by J. Lynn
As he turned the key in the lock of the door to his apartment, Lee Crane finally let himself give in to the exhaustion that he had been fighting. He put his bag down just inside the door and, after closing the door, crossed over to the couch without even turning on the lights. He lay down on the couch and closed his eyes. He would just rest for a minute, he decided, and then he would unpack and stow all his things the way his deeply ingrained Navy discipline demanded.
It had been a long mission, not particularly dangerous, but Chip and several other crew members had suffered a bout of flu, and while Lee had avoided the bug, he had pulled many extra duty shifts while his Exec was ill. Then, they had lost a crew member. Ken Merrill, a recent addition to the crew, had died when an undetected aneurysm in his aorta burst. He had been on watch in the Control Room when it happened. The Captain had been the one to catch him when he collapsed and Merrill had died in his arms. Jamison said that it was a congenital defect and that no one could have saved him. Lee didn't blame himself for this death as he did when a crewman died as a result of his command decision, but he did feel the death very deeply because he cared about all the men who served under his command. The young man's death also affected him in another way. Lee was used to risking his life for his country, or his ship and crew, and while he valued his life, he was willing to lose his life to save things he believed in. Seeing a man lose his life so suddenly, when there was no danger, no one to save, was a bit sobering to Lee. He needed some time to think about it.
Fortunately, he had some time. The Seaview would be docked in Santa Barbara for two weeks and everyone had been given shoreleave. The crew had been given two weeks, but the officers only had a week and then they would begin preparations for the next mission. Admiral Nelson had been asked to speak at a conference and had left for the airport immediately after Seaview docked while Chip had gone to visit his family. Both had asked him to come with them and he knew it was because they were worried about him. He had declined both offers. There was no reason for them to worry. All he needed was some time alone to rest and to think and he would be ready and eager for Seaview's next mission.
Just as he was thinking that he should really get up and unpack, his phone rang. He answered it and then listened intently to the voice on the other end. His tone terse, he said only, "I'll be right there," and quickly got up and left his apartment.
It was barely 0700 hours when Admiral Nelson entered his office. He was anxious to get to work planning Seaview's next mission. His paper at the conference had been well received and he had enjoyed talking with his scientific colleagues, but it was good to be home. He was also anxious to talk to Lee. He had gotten in early enough last night to try and call Lee, but he had been unable to reach him. It really was very strange--he had received a recorded message saying that Lee's phone had been disconnected. Of course, it was probably just a mistake. Being at sea so much it was easy to overlook details like phone bills. Most likely Lee just missed paying the bill and the phone had been disconnected too late on Friday to get it straightened out for the weekend. Despite this rational explanation, he was still troubled by a nagging concern. It wasn't like Lee to let something like this happen. The Admiral knew that the last mission had been hard on Lee. He'd been tired from pulling the double watches and then to have Merrill die so suddenly--. He wished Lee had come with him to the conference. Being home alone brooding over the crewman's death couldn't have been good for him. As soon as he got settled in his office, he'd go to Lee's office to see him. Knowing his Captain, he was sure he'd be in early.
Sitting in the chair behind his desk, the Admiral quickly scanned the papers on his desk, looking for anything that required his immediate attention. His eyes fell on an envelope with his name written on it in Lee's neat handwriting. He couldn't imagine why Lee had left him a note when they had a meeting scheduled for this morning. He opened the envelope and quickly read the letter that was inside. He hadn't read more than a few words when his hands started to shake. This was a letter of resignation! Lee had resigned from Seaview! He couldn't believe it. The last mission had been difficult, but not nearly as difficult as many of their other missions. Something must be very wrong for Lee to write a letter like this without talking to him first. He reached for the phone and dialed Lee's office at the Institute. No answer. Then he dialed Lee's apartment and once again heard the recorded voice tell him that the number had been disconnected. In his frustration he slammed down the phone just as Chip Morton knocked on his open door. Chip looked startled by the display of anger first thing in the morning, but bravely entered the office.
"Chip, the Admiral exclaimed, waving Lee's letter at him, "Do you know anything about this?"
Chip took the letter and quickly read it. The words were so startling, he almost couldn't make sense of them and he began to read broken phrases aloud, "leaving Seaview....can't continue.....effective immediately." He looked down at the Admiral with troubled eyes. His shock was obvious in his almost incoherent speech, "I had no idea. He never said anything. He said he was just tired. Why would he do this?"
The Admiral sighed, "I don't know, it just doesn't make sense. We've got to talk to him. I tried calling his office and there's no answer. I also tried his apartment last night and this morning and got a recorded message saying his phone was disconnected. I thought it was just a mistake, that being away so much he'd just missed a bill. We've all done that, but now, with this.." He gestured at the letter on his desk.
The Admiral stood up abruptly and announced, "I'm going to his apartment. It's only been a week--he could hardly make arrangements to move that quickly, so he could still be there. If he's not, maybe he left a forwarding address with the manager. Come on, let's get going." He marched out of his apartment with Chip right behind him.
They reached Lee's apartment in less than fifteen minutes. The Admiral had barely brought the car to a stop before Chip jumped out and ran up to Lee's front door. He rang the bell and when that produced no response, he began knocking. He was about to start shouting for Lee, when the Admiral took his arm and stopped him. "Chip, we don't want to wake everybody up. Remember, it's still early for civilians."
Chip looked at him sheepishly. "I guess I got carried away. I'm just so worried about him!"
"I am, too. Now let's go find the manager and see what he has to say."
They walked in silence to the manager's office. Despite the early hour, the man was at his desk drinking coffee. When they explained they were trying to contact Lee Crane, he immediately dashed their hopes of finding the Captain quickly.
"You're not going to find him here. About a week ago, he came to me and paid the rent to the end of his lease three months from now. Told me he was leaving but didn't know where he was going. He said to leave the furniture in the apartment until the lease was up and then put it in storage. He gave me money for that, too. I'm sorry to lose him as a tenant. He paid his rent on time, was quiet, never complained. I don't get too many like that these days."
The Admiral spoke urgently, "He didn't leave any forwarding address for his mail, a phone number, anything?"
"Nope, not a thing. I'm sorry, gentlemen, but that's all I know."
The Admiral sighed, "Thanks for your time." He and Chip left the office, their steps slow and discouraged.
In the car on the way back to the Institute, they discussed where Lee might go, what he might do. They ruled out family immediately. His mother had died when he was a teenager and his father had thrown him out of the house when he went to the Academy. They thought about his time at the Academy, the friends and contacts he'd made there, but Chip had been his closest friend and couldn't think of anyone else Lee would turn to. Early in his career, Lee had spent some time with ONI and still did work for them when they needed him. The Admiral became excited,
"Chip, that could be it! He could have been sent on a mission and this could be part of his cover. As soon as we get back to the Institute, I'll call Admiral Jones at ONI. He might not WANT to tell me that Lee's on a mission, but he'd damn well better tell me."
Chip replied just as enthusiastically, "That does make sense, Admiral."
Back at the Institute, the two men went directly to the Admiral's office where the Admiral had Angie place a call to Admiral Jones. Listening to the Admiral's end of the conversation, Chip could tell the Admiral was not getting the answers he had hoped to get. When he hung up, his eyes were bleak. "Admiral Jones said Lee isn't on a mission for ONI. I know he could be lying to me to protect Lee's cover, but I've known Jones a long time and can usually tell when he's being evasive. He sounded genuinely surprised by the question." The Admiral sighed, "I had really hoped that would be the explanation. It's not that I want him to be in danger, but at least we'd know where he is."
Chip said quietly, "Admiral, I think we ought to call Jamie. He might be able to tell us something about Lee's frame of mind. Something must have been troubling him, something that we didn't see. Maybe Jamie picked up on it when we didn't."
"Okay, Chip. Call Jamie. I think he was going to go to the Clinic today to stock up on medical supplies for Sickbay. Have him come over right away. In the meantime I'm going to call Stark. If Lee applied for reinstatement to the Navy and requested a command assignment, Jiggs would know. Would you tell Angie to place the call for me?"
"Aye, Sir." Chip replied. "I'll be back as soon as I've contacted Jamie." Chip left the office stopping by Angie's desk to relay the Admiral's order.
While Nelson waited for the call to go through, he folded up Lee's letter and put it back in the envelope. He didn't want to keep looking at those words, words he still couldn't believe. The letter wouldn't go back in the envelope properly, it kept catching on something. He stuck his hand in the envelope to see what was causing the problem and pulled out Lee's Seaview insignia. If Nelson had been reluctant to believe that Lee had really resigned, seeing that insignia left no doubt. Lee had been so proud to wear that on his collar. What could possibly have made him turn in his insignia?
He jumped when the phone rang and then composed himself before picking it up. Stark's booming voice greeted him.
"Harriman, good to hear from you. I heard your presentation at the conference went well--should bring in lots of contracts for Seaview."
Nelson replied impatiently, "Yes, yes, it went fine. Jiggs, listen, I've got something important to ask you. Have you heard from Lee Crane in the last week?"
Jiggs sounded surprised, "Why would I hear from your Captain?"
Nelson sighed, "Jiggs, I can't believe it, but Lee has resigned from Seaview. I found a letter on my desk this morning. I've tried to call him but his phone has been disconnected. When I went to his apartment, the manager said he'd left with no forwarding address. Paid his rent until the end of the lease and gave the manager money to put his things in storage after that. It doesn't make any sense, Jiggs! Something's very wrong and I've got to find out what it is! I thought maybe he'd contacted you for reinstatement in the Navy and a sub command."
Stark replied in a shocked tone, "Crane leaving Seaview. Harry, I can't believe that. Are you sure he just wasn't asking for some extra leave? You work him pretty hard...maybe he's just tired."
"No, Jiggs, there's no doubt that he intended to leave permanently." The Admiral's voice shook as he continued, "He returned his Seaview insignia with his letter of resignation."
Stark's voice was quiet as he said, "I'm sorry, Harry. He hasn't asked me for reinstatement to the Navy, nor have there been any rumors that he's looking for another command. If I hear anything like that, I'll let you know."
Nelson felt defeated. Jiggs had been his last hope. "Thanks, Jiggs, I appreciate it. Good-bye."
"Good-bye, Harry." Admiral Stark hung up the phone sadly. He'd hated hearing the pain in Harry's voice. He also hated lying to him. Well, he hadn't exactly lied, but he was keeping the truth from his friend. He knew he had no choice, but he still hated it.
As Nelson hung up the phone, he saw Chip and Jamie come into the outer office. He called them both in. Chip had already told Jamison about Lee and the Doctor voiced his shock as soon as he sat down. "Admiral, I had no idea Lee was planning this. It's true Merrill's death was a shock, but I explained what happened and I thought he accepted it. I know he agonizes over losing a crewman in the line of duty, but this would have happened to Merrill no matter where he was. I was sure Lee understood that. Are you sure Lee really meant to resign, maybe he just needed some time off?"
Before he spoke, the Admiral showed Chip and Jamison what he had in his hand, Lee's Seaview insignia. "Jamie, he put this in the envelope with the letter. I didn't see it at first, I was so shocked by the letter. I found it when I went to put the letter back in the envelope. Lee wouldn't give this up unless he really meant to leave. I just wish I knew why he was leaving and where he's going to go. I've called Admiral Jones at ONI and Admiral Stark at ComSubPac. No one's heard from him. Jamie, I'm frightened for him."
Jamison didn't know how to comfort Nelson. "Admiral, I don't know what to say or what to do. With his ONI training, Lee knows how to disappear so he can't be found. All we can do is hope that he'll call us when he's worked out what's bothering him."
"Yes, Jamie, we can hope...and pray."
A week later Seaview was ready to sail. Sharkey approached Mr. Morton at the chart table in the Control Room.
"Mr. Morton, all the crew is aboard except the Skipper."
Morton answered the Chief using a formal command tone. "Captain Crane won't be coming on this mission. Inform the guards topside we'll get underway in ten minutes."
"Yes, Sir, Mr. Morton." The Chief hesitated, "Uh, will we be picking up the Captain along the way?"
Chip knew that the Chief had assumed that Crane was on an ONI mission. The crew always worried when the Captain was on a mission and liked knowing when he was expected back. Chip wished Lee were on an ONI mission, then he would know there was a good possibility that Lee would be returning to Seaview. The way things were now, he didn't know if he would ever see Lee again or even know what had happened to him. The strain of the situation was too much for Morton and he snapped at Sharkey.
"Chief, I told you that the Captain wouldn't be coming on this mission. That is all you need to know. Now, carry out your orders and inform the guards of our departure."
Sharkey knew a reprimand when he heard one as did the men on duty in the Control Room. He answered quickly in his best military tone. "Yes, Sir. Right away, Sir!"
The rest of the crew kept their eyes on their duty stations, not wanting to incur either the Chief's wrath or Mr. Morton's. The atmosphere in the Control Room was tense as Seaview departed.
The tension remained and grew stronger during the next two weeks. The officers gave orders curtly and the crew obeyed them in silence. When the officers weren't present, the crew muttered about the attitude of the command staff and worried about their Captain.
Early one morning Admiral Nelson was walking along the corridor to the lab when he overheard Kowalski and Patterson talking in an adjoining corridor.
"Pat, I tell you, something just ain't right. I don't think the Captain's on any ONI mission. If he were, the Admiral and Mr. Morton would be acting worried. Instead, they seem mad about something."
"I know, Ski. I was in the Control Room when Mr. Morton nearly took the Chief's head off. All he did was ask if we were gonna pick up the Skipper somewhere. Mr. Morton yells sometimes when he's worried, but he always apologizes later, and this time he didn't apologize."
"Do you think the Skipper did something that made the Admiral mad? Do you think the Admiral fired him?"
Patterson sounded doubtful, "I don't know, Ski."
"Well," Kowalski declared, "If the Admiral did fire him, then I'm leaving, too. It wouldn't be right to stay on Seaview with another Captain. No one understands the Seaview like the Skipper!"
Just then the Admiral interrupted their conversation with an intimidating roar, "Gentlemen, is it your usual practice to gossip about your superior officers?"
Ski and Patterson were both mortified and terrified to have been overheard and barely managed to stammer out a reply, "No, Sir. Sorry, Sir."
"Captain Crane's whereabouts are not to be a topic of discussion for the remainder of this mission. Have I made myself clear?"
Another stammered reply, "Yes, Sir. Perfectly clear, Sir."
The Admiral's tone was cold as he dismissed them. "Good. Now, get about your business."
Nelson watched as the two men hurried away. His rage left him as quickly as it had seized him. He couldn't blame the crew for being confused over the Captain's absence since neither he nor Chip had offered a plausible explanation. They had agreed to keep it a secret for this mission, hoping that Lee would return, but if he didn't, Nelson knew they couldn't keep it a secret for very long. Nelson didn't want to see the Seaview with a new captain anymore than Kowalski did, but, he admitted to himself, they might all have get to get used to it. Chip, if the captaincy were offered to him, would probably take it, seeing himself as a caretaker until Lee returned. Chip's loyalty to Lee was unshakable just like the loyalty of so many of the crew. Nelson had thought his own loyalty to Lee was just as solid, but doubt had begun to creep in with the hurt of Lee's disappearance. He thought their friendship had been built on trust, that Lee would come to him if something were bothering him. How could he have left without a word? Maybe, Nelson thought bitterly, he had been wrong about their friendship. Maybe he had been wrong about a lot of things where Lee Crane was concerned. Sadness at that conclusion threatened to overwhelm him, but he put it aside and concentrated instead on the mission. He just had to get through this mission, he told himself. When the mission was over, then he'd face up to losing Lee and think about a new captain for Seaview.
Kowalski and Patterson said nothing about their dressing down by the Admiral, but the encounter had been overheard and soon every crew member knew the story. Whenever the Captain was away from Seaview on an ONI mission, the mood on the boat was always a bit tense. The crew seemed less confident in their abilities and even the Admiral and the Exec seemed a little unsure of themselves. Seaview herself seemed more prone to malfunctions almost as if the boat missed the Captain. During these times, however, the crew and the senior officers were united in their concern for the Captain. This time was different. The crew and the officers were alienated over the forbidden topic of the Captain. Seaview was very quiet and the tension level on the boat was higher than it had been even on the most dangerous of missions.
Kowalski had been tracking the sub on sonar for hours. It stayed just inside China's territorial waters, but it was definitely matching their course. Admiral Nelson moved to his side and asked, "Still shadowing us?"
Kowalski answered without taking his eyes off the screen, "Yes, Sir, she matches every move we make."
The Admiral turned in the direction of the radio shack, "Sparks, send a message to the commander of that sub. Tell him we're doing research, collecting seismic data. Tell him we'll share the data with him."
Chip looked at him in surprise. "You'd share data with the Chinese?"
The Admiral replied, "Of course. It's not military data. It's information about the environment of the sea--it should be shared. Send the message, Sparks."
"Aye, Sir." Sparks paused. "There's no response, Sir."
"Send the same message every fifteen minutes." He looked at Chip. "At least they can't say we're conducting secret operations."
Sparks voice called out, "Admiral, Mr. Morton, incoming message, but it's not from the Chinese sub. It's a distress call from one of ours, the Manta. Says she's got engine problems and is in danger of drifting into Chinese waters." He relayed the coordinates of the Manta's present location to the officers.
"Tell the Manta that we're on our way." ordered Morton "Then send a message to the Chinese sub. Tell them we're answering a distress call."
The Admiral frowned as he turned to Chip. "That's Admiral Mitchell's sub. I wonder what he's doing out here? If he drifts into China's waters, it could cause a major international incident. Trust Mitchell to cause trouble."
Chip knew that Nelson and Mitchell had never gotten along. He didn't much care for Mitchell himself, but they had no choice but to respond to a distress call. "Sparks," he called, "any response from the Chinese sub?"
"No, Sir, Mr. Morton." came the reply.
"Kowalski, are they still matching our course?"
"Yes, Sir, move for move."
It took them half an hour to reach the coordinates. When they could see the Manta on the view screen, Sparks reported that there was an incoming video call from the Manta.
"Put it on the monitor, Sparks." ordered the Admiral.
Admiral Mitchell's face appeared on the monitor, but his expression was not that of a submarine commander whose boat was in trouble. He appeared to be gloating.
"Admiral Nelson, I knew a distress call would draw you here. It's been a long time, Nelson."
Nelson was impatient, "What's the problem, Mitchell? We interrupted our research to respond to your distress call. What sort of engine trouble are you having?"
Mitchell was still smiling, "There's no trouble here, Admiral, at least not for me. But it seems you have a lot of trouble. You see, I've just discovered that you've been giving technology secrets to the commander of that Chinese sub. When I ordered you to surrender, you fired on my boat, and I was forced to destroy Seaview."
The Admiral laughed a mirthless laugh, "No one would believe such a cockamamie story and you certainly can't destroy Seaview. We outgun you."
Mitchell's expression grew hard as he said, "Maybe you do outgun the Manta, but there's that Chinese sub with her torpedoes trained on Seaview. You won't get both of us. Why don't you surrender without a fight. We'll let the crew leave Seaview and then we'll destroy her after the Chinese commander has downloaded all the information in her computer. Think of your crew, Admiral!"
The Admiral replied angrily, "My crew, Mitchell, won't surrender to a traitor like you!" Noticing the shocked faces of the Manta crew who were in range of the video camera, the Admiral added, "It doesn't look like your own crew wants to go along with you either!"
Mitchell's face became very ugly and he spoke contemptuously, "They're a weak-kneed bunch, from the Captain on down. They'll obey my orders because they wouldn't know what else to do. Admiral, I wouldn't be so sure you speak for all your crew." He turned to speak to someone on his right. "Commander, prepare to fire torpedoes."
Admiral Nelson and all the crew in the Control Room were shocked to see Lee Crane appear on the monitor as he crossed over to the firing panel. When he reached the panel, he turned and looked directly at the Admiral, his face revealing no emotion. In shock, the Admiral said softly, "Lee!" Then his expression hardened with anger and his eyes became blue ice. Lee felt the cold anger in those eyes cut into his very soul.
Mitchell shouted the order to fire. "Fire one! Fire two!"
Lee put his right hand on the fire button, but with his left he reached down underneath the panel and brought two wires together. The panel erupted in sparks and the jolt of electricity threw Lee away from the panel. His head slammed into the chart table and his last conscious thought was of those cold blue eyes.
Confusion reigned in the Control Room of the Manta as the electrical fire spread to the other panels. Watching the monitor on Seaview, Nelson and Morton could not see enough to know exactly what was going on. Voices were heard shouting orders to extinguish the fires and demanding damage control reports. Suddenly, Mitchell's voice could be heard over all the rest as he shouted, "Crane, you're responsible for this! I'll kill you for your incompetence."
As Mitchell advanced on the fallen Crane, the Manta's Captain stepped in front of the enraged Admiral. "Admiral Mitchell, you will not touch that man. I am relieving you of command and placing you under arrest for treason. Master-at-arms, escort Admiral Mitchell to the brig."
The Master-at-arms approached Mitchell. He realized he had no choice but to go with him, but he snarled defiantly at Captain Fleming as he left the Control Room. "So you're finally showing a little backbone, Fleming. You've made a big mistake. You won't be able to make these charges stick. Your career will be ruined. I'll see to that!"
Captain Fleming looked down at Captain Crane who was unconscious and bleeding badly from a head wound. "Get the senior corpsman up here on the double!"
Then Fleming turned to face Admiral Nelson on the monitor. "Admiral Nelson, I'm Captain Fleming. I don't know how much you heard or saw, but Admiral Mitchell has been placed under arrest. We had no idea he was planning this. He told us the fake distress call was part of a readiness drill. It wasn't until he threatened you that I had any idea what his real intentions were. I should have stopped him sooner, but I was too shocked to act. Thank God the panel shorted out. Admiral, our electrical systems have been heavily damaged and we are dead in the water. You are welcome to send a boarding party to verify the situation."
Nelson was a bit stunned by the rapid sequence of events, but he quickly responded, "Captain Fleming, I want you to contact ComSubPac, report what happened, and wait for their instructions. Tell them Seaview will render any required assistance. We'll send over some men to assist with repairs."
Captain Fleming looked relieved. "Thank you, Admiral. I'll contact you as soon as I've received orders from ComSubPac." He turned to listen to someone out of sight. "Admiral, we don't have a doctor on board and my senior corpsman reports that Commander Crane's injuries are much too serious for him to handle. Perhaps your doctor could come aboard to treat him."
"Very well, Captain. Nelson out."
The Admiral turned first to Sparks. "Sparks, send a message to the Chinese sub. Inform them that the Manta is dead in the water and Admiral Mitchell has been placed under arrest. Tell the commander that any action against either the Manta or the Seaview will be met with full resistance."
Then he turned to Morton. "Chip, I want you to lead the boarding party and have Jamison go with you."
Sparks called out, "No response from the Chinese sub, Admiral."
Kowalski called out next, "The sub is changing course, heading away from our position."
The Admiral smiled tightly, "It seems that the commander of the sub would like to avoid an international incident. Chip, pick your men and get over to the Manta as quickly as possible."
"Aye, Sir, responded Morton. "On my way."
It didn't take Chip and the technicians long to ascertain that the electrical damage to the Manta was severe. It would take at least eight hours to repair the wiring. Fortunately, life support systems were unaffected, but all weapons and navigation systems were down. ComSubPac had requested that Seaview assist the Manta with repairs and accompany her to Pearl Harbor.
Jamison's examination of Crane revealed injuries that were extremely serious and he contacted Admiral Nelson on Seaview.
"Admiral, Captain Crane's injuries are very serious. He has a gash on his head and a severe concussion with a possible skull fracture. He also has a second degree burn on his hand. The Sickbay here is not well enough equipped to handle injuries this serious. I need to get him into Sickbay on Seaview as soon as possible, but his condition is too unstable to risk an underwater transfer using SCUBA gear."
Nelson ignored the fact that Jamison was talking about Lee, his feelings about Lee were still too raw and confused, and treated the matter as a problem to be solved. He thought for a moment and then had Chip called over. "Chip, is there any way the Manta can blow ballast and surface so we can use a raft for the transfer?"
Chip consulted with Captain Fleming before answering the Admiral. "Yes, Sir, it is possible. We'll surface at once."
"Very good, Chip. We'll do the same and send over a raft. Nelson out."
The transfer was accomplished with little difficulty and Nelson stood in the conning tower and watched as Lee was carefully lifted from the raft and then taken to Sickbay. He caught his breath when he saw Lee's blood-soaked shirt and a wave of fear and concern hit him. But then he remembered Lee walking over to the firing panel and pressing the button to fire torpedoes at the Seaview and his concern was replaced with anger. If that panel hadn't blown, Seaview would have been destroyed and by Lee's hand! He wouldn't have believed that Lee could be capable of such betrayal if he hadn't seen him with his own eyes. He descended into the Control Room and met Morton who had returned with Jamison and the Captain.
The Admiral motioned for Chip to join him in the Observation Nose. He looked at Chip expectantly and the Exec quickly gave him a report on the damage to the Manta. "Admiral, we can't be sure because the damage was so extensive, but it looks like the wiring had been tampered with. The wires on the firing panel that caused the short were hanging out below the panel instead of being properly secured and there were relays set up between the panels that caused the short to affect all the panels. Admiral, Lee could have sabotaged the panel."
The Admiral sighed, "I know you want to believe that, Chip, but nothing we know leads to that conclusion. How could Lee have known Mitchell was planning this--apparently none of the Manta's crew knew. Even if he did figure out Mitchell's plans after he was on the Manta, there's still no explanation for why he was there in the first place. No, it's more likely that it was just a case of sloppy wiring."
Chip opened his mouth to reply but he was interrupted by Sparks calling for the Admiral from the radio shack.
"Admiral, you have an urgent video call from Admiral Stark."
"I'll take it here in the Observation Nose. Chip, I want you in on this, but close the crash doors."
As soon as the doors had closed, the Admiral turned on the monitor and was greeted by the anxious face of Admiral Stark.
"Harry, I just heard what happened. Are you allright?"
"I'm fine, Jiggs, just fine. Mitchell is in the brig on the Manta and the Chinese sub went back to its own waters. After the Manta was disabled, the commander of the sub was no longer interested in risking an international incident."
"What about Crane? Is he allright? Did you get him off the Manta?"
The Admiral looked at him sharply. "How did you know Lee was on the Manta?"
"It's a long story and I'll explain it all, but, first tell me if he's allright."
Nelson answered impatiently, "No, he's not. Mitchell ordered him to fire torpedoes at Seaview and when he went over to the panel, it shorted out. He was thrown against the chart table and suffered a severe concussion and possible skull fracture. He also has second-degree burns on his hand. He's in Sickbay, unconscious, so we haven't been able to question him about the cause of the malfunction in the panel."
"Harry," Stark said in an incredulous voice, "he sabotaged the panel so the Manta couldn't fire at Seaview. Don't you know that?"
Nelson replied angrily, "I don't know anything of the sort. I have no idea why he resigned from Seaview or why he was aboard the Manta. But if you know so much about it, why don't you tell me?"
"Harry, I was hoping I wouldn't have to be the one to tell you, but I promised Crane that if he couldn't tell you, I would, and I intend to keep my word. Harry, he was on the Manta because I arranged it. I sent him there to protect you. I called him right after your last mission and had him come to my office." Stark recounted the details of his meeting with the Captain to the Admiral and the Exec.
As soon as Crane entered Admiral Stark's office, Stark noticed that he looked tired. It must have been a rough mission, he concluded. Stark knew the request he was going to make of the Captain was going to be very difficult for him and he wished he didn't have to ask it of him.
"Thank you for coming, Captain, Please sit down."
Crane sat in the chair opposite the desk. "Thank you, Sir. You said this is urgent, that the Admiral is in danger?"
"Yes, it is urgent. Captain, do you know Admiral Mitchell?
Yes, Sir." Crane replied in a carefully neutral tone.
"You don't like him." It was a flat statement.
Crane was still being careful. "I don't really know him."
Stark was impatient. "But you don't like him. Captain, I want you to be honest with me. This is important."
"Allright, I don't like him. He has said some uncomplimentary things about Admiral Nelson."
Stark snorted, "Uncomplimentary is hardly the word I'd use. Lately he's been especially vocal, getting more brazen in his criticism. I'd been wondering what he was up to and then I received information from a contact in ONI that Mitchell could be plotting against Nelson, trying to frame him for treason. This contact said Mitchell's been making overtures to the Chinese, promising them classified technology. I think Mitchell is going to try to make it look as if Nelson is giving away the Seaview's technology to the Chinese. Your next mission will take you near China's territorial waters, won't it?"
The Captain nodded in confirmation, "There's been some pretty strong seismic activity in that region lately. We're going to try and locate the source."
Stark resumed his explanation, "I think that's when he'll make his move. There's no proof, however, so there's no way I can stop him. That's why I'm asking for your help. I'm going to ask you to do something very hard to save Nelson and Seaview. Then he'd laid out his plan, Crane's resignation from Seaview, leaving his apartment, and signing on aboard Mitchell's sub.
When he'd finished, he'd looked at Crane and said, "Captain, I know we've butted heads in the past and you have no reason to believe I'm telling you the truth."
Crane didn't let him continue, saying earnestly, "Sir, I know we have different command styles and in the past we've clashed over that, but I have never doubted your honesty, your commitment to our country, or your loyalty to Admiral Nelson. I don't doubt them now. I'll do what you ask, but I have one request. My actions are going to hurt Admiral Nelson very deeply. He'll think I betrayed him. If, when this is over, I'm not able to explain my actions to him, I'd like you to tell him why I did this. I don't want him to think I was ever dissatisfied with him or Seaview."
Stark answered him just as earnestly, "You have my word, Captain." Then they shook hands and Crane left.
Stark continued his explanation, "It was easy to get Mitchell to take him aboard the Manta. All I had to do was let him overhear that Crane had resigned from Seaview because he couldn't work with you any longer and Mitchell jumped at the bait."
After recounting all this to the Admiral and the Exec, Stark spoke directly to the Admiral, "Harry, he never hesitated, no risk was too great for you and Seaview. The damnedest thing was that he trusted me without question--despite our differences in the past, he believed me. Like you said, Harry, he's the best."
The Admiral answered him in a quiet voice, "I know, Jiggs, I know."
"Look, I'm sure you want to get back to Sickbay. I just wanted you to know what was really going on. Keep me informed, will you? I'll see you when you dock at Pearl."
"Allright, Jiggs, and thanks."
Nelson turned off the screen and then just sat at the table, overwhelmed by emotion. Lee had never wanted to leave Seaview, he wanted to protect Seaview, to protect him, and he had doubted Lee's loyalty. How could he have done that and how could he make it up to Lee?
Lost in his thoughts, the Admiral had forgotten all about Chip until he felt a gentle hand on his shoulder. "Admiral, go to Sickbay. I can take care of everything here. You should be there when Lee wakes up. He'll want to see you."
The Admiral took a deep breath to steady himself. He looked at the kind expression on the Exec's face and said, "Thanks, Chip. If you need me, just call."
The Admiral stopped at his cabin on the way to Sickbay. He sat at his desk and opened the top drawer. He pulled out Lee's resignation and his Seaview insignia. He tore up the resignation and threw it away. He put the insignia in his shirt pocket and then, squaring his shoulders, he got up and went out of his cabin toward Sickbay.
The lights had been dimmed in Sickbay. Jamison was in his office when Nelson came in, writing notes on a chart. Probably Lee's chart, Nelson thought. He had come in so quietly that Jamison hadn't heard him. He went over to Lee's bunk and stood there silently looking down at him. When Lee had first been brought aboard, Nelson had been too upset to look at the Captain closely. Now, however, he noticed the sharpness of his cheekbones and the sunken eyes. The bandage over his temple hid the gash on his head, but there was dark bruising around the bandage that contrasted with the pallor of Lee's skin. He heard Jamison get up and come over to him.
"Admiral, I didn't hear you come in."
"I was trying to be quiet so I wouldn't disturb him. Jamie, he looks so pale and so thin! Will he be allright?"
"He's showing gradual improvement so I'm hopeful, but it's a serious head injury--a severe concussion and a hairline skull fracture--so there could be complications. At the very least, we've got to be prepared for confusion, even amnesia. You're right about how thin he is--he's probably lost about twenty pounds. Whatever his reasons for leaving Seaview and being on that sub, this last month was obviously a hard one for him."
Nelson sighed heavily, "Jamie, I had a call from Admiral Stark. Lee never wanted to leave Seaview. Stark suspected that Mitchell was trying to discredit me and asked Lee to help him prove it. It was all a plan to get Mitchell to expose himself. Lee was on that sub to protect me and I doubted his loyalty. He risked everything for me, for Seaview. He went through hell all alone and I doubted him. How can I explain that to him?"
Jamison was silent for a moment thinking about what the Admiral had said, then he answered gently, "Admiral, you won't have to explain anything. Lee won't blame you for feeling angry and hurt. He'll blame himself for causing you so much pain. If I know the Skipper, all he'll be worried about is if you and Seaview are allright. Just be here to reassure him." Jamison pulled a chair next to Lee's bunk. "Why don't you sit with him? It would be good for him to see you when he wakes up."
Over the next several hours, the Admiral sat beside Lee, talking to him softly. He told him how grateful he was for his loyalty, how much he and the crew had missed him. Jamison came over frequently to check Lee's vital signs and reported that there was steady improvement. Even though he was still unconscious, Lee was becoming more responsive which was a good sign. As the Admiral looked down at him, he saw his eyelids flutter. Jamison noticed it too and leaned over the Captain and quietly called his name. The Admiral stepped back so Jamison could move closer to the Captain.
"Lee....Lee.....can you hear me? Lee, I want you to try to wake up..... Don't try to move, but try to open your eyes.... That's it..... Just open your eyes slow and easy."
The Captain heard the voice calling his name, but it sounded far away. He concentrated instead on other sensations--the softness of the bed and the vibration he felt. The vibration made him feel good, made him feel safe and protected. As he concentrated on it, he realized why--he was home, he was on Seaview! He wondered why he was surprised at that, but thinking too hard made his head hurt, so he let it go. The voice was persisting and he concentrated on that. The voice was urging him to open his eyes. He tried, but it was hard. Finally, he succeeded, but all he could make out was a very blurry face leaning over him. He blinked, but it was still blurry. Despite the blurriness, he knew whose face it was.
"Jamie," he said softly, his words slightly slurred.
Jamison's voice was relieved, "Yes, Lee, that's right. I'm glad you know who I am."
"I rec'nized the voice. Your face is awful blurry."
"I'm not surprised. You hit your head pretty hard on that chart table. It will take a while for your vision to clear. How do you feel?"
"I'm not sure--kind of fuzzy." He tried to turn his head slightly, but moaned when sharp pain and a wave of dizziness washed over him.
"Don't try to move your head, Skipper. Just lie still."
"I don't remember...hitting my head." He tried to come up with a plausible explanation for his injury. "Must have been some turb'lence.... Is Seaview allright?
"Seaview's fine. You don't need to remember what happened right now. Just relax."
Lee frowned slightly as he tried to sort out confused memories and he spoke in short phrases. "Have to protect Seaview.....Have to protect the Admiral. The panel....have to short out the panel."
"Easy, Skipper. That's over. Seaview's safe, you're safe."
The Doctor's words failed to comfort his patient and Lee became even more agitated as he remembered the Admiral's eyes looking at him in such anger. "The Admiral....have to talk to the Admiral...."
Nelson moved close and spoke to the Captain, anxious to ease his distress, "Lee, I'm here. You don't have to say anything--I know why you were on the Manta. Stark told me everything. It's allright, Lee."
Lee quieted at the Admiral's soothing tone, but was not entirely comforted. There was so much he wanted to say, to explain, but it was so hard to think, to talk. He struggled to find the words and said haltingly, "Admiral, I never wanted to leave Seaview. I'm sorry I hurt you."
"Lee, it's allright. I know you were trying to protect me and Seaview. And you did, you saved us all. It's over now and you're back on Seaview, where you belong." The Admiral smiled at the Captain. "Speaking of belonging, I have something that belongs to you." He reached into his pocket and pulled out Lee's Seaview insignia. Lee tried to focus and see what the Admiral was holding up, but the effort made his head pound. The Admiral saw the pain on his face and quickly said, "It's your Seaview insignia, Lee. I've been saving it for you."
Lee hesitated, then said, "But my resignation...."
"Was never accepted. You, sir, are Captain of the Seaview and your orders are to get well soon because you're needed for duty. The crew has missed you and I think Seaview has, too. Now, no more talking, just rest." He laid a comforting hand on the Captain's shoulder.
Lee relaxed at the soothing touch and let the welcome words wash over him. He smiled and murmured, "Aye, Sir," and fell asleep.
Nelson stepped back from the bed and looked at Jamison with a question in his eyes.
"He's much better than I expected. I thought there would be more confusion after such a severe concussion, but he was alert and coherent. It's still going to take him a while to recover fully--he'll have headaches and dizziness for at least the next several weeks. That burn on his hand will be painful and will have to be watched for infection. And, he needs to gain some weight. But," Jamison finally smiled, "I think he's going to be just fine. Now, you go get some rest yourself and let me look after him."
"Allright, Jamie. I'll be back later."
Seaview's grapevine soon spread the word that the Captain was going to be allright and had only been on Mitchell's sub to stop him from destroying the Admiral and Seaview. The Skipper had saved them all, just like he always did. Seaview was still quiet, but it was an entirely different kind of quiet. It was quiet like a house with a sleeping baby in it. No one wanted to disturb the Skipper's sleep so the crew spoke in low voices and practically tiptoed around on their duties. The tension on the boat had lifted and there were smiles on the faces of the crew and the officers.
The Manta and the Seaview docked at Pearl Harbor several days later. Admiral Nelson watched from Seaview's conning tower as Mitchell was formally arrested and led away in handcuffs. Then, he went below and gave Morton the order to release the crew for shoreleave. Leaving the Control Room for Sickbay, he ran into Kowalski in the corridor and an idea quickly came to him. He remembered Kowalski's conversation with Patterson in the corridor and his absolute devotion to the Captain. All the crew were loyal to the Captain, but Kowalski was more fierce in his loyalty than any of them.
"Kowalski, I know you're getting ready to leave for shoreleave, but I'd like you to do something for me. Well, actually for the Skipper."
"Of course, Admiral. Anything for the Skipper."
"Good, come with me to Sickbay."
Kowalski fell into step with the Admiral and asked, "How is the Skipper, Admiral?"
The Admiral smiled as he answered, "He's getting better but he's still suffering from the effects of the concussion and needs some assistance. Not that he wants to admit it, of course."
Kowalski grinned and said, "That sounds like the Skipper, Sir."
By then they reached Sickbay and Nelson asked Kowalski to wait outside. The Admiral heard voices as he opened the door, voices that stopped when he entered. Lee was dressed in his khakis and sitting in a wheelchair with Jamison standing beside him. From the looks on both their faces, he was sure he had interrupted an argument, probably about the wheelchair. He had expected as much which is why he had brought Kowalski with him. He spoke to the Captain,
"Lee, I'm glad to see you're ready to go. There's a car waiting. Did Jamie tell you about the arrangements Jiggs has made for us?"
Jamison was the one to answer the Admiral and his tone was pointed. "No, Sir, I haven't had a chance. We've been having another conversation."
Nelson continued, still addressing the Captain, "He's arranged for the four of us, you, me, Chip, and Jamie to stay in the VIP cottage at the base with meals sent in and all the amenities. Jiggs figured you'd rather recuperate there than in the base hospital."
Lee smiled, "It would seem like a vacation at a resort if it weren't for the investigation into the charges against Admiral Mitchell."
The Admiral's smile faded and he looked serious. "I spoke to Jiggs about that. The JAG officer is coming in from San Diego and won't arrive for three days so we'll have some time to relax before the start of the investigation. The Admiral smiled again, "Now, are you ready to go?"
"Aye, Sir, as soon as I can convince Jamie here that the wheelchair is more trouble than it's worth. You know how hard it is to get a wheelchair through the boat with all those high sills. I'll be fine walking on my own, Jamie."
Jamison frowned, "Lee, you're too unsteady on your feet and I know you're suffering dizzy spells. You managed to fracture that thick skull of yours this time and I don't want you falling and doing any further damage."
Lee opened his mouth to continue the argument, but Nelson hastily intervened. "Jamie, what if he had a strong arm to lean on if he feels dizzy? I've got Kowalski waiting outside and he could escort the Captain to the car. It probably would be easier on him than getting jostled through the boat in the wheelchair."
Jamison relented, "Allright." He looked down at the Captain and said firmly, "But I expect you to go straight to the car. Absolutely no detours to check on anything. If I find out you busted these orders, I'll have you admitted to the base hospital. Is that understood?"
Lee looked meek as he answered Jamison. "Yes, Jamie. I'll be good."
Nelson opened the door to Sickbay and motioned for Kowalski to enter. "Ski, will you escort the Captain to the car, straight to the car, please?"
Kowalski looked at the Admiral and said, "Aye, Sir." Then he stepped over to the Skipper and said, "Are you ready, Skipper?"
The Captain said, "Absolutely, Ski. Let's get out of here before Jamie changes his mind." Then he graciously accepted Kowalski's help to get out of the wheelchair and head out of Sickbay.
After they had left, Jamison looked at the Admiral and said, "Actually, that was a good idea to get Kowalski to help him. For some reason, he'll accept help from Kowalski when he won't accept it from the rest of us."
Nelson grinned, "Maybe he still feels guilty about punching Kowalski when he first came aboard. Anyway, Doctor, are you ready to go? We do have a car waiting with a very impatient passenger, you know."
"I just have to grab my medical bag. I gave the rest of my gear to a crewman to put in the car. I'll be right along."
Nelson stood on the porch of the cottage and looked out over the ocean. The view was really spectacular and the weather during the three days they had been here had been wonderful. The sun and the warmth had been good for the Captain who had spent several afternoons napping in the lounge chair on the porch. Nelson had been worried about him. When they'd first arrived, the simple trip by car from Seaview to the cottage had exhausted him and he hadn't offered even the slightest objection when Jamie had tucked him right into bed. He was looking better, but Nelson wondered if he was strong enough to testify today. He'd wanted the JAG officer to come here and take Lee's deposition, but the man had insisted all testimony had to be given during formal interviews in the Administration Building on the base.
Jamison came out onto the porch drinking a cup of coffee. "Lee's almost ready. Bending over to tie his shoes made him a bit dizzy, but it passed quickly."
The Admiral looked at him and both his eyes and his voice reflected his concern. "Jamie, are you sure he's strong enough for this? He's spent most of the last few days doing little more than sleeping. Could this set him back?"
Jamison said honestly, "Like you, I wish this could have waited until he was more fully recovered, but I think he can handle it. If I didn't, I wouldn't allow it. As a doctor, I do have some clout and I don't hesitate to use it when it's in a patient's best interests. I'll stay with him and if it does get to be too much for him, I'll step in."
Nelson was reassured by Jamison's words. He knew that the doctor was never hesitant when it came to the welfare of his patients. He'd gone toe to toe with many a superior officer and had never backed down. Hell, Jamison and he had had a few go-rounds and Nelson had to admit that the doctor had always won. Lee was the only one who ever got the best of Jamison, and the Admiral wondered if that was a ploy on Jamison's part, that he was just letting Lee think he'd gotten away with something as a therapeutic measure. He chuckled to himself at the thought. Lee would be devastated to think Jamison was manipulating him instead of the other way around. Feeling less worried, he said to Jamison, "I'm glad we have you to rely on, Jamie. Okay, let's get going and get this over with."
The investigation had proceeded according to typical military procedure--hurry up and wait. The officers from the Seaview had been shown into a small waiting room in the Administration Building and told they would be called individually to testify. Nelson had asked if Crane could be called first so he could return to the cottage after his testimony, but he had been told that wasn't possible. Nelson was the first one they wanted to question so he left while the others waited.
Being long-time military men, they had expected a lengthy wait and had brought reading material with them to occupy their time. Chip had some Navy magazines while Jamison was catching up on the latest medical journals. Lee was the only one with truly recreational reading. Knowing that he had loved sea stories since his childhood, the Admiral had gone to the bookstore on the base and picked up the most recent Patrick O'Brian novel for the Captain. The silence in the room was suddenly broken by the thud of Lee's book hitting the floor. Chip and Jamison were startled by the sound and quickly looked in Lee's direction. The Captain was sitting in an armchair and was gazing down at the book on the floor with a dazed expression on his face. Jamison immediately noticed that the Captain's face was flushed and was on his feet and at the Captain's side in an instant. He used one hand to pick up the Captain's wrist to take his pulse and the other he laid gently on the Captain's forehead where he could feel the heat emanating from the Captain's body. "Skipper," he said gently, "you feel very warm. Why didn't you tell me you weren't feeling well?"
Lee looked up at him, but his expression was still vague. "I thought it was just hot in here. Thought that was why I couldn't...concentrate...." His voice trailed away.
Jamison looked up at Chip who had come over to stand on Lee's other side. "He's got a fever. Probably the burn on his hand has become infected. We've got to get him to the hospital. Let's make him comfortable on the couch over there and then I'll go tell the Admiral and call for an ambulance."
Chip helped Jamison remove Lee's jacket before they got him to his feet and led him over to the couch. They laid him down gently and then Jamison removed the Captain's tie and opened his collar. Covering him with the jacket, he spoke softly to the Captain, "Lee, I'm going to go talk to the Admiral and then we'll get you to the hospital. Chip is going to stay here with you until I get back. Just lie still and rest." The Captain made no response, seeming to have drifted off into a fevered sleep.
Jamison straightened up and said to Chip. "I'll be back as soon as I've made the arrangements at the hospital. It shouldn't take more than a few minutes." The Doctor hurried out of the room leaving Chip alone with the Captain. Chip went into the adjoining bathroom and came back with a wet paper towel. He gently laid the towel on Lee's forehead hoping to make his friend more comfortable. He pulled a chair over next to the couch and sat down to await the Doctor's return.
Jamison hurried down to the corridor looking for the room in which the interviews were taking place. Because the Navy hadn't wanted word of this investigation to become common knowledge just yet, the building was nearly deserted. Spying a guard outside one of the rooms, he quickened his pace and approached the guard. Jamison quickly explained who he was and how urgent it was that he speak to Admiral Nelson. The guard was reluctant to interrupt the proceeding at first, but Jamison used his "clout" to convince him and he was soon ushered into the hearing room.
Seeing Jamison enter the room, Admiral Nelson knew immediately that something was seriously wrong. Jamison apologized for the interruption and then turned to Nelson.
"The Captain has developed a high fever and needs to be taken to the base hospital at once."
Admiral Mitchell protested, "This is just a tactic to make me look bad. I'm sure Captain Crane is not as ill as the Doctor claims. He can go to the hospital after he testifies."
Captain Kravic, the JAG officer, turned to him in annoyance. "I will not question Doctor Jamison's judgment. If he says Captain Crane is ill and needs to be admitted to the hospital, then that's what will be done." He turned to the guard, "Escort Admiral Mitchell back to his cell." Then he turned to Mitchell's attorney. "Do you want to challenge the Doctor?"
The attorney answered hastily, "No, I accept his assessment of the Captain's condition. I apologize for my client. Will we be recessing for the day?"
The JAG officer considered this briefly and then said, "Yes, I think the Admiral would like to accompany his Captain to the hospital. We can resume tomorrow."
"Then I'll go back to my office to prepare." The attorney got up and left the room.
Captain Kravic rose and spoke to Nelson and Jamison. "There's a phone in my office. You can use that to call the hospital." He led the way as Nelson and Jamison followed him into his office.
Admiral Mitchell walked down the hall with the guard. He knew that the investigation was not going well for him and would probably result in a recommendation that he be court-martialed for treason. He decided he only had one chance--to break away and contact the Chinese government. He was sure they would grant him asylum in their country. He had plenty of information on the United States' naval capabilities that he was sure they would be anxious to have. Thinking furiously, he decided that his best opportunity was to try to get away now while they were all distracted by Crane's condition. Crane! That was it! He could use Crane to get out of this. It was only fair, after all, since Crane's actions had gotten him into it. He looked sideways at the guard and saw that he was walking with a relaxed step. He didn't expect the prisoner to give him any trouble. The trusting fool hadn't even bothered to put handcuffs on him. Mitchell quickly whirled and hit the guard in the stomach and then when he doubled over, he gave him a sharp blow to the back of the neck that knocked him unconscious. Mitchell quickly bent over and took his gun and then ran down the corridor.
Chip got up when he heard the knock at the door. He figured it was Jamie returning with the Admiral, but he wondered why they would knock. Of course, he reasoned, it could be the JAG officer coming to confirm that the Captain was really ill. Looking down at Lee, he knew there could be no question that the Captain needed to go to the hospital. As he answered the door, Mitchell jerked the door, hitting Chip and stunning him. Chip fell to the floor. Mitchell quickly bent over, dragged Chip's limp body outside the door, then went back inside, locking the door from the inside. The Captain, roused by the commotion, tried to sit up and see what had happened, but he was too weak and flopped back down.
Mitchell looked down at him contemptuously, "You thought you'd defeated me, didn't you Crane? I'm far from finished. You're going to be my ticket out of here. We're going on a little trip, Crane, all the way to China and I think my friends there will be very anxious to talk to you. Of course, I don't think you'll like their method of conversation very much, but," his face and voice grew very ugly," it's exactly what you deserve for betraying me."
Lee knew he was too ill to have any chance of overpowering Mitchell, his only chance was to convince him that his escape plan would fail and he should give up. "You'll never get to China." he said. "You'll never even make it out of the building."
Sitting down in the chair Chip had been using, Mitchell dismissed his remarks, "Crane, when Nelson learns that I have you as my hostage, I'm sure he'll be very cooperative. He won't want to risk your life. I'll promise to release you in exchange for a plane capable of getting to China. Of course, I have no intention of keeping my end of the bargain, but he won't know that until it's too late. Now, you just be quiet while we wait for the Admiral to get here." He waved the gun menacingly at Lee who decided he couldn't think clearly enough to argue with someone as far over the edge as Mitchell was. He lay back and pretended to close his eyes, but he kept them open just enough to watch Mitchell's every move.
While Jamison was on the phone calling for an ambulance and arranging to have the Captain admitted to the base hospital, Nelson made a quick trip upstairs to Stark's office to let him know about Lee's condition. Stark was dismayed at the news and returned with the Admiral. By the time they rejoined the others, Jamison had made all the arrangements and the two Admirals, the JAG officer, and Jamison quickly set out for the room where Chip and Lee were waiting. They hadn't taken more than a few steps when they saw Chip in the hall struggling to get up from the floor. They all broke into a run, but Nelson was the first to reach Chip and he steadied the young man against the wall. "Chip, what happened?" he asked urgently.
Chip answered weakly, "It was Mitchell. He's in there with Lee. He..he hit me with the door."
Jamison was at his side and he said, "Easy, Chip. Let's get you off your feet." He looked around for some place to take the Exec. Stark quickly opened the door to a small office and said, "Bring him in here." Jamison supported Chip as he led him into the room and then he sat him in the desk chair. He gave him a quick examination and then turned to Nelson and Stark who had followed him into the room.
"He's just got a bump on the head. No sign of concussion. He'll have a headache, but that's all. Lee's the real concern. His fever was dangerously high when I left him. We've got to get him to the hospital."
Nelson looked grim, "Then we'll have to talk to Mitchell, find out what he wants. Maybe we can convince him to take me as a hostage instead of Lee. I'm the one he had the grudge against in the first place."
Stark was unconvinced, "If he thinks he can get away with this, he's too far gone to reason with. He won't listen to you, Harry."
Captain Kravic entered the room. "I found the guard he overpowered. I've got another guard looking after him. I've also sent someone to stop the ambulance personnel and have them wait outside. Mitchell took the guard's gun so he's armed which makes him a greater threat. I think Admiral Stark is right, there'll be no reasoning with Mitchell, but we do have to get him talking. If we can stall for time, maybe we can come up with a plan to rescue Captain Crane." He turned to Admiral Nelson, "I think you should be the one to talk to him. Are you willing?"
Nelson growled his answer, "To save my Captain, of course I'm willing!"
Nelson left the office and walked over and knocked on the door to the waiting room. Stark and Kravic stood nearby to listen to the conversation. "Mitchell, it's Nelson. I know you're in there with Captain Crane. Is he allright?"
Everyone held their breath as they waited for Mitchell to reply. "He doesn't look too good right now, but I haven't hurt him if that's what you mean."
"Look, Mitchell, Captain Crane is very ill. He'd be too much trouble as a hostage. How about if you take me instead of Crane?"
The next voice they heard was Crane's and it sounded very weak. "No, Admiral. Don't make deals with him."
Mitchell's voice interrupted Crane. "Shut up, Captain. I'm in charge here. Admiral, Crane is a very good hostage--I don't have to worry about him trying to escape--he's much too weak to cause any trouble. I think I'll keep him for now. But if you want him released, then get me a plane with enough fuel to take me to China. I have friends there and I think it's a good time to visit them."
Nelson answered him using a doubtful tone, "I don't know if I can arrange that. It might take some time."
Mitchell's reply was brief and unsympathetic, "Call Stark if you have to. I wouldn't take too long if I were you. Like I said, your Captain doesn't look too good. Oh, and I want to see all the guards sent outside and locked in the motor pool."
Nelson replied hastily, "I'll get right on it."
Nelson, Stark, and Kravic returned to the office where Jamison and Chip were waiting. Stark was already on the phone ordering the guards to leave the building. He gave Captain Kravic the key to the fence around the motor pool and he went out and locked the gate after all the guards were inside. Nelson was the first to speak. "I don't believe that he'll release Lee when he gets the plane so we have to take him here, but only out in the hall. Otherwise, there's too great a risk to Lee. The only way we can get him to come out of that room with Lee is if we can bring a plane where he can see it." He turned to Stark, "Jiggs, can you arrange that?"
"Of course, but let's figure out the rest of the plan before I make the call."
Nelson began thinking out loud. "He'll use Lee as a shield when he comes out the door and we know he has a gun. Somehow, we have to surprise him so we can grab him before he can hurt Lee. Normally, we could count on Lee's quick reactions, but with Lee so ill..." He let his voice trail away as he continued thinking.
Admiral Stark crossed over to the door and looked down the hall. He turned back to the others and said, "I think I have an idea. There's a men's room just down the hall from the waiting room. I could hide in there and while you distract Mitchell, I could come out and grab him."
Nelson answered slowly, "That could work." Then he said more decisively, "I think that's our only chance. Anyone else have any other ideas?"
Chip stood up and faced Stark. "Admiral Stark, I think I should be the one to jump Mitchell. It's my fault he got to Lee. I should have been more careful when I opened the door."
Stark's voice was surprisingly gentle as he answered the young man. "Son, it wasn't your fault. You're on a U.S. naval base. You had no reason to expect anyone hostile. No, it has to be me. Mitchell will insist on the rest of you, including Captain Kravic, being in plain view when he comes out. He doesn't know I'm here--remember he said to call me about the plane. Besides, if anyone owes Captain Crane anything, it's me. I'm the one who sent him to Mitchell. Now, if we're ready, I'll call about the plane."
Mitchell heard the plane taxi to the airfield just beyond the building. He went to the window and looked out with satisfaction and then turned back to Crane. "Hear that, Crane? I knew Admiral Nelson would give in to my demands. We're getting out of here."
He roughly hauled Crane to his feet and practically dragged him to the door. Still leaving the door closed and locked, he called out, "Nelson, I see the plane has arrived. I'm coming out now with Crane. I want you, your Exec, the Doctor, and Captain Kravic by the main door where I can see you. I'll have Crane in front of me with a gun to his back. If anyone tries to stop me, I'll kill Crane. Once I'm safely on the plane, I'll release him. You have two minutes to get into position. If you're not there when I come out, I'll shoot Crane. Do you understand?"
Nelson's voice was terse. "We understand, Mitchell. We'll do just what you say."
Stark had the men's room door just the very slightest bit ajar. He could barely see through the opening, but he couldn't risk Mitchell discovering his presence. He heard the door to the waiting room open and then he heard footsteps in the hall. They must be coming! He heard the footsteps draw closer and then he heard Nelson's voice.
"Mitchell, this isn't going to work. We've been in contact with the Chinese government. They don't want you. They won't grant you asylum. You'll be better off here than with them. Give up now, while you have the chance."
While Nelson was speaking, Crane and Mitchell came even with the men's room door. Stark saw Crane looking his way and he tried to make eye contact with him so he'd know something was up. The Captain's eyes met his but they were so glassy and unfocused, Stark had no idea if he was aware of anything around him. Stark saw Mitchell turn toward Nelson's voice and he burst through the door. Just as Stark made his move, Lee went limp and dropped to the floor. Mitchell lost his grip on the Captain and then was tackled by Stark. Nelson and Chip rushed forward and disarmed Mitchell. Captain Kravic quickly ran out to free the guards. When he returned with the guards, he ordered Mitchell handcuffed and locked up. He also ordered other guards to get the ambulance crew on the double. Jamison was already kneeling by the Captain. Lee hadn't moved since he dropped to the floor and was lying on his side with his eyes closed. Jamison eased Lee onto his back and quickly checked his pulse and respiration. Admiral Nelson took off his jacket, folded it up, and gently placed it under the Captain's head. As Lee opened his eyes and tried to get up, Jamie and Admiral Nelson used gentle pressure on his shoulders to restrain him. "Easy, Skipper, you fainted and you need to lie still. We've got a stretcher on the way."
Lee protested weakly, "Didn't faint....saw Admiral Stark....created a...diversion...worked pretty good.....could use the Admiral...on ONI missions." His voice trailed away and his eyes closed.
Admiral Nelson looked in alarm at Jamison who quickly reassured him, "He's weak from the fever. He should do better once we start treatment at the hospital." As he finished speaking, the paramedics came in with a stretcher. Lee was placed on the stretcher and then carried to the waiting ambulance. Jamison rode with him while Nelson and Morton gathered up their things and then followed by car.
Lee was taken into the hospital through the Emergency Room, but was soon moved upstairs to a private room. Nelson and Morton were directed to a nearby waiting room. They had been there nearly two hours when Admiral Stark and Captain Kravic arrived. Stark took one look at Nelson's face and asked quietly, "No word on Crane yet I suppose?"
Nelson shook his head. "Jamie said he'd tell us as soon as there was any change. But, so far, nothing." He got up and began pacing, rubbing the back of his neck as he walked.
Captain Kravic cleared his throat. "I don't suppose this matters right now, but you should know that there will be no further need for any of you to testify. Admiral Mitchell has confessed to everything and waived all his rights to a trial. I'll be taking him back to Washington tomorrow. I hope to hear some good news about Captain Crane before I leave. I'm sorry I never got to meet him. Please give him my best."
Admiral Nelson went over and extended his hand to Kravic. "Thank you, Captain. I'll be sure to get word to you about Captain Crane." They shook hands and Captain Kravic left.
Admiral Stark sat down with Nelson and Morton to wait for Jamison. Another hour passed before Jamison finally came out of Lee's room. The three men practically pounced on him. He stepped back in self-defense, raising his arms to hold them off. "Gentlemen, it's good news. Sit down and I'll tell you everything." He waited for them to get settled and then explained, "We've identified the bacteria causing the infection in his hand and we've started the proper antibiotic. He's begun to respond to the medication and his fever is coming down. He's sleeping comfortably now and I don't expect him to wake up before morning. So I want all of you to get some dinner and then go home. You can come back first thing in the morning to see him."
Nelson and Morton both started to protest, but Stark interrupted them. "The Doctor is right. You won't do Crane any good by wearing yourselves out. Jamison can call you if anything unexpected comes up, but I'm sure he won't need to. I'm going to take both of you out to dinner and then back to the cottage. I've been an Admiral longer than you have, Harriman, so I outrank you and you have to listen to me. Now, let's go."
Nelson opened his mouth to argue, but then thought better of it. "Allright, Jiggs, you win. We'll go. But, Jamie, if anything changes or Lee needs anything, you're to call us immediately."
"Understood, Admiral. Now go and I'll see you in the morning."
Jamison had been dozing in the chair when the nurse shook his arm gently. "Doctor, why don't you go stretch out in the doctor's lounge? Captain Crane is doing much better. His temperature is back to normal and his vital signs are all strong. I promise to watch him closely and call you at the slightest change."
Jamison got up and went over to Lee's bedside. He could see that she was right, but he didn't want to get too far from his patient just yet. He could use some coffee, however, so he asked her to stay with the Captain while he took a break. Walking out of Lee's room, he was surprised to see Admiral Stark in the waiting room, asleep in one of the chairs. He crossed over to the Admiral and leaned over to shake him. It took Stark a minute to realize where he was and he looked embarrassed at being caught sleeping. Jamison asked, "Admiral Stark, what are you doing here? I thought you took Admiral Nelson and Mr. Morton out to dinner and then back to the cottage. Are they here, too?"
To cover his embarrassment Stark rose to answer the Doctor. "No, I dropped them off like I said I would, but then I came back here." His expression became slightly defiant. "I felt I owed it to Crane since I was the one who got him involved with Mitchell. There's a few things I need to say to him so I wanted to be here when he wakes up."
"I see," said Jamison. "Well, I expect him to sleep for a little while longer." He noticed the first rays of sunlight coming in the window behind Stark. "I have an idea. It's been a long night for me and I could use some breakfast. Why don't you come to the cafeteria and join me for breakfast? By the time we're done, Lee will probably be awake and you can talk to him then."
Relieved that the Doctor seemed to accept his need to talk to the Captain, Stark readily agreed and the pair took the elevator to the cafeteria. Riding in the elevator, Jamison considered how his opinion of the Admiral had changed over the years. The first time Stark had been on Seaview, Jamison had pegged him as pompous and arrogant and wondered how Admiral Nelson could ever consider him a friend. Like the rest of the crew of the Seaview, he had resented Stark's treatment of the Captain. Then, Admiral Nelson had suffered an adverse drug reaction that affected his judgment and the Captain had risked a charge of mutiny to save Seaview. Jamison had been surprised when Stark reversed himself and changed his attitude toward the Captain. And, now, here he was worrying over the Captain just like Nelson. As if Nelson weren't bad enough, thought Jamison, now I'm going to have two of them to placate. No, three, actually, including Chip. Jamison sighed to himself, I'd better have a big breakfast!
Crane was lying in bed, propped up slightly on pillows when Stark entered his room. He smiled when he saw his visitor and said, "Admiral Stark, I'm glad you're here. I want to thank you for saving me from Mitchell."
Admiral Stark sat on a chair near the bed before answering, "You don't have to thank me, Captain, any more than I have to thank you for saving Nelson and the Seaview. I saved a good man from harm at the hands of an evil man, same as you did. Neither one of us could have done anything else, could we?"
Lee answered softly, "No, Sir."
Admiral Stark continued, "There is something that I do have to thank you for and that's your trust in me. You went into danger on just my say-so. Captain, I've learned something from you. I've had men follow my orders because they were afraid of me due to my rank, not because they trusted me. Your men follow you because they trust you. It's a heavy responsibility, living up to that kind of trust, but I guess you already know that. I hope I can carry that responsibility as well as you do."
Crane had never expected to hear such a speech from Stark and he was at a loss for words. "Admiral, I..."
The Admiral wouldn't let him continue. "No need to say anything, Captain. I just needed to say that to you. Now, I'm sure that Nelson and Morton are here by now so I'm going to go. I'll see you before you sail, Captain."
Crane found his voice and said, "Admiral, thanks for coming by. It meant a lot to me."
Admiral Stark nodded and left. When he walked out into the hall, he saw that Nelson and Morton were there. They were talking to Jamison and he wondered if Jamison had told them he'd spent the night here.
"Jiggs," Nelson greeted him. "I didn't expect to see you here so early. Jamie was just telling us that Lee will probably be released tomorrow."
"That is good news," replied Stark. "He seemed much better just now. I, ah, had a few things to say to him and we had a good talk."
Admiral Nelson's smile faded slightly as he realized that he, too, needed to talk to the Captain. He hadn't had a chance to confess his feelings of doubt and betrayal to Lee, either there'd been others around or Lee had been asleep. He dreaded facing his Captain, but knew he couldn't put it off any longer. Stark and Morton both noticed the change in the Admiral's demeanor. Chip broke the awkward silence.
"Admiral, I need to check some things aboard Seaview. I want to make sure the maintenance crews know exactly what they are to do."
Stark was next to speak. "I have my car here, Morton. I could drop you off, if you'd like."
"Thank you, Admiral Stark. I'd appreciate it."
"Harry," Stark said, "I'll talk to you later."
The Admiral nodded absently, his eyes going over to the door on Lee's room. Jamison walked away with the others, leaving the Admiral alone in the hall. He squared his shoulders and walked over to the door. Opening the door quietly, he saw Lee lying on the bed, his head turned away from the door in the direction of the window. Nelson hesitated, thinking Lee might have gone back to sleep. It's just as well, he thought, I really don't know what I'd say to him. He turned to leave but then a soft voice called out to him.
"Admiral, please come in."
The Admiral walked over and sat down in the chair next to the bed. "I thought you were asleep and I didn't want to disturb you."
Lee smiled, "I think I'm finally slept out, but don't tell Jamie. I think he wants to keep me sleepy so I can't argue with him."
The Admiral smiled in response, but the Captain could see it was a nervous smile that quickly faded.
"Admiral, Lee began, "we haven't had a chance to talk about..." He hesitated and the Admiral spoke before he could continue.
"No, we haven't had a chance to talk and we need to. Lee, when I saw you aboard the Manta..."
"You thought I betrayed you." Lee said quietly. "Admiral, I'm sorry I caused you so much pain. I didn't want to, but I didn't know how else to protect you. I wanted to come to you, explain what I was doing and why I was doing it, but.."
"You knew I'd stop you."
Lee nodded miserably. "And you and Seaview might have both have been destroyed. I couldn't let that happen. I know I betrayed your trust by not telling you. I'll understand if you don't feel you can trust me anymore and want to replace me as Seaview's Captain."
"Lee," the Admiral's voice was incredulous, "You never betrayed my trust. I was the one who betrayed you when I doubted your loyalty. I don't know how I could ever have done that. I wish there were some way I could make it up to you, but nothing I could ever do would be enough."
Lee started to reply, but the Admiral stopped him and continued, "I'm very grateful to you, Lee, both for what you did to protect me and Seaview and also for being a good and loyal friend. Seaview deserves the very best and like I told Stark a long time ago, you are the best."
Lee was very quiet when he finished and the Admiral decided it was time to lighten the tone of the conversation. "Jamie said he'll probably let you out of here tomorrow. That will give you a few more days to relax and enjoy staying at the cottage. Chip says the maintenance work on Seaview will take until the end of the week."
"Maintenance work!" Lee scowled, "No one told me anything about maintenance work! I need to see the ship's status reports."
"Lee," the Admiral laughed, "You do not need to see those reports and no one is going to bring them to you. Chip can take care of the maintenance. If you feel you need something to read, then you can read your book." The Admiral handed Lee the Patrick O'Brian novel he had been reading the day before. Lee accepted the book, but he still grumbled a bit and insisted that the Admiral have Chip come by and at least give him an oral report on the maintenance. The Admiral agreed and then took leave of his Captain. Jamison, who saw him leave from his position at the nurse's station, was pleased to see the smile on his face and the spring in his step. It looked like everything would soon be back to normal on Seaview.
Chief Sharkey approached Mr. Morton at the chart table in Seaview's Control Room.
"Mr. Morton, all the crew is aboard except the Admiral and the Skipper."
The Exec straightened up and faced the Chief. "Very good, Chief. The Admiral and the Skipper should be arriving any minute. Admiral Stark arranged for a car to bring them here."
The Chief debated about asking a question of the Exec, but Morton seemed to be in a pretty good mood so he decided to risk it. "Mr. Morton, I hear that Admiral Stark was the one who saved the Skipper when Admiral Mitchell took him hostage. Is that true?"
Morton smiled, "Yes, Chief, it is. He jumped out a door, tackled Mitchell, and held him down until the Admiral and I could disarm him."
The Chief grinned at the picture in his mind, "Boy, I would have liked to have seen that. I never pictured Admiral Stark as an action hero." Instantly, he regretted his words. Mr. Morton was very proper and didn't appreciate such comments about superior officers. He was sure he had earned himself a reprimand, but Mr. Morton was still smiling.
"Describing him as an action hero is pretty accurate. The Skipper said he could use him on ONI missions." The Exec noted the Chief's relief with amusement. "Chief, I'd like you to go topside and watch for the Admiral and the Skipper. We'll sail as soon as they're aboard."
"Aye, Sir." The Chief hurried to carry out the order, grateful to escape before he really said the wrong thing.
As soon as he got outside, the Chief saw Admiral Stark's car pull up. Admiral Stark was the first one to get out and Sharkey watched him turn and lend a hand to the Captain. The Skipper still looked a bit too thin to Sharkey, but even if Doc wouldn't let him stand watches, Seaview and the crew would be happy just to have him aboard. He continued to watch as the officers shook hands and then Admiral Nelson clapped the Captain on the shoulder as they turned and walked towards Seaview. Sharkey could feel his grin widening as they approached. The Captain greeted Sharkey warmly as he boarded Seaview and when the Chief followed the Captain into the Control Room, he saw every crew member on duty there was wearing the same ear-to-ear grin. Even Mr. Morton was smiling as he gave the order to sail. Seaview glided majestically into the water, her Captain and her crew whole once again and ready for new challenges.