*This is a crossover with Secret Agent otherwise known as Danger Man in the USA, but only with the character John Drake. It takes place immediately after the episode Blow Up. Huge thanks to Kate for beta-ing my work.
By Sea Spinner
Seaview slid silently into the dock at Nelson Institute of Marine Research. It was late at night, with a ghostly fog riding ahead of the amazing submarine. On top of the sail, Captain Lee Crane stood alone, as silent as his boat. He rubbed a weary hand over his eyes, for once he was relieved to be back home. This voyage had been particularly difficult on the whole crew, but especially his XO, Chip Morton.
It was only a matter of minutes before the rest of the docking crew came aloft so Lee pushed himself upright from where he’d been leaning on the side of the bridge. He heard footsteps on the ladder leading to the top of the conning tower and sighed. Time to put his best Skipper’s face on again, time to try to mend the rift between Nelson and the rest of the crew – and between himself and Chip.
“Skipper, I wondered where you were,” said Sharkey quietly. “Message from Mister Morton, Sir. He wondered if you needed him up here?”
“No, that’s alright, Chief, I can take it from here.”
Sharkey hesitated. “Uh, Skipper, are you alright?”
Lee took a deep breath. “I’m fine thanks, Chief. How’s the crew holding out?”
“They’re ready for shore leave. If there’s anything I can do…”
Lee chose to ignore Sharkey’s question. “Where’s the Admiral?”
“He’s in his cabin again, I haven’t seen him for a while.” Sharkey took a quick look below. “Permissions to speak freely, Sir?”
“Maybe it’d help if you went to see him, Skipper. He’s still feeling pretty bad.”
“Thanks, Chief, I’ll take that under advisement.”
Lee watched as Sharkey headed back down below. He briefly rested his head on his hands and thought back to the events of the past few days. After the Admiral had used the experimental breathing apparatus, there had been something not right about him. He uttered a silent curse. He should have seen it and done something about it. By the time he had finally begun to believe something was seriously wrong, the crew had almost mutinied – and Chip, he was riddled with guilt over how Nelson had treated his friend and XO. It was only later that Lee had discovered that the Admiral told Chip he would break him, and publicly humbled him. The escalation had been his fault and his alone for not recognizing it for what it was. He shrugged the memories away as the bitterness rose from deep within.
He grabbed for the microphone. “Crane to control room. Make preparations to come alongside.”
“Aye, Sir, preparing to come alongside.”
Once again Lee could sense the simmering anger in Chip’s stiff reply. He couldn’t blame him for feeling the way he did. How could he not have believed his XO – what is this, an indignation meeting? The words he’d uttered came back to haunt him, he’d almost behaved as badly as the Admiral, but without excuse. He cringed at the memory.
“Morton to Captain Crane.”
“Crane here. What is it, Chip?”
“Urgent coded message from COMSUBPAC for you…Sir.”
“Very well, have someone relieve me on the bridge and I’ll take it in my cabin.”
Lee swung down the ladder as soon as he’d been relieved, picked up his message and headed towards his cabin, pausing only to open the door. He took out his code book and began to translate it.
Make all haste to below co-ordinates to take on passenger. Provide all assistance to aforementioned passenger. Further orders will be provided on pick-up. Orders are For Your Eyes Only.
coordinates were somewhere near
“Crane to control room.”
“Chip, belay docking orders. Prepare for immediate departure to the following coordinates.”
“That’s right. We have orders from COMSUBPAC to pick up a passenger.”
Lee gave him the coordinates, unable to keep the irritation out of his voice. A few minutes later, he heard a knock on the door.
“I take it you just received confirmation from COMSUBPAC of our new coordinates??”
“Yes, Admiral. Who’s the passenger?”
“I have no idea, I thought perhaps Admiral Johnson would have told you in his signal.”
Lee shook his head. “Just the coordinates.”
Nelson stood in front of Lee. “This has come at a bad time.”
“Yes, the crew needs some shore leave.”
It wasn’t hard for Lee to see that Nelson was still suffering from the voyage.
“Why don’t you go ashore, Admiral, we could launch a dingy. I’m sure we could handle things on this end.”
Flames burned in Nelson’s eyes when he responded. “To what end, Captain?”
“It’s just…I know you’ve spent a lot of time locked away in your lab. The men have begun to notice your absence around the boat,” Lee replied awkwardly.
Nelson flicked at the piece of paper he held in his hands, his eyes lowered towards it. “I appreciate your concern, Captain, but…and I’m making an assumption here, when we rendezvous with the passenger, I take it there’ll be some involvement on your part in an ONI mission.”
“I won’t know until that time.”
The Admiral snorted. “Oh, come on, Lee. You know as well as I do that anytime Johnson’s involved, you’re put at risk.”
“Perhaps you need to take some time to rest, Admiral.”
“Rubbish, I’m fine.” Nelson waved his hand around and dropped the sheet back on Lee’s desk. “I feel for the crew, what I did…what happened was unforgiveable, but I wouldn’t feel happy being ashore while you’re off gallivanting around some hostile country.”
“As you wish, Sir,” Lee said formally.
“Let me know when we arrive at the coordinates.”
Lee watched Nelson leave, he felt uneasy about Seaview sailing under the circumstances, but there was nothing he could do about it. Orders were orders and Admiral Johnson wasn’t to be taken lightly. He was congenial enough, but Lee had seen him lose his temper once, and that had been enough. Fortunately he hadn’t been the one to bear the brunt of it on that occasion.
He was about to get up from his desk when there was another knock at the door. “Enter.”
“Captain, what’s so urgent that we’ve got to leave immediately?”
“We’re picking up a passenger. I’m sorry, Chip, I haven’t got any further information yet.” He rubbed a hand through his hair. “Even if I had it, I wouldn’t be able to disclose it to you.”
Chip stood where he was. It looked to Lee as if he was debating to say whatever it was that was on his mind.
“Well, if you’ve got something to say, say it!”
Chip’s face darkened. “The crew’s strung tight. Hell, I’m strung tight. This last voyage was more than enough to warrant an extended shore leave, now we’re going off on some top secret mission and you can’t even tell us anything about it.”
“I appreciate what you’re saying. The orders came directly from COMSUBPAC. There’s nothing I can do about it.”
“Fine, but you’d better do something about the men, because they’re at breaking point.”
“Don’t you think I know that,” he snapped, wanting to tell Chip how desperately he needed shore leave as well. Lee took a deep breath, drawing the shreds of his self-control together. “Leave the crew to me. I’ll be in the control room to make a boat-wide announcement in a few minutes.”
“Aye, Sir,” Chip said with an unusual surliness to his reply.
Lee slammed his hand onto the desk after Chip left. His XO had brought up a valid point, now he just had to figure out what to say that would satisfy the crew. He decided to do a brief walkthrough of the boat to clear his head before making that announcement. Passing the crews quarters proved to be more of a challenge as he was abruptly knocked from his feet and slammed to the deck.
“Oh, no, it’s the Skipper.”
He felt edges of grey filling his vision until a weight was lifted from his chest.
“What’s going on here?” came Sharkey’s voice.
“It’s the Skipper, Chief. We had, uh, a bit of an accident,” admitted Riley.
Lee managed to roll onto his side without passing out, sucked in two deep breaths and hauled himself to his feet.
“Skipper, what happened?”
“I’m not entirely sure, Chief. I was walking by when someone hit my legs from under me.”
Riley and Maxwell gave each other guilty looks and hung their heads, still standing to attention.
Sharkey glowered at them. “You two, with me right now. Are you okay, Skipper, you don’t look so good.”
Lee waved him away. He wasn’t going to tell anyone he felt like he’d been hit a few times with a giant meat tenderizer. Jamie wasn’t going to get his hands on him during this mission.
“I’ll be fine, I have to go to the control room. I want a full report of what happened by 2400 hours.”
He watched as Sharkey led the two offending seamen back into the quarters and closed the door ever so softly before beginning to bellow. It was going to be a very long voyage.
Lee made his way to the control room, the last four days had been difficult for everyone. Tempers were frayed and he’d even seen Sharkey yell at Kowalski over something trivial which Lee had ended up smoothing over.
“Mister Morton, what’s our current position?”
“We’re five miles out from our rendezvous point.”
Lee nodded. “Kowalski, are there any contacts?”
“Not yet, Captain.”
Chip watched as Lee picked up the microphone. He looked tense and annoyed, but Chip put it down to the last few days aboard. To be honest, right now, he didn’t really care, all he wanted was off this boat for a while. Where had Lee been when he’d been in the Admiral’s line of fire? Too busy molly coddling the Admiral to notice how bad things had gotten. It was the first time he’d really been disappointed by his friend, no, his commanding officer.
“This is the Captain speaking. As you are aware, we have been directed by COMSUBPAC to assist them in a mission. In a few hours we will be picking up a passenger. Once this operation is over, we will dock at the nearest port for some well earned shore leave. I expect all of you to carry out your duties with the same professionalism I have witnessed on every mission since joining Seaview. Crane out.” He jammed the microphone back into its cradle. “Prepare to surface.”
“Is that wise? It’s Sea State 5 up above.”
“Are you questioning my orders, Mister Morton?”
“I…no, Sir. Prepare to surface. Surface,” he replied stiffly.
Before long Seaview was sitting on the surface, swells tossed and pitched the submarine about like a cork.
“Crack the hatch, Chief.”
Lee pulled on a jacket and ascended the ladder. The weather outside had made surfacing an unpleasant job, and with a ten foot swell the submarine rolled mercilessly in a corkscrew action. He hooked himself onto the tower as a precaution and scanned the peaks of the waves with his binoculars. Twenty minutes later he hadn’t seen a thing and the waves were beginning to gain momentum. Just as he was about to order a search pattern, he saw what he was looking for.
“Mister Morton, all ahead slow. Have a deck detail kitted out in heavy weather gear and prepare to bring our guest aboard.”
The massive submarine closed in on the rubber all-weather raft until they were mere yards away.
“All stop. Prepare to take on our passenger through the sail hatch.”
“All stop,” echoed Chip’s voice. “Deck party to the sail hatch.”
Lee watched as the deck party struggled to snag the life raft and bring it to the side of the boat. After several aborted attempts Kowalski finally made the lucky jag and pulled at the raft. As soon as it bumped against the side, the flap was thrown open and the raft’s occupant was dragged aboard. He removed his hat and goggles and stared upwards at the sail. Lee sucked in his breath, the last thing he needed right now was this man on his boat. As quickly as they’d exchanged hostile glances, the deck party had taken him inside and secured the hatch. Lee did the same from the bridge.
“Mister Morton, prepare to dive.”
“Be glad to. Half the men are starting to look green.”
“I’ll be in the observation nose, please see that our guest is escorted there, and close the crash doors.”
Lee poured himself a black coffee and waited for the man whose cold blue eyes he’d come to see in nightmares.
“Permission to come aboard, Captain.”
“Granted.” Lee turned to stare into those eyes once again. They still harbored a cold hostility that hadn’t dimmed over the years, nor had the arrogance that always seemed to surround him.
“Mister John Drake.”
“Chip, please close the crash doors while Mister Drake and I speak.”
“Aye, Captain.” Chip sensed a whole new level of tension building in the room.
It was obvious straight away that the two knew each other. But it sure as hell wasn’t as friends or acquaintances, and despite his resentment he aimed to find out from Lee, if he had to drag it out of him. He took one last glance and closed the crash doors behind him.
“Take a seat. Coffee?”
Drake gave him a contemptuous look, then nodded. He pulled an envelope out of his jacket and handed it to Lee.
“Here are your orders, Captain.”
Lee stared at the envelope for a moment then reluctantly took it.
“It won’t bite.”
“After the last mission with you, I’m not in a hurry to go on another.”
“Oh, come now, Captain, if you hadn’t grown a conscience the whole thing would have gone without a hitch.”
“The woman and her children were innocent bystanders,” he snapped a little more loudly than he’d meant.
Drake gave him a frosty smile. “Believe what you will, nobody is completely innocent.” He took a sip of the coffee, dismissing Lee’s anger. “Now, shall we get on with the business of our mission?”
Grabbing a letter opener, Lee sliced the envelope open and read the body of the orders. The more he read the more his face tightened in a frown. Drake perched casually on the edge of the desk and lit a cigarette apparently amused by Lee’s irritation.
“They’re not serious.”
Drake shrugged, but his eyes never left Lee. “You have your orders, now carry them out.”
“I believe you’re under a misapprehension. I won’t allow either this submarine or its crew to be endangered on a loosely planned mission like this.” He shook the paper at Drake. “Who knows what sort of security has been set up on the island, or even the facility itself?”
“You’ll do as you’ve been ordered or I’ll have you arrested for treason,” he said, his clipped English voice leaving no doubt that he would gladly carry out the threat.
“I’m sorry, but did you just threaten my Captain?”
Lee looked up as Admiral Nelson stood on the last step of the spiral staircase.
“Ah, Admiral Nelson, I wondered when you might make an appearance.”
“Admiral Nelson, this is Mister Drake.”
Nelson didn’t offer his hand and neither did Drake. “While you’re on Seaview, any threats made towards its officers or crew will be dealt with by me, and you won’t like the outcome. Have I made myself clear?”
“Perfectly. Now, may I use your radio, it appears there is a need to clarify the urgency of this mission.”
way.” Lee stood up and opened the crash
doors, showing Drake to the radio shack.
He left Drake
“I take it you know this man already?”
Lee nodded. “It was two years before I joined Seaview, I was on a mission with him. Everything went wrong, we barely made it out alive. I barely made it out alive.”
“I take it Drake’s British Intelligence?”
“Yes, I don’t think he’s got anything to do with the military. He might have in the past, but I’m pretty sure he’s civilian intelligence now.”
Nelson leaned against the herculite windows. “Lee, this last trip was hard on you, too. Are you sure you’re up to this?”
“I’m fine, Admiral.”
Nelson put his hand on Lee’s arm. “What I meant was that you’re in need of some leave, just as much as the rest of us. I don’t want you making a mistake on this mission because of it.”
“Don’t worry, Admiral, I won’t make the same mistake I made last time.”
“Now, tell me about that mission with Drake.”
“You’re not at liberty to disclose that, Captain,” said Drake, sauntering back into the nose.
“I have top clearance, there’s no need for secrecy. I want to know the details of your previous mission,” Nelson insisted.
Drake leaned against the window. “All you need to know is that your Captain blew his cover and the mission wide open.”
Nelson shook his head. “Lee would never have done that without a good reason.”
“Let me just say that perhaps a position in the Peace Corp would have been more appropriate for him.”
“That’s enough! I won’t have you slandering my Captain on his own boat. I can easily throw you overboard and nobody on board would give you a second thought.” Nelson glanced at Lee and saw anger glowing in his eyes.
me, Captain, Admiral, I have a reply to Mister Drake’s message,” interrupted
Lee took the reply. “It seems, Admiral, that we have very little choice but to help him with his mission.”
Drake smiled, but there was no humor in it. “Don’t you mean our mission, Captain?”
“Kowalski, will you please escort our…our guest, to Cabin A.”
“Lee, I’ll see you in my quarters in ten minutes.”
“Very well, Admiral. In the meantime I’ll have Mister Morton change course.”
Nelson nodded then left the observation nose for the privacy of his cabin. Something was off, and he was going to find out about the mission Lee had taken with Drake come hell or high water. If that meant getting some high ranking people out of bed, then so be it.
He’d just settled into his office when Lee knocked on his door and walked into his cabin.
“Take a seat, Lee.” He watched Lee sit down a little stiffly. “Is something wrong?”
“I, uh, slipped in the passageway a few days ago outside the crew quarters. It’s nothing.”
“Hmm. We’ll see. Now, I want to know about this Drake.”
Lee closely as he struggled with some distant memory. “It was the year before I transferred to Seaview.
I knew him as John Drake even back then.
I think it’s his real name. I met
Nelson poured Lee a cup of coffee without asking and placed it in his hands. “Go on.”
Lee absently took a sip from the cup. “Afterwards, we ended up on the run, somehow they’d caught on to what we’d done and organized what I can only say was a hunt. We’d already missed our extraction once and there was another scheduled near the border a few hours later.” He took another mouthful and grimaced before setting the cup unsteadily on the table. “They got close, I’d taken a hit in the shoulder and wasn’t moving as quickly I should. That’s when we took shelter in a farmhouse.”
Nelson saw the sudden pain in his eyes, and the look of guilt. “What happened?”
“The military caught up with us. There were four children and their mother in the farmhouse. I wanted to leave as soon as I saw them. I knew how much danger they’d be in, but Drake knocked me out.” He struggled with the simmering anger. “When I came to, I was being dragged out of the farm by the soldiers. All I could see was blood. Every single one of them had been slaughtered. The military must have thought they’d willingly offered us shelter.”
Nelson waited, not knowing what to say. It was obvious that the images were still very close to the surface. He could only imagine the horror of what Lee had witnessed.
“There was no sign of Drake, he’d taken off with the information we’d gathered.” Lee shuddered with the dark memories of the interrogation he’d suffered. “I managed to escape with the help of the underground a few days later.”
“Was it very bad?”
Lee frowned and nodded. “I spent the next three months in rehab.”
“And now he’s here and you’re supposed to go on another mission with him,” said Nelson, aware of the tension that must be lying beneath his Captain’s apparently calm exterior.
“That’s right. Given the nature of the situation, I’m obligated to go with him.”
“Someone else can take your place,” Nelson said flatly.
“To be honest, Admiral, I think some time off Seaview would benefit everyone.” It hadn’t been only Nelson the crew was angry with. Some even blamed Lee for not taking action sooner.
He shrugged. “You know why, Admiral. Surely you’re not so blind that you can’t see how everyone feels right now.” He’d said more than he’d meant to, and was sorry to see the hurt he’d caused Nelson.
Before Lee could say anything further or go into greater detail about the mission, there was a knock on the door.
“Enter,” snapped Nelson, frustrated by the untimely intrusion.
Drake walked into his cabin, slowly shutting the door behind him. “Please, go on. Don’t let my presence disturb you.”
Nelson saw the way Lee’s knuckles whitened on the end of the chair and took matters into his own hands.
“Captain Crane and I were discussing a problem with one of the circuitry panels in the missile room,” he said, smiling. “I’m afraid the topic is of a restricted nature.”
Drake nodded, clearly he didn’t believe Nelson’s excuse. His eyes rested on Lee’s back.
“It wouldn’t be closer to the truth that you were discussing my last mission with Crane, would it?”
Nelson was beginning to understand why this man grated on Lee. He was obviously going to be trouble. “Why would you think that?”
“Just a hunch,” he replied, unperturbed, but his gaze never left Lee. “Tell me, Captain, what went through your mind during those endless days and nights in captivity? Did you blame me or yourself for the endless torment? How many broken bones was it again, how many stitches to put you back together?”
Nelson saw the color drain from his Captain’s face and watched as Lee slowly spun the chair around to face Drake, whose lips curved upwards in a predatory response.
“That’s right, I read the reports. I think they got one point wrong.”
“What’s that?” asked Lee.
“I don’t believe you held out. I think you broke and told them everything about the operation. You probably don’t recall, but I spent twenty-four hours sampling their special brand of care too. I had a lot of time to think about whom the traitor was, and it always came down to you. Call it revenge for when I gave you a clout over the head.”
Lee abruptly stood up, his chair left teetering on its edge with the violent movement. Nelson knew it was time to intervene, that Drake had gone one step too far.
Lee took in a ragged breath. He turned back to face Nelson, cold fury in his eyes. “Yes, Sir?”
“I’d like you to go to the control room and give me an update on our progress. I’ll be there shortly.”
“That’s an order,” replied Nelson.
The tension stayed in Lee’s body but he nodded. “Aye, Sir.”
As Lee walked towards the door, Drake stood his ground, unmoving. He raised one eyebrow towards Lee, as if issuing him with a challenge.
He stayed where he was for another second, then opened the door for Lee and ushered him out condescendingly with his arm. Nelson had to admit that he had toyed with the idea of allowing Lee to take a swing at the other man. He sighed. In the long run it wouldn’t have achieved anything. Somehow the two of them had to resolve their differences, and quickly. Before Drake had a chance to follow Lee out, Nelson stopped him.
“Colonel, if you don’t mind, I think we need to have a word.”
Drake sat down in the chair Lee had just vacated, every bit as agile in his movements as the Captain.
“I have a right to know what this grudge is that you have against Captain Crane. What makes you think he betrayed you?”
Steel blue eyes met each other, neither willing to concede. “No, Admiral, you do not have a right.” He stood up and opened the door again. “Now, if that’s all, I’ll be on my way. I have more important matters to attend to than explaining away the yellow streak in your Captain.”
Before Nelson had the chance to react, Drake had closed the door behind him.
“Damn him!” He fought to keep his temper in check. Not only did the man have Lee ready to snap, now he wanted a piece of him as well.
Nelson was determined that he would get to the bottom of that insidious accusation if it was the last thing he did. Morale was bad enough as it was without a thing like that hanging over Lee. Perhaps it was time he sent a message to ONI on the sly.
He picked up the microphone. “Nelson to Chief Sharkey.”
“Please report to my cabin.”
“On my way.”
Yes, if Drake wanted to play rough, then Nelson could still play rough with the best of them, and he aimed to find out what was behind this friction.
As Drake left Nelson’s cabin, Maxwell quickly slipped around the corner, unseen by either man. So, he thought with glee, the Skipper’s a coward. He resisted the temptation to rub his hands together. He owed Crane, and he was going to make sure Captain Perfect got what was coming to him. Ever since he’d come onboard the Captain had ridden him. He’d hauled him over the coals for missing just a little insignificant problem in Kowalski’s dive gear. Sure, maybe he’d gotten too much Nitrogen in the mix, but so what, it wasn’t enough to permanently damage him.
Patterson and Kowalski made him sick. They worshipped the ground Crane stood on. Well, he aimed to find out as much dirt on the Captain as he could, then see how much they thought of him. He heard the Chief’s voice down the passage, and quickly slinked off to find Drake in his thirst for vengeance.
“Mister Drake, wait up,” called Maxwell.
Drake stopped and gave him an inconsequential stare. “Yes?”
“Uh, Sir, I just wondered about you and the Skipper, I mean, do you really think he cracked and gave you up on your last mission?”
“I don’t think you should be listening at people’s doors, it could be dangerous,” he replied with a cold glint in his eyes.
“I wasn’t listening at the door. I was walking past, I couldn’t help hearing it. I want to go on this mission with you. If he tries anything, you need someone to back you up.”
Drake’s insides nearly curdled at the thought of someone like Maxwell next to him, but he could be useful. It was obvious that he had no loyalty to Crane, and probably only thought of himself in a crisis situation. In that event, he would make an excellent sacrificial lamb, he thought calculatingly.
“Yes, I’ll see what I can do, what’s your name again?”
He tipped his head to the seaman. “If you’ll excuse me, I have a few things to take care of before we leave.”
“Oh, of course,” said Maxwell, trying just a little too hard to be his friend.
At least Crane had some backbone, unlike this young seaman who needed to grow a spine, he thought irritably as he headed back to his cabin.
Lee was approaching the control room when the dizzy spell hit him. He grabbed for the bulkhead to steady himself, surely it couldn’t be a concussion. The hit he’d taken hadn’t even been that hard. He waited until the unpleasant sensation passed, then stood up straight. Tiredness, that’s all it was, as soon as the mission was over he’d rest up. Until then, he had to keep going. His mind went back over the orders he’d read.
to ONI, they were to lay off the Malaysian
“Skipper, are you alright?” asked Kowalski.
Lee had been so deep in thought he hadn’t heard Ski behind him. He pushed himself off the bulkhead and swallowed the nausea that rose in his throat.
“Fine, thanks, Ski.”
“It’s Mister Drake, Sir. He’s asked me to check his gear over for him.” Kowalski looked uncomfortable. “The thing is, he was kind of insistent and I’ve got my watch coming up in a few minutes. Do you want me to help him?”
“No, it’s alright, I’ll see to it myself.”
Ski nodded, but he’d known the Skipper for too long not to wonder what was eating him. Ever since that English guy had come onboard he’d been acting kind of distant, not angry, but close to it. Like he was only just keeping a lid on things.
“What is it, Ski, something else on your mind?”
Kowalski had been thinking so hard that he’d forgotten the Skipper was still standing in front of him. “Um, well, Skipper, I just wondered if you were okay. I mean…” Ski stopped where he was and quickly closed his mouth as darkness unfolded over Lee’s face.
He’d never seen the Captain look so angry over nothing.
“I’m sorry, Sir, I was out of line. I didn’t mean to speak to you that way,” he said hastily.
Lee ran a hand through his hair, it wasn’t Kowalski’s fault he was in a foul mood and feeling stiff and sore. If anything, now he felt guilty. Ski had been a confidante in the difficult days following their early visit to Atlantis**. Over the years since that first mission together their working relationship had developed into more of a partnership rather than superior and subordinate.
“No, Ski,” he said tiredly. “It’s me who should apologize to you. I’m a little uptight right now. I appreciate your concern, but I’ll be fine.”
The tension left Ski’s body. For a moment there, he thought he was going to get all volleys fired at him.
“If there’s anything at all I can do for you, Skipper, anything, just let me know.”
Lee smiled at him, it was the first time since the incident with Admiral Nelson that Ski had seen a bit of his old self.
“Thanks, if I need anything I’ll be sure to let you know. Now why don’t you head down for your watch and I’ll see what Mister Drake wants.”
Lee knocked on Drake’s door. “Come in.”
“What is it you want?” Lee said tightly.
“I want someone to help me check my gear,” he replied, a little too smoothly for Lee’s liking.
Lee closed the door behind him and stepped closer. “Let’s get something straight. This is my boat, if you need my crew for anything, you go through me, is that clear?”
Drake gave Lee a smile that reminded him of a snake ready to strike. “My dear Captain Crane, I would never seek to inconvenience you or your crew. However, since the success of this mission relies on our preparation, I strongly suggest that you accommodate me or my report on your conduct will not, shall we say, be glowing.”
“Hang your report, I don’t give a damn about that or you, but I do give a damn about my crew.” Lee’s temper flared. “I do not want my men involved in this mission any more than necessary. Your missions have a bad habit of someone paying a price, usually with their life. I’ll risk my own, but leave my crew out of it.”
Drake stood up and shoved his equipment at Lee. “Very well, Captain. I need you to check my equipment. There’s very little time left and I want to be satisfied that everything works.”
Lee pursed his lips and nodded, then pushed Drake’s equipment back into his own hands as he opened the cabin door. “Meet me in the missile room in fifteen minutes, I have some matters of my own to finalize.”
“I wouldn’t tell Nelson too much, it’s bad for your health.”
Crane felt his stomach contort. “Is that a threat?”
Drake gripped Lee’s wrist menacingly. “If I had a choice I’d comple this mission alone. I think you’re a liability, and I think you’re a coward. One wrong move and I’ll put a bullet between your eyes. This time it’ll be permanent.”
Lee took Drake’s wrist in his free hand and twisted it away easily, taking grim satisfaction when Drake winced.
When he finally spoke, his voice was harsh. “Missile room, fifteen minutes.”
“I’m telling you Ski, the guy’s out to get the Skipper. I was working on some switch wiring next to his cabin and that’s what I heard him say. That he’d put a bullet in his head.”
Kowalski looked at Patterson. So that’s why the Skipper had been so out of sorts, this guy was giving him a hard time. “Don’t worry about it, Pat. He won’t take any crap from Drake.”
“But he didn’t say anything except to tell him to meet him in the missile room. I’m worried about him going on a mission with this guy.” Patterson checked behind him. “He makes me nervous, and the Skipper’s still beating himself up about what happened with the Admiral last trip out.”
“Well, maybe he’s got a point,” sneered Maxwell, stepping out from behind one of the missile silos. “I heard him call the Captain yellow, and Crane didn’t say anything, not a peep. Makes sense why he hid behind Mister Morton’s shirt tails when Nelson went all crazy last mission.”
“You stow that crap, Maxwell. The Skipper’s not yellow by a long shot,” growled Kowalski, itching to take a swing at him.
“Riley never finished that fight earlier, you want some more?” said Patterson, hoping to goad him into making the first move.
“That’s enough, Patterson,” said Lee stepping into the missile room. “Don’t you have duties to perform?”
“Then I suggest you carry them out,” he replied calmly.
He’d already had a preliminary report from Chief Sharkey about Riley and Maxwell’s fight a few days earlier. It appeared that Maxwell continued to be a disruptive influence on the submarine. If he didn’t shape up very soon, Lee knew there was only one alternative.
“Aye, aye, Skipper. Come on, Ski.”
Ski shook his head. “I’ll be along soon.”
Maxwell and Patterson left the room, leaving Ski and the Captain alone. “Sir, permission to go with you and Mister Drake.”
Lee was about to protest when Drake walked in on their conversation. “I think that’s an excellent idea. I was about to suggest two men accompany us to set up an observation post on the beach and maintain communications.”
“I’ve already told you to leave my crew out of this,” Lee warned.
Drake leaned against the hatch. “Do I need to remind you of the exact wording of the message from COMSUBPAC?”
“No,” he said through clenched teeth.
Admiral Johnson had left him in a corner with nowhere to go. Drake was a loose cannon, with a hell of a lot of power behind him from the top. It was clear that he thought Lee was a traitor and a coward. The vicious accusations still smoldered inside, hurting him more than he cared to admit.
“Then there’s nothing more to say.”
“You’re wrong there. These men are under my command and I don’t believe we need anyone else along.”
A smirk flashed across Drake’s face. Lee wanted nothing more than to knock it off.
“I believe you’re well aware that while this submarine is under COMSUBPAC orders, you are part of the Naval chain of command.” Drake waited for a reply, then pressed on as Lee stayed silent. “Am I correct?”
Drake continued. “I think it’s time I reminded you who’s in charge of this mission. The signal response I received from COMSUBPAC confirmed the re-instatement of my rank to Brigadier for the duration of this mission. Since this is equivalent to a Rear Admiral, I outrank you. Furthermore, I believe that entitles me to being respectfully addressed as ‘Sir’. Would you agree with that, Captain?”
Ski watched, horrified as Lee retreated behind his naval doctrine and snapped to attention.
“Yes, Sir. Sorry, Sir.”
Drake nodded. “Kowalski and Maxwell will act as our base of communications once we arrive on the island. Is that clear, Captain?”
The way Drake had belittled the Skipper had been uncalled for, thought the senior rating. Ski felt bad, embarrassed and downright angry for him all at once. For an outsider, especially one who hated the Captain, to treat him like that was wrong. It was just as well he was tagging along, who knew what else Drake had in mind for the Skipper. At least he’d be there to make sure things didn’t get out of hand.
“With that out of the way, perhaps we can complete what we set out to do.” Drake shoved his gear at Lee again. This time the Captain reluctantly took it without a word.
The safety check moved along quickly and within half an hour they had checked out all the scuba equipment.
“How do we get to the island?”
“We’ll take the Flying Sub as far as we dare with the reef system in these waters.”
“How close will that get us to Pulau Mutiara?”
“I’ve studied the charts, we’ll be within four hundred yards of the shoreline. Is that suitable…Sir?” asked Lee, fighting to keep the sarcasm from his reply.
“I think that will be adequate. Now, where were we?”
“Excuse me, Admiral. I had this final report for the Skipper, but since he’s not on the boat, I thought you’d want to see it.”
“What is it, Chief?”
“It’s about the dust up Maxwell and Riley had. The Skipper got caught up in it and got knocked flat outside the crews’ quarters.”
“So that’s what happened,” murmured Nelson, taking the report from his hands.
Sharkey frowned. “What do you mean, Sir?”
“I noticed he was a bit sore. How hard would you say he hit the deck?”
“Pretty hard, Sir. Maxwell landed on top of him.”
He grunted. “I should have known.”
“Morton to Admiral Nelson.”
Nelson grabbed the microphone. “Nelson. Go ahead.”
“We’ve just launched the FS1, Sir. Kowalski and Maxwell have gone along as backup.”
“Yes, Sir. Apparently Drake overrode the Captain’s decision to take him.”
“Put me in touch with the Captain immediately.”
“Sorry, Sir, the Captain ordered radio silence until they reach the island.”
“What’s wrong, Sir?”
“I…nothing I can explain, just a feeling.” Nelson got up and paced over to the door of the lab. “This mission has a stink about it. Has there been any news from ONI about Lee’s previous mission with Drake?”
“Not yet, Sir.”
“Will do, Admiral.”
“In the meantime, ready the mini-sub and tell Mister Morton to be ready to leave at short notice. I have a feeling we’ll be needed.”
Sharkey didn’t ask any questions. He’d seen the Admiral act on instinct before, and it had always turned out right. If he thought the Skipper was heading into trouble, then he probably was.
Lee checked over the instrumentation for a second time. “We’re nearing the outer reef system. Kowalski, break out the scuba gear and start getting ready.”
Drake stared at the small sonar screen. “Are you certain there’s nobody else around?”
“Yes. Maxwell, you’ll be coming ashore with us as backup for Kowalski.” Lee looked over to Drake. “If that meets your approval, Sir.”
Maxwell grinned. “Sure thing, Skipper.” Nothing like putting the Captain in his place.
If Kowalski had wanted to say anything about Maxwell’s inclusion, it was too late now. He didn’t quite understand Maxwell’s motives, but he also knew that he wasn’t going along because of loyalty to the Captain.
They suited up after Lee gently nudged the reef with the FS1 and anchored it a few yards above the ocean floor. “There should be a tunnel through the reef system about ten yards from our current position.”
“Why couldn’t you take the Flying Sub through it?” asked Drake suspiciously.
Lee eyed him, careful to keep his voice even. “It’s low tide right now, but if the high tide comes in when we’re ready to go out, it would be like trying to swim upstream in rapids.”
“Kowalski, Maxwell. Once we’re ashore, you’re to break out the radio set and establish communications with Seaview. Keep it brief and only if necessary.”
“Yes, Sir,” replied Kowalski and Maxwell in unison.
As they swam closer to the opening in the reef, Drake had to grudgingly admit that the Seaview’s Captain knew what he was doing under the water. Against his better judgment he’d allowed himself to be impressed by his command style on board the submarine. He’d kept a close eye on him, ignoring the angry looks of Crane’s crew. One thing still bothered him, though. There was a tension amongst them crew that he couldn’t quite put his finger on – and he knew it hadn’t been caused by him.
“There it is,” said Lee, pointing with his light. “Watch yourselves, the edges are sharp.”
On the way through, Maxwell managed to snag his diving belt on a protruding piece of coral. Lee was the first to try to untangle him, but Maxwell started to panic and kicked out against him, knocking the breath from his lungs.
“Maxwell, stop struggling and I’ll have you out of this in a minute,” snapped Lee. “Maxwell! Kowalski, take Drake through to the other side. I’ll follow with Maxwell.”
Slowly, Lee’s voice began to penetrate Maxwell’s mind and he stopped struggling long enough for Lee to extricate him from the reef.
“You go on ahead. I’ll be right behind you.”
“Yes, Skipper,” Maxwell managed through panicked breaths.
“We’re about three hundred yards from the beach. If we go straight ahead we’ll hit a stream that enters the lagoon from inland. We can use that to cover us until we hit the undergrowth.”
Nothing else hindered their swim to the beach. Once they had melted into the tropical undergrowth edging the beach they stripped off their diving gear and donned their fatigues.
“You know what to do. Drake and I will contact you once we’ve completed the mission.”
He could just make out Kowalski’s head in the darkness as he nodded. “Take care, Skipper.”
As Drake started to follow him, Kowalski grabbed his arm. “He’d better come back in one piece.”
Drake pulled away from him. “We’ll see. You do your job and we’ll do ours.”
“What was that Kowalski said to you?”
“Nothing of any consequence. After you, Captain.”
Lee felt exposed with Drake taking up position behind him. He knew that one wrong move would result in the British agent doing something volatile. They moved silently through the jungle, stopping twice to make sure they weren’t followed. Lee knew Drake thought he was imagining things, but he was certain someone was trailing them.
“We’re just about there. My contact lives on the outskirts of the village. He’s got a small banana plantation.”
“I hope you’re right about this. Remember what I said on the submarine.”
“Keep moving,” Lee said, ignoring Drake’s veiled threat.
Lee circled around until he was at the back of the small house. “Stay here until I check it out - Sir.”
“I don’t think so. I’ll be right behind you.”
He took a deep breath. “If he sees you he might be spooked. Let me talk to him first.”
“One wrong move, Crane…”
Lee bit back a retort and moved stealthily to the rear of the house. A light shone through a faded, threadbare curtain, illuminating the barren ground in front of him. He carefully skirted around the light and knocked softly on the wooden door.
“Who is it?”
The light went off and Lee heard the click of a lock as the door slowly opened. A rifle was simultaneously jammed into his ribs, sending a shooting pain through his already bruised body. He couldn’t quite stifle the groan that came to his lips.
Lee stepped into the house and stood where he was until the light was turned back on. He shielded his eyes from the sudden glare and waited until he’d become accustomed to the light until he put his hand down.
“It is you. I didn’t think you would ever come back here.”
The gun was lowered and Lee’s hand was given a vigorous shake which he returned. The bearded old man that stood before him smiled affectionately.
“I’m sorry to trouble you at this time of night, Tom, but we’re here on an urgent mission.”
Tom frowned. “We?”
Lee’s turn to smile. Old as he was, age it
hadn’t affected his mind. “I have
another man with me, from
“Why didn’t you say so? Bring him inside,” he chided in the island dialect.
“Turn the light out again and I’ll get him.”
Lee ventured outside again, but felt his earlier dizziness come back. “Not now,” he murmured through gritted teeth.
“Captain, what’s wrong?”
Drake hadn’t been as far from the house as he thought.
“Nothing. Let’s go inside before we’re spotted.”
Drake didn’t say anything else until both of them were inside, then quickly snapped on a torch and shone it in Lee’s face. Lee averted his eyes from the light, but the intelligence agent’s rough hands pushed his head back.
“You have a concussion. When did it happen?” He asked, not wasting any time.
Lee sat down gratefully on the chair that Tom had produced from nowhere. “On Seaview, just before you boarded.”
“Why didn’t you say anything?”
“Who else speaks the dialect and has the underground contacts?” he said, rubbing a hand over his weary eyes.
Drake looked at Tom, then back at Lee. “Who’s he?”
“Tom is the leader of the underground. He knows everything and everyone that’s worth knowing on the island, and even on some of the surrounding islands.”
“You have a point,” he admitted grudgingly. “I suppose we’ll have to make the best of it.”
“I’ll make some coffee, Lee.”
Lee nodded gratefully. “Thank you, Tom. Oh, this is John Drake.”
“What did you just say?”
“Tom is making us some coffee and I introduced you.”
Drake watched every move that the older man made in the kitchen, once he was satisfied he returned his attention to Lee.
“How do you feel now?”
He sat across from Lee and stared intently at him. “What aren’t you telling me?”
“You’re worse than Jamie,” Lee muttered, scowling.
“No doubt you’ll find out,” he said acidly.
Drake leaned back against the chair. “Maybe I was wrong about you,” he admitted.
Both their heads snapped around as the door handle began to turn. Tom hadn’t locked it behind them so whoever was there would be able to walk right in. Lee motioned to Drake to stand on one side of the door while he stood on the other, gun in hand. He got a shock when the door opened. Maxwell stood where he was, unmoving as both Drake and Lee pressed their guns into his neck.
“What are you doing here, Maxwell?”
“Kowalski sent me to give you a message.”
Lee removed his gun, but Drake kept his pressed against his jaw so tightly that it discolored the skin beneath the barrel.
“Message from Admiral Nelson. Seaview has to move to deeper waters, a patrol boat’s in the area.”
“That could have waited. You might have jeopardized the whole mission, Maxwell,” said Lee, frustrated by Drake’s choice of crewmen.
He stole a glance at the English man, and conceded that he wasn’t looking very pleased with Maxwell, either.
“He’d better stay with us now, Captain.”
Lee nodded, once they got back to the submarine he’d make certain that Maxwell would think twice about disobeying another order.
Tom placed small cups of coffee in front of Lee and Drake, ignoring Maxwell completely, as if he sensed the man had done something wrong.
“Tom, what do you know about the new installation?”
He sat down at the table between Lee and Drake, holding his own cup. “Most of the structures are only recent, a few months, but there are still some older parts that we can use to enter the complex. I’m glad you came, my friend, our village has lost many people to the factory.”
“What do you mean by ‘lost’?” asked Lee after translating to Drake.
“They were taken by the soldiers, but never came back. I heard they have been made to work on the project, but are being badly treated.”
“We had about one hundred people in the village, now there are only thirty-five. The only ones left are old or sick.”
Lee twisted the cup in his hand. “How long ago did this happen?”
“Two weeks. Nothing has been heard from them since they were taken.”
“Do you have any idea what happened to them?”
“Only that there is something there that nobody wants discovered.” Tom grabbed Lee’s wrist. “You will help us, won’t you?”
The pleading look in the old man’s eyes nearly tore Lee’s heart in two.
“You’ve lost someone close to you?”
Tom nodded, trying to hide the tears that made his eyes glisten. “My children and grandchildren, they’re in there, somewhere.”
Lee translated again and grasped Tom’s hand. “I promise we’ll help. You have my word. We need your help, though, we can’t do it alone.”
“I will gather everyone, but we’ll have to wait until after dark. You can rest here until then.”
Lee looked at Drake, unperturbed by the ‘here we go again’ look in his eyes. “We need his help. Without it, we won’t be able to carry out the mission. He’ll do everything he can for us if we rescue the other villagers.”
“At least, that’s how you translate it, Captain. I do hope you’re not, shall we say, embellishing the truth.”
“That’s right, how do you know he’s not…” started Maxwell, stopping suddenly as Lee stood up.
“You’re very close to insubordination as it is, Maxwell. I suggest you keep your mouth closed and you’ll make it back in one piece.”
Maxwell’s expression turned ugly. “What do you mean by that, Captain?”
“I was just thinking of what the other side would do to you if you were caught.”
Drake had stayed silent, but he immediately picked up the look of fear in Maxwell’s eyes when Crane had spoken. Crane, on the other hand, had stayed completely calm. Was it possible that he had been wrong about the young Captain?
“Why are you here, Lee? I was so caught up with my own problems that I forgot you had a mission of your own,” said Tom, rejoining the conversation.
“We need to find out what they’re producing in that factory. We received intelligence about an organization that had been responsible for…” Lee searched for the words in the dialect, “causing some environmental problems in the ocean.”
Tom clasped his hands together tightly. “Yes, they call themselves Pangaea.”
“Pangaea?” repeated Drake, the term sending off alarm bells in his head. “Surely they can’t think that anyone would allow them to join the continents using coral? I mean, it’s not even possible.”
“This is why I wanted to tell the Admiral,” snapped Lee, exasperated. “I don’t have the scientific expertise or knowledge to understand what they’re working on.”
“Fortunately for you, Captain, we don’t need to understand. We just need to get a few happy snaps, take some samples and let the experts do the rest,” he replied condescendingly.
Lee ignored him. “Tom, how well guarded is the building?”
“There are maybe five guards that patrol the perimeter and two guardhouses. They don’t know about an old underground access tunnel that leads into the building from under the water.” Tom took out some faded old paper and a piece of charcoal from the fireplace. “The tunnel leads into the factory from here. It comes out just below here.”
He drew a skeleton picture of the inside of the main building.
“What’s this?” Drake pointed to some pipes leading into the ocean as Lee asked Tom his question.
“Waste from the factory, I think.” He hastily finished the sketch and pointed to a middle section. “From what I’ve heard, this is where the access hatch is, two corridors away from the main cell block.”
“Do you know if it’s secured from the inside?”
Tom shook his head. “I don’t think so. It’s many years old, nobody would even know it’s still there. The buildings used to be an old pearling factory and smugglers used it to slip into the factory at night and sell their pearls.”
“Then we’ll have to go back to get our scuba gear and get in that way.”
“Yes, but please, have some food and drink first.”
Lee looked at his watch and shook his head. It was two hours to dawn. “I think we’d better move before the sun rises, Tom.”
“As you wish, Lee.”
“What did he say?” asked Drake, rubbing his chin thoughtfully.
Again Lee translated.
“Let’s go, then. What are we going to do about Maxwell and Kowalski?”
“They can stay in the FS1 until we’re finished inside the factory.”
If Drake had any problems with the plan, he kept them to himself.
Nelson waited impatiently for the response from ONI on Drake. He paced around his cabin, then moved into
his laboratory to finish the experiment that had occupied his time since the
incident with the re-breather. Ten
minutes later he irritably pushed the test tubes away. He picked up the microphone to ask
“Sparks to Admiral Nelson.”
“I have the reply you’ve been waiting for, Sir.”
“I’ll be right there,” he said, all thoughts of his experiment swept aside.
It took them a good twenty minutes to get back to the beach again. Lee struggled with a dull headache for most of the journey, which was starting to worry him. Once they had arrived at the beach he quietly palmed two painkillers and quickly swallowed them before he suited up.
“Kowalski, can I see you for a minute?” Lee stood apart from the group, leaving enough distance between them that he and Kowalski couldn’t be overheard. “Why did you let Maxwell follow us?”
“He told me that he was under Drake’s orders to relay any transmissions, and that it would be okay by you. I told him not to go, but he said I’d be in trouble if I stopped him.”
Lee choked back a curse. “Okay, I’ll sort this out when we get back to the boat. Thanks.”
“Everyone ready?” Three heads nodded back at him so he put his mouthpiece in and slid silently into the dark waters of the lagoon.
After about fifty yards, Lee switched on his dive light and continued to check the homing beacon as he swam. They were on a direct course for the Flying Sub.
“We should be nearing the break in the reef in a few minutes.”
He shone the torch ahead of him but saw nothing but a complete coral reef. Was it possible that he was off course? The beacon told him the FS1was just over the other side of the reef.
“What’s wrong?” asked Drake.
“I’m not sure. The channel should be here, I can’t explain it.”
“It must be an equipment malfunction. Let’s swim along the reef, we’re sure to come to it soon.”
“Kowalski, you and Maxwell head east, Drake and I will go west. Call in the moment you have something.”
“No, wait!” The others watched as Lee edged closer to the reef to retrieve something. “This is part of Maxwell’s dive belt.”
A piece of the cloth was caught in the reef, as if it had grown around it. Something made Lee turn around, he could sense danger behind them. Abruptly the darkness was turned into a blinding glare as spotlights pierced the gloomy water. Divers seemed to appear from nowhere, the metal on their spear guns glinting menacingly.
“What now, Skipper?” asked Kowalski.
“We’re outnumbered two to one. Do as they ask. For now we’re out of options,” he replied as the men motioned for them to head back towards the shore.
“Looks like you’ve blown another mission, Captain,” said Drake accusingly.
Lee didn’t reply. There was nothing he could say to convince Drake how wrong he was. He glanced back at the reef before following their captors. There was no doubt that the channel had been there, but how could it have closed up so quickly?
They reached the beach to find it swarming with guards. For the moment there was no escape.
“Drop your equipment,” ordered a monster of a man.
Lee nodded as Kowalski and Maxwell looked at him.
“Hands behind your backs.”
He felt the bite of steel handcuffs against his skin. This wasn’t going well. With the Seaview out of the immediate area there wasn’t going to be a miraculous rescue.
“Which one of you is in charge?”
Nobody spoke, but Maxwell looked at Lee. He didn’t say anything but it was akin to giving them the information.
The big man stepped closer to Lee until he was towering over him. “So you want to find out what we’re doing on the island?”
“We’re research scientists.”
The man laughed and shoved Lee so hard he fell onto the sand. “I don’t think so, not with your equipment. Where are your cameras? Your boat?”
“We were dropped off by our mother ship. There’s a…a submersible over the other side of the reef,” said Lee, not wanting to tip them off that it was the FS1.
Lee knew that there was a strong possibility that they’d already discovered the FS1. If he didn’t give them the information they would immediately know it was a lie. There was a chance they already did.
“Do you think we are stupid, Captain Crane?”
Lee’s mouth went dry, they already knew their identities.
“Bring him onto the beach!” he shouted to an invisible guard.
As the men watched, a frail figure was dragged onto the beach and thrown down onto the sand beside Lee.
“Who is he?”
The man kicked the older man.
“I’m sorry, Captain,” he gasped as his head fell back onto the sand.
“Take them back to the compound. We’ll talk to their Captain first.” He gave Tom another kick in the side. “Throw him in the other truck.”
A truck backed up to the beach and Lee and the others were thrown in. Two armed guards were stationed at the end of the truck as it started to move off.
“We have to get out of here,” whined Maxwell. “I’m not going to be tortured.”
“Shut up, Maxwell,” snapped Kowalski.
Maxwell’s expression turned nasty. “You shut up.”
“That’s enough, both of you,” Lee said with more calm than he felt.
Lee was starting to feel very ill. His head ached incessantly as the movement of the truck made his stomach churn. The darkness in the cab was almost impenetrable. He was glad for that, as sweat had started rolling down his face in small rivulets, and he knew without having Jamie tell him that he would probably end up in sick bay once more.
“Are you alright, Captain?” asked Drake.
“Fine,” came the taut reply.
The truck came to a stop after what Lee figured was about twenty minutes and the flaps were thrown open to reveal the inside of a large warehouse. Guards surrounded the truck as they were dragged out, their handcuffs and wetsuits removed.
“Place them in the cell.” The large man grabbed Lee’s arm. “I’ll take this one for questioning.”
Lee was handcuffed again and hustled away from the others into a building off to one side of the complex. It appeared to be more heavily fortified and had guards posted at each entrance. He was taken through one of the doors and found himself standing in a huge laboratory with transparent fish tanks. The tanks were different shapes and sizes but had one thing in common – they all contained coral in various stages of growth.
“Captain Crane, I presume?” said a tall pale man with a receding hairline.
“Who are you?”
“I’m Simpson Devereaux. I doubt you would have heard of me.” Devereaux slid one bony index finger along the top of a tank. “I suppose you’re wondering what all this is?”
“You could say that,” conceded Lee.
“These are the prototypes of my growth hormone experiments. I’ve discovered a way to incrementally grow coral. One day there’s nothing there, the next a coral reef.” Devereaux looked at Lee. “Now, Captain, I want you to give me some information about your submarine.”
Lee ignored him, instead walking over to look at another tank that housed a peculiarly colored specimen.
“Mukesh, why don’t you show the Captain what will happen if he doesn’t answer the questions I’m about to ask him?”
Strong hands redirected Lee to a small tank which held seawater and a single piece of coral. Mukesh removed the cuffs from his left arm, and forced it into two steel manacles. One secured Lee’s arm by the wrist, the other his forearm just below the elbow. The steel manacles held it so tightly that there was not even a miniscule movement as he tried to pull away. The manacles in turn were bolted and welded to the base of the tank by sturdy lengths of steel. His other arm was cuffed to a steel chain bolted to the floor beside the legs of the tank.
“What are you doing?”
Devereaux walked over to a cabinet and removed a pink vial of liquid and a large bore needle.
“Do you remember the coral channel you used to enter the lagoon?”
Lee nodded. “You did something to it?”
“At least you’re an intelligent man, it makes things easier. Yes, this vial contains the growth hormone. Once I inject it into this piece of coral, you’ll have first-hand experience of how it works.”
Lee studied the coral, noting uneasily that one of the long spikes was pointing directly towards his forearm. He felt his adrenalin kick in as fresh droplets of sweat began to form on his brow.
“Where is the Seaview? I want her exact coordinates and command codes.”
“No!” There was nothing else to say.
Devereaux smiled, but it chilled Lee to the bone.
“One last chance, Captain. The coral will tear your skin, your muscles and snap your bones. The pain is like no other normal cut.”
Lee clenched his teeth together. So things were going to get nasty. He would hold out as long as he could, then pretend to go along with them until he could free the others.
“No, Captain? I had really hoped you would be more cooperative.”
Devereaux used a small instrument to chip off a small piece of the coral’s hard exterior, before injecting it with the liquid. Lee started to struggle, but Mukesh hooked his arm around Lee’s neck and held him immobile. Amazement briefly diverted him from his predicament as the coral began to grow before his eyes. It was only then he realized the sharpened point was only centimeters from his skin.
“Changed your mind yet?” taunted Devereaux.
“Go to hell, Devereaux.”
The point came closer until he felt the hard surface penetrate his skin, first denting it, then tearing it as it slowly slid through the area between his bones. A low groan tore from his throat at the sudden tearing sensation as his arm was impaled.
“Now, Captain?” Devereaux stroked the coral. “Before your two bones snap in half?”
Mukesh let Lee fall against the tank as the pain almost overwhelmed him. Devereaux had been right, at least a knife wound was quick and sharp. He felt each movement, every bump of the coral’s rough surface as it excruciatingly pushed muscle and sinew apart.
“Yes,” he gasped. “I’ll tell you what you want to know.”
Devereaux indicated to Mukesh to undo the manacles. “There is one problem though, you’re going to have to pull your arm off the coral. Once the growth cycle has started, the coral is very strong, and is extremely difficult to break. I could use my special chemical to dissolve it, but I don’t think you’d like what was left of your arm.”
The thought of what he was about to do sickened him to his core, but he grasped his arm and slowly forced it off the coral spike, falling to his knees when the gruesome task was over. He felt bile rise in his throat as he numbly heard his blood dripping to the floor. He couldn’t bring himself to look down at his damaged limb.
“Bandage it,” Devereaux told Mukesh. “We’re going to need to keep him alive for a while longer.”
Mukesh ambled over to the same cabinet and brought two dressings and a bandage back. He forced Lee to his feet and roughly dressed the ragged entry and exit holes before wrapping a bandage around it.
“I think it’s time you went to your accommodation, Captain. You look a little pale,” goaded Devereaux. “But first, there’s the matter of our little bargain.”
“Chip, are we out of range of their ships?”
“Yes, Sir. The nearest contact is eight nautical miles from our current position. We’re hiding in a thermal layer.”
“Very well, have Mister O’Brien take the con. Chip, I want you with me in the mini-sub. We’ll sit offshore in case we’re needed,” ordered Nelson.
“Permission to speak freely, Sir?”
“Granted. What is it?”
“I don’t believe I should be the first choice for this mission, Sir.”
Nelson knew damned well why Chip was being so truculent, and he wasn’t going to have it. “Mister Morton, you will hand over the con to Mister O’Brien and then meet me in the missile room ready to leave in twenty minutes. Have I made my orders clear?”
Chip drew himself up and nodded. “Yes, Sir. Twenty minutes, Sir.”
The Admiral scratched his forehead as he watched his XO’s departure from the control room. This trip was going to be interesting, and if nothing else, perhaps it would clear the air between them.
Drake walked around the small cell with growing impatience.
“Excuse me, Sir.”
He stopped his pacing. “Yes, Kowalski?”
“How long have you known the Skipper?”
He hesitated. The whole story appeared to have made its way around the boat courtesy of that idiot crewman Maxwell. Providing some insignificant details couldn’t do any more harm than had already been done. He sat on the floor across from Kowalski and leaned back against the hard concrete wall.
“I knew him briefly a few years ago, before he joined NIMR.”
“We went on a mission together. It lasted for about a week.”
This piqued Kowalski’s interest. “And after a few days you could tell he was a coward?”
Drake felt the growing tension run through the cell like an electric charge. “He was the only one apart from ONI who knew the mission plan,” he snarled. “Because of him I was captured and the mission was a complete failure.”
“But you don’t know for sure that it was him?” Kowalski insisted.
Maxwell opened his mouth to speak but took one look at the expression on Kowalski’s face and shut it again.
“Couldn’t it have been someone in ONI?”
Drake couldn’t answer that question, so he just shrugged.
“Well, I’ve known the Skipper now for almost four years,” he continued. “I’d risk my life for him and I know he’d do the same for me. If you’d bothered to ask any man on Seaview you’d know that. He never has been and never will be a coward.”
The last words he spoke were uttered with such conviction that it made Drake look up from where he’d been studying the floor. The British agent shook his head, then rested it against the wall and closed his eyes.
“That remains to be seen.”
Ski wanted to grab the man by the shirt and shake him, rank be damned. It was obvious that there was barely a shred of humanity in him. The cell door swung open as Ski was about to have another go at Drake. Lee was shoved into the cell, but managed to stop himself before he hit the opposite wall. He stood where he was, swaying unsteadily until Kowalski got up and steered his Captain towards the cot, worried that he might fall over.
“Skipper, you okay? What happened?”
Lee ran a shaky hand through his dark hair, which was curled with perspiration. “They kindly took me on a tour of the facility.”
Ski pointed to his arm. “What happened?”
He looked down to find that blood was already beginning to seep through the bandage. “Just a scratch.”
“It looks like more than a scratch, Captain,” Drake observed.
“Are you sure they never touched you, Skipper?” asked Kowalski.
“No, they were more interested in showing me their experiments.” He hid a small shiver that rippled through his body by lowering himself onto the cot. I caught my arm on a piece of metal.”
Drake sat beside him, Kowalski shifting back onto the floor to make room. “What did you learn?”
“The organization is run by a man called Simpson Devereaux. Have you ever heard of him?”
“Can’t say I have, but it could be an alias.”
Lee shook his head. “I read about him in some abstract intelligence articles that came through recently from ONI. He’s an up and coming shipping magnate. He’s just finished building a new fleet of superlight ships with a draft of about ten feet. They’re wider and shallower than any standard cargo vessels.’
“I don’t understand.”
“The coral reef. We were in the right place, but it had grown back together.”
“That’s impossible, not in a few hours!”
Lee eased back against the wall, using only his right arm. The left one hadn’t stopped throbbing, but at least he could still use his fingers, even though his forearm stung when he tried. Somehow the spur of coral had missed the tendons.
“Actually, he’s responsible for creating a hybrid reef. It’s been genetically modified to grow at almost a thousand times the rate of normal coral. All it takes is for him to activate the growth hormone and the process starts. I don’t understand the scientific basis for the growth, but I saw it with my own eyes.”
The implications of the discovery worried Lee. He knew that some parts of the shipping lanes around the Straits of Malacca and other world shipping lanes were very shallow. If a coral reef sprang up in any of these areas over a short period of time it could cripple the shipping industry. That was where Devereaux’s super light fleet came into the equation. Without any trouble he could corner the market and hold the world to ransom.
“I suppose that’s when Devereaux’s shipping company comes to the fore?” asked Drake.
Before Lee could answer the cell door clanked open to reveal Devereaux flanked by two guards.
“Captain Crane, thank you for the information you offered me. We’ve begun the hunt for Seaview, it shouldn’t be long now. Why don’t you join me for dinner,” he looked down distastefully at Lee’s filthy shirt and shorts. “I’m sure I can find something more appropriate for you to wear.”
Drake hauled himself to his feet. “Might I enquire as to what information the good Captain imparted?”
Devereaux smiled disarmingly as he answered in his Southern drawl. “I now have the position of your submarine. It’s only a matter of time before it’s snared by my coral reefs. I also have the command codes.” He carefully stepped back outside the door. “Yes, Seaview will be a welcome addition to my fleet. I’ll be back for you in one hour, Captain.”
Before Drake or Kowalski could react, Maxwell had jumped up and grabbed Lee by the shirt. He threw him up against the wall, pinning him there one knee while the other rested on Lee’s injured arm. He was oblivious to the agony on Lee’s face. “You lousy…Drake was right. You’re yellow, now we’re all going to die because of you. We almost lost our submarine because of it, you were too weak to stop the Admiral. It’s all your fault!”
He hit Lee hard across his mouth, knocking his head back against the wall. Kowalski grabbed him around the throat, pulling his arm tight around Maxwell’s neck.
“Let go, Maxwell,” he hissed. “Let go now.”
Maxwell lined up for another blow, then felt the blood supply to his head cut off by Kowalski’s arm. He slowly slid to the floor, but Ski didn’t let go until he was certain he was out. He looked up at Lee, who was breathing hard and had his eyes closed.
“Skipper, are you alright?”
Lee opened his eyes and weakly pushed Kowalski away. “Get away from me, all of you.”
“Once again you’ve proven me right, Captain,” Drake said contemptuously, his blue eyes piercing Lee’s like icicles.
Lee painfully stood up and moved away from them. “I did what I had to do to survive.”
“How many times have I heard that expression uttered by men to excuse unconscionable actions,” he growled angrily. “You disgust me. You’re a disgrace to your uniform and your country.”
Kowalski sat where he was and watched the exchange between the two men. It wasn’t his place to interfere any more than he already had. What had caused this bad blood between the Skipper and Drake was none of his business.
The next hour was excruciatingly uncomfortable for everyone. Maxwell eventually regained consciousness and glared at Lee continuously. Lee knew that only Kowalski stood between him and Maxwell, but even Ski hadn’t spoken a word since he’d pulled Maxwell off him. The look of disgust on Drake’s face didn’t surprise Lee. He wasn’t feeling too special about himself either – playing the part of a coward didn’t sit well with him, but it was a small sacrifice. He finally managed to find a place for his arm and head where neither of them ached so badly and closed his eyes.
A sound made him look up, Devereaux stood just inside the door. “Mukesh, why don’t you help our Captain to his feet, he doesn’t look too well.”
Lee had almost been grateful for that, since he didn’t think his own legs would hold him after Maxwell’s assault.
“Make sure he gets a change of clothes before dinner.”
He led Lee from the room and the door was locked behind them.
“Be quiet!” snapped Drake venomously. “The last thing we need is you whining all the time.”
“What do we do now?” asked Kowalski.
Drake wondered how much the man had figured out, since he was unusually calm for a person in their situation. Crane couldn’t possibly have given Devereaux the coordinates, since none of them knew Seaview’s location. He’d figured it out quickly, and played along with the Captain’s ruse.
“We wait, Kowalski.” He shifted to make himself more comfortable. “We wait.”
Lee was guided into a large dining room with all the trimmings of a southern mansion. Devereaux was already sitting at the end of the long oak table. When he saw Lee he stood up and walked over to him. Lee winced as he thumbed at his split lip where Maxwell’s punch had left its mark.
“It seems your friends were a touch upset at you. Please, take a seat.”
Lee was shown back to the other end of the table while Devereaux returned to his seat opposite him. It was a foregone conclusion that there was at least one camera in the cell. That much Devereaux had unwittingly given away.
“I have an interesting proposition for you.”
“And what would that be?”
Devereaux appeared to be pleased with himself.
“I want you to come and work for me. You’ll be well paid for your loyalty.” He poured himself a glass of wine. “You don’t have to give me an answer yet. Just think it over. While you do, I’ll give you some more comfortable quarters. After all, Seaview will need another Captain once she’s mine. The crew will be my guests until I’m sure you’ll do as you’re told. If not, they’ll end up as part of my coral reef system. You already know how painful that can be.”
Lee touched his lip to wipe at the trickle of blood where Devereaux’s attention had opened it up again.
“I suppose I could consider it,” he replied slowly.
The other man clapped his hands together and laughed. “Very good, Captain, I think you and I will work fine together, once you understand your position.”
Dinner was served and Lee found that he had to force some food down his throat to at least give the impression that he would consider Devereaux’s offer. His stomach was clenched so tightly that it almost spasmed every time he swallowed a mouthful. He had only one chance at this deception, and he had to get it right the first time.
“Tell me, Captain, how is it that your friends accepted your betrayal so easily?”
Lee’s eyes darkened. “I’d rather not talk about it.”
He felt a strong hand circle his injured arm and caught a glimpse of irritation in Devereaux’s face.
“Please don’t make me use Mukesh to help you answer. He does tend to enjoy his work.”
Lee’s utensils clattered onto the fine porcelain plate. He gave Devereaux a smile. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know it was that important to you.”
“If you will, Captain…”
and leaned back in his chair. Devereaux
was testing him. Lee realized he’d
already figured most of this out from watching the cell footage. “I…the Brigadier and I were on a mission
“And, did you?”
Lee dredged up all the recent memories of the way Nelson had treated Jamie and Chip and let the shame show on his face. “Do I have to answer that?”
Devereaux shook his head. “No, I believe you already have. But there’s something you’re holding back, isn’t there?”
“No, I…” his denial was choked off as Mukesh’s hand squeezed the coral wound.
“Please, Captain, it wouldn’t do to have a potential staff member damaged before he even started work.”
Lee nodded and Mukesh released his grip as raw emotions surfaced to replace the physical pain. “Our last mission, there was a problem and I wouldn’t take action against…against a friend, even though all the signs were there that he needed help.” Lee hung his head. “Because of it, the submarine was almost lost.”
“Ah, that’s what your crewman meant by his words. Most interesting. Now, if you’ve finished, I’ll have Mukesh escort you to your new accommodations. You must be tired.”
“You could say that.” He tried to remember how long it had been since he’d slept, but the exact timeframe eluded him.
Mukesh steered him from the room and down a long corridor. Lee was pretty certain it ran parallel to the cell block and filed that information away. Now came the tricky part - without any warning to the large guard, he suddenly bent at the waist and groaned.
Lee looked up at him, hoping he had the strength to deal with him. “I can’t, I’m sick, my arm…I think it’s infected.”
Mukesh grabbed his biceps and pushed him against the wall, at least he didn’t have to feign the agony or gray face.
“Surely you have a sick bay, an infirmary?” he gasped.
The guard checked the passage. There was nobody else around to call for help. “Over here.”
He dragged Lee along beside him and pushed him into a room that reminded him of Jamie’s office. Lee leaned against a metal office chair and tested the weight. It might do. Or he could end up much worse off than he already was, but he had to take a chance on that.
“Are there any painkillers?”
“I’m looking. Stay where you are.”
Lee watched as he turned his back to him then painfully picked up the chair and hit him so hard across the shoulders and head that he was flung across the room and over the desk. He was certain that the massive guard would be unconscious, but when a large hand reached up onto the desk he had to look twice to believe it. The room held nothing else that might be used as a weapon. Then his eyes fell onto a metal letter opener. He grabbed for it, reaching it only milliseconds before the giant’s hand fell where it had been.
“You’re going to pay for that,” he growled, slowly making his way around the desk.
Lee set his teeth against each other and prepared himself for a fight. He wasn’t naïve enough to believe that he’d come out of this unscathed. In fact he had no doubt it would be a fight to the death.
“I knew you were lying to Devereaux. Someone like you would never give up that information so easily.”
Instead of wasting energy on words, Lee circled him. The office was too small for what he was about to do, and it had to be done without anyone finding out, at least for thirty minutes.
“Too scared to talk, Crane? Maybe I ought to loosen that tongue of yours,” he sneered.
Lee waited for him to make the first move, he didn’t wait long. The giant lunged across the room, taking Lee with him into a bookcase, but it would be his last act on this world. Lee had kept the blade in front of him and the full weight of the giant had pushed it through his ribcage into his heart. Agony shot through him as he fought to push the man off him. He swore, the guy had to weigh at least 240 pounds. Eventually he managed to lever him away, but felt a tearing pain as the pointed bone handle of the letter opener gouged its way out of his own ribs. He quickly smothered a groan and crawled over to the desk to pull himself unsteadily to his feet. After recovering for a few moments, he dropped to his knees and rifled through the dead man’s pockets. A brief search revealed what he was looking for and he struggled back to his feet.
Since nobody had come barging into the office, there was a good chance that the brief fight hadn’t been heard. Lee slipped out and haltingly found his way back to the cell block, making a short detour on the way. He tried the keys he’d stolen and eventually found the one that opened the door to his old cell. He motioned for the three men to follow him outside. If he’d expected Drake to protest, he was surprised when none came. His next task was to release Tom from his cell. Kowalski hooked his arm around his shoulder and helped the older man to walk.
“We have to move quickly, there’s a camera in every cell, I’m not sure how long it’ll take them to figure out we’re gone.”
“Where to, Captain?” asked Drake.
“I figured out where Tom’s escape tunnel is. I left some diving equipment there so we can make our way back out to sea. Afraid I couldn’t find any wetsuits, but the water should be warm enough.”
“All this time, Skipper, you let us think you were on their side,” said Maxwell, suddenly aware of the ploy.
Lee didn’t answer him, instead pausing to open a storage room door off to one side. “In here.”
They put on the diving equipment, moving as fast as they could. Kowalski assisted Tom to do the same.
“Captain, leave me, I’m not going to make it,” said Tom.
“I’m not leaving you behind,” his tone left no room for argument.
“Drake, would you mind pulling up the hatch?” asked Lee, struggling with the weight of the tanks with his injured arm.
Strong hands suddenly took the weight and helped him on with them. He thought it had been Kowalski, but Drake was the one who had stepped out from behind him and pulled up the trapdoor.
Without another word, Drake did as he was asked and had it almost all the way up before an alarm sounded outside.
“Damn, they’ve found out we’re gone. Kowalski, you take Tom out with you first.” Lee led the men towards the hole in the floor as Drake gave them a hand down.
Maxwell chose that moment to panic and tried to push Tom aside. “I’m going first.”
Lee roughly grabbed him by the arm and dragged him back from the two men who slid noiselessly into the void of swirling black water. Maxwell gave him a shove and pushed past Drake just as the door opened. He jumped into the water leaving the two men to deal with the threat.
He motioned for Drake to get into the water and was about to follow him when a guard flew into the room, sending him sprawling across the British man. He kicked out with his foot and the guard’s weapon went spinning into the hole.
“Get out of here, now!”
“Not without you,” Drake said.
Lee watched as another guard ran into the room and pointed his weapon at Drake. He didn’t hesitate and pushed Drake into the water a second before the guard pulled the trigger. Before he had a chance to follow him he was flung backwards by the first guard, hitting his head hard on the concrete edge of the trapdoor. He was unconscious before he’d even hit the water.
Drake managed to snag Lee’s scuba harness before he disappeared completely and pulled him away from below the trapdoor, only stopping to drag the breathing apparatus over his face. Once he was assured Lee was breathing easily, he took off after the other three with the Captain in tow.
When he felt it was safe enough, he turned on the flashlight Lee had somehow managed to acquire. The gear had no communications microphones so Drake had to rely on sign language. He checked the oxygen supply, they had about an hour of air each. He only hoped it would be enough or the tunnels would become their tomb. From memory, the distance between the trapdoor and the tunnel exit was about five hundred yards. He roughly calculated that they’d travelled about a fifth of that distance. Whether or not they’d be able to find the FS1 would be another matter. It was on the other side of the small island but he doubted their captors had the expertise to move it.
shone the spotlight onto Lee Crane. Blood
was flowing from the head wound just behind his left ear but there was nothing
to be done about that. He just had to
hope it would stop after they got back to shore and patched him up. What concerned him more was how this most
recent injury would affect the concussion that Crane had already suffered. The man had saved his life. He had acted without any thought for his own,
not the action of a coward but that of a selfless man. After putting two and two together, Drake had
decided that Crane had not given him up in
“Chip, can you see anything?”
“Not yet, Admiral. It’s pretty churned up out there, probably
from that hurricane coming down from
Nelson strained his eyes to see out of the FS1’s viewports. They’d managed to find the Flying Sub behind the reef, thanks to the accurate coordinates Lee had relayed to Seaview from the facility. The downside was they’d have to return later for the mini-sub.
“What were the tunnel coordinates you received from Lee?”
“We’re only a few hundred yards away. The tunnel should come out dead in front of us.” If nothing’s gone wrong, he thought.
“Get us as close as you can.”
“Chip, for heaven’s sakes, you can call me Admiral every now and again.”
“I know I should have done this long ago, but please believe me, when I say how sorry I am for my actions after the re-breather problem.”
Nelson watched Chip closely. He’d never spoken to Nelson about the incident and had successfully avoided him for the entire voyage – until now.
“I’d rather not discuss it, Sir,” was the stubborn reply.
“Dammit, man, do you think I would ever humiliate one of my men as I did you?”
Chip rubbed his hand across his neck. “No.”
“I know you blame Lee for not acting sooner, and perhaps he should have, but he was torn between you, me and the crew. He still blames himself as well, haven’t you noticed how he’s looked the last few days? Ever since it happened he’s become almost reclusive.” Just like me, thought the Admiral.
Chip looked up at him. “I guess I hadn’t really taken much notice. I was too tied up in my own problems.”
“A few days before he left on this mission, he was knocked down in the passageway outside the crew quarters by Riley and Maxwell while they were fighting. I know he was hurting because he looked a bit sore before the mission. I just didn’t know why.”
“He didn’t say anything to me,” said Chip, then remembered his last words to Lee as he stepped down into the FS1.
“Is the FS1 ready for undocking?”
“Yes, Sir,” the belligerent tone still flew out of his mouth unbidden.
Lee’s amber eyes held disappointment and regret, but it didn’t stop him there.
“Do you have any other orders I can carry out for you…Sir?”
The Captain shook his head, and quickly turned his face away. “No, Mister Morton. That will be all.”
“What is it, Chip?”
“I might have been a bit, um, harsh with him.”
Nelson muttered something unintelligible. “We all were. He thinks the crew blames him for the whole incident. As much as it’s easy to lay the blame at his feet, he had his hands full trying to get Seaview to the surface. I told him that he didn’t know what I knew. I led him to believe I had information that legitimized my actions. I asked him to trust me.”
He stood up and paced to the back of the FS1. “Trust me, I doubt he’ll do that again in a very long time.”
“What?” said Chip, startled by the admission.
“That’s right, didn’t he tell you?” Then Nelson answered his own question. “No, of course he didn’t. Lee takes responsibility for everything that happens on Seaview.”
Chip nodded. Lee never blamed anyone for their actions except himself, as if somehow he’d failed them. “I made a mistake.”
“You didn’t know.”
“I thought he was just defending you, I didn’t realize he thought you were acting under a secret directive.”
Nelson put his hand on Chip’s shoulder. “It’s all in the past now. Let’s work on getting him home.”
Chip peered back into the gloomy water. “I thought I saw something.”
Nelson squinted, following his XO’s gaze, hoping that he was right. “I see it too, a dim light.”
“I hope it’s them and not someone else,” he clicked on the signal light without being told.
The light slowly got brighter, and Nelson opened the hatch of the FS1. He helped Kowalski with an older man, not bothering to ask any questions. There was time for that later.
“Is Lee alright?” he asked anxiously.
“He’s with Brigadier Drake. I think he’s unconscious,” replied Kowalski.
Nelson had to stand by and watch helplessly as Kowalski was pulled through the hatch, then Maxwell and finally Lee’s unconscious body was pushed upwards by Drake. He grabbed one of Lee’s arms while Chip held the other and lifted him onto the deck.
“What happened?” he asked as Drake levered himself into the FS1.
Drake carefully removed Lee’s mask. “He fell and hit his head.”
“Chip, take us back to Seaview. Kowalski, take care of the Captain.”
Ski didn’t have to be told twice as he opened a locker to take out the field first aid kit. The head wound required the most urgent attention. It was a long gash that ran from behind his ear just above the hairline almost to the back of his head.
The Admiral looked on as Kowalski efficiently cleaned and bandaged the injury, then gently removed the soaked bandage around his arm. “Whoa, what happened to his arm? He said it was just a scratch.”
Drake shook his head as he looked at the mottled purple bruising and untidy entry and exit wounds. “Whatever it was, it must have hurt.”
Kowalski treated his arm, irrigating it with saline solution before padding either side of the wound and re-bandaging it. It was only after he and Drake had lifted him onto the bunk, he noticed the deep gouge mark just below his heart. He didn’t have any idea how he got that injury either, but got to work patching it up as best he could.
“How is he, Kowalski?”
“He’s going to need stitches, Sir, and I don’t know how bad the concussion might be. There’s also a nasty injury on his left forearm.”
Drake chipped in. “He already had a concussion. It happened on Seaview just before we left.”
“And you didn’t say anything,” Nelson said furiously.
“I’m sorry to disappoint you, Admiral, but the Captain took it upon himself not to tell anyone. I can’t held be responsible for that. I only found out after we arrived on the island.”
“I hope Lee doesn’t have a headache when he wakes up, because Jamie will certainly give him one,” murmured Nelson.
Drake cocked his head to one side. “Jamie?”
“Ah, now I understand. Captain Crane made a rather uncomplimentary comparison of me to your doctor.”
“I take it you worked out your differences?”
“You could say that.”
Nelson nodded. “I have a classified file in my cabin that you might be interested in once you’ve had a chance to clean up.”
“What will happen to the factory?”
“Once Lee confirmed what the facility was being used for, I alerted COMSUBPAC. The Malaysian authorities were standing by.” Nelson looked at his watch. “I imagine by now their special forces are just moving in.”
In the background, Drake heard Chip requesting the docking clamps be lowered and to have Jamie standing by. There was a slight jolt as the clamps hit their target and nestled the FS1 back into its bay.
“Chip, could you show Mister Drake back to his quarters, and ask Cookie to prepare a hot meal for everyone?”
“If you don’t mind, Admiral, I think I can find my own way.”
“Very well.” Nelson suddenly drew Chip to one side and spoke in a low voice. “I am truly sorry for what I put you through, Chip. I hope you can forgive me and we can still work together.”
“Already forgiven and forgotten, Admiral,” smiled Chip, glad that things had finally been sorted out. Only one matter remained, settling things with Lee, but he knew that would have to wait.
He stepped aside as Jamie came down the ladder with Frank. “What’s he done to himself this time?” Jamie grumbled.
While Kowalski gave Jamie a rundown, the others alighted from the FS1. In the middle of all the action Maxwell silently disappeared up the ladder followed very closely by Drake.
Drake stood outside Nelson’s door. He hadn’t knocked but had a suspicion that the file Nelson had mentioned gave him some previously unseen information on their first mission. He sighed and bit the bullet, knocking softly.
“Come in,” Nelson looked up at Drake. “Brigadier Drake, I had some hot coffee brought down for you. Would you like a cup?”
Drake nodded and gratefully sipped at the fiery liquid as it scorched its way down to his stomach. Nelson pushed a file in front of him and sat back in his chair.
this would interest you. It came from
ONI, I took the liberty of digging a little deeper into the facts surrounding
your trip to
The other man flicked the cover open and quickly found what he’d begun to suspect. ONI had discovered a mole in the organization. They tried to relay the information to Lee in time, but there was a breakdown in communication at the last minute. He shook his head. All this time he’d been angry, casting nasty accusations about Crane around like bait in the ocean, waiting for the fish to bite. Closing the folder, he wrapped both hands about the cup and gave a world weary sigh.
“It’s rare that I find myself in the situation of making such a bad mistake about someone’s character.”
Nelson nodded. “If you’d asked me, I could have told you that Lee Crane values loyalty and honesty above all else. He’s put his life on the line for his crew and shipmates time and time again without a thought for himself.”
“How is he?”
The older man’s face was deeply etched with concern. “Not good, Jamie’s put him into an induced coma and he’s on a ventilator. If he doesn’t show signs of improvement, he may have to operate to relieve the pressure in his brain.”
“I’m truly sorry to hear that. You do realize, of course, that he was injured saving my life?” said Drake with a sincere look of regret.
“I’d expect nothing less of Seaview’s Captain,” Nelson admitted.
Drake stood up, this time offering his hand to Admiral Nelson, who took it. “Thank you, Admiral. How long will it take for us to reach my rendezvous?”
“About two days, why?”
“I’d like the opportunity to speak with Captain Crane before I leave the boat.”
“Of course, if he’s up to it, and if Doctor Jamieson allows it.”
“Yes, the doctor, Jamie. I take it there’s a history there?”
This time Nelson grinned. “You could say that.”
“Well, I won’t take up any more of your time.”
“Please, join us for dinner in the wardroom.”
“I’d be delighted,” replied Drake, his craggy face breaking into a smile for the first time since Nelson had met him.
He reached for the door and was gone as quietly as he’d arrived. The Admiral sat down and finally let out a deep sigh. The last week had been rigorous and telling on everyone, but things always seemed to have a way of ironing out. He stared at the paperwork on his desk and sighed. Right now he didn’t have the patience to tackle it. He pushed it aside instead, and began to make his way aft to sick bay to wait for news of Lee.
Chip gave Maxwell a casual glance as he was escorted into the observation nose by Sharkey. “What happened, Maxwell?”
“What do you mean, Sir?” he replied thickly, his lips still swollen.
Chip pointed his pen at Maxwell’s face. “I don’t recall you having those bruises this morning.”
“It’s nothing…I…” He flicked his eyes towards Drake who was staring at him from across the room. “I tripped over the welding equipment in the missile room and hit the torpedo rack.”
Drake hastily stepped in. “Yes, a nasty fall. Your seaman, Kowalski and I saw the whole thing.”
“Um, that’s right, Mister Morton, Sir,’ muttered Kowalski in support.
Chip eyed the fresh cuts on Drake’s bruised knuckles but chose to ignore them. Kowalski had his hands in his pockets, but again, Chip didn’t say a thing.
“Hmm, you’d better go and see Doc. We’ll finish this later. After that you’re confined to quarters until the Board of Inquiry is convened.”
“Yes, Sir,” he said, skulking unhappily from the control room with Sharkey following closely behind.
He steered clear of Kowalski as he headed aft.
When Maxwell stepped into sick bay, the first thing he saw was Captain Crane lying on the examination table, hooked up to a ventilator and various other monitors. He was so still that Maxwell thought he was dead. Then his chest rose as the machine pumped some more life-giving oxygen into his lungs. Admiral Nelson sat in the shadows across from him, his face drawn with worry.
“Maxwell, what do you want?” Jamie asked irritably, well aware of his role in the mission. That he’d spread malicious scuttlebutt about Lee was another matter. “I thought you were confined to quarters pending an inquiry.”
Nelson looked up at him as well, showing about as much sympathy as Jamie.
“I…Mister Morton told me to see you, but I’m fine, really.” He edged back towards the door. “I’ll come back another time.”
Jamieson looked over to the Captain then motioned silently for Maxwell to follow him into his office.
“You’re probably lucky you didn’t get worse.”
Maxwell’s face contorted. “What do you mean by that?”
“Torpedo racks can be very unforgiving,” said Jamieson, masking a grin as he turned to open the medicine cabinet and began treating his newest patient.
Low murmurs woke Nelson. He hadn’t even remembered drifting off to sleep. The last two days had seemed like years. He was still in sick bay and Frank and Jamie were beside Lee. “Jamie, how’s he doing?”
“He woke up a few minutes ago and I removed the ventilator.” He finished taking the breathing equipment away. “He’ll have a sore throat for a few days, but he was lucky he only needed to be on the ventilator for 36 hours so there shouldn’t be any long term problems. The swelling’s gone down and he’s off most of his medication. There was some infection in his arm and that will take some time to heal, but the antibiotics have kicked in and he’s improving. I’m in the dark about that injury right now. The wound on his chest was caused somehow by a letter opener. He said something about it just before I put him under.”
“Is he up to a visitor?”
Jamieson took Lee’s blood pressure before answering. “Not for too long. He’ll tire easily for a while.”
Nelson patted Lee’s arm, and was pleased to see his eyelids flicker open. “I’ll be back soon, Lee, but for now there’s someone else who wants to see you.”
Lee looked over to the door as Drake walked into the sick bay.
Jamie handed him some ice to help his throat. “You have five minutes, Brigadier, then I’ll be calling the Master at Arms.”
Drake raised his hands in surrender. “You have my word, five minutes and no longer.”
Permission obtained from Jamie, Drake approached the rack apprehensively. “How are you feeling, Captain?”
“Been better, been worse,” Lee croaked before putting an ice block into his mouth.
“You didn’t give up the position of the Seaview, did you?”
“When did you realize?” asked Lee, his voice barely above a rough whisper.
Drake’s eyes crinkled into a smile. “None of us knew her exact position. I admit it took a few minutes for it to sink in, but once it did, I realized what you were doing and played along. I’m sorry if I was too enthusiastic about my role.”
“No apologies are necessary, Sir. From what Jamie said when I woke up, the mission was a success.”
“Please, make it John, as far as I’m concerned the mission is over.” He looked guiltily at Lee. “To be honest, it was inappropriate for me to have dressed you down like that in front of your own men.”
“You did what you thought would get the mission done.”
was one more thing. I want to say
something I haven’t said for a very long time, Captain.” He raised a hand as Lee struggled to
speak. “Please, let me finish. I realize now that I have done you a grave
injustice. I made a mistake by being so
quick to judge you in
“We’re only human,” he replied hoarsely, shifting his long body carefully into a more comfortable position.
The agent shook his head. “I’ve managed to convince my superiors to send aid and medical teams to help the villagers to recover from their ill treatment in the factory. It’s to repay you in kind for the way I’ve treated you. When we last met, I was new to the game. Now I understand that we still need to feel compassion, or we become as bad as those we try to stop.”
Lee laid his head back against the pillow. “Yes, we do. Took you long enough to figure it out.”
He shifted uncomfortably. “Admiral Nelson showed me the full report on the ONI mole. You weren’t lying. What you went through because of my actions…well, I can’t tell you how sorry I am.”
“Forget it,” mumbled Lee, his eyes slowly closing.
Drake stood up and took one last look at the Captain of the Seaview. He had a strength and resourcefulness that nobody would ever see at first glance, but after this mission, he finally understood what made the young man tick. He felt deep regret that he’d been so blind the first time, and that he’d caused such pain to be inflicted on Crane. Hopefully this time he had repaid in kind some of that mistake. If it hadn’t been for Crane’s quick actions, he would be lying where the Captain was right now.
“Take care, Captain. Perhaps one day we’ll meet again under better circumstances.”
There was no response from Lee, who had settled into a drug-induced sleep, so Drake merely nodded to Jamieson and made his way towards the control room to await his transfer to the British submarine.
“How are you feeling, Lee?” asked Nelson as he sat in the chair next to Lee’s rack in sick bay.
“Much better, Admiral.”
Nelson could see a healthier glow to his olive complexion and the brightness had returned to his eyes over the last week. His left arm was still in a sling, and for the life of him, Nelson didn’t know how one of his arteries wasn’t severed during his ordeal. Chip had been to see him every chance he got during his forced recovery period. The two young officers seemed to have bridged the gap that had opened between them since the re-breather debacle.
“Jamie said I could return to light duties tomorrow if everything goes well.”
“I believe I said if your temperature stays down you can go back to your cabin, Captain,” Jamieson’s none-too-impressed voice cut in.
Nelson chuckled to himself. “Well, it’s good to see you back with us. I thought we’d really lost you this time.”
Lee’s face became serious. “So did I, Admiral. If it hadn’t been for Drake dragging me out of that place… well, I’d be at the bottom of one of those tunnels right now. How was Tom when he left?”
“He had a few bruises and a couple of cracked ribs, but they’d threatened his family if he didn’t hand all of you over to Devereaux’s men.”
“Have you heard how the families are coping?” Lee asked, pondering Drake’s last words to him.
“A British destroyer arrived at the island five days ago. They’ve set up their tent hospitals on the island and are treating all the victims.”
Nelson saw Lee visibly relax.
“At least the mission was successful.”
“No thanks to Maxwell,” added Nelson.
“Where is Maxwell?”
Nelson looked at Jamie before replying, trying hard but not succeeding in holding back a smile.
“He got back alright, but he apparently, ah…fell in the missile room and bruised his face on the torpedo rack. Both Drake and Kowalski confirmed what happened. Once you’re feeling up to it, we’ll convene a disciplinary board. He acted in a manner that put your lives and the mission at risk. I doubt he’ll find another job like this for a very long time.”
catch his ride back to
Chip grimaced, walking in halfway through the conversation. “Hope that’s the last we’ll ever see of him.”
Nelson and Jamie laughed and nodded. Lee was just relieved that the next time he saw Drake, it would be on better terms - and he had no doubt there would be a next time.
*Pulau Mutiara –