Howling wind tore at Liz as she ran for her ship, raced up the boarding ramp three steps at a time and buckled herself tightly into the pilot's seat. Eddy did the same on the Admiral’s frigate, he was surprised to see Kevin sitting in the copilot's seat instead of Rima.
“Rima will be back," said Kevin. "I volunteered for this flight because you're going to need more pilots, now that you are a fleet commander."
"Two ships isn't quite what I'd call a fleet," Eddy said with a sidelong glance and surprised grin. He enjoyed the sound of his unofficial promotion and let Kevin continue his line of thought.
"Yeah, I know, well," Kevin paused and looked out the window at a radical storm that had begun tearing small trees and bushes to shreds. "It's beginning to look doubtful that I will ever be leading a normal life again, so I might as well learn to do something useful with the life I'm in. If we eventually have to fight, I can't do much to stop the United States of Earth with my bare hands." Kevin turned from the storm view outside and looked with perplexed wonder at all the dials and controls. "How do you start this thing?"
Eddy showed Kevin how to start the joy generators and to prepare all the ship systems for flight. He then directed spaceship power downward to hug the ground at close to double normal ship weight. Then he showed Kevin how to make fine adjustments as he explained what he was doing.
"Here's the manual," he said pulling a thick book out of a pocket under his seat and handing it to Kevin. "I memorized it before I tried to fly the ship."
He gave Kevin a friendly glance, "You ought to know that being a pilot isn't very exciting most of the time, and when it is exciting, every pilot sweats and swears they'll never leave the ground again." He pointed to the radio, "See if you can figure out from the manual how to contact the rest of our fleet."
Kevin turned from the manual to Eddie with a startled look, "You chuckled like the sound of music inside my head."
"Delfinians are teaching us to have fun no matter what," Eddie responded, laughing out loud, "and you are going to eventually find out how to speak Melodian if you want to be a fleet pilot for the Admiral. If you are going to work for him directly, the main thing to keep in mind about Inocente is he will always try to give you a way out as he puts you places beyond your wildest dreams, when you least expect it."
The radio crackled and sputtered but they could hear through the lightning disturbance better than Kevin expected. "Hi Dad, I'm a copilot, too," he said as soon as the connection was established.
"Based on what Liz has been telling me, I'd say you've got the best teacher there is anywhere," Will responded over the radio. "Has Eddy told you what he and Liz just did?"
"Not yet, Dad, though it's part of the reason I want to be a copilot - I saw them come back from wherever they were, they just appeared out of thin air."
"You'll be amazed, I guarantee it. By the way, our wind speed monitor puts the sustained wind at a little over 112 kilometers per hour. Liz says that's exactly seventy miles per hour, the speed when a storm is classified as a hurricane. We've measured gusts over 160 kilometers per hour and the speed is climbing fast."
"Our wind instruments read the same," Kevin said. "We measure the storm surge at two meters and climbing. Does that check out with your instruments?"
"Check. Two meters. World standard door height; Six feet six and three fourths inches, plus a gap at the top and bottom."
"Dad! Where do you get all that trivia? We're in the middle of a typhoon!"
"I'm a scientist. I also design spaceships with doors in them. Also, sadly, there's quite a ways to go before the 'middle' of this typhoon."
"Wow, Dad, I don't have much else to say after that. We stay in contact, right?" Kevin asked.
"Yep, We'll talk later. Over and out."
Kevin turned off the radio, slightly embarrassed he turned slowly to Eddy, "I can't believe my dad. He acts like a nut sometimes."
Eddy smiled, "He's probably nervous about the typhoon. Anyway, I think he's funny. Is he always like that?"
"Pretty much," Kevin said relieved that Eddy saw his dad was just trying to be funny. "How high are we above normal sea level?"
"Seven and a half meters," Eddy answered. "That's just under twenty five feet the way Liz figures it. She's lived through hurricanes in Florida and says we're not high enough for a big storm like this one. She thinks that's why the stone work in this old fort is so smashed to ruins."
"Uh-oh. What are we going to do?"
"I don't know, it's up to the Admiral. Maybe the storm will veer off and we'll be okay."
Eddy was right about one point and wrong about the other: The typhoon was huge and terrible, but it didn't change course, it hit the pioneer base squarely. Snapped-off trees slammed against the spaceships like tumble weeds against a fence; some wedged against them, briefly, then were torn into smaller pieces and swept away. The line between ocean and air blurred into water flying with the force of a fire hose. The pioneers watched the storm rage on their ship monitor screens. Hours slowly stretched through a day almost as dark as the night. The storm grew stronger and weary mortals succumbed one by one to fitful, worried sleep.
Eddy awoke from his sleep in the pilot seat, he felt the Admiral's hand gently shaking his shoulder.
"Wake up, Eddy. The storm surge has reached our ships. I need some Fleet Commander's advice."
The Admiral looked worried. A quick glance at the monitor screen clearly showed why, it was impossible to see through the flying storm water and tell where sea level was.
"We're going under quick," the Admiral said somberly. "Our ships will be ground into sand."
Eddy switched on the radio, they were so close it still worked, even with lightning filling the shrieking darkness. "Prepare for immediate liftoff", he said with a calmness he didn't actually feel. "Accelerate straight upward at four times gravity. Repeat; accelerate up at four Gs."
"Roger. Straight up at four Gs," Liz's voice responded through the storm's static.
"Set you control locks to maintain position with lead ship at zero point five kilometer."
Eddy was about to repeat the distance of separation between the ships when he felt the Admiral squeeze his shoulder. "Too much lightning, keep the ships closer together."
Eddy's palms were starting to sweat though they were still on the ground. "Change that number,' he said without hesitating, maintain one fourth kilometer between ships; repeat, that's two hundred and fifty meters between us."
"Roger, two five zero meters, between ships," Liz responded. "What's the plan?" she asked.
Eddy glanced at the Admiral. “Southeast at twelve thousand five hundred meters," the Admiral responded. “Then double back Northwest.”
Eddy repeated the directions as the Admiral buckled himself into the navigator's seat. "Lift-off on three. Power on and then release anchor. Repeat; power on, then immediately release anchor."
"Roger. Power first. Anchor cable second."
"Countdown. Three. Two. One. GO!" He shouted as he hit the power and then released the cables.
Eddy felt a sickening lurch as the ship suddenly twisted sideways and was hurled backwards, half way flipped over. He glanced at the gauges and saw they were at a thousand meters and climbing. Eddy stole a moment to check the monitor screen as he fought to right the ship, he saw the other ship was right where it was supposed to be, undoubtedly going through a similar struggle.
Liz was actually a little better off than Eddy, her ship was enough smaller and more maneuverable to make up for her relative inexperience. Will, sitting in the copilot seat, kept his hands well away from the controls. He was scared but a hint of a smile showed around his eyes and at the corners of his mouth. If Liz would have had time to notice, she would have seen a scientist almost completely detached from personal danger by keen observation of ship design performance.
Both spaceships were the latest models and had been custom built under Will's direct supervision. Though he felt confident with his design his stomach flip-flopped right along with everyone else. Hope was all any of them had, even the pilots were flying with hope as they battled the terrible typhoon.
Kevin sat stone silent and expressionless next to Eddy. His knuckles were white as he griped the arms on his seat. He had neither his father's knowledge of ship capabilities or his emergency experiences during test flights. He watched Eddy yank on one control after another and lightly tap for power with his foot as if in a dream. Everything seemed disconnected and made no sense, even up and down were scrambled more meaningless with each passing moment.
Eddy had quickly discovered something similar to the skills instantly mastered by bulldozer drivers who survive a blade-down, earth-pushing slide down a steep mountain side. Things work backwards for a bulldozer plummeting down a slalom slope with breaks locked. To turn and avoid an obstacle one releases the break on one side rather than apply it, sometimes. Thus Eddy found himself doing occasional moves backwards from normal. There really was no way for Kevin to make sense of what Eddy was doing as he experimentally and slowly brought the ship under control, all the while hurtling upward faster and faster.
"Slow it down a little now," the Admiral said calmly from the navigator's position. He had held his breath and not spoken until he was sure Eddy had the ship under control. "We don't want to go very far out the top of the clouds if we can help it."
Eddy eased the power back and watched the altimeter flash past ten thousand meters. The ship was flying almost smoothly when the emerged from the clouds at precisely twelve thousand five hundred meters.
"How did you know the right height?" Kevin asked, his first words since lift-off.
"I'd like to say it was more than a guess," the Admiral answered with a pleased grin.
"Bring us back down into the clouds for cover," he told Eddy. "Radar will not locate the ships because they are designed for radar stealth, but we could be seen from an observation satellite. Let's go back down a little way into the clouds."
The two ships cruised side-by-side just beneath the cloud tops in a southerly direction. They burst from the clouds and into the typhoon center after traveling for only a few minutes. Eddy guided them immediately back into cloud cover without further instructions from the Admiral and followed a course that continued southward while avoiding the clear center of the typhoon. Rima went to work on the computer and calculated a holding pattern that would keep them in the clouds and place them over the pioneer base on the island at about the time the following edge of the typhoon left the area.
Weary pilots set the controls to automatically follow Rima's directions and slept in their seats while the spaceships held course as smoothly as a commercial airliner in light choppy air. They all grew bored after long, confined hours and became anxious to see what their island base looked like in the storm's wake.
Far below, at sea level, ocean people had also timed themselves to arrive when the storm had passed. They followed a long course that at first went west and gradually turned southward as the storm passed by. They swam into the surfing cove just in time to see the spaceships touch down where the ruins of the old fort had been completely swept away. Thousands upon thousands of ocean people watched the ships land in the golden glow of joy power. Nobody said a word.
Sudor broke the silence by instructing them all to swim around above the submarine and memorize its shape with their echo location sonar. He and Dasaye then swam toward shore to exchange stories with the human pioneers.
Ballena, Pito, and the delfinians rounded the point as Sudor and Dasaye approached the shore. Ballena stayed further out with the cetaceans while Pito swam toward shore with the delfinians. Poseidon saw the others approach humans without fear and tagged along behind, just to satisfy his curiosity he told himself.
Pioneers were as impressed by the multitude of cetaceans as the ocean people were by the pioneers and their spaceships. Grace immediately waded into the water and climbed on Dasaye's back. The reunion suddenly turned into a raucous celebration when Dasaye zoomed out and among the ocean people with Grace smoothly riding on his back. Rima had slept through the earlier whale riding fun and asked if the Orca named Remo would take her. Sudor translated for Remo and he quickly agreed. All the orcas, even including Poseidon, immediately wanted their own human riders.
Every pioneer was soon riding a whale and tearing madly through crowds of dancing dolphins. The Admiral was kind and chose Pito so he wouldn't feel left out of the fun. He sat cross legged on Pito's square-topped head waving both arms high, a quite unintentional signal of his confidence in the future for Life on Earth.
Pito diplomatically ferried the Admiral to meet every family among the new allies. Leslie signaled Cecric to ask the orca she was riding to take her to Ballena so she could examine her healing wounds. Cecric handed Leslie her translation collar and rocketed off to join the fun.
Leslie inspected Ballena's wounds and found she had healed nicely despite the storm. She laid down in the warm sun on Ballena's back and told her how good it felt to be on solid ground again. Ballena chuckled her low tone. Leslie, realizing that she'd just called Ballena solid ground, laughed along with her. The celebration continued long after Pito had taken the Admiral ashore to survey the storm damage.
The Admiral stood for a long while looking at where the stone work of the old fort had been. The steel rods Liz had placed to anchor the ships were bent over like carpenter's nails, the steel itself was nicked and gashed where storm-driven stones had pounded over them. He walked to the slope and looked downward, toward the shore on the other side of the island. Large blocks of stone lay scattered below the hillside bank he stood on. The low slope leading to the far shore was bare, all that remained was grass combed flat by storming water. He then turned and walked to the ships, where he leaned against a landing support structure and carefully surveyed the mountainside above, looking for storm-loosened boulders. Kevin, who had left the festivities in the surfing cove, found him there and asked if he wanted to go with him to check on the sailboat and the palapa.
"Sure. Let's go," the Admiral responded walking toward the trail to the river mooring.
They walked in silence entering the forest. Many of the tropical trees had shed their leaves as a defense against breaking before the mighty storm. Green shoots of fresh new leaves were already appearing from buds swollen with water from the soggy soil. The trail was littered with snapped-off branches and the going was slow, even so, the distance wasn't great and they soon reached the sailboat. It had sunk to the deck, masts and rigging were gone. The palapa was also gone. Kevin and the Admiral stood in the quiet calm of the storm's aftermath and surveyed the damage.
"What shall we do now, Inocente?" Kevin asked.
"We will need to build solid structures if this island is to become a permanent Earth Base," the Admiral responded. "First we need to pry the pilots from the party and put the spaceships somewhere less obvious. We can sleep on the ships tonight, tomorrow we will start some new palapas for temporary shelter, using all this storm debris."
"I'll go find Liz and Eddy," Kevin offered starting back toward the trail.
"Okay. Bring saws, ropes and any other tools you need to clear the meadow across from the sailboat. The ships can sit there for a day or two, camouflage them to match storm-torn stumps and ground. Tell Sudor I'll be along in a few minutes, we need to make a plan."