The Darkness of Waiting
He woke up to a feeling of confinement, and darkness and heat. Chip Morton took a shallow breath and coughed. He attempted to sit up only to hit his forehead painfully on something above him. He reached up and rubbed his fingers against something rough about ten inches above him. For a moment he dragged his breath in quick ragged gasps and coughed again in the dusty air. He consciously dampened his panic. Reaching out sideways his hands felt nothing; not a coffin then.
Chip frowned and tried to think. They had followed someone into his building. Oh yes, Rossman. Brilliant, but insane, the Admiral had pronounced. Was there such a fine line between brilliance and insanity? Just how many of these deranged people did they have to invite aboard the Seaview. That was unfair he knew, but in his current position he wasn't inclined to be fair.
Arnaud Rossman had been invited aboard the famous submarine to experiment with the effects of sound waves on marine life. The transmission technology was new and the man was backed by a high profile institute. Before Rossman had fled, he had damaged enough of Seaview's circuitry to leave her dead in the water for a month, absconded with some top secret material, and left one crewman critically injured. At least they hadn't been on the bottom at the time. In fact, they hadn't left port yet. Kind of embarrassing, actually.
Apparently, Rossman hadn't been exactly sure how to escape Seaview when they were underway. Amazing...a criminal that didn't know how to escape in the Flying Sub. In fact, the man wasn't to adept at escaping at all. He'd been spotted running toward the warehouse minutes after leaving Seaview. It seemed that the man was more criminally stupid than criminally insane. That was until Morton and the Admiral had entered the warehouse, and the world had exploded around them.
The Admiral...where was the Admiral? He had been just ahead of him as they'd entered the building, before the lights went out. He twisted around and came back with another gasp. His foot was caught under something, not broken, just holding him place as securely as a chain.
"Admiral?" Nothing. He swung his arms out as far as he could reach on either side of him. He brushed something with his fingertips. His mind supplied him with a visual of the Admiral's khaki jacket, the jacket he was wearing when they had entered the building. He moved over as far as his foot would allow him to and felt along the length of the arm. Satisfied that there were no broken bones he pulled it toward him and felt for a pulse. Weak and thready, but still there.
"Admiral?" he called again with more force this time. He shook the arm slightly. The only sound was silence and in the distance, the sound of dripping water.
Chip moved back to a more comfortable position and tried to think. For a moment his wife's face was so clear before him that it seemed he could reach out and touch her. Jeanie, his wife of only a year. She was as dark as he was fair, her green eyes snapped with a vitality and warmth that took his breath away. She was a Lab Tech at the Institute and from the first time he had seen her he hadn't been able to think, or talk, about anything else. Much to the amusement and irritation of his fellow crewmates. It had taken him two weeks to invite her out, but only six months to get her to the alter. Lee Crane had been his best man and since Jeanie had no immediate family, the Admiral had given her away.
If they didn't make it out of this, Jeanie would be all right. She was a strong woman, level headed. But he wished with everything in him, that he could tell her he loved her one more time. He lay in the darkness and hoped for that opportunity.
Lee Crane stood in the misty rain, a slim figure illuminated in the head lights of one of the Institute's jeeps. He surveyed the warehouse before him with narrowed eyes and ground his teeth in frustration.
"Skipper," Chief Sharkey was beside him, a smear of mud trailing down his face and under his chin. "We found a way in, but there's a problem."
"What?" He hoped the chief wouldn't see the resignation in his eyes.
Sharkey held up one hand perpendicular to the other. "There are pieces of concrete the size of Staten Island blocking the entrance."
"What are the other options?"
He shook his head, "This is it, Skipper. The other entrances are as flat as a pancake. If they made it that far, well..." He looked at his feet and let the sentence hang between them.
Lee felt a sigh of frustration come from the pit of his stomach. "Then the only thing we can do is treat it like a mining accident. We'll shore it up as we go along and remove each piece of rubble and concrete at a time. Get some flood lights going and all the men that we have on it."
Sharkey nodded, "I just hope we have enough time."
Crane looked up into the drizzling rain and sent up a silent prayer. "Me too, Chief.
Chip stared up into the inky blackness and tried to relax. Foremost in his mind was the knowledge that someone would be looking for them. Nelson's crew never gave up on their own, until all the options were played out. He heard a soft moan from the Nelson's direction.
"Admiral? Admiral, it's Chip."
He called out again and was rewarded with a breathy response. "Chip...'happened? Can't see..."
Remembering his own panic in the first moments of consciousness he quickly reassured him. "Your eyes are okay, it's just dark. Can you move?"
"No, something's on my chest."
Chip's heart sank, "It's okay Sir, just don't move. We followed Rossman into the warehouse and there was an explosion. Do you remember?"
"Rossman? I remember...I remember Rossman. But not an explosion."
Chip listened carefully to the words, more breathed than spoken. "How long...here?"
"I'm not sure. I was out myself for a bit. But, if I know Lee, he's tearing this place apart looking for us."
"Lee...yes, you're right. You...okay?"
"Just a few cuts and bruises, I think. But, my foot's stuck and I can't sit up enough to get enough leverage to get myself out. How about you?"
There was silence for a moment. "There's some ribs broken I think, and there feels like there is something stuck in my leg."
"Just relax as much, as you can, Sir. Someone will be here soon."
There was a gasp that Chip thought might be something close to humor, "Don't think I can do...anything else. Hard...hard to rest with an elephant on your chest."
Almost as hard, Chip thought, as being able to reach out and touch someone and not being able to help them.
The insistent sound of the jackhammer filled Lee Crane's head to the beat of his own fear. Chunk, chunk, chunk...too late, too late, too late. He grabbed another piece of cement from the hand in front of him and handed it to the waiting hands behind him. A seemingly endless relay. It had taken them precious time to shore up the entrance and now they were working on the slab that blocked the way. The rain that had started out as a drizzle was now coming down in sheets. He blew some of the drops off the end of his nose and took another piece of concrete. He paused for a precious moment to pull off a glove. Before someone had handed him a pair of work gloves, he'd already lost a lot of skin on the first several pieces of cement. Even through his gloves, it felt like the holes in his hands were growing faster than the holes in the warehouse entrance.
He spared a glance for the surrounding area. How much of the run off from this hill would drain into the warehouse?
Were they working like maniacs just to retrieve bodies? No, somehow he felt in his gut that they were alive. On the other side of that feeling was the knowledge that time was running out. His two best friends were inside that mass of concrete and metal; Nelson, brother and mentor, and Chip, confidant and friend. He smiled grimily, sometimes he thought of these two friends as fire and silk. Chip was the silk, smooth and steady. Like the silk in a parachute, more than once Chip had held him up.
But the Admiral was fire, brilliant and volatile. Holding them all in capable hands, but needing to be held up himself. There were times that Lee had the notion that even without the reactor room, the Admiral could keep the Seaview going by the sheer power of his personality. His eyes were often lit with an inner spark of energy. At times it was a humor, at the most inappropriate moments. At times it was anger, or frustration, or the fire of a brilliant idea. Crane refused to believe that fire was quenched.
He grabbed another piece of concrete, He refused to believe it, even as the pounding of the jack hammer beat it's insistent doom, too late, too late, too late.
Chip jerked up sharply, hitting his head on the obstruction above him. He lay back down, feeling chilled and disoriented. He must have dosed slightly. Something had awakened him from that light dose.
There was a gasp from his right, "Chip?"
"Chip...thank God, I thought..."
"I'm here, Admiral. I just dosed off for a second."
Another gasp, "...lucky. Chip, I'm...sorry."
"Your fault,' Chip frowned. "Rossman was your fault?"
"Shouldn't have gone after him...should have waited. I was angry...sorry."
"Rossman wasn't your fault, Admiral. We all wanted a piece of him. To tell you the truth, I was glad when we went after him. If there is any justice, he's caught himself in his own trap and he's in here with us."
There was silence for a few moments. The Admiral seemed to collect himself and said, "Jeanie's going to kill me."
Chip laughed softly. "She won't kill you, Sir." He thought of his wife's flashing green eyes. "She'll probably just maim both of us a little."
This time there was humor in the gasp in the darkness next to him, "Too late for that."
"Maybe she'll be happy just giving us both a piece of her mind. Just hold on so you can get your share."
"Doing...my best. Chip?"
"Do you feel water?"
Chip now realized what had caused the chill. He was laying in a puddle of water. He had been too preoccupied with the Admiral to realize it. His heart sank. He knew he wasn't in immediate danger himself but the older man, in his weakened condition, would quickly succumb to hypothermia. "Just hold on, Admiral. You know they will be doing everything in their power to get to us."
"...think warm thoughts."
Chip felt the need to connect with his friend and reaching out his hand, he ran his fingers down the length of the Admiral's arm until he connected with the other's hand. He held to the chilled fingers, "You just hold on now." He felt an answering pressure. "You hang on to my hand and you wait until they come. That's an order, Sir."
Another gasp, "I'll try, Chip."
It was amazing how dry a person's throat could get when the rest of him was so soaking wet, Lee thought as he almost dropped the last piece of cement handed to him. He did drop the next piece when the jack hammer stopped. The silence was so unexpected that it took him a moment to realize what had happened.
"We're through!" A voice came from the front of the line. He heard several pieces of cement drop and moments later they were all crowded around the entrance of the warehouse.
"What do you see, Chief?" Crane called into the entrance of the blackness.
"It's a mess in there Skipper, we're going to have to take it slow."
"We can't take it too slow, Chief. Time's running out. We need to move."
The two men locked eyes and Sharkey nodded. He addressed the group of men, "All right you Goons, get moving!" He looked back at his captain, "We'll get 'em, Skipper."
Crane clasped a hand on Sharkey's shoulder and smiled grimly, but the urgency was gnawing at his stomach.
The fingers grasped in his hand were cold and unresponsive. The Admiral hadn't answered his last few inquiries and Chip was beginning to fear the worst. But, he refused to let go of his hand. His own hand felt cramped. He had no idea how long they had been here, but it seemed like forever. He had been hearing sounds of heavy equipment and knew that their fellow co-workers were doing their best to reach them. It would be nothing short of a miracle if they were in time for Nelson. But, one thing that he had learned working for the Admiral, miracles happened.
He felt like drifting off to sleep again, but refused to allow that escape. It was irrational but, he felt that if he let go of the Admiral's hand, any spark of life remaining would be gone.
Suddenly the noise stopped, leaving only the sound of constant dripping and his own breathing. For a panicked moment he considered the thought that they had given up. He squelched the thought with the knowledge that Lee wouldn't give up, even if he had to remove the entire building from around them piece by piece.
He could hear voices! "Hey!" his voice sounded harsh and muffled in his dark prison. He cleared his throat and tried again, "Hey! Over here!"
"Chip?" Lee shouted, "Keep talking, Chip!"
"We're over here, Lee! The Admiral's injured!"
The noise of men and machine began anew, louder and faster.
"Just keep talking, Chip!"
Morton described his prison and the location of the Admiral. Suddenly, light exploded in his eyes when a flashlight was shone in his face and he couldn't help his startled gasp.
"Sorry Chip," Lee said. "We'll have you out in a few minutes."
"Lee, the Admiral..."
Chip felt warm hands cover his and Nelson's, releasing his grip and checking the Admiral's pulse. "He's still alive."
Some of the tension eased from Chip's shoulders and he relaxed into the dampness of his temporary tomb. "Thank God." He whispered; miracles really did happen.
Chip sat on the sofa in the hospital waiting room with his swollen and bandaged foot propped on the chair in front of him. The blanket that surrounded his shoulders did little to dispel the cold that seemed to have entered his very bones. .
Lee sat across from him, looking uncomfortable and dazed, staring at the floor. They were waiting for some word about the Admiral. Someone held a cup of coffee in front of Morton's nose and he looked up into the concerned face of Chief Sharkey. "You should go home, Sir. We can call you later."
Chip uncovered one hand and gratefully took the steaming brew from Sharkey's hand. "Not until we know something." He'd caught a glimpse of the other man as they'd both been loaded into the ambulance; it hadn't looked good. Added to this was the knowledge that Rossman hadn't been found. A fact that made the last few hours seem incredibly pointless.
"He's tough, Mr. Morton. He'll be fine."
You weren't there, he thought, but said, "I know, Chief. But, I think I'll stick around anyway."
They all looked up at the sound of the doors swinging open. Crane jumped to his feet as Jamison came into the room.
"He's going to make it. It was pretty bad, Lee, very close. But with time and a lot of care, he should be okay." Lee's shoulders visibly relaxed.
Chip grinned and felt a little warmth seep into the center of his body. Jaimie glanced his direction and with raised brows said, "You...go home. Call your wife, tell her to pick you up. I intend to stay with the Admiral tonight, but I will be out here again in five minutes. If you are still here, I will have you admitted to a room. Is that clear?"
Chip couldn't keep the stupid grin of relief off his face, "That's clear enough."
"Good." Jamison left without a backward look.
Chip knew Doc meant what he said and gathered his blanket around his shoulders, preparing to leave. He knew he could have anyone of his friends call his wife, but was suddenly overwhelmed with the need to hear her voice. He looked across the room and made eye contact with Lee. The captain settled back into the waiting room chair and Chip knew he intended to wait until he could see Nelson. Morton smiled knowingly. He took in the dried mud on the other's uniform and said, "Thanks, Lee."
Lee nodded and responded, "Thank you, Chip. Somehow I think you kept him alive."
"Just returning the favor, he's done it enough for the rest of us. You're staying." It was a statement not a question.
Lee nodded again and smiled. "Tell Jeanie hello for me."
He returned the smile, "I will."
He turned to go. He glanced out the window and noted that it was dark outside now. But it was nothing compared to the darkness that he had been rescued from. He plugged a coin into the payphone. He leaned against the wall and let the sound of his wife's voice remove the last of the chill from his being and allowed the light of her affection to dispel the memory of the darkness. He remembered those moments entombed in the blackness, how much he'd hoped for this. He whispered into the phone, "I love you, Baby" At the sound of her soft response, he smiled.