By R. L. Keller
I would like to say a very special Thank You to Susan Freeh. This story was based on an idea that she gave me. And while it didn’t go in the direction she originally planned, she has joyously pointed out the parts that worked, and gently pointed out the parts that needed further work.
It was late, almost 0130, and Chip was finally headed to his cabin for some much-needed sleep. He’d spent the last six hours working on a problem with the navigation computer and had finally tracked it down to a faulty circuit board. Once replaced, Seaview was again back in business. Normally Lee would have been up with him, not so much that he could help Chip and one of the technicians fix the computer, but simply that Lee refused to rest if anything was wrong with his ‘Lady’. This time, however, Admiral Nelson had chased his young Captain out of the Control Room about 2300. For whatever reason, on this second day out of port after a week off, Lee was falling asleep on his feet and Nelson had ordered him to get some rest. Even then Lee had stubbornly insisted he was fine – as usual. Chip smiled to himself, remembering the scene. If there was one person on board more stubborn than Lee it was Admiral Nelson and, with four stars backing him up, Lee finally relented and left.
Passing Lee’s cabin now, on the way to his, Chip hesitated. Was that Lee’s voice he just heard? No light showed through the small crack under the cabin door but Chip was sure he’d heard something. Chip rapped lightly on the door, but getting no response was about to walk on when again there was a soft sound. With an uneasy feeling Chip quietly opened the door. In what light filtered in from the corridor Chip saw Lee sitting on the edge of his bunk, seemingly staring straight ahead. Lee didn’t acknowledge Chip’s presence and, with his unease deepening, Chip walked over to his friend.
"Lee," he said softly, placing a hand on Lee’s arm. There was still no response. Lee just sat there, a blank, unfocused expression on his face. "Lee," Chip said a bit more forcefully, giving the arm a small shake. Lee finally turned his head toward Chip, but it was still several seconds before his eyes seemed to focus and he gave a small shudder.
"Chip," and the voice held puzzlement. "What’s wrong?"
"You tell me, buddy. I heard a noise and found you sitting here, staring into nothing. You were really out of it. Spooky."
"Sorry," Lee apologized.
Chip thought his voice was still a bit flat but beginning to get back to normal. "Bad dream?" he asked gently.
Lee just shook his head. "Not sure. Don’t remember one." He gave his head another shake and finally focused totally on Chip, his voice back to normal. "After the Admiral threw me out of the Control Room," and he gave Chip one of his patented smiles, "I came up and crashed. Don’t even remember my head hitting the pillow," and he smiled again.
"Sounds like you’d better put it back on the pillow," Chip smiled too. "Come on. Down!"
"Is that an order, Mister?" and Lee glared at his Exec.
"Sounded like one to me," Chip snickered, reaching down and lifting Lee’s legs back up on the bunk. Lee glared at him a second longer, then chuckled.
"Aye, aye, Sir!" and added a left-handed salute. Chip said something decidedly impolite, they both laughed, and Chip went on to his own bunk.
* * * *
Lee had already left his cabin when Chip checked the next morning – or rather, later the same morning. Happily he found his friend in the Wardroom, already halfway through the little breakfast he usually ate. Chip loaded his own plate as usual, grabbed two blueberry muffins and, sitting down opposite, dropped one of them on Lee’s plate.
"I’ve already had one, thank you, Mr. Morton," Lee said in his best command voice and started to give it back, but Chip raised his hand.
"Extra calories to counterbalance your early morning expenditure of same. Eat it!" As Lee glared at his friend, reacting to the authority in Chip’s voice, Chip continued in a lighter one. "Besides, Cookie’s already spotted you with it. If you don’t eat it now you’ll upset him. You know how he gets," and Chip ended with a huge smile on his face.
Lee continued to glare a bit longer, glanced briefly in Cookie’s direction, and surrendered, a small grin starting to appear. As Chip saw it his own increased and the two finished the meal in amiable conversation, then headed for the Control Room.
Seaview had left Santa Barbara two days ago, headed in the general direction of Indonesia. The Institute had recently established a research facility on a small island there and Seaview was taking in some additional equipment and supplies, as well as giving Admiral Nelson a chance to talk with the scientists who were manning the site. Other than making sure Seaview was on course and everything running correctly there wasn’t anything special for the officers or crew to do, and the day progressed quietly. There was more good-natured teasing between the two senior officers over lunch when Chip brought Lee a second helping of Cookie’s newest concoction, a combination of lemon Jell-O, crushed pineapple and banana slices, covered by a light pudding-type frosting.
"Fruit’s good for you, and you need the sugar content to keep up your energy level. Look how tired you got yesterday," was Chip’s lighthearted excuse this time. It earned another glare from Lee but he had actually quite liked the combination and ate it willingly. Afterward, Chip went back to the Control Room while Lee went off to make one of his casual walkthroughs of the boat.
He’d been back about half an hour, standing with Chip at the chart table while they went over odds and ends, when Chip suddenly realized he seemed to be the only one talking. He looked over and was instantly concerned. Lee was just standing there, staring straight ahead but with a glazed look, like he wasn’t really seeing anything. Chip reached out and touched Lee’s arm but there was no reaction. "Lee," he said sharply, but trying to keep his voice low so he didn’t alert the crew. Again, nothing. Taking a deep breath he firmly grasped Lee’s arm. "Come on, Lee. We’re going to the nose." Lee gave him no resistance and Chip quickly and quietly got him sat down at the small table. Turning back he motioned Chief Sharkey forward, gave Lt. James the conn, and closed the crash doors as soon as the Chief was through. "Chief, the Skipper’s not feeling well. I’m going to take him to his cabin. Would you go down to Sick Bay and ask Doc to meet us there? I don’t want to use the intercom – you know how the crew gets when they think the Skipper’s ill." He kept his voice casual. He knew how the Chief got, too.
"Oh, sure, Mr. Morton. No problem. Ah, is he ok?"
"I think so, just a bug or something, probably. Doc will have him up and yelling in no time."
Sharkey grinned broadly, as Chip had intended. Jamie’s arguments with an under-the-weather Captain were legendary among the crew. "Aye, aye, Sir. Do you want me to notify the Admiral?"
"Not just yet. He said earlier he wanted to spend the afternoon getting some reports done and didn’t want to be disturbed. Doc will give him a full report later," and the Chief left by way of the spiral stairs. Chip wondered briefly if he should have had him stay and help move Lee, but in the end it would have proved unnecessary – Lee came quite willingly, if totally zombie-like. Chip met no one on the way and had just sat Lee on the edge of his bunk when Doc arrived, followed by Sharkey. "Thanks, Chief," Chip dismissed the man. "You’d better get back to the Control Room."
"Yes, Sir. Ah, you will keep me posted?" and the concern was easy to read on his face.
"Sure, Chief. Tell Mr. James I’ll be back down shortly."
"No problem. If anyone asks about the Skipper, I’ll just tell them he’s working in his cabin."
"Thanks. He’ll appreciate that," and Sharkey pulled the door closed on his way out.
When Chip turned back, Doc already had Lee’s shirt unbuttoned and was beginning his exam. "Talk to me, Chip," he said, concerned. "What happened?"
"Not sure. We were just visiting, going over some reports, and all of a sudden I realized I was talking to myself, he wasn’t there. I mean, he was, but…"
"I get the picture." As Doc continued his exam, Lee finally started to show movement on his own, and slowly refocused.
"What?" he said softly, dazed, then more firmly, "What’s going on?" and looked from one face to the other.
"That’s what we’d like to know, Skipper," Jamie said quietly, hanging his stethoscope around his neck.
Lee looked at each of them again, then around the room. As he spoke again his voice was stronger, his eyes focusing better. "What the hell am I doing here?" and started to stand.
"Easy, Skipper," and Jamie put a hand on Lee’s shoulder. Chip did also, standing on Lee’s other side. "Just sit quietly for awhile. What’s the last thing you remember?"
"The Control Room?" and he looked questioningly at Chip. "We were talking about the research station, weren’t we?"
"That’s right, Lee," Chip confirmed, with his hand still on Lee’s shoulder. "Then you just sort of spaced out. Like I found you last night."
"What about last night?" Jamie pounced, and gave both men a hard look.
"Down, Jamie, it was nothing," Lee said, with a glare at Chip.
Lee’s not going to thank me for that one Chip thought to himself. But I’m not going to be responsible for covering something up, either, if he’s really sick. "I found him like this about 0130 this morning," he told Jamie, purposely avoiding Lee’s glare. "Was headed for my cabin and thought I heard a noise. When Lee didn’t answer my knock, I came in and found him just sitting here."
"It’s nothing," Lee complained. "I’ve just been working too hard."
"Oh really," Chip teased. "From what I’ve seen since we left port it’s more like you’ve been hardly working," and he grinned.
Doc crossed his arms. Lee was hiding something. "What do you mean, working too hard, Skipper? We’ve only been at sea two days, and so far it’s been quiet." Lee dropped his gaze to the floor, confirming to both men he wasn’t telling them the whole story. "I’d like an answer, Skipper. Now!"
"So would I," came a voice from the door. Admiral Nelson had slipped in without being noticed, and now walked over. He looked down at his young Captain. "We all had a week’s leave between cruises. You should be well rested."
"I…didn’t exactly take leave, Sir," Lee answered sheepishly. "Chip was going to his sister’s, you had meetings in Washington. I knew the office would be quiet so I spent the week trying to find my desk. While we were out the last trip my ‘In’ basket threatened to take over the whole room."
"All week?" Jamie asked, shaking his head. "At least tell me you took the weekend off."
Lee’s expression got even more sheepish. "That’s when the office was the quietest and I could get the most done."
"You didn’t take any days off?" Nelson blustered.
"No, Sir. There was just too much to get done before we left again."
"Don’t yell at me, Admiral. I went fishing. If I’d known about this don’t you think I’d have mentioned it?" Jamie had special privileges with Admiral Nelson. He didn’t use them often, but neither was he going to take the blame for what this impetuous young Captain did to himself. He noticed Lee reach up and rub his temple, and pounced again. "Headache, Skipper?"
Lee instantly brought his hand down, but just sighed as all three were watching him intently. "A little one, Jamie. Nothing much."
"How many hours a day did you put in, reading reports and working on the computer?" Doc demanded. Lee hesitated long enough that all three knew the answer was ‘too many’, and Doc turned to Nelson. "Can I just shoot him now, and put him out of our misery?" As Nelson and Chip laughed, Lee just lowered his head. "OK, Skipper, I think I get the picture. Eight days, at least 14 hours a day, if not longer. No one around to make sure you behaved yourself. Eyestrain leads to headache, which leads to you not resting properly when you do crash for the night. I assume, although I’m not sure I should, that you did go home at night?" Lee grumbled an affirmative and Doc continued. "And I don’t suppose you ate even halfway properly." Lee’s silence answered that one as well. Suddenly another thought hit Jamie. "Please tell me you didn’t also take reports home to work on there, too." When Lee again didn’t answer, Doc just shook his head and looked at Nelson. "The man is hopeless. My earlier question still stands."
Nelson chuckled. "Unfortunately, while I might privately agree with you," and he grinned at the look Lee shot him, "it would definitely upset the crew. Besides, Chip says he doesn’t want to be the permanent Captain."
"No way. Too much paperwork," Chip agreed, but was barely controlling his laughter.
"Guess you’ll just have to come up with an alternative," Nelson told his CMO.
"In that case," and he gave Lee a hard look," I’ll finish my exam, in private if you don’t mind," and looked at the Admiral and XO. "Then for the next 18 hours our workaholic Captain is going to lie on his bunk, lights turned down, resting his eyes."
"Doc…" Lee started.
"You want to argue, Skipper, I can make it 42 hours?" When Lee again lowered his gaze, Doc continued. "With any luck that, and a few decent meals, will be enough to stop the headache. Once he’s resting properly everything else should get back to normal."
"Come on, Chip," the Admiral said. "I think we’ve just been dismissed." He gave Doc an amused glance before sending one last one Lee’s way. He said nothing more, but not a man in the room mistook that look. Lee answered verbally.
"Yes, Sir." Nelson nodded, and he and Chip left. Doc waited until the door was shut behind them, then pulled the extra chair from beside Lee’s desk over and sat down.
"OK, Skipper. It’s just us, now. I need you to talk to me."
Lee looked at him, then shook his head. "I told you everything, Jamie."
"Don’t give me that. While the Admiral and Chip may have bought that cockamamie story I made up, we both know there’s something else going on here."
Lee started getting defensive. "I don’t know what you mean."
Jamie laid a hand on Lee’s shoulder and his voice softened. "Yes, I think you do. You don’t just lose touch with reality like that from an eyestrain-instigated headache." As Lee started to open his mouth to reply, Jamie cut him off. "You were totally off in left field when I got here. You eyes were unfocused. You were unresponsive. You had no memory of Chip bringing you here from the Control Room." As Lee continued to stare at him, Jamie’s expression and voice softened further. "Has it happened before? Before last night, I mean. Maybe while the rest of us were gone last week?"
Lee continued to glare at him a moment, then dropped his eyes. "I’m not sure. Maybe, once. While I was in the office. I just thought I fell asleep. Jamie, what’s happening?" For one of the few times the CMO could remember, there was a hint of fear in the Captain’s voice. He gave the younger man’s shoulder a brief squeeze, then stood up.
"That’s what we’re going to find out," and he smiled down at Lee. "Kick your shoes off, loosen your belt, and lie down. We’ll start with a ‘once over lightly’ and go from there." Lee groaned softly, but at Jamie’s continuing smile he finally grinned and complied. Jamie’s brief but thorough exam didn’t reveal anything he didn’t already know or suspect: Lee appeared to have lost some weight and his eyes were very light sensitive. Everything else, however, seemed to be fairly normal. Jamie drew blood to run a few tests, administered a mild sedative over Lee’s strenuous objections, put drops in each eye to help soothe the strain, and left the young man starting to doze off. He’d check on him periodically, knowing that the Admiral would as well. And no doubt Chip. Although, Jamie smiled to himself, knowing the XO, he’d most likely just park himself in Lee’s big desk chair and spend the night. Those two, he grinned to himself, and headed for his office.
* * * *
Lee awoke very early, just before 0400. The enforced rest had obviously helped since his headache was gone. Unable to lie down any longer he arose quietly so as not to alert his light-sleeping XO next door, and turned on his desk lamp. He figured he could get in a good hour and a half’s worth of work before anyone else in this part of the boat would be up. He’d then turn out the light until, oh, say, 0600, and pretend that’s when he actually got up.
The plan was going well. All was quiet and Lee had finished one report and was a good way through another when, about 0515, he got up to get a glass of water. He was in the head, with the door partially closed, when he heard his cabin door slam shut with enough force to rattle pictures on the wall. Since there was only one person on the boat likely to be responsible, Lee called out casually, "Good morning, Chip," and walked back into the room. His exec was standing there in his robe, glaring at the open files on Lee’s desk. Turning the glare on Lee, he exploded.
"I swear, Lee, Doc’s suggestion is sounding better and better. Don’t you have any brains? How long have you been up?" For all the man’s angry words, his voice barely carried the short distance between the two – a sure sign Chip was barely controlling his rage. It didn’t go unnoticed.
"Relax, Chip. Calm down. I’m feeling much better," and Lee smiled at his friend. Chip, however, wasn’t about to be defused that easily.
"No, Lee. I will not calm down. You scared the you-know-what out of me yesterday and now you want me to just forget it, like it never happened. Well, I can’t."
Lee’s smile faded as he looked at Chip. "I’m sorry," and his contrition was genuine.
"I know you are, Lee, but that’s not the point."
"No, I suppose it isn’t," Lee admitted.
"Will you go back to bed like you’re supposed to, or do I wake the Admiral?"
Lee knew he was risking full-scale war but just couldn’t resist the opening. "If you do, he’ll kick my tail off Seaview for the rest of this cruise and you’ll get stuck with not only your own paperwork but all of mine as well, for the next three weeks."
"It would almost be worth it," Chip growled. "Now back to bed, or I’ll kick you there."
"You’re not wearing shoes," Lee pointed out innocently.
Chip’s mouth opened, then closed, and while his eyes and expression remained hard Lee could just see the corners of his mouth start to twitch. "Bed, now," Chip almost whispered, "and if I find your sorry tail out of it before 0700 I will personally…what are you doing?" as Lee headed toward his desk.
"Just putting the reports away." Lee closed the folders and tossed them in the middle drawer of his desk, then went quietly to his bunk. Hearing Chip mutter he watched as his XO stomped over and shut off the desk lamp, then head for the door. Half expecting Chip to slam it again, Lee was surprised when he barely heard the latch click.
Rolling over, he got another surprise: Doc was sitting on the edge of the bunk. Lee glanced at the clock and discovered it was almost 0630, and heard Doc chuckle.
"Didn’t realize I’d gone back to sleep," and Lee shook his head, sitting up.
"Back?" Jamie challenged.
"Woke up earlier," was Lee’s noncommittal answer, and he gave Jamie an innocent grin.
Jamie stared hard at the young man, but when Lee’s expression didn’t change he surrendered and stood up. "Turn yourself around here and let’s see how you’re doing." As Lee swung his legs over the edge of the bunk his left hand slapped the bulkhead, setting off an instant look of concern on the CMO’s face. The Captain wasn’t usually that clumsy. Lee, however, just kept the same look of innocent amusement on his face. Doc got his answer about 10 seconds later when Chip stormed through the cabin door. He stopped dead when he saw Doc, gave Lee a murderous look, and stomped back out, this time giving the door a slam. Jamie looked at Lee quizzically. "Something you’d like to tell me, Skipper?" Lee’s grin widened but he didn’t answer, and Jamie just shook his head. "You know, one of these days you’re going to push him too far."
"Figure since I survived him for four years at Annapolis, I can handle anything he has to dish out."
"You’re both hopeless," Doc chuckled, and did a quick exam. Stepping back a few minutes later he told Lee, "I’d ask how your headache is but you wouldn’t give me a straight answer anyway." Expecting one of Lee’s command stares, what he got instead was a sheepish grin.
"It really is gone, Jamie. Honest."
Doc gave him a long look. "Surprise me for a change and keep it that way," he said sternly, then spoiled it by grinning. Lee did, too, and Doc turned his back to Lee, putting his instruments into the small case he’d left on Lee’s desk. "So tell me, is it just me you like to torment, or were you always this much trouble?" There wasn’t an immediate answer. Grinning, Doc continued. "Come on, Skipper. You can tell me. How many of the medical staff at the Academy took early retirement because of you?" and he finally turned back around. Lee wasn’t there…
He wasn’t sure where he was. Wasn’t even sure who he was, but that came back quickly: Midshipman Second Class Lee B. Crane. Have to remember something. Very important. Hurts! No, can’t think about that. Have to go – where? Have to report. What? Ok, Crane, take a deep breath and THINK! Ooh, not a wise move, Crane, that deep breath. Something broken, feels like.
Consulate, that was it. Have to get to the American Consulate. They’ll know what to do…
What? Oh, Consulate. Don’t remember getting here. Let me in! I’m a US citizen. ID? Where’s my wallet? Can’t find it. No matter. Let me in! Have to talk to…not sure. Security? Have to tell them… Damn, now I can’t remember. What was it I had to tell them? Mom? What are you doing here. I didn’t tell anyone where to find you, did I? Can’t… Oh, hurts so much. Mom? Do you remember what I was supposed to tell them? Mom?
"Sorry, Lee. I’ve been accused of being a lot of things, but your Mom ain’t one of them," and the fuzzy image finally settled into the blond head of Chip Morton. For a moment that didn’t help and he still wasn’t sure where he was. But other senses started sending signals as well: the slight motion of the boat, the medical smells of Sick Bay, an outline standing next to Chip slowly solidifying into Jamie. He knew he was aboard Seaview, and took a deep breath. The pain was subsiding, too, and he was slowly coming to the conclusion that that had been part of the dream as well. It must have been a dream. That was the only thing that made sense. He sighed heavily and started to sit up, but three sets of hands stopped him, and three voices filled his ears.
"Not so fast, Skipper." Firmly: Doc.
"Hold it!" Hard: Chip.
"Easy, Lad," and Lee looked over. Admiral Nelson was standing on his other side.
"And if you even think about saying ‘I’m fine’," Chip continued, "I’ll deck you here and now."
Nelson’s soft chuckle filled the silence. "Steady, Chip."
Lee had been looking back and forth between the three faces. "Doc?" and he focused on the CMO. "What’s going on?"
"You tell me, Skipper. One minute we were having a perfectly normal conversation, and the next you’d shut down totally."
"I wonder where I’ve heard that one before," Chip muttered, and Doc gave him a dirty look.
"Chip, suppose you go run the boat and let me take care of things down here."
"Go on, Chip," Nelson said softly. "I’ll let you know what Doc finds."
"Good idea, Admiral, right after I tell you. You’re leaving, too." Nelson glared at the CMO, but Jamie quietly stood his ground and eventually the Admiral chuckled. Looking down at Lee with a grin he gave his Captain’s shoulder a squeeze, and turned to Chip.
"Come on, let’s let Jamie do what I pay him for," and the two walked out. Lee wiggled on the gurney, and Doc glared at him.
"Nobody said you could get up, Mister."
"I feel fine, Jamie," then glanced sheepishly at the door, making sure Chip had left. Doc grinned despite himself, then watched as Lee’s expression turned worried and introspective. "What’s going on, Jamie? What’s happening to me, and why?"
Before answering, Jamie pulled a chair over and sat down, and Lee rolled onto his side to face him. "I’m not sure, Skipper. Tell me how you feel?"
"Confused," Lee said with emphasis, and Doc smiled.
"Do you remember anything? You were muttering off and on, but nothing intelligible."
"Except, I gather, something about my mother?"
Jamie laughed. "Right before you ‘woke up’."
Lee closed his eyes and tried to remember. "It seems like it was some sort of dream. Nothing made sense."
"Dreams usually don’t, in and of themselves. Just tell me what you remember."
"I wasn’t able to take a deep breath – everything hurt."
"Nothing new there," Jamie observed dryly. Lee opened his eyes and glared at the CMO, then smiled and returned to his jumbled memories.
"For some reason I needed to get somewhere."
"Do you remember where?"
Lee thought for a bit. "No…wait, yes. The consulate," Lee answered with confidence. "I needed to get to the consulate, to report."
Lee’s triumphant expression wavered again as he worked on that one. "Midshipman," he finally said, almost to himself, his eyes focusing far beyond Jamie.
"The last I heard there wasn’t a country by that name," Jamie said lightly, and Lee finally brought his focus to the CMO’s face.
"No, not a consulate. But something, Jamie."
"What did you need to report?" But Lee couldn’t answer that one, and Jamie went on. "Was it something that happened while you were at the Academy?" but Lee couldn’t come up with an answer for that either, and reached a hand up absently to rub his temple. Jamie knew that sign all too well – the combination of frustration and concentration had given Lee a headache. Jamie decided it was time to stop, at least for now. "Don’t work at it, Skipper. It will come when it wants to. In the meantime I’m going to have Frank bring you some breakfast."
"I’m not hungry, Jamie," and Lee rolled over onto his back, throwing one arm over his eyes.
"Skipper, because of me you missed dinner last night. I do not want to be responsible for Cookie coming looking for you." Lee finally smiled. Cookie definitely took it personally when the Captain didn’t eat.
"I’ll get dressed and go to the Wardroom."
"The only place you’re going is over to that bunk," and he pointed behind him.
"No! This is non-negotiable, Skipper. After you eat I want you to rest for an hour, then I’m going to re-do a couple tests. After that, if you’re feeling OK and that headache is gone," and he smiled as Lee cringed, "you can not only get dressed but go back on duty." At Lee’s surprised look Doc laughed. "With you on duty I can count on Chip to make sure you behave yourself," and his grin broadened at the harassed expression on Lee’s face.
"Maybe I’ll stay here."
"That could be arranged," Jamie agreed with amusement.
"Jamie, you’re enjoying this," Lee growled.
"Skipper, I’m hurt. How could you say I could get pleasure from you being under the weather?"
"Sorry, Jamie. That’s not what I meant."
"What I am enjoying is watching you try to stay out of your XO’s line of fire." Lee put his arm back over his eyes, and Doc laughed all the way to his office.
* * * *
As expected, Doc found the Admiral in Seaview’s Observation Nose, staring out the windows. Jamie smiled encouragement at the worried expression Nelson sent his way, then checked to see if Chip had noticed Jamie’s descent down the stairs. Little doubt there, since the Exec rarely missed anything that happened around him, especially in the Control Room. Doc motioned for him to come forward, Chip gave the conn to Lt. James, and closed the crash doors behind him as he joined the other two.
"I think Chris has had the conn as much as I have so far this trip," Chip grumbled. At least temporarily comforted by Doc’s grin, Nelson turned one of his own on the XO.
"Jealous, Chip?" and was rewarded by a suddenly startled glance. One didn’t get the Exec off balance very often.
Chip covered it quickly by a question to Doc. "How’s Lee?" and his voice held strong concern.
"He’s doing OK. I shamed him into eating a good breakfast, since he missed dinner last night, and he’s curled up in a bunk in Sick Bay, sound asleep." As two pairs of eyebrows raised as far as they could go, he chuckled. "Oh, did I fail to mention I spiked his orange juice?"
"It’s a good thing he likes you, Jamie," Chip said, shaking his head. As all three smiled, Nelson indicated the table and they sat down.
"What’s going on, Jamie?" Nelson asked.
"I’m not entirely sure, but I need to ask Chip a few questions."
"Me!" Chip exclaimed. "What did I do?"
Doc held up his hand, chuckling again. "Relax, Chip, I don’t think you did anything. But you may have answers to at least part of the puzzle."
"How can I help?"
"Lee was definitely dreaming but it was, I feel, a specific kind of dream. One we call a ‘flashback’."
"Remembering something that happened previously," Nelson translated.
"That’s right. Frequently it’s something traumatic, that the mind blocks out at the time. But we never truly forget those thing and they can re-surface months, years, even decades later."
"So you think Lee is suddenly remembering something from his past so horrible he suppressed it at the time, and for whatever reason it’s coming back now."
"It doesn’t even have to be that bad, really. Just a memory that’s been forgotten by the conscious mind, but not the subconscious."
"Why do you think I can help?" Chip asked.
"Lee remembered bits and pieces of the ‘dream’, for want of something better to call it, and they seemed to indicate he was at the Academy. That’s what he and I were talking about earlier when he withdrew, and he mentioned something while we were talking a little while ago about a Midshipman."
"As I recall," Nelson said, and all three cringed slightly at the unintended pun, "the two of you were almost inseparable back in those days." He looked fondly at Chip.
"Pretty much, Sir. What do you need to know, Doc?"
"Actually, I’m not really sure. I was just hoping that you might be able to add more pieces to the puzzle."
"You know I’ll help any way I can."
"The Skipper mentioned hurting, or being hurt. Does that ring any bells?"
"Which time?" and Chip snickered. "For as long as I’ve known him, he’s always acted first and thought about the consequences later."
Jamie cringed. "That sounds like our Captain, all right."
"That’s not really fair, Chip," Nelson interrupted with a smile. "He does actually consider the consequences, just to everyone except himself."
"In any case," Doc continued, "it also fits with this morning. I was asking him if it was just me he harasses, or if he did it to the doctors at the Academy as well. Humm," and he thought quietly to himself a bit before continuing. "OK, so that piece in itself doesn’t narrow it down. He also mentioned something about a consulate, and needing to report something."
"Consulate?" Nelson questioned. "That sounds like he was out of the country. Midshipmen aren’t often out of U.S. territories," and he turned to Chip, who was sitting quietly all of a sudden, frowning. "Chip?" he encouraged.
"There was something, Admiral," he started hesitantly. "Just can’t quite…" He paused, then his face brightened and he snapped his fingers. "Got it. Summer, our Second class year," and Chip started to chuckle, his eyes bright with amusement.
Nelson turned to Jamie. "Obviously, Chip doesn’t think it was too traumatic."
"Sorry, Sir. I just got in on the aftermath," and he chuckled again.
"Why don’t you just tell us what you do know," Doc coached, and Chip finally sobered – sort of. The occasional grin still surfaced.
"We both did our Summer Cruise immediately after finals, then had a couple weeks off before we were due back. I was scheduled for a computer science class at the Naval Labs in D.C. and Lee was on Plebe Detail." Chip couldn’t stop a snicker. "Sorry. Anyway, I headed for my folks’ place and Lee went off to spend the time with his Mom. She was on assignment…can’t remember right off the bat where."
"She was writing even back then, if I remember correctly," Nelson said.
"That’s right. Freelance work mostly, like now."
"Out of the country?" Nelson asked.
"Yes, Sir, that much I do remember."
"That would tie in with the consulate. But why that, specifically, and not Embassy I wonder? No matter, we’ll figure that one out later. Go on," he encouraged the younger man.
"Anyway, when I got back there was Lee, one big walking bandage. Seems someone had used him for a human punching bag," Chip practically giggled.
"You find that funny, Mr. Morton?" Doc raised an eyebrow at the XO.
"That Lee was hurt, no," and Chip sobered slightly. "But he was one solid bruise, trying to do a tour as brigade officer for Orientation." Chip couldn’t control another snicker, no matter how hard he tried. "You remember how serious he was at the Academy, Admiral. That first week was pure misery. I even heard that some of the other brigade officers were thinking of using Lee as an example – of what an officer is not."
"I don’t believe I ever heard about that," Nelson admitted.
"That doesn’t surprise me, Admiral. I think it was kept pretty much between us middies. Everyone knew you had to be careful around Lee. His retaliations could be positively fiendish. I remember once…" and Chip stopped himself, remembering who he was talking to, even if it had been all those years ago. "Anyway, he was good at covering up injuries even back then. After the first few days, outwardly you’d never know anything was wrong. However, being his roomie, there wasn’t much he could hide from me."
"What happened to him?" Doc wanted to know.
"For the longest time he wouldn’t say, just that it was an accident. But I finally got him to tell me, at least part of it."
"In other words, you needled and harassed him until he gave you an answer just to shut you up." Nelson’s voice was stern but his eyes gave him away and all three smiled, Chip a bit sheepishly.
"And…" Doc encouraged.
"He was mugged."
"Our Captain?" Doc’s voice was incredulous. "The man who leaps tall buildings with a single bound? Or, at least, thinks he can?"
"You have to remember, Doc, this was before all his ONI training."
"I know, but still…" and Doc shook his head.
"That’s all he ever said?" Nelson asked.
"And he only really told me that because I knew about the trouble he had getting all his ID paperwork straightened out. They didn’t get his passport, luckily. He’d left that locked in the hotel safe. But he lost his wallet, dog tags, everything else."
The three were silent for a second, then Nelson turned to Jamie. "So, where does that get us? Where do we go from here?"
"Already working on it, Admiral. Once I got the Skipper settled down I had Sparks place a call to an old friend of mine. He’s had some experience dealing with this sort of thing. Oh, I wasn’t specific," he added quickly at Nelson’s and Chip’s stares. "Just said I had a crewman with a problem. Anyway, he set up a conference call with a friend of his, and the consensus was, watch and wait."
"You don’t advocate sending him back home? Seeing someone about this?" Nelson was a bit disbelieving.
"Actually, no. It was felt that for whatever reason, something about this trip seems to be triggering the memories to surface. If he were back home, one, the memories might stop altogether and we’d just have to deal with them at a later date. This is going to be a quiet trip, no major projects. We’d be better off to take care of it now before it affects a critical cruise. And two, on a personal note, do either of you really want to deal with trying to send that man away from Seaview?" As both men shuddered, Doc grinned. "I thought not."
"So what do we do?" Chip wanted to know.
"At this point, just be observant. The Skipper’s sufficiently upset by this that keeping him out of too much trouble should be fairly easy – at least for a little while. We’ll all just have to keep an eye on him."
"He’s going to love that," Chip muttered.
"Yes, and unfortunately you’re going to end up taking the brunt of it, since you spend more time around him than we do."
"What do I do?"
"Just what you’ve been doing – keep an eye on him, quietly control any situations that come up, and be supportive. Listen carefully to anything he says, and try to remember what was happening at the time if something does trigger a memory."
Lt. James’ voice on the all-boat intercom interrupted. "Prepare for heavy turbulence, in ten seconds. Repeat – heavy turbulence. Brace yourself." All three gripped the solidly fastened down table until the underwater wave had passed. Then, as Nelson and Chip headed for the Control Room, Jamie headed for the stairs. Nelson stopped briefly and looked back at the CMO.
"Take care of him, Jamie."
"He’ll be fine, Admiral. We all know how mentally strong the Captain is. I can’t imagine this shaking him for long." Jamie smiled and headed back for Sick Bay.
* * * *
The turbulence had awakened Lee and without a thought he tried to jump up and grab a mic. He actually made it halfway across the room before the lingering effects of the sedative Jamie had given him caused his vision to blur and he grabbed the edge of the exam table to steady himself. Almost immediately he discovered Frank standing next to him.
"Easy, Skipper," said the corpsman gently. The Captain wasn’t known for accepting assistance willingly.
"Have to find out what happened," and Lee’s voice was still muzzy.
"Just some turbulence. Here, let me help you back to bed."
"The Control Room sent a warning. I just couldn’t get to you fast enough to keep you from being tossed around. Everything’s under control," and Lee finally let Frank help him back to the bunk. But he refused to lie down, sufficiently awake by now that he was beginning to realize what Jamie had done to him. Still sitting on the side of the bunk when Jamie walked back in, Lee sent the CMO a hard look.
"Jamie, you and I need to have a long talk," he said firmly.
"Actually, Skipper, we do," Doc answered with a smile, slightly defusing his ticked-off commander. "Since you’re awake, let’s grab you a robe and walk down to your cabin. We can talk while you’re getting dressed."
The hard look on Lee’s face brightened perceptibly at the prospect of getting out of Sick Bay and the two quickly made the short trip to Officers’ Country. Jamie occupied himself looking at the few pictures Lee kept in his cabin, mostly of various crew functions, while the younger man took a quick shower. As Lee stepped out of the head, one towel wrapped around his waist and using another to dry his hair, Doc pointed to the only picture that didn’t have something to do with Seaview or the Institute. "How long has your Mother been a freelance writer?" he asked
Lee hesitated a fraction of a second, only because Jamie didn’t usually ask that kind of personal question, but answered easily as he started to dress. "When I was growing up she worked for the local newspaper, but she always seemed to have little projects going on the side. About the time I started High School she went totally freelance, and has been fortunate enough to make a good living at it."
"I confess to knowing little about her. What kinds of stories does she write about?"
Lee’s smile was instant and fond. "Whatever takes her fancy at the moment," he said, but he gave Doc a quizzical look that the CMO didn’t miss, and Doc sat down at Lee’s desk.
"I had a talk with Chip and Admiral Nelson while you were napping." The hard look momentarily returned to Lee’s face, but it softened quickly and Doc continued with a smile of his own. "I told them what you could remember of the dream, hoping it might trigger something since they’ve known you longer than I have."
"Chip says the summer between your Third and Second Class years at Annapolis you went off to spend a couple weeks with your Mom and came back, as he phrased it, looking like someone had used you for a punching bag." While Jamie had kept his voice light, almost instantly Lee’s expression darkened and Jamie started to rise. But Lee raised a hand, and Jamie settled back into the chair.
"It’s OK, Jamie. I just hadn’t thought of that in years."
"What happened?" the CMO asked gently, and after a moment’s hesitation, Lee answered.
"Mom was in Hong Kong, doing a story on Chinese antiquities that were finding their way into the local black market. I’d followed her around for several days, visiting museums and interviewing legal antique dealers, that kind of stuff, and just got bored," and he gave Jamie a sheepish grin. Doc smiled and Lee’s expression hardened. "Don’t go there, Jamie," he warned.
"Wasn’t going to say a word, Skipper," but he smiled knowingly just the same.
"Anyway," Lee continued with another hard look at Jamie, "I went off sightseeing on my own." He hesitated, with somewhat of a blank expression on his face. Jamie started to get concerned again but finally Lee looked at him fully. "I never really remembered what happened. Just woke up in hospital, with Mom sitting next to the bed. I was told I’d shown up at the American Consulate in pretty bad shape, badly beaten and minus all my ID." Lee had been dressing, pulling on shorts and uniform slacks, and now sat on the edge of the bunk to put on socks and shoes. "It all fits, doesn’t it?"
"Pretty much, Skipper. How did they find out who you were, so they could notify your Mother?"
"When I didn’t show up back at the hotel that evening Mom got worried and notified the authorities. Several hours later she got a call to go see if she could identify a ‘John Doe’ – me." He was silent for a bit, pulling on his shirt and starting to button it. "Why now?"
"How should I know? I’m just a lowly sub doctor," and he grinned at Lee’s suddenly amused expression.
"Yeah, right, Jamie," he muttered, and Jamie’s grin broadened. "What now?" and Lee got serious again.
"Just go with it, Skipper. Let it come and don’t try to fight it. Whatever happened seems bound and determined to come to a head, and the best thing that you can do is just let it." As Lee stood up, he added, "Right after a decent lunch." Lee’s weight loss, made more obvious by his appearance fresh from the shower, had not gone unnoticed.
Lee glared at him. "I haven’t even digested breakfast yet," he complained.
"That’s what you get for missing all those meals last week," Doc answered sternly, then smiled. "Might as well at least try to eat something, Skipper. If you don’t now, you’ll just have to answer to Chip when you get to the Control Room."
Jamie chuckled as Lee cringed, then said cautiously, "You haven’t said anything about restricted duty," and looked at Jamie questioningly.
"I catch you going diving, or taking FS1 out by yourself, I’ll have the Admiral bust you back to plebe," Doc threatened firmly, then smiled. "Other than that, just try to stay out of trouble. And please," he continued sincerely, "let me know if you need anything. Even if it’s just to talk…under the circumstances, especially if it’s just to talk."
"I promise, Jamie."
* * * *
The rest of the day went quietly. Lee knew both Chip and the Admiral were watching him, however covertly it was done, but there were no more problems. Lee wandered around running proficiency drills in various departments, aided by Chief Sharkey. Lee didn’t mind. Whether or not someone had said anything to the Chief, Sharkey seemed reluctant to let Lee out of his sight and, with him along, Admiral Nelson and Chip kept their distance. Lee surprised himself by being hungry at dinner, then spent most of the evening entering the results from the drills into his computer and working on some reports. Just after 2215 the sound of a flat hand slamming the outside of his cabin door caused him to chuckle and he called out good-naturedly "Goodnight, Chip." But he took the hint and went to bed.
The next day started out just as peacefully. After breakfast Lee had joined Chip in the Control Room, checking status reports and talking to the Duty Crew. He’d also recommended to Chip that this might be an excellent opportunity to run Lt. James through a few drills, giving the young man more experience running Seaview. Chip agreed but suggested that Lee make himself scarce, since having both senior officers looking over his shoulder wouldn’t help the Lieutenant’s confidence. Lee smiled and made his own suggestion that Chip leave. Chip’s reply being not respondable to, Lee laughed all the way out the aft hatch. A puzzled Chief Sharkey accompanied him but Lee didn’t explain his laughter, just told the Chief they were on the way to the aft stores locker for a spot inspection and maintenance check. Sharkey got at least a partial answer when Chip’s voice was heard over the all-boat intercom reporting that Seaview would be running a series of maneuvering drills, all duty stations were to be manned, and any crew moving around the boat should do so carefully.
The aft stores locker was fairly full, mostly with boxes of supplies for the research station. Lee and Sharkey were standing quietly, discussing crew assignments, when Seaview moved sharply down and to port. Lee reached a hand out to steady himself, at the same time noting that a couple of cardboard boxes on the top of one stack wiggled slightly with the maneuver. Sharkey had been caught out in the open with nothing to hold onto, and his somewhat irreverent comments as his backside landed on the deck distracted Lee as Seaview swung sharply to starboard. Neither saw the uppermost box break free and hit Lee on his back and shoulders.
The pain was almost unbearable. His hands and legs wouldn’t move, and it took him a bit to realize they were tied. All he wanted to do was curl into a ball on the hard concrete floor. He was aware of voices but had no idea what they were saying. Nor did he have any idea where he was. Opening his eyes hadn’t helped. All he could see were boxes stacked in most of the available space. ‘Must be a warehouse’ he thought before another wave of pain hit him and he closed his eyes again, trying without much success to deal with it.
With no idea of passing time he became aware of voices again, closer this time, one speaking English, the other responding in what sounded like Chinese. Not being able to translate, Lee concentrated on the words he could understand.
"You said Che found him snooping behind the warehouse?"
"No, not right now. We have more important matters to take care of."
"You have all his ID? When we’re done Che can finish what he started, then dump the body in some alley on the other side of town. Just another dumb American who went where he wasn’t supposed to and got himself killed during a mugging."
The sound of footsteps faded, but whether the men were actually leaving or he was losing consciousness, he wasn’t sure.
Somewhere he heard someone say "Skipper?" but a wave of pain hit him hard and he just curled his body tighter, ignoring everything else. He had no idea how much time had passed when he felt hands gently exam his back, then try to straighten out his body, running carefully down each limb. Vaguely aware that it was not causing further pain, he allowed the movement. Experimentally he opened his eyes, comforted by the familiar sight of Jamie’s face – comfort that quickly turned to annoyance as he remembered where he was and tried to sit up.
"Easy, Skipper," Jamie’s voice warned as hands reached to hold him down. Looking around Lee saw the CMO to his right and Sharkey on the left. Reluctantly laying his head back, Admiral Nelson’s face appeared above him.
"Chief?" Lee grumbled, irritation very evident in his voice.
"Aye, Sir," Sharkey answered immediately.
"I want whoever secured those boxes assigned to cleaning the ballast tanks for the rest of this cruise."
Through the laughter that erupted from Doc and the Admiral, Lee watched the Chief’s expression fall. "Aah, Skipper. That would be me, Riley and Patterson," and even Lee chuckled. He also made another attempt at sitting up and this time wasn’t stopped, although the Admiral left a hand on his shoulder.
"How do you feel, Skipper?" Doc asked.
Opening his mouth to give the usual "I’m fine," he caught the expression on the CMO’s face and changed his mind. "Back hurts," he muttered instead.
"Not surprising, since that’s where the box hit you. Luckily all it had inside were office supplies. I don’t even want to think about what could have happened if it had been something heavy, machine parts or whatever."
"If it had been that heavy," Lee growled with a glare at the Chief, "and on top of the stack instead of on the bottom, I know three crewmen who would be assigned ballast tank maintenance the rest of their lives."
Still chuckling, Nelson patted Lee’s shoulder. "You’ve made your point, Lee."
Lee gave the Chief one more glare, but even he couldn’t maintain it in the face of the Chief’s crestfallen expression, and finally smiled. "Relax, Chief. I know it was an accident. However…"
"Understood, Skipper," Sharkey hurried to respond. "I’ll go through all the lockers personally."
"Yes, you will," Lee got in one more shot, and started to stand up.
"Skipper…" Doc started.
"I’m fine," Lee snapped harder than he intended, and wasn’t sure why.
"Yes," Doc agreed, "I think you are. But you’ve got some pretty severe scratches on your back. I want you to come down to Sick Bay long enough for me to treat them." He grinned, and Lee realized the CMO was no longer looking directly at him but slightly to Lee’s right. Turning, Lee caught the expression on Admiral Nelson’s face and surrendered gracefully. He was a little surprised when the Admiral didn’t also follow them to Sick Bay, as was his habit. Once there, Doc had Lee remove his shirt, the back of which was ripped and showed traces of blood, and lay face down on the exam table. Lee crossed his arms and put his head down on them, facing away from Doc as the CMO cleaned the skin around the abrasions and applied an antibiotic ointment. As gentle as he was it still stung badly, but other than clenching his fists Lee didn’t move.
As he finished his ministrations, Doc said quietly, "If I ask you a question, will you give me a straight answer?" Lee lifted his head and turned to look at Jamie, but didn’t say anything. "When I first got to the storage locker," Doc continued even more softly, "where were you?"
Lee didn’t answer immediately, just continued to look at Jamie then lowered his head back onto his arms, once again facing away. "I’m not sure," he finally said, barely loud enough for Jamie to hear.
"Just tell me what you can."
After another hesitation Lee turned and looked at Jamie, but still rested his head on his arms. "Some kind of warehouse, I think. There were a lot of boxes, anyway. I was lying on a concrete floor. Couldn’t move. Everything, my whole body, hurt." Even Lee could hear the pain in his voice, and he continued more forcefully. "There were voices, but I don’t remember seeing anyone."
"What did the voices say, do you remember?" and Jamie smiled encouragement.
"No, not really. Part of the time they weren’t speaking English."
"So sometimes they were?"
Lee closed his eyes and thought a bit before answering, then sighed heavily. "I don’t remember any more. Sorry."
"You don’t have anything to apologize for, Skipper. Remember that – if nothing else," and he smiled at his somewhat unsubtle joke. It took Lee a couple seconds but he finally did, too.
Just then there was the sound of someone entering Jamie’s office from the outer door, and Lee called out amiably. "What took you so long, Chip?" and the XO entered the main part of Sick Bay.
"Had to wait until I got everything straightened out from Chris’ maneuvers," and he finally grinned.
Lee did too, raising up and sitting on the edge of the exam table. "Felt like he was doing a good job." Lee hesitated and a hard look appeared on his face. "You didn’t do or say anything about this being his fault, did you?" he demanded.
"Relax, Lee," Chip assured him with a grin. "If I hadn’t already gotten an earful from the Admiral, the expression on the Chief’s face when he got back to the Control Room would have been a dead giveaway. Not to mention the fact that I already knew who was working where during the loading," and Chip looked smug.
"With all your efficiency, Mr. Morton, you still forgot to bring me a new uniform shirt," and Lee’s own expression turned smug as Chip’s smile faded. But both Lee and Doc burst out laughing, and Chip’s smile came back.
"Out, both of you," Doc fussed, and Lee slid off the table, picked up his torn shirt and draped it over his shoulder. As the two younger men left, Doc reached for the intercom and punched the direct line to Admiral Nelson’s cabin.
"Already working on it, Jamie," Nelson assured him when the CMO told him what he wanted, after first reporting to the Admiral that his Captain, other than being sore, was just fine. "It might take a bit of digging since it’s been so long, but I called in a few favors and have someone I trust checking quietly. He’s not only searching for the original hospital records of the incident, but also any records the Consulate in Hong Kong made at the time."
"Would there still be anything there after all this time? At the Consulate, I mean."
"I have no idea. But you know the government, Jamie. They never throw anything away. It’s just a matter of knowing how and where to dig," and he chuckled softly. "I’ll let you know as soon as I hear anything."
"Thank you, Admiral."
"He’s fine, Admiral," and Jamie closed the connection. He probably should have told Nelson there had been another episode, however small it was, but the Skipper was already very uncomfortable with what was happening. He didn’t need the Admiral and XO watching his every move any more than they already were.
After changing, Lee had returned to the Control Room where he and Chip quietly went over with Lt. James the exercises Chip had run the Lieutenant through. Reading quickly through Chip’s notes Lee complimented the young junior officer on how well everything had gone, and gently pointed out a couple areas that Lt. James might want to review. After lunch Lee returned to the aft stores locker, noting with a smile that all boxes were now, if anything, overly secured. He stood quietly for a moment but the earlier memories didn’t return. Finally, with a shrug of his shoulders that served him notice of how stiff they were going to be in the morning, he went to his cabin and worked on reports most of the afternoon. A couple times he allowed his thoughts to wander, and tried to remember what he could of the incident so many years ago. As disturbing as it was to Lee’s sense of order, he’d finally had to admit that Doc was right, he’d only give himself a headache if he pushed it too hard. He let it go and went back to the reports.
Admiral Nelson was in one of his expansive moods over dinner and entertained those in the Wardroom with stories from his early years in the Navy. Lee always enjoyed these times, never tiring of listening to how things used to be done. Frequently he could follow the Admiral’s thought processes logically as to why and how, when he’d designed Seaview, Nelson had improved on older methods. Once dinner was over, however, Lee felt unusually restless. Returning to the Control Room he was unable to settle down, instead opting to wander all over Seaview. He found himself visiting this department and that, staying to talk and go over reports with the crewmen on duty, but ultimately getting restless again and moving on. He had no idea of the time until he heard Admiral Nelson’s voice on the intercom asking for him to please report to the Admiral’s cabin and, glancing at his watch, discovered it was after 2230. He walked rapidly to Officers’ Country and knocked on the Admiral’s door. Hearing Nelson’s normally gruff voice say, "Come in," he entered, a slight smile on his face. It faded as Nelson, sitting at his desk, looked up sternly.
"You see that bunk over there?" and the Admiral indicated across the cabin.
"Yes, Sir," Lee answered cautiously, getting a feeling of where this was headed.
"There’s one just like it in your cabin, not being used. I know, because I just came from there."
Lee lowered his eyes sheepishly, but not before he saw a small grin start to play across the Admiral’s face. "Understood, Sir," and Lee turned to leave. "Goodnight, Admiral."
"Goodnight," Nelson replied, his voice still stern, but gave Lee a smile as the younger man turned to pull the door closed behind him. Lee smiled, too, and went to his cabin, unsure if he’d actually be able to fall asleep.
* * * *
He was walking down a small street, enjoying the casualness. He much preferred this more personal side of Hong Kong, as opposed to the office buildings and elegant stores he’d spent the last few days visiting with his Mom. Here there were little shops and outdoor booths, an ever-changing variety of sights and smells to tickle his senses. Civvies felt less strange on his body, after all the time he spent in uniform.
He turned a corner…the street became a deserted alley. He tried to retrace his steps but there were only endless, deserted alleys everywhere he looked. Confused, he stood still for a moment, trying to remember how he’d gotten from the busy street to here – and where ‘here’ was. Suddenly, standing before him, was a man. A very large man. Lee could swear he hadn’t been there just a moment before. He was a huge man, with a huge smile on his face. Lee tried to ask him where he was, and how to get back to the shops. But the man just continued to smile. Lee tried the few words of Chinese he’d picked up: hello, please, and where is the US Consulate? The man’s smile just widened, showing lots of teeth. Then his face started to change. It turned green, and elongated, and the teeth grew into fangs…
Drums? Where did they come from? Feels like I’m inside one. No, feels like I am one, being pounded on. Pain! Please stop drumming on me. Why are you doing this? Stop! Get away from me. Leave me alone.
"Let me go!" and Lee vaguely heard a crash, along with some muttered expletives.
"Damn it, Lee," and he looked to his right. Chip sat on the deck, rubbing the back of his head where, from the looks of things, it had connected with the side of Lee’s desk. Lee didn’t say anything, just propped himself up on his elbow. Only a few remnants of the dream were still present, now that he was fairly awake.
Chip finally looked up and realized he was being watched. "I swear, Lee Crane, the next time I’m just going to throw a bucket of bilge water on you."
"I gather I woke you up," Lee was finally putting the pieces together. Chip was dressed in PJ bottoms and the clock on the desk read 0205.
"Are you OK?" Chip demanded, still grumpy.
"What was going on? I heard you groaning through the bulkhead, came in to wake you up, and you threw me across the room."
"Sorry. I seem to recall something about being pounded on by a very large green dragon."
"Too bad he didn’t finish the job," Chip groused as he stood up, but couldn’t control the grin that started to spread across his face.
"Sorry," Lee apologized again, a matching smile now on his face as well. "Go back to bed." Chip gave him an inquiring look but Lee just shook his head. The old standard "I’m fine" came out before he could stop it and Chip added a few more choice morsels to his earlier epithets before stomping out, although Lee did hear a soft chuckle just before the door closed.
Lee lay back down but some of the earlier restlessness invaded, and now that he was wide-awake he got up. Hoping it wouldn’t take Chip long to fall back asleep he sat down at his desk and worked on reports. He could remember very little of the dream any more. Even telling Chip about the green dragon by now meant nothing to him and he just shrugged it off. He worked until 0530, showered and dressed, and was almost finished with breakfast in the Wardroom when Chip came in at 0620.
"How’s your head?" Lee asked amiably when Chip spotted him.
"Pounding nicely, thank you," Chip grumbled, reaching back to rub the sore spot. The gesture was unfortunately seen by Doc, who had just come in the door.
"You OK, Chip?" he asked with a grin. If there was anyone on board less likely to admit to injury than the Captain, it was the XO.
"I’m just fine, Doc," Chip continued to grouse.
"Seems he had an unfortunate encounter with a green dragon," Lee couldn’t resist the needle. "It was masquerading as my desk." The look Chip sent his way was positively deadly, and wasn’t made any better by the totally innocent one Lee sent back.
"Would one of you like to explain?" Doc tried again.
"Not if I can at all possibly avoid it," Chip muttered, and turned to fill his plate. Doc looked at Lee but he was just grinning into his coffee cup so Doc dished up his own meal.
Chip was studiously ignoring the light conversation Lee and Jamie were engaged in when Admiral Nelson joined them. As the other two greeted Nelson, Chip merely muttered a quiet "Good morning, Sir," and returned his eyes to his plate. Lee’s grin broadened and Doc couldn’t stand it any longer.
"OK, you two," the CMO said sternly. "Enough is enough. What’s going on?" Nelson raised an eyebrow but didn’t comment as Doc looked back and forth between the two senior officers.
"Chip’s head had an unfortunate altercation with the side of my desk," Lee finally answered. "It was an accident."
"Chip?" Doc was unwilling to let it drop.
"I’m fine," Chip muttered, but even he couldn’t control the grin that escaped at the old familiar phrase. He glanced at Lee, one hand absently reaching up to rub the back of his head, and both burst out laughing.
"Let me look at it," Doc said as he got up and walked behind the XO.
"It’s nothing, Doc," Chip said, still grinning, but ducked his head with a loud ‘ouch’ as Jamie’s fingers found the sore spot.
"That’s a fair sized lump for just being nothing," Jamie responded calmly. "I’m guessing a fair sized headache goes with it." When Chip didn’t immediately answer, Nelson finally entered the conversation. "Chip?" he said sternly, and Chip finally looked at him. The XO brought thumb and forefinger close together and glanced back at Jamie.
"Little bit," he admitted grudgingly.
"What happened?" Doc wanted to know. Chip looked at Lee, who just shrugged his shoulders.
"Ah, Lee. A little help here, if you don’t mind," Chip complained. "After all, you caused it."
"Don’t ask me," Lee deadpanned "I was asleep."
"Lee!" and Lee cracked up again.
"Oh, OK. Once again the Captain has to come to the aid of his hapless XO."
As Chip muttered "Bilge water, definitely," Jamie just shook his head and looked at Nelson.
"I’m not sure it’s worth the effort, Admiral," and both older men chuckled.
"So it would seem," Nelson agreed, and the subject was dropped.
* * * *
Except for a few lingering sideways glances that passed between the two senior officers that morning in the Control Room, it was forgotten between them as well. The Navigation computer, while working, was again causing Chip some trouble, and Lee stayed fairly close. He was absentmindedly glancing through some reports about the new science station when Riley called out from the hydrophones that he was getting something weird. Lee raised an eyebrow.
"Weird, Riley?" and he started to walk toward the young crewman. "That’s not exactly a proper…" and was stopped mid-sentence by the turbulence that suddenly struck Seaview. With no advance warning a good many things went flying on board the huge submarine, one of them being, unfortunately, her Captain.
He didn’t think he had ever been in more pain than he was at that moment. There was not a part of his body that had escaped the beating except, for some reason, his face. That hadn’t been touched. He remembered the face of the man who had done most of the damage – the man who kept smiling as he pummeled Lee with his fists. Lee’s ribs ached so bad he could barely draw a breath. The man had just kept hitting and hitting. Lee couldn’t get away – held in place by other hands with unseen faces, his legs kicked or hit with something, he wasn’t sure what, just felt the pain. After awhile even that died away as his senses shut down…
Kowalski was the first one to get himself back on his feet. Lt. James and Mr. Morton were already issuing commands to the crew, although doing it from the deck. The XO had been half under the Navigation computer when the turbulence hit and the Lieutenant back by the Radio Shack. Everyone seemed to be OK except the Skipper, who Kowalski had noticed laying at the base of the steps to the periscope island, unmoving. "Mr. Morton," he yelled, and hurried to the Captain’s side.
At Kowalski’s yell Chip looked in that direction and immediately saw what was causing the rating’s concern. Mic still in hand from calling for Damage Control to report, he quickly double-clicked and called Sick Bay to have Doc sent forward immediately. Chip quickly joined Ski, but all he could do was look on helplessly. Lee was curled into a tight ball on his side moaning in obvious pain, from what Chip wasn’t sure. He looked up gratefully as Jamie arrived and moved aside so the CMO would have more room.
Jamie didn’t waste a lot of time. He gave Lee a quick once over, what he could reach anyway in Lee’s present position. Briefly checking his eyes, and with a glance up at Chip, Jamie prepared an injection and administered it right through Lee’s shirt into his upper arm. The effect was noticeable in seconds – Lee’s body began to relax and they were able to roll him onto his back. Conscious that by now every crewman in the room was closely following what was happening, Jamie again looked up at Chip and manufactured a smile. "Suppose you can manage things on your own for a bit, Mr. Morton? Seems the Captain is in need of a short nap."
Chip understood the ploy and managed a small grin of his own. "They’re your eardrums, Doc." They were interrupted at that point by the arrival of one of the corpsmen with a stretcher. Chip helped transfer his now totally unconscious friend onto it, and motioned Kowalski to help carry Lee down to Sick Bay. Doc would know just the right things to say to the rating, who was closer to Lee than anyone else on the boat with the exception of Admiral Nelson, Jamie, and himself. The rest of the crew would look to Ski for answers and with Doc’s help the Senior Rating would have nice innocent ones, guaranteed to protect Lee’s strong sense of privacy.
When Jamie couldn’t find any preliminary signs of trauma strong enough to cause the pain Lee was obviously in, only a contusion over his ribs most likely caused by hitting the periscope railing, he had known the Captain was in the throes of another flashback episode. Lee was in enough emotional distress as it was; the last thing he needed was for the crew to find out what was going on. He had administered a fast acting sedative and been grateful when Chip asked Kowalski to help get the Skipper down to Sick Bay. If anything happened on the short trip, Ski would do whatever was needed to protect his Captain.
Luckily Lee continued to sleep peacefully. There had been no major injuries from the turbulence, only bumps and bruises that the corpsmen had already dealt with, and all was quiet in Sick Bay. After Lee was transferred to the exam table Doc dismissed the reluctant-to-leave rating, promising an update as soon as he had one. Gently stripping Lee of his uniform Doc quickly confirmed that the only sign of injury was the bruised ribs, and was in the process of setting up an IV when Admiral Nelson walked in.
"What kept you," Jamie said, glancing up from taping the needle in place, and was gratified to see a brief smile cross Nelson’s face to replace the worried frown.
"Had to change clothes," Nelson admitted. "That turbulence caught me in the lab." But the frown quickly came back. "How is he?"
"Actually just fine, other than a beauty of a contusion on his left ribcage. Nothing serious but he’ll have a gorgeous bruise for awhile."
"Then why is he unconscious, and why the IV?"
"The answer to the second question is simple – being here means he’s going to miss another meal he just can’t afford to right now."
"And the first?" demanded an increasingly impatient Nelson.
"Simply the remnants of the shot I gave him in the Control Room. I didn’t want to take any chances, so when I realized what was going on I gave him a quick acting sedative. It should wear off shortly, then we’ll see where we stand."
"What was going on…" and it finally dawned on Nelson what Jamie was saying. "He was having another flashback."
"I’m fairly sure of it. He had rolled himself into a ball, clutching himself in obvious agony, and there’s just not a physical reason for him to be in that much pain."
Nelson paused for a bit, looking down at the sleeping young man he called friend, among other things. "Jamie," he said finally, "I’m no longer convinced that keeping him here is such a good idea."
"I am," the CMO answered immediately, confidently. "For a couple of reasons. First, are you ready to totally scrub this mission?"
"What?" and Nelson blinked at him. "What do you mean by that?"
"If you’re ready, here and now, to turn Seaview around and go home, then I would say fine, I know a nice private hospital we could take him to. But it would take a commitment from both you and Chip to go as well, for as long as it took. You of all people know how private a man the Skipper is. Right now the last thing he needs is to be separated from the very few people he’s allowed himself to get close to. He depends on you and Chip much more than I think either of you realize."
"You, too, Jamie," Nelson said softly, and Doc smiled.
"Yes. As much as we snipe at each other, I’d like to think he also trusts me enough to call me friend."
"He does, Jamie. Don’t ever doubt it," and both smiled. "But I’m worried about him," Nelson continued seriously.
"As am I," Jamie assured. "I still think he’s better off here. We all know he’s more comfortable on Seaview than he is even at home. He has so many things coming at him from different directions right now, the more we can do to remind him he’s safe, the better off he’ll be."
"You’re right, of course, Jamie. And no, I’m not really ready to turn around and go home. While the research station isn’t vitally in need of what we’re taking them, the faster they’re set up the better. And I do really need to discuss several of the projects with Dr. Hardjono."
They were interrupted as Lee started to move around. Jamie was quick to notice that the subconscious pain seemed to be gone, but warned Nelson that the Skipper was likely to be very disoriented, and probably agitated, upon awakening. They positioned themselves on opposite sides of the gurney and waited.
As usual, Jamie was right. The last thing Lee remembered was Riley’s comments about the hydrophones. Waking up in Sick Bay was decidedly unsettling. Strong but gentle hands kept his upper body still as he fought off the last of the sedation, and finally looked up with clear eyes into those of the Admiral and CMO.
"Easy, Skipper," Jamie smiled down at him. "You’re stuck in my clutches for a couple hours at least. Just relax," and even Lee couldn’t help a small smile.
"What happened?" he asked, glancing at Nelson.
"We got caught in some unexpected turbulence. According to Chip you bounced off the railing around the periscope."
"Seaview?" came the immediate inquiry, and both Nelson and Jamie chuckled.
"Just fine, Lad," the Admiral answered. Both he and Jamie had quit holding Lee down when it was apparent he was fairly back to normal, and he now tried to sit up.
"Not so fast," Jamie quickly reached for him, as did Nelson.
"I feel fine, Jamie," Lee complained.
"I know you do. However, you’ve got a nasty contusion on your ribcage that I want to keep an eye on for a bit, and you apparently failed to notice I started an IV."
"Why?" Lee demanded, his expression darkening.
"Because I felt like it," Jamie snapped back. "Will you just relax for awhile? I don’t want you here any longer than I have to, you know. You’re too hard on my nervous system," and Lee finally grinned sheepishly and lay back.
"Thank you," Jamie muttered, and sent a wink the Admiral’s way that he knew Lee saw as well. Anything the Captain might have said, however, was interrupted by Chip’s arrival.
"Jamie?" the XO asked worriedly, and hurried over.
"I’m fine, Chip. Chill," Lee answered for him.
"What he said," Jamie chuckled anyway.
"No buts, Mr. Morton," Doc cut him off. The last thing he wanted, since Lee didn’t seem to remember what had happened in the Control Room, was for the XO to bring it up. "As I recall," he changed the subject, "you have a lump on the back of your thick skull I still haven’t taken a good look at." As Chip’s expression changed from worried to defiant, Jamie pointed to the other exam table. "Sit," he ordered. Chip continued to glare for a moment, then looked at Nelson and Lee.
"You’ll not get any sympathy here, Mister," Lee muttered. "Look what he did to me," and he pointed to the IV.
"Mr. Morton," Doc said firmly, and again pointed toward the other gurney.
"I need to get back to the Control Room." Chip countered.
"Five minutes," Doc’s voice softened. "And you’ll have him back," he gestured toward Lee, "in two or three hours."
Lee started to roll over to watch, but Nelson distracted him with odds and ends of boat’s business. It gave Jamie the time he needed to have a quiet little chat with the XO while he ostensibly examined the rapidly receding knot from that morning. Chip finally admitted how it had happened, and Doc covered a snort of laughter with a short cough.
"OK, Chip, go run the boat," Doc said, releasing the XO. "And take the Admiral with you."
Nelson raised an eyebrow at the CMO but Jamie just pointed toward the door, and the Admiral looked down at Lee. "Chip was right. He’s getting downright pushy." Both smiled, but Nelson headed out.
Once both the Admiral and Chip had left, Jamie walked over and checked Lee’s IV. He was starting to walk away when Lee said softly, "Jamie?" and the CMO stopped and looked down at him. "What happened?"
Doc grinned. "Losing my touch."
Lee tucked his free arm under his head. "Actually, you weren’t doing too bad until I saw the expression on Chip’s face, and you hustled him off so fast." He smiled as Jamie just shook his head, pulled up the railing on that side of the gurney, and leaned on it.
"What’s the last thing you remember, Skipper?" he asked.
"Riley saying something about the hydrophone, then an immense pain." Lee said softly. "That’s about it."
"When we hit the turbulence you lost an argument with the periscope railing, like I said. Nothing broken but it probably knocked the breath out of you momentarily."
"That’s never caused me to lose consciousness, Jamie," Lee grumbled.
Jamie gave Lee a long look, lost an argument with himself, and took a deep breath. "You’ve never been fighting the remnants of a severe beating before. When I got there you were curled into so tight a ball I couldn’t even do a decent exam." Lee closed his eyes and Jamie reached out and laid a hand on his shoulder. "Easy, Skipper."
"I’m…just fine," and Lee practically spat out the words.
"Don’t fight it. You’ll just make things worse."
"How can it get much worse than it already is," Lee said angrily, glaring at Jamie. "I can’t even do my job. One little bump and I turn into a basket case."
"You are not a basket case. Believe me. If I thought you were I’d be the first one yelling to have you relieved of command." Jamie wasn’t sure if that had been the brightest way to phrase that, considering the scathing look Lee gave him, but it eventually had the desired effect.
"Then why don’t I remember being brought down here?" His voice was still angry, but his expression had softened slightly.
"My trusty hypo," Jamie practically smirked. That, too, slowly did its work, and Lee’s expression relaxed even further. "Now," Jamie continued sternly, "I’m going into my office and make nasty notes on your medical chart," and he chuckled as Lee turned a glare back on him. "Behave yourself." As he walked away he glanced back over his shoulder with a smile, and saw the beginnings of one on Lee’s face as well.
* * * *
Lee managed to lie quietly, even though everything that had been happening was running amok through his thoughts. Doc had checked on him a few times but Lee had again thrown his free arm over his eyes, and hadn’t bothered to acknowledge the CMO’s presence. Doc had said nothing to him, either.
This time, however, Doc said softly, "Skipper?" as he walked over from his office.
"What?" Lee muttered.
"Time to sit up and have some lunch."
"I thought that’s what I was already doing," and Lee raised his free arm to give Doc a dark look. Doc just smiled back, standing next to the gurney holding a large mug. Lee glanced at his watch – 1320.
"Cookie just brought this. Seems he was making it special for you when we hit the turbulence. Apparently not a whole lot of it survived," and Doc chuckled. "I really don’t think you want to tick him off any further than he already is by not eating it. Come on," he coaxed. "You don’t usually need this much encouragement to get off your back."
Lee finally grinned and sat up, not without a moment of discomfort that did not go unnoticed by Jamie. But he said nothing, just handed Lee the mug and started to unhook the IV. Lee recognized Cookie’s beef soup with tiny chopped vegetables and lots of pearl barley and drank readily, knowing he’d have to stop by and thank Cookie for making it and try to unruffle a few feathers.
Jamie gently checked the ribs again, then handed Lee his uniform. "Has anyone ever thought about putting padding on the periscope railing?" he asked with a grin.
Lee grinned back, finished the soup and started to dress. "I’ll mention it to Chip."
"You do that," Jamie quipped, but said nothing more.
"Jamie?" Lee asked hesitantly, tucking in his shirttails, and the CMO cocked an eyebrow at him. "Thanks."
"You’re welcome, Skipper," Jamie said with a smile. "Now scram, before I change my mind."
"Aye, Sir," Lee responded with a smile of his own and hurried out.
He had intended only a short stop at the Galley, but stayed long enough to accept and drink another mug full of the wonderful soup. The place was spotless as always, but Lee could imagine the mess a large pot of soup could have made to the usually pristine Galley, and stayed to visit while he finished the offering. It seemed to have a major effect on the chef’s mood, and by the time Lee headed forward Cookie was no longer threatening that dinner for the rest of the cruise would be bread and water.
The Control Room seemed to be unusually crowded, Lee noticed as he entered by way of the aft hatch. By the time he’d acknowledged all the calls of "Welcome back, Skipper," and "Good to see you up, Sir," from everyone, he realized that while "B" watch had taken over at 1200, most of "A" watch hadn’t yet left. Chip confirmed quietly that he hadn’t had the heart to throw them out until they knew for sure Lee was OK. It suited Lee just fine, for although Patterson had taken over at the hydrophones, Riley was still there.
"Now, Riley," he turned to the young crewman, using his best command voice while trying desperately to keep a straight face, "before we were so rudely interrupted, you were about to explain to me the definition of the word ‘weird’ as it pertains to hydrophone readings." For the next half hour he went over the tapes with Riley. With additional input from Patterson, more experienced on the instruments than Riley, Lee pointed out the subtleties of what had actually happened just prior to the incident. Even Patterson had to admit that there hadn’t been much of a warning but Lee felt sure Riley, who was such a quick learner, wouldn’t miss the signs again.
Other than that, Lee spent a quiet afternoon. Chip once again had the Navigation computer running smoothly and the two of them plotted several small course changes to test its accuracy against the Satellite Positioning System. Chip took to heart the suggestion about padding the periscope railing, then got a little carried away with ideas of how to do it. His personal favorite was a midnight raid on the San Diego Padres’ baseball stadium to steal a few sections of padding off the outfield walls. But Lee vetoed the idea, reminding Chip that that would put them in too close proximity to Admiral Jiggs Stark, so they settled on Oakland instead. Both enjoyed the San Francisco Giants team and hated their across-the-bay neighbors, the Oakland A’s.
Lee was hungry at dinnertime, which surprised him. He suspected Chip might have said something to Cookie about Lee’s not eating well the previous week, or at the very least mentioned the Skipper’s need to gain weight, because Cookie seemed to be going out of his way to prepare Lee’s favorites. Tonight it was grilled salmon with garlic mashed potatoes, baby carrots sautéed in butter, Caesar salad, fresh baked rolls, and apple crisp for dessert. Afterward Chip suckered Lee into a game of cribbage and by 2200 was up by about $20. Lee surrendered, promised to buy Chip dinner at their favorite restaurant when they got home, and headed off to do a final walk through of the boat. Some of the previous night’s restlessness returned as he prepared for bed just before 2300. However, once he lay down he fell asleep almost instantly.
* * * *
The next day started out badly for Lee. While he’d had few repercussions from getting hit by the box of supplies it now combined with yesterday’s altercation to make getting out of bed a definite chore, and he took a longer shower than usual to try to loosen up aching muscles. Nelson, Chip, and Jamie were already in the Wardroom when he finally made it at 0650.
"Thought maybe you were sleeping in," the Admiral chuckled as Lee sat down with what little he normally ate at breakfast.
"Not sleeping in, Admiral," Chip snickered. "Drowning. Seems Lee broke his own three minute rule," and Lee gave him a dirty look.
"Little sore this morning, Skipper?" Jamie asked innocently. Lee started to give his usual negative response, caught the expectantly amused expressions on all three other faces, and just nodded his head, concentrating on his plate.
"Let Jamie check you out before going on duty." Nelson said it softly, still smiling, but the order was evident in his eyes when Lee looked up at him and Lee nodded again. Done eating, both the Admiral and Chip left, followed shortly by the CMO. Lee briefly thought about finding some excuse to avoid going to Sick Bay. But only briefly, knowing Admiral Nelson would expect a report from Jamie and, if it weren’t forthcoming promptly, would go looking for his recalcitrant Captain. Lee had been known to talk his way out of similar situations, but got the distinct feeling this time he might not be so lucky. With a sheepish grin at himself he finished his coffee and headed toward his least favorite part of the whole boat.
Jamie caught the disgruntled expression that had replaced the sheepish one on Lee’s face by the time the Captain had completed the short walk, and wisely didn’t rub in his advantage. Lee knew the drill, silently walked over to the nearest exam table, and unbuttoned his shirt. Doc had him take it all the way off so he could get to Lee’s back as well. Everything looked to be healing fine and Jamie merely rubbed on a little more ointment, handed Lee a couple ibuprofen for the pain, and sent the young Captain on his way. He was just putting a few notes on Lee’s chart when his intercom buzzed and he was requested to come to the Admiral’s cabin.
At his knock Nelson’s voice bade him enter, and Nelson waved him to a chair, raising his eyebrows. "Stiff and sore. He’ll live," Jamie assured quietly, and Nelson shoved a folder across his desk to within Jamie’s reach.
"Sparks just brought this up – preliminary report from my friend." Upon opening the folder, the first thing Jamie saw were admission and treatment records for Lee B. Crane, from an English hospital in Hong Kong. It took only a minute to scan the charts and confirm what the Skipper had already been able to remember. He’d suffered a severe beating, with badly bruised ribs on both sides of his chest. Nothing had broken but there were contusions and abrasions over most of his torso and legs. His head and arms hadn’t been touched with the exception of some bruising on his arms, and marks at the wrists consistent with having been tied up at some point concurrent with the other injuries. He’d been unconscious at time of admission, remained so for almost 18 hours, and on regaining consciousness had been unable to tell hospital staff how he had sustained the injuries. Nor had he regained any memories prior to his being released 36 hours later. There were notes from the attending physician that while he had tried to keep Lee in hospital another 24 hours at least, and preferably longer, Lee had been adamant about leaving and threatened to simply walk out whether or not the proper papers were signed. When Jamie related this last to Admiral Nelson, they both just shook their heads and smiled.
"At least I know it’s not just me," Jamie quipped. He continued to page through the folder, but except for a photocopy of a page from the Hong Kong newspaper there was nothing more of interest. The highlighted article was merely a brief police report of the incident, and told them nothing new. "That’s it?" Jamie asked.
"So far," Nelson confirmed. "Chuck hasn’t given up hope of tracking down the Consulate report."
"It was just a shot in the dark anyway," Jamie sighed.
"Do we show this to Lee?"
Jamie thought about that for a bit, then shook his head. "At least, not right now. There’s nothing new here, and I don’t know how he’d react to having his story checked."
"That’s precisely why I’ve avoided trying to contact his Mother."
"I’d thought of that, too," Jamie nodded. "But if she knew any more, I’m sure she would have told Lee."
"I agree." Nelson took the folder back and tucked it in the middle drawer of his desk. "Watch and wait?"
"I still think it’s best, Admiral."
* * * *
Jamie had gone back to his office, but something kept niggling at him all morning – something he couldn’t quite put his finger on. He finally grinned at himself. The Skipper’s rubbing off on you, Jamie – not a good sign. He shook his head. Remember what you told Lee. It will come when it wants to, and he went back to what he’d been doing.
It wasn’t until he was almost done eating lunch that it hit him. Lee and Chip had been good-naturedly badgering each other most of the meal, as they were wont to do when things were running smoothly and both were relaxed. Jamie was glad to see it. He knew the Skipper was under a tremendous strain, no matter how hard he worked to hide it, and kibitzing with Chip helped him to ease the tension. Jamie and Admiral Nelson had stayed out of it, sitting quietly a short distance away, but several of the junior officers had been included in the conversation. It had originally centered on what Chip was getting his sister for her upcoming birthday. The ever-practical XO proposed a toaster and Lee had been giving him a bad time, telling him he needed to come up with something more personal than that. Chip had countered with, "she’s my sister, not my girlfriend," and from there things had gone downhill rapidly since it was a standing joke between the two that, because of their schedules, neither had been able to hold a steady girlfriend for long. Gift suggestions had begun coming at Chip from all directions, and it was one from Lt. jg Higgins that triggered what Jamie had been trying to put his finger on all morning. Unfortunately, just then one of the corpsmen called him back to Sick Bay to take care of an injured crewman, and it was almost 1330 before he was able to act on it. He tracked Nelson down in his lab and asked if he could have a word with him in the Admiral’s cabin. They met there about 15 minutes later.
"What’s up, Jamie." Nelson was puzzled. It wasn’t like the CMO to be this furtive. Normally he just said what he wanted to say, no matter where he was.
"Sorry to drag you away from your lab, Admiral. But there was a reason I wanted to meet here, in your office."
Nelson waved him to a seat and sat down himself. "You didn’t interrupt anything crucial, Jamie. What’s wrong? Lee?" and suddenly Nelson sat forward.
"Relax, Admiral. Yes, it’s about the Skipper, but nothing critical. As far as I know he and Chip are still hassling over Chip’s sister’s birthday gift." He grinned and Nelson relaxed back into his chair. "However, it’s precisely that conversation that I needed to talk to you about – or rather," he corrected himself as he saw the puzzlement registered on Nelson’s face, "something that that conversation reminded me of. Could I see the file you showed me this morning? Specifically, the copy from the newspaper." Nelson’s expression remained puzzled but he dug out the requested sheet of paper and handed it across the desk.
Jamie scanned it for a second, until he found what he was looking for. "Remember in the Wardroom, when everyone was tossing out gift ideas?" At Nelson’s quizzical nod he continued. "Higgins suggested checking out the local jewelry stores once we got to Indonesia, that sometimes you could pick up really good deals on things, specifically things made with gold and jade."
"I assume somewhere you have a point to make," Nelson said impatiently. He hated long explanations.
Jamie got up and walked around to Nelson’s side of the desk, laying the paper in front of the Admiral and pointing to one of the other articles on the page, only part of which had been copied. It dealt with the reported theft of an artifact from one of the museums, a jade dragon from China dating to the Shang Dynasty, 1700-1027 BC.
"So?" Nelson questioned, quickly scanning the article and looking back at Jamie.
"So, jade is most often green. Remember what the two of them said after Chip woke the Skipper out of that dream, and Lee threw him into his desk? Lee kept referring to a green dragon."
Nelson just starred at Jamie for a moment. "You think Lee’s beating was somehow connected to the theft."
"At this point, I don’t know what I think. It just seemed an interesting coincidence."
Nelson had gone back to reading the article. After a moment he grunted. "I’ll tell you another coincidence. The curator of the museum? His name is Hardjono." At Jamie’s raised eyebrows, he continued. "The same last name as the head scientist at the new research station."
"And the Skipper has spent a lot of time reviewing the reports from the station."
"Uh huh," Nelson confirmed. "Not the same man, of course. This guy’s first name was Nabiel. Our biologist is Rini."
"The name would have been enough. And something else. Lee said his Mom was in Hong Kong working on an article about Chinese antiquities showing up on the Black Market. You don’t suppose…"
"That our over-curious, always-a-nose-for-trouble Captain stumbled across something?" Nelson finished for him. "Wouldn’t surprise me in the least," and he chuckled softly.
"Something that could easily have gotten him killed," Jamie groused, then had to smile softly, too. Certainly nothing new there, when compared to the Skipper’s track record.
"What now?" Nelson wanted to know. "We still can’t show this to Lee without confirming we’ve been checking."
"I know. And I have no idea how he’s going to react to either that, or this story, assuming it’s not just all our imagination. It could, really, have nothing to do with the flashbacks."
"But you don’t believe that," Nelson said softly.
"No, Admiral, I don’t," Jamie confirmed. "Everything fits too well." He thought for another bit, then looked at Nelson. "Let me make another call to Chase. See what he thinks we should do. I’d feel better with his input."
"Whatever you think best," and Nelson put the page back in the folder. "In the meantime, I’m going to see if I can’t find out more about the theft."
"Good idea," Jamie confirmed, and they both headed off on their errands.
* * * *
By late afternoon Doc’s pain meds had long since worn off and Lee was stiffening up badly. The third time he was unable to stifle a groan while reaching for something, in this case a clipboard, Chip stopped what he was going, crossed his arms, and glared daggers at his Captain. Lee just ignored him but Chip wasn’t to be put off that easily. There was no telling how long the stalemate would have lasted, but they were interrupted by a call from Sparks that Chip was wanted in the Admiral’s cabin.
Lee raised an eyebrow, then just smiled. "Now you’ve done it. Got called to the Commandant’s office and you’ll have to stay after class."
Chip gave an annoyed glance at the radioman, then another one at Lee. "Mr. James," he said, not taking his eyes off Lee’s face, "you have the conn." Even after the Lieutenant’s ‘Aye, Sir’, Chip seemed reluctant to leave, and Lee finally took pity on him.
"I could use a cup of coffee. Guess I’ll take these reports and go sit in the Nose for a bit." They both knew it to be a compromise over Chip’s concern, and accepted it as such. As Lee poured his coffee he was a little surprised at himself that he wasn’t more ticked about the constant surveillance. Normally it would be driving him right up the wall. Or a fist into a bulkhead, he thought with a grimace. Hell, even Sharkey knows something is going on, and after yesterday the whole Duty crew’s got eyes in the back of their heads. A momentary wave of anger ran through Lee but he willed it away, acknowledging not only his friend’s concern but that of the crew as well. You’re certainly giving them enough reason, he muttered to himself darkly, and sat with his back to the Control Room staring out the windows, both coffee and reports ignored.
Chip hurried up the stairs and along the corridor, and even he recognized the impatience of his quick, hard rap on the Admiral’s door.
"Come," Nelson said, and Chip entered, surprised to see Jamie there as well. Impatience turned to concern and he closed the door. "Easy, Chip," Nelson smiled. "We just need to ask you something, and keep you up-to-date. Sit down," and he indicated the other empty chair next to Jamie, who turned slightly to face the XO.
"Chip, what specifically happened yesterday morning, when you smacked Lee’s desk?" Jamie asked. At Chip’s grimace he smiled. "I know what you told me. I just want to hear it from the top. Everything you remember."
Chip looked from one face to the other questioningly, then started. "I could hear Lee through the bulkhead, restless and mumbling, and figured he was having another dream." He hesitated, but at Jamie’s nod of encouragement continued. "My first clue should have been that the other times he was totally still. This time he seemed to be fighting it, or something anyway." He grinned sheepishly. "I should have known not to touch him, just my first instinct, you know? Anyway, whatever he was fighting transferred itself to me, and the next thing I knew I was flying across the room and my head connected with his desk."
"Did he say anything, either while he was still dreaming, or after?"
"Just what I told you. Couldn’t understand anything he mumbled. When I touched him he yelled something like ‘let go of me’, and I went flying. When I finally looked up he had rolled on his side and was just looking at me, pretty much awake. He apologized, said he’d mistaken me for the green dragon that was hitting him, and that was about it."
"I want you to look at something," Nelson said, sliding a sheet of paper across his desk and explaining where it had come from. Between he and Jamie they also explained, once Chip had finished reading, the conjectures they’d made earlier that afternoon. "I made a few inquiries," Nelson then continued. "Seems the jade dragon was never recovered. The Chinese government was very upset. It was on loan to the Hong Kong museum from one in Taiwan and was about to be returned to the Chinese as a good will gesture. Apparently certain members of the Chinese government complained that certain members of the Taiwan government didn’t want to give it back, and ‘arranged’ to have it stolen."
"Any truth to the theory?" Chip asked.
"Who knows?" Nelson shrugged. "No wrongdoing was ever found on the part of the curator. There were obvious signs of a break in and the security system had been compromised. Nothing was ever proven one way or the other."
"And you think Lee somehow stumbled onto something? Makes sense," as he got nods from the other two. "What now?"
"I made another call to my friend," said Doc. "Told him we’d stumbled across what we though might be triggering the flashbacks, and what would he suggest we do. He hemmed and hawed quite a bit, but finally said the ‘crewman’ should be given a chance to confront the information. He was up in the air about the timing, however. Said that without personal knowledge of the individual, we’d have to decide ourselves whether to do it now, or wait."
"Why wait? The faster Lee figures out what happened, the faster it quits driving him crazy."
"The only consideration is how the Skipper will react. We might want to wait until we’re home and he can take some time off to work through all the emotions."
Chip thought about that for a moment, then looked at Doc. "Lee’s best medicine has always been work – Seaview in particular. If you want my opinion, do it now," and received affirmative nods from both Nelson and Doc.
"That was our opinion too, Chip," Nelson said. "We just wanted your input as well."
"I’d like to have some control, however," Doc said. "Particularly after Chip’s experience."
"If you’re suggesting restraints in Sick Bay," Chip muttered, "I’m off the boat – Now!" and eventually joined the other two in chuckling.
"Not what I had in mind, Chip," Doc smiled. "Just relax. And besides, I want you present. You, too, Admiral. I have no idea how he’s going to react and I want those closest to him around, hoping your presence will make him feel safer. Not to mention more hands to hold him if he gets agitated," he added, to knowing cringes from the other two. "And," he added slyly, "I’ll have a couple friends of my own along." As Nelson and Chip looked curiously at him he held up his hand, pretending to depress the plunger on a hypodermic needle. All three nodded grimly. It was agreed that Admiral Nelson would call Lee to his cabin about 2000 hours. Working sessions were often held in the Admiral’s cabin and the crew would take no notice if it went late into the night.
Chip was instantly concerned when he returned to the Control Room. Lee was unmoving, staring out the herculite windows, reports untouched as well as a full cup of coffee. He stood watching for a moment, and was just walking over to close the crash doors when Lee turned and looked at him.
"How many demerits?" and it took Chip a second to remember Lee’s earlier crack, and smile.
"And what makes you think I wasn’t called in for a special commendation?"
"Yeah, right," and both finally cracked up. Lee cocked an eyebrow at his XO and Chip just shrugged.
"The Admiral wanted to double-check some data," and he glanced at his watch. "You about ready for dinner?" he changed the subject, and watched Lee sheepishly check his own watch.
"Didn’t realize it was getting so late," he said and rose, obviously in pain.
Chip gave him a hard look. "First stop, Sick Bay," and held up a hand as Lee started to reply. "Non-negotiable," he said firmly.
"Since when does the Captain have to negotiate anything with the XO," he said sternly, but couldn’t keep from laughing at the expression of pure stubbornness that came over Chip. "OK, OK," he muttered and headed aft, laying a hand briefly on his friend’s shoulder as he passed.
* * * *
Admiral Nelson couldn’t remember when he had ever been so shocked. He’d seen Lee during a couple of his flashbacks, and had witnessed him coming out of them. But he was almost unhinged himself, watching the change come over his friend as Lee withdrew into himself.
Dinner had been quiet. Chip had muttered briefly about irresponsible CO’s who’d still be complaining at their funeral they were just fine, and Doc had translated for the Admiral. Lee just grinned sheepishly and no one seemed in a talkative mood. Each had gone their separate ways afterward, although Nelson suspected Chip had kept a fairly close eye on Lee until coming to the Admiral’s cabin just before 2000 hours. Doc was already there, and Nelson called Lee to join them.
The smile on Lee’s face as he entered Nelson’s cabin died abruptly when he saw who else was there. "Lee, come in and sit down," Nelson said, all business. "I have something you need to see." Lee hesitantly walked over and sat in the chair they’d left for him, between Chip and Doc. Before Chip had arrived, Nelson and Doc agreed that the Admiral would do most of the talking, at least to start with. Lee was used to listening to Nelson and taking orders from him. Depending on how Lee reacted, they’d play everything else by ear. Now he smiled at his Captain, trying to relieve the worry that had taken over the young man’s face.
"I decided to do some checking," he continued, taking total responsibility for what had been done, "and had a friend do some quiet digging into your story." He noted Lee’s expression start to turn hard. Lee was absolutely going to hate this, and maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing. Maybe it would keep him focused more on the issues and less on the disturbing memories. "One of the things he sent me was a newspaper article, a brief police report if you will, of the incident." Before Lee could interrupt, as he seemed about to do, Nelson hurried on. "On the same page was a partial report of the theft of a priceless Chinese antique, a dragon carved in jade, from a museum in Hong Kong. The curator’s name was Hardjono, the same as…" but he didn’t continue, stopped by the change in Lee’s expression. Where just a moment before there had been anger, there was now only emptiness, a blankness that reminded Nelson of nothing so much as death.
Lee was again walking down the small side street in Hong Kong, enjoying the sights. As much as he loved being with his Mom, he’d had all he could stand of politicians, government officials, antique dealers, and museum curators. He much preferred watching the regular people simply trying to live their lives, do their jobs, getting from day to day the best way they knew how. He’d wandered far back from the elegant stores and European influence, back into a very ‘old world’ district, although not so far as to stick out too badly, to make him feel uncomfortable to be there with his Western clothes and obviously occidental background.
He’d nonetheless been surprised to see Dr. Hardjono hurrying past on a cross street just ahead of him. It seemed a strange place for the Curator of the largest museum in Hong Kong to be, especially since he wasn’t Chinese, but Indonesian. Lee had learned that two days before when he’d accompanied his Mom to the museum as she did research for the article she was writing. It seemed that more and more Chinese antiquities were turning up in private collections, most with forged or inaccurate provenance. His Mom had gotten involved after a friend of hers had purchased a piece from a supposedly legal dealer, only to find out later it had been stolen. His Mom wanted to get more information on a theft that had occurred at the museum the previous day, of a priceless 3500-year-old jade dragon. Dr. Hardjono had shown them pictures of it. Personally, Lee hadn’t seen anything that special about it. About 10 inches long by 8 inches high at the one end, it depicted every child’s vision of a dragon – elongated, horned-lizard-like head raised high in the air at the one end, mouth wide open and showing a lot of teeth, becoming a coiled snake-like body with legs, a spiny crest along it’s back, and a flowing mane on it’s neck. Lee did have to admit that the gemstone gave it an interesting sparkle, but quickly became bored as Dr. Hardjono rambled on and on about how old it was, how intricately it had been carved from a single piece of jade.
Lee hadn’t liked the smooth talking Curator, although he couldn’t put his finger on exactly why. Seeing him now, here, set Lee to wondering what he was up to, and Lee quietly followed. Hardjono set a fast pace, quite apparently knowing where he was going and not paying much attention behind him, and Lee followed him easily to a warehouse. At least, that’s what Lee assumed it was. It was a big box-like building with no windows that Lee could see, and Hardjono used a key to get through the only visible door. More intrigued than ever, Lee decided to walk around the building, to see if there were windows on one of the other sides.
Going around the building to the right he’d been met by another blank wall, this one without even a door. He struck pay dirt, however, when he rounded the next corner and started down the alley. There were a few windows about halfway down that side of the building. He glanced around but could see no one anywhere near, and slipped quietly along the side of the building. Sidling up to the edge of the first window, at first he saw nothing of interest, just rows and rows of boxes and crates. But there was a wall on the inside of the building between this set of windows and the next and Lee eased over to them, nearly forgetting to breathe when he looked through.
There, on a table in what looked to be some kind of office, sat the jade dragon. Lee was sure it was the one that had been reported stolen. He had always been good at fine details and this one was identical to the pictures Dr. Hardjono had shown them two days ago. What’s more, the man himself was standing next to the table, lovingly caressing the statue, talking to two other men standing on the opposite side of the table. There was a fourth man in the room, younger than the others, off to one side and about 15 feet away, reading a book and not paying any attention to the others.
Lee couldn’t believe what he was seeing. He couldn’t hear what was being said but was fairly sure that it wasn’t some private negotiation for the return of the dragon. Coupled with Lee’s dislike of the curator, it seemed to him that Hardjono was acting more like he was trying to sell the piece to the other men. Lee knew he had to get out of there and report what he’d seen. But to whom? Some of what his Mom had discovered led her to believe that there was a fair amount of corruption in the local police force. Lee decided his best course of action would be to identify his exact location, and then get to the American Consulate and make a report there. They’d know how to proceed.
Lee’s thoughts were rudely interrupted by someone grabbing his arm and spinning him around. Before him stood the biggest man Lee had ever seen, tall and huge, with a most evil grin on his face. Lee hesitated as the man just continued to stand there, grinning down on him, then without warning shot out a big beefy hand and caught Lee hard in the ribs. Belatedly Lee tried to move away but two more men, who until then he’d not seen, materialized behind him, pinning his arms. The big man’s evil grin widened, reminding Lee of the expression on the jade dragon, and he started pounding on Lee with his huge fists, occasionally punctuated with a kick to Lee’s legs. From the first punch Lee found it hard to breathe and, with the other men holding his arms, was defenseless. The big man was relentless in the beating and Lee finally lost consciousness, his last sensations the steady pounding of fists.
Lee was surprised when he awoke with no pain, the memory of the beating still fresh. He wondered briefly if he was dead, but other senses started to filter in their own sensations and he eventually opened his eyes. He was laying on the Admiral’s bunk, Doc sitting on the edge by his side, Chip standing behind the CMO, and Nelson standing by the edge close to Lee’s head. As quickly as all this sunk in he was hit with all the images of the beating, what had led up to it and, more importantly, its aftermath. They so overwhelmed him that for a moment he panicked, struggling to get up and starting to hyperventilate. Hands immediately reached for him, voices comforted him, and he gradually relaxed, finally fully aware of where he was and what had happened.
"Are you back?" Doc asked gently, easing Lee back down onto the pillows.
"Think so," Lee said cautiously, looking around at the concerned expressions and getting his breathing under control. He closed his eyes, trying to pull all the memories into order, and felt the sting of a needle. "No," he pleaded, opening his eyes and struggling again.
"Stop!" Jamie commanded. Lee reacted to the order and focused on the CMO’s face. "That’s better," and Jamie smiled. "Just take it easy. That’s only going to help you relax. It won’t put you to sleep, I promise," and he gripped Lee’s hand. Lee tried a smile of his own as he lay back down. He wasn’t sure how successful he was, but the worried expressions on both Chip’s and the Admiral’s faces relaxed. Lee took a couple deep breaths and slowly felt some of the tension leave his body. "Where were you?" Jamie asked gently. Lee took another deep breath and started his recitation.
When Lee got to the point of starting to follow Hardjono he again attempted to sit up, and this time wasn’t stopped. He turned and sat next to Jamie on the edge of the bunk. Chip pulled up a chair by the foot of the bunk and Nelson stayed where he was. Lee continued to speak softly, under control, telling the others in a steady voice what had happened so many years ago. When he got to the beating he closed his eyes, although continuing in his quiet way, still under control. Reaching the point where he lost consciousness he felt something touch his right hand and opened his eyes. Nelson smiled down at him, offering him a glass more than half full with the Admiral’s private stock of whiskey. Lee took it with a bashful smile of his own, pushed himself back against the bulkhead and pulled up his knees, putting his arms around them. He was quiet as he took several small sips of the powerful spirits.
"You remember the rest of it now, too, don’t you," Jamie coaxed. Lee nodded but didn’t immediately reply, closing his eyes again and taking another small sip of whiskey. Finally, taking a deep breath, he opened his eyes and continued.
"I woke up in the warehouse, laying on my side on the floor. My hands were tied behind my back. Ankles were tied together, too, and attached to my wrists with a short piece of rope. Everything hurt so bad," and he closed his eyes, the pain evident in his voice.
Jamie shuddered as he looked up at the Admiral. Any pain strong enough to affect this man, who routinely ignored anything short of broken bones – and sometimes even them – had to have been massive. If the grim expression on Nelson’s face was any indication, he was thinking the same thing. Jamie took a quick glance at Chip, noting the XO’s face was a blank mask, a sign he was deeply troubled. Jamie reached out a hand to him and was relieved to see a brief flicker of acknowledgment. Chip would be OK as soon as Lee was. Jamie gave him a quick smile and returned his attention to Lee. Gently touching the Skipper’s leg, he was relieved when Lee opened his eyes again, back under control.
"Voices came and went," Lee continued. "The ones I told you about," and Jamie nodded. "I know now that the one speaking English, that told the other one when they were done with their business to have me killed and dumped across town, was Hardjono." Lee sighed heavily but continued. "After he left with the other man someone slipped in behind me. I only got a glimpse of him but I’m sure it was the younger man I’d seen earlier in the office, through the window. He didn’t say anything, but I felt the ropes fall away from my hands and feet, and then he was gone as silently as he came." Again Lee paused. "I hurt so much, for a little bit I couldn’t move." He took another deep breath before going on. "Finally made myself get up. Once I got going it wasn’t so bad." His eyes were down so he didn’t notice the quick grins that flashed across all three faces around him. "I managed to get out of the building unnoticed, and back to the area where I’d first spotted Hardjono. I didn’t have any money for a cab but by then I knew where I was, and it really wasn’t all that far to the American Consulate." Again he missed three quick grins. The Captain’s unerring sense of direction was evident even back then. "Unfortunately, by the time I got there I was pretty well out of it. I was trying to convince the guard at the gate to let me in. Can’t blame him for not believing me. Anyway, that’s when I finally collapsed." He stopped again and finished off the whiskey, handed the glass back to a subdued Nelson, then gave Jamie an apologetic look. "When I woke up later in the hospital, it was all gone."
Jamie gave him a stern look. "I told you already, you have nothing to apologize for," then grinned as Lee looked at him shyly. But Jamie could also see what the revelations had taken out of him. "Come on, Skipper. Time to let the Admiral have his bunk back." He stood up, not offering Lee a hand as he slipped off the bunk because he knew the young man would hate it, but staying close nonetheless. Lee rose shakily, mentally and physically exhausted from the ordeal. It was a measure of that exhaustion that he allowed Chip to take his arm and assist him to his own cabin.
Nelson gave Jamie a long look as the two younger men left, and Jamie smiled. "He’ll be fine, Admiral. This won’t keep him down for long. However," and he reached back for the small kit he’d left lying on the bunk, "I’ll let Chip get him settled and then give him this," and he pulled out a second syringe. "As I told him, the first one wouldn’t make him sleep. This one will!"
* * * *
Over the next few days things got relatively back to normal on Seaview, and if Lee was a bit quieter than usual, and Chip a bit more solicitous of his friend, nobody seemed to notice.
Lee had awakened the next morning to find Chip asleep, sitting in Lee’s desk chair. Lee lay quietly for a few minutes, letting the previous night’s revelations sink in. There was a lot to assimilate, but nothing that disturbing now that all the pieces were together. It went against his sense of justice that he’d been unable to be of any help retrieving the statue, but it was a long time ago and there was nothing he could do about that now. The young man that Lee had been at the time had just been overwhelmed by the unexpected attack.
Chip stirred but didn’t awaken, and Lee smiled at his friend. Lee had been in pretty bad shape last night, but not bad enough that he’d been unaware of how it had affected his friend. He had been grateful for Chip’s help getting back to his cabin and into bed. He’d even been able to produce a small smile when Jamie arrived to administer a sedative and Chip, expecting an argument from Lee, had lit into him. Lee, who would normally have yelled long and hard against the meds surrendered quietly, telling both men he was just too tired to argue. He had a feeling that statement had played a major part in Chip’s spending the night in Lee’s cabin, obviously unwilling to let Lee out of his sight.
But Lee was feeling much better and it was time to get back to business. He picked up his PJ top, left lying on the foot of his bunk last night when he was too exhausted to bother fussing with it, balled it up, and launched it at his friend. Chip came awake in a rush, then spent a few seconds remembering where he was. Once he did he looked immediately at Lee who by now was propped up on his elbow. Chip finished untangling himself from the PJ top, all the while casting a concerned look towards Lee.
Lee finally smiled. "I refuse to share my shower, Chip. Not when you have your own." He watched as his words had their desired effect, telling Chip he was back under control.
"Figured if you weren’t going to use it, I would." Chip sniped back, a smile starting to brighten his face. "Yours is bigger."
"Out," Lee ordered, but spoiled it when Chip snickered, and Lee joined him.
"Wardroom! 45 minutes."
Lee glanced at the clock on his desk, which read 0540. "Make it an hour," he amended, and made the frown that instantly appeared on Chip’s face disappear when he added, "Admiral Nelson hasn’t shown up, yet."
"Not to mention Doc," Chip grinned and headed for the door, the grin turning to laughter when Lee gave out an exaggerated groan and flopped back on his pillow.
They’d both been right. Doc had been waiting when Lee stepped out of the shower, and was just leaving when the Admiral showed up. Lee had little difficulty convincing either man that he was doing just fine. No one, least of all Lee, thought that everything was totally back to normal. But Nelson, Doc, and Chip were willing to back off and let Lee deal with it in his own way, at least for now.
That way was to throw himself into his work with a vengeance. Not a square foot of the boat went uninspected, not a crewman went unvisited. Lee never got impatient with Chip’s mild harassment about eating properly and, though he was quieter than usual, most noticeable at mealtimes, didn’t hesitate when actively drawn into a conversation. He spent several hours each day in his cabin, and it was Nelson who accidentally discovered why when he interrupted with several new reports that had just arrived. What Lee might not talk openly about to his friends, he was writing extensively about in his personal log. Doc nodded knowingly when Nelson relayed this tidbit, and they both smiled. Lee had used this method before when dealing with personal issues, and each time had come through the ordeals, if anything, stronger and more balanced than before.
* * * *
Seaview’s ultimate destination was a very small island off the coast of Talisei, a small island itself just north of Sulawesi, one of Indonesia’s main regions. It was decided that once supplies and equipment were transferred to the research station, Seaview would continue on the fairly short distance to Manado, one of the regional centers of Northern Sulawesi. The area was politically stable, and one of the more beautiful if remote areas of Indonesia. Long white sandy beaches graced the shore and there were scenic mountains inland, some of which were volcanic, with some of those still active. Admiral Nelson figured he would be spending upwards of a week at the station and, rather than have Seaview and her crew hang around doing basically nothing, Lee had suggested he make arrangements to allow the crew shore leave. As soon as this was announced most of the crew started making plans, and O’Brien reminded Chip he still had a birthday present to buy for his sister. Admiral Nelson was fairly sure he was the only one who noticed the dark expression cross Lee’s face, so fast was it covered up. Obviously Lee was again seeing the small shops in Hong Kong, and Nelson knew he needed to have a quick word with Chip. Lee was all too capable of making sure everyone took shore leave except himself, and that must be avoided at all cost. Lee, while outwardly seeming under control, was still strung fairly tight. Nelson smiled quietly to himself. Chip would know just the right way to goad his friend into getting off Seaview and relaxing for a few hours. The waters around Manado, and indeed all of Northern Sulawesi, were exceptionally beautiful for diving and snorkeling. These were activities Lee loved and a sure way to put him at peace. Lee’s injuries, in particular that suffered from his altercation with the periscope railing, were almost healed, and Jamie would have no objections as long as Lee didn’t dive too deep.
Nelson had thought that perhaps Lee would come along on at least one of the many trips FS1 made back and forth to the research station when they arrived 4 days later, if for no other reason than to meet Dr. Hardjono, curious to see the man who’s name had triggered the long-buried memories. He was surprised when Lee chose to stay aboard Seaview. He knew it wasn’t fear in any sense that instead kept Lee aboard Seaview. The Captain just tended to be more interested in Seaview’s missions themselves than in the reasons for those missions. Nelson rarely got frustrated with Lee’s relative lack of interest in the Admiral’s scientific endeavors. Lee had more than once saved everyone’s tails by thinking first and foremost of Seaview and her crew. Not that that was any reason to stay aboard now – the waters were calm and clear. But it was still typical of Lee and nothing to be worried about. Nelson had noticed Chip raise an eyebrow, and get a very determined look on his face, when Lee declined Nelson’s invitation. Lee won’t have such an easy time declining Chip’s invitation to go ashore Nelson chuckled to himself. And I sincerely doubt it will be all that much of an ‘invitation’. No, Nelson had no fear that Lee wouldn’t be spending a fair amount of time over the coming week off Seaview – whether he wanted to or not!
Lee had to admit to himself later that he wasn’t sure exactly what had kept him from visiting the research station. While it was true he never really involved himself too much in the Admiral’s projects, he’d read enough of the reports to be mildly curious. And he wasn’t really needed on board to supervise the transfer of supplies. He didn’t think it had anything to do with Dr. Hardjono. Lee had spoken to him by radio several times in the last couple days, confirming arrival times and such, and the two had visited quite amiably. Nonetheless Lee had remained on Seaview, and when all the supplies had been transferred had wished Nelson well and plotted the short trip to Manado.
Chip, however, wasn’t so easily put off. The first day in port was no problem. There was enough paperwork involved in settling Seaview comfortably near the tourist town, and port officials to placate, that Chip was perfectly happy letting Lee deal with it while he handled duty rosters and assigned short leave schedules. But breakfast the next morning saw Chip starting the task of prying Lee out of Seaview.
He started gradually, verbally going over the schedules as the two ate a simple meal of hotcakes, bacon, and scrambled eggs. Cookie was one of those ashore, having made the pancake batter ahead of time and leaving it in the fridge for his assistant to prepare. "I’ve assigned Bryson the Duty. That leaves us free to go find a suitable birthday present for Sis." Chip finished. Lt. Bryson was one of the Division Officers.
"Bryson’s too new," Lee countered. "He’s never been left in charge of the whole boat. You go ahead. I’ll stay aboard."
"Then its about time we see how he handles himself," Chip persisted. "We’re in port, for pete’s sake. What could go wrong?" Lee had just raised an eyebrow at his XO and gone back to eating. "Come on, Lee. We both have cell phones. We’re a call away." He could see Lee start to waver, and played his trump card. "Besides, you’re the one who says I buy lousy presents. You don’t dare let me go shopping by myself."
"Take Sharkey with you," Lee said, but they both could hear it was a half-hearted suggestion, and Chip nudged his friend.
"Good. It’s settled, then. There’s a launch scheduled to leave at 0930. Ah, and Lee…"
"What now?" Lee groused, but the corners of his mouth were twitching.
"Civvies," and Chip was instantly distressed to see Lee’s expression darken.
"No," he said flatly. Chip had no idea what the problem was.
"Fine. Be a stick in the mud. I, however, am going to be comfortable."
"What’s so uncomfortable about your uniform," Lee demanded. His expression was so hard Chip got concerned.
"Chill, Lee. I didn’t mean anything by it. If you want to wear your uniform, no problem. I’ll wear mine if it will make you happy," but Chip could see Lee get himself back under control.
"No," and he smiled heavily. "You wear whatever you want." He gave Chip a small smile. "Sorry."
Chip grinned. "Not a problem. 0925, Conning Tower. No excuses. I’ll leave our cell numbers in the Radio Shack. We can call in every half hour and make sure Bryson hasn’t sunk the boat," and was relieved to see a small grin spread across Lee’s face.
"Maybe we’ll even stretch it to every hour," the Captain relented, and they both laughed.
Chip never did figure out what the problem was, and stayed alert the entire time he and Lee were off Seaview. It was a short walk from where the launch let them off to the main part of town and they spent a leisurely couple of hours wandering through the central tourist area, then had lunch in one of the bigger hotels. Afterward they went back to the hunt for the perfect gift.
They were on their way back to one of the jewelry stores they had visited that morning, walking down one of the main streets, when suddenly Lee stopped walking and seemed to be staring across the street. Chip was instantly on alert. "Lee?" Chip put his hand on Lee’s arm, greatly relieved when it took only a second for Lee to acknowledge him.
"Humm?" and Lee looked at him. When Chip just continued to give him a quizzical look he continued. "What?" and raised an eyebrow. Chip finally smiled.
"Nothing. Just wondered what was so interesting across the street?"
Lee just shook his head. "For a second I thought I recognized someone, but I guess not, the longer I watched him…" he trailed off.
"Where? Which man?"
"He’s gone now, into one of the stores."
"Not one of the crew?"
"No," and Lee shook his head. "No, just must have reminded me of someone."
"ONI, maybe? Someone you’ve run into on assignment?"
"Haven’t a clue. Now," and Lee changed the subject, "did you ever decide which of the two necklaces you were going to buy?" Chip shook his head bashfully and they went on to the store.
Chip never could decide and ended up buying both, to much teasing from Lee. But once the purchase was made Lee was adamant about going back to Seaview, and Chip decided not to argue the point.
They were both in the Control Room when the next launch returned. Lee had stayed there when the two returned, going over status reports with Lt. Bryson. Chip had gone first to his cabin to change and stow his purchases, and then came back. He’d spent a few minutes cheerfully badgering Lee about being worried Seaview would survive the young Lieutenant’s first watch, and was pleased that Lee was taking it well and dishing it back. They were interrupted by loud, happy voices coming down from the Conning Tower, and turned to watch, amused, as Kowalski, Riley, Maxwell and Carlson came excitedly down the ladder. While the others headed aft, Kowalski came over to the two officers, all excited about where the group had gone snorkeling. He just kept going on and on about how beautiful it was, how pristine, all the different kinds of fish they’d seen, until Lee couldn’t stand it any longer.
"Ski, slow down. We’ve dived all over the world. You’re telling me you’ve never seen anything that compares with this?" and his voice expressed incredulity. "Come on, Ski, you can’t expect me to believe that."
"Sorry, Skipper. But no, not even along the Great Barrier Reef. You’ve just got to see this. It’s incredible! Come with us tomorrow, Sir. We’re going back, then you can see for yourself."
"Must really be something special if you guys want to go back," Chip said. He was hoping Lee would take the senior rating up on his offer. Lee’s love of diving was second only to his commitment to Seaview.
"Oh, it is, Sir," Kowalski assured him readily. "I think you could dive the same area for a week and not see everything. What do you say, Skipper? You’ll love it, I promise." The excitement in his voice was infectious, and Lee smiled.
"Ask me again in the morning. I’ll have to check the Duty watch."
"Already done," Chip grinned. "O’Brien has the watch. We can both go, and you won’t have to worry about Seaview sinking."
Lee gave him a dirty look, and he got a puzzled one from Kowalski, but Chip just smirked back. "We’ll see," Lee said firmly, although with a smile starting to form, and sent Kowalski off to get some rest before his next watch.
"Come on, Lee. You know you can’t pass up a sell job like that. It would take a lot to get Ski that wound up after everything he’s seen." But Lee remained non-committal and Chip eventually let it drop, knowing if he pressed too hard Lee really would back out. He continued to be concerned, however, over Lee’s apparent reluctance to be away from Seaview, and when the opportunity presented itself early that evening had a quiet talk with Doc. During dinner, which Chip was careful to make sure Lee ate, some preliminary reports came in from Admiral Nelson. Lee had taken them to his cabin to work on and Chip headed for Jamie’s office.
Once the problem was explained, Jamie took a few minutes to mull over his answer. "I don’t think it’s anything to be overly worried about, Chip," Doc assured him. "I’m sure there’s still something of a residual effect from the flashbacks. He’s probably still just trying to work through it and he just feels safer on Seaview. You just need to be your usual pain in his side," and grinned at the look he got from the XO, "and continue to nudge him back to where he’s comfortable. He’ll be fine. The worst is over, I’m sure of it."
"Hope you’re right, Doc," Chip said sincerely. "He still spooks me every so often."
"He’ll be fine," Doc repeated. "Now, go make sure he doesn’t spend all night on those reports," and he chased the XO out of his office.
The next day dawned clear and sunny, as it had been since they got into the area. Lee awoke at his usual 0530, after Chip had practically leveled him the night before when he discovered Lee still working on the Admiral’s reports at 2330. He’d gone to sleep quickly, thinking about Kowalski’s excitement over his dive. Lee had read the original surveys, of course, and knew that the area was rich in wonderful places to snorkel and skin dive. That’s primarily why it had become a tourist destination. It was also the prime reason Nelson had wanted to set up a research station close by, to monitor the impact increased population and usage would have.
Lee awakened with some of Ski’s excitement still evident, thinking about spending the day doing absolutely nothing but playing. That sounds so good, and couldn’t help kicking himself mentally for his continuing reluctance to go. He had no idea why. There was absolutely no reason for him to stay on Seaview. Yet even when Chip started in on him over breakfast he wouldn’t totally agree to go.
It wasn’t until Chip showed up in the Control Room just before 0815, already changed and carrying a large duffel bag that he finally surrendered to what he knew deep down would be a great way to spend the day. But he still let his friend go through almost five minutes of everything from quietly cajoling to downright threats of bodily harm if Lee "wouldn’t get off his six and do something fun for a change." He even brought up Lee’s not having taken the previous leave week off. Lee let Chip get up a full head of steam, literally, as only Chip could do, then let a smile start to play across his face. He wasn’t sure which made Chip angrier, letting Chip think he wasn’t going, or letting Chip know Lee had only been stringing him along.
From where the launch dropped them off a small open-sided bus took the group, which today consisted of Kowalski, Patterson, Chip and Lee, the short distance to Bunaken National Marine Park. Partially because of the influences of both the Indian and Pacific Oceans, Northern Sulawesi’s waters were rich in nutrients, providing a haven for over 500 different kinds of corals and some 3000 species of fish, as well as 30 or so species of whales and dolphins. The latter, along with other large marine life such as manta rays and sea turtles, used the Sulawesi Sea as an oceanic highway.
The four men had an incredible day, both skin diving in the warm, clear water, with rented tanks, and snorkeling around the shallower areas. Lee couldn’t understand, when they all piled into the small bus to go back just after 1530, why he was so tired. Yawning and stretching, Chip pointed out that with only a couple breaks to change from tanks to snorkel gear, Lee had spent well over 5 hours in the water. They hadn’t even stopped for lunch, there was just too much to see and do. Lee and Chip had grabbed the seats right behind the bus driver and Ski and Pat had gone farther back. All four were half dozing, as were most of the other dozen or so passengers, when the small bus went careening out of control and over an embankment.
* * * *
Because of the open sides, Lee and several others were thrown free when the bus rolled. Lee saw Patterson sitting up and shaking his head, as were most of the others. Lee felt a little dazed, but other than that seemed to be OK. As Patterson started checking the people closest to him Lee headed for the bus, which was lying on its side about 10 yards below him down the embankment. Lush vegetation had kept it from going any farther, but it also hindered Lee’s progress. He could hear screams and see people starting to struggle out of the side that was up, and did the best he could to get to them. Several passengers made it out by the time he reached the side, and he was just in time to help another one over the edge who was being pushed from below. He was amazed that there weren’t more injuries. All he’d seen so far were cuts and scrapes. Looking over the side he realized it was Kowalski who had been helping the last one up. "Skipper?" the crewman challenged, "you’re bleeding. There’s a cut on the side of your forehead."
"I’m fine," Lee answered immediately. "Pat’s topside, seems to be all right. You?"
"Just banged my hard head," Ski confirmed, and Lee managed a brief smile at the rating.
"Haven’t seen him, Sir. Had to get that lady off before I could do anything else."
"Chip!" Lee yelled, and was rewarded with a mumbled oath from the front of the bus. Ski righted himself and headed in that direction as Lee pulled himself over the side into the bus. Together they worked their way forward, helping those still inside. Their progress was slowed by the next two people they came to, both with broken bones. Kowalski had medic training, and he and Lee stabilized the injuries as best they could. Chip continued to make noises assuring them he was OK, just stuck and unable to move. Patterson’s voice sounded just outside the bus, saying that help was on the way and what could he do? Lee told him to go forward and check on the driver. Seats had been torn loose, that’s why Chip was stuck, and they’d need to pry him out before they could go any further.
Working together, Lee and Kowalski moved the two serious injuries farther back, then tackled the mangled seats that had trapped Chip. Ski continued to give Lee a concerned look about the cut, but Lee just shook his head. He heard sirens in the distance as he made an effort to break free the last remaining weld that was holding one of the seats in place. Patterson suddenly appeared on the other side and between the two the weld finally came free, allowing them to move the seat and get to Chip. Lee looked at Pat and asked about the driver - but suddenly everything was fuzzy again and he pitched forward, never hearing Pat’s reply.
* * * *
Lee awoke gradually, disoriented. The smells were right for Sick Bay but the noises weren’t, nor was the bed he was laying on. Hearing a voice ask softly, "Skipper?" he opened his eyes and looked to his left, following the voice. Kowalski was sitting on a stool next to his bed, looking the worse for wear but otherwise in one piece. Lee started to sit up but Ski reached for him, as did other hands from Lee’s right, and he found himself looking up at Doc.
"Where’d you come from," Lee muttered, closing his eyes to fend off the wave of dizziness his sudden movement had caused, and letting Jamie ease his head back on the pillow.
"The school of Marquis de Sade," came a muttered reply, and Lee looked beyond the now chuckling CMO. Chip was sitting on the edge of the next bed, his left arm in a sling.
"Thought you said you were OK," Lee said, concerned.
"Could have sworn I heard you tell Ski the same thing," Chip grumbled back.
"Enough, both of you," Jamie interrupted sternly. "You’re both OK. Chip’s got a couple lacerations on his forearm that will need stitches. I just put the sling on until we get back to Seaview. And you," he pointed to Lee, "have earned yourself 24 hours in Sick Bay with a probable concussion."
"What about how he was bleeding?" Ski asked worriedly, earning a glare from his CO.
"Head wounds always bleed a lot, Kowalski. You know that. I’m more concerned about the blow that caused it."
"Where’s Patterson?" Lee wanted to know.
"Already back on board, where you will be shortly. There’s no way I’m going to inflict you two on the nice staff here," and was rewarded with sheepish grins. "I sent him back with Frank. I wasn’t sure what kind of shape I was going to find everyone in so I brought him along. Patterson, like Kowalski here, will be sore in the morning but otherwise is just fine. The only reason I let Ski stay is I couldn’t pry him out of here until he knew how you were. Had enough trouble with Patterson," and he gave the seaman an indulgent, if slightly frustrated, smile.
"Everyone else?" Lee was never satisfied until he had all the pieces sorted out.
"Bumps, bruises and lacerations, same as the rest of you, and the two people with broken bones you and Kowalski helped at the site. They’re all doing just fine. You were all very lucky. I’m told that twenty feet in front of where the bus stopped there was a sheer drop off. Everyone on board could have been killed."
"As it was, there was only one fatality," they were suddenly interrupted by a man wearing a suit and tie, and also the insignia of the Reserse, the Indonesian National Police’s Detective Unit. "And he didn’t actually die from the accident." At puzzled looks from everyone he added, "He was shot."
"What?" Lee practically yelled. He flew into a sitting position, and then paid the price by nearly passing out. He was vaguely aware of a similar reaction from Chip. There was also a stern "No" from Jamie. Hands on Lee’s left arm and back – had to be Kowalski – held him steady while he tried to get his eyes to focus, but didn’t try to push him back down. When Lee finally tried again Jamie was standing next to Chip, staring daggers at the newcomer. Chip, however, was watching Lee all too closely. The officer, on the other hand, was watching Chip with a curious expression on his face. Lee took a deep breath and addressed the officer. "Your name, please?" and the man returned his gaze to Lee.
"My apologies. Detective Makmar Sabirin. And you are Captain Crane, of the U.S. Navy."
Lee saw Jamie raise an eyebrow, but just corrected quietly, "Commander, actually. Naval Reserve. Seaview is privately owned." At the detective’s nod he continued, motioning Kowalski back to his stool. Ski went reluctantly, with a glance at Jamie who had taken a position once again directly between the two beds. "My Executive Officer, Lt. Commander Chip Morton," and watched Chip nod. "Seaview’s Chief Medical Officer, Lt. Commander Will Jamison, MD," and again a nod, "and Seaman Kowalski."
"Thank you. You were the four who were on the bus?" and looked puzzled at Jamie’s snort and the others’ grins.
"No. Doc wasn’t there," Lee said with a quick glance at the CMO. "He hates going underwater unless he has a submarine around him. The fourth was Seaman Patterson. He’s already back on Seaview." Lee didn’t realize he was wavering until Jamie took his arm.
"Skipper, I’ll make you a deal. I’ll raise the head of the gurney if you’ll lie back," and Doc again sent a warning glare at the detective.
"Jamie, don’t fuss," Lee muttered, but was secretly happy to put his head back down on the pillow.
"I will try to be brief," Detective Sabirin said apologetically, as much to Jamie as to Lee. Lee had a feeling this man missed very little that went on around him, no matter how laid back he pretended to be. "What can you tell me about the ‘accident’?"
He immediately got answers of "Not a thing," from Chip, "I was in the back," from Ski, and "Sorry, had my eyes closed," from Lee, who then had to add for Jamie’s benefit, "I’d been swimming almost constantly for five hours. I was tired."
Jamie gave him a stern look. "When did you eat lunch?" and frowned at Chip when Lee just grinned sheepishly.
"Hey," Chip defended himself. "We were having fun. Who wanted to stop and eat?" He and Lee exchanged glances, and Jamie just shook his head.
"What about this Seaman Patterson?" Sabirin wanted to know.
"He was sitting back by me," Kowalski answered.
"If he saw or heard anything," Chip stepped in, "he didn’t mention it."
"And he would have," Lee finished.
"I can speak to him, when?"
"Now if you’d like," Lee continued. "Doc was just about to spring us, weren’t you," and Lee smiled innocently at Jamie’s glare. "You’re welcome to come back with us."
"I have a better idea, Skipper," Jamie said sternly. "By the time we get back Patterson should be sound asleep. Why doesn’t Detective Sabirin come aboard first thing in the morning? By then everyone will be feeling better. And depending on how you’re doing, I might even let you give him the 10-cent tour." He finished with a small smile on his face, but Lee suspected it was for Sabirin’s benefit.
"That would be perfectly agreeable," the detective said. "If I may ask, do you have transportation back to the launch?" Lee just looked at Jamie
"Came by taxi. Now that I know what I’m dealing with we can go back the same way."
"Then may I offer my services? It would be no problem, and I suspect my car will smell a good deal better," and he smiled for the first time.
As logistics were worked out, Lee lay watching the detective. He felt sure Sabirin was using this time to observe him and the others. Lee got the feeling that behind that quiet exterior there was one very sharp policeman. Not that that was a problem – no one had anything to hide.
His musings were interrupted by Jamie taking hold of his arm, and Lee turned just in time to see the needle slide in. "No…" but he was cut off by the CMO.
"Relax, Skipper. I’m not about to sedate you, not with that head injury. This is just to make the trip a little more comfortable for you. Never thought I’d see the day when I’d have to give you something for motion sickness, but you’ve already had a taste of what happens when you move too quickly."
"I’m fine, Jamie," Lee muttered, to smiles from both the CMO and Ski, and an outright laugh from Chip.
"Keep it up, Mr. Morton," Jamie turned a threatening look on the XO. "I still have to close those lacerations, you know," and smiled triumphantly as Chip frowned.
"Now," Jamie turned back to Lee, "how much trouble are you going to be, getting you safely back to Sick Bay?"
Chip wasn’t quite ready to give it up yet. "Getting him there won’t be the problem, Jamie. It’s keeping him there…" and even Lee had to smile as the others grinned.
"It’s OK, Jamie. All I want is back aboard. I’ll be good, I promise."
"Now I really am worried," Jamie muttered, but gave Lee’s arm a quick pat before dealing with arrangements.
Lee didn’t argue about the wheelchair to the door, where Detective Sabirin met them. Nor did he say much on the ride to the launch, tucked in the back seat between Ski and Jamie. Chip sat up front visiting amiably with Sabirin. They left the detective at the dock with the proviso that he would contact them from the Port office in the morning when he was ready to come aboard. Jamie made Lee lie down on one of the benches on the launch, but once at Seaview Lee got stubborn and insisted he was walking to Sick Bay. Jamie obviously didn’t like it, from the expression on his face. But he eventually gave in, although both he and Kowalski kept a hand on Lee, just in case. Lee figured it worried Jamie even more that he didn’t argue about the assistance. By this time, however, Lee wasn’t in the mood to argue about much of anything, and allowed himself to be settled into a bunk with a minimum of fuss. He did give Jamie a hard look when the CMO started setting up an IV. But at Jamie’s firm, "Lunch and Dinner," Lee just grinned sheepishly.
He also had to smile as Jamie finally got around to Chip. At first reiterating that Chip was going to need stitches to close two lacerations on his left forearm, he looked at them a minute then changed his mind.
"Tell you what, Chip. These look like the perfect candidates for a new liquid adhesive bandage we’ve been using in the Med Bay at the Institute. It’s proven quite effective. Not only do wounds heal faster with this than with stitches, it also seals them and keeps out bacteria."
"What’s it called?" Chip wanted to know, and Lee saw Jamie give the XO a most unholy grin.
"Its actual name is Dermabond," Jamie said. "But we just usually refer to it as ‘Boo-Boo’ glue."
* * * *
Jamie had just poured himself a cup of coffee and sat down at his desk when Sparks buzzed him. Perfect timing, he grinned. Twenty minutes earlier he’d asked the radioman to put through a call to Admiral Nelson.
"Jamie, how’s Lee?" was Nelson’s worried question as soon as the connection was made.
"Then you’ve already heard what happened," Jamie said, not totally surprised.
"Just got off the horn with Chip."
"Ah. Wondered what took Sparks so long to put my call through." He chuckled, and heard Nelson’s voice start to relax as well.
"Apparently he got to Sparks before you did." Both knew that, good XO that Chip was, he would report as soon as possible. "Now, about Lee…"
"Did he also tell you what those two pulled while I was trying to treat them? So help me, Admiral, I swear I’m going to take a paddle to both those young men’s backsides."
"Jamie!" Nelson thundered, and Doc chuckled. Nelson did too, finally.
"In all fairness, I have to admit I started this one by telling Chip I was going to use Dermabond on his lacerations."
"Jamie, you didn’t call that stuff what you usually do, did you?" At Jamie’s hesitation he snorted. "Good lord. And in front of Lee, I take it."
"Unfortunately," Jamie admitted ruefully.
"Haven’t you learned by now not to get those two started? And you’re getting the semi-adult, toned down version. You should have heard them at the Academy."
Jamie couldn’t help himself. "It was an accident," he said, using Lee’s normal excuse whenever he managed to get injured, and both men laughed.
"OK, Jamie," Nelson finally calmed down. "Now tell me what you were really up to."
"Can’t fool you for long, can I, Admiral?" and he grinned to himself. "Just the standard ‘Will Jamieson mental evaluation and alertness test’." He paused before continuing. "Seriously, Admiral, I was a bit worried. By everyone’s story the Skipper was dazed but functioning right after the accident. However, within 30 minutes or so he passed out, and was unconscious for upwards of three hours. He ‘seems’ OK, but without access to an MRI, well, I’d just rather be safe than sorry."
"I gather he passed the test."
"With flying colors, thankfully. I really do need to get them to actually tell a few of those stories instead of just allude to them to each other," and he chuckled.
"Good luck, Jamie," and Nelson chuckled with him. "Actually, it might be for the best we don’t ever find out all the sordid details. With those two, I’m not sure I really want to know."
"You could be right. Still…"
"I’ll keep an eye on him, Admiral," and Jamie was serious again. "One of the things that came up was that the bunch of them had been swimming for at least five hours straight, didn’t even stop to eat lunch. We all know what he’s been through these last couple weeks. It might have just been his body’s way of taking a breather. Making him rest, whether he wanted to or not."
"Let’s hope so, Jamie."
"At any rate, I’ll keep him in Sick Bay as long as I can."
"Which won’t be as long as you want to."
"Not a chance. Thank heavens for Chip." He paused a second. "Ah, Admiral. On second thought, when are you due back?"
* * * *
Lee spent a restless night. Oh, he knew the drill. Head injuries meant someone woke you up every hour to make sure you were still mentally alert and not showing signs of deepening problems. It was necessary, but it was still a pain! On top of that, while he remained alert and aware, he was getting a huge post-concussion headache. Between the two, by 0700 he had a very hard time not biting the corpsman’s head off when the man brought Lee breakfast.
"Where’s Doc?" Lee wanted to know, trying to ignore the tray John had placed on a small table next to Lee’s bunk.
"Having breakfast, Skipper," John replied. "He stopped by at 0630 but you were sleeping. He’ll be here shortly. Do you need any help?"
"What I need is out of here," Lee grumbled, not made any happier by John’s small smile. Lee did his best not to take his frustrations out on the two corpsmen, and they knew they were fairly immune from his tirades. But the entire crew knew their Skipper hated Sick Bay and would do anything, up to and including flat out escaping, to get out. John walked over to Jamie’s office but continued to keep an eye on Lee. To placate him, Lee picked up a piece of toast and nibbled on it. But as soon as John walked out of sight into the office he tossed the toast back on the plate. Hearing the corpsman sit down at Doc’s desk Lee knew he’d have several minutes of solitude and decided to make the best of it. Moving slowly he sat up and swung his feet over the side of the bunk. So far, so good – his head stayed clear and there wasn’t a sound from John. Bracing himself he stood up, again slowly, but still under control.
He actually made it about halfway across the room toward Sick Bay’s door when things suddenly started to get fuzzy and his ears started ringing loudly. Vaguely he heard someone yell "No!" but didn’t realize it was Jamie until he felt someone on either side of him take hold and half carry him back to the bunk. Once his head was again on the pillow his vision started to clear and he found himself looking up at a very angry CMO. And right behind him was a very ticked off Chip.
"That little stunt, Captain," and the Doctor’s use of the formal term instead of his usual ‘Skipper’ gave Lee a measure of just how angry he was, "just earned you another 24 hours here." Lee started to open his mouth to answer, but was cut off. "And I have no problem with using restraints to enforce it. That should look really good to Detective Sabirin when he gets here."
"You wouldn’t dare," Lee said darkly.
"Don’t bet on it."
"I want to go to my cabin," Lee’s expression was still dark, but his voice was beginning to lose some of its bluster.
"I’m sure you do. But its not going to happen. If – and that’s a very big if – you can stay out of trouble all day, I might be persuaded to let you go there this evening. But only if you eat three decent meals and are feeling a good deal better than you do right now." He paused and took a deep breath, another sign he was barely keeping his temper under control. "You couldn’t even walk across the room, for pete’s sake." He shook his head. "And know this. Every time you disobey an order, I add another 24 hours to your confinement." Lee opened his mouth again to reply, Doc raised an eyebrow at him, and Lee changed his mind. Doc didn’t get this steamed very often. "Now, eat your breakfast," and he turned and walked to his office, leaving Chip still glaring down at Lee. His voice when he spoke, however, was soft and full of humor.
"Losing, your touch, buddy. Normally you’d have made it at least out the door before getting caught." He pushed the breakfast tray closer and sat on the edge of the bunk, a smile spreading across his face. A small one finally appeared on Lee’s as he reached for the half-eaten piece of toast.
The two visited quietly while Lee half-heartedly worked his way through the meal. He still hadn’t quite finished when there was a call for Chip to come to the Control Room. Chip took a quick glance at Doc’s office door, saw no one, and quickly downed the last bite of scrambled eggs and what was left of the toast then, with a wink at Lee, hurried out. Lee grinned, finished the last of the orange juice, and rolled over facing the bulkhead. He figured it was John he heard come to get the tray a few minutes later, and gave him a brief glance. But it was Jamie instead, staring at the empty tray.
"How much of that did Chip eat," he said sternly, but a smile slowly started to appear. Lee smiled sheepishly back.
"Only a couple bites," he admitted.
Jamie just shook his head, reached to check Lee’s pulse, and laid a hand briefly on his forehead. He walked over to his meds cabinet and came back with a couple pills and a small glass of water. "Just something for the headache," he explained, and Lee didn’t argue. Once he was settled back down Doc pulled the blankets higher and tucked them in. "Get some rest, Skipper," he said quietly, picked up the tray, and left. Knowing deep down it really was the best thing he could do, Lee complied.
* * * *
When Chip got to the Control Room he was told there was a call from the Port office, from Detective Sabirin." The guy doesn’t waste any time, Chip thought to himself as he glanced at his watch. 0745. He told the radioman to relay clearance for the Detective, then called Patterson to the Control Room. When Sabirin came aboard Chip directed both men to the Observation Nose and partially closed the crash doors. Making introductions he gestured toward the table, asking Sabirin if he’d like coffee. When the detective declined he poured himself a cup, then sat on the window ledge letting Sabirin interview Patterson, with supervision but without interference. Sabirin gave him a brief nod acknowledging the gesture and, as the night before, quietly asked his questions. But like the others Patterson had seen nothing, had no idea anything was wrong until the bus went out of control. He merely reiterated what Sabirin confirmed had been told to him by others on the bus, and eventually was thanked and dismissed.
"Sorry I couldn’t be any more help," the seaman apologized, standing up. "The guy up on the hill, was he able to tell you anything?" and both Sabirin and Chip sat up straighter.
But Sabirin only asked softly, "What guy? None of the other passengers have mentioned seeing anyone else around."
"I don’t know," Pat said, shrugging his shoulders. "Just a guy. Big. Caught a glimpse of him while I was helping the people who, like me, got thrown out. I yelled at him to call for help and he disappeared. Pretty soon I heard sirens, so figured there must be houses just over the hill - that was were he came from, you know? Didn’t even think of it again until just now."
"That would explain one small item," Sabirin said. "We weren’t able to confirm last night who notified authorities of the accident. Just an anonymous call. Thank you, Seaman Patterson. I’ll check it out."
Chip gave Pat a nod of dismissal, then sat frowning at his coffee until he realized he had become the center of Sabirin’s focus. He raised an eyebrow, giving the detective a quizzical look.
"I was just wondering why you had such a reaction to the seaman’s comment about the man on the hill," Sabirin said in his soft voice. "Did you see him?"
"Sorry. I was on the floor of the bus, pinned down by a bench that had broken loose. Didn’t see a thing."
"Perhaps the other two?"
Chip called Ski forward and, while waiting for the seaman, explained about Lee. "Once you’re finished with Kowalski I’ll call down to Sick Bay. But if the Captain’s sleeping I’m not sure Dr. Jamison will allow him to be disturbed." Sabirin just nodded and they waited in silence for the seaman.
But Kowalski hadn’t seen him either so Chip dismissed him and grabbed the mic, explaining to Jamie that Detective Sabirin was here and wanted to talk to Lee.
"Can it wait?" Jamie asked, irritation evident in his voice. "He’s finally settled down and I’d like to keep it that way." Chip raised an eyebrow again at Sabirin, who merely nodded. "Not a problem, Doc," and clicked off the mic. "Sorry," he apologized.
"No need," Sabirin said. "Your Medical Officer is obviously concerned for the welfare of Captain Crane and this probably isn’t of great urgency. I’ll check the area Seaman Patterson indicated and also ask the other passengers. Please tell the Captain when you see him I commiserate with him. Concussions can be most unpleasant. We will speak when he is feeling better."
Chip assured Sabirin he’d relay the message, and the detective left. Finishing his coffee, Chip headed for the radio shack. It was long past time to make his morning report to the Admiral.
* * * *
Lee spent a quiet, if slightly frustrating, day in Sick Bay. Several times Jamie came over, had him sit up, and ran him through a short series of neurological tests, each time not saying much at the results. But Lee detected a slight lifting of Jamie’s mood so decided he must be relatively pleased. Lee, himself, didn’t notice much change. He was fighting a pounding headache that Jamie’s pills weren’t helping much. He did think, however, there was less fuzziness and ringing in his ears when he sat up for any length of time. Chip appeared at both lunch and dinner, bringing not only Lee’s meal but his own as well, and visiting quietly while also gently harassing Lee into eating a majority of each. He told Lee over lunch about Sabirin’s visit. Lee was mildly upset that Doc had forbade the detective coming to Sick Bay but admitted that there would have been nothing new Lee could have added. When told that Patterson had seen someone standing on top of the hill Lee had only shaken his head and said he hadn’t noticed anyone, that he’d been too concerned about the people on the bus to notice much of anything else. Chip just smiled – typical Lee. No matter what happened, Lee always felt it was his responsibility to take care of it personally. Of course, Chip had to admit that in this case Lee had not only two crewmen but also Chip to think about. But still…
As the two sat discussing a bit of boat’s business after dinner Jamie walked over, glancing first at the empty tray, then down at Lee. "And how much of your meal did Chip pack away this time?" he asked sternly.
Lee met his gaze defiantly. "Not a bite, Jamie." Chip sat quietly, a totally innocent expression on his face.
Jamie gave the XO a brief look of disbelief. "Like I’m supposed to believe the two of you wouldn’t cover for each other even if you were caught red-handed," he complained, but finally smiled. "OK, Skipper. Suppose we get Chip to move his tail and you prove to me you can walk to the exam table without falling on your face." Both Chip and Jamie stayed close but Lee made the trip easily, if slowly and carefully. Jamie ran him through a more extensive set of neurological tests, handed him another couple pills for the gradually lessening headache, and told Chip he could escort his Captain to his quarters. "However," he got in one final threat, speaking firmly, "no further. I catch you out of your cabin, in fact, if I even catch you in uniform, I’ll have you dragged back here so fast you won’t know what hit you. Do I make myself clear, Captain?" and he glared at Lee.
"Aye, Sir," Lee surrendered and gave Jamie a quick smile. Jamie just shook his head. Chip in the meantime had quickly grabbed a robe from the closet. Slipping it over Lee’s shoulders he whispered, easily loud enough for Jamie to hear, "Time to split, before he changes his mind," and the two left.
Lee wouldn’t have wanted to go much further, he admitted to Chip once they got to Lee’s cabin and Chip sat him on the edge of his bunk. Chip, who had noticed Lee’s features pale slightly just as they got inside the cabin, just nodded. He helped Lee get settled, then sat quietly visiting. As Lee yawned for the umpteenth time Chip said goodnight, turned the cabin lights down but not totally off, and left quietly. He’d check back in a bit, knowing Jamie would do the same. But they all knew Lee would rest better in his own cabin now that Jamie was comfortable the concussion wasn’t getting any worse.
Jamie himself delivered breakfast the next morning, catching Lee just coming out of the shower. He cleared his throat loudly as Lee automatically reached for a clean uniform. Lee shot him a look of irritation that was met head on by the one on Jamie’s face and Lee backed down, reaching for jeans and polo shirt instead.
"Thank you," Jamie said quietly. He performed a few quick tests then told Lee if he felt up to it and had someone – both knowing it would be Chip – walk with him, Lee could take himself to lunch in the Wardroom. And if he still felt good enough after that, Doc OK’d a few hours in the Observation Nose. "Just take it easy, Skipper," he warned at Lee’s quizzical expression. "If you fall, happen to hit your head anytime before it has a chance to heal, there could be serious repercussions." He didn’t bother to define whether those repercussions would be strictly medical, or Jamie throwing the book at him. Lee just nodded, Jamie left, and Lee started in on the meal.
Surprising even himself he had no difficulty walking to the Wardroom at 1230 hours, nor afterward to the Nose. Chip hovered somewhat but didn’t offer assistance. Lee had spent the morning going over reports, but did it sitting up on his bunk instead of at his desk. Obviously the word had been passed to the crew because no one questioned the fact that Lee wasn’t in uniform. Lee himself was a bit uncomfortable being on the boat without it, but wasn’t about to risk Jamie’s wrath at this point. He recognized the CMO’s effort to give Lee a bit of freedom while still making it evident Lee was to rest and not push himself.
Lee had reluctantly gone back to his cabin about 1600, at Chip’s insistence. The XO had noticed Lee was again starting to look just a bit paler than normal and none too gently chided Lee into going and lying down until dinner. He’d barely settled in his bunk when there was a knock on the door. Expecting Doc he called out with some irritation, "Come," then had to quickly get himself under control when the visitor turned out to be Riley. The seaman entered hesitantly, reacting to the annoyance in his Skipper’s voice. Lee smiled, sitting on the edge of the bunk. "What is it, Riley?" he asked gently.
"Ah, sorry to bother you, Skipper," he said nervously.
"It’s OK. What did you need?"
"Ah, just this, Skipper," and he handed an envelope to Lee. "There was this guy at the gates to the Port area. Stopped me and asked how you were."
"What guy?" Lee was at first puzzled. "Who was he?"
"Don’t know, really. Guess I just thought he was someone from the Port, or maybe another cop. Dressed in a suit, anyway, like the one who came on board yesterday. When I said you were going to be fine he just smiled and gave me that to give you."
"What did he look like?" Lee asked offhandedly as he opened the sealed envelope and pulled out the single sheet of folded paper inside.
"Gee, I don’t know, Skipper. Just like everyone else around here." Lee started to smile, but it died abruptly as he read the few lines on the page. He re-read it slowly, and finally remembered the young seaman still standing nervously a few feet away.
"Thank you, Riley. I’ll take care of this," Lee said and dismissed him with a wave of his hand, still staring at the page.
"Aye, aye, Sir," and Riley scurried out, shutting the door quietly behind him.
Lee was still sitting staring at the paper when there was another knock. He quickly folded the paper and was putting it back into the envelope when Jamie poked his head through the door, not waiting for a response, then hurried in as he caught sight of Lee.
"Skipper," he said, his voice was filled with concern. "What’s wrong?"
Lee had to quickly get himself back together. "Nothing, Jamie," he said as offhandedly as he could manage, stuffing the envelope in a back pocket of his jeans. "Riley just delivered a note for me. Nothing important. Guess I just sat up too fast," and he tried a small smile."
"Yes, I guess you did, Skipper. You’re white as a ghost. And that’s not easy considering your complexion." They both chuckled at the joke, though Lee’s was decidedly forced. "Come on, lay back down." Jamie helped Lee put his legs back up on the bunk and eased his head back on the pillow. "So much for taking yourself to the Wardroom for dinner." As Lee started to say something Jamie cut him off. "So help me, Skipper. You say ‘I’m fine’ and I’ll have your sorry tail hauled down to Sick Bay here and now." But he smiled as Lee just closed his mouth and glared at the CMO. "It’s probably my fault, letting you spend the afternoon in the Nose. However, now you’re going to have to pay the price. Just lay quietly. I’ll see that your dinner is brought up. A good night’s rest and we’ll see how you’re doing in the morning."
Lee thought about telling Doc not to bother with dinner. He knew it would just be a waste of good food, that there was no way he could eat anything right now. But he knew it would only worry Jamie and maybe get himself ordered to Sick Bay so he kept quiet. Jamie gave Lee’s arm a small pat and left, saying he’d be back to check on him after dinner.
Lee tried to feign sleep when Chip arrived with dinner. It would have worked with one of the crew but Chip knew him too well. Admitting he really wasn’t hungry right now, and was not going to be very good company, he convinced Chip to leave the tray and go eat in the Wardroom, that he would try to eat something a little later. Worry evident on his face, Chip nonetheless left his friend alone. Lee could only be pushed so far, and now didn’t look like the time to fuss. Lee was still too pale, obviously not feeling well. He’d come back as soon as he ate.
Lee didn’t wait. He gave Chip two minutes then rose carefully, got his service revolver from its normal place in his desk drawer, and tucked it in his waistband at the small of his back. He also grabbed an extra clip of ammunition and put it, as well as a few other items, in the pocket of the jacket he slipped on to hide the weapon.
He avoided the Control Room by taking the upper route to the Boarding hatch. Expecting one of the JGs to have the duty he was momentarily dismayed to find Chief Sharkey instead. One piece of luck – the launch was just loading, headed for the port. Lee stood straighter and put as much command power in his voice as he could muster.
"Chief," he said, walking up to Sharkey. He didn’t wait to be handed the clipboard, just grabbed the pen out of Sharkey’s hand. As he scribbled his signature on the sign-out sheet he continued firmly. "I have to go ashore for a bit, meet someone. I should be back on the next launch," and he turned away.
"But, Sir…" Sharkey finally got out. To Lee’s back he stammered, "Should you be leaving, I mean, by yourself?"
"I’ll be fine, Chief. Just got through talking to Mr. Morton," and he stepped aboard the launch. There were only two other crewmen going ashore, both fairly new. Lee just nodded to them and sat down as far away as he could. As the launch pulled away he glanced back at Sharkey. If the Chief got too suspicious Chip could still call ahead and have him stopped at the dock. Lee would just have to hope his comment about having just talked to the XO, which was technically correct, would slow Sharkey down long enough for Lee to get away.
He sat brooding, silently berating himself as the launch made its way ashore. Lee Crane, you are being a complete and total jackass he chided himself. Now you’ve really messed up, and scared Sharkey in the process. How dare you? There was absolutely no reason to be doing this alone. And yet… What, Crane? What is it that’s caused you to lose all your common sense? And deep down, as hard as it was for him to admit, he found the answer. Fear! Fear had paralyzed him. Fear had drained his thoughts. As idiotic as he knew he was being, he knew that what it really boiled down to was a need to face that fear head on. And be alone when he did it, as he had been the first time. He had no misconceptions that he wasn’t walking straight into a trap. But he wasn’t the Midshipman he had been the last time and was counting on Dr. Hardjono not totally realizing that.
For that was whom the note had been from, that Riley had delivered. He had no idea how or why the man was here, or knew that Lee was as well. The note hadn’t said. It read simply "Captain Crane, it was fortunate that none of your crew was killed in that bus. I suppose you could sit back and pray they continue to be so lucky, but somehow I don’t think that will be the case. Come to this address tonight. We will discuss the continuing health of your crew. And who knows? Maybe I’ll give you another chance at the Jade Dragon," with a street address at the bottom.
* * * *
Sharkey was in a quandary. He sure couldn’t argue with the Skipper about leaving but he also didn’t think his Captain had looked very good. Certainly not good enough to be going ashore by himself. But what did he know? If the XO did indeed know about it as the Skipper had indicated, then who was he, a mere COB, to question his superior officers? But…he still wasn’t happy.
He knew he was in trouble when he heard, half an hour later, the call on the intercom. "Captain Crane, please report your location to the Control Room," said the XO, and Sharkey reached for the mic.
"Control Room," he said hesitantly, "Boarding Hatch. Chief Sharkey. The Captain, ah, well, he, ah, went ashore, Sir."
"WHAT!" the XO yelled. There was a short pause, and Sharkey was very glad he wasn’t standing next to Mr. Morton right now. However, with the Exec’s next words Sharkey’s luck ran out. "Chief," and Mr. Morton’s voice was barely under control, "get down here. Now!"
"Aye, aye, Sir." He quickly gave the OOD to Lt. Brewster, who was close by, and scurried to comply. He just knew Mr. Morton was going to assign him to cleaning the ballast tanks for the next month – at least. The news got even worse, if that were possible. Standing next to the XO, in the Observation Nose, was Doc. The ballast tanks for a year he muttered, and headed toward them. He braced himself for the dressing down he knew he had coming, but as he got to them he saw Doc reach out a hand and lay it on Mr. Morton’s arm. The Exec’s voice was still terse, but fairly under control.
"OK, Chief. How did the Skipper get off the boat?"
"Well, Sir, he came up just as the launch was about to leave…"
"When was that?" Chip interrupted.
"Ah, about 40 minutes ago. I didn’t think he should be going by himself, Sir, but he said he’d just talked to you," Sharkey rushed to get it all out before he was interrupted again.
"Just after I took him his dinner," the XO said to Doc, then turned back to Sharkey. "Did he say why he was going ashore, Chief?"
"Yes, Sir. He said he had a message to meet someone."
"Did he say who?"
"No, Sir." He watched the XO ponder a moment, but all he did was send Sharkey back to his post. Sharkey left before the XO could change his mind. Behind him, Doc turned to Chip.
"When I checked on him right after you chased him out of here, he was stuffing an envelope in his pocket. Said Riley had just brought him a message. Could it have been from Detective Sabirin?"
It was Riley’s turn to be called forward, but all he could tell them was what he’d told his Captain. Muttering that nothing was making any sense, Chip placed a call to Sabirin. Unfortunately, the detective could only tell them that he had not sent any message, in any form, to Captain Crane. He did, however, tell Chip he would spread the word among the ranks to keep an eye out for Crane. With a feeling of foreboding Jamie added a comment about having someone also check the hospital, and Sabirin replied he would. Once that call was finished Chip made one more – to Admiral Nelson.
* * * *
Lee had the taxi driver drop him off just over a block away from the address Hardjono had given him. He wasn’t looking forward to the extra walking but there was no way around it. He’d chosen a dark blue jacket to go with his jeans, and now stayed in the shadows as much as possible as he made his way carefully toward his destination. It turned out to be another warehouse and Lee had to stop and take a few deep breaths, not totally caused by the after effects of the concussion.
There had been no time stipulation in the note, so after getting himself a bit more under control, and now knowing where he was going, he backed off a block and came at the building from the back. It hadn’t worked so well the last time. He was hoping things would go better this time around.
This time there was no alley – the building took up an entire block. While the ‘front’ of the building had office-type doors, there were several large truck loading doors on this side, and one normal people door. Lee found a hiding place behind a large dumpster a short way down the street, from where he could watch the building until it got dark enough to approach safely. It also gave him an opportunity to sit down and rest.
In the almost two hours Lee watched the back of the warehouse he saw no movement, and the only windows he could see, high on the walls, remained dark. By 2030 he figured he was as ready as he was going to get and made his way stealthily to the regular door. He studied it carefully before approaching it. There was a fairly elaborate lock but nothing electronic that Lee could detect. He approached carefully but all was quiet. A lot of skill, and a bit of luck, had the lock undone only a little slower than it would usually have taken him and he slipped quietly inside.
He’d entered into what was obviously the shipping office. Nothing much except a couple desks and a row of clipboards on pegs on the outside wall next to the door. The other three walls were solid up to a height of about 3 feet then glass above that, allowing a full view of the loading docks and inside of the building.
Lee stayed where he was for several minutes, crouching down against one of the desks. He could hear no sounds from anywhere, and eventually moved carefully to the open doorway out into the loading area. Apparently there was some kind of shades over the high outside windows he’d seen because the inside wasn’t totally dark. Here and there safety lights had been installed, giving off just enough light to maneuver by.
It was one of those lights that signaled to Lee a short time later that he was not alone in the building. While he didn’t actually see or hear anything, one of the lights flickered out just a moment then re-appeared, as if someone had walked in front of it. Lee had been moving cautiously toward the offices in the front part of the building, using stacks of boxes and crates as cover. Instantly he froze, the soft ringing in his ears, more evident inside the quiet building than it had been outside, taunting him, reminding him he should be safely tucked in his bunk on Seaview instead of doing a Lone Ranger. Shaking off those thoughts as non-productive, he concentrated harder and finally made out slow, quiet footsteps off to his right. Whoever was making them didn’t seem to be doing so furtively, just wandering unhurriedly around the building. Still listening carefully as the steps approached, Lee positioned himself so that the person would pass, if he kept to his current route, just in front of Lee.
The man never knew what hit him, never had a chance to cry out. One good chop on just the right spot and he went down instantly. Unfortunately, so did Lee. That instant expenditure of energy was almost too much for him. All he could do was kneel down next to the man until the ringing in his ears that had worsened with the effort subsided to its previous level and the dizziness went away. As it did Lee finally searched the man, took the pistol he found, then bound the man head and foot with the electrician’s tape he’d brought with him. He also put two pieces across the guy’s mouth, then dragged him into a corner behind some crates.
The second one was easier. Instead of using his hand he used the butt of the first guy’s pistol, wondering why he hadn’t used his own the first time. Trussed and gagged, Lee found another dark corner for this one as well and pushed his gun quietly under a pallet several rows away. Lee took another few minutes to gather what reserves he could muster, then returned to making his way quietly across the area. He stopped often to listen, and kept an eye on all the safety lights. He didn’t want to be spotted the same way he had the first man. But all was quiet.
The rows of crates ended not far from the first of a row of offices across the front of the building. These also had windows out to the loading area, but not so many as the back one did. All appeared dark and Lee hesitated for a bit, trying to decide his next move. Everything stayed so quiet Lee was beginning to think he had taken care of the only other people in the building, and that was his undoing.
Lee was kneeling at the end of an aisle between two rows of boxes, and though he had looked out across the open space to the offices hadn’t realized that the end of the row to his left had a recessed area at the end. Lee’s attention was to the right, in the direction of the offices, and when he stepped out to start across the open area he was flattened by a punch to his lower side. He went sprawling but managed to roll enough to come up facing the direction the punch had come from, although badly shaken and not breathing too well. Anything he might have thought to do at that moment was halted as the overhead lights suddenly came on and he saw his attacker – the huge man who had once before beaten Lee badly, the ‘green dragon’ of his nightmare.
"I rather think you remember Che, don’t you, Captain Crane," said a voice still out of sight, with an inflection of disgust on the word ‘Captain’. Lee was too busy trying to get his breathing under control and his body to obey him to answer, and presently Dr. Hardjono stepped out from the doorway to the second office. "He definitely remembers you." Lee was finally able to take his eyes from the big man long enough to glance at Hardjono, seeing mostly the gun in the Doctor’s hand. "I’d promised him he could have you to play with, and that idiot of a son of mine spoiled all his fun."
At that Lee stared at Hardjono. "Your son?" he was barely able to get out, still trying to breathe correctly.
"Oh, come now, Captain," and again the loathing was apparent. "Don’t play dumb. You’ve known that all along. That’s why your wonderful Institute hired him, to thank Rini for cutting you free." The entire speech was filled with hate.
"I assure you, Dr. Hardjono. No one, not even me, knew he was related to you. He earned everything he’s received totally on his own merits. He’s a very talented, well respected marine biologist." While all that was true, Lee said it more as a way to anger this Dr. Hardjono than anything else. It almost cost him his life then and there, as Lee saw the Doctor’s face darken and his finger twitch against the trigger of the gun he held steadily in Lee’s direction. But he got his face, and his finger, under control just in time.
"Toss your gun over to me," he finally said. Just in time Lee realized Hardjono meant the one tucked in the front of his jeans, the one he’d taken off the first guard, and not his own still out of sight in the small of his back. Lee very carefully pulled it out left-handed and pushed it across the floor, seemingly innocently aiming it several feet to Hardjono’s right.
"Agil, Chang," Hardjono called out loudly, but there was no reply.
"If that’s the two who were patrolling the building, they’re both taking a little nap," Lee said and smiled softly. "Guess you’ll just have to dock their pay." Hardjono’s face darkened again and Lee counseled his own, controlling another smile. He was going to have to be very careful. Lee was beginning to realize that Hardjono was dangerously on the edge. Lee had to find a way to distract him long enough to get to his own weapon without Hardjono blowing Lee’s head off first. And there was still the man Che to deal with. After that one punch he had remained standing where he was, about four feet to Lee’s left – far too close for Lee’s comfort. "Why did you attack the bus? I assume that was you," Lee said to keep the conversation going. He saw Hardjono mentally switch gears and smile.
"Che, actually. You seemed reluctant to leave your precious boat. Even when you did you were never alone.
"That day, in town…" Lee said almost to himself.
Hardjono raised an eyebrow, but when Lee didn’t go, he did. "I needed a way to get your attention. One of my men heard yours talking about coming back to the Park the next day to dive, so Che volunteered to arrange a little ‘accident’. How perfectly wonderful to find out we’d caught you in the same trap, but you were again able to get back aboard before we could get to you. This time with a police escort."
"But you killed an innocent man. You could have killed everyone aboard." Lee felt sick, and it had nothing to do with his injuries.
Hardjono just shrugged his shoulders. "That would have inconvenienced Che only, since he wanted to deal with you personally."
"I’m surprised you didn’t finish me off in Hong Kong," Lee said flatly.
"By the time I was able to track you down at the hospital, your Mother had already made arrangements to fly you home. I will admit I was worried for some time. But nothing ever came of it," and there was genuine puzzlement in his voice.
"Until quite recently I was never able to remember what happened," Lee replied honestly. "By then I had no idea where you were." He paused for a second before continuing. "Why are you doing this?" he asked. Recognizing the plaintive tone in his voice, he continued with more strength. "After all these years, you had to know I was no threat to you."
"At first, when I found out you were coming, I will admit to a bit of curiosity. A need to know what inspired such admiration in my son," and he said it with almost a snarl. "After I’d discovered he was here, friends told me how he would go on and on about the wonderful Nelson Institute," and his voice dripped of sarcasm. "What an incredible research submarine Nelson had built, and its marvelous crew. He’s just like his mother was," Hardjono sneered, "weak and sniveling, with misguided ideals. I suppose I should have gotten rid of him, too," and Lee cringed at what Hardjono implied with those words. "I thought that once I had him alone I could make something of him. But all he ever talked about was being like his mother. After our little run-in," and he nodded at Lee, "he ran off to university."
"He has made something of himself," Lee reminded Hardjono.
"Ah, yes. He studies fish," Hardjono said with loathing. "And practically worships that wonderful Institute of yours."
"It’s not mine," Lee said, but had the comment dismissed with a wave of Hardjono’s hand. "If you hated him so much…"
"Why didn’t I just kill him?" A smile appeared on Hardjono’s face, but there was little humor in it, "I’m not really sure. But then you showed up," and the grin turned positively evil. "I thought to myself, how absolutely wonderful. Che can have you after all, and my precious son will have no one to blame but himself."
All Lee could do was shake his head. The man was totally mad. However, Lee had to keep him talking. "I gather from your note you still have the jade dragon." For the first time Lee saw Hardjono’s face light up with…what? Pleasure? Joy? Lust? Whatever it was, it caused Hardjono to see in his mind’s eye the statue. As distractions go it wasn’t much, but Lee couldn’t count on getting another one. As quickly as his abused body and aching head would let him he flung himself to his right, grabbed his gun, and fired. Just as fast a kick from Che sent the weapon flying. Lee had just time enough to see Hardjono fall before a second kick caught Lee in the ribs. Part of his mind felt ribs break – heard them break. But the part that had kept him alive through countless Seaview and ONI missions gone bad made him roll away and come up on his feet. A little unsteadily and with difficulty breathing, but standing nonetheless. There was no sound from Hardjono, and Lee dared not risk a glance in that direction as Che advanced on him. Lee could do no more than stay out of the huge man’s way at this point. There was no smile on Che’s face this time, just a look of pure hatred. The part of Lee’s brain that was keeping him going recognized that while Che hadn’t lost any power in the intervening years since their first encounter, he had lost some speed. Lee took a measure of comfort from that, and also from the fact that he himself was no longer the untrained young man he had been at that time. Nor was he being held.
As their slow, deadly dance continued, Che took a step in and swung his huge fist at Lee. Lee was able to avoid it and used the opportunity to kick at Che, connecting with the big man’s right knee. As Che gasped and clutched at the injured joint Lee advanced for another try, but just as suddenly Che connected with a fist and Lee went down. This time he was unable to move fast enough, another kick connected, and Lee heard more ribs break on the other side. He felt like his entire chest had caved in, and there was no way to take a decent breath. He saw a smile finally appear on Che’s face, again so reminiscent of the jade dragon. Lee tried to drag himself backward, keeping his eyes on Che’s as the man advanced. He was pleased to see that Che was limping badly from the kick Lee had delivered. As Che prepared to deliver another kick, one Lee knew would be the end of him, Lee gathered every ounce of strength he had and put it into one of his own, again connecting with Che’s already damaged right knee. Lee heard a cry of pain and wasn’t sure if it had come from Che or himself. Maybe both. Whatever the source Che fell backward, away from Lee. Lee knew the reprieve would be momentary. He had to attack now. Never taking his eyes off Che, moaning on the floor a few feet away, Lee somehow found the strength to regain his feet. He had to use a stack of boxes to keep himself upright but did it nonetheless. Slowly, painfully, he took the few steps to reach Che. There was a noise behind him, but all he could think of at that moment, all his energy, was directed into the kick he aimed at Che’s head, and was gratified when it connected. Suddenly there were hands on his body, and the most welcome voice he could hope to hear said his name. With his last bit of strength he mumbled, collapsing into Admiral Nelson’s arms, "What the hell are you doing here?"
* * * *
When Lee woke up it was still dark outside, according to the windows. Or dark again, he wasn’t sure which. He discovered he was in what appeared to be a hospital room again, but a private one this time. Only one bed. There was a momentary instant of flashback, but as quickly as it came it passed. This time he remembered everything that had happened. He looked around, and smiled when he saw Admiral Nelson sitting in a chair against the wall a few feet away, his chin on his chest, apparently asleep.
"Welcome back," a voice said softly from his other side, and Lee turned slowly to see Jamie standing next to the bed, smiling down at him. "Still fuzzy?"
"Little bit," Lee admitted.
"Drugs," Jamie said with a smile. Lee gave him a curious look through the fog. "Five broken ribs and a bruised kidney took precedence over concerns about the concussion. Don’t fight it." But Lee looked back toward Nelson and Jamie chuckled. "He’s been with you constantly. I think he’s afraid you’ll run away again."
"Didn’t run away," Lee said, still looking at the Admiral, and felt Jamie’s hand on his arm.
"We found the note, Skipper," Jamie comforted him. Lee looked at him and he smiled. "We know exactly what you did."
* * * *
That afternoon Lee’s hospital room got a bit crowded. Jamie hadn’t liked it much, saying it was far too soon. But he’d been overruled, the one doing the loudest yelling being Lee himself. That’s mainly why Jamie eventually relented. He knew Lee wouldn’t rest properly until he had all the pieces of the puzzle in their proper order. It made for an excellent Captain but a lousy patient, and tended to drive Jamie, among others, up the proverbial wall on occasion. Nelson was still in the chair he had been occupying since Lee was brought in. Jamie was standing close to Lee on that same side and Chip was standing beside Lee on the other. Also in the room were Detective Sabirin and Dr. Rini Hardjono, as well as Chief Sharkey, Kowalski, Patterson and Riley. The latter four were huddled together in one corner, trying to be as unobtrusive as possible but still unwilling to leave. Hardjono and Sabirin were doing most of the talking, catching everyone up on what had been happening since Lee was found. With Rini’s help the Reserse had raided his father’s house, as well as a couple other places he was known to use. There was no telling at this point if they’d gotten them all, although they thought so. Several of Nabiel’s men, once captured, had rolled over on their now-dead boss in exchange for leniency. Nabiel, it turned out, had died instantly from Lee’s well-aimed shot. In a large safe at Nabiel’s home they had found the jade dragon. It seemed Nabiel had been so in love with the carving he couldn’t give it up. Lee didn’t bother telling them that that had ultimately led to his death. Anyway, it was already on its way back to the proper authorities, along with several other artifacts that had been found.
"I’m still not totally sure I understand how you all showed up when you did," Lee said quietly. Breathing wasn’t easy, taped up as he was. Neither was getting comfortable. Everything hurt too much. He struggled briefly with the pillows he was propped up on, not having much success easing the pain. Chip helped him readjust a couple of them and he settled back again as Nelson answered him.
"You have Rini to thank for that," Nelson said with a smile at the marine biologist.
Rini just hung his head. "Please. If it hadn’t been for me, none of this would have happened in the first place," he said shamefully.
"If it hadn’t been for you," Lee said softly, "I’d have died a good many years ago. Something I never got a chance to thank you for."
"Actually, in a way, you did," and Lee gave the man a quizzical look. "When I heard about the new research station being established I sent in an application and resume, hoping to be accepted to work there. In the information packet that I was sent there was a picture of you, and that’s when I realized that the Lee Crane I’d turned loose was the same Lee Crane who now captained the Seaview. When I was asked to not only work at the station, but actually run it, I had my thank you."
"But how did you know to come to the warehouse?" Lee persisted.
"My father never paid any attention to my work, so I did not fear he would ever discover the connection," Rini went on, ignoring Lee’s question. "I’m sorry. I was wrong. If I had only warned you…"
Lee sighed tiredly. "Please? Could somebody just start at the beginning?"
Admiral Nelson chuckled softly. "OK, Lee. As you know now, Rini was the young man you saw when you first encountered his father, Nabiel Hardjono."
"I overheard what my father was planning. I always knew he was a cruel man, but never did I realize until then what he was capable of. To be caught was terrifying, so I couldn’t do much."
"Turned out to be quite enough," and Lee smiled at him.
"After that, I could not stand to be near my father. I also think he knew it was me who cut you free, and I was afraid. I was already accepted at University, thankfully, and I think my father was glad to be rid of me. My mother had died several years before. She was a marine biologist at the University in Jakarta, and I got my love of the sea from her." He looked at Lee shyly. "I often wondered what had happened to you."
Lee just nodded back. There was no way he was going to tell Rini now that his father had as much as admitted to having his mother killed. The man was distressed enough as it was. Perhaps, at a later time, he would sit down with him, have a private little talk…
"I didn’t hear from my father again, until about eight months ago," Rini went on. " My schooling was already paid for from money my mother’s brother had left me." He grinned then. "It always angered my father that he couldn’t get his hands on that money. After Hong Kong went back to China in 1997, my father apparently continued as he had been doing – as I now know he was doing. But something must have happened, I don’t know what, to make him have to leave."
"I can help a bit there," Sabirin said. "The Reserse had for some time been suspicious of Dr. Hardjono, ah, Dr. Nabiel Hardjono," he corrected quickly. "It seems that one too many thefts had been associated with him, and the authorities there were just about to make the connection. He apparently left in a very big hurry. They had no idea where he had gone until we started making inquires. Unfortunately, neither they nor we could ever prove anything. All we could do was wait and watch."
"I had no idea he had moved here," Rini again took up the narrative, "until I bumped into him, almost literally. The bank here that was handling the Institute funds is the same one he used. I did not stay to chat, but he could have easily discovered why I was there, and made the connection."
"He thought that’s why the Institute hired you," and all eyes turned to Lee as he spoke quietly. "I wasn’t able to convince him otherwise."
"I am so ashamed," Rini lowered his eyes to the floor. "I knew you were coming, had even talked to you on the radio. I knew what he was capable of, yet I kept silent." Nelson reached out a hand to the obviously distraught man and Rini looked at him. "I was afraid. Afraid that if you found out I would be asked to leave."
"Found out about what?" Chip blustered. "You’d saved Lee’s life."
"Chip," Nelson counseled, "hindsight being the wonderful thing it is, Rini does not need to be lectured to now. It’s quite enough that when you notified me that Lee had taken off," and he gave his Captain a hard look, "he immediately explained."
"I had been wanting to," Rini went on. "As soon as I learned that Captain Crane had disappeared, I knew my father was somehow responsible."
"Speaking of which," Nelson again looked at Lee sternly, "obviously the note Riley delivered was from Nabiel."
"Yes, Sir," Lee answered carefully, knowing he hadn’t heard the last about that little stunt. He had a feeling he’d be paying for it, big time. "He’d seen me the day Chip and I went into town."
"You saw him, too," Chip said softly, and Lee looked up at him.
"Yes, although I didn’t realize it at the time." He turned to Sabirin. "He was responsible for shooting the bus driver," and Lee took a deep breath. Jamie reached a hand out to him but Lee waved him off. "I’m all right, Jamie."
"Sure you are," the CMO grumbled, but said nothing more.
"Nabiel didn’t actually do it, of course. Che did. The big man. I don’t know his full name."
"Zhengsheng Che," Sabirin supplied. "Had apparently been Nabiel’s – what do you Americans call them, henchman? – for some time. This was admitted to you?" Lee just nodded. "That would fit some of the reports that have come in."
"About the note," Nelson reminded Lee.
Lee told Sabirin what it said. "There was no doubt who had written it."
"So you just went?" Sabirin couldn’t disguise his disbelief. "By yourself. Knowing he was expecting you. Why go alone? Now that you knew who you were dealing with, you should have called me. It would have been a great deal less…painful." He looked around the room as all of the Seaview men gave him smiles, laughs, and a couple of unintelligible grumbles.
Shaking his head, Nelson answered as Lee just lowered his eyes. "Detective Sabirin, we have been trying for years to get that very point through the Captain’s thick skull, with absolutely no success. If you can manage it, I would be eternally grateful."
With his head lowered, looking at Nelson almost through his eyelashes, Lee continued. "I was armed. I knew what I was up against. It was just…something that I had to take care of myself," and was relieved when he saw Nelson give him a slight nod.
"So," Sabirin continued, since this was the first chance he’d had to question Lee directly, "what happened?"
Lee finally looked at the detective. "I got careless," he admitted.
"Would you care to explain that a bit further?" and Sabirin cocked an eyebrow at Lee.
"Not particularly," Lee admitted. When he said nothing more Sabirin looked at Nelson.
Without looking at his young Captain, Nelson said with authority. "What else is there to know? Lee was attacked. He defended himself. When we got there it was all over but the shouting."
"A few more details would be nice for my report," Sabirin complained.
"I’m sure you’ll think of something," Nelson returned confidently.
"You still haven’t answered me as to how you knew where I was," Lee said into the sudden silence, and Nelson finally explained.
"Chip had sent Sharkey to pick me up in FS1. By then Rini had explained who he was, and came back with us. As soon as we landed I called Detective Sabirin. Since his department was already watching Nabiel he was able to narrow the search considerably. We all," and he indicated the other crewmen, "including Jamie, came along just in case."
"Thankfully," Jamie muttered to the room in general, then got serious as Lee again sighed heavily. "Gentlemen…"
"Jamie," Lee anticipated where the CMO was going and tried to head him off.
"Not this time, Skipper." Jamie said firmly. "It’s long past your nap time." There were soft chuckles from several of the crew, including Nelson. As Lee gave the seamen a long look Jamie reached up quietly and adjusted the drip on the IV. Sharkey shooed the seamen out, with ‘good night’ and ‘rest easy’ to their Skipper. Sabirin left reluctantly, knowing deep down there was much more Crane could tell him but accepting the fact he was probably never going to hear it. Chip originally wasn’t going anywhere, until Nelson asked him to please take Rini down to Seaview and get him settled in a guest cabin. Hesitating a second longer then he should have, he finally nodded.
First, however, he laid a hand on Lee’s arm. Leaning over, he whispered so only Lee would hear, "You remember real well how bad you feel right now. Because if you ever pull a stunt like this again I’ll make you feel even worse," and he turned and stalked out, the sound of Lee’s soft laughter following him. He turned at the door to shoot a venomous look at Lee, but Lee could see the beginnings of a smile as Chip motioned Rini to precede him out. Lee was beginning to realize what Jamie had done, but at that point wasn’t totally sorry.
"I get the feeling Chip just grounded you for the rest of the cruise," Nelson said, walking up to Lee’s bed.
Lee grinned. "Have me cleaning ballast tanks if he thought he could get away with it."
"Perhaps I can give him some assistance in that department," Nelson looked sternly down at his Captain.
"Lousy for crew morale," Lee said sleepily, his eyes having a problem staying open.
"He always has an answer," Jamie complained. The two of them watched as the drugs finally pulled Lee under and he slept peacefully.
"I still have the fact that he swore at a superior officer to hold over him," Nelson said. "That should be worth five minutes of co-operation – ten if I’m lucky."
"Hah," Jamie snorted. "Five seconds – tops! He’ll just tell you he doesn’t remember doing it."
Nelson chuckled with his CMO, then reached out and laid a hand on Lee’s arm. "Jamie, you repeat this to anyone, I’ll have you cleaning ballast tanks," and he grinned. "As much as I hate to admit it, I’m not sure I’d want him any other way."