Even if it is not your fault, it is your responsibility.
Sir Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky
Set in the balmy waters of the Caribbean Sea, Trinidad was a cosmopolitan island, wealthy by the standards of the region and blessed with a tropical climate that was generally hurricane-free. There was a flourishing industrial sector, based largely on petroleum and petrochemicals, which provided a standard of living to its employees that surpassed that of the neighbouring – and largely agricultural based – island economies.
Wardell Griffiths, the ambitious eldest of the two sons of a schoolteacher and a nurse from Chaguanas had studied hard to achieve his top-notch business qualifications. He had started work in the local sugar refinery as a foreman-manager and had risen in his post through diligence and determination, until he felt confident enough to apply for a job as a manager in one international oil company’s Trinidadian offices located in Port of Spain, along the coast. His family were as proud as he was himself when he got the post and just a year after he left, they were delighted to welcome into their family Wardell’s young sweetheart, Jerica Pairaudeau, the pretty daughter of a well-known Port of Spain musician, who worked as a secretary in the Accounts Office.
The wedding was an elaborate and joyous affair, as befitted a rising young executive and his bride, and the young couple set up home in a neat house from where Wardell commuted into the office downtown. Jerica had intended to continue working and wait a while before they started their family, but as can happen, their first child was born in January 2041, less than a year after their marriage.
The young couple were more than happy to welcomed their robust little boy, naming him after Wardell’s father – Seymour – and such was their delight in their cheerful and contented baby that they quickly decided he would not be an only child.
By the time little Seymour was eleven, there were nine children in the family: Jayson, Lacena, the identical twins - Deon and Rohan - Merlene, Kendon, Grace and baby Sonny, and although Wardell Griffiths had a good job there were a lot of young mouths to fill and the money had to stretch to keep them all. But, most importantly, Wardell and Jerica ensured that all of their children felt loved and wanted, and there was never any rancour amongst them; if they couldn’t have the latest ‘must-have’ toys, they had each other to play with and the beautiful island as their playground. They grew up friendly, polite and confident children, well-liked by their neighbours and approved of by the nuns at the school they attended.
As he grew up Seymour found that he was expected to shoulder more and more responsibility; his mother’s time and attention was demanded by her growing brood of younger children and the older ones all had to lend a hand. None the less, he remained a happy and contented soul, devoted to his younger brothers and sisters and focused on doing well at school in order to set the youngsters a good example and make his parents proud of him. He genuinely felt he was lucky to have been born on such a beautiful island and into such a loving family, and the first decade of his life passed in blissful happiness.
Sometimes, when the noisy confines of the house got too much for him, he would wander off alone, down towards the coast where he would find somewhere to sit that offered a good view of the ever-changing ocean. In these rare moments of solitude, he would practise the acoustic guitar his maternal grandfather had taught him to play, devising calypso songs to make the kids laugh, or lullabies to help get the youngsters off to sleep. Although all of the family enjoyed music, Seymour quickly realised that his musical talent was not shared with all his siblings, and that it was only his favourite sister, Merlene, who showed a talent that might, eventually, challenge his own.
Christmas was approaching when Wardell Griffiths came home from the office one evening with some exciting news. When his family were gathered around the table, eating their main meal, he announced:
“The company is sending me to Houston.”
His wife looked at him with a frown. “What do you mean: they’re sending you to Houston?”
Wardell beamed at her. “It’s only temporary, Jerica, but it could become a long-term secondment, if I make a good impression.”
“America,” Seymour gasped, “we’ll never see you, Dad!”
Wardell laughed, his teeth flashing brightly against his dark skin. “No, silly; if I go long-term, we’ll all be going.”
“To America?” Lacena asked, less than delighted at the news.
“Well, we’re not going,” Deon said stoutly, as Rohan nodded emphatically. “We like it here.”
“It’s a big move, Ward,” Jerica said. She wished he’d talked it over with her before making his announcement; she didn’t want to worry the children needlessly.
“It’ll be a good move, Jeri; but it’s not certain yet. I have to prove myself amongst the staff at HQ, but if I do, it could be the start of something big – better money, better prospects than I’ll ever get here in Trinidad. The thing is,” he continued hastily, “I was thinking it would be a good idea for you to come with me. I’ll be there for six months initially, and they’ve rented me a furnished apartment, but it’ll need sorting out. It’ll give you a chance to see if you like it there too.” He smiled at her.
Jerica gave an exasperated gasp. “I can’t leave the kids for six months-”
“No: only for a week or so! Just at the start of the posting. Seymour can take charge – can’t you, Sey? - and your sister will look in on them, if you ask her.”
Jerica was still doubtful. “I guess Cathalina wouldn’t mind… but the holidays start soon.”
“You’ll be back by then,” he reassured her. “You could do all your Christmas shopping in America, while you’re there.”
“American presents!” Lacena exclaimed. “Oh, Mama, that’d be fantastic.”
“Well, maybe – but I’ll have to talk to Aunt Cath,” her mother replied noncommittally, but there was excitement in her dark eyes.
For a moment the decision hung in the balance and the children sat in silent expectation.
“You should go, Mama; the change will do you good and we’ll be okay,” Seymour said with some confidence. “Jayce and Lacey will help me and the little ones will be good. Won’t you?” he turned to ask the wide-eyed youngsters.
Merlene nodded and, when she saw her sister’s affirmation, Gracie nodded too, while Sonny reached out a chubby – and rather sticky – hand towards his eldest brother and chuckled.
Wardell smiled and took Jerica’s hand. “See? Everything will be all right. I have a good feeling about this, Jeri – I’m sure it’ll be the start of a new life for this family.”
For a long moment she looked deeply into the face of the man she loved and saw the flicker of the long-suppressed ambition that had so impressed her in the early days. She knew he yearned to succeed in his chosen career and that, dearly though he loved every one of the children, he felt his responsibilities to them held him back. If she turned him down, she might lose him – and what was a week, after all?
“Okay, Ward, I’ll come with you,” she replied.
The excited children gathered around the videophone screen on the first night Mama was away. They listened entranced as she told them about her journey: their arrival in America and the nice apartment they were staying in and how much she missed them.
The babies couldn’t remember a night when Mama had been away and they soon grew tearful, so she cut the call short, told them she loved them and that she’d be home before they knew it.
Aunt Cath soothed the young ones and started putting them to bed. She came down and warned the twins they were to go up as soon as Seymour told them to, then kissed them all, promised to be over in the morning and left for her own home.
It was exciting to be alone. The oldest three sat around the kitchen table and did their homework, and then cuddled on the battered sofa before the TV screen for the latest episode of the popular weekly soap their mother watched religiously, so that they could tell her what happened. Once it had finished, Seymour led the way round the house, turning things off and locking the doors and the windows. He waited until Jayson and Lacena were in their beds and then got ready himself. He felt very grown up as he set the alarm clock Dad had bought for him to use during their absence. He lay in his narrow bed in the small room he shared with Jayson, feeling sure he’d be too tense to sleep, but before he knew it, he was woken by the jangling bell of the alarm, and it was time to get up.
He was first down, waking Lacey after he’d dressed, when Jayce was in the bathroom. Lacey had made sandwiches last night and left them ready for Seymour to make up the lunchboxes with a piece of fruit and a small candy-bar. It was strange to be alone in the kitchen and not smell the aroma of the fresh coffee Mama always made, and hear her singing as the day started, but he hardly had chance to fret as the twins came racing downstairs, bickering as always and hungry.
As usual, Lacey and Merlene were responsible for dressing the babies and Aunt Cath would be over before it was time to leave for school to take them to her place for the day. The twins finished their breakfast first and raced upstairs just as Aunt Cath arrived.
“Lord help us! This is a madhouse,” she exclaimed, as she picked up baby Sonny and kissed his soft cheek.
Seymour escorted Merlene and Kendon to school, while Deon and Rohan ran ahead, feeling too grown up to walk with the younger children and their brother. Aunt Cath would collect them when school finished and wait at home with them until the older trio got back.
The school day passed quickly: the children were preparing for their Christmas concert, so very little school work was done. Seymour and his best friend, Sam Myers, had important parts in the show playing their guitars to accompany other children in the singing traditional carols, and singing two songs themselves. Miss Adrian, Seymour’s favourite teacher, made it quite clear how much she was depending on them to make the show a success by working with them after school proper had finished.
When the rehearsal finished Sam and Seymour walked home together reaching Sam’s house first where Mrs Myers quizzed Seymour about how they were all coping. She smiled with gentle amusement at the proud self-confidence of the youngster and gave him a basket of freshly baked biscuits to share out.
“You be sure to let me know if you need anything, won’t you, Sey?” she insisted as he took his leave. He nodded gratefully and hurried the rest of the way home, conscious of the passing time.
When he got home Aunt Cath had given the younger children their evening meal and had something for the others simmering on the stove.
“There you are, Sey; I was wondering where you’d got to,” she cried, somewhat mollified when he explained about the rehearsal and gave her Mrs Myer’s biscuits.
She bustled about gathering her things and kissed them all. “I must get back… now, you all pay heed to Seymour, d’you hear? I will see you tomorrow.”
As the door closed behind her Jayson flopped dramatically into a dining chair and exhaled loudly. The twins sniggered.
“Sssh,” Seymour cautioned them, “or she’ll hear you and then there will be trouble.”
“We’re not worried of Aunt Cath,” Deon boasted. “She don’t frighten I.”
“Well, she frighten I,” Seymour exclaimed, teasing his brother’s street lingo and punching him playfully. “If she tells Mama we misbehaved to her, then Mama will mind. You don’t want that, now, do you? Mama trusts us to do her proud.”
The twins shook their heads and looked apologetic. “We won’t play up, Sey,” Rohan promised.
“I told her you were rehearsing, Sey,” Jayce explained. “But you know Aunt Cath; it goes in one ear and out the other.”
“She means well,” Seymour said, “and Mama said we were to do what she tells us. So that means you guys have to do your homework while we have our tea.” He pointed at the youngsters.
Complaining bitterly, the twins settled down while Lacena dished out the remaining food.
There was time for them to play together before the younger ones had to go to bed, and Lacena took control of the babies and the six-year old Merlene, settling them down by singing the gentle lullaby Mama had sung to them all in their time, while Seymour supervised the twins and Jayson helped four year old Kendon. After the house was quiet, Seymour took Dad’s chair and grinned at his siblings lounging on the sofa.
“This is a breeze,” he said. “We’re doing fine. We just have to keep the place tidy.” He looked ruefully at the jumble of school bags and shoes by the door.
From the kitchen came the familiar rumble of the washing machine.
“I put all the washing in the machine, just like Mama does,” Lacey said smugly. “And Merlene helped me put the dishes in the dishwasher. We can put them away tomorrow before school, Sey.”
“She’ll be proud of us,” Jayson said, with a smile that stretched across the room.
“She sure will,” his brother agreed, laughing.
But the novelty of self-sufficiency was wearing thin by the end of the week, although, thanks to Aunt Cath and Seymour’s organisational skills, they had coped well-enough.
When Mama rang on Friday evening, they youngsters were full of their achievements and overjoyed about her impending return.
Jerica Griffiths smiled as she listened to their excited chatter and when they finally calmed down she said, “Darlings, that’s marvellous. You’ve been so good and so brave while we’ve been away, although I always knew you’d make me so proud of you all.”
“But we missed you real badly, Mama,” Merlene said, her large eyes shimmering with tears.
“And I’m missing you, my darlings, and I sure hate to have to tell you this, but I won’t be home tomorrow.”
There was a dismayed chorus of protest from the children.
“I know, I know, my darlings, but Daddy’s doing so well here. Let me tell you all the good news: we met the new Corporate Vice-President and he wants to know all about the refinery on Trinidad before he visits next week, so he’s invited Daddy and me to go to a party at his house on Saturday afternoon. Isn’t that exciting?” The children stared at the video screen in blank disappointment and with some desperation, Jerica continued, “It wouldn’t be a good idea not to go and, because the VP is flying over to Trinidad in the company jet on Monday, he’s invited us to go with him.”
She looked at the nine disappointed faces and her instinct was to tell Wardell to go on his own as her kids needed her more, but as she was about to speak again, Seymour said:
“It’s okay, Mama; we understand. We all want Dad to do well on his visit there. If the VP likes him, you’re right, it could be a great opportunity and Dad must take it. We’ll be fine, don’t you worry about us. Go and wow the people at the party; you’ll be the prettiest one there, I bet ya!”
“Bless you, Seymour… bless you all, my darlings! I will call again on Sunday and I’ll be back before you’re home from school on Monday – I promise. Tell your aunt Cathalina I’ll make sure she’s not out of pocket for any groceries she has to buy meantime.”
“Sure, Mama,” Seymour said, putting his arm around Merlene as she snuggled against him to hide her tears of disappointment.
“I want you all to go to church on Sunday with Aunt Cath; you promise?”
“Yes, Mama; we promise,” they chorused.
“Good night, my darlings, and God bless. I love you all.”
The screen flickered off and the children sat in silence for a while. The babies were upset to see their mama vanish and Lacey hugged Sonny as he grizzled against her chest, while Gracie crept to Seymour to be wrapped in his other arm.
Jayson was the first to speak: “Let’s hope Dad does impress the Vice President, then it will be worth missing Mama for one more day.”
“Yes, and we might get to live in America-” Seymour began, trying to support Jayce’s attempt to cheer everyone up.
“Don’ wanna go ‘n live in ‘merica,” wailed the twins in unison.
“Sure you do! They have baseball and hot dogs and… and theme parks!” Seymour said, increasingly anxious to stem the tears now in full flood around him. The wailing got louder. “And spaceships and fifty kinds of ice cream… and … and …you’ve all got to go to bed!” He removed his arms from around his sisters and sprang to his feet. “Right now, Deon! Mama said you had to mind me – and I say do it now! Stop whining and get upstairs…”
Amidst the howls of protest Lacena got to her feet with some difficulty, and carried the tearful Sonny upstairs, taking Grace and Merlene in tow. Jayson rounded up Kendon, and Seymour watched as the twins slouched off after the others.
He glanced at the dark video screen and whispered his own little prayer: “Come home soon, Mama – we sure need you here.”
It was obvious to Seymour from the way Aunt Cath arrived early on Saturday morning, armed with a bag of groceries and a string of orders, that Mama had spoken to her as well. She bustled into the kitchen, ordering Lacena about and swooping down to pick up the babies and hustle the older children into doing their chores.
“Now, when your mama comes home, she won’t want to be seeing a load of dirty dishes or a pile of ironing that needs doing. You’re all able to lend a hand and get this place spick and span for her. I don’t want to listen to no excuses, now… chop-chop!”
Even the twins jumped to it, and Seymour realised that there was a reason for her unusual bossiness – she was making sure they didn’t have time to mope about missing their parents and bemoaning the fact that they had to do without them for another 48 hours.
By the time Aunt Cath went home, the place was looking fit for Mama’s return and the dinner, which was simmering on the stove and smelling very appetising, was being keenly anticipated by all the hungry children. They sat in their usual places around the table to eat, and although they were acutely aware of the empty seats at either end, they were able to look forward to their parents’ return with happy impatience.
The Sunday morning routine was ingrained into the children and so, when Aunt Cath arrived to collect them for church, they were all ready, dressed in their Sunday Best and looking very neat and tidy.
She ran a critical eye over them and then gave a warm smile.
“Well, I will say, you do your mama and papa proud this morning! Now, come along and let’s get to the church on time.”
After the service Aunt Cath took them all back to the house she shared with her parents, and there was cheerful family BBQ in the garden. Christmas was approaching and there was an air of anticipation amongst all the children: not only were their parents coming home but they would be bringing desirable presents from America, so they forgot that they were having to wait one more day and raced about with their cousins and the neighbours’ children, until tired and rather grubbier than Jerica would have approved off, they set off back home in the early evening.
Monday was a school day and Seymour, Jayson and Lacena got the youngsters bathed and in bed, before preparing everything for the next day before they too went to bed and slept the refreshing sleep of untroubled children.
Monday went by in a blur for Seymour: the rehearsals were at a critical stage and Miss Adrian kept him and Sam busy preparing for the concert at the end of the week, yet his excitement was mostly due to the thought that Mama would be at home when they got there. He doubted if they’d get a chance to see Dad, who would probably be with the VP, but there would be a lot to talk about and learn from Mama – culminating in the decision about moving to Houston.
He didn’t stay after school for more rehearsals; Miss Adrian understood his longing to get home and allowed him to leave. He said goodbye to Sam when the final bell went and, with Jayson and Lacena, raced home as carefree as ever.
When they rounded the corner into the street and saw a police car outside their house, a sense of foreboding settled on Seymour like a cold blanket.
“What can have happened?” Lacey panted, as they stood staring.
“Maybe the twins got in trouble again?” Jayce suggested: Deon and Rohan were the family tearaways.
Seymour didn’t answer, but he felt there was nothing the high-spirited twins could have done that would have merited a police car. He felt vaguely pleased that it wasn’t an ambulance – at least none of the babies were hurt. “Come on,” he ordered the others, starting to run again.
Trying to dampen his growing sense of panic, he ran up the garden path with the others in pursuit, and flung himself through the half-open front door.
“Aunt Cath?” he yelled, skidding to a halt in the entrance of the living room.
His aunt sat weeping on the sofa, baby Sonny cuddled on her knee. There was a young police woman sat beside her, trying to comfort her, while another looked after Grace.
Glancing up and seeing the older children were back from school, Cathalina Pairaudeau burst into fresh weeping.
“Oh my, oh my – what am I gonna tell the children?”
The policewoman who had been trying to comfort her stood up and slowly came over to him.
“Are you Seymour?” she asked, seeing Jayson and Lacena hovering uneasily in the hallway.
She crouched down and placed a hand on his arm. He wanted to shake her off, but he couldn’t move.
“I want you to be a brave boy, Seymour; I’m gonna need your help with the younger kids. It’s about your folks, honey. I’m so sorry, but I have bad news.” She looked compassionately at the youngster staring at her with anxiety and fear in his wide, brown eyes. “I’m sorry to have to tell you, Seymour, but the plane they were travelling in… it came down over the sea, no one knows why yet. They will be finding out as soon as they can.”
He stared at her while his brain tried to process the enormity of her words.
“Do you understand me, Seymour?”
He nodded, although in reality the true import of her words hadn’t really sunk in yet.
“When will Mama and Dad be coming home?” Jayson asked, advancing slowly and slipping his hand into Seymour’s. “I guess they’ll need to get another plane back?”
Aunt Cath wailed again, and the policewoman turned to frown angrily at her. She looked sympathetically at Jayson and said, “I afraid they won’t be coming home, honey; there were no survivors.” She was all too aware that there was nothing she could say to ease the blow.
For the rest of his life Seymour would remember how the world stopped. Right then and there; it stopped dead. The noises from the street, Aunt Cath’s sobbing, the fretful wailing of the babies, Lacey’s scream of denial – everything became indistinct and muffled. All he could hear was the thud of his heart as it pounded fit to burst.
He didn’t know how long he stood there, and it was only when he realised Jayce was crying that he knew what was expected of him.
He was the eldest, the man of the family now. He squeezed his brother’s hand and swallowed hard.
“Don’t worry, I will look after us,” he told Jayson. And he meant it. He announced his authority to speak for the family to the policewoman and explained that they wanted to stay together – no, more than that - they needed to be together.
The senior policewoman glanced at the nine orphans and sighed. “There’s too many of you for us to re-home together, and right now we’d have trouble placing even just the youngest ones together, except in a care home.” She saw the horror on Seymour’s face and continued sympathetically, “I think you’re right to say that you’ll be better off staying here together, at least for now. Someone from the social care department will be by tomorrow,” she told him. “And if you need anything tonight, here is the number to call and here is my phone number.” She glanced at Aunt Cath, who was still in shock and totally ineffectual in a practical sense. “You can contact your aunt and the rest of the family, if needed?”
Seymour nodded. “I will be careful and we won’t do anything silly, I promise.” He already knew that if this didn’t work, the authorities wouldn’t allow him a second chance. “We’ve been looking after ourselves since… since Mum and Dad went on their trip…” His voice shook and he drew himself up, suppressing the aching tears. “We can cope, Ma’am.”
“I believe you can, Seymour,” she said, placing a hand on his shoulder.
When everyone had left, even the reluctant Aunt Cath, he locked the doors against the world and the children spent that dreadful evening together, sitting on the sofa and the armchairs, hugging and crying, but gradually coming to terms with the awful reality that would govern their lives from now. Unwilling to frighten the youngsters with any talk of the family being split up, and uncertain that he had his facts straight, Seymour didn’t discuss it until the babies were in bed, and the twins were dozing on the sofa exhausted by their grief. Then he held a whispered conference with Jayson and Lacena.
“They’ll try to split us up,” he said tremulously. “Aunt Cath can’t take us all and even if they send us to relatives, we’ll be apart.”
“That mustn’t happen, Sey,” Jayson said desperately. “All we have is each other now.”
“Ain’t gonna happen,” Seymour vowed. He looked at the other two. “I’ve been thinking about it, and I need to check some things, so I’m going to fire up Dad’s computer and do that tonight. We won’t have much time in the morning. I think we can swing it – so that we can stay together, here in the house.”
“How?” Lacey gasped.
“I’ll explain when I’ve made sure I’m right. But will you back me up tomorrow and agree to all I say?”
“You know we will,” Jayce assured him, and Lacey nodded vehemently.
“Good. Leave it to me.”
Of course, they did want to split them up: the social workers and the do-gooders who flocked around them in the days that followed the news. Aunt Cath and his grandparents, the various aunts and uncles, the neighbours, their local priest and the teachers, all came by to offer their help and to try to console the children, although Seymour quickly realised there was nothing under the sun that would ever lessen the shock of this loss.
The others all looked towards Seymour as their natural leader now. He was almost thirteen but had always acted much older; now he quickly realised that his childhood had died in the plane with his parents and that from now on he had to put each of the others before himself. It was what Mama and Dad would want. So, he gathered his siblings around him and stood up for their rights, preventing the babies being taken away ‘for their own good’.
“The only good there still is for them is to stay with their brothers and sisters!” he argued ferociously with the social worker who came to meet them all on the following day. He knew that if the babies were taken away, the family would not survive. Worse than that - he’d lose the final links he had to his parents and he couldn’t let that happen and from somewhere he found the strength and conviction to fight the system, although it wasn’t easy and it took a heavy emotional toll on him at a time when he was already heart-broken.
His search on the computer had confirmed what he had suspected, that from twelve years old people were officially allowed to cease full-time education and start work, and this was an option that was open to him, if he wanted it. As a working ‘adult’ he could assume the mantle of responsibility for the younger children.
He put the proposal to the Social Worker, who, faced with his utter determination to do this, was powerless to intervene. However, she did not intend to leave the family alone – and insisted there would need to be supervision orders and care support plans for each of the children who were under twelve.
“If that’s what it takes to keep us together, then okay,” Seymour said, adding defiantly, “But the day after their twelfth birthdays, you and all your colleagues, will butt out and leave us alone!”
Jayson and Lacena nodded their support.
The social worker, who was an experienced, middle-aged woman, with apparently inexhaustible patience and a kindly face, sighed and nodded. “We will give it a trial, Seymour; and if you need anything – anything at all for any of the children – you come to me. D’you hear?”
Relief flooded into Seymour as he realised he’d won – for now. He nodded. “Sure, whatever,” he said, and smiled.
When Christmas finally arrived, the extended family did all they could to make it a good one for the children. They agreed to go and stay with their Pairaudeau grandparents and while there, Seymour talked things over with his grandfather. The Griffiths family were far more conventional than Jerica’s folks who had a more instinctive understanding of their grandchildren’s longing to be together. Granddad Pairaudeau was supportive and full of helpful advice, without trying to dictate, and slowly Seymour devised a solution to their seemingly untenable situation.
Everything stopped after Christmas when there was the bleak time of the inquests and the ‘funeral’ to endure. Despite an extensive and prolonged search, there were no bodies to be buried, just empty coffins, and it was that fact that allowed Seymour to watch them sink into the ground with composure, while his siblings clustered around him and sobbed their hearts out.
Nominally Aunt Cath was their guardian, as it stated in their parents’ wills, but she, the other members of their extended family and – finally - the authorities accepted that, in reality, it was down to Seymour. Aunt Cath helped as much as she could, of course, but she had a lot on her plate looking after her aged parents; the other aunts and uncles – from both sides of the family - promised to keep an eye on them and they were as good as their word. The neighbours all rallied round too and Sam’s family, who lived closer to the Griffithses than any relatives, volunteered to help in any emergency.
The Church helped as well. Father Andrew had known the family for decades – he’d married Wardell and Jerica and baptised all the children, and he was always available when Seymour wanted to talk things over. The kind-hearted ladies of the congregation organised an informal rota where one of them would bring a pot lunch to the Sunday Mass and slip it to one of the older boys or Lacena as they filed out afterwards. It seemed that the tragedy of Wardell and Jerica Griffiths touched everyone who had known them.
Practically, things weren’t too difficult: the authorities gave them money to live on and the house was all paid for – Dad’s insurance made sure of that – but there was never much to spare. Yet, what little there was by way of an inheritance, mostly from Wardell’s ‘death in service’ benefit, Seymour left in the bank against the day when they might need it. Somehow they managed to make ends meet and the bills got paid. Seymour’s account book was their bible and they were determined never to get into debt, so what they couldn’t afford, they did without.
It wasn’t easy for Seymour – in fact it was much harder than he’d ever anticipated. The hardest part of all was leaving school and getting a job. He’d always been a top student and his teachers were reluctant to let him go, but he realised there was no choice. He took on a couple of part time jobs that would allow him to make sure the babies were looked after properly, and, when he could he earned a little extra busking around the bars and hotels of an evening, while Lacena and Jayson took control.
He made sure the others went to school clean and smartly dressed; determined that no one was going to see their mother’s high standards slide. He helped with the youngsters’ homework and supplied a constant flow of encouragement, but it was a steep learning curve and he often felt weighed down by the responsibilities he’d taken on. On such occasions he went down to the local beach with his guitar, creating music and devising calypsos until he felt better.
Sometimes Sam Myers came too, but there were times when Seymour felt the need for solitude and his friend respected that; in fact, he relied on Sam’s friendship more than he realised and the Myers family provided a support network that was invaluable. Mrs Myers treated Seymour like an unofficial member of her family and encouraged him to go over Sam’s homework with him, so that he kept up to date with his schoolwork, as much as possible. This was invaluable as however determined he was to keep his family together, Seymour never lost sight of his own ambitions, and, quickly realising without a proper education himself he’d never be able to achieve them or even improve their situation, he enrolled at evening classes and began to study late into the night.
There were times when Jayson or Lacena came down to start breakfast and found him asleep over his textbooks at the kitchen table.
“You can’t go on like this, Sey,” Lacena said on one such occasion, as she placed a cup of tea beside him, while he rubbed sleep from his eyes.
“Yes I can. It won’t be for ever, Lacey; just until the babies are settled at school.”
She hugged him. “But it isn’t fair that if all falls on you, Sey. You’ve always been sure of what you wanted to do when you’d grown up, but you ain’t gonna be able to do it if you have us to hold you back.”
He took her by the arms and looked at her with a fierce determination. “They’ll split us up if I don’t make a go of this, Lacey. I won’t let that happen. Mum and Dad raised us as a family, and we’re going to stay together.”
“Sure – we’re going to stay together, Sey. We all want that.”
“Then you and Jayce must help me. The twins too, when they’re a bit older. We can do this, Lacena. We can keep our family together and all achieve what we want to with our lives. It just means a little hard work for now.”
She hugged him. “I know, Sey; but you gotta cut yourself some slack too, you know? Without you, we’re lost.”
He nodded and hugged her back before going upstairs to wash and get ready for work, calling out a ‘good morning’ to the kids as they tumbled out of their beds and down to breakfast.
Gradually, the burden of caring for the family became easier; Jayson and Lacena were able to take on more of the responsibilities. Although Seymour insisted they only do what they could without adversely affecting their studies, even that freed up more time for him to pursue his own education. Miss Adrian gave him extra help when she could, and Sam and Jayce would go over what they’d been learning on Sunday afternoons after church.
His dream had always been to go to University and study music, but he knew there was no way he could make a good enough living at it to care for the babies, so, after discovering he had a natural aptitude for the subject, he had applied to Kingston University to do telecommunications and technology, adding a diploma in music as his secondary course.
His grandparents paid the fare for him to go to Jamaica for the University interview and, dressed in his best suit and fired up for anything, his optimism and strength of character convinced the academics that despite his dropping out of formal schooling, he was just the sort of student they were looking for. They gave him a provisional offer; but it still depended on the results from his formal exams.
Ms Adrian told him how to enrol on the courses and get a place to sit the exams. She offered to help him fill in the forms, but worried about finding the fees, he politely declined.
Aunt Cath found him sitting in the kitchen one afternoon as she dropped by to deliver some groceries.
“You all right, Sey?” she asked, as his reply to her greeting was distracted.
“Oh sure. I was just trying to work out how I can find the money to cover the exam board fees, Aunt Cath. I might be able to get another job, I guess…”
“You will do no such thing, Seymour Griffiths. If you need money for that, I can give it to you. There’s such a thing as being too independent, my boy.”
“I can’t expect you to-”
“No, you can’t expect it, but I can offer and you can accept. Look, I don’t have much, Sey, but I’m not so badly paid that I can’t help you out now and again. You’ve done more for this family than you ought to’ve been expected to. Sometimes, though, even you could do with some help, right?”
“I guess so, Aunt Cath.”
She hugged him. “Now go and catch some sunshine while I put these away and start some food cooking.”
He smiled at her, and she caught her breath to see his resemblance to her late sister. He ran out into the sunshine and she sighed, turning back to her work.
When the time came, Aunt Cath paid for him to sit for his exams, as she’d promised, and after an intense spell of cramming and the energy sapping tension of sitting each exam in quick succession, Seymour had done all he could and he waited with trepidation to see how he’d performed.
For the first time since the air crash, Seymour felt able to take a holiday. Jayson had started a summer job and Lacena had begun helping with a summer play-scheme organised by the church, which also brought in a small wage. Deon and Rohan, now twelve and eager to do their bit for the family, found part-time work and eleven-year-old Merlene ran the house, cooking, washing and cleaning, much as Lacey had done before her.
Seymour went on long walks along the coast and into the mountains, unconsciously saying goodbye to the only home he’d ever known. Whatever the results of his exams were, he’d decided he had to leave Trinidad and get a full-time job with prospects, otherwise he’d be left looking after the youngest ones while the others moved on, and it would be too late for him.
The day before the exam results were due, he and Jayce went walking along the beach sharing a small bottle of beer, and he said, “I’m planning to leave Trinidad, whatever happens with the University. If I don’t get in, I’ve been thinking about joining the World Navy – maybe get myself an apprenticeship.” He looked at his brother. “Could you cope with that?”
Jayce gave a shrug. “I guess so. You’ve done more than your share, Sey, we wouldn’t still be together if it weren’t for you. You know Lacey’s thinking of applying for teacher training here in Port of Spain, and now the twins have settled down a bit, they’ll be able to bring some money in.” He smiled. “I guess we’re better off than we thought, but you know we’ll all miss you like Hell, don’t you?”
“I won’t be going far and there are always planes to bring me home when necessary.”
Jayson shuddered. “You know, I still can’t bring myself to consider flying anywhere. I guess I’ll have to one day, if I want to get off the island too.”
“What happened to Mama and Dad was an accident. A tragic accident, but still only an accident,” Seymour reasoned.
“That why you’re thinking about the navy?” Jayce teased.
They laughed, but there was an undercurrent of sadness in their amusement. The events of that day still cast a long shadow over their lives.
“What do you want to do, Jayce?”
The young man shrugged again. “Haven’t given it much thought. I kinda like your idea of the navy; I’ll never be as academic as you, Sey, but I guess they do take ordinary mortals and I could apply for one of those apprenticeships too.”
“Come off it, you’re as good as me any day.”
Jayson smiled good-naturedly and didn’t argue; but he knew that, although above average academically, he wasn’t as good as his older brother, even given Seymour’s unconventional education. “I kinda like the idea of submarines, myself. I like the sea,” he explained.
“We may both end up there then,” his brother replied, handing him the last mouthful of beer in their bottle.
“Yeah, that’d be something, wouldn’t it?” Jayson said laconically before he drained the bottle.
They walked on in companionable silence, each busy with their thoughts and hopes, until Seymour suddenly stopped and clasped his surprised brother to his heart. He valued Jayson’s quiet, unassuming support and the level-headed pragmatism with which he coped with the problems life presented to them. For a split-second Jayson stood rigid in the embrace and then relaxed and hugged Seymour back; they were so attuned to each other that there were times when speech was superfluous.
Then of one accord they started back towards the house.
The next day the post arrived early for once and all the kids were still in the house. Merlene brought Seymour the envelope and placed it in his hand.
He stared at it, feeling like a rabbit caught in headlights.
“Open it, Sey,” she whispered.
He slid his thumb under the flap and started to rip the paper, but the sudden intake of breath from the audience who had followed Merlene was too much to bear and with a groan, he turned and raced upstairs to slam the door of the bedroom.
Father Andrew was walking along the street towards the Griffiths house at a brisk pace. He knew the results were out today and he’d received his daily post already, so he wanted to know how Seymour had done: the kid deserved some luck. He heard the noise from the house before he was half way down the street.
The smiling faces of the neighbours answered his unspoken question, and when the lookout alerted Seymour to his approach, that young man raced from the house to fling his arms around the priest.
“I did it, I did, it!” he chanted. “I’m going to Jamaica!”
Seymour lugged his suitcase up the final staircase to the top floor apartment of the student accommodation block, and rummaged for the key. Behind him, Deon and Rohan brought up the rest of his things and behind them eight-year-old Gracie had the responsible job of carrying his guitar.
“It not a bad place,” Deon said, as they spilled into the single-roomed apartment. “But it awful expensive for what you get, Sey.”
“Sure, but this is Jamaica. So it is gonna be more expensive than Trinidad, isn’t it?” his brother explained.
“Can’t see why,” Deon replied, as he studied the view from the large window that opened out onto a small concrete balcony. “S’only an island like Trinidad; what it got that we don’t?”
“It Jamaica - you heard what Sey said - and it more expensive because it is, that’s why,” Rohan responded, pushing his brother out onto the balcony. “Besides, Sey got the penthouse…”
Seymour shook his head in pitying exasperation of their antics. He knew that, although the twins always bickered between themselves, they were good friends and they’d grown up to be sensible and responsible, or he’d never have risked leaving them in charge with Jayson and Lacena.
Gracie was bouncing on the narrow single bed.
“Get off there and you can help me make it,” he instructed her, and with a rueful smile she clambered down and hugged him.
He left Deon and Grace to unpack his clothes into the built-in wardrobe and drawers, while he and Rohan went to the local shops and market they’d passed by on their bus journey from the airport, to buy some food.
“At least shopping on a budget is second nature to us all now,” Seymour said ruefully, as he surveyed the prices of the goods on offer.
“You only gonna be eating every other day at these prices,” Rohan agreed, with a rueful look at his brother, “and we gonna be sending you food parcels from Trinidad... I don’t know if Lacey’s upside-down-pineapple-cake travels well though; it might get stopped at customs as a weapon of mass destruction.”
The brothers shared a cheerful smile and got busy seeking the best bargains to take back to the apartment. They all shared the food sitting out on the balcony on cushions and then they went to look around the area. There were plenty of other new students arriving, many from other Caribbean islands and everyone was friendly. They also got talking to some returning students, who offered advice and information about local facilities and the best places to shop. Seymour was relieved to feel that he’d be able to fit in well here.
The youngsters stayed the night to help him settle in; the twins had their sleeping bags on the floor, Gracie took the bed, and Seymour slept on the only armchair. All of them were so tired by the day’s exertions that they slept well, despite the uncomfortable accommodation.
They woke with the morning sun streaming in through the un-curtained window and realised that they’d only have time for a quick breakfast before they needed to start back to the airport on the bus.
“You don’t need to come with us, Sey,” Deon said, as he rolled up his sleeping bag. “We got all we need and you don’t wanna waste your money going back and forth. We can say goodbye here as well as there.”
“You sure you’ll be okay?” Seymour asked from the tiny kitchenette where he was making sandwiches.
“You worry too much,” Rohan said, grinning. “We can cope, Big Brother.”
“It’s a bad habit of mine,” Seymour admitted, packing the bread and fruit into a holdall and giving it to Grace. “I know you’ll all be sensible and help Jayce and Lacey.”
Rohan came to his side and hugged him. “We’re with you in dis, man. Dis family sticks together and we won’t be responsible for no bother. You got our word on it.”
Deon nodded and Grace added her promise. Seymour’s answering smile revealed his confidence and pride in them.
“Call me when you get back home, okay,” he shouted after them from the balcony as they trooped down to the bus stop, pausing to wave before they vanished from his sight.
He turned back to look at the untidy room and couldn’t help the mix of relief and fear that flooded into him. He had taken the biggest step he could imagine, leaving home and family to start a new life for himself. He was too far away to turn to them for help if he couldn’t cope.
He was alone for the very first time.
Alone: it was a strange feeling. There had been so few occasions when he’d had the house to himself, and even then it was in the knowledge that the others would be back in a few hours. Now he was in a strange room, on a new and exciting island, with the prospect of devoting himself full-time to learning and preparing himself for a future – one that held unlimited promise. But before he could make a start on his personal journey to the rosy future, he needed to get the place as he wanted it.
He quickly tidied up the mess, washed the few dishes and prepared himself something to eat later. He finished his unpacking and stowed away his few personal possessions. Then he sat on the balcony for a while, tuning his guitar and playing a few of his favourite pieces. By then he was hungry and so he ate his simple meal. And just as he began to wonder how he would fill the rest of his day and what the others were doing, his personal phone rang and there was Rohan, assuring him they were back safely. He spoke to others, and assured them he was settled in, shared a laugh with Jayce and promised to keep them informed of what was happening to him. Merlene signed off by wishing him all their love and he could only smile at her as he realised how much he was going to miss them all.
The long evening lay ahead and, determined not to mope, he settled to read the College enrolment instructions again – although he knew them by heart. Once the semester started he would be so busy there wouldn’t be time to feel lonely or homesick.
He slipped between the sheets of his new bed that evening and lay staring up at the strange patterns of the night on the white ceiling, a broad grin on his face: for the first time he felt he was his own person.
Seymour applied himself to his studies with the dedication and determination that characterised all his actions. He found the courses he’d applied for fascinating and quickly became involved in them, proving himself to be an excellent student with a quick and lively intelligence. He made friends easily amongst his fellow students, and his love of music gave him an introduction into the easy-going social life of the campus. He joined a variety of social societies ranging in topics from music to astronomy and quickly found himself in a relationship with a pretty Jamaican girl called Donna, who was studying music.
The weeks flew by and it was really only when his friends started to make preparations to go home for the Christmas holidays that Seymour succumbed to homesickness for the familiar surroundings of Trinidad; but he knew he couldn’t go back home for Christmas, he simply didn’t have enough money to spare for the fare.
It was during his weekly video call home that he explained to Jayce and the others that he wouldn’t be back and why. Everyone protested that he must come and they’d find the money somehow – but he refused their offer.
“You need to keep what money you have and have yourself a good Christmas,” he insisted. “Besides, if I stay here I’ll be able to make some money to cover next term. I’ve finally managed to get an evening job at one of the big tourist hotels, as a bartender, and the manager said he’d let me sing too, on the days when they didn’t have a cabaret booked. I should make some good tips – these jobs are much sought after, you know? If I let them down I won’t last long with them.”
“But, Seymour…” Merlene wailed, “We’ve always had Christmas together!”
“I know, Merle; but we have to be sensible about this. I need to earn some money to pay for this apartment and my living expenses. The bursary I have doesn’t go very far and this hotel job could lead to others… I’m sorry I can’t make it and I will miss you all, but I’ll call you – I promise.”
“You’re the boss, Sey,” Jayson said, quieting the remaining protests with a stern glance. He could tell that it was a difficult conversation for his brother and wasn’t prepared to let it get any worse for him. “Just don’t overdo it and make time to have some rest yourself, do you hear?”
“I will do. I promise, Jayce. Look, I’ll call next week, in the afternoon. Give my love to the family and all our friends and take care of yourselves, everyone.” He closed the call down before the misery in the faces of his siblings made him change his mind, glad to think that Jayson had understood his decision, even if he hadn’t approved of it.
As he had told the others, he knuckled down to work at the hotel over the holiday season, putting in as many hours as he could behind the bar and, when he proved to be popular with the guests, performing several cabaret spots. Apart from going to Church, and spending Christmas day with Donna’s family, he spent his the rest of his spare time researching the projects that had been assigned as course work and writing up course assignments, and Christmas passed without too much anguish.
Lectures had started again by the time it was his 19th birthday, three weeks after Christmas. He woke early as usual and lay looking at the now familiar ceiling as he thought of the day ahead. Donna had arranged with all of his college friends to go out to a bar after their lectures finished, and he’d taken the evening off work. It was going to be a relaxing day, as his own lectures started after lunch and there were only two of them.
He got up and made himself a leisurely breakfast, deciding to wait for the post to be delivered before going out. He saw the mailman arrive and heard the bells ringing in the flats to notify them of the new delivery. His rang and he went downstairs to collect the envelopes - two birthday cards, one from Aunt Cath and one from his grandparents - and one flyer. He felt a deep sadness that nothing had arrived from home. It was if his brothers and sisters had forgotten him, although he knew that couldn’t be the case.
I guess they’ve taken my advice to heart and they’re saving their money? Well, that’s sensible – very sensible. Maybe I’ll call them later and see they’re okay, he told himself, feeling forlorn.
He went back to his apartment and was conscientiously putting together what he needed for the afternoon’s lectures when he heard a commotion on the stairs.
A babble of excited voices was coming closer. It stopped outside his door on the narrow landing.
Then he heard it, the sound of eight young voices, blending together with practised expertise.
“Happy Birthday to you.
Happy Birthday to you.
Happy Birthday, dear Seymour.
Happy Birthday to you!”
He’d thrown the door open long before they reached the end of the chorus.
There, crowded on the landing and the top steps were his family: laughing at his surprise, surrounding him a virtual blanket of love and affection, and reaching out to hug and kiss him.
“How did you all manage to get here?” he asked Jayson, when the hubbub had subsided and they were crowded into the small apartment.
“It was Merlene’s idea, she said we should all ask for money towards tickets to Jamaica for our Christmas presents so we could come and see you here – after all, not all of us have seen where you’re living, Sey.”
Seymour looked gratefully at his favourite sister, the quiet, sensitive one who reminded him so much of their mother that it hurt sometimes.
Merlene smiled and came to hug him. “I couldn’t bear the thought that we wouldn’t see you ‘till the summer break came, Sey. We’ve all been saving up what we can. Even Sonny did chores for the neighbours to earn some money and put it in the pot – but we didn’t think we’d have enough in time and so we never told you, in case we couldn’t make it here. Then, right after Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, Father Andrew announced that the congregation had all contributed to a special fund and so we knew we’d have enough money for us all to come visit, and stay in a hotel over the weekend too! It was like a miracle, Sey!”
“It sure is,” he agreed.
“It was so hard not to tell you,” Lacena added, coming to join them. “That’s why we haven’t called as much since Christmas – we knew we’d blurt it out and spoil the surprise!”
Sonny stepped forward with a big envelope in his hand. “I made you this, Sey.”
That brought an avalanche of cards, including one signed by almost everyone from the church, and presents – in the form of local delicacies and food cooked by their neighbours, to bring him a taste of home.
“There is so much goodness in this world,” Merlene said, as they sat around eating the presents he shared out amongst them all.
“Yes,” he agreed. “We must all remember that despite everything that’s happened and the terrible loss we’ve had, it is a wonderful world…”
For the next few months Seymour devoted himself to his studies. He had less time for music now, apart from his cabaret work, as he was increasingly involved with the telecommunication projects that were part of his course. Donna and he gradually drifted apart, becoming friends rather than lovers, and when she told him she had met someone else, he was relieved rather than angry; at least there was one less person’s well-being he had to worry about, although, to be fair, everything seemed to be fine on Trinidad and the children were all doing well at their studies or careers.
So he was surprised when Jayson arrived unexpectedly at the apartment one Saturday afternoon in June. He knew that Seymour would be at home, resting up before an evening working at the hotel, and he apologised for disturbing him.
“Hey, cut that out, Jayce. I’m always delighted to see you. Why didn’t you tell me you were coming? There’s nothing wrong, is there?”
“No, everyone’s fine and they send their love, of course. They’re looking forward to seeing you when you take your vacation in a month or so.”
“I’m looking forward to seeing them, too. I miss home, Jayce, more than I can tell you.” To cover his emotion, Seymour busied himself making a cool drink for them both, and he handed Jayson the glass before he sat and asked for the news from home.
Jayson was most forthcoming. “Sonny came top of his class at school, Kendon made the cricket team and the twins both have summer jobs: Deon at the refinery and Rohan in a supermarket. Gracie’s got a solo singing spot in the Church festival and Merlene won a prize for a poem she wrote – it got printed in the newspaper. And Lacey’s got a boyfriend.”
Seymour chuckled. “You don’t say? Is it serious?”
“You know Lacey – everything’s serious.”
“The poor guy!”
The brothers grinned at each other and Seymour thought a little wistfully that his siblings were growing up without him; he hoped he would always be as much a part of the family as he had been before he left home. “And what about you, Jayce? Have you just come for a holiday, or do you have an interview at the University?” he asked.
“No,” Jayson replied with a shake of his head. “I’ve finally come to a decision, Sey. Remember we spoke about careers in the World Navy? I got to liking the idea more all the time and I signed up. I’ve been accepted as a cadet, with a chance to try out for the submarine service if I pass the initial training. I report to their base here – on Jamaica - on Monday, but they’ll probably ship us out to San Diego soon enough. That’s where they do the majority of the training.”
Seymour was rather taken aback; Jayson wasn’t usually so decisive and he had always preferred to discuss such important decisions with his older brother before committing himself. He studied his brother and noticed for the first time the air of maturity and self-confidence Jayce exuded.
“Well, good for you,” he said finally, genuine warmth in his voice. “They’re damn lucky to have you.” He leapt to his feet and so did Jayson and they hugged, laughing.
“I was worried you’d be mad at me,” Jayson confessed, when they sat down again.
Seymour was astonished. “Why would I be?”
“For leaving the kids; but Lacey said they’d cope and really the twins have settled down and they know their responsibilities.”
“I’m many things, Jayce, but I’m not a hypocrite – I hope,” Seymour replied. “I left too – I expected you and Lacey to take all the responsibility, don’t forget that.”
“Sey, you did more than your share of it all when you were still in Trinidad. We couldn’t have stayed together, but for you. No one begrudged you your chance to get the best education; you deserved it.”
“I’m proud of you,” Seymour said, “and I know Mum and Dad would have been too. You’re a credit to them, Jayson. I know you’ll do brilliantly in the Navy.”
“The whole family is a class act!” Jayson exclaimed, and they laughed again.
“Do they other know you’ve arrived here, safely?” Seymour asked. “Then after we’ve called them I’ll show you the night life – I have a performance at 9:30, but after that the weekend’s our own. The Griffithses are going to paint the town red!”
The next time the whole family was reunited was in Kingston, for Seymour’s graduation ceremony. They’d been planning it for some time: Jayson took time off from the Navy and the others came from Port of Spain dressed in their finery and bursting with pride and happiness. When Seymour was awarded a special prize for his work on a prototype pocket radio telescope, his family cheered him to the rafters. They celebrated at the hotel where Seymour worked, the friendly manager giving them a substantial discount as his part of the revelry.
The youngsters were enjoying themselves on the open-air dance floor, when Lacena asked Seymour what his plans were now.
“I’ve given it a lot of thought,” he admitted. “I’ve been offered a research post here, but it pays next to nothing and I know I should be contributing to the kitty, so I’m not going to take it.”
“You can if you want to,” Lacey protested. “We’re doing okay, Sey.”
“Lacey, that’s very sweet of you, but I know that now you’re at teacher training school you can’t be bringing in much, and even with the money the kids can earn there’s a deficit and it isn’t fair to expect Jayce to turn over so much of what he earns. And you don’t have to tell me he doesn’t – I know he does. Time I was earning too, and I’ve got myself a job.”
“Doing what?” Lacena asked suspiciously, prepared to protest further if it seemed that Seymour was sacrificing his talents doing something unworthy of his capabilities.
Seymour glanced at Jayson, who already knew of his plans. “The World Government is setting up a new organisation: the World Aquanaut Security Patrol, based in California at a specially constructed place called Marineville. I’m joining the organisation as a hydrophones operator – that’s like a navigator in the submarines. It’s a good job to be in at the start of the new service, and there will be plenty of opportunities for promotion.”
Lacena glanced at Jayce and back to Seymour. “You two are plotting something,” she accused them.
Jayson grinned. “I’m being transferred to Marineville too, Lacey. We’ll be together – not in the same sub, but at the same base.”
“We’re going to share quarters, save money and live frugally,” Seymour explained. “Once we’re established, that should double the money we can send home.”
“Yeah?” She grinned back. “That’s great that you’ll be together, guys! If you’re sure it’s what you want, Seymour?”
“I’m sure. I’ve given it a good deal of thought. The World Government is going putting a lot of money and effort into exploring the seabed around the coasts - they reckon there’s a lot of potential and they want to exploit the resources. The WASPs are going to be pretty high profile, surveying and protecting undersea installations-”
“What from?” Lacena asked teasingly. “Mermaids?”
“You can joke,” Jayson replied, “but there are still enough disgruntled terrorist organisations around the globe who might think taking a pot shot at a deep sea installation is a good idea. There will be strike submarines in the new service and that’s where I want to serve.”
“There are going to be plenty of chances for me to use my telecommunication skills and the possibility of seeing active service, like Jayce,” Seymour added.
“Then I guess I’m pleased for you – for both of you! You’ve been hankering to get into submarines, Jayce.”
Jayson smiled. “It’s the coming service, Lacey; with the need to explore the seabed for minerals and farm fish for food, submarines will become more important to the World Government. I think we’re going to be in the right place and the right time.”
“And because of that, the world is going to be our oyster,” Seymour joked. Both of his siblings groaned and then burst out laughing.
The basic training course at San Diego was intense and there were several cadets who dropped out along the way, but Seymour did well, gaining a commendation for his knowledge of communications and hydrophonic work. As one of the top qualifiers, he was given the option of going to sea or seeking a land-based post, as the WASPs were beginning to expand their communication network relays to ensure adequate coverage even in the mid-oceans and at depth. Seymour gave it some consideration but finally decided that experience of the sea-going service would be more likely to count in his favour later in his career and he chose to apply for the marine service.
He took time to go home after he graduated and before his posting came through.
He was relaxing in the garden when the orders arrived. He had been posted to one of the Sunfish survey submarines, the Mola 3, and while disappointed not to get one of the super-sleek attack vessels, he decided it was for the best. The survey submarines would give him chance to become as proficient as he could in using the hydrophones and building on his communications expertise. He was not afraid of active service, far from it: he even craved a little excitement now and again, but his ultimate ambitions lay in a different direction from Jayson’s. The captaincy of a sleek attack submarine did not represent the pinnacle of career success to him, he had his sights set on climbing the terrestrial promotion ladder and he itched to get his hands on the top of the range communications housed in the Marineville Control Tower.
He reported to his new commander, Captain John Reilly, and quickly settled in to his new post with ease. He had no problem with adapting to the ship-board routine - a life spent in a small house with eight other boisterous children had left him preternaturally tidy and organised. He could even cope with the fact that privacy was an extremely rare commodity on board, something most new crewmembers struggled with.
The assignment was to complete an extensive and detailed map of the continental shelf off the west coast of north and south America, and he found the work fascinating, although it was tiring as it required intense concentration to correlate the sonar readings with the various other reports from the wide range of mapping techniques being used.
When the sub docked, Seymour wanted nothing more than to relax, and there was plenty of opportunity to do that in Marineville. The base had several nightclubs and restaurants for the personnel to use and, by and large, the personnel were young and lively. One of the smaller clubs regularly held a folk music evening, and Seymour became a popular performer there. At the end of his allotted show time, he would make up calypsos from suggestions shouted out by the audience, to reflect the latest news or gossip and that always had his audience laughing and applauding enthusiastically.
He saw less of Jayson than he’d have liked, mostly as their duty rosters were not aligned, but that did mean that each of them had their shared quarters to themselves often enough to conduct their amours in seclusion. Jayson was involved with a pretty Japanese-American girl, Hana, who worked in the Control Tower’s administration section, and Seymour suspected that it was getting very serious between them so that Jayson might well be the first one of the family to get married.
For himself he had plenty of girlfriends, although there was no one ‘special’ amongst them and he did sometimes wonder if he would ever find someone special enough to share the kind of loving relationship his parents had enjoyed with.
Every so often Jayce’s leave did coincide with his and then they’d hit the nightclubs together, often in the company of their chosen partners.
Jayson was gaining a reputation as an effective submariner. He’d been promoted since he joined the WASPs and was now second-in-command of one of the large Clam patrol subs. Seymour knew that his brother’s eyes were set on a posting to the new Stingray attack vessels, currently undergoing sea trials under the direction of Lieutenant Commander Brad Holden.
Holden was another ex-World Navy man, and he was highly respected by Marineville’s commander, the irascible Sam Shore. The competition to join his crew was fierce, but Jayson knew he’d come close to making the squad and there was another selection board due in a few weeks, as Holden prepared for the second series of sea trials with a fresh crew.
“Normally the Stingray subs will only have a crew of two or three,” Jayce explained to Seymour over sandwiches and a beer, one lunchtime. “But for the trials they’ve installed a load of kit to take readings and measurements, and some brand new weapons paraphernalia destined to be installed in every Stingray, if it makes the grade. Even if I don’t make the final crew selection for the Stingray fleet, I’d have gained invaluable experience with the very latest gear. That’s got to be worth something when it comes to the promotion boards.”
“Yes, I can see that it would,” Seymour agreed. He paused thoughtfully and then said, “Maybe I should volunteer for the test crew myself?”
Jayson looked surprised. “You don’t have the combat experience, Sey; I doubt Holden would take you.”
“Maybe, maybe not. He’s not out on a combat patrol, is he? He’s doing sea trials, and, if what he wants is expert hydrophone operators and technicians – well, I’m his man! I’ve had more experience on hydrophones than you’ve had hot dinners, Jayce.”
Jayson gave a rueful grimace. “Sure, I know that and I guess they might need technicians to read all the sensor logs. Maybe it is worth a try, then.”
“Hey, I don’t want to tread on your toes,” Seymour asserted, seeing the uncertainty that lingered on his brother’s face. “Besides, I don’t suppose Captain Reilly would let me go. We’re about to head out into deeper water on our next survey, mapping the trenches inside the andersite line, starting with the Peru-Chile Trench.”
“You’re turning into a marine geologist,” Jayson teased.
“There are worse things to be,” his brother retorted cheerfully. “Listen, Jayce, you were damn close to making the crew for the first trials; if Holden’s half as good as they say he is, he’ll take you immediately.”
Jayson gave a shrug: half-hopeful, half-rueful. “I’ll give it my best shot and maybe I’ll make the grade, Sey.”
Seymour smiled, he felt sure that when the trials were over, Jayson was going to be one of the contenders for a posting to the new fleet. It certainly looked as if both of the Griffiths brothers were going to be important players in the new service, albeit in their separate ways.
Seymour was at sea when Jayson’s message reached him. He read the text message and sighed.
‘Holden says I am first reserve and will def go next test as crew. Jayce’’
He knew his brother would be disappointed, but there was still hope that he’d be able to fulfil his ambitions.
He texted back: ‘Good news. Well done, bro. Crew on the last trials stand a better chance of permanent postings! Where next? Sey.’
Jayson didn’t reply immediately, but later that day he sent a message that he had been posted to the Seaprobe submarine that was about to patrol the mid-Pacific and so he would be at sea before Seymour returned to Marineville. The message concluded:
‘BTW, word on the streets is that the tower is going to be looking for a new comms officer – Phones Sheridan is moving to subs. It pays well and you get to keep your feet dry. J.’
Seymour laughed, but nevertheless he took the time to forward his expression of interest to the Appointments Office.
The Mola 3 arrived back in Marineville and the crew had a 72-hour layoff before they set out again. Seymour wandered back to his appointment having stocked up on fresh groceries, and found a message waiting for him, asking him to contact the Appointments Office for more information about the Control Tower vacancy. It was too late to do anything about it now, so he put the note to one side and made a note to call them in the morning.
He cooked and ate a simple meal and put some instrumental music on his music system, taking a small bottle of beer to the armchair by the window, where he sat enjoying the last rays of the setting sun while he read the letters from home.
The frantic drumbeats of Marineville’s Action Stations Alert woke him from his doze. He looked out of the window and saw that in the distance the ground to air missiles were being raised into the launch position. Sirens wailed as the electric vehicles that served the accommodation blocks rushed towards the underground car parks and the window and door bolts of his apartment shot home.
There was a slight jolt and then, amid a whining of gears, the building started to sink into the underground bunker designed to withstand even nuclear attacks.
Seymour scuttled across the room and switched on the base’s emergency communication service, to discover what was happening.
“Marineville, I am calling battle stations!” Commander Shore’s gruff voice echoed over the speaker. “There has been an unprovoked attack on a World Navy Vessel and our attack submarines are being launched. Stingray is on manoeuvres in the vicinity and will investigate. All duty personnel report to their emergency battle stations and remain on red alert until the all clear sounds. Everyone else, remain in your quarters and do not use your communication devices – we need to keep all transmission frequencies clear! Battle stations! Battle stations!”
By then the building had come to a halt and the reinforced doors had closed above it. The emergency lighting was on and outside the huge underground bunker was also lit by the glimmer of emergency lights.
Seymour knew his submarine wasn’t an attack vessel and would not be needed, but he was part of the base’s emergency crew and so he grabbed his uniform jacket and cap and raced for the exit. He flagged down an electric truck and hitched a ride to the District Communications Station, where he was admitted by a nervous security guard.
Lieutenant George Lee Sheridan was already there. He glanced up as Seymour entered and gave a brief smile.
“Sure pleased to see you, Seymour,” he drawled. “Kinda thought I might be the only man around.”
“Are all the networks functioning, Phones?” Seymour asked, taking off his cap and reaching for a pair of the high-tech headphones that lay on the next communication desk to Sheridan’s.
“On the base we have strength 9.5 and in the coastal waters, strength 5. Beyond that it’s hit and miss,” the older man replied, as he continued to route transmission networks through booster relays. “I can’t get nuthin’ stronger than a 3 and in some zones, there’s nuthin’ at all.”
“Do we know what’s happened? The emergency message only said that a World Navy vessel had been attacked – was it an air attack?”
“I’m not sure… Stingray’s the nearest vessel – she’s out on sea trials – but her transmissions keep breaking up.”
“Let me see what I can do; you keep on trying and I’ll work on a booster for the signal relays…”
“P.W.O.R.,” Phones said briskly, and the pair of them worked on in silence, their attention focused on what they could make out from the faint and disjointed messages coming over their headphones.
“I’ve got something,” Seymour announced. “Channel 9… it’s Stingray….” He opened the link for his colleague to connect.
“Marineville calling Stingray. Come in, Stingray,” Sheridan said loudly. “Can you hear me? Come in, Stingray.”
“Marineville, this is Stingray…”
“Gee, am I glad to hear you,” Phones said. “What’s going on?” he asked, as Seymour alerted the Main Tower they had contact.
“Unidentified underwater vessel has opened fire… we have casualties. Commander Holden is hurt – he’s unconscious.”
“This is Commander Shore – how is the Seaprobe?”
Seymour drew a sharp breath – Jayson’s vessel!
“We came to help after the vessel attacked them,” the Stingray crewman explained. “We were attacked too. I’ve only just managed to get the comms back online, Commander. I’m not getting any response from Seaprobe.”
“Did you see the hostile vessel?” Shore asked urgently. “Is it still in the area?”
The reply was faint and badly distorted: “It looked like a giant fish – a mechanical fish…”
The connection crackled and broke. Shore cursed.
“Working on it, Commander,” Seymour reassured him immediately.
“I’m trying to raise Seaprobe, sir” Sheridan explained. “Their communication network isn’t as powerful as Stingray’s so if it was damaged their range could be very limited.”
“Keep trying, Phones. Meanwhile, I’ll send help. Atlanta, alert Troy Tempest and tell him to take the Sailfish Rescue Flotilla out there as soon as he can – maximum speed.”
The Control Tower closed the channel.
“Did he say what I thought he did?” Phones asked, as both men continued to try and restore the communication network. “Sounded like ‘a mechanical fish’ to me.”
“Me too,” Seymour replied. He hesitated and then blurted out: “Phones, Jayson’s on Seaprobe…”
“Yeah, so I heard.” Sheridan took a second to glance at the young man beside him and give a sympathetic smile. “My guess is their communication relay is damaged…”
“Yes, that’s the most likely explanation,” Seymour murmured gratefully.
“Stingray didn’t report that Seaprobe was in any danger…” Sheridan continued. “Let’s keep trying to get in contact and we’ll find out soon enough.”
“Sailfish 4 to Communication Tower, launched and heading out towards the danger zone, rate 7.5.”
“Great, Troy, receiving you strength 6.8… keep in touch,” Phones replied. He turned to Seymour. “Troy Tempest is a good man; if there’s anything needing to be done, he’s the man to do it.”
“I just hope there’s nothing for him to do…” Seymour whispered and turned his full concentration back to his work as if his own life depended on it.
They buried Jayson Griffiths in the plot next to the memorial to his parents, back home on Trinidad. The whole family was there, plus Hana and a few colleagues from the WASPs, as well as his friends and neighbours from the island. Watching the flower-laden coffin descend into the earth was almost too much for the family to bear and Marlene stood next to Seymour, clutching his hand as if she feared what might happen to him if she ever let go.
Seymour experienced the same numbing sense of detachment he’d felt when his parents died. He moved through the days, eating, speaking - and presumably making sense – but all without any real sense of reality. Jayson had been so young, so full of life and with such plans and ambitions that it was unbearable to think of the lost potential. All they had was the service medal he’d been awarded for saving the lives of his fellow submariners, while he lay in hospital on a life-support machine, oblivious to everything.
The attack on the Sunprobe had caused a great deal of damage and Jayson, without regard to his own safety, had led the rescuers into the worst damaged area, taking command and ensuring that those who were mobile helped the wounded to get away. He had been closing down the systems to prevent fire breaking out, when there had been an explosion and realising that the whole vessel was doomed unless the watertight door was activated, Jayson had stayed behind to close it manually.
He was still alive when the Sailfish flotilla arrived and Tempest had done all he could to get him out and back to Marineville in time. For the next few days Jayson had hovered between life and death, but the extent of his injuries was too great and he had died just as dawn broke over Marineville on the fifth day. Seymour had been at his bedside with Hana and they had wept together over the body of the man they had both loved.
Commander Shore had arranged for the shipping of the body back to Trinidad and Jayson had been buried with full military honours. Not that that was any consolation to his grieving family.
Two days later, Troy Tempest flew Seymour back to Marineville with the other officers.
“Sub-Lieutenant Griffiths, I need to know if you still want your name to be considered for the post in the Control Tower?” Commander Shore asked Seymour on his return.
Before Seymour could respond, Shore continued, “Lieutenant Sheridan is moving into active service with Captain Tempest; they will take command of the first operational Stingray. Holden’s going to be out of commission for some time with the back injury he got during the attack and I want whoever made that attack tracked down and brought to justice as soon as possible! Stingray had all but completed her trials anyway and she’s ready to go. Tempest and Sheridan are experienced enough to handle her - and we need Stingray operational. But Sheridan’s departure leaves a gap in the Operational Command team – a mighty big gap – and an opportunity for a reorganisation. You know how much work we’re doing to improve deep sea communication links and relay stations, and how involved Sheridan was with that?”
“Well, there’s a need for someone to co-ordinate the final stages of the program, ensuring both ends meet in the middle, you might say. So, I propose to create three new lieutenants; one will be Lieutenant John Fisher and the other will be Lieutenant Atlanta Shore and they will be mostly based in the Command Tower. I would like the third officer to be you.”
Seymour blinked rapidly as he took this in. “I’m not afraid of active service, sir,” he protested, “I’m more than willing to take part in tracking down the perpetrators of that cowardly attack.”
Shore gave a deep sigh. “I know, Lieutenant. I also know that you are the best communications expert I have. Sheridan has the experience, but you have the expertise. I see your role as being part Control Tower based and part active service. You will be responsible for ensuring that all links are active and robust and, eventually, there will be a dedicated team reporting to you as well. If this unknown enemy is out to prevent the WASPS from doing their job effectively, you will be in the firing line as well.”
He paused and studied the sombre young man standing before him, cap under his arm and a slight frown on his normally good-natured face.
“What do you say, Seymour?” he asked.
“I say ‘Yes’, Commander Shore.”
“Good man! Report to Marineville Tower on Monday at 0800, and we’ll arrange for the necessary training; until then, get some rest and… and sort out what you have to.”
“Thank you, sir.”
There were advantages to being based at Marineville for the majority of the time, Seymour soon realised. His family could get hold of him easily - and following Jayson’s death they did so frequently – and he had the support of his closest friends to help him though the dark days that followed the funeral.
He kept in touch with Hana and they organised a memorial service on the base for Jayson. It was well attended, which only confirmed Seymour’s impression that his brother had been both respected and liked by his colleagues.
About three months after Jayson’s death, he finished the intensive training Commander Shore had arranged and decided to have a quiet night at home in the apartment. He put the video-phone on voicemail, not wanting to be disturbed, even by his family, and settled down to a pizza, a beer and an evening’s music.
The chime of the door bell was an unwelcome interruption and – unusually for him, he cursed aloud.
The lights were on so he couldn’t pretend he wasn’t there and he was too polite to simply ignore his unwelcome visitor. He went to the door and saw Hana standing on the landing outside.
“Hana! Good to see you,” he said, as he opened the door. “Come on in…”
She walked inside without speaking and took off her jacket, draping it over the back of the armchair Jayson had usually used. She sat down and remained silent.
“Can I get you anything?” Seymour asked; he was concerned to see her looking so listless and pale.
“No – no thank you, Sey,” she whispered. “I needed to speak to you, I hope you don’t mind?”
“Not at all. Look, let me get you a drink – some tea? You look all in.”
She nodded apathetically and leant back in the chair while he bustled round the kitchen and returned with a mug of hot, sweet tea.
He resumed his seat and picked up his beer, biding his time until she was ready to speak. After some time, during which she sipped her tea, Hana looked around the apartment and he saw tears sparkle in her eyes.
“I can’t believe he won’t be back, Sey,” she confided in a whisper. “It doesn’t seem possible, or fair.”
“No,” he agreed. “It doesn’t and it isn’t. But Jayce wouldn’t want you to mourn for ever. It’s hard, I know, to forget and go on with our lives, but we have to.”
“Seymour… I don’t know what to do. You see, I’m going to have Jayce’s baby.”
She gave him a shy and almost apologetic smile. “We planned to get married…”
“Well, I knew that was on the cards.” There was a long pause as Seymour tried to come to terms with the news and steeled himself to ask the obvious question that was pounding in his brain, demanding to an answer. “Did Jayce know – about the baby?”
“No, he had no idea – I didn’t know for sure until about a week ago.”
“Well, that’s something,” Seymour said under his breath. The thought that Jayson knew about the impending birth of his child and yet had risked his life would have been unbearable. All of the family were so acutely aware of the hardship faced by any child growing up without their parents that it wasn’t likely his brother would have felt justified in taking any risk that might condemn his unborn child to growing up without a father.
“I have been at my wits’ end since then and then I thought… of you. Jayce always said you’re brilliant at sorting things out. I don’t know what to do,” Hana repeated, and a single tear ran down her cheek. “Help me, Seymour, please.”
“Well, sure – if I can. You do mean to have the baby?” he asked warily.
“I want to,” she admitted, “but I know my folks won’t be very pleased and if I don’t have their support, I’m worried that I could lose my job here.” She started to cry.
“Hey, hey,” Seymour said, and went to kneel beside the armchair. “That’s enough of that. Whatever happens, we – Jayce’s family – we’d never let any harm come to you or his baby.”
Rather gingerly he put his arms around her.
She wiped her eyes and laid her head on his shoulder for a moment before giving a shaky smile. “You’re sweet, Seymour.”
He gave her a wry smile. “Honestly, Hana; we’ll all help and there isn’t much any of us don’t know about raising kids.”
“Jayce always said you were a tower of strength and a source of great inspiration to him. He told me so much about all that you did to keep your family together – he was very proud of you, you know?”
He gave a depreciating smile. “Hardly that. We had little choice except to muck in together if we were to stay together and we each played our part. That’s why we understand the importance of family and… and you’re part of our family, Hana; as sure as if you and Jayce had tied that knot before…” he hesitated.
“Before he died,” she said sadly.
“I don’t want to put any kind of burden on you or the others, Sey. But, do you think you could come with me when I go and see my folks? They only met Jayce once and… well, they didn’t know we were intending to get married – it wasn’t official or anything.” She bit her bottom lip as it trembled. “My mom’s gonna go postal…”
“Look, Hana: I mean, if your family expect you to get married – if it would help them come to terms with things, I mean… I… well, I’m not married and I’d be proud – happy - to, well, to marry you and give the child the family name. It’d be…I mean, you wouldn’t have to … I mean, like a platonic thing…”
She smiled and leant over to kiss his cheek. “You really are sweet, Seymour, and I appreciate the offer – really - but I don’t expect you to do that, just maybe be there when I need you; maybe be there when the baby’s born?”
Relief flooded through him at her words and he was happy to promise her anything.
“Oh, sure! I’ll get one of the girls to come over – Merlene – she’s brilliant with babies, she’d love to be there to help!”
Hana laughed, relaxing for the first time since her arrival. “Do you think they’ll be pleased to know about the baby?”
Seymour took her hands and smiled at her. “How could we not be pleased? It’s a living link with Jayce…”
Merlene was delighted to move to Marineville to help with Hana’s pregnancy and the baby and the two women quickly became firm friends, so that Seymour had no qualms about leaving them together when he was away on a mission.
The attack on the Seaprobe was not an isolated incident and the WASPs were kept busy defending the World Government’s new undersea installations. With Captain Holden still out of action due to his back injury, Troy Tempest took control of the first operational Stingray sub and Phones Sheridan went as his crew, leaving Seymour as the undisputed hydrophonic and communication expert in Marineville. The new relay stations were urgently needed to ensure that the terrorist attacks were responded to as soon as possible and Seymour was kept busy setting up the 24 posts under his direct command.
Occasionally he got the chance to work in the Command Station situated high over Marineville in the iconic ‘Tower’ and he got to know Commander Shore, his daughter, Lieutenant Atlanta Shore, and her counterpart at the communications desk, Lieutenant John Fisher, very well. Seymour was so preoccupied with his work that he hardly realised the months were slipping by and the imminent birth of Hana’s baby came as something of a surprise.
It was Atlanta who passed on the message that Merlene had taken Hana to the base hospital as her labour had started, and she kindly took over his shift so he could go and wait for the birth.
He paced up and down the corridor and fidgeted about the waiting room for almost 5 hours before Merlene came out of the labour ward, her pretty face shining with happiness despite her obvious tiredness.
She ran into his arms, crying: “Oh Sey, it’s a boy, a little boy!”
They clung to each other, laughing and crying at the same time. Merle assured him that Hana was fine and the baby just perfect. When a uniformed nurse told them they could see the mother and child, they went into the small side room and peered at the tiny bundle in the crib beside Hana’s bed.
“He’s so beautiful,” Merle cooed, grinning from ear to ear.
“Have you decided on a name?” Seymour asked.
Hana nodded. “I want to call him Kichiro Jayson Griffiths – if you don’t mind? Kichiro means ‘lucky son’.”
“Why should we mind? It’s a great name,” Seymour said, smiling at mother and baby. “Welcome to the family, little Kichiro!”
By the time Seymour went back to work, after taking leave to attend the baby’s christening and one huge family party in Port of Spain, Marineville was working flat out and the World Government had commissioned a whole fleet of Stingray class submarines to combat a hostile undersea race that had recently been discovered by Troy Tempest and Phones.
The existence of these underwater races had been unknown for centuries and Fisher had to work hard to convince Seymour this wasn’t some elaborate hoax. He explained that the newest WASP recruit – a beautiful young woman called Marina – was a real-life mermaid from a race who lived in an underwater city known as Pacifica. The Pacificans, as their name implied, were a peace-loving people who were oppressed by a race of Aquaphibians from a rival, military state called Titanica. Captain Tempest had freed Marina from a life of servitude waiting on Titanica’s ruler, Titan. This laudable act had resulted in Titan releasing his fleet of battle-ready mechanical fish-shaped submarines against the ‘Terraineans’.
“Fisher, you expect me to believe that?” Seymour asked, rolling his eyes. “Mermaids! You’d better not let Commander Shore hear you talking like that, or he’ll never let you go to sea.”
“You don’t believe me? I can introduce you to Marina. She’s got an apartment near to Atlanta Shore…”
“And the moon’s made of cream cheese and there are little green men on Mars.”
“You’ll eat your words, Seymour – you’ll see!” Fisher cried excitedly. “Tomorrow I’ll ask Atlanta to arrange a visit so you can meet Marina.”
“You do that…now, can we get down to work, please?”
By the time Seymour left work the sun had set and Marineville glowed in the glare of the amber street lights. He hadn’t bothered to take his car, and walked through the warm night air, stopping to pick up something to eat and a bottle of beer.
There was a couple of letters on his doormat as he opened the door, so he laid the table and sat to eat his Chinese meal before he read them. There two official looking envelopes, and he expected bills in both. One was the credit card account which made him grimace. Exhaling, he picked up the second letter, noticing with some surprise that came from Futura – the World Capital - and slit the top with the knife he’s been using.
The letter was short. It asked him to attend a meeting with a Mr Snow in Futura in two days’ time. There was a plane ticket enclosed. The letter closed with an intriguing sentence:
The World Government has noticed your exemplary service record and your undoubted expertise and wishes to offer you an opportunity we feel sure you will not want to miss.
Seymour sat and looked at the ticket for some time.
Futura was in the Bahamas and that would mean he was much closer to home and to his family. He sat back in the dining chair and looked around the apartment he had shared with Jayson. It felt empty and he realised he was lonelier than he’d ever felt in Jamaica. The exciting part of his job was done, he’d created the relay stations and a communication network that covered the world’s oceans: all he’d have to do now was run the department.
He glanced at the shelves where photos of his brothers and sisters stood surrounding that of Hana and Kichiro, which had pride of place.
Maybe now is the time to move back to the Caribbean? For a moment he thought about Fisher’s excited story of mermaids and fish-men and grimaced.
The video-phone rang and he clicked the remote for the screen to come on. To his surprise it was Commander Shore.
“Seymour, good to see you,” Shore growled.
“And you, sir. Is there something wrong?”
“No, or so they assure me. I’ve had a chat with General McCormack about you.”
“Me? What does the Chairman of the World Security Council have to do with the likes of me, sir?”
“McCormack has ordered me to tell you that if you want to go to Futura, I am to give you official leave. I don’t really know what he’s talking about, but if you have received orders to go to Futura – which I assume you have - you had better be on the plane tomorrow.”
“I… I got a letter and a plane ticket, sir. I don’t know what it’s about.”
“Right – you’d better go then,” Shore said brusquely. “And remember, Seymour; there’s always a place for you in Marineville, as long as I’m in command.”
“Thank you, sir.”
The line went dead and Seymour finished his beer, feeling grateful that he had not, as yet, finished unpacking his suitcase.
“Better get an early night,” he said to the photographs on the shelf and once he had cleared the remains of his meal and locked the door and windows, he went to his room and tried to get some much needed sleep.
Lieutenant Green consulted his running schedule for the nth time. The first of the planes was due in the next few minutes and the air-traffic control tower had told him it was on time. The communication system was all set up, with concealed CCTV cameras and microphones in the hangar bay and around the airfield. The Italian authorities had questioned the need for it until Colonel White had showed them authorisation signed by the World President himself; after that they had left them to get on with it without interference.
Although he had been flattered and delighted to be invited to join Spectrum as one of the first officers to be appointed and, effectively, as the head of the global communications network, Green had taken his time in coming to his decision. The trauma of recent past events had taken their toll of his enthusiasm for his present post, but there were conditions attached to working for the World Government’s supra-national security organisation, that bothered him.
The secrecy necessary to keep Spectrum and its personnel secure, meant that contact with his family and friends would be limited and only a few close people could ever know what he was really doing. Yet, after assuring himself that his family were now capable of looking after themselves without his constant assistance, he had accepted the offer with, if he was honest with himself, some relief. He instinctively felt that if he did not do it now, he would never break away from the loving ties that bound them all together.
Once in the post, he experienced some fleeting doubts about fitting in with the senior field officers who, he realised from their personnel records, would be older, and far more experienced in security work than he was, outranking him by some way. However, he enjoyed nothing so much as a challenge and he knew he could make friends with anyone, given half a chance.
Working with the colonel had been a pleasure from the start, even though he was a stern taskmaster who expected the best at all times from his staff officers. Green’s experience in the Marineville Control Tower stood him in good stead and, after the irascible Commander Shore, he was not disturbed by Colonel White’s professional aloofness. Proud of his own skills and professionalism, Green accepted it in others without question. Nevertheless, he had been privileged to witness the colonel’s somewhat icy detachment melt, on occasion, and valued those rare moments of camaraderie – if that is what you could call the brief glimpses of the man beneath the professional military commander.
For the moment, he was acting alone, as the colonel was busy making arrangements for the recruitment of the field officers to begin. This project was all his own and he was looking forward to it.
He watched as a sleek private jet touched down and taxied to a halt outside the main hangar. The pilot stepped out and looked around her. Green focused the nearest camera on her and saw a petite, Oriental woman, with a heart-shaped face and large, dark eyes. She removed her helmet and shook her neatly-bobbed, black hair into order.
Lieutenant Green ticked off one name on his chart – Harmony - and continued to observe the newcomer.
She must have heard the approach of another plane, as she turned to watch as an executive passenger jet landed and taxied across to join her. The main door opened and a tall, shapely woman, with a head of luxuriant, long, red-gold hair, strode down the steps. She was carrying her helmet and a large rectangular box.
“Hi,” she said in an unmistakably American accent. “I’ve got a delivery to make…”
“So do I,” said the first pilot, in a gentle, lilting English.
“Is there anyone around?” the blonde said, as Lieutenant Green ticked another name off his list – Symphony.
The dark-haired woman shook her head. “But I hear another plane…”
They stood watching as a third plane landed with a screech of wheels and came to a halt close by.
The pilot was another woman, with long, platinum-blonde hair gathered in two bunches. She was smaller and more elegant in her appearance than the American.
“Bonjour,” she said. “I ‘ave a package to deliver to this airfield…”
“Join the queue,” the American said dryly. “We can’t find anyone about.”
“Perhaps we should ask the Tower where we need to go?” the Oriental pilot suggested.
“That is a good idea,” replied the Frenchwoman.
Lieutenant Green ticked another name off the list – Destiny. Only two more to go.
The next arrival was already making an approach run and the pilot was another American: a small-boned, but feisty African-American who quickly started to look around for someone who could explain what they were supposed to be doing here. Lieutenant Green ticked that name too – Melody.
“Wait, I can hear another plane,” the blonde American said, as the latest arrival started to lead the group towards the hangar door.
They all watched as an elderly ALFA freight jet landed and rumbled over towards the others.
Green watched with interest to see the final pilot. Despite the tatty appearance of her plane compared to the other four aircraft, she clambered from her cockpit with an air of self-assurance and strolled over to the waiting group. She was slightly under average height, slender and graceful in her movements.
“Hello, girls,” she called in a light, well-bred, English accent. “Are we all here to deliver something?”
“Yeah, what do you know about it?” ‘Symphony’ asked.
“Not a thing, but maybe we should try and find out why we’re here?” the new arrival said.
“Perhaps it’s some kind of a joke?” ‘Melody’ suggested wryly.
“In my country we do not like this kind of a joke,” ‘Harmony’ replied.
“Joke or not, we all have a job to do here, so let’s do it, shall we?” the English pilot said, as she reached up and removed her flying helmet.
Lieutenant Green gasped in surprise as a silky sheen of long, red hair tumbled down her back.
She was smiling at the others and her blue eyes were sparkling with excitement as she and Melody led the way towards the hangar door. The other three women followed, each determined to get to the bottom of this strange assignment.
Lieutenant Green ticked the final name and thought how appropriate it was. Rhapsody Angel.
He switched to the internal cameras and microphones and listened for a few minutes while the women attempted to solve the mystery of the packages they had been asked to deliver.
“Let’s open them, perhaps that’ll give us some idea what all this about,” Rhapsody suggested.
Smiling, Seymour Griffiths switched on the Tannoy system and made ready to read from his prepared script.
Life in Spectrum won’t be dull after all. This could definitely be the start of something good, he thought happily, and pressed the broadcast button so he could introduce himself to the Angel Pilots.
Lieutenant Green’s ‘official’ biography taken from the various published sources, (http://www.spectrum-headquarters.com/lieutenant_green.html) is one of those that presents a somewhat improbable picture. I had been working on a story that included, what I hoped were, the salient points for some time and I have finally managed to complete it. I was tempted to dwell on Seymour’s time in Marineville, as ‘Stingray’ is a favourite of mine, but given that he was only there for about 3 years and still achieved so much, I decided that might have to wait for another story or I would never get this one finished! For the same reason I decided not to take the option of making him an acquaintance of Captain Bradley Holden, who went on to become Captain Grey of Spectrum.
My thanks go to my beta-reader, Hazel Köhler, who did a turbo-charged check on the text to meet the Christmas Challenge deadline. If you find any mistakes in the text, they are mine and I apologise for them. Thanks also go to Chris Bishop, who masterminds this marvellous website, including designing the delightful screen presentations for the fiction and still finds time to her write wonderful stories for us all. It is to Chris that I owe the inclusion of the breathtaking pictures of the ‘Scarlet Ibis family – the national bird of Trinidad.
Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons ™ was the first Supermarionation show to use puppets with bodies and heads in the correct proportions, moving away from the less realistic heroes of the earlier shows and creating a cast of good-looking leading characters. Unlike the family firm of International Rescue, its characters were unrelated and so viewers were offered the possibility of relationships – friendly, competitive and romantic – between the main characters. Consequently, fan fiction writers have paired up the officers and the Angels in various combinations. Rhapsody Angel and Captain Scarlet are probably the most popular pairing, outside of the ‘canon’ romance between Symphony Angel and Captain Blue, but I have always liked the idea that Lieutenant Green had a soft spot for Rhapsody too. I admit this is based on ‘Attack on Cloudbase’ and the events in that episode do turn out to be a ‘only a dream’ – but dreams sometimes contain a grain of truth even if the dreamer is not consciously aware of it.
Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons ™ was the creation of the late Gerry Anderson, who died while I was working on this story. I have enjoyed so many of the shows Gerry Anderson produced in the 60s and 70s and, along with most of my contemporaries, my childhood days were punctuated with rushing home to watch Thunderbirds on TV or waiting eagerly for the delivery of my TV21 or Lady Penelope comic before I went out to school. In the 1990s, the shows were back on primetime TV and I had a young daughter, who watched them with me and loved them too. That generations of children – whatever their age – can look back on these shows with such affection is a tribute in itself to the quality of the work and the creative vision of Gerry Anderson, along with Sylvia Anderson and their team of writers, producers and puppeteers. I am extremely grateful to each and every one of them.
I know you could sometimes see the strings but they were always more than ‘just puppets’ to me.
15 January 2013.
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