Chapter 1 - Overboard
Captain Dan stood at the rails of his ship, surveying the choppy waters. He steadied himself with a single white-knuckled hand and strained the limits of his binoculars.
"Sir, we're just about out of fuel. We don't have enough to make another pass and get to port before she hits, sir,” Yeoman Clancy pointed out, in accordance to his duties.
"Yeoman,” the captain said through gritted teeth, never taking the binoculars from his eyes. "If you don't shut up with your nonsense concerns, I am going to throw you overboard."
Clancy imperceptibly nodded to a man who wasn't looking, and dismissed himself in silence. His own reaction gave the captain pause. He wasn't known as "The Highest High-C on the Bloody High-Seas" for nothing. Whatever they actually meant by it. He knew his crew loved him like no other, harsh taskmaster or not.
Still, all this for a stowaway?
Twenty minutes later, Clancy returned. An observant captain would have noticed the liquid courage on his breath, steeling himself with alcohol as he did to gain the confidence for another confrontation with his mentor. The world had forced Dan to relocate permanently to the ocean in order to save a shred of his fading humanity. It always came to this, in the student-teacher relationship.
"Sir, we c- ngh,” Clancy emitted, as Captain Dan's left hand raised up silently and backhanded him into unconsciousness.
He saw...something, out there, in her. Her being the sea. Everything was a she when you lived on the ocean with a bunch of hard legs. But he knew his feelings. He trusted them above all. His instincts made him who his was. And he was the best rogue pilot the NAU Navy could afford.
He radioed the contower. "Kill the engines, and drop some boats,” he said. "I want everyone awake, in these boats, rowing and searching until we find her again. Now,” he gritted. "Move!”
Thirteen tired, angry men stirred. Had they a little less respect, he would have been the next one in the ocean. But he saw something out there. His imagination? No. That point, that slightly discolored portion of water too far ahead to be sure it really was a speck of a different color, represented his salvation. He had lost crewmen and passengers before, but he wasn't losing this one without a fight.
"Radio for a tanker to rendezvous at 0600," he snapped into the radio. "We're going to be here the rest of the night, until we find her."
Thousands of feet away, held aloft by pure human will, a frail, scared, nearly unconscious young lady with a rebellious streak as wide as the Mississippi called out with the last of her strength, "Help…"
No one heard her. But he wasn't going to lose another one.
Regina Long bobbed along in the frigid waters of the North Atlantic, clinging to both a life preserver and her life. They were, at this point, indistinguishable. To let go was to sink into the icy black waters. And oh, how she wanted to let go.
She could no longer feel her arms, and her legs lacked the strength to kick. Her eyes were unfocused for longer and longer intervals. Now so dehydrated she could no longer cry, Regina was losing the will to live.
Tagging along on some quasi-military research mission seemed like a good idea at the time. And she did have the foresight to come equipped. Her thermal wetsuit kept her warm enough, for the first few hours. But one foot was ripped off. The pain and numbness slowly crept up her arch to her calf before she really noticed.
Now her body temperature was lowered and she was entering the hypothermia zone. So blind, frozen, crippled and mentally exhausted, the remaining span of her time on Earth could be measured in minutes. The last of her strength was used to meekly call out for help one last time.
She tried to focus her eyes, even though she now lacked the ability to rotate her field of vision, and thought she saw a flash. It ignited a spark in her mind, rejuvenating her interest in survival, if only for a little while longer.
Regina knew that in due time, she would cease to care at all. Her death would be horrible, but she planned to sleep through it. All she had to do was close her eyes. She attempted to move her legs for the first time in hours, and felt the blood flow return in full force. She was amazed to discover that she had feeling in her legs again. She knew this because something brushed against her foot. Something sandpapery.
Captain Dan’s inflatable boat was the last to hit the water, and the first to reach the area, just in time to see Regina let go, relinquishing her life to forces beyond her control. He dove in after her, fully prepared to swim thirty or forty feet to retrieve her. Had he known about the mako, he would have been better prepared for what lie in store. But she hadn’t fallen far, and she didn’t appear to be struggling. He grasped the back of her collar and began to kick them upward.
As they were nearing the surface, the sea around them began roiling. A gigantic shape rose from beneath them. Dan’s feet struck something solid below him and he feared the worst. What happened was worse than the worst. They found themselves on the deck of a rising submarine, partially encaged by the railings. Water rolled off the thirty-eight foot wide metallic gunship.
Before this stunning turn of events could fully register in the minds of those involved, a coffin-sized hatch opened up a few feet away. A non-descript fellow was pointing a gun at them. A second non-descript fellow, a twin of the first, climbed up onto the deck. Captain Dan made a mental note to always bring weapons on rescue missions. The clone took the girl, who was now beginning to cough up seawater, without incident.
The hatched closed again, and the ship began to dive. Dan leapt off of the side closest to an inflatable before the sub took him down with it. Two of his crewmen pulled him into the raft, and there he sat, panting and stunned.
The President’s daughter had been kidnapped.
Regina awakened from a wet dream. More of a watery nightmare, actually. Her eyes first focused on the stranger who stood partially astride her prone body. She then did what any red-blooded American woman would do in that situation, she kicked him in the crotch. His face remained impassive. In fact, he never moved an inch, or gave any indication he had been struck.
“I got nothin’,” she said resignedly.
“You have to admit that was impressive, Ms. Long.” A voice said from behind her.
However, Regina did not turn around immediately. She was transfixed at the tableau before her.
She lay in front of a roaring fireplace on a polar bear skin rug, in what seemed to be a stately English hunting lodge. Pleasant waves of heat radiated out from the fire and washed over her still-shivering body. The walls were adorned with various mounted trophies: elk, lion, moose. Looking positively steampunk was the centerpiece, a cartoony elephant gun.
The cognitive dissonance washed over her in waves. She knew she had been drowning a short time earlier. Or, she thought she had, at least. Now she wasn’t so sure. At once, the room became bare. The walls, ceiling and floor were stark and white. The figure looming over her receded, although she could detect no door. Her mind was already looking for an escape route.
“You may think his non-reaction indicative of training akin to that the Shaolin monks receive, or perhaps the Sumo practice of ‘tucking’. I assure you the answer is a good deal more esoteric. They are bred without sex organs,” a voice said.
Regina had at this point propped up on her elbows and turned to face her captor. She winced due to the soreness in her joints.
“Do you mean...” she began to ask.
“He’s as smooth as a Ken doll, as they say. Of course, the bits necessary for hormonal development remain intact, but internalized.”
“And why are you telling me this?”
“My dear, what sort of evil genius would I be if I didn’t detail my master plan for you?”
“So you’re some sort of super villain?”
“Not really, the truth is much more mundane, I’m afraid. I’ll explain all in good time. I only let you know so you can be assured of your virtue remaining intact. None of my crew will express the slightest interest in you.”
“That’s really the least of my problems,” she said.
“Indeed. The room you’re in, I must say, is far more impressive than humdrum workaday genetic manipulation. The walls and floor are marvels of modern haptics. They can reproduce solid textures ranging from steel and concrete to the bearskin rug you slept on. The visuals are opaque holograms, although we do have an object printer that can reproduce any solid material up to three meters square.”
“So you built a Holodeck? You really are an evil genius.”
“Thank you. I think. I’m not convinced I’m evil, although you certainly may feel that way. With good reason. I’d like you to make a phone call for me, Regina.”
“Oh, really? To whom?”
“Why, your father, of course.”
Out of habit, she touched her left wrist.
“Yes, that. A rather crudely concealed homing device housed in a stylish diving watch. Not that it will do much good on this ship, at any rate. We’re in a Faraday cage designed to quell any aberrant signals.”
“What are you after, Mr…”
“You may call me Moriarty. Captain Nemo, if you wish. Slartibartfast, even. My name is not important.”
“You look like a Tom.”
“Tom it is, then.”
“What are you after, Tom?”
“My dear Regina, I should think that would be obvious. I want your father to resign. Step down. Abdicate the throne, if you will. If he doesn’t, he’ll never see you again.
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