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by Pat McDermott

An unwilling guest on an uncommon submarine, Ireland's Princess Talty looks to the skies for rescue.
Never fear, Talty.
The Morrigan is on its way, whipping the sea to flying sheets of foam!

* * * * *

Eighty Miles off the Coast of Donegal…

With a twenty-five-knot wind on her tail, the Morrigan would approach the designated coordinates in less than five minutes. As Neil reduced the aircraft’s speed and lowered his altitude, he scanned the sea conditions through the eyes of a trained rescue pilot. He didn’t like what he saw.

Weather conditions had worsened in the quarter hour since the Rangers had left the Kincora. Leaden clouds darkened the sky, and the wind blew hard. The twenty-foot swells weren’t the highest Neil had encountered, but they could easily bollix a winchman trying to land on a pitching deck. A nasty blast of wind had once slammed Barry against the chopper, cracking a few of his ribs. Today Barry would have Talty with him.

According to the GPS, Aurora should be dead ahead. She wasn’t. Duty compelled Neil to obey orders, but he’d learned to listen to his suspicions. He spoke into the microphone attached to his headset. “Activate the missile launch detector, Dan. Guns and rockets stand by to fire.”

Dan’s head turned. His eyebrows arched, but he only said, “Missile launch detector activated. Guns and rockets standing by.”

“Keep an eye out, lads. I’ll see if I can raise them.” Neil lifted the radio handset. “Air Corps Sachem One to Aurora. We are on site. Verify your coordinates, Aurora.”

Aurora to Air Corps Sachem One. We’re surfacing now. Please stand by.”

The strange cadence of Sharette’s words stung Neil’s ears. He’d never been able to place the odd accent. Now he knew why.

Mindful of the rolling swells, he descended to eighty feet. The submarine broke the surface like a big white whale.

“That thing looks like fuckin’ Moby Dick,” said Rory.

“How’s the wind?” asked Dan.

“Down to twenty-two knots,” Neil said. “We’ll turn into it when Barry goes down. Ready, Barry?”

“Suited up and good to go.”

Neil set the optical monitor to maximum magnification and scanned Aurora’s top deck.

* * * * *

Aurora surfaced in choppy seas. Once the foam generated by the sub’s ascent subsided, Talty left the jump seat and hurried to the thick glass hull, elated to hear Roxy speaking through a headset to the captain of the helicopter coming for her.

She could barely discern the horizon. The surrounding sea reflected the leaden sky. Colossal swells heaved like hungry creatures looking to devour Aurora. Surely the crew of the approaching chopper had experience winching people off ships in such conditions.

Though less stable on the surface of the ocean than beneath it, Aurora rode the waves well. Talty barely felt the bridge sway, though Neil would have hated it. He would never have her sea legs, yet he could fly any aircraft anywhere.

Her Iron Neil. He must be back in Ireland by now. Soon she would see him, and all would be well.

A short distance to the west, Kincora plowed through the waves. The big drill ship had nearly completed her beeline run to Killybegs, and she was about to meet up with the battle-ready Alastrina. Yes, all would be well.

Roxy hurried toward her with the backpack in his hands. “The Air Corps helicopter will arrive soon, madam.” He snatched the pirate book from the jump seat, slipped it into the bag, and sealed it shut. “Put this on now, if you please.” He helped her secure the backpack over her shoulders.

“I’ll get it to my father as soon as I can.”

“Madam, I would destroy this information before I’d entrust it to anyone else. My study of both your lineage and your immediate family has convinced me that you and your father will see the XTHC distributed among the planet’s inhabitants as fairly as possible.”

Troubled by the finality in Roxy’s tone, she shrugged the backpack into place. “You sound as if you’re not planning on coming back.”

“Back to where? I’m a man without a home. An outlaw and a pirate.” Yet beams of good cheer burst over his face. “Fear not, madam. We pirates have a way of surviving to fight another day. Besides, you owe me the story of your own pirate adventures, and I mean to hear it.”

“I’ll tell you all about it over a bottle of expensive wine. You’re buying.”

“I’ll look forward to it, madam.” His dashing grin deflated to a pensive frown. “If for some reason I should fail to hear your pirate tale, I’d like to ask a favor of you, if I may be so bold. My father is on his way to Île de Paulette. He doesn’t care to journey with the other Artreizzians to a strange new world. We agreed that Brittany would be a more pleasant environment for his remaining days. If I can’t be there with him, would you look in on him now and then?”

Talty found the request puzzling. “Didn’t you say good-bye to your father in the citadel?”

Smug as a toad about to snap a fly, Roxy started for the stairs with a half-smirk on his face. “You’re not the only one who has prearranged codes for family communications. Come, madam. We must get topside.”

Smiling fondly, she followed him up the stairs. As they reached the top deck, a huge wave crashed into Aurora. The sub lurched, and he stumbled backward into her. She managed to keep her balance but pretended to stagger to have an excuse to clutch at him. Clumsily but quite deliberately, she lifted the stun gun from his belt and slipped it into her pocket.

They reached the top deck without further incident, though Roxy’s obvious horror that he’d crashed into her completely flustered him. He apologized profusely and repeatedly.

She rested her hand on the gun in her pocket and smiled as sweetly as she could. “Don’t worry, Roxy. No harm done.”

* * * * *

Hair tied back, jacket zipped, Talty followed Roxy onto Aurora’s windswept deck. Above her, the grumble of an approaching helicopter grew to a roar that spat from the clouds like steady machine gun fire. Gripping the rail, she searched the overcast sky and rejoiced to see her Morrigan closing in on Aurora, though a twinge of disappointment dampened her elation: Neil wouldn’t be flying the chopper. Dan Joyce would be in the pilot’s seat, and she guessed that Barry and Rory were with him.

She’d see Neil soon enough. The thought had her smiling again. He’d often told her what rescues at sea were like. He had to hover blindly into the wind, relying on Rory’s eyes and ears to keep the chopper in position and away from the waves while Barry went down on the winch line.

The Morrigan turned into the wind now, whipping the sea beneath her to flying sheets of foam. Her underbelly dropped like a big black bumblebee homing in on a flower. A bumblebee with a deadly sting. Her turret-mounted cannon, normally stowed aft, was rotated forward and ready to fire. A full load of deadly Akuma missiles gleamed in her missile racks. One well-aimed Akuma would annihilate Aurora.

From the sober look on Roxy’s face, he knew it. He studied the gunship for a long moment, and then he turned so his tall frame shielded Talty from the wind. “Madam, the time has come to bid you adieu,” he shouted over the growing noise. “Think kindly of me, and please remember to visit Île de Paulette.”

“You’ll be there to look after your father,” she shouted back.

“Perhaps.” A radiant smile appeared on his face. “If not, tell everyone he escaped from the sanitarium on the mainland. That should answer any questions concerning his origins. Do you have everything? The discs, the book? Your cell phone, your purse?”

“Yes. What will you do about Adrien? Do you know where he is?”

“Not exactly, but I’ll flush him out easily enough. A small poke or two will rumble his feathers.”

She rolled her eyes. “Ruffle, Roxy. Ruffle his feathers.”

“As you wish, madam. The task of stopping the pox-ridden dogfish falls to me, and damn my gizzards, I shan’t fail!”

Grinning at his use of the well-known pirate quotes, she responded with one of her favorites: “Yellow was never a pirate’s color. By the way”—she drew his stun gun from her pocket—“I believe this blunderbuss be yours.”

He slapped his belt, realizing for the first time that the gun was missing. His momentary shock vanished, and he roared with laughter. “Burn me and sink me! Did a saucier wench ever set sail?”

She bit her lip to keep from crying. She would never see him again, this charming enigma of a man who might have done the world so much good. He wouldn’t have handed off his legacy to her unless…

Best to get on with it. Talty peered skyward. “There’s the winchman.”

Roxy followed her gaze. Eighty feet above them, legs dangled from the Morrigan’s open side door. The winch operator would be timing the roll of the waves. When Aurora rose on the crest of a good one, the winchman would jump. Talty expected the process would take some time, but the winchman suddenly leapt from the aircraft and plummeted toward the ship.

Roxy adopted a formal stance and reached for her hand. “Au revoir, dear Lady Princess. I wish you a fair wind ever and always.” Swooping gallantly, he kissed her fingers.

A sudden shadow appeared behind him, cutting short the whimsical moment. The winchman landed with a loud thud, a skillful feat affirming his superb condition. His form-fitting orange-red jumpsuit enhanced the dynamic impression.

The silver microphone helmet and its attached black visor concealed his hair and eyes, yet Talty would have known that smile anywhere. “Howya, Barry,” she shouted. “Say hello to Roxy Sharette. Roxy, this is Lieutenant Barry Malone, the finest winchman/paramedic in all of Ireland.”

Barry’s smile remained frozen in place. He touched his gloved hand to his helmet and nodded. “We have to go, Tal.” Ripping open a taped up pocket, he pulled out a rescue harness similar to but simpler than the accessorized straps girding his chest and shoulders.

Roxy maneuvered the backpack to help Barry secure the harness around her. Properly trussed and ready to go, she tried to say good-bye but could only restate her promise to place the bag in her father’s hands.

Barry clicked a hook from the winch line to her back strap. “Put your arms around me and hold on tight,” he yelled.

He must get lots of grief for that line. Talty gripped the rock hard body beneath the jumpsuit. Barry spoke into his microphone, and Aurora’s top deck fell away.



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