This story takes place only a few weeks after Serena Harrison finds out that Harriman Nelson is her birth father. (Revelations, Reunion) While Harry and Lee have already talked about this (Discussions), Lee cannot simply accept Serena at face value and he continues to harbor suspicions about her true motives.
Lt. Cmdr. Charles ‘Chip’ Morton, the executive officer of the privately-owned nuclear submarine Seaview, slid the clipboard quietly across the plot table. Without looking up, Cmdr. Lee Crane, Seaview’s commanding officer, reached out and pushed the black jacket draped across the table out of his way, snagged the board, and drew it closer to him. His eyes flicked over each checked line.
“The Flying Sub is checked out and ready to go. Any time you're ready, Lee,” Chip said.
Lee nodded and hung the board on its hook on the side of the table. “Very well. Stay on this course and I'll meet you in Santa Barbara,” Lee said simply.
“You're not going to rendezvous with us between here and there?” Chip asked. They were still several days out from home and it seemed odd that Lee wouldn’t be returning to Seaview. But then, Chip didn’t know the nature of what Lee had referred to as his ‘mail run’.
Lee shook his head. “The admiral is expecting me. He doesn’t want to wait for us to make port.” The reply was quick and terse.
Chip knew that Lee’s attitude had nothing to do with taking out the Flying Sub. Lee would use any excuse to take the little craft out for some playtime. No, something else was eating at Lee. As Seaview’s executive officer and Lee’s surrogate big brother, Chip was determined to find out the reason. But it had to be done carefully. Chip knew that if he pushed too far, Lee would clam up. He was a private person and didn’t take well to someone—even his best friend—nosing too far into his personal life. “Something wrong, Lee?” Chip asked cautiously, soft enough so the question wouldn’t carry beyond the plot table.
Crane glanced up at the exec through dark lashes and frowned. “I'm picking up Dr. Harrison from her recovery site and taking her back to the institute. The admiral wants a full accounting of her progress so far on this project.”
Now Chip understood. Less then a month ago the admiral had dropped a major bombshell on those that needed to know. The marine archaeologist they had gotten to know on the San Isabella survey run was Harriman Nelson's daughter, estranged from her father for over thirty years by the machinations of Serena’s mother. Chip knew Lee well enough to understand what Crane was dealing with. While Lee had exhibited no problems in working with Harrison as a civilian and a scientist, his own nature—trained by ONI and coupled with an incredible need to protect the admiral—led him to be suspicious of the young woman and her motives. “Lee if you don't want to do this, I can pick them up and meet you in Santa Barbara,” Chip suggested.
A spark of annoyance flashed through Lee's expressive amber eyes. “No. The admiral asked me to do it and it'll be more trouble to explain why you went instead of me. Beside, I promised the admiral I would try to give Harrison the benefit of the doubt. I can't help it if I don't trust anyone outside of my own crew.” Lee reached across the table and pulled the jacket to him. He shrugged his lean frame into the jacket and with a steady step made his way to the Flying Sub hatch. He paused, looking back at Chip who had followed him forward. “If the admiral contacts you, you can tell him I've already left and should reach the site within the hour.” Seeing Morton’s concerned look, Lee tried to lighten the mood. “Try not to scratch the paint, Mister Morton.”
“Go on, Lee, enjoy your trip. Don't worry about us. We'll be fine. See you back home,” Chip shooed his hands at the skipper, and with a real grin, Lee descended into the ladder well. After closing the hatch, Chip ran through pre-launch and in a few minutes the small nimble craft slid out from her berth and glided away from Seaview. Chip watched as she climbed through the water, breached the surface, and was soon out of sight. Turning his attention to the charts and logbooks, Chip figured that for once this was one assignment that couldn't go wrong. All Lee had to do was pick up one harmless scientist and transport her back home. They'd be back in port in no time and Chip could see to pulling Lee out of his somewhat sour mood once he returned.
Lee brought the Flying Sub in low to skim the calm surface of the ocean. Smoothly and with expert handling he brought the craft to a solid stop at the harbor pier. He powered down the systems and set the reactor on standby before popping open the top hatch. The whole time he was running over his feelings concerning the marine archaeologist named Serena Leigh Harrison.
The admiral had sought her out and contacted her to suggest the first run on the Spanish galleon, San Isabella, a pet project of hers for many years. Lee also knew the admiral had been following Harrison’s research since they rescued her from a collapsed tidal cave several months ago. Looking back, he firmly believed that the admiral suspected whom Harrison was at the time, which was why he arranged for that cruise in the first place. Lee had been impressed with her attitude on board and her treatment of the crew. She had been professional and hadn't gotten in the way of the boat operations. When they actually found the wreck, Harrison had been quick to credit not only Admiral Nelson but also the entire crew of the Seaview. Lee hadn't been surprised when Nelson offered her a position with the Institute. What had completely blown Lee out of the water was Nelson's discreet announcement that Harrison was his daughter.
He and Nelson had already had this talk and Lee had tried to explain his feelings. Like he had told Chip, he had promised the admiral he would try to get past his distrust but it wasn't easy. So many people had tried to use the admiral over the years either for his tremendous intellect or for his fantastic inventions. Who's to say Harrison wasn't after the same thing? It would be so easy to tack the name ‘Nelson’ onto hers and cash in on his fame. Lee had lost his father, Ambrose, when he was just fourteen and over the years Admiral Nelson had somehow come to fill that void. Lee wasn't going to sit back and let some little tramp waltz in and use the admiral's name. Maybe he was being overly suspicious but, until he had evidence to the contrary, he was going to keep a close watch on Serena Harrison.
At the far end of the pier the woman in question was sitting on a stack of crates, her attention fixed on a rugged laptop balanced on her knees as she typed. Lee walked in her direction, wondering where her gear was. Every lady scientist he had ever worked with had more gear than ten crewmen and he was really dreading loading up what he assumed she would be hauling.
“Captain Crane? I wasn't expecting you,” Harrison said brightly, finally noticing him and hopping down from the crate she had turned into a seat. She closed down the laptop and stuffed it down inside a soft case and slid the strap over her shoulder. There were only two other packs Lee could see. One was a brown leather backpack, bulging at the seams, and the other was a tan and brown messenger bag. She slung the second strap over her shoulder and picked up the pack.
“The admiral asked me to escort you back to the Institute.” Lee could not help but be surprised at Harrison's attire. Again, every lady he had ever escorted seemed to have this urgent need to dress like they were about to meet with the President. A skirt and high heels were not the best attire for climbing up and down ladders onboard a working submarine. Not to mention distracting for 125 crewmen and officers.
Instead Harrison looked like she had come straight from the dig site. She wore a dark brown tank top under a loose long sleeved, unbuttoned, green blouse. The sleeves were cuffed back to above her elbows. She wore a pair of faded khaki cargo pants and a pair of sturdy brown boots. The entire outfit was spattered with mud in at least three colors. Her long auburn hair was pulled back in a ponytail and stray tendrils managed to escape, dancing in the light breeze. A silver chain hung around her neck, the pendant hidden under her tank top, and her ears were double pierced on each side with silver hoops in different sizes. It wasn’t quite what Lee was expecting. She peered up at Lee curiously but seemed to dismiss his odd expression, as if what he thought of her made no difference to her.
Harrison hefted the brown pack over her shoulder along side the laptop case. “You don't have to do this. I know you have to have more important things to do than ferry me around the country. It's not too late for me to catch the next supply plane back to Santa Barbara.”
Lee mentally gave himself a shake. Harrison seemed to have more sense than to traipse around in three-inch heels, especially since she had already worked onboard a sub once, but was she really so naive the she couldn’t see the dangerous can of worms she had opened up by accepting she was the admiral's daughter? “Admiral Nelson wants the results of your last survey. He wants you to present your findings in person to the grant committee as soon as possible.”
“It’s only fair, they’re footing the bill,” Harrison replied.
“The Flying Sub is much faster than conventional air travel. You've never flown in the Flying Sub before have you?” he asked as Harrison hurried to match his long stride. Lee did not slow his pace as he walked down the pier.
“No,” she answered. Crane knew damn well that she’d never been aboard the Flying Saucer, or Flying Sub—whatever the heck he’d called it. ”Are we going straight to Santa Barbara?” Two people could ask stupid questions, she thought.
“The admiral is expecting you as soon as I can drop you off. The committee is meeting later today. You didn't have another stop to make, did you?”
Harrison's steps faltered but she quickly recovered. Yeah, I have some shopping I need to do she thought. Something about Crane’s attitude was rubbing her the wrong way and she couldn’t figure why. “No, I was just wondering,” she said, trying to be civil. She watched as Lee stepped up to the topside hull of a bright yellow saucer-shaped craft and cracked open the hatch. Cautiously Serena followed, stepping onto the lightly bobbing vessel. She’d heard about the Flying Sub but she’d never seen it up close. It was bigger than she expected. Crane spun the wheel and cracked the hatch.
Serena looked down into the small hole and simply dropped the leather pack into the hole. It landed with a thud on the deck below. She grinned crookedly at Lee as she dropped the messenger bag next.
“Nothing breakable I hope?” Lee remarked dryly.
“I wouldn't have dropped it otherwise. Everything important is in here.” She tapped the laptop bag still hanging from her shoulder.
Lee took a deep breath, realizing that she must be picking up on his sour mood. This was too long a trip to make if they both got their back up. “I'll take that so you can board,” he said finally.
“Thank you.” Serena passed him the case and she climbed down into the craft. Lee passed the case down to her and followed, pausing long enough to dog the hatch behind him. Not sure where she should put her gear, she tossed the pile onto the bunk in the back of the craft. When Lee didn’t comment on it, she figured that was as good a place as any.
Lee watched as she glanced curiously around her, taking in the interior of the submersible. Any other time he would have pointed out some of the features of his 'toy', as Chip called it, but he wasn't feeling charitable today. “I’d feel better if you wore this,” he said as he pulled an extra jacket out from a stowage locker. Harrison accepted it and slipped it on.
“I take it that this is more than just for high fashion?” she asked.
Lee stopped the grumble before it had a chance to surface. Did she have to turn everything into a joke? “It has a built-in life jacket. If for some reason we have to ditch, it will keep you afloat. Have a seat and buckle in,” Lee said.
Harrison did as instructed, watching as Lee buckled up and following his lead. As she watched curiously, he flicked various switches and dials and then powered up the little craft. They skimmed along the surface of the water before Lee made a second adjustment. The sudden G-forces pushed Serena into the back of her chair as they took off and climbed for attitude. Finally they leveled off and flew in silence for a while.
Eventually the cloud-cover obscured the view and Serena turned her attention to the pilot. She gave up trying to joke with him. He’d been friendly enough when she’d first met him but he was sour about something this time around. It seemed to her like the second the admiral clued those that needed to know exactly who she was, Crane started avoiding her. She wasn’t dense. She knew dislike when she saw it. What she couldn’t figure was why. Maybe she just needed to get to know him better. Some people were just aloof. “Did the admiral design this craft, too?” she asked quietly, watching as the clouds below them slipped by.
“Yes, as well as the herculite windows. It's the same material as the windows of Seaview,” said Crane
“Amazing. Makes me feel a bit inferior.”
Despite himself, Lee spared a puzzled glance for his passenger. “Inferior?” he repeated. “Why on earth for?”
“Well, I've never invented anything. I just grub around in the mud. No patents and no Nobel Prizes, I'm afraid.”
What kind of attitude was that? Lee wondered if she seriously didn't see what kind of contribution she was making or if it was a ploy for his sympathy. He had only worked with her a few weeks and, while he had gotten friendly with her, Lee still really didn't know her. He decided to chance a remark. “The admiral admires your work. He was extremely impressed with your efforts to locate and remove derelict mines. What was that called again?” Lee asked. He knew perfectly well what the name of Harrison’s project was called but he was trying to be polite. It was too long a trip to make if he clammed up.
Harrison snorted, sounding oddly familiar. “Atlantic Mine Removal Initiative. Those mines are a menace. I’ve been harping about those blasted things for years. It took Seaview’s accident to finally get someone to listen to me. Did you know that the government knew about those da…blasted things the whole time but deemed them an ‘insignificant threat’ simply because they were out of the main shipping lanes? Bureaucrats drive me crazy sometimes.”
Lee distinctly remembered when the project took off. It was right after Seaview was raised after straying into the forgotten mine field[i]. It had been Harrison who insisted that the mines posed a threat to shipping and she didn’t stop till she garnered enough funding and support to begin the Mine Removal Initiative. The admiral had been extremely impressed with her and had anonymously donated a generous amount of his own money to the project. Lee continued. “I'm not a scientist, but the admiral has often said that he's glad he hired you on.”
Serena saw her chance and ran with it. “But you're not,” she said with a raised eyebrow. “I'm not an idiot. You've been very distant yet very polite since the admiral let you know who I was. I've seen it before. For some reason, suddenly you don’t like me.”
Lee started but hid it well. The clouds that were growing darker by the minute pulled his attention away momentarily. There was nothing in the weather reports about any bad weather moving in. It was like the thing just blew in from nowhere. Dividing his attention between piloting and watching the clouds, he addressed his passenger again. “Ma’am, it's not that I don't like you, but it's in my nature to be distrustful of people I don't really know. It's nothing personal,” he said, trying to smooth over rumpled feathers. He wasn't ready for a confrontation, not with this storm brewing.
“You worked with me for three weeks and yet you say you don't know me? What do I have to do, sleep with you?” Harrison asked and Lee felt a blush climb up his neck. He thanked his darker complexion and prayed she wouldn’t notice his embarrassment. He had forgotten about her somewhat off sense of humor.
“Like I said, don't take it personally. Over the years a lot of people have tried to use the admiral . . .” That was as far as Lee got.
Harrison’s temper exploded outward like the shockwave of an atom bomb blast. “You arrogant little piece of…damn popinjay,” she snapped. “You sit over there, so damn full of yourself, and you have the nerve to tell me not to take it personally? Is that what you think I’m here for?” she stammered, trying to find words other than the ones desperately trying to spill out. “You think I'm here to use the admiral's name? The admiral hired me—I didn't come begging for a job, thank you very much. I was perfectly happy at East Carolina, in case you really need to know. I’ve had to work to get where I am. Nobody handed me anything,” she ground out, her hands clenched into tight fists resting atop the armrests. Her green eyes flashed in barely suppressed fury.
“It's been done before. I don't know you, and until I do I'll continue to keep the admiral's well-being and his safety in mind,” Crane snapped back, not about to let this woman get the better of him, daughter of his friend or not. “I wasn’t handed anything either. I’ve earned every one of these stripes,” he added. Somebody must have been telling tales about his family again.
But Harrison apparently wasn't impressed by Lee's attitude. “You think I'm a threat to the admiral's safety? Captain, I studied the admiral's work in college. I followed his research as it applied to my chosen field for years. Once I got my marine degree, I devoured everything that man has written. The last thing in this world I want to do is hurt Harriman Nelson,” she growled.
“It's really convenient to say all that now, especially after you've been hired on and since the DNA results proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he's really your father.” Lee didn’t know why he said that. It was out and he couldn’t take it back.
“He came to me, damn it! The idea that Harriman Nelson might be my father never once crossed my mind. In case you have forgotten, Captain,” she continued to growl, “I spent three weeks in the company of you and your crew, including the admiral. I have to fight and scratch for every ounce of attention for my projects. Unlike you, I don’t have the admiral hanging on my every word.”
“The admiral doesn’t hang on my every word, I’m just doing my job,” Lee spat as a sharp down draft jolted the small craft around like a kite on a windy day. Lee had seriously had enough of this weather, not to mention this woman’s attitude. He coaxed more speed into the craft and climbed, gaining altitude and trying to get above the clouds. Beside him, Serena was quiet, yet watching every move he made. “You got quiet. Does this mean I win?” he asked, unable to resist.
“No, it means that you obviously have to concentrate on flying and I don't want to break that concentration. I might be pissed but I’m not an idiot.”
There was a blinding flash, a deafening crack and something inside the Flying Sub snapped. Lee watched as one by one, systems began going off line. Forgetting he had a female passenger, Lee swore a vicious oath and snatched at the controls, one hand going for the throat mike.
“Seaview, this is FS1, do you read? Seaview, this is FS1, massive system's failure, cause unknown, position is . . .” Lee fumbled for the computer, trying to triangulate their position before the navigation system went out. The control panel shot sparks and Lee heard Harrison bite back an equally foul curse. Somewhere in the back of his mind he wandered if language was inherited.
“I take it this was not supposed to happen?” she asked in a small voice, holding onto the chair arms. In a breath, the chair seemed to come to life. She could literally feel the thrum of power surging through the armrests. She pulled back both hands, immediately afraid to touch anything.
“No. Listen, I need your help. I want you to grab both joysticks and pull back, as hard as you can.”
Serena didn't question the request. Given Lee’s tone she dared not to. She gripped both joysticks cautiously, emulating Lee’s grip on the joysticks of his chair, and pulled back. Under her hands she could feel the raw power vibrate through the controls, wild and untamed. She could feel the craft twist like a fish on a line and it scared the fire out of her. She was an archeologist, not a pilot. “What exactly am I doing?” she asked, unable to keep her voice from shaking.
“Trying to slow our descent. I can’t do that and adjust our trajectory. If we hit the water too fast at the wrong angle, we'll break up,”
“Let's avoid that, if at all possible,” Harrison said weakly.
“I don't intend for us to break up. Hang on!”
The ocean rushed up to meet them. There was a thunderous smack and the force of the Flying Sub hitting the water threw Lee forward. He expected the harness to catch him but oddly he kept going as the bolts holding the chair to the deck snapped under the extreme strain. When the chair gave way, so did the straps of the harness. Lee smashed into the console, his head taking the impact. His body rolled off the console, just in time to see Harrison’s chair snap under the strain as well. FS1 rolled, throwing his body backwards. Off balance, Lee collided with the bulkhead and a curtain of darkness dropped over him.
“Mr. Morton, sir, could you come to the Radio Shack?” Sparks’ voice rang over the intercom in the Control Room.
Chip replied, “On my way” into the mike and let his long legs take him through the Conn to the Radio Shack. He found Sparks hitting switches and twisting dials as he worked with something only he could hear in his headset. “What is it Sparks?”
“Part of a transmission. It’s pretty garbled but I managed to clean it up. Listen to this.” Sparks handed the exec his headset and Chip held it up to his ear. Spark hit one final toggle and there was a burst of static before a choppy, fading voice sounded over the earpiece.
“Seaview . . . read . . . FS1 . . . system’s failure . . . unknown, position is . . .” There was no mistaking Lee Crane’s voice. Chip swore something under his breath as Sparks raised an eyebrow. “Anything further?” Chip asked.
Sparks shook his head. “No sir. We’ve completely lost contact.”
“Keep on it. Let me now if you pick anything up.”
Chip made his way back to the plot table and stared at the maps. Harrison’s salvage site was clearly marked. The small dot of islands was hardly even noticeable on the maps. He knew Lee’s flight path. Seaview wasn’t that far off. Without looking up from the maps, Chip reached over and snagged the mike. “Maneuvering, prepare to come about and change course.”
Serena found herself lying on her side, sore and very cold. Slowly she levered herself to her knees, finding the area around her dark and filled with the acrid smell of smoke. She felt something wet and sticky on the side of her head and reached up to feel the tacky texture of drying blood. Swallowing down a cold knot of fear, Serena gulped down air, tasting blood and smoke. It clung to the back of her throat, adding to her sense of fear. It was entirely too dark for her and she had to bite back the terror that was trying to claw its way out.
She forced herself to calm down as her eyes adjusted to the red emergency lights. She focused on the lights and took a few more reassuring breaths. Now: where was Crane?
“Captain?” she called out softly, finally noticing that the pilot’s chair was gone. Gone, as in not where the pilot's chair should be. It was lying on the floor, no longer bolted to the deck. She barely registered that her chair was also uprooted. Crane was lying in a crumpled heap on the deck, against the bulkhead in the far back of the craft. Serena crawled over to him, resting a hand on his arm. “Captain?” She got more of a reaction than she bargained for.
Crane surged up off the deck, eyes wide in the dim light of the interior. One hand locked around her wrist as he put the other hand under him to push up. He nearly choked on a bitten back scream of pain and then collapsed back onto the deck, gasping. He still had her wrist in a death grip and the archaeologist could not break out of his grasp.
Serena tried to keep the panic out of her voice as she addressed him. “It's just me, take it easy,” she said cautiously. Slowly his pain-saturated eyes cleared and he relaxed his hold on her. She carefully drew her arm back, refusing to check for bruises and trying hard not to stare at the man. For a moment, he looked like he could easily kill her and not think twice about it. He had the reflexes of someone used to violence. Serena wasn’t used to that kind of attitude. The Lee Crane that started out on this trip had been aloof and unreachable. This version of Lee Crane scared her more than just a little bit.
Lee lay back on the deck. His right wrist was throbbing in time to his heartbeat and he could hardly move his fingers. An atrocious headache was blossoming in his skull, making him squint with the effort of not groaning. A wicked ache danced along the right side of his ribcage, about the height of the chair arm. He had a sneaky suspicion that he’d cracked a rib or two against the arm when he went flying. He didn’t want to question the headache. It was familiar enough to him. He pushed past the pain to focus on his passenger. Harrison was sitting near him on the deck, watching him with a mixture of worry and concern. Being jolted awake like that, he'd been unable to control his knee-jerk reaction to a stranger's touch. He could have hurt her if he hadn't recognized her first.
“Sorry. I…I didn't realize it was you. Help me sit up,” he tried to explain. Harrison leaned forward, helping him to raise his upper body and lean against the bulkhead. He was panting and sweating by the time he was done but at least he wasn't flat on his back now. He glanced around, taking in the quiet and the lack of working systems. Finally he focused on Harrison. She had a wild-eyed look about her and she seemed to almost be pulling in on herself. It was out of place with her previous behavior. This must have really scared her. “Are you alright?” he asked. She had a gash on the side of her head and blood had run down her cheek and chin to trail off to a thin line against her throat. She looked at him—no, she looked through him—and swallowed hard.
“Fine. Just peachy. What happened?”
“Lightening strike, I think. It knocked us out of the air. We'd have broken up if you hadn't helped slow our descent.”
Harrison shrugged off the thanks. “It didn't seem like the time or place to argue. What now?”
Lee glanced around the interior, wondering if anything was working. He tried to push himself to his feet only to have a wave of dizziness wash over him. He closed his eyes, hoping to stop the wild nausea riding in his gut and unconsciously pulled his right wrist to his chest. He felt a hand on his shoulder, holding him still.
“Easy. You’re trying to do too much. Just rest for a second, get your bearings. What did you do to your wrist?” she asked.
“Nothing, it’s just a little sore. We need to see if the radio works. Do you know how to operate one?” Lee asked.
“I might be a mud grubber but I have picked up a few tips and tricks over the years. You stay here, stay conscious and I’ll check on the radio. I don’t suppose there are any flashlights in this flying saucer? The emergency lights are starting to give me a headache,” she asked.
Lee felt himself start to smile. Flying saucer, indeed. “Next to the bunk. Second compartment,” he directed. Harrison got to her feet and followed his instructions, coming back with a black aluminum flashlight at least a foot long. She hefted the weight of the thing in one hand as she headed forward. “Part illumination, part weapon,” she commented.
“No doubt. That would raise a nasty knot if you got clocked with one,” Lee answered. He watched as, a bit unsteadily, she made her way forward and tinkered with the radio.
After a few minutes she called back to him. “Dead. I think maybe your lightening strike made toast of the console. Any ideas now, captain?”
Lee was trying to get to his feet. “Maybe I can fix it,” he said. Harrison shook her head as she made her way back to him and pushed him back to the deck. He grumbled as she sank to her knees at his side.
“How? One handed?” She glared at him and his rapidly swelling wrist. Lee stared back, not about to back down. He braced his legs and tried to push himself up off the deck, feeling the pull against his right side. With a hiss he sank back down to the deck. He was now certain he’d broken or at least cracked something. Jamie would be thrilled. Meanwhile Harrison continued to glare at him. The glare in itself was a familiar thing but it was unnerving because Lee was used to the sapphire blue version, not the peridot green edition.
“How many?” Harrison asked with a raised eyebrow.
“How many what?” he growled. Nosy woman. Why couldn’t she just leave him alone? She was as persistent as…as…with a mental snarl, Lee realized he was comparing her to the admiral. She wasn’t the admiral. She didn’t even come close.
“Ribs, Captain. How many ribs did you bust? I know pain when I see it and I know broken ribs,” she snapped as she reached for the necklace she wore, rubbing the pendant between her forefinger and thumb. “Captain,” she began with a sigh, “You don’t like me. I get it. Trust me you’re not the only one. Pick a number and stand in line. But we’re stuck with each other till somebody finds us. I would imagine the admiral wants you back in one piece. At least let me wrap those ribs so your Dr. Jamieson has one less thing to yell at you for. As I recall, he’s rather protective of the admiral’s officers.”
For a second Lee felt his hackles rise but then he forced himself to calm down. As much as it galled him to admit it, she was right. They had to work together. His wrist was badly sprained and his fingers were already numb. He couldn’t work on the radio, or anything else, unable to feel what he was working with. And she was right about Jamie. If he let her tape him up, Jamie would yell less and it might mean less time he would have to spend in Sickbay. “All right. There’s a first aid kit under the bunk.”
Without another word, or even a smirk, Serena dug the first aid kit out from the locker under the bunk and flipped the white metal case open. She was surprised to find an exceptionally well-stocked first aid kit with preloaded syringes, well-marked bottles and small sealed bags. Something caught her eye and, puzzled, she picked up a small amber pill bottle. Stamped on the top was the red circle with a slash through the center and the letters XO in the center of the circle. “Should this mean something to me?” she asked, holding the bottle up for Lee to see. She was surprised when he grinned.
“XO. Executive Officer. That’s Chip,” Lee began.
“That much I do know,” she replied tartly. Did he think she was such a ditz that she didn’t know common Navy abbreviations? She’d been working aboard ships since she transferred to ECU.
“Sorry. Doc has a tough time treating Chip because he’s got this weird constitution and seems to be allergic to about one in three drugs. The first aid kits here in the Flying Sub and the ones on the institute grounds are custom packed by Doc because there are certain things Chip can’t take and they have to be labeled.”
“Oh,” was her quiet answer. She didn’t say anything else as she fished out the thick roll of bandage.
Lee was working loose the buttons on his uniform shirt, working one handed. His right wrist was throbbing and distracting him from focusing. He noticed Harrison leaning against the bunk. “Do you need some help?” she asked softly.
Lee shook his head. He didn’t need help unbuttoning a shirt for crying loud, least of all from a civilian woman, while he was on duty. Absolutely not when that same woman was his boss’s daughter. He managed to undo the last button and slip the shirt off. Harrison worked quickly, wrapping the bandage tightly around Lee’s torso. “Too tight?” she asked.
Lee shook his head. “No, that’s just about right.”
“You must live an interesting life, Captain.” Even by the glow of the emergency lights and the flashlight she had left on the bunk pointed in their general direction, she could see the scars on his back and shoulders. They were hard to ignore, even though she tried to remain objective about what she was doing. Under her touch she felt solid tight muscle as she manipulated the bandage. He was lean, reminding her of a greyhound, with a deep quiet strength that reflected what she knew of his personality. Soft spoken until his temper flared, then he barked and men jumped. No one dared not to. She could understand why women were drawn to him. She could certainly see why Wendy was attracted to him. There was a sense of power about this man. Maybe if she hadn’t already met someone who’d captured her imagination…she quickly pushed the image of Seaview’s executive officer from her mind as she worked. Some things were meant to remain a fantasy. Crane’s broken ribs and sprained wrist were the reality at the moment.
“It’s had its moments,” Lee answered.
“Ever consider doing something less hazardous?”
Lee turned and blinked at her in the dim light. “Do you?”
“Touché. Now let me see if I can do anything with that wrist,” she ordered.
With his ribs now tightly taped up and his wrist carefully bound, Lee felt a little more able to tackle the situation. He managed to get his shirt on without Harrison’s help although she watched curiously as he tried not to fumble with the buttons. He felt himself bristle as Harrison silently held out two small pills. “Ibuprofen. I know you need a clear head and this is the mildest thing in the kit. Maybe it will take the edge off the pounding,” she said in a subdued voice.
Lee acquiesced to the offering and washed them both down with a quick swallow from the water bottle she passed over to him. Then he sat down in front of the console. Harrison settled down off to his side. That’s when he noticed that she’d cleaned the blood off the side of her face. He felt like an idiot for not asking about her earlier. Surely she’d taken a good whack to the head when they crashed. He should check to make sure she didn’t have a concussion. “How’s your head?” he asked, trying to be tactful as he tugged at the first access panel with one hand.
“Pounding nicely, thank you for asking. I took something for it.” She watched him struggle with the tabs holding the panel in place. It looked like a two-handed job. Reaching forward, she pressed one tab in while Lee worked the second. The panel popped off and Serena lifted it out of the way. Lee dove headfirst, up to his shoulders, into the panel. He came right back up, muttering under his breath.
“Too dark. I need a flashlight,” he growled and tried to reach for the light she had retrieved from the bunk, only to have Harrison hold it just out of his reach.
“I’ll hold it for you. You only have one good hand to start with and you can’t hold a flashlight and work.”
For the moment it was easier to agree. He eased to the side of the panel and she edged closer, shining the light into the recesses of the panel. Lee poked and prodded, tugged and lifted at various bits of wires and connections. Harrison followed his movements, holding the light so the beam fell in the areas he was concentrating on. When it seemed he was having trouble making his fingers work Serena tactfully moved closer, holding a wire or lifting something so he could see better.
They worked in silence for several long moments as Lee manipulated wires and circuits with his long fingers. Serena said nothing, afraid to distract him from what he was doing. She was surprised when Crane broke the silence. “I thought I’d try to get the homing beacon working. Then Chip will have something to track us with if he got our last transmission,” he said.
She blinked. Why was he trying to start a conversation with her? He’d already made it clear he didn’t like her. Why should he care to inform her of what he as doing? She thought for a minute before answering. “Sounds logical. Do you think he heard you?” She could at least be civil since he was obviously trying to do the same.
“Well, the radio was working before we hit the water. It’s a reasonable assumption that he picked it up. I know Chip. He has our flight plan, he’ll change course and start a search for us. This isn’t working…” Lee’s voice trailed off and he straightened, moving too fast and a wave of vertigo washed over him. His stomach rolled and he clamped his jaws shut, determined not to throw up. Obviously his attempt at controlling his dizziness didn’t go unnoticed.
“Take it slow. You’re not going to do yourself any good if you pass out,” Harrison said quietly with a hand on the inside of his arm. How bad off had he been hurt? Then it dawned on her. Concussion. Had he hit his head? Would he take her head off if she asked to look at his eyes? Nothing ventured, nothing gained…Carefully Serena gently touched the man’s face. “Let me look at your eyes,” she said, hoping it didn’t sound like an order. She was surprised when she got a weak smile.
“I can save you the trouble. I’m pretty sure I have a concussion.” Lee opened his eyes and stared at her. “So do you,” he added.
“Yeah, but you’re the one who’s got all the answers.” Serena regretted the words the second they left her mouth. She took a deep breath trying to gather her thoughts. There was no easy way to say it. She was being an ass and the man was trying to help. “I’m sorry. That came out wrong,” she apologized quietly.
Lee watched her for a long minute. It was obvious that an apology from her was not an easy thing to grant. She wasn’t one who admitted being wrong easily. “I don’t have all the answers,” he began. “Mostly I have to pretend that I do. I’m responsible for the lives of over a hundred men. When something goes wrong they look to me for the answers. That responsibility is not something I can just…set aside.”
Serena settled down on the floor, her fingers once more playing with the pendent she wore around her neck. “Like you looking out for the admiral?” she said softly.
Lee leaned back against the consol, letting the dizziness run its course. “Admiral Nelson is the most intelligent man I know. He’s made a few enemies over the years. People, countries, who would like to harness that intellect of his for their own personal gain. The admiral is very important to…he’s a very good friend.”
“And you’re concerned that I am no better than those unfriendlies?”
Lee stared at her for a few long seconds. “It had occurred to me. I don’t know you. I’m…trained to perceive everyone as a potential threat.”
“I don’t know how to convince you that I’m not a threat to the admiral. I wouldn’t think of doing anything to him. Really, all I want is to just get to know him. Do you have any idea what it’s like, growing up knowing you have a father but your mother refuses to tell you who?”
Lee grew quiet. He wasn’t sure if this was a play for his sympathy or if this was really how Harrison was: sure of herself and her abilities but wholly insecure about people in general. “No. I can’t imagine how that might have been. My father died when I was fourteen,” he said.
Serena swallowed. “I’m sorry. I had a stepfather. My mother remarried, to an Egyptologist. I was adopted. He was killed. His plane went down off the coast of Florida. The plane was never found.” Her words were closed and detached as if she were distancing herself from the memory.
“Was born a Crane. My father died onboard a submarine. A boiler exploded. My mother did a pretty good job of raising me, I suppose. I never wanted for anything.”
Serena threw him a shy smile as she tried to find a more comfortable position on the hard floor. “Spoiled brat?”
Yes, somebody was definitely telling tales about his family again. Lee chuckled. “Not really. Chip would like to tell you otherwise,” he replied with a grin.
At the mention of Chip’s name Serena grew quiet. Fidgety, she turned her gaze to the large windows, partially covered with a layer of silt. “You and Chip, you’re pretty close aren’t you?”
“We roomed together at the academy all four years. He knows me better than my mother, I think,” Lee chuckled before turning his attention back to the control panel. “I need to get back to work on the homing beacon.” Lee maneuvered slowly back to the open panel and Serena trained the light back on the interior.
As Crane continued his tedious, one-handed work, Serena began to consider there was more to him than what she could see. Lee Crane seemed to be a man of deep emotions and capable of deep friendship. He certainly seemed to think a lot of the admiral. And to be friends with Chip all these years, it said something about them both. Maybe Crane wasn’t as stuffy as she first thought.
“Captain,” she began. Crane emerged from under the consol and fixed her with a look. It was then that she realized just how interesting his eyes were: hazel, but a kind of golden hazel with flecks of green. His eyes watched her with a mixture of curiosity and weariness. But there were also lines of pain around his eyes. What was it like for him to try and function with a sprained wrist and cracked ribs, not to mention a concussion?
“You can call me Lee. It…it might make things easier,” he said.
“Lee.” Serena spoke his name slowly, as if rolling it around and trying it for sound. It sounded odd to be calling him by his given name. One didn’t refer to the Archangel Michael as ‘Mike’. “Okay. I was going to ask what happens if you can’t get the beacon operating.”
Lee dove back into the consol. “Don’t worry. I’ll get it working. Chip knows my course, he might have to…”
Serena wasn’t sure what happened next. Something sparked deep inside of the console and there was a crackling sound. The whole unit lit up from within and the resulting release of energy threw Lee out of the consol and across the deck. He landed on his back, twitched a few times, and then lay still.
For a second Serena could only stare before she shook herself out of her stupor and crawled to Lee’s side. “Oh God, Lee? Come on, Lee, Captain Crane. Wake up, please,” she pleaded with a catch in her voice. Don’t let him be dead, please don’t let him be dead. She felt under his jaw for a pulse and let out a sobbing breath when she found it, weak and thready, but it was there.
I’m an archaeologist, not a medic! With her head pounding and nausea rocketing through her gut, Serena felt tears of frustration building up. She had absolutely no idea what to do next.
“What the devil do you mean, you’ve lost contact with the Flying Sub?” Nelson’s roar of disbelief echoed over the intercom. Chip winced and his eardrums seemed to throb with the reverberation of the admiral’s angry question. Gripping the edge of the plot table with one hand, Chip held the mike in the other and tried to form a coherent explanation.
“Sparks picked up a badly garbled message from Lee about two hours ago. He indicated a systems failure of some type. He was already off our sonar and radar range by then so we don’t have an exact location. I’ve altered our course and we’re going to begin a search pattern along his planed course.”
“What the blazes did they run into?”
“We’ve reports of some scattered thunderstorms that blew up in the area. Small, but meteorological indications are that some could have produced some fairly significant downdrafts.”
“And no feedback from the homing beacon?”
Chip managed to keep from sighing. “I’m afraid not, sir.”
“Humph. Do you have any idea whether or not he was able to pick up Serena?”
“Negative. There was no contact with Lee since he left Seaview. Just that one garbled message.”
“Let me contact the Marposa officials. I’ll find out if she’s still ashore or if Lee managed to make it that far. Keep me updated on anything you find.”
“Aye sir. Oh, Admiral, are you planning on rendezvousing with us?”
Chip heard a deep sigh. “I’ll hold off for the moment. Let me see what I find out and whether or not Lee made it to Marposa. I’ll let you know what I decide when I get to that point. Nelson out.”
Chip sighed and hung the mike back on its housing. Bracing his arms against the table, Chip stared at the charts laid out below him. There were miles and miles of ocean to search, if for some reason Lee was off course. What worried Chip was the fact that the homing beacon hadn’t activated yet. What could have gone wrong to negate the beacon’s activation? It was a simple switch. Lee should have had plenty of time to activate it.
Unless Lee wasn’t in any kind of shape to activate it and Serena wouldn’t know how…Chip’s mind began running through a hundred scenarios on what could have gone wrong. Most of them ended up with Lee lying unconscious on the deck of FS1. A shiver ran up Morton’s spine as he remembered Lee trying to track a hidden sub pen and being attacked. The Flying Sub had ended up on the bottom and Lee was rapidly running out of air.[ii] Finding Lee unconscious had scared the fire out of Chip and he never forgot that image of Lee’s seemingly lifeless body sprawled on the deck below the ladder.
Chip mentally jerked his brain back on track. He didn’t have time to go chasing what ifs right now.
For a span of endless seconds, Serena was overwhelmed by panic and sheer terror. With the mantra of ‘oh God,’ echoing in her head, all she could do was stare at Lee’s unconscious body, one hand flat against his chest. Only when she finally felt his heart beat under her trembling palm was she able to step back and take a breath. He was alive. She could work with this if he were still alive.
Scrambling to her feet she darted for the bunk and grabbed the small pillow and the blanket. She sank to her knees by his side and lifted his head up gently to position the pillow under him. She spread the blanket over him, fully aware that she really needed to get him off the cold decking. He outweighed her and there was no way she could move him, short of simply dragging him. She certainly wasn’t going to be able to get him on the bunk.
A shudder crawled up her spine and for the first time Serena realized that it was getting colder. She was thankful for the jacket Lee had ordered she wear. She got to her feet and headed for the small compartments alongside the bunk, looking for anything else she might be able to use to cover Lee with. There just wasn’t anything. Apparently the Flying Sub wasn’t used for overnight flying expeditions.
She tested the mattress. It wasn’t heavy and it didn’t seem to be bolted down or anything. Working quickly, she dumped her packs onto the floor and gripped the mattress tightly with both hands. With a grunt, she yanked the thing off the bunk and onto the floor. She adjusted her grip and pulled the mattress over to Crane. Next she grabbed his feet and lifted his lower half onto the mattress. Then she took hold of him under his shoulders and managed to shift his upper body. He was a little crooked, but now he wasn’t on the cold decking. Serena tucked the thin blanket in around him, hoping it was enough to keep him warm. As once last thing, she tucked the pillow under his head.
There was nothing else for her to do. She stood there for a second, recognizing that not only her back and shoulders ached but her head was still pounding.
Had he gotten the beacon working? Staring at the still slightly smoking console, Serena doubted it. Slowly she sank down by Crane’s side, trying to think of something that she could do to help.
She checked his pulse one more time, still relieved when she felt the steadying beat under her fingers. He didn’t respond when she shook his shoulder and called his name.
Another chill crawled up her spine. She had no idea what the temperature was but it was indeed getting colder. Crane had said that Chip knew his flight path but this was an emergency landing. Were they still on course? She was sure the thought had to have passed through Lee’s mind. He didn’t seem like the type to discount possibilities.
Was there some other way to signal? Serena glanced around and her gaze fell on the laptop case. What was the chance…Serena slid across the deck and grabbed the strap, pulling the bag closer. She pulled the rugged gray laptop out and flipped it open.
An Institute-issue, the laptop was an experimental unit, the admiral had told her. Less than a dozen other Institute personnel had one, and four of those were Seaview officers. One belonged to the admiral. The rest had been given to other key personnel. Serena was still trying to understand out how she figured as ‘key personnel’. The unit was shock-proof, water-proof and if the admiral was to be believed, shielded against radiation. Seemed like a lot of effort to go through for a laptop computer. She waited for the unit to power up, going through the start-up process and eventually the sign-in screen. She entered her password and waited. The institute logo flared to life and gradually faded. Login information verified. Accessing profile….the letters on the screen flashed and finally the program the institute used for the company emails completely loaded.
Daring to check, Serena checked the small icon in the corner of the toolbar across the screen. The five bars that indicated a viable internet access were half-filled. Her heart beating wildly, terrified that at any minute she’d lose the connection, Serena fired off an email to the one person she knew would be available to read it.
“Any signs of the Flying Sub?” Chip asked Kowalski as he stood behind the man. The dark-haired rating shook his head.
“No sir. There’s a lot of bottom to cover, ” Ski said apologetically.
Chip nodded. He could only expect so much. “I know, Ski. Keep at it,” he said even though he knew that Ski wouldn’t stop until his shift was up and would likely volunteer extra duty if he felt the next operator wasn’t up to par with his level of experience. Given that it was Lee out there, Chip was very likely to grant that request.
“Aye sir,” Ski answered softly, intent on listening to the sounds of the ocean. Chip left the sonar station and wandered back to the plot table, looking at the charts. He had Lee’s flight path and Sparks had tracked an approximate location but beyond that it was like looking for a needle in a haystack. There was a lot of terrain to cover, as Kowalski had already pointed out. Still, Chip wasn’t going to give up.
With the germ of an idea blossoming, Chip walked over to the computer and began typing in his request. Within seconds the computer began printing out a weather chart for the time and location Sparks had pin-pointed the garbled message from. He studied the weather chart, then studied Lee’s flight path. Sure enough there was a storm system that had blown up along Lee’s flight path. Picking up the mike, Chip keyed the radio shack. “Sparks, get me the admiral.”
Sparks’ quick confirmation of ‘aye sir’ set Chip’s mind at ease somewhat but he was still too keyed up to totally relax. If he couldn’t find the Flying Sub…
Chip shook his head to scatter his pessimistic thoughts. He would find Lee. A slightly selfish part of his mind suggested that maybe when they did find the Flying Sub, he might get the attention of the marine archaeologist Lee was ferrying. Serena was friendly enough but she just didn’t seem to get the message that Chip would like to be a little more than just a coworker.
“Mr. Morton, I’ve got Admiral Nelson for you sir.” Sparks’ voice broke Chip out of his mental musings and he grabbed the mike up.
“Pipe him in, Sparks,” Chip said. Seconds later Nelson’s voice rumbled over the speakers.
“Any sign of the Flying Sub, Chip?”
His gut souring with disappointment that they hadn’t been able to locate the submersible yet, Chip plowed ahead with his theory, hoping the admiral wouldn’t laugh at him. “Nothing yet. Sir, I was wondering… I pulled the weather charts for Lee’s course at the time we lost contact with him. I am showing a small weather system along his path. Is there any way you can follow up and see if there were any downdrafts or possible microbursts and in what direction they might have originated? I’m thinking they might give us a clearer idea of what area to search,” Chip said.
“Chip,” Nelson began with a thoughtful tone to his voice, “that’s not a damn bad idea. Keep searching and I’ll get with our meteorology department and see what sort of information we can come up with.”
Chip couldn’t stop grinning. “Aye sir,” he said, feeling actually useful for once. Nelson signed off and Chip replaced the mike. Chip continued to study the maps, trying to let instinct guide him. There was so much ocean it was hard to pick a defining spot. With any luck Nelson would have something more to add.
Angie Watson was in the middle of a pile of dictations when the incoming email flag got her attention. Normally she would have simply ignored it until she was finished transcribing the admiral’s thousand and one memos but the ‘from’ header made her pause in her typing.
She went to her ‘in’ box to confirm what she thought she saw. And she was right. One new email from Serena Harrison, Head of Marine Archaeology. She remembered Serena and the admiral’s spirited conversation on her adding the department heading to her name. He said it was necessary, she didn’t see a point in it since so far she was the only one in that department. Guess who won?
But Serena was in FS1 and they had lost contact with her, hadn’t they? Apparently not as much as they thought. Angie clicked on the message subject, not sure if this was real or a joke.
Angie, Flying Sub is down. Lee is unconscious. Position unknown. Depth unknown. Beacon not functioning. State of operating systems not know. Some help would be appreciated.
Still staring at the screen, Angie slapped at the intercom to page the admiral. His voice was lightly agitated when he answered.
“Angie I’m on my way to meteorology,” he began.
“Sir, I just got an email from Serena,” she said without preamble.
That got the admiral’s attention. “Forward it,” he ordered and Angie swiftly obeyed.
“Forwarded to your box, sir,” she complied.
There were a few seconds of silence as Nelson took the time to read. Then there was a loud WHOOP as Nelson shouted joyously, slapping his palm against the top of the desk. “Angie,” he practically shouted, “Get me Seaview, ASAP!”
Serena set the laptop aside. It had a long battery life and she could always shut it down if they were going to be stuck for very long. She wanted to make sure that Angie got the message and had reported it.
It was definitely getting colder. Her hands were cold and she jammed them into the pockets of her jacket to try and warm them. She leaned back against the bottom of the bunk, watching Lee and hoping he’d wake up soon. His breathing was regular but he hadn’t moved since the shock of whatever it was knocked him across the floor. She reached over and took his wrist up in her hands, feeling for his pulse once more. It was steady now. She tucked his arm back under the covers and sat back, drawing her knees up to her chest and simply watched him, noticing tiny details she’d never paid attention to before.
It had been a while since he’d last shaved. There was a definite shadow of stubble along his jawline that she found oddly appealing. Some detached part of her mind wondered if Chip, being a blond, would have the same shadow at the end of the day.
The intensity that Lee seemed to wear like a cloak was gone now as he slept. Serena felt like this was what Lee Crane really looked like, without the weight of command, without the knowledge that lives depended on him, without the responsibilities of his rank. He looked like someone she might have been able to get along with, if he hadn’t blatantly told her he didn’t trust her.
“Captain, do you have any idea how hard it is to fit in around here? Add to that we really don’t want the world to know the admiral is really my father. All the questions that would raise. Did he hire me for my abilities or did he hire me because I was his daughter? Is he doing me a favor by giving me a job or does he really think I’m the person for the position? And what would it do to him, his career? He had an affair with a married woman. Granted it wasn’t his fault, but is anybody going to actually read the facts? Doubtful. The press doesn’t care. Can’t you see the headlines? Nelson’s Love Child,” Serena rolled her eyes, aware that Lee probably couldn’t hear her. It didn’t matter. She was a bundle of nerves and talking seemed to relax her.
“My mother used him. Did you know that? My grandfather was dying of cancer and he wanted to pass the company on to my mother but he wanted to be sure there was a generation after her to take the company when she was ready to pass it on. I have an uncle. Mom’s brother, Eugene. He had two kids at the time but grandfather didn’t want him in charge of the company for some reason. Mom had been married to Jerome for several years and she still hadn’t been able to conceive. Somewhere along the line she met the admiral and used him. Unfortunately, when I came out I looked nothing like Jerome and he hated me from the second Mom brought me home. Since then I think I’ve been trying to find my place. I was hoping I’d found it here. I can’t help it if you don’t trust me.”
Serena took a deep breath. “You know, in all the excitement, I forgot about the computer. It’s some experimental unit the admiral and the IT department dreamed up. I emailed Angie and told her we needed a lift,” she added, glancing to the computer to see if there was some kind of confirmation. What she wasn’t expecting was for Lee to answer.
“Did you know the laptops have GPS built into them?” he said quietly. “It was Chip’s idea actually.”
Serena swore as his voice broke the silence. “How the hell long have you been awake?” she snapped, furious that she’d spilled her guts to him, thinking he was unconscious.
Lee cracked one hazel eye. “A bit,” he said, unable to keep the amusement out of his voice.
Serena snorted, then turned her attention to the computer. Incoming email from Angie.
Message received. Seaview notified of FS1’s coordinates. Medical staff notified of casualties. CMO requests nature of captain’s distress.
Harrison had read the message out loud and noted Lee’s expression when she got to the part about causalities. “What did you tell them?” he asked suspiciously.
Harrison looked positively smug. “Just the facts, Joe Friday,” she said with a grin and Lee groaned. “I just told Angie that the Flying Sub was down and I had no idea where and that you were unconscious. I think those were the high points,” she finished tartly.
Lee sighed. Jamie and his cast of corpsmen would be waiting for him. Not to mention one anxious and silently freaking-out blond. Harrison was typing something. “Now what are you telling them?” he asked, and tried to rise up. His head spun maddeningly with the shift in position and he had to brace himself against the onslaught of swirling grays and blacks. He felt a hand on his chest pushing him back down onto the mattress. Mattress? His puzzled brain was only just registering that she’d manage to drag the mattress off the bunk and somehow roll him onto it.
“What part of ‘lie down’ don’t you get?” Harrison asked waspishly.
Lee managed a grin. “All of it. But I suppose in this case I can make an exception,” he said. He heard Harrison sigh.
“Are you always this hard-headed or am I a special case?”
Lee couldn’t help but chuckle. “Yes,” he said flippantly.
Harrison grumbled something as she went back to typing. “Leave it to me to get stuck with a comedian. How does Chip put up with you?” she asked.
“With a lot of yelling, once he realizes I’m not on death’s door.”
“I can imagine.” Harrison’s typing stopped. “FS1?” she asked.
Lee slowly turned his head to watch her. “FS1. Designation for the Flying Sub. Kinda of like Air Force One,” he explained.
“Okay. F and S I get. Why the ‘one’?”
Lee closed his eyes and rotated his head back. “Because this is the first configuration. There is an FS2 in the works but it’s not something the public will ever see.”
“Top secret and all that. I see. I’m an archaeologist, not a spy,” Harrison replied.
Lee paused. Maybe he shouldn’t say anything more but he had more of a point to make and this seemed like the best way to approach the subject. “FS2 is designed to fit inside Seaview’s sister ship. She doesn’t have a real name yet, but she’s designated ‘Submarine One’. In case Air Force One or Marine One is incapacitated and the president needs a platform from which to run the country, he’ll have an underwater base. A mobile base at that.”
Harrison grew quiet. “Crewed by…what? Navy specialists?”
Lee nodded his head once. It was all he could manage. “Hand-picked by Admiral Nelson.”
“And who would skipper her?” Harrison asked curiously.
Lee felt almost embarrassed to say. “The admiral has already picked me. In such a case, Chip would take command of Seaview.”
“And you’re telling me this bit of classified information, why?” she asked slowly.
Lee didn’t answer right away. He knew he was taking a chance but he wanted to clarify a few things between them and this opened a door for the start of an apology. “It is highly classified. There might be a dozen people who know about it. I think…I know I can trust you to keep this information to yourself.”
For several long minutes Serena was quiet. There was the sound of a few keys being clicked but beyond that she had few things to say. She finally broke the silence. “Angie says Dr. Jamieson has been notified and Seaview should be here in another two hours,”
“Chip will push the engines. Hour and an half,” Lee said. He opened one eye, turning slowly until he could see Serena. “I need you to get something. It’s in a case, in the bottom of the last stowage locker.”
Serena got to her feet slowly, her headache making her slightly dizzy and about half sick. She fumbled around in the locker until her hands closed around the case she thought Lee was talking about. She didn’t open it although she suspected she knew what was in it. She carried it back to Lee and sat back down on the deck.
“Open it,” he ordered.
Serena wasn’t surprised to find a gun nestled in foam. There were three cartridges resting in the corner of the box. Not very gun savvy, Serena had no idea what make or model the thing was. She knew it was a semi-automatic and she knew what it was for.
“Is this necessary?” she asked.
“Remember those “unfriendlies’ we talked about? FS1 is classified. Her technology would be a bonus to any who found us,” Lee explained slowly.
“As would the captain of the Seaview,” Serena added.
“My reputation precedes me, I see,” Lee said dryly and closed his eyes. “Can you load that?”
“Wendy ran me through how to load.” Serena worked through the procedure of loading and she handed the gun to Lee. With a shaky hand, Lee wrapped his fingers around the weapon. Serena couldn’t stop the relieved sigh. “You should know I can’t shoot,” she said.
“Nonsense. Anybody can shoot. Pull the trigger. It’s real easy.”
“Says you. I can’t aim then. I tend not to hit what I’m aiming at, how’s that?”
Lee chuckled softly. “Easily fixed. Chip can take you out to the practice range. He’s the best shot I know,” he said.
Serena didn’t answer. She wasn’t sure she was up to spending a day with Chip Morton. A shudder rolled over her body and she could not stop shivering.
Lee chose that moment to open his eyes and saw the shiver work up her spine and through her body. “Are you cold?” he asked, misinterpreting her reaction.
“It’s chilly in here,” she said by way of answer.
“Serena,” Lee began, aware it was the first time he’d used her given name. For some reason he was just beginning to think of her as Serena. Not her last name of Harrison. “It’s going to get colder before they get here. I can’t get the life support running. We’re also going to run low on air. Your best chance is to lie down and relax your breathing.”
“I looked for another blanket but you don’t stock much in the way of bedding,” she said.
“No. It takes up space we need for more important equipment.” Lee raised the edge of the blanket he was under. “We can lie next to each other under the blanket. Share body heat,” Lee said.
Serena stared at him, an odd look in her green eyes. Lee was right. It was getting colder. The air could be pretty foul by the time Seaview finally found them. But he already said he didn’t like her, why was he willing to do this for her? Shouldn’t he be looking after himself and not give a damn about her?
“Why would you even care about me?” she asked hesitantly.
Lee drew back. He hadn’t expected her to react so suspiciously. He didn’t blame her really. They hadn’t gotten this trip off on the right foot, exactly. He drew a breath to say the one thing he hoped would make her stop and think.
“You’re just going to have to trust me, Serena.”
“How much air do they have yet?” Nelson was asking. Chip was in the nose, in conference with the admiral via satellite uplink. Once Serena switched on her laptop, Nelson had remotely activated the GPS in the unit, giving Seaview a signal to home in on. However, time was not on their side.
Morton shook his head. “No way of knowing. We don’t know if the life support system is functional. If we take this as worst case scenario, then we assume life support went out when they crashed and Lee wasn’t able to get things functioning again.”
“The crash obviously knocked out the homing beacon,” concurred the admiral. “I’ve tired contacting Serena myself but she’s not responding.”
“I don’t like the sound of that,” Chip replied.
Nelson’s expression darkened. “Neither do I.”
“We’ve had no communications whatsoever with the Flying Sub since she went down. If I had to hazard a guess, I would say the entire system is shut down.”
The admiral scowled. “That would be my assumption as well. How close are you at this point?”
Chip strayed away from the monitor to double check his figures. “Still at least an hour. I’ve got engineering working to give us as much speed as possible. We’re likely to break the old speed record if we keep this up. Jamie’s on standby. I don’t suppose we have any idea how badly Lee’s hurt?”
The admiral shook his head. “Serena wasn’t very forth coming with any medical updates.”
Chip chanced a comment. “I wonder where she got that from?” he dared.
The admiral shook a finger at him. “How do you like counting plankton species, Mr. Morton?” he asked.
“It’s a job, sir,” was Chip’s slightly flippant response to which the admiral simply snorted.
“If it helps any, cut the power consumption across the boat. Feed everything down to the engines. I want to know the minute you make contact with the Flying Sub.”
Chip nodded. “Yes sir. I’ll start rerouting power immediately.”
“Very well, Chip. I’ll be in touch.” The admiral signed off, leaving Chip standing before a blank screen. Shaking his head over his impetuous bit of flippancy, Chip turned back toward the plot table and picked up the mike. “This is the exec,” he began as if anyone would not recognize his voice. “As you all know, FS1 is dead on the bottom. Aside from internet contact between the Institute and Dr. Harrison we’ve had no communication with the Flying Sub. We are still an hour out from their location and there is the danger that they could run out of air before we get there. To that effect, I want all major systems to cut their energy consumption by as large a margin as possible and still maintain functionality. Feed all surplus power to the engine room. Engine room, I want a report as soon as you’re ready to feed power to the engines.”
Each department called out acknowledgements. Chip waited, feeling tense enough to snap. If they did this, would it be enough to reach them in time? Hours seemed to pass but it was barely ten minutes by Chip’s watch. Finally, O’Brien’s voice sang out from Engineering.
“Engineering to conn.”
“Conn. Go ahead.”
“Mr. Morton, we’ve got enough to give the engine a fifteen percent boost. Routing power now and activating on your signal.”
Chip grinned. They could do this. Time to get it in gear. “Boogity, boogity, Mr. O’Brien. Let’s go racing, boys.”
Serena kept drifting in and out, unable to maintain her focus. Her head continued to pound and her stomach would not settle. Lee might have been right, she could have a concussion.
One thing Serena did know, it was very hard to breath. It felt like there was a weight on her chest and she had to struggle to draw a breath. The air was getting foul just like Lee had predicted.
The red emergency lights were fading, leaving the interior of the submersible darker with each passing minute. It was only the closeness of lying next to Lee’s protective form that she was able to keep the panic in check. She’d never worked through her newly acquired fear of the dark.
Something grabbed her attention as the lights simply gave up. There was nothing but the darkness now and Serena felt her heart beginning to pound. If that wasn’t enough, the craft jolted and began to shake.
“Lee?” Serena hissed as something seemed to grab onto the sub and it began to rise upwards ever so slowly. The sounds of clanking and thumping grew louder, as did a deep hum that seem to vibrate through her very bones. She shook Lee’s shoulder but he didn’t wake up. Panicking, she scrambled, pulling away from Lee’s prone body. She couldn’t let something happen to him. He’d tried so hard to get help, she couldn’t stand back and let whoever was up there walk in and just take him when he couldn’t protect himself. She owed him something. She got to her feet, trying to hold herself steady. Shaky and tottering, she braced herself and began to pull the mattress, sliding it and Lee across the deck as far away from the ladder as she could get.
The motion of the craft stopped abruptly and Serena, breathless from trying to move Lee and fight a headache of monstrous proportions, froze. There was a clatter above her and she braced herself as she heard the sound of shoes against the ladder rungs. Someone was coming. Her eyes darted for the gun but in the darkness she simply didn’t see it. However, her foot bumped against something and without thinking she reached down and grabbed it. It was the flashlight she’d been using earlier—heavy enough to cave in the side of somebody’s head. Serena raised the weapon and advanced on the intruder, determined to protect Lee.
Chip dropped to his feet and, having expected the power to be out, aimed the beam of his flashlight around the interior of the Flying Sub. The first thing he saw was Lee, lying unconscious on the mattress on the floor. But where was Serena? Surely…Chip’s thoughts trailed off and a sound caught his attention. He turned in the direction of the sound, only to have something smash into the back of his head.
Seeing stars, Chip grabbed on to the ladder for support and swept the flashlight beam across the cabin to shine on Serena, holding a flashlight of her own and coming at him again. She came to a sudden stop, staring at him.
“Oh. Chip, it’s you,” she breathed, blinking. Then abruptly her eyes rolled into the back of her head and she went completely limp. The flashlight dropped from her hand and landed with a crash on the deck. Chip, forgetting the newly acquired lump on his head, had enough time to grab her around the waist before she keeled over.
Chip lifted his head to the hatch. “JAMIE!” he bellowed, torn between holding Serena and checking on Lee. The doctor was already halfway down the ladder well, followed by Frank.
Jamieson took in the scene quickly, directing Frank to stay with Serena. Chip surrendered her to the corpsman and quickly joined the doctor by Lee’s side.
“Concussion,” Jamie announced, first peering into Lee’s eyes. “But I think he’ll recover,” he added, noting Chip’s worried expression. By now another two corpsmen had descended into the Flying Sub and were scrambling to move the archaeologist and their skipper. Jamie ordered Lee on oxygen and a tank was quickly rigged. Frank had made the same diagnosis for Serena and she too was soon rigged up to a portable tank. Under Jamie’s supervision, the two were lifted out of the Flying Sub, leaving Chip the last to come up.
By the time Chip climbed out of the hatch, the medical team had vanished. Chief Sharkey was hovering around the top of the hatch and he helped Chip topside.
“Get a repair party busy. I want to know exactly what happened to the Flying Sub before we make port,” Chip order.
“Aye sir. If I have my way, we’ll have her back in the air before the admiral can read that report.”
Chip grinned. “That’s what I like to hear. Moore, you have the conn. Set a course for Santa Barbara, two thirds speed. Let’s give the engines a break. I’ll be in my cabin then I’ll be in sickbay,” Chip replied, unable to keep the relief out of his voice.
“Aye sir, I have the conn,” Lt. Sean Moore snapped. He was the newest officer to transfer to Seaview and he was still working the spit and polish of the Navy out of his system. Chip figured that one day he’d figure out the monotonous repetition of orders wasn’t necessary aboard Seaview.
Chip shook his head and clicked the mike once more. “Sparks, get me the admiral, pipe it up to my cabin. I’ll be right there,” he said.
“Aye sir,” Sparks acknowledged. Chip hung the mike up and jogged up the stairwell and down the corridor to his cabin. He pushed the door shut behind him and sank into the support of his chair. Nelson was waiting for him on the monitor.
“Chip?” the admiral asked, noting the exhausted expression on the exec’s face.
“Located and recovered, sir. Lee was unconscious when we found them and Serena passed out once she realized it was us.”
“Once she realized...,” Nelson trailed off, his eyes narrowing. “What happened down there?”
Chip wasn’t sure how to answer. “Sir, I don’t know. Doc has them both in Sickbay.”
“I don’t have to tell you I want a full report as soon as possible,” Nelson grumbled.
Chip let out the breath he’d been holding. “Yes sir. Sharkey’s got a team on the Flying Sub trying to determine what went wrong and get the repairs started. I’ll have that for you as soon as it’s ready.”
“Excellent. Chip…you might think about getting some rest. You look tired,” Nelson said with a touch of humor in his voice.
Chip laughed softly. “As soon as I find out how Lee’s doing, I promise to get some sleep. Jamie will probably nail me with a sedative-loaded hypo the second my back’s turned anyhow,” the XO complained.
Nelson, still chuckling, signed off, leaving Chip alone in his cabin. He felt like he’d run a hundred miles uphill and he had to admit that he was exhausted. The strain of the last few hours was enough to wear anyone down. But he had one stop to make before his date with his bunk and Chip rose to his feet, heading for the Circuitry room to be sure there weren’t any problems with directing the rerouted power back to their original stations. That stop took longer than Chip expected and it was a good hour before he was finally able to head to Sickbay. If he was lucky, Doc would never find out that Serena tried to knock his brains out of his head.
By now things had calmed down. Lee was in his VIP bunk while Serena occupied the one at the foot of Lee’s. Serena was asleep. Lee was not.
Chip grinned. “Damage control says they can hammer the dent out,” he said, snagging a chair and dragging beside Lee’s bunk.
The dark-haired young man scowled. “What dent?” he asked.
“The dent your head made in the bulkhead of FS1.”
Lee rolled his eyes. “You’d better measure that dent first. It might not have been made by me,” he said waggling a finger at the bunk holding Serena.
Chip couldn’t resist. “Figures. Must be dominate genetics at play,” he said. Serena might as well adjust to the jokes early. Her father’s stubbornness and hard-headedness were legendary and comparisons were bound to happen.
“So what’s the verdict?” Chip asked. Behind him there came an amused snort as Will Jamieson stuck his head out of the small office.
“Do you want from head to toe or toe to head?” Will asked as he moved forward to lean against the bunk support strut.
“Surprise me,” replied Morton.
“I’m just finishing up my report for the admiral. Our esteemed captain managed a pretty good whack on the head, enough to give him a fairly good concussion. He and Dr. Harrison have a matching set. He also has a badly sprained wrist and two cracked ribs. All in all not the worst condition he’s ever come back in, but it would be refreshing if he came back with something less newsworthy.”
Lee tilted his head slightly to get a better look at the doctor. “Does it bother you at all that I’m right here in the room?” he asked.
“Not in the slightest,” Jamie replied in a most amused tone. “You’re taking a nap in about ten minutes anyhow.”
“Says who?” Lee challenged.
“Says me. That’s not the admiral’s scotch in the IV,” the doctor pointed out.
Lee grumbled but he couldn’t argue with Jamie and his sedatives. The man was getting sneakier every time Lee ended up in Sickbay. Instead Lee wiggled the IV taped to the back of his hand and grinned at Chip. “I’ll give you twenty bucks to yank this thing out,” he said.
Chip drew back. “Are you crazy? The man has needles the size of my leg and he knows where I bunk. Not happening, pal.”
Will chuckled as he patted Chip’s shoulder. “Wise man,” he said.
Lee couldn’t help the yawn that nearly split his head in two. Chip got up and walked over to Serena’s bunk. “How is she?” he asked.
“She’ll be fine. Concussion. I want to keep her on oxygen for a while longer. Her lungs aren’t as strong as Lee’s and they need a little extra help. But really, in a few days she’ll be fine,” Jamieson supplied. “I need to finish my reports. I’ll give you a few more minutes.” Jamie vanished into his office.
“Lee, what happened out there?” Chip asked.
“Storm came up. Lightening. Downdraft. Hell if I know. Knocked us out of the air. Serena helped to slow us down else we might have broken up when we hit the water. She’s a quick study.” Lee said.
“I should think so. You sound like you…well, when you left you all but told me you don’t trust her. Did that change?” Chip asked curiously.
Lee didn’t answer at first. His expression turned thoughtful as he remembered what she had said when she thought he was still unconscious. He should have said something but he hadn’t wanted to interrupt her.
“You know,” Chip began, “when I boarded the Flying Sub, she came at me with a flashlight. She nearly pulverized my head,” Chip said in a voice he thought wouldn’t travel.
“We’ll dicsuss your hard head when you’re done visiting,” Jamie said from the office. Chip sighed and rolled his eyes as Lee tried not to laugh.
“She was protecting you,” Chip finished.
Lee blinked. “She was scared, Chip. I told her the Flying Sub would be a nice prize for a foreign power. I should never have mentioned it but it just came out. She must have thought you were after me.”
“Well, she damn near bashed my skull in. Apparently she thought you were worth it.”
“We talked,” Lee said. “I guess we found common ground.”
Jamie stuck his head out. “You know what I would like to find, Mr. Morton?”
To find Serena in a bikini…was the first thing that flashed through Chip’s mind and he felt his face and neck redden with the thought.
“Chip, are you alright?” the doctor asked, noting the change in Chip’s complexion but of course having no idea what caused it. He mentioned taking a blow to the head and that was how long ago?
“Fine, Jamie. What were you saying?” Chip tried to cover his self-inflicted embarrassment.
Glaring suspiciously at the exec, Jamie continued his line of thought. “I’d like to make sure you don’t have any serious damage. Then you need to head to your cabin. You should get some rest.”
“Okay, you don’t have to get all bossy about it. I know how this game is played,” The blond grumbled. Me and my big mouth…
Jamie motioned for Chip to have a seat on the exam table. Morton tried not to fidget as Jamie went through the routine, checking his eyes, his reflexes, and then carefully gauging the nice knot on the back of Chip’s head. “If she’d put a little more effort behind it, she could have done you damage, Chip. But I think she didn’t know just how hard a head you have,” Jamie said with a grin.
“Funny, doc. Real funny,” Chip muttered. Jamie shooed him off the table and Chip only too happily complied. He cast a quick look at Lee. “Go to sleep. Moore has the conn. We’re headed back home at two-thirds speed. But I suspect you knew that already.”
Lee grinned and rested a hand on the bulkhead. The story was he could tell the ship’s speed simply by feeling of a nearby bulkhead. The thing of it was, Chip honestly believed that. Lee and Seaview had a link of sorts. There was no denying it.
“Go on, Mr. Morton,” Lee encouraged, “before he breaks out one of the needles you’re so afraid of.”
Chip snorted. “I am not afraid of needles,” he replied. “I just don’t like them,” he added.
Lee giggled, not too in control of himself with the sedative kicking into high gear. “Yeah, sure. Whatever.”
“Pitiful, Lee. Absolutely pitiful. I know when I’m not appreciated.” Without waiting for another pot shot by either Lee or Jamie, Chip took his leave. He had to contact the admiral one more time to let him know that Lee only took a minor thwacking and he’d be back on his feet soon enough and that, aside from a concussion, it looked like Serena was going to be fine.
In a few days they’d make port and everything would settle down into some sense of normalcy. Or rather what passed for normal these days.