Standing in the dry desert heat, Chip Morton stared at the still smouldering remains of the Anazi Point Marine Observatory and bit his lip. The building had once been a smooth shiny white dome and clearly visible from miles out to sea. It had become something of a landmark for sailors out in the Sea of Cortez, a manmade beacon marking the promontory and the deep currents beneath. Now, it resembled nothing so much as a burnt and broken egg shell, its sides pitted and scarred by the intense heat of the explosion that had killed everyone inside. The rescue workers had brought the latest of sixteen charred bodies out only a few minutes ago and they were still waiting to hear if the remains could be identified without an autopsy.
Chip turned away, unable to look at the destruction any more. He gazed out into the inland desert instead, not really seeing the wild beauty of the golden landscape. Saguaros bristled against the vivid blue sky, while the squat shapes of barrel cacti hugged the earth shyly among the chaparral. The early afternoon heat was making the desert shimmer. Somewhere a bird was singing wild love songs to the sky. A reluctant breeze tugged the blue shirt from Morton's body and he absently tugged his collar away from his throat before digging his hands into his jeans pockets. The heat was making his head throb in pain and he vaguely wished he had remembered to bring a hat. Crane had reminded him to do so the last time they visited the Observatory, teasing his friend about ending up looking like an overcooked lobster if he didn't. Chip's fair skinned complexion meant he always had burned a lot faster than his dark haired captain. The aberrant thought made him shudder despite the heat, chilled by a sudden surge of nausea. Burning wasn't something he wanted to think about right then: not considering what had happened to his best friend in the building behind him.
Lee had flown down to the local airport and then driven out to the Observatory in response to a call from Professor Santini. Morton had intended to go with him, but a last minute problem with stores requisitions for Seaview had kept him in Santa Barbara and Crane had been inveigled by Stu Riley to take him along instead. The ex surfer insisted he had a passion for sea life, but Lee had confided in Chip that he suspected that it was more of a passion for Santini's gorgeous Mexican assistant that had attracted him. Personally Chip thought the woman was out of Riley's class: with her degrees in psychology and marine medicine, but there was no explaining that to Stu. Besides lust and love had nothing to do with common sense.
Riley hadn't gone out to the Observatory with the captain, however, but had cried off at the last minute and stayed in town with an upset stomach: caused he said by eating one of Kowalski's chili dogs. At the time Lee had figured it was more likely to be an assignation with the girl. Whether Kowalski's chili was the cause or not, it had saved his life. It had been Riley who called NIMR to report what had happened after he picked it up on the local TV news. A massive explosion had ripped through the Observatory in the early hours of the morning, killing everyone in the building and causing a landslide that collapsed the upper dome into the underground laboratories and accommodations in the cliff below.
Nelson and Morton had flown up on the first flight available, suspecting the worst and finding their suspicions confirmed. Riley had been waiting for them at the airport, looking scared and drawn from lack of sleep. Despite his best efforts, he had been unable to find any sign of Crane. The captain's hire car was still parked in what was left of the Observatory's car park, untouched where others had been squashed by a collapsing wall. The crewman's last contact with the captain had been the afternoon before the explosion, when he phoned to tell Riley that he was planning on staying over for another night until he had things sorted out with Santini. The Mexican professor was well known for panicking over nothing and Lee had been sent to calm him down before.
Nelson had insisted on going out to the Observatory in person and Morton had gone with him in the hire car, but they had dropped Riley off at the hotel to book them rooms and to rest. The crewman looked as if he was ready to blow away with the breeze at any moment.
"Chip?" Nelson's quiet hail dragged Morton back from grim memory to even grimmer present.
"Admiral?" Chip turned to face him respectfully, keeping his best Exec's neutral expression on his face. "Did they identify the body?"
"It was Santini," the Admiral answered as he came to a halt beside the tall blond and stood staring blankly at the desert. "They'll have to do an autopsy to be sure, but it looks like he was killed instantly. A beam fell on him."
Morton nodded and took his hands out his pockets, clenching them in the small of his back instead. "Quick," he said flatly.
"I hope so," Nelson muttered, sounding distracted.
Chip could guess what he was thinking, hoping: that it had been quick for Lee too. The longer they waited, the less likely it seemed that Crane could have survived. Nausea twisted inside him again. Every time they brought another body out, he had to face the fear that it might be Lee afresh. He had seen some of the first bodies and his imagination kept turning the fire contorted bodies into Crane's, kept him seeing the autopsy that would have to be performed.....
The hand on his arm startled him into realising he had squeezed his eyes shut tight. "Come over here, Chip," Nelson said gruffly, tugging the blond away from the bluff and over to where the rescue vehicles had been parked in the shade offered by a stand of scrubby trees. "The heat's starting to get to you."
"I'm fine." Morton glanced round, then sat on the running board of one of the fire trucks called to put out the fire after the explosion.
"You won't be if you're not careful," Nelson snorted. "Didn't you bring a hat?"
Chip gave him a haunted look and shook his head. "Never thought of it," he admitted. Harriman locked eyes with him for a moment, then rested one hand on his shoulder before easing his stocky body down on the running board beside him.
"It wasn't your fault," he said tiredly.
"Chip, if you'd come out here with Lee, you'd only be under that pile of rubble along with him," Nelson interrupted harshly. Morton stiffened with unreasoning anger, then caught himself as the Admiral continued, "And if I hadn't been so damn busy with Admiral Hunter, I'd have come myself. Wishing it had been us instead isn't going to change anything. It won't bring Lee back."
"Are you so sure he's gone then?" Chip couldn't stop himself snapping.
Nelson raised a faded eyebrow at him. "Aren't you?" he replied quietly. "They haven't found single person alive so far. The odds..."
"I don't give a damn about the odds!" Morton sprang to his feet like an opening switchblade. "Lee's survived worse than this!"
"Chip...." the Admiral reproached him softly.
"Well, hasn't he?" Chip whipped around to glare at him furiously, wanting to take out his pain and grief on someone.
The Admiral gazed at him sympathetically. "Under normal circumstances, I'd agree with you. But we'd be only be fooling ourselves if we don't accept the truth."
"Damn it! Don't you care?! This is Lee we're talking about!"
"I know, Chip, I know. Don't you think I know how much you're hurting?"
"I don't think you do," Morton snarled savagely, no longer caring who he was talking to. His head was pounding and he really wanted to lie down until the world went away. Maybe when he woke up everything would be all right and Lee would be telling him he was an idiot for staying out in the sun too long.
Chip shot a startled look over his shoulder at the dark eyed man approaching them. He was the doctor who had been examining the bodies as they emerged. He had introduced himself at some point, but Chip couldn't remember his name.
"Dr Valdez," Nelson nodded politely as he got up and Chip felt absurdly bitter that the older man should remember what he could not. "You've found someone else?"
"I'm afraid so," Valdez held out a slim black leather folder to the Admiral, watching him in concern as he paled.
"Was he wearing a ring?" Chip blurted.
"No ring. But there's not much of his hands left either. We'll have to do an autopsy to be sure of course, but he was carrying your man's identification and his build is......"
Chip could only stare at the wallet, watching it expand in his pulsing vision while everything else around him darkened. He knew that billfold. He had brought it for Crane for his birthday. His last birthday. The world spun around him, he heard Nelson call his name in alarm then everything went black.
* * *
Sitting in the air conditioned coolness of the hotel restaurant in town several hours later, Morton still felt like complete fool. Heat exhaustion on top of his grief for the loss of his friend only made him feel even worse and he rattled the ice cubes in his glass viciously, wishing he could shake the thoughts out of his head as easily.
"You should go and lie down," Nelson observed, startling the Lt. Commander with his stealthy approach.
"Sir!" Morton started to bolt to his feet but the Admiral's hand on his shoulder held him down.
"Forget it, Chip. We're not on Seaview now and we've both had a rough day." Harriman sank tiredly into the seat opposite the blond and beckoned a waiter over. He ordered a straight Scotch and a separate glass of iced water then sat back and loosened his shirt collar. "Did you get any sleep like Dr Valdez told you?"
"A couple of hours," Chip admitted, ducking his head. "I feel like a complete idiot. Lee warns, warned me about the heat every time we came out here and I go and forget."
Nelson noted his change of tense but carefully didn't comment. "You had other things to think about," he said kindly.
"Like behaving like a jerk. I'm sorry for what I said, Admiral."
Nelson smiled faintly. "The heat can do that to you," he observed blandly.
Chip gave him a wary look, then smiled back, grateful for his understanding. "Now what?" he asked however,
"We order dinner and get some rest. It's going to be a long day tomorrow."
"I have a feeling there's going to be a lot of long days," Chip said sadly, fishing an ice cube from his glass and popping it into his mouth. Its coolness felt delicious on his tongue and he made a mental note to take another cold shower before he turned in. "I can't say as I'm hungry though. I haven't even looked at the menu."
"There's no point in starving yourself," Nelson warned sternly as the waiter returned with his drinks and an extra menu. He sipped the iced water gratefully. "Order something light if you must, but you have to eat. It will help, you know."
Morton grimaced. "I know, but I keep thinking about tomorrow. If they're right and it is Lee...."
"Then there will be nothing we can do about it," Nelson interrupted firmly.
"Except find out who did it."
"What?" Nelson gave the Exec a sharp look. He had seen Morton in some pretty strange moods: from drunk to furious, but he had never heard quite that cold vicious tone in his voice before. It screamed vengeance.
"I've been thinking. Santini had something important to tell us. Important enough for him to persuade Lee into flying down here. He didn't tell you what it was?"
Nelson shook his head. He hadn't thought any further than finding Crane. His afternoon had been spent in a nightmare whirl of arrangements and Mexican red-tape, while Morton had had nothing to do but think. "I didn't talk to him. Lee seemed to think it was important though." He did his best to ignore his self doubts. Crane had seemed worried and he had dismissed his concern, sending the younger man away convinced Santini was overreacting over nothing.
Morton smiled bleakly. "The Observatory didn't blow up on its own," he pointed out steadily. "I'm betting it was a bomb. Someone wanted Santini out of the way fast and didn't care who else they killed to do it."
"You're leaping to conclusions," Nelson warned. It was a thought that had crossed his own mind, but it wasn't one he wanted Morton to dwell on. The man was too tense already without adding a darker tinge to his grief.
"Maybe, maybe not. But why else destroy the Observatory? It's hardly a terrorist target and it's a bit of a coincidence that it blew up practically as soon as Lee arrived."
"Two days is not as soon as he arrived," Nelson corrected. "Besides, if Lee had any suspicions, he would have contacted one of us." The last thing he wanted to do was remind Chip about the scientific delegation that had been going to visit the Observatory and give him a reason to believe the explosion had been meant for them. He had meant to send Crane down in a few days to check security anyway and the call from Santini had given him a perfect excuse to go early.
Morton shrugged and picked up his menu, glaring at it. "Maybe he told Riley," he suggested.
"He didn't mention it."
"You know what Riley's like," Morton retorted disparagingly. "He's probably forgotten."
"Be fair, Chip. He's had quite a shock."
"And we haven't?" Morton shot an angry look at him and Nelson sighed heavily.
"Let's not start that again," he said steadily. "I talked to Riley while you were asleep. Lee told him nothing except that he was staying over at the Observatory. He wouldn't have done anyway. If he thought there was trouble, the last thing he would have done would have been risk endangering one of his crew. You know that as well as I do."
Chip shook his head in disbelief. Deep down he knew he was still denying the truth and seeking a way of distracting himself from it. Even if it wasn't an accident, a sarcastic little voice kept whispering to him, Lee's still going to be gone and sooner or later you're going to have to admit it. With a flare of anger, he slammed the menu down on the table. "This is so damn stupid. It can't be an accident. He can't have been killed this way, not after surviving so many damn fool stunts!"
Nelson put his own menu down and beckoned the waiter over, quietly ordering for both of them while Morton struggled to get himself back under control. When the waiter finally drifted away again, Chip lifted his head and forced a weak smile at the older man.
"Sorry," he mumbled awkwardly.
"Don't be. If I was you, I'd be every bit as mad. It's only my vast age and bitter experience that stops me screaming in fury."
Chip blinked, seeking a flicker of dark humour in Nelson's eyes. "Vast age?" he said slowly.
"That and the tranquillizer Dr Valdez offered me, which I turned down I might add. I have too much to do. You, however, have had too much time on your hands in which to do nothing but think."
"And find excuses for wriggling out of the truth. He is gone, isn't he?"
"I think we have to accept it."
With a soft groan, Chip put his head in his hands and closed his eyes. A thousand and one details sprang instantly to the front of his Executive Officer's mind. "I hoped, I prayed, I'd never have to do this again," he whispered into the darkness of his concealing hands. "After John was killed...." Chip paused and swallowed hard. Captain Phillips had been a good man and a friend. But he had been closer to Nelson than his first officer and Chip didn't want to remind Nelson of another loss on top of Crane's. "I prayed I'd never have to tell another crew we'd lost our captain again."
"I'll do it," Nelson said flatly.
"Admiral?" Chip looked up in surprise. "I thought...."
"You and Lee knew each other a long time. It wouldn't be fair on you to expect you to explain to the crew or his family. I'll do it."
"His family?" Chip felt the colour leaving his face. "His mother! Someone has to tell his mother. She was going off on a cruise...."
"Chip, we'll find her and tell her. I don't want anyone to know until its been confirmed and the people closest to him have been told first. The crew don't need to know until we're ready to sail. I told Riley to keep it quiet." Nelson paused as he spotted the waiter coming towards their table with the soup starters and the large bourbon he had ordered for Morton. "Now, I suggest we eat dinner and do our best not to think about it for a while. Otherwise, neither of us are going to get any sleep."
* * *
Nelson gazed bleakly at the rain battering against the window of his hotel room as if it was determined to make up for the almost permanent state of drought in the area. It had been the rain that woke him from his shallow doze, but drifting grief kept him from sinking back to sleep. Instead he had got up and dressed, then made himself a black coffee and did a little bit of work. His mind wasn't on it though and he pushed away his papers, sitting back in the comfortable chair by the window and watching the rain while he brooded. His coffee had long grown cold and bitter when the bedside phone rang and disturbed his gloomy revery. Irritated, he snatched it from its cradle.
"Yes?" he snapped curtly.
"Yes. Who is this?"
"Hosquez, Fire Department. I'm sorry to disturb you so early, but you wanted to know if we found anything."
Nelson didn't recognise the voice at first, then recalled the tall, slim Mexican who had been gloomily investigating the remains of the building. "Yes, yes, I did. What is it? Another body?"
"Thankfully, no. We seem to have got them all. But you asked me if it could have been sabotage or arson? Did you have a reason for that?"
Nelson hesitated. That he had a mind nearly as suspicious as Morton's when it came to people wanting to kill Crane was the first answer that sprang to his lips, but it wasn't one he wanted to mention to Hosquez. If he did, he knew that Crane's stint with Naval Intelligence would eventually be dug up. Lee had been proud of that service, but there were people who could still be hurt by its revelation even if Lee himself was far beyond the reach of revenge. "The Observatory is connected with NIMR," he said finally. "If there is any chance that this was a deliberate action, I'd like to be prepared to tighten security. Was it arson?"
Hosquez was silent for a moment then he sighed breathily. "Of a kind. It was a deliberate bombing. We've found indications of explosives among the debris. From the way things look initially, there were several bombs planted in the upper observatory dome and so positioned as to destroy as much as possible and make sure no-one got out alive. Looks like it was a combination of fire bombs and high powered explosives set up by a demolitions expert."
Nelson sat down abruptly on the edge of the bed, feeling his knees quivering slightly. "Do you know who? Or why?"
"We received a call a couple of hours ago purporting to be from a terrorist group claiming responsibility."
"Purporting to be?"
Hosquez was silent for a second, then he sniffed. "These groups tend to have ways of identifying themselves. Whoever this was, it wasn't one of the people he said he was. I'd say it was an effort to cover something up. You have any idea why anyone would want to do that, Admiral?"
Nelson heard the faint edge of sarcasm in the fire investigator's voice and smiled ruefully. "I wish I did," he admitted bitterly. "I had friends in that building. If I knew who killed them...."
"Yeah, I guess I'd feel the same way," Hosquez said steadily, relaxing again. "I'm sorry I don't have more to tell you."
Mumbling some kind of inane pleasantry to thank the man for calling, Nelson hung up and stared blankly at the flowered paper on the wall. So, it had been a bomb. The question was why? Had the target been Crane? Or was there some other reason for destroying the Observatory? What the hell had been so important that Santini had wanted to tell them?
* * *
He tripped, stumbled, and fell again, yelping in pain as he tumbled down the stony slope to land with a thump in the bottom of a dried up arroyo, his scraped and bruised right hand once more making hard contact with the sand as he broke his fall. Panting for breath, he lay where he was and waited for the lights to stop flashing in his eyes and his head to stop ringing. It seemed to be taking longer every time for him to recover his balance and he knew that sooner or later he was going to black out when he fell and that if he did it would probably be for good in the gathering heat.
It had been a long night, made worse by not having any idea of where he was or why the three men pursing him wanted to kill him. His first conscious memory was of a darkened room and a smug male face looming over him, his voice a muffled roar in ears used to silence. With the voice had come the sensation of touch, rough hands on damp skin and searing sensation returning to his nerves. When he didn't understand the curt commands, those hands had hurt him, twisting his wrist until he screamed. He had fought back then and he remembered the shock on the swarthy face as the man went down under his unexpected attack. With his tormentor unconscious he hadn't known what to do, but something guided him into finding clothes to cover his own shivering body and sneaking from the dim room into a place where light hurt eyes grown used to darkness. There had been more voices, incomprehensible jabber in a tongue he didn't understand. Survival instincts made him fight, made him run, got him out of the building into an alien world of sharp light and broken colour where every sound was an assault on his senses. He had run until he could run no further, then hid from his pursuers in an old coyote den, striving to force his mind out of its numb panic to think and plan until he knew he had to move on.
Vaguely becoming aware of a low roar of sound from the distance, he forced his eyes open and let a throb of pain in his arm remind him to turn over onto his back and shade his eyes with his good hand from the merciless glare of the sun. He was so tired that he could willingly have slept and let the sun bake his bones where he lay, but sheer stubbornness made him sit up and work his way onto his knees. His left arm was useless, his forearm twisted and his shoulder hunched from one too many falls. It was all he could do to keep the limb tucked into the waistband of his beltless jeans. Half fainting with pain and shock, he pushed back onto his feet, hugged his battered arm to his chest and shivered, letting the first rays of sunshine melt a little of the cold out of him.
It was early yet but already the desert was starting to warm up and lifting the icy chill of darkness. He had been on the move half the night, running when he had to, hiding for a few precious moments of rest when he could. Movement had kept him from freezing, but the rain had taken him by surprise, making the footing more treacherous than ever. How he hadn't stepped on a scorpion or disturbed a snake he had no idea and he knew he couldn't keep going for much longer. Now he looked around him, contemplating the rough sides of the arroyo gloomily. He seemed to have lost the pursuit somehow. The rain would have disguised his tracks and had been heavy enough to drive even the most determined hunter back into shelter. For the desperate prey however, it had been a chance of escape that had been eagerly snatched.
The roaring was getting louder, he noticed as his hearing finally tuned into his surroundings. It seemed to be coming from higher up the gully. Curious, he took a step towards the sound. Maybe it was a car? A jeep could have made it down the twisting arroyo if the driver was reckless enough. Another step and he hesitated. His pursuers had had a car, useless though it had proved over the rough ground of the Northern route he had picked: they could have gone back for a jeep and picked up his tracks again somehow. They would have realised what direction he had taken and he hadn't strayed that far from his path. Why he had headed North he had no idea, except that something in that direction seemed to call to him.
The roar was deafening now, making him over one ear protectively. It didn't sound like car any more. It sounded more powerful, more natural....
With a sudden yelp of fright, he hurled himself at the wall of the arroyo and scrabbled upwards, digging his fingers and feet into the hard earth with frantic urgency. He had almost reached the top and safety when the first of the flood waters crashed around the bend in the gully and tore down the narrow arroyo, shredding chunks of dry earth and clumps of tumbleweed from its precarious hold and hurling debris gathered from further up. He was soaked in seconds, only determination helping him cling to his perch as he clawed his way over the rim of the gully and collapsed in a wet, muddy heap. Catching his breath, he lurched unsteadily to his feet and staggered a few steps forward, aiming to get away from the arroyo should the flood waters rise. Groggily he realised there was a dirt track in front of him and he limped towards it, part of him dazedly suggesting that the smoother surface would make travelling easier. Rain had made the desert blossom and flowers were urgently unfolding from every cactus tip, but he was oblivious to anything except the dirt road.
He didn't even hear the car until it whipped around the corner. The sight of the fair haired man behind the wheel made him freeze, his mind seeming to explode into a chaos of bewildering images. He thought the driver yelled at him in panic as he frenziedly swerved to avoid him, but the wing clipped his hip and sent him flying and then oblivion closed in to smother his pain in layers of smooth black paint.
* * *
He awoke to dim lights and cool, crisp sheets on his aching body. He stirred experimentally, suspicion running deep in his mind. His left arm was mercifully numb and his right appeared to be tied down. Suppressing a stab of fear, he lifted his head off the pillow and peered around him. The room was different from the one in which he had first awakened: cleaner, decorated in shades of deep cream and with narrow slatted shades across the window through which rich rays of pink and gold sunshine sneaked to dance across the bed spread. On the cabinet beside him, a monitor was pinging softly: it's measured beep oddly comforting. He stared at the luminescent green lines rippling across its screen, wondering vaguely what they meant but unable to make a connection between its presence and his own condition. The thin wires leading from it to his right arm and the IV hanging beside him were the reason he couldn't move his right arm, but he couldn't fathom the purpose of the colourless IV unless it was to fill him with drugs. Resenting the implications behind that idea, he pushed aside the blankets with his feet and attempted to sit up, biting back a yelp of pain as scoured skin and vicious bruising protested. He had to get out before they came back. The door was pushed open noiselessly and an attractive Hispanic woman stuck her head around the edge before hurrying in. Although her glossy dark hair showed a hint of grey, her figure was trim and she was wearing a smart dove grey uniform.
"Hey, hey, hey, what do you think you're doing, handsome? Because your sedative wore off, doesn't mean you're supposed to get out of bed!" Her accent reminded him of the voice that had first woken him. Scared, he strove to push her away and escape, but she captured his hands skilfully and held them. Her smile was kind. "No, honey, you listen to me. You're not going anywhere. You've had a rough time and you need some TLC. That's what we're here for. So you lie right down again and behave yourself. No-one's going to hurt you here."
For some strange reason he felt he could believe her and relaxed a fraction. Her hands were gentle but firm as she pushed him back down flat and he didn't have the strength to fight her even if he had wanted to. As she lifted his feet back onto the mattress and smoothed the blankets back over him, he struggled to read the badge on her lapel and was frustrated by his blurring vision and her movement. He must have made some small sound of frustration, for she stopped fussing and held still tucking her fingers under the badge and holding it for him to see.
"Dr Perez," she read aloud for him when he looked up at her in confusion. "What's your name?" He blinked at her blankly, feeling a stab of panic as he realised that he had no idea of the answer. Reading his alarm, she sighed and patted his arm in comfort. "That's okay. It'll come back to you.
Dr Vasquez will be in to see you in a minute. In the meantime, lie still and relax."
"Where.....?" Was that his voice? He didn't recognise it.
"Santa Rosa Medical Centre. You were brought here after some idiot of a student archaeologist nearly ran you down. Do you remember that?"
Slowly, he nodded, watching as she connected the wires he had dislodged back to the monitor. Then he looked at his wrist: it had been neatly plastered from wrist to elbow in a smooth white cast.
"Do you know what you were doing out in the desert clad in nothing but jeans, a tee shirt and a smile?"
"No." He shook his head, wincing at the pain the movement caused. "Everything hurts," he added and startled himself with the plaintive complaint.
"I'm not surprised. You weren't in very good shape when you arrived, but Dr Vasquez will be able to give you something to help once he's examined you again," she told him as she pulled a chair over to put beside the bed. "Would you like some water?"
"Please," he agreed, suddenly realising how thirsty he was. Perez smiled amiably at him and poured a plastic beaker of water from him from a pitcher beside the bed, then helped him prop himself up against the pillows so he could sip it. "Don't you have anyone else to see to?" he asked as she sat down.
"Not right now, no. I'll stay unless you don't want my company."
He shuddered faintly. The last thing he wanted was to be left on his own when he didn't even know who he was. Her one simple question, basic to the self identity of every sapient being on the planet, had exposed the vast grey depths in his own mind and frightened him out of his wits in the process.
Her hand patting his made his realise he had squeezed his eyes shut tight. "Don't worry about it," she told him quietly. "Amnesia is quite common with a concussion. It'll all come back to you in a day or two."
"I have a concussion?" For some reason the idea that his memory loss had a physical cause came as a relief. He eyed her hopefully. "Do you know what happened to me?"
"I should be asking you that," she pointed out.
"Why? Why haven't you examined me? I'm not going to tell you anything! I'm not a traitor, I......" he stopped in confusion, his head throbbing in pain.
"Why would I think you were a traitor?" she asked and leaned forward, capturing his evasive eyes with her own. "Look, I'm the psychiatrist here. It's pretty obvious from the condition you're in, that you've had a rough time. You've been drugged..."
"Drugged? You think I took something?! I did not!"
"You seem pretty sure of that considering you have amnesia," she interrupted, deftly silencing him. Confused, he stared at her mutely and she gave him another of those smiles that he found so comforting. "It's all right. They weren't that kind of drug. More like the kind I would use on a patient."
"So I'm someone's patient?" He flinched inside, wondering what he had done. "Was I violent or something?"
"Will you please let me finish? I was going to say you were beaten up which suggests you weren't taking the drugs willingly. And, since you ask, they were the type used in certain types of hypnosis, not to control anything specific."
"You also broke that arm of yours at least a day ago and whoever was twisting it around wasn't doing it to set it."
Discomfited by the reminder, he cradled the limb across his chest and gave her a wary look. "Doesn't mean I need a psychiatrist," he muttered warily.
"But it does mean you need someone to talk to."
"About what?" He grimaced, feeling sun dried skin pull taut.
"Do you know who would want to hurt you?"
"I don't even know who I am. How am I supposed to know that? I don't even remember what happened to me!"
"We'll have to work on it," she said with a placid smile.
He scowled at her and turned his head away, staring at the sunshine creeping through the window. It had been early out in the desert, but the rays now had the golden quality of late afternoon light. "How long have I been here?" he thought to ask at last, turning back to her.
"You were brought in yesterday morning."
"I was unconscious?" he guessed.
"At first, yes, then asleep. Whatever happened to you, you were exhausted. Sleep was the best thing for you." She glanced round as the door was pushed open and a grey haired older man strode in.
"Ah, good, you're awake at last. Do we have a name yet?"
"No, we don't," he growled back bitterly. "Who the hell are you anyway?"
Perez quickly introduced Vasquez to him and he reluctantly relaxed his belligerence. "Sorry. But I'm not at my best. I hurt all over."
Vasquez nodded mildly, unfazed by his irritation. "I'll see what I can do about making you feel better," he said kindly enough. "Dr Perez is much better at dealing with things like amnesia than I am though. Now, if you'll lie down for me, I'll check you over and we'll see how you're doing." He leaned over him briskly, parting the light cotton gown he was wearing to probe at his chest.
After one quick nervous glance at Perez who gave him a reassuring wink, he shut up and held still, hoping that it would be over that much quicker if he cooperated with Vasquez. He would do almost anything if it meant getting some kind of answer to who he was and what had happened to him.
* * *
Three days, Chip thought bitterly as he stepped out of the lift and glanced around him. Three days and it was still no easier to believe Crane was gone. His feelings seemed to have gone numb at some point the day before and bathing in liberal amounts of alcohol the night before hadn't helped to revive them. He focused on his surroundings with a sigh. The foyer was all shiny metal and glossy plants, very high tech and totally impersonal: chill enough to match his mood. Lee would have loathed it, but Chip couldn't even find the energy. Shrugging, he headed for the revolving doors to the street and the enervating heat outside.
"Oh, Commander? Commander Morton?"
Morton braked as the pretty blond receptionist hailed him from the other side of the hotel foyer. Normally he would have been delighted to have a excuse to stop and talk to her, but this morning he couldn't have cared less.
Nelson had already left to see Valdez again, then Hosquez. He was getting a little suspicious that the Admiral might be keeping something from him about the explosion considering the number of visits he had made to the fire investigator, but he wasn't really in the mood to worry about it. He had spent most of the day before talking to the man while Chip had been ordered to stay at the hotel and rest: not an easy to follow while putting up with Riley moping and blaming himself. Fortunately, the ex surfer had had a 'plane ticket pre-booked for the evening flight and Chip had been only too glad to put him in a taxi and send him home before he killed him.
The Admiral had been muttering about security checks at NIMR and more red-tape when he left and had asked the Exec to book them seats on the first flight back to Santa Barbara. Chip wasn't looking forward to returning home -he and Lee had too many friends in common who were going to want to know what had happened - but at least it was something else to think about for a while. He turned back reluctantly to the reception desk, hoping that no-one had tracked them down. He wasn't ready to start explaining yet.
"Yes, what is it?" he asked aloofly as he returned to the main desk.
"There's call from a Chief Sharkey for you, sir. He says it's important. I did call your room but I must have missed you."
Chip closed his eyes for a moment, imagining some kind of disaster back at Seaview that only the Exec could deal with. He had heard the phone ring when he left and ignored it, not wanting to talk to anyone. Now he nodded reluctantly to the reception and prowled over to the booth at the end of the desk to take the call. "Yes, Chief," he sighed tiredly. Sharkey was usually pretty good on picking up on subtle clues where his officers were concerned. If he thought Morton was tired, he wouldn't keep him any longer than necessary.
"Mr Morton? I'm glad I managed to catch you. They said you were checking out today."
"Yeah, but later. What's the matter, chief?"
"Sir, we had a weird call from a Dr Perez at the Santa Rosa Medical Clinic," Sharkey explained. "Some guy got brought in wearing a NIMR T-Shirt. They've got no idea who he is and they figure maybe we can help."
"Sharkey, do you know how many people buy those T-Shirts as souvenirs?" Chip snapped, short tempered. "It's got nothing to do with us."
"Uh, sorry, sir, normally I'd agree. But er it sounds like it's a crew shirt."
"What?" Chip blinked blankly at the white phone and for a moment his mind wouldn't make the connection. Sometimes you get what you're praying for, when you don't even know you're praying, he thought dazedly.
"Are you still there, Mr Morton?"
"Er, yes, yes," Chip could feel his voice quavering in hope. "You think it's one of our crew then?" He didn't want to mention Crane and hear it denied. No-one in Santa Barbara knew the worst yet: Riley had given the news direct to Nelson.
"Yes, sir. This guy's description sounds an awful lot like the captain," Sharkey explained nervously. "I know I'm probably being dumb and the skipper's with you, but...."
"Where is this place, chief?" Morton interrupted him sharply.
"Hang on, she gave me directions." Sharkey read them out for the Exec to memorise. "Mr Morton? Is anything wrong? Is the skipper missing?"
Chip hesitated. Sharkey was a good man and he didn't want to hurt him unnecessarily if there was the slightest chance Crane was still alive. "There was an accident at the Observatory," he said finally. "They wear the shirts too. It could be one of them."
"Oh right." Sharkey relaxed, trusting the Exec's explanation. "Could you let me know though, sir? I mean, it really does sound like the captain. There are some rumours going around....."
"Don't listen to them. I'll let you know what's happening as soon as possible," Morton promised earnestly. "Mind the store, chief. We'll be back as soon as we can."
Hanging up on Sharkey, Morton dived out of the booth and hurried back to the desk. It didn't help his temper to have to stand behind a giggling honeymoon couple. Fuming at the delay, he clamped his hands behind his back and waited until he could attract the receptionist's attention long enough to get a bit of paper. Scribbling a fast note to Nelson, he gave it to the receptionist to give to the Admiral when he returned, then ran for it, careless of his image for once as he went in search of transport.
* * *
"Sabotage?" Harriman could practically hear Admiral Hunter frowning at the phone. "Are you sure?"
"What else would you call a bomb?"
"I don't know." Lack of sleep and grief had made Nelson short tempered and he wasn't in the mood for Hunter's pomposity.
"But you do think it's connected with the er 'research' trip."
Nelson closed his eyes for a moment and resisted the urge to sigh. The 'research' trip Hunter was obliquely referring to was the ocean ecology conference scheduled to be held on board Seaview. A delegation of the top ranking scientists from all around the world would be aboard the submarine when she sailed. The trip had been originally planned to start at the Anazi Point Marine Observatory, but that plan had obviously been curtailed by the explosion. "It's possible. There are certain parties who would love to kill some of our guests. The explosion could have been premature."
"Or Crane discovered the bomb and set if off," Hunter mused.
Harriman felt his teeth clench and grind and forced himself to take a deep breath. "Crane knew better than to fool around with a bomb," he pointed out icily.
"Still he did have the training. He could have been careless. Or he could have planted the bomb himself."
"What?" Nelson choked.
"Look at the facts. Crane knew about the trip. He knew the schedule. He might have faked the call from Santini and come down here to arrange the bomb in person. You don't know for sure that he was killed until you find his body. It's damn convenient that only his ID has been found."
If Hunter had been in range, Nelson would have knocked his teeth down his fat throat for his aspersions. "That's preposterous!"
"Is it? It wouldn't be the first time a man's succumbed to the lure of money."
"Not Lee Crane," Nelson grated.
"No-one perfect, Harriman. Not even your precious captain."
"I never said he was perfect, but he's not a traitor either!" Nelson snapped.
"He was conditioned once before, remember? Maybe that programming went deeper than we know. Maybe it was only waiting for the right trigger to resurface."
"Damn it, Hunter! Crane's not even cold and you want to use him as a scapegoat!"
"I never said...."
"It wasn't Crane. He and Santini may have found out more than was good for them and they were murdered, but they weren't involved! I suggest you stop playing guessing games and do what you're supposed to do, man! Tighten security for the conference and make damn sure that every one of those scientists is safe!" Nelson slammed the phone down violently, knowing that Hunter would be spluttering like a landed fish. He knew he shouldn't have lost his temper with him. For all his flab, Hunter was a brilliant man and had spent more time in Naval Intelligence than Harriman cared to think about. His speculations had been valid enough and it wasn't his fault that they had rubbed his fellow Admiral the wrong way at the wrong time. Hunter was the outsider looking in, forever aloof from involvement. His detachment was what made him so good at handling security, but it made him a lousy person to have to deal with.
The glass panelled door creaked as Hosquez stuck his head round the edge. "If you've finished, can I have my office back?" he asked mildly.
"Mmmh? Yes, sorry." Nelson levered himself to his feet. "I appreciate you letting me make that call."
"I take it you didn't want to do it with Commander Morton around," Hosquez guessed as he rummaged in the desk and came up with a sheaf of paper.
"I haven't told him about the bombs yet," Nelson told him reluctantly. "He's going to go mad when he finds out."
"And you're hoping a couple of days will give him time to calm down a little?" Hosquez asked as he selected a couple of sheets and stuffed the rest back in the drawer.
"Something like that. It might him make more reasonable to deal with at least."
The fire investigator nodded. "Finding out that it was deliberate can come pretty hard. Murder takes people different ways. I've never figured out if sheer fury is the better reaction or not."
Nelson rubbed a tired hand over his face. "Neither have I," he admitted.
Hosquez gave him a sympathetic look. "Want a coffee?" he suggested. "You look like you could do with an hour off."
"I should get back to the hotel."
"Anything there that can't wait a while?"
"That's what I thought. Give yourself a break, Admiral. If you ask me, Morton's not the only one who needs time."
* * *
Finding the medical centre hadn't been hard. His cab driver had known the place and driven him there in about fifteen minutes. Chip couldn't believe how close the place was that might solve all his fears.
He wasn't really listening to Dr Perez as she led him down the corridor. He couldn't remember the last time he had been so nervous. What if it wasn't Lee? What if it really was some lucky survivor from the Observatory? What was he going to say to a complete stranger?
"This is it," she told him, coming to a halt before a closed door. "Ready?"
"I guess so." Morton gave her a uneasy nod and took a deep breath, following her as she walked into the room.
"Here's the visitor I promised you," Perez told the man standing by the window. He turned slowly as Chip eased around her and stared back at the Exec with mutual fascination. The same lean figure, the same cap of dark curls and hazel eyes.
"Lee?" Chip said hesitantly, then bounded forward and grabbed his friend by the shoulders, shaking him in a relief of joy and baffled exasperation. "Lee, you idiot! Do you have any idea how worried we've been?" Without thinking about it, he changed his grip and swept Crane into a fervent hug. "We all thought you'd been killed!" It was a long moment before he realised Crane was submitting to his embrace easily enough, but he wasn't responding and was even wincing slightly. Realising how strange this might look to Perez, he loosened his grip and eased him back to arms length.
"Do I know you?" Crane asked with a somewhat lopsided smile, gingerly cradling his plastered arm between them.
"Do you.....? That isn't funny, Lee!"
"It wasn't meant to be," came the sober reply. "I have no idea who you are."
Chip spluttered to a halt and shot a look at Perez. She shrugged slightly. "I was hoping your natural reaction to him would spark a response," she responded to his questioning expression. "He has amnesia."
"Amnesia?!" Morton let go of his friend all together and stepped backwards.
"I'm not contagious you know," Crane commented wryly at that, studying him curiously.
Chip smiled weakly and turned on Perez. "You didn't tell me he had amnesia!"
"I would have thought you'd guess from the fact we didn't know who he was."
Morton scowled. "He might have been refusing to tell you." He stopped what he had been going to say. There was no point in revealing Lee's background in Intelligence. His current status with NIMR should be enough to satisfy the medical centre.
"Yes?" she prompted curiously.
"It doesn't matter. Look, his name is Lee Crane. He's a Naval commander on assignment to NIMR and we'll take care of any costs involved in his stay here."
"Sure of that, are you?" Perez asked drily.
Nodding, Morton fished out his ID and handed it to her. "Give me the forms and I'll authorise them for you," he told her as she studied it.
"That's fair enough. Do you know what happened to him?"
Chip hesitated. "Not exactly," he admitted finally.
"But you thought he'd been killed?"
"He was supposed to be visiting the Observatory. You heard what happened up there?"
Perez frowned and nodded. "We were on stand by," she admitted. She pursed her lips for a moment and then glanced at Crane. "You look like a Lee," she commented as she handed Chip's ID back. "And a naval background doesn't surprise me. You carry yourself like an officer."
"I wish it meant something to me." Lee smiled weakly and went back to watching Morton intently, his eyes hungry for information. Chip shifted uncomfortably under his scrutiny.
"Look, I'll leave you two to talk for a while. Don't tire him, commander," Perez decided.
"But-," Chip blurted, suddenly feeling nervous again.
"Like he said, he isn't contagious," Perez chuckled. "He's got questions you've probably got answers for. I'll come back later."
Morton took an uneasy step after her as she left the room, then turned reluctantly to face Crane.
"You can go if you want," Lee suggested with obvious reluctance to see him leave.
Dragging one hand through his hair, Chip took a deep breath. "I think I'll stay. Finding you alive is shock enough, finding that you have amnesia comes as even more of a shock."
"Not as much as it was for me. At least you've told me who I am now, commander. That's a start."
"Calling me Chip would be a start," Chip corrected with a half laugh and moved closer to his friend, studying him carefully. There were bruises that hadn't been there before, shadows in the amber eyes that reflected his loss, but somewhere in there was still the Lee Crane he knew. It was in his half shy, half wary smile and the cautious meeting of his eyes.
"I do know you," Lee said abruptly and a little of the darkness cleared from his eyes in relief.
"We've been friends a while," Chip admitted. "I know all about you: including your darkest secrets."
"That seems a little unfair," Lee said slowly. "You know mine, but I can't remember yours."
"Lucky me," Chip chuckled. He let Crane move away from him and perch on the edge of the bed, then sank into the chair by the window. "So, what do you want to know?"
"It's hard to know what questions to ask when you don't know the answers you need. You told me my name. That I'm in the Navy..."
"Assigned to NIMR. You're Seaview's captain."
"She's a submarine. I'm your first officer."
"Ah...." Lee nodded slowly.
"Maybe you'd be better off knowing more personal stuff," Chip suggested as he leaned forward and rested his folded arms on his jean clad thighs. "You currently live in Santa Barbara. You're not married. You're originally from Boston and you're family is old money. Your folks are divorced, but you get on okay with both of them." Morton paused as Crane twitched and held up a hesitant hand. "Yeah?"
"I'm not married?"
"Never got trapped." Morton said jovially, then noticed his faint frown. "Not for want of looking though," he added hastily. "You have a string of girlfriends....Hell, that sounds terrible. Put it this way, you're looking but you haven't found the right woman."
"What about you?"
"Me? I thought we were discussing you?"
"I want to know about you too. You said you're a friend? A close friend?"
"You think an acquaintance would have hugged you?" Chip snorted with a flush of embarrassment.
"Maybe," Lee said warily. "Kind of depends on the kind of acquaintance though, doesn't it?"
"Oh? Oh....Oh!" Chip belatedly caught on. "I am most certainly not that way inclined!" he screeched indignantly.
"I'm glad to hear it."
Morton glared at him for a second, then smiled grudgingly. "I suppose you are," he admitted. "It's kind of difficult to know what to tell you and what you should be left to remember for yourself."
Crane nodded slowly. "I suppose," he agreed reluctantly. "I...Do you know how I got in this state? How'd I get here?"
"You came down to the Anazi Point Marine Observatory to see Dr Santini," Chip answered promptly, then thought better of giving him the details. "Quite what happened then we don't know."
"But you thought I'd been killed," Lee said slowly, flicking a shy glance at him.
"Trust you to remember that," Chip snorted grumpily. "Your memory might have short circuited but there's not much wrong with the rest of you."
"You seemed worried about me."
"The Admiral and I have both been worried about you."
Lee blinked at him and opened his mouth, then closed it as he struggled with the name. "Wasn't he....?" he began hesitantly.
"Not that Admiral Nelson," Chip chuckled helpfully. "Harriman Nelson. Founder of the Nelson Institute of Marine Research and designer of the SSRN Seaview."
"Ah...." Crane nodded as if he understood, but it was obvious from the bewilderment in his eyes that he didn't.
"I'm going too fast for you," Chip realised sympathetically.
Lee rubbed his eyes and nodded reluctantly. "A little. It seems like I know what you're talking about, but it won't sink in," he muttered in frustration.
"There's plenty of time, Lee," Chip assured him kindly. He was only guessing, but it looked to him as his friend was starting to get a major headache and he didn't want him rush him too much.
"Is there?" Crane looked up at him with a flash of his normal self assurance. "So why do I feel as if there isn't much time?"
* * *
"And he didn't say what he meant?" Nelson frowned at Morton across the restaurant table several hours later. By the time the Admiral had picked up Morton's message at the hotel and found out where the medical centre was, Crane had fallen into an exhausted sleep and there had been no way Harriman would have been willing to disturb him even if Chip or Perez had been willing to let him.
"He doesn't know what he meant," Chip replied as he sliced enthusiastically into the thick, well done steak he had ordered for a late lunch. "I didn't want to push him too hard on it. Every time I mentioned what he thought had happened, he started to get a headache. But once we got off the subject it'd go away again."
Nelson pursed his lips and sipped his wine. He was glad to note that Morton seemed to have got his appetite back. "That's not surprising. He must have had quite a shock to make him lose his memory in the first place, but it doesn't help us very much."
Chip paused over a mouthful of fresh peas and frowned. "Is it really that important that he remembers now? At least we've got him back more or less in one piece."
Harriman smiled, appreciating that Morton's concerns were more with his friend than with the larger picture. "What happened to Lee wasn't an accident," he pointed out however. "Someone kidnapped him and he was probably drugged for a reason: maybe for information, maybe for another reason."
"Don't let Crane hear you talking like that," Morton warned darkly. "You know how twitchy he gets on the subject of being a traitor. Being conditioned that time cut deep. I think he'd rather kill himself than let himself be used like that again."
"I know, Chip, I know, but he doesn't remember that. I had a little talk with Dr Perez while you were watching Lee sleep." Morton flushed slightly. He had thought Nelson's daft grin when he saw Crane curled up safe, sound and asleep had been bad enough. Knowing that Nelson had caught him out watching the captain sleeping felt even more embarrassing. "Dr Perez agrees that Lee's amnesia could well have been brought on by his need to prevent himself telling his captors anything. A headache would be a natural reaction to the effort to remember. If that's so, he's not going to remember anything more until he knows he's safe."
Chip frowned. "How are we going to convince him of that?"
"By taking him home. Dr Perez says he'll be fit enough to travel tomorrow. We'll take him back to the naval base in Santa Barbara where Jamieson can take a look at him. The more familiar faces he has around him the better. Did you get the 'plane tickets?"
"Uh no, I forgot," Morton mumbled. "Sorry, Admiral."
"You had other things on your mind," Harriman observed amiably.
"Yeah. I've got phone Sharkey back too."
"Good. Still, we've done all we can here. The sooner we get Lee home, the better."
* * *
"You're sure about this? I should go with them?" Lee asked as he gazed uncertainly at Dr Perez. She was shorter than he had expected, his own height having surprised him.
"Don't you want to?" she asked, companionably slipping her arm through his as she walked him down the corridor to reception where he had been told Morton and the mysterious Admiral Nelson were waiting for him.
"I don't know," he admitted reluctantly. He had been starting to feel safe at the medical centre, but something about Morton's easy going grin and naturally friendly attitude towards him suggested that home was somewhere else and still a long way away.
"Commander Morton is obviously a good friend," Perez told him. "The look on his face when he recognised you said a lot. If you're going to remember your past, you have to move forward. I think he's the one who can help you."
Lee smiled faintly and nodded. The grin that had crossed Chip's face - to his surprise the name fitted perfectly into his thoughts as if it had belonged there forever - had been like seeing the sun come out on a rainy day: the shadows had vanished instantly from his eyes. Lee had had no doubts that the blond knew him after that. His choice of clothes for him had supported that belief as well: easy fitting dark blue jeans and a loose white T shirt, plus a baseball cap that Crane had stuffed in his back pocket.
"Still, you don't have to go if you don't feel up to it," Perez continued. "You're the important one here. You don't have to consider their feelings, only your own. Do what you want to do because you want to, not because anyone says you should."
Crane glanced at her thoughtfully. "I have the feeling that I'm a very hard person to push around," he said slowly as they rounded the corner into reception.
"Bossy even," Chip commented as he overheard the remark. He stepped forward to meet Crane with a welcoming grin of relief and clapped a hand on his shoulder.
"He's not going to vanish, you know," Perez said drily as Lee flinched under his enthusiastic grab.
"Yeah, watch the bruises, will you?" he complained, prodding him back with a finger in the ribs.
Morton stepped back hastily. "Sorry, I keep forgetting." He gave Crane a mock glare. "It's still damn hard to believe you're still alive." A soft throat clearing noise from behind Morton made him grin and step aside. "Oh yeah, sorry, Admiral. Lee, this is Admiral Harriman Nelson."
Crane turned his gaze to the stocky, red haired older man who stepped forward to stand beside Morton. Like Chip, he was dressed in civilian clothes but didn't look as comfortable as the blond in them.
"Lee, it's good to have you back," Nelson said gruffly, sticking out his hand to him.
Crane took it slowly, studying the stern blue eyes that examined him in turn. Nelson's grip was firm and dry: the hand of a man used to hard work and not some desk bound pencil pusher. Lee flicked a glance at Morton, seeing the anxiety in his eyes over the Admiral's brusque greeting. Something seemed to go crunch in his thoughts and settled into place: there would be no emotional displays from the irascible older man but that didn't mean Nelson didn't give a damn. It was simply the way he was. Nelson would go through hell and high water if he thought you were worth it. "Admiral," Lee was pleasantly surprised by the warmth he heard in his own voice and he tightened his grip. "It's good to be back."
Nelson blinked and then nodded. Releasing Lee's hand, he stepped back. "We have a car waiting to take us to the airport. So unless there are any more forms....?"
"I've finished them all," Morton assured him, ruefully massaging his hand. "I didn't know there would be so many. It'd be easier to claim something from the Lost and Found."
"Sorry," Lee apologised without knowing why and got an affectionate grin from Chip.
"No problem, Lee. But maybe we should get you a collar and name tag," he teased. "Ready to go?"
Crane hesitated and shot a quick glance at Perez, missing the anxious expression that crossed Morton's face.
"It's up to you," Perez answered the silent question in the captain's eyes. "Forward or back?"
Lee sighed heavily and took her hand, kissing the back of her fingers. "Forward, I guess."
Blushing slightly, Perez drew her hand free. "So we know one more thing about you, you're a flirt," she observed. "Be off with you."
Crane gave her a genuine smile and turned back to the others. Nelson was already heading for the car but Morton fell in beside him, adjusting a baseball cap over his eyes as they walked out into the blazing sunshine. Noting that Crane wasn't wearing his, he checked him over and tugged the cap from his pocket, then slapped it on over his dark curls. "You're always telling me to wear mine," he informed him as Lee gave him a strange look.
"Because you're blond?"
"Only round the edges," Chip grinned as he fell into step with him.
Crane considered this, finding his presence at his side both familiar and comforting. Morton simply seemed to fit somehow. "Tell me, is it natural or peroxide?" he teased carefully.
"Hey! It's natural." Chip growled as he led the way between two parked cars towards where the Admiral was waiting by their loan car. A car started up somewhere close by and Chip glanced round to see it pulling out of its parking space.
"I only ask out of curiosity," Lee murmured, following the Exec as he started across the road.
"Hah! A likely story." Chip shot a glare over his shoulder at him, ignoring the approaching sedan. The driver could see them quite easily.
"Don't they say something about blond's getting dirty quicker?"
"The saying is, blond's have more fun," Morton corrected loftily and glanced round with a frown as he heard the on coming car's engine growl deepen as it accelerated towards them.
"Do they?" Lee wondered innocently, letting Morton quicken the pace.
"I don't...." Chip mumbled absently.
"Look out!" Nelson had spotted the danger and was scrambling out of their hire car.
The sedan was coming straight at them, its speed increasing. Chip couldn't see through the darkened windscreen and he had a split second to see that the plates were smothered in dirt, then instinct made him whip around and dive at Crane, tackling him back between the parked vehicles and practically throwing him further into the gap. Lee scrambled ahead of the Exec as Chip pushed him. The car swerved after them, ramming into a sedan and catapulting it into the vehicle next to it with a crunch. The impact threw both men off their feet and Morton grabbed instinctively at his friend, tucking around him and rolling under the safety of a pick up truck parked behind them.
Metal screamed as if it was being tortured as the sedan then backed up and tore off, slamming through the barrier and out of the parking lot.
"Chip! Lee!" Nelson yelled in panic.
"We're here!" Chip yelled back as he pushed himself unsteadily off Crane. "You okay, Lee?"
"I think so." Crane answered, nodding shakily.
"Great." Chip could feel his own knees trembling as he urged Crane to crawl out from under the pick up truck ahead of him. Nelson was waiting for them and caught Lee's good arm, hauling him to his feet before stretching out a hand for Morton.
"Are either of you hurt?" he demanded.
"No, we're okay," Chip assured him, giving Crane a surreptitious glance to assure himself of that fact.
"Who was that guy?" Lee asked as he brushed the dirt off his legs.
"Probably a drunk," the Admiral commented.
Morton exchanged a swift look with Nelson. Darkened windows and mud splattered plates on a car made it pretty obvious no-one had wanted the vehicle traced. This has been a deliberate attack on them for some reason and one probably aimed at Crane.
"Isn't it kind of early to be drunk?" Lee frowned at them suspiciously. "Not for some people," Chip retorted.
"Hey, are you guys okay?" The parking attendant yelled as he hurried towards them.
"Get Lee in the car. I'll deal with this," Nelson ordered briskly and moved to meet the young man.
Lee gazed after him in bewilderment. "Aren't we going...." he began.
"No, we're going to let the Admiral handle it," Taking a firm grip on Lee's arm and ignoring a bruise on his hip that wanted his attention, Chip hustled his friend towards the car. "The sooner we're out of here, the better. We've got a flight to catch."
* * *
Santa Barbara Naval Base
Nelson was pacing the cramped confines of the waiting room when Jamieson came in. A lean, balding man, Jamieson never let anything faze him. Since he had joined Seaview's crew, he had handled some of the weirdest problems ever to face a Naval doctor without a qualm and could have written a book on some of the things he had seen in his long career.
"Sit down, Admiral, before I decide to give you the bed next to the captain," he said drily as he headed straight for the coffee percolator and helped himself.
Nelson sank into a seat reluctantly. "How is he?"
"The skipper? Concussion, bruises, broken arm. Nothing he won't get over. He's had worse. Right now, he's sound asleep."
"Again?" Nelson echoed in alarm. "That's all he did on the flight here!" His under used protective instinct had insisted on ensuring Crane got the seat between him and Morton with Chip on the aisle seat to fend off the over attentive stewardesses that Lee always attracted on an aeroplane. Morton hadn't minded running interference in the least. It had helped him pass the time while Lee slept and Nelson caught up on his paperwork.
"So you're surprised? He's had a rough time and natural sleep is the best thing for him." Jamieson raised a sardonic eyebrow at the Admiral as he sat down. "I could wish he has amnesia more often if it makes him sleep when he has a concussion."
"But even so....."
"Look, the report you brought me from Dr Perez told me all I need to know. I don't intend to second guess an obvious expert who was on the spot. if he feels safe, he'll sleep until he feels better. You and Chip should feel flattered that he'd do that on the 'plane."
Nelson grimaced. "We haven't done much to make him safe," he muttered.
"Chip told me about the car. Mostly because I forced it out of him. I asked him why he was limping," Jamieson said wryly.
Nelson flashed a worried look at him. "Is he okay?"
"A bruise the size of a melon, but nothing serious. Is that why you doubled the security?"
Nelson nodded. "To be honest though, I'd rather get him out of here. We weren't exactly discreet about our plans to bring him here. It didn't occur to me to use secrecy. I don't suppose....?"
"You don't know what I was going to say!"
"You were going to ask me if you could take him out of here and the answer is no. Not tonight anyway. Dr Perez advised me to keep him under observation for one night at least and I'm inclined to agree with her. Maybe tomorrow. In the meantime, I suggest you go home."
Nelson grunted irritably and got up. "I'll consider it. Where's Morton?"
"Where do you think? On watch dog mode. He doesn't look like he's had much more sleep than you. I let him share a room with the skipper. He did nearly get run over after all. Observation for him won't hurt either. Besides it makes Crane happy."
"Nice excuse, doc," Nelson snorted.
Jamieson smiled easily. "Whatever works. Now, how do you feel about me buying you dinner while you explain what's going on to me?"
* * *
"No, no, no...I don't know, I don't know!"
Morton surfaced groggily from deep sleep to the sound of his friend's voice in the darkness. "Lee?" he mumbled instinctively as he felt for the light switch above his bed.
"I can't tell you! I don't remember!"
"Hey, Lee, take it easy. It's okay." Stumbling out of bed, Chip groped his way across the room and shook Crane by the shoulder. "It's Chip, I..... yike!" Morton yelped and landed on his rump on the floor as a fist smacked him in the jaw. Swearing, he made a grab at the bed and hooked Crane by one ankle, yanking him bodily out of bed. Lee yelled in surprise as the thump of hitting the floor woke him up.
"What the....?!" he yelped wildly.
"You were having a nightmare, you cretin!" Chip yelled at him, his voice only slightly muffled by the hand he had clamped to his bruised jaw.
Lee gaped at him. "I was not! You fell out of bed!"
"You decked me!"
"What's going on in here?!" A sleep tousled Jamieson shoved the door open and strode in, glaring at the two officers who both scrambled instinctively for their beds.
"Lee had a nightmare," Chip explained hastily.
"I did not!" Crane protested indignantly.
"Did too!" Chip shot back with a grin.
"Enough!" Jamieson held up both hands for silence. "I don't want to hear about it at this time of night. Lee, are you all right?"
Crane nodded, glaring at Morton. "Fine," he said shortly.
"Wonderful. Go back to bed. Next time I'll send security to shut you up." Jamieson stalked out, firmly closing the door behind him.
"Great bedside manner, he's got, I don't think," Chip muttered sulkily as he settled back into his pillows. Lee pushed up on his good arm and gazed at him silently. "What?"
"Did I really deck you?"
"You were asleep. You didn't know who I was."
"But I did hit you."
"Well, yeah.... sort of."
Crane slumped back and folded his good arm behind his head. He stared up into the shadows above his head in silence for a moment. "I'm sorry," he said finally. "I didn't realise."
"You were dreaming. Do you remember what it was about?"
"No," Crane answered curtly and turned over, firmly putting his back to his friend.
After a moment of watching him, Chip could tell he wasn't going to say anything else and from the tension in his shoulders he wasn't going to go back to sleep with Morton watching either. With an impatient sigh, Chip switched off the light and turned over. "I can't help if you won't let me," he said softly into the darkness. Crane didn't answer, but he heard him sigh and the rustle of the sheets as he changed position. Settling down to sleep, Chip hoped that all Lee needed was time to start trusting him again.
* * *
"Let me get this straight, we're going on board a submarine?" Crane asked late the following morning as he stood still for Morton to pin the boarding pass to the front of his shirt. Chip was in uniform, but Nelson had sent his secretary over to Lee's apartment to get him some civilian clothes.
"Not any submarine: the Seaview. She's special."
"Jamieson thinks it might trigger some memories."
"Of what? Launching torpedoes?"
Chip glanced up at him and snorted. "Giant jellyfish, monster squids, the occasional passing mermaid: you name it, " he retorted.
"You seriously expect me to believe that? I have amnesia, not gullibility."
Morton opened his mouth to shoot back a scathing retort, then changed his mind. Teasing Lee as one thing, but he didn't want to hurt him while his guard was down and he was defenceless. "Go with the flow," he advised him and led the way towards the gates. The guards both saluted as they let them through onto the jetty above the Seaview's submarine pen.
The submarine was berthed below them, snuggled up to the jetty while stores were being loaded. Lee peered over the edge of the platform to study her sleek shape. "She's got windows!" he said in surprise.
"I told you she was special."
"But won't the glass crack when she submerges?"
"Nelson designed them. Seaview's ports will probably last longer than she does. Want to go aboard?"
Lee hesitated, then nodded and followed him down the ramp. There were quite a few men working on loading the submarine and Crane found himself edging closer to Morton, unnerved by the surreptitious glances they gave him. Morton bent a frown on the crew to warn them to back off and started chatting, laying out Seaview's specifications and design details for her captain. Lee absorbed them readily enough, occasionally asking a shrewd question as they paced the length of the submarine, admiring the graceful sweep of her bows, before strolling back to her conning tower.
"And you're going to love the Flying Sub," Chip added brightly. "She's always been your baby."
"A flying sub?" Lee echoed, glancing at him in amazement. "Now, I know you're winding me up!"
"No, seriously. She looks a bit like a fat frisbee, but she flies. Watch your step now." Chip told him as he led the way aboard Seaview's hull.Lee followed him slowly, aware that there was a considerable depth of water under the submarine's keel.
"How deep is this bay?" he asked curiously as he paused to peer over the side and down into the misty green waters.
"Six hundred feet to the bottom, so mind you don't slip," Morton warned, mindful that Lee might not be as sure footed as usual.
"I promise I won't fall in." Crane smiled faintly, letting the Exec hustle him back towards the hatch in the conning tower. The shadow of her tower planes felt cold across his back and the closer he got to the hatch, the more nervous he could feel himself becoming and he balked on the threshold of the door.
"Coming?" Morton gave him a questioning glance as he stepped inside.
"I... oh, nothing." Steeling himself, Crane followed his friend inside and down the ladder. Cold sweat broke out on his back as he climbed down into the steel cocoon that lay below. Every nerve in him screamed for him to go up and out as he climbed down into the well lit control room.
"Lee?" Morton was waiting for him by the ladder, guiding his feet as he peered up at him, anxious over his slow descent. A friendly round faced man grinned up at him from beside the Exec.
"Hi, skipper. Remember me? Chief Sharkey?".
Crane recognised the voice but couldn't answer. He balked on the ladder, unable to persuade his hands to let go of their grip on the rungs. He flashed a look around the control room and for a second it was as if he was underwater. With a savage visual twist, the friendly faces disappeared and all he could see was glass walls and warm water on his bare skin as the gloating man with the harsh voice leaned over him, bringing light and pain and questions.
All the air seemed to have been snatched out of him and he suddenly couldn't breathe as panic closed his throat. A tight band of pain around his temples suddenly exploded into a major headache as a vicious white light stabbed into his mind's eye. He could hear the voice again, some times whispering, some times shouting in anger: never accepting the answer that he didn't know what they wanted him to tell them.
The next thing he knew he was moving, scrambling back up the ladder with all the speed he could gather. "Lee! Wait! Slow down!" he heard Morton's voice yelling at him but didn't care. The ladder seemed to stretch forever, but finally he was scrambling through the hatch and out onto the hull. His knees gave way under him and he sank dizzily to the deck plating, frantically sucking in great gasps of air.
With a clatter of footsteps, Chip was beside him on his knees and wrapping an arm around his shuddering shoulders. "Take it easy, Lee, calm down. It's okay."
Crane shook his head mutely and squeezed his eyes shut against the splintering images of sun on water. "I can't go down there. Please, don't make me. I can't Chip. I can't!"
"No-one's going to make you do anything you don't want to do," Chip promised. The promise seemed to unlock something for Lee felt his breathing start to ease and he relaxed against the blond's support. He would rather jump off a cliff than face climbing down into that cocoon again.
"Was it something I said?" Sharkey's Brooklyn accented voice asked, sounding worried.
"No, chief," Chip assured him. "I don't think so."
Lee managed to force his eyes open and look up at the man, forcing a smile that was more of a grimace. "Not your fault," he said shakily, taking another dry gasp for air. "Help me up, Chip."
"You sure? Maybe you should stay down for a minute." Crane shook his head and Chip reluctantly helped him up.
"What happened, skipper?" Sharkey wanted to know, twitching as Morton gave him a filthy look.
"I don't know." Lee admitted as he ran one hand through his hair, closing his eyes against the throbbing pain in his temples.
"Chief, I'll look after him. You'd better back to the control room." Chip ordered.
"Aye, sir." The chief agreed reluctantly.
As Sharkey's footsteps moved away, Chip put his arm around Crane's shoulders, steadying him as he swayed. "I'm going to take you back to Jamieson, Lee."
"No, not yet." Lee took a deep breath and pulled away, gazing around the submarine pen.
"You've never had claustrophobia before," Chip noted worriedly as he watched him.
"It wasn't claustrophobia," Lee told him bleakly.
"It sure looked like it."
Crane swung on him angrily, feeling the fury at his own helplessness bubbling up inside him. "You have no idea what it was! Voices, questions, the nothingness, the tank, the lights....." he yelled, raging at the pain and the frightful greyness inside his own mind where the memories should be. He squeezed his eyes shut again, striving to find something, anything to cling to in the maelstrom echoing in his own mind. "It hurt!" Warm hands closed on his shoulders and he was abruptly pulled against the blond, held when he would have pulled away from the contact.
"Lee, listen to me," Chip ordered firmly, stoically ignoring his efforts to break loose. "Listen to my voice. That's the one that's real. None of the others count. You can believe what I tell you. You don't have to listen to any of the others. You know you can trust me. Same way as always."
Lee gulped, hearing a strange background echo in Morton's words. A memory: Listen to me, Lee. No matter what happened, it wasn't your fault. You have to trust someone, trust me. Other images swirled up out of the darkness until he felt sick. He had been hurt, bruised, battered and wounded by people he should have been able to trust but who instead handed him over to the enemy. Chip had been the only person he had been able to recognise enough to trust.
"Oh, I do trust you, I do." The groan half choked him as he clung to the Exec, winding his fingers into the back of his shirt in sheer desperation. "I don't have anyone else I can trust when I can't trust myself!"
Morton relaxed slightly, realising that he had somehow said the right thing. Something had connected in Crane's confused thoughts and he had stopped fighting the Exec. "Lee, you don't have to doubt yourself," he said carefully. "Don't second guess yourself."
"Did you kill Somarta?"
Chip caught the 'who?' on his tongue barely in time. "Yes," he said instead. "The bastard deserved it." That was what he was remembering? No wonder he was upset. When Crane had been captured after being betrayed by the very people he had been sent to help, an infuriated Morton had gone after him into enemy territory. Lee had been feverish when he reached him, unable to recognise friend from foe except for the only blond around. It had only because he had trusted Chip enough to keep quiet that the enemy soldiers hadn't found them and Morton had been able to get them both out. He had been feverish for days and Chip had spent a lot of time in Seaview's Sickbay reassuring his friend of his safety and his surroundings. He had never realised that Lee remembered any of it.
Crane shuddered and suddenly took a deep breath, pushing away from Morton and staring at him in embarrassment. "Sorry. That was ages ago. I'm getting confused."
"At least you're remembering something at last," Chip said easily as he straightened his shirt.
"I'd prefer something a little nicer than that," Lee retorted.
"It'll come back to you," Chip assured him, very much aware of the uneasy glance Crane shot around him. "You feel calmer now?"
Lee shot a swift look at him and jerked a nod. "I also feel a complete fool," he mumbled in chagrin and he inclined his head towards the work crew on the jetty.
Chip sent an ice blue glare towards them. Noting that Patterson and Kowalksi had joined the other men though, he relaxed. The two crewmen would make sure the incident wasn't blown out of all proportion. "Maybe bringing you to Seaview so soon was a mistake," he decided. "What do you say we go and have lunch if you feel up to it?"
"The Admiral said I wasn't to leave the base. Something to do with security."
"No problem. There's a perfectly good restaurant here. We eat there all the time."
"We do?" Lee eyed him curiously as Morton shooed him back towards the boarding ramp. "Who pays?"
"Which ever of us has the money," Chip snorted.
"I think I can afford to buy you an omelette. Then it's back to Jamieson for you. You're starting to look tired."
* * *
Nelson glanced up as Morton strode briskly into his office announced by his secretary. The blond seemed to be in a reasonably good mood and Harriman relaxed, knowing that Chip had spent the day with Lee working on getting his memory back. He waved him to a seat and got up to pour the younger man a drink. "How'd it go with Lee?"
"Not bad," Chip replied as he settled comfortably into a leather cushioned chair. "Except I couldn't get him aboard Seaview. He panicked."
"Uh oh." Handing him the crystal tumbler of whisky, Nelson sat on the edge of his desk and frowned. "What brought that on. Claustrophobia?"
"Claustrophobia was my first thought too, but Lee doesn't think so and neither does Jamieson. Doc says it's more likely to be caused by the sight of Seaview connecting to what happened to him. Lee said something about lights and voices and a tank to me, but he doesn't remember saying it now." Chip took a sip of his drink and watched the grim expression on Nelson's face. "You think that's important?"
Nelson shrugged and got up to go around his desk. By the time he sat down his expression was once more composed and unreadable. "Who knows?" he said simply. "There was no trouble?"
"We never left the base and no-one got near him. Do you seriously think they'll have another go at him?"
"They failed the first time and if they thought it was important enough then, I doubt if they'll have changed their minds. We have to get Lee's memory back, Chip. We need to know what he knows."
"Jamieson was muttering something about hypnotism. But you should have seen the look Lee gave him when he suggested it."
"Did he refuse to agree to it?"
"Well, no, But he didn't say yes either. He was really tired. Jamieson told him to think about it."
Nelson nodded and picked up his own half empty glass.
"Admiral?" Chip leaned forward, nibbling on his bottom lip uneasily. "I think it would be a good idea to get Lee right away from here. It has to be better for him if he can remember the good things first. He needs familiar surroundings that aren't connected with Seaview or NIMR."
"I know. Jamieson mentioned it to me too. But it's easier said than done."
"Maybe not. Lee and I usually go fishing up in the mountains at least once a year. We've been doing it ever since we left the Academy and we've had some pretty good times up there. I think it'd help Lee if we went early this year. I have some time off due to me."
"No," Nelson said absently.
"Sir!" Chip protested bitterly. "I know you need me on this trip, but-."
"What?" Nelson glanced up, saw the tense expression on Chip's face and hastily ran back over what he had said. "Oh no, I'm not that much of an ogre. We can manage without you and Lee if we have to."
"Uh thanks, I think," Morton muttered darkly.
The Admiral smiled faintly. "I meant you don't need to take it as time off, Chip, not that you can't go. I think it's an excellent idea, if you think you can protect him. He could be in danger. If you want to take some of the men along....?"
"No," Chip relaxed with a faint sigh of relief. "It won't work if there's anyone else around. It won't feel right. This has to be me and Lee if he's going to remember anything."
* * *
"Let me get this straight," Crane said carefully, turning to face the blond Exec. Jamieson had told him to rest so he was confined to his room at the base for the evening, but that didn't mean he was going to let the doctor send him to bed until he was ready to go. "You want to take me away to some cabin in the middle of nowhere for a.....vacation?" Lee's voice dropped ironically on the last word, but Morton was too pleased with his own idea to notice the verbal italics at first.
"Yeah. Nelson's given it the okay. I'm sure you'll remember the place when we get there. We've been fishing there for....." Chip paused in mid chirp, scowled and shot a fulminating glare at his friend. Sure enough the glint of mischief was lurking in his hazel green eyes. "What do you mean by saying vacation like that?"
"Like what?" Lee asked, all innocence.
"You know perfectly well like what!" Morton squawked. "Like that! Like it's got some kind of hidden meaning!"
"You mean like an innuendo?"
"But all I said was it'd be a vacation," Lee remarked guilelessly. "It wasn't me who suggested anything else. You're the one with the dirty mind."
Chip choked in sheer exasperation and turned away before he hit him. Lee's snort of laughter did not help his temper: at least not until he realised Crane was teasing him. "Ooh, you're going to pay for this, Lee," he promised darkly. "I can't wait 'til you're back to normal."
Crane chuckled and sat down on the edge of the bed, rubbing a bruise stiffened knee. "Neither can I," he admitted absently and his smile faded. "There's so much I can't remember, Chip. Like, whose the blond guy who keeps hanging around?"
"You mean me?" Morton teased gently as he slumped into the chair by the window.
"Not you, you peroxide dependent. The young guy."
"Like I'm not young?" Chip sniffed haughtily. Lee lifted his head and gave him a slow stare. "It's probably Riley. Jamieson said he's been asking about you."
"Riley," Lee repeated carefully, a painful frown crossing his face. "Riley....."
"You remember him?" Chip leaned forward, not sure whether he should be pleased or not by the expression on his friend's face.
"I don't know. He's familiar. I...." Crane flinched to a halt with a sharp expletive, closing his eyes on the burst of white light that flashed through his mind. The next thing he knew Morton was perched beside on the bed with his arm around his shoulders.
"Steady, Lee. Take it easy. You want me to get Doc?"
"And get more pills stuffed down me? No, I'm fine." Lee snapped bitterly.
"No!" Crane yelled, too wrapped up in his own pain to notice what he was saying or how it sounded. If only they would leave him alone and let him think....
"Hey, okay. You don't have to bite my head off! I only offered. I'll leave you to your bad mood." Chip retorted indignantly, withdrawing his arm as he rose to his feet. His sarcasm got through to Crane and he looked up in chagrin.
"I'm sorry, Chip," he blurted. "But the pills don't help. Don't go? Please? You're better for me than anything Doc hands out."
Morton blinked in surprise at the frantic appeal in his friend's eyes and sat down again abruptly. "I guess you're entitled to be grouchy. You've had a rough time," he said carefully.
Lee let out a slow breath that he didn't realise he had been holding and nodded. "That's no excuse to take it out on you though," he offered awkwardly.
"I can remember a few times I've called you some things I shouldn't have," Chip said dryly as he squeezed his shoulder. "And Nelson and half the rest of the crew."
Crane gave him a thoughtful look. "Does a betting pool on you mean anything?" he asked slowly. "Something about how inventive you can get without actually repeating yourself?"
"Certainly not!" Morton retorted, miffed. "You're making that up!"
"I don't think so," Lee murmured. "Ski? Have we got someone called Ski?"
"Kowalski," Morton expounded with a growl. "That sounds like exactly the kind of thing he'd come up with."
"But I don't think you're supposed to know about it, otherwise you'd know about it," Lee said quickly, entangling the Exec in a kind of twisted logic. "So you can't say anything about it because then they'd know I told you."
Chip gazed at him blankly. "Why does that make sense?" he said finally.
"It does?" Lee gazed back at him wide eyed and rubbed his temples. "Sometimes I amaze myself."
"Not as often as you amaze me," Chip replied wryly as he got up again. "Look, Lee, you're starting to look spaced out. I think I'd better leave you to get some sleep."
"What about the cabin?" Lee asked quickly.
"I thought you didn't want to ruin your reputation by coming away with me?"
"Is that a joke?" Crane asked warily.
"Yeah." Morton grinned at him mischievously. "So, what's it going to be? You want to come or not?"
"I didn't know I was being given a choice."
"Oh, sure you've got a choice. You can stay here with Doc and be hypnotised and examined every five minutes, or you can come up the mountains with me, go fishing, hang out with the excuse we're working on your memory to do damn all. Tough choice, right?"
"I think I can force myself to go to the cabin." Lee smiled.
"I thought you might. I'll clear it with Jamieson and we can leave tomorrow. Don't tell anyone until Jamieson knows though."
"He's likely to get mad."
"Remembered," Lee said smugly. "I sort of get an echo of him in which I can't hear the words. He has this way of sort of yelling at me without raising his voice that's very distinctive."
"You're not allowed to yell at captains even if they are being gold plated idiots," Chip responded sweetly.
"I think I'm being insulted," Lee guessed with a wry smile.
"True," Chip chuckled. "Get some sleep and I'll see you tomorrow."
"No, I want to know if Jamieson okays it tonight. I'm going crazy shut up in here, Chip. It..."
"It what?" Chip eyed him warily at his hesitation as he leaned on the door handle..
"It smells.....scientific," Lee muttered. "I'm not comfortable here, Chip. It makes me too nervous. There's something too familiar about it."
Morton pursed his lips, then shrugged amiably. "Okay. I'll come back and tell you what he says. But you'd better be in bed when I get back. Doc is going to check up on you."
Lee gave him a small grin, that was half grateful, half rueful. "I'll be good," he promised. "As long as you hurry up...."
* * *
Leaving Lee in what seemed to be a reasonable relaxed frame of mind, Chip let himself out of his room and found his way through the maze of corridors in search of Jamieson. He found Riley lurking by the main desk.
"What are you doing here, Riley?" he asked in surprise at seeing the blond crewman.
"Doc wanted to give me a check up to see if I was over the food poisoning," the crewman answered laconically as ever. "He says I'm fine and can go back to work."
"I'm glad to hear it. IT'll be good to have you aboard," Morton said with genuine relief. For all his laid back attitude, weird taste in music and occasional habit of being the foreign language of surferese, Riley was a good dependable crewman and they needed men they could trust for the up coming delegation trip. "Where is Doc, anyway?"
"In there," Riley nodded towards the office. "Is the skipper okay, sir?" Recalling how distraught Riley had been over the explosion, Chip thought he had better reassure the younger man. "Oh he's fine. Tired right now. I don't want Jamieson about him. You haven't told anyone what happened, have you?"
"Oh no, Mr Morton. I wouldn't," Riley promised earnestly.
"Good, You'd better get off home. You look like you need some sleep." Riley nodded, but still seemed disinclined to go, so Morton decided to give him a little push. "Say, you wouldn't happen to know anything about Kowalski running a betting pool on me, would you?
"A what, sir?" Riley looked at him blankly.
"Oh, never mind. Go home, Stu," Chip sighed and headed for the office. Riley was no good at dissembling: his face always gave him away. Now, if it had been Kowalski he had asked....
* * *
Ten minutes later, Morton and Jamieson strolled back down the corridor to Crane's room. "He's probably asleep," the doctor said firmly. "I'm sure this can wait until morning. He doesn't need to know I've okayed this trip."
"Sure, he does," Chip answered brightly. "He'll sleep better knowing he gets out of here in the morning. I know I would."
Jamieson gave him an exasperated look. "I did not say in the morning. I'm still hoping he'll let me hypnotise him."
"Aw, come on, Doc, you know how Lee feels about hypnotism!"
"Not that you encourage him in his aversion, of course, with all that rubbish about Svengali."
"Did I mention Svengali? I can't think what came over me," Chip purred innocently.
The balding doctor sniffed. "I can see you're feeling better," he observed sarcastically.
Morton chuckled. "I have to admit I-," he began and then stopped, staring suspiciously at the half open door to Crane's room. "I closed that," he muttered.
"Lee's not very keen on being shut in at the moment," Jamieson commented with a frown.
"But he doesn't leave the door open," Chip interrupted and hurried forward, practically leaping through the doorway and into a karate stance.
Riley jerked back in shock at his sudden entrance and landed on his rear end in an untidy sprawl beside the captain. "Mr Morton, sir! It's you! You startled me."
Chip barely noticed what the crewman said, his entire attention was focused on Crane's limp body as he lay sprawled on the floor. "Doc!" He bellowed for Jamieson as he dropped to his knees beside Lee and felt anxiously for his pulse.
"Let me do that." Jamieson pushed the Exec out of his way and took over checking that Crane was breathing. Lee moaned as he started to examine him. "He'll be okay, Chip," the doctor assured Morton, sparing the worried man a quick glance. "He's starting to come round."
"What happened?" Taking a deep breath, Chip remembered the crewman.
Riley quailed before the chill of his blue eyes. "I don't know, sir," he said nervously. "I was going to go home when I thought I heard voices. The skipper sounded kind of angry, so I thought I'd better check on him. When I got to the door some guy dressed in black came rushing out. He knocked me over and ran off. I'd have followed him, but I thought the skipper might be hurt. I was going to call for help when you got here."
"You're not hurt?"
"Oh no, sir. Maybe a couple of bruises. The floor's kind of hard!"
Chip smiled bleakly, not in the mood for Riley's weird sense of humour. "You didn't see what this guy looked like?"
Riley shook his head, shame faced. "I'm sorry, sir. It all happened so fast."
"Chip, could you give me a hand here? I want to get the captain back into bed."
"Uh sure, doc." Morton turned his attention swiftly back to Crane, glad to see that his friend was conscious if not connected to the world at large. With Jamieson's help they got Lee to his feet and back to the bed, where Crane sank obediently onto the edge of the mattress and clutched at his head in pain.
"Take it easy, Lee," Jamieson soothed. "Can you look at me?"
"Only for a moment. How many fingers am I holding up?"
Crane reluctantly lifted his head and squinted at the single finger Jamieson held up to him. "One," he noted and frowned at the doctor's sigh of relief. "What happened?"
"Don't you remember?" Jamieson asked in concern.
Narrowing his eyes, Crane gave him an icy look. "Don't you start that again," he warned. "I'm entitled to ask. I think someone hit me from behind."
"Did you see who it was?" Chip asked hopefully, hovering over him.
"From behind? What am I? A contortionist?" Lee snapped sarcastically as he probed behind his ear and winced at the bump he found.
Jamieson frowned at Crane's indrawn hiss of breath and tucked a hand under his elbow. "You'd better lie down, Lee," he urged.
For once Crane didn't argue but stretched out on the bed in acquiescence and turned his head so Jamieson could examine the bump behind his ear, only then did he note Riley's presence. "Who's he?" he wanted to know, glaring suspiciously at the young blond.
"Stu Riley, sir," the ex surfer offered shyly. "Don't you remember me?"
"Should I?" Lee retorted irritably and flashed a look up at Morton for information. Riley looked hurt.
For all Lee's irascible attitude, Chip could see how vulnerable he felt and how hard he was striving to cover it up. He gave Riley a consoling glance. "He's one of the crew," he explained calmly.
"Seaview?" Lee questioned hopefully.
"See? You remember that much," Chip congratulated him.
"Yeah, but not much else," Lee muttered and glanced at Jamieson. "I thought getting clobbered a second time was supposed to bring your memory back."
"Depends what caused the amnesia in the first place. Yours is a concussion aggravated by shock than anything else. And you're going to aggravate your concussion even more if you don't stop wriggling around."
"Then stop poking me."
"When I've finished. Keep still."
"Okay, okay!" Lee accepted the command with poor grace and turned a thoughtful look on Riley. "You know, you do look kind of familiar. Surfer, right?"
"Yes, sir!" Riley brightened up happily.
"There's something else," Lee muttered. "Something about a desert...." He winced and instinctively put up one hand to shield his eyes from the non existent flash of white light that stung his eyes. The gesture made him miss the worried look Morton gave Jamieson.
"I think that's enough for now," Jamieson decided quickly. "You need some sleep, Lee. Chip can see you in the morning."
"Actually, Doc, I thought I'd...." Morton broke off warily as the doctor gave him a cool look. He had seen that look before: it meant get out of my Sickbay before I have you thrown out, first officer or no. "On second thought, why don't I go and find guard for the door?"
"An excellent idea," Jamieson said drily. "Why don't you take Riley with you? Maybe then the skipper can get some sleep."
* * *
"Lee? Lee, wake up? Come on...."
Lee roused reluctantly from a peaceful and no doubt deeply meaningful dream concerning a buxom green haired mermaid wearing nothing but a couple of discretely draped pieces of seaweed and a smile, to find Morton leaning over him and shaking his shoulder. Aside from the fact that he had been enjoying the dream and the dove grey light slipping through the window was telling him it was still some unearthly hour of the morning and far to early to even think about getting up, Chip was tormenting his bruised shoulder and he had a headache as well. "If you don't let go of me, Chip, I'm going to knock your teeth so far down your throat you'll need spelunking equipment to find them!"
Chip snorted, unimpressed. He was dressed in jeans, white shirt and a black leather jacket this morning. "Back to your normal sweet natured self in the morning, I see," he observed sarcastically. "Are you awake now?"
"Yes. And I mean it about the shoulder, let go. That's the one I nearly dislocated, you moron."
"Oops, sorry, I didn't realise," Chip let go hastily. "And that's Morton, not moron."
"I know what I mean," Lee growled as he sat up and gathered the blankets around him in one arm. "What do you want anyway? It seems like I barely got to sleep."
"Yeah, I'm sure it does and I'm sorry," Chip[ said, genuinely contrite. "But I've been talking to the Admiral."
"How nice for you. Was he as impressed as I am to be woken up so early?"
"I wouldn't know. Neither of us went to bed last night."
"I don't want to know that," Lee sniffed haughtily as he snuggled back into his pillows and rubbed the sleep from his eyes.
"Don't start that again," Chip warned darkly. "It's too early."
Chip glared at him. "We had arrangements to make about getting you out of here. We're all packed and ready to go."
"We? The Admiral's coming with us?"
"No. Only you and me. I packed some clothes for you. As soon as you get up, we can get moving," Chip explained as he lifted a sea-bag off the floor.
"Don't I get breakfast?" Lee asked plaintively.
Chip gave him a blank look. The thought of supplies hadn't even occurred to him until Chief Sharkey - whose help they had enlisted - had mentioned it. "We'll stop by the canteen on the way out. Someone's bound to be up."
"I doubt it."
"You haven't told him you're kidnapping me, have you?" Lee commented wryly as he unzipped the sea bag and fished out a clean pair of jeans.
"Look, there have been two attempts made on your life: three if you count the bomb at the Observatory. Jamieson means well, but after last night he'll probably want to keep you here for a while longer. We can't protect you here, Lee. We have to get you away from here to somewhere safe."
"Someone wants to kill me?" Having latched on to the important point to him, Lee looked up at him bewilderment and Chip flinched, realising that Crane hadn't put two and two together until he mentioned it.
"Yes," he admitted shortly. "But we don't know why. You'll have to take my word for it and trust me on this."
Crane sighed heavily. "I always have done before, Chip," he commented, oblivious to the surprise in Morton's eyes. "How are we going to sneak out without being noticed?"
"We're taking the Flying Sub out: ostensibly to kickstart your memory with a quick flight round the bay. Once we're out of sonar and radar range, we change course inland and keep going."
"To the mountains?"
"Right. The Admiral will cover for us to make sure no-one panics when we don't come back. He won't tell anyone where we've actually gone, but he's going to drop hints about Hawaii."
"I wish it was Hawaii," Lee murmured regretfully and glanced at his friend with an imp of mischief in his eyes. "You won't look the same in a grass skirt."
"I wasn't intending to wear one. Are you going to get up or not?"
Crane nodded and pushed back the covers. "Why don't you go and grab us both some breakfast while I get dressed? That should save us some time. I refuse to go anywhere without being fed first."
* * *
"Good morning, Admiral," Nelson greeted Hunter amiably as the portly man stomped into Seaview's control room shortly before lunch.
"Morning, Nelson. Where's Crane?"
Harriman took his time about looking up from the nautical charts he was examining . "Crane? Still in Sickbay, I assume."
"You know damn well he isn't!"
The raised voice made the skeleton crew servicing the control room look up curiously, then hastily back to their consoles as Nelson gave them a warning glare.
"He's gone. Along with that blond bulldog of yours!"
"You mean Riley?"
"I mean Morton!" Hunter appeared to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown and Nelson hid his smile by ducking his head back to the navigation table. Hunter never had got along with Morton. The Exec had a habit of rubbing him the wrong way by his mere existence on Seaview since he had had his own opinion of who should have had the number two spot. "Where are they?"
"I can't tell you," Harriman said at last.
"Security. There have been two attempts on Crane's life. I don't want there to be another one."
Hunter leaned across the table, his belly creasing against the table edge as he glared at him. "You told me he'd been conditioned," he hissed sotte voce.
"I said no such thing!" Nelson responded with an angry bristle despite his determination to stay calm.
"You told me he'd been in a sensory deprivation tank. "
"I said, it was possible that's what happened. But if he'd been conditioned, they'd hardly want to kill him."
"Perfect cover up," Hunter sniffed triumphantly.
Nelson fixed him with his best sharpened gimlet stare. "I don't agree. Besides which, since he won't be aboard Seaview this trip, it hardly matters."
Hunter blinked, balked for a moment, then he grunted. "Then what are you going to do about a new captain?"
"Nothing? Without Crane...."
"I can manage for one trip without Crane and Morton," Nelson said firmly. "Beech and Peatty are good officers. It'll do them both good to run things for a few days. Besides, I wouldn't want Crane and Morton to start thinking they were indispensable."
* * *
Chip felt his spirits rise and soar as the Flying Sub skimmed over the last shoulder of mountain and out over the valley. A ribbon of silver far below marked the river winding between acre upon acre of pine woodland and he turned FS1 one to follow its guide towards Majestic lake. The end of their journey was in sight and he could feel an indefinable tension in the back of his neck starting to unwind that was as much caused by a feeling of homecoming as by a relief from the stress of the last few days. Lee would be safe up here. The cabin was miles from civilisation and there was nothing to do except eat, sleep, fish and swim in the lake. Chip was looking forward to it.
The blue waters of the lake appeared ahead, winking slyly through the emerald banks of trees with a mercurial sheen of sunlight on its smooth surface. As he throttled back for the descent, Lee stirred. The captain had spent half the trip asleep in one of the submersible's two cramped bunks and Chip had missed his company. Normally, they would have talked the whole way out to the lake, but this time the shadows under Lee's eyes hadn't been one she could ignore and he had been glad when Crane accepted his suggestion to grab a couple of hours sleep.
Now, Lee clawed his way out onto the deck and stumbled over to the flight controls. Shoving one hand through his tousled mop of close cut curls, he leaned on the back of the pilot's seat as they flew out over the lake.
"Wow," his sigh of approval at crystal perfection of the lake below brought a grin to Morton's face. Majestic Lake looked like a drop of liquid silver in an emerald setting.
"Nice view, huh? Grab a seat and buckle up for landing."
"Why? Are you likely to crash?"
"Less so than you," Chip snorted, indicating that he should take the co-pilot's seat. Lee settled in obligingly, drawing the seat belt harness on over his shoulders and watching the unfolding panorama of the lake as the Flying Sub sank lower. Sun beaten silver turned to pure sapphire, shadows of light unfurling their veils to show glimpses of the crystal depths. The trees stretched green fingers to the cloudless silken sky in a lover's caress, arcing over the lake and FS1 as she sank to a touchdown on the water and planed towards the shore.
"Remember any of this?" Chip asked as he throttled FS1 right back and let her settle into the water until she was barely drifting towards the jetty emerging from among the rocks.
"Yes and no. I think I remember the lake. The cabin's up there, right?" Crane asked, pointing eagerly to the cove they were approaching.
"Right," Chip agreed warmly, glad to see Lee looking so excited with anticipation.
"And that way is Catfish Point: where you fell in that time," Leaning forward, Crane pointed past Morton down the shoreline.
"I did not!"
"Well, you said the giant catfish monster pulled you in, but I'm pretty sure you fell over those big feet of yours," Crane grinned at him, his eyes sparkling with good humour.
"I do not have big feet," Morton growled as he brought the Flying Sub to a halt alongside the jetty. "I knew I should have chucked you out when we took off."
"Ah, but what would you have done without my scintillating company?"
"What scintillating company? You've been snoring for the last two hours."
"I was not snoring!"
"Inhaling the pillow then," Chip grinned and laughed as Crane punched him in the arm. "For that you can do the unloading."
"Hey, I thought I out ranked you."
"Not when we're out here you don't. I could leave to you to the tender mercies of the bears and wolves."
"They have bears here?" Lee gave him a wide eyed look.
"Oh, yeah. Huge ones. Starving, they are."
"And I thought you brought me out here for safety," Crane snorted, deciding that Morton was lying through his teeth. Unfastening his safety harness, he slid easily to his feet and stretched, wincing at the stiffness of his bruises. "Where do you want me to put the stuff?"
"We'll stack it on the jetty for now, then lug it up to the cabin. I want to park FS1 out of sight on the lake bed as soon as I can. "
"Is that really necessary?" Lee wondered curiously.
"Maybe not, but she does tend to attract attention and the fewer people who know we're here the better."
* * *
An hour later, Lee looked up from perching on the cabin steps in the sunshine to watch Chip trudging up the path from the lake in his black NIMR monogrammed wet suit. The sunshine shimmered in the water droplets dripping off him.
"Woah, it's the creature from the Black Lagoon," Lee greeted him.
"Very funny. First chance I get I'm throwing you in the lake." Taking the beer bottle Crane offered him from the icebox Sharkey had sent, Chip flopped down on the steps beside his friend and unzipped his wetsuit down to his midriff, then rested the ice cold bottle on his bare tanned chest with a sigh of bliss. "FS1 is all safely stowed away," he reported as he shoved his wet hair off his face with his free hand. "Did you manage to find the generator?"
"Yeah. Everything seems to be working apart from a couple of light-bulbs. I put the food in the refrigerator and left the rest like you said."
Chip nodded and took a slow pull from his beer. "Unpacking can wait. Who cares whether we're creased or not on a vacation. Tomorrow we'll go fishing, today we laze."
Lee nodded, absently scratching under the edge of his cast. "Sounds good," he agreed amiably, taking a sip of his own beer.
"Should you be drinking that?" Chip thought to ask in sudden suspicion.
"What about your pills?"
"What pills? The only ones I've got are to take at night if I want them. Which I don't."
Chip relaxed again. Lee took pills with the same eagerness as a cat enters water and usually with the same look of disgust. "I should take this wetsuit off, but I can't be bothered to move," he said after a while, watching a trickle of perspiration run down his midriff and vanish under his zipper. It tickled diabolically.
Lee had stretched out on the steps and was half dozing in the hot sunshine. "Sooner or later we should also do something about eating," he mumbled drowsily.
Morton turned his head to look at him and sighed, then reluctantly pushed to his feet. "Okay, enough lazing. I'm going to change and start dinner."
Lee opened a hazel green eye to look up at him. "I prefer lazing," he observed.
"Why don't we go swimming instead?"
"What about dinner?"
"It's too hot to cook. Sharkey packed enough sandwiches to feed the entire crew anyway. There's plenty left and I'm not that hungry."
Chip chewed his bottom lip, recalling the dire threats Jamieson had made about what would happen if he didn't feed Crane properly on this trip. "I suppose a half hour swim wouldn't hurt," he mused.
Crane sat up and eased to his feet, picking up the empty beer bottles. "Besides, I noticed frozen pizzas in the supplies. I left one out."
"No wonder you're a captain, you're always planning ahead."
"With you as an Exec, I have to," Lee grinned happily.
"You wait until we get in that lake. I'm going to drown you!" Chip yelled, miming a blow at him.
Lee ducked, flinching away from the hand he raised in threat and for a split second panic showed in his eyes as he backed away.
"Lee?" Chip gazed at him uncertainly, lowering his arm. "I didn't mean it. I wouldn't hit you."
Crane stared back at him mutely for a long moment, then shuddered and took a deep breath. "I'm s'sorry," he managed to stutter. "I c'couldn't help..." He flinched again as Morton draped an arm across his shoulders, then relaxed when the blond only squeezed hard. Shaken by his own reaction, he rubbed his forehead and let Chip tug him into the cabin.
"I don't know about going swimming, you need to lie down," Morton urged anxiously.
"No," Crane braked hard. He knew what he wanted and it didn't involve being stuck in his room on a glorious afternoon. "I'm going swimming. You can stay here if you want to, but I'm going up to the point."
"Okay, okay." Chip gave in with a graceful sigh. He knew that stubborn tone of old and it wasn't worth the effort of arguing when Lee used it. Nothing short of dynamite could persuade him to change his mind once he had made it up. "But what about your arm?"
"What about it?" Crane gave him a blank look.
"The plaster, Lee, you can't afford to wreck your cast."
"Oh," Lee looked at his wrist in disappointment, then brightened up. "Jamieson said it was waterproof."
"Oh, I'll bet," Morton snorted mockingly as he towed Lee towards the kitchen.
"No, seriously. He did. It's a new type he said."
"We'll stick a plastic bag round it anyway. I don't fancy having to reset it with a couple of branches and some sticky tape if it comes off even if you do!"
* * *
An hour later Morton picked his way cautiously among the pebbles and driftwood scattered across the lake shore and down to the water's edge. Lee was lying on his back in the sun warmed shallows, half asleep in the sunshine. Chip had been a keeping a wary eye on him while he ambled along the beach, indulging his curiosity to see what he could find. A stiff wind had blown up out of nowhere and the temperature was starting to drop enough under the trees to make a swim trunk clad Morton feel the cold.
"Find anything, you unrepentant beachcomber, you?" Lee called to him as he saw him coming closer. "Doubloons? Gold watches? Snails?"
Chip laughed. "Lots of snails and not much else," he admitted. "You coming back?"
Lee sat up and stretched, water shining as it ran down his bare back. "I haven't had my swim yet," he pointed out cheerfully.
"That's because you were too busy pretending to be a sea-lion," Chip retorted as he paddled through the ankle deep water to get to him. Up close he could see the dark bruises on Lee's ribs and shoulders, reminding him that this little trip was more than a simple vacation. "Why don't we go back to the cabin? It's been a long day and we can always swim tomorrow," he suggested hopefully. "Besides, the currents can be treacherous." Lake Majestic was as beautiful as its name, but it was fed by melt water rivers from the mountains and deep currents ran under its polished surface. More than one unsuspecting swimmer had been taken by surprise by the cold and dragged down by the currents to their doom in its ice cold depths. The further out from shore, the colder the water became and Chip didn't think Crane remembered that.
Lee shot a wary look at him. "You worry too much," he scolded.
"Only because you give me reason to worry. Come on, what's the hurry? We've got plenty of time."
"I don't know," Lee shot a look out across the lake and took a few steps out into the water. The sun was starting to sink behind the mountains and the lake was deepening its sapphire shades to a mysterious blacks and rich purples as it caught the a silver lacework of reflecting light. "I keep getting the feeling that there isn't any time at all. I should be on Seaview, Chip. I should be on this trip, making sure everything runs smoothly and those scientists stay safe."
Morton stared at his friend's back in astonishment. "You remember this mission?" he asked slowly.
Lee threw an impatient look over his shoulder at him and started to rub is forehead in a gesture of pain that was becoming all too familiar to Morton. "Of course, I do. Most of the world's foremost ecologically minded scientists will be along for the ride and their recommendations will affect economical policy regarding the oceans. Their recommendations concerning fishing rights for example could cost some countries an absolute fortune. You should know all this as well as I do. Why are you asking me?" Crane frowned at him suspiciously.
"I wasn't. I was asking if you remember the mission. I didn't think you did."
"Why wouldn't I?"
"Because of your amnesia."
"What amnesia?" Crane demanded and backed away from him, starting to wade out into the lake.
"This isn't funny," Chip warned with a scowl. "Stop fooling around and come out of the water."
"I don't know what you're talking about!"
Morton shook his head and waded after him irritably. "You come back ashore or I'm going to drag you, Lee. I'm not in the mood for this."
Crane moved out of reach, slipping dangerously on the underwater rocks concealed beneath the lake's surface. When Morton put out a hand to steady him, Lee jerked out of reach and lifted his hands in threat. Chip paused in surprise.
"Hey, what are you doing?" he protested.
"You stay away from me," Lee snarled.
"Don't be ridiculous, Lee. It's me, Chip. I won't hurt you."
"Oh no, you can't be Morton. He knows about the mission. He wouldn't need to ask me!"
"Lee, be reasonable," Chip begged, hoping he was concealing his alarm. "Look around you. You know where we are? We've been up here loads of time."
"It's a trick. You're not Morton. You're one of them. You think I don't know?! You can't fool me!" Crane continued to back away, slipping and slithering on the dangerous footing.
Lee's rising panic was starting to frighten Chip, but he didn't dare move any closer to him. He stretched out his hands coaxingly. "Come on, Lee, calm down. "We'll go back to the cabin and talk about it."
"Talk about what? You want me to betray everyone. And I won't. I won't let you put me back in that tank! I'll kill myself first!" Whipping around, Crane took a racing dive into the water and struck out into the darkening lake.
"Lee! Come back here, you idiot! It's dangerous out there!" Morton screamed after him in anguish and dived after Crane, driving though the water after him in a desperate attempt to catch up. He was a powerful swimmer and he and Crane were usually fairly evenly matched, but this time Crane was outdistancing him with the impetus of sheer panic. Adrenalin could only keep him going so far before his abused body betrayed him though and he started to slow down.
Morton put everything he had into catching him and was finally closing the gap when he realised that Lee's was fighting more than exhaustion: the current had caught him and was pulling him away from the Exec.
Crane floundered, fighting the pull of the current and flashing a glance over his shoulder at Morton. The next moment he suddenly went under.
"No, damn it! Lee!" Screaming his friend's name, Chip kick dived after him, clawing his way down into the dark water in pursuit of the pale blur of his friend's body. Crane was still struggling weakly, striving to get back to the surface when Chip managed to reach him. He turned on the blond furiously, angrily lashing out as Chip ducked under his flailing hands to get a grip on his midriff and wrap his arm around his waist. Lee lost the last of his air at his grab and by slamming an elbow into Morton's stomach nearly succeeded in drowning both of them.
Morton kicked them back to the surface though a cloud of shining silver bubbles, dragging them both coughing and spluttering back into the open air. The cold water current still had them though and Chip could feel it dragging at his legs, hungrily eager to drag them down again. Keeping one arm around Lee he struggled to swim back to shore, more hindered than helped by Crane's feeble efforts to free himself.
"Hold still, Lee! Trust me!" Chip gasped at him as he was forced to stop and adjust his grip again. "You'll drown us both."
"As if you care!"
"I care, moron!" Morton screamed at him as Crane performed a gymnastic twist that got him out of Chip's grip. With a frantic grab Chip managed to catch his wrist before the current yanked them apart. The current dragged at them both, making his arm ache with the strain of clinging to his friend. Crane did his best to twist free, then yelped as a wave of water surged over his head, dunking him. "Lee! Chip kicked backwards with his strength, fighting to drag them from the current as they were both sucked under again.
Chip almost panicked as he abruptly found himself underwater again, water rushing into his mouth and nose and eyes as he was tumbled over and over and over in the darkness. Then his training reasserted itself as a body slammed into him and he wrapped his arms around it without thinking, holding his breath and hoping that Lee would do the same as he kicked desperately back towards the air again.
* * *
The voice came from a long way away and he cringed away from it, remembering the screaming rage and the pain that followed the other one. This one persisted though: half begging, half crying for him to wake up. Memories flitted around inside his head like moths round a candle flame, burning when they ventured to close to his conscience with flares of painful light. The voice became more familiar as he concentrated on it, floating upwards. Before he could help himself, his stomach churned and he gurgled water, retching painfully before gasping for more air.
Other things crept into his awareness: the smell of lake water, the brackish taste in his mouth, a hard pebble pressing into his ribs and a firm hand alternately massaging his stomach and thumping his back. There had been no sense of sensation before, nothing except the dreadfully lonely silence in which the loathed and feared voice was the only contact with reality. And now there was another voice. A new, yet old voice. Familiar, warm, important, friendly....
"Lee, please, come on, you've got to be all right."
"Chip....?" Lee surprised himself by actually croaking the name out loud in shaken relief.
"Oh, yeah, buddy, it's me," Chip's voice caught on a harsh sob of exhaustion as Crane pried his eyes open and focused on him groggily. Chip pushed his wet hair off his face and smiled weakly. "I thought I'd lost you there this time."
With an effort, Lee struggled to lift his head and was surprised when Morton tucked an anxious hand under his shoulder and helped him sit up. Leaning on the blond, he gazed around him in confusion. "Where are we?"
"Aw no, don't say you don't remember," Chip groaned in dismay.
"It's Lake Majestic," Lee interrupted shakily. "But I don't recognise this bit of it." It was almost dark and the fringe of trees that had seemed so friendly in daylight now looked menacingly close. He huddled closer to Morton, realising that the blond was as cold as he was.
"The current caught us and we got swept round the point," Chip answered with a sigh of relief that he remembered. "Lee, we've got to get back to the cabin before we freeze. Can you walk?"
Crane nodded and struggled to his feet, coughing harshly and wheezing for breath. "Sheesh, what did I do? Swallow half the lake?"
"Not quite. But you gave it a go," Chip told him as he wrapped one arm around his waist and pulled Crane's good arm across his shoulders. "You scared the wits out of me."
"You didn't have that many in the first place," Lee mumbled as he rubbed his aching head.
"Hah! It wasn't me nearly drowned the pair of us," Morton snapped grimly, then froze as Lee halted and peered at him. "Hell, Lee, I didn't mean that. It wasn't your fault. You didn't know what you were doing."
"I did what? I don't remember.....I....." Crane stopped and flashed a look out at the lake, then back to Morton. He started to shiver violently. "A tank, I remember the tank. I didn't know who you were, Chip. Everything was so confused. I thought you were going to put me back in the tank and I couldn't let you do it. I....I could have killed us both." Lee broke off as Chip tightened his grip on him.
"We'll talk about it when we get back to the cabin," he said as briskly as his own exhaustion would allow.
"Look, I didn't think I was going to get us out of the water in time but you'd be amazed what sheer panic can do for you. You nearly drowned and neither of us are in any condition to hang about out here all night. I'm too tired to even think straight. Now shut up and let's concentrate on getting back to the cabin without breaking anything."
* * *
Picking up the plate with the freshly microwaved ham, cheese and pineapple pizza on it with one hand and a pair of opened beer bottles in the other, Chip hurried back into the main room of the cabin. The place hadn't changed much since he was a kid. The same battered couch still stood before the fire, although now it had a Navajo blanket tossed over it to hide the worn spots. Navajo patterned rugs covered the floor and the book shelves that lined the walls contained an esoteric collection of odd pieces of sculpted driftwood and shells among the books. The floorboards creaked their familiar complaint under his sock clad feet as he padded over to hand Crane a slice of the pizza. Wrapped in a blanket, Crane was curled up at the end of the couch watching the logs blazing merrily in the old fashioned fire place. He squirmed one hand free to take a slice and bit into it happily, fighting the sticky strings of cheese until he had to admit surrender and free another hand to disengage the strands.
Morton sank down cross legged by the fire, dumped the plate and bottles on the floor and bit hungrily into his own section. He wasn't surprised to find himself pleasantly tired after his exertions in the lake. Those moments when they had both gone under and he had thought he had lost Lee for good numbered among the worst moments of his life and he wasn't going to forget them in a hurry. Peeling a chunk of pineapple free from his pizza, he glanced up at Lee, glad to see that the captain had more colour now. For a while Chip had been afraid he was going into shock from the way he was shivering. They had taken turns at having a hot shower when they got back and the hot water seemed to have thawed Lee out at last. "Feeling better now?" he asked as he popped the pineapple in his mouth.
"Feeling stupid," Lee answered gloomily.
"I nearly drowned us."
"Ah, forget it." Chip shrugged it off casually. "You were having a flashback. You couldn't help it."
Crane scowled and took a savage bite at his pizza, chewing it as if it was his worst enemy. "Great. If I'm going to go nuts every time I remember something, I'm likely to kill myself before I remember anything useful!"
"Who says you have to remember anything useful?" Morton asked mildly handing him a beer to wash down the pizza with. "I don't give a damn whether you remember what happened to you or not as long as you remember who you are. Losing a couple of days is hardly a major catastrophe. I can't say as I remember every day that's passed. Who can?"
Lee frowned and took a thoughtful pull at the beer. "I do remember some things," he said slowly. "I remember you getting promoted to Lieutenant."
"I remember we went and got smashed out of our tiny minds in celebration afterwards," Lee observed solemnly. "And I fell off the jetty while I was teaching you to do the kazatska."
"You can't do the kazatska," Chip pointed out and won a smile from his friend.
"Which is probably why I fell off the jetty."
Morton laughed "Probably. You remember Chief Solly?"
Lee nodded. "He fished the pair of us out of trouble more times than I care to think about."
Chip twisted round on the floor and folded his arms on the couch cushions, then rested his chin on them. "What about Tahiti?" he asked. "You remember that kinky limbo dancer we met?"
"More twists than a pretzel," Crane chuckled in delight and his eyes took on a wicked sparkle. "Did you and she ever...?"
Chip ducked his head in embarrassment for a second, then laughed. After all, he had brought her up. "Yeah. Boy, she could make a man's toes curl. Did you?"
"No. I got distracted by that Lieutenant Commander Kirby."
"You mean the one with the big....blue eyes?" Chip wondered in awe.
Lee blushed slightly and tugged the blanket down a little. "That's her."
"Her?! The Ice Princess herself? You didn't!"
"I was only following orders," Lee squeaked. "She out ranked me!"
"The entire boat was slavering after her! Why didn't you tell me?"
Crane smiled faintly at the Exec's indignant reaction. "Because I didn't want the entire boat to know," he retorted.
"Oh, I see, so I'm a blabber mouth now!"
"No. But I'd have been the one getting keelhauled if anyone heard about it. You know what she's like."
Chip blinked, wondering if Lee realised he had used present tense. "She's like?" he said carefully, worried that Crane might be confused over where he was again.
"Yeah," Lee nibbled uncomfortably on his pizza.
"As in, what she's like now? You and she.....?" Chip gazed at him in utter fascination.
"Some times." Lee huddled further into his blanket and looked a little hunted. "She's a Commander now. In Hawaii."
"In...." Morton stopped and thought about it, recalling Crane's sudden unexplained disappearance last time they had visited the Big Island. He relaxed in relief. "Hang on a minute, is she why you stood me up for dinner and vanished last time we were there? You said you'd got called off on some Intelligence thing!"
"She is in Intelligence," Crane mumbled.
"Oh yeah, sure. I can imagine the kind of naval manoeuvres you were discussing!"
Lee shot a quick glare at him, then suddenly grinned. "We have very interesting conversations about tactics," he said blandly.
"I'll bet," Chip chortled.
"You can talk. What about you and Chantal?" Crane responded defensively.
Morton grinned as he thought about his current girlfriend and reached for the beer bottle in the captain's hand. "You've had quite enough to drink. Chantal and I are merely good friends," he sniffed loftily.
"So are we. But if you even thought of doing what you do with her with me, I'd kill you," Crane informed him drily.
"Arrgh, you're not my type, Lee. Blondes are more fun."
"And they get dirty quicker," Lee purred innocently.
"Lee!" Morton stopped in mid rubbish collection.
"What?! Merely reminiscing about blondes I have known."
"Oh sure you were. I know an insult when I hear one. I should. I get enough of them from you!"
"Ah, but you know I don't mean them," Lee assured him brightly. "Most of the time anyway."
Morton glowered at him, half tempted to empty the remains of the beer over his head. Instead, he pushed to his feet and headed for the kitchen where he dumped the bottles in the trash, the plate in the sink and switched on the kettle before digging into the cupboard for hot chocolate makings.
"Chip?" Crane had followed him to the doorway and was gazing at him anxiously, the blanket draped loosely for warmth around his shoulders like a cloak. Chip felt a stab of concern for how tired he looked.
"Go sit down before you fall down," he urged.
"I'm okay. I didn't mean what I said quite the way it sounded. I wouldn't really insult you."
Putting the mugs down on the draining board, Chip turned to face his friend with an affectionate smile. "I know you wouldn't."
"I didn't mean to hurt your feelings, honest."
The genuine anxiety in Crane's eyes made Morton frown for a second. "You didn't," he told him firmly. "And if you were yourself you wouldn't think you had. Go sit down."
Crane hesitated and moved closer as Chip started to spoon chocolate into the mugs. Spotting the packet of multi-coloured marshmallows Chip had also fished out, he snaffled a couple to taste. "Hot chocolate and marshmallows? A little luxurious, isn't it?"
"And why not? You deserve a little pampering after what you've been through. It'll be good for you."
Lee considered this, inhaling in pleasure as Morton poured the hot water over the chocolate. "Let me get this straight, you are giving me something that is extremely bad for me calorie wise etcetera because it'll be good for me?"
"Precisely," Chip said brightly as he sprinkled the marshmallows on the chocolate and handed the results to Crane. Lee sipped cautiously and nodded approval, then shot a wicked grin at the blond.
"I think I love you. Will you marry me?"
"Arrghh!" Grabbing the nearest tea towel, Morton flipped it at him and pursued his laughing friend out of the kitchen, ignoring his indignant protests not to make him spill the hot chocolate in sheer relief that Lee was feeling secure enough to tease him again.
* * *
For all his good humoured teasing of Crane, Chip found it hard to sleep that night. Despite the fact that he was only wearing his shorts to sleep in, he was still too hot in the muggy heat and he was restless, expecting the weather to break with rain. He was still tense after the last couple of days and we was easily woken by the mysterious scuffling sounds coming from the main room. At first he lay where he was, savouring the pale gleam of moonlight through the chink in the curtains and wishing the noises would stop so he could drift back to sleep. Gradually though, he started to surface properly and started to wonder what might be making the noises. It wasn't the curtains blowing. They were hardly moving against the open window and there wasn't enough of a breeze to do more than stir them. It wasn't likely to be Lee - the captain was pretty good at sneak midnight refrigerator raids - but Chip couldn't think what else it might be. Unless....
Unless somehow the enemy had found out where they were and had come looking for Lee again.
Chip rolled over and tugged open the drawer in his bedside cabinet where he had put the gun he had brought along. He checked the well oiled action of the weapon and tested the clip was full with an expert thumb, then slid out of bed and padded barefoot to his bedroom door. Easing it back with the flat of one hand, he pushed it back against the wall and eased silently out into the main cabin. Lee's door was open a foot or so to let what little breeze there was through and no lights showed to suggest he was awake. Chip eased along the wall until he could peer through the door and check on his friend. Lee had thrown all the covers off and was asleep on his stomach, draped across the mattress in an untidy sprawl. He moved when Chip looked in on him, mumbling in his sleep about the light hurting his eyes.
Relieved that he was safe, Chip surveyed the room in the faint moonlight, glad he had left the curtains undrawn. He could see nothing out of the ordinary, but he could still hear the surreptitious rustling. It seemed to be coming from the kitchen. Taking a deep breath, Morton prowled towards the kitchen, feeling the softness of the rugs under his bare toes. The kitchen door was open although Chip was sure he had closed it, but he couldn't imagine what an assassin would be doing in the kitchen. The absurd thought crossed his mind and almost made him giggle that it was a long trip up the cabin and they might be making a snack before they got down to business. Remembering that their business would be killing the pair of them sobered him quickly however and he took a firmer grip on the gun and kicked the door open violently...and painfully since he had forgotten he was barefoot.
"Hold it right.....Yow!" As if the pain in his toes wasn't bad enough something fast and furry shot between his ankles and knocked him flying. Rolling over, Chip frantically searched the room for his attacker and glimpsed a chubby blur flash past him and under the table. "Right you varmint," Chip growled as he scrambled to his knees. "You're not getting away...." For a second time he yelped as the lights came on and dazzled him.
"What are you doing?" Lee asked in groggy bewilderment. Squinting, Chip could see him leaning against his bedroom door by the light switch and scrubbing the sleep from his eyes. Like Morton he was only wearing shorts to sleep in: a rare luxury of freedom away from the rules and regulations of Seaview where he might be called to the control room at any moment.
"We had an intruder," Morton snapped, waving the gun without thinking. "Some kind of big dog I think. You'd better get back....." The shrill indignant chatter from under the table stopped him and he looked down into the boot button black eyes of a half grown raccoon as it emerged from under the table, threatening him as it sat up on its hind legs. It had the remains of a banana peel draped in its mouth which, when combined with the black furry mask across it's eyes, made it look like some kind of egocentric Mexican bandit.
"Oh, yes, I can see how dangerous an intruder it is," Lee mocked. "It's a really big dog."
"It felt big," Chip muttered as he picked himself up and glared at the animal.
"So you thought you'd shoot it?" Crane sceptically eyed the gun Morton was clutching. "Hit it with that cannon and all you'd have left is a couple of tufts of fur."
"I was protecting you."
"From a raccoon? Don't you think you're taking this bodyguard thing a little too far?"
"I meant from the....." Chip caught his tongue before it got away from him completely. He didn't want to remind Crane about the would be assassins that could be lurking behind every tree. Lee was supposed to be relaxing and recovering his memory: he wouldn't do that if he was worrying about being murdered at any moment."....half starved bears," he finished lamely.
Lee frowned at him suspiciously then shrugged and strolled over to unlock and open the front door of the cabin. "It must have got in through my window. I thought I heard a noise," he commented wryly as the raccoon seized its chance for freedom and bustled past the two humans and out the front door: its prize still clutched in its teeth.
Chip groaned. Despite his security precautions of locking all the doors and windows after Lee had gone to bed, he had forgotten to warn Crane not to open the bottom half of the sash window in his bedroom. "You'd better go close it before we get a whole horde of the blasted pests in here."
"I think they're kind of fun," Lee observed amiably as he closed the front door.
"You're still half asleep," Morton grunted in disgust. "Don't you remember what the wretches did to your hiking boots last time?"
Crane gave him a blank look. "No," he admitted. "Should I?"
"I guess you don't. Well, trust me, you don't want a repeat performance. Close your window."
"I'll broil in this heat."
"Then open the top half," Chip ordered.
"Practical, aren't you?" Crane retorted sarcastically, yawning lazily as he padded past him and disappeared back into his room.
"I'll give you practical in a minute," Morton muttered under his breath, slipping the safety catch on the gun and weighing it thoughtfully. "Of course, I could shoot him in the back and say the assassins got him. I'd probably get promoted...."
"I heard that!" Crane yelped indignantly.
"You were meant to!" Chip yelled back and headed for his own room. He put the automatic back in his bedside drawer and was about to climb into bed again when there was cautious tap on the half open door. "You don't have to knock, Lee. What's up?" he asked cheerfully as Lee stuck his head into the room.
"Assassins?" Crane asked slowly, venturing further inside.
"Oh," Chip winced. He had forgotten he hadn't intended to remind Lee of that. "My fevered imagination, that's all."
Frowning, Lee sat down on the end of the bed and fingered the patchwork quilt that covered it. "You're a terrible liar, Chip. I haven't wanted to think about it, but I haven't forgotten what you said before about someone wanting to kill me," he said slowly. "Do you really think they could have followed us up here?"
Sinking down on the edge of the bed beside him, Chip sighed heavily. "No," he admitted. "I don't see how they could. The Admiral is the only one who knew where we were going and even he doesn't know the exact coordinates of this cabin."
"And we can trust the Admiral, can't we?" Lee gave him a questioning look that wanted his confirmation that his trust wasn't misplaced.
"With our lives," Chip told him firmly.
"That's exactly what we are doing," Lee observed bitterly. "Has it occurred to you that you might be a hell of a lot safer if you simply stay away from me?"
"Frequently," Chip chuckled. "There was that time in...." He paused, catching the look Crane gave him. "You're being serious, aren't you?" he asked soberly.
"Very. Look, you and Nelson are the only people I can remember clearly. You mean a lot to me and I don't want anything to happen to you. You're in danger as long as you stay around me and you shouldn't be here."
"You're in no shape to protect yourself," Morton warned sharply. "Look at yourself. You're covered in bruises."
"Bruises I can cope with. Seeing you get yourself killed over me, I couldn't cope with."
"Well, tough, because you're stuck with me. I guess I won't have to get myself killed then, will I?
"This isn't funny!"
"I know," Chip patted his shoulder sympathetically. "But no-one ordered me to do this. I'm babysitting because I want to."
"Babysitting?!" Lee choked indignantly on the word. "Why, you....?!"
"Because you mean a lot to me too," Chip continued blandly, defusing Crane's explosion before the fuse ran out. "You'd better get back to bed, Lee. We'll have to be up early if we plan to catch any fish."
* * *
Chip was woken the following morning by the smell of frying bacon. He lurched out of bed, dragged on his jeans and padded out to see what was going on to find Lee in the kitchen and peering suspiciously into the frying pan on the cooker.
"What have you set fire to this time?" Chip asked inquisitively as he peeked over Crane's shoulder at the frying bacon in the pan.
"Nothing. This bacon doesn't want to cook."
"Looks fine to me," Morton observed mildly. "At least it's not all shrivelled round the edges the way you normally fix it."
Lee gave him a scathing look. "Bacon isn't bacon when its still half raw. I like my food cooked, unlike some heathens I could mention."
"So I like to chew my bacon instead of snap it in two," Chip retorted. "You going to fix eggs with it?"
"I might," Crane retorted loftily.
"You could fry some tomatoes to go with it. And maybe a sausage or two."
"I could," Lee agreed. "I could also grill them like Jamieson says we should." They looked at each other silently for a moment, then chorused in unison, "Nah!"
"I'll make toast," Chip chuckled easily.
"Wonderful idea. I'll fix breakfast, you can fix dinner."
"What about lunch?"
"Sandwiches. We were going fishing, remember."
"Oh yeah." Chip dusted off the toaster and plugged it in, then dug the bread out of the cupboard and dropped it into the toaster. "What do you want for dinner? I should get something out of the freezer to defrost."
"Trout," Lee said brightly as he carefully turned the bacon over. "Assuming we catch any."
"Of course, we will. I'll have you know that I am widely respected as an angler." Morton scolded, then paused and slid a suspicious look at his friend as something belatedly occurred to him. He turned and propped his hip against the cupboards while he frowned at Crane. "Hang on a minute, I have to cook trout for dinner while all you have to do is fry a couple of eggs?! Since when did I get stuck with the hard part?"
"I'm supposed to be taking things easy," Lee pointed out.
"Yeah, but not taking advantage along the way though!" Morton complained.
"Aw, come on, you know I'm lousy at cooking fish."
"Only because you turn squeamish as soon as you look at one."
"I can't help that!" Crane argued. "They feel funny."
"Doesn't stop you eating them though," Morton pointed out amiably.
"Fine. So we have pizza again. No problem."
Chip laughed at his friend's carefully feigned sulky tone. "Okay, okay. You catch them, I'll cook them. Fish is supposed to be good for you."
"I hope you're better at fish than you are with toast then."
"What? Why?" Chip asked.
"Because the toaster is on fire," Lee said innocently and continued as Chip turned with a scream to extinguish the smoking toaster. "What were you saying about me burning the bacon?"
* * *
"This had better not delay the launch," Hunter growled darkly across the chart table at Nelson. He and his fellow Admiral had boarded Seaview the night before to ensure that everything went smoothly when the scientists came aboard.
"It was a minor fire," Nelson assured him grimly.
"Is any fire minor on a submarine?" Hunter snapped back as he paced up and down from the chart table to the spiral stairs and back.
"It damaged a few circuits. Nothing that cant be replaced with a couple of hours hard work. I have Kowalski and Patterson on it now."
Hunter snorted. "And no doubt some moron of a crewman caused it in the first place. Why don't you keep the Circuitry Room locked?"
"Because tracking down the key in an emergency would take too long.
"Then there should be a guard on it at all times."
Irritably, Nelson slammed the clipboard down he was making chart notations on. "I have a trustworthy crew. Sabotaging the Circuitry Room is tantamount to suicide when we're sailing."
"Did I mention sabotage?" Hunter whipped around and glared at him suspiciously. "Do you know something I don't?"
Harriman could feel his lips compressing into a thin line. The longer he had to work with Hunter, the more he started to resent his mere presence on Seaview. The man was a mass of paranoia and impossible to get along with for long. The trouble was there the tiniest seed of doubt in the back of Nelson's mind concerning not only the fire, but a number of other small but annoying little incidents that had slowed down the launch preparations. It was almost as if someone wanted them to stay in Santa Barbara.
"Admiral Nelson?" Sparks called cautiously from his alcove at the rear of the control room. "Sorry to interrupt, sir, but I have a call for you from Commander Morton."
"I'll be right with you. Excuse me," Giving a scowling Hunter a quick apology for the interruption, Nelson hurried back to Peatty and leaned over the radio operator's shoulder. "Chip? We were starting worry. Is everything all right?"
"Everything's fine. I'm sorry I didn't call last night, but I haven't told Lee we're staying in contact yet. I have a feeling he's not going to take it too well when I do. Anyway, I left Lee fishing while I sneaked off to use the radio. I'm supposed to be fixing lunch."
"How's his memory?"
"He's still totally blank on what happened to him, but he seems to be putting things together again. He remembers Seaview, the Academy, girls...." Chip's deep chuckle echoed from the radio speakers. "Some things you don't forget."
Nelson smiled, glad to hear the humour back in Morton's voice. The Exec had been looking far too serious when he and Crane left. Noting a small, half hidden grin on Sparks' face, he decided not to comment on him listening in. It was nice to know that the crew worried about their captain. "You sound better yourself, Chip. More relaxed."
"A couple of hours fishing can do that for a guy," Morton answered easily. "How are things back there?"
"We had a minor fire in the Circuitry Room last night. Nothing serious. More of an annoyance than anything."
"Was there much damage?" Morton asked with professional interest.
"Nothing that can't be fixed. Don't worry about it. No-one's going to hurt your baby."
"I'm glad to hear it, Admiral. See what happens when we're away though?"
"I won't deny that we'll be glad to have you both back," Nelson answered that crack honestly. "Things do seem to run smoother with you and Lee around to crack the whip."
"Ah, you must mean Lee's bullwhip," Morton cackled. "He keeps it under his bunk."
"I don't think I want to know that," Nelson laughed back, feeling his own air of tension and depression starting to lift. Talking to Morton was a tonic for the stress Hunter was causing him.
"Seriously, admiral, we've got a good crew: the best. Half the time we don't even need to be on board!"
"I'll remember that, but in the meantime hurry up and get Lee back on his feet so you can both get back here. No matter how good this crew is, they still need the pair of you. So, you remember that and don't go getting any ideas about taking extended vacations!"
* * *
Chip surfaced several yards off shore, floated for a minute or so in the heat of the sunshine and then splashed his way towards the ladder at the end of the jetty. To his surprise, Crane was sitting on the end of the jetty, swinging his bare feet over the water. Chip climbed out of the water and sat beside him on the rough planks.
"I thought you were making sandwiches," Lee commented as he idly twirled a fishing fly between his fingers.
"Thought I'd grab a quick swim and work up my appetite first," Morton lied, wishing he didn't have to. "Anything wrong with that?"
"If that's all you were doing, no. But it wasn't, was it?" Crane lifted his head and gazed out across the lake at the trees on the far side. There were cloud building up over the mountains, great purple bruises of clouds that loomed menacingly over the valley as they started to sink down the hill sides.
"What else would I doing at the bottom of a lake?" Chip did his best to laugh it off but had the distinct feeling it wasn't working.
Lee gave him a cool look. "Calling Santa Barbara and the Admiral? Why would you want to do that behind my back?"
"It isn't like that."
"No? Would you have told me? I wouldn't have known if I hadn't come back to give you a hand with lunch. Don't you trust me?"
"Of course, I do."
"Then why the call? Does Nelson think I'm going to murder you or something?"
Seeing the anxiety in Crane's eyes, Chip sighed and draped his arm across his shoulders. "He's more worried about your safety," he corrected. "It was no more than a call to reassure a friend."
"Then why the secrecy?"
"Because I know what you're like. I knew you'd react like this. I know how paranoid you get."
"I am not paranoid!" Lee yelped indignantly.
"Then why are you getting so hysterical over a simple call?" Crane stared at him, spluttering helplessly as Morton let go of him. Chip slipped deftly into his best scolding tone, knowing perfectly well that it usually worked better on chivvying Crane back to normal than any amount of well meaning sympathy. "Look, Lee, if I didn't trust you, I wouldn't be up here with you miles from anywhere and Nelson wouldn't have let us come anyway. There's no point in feeling sorry for yourself. So stop scourging yourself and concentrate on getting your memory back. I'm going to make those sandwiches." Rising to his feet, Morton strode determinedly up the jetty towards the cabin, hoping he hadn't said the wrong thing. He glanced back when he reached the cabin's porch to see Crane still sitting on the end of the jetty gazing out across the lake. He looked awfully alone out there and Chip wanted to go back to him and apologise, but he straightened his shoulders and strode inside instead. Lee had a lot to think about and it was best if he did it on his own.
* * *
Chip took his time over making the sandwiches. It wasn't as if it was something that needed to be kept warm and he wanted Crane to come to him when he was ready. The first rattle of the rain across the roof made him jump in surprise and peer suspiciously at the window at the torrent of water coming down aside, pocking the dry ground with fat drops. Alarmed that Crane hadn't come in, he headed for the door to find him. "Hasn't got the sense of a lemming if he doesn't even remember enough to come in out of the rain," he muttered darkly as he flung the door open and hurried out to the steps. The spray of rain brushed his face as he shaded his eyes with one hand and peered towards the end of the jetty. It was empty, forlorn in the rain. "Lee!" Panic stricken that he might have fallen in, Chip bolted down the steps into the rain, mud splashing up his bare legs.
"Yes?" The mildly inquisitive reply came from behind him and Morton spun around to see Crane sprawled languidly in the ancient wooden porch swing.
"I thought you'd fallen in!" Chip yelled at him, waving his arms furiously as the warm rain cascaded over him and skied off his nose and eyelashes.
"Well, I haven't. Hadn't you better come in? You're getting soaked."
"What?" Chip glanced down at himself, then swore and stamped back up the steps. "This is all your fault!" he growled bitterly. "Why didn't you answer me?"
"I did when you called me," Lee pointed out, absently rocking himself on the swing with one foot braced on the porch floor. "What did you want?"
"It's raining and I thought you were sulking." Chip snarled as he stood over him with folded arms and dripped on the floorboards.
"Me? Sulk? Never!" Lee laughed and sat up, making room on the swing for Morton to sit beside him. "Why would I do that?"
"I thought you were mad at me over calling Nelson."
"Oh." Crane stopped smiling abruptly and his eyes went distant for a moment. "I suppose that whatever reason you had for calling him was valid. I don't have a right to complain about it. I guess I'm lucky that the Admiral is willing to give me any time at all. He doesn't have to take me back to Seaview when it comes down to it."
"Why wouldn't he?" Chip asked in astonishment.
"Look at it logically, Chip," Lee urged softly. "I disappear for days and turn up claiming I have no idea of who I am or where I've been. I can imagine what Hunter's had to say about it. He won't have forgotten what happened to me before."
"You weren't 'claiming' anything. It was the truth!" Morton argued.
"It still makes me a security risk. And what about the Observatory being blown up? People were killed, yet I survived somehow. Isn't that suspicious?"
Chip shook his head in exasperation and shoved his wet hair out of his eyes. "No," he said firmly. "Do you remember the explosion?"
"Do you remember even being at the Observatory?"
Lee blinked and frowned, thinking hard. "I remember talking to.....a professor someone or other? He was worried. Something about an ecological disaster in the making." Vivid lightning arced across the lake making them both jump and look outwards as the thunder boomed.
"What kind of disaster?" Morton kept his voice even with an effort, alarmed by this unexpected snippet of information.
"Something to do with....strip mining? And a Mexican name. He said something about fish....." Crane broke off and swore bitterly, covering his eyes against a flare of white light that was purely internal. "It's gone again, damn it!" he snapped in frustration. "Every time I think too much about what happened I see that damn light and it starts hurting again."
Chip licked dry lips and put an arm around his shoulders. "Lee, don't yell, but I want you to think about something for me. Does it actually hurt or do you only think it does?"
"What?" Crane shot a glare at him.
"Well, whenever you think about the Observatory or what happened, you get a flash of light, right?" Lee nodded, his eyes brightening with curiosity. "And then you can't remember any more?"
"It all fades back into the shadows behind the light."
"Jamieson and Nelson said there was a good chance you'd been in a sensory deprivation tank. They think that whoever snatched you, wanted to programme you to do something."
"Like sabotage Seaview's latest mission?" Lee said, wincing and massaging fitfully at his temples.
"Maybe. But you'd been through something similar before. You knew how to fight it this time. Jamieson says that if they pushed you too far, you'd have taken refuge in simply forgetting everything you knew. At a guess I'd say, every time they questioned you, they turned the lights on and you're associating that light with pain. Do you remember anything like that? Maybe a voice?"
"He was angry," Crane responded without thinking. "He hurt me, twisted my wrist," He glanced involuntarily at his plastered arm. "I hit him and then there were other men. They wanted to stop me and they were yelling in Spanish and, and.....I ran. Three of them chased me. I was in the desert and I was lost and then there was a car.....then it goes foggy again." Bewildered, he looked at Morton.
"You're doing fine," Chip congratulated him approvingly as lightning stabbed into the trees. "Do you remember where this place was?" A roll of thunder almost drowned out his question.
"Not really. It was a long building, I remember that. Mexican looking. I think maybe I was in a cellar. It was cold...." Lee shuddered and shivered, not entirely because of the gust of rain cooled air that swept over them. "I don't want to think about it any more, Chip. I'm too tired."
Morton surrendered reluctantly. Lee's memory was still patchy at best. His older memories were clear enough, but the more recent they were the more garbled they became. Questions only made him even more unsure of himself. "Okay, let's eat the sandwiches before the bread curls up. I don't want to do any more fishing in this rain."
* * *
The storm continued for a good hour or more before sullenly rumbling off down the valley. By then everything was sopping wet and glistening in the fitful sunshine. The ground in front of the cabin had turned into a quagmire of thick mud and Chip refused point blank to wade through the morass again, instead he and Lee sat on the porch and played poker for the rest of the afternoon, taking turns to lose until another storm came brooding down from the mountains to lower the temperature and whip the lake with rain.
Since they had failed to catch any fish, Morton fixed spaghetti bolognese for dinner then lost the toss to do the washing up. He emerged from the kitchen to find Crane sprawled on the couch and sound asleep, lulled by the constant drumming of rain on the roof. Rather than wake him, he picked up his book and settled down to read for a while. He was actually starting to doze off when Lee groaned and squirmed, mumbling under his breath.
Chip jerked fully awake with a start, scrubbing one hand across his eyes and surprised to realise that it was almost dark. Lee flailed against the couch cushions, fighting against an invisible attacker and desperately protecting his throat. Morton reached to wake him, then hesitated. Sympathy wanted him to wake his friend from his nightmare, but cold logic suggested that it might be better to let him fight his way through it in his own time. he might never remember if he was disturbed.
"No, don't....!" Lee yelled aloud. "Leave me alone! I don't understand! Let go of me.....!" Fear became sudden furious anger and Crane bolted up off the couch, springing to his feet and making a run for the door.
Chip wasn't quite quick enough to catch him and the lithely built captain was out the door and down the steps before Morton could reach him.
"Lee! Wait!" Belting after him, Chip bellowed his friend's name as he reached the door and to his relief Lee skidded to a halt halfway to the jetty. Crane looked back at him, then turned his face up to the rain and threatened the sky with both fists. "Why is this happening to me!" he screamed into the darkness before he covered his face with both hands, his shoulders shaking with misery.
Chip scrambled down the steps to grab him and pull him into a fierce hug to reassure them both. "It isn't your fault, Lee," he consoled him, tugging his mud splattered captain back towards the cabin and out of the rain. "You were having a nightmare. It happens to us all."
Lee turned burning eyes on him and pulled away from the blond as they reached the porch. "They grabbed me in the parking lot," he blurted abruptly. "It was the same three men as chased me later. They left my car in the parking lot so everyone would think I was inside when they blew up the building. They'd drugged me and I couldn't do anything to stop them."
"Do you know who they were?"
"I'd seen them around the Observatory earlier, I guess they were planting the bombs, but the professor said they were a Maintenance team. Chip, if I'd known...."
"How could you?" Chip asked softly. "Do you know why they snatched you?"
"Information. They wanted to know what the Professor had told me and what I'd reported back to the Admiral. They wanted to know about Seaview too." Lee shuddered and hugged his arms around his rain chilled body. "When I wouldn't tell them anything they....put me in this....tank. They didn't seem to care what I knew. It was as if they had the answers already and only wanted confirmation. The rest is a blur. The awful nothingness of complete silence then the noise and the lights and the questions....." Lee took a deep breath and gulped furiously on sudden nausea, covering his mouth with one hand as he paled. "I think I'm going to throw up."
"Well, don't. Why don't you take a hot bath and go lie down?" Chip urged swiftly, steering him back into the warmth of the cabin. "Give yourself a few minutes to think this over. There's no rush and you need some time to get used to the idea."
* * *
An hour later, Chip stuck his head round the door of Lee's room and was pleased to find that the captain was sound asleep, curled up in his dressing gown on top of the covers. Lee had refused point blank to immerse himself in a bath, preferring instead to take a shower and Chip had been worried that it was a sign he couldn't relax. Either the rain or Jamieson's mild tranquilliser that Chip had slipped him in the hot chocolate had done the trick though.
With a faint grin, Chip unfolded the continental quilt from under Lee's feet and tugged it over him, then collected the empty mug off the dresser where Lee had left it, checked that the windows were shut against the torrential downpour outside and finally pulled the door too behind him.
Strolling through to the kitchen, he put the mug in the sink and gazed out into the darkness. The memories that were starting to surface in Crane were chilling in their implications. For a start Chip was halfway convinced that Crane's kidnapping had less to do with the scientists Seaview was transporting than they had initially thought. Lee hadn't seemed to think his captors had been in any hurry and Morton knew that sensory deprivation techniques took a great deal longer than a couple of days if the reprogramming of the victim was to be successful. It stood to reason therefore that their target hadn't been the scientists, but a longer range one. But what would they stand to gain by reprogramming Crane? Information maybe? Lee's security rating was top class and with his Intelligence training, he would make one hell of a spy for the enemy.
But then what about the problems delaying Seaview that Nelson had been complaining about? They were unlikely to cause anything more than irritation and temporary delays to the launch. Red herrings maybe? A decoy to draw attention from Crane's return? Or maybe Lee was the red herring?"
Chip shook his head furiously, feeling his eyes unfocusing with the need for sleep. Double think had never been his strong point. He was a straightforward man who liked to see everything in black and white. Crane was the one who saw the shades of grey, which was part of what made them such a good team. Lee could tie himself into knots with double and even triple think while Chip's reaction was to torpedo the problem and worry about it later. But between them, they could always find the right solution. Chip chuckled, recalling Nelson's exasperation at having to cope with the pair of them. Nelson was a scientist through and through, given to careful consideration and non emotional solutions: Crane and Morton's response by instinct to any given situation drove him crazy.
"Nelson can figure it out in the morning," Morton told himself firmly and went to check the doors were locked before he went to bed.
* * *
He was hot, almost feverish with need for her. Yet protests kept running through his head. "But I don't want to do this."
"Of course, you do. It's necessary."
"But someone could get hurt."
"Not if you follow instructions. Seaview will only be thrown off course. That's all." Her skin was warm under his hands, her lips like honey when he kissed her.
"But they're my friends. They trust me."
"They're been lying to you. Nelson is in league with these scientists. They'll destroy everything, There must be progress or we cannot survive." Her eyes were dark pools, absorbing him, sucking him down into their midnight depths until he could no longer think for himself.
"Isn't there another way? Can't you talk to them? Explain...?" He begged and moaned as her lips wandered down his bare chest, surfing over his ribs and belly and shattering the coherency of his mind.
"They won't listen. They never do. This is the only way. This time they will have to listen. Do this for me and we can be together forever."
He groaned again, arching his back in delight against satin sheets as her lips brushed over his loins, enticing him beyond thought and setting his body on fire with need for her. "Please...."
"Do you want me?"
"Oh yes, yessss...."
"And you trust me?"
"You know I do. But if only there was another way-."
"There isn't. You remember what to say?"
"Yes, I remember. Please.....can we talk later?"
She laughed, a dark bubble of wicked laughter rising through his mind and engulfing all thought except his desperate passion and the luscious weight of her body pressing him down into the shadows of their bed as she moved over him.
* * *
"Chip! Wake up!"
"Ugh, what? Are we sinking?"
"Chipper!" Crane bellowed in his ear. "I said, wake up!"
"Don't call me that!" Morton woke with the dread nickname ringing in his ears and found himself glaring into Crane's amused eyes.
"It's the only way to get through to you when you're asleep," Lee retorted. "Waking a rock would be easier."
"Go away," Morton retorted forcefully and flung himself flat, yanking the quilt over his head.
Crane dragged it back down and stuck a hand under his nose. "Look what I found."
Chip deliberately squeezed his eyes. "Yes, very pretty."
"It's a bug, Chip."
"Yeuch." Morton said succinctly. "Take it out in the garden and play with it, there's a good captain."
"Not that sort of bug, you moron! An electronic bug!" Crane screamed and ripped the covers off him all together. "Look!"
Chip pried his eyes open wearily and peered at the small round black device in Lee's hand. His lips framed an echo of Crane's words. "Oh hell, it's a bug," he groaned aloud.
"I know. That's what I've been telling you!" Crane snarled, made sarcastic by nerves. "Don't you ever listen?"
"Not when I'm barely awake, no. Besides, no-one ever tells me anything anyway." It was an old Exec's bugbear but a favourite one and to Chip's relief Lee's mouth hooked in a tiny curve of a smile in response to the complaint. "Where was it?" Chip went on as he sat up and dragged one hand through his flaxen hair.
"A box in the cupboard. I was looking for more sugar." Lee sat on the edge of the bed and frowned at him uneasily. "I don't suppose Nelson could have put it there?"
"No. Thank goodness for your sugar fetish." Chip took the bug and held it up thoughtfully. "You know more about these things than I do. What's the range on one of these?"
"A hundred miles or so. But even if they lost us, they'd probably know the area we were in. I think we should get out of here, Chip. You could be in danger."
"Me?" Morton gave him an astounded look. "Don't you mean you?"
Crane grimaced. "I got you into this."
"As I recall, I knew the risks before you did. It was my idea to come up here after all. You go fix coffee while I get up."
"Lee, don't argue. Panicking only means mistakes."
"I wasn't panicking!" Lee growled.
"No, of course not. But we both need coffee. Go on. We can be out of here in half an hour." Although where the hell we're going to run to, I don't know.
* * *
Shrugging on his leather jacket, Lee turned and peered restlessly back into the cabin as he waited for Morton. A crawling sensation kept nuzzling the base of his neck, convincing him that someone was watching him. His Intelligence training was coming back to him in leaps and bounds under the pressure of need and he was terribly aware of how vulnerable they were out here so far from civilisation. Given a choice, he would have probably picked the cabin himself as a hole up: he couldn't fault Morton for his choice on that. But its safety as a hide out was in no-one knowing about it: once revealed it became a trap.
A creak of floorboards behind him made him jump and whip around to face the black clad figure emerging from the cabin. Chip laughed uneasily at the karate chop threatening his throat. "Lay off the ninja stuff, Lee, it's me," he scolded as he zipped up his scuba suit.
"I wish you wouldn't sneak up on me like that," Lee retorted shakily however. "I think someone's watching us."
"Then we act normal. If we look too jumpy, they'll move in. Here, you take this." Morton thrust the automatic into his hand. Lee looked at the weapon as if he had never seen one before. "Look, you pull this bit back, then aim and pull this bit...."
"I know that!" Lee snapped as he tucked the gun into the waistband of his tight fitting jeans and flipped his jacket forward to hide it. "I'm surprised you're going to trust me with it, that's all."
Chip snorted. "You want to swim down to the Flying Sub?" Lee shuddered and shook his head. "There you go then. You keep watch."
"What if someone's sabotaged FS1?" Crane asked as he padded after Morton and out along the jetty.
"She's a valuable piece of equipment, Lee. Too valuable to wreck." Chip flashed him a grin.
"And how do you know she's still down there? Someone could have made off with her over night. If she was underwater, we'd never have known."
Morton's grin went out as if it had been switched off. "Then I want a word with the Admiral about his locks. I locked her up tight. Stay put, Lee. I won't...."
Crane blinked as the flash of light hit his eyes and he instinctively put up one hand to shade them, belatedly realising that the light came from outside rather than from within. He turned to peer suspiciously towards the fringe of trees behind the cabin.
"Lee?" Morton peered at him anxiously and put a hand on his shoulder. "Are you all right? Maybe you should wait inside until I...."
Crane glimpsed movement at the last moment and swung, his hands slamming into Chip's chest and shoving him backwards as the shot rang out. Morton yelped and went backwards, blood blossoming on his face. "No!" Lee screamed in anguish as the blond tumbled limply backwards into the water.
"Stay where you are, Crane!" the heavily accented voice came from behind him and Lee spun around, staring at the swarthy featured man emerging from behind the cabin. He had a gun trained on Lee's midriff. Two more men appeared at the edge of the clearing, further away. One of them was grinning as he lifted a rifle and patted its stock smugly.
For Lee the memories came boiling to the surface in a red hot torrent of lava, spilling over into white hot rage as he remembered these three men: remembered the bruising and the battering and the laughter. He was only a piece of the puzzle, the final piece that when fitted into place made sense out of madness.
"You got away from me once, you won't do it again," the first man grinned. "We have a nice warm tank waiting for you. But I guess we'll have to start all over again this time."
"What, what do you want?" Lee had to force the words out through the ache in his chest for Morton's loss.
"Don't you remember? I'm Nanchez of the Cortez Corporation."
"The miners," Lee blurted. "You want to strip mine the Sea of Cortez. But what do you want with me?"
"The blueprints for the Seaview."
"I don't have them!"
"But you have a working knowledge of her. And when the Seaview goes down with her entire crew on board, including the Admiral and those damn scientists that want to get in our way, you'll be then only one with access to Nelson's records at NIMR: including all his blueprints."
"What?" Lee choked. "No, you're wrong...."
"Don't lie about it. It's pointless." Nanchez growled as he stalked closer. His two men were closing in, flanking him as he came down the jetty. "Nelson has a DNA coded safe. There are only two people with the DNA to open it: Nelson himself and you. And it will be much easier to control you than him." With cruel satisfaction glittering in his dark eyes, Nanchez turned his head to his bodyguards. "I think we'll start by taking possession of this flying submarine of theirs. Fish the body out of the water, Pedro."
"You want us to make it look like Crane murdered him?" the rifle bearing man asked.
"No, make it look like an accident. We don't want to lay any suspicions on our little traitor."
"No!" The white hot light blossomed in Lee's mind for the last time, memories exploding out into sharp relief against the magnesium flare of pressure that held them down. His fingers curled around the butt of the automatic and he drew it, dropping into a half crouch and twisting sideways as he brought it to bear on Nanchez. He had an instant to savour the sheer terror on the Mexican's face before he fired: the impact of the bullet in his shoulder hurling the man backwards into his companions and blocking Crane's next shot. He hesitated for one split second and took half a step towards the tangle of screaming and swearing men, then he whirled around, shoved the gun into his waistband and dived off the jetty instead.
He cleaved the water cleanly, barely glimpsing another figure under the jetty. Surfacing he looked round wildly and spotted Morton clinging to one of the jetty pilings. He looked barely conscious and his face was smothered with blood. He struck out wildly when Lee splashed towards him, not recognising him. Crane didn't have time to do to explain, he simply grabbed hold of the blond and forced him under the surface as Spanish shouting erupted on the jetty above them. Bullets zipped through the water as Lee kicked downwards, pulling himself and Morton through the water and hoping that Chip had breathed in before he dragged him under.
The yellow bulk of the Flying Sub loomed up out of the gloom and Lee dragged them both towards it. Pushing Chip against the cold metal of the hull, he clawed frantically at the locking mechanism, feeling his chest aching with the need to breathe. The wheel twirled suddenly and a gush of bubbles escaped as the water pressure inside equalised. Grabbing Chip by the collar, he shoved him inside then wriggled in after him and dragged the hatch shut, then slapped his hand on the pump button. The water started to pump out swiftly and Lee hauled Chip to the top of the chamber with him, gratefully gasping in fresh air from the breathing space at the top.
Chip did his best to focus on him as Crane supported him with an arm around his neck. This close, Lee could see the deep crease across his friend's temple that was oozing blood messily. He hugged him in fierce gratitude for being alive then shoved at the hatch above them.
"What...Lee?" Chip croaked groggily.
"Later," Lee panted and pushed him at the ladder, urging him to climb out of the water. The air pressure inside FS1 kept the water in the airlock from rising too far, allowing both men to enter the submarine before it was fully emptied. Shoving Morton out onto the deck, Lee crawled after him. His left wrist was throbbing with pain and the plaster was flaking after its immersion. Shoving the hatch shut, Lee staggered over to the controls and leaned on the pilot's seat, staring blankly at the instruments.
"I can't..." he groaned in helpless confusion. "I don't remember....." He glanced back at Morton only to see that Chip had passed out on the floor. Then came the thump on the hull above him and he looked round wildly in time to see one of the bodyguards flailing his way past the ports. It was the man who had shot Morton.
Lee flung himself into the pilot's seat and punched desperately at the controls, letting instincts guide uncertain fingers. He flinched when the fission reactor powered up behind him, whirling a kaleidoscope of oddly reassuring colours through the cabin. From below him, came the sound of heavy thumping as someone struggled to force the hatch open. Still cycling water though, the airlock wasn't ready to open for another minute or so.
Long enough for the bastard to drown, Lee hoped viciously.
The Flying Sub was humming enthusiastically under his hands and he pulled back cautiously on the twin handle grips, coaxing her off the muddy bottom. She rose slowly at first, then more eagerly as he fed in more power. The surface shimmered above her, a silvery layer of silk to be broken.
"Here goes nothing," Lee muttered under his breath and gunned the engines for all he was worth, hauling back on the controls. The Flying Sub broke the surface like a leaping porpoise and kept going, speeding skywards. A rattle crossed her keel as the men below fired at her, then FS1 was out of reach and speeding out across the lake, heading for the mountains.
* * *
Chip woke to the blistering pounding of his head and a wild lurch of nausea. His feeble groan brought attention though and Lee's blurred face appeared over him. "Don't throw up in here, Chip, please. I've got enough to cope with as it is," Lee begged anxiously.
"Where am I?" Chip croaked, peering groggily at the dark roof only a couple of feet above his head.
"On the Flying Sub," Crane answered. Gingerly cupping Morton's chin, he turned his head and touched a light finger taped to the blond's temple. "It seems to have stopped bleeding. Do you remember what happened?"
"No clearly. But at a wild guess, I was shot. Where'd my wet suit go?"
"I took it off. Do you have idea how difficult it us to strip a wet suit off an unconscious man?" Lee shook his head and absently flexed the fingers of his broken arm, hoping the plaster would hold now it had started to dry out in the warmth of the cabin.
Chip swallowed hard and struggled to sit up, only to have Crane firmly press him flat again. "Lee, I've got to get us out of here. Sooner or later they'll rush us and get on board."
"Not unless they've got wings," Lee retorted with a hint of pride.
"We're in flight."
"We are?" Chip concentrated hard, becoming aware of a familiar vibration rumbling through the bunk under his back. "We are! Whose flying this thing?"
"The auto pilot right now. I'm a little rusty, but everything seems to be working right." Crane smiled in embarrassment. "Mind you, I have no idea how to land or where we're going, but it's a start."
"I can navigate," Morton assured him and made another effort to sit up.
"You can do it from where you are. Like I said, the bleeding's stopped, but I'm pretty sure Jamieson would advise you to lie flat for a while."
"There's no need. I'm fine."
"Last time I checked, I still out ranked you," Crane said drily. "You're staying put, Mr Morton. I don't want you unconscious again."
"Vacation over, huh?" Chip said drily.
"Uh yeah. Chip, we have to get back to Seaview. She's in danger. Nanchez said he was going to sink her."
"Nanchez?" Morton gave him a blank look.
"He owns the Cortez Mining Corporation. Professor Santini found out he'd been mining in the Sea Of Cortez. He plans to strip mine it."
Chip squinted through the pain in his head, wishing Crane didn't have a double outline. "That's why he wants to ruin the ecology conference?"
"Partly. If the scientists agree to restrict fishing rights or turn the Sea of Cortez into a preserve, all mining will be banned and he'll be ruined. But if he sinks Seaview in the right place, her destruction will ruin the ecology and leave him free to strip mine the entire basin."
Morton groaned. He had no doubt Lee knew what he was talking about. The captain had honest eyes that could never lie to his friend. "The right spot has to be the Perez Sea Mount."
Lee nodded. "And Seaview's on her way there right now: assuming she's on schedule." He looked at Chip anxiously. "Do you trust me enough to give me her co-ordinates?"
Morton smiled weakly and closed his eyes. "You'll find a panel on the dashboard marked RDF. Set a frequency of 56.92 and you'll pick up a homing signal for Seaview. Follow that in. You'd better call the Admiral as well."
"I'm glad you know what I'm doing," Lee sighed in relief.
Chip opened one eye enough to watch him head back to the pilot's seat. "Don't expect too much. I think I have a concussion."
"I know you have," Crane retorted as he fiddled with the RDF and grinned in triumph as a soft beep echoed round the cabin.
"Push the red button to lock the autopilot onto the signal," Chip urged as the noise set his teeth on edge.
Crane obeyed and studied the glowing green miniature radar panel that appeared on the small screen above. "Our radar position in respect to Seaview?" he guessed.
"Yep. You'll do fine, Lee. Your memory needs a little prompting, that's all. I'm going to go back to sleep now. S'okay?"
Crane shot a worried look at him and nodded. "I'll wake you," he promised and a got a scowl of response from the dazed blond before Morton turned his back on him and curled up. Lee turned back to the controls and slipped the throat mike back on. The radio had been one of the first things he figured out, but there had been no answer from Seaview despite his best efforts. NIMR had answered and a somewhat surprised young ensign had told him Seaview had launched the night before when he gave his security clearance. Crane only hoped that it didn't mean Seaview was already on the bottom.
* * *
"And to think I told Chip we didn't need him and Lee," Nelson muttered under his breath as he glared at the latest readings Kowalski had handed him. About the only thing going right was that they were still on course. The radio was down, half the scientists had mild food poisoning and this morning there had been a flash fire in the Circuitry Room. On top of all that, he was having to handle PR with the scientists himself: a task he normally left to Morton and Sharkey.
"Sorry, Admiral?" Beech glanced over at him. "I didn't hear what you said."
"It's all right, lieutenant, I wasn't talking to you," Harriman assured him. "How are the repairs going?"
"Another hour or two and everything should be fixed," Beech assured him. "I can't believe we had a second Circuitry Room fire."
"Presumably someone missed a spark somewhere. It happens."
Beech nodded. "All the same, it's almost as if Seaview's missing the skipper."
Nelson gave him a glare that Beech fortunately missed as he turned to answer a question from a crewman. The Admiral sighed. It wasn't Beech's fault that he lacked experience.
Once was accident, twice coincidence, three times enemy action....
The old adage ran through his mind, but it did nothing to reassure him. Three times would probably kill them. If NIMR hadn't been under so much pressure from the ecological consortiums who partly financed the Institute, he would have been tempted to call the whole thing off until circumstances were more favourable. The destruction of the Anazi Point Marine Observatory was going to cost NIMR hard and Seaview needed to make a good showing on this trip.
"Sir?" Beech whipped around to face him so eagerly it was surprising his neck didn't look like a pretzel.
"Have Chief Sharkey stand a guard on the Circuitry Room until we get back to port. We might as well be on the safe side and it'll reassure the scientists."
"Aye sir." Beech reached for the intercom microphone while Nelson ambled casually down to the radio shack where Nick Peatty was muttering darkly over his radio.
"Any luck, Sparks?" he asked hopefully.
"What do you think?" the young man growled back, then realised exactly who he was speaking to and flushed. "Sorry, sir, I'm nearly there."
"Carry on," Nelson said easily and moved away before he distracted the communication officer any further. He had never met a radio officer yet who didn't snarl as possessively as a tiger over his radio.
"Admiral!" Kowalski's excited yelp nearly made him jump a foot. "I'm picking up FS1's sonar signature."
"What?" Nelson forget his dignity to scramble back to the sonar operator's side. "Are you sure?"
"Twittering like a bird, sir. I'd know her anywhere," Kowalski assured him with a broad grin. "She's on the approach run."
For a moment, Nelson stared blankly at the screens. What on earth was the Flying Sub doing here? She should be miles away in the mountains. He shook his head and pulled his thoughts together. "Stand by to bring her aboard," he ordered and headed back to the chart table, determined not to show his worry.
A few minutes later, he forget all about hiding his concern as he watched Patterson help Morton climb shakily out onto the deck. Lee scrambled through the hatch after him, quickly sliding an arm around his blond friend to support him.
"What the hell happened?" Harriman demanded in alarm as he eyed Chip's pale, blood crusted face.
"He got creased. Nanchez and his men found us," Lee explained and shot a quick look at Patterson. "Get Mr Morton down to Sickbay, Pat," he said briskly, the habit of giving orders quickly snapping back into place.
"Aye sir, Come on, Mr Morton, lean on me," Patterson urged, sliding swiftly under Chip's arm.
Chip gave him a groggy look. "S'long as you don't let me walk into anything, Pat. I've no idea where I'm going."
Patterson grinned. "I promise, sir. Don't worry about it."
Nelson held his tongue, fuming with impatient curiosity until Morton was on his way. "Lee?" he prompted impatiently. Crane dragged his eyes away from Morton and focused on him blankly, then blinked back into focus.
"I need to talk to you, sir. But privately."
The Admiral gazed into the younger man's anxious eyes and nodded. "Lieutenant Beech, you have the conn. Come on, Lee, we can talk in my office."
* * *
"And you don't know how they're going to do it?"
Lee shook his head mournfully. He was seated in Nelson's office, for once too tired to take his usual perch on the corner of the Admiral's desk. He sipped the coffee nelson had ordered for him gratefully and looked up at the older man. "I have no idea. I guess there's a saboteur on board and I seem to remember something about a girl. But that's all."
"It could be anyone."
"Even me," Lee sighed.
"I doubt it after what you said Nanchez told you."
Crane shook his head. "Maybe that was to drive me back here. If I'd had any sense, I should have taken Chip straight to a hospital and warned you by radio."
"How with the radio out? Taking Chip to hospital would have taken time and you have a responsibility to Seaview and her crew that override that idea. Of course, you came straight here. Pure homing instinct."
Lee half laughed and ran a shaky hand through his curly hair. "Maybe I'm going to run amok at any minute though. You can't know. Maybe you should lock me in my cabin?"
"The only place you're going is down to Sickbay," Nelson told him firmly. "For one thing that arm of yours needs looking at. Now go on, I'll handle things."
"I'll organise a search. Anything that can destroy Seaview would have to be pretty big. I dare say a well motivated crew will find it in nothing flat."
* * *
"Lee, if you don't sit down and rest, I'm going to sedate you," Jamieson said sharply, glancing up from his notes. "Especially if you wake Chip up again."
Crane shot a glance at the sleeping Morton then flung himself into a chair at the doctor's desk. Jamieson got the distinct impression that it was worry over Chip that had grounded him and not the threat of the sedative. "I can't believe they're still searching. It's been hours."
"Seaview's a big boat. And they don't even know what they're looking for."
"A bomb of some kind. Isn't that obvious?"
"Yes, captain, it is. I'm sure the Admiral and everyone else on board is well aware of it too."
Lee drummed his fingers on his freshly plastered wrist and watched Jamieson scribbling down his notes. "Can I ask you something?"
"About what?" With exaggerated patience, the doctor set aside his pen and gazed at the captain.
"You wanted to hypnotise me?"
"To help you regain your memory, yes. I don't believe it will be necessary now."
Crane dismissed that idea with a wave of his hand. "Could someone be hypnotised into sabotage?"
Jamieson pursed his lips and settled back in his seat. "Hypnotism only works so far. It won't make you go against your own personality, but can enforce an already existing desire."
"Desire. Why does that mean something?" Lee said slowly, frowning hard and wincing as his memory protested. "Give me an example?"
"All right. Take murder. You can't hypnotise someone into carrying out a murder if it's against their wishes. But if it merely enforces a desire to kill someone, it's possible to do. And there are ways to circumvent what the person believes they're doing. You could hypnotise them into believing that they're acting in a play and the gun isn't loaded."
"Could a psychologist hypnotise someone?"
"Naturally. It's a standard technique. We all use it." Jamieson studied Lee's strained expression and wondered if maybe that sedative would be a good idea. The captain was fiddling with his ring, a sure sign something was bothering him. "Is something wrong, Lee?"
"Didn't Santini have an assistant?" Lee asked however.
"I believe so."
"Was her body found at the Observatory?"
"I have no idea. Maybe you should lie down."
"No. No time." Leaping to his feet, Crane shot out the door and belted off the corridor. Jamieson started to call him back, then changed his mind and turned his attention to Morton as the blond stirred and groaned in his sleep.
* * *
Nelson eyed Crane in astonishment as the captain catapulted into the control room and skidded to a halt beside him. "Is there a problem?" he asked drily. "You're supposed to be resting. Or did Jamieson forget to give you your sedative?"
"Santini's assistant: was her body found at the Observatory?" Lee demanded, ignoring his question.
"Marina Nanchez? No, it was her day off. What has she....?" Nelson stopped seeing the look on Crane's face. "Nanchez? She was involved?"
"She's Nanchez' daughter. Of course, she wouldn't have been there." Crane's instincts were working on over time, putting things rapidly together. "But how could she.....He stayed in town. It has to be him."
"What are you talking about?" Nelson asked in bewilderment.
"The search. How far have we got?"
"Kowalski and Riley are checking the torpedo room and then that's it. It looks like your theory about a bomb is wrong."
"Are they?" Crane laughed somewhat hysterically. "We're almost at the Perez Sea Mount, aren't we?"
"Yes, but....Lee, are you sure you're okay?" Nelson wasn't too keen on the febrile light in Crane's eyes.
"I'm fine and thinking more clearly than I have for days. Where else would you put a bomb if you wanted to destroy Seaview? Not merely sink her, but destroy her?"
"In the torpedo room with...." Nelson paled. "....the missiles. But there's no-one down there. It's been sealed off because of the scientists."
"Hah! Riley and Kowalski have got access. Call Security and tell them to meet me down there." Crane barked and dashed for the hatch.
"Damn it, Lee!" Nelson bawled after him, then realised the crew was staring at him and grabbed up the microphone to call security instead. Be careful, you damn idiot. I don't want to lose you again.
* * *
"I don't want to do this," he whispered in misery to the tangle of twisted wires in front of him as he wired the bulky device into the circuitry of the missile compartment. He had been lucky to be able to smuggle it on board without anyone noticing, but a few muttered comments about slide guitars and amplifiers had been enough to put even the most inquisitive of his friends off.
Behind him one of his closest friends on Seaview lay where he had hit him from behind with the gun butt: he only hoped he hadn't killed him. He supposed he should have killed him, but he couldn't bring himself to do that. Murder wasn't his style. Damaging Seaview wasn't either, but if Marina had been right about the submarine's fission reactor damaging the environment as she insisted, then she had to be stopped. Marina had explained how Santini had called Nelson down to tell him what he had discovered, but the Admiral had sent Crane in his place. Nelson wanted Santini silenced and so Crane had been ordered to blow up the Observatory with everyone inside, including sweet Marina.
He closed his eyes in anguish, seeing her lovely face framed by the cloud of her glossy hair swirling over him in the darkness. "I'm sorry I didn't believe you," he whispered to her ghost, imagining the kiss of her lips on his again. "This is the only way to make them listen."
His soul froze and he slid a look over his shoulder, staring at Crane as the captain stood behind him. There was no anger in his eyes, only a kind of sad understanding. Crane crouched beside Kowalski to check he was only unconscious, then turned his full attention to Riley.
"It's over, kid."
Taking a deep breath, Riley sat back on his heels, staring at the open panel in front of him. The exposed wiring told its own sorry tale. "It isn't what you think, captain," he said slowly.
"Isn't it? I know a bomb when I see one."
"It is not a bomb," Riley argued.
"Stu, look at me," Crane said gently as he moved to stand over the young crewman. "I know you're not to blame for this."
"You don't know anything!" Riley screamed and sprang to his feet. His sudden move took Crane by surprise and the captain was in no shape to defend himself as Riley slammed into his chest and knocked him over backwards. His head ringing from a too hard collision with the metal deck plating, Lee could only blink dazedly down the wrong of a gun barrel and wonder why Riley hadn't blown his head off. It took a considerable effort of mental effort to drag his gaze away from the gun and focus on Riley's blurred face as he knelt on the captain's chest. To his amazement there were tears streaming down Stu's face.
"Why'd you do it, skipper? Why'd you have to kill her?"
"I haven't killed anyone," Lee assured him in his most reasonable tone.
"You did. You blew up the Observatory. You killed Marina!"
"I did no such thing!" Despite himself, Lee responded indignantly to that lie. "And if you mean Marina Nanchez, she's still alive. She's Nanchez' daughter: the man who nearly killed me and Chip Morton and probably programmed you into destroying Seaview."
"You're lying!" Riley ground the gun into Crane's throat.
"She's the one who lied to you. What did she tell you? That that bomb is some kind of electronic device that'll throw Seaview off course? Something like that?"
Riley blinked and scrubbed an angry hand across his face. "That's all it'll do," he insisted. "It's not a bomb! I don't want to kill anyone!"
"Did you sabotage the circuitry room?" Riley nodded miserably. "Did you think you if you could stop Seaview from sailing you wouldn't have to do this? What did Marina tell you to do?"
"She gave me the box and told me to bring it here, she explained how to wire it up. It'll only change our course, skipper! She promised!"
"She lied, Stu. Why else would she let you think she'd been killed? She's been manipulating you."
"No! No, she wouldn't do that!"
"Why does she want Seaview's course changed?"
"She'll collide with the sea mount and sink. We'll all get out."
"Think about that, Stu. Think how deep this part of the Sea of Cortez is? No-one will get out alive."
"Yes, we will. We'll be rescued. But Seaview will be stuck down here for good!"
"How? You sabotaged the radio. How can we call for help?"
Riley blinked and shook his head, fair hair flying. "Sparks will fix it."
"But why sabotage it and take the risk in the first place?"
"Marina said...." Riley blurted and then stopped, biting his lip in pain. "Don't confuse me! We can use the radio on FS1."
"Except it wasn't supposed to be here," Lee studied Riley carefully for a moment and decided to take the risk. "Why did Marina want to sink Seaview, Stu?"
"So, she won't be able to pollute the seas any more! Nelson won't be able to cover it up! Marina told me. She told me how Santini found about the fission contamination of the ocean and Nelson sent you to kill them all and make sure there was no proof!"
"But if Marina had proof, why bother sabotaging Seaview at all. If she's abandoned on the bottom, she's bound to cause pollution. Why cause the very thing she wanted to avoid? Why not go to the ecology commission? The scientists aren't going to react well to having their lives put in danger by an act of eco terrorism. Think, Riley! It doesn't make sense to do it this way."
Riley shook his head wildly, the gun wavering dangerously in front of Crane's eyes until he reached up to push it gingerly to one side. There was aloud clang from the hatch and Sharkey clattered in with the master at arms and three of Seaview's biggest crewmen. They were all armed to the teeth. Riley looked up in fright and flinched, bringing the gun back to bear on Crane.
"Back off!" Crane barked automatically.
"But skipper...." Sharkey protested and took a step forwards, freezing as Riley aimed the gun at him unsteadily.
"Please, chief, don't make me hurt you. I have to do this for Marina's sake!"
"Stay where you are, chief. Stu, listen to me," Lee said very, very gently. "Have I ever lied to you or anyone else on this boat?"
Riley licked his lips. "No, sir."
"Has the Admiral?" A quick, nervous shake of the head. Taking a deep breath, Crane took hold of Riley's wrist and pushed the gun aside. "All right. No-one is going to come anywhere near you. Prove to yourself which of us is telling you the truth: me or Marina. Look in the box."
Riley swallowed hard, then shuffled slowly back on his knees, releasing Crane. Lee wisely stayed where he was, lifting only his head so as not to threaten the young crewman as he edged back to the box and unfastened the metal latches. Even the inexperienced Riley could see that the container was stuffed with a detonator and enough explosives to tear a huge hole through Seaview's hull.
"Wire that to the missiles and there wouldn't be enough left of Seaview to be any kind of pollution hazard," Crane pointed out softly. Riley let out a harsh choking sob and crumpled forward.
"She did lie to me. I felt it. But I loved her. She was so beautiful I thought I had to be wrong. I loved her. How could she do that to me? Why can't I think straight?"
Pushing himself to his own knees, Lee carefully put an around Stu's shoulders and drew him against him. "It wasn't your fault," he told him softly, cradling the blond as he wept in misery. Very carefully, he eased the gun from Riley's unresisting fingers and slid it across the floor to Sharkey as he eased forward.
"You want us to take him?" Sharkey whispered nervously as the man at arms bristled dangerously behind him.
"No. Get Kowalski out of here and get someone to deal with this bomb. It looks like it's electronically detonated, so it should be safe enough."
"You sure, skipper?" Sharkey sceptically eyed Riley as he clung, sobbing, to the captain and frowned. "He could have killed us all."
"But he didn't. If he was going to kill anyone, it would have been me the moment I walked through that hatch. Stu's confused, but he's no danger to anyone now. I guess I know better than anyone what he's gone through," Lee said soberly. "You can get Jamieson down here though. He's the one this kid needs now."
* * *
An hour later, Crane gingerly slipped his hand free from Riley's as the crewman slid under the effects of the sedatives and awkwardly tucked the arm under the covers. Riley had refused to let him out of his sight while Jamieson examined him and only the sedative had made him let go of his hand.
"Will he be all right?" Lee asked anxiously.
"I think so, given time and understanding."
"He'll get it," Crane said flatly. "I know how he's going to feel."
Jamieson nodded as he returned the sedative bottle to the cabinet. "I know you do," he said kindly. "On top of everything else, he's got being in love to get over as well."
Crane's smile was wry. "I've had to cope with that a few times as well. How's Kowalski?"
"I think that hair of his acts like some kind of crash helmet. Riley pulled the blow too which helped. He really didn't want to hurt anyone. Right now, he's more worried about Riley than anything else. Why don't you go and say hello to him and Chip? Maybe you can get Kowalski to go to sleep."
"And complaining about room service already. He's worse than you."
Lee smiled ruefully and let the doctor shoo him out the door and down to the Sickbay area. Kowalski was sitting up in his bunk and spotted him the moment he came in. "Skipper! How's Stu?" he demanded anxiously. "Doc said he'd been hypnotised. Will he be okay?"
"Given time." Crane replied, hesitated and glanced over at Morton. Chip gazed at him steadily and gave him a minuscule nod. "You know he's the one who hit you."
"Doc told me. But Stu's been acting funny the last couple of days, moping over that girl of his and muttering about ecological stuff. Me and Patterson have been pretty worried about him. You think there's anything we can do to help?"
Lee startled him with a genuinely warm smile. "Ski, you're already doing it. Go right on being his friends and let him know you trust him," he told him firmly. "Now, get to sleep."
Kowalski grinned broadly. "Aye, sir," he agreed and curled up, settling down to rest. Crane eyed him for a moment and then edged over to look at Morton.
"Naturally. I hear you went up against our crazed gunman all on your own again."
"I wouldn't call Riley a crazed gunman," Lee protested, then did a double take. "Hang on, what do you mean again?"
Chip smiled at him. "Nanchez?"
"Oh him," Lee sat down on the edge of the bunk and eyed his friend warily. "I guess I overreacted a tiny bit. I thought he'd killed you."
"Well, I know how that feels," Chip agreed soberly. "Any word on what happened to them?"
"The Admiral's put the word out, but I doubt if they'll find them. Look, you'd better get some sleep. I know I'm going to."
"Lee..." Chip caught his hand as the captain slid to his feet. He gazed up at him in concern. "You going to be okay about this? I mean this thing with Riley hits close to home for you."
Crane glanced down at the hand curled into his and gave it a rueful squeeze. "I'll be fine. Now you'd better let go before people start to talk."
Morton released him an embarrassed laugh. "Sorry," he apologised. "Guess I'm still groggy."
"You're entitled. Chip?"
"Yeah?" Morton glanced up at him uncomfortably.
"Thanks for being around," Lee said softly and headed for the door hastily. Chip let him go with an affectionate grin then turned over to go back to sleep. Maybe he could get a proper vacation out of this time.
Santa Barbara, Two Weeks Later.
"Lee? You in?"
"No, I'm a hallucination," Crane retorted and glanced up with a grin as Morton came into his office anyway. "What's up?"
"It's lunch time. And this came in for you." Chip dropped the message on the desk in front of the captain and watched him pick it up and read it.
"Did you read this?" Crane asked harshly.
"I saw the names so I thought I'd better bring it in person, but I didn't read it."
"It says Nanchez and Marina have disappeared along with several million dollars. The ecological commission have closed the Cortez Consortium down for strip mining the Sea of Cortez. The company is in chaos and all their mines are being shut down."
"That means no more mining in the Sea of Cortez. That's good, Lee."
"Is it? Nanchez got away. What's to stop him starting up somewhere else? What do I tell Riley?"
"The truth. The uglier picture you paint of Marina the better," Morton retorted sternly. Leaning on the desk with both hands, he forced Crane to meet his eyes. "What about you?"
"How do you feel? Angry or threatened?"
Lee blinked, disconcerted by the direct question. "Angry," he said slowly. "I still want to rip the bastard apart with my bare hands for what he did to you, me and Riley."
"Good. Jamieson says that's how you're supposed to feel. And that's how Riley's starting to feel."
"You saw him?"
"I dropped by this morning. he aid you told me he can come back to Seaview as soon as he feels up to it."
"You have some objection?" Crane asked seriously. "Nelson doesn't. He's all for the idea. Jamieson says its the best thing for him."
"He's a good kid. I'll be happy to have him back aboard: even if I never understand what he's talking about."
"Ah, well, you see, that's because you're getting old. You don't understand hip jive."
"Excuse me?" Chip bristled and glared at him. "Hip jive went out with the ark Mr Know It All, even I know that."
Lee laughed and pushed to his feet. "I thought you said something about lunch?"
"I did. Got any money?" Chip asked cheerfully as he followed his friend to the door.
"Yeah. Why?" Lee shot a suspicious look at him.
"It's your turn to buy. I thought we'd go down to that nice expensive new seafood place down on the boulevard and check out their lobster specials."
"If you're lucky I'll buy you a couple of cockles," Lee snorted, but he was laughing as Chip draped a companionable arm across his shoulders and they headed out together to face the world united in friendship.