Christmas Comes to Seaview
By Sea Spinner
‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all onboard Seaview was quiet. Captain Lee Crane stood watch in the observation nose. The married men had all departed for the Christmas break, as was the tradition. All would return for New Year’s Eve to relieve the single crew for a night out in return for spending Christmas with their families.
Lee picked up the microphone. “Crane to Kowalski.”
“All quiet up there?”
“Yes, Sir, nothing to report.”
He replaced the handset and wandered up to the almost empty control room. Seaview was on skeleton crew as it was, with barely ten men onboard. Lee smiled, remembering the lottery that had been drawn to see which of the single men had to stay onboard. His smile dissipated as he recalled that he had volunteered to stay, despite Chip’s protests that there was plenty of room for him to spend Christmas with his family. Chip and the Admiral were the closest things he had to family, but sometimes on Christmas Day, it felt special to spend time with his crew on Seaview. It was where he really belonged. As it was, the Admiral had an early morning flight for an untimely scientific conference in Italy, leaving only him to oversee the running of the submarine.
Only he and Kowalski had elected to stay and not bothered to put their names into the hat. He wondered about that. Kowalski had family close by, but recently he’d stopped speaking about them, his parents, two siblings, a sister and brother if he recalled accurately from the information in Ski’s personnel file. Lee had decided to ask him about them tonight, perhaps over a cup of Cookie’s special battery acid brew, when Kowalski’s voice came over the intercom.
The senior rating pointed to the sonar screen. “I’ve got a contact on sonar.”
Lee wasted no time, striding quickly to his side. “What’s its bearing?”
“It’s about five hundred metres away, Sir, it came out of nowhere.” He checked his screen. “Headed straight for us.”
Lee hit the emergency button. “All hands to battle stations. This is not a drill.”
“It looks like a mini-sub, but I can’t be sure, maybe a bit bigger,” muttered Kowalski.
“What do you mean?” Lee asked, confused, apart from Patterson, Kowalski was one of the best sonar operators at NIMR.
“Take another look, Skipper. The signal’s strange, like nothing I’ve ever seen before,” he protested.
Lee looked at the screen again. The signal was small, but intermittent. “Hmm, I see what you mean, how long before it gets here?”
Kowalski frowned, his concentration intent on the screen in front of him. “Five, ten minutes at the most, Skipper.”
Lee spoke calmly into the microphone. “All crew report to the control room at the double.”
Within a minute, all the crew had arrived. Lee looked around, apart from Kowalski, Patterson and Clarke, all of the others were relatively new to the boat.
“We’ve picked up a sonar contact, it’s uncertain what or who it is.” He opened the arms locker. “All of you are to arm yourselves and prepare to repel boarders.”
“Aye, Captain,” came the reply.
“Since there’s so few of us, we’ll cover all the entry points that aren’t secured.” He pointed to the areas on the boat that were the most vulnerable and assigned crew members to each location. “Report in when you’re in position. That’s all.”
Lee stationed himself at the control room hatch, with Kowalski still calling out distance from the sonar station. Lee stared up at the hatch until he almost began to imagine it opening.
“All stations report,” he snapped, trying to clear his head.
Everyone reported in, nothing untoward was happening. “Kowalski, distance now?”
“It should be right on top of us, Skipper.”
As soon as Lee heard those words, there were dragging sounds on top of the boat. The noise made the hairs on the back of his neck rise, there seemed to be fifty men on top of the submarine. Then something made him start, the sound of sleigh bells rang out above him. Lee’s mouth gaped, and then rapidly closed as he reminded himself that there was no such thing as Santa Claus. He waited for a couple of minutes, heard the same noise, then silence.
“Kowalski, I’m going up for a look.”
“I’ll be right behind you, Sir.”
Lee slowly cracked the hatch and raised his head above the deck. The sight that he saw completely stunned him.
“All crew, head topside!”
Before long, each of the crew members had made it above decks standing, staring lamely down at what sat on the deck plating. Lee knelt down and picked up one of the wrapped presents. It read Lee Crane, Captain SSRN Seaview.
“Open it, Skipper,” called Patterson, holding one of his own.
Lee read the label again, shook his head and slowly opened the parcel. To his surprise, it held an ancient sextant, one that he had only recently admired in an antique shop. He shook his head slowly, stunned by the gift.
“Well, I’ll be...”
As each of the other sailors opened their presents, Lee stared up at the stars and was left wondering what had happened that night.
Nobody noticed a shadowy figure near the steps to the dock, or the taller blond man who joined him there.
“Well, Chip, I’d say mission accomplished,” he grinned, watching as Chip carefully put a set of bells back into his pocket. “The bells were the perfect touch. You’re never too old to believe in a bit of magic.”
“Ah, Admiral,” he said awkwardly. “I never got the chance to put the presents on the deck, or ring the bells.”
Nelson’s head snapped around. “What?”
Chip shrugged and rubbed the still tender lump on the side of his head. “One of the security guards nabbed me before I even had a chance to get them from your office, thought I was sneaking around the grounds for some reason other than playing Santa Claus.”
Nelson frowned. “Then who...?”
They stared back at Seaview, and the delighted whoops of laughter that came from the deck.
“Admiral?” started Chip.
Nelson smiled. “Some things are better left alone, Chip. Merry Christmas, lad.”
Chip watched him vanish into the darkness, then took a last look at Seaview. At least Christmas came unexpectedly to the men onboard, even if it hadn’t happened as planned. He looked at Nelson one more time, then froze as the soft sound of bells resounded across the glassy ocean. He shook his head, the Admiral was right, some things were better left unexplained.