Footprints In The Sea 13 and 14

Footprints In The Sea – Chapters 13 & 14

By Frances Penwiddy

Copyright © Frances Penwiddy 2015

Footprints in the sea is a work of fiction and any similarity to persons living or dead is coincidental.

This novel is not considered suitable material for minors and is rated X

I suggest you read Footprints In The Sea in chapter order so if you haven’t read Chapters 1 and 2, please do so.

Two doctors agree on their assessment after Charlotte attends a meeting and has X-rays and blood tests and then she meets some of the other passengers who were rescued from the lifeboats and makes new friends.

Chapter 13

“Before doing anything else we would like to have a few X rays done,” Randolph sat back in his chair, “Have you had any in the last year?”
“None,” I answered, “In fact I can’t remember when I last had any, yes I can, about four years ago, I slipped when I was teaching the cha-cha, and twisted my ankle and the hospital ordered it in case I had done any other damage, nothing since then.”
“Fine, all your other medical signs are okay so we’ll do that first and see what’s going on.”
“You have an X ray unit on a ship?”
“They’re not large things, nor that delicate. A scanner would be different, you only have to swear at one of them and it goes on the blink. So yes, we have an X ray camera, it is a research support ship and it does carry quite extensive medical facilities. We’ve already analysed your blood sample, you’re O neg so if for no other reason, we’ll keep you alive so we have a ready source of blood. O negs are universal donors and the fresh stuff is always better than the frozen.”
“That’s nice to know but there might be a snag, if you give my blood to one of your scientists they may change sex.”
“Hadn’t thought of that but we will warn them first,” he picked up his phone, “We’re bringing Charlotte Broughton down in five minutes.”

Below decks the medical facilities on the research ship were like a scaled down hospital and when we were in the X-ray room I had pictures taken of my head, chest, abdomen, hips and thighs and the only reason they didn’t do more was because I had reached my limit and if they had continued I would have started glowing in the dark and that would have spooked the crews of the ships.
We returned to Randolph’s office and sat around his desk, “Whilst we’re waiting for the pictures we can go over what we have to date and then I would like a chat with you.”
“What sort of chat?”
“I want to ask you a little about your medical history and your lifestyle, nothing too searching so you don’t have to feel nervous. Understand Charlotte, at any time you can stop this and perhaps take it up again with your GP in England. The medical examination has nothing to do with your rights of salvage or any claims you might wish to make against the shipping line. It is a separate matter and our reason for doing it now is because from what you have already told us, we gather you had no knowledge that there was anything different about yourself before the shipwreck. That is important to us and later to yourself because we are able to investigate right at the beginning of the change.”
“It’s not so much that I’m nervous, it’s that I like what has happened, I know its early days but I am enjoying the change and want it to continue, I like the new me, feel very comfortable about it and don’t want to stop. I want to go on and finish it, be a woman, live as one and the only reason I would stop you is if you tried to stop me, started to feed me medicines or carry out operations that would stop me changing”
“I don’t think there is any question of that,” Duncan said, “We are not gods, what we think is happening is that mother nature is correcting an error it made earlier and even with the speed of advancements in medical knowledge, we can’t yet control nature.”
“Okay, let’s do it, I admit I would like to know what is or has happened but it doesn’t scare me and so far, on the ship, Aurora’s crew have acted nicely. I haven’t had any funny looks or people suddenly drawing away from me, in fact it has been to the contrary, they seem to have taken a liking to me and that certainly helps when I have my moments of apprehension, I feel reassured that they think I’m female so it would be better if I continued being female. I’m not so sure about going back to England though, here I have had this happen amongst strangers and the incident in the lifeboat when I saved that man’s life has helped, it has distracted everybody and when they look at me, they are more likely wondering where I got the nerve to jump into a stormy sea rather than wondering what sort of weirdo I am because I’m becoming a woman. But home is different, they are people that knew me as a man and when I suddenly appear before them wearing women’s clothes and acting like one, well, I don’t know how they’re going to react or for that matter how I’m going to react to them.”
“Do you think that might be the reason you want to settle here or at least stay for a while?” It was Randolph that asked the question and he was already making notes.
“No, I genuinely like it here, it’s a beautiful spot, quiet and there’s lots to do, an adventure, setting up a home and life on a desert island. I wasn’t one for being part of the scene before now, even my Auntie Mo had to make me take up dancing so that I socialised more when I was at home, so a quiet life is something I’m used to and as long as I can mess with computers I’m happy, in fact the change increases the excitement, I get to keep as much of my old life as I need and add the fun of the new experiences I’m having as a woman.” I smiled as much to myself as to them, “Give me a couple of months and I’ll be asking somebody to convert number one hold into a wardrobe and dressing room.”
Duncan took a file from the desk, “First we need you to sign a consent form allowing us full and unrestricted access to your medical records,” he handed me the form, “That is a formality but we do need to know as much about your past medical history as possible and then there is your blood test result. Everything is normal for somebody of your age, liver, kidneys and heart, that sort of thing, all working well and no problems. Red cell count and haemoglobin are fine but there is one striking anomaly, your hormone levels are not far from an acceptable level for a woman of your age but for a male they are definitely wrong and it appears that they have been at these levels for some time, long before the shipwreck. Were it not for the recent sudden changes in your outlook on life which has manifested itself in your acceptance of your personality change and willingness to be looked upon and treated as a female, we would be seriously concerned, as it is we are not unduly concerned but very curious. There is no reason why you should not return to normal activity after this weekend.”
“Are you telling me to stop skiving and get on with ploughing the wheat field?”
Duncan smiled, “That or cleaning the hull of Pacific Wanderer.”
The telephone rang and Randolph answered, “The X-rays are ready, the radiographer wants to know if you want to look at them on his large screen or have them sent here.”
“Tell him I’m coming down now and to send a copy here for you and Charlotte,” he got up, “I’ll leave you two to your chat.”

Randolph went to a sideboard and poured two coffees and added sugar and milk without asking. “If I ask a question that you don’t feel ready to answer, then say so, equally, if you think I am trying to dig too deeply, then stop me. We don’t have to do everything at once. This meeting is as much a chance for me to get to know you as it is to discover the hidden workings of your mind,” he handed me my coffee.
“Duncan told me he knows you from Charing Cross Hospital, is that correct?”
“Yes, we both work as consultants there and have worked on the same cases together on some occasions. My being here at this opportune moment was a trip to allow me a break as well as research into the mental changes that take place within people when they are exposed to long periods of extreme stress in a hostile environment.”
“I asked because I was thinking of continuity. I don’t want to start something and then find that part way through everything has to be changed, new people take over because you and he are posted elsewhere or I decide to move back to Berkshire.”
“That’s understandable but we are both reservists and will be returning to our work in London. It would be necessary for you to be in England if we are to preserve the continuity because your being treated by us in London and your living here in the Pacific would not be practical but we can certainly have a preliminary investigation here and then hand you over to doctors in New, Zealand, Australia or even the United States if that is what you prefer.”
“No, I have a home in England and will almost certainly elect to have my treatment and SRS there. Which leads me to the next question; what is my position as far as the NHS is concerned. I am a UK citizen and resident on holiday officially, but I have been given a temporary commission in the New Zealand Navy or the Royal Naval Reserve, I’m not sure which and I am out here and am going to be so for three or four weeks. Who is going to be responsible for my treatment?”
“Tricky question that. Duncan and I are both NHS doctors as well as having our own private practises so I think the NHS will be the people under which this will be done but whilst you are here in the Pacific it depends on reciprocal arrangements with the New Zealand health services. I can tell you that it is not covered by your holiday insurance but may be by your own private health arrangements if you have any. We will have to look at that but I am sure we can sort something out. Gender dysphoria and SRS are not considered life threatening conditions normally which of course clouds the issue a little but to some extent, this has happened because you were shipwrecked so the marine insurers may be liable…”
“I wasn’t asking because of the cost, I have money and can afford to pay myself, no it was being able to continue with the same medical team right the way through and that includes after care where it relates to the GD treatment.”
“If it comes to the worse you may have to pay part or all of the costs but I think that unlikely and as far as having the same team it isn’t a problem provided you are prepared to live in the UK for the later part of your treatment, that’s a month prior to SRS and the recovery period after that. There will be occasions possibly when we will need you to come to the UK but where we need blood samples taken and analysed, there is no reason why that can’t be done here. As for prescription medicines, there will be no difficulty in sending supplies here once we have an established regime for you.”
“Okay, that’s put my mind at rest,” I smiled, who told you I like milk and sugar in my coffee?”

I didn’t meet any of the crew on the survey ship which bore the name HMS Orca, the captain and some of the crew had gone ashore with a survey or to have a look at the island and the New Zealand supply ship’s captain who had moved to Goat’s Cove was visiting Aurora to exchange adult movies I suspect but I did see the ship and she was larger than Pacific Wanderer and had derricks, a helicopter landing deck and another large boat tied alongside. “Where did that other ship come from?” I asked Duncan.
“It’s not a ship it’s a barge that’s used for loading and unloading cargo. Naval supply ships often have heavy equipment on board or have to make deliveries to places where there isn’t enough depth for Penguin to get close inshore.”
“Penguin! Do they know an Orca is lurking in Revelation Bay, they won’t start fighting will they?”
He laughed, “A waste of time, Orca only has a single four inch gun for defence purposes and the best Penguin can do is a pair of fifty calibre machine guns.”
“I think I’ll have to buy some torpedoes and six inch guns for Pacific Wanderer in case they pick on her.”
“There’s no need, just put your wetsuit on and go on deck and shake your fist at them, that’ll scare them off. I understand that if you are keeping Pacific Wanderer, the naval authorities may ask if you want a pair of heavy machine guns fitted to her and supply a hand held missile launcher.”
“Whatever for, if we do go to sea in her, we’re only going as far as New Zealand or Hawaii, perhaps the American mainland.”
“It isn’t just the Indian Ocean that has pirates, Charlotte. There are some around Indonesia and South America and an elderly, unarmed merchant ship is a target that would attract them.”
“We have guns anyway, Will found some.”
“Hardly suitable and if there’s a fifty calibre machine gun mounted somewhere, it will act as a deterrent.”
“The X-rays were interesting,” I said to change the subject. “All those things developing inside me and I didn’t notice, couldn’t feel it happening.”
“It didn’t grow after you were born, they started when you were still an embryo. They were lying dormant until your Aunt Mo died and then they started working, well the ovaries did. The surprise is that it was happening and you never noticed or had any noticeable symptoms, particularly after puberty, you should have started developing breasts.”
“But you said earlier, that I did start growing them.”
“Yes but nothing like as much as would be expected.”
I shrugged, “I’ll just have to go through life with small tits or have implants.”
He laughed, “I like your pragmatism but I doubt it will be necessary, I think you’ll develop slightly smaller than average which would be a B cup, perhaps a C. Enough to attract an eye or two if you wear a bikini or a low cut dress.”
“That’ll do, as long as I look good when I take up pole dancing.”
“You’ll be an attractive woman that is certain, it’s a pity there isn’t a woman here to help you, teach you a woman’s way. There are people at Charing Cross but you could do with help here.”
“Auntie Mo taught me a lot, I can do my basic make-up, and cook, those sort of things.”
“Yes, that will help but there’s more to it I’m afraid, it’s something that Raymond and I will have to try and sort out.”
“I could ask some of the female passengers when they come back on board.” We were seated in the bow with one of Aurora’s crew handling the boat and out of earshot, “I’m not going over the top with it am I, Duncan. I am practical about things,” I lifted the hem of my skirt a little, “When I dressed this morning I knew I had quite a lot of running around to do apart from the medical I have just had so I wore these clothes and picked fairly plain undies but if I could, I would have worn something much prettier, dressed like I did yesterday and the other evening, the evening before you arrived, I went and dolled myself up and wore really sexy undies, black and lacy. I wanted to see how Will would react, see if he laughed or told me not to be stupid.”
“Did he?”
“No, he told me I looked nice, well more than that but he reacted as I was hoping he would. Then I took it all off and got ready to sleep beside the radio and go out to help if we had to. But I wanted to wear pretty, sexy things not jeans all the time. I have wondered if I’m not overdoing it.”
“You’re behaving as most women do. Making yourself look good when there’s a need or when you just feel like it and being practical when circumstances or the weather demand it. Perfectly normal behaviour, even men are guilty of it. They dress up when socialising and do what they can to look good and perhaps attract a pretty girl but rarely wear a suit and tie when they’re working on the building site or servicing their car. In short no, you’re not overdoing it. Your behaviour is helping to reinforce the change to the new you and if you did start glamming up more often than is necessary, remember Charlotte has been hidden away and is going to try to make up for lost time.”
“I didn’t hide her away on purpose, I simply didn’t realise she was there.”
“I know and I think she does as well so don’t be surprised if she pushes you towards Will.”
“Will! Oh god, does it show. I’m trying not to let it be obvious, I don’t want to embarrass him.”
“Embarrass him, how can it embarrass a man if a pretty girl takes a shine to him, it certainly wouldn’t embarrass me.”
“But I’m different from other women.”
“I agree, you are certainly that, much too adventurous and too quick to disregard the risks and take chances. Being married to you would never be dull.”
“I didn’t mean it like that, I mean different, you know, just different.”
He smiled gently, “Charlotte you have to recognise you are female, the fact you have one or two things that will have to be corrected is hardly unusual. Cosmetic surgeons earn a good living out of it and when it gets down to basics, in your case the SRS is only a little more than cosmetic surgery. The only thing that is medically necessary to enable you to complete your transformation is removal of your testes in case they cause problems for the hormones being produced by your ovaries. The rest of it is more a mental need rather than a physical one. You don’t want a penis to remain there, you do want labia and a vagina so that you can be a complete woman, right?”
“You mean I could be a woman with one of those hanging there?”
“More or less, yes but the physiological affect wouldn’t be good, it would be a constant reminder that you were once male and of course you wouldn’t be able to make love in the traditional manner. No it is better that you complete the transition, even if some of the cosmetic surgery isn’t essential from the medical point of view. Your face is perfect, you are pretty and feminine, your breasts may need augmentation but again, that is purely cosmetic, there are a lot of women in the world with smaller than average breasts and don’t feel a need to compete with their double D sisters. Your legs are good and the general appearance of your body is curvy, soft and definitely female, so don’t hesitate to go for SRS but the thing you must keep in mind is that you will never be able to become pregnant, it’s a wicked unfairness of your condition; the infertility, either as a male or a female. The only other occasion not completing your physical transformation is likely to cause a problem is when you’re wearing clothing that might reveal an unfeminine shape, a bikini or for that matter any swimming costume except the old fashioned ones with a skirt front or when wearing a tight skirt.”
I thought about that, Duncan had slipped something into the equation that I had not considered, he had done it gently, made it a part of the whole conversation rather than sit me down for a serious and lengthy lecture but I would have to have that lecture, I would have to take on board what was probably the most important part of my being intersexed, I could never be a biological father or mother but I agreed with Duncan, that was something better discussed when things have settled down a little and I had had the time to think about it and the consequences it would have on me and, if I did get married, on my husband but not today. Not in an open boat when I was still going through the euphoria of finally discovering myself, so I put it aside for the moment and continued in the vein that Duncan had. “I will have the operation though, I might want to have a boyfriend, even get married, I’d need a vagina then or we wouldn’t be able to love each other.”
“Yes you could but I agree, from the psychological point of view SRS would be better, I’ll do it for you when we get back to the ship if you like.”
I grinned, “If I thought for a moment you could, I’d have you do it before Will and I have dinner with the captain this evening.”
“Not possible I’m afraid, it takes a little longer than that so plan ahead.” I stood up to look at the island as we passed it but he reached out and took my hand, “Charlie, we will have a long quiet chat soon, when you’re ready. Raymond will have one as well and if you wish, we’ll arrange it so that we can both talk to you at the same time and cover both the mental and physical sides.”
“I did take note of what you said, Duncan and I admit it is something I had not considered but this much I can tell you; I know my brain is telling me I am female and I know that at present to some extent, my body is saying no, you are male. I have already decided what I am going to do, I’m listening to what my brain is saying and I will have that corrective surgery and take all the pills and potions you are planning to inflict on me and I also know that I am going to come out of the shell that I’ve hidden in all these years and Charlotte is going to enjoy life, have fun and be a fulfilled woman.” I smiled, “What you said and the subtle way you slipped it into the conversation was probably the most important throwaway line I will encounter in my life. When the time comes I will keep reminding myself that I am not the only infertile woman in the world but it is a condition that doesn’t necessarily prevent me from becoming a mother, that’s what adoption agencies are for. I have money and if I want, I can build a twenty bedroomed house on this island; there will be a bedroom for me and my future husband, another for stay-over guests and eighteen for my children,” I chuckled, “But I did like the way you described me as being beautiful with a bubble butt and drop-dead gorgeous legs.”

Chapter 14

“People can be so kind and often without knowing it.”
“Who’s been kind, the captain?”
“I wasn’t thinking of him specifically, I was thinking of people generally, here on the island I mean, the crews of the ships, the way Aurora’s people are helping us. If I ask the way to somewhere on Aurora, they don’t tell me, they stop what they’re doing and take me. If I ask a technical question they make sure that they explain it in a manner I understand and sometimes go and get me a leaflet, even an instruction manual.”
“They admire you, you know that, your courage impressed them.”
“Oh don’t keep saying that, Will, it will go to my head. I keep telling you, courage didn’t come in to it, I acted on impulse. If anybody has courage it is the crew, they chat to me, they walk me to where I want to go and not once has one of them shied away from me, not once have I been made to feel like a freak in a frock, that must take courage to help me regardless of what others might think.”
“You’re a beautiful woman that helps.”
“Some yes but by now they must all know who I am and all about me, if not the details certainly the basics.”
“That is true yes and most of them are youngish men and don’t carry the baggage that older people have. These days mankind is more accepting and recognises that the world is full of people, many of them strange to us, different for all sorts of reasons, their intelligence, colour, sense of humour, wit, talents and abilities and even sexuality, it’s what makes we humans so interesting and that in turn makes life interesting. It would be a dull world without those differences, a world lacking in variety. Don’t be surprised that the people here have taken a shine to you, you have the ability to make people like you, even if you don’t recognise it yourself.”
I shrugged, “Well I’m not doing it on purpose.”
“Of course not, it’s a part of your personality. They met you, some probably apprehensive about it, but when they realise you’re not going to eat their children, steal their houses or spread your sexuality amongst them like an infectious plague they find it easy to put aside the prejudices they have been exposed to by the others they once thought were their wise-men. They shake your hand brush past you or pull you out of the sea and a short while later discover that they haven’t been sent to Hell, they still have their testicles and you are an interesting and kind person and a bit different to them, that’s all, nothing to be scared of. I’m going up to the cave and the house tomorrow, are there any instructions for the builders?”
“Is that how they think of me, the client?”
“More or less yes even though it’s the navy they are working for.”
“I hope nobody is going to get into trouble over doing things for us.”
“No for two reasons, firstly you, and secondly we, are shipwrecked passengers from a New Zealand registered ship operated by a New Zealand company so there is an obligation to save us,” he smiled, “Even if we don’t want to be saved, so everything they can do to see to our good health and comfort, they feel they are obliged to do. Building us a shelter from tempests comes well within that sphere even though it is stretching the point a bit. I have already made it clear to the captain that we are prepared to pay if it becomes necessary and he answered that almost all of it could be done by restoring the house with reclaimed materials, augmented by the cargo off this ship and bits the navy can donate so he doesn’t have a problem with it. Furthermore, he has intimated that because of your personal and unusual circumstances and the manner in which you have conducted yourself added to the value of this island as a base for some of the work being undertaken in this part of the Pacific, he has received instructions from above, and I think he was referring to the government when he said ‘above’, that you are to be kept happy.”
“Oh come on, Will, he’s kidding and so I suspect are you, I saved one man’s life, Aurora saved more than twenty. I hardly warrant that kind of treatment!”
“I said, he has received his instructions from above, I promise it’s true, somebody has leaked the story to the New Zealand press and you’re front page news as of yesterday and I should think by now you could well be international news and if our cell phones worked out here, you would have been inundated with calls from journalists. There are other motives, the atoll that we have named Charlotte Island offers excellent safe anchorage and is ideally situated for access to the Antarctic Continent and the support services that the exploration of that place requires. The captains tell me the depth of water on both sides of the island and barely three hundred metres offshore is sufficient to allow a mega tanker or aircraft carrier to anchor. New Zealand have already recognised your claim to the island and it would appear that the US, Australia, China, Japan and India plus one or two strategic South American countries are likely to do so as well. The UK is holding back for a while to allow the Pacific Rim nations to do so before they too recognise it and the Russians have made no comment other than to state that they assume you would allow ships of all nations to seek shelter at the island which is roundabout way of saying they’ll go along with it provided they are allowed the same rights as other nations, which means the UN will agree to it, though I doubt you will be offered a seat on the Security Council.”
“Are you being serious?”
“Yes, very, I assure you that is the way it stands at present and with the newspapers calling you the Mermaid of Mercy, and somebody who has a recording of your early radio transmissions referring to you as the Angel’s Voice in the Wilderness, no politician in his right mind is going to go against the sort of public support you are gathering. There is one exception, that’s North Korea who have denounced you as a lackey of the LGBT and its imperialistic ambitions.”
I started laughing then, “Now you are joking, I think that’s quite funny though.”
“I’m only joking about the North Korean bit, the rest is as it stood this afternoon. Remember, what they say about the island is true and it’s convenience to the Antarctic is a fact, furthermore, it would suit everybody’s purpose to have a place like Charlotte Island that is neutral and free from national claims of sovereignty.”
“That means you could be King William or President William.”
“I don’t think that would be legal, the piece of paper you signed when making the claim…”
“I didn’t sign anything!”
“Yes you did, after you voiced the idea of claiming ownership and sovereignty over the island to the captain of Aurora and the acting captain of Pacific Wanderer they told you they would speak to the New Zealand authorities’ right?”
“Yes but I haven’t signed any legal documents.”
“What about the letter?”
“That wasn’t a legal document, it was simply a letter saying I would like to claim the island and live on it.”
“That, accompanied by the correctly phrased documents constitutes a legal claim, and as I was saying you made the claim and added my name saying that you wished to include me as I was also present at the time. That puts you firmly in charge so there’s no King William only a Queen Charlotte.”
I grinned, “That means I’m your boss?”
“Yes, My Liege.”
“In that case I shall appoint you my Chancellor which means you have to settle the outstanding bill in the shop and I haven’t started on the cargo yet.”
“I haven’t accepted the appointment and noting in which direction the wind is blowing I might only agree to be your Public Executioner and despatch the various fish and crabs you catch.”
I yawned, “I’m tired, it’s been another long day and I’ve been enjoying myself again and don’t realise just how tired I’m becoming. I’ll consider your offer about serving in my government in the cold light of day, what time are you going over to Aurora?”
“O830, Your Serene Highness.”
“I like that, I’ll think I’ll promote myself to Empress.”

The First Lieutenant met us as we stepped on board, I nodded and smiled in answer to his salute, “Miss Broughton, good morning and welcome aboard, Commander Devonshire, welcome again.” Will nodded and the Lieutenant returned his attention to me, “You mentioned to the captain last evening that you would like to meet your old shipmates?”
“I did. I hope it will be convenient.”
“Of course but the captain has to visit HMS Orca and I will be joining Commander Devonshire on his meetings with the electrician and carpenter but I have detailed Sub Lieutenant Andrews to act as your escort and guide.” A young officer stepped forward, “It is an honour, Commander Broughton.”
“Come now Sub, let’s do away with all this naval formality, I can hardly address my escort as Sub Lieutenant Andrews all morning, I am Charlotte and if this is against Naval rules, then please do call me Miss Broughton, I am meeting injured people in the sick bay, I don’t want to frighten them into thinking I need an officer to protect me.”
The Sub looked nervously at the First Lieutenant but I didn’t give him a chance to refuse, “Don’t you agree First Lieutenant, it is so much more relaxing to chat with sick people in a friendly atmosphere.”
He smiled, “As you say, Miss Broughton and you are not in uniform, a pity to let naval protocols spoil the meeting,” he turned to the Sub, “In front of the crew and whilst on deck, Andrews it is to be Commander Broughton, otherwise, Miss Broughton.”
“Come along then, Sub,” I said taking his arm, “These two have important business matters to attend to,” and I led him away. “I don’t think all the formalities are necessary between friends, do you, if nobody can overhear, just call me Charlotte, I’m only an officer on a temporary basis,” I whispered as soon as we were out of earshot, “And I am flattered that the Captain has given the duty of acting as my escort to a handsome young man, I hope you don’t think me a nuisance for taking you away from your other duties.”
“No, no, Comman…er Miss Broughton, I’m delighted, no I am honoured.”
“Tell me, Sub, do you have another name, one your mother and father gave you or perhaps a name your shipmates use?” I asked as we went through the ship to the sickbay.
“My mother always called me Martin, my father called me Marty and on board the other officers call me Fuse.”
“Fuse? That’s a strange nickname?”
He looked at me, a sheepish grin on his face, “It was my first week on board, I am in the electronics branch and this is my first ship. I was being instructed on the missile control systems and Aurora got caught in the bow wave of a support ship and I hadn’t been to sea so had no sea legs and stumbled against the CPO who was removing the back of a set and he hit something with a screwdriver and blew the entire control system.”
“Oh dear, so after the Captain had you keel-hauled and sent you around the ship to polish all the fuses.”
He nodded, “Something like that. I have to spend my watches on deck, regardless of the weather and walk around the ship until I got my sea legs and since then I’ve been called Fuse, even the ratings call me that behind my back.”
“Well at least they know who you are. I was trying to fix a computer at home once, there was no power and I must have spent an hour trying to sort it out until my Auntie Mollie came into the room, bent down behind the table I was working on, did something and immediately the machine lit up. She just looked at me with that look that only Aunties can give and said, “Always check to see if the switch on the wall socket is on.”
“Did she give you a nickname?”
“Yes, she called me Stupid for a day and forgot all about it when I baked an apple and blackberry pie that was better than one she could have cooked.”
“I’ll just have to wait for the day when I cure a problem that nobody else could fix?”
“That’ll make it worse, they will start calling you Super Fuse after that.”
He laughed and stopped at a door, “This is the MO, we have to see him first,” and knocked.
We were bidden to enter and Duncan rose to his feet, “Charlotte, good morning, are you reporting sick?”
I looked at Martin, “Do I look sickly?” but before he could reply I returned my attention to my physician, “I was walking on deck looking for the entrance to the engine room and this officer asked if I thought there were any chances of catching swamp fever on the island. Not knowing, I offered to bring him down here to ask you and on the way he told me he was going to build a scanner for you. Whilst I’m here, can I see my old shipmates?”
“Yes you can see your shipmates bar one who is too ill for visitors and if I need to look inside you, I don’t need a scanner, I’ll hang you in front of the radar, and good morning, Martin are you going to take swimming lessons from Charlotte and whilst you’re standing there looking confused, perhaps you would kindly bring a chair over for the Commander.”
I sat and Duncan asked, “Is this confidential?”
“No, well I don’t think so, I wanted to speak to the passengers from the Wanderer and see if there was anything they needed.”
“Get a chair for yourself, Sub,” Duncan nodded towards a plastic stack-em-high chair, “Better still pour three coffees one with milk and sugar for the Commander. Now your passengers, Charlotte, Two are being helicoptered with their spouses to Adamstown later and thence to Auckland for hospitalization. The man you helped out of the sea is now up and about and back with his wife and they may be transported out tomorrow with the others.”
“I can go back to Pacific Wanderer and get one of our lifeboats and then take them over so they can get their things packed or if they can’t travel, I’ll pack for them.”
“You go and see them and I’ll have a word with the Captain, I think it may be easier to shift them over with one of our boats today and then tomorrow they can leave from the beach because the helicopter when it arrives is large and will have to land there.”
“Okay, can I tell them that?”
“Yes but stress that the arrangements will need the Captain’s approval. You still haven’t told me how you’re feeling.”
“I’m fine, really, I didn’t even glow in the dark last night so the X-rays haven’t harmed me.”
Duncan stood up, “I have the intensive care patients next door in the sick bay and the remainder are occupying officer’s cabins. The person best suited to act as a guide is the man who you shared a bath with, he’s fit enough now and has offered to assist me should I have to deal with a large number of casualties when we go into action. I’m afraid I have a man confined to his bunk I need to have a look at in the crew’s quarters so if you need me or want to ask any questions, send Martin to find me. Sub, do not, under any circumstances, allow Miss Broughton out of your sight, she is curious about ships and will dismantle the engines if you give her a chance.”
“Duncan, the man who’s confined to his bunk, why not send him over to Pacific Wanderer, we have spare cabins and will have more when the passengers leave. In fact you can send all the people who are not fit for duty over there, there’s loads of room and the viewing bridge is not being used.”
Duncan thought about it for a moment, “I’ll have a word with the Captain, we are pushed for space and there are two or three we could send. I’ll speak to Mark to see if he can cope.”
“Of course he can cope, as long as it doesn’t interfere with his duties acting as my fashion consultant. Come to think of it, my Auntie made me attend first aid classes and if he needs assistance and you haven’t anybody to spare, I can dress wounds, give medicines, do blood pressures and stuff like that, even do external cardiac resuscitation.” I took hold of Martin’s hand, “Come on, Sub let’s go and see the passengers and change their dressings, you don’t faint at the sight of blood do you?”

“This used to be the first lieutenant’s,” Martin explained knocking gently on the door. “He’ll be glad to get it back, he is having to share with the gunnery officer. He complains that Guns is as noisy in the cabin as he is at action stations.”
“What about you, did you lose your cabin?”
“No, we lowly subs don’t have a single cabin, we have to share. I’m lucky, I share with the sub who’s been temporarily billeted on your ship so for the first time since joining the navy, I have a bedroom of my own.”
The door opened and a late middle aged couple stood there with smiles on their faces. “Hullo Martin, we’ve been expecting you.” They stood aside and we entered a cabin hardly large enough to accommodate the bunk and single bed, “And you are the mermaid who rescued my David?” the woman asked, stood for a moment and then took a step forward and pulled me into a hug, “You saved me as well, I thought he had died,” and she started to cry, “I thought I’d never see him again after all the years we have been together.”
I rubbed her back gently, “It wasn’t really me, I couldn’t lift him out of the water, I’d forgotten to put air in my buoyancy jacket and when I tried to lift him, I was just pushing myself under water. It was the navy, Aurora and her crew arriving in time…” and then I started to cry with her.
The woman eased me back, “There, you see, David, you’ve made your mermaid cry, give her a brandy. Her husband poured a drink from a bottle and handed it to me, “I’m sorry I have caused you so much trouble, distressed you but Gwyneth is correct, it was you that saved me. I was frozen, couldn’t do anything for myself and the cold, it was so terrible and then when I had decided not to fight it anymore, you appeared from below the sea and reached out to me and then put your arms around me and even through your wet suit and my clothes I felt warmth come from you, warmth that defied the sea and I knew it had saved me and then I felt you try to lift me and that’s the last I can remember. It was you that saved me, ask the men who pulled me from the water, if you hadn’t come to me and stopped me drifting away I would have died, too cold, too tired and too old to continue to fight for my life and I truly believed you were a mermaid.”
I tried to speak but couldn’t form the words, my sobs seemed to come from deep inside me. I took a small sip of the brandy and managed to swallow. It worked instantly, the warmth radiating from my stomach and I managed to get myself back under control. I handed the glass to Gwyneth, “Here, you finish it for me, Gwyneth, I’m not very good with alcohol, if I drink anymore I’ll start singing and then David will think I’ve become a siren.”
Gwyneth gave the glass to Martin who took it without argument and drank it down in one swallow, “I need it, I’ve never seen a commander cry before. I think you would prefer a coffee with milk and sugar, Miss Broughton,” and he took us to the wardroom and sat us down and ordered coffee.
“We were on a long holiday, David has retired and sold his practice and we wanted to look around a bit and pick somewhere to live. If we’d stayed in Norwich, David would have started going back part time especially now with the NHS being so short of GPs…”
“You’re a doctor!” I asked.
“Was. Gwyneth is determined to prevent me practising again, this is only the third time we have been able to take a long holiday since I qualified.”
“Some holiday it turned out to be.”
Gwyneth nodded her head, “But it’s something we can talk about once we get settled somewhere.”
“As long as you can impress on David that swimming in Antarctic waters is not a recommended exercise for retired doctors’, he should have known that before he dived in. Why didn’t somebody in the boat try to get him out?”
“I tried but two of the other passengers pulled me back because I nearly fell overboard myself, we were all tired and pretty weak, we had been in the boat for nearly five days.”
“What about the crew, they should have been making sure nobody fell in?”
David frowned, “They were totally useless. One of them had brought some bottles of spirits with him and they were drinking most of the time getting drunk and then they’d get thirsty and we had run out of water and the food was nearly finished, most of the rations had been ruined by the rain and seawater because the fools just didn’t think to keep it dry.”
“Didn’t the officers stop them?” asked Martin.
“There weren’t any officers in our boat. Most of them were in the first boat and they were much the same as the deckhands and the captain and first mate were in the boat that was sunk, it was about the only correct thing they did, the captain was the last to leave his ship.”
“Except for Will and I, we were left behind.”
“Thank goodness,” said Gwyneth, “Or you wouldn’t have been there to save David. I can’t remember seeing you on the ship, you weren’t in the saloon for dinner or having drinks.”
“I tended to stay in my cabin for meals and out on the promenade deck when it was quiet,” I answered hurriedly, they obviously didn’t know about me. “I lost somebody I loved very much a few months ago and have been in mourning since then. I went on Pacific Wanderer to get myself together again.”
“Were you with a young man, because we did see a youngish chap occasionally and I remember seeing him in the bar on the night we run aground and assumed he had drowned in the lifeboat that sank?” I was stumped now, if I answered by lying and said he was my husband or brother or something like that, they would ask me where he was now. “No I was travelling on my own and wasn’t really looking for company.”
“That’s understandable if you were mourning a loss,”
“You’re coming over to Pacific Wanderer later, did you know?” I said to distract them from talking about the mysterious young man.
“Yes, we have to pack and get ready to leave soon, to tell the truth David and I don’t really want to go back to New Zealand, we were hoping to go on to Hawaii.”
“We’ll get a ship or plane to take us on from New Zealand, don’t worry, Gwyneth, we’ll find our new home.”
“Your cabin is much as you left it,” I told them getting up, “Nothing was damaged as far as I could tell, I did check all the cabins in case there were any other people left behind or injured, I didn’t have time to clean them though, we were too busy saving the ship and exploring the island a little bit, Will and I are going to rebuild an old log cabin and stay here for a while, in fact I want to make it my home, it’s a pretty island and there’s no malaria or swamp fever, is there Martin?”
Martin jumped up, “Er no, I don’t think so but one of the petty officers warned me not to swim in any lakes or rivers in case there were crocodiles.”
“Martin is keeping an eye on me, the captain thinks I might try and steal Aurora whilst she’s here. Now I have to visit the other passengers.

In Chapters 15 and 16; A kiss, and Charlotte discovers a mentor.

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