The waiting is always the hardest but as they clear the last
of the San Juan Strait, Sara Golden stiffens and runs strong brown fingers over her console desperately. Moments later, she
has it isolated and confirmed. Touching the microphone at her throat, she informs her shipmates of a surface contact, and
waits until Testament supplies the battle data. When Fitch asks her for a 'likely,' she replies,
"Only a refugee boat would be running in this weather," the
Israeli reminds them. "I heard a baby cry."
Testament's crew comes quietly to general quarters and Sara
attempts to raise the vessel.
"Unknown ship, this is Coast Guard cutter Testament. Identify
yourself and state your intentions."
When there is no response, Thomas Lightfoot touches his triggers
lightly and twin streams of Ares fire bracket the contact. An instant later, a Swiss-accented voice crackles urgently across
the air waves,
"Please, do not fire on us. This is the International Health
Ship Pasteur. Our code system has been scrambled. Please, hold your fire."
"That isn't coming from the Pasteur," Sara Golden informs them
Topside, Fitch nods and touches the microphone at his throat.
"Give it up, Bobby Lee," the Southerner urges his younger brother softly. "Please, don't make me fight one of my own."
The voice which responds is both familiar and gentle. "Fitch,
we can't do this anymore. We got a contract to run a barge full of 'gees' to Sydney. They're from that mutiny roundup in Galveston.
The Alamo and two of her destroyers went over to the Costa Ricans."
The small Mississippian closes his eyes briefly. That action
cost them their two youngest brothers. Fitch's voice trembles faintly as he replies,
"And where y'all after that, Bobby Lee? Canadians can't help
you without breaking neutrality. Nobody else wants you except for the boat and what your crew can teach."
"If we can get shed of you," the Exodus captain reminds his
older brother, " we might just make it to open water."
"Once you get past Cape Flattery," Testament's captain continues
with wrenching implacability, "you've got the whole damned First Fleet to run. And in case you've forgotten, that's McKay
all over again. Only he's an admiral now, Bobby Lee, and he's got a devout Farragut Complex."
"Either way, then, " the younger Henderson acknowledges. "Ah'm
not giving up the boat." Then he pauses "Know what Ah always liked best about the sea service, Fitch?"
The older Henderson's throat thickens. "What's that, Bobby Lee?"
"At least you die clean."
Closing his eyes again, Fitch nods. "We're in the killin' fields
and y'all ain't got much time left, little brother."
It is with deep and abiding sadness that Robert E. Lee Henderson,
captain of the Exodus, shrugs and replies, "Come ahead on then, Testament, and good luck."
All is once again silent, save for the ceaseless rain beating
down upon them, and the restless rustling of the sea. In an age of penultimate technology and only the last vestiges of freedom
and dignity, here in these waters, the drama is of an earlier age, an era of canoes and sailing sloops.
The Pasteur quietly changes course and makes for the Cascadian-held
San Juan Islands. With equal stealth, Testament makes to intercept. Rain glistens on the hooded jumpsuits of her crew. Above
them, the skies darken and the sea squalls. When they have narrowed the gap, Commander Henderson orders his engineer to power
up and touches the microphone at his throat.
"Captain to crew, we'll take em' on the other side."
The others nod wordlessly at their stations and cinch their
harnesses as Testament literally rears back on her skids and sizzles across the sullen whitecaps. An hour later the slender
American hydrofoil cutter rides gently at her new position, Lopez Island off her stern. She is again invisible to all save
the small Canadian intelligence satellite holding in counter-orbit far above her. As the long minutes pass, Sara Golden strains
at her listening post, her senses reaching for a new window. Topside, even the normally nonchalant Thomas Lightfoot stares
into the falling rain, his ears all but useless against it. When nerves are at their tautest, the Israeli lieutenant catches
the unmistakable hum of three Cascadian solar superchargers powering up behind them. The fleetest of Red Sea memories come
to her now and she quietly but quickly informs her crew mates,
"They have us boxed."
On the open bridge above her, Fitch nods and unslings his Mercury
gun. The helm responds ever so gently to his touch and Testament swings about, her foils rippling the water beneath her.
"Okay, people, let's do it."
Even as the four enemy vessels commence their runs, the sodden
sky is rent with the shrieking of deadly Delilah missilettes, each programmed for a particular part of an enemy vessel. Two
of the Cascadians break off the engagement and scream toward the shelter of the San Juan Channel. The converted solar seiner
Hosea and the renegade Exodus weave and twist insanely, their holographic transmitters blasting at full strength. It is enough
to elude the deadly homing bombs, but when the steel rains ceases, Testament is gone.
It is an intricate maneuver and a very risky one, for it depends
on an absolutely faultless guidance system. More than one cutter has tried it, only to be sunk by her own Delilahs. At the
helm of Exodus, Commander Robert E. Lee Henderson nods in admiration, glances at his bridge crew, and orders the Hosea to
abort. Instead, the Cascadian light corvette, whose crew have family on the Pasteur, elect to make the run, and Exodus reluctantly
Off Cattle Point, Testament rips the Hosea with torpedoes from
stem to stern. Even as the sky rains shrapnel and flotsam, she swivels, and advances on Exodus behind the concentrated and
focused fire of her two topside Ares batteries. This time, there is no escape, for Thomas Lightfoot is smarter than the Delilahs.
He and Testament have planned for this day, and the endless drills run on other patrols while the rest of the crew was on
stand down, are paying their first dividends. In less than a minute, Exodus is disabled and Sara cannot raise her. Fitch touches
the microphone at his throat.
"Boarding party, mann your stations." He pauses and then --
his voice painfully devoid of emotion -- answers the silent question of his crew. "Take no prisoners."
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