Part of my continuing series featuring Serena Harrison as she discovers her paternity and Nelson come to grips with his past.
"Something on your mind, Lee?" the admiral asked from across the plot table. Lee Crane glanced up from the logbooks at the sound of his employer’s voice. The admiral was standing at the base of the stairwell, an expectant look on his face.
Lee refocused his attention on the logs in front of him, twiddling with a pencil. He knew where this was going, and he wasn’t sure he was ready for part two. Part one had been shocking enough. Without looking up Lee blurted out the first thing that came to mind. "Just looking over the logs, sir. We made some very good time with that last set of drills."
"I’m not talking about the logs or Seaview. Lee, we need to talk about this." The admiral looked up past Crane and called out to Chip, "Mister Morton, take the Conn," he said. The admiral rarely went over Lee's head as captain but when he did, it was with good reason. Lee knew there was no way of getting out of this without creating a scene. Trying to hide the resigned sigh, he dropped the pencil to the table and followed Nelson forward.
"Aye sir," was Chip’s only answer. A second later the observation doors slid shut as Nelson thumbed the switch. Lee tried to hide the nervousness he was feeling. The admiral really wanted to talk this out. To that end he was taking no chances, cutting Crane and himself off from all but the one exit. Lee would have to take the stairs to avoid this, and right now, with Chip at the Conn and all operations running normal, he had no real reason to leave. He was going to have to face the admiral and the discussion he would have rather avoided.
"Sit down, Lee. I think this might take some time." Nelson poured himself a cup of coffee, in his mind trying to frame what he wanted to say to the younger man.
Lee wandered over to the coffee pot and poured himself a cup. The admiral perched on the edge of the table, with a cup of his own. Lee pulled out the chair across from him and eased down into it. He sipped at his coffee. Lee sipped at his. He waited. Crane waited. It was a stalemate, neither man wanted to be the first to break the silence. It was Nelson who broke first. "Lee, I know this was a surprise . . ."
"Admiral, you don’t owe me an explanation. What goes on in your personal life is your business, not mine." Nice words, considering it was only last week Lee had learned his mentor, the man he looked up to for guidance and leadership had had an affair with a married woman some thirty-odd years ago. The result of that affair was now head of the Institute's new Marine Archeology division: a woman that Lee somehow couldn't find it within himself to openly trust.
Nelson was restless, he couldn't seem to sit still but instead got to his feet and paced back and forth in front of the windows. He racked his brain, a mind that had created countless inventions but was now at a loss for a simple explanation. Lee's opinion was important to him and Nelson feared to learn how the young man's opinion of him had changed with the revelations of the last week. In a low, troubled voice, Nelson tried to explain the events of thirty-some years past. “When I met Elizabeth, Serena's mother, I had no idea she was married. Liz didn't wear a ring and she never talked about her husband. When she finally got the nerve to tell me she was married, I felt betrayed and angry. I broke it off and she went back to her husband. I didn't give it any more thought. I thought I had seen the last of her. I had no clue what her real motives were.”
“Motives?” Lee couldn't help himself. “I don't understand.”
The admiral continued his nervous pacing, running his fingers through his hair, rubbing his chin, and a dozen other little 'tells' Lee had learned over the years indicated a troubled state of mind. The admiral hated being used. He despised being a part of someone else machinations. It was one of the driving forces that had pushed him off the east coast and out west, trying to get away from so many of the political games of Washington. Lee knew the idea that he had been used would have infuriated him.
Facing the windows, Nelson continued the tale. “After I learned exactly who Serena was, I tracked Liz down and demanded some answers. As it turns out, her own father had given Liz an ultimatum. Victor Stanton was the founder and Chairmen of the Board of Foundation Publishing. He was going to make Liz his successor on one condition: that she and her husband start a family.”
Lee blinked as the pieces slowly came together. He had known strong-willed women who had worked themselves up into positions of power, in and out of the Navy. He was acquainted with intelligence agents who would waste no time in slitting someone's throat to bring back what they were assigned to retrieve. He knew perfectly well what some women would do to get what they wanted. As Nelson's story progress, Lee was beginning to get the picture of what Serena's mother had done to achieve her goal. “I take it that she and her husband were unable to have children?”
The admiral snorted, a sound anyone would have been familiar with. “They'd been married seven years and so far she'd been unable to conceive a child. Victor's health was failing and the company was in danger of being passed on to Liz's brother, who already had two children. If Liz was going to take over the company, she had to have a child. So when Liz came to Norfolk on a business trip, she concocted this idea, this scheme to have a child with someone she could seduce. For some reason, she singled me out and I was too naive at the time to know any better.”
Lee could hear the anger and the regret in Nelson's voice. This was something he wasn't proud of, a part of his past he would have just as soon remained behind him. Only there was a reminder of his part in this game, a reminder he was going to have to deal with every day. “Does Serena know what her mother planned?”
His body language said the anger was still there, simmering below the surface. “I don't know exactly how much she knows. She was about eleven or twelve when she figured out the man who had raised her wasn't her biological father. Seems he never believed the child was his. It didn't matter to Liz. She could tell her father she was pregnant, and he passed on the company to her. He died when she was eight months into the pregnancy. Liz did admit that her husband was resentful he was raising a child he knew wasn't his. It fouled the marriage and Liz filed for divorce, citing 'irreconcilable differences.'”
“You learned all this from Serena’s mother?” Lee asked.
“That and a few other reliable sources.” Nelson didn’t elaborate and Lee didn’t push.
Instead Crane toyed with the half-full coffee cup, not sure what to say, not even sure where to begin. He couldn't begin to imagine how he would feel if he woke up one morning to find out he had a grown son or daughter. That the admiral had been used and the existence of his child had been kept from him for all this time was apparently a hard pill to swallow. But Crane didn't know Serena, outside the brief time she’d spent in Sickbay and San Isabella cruise months later after she’d recovered. That she was a professional, and that she knew her job and field was obvious but she had literally come out of nowhere. Lee had no idea of her true motives and whether or not she had her own plans and schemes in motion. If the mother was capable of such deception, what was the daughter capable of?
“I know you don't trust her.” Nelson's statement caught Crane off guard and for a second the younger man could only stare. The admiral turned his intense gaze back on the young commander and Lee fought the urge to squirm, feeling like he was plebe again. How could he voice his fears that this was some carefully wrought plan to get back at the admiral for being “abandoned' by him? People had targeted the admiral for less. Lee gathered his thoughts and tried to put into words that wouldn't fan the flames of an angry fire already burning in his superior officer.
"Do you really know this person, Admiral? I know you’ve worked with her over the last few months, but do you really know her? What if this is all some elaborate plan for revenge?"
The admiral meandered over to the coffee pot and poured a second cup. Lee still had half a cup left and it was growing cold. He wrapped both hands around the cup, staring down into the dark liquid. When he looked up again, the admiral had his back to him again and was looking out the windows.
“She's spent years looking for me. The fact that Liz knew I was her father and she never told Serena has driven a wedge between the two. Serena left when she was sixteen, to attend college and returned home only once. The stay didn't last for more than a few days and she left when she confronted Liz about who her real father was, and Liz refused to give. So, no, I don't believe this is any part of a vendetta against me.”
Still, Lee Crane wasn't ready to completely offer his trust to someone he really didn’t know. “Could there be something else she might be after?” The admiral had more money than most people realized, owing to royalties from various invention patents, his own published works, not to mention his own family fortune. The Nelsons come from an old money—an east-coast banking family that went back generations. Lee wasn't afraid to say the admiral's net-worth might very well be in the millions. It would be a tempting target for anyone much less an estranged daughter with a family history of deception.
Harriman turned around to face Crane and leaned against the support strut between the windows, his coffee cup held loosely in one hand. “She’s done well in her field, we’re lucky she was willing to pack up and sign on with us. I didn’t hire her just because she’s my daughter, although I’d be lying if I said I didn’t suspect. Also, Archibald, her stepfather and Liz's second husband, left her his entire estate to Serena when he died. That, with the royalties from her published works, Serena is not looking for a hand out. Rest assured, money is not an issue here."
Lee paused in his thinking, considering that maybe he was jumping the gun a bit. He picked up the plain, white cup and knocked back the last of the now cold coffee. "So you are completely okay with this? It doesn’t bother you?" he asked. The admiral slammed his cup down and whirled back around to the window.
"Of course this bothers me! We hardly know one another! I go from bachelor to father, practically overnight. All I know about her is written down in a two-inch thick folder. That’s why your acceptance of her is so important to me. I’m not asking you to fall madly in love with her, Lee, just give her a chance. She’s the same person you and Chip worked so well with four months ago. Nothing about her has changed. If you find you can’t trust her, I’ll come up with something else."
Lee once more found himself at a loss for words. Mentally he stuttered, trying to find the right thing to say. “Is my opinion of you and her that important, sir? You have to know I respect you like no other. You've given me the chance to skipper the greatest vessel in the ocean. I have the best crew any captain could ask for. I'll go anywhere you ask. You didn't have to share all this with me.”
The admiral sighed. “Lee, I've come to think of you, and on another level, Chip, as my sons. I never expected to have children. I never dreamed something like this would happen. She doesn't change anything. You are still my very good friend. You've made me proud, as proud as any father could hope to be. I don't want my past actions to color how you see me now. I want Serena to see in you what I see in you, to see the institute as I see it. It's my family, my home. She doesn't have that. She's been struggling to find her place in this world for years and I want to her to see that this is where she belongs. So yes, your opinion is important to me. Your opinion is and always will be important to me.”
Lee sat there, speechless, the empty coffee cup clutched tightly on his hands. It's one thing to know that you respect someone, it's quite another to see that respect returned. Once more Lee struggled to find the words. He decided on honesty. “I don't know what to say, sir,”
“Just say you'll give her a chance. Get to know her. I want her to know the man whom I've had the honor to call my friend for these past few years.”
The admiral's smile was like sunlight bursting though the eye of a hurricane. Lee couldn't help himself and smiled back. “I'll certainly do my best, sir.”
“That's all I can ask. Honestly, she'll have her own projects to attend to and I seriously doubt she'll require Seaview's services for a while. And she is a scientist, not like a certain commander I know who moonlights for a certain naval intelligence agency,” he said with a grin.
“Archeology is a fairly low risk field, not like a submarine commander,” Lee agreed, feeling the tension slowly leaking away. “What kind of trouble can one archaeologist get into?" he replied.
Admiral Nelson crossed his arms and a wry grin tugged at the corner of his mouth. “Funny, I used to think the same thing about you, when you first took command. I should have known better when on your first dive out you tangled with a lovelorn giant octopus. Between you and Chip, I've aged ten years.”
“Just trying to live up to the family name,” Lee dared to return. The admiral closed his eyes, running a hand over his face as his shoulders shook with silent laughter.
“Don't you have a boat to run? Go on, get to it before I do you damage,” he said, the laughter leaking into his voice. Lee rose from this chair, hit the release for the doors and they quietly slid apart. Chip looked up from the plot table, curiosity in his blue eyes. The admiral made his way up the stairwell, still trying to bury the laughter threatening to leak out.
Chip raised an eyebrow. “What's with him?”
“Just a little discussion. Nothing serious.” Lee said. Later, away from the Control room, Lee promised himself he'd tell Chip what the admiral had said. But for now, Lee Crane was content. He promised to give Serena Harrison a chance. As Chip gave him an update of the course laid down, Lee realized that he had no idea what Harrison really thought of him. Had she come to her own conclusions about him, or was she reserving judgment, waiting to see his further reaction to her?
I guess we both have a lot to learn about one another, he thought, and returned to the business at hand.