To start at the beginning, use this link: Link to chapter 1
Maria lay still in the darkness for a long time. She could feel the gently rolling motion of the boat as it took her back to captivity, and she could hear an occasional muffled sound as a sailor spoke nearby. Eventually, the rolling motion stopped. Had they arrived at their destination? She heard another boom, like the one shortly after they were loaded on the boat. What would they be shooting at now? The boat started moving forward again, and then there was an even louder boom, accompanied by a sharp rising and falling motion and a shock she could feel even in her padded box. The gentle swaying of a ship floating on the waves was replaced by a slow, jerky tilting. Maria could feel the blood rushing to her head as it began tipping downhill. The muffled shouts outside her box told her that her captors were alarmed. She could hear bangs and bumps as equipment was moved and compartments were opened. The noise and commotion didn’t last long, however. After just a minute or two, all the noises stopped, and all Maria could sense was the increasing angle of her head as the box she was in slowly tipped up nearly on end. This was followed by a slow falling motion like a leaf gently floating to the ground in the fall. The sounds around her box changed, deadened by the presence of the water around it. Finally there was a lurch as the sinking boat hit the bottom, and then Maria’s box slowly straightened out again, ending up at about a 30 degree angle.
Apparently, some kind of explosion had sunk the ship. Maria tried to move her arms, pushing up against the latex envelope with all of her strength, but her prison was still secure and her efforts made no difference. What had happened? Was there a battle? Maria guessed that might be the case. But who would be fighting Carlos? She was pretty sure his boat was actually a Guatemalan warship, so it wasn’t likely the government hunted him down. Unless he took it illegally and at least some of the Guatemalan authorities objected. Could it be Dave? But he was on an unarmed yacht, and Maria was pretty sure Carlos had fired at it.
Thinking about how she got into the situation she was in helped Maria not think about what would happen next. Did anyone know or care about the seven women trapped on the sunken ship? Would they assume Maria and her friends had already drowned? The panic started to build within her body as Maria contemplated what might happen. She still had nearly a day’s worth of air, so she would have 22 or 23 hours to lay here, trapped in a box until the disc ran out of oxygen or the batteries in her collar gave out. Then she would suffocate within just a few minutes. The valve in her throat didn’t even give her the ability to scream. Some tears did manage to leak from her eyes, but they were trapped by the enclosing latex and simply pooled on her eyelids.
There was no way to keep track of time. Eventually, the panic subsided out of sheer exhaustion. Maria recited the rosary in her head, followed by nursery songs. Some time later, she was surprised when she felt her box moving. Somebody was jostling it. Maria heard a “chunk” sound, and then the lid opened, flooding her with seawater and light. She looked up to see Allen, accompanied by a diver carrying a set of bolt cutters. Allen reached out his hand, grabbed her wrist, and helped her out of the box. She looked around to see the wreckage of the PT boat on the bottom. Audra was swimming nearby, along with Lacy and Anna. They were hovering near another diver. A huge submarine hung in the water behind them.
“WHAT HAPPENED?” Maria signed to Allen.
“DAVE CALLED IN THE NAVY.” Allen answered. “I’LL EXPLAIN EVERYTHING ONCE WE GET YOU ALL OUT OF THESE BOXES AND INTO THE SUB. ARE YOU OK?”
“I GUESS SO.”
“CAN YOU WAIT WITH THE OTHERS WHILE WE OPEN THE OTHER BOXES?”
Maria swam over to the small group of rescued mermaids. Then they all watched as Allen and the diver went to the next box on the deck of the sunken ship and cut through the padlock. Allen helped Renna out of the box, answered her questions, and sent her over to join them. Daphne and Carla followed, and then Allen and the two divers led them all to the side of the submarine and swam up to the top. One of the divers opened a hatch and motioned them all inside. Allen showed them how by diving through the opening. They swam down into a round metal room. Allen sat down against the wall and motioned for the mermaids to sit beside him. They swam down and sat side by side around the perimeter of the room. One of the divers stayed above and closed the hatch, then the other diver pressed a button on the wall near another hatch in the shape of a door. Allen began signing.
“WELCOME TO THE USS FLORIDA. AFTER CARLOS SANK THEIR BOAT, DAVE WAS ABLE TO CALL FOR HELP AND THE FLORIDA CAME AND GOT THEM. AS YOU SAW, WE SANK CARLOS’S SHIP.”
“WHAT HAPPENED TO CARLOS?” Anna asked.
“HE’S IN THE BRIG. THAT’S WHY IT TOOK A LITTLE WHILE TO RESCUE YOU AFTER THE SHIP SANK. WE HAD TO CHASE DOWN HIS LIFEBOAT AND CONVINCE THE GUATEMALANS TO TURN HIM OVER. I FIGURED YOU WOULD BE SAFE IN THOSE BOXES WHILE WE DID SO. I’M SORRY THAT WE KEPT YOU WAITING.”
“IF I EVER GET A CHANCE, I’M GOING TO LOCK YOU IN A BOX FOR A COUPLE OF HOURS.” Said Maria. “BUT I’M GLAD YOU GOT CARLOS.”
While they were talking, the water was being pumped out of the compartment. Before long it was all gone and they were left sitting on the floor. The two divers took off their face masks and scuba tanks.
“It’s amazing how you can all breathe underwater.” Said one of the seamen.
Allen simply pointed at his collar. The diver opened the side hatch and Dave was standing on the other side, along with Captain Nelson. Dave introduced the captain to each of the mermaids. The captain then issued some orders, and a group of seamen entered the chamber. Each seaman picked up one of the mermaids and carried her through the sub to the wardroom, where they were all given a seat. Two seamen carried Allen. Pads of paper and pencils were passed around to assist in communication, and two cook’s helpers distributed some sandwiches and fruit. The mermaids devoured the food. It had been a long day with nothing to eat for all of them. A constant stream of sailors walked by the wardroom, “just passing by,” but obviously there to see the mermaids. Candy took to standing near the door and shooing them away.
“Are we going home now?” Renna wrote on her pad of paper.
Dave saw her message and answered. “Yes we are. It should take us about three days to get to Houston.”
“Can’t this thing go faster? It’s a nuclear submarine!”
“I’m sure it can go faster, but we are here as guests and we have to abide by their schedule. I’m just glad they were willing to come down here on short notice when I asked for help.”
“Yes, just how does that work anyway? Who are you, that you can request a nuclear attack sub for backup and actually get it?”
“I’m just a cop with a lot of friends.”
“If you say so.”
They stayed in the wardroom until the dinner hour, when the captain and Candy joined them.
“I’m afraid you’ve displaced most of our officers.” Captain Nelson said. “They’re having to eat in the mess with the enlisted men.”
“Please tell them we are very grateful that they gave up their place for us.” Fernando wrote.
“I don’t think they mind much. This is the most excitement we’ve had since Odyssey Dawn.”
“Maybe for breakfast we could move to the regular mess hall.”
“I think its best that you stay here. But I may allow the men to come meet you in small groups. Would that be acceptable?”
They all nodded their heads or wrote short notes of assent.
“There is one issue that I am still trying to resolve.” The captain added. “I’m not sure where we can find bunks for you. As you have probably heard, we live in pretty tight quarters on submarines, and I’m not even sure most of you would fit in one of our bunks with those tails.”
None of them had even considered where they would be sleeping. Anything would be better than being clamped to a wall though. Finally Lacy had an inspiration.
“I know a place we could sleep.” She wrote.
“Put us back in that airlock thing we used to come into the sub. If you fill it with water, we can float in there and the water can be our bed.”
“That’s a very good idea. The escape trunk isn’t huge but it has lots of vertical room if you can utilize the whole volume. We’ll set something up.”
“We’ll need some straps or something to keep us from sinking or bumping into each other in the night.”
“I’m sure we can manage that.”
“We’ll need to make sure our collars are all charged up and ready before bed then.” Allen wrote.
“Do you have enough disks for your collars?” Dave asked.
“Fernando has quite a few spares in his pouch. And if leave the oxygen disks out they will slowly recharge themselves. We can recharge the CO2 disks by heating them in an oven – those may be the ones we are short on.”
“It sounds like we have a plan.” Captain Nelson said. “If you would excuse me I have some things to do.
The captain left and they spent a few hours resting in the wardroom. Allen spent much of the time writing out an account of their experiences for Dave. The others chatted with each other in sign language. One of the electronics technicians came in to help set up a system for them to recharge their collars. When he saw the charging setup they had been using, he couldn’t believe they had made it work, but he saw the standard connectors and soon had a box made up that they could plug into the wall and charge four collars at once. When the time came for them to sleep, there were no shortage of volunteers to carry the mermaids to the escape trunk. The last two of them were rather disappointed when they found that they would be carrying Allen and Fernando. The sailors set them down in the room and handed them a pile of straps. Then they left and filled the room with water. The mermaids tethered themselves to the walls with a strap at their ankles and one at their waist. With the weight of their tails they were not quite neutrally buoyant, so their tails tended to sink over time, but with the straps they managed a more or less horizontal position and they were able to sleep.
The next couple of days were relatively uneventful. The mermaids spent their time in the wardroom, with groups of sailors visiting frequently to talk with the beautiful women. A great deal of flirting went on, and all of the mermaids and mermen were presented with USS Florida t-shirts to wear instead of their Isla Marisol resort t-shirts and bikini tops. Allen figured the flirting would have likely resulted in some more serious relationships if the trip lasted any longer. As it was, each of the mermaids except Anna gained a collection of addresses and phone numbers to take with them. When they arrived at the port of Houston, the sub submerged and the mermaids disembarked through the escape hatch. When they poked their heads up out of the water they could see that they were in an industrial area of the docks. A cordon of police cars blocked off the area and five ambulances sat waiting with their doors open.
Dave had previously sworn them all to secrecy about their ride in the submarine.
“You are free to say anything about your imprisonment and escape.” He told them. “But don’t make any mention of the sub’s involvement. Just tell people I brought you back on a ship. We don’t want any diplomatic difficulties with Guatemala.”
They had all agreed. There were orderlies waiting at the docks and they lifted the mermaids out of the water and onto cots without ever observing the submarine that brought them there. Then they all rode to the hospital to get a checkup and have their collars fixed.