Nerves of Steele
"And I’m telling you NO!" Admiral Nelson stood his ground, hands on hips, staring out of the bay window.
"Look," the man in the black suit stressed, "you can at least give it a chance. Think of the long term benefits."
"Benefits? What benefits?! My boat will be a floating pressure cooker!"
"Well, it’s not like you’re on a mission to save the world or anything!" expounded the official. We want you to cooperate in this, without having to make it a Presidential Request."
"Now wait a minute," Nelson turned and walked across the plush embossed carpet, "Seaview is my boat and this little so-called experiment of yours has nothing to do with the government. Your people can only place us on active Reserve status if…what now?"
"Sorry," Dr. Wyatt Steele picked up the phone, on which a blue light was blinking furiously. "No…I see…yes…he’s here now…but I’m trying to! Yes, right away."
Wyatt pressed a button on the utilitarian desk and a lacquered door opened from the bookcase. "She wants to see you. Now."
"It won’t work Wyatt. Even she has no authority in this."
"Perhaps not, but she can make waves…you could loose a great many contracts."
"Is that blackmail or a threat?"
"I’m just trying to get it into that thick skull of yours that…" the blue light blinked again and Wyatt picked up the phone. "Yes, he’s on his way…" he put down the receiver. "You’d better hurry. Maybe I'm being chauvinist here, but there’s nothing worse than a female President with PMS…"
"President or not, I’m still not going to …"
"Well," Steele interrupted, "it’s been nice knowing you…oh, don’t call her Madam. Call her President Bemis or Miss President. She says Madam makes her feel like a hooker and Ms. makes her feel like an old maid and…oh, never mind. Good luck Admiral Nelson."
"Okay, Chief, that should do it," the XO said, " have all the stores secured by 2300 tonight." Lt. Commander Morton then signed the clipboard as the early evening breeze fluttered the new pages. "I wonder why the sudden change of plans…well, ours is not to reason why."
"Yes sir, oh, is the Skipper coming along this trip? Ski said that he was off…" Sharkey whispered furtively.… " on assignment."
"Is he?" Morton mused, irritated. " I wish he’d informed me… well, Chief, I could sure use a cup of coffee…any idea if Cookie has any brewed yet in that fancy new coffee-maker procurement sent us?"
"Really expensive, that new gadget. I’ll check on it right away sir. I could use some myself!"
Tonight’s assignment was even better than Lee had expected.
"Lee!" the luxurious voice whispered urgently, "Wait, not now!"
"Huh? Oh, sorry. I guess I got…distracted."
"Not that I mind, Lee," the voice giggled, "but the best part is coming up."
"Shhhhh!" a fellow movie theater patron hissed.
"Sorry," Lee turned, apologetic and somewhat exasperated.
"Really," another voice in the darkness said in muted tones, "if they want to neck they should find someplace else."
"Oh Mom, I think it’s so romantic," another female voice, much younger, added wistfully.
Various "Shhhs!" came through the theater again.
"We’re trying to watch the movie," one of the voices said, rankled.
"I’d hardly call ‘Revenge of the Monster from Outer Space’ a blockbuster, another voice chuckled.
"It is too!" responded yet another patron, with grunts and echoes of youthful approval.
"Oh shush yourself!" one of many teens filling the theater retorted, but was quickly stifled by a bag of popcorn flung into the region of the voice’s occupant.
The Oscar contending effects of the spectacular and grotesque monster eating the citizens of earth like an anteater was lost on the general chaos of flying popcorn, nachos, French fries, small candies, and squeals of fun from the younger patrons that erupted in the small auditorium. Very quickly the film was stopped and the houselights turned on, as the manager inspected the damage, ejected the guilty, and allowed the more refined viewers to settle back down into their seats with complimentary passes for another movie for their…unsettling experience.
"Where’s the Captain?" Admiral Nelson asked brusquely as he stepped from his limo dockside. It was 2200. He was tired. He was angry. He was impatient. And he'd had a very bumpy flight from Washington.
"He’s… on assignment," Chief Sharkey relayed in hushed tones.
"What?!" Nelson exclaimed, exasperated and furious. "He promised me no more ONI missions for…" Nelson caught sight of a foot shuffling Kowalski nearby, then grinned. "Very well, Chief. I’m turning in. Have the Captain report to me as soon as he gets back, no matter the time. Good night."
"Aye sir, good night," Sharkey replied, confused at the sudden change of attitude. Usually when the Skipper went off on one of his operative escapades the Admiral stayed perturbed or at least annoyed until his return, not…suddenly amused. What was going on?
"Mr. Morton?" Officer of the Deck Lt. O’Brian knocked on the XO’s cabin door. He was grateful Morton was still up.
"In," came the familiar voice.
"Sir…I uh…well," O’Brian stammered as he remained in the doorway, "the Skipper’s back aboard but…I think he needs to check into Sick Bay."
Morton groaned, and rose from his chair, "where is he?"
"I had Sharkey waylay him in the control room with some, uh, questions."
"Get Doc up."
"Already on his way to the control room, sir."
"So it goes thimpity instead of thumpity?" Crane asked, incredulous.
"Yes sir, engineering says that’s what it sounds like." It was laborious for Sharkey to lie to the Captain. Especially as he was just as concerned as the security watch. The Skipper's hair was wildly tousled, with bits of dried blood on it. He looked like he’d been perspiring; there were bloody splatters on his shirt, along with unrecognizable trails of something. He was also sporting a cut lip.
"Then get engineering on it!" Crane demanded, " Chief, what’s the matter with you? You should have done this already!"
"Yes sir, but …oh, good evening Mr. Morton."
"Lee, what’s going on?" Morton asked followed by a hesitant O’Brian.
"That’s what I’d like to know. O’Brian, where have you been? As Officer of the Deck, why didn’t you attend to this matter yourself?"
"Good grief!" an out of breath voice boomed from the hatchway. "What happened?" Doc asked, clad only in his PJ’s, rushed in, taking in with one look the Captain’s disheveled condition.
"What are you talking about?" Crane demanded.
"Skipper hold still. This blood…" Doc muttered as he began to poke about Lee’s person.
"What blood? Stop poking me!! Oh, this…" he replied, mift. "For your information that's ketchup!" he suddenly found himself grinning, "there was a food fight in the theater." Crane took a moment for the news to set in then added, almost nonchalantly, " The Revenge of the Monster from Outer Space was never received with so much non-enthusiasm."
"Theater?? What theater? We thought you were on a mission for ONI!" Chip yelled.
"ONI? I was out on a date with Erma Lake!"
"Erma?? THE Erma? The sexpot fashion model???" Chief Sharkey asked.
"Yes, if you must know…now, is there anything else gentlemen? We have a boat to get underway in less than," he looked at his watch, "four hours…and Chief, I assume that the relay housing is not going thimpity thump after all now, is it?"
"Mr. O’Brian? We’re going to have a little talk before I turn in."
"Yes sir," the duty officer replied obediently, awaiting his doom. The Skipper may have calmed down but he was still dangerous.
"Skipper," Sharkey said, still in a mild state of shock at Crane’s revelation, "Uh, sir, the Admiral said he wants to see you….even if you have to wake him up."
"Very well. Now… listen, all of you. I don’t know how this ONI rumor got started but I’d advise you ignore scuttlebutt in future. Understood? Yes? Good. How long ago did the Admiral go to bed?"
"Uh, a couple of hours ago," Chip relayed. "Lee?" Morton handed Lee a handkerchief.
"Uh, you’ve got dried ketchup on your lip."
"Oh," he licked his lip with the corner of his tongue, " thanks, but…that’s not ketchup," he slowly removed the deep magenta from his the corner of his mouth, and handed the hankie back to Morton. "This," he exaggerated with a heavenly sigh, "is lipstick," and slowly sauntered out of the control room to officer’s country.
"You realize Admiral, that this is going to be awfully hard on the men," Lee sat opposite Nelson, as he read Wyatt’s paper. Nelson had not bothered to go to bed at all. Papers littered the desk, along with several volumes of the Admiral's beloved Science on the Go magazine.
"Yes I know, but it will prove the general hypothesis one way or another…and well…it does makes sense…even though I don’t know for the life of me why I finally agreed to it."
"I don’t like this. Not one bit. "
"It’s for the best Lee."
"I still don’t agree but…oh I suppose there’s some scientific value in this. Very well Admiral, I won’t spill the beans."
Nelson suddenly smiled and laughed. Lee’s comments had been rather …appropriate.
Sharkey practically glowered as he ate his breakfast. By now it was all over the boat that Ski had pulled a fast one over on him. The Skipper’s little assignment was just an old slang term for the brass’s reconnoitering of a heavy date. Even Morton had used the term now and then…but Sharkey being Sharkey and the Skipper being the Skipper, well, Sharkey had jumped to conclusions and not questioned either Ski or the Captain further. Snickers filled the Crew’s Mess as most of Seaview’s First Watch was at breakfast.
"Okay okay okay you knotheads! So I made a mistake! Now, finish your grub!"
No sooner had he given the order, than Cane made his entrance. "Chief? Mind if I interrupt you for a moment?"
This was unusual. The Captain hardly ever entered the crew’s domain. Sharkey and the men stood, uneasy. This could be deep serious trouble for the Chief of the Boat. It was already all over the sub that O’Brian had departed from the Skipper's cabin last night ashen faced and tight lipped. Well, it was his own fault, pulling Doc out of bed like that and telling Morton that the Skipper was at death’s door.
"Chief," Crane motioned the men to sit. " I’ve been on other assignments…the non-dating kind, before…so, by way of reparation," he handed Sharkey a glossy 8 X10 photograph, and grinned, "ignore the words," he added and departed.
"What is it Chief?" Kowalski asked.
Sharkey turned red then shoved the photo in front of Ski’s face.
It was a color glossy of the model, in a skimpy red bikini. In her own handwriting near the edge was a short message, ‘A little something just for you, Lee. Matches my lipstick don’t you think? Love Erma’. " A lipstick impression of her kiss was in the corner. It was a very popular brand, flavored and scented. Not that anyone dared to test it out.
"Oh man oh man oh man!" Riley drooled.
"Yeah…"Ski added, "I’d volunteer for an assignment with her any day!"
"What’s takin’so long?" Ski pouted, as he cleaned the sonar console with a special solvent, "we shoulda’ been underway hours ago."
"You say something Kowalski?" Morton asked.
"Uh, well, yes sir, I did. I mean, this egghead Dr. Steele was late gettin’ aboard and then we gotta wait for some other dude!"
"Ski!" Patterson hissed, wiping his hands on his dust cloth, "take it easy. We’re not that overdue…"
"Kowalski," Morton rubbed his throbbing temple, " I’d prefer it if you didn’t refer to the Admiral’s guests as eggheads, especially as Dr. Steele could have been within hearing."
Or in mine," a familiar resonant voice demanded firmly.
"Aye sir!" Ski replied obediently as Admiral Nelson stepped down from the spiral staircase.
"And Ski?" Nelson continued, " You’d do well to remember that these eggheads help pay your salary."
"Chip? Where’s Lee? I haven’t seen him this morning."
"He said he had some unfinished business to attend to ashore."
"Then contact his office and tell him to get a move on! I don’t want any additional delays once our specialist is aboard."
"He’s not on Institute grounds sir…"
Nelson sighed, "very well, any idea where? And just who is this presidential appointee anyway that the White House sprung on us so suddenly?"
"I don’t know sir. Oh, that must be him now," Morton stepped over to the control room ladder.
"Correction, gentlemen," the soft voice followed the tiny feet, as the woman cautiously climbed down into the control room.
Nelson was the first of the men to recover. "Welcome aboard…uh…maám. You’ll have to forgive us, we were expecting a man...I mean…" Nelson was flustered.
"No offense taken. I'm used to the normal presumptions of the common male mind. I’m glad the Nelson Institute finally came to it's senses about all this."
"Nelson," the Admiral extended his hand, somewhat irritated by her tone, "Admiral Harriman Nelson, and this is my Executive Officer, Lt. Commander Chip Morton and…I don’t believe we know your name."
"Oh, good heavens, surely they told you? Oh, I see, no, well, uh…."
Could it be that she actually looked embarrassed? Nelson noticed that her eyes seemed to change in color from brown to green as she fought for the words to continue. It was odd, but he seemed almost to recognize her from somewhere. Despite his impressions, he hoped he hadn't offended her. Women got so upset these days if they felt they had less credibility than men. Was it his fault he had assumed she would be a he? Well, yes, it was. He was a scientist, he knew better than to make assumptions. He was about to make another apology when he was interrupted.
"Captain on Deck!" the PA blared.
"A moment," Nelson looked up expectantly. "I'll introduce you to the Captain and we’ll be underway shortly."
Crane quickly descended the ladder, jumping off about midway to land with a firm thump, pleased with himself for his agility. His sprightliness had always come in handy, especially for this morning’s special assignment and….
"MOM!??" his mouth gaped open as he saw Seaview’s latest guest.
"Lee," she said demurely, folding her hands across her arms, stifling a matronly impulse to hug her son right there in the control room in front of everybody. Oh, he’d really love that, she thought, a little bit sarcastically and sadly.
"I don’t understand," Lee looked confused and somewhat irritated.
"I gather that they didn’t tell you either?" she sighed.
"Admiral, Mother, what’s going on?" Crane asked.
"Well," Nelson said, "it seems as though we’re about to find out. Lee, take Mrs. Crane to my cabin, I’ll be right along. Chip, get Steele to our briefing. ASAP"
"Don’t look so guilty dear," Mrs. Crane kissed Lee on the cheek, "it’ll be okay I assure you." The little peck was all she dared. After all, he was the Captain.
"No," Crane paced, as Nelson and Mrs. Crane waited for Dr. Steele to join them in the Admiral’s cabin. "I don’t like this experiment anyway, and I don’t want to expose my mother, of all people, to .…"
"But Lee, dear," she interrupted, " it won't be all that bad. And I'm just along to keep the President informed, make a few observations, and confer with Dr. Steele if necessary. When I told the President that your Admiral here was a noted scientist and open to all sorts of theoretical research…well…I suppose I sort of promised your services. And it’s high time you took the plunge yourself. You really need to cleanse yourself of all your…"
"Since when are you buddy buddy with the President?" Lee interrupted, concerned, demanding an answer, hands pressing against the desk, as he leaned over, almost menacing. It worked with his crew, his ‘command glare’, but it did little to influence this woman who would always regard as him as little more than a child, and he knew it.
"Peabrain is a very nice girl, and I don’t like the way you seem to be objecting to this simple little…"
"Peabrain?" Lee interrupted, " What’s she got to do with this? Mom, you met her on the Internet!"
"Any why not? We’ve become very good friends. Just because I don’t know her personally, well, that doesn’t mean that she can’t at least ask me for advice and things," she paused for effect, "And just because she happens to be the President," she paused as the men took that in, "she is entitled to her own life you know; all those advisors always on her case….and for your information smarty pants, this project will help anyone with brains to accept the fact that this is the only way to…"
"Skipper?" Morton's voice interrupted through the PA, noticeably on edge. "I have a call from the White House." Morton knew, all hands knew, when Pennsylvania Avenue got involved personally, it was trouble.
"Peabrain, I presume?" the Captain sighed wearily, and clicked a button on Nelson’s desktop speaker, "this is the Captain."
"Captain?" the President’s voice came over the line, irritated. " I wanted to talk to Mrs. Crane, you idiot, what’s the matter with you people?"
Crane nodded to his mother, burying the insult, "Do you want us to leave?" he asked gently.
"Yes damnit!" the President ’s voice demanded over the open line.
‘I’m sorry,’ Mrs. Crane mouthed to her son who nodded in understanding and ushered the men out of the cabin.
"Dr. Steele," Morton commanded, "they’re waiting."
The man covered his notes in an obvious attempt to hide them from view, "You’re not secure! Get out of my cabin! This mission is secret."
"Dr. Steele, I am the Executive Officer of this boat and my orders are that you join the Admiral, now. And I saw nothing, I assure you."
"Chip?" Lee’s voice called from down the companionway.
"Here Captain. Dr. Steele and I were just leaving," he called out.
"Belay it," Crane approached, "the meeting’s on hold…you were a bit tardy Doctor. Is something wrong?"
"Yes! Your man here saw my notes! He’s not cleared and…"
"I didn’t see anything Lee," Chip interjected.
"This mission is not that top secret and for your information Dr. Steele, Commander Morton has my every confidence. "
"Then why not just let everyone in on it!" Stele answered. "Ruin the damn thing!"
"That’s enough!" Crane commanded, "go to the wardroom to wait. That’s an order Mr. Steele."
"So the President’s liaison is the Skipper’s own mother?" Patterson asked, incredulous, as he banged on the vending machine in the crew's lounge, "is she a politician or a scientist or something? I thought she was just an ordinary mom," Patterson rubbed his aching eyes. Boy it had been hard to concentrate on his console during his watch. He was grateful for the break. In spite of the blasted vending machine. Where the hell were the candy bars? His head hurt too.
"All I know is that the Skip sure didn’t know nothin’ about it," Riley answered.
"Yeah, he looked a bit…awkward," Ski added. "But that’s understandable, especially if he’d been out on another one of his assignments this morning…" he yawned.
"Oh shut up Ski, you’ve had your fun," Patterson interrupted, "he just had some business to attend to ashore, that’s all."
"Yeah, but it could have been something else ..." Ski suddenly yawned. "Man it’s hard to wake up…I feel like I need another damn cup of coffee!"
"Can the profanity you bozos! You want Mrs. Crane to hear you?" Sharkey demanded as he sat down. "You want her to think we’re a bunch of slobs? This is the Skipper’s mother, so watch it! "
"Okay okay Chief," Riley asked, "we’ll watch our mouths. Just what kind of cruise is this anyway? Nothing’s set up in the lab yet, no special equipment; it’s like Steele and Mrs.Crane are just a couple of passengers on a cruise. That meeting they all had in the Admiral’s cabin lasted all of five minutes and…."
"You think the brass is gonna confide in us? Listen up, the more normal things look, that’s when it’s hush hush and super important, so keep your eyes on your jobs…man I gotta get another pill from Doc. I can’t get rid of this headache."
"Mom?" Lee asked upon entering his mother’s cabin some hours after they’d gotten underway, "care to join me in the nose for a bite?"
"I don’t want to be an inconvenience Lee," she looked up from her laptop computer, rather precariously placed on her lap while she sat on the spartan bunk.
"It’s no inconvenience, think of it like a patio with a view," he laughed, "Get it? Sea View? We often have meals there, or a snack, and you can put that accursed contrivance on the desk, you know."
"Chair's too hard. I would have thought you'd have something better than old rickety here."
"I'll have a better one sent in,"he took the laptop from her and placed it on the desk.
"Are you sure you want me up there, Lee? I know this came up rather suddenly and …"
"I could make it an order," he smiled smugly, glad to have the advantage for once, as he pulled her up from the bunk and gave her a big hug. "If I didn’t say it before, it’s good to see you; it’s been a while."
"Well, if you insist Captain, I’d be honored. And Lee, it’s good to see you too," she tousled his hair. "Even if you must insist on trimming that glorious head of hair down practically to the roots…I know, I know, you can’t stand your mop…but it is one of your more charming features."
"Mr. Morton," Riley whispered, as he handed the XO a steaming ceramic mug, "that coffee machine may be fancy and expensive but this brew is for the birds!"
"Well, you’re just gonna’ have to put up with it, ain’t ya," Sharkey suddenly loomed over the young man, "you don’t hear me complaining, now do you?"
Sharkey was attending to this duty and wishing for all the world that he was anywhere on the boat but here in the control room, with all those blasted blinking lights.
As Riley relived one of the men of his posts, Sharkey nudged Morton. "Is it a new brand, sir? Several of the guys were complainin' that it tasted awful…and…."
"My Aunt Betsy had a fancy coffee maker once, "Morton mused, "a cappuccino one …it took awhile to break it in, patina I think they call it…meantime, I’ll check with stores. If there’s something wrong, I’m sure the Captain will be the first to complain." He took a sip. "It does seem to need extra sugar."
"I’m sorry sir! I was sure I put in two packages," Riley bit his lip, as the sonar line circled, "I guess I wasn’t paying attention."
"Forget it Riley, I can taste the sugar. It's not actually bad…but I agree…it’s certainly not up to standard. You’d better warn Cookie, Chief. The Captain may be making the galley a little visit."
Some of the crewmen listening in to the conversation groaned audibly. First, Lt. O’Brian gets chewed out, now Cookie.
"Yeah," Riley added, "the Skipper does kinda live on the stuff. Must be some kind of mother’s milk to him…oh!" he turned red as Mrs. Crane entered the control room. She’d heard, he knew, but she wisely ignored the subject.
"The Captain will be along shortly Commander Morton; he asked me to the observation nose…he got sidetracked by a little… problem."
"No problem at all Mrs. Crane, this way."
"So" Patterson said, irritated, in the crew’s mess, "I'd like to know just when the vending machines are gonna' get real food in them? Honey buns, crackers, who eats that stuff? Where are the candy bars? Cookie, you should have stowed them all by now."
"Didn’t get any for this trip," Cookie answered, finally having a chance to sit down for his own breakfast.
"Oh swell… Morton’s gonna flip too. You’d better make him something to take his mind off it…fudge or something."
"No can do, basic stores only this time, sorry."
"I'm sorry skipper," Seaview’s Chief Medical Officer said, "anything stronger would place you on the sick list. There is a medication that works in some cases, but its contraindicated in your case. It's odd, more than half the crew has reported headaches and general fatigue today. I wonder if there's some kind of bug going around."
"I'm sure it will pass, it's just so…irritating to have a migraine. I had no idea they could be so painful."
"I'm not actually sure it is a migraine. You’ve never had them before, and you don't get headaches frequently, now that I think about it…perhaps I should take a closer look at you and…"
Crane backed out of sickbay before Doc could finish. "Uh, no. No thanks Doc. I’ll take another pill in hours and have something to eat…"
Doc couldn’t help laughing to himself at Crane’s retreat. He might as well put a flashing neon sticker on himself proclaiming ‘Danger Danger! Doctor! Speak to me at your own risk!’.
But he found himself concerned. He too had a bad headache. Unusual for him and a real nuisance, apparently for many others. But he’d found nothing medically wrong with himself or with the crewmen…maybe it was stress…everyone knew the President was involved with this one.
"Quite a view Commander Morton," Mrs. Crane sipped her coffee in the Observation Nose.
"Please, call me Chip. Yes, it’s pretty spectacular."
As if in response, a school of brightly colored fish swam by followed by a small pod of dolphins.
" Do you find your accommodations satisfactory?"
"Oh I’m fine…. I had worried though, about being on a submarine. I’d been a tad claustrophobic after I’d gotten stuck in an elevator…hated them…even stopped flying for awhile…not very professional for a shrink, I'm afraid."
"Are you sure you’ll be okay?" Chip was suddenly on alert. A few previous passengers had gone ballistic once submerged. Then the other thing hit him. "You're a psychiatrist??"
"Afraid so…does that shock you dear? Yes, I see that it does. Lee doesn't exactly approve either…but that’s water under the bridge now. But back to your original question, I'm fine. I haven't had so much as a panic twitter since I came aboard. I wasn’t altogether sure Lee had cured me completely."
"Oh dear, yes…and it was a long time ago. He was very very mean to me;"she laughed, amused. "It was about four months after the elevator and he was home on leave. I hadn't taken my own advice about getting back up on the horse, so to speak, so, he took me to the mall and said ‘okay, this is a $100 dollar bill. Now you go up on the elevator to that fancy dress shop and pick out something. Then come back down here and I'll give you the money.’ Well, I was scared, believe you me. I knew that it was silly, but I was afraid the thing would jam on me. So he went up with me…the first time. But I had to come back down for the money myself after he'd gone back downstairs. He said he’d be waiting with it and if anything went wrong with the elevator he'd be right there to get somebody to fix it.
Well that gave me a little courage, knowing he was waiting; so practically holding my breath and closing my eyes I got on that blasted elevator and rode it all the way down. He gave me a big hug and the money and then showed me another $100 with a little wink and quoting the ‘rules’….and pretty soon I found myself elevator hopping all over the place…and then, just after he’d gotten onto one of the little monstrosities himself to go visit the barber shop, he got stuck!
Oh, you should have heard him! Through the walls! Threatening that poor elevator with keelhauling, melting it down, using it for scrap metal…you get the idea... Needless to say, when he finally emerged after the mechanic got the doors opened and he jumped out of it, there were a lot of ‘tsk tsk tskings’going on by many people who’d overheard him. I mean, Brookville is not used to such language!"
"I can imagine!"
"I showed Lee one of the $100 bills I hadn’t used and mentioned, politely, of course, that he should get right back on that elevator. He looked at me as though I’d lost my mind, the thing being such a piece of junk as he called it, but as soon as it was fixed, he did. When he came back down, he shoved an airline ticket in my hand and said it was time to finish my little shopping spree…I was still nervous. I mean I may have won over my fear of elevators but…airplanes…I mean..once you’re closed in you’re closed in! But then I saw the destination on the ticket, and well…my greed won out."
"Greed? I find that hard to believe."
"Thank you , but yes. You wouldn't understand, I'm sure, but my dear wonderful boy was sending me abroad to get a special holiday dress, a Dior gown…in Paris!" she sighed with a gentle smile that took years off her, " It would have been a wonderful if it hadn’t been for a little…incident Lee had …well, I digress. Seaview is a lovely ship, excuse me, boat. You submariners can be so ridiculously picky."
"We like her…uh, about this little incident?" Moton's curiosity was aroused.
"Oh nothing. Nothing at all. More coffee Chip?" she faced the XO, hoping she wasn't flushed. She’d have to be more careful not to reveal too much. If Lee's crew ever found out…
"Its no secret to Seaview that Lee’s an operative for ONI at times," Chip urged her on, "was it an assignment?"
"I’d really rather not talk about it, Chip dear."
"Hey," Lee called from the spiral steps, having only heard the endearment. "I thought I was your only ‘dear."
"Only when you’re not an old sourpuss…come here now. The coffee’s still hot."
"Uh oh, do we have to administer last rites to Cookie?" Chip asked.
"Lee…"Chip hesitated, "I do have to make an official observation here…the coffee… "
"Lee!" Chip replied, mortified. "Your mother!"
"My mother's familiar with rude vernacular. And that’s what the crew is saying, isn’t it? From one end of the boat to the other…I’m sorry, Chip, but we can’t exactly pull back into port to dump it overboard and load a new shipment."
"I take it then, that procurement ordered ‘El cheepo’ ?" Morton asked. "Lee, I know the Admiral wants us to cut corners at times but its got to be more than that." Morton sat back and placed his hands behind his head in contemplation," There’s not a candy bar to be found aboard either, and even Cookie’s complaining about diminished stores. C’mon Captain, what’s going on? I hardly think the Admiral would approve of procurement supplying us with inferior…"
"Chip~…" Lee warned, and rubbed his eyes.
"What’s wrong ?"
"Please, Chip, its nothing, just a migraine."
"Migraine? You? Okay skipper, spill it…unless it’s classified of course."
It was noticed that Dr. Steele spent most of his time in his quarters, which was just fine with the crew, as they preferred the Admiral's egghead scientist buddies to keep out of their way. Yes, this was becoming a weird cruise. For two days now, not one thing was going on in the Admiral's lab, there was no fancy equipment aboard, and, well, with the President's liaison aboard…it could mean only one thing, just like the chief said…big big trouble was brewing.
"Well, get it yourself!" Ski hollered back to Patterson from his workbench in the gym.
"You can’t talk to me like that you you sleezeball!"
"Knock it off, both of you," O ' Brian gave the huge punching bag a whack. "I’m sick and tired of everybody sassing back to each other about absolutely nothing! You two are supposed to be buddies, so why are both so mad at each other? It was only a towel he asked for."
"We’re not mad at each other!" Patterson sassed back, "and what do you mean everybody's bitching?"
"You know you are. Most of the crew is. Stupid stuff. Minor differences of opinion that have almost come to blows. I'd hate to add you two the list of infractions…get a grip on yourselves. Morton's on the warpath already, and do you really want the Skipper's mother to think of us all as a bunch of idiots?"
"Oh boy, okay, sir," Patterson apologized," we just kinda let off steam, that's all…hell, I’m sorry Pat. I guess I’m just stressed out."
"Me too, Ski…you know…we’re all acting tensed up…I sure wish the brass would get on with it, the mission. This waiting and not knowing…"
"Well, put up with it," O'brian signed out on the clipboard, "any more trouble and you'll be on report…Now, make sure you complete your gym time. You have to meet the fitness standards this time or it's shore duty."
The men nodded in the affirmative and waited as he left.
"Something’s up, that's for sure," Ski said, thinking hard, "O'Brian's right. We've been acting really stupid. Mrs. Crane’s been practically carting that laptop around like there’s no tomorrow, Morton’s spitting tacks if there’s so much as a thumbprint on a console and the Skipper actually went to sickbay today - all on his own."
"On his own?" Patterson asked, incredulous.
"Yes, and apparently he’d been there before even, the first day out, Frank said so. All I know is that we’re in big trouble and they ain’t telling us," Ski said.
"Maybe the Chief knows," Pat asked.
"Nah," Ski answered. "He’s just as antzy. Almost put Riley on report for playing his strings off key."
"But he doesn’t know one note from another! Man, I don’t like this."
Nelson poured over some reports in his cabin, "well, everything seems to be going according to the test parameters."
"Yes, yes, but I keep telling you …"
"And I've told you Wyatt, repeatedly. Mrs. Crane will remain aboard. My decision stands."
"Very well, but you’ll regret it…you'll see, you'll have to redo the experiment and when this is over…."
"I already regret even taking on this cockamamie stunt for some congressional committee with nothing better to do than sit on their backsides all day!"
"Tell that to my Captain and crew. And my colleagues call me Admiral. I trust you'll remember that?"
"This is very good Cookie," Mrs. Crane finished her second serving of baked stewed tomatoes.
"You like it?" O’Brian asked, amazed. It tasted like shit to him. Now that was odd. He hardly ever used terms like that, even to himself. Maybe the crew’s increased use of extended English this trip out was contagious.
"Why, it’s outstanding… I’m surprised my son…excuse me, the Captain, hasn't simply put on the pounds with you aboard Cookie."
Cookie grinned. This was the first actual compliment he’d had in over two years. He was always unappreciated. "Well, uh, gee thanks…"this was odd. Everyone else was complaining about the food.
A beeper sounded and Mrs. Crane grinned. "Oops, duty calls. Save me some leftovers will you?" she asked before she vanished.
"I don’t suppose you have any real food back there?" O’Brian asked wistfully.
"Look I told you before sir, we only got basic stores. I’m doing the best I can with what I got, and it ain’t bad food, Mrs. Crane likes it; just ain’t got the little extras ."
"Sorry. I wonder what the President has her doing anyway?" he mused.
"Rumor has it that she's some kind of politician…or maybe a government spy."
"Yeah, sure, like the Skipper’s really gonna let his mom do that kind of work."
"Why not? He does."
The code was entered into the laptop. Yes. All was going according to plan.
"Skipper?" Kowalski asked Crane, standing by the nose windows.
Crane had to give his eyes a break from the glare of the lights in the control room. The headaches had not gone away. It was like being imprisoned by constant pain. His entire body seemed to ache as well. He hoped no one had guessed.
"What is it Ski?"
"Well," he hesitated, "we want to know what’s going on," he said, quickly growing uncharacteristically defiant as he spoke. "We know it’s all top secret and stuff, but…well…we can’t take much more of this not knowing and…"
"And what? Look, Ski," Crane rubbed his eyes, " I don’t like not giving my crew mission details, you know that. But trust me on this one, okay, Kowalski? For the Admiral’s sake? " he added gently.
"Well," Ski acquiesced," if you say so…but…"
"It won’t be for much longer. Anything else?"
"Uh, yeah, now that you mention it, is the Admiral in any trouble? He's been in his cabin almost all the time, or with Steele, and well, is there trouble with the Institute? I mean, well, it’s not like him to approve of really cheap supplies and …."
"There's nothing to worry about and it's already taken care of it…now, why not go raid the galley for that Cherry Pie contest my mother and Cookie dreamed up."
"Uh, but what if…what if…"
Crane could see through the crewman’s sudden discomfort. "Don't worry about hurting anyone's feelings, she and Cookie just want to see which recipe is the better. Just between you and I, I can’t tell the difference at all, but then, I’m not a connoisseur like you and Morton. So…if you want to get a in a vote before all the slices are gone, you’d better get cracking."
Ski grinned, "now that’s a kind of order I like!"
<But Peabrain, it's getting hard. They’re not imbeciles you know. They’re sure to figure it all out sooner or later> Mrs. Crane typed into the laptop computer. <There have already been a few incidents>
<Nonsense, Catty. Trust me, it will all be over before they even give it a thought. As far as they’re concerned they’re on a top-secret mission. That’s all they need to know>
The man watched the small screen in fascination as the two women chattered through the microchips, and nodded in satisfaction as his own encrypted message rode piggyback on ‘Catty’s messages to his contact at HQ. Crane’s silly mother had no idea she was such a useful pawn. He smirked at that. Could he smell a promotion in this?
The klaxton sounded. Morton rolled out of his bunk and heard O’Brian commanding Battle Stations. He looked at his neon watch. The drill wasn’t planned for tonight was it? His eyes burned with pain as he flipped the cabin's lights on. He was comforted as he heard the various ‘manned and ready’ statements from the men. Donning his clothes in record time, he scurried to the control room.
"Very well," Crane was saying to O’Brian as Morton entered the nerve center of the sub. "Morton, what took you so long?"
Chip couldn’t tell if Crane was joking or serious.
"I’m sorry Lee, I forgot about the drill. I thought it was tomorrow."
"It was. I thought I’d throw in a surprise Readiness tonight instead. Well done Mr. O’Brian. You may have the men stand down from battle stations."
"What’s going on?" Dr. Steele stepped into the picture, "are we at war or something?"
"No, Doctor." Crane answered, a bit unnerved by Steele’s remark, and answered loud enough to be heard by all hands present, "but we’re battle ready if one is ever declared…just an ordinary drill. We have them frequently, to keep us on our toes, you understand. Part of our job."
"Of course, of course. But surely you could have informed me. I was in the middle of something important."
"I’m sorry Dr. Steele, but that would defeat the purpose of the drill," he picked up the mike. "Attention all hands, this is the Captain. Well done on this drill."
"Lee?" Mrs. Crane stood nervously clutching the spiral steps, and Lee noticed, with regret, that she looked rather vulnerable, in her plain terry robe and fuzzy slippers. Just like anyone else's ordinary mom.
"Just a drill Mom. You can go back to bed now."
"Well you could have told me!" she said, her feelings obviously hurt.
"That would defeat the purpose," Steele said sarcastically and offered his arm to the woman, "let’s leave our gallant Captain to play his little war games now, shall we?"
"Dr. Steele," Crane said, without malice, "just remember it’s these little war games that keep us in practice for the real thing. And it's part of our standard operating procedures.’"
"Lee," Chip growled, as he sat in Crane’s cabin, "I don’t know how much more of this I can stand!"
"You have no choice! I never wanted to go on this mission either! It’s almost over, anyway though."
"The men are growing more nervous by the minute. Now they're asking if we’re on war alert or not. They’re on edge. And those blasted drills of yours haven't helped any."
"Chip, it's important that we keep on our toes."
"I know that!" Chip spat. "And your mother? What is she doing here anyway? And why haven't you told anyone she's a certified psychiatrist? You ashamed of her or something?"
"Sorry Lee," Morton sighed wearily. He knew he sounded bitter, but he had every right to be, didn't he? Wasn't he supposed to be Crane's friend? Being left out on top-secret mission details was one thing, that happened frequently, but this? It hurt to be left out of something so simple. "I think you'd have at least told me… Why keep it such a secret? All this time I thought she was just a stay at home mom, baking cookies and crocheting afghans! And now I find she's a shrink, sent here by the President for Pete's sake!" He took a needed breath then continued, "Lee, what's really going on?? This is some kind of test, isn't it? We're under observation aren't we…there's not one marine experiment in plain sight…we're it aren't we? We're the experiment. "
"Chip please," Lee rubbed his eyes, "you know I'd inform you if I could, don't you? "he pleaded.
"Lee, we’ve faced aliens, monsters, and enemies, but nothing like…like this... this cruise to nowhere doing nothing."
"The Admiral said, once completed…"
"Yeah, once this mission is over we’ll all be very glad we took it…well I can tell you right now Captain, that as soon as we hit port I’m going to …."
"Captain to the bridge," O’Brian called on the PA, "we have a bogey."
"A drill Lee?"
"No…no it’s not. Come on."
O'Brian was hovering over Sparks while Chief Sharkey positioned himself nearby. This new Communications Officer might not be acclimated to Seaview's way of doing things.
"Repeating," Sparks spoke," this is SSRN Seaview, please identify yourself."
"I know who you are, damn it! I want to speak to Catty!"
With a negative nod from O'Brian, Sparks repeated himself.
"What's going on here?" Crane asked, entering the room.
Sparks flipped the caller to mute," he just won't give up, this nut of a caller. Won't say who he is."
Crane nodded to Sparks to flip off the mute. Sparks did so apologetically, as the caller was still ranting…"…just what kind of a pigboat is that anyway, of all the incompetent…"
"This is the Captain, identify yourself."
"At last! Now will you please get Catty!"
"You won't get anyone if you don't identify yourself," Crane said coolly, "…did you say Catty?"
"Yes, you blithering idiot!"
"Hey you bozo!" Sharkey grabbed and leaned over the microphone, "nobody calls the Skipper that! Nobody!"
"Easy chief," Crane readjusted the slim twistable microphone, and shielded it, turning to the chief, "go get my mother will you?" He then turned back to the caller, and became almost casual as he spoke into the mike; "Apparently you are unaware of nautical and Naval Reserve procedures. Standard operating procedures do require that you identify yourself prior to any interactive communication."
"Oh for petes'sake!"
"Do you want to speak to this Catty or not?" Lee said snake like.
"Oh very well, this is Mr. Rayburn of Passion Power Press."
"The Passion Power Press." It was evident Crane had never heard of it, or refused to acknowledge knowing of it.
"Yes yes…how long is this going to take?"
As if in answer, and out of breath Sharkey and Mrs. Crane appeared at the entry hatch. Lee motioned her over and showed her the mike.
"I believe this call is for you."
"I…"she was apparently confused.
"The Passion Power Press I believe….make it short," he backed off to give her a little room.
With a gasp of embarrassment and growing red, she hovered over the mike, "hello?"
"Catty? Is that you? Where the blazes have you been? I've got a book to get out and you're overdue! I needed your final draft yesterday! Fax it to me will you?"
"Uh, I…"she summoned Lee over, "do you have a fax? I'm sorry, Lee. I totally forgot all about …"
"Mr. Rayburn," Lee interrupted," this is the Captain again. I'm sorry. We've no fax aboard. We do have email but only in increments of 5 minutes when we're on the surface, which is highly irregular, so I'm afraid you'll just have to wait."
"Wait? Wait!? Kathleen, Damnit, not again! I'll have you on Breech of contract I'll…"
"Mr. Rayburn," Crane said coolly, " Dr. Crane has been unavoidably detained in service to the President. I suggest you take up any necessary legal matters with her. Seaview out…and never speak to my mother in that tone again," he motioned Sparks to disconnect.
The silence in the control room was deafening. The men couldn’t help noticing that if it was possible Mrs. Crane looked a little bit ashamed and a little bit proud all at the same time.
"Mother," Lee took her arm gently, " we have to have a little talk. Let's go to the observation nose."
"Man," Ski mused as sank into his bunk, "I wonder what he said to her…"
"Yeah,"Patterson replied, as he sat on his," she looked kinda like she'd been cryin', and what's all that crap about surface email in 5 minute increments? We're not stuck like that anymore like other subs with the Admiral's new system. She's online all the time with the President. "
"Yeah, but that editor guy don't know that!"
"What's that Passion Press stuff anyway? Never heard of it."
"Ah, Mrs. Crane, "Nelson rose, "thank you for coming to my cabin." He motioned to a chair across from his desk, "I understand there was a bit of trouble; your editor I believe?"
"I…I had no idea he'd call the submarine! My housekeeper knew I was aboard and must have told him…I'm very sorry."
"Well, no harm done, we should have informed you better. Did you tell anyone about the experiment?"
"No. I'm certain I didn't…"
"Very well…I hope the Captain wasn't too harsh with you. But you do have to see things from his point of view…cigarette?"
She pursed her lips in contemplation, then gave Nelson a clandestine smile, "Lee'd kill me if he knew I was doing this, but yes, thank you."
"You've given it up then?"
"About two years ago…cold turkey. It was agonizing, Lee never understood how hard it was," she took a puff and coughed…"Thank you…oh, he tried to, but non-smokers just don't know the half of it."
Both laughed as she inhaled again then regretfully smashed the twice-puffed item out in the ashtray.
Nelson leaned back in his chair; "Chip told me you were a psychiatrist, and now it appears an author as well?"
"Shrink is so much less formal, in fact, I'd prefer it if you'd just call me Kathleen. Catty for short. As for writing. Well, just a few small articles, some professional, some fiction, short stories, things like that."
"I have to admit," he ran a hand through his hair, somewhat embarrassed, " I've never heard of ….I'd be interested to read some of your works. We have a microfilm library aboard, perhaps…"
"I doubt if you have any of my aldepated works Admiral."
"Only my crew calls me Admiral, "Nelson smiled, "and it's Harriman. You know, it's not often I get such a delightful passenger aboard-I cant' imagine why I've been holed up in here so much with nothing but scientific journals for company…join me for a drink?"
"Thank you…you know I think I could get quite spoiled aboard this pigboat…what a dreadful term, though I understand it is correct terminology."
Nelson pulled a small decanter and two paper cups from his bookcase and poured out the whisky, " And you realize, of course, that I could be in trouble with the Captain for this. For contributing to the delinquency of his mother."
"Well, we just won't tell him then," she laughed. "It wasn't that bad, its just the way he almost treated me like an errant schoolgirl…I 'should have known better than to tell anyone' where I would be, etcetera…. I know his first duty is to the sub, and I'm sorry about the fuss with my publisher…but I really had no idea that he'd call here."
"I'm sorry it had to be you Lee had a little talk with, but he is the Captain; and a very fine one. You should be very proud."
"I am…though, just between you and me Harriman, he has let it go to his head, frequently."
"I hadn't really noticed anything that…"
"Of course not, you don't have to put up with him at home. When he is home, that is. Rather infrequent I'm afraid anymore, due to all of his…special assignments, as he calls them,"she sighed wistfully, " I wish he'd never gone into ONI all those years ago…but he was very young. Adventure, excitement, danger…it was like a magnet! As if he didn't get enough of that aboard his nuclear submarines!
When he's home he wants and expects immediate results. Precision. Drivers 'don't know how to drive', customer service is 'inadequate ', everyone 'passes the buck', everyone uses 'blasted answering machines', you get the idea…the real world's just not like a well ordered submarine; that's what he want's life to be like. He's spoiled Harriman. Very very spoiled by submarines and Seaview. He wasn't quite that bad in the Navy, but…"
"Would you like me to talk to him?" Nelson asked gently.
"Oh good grief no, he'd be furious…he knows his faults, and he does try not to bring Seaview home, but…she's under his skin, and well, he just can't help being who he is. Speaking of my son, " she stood, "I'd better get to my cabin before he sends a search party. Thank you for the smoke and the drink Admiral, I mean Harriman."
"That's easily taken care of, " Nelson pressed his desk intercom, "Control Room, this is Nelson. If the President needs Mrs. Crane or myself, pipe her through to my cabin. We'll be discussing some mission details for the next hour or so." Nelson clicked the mike off and leaned back with a huge gin.
"Why, you conniving old devil," she smirked.
"Not at all, Doctor, now, just what is your point of view of how the little experiment is going?"
"Within the predicted patterns,"
"Good. Now that that's finished, how about a second drink… Catty?"
"Harriman, I'd be delighted."
"Okay, Ski, see to it that the primer…"Chief Sharkey stopped in his walk down the corridor. "What was that?"
"I didn't hear anything, " Ski fibbed.
"I definitely heard something."
The sound of laughter and feminine giggles was came through the walls again. From the Admiral's cabin actually.
"Must be a pipe or something," Sharkey covered."Come on, we can take care of this section later."
"Yeah, later," Ski said, relieved. Good grief! The Admiral and the Skipper's mom, alone, together.
"Kowalski," Sharkey warned, "the Admiral and Mrs. Crane must still be in conference. You heard the announcement."
"Yeah, I know, anyone knows, that egghead stuff can be…uh…amusing."
Doc frowned, as he listened to his patient. It was late and he really wanted to go to bed.
"And the pills don't seem to help. Don't get me wrong, I can live with it, but "Crane rubbed his eyes,"it's very irritating."
"Well, your blood pressure isn't elevated, and…"
"Doc, I know what the problem isn't, I just want you to give me something to stop the pain!"
"There is nothing physically wrong with you!" Doc snapped back. "I'm sorry…this mission is getting to me. The bickering seems to be contagious, no, just kidding… Lee, I'm wondering if all of this has something to do with our assignment?"
"What makes you say that?"
"One, as this mission began, practically the entire crew came down with severe headaches. There were also cases of fatiuqe, aches, pains and flu type symptoms, There have also been cases of increased tension and emotional irritation. Two, in just a short time most of these symptoms lessened in just about everyone, with a few exceptions. Three, the exceptions were notably Patterson, Sharkey, Morton, and you. Four, Sharkey and Morton haven't complained anymore and seem to be almost cured. But Patterson is still aggravated, irritated and a pain to be with, and you are still suffering migraine type headaches when they aren't migraines at all…its some kind of experiment isn't it? New air mix maybe? Word has it that this cruise hasn't had Seaview do so much as a swim, despite even more drills than normal. Perhaps a kind of distraction? And your mother…a psychiatrist? Here, for the President? Lee, what's really going on? Are we all guinea pigs of some sort? I have to tell you Captain, that as chief medical officer I should have been informed of any… "
"Doc, I…oh very well. Sit down. You're not going to like this…"
"No kidding?" Riley whispered as he took his post for the morning watch in the control room. "Gee, who'd of thought it."
"Well, he is a guy after all," Patterson interjected, "even if he is an admiral."
"Yeah, but chasin'a skirt…does the Skipper know?"
"Oh man…"Ski groaned, "I sure hope not…" the implications were just too horrible to contemplate.
"Hello luv, " Mrs. Crane practically sang her greeting to the Captain, upon entering the control room. "You too, dear, "she patted the periscope. "I'm beginning to see what you see in her Lee. What a good submarine."
"You're in a benevolent mood this morning," Lee was still checking the coordinates at the plot table," Been reading Freud again?"
"Oh don't be silly."
Lee took her aside, "I understand you and the Admiral were in conference last night. Any new development I should be aware of?"
"No, nothing new…everything going according to expected parameters."
"Sorry to interrupt, "Steele poked his head in from the hatchway, " but I need to speak with Dr. Crane."
"Duty calls love, duty calls…be right with you Steely," she patted the bulkhead, "now you be a good submarine and do exactly what Lee tells you," she grinned at Lee and departed, eyes in the control room following her departure with their mouths open. Eggheads did not as a rule talk to Seaview like the Skipper did. But she was his mom, so maybe it ran in the family. But maybe not. The Skipper was scowling.
"It bothers you doesn't it?"Chip spoke quietly.
"I've never known my mother to act like that…well, lets get back to work."
O'Brian greeted the Skipper cheerfully as he sat down in the wardroom. He was aware of the scuttlebutt, but doubted if the Skipper was. He could see the Captain was wincing with each chew of his dessert.
"Skipper, my brother always said some chocolate would help with his headaches."
"How did you know one was bothering me again?"
"Well, you're squinting and it looks like you're hurting when you chew."
"It won't last forever…and there's no chocolate aboard anyway."
"Ah, but I have some…my niece put it in my windbreaker…here," he retrieved a bar from his shirt pocket, "Swiss chocolate. Big and rich and thick; this'll help, I'm sure."
"You realize, don't you, that Patterson may pound your cabin door in for something like this?" he contemplated the foil wrapped item as he turned it over and over.
"I didn't know he was so into chocolate. I'll give him some…ya know, Skipper, aside from helping with headaches, chocolate really isn't very good for you…has a bunch of bad stuff in it. Fat, calories. Sugar.. Caffeine even. Why, that candy bar has more caffeine in it than a couple of cups of coffee!"
"Yes, I'd heard that someplace…. I'm sorry O'brian, thanks anyway, but not just now."
"Captain, I need to talk to you again," Steele interrupted as he loomed in the hatchway.
"I'll be right with you," Lee finished his toast and departed. This Steele was becoming an annoying gnat. Usually invisible, but when he did show up he was rather irritating. The sooner this mission was over the better.
"Captain," Steele sat at Crane's desk," I object to your Admiral influencing the reports to the President."
"What are you talking about?"
"As if you didn't know…"
"Dr. Steele, I'm tired, I'm grumpy, and I have a migraine type headache that just won't go away…so will you please just say what you want."
"Very well, Captain. Nelson is exploiting Dr. Crane. He never really wanted to take this assignment and he's influencing her observations, hence, her reports are in disrepute and I want her removed as the presidential liaison and put off the sub. Need I go on?"
"What are you getting at? My mother would never allow herself to be influenced over scientific observation. And while the Admiral was pressured into this ridiculous mission, he, of all people, would never try to sabotage scientific statistics. Now, if you'll excuse me…"
"Even if he wined and dined her and influenced her, perhaps in other ways? It's all over the boat that she spent the night with Nelson."
"What??! They had a simple little scientific conference. A couple of hours, if even that, that's all."
"It does not take hours to look over these stats. Even you know that," Steele walked off.
< I'm loosing it Peabrain ,I shouldn't be here. I even talked to the sub!>
<Back to Nelson,was he romantic?I wouldn't have thought it possible>
<I have no idea. I'm afraid I got a bit smashed>
<Hang on Catty, got a call, back in a jif, blasted advisors! You know, you could put this into one of your stories…I can just see it now, Advanced Techniques of Seduction, a Sailor's Story>
<Peabrain!! Though…it does have possibilities…If only I could remember>
The man nodded in satisfaction as he sent another piggyback message via the email as the girls chatted. Girls. The President of the United States and this twerp who called herself a shrink. How on earth could the President even consider her as some kind of analyst…but then…
The Captain was in a bad mood. Though he hadn't actually said anything, his crew could see the warning signs. He was sitting in the nose, tapping the table with a pencil, in deep contemplation, the frown on his face growing with each tap.
"Well?" Crane asked as Sharkey emerged from the flying sub hatch, followed by Ski and Riley.
"All checked out AOK Skipper."
"Thank you Chief, that will be all."
The men stood aside politely while Nelson descended the steps.
"You wanted to see me Lee?"
Lee pressed a button to close the accordion doors to the control room. "Yes, thank you admiral," he said without emotion.
"You bozos got lead feet or something? Move!" Sharkey bellowed as he ushered Ski and Riely up the steps. He too had seen and heard Crane's curt inflection. Something was up. If he could only listen in.
"I'm sorry Lee," Nelson puffed his cigarette, five minutes later, " but he's essential to the mission."
"I want him off the boat. Now. The flying sub is checked out and can get him away in minutes All he does is correlate data…our computer can do that. You smoke too many of those," Crane barely managed to keep himself from tearing the thing from Nelson's fingers. One of these days Nelson would have serious lung problems.
"While we're on this blasted cruise, I'll smoke as much as I damn well please! I was coerced into this mission, but I can't kick him off the boat. What possible reason could I give the President other than the Captain doesn't like him? Hear me out Lee. Something else is bothering you…you've been moody all morning, even your mother mentioned it to me."
"Steele's… irritating," Crane ran a hand through his hair, troubled.
"So are you at times, but I still don't find that sufficient reason to stuff you in a torpedo tube and fire you into the briny blue…what is it Lee? What's wrong?" he asked gently.
"Nothing's wrong, its just that…oh never mind…forget it. I guess I'm just tired of this mission and want it to end."
"You used to confide in me," Nelson rose and placed a hand on Crane's shoulder.
"Admiral…I…" he hesitated, Is it true?" he asked quietly, "that you sent for my mother and she stayed with you for the night?"
"Is it true?" he asked softly.
"Do you think it's true?"
"I don't know; that's why I'm asking. Steele's concerned that she may be allowing you to sway her observations…and I can't say he's not justified. I'm not too pleased myself about any possible undue… influence. She knows you're not pleased about the mission and …"
"No, that's not what this is all about…"Nelson pressed the intercom. "Dr. Steele, Dr. Crane, will you both please come to the observation nose."
"Admiral, that's not necessary.."
"Yes Lee, I think it is…for all of us."
"You're kidding!" Riley exclaimed. He, along with most of the off watch crew were gathered around Cookie for the latest scuttlebutt.
"Yeah, it was weird," Cookie said, "at first, when I brought the coffee forward, the Skipper was cold sober, like a statue. You could have heard a pin drop. That Steele guy was sneering and the Admiral was gettin' impatient with me to hurry up and get out so they could talk. Then Mrs. Crane waltzes in and stops still when she sees them. Suddenly she's all ice and says to the Skipper real egghead like, "I assume the inquisition begins now Captain?"
"Oh man," Ski said, "then what?" He felt sorry for the woman. She was a mom. And mom's should be treated with respect. No matter what had happened.
"I wish I knew; the Skip gave me a look that demanded I clear out, right then. I gotta say, I didn't hesitate, but later, when they called for me to bring them something to eat, it was like they were having a party or something. Steele was gone and the Admiral was pouring out the Reserve for them . The Skipper had some of the Glen Livet too and you know how he feels about takin'a swig while we're underway."
"I sure wish I knew what was goin' on," Ski pondered, confused.
"Well, we sure ain't ever gonna know!" Cookie replied, amid laughter.
"Well, Lee, I'm glad you didn't have to keel haul Steele," Nelson said later in his cabin.
"Still," Crane grinned, " he had a point. You did entertain my mother in your cabin, alone, plied her with hard liquor I come to find out…so you can understand my concern…her career…"
"No, no, Lee. You, my boy, were concerned that I'd seduced her."
"Well… you did get her soused that night. She said so herself."
"That was an unfortunate side effect. I can handle my scotch. Apparently she can't. I'm sorry Lee, for all the trouble."
"I'm just glad you'd gotten Doc to take her to her cabin and tuck her in. But the entire crew must still think you two were up to something."
"Good grief, well…" Nelson grinned, "what they don't know won't hurt them…after all Lee, just think, this may do wonders for my reputation! And," he paused, thoughtful, " even though it may be difficult for you to accept, your mother is a very engaging woman."
"Well, that does it," Mrs. Crane signed off her laptop, and leaned back on the bunk. "I don't know why you're still having these headaches, Lee. You should have been completely over them by now…Doc couldn’t find anything wrong at all?" she asked, concerned.
"Maybe it's just stress."
"Well, having me aboard could account for it, though I'm sure you've been through more traumatic cruises, like when that giant jellyfish that tried to eat Seaview…you know, Lee, that would make a great book, or a movie or something..."
"Mmmm. One day maybe. How did you know about our glop of gelatinous tentacles anyway?"
"Harriman told me."
Lee mentally scrutinized at his mother, and said quietly, "You like him don't you?"
"He's a very nice man. Your best friend too, if I'm not mistaken…oh..you mean…well, let me see," she paused for effect, "seriously Lee, if there were something going on, it would really be none of your business, would it."
Lee raised an eyebrow.
"Oh all right, yes. I like him, okay?"
"Okay," Lee rose and kissed her on the cheek, but fell back sharply as the boat suddenly lurched. He was on his feet seconds after the sub had righted herself, "Control Room, what was that?" Crane shouted into the desktop speaker.
"Don’t know yet Skipper!" O'Brian answered.
"Stay here," Lee commanded his mother and departed the cabin.
The code was entered and the message sent. Everything was working well.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Morton, we just can't find anything wrong," O'brian had worry written on his face, "we've been over the whole boat with a fine tooth comb…"
"Keep checking all systems. Manually to verify."
"But we already have!"
"Then do it again!" the Captain had entered the control room, weary.
Steele was right behind him, still fussing, "but you of all people, should be paying more attention! All the stats depend on proper information. Your mother is here as an observer that's all. Despite what she says, it's increasingly obvious that she can't help including her own interpretations about the experiment when she reports the findings to the White House. Reports? Bah! What reports? She chats with the President, every damn minute almost, girl talk, hunk contests; she admitted it! And despite what you and Nelson think, it is a credibility problem with the experiment and .."
"Steele?" Crane turned back to the gnat, "Why don't you shut up? I have a boat that did something we can't narrow down. Now maybe it was noting. A thermal layer, a leak in the ballast tank, but maybe it wasn't. Right now, I'm not interested in whether or not you and my mother disagree about some damn report or if she and Peabrain spend the entire cruise discussing some foolishness about the Fantasy Man contest! Understood?
"But when I tried to report to the President she didn't even want to listen to me! She only wanted to talk to Catty and…"
"Dr. Steele," Admiral Nelson had overheard and approached, "as a man of science you of all people should know that assumptions can be dangerous."
"I…I…forgive me," he departed quickly.
< Have they determined what the trouble is yet?>
<That's what has them so antsy. There's just no reason they can find why the sub curtsied like that.>
< To change the subject, how is the experiment doing? >
<Within expectations, and very boring.>
Lee was mad. He didn't even realize he was pacing his cabin. If this damn mission was really important it would be different, but this was just hooey! And there was nothing he could do about it. Nothing.
"Penny for your thoughts Lee," a gentle voice asked from the open doorway.
"Oh, hi Mom. It's nothing."
"Of course," she entered, eyed him curiously and sat down," that's why you took Sharkey to task for not finding the trouble with the sub. Lee, I know you're upset, and you're hurting. It all must be very wearing, and of course Steele is rather persona non gratis with you I understand; but brooding about it all is not going to help."
"So, you're my analyst now?" Lee snapped back, immediately sorry. "I…I'm sorry. I didn't mean that…"
"Oh yes you did Lee, now sit down."
"I have a boat to run," he said rather more sharply than he had intended.
"Well, you don't seem to be doing it from here!" she was getting mad. "Go on then, go to your beloved control room and forget all about how I embarrass you. Yes, I do. Don't deny it. You never approved of my career. You, Dad, everyone; but its my career and I like it. And I'll have you know that the President herself wants me to be her new analyst ."
"So you can yak about movies and make up and male strippers?"
"Lee!" she rose, furious.
"Mom I…"Lee grabbed her arm and brought her close to himself, "I'm sorry…I don't know what came over me…maybe I am stressed out…I…I'm sorry."
"I don't know Lee," she was still mift, her feelings had been hurt, twice now by him in such a short span of time, but… her son was still in lingering pain, that was obvious, "I think this whole experiment has affected you far more than you're willing to admit and…I'd like Doc to examine you again."
"That's not necessary…he says I'm fine."
"Perhaps, but as the official liaison, I could make that an order captain. And I can be far more of a mother hen that Doc Jamison. Maternal instinct and all that, shrink or not. "
"Well mother hen, I guess I'll just have to humor you then, won't I?" he departed the cabin.
Had he been humoring her or making a snide joke? It was hard to read him sometimes. She went to see Steele.
"I just don't understand this," Doc shook his head, "There has to be a reason! I just can't find it! Blood chemistry, Magnetic Imaging, everything says you're 100% fit! I have no idea why you're still being bothered by these headaches…and their severity concerns me far more than the number of them or their longevity." Doc looked at Crane as if his patient were a lost puppy, "I want to send you home…second opinions, specialists, other more sophisticated instruments…"
"I don't have time for more doctors to tell me there's nothing wrong. It has to be stress."
"I’m not so sure skipper…and I'm convinced now that it has nothing to do with the experiment."
"It's not imperative that you be here," Dr. Steele interjected, "there's enough data…."
"How long have you been standing there Steele? "Doc asked, perturbed, "You should have informed me you were here."
"As an official observer, I'd hardly call my being here eavesdropping. Mrs. Crane informed me that the Captain had come to see you. I should be consulted. And if I may put my two cents worth in, I think you're right, he needs a far more thorough exam, even if you have to go elsewhere for it."
"I'm still a part of the shipboard experiment, and even if Doc can't find any physical evidence that these headaches are connected in some way to it…the mission will be completed. And that's final. We only have two days left."
"Captain," Steele spoke with all the authority of his academia," the whole point of this cruise was to observe the effects of decaffienation and the omission of artificial additives and preservatives on people without their knowing. To be sure any effects were not influenced by the mind. That's been done. We expected the minor initial headaches and fatigue from caffeine withdrawal, and the increased emotional stress due to the sudden chemical imbalances, but everyone is over the worst of it now. As expected. Except you. Your headaches have not gotten better over time, and have actually gotten worse. You should have been completely decaffeinated some time ago. It may be an unforeseen reaction and we need the data to verify or disprove it. And apparently Seaview does not have the necessary facilities to test you further."
"But the shipboard data will be incomplete unless I am still aboard eating the same blah food and decaff like everyone else."
"This is not a lab experiment and not 100% accurate. It's only a field test. To my satisfaction, it shows that as expected, caffeine withdrawal can produce increased emotional outbursts, stress, headaches, aches, pains, and fatigue. The reason the President will urge Congress to eliminate caffienated products aboard all military vessels, active or reserve status such as yours. Even Dr. Crane will agree that the experiment is to all practical purposes, almost completed. Despite of my firm belief that she is not a competent observer , she is a medical doctor and I applaud her in advising you to seek help."
"I'm sorry Dr. Steele, but Seaview does not undertake an assignments without at least attempting to complete them to Admiral Nelson's satisfaction. And mine. I'm sorry. But I'm remaining aboard. And for the record, while I may not like my mother's chosen career path, she has my every confidence as to her professional ethics," he retorted, angrily," Now, if you'll both excuse me, I have to continue our investigation on why the sub lurched unexpectedly."
"I'm sorry Kathleen, but if Lee can put up with it for two more days, you can…surely you'd rather give the President a complete report under the circumstances and we …"
"I don't care about the damn report! I care about my son! Something is causing those horrible headaches and it's not caffeine withdrawal!"
"We're not sure of that. As a scientist you should know that. Rembember we've also removed standard preservatives and additives too. That's what this experiment is all about. To correlate all the reactions. But it could also be stress. Why don't you sit down and speak with him. You're a psychiatrist…get him to relax a bit."
"Oh sure, 'lie down Lee, tell me all about it. I’m listening'!" she said sarcastically, her voice was beginning to tremble, "he doesn't want my opinions. He's ashamed of me. The family joke. The Crane conspiracy. All of them, laughing behind my back…my books, my articles….Lee, too. Embarrassed about my specialty, and always always denying his inner child….Oh, my baby, my baby! He's hurting and I can't get him to admit that he needs help!"
"Kathleen, they're only migraine type headaches…" he tried to soothe her. There was far more bothering her than Lee's discomfort. But this was not the time nor place to delve into Lee's inner psyche.
"But why!" she pleaded. "I'm scared, Harriman. Something else is wrong…we have to find out what. We have to!"
"The President will be angry…"Nelson was weakening.
Damn, the woman was crying. "Very well," Nelson flipped on his squawk box; " Control room, this is Nelson. Prepare the flying sub for launch. Captain Crane, report to my cabin," he flipped it off, "I have to admit it, I've been more than a bit concerned myself… I'll send him home..."
"Thank you Harry," she accepted his handkerchief to dab at her tears." I hope you have earplugs."
The code was entered. Ahh science.
"You have the conn Chip," Lee said rather mechanically but not unkindly, as he headed toward the flying sub. He declined the flight jacket Sharkey handed to him. "No. Not this time Chief. I'm barred from piloting her this trip. Doc's orders. All three of them," he said wearily.
"Lee," Chip took him aside, "its for the best…Doc said this could be serious…a symptom of something he just can't catch with our equipment…"
"I don't like running away when we're almost finished and…"
"Lee, it was just a simple little field test. Steele told us. The whole crew's laughing about it now…we're going to be healthier, heartier and most hands are almost decaffeinated by now. We're going to be mentally and physically sharper, and we're going to have all the preservative gunk out of our systems to boot. Nobody thinks you're jumping ship…go on, let the whitecoats figure out what's wrong so you can get back here where you belong."
"I still feel…"
"Well don't," his mother interjected and kissed him on the cheek, "See you in port in a couple of days Lee.
"Man, I feel like a complete jerk," Patterson groaned, "I mean, I shoulda' figured it out…caffeine withdrawal," he laughed with his crewmates in the crew's lounge.
"Flying sub away," O'Brian's voice came over the PA.
"What about the Skipper though?" Patterson asked Ski,"What's wrong with him?Doc's concerned, the Admiral's nervous, and Mrs. Crane's real worried, even though she's stayin' here. Seems there's some unfinished scientific stuff to do before they call the experiment officially quits ."
Ski frowned, "Well, if it was my mom, she'd be bent tooth and nail to go along to the Medical Center too…how can this decaf stunt be more important to her than him?"
"Maybe she doesn't have a choice,"Riley said, "I mean, like, she's here cause the President sent her here. Maybe the Pres won't let her go. Word has it that she was actually crying on the Admiral's shoulder."
"Call me sexist, but," Ski answered, "I think a woman President would be a bit more understanding, and it's not like we were doing anything to save the world or stuff."
<Is everything in place?>
<Remind me to give you a promotion>
"Admiral," Morton's voice came across the PA a few hours later,with controlled urgency. "We've lost contact with the Flying Sub. The transponder just stopped.There was no distress signal, but we just can't raise them. "
"Standard Procedures Chip, I'll be right there."
Lee awoke to a small, empty, and sterile room painted white. He was clothed in a jumpsuit, also white. His ring had been removed, as well as his watch,wallet, socks and shoes. The spotless tile floor was cold to his bare feet. There was no window and the fluorescent light lanced into his eyes and made his head hurt even worse. He could not stop the tears from forming from the sheer pain of it. He'd been through tortures less agonizing than this. He could not remember much since he boarded the flying sub.How much time had passed? Had he been drugged? Had the flying sub crashed?
"Chief? Chief?" he called out.
Only silence answered him.
"Admiral?" Sparks called out, "it's Dr. Crane's publisher on the line, says its important."
"Good grief, now what?" said Morton, "Admiral, I'll take it if you like."
"Thank you Chip…" Nelson shook his head in aggravation and went forward to the nose, where Kathleen was staring out of the boat's windows. Steele was hovered over mountains of printouts, occasionally asking her for imput.
Couldn't all this wait? Thought Nelson, irritated.
"Almost finished?" Nelson asked the two.
"We have almost all of the data correlated," Steele didn't bother to look up, " and indexed but…any word yet on the flying sub? We need the findings on Crane's condition…if he's not examined within the remaining time limit, all of this may be worthless," Steele looked up without too much emotion.
"Is that all you can think of?" Nelson spat, "My Captain and Chief Sharkey have not reported in. The flying sub is not sending its standard tracer signal. Right now I am not concerned about your damn experiment!" he exploded, then paused, "Kathleen…why don't you go to your cabin and rest…I'll keep you posted . I'm sure he'll be all right…minor mechanical problem, maybe even a drill…"
"You don't have to treat me like an invalid Harry…I've known for a long time the risks involved with Lee's work…Its just…its just…"she looked up, her eyes red, "I'm sorry, I can't help it. This is no drill, I'm sure of it! If I hadn't forced him off the boat…" she began to cry.
Nelson took her arm, "glitches have happened before," he made a move as if to lead her away.
"No, Harry please…let me stay here, please. He…he loves your blasted boat so much, I…need to be here, where he was happiest…"
"Kathleen," Nelson said, concerned at her defeat, "The flying sub's disappeared before…let's not give up hope yet."
"Yes, I know all about that…but its been 32 hours…"
"Excuse me, "Morton interrupted, "Dr. Crane, I'm sorry to interrupt, but your publisher says its urgent that you speak to him. Privately. He gave us his email address for you,"he handed her a small slip of paper. "You don't have to you know…I said we'd get back to him if…"
"Take the call Dr. Crane,"Steele encouraged, '' it will help to take your mind off things and we have to get this report finalized. I know you're concerned but there's no proof the flying sub crashed or that Lee's injured or dead."
She had a hard time stifling a little gasp at the sheer gaul of the indifferent man.
"Dr. Steele,"Nelson frowned, "my colleagues call the Captain Captain, not Lee, is that clear?"
"Of course, Admiral, forgive me..if you'll both excuse me,"he quickly vanished from the nose.
"I'm not offended if Wyatt calls him Lee, Harriman," Kathleen took a deep breath. "And he's right. I should know better than to jump to conclusions. All my training…I'm a professional. I shouldn't let all this affect me. But at the first sign of trouble with my son I go all wimpy, just like an ordinary mom!"
"And what's wrong with that? Kathleen, look at me, "Nelson took her hand, "I'm a scientist and I understand your ethics, but I think even you have to agree that a mother's prerogative comes first. It's all right to be afraid. I'm afraid for him too. And..its all right to cry."
"Oh Harry,"her tears began to fall.
Ski was mad. Good and mad, as he slammed down his decaff in the crew's mess. "Man, if it was my boat, I'd dump Steele over right now! Making Mrs. Crane cry, and not givn a damn ."
"But he didn't make her cry, Ski," Patterson said, " not really."
"Well, he didn't have to make her think the Skipper was out there lying dead or something!"
"Yeah, I see what you mean. All he cares about is that dumb experiment."
"Well, I've had it!"
"What are you going to do Ski?"
"I don't know, maybe tell him where to go!"
"I'll join you!"
<Going rather well, isn't it?>
<Very very effective. Ahh science.>
Ski and Patterson were soon followed by a pack of equally angry men as they swept into Officer's Country. Just as they were about to round the corner, Ski stopped, suddenly. They could hear the woman weeping.
"I can't stand it!" he groaned as he knocked on the cabin door. There was no answer. He tentatively opened the unlocked door. "Mrs. Crane? Mrs.Crane!"he called out, as he saw her was huddled on the floor, face in her hands, the laptop forgotten, smashed against the deck.
"I'll get the Doc," Patterson took command and roused Sick Bay.
"I'm okay,"she allowed herself to be supported by Ski and the rest of the men as they surrounded her and helped her to the bunk. "I…I.." her sobs made it hard to speak, "I need to talk to Dr. Steele. Right away. Please Kowalski, it's important…Lee…" she wailed.
"I don't understand," Nelson frowned. "She wanted to speak to Steele of all people? "
"Yes sir," Ski answered. "Kinda weird since she don't like him…and real hysterical about the Skipper."
"None of this makes any sense….and she flung the laptop to the deck?"
"Yes sir, that's what she said, she was sorry we had to clean it up. Something about bein' mad at her publisher."
"No doubt I'd have done the same, considering the circumstances."
"Sir…uh…to change the subject, can't we get Dr. Steele off the boat?"
"I'm just as anxious to be rid of our guest as you, but apparently Mrs. Crane feels differently. For her sake, let's just put up with him, okay?"
"Mr. Morton,"O'Brian asked,"I found something kind of odd about Dr. Crane's laptop when I signed the damage report, and…"
"Well, I'm no expert sir, but I could swear there's a computer ribbon routed incorrectly…when I mentioned it to Sparks, he said it looked fine to him.
"Sparks is one of our relief staff, but he is certified."
"Yes sir, but I..I know I'm right."
"Then we'll just have to give Sparks a little test."
"How is it working?" a feminine voice echoed in the metallic chamber.
"He's in so much pain, he doesn't even know what's happening."
"What about the other one?"
"Of little value if any. Do you wish mentally imposed affliction on him as well?"
"No, but keep him isolated. "
Lee was rolling in a fetal type ball on the bare floor, hugging his abdomen, gasping for air, tears streaming from his eyes. Blinded by pain. No torture on earth was worse than this. He tried to focus on something, anything, but he was in agony.
< The Seaview has docked and the experiment is just about officially over.>
<What are the findings?>
<As expected. And
<What happened? Are you there? Report! Report! Repo~
"Master at Arms, escort Ensign Tilbot to the brig," Morton ordered, as he grabbed Sparks' wrist. "O'Brian, did you get the contact?" Morton called to O'Brian, holding an hand held tracer.
"I sure as hell did, and you're not going to believe it! It's coming from the Medical Center."
"Admiral! Look over there, just waitin for us!" Ski yelled."FS1!"
"So," Steele fumed at the image on the monitor, "you used us as a cover?? For your own little experiment? Mind controlled pain!?? I'll have you up on charges!"
"Look, Steele,"the woman explained," it’s a viable military weapon. Crane had been exposed to the subliminal suggestion by an absorbable microdot. It sent electronic impulses to his brain before it dissolved and programmed his subconscious to induce pain. A form of hypnotism, if you will. Crane was released from it, "the President looked at her watch,"four point two minutes ago. He won't even remember it. Harmless, really."
"Harmless!"Kathleen Crane exclaimed, aghast, "harmless!?? He was in agony aboard Seaview and now we find out you put him through even more pain for your…your..weapons test??"
"As Commander in Chief, it's my job to allow the development of new weaponry."
"Well, you're not going to be for long, if I have anything to do with it! I thought you were a friend! You're nothing but a cold blooded mercenary!"
"It was practical, Catty. The Captain's headaches were expected. Some of them were no doubt withdrawal symptoms, the perfect way to piggyback our test onto Steele's. We would have asked for volunteers but they'd know something was up. This way, the test was viable."
"You're a witch! And only my friends call me Catty! Now, where's my son?"
"Ohhh, Chief," Lee shook his head, "what happened, where are we?"
"I only know,"Sharkey bent to help the Captain up, " I was piloting the flying sub and woke up in a bare cell, then after about a year, some broad in a white labcoat shoves me in here…said you'd be waking up…"
"I…the last thing I remember was that we were just about to contact Seaview…then I find myself shoeless and you're here and…I feel like I've been in a marathon!"
"Commander Crane? Chief Sharkey?" a lab assistant entered the room, "if you'll both come with me…all will be revealed."
"Erma?" Lee asked, surprised as the chief was, to see the model."What are you doing here? Where are we? What's going on?"
"I…"she was quickly interupted,and shoved aside as a large group of people headed by his mother, and including Nelson and several crewmen entered one of the medical center's offices.
"Oh, Lee!" Mrs. Crane embraced her son, distraught.
"Lee, Francis, "Nelson motioned the guinea pigs to sit down,"you've been the victims of a terrible experiment…an unapproved one, at least on my end. And Miss Lake is a part of it."
"But," Kathleen shook her head about an hour later in Nelson's office,"I'm still confused Harriman. How'd they get that microdot into Lee without him knowing it?"
Nelson motioned to the side alcove. Lee, still in his jumpsuit, unshaved, was in a deep kiss with a relieved Kate.
"Ohh,"Kathleen returned her attention to Nelson. "That's almost disgusting, and highly erotic…remind me to use it in my next book….just how many girlfriends does Lee have anyway?"
"Frankly, I've lost count, "he chuckled, "speaking of books,"he held up a brand new volume, "I had no idea you were so…broadminded. Your combination of psychiatry and romantic fiction staggers the mind."
"Why, Harriman, I'm just an ordinary mom,"she laughed, "and remind me never ever to volunteer Seaview's services to anyone!"
Chief Sharkey entered the room,"stores are all bein' replaced sir. Most all hands have been dismissed."
"Thank you Chief, you must be anxious for shore leave.As soon as Mr. Morton confirms it, you'll be dismissed for shoreleave as well. Coffee?"
"Man I woulda killed for this a week ago,"he took a sip and frowned.
"It's not?" Nelson asked, concerned that it could be decaff.
"Oh, it's regular joe, but…you know, I kinda don't want it now…."he began to chuckle. "Maybe I'm all purged now, just like you said…"
Kathleen Crane grinned, Well,"she sighed, " as I told Harriman, you'd all be glad of the mission once it was completed, no matter how much you hated it."
"Yeah, it would take nerves of steel to go through anything like that again."
"I don't suppose you'd care to rephrase that?" Nelson asked. "I think I've had enough of Steele to last a lifetime."
"Huh? Oh…uh…" Sharkey began to laugh, "where'd he go anyway?"
"To report his findings to Congress," Dr. Crane replied, " all of them…he's not so bad, he even helped me face up to my fears when I got rather…hysterical…"
"Uh, is the President going to be busted outta office?"
"I surely hope so," Morton entered the room, "All secure sir, Chief, dismissed for shore leave. Oh, Dr. Crane, I'm afraid your laptop can't be repaired. "
"Hardly surprising, considering I flung it to the floor in such a tantrum...but the nerve of my publisher, betrating me over a deadline while my heart was breaking…"
"Well, at least we can't complain about you denying your inner child!" Nelson laughed.
"Okay you bozos, get the lead out!" Sharkey bellowed in his normal humor following the brief respite of the weekend."The Captain will be aboard soon, and I don't want him finding a sloppy sub!"
As if in answer, Crane practically jumped from the hatch rungs into the control room. "Sorry I'm late Chief, but I was debriefing Angie."
Sharkey turned red as his crewmates started to snicker at the implications by syntax.
Crane ignored it, though a faint smirk crossed his lips at the thought. "The Admiral has an appointment and will be a bit late…so, no need to hurry that much…missed a spot," he stroked a console, flashed the men a Hollywood smile and strolled away, hearing their laugher. It was good to be back.
Kowalski was emptying the wastebasket in the Admiral's cabin, and stopped as he spotted a pile of books stacked on the desk."Hey!" he exclaimed, "Look at this!"
"What is it Ski?" Patterson emerged from where he'd been polishing the crome in the cabin's head.
"Mrs. Crane's books!"
"No kiddin, what are they anyway?"
"'Esmerelda's Revenge', 'The Castle Chronicles', hey my mom reads this kind of stuff! Sexy stories!" he laughed, "who would have thought it…what's this… The Effects of Repression on Libidinous Carnality? What on earth is that? The History and Psyche of the Male Animal-What Every Woman Should Know?"
"Ski?"Patterson leafed through the brand new copies,"uh, are these what I think they are?"he asked aghast, as he delved through even more of the books now scattered on Nelson's desk.
"How's it going men? The Admiral'll…"Sharkey had one foot over the threshold,"What's goin on…oh, those must be some of Mrs. Crane's books the Admiral ordered …." he read the jacket cover about Dr. Crane and turned red. "Hurry it up, I need you to clean up the missile room," effectively changing the subject, and fled, quickly followed by the men.
The books in question were left on Nelson's desk, mute, one of the shiny jackets facing up speaking volumes….
Dr. Kathleen Crane, noted psychiatrist and sextherapist, and novelist
presents yet another in her series of stimulating insights
The Bedrooms of History
The psychiatrist listened intently as the man, reclined on the couch continued,"it was awful being a werewolf…twice…."
"Good! We can make that a separate chapter. Desperate to be accepted, yet enslaved by snarling savagery…"
"Kathleen, are you sure about this?"
"It'll be a bestseller, don't worry. Just think, we'll call that section…"she furrowed her brows for a moment, then grinned, " The Savage Seduction, a Werewolf's story…a real grabber don't you think? The hard part will be to tie it in to the glop monster, mad scientists, and don't forget the spaceship and the jellyfish and…Harry, you don't mind do you? Me using your experiences, exaggerating, fictionalizing them into this novel? It's not even a scientific work, just a bit of fluff for the moolah. Nobody reads the egghead stuff."
"What on earth are you going to call the book, though?"
"I was thinking maybe… A Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea."