"RNLI" Alternate Universe
The Septem in Unum was not new, but she was tried and tested, a forty-two foot catamaran that had safely circumnavigated the world with her owners the Tredwell family. Harry Tredwell was a freelance journalist who had taken his wife Liz and nine-year-old daughter Jess on a year-long adventure. They had weathered tropical storms, pirates in the South China Sea, the calm of the Doldrums, and once they were nearly run over by a super tanker, but only now as they returned home did the sea finally assert her mastery over them.
The engines had been the first thing to go; they hadn't been properly serviced since Australia six months ago and the engine compartments was constantly flooding, filling faster then the pumps could clear it. Eventually one just seized up and died, and they struggled on with one engine. Harry Tredwell knew once one engine had gone the other would most likely follow it, he had brought his family safe thus far, he would not risk them now, so he made a Mayday call. The second engine did indeed fail. As they waited for help Harry and Liz set a minimal jib sail at the front but it was ripped away and now flew wildly, occasionally sweeping down lethally across the deck. The two experienced sailors next put up a tiny mainsail, and for a while they had some control, then two disastrous things happened simultaneously - the rudder control bar broke and the mast snapped. Still connected to the boat by the rigging it trailed over the side. Fearing the added weight of the mast on just one side would drag them down, Harry assembled his family on deck. A terrified Jess huddled in the cockpit in her life jacket, safety helmet and with her lifeline firmly attached, as Liz and Harry battled to free the broken mast and jerry-rig some kind of rudder control.
The coast guard had been inundated with calls for help all weekend. Every helicopter with all-weather capabilities that could reach the Channel was committed, be it from England, Ireland or France. Lifeboats up and down the coast were launched repeatedly. By midnight Sunday the Saint Nicholas had been out three times already. The last shout had been to a motor yacht that, like so many, had been unable to keep its engines from being swamped and was drifting. The weather made what should have been a routine job long, slow and exhausting. The crew and the shore helpers turned the boat around, refuelled her, checked and put away all the equipment that had been used and updated the logbook. Orin Travis then called the coast guard to say the Saint Nicholas was ready if needed. But she wouldn't go out with that crew again, they were too tired. If she was needed Larabee and his men were now on call.
Ezra was not in bed; he was a night owl who rarely went to bed before one and it was only midnight. As the storm raged outside he sat at the piano and played Mozart. He didn't often play. At school had had been quite good. But like many, once there was no one to make him practice or go to lessons he drifted away from it. But occasionally he played for his own amusement or simply, as now, to help him find some inner peace and soothe the butterflies. He couldn't concentrate on Mozart however and moved on to pieces he could play without music. He moved aimlessly though a repertoire of film themes, Gilbert and Sullivan and finally popular hymns. He played I Vow to Thee, Jerusalem, Be Thou My Vision and Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, finally singing along to himself, "Eternal Father..."
Nathan rolled over and looked at his alarm clock, it was three minutes past midnight, he was on call and he knew the pager on the bedside table would go off sooner or later. Pulling himself out of bed without waking Rain, he walked to the curtains and parted them. The rain lashed the old sash window; automatically he felt the towels stuffed along the windowsill. They were wet, when the rain was like this it forced its way under the window. As he watched the street lamps swayed, down the square he could see the sign outside Buck's pub swinging wildly, every now and again above him came the heavy slap as the TV aerial cable on the roof was picked up and dropped by the wind.
He and Rain had talked about a family, not yet but in a year or two; he wondered if he would be able to still go out and risk his life if he was a father. Just today he had seen Louise Trevalian, former Lifeboat woman for her six-month check. She had told him she would not even consider returning to the boat until her child was an adult and by then she would be too old. He looked back at Rain, her long hair radiating out around her exquisitely beautiful face. How would she cope if he were gone?
As he watched she rolled over and pulled the duvet closer to herself. She would cope he decided, she was one of the strongest people he knew. She had followed her beliefs, no matter what her family had said, no matter what society thought, no matter what it cost her. Could he live with the knowledge that his crew had gone out without him and lives had been lost, lives he could have saved? No he decided, no he couldn't live with that; if he could he had to help. It was the way he had felt all his life; it had motivated him to go into medicine. It had meant a lot of sacrifices by his family and a lot of hard work, but it was work he needed to do.
His attention was drawn back to Rain. Maybe they should get married? Maybe it would be safer for her? But it was she who was against it; she argued marriages only meant something if they were made in the sight of God. Since they believed in different Gods even if they had two ceremonies someone would be in effect lying. She wanted them just to be two people in love sharing their lives. Just then a slash of rain hit the window as loud as pebbles. He looked back at the world outside, a world were people needed his help. And in the words of a hymn, he asked God to protect those in danger and to make him, " strong to save."
Josiah Sanchez put down the 'who-done-it' he was reading and picked out the sound of Saint Mary's bells chiming midnight, through the howl of the storm. One of the few things he envied the Anglican Church was its bells. He loved the sound of bells peeling, changes being rung on Sundays and holy days. His church, Saint Cecilia's, had only one bell. Midnight made him think about the storm, he offered a prayer for any unfortunate soul out and about tonight and for those who watched over them. The words of the sailor's hymn came to him. "Whose arm doth bind the restless wave." For in the end it was God's will if he and his friends along with all the others who tried to save lives were successful or not. The Cardinal had been very pleased when he had written to say he was retiring from the lifeboat. He felt that while it was a worthy thing, and was more than happy for the parish do its bit to raise money to support the RNLI, he felt Josiah had more then enough work to do on shore. Josiah's previous curate Father Kelly had been very capable and had been able to cover for him with no difficulty. His new curate, Father Connery was fresh out of the seminary and newly ordained, unlike Kelly who had not joined the priesthood until he was in his thirties. But he had not been able to say no when he was approached to re-join. In the exceptional circumstances he could do no less. Father Connery had been a revelation, rising to the challenge and no matter what the Cardinal said he would not give it up voluntarily again. In his heart Josiah knew this was the work God had chosen for him above and beyond his ministry.
As his chronometer rolled over to midnight Vin pulled on his waterproofs and went out onto the wind-raked deck of The Lone Star; even tucked snugly behind the harbour wall she was being tossed and buffeted by the storm. With a powerful torch in one hand he checked his mooring lines and then mounted the steps onto the top of the harbour. Here the wind was twice as strong, huge waves broke over the sea defences and he had to lean into the wind to make progress. He came to the other boat in his life, one he loved almost as much as his own. With a practised eye he checked the Saint Nicholas' lines as well.
Vin Tanner was a man who needed to be active, needed something to keep his mind occupied less it drift into the dark places he kept locked up and out of sight. He was blessed or cursed with a metabolism like a runaway express train. And while it meant he could and did eat what ever he wanted and burn it off instantly, it also made him tightly wound, always needing action, and the release of adrenaline. The Marines had given him that for a while, especially when he joined the commandos, but after his initial eight years were up, he had been forced to make a decision; make the military his life or leave. His CO had hinted he had a good shot at being accepted into the SAS. Most marines would give their eyeteeth for just a shot at the SAS, but Vin had found he wasn't that excited. Yes, he had the military skills, yes, he had the natural fitness, his academic performance wasn't up to much but he got by - what he didn't have was the true killer instinct. Vin was not a naturally aggressive person and however much he valued what the military gave him, and that included a sense of belonging and even family, it was no place for someone who basically hated violence. He had though he had found a place back in the town he had spent his later adolescent years in, but that was not to be. For a while he thought he might even have to re-enlist until he was offered Four Corners. So right was it, so perfect that he lived in constant fear it would be snatched away, like all the other good things in his life had been.
And then there was Chris. Never had he had such a feeling of connection, or friendship like this, not even in the Marines. He looked back toward his cabin, sitting on the shelf above the bed was a toy model of the Soup Dragon, he smiled to himself as he remembering unwrapping it. Before he ventured outside he leant back and gave it squeeze, it emitted it's distinctive sound, (Josiah called it 'a drowning turkey') a sound forever engraved on his memory with one of the few memories of his mother that was clear, sitting together on the sofa watching the Clangers. Whatever it was, this connection with Chris, it was right and something that right had to be held on to.
Chris lay on his bed half-dressed listening to the storm. It was so like that fateful storm of four months ago. The glowing green numbers on the clock radio moved from 5:58 to 5:59 and finally 0:00. He remembered the garbled radio transmission that suddenly died, the look on Mary Travis' face as she realised what it meant. He remembered the memorial service, he had been unable to join in the finale hymn, it choked him, and it was all he could do to keep the tears back, he had got as far as "Who bidd'st the mighty ocean deep," before the dam broke that day. And those on the mighty ocean included Vin. Everyone had offered the quiet independent Welshman a room ashore, but he had refused. Chris thought he would never again allow someone to become so important to him, that he couldn't face the thought of losing him or her. Buck was important, he always would be, but Buck was part of his past. Then a stubborn taffy had sailed into his life. Only with one other person had he had the kind of non-verbal communication he and Vin shared. It was as if they shared a soul, at least that was how Josiah had described it to the others when he had thought Chris hadn't been listening. At Sarah and Adam's funeral they had sung her favourite hymn, Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God, he hadn't even got to the chorus that day. Hymns had a way of affecting him when nothing else did. He couldn't even contemplate listening to all those Welsh hymns.
JD had gone to his room early with a six-pack of Pepsi Max, the biggest bag of cheese and onion crisps he could find and a tube of Smarties. He had walked Mac and then taken him into his room as well. This was all on account of the fact that Buck was entertaining tonight. He didn't mind, since he was, to all intents and purposes, living rent-free; he figured it was the least he could do, besides he reckoned Buck would do the same for him if the occasion ever arose, and he intended that it would! Glancing at the corner of his computer screen he noticed it said 0:01. Rising he crossed to the window and looked down into the yard. So heavy was the rain Buck's big Volvo was barley visible, the rooftops opposite just shadows. JD remembered a line from a hymn he used to sing in school. "It's own appointed limits keep." He had sung it never knowing how much those words would mean to him one day.
"Oh Buck! That was, I mean it was just wow!" Helen Penrose breathed, grinning at him.
"Well honey, I aim to please." He grinned back.
"Oh and you do, believe me you do!"
The high-pitched bleeping of his pager grabbed his attention.
"Christ Almighty, not now, not now!" he swore as he reached for it. "Sorry love - bad timing, I know, but I have to leave," He explained already getting up.
"Now. Stay here if you want, there's a dog around here called Mac he'll keep you company. Don't know when I'll be back, help yourself to any food you can find." He had been dressing as he spoke; now he bent down and kissed her just once more. "God, this had better be worth it." He commented. "Bye love, see you." And with that he was gone.
"Bloody men!" she fumed.
They all met at the boathouse, except Vin who was already dressed and getting the engines fired up. No one said anything as they fell into the well-practised routines of launching. They were all conscious of the severity of the storm and the risk they were taking, the parallels frighteningly clear. As they stepped down into the boat Buck looked Vin in the eye, ex-sailor to ex-marine.
"Oh hear us when we cry to thee," he said, quoting the navy hymn.
"For those in peril on the sea," Vin finished.
Harry and Liz struggled for nearly an hour to rig some kind of rudder, without success. They had failed to cut the mast free after the only cutters capable of the job went over the side. Jess was crying as she huddled in a cockpit now more than half full of freezing water. It had been nearly four hours since they had sent the Mayday message. And the adults were beginning to believe that if help came it would be too late.
"We have to get her out of there!" Liz shouted to her husband.
Harry Tredwell nodded; he clambered on all fours to his daughter.
"Come on tiger, time to move." He reached out for her, only when she was secure in his arms did he release her safety line.
All three of them now huddled around the mast, they had a life raft but Harry was reluctant to abandon the relative safety of the crippled yacht for a flimsy inflatable raft. He was in any case doubtful he could get it inflated and on the water safely in the fierce winds and mountainous seas.
JD gripped the safety rail so hard his knuckles felt they were going to explode through his skin. He, like Ezra and Nathan, had never been at sea in this kind of weather, it was like being on a rollercoaster, a rollercoaster that just went on and on, with no safety brake. His stomach had rebelled after just fifteen minutes, by the look of him Ezra wasn't doing much better but he wouldn't admit it. JD looked up at Buck, he was scared and had it just been the two of them he would have admitted it. As if he knew Buck looked down at JD and winked. He lent down and spoke as quietly as he could and still be heard.
"Relax your grip JD, your gonna strain something otherwise, remember what I told you, relax, let your knees take the impact not your shoulders." JD nodded and did his best to obey, but the fear was still evident in his features. "Listen JD." Buck continued. "Chris is the best damn helmsman there is, he has a sixth, seventh and eighth sense for the sea, God knows where someone from a long line of land-loving farmers gets it from, but he's got it. I'm not saying Steven fucked up I'm just saying with Chris we got the best, okay?" JD nodded, his features a little more relaxed.
Ezra fought to keep his stomach under control; he prided himself on his self-control. He was scared but he would not show it. He had chosen this, this risk, this discomfort, this fear, this adrenaline rush knowing full well the possible consequences. All of them knew better than most what they were letting themselves in for. He looked across at Nathan and wondered if he was as scared. Nathan's self control was as good as his; he had found he could never tell what the doctor was thinking unless he wanted you to. He had made good money knowing what other people were thinking, and finding someone he couldn't read was unnerving. But he did at least find pondering on Nathan had taken his mind of his stomach.
"You been in this kind of thing before?" Chris asked Vin.
"Yes, but in a carrier."
Chris smiled. "This is a little more intense?"
Vin nodded and turned his attention to the black sea ahead, just as they mounted another wave as high as a house. That nod was as much as Chris was going to get, but he knew Vin was scared because he was, they all were.
The Tredwells were about ready to lose hope when Jess saw something.
"Look Daddy, look!" she shouted pointing wildly.
"What did you see honey?" her mother asked, unable to see a thing.
"A light I saw a light!" she squealed.
Both adults stood with out letting go of the broken mast, but couldn't see anything. Shaking their heads they slid back down, they all wanted to see a light but it just wasn't there.
"I saw it! I did!" she insisted.
"There I saw it!" JD shouted.
"Saw what JD?" Vin asked
"The yacht, ahead at one o'clock, just for a second."
Trusting JD they all strained their eyes where he had indicated ready for the next time they crested a wave. This time they all saw her, just for a second, it had taken over four hours and they were already exhausted. The next wave brought them closer and got them a better view.
"Oh crap!" Buck exclaimed.
"What?" Chris asked,
"It's a bloody catamaran and it's only got half a mast!" Buck exclaimed.
Catamarans were much more difficult to deal with especially once they had no control. Now they were so close even Harry and Liz could see it, they hugged Jess and promised her they would never doubt her again. All lights blazing the Saint Nicholas approached the stricken vessel. Chris handed the wheel to Buck as he went out on deck to better assess the situation. Because of the broken mast still trailing in the water on the starboard side, Chris would have to bring her in on the port, the port hull was very low in the water at the stern. Worse still with no way to control the boat the SSeptem in Unum had been slowly drifting on her axis. She was now dangerously close to being side-on to the wind, if that happened the wind could get under the central section and flip the whole thing over in a second.
Repeated efforts to contact the yacht on the radio had failed in the last three hours, and they would have to be right on top of them for even the loud hailer to reach them. So Chris assembled his men and while Buck eased her closer, he outlined the plan.
"I'll bring her in on the port side, Ezra and Josiah you concentrate on the little girl, JD you and Buck will take the mother, Nate you and Vin get the man, we have to be quick, she's moving around all the time. Lets be sharp and quick guys, as soon as we have all three tell me 'cause I wan'a be out of here fast."
Safely anchored so they couldn't be swept away and with Chris back behind the wheel the crew got ready to pull the Tredwells to safety. They tried to communicate with the terrified family but their words were snatched away by the wind. As the lifeboat came along side Harry stood, still clutching the mast he waved to them.
"This just might work," Chris, breathed to himself.
But Fate, God, Neptune or whatever entity was driving the storm was not on the side of the Saint Nicholas today. Chris watched, as almost in slow motion the wind lifted the catamaran up until she was almost hanging at an angle of forty-five degrees, and then slapped her back down. Harry Tredwell lost his balance and as the yacht slammed back down on the reverse of a wave. He slid wildly towards the starboard side, away from the lifeboat. At the last minute he managed to grab onto the webbing that was strung between the two hulls, just as a second wave wind came and lifted her again. This time she came up perpendicularly, looming over the lifeboat like some giant white wall. As what was left of the mast came over and crashed down on the forward deck of the Saint Nicholas it shuddered to a halt. This sudden stop was catastrophic for the survivors. Harry was tossed off the webbing and would have flown into the sea had not his ankle become entwined in a tangle of broken rigging. Liz Tredwell lost her grip on the mast and dropped more then fifteen feet into the pitch-black water between the two boats. Little Jess, with not the strength or size to hold on to the mast, was catapulted over the Saint Nicholas to splash down into the sea some twenty feet of her port side. There was nothing Chris could do in time to get his boat and crew to safety. All the men on deck could do, as they saw what was about to happen, was duck and pray no one was under the mast when it crashed down.
The Septem in Unum was not done with the Saint Nicholas. As well as the mast and a tangle of rigging on her bows, the remains of the top section of the mast, still connected to the yacht by rigging, flailed over like some grotesque siege machine. Some of it crashed into the wheel house windows, the rest raked across the top of the boat, carrying away the antenna and radar array as well as the Y class inflatable and finally coming to rest, still entangled in the array, across the stern.
With lightning-quick reflexes Chris ducked and turned just as the glass in front of him shattered. He rose almost as quickly and then swayed grabbing the wheel as much for support as to steer the boat. Something was in his eye; he instinctively wiped it away, blinking in an attempted to clear his vision. Finally he could see enough to take in what had happened. He had to keep the yacht, which was now one huge ridged sail, from trying to push the Saint Nicholas over.
Ezra saw the small form in bright orange and red literally fly over his head - before the mast had even come to rest he was running to the far side of the boat. Grabbing the powerful hand-held light he desperately began scanning the waves for any sign of her.
"Josiah!" he bellowed. "Help me, we have to find her! Come on man, help me!"
Sanchez struggled to his feet, neither knowing nor caring about the blood streaming down the side of his face. He was unsteady on his feet, but then on the crowded pitching deck so was every one else. Groping his way he made it to Standish.
"There, I see her!" He was pointing out in to the blackness. "Hold this." Ezra thrust the lamp in to his hands. "You see her?" Sanchez nodded, blinking hard. "Whatever you do don't lose her, I'll be back."
He ran as fast as he dared to the stern, his intention was to launch the inflatable, but he pulled up short when he saw the small craft not just covered in a tangle of metal and cables but quite clearly punctured.
"Shit!" he exclaimed.
As the rigging came crashing down Buck grabbed JD by the collar and pulled him to stand beside the wheel house, turning his back slightly in an attempt to protect his young friend, Inez' words ringing in his ears. The second it was over both men scanned for the woman they were charged to protect. Buck spotted her desperately trying to keep afloat in the water between the two vessels. The limited space was closing fast. Acting on pure instinct, and not stopping to wonder why Chris was doing nothing to stop the drift, Buck reached over, and placing two huge hands on the Septem in Unum and pushing off with his feet, he used his body to brace the boats and keep the gap open. Liz was drifting down toward the stern and it's tangle of wreckage. If she became entangled in that so close to the rapidly sinking section of the yacht they might not get her out in time. Buck was now effectively trapped; he could not let go without falling in. Wondering how he got himself into this situation he called to JD.
"Hurry JD I don't think I can do this much longer," he ground out though gritted teeth, his arms already trembling with the effort of holding back natures fury.
JD knelt down on the deck and reached for Liz, after three agonisingly close calls she finally managed to get her hand into his.
"Give me your other hand, lady, please," he shouted.
Liz shook her head, her other arm was broken and for now quite useless, she didn't have the strength to shout to him; it was all she could do to hang on.
Acutely aware of Buck's predicament, JD summoned up more strength than he would have given himself credit for and pulled Liz up out of the water far enough for her to get a foot on the boat and help herself to safety. Leaving her sprawling on the deck, JD grabbed Buck's life jacket and pulled him back. The moment he released the pressure on the other boat it slammed into the side of the much stronger lifeboat. There was a sickening sound, audible above the roar of the storm as a huge crack appeared in the now semi-submerged port hull.
"Thanks," the big man breathed out trying to shake some life back into his arms.
"Any time," JD said with a grin.
Nathan stared at Vin in horror. The ex-commando was preparing to leave the relative safety of a perfectly seaworthy if trapped lifeboat, for a less than safe crippled and sinking catamaran. He had already connected himself to an extra-long safety line and had slung another with a webbing harness over his shoulder. Harry Tredwell was hanging upside down from the deck of the yacht. The only thing keeping him from crashing headfirst on to the prow of the Saint Nicholas was that his left ankle was wrapped up in the rigging.
"Vin, you can't, this is crazy, it's suicidal!" The doctor pleaded trying to get through to the Welshman.
"Nah, it's not as bad as it looks, he's our responsibility Nate. Now you anchor this and play it out for me, we have to get him down before we get free of this thing." With that and displaying an agility that defied belief and gravity the slight man worked his way up the sheer deck of the yacht.
Chris could see what Vin was doing, it was against all procedures, regulations and safe practice but it was also bloody amazing. If he could have, he would have stopped him but he couldn't leave the wheel, he couldn't shout loud enough to be heard, and there was no one free to convey his orders. So he just had to watch, this watching however confined to quick glances, in between keeping the Saint Nicholas afloat, despite the Septem in Unum and Mother Natures attempts to sink her.
Josiah was feeling less dizzy and more aware as he kept the light trained on the orange blob in front of him. Occasionally he lost it in the mountainous swell but he always found it again. Ezra returned looking shell-shocked.
"The Y is history and it looks to me like we lost all our radios as well, so no one is coming to help us," he explained, looking out to the where the was shining.
"God she must be terrified," he gasped as it hit him.
He turned to the experienced man beside him.
"What do we do?" he asked.
"Ask Chris how long before we can move?" he advised.
Ezra stepped into the wheelhouse and gasped at the vision of his captain. Blood from a gash just below the edge of his helmet was flowing freely, half his face was covered in it, there were more cuts on his hands, and the floor was littered with broken glass. Ezra could clearly see some of the instruments were smashed, others although apparently undamaged were dark and dead.
"Oh shit!" he exclaimed.
"Yeah!" Chris agreed. "Shit! What does the flying bridge look like?"
The flying bridge was an open bridge above the wheelhouse, from where it was possible to steer the boat, it had it's own radio.
"Wrecked worse than this." Ezra explained.
"Damn!" was Chris' only response.
"Chris, the kids in the water, she's about twenty feet off our port side, the Y is totalled. How long before we're free and can get to her?"
"I have no idea, Vin's up there getting the dad." He pointed at the yacht. Standish's stomach flipped when he saw the ex-commando clambering over the wrecked yacht. "Buck and JD got the mum out, she's below, they're working on the rigging aft before we cut the mast free," Chris explained.
Suddenly the ship lurched and Chris had to put all his skill and strength into holding her. Only the exceptional buoyancy of the Seven class boat kept her from being forced down by the power of the wind pushing on the underside of the catamaran.
"I'll think of something you just just don't let us sink!" Ezra said hurriedly.
"I wasn't planning on it."
Buck pulled the blanket around the shivering woman. He noted the way she held her arm, cradling it to her chest.
"Your arm hurt?" he asked quietly as he squatted down in front of her. She nodded. "Okay, we have a doctor on board, soon as he's free he'll come look at it. We are doing everything we can to get your family to safety." He squeezed her knee reassuringly.
"My baby, she she was thrown into the sea," she finally said to him, wanting nothing more to believe the good-looking and reassuringly calm man in front of her.
"We know, we're on to it, we'll do everything we can. I have to go now. Stay here, don't come up on deck, we'll bring them to you." She nodded again.
Vin had made it to Harry.
"You with me mister?" he shouted.
"Yes, I'm alright, sort'a, can you get me down? How are my family? Do you have them?"
"One thing at a time; lets get you down. Can you put this over your shoulders?" He handed over the harness.
Once Harry was in the harness Vin tossed the rope over the mast and down to Nathan who secured it. Then Vin took his knife and began to cut the rigging, calmly telling Harry everything he was doing, as he got to the last line he signed Nathan to take the strain. As he cut, Harry dropped suddenly and was brought up short by the rope. Nathan grunted as he steadied the rope, then he started to lower the man to the deck of the lifeboat. In the meantime Vin descended as quickly as he went up, arriving at the same time as the man he had rescued.
"Youre a nutter, you know that don't you?" Nathan commented to Vin as he helped Harry to his feet.
"It's been said before," Vin admitted with a grin.
Nathan took Tredwell down to meet his wife below decks, his ankle was injured but other wise he was all right.
Ezra looked at Sanchez critically; his responses were defiantly slower than they should be. The trouble was everyone else was full occupied, he would have to entrust his life and the child struggling alone in the ocean to the priest. Attaching his safety line and placing the slack on the deck he turned to Josiah he spelt out what he needed.
"Watch the line don't let it snag, when I give you two tugs pull us in, do you have that?" He spoke slowly and deliberately.
"Two tugs, I pull you in. Pull you in from where?" Sanchez was suddenly aware of what Ezra was asking.
"I have to get her." He pointed out to the girl, still illuminated by Josiah.
It was only because Sanchez had never wavered in holding the light that Ezra trusted him at all. With this Ezra climbed over the side and lowered himself into the icy turbulent sea, keeping his eye on the orange blob in front of him. Swimming in freezing mountainous seas is hard enough, doing it in bulky waterproof clothing and a lifejacket makes it totally exhausting. Normally Ezra could swim twenty feet in no more than seven strokes, after nearly twenty strokes he was still only halfway there. It was tempting to just tug the rope and be pulled back, but he kept going, he kept telling himself the child was more frightened then him, and he had to keep going. If he didn't it might be too late, she could drown or freeze to death. "I'm coming I'm coming." He said to himself repeatedly.
When he finally got within reach of her he was relieved to see she was at least conscious. Swimming up to her he grabbed her by the collar. He slipped a towing harness over her arms and up under her shoulders. Desperately she tried to look around at him and reach for him.
"It is going to be alright my dear, you just relax and let your uncle Ezra pull you home, just lie back and kick if you can," He had to shout but even so he hoped he sounded reassuring and confident, which he wasn't.
Taking the safety line in his other hand he gave it two good tugs. At first nothing happened then he felt the rope go taut and they began to be pulled toward the boat.
While Buck had been settling Mrs. Tredwell below decks JD retrieved the cutting equipment from the storage locker. Now the two of them were cutting away the numerous lines, sheets, cables and stays that bound the two boats together. Mindful of Vin's acrobatics they started at the back. The Saint Nicolas' own communication and radar array was the main problem. In the end they went for securing it and cutting away the cables that held them fast. In the dark, on a slippery pitching deck, unsure what it was they were cutting it was frightening work. They had been taught where not to stand so that a towline or mooring line wouldnt trap them or trip them. But there was no way to be sure what was connected to what and what would happen when they cut it.
Nathan helped Harry Tredwell to the cabin to meet his wife, after they embraced he insisted they sit, and he gave them a brief check. Both had injuries which were mildly debilitating but not life-threatening in any way. They would have to wait until the situation was less precarious. Returning to the forward deck he carried more cutting equipment to Vin and the two of them began to mirror Buck and JD as they cut their boat free. By now most of the Port hull of the Septem in Unum was under water, the downward pressure on the lifeboat was lowering her in the water despite all her buoyancy and Chris' skills to stop it. Every now and again a gust of wind would push on the yacht, and instantly Chris had to push the engines into full power to keep them from being pulled over or pushed under.
"Hurry guys!" he bellowed though the open space where the wheelhouse window had been.
They couldn't hear him, and even if they could they were well aware of the urgency of the situation, and working as fast as they were able. Nevertheless it made him feel better to vent some of his fear and frustration.
Josiah was oblivious to the drama unfolding just behind him, he concentrated on pulling in the rope, he was still dizzy and though he didn't realise it his strength and co-ordination were way off, thus it was taking longer to pull Ezra and the girl to safety. Then someone cut a cable, it was impossible to say who, but suddenly it recoiled, snaking across the deck, twisting and curling as it did. In a fraction of a second it had wound its way around Josiah's ankle, as it tightened and met resistance he was jerked off his feet in a wrapping twisting motion and before he could stop it was being dragged toward the edge of the boat. Suddenly Nathan was on top of him and standing at his feet, Vin brought his hatchet down from shoulder high to slice through the cable just inches from Sanchez' foot. Josiah sat up, finding Nathan kneeling behind him.
"Ezra!" he shouted. "Help Ezra!" Wildly he pointed at the safety line now dangling limply over the side.
Buck and JD had finished at the back and came to the front to help. Buck looked at Josiah and to where he was pointing and suddenly he understood.
"Oh Jesus no!" He grabbed the rope and began to pull.
Ezra had kept up his litany of reassurance as he and Jess were pulled in. Suddenly the rope went slack. Jess turned to him.
"Ezra, they stopped pulling!" she sounded even more frightened than when he first caught her.
He couldn't see the boat at that moment, it was behind the swell horizon, and hoping and praying he was not lying he assured the child it was just temporary. But in the meantime it wouldn't hurt to swim some.
Taking up the rope Buck began to pull for all his might.
"Thank you God," Ezra breathed.
He knew it was not Josiah pulling; this person was much stronger and faster.
Josiah sat rigid watching Buck haul on the rope, JD was now helping him while Vin leant out over the side with the torch trying to catch sight of Ezra. When he finally found him, he shouted.
"He's got her, he's got her!"
When Josiah heard that he relaxed and looked down at his boot, which seemed to have come partially off.
"My boot's come off, Nathan," he commented idly and leaned forward to pull it back.
Nathan was watching the rescue of Ezra and the girl and nearly didn't hear him - just in time, he tightened his grip around the big mans chest.
"No Josiah, leave it! It's not your boot - your foot's dislocated," he said the second bit softly in the man's ear, aware of what might happen.
The colour drained from Josiah's face, his hands came up to grip Nathan's arms as the pain hit him. He said nothing, but his grip loosened and tightened with each wave of pain.
"Just go with it Josiah, we'll get you below and I can give you something for the pain, okay? Just ride it out." Nathan was speaking in his ear, rocking him in time to the gripping and ungripping. As he did he could hear Josiah speaking rapidly, almost murmuring.
"Hail Mary full of grace, blessed art thou " He repeated it over and over again.
Working faster than they would have liked they got Josiah below with the girl. Nathan stayed below to help him and the Tredwells. Ezra was also below to dry off and trying to get warmer.
"Doctor," he caught Nathans arm as he was collecting his medical bag. "When you have seen to the good Father, take a look at Chris."
Nathan frowned at him. "Chris?"
"He's bleeding, and it's no minor scratch." Nathan nodded his understanding.
On deck the other three were still trying to free the boat, and in the wheelhouse Chris battled to keep the Saint Nicholas from being dragged down before they could complete their task. Buck was trying to keep a mental picture of where the mess of cables were and keep Vin and JD safe while trying to continue to cut. Suddenly there was a shift in the wind; instead of pushing down, the Septem in Unum was now pulling back. The men on deck all heard the grinding and tearing as the cables and ropes entangled in the lifeboat tried to pull themselves free, faster than they could cut them they snapped. Seeing the danger Buck shouted to the others.
"Back, get back!" he ordered.
Vin also knew what was happening and pulled back to the wheelhouse.
"But Buck, if I cut this cable the mast will be free, we can get out!" JD shouted back against the storm.
"JD, no, it'll pull itself free or the wind will change and we'll cut it. Get back now!" Buck ordered.
JD did not move in fact he moved forward to the cable around the mast. He had the cable half cut when it gave way. The cable, along with a jib sheet entwined around it, sprang back and whipped into the darkness head of the prow. JD stood up and looked back.
"See I told you!"
Just then the cable sprang back, it was too short to reach JD but the sheet, complete with the heavy brass cleat that was still attached to it wasn't. With reflexes honed with hours spent in the slips and an instinctive feel for the flight of a falling object Buck knew the cleat would hit JD. Without a second thought he stepped in front of his young flat-mate, shoving him aside, just as the heavy metal object whistled in and crashed into his chest. The impact literally threw him back off his feet and slammed him into the base of the wheelhouse. If he hadnt been wearing a helmet he would have suffered a serious head injury, as it was he was dazed as JD ran to him.
"Oh God, I'm sorry, I'm sorry I didn't mean it," he babbled out.
"Not your fault, JD." Buck managed a weak grin and tried to sit up.
Instantly he cried out in agony rolling to his side clutching his chest.
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