Footprints in the Sea Vol 3 47 and 48

Footprints in the Sea Volume 3 - Chapters 47 and 48

The Enchanted Island


Frances Penwiddy

Copyright©Frances Penwiddy 2015

The characters in this novel are fictitious and any resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental.
Footprints in the Sea is not suitable reading material for minors.

The Chapter numbers of Vol 3 continue from where Volume 2 ended. If you have not read Volumes 1 and 2, it is recommended that you do so before starting Volume 3.Chapter 47

Chapter 47

I ran my hand down the hips of the antique silk of the skirt and watched the flow of the material as I moved. Gwyneth was watching me with a smile on her face, “You’ve come a long way since that first time we spoke. Do you remember it?”

“I’ll never forget. You appeared at precisely the right moment.”

“I saw the uncertainty, in your face, the questions you were asking yourself and finding you didn’t have the answers. Now look at you; a folk heroine, a soon-to-be bride, owner of an island…”

“Sovereign state.”

“Empire soon I expect.”

I shook my head, “An island is enough,” I turned and looked over my shoulder, turned again and stared into the mirror at the dress, “Do you think the neckline is too low?”

“No, it’s perfect, Will is going to love it.”

“I know that but what about all the other people in the congregation?. They’ll think I’m a high class call-girl, not a bride.”

“The women will envy you; the dress, poise and above all the occasion. It’s not every bride who will have important representatives from a major world government at her wedding, nor leading servicemen from at least three countries and the men will envy Will.”

“I can’t believe that the AWAC crew and Maritime 5 are coming as well.”

“Plus the captains of the various ships, don’t forget to make a fuss of them as well.”

“I won’t and Will has warned me not to show my disappointment that North Korea is not sending anybody.”

Gwyneth laughed, “I think they are a bit shy about their haircuts.”

I lifted the front of the skirt and took a few steps forward, “It’s comfortable to walk in without the train and the undies feel comfortable but it’s a pity I will only get to wear it once.”

“A good tailor and seamstress could turn it into a ball gown or perhaps a formal dress for state occasions if you wanted that or you can make baby clothes out of it.”

“State occasions? Yes, I suppose I will have them occasionally. I might even make a law that says my wedding day will become a national holiday and the ceremony is to be repeated every year.”

“Why not every quarter or even every month?”

I nodded enthusiastically, “If I made it every month then I would have an excuse to buy a new wedding dress every year because the old one was worn out.”

“But the time? Won’t you find it a bit of a chore having to spend the best part of two weeks getting everything ready on a monthly basis?”

“Good fun though,” I sighed, “A ball gown is best and then with a few accessories I can make it look a little different every time I wear it.”

“Make sure it’s only worn for balls though, no casual be-bops on Pacific Wanderer.”

“Certainly not, the skirt is too long for jiving and it’s not a full skirt and won’t lift.” I turned away from the mirror and studied Gwyneth, “How about you are you pleased with your dress.”

“Very, David keeps winking at me. Come on, the girls must be dressed by now let’s see how they’re getting on.” Gwyneth went to the door, opened it and peered out into the corridor, “Okay, he’s nowhere to be seen, hurry up he may decide to leave David and wander up here.”

I lifted the front of the dress and petticoat and trotted as fast as my clothes, heels and figure enhancing basque would allow. Fortunately the girls were using Faye’s room next to Gwyneth and David’s suite so I didn’t have far to go and I opened the door ran in and turned to peer back to see how Gwyneth was doing, she had stopped to pick up my tiara and train and was a minute behind me.

“We didn’t ring for room service,” I heard Emma say.

“She’s not room service, she must be a fetish tart and is lost,” answered Emma.

“Knowing her, she’s more likely to be the Madam come for her share of the money.”

Gwyneth came in and I shut the door. “We’ll have to go back to my room if the coast is clear, this is the chambermaids rest room,” I told her.
Gwyneth nodded, “We’re short of time so we’ll use this lot as bridesmaids instead.”

“Come on,” I clapped my hands, “Get your dresses on and let’s make sure everything fits.”

The Chief Executive Officer of the Sovereign State of Charlotte Island was absent discussing various technical things in which I was curious but not so much so that I wanted to miss meeting and greeting Auntie Kate, Fred, Penny and Morris. Other than Will just about the entire population of the island was present, David, Gwyneth, Emma, Faye and Liz. When we arrived at the airport accompanied by two of the body guards and a civil servant we were shown to the VIP lounge, “The aircraft will touch down in a little over thirty minutes, Miss Broughton and will taxi close to the entrance to the VIP lounge. Would you like something to eat or drink whilst you are waiting?”

“A pot of tea would be nice,” I looked around at the others, “That suit you and does anybody want something to eat?” There were shakes of the head so I nodded at the protocol man, “Just the tea thank you. Will we be able to walk out to the aircraft and meet them at the steps?”

“If that is what you wish or if you prefer we can have them met by our people and brought here.”

“I would like to go out to meet them and perhaps come back here. Will there be somebody to help them claim their luggage and what about immigration?”

The protocol man smiled, “There luggage will be brought here and there is no need of immigration, their identities were confirmed before they left Northolt. We will have two cars and two security escorts to take you to your hotel and I will accompany you in the first car.”

“Do we need the guards now that the court case is over?”

“You are a diplomatic visitor and your party warrants one despite the drug people being locked away. I’m afraid in this day and age such measures are necessary but they will continue much as they have been doing once you are safely in your hotel.”

“Thank you.” He went away to make the arrangements.

“This is all very awe inspiring,” said Emma. “All this swank is going to my head.”

“One must adjust,” I answered, “There are times when state occasions can be a chore but when we get back to the island, I’ll arrange for you three to have lessons on curtsies, dress codes and general deportment.”

“Not me,” said Faye, “I’m an American citizen and don’t have to put up with that sort of stuff.”

“I’ll remind you that you have been a resident of Charlotte Island for more than three months and as such are entitled to and indeed are recognised as a citizen of the island. As a citizen of Charlotte Island you automatically become a citizen of New Zealand and will therefore be expected to conduct yourself in a suitably dignified manner.”

“Suppose I decline to become a citizen?”

“You’re fiancé has already signed the documents for himself and when you marry, you will, as his wife, automatically become a citizen. There is another point you must consider. If you are not a citizen I can’t appoint you to a swanky position on the Executive Council and you will not be entitle to the clothing allowance that would cover the cost of lavish ball gowns, free meals at state banquets and the best seats in theatres throughout the world.”

“Okay smart-ass, sign me up.”

“I can’t at the moment, here comes the man from the Governor General’s Office, our guests must have arrived, we’ll have to go and meet them.” We gathered our belongings and were shepherded out to the barricaded area outside the entrance just as the aircraft came to a standstill, “That’s them,” I said.

“How do you know, it might be a scheduled flight?” Emma asked squinted as she looked out to the taxi area.”

“Nope, it’s our lot, the plane doesn’t have any airline logos painted on it, just the RAF roundels.”

“It can’t be the RAF,” Liz protested, “There aren’t any guns or missiles under the wings.”

“It’s a transport aircraft for important people like air marshals, prime ministers and mayors. If they are attacked the stewardesses fire pistols out of the windows.” A tractor towing a staircase went hurrying across to the waiting plane and a door opened and Auntie Kate stepped out and peered around looking lost.

“Can we go out now and meet them at the steps?” The Ministry man nodded at the security guards and a section of the barricade was moved to one side and I led the welcoming committee out. Auntie Kate spotted us, waved and then vanished inside again to be replaced by a stewardess. “It’s the guns the security blokes are carrying,” explained Gwyneth, “She probably thinks she’s been hijacked.”

“Here they come,” I answered, “She probably went back to help Ted. Come on now, form a straight line and I’ll introduce you in turn.”

“We already know each other, why the introductions?” protested Faye.

“Don’t you start your revolutionary chat again, now get in a straight line, it’s the way they do it on the television news.”

Any ideas I had on protocols, television news and being interviewed by the press went out of the window when Penny yelled at the top of her voice, “Charlotte! Charlotte! It’s us.”

“Hurry up and get out of the way, Vladimir Putin is behind you and he’s in a hurry to meet Will before President Trump gets here.” Even Auntie Kate and Ted looked behind in case I was telling the truth and increased their pace.

The Ministry man chuckled, “You shouldn’t say things like that, not even as a joke, one of the security guards might open fire. Did they check to see if you were carrying a flare pistol?”
I grinned, “In my stocking top, want to look?”

“We haven’t time, your honoured guests are holding up the Royal New Zealand Airforce and the United States Airforce so it might be better to get them off the steps and a little to one side.”

I looked back to Auntie Kate and sure enough they were stopped on the bottom step with Penny and Morris immediately behind and a whole load of men in RNZAF uniforms and civvies were queuing up behind them waiting to get home and on leave I expect. I hurried over and took Auntie Kate’s hand, “Quick come over to our party, there’s a plane load of men behind waiting to get off,” and I led them over, smiled an apology at the men two of whom winked at me, three gave me a thumbs up and the rest smiled or nodded as they alighted and were greeted by two senior airforce officers and two civilians then led away.

I watched them for a moment, I was sure I recognised the voice of one of the New Zealanders, a sergeant but couldn’t place him and didn’t really know his face. Once we were grouped together we hugged and kissed and then the protocol men took us back to the VIP lounge and as we entered the New Zealanders and Americans were sat around a pair of tables with their escorts and drinking and again I recognised the voice but not the face and then forgot about him as we sat down. "Tea, coffee, drink?” I asked Auntie Kate.

“I think I could do with a cup of tea,” replied Kate, “But Ted will want a pint of beer I expect,”

“Me too please,” said Morris.

“Don’t get drunk, we have a dinner party this evening,” I warned them and got up to go to the bar but a restraining hand rested on my shoulder, “Let me,” said my personal body guard, “It’s government hospitality.”

“Get one for yourself then, a double if you want.”

He smiled, “Not on duty, I’ll share the tea.”

I nodded and was about to sit down when a voice called out from the group of airmen, “You okay for milk, Charlie Mermaid? Papa Alpha Two, over.”
“Got your bearings right this time? Maritime Five, over”

I knew those voices now, I would never forget them and my eyes blurred, “Be back in a minute, Gwyneth will explain,” and I started to walk over to their table.

“Frisk her for a diving bottle,” one of the airmen said.

“And a machine gun,” said another and they stood up and moved away from their table and I ran to them, straight into the arms of the civilian, “You forgot the ice cream, Pacific Wanderer, over.” And I flung my arms around him and started to cry.

“Bloody Yanks, now you’ve gone and upset her,” and suddenly I was being hugged by two handsome airforce officers, my two voices in the wilderness. Another of the officers dressed in civvies eased me away and took a step back, “Let’s have a look at you Charlotte, all we’ve seen so far are pictures in the press.” They crowded around me all grinning, “You’re an eyeful, that’s for sure,” said one of the New Zealanders, “Best contact we’ve ever made on our scanning and surveillance systems,” agreed another. “Makes me want to throw myself into the nearest bit of sea, just to be rescued by the mermaid,” and it carried on like that for two or three minutes whilst I just stood there, grinning like an idiot with tears streaming down my face.
My bodyguard came up, “Sorry gentlemen but I must take Commander Broughton away from you, she has other guests to attend to.”

I didn’t want to leave them, “Come on over to our table and meet some of my family and friends.”

“Aw no, Charlie, we have to be away ourselves, we’re not on leave yet and have to get to our billets and change into uniform. We’re okay tomorrow though, come and have dinner with us, bring your bloke Will so we can strangle him for whisking you away from us before we had a chance.”

“He’s ex SAS and can strangle a bit himself, always wears shoes with laces in them. I have a better idea, why not come to my hotel tomorrow and we’ll throw a party?”

“You gonna dance?” asked the radio operator of the AWAC.

“If you ask me, I expect so.” I turned to my protocol advisor, “That’ll be allowed at the hotel won’t it?”

“If it isn’t, we’ll arrange a different venue.”

They stood looking at me for a couple of minutes until the New Zealand commander nodded, “There’s not two cents worth of you, Charlotte, I still can’t believe you went into that sea and swam. We’ll see you tomorrow, to be sure. If the officials can’t find a place for our party, we’ll have it at the base,” and they turned away and left the lounge and I still had tears left to shed as I watched them go.

There was a discreet cough from my bodyguard and I returned to our table. “Sorry about that, everybody but they were the aircrew from the two aircraft that first found Will and I on Pacific Wanderer. I had to see them, to speak to them…”

“Do you need a drink, you look a bit upset?” asked Gwyneth.

“No, I’m happy upset, I’ll be okay in a moment or two, just getting a bit emotional that’s all and if I have a drink, I’ll get emotional again over Auntie Kate and Ted coming here and you Penny.”

You should have brought them over to us,” said Emma, “They were quite a dishy crowd.”

“I asked them over but they have to get away to report in but they’ll be coming tomorrow, we’ll have a party at the hotel.”

“We need to thank them as well,” said David, “If they hadn’t found you, Gwyneth and I would never have been saved.”

“Or us,” said Faye.

“I didn’t save you, you weren’t lost at sea!”

“If you hadn’t gone and got yourself shipwrecked, Orca wouldn’t have had to put to sea to join in the search and we would have been stuck in the Antarctic for an extra couple of weeks…”

“And we might have been frozen to death,” added Liz.

“On the other hand, we saved her from the pirates,” said Faye and I noticed it was one of the American crew members that she hugged and I’m telling Will and inviting him to hug an American in retaliation and I’m the only American here.”

“You do know he used to be in the SAS and goes around strangling people with boot laces?” said Auntie Kate.

Faye shrugged, “I’ll shoot him with a distress flare if he tries it on me.”

The body guard came back, “Your guests luggage is packed in the cars and the drivers are ready to take you to the hotel,” he said, “There’s time to spare if you want to stay a little longer.”

“No we’re ready now and Auntie Kate and Ted will probably want to bath and get some rest and no doubt Morris and Penny will want to go out and do a bit of exploring.”

Chapter 48

I stood in the corner of the port bridge wing and glanced into the bridge and at the profile of Pacific Wanderer’s new skipper, Byron Wellington. A soldier poet and when I had asked him why his parents had given him the name Byron he had retaliated with, “It wasn’t both my parents, it was my mother, she spent her time reading him, in fact I think she was secretly in love and looked upon Shelley as her greatest competitor.”

“Which one?”

“Both Percy and Mary and always swore that Frankenstein just about summed the family up. My father added my middle name, Alfred by way of compensation.”

I had taken a liking to him from the moment we met in Wellington and I boarded Pacific Wanderer for the first time since arriving from England. He had an amazing shock of curly red hair and eyes that were best described as warm green and were a perfect counterpoint to the warning of a fiery temper from his red hair. They had a strange way of changing colour the warm green would fade as his pupils dilated when he got mad at something and became a glacial shade of ice. They were like looking into the Antarctic sea, pale where there was ice below the surface and deep and warm when the water was deep but his eyes were always alive.

“A romantic Victorian poet, England’s greatest soldier and her greatest king, I have a captain of many personalities.”

He smiled at me, the eyes were deep green, “You don’t do so badly yourself, swimmer, dancer, radio operator and a touch of warrior.”

“I can sing a bit as well.”

And that had been how we made friends on the first day, when after the formalities of boarding, and seeing everybody settled in their cabins, Will and I had joined Byron in the captain’s cabin. I went back onto the bridge and joined him at his post in the captain’s chair, “She looks beautiful, more like a luxury liner than a maid of all work.”

“There’s a little of an iron fist concealed beneath the white paintwork though.”

“I was told. When will you be able to spare somebody to show me around. Will has sorted himself out and gone down to the engine room and holds, he could do it if you haven’t anybody to spare.”

“If you can delay your enthusiasm for a while, Martin has already volunteered, in fact he almost insisted. Once we have cleared Wellington and rendezvoused with Aurora and set course for the island, we’ll be at cruising stations but that won’t be until tomorrow afternoon.”

“That’s okay, thank you. But may I take a peek into the radio shack and introduce myself to the new radio operator?”

“You’re familiar with the way the bridge operates, so yes but if we go to action stations, Andy Bryant has told me to secure you in the chain locker.”

“Just goes to prove how fickle men are, a few months ago he and Harry Fellows were telling me how good I was at defending a ship.”

“He told me all about it so did Chief Petty Officer Evans and Lieutenant Andrews and quite a few other people.”

I grinned, “Victor a Chief now and Martin a full lieutenant, there goes my cook and dancing partner.”

“You still have Garry Phillips as your personal steward.”

“And Mark in the sick bay. Those two are going to settle on the island when their service ends, did you know.”

“Yes and so are a few others I believe.”

“It makes me feel like the Pied Piper.”

“Siren was mentioned.”

I laughed, “That too,” and I went to introduce myself to the radio operator and look at the new radio equipment. When I entered the operator looked up from where he was writing on a radio message slip and held up a finger, signed off and said, “Sorry, just writing this message up. You’re Commander Broughton?”

“I am but if the captain isn’t within earshot, call me Charlotte. Don’t let me disturb you, I just wanted to take a peek at the new radio, it’s a lot smaller than the old one.”

“State of the art this one, we could compete with the BBC if we had a mind. It’s a lot easier to work with as well. I can’t stand down and show you the drill at the moment, we are in contact with Aurora and until the skipper goes to cruising stations I have to keep on the ball.”

“That’s fine, I just wanted a look so let me know when I can be shown how it operates and I’ll be able to give you a break from time to time.”

“As soon as I can. I’m the only radio operator on board at present unless we count, Lieutenant Andrews, the sub or another yeoman who can’t do much more than the basic stuff. The bloke on Aurora told me you stripped the old set down, fixed it and your radio procedure was on the ball so if you can, it will give me a chance to eat, drink and sleep from time to time.”

“Okay, when you’re ready. What happened to the old set?”

“It’s in the radio stores, Commander Devonshire said to keep it and he’ll fix it up on the island for you.”

I laughed, “I’ll keep it as a souvenir, it saved our lives and a few other people as well and in twenty years’ time when I want to boost my pension fund, I’ll sell it at Sotheby’s. Is the copy of ‘I The Jury’ still here?”

“In the box over in the corner with a ball of wool and a pair of knitting needles, another of Commander Devonshire’s requests.”

I left the shack with a broad grin on my face, Pacific Wanderer was still the same ship, even with the crew changes and the makeover. I left the bridge and was about to go downstairs to the saloon when I heard Penny’s voice; “Auntie Kate that’s cheating, you discarded the last time a trump was led and now you’ve just trumped my King!”

“Oh dear, did I? that trump must have been stuck behind another card.”

Auntie Kate cheating at solo again, my life hadn’t changed much either.

As soon as I entered the saloon, Garry came over, “Would you like a coffee?”

“Later, Garry I want to say hullo to Victor first and the crew in the galley.”

“Okay, just tell me when. Mark wants a word when you have a moment, nothing urgent he tells me.”

“I’ll see him after I’ve seen Victor. Is everybody sorted out with cabins now?”

“All done. You and Will in your suite, Doctor and Mrs Williams next door, your Aunty Kate and Ted in the third cabin and Penny in the cabin opposite yours. I’ve put Morris in the cabin that used to be the housekeeping room, I thought it better to keep them at opposite ends until you say it’s okay for them to share seeing as how, well how it is that they’re, you know what I mean.”

“Quite right, Auntie Kate wouldn’t approve of them sharing, they’re not even engaged yet and there’s no way either of them can creep up to the other’s cabin an get past me, Gwyneth and Auntie Kate, not even in the dead of night. What about the girls?”

“On the stab’d side outboard. The three girls are sharing the new suite and the men are sharing two cabins next door and the inboard four are empty at the moment.”

“The girls aren’t sharing with their blokes?”

“No, when they saw the new suite they told their fiancés they were moving into that because it had its own en-suite bathroom and sitting room.”
I laughed, “I wonder how long that will last.”

“I expect the men will crowd into one cabin and keep the other for assignations.”

“That or draw lots to see who sleeps in which cabin but I expect they’ll be too tired most nights whilst we’re at sea. What about you and Mark, you can have one of the spare cabins if you like.”

“Don’t even mention it to the captain, were still serving in the navy, he’d go into orbit.”

“I’d forgotten that. I’ll be back in about fifteen minutes I must go and say hullo to Victor now.”

I walked across the saloon and entered the galley and Victor nearly made me jump out of my clothes as he called his cooks to attention and saluted me so crisply, if he had misjudged it, he would have chopped his own head of. I stood looking at him in surprise for a moment and then it dawned on me, I was wearing naval uniform and I had never worn it before, in fact it was the one they gave me before I came back on board, a horrible thing made from a polyester mixture or something though I did think the hat was rather pretty and then it occurred to me that I was required to return the salute which I did and followed CPO Victor’s example but with care. “Good morning Chief Petty Officer.”

I dropped the salute and Victor followed my example and turned to his men, “Stand-at-ease!” Returning his attention to me he said, “It’s nice to see you back on board, Marm, the Wanderer has been a dull ship since you went to England.”

“I’ve missed you all as well, Chief. Are these your new cooks?” I nodded towards the two newcomers.

“Leading Seaman Thomas and Ordinary Seaman McGregor.”

“Welcome to Pacific Wanderer, I hope you enjoy your time aboard, gentlemen.” I turned back to Victor, I’m changing back into civvies tomorrow, Victor. I keep being saluted whilst I’m wearing this uniform and I forget to return the salute.”

“One of the chores of being a senior officer, Marm. I forgot you prefer a more relaxed regime in the galley but once your back in civvies and the lads have got used to seeing you around a bit, we’ll soon get back to normal. I’ve taken the liberty of instructing the new lads on your preferences as regards the menu, is there anything you wish to change.”

“No, I’ve always enjoyed your food but there is one thing I missed the most when I was in England…”

“What was that Marm, I’ll see it gets added.”

“You remember that first time we met, the day after my swimming incident and the casserole that you had prepared for everybody and I said I wanted that rather than the lobster, I’d like that again one day.”

“I’ll have it on the menu the day after tomorrow, Marm.”

“Thank you, I hope the others don’t mind. If I get my Auntie Kate to visit you, would you show her how to cook it so I don’t have to go without again when I am in England. I think she’ll show you a few of her special dishes as well, she knows a trick or two when it comes to keeping men quiet with full bellies.”

“Be delighted, Marm. I could do with somebody to chat to about menus. Would you like to carry out your daily inspection now?”

“Oh, is that still my job?”

“When the captain suggested giving the task to the OOD I told him you might prefer to do it yourself as the ship really belongs to you though she’s leased to the Navy. So he’s left things as they are until he’s had a chance to speak to you about it.”

“We’ll keep it as it was, Chief if that suits you and I’ll let him know you do a good job of deputising for me when I can’t do it.”

“Thank you, Marm, that would suit us fine.”

I smiled, he was still the same Victor Evans even if they had promoted him to Chief Petty Officer, “I must be off now and take a look at the sick bay, thank you.” I smiled at the men, “It’s nice to see you all again,” and I left before we had to start saluting each other again.

I returned to the saloon and paused for a moment at the table where the girls were playing cards, “Is this poker? I do believe that gaming is forbidden on navy ships and I detect coins on the table.”

“Oh bloody Hell, she’s in uniform,” said Liz

“We’re nicked,” added Emma.

“I don’t know about that,” said Faye looking me up and down, “Whoever her dressmaker is needs a boot up their ass.”

“Her hat looks pretty though, better than those golf caps the men are wearing. Do you need hat pins if it gets windy or is there a chin strap?”

I didn’t say a word but walked around the table and looked at the ‘down’ card they were each holding; “Faye has the queen of spades, Emma is bluffing with the six of hearts and Liz has an ace in the hole and I’m not telling which suit cos that’s cheating. I’ll be back later after I’ve seen Mark, so deal me in and if you kept your down cards on the table, people like me couldn’t see them and spoil the game.”

“Bitch,” said Liz, “There’s nearly four dollars in the pot,” and she threw her ace down, “I’ll raise Emma’s thirty cents regardless,” And stuck her tongue out at me when the other two called her and Faye dealt her a second ace.

“See you later,” and I strode off to complete my journey to the sick-bay.

“I’m looking for Chief Petty Officer Mark Caldwell.” Mark was taking inventory at the drugs cupboard and spun round and his hand was halfway up to the salute before he recognised me. “Oh, it’s you, Charlotte, didn’t recognise you in uniform, it suits you.”

“No it doesn’t, well I like the hat but the rest is terrible but the captain has asked me to wear it today so the new people will realise that I’m an officer and pinching my bum is a court martial offence.”

He grinned, “Does that include Will?”

“No, he’s a commander as well so it’s allowed as an acceptable way of saying he fancies me. I’ve just popped in to say hullo.”

“It’s lovely to see you back on board, we missed you.”

I looked around the sick bay, “They’ve done it up and there’s new bed curtains and equipment, and that drug cupboard is twice the size of the old one. Is that because you’re a CPO now and carry a bit more clout?”

He grinned, “No, just part of the general upgrading but they haven’t replaced the gel boobs I lent you.”

I shook my head, “I don’t need them now, I brought the old one’s back so I’ll let you have them later in case we have another me washed on board.”

“Sign them first, I’ll keep them to remind me of you. How did things go at the hospital?”

“Fine, everything is done, it all works and I’ve been discharged and declared fit for service.”

“I was going to ask to see you anyway because there’s no drugs sent on board for you.”

“Don’t need them, not even a maintenance dose, I’m producing enough of my own. David will bring you up to date, I’ve asked him to and he’ll brief you on Penny as well.”

“She’s down as intersexed as well.”

“That’s right, but David will give you her details and Duncan has arranged for a New Zealand doctor to see us if we have a need and I expect we’ll probably have to go to Wellington to meet him and have a check-up in a few months. In the meantime we’ve been handed over to you and David, you happy about that.”

“Fine,” he smiled, “I’m an expert at it now. You certainly look good, even in the uniform.”

I grimaced, “I can’t wait to get it off and into my own clothes.”

“Do I detect you may be planning another ship’s party on the high seas?”

“That’s a safe bet. At least one and another on the island, a beach party for everybody regardless of rank.” I stepped forward, my eyes were filling and regardless of navy protocols I took hold of his arms and pulled him close to me, “Hug me, Mark, hug me tight, you, Garry and Will probably more than anybody else got me through this, stood beside me and helped me to discover who I was and what I needed to do, just hug me tight.” And he did and I let my tears flow, Mark and Garry were two men beside Will and my family who had shoulders I could cry on anytime I needed.

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