July 4, Mid-Morning, Near New Seattle’s Naval Harbor: Sidney felt the helicopter shift altitude and woke to see beneath her the gray Pacific Ocean and what appeared to be a modified cruise ship. At the perimeter of the ship’s helipad was an officer and a dozen or so armed seamen. Below the helipad were the ship decks, gun turrets, and the spray of the ocean against the ship’s silver hull. The helicopter touched down lightly, and its door swung open.
“Let’s go,” hollered Butchart.
Sidney’s hands were still handcuffed behind her, making it difficult for her to maintain balance. Taking a deep breath, she managed to step down. Butchart clutched her neck to push her head below the rotating blades and led her toward the waiting officer.
The formal military greeting was a blur of salutes and stiff postures. Sidney’s gaze stayed fixed on the ocean. She longed for its wetness in her parched mouth. Though she wouldn’t have had the strength to stay afloat, the thought of the cool waves washing over her feverish skin was refreshing. No one spoke to her until her knees weakened and she faltered.
The ship’s officer grasped her arm and commanded, “Stand up. Put your feet farther apart to keep your balance. Understood?”
The officer’s voice was unsympathetic, and yet it didn’t carry the hatred of Butchart’s. She tried to smile, to convey something along the lines of gratitude rather than indifference to his assistance. The officer looked into Sidney’s face.
“Captain Butchart, sir, the prisoner appears sick. Why is she so pale? She seems to have a fever, too. Captain Waterhouse is quite clear on not accepting injured or ill prisoners, sir.”
“Lieutenant Bridges, the captain’s going to have to make an exception in this case. Special circumstances. Anyway, she’s to be executed this evening. No need for him to conduct an interrogation on this one. Let’s go.”
Inside the captain’s office, both men stood at attention on either side of Sidney.
“Captain Butchart reporting with the prisoner, Sidney Davenport, sir,” called out Bridges.
Behind a massive desk, the captain sat stiffly in his chair. He glanced at Sidney, then gave an almost imperceptible nod to his lieutenant. His gaze shifted to Butchart. A tense silence followed. It stirred Sidney’s reserves. She noticed that Butchart’s breathing became shallow and his hand gripping her arm was sweating.
Neither Butchart nor Waterhouse spoke the usual words of greeting. The silence troubled Sidney. Finally, Waterhouse rose from his chair. “At ease,” he ordered. His voice was crisp and deep. “Frank, it looks like you’ve been rather busy.” He eyed Sidney’s tangled hair, filthy clothes, and bare feet. “Who or what have you delivered to the Nonnah?”
“Nothing you’ll have to be bothered with for long. She’s to be executed this evening. The details are on this file.” Butchart pulled out a memory rod from his tunic and tossed it onto the desk. “I’ll remain on board until after her execution.”
Waterhouse walked up to Butchart and smiled. “You want to watch, Frank? You’re short of blood on the naval base?”
Butchart snorted. “This is a special case. She’s quite dangerous.”
Waterhouse raised his eyebrows. “Is that so?”
Sidney sensed that under the military fiber of their equal rank something wanted to be unleashed. She felt it in Butchart’s tightening grip and saw it in Waterhouse’s dark eyes. But she felt a warmth in him even though he held his mouth in a firm expression of cold indifference. While every cell of the ship’s captain screamed authority, she felt the word “safe” when she looked at him. And there was something more behind those eyes, something that reminded her of Greystone. But she had no energy to inspect his aura, was no longer able to focus for more than a few seconds at a time. The room’s floor swayed, and her mind began to drift. More and more, an adversary more lethal than Butchart took hold of her body.