"So, who's he?" Ski asked as he checked one of the electrical circuits in the control room. The elegantly suited man in question had been greeted like a long lost brother by Admiral Nelson and was being feted by the same in the Observation Nose.
"Beats me, "Sharkey checked off a number on his clipboard."Ski, stop your daydreaming and pay attention to this new stuff. If the Admiral had wanted to introduce you, he would've."
"Well, don't get a burr up your..."
"That's it. You're on report."
"So Tim," Nelson said with an expansive wave of his hand," how do you like her?"
"I'm impressed beyond belief. This is good too," he raised his tumbler of amber liquid.
"It's certainly good to see you again. Well now, four stripes. Who'd have thought it?"
"Nobody I know," he laughed. "Especially Ashburtons. They're irritated enough when I have to put in some Reserve time, but when I actually got a promotion...."
"Where's the Navy sending you?"
"Here," Tim grinned and handed Nelson a document. "If you'll have me. To be assigned according to your pleasure' they said, if you're agreeable to it. And since you're technically a Reserve outfit anyway... well, they sort of thought it would be a good match. Even though they had to make an exception clause in the orders 'cause you're not on call just now."
"That's wonderful!" Nelson slapped him on the shoulder. "I'm glad to have you."
"There's just one teensy little problem."
"I was hoping you'd let me command Seaview, but you already have a Captain," he made light of the joke.
"Well, I'm sure I can find something for you to do. I don't suppose you'd find helping me with fish specimens beneath your dignity?"
"Not at all Harry," he laughed, "as long as they don't try to eat me. I've heard about some of your more unusual guests."
"You know, Tim," Nelson changed the topic, "I was damn proud of the way you handled that Glyburn affair. Sexual harassment, my foot. What's wrong with telling a woman she looked nice?"
"Tell that to the press."
"Well, they tend to favor the idiotic."
"Whoa...be careful, they may be listening."
Both men laughed as they headed aft.
"Admiral?" Lee poked his head in the lab, "Chip said you wanted to see me and...."
"Hello Crane," Tim said, and extended his hand.
"You know each other?" Nelson asked, delighted.
"We served together on the Orion," Crane said woodenly but did not extend his.
"Lee, Tim's been assigned to us for a couple of weeks. His Reserve stint couldn't have come at a better time. He'll be assisting my research among other things. He'll be uniform and busy in no time."
Crane said nothing.
"How soon before we can get underway?" Nelson asked. "Seems to be a bit of a delay."
"I'm still not satisfied with that new circuit over-ride system. I'd like to check it out more and...."
"I'm sure I can find the problem, Harry," Tim interrupted. "You used the Navy's new Mconnelly defense system for the wring?"
"The whole Naval fleet did."
"I may be a weekend wonder now, but Ashburton's helped that small company become a big one. I think I should remember something about their blueprints..."
"Good idea Tim, have fun," Nelson interrupted, ignoring Lee's frown.
"See you at lunch, Harry. Well, c'mon Crane, lead the way."
"And I'm telling you, nothing seems to be wrong with it."
"I don't know that, Baylor," Crane said.
"You'd take the word of a simple CPO over my expertise? No offense to Chief Sharkey here, but I think Admiral Nelson will agree with me."
Crane took his arm," you may be serving Reserve time or even be guest but the decisions aboard this boat are mine. And for your information, I have far more confidence in Chief Sharkey's recommendations than in any of yours."
"Permission to return to the lab then Skipper?" Baylor said sarcastically.
"As you wish, but Chip could use your help in stores."
"Stores?" Baylor asked, indignant.
"I'm sorry, I didn't realize you were hard of hearing now," Crane said without any kind of inflection.
"I'll help the XO," Baylor ignored the insult. "At least he should appreciate me being aboard," Baylor strode away.
"Thanks Skipper," Sharkey whispered, "but... maybe I'm wrong..."
"Do you think you're wrong?"
"No. I'm positive something's screwy with the damn thing."
"Then I think so too. Let's start over."
It was an hour later when Nelson strolled into the control room. "Lee, Tim and I will be taking the flying sub out tomorrow. I really want to examine that breach in the rift close up and personal, not just from a distance...we're not underway yet? Tim said there was nothing wrong."
"I'm not satisfied that..."
"I'm surprised you're still concerned, but you can still check it out as we go. Go ahead Lee, take us out. That's not a request."
Crane reluctantly began procedures to get the great sub underway, Nelson checked his liquor cabinet, poured out two snifters of brandy, and smiled broadly at the man just coming down the spiral ladder. "Tim," he sat down," join me. Remember this?" he pulled out an old photo from his wallet.
"Oh, no. Don't tell me that you kept that all these years?"
"Why not? Your parents were good friends. They were so proud of you. I was devastated when I heard they were killed in that car crash...did the authorities ever figure out what happened?"
"No, afraid not."
"You know, Tim, I was surprised you left the active Navy, when was it, about seven years ago?"
"Well, let's just say I was offered more incentives in the private market than I could ever have in the Navy. I'd only joined out of a sense of duty anyway. It had lost a lot of the glamour you expect when you're young and inexperienced....not that this," he indicated Seaview, which was just starting to leave the dock, "isn't spectacular. So, I went into the Reserves, just to keep my finger in the pie, so to speak. Hard to break the apron strings to the Navy, even if I didn't really need the funds...."
The two old friends chatted and enjoyed the view as Seaview soon plowed deeper through the undersea vista. Behind in the Control Room, Crane could only scowl.
"So, tell me Crane, do you always waste so much time searching for problems that don't exist?" Baylor asked from his seat in the nearly deserted Wardroom, "I told you there was nothing wrong."
"If he was a bit over cautious," Nelson said, "at least he satisfied himself that the boat's secure."
"Well, I think he could have at least listened to me. I'm not ignorant. He's subordinate in education and rank while I...."
"Enough," Crane said as he sat down, "It was my call....does Seaview feel a bit fast?"
"Feels fine to me," Nelson said. "I agree that Lee should value your input," Nelson said, "but it's his responsibility, Tim, not yours. I hope that's understood."
"Sorry, Harry. It won't happen again."
"Lee, I'd like Tim have a crack at one of the late watches as Officer of the Deck. Perhaps even fill in for Morton as XO for a couple of hours. Let him get some command time."
"I'm sorry Admiral," Crane said, "but the answer's no."
"Skipper?" Morton's voice came over the PA, "she's running a couple of rpms over normal."
"Very well, make the adjustment."
"How'd you know about the speed like that?" Baylor asked.
"Because he's the Skipper," Ski said from nearby as if Baylor was an idiot.
"Ski," Nelson said, "What are you doing here?"
"Pinch hitting for Cookie," Ski said, "he has a terrible case of the runs and asked if I could help bus things up for him and..."
"Thank you Ski, that's all," Lee changed the subject and placed his fork down while Ski went to refill one of the empty coffee pots.
"You know," Nelson said," Morton's been pressed for time to study for that real estate exam. Why not ask him?"
"It doesn't matter if Chip could use a break. Why should I risk Seaview to satisfy Baylor's ego?"
"I served with him Admiral, you haven't. And since we're being frank here, you may as well know that friend of yours or not, in the Navy he only cared about himself. He's using you. And Seaview for his own ends."
"Are you out of your mind?" Nelson asked, slamming his knuckles into the table, "Very well, for the sake of argument. Why? What possible advantage would it do him?"
"I don't know, yet," Lee stood," But I do know that I don't want a cheat, a liar, and a thief aboard, in any capacity, especially not in any kind of command position."
"That's enough!" Nelson also rose. "He was completely vindicated in the Glyburn affair."
"I wasn't speaking of the Glyburn affair...and since I seem to spoiling lunch I'll let you both enjoy it together in peace," Lee departed.
"Tim, I..." Nelson was still aghast. "I apologize for Crane's behavior ...he will too, I promise you," Nelson fumed and quickly followed his errant Captain out of the Wardroom and down the corridor.
Crane had already disappeared, but Nelson soon barged into the Captain's cabin on a hunch that he'd be there. He was right.
"How dare you!" he shouted, absolutely livid. "How dare you insult Tim like that? And in case you've forgotten, this is my boat, not yours."
"I see he's put the charm on, didn't take him long," Lee sat down at his desk and absently shuffled some paperwork.
"What the hell is this all about?" Nelson demanded.
Crane looked up, "It's a personal matter. You needn't let it concern you."
"Concern me? Concern me? Two of my best friends at sabers with each other and it doesn't concern me? I want answers Lee. And I want them now."
"It was just a rumor that got away, Harry," Tim said as he straightened his tie in his quarters. "And it was a long time ago. Crane should have been over it by now."
"Lee's absolutely convinced you bribed a crewman to take the blame, that it was your fault Orion was nearly lost."
"My fault?" Baylor snorted. "Orion was sent to the bottom due to the ineptitude of a 17 year old rookie sailor! JAG proved that. The kid had undiagnosed dyslexia and used the wrong controls. Even our Skipper said I had nothing to do with it. Look up the files if you don't believe me."
"I didn't say I didn't but...Tim...I can't help feeling there's something else between you and Crane; please tell me."
"What can I say Harry? The kid wanted a little extra cash for the holidays so I thought to myself, why not, let him work on excuse of a car for it. The kid was real grateful. Lee just assumed it was a payoff when he saw me hand him the moolah. Even the medics said the kid couldn't see straight. Look, Lee and I have never gotten along. Believe me; he's just using this as an excuse to keep me from the bridge."
"Who knows? But he doesn't like me that's for sure. Reason enough if he's the Captain."
"Well, I could use the time, sir," Morton said in the Control Room as he looked askance at Crane for permission. None came. "It's okay with me if it's okay with Lee," he added nervously. It was all over the boat that Crane and Nelson had had a disagreement about the new man.
"It's settled then," Nelson said," Tim will have the conn between 2200 and 0200. Any difficulty with that Captain?"
"I don't agree with your decision Admiral," Lee answered, "but like you said, it's your boat."
"Come along Tim," Nelson had felt Crane's barbed comment in the pit of his stomach, "we still have some specimens to catalog."
"Right away, Harry. By your leave Captain Crane," he added formally and followed Nelson aft.
"Lee..."Morton said, "If you want don't want me to step down..."
"It's all right Chip. You have your orders. Come to course 360...." Crane said, effectively ending any discussion.
Nelson poured himself a cup of coffee in the crowded Wardroom the next morning and studied Morton, "Perhaps I shouldn't have let you study last night. Have you seen those dark circles under your eyes?"
"Well, "Baylor said, "If it had been me, I'd have made him study in his cabin, not in the nose with all the distractions from the control room."
"What's this all about Chip?" Nelson asked, "Did you actually study or were you just 'babysitting' Tim?"
"I... It's just that...well, Lee was kind of upset...I mean, well..."
"Did Crane put you up it?" Baylor asked.
"Hell no! He'd kill me."
"Very well, then. For my own information, did I sink the boat?"
"No, actually, you did pretty well."
"What did I tell you Harry? Crane's paranoid."
"Paranoid?" Chip asked.
"Perhaps not clinically, but it all adds up..."Baylor was beginning to expand on his 'observations about Crane's behavior.
"I think I could use some help in the lab, Tim," Nelson said politely, but pointedly. Baylor got the message, finished his cup of coffee and followed Nelson out into the corridor.
"Tim," Nelson said, "You have a right to your opinions, of course, but keep in mind that Crane is the Captain of my submarine, and a good friend. I'd appreciate it if you'd keep any 'psychology 101' theories to yourself."
"Oh, I'm sorry. I meant no disrespect to him Harry, just...okay, you got it. I promise not to pyschoanylse him. In public or private."
"Good boy. Now come along. We have a lot of work to do."
"So, that's it?" Crane asked Sharkey as he and Ski stood before him in his cabin. "Ski said you had a 'burr up your ass'?"
"Yeah, that's what he said."
"Is that true Ski?"
"I told him not to get burr up his ass, there's a difference."
"Crane, I..." Baylor entered the cabin. "I seem to be interrupting something."
"I realize they may do things differently at Ashburton's but aren't you accustomed to knocking?"
"Well, sorrrrry," he sat down on Crane's bunk.
"That's 'sorry, Captain,'" Crane corrected.
"Now look, here, Crane," Baylor rose, "I don't care if you're the Skipper here; I outrank you and deserve some respect. And so far you've been lacking in any and you've been downright rude. The Navy would never tolerate your behavior and..."
"We'll take care of this later," Crane said to Sharkey and Ski, dismissing them with a nod.
"What do you want?" Crane asked of Baylor after the men had left.
"I have here a signed statement from Morton. He said I did fine with the conn."
"How does he know?"
"He felt sorry for you I suppose, so he studied in the Nose to keep an eye on me."
"Seems he cares about what you think. And like I asked him, I didn't sink the boat did I?"
"Apparently not. Very well, so?"
"I want more line responsibilities."
"Why ask me? Why not bellyache to Nelson again? "
"Because Harry's a friend of mine. I don't want him torn between a misguided sense of loyalty to you and his friendship with me."
"Oh, so he's a good friend now, is he? Tell me, then, as his friend, did you tell him that it was you behind the wheel that caused your parents' fatal accident?"
"I told him I didn't know what happened. That's the truth. I don't know why the car flipped like that. I wasn't speeding. The inquiry said it was impossible. My dad had enemies. It was probably sabotaged."
"How convenient for you."
"You know Crane; I came to see you in good faith."
"Too bad it was a wasted trip. Anything else Captain Baylor?"
"No, nothing. But you might want to remember that my family helped Harry fund NIMR in the first place, the legal aspects, the...."
"Oh, I have no doubt you've reminded him of it. Dismissed," Crane said, "Sir," he added.
Nelson was just passing by as Baylor slammed the Captain's door shut.
"Harry, I know you like Crane, but for the life of me I don't know why!" he huffed off.
Nelson didn't even bother to knock. He just stood there after he entered Crane's quarters, silent.
"Well," Lee said after a moment, "do I walk the plank or get shoved out a torpedo tube?"
"Just give me one good reason why I shouldn't do both," Nelson said bitterly." Evidently you've had a few words with Tim. I don't know why you haven't been yourself lately. In fact, your attitude toward him has been totally out of character, unfair and opinionated.... and he did just fine on his watch."
"I know. He told me."
"The men on the watch told me too, Lee. And I watched the security tapes this morning too, to satisfy my own curiosity, if only to argue the point with you. I'd like him to do more aboard than be my 'go-fer'."
"So he did whine to you first."
"What is your problem Lee? I realize that leaving the active Navy slowed any promotion..."
"You think I'm jealous of a fourth stripe?" Lee interrupted. "Or of him?" Crane ran a hand through his hair. "Admiral, I know you like the guy, but why is beyond me."
"Damnit Lee, tell me why I shouldn't? It can't just be because you disagree with a JAG judgment of eight years ago or the Glyburn affair."
"Why? I could give you a dozen reasons; but the main one being that he never learned the difference between command and godhood."
Nelson groaned, "You're committed in this, aren't you. I know you dislike him, but I don't. And for your information, there are times you could be said to have delusions of 'godhood' yourself. I'm not saying that's a bad thing given your position as Captain, but Tim and his family have been good friends to me...for a long time." Nelson hesitated, "Lee, you have to know by now that I've valued your friendship more than anyone else's on earth....so please, don't force me to change my mind."
While Nelson's acknowledgement of their deep friendship wasn't exactly a surprise to Crane, Nelson's very admission of it to anyone, especially to Lee, was.
"I'm sorry," Lee said with honest regret, "but... I just can't change my mind about him."
"Very well. You have a right to your own opinion. But I'm asking you, Lee, pleading with you, back off. It's only for a couple of weeks."
"What do you want me to do?"
"Let me assign him more command duties."
"Is that an order?" Lee asked quietly.
"Do I have to make it one?"
Crane clenched, then released his fists. "For your sake, no," he acquiesced. "But that's the only reason."
"Good. Then we understand each other...and Lee, no more snide remarks to him or about him. Okay?"
"Mr. Morton?" Sharkey approached the XO in the wardroom. It was crowded with those not on duty and he was seated with Baylor over a scrumptious looking pie. "Could I see you a minute?"
"Come on in Chief, what can I do for you?"
"Well, uh, Captain's Mast got interrupted and..."
"My fault, I'm afraid, "Baylor said," Sorry about that Chief."
"No problem sir, it's just that the Skipper hasn't gotten back to us yet. I was wondering if Mr. Morton knew anything..."
"Hasn't said a word to me," Chip said.
"What was it all about Chief?" Baylor motioned the man to join them at the table.
"Well, it was like this..."
"He had no right to take over like that," Lee complained to Morton as he knotted his bathrobe over his pajamas with a vengeance. His hair was still wet from his shower, "And," he continued as he gave up trying to find his slippers, " you just let Baylor encourage Sharkey to grumble on and on about Ski..."
"Lee," Chip said, leaning back in Crane's chair, "it was a minor argument between Sharkey and Ski, and it's not like it was confidential or something. Why shouldn't Baylor let Sharkey get it off his chest. Did him a world of good."
"And assure Sharkey that if Baylor had his way, Ski'd be spending the rest of the cruise scrubbing out the bilge tanks?"
"It was only hypothetical and...."
"But in the meantime, Sharkey's almost certainly gloating and with his mouth, Ski's probably wondering if I'll stick with Baylor's 'recommendation'. Take a look, he put it in writing. "
Chip picked up the form on the desk.
"I didn't know a thing about it," Crane said, "'til Nelson asked me tonight if I agreed with it. Apparently Baylor had decided I had no say in how to deal with my crew aboard my own boat and went straight to the top."
"Did the Admiral agree with his recommended punishment?"
"He refused to get involved. But he did say I should have gotten back to the men before Baylor had to sooth Sharkey's ruffled feathers and put the fear of God into Kowalski."
There was a knock at the door.
"In!" Crane said.
"Skipper?" Ski stood stiffly, the door still open, "I ain't gonna spend my time scrubbing out the bilges for telling Sharkey not to get a burr up his ass. I quit. Here's my resignation," he handed Crane a handwritten note.
"Nobody's going to quit and nobody's going to scrub out the bilges, except maybe Baylor. Your resignation is not accepted," Crane tore it up.
"Skipper? Skipper? Is Kowalski with you?" Sharkey's voice preceded him, " I heard he was gonna' leave... "Sharkey almost plowed into Ski, "Of all the idiotic, stupid..."
"That's enough," Crane said. "Ski's not resigning. And he's not scrubbing the bilges. Now, since our original Captain's Mast was interrupted, and you're both here, now's a good time to complete it. Will you accept Kowalski's apology and his promise not to say that to you again?"
"Uh, well, okay. I guess so."
"The balls' in your court Ski," Crane said.
"Sorry Chief," Ski said. "Won't happen again... Even if you deserved it."
"Enough Ski," Crane interrupted, "the matter's closed. And remember this. I'm the one who dishes out reprimands and punishments on this boat, not Captain Baylor. Understood?"
"Aye sir," Ski said, relieved.
"Aye sir, but..." Sharkey protested.
Sharkey only nodded as the two left.
"Well, that's all settled," Chip said.
"Not yet it isn't. Where's Baylor?"
Chip checked his watch, "About to relieve Ensign Conway as OOD."
Everything was routine in the control room and Baylor was just about to assume the watch when Crane and Morton climbed down the spiral steps.
"Captain Baylor, hold on a moment. In here," Crane indicated the Nose, leaving a confused and curious Conway and crew behind them. The fact that the Skipper was scowling, barefoot, and his sleep attire didn't bode well for the new man at all. It was with difficulty that the men on watch tried to ignore the fact that Morton had quickly closed the accordion doors separating the two areas as soon as Baylor faced Crane.
"Don't you ever presume to suggest punishments on this boat again," Crane said, waving the 'recommended action' form in Baylor's face, as Morton stood mutely by.
"Well you were taking your sweet time about it. I felt it was my duty to help you save time."
"Hogwash. Your so-called duties aboard do not include butting into mine."
"Somebody had to. When are you going to do something about Kowloski's insubordination? When you get around to it that is?"
"His name's Ko-wal-Ski. And if you insist on being an officer aboard this vessel, even for appearances sake, get the crew's names straight. As for his insubordination, Ski's apologized to Sharkey and the matter's closed."
"An apology?" he snickered, "An apology's not enough. You have to be firm with your crew. Nobody under my command ever spoke to his superiors like that."
"Ah yes, Dolphinia and the Daytona. Dolphinia was in dry dock for four months out of your six month command, and Daytona was scrapped two months after you took over and bumped that freighter."
"Is it my fault I was given rust buckets and inexperienced crews? I'll admit that I don't have as much blue water experience as you do, but I have a heck of a lot more brain and people skills. Weather you like it or not, firmness is essential for control in any business, military or civilian."
"Firmness yes, stupidity, no."
"You think I'm stupid?"
"No one doubts your brilliance in the financial world, and how you got there is your own business, but when it comes to command of combat ready fighting men, you're about as smart as Captain Bligh."
"Bligh?" Baylor snorted, "You're comparing me to Bligh?"
"In a word, yes." Crane looked him straight in the eyes. "Now return to your assigned duties. That is, if you still know what they are."
"I don't have to put up with this. I'm seeing Nelson."
"You'll do as I say immediately or you'll be up on charges yourself with the Naval Reserve Board."
"Very well, Captain sir," he said as Crane headed back up the steps.
"Tim," Morton said after a moment, " Lee's right. Ski nearly resigned over this. I'm sorry it nearly came to blows between you and Lee but...."
"You like Crane, don't you."
"Yes I do, and I don't like the fact that you and he are at odds with each other."
"Poor Chip. Caught in the middle."
"Care to talk about it sometime? The rift between you and Lee, that is."
"Another time, perhaps.
It's a long story. You'd better hit the
books and I need to relieve
"I agree with you that he acted foolishly in the Captain's Mast business, that it was none of his business," Nelson said to Lee over coffee the next morning in his cabin, "but calling him Bligh? That's a bit below the belt."
"Admiral. He's got no business being aboard Seaview. He's disruptive. He's..."
"Nobody else thinks so. As for that little scene in the nose last night, he says you started it, not him."
"Yes, I started it. You can't trust a man like him. Not after he..."
"Not after he what Lee? I can't believe you'd allow yourself to read more into a couple of past coincidences than the facts will allow and..."
"Did you know that he came on to my own mother, and when she wouldn't cooperate he tried to buy her off? To keep her from telling me? She cried for months. I don't care if the woman involved in the Glyburn affair recanted her story. I still think he tried to seduce her, maybe even more. He bought her off and nothing's going to change my mind. I don't want a man like that aboard Seaview."
"How long ago did that happen, Lee, about your mother?"
"I was a midshipman. So was he."
"Did you report him? To his ROTC honor's board?"
"To my utter and eternal shame, no. My mother asked me not to. She didn't want to upset Tim's parents."
"Lee, he was young, and I'll admit stupid, if he did this..."
"It was a long time ago and your mother may have misinterpreted things..wait, listen to me. Even if I agree that it happened, it was in the past. He's a Naval Reserve officer now, doing a little official time. And other than this Captain's Mast infraction, he's doing a good job. What I don't understand is why the reference to Bligh?"
"Four men were almost courts martialed and two were actually kicked out for gross insubordination under his so-called commands."
"I think our JAG system's intelligent enough to decide if a captain is over reaching his authority in matters of discipline, Lee."
"They made mountains out of ridiculously small mole hills and..."
"Weren't you a bit of a stickler for regulations and procedures when you were drafted to Seaview? Seems to me you've forgotten that Navy rules and regulations are still in effect for most submarines."
"Yes, but I've never taken a crewman's gossip behind my back personally. He did, and made those men pay for his embarrassment."
"Lee, it's pointless to argue this when the JAG made their decisions based on all the facts. Unless you were personally involved, it has nothing to do with you and frankly I'm ashamed you could use this argument to insult him, especially so many years later. I'm tired and had a bad night. I don't want to discuss it anymore. And Lee, remember, everybody makes mistakes, even you. I think enough's been said about Tim Baylor, and I want no further discussion about it. Dismissed."
"Ko-walski, isn't it?" Baylor approached him in the missile room, "I just wanted to apologize. I thought I was helping expedite things, but I made a mess of it instead. I'm sorry."
Sharkey nudged the mute Ski to respond.
"That's okay sir."
"No hard feelings?" he extended his hand.
Ski took it, but his heart wasn't in it.
"Good man," Baylor said and left.
"I still think he should've kept out of it," Ski said, "It was the Skipper's job to..."
"Well it sure wasn't important enough for the Skipper to take care of it before Baylor had to."
"If you hadn't been so uppity then none of this would've happened in the first place."
"Uppity? Look, Ski..."
A familiar cough interrupted the men as Nelson; hands in pockets examined the polished mini-sub and diving bell. After a few moments he left, having said nothing. But the message had passed. No more arguments were forthcoming between Ski and Sharkey. At least not in hearing distance of any officer.
"Lee, "Chip asked, as he helped Crane shoot the sun topside a few hours later."Do you want to talk about it?"
"Verify the sighting Mr. Morton," Crane said formally.
Chip made some calculations, "Sighting verified."
"Log it in Mr. Morton."
"Aye Captain...Lee. C'mon you can tell me."
"There's nothing wrong, but there will be if you don't quit pestering me. Now, any idea yet on how soon before the flying sub gets back?"
"No idea. You know what the Admiral's like when he's on the prowl."
Nelson's exuberance was almost contagious when he emerged from the flying sub. Within a few moments Tim clambered up after Sharkey had, holding a plastic container of a fish. "Behold Goliath."
"Goliath?" Lee studied the ugly and moderately sized yellow and green creature.
"Can't think of a better name for him, he's worth Seaview's weight in gold."
"I don't understand."
"Lee, "Nelson jubilantly slapped Tim on the back, "this creature's supposed to be extinct! We have a few more other finds we brought back from the rift, but this is priceless. Timmy merely grabbed it for a souvenir! Said it would look nice in a fishbowl!" Nelson laughed.
"Good thing Harry noticed it was no ordinary fish," Baylor said, "Take care of the rest of our catch will you Crane? We have to inform the press right away," Baylor said as he followed Nelson aft without waiting for a response.
"That's it Skipper," Sharkey said," as he returned to the Control Room. "All specimens present and accounted for in the lab."
"Very well Chief, thank you."
"How's it going?" Sharkey asked, "The teleconference?" he looked toward the monitor.
"Hard for anyone to dispute the find with Goliath up front, close and personal," Crane said.
On the screen, the men could see the gathered press, and some representatives from the scientific community, asking questions of the exuberant Nelson and Baylor in Nelson's cabin. Baylor held the fish this way and that in the clear plastic container for all to see before placing it again into a small specimen tank on Nelson's desk ....
"Well, it was sheer fate, finding it, thanks to Captain Baylor," Nelson said.
"Will you be granting him a finder's fee?" one of the reporters asked.
"Well, I..." it was apparent he hadn't thought about it.
"I was only serving in the line of duty," Baylor came to his rescue, " my Reserve Stint...I hardly think I'm entitled..."Baylor said modestly.
"Of course, he'll be compensated," Nelson slapped him on the back, "it's the least I can do for my lucky charm."
"But shouldn't Baylor be the actual owner, after all he found it." Another reporter asked.
"And I wouldn't have if Harry here hadn't taken us down into that rift with his flying sub doing his research from his submarine. I have no problem with that. Besides, I was simply going to put it a fish bowl. I had no idea it was actually worth something."
"When will the scientific community get a good look at it?"
"As soon as possible," Nelson said. "I've already contacted Smithers and Associates to examine it for verification. They're the best experts in marine archeology in the country."
"How long before you have to return to your regular job at Ashburtons Captain Baylor?"
"Too soon, I'm afraid."
"I've been trying to talk him into staying with us, but he has a pretty thick skull," Nelson said.
"I doubt you'd be able to find a permanent place for me aboard anyway, Harry. I'm already stepping on some toes. I'm just in the way, really."
"Nonsense, you've been of invaluable service to me and Seaview."
"What would Ashburton's think about you jumping ship, theirs, that is, if you do decide to stay with Nelson?"
"Well, I haven't really thought about it... But I think they'd understand that I feel far more challenged with Harriman Nelson than in an office all day. If I decide to take Harry up on his offer, that is."
"Who actually named the fish 'Goliath'?'
"I did. It was a spur of the moment thing... since it's a huge find, it deserved a huge name."
"If you remain with Nelson, just exactly what will be your job? Would you take over command of the submarine?"
"I wish," Baylor said wistfully, "but I'm afraid she already has a Skipper in Commander Crane."
"Isn't a 'commander' of lesser rank than you?""
"Command of a submarine is far more than a technical rank," Nelson interrupted quickly, this was dangerous ground, "but there are other areas Tim could assist me while aboard Seaview and at the Institute."
"They have two crews and captains for subs in the Navy, why not do the same for Seaview?"
"The thought has merit, however," Nelson said, "when that possibility was considered, long ago, it was decided that just wasn't practical. Seaview's not exactly a Navy sub. Her mode of operation and her missions are quite different and require one Captain and crew." Nelson pointedly looked at his watch. "I'm sorry, but I'm afraid we really must check on some of the other specimens from the rift. We'll be in touch. Thank you. Seaview out." He turned the dial and the screen faded to fuzz....
"Man, this is a feather in the Admiral's cap, that's for sure," Sharkey said as Crane turned off the monitor. "Was that true about the fish being worth Seaview, or was Captain Baylor just joking?"
"Probably worth more than Seaview," Crane said. "And there may not be a price they can put on it at all, that's how important it is."
"Wow," Sharkey said in awe. "I guess Captain Baylor really is the Admiral's lucky charm."
It was getting close to and Crane was still not satisfied. He'd spent hours checking and rechecking the over-ride circuits again and again. Something just didn't add up. Perhaps Baylor was right after all. Maybe Crane was being paranoid. It was all over the boat that Tim had a minor in psychology from college and Seaview's Captain was showing classic symptoms. Crane snorted at that. The nerve of the guy...But Lee was troubled. He'd long prided himself on being a good judge of character, but now....Lee straightened up and decided to hit the hay.
As he neared the cross corridor in officer's country, he overheard laughter coming from the Admiral's open cabin. It was impossible for him not to hear the men inside....
"I sure wish I could command her Harry."
"I wish you could to Tim."
Crane quickly and quietly entered his own cabin, his mind an unaccustomed and jumbled mix of anger, confusion, bitterness, and he had to admit it, jealousy. He wasn't used to feeling so lost.
The sub lurched suddenly, and Crane was tossed violently to the deck from his bunk. Even before Crane could get up or pick up the mike, the voice of Captain Baylor was calmly and professionally demanding responses from Damage Control and taking all appropriate actions for Seaview to right herself, which she did in moments.
Crane was up quickly enough and in the control room in a few minutes.
"We have to stop meeting like this Lee, or the men will begin to talk," Baylor joked as Crane was in his pajamas.
"What happened?" Lee asked. "I told you there was something wrong with the over-ride circuits."
"There's nothing wrong with the over-ride circuits. Even you should know they're not designed cut in when a spring valve pops off the ballast controls. That's all that happened."
"Everything under control now?"
"Yes old man, everything's just fine now. The new valve's doing just fine and you can go back to bed."
Lee was torn between a desire to rebuke Baylor's conceit right there and then, or to acknowledge the fact that he'd done everything right in the situation." Well done Captain Baylor," he decided on.
"Thank you Captain Crane."
Even though he was more than ready to return to bed, Lee decided to check on the lab specimens. He was not surprised to find Nelson already there.
"Is Goliath okay?" Lee asked.
"Yes, thank God. And all the rest of them too, Nelson looked up at Crane, "I heard Tim at the conn. You still think he doesn't have adequate command skills?"
"Apparently I've been mistaken."
"There's a fishing boat in the area that radioed me a while ago to say they've been catching more than a few fish that look just like Goliath. They've even cooked a few, because they thought they looked so ugly no buyer would want them. Tim'll bring one back in the flying sub tomorrow so I can compare the DNA. If it isn't a relative, then I guess they can eat them to their heart's content. Sharkey will pilot, but Tim'll sit co-pilot. Arrange for him to be versed in the rudiments. Emergency procedures, etc."
"I see," Crane said without enthusiasm.
"Oh, I forgot to tell you, with all the publicity, Ashburton's letting him stay awhile longer and while the Navy won't approve an official extension for him as a line officer, he'll be my personal assistant, with full rank and privileges, unless you have an objection to that."
"No, no objection."
"Good, now, I think I'd better turn in, though I doubt I can sleep. If those fishermen have been eating these things...gad it makes one choke..."
"And so," the TV reporter said on the monitor in the control room,"Golitah may have some relatives. Captain Baylor is investigating...."
"...view, FS1 to
Seaview..."Baylor's voice came over the PA about one second after
"Sharkey?" Crane demanded on the mike.
"Sorry Skipper. I was busy with the fish and..."
"You're supposed to be sitting pilot."
"And I'm supposed to get some flight time in Crane," Baylor said. "Don't be such a fuss budget. We're fine."
"Honest Skipper, "Sharkey said."He's doing fine...anyone could make a mistake on that panel and..."
"What's your ETA?"Crane interrupted, not amused.
"About a half hour," Sharkey said.
"When you're back aboard, Chief, we're going to have a little talk."
"Uh, yes sir....do you want me to take over the rest of the flight?"
"It is rumored," the sound of the broadcast continued, " that Captain Baylor's leave of absence from Ashburton's may become permanent and..."
"Do whatever you want," Crane finally said. "What do I care that either of you could have died or cost us a couple of million dollars worth of equipment if he pushes any more wrong buttons." Crane slammed down the mike. "O'Brian, you have the conn," Crane headed aft.
"You're taking this way out of proportion, Lee," Nelson said, his eye still glued to the Lab's microscope. "And I did authorize him as co-pilot."
"A half hour of Sharkey
demonstrating emergency and control procedures doesn't certify anyone to sit co-pilot. You're letting
your feelings for him cloud your judgment. We could have lost them both and the flying sub..."
"But we didn't," he turned and looked at Crane. "The only mistake seems to be your perception of the situation. He's a good man, Lee. You've even agreed that he's competent and..."
"Did he tell you that he was behind the wheel when his parents were killed?"
Nelson looked up, surprised. "No. I'll have to admit he didn't."
"The breathalyzer used on the scene went mysteriously missing and instead of a charge of DUI he got off scot free. The next week he reported to duty as though nothing happened. No grieving, no tears, nothing. Except a couple more million in the bank in his name from the inheritance."
"You can't believe that he..."
"Oh, it was an accident, I'll grant you that. There's no power on earth that would have compelled him to place himself in danger. He lacked judgment then; and he still lacks it. I agree that he handled one problem with Seaview adequately. That doesn't make him a line officer!"
"Lee, " Nelson said gently, "that's enough.... I'm not going to let him take your job away you know."
"Perhaps you should. After all, he's your 'lucky charm', not mine," Lee left in a huff.
"You've been kind of moody Harry," Baylor said as he checked off yet another unintelligible calculation of Nelson's in the Nose. "Lee?"
Nelson merely nodded.
"I don't like him getting you upset and depressed like this. Crane'll never accept the fact that I'm as capable a sub jockey, even more so, maybe, than him....is there anything I can do?"
"You can apologize to him," Nelson raised an eyebrow hopefully.
"I did nothing wrong Harry."
"How about it, for my sake?"
"Oh very well, but that's the only reason."
Baylor followed protocol this time and knocked. But there was no response. He opened the door and peered in.
"If you're looking for the Skipper," Ski approached, "he's down in engineering with Sharkey."
"Oh, sorry kid...I just can't seem to get it straight. That's some name you're saddled with....My great grandfather's was Balorkuovich or some such thing. It caused so much trouble to the census taker that he grabbed the poor guy's form, scratched it out and it's been Baylor ever since. If you ever want to make your name more manageable, just let me know. I'm a pretty good navigator through the legal tangles..."
"Thanks but I think I'll keep it. Anything else sir?"
"No, that's all Kowalski, did I get it right? Thanks."
Baylor was about to continue down the passage himself when on a whim he went ahead and entered Crane's cabin. Sparsely decorated like all of the cabins aboard, he sat down in the chair and spun around, eyes closed and a smile on his face.
"Find anything Crane?' Baylor asked as he leaned against Engineering's hatch a few minutes later.
"No. Thanks Chief, that's it for now," Crane dismissed him, "well Baylor, to what do I owe this pleasure?"
"Ouch. Actually I'm here under orders. I'm supposed to apologize to you."
"I can't believe you'd do anything so against your nature. And I can't believe the Admiral would make you."
"Oh, he didn't, not technically. More of a request from one friend to another."
"Yes, seems he likes you old man. And he's sitting in the Nose all alone with his out of joint because you didn't like the way I handled the flying sub situation. He thought it would be a good idea if I said 'I'm sorry', that I should say that I should have at least made sure Sharkey was sitting in the pilot's chair when I took the controls."
"Not on your life. But for his sake, 'I'm sorry'. There, mission accomplished," Baylor saluted sarcastically and left.
Descending the spiral steps about a half hour later, Crane could read the way Nelson was staring at the observation view ports tapping his fingers on the lounge chair's arms and biting his lip that he was indeed just as moody as Baylor had said. Perhaps even more so.
"I don't need you to order a man to apologize," Lee finally said gently, "I'm not a child you know."
"Well, you've certainly been behaving like one all this time. What else could I do?" Nelson asked, almost penitent.
"You can believe me when I tell you that Baylor is still not what he appears to be."
"Well Captain," he said calmly but weary, "neither are you. I'm tired Lee, tired of you complaining and acting like a spoilt brat. And for your information I had Angie send me the transcripts of the Orion incident. And those courts martial procedures as well. There's absolutely nothing to substantiate your claims of inappropriate behavior on his part in any of them at all. What's happened to you Lee?" he asked sorrowfully, "What's happened to the Lee Crane I used to know and respect?"
"I guess," Lee said quietly as he sat next to Nelson, "I simply decided to stand up for myself and the truth. You're so mesmerized with Baylor you refuse to see...."
"What else can I call it?" Lee said gently and looked at his hands, the whole topic was distasteful. "Ever since he's been aboard, you've given him more leeway than you'd give any other man aboard. You brushed off his mistakes and his 'holier than thou' attitude as if they don't mean anything. And he still can't even get Ski's name straight..."
"Just because he has a different manner than you Lee, doesn't mean he can't be a member of my staff, ashore or aboard Seaview. It also doesn't mean he can't be my friend."
"I know that...I wish I could like him, Admiral, for your sake, but...I just can't."
"So what do you want me to do?" Nelson asked quietly.
"I want you to let me go."
"I've already made inquiries to the Navy. They have the first Delta class sub about to be commissioned...."
"Now wait a minute..."
"It'll only be a temporary assignment, trial runs, enough time for you to decide if you want Baylor to sign on as Seaview's permanent captain."
"What on earth makes you think I've ever wanted that?" Nelson asked, shocked.
"He's told you and everyone who'll listen that he does."
"Yes, but that was all hypothetical and..."
"You said you wished so
too. Please don't try to deny it. I was passing by when I heard you both.
Admiral, please. Let me do this. I'll go crazy if I don't get off the boat.
You'll have to decide between us, because if it were my choice, I'd shove
Baylor out a torpedo tube this minute and have done with it. Look, Admiral, I
was going to tell you about this tomorrow, but," he checked his watch,
"as of two minutes ago, I'm back in the Navy. I have to report to
"There's nothing more to
say. God knows I don't want to leave Seaview. But as you've said, there's
nothing to substantiate my feelings personally or professionally. And with Chip
and O'Brian aboard, well, I know she's in their good hands at least. I've asked
Sharkey to have the flying sub ready for my departure at 0700. There are a few
details I have to attend to in
"So just like that, no 'what do you think about it', you've decided to put me to some kind of test? Even if I agreed to this, which I don't, how could I possibly choose between you both?"
"You'll just have to. Call it a sabbatical on my part..."
"More like desertion," Nelson was trying his best to remain calm but it was increasingly difficult. "Lee, I understand you think you're doing the right thing but you're not. You are acting like a jealous child and..."
"The decision's made. I'll contact you after the trial runs for word on my official termination from Seaview or Baylor's return to Ashburtons. Good night," Lee ascended the steps, leaving a flabbergasted Nelson staring after him.
By the time the morning watch was in place, it was all over the boat that something had happened. Something bad. Even now the XO was with Crane in his cabin and Sharkey was stowing the Captain's duffle bag aboard the flying sub.
"Lee, are you sure about this?" Chip asked.
"I already told you that it's only temporary and it's for the best..." Lee removed the chain holding his fail-safe key.
"For you, you mean. Lee, I can't believe that you can be so selfish. Do you have any idea how this is going to affect the rest of us?"
"I've volunteered for other special assignments before Chip."
"Yeah, and they were stupid too. But at least I can understand your 'James Bond Syndrome' kicking in at times, but this? Lee...the Navy has a lot of sub Skippers who'd give their eye teeth to take the Delta on a trial run, let alone any sub. And I bet they have a heck of a lot more seniority waiting in line for a boat than you."
"Perhaps? Perhaps you just happened to conn the Board into pushing you into first place ..."
"Look, it doesn't matter anymore how the Selection Board works or doesn't work. I have my orders."
"And in the meantime, I get stuck with command until they approve Baylor for interim Skipper? Even Nelson has to wait for it. If he even wants him."
"There's no doubt about it Chip. You agree Baylor has the skills don't you?"
"Yes, within reason, of course I do, but..."
"Damn it Lee...Don't leave me in the lurch.. Just because you're jealous. I'm a friend of the Admiral's too you know. I know what it's like to be in second place. First with Captain Phillips, then you...trust me, it'll pass."
"This has nothing to do with a friendship contest."
"The flying sub's checked out and ready," Sharkey's voice came over the PA.
"Be right there Chief," Lee said and clicked the mike off and handed Chip the key.
"And what," Chip said, "if I refuse to take the key?"
"Then the Admiral will have no choice but to put Baylor in charge without waiting for official approval and Seaview could loose her Reserve status."
"You're going to look pretty damn stupid should he turn out to be just as good a Skipper as you Lee, maybe even better."
"I know that. But at least I won't have to put up with him while the Admiral makes up his mind."
"Lee," Chip accepted the key, "you're making the biggest mistake of your life, but.... good luck anyway, in spite of everything."
Many men not on duty were standing around in the Nose, including Baylor. Crane looked at his watch again. It was 0730.
"Where's the Admiral?" Ski whispered to Riley at their Control Room stations. His wasn't the only voice to murmur the question.
"Well, I'd say Harry's already made up his mind," Baylor said within all ears. "Thanks for the job Crane."
"Permission to depart Seaview, Captain Morton?" Crane finally asked realizing Nelson wouldn't show.
"Given," Chip said, a lump in his throat.
Within minutes, the flying sub was launched and aloft.
Morton knocked on Nelson's door a few hours later, but there was no response. Entering the cabin, he saw Nelson sound asleep at his desk, still dressed for bed. Under one hand was a crinkled up document....
STATUS: LEAVE OF ABSENCE PENDING TERMINATION
NAME: CRANE, LEE B.
RANK: CMDR. USN RESERVE
SIGNATURE OF APPLICANT: Lee Crane
"Admiral?" Chip practically shouted.
"Thank god, I thought you were dead or something."
"What time is it? It must be nearing my sack time."
"Sack time? It's 1138.."
"1138?" Nelson was surprised he'd slept through the night at his desk. Then the other thing hit him.... Lee..."
"Oh shit, why didn't you wake me?" Nelson demanded, furious.
"We thought you didn't want to say goodbye and ...I mean...you and Lee were kind of at odds with each other and..."
"Just because Lee's a complete idiot at times doesn't mean I can't see him off... damn, he's going to think I'm a heartless bastard.Get me Angie, and if Lee's not at the office, get his apartment."
"Right away sir."
"I'm sorry sir,"
"I doubt it would do any good. Looks like he's already left. Have ComSubLant contact me when Crane arrives there."
"When I think of how he went behind your back in this..." Baylor said.
"Shut up! This is none of your business."
"It's all about me, Harry. Crane wouldn't have left if he didn't feel threatened by me. Look, as soon as Crane's stint in the Navy is over, I'll just go back to Ashburtons and the whole matter will be resolved. I never meant for this to happen and..."
"Running away will never solve anything."
"He ran away. And giving you an ultimatum like that... I'd never put you in the middle of a personality squabble like that."
"What would you do, Captain Baylor?" Chip asked, innocently enough.
"Enough," Nelson said, "what's done is done."
It was an awkward two days before Morton was able to relinquish command to Baylor, and Sharkey was glad it was only one day before Seaview would be home. He needed time, as did the crew to acclimate themselves to Crane's desertion.
"It just ain't like the Skipper to act like that," Ski complained. "I'm telling you there's something else going on."
"Like what, Sherlock?" Sharkey asked." I never woulda' believed it myself, but Mr..I mean, Captain Baylor showed me some stuff on them Deltas...no wonder the Skipper...I mean Captai..I mean Commander Crane decided to test one out...especially since it's a sure bet the Admiral wants Baylor to captain Seaview."
"That isn't decided yet...."
"Yeah? Then how come the Captain's cabin is getting redecorated?"
"A paint job and couple of new pillows? That's hardly..."
"Look, kid. The writing's on the wall. We all liked Crane, I really respected him. But now...Leaving us and the Admiral like that.No warning, no..."
"I still think there's more to it."
"Forever the optimist. Mark my words Ski; you've seen the last of Crane."
"You almost sound glad about it. I know the skip lashed into you about the flying sub but where's your loyalty?"
"Where was his?"
"So," the TV reporter said, "while the fishermen's catch looked like Goliath, and they may be related, they're not the identical species?"
"That's right," Captain Baylor said from Nelson's outer office at NIMR. "So I guess they can eat them to their hearts' content. From what I understand they're not too bad as fish go. I'm a meat and potatoes man myself."
"Have the marine archeologists confirmed Goliath as the extinct species Nelson suspects it to be?"
"They're still working on it. You know Harry. He wants irrefutable proof."
"We noticed Captain Baylor that your picture is on the wall behind you. Have you left Wall street?"
"Oh, that...well...let's just say nothing's been decided with any certainty yet. Ashburton's been extremely accommodating in the situation, and there are a few issues to settle, but I'd say there's a possibility that I'll be golfing with Harry on a more regular basis. When we're in port that is."
"Are you a good golfer?"
"I'd say I'm about as good as can be expected, which means hardly. Harry's the pro, not me."
"There seems to be a very relaxed atmosphere between you. Does that apply to Seaview as well?"
"Well, it's a bit more formal aboard. Has to be, for discipline."
"Thank you Captain...this is Emily Smith, for WFBV news. Good Night."
"But Harry," Baylor answered the phone a few minutes later, the TV crew having left. Thankfully. "Yes, I see. I'm sorry. I misunderstood. Yes, right away. I'll put it up again. Do you want me to take mine down? Oh, okay. Both of them stay up...what? I can't hear you...yes, damn cell phone...yes...Harry? Harry?" he ended the call. "Angie? In here," he called.
Within seconds Nelson's administrative assistant had appeared.
"Put Crane's portrait back up, next to mine....seems as though I've made a major goof."
"Anything else Captain Baylor?"
"Well, for one thing, you can call me Tim."
"Thank you but for now, I'm afraid it's still Captain."
"The joy of command," he kidded.
"Lee was a lot like you in some ways...Any idea where he is? ComSubLant said they had no idea he'd even been assigned to them."
"Well, they'd have to
say that wouldn't they, if it was a ruse...and the Navy's not immune to
clerical errors. It won't be long before they find what happened or fess up to
it maybe being one of Crane's little 'assignments'. Hope they didn't send him
to someplace awful, like the
"They better not have. I'd hate to be on the end of the Admiral's temper."
"Oh he's not that bad...."
"Well, don't complain to
me if your ears hurt after he's' ranted loud enough to be heard in
"You like Crane don't you? Any, well, romantic attachment?"
"We're just friends."
Angie simply blushed.
"Look, I'll be gone again for a few days to take care of some personal business. Care to have dinner with me when I get back on Tuesday?"
"I'll admit it's a bit glitzy, but the food's good."
"Okay," Angie grinned, "it's a date."
"Again," the electrically scrambled voice ordered.
"Do as you're told."
The heavily armed guard plodded through the ancient and massive stone fortress. It stank of sea water and filth. Deeper and deeper into the bedrock he trod. Finally he unlocked the massive and rusty iron door.
There was no answer.
"I said get up," he kicked what was left of the bloodstained shirt out from under the man huddled against it on the cold stone floor. There were no other pieces of clothing on or near him. The guard pulled the man up by his hair, "The boss wants to see to you again."
The man vomited.
"Don't you try any tricks on us. We know them all."
"I'm so sorry Harry, "Baylor said, greeting Nelson's return from the meeting with the scientists, "I know how much you wanted Goliath to be this...well... relic."
"Yes, I am too. But at least we know the truth. There's only one problem now."
"Do you still want him in a fishbowl or should I sell him to the highest bidder? Angie tells me there've been a few inquiries..."
"He's yours to do with as you like."
"Thanks, I think I know of a buyer."
"Any word on Lee?"
"Damn! This has gone on
long enough. Get me the SecNav. I'm tired of being left out."
"Right away Harry. Oh, I put Crane's picture back up. I'm sorry I'd..."
"You said what?" Nelson asked on the videophone with the SecNav. The door was open to the outer office where Baylor was going over some forms Kowalski had brought in.
"Harriman, I said Crane's not in the Navy anymore," he rubbed his red stoned collegiate ring," I was concerned too, when your office contacted me, that ComSubLant could make such a stupid mistake as to loose him. But it wasn't. See for yourself. His resignation. Signed, sealed, and delivered. There never was an application to drive the Delta. It's a simple case of mis-filing. Do you know there are 14 Commanders with the same name? No excuse, but it seems your golden boy beat it."
"There's got to be a mistake. Lee'd never do that. Not without telling someone. Telling me...."
"You? From what I understand, he left you without so much as a 'by your leave', didn't he? I hate to tell you this Harriman, I know you liked him, but he's destroyed whatever career he might have had in the Navy after leaving you like this. It's not the way things are done. And even if he changes his mind about Seaview, he's still out. Permanently."
"Wait. Don't do anything official yet. Let me get to the bottom of this."
"I'm sorry. It's a done deal."
"Can you swear that he's not on some kind of top secret assignment?"
"I can swear on my mother's life that he's on no assignment that I'm aware of, and in the Navy I'm god. Harriman," the man paused, "I know we gave Baylor a temporary approval for captaincy of Seaview, but you do realize that he's not exactly qualified. He just doesn't have the experience we require..."
"I know, but..."
"Even you have to agree that Seaview requires a more experienced man than Baylor, friend or not. Now, I'll send you a list of eligible men. Proven sub commanders. Narrow it down to five of them, and we'll take care of the details as to who gets the job."
"I think I'm entitled to make that decision."
"As far as selecting staff officers for NIMR, I have no argument. But not for Seaview's captain. And especially not after this mess Crane's put her in. As long as she's a missile carrier, her Skipper has to be approved by us. You can agree to the new man we pick or not, but it'll have to be one of them from our list. Or you can simply make it easy on everyone and pick Morton. "
"Chip won't take it, even if I ask him."
"Are you so sure? Besides, he already has the feel of Seaview and her crew. There's not a submariner alive that doesn't respect his judgment. We'd approve him in an instant."
"I'll speak to him but..."
"Good. I'm sorry about Baylor, but he just won't do on a permanent basis. And he has another job to go back to. Out."
"I guess I'd better pack," Baylor said from doorway.
"It's okay Harry...he's right. What do I know, really?"
"A lot. And if it weren't for the fact that Seaview's Reserve status...I'm sorry. You'll finish out the month of course and..."
"Excuse me Admiral," Ski approached. "I need to speak with you."
"See you at lunch Tim?"
"I'm sorry, remember, you gave me another long weekend. I can cancel, but I really need to get some personal matters settled. They're taking longer than I'd thought they would."
"Nonsense. See you when you get back."
The group of guards placed the man's hands in the old rusty manacle yet again, raising his arms agonizingly upward to connect with a ceiling lock, leaving him dangling slightly above the floor.
"It's for your own good Crane," the synthzized voice said from behind his white vinyl mask, "Nothing like the feel of a little barbed wire on bare skin to remind you again that any resistance on your part is useless."
"Don't worry about it, Mr. Baylor, "Chip said on the phone. It was a bad connection but it had been nice of Tim to call about so trivial a detail. He could hear the sound of jet engines revving in the background.
"Thanks. Oh, Chip, first chance I get, I'll replace that book you loaned me. I just can't remember where I put it. It could be in flight someplace."
"Oh, you don't have to do that. I've read it so much, it was falling apart."
"Yes," Tim said, "It's just one of those classics you just can't put down."
"What do you want us to do with him now?" One of the guards asked the man in the mask as he wiped some of Crane's blood from the makeshift Cat 'o nine tails with tender care. "How about the rack? You like that. It's a museum piece."
Crane was barely able to breathe as he hung limply. Unable to argue, unable to complain, unable to do anything except suffer the depravity and pain these men were inflicting upon him.
"Anything you like," the man in the mask said, buttoning his shirt, "Just make sure you don't kill him. The sale won't be final if he's dead on delivery."
"A war game?" Sharkey asked, "With Captain Baylor in charge?"
"That's right," Ski said as he smoothed the blanket on his bunk, "what's the matter Chief, don't think he's up to it?"
"Of course he is. It's just that..."
"It's just that when push comes to shove you'd rather have Mr. Morton in command, like all the rest of us. Or the Skipper."
"Will you stop calling Crane the Skipper? He's not the Skipper no more. And he's never gonna be again."
"There's only one Skipper of Seaview and his name's Lee Crane. I'll call Baylor captain, but he'll never be the 'Skipper' to me."
"Is there a problem here, men?" Baylor asked from the doorway. "I'm sorry, I couldn't help overhearing."
Both Ski and Sharkey stood in embarrassment.
"Look, guys," Baylor said," I know it's taking a little adjustment to get used to me, but keep in mind that I was approved by the Navy until they select your new Captain. And Chief, Ski's under no obligation to call me Skipper. That's just an affectation anyway. I'm fine with 'Captain.' Well, I'm sure you're looking forward to these games as much as I am. Carry on. We'll be getting underway in the afternoon."
"Aye sir," Sharkey said smartly as Baylor left. "You and your big mouth," he said to Ski a moment later.
"Yeah, well you're the one with the cheek to say one thing one day and another the next. I'm telling you, we're gonna' regret having him aboard."
"Be careful Ski, I may just take you up on that."
"Again?" one of the guards asked, surprised at the interruption." Just when things were getting interesting."
"I thought you said it wasn't as much fun when he's unconscious."
The beeping was persistent.
"You go see what the boss wants. I'm busy."
Baylor reluctantly finished highlighting a passage and put the book he'd been reading in his cabin down. It was time for him to show the crew what he was made of....but first he'd better rinse his one contact lens. It had been getting a lot of use lately.
Crane awoke to the sound of waves crashing on rocks and his body shivering. For a few moments he was confused as to where he was, but soon, the cold stone floor and walls reminded him of his recent torments. With some difficulty he rose without passing out this time. He could only stand if he leaned on the stone walls. He was even more wobbly and nauseous than before. He felt fresh trails of blood running down his legs over the crusted blood and abrasions already in place over much of his body. He had no idea how much time had passed this time.
There was only a slit in the high wall for ventilation and light, too high to reach and too narrow to squeeze through if he could. There was a piss pot in one corner and the heavy iron door was all too secure to free. If it was a nightmare he wanted it to end. But he knew it was all too real.
The question was why? Who'd abducted him from the jogging trail? It all seemed so long ago. Who was doing this to him, and why? There had been no questions that he'd been asked that he could remember, so it might not be a foreign power. How had they abducted him, anyway; he didn't remember anything except that he'd been trying to enjoy an early morning run after returning to Santa Barbara, to try to forget about the decision he'd made the night before, to give Nelson what he wanted. With Lee out of the Navy, Nelson was free from any obligation to him.
He was very thirsty and was tempted to lick the damp stone walls, but he rebelled against it for now. There was something oddly familiar about all of this, but he couldn't figure out what. No doubt these bastards would return to torment him again; they'd enjoyed it so much. What possible weapon could he use against them? Whoever they were, whatever country or organization they were working for, it was excruciatingly well organized.
"So you think the SecNav lied?" Baylor asked Nelson in the nose, shocked.
"It's something Ski caught. I've been waiting for confirmation, this is it," Nelson handed him a printout that had just come over the wire.
"Don't you see, how could he swear on his mother's life, if she's been dead for 14 years?"
"It's just an expression..."
"Perhaps. Or perhaps he was trying to tell me something if he suspected the place was bugged or if we are. The Navy's disavowed Lee's special assignments before."
"Harry, Harry, Harry, you're groping at straws. You're just trying to think there's been a terrible mistake, that he didn't quit you or the Navy like that. You have to accept the fact that he did. I'm sorry but Crane's becoming an obsession with you....you can be frank with me... Lee was more than just a friend, wasn't he?"
"What do you mean?"
"Surely I don't have to spell it out."
"Spell it out?What are you talking about?" he asked, confused.
"Well, you know...guys who like other guys?"
"How...how dare you! How can you even make such a foul insinuation like that?" Nelson raged.
"I'm sorry...truly, Harry, but all the signs..."
"What signs? Tim, if this is an example of your judgment, perhaps the Navy is correct in their decision not to accept you for permanent command."
"Only my friends call me Harry; and I'm sorely tempted to forget you're one. I'm disgusted with you," he made a decsion;"You're relieved of command until further notice."
"Admiral, Go, now. Or I'll have the master at arms escort you to the brig!"
"Look at the way you're acting, is it any wonder I misread you?"
"Get out! Get out of my sight!"
"May I come in?" Chip asked from Baylor's doorway.
"Help yourself, you're the Captain."
Morton sat down on the bunk. "Acting Captain...Tim, how on earth could you think that there was anything like that between them? Lee's family, that's all."
"Because all I've been hearing on this bucket, is Crane this, Crane that, even from Harry....I guess I just assumed..."
"Well, you sure assumed wrong. Look, the games are nearly over. You've been doing pretty darn well for a rookie. Even he sees that. Why not apologize? I'll go to bat for you."
"I'm not sure what good it'll do, but I would like to finish my stint as a working member of the crew instead of a passenger."
Lee had taken to licking the condensation on the stone walls after all and in disgust even some of the fluid from the overflowing piss pot. His very survival depended on it. There had been no food at all, not even a mouse. His wounds ached and stung bitterly. For a moment he wondered if it would be better just to curl up and die, alone and forgotten in this forsaken prison. Almost immediately he repented of the thought. He'd fight this. Tooth and nail, and to the death if need be. At least he'd die like a man.
"I still think you showed total lack of personal judgment, Tim," Nelson said from his cabin, "However, you've shown more than adequate tactical abilities in these games. You may resume command."
"Thank you Harr..."
Nelson's eyebrow rose up.
"Admiral, "Baylor corrected himself and waited, before leaving the cabin, hoping for Nelson to offer the old familiarity again, but it didn't come.
Crane awoke this time to voices over him. He tried not to stir in the hopes of learning something and maybe taking them on by surprise. He was close to the door this time, his face to the wall, so there was a chance, however slight.
"Pew, skin's kinda' blotchy,what's left of it. I hope the boss knows what he's doing."
"What are you going to do with your share of the gold?"
"I don't know, but I
sure as hell am not gonna spend any of it the
"Hurry up, the
transport's here, "another guard entered and interrupted, "they're
starting to ask questions about so many armed guards for an empty old prison.
Have to ship out some of the boss's gourmet stuff in crates just to keep em '
happy that we're a storehouse or something. Need any help?"
"Nah, we're just getting to him."
"Well, don't make a
mistake this time and send him to the wrong buyer. That last cargo..."
"That was an accident. How was I to know what it said on the label? I can't read, and neither can you..."
Crane used the minor squabble to his advantage and half rolled half lunged out the door, slamming it shut and turning the ancient key. That effort alone was exhausting. He could barely hear their shouts through the thick walls and door. Now all he had to do was find out how to get out of this place, and just where he was. But first he had to find out what they'd meant about all hell breaking loose.
"Well, Harriman, "the SecNav said over the monitor for all to hear, "The games are officially over and the fox was never snared. Well done to Captain Baylor. Where is he anyway?"
"Aft, checking on the circuits he said. I don't suppose you'd like to reconsider your estimation of him for Seaview's future?"
"Sorry, but one successful war game still doesn't make him an ideal candidate."
"Oh, I got your message about my mother. The mother who died was my stepmother. My real mother is enjoying the Cann film festival. Does that answer any lingering questions about Crane?"
"Yes, I'm afraid it does."
"Stop by Port Maxwell on your way home. Some Navy supplies got sent there by mistake. Out."
"See all the trouble you caused?" Sharkey chided Ski over supper. "Next time get your facts straight. If there is a next time."
"It was an honest mistake," Ski said.
"It was a stupid mistake and you'll be lucky not to be given every kind of disgusting chore aboard this boat by the Admiral himself."
"Well I don't see him complaining."
"That's 'cause he's got a bunch of stuff on his mind, like which of those Captains on the list to choose."
"Okay okay, give it a rest will you?"
"Look, kid. I know you keep hoping for the Skipper to come back, but it just ain't gonna' happen."
"You call Crane 'Skipper' too."
"Knock it off and eat your stew!"
The fortress seemed to be carved out of the rocky island itself. It was a maze of abandoned corridors and dead ends. He must have been the only prisoner and his absence had been discovered if the alarms going off meant anything. Finally, Crane slid unnoticed into an office of some kind. It was rather bare, but boasted the latest in computer equipment. He thankfully noticed the water cooler and satisfied his thirst, but it made his stomach churn violently. He had to vomit, and when he did, he noticed the remnants of his shredded shirt in a corner. He put it on; it offered little warmth or coverage, but it was better than nothing. Nearby were some of the antique instruments of torture that had been used on him. Then he saw the fish bowl on the floor. It was occupied. By Goliath.
The fish would have to wait. Quickly he scanned the computer screen. It was tuned to a military map of the world. Capitals and large cities of the west were marked. Something in the sea called 'the courier' was blinking as the mouse passed over it. There was no mistaking the modified image of a submarine, a missile carrier above suspicion. Seaview.
Try as he might, whatever method of communication was being used to link to Seaview on this computer, it was beyond Lee's understanding. Even the phone was one of those new finger scan user kind, so it was out of the question too. He didn't want to set off any more alarms. Hearing voices, he darted into an empty storeroom to the side...
"Look, we can't wait for a missing package; we've got a schedule to keep."
"The boss'll make it worth your while."
"How much longer?"
A beeper sounded.
"Look, you go on down to the dock and wait. I have to take this call."
"Sure..."the man's footsteps faded before Lee could hear another voice on the speaker phone. It wasn't synthesized. A very familiar voice.
"Mr. Morton sir?" Sharkey knocked on the open door. "Got a minute?"
"What is it Chief?"
"Uh, well, about that book of yours? The Count of Monte Cristo? Well, I guess Captain Baylor must've forgotten to tell you he found it, cause it was right there on his desk when I went in to check on the light bulb he'd said was busted....I wouldn't have said nothing but I know how much you were worried about it, being an antique and all and Captain Baylor not having the time to tell you and..."
"Okay Chief, thanks," Chip nodded dismissal. Though relieved the book was safe, he was surprised by Baylor's not even mentioning it. Probably an oversight....
It was his only chance. There were just too many guards and guns about. The only way off this place unseen was as cargo. Half naked or not, he thanked God that he'd heard the 'boss's' itinerary on the speaker phone, and slipped quietly down to the dock. In what he hoped would be understood by Nelson, and not these idiots, he scrawled 'Harriman Jones' C/O SSRN Seaview, Port Maxwell, from 'Lee Glenn' on the label he plastered over the present one. At least there were aeration holes in the moderately sized box for ventilation. The cargo of exotic caviar and salted fish burned what was exposed of his raw naked flesh, but at least he could eat. Soon he felt the crate being lifted and then secured in the jet seaplane. He soon fell into an exhausted sleep.
"We're expecting supplies, not a crate of salted fish!" Sharkey insisted as the harbor master at Port Maxwell demanded he take the stinking thing off his hands.
"Caviar, most of it, according to the manifest. Look, it says Seaview doesn't it?"
"The Admiral's Harriman Nelson, not Harriman Jones. Somebody's goofed."
"What about a Lee Glen, then, that's who's it's from."
"What did you say?" Ski asked.
"I'll sign for it," Ski said. "It's from the Skipper!"
"Caviar doesn't smell this bad," Baylor said. "They must not have prepped it right. I think you should dispose of it before you stink up the whole boat."
"Open it up Ski," Nelson said, "Good job on remembering those undercover pseudonyms...whatever this is, Tim, it's important.
"My god!" Ski and Sharkey said as they'd propped off the lid. "Get the Doc! Quick!"
Doc Jamison, Frank the corpsman, and Ski, who didn't wait to be asked, did their best to clean up Crane on the drip table in sickbay. Lee was unconscious, and caked in blood stained salt. Great welts and torn skin began to appear and vied with the innumerable bruises and abrasions all over his body. Even a substantial growth of beard stubble couldn't hide the emaciated form. IV drips and saline solutions in place, the men sponged and staunched what they could see while Doc took x-rays and examined various other gaping wounds he'd found.
Nelson had been standing the background, glued to the horrible scene, the bile in his own throat making him feel faint.
"Sir?" Sharkey grabbed his arm. "Better come with me and sit down."
"Who would do this to him, Francis? Who, and why?"
"I guess he was on assignment after all."
"Well, it's the last time! Positively the last time. Get me the SecNav. Now."
"What does it take to convince you Nelson? Crane was not, I repeat, not on any kind of assignment. Whatever happened to him, happened to him in a civilian capacity without our knowledge. God's honest truth Harriman."
"You'll forgive me if I have a problem trusting your oaths, you take them so lightly."
"Look, I'm sorry he's been hurt, but it has nothing to do with us. Nothing at all."
"You had better pray it doesn't. Nelson out."
Ski finally sank to the floor just outside sickbay, exhausted, ignoring Crane's blood on his own clothes.
"Kid? Kid?" Sharkey sank next to him. "He's not...he's not..."
"No, he's not dead. It's just that...oh god chief, you don't understand...what they did to him...."Ski lost it and sobbed.
"You're sure?" Nelson asked as Doc reported to him in his cabin. Doc had at least changed his lab coat, but he still smelled of bad seafood and blood.
"I'm certain. Whoever instigated this kind of torture knew exactly what they were doing. He's going to need extensive medical care, and he may not recover at all; even if he does, there could be lifelong emotional problems. Any idea who did this to him and why?"
"The SecNav insists it had nothing to do with ONI."
"I'll believe that when Lee tells me so and not before. Unless he was kidnapped by a psychopath or some such beast."
The supplies had been taken aboard without enthusiasm. Seaview's crew spoke in hushed tones as the current situation was just too terrible to talk about. Rumors that Crane had been assaulted in worse ways than mere torture were flying, but no one would voice them for fear of bringing them to life.
"Then there's no way to track the crate?" Morton asked, exasperated.
"Apparently the transport records were lost," Nelson flung down a pen. "A fire at the warehouse."
"And...The delivery crew met a similar fate. A car accident. Chip...If it wasn't an assignment, Lee was kidnapped and tortured for somebody's brutal and sadistic pleasure."
"I don't have a clue....but we've been ordered to quit stalling and get those supplies home. Any investigation will have to be done on our own time."
"Shit....how's he doing?"
"Will says his vitals have improved but that's about it."
"Well, that's something. At least he's alive."
"But for how long...Chip, they....you've heard the rumors...Doc says there's a distinct possibility after what they did to him. A blood sample's been sent to a qualified lab...to check for Aids."
It was the graveyard shift as Seaview plowed through the depths. Doc was bunking in sickbay itself, while Frank 'babysat' the patient. Despite being hooked up to every conceivable monitoring device, they were taking no chances. The moment Crane even flickered an eyelid they wanted to know about it. To find out who or what did this to him and why he mailed himself to Seaview. Even Nelson had his cabin's monitor tuned to Sickbay, hoping, praying it would be soon.
Frank yawned and decided to visit the head. It felt like a sacrilege to leave the Skipper like this. But nature called, and demanded obedience.
Captain Baylor was standing over Crane when Frank returned.
"Any change?" Baylor asked. "I didn't want to wake Doc."
"No, nothing yet."
"Can I get you anything son? Something from the galley? Will tried the hot chocolate."
"Sure, that'd be fine, thanks sir."
Within a few minutes Baylor returned and handed Frank a mug of hot chocolate with a topping of whipped cream. It looked as good as it tasted, Nelson noticed from his cabin's monitor...
"Ski, you're supposed to be gettin' some sack time," Sharkey passed him by in the corridor.
"I want to check on the Skipper...."
"Look, kid, nobody's complaining about you helping out down there, but don't you think you're in the way now?"
"Doc'll tell me if he thinks I am."
"Okay okay, it's your skin; I suppose I'd better come with you."
Baylor nudged Doc, then Frank, at Lee's bedside. He was satisfied there was no response. "Yes. I'm doing it now," he said to the air and removed a vial from his pocket. He was about to add it to the IV bag but it fell on the deck with a clang. Baylor knelt down to retrieve it. "Damn. I know, I know," he grabbed one of the gurney's metal arms for support as he rose.
"Who are you talking to Baylor?" the dazed Lee asked hoarsely, struggling fruitlessly to grab Baylor, "I know... what you're up to... and you're not going to get... away... with it."
"I don't know what you're talking about. Yes," Baylor said distracted, "right away, "Baylor struck Lee heavily, and quickly locked the patient's restraints in place and tried to open the IV lock.
"What have you done to my men?"
"Your men? I'm the captain
of this boat," he removed his contact lens and wiped it. It flickered in
"Baylor...why are you doing this..."
Baylor replaced the lens. "Yes...I'll do that."
"Tim, listen to me!" Crane yelled. "You've probably been brainwashed, conditioned...whoever, whatever's compelling you, it won't work...fail safe..."
"Fail safe...fail safe..." he said in a monotone as he opened the vial."Fail safe's been deactivated world wide. Yes, right away, "he dragged Lee's head forward, while his elbow pressed hard into his chest making him cry out in agony."I must have made a mistake in your dosage," a twinkle flashed in his contact, "You're as much alive as they are."
"Frank, I told Ski here that.." Sharkey and Ski stopped in their tracks at the doorway.
"Chief!" Crane screamed, "Deactivate all firing systems. Crane Alpha Omega 2!"
"Don't move an inch, either of you," Baylor pulled out a knife and held it to Crane's throat," or I'll kill him, faster than this damn drug can."
"Now, Chief!" Lee screamed.
"DFC, repeat DFC, Crane Alpha Omega 2 !" Sharkey yelled into the mike.
"I warned you!" Baylor barely managed to strike the knife into Crane's throat when a shot rang out and Baylor melted to the floor, holding his arm; the panting Nelson's gun still smoking.
"Firing controls aren't working!" Morton's voice came over the PA.
"Oh god," Sharkey said as Ski rushed to Crane's side and used his bare hands to staunch the wound.
It was gut wrenching to have to give his attention to Baylor instead of Crane but Nelson grabbed the man crumpled on the deck, "Why? Tim, why?"
"My arm! My arm!" Baylor complained. "Somebody help me!"
"L..Lens," Crane tried to speak, blood starting to gurgle up from his throat. "It..it flashed....it's got to be the signal," Lee collapsed.
"How does it work? How does it work?" Nelson shook Baylor.
"How should I know? I only know how much they paid me, not the technology they used."
"Who? Who's using you?"
"How should I know...some conglomerate...they said it would be a simple glitch to get the world to disarm."
"You can't be that stupid."
"It's not stupid to be profitable...Harry, it's just a scare tactic. Nobody's going to get hurt. Why won't you help me? I'm bleeding!"
"Glitch? That glitch could launch live armed missiles! Over ride fail safe? Either you've been brainwashed or you're a complete idiot."
"Are you behind what happened to Lee as well?"
"It was just a bonus I was going to get for good measure. It was only supposed to be a practical joke. They weren't supposed to hurt him."
"And you didn't bother to tell anyone? Me?"
"Owww," he grabbed his eye. "It's on fire. Sharkey, help me get this thing out."
"Well, somebody'd better come up with something," the SecNav said in the teleconference with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "Our allies indicate they're unable to shut their systems down either...hell, we don't even know if a launch order's been given from that thing. They could all be on a countdown. And none of the circuit over-ride systems are working either. Seems to be connected."
"The lens looks like a self contained computer," Nelson said, "in addition to high energy frequencies, it seems to have an impulse flash system to the optic nerve, and thence, the brain. It looks like it's gone into some kind of melt-down."
"Baylor doesn't know anything?"
"If he does, he's not saying. But I think he's telling the truth when he says he doesn't know it work."
"Full alert?" Ski asked.
"Yeah," Sharkey said, "they can't get the firing controls to shut down. Anywhere. And nobody knows if the clock's ticking."
"What I want to know is why? Why would Captain Baylor do something like that?"
"That's what the Admiral's asking himself. Good thing he saw everything happening in sick bay on the monitor... "
"But surely you know where this island was the conglomerate contacted you from?" Nelson persisted as Doc bandaged Baylor's arm.
"I didn't pay attention
to the small stuff."
"How could you use me like this?"
"It had nothing to do with you personally, just profit. What's wrong about it if the world disarms because of a glitchy firing system? I didn't ask any questions."
"Nobody's that stupid. And Crane?"
"It wasn't planned for the cruise. It was just convenient to go ahead and grab him when he jumped ship like that, Harry. You have to believe me that I didn't know they were putting suggestions into my brain from the contact lens. I'm not a sadist you know. I'm just a millionaire."
"I don't care if you have billions, you're the poorest excuse for a man on earth, brainwashed or not."
Frank finally joined the crew for chow.
"You okay?" Sharkey asked.
"I'm fine, just a bit tired. Glad Ski paid attention to that pharmaceutical course and was able to figure out what was in that vial and give us an antidote or we'd still be asleep. You know, if he'd wanted to, Baylor could have killed us. Doc thinks he just wanted to get us out of the way. Must have been what he used on the Admiral to get him to oversleep. He still could have killed the Skipper with it if he'd managed to pour it into the IV. As for the knife...missed the Skipper's artery by a quarter inch... Doc thinks the rest of the blood was from an abraded tonsil... It's gonna' be a long road back for him, but," Frank began to chuckle, "After he came to, for a couple of minutes anyway, the Skipper started to make sure Seaview was okay and then he started complaining about being stuck in sickbay. Man, it felt soooo good, just to listen to him. Even wondered about the Admiral's little fish being left on that damn island."
"Say that again?"
"Lee said Goliath was there?" Nelson asked Sharkey. "Find out who bought it. This could be the clue we've been looking for..."
"The auctioneers said they said they couldn't reveal his identity. Some privacy thing."
"But the location they sent the fish to was described as a stone fortress, carved out of an island?"
"That's what they said. They couldn't reveal the address."
"It could be
"Shit. They'll deny everything."
"They will, but Bomaz won't want a freeze on his Swiss bank account...get me Ashburtons, we need some big guns..."
"I apologize for any misunderstanding, "Bomaz said, "The contact lens was a prototype that was stolen some time ago. It held a computer relay insert. It was part of new design for a computer game. I can assure you, that all, what is it the computer experts told me, ah, yes, all the slave computer circuits from the program have been released. You should have no further problems with your firing systems. As for this impulse brain signal from it or the conglomerate you mention in association with your man, I have no more information than you."
"Thank you Mr. Bomaz, for your cooperation," the president said and clicked off the connection, remaining tuned to Seaview.
"You know damn well," Nelson insisted, "it was no computer game! And there is a conglomerate. This smacks of the People's Republic. They were directing Baylor through the subliminal flashes directed straight to his optic nerve. We've already deciphered some of the messages it sent, but the melt down's destroying the lens pretty quickly. They probably also over-rode any objection he may have felt to the directions; we're still tracking the high energy signal it must have used to link up with all of our weapons systems...."
"Yes, our scientists think it's a highly advanced technology we've only heard about so far. The less said the better. We don't want a panic as to what almost happened."
"And what do I tell Lee Crane?"
"Tell him it was good for us that he was in the wrong place at the right time...he wasn't on assignment Admiral. From the briefing your doctor sent me, he was more of a toy of some sort for some sick voyeurs and sadists, than a political prisoner, but if he was drugged and information gleaned, as a precaution I've already changed all codes and sequencing systems. Crane will, of course, have to go through as much an extensive evaluation as we'll have to put Baylor through."
Lee was asleep when Nelson sat down next to him and waved Will off. At least Doc had removed the life scan monitors that had annoyed Lee so much. He was about to light up but remembered where he was. He must have grunted because Lee's eyes fluttered and he woke up.
"Frank lights up in the adjoining head," Lee grinned.
"I'll have to remember that...Lee..."he hesitated.
"I know...Will told me...any idea when the test will be in?"
"Doc's in the radio shack now, waiting..."
"I...I'm sorry. I acted like a spoilt brat...I was jealous...I..."
"On the contrary. You warned me that Tim was not the man he appeared to be..."
"He had to have been brainwashed...."
"Possibly. He said he was only aware that he was being paid a lot of money to get the world to disarm. They told him your kidnapping was a practical joke.... I'm not sure I believe him."
"It'll be rough on him, if he was brainwashed....Admiral, I've seen the Navy's list of sub captains, they're all good men. Just don't tell Chip he's on it...."
"Well, "Doc entered the room, "you're clean. No Aids. And there's no trace of any mind altering or truth serum in your system. "
"Thank God," Nelson said.
Lee just closed his eyes in gratitude.
Nelson took out an official looking form," Now I won't have to make Angie take your portrait down from the office wall after all," he said lightly.
"What are you talking about?"
"Your resignation from the Navy wasn't complete; you missed embossing the NIMR seal on it. A necessary part, according to the agreement between the Navy and NIMR. It's null and void."
"I can't believe you'd make that kind of mistake, Lee. Much to my pleasure. Soooo, do you want to tell the SecNav what to go do with his copy of your resignation, or should I?"
"I've never even heard of having to use that stamp or your little agreement, if there even is one."
"There is now...if the Navy wants to keep our services, so, how about it? Will you stay?"
"You want me back? After what I did? To make you choose between which friend to keep?"
"You said the decision was to decide which captain to keep, not which friend, or did I misunderstand?"
"At first I thought it was to choose Seaview's Captain," Lee said slowly, "but now, I think it was, well, a little of both, I guess."
"Lee, why did you even think you had to wonder about it?"
"Guess I was stupid...Well, then, Chip's just going to have to get used to the idea that he won't be in command."
"Which will suit him just fine," Chip joined the men. "Welcome home, Skipper."
"It'll be hard, the
debrief and psych' evaluations, believe me, I've been there," Lee said
from his wheelchair in the
"That goes for me too,
Tim," Nelson said, "about the luck. The shrinks that'll be treating
"Well, Harry, I'm off to see the wizards..."he saw the limo pull up, waved, and departed.
It was late afternoon, and the sunshine pooled on the floor near Crane's window. Nelson was deeply involved in reading a book, when Crane woke and yawned.
"Hmmm. Yes, what's that?"
"The Count of Monte Cristo."
"Hmm. Think I've heard of it. Some old classic."
"Oh, you have, more than you know," he handed Lee the worn copy, several passages highlighted.
"My god! That's my island, the whip..."
"I don't know how, or if, but I think that when Tim read this, the optic reader did too...something to give the conglomerate more ideas on what to do to you, though I don't think Dumas would have gone as far as they did...."
"Why, Admiral? Why me?"
"Revenge perhaps. You weren't exactly successful when you were brainwashed by the People's Republic. Hurting you, humiliating you, probably gave them a sense that they still had some power over you...and me."
"God forgive them, 'cause I sure don't want to."
"Excuse me,"Sharkey entered the room, "but the special delivery came," he pulled out the specimen container." Mr. Bomaz's had flown the coop. The investigation team found the island deserted. Not a soul, except Goliath."
"What are you going to do with him?" Crane asked after a moment.
"Well, financially he's worthless, but, he did play a major role in unraveling the mystery of my missing Captain. I'd say he deserves a long and happy life...perhaps in the visitor's center aquarium."
"Uh, Admiral?" Sharkey asked. "I'm not sure this is Goliath."
"What makes you say that?"
"Well, the last time I checked, I didn't think boy fish were supposed to have babies."
"He's having babies. Right now. Look. Those are little goliaths' swimming around aren't they?"
"Well, I'll...the subspecies! How could I be so stupid! This is the subspecies, not the prime...It's supposed to be extinct too...from fossilized remains it was determined to be a hermaphrodite...two sexed....live birth...and.....I've got to get back in touch with the archeologists..." Nelson raced out of the room.
"Well," Lee said, leaning back on the pillow. "Here we go again."
"Well I'm glad that's over," Baylor said to the man sitting next to him, as the limo neared its first destination. "At least they think they've fixed the problem. It's always best to let the mouse think he's outfoxed the cat. You did a good job."
"I'm still upset about you loosing Crane, boss, " Bomaz said. "I know how much you wanted that bonus."
"Well, he's not the only fish in the sea. The Premier has other buyers for his 'special collections'," Baylor said as he rummaged through a small box. "I'm glad you made tapes, they'll remind me of all the fun, "he indicated the contents of the box lying scattered with a white vinyl mask. He pulled out a dental cap and placed it over his eye tooth. "Testing. Repeat, testing..."
"About time," a voice said as its holographic image appeared, rubbing his red collegiate ring, "The Premier was getting worried you might have been found out. We can't afford to loose you as one of our prime agents. If we're not careful Intel will get on to me as well. I had to put on quite an act to make you appear every bit a mediocre Captain just to keep Nelson's curiosity at bay about my own loyalties. And Ashburton's getting suspicious about all your leaves of absence....Good job on disabling all of the circuit over-rides we installed in the fleet. And I told you that lens had capabilities undreamed of by most high tech companies. One stream burst and the whole damn system was busted," he laughed. "Now, remember," he continued, "you have to be in the Naval hospital for appearances sake before you're moved to one of our secure facilities when you have your 'mental breakdown' ......"
Goliath was back in the news. Test after test after test finally revealed that the fish was indeed an 'extinct' species. It was with relief that Nelson was finally able to board Seaview from the flying sub one night after a few months.
"Tough day at the office?"
"Lee!" Nelson grabbed his arms, "what are you doing here?"
"Ta dah!" he took out an official form from his pocket.
"Well, it's about time you got a clean bill of health."
"Any word on Baylor? The SecNav won't say anything."
"Apparently he's been moved to an undisclosed location, even from me, until further notice, .... I guess he just couldn't get over the trauma of the brainwashing and his own greed. Oh, to change the subject, how did Chip do on his real estate exam?"
"Aced it! But why he even wants to moonlight is beyond me. Unless it's a very elaborate hint that you're not paying him enough."
"That's not true," Chip joined them, "I just enjoy it, helping people find homes suited to them. I'm pretty good at it too, if I say so myself. And there great commissions too. Property is really more important than money in the bank and these days..."
"Chip, I'm sorry," Lee interrupted, distracted, "Are the air scrubbers up to snuff or am I coming down with something?"
"Everything seems fine to me," Chip said as he examined some indicator lights.
"Sorry, I've only been back a couple of days. Guess I still need my sea legs."
"Anyway," Nelson continued....
"Control," the PA blared," we've got a red light on aft starboard scrubbers..."
"Take care of it Chip, you were saying Admiral?"
"Well, Goliath's so popular that they're making a feature cartoon on him."
"Just so they pay him royalties."
"Oh, he'll have a life time supply of fish food. I've been appointed his official guardian," Nelson joked.
"Scrubbers back on line," the PA said.
"Kowalski?" Nelson called over, "Would you explain it to Mr. Conway?"
"Because he's the Skipper!" Ski grinned.
"And Captain Crane won't forget it, will he, Captain Crane?"
"Understood," Lee eyes almost twinkled, "well, Chip tells me Seaview's completed the charting mission you sent her out on three weeks ago, so where to now?"
"Oh, out there, anywhere."
"Very well, how about that Mermaid grotto?"
"Uh, no, not there. Too much trouble keeping their boyfriends from attacking us."
"Gulf waters are nice this time of year," Chip said.
"How about those those islands that got Captain Bligh in trouble?" Riley asked, adding to the camaraderie. "I'm sorry Skipper, but it was all over the boat that you kinda' mentioned the guy and..."
"Well, Lee?" Nelson asked.
breadfruit," Lee said, "all ahead standard to
"You know, I have an ancestor that served with Bligh," Morton mused. "Said he was a great seaman and..."
Crane raised an eyebrow.
"Permission to open my mouth wider and insert my other foot?" Chip added.
"Denied. Make it all ahead full, Mr. Morton," the Captain ordered, glad to be back, glad to be alive, and glad not to be lost anymore.
The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas
Cat 'O Nine Tails: a many tailed whip with multi-barbed heads
The Rack: a wooden brace with pulleys to stretch a man beyond physical endurance