by One Red Fish
Note: Dead reckoning is a navigational process used to estimate an unknown global position by using a known position and advancing its course, speed, time and distance to determine the new one. Dead reckoning is navigation without access to the stars. With stellar observation, you are "live", while, with logs, compasses, clocks, but no sky, you are working "dead".
Captain Lee Crane glanced at the chronometer for the second time in the last three minutes.
He breathed a soft sigh of relief. The warning had been for naught, then. The boat was still running fine, and the time of which they had been forewarned had come and gone.
But, his relief lasted only a few seconds, however, as the whole boat was suddenly plunged into complete darkness with no sounds, other than a few muttered curses and exclamations from around the control room, . . . just thick, padded silence.
Waiting for a moment for the red glow of the back-up lighting to come on, the captain slowly turned around, trying to make out any features in the dark, feeling it pressing down on him, on them all.
“All stop!” he called, hearing his command echoed along the line and the answering “Aye, Sir. All stop,” return back to him.
“Report!” He demanded calmly, his voice purposefully steady, adding his confidence in his men to his tone for all to hear.
As various stations around him reported no power and no readings, he reached for the mic beside him at the chart table, sure of its position, even in the absolute darkness.
“Damage control, is someone on the power problem? We need sonar.”
This time, there was no response.
Reaching for the flashlight he knew was just under the top surface of the table inside an attached bin, he cursed softly when it failed to come on. Knowing he had checked it himself not thirty minutes before in preparation for just such a contingency, he replaced it in irritation.
It was all too eerie, too disconcertingly frustrating, and out of his control.
Taking a deep breath, he clamped down on his rising worry for his crew, for his boat, confident that they could surmount this frustration, this obstacle, just as they had so many before. He recognized the feelings for what they were, unwanted remnants of repetitive bad dreams and someone else’s fears. . . .
So far, with the exception of a few seconds’ delay, everything had gone exactly as they had been told it would, although none of them had wanted to believe it, had refused to believe it, until it had actually happened.
Shaking his head, he still could not believe they had accepted this mission, any mission, in such a way. It had not been assigned to them by any official channels, . . . no, it was nothing so mundane as that.
But, apparently, it had been a course they had found they could not turn away from, with several crewmen and all of the officers finally realizing they had been experiencing the same dreams for at least three nights in a row.
The mystery surrounding the dreams had been too much for any of them to ignore, and, in fact, when they had at first tried to turn away, to head off in another, unrelated direction, the remembered dreams had weighed so heavily on them they had changed course out of both curiosity and an unrelenting sense of duty they could not yet understand.
As one, Lee, the admiral, and Chip Morton had all agreed that this was the right thing to do, and the crew, . . . hell, even the boat herself, had seemed to relax once the decision had been finally made.
But, now, . . . well, now, the decision did not seem quite as comfortable.
Here they were, in a little
visited area of the
None of that would have been insurmountable, except that, just as the faint radio signal picked up a few hours ago had warned them would happen at 2300, now all of their instruments had gone dead as well.
That was a good choice of words, Crane mumbled, turning back to grip the chart table he knew was in front of him with both hands, as he took a deep breath at the unsteady, red glow that suddenly bathed them all in just enough light to function.
But, as welcomed as it was, even as it flickered uncertainly, the redness only added to the surreal atmosphere of their situation.
They were dead in the water, at least until they could determine a way to navigate through the floating icebergs all around them. They could dive under even the largest of them, except for the sea mounts they knew were there from their charts, but could not detect with their usual methods.
The only way was to use the charts and apply dead reckoning strategies, . . . assuming the charts were not completely useless, too. And, how could they not be, with the knowledge that there were floating mountains of ice out there, lurking in wait for them to come too close by accident and to tear their hull apart.
It was, in theory, a good concept.
But, its use assumed they knew where they were now, where they were going, and had some knowledge of the currents in the area, and the speed at which they could travel through the maze of ice. But, as he knew, without a reliable way to cross-check against the “live” guiding points of light in the night sky above them or a way to access global positioning systems, human error and natural drift could throw them too far off course to ever reach the area they all knew they needed to from the dreams that had repeatedly plagued them.
Reaching up to rub at his eyes and blinking them open forcefully, he knew from listening to the admiral and Chip discuss the dreams, he had gotten a greater dose than either of them. The images in his were startling in their clarity, and . . .
Shaking his head in exasperation at himself, he tried to focus, to concentrate on the task at hand. . . .
“Live reckoning by the stars. . . that would’ve been a welcome change,” Lee thought, continuing to grumble to himself.
Joining him, his executive officer, Chip Morton asked quietly, “What’s the matter, Lee?”
“The matter? You mean, beyond the fact that we have no power to instruments, we’re operating on back-up lighting, and we don’t know what’s out there, . . . nor even why we’re here to begin with?”
A sudden loss of focus seemed to diffuse Chip Morton’s features as he appeared to look inward, listening to something only he could hear. Quietly, in a voice meant only to be shared with the man beside him, he said, “We know. . . . we all do.”
Closing his exhausted eyes for a long moment, Lee reached up, running his fingers through his dark, curling hair and down toward his neck, and he gripped the back of his head for a few seconds, . . . his gesture of frustration clear to anyone who knew him.
In an equally quiet voice, he responded, “If I didn’t, I assure you we would not be here right now.”
Dropping his hand, his eyes opening, he leaned down to again study the charts, the red glow of the lights casting them in a color that too-closely resembled blood, like the blood in part of his dreams. . . .
Pushing aside his worried irritation, the captain concentrated on trying to figure out how to get from where he thought they were to where he thought they were supposed to go.
“Chip,” he said tiredly, “Get someone up here to stand watch in the nose. The last thing we need to do right now is hit something we didn’t see.”
“Aye-aye, Skipper,” the exec responded, turning aft to pass along the order.
Suddenly, however, the blond froze, his eyes taking in the two figures walking toward them.
Though one was tall and the other was much shorter, both had auburn hair made even redder by the overhead lights.
The admiral carefully steered the tall crewman, Ailin McGaughey, toward the observation nose, his hand on the young man’s arm. Watching them, Chip immediately noticed McGaughey’s vacant expression and the docile way he walked with the admiral, almost as if he were sleepwalking with his eyes open.
As the two of them passed the chart table where the exec and the captain stood watching them, the admiral said quietly for their benefit, letting them know what he was doing, “McGaughey will stand watch for us. He knows exactly what to look for, don’t you, Lad?”
Though there was a noticeable pause before he began speaking, his Irish brogue thicker than either observant officer remembered ever hearing before, the answering voice was firmer than they expected, “Aye, Sir. Tis sure and I’ll know it when I see it. Rest assured, Sir, I’ll be singing out when I spot it.”
He began moving with a little more purpose as the two of them stepped into the wider space afforded by the sweeping bow of the boat and toward the view of the dark water beyond. Feeling the change, the admiral released the young man’s arm and allowed him to continue forward alone.
As they watched him, all three saw McGaughey step as close to the most forward windows as possible, lean in, placing his hand flat against the portal, and all but glue his lightly freckled nose to its transparency, his eyes on the water beyond. Tilting his head back and forth slightly, he remained there, checking to starboard, forward, and port, watching intently.
“Admiral?” Lee questioned quietly, tapping the end of a pencil in the palm of his other hand, his eyes still on the young crewman. Gesturing toward McGaughey with his head, he continued, “Why Ailin?”
His piercing blue eyes glancing away from the crewman long enough to notice his captain’s exhaustion, Harriman Nelson was pleased to see no hint of doubt about his actions, just an expression of intense curiosity on the younger man’s face. Even over-tired, Lee was not questioning him, just interested in understanding.
Nodding, the admiral replied, taking in the exec, who was listening intently, as well, “I found him headed this way. All he could tell me was that he was supposed to be watching for something.” He paused before adding, emphasizing the last word, “That and the fact that he was supposed to find it for her.”
Chip’s eyebrows rose at the same moment that Lee turned from watching the young crewman, both of them finding the older man’s eyes with their own, keen interest in their expressions.
“Find it for her? Find what?” Chip asked immediately.
“And, who is she?” Lee added, his voice quieter than Chip’s, his dark amber eyes turning inward again, almost as soon as he met Nelson’s gaze.
Seeing the change in him, the admiral reached out quickly to grasp the captain by the bicep, “Steady, Lad,” he said, as Lee seemed to stagger for a moment, his other hand dropping the pencil, as he reached up to push the heel of his hand into his forehead.
“Lee?” Chip queried instantly, as he also reached out, gripping his friend’s shoulder in support. “Are you alright?”
His eyes closed, Lee nodded, though he did not remove his hand from his head. “His grandmother. . . ,” he said softly. Then, repeating it, he added more firmly as his eyes opened, and he slowly dropped his hand, returning his gaze to McGaughey’s back, “His grandmother is the person he needs to find it for.”
“Find what?” Chip asked again, his own concerned eyes never leaving Crane’s face.
Shaking his head slowly, Lee added, “I’m not sure. . . . I just know the admiral’s right. McGaughey’s supposed to be up here, to look for something his grandmother needs him to find. . . . I. . . I think he’s the key to all of this, somehow.”
Nodding, his own assurance growing as he listened to the captain’s tired voice, Nelson said, “Yes. That’s it exactly. From the moment I saw him in the corridor, I knew he was supposed to be up here. . . . that it was vital that he come forward to keep watch.”
Shaking his head, his own practicality warring with the eerie situation in which they all found themselves, Chip took a deep breath and let it back out, his eyebrows lifted in incredulity over what was happening.
He said, “Well, I for one, hope he finds it soon, whatever it is, so we can all go back to dealing with normal things around here.”
Laughing slightly, the
admiral’s eyes crinkled in amusement, as he said, “
His features schooled to give nothing away, Chip deadpanned, “Aye, Sir. That’s exactly what I meant.”
Beside him, Lee Crane smiled as well. But, then, he suddenly stood ramrod straight, the change in his movements immediately telegraphed to the men flanking him, their hands immediately returning to grip his arms in support.
Surprising them further, he suddenly called out, “Hard right rudder! Full astern!”
Immediately, without question, Chip repeated the orders, calling them out to affirm them, though he had no idea why they had been given in the first place, “Hard right rudder! Full astern!”
Then, Chip jumped away from the chart table and toward the helmsmen, to offer his assistance if necessary in carrying out those orders.
From in front of them, they instantly heard Ailin McGaughey sing out, “Iceberg off the port bow, Skipper!”
As the sleek submarine responded crisply to the commands already given, her crew found themselves tossed to port by the resulting yaw.
The admiral grabbed hold of the chart table and tried to catch Lee, who had turned to check on the status of the men behind him. Only just able to catch the edge of the skipper’s sleeve, he was dismayed to see the taller man go flying into the nearby bulkhead and slump down in a crumpled heap.
As the boat leveled off, Nelson heard Chip shout into a mic for damage control, the immediate reassuring reply, and the silence that followed. Then, stepping over to kneel down beside the unconscious captain, the admiral dimly heard McGaughey yell something else, something about surfacing.
He paid little attention
after that, leaving the decisions about the boat in Chip’s capable hands, as he
turned Lee’s still form to stretch him flat out on the deck on his back, even
as he cradled the younger man’s injured head against his legs. Nelson held his
handkerchief against the bleeding wound, and called out, “
All available eyes turned his way, then quickly back to their tasks, the level of concern in the room rising again as swiftly as it had previously calmed with the favorable damage report of a few moments before.
The worried blue eyes of the exec met his, as Chip dropped to one knee beside them.
“How is he?” Chip asked quietly, one hand reaching out to grasp Lee’s arm.
“No sign of coming around, but his pulse is strong.”
Chip nodded and swallowed hard, his eyes on the pale features of his friend’s normally tanned face. Lee’s eyelashes were like dark smudges, highlighting the dark circles of exhaustion that had already plagued him for days.
“Admiral,” Chip began hesitantly, glancing toward the bow of the boat, where McGaughey still stood, glued to the windows. “If Lee hadn’t called out his orders when he did, . . . as blind as we were, we would’ve plowed right into that berg. . . . Even McGaughey didn’t see it in time. . . . How did Lee . . . how did Lee know it was there?”
Shaking his head, his own blue eyes darker than usual with his growing concern, the admiral said quietly, “I don’t know, Chip. . . . But, then nothing much on this cruise has made a lot of sense lately.”
“Yes, Sir. I agree.”
Lifting his hand to grip the admiral’s shoulder in support, Chip said, “Jamie’s here, Sir,” as he backed away to allow the physician and accompanying orderly room to step in.
Watching the men bending over the captain, Chip used the extra moment to push his own worry back down, replacing it with an impassive expression that he then turned on the men in the control room.
“Ski, anything to report?”
“Yes, Sir. Sonar is back up. Except for that one berg, now just to port astern, the screen’s clear.”
Stepping over to stand
behind the crewman, Chip saw the evidence for himself. Then, checking the other
stations, he took a deep breath, and he walked forward to confer with the young
man stationed there. As he passed the chart table, he cast a long glance at the
activity on the deck, saw that
“Permission to go topside, Sir?” McGaughey asked as soon as the preoccupied exec joined him. Not waiting for the inevitable question, but unsure of how to explain, he added, “I don’t know how, Sir, but . . . but I’m sure there’s something I’m supposed to see there. . . something I’m supposed to find.”
“We’ve surfaced at all stop, McGaughey. If whatever we came here to find is up there, by all means, have a look. The faster we get this particular mission behind us, the better.”
Nodding, Chip called, “Ski, hand off to Ron and grab cold weather gear for you, Ailin, and me. Go with him topside while I check on the Skipper, and then I’ll join the two of you there.”
“Yes, Sir,” Kowalski replied.
Watching them climb the ladder to the sail a moment later, Chip said, “O’Brien, you have the con. Hold her here until I return.”
Heading aft, he walked
quickly through the corridors toward
The air temperature was barely above freezing when they cracked the hatch and emerged into the night. No stars were visible through the swirling mist, and the only visible feature of the night, beyond the grey-blue of the Seaview herself, was the faint paleness of the huge iceberg lying just off the stern to port.
Kowalski, however, had his eyes on the quiet figure of the tall, red-headed crewman. The man was moving as if thirty years older and in pain. Resisting the urge to reach out to support him as McGaughey stood at the rail, breathing hard, eyes fixed on the base of the iceberg, the sonar expert shivered, wondering exactly why they were here.
Suddenly, the younger man shouted, “Look! There!” and he began climbing back down into the conning tower to the next level below, his movements still jerky and breathing labored. Following him, Kowalski was just in time to see McGaughey disappear through the now open hatch that led to the aft deck of the surfaced boat.
“Ailin!” Kowalski called, but he could only shake his head as the younger man moved out of his line of sight. Grabbing the mic hanging near the hatchway, Kowalski reported to the control room below, “Mr. O’Brien, McGaughey has gone aft. I’m going after him. Request assistance.”
The lieutenant below responded immediately, “Go after him, Ski. I’m sending you some help.”
Kowalski stepped through the hatch, dogged it down, and followed the no longer visible redhead, confident that assistance would be coming soon.
“Ailin!” he yelled, though his words simply evaporated into the swirling mist. Making his way more quickly than safety dictated on the slick, icy surface of the boat deck, Kowalski struggled to spot the other man.
But, suddenly, he slid to a stop, staring further along the deck toward the iceberg, which was separated from the sub by no more than thirty feet of dark, ink black water.
His mouth hung open in disbelief as he tried to understand what he saw.
Standing near the sloping edge of the port side, Kowalski could see, not one man, but two. One was the familiar, tall thin figure of McGaughey, but the other was no one Kowalski recognized. Reluctantly removing his eyes from the pair and looking around behind him at an approaching noise, he saw three other crewman emerging from the conning tower hatch and coming toward him.
No, that cinched it. The man with McGaughey could not be one of the crew just joining him.
Who was he, and, more importantly at this point, where had he come from?
“Ski?” Patterson asked, joining him, the other two standing by quietly, all of them waiting and watching in amazement. “Who is that?”
“No idea, Pat,” the sonar expert responded.
As the pair began walking toward them, all four could see that the person accompanying Ailin McGaughey was an older man with military bearing. In fact, he was dressed in an unfamiliar uniform, complete with what appeared to be captain’s insignia on his sleeve similar to that on Captain Crane’s dress blues. He carried his cover under his arm, and, his vivid green eyes sparkling, he smiled and, handing Ailin his cover, reached out to shake each man’s hand in his.
His voice faltering, Ailin
made the introductions, “Captain Sean. . . Sean McGaughey, .
. these are my
crewmates, . . . Kowalski, Patterson,
“Ah, and good it is to meet you, Men,” the redheaded man with the greying temples and handlebar mustache responded, nodding to each.
Though their eyes had widened at the mention of the man’s name, it was almost as one, that each looked down at his own hand as it was shaken. The cold emanating from the older man had quickly seeped into each one, beginning in his fingertips, and moving from his palm to his wrist, at the brief contact.
Kowalski did not think he
had ever felt anything so cold, despite growing up in the seasonally frigid
temperatures of northeastern
Lifting his eyes in amazement, Kowalski found his voice for them all, “Uh, Ailin, . . . Captain McGaughey? He’s related to you?”
“Yes, Ski. This . . . is my grandfather.”
The smell of disinfectant
and rubbing alcohol blended together to create the familiar aroma that greeted
Chip as he opened the door of Seaview’s
His blue eyes settled on the two quiet figures on the left side of the room, one lying silently in the bunk against the bulkhead and the other sitting perfectly still in a brown leather-upholstered chair pulled up alongside. Assured that everything was under control, Chip stepped toward the small office in the far right-hand corner, looking for the doctor that could tell him what he wanted to know.
He was met at the open doorway by the physician, who was drying his hands on a white towel.
“How is he, Doc?” Chip inquired.
Nodding, Jamison said, “He’s got a nasty concussion, but he’s been lucid for a few minutes since we brought him down here. I’m confident that he’ll be alright. . . . It’s just that . . . “
“Just what, Jamie?” the blond officer asked immediately, the instant feeling of relief leaving again just as quickly.
“It’s nothing to worry about, I don’t think. . . just that he was already pretty worn down before this. He apparently hadn’t been sleeping very well. ‘All the strange things going on surrounding this mission, I suppose.”
Nodding in return, Chip
concurred, “You’re right about that. It has been a bit unusual, even for us. . . with the dreams many of us have been having, and the
Seeing the doctor’s quizzical look, Chip just shook his head and added, “Lee seems to’ve been particularly hard hit in the last few days by whatever’s had us in its grip, and now, he’s the one who’s gotten hurt. . . . Just keep a close eye on him, Jamie, and let me know if there’s anything I can do.”
With the long-suffering sigh of a man well used to dealing with the unusual happenings on this boat and the insufferable knack of his captain for finding himself in the midst of whatever trouble was within a hundred nautical miles of them, the doctor just shook his head, his eyes leaving Chip’s and searching out the two silent men over near the wall.
“Then,” Jamison said, “I have a feeling that whatever’s been affecting Lee will be impacting the admiral soon, too. He hasn’t moved from Lee’s side, and I don’t expect you or I will have much luck getting him to do so. He’s dead on his feet as well.”
Grasping the doctor’s shoulder, Chip turned away wordlessly and returned to the bunk, standing behind the admiral’s chair.
Speaking softly, he said, “Sir, don’t you think you need to go get some rest? Lee’s sleeping, and he probably won’t know if you’re here or not for a good while.”
Aware of the conversation taking place in the office doorway moments before, Nelson just shook his head without taking his eyes off of his captain’s still face. “No, Chip,” he replied. “I’m staying right here until he awakens. I’m worried about him. . . and not just about the concussion.”
“Alright, Admiral,” Chip responded, then stopped, as the dark-headed man in the bunk began to toss his bandaged head back and forth, emitting a low groan as he did so.
Quickly, the doctor moved in, inserting himself between the admiral and the bunk, seating himself beside his patient.
“Lee? Lee, can you hear me?”
Oblivious, Lee began to mumble incoherently, the others straining to catch any of the words. All Chip could make out at first were, “Boat”. . . . “Iceberg”. . . and, even more curious, a word that sounded like, “Aspotel.”
“Easy, Lee,” the admiral leaned in and said, gripping the younger man’s arm as the captain continued to toss his head back and forth.
“Can’t you do something for him, Doc?” Chip asked, seeing his own worry mirrored in the doctor’s face. “It can’t be good for him to be so upset with that head injury.”
Absently, his attention on his patient, Jamison shook his head, “Nothing but try to bring him around. . . .”
The admiral began talking more sternly in response to the doctor’s words, “Lee. Lee! I want you to wake up and look at me. Come on, Son. Wake up now.”
But, neither the words, nor the ammonia inhalant waved beneath the captain’s nose, had the desired effect, however, as the younger man continued to mumble, his words becoming more and more clear.
“Cor-vette class. . . con-voy. . .
“Easy, Captain,” the doctor soothed, trying to check the bandaged head wound, as well as the pupil reactions of his thrashing patient.
The two officers, watching and listening, looked at each other, wondering what the cause of the captain’s words were. Could they be somehow connected to their presence in these waters?
Again, Lee mumbled the word “Aspotel” several times, and, at one point, his eyes flew open, though it was evident to the three men watching him in concern that he did not see or recognize them.
“Abandon ship!” he commanded over and over, breathing heavily, becoming more and more agitated.
“Alright, Lee,” the doctor said, trying to calm him worriedly.
When nothing seemed to make a difference and the captain began fighting the doctor and admiral in earnest to get up from the bunk, still issuing the command, Chip stepped in, gripping both of the agitated man’s biceps hard.
“Aye, Sir!” the exec said, repeating the command as if relaying orders in the control room, “Abandon ship! All hands, abandon ship!”
His body trembling from the prolonged effort, Lee slumped in the doctor’s arms, his eyes closing. Just before he lapsed completely into unconsciousness again, another word slipped out quietly, like a wistful sigh of longing.
“Rioghnach. . . .”
Chip had just entered the control room when the detail sent out to the deck returned. As each one climbed down the ladder, the exec noticed that he was pale and shaky, as his rubber-soled shoes touched the deck. Last to descend was Kowalski, who immediately, despite his own pale appearance, reached out to place one supportive hand under the arm of the severely shaking Ailin McGaughey, who had an unfamiliar-looking, dark blue captain’s cover in a death grip in his hand.
Concerned, Chip moved toward the four men, his eyes settling on the two closest to the ladder. “Report, Kowalski,” he said, lending another hand to the redhead between them.
Shaking his head, his eyes wide, Kowalski responded, “Sir, you wouldn’t believe it. . . . Ailin . . . .” Stopping, he swallowed hard, his eyes leaving the exec’s to look for a moment at the crewman they were both holding onto. Then, returning the blue-eyed gaze, he tried again, “Sir. . . .”
Chip, feeling the younger
crewman’s knees begin to buckle, turned to Patterson, Sheffield, and Reynolds,
“Take McGaughey to
Returning his gaze to meet Kowalski’s, he motioned for the rating to join him in the nose, where he gestured for him to sit, then left him long enough to return with two cups of steaming coffee. Offering one to the crewman, who looked up at him with surprise, Chip said, “I added a little brandy, Ski. Just drink it slowly, and tell me what happened.”
“Thank you, Sir.”
He took a deep breath and started again, “I went topside with Ailin like you told me, but he was only there a minute when he left the sail and went out onto the deck. I called for Pat and the others to help me, and I followed him down. He headed aft, walking toward the iceberg. I lost him in the cold fog out there, and then, when I spotted him again, he was walking back toward me with another man.”
Caught completely off-guard, Chip questioned, “Another man? You mean one of the crew?”
“No, Sir. I’d never seen him before. He . . . he handed Ailin his cap and then shook hands with each of us, and, . . . Sir, his hand was like ice. I’ve never felt cold like that. . . But, that’s not all. He was dressed in some kind of uniform. I didn’t recognize it, and. . . . and Ailin introduced him to us as Captain Sean McGaughey.”
“Yes, he said he was his grandfather.”
Tearing his amazed eyes away from the crewman’s face, Chip glanced curiously around the control room.
Seeing his look, Kowalski spoke up, “No, Sir. He’s not here. He and Ailin stood to one side talking for a few minutes. Then, I sent the first men back in, and as I turned around to speak to the two of them, the older man . . . he just disappeared!”
“Disappeared, as in you didn’t know where he’d gone?”
Though he wanted to demand that Kowalski tell him what really happened, not some made up story. . . Chip had seen and heard enough for himself in the last three years on board the Seaview, not to mention experiencing a few eerie dreams in the last few nights, to know that Kowalski was not making up the events he was relating.
“Well, that for sure, Sir. But, I meant disappeared as in, he just turned away to walk back toward the iceberg, and he just. . . just faded away. . . right then and there. . . . It was as if one minute I could see him as good as I can see you standing right there, Sir. Then, he just faded out, like he had melted right into the fog. I’ve never seen anything like it, Sir, . . . and, I can tell you right now, I hope to never see anything like that again.”
After a few seconds’ pause, Kowalski asked, “What does it all mean, Sir?”
“I don’t know, Ski,” Chip said, reaching out to grip his shoulder, “but, we’ll sort it out when the admiral has time to talk to Ailin. Now, go on down to see the doc. Let him check you over. Then, head back this way to finish your watch if he releases you.”
“But, Sir,” the rating began, only to be cut off by the look in his XO’s eyes.
“Go on, Ski. You can check on the captain for me while you’re there and report back.”
His eyes widening in remembered worry, Kowalski asked, “The Skipper, Sir? How is he?”
Nodding, Chip said, “He was unconscious when I left, but I think he’ll be alright. The admiral’s with him. Check on them both for me, will you?”
Watching the crewman leave
and head aft, Chip shook his head, wondering at what they had run up on here in
It was almost as if, during their dead reckoning through the eerie storm that had obliterated the stars from their view and eventually taken out their equipment, they had sailed into a place where nothing made sense, where no logic prevailed.
Slowly, the Admiral reached over, holding down the call button on his desk intercom.
“Mr. Morton,” he said, “please report to my cabin.”
“Aye-aye, Sir,” came the instant reply.
Returning his eyes to the papers spread out in front of him, the admiral didn’t glance up at the knock on the door or when it opened to his spoken response.
However, expecting the exec, he was startled when he looked up and saw a slightly unsteady Lee Crane easing into one of the black leather chairs across from him. Then, behind him by a few steps and coming through the door left slightly ajar, came Chip Morton, the surprise on his normally impassive face mirroring that of the admiral.
“Lee!” Nelson exclaimed,
anger edging out the surprise. “What in the devil are you doing here? You
should be in
“I had to speak to you, Sir,” Lee said quietly, his voice a little unsteady. His hand came up, rubbing at the side of his head, though he tried to avoid the bandage. Chip sat down beside him, his own blue eyes blazing.
“Lee, what did you do to Will? And, what is so important that you had to come here? We could’ve come to you.”
Shaking his head slightly, the troubled look in the captain’s eyes stopped the tirade of questions.
The admiral came around and sat across from his two officers, one hip propped up on the edge of his desk. He watched the dark-headed captain closely for a minute, then asked more softly than before, “What is it, Lee?”
“Admiral, I. . . I know why we’re here. It’s about Ailin McGaughey, and . . . ,” he started, but stopped again, lowering his throbbing head into one hand.
Concerned, Chip leaned toward him, gripping the closest shoulder tightly, “Lee. . . .”
His tone was Chip Morton’s own unique blend of question and statement, full of worry, but steely with his belief that his friend was once again pushing himself too hard for not enough good reason.
“I know, Chip,” Lee responded quietly. “But, just give me a minute, and I promise I’ll return to my assigned bunk without protest.”
Surprised, Chip’s eyebrows raised, and he looked up at the admiral.
Leaning down slightly, the admiral said, “Lee, how about if I start? Then, Chip can add a few things, and, if there’s more that you know, you can fill in the gaps. Fair enough?”
Slumping down slightly in the comfortable chair, Lee leaned back and nodded gratefully, more than willing to listen, rather than having to talk so much.
Encouraged, the admiral returned to the other side of the desk and sat down, picking up some of the papers scattered there.
“I’m sure both of you recall the stories of the World War II convoys sent out into
Chip, instantly recalling
Lee’s mumbled words “convoy” and “corvette” from the day before in
“Last night, you kept saying
‘abandon ship’ over and over, and I caught the word ‘Aspotel’ once or twice. I
did some checking, and I found that one of the ships that went down in the
Stopping when he saw his young captain lean forward again, his head supported in both hands, elbows on his knees. Nelson looked over at Chip, their blue eyes meeting in renewed concern.
But, before he could act on
his decision that Lee had had enough for now, that they needed to get him back
“Go ahead, Admiral. Please. I need . . . I need to know the rest of it.”
Taking a deep breath, and hoping that none of them regretted his decision later, Nelson prepared to continue. Then, a sharp knock on his door halted his planned words, and he stood, crossing to open it.
The angry face of the doctor met his steady gaze, and, without a word, Nelson stepped back, gesturing for the seething physician to join them. Then, halting the doctor before he could reach the captain and force him bodily from the chair, Nelson said quietly, “Just a few more minutes, Will, and I personally promise that you will have Lee back in your clutches, safely ensconced in Sick Bay or anywhere else you say, for as long as you say.”
Turning away from the stunned, red-faced doctor and toward Lee, the admiral asked, “Isn’t that right, Captain?”
Quietly, his head still supported exhaustedly in his hands, they all heard Lee reply, “Yes. . . And, I’m a man of my word, Doctor.”
Raising both eyebrows at this easy acquisition, Will Jamison stared at each of the three men for a moment. Then, he headed further inside the room and, crossing his arms, stationed himself behind the captain’s chair, his intent clear.
Chip smiled widely, waiting to enjoy Lee’s reaction when he realized the doctor had taken up residence behind him with that particular stance. But, when Lee did not appear to notice, he turned his eyes back to the admiral, who again stepped behind the desk and, seating himself, began to speak.
“There were 36 survivors out of 97 crewmembers. . . . Amazing in itself considering that they went down in heavy, frigid seas in the dead of winter after attack by a U-boat.”
“Sean McGaughey, . . . he was Ailin’s grandfather, wasn’t he?”
“Yes, Lee,” Chip said, taking up the story. “And, that’s not all of it. After you were knocked out last night, Ailin requested that we surface near the iceberg. We did, and the short of it is, that I sent him topside with Kowalski and three more of the men, who met, talked to, and shook hands with a man that Ailin met on the deck aft of the sail.”
Taking a deep breath, Chip met the admiral’s gaze, and he continued, “He introduced himself as Captain Sean McGaughey, and Ailin recognized him from pictures, verifying for us that the man he saw was his grandfather. But, when they headed back inside, the man literally disappeared right before their eyes, leaving behind only the cover Ailin had been holding under his arm and five very shaken crewmen.”
With a groan, Lee seemed to slump forward, and all three men reacted, moving closer. But, he immediately pushed himself up straighter, then, hands on the chair’s arms, he began struggling to his feet. Chip stood with him, one hand under his friend’s arm, and, turning with him, he walked with Lee toward the door, the doctor following in their wake.
Lee paused, one hand on the doorframe for support, and he looked back at the admiral, his dark eyes standing out in contrast to his pale, grey face.
“Admiral, I need to talk to
McGaughey. . . to Ailin. Can you send him to
“Yes, Lee. I’ll find him and bring him myself.”
His head up and both hands coming up to stop their words, Will Jamison interrupted, his brown eyes flashing, “Now, wait a minute, Gentlemen. The captain needs to rest first. He can talk to McGau. . . to Ailin, later.”
“No, Jamie,” Lee said firmly, his voice stronger than it had been since he had entered the cabin, “I need to talk to him first. Then, I’ll be able to rest easier. By my reckoning, it’ll only take another minute or two, I promise.”
Exchanging looks of unified support for granting this request, Chip and the admiral both nodded their agreement, and Jamison threw up his hands in defeat.
Why had he ever thought it was going to be easy getting the captain’s cooperation? He should have known better!
As he followed the exiting pair, Jamison could have sworn he heard the admiral’s light laughter from behind him.
The sky was overcast, but strangely cloudless, almost as if everything around them on the hillside was as grey as the countenance of the young man standing slightly apart from the group. The trio watched silently in concerned understanding that the tall, red headed crewman needed to be alone for a few moments with his thoughts.
Then, after a few more minutes, the dark headed captain excused himself from the others and, cover tucked under his arm, he stepped carefully around the new grave to stand beside the younger man in quiet support.
He waited, knowing the crewman would speak up when he was ready.
The words were not long in coming.
“I wish you’d known her when
she was younger, Skipper. She was an incredibly strong, wee little lady, and
she was always there for me growing up. I . . . I was born in
Ailin McGaughey paused for a moment, swallowing hard. Then, he turned shining eyes to look at his captain, the man that had made it possible for him to be at his grandmother’s bedside before she died, and he continued.
“The other morning, after you left, she told me that you reminded her of him, you know. . . . Not in how you look, but in how you held yourself, in how you spoke so gently to her, in how much of a gentleman you were . . . . I . . . I want to thank you, Sir.”
Nodding, Lee swallowed hard, not sure of how to explain his thoughts. Taking a deep breath, he said, “Ailin, your grandfather. . . I think I really did get to know him a little on this last voyage, even if it was just in my dreams. . . . He was a brave man, always thinking of the future, just like I told her, and he put his men first, over his own safety. It was almost unheard of that so many could have survived the sinking of a Corvette class, and, the fact that almost forty men did was a testament to his quick, logical thinking at the last. He made sure that they were ready to stay or to go, that the call to abandon ship was made in a timely manner. He was not too proud to do what was necessary to save the ones he could, . . . to save them for their families, for the future he believed in.”
Nodding, Ailin said, “When I handed her the cap he always wore so proudly, she was so overcome to have a part of him given back to her after all these years, I think it made all the difference in how she faced what was to come. . . . Again, I can’t thank you enough, Skipper. To be able to give her that. . . . It was something I’ll never forget.”
Softly, the captain responded, “And, . . . he never forgot her, Ailin.”
“I know. . . . Thank you, Sir.”
The young man stepped away, walking around the fresh grave dug in the gently sloping hillside, the view of the sea his grandmother had loved all of her life, stretching out behind him.
As he joined the other two men standing on the uphill side, neither he, the admiral, nor the exec, heard the captain, who was still standing on the other side of the grave, as he said his own good-byes.
“Rest easy, Rioghnach McGaughey. Rest easy, Dear One.”
Nor, did they see the tears
glistening in his dark, amber eyes as he turned toward them, ready now to
return to his own grey lady, waiting for him in the nearby
Note: I offer my respect and appreciation to the brave men of the Irish Merchant Navy who fought and died during WWII, particularly those serving on the Flower Class Escort Corvettes, and especially to the memory of those 92 lost of the 97 member crew on the H.M.S. Asphodel, whose name and story I borrowed from to create this fictional account.