Author's note: This is all Kate's fault!
And thanks to all my other betas: Liz, Theresa, Pauline and Vic from AU.
Kate asked me to help her brainstorm a story about what happened to Lee after the episode The Saboteur... so we bounced several WHN ideas back and forth.
She then wrote a beautiful story from all this bouncing called Flight Check.
She 'gifted' me with all the leftover ideas we didn't use and told me I HAD to write THAT version of WHN.
Several RL months later... and after much nagging, here it is.
I find it very interesting that these fraternal twin stories from the same seed (check the plot points) bear almost NO resemblance to each other whatsoever…
There are 8,000,000 stories in the naked seascape.... or something like that. :)
by Diane Kachmar
It was all over. He had blown it. Starke was not going to reinstate him as Seaview's captain; he had all but handed the man what he needed to end his career. Nelson, Chip and Jamie had all tried to tell Lee he had no blame in what had happened to him, but in his heart, Crane knew. He let himself be taken and the People’s Republic had succeeded in turning him against everything he had sworn to protect.
Crane reached up to straighten his tie. He'd best go see what Nelson wanted. Getting his command back was his hope. Lee knew, however, it was probably still too soon. He had passed Forester’s debriefs and had been cleared, but the final decision of whether or not he returned to duty aboard Seaview remained Starke's. That Admiral did not like him or his command style.
Lee plastered a smile on his face as he knocked. Then he entered the
temporary office Nelson had been assigned at
“Ah, Lee.” Nelson bounced up out of his chair. The Admiral practically dragged him over to the lone window in the back of the building. “You have to see this.”
Filling up most of the window’s view was a parked flatbed truck. Strapped to it, with the covering tarp removed and off to one side, was what could only be the prototype of what Nelson referred to as his 'flying' sub.
Whether or not she would actually fly hadn't been proved yet. Lee felt his pulse quicken at the sight of her. The lifting body design had not looked sleek on paper, but now, she had lines and shape...
Crane caught himself. There had been no free time for him to get flight training, so her first test flight would probably have to be done by a contract Airedale. He needed to concentrate on getting Seaview back.
“So, what do you think of her?” Nelson nudged him.
“She's beautiful,” Lee answered. “I had no idea you were this far along.”
The Admiral shifted with a grunt. “Truth is -- they've hit a snag with the testing. So I had her brought up here to give you a go at my problem.”
“Which is?” Crane turned to face Nelson.
“Something I need a marine engineer to fix!” the Admiral replied.
“My security clearance is still revoked.”
Nelson looked up at him and scowled. “FS-1 is not part of Jiggs Starke's Navy yet. As inventor and patent holder, I say who works on my prototype, not him,” he declared. “I need you on this, son. I have faith you will be reinstated – eventually. Don’t let this incident hijack your abilities!”
At least Nelson still believed in him.
“All right,” Lee acquiesced. ‘No’ was not an answer the Admiral would accept in his current mood. “What do you want me to work on?”
Nelson grinned. “Juice the engines. We will never get her airborne, if you don't. We have to reach 155 knots. I think we have the right design, but we definitely need a more efficient jet flow. You know this design. Get me there.”
Working on a blueprint would be better than sitting around waiting for Starke’s favor, whenever he would deign to bestow it. That was playing his game. He could do this. “When do we start?”
Nelson gestured at his desk. "Sit down. I've got the blueprint right here."
Lee tightened his lap belt. He was ready. Crane had mastered the subtleties of her twin joysticks after several trial runs. Lee was confident he would maintain rudder control once they reached what the Admiral had projected was her air speed. He had never piloted a boat that fast before but, if this craft became part of Seaview's EVA assets as Nelson intended, he would be.
His wounded shoulder was not happy with what Lee had been demanding of it, but finally using the prescription cream Jamieson had given him six weeks ago had eased the pain enough for him to sleep. Piloting the small craft also wore him out. That had helped to keep his nightmares at bay. The lightning from the Chinese brainwash device still lurked in his subconscious, when Crane let himself sleep long enough to dream.
The Admiral’s insistence Lee be involved in this testing had focused his attention away from his delayed reinstatement. Starke was deliberately taking his time to sign off on Forester's incident report, but now it didn't matter. Tweaking the aqua-jets to run faster had both been hard work and, surprisingly, a lot of fun.
Crane eased the throttle forward. He had given Curley and Kowalski more than enough time to get their observation boat in position to record his run. They soon learned three outboard engines were no match for his jets, so they stopped trying to chase after him.
Lee now ran parallel to the coast to stay in sight of his support crew. He had to keep the classified craft within the military reservation. He'd have maybe one minute full out before he had to drop back at least a third to a more sane cruising speed. Lee only had to prove she could go that fast. Actual test flights would come later at home in Santa Barbara where there was enough private space to keep her patented design unobserved.
She felt good in his hands, running straight and true along Lee’s chosen
course. He was getting used to the motion as she sliced through the off-shore swell.
He had to be leaving quite a wake. Lee grinned. If he did swamp anyone on the base,
it was not his fault; they had been warned to steer clear of his test runs.
Nelson was very good friends with the facility commander. Mark knew what
they were doing out here. He had given his blessing, but they were still guests and
didn't need to ruffle feathers unnecessarily.
Lee continued to open up the throttle incrementally, keeping an eye on both his speed and where he was along the coast. It would not do to run out of space before he reached Nelson’s desired airspeed. The ride was not smooth, but that was also part of the testing. The joysticks controlled her well enough, but Crane was going to recommend they not cruise on the surface like this, unless they had to for takeoff.
He looked at his speed indicator. It was time. Lee pushed the throttle wide open. The nose came up, and her bouncing, splashing ride smoothed out. She had to be skimming the wave tops, as the water was no longer slapping against the front windows. Lee checked his control panel again. He was full out and he still hadn't hit 155 knots. And he should have. Why wasn't he still bouncing in the waves?
He was about to run out of reservation. Apparently 150 knots was as high as she would go. Since he couldn't turn her at this speed, Lee throttled back. Several things happened all at once.
The nose dropped. Not a few feet back down into the swell, but a sickening drop of several feet. Lee swung his rudder to starboard to give himself more maneuvering room away from the shore as his speed lessened. There was no answering response from the craft.
A moment later Crane pancaked into the water nose first with a jarring splash that rocked his chair hard. The sub half flipped forward and then corkscrewed sideways as the sub finally turned.
The g-force of the landing slammed Lee to the left side of his pilot chair, despite his lap belt. Pain shot through his lower chest. Crane struggled back upright to power down before anything else went wrong. The fading whine of the aqua-jets indicating shutdown was the last thing he heard as everything went grey and unfocused.
"What's he doing there?” Curley Jones asked, incredulously.
"That's called flying, Chief!" Martin Kowalski couldn't quite believe what he was seeing, either. Crane had explained it to him. If he got going fast enough, the craft was capable of doing what they were observing.
"I thought he wasn't supposta be able to take off!" Curley stated.
"That's why it’s called a test?"
The Chief frowned. "Flying was not in our orders!"
"The Skipper will bring her down again once he realizes he’s taken off--" Martin assured his superior.
The prototype that had been cruising along nicely above the water took a sudden dive, spinning after she splashed inelegantly back into the sea on her nose.
"That's no good!" Jones dropped his binoculars down around his neck and moved to the wheel of the boat. He gunned the outboard engines from idle to power. "Let's go get him."
Ski gauged the wave roll and jumped so he’d land on top of the hatch. It certainly was easier to climb up her side using the now stowed ladder. Martin grasped one side of the hatch edge for balance while he keyed in the sequence to open her. In an emergency. That was why Crane had given it to him.
He would eventually have to be cleared to continue to work on this prototype but, for now, both the Admiral and Chief had told him not to worry about it. He was to do whatever needed doing.
The hatch slid open. Martin unshipped the ladder and put it over the side of the craft. Curley would tie the two craft together with it and then join him aboard.
Ski signaled the Chief he was going down inside. He fervently hoped the Skipper was all right. That had been a really hard landing.
Martin came down the interior ladder to find Crane sprawled in the pilot seat. He looked unconscious. Must have hit something in here.
Ski gently laid two fingers against the Skipper’s neck. Frank had taught him to count to determine what the pulse was.
Crane twitched away as soon as he touched him, drew a deep breath and groaned. Martin tried to read him again as the Skipper’s eyes fluttered open.
“Mmmenth.” Crane twitched the other way, rolling his head, as he fought back to consciousness.
“Easy, Skipper.” Kowalski laid a tentative hand on his leather-clad shoulder. “You slammed down pretty hard. Let me check you out before you start moving around.”
Crane tried to pull himself upright. He collapsed against the back of the pilot chair with another groan, cradling his left arm into his ribcage.
“Hey, what’s going on down there?” Curley poked his head inside the upper hatch.
“Tell him... I’m fine!” Crane hissed, in obvious pain, as he finally managed to sit back up with a major effort. “Got the wind ... knocked out ... of me!”
“I got the tow line ready to rig, Skipper. You want us to haul you back to the dock?” Jones asked.
Crane reached out with a definite wince and flipped up a switch. A soft hum filled the cabin. “I’ve got power... Chief. How’s my ... hull integrity?
“I didn’t find any dents, sir,” Curley answered cheerfully.
Ski looked around the cabin. “You don’t seem to be taking on water. Why did you crash?”
“I lost ... rudder control…” Crane bit out the words. “And I shouldn’t have!”
“You no longer had contact with the water, Skipper. You were about ten feet above it, actually. That’s why your rudder didn't respond,” Ski explained.
“She was flying?” Crane asked.
“Yeah,” Martin acknowledged. “I guess when you throttled back to make your turn, she --“
The Skipper grimaced in pain. “That I noticed,” he interrupted.
Crane glanced up at the Chief framed in the open hatch. “Curley, can you spare Kowalski? I think the two of us can get her back in. Will you follow us? In case we do need a tow?"
“Give me a gas outboard you can depend on over this toy any day.” Jones shook his head in disgust. “Ski, come up here and cast me off. I’ll be glad to stay on your six. To make sure you do get back,” Curley declared.
Crane inclined his head, signaling him to go, so Martin made the climb up the ladder. Ski trusted his Captain. It took a few moments to fold and then stow the outside ladder. Martin hit the inside control to close the hatch tight.
When he came back down into the interior, Crane was half slumped to the right in the pilot chair. He did not look happy.
“Sir, are you hurt?" Now they were alone, Ski could be that direct.
The Skipper looked up at him. "I don't know. I slammed into the left armrest."
"If you'll permit me..." Martin started to unbutton Crane's uniform shirt. "Where does it hurt?"
Crane pointed to his raised left side.
Kowalski carefully lifted the leather jacket and khaki shirt aside. "Well, there’s no blood gushing, sir. I don’t see any protruding bones, either, but you do have a large armrest-shaped red bruise coming up there."
"That I can feel," Crane replied. "Can it wait?"
"I'm not a trained medic, sir. I'd definitely get that bruising looked at by Doc as soon as we get back to shore."
"I will. Now button me back up so we can get going."
Ski did as he was asked. When he was done, Martin eyed the twin joysticks doubtfully. "Sir, if you do have busted ribs, you shouldn't be pulling on these."
“Doesn’t matter. We have to get back to the dock. And you don't pull a joystick, you feather it. The lighter the touch, the better she'll respond.”
"How do they work?" Ski eased into the co-pilot seat. "I'm not rated for this, but I can drive most anything, Skipper."
Crane straightened up with an effort, his left arm tucking into his side. He looked incongruous with his khaki shirt tail hanging out from under his leather jacket, but Martin pretended not to notice.
"I still have one arm I can use." The Skipper closed his right hand around the right joystick possessively. "I'm giving you the throttle..." Crane moved his hand forward and then flipped up some levers on the control panel in front of him. "When I tell you, you ease the left joystick forward or back at my direction, all right?"
The display in front of him lit up. Ski buckled his lap belt. "Say the word, sir."
Crane looked over at him and grimaced. "Are you sure you want to ride with me? I don't have the best reputation at the moment."
Ski grinned. "I trust you, Skipper. Let's get this bird back to the dock before they decide to send Navy rescue out here after us. You know how the Admiral gets about his inventions. We don't need to draw that kind of attention."
The Skipper almost smiled. "She flew, huh?"
Kowalski nodded vigorously. "Yes, sir. Several hundred feet.
Crane flipped a few more levers. "All right, ease her forward slowly while
I bring us back on course. I'm sure Curley is getting impatient out there."
Martin pushed his joystick lightly and was pleased when the sub responded to his touch. Once they got back, there would to be hell to pay.
"You are never going to heal if you keep doing this," Will admonished harshly as he carefully wound the ace bandage around Lee's badly bruised ribs. "Seriously. You have to stop taking these risks. Even if only one rib had shattered, it could have punctured your lung. Then you would have bled out or stop breathing and died before anyone could have gotten to you!"
"She wasn't supposed to fly, Jamie...” Lee scowled as he sat morosely on the med bed, grudgingly submissive to the care he obviously needed and to his lecture. "I was trying to hit a speed fast enough to achieve lift. It was a boat ride. I wasn't planning on getting hurt again," Crane explained impatiently.
Will glared at him. "Joy ride is more like it. One you had no business being on in your present condition. You are supposed to be recovering from major trauma, not adding to it! Had I known the craft was capable of flight, I would have never agreed to you testing it. You only have seventy-five percent motion and strength back in that arm and shoulder from the bullet wound. That infernal craft has two joysticks, which takes two arms in working condition! I may not be an engineer, but I can count!"
Nelson walked in on them at that moment, so Will paused. He wasn’t sure he should continue dressing down a patient who was his commanding officer. At least he had been, when Crane had his command. The long wait for Crane to be reinstated was getting out of hand. Someone had to put the brakes on!
"Lee was doing what I told him to," Nelson stated, as he came up to the bed. He grinned at Crane, obviously in a very good mood. "Will, the book says an airspeed of 155 knots will achieve flight. She took off before Lee reached that. She shouldn't have. Our lift design is apparently way better than any book. It wasn't something we knew would happen, so stop yelling at him. That's what we were testing. It was Lee's test to make."
"So, you're telling me that no one on this operation was thinking!" Will grumbled, as his fingers continued to wrap the ace bandage around Crane.
"He's a boat man, Will!" Nelson refused to let his enthusiasm be cowed. "Airplane rudders work differently. I definitely need to beef up the horizontal stabilizer if she does that during the throttle down to conversion and replace the current lap belts with flight harnesses. Oh, and I have to teach Lee to maintain his airspeed and how to use his aileron for descent." Nelson grinned even wider at his Captain.
The Admiral's exuberance was definitely infectious.
Lee lifted his head in an answering smile as he slowly relaxed his defensive posture on the med bed. "Ease up, Jamie. We didn't do this deliberately. I was speed testing the jets. I was not trying to fly." A mischievous glint grew in Crane's hazel eyes. "I can't. I haven't passed flight school yet!"
Jamieson reached out to lift a metal clip off the tray. "Don't push me. I have to sign off on that training before you can go there." Will clipped the bandage together and then turned to Nelson. "I need you both to be a little less cavalier. A head injury from a crash like this could have killed him!"
"I didn't land on my head," Lee protested.
"Might have knocked some sense into you!" The Doctor rounded on Crane again. "You are not flying again anytime soon. You are hereby grounded until those ribs heal."
"It's all right, son," Nelson broke in. "It will take at least that long
to get her refitted with the improved stabilizer. I've decided to ship her back
They shared another jubilant grin.
Jamieson shook his head. There was nothing he could say now that would dampen their triumph. Success was important, if Crane was ever to recover from what the “Parker” incident had done to him. Will only hoped the price Lee had paid today was not too high.
"You want me to do what?" Nelson stood up from the desk, trying not to lose his temper. "The window bond has barely been dry forty-eight hours. This is no time to be taking her out!"
"I need a boat there, Harriman. You are the only one I have available at the moment. Recall your crew and make all preparations to sail. If Morton is as good as you say; he can handle this mission."
"I want Crane back, or you can forget about us going anywhere!"
Jiggs started to turn red on the end of the videophone. "I haven't completed my review yet. I won't be rushed into a decision on this matter, particularly since you keep demanding I make one!"
"You want me to go to
"I will not be blackmailed, Nelson. I'm in charge here and you are
attached to me. Not the other way around. No. Don't think I don't know what you
and Crane have been doing. Screaming all over the
"I'm not in
"You are always indulging and then defending that upstart! He's like you. You never want to follow any rules, either."
Nelson almost smiled. "You don't mind me not following the rules, when it adds to your glory and your fleet."
Starke harrumphed. "You do have your uses," he granted.
"Look, Jiggs, you need me. If I go on this errand for you, my Captain is going with me. I'm not leaving him here on the dock."
"I thought Crane was in your
"My CMO will certify him fit to sail. If you make me!" Nelson bluffed.
Jiggs waved a dismissing hand. "Fine. Take Crane with you. Your CMO can be in charge of him, so no one else has to be. Mark certainly doesn't need him underfoot! Good salt air might even help him recover.” Starke glared at him through the video monitor. “We'll talk about Crane's reinstatement when you get back, Harriman. After I've had enough time to complete my review. I'll send your orders. I expect you to be underway 24 hours from their receipt."
"What's so important in
"Not on this channel, Harry. Wait for your orders. Starke out."
Harry stood glaring at the blank screen for a moment. Jiggs could be a royal pain in the ass sometimes. If they were going to Manila, he'd better check in with Chip and Randy and see where they were on the repairs. He now had a promise of a review. He wasn't going to let Starke off that hook, not until Lee was reinstated.
Lee tossed the reports Chip had sent him onto the desk and leaned tiredly back into his chair. Sitting up made his ribs hurt, lying down made his ribs hurt, doing most anything made his ribs …
Crane stopped that train of thought. Getting worked up wouldn’t help. His stewards already knew he was not adjusting well to being sidelined. That was the last thing he needed spread around the boat. Being the focus of at least seven well-meaning and self-appointed nursemaids on this cruise was already seven too many.
Lee wished briefly he could give every last one of them back, including Chip. As Acting Captain, Morton definitely had a hand in this, way past his wrist.
Frustrated, Lee raked a hand over his head until the twinge in his side told him he shouldn't have… He resisted the urge to slam his fist down on the desk. Crane knew from bitter experience his ribs would not like that, either.
Lee leaned back in the chair with an audible sigh. He needed to get himself under control or the stewards would tell Frank or Chip. That would cause a return visit from Jamieson. He had already threatened to put Lee out again, if the pain from his ribs was preventing him from getting the rest the Doctor insisted on. He’d lose an additional 24 hours until the sedative wore off. Then he’d have to get yet another report from Chip to find what else he’d missed while he was back in la la land. Crane had not wanted to go there the first time, but he had not been given any choice.
Lee picked up the report lying on the desk. What was really bothering him? “Acting captain” Morton was merely keeping him informed as if they were still CO and XO. Chip didn’t have to do that. Only he was.
Nelson should have left him ashore on Mare Island. That’s what his current unresolved situation dictated. He had no status, only this disgusting limbo Lee was trapped in until the investigation concluded.
Crane was convinced Nelson had made him into an ersatz medical emergency to force Starke to let him go with the boat. They had refused to leave him behind when they had been ordered to sail.
Lee appreciated that unspoken loyalty. That he didn’t deserve.
His stewards were trying too hard not to call him captain, falling back on the less formal Skipper as his new title. It was out of deference to Morton, but they still had slipped often enough for Lee to be uncomfortable with the switch. He wasn’t Seaview’s captain any more. He might never be again...
Lee had caught Morton grinning when that happened in front of him. Which wasn’t right. The crew was very happy Lee was aboard, regardless of his status. It did make it easier for Morton to do what he had to.
So Crane was living with the unspoken 'arrangement' that he’d also had no decision in. Chip was doing what he should be doing, while all Lee did was take up cabin space on his medical disability or whatever Nelson had Jamieson classify him until --
Until he got his command back. If he ever did…
There was a knock on his cabin door.
Lee almost didn’t answer it. He was in no mood to be civil to whoever it was, up to and including the Admiral.
“Come,” he answered, more out of habit than desire as Crane sat up to make it appear that he had actually been working.
The door opened and Kowalski walked back in.
Nursemaid in chief.
“I’ll deliver those papers now, sir, if you are done reading them,” Ski offered.
Crane reached for the pen, before he realized what he was doing. Then he pulled back his hand. He had no status. Ski was offering to take them back to Morton so they could be signed.
Lee felt more than saw Kowalski flinch at his aborted movement. His over-observant steward didn’t miss much.
Crane leaned back in the chair and let his gaze rove over the rating for a moment. "Which one of the unholy three put you up to this?" Lee asked quietly, if only to confirm what was going on was what he thought was going on.
Kowalski shifted from one foot to the other. The sonar man was honest to a fault and would never lie to him, but Ski was also intensely loyal and would never give up a crew mate, either.
"That would be telling, sir…" Ski finally answered, equally as quiet.
Crane steepled his fingers together. It was a confirmation.
Lee leaned forward again to gather up the papers. He handed them over to the rating. “Take these back to Mr. Morton,” he directed.
“With your compliments, sir?” Kowalski asked hopefully.
“No.” Lee was about to say much more, but stopped.
They were all trying so hard to act like everything was fine, that it was only a matter of time before he was back in command. Only the truth could not be ignored because it was not what they wanted. He wasn't fine, and he wasn't in command.
Lee could not bring himself to berate Kowalski for joining in a plot to make him feel like part of the boat again. Ski was only the messenger. “Tell him he needs to sign them.”
Again the conflicting emotions crossed Kowalski’s face. “Aye, sir,” he finally confirmed, with a lot less enthusiasm.
"You don’t have to sir me, Ski. I haven’t been reinstated,” Lee replied. “I appreciate your help as part of my medical convalescence, but that’s as far as it goes. Now go take those reports back to Mr. Morton.”
Crane turned away.
The rating stood for a moment longer. “Skipper, I’m …”
Lee swiveled back in the chair. “Come back when you’ve finished the delivery. Then you can do whatever it is you were told to.”
Kowalski ducked his head and then grinned. “Aye, Skipper. Be right back.”
At first Ski wasn’t certain this was a good idea. Sure, Doc wanted Crane to get some exercise every afternoon. Only their options were limited here on the boat. Somehow, Martin doubted Jamieson would have signed off on a walkabout of all five decks.
As touchy as the Skipper had been about being ‘helped,’ Ski was content to accompany him on the tour before the Captain’s natural restlessness got the better of Crane’s temper and his patience. It would do Crane far more good to make sure all was well on the Seaview, than to brood in his cabin, now they were at sea.
They had visited nearly all the manned spaces, so Crane might be willing to stop once they finished D deck. The Skipper’s bruised ribs didn’t seem to be bothering him. He was straight and tall and steady, except for the new thickness around his waist where the ace bandage was bound around him. The crew had been very glad to see Crane out and walking among them. Many had greeted him warmly as they made their way down through the decks.
The Captain’s now familiar routine had been missing from their lives since the “incident.” They had been berthed way too long waiting for the blown-out nose to be repaired. Martin knew everyone wanted Crane to be reinstated before they sailed again, but that had not happened. The Admiral was still working on it. He had to have faith Nelson would get it done. The boat would not be right again until Crane was restored to her conn.
“Can you hear that, Ski?” the Skipper paused for a moment in the aft D deck corridor.
Martin stopped beside him. “Yes. It’s coming from there.” Ski pointed down the corridor.
They followed the tinny sound of water hitting metal.
“Here!" Martin knelt to run his finger along the raised riveted seam. He pulled his hand away quickly. “It’s wet. We have to find out where this is coming from. Now!” Ski straightened.
Crane's eyes were fixed on the path of the trickle. “There’s more up this way.” His long legs took him quickly to the nearest open hatch. He bent over it, feeling the deck on the other side. “It came from in here.”
The Skipper headed for the valve on the hull side, the most likely source.
Kowalski was right beside him. The casing was damp. A quick search found the water was seeping out of a very small crack in the base.
“Go get a repair kit, before this gets any worse,” Crane directed. “I'll look around for something to block the flow until you get back.”
Ski was almost to the locker when the flood alarm sounded. He immediately turned around and ran back toward his Captain.
The hatch to the compartment slammed closed and locked down almost in his face. Ski knew from long experience that the watertight had sealed. There was no other way out of that compartment. Lee Crane was now trapped in there with the flooding. There was nothing Martin could do to help him from here.
Lee was looking for a rag to stuff into the leak when there was an ominous crack behind him, followed by the sound of rushing water. He turned around to find what had been a pinhole leak was now a rupture. There was no way he would stop that flow with anything in here.
Crane took two steps back toward the hatch to escape the water and dog it closed from the other side. The flooding alarm sounded. There was only one series of bells more serious - fire.
The hatch began to close in front of him. Lee halted in the middle of his third stride. No human effort could stop that hydraulic swing. The watertight hatch sealed with a definite thunk. The automated system for unmanned compartments had done its job. The boat was safe. The flooding would be confined to this compartment.
The only problem with that was-- he was in this compartment. Lee could already feel the cold water soaking through the sides of his oxfords. What else could he do to safeguard the boat?
Lee was distracted from his predicament by pounding on the hatch. Ski was on the other side yelling for him.
Crane sloshed over to the hatch.
"I'm all right, Ski," he shouted. "Go report this!"
The pounding stopped.
Lee heard, “Hang on,” and then “I’ll come back with help.”
He rapped on the hatch door their agreed upon Morse for O and K.
Kowalski banged back the damage control acknowledgement from their many drills. There was nothing the rating could do for him. The override to the automatic system was in the control room. The repair crew couldn't activate that, until they shut down the ballast tank feed into the broken valve.
Lee waded back toward the valve to assess the damage. He circled around the worst of the gushing to see where it was coming from. The valve casing had split wide open, totally rendering any repair attempt by him useless. The water would not stop flowing in until the valve intake was plugged from the ballast tank on the other side of the bulkhead.
Randy and Chip would have to get him out. There was no mic in this compartment, so Crane couldn't report what he had seen. His rescue lay with Ski. Lee looked down at the cold water now soaking his pant legs. He did not have much time before this access compartment completely filled with ballast water. The flood alarm was abruptly cut off.
Morton's voice came over the ship-wide intercom. "We have a valve rupture in compartment D24. All personnel on D deck evacuate. I repeat, evacuate. Seal all watertight hatches behind you. This is not a drill, I repeat, this is not a drill. Maneuvering, prepare to blow all ballast and surface! I repeat, surface, surface."
A familiar bubbling came from outside the hull as Crane felt the boat rising. Another alarm bell went off and compressed air began coming out of the air vent above the valve in a shrill whistle.
Someone was thinking. Now he only had to find a way to stay alive.
Kowalski came through the hatch at the rear of the control room by the radio shack and headed for the officers clustered at the chart table. Miller was giving a report.
Morton looked up as he approached, his expression turning quizzical as he saw Ski was alone. He raised an eyebrow.
Martin shook his head in a quick negative.
Their Acting Captain frowned and returned his attention to his Engineering Officer’s briefing.
“We won't be able to drain the ballast fast enough to keep the compartment from flooding,” Miller continued. “Once the tanks are purged on the surface and all the intakes are closed, we’ll concentrate on getting the water out of that compartment, so the hatch will reset and we can regain entry to inspect the valve. Once we seal that off, it will isolate the compartment, so it will stay dry until we can replace the damage. By taking the break out of the system, we can then re-flood ballast to regain neutral buoyancy. With no ballast on that side - we will have to manipulate the planes constantly to maintain trim during the repair. Bobby will handle that.”
“It won't be pretty,” O'Brien answered. “I’ll try to keep the roll to a minimum.”
“How long will this take?” Morton asked.
“An hour,” Miller answered. “Depending on how quickly we can flush the ballast on the surface and then get a pump set up to pull the water out of there.”
“The Skipper is in there!” Ski broke in, with the information they needed to hear. “The watertight activated automatically. I couldn't get him out.”
They all turned and stared at him.
“What was Lee doing in D24?” Morton asked in disbelief.
Kowalski swallowed hard. “We were still touring the boat. He heard something and when we investigated, he found a pinhole leak in there. The Skipper sent me out to get a kit to plug it. I was at the tool locker when the flood alarm sounded. I ran back, but it had already sealed. He yelled through the hatch for me to report that to you.”
“He would,” Morton muttered darkly. He turned to Miller. “I have the conn.”
“You have the conn. Sir,” Miller answered. “I will assemble my repair team and report when we begin.”
“Go!” Morton acknowledged. "The sooner we get Lee out of there the better. I'll tell the Admiral."
“Aye, sir!” Miller took up the mic from the periscope island and began giving the orders to get his damage control teams on the job.
Morton looked sideways at Kowalski. “Do you want to volunteer to go with Miller?”
Ski thought a minute about the DC plan he had heard outlined. None of
it fell into his expertise, but he knew someplace where he could help. “I'd
rather go to
Morton's frown deepened. “You are a better steward than he deserves, Ski. Go help Will then.”
The rating shrugged. “We knew what the job was when we took on the duty, sir.”
“Do you want to tell Nelson that?” Their AC gestured unenthusiastically up the stairwell.
Martin took a step back. “No, sir. That one is all yours.”
Now that the seawater flowing into the compartment was up to his waist, Lee had to fight not to shiver. At least his damp uniform would serve as a wet suit of sorts once the water trapped beneath it was warmed by his body. They knew he was in here. Ski would see to that. He could tread water for however long it took; he had done it many times before. Question was; did he really have to?
Lee glanced around the small compartment. It was basically there to provide repair access to the valve and for storage. C Deck was about a foot over his head, so if the compartment filled, he would not be able to stand. Not if he wanted to keep his head above water to breathe. The compartment was too small to have any scuba gear or even a life jacket. Crane rested his hand on his submerged hip out of habit and then jerked it back out as the water soaked through his dry shirt sleeve.
What did it matter? He was going to be completely underwater in a very short time. The water was already creeping up under the ace bandage around his bruised ribs. They still ached; he couldn’t wait until the icy water covered them and made them ache even more.
Lee shook off his melancholy thoughts. He had to stay alive in order to get his boat back. The Admiral was convinced their successful completion of Starke’s mission would gain him that. He couldn’t let Starke win. If he gave up and let the water take him, Starke would have his validation. Admiral Starke might think he was many things, but quitter was not what Lee wanted to be remembered as.
He dropped both hands into the rising water. The only useful tool he had on him was his khaki belt. If he could fling it up over the pipes that ran along the bottom of the deck above him…
Crane looked up, calculating. One pipe might not be enough to hold up his weight, but if he could get the belt over both of them, plus his buoyancy in the water…
First the water had to lift him up there. His ribs would not take any extension of his arms or prolonged hanging.
Lee fought to keep from shivering as the flood climbed up his chest. He pulled his tie down a few inches to free his collar from around his neck. Crane used one foot and then the other to remove his shoes. He'd float much easier without their dead weight. Then he unbuckled and pulled his belt free to have ready. It would not be long now.
“Ballast drain complete, sir. Damage control is now entering the tank access to seal off the valve.”
Chip Morton glanced at his watch and his eyes went once again to the status board where the lone red light glowed to indicate compartment D24 was still flooded. Crane had already been in there too long and they hadn’t even begun to drain the water. That was going to take even more time.
“Damn it, Lee,” Morton swore silently to himself, while he struggled to maintain his outer calm. “Why do you always have to be the one who finds trouble?”
He could only hope Crane had found a way to keep above the water. His best friend was a master diver; if anyone could survive a flooded compartment, it was Lee. Except Crane was far from one hundred percent at the moment. Hypothermia could take hold so fast…
Morton shook his head. Lee was a Seal; he had trained for cold exposure. Surely he would find a way to last an hour. Crane was mule stubborn; that alone might save him.
“We’re through the bulkhead. Attaching pump hose now.” Miller reported via the intercom.
Hang on, Lee. We’re going to get you out of there.
Chip reached for the mic. “
“Time to send Frank and Ski down to D deck.”
“On their way.”
The rising water had stabilized with the purging of the ballast tanks, but it was still too high for Lee to put his feet down and stand up in. His right arm was twisted into his looped belt clasped around the roof pipes to keep him on top of the water with a minimum of effort. He had wedged himself up into the far corner, sliding his belt along the pipes until he found enough clearance to maintain a prone float position into the compartment.
It was actually warmer to leave the back of his head down in the water than raising it up into the compressed air stream. It muffled the persistent noises coming from the other side of the bulkhead, making it harder to follow the repairs, but it made him shiver less. The boat kept shifting under Lee as well, fighting to maintain trim with one side of her ballast now completely empty.
Go with her when she rolls. Relax. Concentrate on breathing correctly to stay afloat. Keep the count. Breathe slow and even. Don’t pass out. Don’t go under. Don’t think how cold it is. Keep counting.
Lee was so intent on his float drill that the sudden loud clank startled him badly. He almost went under before he caught himself. Crane clutched his belt tighter; using that leverage to lift his head out of the disturbed water, as he tried to figure out what shattered his concentration on surviving. He immediately started to shiver as the blowing compressed air hit his wet hair and ears.
Almost immediately after that, the high pitched hiss of the compressed air shut down, throwing the compartment into an almost eerie silence, except for the sound of lapping water. That stillness was almost immediately shattered by a discordant clank, clank, clank. Lee turned his head toward the bulkhead and for the first time, did not displace any water with his chin.
The clanking finally settled into a recognizable rhythm, much faster than he was used to, but familiar nonetheless. They were pumping the water from his compartment into the ballast tank where it would drain back into the sea.
Lee relaxed, letting his belt bear most of his weight as he floated on the surface. He was definitely lower in the water, in relation to the top of the compartment. Soon he would be able to drop his legs down and not worry about going under. He was not going to drown.
Crane continued to breathe slowly and regularly, maintaining his float until he was at least a foot from the ceiling. His water-soaked right arm, wound in the hanging belt, was starting to feel the strain of holding him up. His mostly healed bullet wound in the same shoulder was also protesting being used in this fashion, and the immersion into salt water.
Lee cautiously let his legs drop and shifted his position to see if he could find the deck floor. His foot brushed something hard, which slid as soon as he touched it, which almost dunked him. Lee grasped his belt, pulling himself up out of the roiled waters.
That was the broken valve casing, not the deck. He angled himself away from the uneven surface and tried to touch down again. His bruised ribs could not take any sustained hanging, once the water no longer supported him, but the valve casing might.
Lee bravely undid his aching arm from his belt and swam a stroke over the casing to the less damaged side. Treading water with his hands, Crane was determined to find a solid perch for his feet, one that would allow him to stand while the water drained.
He reached down again with one foot. He hit something solid that didn’t move, so he let the other foot down. The water lapped chest high as he stopped treading and stood. Lee searched around with his left hand. He bounced off the valve wheel.
Using that as an anchor, Lee could see the water had sunk about two feet. It wasn’t easy to stand up in, as every movement he made sent water rippling in every direction only to come back and slap against his upper chest and neck.
As more of him became exposed to the air, Lee realized how chill the water really was. He began to shiver yet again, which only made the water bounce against him harder, constantly re-soaking what was out of the water. He was going to have to do something. Before the cold started doing the thinking for him.
Lee checked his watch. The diving model he wore out of habit confirmed he was well past time for hypothermia. If his increased shivering was any indication, he was losing that battle and would probably pass out before they pumped out enough water to make the hatch release. Lee grasped the wheel hard. He did not go through all this only to drown in the five inches of water that would be left below the hatch sensor when it released.
He had to find some way to stay upright, before the cold overtook him. Lee used the wheel to hoist himself up onto the valve assembly – what was left made almost a crude seat. If he passed out up here, he’d topple right off into the water.
There had to be a way. If only he could lash himself to the wheel. He should not have left his belt over the pipe. Now it was out of easy reach. Stupid. He didn’t think. He couldn’t think.
Lee clenched his right hand tight against his leg. Think. If only he could stop shivering. Shivering only made the water lap worse, making him even colder. He clenched an arm around his aching ribs and his loosened tie slid and bunched beneath it. Crane flinched as the fabric irritated. Why was he still wearing it? It was useless…
No, it wasn’t. Crane fumbled the material loose from under his arm and then reached up with both arms to untie the knot. He almost slid off the valve, as he overbalanced. Lee flung out his left arm, catching the valve wheel, an anchor that stopped him from falling off into the waist deep water.
He clung to the wheel for a moment to get his breathing and the shooting pain in his ribs under control again. Lee slowly scooted himself back up onto the valve. He was drenched enough; he did not relish another dunk in those now diminishing waters.
Carefully, using one hand, Crane slid the knot on his tie down until it released. Lee took up the now loose end and knotted it to the valve wheel. Then he carefully wrapped it around his left arm making sure he was bound tightly to the wheel. He wrapped the remainder around the curved metal and tied it off tight. If he slumped, it would be back against the valve control.
It was not a comfortable position but, with the grey fog that was overtaking his vision, Lee did not think he would care much longer. He wished he would stop shivering. The clank of the pump was fading into the greyness. Crane liked the grey mist that was closing in around him, it felt warm. He’d give most anything to feel warm again…
“Get that hatch open. Now!” Randy Miller looked up from the corridor mic. “The control room reports it has cycled green."
Kowalski spun the hatch wheel with practiced ease, and they all heard the watertight unseal. He swung the hatch aside so Frank could step over the rim with his med bag and blankets. Ski was right on his heels as they splashed through the puddled water.
Crane wasn’t hard to spot. He lay sprawled on top of the broken valve casing, the highest object in the room. The Captain was slumped against the valve wheel, limp and unmoving. His eyes were closed. With his head down on his chest, it was hard to tell if the Skipper was breathing. At least he was not face down on the deck.
Frank lost no time bundling a shock blanket around his still form but had to stop when he couldn’t pass it behind him.
“What the…” the paramedic pulled back.
Ski tried to lift Crane forward to help him and also encountered resistance. His questing fingers found fabric and knots.
“He’s tied himself to the wheel. Let me get him loose--“
“No time.” Frank slashed through the knotted tie with medical shears.
Ski had to move quickly to catch Crane as he slumped forward onto him.
Frank then wrapped the blanket deftly around the Skipper. “Tilt his head back. Is he breathing?”
“Barely.” Kowalski moved Crane into an easier position up against him so Frank could check his vitals. “He’s like ice.”
“Hypothermic shock,” Frank confirmed. “I’ve got a heartbeat, but not for long if we don’t get him out of here and warmed up. Let’s move.” Frank rapidly knotted the second rolled blanket into a carry. They hammocked Crane in between the knots.
Martin let Frank take the lead as they lifted him over the hatch and out into the hallway.
“Medical emergency!” Frank’s tense call scattered the damage control party to hug the corridor walls, so they could pass. Ski could see the worry on their faces. The Skipper was not going to die. Not on his watch. Not after the year they’d had together.
Randy Miller moved to the center of the corridor to reassemble his DCP. “Craig,” he motioned to his second, “Take Jenkins and do the repair inventory. Find out if it is repairable from stores.”
The junior officer went into the compartment with his clipboard and the rating.
Miller turned to the Admiral beside him, who was still gazing in the
direction that the pair carrying Crane to
“I can report to you later,” Miller offered.
Nelson turned to him. “No, if I have to abort Starke’s mission, he’ll want to know why. Let’s go have our look and see if she can be repaired.”
Ski sank down on the other exam bed for a moment to collect himself. The last hour had been intense. He glanced at the heart monitor that was now attached to Crane. It showed a normal rhythm and a steady pulse beat, even if that pulse number was still below where it should be.
They had finally reversed Crane's shock with every bit of heat therapy they had on board. The Skipper was slowly warming toward a more normal temperature. It wasn’t much of a gain, but at least he had stopped going up and then back down on them. They had nearly lost him to the cold.
The next time, he’d keep the Skipper in the hallway and go into the compartment himself to investigate. This latest medical emergency was the last thing the Skipper and the boat needed right now. He’d been assigned to keep Crane safe. That had worked out really well.
A hand fell on his shoulder.
“Get out of those wet sneakers. I have no time for another patient.” Jamieson shoved a pair of medical bed socks into his hands. “These will get you down to the laundry. You can take the Captain’s uniform there as well.”
The doctor’s hand tightened around his shoulder for a moment. “Go grab some rack time, Ski. I’ll get word passed to you, when there is anything to report. Now, scram. I’m expecting the brass any minute. It hasn’t been your watch for a while now and you aren’t mine.”
“I’m surprised they aren’t down here,” Martin admitted.
“Probably still making sure the boat doesn’t sink. It’s what they do.”
Kowalski grinned. “Thanks, Doc. For letting me help.”
Jamieson released his hand. “As long as he’s Captain, I have a feeling we will continue to need your help, Ski.”
Morton stood at the head of the rack, making his own assessment as Will ticked off what he, Frank and Ski had done to reverse Lee’s hypothermia to the Admiral. Nelson did not look happy. Chip knew Jamieson wasn’t.
At these times it was best not to say anything and listen. Lee was not moving. He had a grey cast to his features that Chip had only seen one or two times before. Times when they were not sure Lee was going to live.
“He’s not warming nearly as quickly as I’d like,” Jamieson was saying, “but Lee is finally responding. He won’t go into shock again, but I can’t tell you when he’ll be recovered, either. He was already walking wounded, has been for weeks, and I’m not talking about the bullet I removed from his shoulder six weeks ago or the ribs I had to rebind half an hour ago.” Will dragged a tired hand over his forehead. “I frankly don’t know how he’s still alive. I’ll do my best to keep him that way.”
“Would taking him to a hospital help?” Nelson asked.
"Normally, yes, but lately, given my recent observations of this particular patient, I'll say no. Lee has made a connection to this boat and crew; we may have to use that to pull him through."
"He is going to make it?" Nelson asked.
"I don't know. I'll support him with everything I have here and hope. Lee's pushed past anything I can judge against. His body will say enough and give out, no matter what I do."
"From what?" The Admiral demanded. "You said you reversed his shock."
"Exposure. Exhaustion. Do you really want the rest of the laundry list --?"
"How about a broken heart?" Chip offered. "You said it, Will. Lee has a connection to this boat. Only she's not his anymore."
Nelson scowled. "I knew we shouldn't have sailed!"
"Do you want to divert to
"I thought Admiral Starke had to have us in
"I know what I'd like to tell Starke!" Harry growled low.
Chip found himself grinning and immediately schooled his expression back to something more appropriate. Across the bed, he saw the same smile cross Will's features. It, too, disappeared immediately.
"Um... he is our CO, sir. We have to be under someone. He does understand our unique status better than most," Morton cautioned.
Nelson muttered something distinctly uncomplimentary as his eyes roved over Crane once more. He drew himself up.
"We’re putting in to
"Aye, sir," Chip acknowledged. "Flank speed?"
"Is she capable of that?"
"We're buttoned up. I think she'll hold, but
The Doctor smiled. "They show up here; I'll put them to work. That can serve to get the word passed."
Nelson turned away. "I'll draft a signal explaining everything to Jiggs. Don't let him kill the messenger!"
Harry reached out and touched Lee's arm, the one without the IV. "Stay with us, son. I'll be back later to check on you."
"Me, too, bud." Morton pressed the edge of the pillow below his hands.
"Hang in there."
"I'll keep both of you updated," Will promised.
"See that you do," Nelson replied.
Chip Morton stopped in the open
The last six weeks had very been hard for everyone on board. Starke was not helping by dragging out Lee's reinstatement. Morton had seen Forester's report. The Investigator had exonerated Lee of any complicity in his abduction and consequent brainwashing. Nelson wasn't supposed to share it, but he had. If they had only been able to show it to Lee. Maybe his friend's life would not now be hanging by an IV.
Jamieson stopped writing and looked up. "How long have you been lurking?" he asked sourly.
"This joint is deserted. Did you kick everyone else out?" Chip leaned easily against the door frame, waiting to be invited in.
The Doc sighed. “Ever try to herd cats?”
Morton smiled. “Once or twice. Doesn't work.”
Will looked up. “I have no progress to report to you, Captain,” he answered per protocol, “but, if you like to sit with your crew mate for a while, I have no objection. Talking to him might help. Lee’s remained stable, even if I can’t get him to improve.”
“Why do you think that is?” Chip walked into the small space and claimed the empty stool beside the bed that was probably there for Nelson.
Jamieson glanced at the clipboard. “Could be complete exhaustion. He’s been through so much in such a short time and each additional injury has had a detrimental effect on his recovery. I’m doing all I can. I have to admit I’ve never seen Lee this still for so long.”
“I really thought you’d be fighting to keep him here by now,” Chip admitted.
“So did I,” Will agreed. “I don’t like this.”
“Is there anything we can do?” Morton asked.
Will stood up. “Talk to him. Tell him about the boat. I don’t think Lee’s coma is so deep that he can’t hear you. We definitely need him to start responding to something.”
“It’s that serious?”
“It could be,” Will answered. “Another 24 hours like this and he will start to physically deteriorate. We certainly don’t need that complication. If you can get Lee to respond to you, it would really help.”
“The Admiral…” Chip raised an eyebrow.
“Not so far,” Jamieson admitted. “Lee hasn’t responded to any of us, which is so not like him. Can I get you some coffee from my office?”
“Not now. I’m turning in after this. How about you?”
Will cracked a wry smile. “I have help, remember. I sacked out after dinner. It got a little crowded in here. I’m fine for a while, but thanks for asking. Talk to Lee. While I'm writing up notes at the desk, I'll try to find something I haven’t yet tried to raise his body temperature. That’s not helping, either.”
Chip watched the Doctor walk away. If anyone could save Lee, it was Jamieson. Morton moved the stool closer to the bed. Time to do his part. He might have command, but he definitely did not want to keep it.
“He still isn't awake?” Nelson stopped in the frame of the
Jamieson sighed as he turned on the stool. "I have to admit, Lee has me this time. I could show you vital signs…”
Nelson waved a dismissing hand. “Those numbers only make sense to you.”
Will shrugged. “Lee should be awake. We don’t have a long history but, he has walked out of here to resume command with readings lower than these.”
“Do you have any idea why he won’t wake up?”
Jamieson gave him a sideways glance. “Do you really want to know what I think?”
“Always, Will.” Nelson stepped closer to the bed.
“I have no explanation for his continued unconsciousness other than Lee either can’t or won’t come back… for whatever reason. And only he knows what that reason is.”
Nelson moved to the edge of the bed. “Everyone has a breaking point.”
“You tell me. Is having this command that important to him?” Jamieson looked intently up at him.
Harry shrugged. “I’m convinced it is. Only I can’t make Jiggs give it back to him. Or, believe me, I already would have!”
Will clenched his hand around the rail in frustration. “Another day like this and Lee's muscles will start to atrophy beyond the ability to resume command, even if he does get it back. I needed him conscious hours ago.”
“Admiral,” the wall mic spoke.
Nelson walked over and clicked the mic. “Yes, Sparks.”
“Admiral Starke has come aboard.”
“I’ll be right there.” Nelson turned to leave. “Sit tight, Will. The solution to your medical conundrum may have arrived!”
“You’d better be right, Harry. Lee is running out of time.”
“Harriman... unhand me!”
Nelson continued to drag the unwilling Starke down the corridor after
him. He'd deal with whatever fallout there was later. Harry pushed the other
Admiral through the
Starke shook himself and straightened his jacket. “All right. I’m here.”
Harry nudged him closer to the rack. “Tell Lee he’s reinstated. You’re the reason he’s here. You sent this boat off on your cockamamie errand before she was ready for sea. Forester cleared him. You have absolutely no cause to withhold his command any longer!”
“Captain Crane!” Starke barked at the rack, clearly uncomfortable.
There was no response.
"So he can hear you, Jiggs.” Harry poked his friend a little harder. “Give him the full Starke.”
Jiggs turned away from the bed. “What good will that do? The man is unconscious.”
“Actually, he’s dying,” Jamieson interrupted softly from the foot of the bed. “I've done all I can, physically, to bring Crane around. He won’t respond.” The chief medical officer lifted one hand. “So, with all due respect, Admiral Starke, is his death the only way Lee Crane has left to prove his loyalty to this boat to you?”
“He’ll respond to your command, Jiggs. I know he will!” Harry urged. “Tell him to stop gold-bricking.”
Starke stared down at the recumbent officer, pale and unmoving. “Granted, Crane needed to be knocked down a peg or two, but I don’t want him dead, Harry.”
“Then help me. Yell at him.”
Jiggs squared his shoulders. “Captain Crane!” Starke bellowed suddenly,
in a tone that even made Nelson jump. “What is the meaning of this? I came here
to discuss mission details with you. And you are flat on your back in
Toward the end of his tirade, Lee suddenly twitched. Then he rolled his head slightly. First to one side and then the other, as his breathing quickened.
Jamieson donned his stethoscope. He laid it against Crane's outstretched wrist, listening intently.
Starke looked over at Nelson in shock, totally surprised he had gotten a reaction.
Harry signaled him to wait a moment.
Will removed the instrument.
Crane twitched again, moving restlessly in the rack.
The Doctor smiled suddenly. “That's more like it,” he observed.
Harry clapped his friend on the shoulder. “You've done it, Jiggs!”
“Always could get the pups in line with that tone,” Starke growled, almost pleased.
The doctor looked up. “Go take care of our guest, Admiral. I’ll call you when I have something to report.”
Nelson turned to Starke. “Come with me, Jiggs. Now we’ll discuss why this
boat isn’t in
Will knew it wouldn't be long before Lee was conscious. He laid his land lightly on the Captain's shoulder, knowing his touch would help. Crane was decidedly warmer than he had ever been the past two days. It had been a long, hard fight to get Lee back from his inadvertent and nearly fatal third injury.
Crane sighed and his eyelids fluttered.
Will decided to give him a little more help. “Easy, Skipper,” he said
softly, tightening his grip. “We’ve made it into
“Jamie?” Lee's voice was barely above a whisper. He opened his eyes as he shifted slightly from side to side, trying to identify where he was. “It was – so cold. I couldn’t – fight …”
“You were quite blue by the time they got you out. Hypothermia I can treat, but you have to help. Are you with me, Lee?”
“Yes...” Crane’s eyes drooped shut.
“Wiggle something. Anything. It will help.”
Lee's right leg twitched as he forced his eyes open again. “Pearl?” He blinked. “We were going to...”
Will shrugged. “With a broken valve that couldn't be repaired and you down, the Admiral scrubbed the mission. We thought you weren't going to make it. This is the third time you've been carried in here in the last six weeks, you know.”
Crane grimaced. “Ribs … still hurt.”
“That broken valve didn't help them any, but at least you didn't drown. Keep wiggling that leg.”
Lee twitched uncomfortably. “Nothing wants … to move.”
“Make it. It will.”
Crane rolled his head. “Slug. No good.”
“Actually, you know who I am; you know who you are; you know what happened to you. I plan to tell Admiral Starke you are fit to command this boat again. Wiggle your other leg.”
“How ... can I ... command … if I can't move?” Lee clenched his teeth as he made his legs roll back and forth on the mattress.
“We're tied to the dock, at least until they finish replacing that valve. I plan to have you up and walking by the time the repair is complete. If you help me.”
Lee shifted his head toward him and smiled-- a flash of white that boded well for his recovery. “How did the Admiral manage …?”
“He believes you had no part in your abduction, and he wants you in command of this boat. Admiral Starke had no choice but to reinstate you. That is, contingent on my signing off on your fitness. You keep moving that leg. I’ll go get Frank. We’ll have you sitting up before you know it.”
Chip was sure Lee was not up to an
Lee was asleep, or at least he looked asleep. Chip paused for a moment to take inventory before he announced himself. The fact Lee was now dressed in white pajamas and his plaid robe for walking around was draped over the foot of the bed meant Ski had come and gone. Crane's skin tone was still not quite back to olive, but Lee’s breathing was much deeper than it had been. Chip knew his friend was better.
“Captain?” he asked quietly, to let Crane know he was there.
Lee’s eyes fluttered open. “Chip,” he acknowledged in a much stronger voice. Hazel eyes gazed up at him again, but now they were bright with anticipation. Crane reached out for the clipboard he held in his hand.
Chip surrendered it, standing easy as his CO read down what he had compiled for him.
“You are on top of everything,” Lee observed. He unhooked the pen from the clip and initialed the page. “Good work.”
“The valve testing should wrap up tomorrow. Trust me; every other valve on this boat has been thoroughly inspected for cracks. More than once!”
Crane sighed. “It was one of those things that happen, Chip.”
Morton shrugged. “Well, this crew is determined it will never happen again! They have been miserable without you in command.”
“I’ve missed them, too.”
“Now you have the conn back, you need to keep it. The Navy did not pay to send you to three different command schools to do damage control, mister!”
Lee dropped his gaze. “I thought there was enough time for Ski to get back with the repair kit. Then it cracked, the alarm sounded, and the watertight sealed.”
“You put him through hell. If you had died, we probably would have lost one of our best crew members. Not much future for a rating that lets his Captain get killed, you know.”
Lee sat up in the rack. “It wasn’t Ski’s fault. I gave him the order.”
Morton reached out to close a hand around Lee’s arm. “Relax. Ski kept his head. Who did you think filled your compartment with compressed air, so it couldn’t flood completely? That’s why he does DC and you don’t!”
Crane slumped back onto his pillow and winced. “I haven’t been thinking too straight lately, have I?”
“Think?” Morton smiled. “No, bud, you react. You have good instincts.
You’ve saved us all, several times. You couldn’t kill the Admiral, no matter how
much they tried to reprogram you. Stop beating yourself up. Get better. You'll
need to be at the conn when we come back from
“Dry dock?” Lee bounced up again. “What’s wrong now?”
Morton smiled. “You proved the Flying Sub can fly, remember? The Admiral had this great idea to re-fit the lower observation deck into a hangar for her, since there is no place big enough in the missile room. He feels that is worth losing a bank of windows. He said you can use her down time to go to flight school with him. I’ll probably go as well. Randy’s never supervised part of a reconstruct; it would be good experience for him.”
“Is Miller ready?”
Chip nodded. “He can handle it once we have everything ordered and the work crews in place. It’s basically babysitting after that.”
Crane swung his legs over the side of the bed. “I think I’m slept out. Jamie says I need to walk, rebuild my stamina… Help me up?”
Morton extended an elbow for his friend and Captain to latch onto. “There’s a freshly drawn blueprint of the nose in the wardroom for you to look at and modify. Do you want to amble down there?"
Lee turned to look at the rack he had risen from and gave a theatrical shudder. “Coffee and a drafting pencil sound great. Let’s go.”
Chip handed his friend his robe from the foot of the bed and then helped him into it. Crane knotted the sash. Morton eased Lee out the door, matching his slow, but steady stride. Once Cookie saw Crane, any leftovers from Starke’s grand dinner would be reheated and served. A second helping from that feast was fine with him.