Chapter 18: Typhoon Ai
by Ivy Rangee
1 Aprilis 3027
Peering intently through his binoculars, Lieutenant Alexander Row stood on the wraparound platform of Kuramasu Island's observation tower, searching for signs of Typhoon Ai's first rain bands. A steady wind of seventy knots drove white caps over the tempestuous sea, pushing sea level on the island ever higher. Flooding was a given for the storm surge would peak at high tide, two hours from now. Leaning into the platform's stone railing, Alex braced himself as strong gusts buffeted the island, bending tree tops to the earth. Seeing nothing unusual, he circled the tower one more time, reading various gauges while noting current wind and water damage, after which he slipped into the tower to write up the hourly report.
"Here, Agent Tukwet, take this to the adyton," said Alex, handing a sheaf of papers to the beautiful young runner. "And be careful."
"Yes, Master Alexander," replied the fit young woman, placing the document in a waterproof carrier bag.
"Wow, 'Master Alexander'?" commented Edouard Pelletier, after Agent Tukwet, had taken her leave. "Any reason that hotty refers to you as 'master?'"
"Hands off, Pelletier, she's engaged; as are you. Packard, it's your watch," said Alex, walking to a round table in the center of the room, where his fellow cadets sat playing cards. He pointedly handed Packard the binoculars.
"But, Row, I'm winning."
"Winning at what?"
"Follow the Queen. Check this out; I've won fifteen pieces of pickled seaweed."
"Lucky you," smirked Pelletier.
"It's the perfect time to quit and consolidate your efforts," said Alex. "Don't be like the great Alexander, never stopping to secure his victories."
"Good point," said Packard, getting up and popping one of his winnings in his mouth. "You know, this stuff tastes pretty good, Row. I've never eaten pickled seaweed before."
"Betting your food supply in a game of chance is unwise," warned Alex. "Packard and I will not be sharing when the rest of you are begging us for rations."
"Oh come on, Row," said Julian Whelan. "We won't starve."
"Perhaps you wouldn't be so optimistic if you knew what happened to the lookouts stationed at this very observatory during the storm of thirty-aught nine," said Alex, picking up a frayed antique journal.
"What happened?" asked Wolf.
"It's not for the squeamish."
"You're making this up, Row," said Pelletier.
"No, I'm not."
"Bwa ha ha, bwa ha ha, hah ha. Spill it, Master Alexander. And with all the gory details. Bwa ha ha, bwa ha ha, hah ha," laughed Whelan manically, holding an electric torch under his chin.
"Can it, Whelan," said Packard with a worried expression, as he grabbed a rain poncho and rushed outside.
"Packard's so easy," said Whelan.
"I'm on Packard's side," said Alex. "That laugh combined with your ghoulish face is pretty scary, though you always look like that; so maybe you're right, perhaps Packard is skittish."
"Hey, Row! What's wrong with you?" asked Pelletier.
"What do you mean?"
"You're happy…and friendly."
"He got laid this afternoon," interjected Whelan.
Alex aimed a withering glare at Whelan, who slid so low in his chair only his eyes could be seen peering over the table's edge. He seemed to be pleading for mercy.
"There's the Row we all know and fear. Now you've done it, Whelan; you just had to bring up his love life," said Pelletier. "Straightaway he'll stalk into a dark corner and brood for a day or two. Because of you we'll never find out what happened to the lookouts of thirty-aught-nine."
A second later Whelan raised his hand, waving a white napkin while shouting his immediate and unconditional surrender.
"I accept your surrender, Whelan, on the condition that you agree my personal life is off limits in perpetuity."
"So agreed," said Whelan, marching to Alex and surrendering a butter knife, hilt first. "How long exactly is perpetuity?"
"Forever, Whelan! Now, where shall I begin?" asked Alex, placing the ancient book on the table and sitting down.
"At the beginning," replied Wolf.
"Let's play cards while Row relates his tale of horror," said Pelletier, holding up the deck of cards and shuffling them like a professional dealer. When everyone nodded agreement, he turned to Kori Kosta, who sat next to him.
"Little blind," called Pelletier after which she placed one piece of pickled seaweed on a plate in the center of the table. "Big blind," shouted Pelletier, and Wolf, who sat next to Kosta, threw in three pieces of the delicacy.
"What's the game?" asked Whelan.
"Crazy Pomegranate, eight or better," said Kosta.
"Oh, Jeez," said Wolf. "That's way too complicated."
"Little blind calls it," said Kosta glaring at him. She'd turned her kepi backwards, which only made her more intimidating.
"She's right," said Pelletier, as he dealt three cards face down to each player. "Them's the rules. Do you know the game, Row?"
"Never heard of it," said Alex, frowning as he checked his cards.
"Good," smirked Kosta. "We've got ourselves a mark."
"Don't trust him, Kosta," said Whelan. "Row's cunning."
"Do you want me to go over the rules?" asked Kosta, chewing on a carrot stick as if it were a cigar.
"No, I'll manage," said Alex, pulling his box of pickled seaweed from his rations pack.
While the five cadets stared at their cards, Agent Tukwet returned, handing Alex a sheaf of papers. Water dripped from her rain gear, forming a puddle where she stood.
"The rain's begun," said Tukwet, stating the obvious.
Alex took a moment to read the documents which included updated information on the storm's size, estimated landfall and wind speed.
"How'd they get such current data?" asked Alex.
"Lady Hippolyte sent three vanships to evaluate the storm's intensity," said Tukwet.
"Typhoon Ai is moving faster than predicted," reported Alex to the rest. "Landfall is expected within two hours."
"What does that mean?" asked Kosta.
"Ai will arrive sooner then expected; however, it will pass quickly if it maintains its current rate of speed."
"Awesome! Now let's play cards. Would you like to play, Agent Tukwet?" asked Pelletier, standing and holding a chair for the young woman, who was in the process of tying back her long, wind-blown black hair.
"What is it?" she asked, taking her seat and beaming at him, as he bowed to her. "Wait. Are you the bridegroom I've heard so much about?"
"It's Crazy Pomegranate, eight or better. And if you are referring to the incredibly lucky man, who has won the hand of Dionysia Kotinas Levantera Petros, then indeed, that would be me," replied Pelletier, winking and flashing her an utterly charming smile. "Would it be impertinent of me to ask your given name?"
"It would; and it's Patamon," said the lovely agent with an equally engaging wink.
"Pelletier!" said Alex, eyeing both of them sternly. He was pretty sure he'd seen Pelletier sparkle for a moment.
"Yes, Row?" answered Pelletier, his tone innocent as he continued to gaze with obvious lust at Patamon Tukwet.
"Sure, I'm in, Crazy Pomegranate's a favorite on Kuramasu Island," said Tukwet. "Everyone plays it during the festival of the return of Queen Persephone."
"I told you not to trust Row!" shouted Whelan. "He's wily."
"Place your bets! And Jeez, Whelan, it's a bloody game about trickery," said Pelletier.
"So, Row, tell us," said Wolf. "What happened that night?"
"It was a night much like tonight, I believe the storm even had the same name, Ai," said Alex, staring blankly at his cards as Pelletier dealt the flop. "The progression of the monsoon's stages had seemed just like any other."
"Bets," called Pelletier again. "Seemed?"
"But just as the lookouts had settled down to the evening meal and a game of cards, the guard on duty burst into the room."
"Why?" asked Pelletier, dealing the turn. "Bets."
"It was curious," said Alex, betting five pieces of pickled seaweed. "He'd found two small children, a girl and a boy, roaming the forest just below the lookout's platform."
As if on cue, the door flew open, and rain blew in along with Packard. "Hey, Row, I found these two wandering around. They're soaked and shivering."
The surprised cadets scrutinized two small dark-haired children who stared back with huge, innocent green eyes. They did indeed shiver as they wore only light summer clothing.
"Whelan, get some towels," ordered Alex.
After carefully surveying the room, the little girl let go of Packard's hand, running to the table, where she climbed onto Alex' lap and stared at his face. In terror, the boy let out a feral cry as he turned his head away from the cadets, and burst into tears all the while clinging to Packard's leg.
"Who are they, Tukwet?" asked Alex.
"I've never seen them before, Master Alexander; they look like Yokujins. But did you notice her ears?"
The rain had plastered the little girl's long hair to her head, and her ears stuck out, sharp and pointy.
"That trait is not unknown among Yokujins," observed Alex.
"True, but the trait is recessive and thus rare on the island, I believe I would know of these children if they lived here. They must be from the southern islands."
"How did they get here?" whispered Alex, watching Packard as the burley cadet knelt to comfort the small child who clung to him like ivy. There was little doubt these two were clan relations; Alex and Tia had both exhibited the same ear characteristic in their early childhood. But the trait had become less pronounced as they grew older. It had caused Alex no end of trouble at Grimsley Royal Primary Academy where some of his classmates had shunned him, calling him a changeling who worshiped the evil one. Until that point, Alex hadn't known of the existence of an evil one; he'd been taught that the evil one does or experiences at the hands of others is the result of human failings – not some demon's. Thus at the age of six he brought the conundrum to his great-grandmother, who explained that the children's parents were members of a cult that had odd ideas about pointy ears – nothing more.
"Wolf," said Alex. "Take over Packard's watch. Keep a sharp eye for any signal lights."
"Why? Are we expecting a transport?"
"Just do as I ask!"
"What's going on, Row?" asked the ever-twitchy Whelan, handing Tukwet some thick white towels.
Tukwet wrapped one around the little girl and brought another to Packard, and then returned to Alex where she tried to lift the little girl from Alex' lap, but the child frowned, clinging to Alex' shirt, which was now soaked as well.
"What is your name?" asked Tukwet.
"Kamahele," said the child.
"And this is your brother?"
"What's his name?"
"How did you get here?"
"Walk," said Kamahele, pointing to her feet.
"You haven't answered me, Row?" pressed Whelan, slightly wild-eyed. "What the hell are these kids?"
"Shut it, Whalen," interjected Kosta. "You're scaring the kids – and the rest of us."
Ignoring Whelan, Alex asked Tukwet to find out what more she could from the two children while she bathed and then dressed them in dry clothes. Standing, he attempted to transfer Kamahele to Tukwet, but the little girl refused to release him; thus he resorted to bribery. Reaching down, he picked up a slice of seaweed, which she promptly grabbed, gobbling it down like a wild animal. Packard followed suit, offering Holokai some of his hard won seaweed. The little boy nibbled it for a moment before making a face and spitting it out.
"Please go with Tukwet," begged Alex. "She will dry you and dress you in warm cloths. You'll feel so much better."
"No, stay you!" said Kamahele, shaking her head vehemently. "Mama said."
"Mama?" asked Alex. "Where is your mama?"
Kamahele pointed to the door.
"Is she near?"
"Tell me about the place."
"How did you get to the island?"
Alex shook his head. He asked the wrong questions. "Where is your mother now?"
Kamahele made hand motions like a fish swimming through water.
"Did your mama tell you the name of the beach?"
"But you don't remember?"
Kamahele shook her head.
"The name is like this motion?" asked Alex, repeating the hand motion.
"It's an animal that swims like this?"
She smiled and nodded.
"Why didn't your mama come with you?"
"Hurt, wait there" said Kamahele rubbing her leg, and then pointing to the door.
"Your mama hurt her leg?"
"Did other people come here with you?"
She nodded gravely as her little brother followed by Packard joined her.
"Mama," he said, as tears coursed down his little, round red cheeks. Packard pick Holokai up and comforted him.
"How many?" asked Alex.
She held up her fist, slowly unfolding four little fingers.
"Are any of the other people hurt?"
She nodded. "Oba."
"What happened to Oba?"
"She sleep. No wake."
"I'll have to go to work if you want me to find them."
"You must go with Agent Tukwet for now."
"She seems to be quite taken with you," said Tukwet. "Are you sure you don't know who they are, Master Alexander?"
Alex thought for moment. "Positive. I have no idea what's going on."
With a sigh, Alex took the king of clubs from his hand on the table. He would have won – big time, but no time for that now – instead he handed the card to Kamahele. "Hold this. It will protect you until we see each other again."
The little girl grabbed the card and took a bite out of the corner, afterward making a face and spitting it out.
"Don't eat it," said Alex. "Hold it, like a talisman."
She seemed to understand for she let him put her down, and Tukwet led her to the bathing room.
"Don't dawdle, Agent; this information is needed at the adyton. Packard, you watch over Holokai. Go with Tukwet."
"Row, tell me what will happen next," demanded Whelan.
"I'm not a seer, Whelan."
"I mean in the story."
"Get a grip, Whelan," said Pelletier. "It's a coincidence."
"Row!" shouted Whelan. "Talk!"
"Transport lights and a distress signal," said Alex.
At this pronouncement, the door flew open and Wolf rushed in, sliding across the wet floor as if on skates.
"Row, get out here. You have to see this," said Wolf, just as the power went out, leaving them in darkness.
"Row!" squealed Whelan.
"Don't worry, Whelan," said Kosta. "Pelletier will let you hold his hand."
"Wolf, where's your signal light?" sighed Alex.
"Right here, Sir."
"Turn it on and follow me," ordered Alex.
"Yes, Sir!" replied Wolf. In the dim light, Alex and Wolf proceeded to a metal panel in the hallway that led to the bathing room. Holding the lamp at eye level, Alex opened the electrical box and flipped a series of switches which brought auxiliary power on line.
"Thank the Gods," groaned Whelan.
"Now, what did you see?" asked Alex.
"Come out and look! I've never seen the like."
Alex threw on his rain gear and, with the help of Junior Lieutenant Wolf, fought the wind with all his strength in order to force open the door. Once outside, Alex stared in amazement as dozens of water spouts danced on the roiling sea. They circled each other colliding, sometimes dissipating, and sometimes reforming into much larger columns then the two that had married. Alex grabbed Wolf's binoculars and searched the shoreline to find the water level at least twenty feet above normal. Smaller water spouts formed along the shore.
"When did this happen?" asked Alex.
"Fifty water spouts formed at once?"
"Not at once, but in rapid succession."
"Stay here and keep watch, if you see any cloud rotation or funnel clouds on the mountain, let me know immediately. I'll have Pelletier bring you a safety harness."
Alex returned to the ready room where the cadets and Agent Tukwet had resumed their card game. "Playtime's over; Pelletier, take the watch with Wolf. Bring him a safety harness, and wear one yourself."
"Row?" asked Whelan. "Did you see a distress signal?"
"But I thought it was supposed to be transport lights and a distress signal."
"Sorry Whelan, I forgot; the water spouts came first."
"Water spouts? What the bloody hell are those?"
"What's wrong with you, Whelan? It's a just wind and water" said Pelletier, as he strapped a safety harness over his rain gear.
"I'll have you know, wind and water in excessive amounts are bloody dangerous," shouted Whelan.
"He's right, Pelletier," Alex smirked. "Show some bloody respect for the bloody forces of nature."
"Thank you, Row."
"My pleasure. Why don't go have a look, Whelan? It's a once in a lifetime sight," said Alex.
"I'll pass," replied Whelan, folding his arms.
"Your loss," sighed Pelletier, taking a signal light and binoculars.
"Report anything unusual, Pelletier," ordered Alex. "Especially severe wind gusts or cloud rotation."
"Whelan, help Packard with the children; and tell Tukwet to report to me."
"I'm not good with children."
"Alright, than you can join Pelletier and Wolf on watch."
"I can learn."
"Good to hear, now move."
Whelan sighed and trudged to the bathing room, muttering about how little respect he got.
"I said; move it," Alex ordered, which had the desired effect of lighting a fire under the reluctant cadet.
"Kosta, the winds are gusting at one hundred twenty knots; Tukwet will need your help getting to the adyton. It's possible you won't be able to get back. But if you do we'll need reinforcements and several medics."
"We'll not desert you, Sir," said Kosta, righting her kepi and saluting. "Who should I bring?"
"Do not return unless conditions allow; that is an order," said Alex, sitting down at the table and filling out a report. "But if you can get back here. Bring Zane, Takeda, Zelasko, Yarrow and Alzey."
"Alzey?" said Kosta, with disdain. "We don't need that idiot."
"We need pilots, and Alzey's pretty good in spite of his many, many faults."
"Master Alexander?" said Agent Tukwet.
"Agent Tukwet, take this to the adyton. You'll have to be quick; I believe landfall is immanent. I've given Kosta orders to bring back reinforcements; but do not feel obligated to return until there's a break in the storm."
"I've been through worse; we'll be back."
"How are the children?"
"The little girl bit Whelan. She drew blood."
"I'm sure he deserved it," smirked Kosta.
"Pretty much," laughed Agent Tukwet. "I've never seen anyone so bad with children – he tried to take her magic playing card away. What do you think of them, Master Alexander?"
"They might be from the southern branch of the Alwet Clan. Did you notice her teeth?" asked Alex.
"Agreed, they are the only ones who still sharpen their teeth."
"But how did they get here?" said Alex, standing and handing Agent Alwet the messages. "I've included them in my report; make sure that Lady Hippolyte knows of this. Now off with you."
"Should we take them with us?"
"No, they'll slow you down."
Hearing screams coming form the bathing room, Alex jogged down the hallway to check on Whelan and Packard, who he found covered in soap bubbles. The two laughing children dove and splashed in the water as if born to it.
"I need you, Packard. Whelan, get those kids out of the water and into bed."
"Don't leave me alone with them, Row," said Whelan. "They're feral."
"Whelan can't handle them, Sir," said Packard.
"Fine, you do it Packard. Get them dressed and settle them down – to sleep preferably. Then report to me."
"Come on, Whelan," said Alex, striding back to the main room.
"W-w-where to?" shivered the cowardly cadet, following closely.
"Watch duty," ordered Alex, taking a safety harness. "Perhaps the children's mother set up some sort of signal."
"You'll be fine; just don't forget your harness. It's simple to wear; I'll show you how it's done." Alex threw the harness over his head, and threaded the numerous straps through their corresponding buckles.
"Why do you need so many lookouts?" asked Whelan, copying him.
"I believe were about to have company."
"C-c-company? You mean like in thirty ought-nine?"
"Indeed, I do."
"Stop dawdling," said Alex, gathering his watch bag and binoculars.
"Hey, Row, is this right?" asked Whelan, spreading his arms and modeling the harness.
"Jeez, Whelan, if you go over the edge like that you'll strangle; these straps go under your arms."
"I've never seen so many damn straps. What the hell?" said the nervous cadet, getting his finger caught in one of the numerous buckles. He desperately sought to free the ensnared digit, shaking it violently but without success. "Help me, Row this is my most precious finger," said Whelan. "It's my go-to for flippin' the bird."
"I can see that," said Alex, helping the hapless cadet adjust his gear. "Whelan?"
"Why did you join the academy?" asked Alex, managing to pull the cadet's finger free.
"My father made me; he said I need the discipline. How about you?"
"My great-grandmother…Why'd they put you in Barracks H?"
"House Whelan was one of the first abandoned, but my grandfather knew how to make money. He started a manufacturing company; my father runs it now. That's how we got our lands back."
"What do you make?"
"Custom orders…almost anything really…like those bunny slippers. One of our facilities makes vanships and heavy transport for the Emperor's fleet. Why?"
"Just curious. Do you know much about the business?" said Alex, undoing Whelan's harness and starting again.
"Yes, I've worked for my father at various odd jobs since I was eight," said Whelan as Alex made him spread his arms.
"Do you like it?"
"Actually, I do; I've realized that, now that I've started at the academy."
"What do you like about it?" Alex re-buckled the harness, but Whelan was so skinny it hung on him. Concerned for his fellow cadet's safety Alex found a rigging knife and made new holes in the leather straps so the harness would fit the skinny cadet snuggly.
"All of it, really; I'd like a shot at running one of the plants some day."
"So you know how to organize a manufacturing facility…planning, purchasing, hiring and managing workers, payroll…all that stuff?"
"I do, but why?"
"It's similar to planning a mission; isn't it?"
"I suppose it is."
"Alright, let's get out there, but after this is over Pelletier, you and I should have a talk."
"About the bachelor party?" asked Whelan, lighting up. "I'm your man, Row, leave it all to me. Hey, what are you doing?" asked Whelan as Alex hooked the cadet's harness to his.
"How much do you weigh?"
"That's kinda personal, Row?"
"How'd you get in the Academy anyway? Isn't there a height and weight requirement?"
"My father made a contribution to the academy's building fund. How'd you get in with an outlaw name like Row?"
"Same, my great-grandmother made the library endowment. But how did you pass the physical?"
"None of your business," said Whelan, his face scarlet with embarrassment. "You're being awfully nosey tonight, Row; that's not like you."
"I'm just thinking about your safety; I'm afraid you'll get swept away."
"Oh, bloody hell, now you tell me."
"Just do what I do. You remember what we're looking for?"
"Signal lights…and … cloud rotation?"
"That's it," said Alex, making for the door.
The two cadets pushed on the heavy door, but it wasn't easy getting out as the gale winds pushed back. With the help of Wolf pulling from the other side, the door yielded.
"Over there, Row, signal lights," shouted Wolf.
Alex made for the safety rail and secured both his and Whelan's harnesses to it, ordering Whelan to keep watch along the northern arc. Then, using the railing, he pulled himself to where Wolf stood.
"Where?" asked Alex, taking Wolf's binoculars.
"Due west; it's faint, but it's definitely getting closer," shouted Wolf over the roaring wind.
Alex scanned the western skies to no avail.
"Not the sky, Row, the sea," said Wolf, pointing.
Lowering his glasses Alex saw it, clearly, a distress signal from a sailing vessel.
"It's a boat, Row."
"I can see that, Wolf; they're asking for permission to come ashore."
"But who are they? Who still sails the sea?"
"Their exact identity's unknown, but southern islanders are the only seafaring folk left as far as I know."
"Why don't they use airships?" asked Wolf.
"They hate the Guild."
"This is not the time for a history lesson. Have you seen any sign of Tukwet and Kosta?"
"Then we'll have to grant them clearance on our own. I need to consult a map. Get the name of the vessel and its captain, then signal them they may land, coordinates to follow. Repeat it until they respond."
Alex fought his way back into the tower, and made for the map room. The sailing ship's approach from the west would be a double boon since that was the leeward side of the island. Then, too, the storm would lash the eastern side of the island first, granting the sailors more time to make landfall. However, the wind's direction they will require them to tack which will consume a great deal of time. Alex feared they'd be swamped before they made the island.
Digging through the maps of Kuramasu's western coast, he remembered a cove where his Nanny, Antiope, had taken him to swim when he was a small child. It would be perfect, for it was deep and wide with a long beach, yet tall cliff's sheltered it on either side. But its strange name remained just out of reach, so he dug out a detailed map of the area and searched the coastline.
"Ah," he whispered. "Selkie Cove."
"Yes, Selkie," said Kamahele, standing beside him. Her cheeks were pink from the warm bath, and she wore one of Whelan's military academy tee-shirts as a nightgown.
"You know Selkie Cove, Kamahele?" asked Alex, turning to the child.
"Mama wait there."
"You're sure – Selkie cove?"
"Hurt, wait there."
"The people you came here with are hurt and wait at Selkie cove?" he asked again.
She nodded gravely as her little brother followed by Packard joined her.
"You forgot the name, but now you remember, right? Selkie like a seal?"
Shame apparent on her sweet, little face, she nodded and made to return her playing card.
"No, you keep that. You're sure of the name?"
"We'll find your mother, but you must go with Packard and do as he says. Have we a bargain?"
"Bargain," she said holding out her hand to shake his. Alex took it, noticing for the first time the elongated folds between her fingers.
"I noticed it to," said Packard. "I've never seen that before."
"Well, they are seafaring people perhaps it's an adaptation. But more likely it's the Dagobert's work."
"You mean Guild?" growled Packard, folding his arms and frowning.
"Bustards," said Holokai, imitating Packard.
"Bustards, indeed," said Alex, smiling at the little boy.
Holokai stared shyly back, his face reddening. He pointed to his sister's playing card. "Want."
"Ah, you want a talisman as well?"
The child gravely nodded his head as Alex took a card from the table.
"Here, this is the queen of hearts."
Holokai took it with delight, but then seemed to remember something as he examined it, for tears came once more to his eyes. "Mama."
"We'll find your mama, but you must hold up your end of the bargain. Go along with Packard, and when we return with your mama we'll bring her to you."
The two children were as good as their word, going quietly with Ensign Packard to the sleeping quarters, while Alex double checked the coordinates and made for the lookout's platform.
"Wolf, have they responded."
"They have. The ship is called the Popoki Polo; the captain's name is Kapena Kanoa Alewina – not sure of the pronunciation,"
"Send them these coordinates and the name of the cove. They might know it."
Taking Wolf's binoculars, Alex watched for an answer, noticing the ship did not tack. Were they adrift? No, something pulled the boat through the water.
"Have they answered?" asked Wolf.
"Not yet … Wait here it comes - Selkie cove; forty minutes – that seems optimistic, but let's hope their right. Let them know we've received their signal, and that they should give us ten minute updates."
"Yes, Sir," said Wolf.
"Wolf, I need everyone inside. Give the order."
"But what about the boat?"
"Leave Whelan. Tell him not to let it out of his sight."
Unhooking his harness, Alex pulled himself along the wall, fighting his way back indoors. He walked quickly to the sleeping quarters, where he found Packard sitting on the floor in the dark. The Ensign signed for quiet, following Alex to the hallway.
"Are they asleep?"
"Yes, but it wasn't easy. I had to sing."
"Good work, Packard. Obviously, you've got the knack. Now, we need to rescue their mother."
"Help me clear the table so we can lay out the maps."
Packard cleared the table of cards, and food, afterwards cleaning it, while Alex got maps and sea charts from the map room
"Hey, Row, what is this book?"
"Ah, give me that," said Alex stowing it in his pack.
"I've never seen script like that."
"It's an old journal; nothing more."
"Help me lay these out. Where is everyone? Our time is short."
"Whelan's not happy," said Wolf, entering the tower.
"That's putting it mildly," added Pelletier, close behind.
"He's going to have to tough it out. I need you and Wolf. Is there any sign of Tukwet and Kosta?"
"Yes, they signaled; they're close."
"Here we are, Master Alexander," said Agent Tukwet, entering the lookout station in time to hear. Kosta and several cadets followed her. "What's going on?"
"We've got a rescue mission to conduct. There are four people stranded on Selkie beach – located due west, here," said Alex pointing at the map.
"A rescue? How?" asked Pelletier.
"We'll use a heavy transport."
"Where are we going to get a heavy transport?" asked Kosta.
"From the lookout hanger."
"Where's that?" asked Packard.
"Master Alexander," said Agent Tukwet, "Lady Hippolyte would not approve of this plan."
"Alzey, will you pilot?" asked Alex, ignoring Agent Tukwet.
"Sure, Row, but you know the terrain. Why don't you pilot?"
"Because I need to be part of the rescue team."
"So you can show off, as usual."
"Do you speak the south islander's dialect, Alzey?"
"I speak it," said Tukwet.
"But you're needed here - to take messages to the adyton. We're probably going to need more medics."
"I know how to get there," said Kosta. "I'll go for the medics."
"Wait," said Packard. "Those kids speak our dialect fluently."
"We need a navigator," said Alex, ignoring Packard.
"I'll do it," said Euris stepping out from behind the cluster of cadets. Tia stood beside her,
"How did you get here?" asked Alex.
"The duchesse made us carry her," said Alzey. "She's not above using her rank when she wants something."
"You can't fly, Bassianus. You're injured," said Alex with finality.
"I'm fine," said Euris. "Besides I'm the best navie here, and I know the island."
"She has you there, Alex," smirked Tia.
"Takeda will navigate. Bassianus and Row are assigned to childcare duties," said Alex firmly, giving Takeda the map and coordinates.
"Ah take a look, Tia; it's Selkie Cove," said Euris, giving the bearing from memory. She really was an exceptional navigator.
Alex glared at her. Having her navigate would save time, but her foot. If there should be an accident she'd be at a disadvantage.
"Look," she said, taking off her walking cast and marching around the room. "I'm much better; members of the Bassianus Clan heal quickly."
"You sneak! You made me carry you!" said Vincent.
"You deserve it, you three horned goat!"
"You're limping," observed Alex with concern.
"No, I'm not." She marched to where Alex stood and saluted him smartly. Afterward she stood on tiptoe, whispering in his ear. "It's all that good loving, Lieutenant. Now let me fly."
Alex face reddened. "Are you sure you can handle this?" he whispered, as she reached for his wrist.
"I am, besides I have you."
"Fine, Bassianus navigates. Zane, Packard, Takeda and Pelletier are with me."
"How many injured?" asked Zane.
"At least two, possibly four and more on the way," said Alex going on to explain the sighting of the sailboat.
"What's the plan?" asked Takeda.
"Everyone knows how to repel from a heavy transport, right?" asked Alex.
Everyone stared at Alex. "Ah no," said Takeda. "I've never rappelled from anything."
"Why can't we just land on the beach?" asked Pelletier
"I know how," said Tia, waving her hand. "And I speak the southern dialect."
"Seriously, Takeda?" said Alex.
"I should be saying that to you, Row," shot back Takeda.
"What about you, Packard?"
"No, but how difficult can it be from rappelling down a cliff?"
"That's the spirit," said Alex, slapping him on the back.
For a moment Alex hesitated, having second thoughts about Euris, but he'd have to risk it; time was of the essence. "Here's the final roster Alzey pilots, Bassianus navigates, Packard, Alwet, Row, and Zane with me. Wolf is in charge of the observation tower, Kosta and Pelletier are seconds in command: the rest of you will report to Wolf for your watch duties. Kosta doubles as messenger. Any questions?"
"Yes," said Kosta. "Should I go for more medics now?"
"Yes, but hurry, and as soon as you get back prepare this room for the injured. You'll find the medical equipment in the cabinets at the back of the hall. Here are the keys," said Alex, fishing them out of his pocket.
"How many medics?"
"As many as you can get."
Packard raised his hand.
"How we gonna pull this off?"
"I'll explain on the way. Let's go. At this rate Selkie Cove will be flooded. Plus, we have to be ready for a second rescue in forty-five minutes."