volunteered to help the work of the Revolution!"
"I don’t think so, Major." Crane quietly responded. "I don’t think so at all."
"Perhaps I can change your mind, Captain Crane, with a few pointed bits of information. No one in this compound gets any food or water without working in the mine. It doesn’t take very long to get thirsty in the Jungle. The heat helps the thirst get worse very quickly. And hunger is an excellent motivating factor as well. You see, if you don’t cooperate, your chances of survival decrease dramatically… You men will work for 18 hours a day. The mines are very full of silver, and the Revolution needs that silver! You and Morton will work the mines, or you will not get food or water! Quite simple, really!"
"You are violating the rules of the Geneva Convention and the Human Rights Amendments."
The Major laughed. "Oh, quite, Captain…quite! And who exactly is going to make a complaint? The poor men who work the mines. I don’t think so. The commander and yourself…? I think not in that area either! You and Morton will be my guests for a long time. After all, no one recognizes our government. So, who can say where you both landed your craft? You have simply disappeared in the Jungle. There is no way to track you… your vehicle is disabled. There is no way to find you, unless I want you to be found. And frankly, I don’t. I’d rather keep the two of you here, as my ‘guests’. How you deal with that, is up to the both of you. Change and be ready to work for your food and water, or, simply, die of dehydration and starvation… It’s your decision."
He stood staring at the Seaview’s officers and crossed his arms in front of him. Lee looked at Chip, exchanging a glance, and without a further word, they began to strip off their uniforms. The Major smiled at them.
"A wise decision, Captain. Very wise.” He motioned to the guards, and they moved toward the two men with iron collars in their hands. They placed them on both men and fastened them securely around their necks.
"We have found that the neck collars keep the men from wandering away from the mines… it becomes dangerous to try to run when you have five other men chained to you. Ah, much better, gentlemen, much better! Now your watches, and, and you, Captain, your ring. Good, good! You will find no need for such things in the mines. Oh, there are no shoes or sandals either. It does prevent the desire to escape if one thinks about running into the jungle barefoot. Too many dangerous things to step on!" the major laughed again.
A few minutes later, Crane and Morton stood in front of the Major. Both were barefoot, wearing the thin, burlap pants of all the miners, shackles on their ankles and wrists and the iron collars on their necks. "Good...very good, gentlemen. Now if you work well, you will get food and water when you are returned here. I do not intend to allow you to mix with the workers at night. Consider yourselves fortunate. You will have your own place to sleep. You will not have to share it with others..." He motioned to the guards, who prodded both men with their rifles to make them move out into the compound. Once in the compound, they were separated from each other, each of them chained by the collar to a different group of men, moved into different lines and marched into the mine.
None of the prisoners spoke to one another, whether because they would be punished, or they just did not wish to expend any unnecessary energy. Chip was put to work with a group that was digging at a site deep in the belly of the mine. Using only shovels and bare hands, they were expected to produce hundreds pounds of ore per day. If not, they would not be fed. No one wasted any time or energy in anything but making the daily goal. It was dirty, backbreaking, mind-numbing labor, with no rest periods and no relief. As Chip was working, he saw two men fall to the ground, either unconscious or dead. No one paid attention to them, and they just continued to work, mindlessly.
Lee was put to work with a group of men that were hauling the pounds of dirt and debris from the mine. It was the hardest work that Crane had ever done. The group that he was chained to also had a daily goal of debris to remove from the mines, and the same reward awaited them if they did not meet it. No food if the goal was not met. The men hauled two or three times their body weight on packs on their backs. The men in his gang were bent over with the constant weight of the rock. As he shouldered the first load that he was given, he staggered slightly under its weight and then, gritting his teeth, began the arduous, back breaking labor…
They were returned to the cell 18 hours later, begrimed, exhausted, hungry and thirsty. At the far end of the cell stood a large tin cup and a single plate, with a gray glutinous mass piled high on it. Both men barely had the energy to make it to that side of the cell, and as they reached it they were pulled back to the center of the room by the guards. This time, the wall chains were attached to the collars as well as the leg irons. One of the guards muttered at them in Spanish and as they both winced with the burning sensation of the welding device at their necks, the guards laughed. Finished, they gave both men shoves that sent them sprawling, and still laughing, left the cell.
The cell itself was in darkness. Not light, no lamps… the men woke in dark, worked in semi-dark and were returned to their cells in the dark…
They found the food and water, such as it was, and shared it, and then fell asleep, on the dirt floor, too exhausted to even seek the meager comfort of the cots…
Harriman Nelson paced the well-appointed office. He was angry, frustrated, and in a hurry! And no one was helping the situation!! The President had referred him to the UN. The UN had referred him to the counsel for San Renáldo. That was where he was now, in the outer office of the Counsel-General of San Renáldo. It had been almost a week since the FS1 had crashed in the jungle of San Renáldo. Morton and Crane had been missing since then. He couldn’t take the initiative and search for his two officers on his own, because the country was a friend of the US, in the midst of a Revolution and he needed their President’s permission to mount a search. This appointment had taken five days to set up! Harry rubbed the back of his neck in impatience. Dressed in his blue dress uniform he looked much more at ease than he felt! "Lee…Chip…where are you boys? Boys… His boys…his lads…handpicked to serve his boat, the boat that he had conceived, built and loved… Karen had told him to stay calm…not to get himself worked into a rage, to control the temper that fought to the surface…but what was he to do! He had to find Lee and Chip!
Blast and damn all this stupid bureaucracy!!!! He wasn’t planning on invading the damn country! All he wanted to do was to find the Captain and Exec of his boat!!! Why couldn’t these pea-brained, pencil pushing stupid little men see that? Damn all of them…if this stupid man didn’t see him in the next ten minutes, he would simply take matters into his own hands…Just like Lee had done…for him and Chip…Lee had risked it all and almost lost! Why shouldn’t he?”
He picked up his hat, and started towards the door, when, a small man with glasses entered the room.
"Admiral Nelson, sir, the Counsel-General will see you now. If you will just follow me…." The little man said in a slightly accented voice. He stopped at a door and said, "Here, Admiral…his Excellency is waiting."
He opened the door, and showed Nelson in. It was a large room with a very ornate (ostentatious, thought Nelson) desk at the center. Seated behind it was a fairly large, balding man. He was smoking a cigar and talking rapidly, in Spanish, on the phone. He waved Nelson in and indicated a chair at the front of the desk. He seemed to Harry, to be in no hurry to finish his conversation. He smiled at Nelson, a false smile, with no warmth in it at all. It was a look that Nelson had seen for many, many years on the thousands of politicians that he had had to deal with. It was a look that hardened the Admiral’s resolve to find Crane and Morton as soon as he could, politics and polite propriety be damned!
Lee Crane surreptitiously checked the small calendar that he had made in the wall of the hut. ‘Seven days! He and Chip had been held here for seven days…it seemed like an eternity! In all of his experience, he’d never dreamed of one like this! Slave labor! That’s what he and Chip were! ‘
He looked at his hands in the slight light of the moon. They were bloodied and becoming callused and hard from the agonizing, chillingly, soul-deadening work. There was no relief, no break, no time, but to work, and eat and sleep, if possible, and then work again. The men here lived on the edge of starvation and exhaustion. They were fed barely enough to keep them alive, and allowed as little sleep as the body could get by on. Their jailers kept cutting back on the time that they were allowing their prisoners to sleep. Lee figured that it was down to about four hours, and he anticipated even less time as the time went by…From what he heard the bits and pieces from the guards, as they spoke, the revolution was going badly, and the rebels needed more and more of the silver to buy more weapons and help. That was why they wanted the FS1, and her weapons! He resolved that he and Chip had to get away and get away soon! If they didn’t they stood a good chance of becoming like the other poor souls here, working until they dropped, with no hope and no thought of anything at all! He nudged Morton, who was sleeping lightly. He spoke to him in a whisper, in order not to be heard, in case they were being monitored in some fashion!!
Morton’s eyes immediately snapped open. He looked directly at Crane. Lee nodded. "We’ve got to figure out a way our of here!"
Morton looked at the Captain again… "Any idea how? And where?"
Lee nodded curtly and began to tell Chip…
Admiral Harriman Nelson was angry! Raging, storming angry! The consulate wanted him to wait! Wait for two weeks! The Government of San Renáldo was preparing to mount an offensive against the rebels and they didn’t want Nelson and Co. spoiling their plans! ‘Yes’ they were concerned about American nationals, especially military men in the hands of the rebels. ‘Yes’ they understood what Nelson was saying and what the wanted to do. But they would not under any circumstances grant the American Admiral the permission to come into their country and search for his men. Not at this time!! In two weeks, when the offensive had been mounted, and the rebels subdued, then he might come back again and ask. The president would be in a better frame of mind to listen then!
Nelson was waiting for Sharkey to pick him up in the car for the ride to the airport. He had already downed two glasses of Glen Livet, and the scotch hadn’t eased his anxiety or lessened his anger in the least. ‘Two damn weeks!!! Chip and Lee could be dead by then!!! … If … if they weren’t already! Landing smack dab in the middle of a Revolution!!!… Of all the bad luck!!!’
Sharkey knocked at the hotel room door. "Admiral? Sir?"
"Yes, yes, come in Francis. My bags are there, and I’ve already checked out. Let’s get to the airport!! I want to get home as fast I can!! This city makes me sick!"
"Ok, Admiral, sir. Car is at the front of the Hotel." The COB picked up Nelson’s bag and briefcase and left the room, following the Admiral.
It was more than a week before Crane could execute his plan to begin an escape attempt…by this time, there was no visible difference between the Seaview’s’ officers and the rest of the prisoners. They were bearded, dirty, and lean from backbreaking labor, and lack of food. Crane’s tendency to thin was more evident than ever. Morton had also lost a great deal of weight, and both men had hardened significantly in the two weeks of their captivity. They were covered in dirt, their hair and beards matted and filthy. There were no facilities to wash or bathe, and none of the prisoners had the energy or desire to do so. The men conserved their energy for important things, and cleanliness was not one of them. The raw sores that had formed on their wrists, ankles and necks where the shackles had rubbed and chaffed had formed half healed weals that easily opened with new or sudden activity.
That night, Lee decided to try his plan…he knew that it would cost him, but he also knew that if he didn’t do something soon, both he and Chip could slip into the pattern of the rest of the men imprisoned there… not caring, not thinking, just going thru the motions of trying to survive one more day!
Returning to the cell that night, Lee stumbled and fell into two of the guards… As he slid down, he got two of the small devices that locked the chains, and palmed them. He held them tightly as the guards pummeled him with fists and rifle butts for daring to fall and touch them. On the edge of consciousness, they dragged him into the hut and let him fall. One of the guards that had just reattached Morton’s chains, reached for Lee’s and fastened them in place. With several more kicks to the man on the floor, the guards left laughing. Morton moved over to the Captain’s side as quickly as he could. The two weeks of imprisonment had taken its toll on him, as it had on Crane, and his movements were much slower than he would have liked. Lee was breathing hard and there were new bruises and cuts on his face, chest and back. He struggled to a sitting position, and grinned slightly at his friend.
Seeing the concern in Morton’s eyes, he slowly opened his hands. "It was worth it, Chip." Two of the small torch devices fell to the floor. "I’ve been watching the movements of the guards for the last two nights. We’re their last stop. They won’t look for these ‘til morning." He took a deep, ragged breath. "Still, we’d better get moving before they miss them. It takes about an hour for the compound to settle for the night," he humphed, "what there is of it… Anyway, then we’d better be ready to move…" He took the device and released the chains on Chip’s ankles and neck, and then set to release the shackles and collar itself. Free of the iron fetters for the first time in two weeks, Chip resisted the urge to rub the festering sores. He took the other device from Crane, and soon, he too was free of the shackles, chains and collar. They silently shared the tin of water and what passed for food, and then rested for a too brief period of time. Finally, Lee rose in the dark cell, and went slowly to the door. It felt strange to him to be finally free of the irons that had restrained him for the last two weeks. ‘Odd how quickly you can get used to being in chains!" he listened carefully for a moment and then motioned Chip to join him there. The two men stood silently and then Lee took the device, and fired at the lock on the door. The door came free with a tug, and opened. Crane furtively cast a look around the compound. During the last two weeks, he had carefully looked around and determined that there were no fences and no guard towers. Their captors seemed to believe that the chains and the threat of the jungle were enough of a deterrent against an escape attempt. They would be surprised to find Crane and Morton gone! And Lee also knew that they would follow the Seaview’s officers and try to hunt them down.
Well, if they were lucky, they would have two hours on their captors. They slipped out of the cell, and ran in the shadows to the edge of the jungle. Very quickly, they blended into the undergrowth of the surrounding foliage, and disappeared.
Harriman Nelson was barking orders to Sharkey, O’Brien, and anyone else that came in his way. He was taking the Seaview out of port, and heading to the vicinity of San Renáldo. He did not have the government’s permission to look for his men, but he was not about to lose the opportunity to be ready to search when he got that permission. Karen had also warned him that he might not get the permission that he sought. He told her that if he didn’t, he planned to take it into his own hands. Then again, a show of force for the sitting government couldn’t hurt! Perhaps after the boat was underway, he could propose that to the President of the tiny republic. It might facilitate his search. He stomped down the spiral stairs to see the Control Room running smoothly, and Bob O’Brien in easy control of the boat. He stood back a moment and thought about how far the young man had come. From a nervous, hero-worshipping junior, who had thought that Crane and Morton were nothing less than demi-gods at the very least, to a confident, and self assured officer, capable of running his boat at a moments notice. He didn’t have the relationship with Seaview that the Senior Officers had, but he was growing daily in his feeling for the boat. Nelson hoped sincerely that he did not have to push that connection too soon! As far as he was concerned, no one had the psychic connection to Seaview that Lee Crane, and Chip Morton had!
He harrumphed and cleared his throat, "Bob, are we ready to get underway?"
"Aye, sir…preparing to cast off bow and stern lines and move her into the channel. Permission to proceed?"
"Yes, Mr. O’Brien, get underway! Set course for San Renáldo, all ahead flank."
"Yes, sir! Shall I notify you when we reach the open waters?"
"Yes, I’ll be in my cabin."
Chip and Lee clung close to the floor of the Jungle. It was safer to remain there, then to run or move quickly upright. In the dark, in an unknown place, they had to try to be cautious as well as try to put distance between them and the compound. They were at an almost insurmountable disadvantage. No weapons, no equipment, no protective clothing to speak of, nothing except the two devices, and their training from ONI. They were in a weakened physical condition, because of the lack of food and water, the horrific treatment in the mines, the brutal work and beatings.
Yes, almost impossible, yet there was no other alternative! If they could only get to the FS1 or better yet, to the government troops…
They scrabbled along, slowly moving to avoid any wildlife or dangerous plant life. Both spoke few words, Chip automatically following Lee’s lead. Hugging the ground, and moving with calculated care, they tried to put as much distance between themselves and the mine as was possible. Eventually, they found a hollow, at the foot of a large tree. It smelled damp and musty, but it did not smell of animals, so they felt it safe to crawl into it and hunker down and try to sleep for a while, to recoup some of their strength. They needed water, they needed food and they needed safety to rest. It seemed that they had found the temporary safety at least! Each man pulled himself into as small a target as possible, and once done, let the overwhelming need for sleep supersede all.
Chip Morton woke to the sensation of being squeezed…tightly squeezed!
Tightening, squeezing pressure… all over his body! His arms were trapped, his legs, unable to move, and something cold and scaly wrapped around him!!! He could feel it tightening around his neck, getting tighter and tighter, cutting off his air! "Lee!" he croaked, his voice barely above a whisper. "Lee!" The vise-like grip continued to tighten, his voice becoming fainter, his struggles weaker and weaker. In the part of his brain that was still able to function, the fact that this was a snake registered… ‘A snake!’ He shuddered in his struggles. It was useless to try and fight this mindless creature. It was only trying to survive. It was so strong, and he was so very weak. He felt one rib pop, and then a second. With any more pressure, a lung could be punctured, and he knew that if that happened, it would be over! No Will Jamison and his bag of magic tricks here! His vision was beginning to fade; pink, red and green spots were dancing over his field of vision. breathing was getting harder and harder, the pressure on his chest, his whole body becoming greater and greater! At the edge of his fading consciousness, suddenly, Lee’s face came into view…it was blurry and fuzzy, the edges of his face fading into grayness. He saw Crane’s mouth moving, but he couldn’t hear him over the ringing in his ears. Lee’s face was contorted in anxiety and he seemed to be struggling, but Chip was drifting into a soft warm place, it was the nicest he’d felt in two weeks, and he didn’t want to leave it!
Lee had wakened to the sounds of a struggle. It took him precious moments to come to full alertness. There was a huge snake wrapped around the body of his friend, squeezing the life out of him. He had a feeling of momentary panic and then gathered his wits and attacked the creature. He tried to convey to Morton that he was going to help, to free him, but he didn’t think that Chip heard. He needed a weapon! Anything! He dug around in the darkened hole to find the small laser devices. Finally gripping one, he opened it and held it to the head of the snake. The animal reared its head backward…there was the horrible smell of a burning hide, and the animal released its grip on Morton, and slithered out of the hollow. Chip lay there, unmoving, his breathing shallow, and light. Lee crawled over to his side and lifted his head onto his leg. He ran his hand over Chip’s chest, and carefully probed beneath the red welts left by the constrictor. Chip moaned when Lee touched the right side of his chest. His eyelids flickered open. Crane forced himself to smile at his friend.
"You scared me, pal," he said quietly, "I thought you were a goner. If it wasn’t for one of those laser devices, I don’t know what I would have done!"
"Thought I was too…think I’ve got a couple of broken ribs…Felt ‘em go."
"You’re lucky if that ‘s all that you’ve got! Can you sit up?" With Lee supporting him, gritting his teeth, he slowly got into a sitting position. The hollow was dark, and small, but there was a small amount of room to move around. Crane saw the marks on Chip’s neck… the snake had opened up the weals from the collar, and the neck was bleeding again. There was nothing he could do for that now, but to let it stop by itself.
"It’ll be tough going, but we’ve got to get on the move. The further away we get, the better off we’ll be."
"Maybe you’d better leave me behind, Lee. I’ll be slowing you down. One of us has to get out of here and let the authorities know what is going on! For the sake of all those poor souls if nothing else!"
"We got into this together, Chip…We’ll go out of here together!"
He grabbed Crane’s arm. "Lee!"
"I’m still in charge, Chip. We go together! Now c’mon…we’d best get out of here in case that monster decides to come back!” He paused, scrutinizing his friend, “Before we get out of here, we’ll have to do something about binding those ribs."
Morton cast him a quizzical look. "Binding them? How do we do that? In case you haven’t noticed, we don’t have anything to use. Lee, we have to face facts. There is no way I am going to make it out of here alive. YOU need to get going and survive for the both of us. Leave me behind, Lee. I’ll only slow you up! You can get out of here without me!"
"Nothing doing, pal. I have a solution!" he grinned at Chip and proceeded to pull up the legs of his pants and he tore several strips form each. He tied them together and then tied them around Chip’s chest. He brushed his hands together, and then said, "Not Jamie’s style or finesse, but it’ll have to do for now! Seriously, does it help any?"
"Yeah…" he paused, "but I still think that you should go on alone. You can move faster, and …"
"Not on your life, Chip!" He leaned toward Morton and carefully helped him to a crouch. Lee went out of the hollow, and turned to help Chip ease his way out. Both of them paused to get acclimated and determine a direction to follow. It was beginning to get light, and the jungle was beginning to come alive for the day.
To the two men, it only meant the beginning of another ordeal. They still had to find food, water, and safety. And Chip was hurting! Moving was painful, breathing was hard, and the thirst… they hadn’t had any water since the night before. The warm heat of the Jungle and the exertion of running, if you could call it what was amounting to clumsy crashing through the undergrowth, was making the thirst worse. Chip found had to lean on Crane for support, and that made their movements awkward and noisy.
The light made it easier to see where they were going, but it also made it easier for their pursuers to find them. After moving for an indeterminate amount of time, they stopped to rest.
"Any ideas as to where we are, or how far from the mine?"
"A few miles away, I think. From the star positions during the night, and following the sun today… a few miles. How are you feeling?"
Chip gave his friend a half smile, "Don’t ask…you don’t want to know! We need to get further away from the mines, Lee. You can move faster without me!"
"Forget it, Chip! We’re going together. Come on, let’s go!" Lee struggled to his feet, and then leaned over to help Chip get up. Chip gave him a questionable look.
Crane brushed off the concern from his friend. "Come on, Chip, let’s get moving. Maybe we can find something edible along the way!"
Chip slowly rose and accepted Lee’s arm for support. He found that he was leaning more and more heavily on his friend as the morning progressed. And Crane was growing more and more exhausted, trying to help him and keep them moving…
Chip knew that Crane had taken a bad beating when he had ‘lifted’ the laser devices. Chip had no idea how badly the Captain had been hurt, since Crane was his usual closemouthed self about his own injuries. As bad as it could be, Lee would never let him know. Silently h e wondered how much longer they could go on...’If only Lee wasn’t so determined to take me along!’
Without warning, Crane stumbled and fell, taking Chip with him....
Chip hit the ground with a stunning force and velvety darkness engulfed him.
Lee felt himself lose his footing, tumbling over a root he had not seen. Loosing his grip on Morton, he was aware of Chip falling and hitting the ground as he did, solidly and with a bone jarring impact. As his consciousness faded, he saw several small figures standing, staring at them. He reached out, as if to ask for help, but the arms of the netherworld pulled him downward and the world went black...
Admiral Nelson sat on his ‘front porch, staring out at the blue-black of the undersea world. The boat was running at flank, at 200 ft. All the operations were running smoothly. O’Brien was doing a fine job. For all of the times that they junior officer had had the boat in his command, his abilities were truly shining now. They would be off the coast of the tiny Republic in less than 24 hours. He’d get there sooner if he could, but there was no way for the boat to go any faster than she was. Unless he had a few canisters of the fuel enhancer that Seaview had tested several years ago. The results had been significant but dangerous... though’ right now, he didn’t care about the danger!
The sound of someone clearing their throat broke his reverie. He turned, irritated to be interrupted. The COB, Francis Sharkey was standing there, waiting for the Admiral to acknowledge him.
"Ah, begging the Admiral’s pardon, sir... Sparks just received this message and asked me to deliver it to you..." He handed Nelson a sheet of paper.
"Thank you, Chief." Sharkey stood apart from the Admiral as he read the message. A smile slowly spread across the older man’s face, and he looked up at the CPO.
"Finally, some good news, Chief! The government is moving against the Revolutionaries as we speak! Presidente Huarté wants the support of the United States, and the President has dispatched the Seaview to assist in the campaign!" Nelson slapped his leg," Get O’Brien to me now, and prepare the boat to answer bells in an attack status!"
Sharkey grinned broadly and with a snappy "Aye, aye, sir!" left the nose to accomplish his orders..."
Lee Crane came to consciousness slowly. Part of him did not want to wake up! The velvet dark that had surrounded him was comforting and warm, and a better place than he had been lately! He became aware of many things assailing his returning senses... He looked around anxiously for Chip, and when he did not see him in the hut (a hut...where and how?) he started to raise himself up on his elbow. A wizened hand on his shoulder gently pushed him back down.
The gentle face of an ancient crone came into his view.
“ No, Señor! No sé mueva!"(No, Mister, don’t move)
He immediately recognized the Spanish and tried to answer in kind...
"Abuélitá, dondé est mi amigó? Dondé est?"(Grandmother, where is my friend, where is he?)
She cackled lightly and patted his shoulder comfortingly. "No sé trate le que aceptablé…es aceptablé"(Don’t worry it’s okay.) She looked over her shoulder, and called in a crackling voice, "Espéranza, ven aqui!" (Espéranza, come here!)
A younger woman came into the hut and the old woman moved aside.
Younger was a relative term when it came to the woman who entered. Espéranza looked like a woman in her fifties, but she had a kindly face and gentle manner that put Lee at ease in spite of the circumstances.
"Señor, ustead. es Americanó, no?"(Mister, you are an American are you not?)
"Sí." was Lee’s cautious response.
Then softly she said, "Then perhaps English would be easier…" she smiled at the Seaview’s Captain.
Lee was startled, "How…?"
"American missionaries, the Jesuit fathers. I also taught at the school that they had here, until the Revolution began."
He grabbed her arm, "My friend…?"
"He is another building. He is …very ill, señor. I am sorry."
Lee tried to get up, but the hands, though gentle, held him down. "Please, you are also ill, señor…you and your friend escaped from the mines, did you not?"
"Our men are there, the ones that
are still alive… The Major came and took our men and our boys. Our women, the
young ones, were taken too…" she had a far away look in her eyes. All that are
left are the very young and the very old…" she paused. "We will help you, but
you can not go anywhere, yet…"
"The healer is doing what she can. She has very strong medicine. If he can be helped, she will help him… and you…" The old woman handed a bowl of steaming liquid. She placed one hand behind Lee’s head and held the bowl to his lips. "Drink this… it will help you…"
She smiled gently at him again, "I don’t know your name, señor, or your friend’s"
He returned her smile with an n easy one of his own, "It’s Crane, Lee Crane. And my friend is Chip Morton."
She shook her head, "You have such strange names, you Americans. Now, drink this, Lee Crane, it will help you sleep…"
"No, we have to go, to get further away from them, we can’t put you in any danger!"
She held him, as he tried to push her off, "We want to help you! If we did not, we would have left you where the children found you! You have to recover your strength if you are to get away. Drink the broth, it will help you feel better."
As reluctant as he was to stay, he knew that he and Chip needed to rest and recover. Espéranza was right. If Chip needed help, and could find it here, then maybe he would take the broth, just once…He was hungry…he was thirsty…and it smelled good… He drank the broth, and Espéranza lowered his head back to the pillow. He tried to speak, but he was quickly drowsy and soon fell asleep…
Chip was dreaming…and they weren’t pleasant dreams. The snake was staring him in the eyes with red, glowing eyes, huge jaws, and great gobs of saliva dripping from its lips. It was laughing at him, and squeezing him tighter and tighter. He couldn’t breathe, and it was so hot!!! The snake kept squeezing and squeezing… and then, suddenly it was gone!!! The pressure was gone! But then, he was back in the mine…and the guards were using cattle prods to make the men work, sending excruciating jolts of pain thru his body at the slightest error. And he was still so very hot!!! And then the roof of the mine caved in and there was rock filling the room and falling on top of him, and then he couldn’t breathe again…and it was dark, so very dark… And there suddenly were cool hands on his forehead, and sweet water being forced between his lips, and he heard gentle voices, melodious and soft. It was cooler and he felt more comfortable, and he could sleep…
Espéranza looked at the healer and shook her head. It had been a fight to save this American. He had been very sick with the lung fever! But the healer used her herbs well. The fever had passed. He would be very weak for a long while, but he would get well. Of the two men, he had been the most ill. The sores on his neck, his arms and ankles had been badly infected, like his friends, but there were other welts on his body, and the healer had found two broken ribs. The both men were badly weakened, and the women knew that there was very little food and water given in the mines. The both men had also had many bruises and cuts on their bodies. Espéranza knew that they had been beaten. This one had called for an Admiral and a Captain. She believed that they were American military men. The dark one, Lee Crane, had been beaten very badly within a day of their arrival in the village, the healer had told her.
In the three days since the children had found them, they had kept that dark haired one quiet and sleeping with a variety of herbs. He had seemed so concerned for his friend that the women decided that it would be better if he slept while they tried to save his friend. His sores had festered and he too had a high fever, though not as bad as his friend’s… and he was so thin, it was a wonder that he had survived the mines at all!
This time when Lee awoke, there was no one sitting with him, no one in the room. He looked around and wondered how long he had been here. Much of the time was fuzzy. He didn’t remember any of it clearly. His hand went to his neck, and touched the bandage there and saw the bandages on his wrists, and remembered someone talking softly to him in Spanish as they cleaned and dressed the sores from the shackles and neck iron.
Cautiously, he tried to sit up, and he had to wait until the room ceased moving before he tried to move further. He reached for the wall, and saw for the first time, how thin his hand and arm had become. Realizing how thin he had gotten he thought, ‘Jamie’s gonna have a fit!!!’ At the same time he slowly stood, and made his way carefully to the door. He had to find Chip!! He opened the door and looked out into the center of the village. There was a well with a pump in the center. The center of the area dappled with light and shadow.
That it was a poor village, Crane had no doubt. The fact that the men and the boys were gone added to the sense of desolation. He moved to the upright supporting the overhang above the door, and leaned heavily on it. He couldn’t believe how weak he felt. He shook his head to try and make the weakness go away, but it wouldn’t. He looked around again, the pump and well were tilting at a strange angle. Once they leveled off, he looked at the buildings…which one was Chip in?
Espéranza was coming from the building where Chip was, and saw Lee leaning heavily on the upright. She moved quickly across the village center.
"Lee Crane! You should not be out of bed! You are still weak, you are too sick to be out of bed!"
He rubbed his hand across his forehead. "You don’t understand…I have to see my friend…I have to know that he will be alright!"
She sighed. "Very well. I will take you to him, but you must promise me that you will come back here and lie down again after you have seen him. He is getting well. The healer says that he will be weak for a long time, but the lung fever is passed."
"Okay…I promise, Espéranza. I will come back here after I see him."
"Let me help you…Lean on me… here" She took his arm over her shoulder and supported him across the village to at small wooden shack.
He was angry with himself for even needing aid, but he also knew that he wouldn’t be able to get to Chip without it. She pushed open the door, and they entered the darkened room. Another old women were seated at Chip’s bedside, wiping his forehead with cool cloths. Morton looked like he was sleeping. His color was very pale; at least what Lee could make out thru the beard and matted hair. There were fresh strips of white cloth wrapped around Chip’s chest, and his neck, and wrists sported bandages like his. The old woman moved away, and Espéranza eased Lee into the chair. He laid his hand on Morton’s shoulder.
It seemed a long time to Lee before Chip reacted to his voice. He slowly turned his head toward Crane and opened his eyes…
"Lee…?" he asked in a low voice, "Where…where are we…I…I’ve been dreaming? I…" Crane increased the pressure on Morton’s shoulder to reassure him.
"It’s ok, Chip. We’re in a village. One of the ones near the mines…" Chip tensed under Crane’s touch. "It’s friendly toward us…You’ve been ill, buddy. They tell me pneumonia. Lung fever. You’re better now… but it will be a while before you’re up and around!"
"You sound like Jamie!" he rasped
Crane grinned. "Don’t I? …Just rest now, Chip. They tell me that you need your sleep. I’ll stay here for a while." Espéranza threw him a glance. "Then I have to return to my bed. Doctor’s orders"
"Sounds like a plan…Skipper…" He dozed, drifting off to the sleep his body needed. Crane sat there for a while, and as he began to doze in the chair, Espéranza gently touched him.
"I think that you need your rest as well, Lee Crane."
He looked at her somewhat groggily. Then clearing his head, "You’re right, Espéranza. I can’t seem to stay awake!" She smiled at him.
"You, too, are still very weak! Come, let me help you back to your bed… you will sleep better now that you know your friend is ok." He nodded, defeated by his own body and its unwillingness to cooperate with his mind. She leaned forward to help him up, and he found he was leaning even more heavily than before on her. He collapsed gratefully on to his bed, and immediately fell into an exhausted sleep.
Admiral Nelson was pacing, again. Francis Sharkey watched his CO with growing concern. In the more than two weeks since the Skipper and Exec had been missing, the Admiral had not been sleeping well, had been smoking more and had not been eating much at all. And each delay had only added to his, the Admiral’s, anxiety. Sharkey had a huge concern for Nelson and was trying very hard to get the older man to calm down! He wasn’t having much success!
"Damn and Blast it all! Sharkey, is all ready to go ashore?"
"Aye, sir. The landing party is ready sir!"
"This waiting is ridiculous!! Damn Politicians!!"
"Yes, sir!" Sharkey’s emphatic reply made Nelson look up at him. Nelson smiled.
"I’ve been a something of a bear…?"
Sharkey grinned, "Yes, sir!"
"If I could only get these politicians moving! First they want our help. Then they don’t…then they want us to stay and wait until they want us to land…Damn them!! All I want is to find Crane and Morton!!!! I don’t want to be involved in their stupid little war!!!"
"Aye, sir… can I do anything else for you, sir? something to eat?"
"No, no, Sharkey…nothing…just tell O’Brien to notify me immediately if a message comes in!"
Lee woke to furtive voices in the dark, with much scuffling and covert type of activity. He tried to rise and a strong hand held him down. A hand was clapped over his mouth, and a voice whispered in his ear.
"Do not make a sound, Lee Crane. We have seen some of the soldiers of the Revolution, may they be damned in hell!! They are coming this way, and we have taken your friend and are taking you to a place to hide you. Let us do this! Be quiet, and do not move! We will be moving you!!" Her hands moved from his shoulder and mouth, and he felt the entire mat being carried. He tried to determine where they were going, but he couldn’t tell. They were moving across the compound, quickly and to Lee, with a surprising amount of speed. They moved into a building, and down several steps. He found himself in a fairly large room, lit with a few candles. Chip was on a mat in one corner, the healer still at his side. They gently placed Lee on the floor, at the other end of the room. Espéranza hovered over him, placing her fingers on his lips.
"Just be quiet! We will take care of this and we will bring you above when it is safe for you. Here, drink this… it will help you feel better." She held a bowl to his lips, and he pushed it aside.
"No! You have to let me help. You are all at risk because we are here!"
"They do not know this, Lee Crane. I can handle these men. I have had to, many times. You are still ill. Do you think you could really be of some help to us? You are too weak to do more than put us in further danger! I will handle all of this!"
He wanted to argue with her, but he stopped. He knew that she was right. He hated the weakness of his body at this time…He wanted to do…not to be done for! With reluctance he took the drink she again held to his lips.
"Sofiá will remain here with you. I f you do need anything, she will help you." She ran a hand over his forehead, in motherly fashion. "Do not worry. All will be well, you will see." She rose and went to the healer. They spoke in hushed tones and then she went up the steps and closed the covering door. Lee looked over towards Chip, and tried to fight the sleep that was pulling at him, but he lost the battle and slept.
As the Jungle morning dawned, a cadre of soldiers marched into the tiny village. At the head was Major Altamonte. He surveyed the village, as heads popped out of doorways to see what was going on. Espéranza walked out of her hut to face the cocky little man.
"Major… to what does my poor village owe the honor of your visit?"
He took her hand in his slimy one, "Ah, Señora, it is such a pleasure to see you again!"
She pulled her hand from his and repeated her question, "What do you want, Major?"
"Always so direct, Espéranza!"
"I need to be when dealing with the likes of you, Major! What is it you want?"
"We have had two prisoners escape from the mines, and we are ‘concerned’ that they may harm our supporters in the Revolution. We are searching the entire area, since we have been forced to evacuate the mine."
Trying to keep calm, hearing his words ‘evacuation’, she asked him,
"Evacuation, Major? Does that mean that our men will be returning?"
"I do not know, my dear. That will be in the hands of the government. They will have reached the mines by now!! We are going to join larger forces several days away, and I need to take those prisoners with me! They are here?"
"Major, what ever gave you that idea. We are loyal to the Revolution. We would not help anyone who is running from you! We would have let you know!"
He laughed at her, grabbing her chin in his hand, "You don’t expect me to believe that you are a true patriot, do you, my dear? I do know you better than that! I remember how you fought me when your husbands and sons volunteered to serve the cause in the mines! Loyal…Not at all!"
He released her chin and slapped her face, "just to remind you, Espéranza, who is in charge!"
Her eyes smoldered, and she rubbed her chin, "I know who is in charge Major…I will not forget, trust me."
"Now, my dear, where are my prisoners? They are here are they not?"
"I told you Major…they are not here!"
"Then you will not mind if we search, will you?"
She remained staring at the man, "No, Major, not at all!!"
He signaled his men to disperse and go into all of the tiny huts. Women and young children ran from them into the center of the village. He smiled evilly at her, as he looked over the group clustered together.
"Espéranza, where is Sofiá, the healer? She doesn’t seem to be here!"
"She died, Major. Several days ago. Look over there…it is her grave!"
He looked to where she pointed and did indeed see afresh mound of soil marked with a small cross.
"Then I am sorry, for your loss." He clapped his hands and his men came running toward him. "We must be going, dear lady… the government men are not far behind and we do not want to be caught by them…I trust that we will meet again. For the Revolution!" The Major and his men left the village, but the women did not move to bring the Seaview’s officers from hiding. If Espéranza was right, they would soon face the government troops and she did not want to expose Crane and Morton to the harassment they would face from the ‘friendly’ soldiers. She knew that they were safe. Sofiá would take good care of them. She hustled the people out of the village center and to their tasks for the day. It would do no one any good to let the ‘good’ guys know that they had had early morning visitors.
Several hours later, government troops marched into the village. The small children ran quickly into the huts, and the older women gathered them protectively around them. These men were an unknown to Espéranza. The government troops had never come to this area of the jungle before and she was extremely wary as she made her way to the leader of the cadre.
She looked carefully at the collar insignia of the officer, as she moved towards the man. He was tall and he seemed very young to her. Perhaps not more than 25. And yet he had the look of a hardened warrior, as if he’d been fighting all of his young life!
"Captain, I am Espéranza Santiago. I am in charge here. Is there some way that I can help you?"
"Señora, I hope so… We are seeking a group of rebels. Ones that held the silver mine. We need to find them. They have done an injustice to our country and the people…your people, Señora. They owe a great debt to all of you!"
"Fine words, Captain. Is the government returning our men to us…Have you freed them from their ‘volunteer’ work?" her voice was cracking with emotion, "Our husbands, our fathers, and our sons, Captain. …And what of our daughters, Captain? Is the government going to return them to us?"
The young officer was first upset, and then he began to get angry with this woman who dared to question him. His voice took on a hard edge, as he answered her accusations. "Señora," he said angrily, " the unfortunate situation that your men found themselves in is not our fault! Perhaps your men should have resisted more strongly."
She was indignant at the ignorance of the young officer. "Do you think that they did not fight these men? That they wanted to go to those mines? That they did volunteer? Are you a crazy man, Captain? The oldest of our men was sixty and they took the young boys, Captain. Our young boys… My son was only 12, Captain…12!!! And my daughter was 14!! And you tell me that they wanted to go, Captain? You dare tell me that!!
“Look at me, Captain!!! Tell me that this is where I want to be right now! My children and husband taken from me, along with everyone else's ...And I am chosen to lead what is left of the village here...do you think that this is what I wanted? What my family wanted!!! We wanted to be left alone!!!! All of us here!!! We are poor, but we were happy until the Revolution started...Now look at us!! And tell me that we wanted this!"
Faced with these harsh words from this woman, the young officer had no reply for her. Still trying to maintain control of the situation, he turned and issued commands to his men. They dispersed and began to search the village. When Espéranza questioned him with a look, he simply replied to her, "We are searching for the rebels, Señora. We have to be sure you are not hiding anyone of them!"
She gave him a look of pure disgust. "I imagine that you haven't heard a word that I said, Captain… A search will find nothing!"
The two of them stood there, and waited for the soldiers to finish their search. Almost an hour later, the soldiers returned to the Captain. He spoke to Espéranza.
"It seems that you are correct, Señora. There is no evidence of any of the rebels in your village. I am sorry for the inconvenience, Señora. After all, I do have to follow my orders."
"Oh, Yes, Captain…you must follow your orders!!"
"Again, Señora…my apologies for disturbing your people." He tipped his hat to her, and marshaled the soldiers out of the compound, in the direction that the rebels had followed. Espéranza stood and watched them leave, and then slowly moved toward the hut, beneath which the Seaview’s officers were being hidden…
As the rafts touched the shoreline, Harriman Nelson was the first to jump to the shore. Sharkey followed right behind him. As the other rafts landed, Nelson moved away from the water, and stopped, crouching down and signaling Sharkey and the senior ratings, Patterson and Kowalski to come to him. He opened a map, and laid it on the ground.
"Alright, gentlemen…here's the plan, and here's the information the we have been given…This is the mine, where the government tells us that Crane and Morton are being held. They estimate that the FS1 went down somewhere around here…" He pointed to a spot on the map. ‘Let’s get two squads set up, Patterson you take one, Kowalski, you take the other…. We’ll split here and meet here… Will and Sharkey will come with me! It should take us about five hours to reach the mines. Here’s the route…"
The trek to the mine took longer than Nelson had planned. Much of the route had to be literally carved out of the Rainforest. Even armed with machetes and other cutting tools, it was a slow, and difficult progression. It was nearly dark when they had reached the site of the mine, and nothing in any of the information that they received had prepared the men of the Seaview for the sight of the mines… or the men who had toiled there.
"Why, they’re walking skeletons, Admiral!" was Kowalski’s hushed and startled reaction when they saw the men and their condition.
"You mean the Skipper and the Exec are one of them?!!" Sharkey asked, horrified. "No, Admiral, it can’t be!!!" Jamison laid a steadying hand on the COB’s shoulder.
"I think a lot of those men have been here a lot longer than the Captain and Mr. Morton, Chief. We’ll just have to find them."
Nelson called for Rodriguéz. "Rod, ask around and see if any of those poor souls have seen Lee or Chip."
"Aye, sir." As the men of the Seaview entered the compound, the men inside scattered at the sight of the uniforms and the guns.
Rodriguéz went to the head of the group…In a strong, yet soft and reassuring voice, he called out…
"!Atencion! Atencion, si usted por favor! Los hombres…Vienen aqui, imediamente…Es muy importante…por favor!!!” (!Attention! Attention, if you please! Men… Come here immediately… Is very important… please!)
Hearing a different tone to the voice than they had heard in a long time, many of the men began to slowly make their way towards the Seaview’s men. As a larger and larger group came together, Nelson began to make some hard decisions. Something that he had taught to many a sailor and young officer, something that Lee Crane and Chip Morton practiced with their every act… "do the right thing…not what I want, but what is right!" He turned to Jamison, and quietly said, "Will, we stay here for the night. Radio the boat… get O’Brien to send a squad of men with all the supplies that we can spare, medical and food stuffs, blankets and the lights. Tell him to do it ASAP! We’ll have the place lit up enough for them to find, in fact, we’ll send a party to meet them! We have to help these poor souls!!!" Nelson’s voice was caught in
Jamison put a hand on the older man’s arm, and nodded. He stepped off and started to speak into the walkie-talkie. Harriman Nelson looked around the compound as Rodriguéz was talking to the men in his soft Spanish. He shuddered, remembering another horrific scene that he had seen years ago in Germany… Man’s inhumanity to man… His musings were interrupted by Rodriguéz.
Harry cleared his throat, "Ah…yes, Rodriguéz?"
"Sir, the Skipper and Mr. Morton aren’t here. There are several men that have verified it. They were here for about two weeks… They escaped, he thinks it was about four or five days ago… The Major, in command here was very angry and upset! Then the Rebels up and left early yesterday, and the government troops came through, and they left too. The men here haven’t seen anyone else until we arrived. Sir, they have no food left and a lot of them are sick, sir."
"I know, Rod. I’ve sent to the boat. We’ll be staying here the night and see what we can do to help…"
"But sir, if the Skipper and Mr. Morton are out there, then…"
"We’ll find them, Rodriguéz, but these men are a priority right now. Both the Captain and Mr. Morton would be the first to do just what we are. We don’t know the Jungle, it is dark and these men need us right now. This is the right thing to do. You know that and so do I."
"Yes, sir. I understand that, its just that the Captain…" Nelson placed a hand on the ratings shoulder.
"Wouldn’t have it any other way."
"Aye, aye sir."
"C’mon, let’s see what Jamison wants us to do to help him set up some kind of clinic. We need your Spanish talents."
During the next four hours, the men of the Seaview set about helping the men in the mines. They set up barrels of water and makeshift showers. Jamison took over one of the larger buildings and set up a clinic, taking the most ill of the men first, and then trying to see each one of them in turn. The other men took to the barracks building, cleaning it and getting it ready for the supplies that the squad from the boat was bringing. Nelson decided to search the Major’s office. It was here that Jamison found him, in the deepest part of the night, sitting at the desk, staring at something in his lap. The supplies had arrived and the men were busy feeding and dressing the Revolution’s silent victims. Jamison carried two cups of hot coffee in his hand. He had been searching for the Admiral for the last half hour.
"Harry?" Nelson didn’t move. "Harry?"
When he turned, Jamison could see nothing but absolute grief in Nelson’s eyes.
"Harry what is it?" Nelson extended his hand… In it were Morton and Crane’s watches and Lee’s ring. In a voice so low Jamison had to strain to hear what the Admiral was saying.
"They were here, with these…" He held out two khaki uniform shirts with the Seaview collar insignia. They were torn and bloodied… "Will, what if by helping here, helping these men, I … I’ve consigned the two of them to… If these hours spent here have cost them…Can I live with that?"
Jamison put down the coffee on the desk and faced Harriman Nelson. "Harry, what ever the cost, what you are doing is the right thing! You know that and I know that. And you also know that Lee and Chip would do the same thing in the same situation. You were their teacher, Harry. You are the one who laid the groundwork for the men that they are now. They wouldn’t expect any less from you as you wouldn’t from them. And the men have the same expectations of you. For all of their love and loyalty to Lee and Chip, and their desire to find them, they all know that you are right! They know!"
"Then why does it hurt so, Will? Every time that something happens, it hurts… I’m tired, Will. I’m tired and I hurt." He looked at the Seaview’s doctor, with naked anguish, "I want my boys! I want them back on the boat! Safe and whole! Where they belong!"
Jamison placed his hand on Nelson’s shoulder. "Harry, if you need me, I’ll be over in the clinic…"
Will Jamison left the office, and Nelson continued to sit with the uniforms, watches and ring…
At first light, the Seaview’s crew prepared to leave the mines and search for their Captain and XO. Several of the men, including a corpsman were remaining behind to help until more organized aid arrived. They wanted to see that these men had every opportunity to return to their families. After some brief interviews with the men, they had discovered that there were many villages surrounding the mine. The many men had come from all of the villages, and they were all anxious to return to their families and their lives… Some had been in the mines for as much as eight months. That anyone had survived, for that length of time was amazing to Jamison. He had seen the illness of the men, the scurvy, the dehydration, the near starvation, the damage to their eyes, and so much more!
The bright spot in all of this news was that the FS1 had been located and the damage had not been as bad as they first thought. Sharkey pulled Patterson and Barclay to work on it, while the rest of the men went to search for the command staff.
Sharkey approached Nelson. "Admiral, sir, can you tell me where we are going to go, sir? I mean, do we have a direction to follow… You know, it’s a big jungle out there!!!"
Nelson snorted. "I know, Francis! We’ll be heading in a North by Northwest direction. That’s the way that the troops headed…we’ll do the same. If Lee and Chip were trying to get away from them, they would have gone towards the Capital. That’s the direction that they’d take, so we’ll take the same…Since the government men went the same way, we could also believe that the rebels have been handled. If they’re alive, we’ll find them…"
"Aye, sir… I’ll take over Patterson’s squad. When do we leave, sir?"
"As soon as we can get the rest of the men together and ready, I’d say 20 minutes. Make the preparations, will you?"
"Aye, aye, sir."
Sharkey left, and Will Jamison approached Nelson. "Harry, you ok?"
"Yes, Will, yes… just a bit overtired… We have to get moving…I have to know, one way or the other…"
"Yes, Harry, we all do! We all do!”
Espéranza looked in at the sleeping men. They were still so ill, but at least they were making some progress. The dark-haired one, Lee Crane, had run a fever after the troops had left, and it had finally broken several hours ago. The other one, Chip Morton, was still very weak, but he too was getting better. Espéranza knew that they needed better care, and that they needed other things as well, but that would have to wait, at least until the situation stabilized At least they were safe for now!! And she knew a little more about them. Chip Morton had told her some information when she was sitting with him, while Sofiá had been sleeping.
She now knew who they were, and how they had come to be here, in San Renáldo. And she also knew why Major Altamonte had been so desperate to get them back into his custody. Their testimony about the mines and the treatment of the men at the mines would not help the cause! Altamonte intended to kill them! Well he did not know that they were here, and she would keep it that way!! Perhaps they would not like being here, underground, but it was safer, at least for the time being.
She looked over at Crane and saw he was stirring. She moved next to him and he opened his eyes.
She patted his hand that lay on the blanket, in a motherly fashion, and smiled warmly at him.
"Yes, Lee Crane…or should I say Captain Crane?"
He looked at her, puzzled with her knowledge of who he was. As he slowly looked around the room, he asked… "How…? What’s going on, what’s happened?"
"You have had a fever. Sofiá has been caring for you and your friend. The rebels and the government troops have come and left. Your friend, Cdr. Morton has been worried about you."
"How do you know who we are?"
"He told me, about the two of you, your boat, and how you came to be here!"
"Then you understand why we have to get out of here as soon as possible. For everyone’s sake."
"And I understand that neither one of you are able to go out there and run from him. He is an extremely dangerous man."
"I know that, Espéranza. But we have to leave. We have to get away from you and your people. You have done too much and put yourself at risk for the two of us. We can’t endanger you any longer!"
He tried to raise himself on his elbow and fell back quickly as the weakness hit him. He let a sigh escape, and threw a hand on h is forehead. He wrinkled his nose in distaste as his hand touched the long, matted curls that lay there. He ran his hand down his face, and rubbed at the beard. She continued to smile at him.
"When you are better, we will help you with your hair and your beard, and we will find you both some clothes. But you will have to wait until you are better, Captain."
"I’m an impatient man, Espéranza. I don’t like to wait." He gave her a lopsided grin.
"Then patience is something that you will have to learn, Captain Crane." She smiled back at him.
"I don’t think that that’s possible!" was his light-hearted reply. She patted him lightly on the shoulder.
"I will leave the door open when I leave, Captain Crane. And if things remain calm, we will move you and Commander Morton upstairs, in another day or so. Just rest…"
"You remind me of the Doctor on my boat." He laughed, and she joined him.
"He must be a very strong man."
"He has his ways, Espéranza, believe me." Against his will, he felt his eyes growing heavy again, and he moved deeper into the mat, to find a comfortable position in which to fall asleep. She watched as the Captain fell asleep, and once he was breathing regularly, she rose to go. A voice from the other mat called her .
"Espéranza!" He was softly demanding. She moved to his side.
"Yes, Commander? How may I help you?"
The clear blue eyes looked deeply at her. "Lee, how is he?"
"He is sleeping, now, Commander. He had a hard time with the fever. He doesn’t have a lot of reserve left. He is very thin. And you have not fared much better! Your ribs will require a doctor’s attention very soon. Once things have settled, we will have to get you to one."
"Unless one arrives here first, Espéranza!"
"You are so very sure that your Admiral will come for you!"
Chip smiled a completely disarming smile, and replied quite firmly, "He will. I know he will."
"Then you and the Captain are
very fortunate. Your friendship with each other is very strong, and I feel that
the friendship with your Admiral is just as strong."
"We’ve known each other for many years, and worked with each other almost as long. We’ve been through a lot together!’
"So it would seem from the things the two of you spoke of in your fevers!"
Chip smiled… "It would take a long time to tell you all the stories."
"Perhaps, when I am not so busy, you can share some of it with me."
" I must go now, Commander. I will return in a little while. Try and rest now. Your Captain will sleep for a while."
"Thank you, Espéranza…for all that you’ve done."
"You are welcome, Commander. Very welcome."
She moved to the stairs, and went out of the doorway. Chip lay back on the pillow. "Admiral, hopefully you will get here soon!!"…
To say that frustration was a major factor in Harriman Nelson’s mood was an understatement. After all that they had seen and done so far, there was still no further sign of Lee and Chip other than what they found at the mine. "Where in the hell were they? Hell was surely a good description of what the two of them had been through at the mine, that was certain, but where were they now? C’mon, lads, give me a bloody clue!!!" The crew were being diligent in searching for clues as they traveled the path that the troops had followed…He had no idea if they were moving in the right direction or not, but his gut instinct told him to lead in this direction. Maybe that connection that Jamie swore the three of them had… He had to hope that that was it!
"Yes, Chief, what is it?"
"A village, up ahead, sir! About a half a kilometer!"
"Finally! Get Rodriguéz to be ready to translate for us…. There’s no telling what we are going into. They could be rebel supporters as easily as they could be for the government. We have to make it clear from the outset that we just want to find Crane and Morton, and nothing else!"
"Aye, aye, sir! Rod, front and center!"
Rodriguéz came forward. "Admiral?"
"Yes. I want you to take the lead with me into the village. If any of the locals approach, I’ll need you to do the talking!" He clapped him on the shoulder, "C’mon, let’s move out!"
The men fell into a relaxed formation and moved with sure strides to the quiet village. Nelson’s first reaction was that of surprise. There was no one in sight. The village looked lived in but desolate! Where were the people? They heard scuffling sounds, and looked sharply to see several small bodies run past a doorway. That drew a small smile from Nelson. After all if there were children, then there should be some adults!!
As they made their way into the center of the village, they heard more sounds of life, but still saw no one else. Nelson stopped the men at the well and signaled to Rodriguéz. The rating approached him.
"Call for someone, Rodriguéz… any one… ask them to come out and talk to us. Tell them we mean them no harm!!"
He nodded and then called out in the same voice that he had used at the mines.
"Atencion! !Atencion por favor! !Vengan aqui, por favor! Este es el Admiral Nelson del Instituto del Nelson, en Santa Barbara, California, de los Estados Unidos! Estamos buscando a nuestros amigos y necesitamos su ayuda! por favor!" (Attention, please. Come here, please. This is Admiral Nelson of the Nelson Institute, in Santa Barbara, California, in the United States. We are looking for our friends, and we need to speak with you, please!”)
There was silence in the village, and then there was movement in one of the huts, a blanket doorway was pushed aside, and a dark-haired older woman came out an approached them. She had a kindly face, but maintained an air of authority and dignity. In a soft, but authoritative voice, she said while extending a hand in greeting…
"Admiral Nelson, I am Espéranza Santiago!"
Nelson quirked an eyebrow at the perfect, slightly accented English she spoke.
"Missionary educated, Admiral. English was a major part of the curriculum…and I am simply called Espéranza." She smiled at Nelson and he found himself warming to the woman.
"Very well, Espéranza…"
"I am in charge of the village, such as it is. You said that you are looking for someone?"
"Yes, two of our men. They were imprisoned at the mines, and escaped a number of days ago. We are trying to find them."
"May I be so bold as to ask you why, sir?"
Nelson ran a hand through his hair. "Why, madam…? Because they are the Captain and Executive Officer of my boat…because they are my men… because they are my friends!!"
"I see." She said softly. Espéranza saw the pain and concern in Nelson’s eyes and knew this was the man that the two Americans had been waiting for!!!!
"If you will take your men, Admiral, to the other side of that clearing, and wait, I will see if I can help you."
Nelson looked at her a bit puzzled, but said a few words to Sharkey and the entire group moved to the outskirts of the village. Espéranza went into another hut, and the men of the Seaview settled down to wait.
Espéranza went down the steps to the room where Lee and Chip were. Looking carefully at the two men, she went to the side of the Captain of the Seaview. She laid a hand lightly on his arm and he came slowly awake. He looked at her puzzled. He cleared his throat.
"Lee Crane, I think that your friend has arrived here!"
"The Admiral?" He struggled to get up.
"Slowly, Captain Crane…slowly!"
The room pitched and rolled for a few moments, before he was able to steady himself. She helped him to his feet. He reached out for the wall, and leaned against it. She extended a hand to him, but he refused her help. She shook her head at his somewhat defiant attitude. "It seems he will do this, and do it alone! So stubborn!!’
He flashed her a grin. "I know…you don’t have to say it, Espéranza…Stubborn!!"
She nodded, and smiled…. "Will you at least allow me to help you up the stairs. I will send Sofiá to Commander Morton." Lee nodded resolutely.
"First I want to tell Chip." He knelt at the side of Morton’s mat, and laid a hand on his shoulder. "Chip…"
The Exec opened his eyes, to his friend’s face, smiling at him.
"Espéranza says the cavalry has arrived, buddy! She’s going to send Sofiá down here to give you a hand. I’m going up there now."
Chip grinned back at Crane, "Well, make sure you ask the O.O.M. what took him so long?"
"Will do, will do!!"
Espéranza stood behind Crane as he started to rise, and she subtly offered him help to stand. He flashed her a grateful look, and he grabbed her arm to steady himself as he went up the stairs to the compound. In the doorway, he stood and allowed his eyes to adjust to the light of the village center. There on the other side of the village, in a clearing, stood the men of the Seaview. Jungle fatigues mixed with khaki, there had to be 20 – 30 men. It was a sight that he was pleased to see. In the middle of them all was the compact, red-haired figure of Harriman Nelson. Lee was very glad to see the older man.
Lee slowly walked towards the Admiral on weak legs. He wanted to get to him as quickly as possible, but his body once again was refusing to cooperate. Nelson had turned to face him at the inpatient urging of Sharkey, but the O.O.M. gave no instant sign of recognition. Lee raised his arm high in a wave, conscious of the fact of how bad he looked, and how slowly he was moving. It was no wonder that the Admiral didn’t recognize him! He called out, "Admiral!"
Harriman Nelson had seen him, coming from the hut and into the clearing, but he didn’t immediately recognize him. True there was something familiar about him, but ... The man was bearded, and dirty and so thin, wearing nothing but a thin pair of torn pants. The poor soul had stark white bandages on his nedk and wrists, and he was moving so slowly! He obviously was not well! Then Nelson saw him raise his arm, in a wave and a voice, that suddenly familiar voice called out, and Harriman Nelson reacted as if he had been hit. "Lee?!" It was Lee Crane!
He waved back in recognition, and started to move toward Crane, and as he got closer, he saw a smile broaden his Captain’s face. He started to run towards him, and then, stopped, suddenly, as a shot rang out. There was a momentary look of surprise on Crane’s face and he collapsed to the floor of the jungle. Harriman Nelson was frozen in place. It was as if everything around him had stopped. He was rooted to that spot, each muscle frozen in time. His mind screamed out "Lee!! Oh God!! Lee!!" A strangled cry escaped his throat, one that made no earthly sense. He heard another voice call out sharply, "LEE!" And he was aware of men around him running to the Captain. He saw a woman, in fact several, also move quickly to the fallen man. And still his body refused to move! Slowly as if moving through some thick, gelatinous substance, he began to move toward the Captain. Will Jamison was at Crane’s side. There was a single, bullet wound, high on Crane’s left back, slowly weeping blood. Gently, Jamison turned him onto his back, and the larger exit wound, torn and ugly, was quickly visible. Blood flow from this wound was rapid and heavy, and Jamison was hard put to stop the blood.
"I think it nicked an artery, Harry. There isn’t much…"
Nelson grabbed for Crane’s hand. "Lee…" his call was urgent and stricken…"Lee…!"
As a grey pallor began to color his face, Crane’s eyes opened, "Admiral…The Boat…All’s well?"
Choked with emotion, grasping his Captain’s hand, "Aye, Lad…All’s well!"
"Thank you, sir…Thank you…" Crane’s hand went limp, and his face relaxed.
"Will?!" Chip Morton appeared unsteadily at Nelson’s side.
"I’m sorry, Harry… Chip…He’s…"
"No, Will!! No!!!!!!!!!!!" Blackness rushed at Harriman Nelson, and he welcomed the sweet oblivion it offered…
His face felt wet, the tears were streaming from his eyes. His sense of grief was overwhelming…
"LEE…" He called out the Captain’s name…it was more of a strangled sob than a shout… "Lee…" He threw his arm over his head, and wondered at the suddenness of the softness that was surrounding him. He slowly became aware of his surroundings. His cabin, on the boat…the boat…how did he get here? They must have come back to the boat after Lee…died. Lee was dead…he’d been there…seen him shot…felt Crane’s life slip away from him… how was he going to do this…replace Lee Crane…he couldn’t do that anymore than he could cut off his own arm…no, he’d decommission Seaview before he’d replace Lee. He sat on his bunk, aware of the smooth movement beneath him. He reached for the light above the bunk. The soft brightness was a jarring note in the blackness of the cabin. He swung his feet to the floor, surprised, that he was wearing his pajamas. Someone must have changed him and put him to bed when they reached the boat. Strange that he wasn’t in Sick Bay! He padded to his desk, and reached for a cigarette, and lit it. Why didn’t he remember coming back to the boat! He shook his head once more, and tried to collect his thoughts. There would be a lot to do…a funeral to plan… He’d have call Lee’s mother, Helen and tell her. And he wanted to check on Chip…there was no telling how this would impact the Exec, after all he’d been through! He reached for the intercom, and glanced at his watch…0337… no, he wouldn’t call Will at this hour, it was all too difficult to deal with. Much too difficult and the hour of the morning made it more difficult. His thoughts were such a jumble…
He called the Control Room, and a crisp and alert voice answered him,
"Morton here, how can I help you, Admiral?"
Incredulously, "Chip? What are you doing in the Control Room? Are you well enough to be on duty?"
There was a moment of silence and then Morton replied, "Excuse me, sir, I don’t understand…I’m on the Delta watch for the entire cruise, sir."
"Yes, yes of course…I um…well…I’ll …thank you, Chip."
Morton’s reply was a puzzled, "Aye, aye, sir." And then the microphone went silent. Nelson rose somewhat unsteadily from the desk. He looked around the cabin again…. What was going on? How could Chip be well enough to be on duty? He was standing in the center of the cabin, when there was a knock on the door.
"Admiral…? Admiral, are you ok, sir?"
‘That voice! Lee’s voice?! NO, it couldn’t be!! He’d seen Lee die! It couldn’t be!!"
The door opened and Captain Lee Crane, Skipper of the Seaview entered the cabin. Nelson staggered backward against the desk, all color draining from his face. "Lee!" he said softly.
Crane moved quickly to the older man’s side, and guided him to his bunk. Nelson reached for the younger man and touched his arm… "You’re … You’re alive…"
Crane grinned broadly, and laughed lightly, "Yes, sir, I am!! Have been for a long while!! Are you ok, sir?"
He shook his head in disbelief… "It was all so real, Lee…so real…you and Chip…"
"Chip and I what, sir…"
As Nelson was about to explain to Crane, when a soft feminine voice interrupted, " Captain, is everything alright? I heard voices…"
Crane looked around, "Oh, Doctor Santiago, I hope I didn’t disturb you!!!"
"Not at all, Captain. I am a light sleeper, and I heard voices…" She smiled at Nelson. "Admiral, are you feeling alright? You don’t look very well!"
Nelson smiled at her, while still holding Lee’s arm tightly, "Let’s just say that I’ve had quite a shock, and I’m still recovering from it!" He looked closely at Crane, "Lee, let me tell you what this is all about…"
Nearly one hour later, Nelson sat back and lit his 20th cigarette. He inhaled, and then exhaled deeply. Crane looked at him with a real concern, "Admiral, I don’t know what to say."
Nelson smiled ironically, "I do, Lee. Let me say that even though it was just a dream, I learned a few lessons, and I’m grateful that I didn’t have to live them to learn them. I don’t want to have to live anything like what I dreamt, and please God, I never will. And Dr. Santiago, thank you for all the help you’ve given us on the San Renáldo situation. The Institute and I are more than willing to help your government, in any way that it may need to catch these people…" Lee yawned and looked at his watch.
"Admiral, its 0430 and I have the con in less than three hours. If I’m going to get any rest at all I’ll have to ask you to excuse me…" He grinned at Nelson, "The dead may not need their sleep, but seeing as how I’m alive, I need some!"
The com crackled, "Admiral, is the Skipper with you?"
Nelson quirked an eyebrow at Crane, and Crane nodded slightly, acknowledging the Admiral’s unspoken question. So, Morton was at the bottom of Lee’s visit!
"Yes, Chip, he is…"
"Skipper, I have Sharkey prepping the FS1 for the trip to the Jungle tomorrow, and I wanted to go over the flight plan with you…"
"Very well, Chip. I’ll be right there…" He turned to Nelson…"No rest for the weary, sir…excuse me!"
Tiny fingers of fear tickled Harriman Nelson’s neck…
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea tm ©, 20th Century Fox, and the Irwin Allen Foundation and its related companies, all rights reserved. Any reproduction, duplication, or distribution in any form is expressly prohibited. This web site, its operators and any content contained on this site relating to Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea tm © are not authorized by Fox.