He leapt two stairs at a time as he rushed to the second floor where he hoped to find Craig Collins. Only two days ago Collins had got the go-ahead from Dr. Adams, the leader of the rehab ward, for leaving today.
Craig leant against the wall, flirting with a young nurse when Lew rounded the corner. “Hello, Craig. Have the doctors discharged you at last?” Lew was all smiles as he embraced his companion.
Craig grinned and slapped him on the shoulder. “Yes, thank God! I wouldn’t have dealt with it any longer. Imagine: three months, two weeks and sixteen hours in this torture station, that’s more than flesh and blood can stand.” He grabbed at his walker and pointed to the stairs. “Come on, Lew, let’s go. Bye, Cathy, you’ve got my phone number, call me, whenever you feel lonely.”
“Flirting with the nurses as usual. What about your luggage?” Lew asked when they walked down. “Is this small suitcase all you’re taking?”
“Yes, for the moment. The clinic will send the rest later.”
“And the walker? Do you still need it?”
Craig looked at Lew and wagged his head. “No, Dr. Adams gave me full clearance after all. He advised me to walk without any support whenever I can. I’m taking the walker with me in memory of the worst months I’ve had in the last years.”
After they had stowed the suitcase in the boot of Waterman’s car, they left the parking area and merged in the traffic westward. Craig leant back in the comfortable seat.
“New car? Since when do you drive an Audi?” His fingers glided over the dashboard and pushed a button on trial. An astonished “Uh!” escaped him when suddenly a tiny monitor jumped out of the board.
Waterman smirked. “That’s tight, isn’t it? I bought the Q5 three months ago, brand-new. My old Ford had just given up and I wanted an off-roader so I can get up into the hills. Do you like it?”
“Yes, of course I do,” Craig answered with shining eyes. “How fast does she go? 200?”
“Even more, 220 as the manual says. But more impressive is the FSI engine mated to a seven-speed S tronic dual clutch gearbox. And the Quattro four-wheel drive system. Not to forget the …” He stopped when he noticed Craig open-mouth staring at him.
“Good Lord, did you give up your job at SHADO? Selling SUVs now? But this car feels powerful, perhaps we can test it over the weekend?”
“We will, mate, we will,” Lew confirmed and accelerated. The heavy engine purred like a cat when her driver changed lanes and overtook slower vehicles. Craig stretched his healed leg and rested his head against the support. The first weekend in freedom after so many in the health centre. Two days of sea air, wind and weather after a hundred in pain, sweat and struggles – almost incredible. He closed his eyes, listening to the sounds of the motor and the radio.
A few hours later Lew stopped in front of a neat brick house. “Wake up, we’re here.” Craig stifled a yawn and climbed out of the car.
“Uh, how long was I asleep?”
“Nearly two hours, you groundhog. Well, that’s my house.” Lew took Craig’s baggage and opened the gate of the garden fence. “Come in. Coffee?”
Craig nodded. “Sounds fantastic. Let me just take a look around.” He followed the small garden path along the fence up to the place where the other buildings allowed a marvellous view over the harbour below. Craig sat down on the wooden bench and relaxed. The rays of the September sun fell through the leaves of a tree and painted a pattern of shadows on the lawn, moving whenever a light breeze touched the branches. Craig closed his eyes. He felt comfortable.
“Craig, wake up.” Lew took place beside his friend and handed him a steaming mug.
“Nice place you have,” Craig muttered, sipping his hot drink with caution. “How long have you lived here?”
Lew leant back and considered. “For a few years now. I bought it when Straker made me Skydiver Captain. I needed a place near to SHADO and this house was for sale.”
He emptied his cup and arose. “I’ll show you the guest room and the rest of the house now, if you like. And then we could walk down to the marina for to have lunch in one of the fish restaurants there. Okay?”
x x x
They returned in the late afternoon. Craig almost fell onto the settee. “My leg is killing me,” he moaned. “And my head is sunburned.” He stroked over his wiry curls and sighed.
Lew grinned and tossed a baseball-cap over. ”Here. Told you to take it along. What’s with your leg?”
“Hurting. I’m not as fit as I used to be.” Craig patted his stomach and belched. “And I need a rest after that meal.”
“Doesn’t surprise me. Two portions of cranachan? A bit excessive even for you.” Lew handed him a coke. “So no barhopping in Glasgow this night?”
“Good Lord, no. I’d like to stay here with you, a simple dinner and a drink. Brought a bottle of fine single malt Scotch for us from Glasgow, you know. But let me first take care of my leg.”
Lew nodded. “Agreed. And I’m going to prepare the dinner.”
Craig returned from his room only in his briefs, the pants and a tube of ointment in his hands. He followed Lew into the kitchen. “Perfect,” he answered and sat down on a chair, placing his leg on another. “I thought you would like to inspect the doctor’s work?”
“Show me.” Lew bent over Craig’s leg. Only too well he remembered the fracture and how it had looked like before he had tried to reset it. The scars above the bone had healed, but still remained jagged and dark red. The spots where the external fixator had stabilised Craig’s leg, had faded. If he hadn’t seen the bolts piercing the skin a few months ago he wouldn’t know now where that tiny red marks had originated. “Not bad,” he noted. “Does it still hurt?”
“I can take it,” his friend answered. “The doctor said I should use the creme every day on it to keep the skin supple. Your wound above your temple looks much better. No scars left that could disturb your … prettiness.” He crouched when his friend knocked him into his side and chuckled.
“Apropos good looks. What about your beard?” Lew asked, pointing to the scrubby stubbles. “We’re meeting Commander Straker on Monday.”
“I’ll shave it off before we leave. What time’s the flight tomorrow?”
“At sixteen hundred, enough time to get you into a more suitable shape. And now get out of the kitchen, I want to prepare dinner without a bloke hanging around half dressed.”
X X X
Miss Ealand put down the phone receiver. “He is waiting in his office for you. Please go down.”
“Thanks, Miss Ealand,” Waterman answered. The entrance sign above the concealed elevator door changed to ‘ENTER’ and the automatic doors opened.
“One moment, Colonel Collins, may I say that I am pleased to see you back on duty again?”
Craig stopped and smiled at her. “Thank you, I appreciate it. And after seven months it’s good to be back.”
Lew would have sworn that Miss Ealand’s cheeks reddened a bit, but the doors shut behind them and he could no longer see Straker’s secretary. He activated the voice controller and turned to Craig. “I think you’ve won a new heart,” he grinned, while the elevator rode down.
“By no means. Not Miss Ealand. She would never let anything come between her and the boss. “
“Her and Straker? Do you think they date?”
Craig shook his head. “No, I didn’t mean it that way. She adores Ed, but only as her superior.”
The elevator doors opened again onto the rooms of SHADO’s headquarters. The two men crossed the control room and then entered Commander Straker’s office.
Ed Straker arose and rounded his desk. “Craig, nice to have you back again. You’re looking great!”
He squeezed Collins’ hands, smiling broadly. There had been moments during the last months when he had doubted meeting his old friend on duty ever again. Straker had read Dr. Jackson’s report on Collins’ physical condition. But against all medical odds he had always hoped that his friend’s stubbornness would keep him trying to recover. And finally he had.
“Hello, Lew. Take a seat, I want to discuss your next task with you. Craig, join us. I want to get you back on duty as fast as possible. You’ll work with Captain Waterman for the following weeks. I want you both as technical supporters for the new Skydiver at Holy Loch. Craig, your role will be to keep an eye on the weapon systems, while I want Lew as leading surveyor for the submarine section.”
Waterman raised an eyebrow. “No current duty on my diver, sir?”
“No, Captain Carlin will take over for a month. The new Skydiver is more important and you and Craig are definitely the most qualified men SHADO has for it. And I have to admit that I don’t want Craig as pilot for another month. Neither you, Lew. Not until your headaches have cleared up.”
Waterman shot an astonished look at his commander. “How do you know about those?”
Straker rested his gaze for a moment on the captain’s eyes before he retorted, “Be sure I know a lot more than you expect, Captain. I checked Jackson’s latest EEG on you. Don’t try to conceal anything from him or me. I have no choice but to suspend you from all pilot duties until Jackson says otherwise.”
Waterman stroked one hand in an unwitting gesture over his temple. “Of course, Commander. I’m sorry. I thought nobody would notice it.”
Craig bent to his friend. “Don’t look so worried. Imagine, some easy weeks for us watching the others do the work, checking new functions here and there…”
“It isn’t as easy as that, Craig,” Straker intervened. “Our new Skydiver gets the latest technical equipment and it will be a lot of work installing and testing the programs. In addition to it …”
The buzzer of Straker’s phone interrupted him. “Straker… yes, send Lake and Grey to the conference room. And tell Colonel Foster to join them.” He faced his visitors. “I’m sorry, your colleagues are waiting for me. I’ll just hand them their files, wait a minute.”
After he had left the office, Lew looked at his friend. He had noticed Collin’s morose expression when Straker had mentioned the names of the other officers. “What’s wrong with them?”
Collins shrugged. “Nothing. Only my best friends together. Can I take the back door out of here?”
Lew snorted and poked him in the ribs. “Don’t be daft. Just because Virginia dropped you and started a new affair?”
“Dropped me like a hot potato. Spare me discussions about her, please. “
“And what’s wrong with Foster?”
“As if you didn’t know! Is he her new lover or is he not?”
“No, he isn’t. He has another girlfriend named Jeanne. Or was it Jane? Whatsoever, I know he’s not the new man in her life. Why don’t you…”
Lew broke off when Straker returned to his office. “Sorry, I have to hurry. Captain, your duty at Holy Loch starts tomorrow at fourteen hundred. Will you stay overnight in London?”
“No, Commander, I’ll fly back this evening.”
“And you, Craig? You should start your shift on Thursday. I hope it’s enough time left to search for a hotel room around the base and settle your matters?”
Lew interrupted. “No need for a hotel, I’ve a spare room and Craig is welcome to stay with me for the next few weeks.”
Craig nodded. “Would be great, thanks. Ed, what are your plans for tonight? What about dinner? At ‘Chez Jacques’?”
Straker hesitated, then a light smile lifted the corners of his mouth. “Why not? At eight?”
“At eight.” Craig and Lew left Straker’s office and returned to the ground-floor.
Lew accompanied his friend to the studio exit. “See you Wednesday. Come straight to the base and I’ll show you round.”
X X X
Craig laid the napkin on his plate and sighed. “The best Canard a l’Orange in London. Crispy and tender, delicious. “ He pushed the rest of the duck aside and burped. Noticing Straker’s furrowed brows, Craig hastened to apologise, “Oh, I’m sorry, but I’m nearly bursting.”
He emptied his glass of wine. Ed had already finished his meal and leant relaxed against the leather backrest of his chair, a glass of brandy in front of him.
“Well, Craig, let me say I’m very happy that you are back. The new Skydiver might be a real stunner if we are able to get the new computer programs and laser technique at work. Imagine, getting airborne in less than three seconds and destroying the UFO in less than ten. All that we have been missing was the right expert to help with the installation.”
“So I’ve arrived right on time,” Craig answered with a confident expression on his face. He pulled his glass of Scotch close and took a sip. “You’re also counting on my knowledge of the jet drive systems, aren’t you? Learnt a lot about it while working with Foster on the new Interceptors.”
Straker nodded. “I know. Your expertise is very important, as well as Waterman’s. I teamed you because I expect the maximum synergy out of it. And didn’t you become friends over the last couple of years?”
Craig rose his head and looked into Straker’s eyes. He hesitated, before he answered: “Yes. He is a good comrade, very competent. Maybe without him, I wouldn’t have survived on that island.”
“I share your opinion about his qualities. It’s the reason why I made him captain of a Skydiver.”
“Yes. But there’s something else. Sometimes I think he’s hiding a secret. Do you know anything about his family or his past?”
Straker lifted his eyebrows. “Look, if you want to know something about him, ask him, not me. This is too personal and if he wants to tell you about it, he will. I think you’ll have enough time to talk…”
A discreet ringing stopped him and he slid his hand into the pocket of his jacket. “Sorry, Craig… Straker. No, I’m still in London… What? Anyone injured?…Listen, Ford, I’ll be back in 30 minutes. “ He interrupted the call . “A UFO attack to one of our Skydivers. You see how important your job with the new diver will be for us. I have to leave.”
Both men arose. Straker touched Craig’s arm and smiled at him. “I’ll see to the bill. Stay and finish your drink.” He signalled for the waiter and then he was gone.
“Lew? Where are you?” Craig switched the buttons of the cabin cameras.
“Still in the jet, Craig. Can’t get the navigation unit into the right position… Jesus, I give up for the moment. What about a break? I need some fresh air.”
“Yeah, would be fine. Come up, I’ll tear you out.” Craig switched the screen off. A buzzer indicated the opening of the tube hatch and Lew’s black head of hair appeared. Craig helped him out of the narrow connection between the submarine and the jet.
“I’m hungry, it’s already fourteen hundred and I’ve only had breakfast. Our canteen has fried chicken today.” Craig stroked over his stomach which supported his owner’s demand with an audible growling. Lew smirked and pointed to the open tower.
“I’ll join you. I think, the rest of the staff is able to operate the engines on their own. And after that I want to finish this unit setting. I can’t believe that I’m not able to get the new docking system working. “
They climbed upstairs and left the diver, crossing the small gangplank to the quay. The SHADO base lay on Holy Loch’s west inlet. At the moment, two new submarines were built here, one in the floating dock and the other already moored at the quay. Craig looked back to their sub, while they walked along the dock to the canteen. Although he had spent most time of his job in space, a growing pleasure had taken him over the last two weeks. This job was different. He had never believed that working at a submarine base could have fulfilled him like this. Here he felt accepted and useful.
One hour later they were back in the diver. Craig felt stuffed and sighed when he climbed under the navigation table. He opened the gate to the electronic equipment and folded out a tangle of coloured wires.
“Here we go. Let’s see which doesn’t fit.”
He began to check the connections. Waterman had returned into the jet and tried to solve the problem with the navigation unit. Suddenly the monitors began to flicker and the system started booting.
“Hey, Craig, I’ve got it. It works,” Lew shouted into the intercom. He threw himself into the pilot seat and switched on some buttons. The controls of the electromagnetic docking system blinked and a soft vibration run through the jet.
“Lew? Stop that, whatever you are doing, I haven’t started the safety systems for the sub yet and if you overcharge it now…”
Waterman reduced the power and let the system fall on standby. He climbed back into the diver and knelt beside Craig.
“How much longer will it take? Do you need help?”
“Ah yes, would be fine. If you can get Morrison, I think we can manage till sixteen or seventeen hundred.”
X X X
When Waterman and Collins returned home, it was already after eight. At least they had handled the electronic problems and Lew hoped they could take a test drive the next day.
“It’s too late now for cooking,” Craig grumbled when he and Lew entered the house.
“What about takeaway? Chinese? There’s a new one in Sandbank.”
“Great. I’ll go. What do you want?”
“Simply Chop Suey. But you need to hurry, they close soon.”
“Okay, understood.” Craig grabbed at the keys of his motorbike and rushed through the door. “I’ll be right back.”
Thirty minutes later Collins shut the front door, two paper bags in his hands. He entered Lew’s floor and headed straight for the dining room.
“Lew? Where are you? Dinner is served.” He put the meals on the table and turned to the kitchen. “Do you need plates or …” He broke off because the kitchen was as empty as the dining room.
He hesitated, feeling the unnatural silence in the house. The absence of any human sound hung in the air and let him shiver. “Lew?” He got no response. Goosebumps crept over his skin. He left the room, crossed the hall and entered the lighted living room. Here, too, no sign of his comrade. Several possibilities of what had happened rushed through Craig’s mind. At first sight, nothing was in a mess, so no burglary. An emergency call from the base? No. Lew would have left a note in this case. And his Audi still stood in the carport. What then? Craig didn’t want to think of the worst case, but he could not dissipate his fears. Wind blew through the curtains and he noticed that the terrace door stood wide open. He ran into the garden and shouted again. “Lew!”
“Yes, I’m here.” Craig’s head snapped into the direction where the voice came from. There, in the edge under the tree, he saw the silhouette of his friend, nearly invisible in the nightfall. Craig rushed to his friend.
“What’s the matter? Is everything okay?”
Lew sat on the bench, his broad shoulders slumped and his chin bent to his chest. He didn’t look up when he answered. “No, nothing’s okay. My brother…they’ve found his body.”
With an utterly helpless gesture he raised his hand in which he held a piece of paper and an envelope. Craig took them, but it was already too dark to read. He wavered for a moment before he sat down beside his friend and settled his arm on Lew’s shoulder.
“You’ve got a letter, then? From whom?”
Lew raised his head and even in the pale light of the moon Craig noticed the red-rimmed eyes of his comrade.
“From my sister Liza. She lives in Australia and she wrote that our brother Daniel was found in a canyon. Or better what was left of him. Some bones and his wristwatch.”
Craig was stunned by the situation. He had never seen his friend in a condition like that and he felt embarrassed by the dejected expression on Lew’s face.
“I’m really sorry. Didn’t even know you had a brother.”
“I never told you about him. He disappeared during a holiday camp fifteen years ago when he was twelve years old. He’s been missing since then. And a fortnight ago, a group of mountain hikers found his body in a canyon twenty kilometres away from where he was missing. Him and Philip, our cousin.”
Lew stopped and looked up. For a moment, the beam of a beacon at the loch was reflected in his wet eyes, then he lowered his head again. Craig noticed the slight shiver which had gripped Lew’s body and he felt deep concern about his friend. He grabbed Lew’s shoulders and pulled him up.
“It’s getting cold outside. Let’s go back into the house. You can tell me all about Daniel.”
x x x
Lew stared at the fireplace and cleared his throat. “That year, my family spent the summer holidays at our aunt Tilda’s in Berry, a small town at the east coast. We kids wanted to attend a two week holiday camp in the Kangaroo Valley. Our parents finally gave in, but only under the premise that our older cousin Philip joined us.”
Craig nodded. “How old were you?”
“Thirteen and Liza fifteen. Philip already sixteen. The group was small, only about twenty children altogether. We camped in a valley with no villages around and only one farm a few kilometres away where we bought milk and bread every other day.”
Lew’s thoughts returned to the place where the disaster took its course. “One day, it was Danny’s and Phil’s turn to go to the farm. They left the camp at seven in the morning, and we expected them back an hour later, as usual. But they never returned.”
Craig refilled their glasses and looked at his friend. “Go on. What happened then?”
“We waited. And then we began to search. At last our camp leaders called the police. They found out that the boys had never arrived at the farm. But an eye witness had made a strange observation in the nearby mountains: the reflection of a metallic object with a pulsing green light on the top.”
He glanced at his friend. Craig held his breath. “You mean … aliens?”
“Yes, I’m convinced. Aliens. Nobody believed the hiker, nor did I at that time, but years later, when I was serving in the Navy, I knew he must have been right. My sister clung to the hope that Danny was still alive, but I did not.”
Lew sighed and stood up. He took the envelope and pulled out a second page. “This is the report of the forensics. There is no doubt about Daniel.”
Craig nodded in silence. Then he searched for his friend’s gaze. “I’m so sorry. Okay … you went to the Navy. And then? How did you came in contact with SHADO?”
“Ed Straker. One day he stood at the gangway when we returned from an operation. He showed me his ID-card and a permit from my commanding officer and took me right from my ship to I.A.C. headquarters.”
“I can guess the rest. You were recruited and later made captain. But back to your brother, what happens next?”
“Liza will arrange his funeral in the next week. I think I’ll ask the commander for some days off then.” He took his glass and finished his whisky. “A sad end, isn’t it?” He looked at the meals on the table. “Sorry, I’ve lost my appetite, but perhaps you’re still hungry? Use the microwave, if you like. I’m off to bed now. Tomorrow we’ll have a busy day.”
X X X
A light breeze rippled the surface of the water and the sun mirrored in the shimmering oily spots when Lew and Craig walked along the quay to their submarine.
“Hey, PO. Wait a minute.” Lew waved to Petty Officer Morrison who was on his way into the construction hall.
“How’s our sub? Did you check the systems this morning?”
“Aye, sir. Checked and clear. We can test it any time you like.”
“Very well. At nine hundred aboard.”
“Very good, sir.”
Craig looked astonished. “What do you have in mind?” He climbed into the tower and waited until Lew had left the stairs.
“I want to test the docking system. Outside the dock of course.”
“What do you mean with ‘outside the dock’? Take a little ride with the sub, only you and me?”
“And Morrison. A few miles into the fairway and then see if the electromagnets work efficiently enough.”
“Sounds interesting. Well then.” Craig started the reactor and the control monitors began to whir. Before the check procedure was finished, Morrison returned into the sub.
“Ready, sir.” He closed the hatch after him.
Lew nodded. “Skydiver 17-2 to Base Control.”
“Come in, Skydiver.”
“This is Waterman. We’ll take a test drive out into the loch. Back at eleven hundred.”
“Affirmative, Captain. Good luck.”
Waterman turned to Morrison. “Take us out.” A smooth hum passed through the sub when the navigator steered it at low-speed out of the dock.
“Out, sir. Reached deeper water.”
“Periscope depth. Craig, I’m going to launch Sky. I want you to controlling the lock system when I try redocking.”
“Roger.” Craig switched on the underwater cameras. Lew slipped into the jet and fastened the security belts. “Check, one, two, three. Can you hear me, Craig?”
“Loud and clear.”
“PO, take the diver down to one yard over the bed, horizontal angle.”
The diver sank onto the ordered level.
“I’ll launch the jet now, minimum speed.” Waterman switched a button and the turbine blades began passing through the water. The jet moved, leaving the docking spots for a few inches. Lew accelerated a bit to get some distance between him and the sub, but all he achieved was an alarming clunk outside the jet. He decelerated and the movement came to an abrupt stop.
“Craig, I’m caught on something.”
“Let me check it with the camera… oh, I see. One of the clamps is still on its hold point of the jet. It looks warped.”
“Damn. Then we have a problem, I can neither leave nor redock.”
“Right. I’ll come out and see if I can loosen it by hand. Give me five minutes.”
Craig pulled on a diving-suit and entered the escape hatch. “Trim her as long as I’m working on the clamp. When I give you a signal, give her a short push, perhaps that’ll help to release the jet.” Morrison nodded and shut the bulkhead behind him.
Craig waited until the water had flooded the small space entirely. He screwed the wheel and opened the heavy scuttle. With a strong push he left the sub and dived for the docking spot where the twisted clamp clutched at the jet.
“Well, well, here we are. “ His voice sounded strange through the diving mask. “Lew?”
“Yes, can you repair it?”
“Let’s see.” He took a tool out of his bag and started working at the clamp. “Entirely bent. Not easy. “ He tried to reset it and finally succeeded. “Ready. Morrison, give a short boost and push the jet a bit forward, maybe that will suffice.”
The PO did as ordered. The submarine moved, jolting the jet slightly. The plane began to drift. Lew started the turbines and the jet stabilized, moving away from the diver.
“Okay, Craig. I’ll go for a short spin and then try redocking. Wait there.”
Lew pulled the steering to him and looked out of the window. He knew the visibility was always poor here in the loch during the first miles behind the Base, so he was glad that the underwater radar screen didn’t show anything but the flat sea bed in front of him.
He had just steered the jet into a short curve back to the diver when a glaring reflection in front of him alarmed him. He twisted the steering and tried to change direction. A green lightning flash brushed the jet and edged her aside, continuing its way to Skydiver. One second later it crashed into the submarine, smashing her onto the seabed.
Lew stroke on the talk button. “Base Control, this is Sky 17-2. Red alert. Something’s attacking us underwater. The diver is hit, down on the sea bed, status unknown. I’m going to defend us with the jet. Do you read me?”
The loudspeaker uttered shreds of inarticulate words, then – silence. Lew clenched his teeth. The invader was still there, somewhere in the muddy water in front of him. His sonar began to ping. Lew armed the laser gun. “Where the hell are you?” he murmured. He turned the jet’s nose and let it drift into the direction where he supposed the enemy to be. The pings became faster. Lew’s finger hung above the fire button and he stared out into the churning water.
There! The small silver device began to shoot only a split second later than Lew had fired off his laser gun. Lew saw the alien ship been hit and explode. At that moment his own jet was spun around. She crashed hard onto the rocks. A long crack appeared in the wall of the cockpit and water began to stream in. The cabin was in a mess, instruments broken, monitors clicking and the pilot’s seat half ripped from its stanchions. The cabin filled with choking smoke from the ruined computer and Lew could see sparkles from connections short-circuiting.
He struggled to unfasten his security belts. Worried about the water which had already covered the ground of the cabin and soaked his boots, he watched the crack in the wall. Lew knew he had to hurry and escape before he was trapped in the destroyed jet.
He had just managed to open the belt locks when something inside the cockpit exploded. He was smashed back into the seat. A terrible pain flashed through his upper body. Something had hit his shoulder, something that hurt like hell and let him gasp for air. Lew moaned and writhed in pain. He forced himself to turn his head to the shoulder where a piece of metal protruded from under his clavicle. The metal had gone through his body, nailing him to the back rest. Red clouds blurred Lew’s vision and he tried to stay conscious, not to give in to the shock that gripped at him.
He tried to collect his thoughts. Things were in a bad way. He was pinned to the seat, unable to move and if he didn’t get rid of the damn piece of metal, he would drown. He tried to reach for the microphone and the little shift sent a wave of fire through his shoulder. He cried out and pressed his left hand on the wound, feeling a small trace of sticky blood on his jacket.
“Waterman … mayday, mayday. I’m hit, the jet is dead. Can’t get out, water is flooding in. Mayday. Base Control, can you read me?”
No one answered. Lew let the micro slide out of his hand. ‘If there’s anybody out for rescue, now would be a good time,’ he thought in a streak of humour before he passed out.
X X X
At first Craig Collins didn’t know where he was. The world appeared upside down, whirling in front of his eyes. He drifted above the ground, on his back now, feeling dizzy while he watched swathes of green seaweed floating by.
Bit by bit he regained his memory of what had happened. After the alien device had hit Skydiver, the following explosion had tossed him yards away. He remembered Lew’s desperate call for help and the second explosion, before the radio fell silent.
He turned into a vertical position and took a deep breath. His head ached as his whole body did, but nothing seemed to be broken. A rush of air bubbles escaped his scuba, a certain sign that the tube was somehow damaged, but as long as he could use the remaining air there was no need to ascend. He looked around, trying to find the jet, hoping that Lew had survived the attack. Some distance off he could make out the contours of a plane, even read the identification number ‘Sky 17-2’.
He reached her in record time. She was drifting half on her side, one wing broken off, the roof of the cockpit dented. Air escaped in a steady current through a rupture in the hull. Craig dived to one of the windows and peered inside. He realized at once the dangerous situation in which his comrade was.
“Lew? Lew!” Craig pounded against the pane. His unconscious comrade was trapped in his seat, the water already reaching his neck. “Lew, for Chrissake, wake up.”
With frantic efforts he searched for a way to rescue his friend. He knew the latest generation of Sky had an emergency exit on the lower side of the front, more intended for crash-downs on land, but Craig considered it for the only possibility to get Lew out within the next minutes.
He cast a last glance at his friend inside and sighed with relief as the other man opened his eyes and looked straight back. Lew lifted one hand and pointed to his shoulder in which the metal still stuck, then he shook his head. His friend understood what Lew wanted to tell him. And this was worse; it was obvious that Lew was not able to free himself from the seat and climb out without help.
There was no more time to spare. The water in the cabin had already reached Lew’s face. Craig dived down to the emergency hatch. He opened a small inspection flap and pressed the red button inside. The exit door gave way for a hand’s breadth and Craig pulled hard to make the entry as wide as possible. He felt the maelstrom rushing into the jet. Now every second counted. He pulled his scuba off and forced his way into the narrow aisle, following it upwards into the cabin.
Lew’s head was completely underwater now, his eyes still wide open, watching each movement of his friend. His gaze, full of unswerving trust, rested on his friend’s face.
When Craig grabbed the pole in Lew’s shoulder with both hands, the injured man shut his eyes. Craig tugged with all his strength. The metal loosened and released the body from its trap. Red whirls of blood followed the piece as it sank to the floor. Lew toppled over, a silent scream in his throat, before his last air vented from his lips. Craig noticed it with fear. His companion would drown if he could not get him soon out of the jet and back to life. He tucked his arms around the limp body and pushed him down. Once out of the exit, he did not waste time searching for the scuba. He grasped Lew from behind and released the air from the buoyancy compensating device. His lungs were burning and his need to breathe overpowering, but with the last remnants of his willpower he propelled them up with strokes of his diving fins.
They breached the water surface. Helping hands gripped at them, pulled both men out of the water. Craig gasped for air, incapable of doing more than inhaling the fresh sea air into his lungs. Strong arms turned him on the stomach, making it easier to breathe. Someone tugged at the zip of his diving suit and handed him an oxygen mask. He shoved it away and opened his eyes. “My friend…he’s injured… help him.”
The beardy face of the captain bent over him. “Calm down, sir, we’ve got all under control.”
Craig raised his head. Water, dripping from his wet hair, ran into his eyes and made it difficult to see. He wiped it away and sat up. He was aboard of a naval patrol ship. Near to him he saw Lew lying on a stretcher, two seamen around him, busy handing him oxygen and treating his still bleeding wounds. Lew’s eyes snapped open, their light green glowing in his pale face, reminding Craig of jade earrings he had once bought for a girlfriend.
“For heaven’s sake,” he whispered, kneeling down by his comrade’s side. Lew began to cough and finally managed croaking one single word. “Thanks!”
Craig patted his hand with a light touch and smiled. “That’s what friends are for.”
X X X
“Well, and after that, Base Control put one and one together and sent a rescue vessel …”
“…which came too late because the boys of the Navy had already rescued us,” Craig completed Straker’s sentence and laughed. “Was not easy to explain what had happened down there in the loch.”
“Yeah, finally they accepted our version of the exploding galley stove in the sub and the sudden loss of all of our systems,” Lew added and looked at Craig, shaking his head in disbelief.
“But how did you explain the wounds in Captain Waterman’s shoulder?” Alec Freeman dragged at his cigarette and gazed at Collins.
Craig smiled and took a sip of coffee. “That,” he chuckled, “was great fun. I told our naval colleagues we’d planned a barbecue and Lew, our cook, had just begun to spit meat on the skewer when the stove exploded and …”
“Oh no, you’re kidding, aren’t you?” Alec looked from one to another, half doubting, half believing what he had just heard. Finally Craig couldn’t contain his laughter any longer and even Straker raised the corners of his mouth.
“Come on, Craig, don’t take me for a fool. I’m convinced Ed had to give a better explanation for them. By the way, how is PO Morrison?”
“Better,” Lew assured, “I heard he left the Health Centre and is coming back to the Base in three days.”
“That’s right, gentlemen.” Straker nodded and turned his chair to his desk. “I don’t want to be impolite, but there’s a lot of work waiting for me. Alec, you stay for a moment. Captain Waterman, I want you back on your Skydiver on Monday. And you, Craig, return to Moonbase tomorrow, Col. Foster is expecting you.”
Both men arose and left the commander’s office.
“Craig, wait, for one word. There’s something I have to tell you.”
“What?” His friend looked at him in surprise.
“When you rescued me out of the jet and brought me back to the surface … I knew you would do that. “
“Of course I did, would’ve always done it for a friend.”
“Yes, but … I really knew it, because I’ve seen it in a dream on our Atlantic island. You understand? I saw exactly this situation. “
“Hmm. You give me the creeps, mate. Do you have second sight? Don’t let hear that Straker, he’ll transfer you to a lonely outpost satellite instead of S.I.D.”
“Would be great, eh,” Lew grinned and pushed him into the elevator. “Let’s have a beer before I leave.”