An Act of Faith
by J. Lynn
"Come in," called Admiral Harriman Nelson in response to the knock on his cabin door. He looked up from the papers on his desk as Lee Crane, Captain of the SSRN Seaview, entered the room.
"You wanted to see me, Sir?" asked Crane, apprehension clearly visible on his face and in his voice.
Nelson was amused at his Captain's obvious nervousness about the orders from ComSubPac that had arrived a short time ago. Under ordinary circumstances he might have strung Lee along a bit, but not now, not with Christmas only a few days away. For the first time in several years, the crew of the Seaview would be able to spend Christmas with their families. They were scheduled to make port in Norfolk on December 23rd and travel arrangements had been made for all the crewmembers to get them home by Christmas Eve. It would all work out perfectly--as long as they made port on schedule. The Admiral knew Crane was worried that the orders from ComSubPac might cause a delay and he would have to disappoint his crew. No, he shouldn't keep Lee in suspense--at least not for very long.
"Yes, Lee," replied Nelson. "Please, sit down."
Crane's nervousness was still apparent when he chose the chair beside the desk instead of perching on the corner of the desk.
"You know I received a message from a ComSubPac," began the Admiral using a serious tone of voice. Crane nodded in confirmation.
"It seems," continued Nelson, "that there has been significant seismic activity in the area we'll be passing through on our way to Norfolk, so we've been asked to deploy some sensors in the area. I have the coordinates and it will require only a minor course change." He showed the paper to Lee.
"That's it?" asked Crane in relief. "That's all they want?"
"That's it," confirmed Nelson, now smiling broadly. "A simple request that shouldn't cause any delay in our arrival in Norfolk."
"I'll make sure of it," declared the Captain. "If you'll excuse me, I'll assign a few men to prepare the sensors so they'll be ready when we reach the coordinates and I'll set up the diving assignments."
"Very good, Lee," approved the Admiral. "Let me know if there are any problems with the sensors."
"Aye, Sir," said the Captain.
"Come on, come on," muttered Crane. He sighed in frustration as the sensor he and Kowalski had put in place still refused to activate. Back on Seaview, Nelson had been issuing troubleshooting instructions over the radio. This was the last attempt they could make before being forced to return the sensor to Seaview. Not only did the Admiral have no other ideas about how to solve the problem, but because the dive had taken longer than originally planned, both Crane and Kowalski were running low on air in their tanks. If they had to return to Seaview with the device, the delay could jeopardize Seaview's scheduled arrival in Norfolk. Crane gritted his teeth and resisted the urge to give the device a good thump--he knew Nelson was watching on the monitor. He went through the troubleshooting sequence one last time and suddenly the sensor came to life.
"Way to go, Skipper!" crowed Kowalski.
"Just in time." replied Crane. "C'mon, Ski, let's head back."
"Aye, Sir," said Kowalski, swinging his light out in front to light the way back to Seaview. He had only taken a few strokes in the direction of the ship, when he heard the Captain's voice in his headset.
"Wait, what's that?"
Kowalski turned to see that the Skipper had stopped swimming and was using his light to examine the seabed.
"What is it, Skipper?" asked Kowalski.
Crane's answer sounded distracted, as if he were talking more to himself than to Kowalski. "I'm sure it was right here."
"Skipper," said Kowalski urgently, "We've got to get back to Seaview. I've only got a few more minutes of air."
Still engrossed in his search of the seabed, Crane replied, "You go ahead, Ski. I'll be along."
"No, Sir," declared Kowalski. "I won't go without you--your air has to be as low as mine."
In Seaview's Control Room, Nelson and Morton had heard the conversation between Crane and Kowalski. Both looked concerned, but it was Nelson who took the mike. "Lee, what is it? What did you see?"
"I'm not sure--I only saw a brief flash when the light hit it," responded Crane slowly, still sounding as if his concentration was on something else.
"Lee, leave it," ordered the Admiral. "You'll run out of air if you don't start back now."
Crane either could not or would not abandon his search. "It has to be here...I know I saw it..." he mumbled. Suddenly his voice took on an excited tone. "Wait! There it is! I've got it! C'mon, Ski, let's get back to Seaview."
Nelson and Morton exchanged relieved looks. The Admiral's look quickly hardened, however, as he said, "I'll be in the Missile Room, Mr. Morton. I'm going to find out what was so damn important that he risked running out of air to find it!"
Crane and Kowalski were just emerging from the airlock when Nelson strode into the Missile Room.
"Lee," barked the Admiral. "What were you thinking of out there? You could have run out of air!"
"I'm sorry, Admiral," replied Crane. "But I knew I saw something and I wanted to see what it was. See, here's what I found." He opened his hand to reveal a badly corroded locket. "I'm going to have the boys in the machine shop clean it up. I suspect it's pretty old."
The Admiral was intrigued by the discovery, but he was also still annoyed that Crane would risk his life over something so trivial. "Yes, Lee, it is interesting, but it wasn't worth risking your life."
"Admiral, I'm fine and so is Kowalski," reassured Crane. Looking past the older man, he called out, "Patterson, I want you to take this to the machine shop. Tell them to try and clean it up, but to handle it gently."
Patterson crossed over and took the locket from the Captain's outstretched hand. He could tell the Admiral was still angry, so he avoided looking at him as he accepted the piece of jewelry.
With the locket out of his possession, Crane's attention returned to the ship's business. "Admiral, do you have any idea why the sensor was so difficult to activate?"
"No, I don't," Nelson admitted, "but I'm going to thoroughly test the others so we don't have any further problems with them."
"We should arrive at the next set of coordinates in about twelve hours,"commented Crane. "Will that give you enough time for your tests? I don't want any more problems with the sensors, but if we're to keep to our schedule, we need to deploy the next one just as soon as we arrive at the coordinates."
"I should only need a few hours," responded Nelson. "I'll get started right away." He gave the Captain an appraising look. "I think you could use some rest."
"Aye, Sir," said Crane. The Captain turned to Kowalski. "You, too, Ski. Talk to the Chief and make sure you're off duty for a complete watch."
"Yes, Sir," said Kowalski.
Both men began to strip off their diving gear. Satisfied that Crane seemed to have returned to normal, Nelson left the Missile Room to begin his tests on the remaining sensors.
Crane tossed and turned in his bunk, voices and images he didn't understand tumbling through his mind.
"Hurry, Sophie. We have to leave now."
"But Mama, why do we have to go?"
"Papa says the ship is damaged. We have to get in the lifeboat."
"Mama, I'm scared."
"I know you are, Sophie, but Papa will take care of us. It will be all right. You have to be brave, Sophie."
Crane saw people hurrying past, but he couldn't make out any faces. Cutting through all the confusion, he heard a voice calling out,"Sophie! Sophie!"
He awoke with a start. Sitting up in his bunk, completely awake, he puzzled over the dream. He got up and crossed the room to his desk. Lying on the desk was the locket he had found. Crane turned on his desk lamp and then picked up the locket to examine it. The pictures inside the locket had been ruined by the water, but when the corrosion on the outside had been removed, the design etched into the metal on the front and the engraving on the back were still legible. He looked closely at the engraving and quietly read it out loud. "To Sophie, With love, Mama and Papa."
Sophie! The name is in his dream! Shaken first by the dream, and now by the realization that the dream was somehow linked to the locket, he knew he would be unable to sleep any more that night. He quickly dressed and then left his cabin, carrying the locket in his hand.
Nelson came down the stairs to the Observation Nose. He was surprised to see Crane standing by the windows, gazing out into the depths. The Admiral noticed Lee was holding something in his hand, stroking it gently with his thumb. When he looked more closely, he realized that the object was the locket that Crane had found on the dive. Nelson greeted his Captain quietly to avoid startling him.
"Lee, I thought you went to bed hours ago."
Crane turned, giving the Admiral a wan smile. "I did, but I couldn't sleep, so I decided to come here and see if I could relax."
Inclining his head in the direction of the locket in Crane's hand, Nelson asked, "Is something about that locket troubling you?"
Lee flushed slightly before he admitted, "I guess I've been wondering how long it's been down there and what happened to the little girl who owned it."
"Why do you think it belonged to a little girl?" inquired Nelson.
Crane hesitated before answering, "The engraving on the back." He held out the locket to the older man who held it up and then, just as Crane had done in his cabin, read the inscription out loud, "To Sophie, With love, Mama and Papa."
The Admiral looked up from the locket. "Lee," he said gently. "It could have been a gift to a little girl, but it also could have been a gift to a grown woman." He handed the necklace back to the Captain, who put it in his pocket.
"I'm sure it belonged to a little girl," he declared emphatically. "I just wish I knew what happened to her--how she came to lose it."
Concerned by the Captain's fascination with the locket, Nelson attempted to soothe him. "Lee, the sea holds pieces of many mysteries. But not all of them are tragic. Yes, the locket could have belonged to someone who drowned, but it also could have belonged to someone who thought it would be romantic to drop it into the sea. We can't find the answer to every mystery, and, most of the time, the answer isn't important."
"I supposed you're right, Admiral," sighed Lee. Making an effort to shake off his melancholy mood, Crane turned away from the windows. "What about you? You're up rather late too. Have you been working on the sensors all this time?"
"Yes, I have," replied Nelson. "I couldn't find anything wrong with them. I still don't understand why the first one was so hard to activate. But I don't think we'll have any trouble with the others."
"Good," said Crane. "Then we should still make port in Norfolk in plenty of time to get the crew home for Christmas."
"I don't see any reason why not," agreed the Admiral. "Now why don't we both try to get some sleep. It's less than six hours before we reach the next set of coordinates."
"You go ahead, Admiral," suggested Crane. "I think I'll make a quick inspection of the diving equipment to make sure everything's ready."
"The Chief can take care of that," argued Nelson.
"I know," replied Crane. "But I'd feel better if I checked it myself. Good night, Admiral."
"Good night, Lee," responded Nelson. He watched as Crane walked through the Control Room. He was still concerned about the younger man, but didn't know what more he could say or do. Crane had seemed preoccupied ever since he'd first caught sight of the locket, but what puzzled Nelson was why a simple piece of jewelry was having such a profound effect on his Captain. Reluctantly he turned and climbed the stairs, heading for his cabin.
Once again Nelson was in the Missile Room when Crane and Kowalski returned after deploying the sensor. This dive had gone more smoothly than the first with the sensor activating on the first try. Crane was the first to come through the hatch, staggering as he did so. Chief Sharkey and Patterson reached out to steady him.
"Easy, Skipper," said Sharkey. "Better sit down while we get those tanks off."
Crane allowed the men to lead him to a bench. He didn't even try to assist them with the removal of the tanks. Concerned about the Captain's lethargic response, Nelson crossed over to him.
"Lee, are you all right?" asked the Admiral.
Crane made an effort to gather the strength to respond. "I'm fine, Sir, just a bit tired."
"You didn't get much sleep last night," commented Nelson. "You should go to your cabin and get some rest."
Crane shook his head. "No, I'm scheduled to relieve Chip on watch in less than an hour." He stood up. "Admiral, I'm fine, especially since we're still on schedule for Norfolk. I'd better have Chip get us headed to the next set of coordinates."
The Captain crossed the room to the nearest mike. "Crane to Control Room."
"Mr. Morton," said Crane. "I assume you've already plotted a course to the next set of coordinates."
"Aye, Sir. We can get underway as soon as you give the order."
"Very good, Mr. Morton. Lay in the course, best speed. It's the last stop before home and I want to make it a short one."
"Aye, Sir," rang out enthusiastically over the intercom. Even the unemotional first officer couldn't keep the pleasure out of his voice at the prospect of being home for the holidays.
Crane flashed a grin at the Admiral. "I'm not sure when I last had that enthusiastic a response to an order."
Nelson returned the smile, his concern forgotten for the moment. "I can't say that I blame him--I'm looking forward to spending the holidays at home, too. Edith and I haven't spent a Christmas together in several years."
"Well," said Crane, "I think I'd better get to the Control Room and make sure we get to Norfolk on schedule. I don't want to be responsible for spoiling Edith's Christmas plans."
Reassured by Lee's good humor, Nelson left the Missile Room, thinking happily of the Christmas dinner Edith was planning. Yes, it would be good to be home for Christmas.
"Mama, I'm cold."
"Sit closer to me, Sophie. If we cuddle together, it will keep us warmer." The mother's voice was soothing, but there was a slight catch in it that betrayed her fear.
"It's the wind, Mama. It's so cold and it's blowing so hard. I want to go back to the ship."
"We can't go back, Sophie. We have to stay in the lifeboat."
"Yes, we could go back, Mama. The ship's not far--if I look hard, I can still see it. Can you see it, Mama?"
"Yes, Sophie. I can see it. But we can't go back--Papa says it isn't safe. Now just cuddle close to keep warm."
Lee struggled to open his eyes to look for the ship. His eyes felt heavy, but he forced them to open. He had just made out the name of the ship when his eyes came completely open and he found himself not on a lifeboat being tossed about by the waves, but in his own cabin on Seaview. "The Mary Celeste," he said softly. "The ship was the Mary Celeste."
He threw off the covers, jumped out of bed and reached for his clean uniform. He had to find out more about the Mary Celeste. It took him less than three minutes to get dressed and only two more to get to the radio shack. The officer on duty was the night watch radio operator, Lt. Moser. If he was surprised by the Captain's order to contact NIMR with an urgent request for information on a ship named the Mary Celeste, he was careful not to show it. Crane stood over him while he sent the message and then instructed him to have the reply delivered to his cabin immediately. Satisfied that he would soon have an answer to the mystery that had been haunting him, Crane returned to his cabin.
Nelson left his cabin, headed to the Wardroom for breakfast, when he noticed the light showing under the door of the Captain's quarters. Hoping to convince Lee to join him for breakfast, he knocked on the door, barely waiting for the invitation to enter. When he entered the room, he found Crane seated at his desk, several papers spread out in front of him with the locket off to one side. As Crane looked up to greet Nelson, the Admiral noticed the dark circles under the younger man's eyes.
"Lee, what is all this? Have you been up all night?"
"Most of it," admitted Crane. "But, Admiral, I think I know who owned the locket--a little girl named Sophie Briggs. It seems that a cargo ship named the Mary Celeste sailed through this area in 1872 and was mysteriously abandoned. To this day no one knows why the crew and passengers left the Mary Celeste or what happened to them. Sophie was the daughter of the ship's Captain--she and her mother were passengers on the ship--and this must be her locket."
"And just how did you learn all this?" asked Nelson.
"I sent a request to the Institute for information about the Mary Celeste," replied Crane.
The Admiral was clearly bewildered. "But how in the world did you come up with the name of this ship--the Mary Celeste?"
Crane became evasive and he avoided looking at the Admiral standing before him. "I remembered hearing the story and wondered if there was a connection."
Nelson noted the evasion but decided to avoid pursuing the matter. The sooner Lee dropped this fascination with the old locket, the better. "All right, so you know the owner of the locket. You solved the mystery. Can you let go of it now?"
Before Crane could answer, Chip's voice came over the intercom. "Control Room to Crane."
Lee reached over and pushed the button on the intercom. "Crane here. What is it?"
"You wanted to be notified when we were fifteen minutes from the coordinates for the next sensor deployment."
"Very good, Mr. Morton," replied Crane. "Have Kowalski meet me in the Missile Room."
Lee rose from his chair, but the Admiral stopped him from stepping around the desk. "Lee, you're in no shape for a dive today. You admitted you were up all night and you're obviously exhausted."
"Admiral, it's an easy dive," countered Lee. "I'll be fine."
"You'll be fine because you're not going." declared Nelson. "That's an order. I'll go in your place."
"Very well, Sir," replied Crane stiffly. "I'll be in the Control Room." He made a move to walk around the desk and this time the Admiral stepped out of his way. He noticed that Crane scooped up the locket from his desk, tucking it into his pocket. Nelson was still puzzled by the Captain's obsession with the necklace and resolved to finish their conversation about it when he returned from the dive.
Nelson strode into the Control Room a little over an hour later. The deployment of the last sensor had gone very well and he had received word that all three sensors were transmitting data to the research station. Pleased that their work had been completed on schedule, his only remaining concern was Captain Crane's obsession with that antique locket. As he approached the Captain, Kowalski sang out from the sonar station, "Surface contact, Skipper."
Before Crane could reply, Sparks called out from the radio shack. "I'm getting something on the radio, Sir. I can't quite make it out."
"Keep trying, Sparks," ordered Crane. "It could be a distress call."
Crossing over to stand next to Kowalski, Crane peered down at the screen. "What have you got, Ski?"
"I don't know, Sir," replied the seaman. "It looked like a small surface vessel, but now it's gone. Maybe it was just some sort of interference, Sir."
"Look sharp, Ski. Could be a vessel in trouble."
"Aye, Sir," replied Kowalski.
"What about the radio contact, Sparks? Have you heard anything more?"
"No, Sir," replied the operator. "It could have been just a burst of static."
"Or it could have been a distress call," said Crane. "We have to check it out. Mr. Morton, set a course for the coordinates of the sonar contact."
"Aye, Sir," answered the Exec.
"Lee," said Nelson quietly. "You have no real evidence of a ship in distress--just a random sonar contact and a burst of static on the radio."
"Admiral, we're the only ship in the area," argued Crane. "If a vessel is in trouble, we're the only one who can help. We can't ignore the possibility."
"All right, Lee," said Nelson. "A quick search, that's all."
During the time it took to reach the coordinates, there was no further contact either on sonar or on the radio. Despite the lack of evidence of a vessel in distress, Crane insisted on following a standard search pattern. As the hours passed with no contact, the tension rose in the Control Room. The crewmen were too well-disciplined to express their disapproval of their Captain's actions, but they were all becoming increasingly resentful of what appeared to be a needless delay.
Crane had moved into the Observation Nose and was standing by the windows. Nelson sat in one of the chairs, observing his Captain who was looking out into sea while stroking the antique locket he held in his hand. Chip Morton approached Crane.
"Skipper," he began, "we've completed the second pass with no radio contact and no sonar contact. Shall I set a course for Norfolk?"
When the Captain didn't respond, he took him by the arm. "Lee, there's nothing out there. The men know it, I know it, and you know it. Let go of it. The men deserve to be home with their families for Christmas, not out here searching for a ship that doesn't exist."
Crane turned to face his Exec, his face showing a look of utter and absolute defeat. "All right, Chip. Break off the search. Set a course for Norfolk."
"Aye, Sir," replied Morton, but he spoke to Crane's back for the Captain had turned back to the windows.
Nelson had remained silent during the exchange between the two officers, not wanting to order Lee to give up the search, preferring instead that he came to the decision on his own. Now he rose and stood beside him at the windows. Meeting the Captain's eyes in the reflection in the glass, he said quietly, "She died a long time ago, Lee, you can't save her."
"I know that, Admiral," replied Crane. "But someone else is out there. I'm sure of it."
"There's been no indication that there's any vessel within miles of us. We've searched the area thoroughly. It's time to go home, Lee."
Crane said nothing so Nelson tried again to reach him. "Lee, you haven't been sleeping and it's probably affecting your thinking. Go get some sleep. I'm sure you'll feel better about this when you're not so tired." When the Captain still said nothing, the Admiral said gently, "I'll make it an order if I have to, Lee."
Crane finally turned to face his superior. "That won't be necessary, Admiral. I'll go. There's nothing more I can do here anyway. Good night, Sir."
Nelson watched him ascend the stairs. He was even more worried now than he had been earlier. If, in the morning, Crane seemed no better, he'd talk to Jamison. Feeling a little more hopeful now that he had decided on a course of action, the Admiral headed off to his own cabin.
"Sophie! Sophie!" The woman's voice was shrill with fear. Lee couldn't help but feel the panic in the voice and he desperately tried to open his eyes to see the scene more clearly.
Lee sat upright in his bunk, wide awake and trembling. The Admiral was wrong. Chip was wrong. They were all wrong. There was someone out there who needed help--his help. He couldn't continue the search using the Seaview, but he could take the Flying Sub and search the area by himself. Hurriedly, he threw on his clothes and headed for the Control Room.
O'Brien was standing the night watch. It had been an uneventful watch until the Captain rushed into the Control Room, snapping out orders.
"Mr. O'Brien, I'm going out in the Flying Sub."
"Aye, Sir. Shall I inform the Admiral and Mr. Morton?"
"There's no need to wake them, but when they do get up, just tell them that I'm continuing the search with the Flying Sub. Seaview is to stay on course for Norfolk. If I don't find anything in twelve hours, I'll return to Seaview. Is that understood, Mr. O'Brien?"
"Yes, Sir," replied the young officer, visibly unhappy with his orders. "But don't you think it would be better if I woke them now?"
"No," replied Crane flatly. "You have your orders, Mr. O'Brien."
When the Captain turned his back on O'Brien and the rest of the Control Room crew, the men all exchanged concerned looks. The Captain's earlier insistence on a fruitless search and now this strange behavior worried them all. None of them liked to think of their Captain out there all alone on a futile mission, but none would disobey his orders. Discipline demanded that they return to their duties so all eyes were turned back to their stations, but all hearts remained heavy with worry.
Crane rubbed his eyes as he tried to peer through the increasing darkness. A storm was coming up and the wind was making it harder and harder for him to control the Flying Sub at an altitude low enough to spot anyone in the water below. He had been searching for over twelve hours despite his promise to return to Seaview if he hadn't found anything in that time. Just as he was preparing to break off the search, he heard a child's voice, the voice he'd been hearing in his dreams. "Mama, why isn't anyone coming for us? Can't they find us?"
Lee shook his head to clear it. When he opened his eyes, he saw it--a small boat being tossed about by the waves. He immediately put the Flying Sub into a dive and landed on the water a short distance from the little boat. Steering slowly and carefully, he guided FS1 into position alongside what he could now see was a lifeboat.
Crane quickly unbuckled the restraints on his seat and headed for the hatch at the back of the craft. The Flying Sub was being tossed about in the rough water so it was a struggle to move across the deck. When he opened the hatch he saw that the man in the lifeboat was ready with a rope to secure the boat to FS1. Crane quickly secured the rope and reached out to help the survivors into the Flying Sub. The waves were getting higher so Lee hung on with one hand while he leaned out, his other arm extended. This time the man handed over a little girl who clung tightly to him as he lifted her from the man's arms. He put her down on the deck and then turned back to help the others. A woman was next and then when she was safely aboard FS1, the man followed. Crane struggled to untie the rope to the lifeboat and close the hatch. Several times he was nearly thrown out into the churning seas, but with the help of the man he had just rescued, he finally managed to secure the hatch.
"We've got to dive to get away from the storm!" Lee shouted to his passengers as staggered to the pilot's chair. "Hang on."
Skillfully, Crane took the Flying Sub down into the calm depths. After setting a course to rendezvous with Seaview, he turned to his passengers and smiled. "There wasn't time for proper introductions. I'm Lee Crane, Captain of the Seaview."
The man rose from where he was sitting on the deck and crossed over to Crane, extending his hand. "Captain Crane, I don't know how to thank you for saving our lives. I'm John Brigaman, this is my wife, Mary, and our daughter Sophie." Crane was startled by the child's name but said nothing as Brigaman continued. "We were out on a pleasure cruise when suddenly we heard a rumbling and the sea began to shake violently. If we'd been on land, I'd say it was an earthquake."
"There can be quakes at sea," explained Crane. "And they're referred to as seaquakes. There's been a lot of seismic activity in this area recently so it's quite possible that you experienced a seaquake."
"Well, it was pretty terrifying. It damaged our ship and we were taking on water so I broke out the lifeboat. I tried to get out a call out on the radio but just as I began to send the message, the radio shorted out. There was nothing else to do but get in the lifeboat and pray that someone would find us. We had just about given up hope when you came along."
Before Crane could reply, Sophie spoke up. "I like the name Seaview, but when you're flying, do you call it the Skyview?"
Lee looked at the little girl, confusion plainly showing on his face. "Sophie," he answered uncertainly, "I'm sorry, but I don't understand what you mean."
The little girl patiently explained. "When you're underwater, you can see the sea through the windows so you call it the Seaview, but when you're flying, you can see the sky, so you should call it the Skyview."
"But the Seaview doesn't fly," said Crane.
"Yes it does!" she insisted. "We saw you in the sky and then you landed on the water."
"Oh, now I understand." Crane said laughing. "This isn't the Seaview, Sophie. This is called the Flying Sub because it's a submarine that can also fly. The Seaview is a big submarine that can only go in the water. It's a very special submarine because, just like the Flying Sub, it has windows in the front so you can look out into the sea."
"I'd like to visit the Seaview," said Sophie eagerly. "Can we go there?"
"Sophie," admonished her mother. "It's up to Captain Crane to decide where we should go."
"It's all right." replied the Captain. "We are going to Seaview. Actually, I should let them know we're on our way." He reached for the mike and was just about to contact Seaview, when the craft was rocked by sudden, violent turbulence. Sophie screamed as she and her parents were tossed about.
Crane fought to control the Flying Sub. "I think it's another seaquake or maybe a aftershock from the one that damaged your boat. Try to find something to hold on to!" He continued to try to bring the craft under control, but the turbulence was too powerful. FS1 was being driven relentlessly toward the side of a large rock face. Crane struggled with the controls and managed to avoid a direct collision, but the Flying Sub still hit the rock with a hard, glancing blow. Sparks flew and the craft lost power, heading for the bottom, with Crane powerless to stop it.
The Flying Sub hit bottom with a thump that jolted everyone. The only light was the dim emergency lighting indicating that main power was off. Crane shook off the effects of the rough landing, calling out to his passengers. "Is anyone hurt?"
Brigaman quickly checked his family and then replied, "A few more bumps and bruises, but nothing serious."
"Good," replied Crane getting out of his seat. "Now let's hope the Flying Sub is the same."
Sophie began to cry, quiet little sobs. She snuggled close to her mother and whimpered, "Mummy, I'm scared. It's so dark."
Her mother drew her close to comfort her. Crane stooped down in front of them. "I know it's scary in the dark, Sophie, but you have to have faith. I spent a lot of time looking for you and I'm not about to give up now until you're safe. I've fixed the Flying Sub lots of times. Would you like to help?"
The little girl nodded solemnly and pulled away from her mother. "What can I do?"
"I'm going to get out some tools and I'll need you to hand them to me when I ask for them. Your mother can help you pick the right one. Okay?"
"Okay," she said, standing up when he did.
Crane opened the storage compartment and pulled out a tool kit. "Mr. Brigaman, do you have any experience with wiring?"
"Plenty, Captain Crane," he replied. "When you own a small boat, you have to learn how to do your own repairs. I haven't worked on anything as complicated as this, but I can handle a soldering iron and I can follow directions."
"That should be a big help then. Let's get started."
They worked for several hours and finally restored partial power to the Flying Sub. They'd have to travel at reduced speed and there was no guarantee how long it would last. Their best hope was to contact Seaview and have her head toward them. The radio was still out, however. Brigaman volunteered to keep working on it while Crane piloted the Flying Sub.
It wasn't long before Brigaman called out to the Captain. "I think it should work now. Give it a try."
Crane spoke into the mike. "FS1 to Seaview. Come in Seaview."
There was some crackling and then a commanding voice was heard over the speaker in the Flying Sub. "Lee, it's about time we heard from you! Between the storms and the seaquake the sensors recorded earlier, we've been mighty worried."
It's been a bumpy ride, Admiral," admitted Crane. "But we're fine and headed back to Seaview. It may take a while, though. We don't have full power so I can't do any better than 1/3 speed."
"We'll plot a course to meet you," said Nelson. "Give me your current position."
Crane complied and was about to sign off, when Nelson abruptly asked, "You said We're fine. Is someone else with you?"
"Yes, Sir," declared Crane. "I've got three passengers--found them in a lifeboat. I'll tell you the whole story once we're aboard. Crane out."
The Captain turned and grinned at his passengers. "Seaview is on her way to meet us. We'll have you in more comfortable quarters in no time."
Crane climbed the ladder from FS1 to Seaview's Observation Nose and then turned back to give his passengers a hand. When all three were standing beside him, the Captain made the introductions. "Admiral, I'd like you to meet John Brigaman, his wife, Mary, and their daughter, Sophie." He turned to the family and continued the introductions. "This is Admiral Nelson and the man standing next to him is Mr. Morton, Seaview's Executive Officer."
Nelson reacted to the little girl's name with surprise. "This is Sophie?"
"Yes, Sir. I found the three of them in a lifeboat. Their boat had been damaged, most likely by a seaquake."
John Brigaman spoke up. "We'd been in the lifeboat for over a day. We were wet and cold and a storm had just come up. I don't think we would have survived it if Captain Crane hadn't come along."
Anxious to change the subject, Crane looked down at Sophie. "I promised you a look through Seaview's windows. Let's go over here where you can see better."
He took the little girl's hand and led her over to the windows. She lifted her arms to be picked up and the Captain took her up in his arms.
"It's beautiful," she said simply. She put her head down on his shoulder and yawned.
"Sophie," said the Captain gently. "Would you like to sleep in a submarine bunk tonight?"
"Sure," came the sleepy reply.
Crane looked over her head to see Dr. Jamison heading through the Control Room to the Observation Nose. "You, and your mother and father can go with Dr. Jamison. He'll take you all to Sickbay to make sure you're all right and then you can sleep there."
"Does he have enough beds for all of us?"
"Yes, he does," assured Crane. "And they're pretty comfortable, too."
The Captain handed the sleeping child over to her father. While he waited, Jamison turned to Crane, "I'll expect you to stop in later, too, Captain. And since you've admitted that the bunks are comfortable, I may even have you spend the night."
"There's no need of that, Jamie," said Crane hastily. "I'm fine."
"You still need to stop in, Skipper," declared the Doctor as he ushered his three patients through the Control Room into the corridor.
Lee sighed and sat down in a chair beside the windows. Nelson stood looking down at him, smiling. "Well done, Lee. Very well done."
"Thanks, Admiral," responded Crane. Then he leaned around the Admiral to address his Exec. "Chip, plot a course for Norfolk and give me an estimated time of arrival if we travel at full speed."
"Aye, Sir," said Morton, moving to the Chart Table. Nelson joined him while the Captain remained seated, leaning his head against the window.
In just a few minutes, Morton called out. "Course plotted, Skipper."
Chip looked up in surprise when he didn't hear a response from Crane. Nelson also raised his head from the charts to look in the Captain's direction. Both grinned when they saw that Lee was fast asleep. "Lay in the course, Chip," chuckled the Admiral. "And then contact the Institute and have them make new travel arrangements for the crew--they won't make it home for Christmas morning, but we'll get them there as soon as we can. I'll take care of Captain Crane."
"Aye, Sir," said Morton, grinning broadly.
Nelson walked over to Crane and gently shook his shoulder. "Lee," he called out quietly, "Lee."
Crane started slightly as he awoke. "Admiral, I'm sorry, I'm..."
"Exhausted," finished Nelson. He turned to the Control Room and called to Kowalski who came over immediately. "Kowalski," ordered the Admiral, "you are to escort Captain Crane to his cabin and stay with him until he goes to bed."
"Admiral," protested Crane. "That's not necessary."
"Lee," countered Nelson, "you're so tired you might end up asleep in the corridor, or worse yet, you could fall asleep and drown in the shower. Can you imagine the headlines and the embarrassment for the Institute if that happened? No, you and Kowalski have your orders."
The Captain offered one more protest. "But I need to see about new travel arrangements for the crew."
"Chip and I will take care of that. Now off you go. Good night, Lee."
"Good night, Admiral," replied Lee in a resigned tone.
Holding a hot cup of soup in one hand, Nelson knocked on the door of Captain Crane's cabin with the other. Kowalski promptly opened the door.
"Admiral, the Skipper's in the shower, Sir."
"Very well, Ski. You can go. I want to talk to the Captain before he turns in."
"Aye Sir, good night," said Kowalski as he left the room closing the door behind him.
Nelson leaned against Lee's desk as he waited for him to emerge from the head. He noticed that the locket was once again on Crane's desk and he picked it up examining it thoughtfully for a moment before carefully replacing it on the desk. It was only a few more minutes before the Captain came out, dressed for sleep. He gave the Admiral a wry glance.
"You won't have to worry about embarrassing headlines, Admiral." he joked as he sat down on the edge of his bunk.
The Admiral handed him the cup of soup. "Drink this. I had Cookie warm it up for you."
Crane accepted the cup and began sipping the hot liquid. Nelson gave him a minute and then asked, "How did you know about the Mary Celeste? You didn't just remember the story, did you?"
"No," Lee admitted. He inclined his head in the direction of necklace on the desk. "After I found the locket, I started having dreams about a little girl in trouble on the water. In my dreams I saw the name Mary Celeste on the ship. That was when I sent for the information from the Institute. I know it sounds strange, but it's like the locket was leading me to find Sophie and her family. I just knew that I had to keep looking."
He sipped some more of the soup, feeling the warmth spread through his body, relaxing him completely for the first time in days. An irresistible drowsiness came over him. He was vaguely aware that the cup was being taken from him, and then hands were guiding him to lie down while a gentle voice was urging him to sleep. He gladly slipped into the warm darkness.
Nelson started to leave Crane's cabin, but then stopped at his desk. He saw the alarm set for 0600 hours. Obviously, Lee was planning to take the early watch, but the Admiral felt he needed more sleep so he turned off the alarm. He also turned off the intercom so the routine chatter of the ship's business would not disturb the Captain's rest. If there was an emergency someone could be sent for him, but otherwise he would sleep undisturbed.
"Merry Christmas, Lee," said Nelson quietly as he turned off the light and left the room.
The Admiral's next stop was Sickbay to check on the Brigamans. When he entered he found Jamison sitting at his desk writing notes. The Brigamans all appeared to be sleeping peacefully in the Sickbay bunks. The Doctor looked up at his superior.
"How are your patients, Doctor?" asked Nelson.
"They're all in pretty good shape," replied Jamison. "Tired, of course, and suffering from exposure and dehydration, but some rest and food will take care of all that. They were very lucky that the Skipper found them when he did, however. What made him so sure they were out there when there was no proof?"
"Faith, Doctor," declared the Admiral. "Faith doesn't need proof."
"And where is our faithful Captain?" asked Jamison.
"Sound asleep in his cabin." Before the Doctor could object, Nelson continued, "Jamie, he was literally asleep on his feet. I don't think he would have made it here under his own power. Besides, you've got a full house. I'm sure he'll rest better in the quiet of his own cabin. If you're worried about him, you could always make a house call."
"You're probably right, Admiral," conceded the Doctor. "I'll pay him a visit later."
"Just like Santa," chuckled Nelson.
Jamison gave him a puzzled look so the Admiral explained. "It's Christmas Eve, Jamie."
"In all the excitement I'd completely forgotten," exclaimed Jamison. "Merry Christmas, Admiral."
"Merry Christmas, Jamie," returned the Admiral as he headed for the door.
Lee awoke to a wonderful feeling of peace. He had slept well and felt rested for the first time in days. As he luxuriated in the warmth of his bed, he suddenly noticed the absolute quiet--no alarm clock, no voice on the intercom. He quickly got up to investigate and found that both the alarm and the intercom had been switched off. When he looked at the time, he realized that he had been asleep for nearly ten hours. He'd meant to take the early watch, but he was over two hours late. Hurriedly, he dressed and then headed straight for the Control Room.
Crane expected the mood on the ship to be quiet and somber. It was Christmas Day and the crew wasn't home with their families as they had expected. While he knew the crew had accepted that it was their duty to aid in the rescue of the Brigamans, the men were bound to be disappointed that they were not spending Christmas with their families. That was understandable. He was surprised then when every crewman he met on the way to the Control Room greeted him with a hearty, "Merry Christmas, Sir!"
As he descended the spiral staircase into the Observation Nose, still in wonder over the apparent good humor of at least some of the crew, he was even more surprised to be met by a wonderful smell of food and a pleasant babble of voices. When he reached the foot of the stairs, he saw a table spread with a Christmas buffet. A small Christmas tree stood on another table by the windows. The Admiral greeted him warmly.
"Merry Christmas, Lee. Help yourself to some breakfast."
Completely taken aback, Crane stammered out a response. "Merry Christmas, Admiral. Where did all this come from?"
"Oh, some Christmas elves were busy last night," replied the Admiral with a twinkle in his eye.
"One of those elves must have made a stop in my cabin and turned off my alarm and intercom," commented the Captain, smiling broadly now. He felt a tug on his sleeve and looked down to see Sophie standing beside him.
"Captain Crane," she said excitedly, "Santa came and he left presents!" She held up a Seaview cap and a carved wooden dolphin for him to admire.
"Those are very nice presents, Sophie, and I have one for you, too."
Mary Brigaman hurried over. "Captain Crane, you've already given us the most wonderful gift--our lives. We can't accept anything more from you."
"Please, Mrs. Brigaman," said Crane. "Sophie should have this. You'll understand when I explain."
The Captain pulled out the locket and then stooped down in front of the little girl.
"Sophie, this locket belonged to another little girl named Sophie who lived a long time ago. See, her name is on the back." He waited while the child looked at the engraving. Then he continued, "Like you, she was sailing with her mother and father on a ship named the Mary Celeste. Also, like you, she had to leave the ship with her parents and get into a small lifeboat."
"Did someone find her, like you found us?" asked Sophie.
"No, no one found her, or her parents, or any crew of the Mary Celeste," Lee said gently. They only found the abandoned ship. No one knows what happened to them, and that is very sad. But, even though that is sad, something good came from it. I found this locket several days ago when I was diving outside the Seaview. From the time I found it, I knew that someone named Sophie was in trouble and I had to help her. That was how I knew I had to look for you and your mother and father. I think the Sophie that lived a long time ago wanted me to find you and I think she would be very happy to know that you have her locket and will always remember her."
"I promise I'll remember her," said Sophie solemnly. "And I'll remember you, Captain Crane. Thank you."
She stood very straight as the Captain fastened the locket around her neck. He straightened up to see her parents standing there with tears in their eyes. Mrs. Brigaman hugged him while her husband shook his hand.
Crane turned around to see Kowalski standing in front of him, a glass of wassail in his hand. "Sir," he said hesitantly, "if it's all right, I'd like to propose a toast."
"Of course, Ski," said the Captain. "A Christmas toast would be just right."
Kowalski waited while glasses of wassail were passed out to the crew gathered around, then he began, "Captain, you taught us an important lesson about Christmas. We were all busy thinking of our plans for spending the holidays at home. Now, I know it's not wrong to want to spend Christmas with family, but we forgot that what's really important about Christmas is faith. You had faith, Sir. You believed that the Brigamans were out there and you never gave up. It was kind of like the Wise Men who kept looking for the Christ child until they found him. What I want to say, Sir, is that we're very proud to serve under your command."
Kowalski raised his glass. "To the Captain!" he proclaimed. Admiral Nelson, the Brigamans, and all the crew raised their glasses and drank a toast to honor Seaview's Captain.
Crane, overcome for a moment by the tribute paid to him, stood silent, but then he raised his head to speak. "Thank you, Kowalski, and all of you. It's true, I did have faith, but not just that the Brigamans were out there, I also believed in Seaview and her crew. I knew when we needed you, we could count on all of you being there, giving your best to help someone in trouble. You were there, for us, and now, with this celebration, for each other."
"Before we begin our Christmas celebration, I'd like to propose a toast in memory of the Captain, crew, and passengers of the Mary Celeste who never made it home." He raised his glass and said, "to the Mary Celeste." The crew raised their glasses and responded in subdued tones, "to the Mary Celeste." They stood in silent respect.
Captain Crane broke the silence, "May all who sailed aboard her rest in peace." As the crew raised their heads, Crane smiled at them and offered one final toast. "To the officers, crew, and passengers of the SSRN Seaview, a very Merry Christmas!"
The story of the Mary Celeste is a true mystery of the sea. On December 14, 1872, the Mary Celeste was discovered in the Atlantic Ocean, adrift and abandoned. No trace was ever found of her crew and passengers. Sailing with Captain Benjamin Briggs was his wife Sarah, and their daughter, Sophia. Over the years numerous theories about why the ship was abandoned have been presented. A retelling of the story and the various theories can be found in a new children's book, The Mary Celeste: An Unsolved Mystery from History by Jane Yolen, et al. There are also numerous web sites that explore the mystery of the Mary Celeste. It was never my intention to offer any solution to the mystery, but simply to have it touch the lives of Seaview's officers and crew at this very special time of year.