All Hands

The conference room emptied like a dam split by an earthquake, and spilled its human contents into the bridge. Cairo was caught in Capt. Paul’s wake, and miraculously found himself making landfall near the captain’s station. Capt. Paul was about to ask the duty officer what was the emergency when he lifted his eyes to the forward display panel and saw the terrifying answer for himself. 

“Captain, there’re Sea-Devils in the water everywhere,” said the duty officer, who was a grizzled merman who had seen more than his share of horrors beneath the sea, “and more are appearing on sonar all the time.” Huge, dusky, fanged bulks the color of a crimson sunset seen through fog, and scarred with tracks like luminescent scrimshaw or a sailor’s tattoos, undulated to and fro past the Hoosegow. In the turbulence of their passing, strange lights danced in the water like submerged St. Elmo’s fire.

“How did they get here before us?” Capt. Paul said, in amazement. The boat’s instruments showed the Sea-Devils were already circling Cedar Rapids and what appeared to be a pitifully inadequate defensive perimeter of Aquarian submarines. 

“There’re a lot more of them here than there were at Sioux City,” the duty officer said worriedly, as he relinquished command to the Captain, and returned to his normal duties as lieutenant commander. “They haven’t attacked the encampment yet,” he said, “but they haven’t retreated either, despite the defensive vessels trying floodlights and sonar bangs to drive them off. The only good news so far, is that your early warning gave the civilians time to evacuate Cedar Rapids—“

“—Which leaves only us,” Capt. Paul said soberly, as he assumed command, “to fight those sea monsters.” Just then, a huge baleful eye slowly swam past the starboard display panel, as if to assess and then dismiss its opponent.

As if the tumult and alarm on the bridge weren’t enough, a new gaggle of voices spilled into the observation gallery. It was every delegate on board, talking at once, demanding that the Captain do as they say and attack the sea monsters. Capt. Paul had given the officials free access to the gallery as a courtesy, but their panicky unruliness was starting to make him regret that decision. 

Benito Trask yelled, “I told you I saw those monsters from the portholes. They swam out of nowhere! Captain, what are you waiting for? This is your chance. Kill them!” Trask’s inner circle of thuggish followers belied his smooth political veneer by grunting their agreement. 

Even normally even-tempered Mera McCormick, who usually was Trask’s perpetual enemy, swallowed her contempt for the blustery merman and exclaimed, “I hate to say it, but Benito is right. The Sea-Devils are a clear and present danger, Captain. You can’t let what happened to Sioux City happen to Cedar Rapids.” Behind her, Mera’s fellow delegates voiced their support. Even Mera’s most timid and mousey comrade, dainty Agnes Gooch, was shaking her tiny fist at the boat’s commander. “Captain,” McCormick declared, “you must attack now!”

Capt. Paul could appreciate what the delegates were demanding; he was angry at the Sea-Devils too. But unlike the delegates, he knew that acting precipitously could endanger not just the safety of his boat, or his colony, or his planet, but perhaps Earth as well, his terrestrial home world. At lot of competing interests were on the captain’s mind, and he didn’t have the time or patience to cater to everyone’s emotions, miscon­cep­tions, or partial knowledge. 

“Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your comments, but we are now under combat conditions,” said Capt. Paul, “and I would appreciate you getting to the safety of your quarters. Lieutenant, clear the bridge.”

As the lieutenant commander signaled his team to clear the deck, the delegates howled in protest. Having no formal duties on the bridge, Olivia was recruited to help security. None of the delegates left willingly. Trask and McCormick protested the loudest, but the lieutenant didn’t mind evicting them. He didn’t actually like politicians much, and secretly enjoyed himself a little too much helping herd the furious politicos toward the aft hatch. 

While the aft bridge thundered and stormed, Cairo thought at Joshua, telling the lad what he planned to do, and asking for the boy genius’ help. Joshua was scared for Cairo, but the aquaman’s mind and intent were so clear and sincere, the lad could not help but agree to do as he was asked, and wish his new friend luck. 

As Olivia helped shoo the last delegates through the aft hatch and into the corridor, Cairo joined her and helped. Using his powered aquaman suit, he gently but firmly ushered out the last unruly Stay party delegates. Then while he and Olivia stood in the corridor, he pulled her aside and thought at her; telling her that he needed her help too, and what he wanted her to do. 

Olivia was wondrously surprised at first. Cairo had never communicated telepathically with her before; writing his thoughts on her heart and mind, instead of only reading hers. Suddenly, Cairo’s thoughts and feelings were as clear as the crystal waters in a tropical lagoon, or the indigo blue expanse beneath the frozen surface of an arctic ocean. 

Now she knew she was at the center—the very center—of his thoughts. She was like: the origin of a circle. Like the stare of a black-eyed Susan. Like the nexus of a mandala. Like the bright focus of a lens. Like the point of an argument. Like the core of an atom. Like the rhythm in jazz. Like the black hole in the middle of the galaxy. 

Cairo thought to her, and suddenly she knew he had avoided communicating with her like this until he knew she was ready; until he knew he was ready. 

But Cairo thought to her what he intended to do, and Olivia’s pale green skin blanched and her strange, exotic eyes widened with concern. All the same, now she knew—without a doubt in her mind or in her heart—that Cairo felt he had no choice. Her countenance was troubled while she furiously contemplated something. Making a decision, she looked up and thought that ‘something’ right back at Cairo. Then he pulled away, merging into the roiling crowd of delegates and lawmen, and vanished.

Minutes later on the now peaceful bridge, Olivia found her mother standing by her husband who was seated in his raised command chair. Without saying a word, Olivia stood by her mother’s elbow. Catching sight of Olivia out the corner of his eye, Capt. Paul made an assumption about who was standing next to her, just out of sight. A natural mistake, really, considering whose company she preferred to keep these days. Speaking over his shoulder, the captain said, “Mr. Shah, this is still a crisis. Do you have any ideas about driving off the Sea-Devils?” Silence, reminiscent of previous ones. “Mr. Shah?”

“I’m sorry, Pa,” answered Olivia, “but Cairo isn’t here. He’s … otherwise engaged.” 

Joshua cheerfully chimed in, “But Mr. Cairo asked Liv and me to help in any way we can. What would you like to know?”

“What do you mean, he’s ‘otherwise engaged’?” the Captain said, looking around the bridge with fire in his eyes. Cairo Shah was nowhere to be seen. “I didn’t give him permission to leave…” Capt. Paul began to say, then stopped. Shah wasn’t formally a member of his crew, but Capt. Paul had treated him with all the courtesies of a crew member. Now he appeared to be away without leave from his ostensible post by the captain’s side. 

“Alright, you two,” Capt. Paul said, staring disapprovingly at Olivia and Joshua, “I’ll deal with you later. But right now, if you don’t mind, if it wouldn’t inconvenience you and Mr. Joshua to much, would you kindly tell me where the hell is Cairo Shah!

“Oh, that’s easy to answer,” Joshua replied quickly, to blunt his uncle’s ire. The boy pointed to the forward display panel and said, “He’s right there.” 

Beyond the bow of the Hoosegow, Cairo was swimming through the ocean toward the Sea-Devils. The red, green, and white running lights on the sides of his aquaman excursion suit were mere specks in the murky water, and only a bubbly trail of turbulence marked his passing.

“What’s he trying to do, get himself killed?” Capt. Paul exclaimed. “Helm maneuver to pick him up—!”

“Captain, no!” exclaimed Olivia and Joshua in unison. Cairo had shown both of them his thoughts, and now they relayed his wishes in a strange chorus. “Pa, he knows what he’s doing,” Olivia said. “Please, don’t try to stop him.”

Capt. Paul looked long and hard into his daughter’s eyes. “This fight isn’t his fight. This crisis isn’t his fault,” Capt. Paul gently told her. “Is Shah trying to find redemption anyway by risking his life, Liv? What’s he trying to do?” 

Olivia’s furrowed her brow, thought for a moment, then told her father, the Captain, “Cairo is either doing something ‘crazy; even suicidal,’ to use his words; or to use my own, he’s doing something very, very brave. 

“Joshua?” Liv said, looking down and squeezing the boy’s hand tight, “I think you can explain it better than me. During the meantime, Captain, there’s a job Cairo asked me to do. Permission to leave the bridge, and take Billy with me?” 

Capt. Paul demanded an overview of the job, and whether Olivia was comfortable doing it. Capt. Paul knew his daughter and her skills well enough to trust her judgement, even on this mysterious mission. He granted her permission. As his daughter left with his and Dr. Susan’s son, the captain turned to Joshua for his promised explanation.

“Mr. Cairo ‘told’ me, if that’s the way you want to put it,” said the boy genius to his aunt and uncle, “that he wasn’t able to identify the Angry Man. He thinks that’s because he’s never knowingly met the Angry Man. He’s heard the Angry Man’s thoughts, but he can’t put a face to them. 

“But it occurred to Mr. Cairo that the Sea-Devils must have met the Angry Man many times, and maybe they also know what he looks like in the flesh. That’s why Mr. Cairo has gone out to meet the Sea-Devils. He’s going to try to negotiate a peace between them and us. And try to tell them we’re not the threat the Angry Man keeps screaming we are. And then, if he’s lucky, get them to share their memories of meeting the Angry Man, and show him what the Angry Man looks like. If he succeeds, he’ll send a message to Liv.”

“That’s insane,” said Capt. Paul, incredulously. “Judging only from the scope of what he’s trying to do—not to mention the physical danger to himself!—Shah has virtually no chance of succeeding.”

“He knows, Captain,” said Joshua, dejectedly. 

The young feel emotions as well as adults: Joy when at long last they meet a kindred spirit and friend. Empathy when they give succor to a friend who is committed to an impossible task. And fear when that friend jeopardizes their life for others. The young feel emotions as well as as adults, but they usually have more trouble expressing them. Joshua was doing the best he could. 

“He knows,” Joshua said, “he knows.”

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