The Kudo rose above the wave, hung as if suspended, then slammed down to meet the next one. The running lights, as well as those on the masts and rigging were lit, but they did little to illuminate the darkness beyond the rail. Sails lowered, Kaldera guided her by engine power only, and they were at least making some headway.
He stood, his shirt off and fully exposed to the lashing rain and wind. Aimi was below, preparing the space for those that would be brought aboard. At the bow, in foul weather gear were Kaz and Daisuke; both had attached themselves to the rail with safety lines to keep from being blown overboard.
Kaldera had been confronted when he announced he was going, and he‘d resisted their joining him. “I can’t ask you to do that,” he said as he went across the room and began to pull heavy clothing from the closet. “This will be dangerous enough, but I have to go.”
“We’re not letting you go alone!” Aimi cut in front of him. “Those are our friends, too,” she added with anger that had never been seen from her.
Aimi didn’t give him time to think about it, either. “Kaldera, you’ve always talked about us becoming a team, helping each other through things,” Aimi said. “Now is our time to help you, and them!”
“You can’t do a rescue alone,” Kaz put in. “If Keru is hurt, you will need more than just yourself to get him aboard.”
Kaldera knew from the expressions of those around him that he was not going to be allowed to leave on his own. “All right,” he finally relented, “take what you need for clothes in here, and let’s get going.”
“I’m going, too,” Daisuke said. He was already removing his tie and suit jacket. Saki volunteered to remain behind to monitor communications and pass them along, and Kaldera told her to keep on the Coast Guard about getting someone out to the location on the chart.
An hour had passed since then. Kaldera gripped the wheel in both hands, and leaned his chest into it as the Kudo took another heavy swell. The radio down in the cabin was on, but there was no time to go to it, nor could he hear it anyway.
Wrapped in a yellow slicker, Aimi clambered from below and joined him at the helm. “We’re set downstairs,” she shouted into his ear. “Anything yet?”
Kaldera shook his head. “Go to the main mast,” he called back. “Relay anything the guys say!” Aimi attached a safety line around her waist, then carefully made her way forward, using every handhold she could find so as not to fall on the slippery deck.
Closing his eyes, Kaldera allowed himself to ground to the deck, then down into the sea. He began to send himself down, past the bottom of the sea, into the Earth. The energy is coming…there is only one way to get there, and bring my friends home…even if it costs me my life, I must do this. These friends of mine, they are worth more to me than anything…I call on the spirits of the universe to help me, help me now…
Mei stood at the window, and watched the storm. It had gotten progressively worse--the rain continued to come in sheets, and the winds shrieked through the closed and latched door.
The storm was causing havoc across the region. The radio was on scan mode, and she could hear nothing but reports of damage along the coast, interspersed with the radio traffic of the Japanese Coast Guard and Self-Defense Forces.
The incident involving the collision of that cruise vessel and the other ship had ended; the breach in the ocean liner’s hull turned out not to be as serious as first thought. Temporary repairs had been made, and the evacuation was cancelled. Still, tugs were bringing the liner into port, and a number of resources remained on the scene. From what Mei could understand of the radio communications, units could not be diverted for smaller issues such as the Kiyomi.
Saki was in the kitchen, assisted by Midori. A pot of coffee was brewing, and the latter was overseeing a huge steel pot of soup. “They’ll need to be warmed up, and they’ll be hungry as well,” Saki commented. She stacked a set of bowls, utensils and other plateware on the counter; Midori was silent, and her worried look prompted Saki to put her hand on the girl’s shoulder.
“Don’t worry,” she said quietly, “Kaldera knows what he’s doing; he would not have let them go with him if he didn’t believe he could bring them all back. He will.”
Midori nodded as she stirred the pot with a metal whisk. “I know,” she replied. “I’m more worried about Mei, if anything does happen. After Kira died, she told me she became much closer to Aimi and Kaz. She’s always feared losing them, too.”
“I understand. Go to her,” Saki told her, “I’ll look after this.” As the girl went into the other room, Saki thought: Kaldera has some kind of unearthly ability in him, I’ve seen it before. But is it enough to take on Nature? Or is it that Earth and Nature somehow become one within him? I’ll never know…but doing this is the only way to keep our minds off the worst.
Midori went to the window. She slid her arms around Mei’s waist, and rested her head on the girl’s shoulder. “It’s gonna be okay,” she whispered in Mei’s ear, and kissed her as she spoke. “Like Kaz’s song, we have to believe--believe in Kaldera, and all of them.”
Mei said nothing, but leaned her head against Midori’s and held to her.
“Wreck sighted! One point off the starboard bow!”
Aimi turned and relayed the message from forward. Kaldera could barely hear Aimi’s voice over the typhoon’s rage, but he had seen the movement of Daisuke’s body as he pointed. In the distance, he could see the familiar shape of the Kiyomi.
The Bayliner was dead in the water, and listing badly. She was facing as if to pass them starboard to starboard, but for her upturned side. An emergency light was burning atop the Kiyomi, though it was down near the water, almost under it. Leaning against the cabin windows on the higher side were figures; he counted four bright orange lifejackets. Good, they’re all on deck. That’ll be easier.
Kaldera reduced speed and approached the boat. The rain and wind were slackening, and he noticed that his “crew” was looking around in disbelief. The storm had let up, and the waves had suddenly reduced to no more than a light chop.
“Prepare for rescue!” Kaldera shouted. He watched as everyone returned to action; Aimi detached her line and ran forward to help Kaz and Daisuke.
Dropping the throttle to dead slow, Kaldera eased the Kudo closer to the stricken boat. He was bringing his vessel right alongside; despite the swells, there was only a slight difference in height from the deck of the Kudo to the Kiyomi’s rail. Daisuke had grabbed a metal emergency ladder and was rigging it to the side, while Kaz had climbed over the rail to take the first to be rescued.
Their friends were in a bad way; all were drenched to the bone, and clung to one another, as well as any fittings they could find on the boat. Keru looked the worse for wear; his left arm was in a sling, and there was a bandage of some sort on his forehead. “Take the women first,” he called, and Minoru edged alongside to help transfer Nanae.
Kaz jumped down onto the deck of the Kiyomi; he’d seen that Nanae could barely move. “Put her on me!” He told Minoru.
Despite the pitching of the boat and a very narrow space to work in, Minoru was able to lift Nanae onto Kaz’s back. Taking only the most careful of small steps, Kaz made it to the ladder and struggled up. Nanae was not heavy, but both boats were still bouncing in the waves. Finally Kaz was able to grip the wet rungs and make his way up the side of the Kudo.
As he reached the deck, Daisuke pulled Nanae off him and carried her down the deck to the cabin. Kaldera continued to manipulate the wheel, using the engine throttle to keep the Kudo close. “Make it fast,” he yelled, “we don’t have a lot of time!”
Kaz went back over the side again, this time for Asuka. She was at least able to stay on her feet, but she too was exhausted by the ordeal. She climbed onto Kaz’s back and the operation was repeated. Once on deck, Aimi pulled Asuka’s arm over her shoulder and led her aft.
Minoru had turned to Keru. “Dad,” he said, “can you climb? You’re gonna be too heavy for us.”
His father nodded, and with Minoru’s help he was able to make the ladder. Despite the pitching of both vessels, Keru slowly and painfully made his way up, one rung at a time and into the arms of Daisuke and Kaz.
Minoru looked around one last time. His feet were now awash in the water; the Kiyomi was going down. Then for the first time, Minoru realized he’d lost his book.
There was a sudden, brief pang of losing it, that gift his mother had given; but, Minoru understood that it was time for it to go. I’m sorry, Mother; but I guess all things have to go in time. He then climbed the ladder, and pulled himself aboard.
Aimi had returned forward and put her arm around Minoru. “We’re clear!” She called. Kaldera nodded, then reversed the engine; he slowly backed the Kudo away, then gunned it forward. He made a wide, slow turn to port; if the winds returned, a sharp turn could be fatal and roll the boat over.
Down below, the rescued were being taken care of, wrapped up in blankets. Nearly unconscious, Nanae was placed in the lower bunk; spare pillows and life preservers held her in a comfortable position. Keru sat at the end of the bench, braced so his injured arm was not jostled any more than necessary.
Asuka was at the other end, cushioned in a similar fashion. Aimi sat beside her and held her as steadily as she could. Minoru was on her other side; he seemed largely unaffected though wringing wet. Daisuke made his way through the crowded cabin to the radio and picked up the cabin mic. He gave the position of the Kiyomi, and added, “Rescue complete, scene is cleared.”
At that moment, the entire deck pitched downward, and the storm began again, the uneasy quietude pierced by the scream of the winds and the rain that now pounded the deck anew. Everyone grabbed for some sort of hold; Keru groaned from his injuries, but was able to hold himself in place.
“Must have been the eye,” Daisuke said, as he returned up the stairs for the deck, followed by Kaz.
Minoru then shed his blanket to join them; before doing so, he stopped before the girls. He reached out, and caressed Asuka’s damp hair; Minoru then looked into Aimi’s eyes; even in the semi-darkness, Aimi could see the light in them. He smiled at her, and silently climbed to the deck.
In spite of the danger they were still in, Aimi smiled and held Asuka tighter. The head moved; exhausted, her eyes half-closed, Asuka looked to her.
“Aimi,” she whispered, “tell me we’re going to make it.”
“We will,” Aimi replied. She leaned her body against Asuka and braced herself against the side of the cabin. All the same, Aimi wondered if they would. The storm had returned, and seemed even stronger than before. That lull in the storm, right when we needed it to be calm, it became calm. I wonder…did Kaldera have something to do with it?
“Look out!” A gust of wind had carried away part of the Kudo’s rigging, and all ducked as the lines crashed down. One of the lights exploded on the deck in a cascade of sparks.
Kaldera rose again above the wheel, and held the Kudo on course. Already they could see the lights of the harbor, though the grey haze and rain obscured any detail. “I’ve got it,” he called, “easy as anything.” He steered into the waves, then altered course to make for the slip; the look on his companion’s faces reflected relief. Kaldera would bring them home, they seemed to think.
If only they knew…other than the positions he’d plotted on his chart back home, plus his knowledge of the channel, Kaldera had been going on dead reckoning.
Then there was the other problem, which was becoming more immediate. While he physically remained upright at the wheel, inside he was falling apart. Keep it together, Kaldera…we’re almost there.
The voyage home felt like hours to those down below, any idea of time having vanished, with only the rocking of the boat through the endless waves as an indication. Aimi thought she might have dozed off, but she still held Asuka in place. For what felt like the hundredth time, she looked through the fogged windows of the cabin; all of a sudden, there was a light.
“We must be home,” she called, “I can see the city!”
Asuka awakened, and Aimi left her to climb on deck. It was still dark, but there was enough light from the remaining lamps on the Kudo, plus those along the shore to see. The storm was clearing out, and Aimi could now see the sky, as the heavy cloud cover moved off to the northeast. There was debris in the water, and the boat bumped against it as Kaldera slowly guided the Kudo back into that familiar channel. The storm had been a quick one, but the damage was prodigious: small boats were sunk at their moorings, and a trawler had run aground.
Kaldera made the turn, and they saw activity on his dock: an ambulance was waiting, its lights flashing. Saki had obviously heard the transmission about the rescue, and had called for Emergency Services. The boat edged into its spot and groaned against the fenders; then Kaldera shut down the engine.
Lines were tossed ashore, and a group of fishermen from the nearby yard had gathered to take them up and help secure the Kudo. As this went on, Mei and Midori rushed down to the dock to help as well. The gangway was tossed over, and the rescued were brought off. Nanae was carried across by Daisuke, and she was immediately placed on a stretcher. Keru walked under his own power, but he was unsteady and needed help getting into the ambulance.
Asuka climbed aboard as well, but Minoru begged off. “I’m all right,” he told the ES crew, “and there isn’t any more room.” Reluctant to leave him, the crew finally accepted Minoru’s refusal, and the ambulance turned around and slowly drove up the rise, its lights flashing and sirens blaring.
Once the lines were tied and the hatches closed, Kaldera thanked the fishermen and released them. As he walked slowly toward the house, he found himself in the rear of the line of his friends, all joyous at their reunion. He smiled. Good…
There was a thud, and Aimi turned, the last in line before him. “Kaldera!”
The others turned, and raced back down the steps to the pier. Aimi was on her knees, holding Kaldera’s head in her hands. He was stretched out on his back, his body still.
And there you have it; enjoy, and do leave your comments!