Chip Morton glanced up at Kowalski as he came up to him. “Sir, Sparks has the Captain for you.” Morton gave him a quick nod and unclipped the mic from the side of the chart table.
“Sparks, put the Captain on,” he said quickly, waiting for the confirming click before speaking. “Lee? Finally decided to join us have you?” the blonde Exec put a note of sarcasm in his voice, knowing perfectly well that Crane would see right through it. Lee knew that Morton would be relieved to have the Captain back on board the SSRN Seaview.
“I wanted to see what you’ve done to my boat while I’ve been away,” Crane replied dryly. “I’ve got you in sight now. You should be able to see me.”
Chip took a couple of long steps away from the chart table and gazed out across the rolling blue waves beyond the observation ports in the sub’s nose. It took him only a few seconds to pick out the shape of the Flying Sub. Admiral Nelson came up behind him as he spoke into the mic again. “Yes, we have you in sight. All repairs completed?”
“No problem, but they have recommended armour plating for the next time.”
Chip chuckled in amusement. “Come off it, Lee, you know as well as I do that you love the change to get back to Tanya. Enjoy yourself, did you?” Morton envied Crane his relationship with the blonde, blue eyed marine biologist. He didn’t envy him the fact that Nelson doted on the girl like a daughter.
“You could say that,” the Captain answered pleasantly. “By the way, I hear you and Fiona have been talking about me.”
“Would I?” Fiona was Chip’s own girlfriend. A friend of Tanya’s, she had been attached to NIMR as the Institutes psychiatrist for some time.
“Yeah, you would. I’ve heard some interesting things about you and Fiona and the kinks in your psyche.”
Chip shot an uneasy look at the listening Admiral. He found himself starting the blush under Nelson’s interested, amuse gaze. “Lee, let’s keep the kinks in my psyche between you and me, okay?”
“Oh, I don’t know, the Admiral might like to...” The mic let out a sudden vicious snarl of static at the same moment that the Admiral let out a gasp of horror. “Lee,” he said faintly.
Chip whirled around to look, feeling panic clench its grip on his soul. Where the Flying Sub had been was only a blossoming ball of scarlet flame and thick smoke. “No!” Chip protested the sight as he dropped the mic. Behind him he heard a confused burst of noise that was the shock of the crew, but Chip couldn’t look away from the plunging manta ray shape of the Flying Sub as she crash-dived into the waves. Smoke boiled upwards at the impact and the craft started to sink.
Taking a deep breath, Nelson shook off his dismay and grabbed the Exec’s arm, his fingers dug in too hard. “Get a rescue party out there.”
“Lee,” was all Chip could manage in his shock.
“Chip! The rescue party! Pull yourself together, man.” Nelson roared the command and shook the young officer hard.
Morton threw him off and turned grimly to issue the commands. His expression was almost haunted.
There was water in his mouth and nose and eyes and he was sinking, drowning in an ocean that had always been his friend. Fighting a panic stricken urge to breathe in that would certainly be fatal, Lee kicked out desperately for the surface, flailing past the sinking wreckage from the Flying Sub. So much for the repair, he thought hysterically. Then the surface shattered around him into a thousand glittering shards of light and he gasped in a grateful breath of air, turning over to float on his back. His ribs throbbed from the impact of the crash and his ears were ringing from a crack on the head. As he explored the back of his head for damage, his thoughts started to coalesce back into order, clearing slowly; like his blurred vision. Darkness flitted around the edge of his mind, threatening to suck him under. Vaguely, he was aware that he shouldn’t answer the siren call of sleep. Lee none the less found his eyes drifting shut against his will; the wash of the waves felt soothing around his tired and aching body.
* * *
Sharkey knelt in the bow of the dinghy, scanning the waves anxiously. There was no sign of the Captain. What if he was trapped inside? How do I tell the Admiral?
“Chief, over there!” Kowalski grabbed at the older man’s shoulder, half deafening him with his yell. Behind him, Patterson was already slipping over the side of the boat and striking out for the dark haired figure in the water.
“Bring us about,” Sharkey hid his own feelings behind the crisp order. In a moment Kowalski was bringing the boat alongside his fellow crewman and the Captain and helping Patterson and Sharkey pull the unconscious man on board.
Wincing in pain, Lee twisted and glared furiously at Jamieson. The genial-faced man was carefully stitching a messy gash in the officer’s shoulder.
“It wouldn’t hurt so much if you’d keep still,” he pointed out bluntly.
“That’s easy for you to say,” Crane retorted sarcastically, but obediently faced forward again. Cradling his bruised and aching ribs, he wriggled slightly in an effort to get comfortable.
“Captain,” Jamieson reproached.
Lee snorted and sat to attention, giving his CMO a frosty glare that only made Jamieson smile, unabashed. Before Crane could comment, however, there was a light tap at the door and Nelson stuck his head in.
“Are you decent, Lee?” he asked mildly.
“Sure, come on in,” Lee was glad of the distraction even if Jamieson wasn’t. The Admiral was followed by Morton. “What is this? An audience?” irritation made Crane snap before he saw the anxious way Chip was looking him over.
“I thought you’d been killed!” Morton protested indignantly.
Lee stared for a second, then flushed slightly. “Sorry, Chip. Didn’t mean to growl,” he apologised and shot a look at Jamieson as he patted the young man’s shoulder.
“There, Captain, all finished. You sit still while I get a dressing for that.”
Lee nodded and winced slightly as his head spun. His vision had cleared, but the hammer pounding away at his temples was only increasing in tempo. Seeing Nelson and Morton watching him in concern, he decided to distract them. “You know it was a bomb, don’t you?” Not a malfunction?”
“A bomb? Are you sure?” Chip exclaimed while Nelson looked thoughtful.
“What do you think I am? An idiot? Of course I’m sure,” Lee scowled at them. “It blew out the inertial guidance system and I lost control. The blast practically knocked me out cold. I was lucky the hatch didn’t buckle on impact,” Lee looked uncertainly at Nelson. “You build them sound, sir.” Nelson smiled faintly and Chip relaxed. He absently put a hand on his friend’s shoulder, meaning to offer comfort. Instead, Crane almost leaped off the table with a yelp of pain. “Ah! Chip, don’t do that!”
Horrified, Chip snatched his hand back. “I’m sorry, I didn’t think.”
Crane gave him a filthy look that softened as he took note of the genuine contrition on his Exec’s face. “It’s okay Chip, I’m sore that’s all,” he said with a grimace of pain. Jamieson caught him out as he returned with a carefully folded sling. “I thought you said a dressing, not a sling,” Crane protested warily as he eyed the doctor.
“It’s either a sling, or you stay here,” Jamieson answered flatly. “And I’d rather you stayed here.”
Crane gave him a ferocious scowl as Morton interrupted. “Take it, Lee. The crew need to see you around. They all thought that you’d been killed.”
Lee flicked a glance at his friend and met his blue eyes for a second. With a tired sigh of resignation, he surrendered to the inevitable. As Crane gloomily let Jamieson ease his arm into the sling, Nelson drew Morton to one side.
“Speaking of the crew, anyone I don’t know on board?”
“The only stranger is Professor Blake and you know him, sir. May I ask why?”
“Someone wanted to kill Lee. I’m not entirely sure he’s safe yet.”
Returning to the control room, Morton tapped Sharkey’s arm and drew him to one side. “Chief, I want you to do something for me. I don’t want you to let the Captain out of your sight.”
“Sir?” Sharkey looked at him blankly. “Is he okay?”
“He has a concussion, but that isn’t the reason. Someone planted a bomb on SF.1, probably to kill him. Chip explained, appreciating the way Sharkey bristled in protective anger. “I want someone with him at all times; either you, me or the Admiral. I also want a permanent guard on his cabin. No-one to go in or out, Kowalski and Patterson can help out there.”
“Yes, sir. Sir?” Sharkey said hesitantly as Morton turned away.
“What is it?”
“Does the Captain know about the guard?” Sharkey asked warily. If he knew the Captain, Crane wasn’t going to like this idea one little bit. From the way Morton bit back a small smile the OX knew it too.
“No, but if he asks, it’s the Admiral’s orders.”
Lee turned slowly from the observation port to eye Morton in disgust. He had made a slow tour of the boat, letting himself be seen by the crew and both warmed and embarrassed by their obvious relief at seeing him. “Admiral’s orders? He repeated Chip’s words carefully. “I need a babysitter? My concussion’s not that bad.”
“A body guard,” the Exec correct him.
“On my own sub?” Lee exclaimed.
“Someone didn’t want you here,” Morton pointed out.
“How did you figure that?”
“I didn’t, the Admiral did,” Chip admitted reluctantly.
“Oh, did he? Well, maybe I’ll have a little talk with him. Where is he?” The Captain growled.
Chip sighed. Crane was using that tone again; the one that had stalactites forming on it. “With Professor Blake,” Morton answered gloomily. He took a step after Crane when the dark haired man turned to go. Lee frowned and turned a hazel green glare on him. “Where do you think you’re going?”
“With you,” Chip offered hopefully.
“No, you are not,” Crane bit off each word off sharply. Swinging on his heels, he stalked off the control deck. Chip winced at what amounted to a direct order stopping him in his tracks. On the other hand it didn’t stop Sharkey trotting after his commanding officer with only a quick glance at Morton for permission.
Nelson was in his cabin alone when Crane finally tracked him down. Sharkey hovered outside after the door slammed shut, waiting nervously and doing his best not to listen to the raised voices inside. Finally the door was flung open and Crane stalked out, fixing Sharkey with a gaze that dripped icicles. Standing in the doorway behind him, Nelson smiled faintly at the young man’s frustration.
“Don’t forget your bodyguard,” he told him politely.
Crane swung around to face him and from the expression on his face it was a close thing as to whether or not he actually hit him. Taking a deep breath as his bandaged ribs would allow him, Lee turned back to Sharkey. “Come along, Chief. I’m going to my cabin,” he said in a voice that dripped with sarcastic venom. “I wouldn’t want to get lost all by myself.”
Crane paced the floor of his cabin in silent fury, feeling almost trapped. Abruptly coming to a halt, he frowned at the desk in concentrated thought. Accepting that someone wanted to kill him and that whoever it was had to be on the Seaview, what was the reason? There was no-one in the crew with a motive that he knew of. No-one new had joined the crew recently and if it was a crew member, well there were easier ways.
So who else was there? Who was left? Professor Blake? No, Lee knew him too well through Tanya. After all she had introduced him to the marine biologist. In fact Crane was the only one on the Seaview who had ever met him before. Nelson had even commented on it, saying it would be helpful if the Captain could join them and make the scientist feel more at home. Blake seemed to have been having trouble with the crew.
Thoughtfully running one hand through his dark hair, Lee glanced at the door. What if it wasn’t Professor Blake at all? What if the man we have on board is an imposter? Or am I being paranoid? Lee laughed softly at his own suspicions, but his amusement didn’t last long. Too many pieces fitted. There was only one way to find out, talk directly to Blake himself. Smiling wickedly, Crane turned his attention to the air conditioning vent.
Seaview’s air conditioning vents ran from one end of the submarine to the other and it wasn’t the first time that Crane had had reason to be grateful for their presence. Wriggling up to the grating that led into the corridor outside the laboratory, Lee eased the mesh screen out then slid through the gap and dropped neatly to the deck. After pressing the screen back into place, Lee brushed his hands clean on his pants and glanced warily up and down the passageway, it would be embarrassing if any of the crew noted their Captain sneaking around like a teenager caught out after hours.
No-one was in sight, so Crane walked over to the laboratory and pushed the door open. The room was empty and Crane wasn’t sure whether or not to be disappointed. Sighing faintly, he headed over to the ship’s intercom and took the mic from its clip. Chip was going to be very annoyed that Lee had managed to give his bodyguard the slip, but there was no way he was going to explain how he had done it. He clicked the switch twice to clear the channel.
“I wondered how long it would take you to figure it out, Captain,” the low voice came from behind him and Crane swung around to face the speaker in surprise. His hand closed instinctively over the mic, unconsciously holding the transmit button down. He had never seen the stockily build man before, but he recognised the S&W .38 in his hand all too easily. The weapon flicked at the mic impatiently.
“Hang up, Captain. You’re not calling anyone.”
Lee hesitated before reluctantly obeying the command. “So, you’ve the man pretending to be Professor Blake?” Lee said quietly, surprising himself by how calm he sounded.
“Correct,” the man replied. “But you can go ahead and call me Blake. I have no intention of telling you my real name. And in a few minutes it won’t make any difference to you anyway,” he motioned Crane to close the door. “Wouldn’t want anyone to overhear us, now would we?” he said mockingly.
Crane half shrugged, wincing as a twinge of pain from his shoulder reminded him that he wasn’t exactly fighting fit. “Since you are obviously going to kill me…”
“You won’t object to answering a couple of questions for me?”
“Only a couple Captain? You surprise me.”
Crane ignored the sarcasm. “Where’s the real Professor?”
“As far as I know, he’s in the Bahamas on a well earned vacation,” Blake replied mildly.
The thought flashed though Lee’s mind that he wouldn’t have minded being in the Bahamas himself right then. “Why?” he demanded with a flash of rising fury.
“Why am I going to kill you?” he man asked, being deliberately obtuse.
“I know why,” Crane said bitterly. “I know you’re not the real Professor. I meant, why are you doing this? Simply to kill me?”
Don’t flatter yourself, Captain,” Blake sneered and moved closer, smiling without warmth at the younger man as he closed the range until he couldn’t possibly miss. His merciless black eyes held all the humanity of a shark’s. “But since you asked, I’ll tell you. The Seaview is a very valuable piece of property and soon to be mine.”
“I think the crew might have something to say about that,” Crane pointed out. “You’re only one man, after all. How do you plan to do it?”
“You’ve had your couple of questions, Crane. But go ahead; it makes no difference to me. You’re not going to tell anyone what you know.” Blake shrugged and his chill smile never reached his eyes. “The answer is nerve gas. You will only be shortly ahead of your crew in your trip to Mr Jones’ locker. I can then salvage the Seaview at my leisure.”
“That’s cold blooded murder!” Crane exclaimed in horror. Blake frowned at him with a touch of confusion.
“You seem more concerned with the cold blooded murder of your crew, as you put it, than you do with your own life,” he said sharply.
“Maybe I am,” Crane replied coldly. “But I can’t see you getting away with it. You’ll be killed too.”
“No, I plan to be in the decompression chamber when the canisters release the gas. It will take a few hours for the filtration system to clear the air, but after that the Seaview will be all mine.”
“And then what? You can’t sail her alone.”
“I won’t need to, my associates will be awaiting my call. I will be paid most handsomely and the best thing about it is that on-one will know what I did,” Blake smirked as he saw Crane’s eyes widen in puzzlement. “Salvage rights, Captain. A tragic accident kills the entire crew and I am the only survivor. My associates will have perfect right to claim the Seaview as salvage.”
“And the fact that her Captain’s body has a bullet in it?”
“They won’t find it I assure you. Torpedo tubes are extremely convenient aren’t they?”
“You’re insane,” Lee breathed in horror. The trouble was that Blake, or whatever his real name was, had a plan that could well succeed. A shiver of dread ran down the Captain’s back as he eyed the gun and estimated the chances of taking it away from Blake; remote to none, he reckoned. But he had to do something. The gunman’s eyes narrowed angrily, clearly not satisfied by Crane’s implacable expression.
“At this point Crane, you should really say something like; you’ll never get away with it.”
”You clearly think you can. Why should I waste any time arguing the point?”
Blake inclined his head in agreement. “Very true,” he admitted. As he lifted the gun, Crane launched his desperate attack. Blake pulled the trigger in sheer reflex as the officer moved. Lee jerked back in shock, the hammer like blow to his ribs knocking him sprawling back against the bulkhead with the brute force of the impact. Sliding to his knees, Lee clutched instinctively at his chest and dazedly peered up at Blake as the man lent over him. Blake looked angry for some reason, Lee noted dizzily.
“My apologies, Captain,” Blake said in an almost polite tone as he lifted the gun and aimed carefully between Crane’s hazel eyes.
Apologies for what? Lee wondered vaguely. By now he was having trouble breathing around the fire in his chest and the pain seemed to beat in time to his pulse.
“I’m usually much more efficient. I don’t like to see anything suffering.”
You hypocrite! With un-natural clarity, Lee could see Blake taking up first pressure on the S&W’s trigger. For some reason he thought that that was important, that he should be more scared than he was, but somehow he no longer had the energy to be afraid. The crack of a shot made Crane blink and wonder vaguely why there was no extra pain. He peered at Blake groggily as the man swayed over him and then staggered a step or two backwards, half turning towards the door. The gunman folded suddenly, hitting the deck in an untidy sprawl; an ugly and unmistakable stain spread across his back. Concentrating hard and scrubbing the perspiration from his eyes as it stung, Lee struggled to focus past his assailant. Even that small effort was almost too much for him.
Chip Morton and the Admiral stood in the doorway, staring back at Lee in shock, Nelson still held a smoking gun. “Lee?” Chip questioned uncertainly as he hurried forward and knelt anxiously beside his friend. “How bad is it?”
How should I know? Lee couldn’t speak around the taste of in his mouth. He eyed his chest in distress, noting the scarlet blood oozing messily through his fingers. Swallowing hard, he eased his hand away from his torn chest and looked miserably at the blood, wincing at his horrified expression. The gas, gotta tell... Someone was shouting something urgently in the distance as Lee focused intently on Morton and clawed at his shirt. He clung to his friend as Chip put his arm around him.
“I’m here, Lee. Doc’s on his way, hold on, please.”
That’s not it, you idiot. The words wouldn’t come out. Pain in his chest and back robbed him of the breath to speak. A pit of oblivion opened up to engulf him. Lee fought it desperately, but the instinct of his battered body to pass out won and unconsciousness dragged him down without permission.
“No! Lee!” Chip yelped in fright as Lee slumped into his arms and his frantic grip slipped from his friend’s shirt. Morton’s panic brought Nelson to his side fast. Seizing the wounded man’s wrist, Nelson felt for his pulse, then shifted anxiously to his throat. Locating a faint, thready pulse he let out a breath of relief. Blood spread across Lee’s ribs in the same way as it had on the chest of the man who had shot him. And for Blake, Nelson could find no pity. No pity at all.
Jamieson sprinted in a moment later, paling as he saw Crane. A Corpsman followed hot on his heels. Crouching beside the three men, Jamieson shouldered Nelson to one side and felt for the Captain’s pulse. With a worried frown he then stripped Lee’s arm and tapped at his pale flesh to find a vein for an IV. As he slid the IV into place, he studied the bullet wound carefully. “Looks like the bullet is still in there,” he commented grimly. “What about Blake?”
The Corpsman was crouched beside the other man and at Jamieson’s question, glanced up and shook his head.
“Nothing you can do for him,” Nelson said bleakly. Jamieson scowled at his tone, but said nothing. Nelson and Morton’s shock would have to wait. Right now Jamieson was too busy attempting to save Crane to worry about the officers.
Noting Jamieson’s worried distraction, Nelson eased back a little further out of his way and looked at the XO. Chip looked almost as pale as Crane himself as he cradled his friend on his knees and stroked his shoulder in an unconscious effort to soothe him as Lee twitched in pain.
Jamieson had Crane moved down to Sickbay as soon as he had the Captain stable enough to do so. Lee was by no means out of danger and needed immediate attention.
“Is he alive?” parted from Crane, Chip felt lost.
“Yes, he’s alive. Now get out of here and I’ll do my best to keep him that way,” Jamieson snapped without looking up from his patient. His Corpsman was assisting him in removing the last of Crane’s clothes and preparing him for surgery.
“Doc, we’ll head for Santa Barbara,” Nelson offered and was ignored, although the Corpsman glanced up and nodded.
“I’ll tell him, Sir.” He offered, knowing that Jamieson’s full attention was taken up by Crane. The Admiral hesitated before taking Morton’s arm and guiding him out into the corridor. Sickbay was no place for either of them during surgery. “Mr Morton, pull yourself together,” he ordered. The snap of command in his voice made Chip blink and glare at him. “I know, Chip,” Nelson’s sharp voice softened. “But you can’t do Lee any good moping.”
For a second Chip continued to stare at the stocky senior officer, before taking a deep breath and dragged one hand through his blond hair, ruffling its usually neat appearance. “I feel so damn helpless, and I’m sure there was something he wanted to tell me.”
It was a struggle to climb back from the pit when oblivion beckoned so sweetly from the darkness. But the danger to his boat and crew wouldn’t let him rest and he fought to open his eyes, fraction by fraction. Jamieson was leaning over him, smiling reassuringly. Something cold slid into his arm and the pain in his chest chilled to something manageable.
“You have to rest, Lee. We’re on our way to Santa Barbara.”
“Chip?” Lee croaked the request.
“Later, when you’re stronger.”
“No,” Lee insisted and scrabbled weakly at the blankets over him. “S’portant...Jamie...please.”
Jamieson frowned, worried by his patient’s feeble demand. Perhaps if he let him have what he wanted, he might rest. “Okay, Lee, lie still, I’ll fetch him.”
Chip arrived at a sprint when Jamieson called. “Talk to him, Mr Morton. Calm him down and for crying out loud don’t let him talk too much.” Jamieson warned the Exec.
Chip nodded obediently, determined to reassure his friend. A minute or so later he was leaning over Lee, frightened by the grey pallor of his tanned features and the harsh rasp of his breathing. “Lee? It’s me, you wanted me?”
“Chip?” Lee’s hazel green eyes fluttered open, unfocused and glazed with the effects of drugs and pain.
“I’m here,” Chip caught his hand as Lee reached for him weakly. A gasp escaped him as the IV reminded him of its presence with a sharp stab in his forearm.
Morton leaned closer, striving to hear what he was mumbling. “What was that, Lee?”
“Gas,” Lee forced out the word loud enough for him to hear, the effort making his face crumble in pain. “Kill the crew.”
“Gas! On board?” Chip exclaimed in shocked horror.
Lee inclined his head a fraction again the pillow. “Blake planned...kill everyone...salvage...Chip! Hurts!” Certain that his message had got through, Lee stopped fighting the pain as exhaustion overwhelmed him.
“Doc!” Chip called Jamieson over anxiously.
“All right, take it easy, Lee,” Jamieson was ready with more drugs. “Relax now...” Lee moaned softy, closing his eyes as he felt the prick in his arm. “You’d better go. He’s in no shape to talk. It was only that he wanted to talk to you keeping him awake.”
Morton nodded and hurried out, leaving Jamieson to care for the wounded Captain.
“Gas?” Nelson’s face reflected the same alarm as Morton repeated what Lee had told him. “All right, Chip. I want this sub searched from stem to stern, deck by deck. Air vents, torpedo tubes, anywhere and everywhere.”
“Any idea what we’re looking for, Sir?”
Nelson pursed his lips. “Blake brought four scuba tanks on board with him. I didn’t look closely at the time, but with only minor modifications they could hold gas. A simple release mechanism would be all he needed. I doubt if they’ll be triggered now, but we can’t take the risk. Issue rebreathers and oxygen, Chip. And take us up, if this gas does get released I want to be able to vent it.”
With their lives possibly on the line, the Seaview’s crew was painstaking in their search of the submarine. Kowalski found the first canister; lodged below the hatch into one of the air vents. He had to contort his muscular frame into a painfully ramped position to reach and haul it out. With Patterson’s help he then delivered it to Nelson in the laboratory.
Sharkey found the next one. He was with Stu Riley in the missile room and located the menacingly striped canister in plain sight among the other scuba tanks in the rack. The next cylinder was hidden in the air vent outside officer’s country. The last cylinder was finally located by Sparks in the control room passageway, concealed behind a panel.
While the search was being carried out, the Seaview had made her best speed to Santa Barbara. Morton was on deck to guide her into harbour, his expression grim as he concentrated on the task. Crane, his condition still critical was to be airlifted to hospital as soon as they were close enough to do so. Jamieson had refused to allow the Captain to be flown out earlier, seriously worried about what effect being disturbed for a long trip would have on his patient.
“Mr Morton?” Nelson’s quiet voice surprised the XO. “You’re relieved.”
“Relieved, Sir?” Morton gave his boss a blank look. “I know we found the canisters, but I was going to arrange another search to be on the safe side. Chief Sharkey wants to strip her down to the bolts. And I’m none too happy about the way Blake was able to conceal those canisters without anyone noticing.”
“Chip,” Nelson interrupted the Exec gently. “You are not going to have your mind on business here. Go with Lee, he needs a little company right now. I think I can manage to sort my own sub out..”
Transferred from the Seaview to hospital, Crane hovered on the edge of oblivion for two more days before he started to emerge from coma. Another three days and he was finally permitted to have visitors. He roused weakly from the latest of a series of naps to find two anxious faces hovering over him.
“Hello, Lee,” Nelson said warmly. His eyes were full of the affection and relief he felt at seeing Lee awake at last.
“Hello, Admiral, Chip...” Lee smiled vaguely at them both, still groggy from the drugs he was being fed. “I feel lousy” he complained, waving a feeble hand at the IV that was still in his arm.
“I’m not surprised,” Chip said with considerably more cheer than he had shown in the last few days. He had exercised his frustration at not being able to help Crane by running the crew ragged.
Nelson smiled in amusement at the sharp contrast between efficient officer and the concerned friend. Lee watched Chip with a tired little smile.
“You’ve been bullying the crew,” he guessed astutely.
Chip looked embarrassed. “It’ll do them good,” he grumbled.
“Mmmh,” Lee blinked sleepily. “I want to talk to you about how lousy your bodyguards are,” his eyes widened at his ability to speak without being interrupted by gasping for breath. Gingerly touching his still sore chest, he smiled in smug contentment to himself and missed the way Chip and Nelson glanced at each other in amusement.
“I think we’d better let you get some sleep, young man,” Nelson said kindly, comforting Lee with a gentle pat on his arm.
Chip nodded his agreement to that. “He’s right, Lee,” he said when Lee gave them a hurt look. “We need you back.”
Lee caught his eyes and smiled shyly in response to his friend’s affection. “Okay, don’t exhaust the crew too much.”
“I won’t,” Chip grinned in relief.
Turning over carefully, Lee slid down under the blankets and curled up drowsily. Seeing that Morton was making no attempt to leave, Nelson took his arm and steered him out into the corridor, knowing that, like himself, Chip would be perfectly content to simply stay and watch Crane sleep.
“Chip, if you don’t stop fussing, I’m going to hit you,” Crane growled in exasperation, waving off the hand Morton offered to help him out of the car. Three weeks R&R hadn’t done much for the Captain’s temper. He was frustrated and bored with the enforced inactivity. Chip had arranged this little trip to NIMR for him, attempting to placate him over the fact that Seaview was about to launch on her next voyage without him.
“Sorry,” Chip retorted with a flicker of irritation.
Lee glanced at him with a frown that cleared abruptly. “No, Chip, I’m the one who’s sorry. It’s not your fault.”
“Apology accepted,” Chip relaxed with a grin.
“Great, what are we doing here?”
“Well, since we’ve managed to retrieve FS.1 while you were lazing about, the Admiral thinks you should be responsible for getting her repaired.”
“Oh, no,” Lee groaned at that, anticipating the expression of NIMR’s Chief Engineer when he found out what a state the Flying Sub was in this time. “It took me hours to calm him down last time.”
Morton chuckled softly. Nelson had already smoothed things over, not wanting Crane to be over stressed yet. But there was still plenty for the Captain to do at the base.
“Never mind,” Chip patted his friend consolingly on the shoulder. “I’ve arranged an assistant for you.”
“Not Riley, is it?” Lee asked in dismay. “I know he means well, but he’s a walking disaster area at times.”
“Well, your assistant is blonde, I’ll admit. But has considerably more curves than Riley.”
Crane looked at his friend is confusion, letting the Exec turn him around to see who was hurrying to meet them.
“Tanya!” Lee’s sunny smile of delight made enduring his complaints in the car worthwhile, Chip decided happily as he watched his Captain hurry to meet the young woman and hug her fiercely. With Tanya looking after Lee, Chip would have no need to worry about Lee taking things easy while he was away. Grinning cheerfully at seeing his friend so happy, Chip strolled over to join them. Now, if he could persuade Fiona to join them for dinner later on, he was sure that his day would be made absolutely perfect for once...