This is a stand alone story and a ‘cut-scene’ from “Eleven Days to Zero.”

Next Step

Sharon H




There was a light knock on Lee's cabin door. Crane never glanced up from packing, but uttered a short “come in” as he continued to shove his belongings back into his small travel bag. He knew who was at the door and he wasn't in the mood to deal with him right now.


The door swung open and Seaview's OX, Chip Morton, stood in the doorway, arms crossed over his chest, leaning against the frame. Eyes the color of a cloudless winter sky swept the room and came to lock on Lee's tall and lanky frame standing by the bunk. “Are you completely done?” Chip said with as about much warmth as those same winter skies.


"I'll be off Seaview as soon as the chopper locates us. This time tomorrow I'll be out of your hair,” Crane said, doing his best to remain civil. Chip never moved, never twitched but continued to lean against the door, almost as if blocking Lee in.


"That's not what I mean and you know it. Is that what you think? That I want you off Seaview? God, Lee, sometimes you can be so blind,” Chip growled, trying not to clench his teeth in frustration. The past eleven days had tried everyone's patience and faith, including Chip's. Starting with Lee's unorthodox entrance of Seaview and Lee's completely cold attitude toward him, Chip was starting to think Lee had conveniently forgotten four years of their life. Well, Chip was about to remind him and set a few things straight.


"The mission's over, there's no reason for me to stay. With me off the boat, the Admiral can hand over command to you and I won't be in your way.”


Chip took a deep breath and let it out slowly, counting to ten. Backwards. “Lee has it ever occurred to you that I don't want command of Seaview?"


Lee straightened up and the two men locked eyes. “Don't want command?” he sputtered, “Chip, are you nuts? How the hell could you not want command of Seaview?”


"Because I don't. I'm a better organizer and planner. I'm her Exec. She needs a fast thinker at her helm. Maybe in a few years I'll be ready for my own command but not now.”


"Chip, all through the Academy, you were one step behind me. This is your chance to prove you're not number two.”


"Prove to who? You, me or the admiral? I know my strengths and weakness. I don't have to prove anything to anybody. Lee, I'm not number two. Oh, sure I'm second in command but I'm not standing in any body's shadow. Is that why you've barely spoken a dozen words to me save to give me orders?”


"Command should have been yours. You could have done this, they didn't need to pull me off the Kentucky.” Lee turned back to packing, unable to meet his friends gaze. That didn't stop Morton.


"We needed someone with more experience. I've got command time but not enough for something like this. The Navy picked you because they needed someone who wouldn't be intimidated by Seaview's weapons capacity. You already had command of a boomer so the nukes weren't going be an issue for you. What's wrong with you, Lee? I'd have thought you would have jumped at the chance to command the best boat on the water. Instead you've acted like a hammerhead with a headache for the past week and a half. Talk to me pal. We used to be brothers. What happened?”


Lee sat down on the edge of his bunk. Chip moved inside the cabin and closed the door behind him. He waited, watching emotions flit across the surface of Lee's jade hazel eyes. He toyed nervously with the ring he wore on his left hand. Chip had seen Lee do that a hundred times before, always when something serious was eating at him.


“I came in first in everything. Academics, boxing, track and field. You were always right behind me. For crying out loud, we were separated by one grade point.  When I heard Nelson had plugged you for Seaview's XO, I held my breath. Surely if Nelson picked you to be his number two, I keep thinking…that it…I was hoping . . .” Lee trailed off, not sure how to explain or even if Chip could understand.


"Lee, are you trying to say you were jealous? You were jealous of me, of all people? Believe me, the admiral wanted you. He's had his eye on both of us since day we walked on campus. Plugged you for Seaview's skipper before her keel was even laid. But the Navy said no. They didn't have a problem with me, but because Seaview is the only sub of her kind they wanted someone with way more experience at her helm. Nobody counted on Phillips getting killed before our first real mission. Lee, if you think the admiral is gonna just let you walk off this boat, you're crazy. Trust me, the admiral's not gonna turn you lose now that he's got his hooks into you. He's gonna find some way to keep you.”


Lee continued to twist the ring he wore, around and around, running his thumb over the stone. “You're not resentful? That Seaview wasn't given to you? I wasn't sure how you would react, me waltzing in here and just taking over. I felt like I was stealing your thunder, that I was taking away your chance to make that next step out of my shadow.”


"Hell, Lee, I told you, I don't want command right now. Did that not make it through that black curly head of hair? I'm Seaview's XO, and I'm a damn good one. Who do you think talked the crew out of keelhauling you after you decked Kowalski? Wasn't Davy Jones, I can promise you that.”


"You are a damn good XO. It's been a pleasure serving with you. You remember, how we talked about maybe someday we'd get that chance?”


"I've never forgotten. Lee, I don't stand in any body's shadow. I walk side by side with my skipper, I'll back him up, and if I have to, I'll kick some sense into him.”


"I consider myself kicked then,” Lee said sheepishly, with that lopsided grin on his face. Chip wasn't resentful. Lee had spent the past week and a half dancing around his old friend for no reason. He should have known better. But there was still that little sense of disappointment. Chip was going to stay and as soon as the chopper found them he'd be on his way back to his own sub. The Kentucky's Blue crew would be ready to sail in another week. The Kentucky was a fine boat, but after eleven days with Seaview, there simply was no room for comparison. The last thing he wanted now was to leave Seaview. "I don't want to go,” Lee admitted finally.


Chip just shook his head. "I wouldn't worry about it right now. The admiral wants to see you in the nose. Dr. Wilson's also there, I think he wants to apologize. You're gonna have to tell me why he brushed you off like that when we first met him.” Chip said.


"I've dealt with Wilson before. I'll tell you about it some time. I guess I'd better take that next step and see what the admiral wants before I leave. What's so funny?”


Chip was grinning like a Cheshire cat. “A good Exec sees all and knows all on his boat. Go talk to the admiral, Lee.”


Lee got up and walked out the door, Chip walking along with him, side by side. Lee couldn't figure what Nelson wanted. What ever it was, Lee hoped it was good news. Chip gave him a quick slap on the shoulder and split off, heading for the control room. Lee found himself standing at the head of the stairwell. With a deep breath he took the next step and headed down to meet the admiral.