My thanks go to Kate for keeping my enthusiasm up and fixing all my errors. This story takes place after Redemption.
By Sea Spinner
Chip crawled towards the cell door, oblivious to the trail of blood he left on the rough stone floor. Just as he made it to the threshold the wraith pounced on him, swirling and suffocating him in its deadly grasp. He screamed out as what was left of his life flowed rapidly out of his body, and he struggled against an unbeatable enemy.
He woke with a start, knocking the alarm clock from the bedside table in his haste to turn on the light. The nightmare was different this time, the wraith had never appeared before. Chip sat up, threw his legs over the side of the bed and took a few deep breaths to calm down. His body was coated with a sheen of perspiration and droplets ran down his naked chest, soaking into the waistband of his shorts. The more he thought about it the more it made sense that the wraith was a new configuration after his recent visit to the defunct prison.*
Get a grip, he thought angrily. It’s over and I can get on with my life so why do I keep having these nightmares.
The frequency of the dreams had increased since Seaview’s mission to Ile de Mal. Despite his best efforts to hide it, Chip knew Lee had started to question the black rings under his eyes and a couple of simple errors he wouldn’t normally have made. He had a week’s leave coming up but he wasn’t sure what he was going to do with it. God, I just need to get away!
Chip pushed himself off the bed and walked into the bathroom. He leaned heavily on the basin before turning the tap on and splashing cold water on his face. Again he felt the phantom pain on his back, and knew that the scars would serve as a constant reminder of the torment he had endured. He had to get some sleep. Tomorrow he was testing some new diving equipment with Lee. Three more days – that was all he had to make it through before he could get away on his own and sort his life out. Some time out was all he needed, maybe up in the mountains. He stared at the saturated sheets and sighed, tore off the quilt and headed for the couch. It was two o’clock in the morning. With a bit of luck he’d manage four hours sleep without another terrifying dream.
“Chip, did you hear what I said?”
The XO twisted his head to look at Lee’s progress. So far the dive had gone well from a mechanical point of view. The experimental diving and propulsion suit Lee was wearing had checked out so far. However, he had to admit that fatigue had dogged him throughout the mission and he’d been distracted a couple of times.
“Sorry, Lee.” Chip caught the look Lee gave him and turned his head back to monitor their progress. “We’re just about at the satellite station.”
Lee checked his suit readings again. “All the gauges are normal. Should be an interesting dive. Look!” Lee pointed to the edge of a drop-off. “I can just see the top of the facility.”
The space age satellite laboratory sat below the two men. Although it was still partially obscured by the rim of the drop-off, Chip could tell that it was unlike anything he’d ever seen before.
“How long did it take them to build it?” he asked Lee.
“I looked at the construction schematics and the project timeline. It was only supposed to take three years, but it went over time and budget by another year and a third more money.”
“Phew, must be pretty special.”
“From what the Admiral’s told me, it is. I’ll call Seaview and let them know we’re about to go inside.”
“It’s a wonder he didn’t want to come on the dive as well.”
“He did,” laughed Lee.
“Unfortunately, he got a last minute call that took him back to
While Lee radioed Seaview, Chip gazed intently at the facility. The Admiral had been one of the main financiers and architects – it was no wonder he wanted to visit the undersea laboratory again.
“I can’t get through to them, Chip. There must be some type of interference,” said Lee, his voice strained.
“What’s wrong?” asked Chip, sensing there was something else bothering his friend.
“The Admiral told me that he’d conducted radio checks from the facility before and there were no problems.”
“I’ll try from mine. It could be that your suit has malfunctioned.” Chip tried to raise Seaview without success then nodded towards the entry dome. “Let’s try from down there.”
He watched as Lee used a dial to give himself more ballast and a controlled descent, unlike Chip in his conventional diving gear who had to kick harder and angle downwards. The new suit was impressive, and included propulsion units that utilized jets of oxygen to change direction.
On approach to the dome, Chip could see an airlock. “Is that where the entry is?”
“Yes, once we’re…Chip, look out!”
Chip spun around in the water but wasn’t quick enough to avoid getting hit by something sharp that sliced through his suit and scored a stinging line across the back of his shoulders.
“You’re bleeding. We have to get inside ASAP,” ordered Lee.
“W…what was it?” asked Chip through gritted teeth.
“A spear. I don’t know where it came from.” He grabbed Chip’s arm. “We’re nearly there.”
Chip let Lee guide him. He kept kicking as much as he could, coldly shoving the irritation of the salt water on his injury to the back of his mind. He held onto the outside rung while Lee put a set of numbers into the touchpad. The door started to swing open just as Chip saw a spear pierce Lee’s suit and lodge in his thigh just above his knee. Chip watched, horrified as Lee’s suit started filling up with water.
“Chip, the code’s seven-five-six-one. As soon as we’re inside, put it in and the door will shut. The water will drain out automatically,” he gasped.
Lee seemed to lose his balance but Chip propped him up, keeping an air bubble in his helmet. He knew as soon as Lee tilted over the air would bubble out and he would drown.
“Lee, can you hear me?” Chip couldn’t see his face but he figured Lee had passed out. “Damn!”
He dragged him inside the airlock and turned to punch the numbers in. Through the door he could see four divers making a beeline for them and his best guess put them only twenty or thirty yards away. Chip rapidly punched the number sequence in but the door wasn’t closing. Didn’t Lee say that the door was automatic? He couldn’t remember. Punching in the numbers again he hoped he’d gotten them right. The divers were almost at the airlock when the heavy hydraulic door started to slowly swing closed.
Chip willed the door to close faster as the divers renewed their efforts to get there before it shut them out. A thin gap was left when another spear flew through. This time it hit the opposite wall and fell harmlessly to the floor just as the door snapped closed. Chip let out a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding and checked on Lee. The air bubble was still trapped in his helmet, and he could feel Lee’s heart beating as his chest rose and fell but the spear was a problem.
The chamber seemed to take an eternity to drain, but once the green light clicked on, the inner door swung noiselessly open. Chip snapped Lee’s helmet off and pulled him through the inner door, careful not to catch the spear or his leg. Just as he thought they were safe, he heard bleeps signaling the outside keypad had been activated again. The inner door started closing but he pushed one of the tanks into it, jamming it hard – or so he thought. As the door continued to close the tanks started buckling beneath the force.
Chip looked around for something stronger. There was nothing, not even a chair. He sucked his breath in and picked Lee up in a fireman’s hold to get away from the air lock. The tanks snapped in two with a gush and one half flew towards him. It just wasn’t his day, he thought as it struck him thigh high, knocking both he and Lee onto the ground. He clutched at his leg, but didn’t think it was broken, although he figured the numb sensation would last for a while. It wouldn’t be long before the other divers got into the facility and he had to find a place to hide while he tried to stop the bleeding from Lee’s leg. He shrugged out of his wetsuit top and tugged at his t-shirt until it was off. Using his dive knife, he fashioned it into a doughnut bandage. He slipped it over the spear at both the entry and exit wounds then tied another section around it to keep the bandages in place. He ignored his own injury.
“Chip,” mumbled Lee. “What happened?”
“We’ve got problems, Lee. Those divers are about to get into the airlock.”
Lee’s face was pale and strained. “Must have tapped into our radios.”
“We need some place to keep you safe.”
“The lab is enormous, it’ll take them a…” he broke off suddenly, clamping a hand to his injured leg. “It’ll take them a while to search it. There’s a secure lab at the rear, inside the rock chamber. We can hide out there for a while.”
“Can you walk?”
“How far is it, Lee?”
Lee directed Chip down a long dimly lit corridor. “It’s about three hundred yards.”
Chip raised an eyebrow. “When you said it was big, I didn’t realize it was that big.”
“It was built primarily as a lab, but it can also be used as an emergency operations center by the President.”
“How’s your back?” asked Lee breathlessly.
“It’s fine.” Chip had put his wetsuit top on again to hide the scars that marred his tanned flesh. The last thing he needed right now was Lee unraveling the painful past.
“I’ll patch you up when we get to the lab. I think some lab coats were delivered there. We can use them as bandages and padding.”
“No!” snapped Chip, before he realized his mistake. “I mean, I’m fine.”
Lee stopped limping along and stared stonily at his face. “That’s not a request, Lieutenant Commander.”
Chip clenched his jaw together. “Yes, Sir.”
No matter what, it didn’t pay to get Lee into a mood where he pulled rank on him. Since their last mission to Ile de Mal, Lee had been paying a little too much attention, and he knew he’d sensed something. Damn his ONI instincts! There were times when Chip wished he’d never met Lee, merely because he was the only one who truly understood him. He’d taken great pains to stay aloof from the crew, Nelson and Captain Phillips. Since Lee had been in command, his ability to read him made him feel vulnerable at times. Even if he tried really hard his friend usually knew when something was up and Chip had the feeling that it was crunch time.
“How much further?” asked Chip, really starting to struggle.
He glanced behind them to find a trail blood that would lead their pursuers straight to them.
“Lee, I think you need to fix my back up now. I’m leaving the divers a paper trail.”
“Hand me your dive knife,” he said, taking his arm from around Chip and leaning against the wall.
Lee took the knife, pulled the top of his dive suit to his waist and sliced through his t-shirt to make a bandage and some padding to fit around Chip’s chest and shoulder. “Turn around.”
Chip hesitated. Lee had seen him before the Presidential mission and knew that there were no scars on his back. If he saw them it would be like a red flag to a bull.
“We don’t have time for this, Chip.”
“I know.” He turned so his back was towards Lee and heard the intake of breath, but his friend remained quiet until he had patched Chip up.
“All done, let’s go.”
He looked at Lee. Sure, he hadn’t said anything but Chip could see the tightness in his lips. It would only be a matter of time before he started with the questions.
They continued along the tunnel until the smooth walls stopped, replaced by tunnels that had been carved from sheer rock.
“In…in here,” said Lee, pushing on a keypad similar to the first one.
Chip could see that his friend was about done in. Even talking was clearly an effort. The door opened with a quiet ‘woosh’ and closed behind them as soon as Lee hit the buttons on the other side. They sat down side by side against the far wall, both resting their heads against the cool rock.
“What now? Are there any comms devices in the facility?” asked Chip, now desperate to distract Lee from his back.
“There’s an emergency distress buoy in the schematics, but I’m not sure if that’s been put in place yet.” Lee wiped a hand over his damp face. “Once Bobby figures out we’re overdue he’ll notify the Admiral and they’ll come for us, but right now we’re better off staying put. Why don’t you get some rest and I’ll keep watch?”
The look on Lee’s face told Chip that he didn’t have much choice so he closed his eyes and tried to get some sleep.
The whipping post rose up in front of his face. He felt the fear over and over again, like the first lash of the whip as it hit his back.
Then Chip was on the floor, blood trickling from the cuts on his back, the wraith was swirling around him again, there were two of them, fighting over his body. He struggled against them but the Frenchman had his knee in his back, preventing him from fighting or escaping. The wraiths’ faces drew nearer and nearer until they were upon him, feasting on his body and soul in a murderous frenzy. He heard as scream and realized it came from his lips, then he was sitting against a wall, being shaken…
“Chip, wake up. You’re having a nightmare.”
He felt Lee continue to shake his shoulder, the memory of the pain still as fresh as the moment it was inflicted. As he opened his eyes he saw Lee’s concerned face looking down at him.
“Lee, I’m sorry. I couldn’t…can’t tell you what happened. I had orders from the President,” he explained, reluctant to even admit that much to Lee.
“I understand, Chip.” Lee left his hand on Chip’s shoulder for a moment. “I just want you to know I’m here for you.”
Chip averted his eyes, knowing how hard it must have been for Lee not to ask him more questions. “How much have you figured out?”
“It’s something to do with the prison on Ile de Mal, and the Admiral knows about it.” Lee’s voice became quiet. “And you were badly abused.”
“I can’t stop the nightmares. They’d gone away, then we went back there...”
“…and they started up again,” finished Lee.
His friend gave him a discerning glance. “I figured you must have gone there Christmas two years ago. It’s the only Christmas I’ve ever known you to miss, and you were gone for about a month.”
He thought Lee would continue to press him for details but he didn’t. “We need to get out of here and find that emergency beacon.”
Chip shook his head as Lee tried vainly to get to his feet. “You stay put, buddy. I’ve got this.”
“Chip, you’re not in the best shape either.”
“At least I can walk,” he said without much humor.
Lee looked down at the makeshift bandage and the spear. The bandages were already soaked with blood. “You may have a point.”
“Describe the layout to me and I’ll be back as soon as I’ve released it.”
Once Lee had given him all the information he needed he knelt beside him. “Who do you think they are?”
“I don’t know. There’s no reason for them to be here.” Lee ran a shaky hand through his curly wet hair. “Nothing of value has been brought to the lab yet, not even a table setting.”
“So basically we’re in serious trouble and we don’t even know why?” said Chip, frustrated.
Lee nodded. “I’m afraid so. Sorry, Chip. Maybe I shouldn’t have brought you on this dive. I knew you’d been under pressure. I just thought it might be a chance to talk and find out why you’ve been so quiet lately.”
“It’s not your fault, Lee. You’re not responsible for those divers attacking us.” Chip pressed the combination into the keypad. “Don’t go anywhere.”
“I’ll try not to,” he grinned, appreciating the joke.
As the door opened, Chip took a step back as a spear gun was pointed at his midriff. “Looks like we won’t need that beacon, Lee.”
Chip and Lee were dragged from the lab back towards the airlock. Chip could tell that Lee was having a rough time of it. The men wore black wetsuits with a red triangle on the chest and each was heavily armed with a spear gun, pistol and knife.
“What do you want?” he asked.
“You’re coming with us,” the short curly-haired man said in a thick French accent. “Your Captain can stay where he is.”
Chip glanced at Lee, took in the pallor of his skin and his shaking hands as they moved to clutch at his thigh.
“You won’t get any co-operation from me if you leave him here,” said Chip determinedly.
“We’ll see.” He nodded to the other men. “Henri, Jacques, take him to the airlock and put a mask on him.”
Chip’s head spun around towards Lee. “I’m not leaving without Captain Crane. Whatever you think you can do to me to make me talk, think again. If you leave him here I’ll stay silent until I’m dead. If you bring him along – well, I might be more co-operative.”
Chip looked at Lee and silently willed him to go along with what he was doing. He had no intention of co-operating with their assailants but if it meant Lee would be safe then he would do whatever he could to make that happen and figure out what to do afterwards.
The men looked at each other. “Alain, what do you think?” asked one.
The dark-headed one nodded. “We don’t have much choice. If he won’t talk we can always jettison his precious Captain out of the escape hatch.”
One of the men walked up to Lee. “What about the spear?”
“Take it out,” ordered Alain.
Before Chip realized what was happening, the man pushed Lee onto his back and braced a foot against his thigh, pulling at the barbed end.
“Stop!” cried Chip.
Lee let out an agonized cry as the spear was ripped from his leg, then passed out.
“Why did you do that?” snapped Chip, falling to his knees beside his injured friend.
Alain shrugged. “Either that or we haul him all the way up to Seaview with the spear through his leg. Imagine the drag on it. Put a bandage over his leg then get ready to leave.”
Chip’s instincts were to lash out at him but kept them carefully in check. There would be plenty of time for that later.
Alain nodded to the other men and pushed Chip’s diving equipment into his hands. “Put the full face mask on the Captain.”
“Have you taken Seaview over?” asked Chip, hoping to find out what he was up against.
“We have no need with your submarine,” replied Alain.
“Who are you?”
Alain smirked. “Don’t you remember me from Ile de Mal?”
Chip’s throat constricted as the memories of the whipping came back to him. “You were there.”
“That’s right. I was the one wielding the whip. It was unfortunate that you were saved by the British.” He circled Chip as the XO was forced to put his tanks and mask on. “I think you might have lasted for ten strokes before you begged me to stop.”
Chip clenched his teeth together to stop from saying something that would make things worse. More than anything he wanted to settle a score with this man, but not until both Lee and Seaview were out of danger. Only then would he indulge in his vengeance.
Lieutenant Bobby O’Brien paced the control room nervously. It had been an hour since the last transmission from the Skipper and Mister Morton.
“Sparks, has there been anything yet?”
“Not yet, Sir. I’ve tried to raise them every five minutes.”
O’Brien heard the worry in Sparks’ voice. “Alright, contact the Institute. I want to speak with Admiral Nelson.”
“Chief,” called O’Brien.
“Yes, Sir?” replied Sharkey.
“Get a diving party together. Four divers, I’m not taking any chances. I want you down there yesterday, but stay in contact. I don’t care if you have to tell Sparks about your last shore leave. I do mean constant.”
“Understood, Sir,” said the Chief.
O’Brien wished he was going with the Chief, but his place was here on the boat since none of the three ranking officers were onboard.
“Mister O’Brien, I’ve tried to contact the Institute, but it looks like we’re getting some type of interference.”
“Could that explain why we can’t contact the Skipper or Mister Morton?”
Sparks nodded as he lifted the top of his radio set. “I’m going to do a diagnostic, but I think it’s an external source outside Seaview.”
O’Brien frowned. “Kowalski, do you have anything on sonar?”
“I want to know if you see anything, even an air bubble.”
“Aye, Sir,” replied Kowalski.
O’Brien was pleased to see the rating double his attention on the instruments. He looked at the crew in the control room. If anything had happened to the Skipper and the XO, he had the best possible crew to rescue them. He avoided thinking of the other possibilities.
“Mister O’Brien, Sir!” called Kowalski.
“What is it?”
“Sonar contact moving away from the facility and fast.”
O’Brien picked up the microphone. “O’Brien to missile room.”
“Patterson here, Sir.”
“Have Chief Sharkey and the diving party left yet?”
“I’m just about to shut the hatch now.”
“Belay that order. Have the Chief change and report to me in the control room ASAP.”
“O’Brien to engine room.”
“Give me all the speed you’ve got.”
“We’re going to follow that contact.” He put his hand on Kowalski’s shoulder. “I need you to be at your best, Ski. If we lose that contact, I think we’ll lose the Skipper and Mister Morton.”
“You can count on me, Mister O’Brien.”
O’Brien walked into the nose to briefly gaze out of the herculite windows. If he was wrong about this, and their two missing officers were still in the facility maybe injured or worse, then his call had been a very bad one, possibly a fatal one. He straightened his shoulders. He’d had to make a decision and he would have to live with it either way and just hope it was the right one.
He looked behind him to find Sharkey standing there and to his shock, the XO. The two men were handcuffed and flanked by six heavily armed men who proceeded to round up the crew.
“Mister O’Brien, stand down,” ordered Chip. “The contact you saw was a decoy so they could board and stop Seaview.” He glanced at Alain.
“Where’s Captain Crane?”
“He’s on the floor beside the moon pool,” said Chip, with barely reigned in anger.
O’Brien wouldn’t want to be in the men’s shoes once the XO got loose. He’d been on the receiving end of his superior officer’s anger on a few occasions. However, each time the XO’s anger was warranted. If there was one thing he understood and respected about him, it was his fairness and impartiality.
“Is he okay?”
Chip shook his head and turned to the man holding his arm. “You promised me he’d get medical attention,” he growled.
“We need to be certain there will be no stupid attempts by your crew to resist.”
“Why are you here?” asked Chip.
Alain nodded towards a chair and Chip was pushed into it. Alain sat on the edge of the table, blocking his line of vision into the control room. “The Templar documents – we need them and you know where they are.”
“No, they were already retrieved,” replied Chip.
The Frenchman leaned forwards, his mouth close to Chip’s ear. “Not those ones. There were more, you can’t have had time to get them. I know you were told where they are hidden.”
Chip was struggling with this new information. He had no idea what or where the documents were, or even if they were still in the prison. Part of him wanted to tell Alain the truth, but another part knew Lee’s survival depended on his ability to string them along.
“I’m not telling you anything until the doctor is allowed to treat Captain Crane.”
His captor stood up, giving Chip a clear view of what was happening behind, in the control room. “As you can see, we have already brought your Captain here in anticipation of your information.”
Lee’s arms were draped over two men, his eyes were closed and blood still trickled down his leg from where the spear had been torn out.
Despair settled over Chip for a brief moment, but it was quickly replaced by determination.
Chip heard footsteps on the staircase and felt his spirit buoyed as Jamie walked down to the nose.
“Well, Lieutenant Commander, what is your decision?” Alain pointed to Lee, who was unconscious. “Does your doctor attend him, or do we allow him to die in front of you and your crew?”
Jamie tried to get to Lee, but was stopped by the guards. “He’s bleeding. Let me past,” he snapped.
“Not yet, Doctor,” said the man sitting on the table near Chip. “First of all, I need an answer from your stubborn Executive Officer. This is your last chance. I do not think your Captain will survive for much longer.”
Chip looked up at Jamie. “Let him go, I’ll tell you what you need to know.”
“Put Captain Crane down and let the doctor through.”
Jamie winced as Lee was unceremoniously dropped onto the hard decking. Not even a small sound came from his mouth and Jamie hoped that he was still alive. He knelt beside Lee and carefully checked him over.
“Chip, what happened?”
The XO looked towards him. “He was shot through the leg with a spear gun.” He gave the man sitting on the table a hostile glare. “They pulled it out of him before we came back onboard.”
“Has it been bleeding the whole time?”
“I need to get him to sick bay. He needs surgery and a blood transfusion.” Jamie hoped he hadn’t lost too much blood already.
“Do what you need to do here.”
Jamie left Lee lying where he was and stood up. “Just who are you and what do you want onboard this boat?”
“You could say we are fixers – you can call me Alain. We police the French colonies but unless there is conflict, the colonies do not want know France.” He stood and walked over to the windows, throwing a watchful eye over the ocean. “Without conflict, there will be no French colonies and no Foreign Legion.”
Jamie could see how a warped mind could come up with that conclusion, but that didn’t alter the fact that his Skipper was in desperate need of treatment that could only be given effectively in sick bay. He stood up and approached Alain.
“Please, let me take the Captain to sick bay. He needs to be in a sterile facility with all the machines I need to monitor his progress. Letting him die won’t achieve anything,” he said quietly, trying to moderate the anger and frustration in his voice.
Chip saw O’Brien out of the corner of his eye as he tried to make it to the arms locker. He watched helpless as the Lieutenant was pushed onto his knees – a pistol to his head.
“Do not try to be a hero, Lieutenant, you will die,” said Alain’s voice from behind Jamie. “Also, if the crew does not behave, I will be forced to kill your captain. There is more at stake here than a few worthless lives.”
“Alain, I can tell you where the papers are, but until he gets the proper medical attention you won’t get anything from me.”
The Frenchman stepped forward. “I could merely kill him now to put him out of his misery, like I would a wounded dog.”
Chip got to his feet. “But you won’t,” he said, his voice almost as if he was giving an order to an insubordinate. “The papers you want are more important to you than that.”
Alain knelt down beside Lee’s prone body. He slapped his face and Lee moaned. “Wake up, Captain.”
Lee’s pain-filled eyes opened a slit to settle on Jamie. “J…Jamie, what…?”
Alain grabbed his chin roughly in his hand. “No, you will look at me, Captain.”
Jamie watched as Lee stared vaguely at the man. “You’re one of them. What…what do you want?”
“You choose, Captain. Who do I kill instead of you?”
Lee looked confused. “I don’t understand,” he mumbled before his eyes closed again.
Alain slapped his face once more but Lee was out cold.
“Stop it!” snapped Jamie as Chip went to say something. “Let me treat him maybe he’ll be awake long enough for you to torture him.”
“It’s not Lee he wants to torture,” admitted Chip. “It’s me he wants to get to.”
Alain stood up. “Alright, you can take him to sick bay.” He signaled to one of the guards. “Help him, I want to know the moment he is conscious.”
Chip almost breathed a sigh of relief as Lee was picked up and taken to sick bay. “What now?”
Alain shrugged. “Now you tell me where the documents are.” He pulled out a map of the prison and threw it on the table.
“I need my hands free.”
“Very well, but your crew is still at our mercy. Do not try anything stupid that will make me kill one of them.”
The XO grimaced as the cuffs were removed and bent his head towards the building plans. He made a big show of twisting and turning it before he pointed to one of the walls that had imprisoned the wraith. “There.”
“There? How is that possible?”
“After the wraith was put inside, another brick was inserted on the outside with a ‘G’. The documents were hidden behind there.”
Alain stared at the plans and nodded. “Very well.”
“What now?” asked Chip.
“Our submarine will dock with yours and we will take both you and your Captain onboard. The Seaview will remain here. If your crew follows us, their Captain will die.”
“What do you have to gain by bringing Captain Crane? You still have me.”
Alain pulled out his pistol and pushed it hard into Chip’s solar plexus. Chip grunted with the pain but remained standing. “I do not know yet if you have told me the truth.”
“Why wouldn’t I?”
“Because you are perhaps trying to stall us.”
“Is the French government aware of what you’re doing?” asked Chip. “This could cause an international incident.”
He shrugged and put the pistol back into its holster. “No, they are weak. Sometimes France’s citizens must rise up and strike on behalf of an apathetic government.”
Chip’s eyes narrowed. The man was completely mad. “This isn’t the seventeen hundreds and you aren’t Robespierre.”
Alain smiled. “You are right, but every country needs a Robespierre to enlighten them. I am that man.”
“Mister Morton!” called Kowalski.
“Ski, what is it?”
“That other sub, it’s getting closer.”
“Time to go, Lieutenant Commander. Your moment of glory at the guillotine is fast approaching.” He pulled Chip to his feet and pushed him towards the chart table. “I want your Captain down here now, and conscious.”
“You’re not serious? He might not wake up for hours, he lost a lot of blood.”
Alain shrugged. “Then I will kill him and bring your third in command, Lieutenant O’Brien, I believe that is his name.”
Chip reluctantly picked up the microphone and made the call. “Morton to sick bay.”
“I need the Skipper down here ASAP. Make sure he’s conscious, Jamie.”
Jamieson looked at Lee and shook his head. “Chip, I don’t think I can.”
“Just do it, Jamie, please.”
“It’ll take me a few minutes,” he replied, hearing the desperation in Chip’s voice.
Alain’s voice came over the speaker. “You have ten minutes, after that he ceases to live.”
Jamie slammed the microphone down and hustled to the medicine cabinet. He pulled out two vials of medicine and filled a syringe full of equal amounts of both before quickly administering them.
“Skipper, you need to wake up,” urged Jamie, trying not to sound desperate, but there was no response. “Captain Crane, you have to wake up now!”
The doctor was relieved to see him start to stir.
“Jamie, what’s going on?” he asked, his slurred voice barely a whisper.
“It’s bad. I have to have you down in the nose in seven minutes or…or you’re as good as dead.”
He watched as anger flared across Lee’s eyes, briefly replacing the pain and exhaustion. “The French?”
“Yes, I’m afraid so.” Jamie helped Lee to sit up. “They’re taking you and Chip aboard their submarine as hostages to make sure we don’t follow them.”
“Is there a guard?” asked Lee, looking around the room.
“Listen closely Jamie, they won’t just use us to stop you. They’ll probably have a…” Lee’s voice caught and he squeezed his eyes closed.
“Skipper, are you alright?”
“Just a twinge. Let O’Brien know that there may be a bomb or sabotage.”
The guard came in at that moment and Jamie busied himself by removing the IV line. “At least let me give you something for the pain.” He knew that if Lee showed pain it was more than just a twinge.
Lee shook his head. “No, Jamie. I need to have a clear head.”
“Take a few seconds after you stand up, you lost a lot of blood. I don’t want you passing out again and doing more damage,” advised Jamie.
He supported Lee as he stood up and swayed for a moment before leaning heavily on his good leg. Jamieson noted his face was tight and would have given anything to have kept him in sick bay. If the wound started bleeding again he would be in serious trouble.
“Let’s go,” snapped the guard.
“Here, take these,” said Jamie, offering a pair of crutches. He didn’t think Lee would take them and was both troubled and surprised when he did with very little protest.
“Thanks, Jamie. How long will your concoctions keep me on my feet?”
“About three hours, then you’ll start to find things get worse.”
“Hopefully I’ll be back by then,” he said, disappearing awkwardly through the door.
Jamieson fervently hoped so as he was pushed out of sick bay himself and herded back to the missile room where the non-essential crew had been imprisoned.
Chip looked up as Lee came down the stairs, one step at a time. He got up to help him but was shoved back into his chair.
“Can’t you see he needs help?” he said angrily.
“I need something else from you, Lieutenant Commander.”
What now, thought Chip, unable to take his eyes off Lee’s painstakingly slow progress from the deck above.
“What else is there? I’ve already told you everything I know.”
Alain smiled. “You are so wrong. I need the seal.”
Chip’s heart missed a beat. “What seal?”
“The Freemason’s seal, the one passed down from the Knights Templar over generations. I know you are the keeper.”**
Chip caught the odd looks from the few crewmen who were still present in the control room, but the one look that didn’t bode well for him if they survived this came from Lee.
He swallowed. “I don’t have the seal you’re talking about.”
“I know it is on the Seaview somewhere,” said Alain, walking over to Lee. “You are required to keep it with you at all times to protect it.”
Chip’s eyes flicked to Lee then back to the Frenchman. “The President took it after the mission. It’s been hidden at secret location.”
”I don’t believe you,” said Alain angrily, his smooth veneer finally starting to crack. He motioned to one of the men. “Search his cabin - tear it apart if you need to. I must have the Grand Master’s seal.”
“You won’t find it.”
Alain gripped Lee around one arm and pushed him forward so roughly that he lost his balance and fell heavily into the table.
“Leave him alone you scum,” shouted Kowalski, paying for his trouble with a knockout blow to his head.
Chip heard a loud clank as the docking hatch was opened and more men crowded into the submarine.
“Take them to the submarine and withdraw the other men. I’ll deal with you later, Lieutenant Commander, when we arrive at the prison.” He approached O’Brien. “When we leave, you can release the others.”
Lee and Chip were taken up the steps and through the hatch to the other submarine. Lee had been forced to leave his crutches on Seaview so Chip supported him until they were locked in the brig.
Chip helped Lee over to a bunk and stepped back. “Lee, I…”
“Stow it, Chip! Do you have the seal or don’t you? Because I’m getting really tired of having my six blowing in the wind on your behalf,” asked Lee.
“Yeah, well, get used to it because I seem to be the one doing most of the work lately,” Chip growled back.
Lee pushed himself to his feet and limped over to where Chip was standing. “Oh, and who’s the one standing here with a hole through his leg?” shouted Lee.
Chip edged back towards the brig door. “That’s not my fault, you’re always getting hurt because you’re careless,” he replied, raising his voice.
Lee lunged at Chip, throwing a punch that clipped him high on the left cheekbone then gripped Chip around his neck, choking him.
The guard outside quickly unlocked the door and ran in to separate the two men, only to find himself the victim of a clever ruse.
“I’ve got him, buddy,” whispered Chip.
Lee abruptly dropped his hands to his side and moved out of the way of Chip’s elbow as it flew past his chin. He looked up just in time to see Chip strike the guard hard in the throat and saw him fall to the floor unconscious.
“Sorry about that punch, I thought I’d better make it look good,” grinned Lee.
Chip looked down at Lee’s leg, and nodded. “It’s nothing compared to what you’ve got.”
“Let’s get out of here and sink this damned sub.”
His friend grabbed him around his back and under his arm, half-dragging him out of the brig towards the hatch as Lee limped along beside him.
“We’re not moving yet, there’s still a chance that they haven’t undocked.”
They headed towards the bottom hatch as quickly as they could. Chip left Lee leaning against the passage wall while he looked inside at the hatch. One of the men was just closing the hatch. He was alone, so Chip crept up behind him and was about to grab him around the neck when he turned. Before Chip could react, the man drew his gun. Chip pushed it away as he let off a wild shot. He struggled away from Chip’s grasp and hit him hard in the stomach, knocking him back against the hatch.
Chip quickly moved in as the man lined up for another shot. He dropped his shoulder and ploughed into his midriff, jamming him up against the bulkhead. Chip pulled away, waiting to deliver another blow when the guard slipped to the floor. He dragged him into a storage locker and pushed the doors shut before going out to help Lee.
He lowered Lee to the floor and jumped into the hatch before opening the Seaview’s hatch below.
“Come on down, Lee. Do you think you can make it? I’ll come down after you and close off the hatches.”
Lee nodded, but Chip noticed that the earlier fight had left him. Sweat was trickling down his pale face and his jaws were clenched hard together. “I’ll be right behind you, Lee.”
He watched as Lee lowered himself rung by rung down to the Seaview and stepped up onto the decking to grab the microphone to announce that the hatch was closed. Then he rapidly dived into the hatch himself and closed both behind him.
“Lee, where are you?” asked Chip.
“Over here, Chip,” called the Captain. “They laid O’Brien out pretty well. He’s in bad shape.”
Chip stepped around the side of the chart table to see the young Lieutenant lying unconscious on the deck, blood streaked across his face, his uniform torn.
Lee looked up at him. “Go and release the others, I’ll take care of him. Oh, and Chip, you’ll need to send out some teams to go over the boat for a bomb or sabotage. I doubt they would have let Seaview leave so easily.”
The XO didn’t waste time on words and took off at a run towards the missile room. He tore the hatch open as quickly as he could and released the crew. “Everyone to your stations, we’re at battle stations as of now,” he ordered. “Prepare for immediate evasive maneuvers and ready torpedoes in tubes one through four. Sharkey, prepare teams to sweep the boat for a bomb or sabotage. Now move!”
“You heard Mister Morton, let’s move, we’ve got a sub to sink,” shouted Sharkey as he hauled some ratings aside.
He turned to Jamie. “You’re needed immediately in the control room, Jamie.” Chip ran back to the nose with Jamie breathing down his neck a few steps behind. “It’s O’Brien, he’s hurt,” he called over his shoulder.
“I’ll see to him and the Skipper, you take care of that submarine,” Jamie called, moving past Chip as they entered the control room.
As soon as everyone was in position Chip took command. “Kowalski, are you alright to stay on sonar?” he asked, remembering the hit he took to the head earlier.
“Where’s the other sub?”
“Three hundred yards off our starboard bow and moving away slowly.”
Chip grabbed the microphone. “Missile room, prepare to fire torpedoes one and three on my mark.”
“Uh, Sir, we have a problem with the tubes.”
“What is it?”
“They’re wired up to a bomb, a big one.”
Chip rubbed a frustrated hand over his face. “Chief, ready the laser.”
“Steady as you go, helm.”
Chip stepped in front of the laser and lined the sight on the departing submarine. He wiped some perspiration from his eyes and pressed the button.
“Direct hit, Mister Morton,” called Kowalski.
“All stations brace for turbulence,” warned Chip over the microphone as he watched the ocean floor being torn up by the resulting underwater explosion.
He braced himself against the chart table then noticed that Lee was nowhere to be seen. “Jamie, where’s Lee?”
Jamie put his back against the table, stabilizing O’Brien at the same time. “He had some idea about saving the day again, grabbed the crutches and went off to the missile room.”
“Damn, when will he learn,” rumbled Chip irritably.
He had no time to go after Lee because the shock wave hit Seaview with a vengeance. It threw the submarine around like a toy, charts and crewmen went flying and panels burst into flames as wires shorted. Chip felt a rib give as he hit the corner of the table. The aftershock continued for a few more seconds, then the sea returned to the state of calm it had been in prior to the explosion.
Chip gasped as he reached for the mic, forgetting his broken rib. “Damage control, report!” he said in a calm voice.
“Frames twenty to twenty-three were damaged, but are holding, Sir. Numerous reports of casualties throughout,” came the reply.
“Morton to missile room, what’s the status on the bomb?”
“Sir, the skipper’s not here, we don’t know what to do.”
Chip looked around the control room. “Kowalski, you have the con.”
Ski’s eyes grew wide. “Sir…I…I…”
“Surface, blow all ballast, the rest’s yours. I’ll be in the missile room,” he said on the way out of the control room.
He ran the whole way to the missile room, dodging injured crew and debris everywhere, but he didn’t see Lee. The adrenalin shooting through his veins masked the pain of his injury.
“Chief, what’ the situation?” he snapped, throwing the missile room door open and striding over to the torpedo tubes.
“The bomb’s here, Sir,” replied Sharkey, perspiration dripping off his chin.
Chip stared at the open tubes and rubbed a hand over his face. “Why hasn’t our bomb disposal expert cleared this?”
Sharkey pointed to an unconscious man lying to one side of the torpedo rack. “He hit the rack hard, Sir. Nobody’s been able to wake him up.”
“Is there a timer?”
“Here,” Sharkey knelt down at the side of one of the tubes and pointed to a small clock, hidden away from view.
Chip blinked to make sure he’d seen the time correctly. “Three minutes,” he said quietly, then took the microphone in his hand. “Morton to control room.”
“Kowalski here, Sir.”
“How far to the surface?”
“One hundred yards.”
He left the mic dangling from its cord and turned to Sharkey.
“Yes, Sir. What now?”
“Can all the explosives be placed into one tube?”
“I…” Sharkey shook his head. “I think once we shoot the water out of the tube, if one catches on the side it might trigger the timer.”
“Disconnect them from the tubes, put them into a cloth bag with a weight and I’ll take them outside.”
“Chief, there’s not time,” he said, trying to stay patient. “Just do it.”
Chip grabbed tanks, a face mask and a clip-on harness. By the time he’d slipped them on, Sharkey was ready with the sack of explosives.
“Be careful, Mister Morton.”
“As soon as the outer hatch opens, get Kowalski to bring us to five knots, but to continue surfacing.”
Chip got into the escape hatch and saw the hatch dogged behind him. He looked down at the timer – only a minute and a half left. The outer hatch opened and he kicked upwards and towards Seaview’s aft section. As he felt the submarine pick up speed he hooked onto one of the rungs, released the slack and kicked hard downward until he was below the boat. He released the bag and kicked back up, pulling on the harness as hard as he could.
The drag from the submarine was getting stronger and he only just managed to make it onto the deck. He knew he had to get inside the boat or the shock wave could kill him. The missile room hatch was only a few feet away, but his lungs were burning from the exertion and the agonizing pain in the side of his chest was almost debilitating as he moved closer.
Inching nearer he gripped the handle to open the hatch and turned with all his strength. He felt the hatch give and pulled it up, flinging himself through the hatch as the explosive charges blew. For the second time that day he was flung about like a rag doll as the boat lurched and shuddered against the shockwave. He didn’t know how he managed to close the hatch, but before he knew it he was on the way down to the missile room.
When he was on the bottom of the escape hatch he just lay there, trying to catch his breath and dampen the pain in his rib cage.
The door opened wide and Sharkey stood there. “Mister Morton! Are you alright, Sir?”
Chip held up a hand to let the Chief know he was fine, but didn’t speak until he’d been hauled outside the hatch and was sitting down. “Have you found Captain Crane?”
“No, Sir, nobody seems to know where he is.”
A chill went through Chip. “Have a search party look through the submarine immediately.”
If Lee had been on his way here, it made sense that he should have been in one of the corridors leading to the missile room – so where was he? Chip threw off his equipment and hurried back through the boat, checking each room as he did for his missing friend.
He was about to give up and return to the control room when he heard a groan from behind a closed door.
“Lee!” he shouted, trying to get into the room.
“Door’s jammed hard,” came a weak reply.
“Can’t, I’m part of the problem.”
“Hold on, I’m coming through the air vent.” He grabbed the mic and notified Sharkey. “Morton to Chief Sharkey, get a work team to the instrument room immediately. The Skipper’s in there and there’s an obstruction against the door. I’m going in through the vent.”
“Aye, aye, Sir.”
Chip could hear the chief yelling orders before he’d even let go of the button. He put a hand to his ribs and moved to the entry to the vent system. Taking a deep breath he pulled the grate open and levered himself up, groaning with the pain in his chest.
“Lee, I’m in the vent system, I’ll be there in a minute,” he called, crawling as quickly as he could through the confined space.
He came to the outlet in the instrument room and pushed the grate open to find Lee stuck precariously between two large shelving units.
Lee looked up and gave him a weak grin. “It’s not as bad as it looks.”
“So, while I was risking my life saving the boat, you’ve been sitting on your backside relaxing,” he quipped, dropping carefully to the deck.
The Captain grimaced. “Sorry about that. Seems she chose the wrong moment to lurch to starboard.”
“Hmm, always happy to lay the blame elsewhere,” he joked, trying to make light of the situation – he noticed Lee’s leg had started to bleed again. “If you hadn’t been busy doing your ‘save the day on one leg and crutches’ routine, you would have been safely in the nose with Jamie.”
Chip pulled carefully at one of the shelf units and gasped as pain drilled through his ribs.
“Chip, what’s the matter?”
“Hit my damned ribs on the chart table about the same time you got yourself wedged in here,” he admitted, realizing there was no point in hiding it now.
Both men looked up as someone banged on the door. “Mister Morton, we’re here. What do you need?” asked Sharkey.
“Chief, I need two men to come in here using the vent shafts with a hand-held winch to move some of this debris.” He looked at Lee. “Are you hurt anywhere else?”
Lee gingerly touched his head and came away with sticky blood. “Might have cut myself on the shelf.”
“I guess that’s not too bad for one day,” Chip said quietly, feeling the pain of his own injury increasing.
Chip looked at his watch. It would take Sharkey a few minutes to get everything organized.
“Want to tell me about what happened?” Lee asked, observing Chip. “It won’t go away if you keep it shut up.”
Chip leaned his head back against the bulkhead and closed his eyes, going back to the moment in time when he’d received the Presidential summons. Quietly he started to talk.
“Mister Morton, there’s a coded message for you from Washington,” said Sparks.
Seaview had been out on a mission for the past two months, mapping the seafloor after underwater seismic upheavals had changed some of the characteristics. Almost all the crew had left the boat for Christmas shore leave in Santa Barbara, including Lee and the Admiral.
Chip took the message and went to his cabin to decode it. It had definitely been for him, there was no mistake. As he wrote down the text a lump formed in his throat.
TOP SECRET – EYES ONLY
From The President of the United States
To Lieutenant Commander Charles Morton
Executive Officer SSRN Seaview
Under Executive Orders from the President you are under secondment to the President of the United States for the purpose of carrying out special orders effective immediately.
Transport will arrive at 1430 hours to take you from SSRN Seaview to Washington.
By Order of the President
Chip sat there stunned – that was in ten minutes. He pulled himself together and hastened to pack a travel bag with a couple of sets of uniforms and toiletries before heading up to the gangway. By the time he got there the car had just arrived. He stepped inside and sat back against the cool leather. He had told Sparks he was heading off on shore leave himself, and he would probably be out of contact for a couple of weeks. Because of the duration of the last mission, Nelson had ordered a month-long respite for all the crew, with officers returning a few days early after the festive season. Chip knew he probably wouldn’t be missed, although he wondered if Lee would try to find him.
On arrival in Washington he was taken immediately to the White House and ushered quickly into the Oval Office.
“Lieutenant Commander, I’m sorry I had to get you here in such a hurry,” offered the President as he shook Chip’s hand. “We have a problem and time is running out.”
He explained to Chip about the documents hidden on the Ile de Mal in the prison, and the significance attached to their retrieval.
“Forgive me, Sir, but I don’t understand why you asked for me instead of just using a SEAL team,” he asked.
Before answering, the President got up from the lounge suite, ordered some coffee and sandwiches and returned to his seat. “I believe you’re the best man for the mission, Lieutenant Commander. That’s all you need to know. The documents I spoke about were placed on the island by the Knights Templar when the prison had been used by their organization.”
He stopped as the refreshments arrived. Chip still didn’t understand why he’d been specifically ordered to go on the mission. The President’s answer to his question had been deliberately vague and it was all very intriguing.
The President offered him coffee and sat down again. “This is a highly secret mission – if it gets out, well, I don’t even want to contemplate the outcry. This information was only uncovered two days ago by one of our historians. I hope to God the document is there.”
“I believe you hold a seal that was passed down to you by your Grandfather. You will need to use to seal to unlock the vault on the island,” explained the President.
Chip started – the seal had been in his family for three generations and he’d taken great pains to make sure it was in a completely safe location.
He laid out a rolled up map that had been sitting on the table. It was a map of the Ile de Male prison. “This is the vault, and here are some pictures of it.”
“How do I get there and when do I leave, Sir?”
“Do you have the seal?”
“It’s back in Santa Barbara, in a safe place.”
“Once you have that you’ll leave immediately on one of our submarines. You’ll enter through a hidden entrance. It’s not on any map. The secrets of the prison were handed down verbally through the centuries.”
Like Chinese whispers, thought Chip, I just hope the information’s accurate. He listened to the President describe the prison and the operation for the next hour. As he was about to leave the President grabbed his arm.
“There’s one more thing. If you see any areas with a ‘G’ engraved on the stones, do not enter or touch the engraving. A thing more terrible than you can imagine was imprisoned on the island centuries ago. A wraith – if it is ever released nobody would be safe. It’s important you know that.”
With his head still reeling from all the information, he was transported by private jet back to Santa Barbara where he got the seal from its hiding place. Once he’d done that he’d been flown to England in an air force jet and choppered out to a submarine. It had been a whirlwind trip and had left him exhausted from lack of sleep. Not a good start to a mission.
On board the submarine, he’d met the other three members of his team. All of them were highly trained and experienced SEAL team members. He felt like the odd one out.
Everything had gone well until they’d entered the prison. One of the SEALS had missed an alarm tripwire and it and the spotlights had gone off like the Fourth of July. Chip had been separated from the others and managed to almost make it over the prison wall. He’d been shot with a rubber bullet in his thigh and fallen badly, dislocating his shoulder as he went down through the tree he’d used to get up to the wall.
Even though he’d been injured, he was treated brutally by the guards and was almost unconscious by the time he was thrown into a cell, his hands manacled behind his back. The pain in his shoulder had been excruciating, and his leg was still unusable from the bullet.
Chip was brought back to the present by the arrival of Sharkey and two crewmen. He caught the sympathetic look Lee gave him, and cleared his throat.
“I guess you’ll want to finish this later?”
Lee nodded as the men began extricating him from the mess of mangled steel. “We’ll have plenty of time in sickbay to continue.”
Chip gave a resigned sigh. “Yup, I guess you’re right. Jamie’s won again.”
“I don’t know, as soon as I heard you were missing, I high-tailed it down here to check for you.” Chip turned to Sharkey. “Chief, do you know how Mister O’Brien is?”
“It’s not good, Mister Morton. I’ve only heard a few second-hand things and doc’s got him in sickbay right now. I think he’s got internal hemorrhaging.” He grunted as he helped the crewman support one of the steel shelves while the other was winched off. “Those thugs really did a number on him.”
Finally Lee was able to be taken from the room, stubbornly insisting on walking with his battered crutches rather than be helped. Chip shook his head and wished Jamie had been there to order some sense into him.
Once they got to sick bay, Frank persuaded the pair of them to lie in bunks and wait for Jamie to finish with O’Brien.
Lee grasped Frank’s arm. “How is he?”
Frank shook his head, his expression hidden. “Doctor Jamieson’s doing all he can, Skipper.”
Chip caught Lee’s look and knew he had to finish what he’d started. “You want to know the rest?”
Lee nodded. “Got nothing better to do right now. It looks like Kowalski’s got a handle on things.”
“Had no choice with you, Bobby and me out of commission and all the other officers busy with damage control. He’s done a good job.”
Chip recalled where he’d stopped telling Lee about the prison and shivered. The next part was the part he that kept him awake at night.
He’d been left in the cell for some time, but he’d lost track of how much. There was a bunk and one other occupant in the room, but he didn’t care to move much right now with the amount of pain it caused him. The other man was asleep, and Chip left him to it.
After a while the door opened and food was brought in. His manacles stayed on and remained behind his back so there was no way he could have eaten even if he’d had an appetite. One of the guards had taken exception to the way Chip had looked at him and kicked him hard in the ribs. Agony sliced through his body to the point where he mercifully blacked out. He had a high level of pain tolerance, but after almost forty-eight hours without sleep he was at the end of the line. That treatment had continued for the next three days.
On the last day he was taken to a special room – as he found out, it was a room of incredible pain and torment. In the middle was a whipping post like the ones he’d seen in medieval dungeons when he’d visited France and England on holidays. He hadn’t expected to see one here, in a modern-day prison.
“You are a guest of the French Foreign Legion, and I want to know who you are and why you are here,” said a bull-faced giant of a man.
Chip couldn’t even fall back on his name, rank and serial number, since the President had told him the mission had to be kept secret at all cost. He knew now that the cost to him was going to be great, but he had his orders and knew the President wouldn’t have given them to him without good reason.
The man took him by the dislocated shoulder and pressed his fingers deeply into the damaged tissue. A moan came from Chip’s mouth, unbidden and unwelcome – he knew any sign of weakness would be his undoing.
“I see you are a tough man. Well, we shall see just how tough you are after your back has been sliced open by the whip.” He let Chip go and shoved him towards the triangle of posts. “Tie him to the whipping post, that will get the truth from of him,” snarled a voice.
Chip could barely breathe as it was. Two of his ribs felt broken and his right shoulder had been dislocated when he had been caught breaking into the prison. That had been four days ago. The guards had been brutal in their capture and during his brief incarceration. He could still feel the indentations in his side where their steel capped boots had kicked him on a few occasions when he had refused to obey their orders.
“You’ll talk or you’ll die!
He stared back at the tall, ugly giant who now held a long leather whip in his hand, swinging it with casual indifference.
Chip half-walked and was half-dragged toward the dreaded post. The agony of his shoulder injury tore through him, ripping a cry from his mouth. The pain continued as his arms were tied above his head, his feet to the bottom of the pyramid of wood.
“I will give you one more chance to speak before I begin. Perhaps you would like to look at the instrument I will use.” The Frenchman dangled a large leather whip in front of his half-closed eyes. “Men have rarely lasted for ten lashes, but you…I think it might take longer.”
Chip shook his head.
“No…nothing? Very well.”
The man moved away from his vision and Chip felt his t-shirt torn from his back. He could hear the man swishing the whip through the air, then it cracked across his back, tearing at his skin and sinews. It was like an electric shock. His whole body tensed at the moment it cut into him. He bit down on his lip in an attempt to stop himself crying out – felt the blood trickle down his chin and onto his chest.
“Now do you wish to speak?”
Chip pursed his lips closed. His ordeal would end in his death before he betrayed the President and his own country.
This time there was no warning as the leather streaked through the air and landed only an inch away from where the first stinging lash had fallen. The cry left his lips before he could stop it and he knew the lashes would fall hard and fast from that moment. Just as he’d resigned himself to death, he heard the door crash open.
“The British are here, Alain. They are freeing the prisoners.”
“Merde! Untie him and give him something that will remind him of us then lock the door. If he dies, even better.”
Chip felt his bonds cut and he fell painfully to the sandstone floor. He could barely move, let alone stand up, so he dragged himself towards the door, feeling the blood trickle down his back and sides. He’d almost made it when he felt the boots kicking him, then the darkness closed in and he lost consciousness.
“Not only that. I was told if I survived the torture, I would be forcibly inducted into the French Foreign Legion. It’s a voluntary service, but for political prisoners they have made rare exceptions.” He shivered before Lee’s eyes. “If that had happened, you would never have found me. My cellmate had been in the Legion. He told me the odds of survival were poor. Once a garrison commandant discovered that a new recruit wasn’t there of their own free will, they ended up disappearing one night.”
Lee could only imagine what that must have been like. “How long were you there?”
“Four days. It was enough. If the British hadn’t come into the prison to close it down that very moment, I would have bled out on the floor. The third stroke was about to be given when they stormed the prison. I remember being beaten again before they left me there, bleeding to death. Those hours in the prison were the darkest I’ve ever experienced.”
He didn’t look at Lee as he finished his story. “The next thing I was aware of was being put onboard a British destroyer and then air-lifted to London where I recovered for a while. I don’t know how the documents were retrieved. I have no memory of that.”
“I did wonder. When you came back to work, I noticed that you were a bit quieter than normal. I just thought it was because you were tired,” Lee said quietly. “I’m sorry…I should have said something.”
“No, I would have lied…told you the cover story.” Chip looked over to him. “It’s been hard since I went back to the prison. The memories all came back too vividly. I guess that’s what started the nightmares.”
Lee nodded. “At least it’s all over now…isn’t it?”
“I hope we never have anything to do with it again,” Chip replied with feeling. “I just wonder how many other fanatics are out there like Alain and his band of foreign legion mercenaries.”
As Lee was about to respond, Jamie walked through the door. His scrubs were bloodied and his face showed exhaustion. He raised a hand to stop either of the two men speaking.
“I know you’re worried about Bob. He had some internal bleeding from his beating – I’ve taken care of it and he’ll make a full recovery, physically at any rate.”
“Mentally?” asked Lee, looking pointedly at Chip.
“It’ll take time, Skipper. I can’t tell you when, just be there for him.” Jamie rubbed his hands together and looked at Lee. “Frank tells me he stopped your bleeding, and since neither of you have life-threatening injuries, I’ll be back to take care of you once I’ve cleaned up.”
He left the room and the two officers were alone again. Once more Lee glanced at Chip, and the XO knew there was a double meaning in the look. The tension left him and he sighed. “So, I’m not perfect, but I’ll survive. I’m glad you know. It was difficult letting you, the Admiral and the others go into the prison without me. I wanted to tell you more than anything.”
Lee smiled. “Chip, I understand, you should know that. It’s why I didn’t press for more information in the underwater lab.”
“What about Jamie? He’s going to find out when he looks at my back.”
“I guess he needs to know a little of what went on but you don’t have to go into much detail.” Lee laid his weary and sore head back on the pillow. “Besides, I’ll be here.”
Chip thought Lee was about to go to sleep when he twisted around on one elbow and looked at him. “By the way, nice work today, saving our lives.”
“Um, just doing my job,” mumbled Chip, his face going red.
“No, what you did was more than that,” said Lee appreciatively.
“Alright you two, enough chatting,” said Jamie, walking back into the room. “Chip, Frank will take a look at your back and check you over while I draw the short straw and patch up the Skipper again.”
Chip smothered a laugh, while Lee glared at the doctor, trying to look hurt and not quite making it.
“Just another day at the office,” grinned Chip as he rolled over to let Frank stitch him up.
He was asleep before the corpsman had even cut off his shirt.
Lee looked at Chip and smiled. Now he knew what had been troubling his friend he would be there for him. It had been a long day, and it was finally over despite Seaview coming too close to the brink destruction once more, along with her crew. Chip had a lot to be proud of, but his friend would only think he was doing his job as a good XO. Lee knew otherwise, that Chip had gone far beyond his duty to save everyone’s lives. He too closed his eyes as Jamie started to work on his leg, satisfied that they had survived another day and let sleep take him.
**Although there are or were seals and each was individually different for each Grand Master, I was unable to find a distinctive description of the one given to Jacques de Molay - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knights_Templar_Seal.