A full Moon.
Bright enough on this occasion to light up the surrounding ocean as though it were daylight. Yet, that was hardly the appreciation being felt by the occupant of the dinghy, adrift in the calm sea. His preoccupation was not with anything around him, but with things and happenings within him.
A searing angry pain.
A pain in his back, head, neck and arms. A pain he likened to having a hundred razor blades cut into him. A pain so excruciating that it had caused him to black out several times.
It was also a pain so intense that whenever consciousness returned, albeit briefly, it would cause him to hallucinate.
More than once he would see a man sitting on the edge of the dinghy. The man, long haired, aged and in a white robe would gesture with his hands as if trying to communicate with him in some way.
In addition to the pain, there was the other extreme.
A loss of feeling, a numbness in his legs, a numbness slowly spreading, threatening to engulf his whole body. A numbness so frightening he felt almost glad when the blackouts came.
At least when asleep, there was quiet.
There was peace.
There was no pain
There was no numbness.
And a part of him would be glad to stay in this place of darkness and peace, for eternity if necessary.
Besides, Elaine might be there.
His escape was peaceful, yet no one was there.
The noisy swirling of water woke the man from his slumber, but only momentarily. Enough though to see that it was daylight, and that the outlines of two people were looking over him. He then fell back into the slumber he had so not wanted to leave, yet this time he had a feeling that if consciousness were to reclaim him, it would have a good reason to now.
He had been found.
Elaine would have to wait.
By Nigel Preece
Based on and with reference to
Fireball XL5, Stingray, Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons.
©1962, 1964, 1965, 1967 Carlton International Media
“In here, Ted.” The man gestured holding the door open, motioning with his hand, beckoning the other individual into the side ward.
answering to the name Ted walked briskly in. threw off his overcoat, to reveal a
dinner suit, and as he did so,
he was handed a stethoscope by an errant
attendee. The patient had not yet been wired up to the monitor screen above the
Ted was not the tallest of individuals, but certainly thin. About five feet, seven inches tall, with dark short hair, and piercing eyes that at once conveyed a mixture of concern, yet at the same time seemed also to express a detachment very much in keeping with his profession. Quickly he checked the heartbeat of the man on the bed. It was quick, and his skin was pale.
His prospects were not a great cause for optimism.
“When did he come in, Carlos?” Ted asked in an urgent no nonsense Australian accent, seated on the side of bed, checking the patient’s eyes as he lay there.
Carlos, grey-haired, moustachioed and in possession of a waistline that betrayed an appreciation of the finer culinary arts, divested himself of his overcoat to reveal a less than well fitting dinner suit put the other man in the picture.
“Got in about half an hour ago, Ted,” he replied. “His condition unchanged since arrival.”
“Fine. Let’s try and stabilize him, he’s lost a lot of blood, but he’s holding on.” Ted looked up at the attendee, standing on the other side of the bed, “Keep with the blood, check the bandages every hour. It looks as though the emergency surgery he had on the helijet to stop the bleeding has held.”
He then got up from the bed and turned to face Carlos.
“I take it you did the tracheotomy, Carlos?” he enquired.
“Yes, Ted. If and or when he is able to come around, he can at least talk to us and the authorities and explain what happened to him. I think that wreckage of a Guard Patrol Sub that’s been found off the coast might have our answers. He was in a naval uniform after all.”
Carlos walked over to the end of the bed and picked up the clipboard to take a glance at the chart. As he looked at it he spoke again.
“What are his chances?” he asked.
Ted stood up and handed the stethoscope back to the attendee.
“He took a beating, Carlos; if he’s got the strength to get through the next 24 hours, there might be something I can do.”
There was a knock at the door.
“Come in”, commanded Carlos.
A hospital administrator put her head around the door and quietly motioned the two doctors out into the corridor, and into a windowless side office. She took a seat behind her desk and gestured for the two men to sit down opposite. Petite, and with long straight dark hair, which every so often she would try and brush away from her eyes with a toss back of the head, she addressed the doctors.
“The remains of his dog tags have been found embedded in his clothing, to add to those fragments the field surgeons found impacted in his chest. Evidently they were shattered by a considerable explosion of some sort. They’ve been pieced together and we’ve been able to do a trace.” She paused, having herself not read all the info on her screen, to just digest a little of the data, then she continued, “He’s an American, serving as a captain in the World Navy. He has been on guard patrol duty for the last few weeks, and his vessel, a small one man sub was reported missing only two days ago.”
Ted interrupted, “Does this fellow have a name? We can talk about his guard patrol sub later.”
Feeling just a little admonished, she replied, “Yes, his name is Shore. Captain Sam Shore.”
She paused in case of any questions from the two men. There were none. Carlos merely nodded slowly, while Ted stared at the floor, clearly deep in thought, only to look up and ask of the clerk, “Any next of kin?”
“Yes. He has one daughter who is also enlisted in the submarine service. She’s a cadet, at present stationed at the World Navy America’s Zone, training camp at San Diego, California.”
The assault course was slowly being tamed, she thought. Yes, tamed was the word. “I’m used to it now,” she said out loud, as she ran for the ropes, nearer and nearer they came until she yelled out loud the same numbers she always called out. The same routine used each time to get the mounting of the ropes down to a fine art.
Thirty feet away, eyes fixed on the spot.
Twenty feet away, a deep breath is drawn.
Ten feet away, almost at the spot. Wait for it. Wait for it. NOW!
“One, two, three!” she yelled out loud, and on the count of three she jumped and rose effortlessly onto the bottom of the rope. She ascended with probably no more effort than that used to climb a ladder.
The top of the wall was reached, the decent down the other side on more ropes was done with the minimum of fuss.
Now the water; plain sailing, she thought, and sure enough this was the one that would not catch her out this time.
Once again she began the count, “One, two, and three!” Once again she had the leap of faith. Again the water started racing toward her.
Not this time, she thought. We will not fail.
Both hands reached out. “We will not fail because of me.”
Both hands clasped the rail.
“We will most definitely not fail because of me.”
The hands held firm, the water was of a chill that made the very breath that kept her alive, escape from her body as though never to return, yet she held firm.
“Shore!” The yell was so loud it could be heard in Oregon.
Ah yes, she thought, the voice of master drill sergeant Cox. The man who’d made her life a misery for longer than she could care to recall.
“Shore, do my eyes deceive me or are you actually going to win this one?”
Don’t rise to the bait, she thought. Just think of the look on his face if you were to actually win the team race. After all the abuse she’d taken from him simply because she was a woman, now it would seem, at the moment when it mattered more than any other time during her basic training, she’d shown what she could do in a World Navy trainee cadet uniform.
Every last ounce of strength would now be needed to deliver the goods. She could hear the other three competitors closing in on her runaway lead. Olymbie, the athletic Kenyan, running the last leg for her team, Team Thornback, was clear second. Not far behind, though, was Thadquist, the Danish anchor leg runner for Team Barracuda, in a neck and neck race to avoid the wooden spoon with tall lean Uruguayan Francescoli of Team Spearfish.
No. Today would be that victory day for Team Stingray.
With every reserve of strength available to her, she pulled herself up from the water, and as she did, she could see out of the corner of her eye the other three competitors closing in.
The tape beckoned, and her sheer resolve was not going to be broken. The clothes she was in had absorbed the water and as a result her fatigues felt ten times heavier.
Still no surrender.
She could feel lactic acid building up in her legs as she fought the weight of her clothing. The burning pain bit hard, but suddenly, the tape was not only there, it was close enough for her to touch it. She didn’t touch it; she practically tore it apart with her bare hands. Anger at all the humiliation she’d endured from Cox, and the countless times she had been made to feel as thought there had been no hope for her to ever prove herself at the academy, anger at the constant feeling of helplessness, an anger born of all this and much more had driven her to the line. Never any surrender.
As she crossed it, all this pent up frustration had exploded from her on a moment of rage that alarmed even Cox himself, and could probably be heard not in Oregon, but British Columbia.
“OK, let’s see how he is.” And with a hint of curiosity, Ted, with Carlos by his side, commanded the attendee to place a small stimulant needle against Captain Shore’s neck. Carefully, the attendee pressed a small lever on the side of the syringe-type instrument, and a small dose of stimulant entered through the base of the cerebral cortex.
Two eyelids began to flicker, and then slowly open. There was at first a hint of protest at the light, bright as it was. Then once the eyes were accustomed to the brightness of the ward, the second emotion, curiosity. It was clear the captain was not sure where he was. Then it came clear to him that he was in some sort of hospital, but only now did the realisation dawn on him of his condition.
His voice was soft, quiet, and clearly the voice of a man very weak, but distinct in his speech.
“I can’t feel my legs, my arms, I can’t,” he sighed, and drifted back into slumber.
Ted nodded to the attendee, who this time administered a much larger dose of stimulant.
He woke again, his voice weak. “My legs, arms.” He looked around, still confused but slowly getting stronger. He focused on Carlos, standing to his left and looking down at him.
“Who are you?” He paused. “And why can’t I feel anything?” he demanded, his voice now much stronger.
“Captain Shore, I’m Doctor Carlos Alzamendi. You’re in the Don Diego Sosa de Monumental Hospital in the city of Tumbes, southern Ecuador.” He nodded in the direction of Ted, looking down from the opposite side of the bed.
“And this gentleman has been helping me keep an eye on you. He is Doctor Edward Wilkie.”
“Hello, Captain Shore,” he said.
“You don’t sound local to these parts. What’s an Australian doing in Ecuador?” Shore said, before pausing, eyes wide with disbelief and voice loud in equal disbelief, “ECUADOR! What in blue blazes am I doing in blasted Equador of all places, and for the second time why can’t I feel anything?”
“I know,” Ted said as with a small smile, he raised a reassuring hand. “More questions than answers. We’ll explain everything in due course. Right now though. I’d like to ask the others to leave us while we have a chat.”
With that, Carlos and the attendee both left the side ward. Carlos was only too aware of what was going to be told to the patient. The door closed softly shut and Ted Wilkie turned to face Sam Shore.
“Captain Shore, what’s the last thing you remember, before you were rescued?”
Sam Shore stared at the ceiling, and spoke.
“I was on guard patrol duty just away from the drill site. There’s a company with a permit to prospect out in the Eastern Pacific for Cobalt One-Five. It’s a much sought after mineral. Anyway, the drill platform reported they were under attack by an unidentified sub. I moved in to try and ward off the attack, but to no avail. By the time I got there, the rig was destroyed, the crew all killed, and the enemy was making a getaway.”
“I assume you gave chase?” Ted asked.
Shore’s reply was decisive.
“You bet. I caught up with him and fired several shots, but he could out run me and more importantly, out gun me. I took a hit just in front of my port nacelle, causing me to dive to the bottom. I hit the bed full on, but I had no intention of letting this bastard go. I diverted all reserve power to the starboard nacelle, and rammed the throttle forward. I managed to get off the bed just as he was coming in close, thinking I’d bought it. I’d been playing dead up to this point. I guess I caught him unawares. He wasn’t expecting the ship I was in to burst back into life. Before he could do anything, I rammed him.”
A small smile suddenly came to Sam’s face.
“He never stood a chance.”
“What’s the next thing that happened?” the doctor enquired.
“The force of the impact threw my ship back against a rock face, just a few feet above the sea bed. The ship turned over, I was thrown from my seat, my console then blew up, and I blacked out.”
“Then you woke up here,” Ted said.
“No,” Shore stated, and his eyes narrowed and a frown now came over the captain’s face. “I woke up on a life raft, it was night. I hadn’t got in there myself; someone had to have put me there. Sure enough, I looked at the end of the boat and I thought I saw the figure of what looked like an elderly man. Long grey hair, a long robe, and an oar in his hand. He appeared to be rowing the raft towards the mainland. I fell asleep and when I woke up again, I could see the land was much nearer, and this person had gone. The next thing I saw was the coastguard helijet, being lifted aboard, and then being given anaesthetic. It looked as though they were going to perform some sort of surgery on me while I was on the helijet. That’s the last thing I remember.”
“That’s right,” Ted stated. “You needed emergency surgery on the helijet to stop some internal bleeding, and to remove some fragments that were embedded in your neck, back and legs. That was twelve hours ago. We’ve had to keep you asleep so as to let the wounds heal and the pains subside.”
“Twelve hours,” Shore whispered.
It was at this point that Ted drew a deep breath.
“It was during this surgery that we found out the extent of your injuries.”
Shore shot Ted an anxious stare. “What do you mean?”
Ted drew another deep breath.
“Captain Shore, you have received terrible injuries to your spine. Fragments were found embedded in your back and legs. They have been removed, but I’m afraid to say the damage has been done.”
Shore had initially looked the doctor straight in the eye, but as the enormity of what he was being told began to sink in, his gaze drifted back to the ceiling and the lights, as though he could not accept the news.
His wife had died only five years ago. He had been forced to bring up his only child, Atlanta, be a father to her, and still pursue a career in the Submarine wing of the World Navy.
He was proud of his roots, proud of his Kansas heritage, proud to be of the same state that had given the world two great men of history, Dwight Eisenhower, and Jeff Tracy. The former was president of the United States a century ago not to mention a great soldier. The latter was a man whose identity and legacy were only made known six years after his death.
He was also proud to have a connection with the British Isles both through his own family past, the Shores were of Irish stock after all, and with his wife, who was from a small village just to the north of the capital of the Highlands of Scotland, Inverness. She too, was proud of her links to the great clan MacDonald, no less.
Elaine had been everything to him.
Atlanta was now all he had, and now he needed her more than ever. He continued to listen to the man standing and looking over him.
“Captain Shore, at this time, you are paralysed from the neck down. You have a tracheotomy tube in your throat that is helping you to breathe. It is linked to the breathing apparatus that is placed at your bedside. I’m sorry. The injuries you received were quite, quite terrible.”
4.Coming to Terms
In the dorm, Atlanta Shore was the toast of her team. When girls get together, the can behave anything but girl-like, and so it showed. Especially the following day, when all in Team Stingray had a hangover apiece that would make their heads felt every bit as heavy as the water laden fatigues they had worn the previous day.
No matter, victory was sweet.
It was a sweetness she felt sure she would love to share with her father, and when a call came in to her dorm com-board for her to report to the office of the base commander, Captain Roche, she felt sure it was a surprise visit from Dad.
She got to the adjoining office where the captain’s secretary, Lieutenant Hayes, awaited her. The look on her face was not one of happiness at Atlanta’s achievement, but one of concern.
Atlanta stood before her, expecting to be admonished for the letting down of hair from the night before. Before she drew breath to speak, Hayes got up from her seat and opened the door into Roche’s office, beckoning Atlanta to go straight in.
“Commodore Denver.” Atlanta’s face lit up as she saw an old friend of her father. He stood behind Roche’s desk, with Roche himself standing next to him. Yet when she saw the look on Denver’s face, her smile dropped.
“Atlanta, you’d better sit down,” Denver began. “We’ve had some bad news. It’s about your dad. There’s been a serious incident out at sea.”
It was the end.
Not just of his career, but of everything. How could he go on if this was the result? Just a lifeless body with a head that could not even breathe on its own. He suddenly realised that air had not been passing his lips, but had instead been inhaled and exhaled through this tube protruding from below his throat.
It was hideous; it was something he could not bare to let his daughter see.
Ted has returned to the ward to look in on Sam; just as he sat down beside him, Shore was shook out of his reverie by a terrible thought.
Ted interrupted, “Yes, she’s flying down from California. We’ve arranged a helijet to collect her from the capital, and she should be here by late tonight. That was what I’d come in here personally to tell you about.”
“No,” Shore replied. “I don’t want her seeing me like this. It must not happen. It mustn’t.”
“How else is she going to see you?” Ted asked. “Your reaction is understandable for someone having to accept the news you’ve just been told. She has to see you, Captain Shore. You can’t forbid her from seeing you ever again. She is all you have. I understand your wife died back in ’54. So now you need Atlanta by your side more than ever.”
Shore looked at Ted and immediately realised that the doctor was right.
Ted continued, “There is however, something else I need to explain to you.”
Flight Delta Tango 274 from Palm Springs to Mariscal Sucre international airport in the Ecuadorian capital Quito arrived on time in the evening. The five hour flight had seemed like ten hours to Atlanta. Yet she walked off the plane having glanced at her watch just as the aircraft touched down. It was just after midnight, nine in the evening back in California. Her body clock would not be an issue here, she was wide awake, and if need be, she would stay awake for the next twenty hours.
Ten hours had passed since Jack Denver had told her the news, and while the flight seemed to have taken an age, the ten hours since the bad news seemed like ten minutes.
It had made a great difference having Denver fly down with her. He and Sam had known each other from Naval College days, twenty years to be precise. He was every bit as anxious as Atlanta about the friend he’d seen suffers so much already. Little chat had passed between the two, both were aware of what was awaiting them, and both had been lost in their thoughts during most of the flight. Now the unavoidable was staring them both in the face, and it would not be pleasant.
Barely had their passports been stamped when Denver noticed someone in the waiting crowds.
“Look, Atlanta, there’s our escort.”
Standing, waiting for them in the arrivals area was a man dressed in a pilot’s uniform of the Ecuadorian Air Police. He held a small board in his hand with the two large printed words “SHORE/DENVER” on it.
“Good, let’s get out of here,” Atlanta said quietly. She hated all these people around her at a time like this. More than ever she wanted to be alone with her thoughts, if nothing else to help her prepare for what she might see when she arrived at the hospital.
The two of them made a bee-line for the pilot, who was accompanied by an airport security officer. They were ushered under the security ropes and through a side exit, down several flights of stairs, through another door and back out onto the airport tarmac. This time down the side of the main arrivals building. Away from prying eyes.
A small passenger helijet in police livery of blue, white, and black stood on a designated helipad. Just off the main apron. The pilot and two travellers boarded and once all were secured and hatches were closed, the security guard stood well away from the helijet, raised his hand in acknowledgement and the pilot gunned up the motors.
The helijet rose slowly and was soon out of the reach of the floodlights of the airport. Only its port and starboard lights were visible, and they too slowly grew faint as it turned to head for the provincial capital of Tumbes, 270 miles to the south west of Quito.
It must have been the lull of the Helijet, its quiet cabin interior being such a contrast to the hum of conversation on the passenger liner that had brought them here, and the din of noise of the hundreds of travellers trying to get in and out of the terminal back at Mariscal Sucre, but barely had the small craft settled into a cruise on its route, than Atlanta was overcome by a slumber both deep, and yet disturbed.
For all her resolve to stay awake, in the end fatigue had prevailed.
Yet it was a fatigue that seemed to last but a few moments. Just forty-five minutes had passed when she was gently nudged awake by the jolt of the craft touching down.
“Atlanta,” Denver quietly whispered. “We’re here. We’ve landed on the helipad at the hospital.”
Sure enough, Atlanta could make out the hospital building through tired eyes as she yawned and stretched. An orderly walked up to the door and opened it. A cool coastal breeze filtered through the cabin.
“Miss Shore, Commodore Denver, if you’ll accompany me please.” He gestured in the direction of the building.
Quickly, they exited the helijet, and having thanked the pilot, made for the reception area. There, they were met by an attendee, who escorted them to the sideward.
Not a word was spoken by anyone, either because of any language barrier that might still exist between English and Hispanic speakers, or out of simple hospital protocol. Nevertheless, the door to her father’s ward now beckoned.
By now, her heart was pounding as though it was about to explode. Visibly shaking, she pushed open the door.
“Atlanta, Jack.” Her father’s voice was as clear as it had always been, belying his obvious condition.
Sam Shore was seated upright in bed. This same bed having been adjusted to allow him to see his daughter in a more dignified position. To the left as she looked, Atlanta could see the two men she assumed were the physicians that had been treating her dad.
“DAD!” she yelled, as she raced for the bed, and put her arms around her father.
Both Carlos and Ted, together with the attendee and Denver, quietly exited the ward, giving the Shores their own space for the moment.
She started to sob, and gradually, the sobbing turned into uncontrolled crying.
Her father, unable even to turn his head toward her, spoke softly to her.
“Easy, honey, I’m okay. Come on now. I’m still here. Come on. These two docs have taken good care of me.”
Atlanta lifted her face from Sam’s shoulder.
Her father was smiling.
Atlanta’s grief suddenly turned to curiosity and more to the point, mild annoyance.
“Why Father, what’s there to smile about? Look at you!” She gestured with her hands to the rest of his body, “How can you lie there and smile as though there is nothing wrong?” Slowly, anger began to take over her mind. “You can see me in the state I’m in and you don’t seem even bothered!”
By now the hours of uncertainty, coupled with the trauma of what she had heard happen to her dad, the grief, the pain, the worry, the waiting, the travelling, all of which had been bottled up, now were being poured out.
Anger, very much one of the emotions all people go through during times of great trauma, and in this case one born of frustration as well as the “why me” feeling, was being turned on the one person who deep down needed to be cared for, not treated as a villain. Yet Atlanta was looking down at a man who for a moment seemed to even look as though he was carefree even to the point of revelling in his new disability.
It was all too much for her to understand.
“Stop smiling, Dad, you don’t have anything to smile about!” she yelled.
The smile dropped from Sam’s face. He realised that this however well intentioned attempt to ease the situation, was not working.
At this point, Carlos, Ted, and Denver came back in, having heard the raised voice of the young girl.
“Is everything alright?” asked Ted.
“NO!” shouted a now angry Atlanta. “My father is lying here paralysed from the neck down, with a smile on his face telling me everything is okay.”
“But Atlanta,” her father calmly and quietly interrupted, “Everything’s going to be, if not okay, then a damn site better than they are at this moment. There’s a reason why I’m smiling.”
She looked down at her dad.
“What do you mean?” she asked, wiping tears away, and with a furrowed brow born of sheer bewilderment.
“Doctor Wilkie,” the smile returned to Sam’s face, “will explain things.”
6.Questions and Answers
“Robot doctor?” Atlanta asked.
“That’s right,” was the reply. “It is capable of monitoring all vital signs, as well as diagnostics. The device is as good an aid in diagnosing injuries as any exploratory operation. And the monitor you see behind your father’s head displays all the required information to help me. I’m actually demonstrating these devices here in Tumbes. I’m on a lecture tour across South America on behalf of the World Medical Organisation. When your father was admitted here, I immediately had him linked up to the machine. Here was a genuine opportunity to prove the worth of the robot doctor, and more importantly, from your own perspective, attempt to make a substantial improvement in your father’s condition.”
Atlanta stood before her father’s bed, and looked up at the screen in amazement. All she could see was the screen, which appeared to be divided into a series of columns. Each column represented an aspect of Sam’s vital signs. Heartbeat, blood pressure, breathing rate, and internal organ activity were all monitored and their information all displayed.
From several points on the wall, just above the top of the monitor, a row of sensor devices, each one shaped like a small shower head, protruded downwards. These clearly were what analysed the patient’s vital signs, and the information then translated into figures, was displayed on the screen.
In addition to this, there was a small monitor at the far end of the ward, on a desk which Carlos now sat at. This was clearly showing a diagram of the body of the man from Kansas, and it showed quite clearly in a 3D effect, the location of any injuries and other physical trauma.
Evidently the rest of the device was built into the wall behind the bed, she thought. It was amazing.
“How accurate is all this?” She gestured with her hand toward the display.
“Accurate enough to tell me exactly what surgery is required and in what places. This is the reason why your father has a smile on his face.”
Atlanta turned to face Ted, her face a picture of curiosity.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“It gives me the exact location of the damaged nerves that are the cause of your father’s paralysis, and as a result, it will help me in the operation I plan to do tomorrow.”
“Operation?” Atlanta asked.
“That’s right, honey,” Sam interrupted. “Doctor Wilkie here plans to operate on the nerve cells just under the base of my skull. He hopes to repair them.”
Having listened to her father, Atlanta turned to speak to Ted, but the medic raised his hand as if to interrupt her.
“I need you to sit down, Atlanta.”
She sat on the side of the bed, next to Sam.
“I must point out, and I’ve already mentioned this to your dad, that the operation is not a cast iron guarantee that he will get the use of all his limbs back. It depends on several factors.”
With understandable concern written on her face, Atlanta asked, “What factors?”
Ted came and sat beside her.
“Like with all remedial surgery, there is always a risk of infection. The nerves may not heal, simply because they are too badly damaged, or your father may not be genetically predisposed to respond to the medicines I will used in order to stimulate the healing process.”
With understandable concern still written on her face, Atlanta bit her lip, and glanced over at her father.
Sam Shore looked at his daughter, and for the first time, a tear began to well in his eye. It was enough for Atlanta to understand, that for all the smiles when she arrived, there was at the back of Sam’s mind, the realisation that all may not be well. Yet having said that, the fact that Ted was going to operate was evidence enough that something could be done, and this was all due to the device on the wall above Sam’s head. It had given Ted the indication that not all was beyond salvation.
Atlanta thrust the thoughts of failure from her mind, and turned once again to face Ted.
With a calm that suddenly belied her understandable concern she asked, “When to you operate?”
“Tomorrow Morning,” said Ted. “Carlos will assist, and the procedure is expected to last around six hours. We’ll take your father down to theatre at around 11am. Carlos and I’ll leave you now. As it’s late, I suggest you get some sleep soon. We’ve had accommodation put up for you in a hotel adjacent to the hospital site.”
“Thank you, Doctor,” Atlanta said, smiling for the first time in what seemed like ages.
She looked across at Denver, who had quietly sat at the other end of the ward, keeping a discreet distance from the Shores, mindful that at the end of the day, this was a family matter first and foremost, and although Jack had known Sam for so long, he knew that in this instance, it was Atlanta who should be by his side, and that he would get his moment to have a private word with his old friend in good time.
Yet Atlanta felt that Jack had been ever so slightly pushed aside somewhat, even if his slightly craggy features had not given this impression in any way.
She stood, and spoke, “Commodore, I’m going to go outside with the doctors for a few minutes, I’m sure you and Dad will have some catching up to do.”
Denver’s face produced a small smile.
“Thank you, Atlanta,” he responded in his Alabama accent.
The doctors and Atlanta filed out, and the door quietly swung shut.
Jack Denver walked over to Sam’s bed, and sat down on the bedside.
He was not normally a man who’d be lost for words, yet on this occasion, this was exactly the case. He looked down at the man he’d known for twenty years, bit his lip, and averted his gaze, staring down at his lap instead. He then drew breath.
“Sam, I just don’t... ”
“Jack,” Sam interrupted, “you don’t have to try and say anything. If our roles were reversed, I’d feel exactly the same.”
Tears began to well in Jack Denver’s eyes.
“Damn it Sam!” Jack was almost sounding angry. “You were always the one to take risks, you always wanted to be in the thick of things, especially after Elaine died, much so in fact after Elaine died. You buried yourself in your work, became totally committed to your job, only making time for Atlanta. Now look what it’s done to you.”
He paused, shook his head, almost in desperation at what he was seeing, but before the could draw breath again, he was cut off.
“Jack, you can lecture me to your hearts content once I’m out of this. In the meantime I want you to do one thing for me, something I thought I would only ever have to say to the man who I’d end up giving Atlanta away to at the altar of a church. I know I just said once I’m out of this. However, if anything was to go wrong in the operating theatre tomorrow, you are to do one thing for me.”
“What’s that?” Denver shot his friend a quizzical look as he spoke, sounding just a little peeved at being cut off, but equally sounding a little perturbed at the attitude Sam was taking with him.
“Atlanta,” he replied. “Please take good care of her, Jack, she’s all I’ve got.”
7.Hoping and Waiting
“Doctor Wilkie, Doctor Alzamendi, thank you both for all you’ve done for my father.”
Atlanta’s thanks were quietly acknowledged by the two physicians. Ted motioned her into a side office, with Carlos.
She sat down at the desk in the office, opposite her sat the two doctors. Their faces were as impassive as they had been when they were explaining about the robot doctors.
It was Ted who spoke: “Miss Shore, there is something we need to explain to you. It is vitally important that you understand that we are making no promises about your father’s treatment. Do you understand?”
“I understand. I appreciate you have to tell me this, but I’m aware of the possible problems anyway. Goodness knows I’ve been through a lot with losing my mother five years ago. Father couldn’t accept it. He took it very bad, and for me, it felt like I was losing him as well. His behaviour was completely out of character, and I felt I was walking on eggshells around him. It was horrible.”
She paused, and stared at the floor for a moment, as the memories came; memories of a strong man suddenly broken, and a mother taken from her loving daughter, not to mention a daughter suddenly having to grow up a lot quicker than normal.
Ted took this as the opportunity to interject.
“Miss Shore.” He paused and leaned forward, hands clasped together. “Atlanta, we have to consider the possibility that your father may not regain the use of any of his limbs. Sam may feel confident of the success of the operation, but, at the end of the day, you have to be prepared for the worst.” He paused again, allowing Atlanta to take in what he was saying.
“Doctor Wilkie,” Atlanta replied, “I appreciate what you have just said, and I realise that although tomorrow’s operation has given Dad renewed hope, nothing is cut and dried.” She paused and then, looking Ted straight in the eye, she continued: “When you lose your mother before you leave school, then feel your going to lose your father only days and weeks afterwards, when you have to learn to stand on your own two feet long before you were meant to, and when you look ahead to the future and think of all the things that your mother is not going to witness, you learn to take things on the chin. You learn to develop very broad shoulders. Trust me. I know what’s could well be in store for me after tomorrow, but at least he will still be with me. He is still my father and still will be my father after tomorrow.”
She got up from her seat. “I assure you, Doctor, I’m ready.”
Ted got up from his. “Miss Shore, I assure you, we’ll do absolutely everything we can for him.”
The trolley was pushed gently down the corridor, until a set of double doors were reached.
Atlanta leaned over to look at her father. He was already heavily sedated, and unable to even open his eyes.
She kissed him on the forehead, before being led away by Jack. She took one last look at the trolley as it was pushed through the doors.
Tears rolled down her cheeks.
By now, Denver had his arm around Atlanta. He could not help but feel how frail she suddenly looked. At the academy when he had to give her the bad news, she had looked a strong, confident young woman as she walked into Captain Roche’s office. Now the girl in his arm was a pale shadow of the Atlanta Shore he had known since she was a small tot. A confident, strong and very ambitious woman, spurred on by the death of her mother, determined to honour her memory in the only way she felt possible, by following in Sam’s footsteps into the navy. She was honouring her late mother and her still very much alive and dear father.
It was not just a case of honouring her parents that drove her; it was a genuine desire to serve in the navy that was the catalyst. She was her own woman, and to prove the point, her interest in music would also be nurtured and developed. It was a passion that was second only to her love of the sea. From being a small girl, she had wanted to learn the piano. Little did she realise that by the age of fifteen she’d be having lessons from no less an individual as the former pilot of the craft that for twenty years was known to the world as Thunderbird Two.
She counted herself lucky. Her father had served as first officer under Gordon Tracy following his departure from International Rescue, and his appointment as captain of the Submarine W.N.S.Sarajevo following the invocation of a reserve activation clause in his World Navy commission. They had become friends, and this friendship led to he and Atlanta meeting up with the rest of the Tracy family.
To have lessons from a man who together with his brothers became anonymous heroes for two decades and more, and who had finally become a concert pianist in his own right following the disbanding of the “family business” was the icing on the cake for her.
She found herself identifying with him as well.
Here was a man following in the footsteps of a deceased and much missed parent, someone very much his own man, yet also honouring this same mother who had, herself, been a well known English concert pianist. Jack had, at the time, summed up the irony in eight simple words. Words that came back into his mind as he and Atlanta walked slowly down the corridor.
“Like parent, like child,” he mumbled to himself.
Atlanta had already enjoyed such a full life, so full of achievement. It had evolved into a life of individual accomplishment and a life that had become such a tribute to her late mother. Yet would her father now have to bare witness to his daughter’s achievements and accomplishments as a quadriplegic?
Or worse still, not at all?
They walked to the waiting room, which was practically deserted, save for an elderly couple sat at the far end of the room, both staring ahead at the floor, both lost in their thoughts.
Denver wondered if they were going through the same trauma as he and Atlanta. Whatever it was that was preoccupying them, it was, at the end of the day, their business and not his. Yet it reminded him that although it had seemed that he and Atlanta were the only ones going through the distress that they were with Sam, it was all too clear that somewhere else, were people with far more on their plates than he and Atlanta.
Barely had Atlanta sat down next to Jack than she fell asleep. She’d had barely a wink of shut-eye since arriving in Tumbes. What sleep she had got since leaving San Diego had been on the helijet out of Mariscal Sucre.
Just as well for her to sleep now, Jack thought. These next hours would be the worst of all for her.
He rolled up his jacket and made it into a temporary cushion. He placed it under Atlanta’s head. As he did so, he glanced down at her young, lovely face, and whispered to himself, “Atlanta, so help me, the young man that wins your heart one day in the future will be luckiest man on Earth, and I hope the good Lord will give your father the strength to recover so that he can be the one to give you away to him.”
He paused as tears again began to well in his eyes, for what felt like the umpteenth time.
“You could just about cope with the loss of your mom, but I don’t think you could stand to lose your dad.”
Now the tears came for his friend, a comrade in arms, a fellow who was more than just a friend, but a good and dear companion.
“Hang in there, Sam.”
“Miss Shore,” an Australian voice called.
“Atlanta,” a more familiar voice said in turn.
“Commodore,” the young girl answered.
The eyes opened slowly, and a hand brushed away the auburn hair from her eyes. Those same eyes now were focused on Jack who looked down at the still sleepy face but with a smile on his.
“Atlanta, the operation’s over,” he said, and with a start she suddenly bolted upright and turned to see if she could see either Ted or Carlos.
It was the man whose voice she heard first who now came toward her, having kept a discreet distance from Jack as he gently woke the young girl. Ted had Carlos with him, and both were still in their gowns and caps, their masks now hanging round their necks.
“Doctor Wilkie.” She was scared to even say his name, let alone ask how the surgery had gone. Before another word was spoken however, she and Jack were quietly ushered back into the office.
“Miss Shore,” the physician began once seated, “we were able to treat the damaged nerves in the lower part of your father’s neck and lower back. Now by “treat” I mean we were able to apply the stimulant in the correct places in the nervous system, as identified by the robot doctor.”
Atlanta’s face remained expressionless, as if knowing what was going to be said next.
“Only time will tell,” Ted continued, “if the damage was too severe for the nerves to respond or not. As soon as your father awakes, we’ll know.”
At that point, a knock came at the door and an attendee peered round.
“It’s Captain Shore, Doctor, he’s coming through.”
“Thank goodness, today’s anaesthetics wear off a lot quicker than those of yesteryear,” Carlos said, no doubt as anxious as the others to see the result.
Atlanta took a deep breath, and made for the ward. The point between getting up and walking next door into the ward seemed like an eternity, and yet there she was, pushing the door open, and walking in.
The sight that greeted her was of her father, face covered by an oxygen mask, with another attendee lifting the blankets off the foot of the bed to reveal the captain’s feet.
Instinctively, Atlanta looked straight at the robot nurse display, hoping for some indication of her father’s condition.
The two doctors filed in along with Jack. Immediately, Carlos walked over to Atlanta and put his arm on her shoulder.
“I’m sorry, Miss Shore, but not even this device can tell us if your father is cured. All it can do is identify areas of damage and trauma. It can tell us that all the damaged nerves are repaired, but a repaired nerve is not necessarily going to be a nerve that will respond. No, I’m sorry, but the only person who can tell us if the nerves are going to work and respond anymore will be your father.”
“I understand,” nodded the girl.
Ted stood at the foot of the bed, and called out.
“Captain Shore. Captain Shore, can you hear me?”
Two very tired eyes flickered open, and once again they protested against the light of the ward. His eyes took everything in, and then he looked at the young girl at his left.
“Atlanta,” he quietly called out.
“Yes, Father,” she replied with still some trepidation in her young voice.
What followed suddenly took away all the trepidation she had let show. The last two days of anxiety and hell suddenly began to melt away.
Sam Shore held out his left hand, and touched his daughter’s face.
Atlanta, Jack, and even the two doctors, two gentlemen who were meant to be completely dispassionate about medicine and their patients, suddenly jumped with joy.
Then as the four onlookers were celebrating, Sam, this time with this right hand, took off his mask, and then said something that sent their celebration into a nosedive.
“I can’t feel my legs.”
Instinctively, Ted bent down and with his index finger touched the base of Sam’s left foot.
Carlos then did the same with the right.
Jack walked over to Sam’s right hand side, and took hold of his right hand.
“Squeeze it, Sam. Squeeze my hand.”
Sam did just that, and Jack responded with three telling words, words that would cut through the emotion, and make more sense than any lecture from a doctor, even one as dedicated as Ted Wilkie.
“Sam,” Jack quietly uttered, “you’re alive.”
To her eternal credit, Jack thought, Atlanta having heard the commodore’s words, walked over to the two doctors, and held out her own hand.
“Thank you for all you did for my dad, and you both did your best. Now the rest is up to us.”
As they both took turns to shake Atlanta’s hand, Carlos was at pains to point out one thing.
“I only assisted, this was Doctor Wilkie’s work, and I will say this now, with all of you as witnesses, had this been any other doctor working with me in that theatre today, all hope would have gone before we even started.”
He then turned to face Ted.
“It was a privilege working with you, Doctor Wilkie.”
Atlanta then stared at her father, who returned her gaze with a look of resignation, tinged with the realisation of the life that was to come for him. Yet there was also one very clear and very palatable truth.
Sam Shore was in a far better state of health than he was just seven hours or so earlier. Quietly, she then exited the room, walked slowly down the corridor, and when she came upon the door at the end, pushed it open, and took in a gulp of fresh air.
It was late afternoon, the sun was setting over the south western Pacific, but Atlanta knew that the sun was not about to set on her father’s life. She took in the sunset, and then did something she resolved to do for the very last time.
She sobbed, for what seemed like an age.
Then she turned, and with the last tear wiped from her face, she quietly muttered to herself, “Father, whatever happens now, I will always be here for you. I owe it to you, and to you, Mother, wherever you are.”
“Right, gentlemen, I think we are clear about our choice. I’m sure we need not delay things any further. His record stands for itself.”
The man sat at the head of the table was clear in his analysis, grey-haired and in a white tunic with black collar and sleeves, he saw no other candidate as being anywhere near suitable.
He continued, “Indeed the written recommendations from all of you leave me with no alternative. He is the perfect choice.”
At the opposite end of the table, a man, seated in a hover chair, and wearing the uniform of a commander in the World Aquanaut Security Patrol, nodded in agreement.
“Although I can speak for personal reasons, I believe this man has a history of achievement and accomplishment. Inventions of his have been incorporated into the medical wing of the WASP.”
He leaned forward, hands clasped together.
“Yes, I’ve seen this man at work from a personal perspective. His dedication and commitment to his job came across to me when he treated me seven years ago in Ecuador.”
He looked the grey-haired man at the opposite end of the table in the eye.
“If it were not for this man, I would not be sitting here, I would not be in the position of command I hold now at the WASP, and I would not be able to recommend this man to his new employer, and for a reward he richly deserves. I grant you, it’s not going to be an easy ride for him. As chief medical officer for your new organisation, he will carry immense responsibility. Yet, making him your CMO will genuinely be a well earned reward.”
The grey-haired man stood up.
“Thank you, Commander Shore. There is one other task I’d like to ask of you, I’d like you to come with me on a journey.”
“To where?” Shore asked.
“Australia,” came the reply.
The small executive jet touched down with barely a jolt at Sydney’s Kingsford Smith International Airport. Shore and his guest alighted at the far end of the apron, away from prying eyes, and the two individuals were escorted into a waiting limousine.
The limo exited the airport via a gate at this same far end of the apron, and turned straight on to Highway 64, where they made for the rendezvous point in the nearby suburb of Brighton le Sands.
The car pulled up outside an empty office block. Both Shore and his co-passenger left the vehicle and made for the concierge.
It was deserted, and silent.
The chauffeur having ushered the two men in, returned to the limo. Alongside him, in the front of the car, was a plain clothed security guard. Both now sat impassive.
In the concierge, neither man spoke.
The silence was broken by the sound of a lift coming down an elevator shaft. As it neared the bottom both men advanced slowly toward it.
The doors opened, to reveal a tall, dark-haired man, wearing a trench coat. He moved out of the elevator, and immediately recognised one of the men.
“Commander Shore,” he held out a hand.
“Good to see you again,” Shore shook him warmly by the hand. “This is the gentleman you have spoken to in “voice only” up to this point. He will be your commanding officer. I should just say that I wanted to be here today, for reasons that I will let this gentleman explain.”
The grey-haired man walked forward.
“Good Afternoon. You were recommended for this position based on a number of positive references, but the most glowing and most detailed tribute, if I can call it that, came from Commander Shore. I can honestly say that following his detailed testimony of your treatment of him, and the dedication you showed to your job, our decision was virtually made for us, and needless to say, we are delighted that you have accepted our offer, and have agreed to meet us here.”
Ted Wilkie greeted his new commanding officer with a courteous nod.
“I’m only too delighted to accept your offer, sir.”
“About time I took my leave of this place,” said Shore. “I’ll leave you two to get on with things.” He turned and began to leave, only to turn again and face Ted.
“Y’know, I don’t know if all those long years ago I ever really said thank you. I hope the recommendations I made that have helped you get this assignment go some way to making up for that.”
Ted bent over and put a hand on Shore’s shoulder.
“Commander, just seeing you today, head of one of the main world security organisations, compared with how you were, when you were brought in to that hospital in Ecuador, is thanks enough for me.”
The men shook hands.
The WASP commander turned his chair around and made for the exit. With his back now turned to the two others, he spoke, “No doubt I’ll see you again in the future. I’m sure your new governor here will invite the likes of me, Bill Zero from the WSP, and one or two other desk jockeys along to take a look at what our taxes are paying for.”
“I’ll look forward to that,” Ted replied.
Sam Shore pulled a cigar from his top pocket, lit it, blew a long puff of smoke into the cool air of the concierge, and as his chair propelled him out of the door, he raised a hand.
“See ya round, Ted.”
Shore glided into the limo and was whisked away back to Kingsford Smith, where a waiting WASP jet would be on hand to ferry him back to California and Marineville.
Ted’s new commanding officer turned to face his new chief medical officer.
“I’m sorry we had to meet here. I appreciate its some distance away from your home town of Yalumba. You will appreciate though that in the Spectrum agency as our new organisation will be called, we have to observe maximum security at all times. There will be another car along in a moment to collect us. Now, allow me to properly introduce myself. I’m Charles Grey, my colour code is white and I hold the rank of Colonel. Unless you are otherwise ordered, from now on you will address both me and all your other colleagues by their rank and colour. Is that understood?”
“Yes, Colonel White,” Ted replied.
The car drew up, and the two men got in.
White continued, “Obviously you will retain the title of doctor, and your colour code will be Fawn.”
“Thank you, Colonel,” said Ted, as the limousine pulled away, taking with it the newest recruit to an organisation still some months away from reaching full strength.
Deep down in his heart of hearts, Edward Wilkie knew this would be a challenging assignment.
A part of him viewed this with a little trepidation. Another part, a much larger part, looked at the future with optimism, and excitement.
There was just one more duty for Colonel White to perform, he held out a hand to Ted.
“Doctor Fawn, welcome to Spectrum.”
Any comments? Send an E-MAIL to the SPECTRUM HEADQUARTERS site.