Collision of Duty
by J. Lynn
Lee Crane, Captain of the Seaview, descended the spiral staircase that led to her Observation Nose. He saw Admiral Harriman Nelson seated at the table in the Nose reading reports on the new computer system that had just been installed on Seaview. Nelson was concentrating so intently that he didn't hear the Captain walk past him. Smiling to himself, Lee looked in the direction of the Control Room and saw Chip Morton, his Exec, sitting at the recently installed computer console. He, too, was completely engrossed in his work and oblivious to anything around him. Both the Admiral and the Exec were enthusiastic about the upgrade to Seaview's computer system. In addition to the new console in the Control Room, there were terminals in all vital areas of the boat, the Wardroom, the cabins of the senior officers, and the quarters of the junior officers.
The new system could monitor all ship's systems and, even control some systems electronically. While the Captain could see the advantages of the new system, he wanted it thoroughly tested before he depended upon it in an emergency. He still believed more in his own instincts and the skill of his crew than in any computer. The Admiral and the Exec were fascinated by the new system and Chip had even volunteered to take an in-depth training course. Lee was glad of that since he wasn't comfortable having the two computer technicians who had just joined the crew be the sole operators of the system. A senior officer had to know the system and if Chip hadn't volunteered, then he would have had to do it even though he was definitely not fascinated by computers. 'Now submarines, especially Seaview, that was what fascinated him.'
His thoughts were interrupted by the Admiral's voice. "Lee, have Professor Davis and his students come aboard yet?"
Lee turned and smiled at the Admiral, "Yes, Sir, they're all aboard and have been taken to their quarters. We can get underway whenever you and Chip say we're ready."
The Admiral raised an eyebrow as he looked at his Captain, "Lee, I know you're not terribly enthusiastic about this computer system..."
"That's not entirely true, Admiral." Lee protested. "I'm in favor of anything that will make Seaview more efficient and safer. I just want to be sure it will work reliably before we depend on it too much. Maybe that's overcautious, but we're talking about trusting Seaview to an untested system."
The Admiral chuckled, "Nothing but the best for your 'lady,' eh, Captain?"
"Yes, Sir." The Captain said earnestly. "'She's' never let us down--I don't want to let 'her' down."
"That's what this shakedown cruise is for, Lee, to find any problems with the system. Fortunately, we have Professor Davis and his students on board to help us with the testing. It's really the professor's baby. He and his students spent over two years on its development. Our new technicians have been involved in the project since the beginning so they know everything there is to know about it."
"I'm sure they're very good, Admiral, but I'm glad Chip took the training course. The technicians might know the computer system, but they don't know Seaview. Chip knows both so I value his judgment over theirs."
The Admiral looked over at Chip sitting at the computer console. "I think our Exec found an aptitude he didn't know he had. The training course was a breeze for him and it looks like it's going to be hard to tear him away from the console."
Lee grinned, "Better him than me, Admiral." Lee crossed over to stand beside the Exec. "Chip, are we ready to get underway?"
Chip looked up at his Captain. "Aye, Sir. I was just going through some last-minute system checks. Everything checks out fine. We can sail as soon as you give the order."
"Very well, Mr. Morton. Prepare for immediate departure."
For the next week everything was routine and the new computer system performed flawlessly. Lee began to think that his doubts about the new system were going to prove to be groundless. When he entered the Control Room on the evening of the seventh day, he noticed that there were several of the Professor's students at duty stations. The Professor had asked if they could monitor the system's performance at the duty stations and the Admiral had agreed. The Captain had insisted, however, that several regular crewmen be nearby in case manual intervention became necessary. The Control Room was a bit crowded and Lee had reluctantly agreed to reduce the number of regular crew on duty. Surveying the scene, Lee spotted Chip sitting at the computer console, frowning at the screen. He walked over and greeted his Exec. "Chip, You look unhappy. Is anything wrong?"
Chip answered without taking his eyes off the screen. "I'm not sure exactly. It's nothing serious, just something I want to check into a bit more."
"Carry on. I'd rather catch any problems before they cause us any trouble. Keep me informed."
"Aye, Sir. I will. Right now I think I'll discuss it with the Admiral and Professor Davis." Chip got up from the console and walked over to the printer and waited for it to complete a print-out. He took the print-out and started toward the Observation Nose where the Admiral and the Professor were having coffee. One of the new technicians took his place at the computer console and began typing commands into the system. The Captain began going over the reports that were lying on the chart table. Abruptly, he called out. "Chief, I want to know our exact position and I want it now!"
His raised voice startled all the crew and even attracted the attention of the group in the Nose. The Chief scrambled to carry out his order and when he reported their position to Crane, the Skipper looked even more disturbed. Picking up the chart on the table, he walked quickly to the Nose and said to Nelson, "Admiral, did you order a course change during the night?" He paused. The Admiral looked surprised. "If you didn't, then there must be a serious problem with navigation under the new system."
The Admiral looked surprised, "No, Lee I didn't order a course change." He rose from his chair as did both the Professor and the Exec. "Show me."
Lee spread the chart out on the table. "Here is where we should be.....and here is where we are."
The Admiral frowned as he looked at the distance between the two points Lee had indicated. "That's a very large error in navigation. Professor, I think we should take navigation off the system until we see what caused it."
Professor Davis smiled a superior smile, "There's no need for that, Admiral. The system has put us on the course I ordered. My technicians changed the heading during the night."
Crane reacted angrily, "This boat is under my command. You have no authority to order a course change." He addressed the computer technician sitting at the console, "Return to our original course, NOW!"
"Captain, he will not obey your orders and neither will any of my students. And, you will find that the command codes on the system have been changed. None of you will be able to use the system. The Seaview is now under my command, not yours."
Crane reached for the mike to call for the Master-at-Arms, but the Professor and the students in the Control Room all pulled out small firearms that they had concealed in their clothing, aiming them at the officers and crew. The Professor looked at Crane and said, "Captain, I think it would be a good idea for you to put down the mike. You really don't want to have us start shooting, do you?"
As Lee put down the mike, Nelson addressed the Professor. "Davis, this doesn't make sense. We've just about proved that your new system works. You'll make a fortune selling this system to the Navy. What reason could you possibly have for hijacking Seaview?"
The Professor looked at the Admiral, his eyes blazing, "My country is my reason. You all thought I defected, that I deserted my country in her struggle with your government. I let you all think that, let you trust me so I could plan your country's destruction. I want Seaview because I plan to fire her missiles at your country. I will destroy your capital and your major cities. My little country will bring your big, powerful country to its knees!"
Lee could not contain his anger and outrage, "You'll never get away with it, Professor. Our Fail-Safe system won't let you fire our missiles."
The Professor laughed. "Captain, it was a simple matter to program my system to break the Fail-Safe codes and reprogram it with our codes. There is, of course, the small matter of the key. That is still necessary. I'll take your key, Crane. Hand it over, please."
The Captain made no move to remove the key from around his neck, staring defiantly at the Professor. Davis regarded him silently for a few moments, started to turn away and then suddenly turned back and using the gun in his hand, struck a vicious blow at the Captain's head. Lee was thrown backward by the force of the blow and Nelson and Chip just managed to catch him before he hit the deck. They attempted to get him back on his feet, but he was barely conscious so they had to hold him upright. Davis advanced menacingly on the three officers. He reached inside Crane's shirt and pulled on the chain, ripping it brutally off his neck. "Now, Captain, I think you and the rest of Seaview's crew realize now that I will not permit disobedience. The next time you defy me, I will shoot to kill and my students have been given orders to do the same."
Davis turned and addressed one of the students. "Budin, take these three," gesturing to the three senior officers, "to the junior officers' quarters and lock them in. Scott, Smithson, lock the rest of the crew in the crew's quarters." Budin waved his gun at the officers indicating that they should get moving. Lee was still dazed from the blow to his head and the Admiral and the Exec practically carried him out of the Control Room.
Budin hustled them roughly down the corridor to the officers' quarters waving the gun the whole time. As they entered the room, Budin pointed to the computer terminal on the table. "I could take that out, but I think I'll leave it here to remind you how powerless you are. You won't be able to do a thing with it. We control the system now so we control Seaview." His superior attitude made Nelson's temper rise, but he fought for control. They would need cool heads to get out of this and right now Lee needed attention.
His friends carefully laid the Captain on one of the bunks. His eyes were closed, but he made a weak attempt to pull himself to awareness. He was unsuccessful and then he lay still. Morton went into the head and returned with an icepack from a first-aid kit. He crossed over to the small refrigerator on the other side of the room and took some ice out of the freezer compartment and filled the icepack. Returning to the bunk where his friend lay, he placed the icepack against the side of Lee's head where Davis had struck him. Crane moaned softly and Nelson gently touched the other side of his face and said soothingly, "Easy, Lad, just lie still and rest until we can get Jamie here." Lee made no response, seeming to sink deeper into unconsciousness. Nelson raised his hand from his Captain's head and reached for his wrist to take his pulse. He sighed and raised his eyes to meet the Exec's equally concerned eyes. "His pulse and breathing are regular, so I don't think he's in immediate danger, but I wish we could get Jamie here to take care of him. It looks like the only way to do that is to take back the Seaview. We need to come up with a plan."
"I think I have some ideas about that, Admiral." Chip replied. "Let's go over here." He indicated the desk with the computer terminal. When they were seated, Chip reached into his pocket and pulled out the folded paper printout he had retrieved from the computer just before the Professor and his students took over the boat. "This is what I was going to talk to you and the Professor about." He paused. "I'm glad now I didn't say anything in front of the Professor. When I was on the system this morning, I noticed that there was a new program running. When I checked to see what it was doing, I discovered it was collecting passwords when users logged on to the system. Normally, even system administrators can't see users' passwords--they can change them for a user who forgets his password, but if the user changes it from the one assigned by the administrator, even the administrator doesn't know the new password and can't use it. The program running on the system, however, was collecting the passwords and I made a printout of all the passwords it had collected."
"Chip," said the Admiral, "obviously they shouldn't have been running such a program on the system, but I don't understand how this printout will help us take back the Seaview."
Chip continued his explanation. "When I got up from the console to talk to you and the technician took my place, I'm sure the technician changed my password so I can't log on to my account--that was what the Professor meant when he said we were locked out of the system. However, I have their passwords on this printout."
"They could have changed them." The Admiral pointed out.
"Yes," Chip acknowledged, "they could have, but since they don't know I discovered their little program, I don't think they did, or at least, not all of them."
"So," the Admiral said thoughtfully, "you CAN log onto the system. But won't they see that on the console?"
Chip thought about that for several minutes. "Yes, briefly, but once I'm on the system they won't know I'm there unless they go looking and I think I can keep them busy enough that they won't have time for that." He grinned at the Admiral, but there was little humor in his expression, just grim determination.
"Okay, let's say you get on without being detected--then what."
"First I create a new account for myself with total control of the system. Then, I remove the permissions from their accounts so they can't control the system."
"They'll still have control of Seaview, however, and they're armed. That's another thing--I wish I knew how they managed to bring weapons aboard the boat. Weren't their bags and other belongings searched when they boarded?"
"Of course, Sir." Chip replied. Then he slapped his hand on the desk. "I think I know how they did it. They brought lots of computer equipment aboard with them, extra disc drives, tape drives, etc. I'll bet some of those drives were actually only empty enclosures with the weapons hidden inside."
Nelson nodded. "I think you're right. But that doesn't change anything. We need to figure out how we can disarm them and retake Seaview." He paused for a moment and then resumed speaking. "Davis and his students know the computer system, but they don't know much about submarines so any malfunctions would be a problem for them."
Chip immediately followed his line of reasoning. "Once I'm on the system, I can cause some minor malfunctions and set off alarms warning of more serious problems. They won't know what to do and will have to get crew members to help them."
The Admiral continued, "Once we have members of the crew in vital areas of the ship, we'll just have to do some type of maneuver to catch them off guard so the crew can overpower them. Will you be able to send the boat into a steep dive, or better yet, do an emergency blow?"
"Sure, no problem--if I get on the system without getting caught."
A soft voice from behind them said, "You'll need a diversion." They both turned to see Lee Crane sitting on the edge of the bed. Nelson immediately rose and hurried over to the bed. "Lee, you shouldn't be up. You took quite a blow to the head. We've come up with a plan that I'm sure will work. Now you lie down again and let us take care of stopping Davis."
"No, Sir." Lee's voice was quiet but firm. "Seaview is my responsibility and I won't be left out of any plan to save her. The plan is a good one--I heard most of it--but it won't work if Chip is caught when he logs on to the system. The only way to be sure he's not caught is if the console operator is distracted. I can crawl through the ventilation system to the Control Room and attack him." Lee's expression was determined. "That will keep his eyes off the console long enough for Chip to get on the system."
Chip was aghast. "Lee, you can't do that--it would be suicide! Davis will kill you."
"Chip," Lee said earnestly, "you know we'll only get one chance at this so we have to do everything we can to make sure we succeed. We can't let him fire those missiles. And," turning to face Nelson, "Admiral, before you say you should be the one to do it, I'll tell you why it has to be me, even though I think you already know." Lee looked the Admiral in the eye as he spoke. "I'm the Captain of the boat and it's my responsibility. Davis knows that so he'll believe that I'd make an attempt on my own. If you do it, he'll think it's a cover and be alerted to the possibility of another attempt. Besides," Lee smiled with the same grim humor that Chip had displayed earlier, "he already thinks I'm a foolish hothead for resisting him about the key, so that, too, will make him believe I'm acting alone." He looked from one to the other. "You know I'm right."
Nelson looked at his friend, saying nothing in words, but everything in his eyes. Chip spoke frantically, "Lee, there has to be another way. I'll find a way to get on the system without having it show on the console--there has to be a way!"
"Chip," Lee said gently, "there isn't time--he'll be in position to fire the missiles in just a few hours. We'll go with the plan we have. It's a good plan and it's only possible because you know the computer system. Now, let's go over all the details." He pulled a chair over to the desk and sat down. The Admiral followed his lead and Chip reluctantly joined them.
They spent the next hour going over all the details and then Lee looked at his watch. "0100 hours. We're as ready as we're going to be. It's not far to the Control Room so I'll attack the console operator at 0115." He turned to Chip, "Take care of Seaview and the Admiral for me." He shook Chip's hand and then grasped his arm with his other hand and squeezed it firmly. Next, he turned to Nelson. Before he could say anything, the Admiral spoke, "Right now I wish I'd never asked you to be Captain of Seaview."
Lee's heartfelt reply came without hesitation. "Admiral, don't ever wish that. Commanding Seaview, working with you, Chip, and the rest of the crew has been the best. I have no regrets, Sir, and neither should you." He shook the Admiral's hand as he had Chip's and then climbed up into the ventilation system.
Lee crawled through the ventilation shafts slowly, careful to make no noise. It wouldn't do to get caught before he had distracted the console operator. Arriving at the end of the shaft in the Control Room, he checked his watch. He had timed it perfectly. Taking a deep breath, he removed the grille from the opening, and dropped down into the Control Room. Before anyone in the Control Room had time to react, he threw himself at the console operator and knocked him to the deck. The Professor was the first to recover from the surprise and he shouted at his students, "You fools, grab him!" Instantly, Budin and several other students jumped on the Captain. Lee fought furiously, knowing he was outnumbered but desperate to give Chip as much time as possible to get on the system. Sheer numbers triumphed, however, and he was soon subdued, hauled to his feet and dragged over to the Professor. Despite his helpless position, Crane faced the Professor with a defiant expression. Infuriated, the Professor backhanded the Captain across the face.
"So, Captain, you learned nothing from your last attempt to resist me. You must be a slow learner. What about Nelson and Morton--are they just as stupid? Were they in on your foolish plan?"
His face throbbing from the blow, Lee struggled to make his mouth work enough to speak, "No, this was my idea. They would have stopped me so I waited until they were asleep."
"Budin," the professor ordered, "go check on Nelson and Morton. See if they're sleeping."
In the officers' quarters, the only light was the glow from the computer terminal. Chip sat in front of the terminal, concentrating on the commands he was entering on the keyboard. The Admiral stood listening at the door. He heard footsteps in the corridor and turned quickly toward Morton. "Someone's coming."
Morton immediately cleared the display on the screen and dimmed the monitor so it wouldn't look like it had been used. They both quickly laid down on the bunks and feigned sleep. They heard a key in the lock and then the room was flooded with light as Budin hit the switch. Nelson and Morton both sat up slowly, blinking against the light, and appearing to have been awakened from sleep. Budin advanced on Nelson and waved the gun at him. "What were you two planning with Crane?"
The Admiral appeared to be confused, "Planning...with Crane. Nothing. Captain Crane's been unconscious since Davis hit him. He's over there." He pointed to the bunk where the Captain had been, but there was only the discarded icepack on the bunk. The older man looked more confused, "He was there." Chip's voice came from the bunk across the room, "Maybe he woke up and went in the head."
Budin's reply was an angry snarl. "No, he's not in the head. He's in the Control Room. He sneaked through the ventilation system and attacked Mulhall at the console. It was stupid and he's about to pay for his stupidity. You two are lucky you didn't know what he was up to or you'd pay, too. Remember that!" he threatened as the left the room, locking the door behind him.
Both men began to shake after Budin was gone. A strangled whisper, "Lee!" escaped from Chip's mouth.
The Admiral took a deep breath and struggled to control his emotions. Despite his strong will, his voice still shook as he turned to the Exec. "Chip, we've got to continue with the plan. It's what Lee wanted and we can't let him down."
Chip's face as he turned his head to look at the Admiral was so pale that the Admiral thought he might faint, but he, too, fought to focus on the task to be accomplished. "Aye, Sir," he said and got up and went back to the terminal.
When Budin returned to the Control Room, he saw that Davis had moved into the Observation Nose. Crane had been taken there and was still held firmly by two of the students. Davis looked up as Budin entered. "Well?" he demanded.
Budin snorted in derision. "They were both asleep, had no idea he was gone. They thought he was in the head."
Davis looked at Crane thoughtfully. "So this foolish plan was yours alone, eh Crane? I did say I would shoot you if you defied me again, but I don't think that's such a good idea after all. It's too quick, too easy, and your devoted crew would be much more difficult to control since they'd be determined to avenge your death. No, I think we'll do something else." He motioned to Budin to come forward. "Teach him a lesson, but, remember I want him kept alive. If he dies, you die."
Budin approached the Captain with an evil grin on his face. The hands on his arms tightened and then the first blow fell.
The beating was savage. When Lee could no longer stand, they let him fall to the floor and then aimed several vicious kicks at his back. Through a haze of pain and approaching darkness, he heard Davis shout, "Enough! I said I want him alive. Get him on his feet."
Lee was roughly pulled to his feet and dimly heard Davis continue to issue orders. "I want them to see him suffering. Tie his hands behind him and then tie him upright against the stairs." His arms were pulled behind him with cruel roughness and tied tightly at the wrists. Then he felt himself pushed against the stairs while ropes were drawn around his chest, hips, and legs. He hurt so badly it was hard to hold his head up, but when he sagged forward against the ropes, it was difficult to breathe. He longed for the relief of unconsciousness, but he couldn't let go until he knew Seaview was safe, 'Hurry, Chip, please hurry!' he thought.
In the officers' quarters, Nelson sat on one of the bunks. They'd heard nothing more about Lee since Budin had left. The tension was unbearable as they waited, both longing for the waiting to end and dreading the news that would come when it did. Harriman Nelson wanted to shout, to curse, to pace, to throw things. He wanted to do something, anything, but he couldn't risk distracting Chip. The Exec was seated at the terminal, concentrating on his preparations. Nelson almost envied Chip having something to do instead of helplessly agonizing over Lee's fate. He knew that wasn't fair; Chip was suffering as much as he was and the effort to concentrate must be taking an enormous toll on the younger man.
Chip paused in his typing, scanned the screen carefully, and then turned to Nelson. "Admiral, I'm ready to start our series of 'malfunctions.' I'll start with..."
He was interrupted by Davis's voice over the boat's intercom. "Attention, men of the Seaview. Earlier tonight, your Captain made a foolish attempt to disable the computer system and re-take the Seaview. We are convinced he acted alone and so only he was punished for his actions. Turn on the monitors in your quarters and you will see how we deal with anyone foolish enough to resist us."
Nelson reluctantly rose to his feet and walked over to the monitor with slow, heavy steps. He reached up with a shaking hand and turned on the monitor. As he did so, he wasn't at all sure he could bring himself to look at the screen. He didn't know how he could bear to look at Lee's dead body, or even worse, witness his death at Davis's hands. The same thoughts were obviously going through Morton's mind. He hadn't moved from his position at the terminal and his head was down below the level of the monitor on the wall.
Nelson resolutely turned his eyes to the monitor. If Lee could face death with courage, then he could face viewing that death with the same courage. He owed Lee at least that much. The Admiral looked at the scene on the monitor. At first, Lee appeared to be completely limp against the ropes that were binding him to the side of the stairs and Nelson thought he was dead, but then he struggled to lift his head and the Admiral realized he was still alive, badly hurt, but still alive! "Chip," he cried out in joy, "Look at the screen. Lee's alive, he's still alive!"
Chip raised his head and looked at the screen just in time to see Davis backhand Lee viciously across the face. Once again the Captain's head hung down. Davis turned toward the camera. "As you can see, we haven't shot him--at least, not yet. But we will if anyone makes any other attempt to stop us. Whether your Captain lives or dies is up to all of you." He walked out of camera range leaving only the picture of the barely conscious Captain on the screen.
Nelson could not take his eyes off Crane. He was relieved that he was alive but angry to see how he was suffering. "That bastard!" he said through tightened lips. "He can barely breathe! Chip, we've got to figure out how to get to him and protect him when we make our move."
Chip looked at the image of his friend on the screen. Lee was suffering because his plan had not been good enough to succeed on its own. He had failed to protect Lee and he vowed he wouldn't fail him again. He thought furiously for a few minutes and then said, "Admiral, how about if we...."
There was no sound in the crew's quarters as the men looked at their badly beaten Captain. Kowalski broke the silence with a grief-stricken whisper, "Skipper, oh Skipper." His despair was mirrored in the eyes of the other men.
Sharkey knew he couldn't let the men wallow in hopelessness. "Listen up, guys. The Skipper's not dead. He's hurt, maybe hurt bad, but he's not dead. We can't give up on him!"
"Chief," Patterson's voice held the distress the rest of the men were feeling. "Davis can kill him any time he wants to and we can't help him. He shouldn't have tried to fight them on his own."
Kowalski's devotion to the Skipper wouldn't let him stay silent when his Captain was criticized. "Pat, the Skipper's not dumb. He wouldn't do anything unless he had a plan--a good plan that will work. We just don't know what it is yet, but I bet we will soon. We have to be ready for when the Skipper needs us."
"Ski's right." said the Chief, reasserting his control of the situation. "The Skipper is counting on us. We can't give up."
Murmurs of assent spread around the room as the men, their hope renewed, waited for the signal to act. They didn't know when it would come, or what it would be, but they trusted it would come and they were determined to be ready.
Budin stood in front of a very displeased Professor Davis in the Observation Nose. The malfunctions and false alarms they had experienced had angered the Professor and judging from the fresh bruises and blood on Crane's face, the Professor had taken out his frustration on the prisoner. 'Better him than me,' thought Budin as he prepared to make his report. "Everything seems to be under control now. The overheating problem with the engines has been corrected, and it was confirmed that the reactor warning was merely a false alarm. All vital areas now have one man from Seaview's crew monitoring operations. Our men are all armed and there's at least one of ours with every member of the regular crew on duty. We've kept the monitors on, as you ordered, to remind them that Crane will die if any of them try anything. I don't think we have to worry about them--they only follow orders and with Nelson and Morton locked up, the only orders they'll get will come from us."
"Very good, Budin," replied the Professor curtly. "Go back to the Control Room and make sure there are no more delays. We should reach our firing coordinates within the hour. See that we do."
"Yes, Professor." Budin left the Observation Nose and Davis turned to look at the Captain who had lost his battle to keep his head erect. He was leaning heavily against the ropes binding him and his struggle to breathe was obvious.
"It won't be long now, Crane," Davis gloated. "Once the missiles are fired, we'll have no need of you or your crew. I still intend to kill you, but I think I'll let you watch your crew die before I kill you. It makes it much worse, doesn't it? Your country destroyed, your crew dead, and you'll get to watch it all, helpless to prevent any of it."
As he was about to continue taunting the Captain, he was interrupted by a shout from the student at the computer console in the Control Room who called out, "Professor Davis, someone's on the system--I've got a message on my screen--it says, 'It's over, Professor.'
Alarmed, Davis charged from the Nose, heading toward the computer console. As soon as he cleared the crash doors, they abruptly closed behind him. He stopped and snarled, "Who activated those doors? I want them open!"
The computer operator typed frantically on the keyboard and then looked up wide-eyed at the professor. "I can't open them. The system won't respond to my commands. I'm locked out."
The professor grabbed for the mike, shouting into it. "Nelson, I warned you. Crane's a dead man!" He turned to Budin and snarled, "Get to the Observation Nose--kill the Captain, NOW!"
Nelson was in the process of climbing down from the ventilation shaft in the Nose when he heard Davis's order. He quickly dropped to the deck and then rushed over to the weapons locker. He had just unlocked the door and was pulling out a sidearm when he heard footsteps coming down the spiral steps. He whirled around and called out, "Over here!"
Budin, who was coming down the steps with his gun drawn, was startled and grabbed for the railing to keep himself from falling. He recovered quickly and raised his gun to fire at the Admiral, but Nelson fired first, and Budin fell the rest of the way down the steps and lay still at the bottom. The Admiral quickly grabbed Budin's gun. He started toward Crane when he heard Morton's voice over the intercom, "This is the Exec. Battlestations! Battle stations!" Suddenly Seaview's deck tilted crazily and the Admiral just barely managed to grab onto the railing and stay on his feet as Seaview did an emergency blow. He watched helplessly as Crane's unconscious body strained against the ropes that bound him to the gangway.
Nelson struggled to pull himself over to his Captain. Seaview righted herself and he heard shouting on the other side of the crash doors. He concentrated on untying the Captain's bonds, while darting quick glances at the staircase and the crash doors. He had just freed Crane and was beginning to lower him to the deck when the crash doors opened. Chip came rushing through with Chief Sharkey right behind him. "Chief," Chip ordered, "help the Admiral with the Captain." Then he turned back to the Control Room and shouted, "Kowalski, Riley, over here."
Chief Sharkey helped Nelson lower Crane onto the deck. Nelson knelt on the deck and supported the injured man's head and shoulders in his arms, attempting to offer some ease to Lee's labored breathing. Underneath the bruises and blood on his face, the Captain was deathly pale and his body felt cold in the Admiral's arms.
Nelson drew him closer to his own body in an attempt to warm him and called out, "Chief, grab some blankets, hurry! He's going into shock." Chip came over as the Chief returned with the blankets and, kneeling beside Lee, helped the Chief wrap blankets around the Captain. "Admiral, the crew has been released, the Control Room is secure, and I have armed parties rounding up the last of the students. I've sent Kowalski and Riley to Sickbay to give Jamison an armed escort up here."
The Admiral started to answer Chip but stopped when Lee moaned softly and opened his eyes, looking up into the Admiral's face. "Admiral....Seaview?"
"She's fine, Lad," Nelson replied. "Control Room's secure and armed parties are securing the rest of the boat. Don't try to talk. Jamie's on his way."
Lee turned his head and attempted to lift his hand as though he were reaching for something. "Chip," he murmured weakly.
"Right here, Lee." Chip soothed, grasping his hand. "Just take it easy."
Lee looked up at Chip. "You did it. You saved Seaview." His fingers tightened slightly in Chip's hand and then went limp as he slid deeper into shock.
Chip cried out in distress, "Lee, hang on. You've got to hang on!" He held his friend's hand tightly as if he could transfer strength to him through the desperate grip. The Admiral was surprised at the pain revealed in Chip's voice and on his face. He knew Lee and Chip were close friends, but Chip had never let his feelings show so openly before.
Jamison and two corpsmen carrying a stretcher and a trauma kit hurried up to the group in the Nose. Chip moved aside to let Jamison kneel beside the Skipper. The corpsmen set the kit down on the floor and opened it so Jamison would have easy access to the medical supplies and equipment. The Doctor felt for a pulse in the Captain's neck and then reached for an oxygen mask which he carefully placed over Crane's nose and mouth. He unbuttoned Crane's shirt and Nelson gasped when he saw the extensive bruising on Lee's torso. While Jamison began his examination, the corpsmen were busy taking his blood pressure and other vital signs and giving the results to the Doctor. Jamison ran his hands over Crane's torso and then palpated his stomach and abdomen. This last action caused Lee to moan despite his unconscious state. After directing the corpsman to start an IV, Jamison looked up at the Admiral, his concern showing in his face. "He's in deep shock. There's extensive bruising, broken ribs, and he's bleeding into his belly from internal injuries. He'll need emergency surgery and I'll need blood donors, type AB negative."
The Admiral nodded, "With this crew I'm sure that won't be a problem. Chief, spread the word--anyone with the Skipper's blood type who is willing to donate blood should report to Sickbay. Volunteers only, Chief."
The Chief went over to the mike and issued the call for blood donors as the Captain was carefully transferred to the stretcher. The Chief returned to stand beside the Admiral as the Captain's stretcher was carried through the Control Room. Chip started to follow the stretcher but Jamison stopped him. "Chip, I'll call you as soon as the surgery is over. You know I'll do everything I can for him. The best thing you can do for him is take care of things here."
Chip stopped as the Doctor requested but simply stood beside the chart table and made no move to do anything, as if he, too, were in shock. Nelson spoke to him softly, "Chip, we need you to finish bringing the computer system back under our control so we can set a course for home. You're the only one who can do it. I'll take care of notifying the authorities."
Chip turned to the Admiral and for a moment Nelson saw on his face the pain that was paralyzing the Exec. Then, Morton made a valiant effort to assert control over his feelings and his face became a mask. "Aye, Sir, I'll get right on it." He went over to the computer console and sat down at the keyboard and got to work.
Sharkey was still standing beside the Admiral and he turned to Nelson and asked, "Admiral, I don't understand. Why did the Skipper try to attack the console operator by himself? He had to know he'd be caught--it was like a suicide mission."
The Admiral sighed, "That's exactly what it was, Francis. Mr. Morton knew how to break into the new computer system so that he could use it to stop Davis and his accomplices. However, he also knew there would be a brief moment when he could be detected on the system. He needed a diversion to occupy the console operator for that brief moment. Captain Crane was the diversion. He fully expected to be caught and killed, but was willing to give his life to rescue Seaview and save the country."
Sharkey looked pale and he stammered as he asked his next question. "And Mr. Morton, Sir, he had to concentrate on the computer, knowing the Skipper was going off to be killed? Oh, man, that's tough."
"Yes, Chief, it was tough, but it worked and the Skipper is still alive. Now, how about going down to Sickbay, make sure that Doctor Jamison has all the blood donors he needs."
"Aye, Sir." Sharkey left, glad to do something that could help his Captain.
The Admiral looked over at the Exec who was still working at the computer console and giving orders to the men on duty in the Control Room. He appeared to be concentrating on his work, but from time to time his hand would leave the keyboard and reach toward the mike hanging nearby. Then, he'd withdraw his hand and continue typing on the keyboard. Nelson realized that he was fighting the desire to call Sickbay and check on the Captain's condition. This wasn't the first time that Lee had been in critical condition and they had waited for word, but it was the first time the Exec had exhibited such visible agitation. Nelson shook his head, he was fighting the same urge to call Sickbay. He busied himself making calls to the authorities about Professor Davis and his students. When the calls were completed, he began the written reports on the incident trying to keep himself from worrying about Lee.
Chip Morton looked at the display on the console screen. Everything was back the way it had been before Davis and his students had taken over the computer system and the Seaview. He longed to call Sickbay and check on Lee's condition, but for about the millionth time, he resisted, knowing that Jamie would call when the surgery was over. Instead he went to the Nose to report to the Admiral on the status of the computer system. Nelson looked up as he approached and motioned him to sit down.
"Admiral," Chip began, "we've got the computer system under our complete control again and I've set a course for Santa Barbara. We should be home in six days."
"Good, Chip, very good." Nelson replied. "Your knowledge of the computer system has been invaluable. If you hadn't known how to re-take the system...."
"Sir, I can hardly congratulate myself for that. Lee's in Sickbay because I wasn't good enough to get into the system without needing a diversion." Chip said this with bitterness in his voice and Nelson realized that the Exec was blaming himself for the Captain's injuries. It was wrong, of course, Chip had saved Seaview when no one else could have, but Chip was Lee's Exec and the Admiral had no doubt that Chip felt he had failed to protect his Captain and his friend. Even though he had never been as close to Chip as he was to Lee, the Admiral ached for Chip at that moment. He, too, had known the pain of attending to duty while those he cared about faced danger and death. He wished there was something he could say to the younger man that would help, but there was nothing that would bring any comfort until they knew if Lee would survive. They just had to wait and pray. Nelson prayed for both young men because he knew both were grievously wounded.
Jamison's voice over the intercom jolted both men out of their private thoughts. "Jamison to Admiral Nelson."
Nelson reached over for the mike. "Nelson here. Go ahead."
"The surgery on the Skipper was successful and if you and Mr. Morton will come to Sickbay, I'll give you a full report on his condition."
"On our way."
Nelson stood up and smiled at Morton. "Come on, Chip, let's go."
Chip hesitated, "I should probably stay here, Admiral. Something might come up."
"If something comes up, O'Brien can call us in Sickbay." Nelson said reasonably. "Jamison asked for both of us. Now, come on."
"Aye, Sir." Chip responded. "Mr. O'Brien, you have the conn."
Jamison was standing at Lee's bedside when they arrived in Sickbay, but he moved away to greet them and begin his report. "He came through the surgery just fine. I found the bleeder and stopped the internal bleeding. There were no other signs of internal injuries. It was fortunate that we got to him to Sickbay when we did or he would have bled to death. It was also fortunate that there were crew members on board with his blood type because I had to give him three units of blood. His other injuries include four broken ribs, a mild concussion, and extensive bruising on his face and torso. I am concerned about possible damage to his kidneys--he has some severe bruising on his back, probably from being kicked. I don't see any evidence of any bleeding inside the kidneys, but I'm going to watch him very closely. If there are no complications with his kidneys, he should recover completely, but his injuries are very painful ones so he's going to hurt for a while."
Chip had wandered over to Lee's bedside while Jamison and Nelson were talking. He just stood there looking down at his friend's swollen, bruised face. Nelson thanked Jamison and then went over to stand beside Chip. 'Two good men,' he thought sadly, 'both in pain because of one evil one!'
"Chip," he said softly. "Jamie said he's going to be all right. We're not going to lose him, Chip!"
Chip didn't take his eyes off Lee's face as he answered the Admiral, his voice flat. "Look at him, Admiral. You can see the pain he went through. It was my job to protect him and I failed. He suffered because I wasn't good enough."
The Admiral took Chip by the arms and turned him around. "No, Chip, you didn't fail. He suffered because Professor Davis is an evil, vicious man. You saved him. If you hadn't been able to take over the computer system and secure the Control Room so quickly, he would have bled to death. You saved Seaview and you saved him."
"Admiral, I wish I could believe that," Chip's voice was filled with the anguish he felt, "but right now I can't, not when he's lying there so badly hurt. I just can't."
Releasing his grip on the Exec's arms, Nelson leaned over and drew a chair close to the bed. "Here, sit down. Stay with him. He'll know you're here and it will give him strength. It will help him and it will help you."
Chip hesitated. "It's your place, Admiral. You should be with him."
"I'll come by later." Nelson assured the younger man. "He needs you right now." Nelson turned to leave Sickbay. He looked a question at Jamison who answered the unspoken question, "I'll look after both of them, and I'll call you if there's any change."
Jamison went over and checked the Captain's vital signs. Satisfied, he went into his office and began writing notes on the Captain's chart.
Left alone with Lee, Chip looked at his friend's face and began talking to him softly, telling Lee he was with him and urging him to get well because Seaview and her crew needed him, the Admiral needed him, and because he, too, needed his friend and Captain. After a while, there was nothing more to say so he sat quietly beside his friend watching intently for any sign that he was waking up. Finally, he saw Lee's eyelids flutter and he heard a small sigh come from his lips. Chip held his breath, watching and listening anxiously. Lee's eyes opened slowly and focused on his Exec's face.
"Chip?" Lee asked in a quiet whisper.
"Yes, Lee," Chip said softly. "I'm right here."
"Seaview?" was the next question.
"All secure," Chip replied soothingly. "Davis and his students are in the brig and we're on a course for home."
"The crew--any casualties?"
"Just you--you'll have Jamie's undivided attention whether you want it or not." Chip smiled at his friend, but it was a very small smile and it faded quickly.
Lee's eyes had been closing off and on all through the conversation and now they were closed so long that Chip thought he'd gone to sleep. But he opened them again, looked at his Exec for a long minute and then said softly, "Chip, I'm sorry."
Chip looked at him in surprise. "Lee, there's nothing for you to be sorry about."
Lee persisted, "I know how hard it was to do what you did. I'm sorry for how much it hurt you."
"Lee, you're the one who was hurt. I'm fine," Chip protested.
"No, you're not. I can see it....in your face....you feel guilty...you blame yourself for this." Lee started to raise his hand to gesture in the direction of the IV equipment, but stopped with pain clearly evident on his face. He continued speaking in spite of the pain. "I know...I always blame myself...when I have to think of duty....and a crewman..."
Chip interrupted him, "And I always tell you that you shouldn't, but you never listen."
"I listen...but it's hard to let go... pain...like this.....goes away...but that pain...stays...never goes away..."
Chip could see that the effort to talk was exhausting Lee and he tried to quiet him. "Lee, don't think about that now. Just rest--we can talk later when you're stronger."
"No," Lee continued to struggle to make Chip understand, "you have to know...I believed in you...that you'd save Seaview...no matter what happened to me. I knew you were strong enough...and you were. You didn't let me...or Seaview down...remember that..." The effort to continue was too much and Lee's voice trailed away as his eyes closed.
Chip leaned over and put a hand on his friend's forehead. "I'll remember. Thanks, Lee. Now sleep and don't worry about me. I'll be fine."
Jamison came over to check his patient. Chip watched him and said softly, "He was in so much pain, Jamie, but he was worried about me."
Satisfied with the results of his examination, the Doctor turned to the Exec. "That's like him, Chip, you know that. I hope you realize that he's right--you did what was needed, just like he did. He depends on you, Chip, and if you let guilt over this consume you, you won't be any use to him. I'm not telling you to deny your feelings, just try to keep them in perspective. Follow the advice you give Lee."
"I'll try, Jamie," Chip promised. "At least I understand better what he goes through." He looked at the Captain and said, "Will he be all right?"
"He should be. I'll watch him closely for complications, and I'm going to keep him sedated pretty heavily for the next day or so to spare him the worst of the pain and to keep him quiet and still so his body can begin to heal." He looked appraisingly at the Exec. "He's going to sleep for quite a while so you won't do him any good hanging around here. Why don't you get some rest?"
"I need to talk to the Admiral first, let him know Lee was awake and talking, and then I will. Don't worry about me, Jamie, just take care of Lee. I'll feel better when he does."
Chip turned and left Sickbay. He walked down the corridors to the Control Room thinking about his conversation with Lee. It had helped, but he was still troubled. He knew how Lee, the Admiral, and Jamison felt, but the crew was another matter. They were very devoted to their Skipper. They might resent him for having failed to protect the Captain and if they didn't trust him, he'd be useless as Lee's Exec. When he entered the Control Room, he saw that the Admiral had gone forward to the Observation Nose. Nelson looked up as Chip approached him, his expression concerned.
"Chip, sit down." The Admiral waited until Morton had seated himself and then he asked, "How's Lee? Has there been any change?"
Chip quickly reassured the older man. "He was awake for a little while and we talked a bit. He was in a lot of pain so he didn't say much. He was worried about Seaview and the crew.." Chip hesitated before adding, "and about me. Thank you for letting me be the one to sit with him. It helped. How are things here?"
"Fine. I've been working on a duty schedule while you were gone. I sent O'Brien off to get some sleep. He'll relieve me in four hours and then you can relieve him. That will give you some time to get some sleep. You look like you could use it."
"I'm sure you're right," said Chip, but he made no move to get up and go to his cabin.
"What is it, Chip?" said the Admiral. "Is there some problem with the duty schedule? I wasn't trying to usurp your responsibility. I was just trying to help out."
"The schedule's fine, Admiral, and I appreciate your help." Morton debated whether or not to confide in the older man. He and the Admiral had never been particularly close, but this crisis had drawn them together. He decided to risk it. "Admiral, I'm worried about my ability to work with the crew. They're devoted to Lee and I'm afraid they will have lost confidence in my ability to protect him. If I've lost their trust, I won't be able to do my job as Lee's Exec."
Nelson looked at him kindly. "You're right, Chip, the men are devoted to Lee, and were very upset to see him hurt so badly, but… they also know that the job of Captain carries with it responsibilities and risks that no Exec can handle for his Captain. Lee carried out his duty as Captain of the boat and you carried out yours as his Exec. The crew will respect that. You're tired, Lad. Go get some rest. I think things will look better after you've gotten some sleep."
"I hope you're right, Sir." replied Morton as he got up to go. Nelson could tell by his tone that he wasn't convinced. He sighed inwardly as he watched the younger man head off to his cabin. He wished there was more he could do to help Chip, but he knew Chip would have to work through this for himself. The Admiral only hoped he could.
Nelson entered the Sickbay quietly and went over to Jamison's office. Jamison looked up from his paperwork and greeted the Admiral. "I can always expect either you or Chip here at the end of a watch. Before you ask, he's doing fine, continuing to make a slow, steady recovery. I told you before that I was worried there might be damage to his kidneys because of the bruising on his back, but there's been no sign of any problem. If he has a good night, then I'll start to ease up on the sedation and the pain-killers in the morning."
"Is it all right if I sit with him for a while? I won't disturb him, I just want to be here if he wakes up to let him know we're concerned about him."
"Sure, in fact if you're going to be here for a little while, I might grab a quick shower and some dinner. I haven't been outside Sickbay for the last two days."
"Go ahead," the Admiral urged, "Take as much time as you need, I'll be glad to stay."
"I won't be long. He'll probably sleep the whole time, but if you need me.."
"I'll call you on the intercom. Now, go," said the Admiral firmly.
Jamison left Sickbay and Nelson sat down in the chair next to Lee's bed. He looked closely at the Lee's face as he slept. He did look better. The swelling on his face had begun to go down and the bruises were beginning to change color indicating they were healing. As Nelson continued to stare intently at his Captain, Lee stirred slightly and opened his eyes. "Admiral," he said, giving Nelson a sleepy smile.
"Hi, Lee, how are you feeling?"
"I'm not sure," was the answer. "I can't seem to stay awake long enough to figure it out." There was a pause, then, "Must be Jamie's doing."
Nelson chuckled softly. "He just wants to make sure you stay put and rest. You're not his most cooperative patient."
Lee's smile faded and he moved his head restlessly. "Chip...how's he doing?"
Nelson hesitated before answering. He didn't want to worry Lee, but he also knew if tried to lie, Lee would know and be even more worried. "I think he's doing pretty well. It's been hard for him, but he's working through it."
Lee was having trouble keeping his eyes open and he fought for just a few more seconds. "I tried to talk to him--just so damn sleepy all the time."
The Captain was losing his fight against the sleep that was claiming him again. Nelson wanted that sleep to be peaceful so he leaned close as he said, "Don't worry about Chip. I'll look after him. You just concentrate on getting well."
Nelson straightened up, hoping Lee had heard his last words before drifting off to sleep. Lee forced his eyes open one last time and murmured, "Thanks, Admiral," and then his eyes finally stayed closed and his breathing became deep and regular as he relaxed back into sleep.
It was only a few more minutes before Jamison returned to Sickbay. Nelson looked at him in mock surprise. "You weren't gone very long, Doctor."
"I know," Jamison admitted. "Sometimes I think I'm as bad as our Captain. I can't forget about my patients any more than he can forget about Seaview."
Nelson grinned at the Doctor. "That's why I hired both of you." His expression grew serious. "He was awake for a few minutes and he asked about Chip. He's worried about him."
"I know." Jamison agreed. "It's on his mind every time he wakes up. I've tried to reassure him and Chip does the same when he's here, but Lee knows him so well he knows he's not telling the truth."
"Frankly, I'm worried about Chip, too." Nelson sighed. "This has really shaken his confidence. He's nervous around the crew. He feels that they blame him for Lee being hurt. I don't think they do, any more than Lee, or I, or you do, but I don't know how to convince him of that."
Jamison shook his head. "I'm not sure there's anything more we can do, Admiral. Chip knows he has our support--he just needs time to work this out on his own."
"I hope he can work it out, Jamie. He's a good man and an important member of this crew. I wouldn't want to lose him." Nelson left Sickbay, heading for the Wardroom and some dinner. He had only gone a short way down the corridor when he saw Riley approaching him.
"Good evening, Admiral." said the seaman. "How's the Skipper? Will he be able to have some real visitors soon?" Riley's usual grin faded and his face flushed with embarrassment as he realized that he shouldn't have implied that the Admiral wasn't a "real" visitor. "I'm sorry, Sir, I didn't mean to say you weren't a real visitor. I just meant....we've all been worried about the Skipper. Seeing him look so bad on the monitor, I mean, man, we were scared...we didn't know what to do."
Nelson didn't know if he should stop the younger man's babbling or just let him talk. The crew had been badly shaken by the sight of their seriously injured Captain helpless in the hands of Seaview's captors. They had performed admirably, however, responding immediately and correctly to Morton's call for them to take battlestations. During the emergency blow maneuver the men who had been moved from the crews' quarters to monitor operations had quickly overpowered the students guarding them and then they had freed the others and secured the boat under Morton's command.
Riley was still talking nervously as Nelson pulled his thoughts back to the present. "When we heard Mr. Morton's voice on the intercom...man, we were so glad someone knew what to do… Mr. Morton," he said emphatically, "He knew what to do."
Listening to Riley's words, the Admiral knew he had been right about the crew's attitude toward the Exec. They didn't blame him for Lee's injuries. They felt that Morton had saved Lee and Seaview as indeed he had. Nelson wished Chip could hear what Riley was saying. It just might help him regain his confidence. Suddenly, he had an idea and he interrupted the seaman. "Riley, the Captain's recovering nicely. He needs plenty of rest right now so that's why the Doctor has been restricting visitors. I'm sure he'll be more awake in a day or so and be glad to have some "real" visitors."
"That's good to hear, Sir," replied Riley in a relieved voice. "I'll pass the word around. Like I said, we've all been worried we might lose the Skipper."
"There's no more need to worry about that, son, he's going to be fine. But just between you and me, I'm afraid we might lose Mr. Morton. When word gets out about how he was able to break into the computer system and stop Davis and his cohorts, I'm afraid either the government or some big computer company will try to steal him away from Seaview and the Institute."
"Oh, no, Admiral." Riley was horrified. "Mr. Morton can't leave. We need him."
That was exactly the reaction Nelson was hoping to provoke. "You're right, Riley. I'll do everything I can to keep him on Seaview, but if a company makes him an offer the Institute can't match, there's no way I can stop him from taking it if he wants to. Now, if you were on your way to dinner, I think you'd better get going--Cookie cleans up very promptly."
"Yes, Sir." A troubled Riley took his leave of the Admiral. Nelson watched him leave with a small smile on his face. Riley couldn't stop himself from talking and Nelson was counting on him telling others in the crew about their conversation. If he was right, by tomorrow morning, the rumor he had planted would have spread throughout the entire crew. Under ordinary circumstances, Chip was very aware of Seaview's grapevine. Nelson could only hope that his current troubled state wouldn't interfere with that sensitivity.
It was midday of the next day before Nelson had a chance to stop in the Sickbay to see how Lee was doing. The Admiral had continued to stand some watches in the Control Room to ease the burden of Lee's absence on Morton and O'Brien and then there'd been several calls from the authorities in Santa Barbara regarding the transfer of the prisoners when Seaview arrived there. As he hurried through the corridors leading to Sickbay, he ran into Chip coming toward him.
"Good afternoon, Admiral." Chip greeted him with a smile, but Nelson could see the tension around his mouth and eyes. "I've just come from Sickbay and Lee's much better. He's awake and sitting up. Jamie, however, is looking a bit harried so I think he could use your help in convincing Lee he isn't ready to get up and walk out of Sickbay."
The Admiral laughed, "If Lee's giving Jamie a hard time, then things are getting back to normal. I think I'd better get down there in case they need a referee!"
Before Chip could reply, voices came floating into the corridor from a nearby storage room. "I tell you, Ski," said a voice they recognized as Patterson's, "It could happen. Those big computer companies are always looking for people who know how to break into systems. They hire them to test security. If they find out how Mr. Morton stopped the Professor by breaking into the computer, they're going to want him to work for them. They could offer him so much money he'd have to take it."
Ski's voice was heard next. "Pat, you're crazy. Mr. Morton wouldn't leave Seaview. The Skipper needs him. Mr. Morton is the only one he trusts to command Seaview when he goes off on those ONI missions. Plus, who would look after the Skipper if Mr. Morton weren't here? You know how the Skipper gets so busy looking after Seaview and all of us that he doesn't eat and sleep like he should. He wouldn't take care of himself at all if Mr. Morton weren't here."
"I don't know, Ski. Sure, we all need him, but what if the government wants him to work on their computers. He could get a big promotion..."
Nelson watched Chip's face as he listened to the conversation. He saw surprise at first, quickly replaced by amusement. Chip laughed and the tension lines around his eyes and mouth relaxed. "How in the world did they ever come up with an idea like that? Me working for a big computer company--! Admiral, if you'll excuse me, I think I'd better stop that rumor before it goes any further."
Nelson could barely hide his smile as he said, "Of course, Chip. I'll just go on to Sickbay and let you handle this." Only when Chip had gone into the store room and begun to address the men did the Admiral let his smile show.
"Kowalski, Patterson." Nelson heard the Exec speak in his familiar authoritative command tone. "If you have so much time to talk, maybe I should assign you some additional duties. This cruise is almost over, but I'm sure on our next mission I can come up with plenty of additional assignments for you both."
Nelson began to chuckle as he heard Kowalski and Patterson try to stammer out an explanation. He was still chuckling as he opened the door to Sickbay. Jamison greeted him enthusiastically. "Admiral, I'm glad to see you. The Skipper doesn't want to listen to reason. He's insisting that he needs to go to the Control Room and he isn't even well enough to get out of bed. I hope you can either talk some sense into him or order him to stay here."
"Lee," said the Admiral going over to sit beside Lee's bed. "Why are you so determined to go to the Control Room? Don't you trust Chip to get Seaview home?"
"Of course, I trust Chip with Seaview." Lee protested. "It's just that I know he's been upset about what happened. He's worried that the crew will think he didn't do his job. If I'm in the Control Room with him, it will show the crew that he has my support. That should help."
"It won't help him or the crew if you pass out in front of them and that's exactly what will happen if you try to leave here," declared Jamison.
Nelson jumped in before either Lee or Jamie could continue the argument. "Lee, I don't think you have to worry about Chip or the crew anymore." He proceeded to tell Lee and Jamie about the incident in the corridor.
Lee shook his head in amused amazement. "I'm sure I don't know where these rumors get started." He looked over at the Admiral who was having great difficulty keeping a straight face. "Maybe I do know--Admiral, did you start the rumor?"
The Admiral grinned at his Captain. "I might have said something. I told you I'd look after Chip."
Lee relaxed back into the pillows--he really was more tired than he'd been willing to let on. "Thanks, Admiral."
You're welcome, Captain." responded Nelson. "Now, your orders are to listen to the good doctor. No more arguments about leaving Sickbay."
"Aye, Sir," said Lee. "But if I'm not allowed to talk Jamie into letting me out of Sickbay, could I at least see some ship's status reports? I can't rest if I don't know what's going on with my boat."
Nelson was amused at Lee's rather obvious attempt to manipulate them. "I'll talk to him, Lee, but he's a hard man to convince. You should know that."
Lee was clearly disappointed. "Oh, I do, Admiral. I do."
The Seaview docked in Santa Barbara three days later. The authorities were waiting and took Professor Davis and his students into custody. Nelson and Morton watched as Budin's body was removed from Seaview. Usually the Admiral would mourn the loss of a life, any life, but all he could feel about Budin's death was regret that a life had been wasted following an evil man and an overwhelming sense of relief that it was not Lee's body leaving Seaview. He shuddered as he thought about how close they had come to losing Lee. Morton saw the shudder and asked, "Were you thinking that could have been Lee?"
Nelson looked over at the younger man, worried how his answer would affect him. They'd grown closer in the last week having shared both the anguish of watching Lee go off to die to save Seaview and the joy upon learning he would recover. The Admiral knew that only an honest answer would preserve the closeness between them. "Yes, I was, Chip, and I don't know how I could have faced it."
"I had the same thought. I guess we would have gone on because he would have wanted us to, but I'm glad we didn't have to try." Chip turned to leave. "I'd better go. The crew seems unusually anxious to begin their shore leave. I think everyone wants to put this cruise behind them. I'll see you below, Admiral."
After dismissing the crew for shore leave, Morton joined Nelson in the Observation Nose so they could finish up the last of the paperwork before going ashore. The Admiral had just signed his name to the last report when he heard footsteps on the stairs. He looked up to see Lee slowly descending the stairs. Chip was already up on his feet to help his friend down the last few steps. As he helped him over to a chair at the table, he scolded him, "Lee, what do you think you're doing? You were supposed to wait in Sickbay until I had finished everything here and we could leave."
"Chip," Lee said, "There's no way I'm going to leave Seaview without checking on things unless I get carried out."
Before Chip could answer, a new voice was heard from the direction of the staircase. It came from Jamison who had followed Lee down the stairs. "That could be arranged, Captain, if you go anywhere else on the boat besides here."
Nelson showed Lee the finished paperwork and said, "See, everything's ship-shape. There's nothing left for you to do, so let's make Jamie happy and get you safely to your place. Gentlemen..." Nelson stood and gestured to the others.
Chip gave Lee a hand as he carefully got to his feet and then assisted him as he made his way topside. Chip and Lee were headed toward the gangplank with Nelson and Jamison a few steps behind them, when they saw the entire crew in dress uniforms lined up in two rows at the end of the gangplank forming an honor guard. Chip was surprised and then pleased as he recognized the gesture as a fitting way for the crew to honor their Captain for his courage. He turned to Lee who was just as surprised and said, "Go on, Lee. Don't keep them waiting."
Chief Sharkey, who at first sight of them had started up the gangplank and had come close enough to hear the Exec's comment, saluted the two officers, who returned the salute, and then said, "Pardon me, Mr. Morton, but this is for both of you. You both saved Seaview and all of us and we just wanted you both to know how much of an honor it is to serve under you both." The Chief flushed with embarrassment as he realized how many times he had used the word 'both' in that last sentence, but the two officers didn't seem to have noticed.
Lee flashed Chip an "I told you so!" grin and said, "Well, come on, Chip. Let's not keep them waiting." Chip recovered from his surprise and grinned back, "Aye, Sir!" The two then walked down the gangplank and through the honor guard. At the end the Captain and his Exec turned and faced the crew. The men were silent, waiting for their Captain to speak to them. Lee took a step forward and raised his voice so all could hear, "Gentlemen, I think I speak both for myself and for Mr. Morton when I say we are deeply touched by this honor. The Seaview's crew is the best crew on any boat and Mr. Morton and I are grateful for the privilege of serving with such fine men." He turned to Chip, "Mr. Morton, please dismiss the crew for shore leave."
Chip stepped forward. "Aye, Sir. Men, you have four weeks shore leave. Enjoy yourselves because you've earned it. I look forward to seeing all of you back here at 0600 hours on June 15. Dismissed."
A cheer went up from the crew and they broke ranks, hurrying off to begin their shore leave. Nelson grinned at Jamison and said, "Jamie, I don't think we have to worry about Chip anymore. I think he'll be just fine!"
Jamison returned the grin with one of his own, "I think you're right, Admiral, and I don't think we have to worry about the Captain either. Chip's going to be staying at his place to look after him and if Lee thinks I fuss over him too much, wait until he sees how strict Chip can be. Chip knows all his tricks so Lee won't get away with busting my orders."
Nelson chuckled as he imagined Chip enforcing Jamison's orders, "Well then, Jamie, since you don't have a patient to worry about, I suggest you get started enjoying your shore leave. Come on, let's go. Those four weeks are going to go very quickly." The two headed down the gangplank and left Seaview to wait until her officers and crew returned for her next mission.