Author’s Note: Apologies to the crew of the real R/V Atlantis. I sincerely hope your lives have never been quite this …. interesting. Seventh story in series.
Double Vision In the Looking Glass
Anthony “Tony” Tarantino,
pilot of the DSV
He took a quick glance at his passengers. Science observers Tyler Fox and G.P. Schmahl were both huddled behind him in the compartment, looking a little green at the rough ride. He was feeling none too happy with the state of affairs himself. But then, most of this entire mission had been more than a little unsettling.
It had started with their
strange visitor almost three weeks ago, just a few days after they‘d left port
- though now that he thought about it, their departure itself had been unusual,
being in the middle of the night rather than during daylight. At any rate, by
the third day things had definitely taken a turn to the bizarre side. If he
hadn’t been on the bridge and personally seen the man in the khaki uniform with
the Navy commander’s silver oak leaf on one collar fall out of thin air in
front of them, he never would have believed the story. It was just so
impossible, like something off of some weird science fiction TV show or movie.
To add to the Twilight Zone feel of the incident, things had been subtly out of
kilter ever since. Not enough for anybody to put their finger on it and say ‘This
isn’t right’, but lots of small things that just seemed to catch everyone by
surprise had been happening for the last three weeks. It had thrown the entire
crew and science staff off center and nobody seemed to know what to do to get
everything back in balance. Not even ‘Mitzi’ Crane, the captain of the R/V Atlantis,
the vessel that was
It made him wonder if the affair with the fellow who’d claimed to be named Lee Crane and captain of a submarine called Seaview was actually over. Which, he reflected, was another thing that added to the bizarre unreality of the whole business. Lee Crane was a character in a moldy old movie - and a book written from the screenplay for said movie - made over forty years ago that was called Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea; the submarine Seaview was entirely fictional. At least in this universe. After the incident on the bridge, someone had produced a DVD copy of the movie from their private collection, which they‘d all watched. The fellow who claimed to be Captain Lee Crane looked and sounded nothing like the actor in the role, aside from being dark haired. Oddly enough, that lack of similarity make the man’s story seem more plausible, not less.
Tony shook his head at his
wandering thoughts. At twenty three hundred feet down,
The little sub suddenly shivered and groaned, bringing his mental musings to an abrupt halt. As he frantically looked around for the source of the alarming sounds and motion, an eerily familiar green light flashed through the water in front of them. He briefly froze in consternation; the bloom of light was exactly the same odd shade of green as the one that had preceded Lee Crane‘s appearance on Atlantis’ bridge - but a hell of a lot bigger. He hauled back on Alvin’s controls as he screamed a warning into his mike to Atlantis, jettisoning the descent weights and blowing ballast, turning the sub up and away from her previous course, shoving the throttles as far forward as they would go, trying to coax more speed out of the DSV than her maximum rating of two knots. Something was taking shape in the water ahead - something huge - and he had the feeling he didn’t want to see what the consequences would be if either Alvin or Atlantis should happen to try to occupy the same physical space at the same time.
He really didn’t think the result would be very pretty.
Lee Crane sat hunched at the
wardroom table, scowling down at his cup of coffee. It was cooling faster than
his temper, not an uncommon event since the Admiral had become entranced by the
alternate universe portal device. Chip had given the infernal machine the name
Looking Glass, because he said passing through it was like falling through
Lee could personally attest to that himself, especially after yesterday.
Right now Seaview was
headed back to
He angrily shook his head, as if to shake the doubts away. The machine was unplugged and locked away. Hopefully they would be able to determine before they got back to port if they were in the right reality.
A tremor passed through the boat, bringing his head up. He brought his right fist down on the table with a bang, muttering “I knew it! I knew we weren‘t home yet!” under his breath even as he was leaping to his feet and sprinting for the doorway.
Green light crackled down the corridor, making the boat buck and twist in impossible contortions.
At least it was green, he thought, and not that god-awful orange - or worse, the oily gray. He staggered down the corridor towards the control room, knowing that they would make the transition before he could get there.
It was a wild ride, though short. Too short. As Crane picked himself up off of the deck he couldn’t help the feeling that they still weren’t back where they were supposed to be. It still just felt … wrong. The contortions the boat had just gone through didn’t begin to match the earlier ones, plus the lights were still on. Before, the transition had left them on emergency lighting with most of the electrical breakers on the boat tripped from the power surge.
He’d be willing to bet dollars to donuts they were in yet another universe not their own.
He ducked through the hatch into the control room to find the crew warily watching the video monitor; the caption at the bottom told him the feed was from one of the forward cameras.
They weren’t alone.
For a moment the hair on the back of his neck rose. Then he looked closer and realized with a start that he recognized the tiny orange and white submarine fleeing for the surface. Sort of.
“What?” It was Nelson, who had reached the control room just steps behind him; Morton was right behind the Admiral.
Crane gave Nelson a sardonic look as he waved at the screen. “Alvin, Admiral.”
Nelson peered closer in surprise, forehead furrowed. “That’s not…” He trailed off as he too realized what Crane had already seen.
Nelson nodded reluctant
agreement and sighed, knowing it meant Crane had probably been right all along
about not being home. The small sub sharing the water with them appeared to be
an upgraded version of the DSV that operated out of Woods Hole aboard the Atlantis
II, but it was not the same
With that thought, Crane turned his head towards the sonar. “Kowalski, is there a surface ship nearby?”
“Aye, Skipper. But she’s come to a stop.”
“Doesn’t want to run over her own people - or us,” mused Crane. At Nelson’s raised eyebrow. “Given the tendency of that machine to return to places it’s already been, I’m wondering if the ship above isn’t the same R/V Atlantis I wound up on before. At any rate, you know the DSV pilot had to have told them what was happening.” He looked briefly rueful. “Given how quickly they reacted, it’s clear they didn’t waste time asking stupid, disbelieving questions.”
“Which suggests some familiarity with what’s happening.” Nelson briefly pinched the bridge of his nose and shook his head. He ignored the sardonic look from the XO and gazed thoughtfully into the distance, considering their options. Finally he shrugged. “I must admit to being curious to know if this is indeed the same ship you encountered, Lee. Shall we go up to take a look and see?”
Captain Mitzi Crane gave the
communications equipment that connected Atlantis with
“Are you absolutely certain,” she asked him carefully, “what Tony said he saw?”
“It’s on tape, Skipper,” he
unhappily told her, “and I’m certain. He said Lee Crane’s boat was coming
through in a huge green light and
She swore a most unladylike
oath under her breath. “Get the recovery crew ready to bring
It was almost a relief.
But the first business at hand was to get Alvin, her pilot and passengers safely back aboard. Then she’d figure out what to do about the other. Not, she reflected, that Atlantis was going to be able to force a nuclear powered - and probably ICBM armed, if the movie was any guide - submarine the size of Seaview to do anything her master and commander didn’t want to.
It took only a matter of
Mitzi Crane picked up a pair
of binoculars and walked over to the end of the bridge so she could watch the
action aft. Things were proceeding without any major hitches and
A glint in the distance caught her gaze. She focused in on what soon revealed itself as a periscope - and it was looking at her.
“Watching you, watching me,” she murmured to herself as she lowered the glasses. At least the sub she was pretty sure was the Seaview was keeping back out of the way while recovery operations were underway.
Lee Crane pressed his face to
the eyepiece of the periscope, walking around in a circle, checking the horizon
to make sure that Atlantis and Alvin were the only other vessels
in the area. It wouldn’t do to find they had other company - like say, a US
Navy destroyer. That might make for an uncomfortable confrontation. Finding the
horizon empty, he turned back to watch the research ship as she bobbed on the
surface of the sea. As the DSV surfaced astern of her mother ship, he saw the
recovery team deploy in as professional a manner as any ship’s master could
Captain Mitzi Crane - for it was unmistakably she - was looking back at him through a pair of binoculars. He couldn’t help the smile that flitted across his face. She had to be curious as a dozen cats about Seaview.
“Something amusing, Lee?” drawled Nelson behind him.
“Captain Mitzi Crane, Admiral.” He moved back and let Nelson step up to the periscope to espy the skipper of the R/V Atlantis, aware that every ear in the control room had perked up at the mention of the other captain’s last name.
“Are you sure, Lee?” came the muted question from over his shoulder. He turn to find that Morton had sidled up to him as Nelson took the periscope.
“Oh, yeah, Chip,” answered Crane softly in reply. “And definitely the Atlantis from Woods Hole. Her name and home port are painted on the stern.” He sighed and added ruefully, “And she’s unquestionably different from either the original Atlantis or the Atlantis II from our world. Bigger for one thing.”
“Bigger than Atlantis II?” Morton whistled softly. “Aren’t many research vessels in that class.”
“She’s a good fifty or sixty feet longer, I’d say. And no, not in our universe. I wouldn’t dare to hazard a guess about this one though. It is the twenty-first century here, after all.”
“There is that,” muttered Morton, looking thoughtful. He cast a sideways glance at Nelson. It was obvious to those who knew Nelson well that the scientist in him was salivating at the prospect of getting a look at the equipment the Atlantis carried. After all, it had the advantage of almost thirty years of technical development that hadn’t happened yet in Seaview’s home universe.
The two officers shared a look. If the damned portal machine didn’t jerk them out of here, they would definitely be making a call on Captain Mitzie Crane and R/V Atlantis. It was inevitable.
Normally Mitzie Crane stayed
on the bridge while
She wasn’t quite there when a cry arose from the everyone on the stern; her eyes followed the pointing fingers to see a grey submarine rising cautiously to the surface about a mile astern of them.
Well, that answered a couple of questions. No splashy entrance, bow rising high into the sky. Even surfaced, this boat sat very low in the water, deck almost awash, like a real submarine ought. One could just barely make out the tops of the transparent viewports in the bow, though they didn’t seem quite so large as the ones in the movie version. And the sucker was big. Mitzie let out a whoosh of breath as her experienced eye took in the length of the vessel that was carefully closing with Atlantis. At least six hundred feet long if she was an inch, making Atlantis’ own 274 foot length look insignificant. There were missile hatches too, she noted, though again, they were different from the movie Seaview. Streamlined, like the boomers she was more familiar with, and fewer in number. The back-slanted conning tower with it’s odd half-moon sailplanes was almost the same, however, as was the flattened upper hull. She couldn’t make out the stern planes clearly enough to tell how similar they were to the movie boat, but… She shook her head. First impression again was of similar but not exactly identical. Something about the slant reminded her of a Swedish sub she’d once seen with the stern planes and rudders arranged in an X configuration, rather than the normal horizontal-vertical layout. Clearly this boat bore about as much resemblance to the movie Seaview as her captain did with the fictional Lee Crane. Enough to say there was some surface similarity, but that they were not the same by any stretch.
It was a relief in a way. The science in the movie had been laughable at best, nonexistent at worst and the sub physically impossible. Plus the characters hadn’t really seemed that likable. Of course, given when the movie had been made, the one dimensional stereotypes had probably played well to the audiences of the time and few in the movie industry - then or now - worried about small things like scientific accuracy. She suppressed a shudder; she hoped this meant there was no Cathy Connors aboard. That character had made her grind her teeth. Then again, her impression from their admittedly brief encounter before made her think that this Lee Crane was as different in both temperament and personality from his movie counterpart as he was in appearance. Which probably meant the rest of Seaview’s people were as well.
She still had her binoculars. As she became aware of motion on the submarine’s flying bridge she once more raised them for good look.
Yep, there was the Lee Crane she’d met before. Beside him was a older, short, stocky, auburn haired man; unless she was very much mistaken, those multiple pips on his collar were stars. That should make him Admiral Harriman Nelson - and he bore absolutely no resemblance whatsoever to the actor from the movie. There was a third officer on the bridge as well, a tall blond. His single gold collar pip could be that of a lieutenant commander, which probably make him the XO. She frowned thoughtfully. That particular character hadn’t even been mentioned in the movie, though he had been in the copy of the book a friend had scanned and e-mailed to her at her request. She snorted. The XO in the book had been a smarmy womanizer - and was described as having black hair. If the blond was Chip Morton, he was almost certainly not the same as his fictional counterpart either. Thankfully. Given the number of females aboard Atlantis as both crew and science staff, Crane might well find himself short an XO if the man actually was that terminally stupid.
After several long minutes Seaview pulled within fifty yards of Atlantis and cut her engines. Personnel from both vessels eyed each other across the gap. Finally Lee Crane raised a bullhorn and hailed her.
“Captain Crane,” there was a note of question in his voice, “might we come aboard and speak with you?”
One of her own crew dashed breathlessly up to her, holding out one of their own bullhorns. She took it with a nod of thanks and raised it for a reply. “Certainly, Captain Crane.” She couldn’t quite help the ironic smile that tugged at her mouth - this was an odd conversation on far too many levels. “Do you have a boat or shall I send ours for you?”
There was a quick consultation amongst the three submarine officers, then Crane replied, “If you don’t mind, perhaps you could send yours.”
“How many are coming?”
Again the consultation. She noted that the blond officer was looking stubborn about something. Most insistent in fact. Did he want to come? No, he was indicating one of the sailors, a dark haired fellow in a red jumpsuit. Crane was looking put upon and Nelson - was that a flash of amusement on the Admiral‘s face? - seemed to be agreeing with the blond. Mitzi felt her own eyebrows rise as she wondered just exactly what was going on. Finally Lee Crane raised the bullhorn and said, “There will be three of us. Myself, Admiral Nelson and Seaman Kowalski.”
Well. Looked like the blond had won the argument. And as she had surmised, the red haired admiral was indeed Nelson.
This ought to be interesting.
By the time the small boat from Atlantis had closed the distance between the two vessels, Crane, Nelson and Kowalski had descended from the bridge to the deck.. Lee watched with interest the demeanor of the boat crew. There was clearly some trepidation on their part, not that he could blame them. His Grey Lady was intimidating in both length and bulk, dwarfing the research vessel and despite setting low in the water, looming like a grey wall beside the small boat. It was also pretty much a given that Atlantis’ entire crew was aware by now that the sub was from an alternate universe. If the circumstances were reversed, he’d be wary too.
That thought brought a snort. If it had been entirely up to him, Seaview would have stayed prudently submerged and waited for the next jump, since this very clearly wasn’t their home universe. Of course, Admiral Nelson’s curiosity wouldn’t stand for that. Plus, Lee had to privately admit he probably did owe Captain Crane of the Atlantis an apology for dropping onto her bridge without so much as a by your leave - and then disappearing just as quick. He waited patiently while some of Seaview’s hands caught lines thrown from the small boat, making her fast, then tossed down a rope ladder.
Kowalski went first, giving the small boat and it’s crew a keen eyed inspection once he‘d reached the bottom of the ladder.
All seemed to be in order. Lee caught the seaman’s private all-clear hand signal and descended, closely followed by the Admiral. At the bottom he found himself facing a man he thought he remembered from before. He held out a hand.
“I remember you,” said Lee as the other man hesitantly shook hands with him, “but I’m afraid I don’t know your name.”
“Pete Leonard, second mate of the Atlantis, Captain.” He smiled somewhat crookedly, evidently reassured by the fact that Crane remembered him. “If you and the Admiral will take seats, we’ll be on our way.”
The trip across to Atlantis was oddly silent, with the two crews eying each other speculatively. Crane had to suppress a smile; now that they were face to face, he could tell that the people from the research vessel were incredibly curious, but not quite sure how far they could or should go in satisfying that curiosity. He caught Leonard looking at him questioningly.
“I was just reflecting on how odd this must seem to you,” he said, “unless this sort of thing has happened before?”
Leonard chuckled. “Only the time you landed on the bridge a few weeks ago, Captain.” Emboldened by Crane‘s understanding, he asked, “Do you do a lot of this kind of exploration?”
Crane heard Kowalski’s muffled snort and laughed himself, drawing a humph from Nelson. “No, Mr. Leonard, we don’t.” Giving the Admiral a sideways look, he added, “The fellow who actually invented the device that brought us here didn’t have complete control over it - and we seem to have been having similar problems. I thought I should warn you about that, just in case we all vanish without warning.”
Leonard’s mouth formed a round ‘o’ of surprise as Nelson gave Crane an exasperated look. “Is that what happened before?”
“I’m afraid so. We’ve been bounced around more than usual on this trip though, so we really have no idea of when it might reengage and pull us back to our own universe.” If it ever does, he had to add silently to himself.
At that point they bumped against the hull of Atlantis, bringing the conversation to a momentary lull. As the bottom of the ladder tumbled into the boat from above, Lee looked up to see Mitzi Crane peering over the rail at them. He waved once in acknowledgment.
As before, Kowalski was the first to mount the ladder, with Crane and then Nelson following. Once on deck, Lee found himself again face to face with Captain Mitzi Crane. He gave her a lopsided smile.
“I believe, Captain,” he said before anyone else could speak, “that I owe you an apology for what happened before.”
Mitzie Crane gave him an equally wry smile in return. “And I accept your apology, Captain - as long as I get an explanation.” She looked over at Nelson, who was giving his captain an exasperated look. “You must be Admiral Harriman Nelson.” Her expression was one of keen appraisal as she added, “You don’t look like your movie counterpart at all.” As Nelson’s eyebrows flew up in surprise she flashed him an almost impish grin. Lee smothered a laugh and even Kowalski had to hide a smile.
She then turned that attentive gaze on Kowalski, straightening his spine and bringing a touch of red to the seaman’s ears. “You must be Kowalski.”
She nodded and again focused her attention on the two officers. “Just out of curiosity, is that blond officer who was on the bridge with you Chip Morton?”
Lee shared a puzzled look with Nelson. “Was he in the movie here?” asked the Admiral. “It was my understanding from what Lee told me that the series never existed here.”
Now it was Mitzie’s turn to look puzzled. “Your captain mentioned something about that before. And no, there was only a movie and a book. Exactly what’s the deal about that?”
The Admiral grimaced before answering. “Yes, that’s Chip. And the answer is that the first universe we … encountered … was one where Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea existed first as a movie, then a book, followed by a TV series. We found that our universe most closely resembles the series.”
“But how could they be similar?” By now some of Atlantis’ science staff had gathered and one of them asked the question.
“Apparently there’s some sort of ‘leakage’ of information between alternate universes. That first universe is a few years ahead of this one in time and apparently they’ve found something in quantum physics that suggests the possibility. Or so the fanfic writers from the Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea fandom there have told us,” Nelson finished dryly.
There was a snort of laughter from somewhere in the gathered crowd. Nelson turned a disgruntled gaze on them, making more than one scientist duck their head. “I take it you’re familiar with the concepts of fandom and fanfiction?” he asked acerbically.
“Er, yes Admiral,” timidly admitted a female voice from the back of the crowd.
“It must have been strange to find yourselves the object of it,” added another voice, male this time.
“No kidding,” Kowalski could be heard to mutter in response, drawing a quick glare from the admiral. Lee gave the seaman a small shake of the head to indicate he should not offer further opinion on the subject. After a gruff harrumph, Nelson turned back to the crowd.
“And you are…?”
“I’m Dr. Peter Etnoyer, one of the principal investigators on this mission.” A short, blond man wearing dark sunglasses stepped forward, looking somewhat uncertain. “I’m a coral specialist.”
“Indeed.” Nelson’s expression lightened. “Deepwater species, I take it?”
“Yes, Admiral. Many of the species we’ve sampled this trip have never been described before. Well be taking them back to study the DNA…”
“You have that technology?” Nelson interrupted.
“Well, yes.” Etnoyer looked surprised.
“Would it be an imposition if I asked to see your lab?”
“Why no, Admiral, but we don’t actually do the DNA work on the ship.”
Nelson paused, but then seemed to shrug. “I’d still appreciate seeing how you do things here.”
“Of course, Admiral. I’d be more than happy to show you around.”
Lee cast a sideways glance at Mitzie Crane and found himself meeting a familiar expression - he’d seen it in his own mirror more than once. He shared a small knowing smile and reflected that reining in overeager scientists who lost track of both time and danger was probably one of the main jobs of the captains of research vessels in every universe.
As Nelson and Etnoyer moved away, followed by most of the rest of the science staff, Mitzie shook her head and leaned towards Lee. “Does he own Seaview or did he give her to the government like in the movie?”
“In our universe, he kept ownership and contracted services to the government,” responded Lee, “and yes, it does frequently complicate matters.”
“I would imagine so.” She gave him another quick grin.
“Speaking of complications, I’d better warn you we’ve lost control of the device that brought us here.”
Mitzie looked briefly startled, then her expression turned serious. “Ah. I was wondering what had brought you back. I gather this means you may disappear just like before.”
“Unfortunately. We’ve been bouncing around like a rubber ball this time.”
“So this isn’t your first stop this time?” she asked.
Lee sighed before reluctantly admitting, “No. This is the fourth universe we’ve landed in. But we do seem to be headed in the right direction.”
“Because you’ve been here before?”
“Something to that effect. And not to change the subject, but I’m wondering why you asked specifically about Chip.”
Mitzie gave him a tight smile. “You said there was a movie, book and series in that first universe, right?” Lee nodded an affirmative. “Were the characters all identical in them?”
“No,” Lee drawled slowly, “They were quite different.” He reflected for a moment, trying to recall the details of what he’d read and seen. “Chip wasn’t even in the movie there.” At her nod, he continued, “And the Chip in the book was… Oh.” He shook his head as understanding dawned. “That Chip Morton was nothing like my XO.”
“That’s a relief,” Mitzie told him frankly. “And what about Cathy Connors?”
“Not in my universe,” responded Lee promptly.
“Really?” Mitzie looked surprised. “I would have thought with her character being in both the movie and book, she’d have been, well…” She shrugged as if unsure just how to express the obvious.
Lee grinned. “From what the fans told us, the producer Irwin Allen was notoriously cheap and liked to use female characters only when absolutely necessary. Apparently the cost of makeup and hair was higher for actresses than actors. And in a series on a budget… Well, they say he was know to even recycle his monsters.”
Mitzie Crane burst out laughing. “Oh, I wish I could see that. So when you say the series was most like your own universe, do you mean you have monsters there?”
“Not often,” he admitted ruefully, “Mostly it’s that we look like the actors who played the roles.”
“That must have been a mind blowing discovery. Ever meet any of them?”
“Yeah,” said Lee with a grimace. “My alternate look-alike is a fellow named David Hedison - and he’s been to my universe.”
“Now that sounds like a tale…” She cut off what she had been about to say and stepped hastily back, alarm on her face. A tendril of green energy was curling out of Atlantis’ main deck and reaching straight for Lee. His eyes briefly met Mitzi’s - a sad sort of understanding and sympathy had replaced the alarm in them - then the universe seemed to turn inside out as he made transition.
Lee groaned and lifted a hand to his throbbing head. That had been the worst jump they’d made so far. So where was he? As his brain stopped ringing and his senses began to function again, he realized that he was lying flat on his back on a hard surface that felt … familiar. Could it be? He cautiously opened his eyes and peered up to see the curved beams of Seaview’s observation deck arching overhead. Letting out a relieved sigh, he let his head drop back down on the deck. Back aboard his Grey Lady.
Now the question was, had Nelson and Kowalski make it back as well - and most importantly - had they made it back to their own universe?
A pair of familiar groans from one side answered the first question. He turned his head - squinting because of the pounding headache - and saw both Nelson and Kowalski sprawled on the deck beside him. Additional moaning and cursing coming from the control room confirmed it had been a rough transition for everyone, not just him.
He rolled over and managed to make it to his hands and knees. Letting his head hang for a moment, he closed his eyes again and let the sounds of the boat coming back to life wash over him, music to his ears.
If only they were back where they belonged…
He suddenly lifted his head and cocked it to one side, as if listening or looking for something - not aboard Seaview, but inside himself.
What he didn’t find brought a small smile to his face. The vague feelings of wrongness that had itched in the back of his mind in all the other universes were gone.
Maybe they were home.