*This story takes place after The Mist of Silence but before the story Atlantis Found. Thanks to Kate for being a wonderful beta and cleaning it up to make it more readable.
A Burden Shared
By Sea Spinner
“I think we need to have a talk about the engineering issue, Lee. Follow me to my cabin.” Nelson made a move to leave the control room.
“I’m busy getting Seaview ready to dock, Admiral.”
“Busy? If you hadn’t been so busy maybe you wouldn’t have made such a stupid mistake? You knew that the part had failed the stress test, yet you still allowed us to dive. We’re lucky it wasn’t an essential system or we’d be lying on the bottom, not berthed safely at the Institute.”
The color rose in Lee’s cheeks. “If you hadn’t been pushing everyone to the limit over your new depth-finder, we wouldn’t have been in that situation in the first place…Sir.”
Nelson slammed his fist on the chart table so hard that every head in the control room turned to stare at the altercation that was taking place. Not even a midshipman would have missed the inferior part and failed to have it replaced. It wasn’t the mistake that had upset him as much as his disappointment that it was Lee who had made the error in judgment. Did he hold him in such high esteem that he wasn’t prepared for his Captain to make mistakes? He was a man, and that meant that he wasn’t infallible.
“Of all the…when I employed you, almost begged you to come to work for me, I had thought that you were a consummate professional.” Nelson waved his hand over the damage report from engineering. “Tell me how you could have missed such an obvious defect during your inspection.”
“I just told you, I was too busy trying to look after the crew and the boat,” Lee’s voice crept up to almost a shout. “I can’t be everywhere at once.”
Nelson’s steely gaze bore into him. “Then perhaps you shouldn’t try,” he said, his voice now dangerously low.
Lee threw a ruler from his hands. “I have some shore leave coming. You can conduct the next mission without me. It’s not too difficult. Mister Morton can handle it. He’s got two days to come up to speed. If you need me after we dock, I’ll be up in my office.” He turned his back on Nelson.
“If you walk away now, Mister, you might as well pack your things,” growled the Admiral. “If John Phillips had been alive this would never have happened. At least he knew his place.”
Lee stopped where he was, the control room was hushed. Not a sound could be heard. When he turned back to the Admiral, there was a cold look in his eyes Nelson had never seen before. “Thank you, Admiral. I will consider my future at the Institute over the next few days.”
Nelson stood there fuming as Lee walked away from him. Damn him! His Captain knew when to push enough buttons to leave him flaming with anger. If only John Phillips…no, thought Harry, that hadn’t been fair. He hadn’t meant to hurt Lee like that, no damn it, he did. The last few months had been like a new era in Seaview’s annals. Lee had come to mean so much to him, and it hurt like hell that he was so willing to throw it all away. Hitting back at Lee like that had been his emotions talking. Thinking back, he wasn’t proud of it. Perhaps his Captain had been right, that sometimes his scientific mind got the better of him. Judgment calls that were usually correct became blurred around the edges when his head was stuck in his experiments. His anger began to melt away and all he was left with was a deep horror that Lee would never forgive him for what he had just said. Nelson looked at the personnel still left staring at him. He ignored Chip’s glare and headed up to his own office.
“Mister Morton, for the moment you are acting Captain. Order a detail to cast off and get us underway. I’ll be in my laboratory. Do not disturb me unless we are sinking.”
He didn’t leave the XO an opportunity to respond and was gone before Chip had even opened his mouth. They would be out at sea for almost a week. That would give both he and Lee time to simmer down and hopefully forget what they had both said in the heat of the moment.
“Lee, you can’t mean it?” pleaded Admiral Harriman Nelson. “This will be the end of your career. Once you take this step there’s no going back. Your security clearance will be removed. What about ONI, you can’t just resign from them?”
“I already have. Admiral Johnson accepted my leave of absence and subsequent resignation. I’m sorry, my mind’s made up. I felt that I should at least tell you in person.”
“But why?” Nelson suddenly lost his temper and shot to his feet, his hands splayed across the teak table. “I’ve given you everything, your own command, a home and I’d hoped, a family. How can you just turn your back on all of it?”
Lee held himself in check. The pain on Nelson’s face was almost unbearable. “I no longer believe that staying at NIMR is in my best interest. You made that perfectly clear last week.”
Nelson walked around to sit in the chair beside Lee. “I’m sorry, I…I said some thoughtless things at the time. I deeply regret them now. Let’s at least talk about it before you make a rash decision.”
“I’m afraid there’s nothing to say.” Lee stood up, knowing full well that this would be a difficult moment for both him and the Admiral. “I had already been considering a move to private industry. Our disagreement, if you prefer to call it that, merely confirmed my suspicions that I was no longer welcome onboard Seaview. We both need to face the reality that the crew has never really accepted me as Captain Phillip’s replacement. This opportunity might not come around again, and I’m afraid it’s an offer I can’t refuse.”
The lies hurt, but it was essential for Nelson to believe that Lee was a completely disgruntled employee and friend. He tried not to think of how tight his chest had been strung when he’d allowed Nelson to think he was incompetent as well.
“How could you possibly consider working for a company that competes for Iron Curtain projects?” The Admiral stood up to face him, his posture suddenly rigid. “Why it’s tantamount to treason.”
Lee shrugged, ignoring the insult. “I’m sorry you see it that way. I’ll have my office cleaned out by the end of the week.”
“Very well, Commander!” snapped Nelson. “If you insist on taking this step, you’re to leave within the hour. I’ll ensure security escorts you off the base and make certain no NIMR property has been inadvertently packed with your personal belongings. You are not to set foot on NIMR grounds again from that moment.”
He knew that Nelson didn’t mean what he said, but it still cut him to the quick. Lee gave him a curt nod and stood at attention. “As you wish, Sir. Permission to leave.”
“Granted,” barked Nelson before turning his back on Lee.
Without further words, he made his way to the door and closed it behind him. Angie smiled at him, adding to his misery.
“Thanks for everything, Angie. Take care.” Lee wasn’t able to say anything more, he was afraid that he would forget his mission and his promise to Admiral Johnson and tell the Admiral everything.
Her smile faded but before she could question what he’d said he was gone from the room.
Lee went immediately to his own office and began packing his meager personal belongings. With each piece he carefully laid in the box he wondered if this would really be the last time he would ever see his friends or the Seaview.
Exactly one hour later, two armed security officers knocked on his open door.
“Sir, Admiral Nelson requested that we escort you from the base. Sorry, Sir.”
Lee put one last thing into the box and nodded. “You both have your job to do. Let’s get on with it.”
One of the guards checked through the items he’d packed and stepped aside, giving Lee access to exit his office. “After you, Sir.”
He walked out the door and forced himself to make a conscious effort to relax his posture. Flanked by the guards, every sinew in his body felt taut as curious stares and whispers met him from all the Institute personnel and the typing pool staff. As it was, his secretary had fortuitously decided to take the day off, thus avoiding difficult questions that he had no desire to answer. Lee was very glad to walk outside to his car and place the box beside him on the passenger seat, away from all the prying eyes and gossip. It never failed to amaze him how easy it was to provide people with the ammunition to believe the worst of someone.
“We’ll just follow you to the gate. Once there, you’ll be required to hand in your identification, base pass and insignia.”
Lee took a deep breath. He hadn’t thought about handing his insignia in when he finished with NIMR and the Navy Reserve. It left a hollow feeling in his stomach as he reached for the gold and silver badges on his collar and took them off. He held them in his hand for a long moment and ran his thumb over the cool metal that had been a part of his life for so long, then sighed and handed them to the guard.
Once the formalities had been completed, Lee hit the highway and headed towards the coastal town of Monterey. He’d already organized for his household effects to be shipped from storage to the house that had been part of his employment package.
was summer, he’d chosen to leave the roof of the Cobra down, letting the warm
wind blow through his hair. It was an
experience he always treasured, but not on this occasion. There were too many things for him to
consider about his new mission and those he’d left behind. ONI hadn’t left him in any doubt about the impending
threat to both Seaview and the
“What do you mean he’s gone?” growled Chip in disbelief. “Gone where – home?”
Lee’s secretary began to sniff and when he saw a tear trickle down her cheek he pulled himself into line. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be so abrupt. I’m just a little confused.”
“I…I know, I took the day off yesterday. I wasn’t even supposed to come in today, but I left my appointment book here and forgot the address I needed.” She waved her hand towards the empty office. “I saw this, and when I tried to ring Captain Crane, I found out he’d left his cell phone in his desk.”
Chip patted her on the arm. “Go and get yourself a coffee. I’ll go and see the Admiral and have Angie come and check on you.”
He strode quickly towards Admiral Nelson’s office, determined to find out what was going on. When he got there, Angie wasn’t at her desk so he knocked on Nelson’s door and entered to find his office empty as well. Chip closed the door and went back to Angie’s desk to ring the boat.
“Chief Jones here.”
“Chief, can you tell me where everyone has got to today?” asked Chip, his cool composure finally beginning to slip.
“Uh, like who, Mister Morton?”
“Like Captain Crane and Admiral Nelson.”
“Well, Sir, I haven’t seen Captain Crane since we docked yesterday morning, but Admiral Nelson’s onboard. He doesn’t look very happy and he’s locked himself in his cabin. He told me he wasn’t to be disturbed under any circumstances.”
“I’ll be down there in a minute, he’ll see me,” snapped Chip, slamming the phone into its cradle.
What was going on? He didn’t believe that Lee had just up and disappeared. The Admiral would know where he was and he was damned well going to tell him.
Lee’s new office overlooked the bay. He’d settled into town the night before, his furniture was due to arrive sometime today but he still wanted to get started. The sooner he found what he was looking for, the sooner he could get back to Seaview - if that was at all possible after his sudden and heated departure.
“Ah, Captain Crane, how are you settling in?”
Lee looked up at the newcomer and gave him a smile. He knew the CEO of the company from the intelligence reports Admiral Johnson had furnished him with.
“Please, call me Lee. I’m not a Captain anymore.”
The older man stopped in front of Lee’s desk. “Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Carl Montgomery, the CEO of the company. I thought I’d leave you to settle in for a while.”
He offered his hand and Lee took it. “Nice to meet you, Sir.”
“It’s Carl. Remember, you’re not in the Navy anymore. Speaking of settling in, how goes it?”
Lee grinned. “I’m sure I’ll adjust to civilian life, it just feels a little strange right now.”
“I used to be a serviceman myself. It took me a while to get used to not wearing a uniform and not having to take orders,” he admitted.
“Well, where do I start?” asked Lee. “You hired me as a project officer and I’m anxious to hit the ground running.”
Lee knew he had to be cautious now. It would take time for him to be accepted and trusted, and even then he doubted anybody was ever completely above suspicion in this company. If he overplayed his hand he could easily arouse suspicions.
“I’ve read the company prospectus and the details I was given at the interview, but can you tell me anything about the latest project, or do I have to go through security protocols first?”
having a top secret Navy clearance is good enough for us,”
Lee shrugged. “I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, after all, a company of your reputation can’t afford to take any risks with personnel.”
His new employer nodded and stood up from his chair. “Well, I’ll leave you to get to know some of your staff. Let’s do lunch and we can discuss the project in my office, say twelve-thirty?”
Lee nodded. “I’d like that. I’ll see you then.”
“What do you think, Ling?” asked Carl Montgomery as he watched Lee on the monitor that sat on his desk.
General Ling, a high ranking officer in the People’s Republic Navy looked closely at the screen. “I don’t trust him. He has worked for their Office of Naval Intelligence against our country more times than I care too remember. It is up to you to make certain he does not betray us.”
“He won’t,” the CEO replied. “He had a very public disagreement with Admiral Harriman Nelson the day before we approached him to work for us. He seemed very upset about the matter. I believe he’ll relish the opportunity to hit back at his former employer. Our contact told us that he had been belittled and humiliated by Admiral Nelson in front of his men. When he left the Institute grounds it was under armed escort.”
had his doubts. He had seen Commander
Lee Benjamin Crane’s dossier and gone over it with a fine tooth comb. There had been rumors surrounding his rapid rise
through the ranks, but nothing had ever been proven. He was apparently squeaky clean. Either Crane was very careful, or he really
was as good as his dossier said he was. Regardless,
if he turned out to be spying for the
“Keep a close watch on him, inside and outside of work. I want to know everyone who comes into contact with him. If it is as I suspect and he is still in his government’s employ, I want to know.”
“Perhaps,” muttered Ling. “You have your orders, do not fail me.”
“Have I ever?”
“As yet, no, but there is always a first time,” he warned as he left the office.
Chip rapped on Admiral Nelson’s door then tried the handle. True to the Chief’s word, it was locked. “Admiral, it’s Chip. I need to see you.”
“Didn’t Curley tell you I wasn’t to be disturbed under any circumstances?” came Nelson’s angry retort.
“It’s about Lee,” said Chip, his self-control sliding.
He heard Nelson mutter something unintelligible. Shortly after, Chip heard the lock click open. “Come in,” growled Nelson without opening the door.
Chip let himself into the cabin and closed the door behind him, not bothering with the lock. The Admiral sat at his desk with a barely contained fury about him.
“Well, what is it?”
“Where’s Lee? His secretary said he’d left, but she didn’t know where he’d gone or why. Is this something to do with what happened between you and Lee last week?”
Nelson’s face turned red. “It has everything and nothing to do with our argument last week!”
Chip sat down and tried to unravel Nelson’s riddle. “What do you mean, Admiral?”
“He told me that he wanted to work in private industry, that he’d had an offer he couldn’t refuse. It’s a company called Monterey Nautical Constructions. Our argument last week just helped him decide – or so he said.” Nelson looked back at the paperwork on his desk. “Now, if you’ll excuse me I have some work to complete.”
The XO wasn’t about to give up yet. “There was something else, wasn’t there?”
“No!” Nelson bellowed abruptly, his normally ice blue eyes livid with anger. “Now return to your duties, Lieutenant Commander.”
Chip knew he wouldn’t find out anything else from Nelson, not while he was still sore at Lee. He racked his brains, why hadn’t Lee said anything to him? He was his best friend. Nothing made sense anymore. Whatever the Admiral was holding back had to be something he didn’t want anyone to find out about Lee. He made to get up from his chair.
“Oh, and Mister Morton, prepare Seaview for departure at 1200 hours.”
Chip looked at his watch. “But Sir, that’s only four hours away, half the crew are still on shore leave.” The back to back missions were beginning to tell on the whole crew, officers included. He didn’t like the idea of calling everyone back so soon – they all needed a decent break. Since Lee had left, Nelson had been driving everyone mercilessly and soon something was going to snap.
“Then recall them, except Curley, he’s on medical leave for two weeks. We’ve been tasked with a recovery mission off the continental shelf.”
The blond XO could see the signs. The meeting was over and he was no better off information-wise. He got up again and left Nelson to his paperwork. Lee wouldn’t just have gone without saying anything to him. It had to be something for ONI.
He made arrangements to have all personnel recalled then hastily strode up to his office to make some unofficial inquiries into Monterey Nautical Constructions.
hours later he was still sitting stunned at his desk. So that was why the Admiral was behaving so
irritably – he thought Lee was selling out his country. The construction company had been involved in
legitimate but unsavory deals with the People’s Republic, the
waited patiently while
“Lee, please come in. There’s someone I want you to meet.”
As Lee stepped through the door he saw a face he hadn’t expected. He caught himself just in time. He hadn’t thought he would meet General Ling immediately. There must be some urgency to the project that hadn’t been passed onto ONI.
“Commander Crane, it is nice to finally meet you. Your reputation in the People’s Republic is well known.”
Lee inclined his head. “It’s just Lee Crane now.”
“Let’s not play games Commander. I’m sure you know who I am.”
Lee had to make a decision, and hoped it was the right one. “Yes, you’re General Ling. You’re a high ranking official of the People’s Republic. You are responsible for the security forces in your country.”
Ling looked pleased. “Yes, I am certain you would have seen my dossier in your ONI missions.”
“Yes.” Lee gave Ling a brief rundown of everything he knew, apart from the facts that could be traced back to the informant. He had no doubt that Ling also knew what type of information was in the dossier – withholding that could be deadly.
“Of course. Please sit down, Commander, Montgomery.”
Lee took a
seat across from
to your liking, Commander?” asked
“Very nice, thank you,” he replied, wondering when they were going to get around to the project.
stopped eating and picked up the piece of paper
“You’re building a submarine?”
Ling and Montgomery exchanged glances. “Yes,” replied Ling. “Once again I believe you will be a valued acquisition to our company. The submarine we are building is very special. For the moment you will work on specific parts, guiding us and correcting deficiencies in the plans.”
“I’ll help in any way I can. After all, you’re paying me a small fortune.”
The second course came out. Lee had no desire to touch it, yet he took a few mouthfuls and was pleasantly surprised. Despite himself he continued to eat.
“How far along is the project?”
close to finishing, but the circuitry is causing us significant delays,”
Lee took a second look at the diagram. “This section here has been wired incorrectly. Do you have a pencil?”
looked at him curiously as he produced one and gave it to him. Lee made some alterations to the diagram and
passed it back to
“Did I do something wrong?”
Lee forced a smile and continued to eat his lunch. So, he thought, they weren’t just in a hurry, they were desperate. He had to get this information back to Johnson, but how? Secrecy had demanded that there would be no contact with another ONI agent. Lee would figure it out when he left work.
The lunch finally ended, Ling returned briefly and appeared to be pleased with Lee’s change to the diagram. Lee managed to get through the rest of the day and was relieved to head home. He unlocked the door and went inside. He was about to turn on the lights when another body shoved him up against the wall. His first instinct was to fight, but something held him back, something about the person was vaguely familiar.
“Don’t move, don’t say anything,” whispered the man. “Let’s go out the back.”
“Who…?” Lee started then found his mouth covered by a hand.
“I said don’t talk.”
He was guided outside by the man and into a dark corner of the courtyard. “Who are you?”
“Don’t you recognize my voice, Sir?”
Lee squinted against the darkness. “Chief?” he said tentatively.
“I know Admiral Johnson from way back. He needed someone he could trust without question. I guess that was me,” he said modestly.
“Does the Admiral know?” Lee resisted the impulse to ask how the Admiral and Chip were.
“No, Sir. Admiral Johnson was very specific. I…uh, I’d appreciate it if Admiral Nelson didn’t find out. I’m supposed to be on medical leave.”
Lee felt the burden he’d been carrying lifted from his shoulders with the knowledge that at least one of his crew knew for certain he wasn’t a traitor. “Of course, Chief, your secret’s safe with me. Now, I need you to get some information back to Admiral Johnson. They’re building a submarine, something special. I don’t know exactly how far away they are from completion, but I would say they’re very close. They need me to help them iron out the details. I’d hazard a guess that the boat’s completed but they’re having problems with the final details and electrical circuitry.”
“I’ll relay that back to Admiral Johnson tonight, Sir.”
“There’s one more thing, it’s for the People’s Republic. Tell Johnson that General Ling is involved. I’ll do what I can once I’ve found the submarine to put it out of action, but I can’t show my hand until then.”
“Yes, Sir.” Curley went to leave then turned back to the Captain. “Skipper, what you’re doing…it must have been tough for you to leave like you did. I just wish I could tell the guys.”
More difficult than you know, Chief.
“Thanks, Curley. You’d better go before they check on me again.”
“Take care, Skipper.”
As Curley quietly disappeared into the darkness he turned once to look back at the house. It was real tough that the Captain had to look like a traitor to pull this mission off. He hadn’t seen his face in the dark, but his voice had been strained and tired. Once he got him back on board Seaview he would make sure that he was looked after. The whole crew had been suffering under Hurricane Nelson since the Skipper had left the boat, and Curley hoped the Captain wouldn’t take too long or there wouldn’t be a crew left for him to command. Captain Phillips had been a good Captain, strong and intelligent, but without Captain Crane’s passion or energy. Curley had heard the whole argument between the Captain and Admiral Nelson and it had been hard for him not to say anything in the Skipper’s defense. He stopped reminiscing and continued his covert departure, hoping that his Captain would be alright.
A few days later there was a knock at his door. Lee opened it and was both surprised and dismayed to find Chip standing on his front porch. “What are you doing here? How did you find me?”
Chip tried to push past Lee but the Captain stood his ground. “Aren’t you going to ask me inside so we can talk about what a damned awful career move you’ve just made?”
Lee met the icy cold eyes with a look of his own that would have had the most robust of Chiefs quaking in his boots. “I don’t recall inviting you here in the first place.”
“You’ve got to talk to me, Lee. What you’re doing…I can’t believe it’s something you’d do of your own free will. Are you being blackmailed, or maybe an ONI mission? What’s going on?”
Lee stepped over the threshold onto the porch and slammed the door behind him with a thud that resounded down the quiet and seemingly deserted street. If he let Chip into the house he risked the whole operation – that meant risking the life of everyone on Seaview, including his best friend. He hoped that after this whole awful business was over Chip would understand that.
“Didn’t you get my note?”
Chip nodded. “Oh, sure, and did you seriously think I wouldn’t come after you to find out what’s really going on?”
“Yes, I thought I made myself perfectly clear. I want to completely sever my ties to the Institute and Seaview,” he replied coldly.
“Tell me why. I deserve the truth. How long have we known each other, been friends?”
“I want you to leave, right now! I don’t owe either you or the Admiral anything. I repaid any debt in full when I saw Farrell killed in front of my eyes and was blamed by each and every man for his death. I don’t want any part of it, not anymore. Now leave me alone and go back to your precious Admiral,” snapped Lee, trying to keep his emotions in check. Dredging up the past hurt him and he could see it pained Chip.
“You’re not the Lee Crane I remember,” Chip said icily. “Go ahead, turn traitor and run away from your problems. You’re not worth it.”
Lee didn’t watch him leave. He hurriedly went back inside and slammed the door shut again, making sure he’d given a good show of it for anyone watching. He clutched at the door frame, for a moment. Of all the missions he’d undertaken, this was the worst. It was going to take the biggest chunk of his humanity. He settled down on the lounge and grabbed a bottle of whisky. He popped the top off and downed a good mouthful straight from the neck. It hadn’t taken him long to sweep the house. The search had revealed a few cameras and some bugs – when he’d had a chance he’d replaced the whisky with iced tea to fool those who were watching his every move. Right now, he almost wished it was the real stuff he was drinking, but he’d never been much of a drinker. He settled down onto the couch and turned the television on to distract himself.
Lee was becoming increasingly frustrated, even though he made every effort to conceal it from Ling and Montgomery. He had been working for the company for almost a week now, and had not been given anything more substantial than bits and pieces of the puzzle. He stood up from his desk and stretched, staring out across the bay. His intuition told him that the completion of the circuitry work was close, which meant that the submarine would set sail soon. He had no doubt that it was similar in configuration to Seaview, which worried him immensely. No other submarine in the world had been able to match Seaview’s technology and weaponry advances, which meant there was a traitor in NIMR. There was no other option but to do some late night reconnaissance and tonight provided him with the prime opportunity. He looked at his watch, only one hour to the dinner meeting. It would be held on the next floor up in the conference room – the same floor that housed Ling and Montgomery’s offices.
He had managed to ‘borrow’ a pass from one of the engineers who had left on holidays during the week and was waiting for the right moment to make full use of it in his absence. Lee continued with his paperwork, all the time wondering how people could work in an office all day long. He loved being on and under the sea, it was in his blood. This past week had reinforced in his mind just how special his job really was. As it was, it had also been one of the loneliest weeks of his life. Being isolated from his friends and crew hadn’t been easy. That coupled with the constant stress of keeping up appearances had also given him sleepless nights. He shrugged off the feeling of exhaustion and continued to trudge through all the paperwork. Tonight could prove to be very interesting indeed.
Lee raised his drink as Ling proposed a toast to the completion of the project. He had been right, there was no more time. The other three people who sat at the table were Montgomery and two board members that Lee had only met tonight. He’d seen their files but there was nothing in them to warrant further investigation on his part. Once dinner was over, he was going to have to play his cards right.
“Well, Commander, thank you for your help. Without you, this project would still be a long way from the finished product. Tonight will be our very first trial. It’s a pity you cannot be part of it, but I think you understand.”
“Of course. Perhaps once I’ve become more established in the company,” returned Lee.
The door opened as soon as dessert had been cleared away and a familiar face walked into the room. It was Chang Wei, a veteran submarine commander. The pieces of the puzzle had just come together, and he didn’t like what the final picture told him. No wonder Johnson had insisted on a high level of secrecy. This was one mission where success and urgency was paramount. He wasn’t introduced to Lee, and bent down to whisper in Ling’s ear.
up. “Please excuse me gentlemen, but I
am afraid that dinner is over. I am
needed elsewhere and I am sure you would all like to head home after a long
“You go ahead. I forgot to tell Ling about the final schematic I worked on today.”
They nodded and the doors closed behind them, leaving him alone in the corridor. He knew it wouldn’t be long before Ling and Montgomery appeared, so he used the stolen swipe card to access one of the offices. Their voices came down the corridor and stopped near his door. Lee held his breath as the conversation continued. A third voice met his ear, it must have been Wei. He didn’t want to have to break his cover just yet. The handle moved slightly then stopped as Wei was told by Ling to follow them immediately. He let out his breath and waited for a few minutes until he was certain they had taken the elevator. There were surveillance cameras on the each floor but that couldn’t be helped now. He walked quickly and confidently from the office towards the elevator and hoped that this would fool anyone who was watching. Now the only problem was where the elevator opened in the caverns below. Once again he decided to bluff his way through and hope for the best.
Heading to the other side of the building, Lee discovered an emergency exit staircase. It gave him an idea. He hoped he wasn’t wrong because he had the feeling that time was running out for both him and Seaview. The card granted him access to the stairwell and it wasn’t long before he’d almost reached the bottom. Fortunately his hunch had been correct and the stairs went all the way to the sub-levels. He pulled the door open far enough to see where he’d come out. Nothing could have prepared Lee for the spectacular cavern that sprawled out from the stairwell, nor for the replica Seaview sitting at a dock right in front of him. He’d heard rumors of gigantic caverns along the Californian coastline, but nothing like this. The dock was a hive of activity as the submarine was readied for departure. Lee watched as the docking lines were un-tethered and the gray goliath slowly started to move away from the dock. Workers began leaving as their jobs were completed. That was when he saw his opportunity and took it.
Slipping down one end of the dock he swam quickly towards the disappearing submarine. It was still only moving slowly enough to maneuver. He forced a burst of speed out as he made a last ditch effort to get onboard. Throwing his arm out he managed to grab one of the hand rungs. Lee clutched precariously at the side of the boat and for one tenuous moment he didn’t think he would make it. His muscles strained as he hauled himself up onto the submarine’s deck using brute strength. He felt the subtle shift in angle as the bow began to submerge and quickly tugged the aft hatch open. Once inside he closed it softly behind him only pausing long enough to catch his breath. The hatch had taken him into the submarine just above the missile room. He knew that the boat was almost identical to Seaview from the plans. Still, he was amazed to find that so far, it was equally perfect in reality, right down to the interior fittings. It was obvious that the People’s Republic had spared no expense to build the twin submarine.
Lee stealthily made his way to the mechanisms that controlled the diving planes. He was almost there when he heard an announcement over the intercom.
“All hands, prepare to engage the Seaview.”
The words filled him with dread. He quickly found what he was looking for and jammed the diving planes into full downward position. No sooner had he done this than the submarine was rocked by an explosion. He was thrown hard against the bulkhead but quickly recovered and left the room. If he was found, he didn’t want to be anywhere near this room in case the crew realized where his sabotage had taken place. Next stop was the reactor room. If he could short-circuit it then the boat would be dead in the water. The boat lurched to one side as a torpedo struck nearby. That would make his job easier. By the time they realized it wasn’t a fault from the torpedo explosion it would be too late to do anything about it. He was almost there when he heard running in the corridor. The logical thing was to get into the ventilation shafts which would lead him directly to his objective. As his hands touched the grill a small charge detonated. It was enough to throw him away from the shaft and onto the floor where he lay stunned.
The blast hadn’t been enough to make him black out, but he couldn’t move. He felt himself hauled upwards and held tightly between two men as they dragged him away from the reactor room towards the nose. From the angle of the deck he could tell that nobody had figured out what he had done to the planes, and he fervently hoped it would stay that way.
He was pushed roughly into the control room where Ling and Montgomery stood looking angry. There was fear on the crew’s faces as they looked at him with hatred.
“Something you’ll never find in time.”
His head snapped around to one side as Ling hit him across the face. “Try again, Commander.”
Lee smiled grimly at Ling. “Lee Benjamin Crane, Commander, United States Navy.”
General swung furiously towards
out of here,” snapped Ling, his attention returning to Lee as
“You have my name and rank, that’s all you’ll get out of me.”
Ling looked around at the faces in the control room. “Perhaps I should let my crew have you. I don’t think that you are very popular at the moment.”
A few of the crew nodded and gazed angrily at him.
“On the other hand, I have something else that might loosen your tongue. I’ve had quite a lot of success with difficult challenges using this method.” Ling motioned to the two crewmen holding Lee to follow him.
He was taken to the decompression chamber. When Ling opened the small entrance hatch Lee managed to break free. As he ran down the corridor he was blind-sided and thrown to the ground, the breath knocked out of him. He managed to get a punch in before Ling stood over him pointing a gun at his chest.
“Get up,” seethed Ling as Lee got to his knees. “Put him in the chamber and lock the door. Now we will see how brave you are, Commander.”
Lee was shoved into the chamber and sent sprawling onto the floor as the door closed behind him. He got up and saw Ling pick up the microphone. “Do you have anything you want to say before we start?”
“Very well, we won’t waste any more time.”
Lee could see one of the crew adjusting the controls. The first thing he felt was the pressure building up against his eardrums. He tried to equalize by swallowing, then yawning, but as the gage kept rising, so did his discomfort.
“By now you’ll be starting to feel the increase in pressure, Crane. Soon, your ear drums will burst, and you’ll become disorientated. Is this really what you want? To die like this, in agony, knowing you’ll never see the surface or your friends again?”
Lee watched as Ling’s face appeared again at the viewing window. He picked up the microphone. “You might as well give up now. I know this submarine backwards and you’ll never figure out what I’ve done in time.”
frowned. “Then you will die, too, just
“So be it if it saves my friends lives.”
A squeaking sound in one ear alerted him to what was about to happen, but the piercing pain that speared through the ear still brought him down to one knee. Just as suddenly, he felt the pain recede and was aware of a warm trickle of blood as it trailed down from his ear to his jaw. He clutched for the bench as a jolt of dizziness spun him off-balance.
“Was that painful, Crane? I certainly hope so. Look at the gage, the pressure is increasing. Soon, your other organs will feel the agony too.”
Lee knew the symptoms and what would come next. He didn’t need to be told. Even as he tried to think about something else, the chamber began to blur before his eyes. The pressure sickness gradually began to take away his ability to think clearly and stay upright. He felt his nose start to bleed as he slid slowly onto the floor. The time he’d spent on Seaview came back to him as he began to lose his thin grip on consciousness. He hadn’t even said goodbye to all his friends and crew. The Admiral, Chip and Jamie would think he’d deserted his country. If he died now, a wake of pain would be left with his memory. Even Curley was sworn to secrecy, he knew it would be even harder for the Chief to bear, listening to the speculation about Lee.
A sudden shuddering jerked him back to consciousness. He felt the pressure abruptly released and heard the hatch open as hands dragged him outside and pulled him to his feet.
Ling stood before him. “You will watch as we leave through the escape hatch. Your destiny will be to die a slow death on board this submarine, never to be found. Your sabotage and the Seaview have caused us to take on too much water and we are sinking.” He stepped closer to Lee. “I had thought of just killing you, but that would be too fast and painless for someone like you. A slow death at the hands of the ocean you love is much more deserving. I have set the electromagnetic wave generator to emit a pulse when your precious submarine is close enough. You will die knowing there was nothing you could do to save them.”
Lee was too disorientated to reply. He was half-carried, half-dragged to the missile room where he was tied to the bottom of the torpedo rack. The last thing he remembered was Ling giving him a painful reminder of his vulnerability before he passed out.
Sometime later he regained his senses. He gradually realized that the boat had stopped its descent and must have been lying on the bottom somewhere. Gathering what little strength he had left, Lee struggled against his bonds until they loosened enough for him to pull his damaged wrists free. He still couldn’t see properly, everything appeared blurred, even objects close to his eyes. There wasn’t a sound in the boat. It was silent, waiting for its final moment of glory, it seemed. He got to his knees but couldn’t fight the overwhelming nausea that struck his stomach. It was a part of the pressure sickness, he told himself, ignoring the possibility of permanent or long-term damage from his exposure in the chamber.
He had to alert Seaview and disassemble the wave generator. He would not allow his friends to die with him. Feeling his way, he made it to the missile room hatch. He would have to make his way to the radio shack; from there perhaps he could contact Seaview. It was a long and painful process. More than once he tripped on the lip of a hatch, cutting his shins and bruising his body as he fell jarringly to the deck. Still, the urgency of his task drove him on, so he pulled himself to his feet and kept going. Lee lost track of time and it was only when he scraped his way past the plotting board that he realized he was in the control room.
suddenly came back – it was debilitating enough to stop him in his tracks while
just staying on his feet became a fight.
The feeling slowly went away and Lee was able to stumble to the
radio. He squinted and tried to focus
for long enough to find the microphone hand piece. Fortuitously the mic was in the same place as
Seaview’s. He had no hope of seeing the frequency
numbers so he just hoped that
“Lee Crane calling Seaview. Crane calling Seaview. Come in Seaview.”
There was no response. He leaned heavily against the radio set. It was imperative he get in touch with them, or they would share his watery grave.
“Crane to Seaview, if you can hear me, you need to stay away from this submarine. There’s an electromagnetic wave generator onboard which is set to go off if you approach. The boat has been abandoned but the generator will be triggered if you come within sensor range.”
He repeated the message several more times before he realized it was pointless. Visualizing each schematic in his mind, he knew he would have to destroy the EM wave generator if he was to save Seaview and all her hands. There was only one piece of circuitry that stood out and unfortunately for him it was back in the circuitry room. He lurched back down the corridor until he fell over the last hatchway, keeping his desperation at bay. When he opened his eyes, he wondered if he’d passed out for a while. The door to the circuitry room was only a few feet away now. Lee didn’t have the strength to stand again, so he crawled into the room on his hands and knees.
He wiped a hand across his face before prizing one of the panels open with his fingers. From what he could see and feel of it, the panel was unfamiliar to him. It had to be the one. He took a deep breath and pulled out some wiring then gave it a wrench, ignoring the sparks and flames that shot out to singe his hands.
The EM wave generator was finished. Lee let himself fall back against the bulkhead as the sparks slowly died down. He was bone weary, and knew no rescue would come. His attempts to radio Seaview had not been successful, and he didn’t have the energy or physical capacity to try to fix the radio. Once the spitting sound from the panel died down, he realized how quiet and ominous the submarine was. He was the only one aboard, sitting beneath who knew how many hundreds of yards of water. He saw the lights flicker then go out. Lee was left alone in total darkness.
His thoughts lingered on the argument he’d provoked with Nelson. Not one of his finer moments, he admitted to himself, but Admiral Johnson had intel to prove that there was a spy aboard Seaview. So Lee had to make it look good. It had been angry and loud and had ultimately deeply damaged the relationship Lee had with the Admiral. What made it worse was Lee’s decision to start it with Nelson in the control room so that rumors would circulate throughout the boat, hopefully being reported back to the right people. By the end of the quarrel, nobody on board had been left in any doubt as to Lee’s state of mind when he stormed out of the room. Nelson had told him that the whole incident wouldn’t have happened if John Phillips had been in command – he hoped that the Admiral didn’t mean that. If he did, then there most definitely wouldn’t be a place for him back at NIMR. He thought that Nelson’s comment had been born from frustration when Lee wouldn’t admit responsibility for his mistake. The Admiral didn’t accept second best from anyone, including himself. Then there was Chip…he didn’t know what he could ever say to him to be rewarded with his forgiveness.
He gingerly touched his face where Ling’s fist had connected twice. It was sore, but he didn’t think anything was broken. At least the nose bleed had stopped. He quickly sucked in a breath as an intermittent sharp pain in his ear reminded him of his perforated ear drum. His vision hadn’t come back but before the lights had died he had been able to tell that the air revitalizer had stopped working – he would only have a few hours of air left and then it would all be over. Lee closed his eyes. The complete lack of any noise or light started to get to him so he sought comfort in the memories of the last few months. He thought of how proud he was when the Admiral had shanghaied him from the Navy to become Seaview’s Captain and smiled. If nothing else, every day he’d been onboard the Seaview he’d lived a lifetime. As the throbbing in his head came back and intensified he made himself as comfortable as he could. The one thing he couldn’t shut off was his sadness that he would never see his friends again. Still, he tried to forget and closed his eyes, satisfied that he’d saved the only people in the world that meant anything to him.
“I’ve got it, Sir!” cried Kowalski. “Dead ahead, about one thousand yards.”
Nelson looked over the rating’s shoulder. “Good, Ski. Well done.” He turned to Jones. “Chief, ready the Diving Bell, Chip, you’re with me. You’d better have Doctor Jamieson come with us too.”
“Morton to Sickbay.”
Jamie’s voice greeted him. “Jamieson here.”
“Meet us in the missile room ASAP.”
“I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
A few minutes later the three of them were being lowered in the bell heading towards the stricken submarine.
“Do you think we’ll be able to dock with her, Admiral?” asked Jamie.
“Hmm, I think so. From what Lee said over the radio the submarine is an exact replica of the Seaview.” Nelson rubbed a hand over the back of his neck. “I’m concerned that he couldn’t hear us and we haven’t been contacted by him since.”
“I’m sure he’s fine, Admiral,” Jamie pitched in, but he knew nobody was buying his optimism.
Jamie looked at Chip. He hadn’t said anything since the diving bell had been launched. His hands were firmly clamped on the armrests of his chair and the constant twitch of his jaw muscles hadn’t escaped Jamie either. The XO looked to be on the verge of snapping. Jamie knew how much Lee meant to both Chip and the Admiral. Both of them had taken his departure very badly and now that they were within reach of the truth and Lee, it seemed fate might stop them from finding him alive.
“Chip, can you help guide me in?” said the Admiral.
Jamie waited impatiently while the two worked in tandem to bring the bell into a position where it could make a successful dock with the submarine. It took a few moments, but Jamie finally relaxed a little when Nelson let the controls go and sighed with relief.
“We’ll wear the oxygen equipment in case the air’s fouled,” ordered Nelson, still obviously struggling with his own emotions.
Once they had donned the breathing apparatus Nelson opened the hatch. “I suggest we start at the control room. That’s where Lee would have been when he contacted us.”
The three of them moved silently through the eerie submarine. The emergency batteries must have taken on some water since the lights were off – leaving the submarine pitch black. He wondered what sort of state they would find Lee in. It had been two hours since they had managed to fix their engineering problems to a level where they could mount a search and rescue mission. It hadn’t helped that they had to find the time to modify the diving bell in the event they weren’t able to dock in the conventional manner. Before long they were in the control room.
“Spread out, see if he’s here,” said Nelson.
Chip moved around the corner of the periscope well – nothing. He stepped into the forward area but there was still no sign of Lee.
Nelson ran a hand through his hair. “He has to be onboard. We’ll split up. I’ll take Deck A, Chip you stay on this deck, Jamie Deck C, and be careful.”
The corridor seemed to stretch into infinity with no lights as Chip searched each and every nook and cranny on the main deck. “Lee! Lee, it’s Chip, can you hear me?” he shouted then jammed his oxygen mask back on as he waited for a response that didn’t come.
He finally made it to the circuitry room. Chip shone the torch inside and was rewarded with a set of legs protruding from behind one of the circuitry panels. Lee was slumped against the bulkhead, eyes closed. His face was so pale that for one awful moment Chip thought they’d been too late.
“Admiral, Jamie, he’s in the circuitry room.”
He knelt down beside Lee and felt for his pulse. It was slow and weak, but it was there, his stomach moved out of his throat and back to where it was supposed to be. “He’s alive.”
While he waited for the others to join him he tried to rouse his friend to no avail. Looking at him, Chip could see that the last week or two had been hard on him – beneath the harsh flashlight, Lee’s face was drawn and his eyes held dark rings beneath them. He tried his best to ignore the dried blood that traced downwards from his nose and ear, and the fresh bruises high on one cheek.
Chip shivered involuntarily as he unconsciously looked back over his shoulder. How long had Lee been sitting in the submarine alone and in the darkness? He had a light and knew that he wasn’t alone yet it still gave him the creeps. He found himself fighting to keep his growing imagination under wraps. It would have been enough to send a sane man crazy.
A noise in the corridor reassured him that Jamie and the Admiral were close. He looked up as Jamie stepped through the door first.
The doctor knelt down beside Lee and pulled out his first aid kit as Chip held the torch up to give him some light. Jamie drew an oxygen mask over Lee’s face to support his breathing.
“Chip, move your torch over to this side, just below his ear,” murmured Jamie. “Hmm.”
“What is it, Jamie?” asked the Admiral.
The doctor pulled Lee’s eyelids up and frowned. “I…I’m not one hundred percent certain, but I’d hazard a guess that he’s been exposed to high pressure.”
“What?” Nelson and Chip replied in unison.
“He has bleeding from the nose, one ear and has some burst blood vessels in his eyes. I’m not sure what other injuries he’s sustained. We need to get him off this submarine and back onto Seaview as soon as possible. He may need to undergo some recompression.”
Chip put his hand on Lee’s arm. “Lee, can you hear me? It’s Chip.”
Lee’s eyelids briefly flickered. “Chip?” he asked, his voice barely audible as he started to struggle against the mask.
“Hey, Lee, it’s okay, we’re here. You’re safe now,” said Chip, easily managing Lee’s feeble attempts to take it off. “Jamie’s put an oxygen mask on you.”
“System failed when I damaged the boat.”
Nelson exchanged glances with Chip. “You knew the system would fail?”
Lee nodded. “Couldn’t let them destroy Seaview… kill you. EM machine…destroyed.” He closed his eyes. “Sorry…”
Jamie checked Lee over again. “He’s passed out. Admiral, we have to get him back now.”
“Yes, you’re right. We’ll get a salvage party back here to see if the boat can be raised, but first we need to see to Lee.”
Chip and Jamie picked Lee up and supported him between them as they headed back to the docking hatch. Chip went up first then Nelson and Jamie passed Lee through to him. As soon as all of them were on board, Chip dogged the hatch and the Admiral released the docking clamp. Jamie stayed by Lee’s side.
“What do you think, Jamie? Will he be alright?”
“I don’t know, Admiral. If I’m right, there can be some serious side-effects from long exposure to high pressure. I’ll have to wait until he regains consciousness before I can tell.”
Both of them turned to look at Chip. “What?”
Chip’s blue eyes stared back at them. “He said ‘sorry’.”
Nelson suddenly became silent.
“He’s been on this boat the whole time she’s been dead in the water, probably thinking he was going to die, and the only thing he can say is ‘sorry’.” Chip watched as Jamie returned to making sure Lee was comfortable. “We believed the worst of him, how could we do that. We’re the ones who should apologize.”
Nobody spoke again until the FS1 docked with the Seaview.
“Because he wanted us to and allowed us to believe the worst, Chip.” Nelson reached down to touch his Captain’s shoulder. “He had a job to do and nothing was more important than saving all of us, not even his pride and reputation.”
Lee struggled back to consciousness slowly. He opened his eyes and found Jamie standing over him.
“Welcome back to the land of the living, Captain,” he said cheerily as he slipped the blood pressure cuff around Lee’s arm. “How do you feel?”
He closed his eyes again. “Like I’ve been trampled by a herd of buffalo.”
“Care to tell me how you came by these injuries?”
“Not very talkative today, are you? Is there something else bothering you that I haven’t worked out yet?”
Lee hesitated, and then nodded. “My eyes – everything’s blurry.” It was only a white lie, he didn’t really know where he stood with the Admiral and Chip, and that was the real problem.
“Open up and let me look.”
He flicked his lids open as Jamie shone a light into his pupils. “I can’t see anything wrong, but I won’t be able to confirm it until we’re back at the Institute. How long were you in the decompression chamber?”
“I think only a short time, maybe thirty minutes. I’m not quite sure.”
Jamieson put the light down. “I suspect the myopia is only a short-term side-effect. It will correct itself over time, Captain. Tell me something. Why did they put you in the chamber?”
“Ah,” he replied noncommittally. “Well, I told the Admiral I’d let him know as soon as you were awake.”
Lee grabbed his arm. “I’d prefer if you didn’t, Doctor. I…I’m feeling very tired right now.”
Jamie frowned. This wasn’t the Lee Crane he was slowly getting to know. He also knew better than to try and argue with him on an issue like this. Better to just go around him than try to win head on.
“I suppose I could put it off for a while longer.” He patted Lee’s arm. “Get some sleep.”
He called Frank into his office. “Frank, I’m going to see the Admiral. Keep an eye on Captain Crane until I get back.”
Jamie found Chip with Admiral Nelson in his cabin. “Do you mind if I have a word?”
“Not at all, Jamie. Come in. Chip and I were just discussing what can be done about the submarine. How’s Lee?”
“He woke up but he seems to be avoiding speaking to you or Chip.”
Nelson frowned. “Why?”
“I’m no mind reader, Admiral, but I think he feels like he’s betrayed you somehow or let you down.”
“Then he’s wrong. If that EM wave generator had gone off, Seaview would be on the bottom like a sitting duck.” Nelson waved his arm around. “We all owe him our lives.”
“Then perhaps you should tell him that,” said Jamieson.
The Admiral nodded at the XO. “Chip, why don’t you go and see Lee. I’m going to be busy for a while.”
Jamie looked at Nelson, puzzled. He knew both of them were anxious about Lee’s recovery. They had had been sitting beside him until pressing matters had dragged them reluctantly from sickbay, so why, all of a sudden was the Admiral behaving so coldly. As they stepped away from the table Jamieson heard the intercom.
“Doctor Jamieson to sickbay. Medical emergency!”
Without bothering to speak to the other two officers, Jamie took off for sickbay at a run. When he got through the door he could see that Lee was in pain. Nelson and Chip followed behind him.
“What happened?” he asked Frank.
“He started complaining of pains in his legs. I’ve already organized for the decompression chamber to be prepped.”
Jamie frowned as he saw his patient begin to writhe in agony. “Well done, Frank. I don’t want to wait, let’s get him in there immediately.”
“Jamie?” queried Nelson.
“I don’t know. I can only assume that he spent more time in the chamber than I first thought.” He helped Frank and another corpsman get Lee on a stretcher. “The problem is that I don’t have any idea what pressure he was at, I can only guess.”
“Damn!” Nelson rubbed at his neck. “Do what you can for him, Doc.”
Jamieson looked at Nelson. He was about to dress him down and tell him that he always did whatever he could for the Captain, for any man. The words never came out when he saw the deep worry lines around the Admiral’s eyes.
“I’ll do my best. As soon as I have something concrete I’ll let you know.”
Chip and the Admiral were left alone in sickbay, both contemplating their friend and Captain.
tell him what I needed to. What
if…” Chip sank dejectedly into a chair. “The things I said to him. I didn’t tell you that I went to see him in
Nelson rested his hand on the exam table where Lee’s body had left a still-warm imprint. “I understand, Chip. Will’s a good doctor. If anyone can pull him through, he can. There’ll be plenty of time for self-recrimination later, but right now Lee needs us to stay strong for him. Come on, let’s finish what we were doing, there’s nothing we can do to help him right now.”
The last thing either of them expected was for Jamieson to come back through the door in a hurry. “Admiral, there’s something wrong with the decompression chamber. We’ve got a technician working on it, but he can’t pinpoint it without taking it apart. Lee needs treatment now.”
Nelson resisted the urge to go barreling into the chamber to see if he could fix it himself. Instead, he picked up the microphone. “Nelson to control room.”
“Control room, O’Brien.”
“O’Brien, what’s the current position of the USS Enterprise?”
After a brief pause O’Brien’s voice came back over the speaker. “Five hundred yards off our port bow, Sir. They’re still on standby to assist us to decommission the enemy submarine.”
fifteen minutes, Lee was on his way to the carrier. Nelson watched from the sail as he was lifted
onboard. He had never felt so
helpless. As it was, he hadn’t been able
to face Lee after his angry words. There
was still the whole mess of his resignation to sort out. He had no intention of replacing Lee as Seaview’s Captain, but he also knew Lee
wouldn’t let him off that easily. As
soon as they finished with the sunken submarine, he would fly to
finger hovered over the intercom button for the fourth time in as many
minutes. He wanted to contact the
Curley opened the door and walked inside.
Nelson nodded towards the piece of equipment he was holding. “What’s that, Chief?”
“It’s a valve from the decompression chamber, Sir.” He placed it on the table in front of Nelson.
The valve sat there for a few seconds before he picked it up and confirmed what he had begun to suspect. “It was deliberately damaged.”
“Yes, Sir. I don’t think we would have found it in time to save the Skipper’s life, he would have…he might not have made it.” Curley looked dismayed at the thought.
Nelson handed the valve back to him, fighting with his rational self not to throw it at the wall in anger. “Thank you.”
“Sir, how is Captain Crane?”
“I don’t know. Doctor Jamieson should have an update soon.” He looked up when Curley didn’t make a move to leave. “Something else on your mind, Chief?”
“Permission to speak freely, Sir?”
“Well, Sir, the Captain, I think he…well, he…”
Nelson grew impatient. “Out with it, man.” This wasn’t like the Chief at all.
“Nothing, Sir, sorry. Permission to carry on?”
Admiral watched him leave the cabin and ran a thoughtful hand through his
hair. Did Curley know something he
didn’t? His behavior indicated there was
something on his mind that he wanted to tell Nelson, but wasn’t able to. Well, there was nothing he could do about it
for now. The priority was to finish and
make all haste to
His hand went back to the intercom. “Control room, is Mister Morton there?”
“Morton here, Admiral.”
“Give O’Brien the con and come to my cabin. There’s something I need to discuss with you.”
Again Nelson stared at the intercom and shook his head in frustration. If there was any news, Jamie would let him know straight away. There was the matter of the saboteur to deal with before anything else and once he knew who it was there would be no place the person could hide.
When Lee came to, all he saw was the cylindrical decompression chamber. He lashed out, thinking he was still on the other boat, still being questioned by Ling.
“No,” he gasped, his breath catching in his throat.
unfamiliar medic steadied himself after Lee’s wild swing and grappled with his
arms. “Commander Crane, you’re okay,
you’re onboard the
“I have to get out of here, let me out.” Lee felt the slight sting as a needle entered his arm. “What the…”
He looked up angrily as a doctor pushed him back down on the rack. “You have to be here, you need decompression. You began exhibiting some more symptoms. I can’t understand why you reacted like this.”
“Why am I here and not onboard the Seaview?” he asked, confused.
“Their decompression chamber malfunctioned. We were the closest vessel able to assist.”
“What did you give me?” asked Lee suspiciously.
“Just a mild sedative, a relaxant, it won’t knock you out.”
A relaxant, he thought, there wasn’t much chance of that. He’d been strung as tight as a bow since the day Johnson had informed him of the mission. He took a deep breath, the chamber still felt like it was closing in on him, but he admitted that it was easing. “How long do I have to be here?”
The doctor took a look at the needle in the gage. “Your doctor had to guess the depressurization schedule since you weren’t in any state to tell us. You’ve been in here for little over eight hours and I don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t be in sickbay by the morning.”
“I don’t need to be in sickbay. There’s nothing else wrong with me.”
The doctor didn’t look impressed as he opened a file. “You nearly died, Commander. You have a perforated eardrum, a mild concussion, myopia and an impressive assortment of cuts and bruises all over your body.”
“I’m fine,” he said stubbornly.
“I’m sorry. Perhaps we didn’t quite get off on the right
foot. I’m Doctor Mason, you are under my
care. You’ll stay here and complete the
decompression and then you will be shipped out to
Before Lee could remind him of his rank the doctor had closed the chamber hatch. He folded his arms behind his head and closed his eyes. For the moment he was stuck there, but he would take the first opportunity that came along to get out of any sickbay they chose to put him in.
Jamie rubbed a hand over his mouth as he put the telephone receiver down. The Admiral stood by the chart table waiting for him.
Admiral, he’s resting. He had a nasty
reaction when he realized he was back in a decompression chamber, but he’s fine
now. The doctor onboard
“Hmm, I didn’t get a chance to ask you about that, Will. What happened to him while he was onboard the other boat?”
“About all I’ve managed to get out of him was that they put him into the decompression chamber to force him to talk.”
“Will he make a full recovery?” The concern was in Nelson’s voice and face.
nodded. “I think so. He’s going to be transferred to
“I’ll be in my cabin if you hear anything further.” As an afterthought he turned to Chip, speaking softly to the XO so that only Jamie could overhear. “Chip, make certain all the personnel records are sent straight to my cabin the moment they arrive.”
Jamieson watched him go. Harry could be a complex person, and he was exhibiting that complexity ten-fold. He knew the Admiral was beside himself with worry over Lee, yet he hadn’t really tried to speak with the Captain while he was onboard. Now it was too late for the moment. He would have to keep a watchful eye on both of them once Lee returned to Seaview.
another sip of water and went back to observing the movements of the Dak-Ho
container ship. He nestled further into
the Scottish shrubbery as the ship laid its anchor beside the rugged Isle of
Rumballiach. The sun would come up
soon. It gave him three hours to get out
to the ship, take a look around and his job would be over. He’d taken the mission just to get away from
everything, even though he was only really skirting the fringe of
recovery. He allowed himself a rueful
grin, Jamie would have puppies if he knew where he was right now. If he’d
been the MO at
off the dark cloud that hung over him and prepared to board the ship. Intelligence had confirmed that this was a
major staging point for an influx of illegal weapons into the
went as they had the last three times the ship had anchored off Rumballiach,
the anchor chain would be on the leeward side, closest to the island. Lee figured it was about one thousand yards
offshore in the channel. He uncovered
his gear and quickly donned the dry suit over his clothes. The sea off
From the moment he started down the cliffs he knew that things were going to go wrong. He’d snagged the gear on a tree and fallen hard on the way down, hitting his torso on a tree stump. Then the tide had gone out further than the charts had predicted, leaving him exposed on the beach for longer than he would have liked. It was only when he got on board the ship that he found out exactly how bad his luck was going to be.
Isla Murray made a habit of spending time down at the beach
every day, come rain, hail or shine. She
and her husband had moved to the Isle of Rumballiach just before World War II, when they had first married. It had been gifted to her by her father’s
family, and sat twenty-three miles off the
MacDougall ran off around the point but Isla wasn’t bothered, he always came back, usually with a bit of driftwood for her to throw into the sea. She kept walking along the weed-strewn rocks, careful not to slip. There was nobody else on the island – if something happened she was on her own except for MacDougall. True to form, her dog came back carrying something different in his mouth.
“MacDougall, what have ye got.”
Isla pulled the object from his mouth and stared at it. It was a black leather shoulder holster for a pistol. Though she wasn’t exactly young anymore, there was nothing wrong with her eye sight or her memory. She called MacDougall back and slowly made her way around the point. The dog must have found it near the tide line because he hadn’t been gone for long enough to go up onto the cliffs again. Isla hesitated briefly before she turned the corner of the headland. Perhaps she should just contact the police on the great island, but it could be a waste of time if there was nothing there but the holster. MacDougall didn’t wait for her and tore back around the cliff.
“MacDougall, come back here,” she called, but he didn’t return to her.
She took a deep breath and leaned on the stick. As she rounded the corner she saw her dog sitting beside a long black shape.
“Oh, no.” Isla moved as quickly as she dared and knelt stiffly beside the body, her heart pounding
It was a young man. His dark curly hair fell about his face, wet from the sea. Hand shaking, she reached down to see if he was still alive. His skin was moist and clammy but she could feel his heart beating through his veins. Isla took his hand and rubbed it.
“Young man, ye need to wake up. I cannot make it to the house without yer help.” She patted his face, but he didn’t move. “It looks like I’ll have to do things the hard way. MacDougall, stay here and lie down.”
At least the dog might be able to keep him a little bit warm until she made it back. Dragging a thick cover of seaweed over him for protection, she got slowly to her feet and headed back to the house as the storm picked up its intensity.
By the time Isla got back to the house she had to push herself to get the sled from the storage area. It had come in handy before, when a tourist had fallen from the cliff. Now she would have to rely on MacDougall to help her pull the injured man back to the house. She paused to throw on an all-weather jacket. It wouldn’t do any good if she got sick as well. From what she could see he was lean and tall. With a bit of luck MacDougall would be able to manage without her until they got to the cliff path. That was the bit that bothered her.
It took a long time to get back to the man and darkness was coming upon the island. It was fortunate that she’d remembered to take a torch from the cupboard to light the way. MacDougall sat protectively against him. She felt for his pulse again, content that he was a little warmer.
“Laddie, ye need to help me, I can’t do this alone. Can ye hear me, please, help me put ye on the sled.” He stirred a little. “That’s it, just move a little.”
His eyes flickered open and he looked at her. “A…Admiral.”
He started to close them again, but she pinched his arm. “Roll to one side if you can, I’ll push the sled beneath ye.”
“Yes, ye can! If ye don’t ye’ll die tonight in the cold.” She grabbed his arm. “Now do as yer told.”
Between them, they managed to get him onto the sled. Isla was left panting with the effort. She leaned back for a few minutes before she tied some ropes around him to be certain he wouldn’t fall out.
“Rest now, MacDougall and I will see ye safe,” she said with more conviction than she felt. “Come on then, MacDougall, ye need to put in yer best work tonight. I know it’s been a while, but ye can do it.”
Isla put a leather harness around the dog and stood up. “Mush, MacDougall.”
The dog strained at the leash but barely managed to move it. The man must have been sturdier than he looked, she thought.
“I suppose that means I will have to help. Looks like yer getting old like me, MacDougall,” she muttered.
The distance back to the path wasn’t far, but tonight it felt like it would never end. “Remind me to get a draft horse for rescuing future injured castaways.”
She stopped at the base of the cliff and turned to check on the man. He was still unconscious. Isla turned back and stared up at what now seemed to be an insurmountable obstacle. How was she ever going to get him up the cliff? He couldn’t stay here during the night, not with the storm coming in. There was the smugglers’ winch, but it hadn’t been used in years. Isla didn’t even know if it would take the strain. She squared her shoulders – it was that, or leave him down here. Either way she didn’t like his chances. The problem was it would mean yet another trip up the cliff path. Although the daily walks kept her relatively fit, she was tiring quickly. Somehow she had to make it, his life depended on her. She wouldn’t let the sea claim another soul from her.
“MacDougall, yer going to help me up the cliff.”
She left the harness on the dog and removed it from the sled, looping it around her wrist as the dog pulled her up the well worn track. The effort took a huge toll on her, but she managed it. Eventually he was winched up the path. It was a rough trip and she was sure it had hurt him. Between Isla and MacDougall the man was dragged into the kitchen. She sank into a seat beside him and sent a silent prayer to heaven that nothing had gone wrong. Now there was the matter of making him warm. His clothes were cold and wet but she needed his help again to remove them. Fishing a pair of scissors from the drawer, she began to cut his top off.
“Laddie, please wake up for me one more time. I need to get yer wet clothes off so ye can be warm.”
He groaned and opened his eyes once more, seemingly more alert. “Where am I?”
“Yer on the Isle of Rumballiach. Can ye sit up?”
She saw him wince as he tried to help her and only managed to lean to one side again. Once she’d taken his shirt off she understood why. His torso was black and blue, and held a bullet wound in one side just above his left hip. She wondered if it had been caused by his gun, or that of another.
Whilst Isla couldn’t move him any further, she managed to make him dry and warm. With his help she got him out of the sled and onto a bed of blankets laid out on the floor before she tended to his injury. Only once he was resting comfortably did she have a shower and care for her own bone-weary body.
She brewed some coffee and sat carefully beside him on a cushion. “Here, see if ye can’t drink some of this.”
Isla supported his head as he managed a few sips of the brew.
“Who are you?”
“Lee…Lee Crane…” his eyes rolled in his head again and she felt the full weight of it in her hand as he passed out.
Isla laid his head gently back onto the pillow.
“Well, young’n, once the storm’s passed I’ll be able to contact the mainland so ye can have some proper attention,” she said softly, mopping the perspiration from his brow. “For the moment ye’ll have to be content with me.”
He murmured something, but his voice was so low she couldn’t tell what it was. She pulled her aching body up off the floor with the help of her chair then sat down on it again.
“You’re a handsome one. I’ve not seen a fine man like you since my husband passed, bless his soul.” She took his hand once more and held it. “After all that effort, don’t ye dare think of dying on me tonight, laddie.”
After efficiently cleaning and binding his wound as she had young soldiers during World War II, Isla settled herself in the chair to watch over him until the morning. She had a feeling it would be a bad night.
“Harry, how could you let him go off like that without saying anything?” snapped Will Jamieson, showing a rare display of temper. “He put his life on the line and God knows what else to save our sorry hides.”
Jamie continued to glare at the two command officers from the Seaview as he took another drink of his wine. Dinner off the boat in Lisbon had been the Admiral’s idea, but quite frankly he hadn’t felt like being around either Nelson or Chip.
Chip opened his mouth to say something then closed it just as quickly. From the guilty look on his face Jamie knew the XO understood that Lee had once again been thrown to the wolves – this time without the support of his friends. Harry hadn’t even met his eyes all evening. Jamie wondered why they were being so obtuse about the whole situation. Normally there was a happy reunion and the Skipper came back to the fold, scathed but cared for. This time something had gone wrong in the finely tuned relationship boundaries that the three of them trod.
“Doctor Mason from the Enterprise contacted me just before Lee was transferred to Pearl. Do you know what he told me?” Neither of the other men at the table spoke. “He told me that he’d never seen a man look so broken and lonely.”
“It’s not that easy, Will. Besides, I tried to call him but every time I rang he was out of the room. I was tied up with the other submarine. Then when I managed to finally make it to Pearl he’d already discharged himself and disappeared somewhere.” Nelson twisted his glass in his hand and swallowed a generous mouthful Scotch. “It seems Lee left the hospital shortly after a visit from Admiral Johnson. Nobody is talking, especially Johnson.”
Jamie wanted to really let fly but held himself in check. “So that makes it alright, does it?”
“Can you just let it go?” said Nelson, intent on his food.
“No, I cannot, not when it concerns the welfare of the men on the boat.”
“What do you mean by that?” The Admiral finally looked up.
Jamie shook his head, exasperated. “I know Captain Crane has only been on board a matter of months. However, if there’s a rift between either of you and him it echoes throughout the whole boat.”
“I’m as much to blame as the Admiral, Jamie. I just couldn’t face Lee after the things I said to him, things that weren’t true but I believed them,” admitted Chip miserably.
The medical officer was about to have another dig at the pair of them when Nelson’s phone rang. Jamieson could tell from the way his posture changed that it was work related. He returned the phone to his pocket.
“We’ve been tasked to support ONI in Scotland.” He looked down at his largely uneaten dinner and pushed the plate away. “Chip, you and Jamie go back to the boat and be ready to sail immediately on my arrival. I’ll be there within the hour.”
“That’s about two days away,” said Jamie.
“We have to make it under twenty-four hours,” Nelson said irritably. “If we push the reactor we can do it. I’ll see you back at the boat, gentlemen.”
“Yes Sir,” replied both Chip and Jamie.
Nelson suddenly looked tired. “Doctor Jamieson, right now we have more pressing issues. There’s a saboteur running around and as yet we haven’t found him, and as for Lee…I’m still trying to track him down. We’ll return to this discussion once we’re back in port.”
Jamie nodded and pushed away from the table. He wasn’t going to let either Harry or the blond Exec off the hook that easily. For the next day they couldn’t avoid him. It would be the prime opportunity to work on both of them and figure out what was wrong. He had a strong theory, but he had to test it first. Then there would be no worming out of the inevitable for either of the officers.
Isla woke with a start as her head fell from where she’d rested it on her hand. She looked outside – the storm was showing no signs of abating. Rubbing her eyes wearily she stared down at her patient. It had been a long night, a fever had taken hold of him early in the morning and he’d had dreadful violent hallucinations. At least she’d hoped they were hallucinations, the dark frightening place he’d spoken of had managed to send a shiver down her spine. She had comforted him as best she could, and wiped the perspiration from his face with a cool cloth. Still, she was relieved when the fever had finally broken.
She looked down at Lee, still amazed that anyone could have those color eyes. “Ah, so yer awake. How do ye feel?”
“Not great,” he admitted, taking a small sip from the glass of water she held to his parched lips.
“How did ye come to be on my island?”
He looked a little confused, then his eyes seemed to clear. “I was sightseeing.”
Isla reached over to the table to pick up the holster. “With this?”
“Did you see any other men on…on your island?” he asked quietly, not answering her question.
“No.” She studied him as the relief became palpable on his face. “Why are you here, Lee Crane?”
This time he rewarded her with an answer and a small smile. “I’m doing some work with the blessing of your government.”
“I see. Do ye think these men might come to this island?”
“Perhaps, I’m not sure. Depends if they…if they think I’m dead.”
His voice had begun to get weaker. “Ye need to sleep now, Lee. When ye wake up again I’ll make ye something to eat.”
“Do you have any weapons?” He asked, struggling to keep his eyes open.
“Then get them,” he uttered before passing out, his head rolling to one side.
Isla frowned as she looked down at Lee. There was something in his left ear. She bent down to touch it, discovering that it was a specially designed earplug. After a small tug it came out in her fingers. There was nothing else unusual about it. Staring at the man, she found there were only questions on her lips. She covered him up again and got wearily to her feet. He had asked her to get the rifles, and she would do as he’d told her. Isla sensed an urgency to his request that she couldn’t ignore, and an air of authority about him that made her act, not question. Perhaps there would be more answers later when he was feeling better.
“Sir, there’s a call coming in for you from Admiral Johnson,” called Sparks.
Nelson grimaced. Johnson was the last person he wanted to speak with. “Put it through, Sparks. Nelson here.”
“Admiral,” said Johnson’s voice. “There’s something I haven’t told you about the small operation you’re doing for us.”
“Hmm, I would expect there are a great many things you haven’t told me about. What is it?” he continued without allowing the other Admiral to respond to his jibe.
“There’s an ONI agent involved. It’s your Captain Crane.”
“Lee? What the devil were you thinking?” Nelson growled down the line, then realized he had an audience to what he knew would become an angry outburst of temper at Johnson’s expense. “Hold on, I’ll continue this conversation in private. Sparks, patch it through to my cabin.”
Chip was tired. He hadn’t been sleeping well since his altercation with Lee in Monterey. Now they were even further away from him, heading off to some island miles from anywhere. He was just passing the Admiral’s cabin when he heard an angry shout from Nelson. Despite himself he moved closer to the door to listen. He heard Admiral Johnson’s over the loudspeaker in almost equally loud rebuttal.
“Crane will do as he’s ordered. You have no say in his missions.”
“If you ever task my Captain with a mission again without my knowledge I will cancel each and every contract I have with the United States government. ONI and the United States Navy will lose all access to both the Nelson Institute and the Seaview. Is that clear enough for you, Johnson?”
“You’ll lose millions, Nelson. You’re bluffing.”
Chip thought he heard a little uncertainty creeping into Johnson’s voice.
“Think again,” snarled Nelson. “The government contracts are a drop in the ocean. As you are well aware, the ONI and Navy work we do is never paid for. That’s always been on the house. These are my conditions – either you inform me immediately on tasking him, or I will make certain you never have access to our resources again. Before you think of acquiring Seaview on national security matters, I still have quite a few favors to call in, and not just in the Navy. If I were you, Johnson, I would think very carefully about my next step, and while we’re at it, I should have been informed that we have a traitor aboard the moment you realized it.”
There was a short pause. “Yes, you’re right, Harry. I should have informed you.”
“Do you have any ideas who it might be?”
“None, Crane didn’t have time to report in before he boarded the submarine,” Johnson admitted.
Chip jumped backwards from where his ear was nearly touching the Admiral’s cabin door. Kowalski stood behind him outside Admiral Nelson’s cabin. Chip hadn’t meant to hear the Admiral’s conversation with Johnson, but he’d been reluctant to interrupt it, fearing a bout of Nelson’s temper. “Uh, yes, Kowalski?” he asked, embarrassed that the rating had caught him eavesdropping.
“Mister O’Brien paged you, but when you didn’t respond he asked me to find you and pass on the message that we’re within ten nautical miles of Rumballiach Island, Sir.”
“I, ah, was just about to speak with the Admiral anyway. I’ll let him know. Thank you”
Chip hadn’t heard the rest of the conversation between Nelson and Admiral Johnson, but he had a feeling that it hadn’t gone Johnson’s way. He knocked on Nelson’s door.
“Admiral, we’re only ten nautical miles from Rumballiach.”
“What do we have on sonar?”
“One large ship, probably a tanker, and a smaller vessel approaching the island from the west.”
“Hmm, I don’t like the sounds of that. We’ll lay off the island on the eastern side, take a dingy and go overland on foot from there. It’s not particularly big.”
“Oh, and Chip?”
“Lee’s on that island.”
Chip felt the deck tilt a little. “What?” He’d thought Nelson was referring to Lee’s last mission on the twin Seaview, not another one.
“Sit down. I’ll explain the whole thing.” Nelson lit a cigarette. “As we guessed, Johnson offered Lee another
ONI mission as soon as he thought he was even close to recovering at
The XO looked down at his hands. He had a bad feeling that he knew the reason why.
“There’s no point in self-recriminations now. We have to get him off the island, if he’s still alive. He’s missed a scheduled radio call almost thirty-six hours ago.”
“The freighter, does that have anything to do with it?”
“Yes. It’s from the People’s Republic and ONI has intelligence that led them to suspect it’s an arms trafficking point.”
“Does anyone else live on the island?”
“Lee told them there were some buildings at the far end, but he didn’t have a chance to do any surveillance. Johnson’s sending some satellite photographs through shortly.” Nelson inhaled the cigarette deeply. “Take Curley, Kowalski, Patterson and Jenkinson.”
“Oh, and Chip, I’ll be going as well. Make sure the men are well armed. We don’t know what type of opposition we’ll be up against.”
Chip nodded and went to make the arrangements. If only they could find Lee alive, Chip could tell him how much he missed his friend and Captain.
“Lee, Lee, wake up.”
Lee struggled to his senses. The lights were dimmed, almost to darkness. He felt cold and clammy at the thought of complete blackness after being stranded on the submarine for hours in inky nothingness. He shuddered with the memory, still feeling its remnants of it clawing at his mind, then felt a warm gentle hand on his face. “Where…Isla, what’s wrong?”
“The men ye spoke of, they’re coming.”
“Help me up,” he commanded more than he asked.
She looked at him for a moment and he wondered if she would say no. Then her arm was there holding his hand for support. He looked into her gray eyes and understood the sadness. During the long night he’d heard her speaking of her husband and his untimely death. It had been a death that she had never really recovered from.
Lee realized he was in a bed. The last thing he clearly remembered was waking up on the floor on a pile of blankets. He barely remembered making it to the bed with Isla’s unwavering help. He certainly didn’t remember getting into a pair of pajamas. The heat started rising in his face.
“I was a nurse during the last years of the war if ye remember anything of what I told ye, laddie. Ye’ve nothing to be embarrassed about,” chuckled Isla.
He smiled at her. “Thank you for taking me in and caring for me, Ma’am. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to repay you for your kindness. If you hadn’t found me, I’d have died.”
Isla supported him as he swung his legs around. A sharp pain doubled him up, reminding him of the bullet wound.
“They’ve not reached the beach yet, we’ve still time.”
Lee took his teeth out of his lip where he’d bitten down to stop from crying out. “You said you had firearms?”
“Yes, they’re downstairs. I’ve loaded all of them and found as much ammunition as I could.”
He took the arm she offered as he pushed himself unsteadily to his feet. This time the pain was bearable. “Let’s go downstairs. Is there a more secure building we can barricade ourselves in?”
Isla helped him slowly down the stairs. He could tell she was thinking about his last question.
“Perhaps the old kitchen is best. It only has one door in and out, and two small windows.”
“Yes.” Lee doubled up again when he slipped on the last step.
“Are ye up to this, Lee?”
He nodded. “Yes, Ma’am. If you can mount a defense, so can I.”
To his surprise with tears in her eyes, she cupped his face in her hands. “Yer more like my husband than ye can ever know.”
He didn’t know what to say, he guessed it was a very large compliment she was giving him. Lee gently took her hands in his. “Thank you.”
Then the moment was gone and Isla handed him a shotgun. “I think ye’ll be able to handle this. I prefer the smaller rifle.”
Lee took the shotgun and followed Isla as she led him outside to the old bakery. “How far is it, Ma’am?”
“Ye have to start calling me Isla.”
She led him to a sturdily built white-washed building only one hundred yards from the main house. “Here.”
Lee squinted in the pre-dawn murky gray. He thought he saw movement at the top of the cliffs and as quickly as he could manage, followed Isla inside.
He looked around at the room. Solid lumps of stone made up the walls and the windows were tiny, leaving very little room for error by anyone launching an assault. “You weren’t wrong. This place is almost impenetrable for as long as we have ammunition.”
“These men,” she said as they both settled into their defensive positions. “Why are they after ye?”
“I was sent here to find out if they were smuggling weapons. We had information that they were using this island to hide their activities.” He cocked the pump-action shotgun, grimacing once again at the pain it caused him. “I had enough evidence to warrant calling the Navy in when I was discovered. That’s how I was shot.” He didn’t think there was much point in holding anything back anymore.
“I’m curious about one thing?”
“What was the earplug doing in yer ear?”
“Oh, that.” He suddenly felt uncomfortable. “That was a result of another mission. I’ve got a perforated eardrum.”
“You were on a submarine.”
“How did you know?”
“When I first brought ye into the house, ye were delirious. Ye said a lot of things that I hoped were just hallucinations. Now I know they weren’t.”
Lee sighed. “It’s part of my job, to take risks.”
“Isn’t there a wife, a loved one?”
“What about yer friends?”
“I…I’m not sure I still have any,” he admitted.
“Lee! I have no doubt that a man like ye would have very loyal friends.”
A noise outside stopped him from replying. Creeping slowly forward he looked out of the window. He could see three men prowling around the outlying buildings.
“Isla, they’re not far away now.”
Before he had a chance to move back to his position covering the door, a shot rang out. The window beside him splintered, but the bullet hit a metal fitting beside him, shattering it and launching shrapnel into his left leg.
“Lee, are ye alright?”
He gritted his teeth until the pain subsided. “The bullet didn’t hit me. I just got a bit of a graze from the metal splintering. How are you feeling?”
“I’m a little nervous, but fine. I know with ye here, we’ll find a way out of this.”
Outside it was starting to brighten up. Lee could make out the movement of the door handle. He motioned to Isla to stay silent.
As the door opened he let off a round from the shotgun. Whoever was on the other side yelped and stepped back out of his line of fire. He moved closer to the door, positioning himself right behind the wall next to it. Some more rifle shots sounded, then there was a brief respite. A twig snapped outside the entrance and Lee brought his shotgun up again.
A shape rounded the corner and Lee jammed the barrel of the antiquated gun into the man’s ribs. “Put the gun down.”
“Lee?” someone grunted.
Lee looked more closely and recognized who stood before him. He quickly lowered the shotgun and sank to the stone floor, finally giving in to the pain and exhaustion. “Chip, thank God you’re here. How did you find me? Is the Admiral here?”
Chip nodded to the other side of the building. “He’s taking care of the clean-up with a few of the men.”
Lee felt the tension drain from his body. “I didn’t think we were going to be able to hold them off.”
Lee looked over to where Isla knelt behind a large oven. “Isla, meet Chip Morton.”
“Mister Morton, I’ve heard Lee mention yer name once or twice,” she said with a twinkle in her eye.
Lee stifled a relieved laugh as his friend raised an eyebrow.
“Chip, where are you?” Lee heard Nelson’s voice outside. “Have you found Lee yet?”
Lee felt Chip squeeze his arm. “Everything’ll be fine now. Oh, and between you and me, the Admiral told Admiral Johnson if he ever sent you on a mission without telling him again he’d cancel all government contracts.”
“But that would mean millions of dollars,” said Lee, both aghast and elated at the same time – Nelson still wanted him.
“He said there were more than enough overseas and private requests to support the Institute.”
Chip went out to greet Nelson and Lee saw him stride through the door shortly after, with the XO in tow.
“Lee.” He bent down next to his Captain. “I’ve missed you, lad.”
“Me too, Sir.”
Nelson nodded. “I was scared that you could never forgive me for what I said. I’m sorry for putting you through this.”
“Admiral, there’s nothing to forgive. You had every right to say what you did.”
“Perhaps, but I want you to know that I’m not proud of it, and I won’t accept anything less than you returning to Seaview as her Captain. Please tell me you’ll come back to Seaview?”
Lee only saw regret and forgiveness in Nelson’s eyes. He looked over to Chip, knowing that if his best friend didn’t feel the same way he could never return.
“I’m guilty as charged too, Lee. I couldn’t bring myself to talk to you about it after calling you a…a traitor,” Chip looked down at his feet. “I’m sorry. I should have known better – thought that I did.”
“Well, Lee, it looks like those friends ye spoke of really are loyal,” chimed Isla’s voice.
Lee looked at her guiltily. “I’m sorry, Isla. Admiral Harriman Nelson, meet Isla Murray. She’s the resident rescuer on the island. Isla found me on the beach and dragged me up to the house somehow. She saved my life,” he said with utter conviction.
Isla finally came out from behind the oven and Lee saw something in the Admiral’s eyes that left him wondering.
Nelson stepped forward. “I’m very pleased to meet you Ms. Murray. It seems I owe you a great debt.”
Isla blushed. “Ye don’t owe me anything, Admiral. I wondered who it was that Lee spoke of so desperately in his delirium, now I know.”
Nelson raised an eyebrow. “He’s been hurt again?”
“Again?” quizzed Isla. “Oh, ye mean on the submarine.”
“Chip, you’d better get Jamie over here,” ordered Nelson wearily. “I’m afraid, Ms. Murray, that my Captain is frequently injured on missions.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, Admiral. Captain, is it?”
“Yes, he’s the Captain of the research submarine Seaview.”
“Really? A submarine Captain?” She gave Lee a knowing glance. “I thought ye were someone who’s used to being in charge. I’ve read all the newspaper articles on the Seaview.” She paused, suddenly looking at Nelson with awe. “Oh, my…yer that Harriman Nelson? I’m so sorry. I didn’t even recognize ye until ye said the Seaview.”
“That’s all right. Perhaps we can talk some more once we’ve mopped up here.”
“I’d like that very much.”
Nelson looked at Lee. “What happened this time?”
“I got shot.”
Nelson frowned and met Isla’s eyes. “His wound has been cleaned, Admiral Nelson. I doubt infection will be a problem, but sometimes it’s hard to tell.”
“You’ve done this before?”
“Isla was a nurse during the War, Admiral,” Lee explained. “She’s seen more than enough bullet wounds in her time.”
Again, Lee noticed an odd sparkle in Nelson’s eyes. Before he could analyze it more, Jamie walked into the room, closely followed by Kowalski. Lee didn’t think he could find a hole big enough to crawl into, so he just sat on the floor trying to look guiltless.
“Hmph, Captain. If you think that’ll work this time you’re sadly mistaken,” Jamie grumbled as he put his bag on the floor. “Is there somewhere else I can examine him?”
“The main house,” Isla said. “Ye must be the doctor he spoke of?”
Jamieson raised an eyebrow. “I’m sure it was all good things about me,” he said sarcastically then knelt beside Lee. “What have you done to yourself now?”
“And while I’m on that subject, what on earth possessed you to leave the hospital before your injuries were completely healed?”
“Well…” Lee went to speak again but was cut off once more.
“You won’t get away with that once you’re back aboard, Mister. I don’t care if I have to post guards in sickbay. Understood!”
Lee nodded. He was too scared to say anything else for fear of being subjected to another concerned yet angry tirade. Isla’s smile at Nelson caught Lee’s eyes – great, here he was being subjected to Jamie’s unbridled anger and the Admiral was going to get a date at his expense. He heard Chip’s soft laugh beside him and gave him a glare.
“At least someone’s going to come out in front,” Chip grinned as he said the words.
“Alright, let’s get him into the house. Can you walk, Captain?” asked Jamie.
Lee nodded, grateful that Chip had thought to give him a hand to his feet. The cuts from the shrapnel in his leg were only small but he knew he could only hide them for so long. He clutched his side gingerly and limped slowly back to the main building with Chip and Jamie in tow. As he walked he stumbled on a rock and was saved from going down by Chip’s quick reflexes.
“Thanks,” gasped Lee.
“Lee, you are going to come back, aren’t you?” asked Chip, suddenly somber.
Lee carefully stopped in mid-stride and faced his friend. The sun had started to breach the horizon, which meant Lee could see each and every part of Chip’s face. “I thought it was usually me who couldn’t sleep.”
“If you don’t come back, things will never be the same.”
Lee smiled. “Of course I’ll come back. I just didn’t get a chance to say it to the Admiral before he became star-struck with Isla,” he said wickedly.
Chip momentarily forgot his friend was sporting a bullet wound and slapped him hard across the shoulders. Lee clutched at his hip again, his face pale. “Are you sure you want me back?”
“Uh, sorry, buddy. Won’t happen again.”
Once inside Jamie began assessing Lee’s injuries. “Hmm, Isla did an extremely good job on your wound. I could use her in sickbay for when you’re onboard. Let’s have a look at the rest of you.”
“Just get on with it, Jamie,” he grumbled. “And don’t give Isla too much credit. I was unconscious for most of it.”
Jamie signaled for him to lie back on the bed, Lee protested briefly but considered he was still being let off lightly and in the end gave in while Chip watched on in barely hidden amusement. Things were going to get back to normal again, thought Lee, at least as normal as was possible on Seaview.
Lee sat back in the chaise-lounge sipping contentedly on a cup of coffee. To everyone’s surprise, once the authorities had been contacted and the operation had been tidied up, the Admiral had decided to remain anchored off Rumballiach. That had been four days ago. The only thing still causing them some anxiety was the lack of plausible suspects for the saboteur. All the personnel reports had done were to show them what a loyal and skilled crew they had. Lee had spoken briefly to Nelson and Chip about it, but neither of them had any suggestions. Only time would tell – with some long overdue luck, perhaps he would show his hand too soon and make a mistake.
His thoughts crossed to the Admiral. “Chip, where do you think he goes with Isla? They disappear for hours.”
“Mine not to ask, buddy, I’m just along for the ride.” He took a sip of his own black brew before grinning at Lee. “However, I did shadow them one day. They went along the coast for a while then stopped, but I couldn’t quite make out what they were looking at. The Admiral was getting pretty excited about something in the water. How’s your leg?”
“Only small cuts but Jamie had to dig out some metal fragments. I’m feeling much better.” A movement caught Lee’s eyes. “Here they come. I wonder if we’ll ever find out what’s going on.”
“Lee, Chip, you’ll never guess what’s happened?”
The two of them looked at each other then back at the Admiral, who was brimming over with enthusiasm. Chip answered. “No, Sir, what is it?”
“Isla has discovered a rare variety of sea life off the northern side of the island. Over the past two days we’ve been monitoring them, and it looks like it’s a completely new breed of dolphin.” He took Isla’s hands in his. “I’m going to set up a special fund to see that they’re protected from poaching in these waters.” He cleared his throat and gave Isla a smile. “Of course, that will mean frequent visits to ensure my money is being used to best effect.”
“Yer a very special and rare breed yerself, Harriman.”
Lee was amused to see the Admiral blush. The pair of them walked off again, seemingly oblivious to his and Chip’s amazed stares.
“Spring or summer wedding?” asked Chip with a wicked glimmer in his eyes.
“Summer,” laughed Lee. “Spring’s still too cold.”
Lee stopped outside his cabin and took a deep breath. It was so good to be home, among friends and family again. He touched the bulkhead one more time and felt the boat murmur her own form of welcome to him. As he opened the door he got a pleasant surprise – a freshly pressed uniform lay on his bunk. It wasn’t the uniform that caught his attention, but the insignia on the collar. It seemed like an eternity ago that he thought he’d touched them for the last time. Now they were waiting for him, almost beckoning him. He heard a small cough behind him.
“Chief, please come in.”
Curley stood at the doorway. “It’s alright, Skipper, I just wanted to make sure everything was perfect.”
Lee pointed to the uniform on his bunk. “You did this?”
“Yes, Sir, but the men wanted me to let you know they’re glad to have you back onboard. After everything you went through, it just seemed…well, fitting.”
“Thanks Curley, you have no idea how much it means to me.”
“You’re welcome, Sir. Well, I guess you’ll want to change. If there’s anything else you need, anything at all, just let me know.”
Lee softly closed the door behind Curley and walked to his bunk. He reached out to touch the metal insignia again. This time, they were there to stay, and nothing would ever make him take them off again.