This is a stand-alone story that can be placed anywhere in the Voyage timeline.
They were never going to accept me. I was as positive of that as I was of my own name. If I had ever been sure of anything before, I knew this crew was waiting for me to screw up, hoping the admiral would send me packing back to the Navy.
I was till spinning over the fact I had actually landed a spot onboard Seaview. Seaview! Who would have though, a guy like me, getting the chance to work with one of the best crews ever to outfit a boat, either on or below the surface. Course, I'd never tell this bunch of lunk-heads that. I did have a reputation to think of.
Nobody had questioned my authority. This bunch was too well trained for anything like that. But I could feel it, the way they watched me, the way conversation stopped when I came into a room. I wasn't a complete idiot. I knew they were talking about me. Kowalski, now he was the ringleader. If I was gonna win the trust of this crew, I was gonna have to prove to him that I was as good as my predecessor. Now that was one tough act to follow, from what I had heard. I had talked it over with the admiral, told him I didn't think I was making the right impression with the crew. He just gave me that smirk and said I'd get my chance to make a proper first impression. The man might be a genius, but even I know you only get one shot at a first impression. I seriously thought I had blown mine.
Right now I was in the Missile Room, holding my breath, waiting for the diving party to get back. Two divers had gone out to make repairs on the hull and at this depth it was a dangerous dive. We had our two best deep divers, one of which was Kowalski while the other was his buddy Patterson, out doing an emergency patch on the hull. They had few minutes left before their dive time was up. I was getting starting antsy but I was trying damn hard not to show it. That whole reputation thing again, you know. The intercom sparked to life as one of the divers reported in. I wasn't ready for the panic stricken tone in Ski's voice.
“Dive party to Seaview! Patterson's gear is malfunctioning! He's not getting enough air and I'm not sure I have enough left for us to buddy breath back!”
I snatched at the mike, tugging at the buttons on my shirt with my other hand. I didn't have time to track down who the next qualified deep diver was. I could do this. I cut my eyeteeth on dives of this depth. “Ski, hold your position, I'm coming out there to give you a hand.”
I was in a wet suit with a set of tanks strapped on before I could think. I pulled the hatch shut behind me and waited impatiently for the water level to rise and the pressure to equalize so I could crack the outer hull hatch. Once out of the sub, I cast around, remembering the direction of the repairs. Putting everything I had into it, I pushed off, swimming hard for the two distressed divers.
I found Kowalski braced against the hull, holding the taller figure of Patterson close. Patterson wasn't moving as I swam up. Grabbing him by the shoulder, I took one last deep breath then shoved my regulator between his lips. There was a tug on the airline and bubbles broke against my facemask as he took a long drag on the mouthpiece.
Together, Ski and I guided Patterson back to the hatch. I had Kowalski go down first as I snatch a quick drag off the regulator and passed it back to the rating. I followed Patterson down then I dogged the top hatch as Ski activated the valves. As the water drained out and the pressure equalized, I was able to grab a quick lungful of air as the air pocket began to form at the top of the chamber.
I climbed down the ladder as Ski cracked the hatch and pulled Patterson out. The rating was gasping, but he was alive and that's what was important. Nobody was dying on my watch, not if I could help it. I didn't come this far to lose a senior rating to an unexpected malfunction.
We had an audience. Ski's call for help had been picked up by Sparks and somebody had sent for Doc. Doctor Jamieson was waiting to get his hooks into Patterson the second he cleared the hatchway. The corpsmen were waiting and got the rating loaded up on the stretcher for his trip to Sickbay. Doc would have Pat back on his feet in no time.
Ski was watching as they carried off his buddy. I knew he wanted to go with him, but his sense of duty kept him rooted to the spot. He finally turned, pulling the hood off. His thick dark hair stood up in wild disarray and he racked his fingers through it, trying to bring it back to order. He fixed me with an intense gaze.
“Sir, you didn't have to do that. You could have gotten another diver.”
“Ski, there wasn't time. I wasn't gonna lose you and Patterson when I knew I could bring the two of you back in. Come on, get changed out and cleaned up so you can check on your poker buddy.”
Ski barked out a quick laugh as I began to peel out of the neoprene. “You know something, that sounds like something Curly might have said.”
“Chief Jones was a good man. You can't replace a man like that,” I said. I pulled the tanks off but Ski was there, taking them out of my hands. For a second I was at a loss as to what he was about.
“Thanks, Chief. You took a risk. The admiral might be looking for a third Chief and two ratings if you miscalculated.”
“Don't worry about it, Ski. It's my job. Just you remember that. Come on, let’s get this gear stowed away before the skipper comes down here and finds us jawing like a couple high school cheerleaders.”
“Sure thing Chief. Say, you wanna sit in on the game tonight? Doc will probably have Patterson under observation tonight. We're gonna be short a player.”
“We'll see, Ski. Get moving, would ya?”
Ski grinned as he dropped off the tanks on the racks, racking a hand through his unruly hair. “Alright, I'm moving.” and he was gone, out the hatch to Crews Quarters for dry clothes.
I was about to follow him when the admiral appeared and gave me one of those penetrating looks. Oh boy, was I in trouble now. I shouldn't have gone out on my own, I should have called for another diver, I put three crewmen at risk, he was gonna rip me a new one, but good . . .
“Good job, Sharkey. I don't think Curly could have acted faster. I think you may have finally made an impression. Go ahead and get changed. Captain Crane wants you in the Control Room for a briefing on the repairs.”
“Aye sir, and ah, thanks.” I dripped my way up the corridor. Maybe things were gonna turn around for me. It took me awhile, but maybe the admiral was right. Maybe I had finally made a descent first impression.
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