Free at Last
By Ellen Reed
Captain Lee Crane sat in the Officer’s wardroom sipping
coffee as he went over some reports. The Seaview
was supposed to pick up four stranded scientists in the straits of the
Lee looked at his watch and cursed silently. Gulping down the last of his coffee, he swept up the reports and headed to Admiral Nelson’s quarters. The admiral had asked Lee to come by after breakfast and Lee was running late. He hurried down the corridor nearly dropping the papers on the way. He sighed as he reached his destination and knocked on the admiral’s door.
“Come in.” came the curt reply. Lee entered, greeted the admiral and settled himself into a seat.
“Good morning, Lee,” Nelson smiled. “Thanks for stopping by. What is the current status of our search?”
“We’ve reached the last known coordinates of the NOAA scientists,” Lee began looking down at his papers. “So far, no sign of them and we can’t move any further in this ice.”
Nelson nodded. “I know. I’d like to send out a search party as soon as this current storm abates some. I don’t want to risk our own men unnecessarily and it would be foolish to send them out now.”
Nelson opened his mouth to continue when Chip Morton’s, the executive officer, voice came through on the intercom speaker. “Captain Crane, please report to the control room.” Lee and the admiral exchanged glances and as one, rose to their feet and headed to the control room. They found Chip and several crewman crowded around the hatchway ladder watching someone descend.
“Mr. Morton,” said Lee as they approached, “What’s going on?
Chip turned. “It seems we’ve found one of the missing scientists. Or rather he found us!”
A few moments later, a man clad in arctic gear made his way clumsily down the ladder. He would have fallen had not several helpful hands reached out to steady him. Lee studied the man as he pushed back his hood and looked around, blinking in some confusion. He had a scraggly beard glistening with melting ice and patches of frostbite marred his haggard face. Dark circles gave his eyes a sunken appearance. The man was obviously near the end of his rope.
Lee stepped forward. “I am Captain Lee Crane, commander of the USNRS submarine, Seaview. May I ask who you are?”
The man continued to look around for another moment as if to get his bearings before turning his attention back to Captain Crane. “I, uh, am Dr. Blakely Collins. Meteorologist from NOAA research station #4. “
Lee smiled warmly. “Welcome aboard, doctor. We’ve been looking for you and your associates. Are they far from here?”
Collins blinked again and stared blankly for a few moments. “I’m the only one left,” he whispered hoarsely. “The others…they…they …” He didn’t seem to know how to go on and stood helplessly looking at the men surrounding him.
Lee and Nelson exchanged puzzled glances. “Are they,” Nelson paused, “dead?”
Collins closed his eyes and slowly shook his head. “I…I don’t know.” He looked at Nelson now. “They just…left.” He seemed reluctant to continue and looked away.
Lee studied the man for a moment longer than turned to Chip. “Mr. Morton, please escort Dr. Collins to sickbay. I think Dr. Jamieson needs to take a look at him.” He then turned to the scientist. “Dr. Collins, we’ll speak more when you’ve had a chance to recover.”
Collins smiled weakly and turned to follow Chip when he hesitated. “Captain Crane,” he said. “They really are gone.” He stepped closer to Lee and whispered. “You’ll be gone soon, too.” With that, he leaned heavily on Chip’s arm and allowed himself to be led away.
Lee watched Collins disappear through the hatchway. He felt uneasy. “What do you think he meant by that, Admiral?” Lee asked as he turned to move towards the plotting table. He wanted to double check the scientists’ last known coordinates.
Nelson followed, frowning in thought. “I don’t know. He implied that the others had just disappeared somehow; not that they were dead.”
“He said they ‘left’” Lee replied as he studied the chart. “As if they went on their own accord.” He thought a moment. “Could they have tried to find help?”
Nelson shook his head. “That doesn’t make sense. They knew we were coming. Why would they leave? And why would Collins stay behind? He seems very disoriented.”
It was then that Chip returned to the control room and joined Lee and the Admiral. “Doc says Collins is dehydrated and suffering from severe exposure and some frostbite. He gave him a sedative. He’s sleeping now.”
Lee nodded. He tapped the chart. “We’re right where we should be so unless the research station drifted a lot farther than we calculated, it can’t be too far away. How is the weather situation?”
Chip checked the latest report. “Well, it’s looking better at the moment. The winds are decreasing and although it’s still well below zero, the visibility should be improving soon. We should be able to start sending out search parties within the hour. Of course, it’s pitch dark out there. This time of year the sun doesn’t even make it over the horizon.”
“Make sure all of the men are equipped with appropriate lighting,” replied Lee. “ I’m going to sickbay to talk to Doc. Maybe Collins had something on him that might explain what has happened.”
“Aye, aye sir,” replied Chip and turned to start organizing the search parties.
“I’ll be in my lab,” said Nelson. “Let me know if you find anything of interest, Lee.”
A short time later, Lee entered sickbay. Dr. Jamieson was busy at his desk writing in his patient’s chart. “So Doc,” said Lee, “ how is he?”
Jamieson finished what he was doing and stood, joining the Captain beside Collins’ bunk. “Well, he’s suffering from exposure and he may lose a finger or two but he should recover in time.”
“Did he seem confused?”
Dr. Jamieson thought a moment. “He seemed rational enough but was obviously upset about something. I asked him what was wrong and he didn’t want to talk about it. However, he did ask that I give you this.” He moved to his desk and returned with a small package wrapped in oilskin. He handed it to the captain. Lee hesitated, oddly reluctant to handle the object, but finally took it. He shuddered slightly. Jamieson looked at him. “Are you all right, Captain?”
Lee blinked and shook his head. “Uh, yeah, fine, just felt a little chill there for a minute.” He smiled. “It is minus 45 degrees out there! Well, thanks Doc. I’ll just take this with me. Let me know when he wakes up. He claims his associates just left and we’re trying to figure out what he meant by that.”
Jamieson nodded. “I’ll let you know as soon as he’s conscious.”
“Thanks, Doc.” Lee gripped the package more tightly and hurried from the room. Thoughtfully, Jamieson watched him go then with a soft sigh returned to his paperwork.
Lee went directly to his cabin and closed the door firmly behind him. He sat at his desk and laid the parcel on his desk and stared at it. He wasn’t sure what it was about the packet that unnerved him, but there was definitely something unsettling about it. Finally, he reached out and began to carefully remove the outer wrapping. The oilskin was obviously old, its surface cracked and stiff and felt icy cold despite the warmth of the room. It took only a moment or two to peel back the layers and reveal the object inside. Lee frowned thoughtfully and moved his desk lamp so that he could study it more closely.
It was a portrait no larger than six inches to a side, of a man dressed in the uniform of a 19th century British naval officer. Except for the bushy sideburns, the man was clean shaven with deep set eyes and a thin hard mouth. The man’s steely gaze peered out at Lee as if he could see directly into Lee’s heart. Lee felt deathly cold and his breath constricted yet he couldn’t look away. The temperature in the cabin plummeted and Lee shivered violently. An odd rushing sound filled his ears. In his mind’s eye, he suddenly found himself not safe within the confines of the Seaview, but alone on the frozen wasteland of the Arctic ice pack. He was surrounded by towering pressure ridges and the fierce wind cut right through him. Lee experienced a surge of panic as he whirled about trying to get his bearings. He froze in shock as he came face to face with the man from the portrait. Now, the man was heavily clad in arctic gear with a full beard caked in ice. He glared at Lee who took a step backward, almost tripping on the uneven ice. The man reached forward and grabbed the front of Lee’s shirt pulling him close. “You must come to me!” hissed the man in a harsh whisper tightening his grip further.”Your time has come.”
Lee tried to move; pull himself away from the fierce figure before him, but he was frozen. His heart was pounding and his limbs felt heavy and weak. “I…” he couldn’t seem to get any words out and the world began to spin. The world began to fade around him and he felt as if he were floating away.
“Lee? Lee!” Lee could hear a voice calling him from far away. Gradually, the grip on his shirt weakened and he noticed a definite rise in temperature. Again, the voice called to him, tense with worry. “Lee! Come on, Lee, wake up!”
Lee blinked. He was no longer in the frigid wasteland nor was he sitting in his desk chair. He lay sprawled on his cabin floor with Chip, his face full of concern, kneeling over him. “Chip?” Lee asked in confusion.
Chip sighed in relief. “Yeah, it’s me, buddy.” He helped Lee sit up. “Take it easy now. What happened?”
Lee still felt dizzy and cold. Although it was warm in the room, he was shivering. Chip frowned as Lee slowly climbed to his feet and grabbed onto his chair to steady himself. Chip moved to help him sit down. Lee rubbed his eyes as his friend wrapped a blanket around him. “I...I’m not really sure,” Lee replied. He was about to mention the picture when he stopped. He felt that the portrait was something he should keep to himself. “Maybe I’m coming down with something.”
Chip nodded. That seemed to make sense. “I suggest you let the Doc take a look at you. You’re looking kind of peaked.”
“Yeah…yeah, I will,” smiled Lee weakly. He pulled the blanket closer. He was finally beginning to thaw out. “Uh, is there any news?”
Chip considered his commanding officer for a few more moments before replying. “Yes, sir. I just sent out four search teams. Kowalski reports they’ve found the trail made by Dr. Collins and they’re following it in hopes of locating the others or at least the research station.”
Lee frowned. “Didn’t the wind erase his tracks?”
“Well, it wasn’t exactly his tracks that that they followed.” He picked up a small box sitting on Lee’s desk. They were following these.” Lee looked into the box with surprise. There were numerous small, green ceramic frogs, each about an inch tall with a hole through it.
Lee picked one up and studied it curiously. “What are these?”
“As far as I can figure out, they’re some kind of decorative bead. I checked Collins’ pockets and he had a bunch of them. I think he was using them to leave a trail in case he got lost. He could at least find his way back to the research station.”
Lee raised an eyebrow. “I wonder where they came from. They certainly don’t seem like the sort of thing they’d have at the research station.” He looked at it more closely. It looked old, not something made by modern technology. Looking carefully, he noted ‘F. Crozier’ etched into the bottom.“Hmm.” He shrugged and was about to place the little frog into the box with the others but instead, surreptitiously slipped it into his own pocket. “Another thing to ask Collins about when we get the chance.” He shrugged off the blanket and stood. “Well, let’s go and see if Kowalski has found anything.”
“But…” Chip began, peering apprehensively at Crane.
Lee smiled and held up a hand. “I’m fine now, Chip. Honestly!” Chip looked skeptical but said nothing more as he followed Lee out of his cabin.
As they reached the control room, Lee turned to
“Kowalski, this is Captain Crane. What is your report?”
Kowalski’s voice came through riddled with static. “Captain, we’ve found the research station, but it’s abandoned. Dr. Collins was right about that. There’s no one here. It looks like they just walked out. No sign of any violence or disturbance of any kind.” He paused. “Captain, the wind is starting pick up again and visibility is getting worse. Do you want us to search the area?”
Crane turned to Morton. “What is the weather report? I thought the storm had passed.”
Morton studied the report just handed to him and frowned. “Well, it seems it was just a temporary break in the weather. The barometer is dropping again and winds increasing.”
Lee sighed and returned to the radio. “Negative, Kowalski. The weather is deteriorating again. I want you to return to the Seaview immediately.”
“What is the status of the other search parties?” Lee asked.
“They were recalled after Kowalski and Patterson reported finding the research station,” Lt. O’Brien reported. “The last just boarded.”
Lee nodded. “We’ll send out the search parties again in the morning assuming the weather has improved.” He replaced the mike. “I’m going to inform the Admiral of the current situation. Mr. Morton, you have the con.”
Lee strode from the control room heading towards the admiral’s quarters. He was deep in
thought, considering their present state of affairs. Lee was worried that the men would get lost in the blinding snow not to mention the deep darkness of the arctic night. In this cold, they wouldn’t last long. That didn’t leave much hope for the missing scientists. He couldn’t imagine why they would have just walked off leaving the safety of their facility. Lee shook his head trying to think of a logical explanation. Unconsciously, he rubbed his arms. He would have to remember to have engineering check the heating system.
Lee froze, halting in midstride. Where had he heard that voice before? He turned slowly to look behind him but there was no one in sight. Lee shivered and suddenly his head was throbbing. He turned back to resume his journey when a figure seemed to materialize out of thin air. Lee gasped in shock as the figure of the man from the old portrait faced him; the same man he had “seen” out on the ice. The man’s eyes burned with a fiery intensity that again Lee found almost impossible to resist. He tried to look away but the man’s gaze held him. “I need you, Captain Crane” came the soft, rasping voice. “Come to me.” Lee again tried to break away; respond in some way, but he was riveted to the spot. He felt colder and the world became more distant. Lee knew he was in desperate trouble but was helpless to save himself.
“Skipper?” A puzzled voice broke through the fog and Lee blinked. The figure was gone. Lee suddenly felt incredibly weak and would have fallen had not Chief Sharkey been there to grab him. “Skipper! Are you all right, sir?” Sharkey stared at Crane in concern trying to determine the cause of the skipper’s problem.
Lee slumped against the wall and gave Sharkey a weak smile. “Thanks. Thanks, Chief. I…uh…just had a dizzy spell there for a minute. I’m fine now.” He closed his eyes for moment and rubbed his throbbing head.
Sharkey looked unconvinced. “Maybe you should have the Doc check you out, sir. You don’t look so good.”
Lee smiled again, and nodded. “I’ll do that, Chief. But, don’t worry. Really, I’m fine now.” Then with a confidence he certainly didn’t feel, Lee stood upright and continued on to the admiral’s quarters. Sharkey watched him go with growing unease. There had been too many of these episodes where the Skipper assured everyone he was fine yet in reality, he was anything but. Sharkey shook his head and promised himself he would keep an eye on Crane. If things got worse, he’d talk to Mr. Morton. With a shake of his head, Sharkey headed off to the torpedo room.
A short time later, Lee was again sitting in Nelson’s office. “Kowalski reports that the remains of the station were there but no sign of the other three scientists and no sign of violence. Apparently it’s just like Collins said. It’s like they simply walked out. However, the weather is deteriorating again so I’ve recalled the search party.”
Nelson frowned thoughtfully, tapping his pencil on his desk. “I wonder where they went. It just makes no sense.”
“Well, we’ll send another party out in the morning assuming the weather cooperates. Hopefully Collins will wake up before then and maybe we can get some more answers.”
Nelson sighed. “It’s just very strange. I simply can’t imagine three scientists wandering off into the arctic night in bad weather for no apparent reason. And why didn’t Collins go with them?” He thought for a moment. “Well, we’ll stay here as long as the lead remains open but if it starts to close up, we’re going to have to submerge or risk getting caught in the ice.
“Aye, sir” replied Lee. He felt greatly relieved. He had been afraid Nelson was going to order them to leave immediately and for some reason, that worried him. Unexpectedly, the face of the man in the portrait came to his mind.
“Lee?” Lee blinked and looked at the admiral who was giving him that concerned look that was becoming all too common. “Did you hear what I said?”
“Uh,” Lee blinked again in confusion. “I’m sorry, Admiral, I guess I was thinking about the scientists.”
“Hmm,” grunted Nelson, still eyeing Lee suspiciously. “I said, I suggest you go down to sick bay and check on our passenger. See if he’s in any shape to talk yet.”
“I’ll do that right away,” Lee replied quickly getting to his feet. Absently, he put his hand in his pocket and pulled out the ceramic frog. It felt warm. He glanced at it then turned back to the admiral. “Chip said Collins had a bunch of these with him. He said Kowalski was following a trail of them to the research station. I’m guessing Collins used them in case he needed to find his way back.”
Nelson took the little frog and studied it briefly. It didn’t seem to have any real bearing on the scientists’ disappearance. “Interesting,” he said dismissively and handed it back to Lee. Taking the frog, Lee felt oddly relieved. He quickly returned it to his pocket.
“I’ll let you know if I learn anything important.”
Lee hurried out into the passageway closing the cabin door behind him with a sigh. He took the frog out of his pocket and looked at it, turning it to reveal the name. “Crozier,” Lee whispered softly and shivered. He looked around quickly feeling as if someone was watching him, but he was alone. He closed his fist around the ceramic figure and closed his eyes. The image of the bearded man came back to him. The man turned and stared directly at Lee with his burning gaze. Lee’s eyes snapped open and he thrust the frog back into his pocket. He stumbled briefly then giving himself a little shake, he headed to the sickbay.
Dr. Jamison looked up as Lee entered the room. “How is our passenger, Doc?”
Jamison came to his feet and joined Lee near the bunk containing Dr. Collins. “Well, I had to give him a pretty strong sedative, Captain. I doubt he’ll wake until morning.” He paused thoughtfully for a moment. “He was calm enough when he first went to sleep but became progressively agitated. I finally had to give him something stronger.”
Lee frowned. “Did he say anything? Give you any idea what
was upsetting him?
Jamison shook his head. “Not really. He was acting as if he was resisting something but I couldn’t tell what that something was. Perhaps it had something to do with what happened to him and the others.”
Lee sighed. “I was hoping to find out more about whatever happened. Kowalski’s search party found the research center but there didn’t seem to be any indication of what happened to the researchers.”
“Well, I’m afraid you won’t find out anything tonight, Captain. Perhaps by tomorrow he’ll be in better shape and more coherent. I think rest is the best thing for him.”
“All right, Doc. I suppose we’ll just have to be a little more patient. The weather is getting worse so there’s not much we can do until morning anyway.” Unconsciously, Lee began fingering the small frog in his pocket. He could feel his mind starting to drift and with an effort released the frog and gave himself a little shake. “Uh, well I’ll head back to the control room now. If there’s any change, let me know.”
“Wait!” A weak voice came softly from the bunk. Lee and Jamison turned back to the patient. Jamison was frowning in concern and confusion. It was simply inconceivable that the man should have fought off the effects of the sedative.
“Dr.Collins?” asked Lee moving closer. “Do you understand me?” Collins sunken eyes met Lee’s and he gave a small nod. “Dr. Collins, can you tell me what happened to your companions? We found the station but there’s no sign of them. Why did they leave? Where did they go?”
Collins reached up and with surprising strength, clutched at Lee’s sleeve, tugging him lower. His eyes were filled with despair. “Captain,” he whispered desperately, “He wants you now. He took the others and now he wants you. Don’t listen to him when he calls you or you’ll be lost!”
He took a long shuddering breath, then collapsed back onto his pillow unconscious once more.
Jamison bent over Collins, carefully checking his patient. “I can’t believe he was able to do that!” he muttered to himself. “I gave him enough sedative to knock out a horse!” Lee stood back and stared at Collin in alarm. He felt tense and uneasy. He was afraid he knew exactly who Collins was referring to. He backed away towards the door, still staring at the unconscious man. Jamison looked up at Crane and studied the captain’s pale face. “Captain?” he asked slowly. “What’s wrong?” He took a step towards Lee.
Lee blinked and glanced back at the doctor and gave him a pallid smile. “I’m fine, doc, just got a little spooked.”
This time, Jamieson wasn’t so easily thrown off. He stepped closer and taking the captain’s wrist quickly checked his pulse. “Captain, your pulse is racing and you’re shaking like a leaf.”
Lee laughed weakly, “Honestly, Doc, it’s nothing! Collins just surprised me. That’s all.”
Jamieson shook his head and turned to his supply cabinet. “Captain, your watch is officially over as of now. I’m going to give you a mild sedative. I want you go get some dinner and then I want you to get some sleep. You’ve been working too hard.”
Now Lee was getting annoyed. “Doc! Honestly! There is nothing wrong with me!”
Jamieson turned, his own temper starting to rise. “Captain Crane. I am the medical officer aboard this sub and when it comes to the health of the crew and its officers, my word is final. I have dealt with you too many times not to be able to tell when something isn’t right. Maybe you’re right and it is nothing but I’m not taking any chances. As you said, there’s nothing you can do until morning so I’m ordering you to bed for a good night’s sleep. In the morning, we’ll see how you’re doing. Now, take these.”
He shoved a small paper cup containing two yellow pills into the captain’s hand. Lee looked at them in distaste but knew from past experience that although they would help him sleep, they wouldn’t leave him groggy. He sighed, gulped them down, and got to his feet. Doc nodded approvingly. “I’ll notify the Admiral and Mr. Morton,” he said as Lee moved towards the door. Lee nodded and left.
Fuming, Lee stormed through the sub to the officer’s mess. A short time later, he was seated with a hot meal steaming before him. He stared in distaste at the roast chicken, mashed potatoes and cherry pie. Nothing appealed to him. Maybe I am coming down with something, he thought distantly, toying with his food. He was startled by the clatter of silverware falling to the table as Chip joined him. The exec lifted an eyebrow as he watched his commander stirring the potatoes.
Lee glanced at his friend and sighed. “You heard?”
Chip nodded. “It’s for the best, you know.”
Lee grimaced and pushed his plate away. “Honestly, there is nothing wrong with me!”
Chip sat back and studied his friend. Lee’s face was pale and there were dark circles under his eyes. He’d looked fine this morning but for him to look this haggard by the end of the day, something must be seriously wrong. “Lee,” he began but Lee stood up glaring at his friend.
“Don’t start,” he growled and stalked out of the room leaving his food uneaten. Unhappily, Chip watched his friend disappear, sighed and returned to his own meal.
In a way, Lee was glad he was being forced to his cabin. He had been thinking about that portrait and he wanted to look at it again. His watch would have ended in another hour or two anyway, so he didn’t feel too guilty about leaving Chip in charge. When he reached his cabin, he immediately went to his desk where the portrait lay hidden in the top drawer. He hesitated a moment before reaching in and placing it on the surface of the battered metal desk. Almost immediately, he could feel the pull of the man’s eyes. Lee slowly reached down and flipped the portrait over to look at its back. He felt no surprise when he read the name faintly etched there: Francis Crozier, Captain, HMS Terror. 1844. Almost without conscious thought, Lee reached into his pocket and pulled out the little frog. The name was the same. The name seemed vaguely familiar but he couldn’t quite place it and why was Crozier’s name on this weird little frog? The frog felt cold and lifeless in his hand and Lee placed it on the desk with distaste. Something about it really bothered him. Suddenly, he yawned and he realized his eyes were having trouble focusing. The sedative must be kicking in. He studied the portrait a moment longer before replacing it in the drawer with the frog. He then got up and stumbled to his bunk. He frowned in irritation. That sedative seemed a lot stronger than he’d been led to believe.
He laid down, his head suddenly pounding, and closed his eyes. It took him a moment or two to get comfortable but it wasn’t long before he was deeply asleep.
Lee found himself on the windblown ice pack once more. The aurora played about in the skies above his head, creating a silent, surreal lightshow in the arctic night. He looked around hoping to get his bearings but there was no sign of life anywhere to be seen. He soon noticed that an odd fog was rolling in gradually obliterating everything in its path. He was about to start walking when he detected an odd rasping noise somewhere in the distance. Lee closed his eyes trying to pinpoint the origin of the sound. In this weird fog, it was almost impossible to determine, but one thing was certain, it was gradually getting louder. He opened his eyes again and looked to the north. He was sure the sound was coming from there. He waited and watched with growing apprehension as the sound continued to intensify. In addition to the rasping, there was a peculiar, slow shuffling noise with a labored rhythm to it; as if people were trudging through deep snow. Lee felt a ripple of excitement; could it be the missing scientists? He could see some dark shapes gradually emerging from the gray cocoon of the mists. Lee frowned. Something was wrong. It was soon apparent these were not the missing scientists. He gasped as the images became clear.
There were ten of them. Men from another day; another age. They wore loose fitting canvas parkas trimmed with fur and leather boots obviously unsuited for the climate. The men were harnessed to what appeared to be a wooden whaleboat piled with supplies mounted on a makeshift sledge, slowly, painfully dragging it through the snow across the ice. Each agonizing step seemed to bring the obviously exhausted men that much closer to collapse. They didn’t even seem to notice Lee, just yards away, so fully engaged were they in their task. Inch by inch the men heaved their burden further ahead. Lee couldn’t move, couldn’t utter a sound as the eerie procession made its slow, arduous journey across the jagged terrain. One man, marching beside the others at the rear of the boat stumbled to a halt and turned. Again Lee felt as if the bitter cold had seeped into his very soul as the man’s face became visible.
It was a visage that told a story of suffering beyond endurance. His eyes were sunken in a face marred by starvation and frostbite. A matted beard, heavily frosted with ice, covered the lower half of his face. However, it was those eyes that drew Lee in. They were dark, devoid of all hope but they called to Lee in a way he had never experienced before. He couldn’t catch his breath, he could feel this man’s pain – the frozen limbs, the agony of scurvy and starvation, the complete exhaustion and apathy. Lee instinctively knew this man was the party’s leader and could feel the weight of responsibility on his shoulders. Lee took a step towards him. Then another. And another. It was Francis Crozier. He seemed to pulling Lee forward. Lee found himself approaching the spectral party and its grim faced commander. The man watched passively as Lee came closer then silently turned and followed his men. Lee was right behind them as they disappeared into the mist like smoke into the night.
Admiral Nelson sat at his desk, absently tapping a pencil. He had just spoken to Dr. Jamieson about Crane and he was mentally reviewing his last conversation with the captain. Lee had seemed distracted and edgy. When Nelson had notified Mr. Morton of Lee’s temporary banishment to his cabin, Chip had described finding Lee unconscious on the floor earlier. “I told him he should go see Doc,” Chip had reported, “But you know Lee. He blew me off and said he was fine. I’m glad Doc has ordered him to get some rest.”
Nelson sighed. He was worried about his captain and not for the first time. Something decidedly odd was going on. Until they found out what had happened to the missing scientists, Nelson preferred to keep tabs on Lee and knowing he was asleep in his cabin was reassuring. Hopefully he would be back to his old self by morning after a good night’s rest.
Lee marched silently with the men, matching their pace with little difficulty. Crozier turned to Lee and studied him grimly. “It’s your turn now, Captain Crane,” he said quietly, an Irish brogue coloring his words. “I have guided my men for nigh on 135 years with no rest. I have chosen you to replace me just as Little, Thomas and Hornsby chose those others”. He pointed to three men harnessed to the makeshift sledge. Lee’s eyes widened in surprise as he realized he was staring at the missing scientists.
“What do you mean?” asked Lee in alarm, still watching the men.
Crozier followed his
gaze. “My men and I were part of the
Lee frowned. “How can that be? Why would you have to continue your journey?”
Crozier looked away, his face dark and full of anguish. “During our march, we took what we could but there were few provisions remaining and no game. There was not enough for all our men thus many perished from the combined effects of starvation, illness and worst of all, the damnable scurvy. The ones you see here survived a bit longer but only by committing an act considered too heinous for most civilized men to even contemplate.”
“Cannibalism?” Lee asked quietly, knowing that was undoubtedly the case. More than one stranded victim had only survived by consuming the flesh of less fortunate companions.
Crozier winced at the
sound of the word but nodded, unable to meet Crane’s gaze. “There was no
choice; no alternative beyond death. But in the end, even that did not preserve
us long enough for us to reach safety. Now, we are damned – condemned to
forever wander the frozen wastelands of the
Lee halted and stared in shock at Captain Crozier. The ghostly commander expected Crane to take over his place in this unending journey to nowhere – experiencing over and over the agony of the forced march and the hopelessness of knowing they would never reach help! Lee shook his head and started to back away. “No,” he said firmly, “I refuse to take part in this! This is insane!”
Crozier looked at him sadly and sighed. “It is already too late, Captain Crane. You heard the Call. You are named.” He reached into his pocket and took out one of the small ceramic frogs. He handed it to Lee. Lee turned it over and with a stab of fear saw his own name etched on the bottom. He looked up and his eyes met those of Crozier. “We originally brought those to trade with the Esquimeaux,” Crozier continued quietly, “But in the end, as each man died, we marked one with his name and put it in a box. It was the only reminder we had of each of our lost companions.” He pulled out three more frogs and offered them to Lee. Each one was etched with the name of one of the lost scientists. Lee shivered as he realized what this must mean.
“Olsen, Liebermann and Perkins.” He recited slowly. “Are they dead?”
Crozier was silent for a moment. “Not quite. Study them carefully and see.”
Lee looked over to where the three scientists were harnessed to the boat and realized that two didn’t look quite as solid as the other men. In fact, it was almost as if they were superimposed over the figures of other men. It was very disconcerting. He turned questioningly towards his companion.
“There is still a bit of life in those two,” Crozier sighed. “When we Called them out, it was hoped that they would all quickly succumb to the cold.” He paused thoughtfully. “”T’is not the worst way to die. But they fought our Call and since they could not find their way back to their station, they built themselves a shelter in the ice. Unless your men find them, they will die soon. The third…” he shrugged. “Hornsby is free.”
“What happens when they die?” demanded Lee, afraid he knew the answer.
“They they will become one of us forever. Our opportunities
to find replacements have been few.” He pointed towards a young
man wearing a WWII Russian flight uniform pulling near the prow of the boat.
“That fellow crashed his flying machine into the ice. He heard our Call, unlike
his fellows, and fought against us. Not all are sensitive to our Call. Our Ensign
Irving was determined to depart and would not give up. To his companions, young
Dmitri seemed to fall under the influence of some feverous malady for which
they could find no cure. It took three days, but
Lee stared at Crozier, appalled at what he was hearing. Since Crozier meant for Lee to be his replacement, Lee’s life would be forfeit. He began to slowly back away from Crozier. The phantom officer simply stood and watched, his eyes full of pity. “You will join us, Captain Crane,” his whispered his voice hardening. “I intend to have my freedom at last!”
With a cry of terror, Lee abruptly sat up in his bunk, his body soaked in sweat. Gasping for breath, he could feel his heart pounding wildly in his chest. It took him a moment to get his bearings and with a soft moan, he collapsed back against the pillow. With a shaking hand, he wiped the perspiration from his brow and took several slow, deep breaths to try and steady his nerves. What a nightmare! He rubbed his eyes and tried to remember what it had been about. He glanced over at his desk. Crozier, the man in the portrait, had been in it. And the scientists. Lee frowned trying to recall the dream. Crozier had said they were still alive somewhere out there! That was it! Lee sat up once more and slid off the bed. He looked down and realized he had never changed out of his uniform before falling asleep. Good. Time was of the essence. He must go find the scientists now before it was too late.
Lee hurried down the passageway pulling on his parka as he went. It never occurred to him to call Chip or the Admiral and get assistance. The foremost thought in his mind was to find the scientists and bring them back safe and sound. In his mind, he could picture them huddled in a small ice cave they had constructed to protect themselves from the unrelenting winds.
It was close to three in the morning and the ship was very quiet. The night watch went about its business with little noise and at this time of the morning, little energy. Lee silently made his way to the escape hatch without meeting anyone. A short time later, he found himself standing on the ice, a fierce gale buffeting him as ice particles tore at the exposed flesh of his face. Quickly, he covered his face to prevent any further damage. Visibility was almost nonexistent but again, Lee did not hesitate. He turned to the north and began to fight his way against the arctic storm.
Chip Morton stood by the radio shack examining the current weather reports and shook his head in dismay. The winds were still gusting up to 80 mph and the temperature was close to -80° F. If the scientists were still out there, Chip didn’t give them very good odds for survival. Even worse, the lead was closing and the pressure on the hull of the Seaview was increasing. They were going to have to dive soon or risk being damaged or trapped in the ice. He looked at his watch and frowned. Lee was late. Chip wondered if the Captain was still asleep. He knew Lee had taken a sedative last night so perhaps overslept. The control room was quiet as the crew settled into their duties. Chip looked at his watch again and decided he’d better go check on Lee. Given what had happened the day before, Chip was feeling a bit anxious.
It wasn’t long before he was standing before Lee’s door knocking softly. There was no answer and Chip stood uncertainly. “Something wrong, Chip?”
Chip was startled by Admiral Nelson’s deep voice coming from right behind him. “Oh, admiral!” he said sheepishly, “You startled me! I was trying to check on Lee but he doesn’t answer.”
Nelson looked at Morton for only a moment before turning the knob and pushing open the cabin door. The two men entered and looked around. It was obvious that Crane had been in his bunk, but there was no sign of him now. “Well, he must be around here somewhere,” mused Nelson studying the room.
Chip nodded slowly but felt no less anxious than before. “Perhaps he went to sickbay to check on Collins.”
Nelson stepped to Crane’s desk and punched a button on the intercom. “Captain Crane, this is Admiral Nelson. Please report to my cabin immediately. I repeat. Captain Crane to Admiral Nelson’s cabin immediately.” They waited for a response but received none. The two exchanged worried glances.
“Captain Crane,” repeated Nelson a little more forcefully. “Please acknowledge.” Silence.
“I don’t like this,” said Chip. “You know Lee. He’d respond if he could. I’m worried something has happened to him.”
Nelson nodded, his brow furrowed with anxiety. He pushed the button again. “Now hear this. This is Admiral Nelson. If anyone knows of the location of Captain Crane or has even seen him this morning, please notify me immediately.” Again, there was no response. Nelson turned to Chip. “I think you had better organize some search parties and comb the ship. You said you found him unconscious yesterday and for all we know, it’s happened again. There is something very strange going on here and I want to know what it is!”
“Aye, aye sir” replied Chip and hurried from the cabin to organize the search. Thoughtfully, Nelson turned and slowly walked back to his own cabin. He had no sooner settled himself at his desk when Jamieson’s voice came through the intercom.
“Admiral Nelson? This is Dr. Jamieson. Dr. Collins is awake and would like very much to speak with you.” Jamieson paused. “Immediately if possible.”
Nelson hit the intercom button. “I’m on my way.” Nelson rose to his feet and hurried down to sick bay where Jamieson stood waiting anxiously.
“What’s going on, Doc?” Nelson asked quietly.
“Collins woke up a short while ago,” Doc began, “And he was quiet enough to start with but when he heard you paging Captain Crane he became quite agitated. He asked to see you immediately. When I said you’d be in later, he became even more upset so I thought I’d better call you.”
Nelson nodded and walked to the bunk where Collins lay, talking to himself and moving restlessly. “Dr. Collins?”
The scientist turned to Nelson and grabbed his arm tightly. “Admiral Nelson,” he hissed urgently, “Have you located Captain Crane?”
“Uh, not yet,” replied Nelson in surprise, studying Collins carefully. “Do you know something about his current whereabouts?”
Collins released Nelson and buried his face in his hands. “They’ve Called him!” he moaned miserably, “And it’s all my fault!”
“I think you had better explain what you’re talking about,” said Nelson firmly. “Who have called him? Where is he now?”
Collins lay silently for a few moments before turning to look again at Nelson. “Admiral,” he replied hoarsely, “I…I’m afraid you won’t believe me. It sounds so crazy.”
Nelson pulled up a stool and sat down next to the bunk. He looked into Collins’ gaunt, haunted face. “Dr.Collins,” he began patiently, “I cannot begin to describe to you the incredible things we have experienced on board this submarine. Frankly, you would undoubtedly question my sanity if I even tried. So, why don’t you tell me what you have to say and let me judge whether or not it sounds crazy?”
Collins bit his lip and sighed. “The ghosts of the Franklin explorers Called him. Just like they Called Tom, Jeff, and Martin.”
Nelson blinked. This certainly wasn’t what he was expecting to hear. “The ghosts of the Franklin explorers?”
Collins nodded weakly. “They were part of the expedition that sailed with Sir John Franklin to explore the Northwest Passage. Their ships were frozen in the ice for two years. When the pressure of the ice started to destroy the ship, they left to try and find land. Most of them died on the way and the few that remained, well…” he paused for a moment before continuing. “They, uh, were forced to resort to cannibalism to survive. When they died, they were condemned to continue their search for safety.”
“All right,” said Nelson slowly trying to make sense of this story, “what exactly does this have to do with your companions or Captain Crane’s disappearance?”
Collins looked at Nelson for a moment as if to gage the Admiral’s level of disbelief. “Um, there are only two ways they can be free…either someone must find their remains and give them a Christian burial, or someone must hear their Call and take possession of their token. When the victim satisfies these two things, he is forced to go to the spirit Calling him and upon the moment of his death, the victim takes the place of the dead sailor. My friends heard the Call and they had the tokens. They walked out into the darkness. I don’t know where Olsen or Perkins are.”
Nelson exchanged glances with Jamieson who was watching Collins carefully. “What exactly are these tokens you mentioned?”
Collins sighed and looked around. “Where is my parka?” he asked worriedly. Silently, Dr. Jamieson walked to a nearby locker and pulled out the bright orange parka. He brought it to Collins. Collins reached over and fished around in his pocket and pulled out a handful of the small, ceramic frogs like the one Lee had shown Nelson earlier. Nelson picked up several of the frogs and noticed there was a name engraved on the bottom of each one, again, like the one Lee had shown him. He looked up at Collins.
“The names on these frogs represent each of the dead sailors?” Nelson asked.
Collins nodded. “If you have a token of one of the damned sailors and you can hear him Call, you must go. We found a small wooden chest of them embedded in the ice. That’s when all this started.” Collins pushed himself up and stared at Nelson, his eyes blazing angrily. “You know what it’s like out there. How long do you think anyone can survive out there without protection? Martin left two days ago. Jeff and Tom left yesterday. I tried to stop them! But they said they could hear Martin calling them. I told them they were crazy; that all they could hear was the wind. But, they wouldn’t listen. I couldn’t reason with them. I followed them when the weather cleared a bit and I eventually found Martin buried in the snow. He was just barely alive and he told me about the sailors Calling him. That’s what Jeff and Tom heard. He died in my arms.”
Nelson frowned. “How do you know about this “call” if you can’t hear it or are you somehow immune to it?”
Collins rubbed his brow wearily. “I did hear it,” he said softly. “But it seemed distorted as if several people were calling but didn’t make any sense. I eventually realized it only works if you have one of the tokens and only a few of them seem to work. I assume they are those of the damned sailors. I also think some people are more sensitive to it than others.”
Nelson leaned back and rubbed his chin thoughtfully. As he’d told Collins, he had experienced many unbelievable events on board the Seaview and this certainly wasn’t any stranger than some of those. Captain Krueger’s ghost came to mind. Lee was the victim there as well. As he considered the situation, Chip’s voice came over the intercom.
“Admiral Nelson, this is Mr. Morton. The lead is closing rapidly and the pressure is increasing”
Nelson got to his feet and rested his hand on briefly on Collins’ arm. “Thank you, Dr. Collins,” he said quietly. “I do believe you.”
Collins looked grim but nodded gratefully. He lay back on his bunk and closed his eyes. He didn’t hold out much hope for either his missing companions or the Seaview’s captain.
Nelson exchanged another look with the doctor, then hurried out of sickbay to the control room. He could feel the tension as he joined Chip near the plotting table. Chip handed a computer printout. “The ice is pressing in on the hull and rising rapidly. If we don’t dive soon, we could be trapped here.”
Nelson frowned as he studied the data. “Has Captain Crane been located?”
Chip sighed unhappily. “No sir. There’s been no sign of the captain. I’ve had search parties combing the ship but so far, nothing.”
Nelson was silent, considering the situation. The pressure from the ice could do some serious damage over time and he didn’t want to risk getting trapped but what if Lee were out there? And the missing scientists? Nelson ran his hand through his hair.
“Admiral?” Chip looked at him expectantly.
Nelson grimaced and replied, “Dive. We can’t risk being trapped here. As soon as we’re clear of the ice, find a new lead as soon as possible. If the captain and those scientists are out there, we’ve got to find them quickly.” He turned and headed back to his cabin. He could hear Chip giving the command to dive and felt his own heart sink. He prayed he wasn’t condemning his friend to death.
Lee trudged through the snow, his face blasted by the particles of ice and snow driven by the gale force winds. Where could they be? he thought in dismay. When he’d left the ship he’d been certain he would find the scientists. Now, he wasn’t so sure. He stumbled to a halt and peered through the swirling snow and fog trying to make sense of where he was but all he could see were pressure ridges and featureless ice. Lee fought for breath, the subzero temperatures making it difficult to breathe. He shivered and realized his face felt numb. He took off his glove and rubbed ineffectively at his cheek. He could barely feel it. He coughed roughly and replaced his glove. He tried to cover his face but realized he had no scarf or balaclava to protect his skin. He turned back the way he’d come, or at least the way he thought he’d come, but there was nothing. Where was the Seaview? He now turned wildly around, fear choking him. He took a few faltering steps back the way he had just come but it was no use. He couldn’t recognize any features or landmarks. He lifted his arm to try and protect his face as he considered his options.
To be honest, he couldn’t clearly remember the events that brought him to this place. He seemed to remember thinking he knew where the scientists were and that he would retrieve them but he couldn’t imagine how he would know such a thing. He coughed again and he shivered harder. His teeth were chattering fiercely and he once heard that in such cold, they could even shatter. He shook his head and turned around again hoping to find some indication of where he should go. It was useless. He was hopelessly lost with no supplies, no compass, no way to know where he was. All he had was ice, snow and this bone-chilling cold.
He was having trouble thinking clearly which bothered him more than he wanted to admit. Yes, he knew extreme cold could dull a man’s senses, but he felt like he was in some kind of mental fog; one in which he had been enveloped since he’d gone to bed. He just couldn’t focus on what he should do. Keep moving, he told himself, or you’ll freeze. So, with a sigh, he started onward with no real purpose other than to keep warm.
He had no idea how long he’d walked but it felt like a week and each step became more difficult than the last, his legs like lead. He was so tired; all he wanted to do was sit down and rest, but even in his muddled state he knew that was certain death. Step, after exhausting step, he fought against the wind and the cold making little real progress. Finally, he stumbled to a halt when faced with a towering pressure ridge of jagged ice. He swayed wearily and stared numbly at the obstacle.
“Captain Crane.” A voice sounded quietly behind him. Lee whirled in surprise to find himself face to face with Captain Crozier. Beyond him stood his ghastly crew. They stared silently at Crane, their faces reflecting their suffering and despair. Lee quickly picked out the three scientists. Two still had a misty, unsubstantial appearance so perhaps there was yet hope for them.
“Captain Crane,” Crozier said again looking hard at Lee. “I told you, you would come.”
Lee frowned as he noticed Crozier looked slightly less solid than he had before. Crozier smiled. “Yes, Captain,” he said softly, “You will soon command this crew and I…I shall be released from my burdens.”
Lee stepped back in alarm and gasped as he noticed a form at his feet. It was his own body, collapsed lifeless in the snow. He looked back at Crozier who had taken a step towards him. “No!” cried Lee stepping backwards. “I will not take over!” He knelt down beside his prostrate form and reached out, willing himself to live.
Lee gasped as he opened his eyes and found ice filling his vision. He struggled to breathe and push himself up into a sitting position. He glanced around but saw no ghostly images. “I must have been hallucinating,” he mumbled to himself. He was utterly exhausted. All he wanted to do was lay back down and sleep. He was so cold. His breath formed a cloud of frozen crystals before him. He couldn’t feel his face at all and he noticed hands and feet were numb. He tried to pull himself to his feet but he seemed to have no strength. The gales sapped every bit from his failing body. He blinked, rubbing his eyes to remove the frost forming on his lashes. He saw a small space formed within the wall of the pressure ridge. Inch by inch, he dragged himself into the space, curled up and closed his eyes.
Admiral Nelson paced the control room anxiously. He turned to the crewman manning the sonar. “Anything?”
The crewman frowned, studying his screen and listening intently through his headphones, then shook his head. “No sir,” he replied, “Still nothing but solid ice.”
Nelson cursed under his breath and stalked over to where Chip was checking their coordinates. The Exec did not look happy. He pointed to the chart as Nelson joined him. “We’re already well away from our last coordinates,” he informed the admiral, “If we don’t find an open lead soon, it will take us forever to return there. We still haven’t located the captain so we have to assume he’s back on the ice somewhere.” He checked his watch. “He’s been missing at least twelve hours.”
Nelson sighed, running a hand through his sandy hair. He knew that every minute they were stuck under the ice the less likely they were to find either the captain or the missing scientists alive. There was a Snowcat on board so that would help return them to their last known coordinates more quickly, but there was no guarantee it would be quickly enough. He looked around and noticed the crewman glancing over at them. They all knew that time was of the essence.
“Admiral!” an excited cry came from the sonarman as he hunched over his screen. “I think there may be something coming up!” Nelson and Chip hurried over to the man and watched him impatiently. “Yes…” the man listened intently, “About 100 yards to starboard. Uh,” he checked his monitor, “110 degrees.” Nelson and Chip exchanged glances, maybe there was still hope!
Lee shivered violently in his makeshift shelter. It was little more than a windbreak but anything was preferable to being in the open under the attack of the wind and blowing snow. The scream of the gale made it almost impossible to hear even his own labored breathing. What am I going to do now? He thought distantly. No one knew where he was. He had no idea himself. What on earth had he been thinking, venturing out on the ice like this? It wasn’t exactly your idea, his mind said. Lee gave a short laugh. Right, it was the ghost of some dead 19th century sea captain wanting me to take over his “voyage of the damned”!
“That’s right, Captain Crane.” Crane’s head began pounding and he closed his eyes even tighter. He was sure he was hallucinating. That’s what happened to people when they suffered from severe hypothermia, wasn’t it? “Captain Crane!” The voice came again. It sounded angry and impatient. Lee gently rubbed at his eyes. They had frozen shut. Gingerly, he opened them and peered out into the raging snowstorm. A figure stood there, apparently untouched by the gale. Lee’s eyes snapped shut. Yes, he was undoubtedly hallucinating.
“You are not hallucinating, Captain Crane,” the voice growled irritably, the Irish burr more evident than ever. “I am tired of waiting. The time has come for you to take over your new command.”
Lee opened his eyes again. Crozier stood there looking less substantial than ever. Lee’s heart skipped a beat when he realized his own features seemed to be faintly superimposed over the ghostly captain’s. He tried to retreat further into his feeble ice shelter but it was useless. He shivered more violently as his body was racked by deep, ragged coughs. Crozier took a step closer, his sunken eyes hard and pitiless. This was a man who had suffered for well over a century and he was not going to miss his opportunity to finally find release from his torment. Lee coughed even harder and he could taste blood. He feared the cruel subzero air was damaging his lungs. Lee had heard of people suffering frostbite in their lungs when breathing such cold air over a period of time. It must be 70 or 80 below. “No,” Lee croaked weakly, “No!”
Crozier took another step. Lee’s pounding head now felt as if would explode any minute and every breath was like inhaling shards of frigid glass. He moaned softly and curled more tightly into a ball. He knew there was little hope now but he refused to give up. He focused on the pain using it as a tether to life. He coughed even more violently and almost choked on the blood. No! he thought stubbornly. I won’t let him win!
“Captain Crane!” the voice was louder and more demanding than ever and Lee could almost feel his body surrendering to the Call.
“Noooo,” Lee moaned softly as he began to slowly sink into oblivion.
“Captain Crane! Captain! Can you hear me!?”
Lee frowned. This voice sounded different. He could almost place it. He coughed again, almost choking. His entire body now felt leaden. He couldn’t feel his hands or feet, or come to think of it, much of anything. Maybe dying wasn’t so bad.
“Lee!” another voice joined the first. The one was more demanding. “Lee, stay with me! It’s Admiral Nelson! Come on, son, don’t give up!”
Lee again pried open is frozen eyes and tried to focus on the face above him. At first, he thought it was Crozier again, come to finally take him, but after blinking away some of the frost, he realized it was indeed his friend, Admiral Nelson. Lee gave a small smile and drifted out of consciousness.
Nelson cradled his friend in his arms as Kowalski and Sharkey brought a stretcher from the Snowcat. “Hurry!” he cried anxiously. He looked down at Lee’s haggard face, mottled with patches of frostbite. Blood trickled from the corner of his peeling lips as he struggled to breathe. The Seaview’s captain seemed to be losing his battle for life.
They quickly lifted Crane onto the stretcher, their numb fingers fumbling in the cold. Kowlaski’s face was hidden behind his protective mask and goggles. Nelson frowned as he observed Crane’s lack of adequate protection. Although he was wearing the parka designed for arctic wear and gloves, he wore no additional protective footwear or layers.
“Admiral!” yelled Sharkey above the wailing wind, “It’s getting worse! We need to hurry! The skipper don’t look so good!”
Nelson nodded and stumbled after Sharkey and Kowalski and they hauled Crane’s stretcher into the protective confines of the waiting Snowcat. As soon as they were all settled, the big machine roared into life and began the two mile trip back to the sub. Nelson gritted his teeth in irritation as Kowalski fought the machine over the jagged pressure ridges and fissures in the ice. Sharkey, sitting in the front passenger seat glanced back to where Nelson sat watching over the Seaview’s failing commander. Things weren’t looking good but Sharkey was hopeful. Captain Crane had eluded death before and Sharkey firmly believed he could do it again.
The Snowcat roared loudly as it topped another precipitous crest and tottered a moment before sliding downwards at an alarming angle. The three men were thrown forward against their restraints as the Snowcat slammed into a wall of ice. Nelson reached down to steady Crane, swearing softly. He cursed more loudly as it became evident that vehicle’s front end was caught in a deep crevasse at the base of the pressure ridge. Kowalski scrambled out with Sharkey close behind, to survey the situation. Nelson anxiously watched as the two men seemed to disappear into the swirling snow.
“Noooooo!” startled, Nelson looked down. Lee’s eyes were wide open but they weren’t looking at Nelson but at something beyond. Nelson whirled around and for a moment thought
he glimpsed a figure reflected in the window but there was nothing but ice. Lee’s breathing became more labored as he struggled to sit up. Restraining his friend, Nelson frowned as he remembered what Collins had told him about the spirits Calling living men to replace them. Could one really be trying to take Lee?
“Lee!” soothed Nelson, gripping his friend’s shoulder, “It’s all right. We’ve got you. You’re safe, don’t give in!”
Lee focused on Nelson for a moment, a spark of hope in his sunken eyes, before lapsing back into unconsciousness. Nelson tucked the insulated covers around Lee’s inert form. It was obvious his friend was suffering from extreme hypothermia and it was vital they get him warmed up as soon as possible. He peered out again into the storm and sighed with relief as Sharkey clambered back into the vehicle.
“It’s not as bad as it looks, sir,” Sharkey reported rubbing his arms to warm up. “If we can back it up a little, the crevasse is much narrower just a few feet to the left. There’s a few feet of space between the edge of the crevasse and the bottom of the pressure ridge to work in. We should be able to get across it OK.”
Nelson nodded. “Just hurry. We need to get Captain Crane back to the Seaview as quickly as possible!”
It seemed to take an impossibly long time to maneuver the Snowcat out of the crevasse and across to more solid ice and an even longer time to make their way over the miles of steep pressure ridges and mountainous bergs. The near zero visibility meant they had to crawl along at a snail’s pace and time and time again they were forced to retrace their route when they found themselves facing a crevasse too wide for the Snowcat to bridge or a ridge to high to climb. The landscape had changed just in the short time they had taken to reach Crane so their original route was not always passable. A trip that should not have taken more than an hour stretched into five. Nelson couldn’t help but marvel at the thought that explorers over the past century had actually man-hauled sledges piled high across this unforgiving terrain.
“Admiral Nelson!” called Kowalski over the roar of the engine, “The Seaview reports the lead is closing and they estimate we have no more than an hour before they will be forced to dive.”
Nelson pushed back his parka sleeve and studied his watch. He estimated they were approximately thirty minutes from the Seaview’s location. They would make it if they avoided any fresh disasters. He nodded his acknowledgement. “Tell them we estimate our arrival in thirty minutes.” Kowalski nodded and turned back to the radio. Nelson listened to Lee’s labored breathing. “Hang in there, Lee,” he whispered and prayed they would be in time.
Lee’s eyes suddenly snapped open. “Olsen and Perkins!” he croaked staring wildly around. “Olsen and Perkins! Stop! We’ve got to save them!”
Nelson put a reassuring hand on Crane’s shoulder, “Lee, it’s all right. You’re safe. We’ve got to get you to the Seaview. We’ll come back for the scientists.”
“NO!” Lee cried, desperately fighting against Nelson. “They’re HERE! Twenty yards off the starboard bow! In that berg!” He was then overwhelmed by a violent bout of coughing, fresh blood trickling from the corner of his mouth. When he finished, he gasped for breath but his eyes still burned with desperation . “Stop, now or it will be too late! Crozier will have them like Liebermann!”
Nelson stared at his friend in alarm. Only half of what he’d said made any real sense. He glanced out the window of the Snowcat and to their right he could indeed see a large berg rising over the ice. He tapped Kowalski on the shoulder. “Head for that ice berg!” he shouted pointing the right, “Captain Crane says the scientists are there!”
Puzzled, Kowalski glanced over at the Chief who just shrugged. With a sigh, the seaman fought the controls and brought the snow machine around and headed toward the nearby mountain of ice. A short time later, the two men were fighting against the powerful winds as they searched the ice wall for any sign of the missing scientists. There was no point in trying to call out as the shrieking wind carried their words off into the maelstrom of blowing snow and ice.
The headlights of the Snowcat barely penetrated the gloom and the lanterns Sharkey and Kowalski played over the surface of the ice were of little help but they were determined to do their best, carefully searching for any break in the ice where two men might be hidden. Both men had long steel rods to prod the surface in the hopes of detecting a possible space as they slowly made their way in opposite directions. Kowalski shivered as the wind tore at his clothes. He had to fight to keep his balance as well as his hold on the rod and lantern. He wondered how anyone could last more than an hour in these lethal conditions, especially without suitable protection. With his thoughts wandering, Kowalski almost missed the yielding section of ice. It was only by the edge of his rod slipping off a rock hard projection that he felt the area give way. Pulling the rod out of the ice, he carefully examined the section. “Hello?” he yelled, feeling a little foolish, but hoping for some kind of response. He pushed at the ice with his mitten and felt his excitement grow as nothing pushed back. Setting his lantern down in a protected alcove of ice, Kowalski began to quickly dig into the wall of the ice berg; periodically calling out in case the scientists were there. Gradually, an opening into a small cleft became visible and a short way beyond, a foot was evident in the shadows. Kowalski picked up his lantern and peered into the driving snow hoping to spy Sharkey farther along the berg’s face. He clicked his communicator button hoping that Sharkey would hear him. A moment later, a faint voice came through the static.
“Chief!” Kowalski screamed, “I’ve found them! I’ll need some help!” He then held the communicator close to his ear and sighed with relief at Sharkey’s acknowledgement. Ten minutes later, Sharkey was helping him dig further into the iceberg’s surface to reveal the two scientists huddled together in a small space within the ice.
One man opened his ice-rimmed eyes and stared at Kowalski and Sharkey. He gave a weak smile. “You found us,” he rasped,. “But…” he now sounded oddly defeated as he glanced at his unconscious companion, “ can you save us?”
Chip stood anxiously by the radio waiting for any further news from the search party. The control room crewman had cheered when Kowalski had called in to report they had found the captain alive but the men were silent now as hour after hour dragged by and the party had still not returned. Chip was fully aware that a trip across the treacherous ice in a blinding snowstorm was a recipe for disaster but he was also confident of the abilities of the men on the mission to make it through even the toughest conditions. He wasn’t so sure about Lee, however.
Now, they were again faced with the lead of open water starting to close up around them as the ice shifted. He again looked at his watch. He estimated they only had another fifteen minutes before they would be forced to dive a second time and this time they would be leaving more men on the ice. He tapped his pencil nervously against the table, his apprehension continuing to grow with each passing minute. He glanced at Sparks, the radioman and fought the impulse to ask him yet again if there had been any word. He knew perfectly well there had not. He sighed and wandered over towards the plotting table to continue planning their next move if the lead closed before Nelson and the others returned. They had been lucky to find an opening only a few miles from where they estimated Lee to be. Chip had worried they’d have to go much farther to find anything large enough to accommodate the Seaview. Could they be so lucky again? Rubbing his weary eyes he resumed his study of the charts trying to determine the next likely spot.
“Mr. Morton, sir!” Sparks voice rang out across the control room. “I think I’ve got something!”
Chip hurried over to the small radio alcove off the main control room and stood by expectantly, watching Sparks’ intent expression. Finally Sparks turned to him with a relieved smile. “Kowalski reports that not only have they located the Skipper, but they’ve also picked up two of the missing scientists. They should be here within ten minutes.” He paused. “I’m sorry, sir but the reception was so bad I couldn’t get off any reply before I lost them.”
Chip smiled back, his own relief clearly evident on his haggard face. “Keep trying, Sparks. We’ll stay as long as we possibly can.”
It was a very tense fifteen minutes as the crew waited for the rescue party to return while pressure of the ice against the hull of the Seaview continued to increase. Chip knew they were pushing it to wait this long. He glanced over towards Sparks who shook his head. There had been no further communication from the Snowcat. Impatiently, Chip donned his arctic gear and made his way up into the conning tower in hopes of sighting the returning vehicle. The blast of wind almost knocked him from his feet. Steadying himself, he used his infrared goggles searching for any source of heat in this Godforsaken wasteland. He made a complete circle as he stared out into the swirling snow.
“Mr. Morton!” came a voice from below. Chip looked down the shaft to see crewman Patterson staring up at him. “Sir! Engineering reports that the pressure is becoming critical and if we don’t go now, we won’t be able to go at all!”
Morton nodded unhappily. He knew they were right. They had to go. His shoulders slumped in defeat as he turned to climb down the ladder. Suddenly, a flash of light caught his eye and leaping back to the platform he stared intently into the darkness. A moment later he realized he was seeing the halogen headlights of the Snowcat cutting through the gloom. Yelling orders as he practically leapt down the tower, the cargo door was opened to allow the entrance of the rumbling machine. A few minutes later, the Snowcat was securely stowed and men were scrambling out of the vehicle. As the rear hatch was flung open, Nelson began calling for help for the three injured men. Over the din, Nelson could hear Chip ordering the boat to dive. It had been very close.
Dr. Jamieson hurried in with several corpsmen following behind. With his usual efficiency, Jamieson had all three men strapped to stretchers and on their way to sick bay in short order. Nelson watched them disappear through the hatch then turned to Morton. “What is our status?”
“It was close, Admiral,” the Exec replied with a sigh, “You made it back just in time. Another minute and we would have been gone. We barely avoided being crushed by the ice closing in but we’re out of danger for the moment.” He paused. “Lee?”
Nelson hesitated. “I don’t know,” he said slowly removing his parka. “He’s alive that’s the main thing. As are the two scientists. There was no sign of the third.”
Chip allowed himself to relax just a bit. “What are your orders?”
Nelson thought for a moment. “I think it’s time to get out of here and head home.” He sighed wearily. “I’m going to stop by sickbay to check on Lee and the others and then I’ll be in my cabin if you need me.” Handing his arctic gear to a waiting crewman, Nelson turned and made his way to the sickbay.
Dr. Jamieson looked up as the Admiral entered. He was evaluating Dr. Olsen’s severely frostbitten toes. Nelson frowned as he approached. “How are they?”
Jamieson shook his head. “Well, both Olsen and Perkins will lose toes but I think I’ll be able to save their fingers. Both are severely dehydrated and suffering from hypothermia but we’re working to get their core temperatures up. The fact they were in a sheltered area is undoubtedly what saved them.”
“And Captain Crane?”
Jamieson turned to the bunk where Crane lay, an IV bottle hanging near the unconscious man’s head. “Pretty much the same but he apparently was more exposed. I think his lungs suffered some frostbite since he had no protection and I’m worried about pneumonia. Alhough he has frostbite on his face, hands and feet, I think I should be able to save them.”
Nelson turned and glanced over at the scientists in their bunks. “So, you believe they’ll all recover?”
“I should think so,” replied Jamieson. “They were all healthy to begin with so that is certainly in their favor. And so far, they’re starting to respond to treatment.”
Nelson smiled for the first time. “I’m relieved to hear it. Let me know if there are any changes. I’ll be in my cabin.” With one last look at his friend, Nelson turned and left.
Lee slowly opened his eyes. He felt warm but very, very tired. Without moving his head, he shifted his gaze and quickly realized he was safely ensconced in the Seaview’s sickbay. He sighed in relief. It had all be some kind of awful dream, he thought sleepily. He vaguely remembered Admiral Nelson talking to him but little beyond that. They must have found him out on the ice. He still couldn’t understand why he would have gone out like he did. He lifted his hand and noticed both were well-bandaged. Frostbitten no doubt. He shifted a bit in the bunk. He frowned as he realized that his joints ached as if badly riddled with arthritis. Must have been from the cold, he thought distantly and was soon asleep once more unaware of the three hazy figures watching nearby.
Nelson lay in his bunk reading over the information he had just downloaded from the computer. After all that had happened, he was interested in learning more about this doomed Franklin Expedition Collins had spoken. Nelson had a dim recollection of the expedition from his historical readings but he was interested in learning more of the details. In 1845 Sir John Franklin had taken two ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, along with 125 men and enough provisions for three years in an attempt to traverse the fable Northwest Passage. Unfortunately, both ships became frozen in the ice and with unusually cool summer temperatures were unable to break free. With the ships in imminent danger of being crushed and their leader dead, apparently the men, led by Captain Crozier of the Terror, had loaded supplies into the smaller ships’s boats and man-hauled them across the ice pack and King William’s Island in the hopes of reaching Back’s River to the south. None of them survived. Later expeditions found some graves and bones but of the main body of men, there were no signs remaining. Some researchers believed scurvy, starvation and exposure were the main causes of death. Others believed that lead poisoning resulting for poorly soldered tin cans that contained the bulk of the expedition’s food was equally to blame. Nelson shook his head as he recalled his own recent expedition onto the pack ice to rescue Lee. He could barely imagine how their 19th century counterparts were able to survive as long as they did.
He was about to shut off his lights when the intercom came to life. “Admiral Nelson, this is Doc. Could you please come to sickbay right away? I think you need to see this.” Frowning, Nelson was up and dressed and within minutes joining the doctor.
Jamieson was standing by Crane’s bedside frowning deeply. “What’s wrong, Doc?” asked Nelson looking at Crane’s pallid features. A dark bruise marred one cheek.
Jamieson shook his head. “Admiral, there is something very strange here. At first, all three men were responding to treatment but when I checked them just now, it was apparent their condition had worsened dramatically. But that’s not the odd part. It’s what they’re suffering from. All of them are showing signs of acute scurvy and looking at their blood work, starvation and lead poisoning as well. It makes absolutely no sense! These men are dying and I don’t seem to be able to stop it! At the rate these conditions are progressing, they’ll be dead within two days.” Nelson stared at the doctor in confusion. He was right, there was absolutely no way these three men should be suffering from any of those conditions.
“It’s them,” came a soft voice from the corner. Nelson and Jamieson turned to where Collins lay watching them with a feverish gaze. “The Franklin men. They all died from those things and now they’re taking your captain and my friends! You’ve got to stop them, Admiral, before it’s too late!”
Nelson and Dr. Jamieson exchanged glances. Nelson then took a few steps closer to the man. “Do you honestly believe ghosts of dead sailors are trying to take these men?”
Collins stared at him solemnly for a moment. “Yes, Admiral, I do. Nothing your doctor can do will save these men. They will slowly die, just like the doomed men on the expedition. Their only hope is if you can find the remains of Crozier and his men and give them a Christian burial.”
Nelson shook his head in disbelief. “Even if I wanted to do that, I wouldn’t have the faintest idea of where to look! They could have died anywhere on King William Island, the pack ice or even on Back’s River! People have been searching for their remains for over a hundred years. Just how am I supposed to find them in two days?!”
Collins pushed himself up onto his elbow, his gaze intense. “Think about it, Admiral! Those explorers all searched above the water – you and your submarine can search below! We know some remains were found on King William Island and a note left by Crozier said they were headed south to Back’s River. I believe they were lost in the strait between King William Island and the mainland or perhaps in the mouth of Back’s River! They were hauling boats and hoped to move up the river to the Great Slave Lake. Remains were found on the mainland at Starvation Cove but it’s very possible Crozier and his crew didn’t make it that far or perhaps they managed to get to the mouth of river The fact that their spirits are still in this area tells me they didn’t get any farther than that.”
Nelson glanced at Jamieson who shrugged, a puzzled look on his face, then turned in alarm as Crane cried out in anguish. The doctor hurried to his patient while Nelson continued to study Collins. “Crozier won’t give up, Admiral,” said Collins quietly. “He is leaching the life out of your captain. Those men only survived as long as they did by consuming their companions and Crozier is desperate to find release. He feels great guilt at what they did but yearns to escape his hellish existence. He is a man of great determination, Admiral, and he will get what he wants. This is obviously the first chance he’s had to lure another captain to replace him. He’s not going to lose this opportunity.” Collins paused and glanced at his two companions, lying motionless in their bunks. “I don’t believe they’re as strong as Captain Crane. I doubt they’ll hold out much longer. You don’t have much time, Admiral.” He then lay back onto his bunk and closed his eyes.
Nelson stood silently a moment longer than turned towards Jamieson. The doctor and one of his corpsmen were strapping Crane tightly to his bunk. Crane’s eyes were wild as he fought against the straps. “Don’t let him take me!” he croaked desperately looking from Jamieson to Nelson. He began coughing a deep, pain-filled cough. He collapsed back onto his own bunk, a trickle of blood making its way down the side of his mouth. Jamieson stood and faced Nelson, his face troubled.
“He’s getting worse, Admiral.” He hesitated. “If…you think there’s anything to what Collins said, I suggest you act on it immediately. I know it sounds crazy, but no more than three healthy men dying of scurvy and starvation!”
Nelson grunted noncommittally and took one last look at the dying men. “I’ll be in my cabin if there are any changes.”
An hour later found Nelson pouring over charts and maps, studying the straits and passages around King William Island. He’d read all he could on Franklin’s expedition in this short period and he found he was agreeing with Collins’ theory of where Crozier and his men might have ended. They were known to have crossed the twenty-three miles of the Simpson Strait between King William Island and Adelaide Peninsula. It was very possible they could have fallen through the ice before reaching land. Remains were found at Starvation Cove on the peninsula but there was no guarantee Crozier had been among them. Seaview could attempt to traverse the Strait and search for any sign of a ship’s whaleboat or pinnace. If nothing was found, they could survey the mouth of Back‘s River at least as far as they could go. He nodded to himself. It was worth a try. He wasn’t entirely sure he believed in these ghostly sailors trying to gain their freedom by taking the lives of the living, but Nelson had seen many unbelievable things during Seaview’s voyages and this was no stranger than many of them. With a weary sigh, he gathered up his notes and made his way to the control room.
Chip looked up from some maintenance reports as the Admiral hurried in. “Admiral…?” he began but Nelson ignored him and went directly to the plotting table where he quickly located the chart he needed. Curious, Chip approached, his report forgotten.
“Mr. Morton,” said Nelson as the Exec looked down at the chart. “Where is our current position?”
“”Uh, here,” replied Chip pointing to an area just north of the Boothia Peninsula. “It’s been tricky making our way through the Franklin Strait. The ice has been exceptionally thick.”
Nelson nodded. “All right. I want you to reverse course and make your way to the Simpson Strait between King William Island and the Adelaide Peninsula.”
Chip frowned staring at the point on the map. “Admiral, those are some pretty treacherous waters. At this time of year the ice doesn’t always leave much room for us to maneuver. What are we hoping to achieve?”
“Chip, Lee and the two scientists are dying. Not just from their exposure to the cold but from impossible ailments like scurvy and lead poisoning. You know as well as I do that there is no way Lee could be suffering from scurvy but he is. He is dying from the exact same ailments that killed the men on the Franklin expedition. I’m beginning to think Collins isn’t so crazy after all. So…” he hesitated, looking slightly sheepish, “I want to try and find any remains that might be those of Captain Crozier, the last surviving commander of the expedition, and his men. Collins thinks they might not have made it across the ice pack and drowned in the strait. If we can find them and at least provide the proper ceremony for what they would consider a “Christian burial”, maybe we can save Lee and the others.”
Chip stared at Nelson for several long moments as if trying to determine whether or not the admiral was being serious. Looking at his commanding officer’s expression, he had to believe Nelson was. He looked back at the chart again and sighed. “Are you sure, Admiral?”
Nelson ran his hand through his sandy hair. “Chip, I’m not sure of anything but if there’s the remotest chance of saving Lee and those two scientists, I think we need to at least try. We can use the sonar to search the seabed. These cold waters would have more than likely preserved the boat they were hauling across the ice. That might be as much as we can find, but it might be enough.”
Chip nodded. “Alright, sir, I’ll get us turned round and head south.”
“As soon as we reach the Simpson Strait, I want you to have sonar sweep the bottom for any unusual shapes or mounds. We’re looking for a boat perhaps 20 to 30 feet long.”
Again Chip nodded. “Aye, aye sir.”
Nelson glanced around the control room. The crewmen were focused on their jobs but Nelson was certain at least some of them had heard their conversation. He turned to go. “I’ll be in my cabin if you should find anything.”
“Aye, aye sir.”
“Captain Crane”. Lee’s eyes snapped open. Blinking, he turned a looked around wonderingly. He knew he was in sickbay but now he found himself again out on the open ice. He felt a weight in the pit of his stomach as he realized he was surrounded the haggard, starving figures of the desperate survivors of Franklin’s expedition. He froze as he located the three scientists. Two were now fully fleshed out; permanent members of the supernatural crew. Olsen must have died, Lee thought in despair. The third seaman was just barely discernable behind the figure of Perkins. The last scientist didn’t have much longer. And what about himself?
“Captain Crane!” Lee whirled around and for a moment thought he was looking into a mirror, his own visage masking that of the dead captain.
“Crozier,” replied Lee grimly. In the velvety black of the arctic night, Crozier’s figure still stood out, a faint glow illuminating him against the backdrop of dramatic ice cliffs.
“I told you, Captain Crane,” said Crozier, his hollow voice a menacing whisper. “I don’t intend to remain commander of this crew any longer. If you don’t give in, I will ensure your own ship and crew never leave this frozen hell ever again.”
Lee took a step back in surprise. Then anger reared in his chest, “What do you expect of me?” he snarled, “I’m dying, aren’t I? You’ve already seen to that!”
Crozier closed the distance. Lee could actually feel the cold emanating from the ghost’s emaciated figure. “Aye, you’re dying,” snapped Crozier, his eyes as deadly as his voice, “But you won’t die! A man like you doesn’t just give up. Nay, I’ve seen men just like you. Just like me! They’ll fight every step of the way no matter the odds. Your doctor will find a way to keep you alive even if just barely because you won’t let go!” He stopped and waved his arm at the men surrounding them. “You see these men? They survived years of poor food, inhuman conditions frozen in the ice, illness, starvation and then physically hauled hundreds of pounds of equipment over the frozen ground and ice pack to reach land. Every man jack of them is a survivor. These are men, so desperate for life they even consumed their own dead shipmates just to stay alive a little while longer.” He paused again. “But in the end, death came for us all as it will you, Captain Crane. But your decision, sir, is whether you will come alone, or bring your crew with you.”
Lee moaned in pain as he slowly regained consciousness. He felt as if every joint was on fire. His head throbbed and he gagged as wave of nausea swept over him. He tried to take deep breaths, but that merely brought on another agonizing fit of coughing. He shivered violently as he gasped for breath. In the distance he could hear voices. He tried to concentrate. It sounded like Doc and the Admiral. He opened his eyes and could see the two men standing by an adjacent bunk.
“He died about ten minutes ago,” Jamieson was saying as he pulled back the sheet. He shook his head in despair. “There was absolutely no reason this man should have died! He was recovering from the hypothermia well enough but I simply couldn’t halt the effects of the lead poisoning combined with the scurvy and other problems he seemed to be developing hourly.” He pointed to the upper bunk. “Perkins is going down the same path. I just checked his lead levels and they’ve doubled in the past hour! He’s also developing pneumonia. I’m telling you, Admiral, this is beyond anything I’ve ever dealt with before!”
Nelson now turned to look at Lee and was surprised to see his friend watching him through dulled eyes. “Lee?” said Nelson gently, moving closer. “Can you hear me?” Jamieson moved in and checked Lee’s pulse.
“Admiral,” rasped Lee closing his eyes with the effort of speaking. “He says he’ll kill you all if I don’t go with him.” He stopped, gasping for breath.
“Who will kill us, Lee?” asked Nelson urgently, although he feared he already knew the answer.
“Crozier,” whispered Lee. “I…I can’t allow him…to do that.”
“Lee,” replied Nelson firmly, tightly gripping his friend’s arm. “Listen to me! We are searching for Crozier’s remains right now. Chip is up in the control room using the sonar to search the seabed. We’ll give him the burial he wants but you can’t give in! You’ve got to fight, Lee!” Nelson grimaced as he took in Lee’s emaciated features. How could he be failing so quickly?
Lee opened his eyes again and met those of the admiral’s. “I’ll try,” was all he could say.
“Anything yet?” demanded Chip impatiently, leaning over Patterson’s sonar station. Nelson had just given him the news about Olsen as well as Perkins and Lee’s imminent deaths. Like Nelson, he wasn’t sure if he really believed this would help, but it seemed like the most logical course of action at the moment. They had been methodically scanning the seabed for the past several hours searching for anything that might resemble a sunken boat but so far, they had had no success. Evading jagged inverted icebergs had just made the entire process more difficult and slow. Nelson had been down several times to inspect their progress, his anxiety rising with each passing hour. On top of that, the engines had been acting up. Three times now, they had died for no discernable reason. Engineering had gotten them back up running but they still could not determine what the problem was and it took longer each time to regain power. Chip was worried they could get stuck under the ice.
“Mr. Morton!” Patterson was alert and excited. “I think I might have found something!” Chip attention instantly returned to the sonar screen, eager for some good news for a change. “Look!” said Patterson indicating an odd shape lying approximate 200 feet below them. It was a regular, curved shape in imbedded in a field of irregular chunks of rocks and ice.
Morton studied the shape carefully. He then reached for the intercom. “Admiral, I think we might have found something.”
Nelson, who had been dozing, became instantly alert. He had returned from another visit to sickbay and the news was grim. Perkins was now on a respirator and Lee had lapsed into a coma. If something didn’t happen soon, both men would die. This might finally be the answer they were looking for. He hurried down to the control room where Chip stood silently monitoring the situation. “What have you got?” demanded Nelson tersely.
Chip pointed to the relief map created by the sonar. “You can see right there, Admiral, there’s a rounded shape in amongst those rocks. We think it could be a small whale boat. It looks to be about 25 or 30 feet long.”
“Can we send out divers?” Before Chip could reply the sub lurched and power dimmed.
“Mr. Morton!” called a crewman, “The engines have died again. We only have emergency power. Engineering is working on it.”
“Mr.Morton!” cried another crewman, “We’re losing trim!”
Morton reacted instantly. “We need to find as level a place as possible,” he snapped. “We’re going down!”
Quickly and efficiently, the crew assessed the situation and the helmsmen aimed them towards the most level area within the failing sub’s reach.
“Brace for collision!” Morton cried just moments before many of the crew were flung to the floor by the impact.
Nelson cursed under his breath as he climbed to his feet. He could hear Chip calling out for a damage report. There was damage to frames 13 and 14 but nothing too serious. Still the engines were inoperable. They were trapped.
Nelson quickly considered the situation then turned back to the Exec. “Can we send out the divers to check out the site?”
Chip nodded rubbing bruised shoulder. “I think so. We’re at 450 feet so they won’t be able stay out long but hopefully long enough to determine if it’s what we’re looking for.” He turned to the intercom and gave the order.
“Now,” growled Nelson, “Find out what’s happening with those engines. Without power, we’ll soon find ourselves joining Crozier and his ghostly crew! I’m going down to the missile room.”
Nelson watched anxiously as the three men got into their deep water diving gear. The anomaly was about 100 yards off the port bow in freezing arctic water. Visibility would be almost nonexistent and the way was a veritable maze of boulders and ice. It was highly dangerous and Nelson worried that he was sending these men on what could be a fool’s mission. As soon as the men were suited up, Sharkey turned to the admiral. “Anything you want to tell them, sir?”
Nelson hesitated then continued. “Men, we want to determine if the anomaly is a small ship’s boat from either HMS Erebus or HMS Terror. They were part of a British expedition that disappeared while searching for the Northwest Passage back in the 1840’s. Also, look for any remains or artifacts of the sailors that might have been with the boat. Are there any questions?”
Johnson, the leader of the group glanced at his companions. “Sir, do you want us to bring any artifacts back?”
Nelson nodded. “Yes. If you find anything you can easily carry, then bring it back to Seaview. Good luck.” He watched silently as the men finished suiting up and entered the escape hatch. He prayed they would be successful.
It took the men about fifteen minutes to finally reach their destination. Johnson glanced at his companions, Marcus and Rogers as they approached the odd shaped formation. Carefully, Johnson examined the mound as Marcus and Rogers illuminated it with their lights. A layer of silt and debris covered the surface. Johnson slowly brushed the layer away, trying to avoid creating a cloud of silty dust. Visibility was bad enough without adding to it. With a grin, he pointed to the wooden surface just discernible below the surface. It was indeed a boat. Slowly, the three men began to sift through the silt around the boat. They weren’t entirely sure what they were looking for but were alert for anything out of the ordinary.
Johnson studied the keel of the boat. The small vessel had settled on its gunwales after sinking. Signaling his companions, the three men took position on one side and heaved. It took a few tries, but finally the boat began to rise a short distance as it broke free from its berth in the silt. With much effort, Johnson was able to reach beneath the boat and began to meticulously search through the debris. A glint of gold reflected the light from Marcus’ lamp. Johnson was just able to reach it and carefully pulled out an old ship’s sextant. Marcus picked up several small round objects that appeared to be buttons along with several small remnants of fabric and what appeared to be a large tin can. They were also able to retrieve a knife, brass telescope and water flask.
It wasn’t long before their exploration time was up and the three men headed back to the Seaview. As it was, they’d be forced to endure hours in a decompression chamber. Johnson hoped the items they brought back would satisfy the admiral. It was all they had time to retrieve. Carefully and deliberately, they returned the whaleboat to its original position on the seabed and turned to make their way back to Seaview.
Nelson waited in his lab, reviewing more of the Franklin expedition material. He looked up at the knock on the door. A moment later, Chief Sharkey entered carrying a plastic tub containing the items the divers had retrieved. “Looks like that boat might’ve been what you were looking for, sir,” said Sharkey placing the tub on a workbench. “Johnson said there were more things but they were kind of stuck together. They didn’t want to wreck anything so just brought back what they could easily pick up.”
“Excellent,” replied Nelson getting to his feet to examine the items immersed in the saltwater contained in the tub. He carefully reached in a lifted out the sextant. This was undoubtedly an item that would have been carried by an officer. He also examined the brass telescope. It was badly corroded but as Nelson cautiously cleaned the metal he could just make out the initials “FC” engraved on the surface. “Francis Crozier,” whispered Nelson. With growing elation, he pulled out the metal buttons. Nelson had no difficulty identifying them as belonging to the uniform of a British naval uniform. “We found them, Chief. “ grinned Nelson, “I do believe we’ve found them!” He pulled out the tin can and noticed the lead solder along the interior seam. Nelson nodded as he showed the can to Sharkey. “See that, Chief? It was believed many of the men on Franklin’s expedition died from lead poisoning due to the solder in these cans.”
“Uh, yessir,” replied Sharkey peering over the admiral’s shoulder. “Uh, begging your pardon, sir but why did we need to find these things? I mean, it’s interesting and all but what with everything going on and the skipper so sick, why did we need to come here now?”
Nelson smiled ruefully as he studied the sextant. “It’s a long shot, Chief, but it’s my hope that these things will save Captain Crane and Dr. Perkins. And Seaview.”
Sharkey looked doubtful but nodded. “Uh, yes, sir.”
The admiral grabbed the items and returned them to the tub. “Come on, Chief. We’ve got things to do.”
Nelson decided to stop by sickbay before finding Chip and carrying out his idea. Jamieson was standing next to Perkin’s bunk, his stethoscope pressed firmly to the man’s chest. As Nelson entered, the doctor looked up and shook his head. “We just lost Perkins,” he sighed wearily, his face dark with despair. Nelson turned and looked towards Lee’s bunk. Jamieson followed his gaze. “There’s nothing else I can do for the Captain,” he said quietly. He closed his eyes and leaned his head against the upper bunk. “He’ll probably be gone within the hour.”
Nelson’s jaw clenched as he studied Lee’s pale face. The captain was now on a respirator. It was the only thing keeping him alive. His eyes were sunken deep into his skull and Nelson had to agree with the doctor. He was looking at a dead man. He gripped the tub tightly and prayed silently that his plan would work.
Chip looked up as the admiral strode in. They had made no progress in restoring power. The repair crews hadn’t been able to find anything actually wrong with the engines. Chip now had crews checking every electrical line in the sub. On top of that, the air purification system had stopped working. The quality of air had already declined noticeably and many of the men were complaining of headaches and nausea. Chip’s rubbed his own throbbing head. “Any change, Mr. Morton?” asked the admiral.
“Nothing good, Admiral,” replied Chip shaking his head in frustration. “Our air won’t last more than a few more hours at this rate. One thing after another stops working and we can’t find any reasons for it!” He then noticed the tub Nelson was carrying. “The trip was a success?” he asked a touch of hope in his voice.
“Yes, Chip,” said Nelson, “These are relics from some of the last survivors of the Franklin expedition. I want to hold a memorial service for them immediately.” Chip lifted an eyebrow. Nelson sighed. “Perkins is gone and according to Doc, Lee could die at any moment. If we’re going to try this, we have to do it now.”
Chip rubbed his eyes and nodded. “How do you want to do this?”
Nelson thought a moment. “I want as many of the ship’s officers and men who aren’t involved in trying to repair the ship. We’ll meet in the missile room. Have the service and then we’ll have divers return the items to the sea. I would like the shop to make a plaque to honor Captain Crozier and his men and mark the site as their final resting place. We may have to place that later, when there’s more time. But, we need to do the ceremony right now. It’s Lee’s last chance. In fact, it could be our last chance.”
Within thirty minutes, the missile room was packed with crewmen and officers of the Seaview, all to honor the dead of Franklin’s ill-fated expedition. Nelson stood before them, the relics now ensconced in a small, metal box. The shop had worked hard and put together a memorial plaque to place on the site.
Nelson now cleared his throat to gain the attention of the assembled crew. “Today, we have gathered to honor the brave men of the Franklin Expedition and to commend their remains to God. They have been lost too long and it is time for them to come Home.” He then opened a small black volume and began to read from the Service for the Dead. His strong voice resounded within the chamber as the men stood silently.
“We therefore commit these men to the deep to be turned into corruption, looking for the resurrection of the body, when the Sea shall give up her dead, and the life of the world to come, through our Lord Jesus Christ, who at his coming shall change our vile body, that it may be like his glorious body, according to the mighty working whereby he is able to subdue all things to himself.”
“Amen,” intoned the assembled men. Nelson then handed the box to one of the two the divers waiting nearby. The men watched as the divers entered the escape hatch and disappeared. They stood for a few moments longer before quietly dispersing to resume their duties. Soon, only Nelson and Chip stood silently together, heads bowed. Had they been successful?
Lee stood in the sickbay staring down at his own wasted body lying motionless in the bunk. Lee could feel the tie to his earthly body had all but disappeared. He knew if he turned around, he would not see the interior of the Seaview but the dead sailors waiting for him to take his place among them. He knew Perkins had already joined the crew and would be harnessed to the sledge. Lee watched unhappily as Jamieson adjusted the IV attached to Lee’s arm and then the respirator, its rhythmic hissing the only sound. The anguish on the doctor’s face was painful to see. Lee knew if he turned and joined the crew, that pain would disappear but he couldn’t give up yet. He had promised Admiral Nelson he would fight, but he was so tired. He had been fighting the Call as hard as he could but his strength and will were almost spent. He suddenly became aware of something in his hand. It was the small green frog inscribed with his name. Lee frowned. He didn’t remember having it before. Maybe it was a sign. Maybe…it was time to go. Lee closed his eyes and buried his face in his hands. He didn’t want to go. It wasn’t his time yet, he was sure of it but he simply couldn’t fight any longer. With a deep, mournful sigh, Lee slowly turned and prepared to leave.
The spectral gathering was indeed there, awaiting their new commander. They stood, expressionless in the swirling snow. Lee could see the three scientists were now all full-fledged members of the team harnessed to the sledge. Lee observed the whaleboat piled high with various supplies but no food. That had long ago disappeared. Now his existence would consist of pulling this sledge across the arctic forevermore with no hope of reprieve. It was a dismal prospect at best. Around him, he could feel the Seaview’s own crew starting to fail as the poor air took its toll. Lee could not allow his men to die because of him. He took one step away from the bunk, then another. Each step weakened the tie. Jamieson’s expression became more distraught as Lee’s hearbeat became fainter. It was time.
“ Captain Crane. Stop!” Lee’s head snapped to the right as he spied Crozier appear out of the icy mist. The captain looked different, lighter somehow. His expression no long seemed so defeated. In fact, a slow smile spread across the ghost’s gaunt face as he turned to his men. “We have been Released!” he cried, his voice booming across the eternal night. The men stared in disbelief at their captain. Then they turned to each other as if looking for confirmation but soon they could feel the truth of Crozier’s words. Grins replaced their perpetually grim expressions as they began to whoop and cheer in delight. The scientists stood blinking in confusion. Lee was equally confused. Crozier continued to grin in response. “Your Admiral Nelson has Released us, Captain! He located our poor remains and provided them a Christian burial. I never believed they would be found but bless your admiral, we have been saved.” He paused and looked Crane over, his face now serious. “I regret what has been done to you and your companions, sir” he said slowly. “I cannot undo what has been done. I cannot bring your men back to life nor can I cure you of the ailments that now so sorely afflict you. But, I will no longer prevent your physician’s ministrations from assisting in your recovery. Your undersea ship will resume functioning as it should. Unlike mine, your crew shall return safely to their homes and families.” He stood silently for a few moments as Lee watched him. “I am sorry, Captain Crane. Now, I must take my crew on their final journey.” He now turned to go but turned back one last time. “Please do not think too harshly of us, Captain Crane,” he said quietly. “We are men much like yourself who found ourselves faced with an untenable dilemma. Perhaps you would have chosen differently. I pray sir, you never have to discover this for yourself. Godspeed, Captain, godspeed.”
As Lee watched, Crozier took up one of the harnesses attached to the sledge and slipped it on over his shoulders. Without a backward glance, he called to his men to begin and with a no more sound than the faint rasp of the runners moving across the ice, the ethereal crew gradually disappeared into the mist. Lee stood awhile longer then turned back to his own world. He could see Jamieson still hunched over Lee’s own bedridden form, but this time the doctor’s expression was more hopeful. Lee could feel his tie to the living strengthen once more as he returned to his own body. He too, was going home.
Nelson sat quietly by Lee’s bedside reading some reports. He had been there as often as possible during the past several days awaiting his friend’s return to consciousness. As soon as the memorial service had ended, Nelson had hurried to sickbay to see if their efforts had paid off.
Jamieson greeted him with some promising news for the first time. “Admiral, I’m not sure what happened but the Captain seemed to regroup at the last minute. His heartbeat had all but stopped and I was waiting for the last one so I could call the time of death but all of a sudden, it began to strengthen! Mind you, he’s certainly not out of the woods. Not by a long shot, but this is the first positive thing I’ve seen since all of this began and it makes me hopeful that he might beat this yet.”
Nelson had also been hopeful, especially when the problems with the Seaview seemed to spontaneously right themselves. The engineering crew was baffled but Nelson was sure it was Crozier’s doing. Lee’s condition gradually improved over the next few days. The chelation therapy had been very effective in decreasing the high level of lead in Lee’s system and continuous administration of Vitamin C had done wonders in fighting the effects of the scurvy. He was still fighting pneumonia as a result of his damaged lungs but even there he was improving.
Nelson looked up as he noticed Lee stirring in his bunk. Alert, he smiled as the Seaview’s skipper slowly opened his eyes and looked about in some confusion. When he noticed Nelson nearby Lee smiled weakly back.
“You did it, Admiral,” Lee whispered. His throat was very irritated from the respirator Jamieson had removed just the day before. “You freed them all.”
“Did I really, Lee?” asked Nelson thoughtfully.
Lee closed his eyes and swallowed painfully. “Yes, Admiral. I know it sounds crazy, but they were here. They were damned to a life of misery all because they’d wanted to survive. You released them from their torment. They were all brave men, Admiral. They didn’t deserve what happened to them.”
Nelson nodded. He’d read enough about the Franklin expedition to know that it was a series of errors and bad luck that had resulted in the destruction of Franklin and his men. But they were the astronauts of their day; Men daring to risk everything to further human knowledge of the world. Although they may not have known it, the Franklin survivors by crossing the Simpson strait, had proven there was a path through the arctic lands; a path from the east coast of Canada to the Alaska lands to the west. They had in fact, discovered the fabled Northwest Passage.
Nelson looked again at his friend. Lee slept once more. He would recover and along with the rest of the brave men of the Seaview, live to discover new worlds, new life forms in this uncharted territory under the sea. Their adventure, unlike that of Franklin and his men, was far from over.
Oh! whether we starve to death alone,
Or sail to our own country,
We have done what man has never done—
The truth is founded, the secret won—
We passed the Northern Sea!
“The Ballad of Sir John Franklin”
By George Henry Boker