*Many thanks to Kate for letting me use her idea of the experimental submersible, as this took place shortly after 'Eleven Days To Zero and before the FS1 was built; to Julie for reading several drafts and Carol for her editing suggestions.
By Sea Spinner
As Captain Lee Crane knocked at Admiral Nelson’s cabin door, he was perplexed about the Admiral’s reluctance to share any information about their current mission. It also worried him, since Nelson would never exclude him unless there were exceptional circumstances.
Lee walked into the cabin and stood beside Nelson’s desk.
“Are you going to tell me what this mission’s about, Admiral?”
“Are these our exact coordinates?” he took the small slip of paper from Crane's hand and nodded for him to take a seat.
“Yes, Sir,” Lee looked at him curiously.
"At 2130 hours yesterday, the British nuclear submarine, Moray disappeared. Her last known coordinates are five kilometers south-south-west of our current position, which places her just about here,” he pointed to a spot on a chart.
"It gets worse," Nelson took a calming drag of his cigarette. "Lee...now this next bit is top secret. The President was aboard when she vanished."
"It's going to be tricky," Lee said, "we may have to use the Chimaera if Seaview can't locate the Moray or use the diving bell to couple with her if we do. I'd feel a lot better about it if she'd already had her deep sea trials. There'll be 16,000 pounds per square inch of pressure at these depths."
"Actually, lad, I kind of planned on taking her out myself if it comes to that."
"I'm sorry sir, I can't allow it."
"Pulling rank on me, Lee?"
"This is the President we're talking about, as well as all those men. I'm expendable, you're not. It's my job to keep you alive. Besides, Chimaera's my baby isn't she? I've been involved with her from the beginning and...."
"You may know how to operate her, but I designed her...she can handle 36000 feet in theory and I'm responsible if that theory is incorrect," argued Nelson.
"Admiral, this is getting us nowhere. As Captain of this vessel, the decision is mine and mine alone. And after all, we may not even need her if the Moray's stuck on a ledge or something."
"I'll want a volunteer on standby should I take Chimaera out."
"I'd rather pick him myself before Chief Jones volunteers someone...how about Kowalski?'
"Kowalski? Are you mad? He's hardly the man I'd choose. In case you haven't noticed, he's still holding a grudge against you."
"I don't need him to like me to accomplish the mission..." insisted Lee
"Suit yourself, but I still think he’s a bad choice for this mission."
'With your permission, I'll get Seaview up to flank speed towards the coordinates and tell Ski the...er...good news."
Nelson laughed as he watched Lee exit the cabin, mixed emotions swirling in his mind. He threw his pencil on the desk and took a sip of his now cold coffee; nobody had been down to the bottom of the trench in a manned submersible before. One small fault in his designs and the Deep Submergence Flying prototype would crack as easily as an egg shell. He went over the schematics one more time, and only the certainty that she was as perfect as humanly possible gave him any sense of comfort.
Lee found Kowalski resting in the crew’s quarters after coming off his watch. Kowalski immediately stood to attention.
“At ease, Kowalski, do you have a minute? Why don’t you take a seat?” said Lee, sitting down himself.
“I’m fine standing.”
ignored the rebuff and got straight to the point. “We may have to take the Chimaera smack down into the
"But she's not ready yet, Captain."
"Perhaps not, but she may be needed for a search and rescue. A sub. Lives are at stake, so it's worth the risk to our own. Are you with me Ski?"
“So, what you’re saying, Sir, is that we might not make it back?”
“That’s right. I know the Chief could suggest any number of men willing to go, but I'd prefer you."
"Why? Why me?"
“When do we leave?”
Lee nodded his approval and slapped Kowalski on the shoulder, slightly disappointed when he flinched away. “We’ll get our gear together now and conduct a pre-flight check right after. You might want to pray that we actually won't need to go," he picked up the intercom. “Crane to control room.”
“XO here, Captain, go ahead.”
Morton, flank speed to the
"You heard me Mr. Morton. Oh, and see if engineering has any tricks up their sleeve to give us a bit more speed than that. We're on a search and rescue as of a few minutes ago."
It wasn't long before Seaview had neared the great abyss and was methodically reconnoitering on a search grid. Lookouts in the Observation Nose and sonar stations dared not miss any sign or blip of metal contact.
“You know that submersible still has to go through more trials," Chip said quietly as Crane nodded for to Ski to enter the deck hatch at last. "How deep are you taking her?”
"As deep as I have to. We may get lucky if the Moray's foundered on a ledge.”
"You don’t believe that. The odds would be...astronomical."
"No, but I have to hope, don't I? Chip, there's more...but...never mind."
“Be careful, Lee.”
Lee grinned. “Don’t worry, I’ll be back for that double date you arranged.”
“You’d better be, Lee, or you’re going to have to answer to a set of very unhappy twins,” he grumbled.
Lee laughed as he followed Kowalski into the newly constructed submersible bay. The interior was less aesthetically pleasing than Seaview, but it was obvious that the Admiral had spared no expense on the quality. Even the smell of the paintwork was fresh.
After the pre-release checks had been completed, Lee eased the Chimaera out of its cradle, feeling the same thrill he did every time he trialed a new piece of equipment, only this time, the thrill was dampened by the possibility of what they might find below. And that they might not return.
“Okay, Kowalski, let’s turn on the sonar and see what we can find.”
“Yes, Captain,” Kowalski flicked on the instrumentation. “The Moray, she's one of the new Manta class boats isn't she? Has almost as many hands on board as we do.”
“That's right, Kowalski. Now, I’m going to follow the side down to the bottom from this end, and start a search grid outwards from there. Ready?”
“Yes, Sir," Ski answered crisply.
Crane maneuvered the submersible into the first sweep as if he’d been born in the chair.
It was a slow, painstaking process. Although Lee had looked at charts, the Trench was simply too huge for anyone to have completely mapped it. He didn’t want to snag the Chimaera on a ledge or hook any debris if he could help it. Once they got closer to the bottom, there would be no way the Seaview could send out help.
As they negotiated the unusual seascape, the light from above diminished and strange sea creatures moved around them. Lee knew if Nelson had seen them, he would have almost given his right arm to catch some and examine them in his lab.
“500 feet, Sir, I haven’t got anything yet.”
Lee relayed that back to Seaview and continued the descent. He was staring at the depth gauge as it hit 1,000 feet when the radio crackled into life.
“Seaview to Chimaera.”
“Go ahead, Admiral.”
“How is she holding up, Lee?”
“Beautifully, Sir. Nothing on sonar yet.”
“Captain?” Kowalski cut in. “I’m reading something damned peculiar.”
“What is it?”
“I…I’m not sure, it looks like some type of massive depression, or cave in the side of the wall.”
“Can you guide me to it?”
“Aye, Sir, come left ten degrees.”
Crane adjusted the controls.
“We’re almost there, another three hundred yards, Sir.”
Lee slowed the submersible to get a good look at the side of the trench.
“Another fifty yards and we’ll be directly in front.”
“I can’t see anything yet,” Lee said.
“It’s there, Captain, I guarantee it.” He paused. “There’s something else, I’m picking up another opening, and multiple contacts on the side of the trench.”
Lee searched for the opening, then the Chimaera came around a rocky decline and a gaping black hole rose before them.
“It’s massive,” gasped Kowalski.
“Chimaera to Seaview.” Lee waited for a minute, before he tried to raise the submarine again. “Chimaera calling Seaview. Check the circuits, Kowalski," he added as there was no response.
“They’re all working fine, Sir.”
“Crane to Seaview....Crane to Seaview...Come in Seaview. You’re sure there’s nothing loose or burned out?”
“I can’t find anything wrong, Sir. I’ve checked and re-checked everything. There must be some type of interference.”
Lee turned his chair around. “Alright, we’ll head back up to the surface and see if we can raise her from there; some of these thermal layers can play havoc with comms.”
“Look there!” Kowalski pointed.
All sorts of sea creatures, plankton and silt had begun to flow into the cave's opening.
"I'm not sure...." Crane began just before they felt a shudder move through the submersible. Lee glanced back at the instruments, his eyes widening. “Whatever it is, it’s pulling us into it as well."
He grabbed the controls and realized that Kowalski had suddenly materialized next to him, helping him to stabilize the submersible.
“It’s too strong!" Ski shouted.
Lee diverted all the power to propulsion, but there was no change; they were being pulled further towards the opening.
“Let go, Kowalski, there’s nothing we can do but go along for the ride. It may be easier to navigate our way out once this tidal motion’s stopped.”
odds on this being the same thing that happened to the Moray.”
As the vehicle was dragged deeper into the cave, the depth gauge moved up, and light showed from the end of the tunnel as they rose with the current. Lee stretched forwards, trying to get a glimpse of what to expect. As they neared the surface, he could just make out what looked like buildings.
Lee squinted, then rubbed his eyes. “No…it can’t be.”
Kowalski stared at him. “Sir?”
sure, but...it’s got to be the lost city of
“But that’s only a legend, a story from drunken sailors.”
Chimaera broke surface, revealing a city, but what was
of most importance was the sight of the Moray,
“This doesn’t feel right, Sir," Ski shook his head.
“No, it doesn’t.” Lee turned off the engines as the submersible gently touched the side of the large submarine. “Kowalski, tie us up alongside. I want to find out where the crew is.”
powered down and withdrew two pistols from the ammunitions locker and retrieved
two portable radios from another. He
handed one to Kowalski when he ducked back down from topside.
“You really gotta see this, Sir.”
As Crane emerged from the vehicle, he paused, speechless at the magnificence of the undersea kingdom. The lake they had entered must have been at least two miles across. The city rested on a limestone hillside. The buildings were old, and appeared to be Grecian in structure, and the rough streets were lined with conifers. Lee shook himself out of the dream and touched Kowalski on the back.
“Let’s have a look at the Moray.”
He climbed onto the deck of the submarine and drew his pistol from its holster when he saw that the hatch leading into the sail was open. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Kowalski do the same.
They cautiously climbed the ladder into the control room, which was as deserted as Lee had expected it to be. The emergency lighting and some of the instruments were still functioning, but Lee grabbed two flashlights from their mounts anyway and handed one to Kowalski.
“This is really kind of creepy," Ski said.
“Yes, it is. We’ll split up, you take forward, and I’ll take aft. Keep in touch, and don’t take any chances.”
“Aye, aye, Sir.”
Each level appeared to be as deserted as the next, some of the doors were closed, some were left open, but there was still uneaten food sitting in the wardroom and the crew quarters. Lee crinkled his nose as the smell of something rotten assailed him.
He continued with his search, but it yielded no sign of the personnel or the President.
“Kowalski," Crane spoke into the radio.
“Have you found anything?”
“Not a living thing, Captain. It’s like they just got up and left.”
“Same here. I’ll meet you in the control room in five minutes.”
As Lee made his way back, he couldn’t help but feel the hairs on the back of his neck rise up. Deserted? No sounds? No vibrations? A distant memory haunted him and he suddenly felt an urgent need to be on deck again.*
Kowalski was already in the control room when he arrived.
“Right, let’s get out of here and head ashore to see what we can find out.”
At the top of the ladder, Lee paused. “I thought I heard something...but I may have been mistaken.”
As soon as Lee climbed out and onto the deck, a stunning older woman, wearing a flowing white robe and adorned with unusual jewelry greeted him.
“Welcome to Atlantis. Where is your friend?”
“Come on up, Kowalski,” Lee called down, then returned his attention to the woman. “Who are you?”
“I am Valentina, I am one of the elders of the council of Atlantis. And you are?"
“I’m Lee Crane, this is Rick Kowalski,” he returned her smile. “We came to find the Moray, this submarine and her crew," he explained, "Where are they?"
"I will take you to them, Captain," she traced his jaw line.
Lee stood very still, momentarily entranced by her crystalline green eyes that reached into his very soul, yet he felt a shiver traverse his spine. And just how did she know his position?
"If you will follow me?" she led them to the unusual looking boat alongside the Moray.
It wasn't long before they reached the opposite shore.
“What are those? They don't look like houses,” Kowalski asked of the larger buildings.
Valentina appeared to be pleased with his question. “Over the centuries, we have developed a way of harvesting energy from the saltwater. We also use an underground aquifer for our freshwater supply.”
“Ma’am,” said Kowalski, “just how old is this place anyway?”
“The lower parts of the city are two thousand years old. The newer parts, higher up on the mountain are almost one thousand years old.”
Lee looked behind him. “How did we get drawn into this underwater cavern?"
Valentina motioned for them to follow her down a meandering set of steps. “As you are probably aware, Captain, the tidal currents in the ocean outside the entrance are not normal. You were drawn in by a seasonal tide. On the other side of the lake is an exit which is smaller, when the tides change, water is drawn out by the same tunnel that brought you into Atlantis. Because of the pressure inside Atlantis, the lake remains at the same level.”
Valentina raised her hand. “Please, no more questions for the moment. We have arrived.”
Lee had hardly noticed that they had reached the end of the staircase. He watched as Valentina opened a door to a small building and ushered them inside. Before either he or Kowalski could react, she had closed the large door behind them, and locked them in.
Lee tried the door, but it wouldn’t budge. "Damn stupid mistake. Why didn't I expect that?"
Now would not be a good time to tell Crane it was probably the way he'd been looking at the woman, so Kowalski settled for, "We were both kind of distracted, Sir."
"She already knew I was a Captain," Crane mused, "how'd she know that?"
Both men turned as a small hatch in the side of the wall clicked open, and a bottle was thrown through the opening. As soon as it hit the floor it smashed and gas started to fill the room.
“Hit the deck!" Crane yelled as he ran to the door and tried to open it, aided by Kowalski who'd completely ignored his order. But their efforts were no good. Try as they might, both men felt themselves slipping away into darkness.
“Valentina, are you sure he is the one?”
Valentina leaned over Lee’s still body. “Yes, Adrienne, I know he is. He is a wonderful choice for you.”
Adrienne was still not completely convinced. “He might not agree to stay."
“He will stay, "Valentina stared down at her captive, his dark hair and amber eyes had intrigued her more than she would ever admit. She brushed a lock of his hair from his head, the very touch of it heating her core.
“It is against the law to keep him if he does not choose to stay, and if you try, I will take this matter to the council.”
“Hush, child,” Valentina stood up, irritated. “I tell you he will choose freely to stay as your consort," she brushed her hand across his lips. “We shall soon see what you are made of, Captain. You may go now Adrienne. I have work to do.”
Lee groaned as he awoke, disorientated and confused. It didn’t take long for him to discover that his hands were manacled above his head, his body lying on a table. His mouth went dry as he realized he was naked and a trial attempt to move his feet proved just as futile as moving his arms had been. As he looked around the room, he noticed some laboratory instruments and examination tables similar to the one to which he was manacled. He saw several different types of equipment that were completely foreign to him.
“Ah, my dear Captain," Valentina oozed, "I am pleased to see you have not suffered any ill effects from the gas.”
“Why am I here? Where's Kowalski? And where are my clothes!”
She only answered by sliding a finger from Lee's collar bone, down his chest to a point just above the pubic bone, seemingly impressed by the physical reaction her touch provoked.
“Stop it! What do you want?” he growled fiercely.
“I think that should be obvious," she snorted. "For some time, my people have had to mate with outsiders. A select few are chosen to marry. You are such a one. Most have been willing, some have not. You are young and virile, at least I have no doubt my tests will confirm that. You will be an excellent addition to the Atlantis population. In fact, I have already selected your bride."
“When hell freezes over!”
“Now, now, Captain, you need some time to think about this. Please, do not make a hasty decision,” Valentina purred as she rested her hand on his chest. "Adrienne is lovely."
“I will never cooperate with your crazy plan," Lee clenched his teeth.
“Oh, but I think you will.”
“You can’t force people to mate or marry someone they don't want to, not to mention staying here! And what does this 'Adrienne' have to say about it? Is she some kind of slave too?”
"Hardly," Valentina laughed, “and if not for my methods, our civilization would have been lost centuries ago!”
He locked his eyes onto hers. “You can't force me. I'll fight you every step of the way.”
Her hand reached out for him again, but this time it moved up to circle his throat, gradually putting more pressure on it until Lee struggled for breath.
“I have my ways. What if I threatened to kill you right now Captain? Would you beg for your life?”
Lee’s amber eyes glared at her. “No,” he rasped.
The pressure became worse until the edges of his vision began to blur, then her hand was gone. He gulped in deep breaths of air as he tried to force life-giving oxygen into his lungs.
“What of Kowalski and the ones you searched for, then?” She circled him again like a vulture. “I have the power to let them live or die, keep them here or allow them to leave. It depends on what you decide, Captain.”
Lee strained against the manacles so hard they bit into his flesh.
“You cannot escape, you are completely at my mercy,” Valentina laughed, then murmured something he couldn't understand as her eyes moved slowly down his prone body. “Yes, Captain, you will make a fine addition to our blood lines. Now, I ask you again, will you marry and mate with Adrienne, and stay here? Or shall I have to convince you with the death of one of your fellow outsiders, perhaps, shall we say, Kowalski?”
He needed time. Time to figure out some way of escape...
He remembered what Kowalski had found just before they’d been drawn into the massive underwater tunnel. Multiple contacts, of course, she must have scuttled all the craft once they were inside Atlantis, which meant that nobody who set foot inside the great cavern ever left. He was puzzled by that theory, because if she wanted his cooperation, she couldn’t do that, then he froze - what if the vessels were scuttled with all hands on board after the whole crew had left Atlantis, nobody would be the wiser. Lee couldn’t allow that to happen, so he decided to play along for the moment and scout out the lay of the land before he made plans to free the crew and the President.
"You promise?" Lee asked. "You promise to let them all live, release them back to the surface?"
"You drive a hard bargain, Captain, I promise. However, only after you submit to my physical tests, and proof positive of consummation. You will need to convince your friends you wish to remain here," she released his restraints.
“What kind of tests?”
“Oh, I think an intelligent man like you knows exactly what I mean."
“Very well! But keep your hands off me," he spat, reluctantly agreeing to submit to her procedures.
“Then I will give you and your friends a taste of how life will be for them if you decide to change your mind.”
Lee was taken from the laboratory and led up to a building at the base of the undersea mountain, then shoved through the doorway, which was quickly bolted behind him.
“Skipper!” Kowalski gasped. “I was worried about you. Are you okay?”
Lee forced a smile. “I’m fine, Kowalski. Are you alright? Is the President here?”
“I'm fine. He’s over there, Sir,” Kowalski indicated to the far corner of the building. “Why didn’t you tell me about him?”
"Top secret. I had orders from Admiral Nelson not to divulge anything about him.”
"What did they do to you? You look exhausted.”
“I’m fine, really. Now, could you take me to the President?”
gave him another look that told Lee it wasn’t over by a long shot. He groaned inwardly, that’s all he needed,
another mother hen pecking over him like Chip.
He followed Kowalski as he took him through a maze of crew members to
where President Michaels sat.
“Captain Crane, am I ever glad to see you again,” the President stood up and shook his hand. “Allow me introduce Captain Angus McDonald of the Moray.”
He shook the older man’s hand. “It’s nice to meet you, Captain McDonald. I’ve heard a lot about you.”
McDonald smiled. “And I of you, Captain Crane.”
Lee looked around at the cramped quarters. “Is there somewhere more private where we can speak, Sir?”
“There’s another room adjoining this one, Captain,” answered McDonald in his thick Scottish brogue. “I can have it cleared out for the duration.”
“I’d appreciate it, Captain. Ski, you come too.”
McDonald had the room cleared in less than a minute, and Lee followed the President inside with Kowalski bringing up the rear. Once inside he closed the door and sat down heavily in a chair, his obligations suddenly clear to him. The room was silent, with everyone waiting for him to speak.
“Valentina has asked me to stay in Atlantis and help them rebuild their civilization.” Okay, so it wasn’t exactly a lie.
Lee briefly rested his head on his hands and tried to pull himself together, wondering where to begin and how much to tell them.
“She's said that she'll allow all of you to go if I give her my word that I will stay," he paused, "but I don’t believe her.”
“What do you mean, Captain?” asked the President.
"It's complicated, Sir. Please understand I have my reasons for not going into the details. In any case, they're irrelevant. What matters is that you have got to leave here as soon as possible. All of you, and without her knowledge. So I've had to convince her I'm going along with her plan. At least for now, and there's a deadline.”
“How long do we have?” queried McDonald.
“Just under one day, Captain, twenty one hours to be exact.”
“Then we’ll find a way to get everyone, including you Captain Crane, out of this mess,” he said determinedly.
Lee shook his head and schooled his face to give nothing away. “Believe me, gentlemen, staying here is the furthest thing from my mind right now.”
Kowalski suddenly spoke up. “Excuse me, Sirs, but can I please have a moment alone with the Skipper?”
Lee gave him a warning glance not to interfere, but Kowalski ignored him. The President, seeing the look in Kowalski’s eyes, decided that discretion was the better part of valor and signaled for everyone to leave the room.
“Captain, what happened to you after you woke up?” his voice trembled.
Lee turned away from him, "Ski, please, let it go,” he said in a low voice.
Lee put his hand up on the wall, unaware that his sleeve had slipped down to reveal the marks left by the manacles. In a flash Kowalski was at his side.
“What did they do to you?” Ski took his wrist.
Lee pushed his hand away. “It’s nothing, now please ask the others back into the room.”
“No, Sir. Not until you let me in on what’s really going on.”
“I don’t want to talk about it! Now leave it!” Lee exploded.
Kowalski raised both hands. “Have you ever known me to talk out of turn or spread scuttlebutt? Well, most of the time? Then trust me now, Skipper, I would never do anything that would hurt you, professionally or personally." He hesitantly reached out to touch Lee’s arm. “Let me look, please, Sir.”
Lee met Kowalski’s eyes for a moment, as if trying to read them, then reluctantly capitulated and pulled his cuffs back.
Kowalski saw the shape of the marks and instinctively knew how they’d been made. “Not too bad, could use some of Jamie’s bandages though. I’ll go and see if the Moray’s doc has any.”
Lee grabbed his shoulder. “No. This stays between us.”
Kowalski saw the futility of arguing and sat down at the table, waiting for the Captain to talk.
Lee began, but didn’t meet Kowalski’s eyes. “It appears that I’ve been found suitable by Valentina for use as a…a slave for one of the Atlantean women,” the words stuck in his throat as he remembered the tests she’d performed on him in her laboratory.
“Well, you've always said there's nothing like a little hard labor..."Ski tried to joke. You'll just have to bust outta here then and..."
Lee briefly went over his humiliating experiences and the tests he’d been forced to undergo in the laboratory, trusting that Kowalski could keep it to himself. "Don’t you understand, Ski? They want me to...to procreate. I'm chosen. I’m...oh God..."he dragged a hand through his hair. "They've even picked a bride for me...and I have no choice but to pretend to go along with it.”
"Uh," Ski found it difficult to say anything, "Have you seen her?"
“And the old broad will let us go if you stay to uh, 'service' this 'bride'?”
Lee nodded. “That’s what she said, but I’m not buying all of it. Do you remember the readings you saw below the second entrance?”
“Yeah,” he replied slowly. “It looked like the side of the trench was the bottom of the Bermuda Triangle.”
“I think she manages to get her victims to cooperate the same way, and then somehow scuttles the vessels after they’ve left the lake. They’d never know and it would ensure their cooperation forever.”
Kowalski sat down near him. “What are we going to do, Skipper? If we leave here she’ll kill us all before we reach the surface.”
“I’m going to wait until the end of the twenty-four hours. I've already promised my cooperation. She's giving me the time to see if I take it back. So we have a small window of opportunity to plan. Until then, I’ll pretend to go along with her.” Lee raked a hand through his dark hair. “But if you see a chance to get the President out, I want you to take it, is that understood, Kowalski?”
Kowalski shook his head. “No way, Skipper, I’m not leaving without you. President or not.”
“Kowalski, you are hereby ordered to get the President out of here, no matter what..."
Before Lee could finish, the door flew open. Two burly Atlantean men with strange weapons motioned for everyone to leave the building. More guards waited for them outside the door, herding them down a path that traversed the land between the township and the lake. At first, Lee couldn’t make out where they were going, it appeared to be a dead end, just as he was about to have his theory proved correct, they came across a tunnel. It was hidden away from Atlantis by a spur that reached out from the side of the mountain.
“Skipper, where do you think they're taking us?
Lee shook his head. “Your guess is as good as mine. Mr. President, if there’s any trouble, stay behind me.”
The President gave Lee a smile. “Your concern is noted, Captain, but I’m sure we’ll all be fine.”
“I hope you’re right, Sir, because I have a bad feeling about this. A very bad feeling.”
“Damn, Skipper, look!”
Lee couldn’t fail to miss the scene in front of them, as they reached the end of the tunnel.
“What the hell?”
The tunnel had led them into a salt mine, where what looked to be about fifty men, toiled in backbreaking work to mine the salt. What perturbed him even more were the shackles around their ankles which were attached to the ground by massive spikes.
"Mistress," one of the guards bowed as Valentina emerged from a side passageway.
Valentina gave Crane a smile that normally would have passed for disarming. “Attach their manacles, they can all work for the next eight hours,” she ordered coldly.
“Not the President," Lee stepped forward.
She shrugged her shoulders. “All of them - and you, Captain are hardly in a position to make demands, are you?”
“You’re not serious,” he said, grabbing her arm.
Lee didn’t even see the blow coming, but he felt it as he hit the ground.
“Is there any need for this type of treatment, Madam?” asked the President as he knelt beside Lee. “Are you alright, Captain?”
“I’m fine, Sir,” Lee replied through clenched teeth.
“Him first,” she snapped, motioned towards Lee. "Just a reminder, should you renege on your promise...I still have the power of life or death."
Lee felt the manacles snap tightly around his ankles and slowly rose to his feet.
“Never touch me again, Captain, or you will suffer far worse,” she pointedly looked around at the President, “as will your friends."
"Don't worry," Crane said after she left, "I'm not going to allow any of you to die here, or the other prisoners either."
from the Moray and Kowalski were all removed
to different locations throughout the cave.
A tool similar to a pickaxe was shoved into Lee’s hands.
"Big fine empty words young man," one of the older prisoners turned, "There's no escape from here, even death, when it takes her fancy."
“How did you get here?”
“We anchored above the Trench, we wanted to take a swim in the deepest part of the ocean,” he became wistful. “Something to tell my wife and child when I got home. The ship started taking on water so quickly that we didn’t have time to send out a distress signal. I don’t know how even three of us survived, I suppose everyone at home thought I drowned. We were dragged down from the surface into this…thing, like a mini sub, but not the same. Over time more men have been brought down here, Valentina oversees everyone who’s been kidnapped.”
“Yes,” Lee replied grimly. “She's made me painfully aware of that.”
“Ssh.” The man whispered. “They’re coming.”
Lee began chipping away at the salt, risking a glance at the President and Kowalski. He was pleased that they were close to one another, at least Ski could cover for the older man if he faltered. He got a shove in his back for his troubles and ended up face down on the salt again.
“Work!” yelled the guard
Lee painstakingly rose to his feet and silently continued working as did all the other prisoners, but after a while, the older man's curiosity got the better of him.
“I saw the way Valentina looked at you. You know what I mean. You won't be down here for long. It's just to convince you to serve her, before you're useless for their gene pool. The men here are sterile, something to do with radioactivity from the Earth’s core over the years they’ve spent here. Anyone who stays longer than twelve months suffers the same fate."
“How long have you been here and what’s your name?”
“I’m Damon, I have been here for almost three years, I think. I have no way of keeping track of the time.”
Lee looked at his watch for the hundredth time, the work was back breaking and mind numbing, but at least Kowalski had managed to cover for the President and give him some rest from time to time. He stood up and stretched his back, only to find himself on the ground again. He looked up in time to see the guard raise a whip above him.
“Stop! Don't hurt him too much! Can't have the bridegroom unable to perform his husbandly duties,” laughed another guard, hurrying towards them. “Release his chains and bring him.”
Once outside the mine Lee was quickly bound and gagged, he tried to fight it but only ended up with some bruised knuckles for his trouble. He was pushed roughly along a path and down some dark alleyways to a large house at the base of the mountain.
A vicious shove forced him through a door and to the opposite wall which he hit with his shoulder, knocking the breath out of him. The door was locked behind him and he was alone. His surroundings were very basic, yet the interior of the buildings was definitely of Greek origin.
"Well, my handsome Captain, have you decided to co-operate?” Valentina asked, stepping out from behind what appeared to be a silk curtain, nodding to servants to remove his gag and restraints.
Lee nodded slowly, his heart heavy. “You already had my word,” he agreed, trying hard to give the impression that she had him beaten.
“Adrienne! You can come in now. Behold your future husband."
The guards quickly vanished before a beautiful young woman stepped through the same curtain her wavy ash blonde hair falling about her shoulders and flowing down to her waist as her aqua blue eyes landed on Lee. She was apparently of age, but still seemed very young. He felt his mouth gape; her looks were beyond compare to any other woman he’d seen, but he abruptly reminded himself that she was involved in the kidnapping and slaughter of what probably amounted to hundreds of lives.
She gave him a shy smile. “Hello, Lee.”
Lee glanced at Valentina, who gave him a look that told him there were no options left open to him. If pure evil existed, he had no doubt that it had been spawned by this woman.
“Why don’t you and the Captain get acquainted, Adrienne,” she suggested.
“Of course, Valentina,” she held her hand out to Lee. “Would you like to accompany me on a walk?”
Lee stared at her hand, feeling an angry hostility towards these women that he could barely hide, only the venomous glare in Valentina’s eyes made him take Adrienne’s hand. Her threats were forcing him to be civil for the sake of the crew and the President, and he had no doubt she would carry them out.
“Of course, lead the way.”
Once outside the house, Lee pulled his hand away from hers but wasn’t prepared for the hurt it seemed to cause her.
“Why did you do that?”
“I…I’m sorry, I’m not used to…” he searched for the word, “courting women this way.”
She tilted her head to one side and Lee tried not to notice the way her curls moved. “What do you mean?”
“In my world, we get to know someone slowly before we ask for their hand in marriage. We don’t have arranged partnerships anymore. It was a barbaric custom centuries ago, and we're well rid of it.”
She looked at him with innocent eyes. “This is the way we have done this ever since I can remember! My mother and her mother were both partnered this way. Are you saying they were barbarians? That I am?”
"No, of course not...I apologize...I'm from a different civilization." Lee felt an urge to tell her everything, but he still didn’t trust anyone from Atlantis. “Where are we going?”
“I thought we could learn about each other before the ceremony.”
“Exactly when is this ceremony?” he asked, his throat suddenly dry.
“Tomorrow morning,” she smiled.
He didn’t reply, but kept walking beside her, caught up in his own thoughts. What if things didn’t go as planned and he was stuck here forever, with the President, Kowalski and the crew of the Moray dead – scuttled on the side of the Trench. The thought was almost too much to bear, so he put on his best mask and smiled back at Adrienne.
“You are very handsome, especially when you smile,” she said nervously.
Lee watched as her cheeks became rosy with embarrassment and it puzzled him. As they walked through the older part of Atlantis, he started to think that perhaps there was a chance Adrienne didn’t know what was going on in her mythical city.
He thought back to the women he’d known in the past. None of them compared to Adrienne in the looks department, and all of them had been confident of their own ability to interest him. Adrienne was completely different. As stunning as she was, she didn’t seem to understand the effect she had on him. Eventually they returned to Valentina’s house, Lee with some trepidation.
“I would like to spend more time with you, Lee.”
“If it was up to Valentina I’d stay here until I died.”
As soon as the words left his lips he realized his mistake.
“You don’t want to stay here with me?”
Valentina stepped through the door before Lee could cover up his error, but judging by the dark expression on her face, she’d heard everything.
“Adrienne, my dear, why don’t you go home and prepare for tomorrow?” She held the door open for Lee. “And you, my dear Captain, can come inside while I explain some things to you.”
Valentina gave Adrienne a sickly smile. “Don’t worry, my dear, I’m just preparing him for what’s required at the ceremony.”
The door closed swiftly behind Lee and he found himself flanked by two guards.
Valentina gripped his face tightly in her hand. “I don’t want you upsetting Adrienne,” she chided. “You’ll have to learn not to do that.”
She nodded as a third guard stepped out of the shadows and walked steadily towards Lee.
“This will be your first lesson in servility, Captain, if you move or defend yourself, your precious President will meet an untimely death. Have I made myself clear? Answer me, Captain or the President can take your punishment for you.”
“Yes!” he bit out the reply.
“It won’t be long before that proud spirit of yours has all but disappeared,” Valentina mocked as she turned to the guards. “Not the face, we can’t have the Captain bruised for his wedding.”
Lee clenched his jaws together and prepared himself for what he knew was going to happen next, vaguely wondering if Kowalski and the President had fared better than him.
“Skipper, wake up, you’ve been out for hours.”
Lee blinked, it took him a while to realize he was with Kowalski in their prison. He groaned as he tried to get up, but failed miserably.
“Hey, take it easy, here, have some water.”
Kowalski held a cup out to his lips and supported Crane's head while he sipped the water. Lee nodded gratefully, and quickly realized his ribs had been damaged, even his head pounded like mad. She’d made certain no damage had been inflicted on his face, but his head had hit the ground after a particularly painful blow to his stomach and knocked him out.
“Are you badly hurt, Skipper?”
“I’m okay, Ski," Lee squinted. His eyes wouldn't focus. “How’re the President and the others?”
"They're fine, but they're still in the mine.” He lifted Lee’s shirt aside the Captain saw him wince. “You're hurt bad, a concussion for sure, and your ribs from the bruises. Why’d they do this to you?" Ski said, as angry as Crane had ever seen him.
“I didn’t play by Valentina’s rules. I've been roughed up worse.” Lee noticed Kowalski’s uniform was torn. “What happened to you?”
Kowalski looked embarrassed. “Nothing, Skipper.”
“Kowalski?” Crane's tone brooked no argument.
He shrugged one shoulder. “I took a bit of heat for the President. They tossed me back in here to keep me from helping him.”
“You’re a good man, Ski, don’t let anyone ever tell you different.” He went to stand up, thought of brushing Kowalski’s offered hand aside, then took it anyway.
Kowalski muttered something that Lee couldn’t hear, but it made him smile anyway.
Kowalski turned serious. “Sir, we have to get out of here before that…that woman does anything else.”
Lee rubbed his face with a little water. “I've thought of a way.”
“How?” he stared at Lee stubbornly. “I’m not going if you don’t, Skipper. You can court martial me later.”
“Ski, don't you understand, not only do I want you to protect the President, if you can get out, maybe there’ll be some chance of a rescue so I won’t be indentured for the rest of my natural life.”
“Captain McDonald can do that.”
Before Crane could argue they were interrupted.
Lee’s eyes widened. “Adrienne."
Kowalski saw the look on both their faces and instinctively knew that this was the woman Lee was to be partnered with.
Adrienne walked over to Lee and stood next to him, almost touching him. “Lee, can we talk? Please?”
“What’s there to talk about?” Lee tried to stay calm.
“I don’t understand why you are angry with me. Tell me, please.”
"Very well, but you won't like it."
"Wait...I'll have you released....Guard?" she called out.
"Remember what I said Ski," Crane whispered as he was guided out of the cell.
Adrienne took his hand as if it was the most natural thing in the world to do and led him down a narrow limestone path back towards the lake. The path eventually deviated until they were no longer in sight of any houses or the lake.
“In here,” she said as she dragged Lee sideways into a rough tunnel in the rock face.
“Where are we?”
Adrienne didn’t look up but spoke as she bent to light some candles. “I’ve known about this cave for many years, almost since I was able to walk.”
She sat down on a small rock ledge that felt smooth to Lee’s touch as he joined her.
“Now, alone at last. Have I done something to offend you? Perhaps I’m not pretty enough? I can tell that you don't want to marry me? You should be honored, I've been told, yet you seem so distant.”
He took her hand in his, lost for the right words. “Adrienne, I…that’s not it at all. You’re an exquisite beauty, and any man would be proud to call you his wife.”
“But not you?” she asked quietly, turning her head away from him.
She quickly pulled her hand from his and got up, pacing to the other side of the small cave, almost as if she wanted to put as much space between them as she could.
It suddenly occurred to Lee that perhaps he wasn’t the only victim in Valentina’s vision for the future of Atlantis.
He decided to take a chance with her. “Adrienne, Valentina told me that all my men would stay here unless I agreed to become your partner.”
“No, that's not true. She said you would stay of your own free will!"
Lee shook his head sadly. “She lied. I’m very sorry, Adrienne.”
She raised her head slowly, shock on her beautiful face. “Then all the others, they...they must have suffered the same fate as you? Valentina has been overseeing the selection process for many years now.” Adrienne put her face in her hands as sobs tore through her slim body.
Lee hesitated briefly, then nestled her into his arms and let her cry. Finally she looked up at him and pushed away, but the expression on her face nearly broke his heart.
“I am so sorry, I wondered sometimes, but...” she wiped the tears from her face. “I must stop her.”
Lee gently took her back into his arms. “Wait, I have a plan, but I need your help to go through with it. I’m sorry you had to find out this way, Adrienne.”
Her glistening eyes found his and Lee became lost in them, his usual iron will, bent like a piece of grass. He lowered his head to her mouth and kissed her tenderly feeling her arms fasten around him in response.
“Lee,” she said breathlessly.
His hands circled her tightly and his lips met hers again, tasting the sweetness in her mouth. He felt her body respond to his and even though he doubted he would ever see Adrienne again, she had an effect on him like no other woman he’d met.
Adrienne awkwardly roamed her hands along his chest, but stopped as he winced. "You're hurt..." She began to unbutton his shirt and gasped at his bruises. “Who did this?”
“It’s not important....Adrienne? I can't stay here. But...I've never felt this way about any woman before...I hardly know you but I...I...feel we're connected somehow...that we always have been..."
"Then you might have married me if it had been your choice?"
"I don't know...I don't know anything anymore..."
"I demand nothing of you," she lowered her eyes, then looked up into his, "but I offer myself to you freely Lee Crane."
Further words were unnecessary as Lee kissed her again, this time letting his tongue breach her full lips. Her mouth tasted sweet to him, and he was mildly surprised as her lips opened wider.
“You’re so beautiful,” he murmured as his mouth found the nape of her neck, "so pure. I need to stop this..."
“Lee, I’ve never felt like this before either,” she gasped.
“Adrienne, can you help us to escape?” he asked tearing his body away from hers.
“I have already decided to go to the council.”
Lee nodded. “I have an idea, there’s still twelve hours before the deadline. I doubt that Valentina will leave me alone for that long.”
Lee outlined his plan. Once he’d finished, he waited to hear Adrienne’s decision and as he suspected, she agreed completely.
“Lee,” she said coyly. “I have only one last request.”
He frowned. “What’s that?”
She let her hand rest on his chest. “Kiss me again.”
He smiled and dropped his lips to meet hers once again.
Lee stepped through the door to the makeshift prison of the Moray's crew to be greeted by the concerned eyes of the President.
“Captain, where have you been, we’ve been worried,” admonished the President.
“I appreciate your concern, Sir, but I believe I’ve just found a way out of our predicament, you just need to trust me for the moment.”
“If there’s anyone I trust in this room, it’s the Captain of the Seaview. You’ve managed to get me out of more than a few scrapes, son, and for that I’m forever grateful.”
“Skipper, what happened?”
Lee was just about to explain, when he saw the men and the President look towards the door behind him. He felt a hand on his shoulder before he could turn around.
“Valentina wants to see you.”
Lee took a deep breath and desperately hoped that Adrienne had been able to carry out her part of the plan.
Kowalski stepped between his Captain and the Atlantean. “But, Sir…”
“It’s alright Kowalski, I’ll be back before you know it.”
He saw by Kowalski’s expression that he didn’t believe him, but he followed the two men from the room and out of the building once more. When they were out of sight, Lee was bound and gagged but this time he didn’t fight them. They led him into the same alley and house as before. Once the door closed behind him, despite himself Lee felt a shiver trace down his spine.
“Ah, Captain,” said Valentina, her voice as smooth as honey. “I am so glad you could grace us with your presence.”
Lee tried to talk, but the gag was too tight.
She ran her hands through his hair, apparently pleased when Lee cringed away from her touch, but he was held too tightly by the men.
“Come now, Captain, you weren’t shy a few hours ago with Adrienne. Yes, I know where you both went and what you did, and after all your words of abstinence, such a hypocrite." She turned to the guards. “Find and bring the girl to me," then to Crane, "Since you deflowered her prior to the wedding, our agreement is off, and all your friends will die. Including her, and you will watch, impotent to do anything.”
At the guard's inattention, Lee chose the moment to drive his shoulder into his solar plexus, dropping him to the floor. The second guard, running back, eventually managed to restrain him, but only after Lee had left his mark on his nose.
“Take him to the table. You will pay for that, and everything else, Captain, over and over again,” Valentina spat furiously, “I didn’t really believe for one moment that you would participate in the ceremony willingly, but that is a moot point now. So I’ve created a special mind control drug. You won’t be able to do anything except what I tell you to do. Indeed, I will delight in you serving me for the rest of your pathetic life."
Lee struggled violently but was forced onto the seat and Valentina set a steaming bowl in front of him. He arched his back away from the steam, but the guard hit him in the side and pushed his head into the fumes.
She gloated as Lee, dazed now, and helpless to resist was roughly dragged to his feet.
“Well, now, Captain, we’ll soon see how long it takes me to tame you,” she sneered.
“I think not, Valentina,” one of the council members said, entering the room with Adrienne who ran to embrace Crane.
Crane's guards, now under orders from the council, removed his gag and bindings, as the council members dragged Valentina, kicking and screaming from the room.
“Oh, Lee, Lee, Lee," Adrienne cradled and kissed him, the drug in his system too strong for her to willingly ask him anything. So she simply allowed him to lie against her as she rocked him back and forth, waiting for one of the council members to return with an antidote.
thank you for everything,” said Damon, the leader of the Atlantean captives. “For years Valentina has brought us nothing
but suffering, now we are finally free.
I apologize for the words I spoke to you earlier.”
“Forget it. What will you do, are you going to leave with us or stay in Atlantis?” asked Lee.
“Thank you for the offer, Captain, but the President has assured us he will send another submarine in a month to evacuate those who want to leave.” He looked sad. “I think it will take a while to adjust before I go back to my home, perhaps my family is no longer there.”
Lee put his hand on the older man’s shoulder. “I’m sure they’ll be there. I’ll check on it myself and send word to you.”
“Thank you, Captain, if it wasn’t for you, we would still be prisoners.”
Lee nodded then looked over to the lake. The Moray’s crew had already begun to board along with some of the freed men; only Lee and Kowalski remained.
“Lee, I will miss you,” said a soft voice from behind them.
“Adrienne! I wondered where you were,” he clasped her hands in his and took her aside. "Come with me," he pleaded.
"As much as you cannot stay, neither can I leave...at least not yet. So let us part as friends, or..."
Lee tipped her chin to his and kissed her tenderly, then deeply, oblivious to Kowalski’s shocked stare.
“You’ll always be in my heart, too, Lee,” she whispered.
"I will never forget you," he stared into her eyes.
“Excuse me sir, but the Moray’s waiting to follow us out,” reminded Kowalski quietly.
Lee gave Adrienne one last hug, then headed into the Chimaera.
"Well, it looks like I don't have to court martial you for disobeying orders after all," Crane winked at Ski.
"Er, are you gonna' write everything up in the log? How that broad Valentina nearly blackmailed you into becoming Adrienne’s husband?"
"Oh I don't know," he replied, his expression guarded. “I'm sure Mr. Morton will help me clean it up. At least we know something like this won't happen again...and we know how to keep in touch with Atlantis now. Prepare to get underway, the tide's turned."
"Er...Skipper? What about Miss Adrienne, or is it Mrs. Crane now? You never said exactly what happened about that..."
Crane grinned but remained silent, as he turned the submersible back for one last look at the diminishing light, then left Atlantis for the comforts Seaview.