by J. Lynn
The man at the desk heard the planes overhead and the whine of incoming missiles. The sounds of fighting in the street could also be heard even though the windows were all closed. General Alvarez knew he didn't have much time left. The cursed resistance, with American military support, would soon defeat his troops and take the Palace. He would be removed from office and that fool, Douarte, would return from exile and be President once again. He had been in power for a year now, and he thought he had crushed the resistance, but they were stronger and more determined than he had realized. They also had received assistance from the American spy who was imprisoned in the cell in the basement of the Palace. Even though this spy had been captured and tortured, he had somehow managed to sneak secret information about the General's military installations to the underground. One man was responsible for his defeat and in the little time the General had remaining, he would see that the spy paid for his treachery.
The General opened the bottom drawer of his desk and pulled out a small locked box. Using a small key on his key ring, he selected two vials. He took the other two vials into the bathroom attached to his office and poured the contents into the sink. He rinsed the vials out carefully and then returned them to the box. Leaving the box open on his desk, he left his office with the two vials he had selected.
When he got downstairs to the basement cells, he discovered that even the guard had fled. There was only one cell that was occupied and he went straight to it. The dark-haired man inside the cell was still shackled to the chair, but he was no longer sitting straight and defiant as he had been when he was first brought in. His head hung down, and the General wasn't even sure he was conscious. He was strong, that one, and despite the beatings and other painful tortures, he had revealed nothing about the underground. He may not have been broken, but he could be made to die and the General was skilled in bringing death to his enemies. He took out his key ring and selected the key for the cell. He entered the cell and, grabbing the prisoner's hair, roughly pulled his head up. His eyes were open, but they were dull, and his breathing was slow and labored. He didn't respond when the General roughly shook him by the hair.
"Do you hear the sound of missiles and gunfire outside? Are you gloating in the knowledge that I will soon have my power stripped from me? You have nothing to gloat about, evil American spy, because they will never take me. I will die first and so will you. The difference is that I will die quickly, but you will die slowly, inch by inch, completely aware that death is coming for you." He opened one of the two vials he had brought with him and tore open the prisoner's bloody shirt. He poured some of the liquid from the vial into the open wounds and then he carefully put the cap back on the vial.
"It is poison, American spy, and it takes only a little to kill. It will take some time and maybe they'll find you before death comes, but it won't matter because no one can save you. You will die and you will die knowing it was by my hand!"
The General left the cell, locking it behind him. He returned to his office and drank the contents of the second vial. As before, he went into the bathroom and rinsed out the vials. Then, he sat down at his desk and put the empty vials back into the box. He locked it and returned it to its place in the bottom drawer. Then he put his keys into the top drawer. Finally, he sat back in his chair and waited for the poison to take effect. He didn't wait long.
Nelson looked at Seaview's Executive Officer who was sitting in the chair beside the desk in Nelson's cabin. His face seemed almost expressionless, but Nelson had known him long enough to recognize the subtle signs that the Exec wasn't happy with the orders he had been given.
"Chip, I know you'd rather be going with us to get Lee, but I can't have Seaview under the command of a junior officer when President Douarte comes aboard. Lee would have both our heads if that happened. You know you're the only other person he really trusts to command Seaview."
Chip smiled at the idea of the Admiral being afraid of Lee's wrath, but the smile was short-lived. "I know you're right, Admiral, but I still wish I could do more to help Lee. We know General Alvarez took him into custody and who knows what he did to him when the uprising started!"
"I know, Chip, I know. We just have to hope that the General has been so busy dealing with the fighting that he hasn't thought about Lee. Our contact in the underground will meet us as soon as we go ashore and we'll go straight to where Lee's being held."
The intercom interrupted the Admiral. "Sharkey to Admiral Nelson."
"Go ahead, Chief."
"The Flying Sub's ready for launch and Doc and Kowalski are already on board with me."
"On my way, Chief. Chip, I'll contact you as soon as we have Lee. In the meantime, you pick up President Douarte and bring him to the capital city at flank speed. His people need to see his triumphant return."
"Good luck, Admiral."
Under cover of darkness, the Flying Sub landed on the beach just long enough for three men garbed in black to disembark. Then, it slid into the water. Sharkey would take the little craft a few miles offshore and wait for the signal to return to the beach to retrieve the three men and, hopefully, his Captain.
Nelson, Kowalski, and Jamison sat down at the edge of the forest and waited for their contact to appear. They were impatient to go after Lee so the wait seemed like hours even though it was actually only minutes. They were surprised to see a young girl slip out from behind a tree, but when she spoke the code words, they knew she had to be from the underground. In a very low whisper she directed them to follow her and then quickly started off.
After about an hour they arrived at a small house on a quiet street. She led them inside and then ushered them straight down into the basement. The basement had obviously been pressed into use as a hiding place. There were several cots set up and a small table with four chairs was in one corner.
The girl spoke first, looking at Nelson. "I assume you are Admiral Nelson?"
The Admiral answered, "Yes, I am, and these men are Kowalski and Doctor Jamison."
She acknowledged the introductions with a slight nod to each man. "It will be daylight in less than three hours. If we are to rescue your Captain tonight, we must hurry. I know exactly where he is being held, because it is my job to take food to the prisoners in the Palace. The guards never suspected that I also work for the underground." Looking at Jamison, she said, "It is good you brought your doctor. Your Captain is not in very good shape, but when I left him earlier this evening, he was still alive. Alvarez wanted information about the underground very badly and he is a brutal man. Your Captain is a very brave man and he revealed nothing, but he suffered greatly."
Nelson's face became very grim as she spoke. She continued, "Now, if you are ready, I will take you to your Captain."
Despite all the fighting outside the Palace, they were able to get inside rather easily. They suspected that all of Alvarez's personal guards had deserted their leader to save themselves. The girl led them to the cells in the basement and to the cell where the Captain was imprisoned. Nelson drew in his breath sharply at the site of Lee slumped down in the chair. He called his name softly, but there was no response. He tried to open the cell door, but found it locked. While Doctor Jamison looked in the guard's desk for keys, Kowalski quickly prepared a small explosive device and attached it to the lock. Doc found the keys just as Kowalski blew the lock. They all rushed inside, but Nelson and Kowalski let Jamison be the first to reach Crane. He handed the keys in his hand to Kowalski and gently lifted the Captain's head and felt for a pulse in his neck.
"He's alive, Admiral, but he's in deep shock." He saw that the Captain was shackled to the chair. "What are we going to do about those? We have to get him to some place where I can treat him right away."
Kowalski had been looking at the keys Jamison had handed him. One of the keys looked like it might open the shackles. He knelt down and tried it on one of the shackles on the Captain's ankles. It worked! Quickly, he opened the others and then helped Jamison ease the Captain out of the chair and down onto the ground. Lee moaned slightly as they moved him, opening his eyes and looking at the Admiral bending over him. It seemed like there was a flicker of recognition in his eyes, but they closed again as he slipped back into unconsciousness. Three pairs of hands reached to lift the Captain, but Kowalski looked at the other two men and said, "It's allright, I can manage by myself. It will be faster this way." Then the burly seaman carefully picked up Crane and carried him out of the cell.
When they got back to the basement hiding place in their contact's house, Dr. Jamison busied himself tending the Captain. He had brought a generous amount of emergency supplies with him and in addition to bandaging the Captain's wounds, he was also able to start IV fluids and antibiotics. When he'd done as much as he could for the Captain, he turned to Nelson and Kowalski. "He's been severely beaten. There's deep bruising, broken ribs, and even some open wounds. He's badly dehydrated and has a fever of 102 degrees which is probably due to infection. I don't think he has any internal injuries, but I won't know for sure until we get him back to Seaview and I can do a more thorough examination. I think we can move him safely and I'd like to get him to Sickbay as soon as possible."
As he finished speaking, the girl came downstairs and spoke, "I'm afraid that you will have to wait. There's heavy fighting on the beach where you landed. It is too dangerous to try to get an injured man through. You will have to stay here until the fighting eases."
Nelson was impatient to get the Captain back to Seaview. "You're sure there's no way we can go around the fighting and get to the rendezvous point?"
"I am sure, Admiral. You will have to stay. I will see about bringing you something to eat and then you should rest so you will be ready to go when the fighting is over."
None of the men were happy about the delay, but they knew they couldn't risk trying to get the Captain through an area of heavy fighting, so they resigned themselves to waiting. They took turns sleeping and sitting by the Captain. His fever refused to break so they used cold compresses to try and make him more comfortable. Most of the time he appeared to be unconscious, but several times he opened his eyes and seemed to recognize the person caring for him, though he never spoke and soon drifted off again.
Twenty-four hours passed and they were getting more impatient with every passing minute. The Captain was still unconscious and feverish and Jamison's IV fluids and antibiotics were nearly exhausted. The Captain was holding his own, but his condition would soon deteriorate if he didn't get to Sickbay and proper care.
Nelson was just about to go upstairs to summon the girl and tell her they couldn't wait any longer when he heard the door open. Obviously, the girl wasn't alone because he heard several voices and the footsteps of several pairs of feet. Indeed, she was not alone, accompanying her was President Douarte who greeted his old friend Admiral Nelson warmly. "Admiral, it is good to see you in one piece. I have been very worried about my good friend."
"Mr. President," Nelson replied, "I'm equally glad to see you back in your own country where you belong. Have you been to the Palace yet?"
"No, when I learned that you were overdue in returning to Seaview, I contacted the underground for news of you and came straight here. We can talk more later, now we must see to your brave Captain." He walked over to stand beside the Captain's bed and looked down at the dark-haired man lying there. "The members of the underground told me of his great courage and the large debt we owe him. I have a military escort with me and they will escort you through the fighting to your rendezvous point."
Nelson's relief showed in his face, "Thank you, Mr. President. Captain Crane is in urgent need of more medical care than is possible here. We appreciate your help when you have the welfare of your country on your mind."
"I would not be here in my country if it were not for your Captain's courage and your country's assistance. Now, go. I will contact you later when I am in the Palace."
In less than hour, the men of the Seaview were in the Flying Sub rushing the Captain back to Seaview. As a show of respect for his courage, the Captain was piped aboard as he was lifted from the Flying Sub. He was quickly rushed to Sickbay and the boat was very silent as all the crew, each in his own way and according to his own beliefs, honored their Captain in their thoughts and prayers.
Several hours later, the Admiral and the Exec were summoned to Sickbay. They came through the Sickbay door, breathless from running the entire way, and were greeted by a tired, but smiling Jamison. "I think he's going to be fine. There's no sign of internal injuries and apparently he's starting to respond to the antibiotics because his fever is coming down. He's conscious so you can talk to him, but he's very weak, so don't stay more than a few minutes."
The Admiral and the Exec walked to their friend's bedside and the Admiral gently called his name. Lee opened his eyes sleepily and looked from one to the other. His voice was weak, but the words were clear and sounded just like the Captain, "You two look awfully grim--aren't you glad to see me?"
Nelson snorted, "We look grim, do we! Next time we'll go off and let you do the worrying and then we'll see who looks grim! You've had us very worried."
"Jamie says I'm going to be fine so you can stop worrying. Is everything allright with Seaview? What about President Douarte?"
Chip spoke up, "Now who's worrying, Lee? Seaview's fine and President Douarte has been delivered. Stop worrying and get some rest."
Nelson's voice was gentle as he said, "And that's an order, Lee."
"Aye, Sir," said Lee as his eyes closed.
Nelson and Chip exchanged relieved smiles as they left Sickbay. Sparks' voice over the intercom called for the Admiral and he reached for the nearest mike, "What is it, Sparks?"
"Admiral, President Douarte would like to speak with you."
"I'll take it in my cabin." The Admiral turned to the Exec. "Chip, come with me. I'd like you to be in on this."
Nelson entered his cabin and quickly crossed to the desk. He sat down in the chair and activated the speaker on his desk. Chip stood behind him.
"President Douarte, it's good to hear from you. Are you in the Palace?"
Yes, Admiral, I am. It was not a difficult battle, since most of Alvarez's guard had already fled the Palace. Alvarez is dead. Apparently, he took poison rather than be captured. His death has complicated the situation. If he were alive, we would negotiate the surrender of his government with him directly. Now, there are several military heads who are all claiming the right to be represented at any surrender negotiations. They are refusing to call a cease fire until negotiations begin."
"Mr. President, it was my understanding that the negotiations were to take place on the destroyer Eisenhower with the President of the United States overseeing the talks."
"Yes, Admiral, that is the plan, but Admiral Stark has advised me that it will be several days before the Eisenhower arrives. Many people will die while we wait for the Eisenhower. Admiral, would it be possible for preliminary talks to be held aboard Seaview? It would save many lives."
"We are under orders to provide any assistance you require, Mr. President. However, Seaview does not have the facilities for negotiations involving a great number of people. Could you limit the number of participants to less than twenty?"
"I am sure that is possible, Admiral. I will contact you after I've talked to the others. Once again, I thank you for your help."
After breaking the connection, the Admiral turned to Chip, "Some of those military leaders may know about Lee's undercover work and may try to avenge Alvarez. Better have a guard in Sickbay with Lee at all times."
"Aye, Sir. I'll set up the assignments."
Kowalski shifted position in his chair in Sickbay. He didn't want to fidget too much in case he'd disturb the Captain, but if he didn't move once in a while, he'd fall asleep. Suddenly, he heard a familiar soft voice call his name and he quickly went over to his Captain's side.
"Skipper, do you need something? Want me to get the Doc?"
"No, I'm okay, Ski, just tired. What are you doing here, are you sick?"
"Nah, I'm fine, Skipper. President Douarte and some of Alvarez's generals are having some sort of talks here on Seaview and the Admiral is afraid that some of those generals might be carrying a grudge against you."
"The Admiral worries too much."
"We all do, Sir. Now, why don't you go back to sleep and I'll keep a sharp eye out."
"Thanks, Ski." The Captain's eyes closed as he went back to sleep.
Jamison had been looking on from his office and nodded approvingly at the exchange between Kowalski and the Captain. Kowalski had been a good choice for a guard since his presence seemed to soothe the Captain. There had always been a special relationship between the Captain and Kowalski despite the fact that the Captain had decked Kowalski at their first meeting. Kowalski had a calming effect on the Captain, Jamison noted, and that should definitely help his recovery.
Two days later, Jamison was growing concerned. The Captain wasn't arguing to be let out of Sickbay. In fact, he was unusually quiet and he seemed to be having increasing difficulty with coordination. He hadn't eaten much breakfast and, after watching him out of the corner of his eye, Jamie suspected it was because he found handling the silverware too difficult. He didn't want to alarm the Captain, but he had to check this out. He picked up the ship's status report that Chip had left for Crane. Jamison hadn't wanted to show it to the Captain just yet, but decided he might be able to use it to find out what he needed to know. Extending the clipboard with the report in the Captain's direction, he said "Skipper, I know you must be bored cooped up in here. Tell you what, I'll let you look at the ship's status report that Chip left for you."
Lee reached for the clipboard but it dropped right out of his hand. Fear showing in his eyes, he looked up at the doctor, "Jamie, I don't know what's wrong. I've been dropping things, reaching for things and missing--I can't seem to get my body to do what I want it to."
"Easy, Skipper. We'll figure out what's going on. It might just be some residual weakness left over from the dehydration and fever. Just relax while I check you out."
Several hours later, Jamison was in his office, scowling at the results of the tests he had run on Captain Crane. He looked through the open door into Sickbay at the Captain who was sleeping. At least he could postpone giving him the bad news for a little while. But he couldn't postpone telling the Admiral and the Exec, they had to know now. He closed the door to Sickbay and then returned to his desk. He hesitated for a brief moment and then resolutely pressed the button and asked that the Admiral and Exec report to his office.
As soon as they entered Jamison's office, the Admiral and Chip knew that something was very wrong. The Admiral spoke first, "What is it, Jamie--you wouldn't have that look on your face if the news was good."
"I noticed that the Skipper seemed to be having some trouble with his motor coordination, dropping things and having difficulty manipulating small objects in his hands. I ran some tests and the results show that the Captain has been poisoned with a slow-acting poison. It was probably already in his system when we rescued him. Lee has a vague memory of someone in his cell talking about poison and a slow death, but he can't remember exact details."
The Exec was the first to find his voice, "If the poison is slow-acting, won't that give you enough time to find an antidote?"
Jamison replied, "It's not that easy. I think the poison is an exotic poison that some Middle East terrorist groups were using. I don't know who might have an antidote or even if there is one."
Nelson spoke quietly, "Jamie, tell us what you do know about this poison."
"I think he's been given a poison that interferes with the brain's ability to transmit messages. It doesn't destroy the brain, but it might just as well, since it effectively shuts it down. Lee's motor coordination is deteriorating and soon will progress to paralysis. Next, his body will have trouble performing more automatic functions like breathing and maintaining a steady heartbeat. We can maintain those functions through life support machines, but eventually the machines will destroy his body. Of course, by then he'll no longer know what's happening because higher functions will be lost and he'll be in a coma."
Nelson was quiet for several minutes, thinking furiously. "U.S. Intelligence had information on many of the poisons used by terrorist groups--they even had samples of the poisons and the antidotes. So that's one avenue we can try. And, Douarte said Alvarez died from poison. I'll bet he either gave the poison to Lee or ordered it. It's possible we could find the antidote among his possessions. I'll talk to Douarte about that. Jamie, you said the brain isn't destroyed, just prevented from functioning, right? If there's no permanent damage, then the antidote could restore full functioning as long as Lee is still alive?"
"Yes, if we can find an antidote. And, there's Lee's wishes to consider in all this--how long he would want to live on machines if there isn't definite hope of recovery."
"Have you told Lee yet?"
"No, he was asleep by the time I had all the test results. I didn't see any reason to wake him up to deliver bad news." Jamison's voice broke and he turned his face away to hide the emotion. "I'm sorry. A doctor isn't supposed to get emotional about his patients, but this is Lee. I've fought to save his life more times than I like to remember. But this time is different, because unless we find the antidote, I'm going to have to stand by doing nothing and watch him die."
"Jamie, you wouldn't be a good doctor if you didn't care about your patients and we all know Lee is something special. He's the center for all of us on Seaview, including Seaview herself. When you tell Lee, tell him that we'll all do everything we can to find an antidote for him. I'll call in every favor I can to find someone who can tell me if there's an antidote hidden away somewhere. And, if you supply me with some of his blood, I'll see what I can do to figure out an antidote."
"Admiral," Chip spoke up. "I also think that Jamie should also tell him that I've gone to the palace to try to find the antidote."
Nelson looked at Morton. He knew it was dangerous to send Chip to the Palace--there was still a great deal of fighting around the area. He didn't want to risk Chip's life in a vain attempt to help Lee, but Nelson knew Chip would never forgive him if he didn't let him try to save his friend's life. "Allright, Chip, just be careful."
"Aye, Sir. What about the men, should they be told?"
The Admiral was silent a few moments and then replied, "Yes, they should be told. They care about Lee, too. But no ship-wide announcement--I'll tell Douarte but I don't want Alvarez's generals to know about this. It makes Lee even more vulnerable to someone carrying a grudge. Get the men together in small groups and tell them. Make sure they know not to discuss it anywhere on the boat where the generals could overhear them."
Over the next few hours, nearly every crew member came into the Sickbay to spend a few minutes with the Captain. Most were ill at ease at first, uncertain of what to say, but the Captain spoke quietly to each of them about their work or about their families and drew them out. No one actually used the word good-bye, but everyone knew that was why they were there.
At one point Jamison looked up and saw President Douarte standing in the corridor just outside the open Sickbay door. He went over to him and asked, "Mr. President, is there anything I can do for you?"
"No, Doctor Jamison. I was going to speak to the Captain, to express my gratitude for his actions on behalf of my country and also to express my deep regrets about what has been done to him, but I don't want to interrupt his time with his men. It is obvious they care about him very much."
"Yes, Mr. President, they do. They know he always puts their welfare above his own and they have great respect and affection for him."
"Dr. Jamison," President Douarte said, "Please tell the Captain I was here and tell him I will be praying for him."
"Of course, Mr. President." replied Jamison. After President Douarte departed, Jamison went back into the Sickbay. Despite being on oxygen, Lee was having increasing difficulty breathing and his distress was obvious both to the doctor and to Chief Sharkey who was sitting by the Captain. Jamison motioned to Sharkey to end his visit and the Chief took his leave of the Captain. Jamison looked down at his patient, "Lee, I think we'd better get you on a ventilator."
Lee looked at him and tried to smile, but it was a frightened smile. "The 'instrument of torture,' you mean..... before you do it....., could you ask the Admiral to come here..... I'd like.....to talk to him."
"Of course, Lee, I'll call him."
When Nelson entered Sickbay, he couldn't help but cringe at Lee's obvious struggle to breathe. He quickly went over and put a hand on his Captain's arm. "Lee, I'm here."
Lee turned his head in the Admiral's direction. "Admiral...I want you....to promise me....that if you don't.....find the antidote.....that you won't.....blame yourself.....Chip, too."
"I'll try, Lee, that's the best I can do."
"And promise me.....that you'll take care of Seaview.....talk to her....if I can't."
"I'll do it, even if I do look like a damn fool."
Lee smiled at that and then his expression grew serious as he turned to Jamison, "Jamie......I want you......to promise me.......when there's no hope......you'll turn off the machines."
Jamison replied, "I promise, Lee."
Lee turned back to Nelson, "Admiral.....you have to know.....and tell the crew.....being with.....everyone......on Seaview......was.....the best." His eyes grew wide with fright as he couldn't take the next breath.
Jamie motioned Frank over and spoke softly to the Captain, "Lee, it's time. I'm going to spray your throat to numb it a bit and make it easier to put the tube down your throat." Jamison continued to talk soothingly to his patient as he and Frank performed the procedure.
Nelson couldn't watch even though he knew Jamison and his corpsman were being as gentle as possible. When it was over, he could see that some of the strain was gone from Lee's face, but he was obviously still very frightened. He laid his hand on the Captain's arm and said, "Don't give up, Lee. None of the rest of us have. Just hang on." He squeezed the Captain's arm as he said, "I'm going back to the lab to continue working on the antidote. I'll see you later."
Chip went through the desk in Alvarez's office. He'd already been through Alvarez's quarters, searching all his clothes and personal belongings. He'd also searched every piece of furniture in this room and the adjoining rooms. If he didn't find anything in the desk, then he would have failed his friend. Pushing that thought aside, he opened each of the drawers in turn and carefully went through the contents. When he got to the last drawer, he found the locked box. He remembered the keys he saw in the top drawer so he retrieved them and, after trying several keys, found the one that opened the box. His heart sank when he realized all the vials were empty. He had so hoped he would find the antidote that would save his friend. He closed the box again and put it under his arm. He'd take the box back to Seaview. Maybe the Admiral could find a trace of the antidote. It as a slim hope, but it was all he had. It was all Lee had.
Walking down the corridor outside the lab on their way to the crew's quarters, Patterson and Riley could hear the Admiral's voice through the closed door. The Admiral was shouting and even though the crewmen knew better than to deliberately eavesdrop on a conversation, they couldn't help overhearing this one.
"General Dean, I don't want to hear you use the word 'classified' again. I know all about national security. Giving me information about an antidote for the poison given to Captain Crane will not compromise national security. You will not be revealing secrets to the enemy. I am not the enemy. Captain Crane is not the enemy. He is one of the best men I have ever known. This country needs him. Think beyond your blasted regulations for once!"
There was a brief silence and then Patterson and Riley heard renewed shouting, several decibels louder if that was possible.
"General, you are nothing more than a....a.....bureaucrat in uniform. The worst kind of bureaucrat--one who can't think for himself. I'll see that you answer for this, General. That is not a threat, General, that is a promise! Nelson out!"
There was another period of silence, but this time it was broken by the sound of pounding on a table. That sound depressed the two crewmen even more than the words they'd overheard because it expressed frustration and failure. They were counting on the Admiral to save the Skipper. He couldn't fail. He had to save him, he just had to!
When Chip returned to Seaview, the mood on the boat was very somber. O'Brien informed him that the Captain was on a ventilator and had slipped into a coma. The Admiral, he said, was in the lab. Morton left the Control Room and headed straight for the lab. When he entered the lab, the Admiral looked at him with hope in his eyes, "Did you find anything?"
Chip replied, "I found this box with several vials in it, but they're all empty. I was hoping maybe you could find a trace of the antidote in one of them."
The Admiral reached for the box and took out the vials. He brushed a swab on the inside of one of the vials and then rubbed the residue onto a slide. He repeated the process on each vial. Then, one by one, he examined the slides under the microscope. When he raised his head, the Exec saw defeat in his eyes. "There's only water in these. Apparently, he rinsed them out so there'd be no trace of the poison or the antidote."
He slammed his hand down on the table. "Damn! I can't isolate the chemicals in Lee's blood--I've called everybody I know in Intelligence and can't shake loose any information on the poison. They just say it's "classified." They're willing to let Lee die, but I'm not. I just don't know what else I can do."
Before Chip could answer, Sparks' voice came over the intercom. "Admiral Nelson, Admiral Stark just contacted us. The Eisenhower has arrived and Admiral Stark and the President are on their way to the Seaview."
The Admiral's voice was brusque as he replied, "We're on our way, Mr. O'Brien. Assemble the honor guard to greet the President."
The crew of the Seaview accorded the President the proper honors, but there was none of the excitement that normally would accompany a Presidential visit. Jiggs Stark had only to look at Nelson's face to know his friend was deeply upset about something.
The U.S. President greeted Admiral Nelson warmly. He had consulted with him on numerous occasions and respected the Admiral's intelligence and integrity. "Admiral, thank you for your warm welcome. Before I greet President Douarte and invite him and the generals to join me on the Eisenhower, let me express my gratitude to you, to your crew, and to Captain Crane, for your invaluable assistance with this mission." The President looked around at the assembled men. "I see Captain Crane isn't here right now. I take it he is still recovering. Would it be possible for me to speak to him and personally express my gratitude?"
Nelson sighed in deep grief. "Mr. President. I wish it were possible. Captain Crane is in Sickbay, in a coma. He was poisoned while Alvarez had him in custody and we have been unable to find an antidote."
Stark gasped, "Poison, what kind of poison? Do you know?"
Nelson replied, "Dr. Jamison believes it is a poison developed by Middle East terrorists. I remember hearing that Intelligence had samples of these poisons and the antidotes, but I've called everyone I know in Intelligence and no one will even confirm that such samples exist." He continued with bitterness in his voice, "Preserving their classified secrets is more important than saving a good man's life."
Stark placed a hand on Nelson's shoulder. "I'm sorry, Harry. You're right, he is a good man. I know how much you value him both as an officer and as a friend."
The U.S. President spoke and his voice carried the full authority of his office. "They won't keep secrets from me! Admiral, did you speak to General Dean? If I call him, will he know the details of the poison that was used?"
Nelson stammered slightly as he replied, "Yes, yes, Sir, I did. And, yes, he should remember the details."
"Then," the President said, "May I use your communications equipment?"
Nelson answered quickly, "Of course, of course, Mr. President." He led him over to the radio shack. "This is Sparks, our communications officer. Sparks, give the President all the assistance he requires." He stepped aside so the President could give Sparks instructions on placing the call.
Time seemed to stand still and every man in the Control Room found himself holding his breath as the President spoke to the General. Finally, the President raised his voice so everyone in the Control Room could hear him. "Thank you, General Dean. You can expect Admiral Nelson and Admiral Stark to be there as fast as Nelson's Flying Sub can get them there. You will have the antidote ready when they arrive. We will discuss your unwillingness to assist the Admiral when I am in back in Washington. You have your orders, General."
The President smiled at Admiral Nelson. "Admiral Nelson, Admiral Stark, you also have your orders. You are to leave immediately and secure the antidote for Captain Crane. While you are gone, I am sure the officers on Seaview and on the Eisenhower can take care of transferring President Douarte and the generals to the Eisenhower. Godspeed, gentlemen."
Nelson replied gratefully, "Yes, Sir. Thank you, Mr. President. Jiggs, we're about to set a new Flying Sub speed record. Mr. Morton, prepare the Flying Sub for immediate launch."
In Sickbay, Doc sat next to his comatose patient. Other life support equipment had been added to the ventilator and the various sounds from these devices were the only sounds in Sickbay. Jamison was bone-tired, so tired that he was afraid he would fall asleep in his chair, but he couldn't leave his patient. Especially not when there was finally a ray of hope.
Admiral Nelson and Admiral Stark did indeed set a new speed record. Nelson rushed the antidote to Sickbay while Stark called the Eisenhower to inform the President they had returned with the antidote. Jamison quickly administered the antidote to the Captain. Stark entered Sickbay and stood next to Nelson. "The President told me to wait with you," he said. "He wants to be informed if there is any change in Crane's condition."
Jamison looked at the two men and cautioned them that they would have to be patient. The poison had been in the Captain's system for quite some time and it would take a while to reverse the effects. Nelson drew a chair over to the Captain's bed and settled down to keep vigil with his friend. Stark pulled up another chair beside him and the three men all were quiet as they offered silent encouragement to the man lying so still on the bunk. There was the same hush all over Seaview as the men poured all their respect for their Captain into their silent wishes for his recovery.
Lee was aware of voices speaking quietly. He recognized two of the voices immediately, Nelson's and Jamison's, but the third voice puzzled him. He wanted to know who else was there so he opened his eyes and tried to take a breath in order to speak. The ventilator tube in his throat choked him and he began to struggle against it.
Jamison was on his feet in an instant, "Skipper, don't fight the ventilator. You seem to be able breathe on your own so I'll remove it, but just relax first--it will make it easier."
Lee relaxed at the soothing tone and then Jamison began the procedure to remove the tube, instructing Lee to cough at the proper time and then to relax and breathe slowly. He watched the Captain's breathing carefully for a few minutes and then smiled at him.
"You're going to be just fine, Skipper, if you listen to me and rest. Admiral Nelson and Admiral Stark brought you the antidote, by Presidential order!"
The Captain turned to the two Admirals and said in a hoarse whisper, "By Presidential order?"
Admiral Stark's voice boomed out in the quiet Sickbay, "That's right, Crane. The Admiral here kept getting the run around by Intelligence, but the President wouldn't listen to their nonsense and ordered them to release the antidote."
Lee looked stunned, "The President did that for me?"
"Well, of course, he did, Crane. I told him that Seaview needs someone to talk to her and keep her happy and the Admiral here is too embarrassed to do it."
Lee flushed with embarrassment, "Admiral Stark, you didn't really tell him that, did you?"
"Actually, I didn't, but maybe I will."
"Oh, no, Sir, please don't. It's private, Sir."
Nelson decided that it was time to end this conversation before Lee got too upset from Stark's ribbing. "Lee, I'll make sure your secret is safe. I know a few secrets about Jiggs here that I'm sure the President would find interesting."
"Harry, you wouldn't"
"Of course I would unless you promise here and now to keep Captain Crane's secret. He needs to concentrate on getting well and he won't be able to do that if he's worried about what you'll say to the President."
Stark pretended to look wounded, "All right, Harry, I promise."
Nelson smiled at Lee, "There you are, Lee, you have his word. Now the only thing you have to worry about is getting well."
Jamison spoke up next, "And if he's going to get well, he has to rest. Gentlemen, I'm going to have to ask you to leave now. The Skipper needs his rest, and from the looks of both of you, you do, too."
"You'd better listen to him," said Lee in a soft voice, "or he might use one of his 'torture devices' on you." He gave the surprised Jamison a sleepy smile and then closed his eyes before Jamison could think of a suitable reply.
The Admiral laughed with relief and joy. Lee was going to be allright! He clapped Stark on the shoulder and led him to the door, saying, "I think he's right, Jiggs. Lee's been a patient here so many times, he's familiar with all the doctor's 'torture devices'. We'd better get out of here fast!"
Kowalski and Patterson were in the Observation Nose preparing for the arrival of President Douarte, the President of the United States, and Admiral Stark. They had been told to set up a podium and chairs for a ceremony. Kowalski was muttering under his breath and Patterson looked over at him. "Hey, Ski, what's eating you?"
Kowalski put a final chair in place and turned to Patterson. "I don't think this ceremony is such a good idea, Patterson. I don't think the Skipper is up to it. I was in Sickbay to get this cut on my hand stitched yesterday and while Frank was doing the honors, I heard the Doc talking to the Skipper. The Skipper was reading the ship's status report and Jamison took it away from him, saying he had to rest. Usually, the Skipper would get really mad over that, but he didn't. He just argued a little bit, but not like he meant it, more like he just thought he should. Then, he didn't say one word when Doc fussed around with the blankets and stuff. That's not like the Skipper! I tell you, these big shots aren't thinking about the Skipper, they just want to use him to make themselves look good for the cameras and the reporters and it's not right."
Kowalski was so caught up in his righteous indignation, he didn't notice Patterson was frantically motioning him to be quiet. Patterson had noticed that Admiral Nelson and all the other "big shots" were coming down the spiral stairs behind Kowalski.
Kowalski soon learned of their presence as he heard the Admiral's voice speak his name in a very ominous tone. He turned to face the Admiral's wrath, but before the Admiral could speak, President Douarte intercepted him. "Admiral, you should not discipline this man, he was only seeking to protect his Captain. Your Captain Crane deserves such loyalty. Were this man not so loyal, he would not deserve to be on this boat and serve under such a fine and brave Captain!"
President Douarte addressed Kowalski directly, "I assure you, I am not here for myself--I have brought no reporters and no cameras. I am here for your Captain. It is my hope that telling him of the gratitude of my people will speed his recovery."
Kowalski stammered out his reply, "I'm sure it will, Sir."
The Admiral dismissed Kowalski and led President Douarte, the U.S. President, and Admiral Stark to the chairs that had been set up for them. When they were all seated, President Douarte turned to Nelson, "My friend, I am concerned about Captain Crane. Is this Kowalski correct that he is not well enough for this ceremony? I do not wish to hinder his recovery."
Nelson answered seriously. "The Captain is improving, but he seems a bit shaken by the experience. He's faced a sudden, violent death many times, but facing a slow, lingering death was rather sobering for him even though he faced it with great courage and dignity. He's been quieter than usual and Dr. Jamison has been concerned about him. However," Nelson smiled, "I think this ceremony is just what the doctor ordered. When he was told that it was to be held in Sickbay to make it less taxing for him, he insisted that it be held here in the Observation Nose. He also ordered his dress uniform be brought to Sickbay--said he wasn't going to greet two Presidents in hospital clothes. Dr. Jamison was a little reluctant to let him out of bed because he's still very weak, but he agreed after I promised him that the ceremony wouldn't be too long."
"Admiral," Douarte said with a twinkle in his eye, "You do not have to worry about the ceremony being too much for the Captain. I promise that my speech will be very short!"
Just then the Captain came down the spiral stairs, assisted by his Exec. The Captain was still a bit pale and thin, but he was immaculate in his dress blues and carried himself very straight. Everyone in the Observation Nose and the Control Room rose and a spontaneous round of applause began with the crew in the Control Room and spread throughout the boat where the remaining crew members were watching on the boat's monitors.
Lee stopped, a bit overwhelmed by the display, but acknowledged the honor paid him by his crew with a smile and nod. President Douarte moved toward the podium while the U.S. President and Seaview's senior officers took their seats.
President Douarte began to speak, "Mr. President, Admiral Stark, Admiral Nelson, Captain Crane, and men of the Seaview, I come here today as a humble representative of the people of my country. During the last year my people have suffered greatly, but during that time, they never lost their faith or their courage. My country was fortunate to have others of great faith and courage helping them in their struggle for freedom. One such man of courage is Captain Lee Crane who was willing to give up his life to protect the lives of the resistance fighters. He was willing to die for people who were not even his countrymen, but with whom he shared his courage and his dedication to the cause of freedom. Captain Crane, on behalf of myself, my government, and with the gratitude of all my people, it is my great honor to present you with the Medal of Valor, the highest decoration of my country."
As Douarte turned in Crane's direction, the Captain and all those who were sitting with him, the U.S. President, Admiral Nelson, Admiral Stark, and Chip Morton, rose and faced Douarte. Admiral Nelson had a discreet hand on the Captain's arm to steady him. He knew any show of weakness would embarrass the Captain, and he didn't want anything to mar this proud moment. When the medal was placed around the Captain's neck, a cheer went up all over Seaview and there were handshakes all around.
After congratulating the Captain and waiting a few moments for the noise to die down, the U.S. President addressed them. "Please everyone, be seated. I don't want to keep Captain Crane on his feet any longer than necessary. It is customary for the recipient of such an honor to give a speech, but since the Captain is still recovering from his injuries, we will spare him that duty. I would only like to add my words of praise to those of President Douarte. Captain Crane, you represent the best among us, and I hope you will continue in the service of our country for many years. Thank you, Captain, for demonstrating true courage to all of us."
The President turned to Admiral Nelson, "Admiral, you have a splendid boat and a fine crew, both are worthy of their Captain. I wish I had more time to look around the Seaview, but President Douarte and I must return to the talks aboard the Eisenhower. The next time you dock in Norfolk, however, I hope you will contact me." He looked at Crane and said, "I would very much like to have the Captain's tour of the Seaview."
Crane responded with a smile, "It would be my pleasure, Sir," and started to rise.
The President was quick to stop him. "Don't get up, Captain, and that's an order from your Commander-in-Chief so you can't disobey it."
"Aye, Sir," the Captain responded, settling back in the chair.
After the exchange of parting handshakes with the officers and some of the crew members in the Control Room, Admiral Stark, President Douarte, and the U.S. President were escorted topside to return to the Eisenhower.
Dr. Jamison stepped forward and looked down at the Captain. "Skipper, now that all the excitement is over, it's time to get you back to Sickbay." Looking around the Nose and the Control Room, he spotted Kowalski off to one side. Knowing that the Captain would be more likely to accept help from Kowalski than anyone else, he motioned the seaman to come over. "Kowalski, please help the Captain back to Sickbay."
"Aye, Sir," replied Kowalski.
The Captain looked at the doctor with a familiar stubborn expression on his face. "Jamie, I'm not going back to Sickbay. I feel fine."
Jamison thought about arguing, but knew it would be pointless. Besides, he was glad to see the Skipper's spirit had returned. "You're not fine, but you do look better. Allright, you don't have to go to Sickbay, but do have to go to your cabin and lie down, and Kowalski is going to make sure you get there and follow doctor's orders."
With Kowalski's help, the Captain stood and the pair headed for the stairs. The Captain looked over his shoulder at the doctor. "For now, I'll go to my cabin, but later, Doc, we're going to discuss tomorrow's duty schedule."
Jamison sighed as he watched the Captain and Kowalski go up the stairs. The Admiral was standing beside the doctor, and Jamison turned his head toward Nelson. "Admiral, how long until we reach port?"
The Admiral replied, "It should take about a week to reach Santa Barbara."
Dr. Jamison shook his head, "It's going to be a long week."