ByR. L. Keller
She sat quietly in a back corner of the dark cantina, nursing her drink and keeping an eye on both the front and back doors – for different reasons. Her contact was late, and if this mission had gone to hell in a hand basket she needed to be sure she could leave rapidly. She wasn’t even sure at this point if her cover had been blown. After the mess at the estate she just knew she needed to make herself scarce for awhile. She was surprised when an out had been arranged, even if it was possibly only temporary until things calmed down. Why she had been ordered out at all was a mystery, but then, Admiral Talbot had a habit of giving her partial answers.
She glanced at her watch again, impatiently. She had no idea why Talbot wouldn’t let her just hide out for a few days until they had more answers. But no, he has to tell me to come here and meet this jerk – Damn! She’d dressed for all contingencies: for cover in the cantina a dark peasant blouse with the elastic neckline pulled far enough down both arms to expose more of her than she was really comfortable with; the long black skirt she wore covered the dark stretch pants she’d find useful for the quick getaway she was hoping to have. Because of the outfit she’d had to get rough with a couple of the locals who had their own ideas about how she should spend the evening, but nothing she couldn’t handle.
She didn’t know the contact, just a general description – tall and slender, Mediterranean complexion, short dark hair, signet ring on the left hand. Unfortunately, like everything else about this mission, reliable intel had been in short supply. Sometimes she wondered why she didn’t just get out of the business – tell Talbot where to go. Hearing occasional gunfire, unfortunately not unusual around here, she decided to give the guy another 15 minutes then she was out of here. She’d just have to find her own place to hide out until she heard otherwise.
The allotted time was almost up when the front door opened. The man that entered, by general description, could have been the one she was waiting for. Unfortunately he was wearing a knit hat that pretty much covered his hair, and his left hand was stuck in his jacket pocket – terrific! Why was nothing ever easy? She watched as he glanced around casually then went to the bar. After picking up his ordered drink he moved to the far end of the bar where he, also, could put his back to a wall and keep an eye on both doors. She noticed he’d sat gingerly, not putting his whole weight on the stool, just resting one hip on it. Deciding she’d have to risk it she downed the last of her drink, picked up her small shoulder bag, and started maneuvering her way toward him.
* * * *
Chip is going to have my head Lee muttered to himself. Quick in, contact the agent, quick out. That’s what ONI had promised. Piece of cake. Sure! Why was it nothing ever went the way it was supposed to? Chip had started complaining the instant he’d found out about the mission, standing in Lee’s cabin watching him change clothes.
"Lee, we still have half a dozen tests to finish before we pick up the Admiral. We don’t have time for you to go off chasing stray ONI agents."
"It will be OK," Lee had countered quietly. "The place is getting too hot for him to stay right now, and we’re the closest rescue. Relax. Shouldn’t take more than a few hours."
Chip had just rolled his eyes. "Relax, the man says. In and out in a few hours." He stared hard at Lee. "And where have I heard that one before?"
Lee just smiled. "I know, Chip. But I don’t have a choice."
"Yes, you do. Just tell them no." As Lee started to reply Chip cut him off. "Damn it, Lee, when does anything go the way it’s supposed to on one of these missions? And I can’t even remember the last time you came back uninjured in some way. You have more than enough to do on board Seaview without all the cloak-and-dagger stuff. Can’t you just tell them to leave you alone?"
Lee hadn’t bothered with an answer, knowing Chip wasn’t really expecting one, and Chip had left for the Control Room. They both knew, if ONI asked, Lee went. That’s the way it had always been, and would probably always be. Admiral Nelson understood. Or, at least, didn’t interfere with Lee’s decisions to go. Lee knew he should contact the Admiral before leaving the boat but there just wasn’t enough time. He was already running close to the deadline and Nelson, caught in meetings, would be hard to reach. Lee quickly finished changing into dark civilian clothes and headed back for the Control Room, where Chip got in a couple more potshots.
"Just know this, Lee Crane. If you don’t come back in one piece you won’t have to worry about what Jamie or the Admiral will do to you – I’ll kill you myself!"
Lee laughed. "Aye, aye, Sir," and headed for the Flying Sub.
"And another thing. I’m sending Kowalski with you." As Lee glanced sharply at Chip, the XO’s expression hardened further. "I need FS1 to finish the tests and retrieve the Admiral when he’s ready to come back," and his stare challenged Lee to argue. Deciding that might not be too wise at the moment, Lee just turned and left. He wouldn’t take Ski ashore with him, but having him standing by to leave as soon as Lee and the other agent got back might not be a bad idea.
Now, nursing his badly watered-down drink, Lee gave Chip a silent toast. Hit it on the head again, buddy, and Lee grimaced. He’d gotten ashore just fine. There was a fairly secluded cove about a mile out from the village where he was to meet the agent and Kowalski had let him off, then backed out to deeper water to await Lee’s signal to return. Lee had made it almost into town before running into trouble. As it turned out the patrol he met hadn’t even been shooting at him, but at someone they eventually caught. Lee had been momentarily concerned that this man might be the agent he’d been sent in to get. But after listening to the brief interrogation the leader of the patrol gave the man before dragging him away there was little doubt he was just what he appeared to be, a lowly farmer in the wrong place at the wrong time. Lee felt sorry for the guy as he watched the patrol drag him off, and wished there was something he could do for him. Unfortunately, all he could do was empathize with him. Lee, too, had been in the wrong spot during some of the shooting and caught a stray bullet high in his left shoulder. It didn’t appear to be too bad, just annoying, and the material of his jacket was such that the hole was barely noticeable. Lee just stuck his hand in his pocket to keep movement to a minimum. He’d waited until the patrol moved on with their prisoner, then quickly made his way to the cantina where he was supposed to make the meet. He didn’t even have a description of the guy he was meeting, just been told when and where to show up, and that the other agent had a description of him and would identify himself with the code name ‘Mouse’.
Having to avoid the patrol made Lee run later than he already was, and now he was hoping the other agent hadn’t gotten scared off and left. Lee’s shoulder was beginning to really hurt and he could feel blood running down his arm. No one had given him more than a cursory glance when he came in, for which Lee was grateful. He figured he’d wait as long as he could without attracting too much attention. If the guy still hadn’t made contact all Lee could do was get back to Seaview and make his report.
During Lee’s seemingly casual surveillance of the room he’d noticed a woman in a long black slinky skirt sitting far back in one corner. Assuming she was the local version of your friendly neighborhood hooker he hadn’t given her another glance. Unfortunately she seemed to have noticed him, and as Lee sat nervously on the edge of his bar stool started to wind her way in his direction. Damn he muttered into his drink. Maybe if he just ignored her she’d leave him alone.
* * * *
There was another short burst of gunfire fairly close to the cantina as she made her way across the room. This is going to be short and sweet she thought to herself. She was going to have to leave whether this was her contact or not. She plastered a huge smile on her face and sidled up to the newcomer. When he’d seen her coming the look of disgust she’d seen cross his face almost put her off. Where was this guy from, Outer Space? She knew she was looking good; had gone out of her way to look extra good. But she continued and draped herself all over him, feeling him stiffen.
"Hey, handsome," she started softly and seductively, letting her hands move across his upper body. She did it offhandedly but in just a few seconds had learned he was carrying a sidearm in a shoulder harness, there was a small metal box of some sort in an inside jacket pocket, his hair was indeed short and dark, and his shoulder hurt. As his right hand came up to grab her left one, stopping her from running it down his chest, he tried to get a word in edgewise. But she just kept up her continuous soft litany and ran her right hand down his left arm, all the way into his pocket. What she found momentarily stopped her – he was wearing a signet ring but his hand was wet with a sticky substance. By this time practically sitting on his lap, she put her lips an inch from his ear and whispered softly, "If you’re not looking for Mouse, we have a big problem."
* * * *
Lee had never in his life been so quickly and efficiently body-searched. Unable to stop the woman’s approach with a glare he’d been caught momentarily off guard by her brazenness. As he finally grabbed one of her roving hands she dropped her bombshell. A woman? Nice of ONI to leave out that little bit of information. Staring hard he muttered, "only while the cat’s away," and felt some of the tension leave her body although she stayed where she was, with her right hand still in his pocket.
"Good. We need to get out of here. Finish your drink. It’s lousy booze but you look like you need it. Then plaster a smile on your face as we take the back door out."
She kept herself glued to Lee’s side and her hand in his pocket while they walked companionably out the back door. In keeping with the subterfuge Lee watched her give a wink to the bartender. Once into the darkness of the alley, instead of moving toward the street, she pulled away and took a few steps deeper into the alley. "Wait two seconds," she muttered, almost instantly lost in the blackness of the moonless night.
"What are you doing?" Lee hissed. He’d heard the gunfire, too, and wanted nothing more to do with the wandering patrols. She didn’t answer him, but returned in moments having replaced the blouse with a dark knit top and minus the skirt. She was also carrying a medium-sized backpack. Out of habit Lee reached for it.
"Nothing doing," she muttered, pushing his arm away. As Lee grimaced at the sharp movement she continued. "And you’d better tell me what the plan is, just in case you fall flat on your face."
"Don’t care about your partner, just save yourself," Lee groused.
"Look, you…" but Lee cut her off.
"Sorry, the shoulder hurts like hell. There’s a cove about a mile south of town. Once there and we know we’re in the clear, I hit the button on this," and patted his inside jacket pocket. "Small transponder."
"And Scotty beams us up?"
Lee smiled. "Something like that. But his name’s Kowalski."
"You have one?" At Lee’s puzzled look she relented. "A name."
"Oh. Crane. Lee Crane."
"Michelle Ortiz. Micki," then got a disgusted look on her face as Lee put it together and mouthed ‘Micki Mouse’. "Look, I got stuck with the mouse part because I’m a computer technician, Ok? Just drop it."
"Oh god, another one. You and Chip will get along just fine."
"Chip? As in microchip?"
Lee snorted softly. "No, but I’ll have to remember that one. Now, could we get out of here?"
Lee knew he was in trouble when they still had over a quarter mile yet to go to the cove. Blood continued to run down his arm and he could now feel it on his chest as well. Not his back, which surprised him. The bullet must not have gone all the way through. He didn’t realize he’d muttered that out loud until Micki glanced at him.
"You need to stop?"
"No. We can’t afford the time. There’s first aid supplies on FS1," and watched her start to ask, then just shrug. Lee was beginning to build respect for the agent. She’d been totally professional throughout their journey through the village and out toward the cove. She obviously knew her way around, kept them both under as much cover as possible, and Lee had let her take the lead. Now she gave him another speculative look and headed out. However, Lee noticed she’d slowed the pace a bit and was secretly grateful, glad it wasn’t much further.
They hadn’t run into any more patrols but as they reached the cove she motioned him to wait, dropped her pack, and moved away into the darkness. Lee neither saw nor heard anything until she came up behind him a few minutes later, speaking his name softly before re-appearing.
"All clear." Lee reached for the small transponder and depressed the switch. "Now what?" she asked.
"We wait. He didn’t go far."
"In what?" But this time Lee just smiled.
In just a few minutes the water started to bubble about 15 yards out and FS1 surfaced. Ski had most of the lights off inside, and all the outside running lights as well. He took a quick glance out the front windows to make sure all seemed clear, then turned FS1 around and backed up until her aft hatch touched shore.
When the small craft appeared Lee heard Ms. Ortiz curse softly in Spanish, then mutter, "I was right the first time – you are from Outer Space." He waited until Ski had come to a stop and moved as rapidly across the clearing as he could. He felt rather than heard Ortiz behind him. As he reached FS1 and leaned heavily against the hull the hatch opened. Ski took one look and Lee saw his eyes widen, but cut off any remark the rating might have made.
"Stow it, sailor. Just get us out of here." Lee knew the man wasn’t happy about it from the worried expression on his face but he gave a quick "Aye, Sir" and returned to the pilot’s chair. Lee motioned Ortiz inside, entered himself, and dogged the hatch. Grabbing the first aid kit he motioned Ortiz to the back chair. "Buckle yourself in," he ordered and was almost surprised when she did. He had just enough energy left to make it to the co-pilot’s chair before FS1 moved out and dove. He could see Kowalski giving him sideways glances and smiled encouragingly as they were once again underwater and Ski turned on a few more interior lights. "Nothing Jamie can’t handle in his sleep," Lee said, pulling several compresses out from the other bandages and slipping them inside his shirt over the wound.
"I’ll get you back as fast as possible," Kowalski said, starting to make the necessary preparations to launch.
"Belay that, Ski! Stay down until we’re out of their territorial waters. Then you can take her up."
"That’s an order, sailor," Lee said harshly. He hated doing it but just didn’t want an argument right now, no matter how worried he knew Kowalski was. Lee did however silently acknowledge he owed Chip big time for insisting that Ski come along. Lee would have been hard pressed to pilot the small craft right now.
"Aye, Sir," Kowalski answered. He still wasn’t happy but knew better than to argue with the Skipper.
Micki had watched and listed to all this quietly. She wasn’t sure what she’d ended up in the middle of, but since everything seemed to be working out was willing to go along for the ride as long as it was a short one. She hated small confined spaces. That all changed abruptly as the young man piloting whatever the heck it was she was in announced they’d reached 12 miles out, and all of a sudden the vehicle pointed up, reached the surface, and launched itself into the air. She was unable to stop the string of oaths in Spanish that came out all too loudly, and just glared back at the smiles she received from both men. As the ‘whatever it was’ leveled off, she listened silently as the younger man used a throat mike to make a call.
"FS1 to Seaview. FS1 to Seaview. Packages onboard, ETA 90 minutes."
There was a moment’s hesitation, then "Seaview, FS1. Acknowledged."
With a quick glance at Crane the pilot continued. "FS1. One of the packages is damaged."
There was a longer pause, then a new voice was heard, hard and terse. "Theirs or ours," and Micki saw both men cringe, especially Crane.
"Ours, Sir," Kowalski answered, and Micki thought she heard a curse over the speaker.
"Acknowledged. Seaview out," and there was no mistaking the anger in those three words. She watched Kowalski send Crane a glance.
"Mr. Morton is not happy."
"Understatement of the year," Crane agreed softly. "You’d better step on it, Ski. He needs to vent his wrath on me, not anybody unfortunate enough to get in his way before we get back."
"Aye, Sir," and all was silent again.
Micki thought, after they became airborne, the worst had to be over. She was wrong! She nearly messed her pants when the little yellow machine started losing altitude, then suddenly plunged toward the water. The only thing that kept her from crying out was the total nonchalance of the other two. She’d been concerned the last half hour or so as Crane seemed to be having some trouble holding up his head, but he seemed alert enough now. They’d barely entered the water when she heard Kowalski again make contact with Seaview, whatever that was, then gasped as ahead, through the front window, she saw a submarine. But it wasn’t like any one she’d ever seen before. "Whoa. Nobody said anything about a submarine," she blurted out before she could stop it.
"Then we’re even," Crane answered calmly. "Nobody told me I was retrieving a woman." Oh, well, that explained a couple of things she thought. "You going to be Ok?"
"I’ll manage." She muttered.
* * * *
Chip could barely contain himself. Since Kowalski hadn’t been specific he had no idea how badly Lee was injured. Jamie, warned that he was about to have his favorite patient in Sick Bay again, tried to calm Chip down. Doc reasoned that if it had been really serious the rating would have said so, and perhaps requested Seaview to start in his direction so they could rendezvous that much faster. Chip acknowledged Doc’s logic, but still paced the Control Room almost non-stop until FS1 submerged just off Seaview’s nose. He called Jamie forward, then stood by the hatch until the small craft was safely back aboard. The docking clamps had barely locked when he undogged the hatch and dropped down the ladder, hardly bothering to touch the steps. With barely a glance at the passenger he went straight to Lee, who was clumsily unbuckling his harness. "Damage report," he demanded gruffly, but reached down to help Lee with the straps.
"Caught a stray bullet in the shoulder," Lee answered with a sigh, letting Chip get the last strap. "Wasn’t even my fault…"
"It never is," Chip started but Doc, having followed him down, cut him off.
"Mr. Morton, why don’t you let me see to the Skipper? It appears you have a guest to take care of."
Micki had reacted to the word ‘Skipper’. From the previous conversations she’d assumed this Mr. Morton must be Crane’s boss. This trip was getting weirder and weirder. Crane’s voice broke into her thoughts.
"Michelle Ortiz, Chip Morton. Make nice, Chip, she’s one of you."
"Meaning?" Chip challenged.
"Computer nerd," and Micki heard amusement in the response.
"That’s enough," Doc interrupted. By this time Kowalski had FS1 shut down, and got out of his chair. "Ski, help me with the Captain. Skipper, let’s get your jacket and shirt off so I can see what you’ve managed to do to yourself this time." Lee helped what little he could, but now that he was safely back aboard Seaview was rapidly running out of steam.
"Like I tried to tell Chip, it’s not that bad," he said tiredly. "Lost some blood…" but didn’t finish as the two removed his jacket and Doc cut him off.
"Yes, Skipper, I guess you did," and Doc’s voice was stern enough that Chip turned back, but said nothing as Doc unbuttoned Lee’s blood-soaked shirt and removed the makeshift bandage. "No exit wound," he confirmed, reaching for a fresh gauze pad. "Bleeding’s mostly stopped, thankfully. Kowalski, hold this in place," and indicated the clean dressing. "I’m going to need a stretcher down here."
"No," Lee said as forcefully as he could. "I’ll walk to Sick Bay."
Doc didn’t even bat an eye. "Skipper, my way or I let the XO have you here and now," and smiled as Lee lowered his eyes and Chip struggled not to laugh, reaching for the mic.
* * * *
Micki’s senses were going crazy. She’d had a momentary panic attack when she realized she was going to be stuck on a sub for who knew how long. Old memories of missions gone bad started rearing their ugly heads and reminded her of how much she hated small confined spaces. Once on board she’d relaxed slightly as what she’d seen so far was anything but what she’d expected. Corridors were wide and well lit, and the cabin she’d been shown to was private, spacious, and had it’s own bathroom. She’d cleaned up and changed from tighter, comfortable but more revealing clothes into looser slacks and blouse, and soft leather moccasins. The crewman who showed her to the cabin had returned with a tray of food, and a message that as soon as the doctor was free he wanted to check her, too. She’d tried to say she was fine but the seaman had just shrugged and said it was by order of the XO, and he’d send someone to escort her to Sick Bay when Doc was ready. Until then she was asked to stay in her cabin. Micki didn’t think she’d want to leave without an escort anyway – from what little she’d seen so far she’d probably get lost. She still wasn’t exactly sure what she’d ended up in the middle of. Somehow the ‘feel’ was off for this to be a true Navy ship. Something in the back of her mind was trying to work its way forward about the name ‘Seaview’, but she still hadn’t been able to grasp it when a knock interrupted her thoughts. She was surprised when it turned out to be the XO himself.
"Just got off the horn with ONI to let them know Lee got you out safely. I gather they want you to stay aboard and available?"
"So I’ve been told. Did they say how long?"
"They weren’t about to tell me anything. Maybe Lee, when he reports tomorrow. Now, if you’ll come with me, Ms. Ortiz, Doc wants to see you."
"Why? I’m fine."
Chip smiled. "Doc’s just gun-shy. He doesn’t trust anyone anymore who says ‘I’m fine’. Lee’s fault, I’m afraid."
"Speaking of whom?" Micki instinctively liked the soft-spoken XO, his earlier tirade at Crane notwithstanding. She was starting to realize the two must be close friends and Morton had apparently just been worried.
"Lee’s fine," and Chip chuckled bashfully at the unintended wordplay. "Doc got the bullet out easily. Lee’s a little weak from blood loss and Doc’s keeping him sedated so he’ll rest." At Micki’s puzzled look he chuckled again. "Lee hates Sick Bay. As soon as he’s awake he’ll be yelling to get out."
They’d been walking as they talked, and the door to Sick Bay appeared before Micki. Chip opened it and motioned her inside, entering after her. Micki took in the brightly lit room, exam table in the center and bunks lining one side, equipment and cabinets lining the other. She couldn’t see the far end of the room as it was hidden behind a screen. This end held a small desk, and a door standing open to a small office. She saw Crane laying in one of the lower bunks, hooked up to an IV. She was going to walk over to him until she saw the Doctor come out of what she assumed was his office.
"Thank you, Chip. I’ll take over now."
"Thought I’d sit with Lee awhile."
"Out! And get some rest. I’m going to need you bright eyed and bushy tailed tomorrow to help me keep him on light duty," and he gestured toward Crane. "With the Admiral gone you’re the only one he even bothers to act like he listens to."
"Fat chance in this case, Jamie, no matter how much we both yell at him. Don’t suppose you could just keep him sedated until Admiral Nelson gets back?"
Got it and Micki nodded slightly to herself. Nelson – as in Nelson Institute for Marine Research. But with ONI connections?
"Tempting, Chip, but medically unsound. The Skipper would kill us both when he discovered what we’d done," and both men chuckled.
"You’ll wake me if there’s any change," Chip insisted, unwilling to leave.
"Don’t I always? Now hit the rack!"
Chip gave Doc one last speculative look. "You’re getting downright pushy all of a sudden, Jamie."
"My territory, my rules." Both men smiled, Chip left, and Doc turned his attention to Micki. "Ms. Ortiz, don’t think we’ve been formally introduced. I’m Dr. Will Jamison. Before the Skipper went ‘lights out’ he said you’d been undercover almost a month. I know you told both he and the XO you were fine but the Admiral will want a full report. Do you mind?" and he smiled and gestured toward the far end of the room. As with Chip, Micki instinctively liked the Doctor and walked where indicated. Behind the screen was a small area with another exam table in the center and a lot of equipment and supplies efficiently stored around the walls. "My surgical area," Doc explained. "We’ll have a little more privacy back here. It’s not often we have a woman onboard. Just thought you’d be a bit more comfortable here than the main room."
Doc’s exam was quick, gentle, and thorough. As he finished he stepped back and smiled.
"Well?" Micki smiled back, sitting up.
"You’ll live, although that’s an interesting assortment of bruises on your arms. Looks like someone grabbed you pretty hard."
"No big deal. I’m fine."
Doc smiled at the old line. Maybe it has something to do with being an ONI agent, he thought to himself, then was distracted as there were sounds of someone entering Sick Bay, and Doc called out, "John?"
"Right here, Doc."
"Check the Skipper’s vitals, would you? His chart’s on my desk. I’ll be right there." He turned back to Micki with a small smile. "They really don’t appear to be that bad, and seem to be healing just fine. However, you seem a little on edge. You wouldn’t happen to be claustrophobic by any chance?"
Micki stared hard at the man. "Why would you say that?" she challenged.
Doc was still smiling. "The Skipper. He mentioned you reacted badly to both FS1 and Seaview."
"I did not react badly," she argued. "I just…" and didn’t finish the thought.
"Yes?" coaxed Doc.
"Oh, never mind," and Micki sighed heavily.
Doc chuckled. "When was the last time you had a decent night’s sleep?"
"Been awhile," she admitted. "Things have been a bit…tense…for the last week or so."
"Doc?" John called, and Doc motioned Micki to follow him back into the main room.
"Problems?" Doc walked to where the corpsman was standing next to his Captain’s bunk.
"The Skipper’s becoming more and more restless. Seems like he’s fighting the sedation."
"So what else is new?" Doc responded with slightly exasperated amusement. He checked the figures on the chart John handed him, smiled as he made a notation of his own, and adjusted the drip on the IV. He rested a hand lightly on Lee’s shoulder. "Go back to sleep, Skipper. Everything’s fine," he said softly, then turned back to Micki as John took the chart back toward Doc’s office. "That goes for you, too. You’re quite safe here. You can afford to get some rest." He walked over to one of the cabinets, pulled out a bottle of pills and tapped a couple into a small envelope. "Seriously, you need to get some sleep. Here," and held out the envelope. "They’re not sleeping pills, but they will help you get past the fact that Seaview can be a bit – confining."
"I am not claustrophobic…"
A softly slurred voice cut her off. "Take them. Doesn’t pay to argue with Jamie," and Lee turned his head sideways toward them. "You wouldn’t like how he retaliates."
"Skipper," Doc grumbled but couldn’t help smiling softly. "Go to sleep, now, or I’ll give her a first-hand demonstration – on you."
"Aye, Sir," and Lee’s eyes closed again.
Doc turned back to Micki, shaking his head. "If I ever figure out how he does that…" and he smiled. "Please…" and he again held out the small envelope. "If what Chip and the Skipper were talking about earlier is right, and you have to go back undercover, the best thing you can do right now is get as much rest as possible. These will help."
Micki acknowledged the logic of the advice and finally took the envelope. "If I remember correctly, out the door to the left and go straight and I’ll get back to my cabin."
"Very good. But my cabin’s in that direction, too. I’ll walk with you. Past my bedtime as well."
There were two crewmen working on some wiring under a panel not far from the Sick Bay door. Micki saw one of them give Doc a questioning look and Doc nodded back. Micki gave him a speculative glance as they walked on, and Doc smiled. "Seaview’s version of a telegraph. I tell one man the Skipper’s fine, 20 minutes later it’s all over the boat."
"Oh," and nothing more was said until they reached the door to Micki’s cabin.
"My cabin’s the first one around that corner," Doc pointed to the corridor they’d just passed, "if you need anything."
"Thanks. I’ll try not to bother you," and they parted. Finally admitting she was tired, Micki lay down on the bunk but was instantly restless and uneasy, and got back up. She paced for a bit, heaved a huge sigh, and thought about taking one of the small white pills. Instead, she spent 20 minutes using meditation exercises she’d been taught, then laid back down. They didn’t always work, but between them and her already exhausted state she was asleep within minutes.
* * * *
Lee’s senses awoke one at a time. Smell was first, reminding him of where he was. Feeling came next. His shoulder ached but just a dull soreness, not the sharp pains of before. Then hearing – Sick Bay was quiet. Must still be early. Finally he tried opening his eyes and was pleasantly surprised at how little effort it took. He continued to lay quietly for a few more minutes, letting little things sink in: the IV was gone; his left forearm was in a sling, held across his chest by straps around his neck and behind his back; a glance at the clock made the time 0620.
Cautious movement confirmed that he seemed to be in relatively one piece and, pushing the blankets aside, he swung his legs over the edge of the bunk as he sat up.
"Why do I bother?" Jamie’s voice stopped any further movement, and Lee looked over to see the Doctor standing in his office doorway.
"You’re just as conscientious about your job as I am about mine?"
Doc chuckled. "I’ll buy that. Do you feel up to walking over to the exam table?" The request surprised Lee and he raised an eyebrow. "If you fall flat on your face on the way I have an excuse to keep you here." Lee gave Doc a dirty look but with surprisingly little effort rose and made his way across the room, where Doc met him and had him sit on the table. As Doc finished his brief exam a corpsman entered. "Frank, would you take the Skipper back to his cabin and help him get dressed?"
"Doc," Lee objected, but Jamie cut him off.
"By rights I shouldn’t even let you out of Sick Bay. Let Frank help. You won’t be so tired by the time you get cleaned up and changed that all you’ll have the energy for is going back to bed. Although, now that I think about it…"
"Frank, we’re out of here," and Lee slid off the table. Grinning, Frank grabbed a robe and draped it around Lee, and the two headed for his cabin. Lee was comfortable around the corpsman, a fact well known by Doc, and was probably responsible for Frank’s timely appearance. Whatever the reason, in a fairly short period of time Lee had showered, shaved, been helped into a uniform, and the sling securely re-fastened. Just as the last Velcro fastener was snugged into place Lee’s cabin door burst open. Frank took one look at the expression on the XO’s face and made a very rapid exit.
Lee just smiled. "Estimated time we complete the final tests?" he asked, standing up and walking toward the door. He could see Chip mentally deciding his next move, heave a huge sigh, and step aside to let Lee pass as he answered.
"Another 18 hours, if everything goes as planned." Before he could continue, Lee had another question as the two headed down the corridor.
"Any idea when the Admiral is due back?"
"Talked to him last night – Hold it!" They’d reached a corner and Lee had automatically headed for the Control Room. "Wardroom’s that way. Breakfast first." Lee’s eyes sparkled but he said nothing and changed directions. He knew he could only push Chip so far and figured he was already stretching the limits. As they headed in Chip’s chosen direction the XO continued. "The Admiral’s got meetings all day today. We’re to send FS1 to pick him up as soon as the last test is completed."
"Still in her cabin."
"Someone’s keeping an eye on her?"
Lee nodded. Anyone new on board was automatically kept an eye on – no matter who they said they were.
By this time they’d reached the Wardroom. As Lee picked up a plate with his one good hand Chip did, too, then started filling both of them. There was a good deal of gentle harassment on both sides as Chip as always piled his high with food, and tried to do the same with Lee’s – with only partial success. He dropped his plate on the table and headed for the coffee urn as Lee sat down, returning with coffee and juice for both, and the two settled into an amiable silence.
* * * *
Micki had slept soundly but awakened totally disoriented. She flew out of bed the instant her eyes opened, then stood there letting memories settle everything back into place. Oh, yeah – submarine. What the hell time is it? and looked for a clock. 6:40? AM or PM? Must be AM, the stupid clock says 0640. She cleaned up and dressed, then realized she’d kill for a cup of coffee. Stepping out into the corridor she assumed she’d run into someone eventually who could point her in the direction of breakfast.
What she found was a crewman working at the end of the corridor on another apparent wiring problem. "I hope we’re not in danger of sinking," she said as she walked up to him.
"Ma’am?" and he stopped what he was doing.
"Never mind. Just point me toward the nearest coffee pot."
The seaman grinned. Looking around, he spotted another crewman behind Micki. "Patterson, Ms. Ortiz needs an escort to the Officers’ Wardroom."
"No problem, Ma’am." Patterson smiled, coming up to Micki. "It can get a little confusing until you find your way around. It’s just down this way," and the seaman walked Micki to her destination. She was surprised to see Crane there with Morton, apparently just finishing breakfast, although she admitted he looked a lot better than the last time she’d seen him. Both men, along with several junior officers scattered around the room, rose when she entered. Giving everyone a wry smile she said, "Chill," waved them all down, and headed for the coffee. Turning back with a mug full she chose a seat by Crane and Morton and took a sip, nearly spitting it out as she gagged. She glared at the two as both chuckled, and Chip handed her the sugar bowl.
"Sorry, I should have warned you. Cookie does tend to make it a bit strong."
"Strong is fine, but what does he make it out of, battery acid?" she muttered, spooning in several helpings of sugar.
"Scuttlebutt has it, drainage from the reactor," Lee snickered. "Want me to have him make a fresh pot?"
Micki just shook her head, taking an experimental sip of the doctored brew. "No, I’ll manage. However, there is something you can do," and noted eyebrows go up on both men. "Just tell me where on this ship it’s safe to go. It’s not only making me nervous to see so many crewmen repairing wiring, but I can’t imagine there isn’t something else they’re supposed to be doing besides watching me." She had the satisfaction of noting sheepish grins on both faces as they glanced at each other. Morton finally answered.
"Done." Grabbing a clean sheet of paper from the bottom of his ever-present clipboard he roughed out a skeleton diagram of Seaview’s forward areas. "Here. Main corridors on the top two levels, cabin locations, Sick Bay, Wardroom, and the way to the Observation Nose."
"And it’s boat, not ship," Crane corrected gently. He drained his coffee mug with a grin, stood up, and headed to refill it. Micki, looking at the map, still noted the XO watching Crane carefully.
"How does one go about making a call? I probably better report in."
"One waits until 0830," Crane answered, turning back and taking a sip from his once-again full mug. "Admiral Talbot will call us. Have your breakfast and come forward to the Nose. We can take the call there." He turned to Chip with an amused expression on his face. "Now, may I go to the Control Room – Sir?" Micki heard the XO say something decidedly impolite not quite totally under his breath, rise, and the two men left. She noticed grins on most of the other faces in the room, quickly covered as they realized she was watching. Strange ship you’ve got here, Captain Crane – ah, boat – ah, whatever and got up to get her breakfast.
* * * *
Lee spent the next hour doing what he was happiest doing – running Seaview. While Admiral Nelson was attending meetings in Washington they’d been gathering data at the site of a recent underwater quake, re-configuring sea bottom charts and gathering water and soil samples. Nelson was very interested in trying to establish the reasons for the quake as to the best of his knowledge there were no fault lines in this general area. FS1 was kept busy, as well as divers from Seaview herself, criss-crossing the grid pattern Nelson had established before he’d been called away. Chip had the testing schedule well in hand, as Lee knew he would, so after Lee walked around the Control Room doing a quick check on all stations, he tucked the current status reports under his arm and retreated to the nose to catch up and finish his coffee.
Joined about 0815 by Ms. Ortiz, he wouldn’t have realized she was there if he hadn’t seen her coming - she made absolutely no sound as she walked down the spiral stairs. Stopped momentarily by the view out the windows, Lee was smiling when she finally turned in his direction. "They sort of take people by surprise the first time," he said quietly.
"That’s one way to put it," she muttered dryly and came the rest of the way to the table he was sitting at. Lee gestured toward the ever-present coffee pot, and smiled again at her shudder.
"Had Cookie tone it down a bit," he commented, and watched as she glowered but poured a cupful. Tasting it tentatively she finally smiled.
"Thanks. Mind you, I like strong coffee, but…" and Lee chuckled.
"Watch the first pot full in the morning. After that it’s not so bad."
"Lee," they were interrupted as Chip walked up. "Admiral Nelson on the horn," and Lee grabbed the mic. He’d noticed the XO go to the radio shack about 5 minutes earlier. Now he knew why.
"Good morning, Admiral," Lee said, a slight hesitation in his voice. He was expecting a chewing out and was somewhat surprised when it was not immediately forthcoming.
"Seems I can’t leave you alone for even a few days and you manage to get into trouble." Lee could hear the humor behind the complaint, and relaxed slightly.
"So it would seem, Sir."
"I suppose there has to be some constants in the world." Lee smiled as Chip just shook his head and walked back to the Control Room. "However, I would greatly appreciate you remembering who you actually work for. I should have been notified before you took off," and the earlier humor in the Admiral’s voice was replaced by annoyance.
"Yes, Sir," Lee acknowledged. "I just wasn’t given a whole lot of time."
"Admiral Talbot and I will be discussing that in the very near future," Nelson promised gruffly. "Chip says you haven’t talked to him yet."
"No, Sir. He’s supposed to call shortly," and Lee heard the Admiral harrumph.
"Well, just try to surprise Jamie and get some rest. Chip has everything under control," and there was no mistaking the warning in Nelson’s voice.
"Yes, Sir," Lee acquiesced and broke the connection, then frowned as he noticed Ms. Ortiz grinning at him. He was about to comment when Sparks called him.
"Skipper, Admiral Talbot for you."
"Thirty seconds, Sparks," Lee called back, "then transfer it up here." Lee waited for Sparks’ acknowledgment, motioned Chip to come forward, and had him close the dividing doors. Almost immediately Admiral Talbot appeared on the forward screen. "Good morning, Admiral," Lee said formally.
"Crane. Heard you’d been hurt." Talbot was not known for wasting words.
"It’s nothing, Sir, just a scratch," and frowned as he heard Chip, standing well behind him, mutter something crossly to himself.
"Micki there?" Talbot continued and she stepped next to Lee, into the Admiral’s view.
"No thanks to the intel I received, Admiral," she grumbled. Lee gave her a disbelieving look but apparently Talbot was used to it.
"Sorry, Micki. Understand it wasn’t pleasant."
"You could say that," she deadpanned.
"It’s become more important than ever we get the information. Intel is still convinced Vargas has it. He thinks his security is airtight and doesn’t worry it’s there."
"Tight enough, but I’d still like to take another crack at it."
"Good. Was hoping you’d say that. According to intel your cover wasn’t broken."
"This is the same intel that said I’d have no problem getting past security, right?" she snorted.
"We’re doing the best we can, it’s not…"
"Your best stinks," she cut him off, and Lee just lowered his head, unable to meet the Admiral’s eyes. There were a lot of times he’d have liked to tell Talbot off, but Navy training was far too strong. Obviously Ms. Ortiz had no such inhibitions. "Tell your wonderful intel to get their thumbs out of their…" she finally seemed to remember where she was, "noses and get it right this time. When do I go?"
"At the moment that’s a problem. Crane, how much longer will Seaview be in the area?"
"Not sure, Sir," Lee finally looked up. "We’re almost done with the samples and tests Admiral Nelson wanted. He’s scheduled to be back aboard sometime tomorrow. His decision from there. When I spoke with him a short while ago he mentioned wanting to talk to you." Lee managed the last with a straight face, and earned a soft snort from Chip.
"Good. When will you be back in commission?" Ms. Ortiz momentarily delayed Lee’s response.
"Whatever you’re thinking, Admiral, forget it. I work alone!"
"Couple days, Sir," Lee finally got in. He heard Chip’s fist hit the table and smiled softly.
"Micki, just cool your heels until we know more. Crane, I assume she’s no problem being aboard."
"Hasn’t been so far, Sir," and his smile broadened as she glared at him.
"I’ll be in touch," and the screen went blank.
Lee was suddenly surrounded by grumbles. "That sanctimonious …" from Ms. Ortiz was drowned out by Chip’s "Thank heaven the Admiral’s due back tomorrow. Maybe he can pound some sense into you." Ignoring the one problem for the moment, he dealt with the most pressing. "Down, Chip. I’m fine." Cutting off what he knew would be a blistering response, particularly since the doors were still closed and Chip didn’t have to worry about any of the crew hearing, he added, "at least, I will be in a few days. Would take that long for ONI to get a new plan together anyway."
"Not going to be a problem, Commander," Ms. Ortiz broke in, "because he’s not going with me anyway," and she stomped off up the spiral stairs. At least Lee figured she would have stomped, except that again she made absolutely no sound walking away.
"I wonder how she does that," he mused, deflecting Chip momentarily as his questioning expression forced Lee to explain.
"Did you see what she was wearing?" Chip said, walking over to open the doors.
"Leather moccasins. But that doesn’t totally explain it."
"Whatever," and Chip very purposely stomped back to the chart table. Discretion being the better part of avoiding any further warfare, Lee stayed in the nose.
* * * *
He was still there just over three hours later when Chip walked up to him. Or rather, there again to be more accurate. While Lee had avoided any more confrontation with the XO by staying out of the Control Room he had, however, wandered down to the Missile Room to talk to the divers about how things were going, then went on to Engineering. He also stopped at the Reactor Control Room for a bit but by then Chief Sharkey’s constant hovering, either ordered by Chip, or perhaps the COB’s naturally over-protective tendencies, was beginning to get on his nerves and he returned to the nose. He was staring out into the depths beyond the windows, didn’t happen to hear Chip approach, and was therefore startled when a hand appeared on his shoulder.
"Oh, sorry Chip," he said as he straightened.
"Looked lost in thought. Hated to disturb you," and Chip smiled.
Lee smiled back. "No problem. What’s up?"
Lee glanced at his watch. "Go ahead. I’m not really hungry." He frowned. "Haven’t done anything to work up an appetite."
"Come on, if for no other reason than Doc will have my head if I don’t make sure you eat." Lee turned an absolutely wicked grin on his friend. "Don’t even think it. Now, Move!" Chip growled, but smiled at Lee. Lee relented and they headed aft.
Ms. Ortiz was already there and the three sat amiably visiting, earlier disagreement ignored for the moment. They were joined shortly by Jamie, who placed a small paper cup with several pills inside in front of Lee. "What’s that?" Lee muttered, glaring at the CMO.
"Why, Skipper, I’m amazed," Doc said in all innocence. "You’ve made it a point to know every nut and bolt on this boat. I can’t imagine you haven’t memorized my entire drug locker as well, especially since you’ve had to be given almost everything in it at one time or another." He grinned at Chip, who had unsuccessfully smothered a chuckle, and looked back at Lee. "Just an antibiotic, Skipper. One you’ve had several times," he added at Lee’s continuing skepticism. Lee finally surrendered and downed the pills. "Thank you," and Jamie turned to fill his plate.
* * * *
Micki had watched all this with some amusement and not a little puzzlement. That these men were friends was quite evident. But while this wasn’t strictly a military vessel, she’d seen enough to understand that it was run under military discipline. Relaxed for sure, in some ways, but nonetheless the crew she’d seen followed orders quickly and sharply. Yet so far this person who was supposed to be in charge let others give him orders. True, there had been glimpses that Crane had a temper, and might be a formidable enemy if crossed. But Micki did wonder who really ran the ship…ah, boat…oh who cared. She finally realized she was being spoken to. "I’m sorry. What?"
"Was just apologizing that it looks like you’re stuck on board for awhile," Crane said again.
"Yeah, well, didn’t sound like either of us had much choice."
"At least not until Admiral Nelson is back. I’m afraid there’s not much to keep you occupied. There’s a small selection of books over there in the corner," and he nodded to the back of the Wardroom, "and some movie videos. About the best we can do."
"I’m more concerned about how not to gain 20 pounds while I’m here. Not much lo-cal on the menu."
The XO answered her with a broad grin. "You can blame that on Lee. We’re always telling him he needs to gain weight."
"I am not skinny," Crane grumbled, to broad smiles from the other two. "I’ll speak to Cookie," and he got up to leave.
"Oh, Lee," Morton said casually, "I had the logs and the rest of the status reports sent to your cabin." Micki noted the entirely innocent expression on the XO’s face.
Crane had stopped and glared at the man. "Why?" he demanded, but it was the Doctor who answered.
"Because that’s where you’re spending the afternoon. Preferably laying down resting but I know better than to think you’d actually do that."
Crane’s voice got very soft but Micki could hear the power behind it, and re-evaluated her earlier opinion. She no longer doubted this man was master of his boat and crew, although he might allow concerned friends some leeway. "Drop it, Doc. I’m fine. That goes for you, too, Mister," as Morton started to say something.
"I was only going to point out," Morton continued anyway, "that if you don’t go to your cabin quietly I’ll be forced to call Security and have you taken there."
"Mutiny, Mister Morton?" and Crane’s voice was even softer, but with all the power of a cannon.
"Complain to the Admiral, Lee," Morton remained unaffected. "It’s his order."
Micki watched as Crane remained defiant a few moments longer, then seemed to deflate slightly. Without another word he stomped out.
"We may regret that," Doc muttered to no one in particular.
"Not a doubt in my mind," Morton agreed.
"I’ll check on him in an hour or so."
"Let me know when. If you don’t come out in a reasonable amount of time I’ll notify your next of kin."
"Oh, this time won’t be a problem. Only two of the three pills were antibiotics." Micki saw Chip give the Doctor a look of total disbelief, but the medic just smiled. "It was pretty mild. With any luck at all he’ll just get the feeling of being more tired than he thought he was."
"And if not?"
"I’ll hide until Admiral Nelson’s back on board."
"Just don’t use my cabin," Morton told him. "That will be the second place he hits." Micki saw both men nod, then shudder slightly.
Finished with her meal, Micki rose and wandered back to the shelves Crane had indicated earlier. The books were mostly paperbacks, but there was a fairly wide selection of topics. She was reading the description of one called Midnight Come Again by Dana Stabenow, a mystery novel set in Alaska, when she heard footsteps behind her. "Yes, Commander?" she said, not looking around. She’d already identified several of the officers’ normal cadence of walking. This one belonged to Morton. If it threw him off he handled it well, and barely paused.
"I’m going down to the Marine Lab for awhile. Just thought you might be interested in going along."
"Obviously nothing classified," and she finally turned and smiled.
"Not a thing," he agreed.
"Lead the way, then," and she spent the next hour being introduced to fishes, objects and concepts she never knew existed, and wasn’t sure she cared to know existed. But she enjoyed the XO’s company and it was a way to pass the time.
* * * *
When he got no response to a quiet knock, Jamie smiled briefly to himself and opened Capt. Crane’s door. The Skipper was at his desk as Jamie expected, head leaned back, eyes closed. Shutting the door quietly behind him he went to sit on the corner of the desk and silently watched the young man, looking even younger than usual. It never ceased to amaze Jamie how the entire crew, up to and including the Admiral, had come to depend so much on the Skipper. A lesser man would have either buckled under the pressure or have let it so go to his head he’d have turned into an impossible egomaniac. So strong was Crane’s sense of honor, of duty, that neither was in danger of happening. He simply did what needed to be done, with no thought to anything except the successful completion of the job at hand. No thought… including taking care of himself, Doc mused. So, everyone else took it upon themselves to look after him. It had to be done carefully, and not infrequently a bit underhandedly, because the Skipper absolutely HATED being coddled. But everyone from the Admiral on down did what they could.
Jamie’s thoughts were interrupted as Lee slowly opened his eyes, then started sharply as he realized he wasn’t alone. Jamie just smiled. He was well aware he held a rather unique position with the Skipper. Yes, the Captain fought with Jamie constantly, refusing to admit any illness or injury. But it had become a very structured game between the two, each knowing the rules, acknowledging a mutual respect, allowing each other their share of victories and not taking advantage of the other’s defeats. Oh, it still got angry and loud on occasion, but that, too, had become part of ‘The Game’, and was carried on not without its share of humor.
"Happy now?" Lee muttered, rubbing a hand over his face and letting it rest ever so slightly on his sore shoulder before returning it to his lap.
"For the moment, Skipper. Shoulder hurt?"
"No," came the automatic response. Jamie stared hard at the younger man and he backed down. "Just a bit, no big deal," and Jamie’s smile returned.
"Let me take a look," and Jamie loosened the straps on the sling and unbuttoned enough of Lee’s shirt to get to the wound. "Actually looks pretty good, all things considered." He reached for the small leather case he’d brought with him and took out a tube of ointment, rubbing some of the contents gently over the wound before replacing the bandage.
He rebuttoned the shirt and was repositioning the sling when Lee asked, somewhat plaintively, "The rest of the day?" and Jamie laughed. Every once in a while the little boy snuck out in the Skipper’s speech.
"Make you a deal, Skipper. You rest today, let me give you something so I know you sleep all night, and tomorrow I’ll stay off your back."
"Include Chip and the Admiral and you’re on." Lee smirked back, and both laughed.
"Sorry, Skipper. With those two you’re on your own."
"Worth a try," and Lee picked up the report he’d been reading before he’d dozed off. Jamie cocked an eye at him and he leveled one of his typical command gazes at the CMO. "No Chip, no deal."
"Like you said, Skipper, worth a try. If that continues to improve as much in the next 24 hours as it has in the last, I’ll consider letting you lose the sling. Just stay out of the weight room for awhile."
"Sort of thought I might lose it in the morning – if not before." Lee muttered the last almost but not quite under his breath.
"Keep it up and you’ll be wearing it for the next week," Jamie threatened as he picked up the small bag and stood up. Their eyes locked momentarily, but both smiled at the same time and Jamie left.
By 1700 Lee was caught up with all his reports and chuckled to himself softly. He couldn’t even remember the last time that had happened. There was always more paperwork than Lee ever imagined possible before taking over the Captaincy of Seaview. But then, a lot of it involved reports by and for the Institute that in the regular Navy wouldn’t involve him. He figured he would take the trade-off. He straightened up what little in the cabin needed it, filed those reports that didn’t need to be returned to the Control Room, and tucked those that did, as well as the logs, under his arm and headed forward. He figured 1720 was close enough to being the ‘all afternoon’ he’d been confined to quarters.
Chip gave him a hard look when Lee came down the spiral stairs but continued the conversation he was having in the Radio Shack. Lee stored the logs and reports, casually speaking or nodding to most of the Duty crew, and waited by the chart table for Chip to join him. Whoever Chip was talking to it seemed to be an involved conversation, and Lee had almost decided to check it out when movement in the nose caught his eye and Ms. Ortiz was suddenly standing in front of the windows. Shaking his head slightly he walked over to her.
"I’m beginning to understand why they call you ‘mouse’," he said casually.
"I already told you why," she muttered, and Lee shook his head at her.
"Not that reason. You never make any noise when you walk."
"You’ve never found that a useful talent? No wonder Chip says you never come back from a mission in one piece," she replied, still grumpily.
"Chip talks too much," Lee was beginning to get a bit grumpy himself. "And no, on my own turf – so to speak – I don’t usually worry about that particular talent."
"Don’t you worry about these windows breaking?" she changed the subject, and frowned at his chuckles.
"They haven’t yet. Been blown out once, by a saboteur, from the inside. But there are crash doors that cover them if we run into trouble. You Ok?"
"Why?" she challenged harshly, suddenly staring at him.
"You just seem a little tense," Lee responded as casually as he could. He had had to deal with a few civilians over the years that didn’t handle the containment well, and was again seeing the signs of tension he’d noticed the night before. Just then Chip walked up and cut off her reply which, from the expression on her face, Lee suspected would have been scathing. Lee chose to turn his attention instead to Chip, cutting off whatever the XO had been about to say. "When will you be done with the testing?"
"Actually just finished, almost four hours early," then added, not being able to resist the jab, "maybe you should stay in your cabin more often." The glare Lee gave him just caused a huge grin, and even Lee smiled reluctantly.
"Don’t get used to it," he grumbled, however. "Weather topside?"
"Clear and calm, Sir," Chip responded formally.
"Good. Take us up, Mr. Morton." Lee chose to ignore the look he got from Ms. Ortiz and walked back to the chart table. Chip gave a quick look between the two then followed Lee, quickly running through the commands to surface. He finally got the hint when Lee ordered Seaview’s nose pointed toward the setting sun.
"Dinner in the nose? Cookie’s not going to appreciate the short notice."
"Something light. I’m not hungry," and refused to look at the face he knew Chip was making, "and I suspect she won’t eat much, either."
"What about me?"
"Who said you’re invited?" Chip said something rude and Lee laughed. "But if Cookie’s having too big a fit, just have him fix plates and bring them forward. With you around there won’t be any leftovers."
Chip stopped just short of jabbing Lee with his elbow, realizing he’d nail Lee’s bad side if he did. Giving Mr. James the conn he headed aft, and Lee went back to the nose.
* * * *
Micki had enjoyed the time spent with the XO. They’d quickly progressed to a first-name basis and enjoyed an amiable hour. But after he’d returned to the Control Room she had been left at loose ends. She’d tried to read the paperback she’d taken from the Wardroom, but found she couldn’t concentrate. Her normally reliable meditation exercises failed also and she finally turned to physical ones. Working until she could barely move she went through her cool down routine and headed for the shower. But the tension returned as she redressed. She would have preferred not to let anyone see her like this, but finally surrendered and headed for the Observation Nose. At least there she could see out, even if it was underwater. She’d briefly thought again about the pills the Doctor had given her the night before, but she’d lived by her wits so long she hated taking anything that might dull her senses. If she was still wired at bedtime she might have to reconsider, but not right now.
Being questioned by Crane, no matter how quietly it had been done, hadn’t helped her mood one bit, but she was grateful for the order to surface. Once she could see sky again she took a deep breath and tried to get herself under control. She’d almost managed it when Crane returned.
"Better?" She was momentarily angered that the Captain had found her out so easily, but finally relented.
"Yes. Thank you."
"You’re welcome. I sent Chip off to have dinner served up here for us."
"Shouldn’t have bothered."
"We do it off and on, no big deal."
"No, I just meant I’m not hungry."
"Neither am I but that, unfortunately, isn’t an option. Guess we’ll just have to make the best of it." There was silence between them for a bit as they stood watching out the windows, small waves gently rocking the submarine. Finally Micki realized Crane was saying something and looked at him. He apparently noticed she’d not heard him and smiled. "I just wondered if you’d like to go up to the conning tower – get some fresh air?"
Micki thought about it for a few seconds, then shook her head. "You’d never get me back down," and both smiled, she a bit grimly.
"The pills Jamie gave you haven’t helped?" and Micki gave him a dirty look, then lowered both her eyes and voice.
"Don’t like taking pills so I haven’t taken any," she admitted.
"There’s no reason…" but Micki cut him off.
"Look. Could we just drop this discussion?"
"Not a problem. How long have you worked for ONI?"
The abrupt change of topic took her by surprise, but she collected herself quickly. "Seven years, a bit longer. Mostly computer-related assignments: get in however, download the information, get out."
"Recruited out of college?"
"Showed remarkable aptitude for computer skills, acting talents, and martial arts, they said." She muttered disgustedly. "Use your skills, help your country, they said. You’ll do great, they said," and she practically spat out the last.
"You didn’t?" Crane asked gently.
"Somehow they ‘forgot’ to mention the bad assignments, bad intel, bad working conditions, bad…hell, you name it, it’s gone bad."
"Been there," Crane’s voice was even softer. She turned to look at him and he smiled. "But you’ve survived."
Micki stared at him a bit, then turned back to the windows. "I did what I had to," she finally said with a sigh.
"Been there," Crane repeated.
They were both silent for awhile. She noticed talking had helped – sort of. She was still fighting some nerves, even with surfacing. Maybe if she kept Crane talking. Obviously he understood some of what ONI service had put her through.
"So, what’s your story? Why put up with all the garbage when you seem to have it made here?"
"Yes, Lee," Chip interrupted, joining them but stopping to partially close the dividing doors. "I’d like to hear the answer to that, too." Micki noticed a certain hardness to his voice that she hadn’t heard since last night. Crane, however, just smiled.
"Sorry," he said to her. "Ongoing argument. I was doing occasional jobs for ONI before joining Seaview. Admiral Nelson doesn’t object that I keep at it. Chip, however…"
"Does!" the XO finished. "Strongly. Not that it does any good."
"Chip, enough." Micki noticed an edge in Crane’s voice that hadn’t been there before, and obviously Chip heard it, too, because he quickly backed off and changed the subject.
"Cookie’s feeling agreeable. No problem with bringing dinner up. Oh, and I ran into Doc. He’ll be joining us." His expression was carefully neutral, but Micki thought she detected a slight smirk. Crane must have, too, because he just closed his eyes and slowly shook his head. Opening them again he looked at Chip with that expression Micki was beginning to recognize as mildly exasperated tolerance. Life around these two must be interesting she thought.
"Thank you, Chip," Crane said indulgently. "That was thoughtful of you."
"Not a problem," and Chip smiled broadly.
* * * *
Lee stretched his legs out a little further, unsuccessfully stifling a yawn. Jamie caught him and grinned, but didn’t interrupt Micki and Chip as they bickered peaceably over what was the most secure computer system. The four had enjoyed a quiet dinner and friendly conversation, and were quickly all on a first name basis. Lee knew part of what had caused Micki to finally relax. Apparently Chip had said something to the CMO because as Chip briefly distracted her Lee watched Jamie drop something into her glass of wine. Cookie had put together a simple meal of beef tips in herb gravy over noodles, green beans cooked with bacon bits, a green salad, and banana pudding for dessert. Admiral Nelson always had him store a few bottles of wine just in case Seaview ended up hosting guests, and one had been brought up with the meal. Lee had watched Micki finally start to breathe easier, relax, and actually seem to enjoy herself. He wasn’t sure what Jamie had used but had watched the CMO deal with panic attacks in passengers before. He’d momentarily caught Jamie’s eye and quietly saluted him. Now he was wondering if the man had also somehow ‘doctored’ his drink as well.
The two friendly combatants eventually agreed that they weren’t going to agree and went back to including the other two in the conversation. Unfortunately Lee yawned again and this time it set off a chain reaction. Jamie excused himself and offered to escort Micki back to her cabin, and Lee went with Chip to check things in the Control Room. Lee suspected Chip was just humoring him, knowing Lee wouldn’t rest until he’d checked on the status of his boat. Lee decided to test his theory and purposely made excuses to check this station, talk with that crewman, double check one more report, until Chip’s patience finally gave out and he threatened, albeit quietly, to have Lee’s tail bodily dragged to his cabin if Lee didn’t go – Now! Chip realized he’d been had when Lee burst out laughing and headed for Officers’ Country. Taking the sling off to change, Lee originally wasn’t going to put it back on. He changed his mind, however, when the shoulder protested after the simple act of changing clothes. Deciding to leave the PJ top off to save hassling with another set of buttons, he was sitting on the edge of his bunk refastening the Velcro straps of the sling when there was a soft knock on his door.
"Come on in, Jamie," he called out amiably, and the CMO walked in with a grin.
"Getting that predictable, am I, Skipper?"
"Knew you wouldn’t let me off the hook that easily and just go to bed," and both men chuckled. Jamie gave the wound a quick check and rubbed in more ointment, then helped Lee readjust the sling. As the CMO returned the tube to the small leather case Lee asked, "Did you ever tell Micki what you did?"
"Didn’t see any reason to. Time for that if she happens to figure it out and ask. Obviously she takes meds about as willingly as you do," and Lee gave him a dirty look. He also shot a dark look at the hypo Jamie pulled out of the kit. "Relax, Skipper. I’m guessing the shoulder’s still pretty sore since you chose yourself to put the sling back on." He held up the syringe. "Painkiller to let you rest comfortably."
"I’ve locked horns with your painkillers before, Jamie. I’ve always lost." Jamie just smiled and administered the injection.
"Good night, Skipper," and Jamie left. Lee stared at the closed door for just a bit, smiled, and lay down. He fell asleep quickly, but that in itself wasn’t unusual. Lee always slept well in his own bunk.
* * * *
Micki came out of the terrible dream cursing in Spanish. When she was finally awake she sat on the edge of the bunk shaking. Get it together, Ortiz she muttered, and went to wash her face. But twenty minutes later found her pacing the now too small cabin. Damn. This place is driving me crazy.
She had been surprised that she’d handled dinner so well. Even with the view she’d been tense, barely able to keep from pacing. Talking to Crane had helped, somehow. Maybe because he seemed to understand. By the time the others showed up and dinner was served she’d been pretty much under control. Dinner itself was a piece of cake. Even later, when she’d come back here, she hadn’t noticed the closeness. But now… and she continued to pace.
Maybe I should go back down to the nose. But it was after midnight and the men in the Control Room wouldn’t be anyone she knew. No, she just had to figure out why she’d been Ok earlier. Crane – Lee she smiled slightly. He was a total enigma to her. A man of great ability to hold such a prestigious position, who willingly risked everything to run off and do errands for ONI. A man obviously held in great esteem by his crew, who quietly endured outright harassment from his friends. Oh, she’d seen that there were apparently lines they didn’t cross, but still… Suddenly the lines to a poem she’d read somewhere popped into her head. Nothing is so strong as gentleness, Nothing so gentle as real strength. She hadn’t totally understood it at the time. She thought maybe now she was beginning to. It would be interesting to see how he acted around this Admiral Nelson. To that louse Talbot he’d shown nothing but deference, but that could just be a military thing. Who knew? Nelson was Navy, of course, but more scientist than anything if she was remembering correctly.
She paced another couple times back and forth and gave another thought to the pills she’d been given. But she found it hard to take one. She’d seen all too often in her life what drugs could do to a person, and even taking the simple ones went against the grain. No, she’d get through this without drugs.
Maybe she just needed to not be alone. That went a bit against the grain also. She’d always been a loner, content in her own company, neither needing companionship nor wanting to have to be responsible for others. Yet somehow she was…comfortable?... in Lee’s presence. Maybe … She remembered a brief few words that had passed between Chip and the Doctor earlier at dinner and took it to mean Lee would be safely asleep all night. I wish I were. Maybe I’ll go sit in his room for a bit. Maybe with him close I’ll calm down. Who knows? It worked before.
His cabin wasn’t far, and after her confrontation with the two officers that morning she hadn’t noticed anyone watching her. Slipping carefully out of her cabin she made her way silently to his. All was quiet in this part of the boat and the corridor lights were dimmed. No light showed through the small spaces under the doors of either his or Chip’s cabins. Expecting to have to pick the lock she was surprised to find the door open, and quickly slipped inside. She stood totally still after shutting the door, allowing her eyes to adjust to the dark. To her left Lee lay in a bunk built into the wall…no, it was called something else on a boat. Bulkhead, that was it. To her right was a desk, straight-backed chair to one side and larger leather one behind. As in her cabin, straight ahead across the room was a door leading to the small bathroom. Nope, that has another name, too. She’d heard it in passing today. What…ah yes. Head.
As she listened to Lee’s steady breathing, punctuated occasionally by a soft snore, she tried to regulate her own, with a measure of success. Not good yet, but enough so she walked over and sat down in the chair behind the desk. Making herself relax, she willed herself to calm down. The gentle rocking of the boat riding on the surface, noticed now that she’d slowed down, helped as well.
Suddenly she heard footsteps in the corridor and the door quietly opened. Micki hadn’t recognized the cadence, nor did she the outline of the person who only took a half step into the cabin before stopping and watching Lee a moment. As quietly as he came he left, and Micki realized she hadn’t been breathing. Dressed in dark clothes against the dark leather of the chair she’d have been hard to see even if the man had looked in her direction. Still… Carefully she re-settled into the chair, getting herself under control again.
* * * *
Lee wasn’t sure what woke him up. Seaview was gently rocking in the waves. Maybe he should have taken her down for the night but hadn’t for a couple reasons. One, they weren’t hiding from anyone and had every right to be here. But he smiled softly to himself as he admitted the real reason had been Micki. If she decided she needed to take a walk in the middle of the night, he didn’t want it to be in 90 feet of water.
Shifting to ease a slight ache in his shoulder he was about to drop off to sleep again when he was suddenly hit with a feeling of something not right, and listened quietly for a bit. No, Seaview sounds and feels right. But when the feeling wouldn’t go away he pushed the blankets back, swung his legs off the bunk and sat up on the edge. A little light-headed from whatever Doc had given him he closed his eyes. That was when he heard, or rather felt, a difference in the cabin and hit the switch to the small light over the bunk.
"What the hell…" and stopped at the highly embarrassed expression on Micki’s face. The clock on his desk read 0220. "Care to explain?" he said more softly. From her expression he almost expected her to just bolt without answering, but she surprised him.
"Woke up a bit fried. Didn’t want to be alone. Just thought…" and her voice trailed off.
"Do us both a favor. Go take another of Doc’s pills. It will help."
"What do you mean, ‘another’?" she demanded.
Lee smiled. "Doc slipped one into your wine earlier." As Micki’s expression hardened he continued. "You have to admit you felt better. Didn’t you wonder why?"
"No," she lied, still miffed.
"Whatever," he muttered, shut off the light, and lay back down. He fell asleep not knowing what she decided to do.
She was, however, gone when he woke again at 0545, and he smiled as he headed for the shower. He had a feeling Jamie was in for an earful. He slowly worked his shoulder under the warm water, stretching out the cramps, and was surprised how well it felt. Deciding to risk both Jamie’s and Chip’s wrath he left the sling in his cabin when he headed for the Control Room at 0630.
The answer to why Chip hadn’t been by to harass him this morning lay, literally, at his feet as he entered Seaview’s command center. Sticking out from under the hydrophone console was a pair of legs clad in khaki with creases so sharp they could only belong to the XO. Lee never understood how it was that while Laundry did all the officers’ uniforms, Chip’s were always just a tiny bit crisper than everyone else’s. Bribery came to mind, but Lee knew Chip too well to believe he’d stoop so low.
Since faces around the room were all calm Lee figured they weren’t in any immediate danger and decided a bit of retaliation was in order. He gave Chip’s foot a soft kick, at the same time saying in his clear command voice, "What’s going on?" The reaction was immediate and gratifying. Chip jumped so bad his head hit something on the underside of the console, followed by a choked off oath, and he came flying out. His glare stopped the chuckles from the rest of the duty crew but not Lee’s. "Problems, Mr. Morton?" Lee asked mildly, still grinning.
Chip gave Lee a long look then ducked back under the console, but not before Lee saw the beginnings of a grin forming. A few more moments passed, then Chip’s voice was heard. "Mr. Wylie, check your receiver now."
"Aye, aye, Sir," and Lee stepped back so the young seaman could get to the display. He punched a few buttons, slipped on his headset and listened a bit, then slipped one earpiece off. "Up and running, Sir," and Chip came back out, re-clipping the panel into place. When he looked up again Lee was giving the normally immaculate XO an odd look.
"What?" Chip demanded.
"Obviously Maintenance needs to do a better job keeping up with the dust bunnies," and Chip looked down at his uniform.
"Guess we both need to get re-dressed," Chip said, looking back up.
"Both?" Lee was puzzled.
"You forgot your sling," and Chip looked smug.
Lee was about to comment when he was interrupted. "Lee, what’s going on?" and he nearly tripped over Chip turning around to face the approaching Admiral Nelson.
"Sir, I didn’t realize you’d gotten back." He quickly got himself under control. "Everything’s fine, apparently," and he looked at Chip, who from his expression wasn’t at all surprised and took up the narrative easily.
"Small problem with the hydrophone, Admiral. It’s taken care of."
"Good. Then after you change," and he gave Chip a speculative look that Lee couldn’t hold back a grin at, "you can join Lee and I in the Wardroom. I need to talk to you both."
"Aye, Sir," and Chip turned to leave.
"When did you get back, Admiral?" Lee asked.
"Oh, about 0200. Chip didn’t tell you I was expected?"
"No, he didn’t." Lee gave his departing XO a speculative look and heard Nelson chuckle.
"I thought you had your arm in a sling," Nelson commented, and Lee turned back.
"Until this morning. It’s feeling much better."
"Hmmm," and the Admiral gave him a stern look. "Have you seen Doc this morning?"
"Not yet," Lee admitted.
"Well, come along to breakfast. You can hit Sick Bay before you officially go on duty."
"Yes, Sir," Lee surrendered, and followed Nelson aft. They chatted about odds and ends until they sat down to eat.
"Where’s our guest this morning?" Nelson asked.
"Haven’t seen her yet. Probably still in her cabin."
Lee hesitated just long enough that Nelson looked at him curiously and he smiled. "Not really. She’s…had a small problem adjusting to Seaview."
"What the Skipper is so eloquently dancing around," added Jamie, just coming in and joining them, "is she’s claustrophobic. Skipper, where’s your sling?"
"In my cabin," Lee answered defiantly, staring at the CMO. "I’ll return it to you just as soon as I’m done here." He held Jamie’s gaze until he heard Nelson snort and Jamie looked away. The beginnings of a smile on his face, Jamie headed to get his own breakfast. They were joined shortly by Chip and talk turned to the charting and tests that had originally brought Seaview to this area.
* * * *
Micki woke gradually this time, totally unconcerned until she looked at the clock and discovered it was almost 8:30. After Lee had turned the light out and gone back to sleep she had continued to sit in his chair, doing a slow burn over what had been done to her. Eventually she had to mentally kick herself and admit it was all for the best. She left quietly and went back to her cabin, but almost immediately she started pacing again and finally tracked down the envelope Dr. Jamison had given her. Taking one of the pills, she experimentally tried to lie back down. She was totally amazed that that was the last thing she remembered until right now.
After a quick shower, and deciding she wasn’t hungry, she headed for the Observation Nose and the seemingly ever-present coffee pot. She hesitated at the top of the spiral stairs, hearing Lee in conversation with a voice she recognized as the one she’d heard over the mic in conversation with Lee – Admiral Nelson. She eventually started down, stopping again about halfway. Lee saw her, smiled, and motioned for her to continue, and the other man turned around to face her. Micki was sure this was the figure she’d seen in Lee’s doorway last night.
"Michelle Ortiz, Admiral Harriman Nelson," Lee made the formal introduction. Admittedly not fond of authority types, Micki still found herself liking this one as the two exchanged pleasantries, much as she had reacted to the other officers. What she did find annoying was the smile, more like a smirk, on Lee’s face when she admitted in response to one of the Admiral’s questions that she’d overslept. Nelson apparently noticed her frown and cocked an eyebrow at his Captain.
"Sorry," Lee apologized to Micki, then looked at Nelson. "It seems Ms. Ortiz doesn’t handle drinking wine very well." Micki seriously considered turning the man into a soprano. The Admiral continued to give the two speculative looks, but neither chose to explain so Nelson changed the subject.
"Lee told me about yesterday’s conversation with Admiral Talbot. I talked with him myself before leaving Washington," and Micki noticed both his voice and expression held a decided distaste for the conversation. Or maybe for the man himself, she mused.
"I hope he had more to tell you then he did us," she groused.
"Apparently not much. He assumes we’re going to hang around here at his beck and call until he decides what the next step should be."
"Any idea how long that might be?" Lee asked, his voice again serious.
"Not really. It’s a moot point for the next several days anyway as it will take me at least that long to go over the survey results. I’d prefer to stay here in case there’s anything that needs to be studied further."
"So you’ll have plenty of time to relax and let that shoulder heal," and there was no mistaking the order, even given as it was with a half smile.
Micki saw Lee drop his gaze briefly, then with a slight smile of his own answer, "Yes, Sir."
So, Captain, another piece to the puzzle, Micki thought. That was delivered with respect, and not a little friendship, then her musings were interrupted by the Admiral.
"What can we do to make your stay here less…" If he says ‘confining’, Crane dies. "…enforced."
"I know it’s not your fault, Admiral. And I’m quite capable of entertaining myself."
"Well, just let Mr. Morton know if you need anything. Lee, I’ll be in my lab."
"Yes, Sir. Shall I send Chief Sharkey down to pry you out at dinnertime?" Micki watched this last delivered with a carefully controlled smile. Nelson snapped a hard look at his Captain then harrumphed and walked off, but not without a backward glance that had changed from hard to a grin. Lee just smiled innocently back, then turned it on Micki. "Once he gets his nose stuck into a research project he forgets to come up for air," he explained at her raised eyebrows.
"Oh." Before either could say anything else, Chip interrupted.
"Micki, how much do you know about hydrophone computers?"
"I thought you had it fixed?" Lee interrupted, immediately all business.
"So did I."
"You explain the hydrophone, I can fix the computer," Micki assured him confidently, and watched as Chip gave Lee a glance. Lee just shrugged his shoulders, and Chip motioned for her to follow him to the other end of the Control Room.
* * * *
Lee spent the day bored out of his skull. Nor were his prospects any better for the near future. With Seaview just holding trim in the designated research area, and having caught up on all his reports the day before, he wasn’t really looking forward to the next few days. He’d hung around the Control Room for awhile watching Chip and Micki struggle with the hydrophones, but after 10 minutes of being able to understand only about one word in three of the pair’s conversation he wandered down to Engineering. The crew was used to having their Skipper show up anywhere, anytime, on the boat, and Lee enjoyed spending time with them. He even let Kowalski and Patterson talk him into having lunch in the Crew’s Mess. He wasn’t particularly hungry but it helped pass the time.
He continued to wander all over the boat but by 1645 couldn’t stand it any longer and returned to the Control Room. With clear weather predicted for at least the next 48 hours Seaview had remained on the surface, and Lee wasn’t at all surprised to find Micki in the nose, reading. "I gather the hydrophones are fixed," he said, walking quietly up behind her, and had the satisfaction of seeing her startle.
"So, you can walk quietly when you choose to," she recovered quickly. Lee just smiled and went to stand in front of the windows. "Circuit board had vibrated loose. Nothing major," and she put her nose back in the book. Watching her read was even more boring than watching the men go about their duties, and Lee headed back into the Control Room.
Questioning Lt. James, who had the conn, he was told that Chip was topside and he headed up the ladder. His left shoulder sent a few twinges as he climbed, but nothing to warrant the dirty looks he got from his XO as he reached the top. "Give it a rest, Chip," he grumbled, and leaned against the edge of the conning tower. A couple crewmen were fishing on the aft deck and, as Lee watched, one of them caught something. "At least Mickelson found a constructive way to pass the time," he commented, and Chip finally smiled.
"You missed Riley. Caught himself a good-sized sea bass about half an hour ago. You’d have thought it was made of solid gold."
"I’m surprised he’s not out paddling around on his surfboard."
"Actually he did for awhile this morning. But one of the lookouts spotted a shark so made him come back aboard."
"Micki said the hydrophones were fixed."
"She still sitting in the nose?" When Lee nodded, Chip continued. "Tried to get her to come up but she wouldn’t do it."
"When I asked her yesterday, after we surfaced, she said we’d never get her back down," and both men chuckled softly. "She seems better today."
"Maybe she’s finally taking Doc’s pills," Chip offered.
"Wouldn’t bet on it," Lee muttered, last night’s little visit still fresh in his mind.
"Just because you refuse to take what’s good for you, doesn’t mean everyone’s that stubborn."
Lee glared at his XO a moment, then smirked. "And who was it Doc threatened to throw overboard a few months ago when he had the flu?"
"At least I get normal things," came the biting response, "not shot, tortured, blown up…"
As Chip began his tirade Lee held back a smile. Finally, now maybe he can vent and get it out of his system. Lee just stood quietly and let Chip blow. For all his anger Chip was speaking quietly, and none of the crew on deck could hear him. At one point Lee noticed a head of red hair start to poke up through the hatch, stop, and quietly go back down. Chip, with his back to the hatch, hadn’t noticed. Lee smiled quietly to himself. Even the Admiral didn’t willingly face Chip in one of his moods. Unfortunately Lee allowed a bit of the smile to appear on his face and Chip’s voice turned deathly quiet.
"You think this is funny?" he barely breathed, and Lee counseled himself instantly. Nothing was more likely to set Chip off than to think someone wasn’t paying proper attention to one of his lectures.
"Chip…" he started, pulling himself just a tad bit straighter, but the XO cut him off and the tirade continued.
There was no way of telling how long the dressing down would have continued, since once Chip let loose his pent up frustration at his ‘irresponsible, lame-brained, thick-skulled, idiotic Captain,’ he could keep it up indefinitely, but the mic interrupted him.
"Mr. Morton?" and both officers recognized Lt. James’ voice.
Chip snatched up the mic and growled, "What?" Realizing he was taking out his frustrations with Lee on an innocent crewman he continued a bit more under control. "Yes, Mr. James?" noticing at the same time that the eyebrow Lee had raised at the first response had settled back to normal.
"The latest computer figures are ready for you, Sir," came James’ voice a bit hesitantly. He was a good, if young, Watch Officer, but the entire boat knew better than to mess with the XO in a bad mood.
"I’ll be right down," and Chip had himself back under control. With one last glare at Lee he added to James, "Send Patterson up to stand lookout."
Lee couldn’t resist, even though he knew better. "Don’t trust me up here by myself?"
The glare Chip sent him could have withered a snake. Lee just smiled, and was gratified to see the beginnings of one on his friend’s face as Chip started down through the hatch. Lee stayed topside a few minutes visiting with Patterson, then returned below. There was no sign of Chip, but Admiral Nelson was in the nose visiting with Micki. As Lee joined them Nelson asked, amused, "Chip feeling better, now?"
"I certainly hope so," Lee answered.
"Don’t suppose it did any good," and his voice had a slight edge to it.
Lee dropped his eyes but answered softly, with a sheepish grin, "probably not, Sir," and was treated to one of Nelson’s chuckles as he shook his head and looked at Micki, continuing the conversation Lee’s arrival had interrupted. Lee realized the Admiral was explaining why Seaview was running all the tests, and what Nelson hoped to gain from the information. Lee instantly felt sorry for their guest. Even after all his years on Seaview he couldn’t follow everything the Admiral was saying. He could only hope Micki was a patient listener. Like Chip, once Nelson got wound up on a subject there was very little that could stop him. Lee chuckled softly to himself as he remembered some of the lectures Nelson had given at the Academy. However, also like Chip earlier, Nelson was stopped by an interruption. In this case, the cook’s assistant coming forward to set the table for dinner. After a momentary glare at the seaman, Lee saw Nelson give himself a slight shake, apparently finally realizing he’d been boring his small audience to tears, and changed the subject. The three were joined shortly by Chip and Jamie, as well as the arrival of dinner, and the five sat down to eat.
* * * *
Micki had been enjoying a relatively quiet afternoon. Part way through the morning, after trying to do a few things in her cabin, she came to the realization that she didn’t necessarily need Crane or Chip, or Doc’s pills she’d muttered, to keep herself under control. She just needed to not be alone in a confined space. The bad times she was fixating on, that were now causing her problems, had all come when she’d been trapped alone. After lunch she’d taken her book and gone down to the nose, and though she had for the most part been left alone, the chatter and activity in the Control Room had kept her company.
She’d been surprised when Admiral Nelson had joined her, and surprised further when he started in telling her about his research. She’d tried to be polite, still not quite knowing how to peg Nelson. Normally totally antagonistic to those she considered power-hungry authority types, this one had shown he quite enjoyed the people around him. While she had a hard time understanding most of what he said, he so thoroughly enjoyed the telling that she was sucked into enjoying it with him. She wasn’t sure what the short conversation with Crane had been about when he eventually joined them, especially after Crane again deferred quietly to what didn’t sound at all like a menacing comment from Nelson. Yet all seemed comfortable between them as everyone sat down to eat. She noticed Chip give Crane a hard look, followed by a smile from both of them, when the XO had joined the group. She wondered briefly if Chip had again lit into his Captain over something, but after that one quick look all was peaceful between them. She was far more interested in watching everything around her own meal. She’d been mortified that anyone had been able to slip something to her, even though she was supposedly in a ‘safe’ place, and was determined that it wouldn’t happen again.
Nelson took over leadership of the dinner conversation, focusing on personal issues instead of business ones. As new man on the block, so to speak, Micki was led into a discussion about herself. It was done non-intrusively, with Nelson talking about how everything had gotten started for him, and led to his asking where she had grown up.
"Nebraska," she’d commented dryly, then continued as 4 sets of upraised eyebrows contemplated her. "I was born in a barrio in Los Angeles. Never knew my real father. Mom had a job in a factory. We didn’t have much except each other. When I was about six she started dating a guy who came to the factory on a regular basis – a salesman. Daniel. Mom married him a year later. As stepfathers go he wasn’t so bad, but within 6 months the company he worked for transferred him to Omaha." Realizing Lee seemed to be concentrating very hard on his dinner, unsuccessfully hiding a grin, she glared at him. "What?" she demanded.
"Nothing," he answered, raising his head. "Just haven’t heard you string that many words together at one time since the other night in the cantina," and his grin broadened.
"Yes?" Chip goaded, looking from one to the other. Micki saw Lee raise his eyes at her but she buried hers in her dinner. Though gratified Lee hadn’t compounded the jab by explaining the part she’d been playing that night, she was still thoroughly steamed. Her mood wasn’t helped by the continuing grin on Lee’s face as he quietly changed the subject and she allowed the conversation to go on around her, not saying much the rest of the meal no matter how hard the men tried to draw her out. As soon as she could she excused herself, and with another glare at Lee went to her cabin.
* * * *
Lee hadn’t been able to resist the little dig at Micki but was somewhat puzzled by her response. Thinking she’d get over it quickly he’d led the conversation in other directions. When she finished her meal and left the group he was at a loss to explain as he got accusatory looks from the others.
"Lee, that’s the most pleasant thing we’ve had to look at over dinner in I can’t remember when, and you drove her off," Chip complained. "How dare you?"
"Hey, I’m just as surprised as you," he defended himself. "Was just trying to lighten things up. She’s always so serious."
"You definitely need more practice," Nelson commented dryly, albeit with a sparkle in his eye.
"Just for that," Doc jumped in, "you can come with me down to Sick Bay and let me take a look at that shoulder."
"Doc…" Lee started, but badly outnumbered he eventually surrendered. Once there, he sat on the edge of the exam table and unbuttoned his shirt as Doc took what he needed from one of the drawers.
"So?" Doc asked, turning back to Lee.
"Doctor-Patient confidentiality. You can now tell me what went on in the cantina without it going any further."
Lee just laughed. "Jamie, I’m ashamed of you. You know me better than to think I’d tell tales on a lady."
"Thank you very much, Skipper. Now I know something went on."
Lee gave him a dirty look, then sobered. "I wish she didn’t have to go back in. She hasn’t talked about it, at least not to me, but I don’t think it was a lot of fun."
"I’ve gotten that same impression," Doc muttered, thinking of the bruises he’d found on her arms. As they’d been talking Jamie had examined the wound and flexed Lee’s arm, checking mobility. Lee suspected he was also trying to determine how much pain his not-always-forthcoming patient was still in and Lee kept his face under control. Jamie stopped and gave him a hard look, and Lee’s went that much more innocent. Jamie finally shook his head and chuckled. Unfortunately for Lee, as he also relaxed, Jamie gave the arm a quick shove up and back, and Lee couldn’t swallow a groan. "Thought so," Jamie smirked, and headed for his drug locker.
"No fair, Doc." Lee complained.
"I quit playing fair with you after the first month you were aboard," Jamie retorted sharply as he returned and handed Lee a glass of water and a small paper cup with two pills in it. "Take it!" he ordered as Lee hesitated. Lee briefly considered palming the pills and just pretending to take them, but finally surrendered and downed the meds. "Thank you," Jamie said as he took the glass. "Contrary to what you’re thinking, that won’t put you to sleep, although it might eventually make you a bit groggy. Go check to make sure your boat’s safe for the night, then hit the rack. You may think you can ignore this, but you still need to rest."
"Jamie," Lee started and rolled his eyes, but Jamie cut him off.
"Skipper, so help me, if you say ‘I’m fine’ I’ll call the Admiral down here and have you confined to quarters for the next 72 hours."
"You wouldn’t dare," Lee challenged softly.
"Don’t bet on it," Jamie countered, crossing his arms.
The stalemate was finally broken as Lee grinned and started buttoning his shirt. He shot Jamie a quick look. "One of these days, Doc." Jamie just grinned at him and he left.
Lee did as they both knew he would – hit the Control Room first then walked the length of the boat, making sure all was in order before he headed toward his cabin. Passing Micki’s cabin on the way he stopped and knocked softly.
"What?" she asked harshly, ripping open the door and glaring at him.
"Just wanted to make sure you were Ok," Lee said.
"I’m fine," she growled, and Lee couldn’t help a small smile. But he also noticed something else, and when she would have closed the door in his face braced it with his hand.
"From the looks of you, you’re not fine. Why don’t you go back down to the nose? Or better still, take one of Doc’s pills? You don’t have to suffer like this." He’d continued to speak gently but he could see her just get angrier.
"Leave me alone," she snarled, pushed his arm aside, and slammed the door. Unfortunately for Lee, the hand he’d used on the door was his left, and her shoving it aside caused another momentary twinge.
"Losing your touch, ol’ buddy," and Lee turned to see Chip just coming around the corner. Embarrassed more for Micki than himself, and quickly hiding any pain that might have shown on his face, he glared at his XO.
"What are you doing here?" he groused.
Chip was only slightly taken aback. "Ran into Doc a few minutes ago. Just checking to make sure you were all nice and tucked in before I crashed."
"Does everyone on this boat have to stick their nose in my business?"
"Haven’t we always? Besides, that’s my job, taking care of the Captain." Chip was still smiling and finally Lee did too, at what had become a small joke between the two. He turned and headed down the corridor, shaking his head slowly, and Chip’s grin broadened.
"Has anyone ever told you you’re impossible?" Lee complained as they reached his cabin door and he stopped, his hand on the knob.
"My sister, constantly," Chip chuckled. "Do you need any help?"
"No, I do not need any help. Good night, Mr. Morton." Lee said firmly. But he smiled and entered the cabin as Chip moved on to his own door. Though Doc had warned him he might get sleepy, mostly what he felt was tired. He sat for a bit going over the few things that had accumulated in his ‘In’ basket, then changed, turned out the lights, and lay down.
* * * *
Reaching her cabin after dinner, it hadn’t taken the old memories long to surface, setting Micki to pacing. She kept the worst of them at bay for quite awhile, working hard to control her breathing, but they were just about to get the better of her when Crane had knocked. She was thankful it was him and not someone else, yet hated that he caught her this far out of control. While admitting silently to herself that he was right, she’d still let her anger and frustration get to her and literally pushed him away, realizing too late which arm she had pushed. Leaning against the door she’d heard most of the first part of his and Chip’s conversation, and was surprised when Lee took the blame instead of just telling Chip their passenger was a basket case.
After the two men had walked away Micki did finally go into the head and check the envelope Doc had given her. But there was only one left and she didn’t want to take it for fear of having a worse need at a later date. She certainly wasn’t going to ask for more! She went back to pacing, listening to the occasional footsteps outside in the corridor. There hadn’t been many as the boat settled down for the night. She recognized Admiral Nelson’s at one point, and one of the junior officers, but wasn’t totally sure which one. When she’d heard nothing for almost half an hour she slipped out and went again to Lee’s cabin. All was quiet as the night before and she stepped quickly inside.
* * * *
Again he had no idea of what woke him, but at least this time knew whom. Rolling over, he glanced at the luminous numbers on his desk clock – 0040 – and wondered how long she’d already been there. He couldn’t hear her breathing so at least she must be somewhat back under control, although he had a feeling it was without benefit of Doc’s pills. Maybe she was out and too embarrassed – no, he corrected himself, not embarrassed – too proud to ask for more. He’d have a little talk with Jamie in the morning. In the meantime…
"Talk to me," he said quietly, without moving. For awhile he thought that either he’d been mistaken and she wasn’t sitting behind his desk, or that she would just ignore the plea. But finally he heard a long sigh.
"Do you have any idea what it’s like, stuck in a dark hold of a cell, all alone, not knowing how long you’ve been there or how long it will be before you get out – if you ever do?" Her voice was soft, but filled with so much pain Lee hurt for her.
"For you, no," he answered, still not moving. "But I know what it was like for me."
"Does it matter?"
"No, I suppose it doesn’t. How long?"
"Which time?" and Lee heard a soft gasp.
"How can you still just blithely go about putting yourself at risk for it happening again?"
"Chip says I think I’m invincible. At least," and Lee chuckled softly, "that’s what he says when he’s being polite."
"You act like it’s nothing. Like its just part of your job."
"Not according to Chip or, apparently, Admiral Nelson."
It was Lee’s turn to be silent for awhile. "I guess what it boils down to, it’s just who I am." There was another moment of silence. "You aren’t talking about this mission, are you?" he continued gently.
"No. This one’s just weird. Should have been a piece of cake but somewhere along the line, since his estate was originally scoped out, Vargas installed a whole new security system. Damn near got my head blown off trying to get into his office. Luckily he thinks I’m just a dimwitted trollop he plays with sometimes." Lee realized he must have made some sound because she laughed harshly. "Down, Captain. That’s just part of my job. I’m good at acting, remember? And most men…well, at least a lot of men, are all too willing to accept a woman who acts like a prostitute to be one"
"But, to let yourself be used like that?"
"My, my, Captain. Chivalry isn’t dead after all."
"You make that sound like an insult," Lee said testily, and heard her chuckle softly.
"Sorry," and they were both silent again for awhile. "Do you ever think about quitting?" she finally asked. "Just not saying yes anymore?"
Lee was quiet for a bit, then let out a big sigh. "Not really. Oh, when Chip or the Admiral get on my case, or when things are going badly – as happens all too frequently – the thought is tempting." He paused and sighed again. "But when push comes to shove I always go." Neither said anything for a bit, and Lee rolled over and propped himself up on his elbow, head on hand. "You?" There was silence from across the room, then he heard her start to breathe hard again. "Easy," he said gently. "Slow, deep breaths."
"I’m fine," came the gruff reply.
"Glad to hear it," he said amiably. He listened to oaths in Spanish soft enough he couldn’t translate, and was fairly sure that was a good thing. When she finally seemed to run out of steam he tried again. "So, do you ever think about giving it up?"
"No," she finally admitted after another long silence. "Are we just that stupid?"
Lee chuckled softly. "Whatever you do, don’t ask that in front of Chip," and was relieved to hear her give a soft snort of humor. "I would hope we’re not," he continued seriously. "I have to believe that what I do is needed, that I’m providing a service to the U.S. and other free nations around the world, helping to keep them free. If I didn’t, I don’t think I could continue."
"Sometimes it seems so hopeless."
"Then I try to remember I’m not in it alone. If I do my part, others are doing theirs."
"The eternal optimist," she grumbled with contempt.
"No," he answered without rancor. "Just figure others are depending on me to do my part, and don’t want to be the cause of someone else’s failure."
"That’s why I work alone."
"Not what I meant. If I go in after information and am able to pass it on, then I’ve helped others. If I fail, I always worry that someone else might have been adversely affected because I couldn’t keep up my end." He was silent for a bit. "I guess that’s what keeps me going – that others depend on me."
"What about the ones that just use you?"
"Knowing I’m going to get yelled at, I still have to say this – I thought that letting people use you was part of your act." There was deadly silence from across the room for so long Lee was beginning to have serious doubts about his continuing health. Finally he heard a soft snort.
"Had that one coming, didn’t I?"
"Yes, you did," Lee agreed.
"You didn’t have to agree so readily," Micki complained, and they both chuckled. "But that wasn’t what I was talking about."
"I know. Just couldn’t resist."
"Next time, try," she muttered, but there was humor in her voice.
"Talbot?" Lee asked gently.
"Among others. He’s just the current one."
"It’s been my experience that they’ve always been there and, my guess is, always will."
"That’s very comforting," she sniped.
Lee couldn’t help himself and chuckled. "You didn’t seem to have a problem handling him during the phone call."
"Yeah, but it didn’t do any good, either, did it?"
"Probably not," Lee agreed.
"If he orders you to go in, you’ll do it," and it wasn’t a question.
Lee hesitated only a moment. "Yes," he said softly.
"And if Nelson says no?"
Lee didn’t have an immediate answer for that one. What he finally said was, "He’s never asked me to refuse an ONI assignment."
"But if he did? Or simply refused to permit you to leave?"
"I don’t know." Lee answered so softly he was sure she hadn’t heard, and repeated it a bit louder. "Guess I’ve never thought about it before. He’s always seemed to understand what it means to me and doesn’t interfere."
"Sure sounded like he disapproved this time," and Lee remembered the Admiral’s displeasure during the phone call.
"Not ticked that I left Seaview, just that I did so without notifying him."
"Oh, like that’s much of a difference."
"Is to him. He owns the boat."
"And it’s crew?"
Lee instantly took umbrage – for the Admiral’s sake, he realized quickly. "Admiral’s privilege, times two. He’s my superior officer and my boss."
"And my friend, if I’m totally honest. I don’t like to disappoint him."
"Meaning, if he said stay, you’d stay."
Lee had to think about that for awhile. "I like to think I’m also his friend, and as such he knows how much it means to me and wouldn’t say no." They were both silent a bit, unfortunately broken when Lee yawned loudly.
"I’m disturbing your rest," and Micki emphasized the last word. "You’ll end up in trouble with Dr. Jamison as well as the Admiral."
Lee chuckled. "Wouldn’t be the first time."
"Don’t be. It’s alright, really. Stay as long as you want."
"Only if you’ll go back to sleep. I’ve been trouble enough already." Lee started to reply but she cut him off. "Please."
"Ok," he said reluctantly, and lay back down.
But he didn’t sleep. Oh, he lay quietly to make Micki believe he was, but she’d given him a lot to think about and sleep, which was usually so easy for him aboard Seaview, wouldn’t come.
* * * *
At some point it must have. Occasionally glancing at the clock, Lee noted the passing of 0200 and 0300 with no apparent movement from Micki. The next time he checked, however, the clock read 0550 and she was no longer sitting in his chair. He rolled out of bed and headed for his shower, knowing he was going to regret the short night. He just hoped it had been worth it, for Micki’s sake.
She wasn’t in the Wardroom when he entered at 0630. Chip, Doc, and the Admiral were, however, and Lee picked up what breakfast he wanted and joined them. Nelson and Chip were discussing the fact that several seismographs left on the ocean floor were sending out interesting readings, suggesting the possibility of further quakes, and the three talked about possible ramifications while Doc just sat back and listened. At one point Lee failed to stifle a yawn and Nelson looked at him sternly. Before he could comment, however, Lee held up his hand. "I’m fine, Admiral," Lee said using his normal command voice. Nelson raised an eyebrow at him, and Lee dropped his eyes. "Just didn’t get much sleep last night."
"Why?" Nelson wanted to know, but before Lee could answer, Doc interrupted.
"What’s wrong, Skipper? Your shoulder causing you trouble?"
"No, Doc," Lee answered with an exasperated tone. "The shoulder’s fine."
"Then you won’t mind coming down to Sick Bay and letting me check it."
"Can I at least finish eating first?" Lee complained, causing laughter to erupt from the others.
"He’s hungry, Doc," Chip snickered. "Can’t be all that serious." Lee concentrated on his meal. Chip and Nelson, already finished, left for the Control Room, and Doc, after pouring himself and Lee more coffee, sat down opposite.
"Anything you’d like to tell me, Skipper?" he said lightly. Lee continued to concentrate on his food, then covertly glanced around the Wardroom. There were a couple junior officers still there, but neither very close.
"Micki spent most of the night in my cabin," and then gave Jamie a hard look when the CMO snickered. "It wasn’t like that," Lee growled, and Doc raised his hand.
"Didn’t actually think it was, Skipper." As Lee continued to glare at him he asked a bit more soberly. "What happened?"
Lee looked at him a second more, then sighed and lowered his eyes. "She doesn’t seem to do well alone, Jamie. It’s the second night I’ve awakened to find her sitting at my desk. Last night she wanted to talk."
"No, but afterward I couldn’t go back to sleep. I think she may be out of the pills you gave her, and she’s too stubborn to ask for more."
"Wonder where I’ve heard that one before?" Doc mused, then chuckled as Lee glared at him. "Tell you what, Skipper, I’ll have a talk with her. Not sure how much good it will do but I’m happy to try."
"Right after I check you out," and Lee glared at him again, but it changed rapidly to a sheepish grin and he quietly finished eating. As they headed for Sick Bay a short time later Lee looked at the CMO seriously.
"She won’t take kindly to my having said anything, Jamie."
"Did you tell me anything about her, Skipper?" Doc answered innocently. "Sorry, I must have missed that," and both men smiled.
* * * *
Micki was pretty sure Lee hadn’t slept much after their conversation. She’d discovered he had a tendency to snore very softly and it was nearly 4:30 before she heard it. She’d sat quietly, unwilling to leave but not wanting to disturb him further. Now, deciding he’d finally fallen asleep, she returned to her own cabin. Going through her exercise routine strenuously she finally lay down herself and surprisingly enough fell asleep, not waking again until almost 10am. Shaking her head she took a quick shower, and it wasn’t until she came out that she saw the envelope on the small desk. "Figured you were probably out by now" was written on the outside, followed by Doc’s signature. Inside were 10 or so of the small white pills he’d given her before. She smelled the Captain’s fine hand behind this and was instantly ticked. Shaking her head finally, she chuckled. Chill, Micki. After last night you had it coming. She stashed the envelope in the head and walked to the Wardroom. Breakfast of course was long over but the ever-present coffee pot was full. After pouring a cup, she tentatively poked her nose into the Galley, wondering what she might be able to scrounge up. Cookie saw her and frowned but made no other comment, standing at a long counter cutting up chicken into small bite-size pieces. She wandered over to watch and discovered he was fixing chicken salad sandwich mix.
"Would you make me walk the plank if I made a suggestion?" she asked quietly.
"Here we just fire you out a torpedo tube," he answered, still frowning. Since he wasn’t actively threatening to do so she dared continue.
"Add chopped apples, seedless grapes, and walnuts, and make Chicken Waldorf Salad Sandwiches." The suggestion stopped the cook cold and Micki felt sure she was going to be told to leave. Instead, he separated out a small portion of the mix into another bowl, found the ingredients she’d suggested, and handed her a knife and spoon. Micki quickly had the alternative together, added a bit extra mayonnaise, took the slices of Cookie’s best homemade bread she was handed, and with the new mixture also added some alfalfa sprouts she was surprised Cookie had. The chef, having watched her intently as he continued to chop chicken, started putting his own sandwich together from Micki’s leftovers as she left the galley and headed forward.
* * * *
"Lee?" and there was concern in Chip’s voice.
"I’m fine," Lee grumbled.
"That may be, but you’re making me a nervous wreck. Please go lie down." As Lee turned to stare at his XO, Chip hurried on. "At the very least go sit down in the Nose. All that yawning is driving me crazy."
Lee couldn’t help but laugh at the complaint. Chip hadn’t let Lee out of his sight since Lee had arrived in the Control Room almost an hour previously. After going to Sick Bay with Doc, Lee had walked down to the Missile Room and spent a good part of the morning talking with and assisting the divers Admiral Nelson had sent out to run some further tests. When they were done he’d finally gone forward. Unfortunately he hadn’t been able to quit yawning and it was obviously getting to Chip. Even Admiral Nelson had been casting sideways glances at his young Captain, from where he was sitting in the Nose going over results from the various tests Seaview had run in his absence. Chip and Lee were monitoring the seismic readings coming from the automated units on the ocean floor and relaying that information to the Admiral as well. Chip used that excuse to hand Lee the latest computer printouts and pointed toward the Admiral. As Lee started forward Chip muttered to his back "And stay there." Lee was still chuckling when he got to where Nelson was sitting. Unfortunately he also had to quickly cover another yawn. Admiral Nelson was just opening his mouth to comment when Sparks interrupted.
"Admiral, another incoming call from Admiral Talbot, Sir. What should I tell him?"
"Another?" Lee asked Nelson, puzzled. He hadn’t heard anything about any previous ones. Nelson just raised a hand.
"All in good time, Lee," and he got up and headed for the radio shack, Lee right behind. When they arrived Sparks was fiddling with the radio’s switches, and Nelson grinned. "Still having that interference problem?" he asked innocently.
"Seem to be, Sir. Just can’t get it to clear up for some reason," and he, too, was wearing a huge grin.
"What did you tell Talbot?"
"Same as before, that we were experiencing a feedback and that I was doing everything I could to clear it up," and the radioman continued to fiddle with a switch here and there. Lee saw Micki enter the Control Room from the aft hatch, most of a huge sandwich in her hands. She came over and stood next to him, continuing to eat, and Nelson gave her a grin before returning his attention to Sparks.
"Why don’t you tell the Admiral, assuming you can get through all the static, that we’re working on the problem? It’s my opinion that it has something to do with all the seismic activity. Once that calms down so should our radio transmissions." Everyone was quiet as Sparks relayed the information, talking very loudly over his manmade static, all the while trying to control the grin on his face. As he fiddled with another switch he mouthed to those standing around, which now included Chip and Sharkey, "Who can whistle the loudest?" As everyone looked at each other, Micki stepped closer.
"What do you have in mind?" she said softly. Sparks indicated the secondary pedestal mic and started a countdown as he shouted into his for Talbot to hang on, he was going to try one more thing. As he got closer to ‘one’ Micki indicated his earphones, but with both hands busy with switches it was Lee who reached down and removed them from Sparks’ head. Sparks indicated a ‘go’, Micki put two fingers in her mouth, and the resulting whistle could probably have been heard in the rearmost hold of the boat. In the confines of the Control Room it was almost unbearable. They could only imagine what it had done to Talbot. As Sparks shut down the radio Nelson’s expression, once his own grimace was under control, was a combination of smug and smirk and Lee looked at him, frowning.
"What’s going on, Admiral? Talbot must be trying to pass on new information about Micki’s assignment."
"Oh, I’m sure he is, Lee. But it will just have to wait a bit longer."
"All in good time, Lee. Why don’t you and Ms. Ortiz join me in the Observation Nose?" The three made their way forward as Sparks reset his equipment and Sharkey went back to his normal position by the aft hatch. Chip walked with them as far as the chart table, then stayed there and went back to studying computer printouts. Nelson had continued to have a small grin on his face, but it faded abruptly as Lee settled heavily into a chair at the table, again failing to cover a yawn.
"I’m fine, Admiral," Lee said firmly, realizing he’d been caught.
"Sure you are," and Nelson’s expression hardened further. "That’s why you’ve barely been able to keep your eyes open all morning."
Lee caught Micki glance at him and start to say something, but he cut her off. "If you won’t believe me, Admiral, ask Jamie. He checked the shoulder and released me for duty." Lee’s voice held just a hint of defiance that was not lost on Nelson.
"I’ve already talked to Jamie, thank you." His own voice matched the hard expression still on his face, but he finally sat down himself, then continued in a slightly softer tone. "Something didn’t ring true when I talked to Admiral Talbot the other day. Couldn’t quite put my finger on why, but something about that whole conversation set my nerves on edge. I made a couple calls before returning to Seaview and I’m waiting on those responses before making any further commitment of either of you," he added firmly.
"Can you do that?" Micki said incredulously, and Nelson smiled.
"I think I just did, and thank you for the assist."
"Admiral…" Lee started, but Nelson cut him off.
"When I know more, so will you. In the meantime I have other things we need to discuss." As Micki started to get up he waved her back down. "No, stay here. The reports I need are in my cabin. Lee…" and he gestured toward the stairs. Lee followed quietly until they were halfway to Officers’ Country.
"Admiral," he started again, but Nelson just raised his hand and continued on to his cabin. Once they entered he settled himself behind his desk and gestured Lee toward the extra chair. As Lee hesitantly sat down on the edge of the chair, Nelson smiled.
"Like I said, I’ve already talked to Jamie."
Realization finally dawned on Lee and he lowered his eyes slightly. "That’s why you left her in the Nose," he said softly.
"Also why I’ve done several other things this morning," and Lee looked at him questioningly. "As I said, I don’t have all the facts yet, just enough to know that it’s vital we get back whatever Ms. Ortiz is supposed to be retrieving from General Vargas’ computer. And even though she’s remained adamant about doing it herself, I think I know you well enough that you’re just as adamant about going with her." As Lee would have responded, Nelson again raised a hand, cutting him off. "And while I’m not overly happy about it, I’m not about to ask you not to," and he gave Lee an indulgent smile.
"Thank you, Admiral."
"However," and his voice hardened slightly, "I will do whatever I can to minimize the risks. To that end I spent some time this morning making a few arrangements."
Lee wasn’t sure he liked the sound of that and asked guardedly, "What kind of arrangements?"
"Despite your assurances to the contrary, I’m not convinced you’re in good enough shape to tackle another assignment right now," he started.
"Admiral," Lee started to voice his objections, but Nelson silenced him with a glare.
"This is non-negotiable, Lee." His voice and expression softened slightly and he continued. "Just hear me out. As I said, I won’t stop you from going. Jamie tells me that despite some residual pain you’re actually healing just fine. What concerns him most is that you’re not getting enough rest," and again had to stop a response from Lee. "What is also quite evident, is that you’re not likely to get that rest until Ms. Ortiz does as well." Lee, who had been looking hard at Nelson, now lowered his eyes.
"I can explain, Admiral," he said softly.
"No need, lad. Jamie already has," and he smiled at the sheepish expression Lee sent him. "I did a little digging and discovered there’s a small town, San Sebastian, up the coast about 40 kilometers from where you originally picked her up. Those two places and the Capital, where Vargas’ compound is, form almost an equilateral triangle. Because of the local sport diving opportunities there are several hotels in San Sebastian. It would be a reasonable place for Ms. Ortiz to have taken her latest ‘date’ if she wanted to get away from the Capital for a few days."
Lee had shuddered slightly at Nelson’s reference to ‘date’ but otherwise had kept his thoughts to himself. Now he asked, "Intel still thinks her cover wasn’t broken?"
"That’s one of the things I’m trying to confirm. I’ll not have the two of you walking into a trap on just Talbot’s say so."
"What did you have in mind?"
"It’s rather obvious Ms. Ortiz needs off Seaview," and joined his Captain in a small grin. "I’ve already booked a suite at the biggest hotel."
"Why, Admiral? Wouldn’t a room in one of the smaller ones be less conspicuous?"
"Not only will more people around give you more anonymity, the size of the room should keep the two of you from killing each other before you can complete the assignment."
"It’s not nearly that bad, Sir," Lee complained, and Nelson chuckled softly.
"No?" and he grinned tolerantly. "Let’s just say I think the both of you need your own space to unwind."
"So we just stay there?" Lee asked after a pause. "How long?"
"Until I get some answers," Nelson said strongly enough that Lee just stared at him. "I told you I wasn’t too happy with the story Talbot tried to feed me." Lee nodded and Nelson continued. "As much as I know you want answers, I’m not going to go into details until I have a better idea of what’s really going on. You and Ms. Ortiz are to stay at the hotel, playing tourist, until I contact you. No going to the Capital, no trying something on your own. Is that clear?" and his voice was again hard.
"Yes, Sir," Lee acknowledged.
"When do we leave?"
"Tonight, after dinner, assuming we can get Ms. Ortiz back aboard FS1." His voice was again softer and he sent Lee a grin.
Lee grinned back. "Jamie might be able to help with that."
Nelson just shrugged. "In the meantime, you are going to your cabin." His voice had an edge back in it, and Lee didn’t try to interrupt. "Lunch will be delivered, which you will eat. Then you are going to lie down and get some sleep." His voice again softened as he added, "I’ll see that Ms. Ortiz is kept occupied. Now, off with you."
"She isn’t going to like this," Lee said as he got up.
"You let me worry about that. Oh, and Lee…" he added as Lee opened the cabin door. "You might want to avoid your XO if at all possible."
"I gather he’s not too excited about the plan?" and Lee grinned.
"Let’s just say he had a few suggestions of his own to make."
Lee’s expression turned dark. Chip venting at him was one thing. If he let loose on the Admiral, that went way too far. "Admiral…" Lee started. Nelson just grinned.
"Relax, Lee. Actually, he had some rather valid points to make, and I’ve already addressed a couple of them." Lee sent Nelson a questioning look but the Admiral chose not to elaborate, and Lee walked to his cabin wondering what Nelson and his XO were plotting now, that he in all likelihood would regret later.
He figured Nelson had called the Galley immediately after Lee left because he hadn’t been in his cabin 5 minutes when Cookie himself arrived with a lunch tray. Actually two trays, and Lee’s as yet unasked question was answered as Chip entered just a few seconds later. So much for staying out of Chip’s way, Lee muttered to himself, but decided later that Nelson’s warning wasn’t so much to avoid the XO as it was to simply avoid arguing with him. Chip was amiable enough while the two ate. Cookie had supplied both with Micki’s version of chicken sandwiches accompanied by his homemade potato-leek soup, green salad, and chocolate chip cookies. Originally looking at the plate Lee just knew there was no way he could eat it all. But other than giving his second cookie to Chip he somehow managed, with a little good-natured goading from his friend. As they finished, the only fussing Chip did through the entire meal was to make a rather pointed remark concerning Lee’s bunk. Lee just shook his head in amusement and went to lie down as Chip gathered up the dishes and prepared to leave. He couldn’t even remember later if he’d actually heard the door close.
* * * *
A soft "Skipper?" roused him and he realized Doc was sitting on the edge of his bunk. He returned the CMO’s gentle smile and sat up.
"What’s up, Jamie?"
"You, unfortunately. I’d have preferred to let you sleep." Lee glanced at his watch and shuddered slightly when he realized it was well after 1930. "Since you’re apparently going to be out of my clutches for awhile I wanted one more look at your shoulder." His voice was stern but he still smiled, stood up, and let Lee swing around to take his place on the edge of the bunk.
"No hassles over missing dinner?" Lee teased, unbuttoning his shirt.
"We both felt sleep was more important," said Admiral Nelson, coming in through the door Lee hadn’t realized until now had been left open. "And besides, I’ve already arranged for a late meal to be sent to your room at the hotel, once you check in."
"How’d Micki take the plans?" Lee asked guardedly as Jamie poked and flexed his arm. There was an exchange of grimaces between Nelson and Doc before the Admiral answered.
"As expected she wasn’t overly thrilled, particularly about you going along. However, I think I convinced her that there’s enough discrepancies in Talbot’s story to wait until we have something more definite before trying to go after Vargas again."
Lee looked carefully at the other two before asking, "What aren’t you telling me," and was rewarded with sheepish grins.
"I think it’s a very good thing I don’t understand Spanish," Jamie muttered, and Nelson just nodded.
"Swell," Lee did a bit of muttering himself. "So I get to listen to her complaints all the way to San Sebastian, and probably a good while after that." Lee was still shaking his head, albeit with a slight grin to match the one on Nelson’s face, when he realized Jamie was preparing a hypo. "What’s that for," and his voice was hard.
"Easy, Skipper," Doc comforted. "Just a slow-release antibiotic. Your shoulder is healing nicely and I’d like to keep it that way. Now," and he gave Lee a smirk, "bottom’s up."
After Nelson and Jamie left, Lee changed and was packing when Chip stomped in and tossed a smallish leather case next to Lee’s bag. At Lee’s raised eyebrow Chip gave him a hard look. "Since it doesn’t do any good to tell you to come back in one piece, try bringing that back intact," he grumbled, turned on his heel, and stomped back out. Lee chuckled as he discovered that what Chip had given him was a First-Aid kit.
Finished, Lee grabbed his bag and headed forward. As he came down the spiral stairs he sent a smile toward Chip, standing at the chart table, and was relieved to see one form on his friend’s face as well before Lee walked over to the open hatch to the Flying Sub. Micki was standing at the top, bag in hand, glaring down. But when she sent the glare Lee’s way, he noticed something else in her eyes as well, and was instantly concerned. Dropping his bag, he touched her arm.
"It’s OK," he said softly. "You’re not alone, it’s not a cell. It’s not even that dark." He was trying to keep his voice soft, trying to reassure her as he read the terror on her face, but it wasn’t working.
"Why can’t we go by boat," and Micki’s voice was raised, angry. Lee could see a few heads turn at the sound, and noticed Chip send a glare around the Control Room that put everyone’s eyes back on their instruments. Lee nodded to his XO as he walked over and closed the crash doors.
"One, it’s too far," Lee said quietly, soothingly. "And two, FS1 will be safer, able to put us ashore with much less chance of getting spotted." As Micki just started muttering oaths in Spanish Lee put both hands on her arms and gave her a small shake. "Think!" he commanded sharply. "Use your brain." He could see her fighting with herself, and thought she was winning. Footsteps on the spiral stairs, however, caused her to jump sharply and Lee was greatly concerned at the wild look he saw in her eyes. When the steps turned out to belong to Jamie, Lee started to relax. Chip must have called him he thought, and sent a smile Micki’s way. But Jamie’s appearance had the opposite effect on her than he anticipated.
"What the hell are you doing here," she demanded of the CMO.
The smile on Jamie’s face froze and he looked briefly at Lee before saying softly, "The Admiral called me." Jamie had stopped on the next to last step, and now finished walking down to stand on the deck. "It’s been quite evident to all of us," and his voice had changed from pleasant to the one Lee recognized – all too well – as the one he used when he was lecturing recalcitrant patients to behave themselves, "that you were probably going to have difficulties getting back aboard the Flying Sub."
As Jamie had been talking, Lee kept a close watch on Micki. When instead of quieting Lee saw her tense further, he was afraid she was going to start a tirade he wasn’t sure any of them could stop. He did the only thing he could think of to do. Well aware of her martial arts training, but comfortable that his own was even better, he grabbed her and put just enough pressure on a couple of places on her neck to cause her to quickly lose consciousness. Giving Jamie a sad shake of his head, he gently lowered Michelle to the deck.
"You didn’t have a choice," Lee heard from behind him, and he realized Admiral Nelson had his head poked up through the hatch.
"Doesn’t make it any easier," Lee said sadly as he watched Jamie quickly prepare and administer an injection. "How long will she be out?" he asked the CMO.
"Long enough so that you can get settled into the hotel," Jamie answered.
"Leaving me to deal with her when she wakes up," Lee grumbled, then gave the CMO a smile.
"You haven’t managed too badly so far," Nelson chuckled and ducked back down the hatch. Jamie refused to allow Lee to help as he and Nelson got the now totally relaxed Micki below, safely tucked into the bunk aboard FS1, and the safety straps comfortably snugged into place.
"You didn’t have a choice," Nelson repeated softly as he turned back and watched Lee stow the bags he’d brought down. "If she’d totally freaked it would have not only been the end of her career, but I don’t know what it would have done to her personally."
"Skipper?" and Jamie looked at Lee questioningly, holding out a small leather case.
Lee had seen it before, and knew it was a small injection kit. "No, Jamie," he said, shaking his head. "She’ll be fine once we’re ashore." Jamie nodded and left, dogging the upper hatch behind him, and Lee settled into the co-pilot’s seat.
Nelson was finished with the pre-flight routine, and concentrated on getting FS1 launched and airborne before continuing. "I’ll be letting you off about five kilometers outside of San Sebastian." Lee raised an eyebrow but didn’t say anything as Nelson continued. "We’ll be met there by Carlos Vega. I doubt you know him."
"The name doesn’t sound familiar," Lee said, slightly puzzled.
"He’s from here, used to do odds and ends for ONI, and still keeps an eye on goings on. But he’s been pretty much retired for years, living quietly."
"How do you know about him, Admiral?"
"Friend of a friend," was the non-committal answer. "He’ll take you to the hotel. You’re already booked in and he has the room key, so getting in with our sleeping friend shouldn’t be any problem. After that you’re on your own," and he chuckled again.
"Thanks, I think," and Lee gave the Admiral a wry smile.
"Has Ms. Ortiz told you what she’s trying to retrieve?"
"No, Sir," and Lee got serious again.
"That much I’ve been able to find out. Seems one of ONI’s computer geniuses, on his off time, was tinkering with a new microchip design. It’s made to look just like a regular memory chip, but with a special program built in to give an outside hacker access to a user’s computer data."
"Terrific," Lee muttered sarcastically.
"Actually, in a foreign government’s computer it would have been a great way to gather intelligence."
"Yeah, but what happens if it gets in ours?"
"There is that," Nelson conceded. "Anyway, somehow Admiral Talbot found out what the tech was doing, or he told Talbot, nobody’s quite sure. What we do know is, Talbot had the design for the new chip on a disk."
"What does the tech say?"
"That’s part of the problem. He’s dead." Lee gave the Admiral a hard look. "Apparently from natural causes," Nelson continued. "He was known to have a bad heart. Just keeled over one day at his desk."
"Pretty well documented," Nelson assured.
"So how did Vargas get the disk?"
"That part is still being worked on."
"But by now he’s made a hundred copies."
"No. The disk was encrypted not only with an anti-copying program, but also a destruct virus. All Vargas could do was look at the program. He couldn’t even download it."
"So, he simply sits down and re-writes it into another program."
"Which is what he’s hoping to do, only he doesn’t have anyone who has the knowledge to do it. We think he’s either waiting for someone who does, or is going to sell the disk to the highest bidder."
"Or both. Get someone to make a copy and not tell the new owners."
Nelson gave Lee a speculative look. "Has anyone ever told you, you have a very devious mind?"
Lee chuckled. "Chip, on numerous occasions."
Nelson smiled. "And we all thought it was Chip who used to be the instigator of all the pranks that you two were credited with at the Academy."
Lee gave Nelson a look of total innocence. "I have no idea what you mean, Sir." Nelson just shook his head. "I gather Talbot isn’t being entirely forthcoming," Lee changed the subject, and Nelson got serious again, too.
"No. He hasn’t even admitted having the disk, although so far everything is pointing in that direction."
"How sure is anyone that there’s only one copy? Can’t it be duplicated from the tech’s notes?"
"He didn’t leave any. Or, at least, none that can be found. What we do know has been pieced together from many different sources, and some of them aren’t totally reliable."
"Sounds like someone needs to have a long talk with Talbot," Lee said with a hard edge in his voice.
"Being considered as we speak," Nelson confirmed. "But he has friends in interesting places. Tackling him without more evidence could be seriously detrimental to one’s career – to say nothing of one’s health," and Lee just nodded. They were both silent for awhile.
As they neared territorial waters and Nelson dove the small craft, Lee asked quietly, "Any idea how long before you get better answers?"
"Not really. I would hope within a couple more days. If it weren’t for our small problem," and he indicated the bunk behind him, "there’s no way I’d want the two of you off Seaview."
"We’ll keep a low profile," Lee assured.
"See that you do," Nelson ordered gruffly.
There wasn’t much talk the rest of the way in. As they neared land Nelson turned off all the outside running lights and most of the inside ones as well, much as Kowalski had done when picking up Lee and Micki. He brought the small craft just barely to the surface about a hundred yards off shore from a small point of land and flipped the running lights on for two seconds exactly, then back off. Within a few seconds there was an answering light from the point and Nelson brought the little craft in, turned, and touched the aft hatch to land.
Lee’s first impression of Carlos Vega wasn’t promising. It also turned out to be totally wrong. Who Lee took for a bent and frail old man turned into someone not much older than the Admiral, small in stature but strong and wiry. After a few brief words with Nelson he entered FS1 and went immediately to the bunk where Lee had undone the restraints, carefully picked up the still-sleeping Micki, and headed back out. Lee reached for the bags but Nelson already had them. All Lee could do was follow along the short distance to where Vega had parked a car as decrepit looking as Lee’s first impression of the man himself. Micki was gently laid on the back seat, the bags were stowed, and Lee settled in the passenger seat with a minimum of conversation. Vega waited only until FS1 was again underwater then started the car, which turned out to be just as deceiving as its driver, and headed north toward San Sebastian. As Vega did not seem disposed to conversation, Lee remained silent as well.
As they neared the town, Vega indicated that Lee should scrunch down in the seat. Lee got as much of himself onto the floor as he could and laid his upper torso and head on the seat. Luckily it was only a short drive until Vega pulled to a stop. He told Lee to stay down and left the car but was back shortly, opening Lee’s door then going to the back one. Lee crawled out cautiously and discovered they were in the darkest part of the parking lot behind a 4-story hotel complex. As late as it was by now, almost 2400, all was fairly quiet, at least on this end of the complex. The restaurant – and from the sounds of music, the bar – were at the other end. Lee grabbed the bags as Vega picked up Micki, and they stayed in the shadows as they made their way to the back door. Vega dug out keys and just smiled as Lee gave him a speculative look. Lee led the way, keeping a watchful eye out, but they saw no one else as they climbed the back staircase to the 4th floor. Vega handed Lee the room key, and waited behind the stairway door until Lee had the door to the suite opened, then hurried in.
It turned out to have a central living area with a bedroom on each end, and a balcony that looked out over the front of the hotel toward the ocean. Lee had Vega put Micki in one of the bedrooms and left her bag there. When they re-entered the main area, Vega reached into a pocket and pulled out a small card with a number on it. When Lee would have reached for the card, Vega shook his head.
"Memorize it, my friend. If you need me, just call and leave a message. Say you’re a friend who would like a ride to the marina. I’ll be here as fast as I can."
"Understood," Lee acknowledged, and Vega left.
Lee had dropped his own bag in the other bedroom and was just coming back into the living area when there was a soft knock at the door. A quick glance out the peephole showed it to be a bellboy with a covered tray, and Lee just shook his head as he opened the door. The meal turned out to be a light one thankfully, although Lee discovered he was actually hungry. He had worked his way through a good portion of the Caesar salad with chunks of grilled chicken, fruit, and cheese and crackers, when he thought he heard a sound from Micki’s room. With a slight cringe he poured out a cup of coffee and headed in that direction.
Luckily he put the cup down on the nightstand. Expecting Micki to be pretty fuzzy coming out of whatever Doc had given her, he sat totally relaxed on the edge of the bed and laid a hand on her arm, giving a small shake. The next thing he knew, his head bounced off the hardwood floor as he landed on his stomach and his arm – his left arm – was yanked back and up between his shoulder blades. And all this before he could get out more than a single oath. Even that was cut off as two knees landed in the center of his back, knocking most of the air out of his lungs.
* * * *
Micki had spent a fairly restful day. After her belated breakfast she hadn’t wanted lunch, so stayed in the Nose. She’d expected Crane to reappear but, while the Admiral did, the Captain didn’t. Nothing was said and she wasn’t about to ask. But she did notice a short conversation about mid-afternoon between the Admiral and Chip, and both ended up laughing.
She’d been reading off and on, and finished the book by late afternoon. Intending to go to her room – and maybe take a peak into Crane’s cabin – she was deflected as the Admiral came and sat down. Mostly they just talked about Nelson’s ongoing research, and she had to smile as he tried desperately to keep his explanations on a level she could understand. She did ask at one point if there had been any further word from Admiral Talbot but Nelson just harrumphed and said no, things were still being checked out, and immediately changed the subject again.
It wasn’t until dinner that Nelson finally decided to let her in on some of what was going on. Crane wasn’t in the Wardroom, and Micki started to get the feeling that there was a plot to keep her here while Crane was sent in after the information. When she voiced her suspicions, she was immediately reassured that wasn’t the case. Dr. Jamison, who had joined them, and Nelson exchanged a quick grin, and Nelson explained that they’d convinced the Captain to get some rest and he was still asleep in his cabin. They made it sound like the decision hadn’t been entirely Crane’s idea. Micki thought she should explain her part in Crane’s not sleeping the night before, but considering the envelope that had been left in her cabin she had a feeling that the Doctor already knew, and therefore probably the Admiral as well.
There was also an unspoken message that passed between Nelson and Chip as the latter joined them at dinner, although this time both expressions remained somber, and Chip’s even seemed a bit grim.
"Chip, it’s the best I could do under the circumstances," Nelson had told the younger man. "I need you here."
"I know, Sir," Chip had answered. "Doesn’t mean I have to like it." But he’d ended with a trace of a smile on his face and gone to fill a plate before rejoining them.
When Nelson started telling her what he’d told Lee, Micki hadn’t liked it – one little bit! She didn’t want Crane going along, no way, no how. And the thought of cooling her heels in a hotel for who knew how long wasn’t appealing either. She didn’t understand why Nelson wouldn’t let her contact Admiral Talbot, and was getting a bit vocal when Nelson’s fist hit the table and everyone, including Micki, jumped.
"Ms. Ortiz," and Micki heard a tone in his voice she’d not heard before. It made earlier conversations between Nelson and others, particularly Crane, a bit clearer. While generally fairly amiable, this was obviously not a man you crossed. When Talbot raged Micki was able to just let him blow, and blow right back. But Micki had picked up a fair amount of respect for Nelson over the little bit of time she’d been around him, respect she didn’t necessarily have for Talbot. She realized that that, in conjunction with a strong friendship, was the basis for Crane’s deference to Nelson. And also, she realized as she quieted and listened, her own.
"I have no intention," Nelson continued firmly, if a bit more quietly, "of risking Lee’s life on a mission that’s as full of holes as this one appears to be. And while I know you’d prefer to go alone, some of the information I’ve been able to get leads me to believe you’ll be very grateful for the help. Now," and he finally took a deep breath and seemed to get himself back under control, "please finish your dinner and pack. We’ll leave in FS1 at 2030 hours and I’ll brief the two of you on the way." He’d concentrated on his own meal after that, as did everyone else, and had said nothing further.
Micki had eaten very little after Nelson’s outburst and left quickly for her cabin. She really wasn’t looking forward to entering the small craft again, even though common sense told her it was perfectly safe. And she wouldn’t be alone. Crane would be there, and as much as she hated the idea, at least to herself she admitted she’d be more comfortable with him around. And apparently Nelson was going as well, from his comment. She wondered briefly, a quick smile crossing her face, who would pilot.
But once she finished packing and went forward, she could feel the tensions rising. When Crane had found her, she knew he was only trying to help. But unable to stop herself, she’d lashed out at him. Then when Dr. Jamison had appeared she’d totally come unhinged. She’d felt herself being grabbed and tried to fight back, at that point not even recognizing who it was. But suddenly everything went dark.
* * * *
Her next sensation was also of a hand on her and this time, while still fuzzy, she was able to retaliate. Her adversary offered little resistance to her sudden attack. Shaking her head to clear the last of the fog, she finally took a good look at the person she was kneeling on top of. She was already beginning to get a bad feeling about what she’d done when there was a croaked "Get…off…" Micki quickly released the arm she’d cranked back and rolled to the side, taking her knees out of the middle of Crane’s back.
"Damn," she muttered, realizing it was the Captain’s left arm she’d grabbed. As he groaned and rolled away from her onto his back and clutching his left arm and shoulder, she asked gently, "You OK?"
Lee just glared at her. "No…I’m not," he finally muttered and sat up slowly, pain evident on his face.
"Here, let me look at that," and Micki reached toward him.
"No!" Lee practically yelled and pushed himself upright. "You just stay away from me," and he stalked out of the room.
Micki sat back on her heels and watched him leave, then spent several minutes getting her bearings and freshening up. When she entered the main room of the suite Lee was sitting in one of the chairs, his right arm still wrapped around his left shoulder, but when he looked at her most of the pain was gone from his face. "Sorry," Micki apologized, and watched as his expression turned almost sheepish.
"My fault," he acknowledged. "I know better. Didn’t expect you to wake up quite that fast."
Micki felt herself get hot. "Speaking of which…" she started, but Lee cut her off.
"Look," he said sharply. "I didn’t like it any more than you did." She watched as he took a deep breath and settled deeper into the chair. "You just didn’t give any of us a whole lot of options."
"Don’t suppose I did," she admitted softly.
Lee finally smiled. "Are you ready to listen to what the Admiral told me on the way here?"
Which set her off again. "Where does he get off, telling me I can’t contact my superior, withholding information…"
Lee stopped her with a glare. "Just calm down. He already said he wasn’t comfortable with what Talbot was telling him."
"It’s none of his business."
"It is when I’m involved."
"That’s another thing…"
"Just stop!" Lee growled. "You said you damn near got your head blown off the first time. Are you that anxious to get it done for real?"
"That’s not the point," she practically yelled.
"That’s precisely the point," Lee yelled back, then his voice softened. "Look. I’ve crossed hairs with Talbot before and Admiral Nelson knows that. If Nelson is being cautious, he has his reasons. I’m sure he’ll tell us what he knows just as soon as he’s sure of the facts."
"Then why stick us here?" Lee just smiled. He wasn’t sure if he should pass on that particular piece of the puzzle or not, since apparently Nelson hadn’t either. Unfortunately Micki wouldn’t let him off the hook. "Well?" she demanded.
"Because you couldn’t handle being on Seaview," he said softly, for better or worse, then was almost afraid Micki was going to flatten him again.
Actually, she gave it serious consideration, then finally tried to calm down. Spotting the meal that was still sitting on the small table where it had been left, and in particular the carafe of what she hoped was coffee, she pointed and asked, "Is that still hot?"
"Should be," Lee said. "Should be a cup still sitting on your nightstand," he muttered half to himself. "Guess you didn’t find it." She walked over and poured out a cup, and looked at Lee. But he just shook his head, his right hand absently rubbing his left shoulder.
Micki took a couple sips of the strong, sweet coffee, and finally said again, "Will you please let me look at that? You’re making me nervous." Lee gave her a hard look, but sighed heavily and unbuttoned his shirt, easing it off carefully. Checking under the small bandage she found a spot of blood, but it was already drying and there wasn’t anything fresh on the wound. As Lee would have put the shirt back on she shook her head. He gave her a puzzled look and she smiled, turned, and tossed two of the long couch cushions on the floor. "Down," she ordered, and Lee’s expression turned hard again. "Please," she amended, and he hesitantly complied, stretching out face down on the cushions, his head turned toward his left shoulder. Moving carefully, cautious amusement on her face, she knelt down, straddled his back, and started to gently massage the shoulder. As she worked outward slowly to include upper arm, neck, and partway down the back, Lee watched as much as he could. But the longer she worked, the more he relaxed.
Wishing she had some penetrating ointment to use, she made do without and gradually deepened her massage into the larger muscles, finally feeling Lee relax under her hands. He never closed his eyes, but he wasn’t trying to watch her every move, either.
"Micki?" he finally asked softly. "What were you told about the mission?" When she didn’t immediately answer, he continued, "I’d like to know what Talbot told you, to see how well it jibes with what Admiral Nelson’s found out."
"Vargas got his hands on a computer disk from Vi-Com Labs – that’s how it’s labeled. Supposed to contain a new memory chip design, something ONI was working on. I’m just supposed to get it back."
"Did he tell you how Vargas got it?"
"Not really. He normally doesn’t go into that kind of detail. Doesn’t matter to me."
"He just told you what to look for and turned you loose?" Lee’s voice expressed the incredulity he was feeling.
"It’s always worked before."
"Oh really," and Lee stared at her.
She dropped her eyes. "Most of the time, anyway," she answered softly.
Lee took a deep breath. "Nothing else?"
"Just intel about Vargas himself, and the estate layout. There’s no real reason I have to know what I’m going after unless it’s a computer file. And even then I just need to know how to identify it, not what’s in it. Actually, I’d rather not know. Sometimes it’s safer that way."
"Suppose there’s something to be said for that," Lee admitted.
"Nelson told you more?"
"A little," Lee hedged. "Not much. You’re right. As long as you know what you’re looking for it doesn’t matter. He was more concerned about how Vargas got his hands on it. Something’s got him bugged about this whole affair," and Lee cringed slightly at his choice of words. Micki just smiled. "He wouldn’t even tell me much, just wanted us to wait until he had a better idea of what was going on." Lee was expecting another outburst from Micki, knowing how she felt about that subject.
But instead she changed the subject. "Lee, what are the pills Dr. Jamison gave me?"
A small smile slipped out which she frowned at, but Lee just shook his head. "Not sure," he admitted. "I’ve never asked. Just know that when we have the occasional passenger with a problem," and his smile broadened as her frown deepened, "he takes care of it. Why?"
Micki shrugged. "Just curious. The pills are so small they don’t look like they could do anything. Guess I can’t argue that they do, though."
"The only thing I’ve ever heard Jamie say was to tell one guy," and he emphasized ‘guy’, "that he could take one or two as needed, up to three a day. Any more than that, or more than two too close together, and the guy would be pretty groggy. I remember the guy having much the same reaction as you did – he never really noticed he’d taken anything, just didn’t come unhinged every 20 minutes." He grunted as Micki gave him a soft punch in the back, and said something rude as she rolled off to one side. "Sorry," Lee apologized, rolling over and sitting up. He grinned, and she did too, finally, and glanced at her watch.
"I’m keeping you up again."
"Not so you’d notice. I slept about 7 hours this afternoon," he protested, but spoiled it by yawning. Micki stood and started to replace the cushions on the couch. "Thanks," he said, sliding off the second one and standing.
"Owed you that much," she acknowledged, settling the second cushion back in place. "Go to bed," then a frown crossed her face, not helped when Lee burst out laughing.
"Relax, Ms. Ortiz," and he nodded to the other side of the main room. "My bedroom’s over there," and he chuckled all the way over. "Good night," he said, and closed the door behind him.
* * * *
The next day went fairly peacefully. Lee slept lightly but he did sleep, and awoke at his usual 0530. His shoulder was a bit sorer than it had been the last couple days, but all things considered not as bad as it could have been. Lee didn’t even want to think about how much it hurt when Micki reefed on it. But her massage had helped greatly, as did the longer than usual shower he took. He didn’t see much of Micki all day. They had breakfast sent in, then she announced she was going shopping and was gone all morning. When she returned she changed into a swimming suit and spent the afternoon on the beach. Lee hung around the hotel room most of the day, hoping Admiral Nelson would call. But even he was getting cabin fever, and took a walk partway through the afternoon. He had to chuckle to himself as he got back. Walking down the hall to the room, he noticed a man just entering a room not far from theirs. No, that was not Kowalski. What gives, Crane? You don’t usually get homesick for your boat and crew quite this fast. He shook his head and smiled ruefully. Micki needs off the boat, you need on. This is not going well, and he entered the room and tried to relax.
Micki reappeared just before dinnertime, and they decided to change and go eat in the dining room. Micki said she’d been keeping an eye out all day, but hadn’t spotted anyone she knew, so it seemed safe. After spending a couple hours eating, then listening to the band in the bar, they returned to their room and both crashed early.
The following day went much the same, although both were becoming impatient that there had been no word from Admiral Nelson. Micki especially got mouthy about it over lunch, which they had in the dining room, and Lee finally just got up and went for a walk. It was getting on his nerves as well but he was tired of listening to Micki badmouthing the Admiral. He was gone almost four hours, just wandering around mostly, but spending some time down by the docks watching the boats come and go.
When he got back Micki was sitting out on the balcony. "Sorry," she apologized, coming back into the room. She was carrying a glass half full of something, and pointed to a pitcher on the coffee table. "Lemonade. Want some?"
"Not right now. And it’s OK. Overreacted just a bit," and Lee gave her a half-smile. "It’s not like the Admiral to keep me in the dark. At least," and he sighed, "not this way, or this long."
"Can we call him?" she asked hopefully, but Lee just shook his head.
"He’ll let us know as soon as he can." Lee flopped down on the couch dejectedly, and cringed slightly when his bad shoulder hit harder than he intended it to.
"Well, at least I can do something constructive," Micki smiled. She grabbed the sofa cushion Lee wasn’t sitting on and tossed it on the floor. "Bought some stuff for sore muscles yesterday while I was out," and she smiled disarmingly. Lee gave her a hard look, but it turned to a grin as she just continued to smile. Taking off his shirt, he stood up. Micki threw the other cushion on the floor and Lee stretched out, face down. "Just be a second," she continued. "I left it in the other room," and she hurried toward her bedroom.
Lee heard a soft "Damn," and almost got up. "What’s wrong?" he called out.
"Nothing. I know it’s here somewhere. Hang on," Micki called back. She came back a few minutes later, tossed a tube of something on the coffee table and took a long drink from her glass, which she’d left there before going in search of the ointment. She started to kneel over Lee’s back but ended up kicking the table and knocking over her glass. "Not my day," she muttered. Thankfully there hadn’t been much left in the glass. She got back up and grabbed a towel to clean up the mess, poured herself another half glassful, and also a glass for Lee into which she dropped a straw, then sat it on the floor within easy reach of him. "I know, I know, you didn’t want it," she grumbled, then smiled as Lee turned to grin at her. "Good for what ails you." She took another long drink from hers, picked up the tube of ointment, and started working it into Lee’s shoulder.
Lee had to admit, the massaging really felt great. He reached for the glass of lemonade, taking small sips as once again Micki started on the shoulder, then worked outward to his neck, down toward the elbow, and down the whole length of his back. The longer she worked the more relaxed he got, eventually closing his eyes. He never even realized when she finally quit, as he’d somewhere along the line fallen asleep.
* * * *
Micki hadn’t blamed Lee for stomping off the way he had at lunch. The sitting around waiting for something to happen, coupled with Nelson’s manipulations, had caused her to say things she shouldn’t have. She’d come to realize just how much respect Lee had for the Admiral, and while even he was uneasy with the lack of information, he had been willing to trust his Commanding Officer. Micki grimaced, admitting she’d rarely had that kind of respect for anyone. I envy Crane, she finally conceded.
But she still had a job to do. Finishing her meal hurriedly she took a short walk, found as secure a phone as she could under the circumstances, a pay phone in what passed for a post office, and called Talbot. Using codes to identify herself to the switchboard operator, and the fact she was on an unsecured line, she was presently put through to her boss.
"Are you still where you were?" were Talbot’s first words. Neither would say much more than they had to, in case the conversation was somehow being overheard.
"No – dry land," Micki answered. "Sorry for the delay in calling. Couldn’t be helped."
"Still ready to work?"
"Good. By yourself?"
"Yes!" she assured emphatically.
"I’d prefer you had help."
There was a short pause. "Were the communication problems yours?"
"That self-righteous… Take the other one with you. That’s an order. And I want it done tonight!"
"Understood," and the connection was broken.
Suddenly Micki got a bad feeling. If Talbot was that ticked at Nelson, why was he so insistent that she take Crane with her? It didn’t make sense. It also doesn’t matter, she muttered to herself. He’s not going, and thanks to a short conversation she’d had with Dr. Jamison, she knew just how to arrange it. But I need to get back before he does, and she hurried towards the hotel.
* * * *
Walking past the Admiral’s cabin Chip thought he heard a curse, then something hitting the bulkhead. About to walk back and see what the problem was, the all-boat intercom went off. "Mr. Morton," came the Admiral’s voice," report to my cabin."
"That was fast," said Nelson gruffly, after responding to Chip’s knock.
"Wasn’t far away," Chip admitted. "What’s up, Sir?" He noticed that the Admiral’s favorite paperweight from his desk was now lying on the floor against the far bulkhead, and stooped to pick it up.
"Had a long conversation with a friend at the Pentagon. Seems they’ve been keeping quiet tabs on Admiral Talbot for some time."
"For what reason, Sir?"
"There’s been a rash of suspicious ‘accidental information leaks’ as Kyle put it. Nothing too serious, but Talbot always seems to be involved."
"They can’t think him a traitor!" Chip was flabbergasted. Talbot had been around forever.
"Nobody knows quite what to think," Nelson admitted. "That’s why nothing’s ever been done about it. However," and Nelson’s voice took on a tone Chip didn’t often hear, at once hard and threatening, "there’s strong evidence that Talbot was either selling the new chip design to our allies, or trading it for something. But doing it in such a way that if anything was ever brought up it couldn’t come back on the U.S. since no one here was supposed to know it existed."
"But something went wrong?"
"Very! No one has any idea how Vargas got his hands on it. But not only have some of the inventor’s notes been found, there’s also some messages linking him to Talbot. Talbot’s trying very hard to cover his tail, and saying he doesn’t know a thing about it."
"But what about Micki’s mission?" Chip wanted to know.
"Apparently she didn’t know precisely what she was going after, just how to identify it. Talbot must have assumed he could control her."
"But he purposely got Lee involved." Chip was getting confused.
"And that’s where it gets worrisome," Nelson grumbled. "Talbot must have thought he could control everything, including Lee. But my poking around, along with an intelligence community already concerned, has apparently caused Talbot to take some drastic measures to cover his trail. It’s speculated that he’s done something to sabotage the whole mission."
"How?" Chip demanded.
"They think he’s sent in someone to blow up Vargas’ compound. No Vargas, no computer disk, no evidence."
"Thank God Lee and Micki aren’t on their way in at the same time," Chip said emphatically.
"I have Sparks placing a call now," Nelson said. "We’ll get them back aboard as fast as we can – even if we have to sedate Ms. Ortiz for the entire trip home."
"Or at least until we can drop her off somewhere to fly home," and Chip smiled.
"Can’t risk it," Nelson shook his head. "The powers that be want her testimony, anything she can tell them about what Talbot told her."
"They think Talbot will go after her as well? And Lee?"
"Who knows? But Talbot seems bound and determined to save himself at whoever’s expense."
"We need Lee and Micki back here – now!" and Chip clenched his fists.
"Agreed," Nelson said, then was interrupted by the intercom.
"Admiral," Sparks said, "no answer in the Skipper’s room. Shall I keep trying? Maybe they’re at dinner."
"Try Kowalski," Chip commanded into the intercom box, then looked sheepishly at Nelson, realizing he’d overstepped his authority.
But Nelson smiled indulgently. "That was a good suggestion you made, sending Ski to keep track of things."
"Only if Lee never finds out," Chip muttered, and Nelson smiled wider. They waited quietly until Kowalski answered the private communicator he’d been given. The seaman had seen neither Lee nor Micki for several hours. Nelson asked him to check their room, albeit carefully. The Admiral knew, too, that Lee would not be happy to find out there had been a ‘spy’ planted to keep tabs on him.
There was an uneasy silence in Nelson’s cabin until the seaman called back. But instead of relieving the tension, it was instantly made worse by Kowalski’s report. "Admiral, the Skipper…he’s laying on cushions on the floor, real spaced out. I can’t get him to make sense."
"Ms. Ortiz?" Chip demanded over the small communicator as Nelson used the regular intercom to page Dr. Jamison to the cabin.
"Not here, Sir." Kowalski reported. Getting a bad feeling, Nelson ordered the seaman to check for Micki’s gear. He came back on the line about the same time Jamie entered, reporting that it looked like all of her stuff was gone. Quickly briefed, Jamie demanded to know more about the Skipper’s condition. He stood slowly shaking his head as Kowalski complied. "Groggy, Sir." A well-trained field medic, he’d been the obvious choice when Chip suggested backup, because of that as well as the fact he had security training, and was one of the few people Lee was comfortable to have help him.
"Injuries?" Doc asked.
"Nothing obvious, Doc," Kowalski replied. "The gunshot wound looks really good. Doc," he continued, "it’s almost like he’s drunk… or drugged."
"Damn," Jamie muttered, almost to himself, then looked shamefully at Nelson and Chip. "Ten to one it’s an overdose of the pills I gave Ms. Ortiz."
"Dangerous?" Nelson demanded.
"Probably not. She asked me the afternoon she left about them. I was a bit vague, just said they were safe unless you took too many at one time. It’s my fault. I told her that it would take 4-5 of them at one time to put her totally out."
"Don’t beat yourself up over it, Jamie," Nelson consoled. "You never expected her to use them for any purpose other than the one intended. But what do we do now? I need Lee awake. There’s new information that could mean trouble, especially for Ms. Ortiz if she’s taken off for the Vargas compound as it looks like."
Jamie thought for a bit. "Are you going over there, Admiral?"
"Definitely, with all this going on."
"Ski," Doc said into the radio, "stuff Capt. Crane in a cold shower for half an hour or so, then start pouring strong, sweet coffee into him. The Admiral and I will be there as soon as we can." When Nelson raised an eyebrow, Doc just glared back. "That’s the only way I’ll know for sure, Admiral, if I’m right."
"Admiral…" Chip started, but was cut off.
"I’m sorry, Chip, but my original decision is more important now than before. I need you here on Seaview."
"Understood," Chip acknowledged, but the disappointment was evident both in voice and expression.
* * * *
From relaxed, warm, and comfortable, the abrupt change to cold and wet was the shock Lee’s system needed to bring him back to some semblance of awareness. He’d thought he heard a voice calling his name, and had tried to respond, but it had just been too much of an effort. He made an attempt to move away from the discomfort but something – or someone – restrained him, and a voice said…something. At first he wasn’t sure what. Eventually the fog started to clear and he tried again. He still was kept from moving, but the voice this time spoke intelligibly. "Sorry, Skipper. Doc’s orders," and Lee struggled to raise his head. Mostly what he got was a face full of cold water, and it was several more minutes before he was able to sputter, "Kowalski?"
"What’s going on? Did we hit something? Don’t remember…taking on water…" and Lee shook his head, not understanding why Ski was chuckling if Seaview was in danger.
"Easy, Skipper. You just need to sit here a bit longer."
Nothing was making any sense, and the discomfort from the water was quickly becoming the least of Lee’s frustrations. It wasn’t a whole lot better when Kowalski finally turned off the cold, hard, stream of water, helped Lee change into dry clothes, and started forcing coffee down his throat. Even more frustrating was Ski’s refusal to listen to any of Lee’s commands to cease and desist. The rating just kept insisting that he was following orders, Lee would feel better soon, and "please, Skipper, a few more swallows of coffee." Lee was beginning to make sense of things, and about to tell the rating what he could do with the rest of the coffee, when there was a knock on the door and Ski quickly admitted the Admiral and Doc.
* * * *
It took another hour, several more cups of coffee, and one of Doc’s syringes filled with who knew what, for Lee to feel even halfway human again. For the last 15 minutes Nelson had been catching Lee up with the current intel. Confirmation of Micki’s intentions had come in the form of a quick message from Carlos Vega that he had followed her to the Capital where she’d gone straight to the Vargas compound. Nelson chuckled softly as Lee muttered, "If Vargas doesn’t kill Ortiz, I will!" The chuckle died abruptly as Lee started to get up.
"Just where do you think you’re going?" Jamie demanded as both he and Nelson restrained the younger man.
When Lee’s glare was met by an equally hard one from the CMO, Lee turned to Nelson. "I have to go after her," he said emphatically.
"You can’t, Lee," Nelson tried to calm him down.
"No buts," Jamie interrupted. "At least not right now," he amended at the look Lee gave him. "It’s still going to be a good 4-6 hours before the drug’s out of your system enough for you to function normally."
"She could be dead by then," Lee groused.
"And so could you," Nelson re-took command of the conversation, "if the other agent Talbot sent in succeeds in blowing the place while you’re inside. No…" he cut off Lee’s reply. "We give her until morning. She’s a trained agent. It’s entirely possible she’ll manage quite nicely on her own."
"At least let me go to the Capital, be close in case I can help," Lee argued.
"No, Lee," Nelson was adamant. "We’ll wait here, on the assumption that if she’s successful this is where she’ll return. Carlos is keeping an eye on the compound. He’ll let us know what’s going on. If there’s no sign of her by daylight tomorrow we’ll go take a look for ourselves."
"How?" Lee asked dejectedly, surrendering and flopping back against the back of the couch, where he’d been sitting.
"How, what?" Nelson said, puzzled.
"How do we get to the Capital? How did you get here?" Lee’s voice was flat, and Jamie gave him a speculative glance as Nelson answered.
"Sharkey dropped us off at the same place I left you and Ms. Ortiz, and a friend of Carlos’ brought us here. Left us his car in case we needed it," and he reached into his pocket and pulled out a ring with two keys on it.
As Lee just nodded, Jamie reached over and laid a hand on his wrist, checking his pulse. "Skipper, what’s wrong? All of a sudden you don’t look good."
"Sort of nauseous," Lee admitted. "Probably too much coffee," and he shot a glance at Kowalski, who’d been carefully keeping his distance.
"Wouldn’t surprise me," Jamie agreed. "Why don’t you go lay down? I promise you you’ll feel better after a few hours’ sleep. At least," and he smiled, "from the drugs." As Lee started to slowly get up he glanced toward Kowalski again, and Doc laughed. "Let him be, Skipper. He was just following orders." Lee muttered something unintelligible to the rest of them, and slouched toward his bedroom.
* * * *
"Noooo…" it came out almost a whine, and Micki tried to get herself back under control.
"Tell me where the other one is," Vargas commanded, and squeezed her arm harder.
"I don’t know what you mean, Diego. What other one?"
"Don’t play games with me, Micki," and he spat out her name.
"Diego, you’re frightening me again," she whimpered, not entirely an act. "That’s why I ran away. But I had to come back. I just want it to be like before…" and was stopped by a slap across her face hard enough to draw blood from her lower lip.
"Enough!" Vargas thundered. "I know all about you, American spy. Thought you could wiggle your way in and I wouldn’t figure it out," and he slapped her again, so hard that she’d have fallen to her knees if it weren’t for the grip he still had on her arm. "Then when that didn’t work, you were to come back with a partner. What were you going to do? Keep me busy," and his smile was more lewd and evil than humorous, "while he got the disk?"
Her head still spinning from the last slap, Micki was wise enough to remain silent. Not only did Vargas know about her, he seemed to know she was supposed to have brought Lee with her. What the hell was going on?
"Answer me," Vargas thundered, and raised his hand to strike her again. "Where is he?"
"Got sick," she mumbled, not meeting Vargas’ hard stare.
There was silence for a bit, as Vargas seemed to consider the answer. "For your sake, you’d better be telling the truth. If I find out you’ve lied I’ll kill you myself, even if it means losing the fat fee a beautiful young woman like you would bring in the Libyan slave market," and his smile as he caressed her cheek was terrible. Micki shuddered and he just laughed. Giving her a hard shove, she fell into the arms of two waiting guards, who grabbed her even harder than Vargas had. "I’m told you like your privacy," Vargas smirked. "You should like where Miguel and Tomas are taking you." He dismissed the group with a wave of his hand, and Micki was led away.
* * * *
Lee lay down across the bed, not bothering to undress. Knowing Jamie would come check on him, he forced himself to lie still. He didn’t have long to wait. It couldn’t have been 15 minutes before Jamie quietly entered the room and briefly checked him over. He didn’t try to move Lee, just with a soft chuckle turned back the bedspread to cover the apparently sleeping man.
But the instant Lee heard the door click shut he was off the bed, changing clothes, and gathering those things he thought he might need. He was still a little fuzzy around the edges, but not so much he couldn’t function. He waited impatiently for the other three men to settle down for the night, and happily didn’t wait long - within half an hour the lights in the main room darkened. Lee waited another 15 minutes, then cautiously opened his bedroom door a crack. Jamie was stretched out on the couch, Nelson had apparently taken the other bedroom, and Kowalski must have gone back to his own room. Moving stealthily, Lee crossed the room and entered the other bedroom. Soft snoring told Lee that Nelson was out, and while the older man hadn’t bothered to undress either, it was a simple matter for Lee to relieve him of the car keys. Something else I’ll have to answer for, he acknowledged as he let himself out and quickly left. It took him about 10 minutes to find the right car, but after that it was a fast, straight, run to the Capital.
* * * *
Micki hadn’t liked Vargas’ comment, and her worst fears were realized when she was shoved unceremoniously into a small, dark, windowless room in the basement. She’d noticed a bare light bulb in the ceiling before the door was slammed shut behind her, but apparently the switch was outside the door – she couldn’t find it. Starting to breathe hard she sat down on the floor, her back against the cold wall, and concentrated on getting herself under control, using Vargas’ statement as a focal point. He seemed to know about her fears of confinement. Yet there were only a handful of people who did. Crane, of course. And Dr. Jamison. Nelson, apparently. A couple others. And Talbot…
* * * *
Jamie went off like a cannon about 2 hours later when he got up to check on Lee and discovered that he wasn’t in his room. The yell brought Nelson on the run and he quickly checked his pocket. "Damn," he thundered, neither man caring at that point that they were in a hotel and not on board Seaview.
"So help me, Admiral," Doc grumbled angrily, "I’m going to tan that young man’s backside to within an inch of his life? And then he’s spending the entire trip home in Sick Bay, in restraints!"
"That’s assuming there’s anything left of him once I get through," Nelson snapped back. Both men thoroughly steamed, they woke Kowalski none too gently and set about finding a way to the Capital.
* * * *
Lee’s trip was fast and uneventful, thankfully, and by the time he arrived the fresh air from car windows left open had him pretty well back to normal. A few discrete questions at a large hotel bar placed Lee outside the Vargas compound half an hour later. Spending several minutes cruising the area, he found an unobtrusive place to leave the car, and in the process, also found Carlos Vega – or, at least thought he had. Just down the way from the main gate to the Vargas compound, tucked into a shadowy alcove, sat what looked like an old drunk. Lee almost missed him, but noticed movement in the large floppy hat covering the man’s head when he drove slowly past. Drunks didn’t usually pay much attention to passing traffic.
After leaving the car, Lee moved quickly toward where he’d seen the drunk sitting. When he was still about 15 feet away, sheltered slightly in a doorway, he paused and quietly observed both the drunk and the Vargas compound. Lee noticed the hat move again, and heard a soft, familiar voice.
"It appears you follow orders about as well as the young woman." There was no accusation in the voice, only mild amusement.
Lee chuckled. "So it would seem," he answered amiably. He assumed Nelson had talked to Carlos after Lee had gone to his room. "What’s happening? Admiral Nelson said you followed Ms. Ortiz here."
"Been following her since I dropped you off. Nelson had someone else watching you." It was said as if just part of the job, but Lee started to get angry anyway.
"So I discovered," he muttered darkly.
"Apparently with good reason." Again just an observation, and Lee was forced into a wry smile.
"So it would seem," he repeated, and heard a soft chuckle.
"She made a couple phone calls this afternoon." The voice was serious again.
"No way of knowing to whom."
"Apparently expected. Walked right up to the main gate."
"Damn," came out harder than Lee had intended.
"There is a back entrance along the South wall. It is small and not often used, but is patrolled at this hour by a man named Hector. Please try not to hurt him too severely. He is no longer young, and has been of great help to me. Although he would be mortified to find out how much he has said, fortified with enough vino."
Lee smiled. "I’ll do my best," he said.
Carlos then spent several minutes giving Lee as much of a layout of the house, grounds, and security as he could. As Lee turned to leave, a soft "Vaya con Dios" followed him.
* * * *
Lee had always admitted to himself, albeit a bit ruefully, that a lot of his ONI successes had more to do with luck than sense. This turned out to be another such case. Although, he muttered to himself ruefully, much later, it didn’t need a lot of luck to have more of that commodity than the other. He gained access to the compound with a minimum of fuss, and a minimum of damage to the guard, Hector. After binding the guard’s hands and feet with electrician’s tape, and using a couple more pieces across the man’s mouth, he tucked him in some handy shrubbery and made his way cautiously toward the back of the house. Entry was gained through a door leading to the kitchen, quiet now as it was almost midnight, and Lee crept quietly across the room toward doors on the opposite side, assuming they led to the main part of the house.
His first bit of luck was almost a disaster. He was walking slowly down the dark hallway from the kitchen and had almost made it to the end, to what looked like a central passageway or loggia, when he suddenly heard footsteps approaching from his right. There were no doorways to duck into, the only options for hiding places being a wooden stand holding a couple small statues, and going all the way back to the kitchen. Praying whoever was causing the footsteps wasn’t on the way for a late-night snack, he flattened himself against the wall on the far side of the stand and stood as quietly as possible, hoping that his dark clothing in the dark hallway would be enough to cover his presence.
The footsteps turned out to be two men. Sidearms very evident, Lee assumed them to be more guards. At first thinking they were going to keep on walking, Lee almost stopped breathing when they hesitated at the entrance to the hallway to light cigarettes. They stood for a bit, thankfully never looking in Lee’s direction, and eventually started speaking, in Spanish. Lee easily translated.
"She doesn’t look so good," the younger of the two said. Lee guessed him to be about 25. The other looked closer to 40.
"Good enough," the other replied with a sneer. "Maybe Don Diego will let me break her in before sending her to the Libyans," and his hand gestures left little to the imagination.
"Better be careful about talk like that. I have a feeling Don Diego will want one more round with her himself, and you know how he hates to share."
The older one just ‘harrumphed’. "Back to your post," and he gestured back the way they had come. "Even though she claimed to be alone, it would be us he’d send to Libya if anything happens before that computer expert gets here tomorrow." The younger one nodded and headed back in the direction they’d come, and the older one continued on.
OK, Crane, so what did that tell you? Lee thought as he tried to catch his breath, not realizing until then he’d been holding it. For sure, Micki walked straight into a trap. Sounded like maybe they just came from checking on her. Guess I’ll follow the younger one, and cautiously peeled himself away from the wall. Coming to the end of the hallway, he carefully surveyed what he saw. The rest of the house wasn’t as dark as this hallway, but still not brightly lit either, thankfully. Lee could see neither guard as he looked left to what was obviously a large living room/reception area, and right down another corridor. With all senses on high alert, he headed right.
He found the younger guard, just finishing his cigarette, staring out a window at the end of a second corridor. Just beyond the man was a stairwell headed down. Damn, Lee muttered. Wonder what kind of shape she’ll be in if I do find her. He took from a pocket one of his favorite misdirection toys, a small steel ball bearing, and, waiting for an opportunity, gave it a toss down the stairs, letting it hit for the first time several steps down. The guard turned at the noise and went to stand at the top, his back to Lee. Since he didn’t call down, Lee assumed there were no other guards below and chalked one up for his side. With the guard’s focus down the stairs, Lee moved quickly and a hard chop on the back of the neck put the man out of commission. Lee quickly carried him down the stairs, and with a few more pieces of electrician’s tape put to good use, stuffed him out of sight under the stairwell.
The lighting down here was muted, with only two low wattage bulbs illuminating a 40-foot hallway with doors leading off both sides. Lee started a methodical search, the first two doors opening on storage areas only. His next bit of luck, sort of, happened when he picked the lock on the third door. It turned out to hold boxes labeled as explosives and ammunition, and Lee ducked inside to give it a better inspection. Using his small penlight, the boxes turned out to hold exactly what they were labeled. There’s enough stuff here to start a small revolution, and with a shudder Lee turned to leave. His attention was caught, however, by a small red light behind one of the boxes, and he stooped to investigate. With a rather large selection of epithets muttered under his breath, Lee visually examined but didn’t touch the small incendiary device with its attached timer. The Admiral’s intel had been correct. Talbot had sent in someone to blow the compound.
Upon careful examination, Lee didn’t think he could disarm the device without running the risk of setting it off. And who knew how many others had been scattered around the compound. Although, Lee thought, that would be something of an overkill considering where this one was left. But the timer showed he had almost 90 minutes before it was set to go off, thankfully. He checked his watch, carefully calculating when he needed to be very far away from the compound, and went back to his search, carefully relocking this door behind him.
* * * *
The two guards had returned with sandwiches and bottled water and left the tray on a small table in her cell, but whether by accident or cruel intention had again not turned on the light, leaving Micki in almost total darkness. A small strip of light did show through the crack under the door. Not hungry, she nevertheless found her way to the table. Picking up the plastic water bottle, she returned to where she’d been sitting against the wall. She’d taken a brief glance at her watch as the guards had entered, realizing she’d been here almost four hours, and been surprised and pleased that she was doing as well as she was. She’d had a rough time directly after being put here, letting her mind carry her back to old, terrifying memories. She’d finally been able to at least partially steady her breathing, though she was far from under control, by concentrating on her brief conversation with Vargas.
She’d been admitted quite readily to the compound and escorted directly to Vargas. But almost immediately she knew she was in trouble when the guards had not left, and Vargas had grabbed her arm. The only thing that seemed to make any sense was that Talbot had a security leak in his office, very high up in the ranks. Something else she’d have to have a very long talk with him about – assuming she ever got out of here. Sipping on the water, she concentrated on trying to figure out who it was. A small noise, like a marble bouncing down the stairs at the end of the hall, briefly distracted her. But nothing else happened and she went back to her puzzle.
She didn’t actually know too many of the people close to Talbot. She wasn’t sure if it was just her, or if Talbot was always so private. But whatever the reasons, a lot of her meetings with him had been closed sessions away from his office. She concentrated on those few people she had met, but no one stood out as a possible problem. Almost unwillingly her thoughts turned to the men on Seaview, but immediately she shook her head. No, she acknowledged. Though they were strangers to her, they weren’t to Crane. And every instinct she had told her he was one person she could count on. Although, maybe not after what I did to him, she admitted ruefully. I have a feeling I’m going to find out first hand just how bad that temper of his is – that’s assuming I ever see him again.
Her thoughts were interrupted by scratching sounds at the door to her prison. She’d heard nothing after the earlier small disturbance. Definitely no footsteps approaching. And this didn’t sound like a key in the lock. She wondered if one of the guards had snuck back to harass her – or worse. She’d seen the looks they’d given her, again wearing the revealing blouse and long skirt. Well, whoever it is has a surprise coming, and she positioned herself so she’d be behind the door as it opened.
* * * *
The next room Lee came to was unlocked, but held nothing more interesting than some old furniture. But the one directly across the corridor was again locked, and Lee quickly picked it open. As with all the other doors, he’d opened them left-handed, cracking the door a few inches and taking a quick glance inside with his penlight. His look in this room showed it to be almost empty. His attention, however, was caught by the sight of a plate with several sandwiches on it, and he carefully pushed the door further open and took a step in.
Almost immediately he was attacked from the left, and found himself in a brief, albeit fierce, hand to hand battle. His opponent, while quick, was smaller and not as strong as he, and it took only a matter of seconds for him to gain control of the situation. With his opponent pushed face first against the wall, Lee used one leg to control those of the combatant, his right arm wrapped around to pin the other’s arms, and his left hand clamped over the face. His penlight had been immediately dropped, but there was just enough light coming in from the hallway, as Lee took a deep breath, to cause a small smile to appear. He said quietly, "It’s a very rare person who can get away with that twice and live to tell the tale," and felt Micki relax.
He moved his left hand slightly, just enough to allow the agent to speak, but kept her pinned securely against the wall. After struggling briefly to free herself, she swore softly in Spanish, and Lee said gruffly in her ear, "By rights I should leave you here to blow up with the rest of the house after what you pulled," but he finally released her.
Micki turned to glare at him as he retrieved his penlight, but his words finally sunk in. "What do you mean?" she whispered.
"I mean," Lee whispered back, "there’s a bomb I can’t defuse in a room down the hall filled with munitions. Admiral Nelson’s pretty sure Talbot sent someone in to blow the place."
"Why?" Micki demanded, and Lee shrugged his shoulders.
"No house, no evidence."
"But Talbot sent me in, told me I had to get the disk tonight…" When her whisper trailed off, Lee raised and eyebrow. "He wouldn’t have…" and she stopped again.
"One way to tie up loose ends," Lee offered.
"Talbot was adamant I bring you along," and Lee’s expression turned hard.
"Payback to Nelson for stirring everything up," Lee guessed, and there was a momentary silence.
"Bomb?" Micki finally asked, and Lee nodded.
"Set to go off in," and Lee glanced at his watch, "about 75 minutes."
"The disk?" she asked hopefully.
"You know where it is?"
"Office, second floor. Electronic security system on the door. Keypad entry. Wired in to a central box somewhere in the house, but I don’t know where."
"I think I do." Something Lee had seen in the munitions room suddenly rang a bell, and he hurried back in that direction. He didn’t hear Micki following, but she was right there watching as he re-picked the lock. Entering, he stepped to a box located on the wall behind the door and angled the penlight on it. The box was fitted with a keypad instead of a lock and Lee didn’t touch it, just checked it all over carefully. With as evil a grin as Micki, standing next to him, had ever seen on his face, he reached into an inner jacket pocket and brought out what looked like a small travel pack sized container of shaving cream.
"Brought this along just in case," he said, positioning the nozzle in one of several small openings, left for wiring, he assumed, on top of the box. Tipping the container sideways, they could both hear the sound of it emptying its contents inside the box. "When you mentioned Vargas had installed a new security system, I took a chance it was this kind. This stuff foams once it’s inside, and coats everything. Blocks the electrical current from making a connection. Doesn’t last forever, but we should have 25-30 minutes – if it works like it’s supposed to." Micki nodded and headed for the stairs.
Lee followed just a bit more slowly, taking time to again re-lock the door, and also check the condition of the guard he’d knocked out. Convinced he’d stay put at least as long as the foam would last, he followed Micki up the stairs. In the back of his mind was the hope that, once safely out of the compound, he could make a quick, anonymous call to alert Vargas of the bomb, and allow the man time to get everyone out safely before it blew. Or maybe Vargas had someone better than Lee at defusing the thing. Either way, Lee was willing to give him the opportunity. Lee abhorred the wasting of lives, no matter whose they were.
Micki was waiting for him at the top of the stairs and took off as he caught up, heading further along this corridor, away from the front of the house. Lee followed willingly, assuming Micki knew where she was going. Apparently she did, because around one more corner was a staircase heading up. The hallway they reached at the top was as dark as the one from the kitchen had been earlier, something Lee was grateful for. Micki stopped at the next corner, and pointed toward a door partway down the next hall. "Vargas’ bedroom," she mouthed. "The one after is his office. There’s also a connecting door between the two."
Lee saw a small keypad attached to the office door. "I don’t see a keypad on his bedroom door. Is there one on the connecting one?"
"Yes, but he usually leaves it open when he’s there."
Lee made his way quietly to the office door and examined the keypad. "How soundly does Vargas sleep?" he asked Micki, who’d silently, as always, followed him, keeping a sharp lookout for guards. She gave him a dirty look and he grinned, heading back toward the other door. Briefly scanning it for alarms not quite so obvious as the other one, Lee knelt down to one side, reached up, and cautiously opened the door a crack. When nothing happened, he pushed it a little farther and took a look inside, still keeping his body very low.
The first thing that greeted him was a heavy snore, and he smiled. So far, so good, and crawled far enough to be able to see the door to the office. Yes! He wanted to shout. It was open. He hoped his little trick with the foam had worked, but he’d rather not test it if he could get around it. There was just enough moonlight coming through open windows to illuminate their path, and he and Micki made their way silently to the office, still staying very low. Once inside, Lee pushed the door almost closed, but left a crack, not wanting to let the security system make a connection. Depending on what he found on the inside of the other door, they might still have to go out this way. He started to hand his penlight to Micki but realized belatedly she was no longer at his side. Instead, she was across the room digging through something which Lee recognized, when he joined her, as her backpack. He wondered what she was digging for until she pulled out a light pullover sweater and stretch pants. Finally letting it sink in that she was again wearing the outfit he’d first seen her in, he turned his back and went over to examine the inside of the hallway door. Quickly realizing a small switch would allow them to leave this way safely instead of going back through the bedroom, he wandered over to the other door to check on the hopefully still sleeping Vargas. Hearing a soft beep, he finally turned around and saw Micki sitting at the computer on Vargas’ desk. Unwilling to disturb her, since he really didn’t know what she was up to, he split his time between watching out the windows and listening for any little sound that might indicate trouble.
* * * *
Micki knew exactly what she had to do. Just grabbing the disk wasn’t enough. She wanted to go through Vargas’ computer to check for any links to Talbot, now that it seemed the Admiral was behind all the trouble. She first made sure the speakers were turned off, then while the computer was booting, scanned a tray of disks she found after picking the lock on the desk. She found the one she wanted tucked almost in back. So much trouble caused by something that looks so innocent, she grumbled to herself, slipped it into her backpack, and went back to concentrating on the computer. She knew she didn’t have time to try to break into any locked files on the computer, but quickly scanned for anything that might be of interest. Seeing several that by title looked intriguing, she downloaded them quickly to a blank disk and tucked that into the pack as well. Taking one more quick look through the files, she’d have liked to spend some time going through the desk. But Lee was starting to get restless, and giving her ‘hurry up’ signs, so she just shut down the computer and grabbed her pack.
By the time she reached him at the hall door, he had it open. She noticed as he pulled the door shut behind her, he didn’t quite close it and wondered why. It was a dead giveaway to anyone who walked by that someone had been there. But questioned as they made their way down the back stairway, Lee admitted he wasn’t too sure his little trick on the security system would work, and didn’t want to remake the connection after opening it from the inside in case that might set it off. Since Lee seemed to know where he was going at this point she let him take the lead, and eventually realized he was headed for the kitchen and the back door. She’d wondered briefly how he’d gotten in, and now knew.
* * * *
Their luck ran out about halfway across the compound, headed for the small back gate. The first indication he had was a gunshot ringing out, from where he didn’t know as the two made their way along a row of shrubbery, and Micki went down. Muzzle flashes from the direction of the house finally told Lee where the person was as more shots were fired and Lee fired back, praying Micki wasn’t badly hurt. She hadn’t moved from where she’d fallen but finally, as Lee heard a yell following one of his shots and the other person stopped firing, he risked taking the two steps to her side. She was still alive, at least, since when he rolled her over she groaned. Not having the time to adequately assess the damage, he threw her pack over one shoulder, picked her up, and sprinted for the gate.
* * * *
The last word anyone would ever use to describe Harriman Nelson was patient. Yet knowing that, and as mad as he himself was at Lee Crane, Jamie was still somewhat unprepared for their trip to the Capital. He totally understood Kowalski’s silence, sitting in the back seat of the car the Admiral had hotwired in the hotel parking lot and the three of them had taken off in. Jamie himself spoke as little as possible, hanging on for dear life as Nelson seemed intent on killing all of them, so fast was he driving. They barely slowed down upon reaching the city. The man Nelson had following Micki had given Nelson directions when the Admiral had called to say they had another escapee, and Jamie quickly found himself down the street from what appeared to be a large, securely walled, compound. All three left the car and made their way toward a man in a floppy hat, standing in the shadows at the end of the street, but Jamie and Ski remained quiet as Nelson and the man spoke.
"How long has he been inside?" Nelson demanded, trying to keep his voice down, but still very, very angry. Although, Jamie thought to himself, can’t judge the Admiral too harshly. There’s also a lot of fear behind that anger. Jamie as well as anyone knew how close the two men were, and sent a silent prayer for Lee’s safe return as the man Carlos answered.
"Almost 90 minutes. He entered through that gate there," and pointed toward a small gap in the high concrete walls. "There have been no sounds from the compound, so I’m hoping all is still well."
Whatever Nelson had been about to say was cut off as gunfire suddenly erupted from inside the compound. With a shout for Jamie to stay where he was, Carlos and Nelson headed for the small gate. Jamie saw Ski hesitate just a second, then take off after them. As scared as he was, Jamie still smiled. Kowalski wasn’t about to stand around watching when there was a chance his Captain was in trouble.
* * * *
Lee was never so glad to see Admiral Nelson in his life, no matter the fact that he was going to be spending a lot of time answering for his apparent insubordination in taking off as he did. Lee had barely made it to the gate when it opened and Nelson, Carlos and Ski shot through. They stopped in their tracks when they saw him, but as more shots were heard coming from the house, and floodlights started to come on, they all took off back out into the street. Kowalski thankfully relieved him of the pack, but he held Micki securely against him as he hurried as fast as he could across the street and down a side street. The second most appreciated face he could think of came instantly toward him, and he laid Micki down so Jamie could check her.
"Is any of that blood yours?" Jamie demanded, and Lee looked down at his chest.
"No, Micki’s. How is she?"
"Alive," came the curt response before Nelson interrupted.
"Lee, go with Carlos and bring his and your cars to the other end of this block. We have to get out of here, now." As much as Lee didn’t want to leave Micki until he knew if she was going to be OK, he reluctantly stood. Not only did he understand the wisdom of the order, he knew he was on very shaky ground with Nelson right now. He grabbed the pack, not wanting to risk losing it now, and he and Carlos took off. He did glance back as they were about to go around the next corner and saw Kowalski start to pick Micki up. They’d not gone another half block when there was an unholy explosion, and the night sky was lit to almost daylight.
* * * *
Micki awoke gradually. Her senses told her she was snuggled comfortably in bed, where she wasn’t sure, and was still fuzzy enough not to care. Voices came and went, either very soft, or else there was something wrong with her hearing. She finally decided to check it out and opened her eyes.
"Welcome back," came from her left, and she turned to see Dr. Jamison standing over her. It took her still fuzzy brain a few seconds to realize she was in Seaview’s Sick Bay, and tried to sit up. "Oh, no, you don’t," and the CMO reached out to restrain the movement, about the same time an extremely sharp pain hit her right side. "Just lay there and be glad you’re still alive." Micki settled back, looking at the Doctor.
"What happened? The last thing I remember…" and her voice trailed off, as her brain wasn’t sure at that point what she did remember.
"Yes?" the CMO encouraged.
But Micki just closed here eyes. She thought she heard a soft chuckle, but wasn’t sure before everything again went blank.
The next time she opened her eyes, it was to find Lee sitting next to the bunk, legs crossed, scanning a report of some sort. She said nothing, just watching him, but in a few moments he glanced up, saw her eyes open, smiled briefly, then got a hard look on his face.
"Told Jamie not to bother patching you up. I was just going to fire your sorry tail out a torpedo tube." But despite the harsh words and expression, Micki saw a sparkle form in his eyes, and smiled. He did too, finally. "How are you?"
"You tell me. You’re obviously more awake than I am," and she saw his smile widen.
"Gunshot to the right side, entered from the back just below the ribcage, missed anything too vital. Lost a fair amount of blood, but healing nicely."
"Why am I so fuzzy? Can’t seem to stay awake."
"Jamie’s drugs. Don’t fight it. At least you’re not coming unhinged at being back on Seaview."
Micki tried glaring daggers at him, but under the circumstances it must not have been very effective because he just smiled more broadly. "What happened?" she finally asked, ignoring the grin. "The last thing I remember is running away from the house toward the back gate," and she lay quietly as Lee told her the story.
By the time he and Carlos got back with the cars all hell was breaking loose around the compound, or what was left of it. Jamie had put a pressure bandage on her wound and she’d been laid across the back seat of the car Lee was driving. Jamie rode in back with her and Nelson had jumped in next to Lee. Ski had gone with Carlos and both cars headed back toward San Sebastian as fast as was safe. Nelson had directed Lee toward the point of land where FS1 had let them off, and they’d waited while Carlos and Ski cleaned out the hotel rooms and joined them. Moments later Chief Sharkey had shown up in FS1 and brought everyone except Carlos back to Seaview.
"He’ll be OK?" Micki interrupted. "Carlos?" and Lee had assured her Nelson had asked the same thing.
"He reminded the Admiral that for him it was home. He’d be safe with his family and friends. Nelson advised he might want to keep a low profile for awhile, but he just grinned. Said he always does."
"The disk?" and she watched as Lee’s face again turned hard.
"Admiral Nelson left for Washington with it this morning, along with the other stuff you downloaded. Chip sorted it out," he explained at her puzzled expression. "Very interesting reading," but didn’t explain further.
"Talbot?" and she watched as Lee’s face turned darker still.
"The Admiral figures he’ll just be asked to retire, and quietly disappear."
"That’s all?" Micki practically yelled and tried to sit up. The sharp movement brought a scream of pain to her throat and Dr. Jamison on the run from his office.
"Don’t look at me, Jamie," Lee replied to the Doctor’s stern look as he settled Micki back into the bunk and quickly checked the bandages and IV. "Was just pointing out to Micki a few of the facts of life."
"Talbot," the CMO muttered darkly.
Lee nodded. "Too many friends in high places."
"Well, enough for now. You," and he pointed at Micki, "need to rest. And you," he pointed at Lee, "are leaving so she can." As Lee started to say something, Micki watched the Doctor take a step back and cross his arms. "Captain," he said firmly, "you really don’t want to tick me off any more than you already have in the last 48 hours." Micki watched Lee lower his eyes and get a very sheepish look on his face.
"Aye, aye, Sir," he said meekly as he rose, but Micki saw him give the Doctor a smile over his shoulder as he walked out.
Once the door closed, Micki said apologetically, "You should be more angry with me than him, Doctor. Everything that’s happened has been because of my actions," and watched as an expression she couldn’t read came over the Doctor’s face.
"Trust me, Ms. Ortiz," he said firmly as he tucked in the blankets. "The Captain’s perfectly capable of getting into trouble all by himself. Now, unless you want on my bad side as well, go to sleep," but his expression softened and he smiled as he turned down the Sick Bay lights and went back to his office.
* * * *
Lee’s thoughts were mixed as he headed for the Control Room. True, he wasn’t at all pleased with what would most likely be the outcome with Talbot either. And both Jamie and Admiral Nelson were mad as hell at him, and likely to stay that way for quite some time. Or at least pretend to, he chuckled softly. Chip, once he heard the whole story, was barely speaking to him. Oh well, he muttered to himself, squared his shoulders, and continued forward. Not the first time. He cringed slightly as he added, and it probably won’t be the last.
Entering the Control Room by way of the aft hatch, he scanned the instrumentation as he walked toward the chart table where his XO was working, making sure everything was in order. He paused slightly at Sonar and laid a hand on Kowalski’s shoulder. As the rating glanced back Lee gave him a grin. Ski grinned back, then with a quick look toward the Exec, put his attention back on the screen in front of him.
Lee wiped the grin off his own face – almost – and completed the short walk to where Chip was standing. "Status, Mr. Morton," he said formally as he laid down the clipboard he had in his hand and picked up a different one.
Chip’s posture was stiff, his face a totally unreadable mask as he gave his report. Seaview was on her way home, Admiral Nelson having completed his studies of the area while Lee had been ashore. Lee glanced over the current status sheet he’d picked up as Chip spoke. One of the main reasons he allowed himself to accept ONI missions was knowing he never had to worry about Seaview while he was gone – Chip always had everything well in hand. Of course, saying that to Chip’s face, especially right now, was probably not a good idea.
As Chip remained unmoving and quiet at the end of his report, Lee allowed his grin to widen slightly, and turn just a bit sheepish. "I did bring the First Aid kit you gave me back unused," he offered quietly, then watched as a multitude of expressions flashed briefly across Chip’s face. The one that stayed the longest was the one most hazardous to Lee’s continuing good health, and Lee got the feeling he’d better be extra careful during the crew’s next softball game. Two of the many qualities that made Chip such a good XO were his tenacity, and that he never forgot – anything! It also made him an incredibly formidable opponent. One way or another, Lee knew Chip would get his revenge.
But finally Lee saw the tension start to leave Chip’s shoulders, and an ever so slight smile appeared. "Micki awake?" he asked.
"Briefly," Lee answered. "It’s a bad wound. Jamie’s keeping her pretty well under, at least for now."
"Not like he hasn’t had a lot of practice in that department," and a hard quality briefly returned to Chip’s voice. But the smile returned as he added, "The Admiral called. He said to tell you he wants your ‘After Action Report’ on his desk by the time he gets back – about 1800 tomorrow," and his grin broadened as Lee groaned.
"Already been mulling it over in my mind," Lee admitted. "Not even sure where to start, given the revelations about Talbot."
"I’m more interested in the ending," Chip smirked. "Lessons Learned?"
Lee groaned again. "How’s ‘Don’t tick off your Admiral even if you’re acting in accordance with your sworn duty, and what you feel is the best course of action given the existing conditions’ sound?"
"I think so, too."
"Planning on getting much sleep tonight?"
"You’ve got to be kidding," Lee cringed again. "This is going to take major thought." He paused a bit, and a small smile appeared. "And some major tact."
Chip chuckled. "Come on, then. Time for dinner, then we’ll bull session in your cabin."
"We?" Lee said incredulously, and his eyebrows rose as far as they would go. "As in, ‘Chip-I-hate-to-do-paperwork-of-any-kind-Morton’ actually volunteering to help do an AAR?"
"Strictly self-preservation. Too much work involved in breaking in a new Captain. And that’s exactly what I’ll have to do if I let you do that report by yourself." Chip’s face broke into an absolutely brilliant smile. "You’re way too honest for your own good."