POWERS OF DARKNESS By Pauline Owers
As Crane climbed down from the Flying Sub and walked towards the chauffeur driven car waiting for him on the isolated car park, he felt a chill from the damp night air and pulled his leather flying jacket closed. He felt better as he settled into the back seat and the car pulled out into the night, as FS1 headed back to Seaview. The small secluded airstrip was a good twenty miles from Langham Green, mostly along the A120, and traffic was light at this time of night. Still Crane was relieved when he finally saw the high fencing that surrounded the research establishment.
The fabricated buildings had armed guards at the gate, and high voltage warnings were plastered along most of the fence. I.D.’s checked, the car was directed to the Commander’s office, the driver told to wait in the vehicle.
“Lee, good to see you,” Richards said, waiting, “I thought that you were a civilian these days?”
“It’s a long story,” Crane smiled.
“Well, we can talk later,” the former ONI operative led Lee to the lab.
“This building looks like all the others. But the walls are reinforced concrete.” Opening the door, he continued, “The lifts are the only entrance to the underground laboratories. And you’re the only one outside of this establishment to know that.”
“The toxins are kept in ‘A’ lab,” Richards directed Crane out of the elevator and down the corridor. “Doctor Philips is waiting for us.”
The lab’s heavy outer doors opened via it’s electronic eye.
“The double doors act as an airlock; a safety precaution in case of accidents,” Richards told him as they waited for the inner doors to open.
Crane glanced around the lab as they entered, “I’m not sure I like what you’re doing,” he commented turning his attention from a cage containing a hamster.
“This is Doctor Phillips,” Richards said quickly, before he was drawn into the age old argument about the ethics of using live animals for experimentation.
“Doctor,” Crane nodded.
Phillips was carefully returning some vials to their steel briefcase, “The Doomsday Bug, Captain. Admiral Nelson has briefed you, I assume?”
“Then you already know that there is no antidote. If only one drop of this gets airborne, we would all be dead within 36 hours. After 24, it’s oxidized and perfectly harmless.”
“The perfect weapon,” Crane shook his head in disgust.
“I’d appreciate it if you’d keep your opinion to yourself, Commander. Think of it as the world’s guarantee of peace. Nelson understands that.”
“He also understands that it’s too deadly to continue further research here.”
“Gentlemen,” Richards interrupted, “this is not the right time for discussion. Our job is to transfer the toxins to the undersea lab, where experimentation may continue in a self contained environment there will be less risk of contamination in case of an accident.”
“FS1 will be picking me up at 0100.”
“Handle it with care Commander,” Phillips handed him the briefcase. “You may well do to remember that such a lethal weapon can also be just as great a deterrent to war as your nuclear warheads.”
Before the angry Crane could reply Richards had herded him back to the elevator.
the cover of darkness, Seaview edged her way cautiously through the
murky waters of the cold
“Mr. Morton, there’s a message coming in,
Morton hurried aft and accepted the printout.
“News from the Skipper?” Chief Sharkey asked as he joined Morton from his station at the plot table.
“He arrived at Langley Green without incident. All we can do now is wait.” “Don’t worry, Mr Morton, the Skipper can take care of himself.”
“You hope,” Morton replied, walking forward. He wasn’t so sure; this mission was especially hazardous. He would be happier when they were finally underway, the virus safely stowed in the lab's special containment chamber. But he was still uneasy and had been ever since Crane had told him about the Doomsday Bug.
How did you let Nelson talk you into this? Chip wondered as he glanced toward the flying sub's access hatch. All that rubbish about calculated risks. It’s suicidal to bring this toxin aboard Seaview –one accident and we could all be dead before we even reach sea lab. The whole thing’s crazy.
“Flying Sub’s checked out and ready for launch, sir,” Seaman Murphy climbed out, handing his clipboard to Morton.
“Good job, Murph, carry on.”
2400 hours. No matter how many times he went through this, waiting for Lee to return never got any easier. The hours had dragged, giving everyone too much time to worry about the Captain and what could happen. And why did it always have to be Lee? Why did it always have to be Seaview?
She was supposed to a research vessel, dedicated to the development of undersea resources. That was what the plaque in the Observation Nose read. Yet, as a US Navy Reserve vessel, they spent at least 50% of their time at sea on government jobs which had very little to do with oceanographic studies.
Yet, Morton didn't want to be any place else. Seaview had become an important part of his life, and he did not intend to let anything happen to change that. Right now his priority was to get Lee safely back aboard and complete this hair-brained mission as soon as possible. “Kowalski?” It’s nearly time to pick up the Captain. You’d better get ready.”
“Aye, aye, sir,” Kowalski removed his headset as his assigned relief took over.
Still feeling uneasy, Chip returned his attention to the chart table and his own silent fears.
Crane’s driver glanced in the rear-view mirror as they exited the roundabout on to the A120. “I think we’ve picked up a tail, sir.”
“Are you sure they are following us?”
“Been with us for some time.”
As they continued along the main road, the driver slowed to see if the car behind them would overtake them, but it continued to follow them for several miles until they were clear of the Airport traffic from Stansted. Braking, the driver turned into a narrow side road, which to Lee, seemed more like a dirt track, hardly wide enough for two cars to pass.
“This should get rid of them,” the driver said as he floored the engine, speeding down the narrow lane, trees encroaching on both sides.
It didn't work. The driver floored the accelerator and the car sped into the darkness.
Both men were tossed from side to side as the car slewed round the winding road. Swinging the car almost sideways, the vehicle just made it through a gate, shaking violently as it bounced across a cattle grid. Lee hardly had time to see the headlights glare off a ‘Property of The National Trust’ sign before the car rebounded from a speed bump, the tail still on them
Lee automatically reached for the gun he had hidden in his jacket; things were going from bad to worse. He would protect the vials with his life and wondered if his death would be from their pursuers or a burst toxin.
They continued at top speed for several hundred yards when out of the darkness, a sharp bend made the driver brake heavily. The tires skidded on the wet surface as the car took the bend on two wheels. Time seemed to stop as the driver struggled with the steering wheel, fighting desperately to regain control, then with a crashing blow, the car toppled over, rolling several times before coming to rest upside down on its roof.
It took a moment to realize he’d been thrown from the car. Cautiously Lee rolled to his hands and knees and got unsteadily to his feet, dazed, bruised and abrased. Nothing broken though. Stumbling to the wreck, he found the driver dead. At least it had been quick.
It was difficult to navigate the upside down twisted metal for the case, especially in the nearly pitch black night illuminated only with the still working emergency blinkers of the twisted metal.
If any of those vials where broken, Lee mused, he was already dead. Finding his prey, he pulled it after him to the grass, and opened it. Miraculously, the vials felt and looked undamaged.
Where were their pursuers? It was if they'd vanished. Now he had to make it back to the airfield in time to meet the Flying Sub. Getting to his feet, he tucked the case inside his jacket and looked around. He suddenly realized he had no idea where he was. The high speed chase through dark twisting roads had him totally disoriented. His head hurt too.
Kowalski settled into the pilot seat of FS1 and went through the pre-flight check list. He couldn’t help feeling that things were going too well.
“Check list complete, ready to launch,” he reported.
“Stand by – launch,” Morton’s voice came over the radio.
FS1 dropped smoothly away from her berth and Kowalski headed inland as the bay doors rolled closed behind him. He would stay submerged as long as possible before taking to the night sky for the short flight to the airfield. He had instructions to keep radio silence unless underwater or if something went wrong.
The sonar returns were coming only seconds apart now from the seabed and Kowalski pulled the nose up, increasing his speed. Seconds later FS1 broke the surface and climbed into the night sky. Levelling off at fifteen hundred feet, Kowalski checked his course. Visibility was poor because of the weather and he would have to rely on instruments for most of the way, but at least the snow and sleet would help conceal the bright yellow craft as it continued inland. Only a madman would actually be out in this weather, he thought.
It wasn’t long before Ski started his descent. Visibility was bad. Suddenly, the airfield, as expected, came into view and the seaman landed. But where was the Skipper? Or the car that had picked him up. Maybe he was holed up out of sight, waiting for him. At least he hoped that was the case. But his wishful thinking was in vain and he dreaded reporting this to the XO. It was no secret that Morton hadn’t approved of this mission and Kowalski did not want to be on the end of the inevitable tongue lashing, even if it wasn’t aimed at him.
Kowalski decided to make a quick sortie of the field, just in case Crane was lying somewhere out of sight, injured or in need of help. Pausing to strap on a side arm, and collect a flashlight from the locker below the bunk, Ski emerged form the rear hatch, catching his breath against the cold night air. Stepping out into the sleet, he hoped that his worst fears weren’t about to materialise.
Crane felt like he’d been walking for hours. The sleet had chilled him to the very bone. Glancing at his watch, he found that it was already time for his rendezvous with the Flying Sub. He had no idea how far he was from the airfield. Having decided against the main road, he had taken to the fields, in what he hoped was the right direction. It was heavy going. Wet muddy soil stuck and oozed into his shoes, making every step difficult. But there was no time to rest, hope waning that Kowalski would still be waiting for him, if he ever even reached the airfield that was.
The thought of FS1 and hot coffee spurred him on. Frequently stumbling on through the blackness, he lost his footing several times, often ending up on his hands and knees and covered in mud. No doubt wet grass and mud had stained his soaking wet uniform and water dripped from his tousled hair. At least he hoped some of it was water. He remembered something warm like blood had rolled down his ear, but had been too busy to worry about it.
He realised he must look a total mess and wondered what comments his appearance would evoke upon his arrival back aboard Seaview. No doubt his Exec would think of a few scathing remarks about it not being safe to let him out alone. And Doc, well, he was just going to have to have another cow, adding this incident to all the others Lee returned to Seaview a bit...er...scathed. As for Nelson, Lee’s past experience with Naval Intelligence had made him acknowledge Crane was the obvious choice for such a mission and ‘accident’s sometimes happened.
His legs felt like lead, and he repeatedly lost his footing on the icy slush. He could barely feel the bottoms of his feet anymore. Each step sapped his strength and he concentrated on taking one step at a time and trying to stay upright. The knowledge that Nelson and Chip would organize a search party both encouraged and distressed him. Nothing like a boatload of babysitters to make him cringe. Crane was also aware that the car would not be found until after daylight, if even. He turned his gaze skyward, but the heavily black overcast sky gave no assistance; not one star was visible.
How far had he walked? He was tired, cold, and hungry. But he had to keep moving. He just hoped that he was going in the right direction.
“Anything?” the hovering Morton asked
“Keep monitoring,” Morton ordered. Ski’s report was overdue.
After a long five minutes,
“This is Seaview, we read you, Ski,”
“Let me speak to Mr Morton.”
Morton took the mike to speak to the crewman. “Morton here, go ahead, Kowalski.”
“He's not here.”
Those three words burned a hole in the XO's heart.
“Do you know where he is?"
“No sir. Nobody's here. No trace of the car."
“All right, Kowalski, stand by.” Putting the mike down, Morton looked at
The news from Langley Green was not encouraging. Crane had left there nearly two hours ago and their driver had failed to return. Richards had people out searching, but so far nothing had turned up. And the weather was making it miserable.
Morton again called Kowalski. “Return to Seaview at once,” he ordered.
“But Mr. Morton, Sir – what about the Skipper?” Kowalski protested.
“I said return to Seaview,” Morton repeated.
“Aye, aye, sir,” Kowalski acknowledged albeit reluctantly.
Morton crossed to the monitor and turned it
on, waiting for
“Yes, Chip?” Nelson’s image faded in.
“I’m afraid I have to report that Lee is overdue.”
“Nothing from Lee?”
“No, Sir. And the driver never returned to Langley Green either.”
“I see. Set up a search party. Nothing obvious. Two men max. Use the night vision goggles. We cannot, I repeat, cannot, let the serum fall into the wrong hands.”
“Yes, Sir,” Chip agreed. “Anything else sir?” he almost asked bitterly.
“I’m as worried as you are about Lee! But the Doomsday Bug has made him, all of us, expendable...I know you’ll do your best to recover them both...keep me posted,” Nelson finished and the screen went blank.
“All set, Sir,” Sharkey reported from the FS1 hatch. “We got foul weather rescue gear, night vision goggles, binoculars, flares, bandages, soup..”
“All right, all right...I don’t have to remind you that if it’s a decision between rescuing the vials or the Captain, the vials win... very well, prepare to launch, and good luck,”
Chip would have preferred to lead the search
himself, rather than stay aboard waiting for news, but in these waters, not to mention the circumstances, it was
impossible for him to leave the boat.
Like it or not, he had to remain at the
FS1 dropped away, banking in a smooth turn as Kowalski, still as pilot, headed inland. After they had disappeared from sight, Morton turned back to the Control Room. The intensity of his feelings was readily perceived by the crew, despite his shuttered expression. He leaned on the periscope rail and rested his chin on his arm, seeming to stare into space, but he was thinking, evaluating every possible option. His orders were specific in that they were not to draw attention to themselves, which was why Lee had gone in without a radio – and it also meant that a full scale search was impossible. He hoped that when Sharkey and Kowalski arrived at the airfield, they would find Lee waiting for them. Anyway, orders or not, he told himself, Seaview herself wouldn’t budge until her Captain had been found. The sudden chatter from the AMRAC computer took his attention, and he stirred himself to walk over and take the printout from the tray.
The weather report from the satellite showed the temperature was falling and there was a possibility of blizzards. Where are you Lee? Morton almost prayed, returning to the plot table. They should have been underway by now. His worst fears looked like being realised as each hour passed; the mission was going badly wrong.
Lee was on the verge of exhaustion. He longed for a hot shower and a soft bunk. Wiping water from his eyes, he forced himself to keep moving. It was vital that he reach the airfield by dawn – daylight would make it too easy for whoever was after him to find him. And why hadn’t they followed after the wreck? It was just too confusing.
He stumbled on through the darkness; he could hear the sound of traffic coming from the other side of a line of trees. It was taking all of his willpower just to stay on his feet and not give in to the cold and leaden tiredness which penetrated every part of him as he leaned against a tree for a moment to reconoiter.
There was a road junction up ahead. The trees fell away and the fields opened on to the road. Then he spotted it as he looked around for some sort of landmark. Painted white, it stood out against the darkness; a water tower. He remembered seeing it on the way in, so he had to be close to the airfield now. He made it across the road and started down the track running along the edge of a field; at least it was slightly easier going.
The track lead to a narrow lane and he could see the airfield. Shivering uncontrollably, heart thundering in his head, sheer stubbornness willed him forward. He'd barely made it to the runway when his legs folded under him and he found himself face down on the wet grass. He fought to get up, but his body refused to obey. Overworked muscles rebelled, cramping heavily, wracking his body with painful spasms. He was surprised he didn't feel as cold as before, and slipped into unconsciousness.
It was not a good night for flying even with the technological wonder that was the Flying Sub. Sleet lashed against the forward ports, visibility practically zero, and Kowalski had a difficult time keeping the craft well away from the main airport traffic, just a few miles away. Dropping to three hundred feet, he flew over the deserted airstrip twice before finally bringing the Flying Sub in to land.
“Can't see anything in this mess,” Kowalski commented as the men prepared to disembark, pulling on their foul weather gear.
The night vision goggles cast an eerie green glow on the airfield and surrounding terrain to no avail. Even the heavily magnified binoculars weren’t of much help. They were just about ready to give up and return to the warmth of the Flying Sub when Sharkey picked up something in his sights, “Over here, Ski!” he called as ran, skidded, and slipped over the snow-covered ground.
“Is it him?”
“I don’t know yet...”Sharkey knelt down and ran a flashlight over the prone figure, turning his face and wiping some of the mud and snow off his face. “It’s him!”
“No! Don't move him, Chief," Ski pulled began to pull off his gloves.
“You could hurt him worse…Let me check him out. I know what I'm doing.”
“Shit, over there," Sharkey aimed his flashlight at the small briefcase. "If any of those vials are broken…they’re okay," he sighed.
After a preliminary check that he could turn Crane safely, Ski couldn't help observing that Crane looked dead, grey-white in the torchlight. “He's alive, but he's frozen, badly hurt."
“The Chief is calling, Sir,”
“Morton here," he clicked the mike," go ahead, Chief.”
“We’ve found the Skipper, sir,” Sharkey reported. "Looked dead. He's unconscious… hypothermia and a sure concussion, Ski says. Covered with cuts and bruises and...”
“What about the Doomsday Bug?” Morton interrupted.
“All right, Chief," Morton sighed in relief, "get back right away. Doc will be standing by.” Again, he thought to himself.
“Aye, aye, sir.”
“Okay, Chief – get the vials down to the lab,” Morton ordered Sharkey as he climbed into the just Docked FS1.
Jamieson was already kneeling beside Kowalski as he examined Crane, already having been stripped of his soaked clothes before the flight home, his wounds fully exposed now as he lay naked on the now bloodied blankets the two men had bundled him up in.
“Will he make it?” Morton asked.
“Ski's diagnosis right on the button. Definite Hypothermia, I have to do more tests to determine how severe a concussion; the cuts and bruises are relatively minor medically speaking. But I’ll know more after a series of X-Rays and some MRI imaging. We don’t even know what happened to him, but if I had to guess, it was an auto accident.”
In moments Ski and Frank, the Corpsman who’d entered from the rear hatch, whisked the Captain to sickbay on a stretcher, but not before Morton reached down to the sodden muddy blankets and wiped a finger of blood off them, shuddering.
Kowalski, returning to his station, exchanged looks with Patterson, who shrugged and shook his head.
Morton reached across to switch on the monitor
“Captain Crane is back aboard,” Morton reported.
Nelson nodded, trying not to feel too anxious. Although Morton’s face betrayed nothing, the tone of his voice told Nelson that something was wrong.
“He’s in bad shape, but Doc says he thinks he’ll be okay. Has to do a few more tests.”
“And the Doomsday Bug?”
“Safe in the lab, sir.”
“Good,” Nelson commented with relief. It was difficult to have a conversation over the monitor, knowing that the whole Control Room could hear. “Keep me advised of Lee’s condition.”
“Of course, sir,” Morton responded formally.
“Is that all?”
“Yes, sir – Seaview out.” Morton switched off the view screen as Nelson’s image faded. “Mr O’Brien, let’s get underway,” he ordered, turning back to the Control Room. “The sooner I get those damned things off the boat, the better.”
Waking was a gradual process. Cocooned in warm blankets, Lee was no-longer
ice cold, but warm and relatively comfortable. Opening his eyes, Lee realized
he was back home. He had no idea how he
had gotten there and didn’t care, even if it was
Jamieson was at his side in moments, ever alert to any change in his patient’s condition. “Well, Captain, so you’ve decided to rejoin us,” Jamieson smiled.
“How long…have I been here?” Lee managed weakly.
“48 hours. You were almost comatose when they found you. How do you feel?”
“Like I’ve been hit by a truck.”
“Understandable if you will go off on these crazy exploits,” Jamieson admonished gently.
“I guess I had that coming,” Lee managed with a smile.
“Wait for Chip's reprimand."
Lee cringed appropriately, but suddenly he felt a chill run through him as he remembered how ice cold he had been, wandering around out there.
“Easy, Lee,” Jamieson comforted; tucking the blankets closer round Lee’s shoulders. “Go back to sleep now.”
Although Jamieson had promised to call Chip the moment Lee regained consciousness, he decided to wait until morning. Chip needed to rest himself, and disturbing him now would achieve nothing. He had had enough trouble getting Morton to leave Lee’s side, and had been forced to resort to threats.
Lee slid further under the blankets, trying to ease himself into a more comfortable position.
“How painful?" Jamison asked.
“More sore than hurt."
“Um hum...so what happened?"
“It’s a long story.”
“In that case it can wait. Rest now Captain – and no arguments.”
It was morning when the door to Sickbay opened and Morton arrived.
“Morning, Chip,” Lee smiled, looking up at his friend and Executive officer.
“How are you doing?”
“Fine, I’ll be back on light duties in a few days,” Lee’s smile turned to a mischievous grin.
“I don’t recall saying any such thing, Skipper,” Jamieson interrupted.
At first Chip smiled with amusement, then pulled up a chair, sat down and frowned.
“Before you say anything, it wasn’t my fault," Lee said defensively.
“Oh, feeling guilty, are we?” Chip raised an eyebrow.
Lee’s brain was still fuzzy and he was unable to come up with a suitable reply. “I’m all right, honestly,” he said, seeing the anxiety in those blue eyes.
“I think you're holding out on me.”
“I’m just a little stiff and sore,” Lee replied. Short of getting up and walking out of sickbay, there was very little he could do to convince Chip that he was okay.
“You really expect me to believe you? You’ve hardly moved a muscle since I arrived. What aren't you telling me?”
“Doc, will you tell him I’m okay?” The effort in trying to placate his exec was tiring and he could feel warning twinges threatening. The painkillers Jamieson had administered were wearing off.
The Doctor regarded them both for a moment before moving to take Crane’s chart and study it. Finally he looked at Morton. “It could have been worse. But there is no reason why he shouldn’t make a full recovery, given a few weeks rest.”
“A few weeks!” Lee protested. Forgetting his pain he sat up and instantly fell back with a cry of pain.
“That will teach you,” Jamieson commented, but he went to the cabinet for analgesics. “Here, take these,” he handed Lee two tablets with a cup of water.
Chip helped Lee sit up while he washed them down.
“Thanks," Lee grimaced as he gratefully settled back into the soft support of the bunk.
“Shouldn’t you be in the Control Room?” Jamieson asked, turning his attention to Morton.
“All right, Doc, all right. I’m going – keep me informed.”
“Of course,” Jamieson replied, turning back to his patient. “Now Captain, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, try to rest.”
Morton stepped into the corridor and closed the door to Sickbay behind him. Lee was in good hands, even if he didn’t always appreciate Jamieson’s efforts. Like everyone aboard, Jamieson had been picked by Nelson and was as much a part of Seaview’s crew as the rest of her specially selected crew. He had saved Lee’s life on more than one occasion. Turning down the corridor, Morton headed toward the boat’s lab to check on the new security devices.
A combination lock, the size of a small box had been set in the center of the wheel. In case of an accident or emergency, the hatch would lock automatically and a timer would prevent it being opened again for twenty four hours. Morton keyed in the combination and heard the electromagnets come into action. With a spin of the wheel, the hatch swung open and he stepped through, dogging the hatch behind him.
Morton walked through the outer lab to the containment chamber where the viral toxins were being stored. A technician was working inside, checking the temperature and pressure within the sealed case containing the Doomsday Bug – aptly named, Morton thought. Inserting his security key into the lock, he opened the door, hearing a whoosh of air as the airtight door opened. He stepped inside and closed the door with a clunk.
“Is everything all right, Petre?”
“Yes, sir,” the technician turned from the dials and gauges to hand him a status report.
Morton quickly scanned the page. Everything looked in order; all the readings were in the green. “Carry on.’
“Mr Morton, sonar has a contact, closing fast,” O'Brien reported.
Morton crossed to the mike o the wall. “How much water, keel to bottom?”
“200 feet, sir."
“Crash dive! I’ll be right there.”
“Aye, aye, sir,"
Returning the mike to it’s clip, Morton hurried to the hatch. He had one hand on the wheel as the collision alarm sounded. Seaview shook violently and he lost his hold, knocked to the deck.
Klaxons sounded throughout the boat as he heard the unmistakable sound of metal dragging along the hull. That probably meant that the antenna had gone, and there could very well be damage to the conning tower. Morton tried to regain his feet, but Seaview rolled to port and he was thrown across the lab to impact against a workbench, sending equipment to the deck. Broken glass crunched under his feet, and he grabbed the bench in an attempt to stay upright. He could tell from the attitude of the deck that O’Brien was carrying out his last order, and Seaview was headed for the bottom. The bulkhead creaked as she regained trim, and Morton hoped that they would be able to surface again. Around him bottles and jars were toppled from shelves and a stool had been thrown on to its side.
Looking up, Morton saw Petre struggling to open the chamber door, but the door had jammed. Pushing away from the bench, Morton launched himself in the direction of the chamber to help the technician. He never made it – Seaview hit bottom with a bone jarring impact that knocked him off his feet and with nothing to hold on to, Morton was sent sprawling. Coming to rest against the bulkhead with a hard thud that drove the breath from his lungs, he sank to the deck, unable to move for a moment. As he regained his senses, he tried to raise himself up from the deck, but he wasn’t quick enough to avoid the crate that was sliding across the deck toward him. Pain engulfed him as it slammed into him, and with a grunt of pain he collapsed back to the deck.
Under the red glow of the emergency lighting, a dazed O’Brien picked himself up from the deck. “Is everyone all right?” he asked, looking around the Control Room. The acrid smell of burnt wiring hung in the air, and several crewmen were already using fire extinguishers.
O’Brien moved around the room, accessing the damage as the crew resumed their stations. They had been fortunate in that there were no casualties, at least here. O’Brien has been in this situation before, only that time both Nelson and Crane had been present. This time he was on his own, and what had become of Morton?
As if in answer, Patterson called from his station at the E.C. Board. “Mr. O’Brien, I have a red light for the lab, sir."
Patterson’s expression mirrored what had flashed through O’Brien’s mind. If Morton was still down there…O’Brien took the mike from its clip on the periscope mount to call the lab. “Control to lab, what’s your situation? Mr. Morton, this is O’Brien," he tried again, "please respond.”
“It’s no use, sir –
the intercom is out,”
“How long will repairs take?” O'Brien gave it a quick glance.
“I don’t know, sir – I have to trace the problem first.”
“Mr. O’Brien?” Kowalski called urgently.
What now? O’Brien was already wishing he hadn’t been the one on duty when this emergency had blown up. “What is it?”
“We're taking on water,” Kowalski pointed to the film of water on the deck below the ladder.
How long did they have? O’Brien wondered, and then stirred himself. Quickly he climbed the ladder to check the deck hatch. Water was trickling around the edge. The collision had caused the seal to partially fail. The leak wasn’t large, but any leak was dangerous if they could not surface. O’Brien descended the ladder back to the Control Room. “Kowalski, go aft and pass the word to close all watertight hatches,” he ordered.
“Aye, aye, Sir.”
Crane awoke to the sound of General Quarters. He immediately threw back the covers and forced his aching muscles to obey as he struggled to his feet.
Jamieson turned from the cabinet, where he had been checking the contents in anticipation of receiving casualties. “Captain, what are you doing on your feet?” he admonished, moving quickly to Crane’s side.
“I’m all right, Doc – Control Room, report," he clicked the mike.
“Morton can handle it – now back to bed,” Jamieson ordered, putting a restraining hand on his arm.
“I said I’m okay,” Lee reiterated, shrugging Jamieson off. “Morton, report!"
After a moment he
continued, "They don't answer Will. And you know damn well the safety of
Seaview and my crew comes first”
In moments Crane had
Lee arrived, still in
“He was in the lab, sir – it’s sealed.”
Fear knotted his stomach as the implications of O’Brien’s statement hit him. Fighting the turmoil within, Lee forced his mind back to business, “All right, what’s our condition?”
“I don’t know. The P.A. is out, but I do know there’s damage to the planes, and the deck hatch is leaking. We’re on the bottom.”
“We hit something, sir – or rather it hit us,” O’Brien reported sadly.
“Where the devil was sonar?”
“I’m not sure, sir – it all happened so fast.”
“We’ll be in deep trouble if we can’t surface. And if we do, if the Doomsday Bug's been compromised, we'd release it into the atmosphere…Chief, prepare a diving party, I want to inspect the damage personally.”
“Aye, aye, sir,” Sharkey responded, hurrying aft.
“Are you all right?” he asked O’Brien quietly. It wasn’t the second officer’s fault that he still lacked some of the experience of his superior officers. He’d actually coped well, considering.
“I’m okay, sir,” O’Brien straightened his shoulders.
“You’ve still got the Conn. Post two men on bow watch. Keep a close eye on sonar; we’re a serious hazard sitting here.”
Morton shook his head in an attempt to clear it, and tried to ease himself up, but his arm was trapped by the crate. Still, at least he was still alive. He looked around in an effort to find Petre, and noticed that the red light glowed above the hatch. The lab was sealed. And the air was off too, he knew. Part of the security system, the vents had automatically closed to prevent contamination to the rest of the boat.
They would have to survive on any remaining air. Although his view of the lab was partly obscured by the crate, a hammering from the technician helped him to locate the crewman, who was trapped inside the chamber. There was nothing Morton could do to help, trapped as he was. There was no use struggling, as it would only use more oxygen, and increase the pain he was already in. He made a mental note to find out why, when he got out of here why the crate had been left in the lab instead of being properly stowed in one of the storage compartments.
Morton wondered how long it would be before either man would develop reactions to the toxins if they’d been released. Although it looked as though the isolation chamber was sealed, there were no guarantees. The containment measures were designed to protect the rest of the sub, rather than the failsafe environment of the lab. Lee had told him that it killed within 36 hours, but had not elaborated on how it killed. On reflection, It was probably better that he didn’t know. The situation was not made easier by not having contact with the rest of the boat. Lee was almost certainly in the Control Room, despite Doc by now, and Chip wished that there was some way of letting him know that he was okay. Lee would have enough problems without having to worrying about him.
At least they appeared to have power, not that it would help his own situation. There was nothing anyone could do for them until the 24 hours was up. Well, there was no use dwelling on it, and Chip resigned himself to a long and painful wait for rescue.
At the N.I.M.R. Undersea Lab, Nelson’s worry was increasing. Morton’s assigned report was an hour overdue. And Chip was never lax in reporting on time. Nelson felt a knot in his stomach grow.
Had Lee’s condition deteriorated? Was that what was keeping Morton occupied, and the delay checking in, or had something happened to Seaview?
This speculation was getting him nowhere. Grinding his cigarette into the ashtray, he headed for the radio room in the hope that there might be some news.
“Anything, Ramsey?” he asked of the radio operator.
"Nothing Admiral. And they don’t respond. I thought I’d better check when Commander Morton was late.”
He watched the Ramsey kept trying to make contact with growing apprehension, trying to ignore the increasing itch of fear inside him. It could be anything. A blown fuse, a melted wire...or a sunk sub. No. Don’t go there, he told himself. He’d be treating Lee and Chip with an official ‘well done’ upon completion of the mission. And that was one ‘what if’ that Nelson demanded.
What if he’d taken one chance too many this time. If only there was something practical he could do instead of having to wait, but without FS1, he had limited resources available.
Several hours later, Crane returned to the Control Room, changed into uniform, with a full damage report. They had been lucky. There was some damage to the port stabilizers, but a diving party was working to repair it and the job would soon be completed. However, they would need to surface to carry out repairs to the mast and deck hatch.
Crane had thrown himself into whatever duties he could find, grateful to have had something to occupy his mind. Now that he repairs were almost completed, however, he could no longer put his feelings aside and loose himself in work – his thoughts continually returned to Chip.
Damn! Why had he let the Admiral talk him into accepting this mission? Moving to stand behind Murphy at the sonar station, he bent to look over the man’s shoulder, checking that the board was clear before going aft to see what, if anything, could be done about the lab. His body was beginning to protest again. Ignoring it, he straightened up.
“Mr. O’Brien, you have
Crane stood outside Seaview’s lab as men still pounded on the frame. There was nothing to indicate that there was anyone alive inside. A few yards down the corridor, Patterson had an access panel open, and he was working to try and rewire the intercom, patching straight into the line leading to the lab, and so hopefully bypassing the break.
“How’s it coming, Patterson?” Crane asked.
“Another few minutes yet, Skipper,” Patterson replied, stripping the insulation from two wires and twisted the two ends together before binding them with insulating tape, then did the same with two more wires before closing the panel, and handed the mike to Crane.
“Try it now, sir.”
Crane took the mike and pressed the button to speak. “Chip, it’s Lee, can you hear me?” Getting no response to his call, Crane returned to the crewman. “Are you sure it’s is working?”
“Yes sir. No doubt about it.”
Crane returned the mike to its bracket on the wall, and with growing frustration, strode to the unyielding hatch. “Chip, can you hear me?” he shouted, hammering on the hatch with a borrowed wrench.
The familiar voice of his Captain and friend roused Morton from the semiconscious state that he had drifted in and out of during the past several hours, not helped by the stale air. Fighting back nausea, he tried to sit up, bracing himself against the bulkhead while the crate wouldn't budge. Bruised ribs protested, and pain seared up his left arm, forcing him to give up the attempt to free himself.
There was no sound now from Petre, and Chip wondered if he had either succumbed to the toxin, or had run out of air. Either way would not have been pleasant.
Lee’s urgent hammering on the hatch retook his attention. He had to find a way of answering. Even if help could not get to him until the twenty four hours had expired.
“Chip?” Lee’s muffled call came again.
Frustrated at not being able to reply to his friend’s anxious call, Chip looked around for anything within reach. Maybe if he knocked hard enough, the sound would carry through the bulkhead, enough for Lee to hear out in the corridor.
“Captain Crane, we’re ready to lift off the bottom, sir,” O’Brien called over the intercom.
Crane once again took the mike from its clip to answer. “Stand by, I’ll be right there.” Hanging up the mike, he turned to Patterson. “Pat, stay here and keep trying to contact Mr Morton. I’ll have some one relieve you later.”
“Aye, aye, sir."
Crane turned and headed off down the corridor. As much as he wanted to stay close to his friend, he had a responsibility to his crew. His place was in the Control Room. Besides which, it was time O’Brien was relieved. He suddenly realised he didn’t know whether it was morning, day, or night, or even what day it was. Jamieson had said that he’d been back aboard for 48 hours; Chip had come to visit the next morning. That had been just before the collision. That meant that it had only been about 5 hours ago; it had seemed like a lifetime to Lee. And there were still 19 hours until the time lock on the laboratory hatch would release. That was too long. How much time did Chip have before the air went bad?
The responsibility of command weighed heavily on Lee’s shoulders. His decision to agree to this mission could very well cost Chip Morton his life.
With leaden legs, Crane entered the Control Room via the aft hatch, glancing at each station as he walked forward to the plot table to join O’Brien. “Mr O’Brien, prepare to get underway. Take us up to One five oh feet.”
“One five oh feet, aye,” O’Brien answered, turning to relay the order.
As O’Brien moved away to watch the depth gauge, Crane turned his attention to the charts. Plotting their position on the chart, he calculated a new course. Once they were in open water, they could surface and carry out repairs to the antenna and deck hatch. He still wanted to know how they had gotten into this mess.
He could feel Seaview responding. Beyond the Observation Nose the water was getting gradually lighter as she ascended, leaving behind the featureless seabed.
“One five oh feet, sir,” O’Brien reported, turning from the gauges above helm control.
“Very well, come to course three one oh, ahead one third,” Crane ordered. It would have been quicker to have gone through the channel, but the water was shallow in places, less than 50 feet and there were busy shipping lanes. He didn’t want to take any more chances. Their new course would take them around Pentlands Firth.
“Three one oh at one third, aye,” O’Brien confirmed.
They could have gone
to Buchan Deep, where the sea was deeper, but the
Returning to the chart table, he unclipped the mike to call Patterson. “Patterson, this is the Captain, any luck?”
“It’s all quiet, sir – I haven’t been able to raise either of them."
“Stand by, I’m coming
down,” Crane didn’t wait for Patterson to acknowledge. Returning the mike to
its clip, he turned to O’Brien. “Take
Jamieson had seen that expression before, and he knew that it meant trouble. Lee was stubborn, and when he decided on something, it was almost impossible to change his mind. The question was, what did Lee have in mind this time?
“Doc…” Crane hesitated. “I’ve got to get Morton out of there.”
“You can’t open the hatch until the 24 hours are up.”
“I can with explosives.”
“Explosives? What about the virus?”
“I’ll seal off the frames fore and aft. That way it’s still confined.”
“And risk your life? As Captain you’re too important to risk.”
“I don’t have time for this. I won’t stand by and do nothing! It’s my fault Chip might be dead or dying.”
“Believe me Lee; I know what you’re going through. But if the virus has already infected him, it won’t make any difference if you're there with him. I’m sorry, Lee – but if you insist on going through with this idea I'll have no choice but to relieve you of command, which is my right as the Chief Medical Officer aboard this boat.”
Glaring at Jamieson, he made a visible effort to pull himself together, before turning his attention to the waiting crewman.
“Patterson, keep me informed, I’ll be in the Control Room.”
“Aye, aye, sir.”
Jamieson watched his Captain walk away and he wondered if he would ever forgive him if Chip didn’t make it? Come to that, would Jamieson be able to forgive himself.
The first light of dawn was creeping over the horizon as Seaview surfaced in Atlantic waters. A repair party swarmed over the sail to start work on the deck hatch and antenna. Below, her Captain stood in the Observation Nose, watching the beginning of a new day, and wondering if Chip Morton would ever see another dawn. What would he say to Chip’s family? That was one letter he’d hoped he would never have to write. He’d always tried to keep Chip out of harm's way, taking the chances himself. Indeed, Chip often accused Lee of keeping him in the dark over some things, and Lee often found himself on the receiving end of a lecture from his Exec when Chip considered that he had taken an unnecessary risk. Only his efforts to protect Chip hadn’t worked this time.
Watching the waves breaking silently across the bow, Lee was unable to shake off the feeling of doom that had descended on him like a dark cloud. The whole mission had been fraught with danger from the start, and it wasn’t over yet. It had been a long night, and was going to be an even longer day. An ache had developed in his neck and shoulders from the tension, and he stretched, straightening his slumped shoulders. He wouldn’t properly relax until Chip was free, and the toxin was safely delivered to the lab. A hand on his shoulder broke into his thoughts.
“You should get some rest, Captain,” Jamison told him.
“I’m okay. I’ll rest when the mission is over."
“Have you had breakfast?”
“I wasn’t hungry,” Lee replied. In fact he had hardly left the Control Room all night.
"Your body needs food, you can’t keep pushing yourself like this."
“Don’t you have any patients to take of?”
“Only you, Captain,” Jamieson countered. “And you can spare half an hour to at least eat something.”
“I can’t leave the Control Room,” Lee argued, using Jamieson’s own argument against him.
“Then I’ll have something sent up here."
“You wouldn’t dare!” he growled. He could feel his pulse accelerating and the Control Room felt uncomfortably warm. He was probably going down with something, but he had to hold out until they reached the undersea lab, and Nelson.
“I’m not bluffing, Lee. You shouldn’t even be out of sickbay. You might develop complications, the most serious of which could be a heart attack. You shouldn’t mess with hypothermia,” Jamieson warned. “And when did you last eat something?”
“Will you quit pestering me? I haven’t had time.”
“Lee, you idiot!” Jamieson shook his head in exasperation.
“Don’t forget who you are talking to, Doctor."
“I haven’t forgotten, Captain, but if you don't start acting sensibly, I will be forced to relieve you of command.”
“You can’t do that,” he told him defiantly, becoming aware that their conversation was attracting attention. Why couldn’t Jamieson stop fussing, and let him do his job?
“I can and will if I have to, according to the articles of this vessel as well as the US Navy Reserve. I have the last say on all medical matters. Now are you coming to breakfast, or do I have to get tough?”
Lee did not want a scene in the Control Room, and neither did he want to go to sickbay, and he had little doubt the crew would side with.
As if he’d read their minds, Jamieson walked over and pressed the button to close the crash doors, isolating the two.
“What are you doing?” Lee demanded.
“I’m tired of standing by watching you push yourself to the edge. It has to stop, Captain, right now. It's no use giving me that look, it won’t work.”
Lee knew the outcome was inevitable. If he didn’t do as Jamieson told him, the Doctor could make his life very difficult. “Okay, okay, Doc – you win,” Lee reluctantly conceded.
Lee lifted the cover off the tray that Cookie had placed in front of him and regarded the plate of pancakes, drenched in syrup and topped with slices of banana and a sprinkle of cinnamon. He couldn’t help smiling. “Thanks.”
Cookie smiled in return and turned to go.
Jamieson watched Lee take a tentative mouthful. The bruises and abrasions were stating to fade, but he looked tired, and the Doctor toyed with the idea of slipping him a sedative. Taking a discreet look at his watch, he saw that there was only thirty minutes until the laboratory hatch could be opened. He should be in sickbay, preparing for the worst and hoping – praying – for the best. He hoped that Lee wouldn’t become a casualty in all this, and withdraw into himself. If Chip was dead, Lee would take it hard, and when Lee was in self-destruct mode, it took the combined efforts of both Nelson & Morton to talk him out of it. Jamieson was not sure that he would be able to handle Lee on his own.
“You never did tell me how you got so many bruises,” Jamieson commented, hoping to take Lee’s mind off Chip.
Lee took a sip of coffee before answering. “We picked up a tail on the way back. The driver was trying to lose them when the car skidded of the road and overturned.”
Jamieson was horrified, yet Lee sounded so calm about it, like it was an everyday occurrence. "You could have been killed!"
“I was just lucky I guess,” Lee shrugged between mouthfuls of banana.
“Umm,” Jamieson again found himself baffled by Lee’s attitude to his own safety. To an outsider, it would seem that he was bordering on stupidity, but Jamieson knew better.
“It wasn’t my fault."
“I didn’t say it was,” Jamieson replied mildly. He intended to have a word with Nelson regarding the dangerous nature of the mission as soon as he was back aboard.
“Captain Crane, the antenna is working and I have Admiral Nelson for you, sir,” O’Brien interrupted over the P.A.
The food was forgotten as Crane slid from the table and headed for the nearest mike. Taking it from its bracket on the wall, he pressed the button to reply. “I’ll be right there.”
Nelson had had a bad night of it, unable to sleep for worrying about Crane and Seaview. The longer they were out of contact, he'd known, the more likely it was that she had gone down, with all hands. It was a relief when O'Brien had made contact.
“Where is Commander Morton?” Nelson asked, fearing the worst.
“He’s trapped in the lab, sir. We’ve had an accident, and Mr Morton was in the lab when it sealed."
Nelson’s stomach clenched as his worst nightmare was confirmed as terrible reality. “What about Captain Crane, is he still in sickbay?”
“He’s just coming, Admiral."
There was a brief pause until Crane came on. “Admiral, this is Crane.”
“Lee, what the devil is going on?” Nelson demanded, unintentionally letting his worry and frustration affect his response to hearing Lee’s voice.
“We sustained some damage in a collision, but repairs are almost complete. We should be underway shortly,” Lee reported.
“All right, you can
fill me in later. Is the Flying Sub
operational?” Nelson asked, anxious to get to Seaview. There was something in Lee’s voice worried
him. Certainly Lee would be anxious about Chip, but there was something about
“Yes, Admiral.” Lee confirmed.
“Have someone come and pick me up."
“Right away, Admiral – I’ll have Kowalski leave at once.”
“Nelson out,” Nelson handed the mike back to Ramsey. “Thank you,” he said absently, already planning what his next move should be.
Jamieson and two Corpsmen stood watching Crane as he keyed in the code to open the lab hatch, and stepped through. With the threat of the Doomsday Bug negated by time, they did not need to bother with protective clothing, although I did not prevent any of them from feeling a prickle of unease as they entered what could easily be a tomb.
The room was a total shambles; broken glass littered the deck, Water from the fish tanks had mixed with the contents of some jars that had fallen from shelves, adding to the mess. Thankfully, none of the contents appeared to be dangerous or toxic.
“Chip?” Lee called, searching the room for his Exec.
“Over here, Lee. Over here," Chip managed weakly.
Crane turned in the direction of the voice and saw Morton pinned by the crate. He hurried across though the debris, aware of Jamieson close behind.
“Are you hurt?” Lee asked, kneeling beside Chip.
“I think my arm is broken,” Chip grimaced. He looked pale, but at least he was alive.
While men moved the crate, Lee and Jamieson helped Chip slide out. “Okay, take it easy,” Jamieson said as he eased Chip back against the bulkhead. Morton’s eyes closed, in agony. “Let's immobilize this arm first, then we'll get you to sickbay."
“Thanks, Doc," Chip acknowledged, barely opening his eyes.
“There, how does that feel?” Jamieson asked, long practise giving him speed in the improvisation of slings.
“Better,” Chip gave him a grateful smile, his colour a little better.
“Good, now let’s get you to sickbay for a more thorough examination,” Jamieson waved to one of the corpsmen, stretcher at the ready.
"I don't need that."
"Then lean on me," Doc ordered, helping him to his feet.
“McKenzie, what about Petre?” Jamieson called to the other Corpsman that had gone with Crane to on the technician.
The Corpsman shook his head. “He didn’t make it,” he reported.
Returning to the Control Room, Lee did a quick check around before joining O’Brien at the chart table.
“Repairs are complete, sir – but we’ll need to stay on the surface until proper repairs can me made to the hatch," O’Brien reported, handing him a clip board.
“Very well, stand by to get underway,” Lee took the clipboard, but he couldn’t focus on the words. He shook his head, trying to clear the fog clouding his mind. The room swam and he suddenly felt faint. He needed some air, he was too hot.
“Captain, are you all right, sir?”
Lee put out a hand to steady himself. What was wrong with him? He stumbled back towards the periscope mount to sit down. He could hear O’Brien calling sickbay. He tried to tell O’Brien that he was okay, but his voice wouldn’t come, and he pitched forward into unconsciousness.
“Captain, can you hear me? Skipper?”
Gradually awareness returned and he realised that some-one was shaking him. He recognised Jamieson’s voice. Forcing his eyes open, he squinted up at him. “What happened?”
“You passed out. How do you feel now?”
Lee wasn’t sure how he felt. He tried to sit up, but couldn’t quite make it and fell back feeling nauseous and wishing that he hadn’t eaten anything.
“Just lie still,” Jamieson advised, putting a folded blanket under Lee’s head.
“Chip?” Lee asked anxiously.
“He’s fine," Jamieson assured him. “In fact, I think he’s more worried about you.”
Lee closed his eyes, fighting the nausea. The metal deck was cold under him and he felt chilled.
“Riley, lay down to sickbay and get a stretcher,” Jamieson ordered.
“I don’t need a stretcher,” Lee protested. “I’ll be okay.”
“I’ll be the judge of that,” Jamieson produced a thermometer, seemingly from nowhere, and placed it in Lee’s mouth, forestalling any further argument, then proceeded to check his pulse.
Lee kept quiet, allowing Jamieson to finish his exam, although he had no intention of going to sickbay. “Can I get up now?” he asked. “I feel better,” Again he tried to sit up and managed it this time. He knew that he was pushing his luck, but he couldn’t go to sickbay right now.
“Sure you are,” Jamieson answered scathingly. “You’ve got a temperature, and your blood pressure is up. I warned you Captain, and now you’re going to sickbay. I won't accept any argument."
“No, I can’t!”
“Not negotiable, Captain,” Jamieson replied, as resolute as Crane.
“O'Brien's exhausted. And have you considered the prospect of having both Chip and myself in sickbay at the same time? " Maybe going to sickbay wouldn’t be so bad after all. Poor Doc wouldn’t stand a chance!
“All right, you can go to your cabin. Just make sure that you get some sleep. I don’t want to find you back on duty as soon as my back is turned,” the Doctor warned, taking Lee’s arm to help him to his feet.
“I feel fine now," Lee started to argue.
“Bed, Captain, Now!”
For a few seconds Lee contemplated disobeying Jamieson’s orders, but that would only land him in trouble with Nelson. “All right, as soon as we’re underway,” Lee agreed reluctantly.
“I’ll be checking on you ."
FS1 Docked with a gentle clank as the magnetic grapnels engaged. Nelson was already un-strapping as he swivelled around in the co-pilot seat, leaving Kowalski to finish up. Climbing the ladder up to the Control Room, he found Jamieson waiting go greet him as he emerged from the hatch.
“Admiral, welcome aboard.”
“Where’s Captain Crane?” Nelson asked, glancing around the Control Room, seeing an extremely nervous-looking O’Brien but no sign of Crane or Morton.
“In his cabin…asleep, I hope,” Jamieson replied.
Nelson raised an eyebrow, seeing the lines of strain on the Doctor’s face and drawing his own conclusions. “Is he all right?” he asked.
“That depends on your point of view of ‘all right’, Admiral. The Captain's and mine are vastly different.”
Nelson decided to leave questioning Jamieson further until they were alone, sensing that the Doctor would probably have strong words to say to him. Shrugging out of his flying jacket, he handed it to a waiting crewman, and he and the Doctor moved to the chart table where O’Brien was waiting. “Mr O’Brien, what’s the situation?” Nelson asked, turning his attention to the young officer.
“Everything is under control, Admiral."
“Good,” Nelson smiled briefly, trying to put the young officer at his ease. “Any idea what caused all this?” he asked.
“No, sir, the antenna was damaged, and communications were out. As far as we know, no other vessel has reported a collision."
“Do you think it could have been deliberate?” Jamieson interrupted.
“It’s possible,” Nelson nodded thoughtfully. “All right, O’Brien, carry on.” He would investigate later, after he had checked on Lee. Turning to Jamieson “Doctor, we’ll talk in your office,” he said.
“Of course, Admiral,” Jamieson followed Nelson aft through the Control Room.
“Okay, Doc, let’s have it,” Nelson questioned as soon as they stepped into the corridor. "Lee first."
“Harry, that young man is going to kill himself it he carries on the way he’s going,” Jamieson said bluntly.
Nelson paused at the top of the ladder leading to B deck and glanced at Jamieson. “What has he done this time?” he asked, suddenly feeling weary.
“Oh, the usual,” Jamieson sighed heavily. “Disobeying my orders to stay in sickbay, skipping meals, staying on duty for twenty four hours straight…shall I go on?”
Nelson shook his head. “I get the picture,” It seemed they had this conversation every time Lee was supposed to be on the sick list. Nelson proceeded Jamieson down the ladder. “What about Chip?” he asked when Jamieson joined him at the bottom.
“Broken arm, and a few bruises. I’ll keep him under observation for twenty four hours, but so far he hasn’t exhibited any symptoms. I think he’s going to be okay,” Jamieson told him.
“We did lose a crewman, though,” Jamieson went on bleakly. Nelson gave him a sharp look, his relief over Morton fading. “Petre; he was actually inside the inner chamber when the security measures kicked in and sealed the chamber. There wasn’t enough air to keep him alive for twenty four hours.”
“Damn,” Nelson said bleakly. “I should have though of that and made provision.” He shook his head. “I was hoping that we’d come through this without fatalities,” he sighed and had to make an effort to shake off the news, switching his attention to something he might still be able to do something about. “Is Lee’s condition really that serious?” Nelson asked as the two continued down the corridor.
“Not really. I guess he was lucky this time,” Jamieson conceded.
“But?” Nelson asked. There was always a ‘but’ with Jamieson where Lee was concerned.
“I want him to take some proper leave, away from the institute."
“I don’t think Lee will agree with you. Do you want me to talk to him?” He knew how stubborn Lee could be, especially when it came to taking time away from his command.
“No, Admiral, I’m the Doctor, and it’s my responsibility. I guess I just needed to get it off my chest,” Jamieson smiled ruefully.
“Okay, Doc. I will want to see your report."
“Of course, Admiral.”
“I’ll look in on Lee and make sure that he’s behaving himself,” the Admiral told him.
Nelson left Jamieson at the junction of the corridor, intending to go to assess the damage to the ship’s lab, after he had checked on Lee. There was no light showing beneath Lee’s cabin door. Nelson stood outside, one hand on the door handle, debating whether to enter. He didn’t want to disturb Lee if he was asleep. However, concern got the better of him and he quietly opened the door.
The cabin was in darkness, but he could just make out the form of Lee Crane, apparently asleep in the bunk. Nelson had expected to find Lee at his desk, doing paperwork, and had prepared himself for an argument with the stubborn young man. Happily his suspicions had been groundless. Lee was, for once, following Jamieson’s orders.
Nelson closed the door, and retraced his steps back down the corridor. Yet there was still a niggling spark of concern which wasn’t fully appeased. Not until he’d seen Lee awake, and spoken to him, would he be sure that Lee was all right. In the meantime he was anxious to see Jamieson’s report, and find out exactly what had happened to Crane while he’d been ashore. First though, he had to check on Seaview’s status, and then there was a letter to write to Petre’s family; that was one task he could spare Lee.
Nelson was not pleased to find Lee in the Control Room later that evening. “Lee, what are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be resting?” he reprimanded, joining Lee at the plot table.
Looking up from the charts, Lee smiled. “Admiral, I’m fine now, sir,” Lee assured him.
"I’m not sure I believe you." Lee was very good at deceiving people about his state of health, as Nelson had learnt in the past.
“We’ll be at the undersea lab in a couple of hours,” Lee ignored the comment.
Nelson nodded. “I’ll use the Flying Sub to transfer the toxin.”
“Yes, sir.” Lee turned away. “Chief, have the flying sub checked out. Make sure she is operational,” he ordered.
“Aye, aye, sir,” Chief Sharkey acknowledged.
“Any other orders, Admiral?” Lee asked, turning back to Nelson.
Nelson studied the young Captain, looking for any telltale signs that might betray how Lee was really feeling. The minor bruises and abrasions mentioned in Jamieson’s report were fading, although that simply made them look more lurid. More of a concern were the possible complications if Lee didn’t eat properly and get some proper rest. “Did Doc clear you for duty?” he asked suspiciously.
“No, I got tired of sitting around doing nothing."
“I see,” Nelson commented evenly, knowing that if he pushed too hard, Lee would dig his heels in and he would achieve nothing. Maybe he should let Doc handle it.
“Admiral, I have a Doctor
Saunders from the sea lab for you, sir,”
Nelson frowned in irritation at the inopportune interruption, but conceded temporary defeat. “I’ll be right there,” he said, giving Lee a look which told him that the subject wasn’t closed, before crossed to the radio shack.
Lee stood, leaning against the chart table, his eyes fixed on the observation windows, his thoughts momentarily lost somewhere in the foaming waters beyond. It took him a few seconds to register that O’Brien was standing beside him. “Thank you,” Lee took the offered printout, and turned to check the figures against their position on the chart.
Travelling on the surface had slowed them down but damage to the hatch had made it necessary. Now that they were in the general area of the lab, the mission could be completed using the Flying Sub. Taking the mike from its clip on the side of the table, Crane called the engine room. “Slow to one third,” he ordered.
“One third, aye.”
He clicked the mike again to clear it and called Nelson. “Admiral, this is Crane. We’re at the co-ordinates.”
“I’ll be right there,” Nelson answered promptly.
A few minutes later Nelson came down the spiral stairs and joined Crane at the chart table. “Is the Flying Sub ready?” he asked.
Crane nodded, “Yes, sir. The Doomsday Bug is aboard and she’s all set,” he reported. He felt calmer now that the mission was almost over, and Chip was safe. He only hoped that the task at hand would keep Nelson’s mind off the subject of his health. Sleep had helped and he had even managed some breakfast.
“Anything on sonar or radar?” Nelson inquired as he walked forward to the access hatch. He watched as Murphy spun the wheel and opened the hatch. “Hold position here. I shouldn’t be gone more than a hour,” Nelson told him.
“Yes, sir – be careful, Admiral,” Lee told him.
Nelson smiled. “Don’t worry, I intend to be.”
Lee watched Nelson
descend into the flying sub and the hatch was secured, then he turned and went
back to the chart table. The mission
wasn’t quite over, but soon Seaview would be heading for
Doctor Jamieson closed the file he’d been thumbing through, and regarded Seaview’s Captain across the desk.
“Is something wrong, Doc?” Lee asked, uneasy over the expression on the other man’s face.
“That depends, Captain. Have you any idea how many times you’ve been in here in the last year?”
“A few times, I guess," Lee shrugged.
“Too many times, Captain,” Jamieson told him sternly.
“This wasn’t my fault."
“I agree with you, this time…but I have spoken to the Admiral and…”
“Now calm down. I told him it's my medical opinion that you need to take some leave."
“And the Admiral agreed to this?”
“Of course, why shouldn’t he?”
“I don’t know why you’re making such a big deal out of this. I’m perfectly all right."
“Since when is taking a holiday such a hardship?” Doc smiled, relaxing back in his chair. He had expected this argument. Indeed, he would have been worried if Lee had given in without a fight.
“It isn't. But I have responsibilities! I can’t simply take off and leave Chip and the Admiral in a bind. All those repairs…."
“Nelson is more than capable of supervising. It is his submarine, after all,” Jamieson pointed out. “And as for Chip Morton, he’s getting the same orders you’re getting.”
“He is? Well, that should be interesting."
That was an understatement; Jamieson was expecting just as much trouble from Morton as he was having with Crane. Chip would want to stay and oversee the repairs himself. “Well?” Jamieson asked. “Will you go quietly, or do I call the boss?”
“I don’t seem to have a choice,” Lee grumbled.
“No, you don’t."
Crane fumed silently for a few more minutes, but Jamieson already knew that he had, just this once, won. He had barely had time to contemplate his victory when there was a brief knock to the door and Morton entered.
“You wanted to see me?”
“I did,” Jamieson said firmly, “Here's the authorization for your shore leave,” he continued, handing the paper to Chip.
“Shore leave? I can’t take shore leave while Seaview undergoes repairs.”
“Why not?” Jamieson asked.
“Why not?” Morton visibly bristled, "Because I’m needed to supervise the work!”
“Nelson and Sharkey will be doing that.”
“Nel-,” For a moment words failed Morton, then he rallied visibly and shot Crane a jaundiced look. “And where will you be?” he demanded.
“On shore leave, same as you,” Crane conceded with a pout.
“You mean to tell me the two of us are going on leave? Together - At the same time? Leaving Seaview in the hands of the Admiral and Sharkey?”
Morton’s voice had risen steadily during the tirade and if he hadn’t still been so sore, Lee was pretty certain that there would have been a great deal of arm-waving to go with the yelling.
“Face it, Chip," Lee sighed, "we’re not going to win this one. We’re have to go off and enjoy ourselves. Orders.”
“Have fun you two. I don’t want to see or hear from either of you for another two weeks minimum.”
“You won’t,” Crane promised.
“You speak for yourself,” Morton said indignantly.
“Calm down, Chip,” Lee soothed, “Who knows – we might wind up actually having some fun.”
Morton looked like he was going to object further, but Lee grabbed him and began to hiss in his ear. After a moment, Morton stopped trying to yank free, as a speculative expression spread across his face. As Jamieson watched uneasily, a small smile appeared and gradually turned into a full-blown grin. After another moment, Chip nodded and slapped Lee gently on the shoulder.
“Hey, wait a minute!” Alarmed, Jamieson looked from Morton to Crane and back again. “What are you two up to?”
“Who us?” Morton smiled innocently.
“Oh, just making plans, Doc,” Crane smiled. “See you in two weeks.”
“Oh, yeah,” Morton agreed, laughing to himself as he followed his Commanding Officer out of the room.
Jamieson sat where he was for a moment, trying to think of what could have possibly persuaded Morton to capitulate so quickly. Come to that, he hadn’t seen a smile like that on Crane’s face since that time when he had....oh no! With a groan of dismay, Jamieson realised that he was going to spend the next two weeks twitching every time the phone rang.
“It’s not fair,” he grumbled to himself as he sorted the files and put them away. Even when I win, I lose!