If you want it…
The words echoed in Lee Crane’s head, buzzing like a hive of bees. They were Nelson’s words, offering him command of the Seaview.
In all the years that Lee had heard of Nelson’s dream, he never thought that the admiral could find the means to bring her to life. Not even in Chip’s letters and calls did it seem real. It was only now, sitting in the nose and watching the ocean glide by, did Lee finally feel the dream that had come to life. A dream that now had form and texture.
Not everything had been a dream though. His ribs still ached from that…whatever it was that tried to squeeze the life out of him. He had yet to thank Malone and Chief Jones for their help. He might not have made it back to the boat without them.
Could he take command of Seaview? The question resonated like a plucked harp string in his mind. He had a lot of work to do. The crew was more than ready to toss him overboard after the stunt he’d pulled coming aboard. Maybe if he’d known what would be offered to him…
He heard a sound behind him and Lee spun the chair around, seeing the familiar, broad-shouldered silhouette of Chip Morton, Seaview’s exec and his former academy roommate.
“Thought I’d find you here,” Chip’s deeper voice said.
“It’s beautiful. I’ve never seen anything like it,” replied Lee, spinning the chair back about and letting his eyes drift back to the enormous windows.
Chip closed the distance between him and his old friend, perching on the corner of the table, letting one long leg dangle over the edge. “You’re not the only one. I find the admiral down here sometimes.”
“What’s it like? Working with him, I mean?” Lee asked.
Chip grinned. “Well, he’s got a temper, you know that. But he’s brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. I don’t understand a quarter of what’s he talking about most of the time. I just keep the crew on their toes, ready for whatever he had in mind.”
Lee turned his gaze away from Morton, back to the magnificent windows. “Has to be a way to integrate these windows into the control room,” he said in awe.
Chip continued to grin although Lee couldn’t see it. “The admiral is already thinking about that. Get him to talk about the Flying Sub sometime.”
Lee’s head snapped around. “The Flying what?”
“Ask the admiral. Not me. I’m just the exec.”
“Like hell. You held this crew together. Without you they’d have probably dumped me overboard.”
Chip snorted. “Pull another stunt like trying to sneak aboard like that and I’ll help them. Seaview’s skipper doesn’t have to sneak aboard.”
Lee fixed his friend with an intense gaze. “You seem to take it for granted I’m accepting.”
Morton shrugged. “Aren’t you? Don’t tell me you’re thinking of turning the admiral down?” Chip’s voice turned incredulous.
It was Lee’s turn to shrug. “I don’t think the crew will accept me,” he said.
“And whose fault is that?” Chip remarked dryly.
“Like I knew this was going to happen!” Lee hissed, rising out of the chair and jamming his hands into his pockets, pacing the length of the nose.
Chip watched Lee move, aware that Lee couldn’t sit still for very long. He had to be up and doing something. Catching him just sitting still was a rare moment indeed. It just wasn’t Lee’s nature. “You can work through this. The admiral wants you and the crew will follow his lead. I want you to stay.”
“Can you be my second? Can you follow my orders?”
“What the hell have I been doing the last eleven days? I gave you the space you obviously wanted and I had enough sense to wait until this blasted mess was over with before corning you about it. You had your reasons. I accepted them. Now it’s time to face facts. You’re perfect for Seaview, Lee. Admit it. You don’t want to leave. Hell, you admitted it to me yourself.”
Lee sighed. He’d forgotten how well Chip could read him, even in the half darkness of the nose, with the ocean shadows playing across Lee’s features, turning Chip’s white-blond hair silvery blue-green. “She’s so unlike anything I’ve ever dreamed.” Without thinking, Lee reached out and rested an open palm on the nearest bulkhead, almost like he was seeking a connection with the vessel.
“Then accept command. Nelson wants you, bad enough to take on Admiral Starke and even ONI. And before you ask, yes. I know all about ONI.”
“I never said anything about ONI,” Lee defended himself. He pulled back his hand, letting the fingers of his right hand reach for the ring he wore on his left, twisting the band around and around. Chip had been right earlier. He’d been picked for this mission because he’d previously commanded a boomer and he had experience with nuclear weapons, but it was also his ONI experience, his ability to think and assess a situation quickly and his extraction success that ONI had been counting on. Seaview had been considered expendable, but ONI was counting on Lee to bring her home. It looked bad on your résumé when you get the youngest man to make four stars killed in action. ONI—and by extension the navy—wanted to avoid that.
“I’m the exec. I know all and see all. Admiral Johnson sided with the admiral, if I heard correctly.”
Lee was at a loss for words. ONI called on him far too much for them to just let him go reserves without a fight. Lee thought he smelled a plot but it was getting late and he was actually feeling tired. He noticed Chip watching him with those eyes. “What?” he asked.
“Watching you. Wondering how you can say no.”
“How much longer before we reach Santa Barbara?”
“Just a hair over 36 hours. Funny, you could have called for a chopper to take you back to your boat,” Chip said.
“I still could,” Lee replied.
“Why wait? If you don’t want command, then have McMurray call for a chopper. We’re not that far out. Bound to be a carrier close by. We can lift you out, drop you back on your boat and we both can go about our merry little ways.” Chip picked up the nearest mike and held it out to Lee. Offering him a way out. Making Lee chose.
Lee stood there, silhouetted against the glow of Seaview’s forward running lights. It was a stand-off, both men waiting, each man watching the other.
Chip realized he was holding his breath, afraid to breathe as, slowly, Lee walked toward him. With long fingers, Lee accepted the mike and very gently he replaced the instrument back in its cradle.
“How soon can you stow away Captain Philips’s things?” Lee asked quietly. It was unsettling, sleeping in the cabin of a dead man, surrounded by the memories and reminders of a life cut short. Just one of the reasons he hadn’t gotten much sleep in the past few days.
Chip grinned. “I’ll see to it first thing in the morning. If it bothers you, you can crash in my cabin till we get things cleaned out,” he said and saw a ghost of a smile on Lee’s face.
“No, that’s not necessary. I’ll stay where I am,” Lee said, turning once more to gaze into the ocean “It’s going to be interesting.”
Chip walked forward and dropped a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “They say be careful what you wish for,” he began.
“You might get it?” Lee finished.
“And what did you wish for, Lee?”
Lee Crane focused on the ocean, seeing all and nothing. His chance to work under Admiral Nelson, the chance to work with Chip, to be a part of Nelson’s dream, the chance to command the greatest vessel ever to set sail…
“I think I found it,” Lee replied distantly. He felt Chip’s finger tighten on his shoulder, offering a brief squeeze of reassurance.
“Me too,” Chip replied, acknowledging that life was about to get interesting indeed.