This is a stand-alone story that sits pretty much anywhere in the Voyage timeline.
I slept through the morning and into the early afternoon. I had awakened briefly somewhere around 10:00, and the clock now read 12:28. The sun was peeking through the closed dark blue curtains, waving slightly. I could see the shadow of the sill, open about a quarter of the way up. I rolled over lay on my side, listening, but the house was quiet, giving me no clues.
I decided I had slept long enough. My stomach reminded me it had been a while since I had eaten. I was hungry. Slowly, I pulled myself up out of bed. I was one long ache from the tips of my toes to the ends of my ears. I guess falling half -way down a mountain side in a thunderstorm will do that do a person. I was reminded of something Chip had told me once: it's not the years, but the mileage. I have no idea where he comes up with this stuff. I contemplated myself in the mirror mounted on the closet door.
I was wearing a faded black tee shirt and gray shorts. I must have changed into them last night before I hit the sack. I certainly didnít remember changing. My legs were covered in bruises, in beautiful shades of purple, green and yellow. Pulling up the tee shirt, my torso was similarly bruised, and the cuts were fading to thin red lines. My arm was still sore. My short curly hair was tangled mess. I had that pasty morning after feel in my mouth. Shower. I needed a shower.
I found my dresser, dug out a pair of faded cut off shorts, a green tee shirt, and underclothes, then headed to the shower. I took my time, letting the steaming water pound against my shoulders, run down my back and my legs, loosening tight muscles and easing my aches and pains. When I finally felt clean I shut the water off and toweled dry. I dressed in clean clothes, and rubbed my hair dry.
Barefooted, I crept downstairs, cautiously. But the house was still quiet. I seemed to be the only one home. Maybe I didn't have a keeper waiting for me. I walked through the kitchen and found a bowl of fruit on the counter, courtesy of the housekeeper. She was into healthy. I snagged a green apple, crunching down into it, juicy and tart. I pulled back the sliding glass door and stepped out into the wide redwood deck with the most spectacular view of the Pacific. The view was one of the reasons I picked out this place. I stood there for a long time, drinking in the peace and power of the waves below me and finished off the apple. The ocean always did that to me. Calmed me and made me forget my troubles. Almost like the sea goddess, if there was such a thing, was on my side, even for a little while.
It was then I realized I had an audience.
He was seated in one of the wrought iron chairs, his feet propped up in second chair. He was seating so he could keep one eye on the door, and another eye on the ocean. I wasn't expecting him, although I shouldn't have been surprised.
"When did you get back?" I asked cautiously, easing down into an empty chair.
"Last night. The same time you hit port," the admiral said.
For a split second I was resentful. Didn't Jamie think I could function in my own house without a babysitter? Did he think I needed someone to watch over every move I made? I was perfectly capable going through everyday life without someone standing around to hold my hand. Just because I ran into a little trouble on my last ONI mission, it doesn't mean I need a full time nurse. This had Chip-no wait-Jamie, written all over it. I could just see him on the phone with the admiral, telling him all about my latest misadventure.
The admiral must have seen something in my face cause his expression softened somewhat. "Relax, lad, no one sent me out to keep an eye on you. I just dropped by. Friends do that, you know."
This was where the admiral always confused me. It was like he was two different people. On one hand he was The Admiral, a brilliant man whose ideas were sometimes years ahead of our time. He hated to be wrong, hated to be called out. Nothing frustrated him more than to have one of his theories not work out, or an invention not work. Granted, it didn't happen often, but it did happen. His temper was formidable, and not something I crossed lightly. Our arguments were the stuff of legend in Seaview's lore.
Stubborn, persistent, unyielding, he was a force a nature to be reckoned with. He was my employer and if he said jump, I'd better have a good reason for not asking how high.
On the other hand, I saw him after the loss of the Polidor. He cared deeply for his people and the loss of even one ate at him. It was different for him. While Seaview was my command, it was his creation, staffed and serviced by people who, for the most part, were handpicked by him from her inception. The loss of even one of those people was personal for him. The death of John Phillips had hit him hard. John had been there as long as Chip had been, from the time Seaview's keel was laid. I think to this day the admiral still blamed himself for Phillips' assassination, knowing that Phillip hadn't been the real target.
The admiral was more than my employer. He was also my very good friend. There were things I could tell him that I couldn't tell Chip, just like Chip was my sounding board for what a just couldn't admit to the admiral. Nelson was my teacher and my mentor. If Chip was my brother, the admiral was my father, always watching, ready to offer advice but yet willing to let me make my own mistakes. He was my balance, letting me make my own way, but willing to lend a hand. I would be where I was today. If Nelson hadn't had faith in me. In my mind, Seaview was the greatest ship in the world, and I was her skipper, by Nelson's choice. I was deeply honored when he offered the Captaincy to me. Looking back, I would have been a fool not to take it.
I got up and went back into the kitchen. I came back out with two bottles and handed one to the Admiral. He thumbed the cap off, toying with the metal top for a second. I followed suite, dropping the cap to the table. He carefully sat his down, then tipped the bottle in my direction.
"I propose a toast," he said, with that deep, rolling voice of his.
"To what?" I asked. Sometimes I just didn't understand his motives.
"Friendship. The most unstoppable force on the planet," he said.
I grinned, and Nelson flashed me a real smile, rare when some mad scientist was threatening the world, killer wax figures were trying to kill you, or the ghost of a dead sea captain was trying to take over your body.
"To friendship then. Fair winds and following seas to those who so deserve it."
Nelson tipped back the bottle and took a long draw. He fixed me with one of those looks.
"You want to tell a friend why you look like forty miles of bad road?"
I sighed. I knew Nelson was up to something. Leaning back, I took another drag off the bottle.
"It was supposed to be a quick 'in and out' . . ." I began.