Ship’s Log Entry
Vanubiti Island, Oceania
Christmas Day, 1874
Waves crashed over the lagoon’s protective barrier reef as the typhoon lashed the island with one hundred forty-five miles per hour winds. The slow-moving storm dwarfed the tiny island and had been battering its two hundred inhabitants for three hours. Nothing remained of the villagers’ huts—the storm surge having swept them away, and the few natives who survived abandoned their dead and sought higher ground among the wooded slopes leading to the extinct volcano at the east end of the island.
The storm’s eye—twice as wide as the island—was expected within the hour. Its arrival would allow the remaining inhabitants precious time to recover and get to safety before the back side of the storm fell on them.
Under cover of the storm, a large, three-mast ship arrived and struggled to hold station just beyond the reef, its bow staring into the punishing gale. A lone man put ashore and hurried across a narrow beach cluttered with debris and bodies, pausing a moment at each unfortunate victim of the storm’s wrath before disappearing into the tree line.
He searched for a survivor, a very special survivor, whose inexplicable existence had summoned him across time. As captain of the ship, he assumed responsibility for their mission. He would not delegate the task of locating the special one to any other; the burden belonged to him alone.
* * *
Zebulun Mbutae stood at Orion’s rail, his back to the howling wind and stinging rain. One hand grasped the weathered wood for support, while the other pressed a pair of binoculars to his eyes. He scanned the distant beach for any sign.
Through the dim gray light he saw … nothing.
“Damn.” The tall African lowered the glasses and again wiped rain and seawater from his face. He checked the contraband timepiece strapped to his wrist, shook his head, then pressed his earpiece. “Captain, if you can hear me, you must hurry.”
Crackling static was the reply.
A loud flapping drew his attention. He glanced into the rigging and crossed himself. The topsail had come loose. “Get that canvas reefed,” he yelled, but two Able Seamen were already clambering aloft to tie down the canvas.
Zeb called to the coxswain at the helm. “Keep her pointed into the wind.”
He felt the vibration of Orion’s automatic keel stabilizers through the deck planks struggling to keep the ship steady in the churning sea. Zeb wedged himself between the aft bulkhead and the rail for support as the deck pitched and rolled and peered through the glasses toward the beach’s tree line.
“What is keeping you?” he hissed.
A tremendous gust slammed against the hull, forcing Orion’s bow to port. Zeb heard the splintering of wood over the howl of the storm. Lowering the glasses, he turned in time to see the foremast snap and fall into the churning water, the two seamen dragged along and swept under. The attached rigging went taut as the weight of the mast pulled against them, pinning another seaman against the port gunwale.
“Cut those lines,” Zeb ordered.
“Wait, we might be able to save them.” Bo’sun Katsaros shouted as she struggled to reach the trapped seaman.
“It’s a sea-anchor now. Cut it loose or we’ll founder.”
Grasping the railing she stared back at Zeb and pressed her earpiece. “But—”
“There’s no time, Phaedra. Cut it loose.”
“Aye, aye.” The sturdy bo’sun turned away and signaled to two idle seamen. They staggered from their posts to assist freeing the length of timber and sails drawing Orion's keel inexorably to port.
The deck shuddered, a sharp crack sounded through the planking, and he knew one of the stabilizers failed.
The ship slewed violently to port, worsened by the sea anchor effect from the broken mast. The deck rolled through twenty degrees.
Zeb grabbed the railing as his feet slipped on the wet deck. “For the love of—”
“We need the shields,” Bo’sun Katsaros said as she wrestled with the lines.
Zeb shook his head. “Captain said no.”
She glared at him, shoved her helpers aside, then drew the short axe from her belt and severed the snarl of tangled lines in four fierce strokes. She lifted the injured seaman from the deck and handed him off to her assistants. “Take him below. Tell Doc what happened.”
The two grabbed the injured mate by his arms and legs, and half dragged, half carried him aft toward the lower hatch.
“Can you fix it?” Zeb said and wiped salt spray from his eyes.
Katsaros said nothing, but moved forward to inspect what remained of the foremast.
Zeb felt Orion shift to starboard, the bow once more in the wind. He returned to the rail and scanned the beach. Palm fronds chased one another across the open space, but Captain Matheson was still absent.
Sighing, he turned to the ship’s bo’sun. “Phaedra, can you make repairs in this weather?”
She shrugged. “Aye, if the eye moves over us, perhaps.”
“See to it, if you please.”
“Repairs would be easier with the shields.”
Zeb shook his head. “No shields.”
Phaedra Katsaros leveled a hard gaze at Zeb. “You’re a hard man, Zeb. Without the shields, we’ll likely lose more men.”
“The Captain said, no—”
“Yeah, no shields. Fine.” She turned and stomped through standing water toward the hatch to the forward hold. She signaled three more seamen to follow her.
A hiss, then “…do you copy?” Static blocked most of the signal, but Zeb caught his boss’s voice over the comm link.
He moved to the rail and stared toward the island, now visible only during intermittent breaks in the curtains of rain. “I copy. Captain, where are you? This storm is driving the ship too close to the reef. We need to leave.”
Matheson’s voice, clearer, and irritatingly calm, spoke in Zeb’s ear. “Working on it. Just a little longer. How is my ship?”
“We lost the foremast, and one of the stabilizers just went offline. It’s getting rough out here.”
“Can you hold her together a bit longer, old chap?”
“Phaedra is working on the mast replacement. I’ll get Pieter checking on the stabilizer.”
“That’s a good man. Any crew casualties?”
“Lost two for sure—went over the side. One damaged when the mast fell. Otherwise, we’re good.”
“Bloody hell. Could be worse, I suppose. All right, I’ve got to go. Won’t be much longer.”
“Let me raise the shields.”
“Not an option, Zeb. We discussed this. I’m trusting you to keep it together. I really must go now. Cheerio.”
Zeb banged the side of his fist on the rail in frustration. “Damn.” He took a deep breath, exhaled slowly, then called the ship’s engineer. “Pieter, do you copy?”
“Copy. What’s up?”
“We lost a stabilizer. Can you check it out? We need to get it back online.”
“I’m already on it. No promises. It’s taken quite a beating with this storm.”
“Do what you can. But hurry.”
Zeb climbed the ladder to the poop deck and stood beside the coxswain. The blank-faced helmsman gripped the wheel and struggled to keep the ship steady into the wind as ordered.
Orion held position one hundred yards beyond the protective reef, but it was not a simple task, and Zeb knew all the ship's systems worked overtime to keep her afloat and on station.
“Can’t keep this up much longer.” He cast another glance back toward the beach.
A rogue wave crashed against the port side sending a shudder through the hull. Zeb felt it and closed his eyes…waiting. The bow slewed to starboard, the wheel rotated, lifting the helmsman off the deck, as the final stabilizer failed.
Zeb grabbed the wheel and fought to bring it back around. If waves struck broadside before he could get the bow pointed into the wind they could capsize. He gritted his teeth and leaned his weight against the wheel. It held, but would not turn. Not enough, he thought. Need another body.
“Get help,” he told the helmsman.
The coxswain’s blank face flashed green and red.
A moment later a second helmsman appeared and took position at the wheel. Together, the three of them wrestled the six-foot wheel back to its previous setting. The bow slowly turned back into the wind.
Zeb checked the ship’s position. She had drifted closer to the reef as each successive wave pounded the hull. The anchor wasn’t holding her on station.
“Zeb,” Phaedra’s voice barked in his earpiece.
“What?” he gasped.
“Unless you hold steady, I can’t make repairs in these conditions.”
“And I think we just lost the last stabilizer. We need the shields.”
“But the cap—”
“Dammit, Zeb. With main propulsion offline, and no stabilizers, we’ll be dashed against the reef. For God’s sake, man, do something, or we’ll be killed.”
The wheel strained against him, and Zeb locked his elbow around a spoke, freeing up a hand. He touched his earpiece to give the order.
His mind raced. Would the captain approve? Or, will I lose my job? Dammit, why are we here?
“Pieter,” Zeb had to shout to be heard over the clamor of the wind and waves.
A beam of sunlight pierced the clouds, shining down on Zeb’s hand. He glanced up and sighed, feeling the tension melt away as he exhaled. As the winds died away, he said, “How is the work on the stabilizer going?”
“Port side almost back online. But you realize we lost starboard stabilization.”
“Yes, I felt it. Do what you can. Out.”
As the eye of the hurricane passed over the island, the seas laid down, and brilliant sunlight bathed the entire ship. Zeb released the helm and stepped away, leaning on the railing.
“Phaedra, will this help?”
He needed no reply from the bo’sun. He could see her and her crew at work removing the remnant of the foremast.
Zeb lifted the glasses and searched across the calm of the storm’s eye. Based on the hurricane’s speed, he estimated they had less than two hours before the back side of the storm moved over them.
“Phaedra, you have one hour. I can’t promise more.”
She grunted. “Now leave me alone to do my job.”
An hour later, the broken foremast had been removed and tossed overboard, and the new mast set into position. As the bo’sun’s helpers scrambled up the new mast to attach the rigging, Zeb called to Phaedra.
“How much longer?”
“Half an hour at least.”
“Not likely. Looks like the storm is turning. Our window is closing.”
“Is the captain ready to leave?”
“I’ve not heard from him.”
“Send the small boat now. That will save time.”
“Good idea.” Zeb descended the ladder to the main deck and summoned two seamen. “Take the small boat to the beach and wait for the captain.” Simultaneous green flashes from the two affirmed their understanding, then they were at their task, lowering the small boat and rowing through the diminishing swells.
Zeb turned toward the beach. “Captain, do you copy?”
Static. Clicks. Silence.
“I hear you, Zeb. Can you send the small boat? I believe I’m ready to depart.”
Zeb relaxed his shoulders. “On its way.”
“Well done, old boy. Be ready to shove off once I’m aboard.”
“Aye aye, Captain.” Turning from the rail, he surveyed the repair work on the mast, then, satisfied the bo’sun had control, retired to his cabin.
Seated at the small desk in the corner, he opened the ship’s log to make an entry. Several of his personal items lay strewn over the desktop, scattered by the storm’s ferocity. These he put back where they belonged. His precious framed photo lay face down. Zeb righted it and smiled at the image.
Seven white men—dressed in fatigues and well-armed—stood before a grass hut grouped behind four emaciated, dark-skinned boys. Zeb touched the photo, wiping dust from the image of himself at twelve-years-old, kneeling in front of the man who saved him, his friends, and his village from radical Islamic militants: Lieutenant Geoffrey Matheson, of His Majesty’s Special Air Service.
Lieutenant Matheson—sporting a three-day growth on his face and dirty from battle—smiled at the camera, his left hand on young Zebulun Mbutae’s shoulder.
So many years ago, Zeb thought.
He replaced the frame in its usual place and returned to his log entry—his duty as First Mate.
As he wrote, he became aware of the increased motion of the ship. The back side of the storm was upon them. It moved faster than expected.
He put the ship’s log away.
Pushing back from his desk, Zeb felt the ship shudder from the impact of a wave. This was followed by the now familiar crack and the jolt of a stabilizer failing. Immediately, the ship moved under his feet, and Zeb had to press a hand to the bulkhead to hold himself upright.
“Damn.” He rushed from his cabin.
To get to the upper deck, he had to push hard against the main deck hatch. Wet wind assaulted him as he stepped through and onto the main deck. Zeb quickly looked to see how the mast repairs were going. The support rigging was in place, but no new canvas.
It will do for now.
“Well done, Bo’sun.” Zeb climbed the poop deck ladder and retrieved the binoculars from their storage on the binnacle. He looked to the beach in time to see the captain pass what appeared to be an unconscious person to one of the seamen before shoving the boat off the sand and jumping in.
Zeb shouted down to a seaman on the main deck. “Standby to receive the small boat. The captain is returning.”
He stood by the helm and assisted the coxswain holding Orion on course, casting the occasional glance back to see the small boat’s progress.
Zeb willed the boat to hurry. The stern was perilously close to the submerged reef, visible in the trough between waves. With each successive impact, Orion was driven closer to disaster. The bow pointed into the waves, but without the stabilizers or anchor to hold position, the ship was defenseless. The sharp rocks of the reef would splinter the hull and Orion would founder.
If they didn’t leave very soon, the stern would impact the reef, the ship would be lost, and they would be marooned, or dead.
Zeb pressed his earpiece. “Pieter, please tell me you can get stabilizers back online right now.”
“I patched one, but I don’t want to engage it before the other is ready. One alone won’t survive the strain.
“We’re being pushed onto the reef. We need those stabilizers now, man.”
“I’m doing all I can. Ten minutes.”
“We don’t have ten minutes, man. Do it now.”
“I’m on it.”
The small boat passed over the reef and Zeb left the helm to meet the captain.
He took the steps two at a time, holding the rail for support, stumbling as he gained the gangway access as a wave struck.
The seaman had removed the access panel and deployed the Jacob’s ladder. The wind caught some of the lower wooden rungs, twisting and untwisting the rope ladder and banging it against the side of the ship. There was nothing they could do from above. The ladder would have to be secured from below before anyone attempted the climb.
Zeb stood beside the opening and waited.
The boat drew nearer, and Zeb could make out the strange passenger. A female. Lying still between the boat’s bench seats, she wore native attire consisting of loose knee-length breeches, and a voluminous long-sleeved blouse. Her black hair was braided, and Zeb could see tattoos or markings on her neck.
A wave crashed into the hull slamming the bow hard to port. The rain and wind resumed its assault on wood and exposed flesh. Curtains of rain cut visibility and made it difficult to see how close the small boat was.
A monkey’s fist sailed over the gunwale. The attendant caught the knotted rope and secured the attached line to a belaying pin. Zeb looked over the edge and watched as the captain—the girl draped over his shoulder—climbed the rope ladder.
“A little help, if you please,” Matheson called over the din of the storm as he reached the top.
Zeb grabbed the girl and stepped back, allowing Matheson to come aboard. “Welcome back, Sir.”
Matheson held up one finger and pressed his earpiece. “Pieter, would you be so kind to give me stabilizers now?”
Zeb heard the engineer’s response in his earpiece. “As you wish, Captain.”
The captain turned back to Zeb. “Please have our guest taken to the infirmary. I think Doc should look at her.”
After passing the unconscious girl to a seaman standing close by, Zeb repeated his earlier question. “Course, Sir?”
The deck steadied beneath his feet, and Zeb relaxed. The stabilizers were back.
“Take us home.” Captain Matheson followed the seaman carrying the girl and disappeared inside.
“Aye, aye, Captain.” He climbed back to the quarterdeck and stood before the binnacle. Laying his hand on the right globe, he gave it an anticlockwise twist. The compass tilted up to reveal an illuminated flat panel with numbers and icons.
He pressed several and felt the ship respond, the familiar deep thrum of the power plant waking. After a moment, Orion settled on its heading, making its way out of and beyond the storm, leaving the island behind.
Several hours later, with the ship returned to calmer waters, temporary repairs to the damaged stabilizers completed, and the topsail replaced, Zeb entered coordinates on the flat panel, pressed the Enter key, and lifted his eyes. He always found this part of their journeys particularly interesting.
A light breeze filled the sails and pushed Orion through the water. The deep blue water melded seamlessly with the azure sky, and Zeb held his breath. The air directly in front of the ship seemed to ripple and shimmer. The shimmer grew to a wobble, which became a spinning vortex of dark emptiness standing directly in the ship’s path.
Zeb surveyed the ship's deck for any vulnerable crew. None. All were below decks. The helmsman remained at its station. Three seamen stood motionless at theirs. Zeb secured the binnacle and with a final glance at the void looming ahead, passed through a hatch, securing it behind him and activating the internal shields, as Orion passed into the vortex and merged with the Slipstream.
Later, Zeb found the captain in the Infirmary hovering over the strange girl. ‘Doc’ Svensson, looking somewhat green from the passage into the Slipstream, tended to the girl as Matheson stood close by, watching.
Zeb touched the lanky physician on the shoulder. “It shouldn’t be much longer.”
“I know. It’s the same every time,” Doc said. “You’d think I’d get used to it.”
Zeb moved to stand beside his captain. “Who is she?”
“A miracle, my friend,” said Matheson. “Nothing less.”
“I don’t understand.”
Captain Matheson turned glistening blue eyes on Zeb. “She’s my daughter.”
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