Beside a Burning Sea - By John Shors Page 0,1

more such battles were coming. The Japanese, as he’d been briefed many times, needed possession of the nearby islands to protect their recent conquests, and the allied forces were desperate to stop further Japanese expansion. Benevolence had been sent to these waters because of the looming battles that so often stole his sleep.

Downwind from where Joshua stood and stared, a young officer hid in the shadows of the stern. Eyeing a distant island—which was bathed in amber by the dropping sun—he flicked a cigarette into the sea and checked his wristwatch. Knowing that a plane would arrive soon and release its torpedo, he stayed hidden. Though unafraid of bullets and soldiers, he didn’t like the thought of plunging thirty feet into the water below, of being sucked deeply under that water, of having to swim a half mile to an empty island. He consoled himself with the knowledge that if he lived, he’d spend the rest of his life enjoying the vast wealth that a series of betrayals had brought him. He’d have his fill of women and possessions and power, and, best of all, he would never have to obey orders again.

The officer cared nothing for those he had killed or for those aboard Benevolence—the men and women whom he’d soon send to death. Occasionally, ruined faces haunted his dreams, but such torments weren’t tangible enough to change his actions. People died in war, he reasoned, and if they died at his hand, so be it. He had ample cause to hate both Americans and Japanese, and over the past nine months, he’d happily killed people on each side of the conflict. Killing had become his greatest joy.

Though his past deeds had led to the deaths of many, tonight his betrayal would destroy an entire ship. He eagerly awaited watching Benevolence burn, for he despised those who operated the vessel, and the thought of its commanding officers being forever silenced made him clench his fists with anticipation. Of course, he’d miss watching the nurses—miss the sights and scents and fantasies that they brought into his world. But the money and influence that his treachery would produce far outweighed anything that the opposite sex could offer.

He’d been told there would be no survivors, and worried for his own safety, he fidgeted and quietly swore. He increasingly felt as if he were entombed within his own casket. Continuing to curse, he looked skyward, wishing that the bomber would come. He knew it would, for the belly of Benevolence had been secretly filled with aviation fuel, antiaircraft guns, and stockpiles of ammunition. Once he’d discovered this development and alerted the Japanese to its presence, they couldn’t have been more intent on sinking the ship.

As far as he knew, only one other person aboard Benevolence was aware of this cargo. Like everyone else, the navy intelligence officer would perish in a few minutes. He’d die with the doctors, the nurses, the sailors, the patients. They’d die in flames or in the sea, and their deaths would not be short of suffering.

When the officer heard the distant drone of an aircraft engine, he removed a life jacket from beneath a bench and quickly secured it about his torso. He then pulled a wooden box into the retreating light. The waterproof box contained a radio, a pistol, rations, cigarettes, and everything else he’d need to survive for several weeks on the island. With a grunt, he heaved it overboard. An ever-increasing hum filled his ears, and knowing that the plane would soon drop its torpedo, he inhaled deeply and vaulted over the railing. Just before he hit the water, his vision passed through an open hatch and he glimpsed a pair of nurses bent over a patient. Then the sea rose up to strike him, and his world went black.

The nurses heard the splash and paused in their work. One of them—whose eyes mirrored a clear sky and whose teak-colored hair had been cut short by her own hand—turned from the three-day-old wound before her, glancing at the hatch. “Did you hear that?” she asked her older sister, Isabelle.

“The splash?”

“It sounded louder than a wave.”


“I wonder what it could have been. Maybe a jumping dolphin?”

“You wonder about a lot of things, Annie.”

“Well, I . . . I think it’s good to ask questions,” the younger sibling replied, returning to the wound. “It keeps everything fresh.”

The Japanese soldier watched Annie study the stitches in his thigh. Though most of the Japanese patients were uncomfortable in her