This is a stand-alone story that can fit anyplace in the Voyage timeline.

A Little Chat after Midnight

Sharon H

 

~<<>>~

 

I couldn’t sleep. Every nerve was wound tighter than a watch spring and I felt like I was waiting for something but I didn’t know what. It had been like that for the last few nights. I’d get a few hours sleep in and around two in the morning I’d be up, fighting nightmares I couldn’t recall in the light of day. Maybe it was the cruise coming up in less than a week. A research trip, the admiral called it. We were taking two scientists out to research a rare squid. I always get nervous when we have strangers aboard Seaview. Something about the object of the admiral’s research had me on edge. I couldn’t help myself.

 

To hell with it. I threw the covers off and staggered though the dark of my bedroom. I headed downstairs through the living room. I didn’t want to turn any lights on but in the same breath I didn’t want to be left in the dark. For a while I had a phobia of the dark, until one night Lee and I got blitzed on the admiral’s favorite brand of scotch1. It wasn’t an overnight cure, but it was a start. I walked onto the back deck, listening to the sound of the surf breaking on the beach below, thinking about my friend.

 

I don’t know where I would be without Lee. He’s been my best friend since we got stuck together as roommates at the Academy. Lee was the brother I wished I had growing up.  I was the first born of twins but my brother, Daniel, had died before he was twenty-four hours old. My grandmother Eleanor said I’ve been looking for Daniel ever since then. Maybe I had found my brother in Lee. Could souls be reborn? Maybe. Lee was a few months younger than me. Maybe he was Daniel reborn, I don’t know. With Lee I could kick back, get smashed, act like I was ten years old again and not care. He didn’t judge me and I tried not to judge him, although I hated him taking ONI assignments.

 

ONI: our oldest argument. I hated watching the powers-that-be jerk him around like a puppet on a string. Lee’s sense of loyalty to his country just wouldn’t let him back down if they needed him for something. It didn’t help that he was genuinely good at what he did. I hated it. I hated the worry, hated to see him go off. More often then not he came back looking like a T-Rex’s chew toy. What happened when he didn’t come back?

 

I’ll tell you what would happen. For starters, Seaview would be mine, unless the admiral wanted a new skipper for her, like when Captain Philips had been killed. The question was--did I want Seaview? No, not like that, not at the expense of Lee’s life. While I knew a piece of me would wither and die when Lee left this world, what really had me worried was Admiral Nelson.

 

Admiral Nelson and Lee had a bond that was hard to explain if you couldn’t see it: part boss/employer, part commanding/subordinate officer, part father/son. Not that Nelson treated me badly, far from it. Maybe it had something to do with Lee losing his father when he was younger. I still had my dad and my mother, as well as a gaggle of sisters. Lee was an only child whose mother traveled a lot when he was growing up. He was raised mostly by his widowed aunt until he graduated high school and went to the academy. I didn’t know a lot about the admiral’s background. I knew he had a sister, a number of years younger than him. The admiral just wasn’t one to open up about himself. Most of his past was simply a mystery. Admiral Harriman Nelson: the man, the myth, the legend. There was a book title for you.

 

If something ever happened to Lee, I don’t know how the admiral would take it.  He saw Lee as his own flesh and blood. Maybe he saw something of himself in Lee. I don’t know. I do know that if something ever happened to Lee Crane, the admiral would never be the same. Hell, none of us ever would be the same.

 

I glanced up the hill to Lee’s place. The house was dark, but in the back-light of the full moon, I could make out a shadow on the deck. Lean and lanky, it could only be Lee.

 

Lee was plagued by bouts of insomnia. He’d go weeks, sometimes months without a problem then BANG, out of the blue, he’d be haunted by nightmares and visions that kept him up at night. It hadn’t been so bad when he was younger but since taking command of Seaview, his nightmares had gotten worse. Hell, my nightmares had gotten worse after dealing with some of the things we had seen.

 

I couldn’t help myself. Looking after Lee was as second nature to me as walking and breathing. For some reason I had this urge to keep on eye on him. Maybe it was because I had four younger sisters and I was used to looking after someone. It had gotten me in trouble a few times, but that’s how it was between us.

 

 I went back in the house and grabbed the cordless phone. I dialed up his number and stepped back into the night air, watching the house up the hill. I saw his head jerk up and very clearly I saw him turn in my direction.

 

I waved. Lee vanished into the house and the connection picked up.

 

“Did you want something?” he asked, with a touch of irritation. I wasn’t bothered. I knew Lee wasn’t irritated with me, more likely at his own self for thinking he was worrying me.

 

“I want world peace, no more aliens, and a bottle of the admiral’s scotch,” I replied. From the other end of the phone, I knew Lee was grinning.

 

“Well, it’s pretty quiet tonight, I haven’t seen any aliens, although I did see a shooting star about ten minutes ago, and all I have is beer. I doubt the admiral is going to part with another bottle of his twelve year old scotch. What’s wrong, you have some demons you need to exorcize?”

 

Just the opening I needed. “No. Do you?”

 

The connection grew quiet. For a minute I thought he had hung up on me but I could still hear him breathing on the other end of the line. “Lee?”

 

“You want to come up here or do you want me to come down there?”

 

I saw my chance for another jab and took it. “Better let me come up there. Can’t have the skipper wandering around in the dark, trip on a rock and break something before the next cruise, now can we?”

 

“Wise-guy. Just get up here. You aren’t planning on eating me out of house and home, are you?”

 

Boy, he was just handing them to me tonight. “Now how can I do that when you never have enough to feed a cat?”

 

“Just get up here,” Lee replied and the connection in my hand died. Still grinning I traipsed upstairs to trade the pajama bottoms for a pair of jeans and a tee shirt and then shoved my feet into a pair of ragged tennis shoes. As I headed out, I stopped at the refrigerator and glanced inside, looking for something that might make a good peace offering. A couple of slices of leftover pizza, leftover Chinese, leftover lasagna, and a bowl of guacamole left over from the game two nights ago. Leftovers--I was detecting a theme here. I grabbed the guacamole and peeled back the foil to take a quick look. Plenty left. This would work. I’ve never known Lee Crane to turn down Mexican. He might pick at his dinner and drink coffee by the gallon, but he could put away his weight in Mexican food.

 

Five minutes later I vaulted over the banister of Lee’s deck railing and sat the bowl on the table. Lee was perched on the banister on the far side of the deck, watching me.

 

“I come in peace. I bring an offering of guacamole, oh bandaged one.” Lee was going to kill me, if he didn’t laugh himself to death first. I was referring to the bandaged wrapped around his right hand. Tinkering with the circuitry under the radio while helping Sparks with some minor repairs, Lee had inadvertently touched a live wire and got a pretty nasty burn for his efforts. Sparks had been smart and immediately did what any well meaning crewmen did when they knew darned well their skipper was hurt  and denying it with every fiber of his being.

 

He called me.

 

I marched Lee down to Med Bay. Doc wrapped him up and gave him a tube of antibiotic cream and a shot, then sent him home with instructions to just rest. I knew good and well Lee wouldn’t rest. He hated inactivity. Not doubt he’d been on the computer, doing work from home, even if it meant typing with two fingers of one hand. I wondered if we could get him an in-house assistant. I’ll bet we got a lot of volunteers. Maybe we could draw lots, short straw gets to Crane-sit. I have a feeling there would be a lot of cheating.

 

Lee finally got himself under control and slid off the banister. He peeled off the foil from the dip and took a good sniff. “Well, it doesn’t smell bad. I think I have some chips,” he said and walked into the house. I noticed that he also had left the lights in the house off. I settled down into a chair and waited. A few minutes later Lee emerged from the house with two beers and a bag of tortilla chips. He sat one beer in front of me and folded himself into another chair.

 

For a while neither of us said anything, just the steady crunch of tortilla chips to drown out the sound of the surf below. Finally with three quarters of my beer gone, I decided to try and talk to him.

 

“Something bothering you, Lee?”

 

Lee turned up the bottle and took a quick swig. “No, just nosy second-in-commands who call in the middle of the night.”

 

“Maybe if you were asleep, nosy second-in-commands wouldn’t call.”

 

“Maybe if said nosy second-in-commands were asleep, they wouldn’t be so nosy and calling other people up in the middle of the night. So, Mr. Morton, why were you up at oh-dark-thirty?”

 

I squirmed. I hated to be called out and Lee knew it. His revenge for me finding him up, I suppose. I crunched down on a plain tortilla, just to hear the noise. Lee wasn’t buying it. He fixed that gaze on me and stared. The only thing worse than having Lee staring at you was having the admiral stare at you. I think maybe the admiral was giving lessons.

 

“I couldn’t sleep. I was out on the deck and I noticed I wasn’t the only one with insomnia. You give and I’ll give. Deal?”

 

Lee shrugged. He didn’t look like someone who’d been up tossing and turning half the night. He did look tired, but I knew burns had a tendency to throb and ache and Lee wouldn’t take anything for the pain if he could help it. He hated medication, even if he knew it was for the best.

 

“Restless. Thinking about the next cruise. I keep running over what could go wrong, how we would handle it. It's like my brain won’t shut up.”

 

I knew the feeling. I should have known Lee was also thinking about the upcoming trip. “We’re looking for squid. Some random relatively unstudied species of small squid. I don’t see anything that could go wrong with that.”

 

Lee didn’t look convinced. “How many times have we opened up Seaview to some random group of scientists, only to have them turn out to be controlled by some alien life form, or a spy from some hostile country? The only thing worse than a visiting scientist is some government official. I’ve had it up to here…” Lee brought his hand level to his nose before continuing, “…with congressmen and the lot. Hypnosis, egotistical plans, I’m sick of it. For once I’d like a nice quiet cruise: we go out, do what ever we need to do, we come home and Doc spends the whole cruise complaining about how bored he is.”

 

I just grinned and shook my head. In all honesty I agreed with him, it was just funny listening to a man in his mid thirties whine like a twelve-year old.

 

“Oh, you laugh now,” Lee mock growled at me.

 

“Lee, you know good and well if you heard Jamie complaining that he was bored, you go and hook a splinter in some random digit just so Doc could remove it, smear some antiseptic on it and tell you to take it easy. You hate to see anybody unhappy.”

 

“True.”

 

We sat in silence for a little longer, just the sounds of the night around us. My beer was gone; I went on the hunt for a second. I cornered the object of my search on the bottom shelve of the fridge, grabbed two and went back outside. “So you’re just thinking about the next cruise? That’s all? No nightmares or premonitions?” I planted my rear back in the chair and leaned back.

 

Lee shook his head. “I don’t like civilians. They complicate things. I don’t like complicated.”

 

“That’s Lee Crane for you, uncomplicated.” I raised my bottle in a toast. He raised his in answer. 

 

“To nosy XO’s, pushy doctors and admirals who forget not everybody has an I.Q. in the four digit range,” he said with a smile.

 

“And to stubborn skippers who seldom listen to their own advice.” We both turned up the new bottle. 

 

“Seriously Chip. What do you think about this bunch? I’m planning for problems that will probably never arise. Have you even met them yet?”

 

I had not. I didn’t know anything about the two scientists we were hosting, just their names. “I don’t have anything else to share yet. We’ll just have to wait like the rest of the mortals.”

 

“Waiting was never one of my better traits.”

 

By the time I checked my watch, it was nearly 0430 and I was on my fourth beer. The dip was nearly gone and the tortilla bag was mostly a collection of crumbs and dust. I sat the empty bottle on the table with other empty bottles. They would go in the recycling bin later. I grabbed the bag and rolled the top down so the crumbs wouldn’t attract ants.

 

Lee was watching me with a cooked grin. That’s when I realized I was more than a little crooked, leaning over the table. With a snort, I dropped back down into my chair.

 

“What?” I asked.

 

“Why don’t you take the spare bedroom? Can’t have my exec wandering around in the dark, tripping over rocks and breaking something before the next cruise, now can I?’

 

Touché. It actually wasn’t a bad idea. I didn’t get up though. I was really comfortable although in all honesty, that was probably the alcohol talking. I’m not even sure why I said what I said next. “I agree with you. I think I’m ready for a regular cruise.”

 

I saw Lee grin and start to laugh. I couldn’t help myself and joined in. “What’s a regular cruise?” he asked between chuckles.

 

“You know: a regular cruise. One where there are no aliens that look like you. Or pirates. I’ve had my fill of pirates2.” I slapped one hand down on the table for emphasis.

 

Lee chimed in with his two cents worth, warming up to the conversation. “No mutant monsters that eat their way through the boat.”

 

“Or where no one turns into a raging, hairy monster.”

 

“And where you don’t try to shoot the raging, hairy monster,” Lee tossed back. I clammed up. I had ordered the whole damn crew to shoot to kill, not knowing the thing in the control room was Lee3. God but I felt like an idiot for the next few days. Lee never held it against me, but, he wasn’t above tossing it around on occasion to yank my chain.

 

“Then no more scientists who want to use you for a guinea pig,” I added.

 

Lee raised a finger and pointed it at me. “No mummies. No more mummies. Ever.”

 

I got the giggles and couldn’t stop myself. “Okay. So no pirates, no werewolf-looking things, and no mummies. I’ll make a note. New POD.” I saw Lee wiping the tears from his eyes and he leaned forward crossing his arms over the table. Caught up in the hilarity of the moment it took me more than a few minutes to catch my breath.

 

 “Hey Chip, you don’t happen to know the names of those scientists we’re gonna be baby sitting, do ya?”

 

I stopped, not able to think and talk at the same time. I knew their names, but for the moment it was just on the tip of my tongue and I couldn’t find it. It was a common name; I should be able to remember it. Stuart? No, that wasn’t right. Steward? No. Stoddard. No.  It was Seward. “Seward, that’s it, Professor Seward and his associate, Dr. Morris. They’re studying a rare species of squid.”

 

Lee locked eyes with me. “What species, or do I want to know?”

 

I cleared my throat, fidgeted with a bottle cap and avoided his gaze. It brought me right back to where we started—the whole reason I was uneasy and had been uneasy since I heard about this trip. “Well, I can’t pronounce its Latin name, but Dr. Seward’s target species is the Vampire Squid.”

 

Lee leaned back in the chair and brought both hands up to his face, covering his eyes. “Vampire Squid. I should have seen that coming. Why didn’t see that coming?” he moaned.

 

This was going to be an interesting cruise—I could tell already.

 

 

End

srh

 

 

1. See short story Journey’s End, a WHN to Journey with Fear.

2. Return of Blackbeard: Season 4-Vol. II--disk and side unreleased

3. Manbeast: Season 4-Vol. II--disk and side unreleased

 

 

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