"Chip Off The Old Block"

by Della Mills

Author's note:Dedication to Cecily J. Rainville-this would not be here without your continual imput...With the suggestions and painstakingly checking and re-checking this...I am eternally grateful for your imput. Many many thanks.


 

Chapter One

Chip Morton, Lieutenant Comdr. and Exec of Seaview, got out of his car and started towards the only serious woman in his life, a privately owned submarine called ĎSeaviewí. Up ahead he could see his Captain and close friend, Lee Crane, standing on a gangway that led from Seaview to the docking bay, looking out across the bay. Chip grinned as he approached and when he thought he was close enough, he called, "Hey, Lee, you lost something?"

Lee Crane looked at his friend and returned the grin, but muttered, "I hope not, Chip, I hope not."

Chip yawned widely at that point and then chuckled. "Sorry," he apologized, "late night last night."

Crane nodded, "Uh-huh," he again muttered, but this time with an air as if he knew why.

Chip had the good sense to blush and also curse a little at the closeness of their friendship. He knew that of all the crew, no matter the stony-stares he was infamous for, no one knew him better than the Captain of the Seaview. He shrugged sheepishly.

Crane simply chuckled some more, as he shook his head.

"How come you donít look like you need another shore-leave to recover from this one?" Chip muttered, whilst taking a good look at this Captain and friend. He frowned with concern, as he softly added, "What gives, buddy?"

Crane returned the frown, "Nothing," he quickly denied, "What makes you think that somethingís up?"

Chip shrugged, "Well, you usually look as bad as me after shore-leave, but this time," he shrugged again, "this time you look positively healthy."

Lee chuckled lightly at the observation, "Ah well, Chip," he said, "that would be due to some good old fashioned home-cooking."

Chip frowned severely this time, "You... you spent the last night of shore-leave with your mother?" he muttered with utter disbelief

Lee Crane laughed out loud at the bemusement his friend was displaying. When he had gotten himself under a little more control, he nodded and replied, "Uh-huh, but not to worry, Chip, Jenny was there to hold my hand."

"You took Jenny with you? To meet your Mother?" he gasped his astonishment.

"Uh-huh," Lee acknowledged and for the first time, since the beginning of their conversation, he looked away from the bay and directly at his friend, "Something wrong with that, Chip?" he asked.

Though slightly flustered, Chipís answer was immediate, "Oh, er no, Lee, nothing at all. Itís just, I er, I didnít think things were that serious, thatís all."

"Well they are," a female voice, tinged with amusement, answered behind him.

Chip turned and came face to face with Jenny Candell, Lee Craneís latest flame, well, only flame really for the last eight months. He swallowed hard, as a redness of embarrassment covered his cheeks, and started to apologize, "Oh, er, hi Jenny. Look, I, er, I didnít mean anything by that..."

Jenny moved around Chip, wound an arm around Leeís waist, stood on tiptoe and kissed her fiancé fondly on the cheek. She then turned back to Chip, and with a smile on her face and amusement dancing in her eyes, she teased, "You know, Lee, donít you think Ďhow dashing Chip looksí when he blushes?"

Which only caused Lee to laugh a little harder, and for the blush on Chipís cheeks to deepen.

Jenny leaned a little forward and clasped the Exec on his arm. "Itís all right, Chip," she assured him, "I know you meant nothing by what you said, no matter how much Lee Crane here might tease you for it."

He was about to mutter his thanks when he noticed a ring on Jennyís finger. Swiftly looking from it, to her, to Lee and then back to the ring again, he gasped out; "Youíre engaged?"

Jenny laughed and nodded.

Lee Crane grinned brightly, took a step towards Chip and clapping a hand on his friendís shoulder, he said, "You bet." He turned then, with his hand still on Chipís shoulder, placed his other hand around Jennyís waist and announced, "Mr. Morton, Exec, Lieutenant Comdr. of Seaview and my friend, I have the pleasure of introducing you to Jenny Candell, Fiancée and future Mrs. Crane." He then looked down at the woman he loved beyond reason and said, "And Jenny, my love, partner and future wife, I have the greatest of pleasure in introducing you to the best friend anyone could have, Chip Morton."

For a moment Chip just stood there, dumbstruck and speechless, then a grin slowly lit his features and a twinkle of affection colored his eyes. He scooped Lee Crane up, swung him around once and as he dropped him to the ground again, he happily exclaimed, "So you finally got yourself hitched, aye, you son-of-a-gun you." Without waiting for an answer, Chip then took Jenny in his arms, hugging her tightly to his chest and softly whispered, "Thanks for... for... well, you know, for making Lee happy." He then kissed her on the top of her head and let her go.

Jenny beamed up at Chip, for once redness deepening the color of her cheeks, and whispered back, "Heís pretty hard to resist, Chip, but youíre welcome nonetheless."

The Exec found himself speechless again. Shrugging his shoulders, opening and closing his mouth; only brief gasps of air passing his lips; all done without one word of coherency. Eventually he shrugged, "I-I donít know what to say," he managed to splutter and laugh with embarrassment at the same time.

Lee Crane stepped up beside him, his love for the woman before them both obvious on his face, and softly suggested, "How about ĎCongratulationsí?"

"Well, yeah, that, but..." Chip stammered.

Jenny and Lee held each other a little closer, looked to their friend and chuckled.

Chip looked at them both. He noticed at once that Lee had never looked happier and that his future wife had never looked as vibrant. In that moment he knew that there had never been a better coupling. "Congratulations," he eventually blurted and added with vigor, accentuated with a grin, "This is the best news Iíve ever got before a sail. Well, ever. Congratulations." He held out his hand to Lee.

Lee took his hand and shook it, but frowned when he saw the time on his watch face. Reluctantly he said, "Iím sorry, honey, but if Chip and I donít get below, the Seaviewíll be leaving dock without their Captain and First Officer."

Jenny turned to him, smiling, and said, "Itís all right, Lee, I think Iíve served whatever purpose you wanted." She looked at Chip with amusement that made her eyes sparkle and chuckled at him. The moment she saw the telltale reddening of the Execís cheeks again, she turned back to her fiancé and softly added, "Just be careful."

Lee Crane leaned a little forward, kissed Jenny on the lips, reluctantly breaking it off at the point of no return, and whispered, "Iíll be careful and if I canít be careful, then Chip is always there making sure that I am." He straightened at that point, looked to his friend and affectionately added, "A ĎMother-Hení if ever I saw one."

"Hey!" Chip protested, but with a twinkle of mirth in his eye, "If there is anyone thatís a ĎMother-Hení, then itís gotta' be Doc Jamieson."

"And a good thing too," Jenny said, prodding Lee in the chest, "I think both of you need mothering."

Chip frowned at her, "Oh Pa-lease!" he muttered, which quickly turned into a chuckle, accompanied by a shake of his head.

Lee gave Jenny a peck on the cheek, collected Chip with a hand on his arm and said, "Gotta' go, honey. Be back soon."

"Well I hope you were saying that to Jenny, Lee, " Chip suddenly blurted as they both moved off towards Seaview, "cos if you werenít, then I gotta' tell you that the crewís gonna be looking at you funny for this entire trip... And..." he quickly added, "you know Iíve a reputation to keep." Without waiting for an answer, Chip turned and winked at Jenny, whilst still making his way, with Lee, towards Seaview; both hearing her distinctive laugh as they moved.

~ * ~

Lee Crane chuckled and shook his head, but the anxiety he was feeling would not go away. He looked at his friend and scrutinized his face to see if he could see how the news had truly hit him, "How do you really feel about this, Chip?" he eventually asked.

"What, you and Jenny?"

"Uh-huh."

"Well, I dunno, Lee," Chip shrugged, "I mean itís sudden, real sudden, and when it comes down to it, Iím gonna be missing out on something that I really thought Iíd never lose."

Lee Crane gulped the fear that he was feeling. His getting engaged to Jenny had been a spur of the moment. One day he had looked and someone else had stood in place of the friendly, upbeat girl that he had started dating eight months ago. There had stood a woman, full of life and love, intent on him and only him and on making him happy. Boy, she had done that and it was something that he knew, when he had looked, that he would never want to be without.

But he and Chip had been friends since they were boys. He felt a bit guilty that heíd not consulted Chip on the most important decision of his life, and he wondered if heíd hurt his feelings by leaving him out of it.

Unaware of the turmoil that Lee was feeling, Chip started to chuckle, "Your face, Lee," he spluttered, "what a picture. Wish I had a camera."

"Huh?"

Chip placed a hand upon Leeís shoulder and shook his head, "You and Jenny? I couldnít be happier," he said with conviction, "Sheís one in a million."

"Really?"

"Yeah, really. Even though it does mean Iím gonna be losing my playtime buddy."

Lee frowned, "Your Ďplaytime buddyí?"

"For as long as Iíve known you," Chip stated fervently. He then grew pensive before softly adding, "I guess I should start thinking about settling down, if only to keep myself from being a third wheel."

Lee Crane burst out laughing, "You? Settling down? Chip, thatís the funniest thing Iíve heard in a long time."

Chip pulled an unattractive face at Lee and opened his mouth to retort back at him, but a gruff, though affectionate voice interrupted him.

"We-ell, looks like shore-leave has done the world of good for you both,"

As one, Lee and Chip looked at the owner of the voice and a smile broadened their features at the same time too.

"Admiral," Lee Crane acknowledged, "permission to come aboard?"

"Granted," the older man stated and added with a smile, when he saw Chip Morton open his mouth, "for the both of you."

Chip grinned unrepentantly, "Thank you, Admiral," he said, "and as for shore-leave, I think Lee outdid us all this time."

Admiral Harriman Nelson, designer and owner of Seaview, frowned, turned his head left and right and then up and down, while keeping his eyes locked on the Captain in front of him. "You donít look injured, Lee," he finally said, bemused.

Chip snorted.

Lee rolled his eyes heavenward and groused, "Iím not."

Nelsonís frown deepened, "Hmm, Iíll be interested to know what youíve been up to, Lee, but right now I think our Ďladyí needs our attention," He motioned to the hatch and muttered, "Shall we?"

The moment Nelson had turned away, Lee softly growled at his friend and Exec, sharply shoved him in the back and then followed them both onto the Seaview.

Chip snorted again, but seeing the look of chagrin from his Captain, he bit the inside of his cheek in an attempt to keep any further chuckles within himself.

 

 

 

Chapter Two

Chip looked around the Control Room, surreptitiously accepting the nods from various crewmen as he made eye contact with them, then went to the plotting table where Lee Crane stood hunched over the top of it and informed him, "All stations ready and awaiting your orders, Captain."

"Thanks Chip," Lee replied. He picked up a communications mike and spoke into it, "Engineering, ahead two thirds." The moment a reply of ascension crackled from the mike, Lee double clicked it and continued with, "Navigation, heading 125 mark 472."

"Aye, Sir," immediately crackled over the mike.

Lee finally turned to Chip and said, "Hold her at ninety feet, Mr. Morton."

Chip nodded. "Aye, Sir" he softly acknowledged and moved to stand behind two men seated in front of planes and auxiliary. Once there he said, "Down bubble 10 degrees and level off at ninety feet."

Both men nodded at Chip and then carried out his orders.

Chip stood behind them for a moment longer, inspected a dial to the left of them, then nodding with satisfaction, he returned to Lee and informed him, "Leveled off at Ninety feet, Captain."

"Okay, Chip."

"Uh, Lee?" Chip softly inquired, "Any idea where weíre going?"

"Nope," he chuckled, and on Chipís frown of disbelief, he added, "I only tell you what to do, not where to go."

"Youíre always telling me where to go," Chip softly grumbled, but smiled when he heard Lee chuckle.

"Not what I meant and you know that, Chip."

Chip just looked at him, his eyebrows raised in absolute innocence, and shrugged.

Lee shook his head with amusement and was about to add to the friendly banter, when a voice over the intercom interrupted him.

"Lee, this is Nelson, could you come to my cabin please?"

Lee picked up a communications mike, depressed a button on the side of it and said, "On my way, Admiral." He replaced the mike in its cradle and turned back to his Exec. "You have the Con, Chip," he informed him, as he threw a pencil on top of the plotting table and started to move to the spiral staircase. Lee stopped when he felt a tap on his shoulder and on turning he came face to face with Chip Morton. "Yes, Chip?"

"See, Lee," Chip whispered, but was unable to keep the chuckle at bay as he added, "always telling me where to go."

Lee decided to ignore him, even though he ascended the staircase with a soft chuckle.

~ * ~

"Come in, Lee," Nelson called when he heard a knock at his door, then added when the Captain entered and closed the door behind him, "Sit down, sit down."

Lee sat down on a chair the other side of the table, opposite the Admiral and said, "You wanted to see me, Admiral?"

"Yes, Lee," he admitted and added, "Now youíve most probably already been asked where weíre going by Chip and, as I know you both, this probably caused a moment or two of silly banter between the two of you."

"A little," Lee admitted with a smile.

"Hmm," Nelson acknowledged with a smile of his own, but quickly turned to the seriousness of the situation he was about to reveal. "Well anyway, I can now tell you where weíre going." He turned from Lee and took out from a drawer of his desk a large A4 Manila envelope. As he spoke he pulled out several sheets of paper, "Itís the Peopleís Republic again, Iím afraid, Lee."

Lee Crane sighed heavily. "Donít they ever give up, Admiral?" he groused.

"Apparently not," Nelson tersely answered. He handed the papers to Lee and added, "It appears that our friends have inhabited an island and are using it as a fueling station for their own ships and subs and also as a possible arms depot. "

Lee studied the papers a moment, before replying, "Iím assuming itís more a strategic place for them to be dealing from, rather than what theyíre doing there, that has Washington worried?"

"It is," Nelson confirmed.

Lee Crane frowned a little as he asked, "And we are going to do what?"

Nelsonís answer was immediate, as if he had already anticipated the Captainís question. "Weíve been ordered by Washington to get as much information as we can concerning their operation there. We are ordered to get as many pictures of what structures there are and their positions on the island." He briefly stopped, to let that sink in, then continued with, "Now we need to get in and out as soon as is possible. I suggest two landing parties of ten men, each party to enter the island at different points along the coast."

"What about FS-1, Admiral? Wouldnít that be a better choice? In and out before they can do anything about it?"

Nelson shook his head and explained, "Washington wants this to be a covert operation. In and out without the Peopleís Republic ever being aware that weíve been there. The Flying sub will be too obvious, even if we were to fly a safe distance away and submerge the rest of the way, we would still have to fly over the island." He then wrote down some numbers on a piece of paper and handed it to the Captain. "If you could come to these co-ordinates, Lee, and go to flank speed."

"Right away, Admiral," he assured the older man and stood, ready to leave.

"Uh, Lee, before you go?"

"Mmm?"

"What exactly did you get up to on shore leave?"

Lee depressed a button on the intercom box on the Nelsonís table and asked for Chip to come to the Admiralís cabin, then began to pace the room.

"Everything all right, Lee?" Nelson asked with a frown.

Lee Crane briefly stopped pacing, "Yeah, sure, Admiral. Fine," he assured him, but once that was said, he started to pace again.

Nelson didnít appear too happy with the answer, but decided to leave the man to his pacing, only breaking the silence when he heard a knock at his door. "Come in, Chip," he called "and sit down."

Chip Morton did just that, taking the chair that Lee had recently vacated, but with a frown of puzzlement on his face. "Uh, you wanted to see me, Admiral?" he asked.

"No."

"Huh?"

"Apparently Lee wanted to see you, Chip."

Chipís frown deepened, "Here?"

"Mm-hmm," the Admiral murmured, but couldnít keep a smile of amusement from curving the edges of his mouth upwards.

Unaware of the Admiralís amusement, Chip turned to Lee and said, "Here? You wanted to see me here? Why?"

Ignoring the question, Lee Crane turned to both the Admiral and Chip and said, "Admiral, what happened on shore leave was that I got engaged."

"We-ell, Lee, congratulations," the Admiral immediately replied with pleasure and added, "Jenny?"

Lee nodded with a smile, "Yes, to Jenny, Admiral" he confirmed, but with that said, he fell silent and started to pace again.

"But I already knew that Lee," Chip muttered with puzzlement, "So, what do you need me here for?"

Lee stopped his pacing and faced his friend and Exec in a moment. "I need you here Chip, because I wanted to ask you to be my Best man," he stated more tersely then heíd wanted to, but his anxiety and the inane question Chip had posed grated on him.

"Oh," Chip replied, his eyebrows rising in surprise.

"Well?" Lee asked in the same vein of irritation, "Do you want to be my Best Man?"

Chip blinked up at him at first, but slowly a grin of affection lit his features and he said, "Yeah, Ďcourse I do, Lee."

Lee smiled back at him, then turned his attention to Admiral Nelson. "Admiral, Jenny asked me to ask you if you would walk her down the aisle."

"What?" Nelson blustered, "Walk her down the aisle? But-but what about her own father, Lee?"

"Well, he died a couple of years ago, Admiral. Cancer." Lee shrugged.

"Oh," the Admiral answered a little distractedly.

Chip took that moment to stand and move to Leeís side. "You think heís gonna recover from the shock of you asking him, Lee?" he whispered with amusement.

Lee briefly chuckled in response, but said, "Itís not whether he recovers from the shock or not, Chip, itís more if heís gonna say yes or no that has me worried." As the silence lengthened, Lee began to feel more concerned and after a couple of worried glances at Chip, he broke the silence and said, "Admiral?"

"Hmm? Oh, sorry Lee," Nelson replied, still a little distractedly, "Walk Jenny down the aisle, you say?"

"Yes, Admiral."

"Oh well, Lee, umm," the Admiral muttered, "you see..."

Lee interrupted at that point, fearing that he was about to be turned down. "Itís all right Admiral," he softly whispered, "Iíll let Jenny know that you canít do it." He had to admit it hurt a little, but it was understandable too. It wasnít as though he was Jennyís father after all. He was just hurt because he knew that Jenny was going to be.

"What?" The Admiral suddenly blurted, "Not walk Jenny down the aisle? What on earth made you think that I wouldnít?" He looked up at that point, unaware, or not caring, that his eyes glistened a bit brighter than normal. "Of course Iíll walk her down the aisle," he fervently stated and stood with a hand out in front of him.

Lee stepped forward with a grin of relief on his face and shook the Admiralís hand. "Thank you, Sir," he whispered.

The Admiral smiled, "Just make sure that Jenny knows I would be delighted."

"I will," Lee promised.

With that confirmation, the Admiral took his hand back and sat, "Good," he muttered and added, "Well, now that that has been established, Lee, perhaps we can get back to our Mission? Of which," he briefly glanced at Chip at that point before continuing with, "of which Iím sure that Chip is more than eager to be told of."

Lee chuckled at the observation and said, "All right, Admiral, Iíll let him know."

Nelson nodded and as he started returning the orders back into the envelope, he said, "Fine, Lee, fine."

With that Lee and Chip left the Admiralís cabin.

 

~ * ~

Unable to keep his anticipation completely in check, not two steps away from the Admiralís door, Chip suddenly turned to Lee and said, "All right Lee, Iíve waited long enough. Whatís our mission?"

"Peopleís Republic," Lee simply replied.

"Donít they ever give up?" Chip groused at him.

"Thatís what I said."

"Well, donít they?"

Lee shook his head in response to that, "Apparently not," he said and quickly added, "Seems theyíve got a base too close for Washingtonís comfort and weíre to take a look, but without them knowing that weíre there." He stepped in front of Chip and lightly placed a hand to his chest to stop him. On Chipís quizzical frown, he said, "Look, Chip, the Admiralís told me all about what needs to be done, and Iíve now told you, but can you keep it to yourself, until weíre a bit closer? I donít want the crew nervous as Hell by the time we get there."

Chip shrugged as he descended the spiral staircase that led to the control room, "Sure, Lee," he agreed, "I mean, you are the Skipper."

Lee sighed with frustration, not a lot of frustration, but enough to cause him to sigh and turned to Chip with an eyebrow raised.

"Yeah, yeah, all right, Lee," Chip conceded good-naturedly and with a chuckle, "my lips are sealed."

 

Chapter Three

Chip spent the next hour or two immersing himself in the operations of Seaview. Anything to take his mind off the up-and-coming mission.

"All right, crew, listen up." Lee suddenly announced.

One by one each member of the control room crew either took off their headsets or set the controls to automatic, but all of them turned to their Captain. The anticipation had been palpable, until this moment. It was as though the room had finally breathed a whispered ĎAt lastí.

It was not lost on either Lee or Chip and both smiled at each other by the plotting table. What Lee didnít realize was that behind Chipís smile was also a re-affirmation of the crewís relief.

Lee started to inform the crew of their mission. "All right, weíre on our way to an island thatís teeming with members of the Peopleís Republic. Theyíve got a base there for fueling and for storing their firepower. Weíll be going in to find as much info as possible, without revealing our presence."

There had been a few groans from the more experienced members of the crew when the Peopleís Republic had been mentioned, but other than that, the others silently accepted their task and carried on with the duties that they were doing now.

Bob "Bobby" OíBrien, Acting Exec when Chip was off board somewhere, which did not happen too often, approached his senior officers at the table. "Umm, Skipper?" he asked.

"Yes, Bob, something I can do for you?"

"I was wondering if Mr. Morton will be leading any of the teams going on the island, Sir?"

Lee nodded, knowing why OíBrien was asking, and bit back a chuckle of amusement.

Bob OíBrien gulped a little at that news, but managed to say, "Right, Skipper, just, just wanted to know."

"All right, Bob," Lee muttered with sympathy, "Well, why donít you go back to your duties and Iíll call you forward when weíre nearer the island."

Bob OíBrien silently nodded at that and turned and returned to where he had come from.

When he deemed that OíBrien was no longer within earshot of him, Chip did snicker at that point, but also secretly cheered at the fact that he would be going on this mission this time. Too many times, he had been left behind to pander to Seaviewís little needs whilst others had entered an unknown area without him by their sides. And, more often than not, eventually having to deal with them losing someone along the way.

He had never taken that type of news very well, no matter the fact that he had never shown his distress. He had always thought that if he had been there, on that mission, then he might have been able to do something that would have saved that someone, but he had never aired it. ĎWell, not this time,í he fervently thought, ĎIím going this time.í

~ * ~

"You okay, Chip?" Lee softly inquired, interrupting Chipís musings.

He nodded and smiled, "Yeah, I'm okay, Lee. I'm just wondering why you want me to go on this mission. I mean, it's not usually the thing you do."

"Well, Chip, " Lee replied, "Itís too important not to take you along. Besides, youíre experienced with them as well."

"Agreed," Chip proudly admitted, but eased off his show of self-confidence with a smile of uncertainty.

At that moment, Sparks called out to Lee, "Skipper, incoming distress signal from "The Wayward".

Lee picked up a communications mike and said, "Patch her through, Sparks."

"Aye, Sir"

The control room suddenly filled with the crackling side effects of a bad connection. Lee double clicked the mike to try and clear the noise, but to no avail. He called over to the radio shack, "Can you clear up the interference, Sparks?"

"Negative, Skipper, this is the best that I can do."

"All right Sparks," Lee conceded reluctantly. He double clicked the mike again and spoke into it, "Seaview to "The Wayward"... Seaview to "The Wayward", come in please."

"Wayward to Seaview," the control room speaker suddenly crackled, "Wayward to Seaview, we hear you... we hear you. This is Captain Wells."

"Captain," Lee shouted above the din, "whatís the nature of your distress?"

"Taking in water," was the immediate response. "Heavy storms, leak in the bow, explosion took a chunk of the outer hull away. Can you come, Seaview? Can you come?"

"I shall confirm in a moment, Captain," Lee cautioned the man, then double clicked the mike and said, "Admiral, we have a distress signal from a Cruiser, "The Wayward". Theyíre taking in water from an explosion in the bow. Can we go after them?"

For a moment silence reigned and Lee thought, considering the mission they were on, that they would not be able to go to the sinking vessel. Just at the moment when he was going to re-iterate the question, Nelsonís voice came over the intercom.

"Are there any other vessels closer than us...?"

Negative, Admiral... Thereís "Endeavour II", but sheís running about two-three hours behind us."

Another long pause, before the Com System came alive again. "All right Lee," the Admiral conceded, "weíll go to them. But tell Chip to ready FS-1 for immediate launch and tell him to get his flying jacket polished. Heís coming with me."

Chip smiled at that and accepted the sudden lurch of his heart as a sign of eagerness and anticipation.

Lee, however, was far from pleased. Nelson had already explained to him why FS-1 had been a no-no in the first place and he had accepted the reasoning as being logical. He could not let this happen without him saying something, so he aired his misgivings. "Admiral, are you sure thatís wise?" he asked.

"It might not be wise, Lee, but itís the only option left to us," Nelson replied, then added, "Unless of course you would rather not go and save those poor Souls trapped on a sinking ship?"

"You know I want to, Admiral, but the Flying Sub?"

"The only option, Lee. Now bring Seaview to an all-stop and tell the Captain of "The Wayward" youíll be there as humanly as possible. You got that, Lee?"

"Aye, Sir," Lee reluctantly replied and sighed.

"Good. Good."

With that said, the Com System went quiet. Lee looked to Chip, still unable to completely extinguish his frown of concern, and surreptitiously nodded his head towards where the Flying Sub was berthed; hoping to silently convey to him to carry out the Admiralís orders. He watched as Chip nodded in reply and made his way forward.

Lee really did not like this one bit, but as the Admiral had said, there was little he could do about it. He silently moved to the radio shack and picked up a mike there. He nodded to Sparks, indicating him to re-establish contact with "The Wayward" and when he received a nod of confirmation back, he said, "This is Captain of the Seaview, pass on your co-ordinates to my radio man and we will be there as soon as is possible."

Despite the crackling over the mike, Lee could hear the utter relief in other Captainís voice when he said, "Thank God!"

Lee didnít acknowledge that. Instead he looked to Sparks and said, "Once you have the co-ordinates, send them to Navigation and then inform Engineering to go to flank on my command. All right, Sparks?"

"Aye, Sir," Sparks replied and started to take down the co-ordinates of where "The Wayward" was floundering.

Lee left the radio shack and returned to the plotting table. He hated these moments of being pulled in two directions at the same time. He wanted to go to both destinations, but unless the Seaview became the Sea and the View, he had no choice at all. And that is what rankled at him the most. The inability to be able to be in two places at once.

Okay, there was an answer, the only answer, but it was an answer he detested. Should his two friendsí find themselves knee deep in the Peopleís Republic, he knew that he would not be able to get to them in time. They, quite simply put, would be on their own. And he hated that. Hated the fear that consumed him when thinking of it. He whopped the table beneath his hands in frustration.

"Lee?" Chip softly called with puzzlement.

Lee looked up at that point and shrugged apologetically at his friend, "Sorry, Chip."

"Síall right," Chip replied, but frowned when nothing else was forthcoming. "You okay?" he asked with concern.

Lee straightened at that point and hissed at him, "Ter-rific, Chip. Just fine." He then huffed his frustration from him, knowing it was unfair to take it out on Chip, and asked, "FS-1 ready?"

Chip nodded.

Lee picked up a communications mike that was attached to the plotting table, clicked the button on the side and said, "Admiral, this is Lee, FS-1 is ready for flight... and so is Chip," he added when he saw his friend and Exec don his Flight jacket.

"All right, Lee," the Admiral replied, "on my way."

Lee frowned as he put the mike back into its cradle. No matter how hard he tried, he could not dispel his misgivings concerning the flight and photographic session that Chip and the Admiral were about to embark on. He looked up at his friend and softly said, "Be careful, Chip."

Chip smiled and tried to lighten the mood his Captain had obviously descended into, "Donít you trust me, Lee?"

Lee snorted at that and found a little release in the expression. "Itís not you, Chip," he said, "itís the Peopleís Republic I donít trust."

"You and me both, Lee," Chip stated with fervor.

"Chip?" Admiral Nelson called as he passed the Exec and Captain at the plotting table, on his way to the nose.

Chip picked up a clipboard from the table, looked to Lee Crane, his closest friend since knee high to a grasshopper, and with a grin slowly lightening his features, he turned "I guess it pays sometimes to be just a lowly Exec on board a sub," he said with undisguised amusement. Once mentioned, he turned and followed the Admiral to where the Flying Sub was berthed.

"Uh-huh, you think?" Lee Crane called after him. "Well, mark my words, Mister Morton, youíd better bring FS-1 back in one piece, or youíll be scrubbing the decks out Ďtil youíre ninety."

If anything, Chipís grin grew wider, then just before he descended the ladder to FS-1, he waggled his fingers at Lee and said, "Sure Lee. Take good care of Seaview while Iím away."

With no time to reply, Lee softly muttered, "And take care of yourself and the Admiral, Chip." In that moment, Lee understood, for the first time ever, just how his Exec might have felt whenever the Admiral or himself left the Seaview. He had never really paid attention to it before and if he were honest about it now, he did not really understand why he felt the way he did with the Admiral and Chip leaving. He had always taken for granted the fact that they were his friends, that they would always be there for him whenever he needed them, or, and he chuckled at the thought of Chip, or even when he had not needed them. Both in different capacities of friendship, one a mentor and the other a brother he had never had. But this time he felt anxious with their leaving.

And it disturbed him a little.

~ * ~

Unaware of any misgivings that Lee Crane might have, Chip sat in the pilotís seat and strapped himself in, quickly powering up the Flying Sub as he did so. He then turned to Nelson and said, "Powerís up and ready for your instruction, Sir."

The Admiral smiled and said, "When youíre ready, Chip."

Chip returned the smile, "Aye, aye, Sir," he acknowledged and turned to set the Flying sub on its way.

 

 

 

Chapter Four

The flight so far had been relatively quiet, only the soft chatter of the computers interrupting the silence. ĎSo, mission full steam ahead,í Chip silently thought. His heart beat a little faster with eagerness of the thought. He was not fool enough to completely dismiss the danger of this mission, but then he had not been in this position of being away from Seaview for such a long time now, that he also could not help the enthusiasm he felt. He leaned a little forward and suddenly announced with gusto, "Island dead ahead, Admiral."

Nelson nodded, "Take her in as low as you can, Chip."

"Aye, aye Sir," Chip acknowledged and pushed the controls forward and down.

Chip was perfectly aware that the Island below them was probably teeming with members of the Peopleís Republic. He assumed that the quick photographic session would take only a few minutes and he and the Admiral would be back on the Seaview before Lee would have a chance to begin to worry. ĎSome people have all the luck,í came to mind when he remembered the occasions where he had been left on board for days without contact with the Admiral or Lee, and not allowed to show even a whisper of concern; such was his self-discipline.

"Okay Chip," the Admiral suddenly said, "letís give the Island another pass, a bit lower than before. I swear I saw a camp of some sort and a building not too far away from it."

Chip nodded. The engines hummed a little louder as he set the craft to the requested search pattern.

"Chip, get us out of here, now!!!" Nelson suddenly yelled.

The Exec jumped, startled by the shout, but was pulling on the controls in front of him and turning them to the left before he had fully registered what he was doing.. Suddenly the sub shook from its tail to its bow. Chip strained against the pressure the sudden shift caused, gritting his teeth as he tried to keep her steady. He disliked the sound the engines were making. They seemed to be straining as much as he was.

He briefly looked to his right to check on the Admiral and was pleased to see the calm exterior. It chased away the nagging fear that they might not make it out alive.

The sub shuddered again and tiny, but loud, bursts of explosions filled the compartment; and then lights flickered as the computer at the back spewed forth fragments of light, much like a firework display.

Again Chip looked to his right and was surprised to see the Admiral unbuckling himself from his seat. "Please sir," he gritted out at him, feeling concerned for the Admiralís safety, "thereís nothing you can do."

"Chip, you just do what you have to and Iíll do what I can."

Chip didnít want to argue with the Admiral, especially when he was being bull-headed; which he believed he was being now; but his concern for the older man had him doing just that. "Sir, please," he begged, "sheís going down, no matter what you do. Please, sit down." He saw the Admiral look at him and then at the computer at the back and softly prayed that the older man would ignore the insubordination of his request and just sit. He couldnít help the sigh of relief when the Admiral buckled himself in.

"All right, Chip, Iím staying put, " nelson muttered with a scowl at the young man, and added, "Just, just do the best you can."

Chip slowly nodded, all his concentration now on trying to safely set the Flying Sub down. He was of two minds. Should he head for the coast, knowing that he wasnít going to make it, and knowing that a jungle was their only place of landing? Or should he head for a flat piece of land further in? "Admiral, Sir," he eventually gritted out, "Jungle... near coast... or, or flat land... further in...?"

For a brief moment the Admiral blinked with confusion at what the Exec was asking him, but the moment it clicked, he said without preamble, "The jungle, Chip, itís closer to where Seaview might get to."

"Aye, sir." Chip replied, beads of sweat now covering his forehead and upper lip as the strain was taking its toll, "The, the landing... not... not going to be pretty, sir," he eventually admitted.

Despite the seriousness of the situation, Nelson could not help the burst of laughter that escaped him, "Iím sure, Chip," he managed to splutter.

Chip chuckled himself at that, but it was short-lived. The engines suddenly gave a last groan, before silence reigned. The flying sub was now a glider. Out of instinct Chip started to pull at the controls, but without the thrust of the engines he knew the futility of such an action.

Still, it did not stop him from trying to pull the craft upwards. Right up until the trees of the jungle stood proudly before him. Right up until the loud booming sounds of the sub hitting them, filled the compartment and violently threw both him and the Admiral left and right, hard against their buckles. Until the small craft gave a final lurch and rendered both of them unconscious.

~ * ~

"Skipper?" Kowalski anxiously called from sonar.

Lee Crane turned from the plotting table with a frown on his brow, "Yes, Ski. Problem?"

"The er... the Flying Sub, sir, itís... itís... gone, sir."

Leeís heart lurched at the revelation. ĎGone?í he thought, ĎCanít be,í his mind denied. "Gone?" he exclaimed aloud, "What do you mean, gone?" Throwing a pencil onto the plotting table, he quickly moved away and stood over Skiís shoulder, looking at the sonar screen.

Ski took his headphones off and turned a worried frown at his Captain, "I-I mean, one minute it was there and then the next, it was... it was gone."

Lee could see only the smooth circular undisturbed patterns. He pushed down the anxiety that gripped him and whispered, "Where was the last time you saw them, Ski?"

Kowalski handed him a pad with some directions on it, "Here," he muttered, while keeping an eye on the screen before him, silently hoping that a bleep would suddenly be heard and seen.

Lee took the pad, ripped the page from it, handed it back to Ski and then left him to transfer the data to the map on the plotting table.

The Control Room crew, with the exception of Kowalski, looked at their Captain with the same silent question obvious on each of their faces. ĎTell us what to do, Captain.í

Lee quietly, but anxiously, drew one line and then another that interposed with the first one onto the map, then with a smile of relief, he drew a circle around the place where the two lines crossed. Picking up the communicationís mike, he spoke swiftly and decisively into it. "Navigation, go to course 237 mark 120." He instructed them, then double clicked the mike and added, "Engineering, flank speed."

"Aye sir" came the immediate response.

"Skipper?" Kowalski called, "Er, what about the Wayward?"

Crane turned away from the sonar-man and grimaced. ĎDamn!!í he thought. ĎDamn!!!, I forgot about her. He turned back and quickly made his way to the Radio shack. "Sparks, patch me in to Andy Banks on the ĎEndeavour IIí."

"Aye, sir," Sparks muttered, then handed him a communications mike.

Crane immediately double-clicked it and said, "Seaview to Endeavour II, come in please... Seaview to Endeavour II." Then he waited. ĎCímon, Andy, hear me for Christís sake,í he silently urged.

"Endeavour II responding. Lee, is that you?" crackled the reply over the mike.

Lee let out a silent sigh of relief and answered the question. "Yeah, itís me Andy."

"Hey, long time no hear, my friend. How are things?"

Lee chuckled, despite what he was about to request. It wasnít hard to hear the cheerfulness in his friendís voice, however he frowned when he answered, "Not good, Andy. Itís the reason Iím calling."

"Oh? Well, come on then, out with it."

"We got a call to go rescue a sinking vessel. Get the crew off, that type of thing, but weíve just lost contact with FS-1."

"What does the Admiral say, Lee?"

Crane frowned even more, "He doesnít say anything, Andy. Heís on the Flying Sub, along with my Exec."

"With Chip?"

"Uh-huh. Look I wouldnít ask, but the Island they were flying over is teeming with members of the Peopleís Republic." He sighed heavily, before adding, "Theyíre in trouble, Andy... Big trouble."

There was a momentís silence, before the Captain of the Endeavour II finally answered with, "Give me the co-ordinates of the sinking vessel, Lee, and you go get the Admiral and Chip."

Lee Crane grinned his relief and sighed again, "Thanks Andy."

"No problem Lee." came the immediate response, "Oh and do me a favor, when you find Chip, tell him I said ĎHií, will you?"

"Will do Andy and thanks again. I owe you for this." With that Lee dropped the mike and handed the co-ordinates to Sparks. "Give them to the Endeavour, Sparks, and when youíve done that, contact the Captain of "The Wayward" and inform him of whatís going on."

"Aye sir."

Without waiting for that muttered confirmation, Lee returned to the plotting table. He gritted his teeth against the surge of fear that threatened to overwhelm him. Now he knew why heíd been so anxious. He sent a silent thought to his friend and to his mentor. ĎHang in there, Chip... Admiral... Weíre on our way.í

~ * ~

Harriman Nelson struggled against the darkness that surrounded him, until tiny blotches of light, that swiftly grew, split it down the middle. He groaned as full awareness came to him and turned onto his side. The buckle had come loose, he remembered, after the sub had hit the first of the trees and the second jolt had thrown him from the chair.

He blinked open his eyes and immediately scanned the compartment for his Exec and friend. He saw him slumped over the controls and, even from where he lay, he could see the blood oozing from a cut just above the eyebrow. Gathering whatever strength he had left, he pushed himself to his knees, ignoring the pain in his head, then struggled to his feet, leaning heavily against the ladder that led to the hatch. Certain that he wasnít about to fall, he slowly made his way where Chip lay slumped and unconscious. With great care, he pulled him backwards until he sat upright, his heart filling with relief when Chip moaned.

"Chip?" he softly called, shaking the young manís shoulder, "Címon, Chip, wake up." He smiled when the Execís eyes started to flutter and then when the clear blue eyes dazedly looked at him with puzzlement.

"A-Admiral?" Chip whispered, "Where?"

Nelson patted his shoulder, "Donít worry about that now, Chip," he reassured him, "letís just take a look at that eye."

Chip raised a shaking hand to his brow and then pulled it away. He blinked with surprise to find his fingertips sticky with his blood. "Hummph," he muttered, "explains the headache."

"And double vision?" the Admiral asked.

Chip looked up at that point and blinked at the Admiral. He thought to shake his head negatively, but quickly decided against it, "Uh no, just, just a bit blurred," he finally admitted.

Nelson smiled with relief, "Thatís good, Chip," he said, "Iíll go find the kit and then weíd best leave here."

"I agree, sir," Chip nodded, "but-but what about FS-1? We canít just leave it here for the Peopleís Republic?"

"True," the Admiral readily agreed, but quickly added, "but weíll see to your eye first and then think what to do about FS-1. All right, Chip?"

"Aye, sir," Chip whispered, as rested his head back against the chairís headrest and closed his eyes.

The Admiral went in search of the First Aid Kit and the moment he found it he went back to Chipís side and started to administer first aid to his cut.

Grimacing against the sharp pinpricks of pain, that made him feel like his whole body was on fire, Chip said, through gritted teeth, "Admiral, I think we should smash the controls."

Nelson nodded and said, "I agree, but just to be on the safe side, we should also set fire to it."

"What? But, Admiral..." Chip immediately protested.

"Ah-ah, itís the only way, Chip," Nelson interrupted him. He sighed then, "They canít have FS-1 or have any idea how it operates."

"Yes I know, Sir, but..."

"Címon Chip, think man."

Chip sighed and acquiesced immediately, "All right, Admiral, I guess she is your baby."

Nelson padded at the cut above Chipís eye, finished cleaning the blood away and placed a couple of butterfly stitches along the cut, before he spoke. "Thatís not why Iím trying to convince you, Chip. If there was any other way, other than destroying FS-1, then believe me Iíd be jumping at it, but there isnít. Itís as simple as that." He turned away and put all the unused swabs and bandages back into the box. Turning back, he asked, "Howís that feel, Chip?"

Again Chip touched his wound, but this time his fingertips came away clean, "Fine, Admiral. Thank you," he said, smiling his gratitude at the older man.

Nelson returned the smile and asked, "Do you think you can stand?"

"I... I think so, sir."

Nelson silently watched the younger man shift a little unsteadily in his chair. He also noticed the grimace on Chipís face. It surprised him, if he were honest with himself. He felt that Chip Morton always gave a strong and irrefutable impression that he would rather die first than express any form of emotion. But Nelson would not dwell on it too much. He felt that were he to mention the Execís difficulties, it would only cause embarrassment for them both, so he ignored the expressions as best as he could and patiently waited for the young man to stand.

The moment that Chip stood before him, albeit a little wobbly, Nelson approached him and clapped a hand upon his shoulder. "Well done Chip," he beamed, "Now letís get out of here, shall we?"

"Aye, sir," Chip sighed with tiredness.

 

 

Chapter Five

"General!" an out of breath member of the Peopleís Republic suddenly shouted, interrupting any further conversation between the two men seated at a large table.

Both men looked at up at the officer standing before them, gulping in lungfuls of air.

The General suddenly stood and in a tone that brooked no argument, he said, "What is the meaning of this intrusion? Diego, take yourself from this room immediately."

"But, General, sir," Diego gasped, "I have news. News that you would find very important."

The General frowned at him, looked to the other man at his side and then back again. "There is nothing," he angrily grated out at the young officer, "nothing more important than Signor Bately. Now leave my sight, Diego," he finally warned, "before you pay with your life for such an intrusion."

Knowing he had no other choice, Diego suddenly blurted, "Americanos, sir, overhead."

"What?" the General exclaimed.

"We shot them down."

The General let out a huge belly laugh and said, "Well, my friend, what are you doing here then? Go get them. Go on."

Diego grinned from ear to ear at his superior officer, then ran from the building, issuing orders as he left.

The General gave a last burst of laughter as he returned to his seat. Once seated, he faced Bately and said, "A good man is Diego. I have every confidence in him. Soon we will have our enemy within our grasp."

~ * ~

Favoring his left side, Chip stood a little away from the now burning hulk of the flying sub, thinking of how he and the Admiral were going to get out of this situation they now found themselves in. He turned to his right and started to make his way to Nelson, "Sir, I think weíd better move off," he whispered through gritted teeth and bent to retrieve a backpack of items they would need for their trek back to the coast; and hopefully to Seaview and her men.

Nelson frowned with concern at Chip, "You all right, son?" he asked.

Chip nodded, instantly wishing that he hadnít, and muttered as he straightened, "Just... just a little dizzy, sir. Iíve-Iíve had worse."

The frown still didnít leave the Admiralís face, but he nodded anyway, "Well," he said, "letís get going then, shall we?"

"Aye, sir," Chip muttered and slowly moved past the older man.

~ * ~

"Lt. OíBrien, estimated time of arrival?" Lee suddenly barked out at the young man standing beside him.

The reply was instant and a little quieter, "Approximately 18 hours, Skipper."

Lee turned to Bob and seeing the concern on his acting XOís face, his anger deflated within a moment. He leaned a little closer to the man and whispered, "Sorry, Bob."

"Itís all right, sir, I... I understand." Bobby softly replied, though he stood a little straighter.

Lee sighed, "Look, Bobby, I need your advice." He almost laughed at the sudden blinking he received from OíBrien, but the laughter died in him before it could be expressed. Chip was lost, as was the Admiral and that thought alone had destroyed any hilarity he might have felt. Eventually he said, "Come forward with me, please."

"Aye, Skipper," the Lieutenant curtly replied and made to move around Lee.

Lee stopped him with a hand on his arm, turned to Kowalski and said, "Anything, Ski, any sighting and you let me know."

Kowalski nodded, "Aye sir. Anything and youíll be the first to know."

Lee nodded his approval, then turned away from the sonar-man and led OíBrien from the plotting table to the nose. On his way he depressed the button that would close the crash doors that separated the nose from the control room. The moment they closed, he turned back to OíBrien and said, "Your advice, please."

Bobby OíBrien, if possible, stood even straighter and frowned, "Sir?" he muttered.

Lee sighed with a tiny amount of frustration, "For Godís sake, Bobby, stand at ease. In fact, take a seat." He indicated the chairs by a table where he, Chip and the Admiral used to take their lunch from.

Both men sat at the table in silence until Lee leaned a little forward and steepled his fingers in front of him in thought. "18 hours, Bob. 18 hours," he whispered and shook his head.

"Estimated, sir." OíBrien re-iterated with an emphasis on the estimated. He thought they might get there sooner. Or, he silently and reluctantly admitted, even later.

Lee nodded, slowly, but without word. "Itís too long, Bob," he eventually muttered, "far too long."

Bobby nodded, "I agree, sir, but-but it canít be helped."

"Under normal circumstances Iíd agree with you, but this is the Admiral and... and Chip."

Bobby nodded and immediately empathized with his Skipper. He liked Chip Morton, Seaviewís true Exec. Heíd made a few mistakes when heíd first come on board and he suspected that he might not have been here having this conversation with the Captain in the first place, had it not been for an intervention or two on Chipís part. He always silently thanked the strong, but silent XO.

His thoughts turned to Admiral Nelson. He wouldnít consider the man a close personal and he also knew that few did. It came to him then how the thought of the two men lost for the moment, might be hanging in a dark cloud above his Captain. He knew that not only did Lee Crane know them both on a personal level, but that he also held a high regard for them too. Bobby OíBrien knew in that instant that the same could be said for Chip and the Admiral concerning the Skipper. Bobby sighed. "Iím sorry, Skipper," he eventually admitted with a shrug of his shoulders, "but I donít know how we can get there any faster,"

Lee smiled at his young acting XO and said, "Well, this is where I need your opinion, Bobby."

Bobby frowned.

"Donít look so worried," Lee remonstrated, but kept an easy going smile on is face.

The younger man rolled his shoulders once, in an effort to lessen the tension there.

Crane very briefly chuckled, but in a voice that held the seriousness of the situation and also of what he was about to suggest, he said, "How close do you think weíd get to the island if we stay at flank speed?"

Again Bobby shrugged, "I think you knew the answer before even asking the question, sir."

Crane nodded at that, "I do, but, do you think weíd get close enough to send out a rescue party?"

"Maybe, sir, but I donít think we should risk getting all the way there at flank."

"Oh? Whyís that?"

Bobby heard the hint of anger behind the Skipperís question and again he didnít blame him for it being there. Eventually he said, "Because if we donít get near enough, then both Chip and Admiral Nelson would really be lost to us, Sir."

"Weíve got to try, Bobby. Weíve got to at least try something."

"I agree with you, Skipper, I do, but I donít see what we can try."

Lee frowned in contemplation, then stood and started to pace. Suddenly he turned and said, "Okay, how long do you think we can run at flank before she blows?"

Bobby checked his watch and replied, "Iíd say another eight to twelve hours."

"Which would leave another 6-10 hours, give or take. Itíll be dark by then and well into the morning."

Though Bobby knew the Skipper was thinking aloud, he still nodded, but remained silent.

Crane suddenly turned to Bobby and said, "All right, Bob, hereís what I propose. If we continue at flank speed, then switch it down to two thirds in say another eight hours, do you think weíd have a better chance to send out a rescue party before... well, before?"

Bobby thought long and hard on the question. He eventually looked his Captain in the eye and said, with conviction, "I think it would work, Sir..."

Lee sighed a heavy sigh of relief and nodded at the young acting Exec. Heíd have done this anyway, but he wanted to sound it out with the young Exec. Test his ability on having to make a difficult decision, or at least be in on a difficult decision and for the first time since heíd been told of the Flying Subís disappearance, Lee Crane smiled. "So, what do you say we go and get it done then, Bob?" he said.

Bobby returned the smile, nodded as he stood and replied, "After you, Skipper."

~ * ~

Chip had an uneasy feeling building inside him. He didnít know why his chest felt on fire and why walking seemed to aggravate it with every step. He wanted to stop, but he knew he couldnít; not without he and the Admiral getting caught.

He looked at the Admiral striding ahead of him and wondered for the umpteenth time how in the world the older man kept going. It amazed him, his resilience. There had been many a time when Chip had thought that he had gone over the edge, that the stress of owning and running a boat like the Seaview had finally gotten to him. But it hadnít and again heíd been left speechless with the Admiralís undying courage to carry on.

A sudden flight of birds to his left intruded upon his musings, causing him to jump at the sudden movement. He looked ahead of him again and gritting his teeth against the pain each jolt his footsteps sent across his chest, he caught up with Nelson. "Sir?" he whispered when he reached the older manís shoulder, "to the left of us, possible Ďbogeyí."

No sooner had the words left his mouth, than all Hell broke loose. The dirt started to spit at them both and then the Admiral groaned and fell to the ground.

Chip watched stunned to immobility, then a bullet hit him high in the upper body and the force of it swung him around. He turned, as if in slow motion, immediately pulled his revolver from his holster and started firing indiscriminately. His hand pumped back and forth with each shot he fired. The ground sprayed at his feet, but gritting his teeth against the pain he felt, he continued to fire until the hammer hit empty chambers. His last conscious view was of three inert bodies of their enemy and the body of his friend and Admiral lying before him.

The silence was overwhelming. As Chip lost consciousness and fell to the ground, a greyish cloud of dust rose and engulfed them all.

 

 

Chapter Six

Consciousness came to him slowly and painfully. Each breath sent tendrils of fire across his chest; each movement caused him to gasp. He thought heíd been stabbed, but the full force of what had actually taken place consumed him in a moment.

Swallowing hard at what he might find, he slowly raised himself to his knees, ignoring as best he could, the sensation of the ground shifting below him and the sharp pain in his shoulder and across his chest. He raised a shaking hand to wipe the sweat from his brow, hoping that the contents of his stomach remained where they were. Once he determined he was strong enough to rise, he did so, immediately letting out a cry of pain, when his left arm flapped uselessly at his side, jolting the wound in his shoulder. He soon found himself back on his knees gasping for air; biting back the urge to moan his discomfort.

As his chest painfully rose and fell with each breath, through tear-filled eyes, Chip looked ahead of him, then slowly to the right. There he saw the Admiral, his friend, lying motionless. He choked back a sob of concern. He knew that the journey, short as it had been, and despite the determination he had seen carved and etched on the older, wiser face, had already taken its toll on the older man.

Slowly shaking his head with sorrow, Chip struggled to stand again, holding his arm as he did so. Once on his own two feet, he placed his hand into the belt of his pants and shuffled over to where the Admiral lay. He knelt and turned him over onto his back. His heart lurched when he saw the patch of blood spreading in the middle of the Admiralís shirt. It lurched again, but with relief, when the older man moaned. "Admiral?" he whispered, then waited. Not getting a response, he shook the manís shoulder and shouted, "Admiral!!"

"Chip?" the Admiral gasped.

The Exec wanted to cheer, but, by the skin of his teeth, he kept himself in check and instead, leaned a little closer to the older man. "Admiral," he sighed with relief.

"Chip... Are... are you okay, lad...?"

Chip wanted to sob his relief that the Admiral was alive, something he would not have believed had he not seen for himself. When his friend had fallen to the ground, he thought he had been murdered in front of him and it was something he knew he would not forget in a hurry. The anger that had spewed from him, that was transposed in the firing of his gun, wanting to kill the ones that had taken his friend from him, he would not have believed it of himself. But it had happened. He was thankful that the reading of minds was beyond them both.

"Iím fine, Admiral," he eventually and gently re-assured Nelson, placing a hand upon the manís chest in comfort. "I took a shoulder hit, Sir, but other than that, Iím okay," he lied. Though he felt he already knew the answer to the question he was about to ask, he still asked it, "And you, Sir, where do you hurt?"

The Admiral frowned, before saying, "I... I donít appear to hurt anywhere, Chip... Numb... Canít, canít move." He blinked up at the Exec and softly asked, "Are... are you sure youíre okay, Chip?"

The Admiralís answer had thrown Chip a little. Heíd been certain that he would have admitted to feeling some pain in his stomach, but to have the Admiral admit that he didnít hurt anywhere and he started to worry. So much so that he almost missed the Admiralís question. Processing the question, he eventually said, "Iím sure, Sir," and quickly added, "Please donít worry," After a beat or two of looking around the clearing, he then suggested, "I think we should really get away from here, Admiral."

Nelson nodded solemnly, "I agree," He briefly looked ahead of the trail they had been following, then back at his Exec, "You should keep to this path, Chip," he whispered, unable to raise more than that, and grimaced before quickly adding, "It should lead you back to the Seaview. If... if theyíre there..."

Chip slowly shook his head and clearly stated, "Sorry, Sir, I canít do that." When he saw the Admiral open his mouth, he continued on, "Thereís two ways we can do this, Admiral, we stay here and wait it out, or we both go back to where the Seaview might be."

Nelson swallowed hard, "I canít," he whispered, "canít move, Chip."

"So we wait it out, then."

The Admiral shook his head, "Theyíll be back," he warned the younger man, "Too many."

"So we move. Look, Admiral, one way or another weíre in this together." Chip patted Nelson on the shoulder, "I am not about to leave you behind, so youíd best get used to the idea, Sir."

"Chip..."

"Sorry, Admiral, but you can come willingly or I use force, but whichever, you are coming, Sir."

Nelson sighed with frustration.

Chip added, "Look, Iíve something in mind," he assured the older man and again gently patted him on the shoulder. As he stood, he added, "You rest, Admiral. Iíll be back shortly."

Chip waited until Nelsonís eyes closed and he could see the deep breath of sleep take over the older man, before he moved away. The pain in his shoulder was beginning to cloud his thoughts and, more than anything, he needed a clear head. He looked to where the most pain was and instead of the jacket being black, he saw a large patch of dark crimson soaking it. He knew then that he would need to stop the bleeding or neither of them would be leaving this island alive.

He stumbled across the small clearing and bent to pick the backpack from the ground. He missed the first time because the ground appeared to shift wildly a moment, however it quickly passed and he managed to snag it on the second attempt. He turned and made his way to the Admiral. Kneeling beside him, Chip one-handedly opened the backpack and took the first aid kit from it. He administered a swab heavily doused with a clotting agent to his shoulder, grimacing and gritting his teeth against the pain it caused. Ignoring the sweat that popped out on his forehead and upper lip and the wave of nausea that gripped him, he quickly ripped a couple of strips from a roll of tape, then pulled out a large cotton swab and taped it to his shoulder.

His attention then turned to the Admiral. He was pleased that his friend and Commanding officer was out for the count. He undid the buttons of his shirt and then pushed hard against the stomach wound with another swab of coagulant. He ignored the Admiralís shift and groan and continued with the pressure.

His thoughts shifted to how exactly they were going to get out of the clearing. He was concerned about the Admiralís admission that he felt no pain. Chip silently admitted that it could be just shock, but the frightening thought that the bullet had passed through the Admiralís spine and had caused paralysis would not go away. If it *was* the case, then it would not matter that the Admiral had to be moved, however, if the bullet was lodged close to the spine, then it did. Any movement might just move the bullet and finish the job that the Peopleís Republic had started. He shook his head with indecision. He wanted to move the Admiral, knew that he had to, but he didnít want to do it without the older man knowing his intentions.

He continued to administer first aid, with the resources that he had, and then sat back when the job was finished. He was far from happy with the end result, but came to the conclusion that he could do no better. Doc Jamieson would have to finish the job when they got back to Seaview, if they got back to Seaview.

He looked around at the clearing. All was quiet. He stood and slowly made his way to each one of the men heíd shot, turning them over and searching their pockets. All of them had machine guns and plenty of clips to reload with. He took one of them and swung it over his good shoulder and put one of the clips in his pocket.

He then turned back to the Admiral. He couldnít leave him. In the back of his mind where logic resided, he knew that by taking the Admiral with him, he was jeopardizing any certainty of either of them getting off the island alive. But something far, far stronger than logic, the strength of friendship and loyalty, wouldnít allow him to leave the Admiral behind.

With these thoughts slowly gathering speed, he placed the machine gun on the ground and slowly took off his jacket. He knelt and laid it flat on the ground. He went to Nelson and took off his flying jacket, careful that he did not rouse him or hurt him in any way, and did the same. He searched the perimeter of the clearing and soon returned with two sturdy looking branches. He knelt again and threaded them through the arms of both their jackets. It wasnít a good stretcher, but it would do.

He then went back to the Admiral and tried to wake him, "Admiral," he called, hearing his voice shake with concern. He shuffled a little closer and shook Nelsonís shoulder, hard and fast, "Admiral!" he called again.

~ * ~

Nelson blinked several times before the darkness left him and he was able to see Chipís face looking back down at him. "Chip?" he muttered with puzzlement, "What, what are you still doing here?"

"Belay that, Sir," Chip stated unequivocally, then added in a slightly softer tone, "Iíve made a stretcher, but I donít think I can pull you onto it alone." He winced a moment, not knowing the outcome of his next request, "Can you move your legs, Sir?"

Though he groaned at the movement, Nelson did move his legs.

Chip smiled in relief, but with all seriousness he started to explain the situation, "Admiral, youíve taken a bullet in the stomach. Iím... Iím not sure what damage has been done or what damage Iíll do if I move you, but Iím not about to leave you here, Sir."

Nelson smiled up at the young man before him as he recognized something there that heíd never really contemplated before. Loyalty within the young man, as strong and as unwavering as the bulkheads that made up the shell of Seaview. Now he understood Leeís staunch defending of his Exec.

He, personally, had never really gotten to know the man kneeling before him and he was sure now that heíd missed out greatly on something. When he thought about it more, he came to the conclusion that perhaps within Chip Morton he found something akin to himself. Both hid their emotions effectively, allowing Lee Crane, their friend, to do it for them. He shook his head slowly as he determined the unpleasant fact that he had seriously misjudged Chip Morton. But... no more.

His mind then drifted to a time when he ( Nelson ) had accused Chip of plotting against him, just because he could not tell what was going on in his head and the thought continued when he realized that heíd never apologized for the accusation. Oh it had been true that heíd never been able to read Chip as clearly as he could Lee, but there had never been a time where this lack of understanding had made him so untrustworthy. It had been the drug and he would have to apologize, the first chance he got. And with that thought, came several others. He had been unfair on many occasions concerning the young man leaning over him. He was now determined try to make amends.

His musings were then interrupted by a soft-spoken inquiry.

"Admiral?" Chip whispered.

Nelson blinked up at him then whispered back, "Sorry, Chip, I... I was wool gathering."

Chip smiled, "I understand, sir."

Nelson nodded and returned the smile. "And so do I, Chip... now," he muttered. Ignoring Chipís frown of puzzlement, Nelson looked behind him to the makeshift stretcher and then back at Chip, before reluctantly admitting, "I donít think Iím going to be able to make it on my own, Chip."

"Thatís all right, Admiral," the Exec replied and quickly started to explain, "I just need you to raise your arms, so that I can get a hold of your upper body, and then Iíll drag you there. If you could help by pushing with your legs, Iíd be grateful, sir."

Nelson nodded and slowly raised his arms above his head, grimacing as he did so.

~ * ~

Chip knelt right beside Nelson, leaned across the top of the Admiralís body, then grasped the shirt at the back and pulled. He gasped when his chest and shoulder shrieked in agony, but then gritted his teeth against expressing any more of his own pain. He listened to Nelson pushing his feet against the dirt, and pulled him back in time with the sounds.

What felt like an age, but had probably been no more than a few moments, Chip suddenly let go of the Admiral onto the stretcher and then turned away. More than anything he wished he could lie still until the pain subsided, until he could feel the comfort of sleep take over him, but he was sure that the gunfire would have attracted more members of the Peopleís Republic. In fact he was surprised they hadnít already been found. Gulping back all that he was feeling, he turned back to the Admiral and was surprised to find the older man looking right back at him.

"Hurt, Chip?"

Alarmed, Chip scrambled closer to the Admiralís side and apologized, "Iím-Iím sorry, sir, I couldnít help it."

Nelson shook his head and whispered, "I didnít mean me, Chip, I meant you. It hurt you, didnít it?"

"A little," Chip admitted and lied at the same time, but when he looked back at the Admiral he said with conviction, "Nothing to concern yourself about, Sir."

Nelson chuckled at him, but immediately regretted the laugh and a groan escaped his lips before he could stave it.

Chip placed a hand on the older manís chest in comfort, "Please, sir," he begged, "donít laugh." Then shook his head with embarrassment and chuckled himself at such a ridiculous statement.

Another groan passed the Admiralís lips when he too chuckled at the plea, "Please, Chip," he suddenly gasped, "donít make me laugh."

"Iíll do my best not to, Admiral." Chip promised with a smile and then looked about the clearing again. When he looked back at the Admiral he said, "Iím going to have to borrow your belt, sir. I canít carry you with one arm, Iím going to have to make a stretcher and your belt, my belt and a couple of others will make a strong harness to wrap around my shoulders."

Nelson started to unbuckle his belt, but stopped when the slightest movement caused him pain.

Chip moved forward and finished it for him, then unbuckled his own. He buckled these two together and then another two from the men that he had shot. Once there was a large circle of belts, he twisted one end around one of the branches, then another around the other. He then looked down at the Admiral, and said, "Iím going to be standing in a moment, Sir. Iíll try and do it as slowly as I can, so it doesnít hurt you, but I canít guarantee it."

"Not to worry, Chip," Nelson immediately assured him.

From his kneeling position, Chip threaded the remainder of the belts under his arms; biting back the pain he felt when he moved his injured shoulder; so that he had a loop going through his shoulders and around the back of his neck. Taking in two deep breaths to steady himself against the agony he knew was going to happen, he then stood. He wobbled a moment as his own body compensated for the extra weight at the back and blinked back the tears that came from the torment of his own injuries. When he was sure that he could speak, without letting the Admiral know of his distress, he muttered, "Admiral, are you okay?"

The reply was whispered, "Fine, Chip, fine." And after a beat or two, "You?"

"Iíll live." Chip immediately replied. ĎAnd so will you, if I have anything to do with ití he silently thought.

With that thought to carry him onwards, he started to move off. He knew they were leaving a trail that could be followed, but he silently promised himself that he would retrace as much as possible when they stopped and wipe some of the trail clean.

 

 

Chapter Seven

The eight hours were up.

He imagined the darkness topside and how his friends might be feeling on an island teeming with the ĎPeopleís Republicí and with no hope of an immediate rescue. He shivered involuntarily at the thought. Though he hated himself for the order he was about to issue, he knew he had to. There was no other choice, not if he wanted any chance at all to rescue his two friends. He picked up a communication mike and slowly double-clicked it. "Engineering, this is the Captain..." he began, and after a moment or two of pushing down on his regret, he finished the order, "slow to two thirds until otherwise instructed."

The reply was just as slow in coming, but it did, eventually, "Aye, sir."

Lee Crane could hear the unwillingness in the reply. He hated himself for making that order and no amount of convincing from himself or from Bobby would change that fact. He was letting down the two people he considered more than just friends; Brother and Mentor; and he was finding it difficult to swallow. Someone touched him on his arm, bringing him out of his musings.

"Skipper?" Bobby whispered to him with sympathy, "Why donít you go get some sleep?"

Lee smiled softly at him, appreciative of the younger manís concern, "I might be tired, Bobby," he whispered, "but sleep isnít the answer to that."

"It might help."

Crane shook his head and still with a whisper, said, "Iíll sleep when weíve got them both safe aboard, but not Ďtil then."

"Aye sir. Sorry," Bobby softly replied.

"No need to be. Trust me, Bobby, when we find them, Iíll be happier. All right?"

Bobby simply nodded.

From the corner of his perspective, Crane could still see his substitute Exec keeping an eye on him. He was about to say something when he jumped, startled by a sudden shout from sonar.

"Skipper!!" Kowalski yelled, almost jumping from his station at the same time, "Iíve found them... FS-1."

Crane left OíBrienís side in a moment and was standing looking over Skiís shoulder before the end of the statement was said. "Show me, Ski," he demanded, softly but unequivocally.

Kowalski briefly placed a finger on the screen before him, then wrote some numbers on a page. He turned with a huge grin on his face and as he handed the page to Lee, he said, "Here, Skipper. FS-1 is here."

Lee grabbed the paper and took it to the plotting table. Again he drew two lines that crossed. It wasnít far from where theyíd initially thought it had crashed and he sighed with relief. Relief that they had been found and that they were not too far from the shore. A couple of miles or so, maybe a little more, but it was the best news he had ever wished for. He was sorely tempted to tell engineering to get them up to flank speed again, now that he knew where his two friends were, but he couldnít.

Above all else they *had* to get to them.

~ * ~

After the third stumble in as many minutes, Chip decided that enough was enough. He needed to rest, whether he thought it was practical to do so or not. He just couldnít go any further. The night-light was dim at best, his vision was blurred and the woodland was making the journey harder by the minute. All of that and with his injuries on top, he knew he would have to rest. He took a quick survey of the area they were in and decided that the trees were their best form of protection.

He had no doubt that they were being hunted by the Peopleís Republic, but he hoped that the three they had already encountered were a lead team and that maybe a few hours, several would be better, might have passed before their bodies were discovered. His instinct still told him to keep moving, get as much area between him and any others, but his body was crying out to him to rest.

He found a secure base of a tree and knelt, grunting with exhaustion and pain as his knees unceremoniously hit the ground, then slowly slipped, first the machine gun from his good shoulder and then the belts from both shoulders, biting against the pull on his injured one. Once the Admiral was lying flat on the ground, he then let his own body slump there too. With his good arm resting across his face, he gulped in huge breaths, in a hope to relieve his fatigue.

"Chip? Chip are you all right, son?" the Admiral softly whispered with concern.

Chip turned his head to his right and came face to face with the Admiral, the older manís concern evident in each line of weariness. Chip had never seen him look so old.

The Admiral called again, a little more urgently than before, "Chip?"

"Iím... Iím fine, fine, sir," he gulped out between each breath, "just... just a little tired." He was going to add something else, but he saw Nelson try and sit, then groan and fall back again. He was seated in a flash, ignoring his own aches and pains, and with his good arm reached out to the older man. "Please, sir, try and lay still," he whispered.

Nelson opened his eyes and looked up into Chipís concerned face looking back down at him. "You know, son, youíre a worse liar than Lee."

Chip chuckled at that, "I could say he taught me all he knew, but I guess that would be another lie."

"It would be closer to the truth though than the lie you just told me about how fine you are, Chip."

Not wanting the Admiral to worry unnecessarily, Chip decided to ignore him and instead said, "Get some rest, sir, tomorrow doesnít promise to be any easier on you."

Nelson sighed and said, "Only if you promise to do the same?" and quickly added, "You are doing the carrying, Chip. Youíre, youíre hurt and in pain. Ah-ah, donít deny it. Of the two of us, you need the rest far more."

"All right, Admiral," Chip finally relented, "but not before I destroy some of this trail." Heíd already destroyed the beginnings of the trail where the FS-1 was now probably a hulk of burnt out metal, but just in case heíd missed something heíd destroyed more of the trail whenever they had rested for five minutes.

"All right, but hurry," the Admiral urged him and added as Chip slowly got to his feet, "Iíll keep watch and then I can wake you when weíre about to move off again."

Chip knew he couldnít let that happen so did not dignify it with an answer. Instead he simply shook is head and started to destroy the trail they had left. He was gone no more than five minutes, but it felt like years, such was his body aching and moaning and groaning at him. Eventually he returned to the Admiral, unhappy that the older man had still not slept and he told him as much. "Admiral," he scolded him, "sleep... Now!"

"Chip, I... I need to say something," Nelson whispered to him.

"Iím sure it can wait, Sir," Chip replied with a puzzled frown.

"No!!!" the Admiral shouted at him and tried to rise again.

Chipís hand was on his chest before either man had registered it. "Please, Sir" he urgently whispered, "please, lie still."

"Only if you promise to listen."

"Okay, I promise, justÖ just try not to move."

~ * ~

Nelson nodded and swallowed hard. He hadnít meant to move in the first place, but the young man before him could be infuriatingly annoying sometimes. Much like another that was on his submarine, somewhere beneath the ocean waves, hopefully coming to rescue them both. Eventually he sighed, "Chip, I have a confession to make."

Chip frowned, but remained silent.

Nelson gathered himself together in that one moment, knowing that he would never have the opportunity, or the courage, to say what he needed to say again, and said, with conviction, "Iím sorry, Chip, so very sorry for accusing you of plotting against me. When... when I said that I had never trusted you. It wasnít true."

"That all?" Chip gasped in relief and added, "Iím sorry, Admiral, sir, but you had me worried for a minute then. I thought I was going to have to give you your last rights or something." He then laughed his relief before softly saying, "Long forgotten, sir. Long forgotten." Chip then lay back down again, rested his head on top of his good arm and lightly chuckled some more.

"Not by me, Chip," Nelson softly admitted.

Chip looked at the Admiral and softly acknowledged, "I know sir, but you can now. Water under the bridge Ďní all that."

However, Chipís assurance was ignored, as the Admiral rambled on, "And the time when... when I was lost at sea... Lee told me... he told me that... that you raked him over the coals about him going to the co-ordinates, rather than come rescue me... and, and I never thanked you for that either... For your wanting to come and get me..."

"Please, Admiral," Chip interrupted him, a slight hue of red covering his cheeks that had nothing to do with the heat of the forest, "it doesnít matter."

"Yes, yes it does Chip," Nelson whispered in reply, "Too often a good deed is never praised, whilst an error of judgment or an honest to good mistake, is severely jumped upon." After a beat or two, the Admiral softly admitted, "And I am guilty as charged for that."

"Sir," Chip softly interrupted, "we know how hard it is for you. Gees, I donít think I could do what you do and still have all my faculties. You donít need to apologize, Admiral," Chip stated, "I canít speak for Lee, but for me, you donít have to say anything."

Nelson shook his head. He had said what he needed to say and gotten a far more generous answer than he thought he deserved, but he was still a long way from feeling appeased. Eventually he said, "You know, I sometimes watch you and Lee from the nose, admiring how together you both operate, almost as though you were linked at the brain. Itís quite fascinating sometimes. The order having been issued and carried out almost before Lee has said anything." Nelson shook his head in wonderment. "Fascinating." He whispered.

"But highly illogical, aye, Captain?" Chip snorted.

Nelsonís brow furrowed with confusion, "Hmm?"

Chip spluttered his laughter and immediately apologized, "Umm, nothing, Sir, nothing. Just, just an observation that was all."

If anything Nelsonís brow furrowed ever further. He looked to his left to ask what Chip had been talking about, but when he saw the younger manís eyes drooping with apparent tiredness, he decided to forgo the question and wait for the deep even breathing of sleep to take the man away from this hellhole. It was soon in coming, though not as even as he would have liked it. Still, it was rest, a well-earned rest, and thatís all that counted.

Nelson turned his face away and listened to the chirping of the birds overhead and all the other nightly sounds of the forest getting ready to take its own type of rest.

~ * ~

Chip suddenly bolted upright, gasping for air. He hadnít meant to fall asleep, he hadnít, and he chastised himself for doing so. He looked to his right and found the Admiral asleep. Chip thought he looked better than he did yesterday. Perhaps the sleep was good for him? Which had him in two minds whether to rest a little longer or to carry on. He sighed when he knew he had no choice at all in the matter. With a deep sense of regret, he pushed himself to his knees, one handedly crawled over to the Admiral and gently shook his shoulder. "Admiral?" he called.

"Mmmmph. Huh?" Nelson blinked up at Chip, "Oh, Chip, sorry. We ready to move?"

Chip smiled down at Nelson and silently nodded, then said, "Sorry sir, but we must."

"No, no, thatís all right, Chip. The sooner the better I suppose."

Chip turned and put the straps back around his arms and the back of his neck, pre-warned the Admiral again that he was about to stand and then stood. Again he grimaced against the pull, but the although the pain was sharp, it was also thankfully short. Maybe he was getting better?

Soon they were moving at a good rate through the forest that surrounded them. Chip was about to ask how the Admiral was when a rustling sound could be heard to his right. He ducked out of instinct and stopped any further movement forward.

"Chip?" the Admiral whispered to him.

"Shh, sir... To our right... people," he warned the Admiral, then listened with every fiber of his being; his heart thumping wildly in his chest as the rustling grew nearer. He was about to pull the machine gun from his shoulder when someone came running into him.

"I found him, Skipper," Ski called. "I found him."

Chip almost wept his relief, "Ski," he cried, "Ski, Iíve never been so pleased to see you."

The young sonar man grinned down at Chip and then, taking the machine gun and straps from his shoulders, he pulled him to his feet. "Likewise, Mr. Morton, Sir," he exclaimed with delight.

Chip was speechless with his relief. He didnít know what to say. What could he say? He looked over Skiís shoulder to see a grinning Lee Crane approaching. "Lee," he exclaimed, "Damn, youíre a sight for sore eyes, if ever there was one." And he clapped his best friend on the shoulder.

Lee chuckled at him, "Likewise, buddy," he admitted, but then frowned as he looked to the ground, "The Admiral?" he queried.

Chip nodded, "Heís hurt bad, Lee. We need to get him back to Seaview."

Lee frowned at Chip and shook his head, "Canít do that, Chip, heíll hold us up. Weíll all be caught." As he spoke, he raised his revolver and pointed it at Nelson.

Chip jumped in front of him, looking frantically from Lee to Kowalski. "You lost your mind, Lee?" he exclaimed in disbelief, "Itís the Admiral. Your friend. Your friend, Lee."

Lee Crane looked directly at Chip with a frown of puzzlement, "Whatís gotten into you, Chip, even you can see that if we donít kill him now, then weíll all be caught."

Chip stood his ground, his face clearly showing his disbelief. Eventually he managed to stammer out, "Please, Lee, he-heís your friend. Donít do this. Please," he begged.

Lee Crane looked Chip directly in the eye... then pulled the trigger.

Chip flinched at the sound the gun made. He heard the Admiral moan and then shift. Another shot boomed in the air. He turned, already knowing what he was going to see. "NO-O-O-O!!!!" he yelled in denial and knelt beside the inert, lifeless body of his friend and Seaviewís designer. Tears of remorse fell down both sides of his face. "Admiral! Admiral, wake up," he begged the dead man, "Wake up."

~ * ~

Nelson turned immediately to the young man beside him. Chipís cry, so pitiful and full of anguish, had broken into his reverie like a hot knife through butter. He saw the Execís body arc from the ground as another cry of despair rented the air about them both. He turned, doing his best to ignore the pain of movement, and placed a hand to Chipís chest. "Chip, itís all right, son. Iím all right," he assured him, but seeing it was making little difference, he shook the man hard and adamantly yelled, "Chip, itís all right!!"

In truth though, his heart broke to see the tears falling beneath the younger manís lashes. Heíd never seen Chip display such potent emotions before. Perhaps a laugh or a smile, but never despair. He called to him again, "Címon, son, itís all right. Itís only a nightmare."

~ * ~

He felt as though his lungs were on fire. And then he couldnít breathe. His best friend had shot and killed the Admiral. "Oh God, no," he whimpered, "No."

"Chip!"

He stopped trying to wake the Admiral. ĎThat-that voice,í he thought, Ď I know that voice.í He shivered, suddenly cold, but still broke out in a sweat.

"Itís all right, son. Itís all all right."

He started to shake his head, "No," he exclaimed, "itís not all right. Itís-itís not... The... the Admiral, heís... heís..." and he wept. He couldnít say it. To say it meant it was real and it couldnít be. It couldnít be.

"Iím fine, Chip. Open your eyes and youíll see. Címon, lad, thatís it, open your eyes."

~ * ~

Chip suddenly awoke with a gasp and then frantic gasps of breath as his body demanded oxygen. He sat up, but immediately fell back when a sharp stab to his chest and shoulder took whatever breath heíd managed to get, away from him again. He moaned and shivered at the same time.

"Címon, lad, open your eyes."

Chip suddenly realized who that voice belonged to and before he could stop himself, he let out a huge sob of relief. "A-Admiral?" he choked out.

"Yes, Chip," the voice sighed with relief at him.

Chip shivered again but opened his eyes. He immediately looked to his right and was almost overwhelmed with relief to find the Admiral alive. "A nightmare," he finally muttered, "a-a nightmare."

"Uh-huh, a nightmare, Chip," Nelson softly confirmed, "Not a good one either, if a good one could ever be applied to such a thing."

Chip chuckled at that, but the horror of the dream was still strong in him and it ended on a choked sob. He quickly turned away with embarrassment and started to stand. He stopped when he felt a hand gently take a hold of his arm.

"Itís all right, Chip," Nelson softly muttered to him, "I understand and, and itís all right."

Chip swallowed his immediate response and tried to stand again, but a shiver accompanied by a sudden burst of heat hit him hard, too hard to withstand. He fell heavily to the ground and continued to shiver. "C-cold, Sir," he chattered, "and-and hot at-at the-the same time."

"Youíve a fever, Chip," the Admiral told him with a sigh.

Chip nodded. "I... I g-guess." he muttered. He was cold and hot and achy, but the pain? The pain was gone. If he could get to his feet, he thought heíd make better progress today. Only the pain that had bombarded him throughout the journey had battered his energy and caused many a stop that shouldnít have happened, but now? Now that the pain was gone, he just needed to get to his feet.

He shifted a little, groaning at the effort it took him to do just that and then turned to the Admiral. He was about to argue with him, tell him that it was okay and that they needed to move, regardless, but the Admiral wouldnít have heard him. He saw the older man lying still on the stretcher, his chest rising and falling, a little too rapidly for his liking. He moved a little closer and placed a hand at the base of the Admiralís neck. The pulse was weak and thready. "Admiral?" he called, "Admiral, weíve got to move."

Nelson opened his eyes and looked up at the young man doing anything and everything to ensure his safety, even if it might cost his own. He shook his head, "No need, Chip," he whispered, "weíll wait... Hope... hope for the best."

Chip simply shook his head back at him, his lips pursing into a thin line of determination. "Iím not about to give in, sir," he whispered angrily, "weíve come too far, but-but still not far enough." As he spoke, he did a quick check of the Admiral. His forehead was cold and clammy to touch, but then that could be something to do with his own difficulties. Still, he wouldnít discount it, especially when he checked the Admiralís wound and found it to be bleeding again.

He turned away and gritted his teeth against the cold he was feeling, the shiver that was never too far away. He started to look for the kit with his eyes but couldnít find it. The site where they were started to blur so he began to look with his good hand. The panic swiftly rose in him when he still couldnít find it. He knew then that he must have left it somewhere along the trail and angrily cursed at himself. Not only was it something he needed, that the Admiral needed, but it was also a beacon, an indication of where they might be.

He thumped the ground, once... twice... and again. He silently and angrily berated himself, as he would have a junior whoíd done something as stupid. On and on he beat the ground; ignoring the shooting pains of his chest and shoulder, the aches in his body and his heart, the despair of wanting to give up; until he heard a whisper,

"Chip, whatís wrong, lad?" the Admiral called.

Chip turned to look at Nelson, knowing his internal anguish showed in his face, but he couldnít help it. By leaving the kit elsewhere, he believed he had single-handedly killed the Admiral.

"Chip?"

He one-handedly crawled a little closer to Nelson, the arm shaking with fever and exertion, "Iím-Iím sorry, Admiral, Sir," he whispered in a voice that was laced with regret and pain, "Iíve left the kit somewhere. I... I canít find it."

The Admiral sighed and whispered, "Donít be so hard on yourself, lad. These... these things happen."

All the anger he felt bubbled and boiled, until he exploded, "I am Exec on the finest sub ever and-and I do something that a *junior* would be busted for. Donít... Donít tell me, Admiral, that these things just happen!!!!." He then stood, ignoring the shift of the floor and everything else that came with that, and kicked out at a root of a tree, hoping that the external pain would drive away his internal anguish, but there was no pain, so the anguish remained. He gulped in a couple of breaths to steady himself and his raging emotions, then turned back to the Admiral. He knelt beside him and whispered, "Iím sorry, Sir. Sorry."

"Itís all right, Chip." the Admiral smiled in re-assurance and whispered back at him, "Now, now sit down, before you-you fall down, and weíll wait... wait this out."

Chip slowly shook his head, "We canít, Sir. We canít. Weíre not far enough away." He then went to the head of the stretcher and started to pick up the straps. His hand shook so violently that he dropped them. He swallowed hard and with inbred determination, picked them up again and placed them under his arms and around the base of his neck. He half turned back to the Admiral and warned him he was about to stand. He ignored the fact that there was no reply and stood. His feet shuffled a little as the weight of the Admiral shifted him unexpectedly, but he quickly steadied himself, and with a look of determination that he felt throughout his body, he started to move.

Step after step he took, looking straight ahead, believing that if he looked behind, he was sure, would mean his and the Admiralís death.

~ * ~

 

 

Chapter Eight

Despite the circumstances, Lee Crane took a deep breath of all the scents that belonged to the jungle in front of him and the ocean behind him and smiled. It felt so, so good to be outside. Only at times of extreme distress did he find the Seaview claustrophobic, and the last 18 hours had been filled with a fear and a concern that had wound his insides into a tightly confined ball of worry. Someone tapped him on the shoulder and handed him a revolver in its holster. With the smile still on his face he took the holster and muttered, "Thanks Ski."

"No problem, Skipper."

Lee buckled the holster around his waist and then looked into the dense jungle before them all. It was going to be hard going, but then when was anything ever easy? He looked to his men, Kowalski, Patterson and Doc Jamieson, and said, "Okay, we all go in together in two groups of two. Stay close. Donít lose sight of one another. Doc, youíll stay by me. Ski, Patterson, you take a route about ten yards down there." He pointed to an opening not far from the one that they all stood at. "Any problems you yell and weíll get to you. All right?"

Both men silently nodded and started off.

They stopped when Lee added, "If you come across Chip and the Admiral, or any one of them, you fire a shot in the air and weíll come running."

"Aye, Skipper," both solemnly acknowledged and then moved off again.

Lee turned back to Doc Jamieson and said, "Shall we Jamie?"

~ * ~

The Doctor silently nodded at Lee, but secretly kept an eye on the young man. It had been rough on him, he knew this, and being this close but still unaware as to how they were going to find their friends and colleagues, he thought, must be the hardest of all for the Captain.

When it all came down to it, Jamie felt the same. Heíd known Harriman for the longest of times, knew how stubborn he could be, how tough and resilient, but this was a different ball altogether. He was not young, despite the aggression he had for life and for all things that carried justice on their bow, and this was not a trip in the park.

His thoughts then drifted to Chip Morton. Too many times heíd had to patch up the young Exec, both physically and mentally. His heart went out to him, knowing that he would be doing everything in his power to ensure the safety of Harriman first, before he would even consider his own. Even then Jamie knew that his sense of self-preservation had often been lacking.

He could understand the friendship between Lee and Chip. It was identical to the one he had with Harriman. Opposites attract they say and no two friendships had been as different. Chip, quiet, stalwart, more than adept at hiding the most potent of emotion. Much like himself. And then there was Lee and Harriman. Both emotional almost to an obsession when something touched them so deeply. The two that bound all four of them together with their expressive natures; voicing opinions that had already run through his and Chipís minds, but had never found the need to air.

The thought of the Captain had Jamie looking in his direction. He knew that they would not be leaving this Island until the Captain had found his two friends, even if it meant that he would find them dead.

On that thought the Doctor briefly looked heavenward and uttered a silent prayer that perhaps their friends would be saved.

~ * ~

Lee pushed on through the undergrowth, one thought running over and over in his mind. ĎLet them be alive. Let them be alive.í He couldnít think of the alternative. It hurt him too deep inside to think of it. He had been on many an ONI mission and had felt fear, but nothing could be compared to this.

Unwarranted remembrances forced themselves on him.

Chip laughing, always with a glint of mirth twinkling in his eyes accompanying the sound. Always with a hand of friendship held out in front of him. Always with a soft spoken word of sympathy, empathy. Always with a shoulder as wide as the Grand Canyon, but as pliable as dough. His rock. His foundation when the world would shift alarmingly beneath him.

His thoughts then shifted to Admiral Nelson. His guiding hand. His words of wisdom and knowledge. His passion for life that drove those that he had included in his circle of friends to perfection. Never demanding, only encouraging. Never the tyrant, despite his temper.

To think the alternative was too much to bear.

A sudden burst of gunfire rudely intruded his thoughts and he turned to where they had come from. Voices yelling accompanied the gunfire. ĎSki,í he immediately thought, "Patterson.í He turned to Jamie and indicated that they move and move quickly. He didnít wait for a response and made his way through the undergrowth towards the gunfire. He came to a clearing and started firing at the men skirting the edge of it. The Peopleís Republic. He fired until one by one each man dropped from sight... and then he ran forward.

Ski and Patterson joined him and Doc Jamieson soon after.

Lee turned to them with a frown on his face, "I-I thought they were firing at you."

Both men shook their heads then looked to where the bodies of the Peopleís Republic lay. All of them were facing away from the clearing.

Leeís heart leapt into his mouth, "If not you..." he whispered, but trailed off at that point when he heard some rustling. He looked up and almost choked with overwhelming relief when he saw Chip staggering towards him and the group, pulling the Admiral behind him on a stretcher. He could see Chipís mouth moving, but couldnít hear what he was saying. All of a sudden his legs were moving and he ran to his friend. The closer he got to him, the more coherent were the words.

"Thatís it, one foot in front of the other. Címon, one foot in-in front... in front of the other."

The moment he got to Chip he grabbed him by the shoulder to stop him, "Chip!" he suddenly exclaimed with absolute relief and delight, "Chip!"

Not really knowing whether he had heard right, Chip looked up and into his friendís face and blinked, "Lee?" he whispered and then smiled, but it soon faded when he spied the revolver in Leeís hand. "Oh God, no," he whispered with despair, "it-it wasnít a nightmare. Oh God." He tried to move around Lee, to get away from him.

Lee frowned with puzzlement, "Chip?" he muttered, confused. He then moved to stand in front of his friend, to lay a hand of friendship on his shoulder. When Chip had looked at him heíd seen the spark of recognition but it had gone almost as quickly as it had appeared. His stomach bunched into a ball of concern. His friendís face was bloodied and bruised. A large patch of blood soaked his shirt at the shoulder. He was shocked to the core and wondered how on earth Chip was still moving, carrying the burden of an unconscious man. He wanted to take it from him. "Chip, itís all right," he eventually and gently whispered, "itís all right. Címon buddy, let me have the Admiral."

Chip shook his head, his lips pressed together in an unwavering line of determination, and whispered, "Please, Lee, think what youíre doing. This is the Admiral, your friend, think what youíre doing." He then looked at the gun in Leeís hand and re-iterated, "Heís your friend."

Again Lee was shocked and took a staggering step away. He watched, dumfounded, as Chip eyed the gun in his hand and also when he smiled at him when heíd taken the step away. Unable to move Lee continued to watch as his friend staggered on, all the while muttering about putting one foot in front of the other. Lee looked at the gun in his hand and suddenly realized that Chip thought he was going to use it. His heart lurched with fear. What had Chip gone through for him to even think such a thing? On that thought, Lee turned, handed the gun to Ski and started to move back towards his friend again. As soon as he reached Chipís shoulder, he fell in step with him and whispered, "Chip? Chip, Iíve, Iíve put the gun down. Iím not going to hurt you or the Admiral. I promise Chip."

Chip blinked again, whilst still moving forward, then looked to his friend. He frowned, shook his head and continued on.

"Címon, buddy, let me have the Admiral," Lee urgently whispered.

Chip, this time, violently shook his head from side to side and tried to quicken his pace. He stumbled once, but righted himself with a grunt of pain. But he stumbled again and this time went down on his knees. A groan of pain escaped him.

Seeing the distress on his friendís face, Crane immediately knelt beside him, "Címon Chip, please," he begged in a whisper, "let me have the Admiral."

Chip looked at Lee and whimpered with frustration. He then slowly turned and looked back at the Admiral, unconscious behind him, "Iím-Iím sorry Admiral," he whispered with utter regret. He looked back up at Lee, imploring him with his eyes, eyes that were full to the brim with unshed tears, "Please donít hurt him Lee," he whispered, "Please."

Lee Crane couldnít stop the tears from filling his own eyes. Tears of relief, warring with concern for both his friends. "I wonít, Chip, I promise," he whispered. With that said he gently prised the straps from Chipís shoulders and then caught his friend when his eyes closed and he pitched forward. One handedly cradling his friend to his chest, Lee silently handed the straps to Ski.

Doc Jamieson was at his side in a moment. "Let me have him, Lee."

Chip shook beneath Leeís hand and groaned intermittently. The Captain unconsciously laid a hand upon his shoulder, hugged him a little tighter as if he could transfer some his strength to his friend and whispered close to his ear, "Itís all right now, Chip. Youíre-youíre gonna be fine, buddy." Eventually he looked up at Jamie and said, "He, he thought I was going to hurt the Admiral. Why Doc? Why?"

~ * ~

Jamie ignored his Captainís question. Not liking Chipís pallor he moved forward and took the Exec from Lee. He laid the young man on the ground and quietly examined him. He noticed at once the unevenness of his breaths, the shivers that belied the heat that was radiating from his body. He had a fever, no doubt, and he suspected a couple of fractured or broken ribs. He was dehydrated to the point of complete and utter exhaustion, suffering from malnutrition, even though only two thirds of a day had passed. He checked the wound to Chipís shoulder and grimaced when he found it to be puffy and bleeding. His head wound showed no outward signs of complications, however, the Doctor was more than versed on the symptoms of concussion. Still, he could do little here. His administration of Chip would have to wait for when they were back on Seaview.

He then moved away from the Exec and knelt beside the Admiral. Again the breaths were jagged and it was not difficult to see where he had been wounded. He lifted the shirt to find a bloodied patch of swab rising and falling with each breath. Chip hadnít done too badly, he silently concluded, with what little resources heíd had, but it hadnít been enough, considering the wound was now oozing blood with every heartbeat. Jamie touched the Admiralís cheek and found it to be cold and clammy. He was in shock. Not surprising.

Jamie then turned back to Lee and felt his heart constrict at the sight. The Captain was cradling Chip to his chest, rocking him in comfort, urging him to stay with them. He looked up to see the same distress showing on both Skiís and Pattersonís faces. In that moment he knew that if he did not take charge, he would be seeing more than just Chip and Harriman in sickbay. He suddenly stood and started to issue orders. He told Ski and Patterson to go find another couple of branches and to make another stretcher. They hopped to it immediately, appearing to be pleased to have something to do. Jamie then returned to Lee, knelt beside him and started to tell him what needed to be done. "Lee? Theyíre both in a bad way, but I think theyíll recover. We just need to get them back to Seaview."

Lee blinked up at Jamie and whispered again, "He thought I was going to hurt the Admiral, Jamie. Why? He knows I wouldnít. He knows how I feel."

"Lee, Chipís got a fever, a bad one. Heís probably reacting to it, a nightmare possibly. And youíre right, he, of anyone of us, knows." The smile that came from Lee Crane was more comforting to Jamieís mind than any drug he could ever have administered. He waited a moment before he then said, "We must get them back to Seaview, if they are to have any chance at all."

Lee nodded at Jamie and regretfully relinquished his hold on Chip, but still kept a shaking hand on his shoulder. Ski and Patterson then took a hold of Chip and gently placed him on a makeshift stretcher. They slowly lifted him from the ground and then, the moment Lee and Jamie had taken up the Admiral, they all started to make their way back to Seaview; each one with their own thoughts of what had happened and how close theyíd come to losing both menÖ

~ * ~

 

Chapter Nine

Lee Crane stood in the doorway of Sickbay and looked from one patient to the other. Both friends he could not do without. He shifted uncomfortably wanting to go to them both, lay a hand of friendship on them as if it would help, but his feet were solidly planted on the floor and would not move, no matter how much he urged them to move forward. He contented himself for the moment to watch Jamie and Frank diligently, though professionally, move from one patient to the other.

His thoughts kept returning to the moment when he understood why Chip had thought he was going to hurt the Admiral. He could not forget the silent accusation. As if he could ever hurt the Admiral. Lee suddenly looked up when a shout came from Chip. He moved then when his friend started to struggle.

Frank was suddenly shoved to the side and fell awkwardly against the gurney that held the Admiral. Jamie was pushed into Lee as a shout of denial rented the air.

Lee righted Jamie and then pushed his way past him. He was at Chipís side in an instant and was placing a hand of comfort to his shoulder before heíd even thought of it. "Chip?" he whispered with concern, then smiled with relief when his friend quieted almost instantly.

~ * ~

"Lee?" Chip whispered and opened his eyes. He blinked up at Lee, then looked around himself. He was in sickbay, on Seaview. He groaned as the pain of loss engulfed him in that one moment. He turned accusing eyes towards his friend, his anger building as he pushed the hand from his shoulder. "You killed him, didnít you?" Chip yelled with disgust, "Saved your own skin, didnít you?" He sobbed.

~ * ~

Lee flinched and took a step back. There it was again, the accusation. He didnít know how to answer his friend, other than to shake his head in silent denial.

~ * ~

Jamie moved past Lee and injected Chip with a sedative.

Chip looked at him with confusion, blinking. "Why, Doc?" he softly sobbed, desperately fighting a losing battle against the sedative, "Whyíd he kill the Admiral?" were the last words he muttered before descending into an uneasy sleep.

~ * ~

Jamie took Chipís temperature and blood pressure. It did not take long and he turned away from his patient with a look of fear heíd never before allowed to show on his features when he read the results. He looked to the Captain to utter his fears, but the look on his face was enough to stop the Doctor in his tracks. He put a hand out and held the Captain by the arm as he whispered, "Pay no attention to it, Lee. Trust me, itís the fever talking. Heíd never say such a thing otherwise. Heíd never mean such a thing."

~ * ~

Lee blinked at Jamie, trying to collect and order his thoughts. Eventually he muttered, "Thatís the second time, Jamie, heís said that. Iíd-Iíd never hurt the Admiral," He then looked down at his friend, shifting with the uneasiness of his sleep and added with conviction, "Iíd never hurt him."

~ * ~

ĎOne last tryí Jamie silently thought, before aloud he said, "I know that, you know that, and believe me when I say, Chip knows that too." He could see immediately that his words of comfort had done little to ease the Captain, but he could not dwell on that at the moment. Though he wanted to help him come to terms with the accusations, he couldnít whilst Chip was as unstable as he was. Maybe, though, he might be able to kill two birds with one stone. "Lee," he called, "I canít help you with this right now, but I do need your help with Chip."

"Heís-heís all right, isnít he?" Lee uttered with concern.

Jamie shook his head and softly whispered, "Far from it."

"But, but heís on Seaview," Lee muttered, then his face whitened with alarm, "Jamie, youíve gotta' save him. He-he canít die, not now." He looked back down at Chip and whispered, "Heís gone through so much, Jamie, he canít die."

"Lee, Iíve done all I can with him," Jamie muttered, "Iíve tended both wounds, his ribs that were cracked and I have an IV of saline to rejuvenate all the liquid heís lost, but, but itís the fever."

Lee looked the Doctor directly in the eye. "What about it?" he asked.

"Itís complicated with a concussion and these accusations are making it difficult for Chip. He believes that the only friend heíd ever trusted with his life with has let him down. Gone against everything that heís ever believed in, and itís hindering his recovery. Heíd tried his best with Harriman, to keep him from harm, but you came along..." Jamie then held up a hand to forestall the objection he was sure was on the lips of his Captain, and quickly said, "He believes that you came along and showed as little regard for a friend that anyone could have, only to save your own life."

"But I didnít, Jamie," Lee protested as fervently as he could.

The Doctor sighed, "I know that Lee, you know that, but Chipís fevered mind doesnít," Jamie sighed again, "I know this is difficult, Lee, but somehow youíve got to get Chip to see what his fevered mind canít see, or... or he will just simply give up."

Lee shook his head in denial, "Chip wouldnít just..."

"Yes, yes he would, Lee," Jamie fervently interrupted him, then softly added, "He would, if he had no reason to fight."

"What do you want me to do?"

Again Jamie sighed, but this time with relief and with hope that this would work. Heíd certainly come to the conclusion that no medical aid was going to help in Chipís recovery. "Just sit with him, Lee," he eventually said, "Iím going to lay off the sedatives," he explained, "all they do is make him sleep, not get through this. Iíll keep the pain killers handy, he will need them, but theyíll not put him to sleep." Before he left to attend to the Admiral, he finished with, "This is going to be hard on you, Lee, donít think it will be otherwise, but if you want Chip to survive, please see it through. Iíll help as much as I can, but itíll be down to you." And as an afterthought, he added, "And Chip."

~ * ~

Lee nodded absently, already trying to think how he could help. If Chip really did believe that heíd kill the Admiral to save his own skin, then he knew that Chip would find him more the enemy than a close friend. He didnít know how he could convince him otherwise. He sat heavily in the chair that was beside his friendís bunk and looked down at him. He was shifting in his sleep, moaning and straining against it. He so desperately wanted to place a hand of comfort on his shoulder, but he was afraid, afraid that once he did his friend would wake and again begin the tirade of accusations against him. He knew he would have to face it sooner or later, but in this moment in time, no matter how selfish it felt, he just didnít have the strength in him to withstand such a thing.

With a heavy sigh, he relaxed back into the back of the chair and waited.

~ * ~

Heíd done it, heíd killed him, but-but... Lee? He couldnít believe that the closest thing to a brother that he had could do such a thing. That friendship could be so cheap to him. But he had. He had. Heíd seen the body, stupidly called to it, when he knew, he knew without a shadow of a doubt that the Admiral would never get up again.

After all that heíd done, whom heíd killed to save him, only for his life to be taken by someone that had been like a son to him. "No," he groaned, "no, not Lee, not Lee."

He shivered violently at the thought. What heíd seen. "No," he moaned again, shaking his head in denial. He then felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to the owner of it. He knew then that heíd never before felt such hatred as he now felt towards the owner of that hand. He viciously shrugged the hand from his shoulder and through gritted teeth of anger, he whispered, "Never, never touch me again. You lost the right to be my friend when you killed him."

"Chip, I didnít. I didnít kill him. He-heís here, with Jamie."

And Chip found the hand back on his shoulder. He shrugged it off again, and angrily muttered, "So, couldnít stop at the Admiral, ay, Lee? Took Jamie out of the equation too? Whatís the matter, gonna save me for last? Well why not. Itís not like I could plead friendship with you."

"I would never hurt you, Chip. Never." Lee protested.

Chip frowned. It sounded sincere, but heíd seen with his own eyes just how much Lee Crane thought of friendship. He laughed mirthlessly, it sounding horrible even to his own ears, and said, "Didnít you once say that about the Admiral, Lee? Didnít you once say that you thought he was the Father that youíd never had, but had always wished for? And what, that I was the Brother that youíd never had?"

"Yes," came the simple reply.

Chip frowned again. Heíd expected a denial, but instead heíd received a heartfelt plea of acceptance. He groaned in pain as a harsh beam of light from above suddenly flickered into his consciousness. He grasped the nearest thing to him and held on.

~ * ~

Lee shook his head with grief, but held onto the hand that was in his with his life. He watched, horrified, as Chip arched off the bunk, groaning in pain. He gripped the hand tighter, softly murmuring, "Take what you need, Chip. Take what you need."

The hand then went limp in his and his face whitened with fear. He looked back down at Chip, and on seeing his face flushed with fever and wet with perspiration, he cursed whoever and whatever. He wanted his friend back, now and whole, but he didnít know if he would get his wish.

~ * ~

Jamie came in at that moment and looked across the room at Lee Crane. The color of his face sent tendrils of fear racing up and down his spine and he was across the room in a second. He looked down at Chip and frowned, "Another episode?" he quietly, but calmly, asked the Captain, belying the fear he actually felt.

Lee silently nodded. As Jamie bathed his friendís face with a cold cloth, he swallowed hard and asked, "Howís the Admiral doing, Jamie?"

"Heís doing a lot better than Chip." Jamie stated unequivocally, "Heís going to be out of it for a while, but he should make a full recovery." Jamie then shook his head and said, "Chip did a good job on him. I mean, he couldnít and wouldnítíve been able to stop the bleeding, but the coagulant that he applied, and he applied an awful lot to Harrimanís wound, stopped infection from becoming an issue." The Doctor then sighed heavily, "I just wish heíd done the same for himself."

He then looked at Lee and saw the tears of emotion clouding the young manís eyes. He knew then that Chipís last episode had been hard on the Captain and he wished any further ones would be easier on him, but he doubted it. He placed a hand of comfort on Leeís shoulder and whispered, "If the fever hasnít broken by morning, Lee, then it never will. One way or another, Lee, this will only be for a few hours more."

Lee nodded, but whispered back, "You know, Jamie, Iíd take this for as long as it took, if it meant that Chip would be okay. And I will, Jamie, I will. Iím not giving up on him."

Jamie shook his head in silent admiration and softly patted Lee on the shoulder. It had worked. Jamie now knew that Lee had forgotten about the accusations and was now concentrating on the higher issue. That his friend had to come through this intact and whole. That one sentence from Lee had spurred hope inside of him and he believed wholeheartedly that if Chip did not survive, then there was nothing else that could have been done.

Aside from that though, he fervently wished that the young Exec did survive. He had no real idea how his death would hit the Captain, but, knowing if he were anything like Harriman, it would hit him hard and fast. He knew that Harri would not be able to live with himself knowing that heíd survived and a young life such as Chipís had perished. And if that was the case, then he thought that Lee Crane would not be able to come to terms with the fact that his friend had died with the belief that heíd killed the Admiral.

All selfish reasons, he knew, and a lot hung in the balance, but most prevalent of all the reasons Jamie wanted for Chipís survival, was that he simply liked the quiet, unassuming Exec. Respected him, even. Heíd saved Harriman. His (Jamieís) friend. He had put the Harriís survival above his own, but the Doctor hoped, with all that was in his heart, that the cost of such a thing, would not be his own life.

Jamie sighed, not knowing what he could say, then left the Captain with his friend, silently praying that all would be all right.

~ * ~

Chip furiously blinked against the light that obscured his vision. He was in Sickbay, he knew, but right along that revelation came the pain of knowing that the reason he was here was because Lee had murdered the Admiral to save his own life and in turn, his.

But he would have given his life for the Admiralís, willingly. Okay, maybe not willingly, maybe with a struggle, but he wouldnítíhave murdered him to survive. If that had been the case then he would have left him when theyíd both been shot.

He groaned, as the conflicting emotions concerning Lee Crane battered him once more. He was his friend, a brother in all intents and purposes. He remembered Lee fighting physically, more often than not, for him. But also fighting for him verbally when the words came to his head but he had no way of expressing them. Lee had seen this and had done that for him.

But the body of the Admiral, unconscious and helpless to defend himself. The shots fired, the look on Leeís face. He groaned again. How could he have done that? Had Leeís friendship always been a lie? He wouldnít believe it, but-but the Admiral. He-Heíd murdered him.

He groaned again and wanted to succumb to the darkness that kept bidding him forward, but he needed to know. With all that it took he slowly opened his eyes and looked for Lee and he found him seated next to him, grasping his hand. He moved his hand away from Leeís as thought it had burnt him, but in contradiction to the harshness of the move, he softly whispered, "Donít touch me."

Lee suddenly looked right back at Chip, then bowed his head. "Chip, please," he whispered back.

Was it dread that he heard in the voice that had called his name? It should be. He knew now what heíd done. Was it shame that accompanied the bowing of his head? No, it couldnít be. Lee Crane wouldnít feel shame, he wouldnít know the meaning of the word. Working his mouth, Chip turned to the man that had once been his staunchest of friendís and simply asked, "Why, Lee?"

"I donít understand the question. Why, what, Chip?"

"Why did you kill the Admiral, Lee??!!." Chip shouted, immediately becoming agitated.

More than anything Lee wanted to console his friend, touch his shoulder, pass on any strength his friend might need, but heíd seen and felt the last attempt and knew that all he had were words to console him with. "Chip, you must believe me, I didnít. I didnít kill the Admiral. Heís here, alive. You-you saved him Chip. You saved him."

"Donít *lie* to me, Lee!!" Chip continued to shout, "I saw the body. I *saw* what you did. I was there!! "

"You didnít see Chip, because it didnít happen."

Chip lay back in his bunk, forcing his head back into the comfort of his pillow, arching his back up and away, to try and relieve the tension he felt, the pain of his friend blatantly lying to him. He was trying to say he was delusional, that heíd imagined it. But he hadnít. He could feel the pain now, of seeing what Lee Crane had done. He could feel it, almost touch the hurt. It wasnít delusional. It was real.

He looked up at Lee and blinked. It was hard to see the remorse on his face and not react to it. Not listen to his heart. But he couldnít listen to it because it was broken and Lee Crane had broken it for him. He choked back a sob, "I just..." he whispered, "I just wanted to know why?" and with that he then succumbed to the smooth, serene darkness that had wanted him for so long, without regret, only with a wish that it would take away the pain.

~ * ~

Lee watched his friend struggle. It frightened him, but not so much as when he saw Chipís eyes close and then hear him whisper. Alarm bells rang in his head. Heíd given up. Chip had given up. He stood in an instant and bent over his friend, shaking him, "Chip!!" he called, over and over, "Chip, donít do this. Wake up, Chip. Wake up!!"

Doc Jamieson came hurtling into the office on the first shout, but then stood stock still in the middle of the room when he saw the Captain shaking Chipís shoulder, when he heard him desperately calling for his friend. He looked at his watch and sighed. It was sooner than he thought. He silently moved to stand next to Lee Crane and placed a hand of comfort on his shoulder. "Lee?" he called.

Lee turned to him, all the anguish he felt showing on his face. "Heís given up, Jamie. I didnít have the words. The right oneís. He doesnít believe me. He-he thinks Iíve killed the Admiral and nothing will change his mind."

"Iím sorry, Lee. Truly sorry."

Lee Crane shrugged off the hand on his shoulder and angrily stepped away, "No, Doc. No!!" he cried out. He then turned away and started to pace, all the while muttering that he wasnít giving up. That he couldnít and wouldnít, not whilst Chip still breathed. He finally turned back to the Doctor and, in total contradiction to the agitation heíd just displayed, he softly asked, "Howís the Admiral, Jamie? Is he awake?"

The question threw the Doctor for a loop a moment, but when heíd processed it, he said, "Heís improving, but no, no he isnít awake yet... Why?" he added with a frown.

"Can you give him something to, to wake him?"

"I could, but it might do more harm than good. And I ask again, Lee, why?"

Lee Crane shrugged, piteously, "I donít have the words to save Chip. I canít help him. Jamie, I think the only thing that will help is for Chip to see with his own eyes that Iím not lying. That I couldnít do such a thing."

Jamie nodded, "I agree," he softly replied, but added, "but then, we could lose them both. Or either one of them. Do you think Chip could live with that, Lee, after all that he did to try and save Harri?"

"No," he stated unequivocally, "but then I donít think the Admiral could live with the fact that he could have helped save Chip, but we were too stubborn to try."

Jamie sighed, "I know, I know, it was the same thing that was going through my own head." the Doctor admitted.

Lee watched, he imagined, the same questions flitter across Jamieís face. Could they make that decision for The Admiral? Did they have the right to? No they didnít.

Jamie suddenly spoke, "All right, Lee, Iíll wake him... but," he added with conviction, "if I deem it too strenuous for Harri then we put him back out and thatís that."

"Thatís that," Lee softly whispered back at the Doctor, looking at his friend lying docile and at peace with the world, even though he was completely out of itÖ

~ * ~

 

Chapter Ten

Jamie left Lee seated next to Chip and entered another section of Sickbay where Harriman Nelson lay peacefully sleeping, unaware of the seriousness of his Execís condition. Jamie knew that once heíd woken Harri and told him of the situation then there would be no stopping him trying to help, regardless that it might cost him his own life. With great deliberation, he filled a syringe with a drug that would waken his friend in a moment, bent and administered it into the Admiralís right arm. Then he waited. He did not have long to wait. Almost as soon as he sat down, he could see the first flutteringís of his friendís eyelids. He shuffled the chair a little closer and called to him, "Harri? Harri itís Jamie. Youíre in sickbay on Seaview."

Admiral Nelson struggled towards consciousness. His eyes felt glued together, but he could hear Jamieís voice and struggled towards it. However the first word out of his mouth was, "Chip?"

Jamie knew he was not being mistaken for the young Exec, knew that Harriís first concern was for the young man that had saved him. He patted his friend on the arm and said, "Not good, Harri."

Those three words were like a bucket of cold water to the Admiral. He opened his eyes and looked to his friend, "How... how bad?" he whispered.

"He has a fever compounded with a concussion. Itís made him delusional. He believes that Lee has murdered you to save his own life and, in retrospect, his too." Jamie paused a moment, then added, "Harri, heís basically given up."

Nelson swallowed the grittiness from his dry throat and said, "Itís... Itís the nightmare he had on the Island. Isnít there something we can do?"

Jamie nodded, "Itís why I woke you."

"Go on."

"Lee feels that the only way Chip will start fighting again is if he sees with his own eyes the truth. The truth being that you are alive, that Lee hadnít murdered you just to save his own life."

"Lee?"

"I wonít lie to you, Harri, itís been hard for him, but I believe heíll get through it. Whatever the outcome."

Nelson nodded at that, satisfied, then whispered, "What... what do you want me to do?"

"We want you to talk to Chip. To try and convince him that youíre all right, that youíre alive and well. Well, as well as can be expected. Donít try and go for the heroics, Harri, be honest with him. If you appear well and unharmed to him, heíll believe itís a dream and he wonít come back to us."

Nelson nodded.

"Iím going to give you some water to ease the dryness of your throat, then Iíll wheel you in there. Okay?"

Again Nelson silently nodded.

As Jamie gave the Admiral some water through a straw, he added, "Harri, I donít want you over-exerting yourself. If this doesnít work, if Chip doesnít want to come back to us, then you have to accept that. If you become agitated at all, then Iím calling the thing off. Do you understand? I wonít have you putting your own life in jeopardy."

Nelson pulled away from the straw and nodded, "I understand, Jamie, but youíll have to knock me out to stop me."

Jamie smiled at that, "Thatís my intention and if I canít find a drug then a hammer will be just as affective."

Nelson chuckled at that and continued to sip at the water Jamie was offering him.

~ * ~

Lee looked down at his friend and almost cried with despair. It no longer hurt to hear his accusations, they werenít true, but it hurt him deeply that his friend was lost to him and that unless the Admiral reached him, that he would always be lost to him. Regardless of how Chip might have felt about it, he leaned a little forward, placed a hand to his shoulder and whispered, "Do whatever you want, Chip, I donít care, but youíve got to come back. Youíve got to." He heard a noise at Sickbayís divider and looked up. Any other time and he would have been ecstatic to see his other friend awake and smiling at him, but this time he felt only drained and helpless.

Jamie lowered the gurney so that it was in direct line with the height of the bunk, then, when Lee moved away, he pushed it next to the bunk where Chip quietly lay in a world of his own.

Lee stood at the far end of the bunk, silently praying that this last chance was going to work but secretly gathered himself for the worst.

~ * ~

Admiral Nelson shifted a little in the gurney to get a purchase on the hand that was lifeless beside him. He grasped it as strongly as he dared and then started to speak. "Chip, lad, itís Nelson, Admiral Nelson. You did it Chip, you saved me. If you open your eyes, youíll see." He waited a moment, but nothing happened, so he increased the pressure on the hand that he held and started again, "Címon, Chip, open your eyes, ladÖ"

 

~ * ~

Heíd accepted the truth, why couldnít they? Why couldnít they just leave him alone? Now he was hearing the Admiralís voice. It sounded tired, exhausted, but it shouldnít, he was dead. Now it was trying to get him to open his eyes. He groaned when a stab of pain coursed through his body.

How could he open his eyes? Why did they want to torment him by making him see the Admiral again, bloody and lifeless? He shook his head and moaned when another bolt of pain took his breath away. He felt a hand in his and he squeezed it hard to alleviate the pain he felt.

"Thatís it, lad," the voice softly encouraged him, "open your eyes."

He shook his head again, "No-o," he moaned.

The voice got a little desperate at that point, "Chip, listen to me, son. Listen to me."

He shook his head, trying to drive the voice from his mind.

But the voice continued on, "Listen, son, Iím, Iím hurt, but-but Iím alive. Chip, Iím alive. Címon, son, open your eyes. You did it for me before, do it for me now."

Chip felt his back arch against the pain that seemed adamant to pull him away from the comfort heíd found. He didnít want to leave that place. It was warm and welcoming, but the voice, the Admiralís voice, dragged him away, kicking and screaming. But he had opened his eyes before and he had been comforted to find that it had all been a nightmare. In that one moment the warmth returned and the pain went away. "Not a nightmare," he whispered, "Not a nightmare."

~ * ~

Nelson swallowed hard against the desolation he heard in Chipís voice. He now understood just how hard it must have been for Lee. Chip was getting away from him again, but he wouldnít allow it. "Chip, itís all right, son, itís all right. It is a nightmare. Iím alive and Iím holding your hand."

~ * ~

Chip gasped as the pain suddenly became intolerable. The warmth and comfort left his body in an instant and the sudden change shocked him.

~ * ~

Lee jumped at the sight of his friend in such obvious distress, then felt his heart stop beating when Chip flopped lifelessly back onto his bunk. "Jamie!!" he shouted, alarmed beyond reasonable thought, "Jamie, do something."

~ * ~

Jamie pushed Nelson away from Chipís bunk and felt for a pulse on the young manís neck. He couldnít find one. "Lee, the paddles. NOW!!!" he yelled. He silently urged Chip to start breathing, to come back to them all, all the while watching Lee run to and from the other part of sickbay. He then hurriedly took the machine from Lee, set it on the floor, told Lee to stand away from the bunk, then placed two sets of paddles either side of Chipís chest and depressed a button.

~ * ~

Chipís body arched from the bunk and then flopped back down again. He was unaware of Jamie trying for a pulse again and not finding one. His body arched again but stayed in the air a moment longer than before, before returning once more to his bunk.

~ * ~

Jamie reached across, his hand shaking as he tried for a pulse again. He prayed with all that he had that he would find one, and released a breath of relief when he found just that. Thready and weak but a pulse nonetheless. He turned to Lee and the Admiral, both with a stricken look on their faces, and announced what heíd found.

The tension in the room had been palpable, as was the relief that each one of them now felt. "You know," Jamie finally muttered with feeling, "he gives me nothing but problems whenever heís in here. No Jell-O, no painkillers, no sedatives, no nothing, but I have to say, I would rather take his obstinacy, his pain-in-the-butt attitude any day, than to never have him here again."

Lee stepped forward, "Jamie, is he going to be all right?" he whispered.

"I donít know, Lee." he regretfully admitted, "Until he regains consciousness, itís hard to say, but I believe that what shocked him in the first place was a mixture of the fever finally spiking to a level that his body couldnít handle and also his mind coming to terms of the truth." He then sighed, "If, and I do mean if, this is the case, then I donít believe that we need to worry any further concerning the recovery of our beloved, though often obstinate, Exec."

~ * ~

Lee sagged and sat heavily in the chair beside his friendís bunk. He looked at Chip and sighed with relief... He knew he was going to be all right, despite Jamieís caution. He then looked up into the Doctorís face and with as much gratefulness as he could muster, he whispered, "Thanks Jamie."

Jamie smiled in return and then looked towards Nelson. His smile grew to a grin when he saw that his friend was asleep. "Well," he said, "that certainly saved the hammer treatment."

Lee looked to where Jamie was looking and started to laugh, which grew when the Admiral let rip with a snort of a snore that could have knocked over the most sturdiest of buildings.

"Hmm," Jamie muttered as he pushed the gurney away, "Iíd best get him back to the other part of sickbay, before he starts disturbing the patients." And with that, and a wink at Lee, he left the room with his treasured patient.

 

~ * ~

 

Epilogue

 

Lee walked into Sickbay, leaned back against the doorjamb and watched with amusement.

"You know, Chip," Jamie suddenly exclaimed, "I preferred you when you were unconscious."

"And do you know what, Jamie," Chip instantly retorted back at him, "so did I."

Leeís sudden burst of laughter stopped both men in their tracks and, as one, they looked at him with a frown of puzzlement.

"Sorry," he apologized between each guffaw, "but-but this is funny."

"Yeah, right, ha-ha, Lee," Chip sulked at him, "Well you wait until the next time youíre stuck in here with this... this ĎMother Hení , he muttered through gritted teeth of frustration, "and see how much sympathy you get from me," He then flung himself dejectedly back on his bunk.

Jamie walked away from Chip with a sigh and a shake of his head. He approached Lee with a look and a tiny nod of his head to his office.

Lee understood and followed the Doctor. The moment he stepped into the secluded office he asked, "Problem, Jamie? Well, other than the obvious." And after a moment, he added, "Anyway, I thought you said youíd take this side of Chip Morton any day over the alternative? Come to think of it," Lee added a little bemused, "I thought youíd have gotten a little tired of him by now."

"Yes, well, be that as it may, Lee, I canít let him out until he starts eating again."

Lee eyebrowís rose with surprise, "Chipís not eating?"

Jamie shook his head with a worried frown on his face, "No, Lee, heís not. And whilst any other time I would be clambering over many others to see such a thing, now, well now it has me worried."

Lee nodded, "I bet," he admitted, knowing that he would have been one of those persons heíd have to clamber over. Then after a beat or two he added, "You know why heís not eating, Jamie?"

The Doctor shook his head, "Nope, and you know him, whenever the subject is broached I either get the stony-stare or that heís not hungry." Jamie then looked at Lee and added, "I would have let him out days ago, Lee, heís fit enough to, but I canít, not until he starts to eat again."

"And he knows this?"

Jamie nodded.

"And heís still not eating?"

Jamie shook his head then.

Even though he frowned, Lee put a hand of sympathy on the Doctorís shoulder and said, with a confidence that belied his concern, "Donít worry Jamie, I reckon youíll be rid of him in the next day or so. Especially when I have words with him."

Jamie smiled with relief at Lee and said, "Iíd appreciate it, Lee, if only to give my head a rest."

Lee returned the smile with a chuckle, left the office and made his way to his friend.

"You manage to break me out of here, Lee?" Chip called in hope.

Lee shook his head negatively as he walked over.

Chip flopped himself back on the bunk again and groused, "I thought thatís what one friend did for another, you know." The silence that followed was oppressive, tangible.

Lee frowned as he pulled a chair next to the bunk and looked at Chip. He saw a look on his friendís face that heíd rarely, if ever, seen before. Guilt? "Chip," he asked aloud, "whatís wrong?"

"Why, whatís the Doc said?"

"Not a lot. Only that you would have been sprung days ago if youídíve started eating again."

"And I told that interfering Mother-Hen that I wasnít hungry."

Lee couldnít help it, despite his concern, he started to laugh again, and when he got the full blown stony-stare aimed at him he said, "Oh, címon Chip, even you can see the funny side of this."

"Not really," he huffed, "why donít you enlighten me."

So thatís just what Lee did. He pulled the chair a little closer and said, "You, not hungry? I used to worry whether the Seaview was gonna make surfacing after any one of your bouts in the wardroom." He chuckled a little softer before adding, "So, címon Chip, what gives?"

More subdued than before, Chip simply replied with, "Nothing, Lee, Iím just not hungry."

"Iím not leaving here, Ďtil you tell me." Lee stated, crossing his arms across his chest to make a show of defiance. Then on his friendís blank stare, he fervently added, "Look, Chip, I need you topside with me, and youíre not going to be topside Ďtil you tell me whatís eating at you." He sighed when he added, "No pun intended."

Chip reluctantly chuckled and said, "None taken, Lee. It was a bad one anyway."

"Címon, Chip," Lee gently urged him, "tell me."

Chip looked down and away, before finally whispering, "I remember, Lee... All of it... What I said and what I thought... All of it."

"Ah, well, so do I," Lee casually admitted. The initial pain heíd felt when Chip had first accused him was nowhere to be seen.

"I canít believe that I could have thought what I did." Chip protested defensively, "That, that youíd get rid of someone like the Admiral to..." He petered out at that point when he felt a hand upon his shoulder and looked up at Lee.

"Chip, if I thought for one moment that youíd meant what youíd said, Iíd have dragged you outside and made you say it again and again, until you couldnít say it again. But you didnít, Chip. I know that, you know that and thatís all that matters."

"But..."

Lee shook his head and said, "Uh-uh," and quickly added, "and Iíve got to tell you, buddy, that if this was all that was stopping you from getting out of here, then you could have saved yourself, and Jamie, a headache or two."

Chip chuckled, despite the anxiety he couldnít quite let go of, then conceded, "All right, Lee, Iíll start putting Cookie out of business, but-but if that Mother-Hen comes anywhere near me with Jell-O, then I wonít be responsible for my actions."

Lee laughed out loud at that, but managed to say, "Címon, Chip, as if he didnít learn the first time."

~ * ~

 

Jamie stood by the door of his office and smiled. ĎMother-hen indeedí he thought, but secretly reveled in the valorous name. After the traumatic time heíd had to endure, as well as Chip, Lee and Harri, the laughter he now clearly heard from sickbay was balm to his Soul like nothing else.

With an affectionate shake of his head, he turned away from the door. He was almost tempted to take Chip up on his threat, but quickly decided against it. The last thing he needed was a lap full of Jell-O.

ĎStillí, he thought, "perhaps next time...í and continued on to his desk, lightly chuckling at the imagined outcome of such a thing.

 

 

THE END

 

 

** Jell-O is a recognized food product from Kraft Foods**