©2016, Jim Reid
This is a work of Fiction. It is based in part on the Alternate History World known as “The Emberverse,” written and copyrighted by S.M. Stirling in 2005. The author agrees to abide by the Stirling Fan Fiction site disclaimer. This work is copyrighted by Jim Reid in 2016, except for those parts derived from “Dies the Fire,” and its sequels, which are copyrighted by S. M. Stirling and used here by permission. All characters in this fiction are, in fact, fictional, and any resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental.
Some thanks are in order:
To Steve Stirling, for creating the Emberverse and for allowing me and others to play in his universe.
To the following for editing, general reading and other help indicated: Diana Miller Nhuch (language help), Gail Reid, Kier Salmon (keeping me focused), Allen Cheesman, and Markus Baur (keeping me afloat); some of these things make more sense after reading.
The mistakes are all mine.
— Chapter One —
Wednesday, March 18, 1998
Kate, shivering in the morning chill despite the heavy clothing she wore, sat on the starboard gunwale of the Research Vessel Challenger and critically examined the line she had just finished back-splicing.
“Nice work,” Tom Jeffers said, coming around from the port side.
“Thank you, Bosun,” Kate said with a smile. “I was well taught by one of the best. But you already know that.”
“Yeah, take a hundred years off the calendar and your old man could have been one of the Iron Men On Wooden Ships. That line’s been asking to be re-spliced for a week. One of my deckhands should have noticed it then and I bet you did. I red-tagged it yesterday for someone to fix today.”
“Of course, at least one deckhand would’ve had to come to work.”
“Good point. My guesstimate is that they’re looking after their families or drinking all the beer while it’s still cold.”
“I made Molly comfortable before I left the house. She’s pretty much in her own world most of the time. I needed to see what was happening with Challenger. I suppose, truth be told, that I just had to try to do something I thought would work. Came to naught. Turns out nothing works on this ship any better than anywhere else on our God forsaken world. I’ll go home in a while and check on her.”
“What’s the crowd like on the pier?”
The tide was out and Challenger was riding low. Jeffers was six feet tall and could easily see the people who had gathered outside the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute’s buildings.
“Smaller than before. I suppose they got cold and went looking for somewhere to hunker down out of the wind. Sooner or later, they’ll figure out who has fireplaces.” He shook his head. “Then they’ll wish they had bought more firewood. I don’t see anyone who looks like management. ’Cept for two guys from the night shift at the robotics lab, nobody’s come by and those two lost interest when I told them I had no power on Challenger, either.”
Kate looked southeast, wishing she could see the front porch of her family’s home on Martha’s Vineyard. All she could see was the fog shrouding Vineyard Sound. Of course, I’d first have to see past Juniper Point Light. That’s a little hard with the vessel tied up here at the Institute. The lighthouse went dark last night along with everything else. “I’m going home,” she said, not realizing she had vocalized her thought. She turned back toward Jeffers. “I suppose you’ve tried to crank the engines on this tub.”
“Hey! Watch how you talk about my baby.” Jeffers grinned broadly through the gray beard that contrasted with his bald black pate. “But, yeah, the first thing I did was try to turn her over. Most of the guys trying to start the engines on their boats have quit. No more luck with that than with my car. Or, near as I can tell, anybody else’s car.”
“There’s an advantage to being a bike rider,” Kate noted. She looked at the harbor. “Nobody’s tried to sail away?”
“Near as I can tell, all the sailboats are anchored in the harbor and I guess nobody has figured out how to get to them without swimming.”
“Hmm. That water’s cold. And then there’s the occasional shark that might decide the swimmer is a sick fish.”
Jeffers shrugged. “Any theories, Ms. Scientist, about what happened last night?”
“You know? Your question reminds me of those really old, really bad science fiction movies where we’re being invaded by giant insects and one character introduces the new guy by saying, ‘Professor Doe is a scientist at the university.’ Really? What kind of scientist?”
Kate shook her head. “Anyway, I’m an entry-level oceanographer who works —used to work— on an oceanographic research vessel and I don’t think what happened last night had much to do with the oceans of the world.”
“I consider myself properly put down.” Jeffers winked. “Edward, Call-me-Ed, Henderson probably knows. He’s a COMPUTER SCIENTIST and he knows everything.”
“Well, that’s certainly an option! Seriously, about halfway through Frasier last night I felt a horrible pain split my head in a flash of bright white light. The other people in the building —we all sorta met by the outside power box— felt it, too. Then it was all gone and so was the electricity.”
“Molly saw the light.”
“Sorry, I slipped into jargon. That’s significant. Well, possibly significant.”
“Ah,” he grinned. “The scientist emerges.”
“Cut me some slack, here, Bosun,” growled Kate. “Anyway, couple of people tried to start their cars with no luck. One guy, a local mechanic who actually knows which end of a screwdriver to hold onto, tried to short out his car battery. More grief.”
“I tried that one, too, after I was sure Molly was okay.”
“I’m not real close to anybody in the apartments since I only spend five nights a week here. Weekends on the Vineyard, ya know. A lot of them kept talking.”
“They were looking for anchors. You had yours.”
“I slipped back into my apartment and locked and barricaded the door. I went to bed under an extra blanket. Didn’t sleep all that well.”
“Know what you mean. I sat in my recliner and kind of drifted in and out.”
“Around midnight, I woke up, looked out the window and realized that some of the buildings up the street in Falmouth were burning. The locations seemed right for convenience stores. No… One was a gas station. Sometimes they’re the same thing, of course.” She paused and wrinkled her brow in concentration. “No explosion at the gas station. What does that tell me? Gasoline won’t explode? No, that doesn’t make any sense.”
“‘I’m going home,’” Jeffers whispered.
“Oh, go ahead, Bosun. Don’t stay here on my account.”
He smiled. “No, Kate, not me, you. You said, ‘I’m going home.’ You know, a few minutes ago. You’re busted, girl. You takin’ the dinghy?”
She took a deep breath and looked around the harbor, delaying answering Jeffers. Learn when to keep your mouth shut, Kate. You’re lucky it was Tom that heard you.
“Yeah, I’m busted. I’m going home.”
“People will see you.”
“Most of the people who were trying to start up their boats have given up. A couple of diehards… Anyway, I can slip out of here without many people noticing. And a lot fewer willing to try and stop me.”
Jeffers folded his arms across his chest, looked at Kate, then out at Vineyard Sound. Looking back, he asked, “Suppose you can’t make it?”
“I’ve got to,” she said, her voice husky. “Everything I hold dear, especially Kevin, is on that island. If I can’t be with the people I love, what’s the point?”
“Then you should go while the weather is decent. The Sound is… Well, the Sound is the Sound.”
“Gotta wait ’til the tide turns. It’s coming in. High tide’s about 11:40.”
Jeffers sighed. “I’ll get you some foul-weather gear out of the stores.” He used a kitchen match to light his lantern and went through a hatchway into the dark interior of Challenger.
About five minutes later, Kate heard footsteps behind her on the pier. She turned. Uff! Edward Call-me-Ed Henderson. Sue over in automation told me about him the day I started work. Said to keep three feet or more between me and him. He’s a touchy-feely type. But he’s got hire-and-fire authority and putting up with him is the price of staying employed for an info tech type. At least he ain’t my boss.
She turned back around, hoping against hope that he would pass by.So far Sue hasn’t managed to make a dent in his Casanova attempts. What is he? Forty-three? Forty-four? I’m the only woman at this end of the pier. Has he come sniffing around this twenty-three year old?
“Kate, what are you doing on the boat? Nothing works.”
Kate looked up at the chief of the Institute’s information technology department and put on her public smile. “We call it a ship, Mr. Henderson,” she said as pleasantly as possible. How long have you worked here, asshole? “I’m just killing time, I guess. There’s always something to be done on a ship. None of the deckhands showed up so I just decided to do a couple of things to stay busy. I figure Bosun Jeffers won’t mind if he shows up.” As distinguished from being below decks. No reason to tell this guy too much. I can always scream. “Who knows? Maybe everything will start working again tonight or tomorrow.”
“I told you to call me Ed,” Henderson said, walking down the gangway with his hand on the lifeline.
That really adds to your image. “Ed,” she answered, keeping her artificial smile in place.
“What are you doing for supper tonight?”
“Oh, probably something out of a can. There’s nothing quite like cold ravioli.”
“I have a small grill and some charcoal left over from last summer. Stop by the house and we’ll throw something together. You know where I live?” Henderson reached out and ran his fingers down Kate’s upper right arm and she felt revulsion run through her body.
She took a step backwards. “I’m not a hoochie, Ed, but I’ll think about your offer.”
Henderson smiled but something flashed in his eyes. “Okay, see you about, oh, six?”
“I’ll see if I can make it.” Go away, please.
“Good.” Henderson ran his fingers through his comb-over, turned and walked back up the gangway. He moved back down the pier toward land and the columns of smoke that marked the shells of buildings that were still burning from the night before.
There’s even fewer people. That’s good for my plan. Not so good if he tries something. Kate scratched her head through her dark blonde hair and watched as he walked away. And you are a dirty old man. “No, you’re a sexist piece of shit,” she whispered. She looked out toward Vineyard Sound again. “Definitely gotta roll about noon,” she mumbled under her breath, looking at the inherited watch she had wound up and set to 10:00 before going to bed. Figure it’s not too far off. Funny how a family heirloom can suddenly become a useful tool. Thanks, Grandma. “Gotta hustle and get to Kevin.”
When Henderson was out of sight, Kate made sure Challenger’s dinghy was ready. She stood five feet, six inches and had powerful muscles in her shoulders and solid abdominals from working out and running. Handling the dinghy was tough work, but she could do it. Thank God someone was smart enough to make sure this thing came with a sail.
“You handled that very well,” Bosun Jeffers said from behind her. She jumped. She’d been so absorbed in her work on the dinghy, she’d never heard him walk up. “He is a piece of work. I had your back. At sixty, I may not be in my prime, but I don’t think he would have tried anything with a witness.”
“How’s he keep his job? The Institute has policies all over the place about sexual harassment and it ain’t like IT guys aren’t a dime a dozen.”
“Well, some people have feet of clay. Rumor has it that Henderson reads other people’s email. He knows stuff about some senior managers around this place that he shouldn’t. He supposedly keeps files. Paper files.”
“Bosun, you want to come to the Vineyard? You and…”
“And Molly?” Jeffers shook his head. “We’d never get her back here, out of her wheelchair and into the dinghy.” He shrugged. Kate thought his eyes were a little moist. “You got everything you need?” he asked.
“Bosun… Tom, she was so vibrant when I met you both in the summer of ’93 after that job as an intern opened up. I knew there was something wrong Christmas two years ago when the envelope came with your handwriting on it.”
“Yeah, it snuck up on her and once it was obvious, it was too late to do much. Then her kidneys started to go. That was in ’96, spring. Her dialysis pump quit when the power stopped and the poisons are building up inside her while I stand here. I could never leave her.”
“No, of course not. I’m sorry.” Kate swallowed hard. “After… After she’s gone, we could try to find you.”
Jeffers shook his head. “My heart meds were supposed to be in the mail yesterday but they weren’t. I have about enough for a week. If I cheat and stretch what I have left, I give myself two weeks. Once Molly’s gone, there’s probably no reason to take them at all.”
Kate wiped the tears from her cheeks with the backs of her hands.
“You figure there’s some miracle over on the Vineyard that’ll save me and Molly’s lives? Everyone dies, young lady. Now, again, you got everything you need?”
“I have to go to my apartment. I got lucky. We didn’t burn last night. I shoulda put my brain in gear, as Daddy says, and packed before I rode over here this morning.”
“How far’s the apartment again?”
“A little over three miles. Pretty quick by bike.”
“Let me go first. When my feet hit solid ground at the end of the pier, get on your bike and ride fast in case Call-me-Ed is still around. I can’t be here later. You’ll have to watch your own back. Oh, wet weather suit from the gear locker is on the floor of the passageway.”
I hope I have his strength and his dignity when it’s my turn. Kate surprised herself by hugging Jeffers. “I’ll miss you, Tom. Take care of yourself. And your lady.”
❀ ❁ ❀
Kate looked around her studio apartment. My first home, kinda. I don’t count the apartment over at Rhode Island. It may not have been official student housing, but it was still nothing but a crash pad. Kev and I had a lot of fun there, in bed and out. She stared at the uncharacteristically unmade twin bed. Had fun here, too, when he wasn’t away. She hugged herself as a small shiver ran down her spine. I’m coming, Kevin.
She turned her attention to her backpack and ran through the inventory of what she had packed. Clothes I wear camping; other casual but sturdy stuff; no frilly clothes except that one skimpy thing that made Kevin’s eyes light up the first time he saw me in it. Toiletries. Her eyes fell on the photographs on the shelf over her dead television. She picked up the ones that marked the milestones of her life, stripped them out of the frames and put them in a plastic bag with a zippered closure. I need these, even if Mom and Dad do have copies. She cinched the tie downs on the pack then snapped her fingers. A couple of steps to the pantry and she had a half dozen energy bars to stuff in the outer pockets of her coat.
Kate headed for the door. At the last second, she stopped and picked up the piece of broom handle she carried as a defense against dogs when she ran.
She thought again about the night before. God Almighty, but that hurt. If the pain hadn’t been gone almost before it started, I don’t know if I’d have survived. And that dome of light over Nantucket… It had to be connected to what’s happened. When I have time, I’ll try to put together a coherent theory. She grinned. “Just like ‘the scientist from the university.’”
Kate turned her back on her little corner of the world and wheeled her bike out of the apartment.
❀ ❁ ❀
Kate coasted to a stop next to the gangway leading down to Challenger from the Institute pier. She dismounted and parked the bike next to a bollard. Her pack on its frame hung from her shoulders. She kept her broom handle in her right hand.
As she turned toward Challenger, Edward Henderson’s voice startled her. He said, “Kate, you lied to me,” and stepped out from behind a maintenance shed, fifty feet away.
Is this where it ends? I don’t think so! “Hello, Mr. Henderson. I’m pretty sure I said I’d think about your invitation.” Kate popped the quick release on the belt of her pack frame and shrugged the load to the surface of the pier. She kept the broom handle.
“Kate, in times like these, a poodle like you needs a wolf to protect her.” Henderson walked toward Kate.
He outweighs me by fifty pounds, but most of that’s around his waist. “Stay away from me, Henderson,” she said, stepping away from her backpack to ease movement.
“Make me,” Henderson snarled and took another step.
“What part of ‘no’ is unclear, asshole?” Kate poked him hard in his belly with her broom handle and took three steps backward and closer to the edge of the pier. “Do you know the difference between a ‘poodle’ and a doberman?” she asked with bared teeth.
“Bitch!” he yelled and charged at Kate, who deftly stepped to one side and let Henderson’s momentum carry him past her and over the edge of the pier. “Oh, sh–” THUMP!
”Shit” is right! That did not sound good. She walked to the edge of the pier and looked down. Henderson’s body was crumpled on the after deck of Challenger. His head was at an odd angle. Th… there’s blood on the deck. First dead man I’ve seen. There isn’t all that much blood. Guess they gotta make dead people look worse for TV and movies.
Kate felt her abdominal muscles contracting and bent over as she emptied her stomach onto the pier. When she was finished, she felt weak. She retrieved a water bottle from her pack, rinsed her mouth, and drank about half the contents of the bottle. If I can keep that down, I’ll have one of the snack bars after I’m underway.
Kate looked around the harbor. There were still a few people doing things on boats. Nobody’s looking this way. I hope nobody noticed the ruckus.
Retrieving her backpack, she slung it from both shoulders but didn’t bother with the belt. Making sure she had her broom handle, she walked down the gangway to Challenger’s deck. She stepped past Henderson’s body, overcoming a temptation to kick it, and moved to the outboard side of the vessel. She felt another rumble in her gut and paused until it passed.
She payed out the falls supporting the dinghy individually about a foot at a time. When the dinghy was floating beside the larger vessel, Kate used the line she had spliced earlier to lower her pack into the small craft.
She was about to toss her broom handle after it. She turned and looked in the general direction of the Jeffers residence. Henderson dead, right here and now. Tom and Molly dead. Tomorrow? Day after? Next week? There’ll be more I guess. Dead men. Dead women. Kate looked up at the overcast sky. If cars don’t run then airplanes don’t. Oh, God! If the phone hadn’t rung Friday…
She pounded an equipment rack with her broom handle until the wood cracked and splintered and she dropped it. “Shit, shit, SHIT!” Not a chance I can do anything. And Tom was right. He gets to make his own decisions. Doesn’t make me happy. A lot of people are gonna go out with a lot less dignity. She let her shoulders slump. I need to be hugged. Huh! I need more than a hug. “Tom’s right. He is a dead man. If we’re not careful, we’re all dead.”
Reluctantly, she turned her back on Woods Hole.
Putting on the wet weather suit Jeffers had left for her, she eased herself over the side of Challenger into the dinghy, thinking about one of her father’s maxims. It’s okay to love sailing but never try to love the sea ’cause she’s a bitch who’ll kill you out of spite.
Kate pushed off from Challenger and rowed toward the mouth of Great Harbor. I missed the turn of the tide but it’s still ebbing. It’s only about five miles home the short way and the wind’s going to do most of the work. When she passed Juniper Point and felt the breeze freshening, she shipped her oars, raised and stepped the mast and set sail for Martha’s Vineyard. She checked her watch. It’s 1:50 by this clock. It’s also very cold.
Kate found that the wind was from the south and the sea was choppier than she had expected. Thank God for the forepeak on this toy, she thought as she watched seawater run off the decking in front of her. Just keep tacking, girl. Stay southeast more than southwest. You can run her ashore any time after you clear West Chop but the closer you get to the restaurant the better.
She felt reassured when she pressed her fingers between her breasts and felt the keys hanging from her father’s old dog tag chain.
“I’m coming, Kevin,” she whispered, “please be there.”
❀ ❁ ❀
— Chapter Two —
Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket Island
Wednesday, March 18, 1998
Tacking port and starboard a little over an hour later, Kate smiled as she eased by West Chop. Her shoulders ached. Now, don’t be a hero. You’ve come this far. Stay away from the rocks. She looked ahead and saw the Thames clear the Vineyard Haven breakwater. That better be Daddy taking her out or he’ll be seriously pissed. She smiled as the dinghy passed Douglas Rock on her right. “That thing really is as big as a Volkswagen.”
As Kate neared the point of land just north of the gap in the breakwater, she said, “Ah, the hell with it.” She turned toward land and drove the little boat onto the sand as close to the rocks piled on the point as she dared. When the keel grated, Kate took several deep breaths then realized the small boat was not secured and she had to get her body onto dry land fast. Feeling like her arms were about to fall off, Kate hoisted her pack onto one shoulder, stepped into the shallow water next to the dinghy and staggered ashore. “It’s less than 1500 feet, Kate, you can do it,” she gasped. “As Kevin says, ‘That which does not kill us makes us stronger.’” She slipped her other arm into the pack strap, buckled the belt and set out.
Ten minutes of unsteady walking brought Kate staggering up to her parents’ restaurant: The Revenuers’ Rest. As she neared the southern landside entrance, she could see a dim, steady light through the brown paper covering the windows. What’s all the noise? She opened the un-latched door and stared at the crowd in the dining room.
A dog lying by the door leapt into guard stance and growled. Kate raised her arm to defend herself with her broom handle before she remembered beating it into splinters. Her vision spun, and so did she, collapsing to the floor as someone yelled, “Katie!”
❀ ❁ ❀
John Edmunds smiled, his pale blue eyes so like his daughter’s crinkling at the edges as his mouth stretched and his soul also. The sails of his beloved schooner billowed in the wind. Thames was modeled on the nineteenth century Cushing class of U.S. Revenue Cutters. Only the mainsail was set as the vessel sailed, leaving way to steer around the breakwater. All had gone well. “Set the foresail,” he ordered and relaxed as Ken Barkley relayed his order. He cast a quick glance at the data plate mounted on the wheelhouse. There was pride and joy in his glance. His ship was named Thames; she was a 174 ton ship built by the Georgetown Shipyard in Prince Edward Island, Canada. She was 93 feet and change long, had a 22.5 foot beam and drew 9 feet and nine inches draft. And he’d had her for almost eighteen years, now.
He had known he would build her from the moment he saw the plans for USRC Jefferson Davis in the library at the Coast Guard Academy. I don’t regret having her built up in Canada, especially after yard owners here in the States started arguing with me about what I wanted.
It would have been nice if the diesel had actually turned over this morning. Of course, I don’t know that the diesel doesn’t work. I only know that the electric starter doesn’t work. Just like nothing electrical worked at the restaurant. Just like the car wouldn’t start. Just like the power quit at the house. Just like…
As his thoughts ran out of steam, he looked forward from his position near the stern of his vessel and watched his crew move at their tasks with quiet efficiency. I was about to curse my luck but I’m alive, my wife’s alive and my daughter… Well, I can’t do anything about Kate just yet. I have a crew that’s loyal to their work except for one guy and that didn’t surprise me. My crew’s families are either safe at the restaurant or Steve and his guys are working on getting them there.
Even though Nantucket Island and Martha’s Vineyard were fewer than ten nautical miles apart at their closest points, Vineyard Haven and the town of Nantucket were more than twenty-one miles from each other by sea. John had usually made that trip, when it was necessary, under diesel power. Sail’s the only choice now, he thought. So if I catch good winds, Thames should be able to make seven knots or a little better; call the trip three hours. The first hour slipped past and John’s mind wandered as he tried to make sense of what had happened the night before. That shimmering dome over Nantucket… Then the flash of light and the pain…
“Skipper! We need to slow down!”
John started as Charley Fisher called from the crow’s nest and rang the brass alarm bell three times.
“Strike sail!” No point in having a lookout if you don’t trust him. John waited as Ken and two deckhands paid out the tension of the sheets controlling the sails. When the sails were flapping in the breeze, John told Ken Barkley, “Take the wheel.” He walked forward and called, “What is it, Charley?”
“Look at the line in the water ahead. Oh, and off the right beam and astern.”
John looked over the side, took off his Captain’s cap and scratched his head. Damn. It’s as if I’m sailing in one ocean and there’s a different one right next to me. The color of the water is different. And there’s a line between the two.
“There’s something black floating up ahead. About five points off the starboard bow.”
We’re dead in the water. “Set the main,” he ordered.
It did not take long to close the distance. We’re gonna need some other means of propulsion. “Strike the main.” John allowed his ship to nose close to the floating object.
“Sam!” When his senior deckhand neared, John asked, “Is that what I think it is?”
“If you mean, ‘Is that a whale?’ then yes. Or at least part, maybe ten feet, of one. It’s the head of, I think, a right whale,” Sam Mitchel answered.
“What’s big enough to bite a right whale into pieces? And where’s the body?”
“Not bitten, Skipper. It was sliced. Look at the smoothness of that cut, even with the damage done by feeders. Overnight? I mean, is it part of what happened?”
“Don’t know, Sam. We’ll figure this out later. Thanks. Set the main.” He turned. “Ken, steer one-three-five degrees.”
Both men said, “Aye, aye, sir.”
Thames slowly veered southeast.
As they neared what should have been the town of Nantucket, John called, “Strike sail!” Damn, this is getting old. When Thames was dead in the water, John called, “Everyone assemble by the wheelhouse.” As they gathered, murmuring to each other, John said, “Okay, settle down.” I should talk! “One at a time. Billy, you’re youngest. Talk to us. What do you see?”
“I… I…” Billy Keats swallowed hard. “Captain, there’s nobody there. I mean nobody. There’s no town, no people. Sir, I’m sorry, but I’m scared.” Billy hugged himself and turned his back on Nantucket Island.
“It’s okay, Billy. I don’t think any of us feel quite right about this. Clark?”
“Forest, sir,” answered Clark Pittman. John waited while Clark stared at the island. “Besides there being no town, the breakwaters are gone. Or maybe were never there? Damn it. Somebody else say something before I start babbling.”
“Forest, and… Aw, shit, Captain. My Uncle Ed went over there Monday ’cause there was construction work to be had. And now…” Charley Fisher walked over to the gunwale, turned and sat on the deck. “Gone?” he asked.
“Jim? Your turn.”
Jim Denver nodded. “Forest, Cap. But it’s old forest. Look at the size of them trees. There ain’t a sign of cutting anywhere. How do you steal an island?”
“Same, Skipper,” Mitchel responded. “Old forest. No offense, Jim, but nobody stole the island. It’s there. Same old Nantucket Island. The shape’s right. It’s the town, the people, the civilization that’s been stolen.”
“Very eloquent, Sam,” John said. And good work. “Ken?”
“More of the same, Skipper. Old growth forest… Oh! And people.”
“Huh?” John said and looked across the water. “People. Dressed worse than any Indians I ever saw.”
“We ain’t going ashore, are we sir?” Billy Keats asked nervously.
John watched the people on the island, who were pointing at Thames. “No. Somehow, I don’t think we have much to talk about. That’s even assuming we speak the same language.”
He chewed on his thumb for a few seconds. “Okay, here’s what we do know. Last night, it got dark like it always does. The lights came on just like they always do. In case no one else noticed, they came on here on Nantucket, too. I could see the glow of the town from my front porch. Then that dome, or whatever, covered up Nantucket. That went on for about an hour. Then POOF! The light, the pain, the dome gone and along with it our power. That dome looked awful big and we can guess it covered enough water and went deep enough to leave us part of a whale.”
He waited. “Okay so far?” When people nodded, he went on. “So this morning we sail over here and find out that whatever or whoever did all that stuff last night also took away all of the people on Nantucket along with everything they ever built.”
“Took ’em where?” someone asked and got no answer.
John walked toward the ladder leading below deck. “Ken, you have the con. Steer four-five degrees and get us out of Nantucket Sound. After you clear the point, bring her to port and toward Woods Hole.” If I’m luckier than I deserve my daughter will be sitting by Juniper Point Light and she’ll wave and I’ll pick her up and take her home. “Use your discretion on sails. After we take a look at Great Harbor, we’re going to look at Nashawena Island and probably anchor off its south coast tonight. Meanwhile, I’m going to see if I can write a log entry that makes sense. Everyone, as soon as you have time from your duties, write down what you remember. We’ll talk more and do more tomorrow.”
“Aye, Aye… Uh, Skipper?”
“Is that a sail up toward Hyannis?”
John turned and looked northward. “Yeah, I think it is. How far do you make it?”
“She’s hull down. I’d give it ten nautical.”
“Okay, make for that sail.”
❀ ❁ ❀
Almost ninety minutes later, Thames drifted to rest aside the sailboat which had capsized a half hour after they spotted it. They were only able to find it, because Charlie kept an eye on the red-painted hull, bobbing in the waves. A shark that had been circling the small craft widened his loop to include Thames. John shook his head as he calculated the toll.
“Racing dinghy. She broached to and went belly up. The shark probably didn’t waste much time.”
“Ripped life jacket about twenty feet other side of the hull, Skipper,” said Sam Mitchel.
John adjusted his gaze outward. “Aye.” He shrugged. “No survivors. Not even body parts. Mr. Shark did his work well; he even took a chunk out of the hull. There’s nothing for us to do here.
“Ken, back on course for Woods Hole.”
“Aye, aye, sir.”
John went below.
❀ ❁ ❀
Kate stirred and was rewarded with a sloppy lick across the right side of her face. She opened her eyes and stared at Polaris, her father’s hundred-pound German Shepherd. He barked twice. “Thank you, Po! I think.” She grinned and reached out to scratch the dog’s ears. The first thing she realized that she was on the couch in her father’s office. The second was that underneath the blankets she was completely naked. She pulled the covers up around her neck. My God, one, two, three blankets. There was a soft knock at the door. “Uh, come in?”
The door opened and her auburn-haired mother entered the room. “Hi, Kate. Are you feeling better? You scared me to death.”
“Better than when I got here, Mom. When was that?”
“About three hours ago. You need to get some food in your belly.”
“Uh, Mom, I’m naked under here.”
“I know. I helped undress you.”
“Helped?” Kate squeaked. “Who else was here?”
“Oh, okay. Of course she hasn’t seen me naked since…”
“Since you stopped being a little girl?”
Linda shook her head. “You were soaked clean through, including everything in your pack. Here’s a deckhand’s uniform including socks. It’s large enough. No undies, though. They’re hanging to dry in the management office. The slippers Dad wears when he’s working late are under his desk. By the way, Diana checked you over and she says you’ll do.”
“I guess I thought maybe Kevin…”
“No, he’s out trying to find someone.”
“I’ll catch you up soon, right now, you need to get up.
“Get dressed. You’ll feel warmer with clothes on. I’ll step outside.”
“Please stay, Mom. I don’t want to be alone right now. It was so, so lonely out on the water. I didn’t realize just how lonely until I was back on dry land.”
“Okay,” Linda looked away while Kate slipped out from under the blankets and into the uniform.
While Kate put on the socks, she asked, “What’s going on, Mom? All those people downstairs…”
“Long story. I’ll explain while you eat.”
“Was that Daddy taking Thames out?”
“Yes, he wanted to look at Nantucket. I think he’s trying to figure out how to get to you, too. Or to where he thinks you might be.”
“But he didn’t take Polaris?”
“I asked him to leave Po with me. He was on guard when you walked in the door.”
“I didn’t recognize Po before I collapsed. I hope Daddy’s only planning on looking. Nobody should go to Woods Hole. There’s no police protection and the fire department is helpless.”
“I don’t think he was planning on going ashore.”
“When will he be back?”
“Probably tomorrow morning. He didn’t want to try to re-enter the harbor after dark.”
“Done. Feels kinda weird. This fabric makes a girl appreciate underwear.”
Linda looked at her daughter. “It fits well.”
Kate wrapped her arms around her mother and pulled her close to her. She let her tears flow. “I thought I was going to die out on the Sound. More than once.”
“When I saw you standing in the doorway, I wanted to hug you and wring your neck at the same time,” Linda answered. “Neither would have done any good. You being out cold and all. But the most important part is that we’re all together. Well, your father’s at sea but he’ll be back.”
“Yeah… I tried to get Tom Jeffers to come but he said there was no way to move Molly and he wouldn’t leave her.”
“I would have been surprised, and could have told you to save your breath, if he had left her. If you measure lives by their quality, Tom’s comes out near the top.”
“Did Daddy have a full crew?”
“Everyone except Mickey Reilly. He didn’t show.”
“Out boning where he’s not supposed to?”
“Mom, I’m not a little girl, as we’ve kind of discussed. I know that men and women end up in the wrong beds by choice. Mickey’s nothing but a bopper.”
Linda shrugged. “There’s a rumor that he’s found a new girlfriend on Nantucket. He may have taken his boat over there early yesterday evening.”
“Maybe one of the great whites got him. Oh, don’t roll your eyes, Mom. How’s Patty taking it?”
Linda’s green eyes moistened. “I think Patty’s resigned to the fact that Mickey thinks she is no longer a whole, a real woman. But I don’t think she’s gotten her head around the idea that he’s not coming back.”
“Breast cancer’s a bitch but Patty’s gotta quit havin’ blonde moments over Mickey. So why are all those people downstairs? Who’s Kevin trying to find?”
“A doctor who’s a resident at the hospital. He, his dad and some others are out collecting people. They’ll be back. You know all the people downstairs; all members of our extended family. Families and friends of the crew and the soldiers. We’re asking Reverend Atkinson, who retired from Grace Episcopal, to come with us. Sergeant Oxford is visiting him.”
“Kevin’s dad is a sergeant again?”
“Kevin re-enlisted him.”
“Can he do that?”
“Well, he did. His dad and two others. I think it’s all for show.”
There was another knock at the door. Linda opened the door and Alanna Almeida entered with a tray, which she put on John Edmunds’s desk. She hugged Kate then held her at arm’s length. “Como você está, meu tesouro?”
“I’m… I’m fine, Alanna,” Kate answered. “Tired. ‘My treasure.’ I have always loved you calling me that!”
Alanna removed a handkerchief from her pocket and dabbed at Kate’s eyes. “I only say what is true. Sit. Eat.”
“That’s a lot of food.”
“Eat like there’s no tomorrow, dear,” Linda interjected, putting on her public face in spite of Alanna almost being a member of the family. “What we don’t eat spoils. And your ice cream is melting while we talk.”
Kate sat at her father’s desk. “Okay, I’ll eat, but tell me more about our family. And what do you mean about people coming with us?” She began spooning José Almeida’s savory clam chowder into her mouth.
“We’re leaving the Vineyard,” her mother said.
Kate dropped her spoon.
After Kate had recovered from the shock of her mother’s news and went back to eating her chowder, her mother explained the broad outline of the plan and the reasons behind the need to leave.
Alanna said, “José is going crazy trying to cook over charcoal and firewood. He’s afraid he’ll set the building on fire. I need to talk to him about the meal schedule.” She took the tray from Kate and hurried away.
Kate and Linda went to the dining room. A fire crackled in the massive fireplace and the room was softly lighted by hurricane lanterns. Diana Oxford smiled at Kate. “Feeling better?”
Kate nodded. “Thanks for the check-up.”
Fewer than twenty minutes later, Second Lieutenant Kevin Oxford entered the Revenuers’ Rest and stamped his booted feet on his way to the fireplace. He warmed his hands by the fire for a moment. He turned toward the table occupied by the three women. He smiled. But there’s something focused in those beautiful green eyes, Kate thought. He’s in BDUs. He’s in combat mode and this is not a good time to try to talk to him.
Kate stood and she and Kevin hugged and kissed. “Hello, Mr. Oxford,” she said.
“Hi, Mrs. Oxford. I’m glad you’re safe.” He touched her cheek with his fingertips and asked, “How are you, Kate?”
“Warmer. Safer. I’m with you.”
He nodded, meeting her eyes. There was a message there, one different from what he said. “Not now, Kate. I’ve got too much to do right now that affects the rest of our lives, all of our lives.” He shrugged and looked at his mother.
“No Dr. Martin?” Diana asked.
Kevin shook his head. “No, Mom, he didn’t show at the time and place we specified. I guess you and Sis are going to be the medical staff.”
“I’m only a registered nurse. I’m not supposed to provide care without a physician supervising,” Diana protested.
“Calling ‘Dr. Mom,’” Kevin answered. “Old rules don’t apply. You’re our nurse-practitioner now by default. There doesn’t seem to be any government to argue the point. The cities on the Vineyard seem to be in collapse. It’s only a week or so to… Well, unless we’re not welcome. Captain Edmunds still gone?”
“I don’t expect him back before morning,” Linda Edmunds answered.
Kevin raised his arms over his head and stretched his slender, six-foot frame. “You really okay? How did you get here?”
“I’ll live,” Kate smiled. “I could use more sleep. I sailed.”
“Sailed! God Almighty, Kate, suppose… Doesn’t matter. You’re here.”
At least he’s happy I made it, Kate thought.
❀ ❁ ❀
— Chapter Three —
Thursday, March 19, 1998
Kate sat on the couch in her father’s office with her arms wrapped around her torso. She was speechless with cold. She shivered. This end of the building is turning into nothing but a windbreak. I hope the people sleeping in the dining room had a better night. Yesterday morning, I stood on Challenger’s deck and told myself I needed a hug. At least I got one.
A few feet away Kevin stood with his back to her, arms akimbo, staring at framed pictures of Revenue Service and Coast Guard cutters, past and present. He said, “Well, at least most things are in train. Shall we take a quick walk so we can talk without every gossip peering over our shoulders?”
Kate nodded. “I think so. It’s chilly, though.”
“It is.” Kevin led the way to the mudroom and they put on wet weather gear and left the Revenuers’ Rest through the landside entrance. Behind her she heard the door open and shut again. Craning around she saw another man in BDUs carrying a rifle. He was walking parallel to them, staying about halfway between them and Main Street.
“Kevin, is that Henry Tait?”
“Why is he carrying a rifle?”
“There have been a lot of fights in town. Nothing with firearms yet that we’ve heard of. I guess I, or we, rate a bodyguard.”
“That’s not a hunting rifle, is it?”
Kevin shook his head. “It’s an M1, also known as a Garand. All the guys have them because they’re part of that World War II re-enacting group with Dad.”
“Is it loaded?”
“I wouldn’t bet otherwise.”
Kate and Kevin reached the waterline of the harbor. “Who’s first?” he asked.
“Me. I’m not sorry you didn’t fly after all. I know you were really upset when they rescheduled your flight to Korea and you weren’t happy I cheered ’cause we’d get a few more days. But, Kevin, if you’d gone…”
Kate let her voice trail off and then snorted with anger and laughter. “And you weren’t listening! All you could do was bitch at me about the screw up. You were so totally Army.”
“Guilty as charged, but you picked a hell of a way to celebrate my delay. I was really revved to go.”
“Go, and leave me for six months. I’m allowed my feelings, I get to be upset! We are married.”
Kevin sighed and pulled her into his arms. “Yeah, well Army wives have been sucking it up for generations.” Kate twisted around to stare upwards and he chuckled a bit. “And yeah, it isn’t fair and it’s long past time we stop it. ’kay?”
Before Kate could agree Henry Tait yelled, “Lieutenant!”
Kevin and Kate both turned toward Henry Tait, who was running in their direction with his rifle across his chest at port arms. “This does not look good,” Kevin said.
Tait stumbled to a halt and took three quick deep breaths. “I think we ought to get the unit together.” He turned Kate. “Sorry to interrupt, Ma’am.”
Ma’am, Kate thought. I’m a lieutenant’s wife. Twenty-three years old and I’m a “ma’am.”
“Go ahead, Sergeant Tait,” Kevin said. “We’ll join you.”
“We better get back. I have a feeling things are getting more dangerous around here.”
The two broke into a loping run that let them quickly close the gap with Henry Tait. As they all entered the Revenuers’ Rest, Kevin said, “Sergeant Tait, why don’t you get the office ready for the rest of us?” Without waiting for an answer, Kevin went on into the dining room. In what Kate had always recognized as his command voice — pitched to carry, he said, “First Sergeant, Sergeant Spicer, join me in the office, please.” To Kate he said, “Your mom is the senior civilian present. Please tell her I’ll give her an update as soon as I know something.”
❀ ❁ ❀
Behind the closed door of John Edmund’s office, Kevin dropped his formality. “Okay, Uncle Hank, what happened?”
Hank pulled an unexpended rifle round from his pocket and tossed it to Kevin. “Check the primer, Kev.”
Kevin looked at the base of the round and the depression left by the firing pin. “I guess we can rule out a hangfire?”
“I sure wouldn’t have put it in my pocket if I thought it was. But that’s the last thing that happened before I hightailed it back here. The first thing is that while I was on watch some low-life try to shoot Don Archibald. You know, the Tisbury cop. Nothing happened. Archibald tried to shoot back. Again, nothing happened. Archibald did have a nightstick which the low-life did not so he holstered his sidearm and pulled out the pacifier. The scum obviously didn’t like the odds and took off. So I decided to take a chance. I took my weapon off safety and fired a round at the ground. I was awarded a solid CLICK. I ejected the round, that’s it, and chambered another. Same result.”
“Where’s the second misfire?” Steve Oxford asked.
Hank tapped the receiver of his weapon. When Steve Oxford nodded, Hank carefully ejected the second “fired” round and a third, both of which Steve caught in mid-air. After the bolt locked into place, Hank engaged the safety on his rifle.
Using two pair of locking pliers from a small toolbox in the office, Steve separated the bullet of the unused round from its case. He poured the powder into an empty ashtray labeled “Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.” Russ Spicer handed him a book of matches, shrugged his shoulders, and explained, “Candy fell off the wagon a couple of weeks ago and I joined her Tuesday night.”
Steve struck a match and set fire to the powder. It caught but Kevin thought fizzled described what happened much better than burned did.
Steve Oxford swore under his breath and said, “I think we’ve just subtracted a whole full dynamic from warfare.”
“More like,” Kevin countered, “subtracted several dynamics.”
The other three men in the room nodded.
Steve said, “Hank, go offer Mrs. Edmunds the lieutenant’s respects and ask her to join us.”
“So, if we have to fight, we’re back to swords and spears,” Russ Spicer suggested while they waited.
“And archery,” Steve said.
“And catapults and trebuchets,” Kevin whispered, almost to himself.
“Spoken like a true artilleryman.” His father smiled.
Linda Edmunds walked into the office and nodded to the men. “What do you have for me, Kevin?”
“Ma’am, we have four specific instances of firearms failing to… Well, failing to fire and a hasty lab experiment that suggests that powder no longer burns with the explosive force it used to.”
“First electricity, then motors, now this. What else can go wrong?”
“I’m not placing any bets, Ma’am.”
“Okay. Well, you can explain the details to my husband. Thames just cleared the breakwater.”
❀ ❁ ❀
The dockside door was on the north side. Kate stood inside and watched as Thames deployed a longboat that carried lines to the two buoys her father rented for the schooner’s use in Vineyard Harbor. At least it’s warmer in here where the fireplace is. I’m not sure the six of us gained all that much by sleeping in Daddy’s office last night.
Kevin walked up behind her. “Sorry about that leaving you out of the meeting. We’re learning new things all the time.”
“Can you tell me?”
“If your dad doesn’t let me tell everyone; we’re having a bigger meeting, then I’ll tell you privately.”
“Kevin, aren’t we’re moving awful fast with this idea of leaving the Vineyard? I mean, suppose the lights come back on in a couple of days?”
“Valid point, but one word: food. Let me let your dad explain when he gets back. It’s his plan.”
When the schooner was warped in, Kate’s father boarded the longboat and two deckhands rowed them to the dock.
Kate studied her father’s face as the longboat neared land. He has a dark cloud on. Something’s nagging at him. He’ll tell us, I hope.
Kate moved back into the shadow as her father came in. He wrapped his arms around Linda and kissed her. “Missed you,” he said.
“Missed you, too,” she said. “You’re cold.”
“That I am. It’s nasty out there.”
Kate walked up behind him and said, “Hey, sailor, want some breakfast?”
He spun. “Katie!” he yelled and hugged his daughter, lifting her off her feet. “I was afraid we’d lost you. The Oceanographic Institute is on fire.”
“Closer than I would have liked, Daddy, closer than I would have liked. Unh! Let go. You’re crushing me.”
“Come on, everyone. Get some breakfast,” Linda said.
John handed his wife several sheets of paper and said, “Read these and then we’re having a meeting.”
“If you hadn’t said that, I was going to. Kevin needs a couple of minutes before we eat.”
“Three minutes, sir,” Kevin said. “I don’t want to blindside you at the meeting.” The men walked to a quiet corner. Kate watched and thought, His jaw literally dropped. What’s going on?
Breakfast was not big. “We have food. It’s a question of fuel,” Alanna explained. “We don’t have a lot to work with. We’re cooking over charcoal and split logs from the fireplace.”
“No problem, Alanna,” John said, “Linda and I couldn’t have hired better people to manage this place for us. That’s before things changed and now.”
Alanna smiled and went back to look after the kitchen.
After breakfast, Alanna and her daughter Sandra assembled smaller tables into a large one close to the fireplace and asked others in the dining room to help move their tables closer to the far walls.
Obvious message, Kate mused. If you’re not invited to the big table, don’t hang around. It’s also educational to look at the people gathering around this table. Daddy, Mom, Kevin, his mom, Ken Barkley, Sam Mitchel, José Almeida, and me. Let’s see, from my whole nine months as a military wife, that’s command, administration, security, medical, sails, deck, food, and… me. Why me? And why is my chair directly across from Daddy’s?
“Okay,” John said when everyone was seated, “Let’s get started. Keep your voices low but no whispering. Whispers carry a lot farther than most people realize. People?”
“Forty,” Linda answered. “They’re not all here, yet. We can carry forty-one as we’ll be configured. We could probably carry fifty if we had to.”
“Security?” John asked.
Kevin answered, “Four men-at-arms, not counting vessel command. Weapons include four M1 rifles with bayonets and two crossbows which Sergeants Tait and Spicer have at their homes. They’ll be slipping out to retrieve them later.” Kevin took a deep breath. “As I just briefed you, we learned only this morning that the powder in our ammunition will not detonate.”
People at the table looked at each other and muttered. Kate caught a couple of expressions of disbelief.
John Edmunds said, “Everyone keep your cool. Remember voices do carry.”
Kevin continued, “Our rifles are now short spears or clubs.” He shrugged. “We’ll get by. Deception chart is in my pocket.”
Kate looked at Kevin quizzically and John said, “Oops! Katie doesn’t know. Kevin, bring Katie up to speed after we break.”
Kate said, “And don’t forget the cutlasses.”
“They’re mock-ups, aren’t they?” asked Kevin.
“Our captain is a stickler for authenticity,” Kate said with a smile at her father. “They’re real. They were made by a company in California.”
John said. “Sam, have a couple of deck hands get a ladder and take those cutlasses down and give them to the lieutenant.”
“I’ll help,” José said.
John nodded. “Medical?”
Diana said, “No doctor. He never showed. You have me as your un-certified nurse-practitioner and Nancy as your nurse. We’ve pooled all the medicines people brought with them except what’s obviously unique to a person. I wish I had more professional level drugs. Fortunately, some people had left over prescription painkillers that they hadn’t disposed of. We have a good supply of bandages and splints from home first-aid kits.”
“You’ll do fine, Diana. So will Nancy. Sails?”
“All the sails are rigged and we have the complete backup set in the forepeak,” Ken Barkley reported. “Sam and I are going to have them moved down with the ballast today. That’ll make them harder to get to if we want them but we need the space for people.”
“Deck and engineering?”
“We’re about ready,” Sam Mitchel answered. “I’m having running lights made out of hurricane lanterns. I can’t say how long they’ll work. I’m also rigging lanterns to hang from overheads. Besides light, they’ll produce some of the heat we need. The pumps don’t work anymore. We should be prepared to bail until we can jury rig some hand-powered pumps. One thing…I think Kevin and his people should get into company blue while we’re here. Having people running around in BDUs is just too obvious. We have the uniforms we keep in stock for the summer hires so we have what we need in the right sizes.”
John nodded. “Kevin, make it happen.”
Kevin nodded, “Aye, aye, sir.”
John asked, “Food?”
“Sim, Capitão,” José answered. “Perishables are the biggest problem. Last night, we started putting milk containers into the ice chests we use for drinks on holidays. The chests are sitting in the harbor water as we speak and that water is still very cold. Juices and eggs were next, followed by sealed meats. Cheeses, staples and canned goods stay on the shelves until we’re ready to move them. Do I have time to start smoking meats?”
John smiled. “Sorry, José. I don’t think we have the time to do it right. Maybe when we make our rest stop. I’m glad you spent some time in the Brazilian army. You won’t have to learn overnight how to move bulk supplies. That brings us to Kate.”
John looked at his daughter. “Congratulations, you’ve just been appointed first mate of Thames.”
“But, Daddy, I mean Captain, Ken is more qualified than I am.”
“I don’t want the job,” Barkley interjected, “even if the skipper had offered it to me, which he did not. Sailmaster and first mate are two separate skill sets.”
“What about Sam?”
“I don’t want it, either,” Mitchel said. “I’m a bosun and a good one, if you’ll excuse my lack of humble, but I’m basically a chief petty officer, to borrow a term from my previous life.”
Kate looked at her father. I don’t think I’m ready for this! “I’ll do my best, sir.”
“That’s all I ask.”
“I hope so.”
“If you’re not confused,” her father answered. “Then you’re not thinking. You’ve had a lot thrown at you this morning. What are your questions?”
“Just one. Why are we in such a hurry to do this?”
“Two reasons. The second only Ken, Sam and I here at the table saw, although your mom read our notes; I’ll come back to it.” He paused and sipped some coffee. “Food. There are fifteen thousand people on this rock and we’re used to having food delivered every day by ferry. At best, there’s enough food on the Vineyard for a week. Grocery stores, restaurants, personal stockpiles. When the food runs out, the place is going to be Hell on Earth. I don’t want anyone I care about to be here when society, when decency, breaks down.”
“But suppose this is temporary?” Kate asked. “I told a man yesterday that the power may come back on… Oh! Something happened I need to tell you about, by the way.”
“That was a good argument until we on Thames saw what we saw yesterday.” John shook his head. “Nantucket town is gone.”
“Wha—” Diana gasped then clamped her hands over her mouth.
Kate snuck a glance at the people at the smaller tables. Not all of them had left the room. Only a few looked toward the large table.
“Sorry, John. But how could…” Diana fumbled.
“I wish I knew,” Kate’s father answered. “The island is right where it ought to be. But it’s nothing but forest and beaches. Someone or something took the island next door and left us a substitute or something that doesn’t have a single building on it. At least, not one we can see. There were some primitive-looking people who seemed pretty impressed by the schooner. What we’re facing here is an entity powerful enough to do this. Pretending this entity has our best interests at heart is naive.”
“Yes, Captain, I see what you mean,” Kate said. How did I slip so easily into calling Daddy “Captain?”
John smiled at Kate. “What did you need to tell me? Do we need to go somewhere?”
“Oh.” I didn’t mean I wanted to describe this in front of everyone. Might as well, though. “The man I told the power might come back on? I left him dead on the deck of Challenger.”
John raised an eyebrow. “Did you kill him?”
“No, Captain. He wanted to kidnap me. Called me a poodle and fondled me. When I said ‘no,’ he charged at me. I stepped out of his way and he ran right over the edge of the pier. I didn’t see it, but I think he hit the deck head first.”
“Ouch. Sounds like self-defense to me. Is the turd worth worrying about?”
“Then don’t. Let it go, Katie. I know that’s easy to say but may be harder to do. Talk to any of us but get it off your chest. I’m gonna need your skills.”
“Okay.” Kate looked at Kevin, who nodded.
“Okay, load out tomorrow.”
“No, sir,” Kevin said.
“Bad security. Too obvious. People who haven’t thought this out like you have and who don’t know what you just told us will get far too curious. I recommend you start tonight after full dark. Quit at first light and lie low all day except for rounding up the last of our people. Stockpile the things people bring with them. Finish after full dark tomorrow and sail as scheduled Saturday morning. We’ll draw less attention if we work at night.”
“You want us to load a schooner in the dark?” Sam Mitchel asked.
“I know it’ll be tough,” Kevin admitted. “But I’ve gotta think of it from the position of whether I can defend this building, and Thames, if a mob shows up, even if it’s only armed with pitchforks and hoes.”
“I see your point, Kevin,” Sam acknowledged. “But I’m afraid someone will go in the drink.”
“How about this, Sam?” Kate asked. “We work from the port side so we’ll be less visible to most of the people on the Island. We use the camp lanterns as a light source. We turn two of them real low and hang one from the port side of the stern and the other from the sign at the dockside door. That’ll give the boat crews steering points. Then we hang two more over the port side of Thames. We turn them up just a little higher so the guys in the longboats can see to work the derrick line. People working on deck have less of a chance of taking a bath.”
Sam pursed his lips and tapped the table with his fingers for a minute. “Okay,” he said, “I can live with that.”
“We’ll have to work slower,” John mused as he looked around the table. Everyone nodded. “Okay.” He looked in the three-ring binder he’d brought to the meeting. “Nautical twilight ends at 1856 hours today. Tomorrow, it starts at 0449 hours and ends at 1857 hours. There’s no moon but the weather is supposed to be clear and the stars suddenly seem brighter. I take it you’re ready, Sam?”
“We’ll rig a derrick to a beam. Parts are ready. We’ll work from the port side so we’ll be less visible.”
“How many working watches do we have?”
Kate held up her hand, as did José. John held up a pocket watch that Kate knew had been his grandfather’s.
“Okay, if there’s nothing else, thank you all.”
Kevin said, “One more thing, I think it’s odd that no one from any of the local governments has asked what we’re doing.” He frowned. “Especially since you had to have been seen sailing yesterday and returning to port today.”
“That’s a good point,” Kate’s father said, “and I think it may be in part because no one has a handle on information management. We should let sleeping dogs lie. Anything else?” He looked at each face at the table, one at a time. “Okay, time for my little speech.”
John stood and walked to the center of the Revenuers’ Rest dining room.
“Everyone, thank you again for putting up with us getting organized. Not everyone who’s part of our adventure is in this room. Two deckhands and a soldier are aboard Thames. The soldier is armed. And there will be more people joining us.
“I’d like you to think for a moment about how many people live on the Vineyard… That’s right, about fifteen thousand. Now, where do we get our food, besides fresh fish? Right, again. It comes to us, that’s came to us, from the mainland on vessels powered by engines that don’t work anymore. Sure, there are people who grow produce on truck farms and who have small gardens here on the Vineyard, but it’s March.
“There are several fires in Edgartown. If they spread to Tisbury…” John paused.
He’s giving them time to absorb what he’s saying before he drops the bomb, Kate thought.
“I’m not a great leader of men. I graduated from the Coast Guard Academy and made it all the way to lieutenant before I decided that I didn’t want to make a career of checking life jackets. I’m a pretty good businessman. That means I’m good at spotting trends. The single most important trend right now, is that by this time next week or sooner the island of Martha’s Vineyard will be next to out of food.
“Now, I’m not promising to be a Moses leading you to some land of milk and honey. I’m offering to take you out of a soon-to-be Hell to a place where there’s food and where I think they’ll let us stay. I’m not even telling you, yet, where we’re going. I’m asking you to trust my judgment. If you don’t want to go with us, you should leave the building within the next ten minutes.”
He went into the kitchen. Kate watched the crowd as her father chatted with the Almeidas. No one left. Good work, Daddy, Kate told herself. You kept them all. But what choice do they have?
Kate timed her father. After twelve minutes, John returned to the dining room and said, “Thank you all. Relax. We’ll be serving lunch about noon and dinner about five. Eat well but don’t make yourselves sick. We may be coming around later and asking some of the younger folks for a little help. Again, thanks.”
After he left, Kate and Kevin took over one of the side tables.
“Your dad’s speech went pretty well,” Kevin said.
“‘Aye, aye, sir?’” She smiled.
“I’m in the Navy now, I guess. Or the Coast Guard. Or the Marines. Whatever I am, I’m pretty sure I’m not an artillery officer. Artillery pieces, as I understand them, probably don’t work anymore.”
Kate shrugged. “It’s a lot for people to absorb at one time. Some of them probably haven’t gotten over the… the changes.” She frowned. “Meanwhile, deception chart?”
“Um. Your dad wants anyone who gets curious to think we’ve gone someplace we haven’t. We’re going to leave this place a little messy. Among the papers left behind will be the chart in my pocket. It shows Gardiners Island down by Long Island. It has a note on it about having to anchor offshore.”
“Ah, neat idea. Yours?”
“Well, deception, yes. Gardiners was your dad’s.”
❀ ❁ ❀
Well after dark Kate watched as the Almeidas and the people they’d drafted from the extended family load food from the restaurant dock into longboats rowed by deckhands.
“How far along are we?” she asked Alanna.
“About seventy-five percent, meu tesouro,” Alanna answered.
On a hunch, Kate followed the family friend back into the restaurant. “Alanna, remember to bring a can opener.”
Alanna turned and rolled her eyes. “Sim, Kate.”
“She said sarcastically,” Linda Edmunds said with a smile from a table near the door where the Edmunds and Oxford families sat.
“It was just a thought,” Kate answered defensively.
“And a good one. There are no stupid questions,” her father said. “I bet there’s a dozen can openers tucked into people’s stuff. Better than none.”
José Almeida came out of the kitchen, wiping his hands on a towel. “Capitão?”
“The Conroys are next door, at their store, with weapons. Rifles and knives. They have lanterns turned up high. No light discipline, there!”
❀ ❁ ❀
— Chapter Four —
Friday, March 20, 1998
As dawn neared, Kate fretted as Kevin and his troops prepared for what both he and Kate’s father had agreed was going to be an invasion by Nathan Conroy and his two sons.
About an hour earlier, Kevin had ordered all the lanterns turned as low as possible and still remain burning to reduce the amount of light in the dining room. It was getting cold inside the Revenuers’ Rest.
Kevin came and sat on the floor beside her as she shivered.
“I know it’s cold, but if they’re coming, it’ll be at first light. They’ll try to catch us sleeping. We’re guessing that they don’t know that we have trained soldiers. Nobody was around the Conroy place until after we had changed into blue. We’re nearly certain that their carrying firearms means they don’t know they’re non-functional.”
Somewhere in the shadows, a child whimpered and a mother whispered comfort.
“What’s Conroy’s problem?” Kate asked her father.
John sighed. “When I was looking to buy the land we’re sitting on, he was trying to expand his business. There’s only fifty feet between the two structures. He would probably try to tell you that I employed illegal aliens. From my perspective, he tried to use family influence to prevent me getting a license to operate a restaurant.”
“Who did Conroy say you were employing?”
“José and Alanna.”
“But they’re citizens.”
“They are now. At the time, they were immigrant aliens. That’s legal immigrant aliens, by the way. With green cards. With food handler certificates. Exactly what I needed.”
“And the family influence part?” Kate asked.
“Nathan Conroy’s cousin was an agent with the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Now, there’s a problem with illegals wherever there’s a tourist industry. Proprietors looking for cheap labor. Nathan made a leap of logic and called his cousin to report that I had hired two illegals. The cousin, I’ve forgotten his name, showed up at what used to be the office for the schooner service with some uniformed officers and tried to arrest José and Alanna. Fortunately, I was keeping their documents for them in the company safe. Both the cousin… Harkins! that was his name, and the uniformed officers were very embarrassed.”
“So Conroy couldn’t move past the problem?” Kevin asked.
John hesitated then said, “He wouldn’t let go of the idea that I had hired the Almeidas, who had cheated in some unspecified way, before they became legal, even though his allegation was patently false. Anyway, when the cousin showed up, a reporter from the Chronicle was in the office. They were going to run a story on my plans for the restaurant. The editor apparently thought the tale of the aggressive federal agents was too much to pass up.” He frowned. “On the day the paper came out, the Coast Guard made a public relations stop. The captain of the cutter, who was a classmate of mine, picked up a copy of the paper and, he told me later, thought the events were curious. The next time he met with INS managers, he gave a guy he knew his copy of the paper. Seems the cousin had kinda failed to notify his boss that he was making a trip to the Vineyard on a case. Something about not having a case. It apparently ain’t all that hard to fire an INS agent.”
“So Mr. Conroy blames you for his cousin getting fired?” Kate suggested.
“He’s never actually said that,” John answered, “but I doubt that he’s spoken to me more than once a year since then and never purely socially.”
“He could have come and asked for help. Maybe offered something,” Kevin suggested.
“What’s he got that we need?”
“Camp lanterns and stoves and bottled gas.”
“Ah! I didn’t think of those. Shame on me. But I think to him that would have been like coming here with his tail between his legs.”
“I suspect we’ll never know,” Kate said. She glanced at a window. Sun’s coming up.
Something grated against the dock right outside the dockside door. A man cursed.
“That would be Mark,” John said. “Paul has a deeper voice.”
Two men whispered to each other outside the landside door.
“Nathan and Paul,” John commented casually. “Remember how I told you whispers carry?”
During the night, they had prepared the interior of the Revenuers’ Rest for defense. All of the non-combatants were crowded into smaller meeting rooms, leaving clear fields of fire for Henry Tait and Russell Spicer, who were positioned with their crossbows on the landside wall of the dining room opposite the dockside door. They could shoot at invaders at either of the two entrances. John Edmunds, Steve Oxford, Kevin and Kate were sitting with their backs against the wall at the west end of the dining room near the kitchen.
Kevin wanted me in the kitchen, but I said I was the first mate of Thames and belonged with the leadership. I’m scared to death but I can’t quit now.
“Perfect,” Kevin had said. “The first thing Conroy and his kids will see when they come through the doors will be the troops. If they even look like they want to shoot, we kill them.”
He said that so casually. His gaze is cold. He’s even more alert. I thought he was in combat mode Wednesday but today he’s hard… Flint hard. How do they teach them to do that? His dad’s like that too, I think, but I can’t see Steve’s face as well.
CRASH! The main door of the Revenuers’ Rest flew open. Two seconds later, the dockside door opened with a similar sound. Nathan and Paul Conroy charged into the restaurant. Father and son stumbled against furniture and pulled themselves upright in the center of the dining room. Nathan carried a shotgun. Double barreled, Kate thought, twelve gauge? Paul has a hunting rifle. Mark too. Don’t know how to tell the calibers.
CLICK. CLICK. CLICK.
They’ve sealed their fates, she thought. She heard, somehow, two distinct WHOOSHING sounds. Mark Conroy fell, holding his throat and gurgling, then rolled over onto his face.
Someone, she thought it was Russ Spicer, said, “Smartass. Nice shot.”
Steve Oxford put his hand on the man’s neck. “One down.”
Kate thought, Death in the dark.
Closer to Kate, a dark-haired man flailed with a crossbow bolt embedded in his upper chest. Nathan has gray hair, so that’s Paul.
Nathan came out of his stunned gaping at his cohort’s death and son’s struggles and spun, pulling a large knife out. He looked around, desperately, his lips skinning back from his teeth and rushed at Kate. She stood, cutlass drawn, held by her right side. What’s he got against me? she wondered, and answered herself. Nothing, he’s looking for the weakest target; and a woman fills that bill nicely. She dodged as he tried to run full tilt into her. Time seemed to have gone soft, too fast or too slow. She stumbled backward and barely managed to stay on her feet, falling heavily against the brick wall.
Nathan snarled, “Daddy’s little girl,” as he missed her and staggered, turning and catching his balance. Kate felt men moving around her, but she was watching Nathan, trying to see his next move as he walked toward her.
Kate swung her cutlass as he slammed the knife at her in an overhand swing. It fouled in his sou’wester sleeve, and she was pulled off balance. Nathan closed with her just as Steve Oxford kicked him hard behind his right knee. He collapsed forward, windmilling as he went down. Steve pirouetted between Kate and Nathan and hit him hard on the bridge of his nose with the hand-guard of his cutlass.
CRUNCH! Kate winced as she heard hard bone give way. Steve stepped back slightly raised and brought his cutlass back down, slicing diagonally through the front of his target’s neck. A hot iron stink filled the air as blood sprayed over Steve and onto Kate.
Steve said, “Two down.”
Kevin Oxford nudged the last Conroy with his boot. Paul moaned and Steve said, “That one’s still alive.”
Henry Tate knelt, pressed the tip of his knife against Paul’s chest next to the breastbone and pushed. Paul arched and lay still.
“Not any more,” Henry said. “Three down.” He shuddered. “I had really hoped never to have to do this again.”
Maggie Thompson, Henry’s girlfriend, walked out of the shadows. She clutched Henry’s hand. “It’ll be okay, honey. You get some rest and it’ll be okay.” She helped Henry stand and led him away. He dropped his knife as he walked.
Kate looked at the men around her and opened her mouth to speak.
Steve placed his index finger across his lips then silently mouthed, “Later.”
John said, “High tide was about four this morning; it’s still ebbing. Throw the bodies in the water.”
John stooped over, crouched and slipped his hands into Nathan Conroy’s armpits. Kate stepped up and grabbed the elder Conroy’s feet. Her father looked at her quizzically. “I’ve got this end,” she said and he nodded.
Together, they carried the body toward the dockside door. I’ll have nightmares later, Kate told herself, just like the one about Ed actually grabbing me as he went over the dock. She noticed that Kevin, his father, Russ Spicer, and José Almeida were handling the other two bodies.
As the three bodies went into the harbor Kate thought, I hope they drift past the breakwater. I don’t want to see them again.
John asked, “Kate, will you get the people who spent the night in the two offices and bring them into the dining room? Just the adults. Linda, please help look after the kids.”
When the adults were assembled, John said, “We were attacked by three armed men who, I think, came to kill us. One of us or all of us. Those men are now dead. If you’re tempted to think that was the end, don’t. It was a beginning. What the Conroys thought to do, others will think of; steal what food we had and kill all of us. My goal is to take all of you off this island alive. My plan is unchanged. If you decide you no longer want to go with us, I’ll understand. I will ask you to stay here until Thames sails.
“Please spend some time with your children.” John sucked his lip a second, nodded shortly and then said, “Staff on me.”
Once they had gathered around him, he began to issue instructions. “Kevin, I want you and your troops to raid Conroy and Son’s Hardware. I’ll get you some warm bodies to help carry stuff.”
“Lanterns, camp stoves and bottled gas to fit. It’s gonna get cold below decks on Thames. If you see anything else that tickles your fancy, think of it as the spoils of war.”
“You’re learning fast things I had once hoped you never would,” Steve Oxford said to his son.
Both men shrugged.
Like father, like son, Kate thought.
❀ ❁ ❀
Kate ached from sleeping on the floor of the Revenuers’ Rest dining room. Others were stirring and groaning. Kate and Kevin joined their parents and Kevin’s sister at a table.
“That’s an impressive list of supplies you retrieved from Conroy’s place,” John said.
“Yes, sir,” Kevin answered. “Credit to the first sergeant. We collected four camp stoves, five lanterns, close to thirty bottles of propane to power them, and ten sleeping bags. There’s bags of trail mix, trail rations and dehydrated food. And a sextant. Who’d have thought? All forfeited by the previous owners. If you want to slip over there after dark to take a look, we can do that.”
“No, I want to be on Thames when we start the final loading. We’ll either make it to our destination or we won’t.”
“That thing Henry did,” Kate said. “You know, when he knelt down and ran his knife into Paul Conroy’s chest. How did he know how to do that? I tried to ask right after the fight, but… it wasn’t the right time. Tell me now.”
Steve sighed. “Henry was a special operator. Unless you’re in special ops, you don’t know much about the details of what they do. I would guess that Henry has been places we don’t want to think about and done things we can’t even conceive of. The quiet warriors don’t talk to other people, although I’d guess that Henry’s told Maggie enough so she knows how to take care of him. The best thing we can say is that Henry had had enough. Then we asked him for a little more.”
Kate stared at Steve. “And thank you, Dad. You saved my life. I risked all of us by being here when I really had nothing to offer. I promise you, and myself, that it’ll never happen again.”
“Don’t beat yourself up, daughter, or sell yourself short. And you’re welcome. You distracted him and gave me an opening. We’ll make you better,” Steve answered. “We’ll make all of us better.”
Kevin put his hand on Kate’s shoulder and squeezed briefly.
❀ ❁ ❀
Good, Kate thought, the crew minus rowers and one soldier are aboard the vessel and we’ve loaded all the food and supplies that we’re taking. Now we get the passengers aboard. They’re not all going to like their short trip in a small boat.
She turned to the first two groups of four each. “The most important thing is to relax. Leave your property on the dock, board the longboat and get comfortable. We’ll hand you your property. Then the deckhands will row you to Thames. The longboat may rock a little, but if you sit still it will not roll. When you get to the schooner, it works in reverse. Someone on deck will take all of the property then help you aboard one at a time. You’ll be shown how to get below decks and get comfortable. Don’t try to stay on deck for two reasons. We’re trying to keep from drawing attention and you’ll just get cold. Okay, first passenger.”
Loading went well and Kate watched as the two boats headed for the black-hulled schooner.
When the last of the passengers had been transferred, one of the longboats returned for Kate, Kevin and Sergeant Russ Spicer with his crossbow. Kate had waited while Kevin slipped the deceptive chart between a table leg and a wall of Revenuers’ Rest.
When they arrived at Thames, Steve helped them board. “Not a single person took an unscheduled bath.” That’s great and luckier than we deserve. That water’s cold and somehow we never got around to talking about treating hypothermia.
The deck hands retrieved and stowed the longboats.
Kate’s mother wrapped her arms around her father’s waist, kissed him and said, “You did good.”
John laughed. “We’re not out of port yet.”
❀ ❁ ❀
— Chapter Five —
Martha’s Vineyard and Nashawena Island
Saturday, March 21, 1998
Thames was moored to buoys fore and aft. “Tide is ebbing,” John announced and blew out the lantern. “Ms. Oxford has the con.” He nodded to Kate. “Take us out when you’re ready.”
An opportunity to excel, as Kevin says? Kate wondered. She looked at the eastern sky. Twilight. She turned to Sam Mitchel. “Cast off forward.” The bosun signaled to a deckhand, who freed Thames from the fore buoy. “Right standard rudder,” Kate ordered and stared at the harbor mouth. Clark Pittman turned the wheel and answered, “Right standard rudder, aye.” She felt the hull moving under her as the outgoing tide tugged at it. She smiled when she saw the breakwater clearly. “Cast off aft.” Sam pulled the vessel closer to the aft buoy with a boat hook and another of his deckhands flipped the aft hawser free.
Thames began to drift toward the gap between the breakwater on the port side and the spit of land on the starboard.
“Rudder amidships,” Kate ordered. “Prepare to set the main sail.”
Thames slipped past the breakwater and entered the outer harbor. “Set the main sail. Left standard rudder. Set the fore sail.” She asked her father, “Captain, do you want to sail within easy view of the Vineyard?”
“Aye, but stay well away from Douglas Rock.”
“Aye, aye, sir.” She looked at her helmsman. “Come left to zero one five.” She waited then smiled at the sight of sea flowing around the hated rock.
When West Chop slid away to the vessel’s port side, Kate ordered, “Come left to two five five.”
Nashawena Island, here we come! When Pittman reported being on course, she responded, “Very well, steady as she goes.”
❀ ❁ ❀
“Good job of taking us out this morning,” John told Kate.
Kate smiled. “Thank you, Captain.” She cocked an eyebrow. “Is there a ‘but’ attached to that?”
“Oh, I might not have set the fore sail as soon as you did.” He smiled. “but I gave you the con and you did just fine.”
“Sun’s well up. What are your orders?”
John laid a chart on the wheelhouse. “I want to make a wide sweep around Cuttyhunk Island into Buzzards Bay. Approach Nashawena Island from the north. We’ll anchor off this spit called ‘The Neck’ and go ashore by longboat to the farm.” He lowered his voice. “I’m beginning to feel very old. I’m going below for forty winks.”
❀ ❁ ❀
Kate anchored Thames off The Neck and two deckhands rowed John Edmunds, Kevin Oxford and Russ Spicer to the boat ramp near the farmhouse. John was still in the blue uniform he had selected for his crew, including himself. Kevin and Russ were back in their battle dress uniforms. John and the other men were armed with cutlasses. Spicer carried his crossbow.
I’m really proud of Katie. She can handle Thames like a master mariner, John thought. Of course, leaving Steve on board in case Katie needs some muscle was also a good idea.
The party walked up the rutted pathway to the farmhouse.
John asked, “Deserted?”
“As far as I can see,” Kevin answered. “No, wait, I saw a curtain move.”
John said, “There are supposed to be caretakers. We’ll give anyone who’s here a chance to come out.”
The front door of the farmhouse opened and an elderly man holding a pitchfork came out and watched them, standing tensely.
John waited for the man to draw near. “Good morning, sir. I’m John Edmunds, formerly of Martha’s Vineyard and captain of the schooner Thames. My associates are Kevin Oxford and Russ Spicer. May we speak with you for a few minutes?”
“Well,” the man answered. “I suppose so. When I saw your sails, I hoped that you’d come to rescue me. You’re armed so I suppose that’s not the case. I’m Harold Evans, the caretaker.”
“We don’t come as enemies,” John said. He unbuckled his weapons belt and passed it to Kevin. He ordered Spicer, “Clear the bow.” When Russ had complied, John walked forward with his right hand extended. Evans shook.
“So what’s happening everywhere, anywhere, elsewhere?” Evans asked.
“I take it I don’t have to review the flash and the pain?”
Evans nodded. “Nor the fact that nothing electrical works.”
“Have you tried to use a firearm?”
“Don’t have one on the island.”
“They don’t work either. Hence the cutlasses and crossbow. It’s exactly like that over on the Vineyard.” John paused. “Did you see the dome of light over Nantucket?”
Evans looked puzzled and nodded.
“The town of Nantucket has disappeared. The island is old growth forest. On Wednesday, some of us saw Indians walking on the beach. We figure the dome had something to do with that. Can’t prove it, of course.”
Looking over his shoulder, Evans called, “Mary, come out, please.” When a slender woman in her late fifties or early sixties came out of the barn, Evans said, “My wife, Mary.”
After introductions, Evans looked serious. “So you’re not here to rescue us?”
“In a way, yes, sir,” John answered. “If you want to be. What we’d like to do is spend a couple of days here and relax. We’ve fled the Vineyard, but not in the sense that we were fleeing the law.” Best leave out the battle at the restaurant, he thought.
“Portions of Edgartown had burned and I wouldn’t be surprised if Tisbury and other areas don’t suffer as well. Society, in my opinion, is breaking down. I was in a position to save a limited number of people. I’m willing to include the Evans family for a very reasonable compensation.”
“And that is?” Mary Evans asked.
“All the edible food on the island. Doesn’t matter if it’s one can of beans or tons of food.”
“Of course most of the food in the main house doesn’t really belong to us,” Harold Evans said pointedly.
John nodded. “True, but I honestly believe you can consider it abandoned.”
“And after the couple of days?”
“We will depart for our hopefully new and permanent home and you come with us. If you attend the meeting I’m going to hold down by the water, you’ll find out where we’re going.”
Harold and Mary looked at each other and shrugged. Mary said, “We will be pleased to attend your meeting. Harold and I will discuss your proposal when we know more.”
“Kevin, let’s move more security and crew, including the Almeidas, ashore. José and his volunteers can start getting a meal going. Ferry everyone but the watch ashore in time to eat a hot meal.”
“Aye, aye, sir,” Kevin answered.
“Do you want to use the kitchen in the big house?” Harold asked. “There’s a nice, old wood stove.”
“I’m sure our chef will appreciate your offer.”
❀ ❁ ❀
After the meal, John gathered everyone around him. “First, thank you for putting up with the secrecy. We left a hint that we were leaving for Gardiners Island, which is not our destination. No one left on the Vineyard has a sail-powered vessel as big as Thames, but that doesn’t mean a brave soul couldn’t take a smaller vessel and try to come after us. If someone searched the Revenuers’ Rest and found our little piece of deception, I wanted them to follow us all the way to Gardiners. We’ve been through a lot of stress. The goal here is to give us a couple of days to rest up, then leave for what I hope is our new home, Prince Edward Island.”
He waited while the chatter subsided. “Let me make one thing very clear. Anyone who doesn’t want to go has one more chance to back out. I will gladly put people ashore on the Vineyard but I’m not going back to Vineyard Haven. This is your last chance to opt out. Questions?”
“What’s at Prince Edward Island?” a voice called.
“Food. The island is a net exporter of food. For example, they grow or grew one-third of Canada’s potato crop. They have a dairy industry. They grow cereal grains, fruits and vegetables. They have a good, solid fishing industry. All that and no way to send it anywhere. They should have room and jobs for forty more people.”
“Tell us how you know all that, Captain,” Timothy Atkinson suggested.
John smiled. “Thank you, Reverend. I had Thames built on Prince Edward Island and we were negotiating with the provincial government for port rights. We were going to run a cruise under sail up to Charlottetown this summer as an experiment.” He shrugged. “So much for tourism.”
Russ Spicer held up his hand. “That’s great, sir, but what do we, what do you, bring to the table?”
John drew in a deep breath. “I’m going to give them a navy.” He stared at the gaping faces before him. “To be more precise, I’m going to give them a sea-going vessel and the plans to build more like it. And offer my services. I will attempt to secure positions for anyone who wants to serve.”
“Does this navy need marines?” Steve Oxford asked as his wife turned to stare at him.
“Ah, possibly,” John answered.
“Okay.” Steve smiled.
Diana swatted Steve’s arm. “You old fart!”
Nice touch, Diana, John thought, but maybe a little louder than you intended.
John nodded. “More questions?” He waited. “Okay. If you think of something, ask me. We’re going to spend tonight and Sunday night here. And probably Monday night. Relax. Rest. We’ll have to be cautious about food consumption. Our food supply is what we have with us and can catch. Qualified fishermen please report to Sam Mitchel, our bosun. He’s standing at the back with his hand raised.”
“That’s not completely correct, Captain,” Harold Evans said. He rose to his feet and, after glancing at his wife, said, “There’s a lot of food stored here. We could probably feed this crowd for a month.”
Thank God, John thought and smiled. “Thank you, Mr. Evans.”
❀ ❁ ❀
Sunday, March 22, 1998
The Reverend Timothy Atkinson was leading a worship service on the front lawn of the farmhouse. It’s kind of an Episcopal service and kind of not, Kate thought.
“I will not blame God for the changes. In Genesis 1:28 we are told And God blessed them, and God said to them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and subdue the earth: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.
“I see some quizzical expressions. That’s good. Some of you have probably noticed that I left something out of the quote. So let’s try again. And God blessed them, and God said to them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.
“Maybe… Just maybe, God didn’t think we were doing such a good job at replenishing the earth. You will please note that God did not give us dominion over the earth but over its lesser inhabitants.
“A little further on in Genesis 9:12, God promises not to flood the earth again. He does not give up any other options. As with Noah and his family, God has chosen to give humankind another chance. Captain Edmunds has already told you how most people on Martha’s Vineyard will die, many of starvation.
“We; well, many of you; I’m too old, are God’s gift to the earth. Go forth, be fruitful and multiply.”
Kate felt a pain in her chest as if she had been stabbed with one of the cutlasses. Kevin turned and walked out of the little group of people. Kate turned to follow him then stopped as he walked out onto the spit of land where the longboats had been pulled out of the water. He sat on the ground and stared out into Buzzards Bay.
It’s now or never, she thought. She swallowed her uncertainty and walked to where her husband sat. “Kevin, I—”
“‘Be fruitful and multiply,’” he quoted without taking his eyes off the water. “The last time I checked, it took two people.” He turned to look her in the eye. “It was going to be hard for you when I was away on missions. Now… now the world has changed; now it will probably be even harder on you. So how about you? Have you changed your mind about that one?”
She let her eyes speak for her feelings, reaching out to him.
❀ ❁ ❀
— Chapter Six —
Tuesday, March 24, 1998
Kate stood near the wheelhouse of Thames with Harold and Mary Evans.
“We appreciate the captain letting us stay here on deck when he told all the others to go below,” Harold said.
“We’ve lived here in coastal Massachusetts all our lives,” Mary added. “Well, Harold went off to the Army in the fifties, but he came back. We’ve never had the money to travel far.”
“Daddy, oops! Captain Edmunds, thinks letting you watch is a fair trade for what you gave us. There must have been close to a thousand pounds of food in the larder and he was beside himself when he saw that collection of sextants in the library.”
“The family thought a nautical theme best fitted the library. Whether they had any interest in the sea I could not say.” Harold shrugged.
The tide was already ebbing when John Edmunds ordered the anchors weighed and sails set. He took Thames north of Penikese Island to avoid uncharted shallows. He added sail as they circled wide around Cuttyhunk and into Vineyard Sound. The vessel ran before the wind. Kate stood near the helmsman and clenched her teeth as she saw that Vineyard Haven was burning. Nothing to go back to.
Her father announced, “Ms. Oxford has the con.” He went below.
❀ ❁ ❀
Kate swore softly as she stared at the empty shore where Nantucket Town should have been. “Strike all sail. Deploy the port anchor. Ask the captain to come on deck.”
When her father came up the ladder, Kate said, “You told us. Word had gotten around. You were right to bring us here. Otherwise…”
John nodded and said “Call everyone up. Do it by shifts, we don’t need to tip the ship. Help people who have trouble. I don’t want anyone aboard to be able to say he or she had heard the town was gone but never saw the emptiness.”
After everyone had filed up to the deck, gawked their full and returned down below decks, John ordered Kate to get the schooner underway. “After you clear Great Point, steer wide around Cape Cod. Keep your eye on the charts and stay away from shoal waters. Head toward Boston. I want to know what’s happening there.” He went back below.
Kevin stood wordlessly by the gunwale with his hand on the rigging. He’s somewhere else. I think it’s because of the deaths. I expect he didn’t think it would go that far with the Conroys. And, he knows there’ll be others. Come back to me, Kevin. Please.
As she passed Kate, Linda Edmunds lightly touched her daughter’s cheek. Kate saw understanding in her mother’s eyes. “Thanks, Mom.”
Taking a deep breath, Kate pitched her voice to carry. “Ken, set the main and fore sails and the flying jib. Sam, hoist the anchor. Let’s go look at Boston.”
❀ ❁ ❀
Thursday, March 26, 1998
Thames was beating into the wind. Kate had ordered every sail except the fore and main topsails and top gallants set. If I could get a following wind, I’d set those, too.
Kevin was once again standing by the gunwale. He was facing aft with his eyes on the glow on the horizon that represented Boston. She walked over to him. “Boston was horrible. It’s hard to believe that a city could have that much fire in it.”
He nodded, still staring aft.
He’s coming back.
“No way to put them out. All those commercial buildings depended on interior sprinklers. They all depended on pumps and the pumps were all electrical.”
It’s time, she thought. “You’re very intent on what’s behind us.”
“Joe O’Malley.” Kevin smiled for the first time in days. “Properly, Joseph Xavier O’Malley, scion of the Boston O’Malleys. Joe and I were classmates at Fort Sill and we were supposed to fly to Korea together. My port call got pushed back. I don’t know about Joe’s. He either went down over the Pacific or he’s back in that. Of the two choices, I hope he went down. I’m glad I was close to you when it happened. And that you had the guts to come home to us.”
Kate leaned in and kissed Kevin on his cheek.
He turned toward her and winked. “Public display of affection?”
“PDA,” she said. He is back.
“My life has been divided into pieces, just like everyone else’s. Army brat, college student, Officer.” He paused. “Husband.” He put his index finger on her lips as she was about to speak. “You don’t need to say a word.”
❀ ❁ ❀
Georgetown, Prince Edward Island
Friday, April 3, 1998
“Strike the mainsail.”
Kate stood slightly away from the wheelhouse after her father had resumed control of Thames. They had made good time up the eastern coast of Nova Scotia and around the north end of Cape Breton Island. It was tempting to poke into cities like Portland to see what they looked like. But we decided it wasn’t worth the trouble. It was probably a good choice. We could see Halifax burning in the dark and it’s not that big a place.
Thames was barely making headway as she approached Georgetown, Prince Edward Island from the southeast. The schooner was coming home. As the vessel passed Poxy Island and entered Georgetown Harbour, John called, “Drop anchors.”
Anchor chains rattled in the hawseholes. Thames stopped as the anchors caught in the mud below. On shore, three men set out for Thames in a skiff. When the boat nudged the ladder on the side of the schooner, the passenger called, “Permission to come aboard.”
John, waiting by the gunwale, answered, “Permission granted, Mr. MacDonald.”
MacDonald climbed the ladder and said, “Captain Edmunds, it’s a pleasure to see you and your fine vessel. What brings you to our lovely island?”
“Come forward, sir, and I’ll explain.” They two men walked and held a private conversation.
Kevin came on deck. “How are things going?”
“Good, I think. Mr. MacDonald is nodding while Daddy talks.”
“But he’s not a government official, right?”
“Right, but he’s well respected in the business community. Ships will be important and he’s a shipbuilder. Daddy thinks he’s the key to getting and giving what we want.”
John and MacDonald shook hands. Both walked astern. “Kate, prepare to get underway. Mr. MacDonald will be traveling with us to Charlottetown.”
John stood with his feet apart and his hands at the small of his back. “Mr. MacDonald, how would we go about pulling the diesel out of this schooner and replacing it with a steam engine?”
MacDonald stared at Kate’s father and his jaw dropped.
“Did I say something wrong?” John asked.
“You don’t know?” MacDonald asked then shook his head. “Of course you don’t.” He took a deep breath. “There is a man in Charlottetown named Prescott who owns a well-maintained 1923 Stanley Steamer. Well, the Stanley company, if it existed, might disagree. He took great pleasure in firing it up for holiday parades and that sort of thing. He fueled it the morning after things changed and he admits being a little smug about the whole idea. It wouldn’t budge. Several people, including me, have looked at the engine and as near as we can tell, everything works but there’s no steam pressure or at least not enough to move the cylinders. Add steam-driven transportation to the short but significant list of things we no longer have.”
Kate shook her head in disbelief. “What next?” She sighed. “Sam,” she called to Mitchel, “prepare to weigh anchor.”
❀ ❁ ❀
Georgetown, Prince Edward Island
Monday, April 6, 1998
“We’re surprised, but pleasantly so,” Pat Binns said. “In the twenty days since things changed, we have had to undertake some draconian measures to protect ourselves from the, uh, masses on the mainland. We closed the Confederation Bridge by breaking up the roadbed over a ten foot section in all lanes and blocking access with otherwise useless autos. There’s a permanent guard of sorts. We officially prohibit entry over water but so few have been able to make the journey that Islanders who see unfortunates — or ‘fortunates’ – come ashore often grant them unofficial asylum. The Government have decided to turn a blind eye.”
“You may need to re-evaluate the choice when the weather improves,” John Edmunds offered. “Farm hands. No steam, no electricity, no internal combustion… we are back to shank’s mare and hand labor until old fashioned combines are re-created.”
“Possibly. Some people bring tales of fights over the limited food available and suggestions that the next step is cannibalism.” Binns shook his head. “But there are other people considering our options there. You have offered us a schooner and a crew, or at least the core of a crew, in exchange for sanctuary for you and your party?”
“Yes. We don’t know how you are treating the subject of citizenship, but we are prepared to swear allegiance to the nation and potentially the Crown.”
“Do you think England survived?” Binns asked.
“I think the only way we’ll know is to look.”
“Hmm. Good answer. But congratulations, you and your party have been granted residency in Prince Edward Island. After one year, anyone may apply for citizenship. In return, we accept your vessel as the flagship of our nascent navy. We are offering you a commission as commodore, based on the premise that you will be commanding more than one ship. Our historians tell me that having military commanders who are not citizens was not all that uncommon. Mr. MacDonald is ecstatic about the possibility of building additional schooners. You may recommend other members of your party for positions and your recommendations will almost certainly be accepted. You had mentioned marines.”
“A committee of learned men is trying to determine whether we need an army or a marine corps. I will let you know. Soon.”
“So, upon executing an oath, I will be commanding Prince Edward Island Ship Thames?”
“That would be Her Majesty’s Prince Edward Island Ship Thames. We too are hopeful that England lives. Perhaps, just perhaps, we can re-create the Maritimes.”
“I have much to learn,” John said.
Binns extended his hand. “Congratulations, Commodore Edmunds.”
“Thank you, Mr. Premier.”
❀ ❁ ❀
— EPILOGUE —
Prince Edward Island
Saturday, May 5, 2001
Kate woke and stretched in their room in the Northumberland Inn near Georgetown Naval Base. She felt Kevin move behind her. He pressed himself against her and nibbled at her earlobe as he caressed her bare hip. “Down, boy!” She laughed. “We had our fun last night.”
“There’s always time for more.”
“Making love with you is always fun. But I have a ship to ready for sea and you have a Marine complement to prep.”
“If they’re not ready yet, Russ Spicer will make them wish they were,” Kevin said. “He still hasn’t gotten used to the rank of bowmaster.”
“I’m still sorry you lost Henry Tait.”
“Yeah, so am I, but he had had all he could take. He and Maggie and the kids are happy on that little farm they’re homesteading.”
Kate threw back the heavy covers and she and her husband dressed rapidly. The grate is cold. Well, with good quilts, who needs heat for sleeping?
“Even after three years, it’s still strange for me to live by tides,” Kevin said. “We sail when the tide turns at, uh, ten? It still seems like my day should start at Oh-dark-thirty.”
Kate laughed as she buckled the trouser belt of her blue uniform then stopped. “I miss her already.”
“That’s your motherly hormones kicking in,” Kevin smiled. “But I miss Linda Diana Oxford, too. We’ll only be gone a couple, three months at the most and we’ll see our daughter again. Meanwhile, she’ll be safe with, and completely spoiled by, both her grandmothers. Let’s make another baby. Or two. Or six.” He stepped closer to Kate.
She pushed him away. “One more! Well, maybe two. Or three. Not six! I’ll end up the shape of Mrs. Montgomery.”
Kevin shook his head as he tucked the tails of his red shirt into the waist of his trousers. Both wore blue trousers. The only difference between a Marine uniform and a Navy one was his red shirt and her blue one. “I make love to your body. I’m in love with your heart, your mind, your soul. Come on, wife, let’s get some breakfast from our innkeeper before we have to start work.”
The couple picked up their weapons belts and cutlasses and left the room.
❀ ❁ ❀
Her Majesty’s Prince Edward Island Ship Thames turned northeast in the Northumberland Strait under a bright blue sky. With all her sails set, she knifed through the blue-green water.
The vessel is moving differently, Kate thought. We have three times the crew and four times the marines. More of the people aboard are native Islanders than native Vineyarders. Well, we’ve all becoming Islanders. Kevin’s sister married an Francophone Islander. We have catapults bolted to the deck. And we’re carrying one very important passenger.
Looking forward she could see Kevin had his Marines doing push-ups on the forward deck. It was easy to distinguish the sailors from the marines. I hope that old saw about the red keeping the blood from showing isn’t prophetic.
Kevin called an end to the physical training, ordered his marines to do maintenance on their brigandines and walked aft. As he approached the wheel, he looked up at the long shapes stowed above his head. “Oars for a schooner. Who’d have thought?”
“They’re not oars. They’re sweeps!” Kate smiled.
“They look like oars to me,” Kevin said with a wink and a grin.
Kate shook her and grinned in return.
“So,” Matthew Cuthbert, the helmsman, said, “I wonder what we’ll find in England.”
“Ah, Matthew, if we knew that we wouldn’t have to go!” Kate grinned.
“Aye, Captain, aye,” Matthew answered.
❀ ❁ ❀ finis ❀ ❁ ❀
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