Susurrus

Episode II
A Necessary Journey

A Novel by Rory Tillitson

CHAPTER ONE

Escape



A large single masted sailboat cruises along in the midst of turquoise waters with no one apparently aboard, however below deck in the spacious aft cabin lay the captain of the craft, snoring the deep sleep of an exhausted man when he hears a female voice booming from speakers in the forward bulkhead at once he jolts awake and sits up.

He awoke feeling like no time had passed at all even though it had probably been three hours since he had lain down in the queen size bed. Then he heard what had brought him out of his sleep. “Captain... it’s time to get up.” a woman’s voice said from seemingly nowhere.

He slowly got his body moving, all six feet of it, swung his feet over the side of the bed. He went over to the small sink on the bulkhead wall, splashed water over his face trying to shake the drowsiness from his head. “Captain... it’s time to get up.” The voice once more sounded across the cabin. He said,“OK Sue... I got it... I’m awake!”

Staring in the small mirror above the sink he remembered the evening before. He brushed his very straight teeth, smiled at his reflection, and gargled with some mouthwash. Mitch was a somewhat handsome man, a shock of curly dirty blonde hair that was never combed, framing a sea toughened face, which while it was not leathery, had an edge to it.

Large brown eyes, framed a straight average nose, only marred by a thin scar barely visible along the left side, and full lips above a squared off chin, this was sporting a scar somewhat more visible, about four inches long running from the cleft along his chin, towards his left ear where a small piece was missing, from the same incident.

Pulling on a pair of white shorts, his usual shipboard attire (he had several pairs of the same shorts) and nothing else as he preferred to sleep au natural. He made his way through the starboard passageway into the salon galley. He paused at the navigation station looked at the screen seeing no alerts he continued on to the galley. He released a coffee pot from the strap holding it from being tossed about and poured a cup of fresh hot coffee. He placed in this two spoons of sugar, stirred it quickly before swallowing a good amount that got him going.

Now he turned and headed the eight feet up the steps toward the stern. He opened the watertight hatch doorway. Mitch stepped on the deck where he emerged into bright dawning sunlight. He could feel the soft sea breeze on his skin. “Oh yeah!” he thought to himself “this is what it’s all about… open seas, a fair wind and the complete freedom to go wherever on the planet he wished.”

Walking past the large stainless steel ships wheel he went directly to the stern railing. There he paused to gaze at the wake trailing the sloop through the sea. A nice fairly straight line of a wake disappeared into the distance for as far as he could make out. He stood like this for some time while he enjoyed the coffee. “OK, where are we?” he said. A voice answered,”We are three degrees... twenty-four minutes... south latitude, one, six, seven degrees... eighteen minutes... east longitude.”

“Wonderful!” he announced to the wind. He thought to himself “I really need to take the time to rework the code for her.” Then Mitch spoke aloud, “OK… Sue... how far have we traveled since we left Norfolk?’” The voice answered, “We have gone eighty-nine nautical miles in the past eight hours.”

OK… it's time for some background. This is “Susurrus” a fifty-nine foot steel hulled sloop owned and captained by Mitch Torrance, a never do well jack of all trades. He squeaks out a living by carrying various goods between the smaller islands in the South Pacific Ocean.

A computer controls the boat. Mitch had written the code for to control the sails as well as the steering of the boat. Thus he can pretty much just up anchor. Plot a course to any given place as the computer is GPS guided and for control of the sail tensions. It uses electric winches as well as being programmed to tack and jibe as needed. This to keep up a given plotted course even into the wind. Which unfortunately he was heading into at this time. This of course is somewhat inhibiting his forward progress. However eleven knots into a wind still isn’t a bad clip for a sloop of this size.

He then moved to the helm where he opened the cover above the ship's wheel. There he gazed upon a weatherproof, twenty inch touch screen. This interfaced with the shipboard computer, which he had named Sue in deference to the name of the ship “Susurrus.”

Susurrus means the gentlest of breezes, or a breath of wind. There was another connection to the name, however that’s another story.

He proceeded to touch the GPS icon. The display changed to a map of the South Pacific Ocean with a blinking cursor showing his current location along with a trail showing the track across the sea. The middle of a very large expanse of blue. “Great.” he thought to himself, “haven’t even made the equator yet... hell we're just past the Solomon Islands”.

Mitch said,“Well this sure as hell isn’t our normal milk run though... is it?” The voice of Sue said, “Captain?” Mitch said,“Nothing Sue, wasn’t talking to you.”

Then he turned his attention to opening a deck locker. Mitch retrieved a hammock which he proceeded to place across the stern of the cockpit. Attached to two permanent hook mounts on the dingy davits. This to assume his normal daytime place that of gently swaying back and forth, all the while studying the various cloud formations or the occasional passing bird.

Mitch saw this as a duty. Considering the area of the ocean around here has the seemingly innate ability to throw a tropical downpour, as well as high winds, at a passing boat at any given time. These small squalls are readily seen brewing on the horizon well before the ship's radar can detect a storm and allow the computer to reef in the sails. So this was an action that while it may seem a lazy skipper hanging out in a hammock all day, is actually about the only duty Mitch had. Since the ship was computer controlled.

After a couple of hours of staring at nothing but open sky. He arose to sounds from down below in the salon or galley area. He then thought,“May as well get some more coffee.”

Before he could make the doorway a woman appeared with two cups. Offering him one of the cups she said, “I thought you would be up here, and perhaps you could use a cup of coffee. I hope it is OK... I assumed from the sugar bowl and lack of milk you take it black with sugar?”

He answered, “Yep, that’s fine thank you. Did you sleep well?... I would assume you aren’t in the habit of going on open water crossings in a sailboat?”

The woman, a quite lovely brunette who was in her mid to late twenties answered, “What would lead you to think that?” He then took the time to really look at her. She was even at a quick glance extremely beautiful, standing he guessed around five foot in bare feet. She had an oval face with large blue eyes. He had never seen eyes this blue, almost like ice blue. A slightly turned up perky small nose, above lush full lips.

All of this loveliness framed by somewhat tousled shoulder length light brown hair. All in all a beauty that most men would probably die for. Mitch chuckled and said, “You are wearing a dress, a nice one I might add and heels, did you even think about bringing a more casual wardrobe with you?”

She then answered, “There was no time for anything like that, as I told you in the bar... I needed to leave immediately!” “OK” he said, “But you either go barefoot... or find other footwear... no hard shoes aboard the boat... number one rule. I thought I said that when you climbed aboard?” She then lowered her head, and muttered, “I’m sorry…. I forgot… here.” She bent over pulled off the pumps and placed them on the deck.

Looking back twelve hours earlier… The scene is a small bar and restaurant outside of Kingston on Norfolk Island. Mitch is having dinner with the owner of the place. Ben Sampson, a friend of some time. They are chatting about the local fishing, how lately the tourists had fallen in numbers much to the dismay of several people in the area.

When a strange woman walked in. She was asking if anyone knew how to contact the owner of the boat tied up at the Kingston wharf. The young woman at the counter (Ben’s daughter Marie) glanced toward the two men, and after Mitch nodded. She said, “That’s him sitting over by the window.”

Ben turned around to watch along with Mitch a lovely young woman approach them. She seemed totally out-of-place in this environment, dressed as if to go to a nightclub in Sydney, not to a seaside bar in Norfolk. She was wearing a dress while somewhat demure, it allowed one to see that she had a nice figure. A square-cut bodice that was not revealing, mid length sleeves and it was of average length stopping just above her knees along with a pair of high heels. Not sneakers and jeans like the rest of the patrons in the place.

She said,” Are one of you the owner of the sailboat... down by the wharf?” “That would be me.” Mitch replied, “My name is Mitch… and you are?” She answered, “I’m Sally Runyon (in a haughty tone)... and I need to talk to you in private if I may?” Mitch replied, “Ben here is of no threat nor would he repeat anything said here, so what’s on your mind?”

Mitch said,”Here sit down… we were almost done with dinner at any rate.” She pulled up a chair looking around as if to see if anyone had noticed her, and said, “I need to leave tonight for Manila... a fellow at the wharf told me you were going in that direction. Is that true?” Mitch answered,“I am… but if you’re in a hurry, it would be much faster to go by air... from Sydney or New Zealand.”

She said in a low voice,” I can’t travel by air... or any other means of public transport... because there are people looking for me and I don’t have time to be delayed in my journey... Please I’m not a criminal, nor have I done anything wrong… it’s just that… well I can’t tell you everything right now... just that it’s extremely important that I get to Manila... without being followed by anyone. Can you do this? If not I’m wasting my time here.”

After a brief minute’s pause. Mitch looked the young woman in the eye and said,”Alright… I’ll do it, but this is gonna cost you…” Whereupon she interrupted him. She said, “I’ll give you $1,000 dollars now and $10,000 dollars American upon reaching Manila OK?” After another moment of thought he answered, “OK, be down at the boat ready to leave two hours from now... don’t be late!” She left, a while later he returned to his boat to find her there. Sitting on three medium size duffel bags.

Back in the present. Mitch remembered that he had thought to himself when he found her waiting at the boat dressed as she was now and carrying three large bags. Something just wasn’t quite right about all this. Now he was beginning to think that the bags contained something other than a change of clothes. He said,“OK… so you have the clothes on your back, which although great looking... really isn’t going to work on this voyage... so what in the hell is in the bags you drug aboard?”

She only stared off into the distance while ignoring him. Mitch then went below and rummaged around in the aft cabin for a few minutes. Emerging with a “Dive Tahiti!” t-shirt and a blue pair of woman’s sweat pants. Tossing them to her he said simply,“These should fit... if I’ve guessed your size correctly... I’m gonna cook up some bacon and eggs, how do you like yours?” She answered him, “Over easy.” Then she checked the sizes they were correct. She dropped out of sight down into the cabin way to go up front to change.

She closed the small door. Then she changed clothes in the area that passed for a forward berth. Obviously he seldom had guests aboard as it was primarily a storage area for the goods he hauled from one island to the next.

There was a bunk somewhat triangular in shape. Large enough for three people to share if they didn’t mind their feet being all in the same place. As it was roughly eight feet wide, by seven feet in length narrowing down to about five feet across at the bow. A bed that she had shared last night with several large bags of rice and flour.

Mitch having hastily arranged enough room for her to sleep simply saying, “I don’t normally have passengers aboard.” Beyond that was the anchor compartment where the chain had clanked as the boat shifted through the seas. She had soon gotten used to that.

It was the musty smell that had kept bothering her, until finally she realized that the odor was that of damp cardboard from the various boxes, that he had stored in here from time to time on his trips. Some of which she was leaning against as she got out of her dress and put on the outfit given her by Mitch.

She was quite aware of a faintly perfumed scent to the articles, not a sea or musty smell at all. As she exited the space she immediately smelled the odor of bacon cooking. She looked over as he was placing the bacon on a paper towel, before pouring the scrambled eggs into the skillet. He was shaking some pepper, sprinkling a dash of salt over the mixture and stirred slowly till he finished the eggs. Whereupon he spooned out portions on two plates, along with a couple of strips of bacon. “Ding” went the toaster as if on cue, he buttered a piece of toast for each plate. Then without a word moved around and placed the dishes on the rather large table in the center of the salon.

This was a massive chunk of mahogany, six feet from port to starboard, and twelve feet front to aft set in the center of the large salon. There were eight seats mounted on brackets so that they could be swung under the table, to ease in passage around it not that it was necessary. The salon was over twenty feet wide, a very roomy area.

Mitch said,“Breakfast is ready. Here are your ‘over-easy’ eggs.” He laughed aloud. He then said,”Sorry… it’s a little joke about the eggs, all I have are powdered eggs, fresh eggs don’t do well at sea… found that out the hard way… even made some racks for ‘em once, but that didn’t work out, smashed several dozen before I gave up… they can be one hell of a mess too.”

He continued,“You want coffee or soda? That’s all we have aboard… and water. I don’t drink and although there are some spirits aboard... they are for trade goods only not for consumption as I don’t allow open booze aboard OK?”

She gazed at him for a moment before saying, “Coffee will be fine, thanks.” They sat in silence while they consumed the breakfast. Her gaze wandered about the area. The salon was quite large, she guessed twenty feet wide and thirty feet long... bigger than her apartment... there was a large galley on the starboard side, as well as an area of stacked boxes secured by some rope.

Freight she assumed. The large table where they now sat could easily seat ten to twelve people. A comfortable looking couch about eight feet long on the port side. This flanked by more of the ubiquitous boxes. A large screen TV and stereo system is mounted on the bulkhead forming the wall for the forward berth area. Which also contained a small head and a work area.

All together it was quite roomy. This came as somewhat a surprise to her as she had always believed boats cramped places. Then as if she had been shot she spat out, “Wait a minute... if we are both here, who is running the boat?” Mitch chuckled and said aloud, “Sue?” The computer responded, “Aye... Aye Captain!”

Sally looked around in amazement as to where the female voice had come from. As it seemed like it was everywhere. She said, “Who is that?”

Mitch laughed and said, “It’s the boat… in a manner of speaking of course. I programmed a computer to control the boat, and it responds to voice commands, as well as answers via several audio clips, to a series of pre-arranged voice commands. Such as…” Then he paused and said aloud, “Sue, introduce yourself to the woman here.”

Whereupon the computer voice responded, “Hello I’m Sue… the on-board computer that controls ‘Susurrus’... the vessel upon which you are now sailing. I have been given the sole responsibility of maintaining a given course... as well as monitoring the weather and other conditions in the surrounding seas. I am available for action twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, three hundred sixty-five days a year. I am actually two separate units, each with a quad-core CPU, and raided five hundred gigabyte hard drives, on an ups power system. Failure is NOT an option. I answer only to Captain Torrance, and no one else.” After a pause, “By the way I am NOT related to HAL, so don’t ask!” At this Mitch broke into a jovial laugh, “Sorry… I had way too much fun with that one huh?”

Sally Runyon just stared in amazement at him not really ready to believe she was on some “Star Trek” sailboat, in the middle of the South Pacific. She said, “Really… a computer is driving the boat?”

Mitch waited a bit, then looked into her blue eyes and said, ”Yep… it does so with the help of inputs such as four depth finders, two radar sets, one with a two hundred mile range and another a twenty-five mile range unit, along with a side scanning sonar unit, a GPS system, and a satellite weather feed. All these are being constantly fed as inputs to the system, the program output, controls a Programmable Controller unit, that runs various motors, such as the winches for the sails, as well as controlling the rudder for bearing, and pumps that control the ballast tanks for trim. All pretty much hands free, although the boat can be manually single-handed in case of an emergency.”

He continued,”It is really quite stable and safe... I haven’t had to change anything in well over a year now... There were some “bugs” at first… hell some were downright scary actually, but that’s all behind, in the wake of past voyages... now... understand that ‘Sue” isn’t artificial intelligence… she just adjusts the sails, based on winds, even tacking into a headwind, and trims the rudder, to maintain a given course. There are sensors all over the boat, including units on the sails themselves, that sense wind pressure to give the best trim. Hell... even the Americas Cup boats use a similar system now.”

Sally spoke up then, “But the crack about HAL…?” Mitch laughed, “That is just my sense of humor… OK, I recorded... I mean... I had someone who... recorded, several key phrases that are in the computer, to give information... alerts or warnings instead of having a series of horns or sirens going off.”

She said,”OK... but… the voice is really very realistic sounding.” To which he replied, “It should that’s… well an old friend that spoke all those…” At that he rose, grabbing the dishes to move to the sink, she reached out and took his wrist, “I’ll do that... go ahead and do... whatever it is you need to do elsewhere. OK?”

Mitch shrugged his shoulders, then went up the steps to the cockpit directly to the hammock where he lay down gazing out to the East. A few minutes passed before he heard a voice, “Fish off the bow. Fish off the bow!” it was Sue. A few moments later, when Sally came up after cleaning up below she noticed that he was working with one of two large fishing rods. At the stern of the boat she stood and watched for a couple of minutes. She said, “Now you’re fishing? What do you think you’ll catch way out here?”

He turned to look at her before answering, “The computer picked up signs of fish along the boat… most likely Pelagic fish.” She gave him an incredulous look and said simply,“Pelagic?” He replied, “Ha ha... where are you from? Pelagic fish live in very deep ocean waters usually not far from a source of shallow water food fishes. They are primarily Tuna, Wahoo, Mahi Mahi or Marlin... hoping for the Mahi Mahi. They’re not too large and extremely tasty to boot. We’ll have a little fresh fish on the menu with any luck. I’ll take Tuna even… if it doesn’t take all day to land it. Just cut off a couple large steaks and the sea can feast on what’s left.”

Just then he saw the shimmer in the water just off the port side and he motioned for her to look and spoke, “There … see the green shapes? Mahi Mahi running along like we were a whale or other large body. I believe they try to use us for cover from their enemies. However when they drop back... they will... maybe grab one of the lures.”

Sure enough just about five minutes passed when the port rod began “singing.” “Fish on!” he cried out. Old habits are hard to shake he probably would have said it even if there were no one around to hear. First he reeled in the starboard line so as not to get the lines tangled. As soon as he had it reeled in. He began gently re-capturing several yards of eighty pound line on the big Penn International. Both of the reels were old and worn but still had a lot of fight in them.

Slowly he gained yard by yard until the fish was along the boat, it was a Mahi Mahi. He kicked open the lid to the deck box and reached inside to grab the collapsible net. With a snap of the wrist it leapt to its full length of eight feet. Then with a move polished over the years he placed the net in front of the fish with his left hand. All the while maneuvering the fish with the rod in his right hand right into the net. Then a mighty heave he pulled it up the seven feet out of the water, and on the deck of the cockpit. “Wonderful.” he exclaimed.

The Mahi Mahi was about twenty pounds. He could get several meals out of this. It wasn’t too large for the freezer. He went back into the deck locker retrieved a large filleting knife and a long pair of pliers. He reached into the fishes mouth with the pliers. He retrieved the three ounce, nine-inch long skirted lure, its skirts having been almost completely bitten off by the fish.

Then without stopping for a moment he proceeded to cut the filets off the still moving fish. As he did this the once bright green fish’s sides began an almost surreal color show by flashing various colors similar to a rainbow. As it gave up it’s being on the earth. The colors seem to run from the head down to the tail in the last moments. He had never gotten over how amazing that was.

Sally spoke up, “What just happened? Why didn’t you kill it first?” He said,“I did kill it. Just didn’t want to get blood all over the teak deck... End result is the same.” As he said this he heaved the remains of the carcass over the side of the boat. He then proceeded to take the two large filets down to the galley. Where he washed them up and removed the remaining skin. He cut the pieces into smaller meal sized chunks before putting all but two into zip lock freezer bags in sets of twos for later use.

Then having taken care of the immediate meat handling. He went back topside to look after cleaning the fishing gear and wash down the deck. There he found a softly sobbing Sally. Mitch asked,“What’s the matter? Are you alright?” She looked up at him and whimpered, “I never watched anyone kill another living animal.”

He was taken aback a bit by this. While not exactly calloused, he didn’t associate fishing with such as big game hunting which many people abhor. Mitch thought,”Hell… lots of people eat fish that don’t eat red meat… they think it comes in cans?” But not to upset her any more. He said, “I’m sorry about that, it’s just… that is what I do, when I get a fish out here. I didn’t even think... that you may not have seen a fish cleaned before, much less in such a way... it’s just that, the quicker I get the filet off, and down into the freezer, the better the meat is… because of the heat in the region, it tends to spoil easily… you do eat meat right, I mean, you’re not a vegan you had bacon this morning?”

She looked up at him and slowly replied, “No... it’s alright… I’m OK. The colors… do the fish always do those…the colors?” He chuckled and said, “Only the Mahi Mahi… apparently they also do the color changing during courtship... kinda like an octopus changing its color... something in the skin, but no one’s been able to verify that part.” He turned to washing down the reels with some fresh water as well as the deck, before storing them back inside the deck storage units.

The rods he returned to a long pipe attachment mounted just underneath the main boom, wrapped in their protective cloth sleeves to keep them from rubbing against each other. Then he heard the voice of ‘Sue’, “Contact... off the starboard bow... bearing forty degrees... speed eleven knots... range ninety kilometers... course due south... passing within five kilometers.” He then went to the console screen opened it and touched the camera icon.

A picture filled the screen of the sea and sky. He drug his finger across the screen until the indicator at the top read “forty degrees.” He then hit a zoom icon, and tapping other icons on the screen causing the picture to zoom in or out, till he saw an image on the horizon. Then he could make out the obvious view of a freighter in the distance. A voice broke the silence as Sally said, “What’s that?”

He said, “There’s a camera mounted eighty feet up on top of the mast. I can control it from here and down at the nav station.” He paused and continued, “Very useful for seeing... who may be coming for a visit.” In this case, as is usually the outcome, it was just another ship of fools, going about life at sea. He continued to gaze at the distant ship adjusted the focus just to be sure that it wasn’t a “mother” ship. Sometimes in this region, pirates use a captured freighter carrying smaller fast boats, to attack and pillage shipping. Often waylaying smaller cruising vessels. Those of poor souls enjoying their well-earned retirement years.

The two hundred power lens showed clearly a handful of crew working at maintaining the forward area of the deck. He didn’t for a moment think that this could be a show that far off. Very few boats could have even seen the freighter much less the crew at this range. Since he did not have a radar reflector up high (the usual for sailboats, for identification at sea and he didn’t like being visible) they probably didn’t even know he was here.

Of course at this magnification even the “steady cam” was having a hard time staying still. So he gave it up and shut down the feed. He then loudly spoke, “Sue?” The voice answered, “Yes captain?” He said,“Sue... security condition yellow... for the next twelve hours.” Sue,“Aye... Aye, Captain... security condition yellow... for twelve hours.” He was not one to take chances, this increased the scan rate of the area, so if someone were to approach there would be an ample warning.

He then turned to look for his “guest” he found her behind him sound asleep in the hammock. Well that seemed like a good idea, so removing another hammock from the locker he set it up under the main boom in the alternate site, from the end of the boom back to the mast where he had installed clips for same. This wasn’t as relaxing because of the rolling of the boat but not too bad today. “Sue?” he cracked. The voice answered, “Yes captain?” He said aloud, “Two hour nap, no more.” Sue replied, “Aye... Aye Captain... two-hour nap.” Then all was silence… nothing but the waves lapping the hull and the luffing of the sails.

Two hours later:

Sue’s voice, “Captain... it’s time to get up!” Ten seconds later,“Captain... it’s time to get up!” He awoke and said, “Alright Sue... I’m awake.” He then glanced over at the cockpit hammock only to find it empty. Then he craned his head around expecting to see her on deck forward but there was no sign of her. He climbed out of the hammock, stretched then he went through the door way down the steps into the salon. Looking around he found her in his cabin looking in a drawer at some items of clothing.

He said, “What in the hell are you doing?” Startled she said, “I was looking to see if you had a bathing suit I could use?” He said, “Like hell you were... for that you could have asked... you are snooping around where you don’t belong... I have half a mind to just chuck you overboard!” “No!” She screamed, “I just wanted something cooler... I didn’t want to wake you up... really you have to believe me.” After a long pause he relented and said, “Bottom drawer... there is a suit in there…” his voice trailed off.

She closed the drawer she was looking in. Opened the bottom drawer. There were several items of woman’s apparel folded and arranged almost too neatly. She also noticed that here were the sachets of Hawaiian Plumeria flowers that she had smelled on the clothes he had given her to wear. She soon found a suit a bikini that was the perfect size… a thirty-six C top, a size six bottom, bright pink with white Plumeria flowers. Obviously from either Hawaii or Tahiti, as they also carry the same design and grow the flower there. She then looked up to where Mitch was still standing. As he had been observing her actions. “I can change in here?” she asked. He answered tersely,“Sure.”

Then he left to go into the salon where he sat down at the nav station. With a couple clicks of the mouse he had brought the area alive with softly playing music. Sally didn’t recognize the music but the rhythms were of some melodic nature. Perhaps India or Thai origin she wasn’t sure, but it reminded her of being in a restaurant having spicy foods.

She quickly changed into the bikini and emerged into the salon where she was under the almost microscopic gaze of Mitch. He said after looking at her from head to toe, “You look nice… almost as nice… well, I hope you are ‘cooler’ now.”

He observed while almost not looking at her what she had hidden under the dress. A marvelous body, firm, trim almost athletic, without being muscular. She was very well put together and extremely easy on the eyes. Sally was not the least bit nervous in the skimpy bikini, after all she was in very good shape, long hours in the gym had given her a body to match her looks and she knew this. While neither egotistical nor vain she was well aware of the almost intoxicating effect that she could have on men in general.

However she sensed that she wasn’t having the same effect on this particular man. She was very curious about why. He continued to do some work at the computer, almost ignoring her walking around the salon. So she left and went up to the deck above. Where she stretched out on the roof of the cabin below. At first the surface was hot on her back, but soon her skin adjusted. The soft sea breeze felt nice flowing across her body, and she became totally relaxed. The only sounds were the sails being moved, motors whirring as the boat tacked in the changing winds. The accompanying movement of the boat as it heeled over slightly as the maneuver completed.

A few minutes passed before Mitch emerged from the salon. He quietly walked over to the reclining woman, gazing at her form for some time as she lay there with her eyes closed. Then he spoke, “I thought you may need this.” Startled for a moment. As she hadn’t heard him approach, she looked up to see him standing by her side. Then he handed her a bottle of sunscreen. Mitch said,“The Sun here is quite intense and you can get burned even before you realize it is happening.”

She reached out to accept the bottle and replied, “Thanks I hadn’t thought of that... just figured you didn’t have any I guess.” He then went back to his hammock climbed in and proceeded to watch her, as she applied the cream before lying back down face up with her eyes closed. After some time he heard her moving. Then opened his eyes to see her roll over on her stomach.

He climbed out of the hammock stepped over to the prone woman saying, “Want some on your back? No underlying meaning... it’s just that you could get seriously burnt and we don’t need a medical condition way out here.” She glanced up at him and replied, “Thank you… I was wondering if you would ask.”

Whereupon he proceeded almost casually to squirt some of the cream across her shoulders, and spread it out with his palms, repeating this on each of her thighs and calves. When he completed his mission he simply returned to his hammock. Leaving her to once again wonder to herself, “What is up with this guy that he almost ignores me,”

It seemed to her as if she was not there or that he was not the least bit interested in her. This was a new feeling. One that she was not accustomed to. Most of her life up till now men had always gone out of their way to try to insinuate themselves into her space. Yet here for the first time a man was almost the complete opposite, and this was causing her some measure of discomfort. She soon stopped this train of thought and dropped off into a light sleep.

When she awoke. She looked around, the Sun was lower in the sky. It was just above the horizon late afternoon she surmised. She thought,“I must have been out for some time.” Just at that moment Mitch appeared from below carrying two glasses of ice water, one of which he handed to her and said, “Have a nice nap?”

He then went back to the ship's wheel. Opened the control station to bring up the GPS tracking screen to see their place and check the radar for any “blips”. They had progressed several miles there was nothing on the radar so he shut it down and closed up the cover.

Mitch said,“I made some sandwiches if you are hungry... probably be cooking the fish in a couple of hours... if you care to wait for that.” Sally then said, “A sandwich? What did you make? Oh, I’m sorry, never mind… which ever you made would be fine by me... that would be nice thanks.” He went below got a plate of quartered tuna salad sandwiches and two glasses of Pepsi with ice.

Then he returned topside placed them on the small table at the stern bench. Then he motioned to her to join him there. She got up and moved over to the table, upon doing so she was then aware of the sunburn ahe had gotten while sleeping, not as severe as it could have been without the sunscreen, but a little uncomfortable never the less. He noticed the movements and said, “Tender are we? I told you the tropical sun here is much more severe than many people think it is. You will be OK... after you’ve had a bite to eat... there is shower right there.” Motioning to a shower head attached to a pipe on the starboard side of the deck.

Mitch said,“The shower has two valves... left is salt water from the sea... soap with that, and the right valve is fresh for rinsing, the cool water will feel good... and after you finish, I’ll rub some Aloe Vera gel on your back which will help... you’ll be fine tomorrow.”

Sally proceeded to consume the sandwiches and soda. While thinking to herself, “OK, now we’ll see if this guy is human or a robot like his damn boat!” Once she had finished eating. She looked at him and said, “Those were great, you make a very good tuna salad.”

Then she stood up. Moved over to the shower. She opened the left valve to the cold sea water spray. Then dropped the bikini on the deck, proceeded to rub the bar of soap across her body and take a shower. The water felt wonderful…very cool, but in the heat of the afternoon it was really nice. The water was so cold that she got Goosebumps and it caused her nipples to get quite hard. Without being too obvious, she glanced at Mitch from time to time trying to judge his reaction.

Mitch had watched in some amazement as she had gotten up,.so casually removed the suit and began her shower. He then just leaned back and observed this lovely woman, as she put on a very obvious display that he was positive had been solely to get a reaction out of him. She was built very nicely, quite solid perky breasts, above a flat tummy and a well-shaped, firm derrière.

Well, she had aroused him at that, but there was no way that he would give her any satisfaction of same. Mustering up his best “celibate” thoughts to calm his arousal. He said, “When you’re finished, leave the water running and I’ll follow you... it is extremely warm today, I could use a bath as well.” She said, “OK... I’m done... you have a towel, or do we “drip dry?”

He chuckled at that lifting the lid off the bench he was sitting on. He pulled out two large towels handing her one of them. He dropped the other on the bench, then dropped his shorts on the deck, proceeded to step under the cool spray and begin his bathing. He wasn’t shy. He never had been and this was certainly no exception. The gauntlet having been thrown down by her in a way. He was very curious. Where she was going with her moves of the past few minutes. Did she think even for one moment that he could be manipulated that easy?

Mitch quietly finished his shower. He dried off. Then stepped below into the aft cabin for a pair of shorts. Yelling up, he said, “I assume you want a change of clothes… or perhaps you wish to stay naked?” With that remark she was visibly shaken. Sally responded meekly, “Yes... some clothes would be nice. Thank you.” She had watched him bath with some fascination as he was in good shape not exactly a body builder type like she had often looked at in the gym. He was lean, and obviously fit and tanned from the years at sea. The most obvious item she noticed was that the man had no “tan line.” Apparently he was accustomed to going, “in the buff”. Perhaps while at sea with no one around.

This brought all sorts of images into her head. She thought to herself, “Wow… what am I doing here, I’m in the middle of the ocean with a stranger and I just stripped for him… why… did I do that? You better be more careful girl… it didn’t seem to have much “effect” on him, at any rate... stress… that’s what it is, just too much ‘stress’ lately.” She carried on trying to self psychoanalyze herself and her actions of the afternoon.

He reappeared with another t-shirt this one a pink “Bali” logo style and a pair of matching shorts. As he handed her the articles she simply dropped the towel on the deck bench and proceeded to get dressed as if he weren’t even there. Mitch didn’t seem to pay any attention, as he was lost in thought.

He simply said out loud, “OK… So what is going on here? I think it’s about time you answered the question.”. She looked at him for a moment before answering, “What question is that?” He gazed at her intently for a long moment before saying,“You come on board, carrying three large bags, but you don’t have a change of clothes with you... You show up on the island of Norfolk... at dusk from nowhere... wanting to take a secretive trip to Manila, but no explanation for that other than ‘I have to go now!’ Is Sally Runyon even your real name? So, what is the story here, I think the time has come... for you to give me explanation don’t you?”

She paused for a long moment to think up a lie before beginning the tale, “OK… My name isn’t Sally Runyon it’s... Susan Jones, I’m from New York. I had flown from New York to Sydney via LAX. While in Sydney, I noticed that I had missed a phone call, from my friend and neighbor, Darlene in New York. Apparently she had called me and when I reached Sydney for a layover... before going to Manila. I got the messages and called her. She had noticed someone inside my apartment and called the police... when they arrived and confronted the men... it turned out that they were from the FBI, or some other ‘alphabet soup’ government agency. So the police even though hesitant they left... after that she locked the apartment back up, but as she was doing so... she overheard one of the men say to the other, that they had someone on the flight with her and all is OK.”

She continued,”I had noticed that one man had looked at me a bit during the two flights... he had been on both, from New York, but I didn’t put it together till I heard her story, and there he was... sitting near me in the lounge, as we spoke on the phone... I figured that perhaps he was the person... that the two men in New York meant. I hadn’t re-checked my bags after clearing customs, so I waited till he had to go ‘relieve’ himself and I left my other bags, hoping he would think I was coming back. I just took a cart with the three bags that I have with me... then I went outside and flagged down a cab.”

She paused before saying,”I had the cabbie take me to the Sydney harbor. Then I paid him three hundred American, to forget where he dropped me. I chartered a boat to take me to the Solomon Islands... Yes... I know what you’re thinking.... “Dumb.”... but I just wanted to get out of there. The Captain of the boat I hired, after talking to me, wound up carrying me to Norfolk... where he said, there’s a boat and skipper there that for a price would take me anywhere I wanted to go. Then the next thing is... I’m here with you, and that’s it.”

He thought for a moment and said, “That would be Jerry Price of the ‘Southern Star’.” She looked shocked, “How… how did you know that?” Mitch chuckled and replied, “Only Jerry has the sand to dump you on me in Norfolk and the good news is that he probably has some fish aboard and a good story about never having seen you before. He’s alright and doesn’t like government types either. I’m sure they got to the cabbie though... so they know you’re traveling by sea and they already knew you were going to Manila. That leaves the bags you brought aboard… they may have planted a tracking device... as the bags went through customs. We have to check them, so… If they aren’t clothing, what is in the bags? Come on answer me… I’ll just go in there and look inside for myself.”

She cast her eyes down and after a few moments said, “One hundred million dollars in bearer bonds, they’re like cash and a little over ten million in American hundred-dollar bills.” He got up whistling and moving towards the salon said, “We probably don’t have much time, if any at all. Hell they were probably watching your little show by satellite in Washington and are now following us across the ocean… Damn it!”

The two of them went below and into the forward berth where Mitch grabbed the bags and threw them on the salon floor. He then went to the nav station where he retrieved a small AM/FM radio, turned up the volume, and tuned it to a smooth static noise. Then he proceeded to pass it around the bags. Then they heard, “SCREEEEE, SCREEEEE, SCREEEEE” “Shit!” he said, “I was right… I was really hoping I was wrong about this though.”

As he opened one up dumped it on the floor and began his search he spoke, “Why in the hell are you carrying this... and how the fuck... did you manage to get it through airport security and customs without a lot of questions?” Shocked by his vulgar speech for a moment. Sally said, “My father… the money was in a safe at his place. I got a video email... that he was being held... that I was to bring it to the Philippines... where I would be contacted for his release, as to how it got through… I never thought about that at all.”

Mitch spoke up then, “Well the government probably had something to do with the clearing... your father ‘connected?’” She answered, “He did some work for the government in the past. I have no idea what it was he did. I never asked him about it.” Just then Mitch said, “Here’s one.” He held up a small metallic cylinder slightly longer than an Advil capsule that he found in a seam of one of the bags.

Mitch said,”Look harder they may have put more than one.” After a few minutes the salon floor was covered with bonds and hundred-dollar bills. They had found three of the capsules and three of what looked like thick credit cards. These had been hidden between the layers of bonds and bills. Mitch thought to himself, “Well they probably have a sub coming to track me already but maybe…”

On the other side of the world in a government control room an operator said, “I got a hit… That sounds like the right frequency.” His superior shouted, “Great you got it?” The operator replies, “Wait... while I send the coördinates to the satellite then we can verify it and get a lock on the position. Just take a couple of minutes to get it set up.”

Mitch simply went to his tackle box. He picked out a one pound lead sinker and put that along with the ‘bugs’ in a zip lock bag. Then went up to the deck and tossed them overboard. Then he went back below made another sweep with the radio and got nothing but static.

Back in Washington the operator said, “Lost it… I had it and lost it before I could get the satellite lock.” His superior said, “Re-scan the area, if she’s in a small boat, it may have gone behind a wave. Those don’t send well through water.” The operator said, “OK... I’m re-commencing scan of the last quadrant now.” Superior, “What about the visual scan of that area?” Operator, “Only boat we picked up was some freighter, but it was headed south toward New Zealand nothing else there. Maybe it was some fluke or atmospheric anomaly. I only had it for about ten seconds, maybe less.” Superior, “Keep scanning. Those things are out there and we need to find them soon. We want to know where she is so we can find her father.”

Mitch looked around at the mess in the salon and said, “OK... you can re-pack your bags now. While I cook us up some fresh ‘Mahi Mahi’”. Then he turned his attention to breaking out a skillet. While still trying to absorb the information that he had gathered during the recent turn of events. He thought, “What have I gotten myself into this time… alphabet agencies from any country were nothing but trouble. She had brought someone down on his quiet small world… So, ole salt, we are where we are where do we go from here?”

He gave the thought to the wind and went about the task of cooking a meal. He put some water to boil for rice. Once that had started to bubble he began pouring some olive oil into a cast iron skillet for the fish. Then he squeezed a lemon over them and sprinkled some spice mixture that he kept ready in the cabinet over the Mahi Mahi fillets. Once the oil was hot he placed some sliced onions and the fish in for a few minutes. When the rice came to a boil this he turned down to a simmer, tossed a dollop of butter, sprinkled some salt and covered the pot.

Turning the fish once a few more minutes of cooking, then he removed the fish to a drain rack. By this time the rice finished cooking. He plated the simple meal and placed the plates on the table. He then turned his attention towards Susan or Sally, whoever she was. She had finished repacking the bags.

He said in his best sarcastic voice, “Dinner is served... my dear.” Then he added, “What would you like to drink?” She replied, “Water is fine.” He then got out two glasses and tossed some ice in them. Put some water in one for her and Pepsi in his. They sat down and neither said a single word throughout the meal.

When they had both finished. She spoke first, “I’ll do the dishes OK... that was a wonderful meal. I can’t remember having any fish... even in a restaurant tasting better.” Mitch simply said, “Well normally I serve all my guests a salad before the main course, but in all the confusion that was forgotten… Sorry about that.”

He then spoke up, “Sue?” The computer replied, “Yes, Captain?” He stated, “Area status?” The computer answered,“We are at security condition yellow, all sensors clear, and radar clear.”. This didn’t make him feel any easier. If the government was looking for this woman and so it seemed. Then sooner or later he would be found this he knew was a given fact.

He said out loud, “Sue... what’s our position?” Sue, “We are at one degrees twelve minutes south latitude... one hundred sixty-nine degrees thirty-two minutes east longitude.”

Mitch thought,”We're almost there.” Then he said, “OK... Susan or whatever your name is. By tomorrow we will be off Tapiwa, that’s an Island. I have some goods to deliver there. There is no better time than now to look like its business as usual. If we got lucky and ditched those units before they got on to us. We might be able to get you to Manila after all. If not... then we will probably have company waiting for us there. At any rate get a good night’s sleep. Because tomorrow you will be in a very uncomfortable place. For the time we are at the island.”

She only partly understood and said, “What do you mean uncomfortable?” He replied, “When I make anchor the locals normally come aboard to carry the goods off… to help me. I can’t have that changed or to have them see you aboard. So you will be below decks. While I conduct my business with the islanders.” She then looked around, and saw nothing like a set of steps nor did she think there was room for anything under the floor.

He said, “There are ‘false’ panels in the deck under our feet. Beneath the throw rug. There is room for you to lie down, but you cannot be moving around... until they leave the boat and have gone ashore... understand? Hopefully, that is all that would happen, but... if there is a reception committee waiting and they do some sort of search... Well neither you... nor your bags can be out and about get it?” She said, “A search… Won’t they look down there?”

He just laughed, “I can’t count the times the local “Authorities” have tried to catch me smuggling something or other. Hell a couple of times they even brought dogs aboard. I don’t do that by the way, smuggling that is. Anyway... no one has ever noticed the bilge panels, look for yourself.”

He drew back the rug to show the decking planks, beautiful teak boards in a short, random length, staggered pattern. Seemingly unbroken till he produced a tool from the end of the cabinet by the sink. That he sunk into an empty screw hole turned it a few times till it was tight. Then he lifted up a six-foot long by three-foot wide section of the floor exposing a cavity under the floor. Almost three feet deep and extending for four more feet in each direction.

Mitch said,“No worries… It’s dry and safe… go ahead, put the bags down now, so in the morning, it’s only you that we need to hide.” She did as he asked, tossing the bags down shoving two one way and one the other. He went into the forward area and came back with a three-inch piece of rolled up foam for a small bed that he tossed down in the bottom of the boat.

Mitch said,“That will make it easier to lie quietly for a while, best I can do never meant for the space to hold people.”

There was still plenty of room for her. While the idea didn’t thrill her it did make sense. Then he closed up the deck and put the tool away. Tossing the rug back he glanced again to see that the action had left no visible traces.

He then went back up on the deck where it had become night. The Sun having gone down while they were having dinner. He pulled up the GPS chart on the screen for a moment. Then said aloud, “Sue?” The usual reply, “Yes, Captain.” He said,“Plot a course for zero degrees fifty-one minutes south latitude... one hundred sixty-nine degrees thirty-one minute’s east longitude... set sail... drop the anchor there.” Sue, “Aye... Aye, Captain zero degrees fifty-one minutes south latitude... one hundred sixty-nine degrees thirty-one minutes east longitude... set sail... drop the anchor.” Then he said, “Sue... Wake me when we arrive.” Sue, “Aye... Aye, Captain.” Having done that he went to the hammock and climbed in. Not long after he sensed, before he saw her that she was behind him.

He turned and she said, “Sorry I didn’t mean to startle you. It is lovely out here huh?” “Yes it is.” He replied. He loved the nighttime. When at sea by himself it seemed so much more serene and quiet then. Only the rushing of the water past the hull was heard. And the stars in the middle of the ocean, well they became immense, out here the milky way lives up to its name.

He then turned to her and said, “It really is Susan?” She was looking at the stars. She laughed and said, “Yes... it really is Susan, why do you ask?” He looked directly at her eyes, and said in a low voice, “It’s just that… the clothes you are wearing... once belonged to a Susan… from another lifetime it seems. The original voice for the computer, hence the name ‘Sue’ and of course it does fit the boat’s name.”

He then changed his tone, “Well we had better get some sleep. Tomorrow could be another long day. I’m just gonna crash up here tonight… so if you want the master cabin... it doesn’t smell the same as where you were last night. It is your choice to make though.” She took a moment before answering, “Thank you, I believe I shall stay in the master... if you’re sure you don’t mind?”

He then yawned and said, “Hell... we made your escape good today and we haven’t been torpedoed... so I suppose that is a very good day... I must put that in my log.” At that he laughed. She went below, pausing on the steps she glanced back and thought, “Why didn’t I meet this guy ten years ago.”

Then she went in the master cabin stripped and lay down on the bed. She realized it was filled with water. “Wow.” She thought, “This is a surprise, oh well... why not a waterbed on a boat having been on a waterbed before. She thought somehow this one felt different. It seemed more solid somehow while it obviously moved and had water. It was more like one would imagine it being filled with jell.” Then she relaxed and fell asleep on the gently moving queen sized bed.



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