by J. Lynn
"Guess who's coming to dinner?" Admiral Harriman Nelson looked up quizzically as Lee Crane, Captain of the SSRN Seaview, strode into the ship's Observation Nose. Smiling, the Captain handed a piece of paper to his superior officer as he answered his own question.
"It seems Dr. Northrup has accepted your invitation to have dinner with us tonight. Angie just called with the message."
Nelson looked pleased as he took the proffered paper. "Good. I'm glad you two will get a chance to meet before we sail tomorrow." Scanning the paper quickly, he continued, "He's asked if I could arrange transportation for him. I'll call Angie and have her arrange for a car from the Institute to pick us up here and then we can both go and collect the good doctor."
Crane looked thoughtful as he replied, "I still have to supervise the loading of Dr. Northrup's equipment so it might be better if I met the two of you at the restaurant. The reservation is for 1900 hours, isn't it?"
"That's right." affirmed Nelson as he rose from the table. "I'll call Angie and have her confirm the details with Dr. Northrup while you handle the loading of the equipment."
"Aye, Sir." said Crane. "I'm looking forward to meeting Dr. Northrup."
"I'm sorry to have kept you waiting, Admiral." apologized Crane as he slid gracefully into the chair the waiter held out for him.
Admiral Nelson looked up from his menu and greeted his Captain. "Not at all, Lee. We just sat down." Turning to the scientist on his left, he continued, "Dr. Northrup, this is Captain Lee Crane. Lee, Dr. William Northrup."
"I'm pleased to meet you, Sir." said Crane. "We're all looking forward to working with you. Your project is quite exciting."
The scientist ignored the polite greeting, asking bluntly, "I understand that you're a Navy man, Crane. Is that correct?"
Crane was surprised, but responded promptly. "Yes, Doctor, that's correct. I served in the Navy until I accepted command of Seaview. I'm still attached to the Navy reserves."
"Then as a military man, Captain, I would have thought you would value punctuality more highly."
If he was caught off-guard by the criticism, Crane didn't show it as he answered smoothly. "I do value punctuality, Doctor, but I place more importance on my responsibilities as Seaview's Captain. I was overseeing the loading of your equipment to make sure it was stowed properly."
"You couldn't trust your men to handle that simple chore?"
"Of course I could, but I wanted to give you my personal assurance that the equipment was handled correctly. As Captain on this mission, I owe that to you."
Nelson had always admired Crane's cool self-control in a confrontation. He didn't back down, but he didn't lash out. He'd certainly been known to raise his voice, but he never lost control. The Admiral knew his own temper was not under such perfect control and he'd often regretted his angry outbursts. Even though he knew Lee could handle the scientist without his help, Nelson decided now was the time to show his support for his Captain.
"William, Captain Crane is a hands-on Captain who makes sure no detail is overlooked. I'm sure you are pleased that the loading of your equipment had his personal attention." Without giving Northrup a chance to continue the argument, he changed the subject. "I think we had better concentrate on our menus, gentlemen, before the waiter returns for our order."
There was silence at the table as each man scanned the menu. When the waiter returned a few minutes later, they ordered quickly. When the waiter had left, Northrup addressed Crane. "You said that my project is 'exciting,' Captain. Is that opinion based on an understanding of my work, or was it just idle flattery?"
Crane did not respond to the provocation in kind. Once again he was polite as he replied, "I am not a scientist like you and Admiral Nelson, but neither am I entirely uneducated in science. The curriculum at the Academy included rigorous courses in both math and science. I also have the benefit of working with a very distinguished scientist on a daily basis." Lee inclined his head in the direction of the Admiral and smiled. Nelson acknowledged the compliment with a smile of his own. Crane continued, "I do understand your project and its potential to reduce famine throughout the world. As Captain of Seaview, I will do everything I can to ensure the success of this mission."
Northrup remained belligerent. "And just how far will you go to ensure the success of the mission, Captain? Are you prepared to risk your ship and your crew for my project?"
Nelson, dismayed by the scientist's attitude and behavior toward Lee, was about to intervene when Crane began to speak. "Dr. Northrup, as a military commander, I accept that I may have to sacrifice my life, the lives of my crew, and my ship in defense of my country." A shadow crossed the Captain's face and the Admiral knew he was remembering the death of Seaman Farrell, who was killed when Crane refused to betray his country and sign a fake confession.
His voice was strong, however, as he continued, "I also accept that those same sacrifices may have to be made if Seaview is called upon to assist during an emergency situation. I have lost men under my command in such circumstances. It is always difficult, because as Captain I am responsible for protecting my ship and crew, but I have accepted the fact that such losses will occur."
"Seaview is not primarily a military vessel, however, and many of her missions are research missions. I regard these as missions of exploration. Exploration also carries risk--any time one faces the unknown, there are risks. The risks can be minimized if proper caution and preparation are exercised. There is no urgency in missions of exploration. Time spent ensuring the safety of the ship and crew is time well spent, and in the long run, will improve the chances of the mission's success. Nothing delays research as much as a catastrophe that could have been prevented. The space program proved this when Apollo I suffered that deadly fire. I will not jeopardize my ship and the lives of the crew unnecessarily. While I do not anticipate any problems on this mission, Doctor, I will not hesitate to abort the mission if, at any time, I feel the ship and crew are in danger."
The scientist was livid. He shouted at Crane, "You dare to say that you would abort my mission? You say that there is no urgent need for my work? Tell that to the children who are starving!"
Crane's reply was quiet. "Doctor, if you had proof today that your project would work, it would still be years before it could be implemented and make a difference in the lives of children starving today. It cannot save them. Risking Seaview and her crew unnecessarily will not change that. I have the authority to abort the mission and I will do so if it becomes necessary to protect Seaview and her crew."
Northrup turned angrily to Nelson. "Does he have the authority to abort the mission? Surely you can override his decision?"
"Yes, he has the authority to abort the mission." answered Nelson. "As Captain, he is responsible for the safety of the ship and crew."
"Then I feel Captain Crane is ill-suited for his position on Seaview." declared Northrup. "He has no understanding of the importance of scientific discovery. I don't see how you have been able to work with him at all."
The Admiral felt his own temper rising and he banged his hand on the table. "He is perfectly suited for command of Seaview. I don't surround myself with yes men, Dr. Northrup. I need him to keep a clear head and assess the risks to the ship and crew during all missions." Nelson made a concerted effort to calm down before he continued. "I agree with Captain Crane that it is unlikely that we will encounter any problems on this mission so this whole discussion is moot."
The waiter arrived with their dinners before Northrup could offer any further argument. The conversation during the meal was strained. As soon as he finished eating, Northrup declared that he wanted to return to his hotel alone. Nelson offered him the use of the car from the Institute and accepted Lee's offer of a ride home.
Crane stood in the Control Room, waiting by the ladder to welcome Dr. Northrup aboard Seaview. Nelson grinned as he joined his Captain, "You'll need to practice your diplomatic smile, Lee, or Northrup will know exactly what you think of him."
"I'm sorry, Admiral, but after his comments at dinner last night, I'm afraid I'm going to have a hard time setting aside my dislike for the man."
"I know he behaved badly last night, Lee. But he is a brilliant man, a true genius, and his project could eliminate famine from the world, so I guess we have to allow genius a few eccentricities."
He looked at Crane who was barely concealing a smile. Nelson's voice took on a tone of mock sternness. "And, Captain, don't even consider saying that you've had plenty of practice dealing with eccentric scientists on board Seaview."
Crane's face was a mask of innocence. "I would never say anything like that, Admiral. Why I wouldn't even think it."
"Humph!" snorted Nelson, glad to see Lee's humor had returned.
As they waited for the scientist to board Seaview, they discussed ship's business including the absence of Chip Morton, the Seaview's Exec.
"Does Chip have any idea when he'll be released from therapy?" inquired Nelson.
"The therapist said two or three more weeks. He's just about got full mobility in his shoulder. He took quite a nasty fall off that ladder."
I hope it's just two weeks, instead of three," commented the Admiral. "His absence puts a lot of extra work on your shoulders."
"I'll be fine, Admiral." replied Crane. "However, you can bet that I'll send the Flying Sub for him the minute he's certified for duty."
The conversation was interrupted by Dr. Northrup descending the ladder. Following the Admiral's advice, Captain Crane put on his best diplomatic smile as he greeted the scientist. "Welcome aboard, Dr. Northrup."
"I'm not interested in exchanging meaningless pleasantries with you, Captain." snapped Northrup. "If you'll have someone show me to the lab facilities, I'll get started on my work."
"Of course, Doctor." replied Crane smoothly as he motioned for Chief Sharkey to come over. "I've assigned Chief Sharkey to assist you."
The Chief reached for the scientist's bags as he said, "If you'll follow me, Sir, we can go straight to the lab and you can get to work while I stow your gear in your quarters."
The two men headed out of the Control Room, Sharkey chattering to the scientist. "Your work sounds pretty important, Sir. It sure is a privilege to have you on board. If you need anything, Sir, anything at all, you just call Chief Sharkey. We can't have important work like yours held up because you need somethin'."
Obviously relishing the flattery, Northrup's manner softened. "It's good to have someone appreciate how important my project is. I simply can't be bothered with little details--that will be your job."
"Yes, Sir," replied Sharkey enthusiastically. "Like I said, call on me any time."
Nelson gave Crane an approving look. "You knew Dr. Northrup could be swayed by flattery, didn't you?"
Crane nodded, "Most self-absorbed types are easily flattered. And, nobody's better at flattery than Sharkey."
The Admiral chuckled, but then his manner became more serious. "Lee, I'm sorry about the way he's been treating you. I know you're carrying an extra heavy load this mission so I'll try to keep him out of your way."
"Thanks, Admiral," replied Crane. "I'd appreciate it."
"I think I'll go to the lab and check on him." said the Admiral. "How long until we get underway?"
"We were only waiting for him so it won't be more than a few minutes."
"Very good. I'll be in the lab if you need me."
"We're ready to start, Skipper." called out Kowalski.
"Very good, Ski." replied Crane. "Start lowering the first pod slow and easy."
Crane was glad that the actual work of this mission was finally getting underway. It had taken a week to get to the coordinates for the test project. The Admiral had been as good as his word and had kept Dr. Northrup away from him, but that had also had the effect of keeping Nelson away. The Captain missed the camaraderie with the older man and with Chip Morton still back home undergoing therapy for a shoulder injury, Crane found himself a bit lonely.
"Lowering the pod, Sir. Nice and easy, just like you said." said Kowalski. He continued to report on the progress of the operation while Crane watched on the monitor. The sound of the hatch opening from the corridor caught the Captain's attention and he saw Nelson, Northrup, and Sharkey enter.
"Lee, Dr. Northrup was interested in watching the deployment of the pods so I brought him down to observe." said the Admiral. "How's it going?"
"Just fine, Sir. As you can see on the monitor, the first one is nearly in position."
Moving close to peer at the monitor, Northrup reacted with alarm. "Stop immediately! Captain, you're about to crash the pod into a rock! You'll destroy it! I demand you stop this instant!"
Northrup charged over to Kowalski who was manning the controls. "Didn't you hear me? I said to stop immediately!"
"Kowalski, continue lowering the pod." ordered Crane. He strode over to the scientist. "Dr. Northrup, my men know what they are doing. There is a strong current in this area and the current will carry the pod past the rock if we maintain the present rate of descent. If you interfere and distract them from their jobs, then the pod will be destroyed."
"If you're wrong, Captain, I'll hold you personally responsible for the loss of the pod." thundered Northrup.
Before Crane could reply, Kowalski sang out. "Pod's on the bottom, Sir. In the exact position you specified."
"Good work, Kowalski. Disengage the cable and bring it up. Patterson, have your men get the next pod ready." Crane turned to the disgruntled scientist. "Dr. Northrup, as you can see, the pod was not destroyed. We need to move Seaview to the next set of coordinates. It will be a few minutes until we're in position. If you choose to wait here, I must request that you not interfere with the crew as they perform their work."
Nelson, who had remained silent during the confrontation between Crane and Northrup, stepped between them as he said, "Northrup, I suggest that you return to the lab with Chief Sharkey. He can help you prepare the diving schedule. Captain Crane can handle the deployment of the remaining pods."
"Very well, Admiral." said the scientist grudgingly. "Are you coming?"
"Not just yet. I'd like to speak to Captain Crane for a moment."
"Well, I hope you'll instruct him to be more careful with the remaining pods." declared Northrup. "I'm sure it was just dumb luck that the first wasn't smashed on that rock. I'll be in the lab with the Chief." He wheeled around and strode imperiously out of the room, leaving Sharkey to scramble to catch up.
Nelson turned to Crane. "Lee, I'm sorry. I had no idea he'd try to interfere--I thought he'd show more respect for you after he saw the pods being deployed successfully."
"It's not your fault, Admiral. As you said, he's a difficult man. Look, I'd better get back to the deployment."
"All right." agreed Nelson. "Stop by the lab when all the pods have been deployed. We should have the diving schedule ready by then and you can make the diving assignments."
"Aye, Sir," said Crane then turned to head for the nearest mike. As Nelson stepped through the hatch, he heard Crane issue crisp orders to bring the sub to the next set of coordinates. He regretted suggesting that Northrup observe the deployment, but he also wished Crane had been able to handle him just a bit better. Over the last week he had become increasingly excited over the project and he didn't want the friction between the two men to jeopardize the work. Surely, Crane could be more diplomatic--even flatter the man like Sharkey did. He didn't think it was too much to ask of the Captain.
Crane entered the door to the lab several hours later. "Admiral, I'm here to report that all the pods have been deployed."
"Very good, Lee." approved the Admiral. "Here's the diving schedule." He handed Crane a piece of paper and waited while the Captain examined the schedule.
"It's a very demanding schedule, especially when we're short on divers." observed Crane.
"I know about Chip, of course, but that's only one man short. Who else isn't available?" queried Nelson.
"Miller's last bout with a respiratory infection appears to have left him with a chronic asthmatic condition. Dr. Jamison said that while his condition could improve--and he's fine for regular duty even if it doesn't--he doubts that he'll be able to return to diving. So we're two men short and that means we can't keep this schedule while staying within Seaview's diving guidelines."
Northrup had been listening from across the room. "So we've come all this way, deployed the pods, and now you're saying we can't complete the mission. I knew something like this would happen with you in command."
Crane struggled to remain patient. "No, Doctor, I'm not saying that we can't complete the mission. But I am recommending that we delay the diving for a few days until I can send for more divers. If I had been given this schedule before we sailed, I could have made appropriate arrangements. Now, it will take at least a day or two to locate other divers and transport them to Seaview."
"So you're blaming me and the Admiral because your men can't do the job." declared Northrup.
"Lee," interrupted Nelson. "The schedule is outside Seaview's diving guidelines, but it is still within the Navy guidelines. I know we've always been a bit more cautious, but just this once couldn't we accept the Navy guidelines?"
"Admiral," argued Crane. "I'm not comfortable risking the crew when we could delay a few days with no harm to the project."
"No harm!" exploded Northrup. "The plants need to be in properly maintained pods. A delay could kill them and we'd have to start all over again."
"Lee," urged the Admiral, "Please re-consider. The project could be jeopardized by a delay. The Navy guidelines have proven to be safe. Let's not be overly cautious here." He lowered his voice so only the Captain could hear his next comment. "Are you sure you're not letting your dislike for Dr. Northrup affect your judgment?"
Crane's expression hardened at this questioning of his motives. His response was formal, "Very well, Admiral. We'll begin the diving on schedule. If there's nothing else, I'll set up the diving assignments."
"No, that's all, Lee, and thanks." said Nelson.
Crane nodded, but said nothing as he took his leave. In the corridor outside the lab, he paused to look at the schedule. He didn't want to compromise the safety of his crew, but he had given his word to the Admiral. As he pondered the situation, a solution came to him. He would set up the diving rotation for four divers as if Miller would be included, but he would take both his own place in the rotation and also Miller's. That would keep the other divers within Seaview's guidelines, and, while it would be close, he would still be within the Navy guidelines. He wasn't sure if the Admiral would approve of his solution to the problem, but, as Captain, diving assignments were his responsibility. He didn't plan to tell the Admiral about it, preferring instead to explain if the Admiral discovered it on the diving reports they were required to submit. Satisfied with this course of action, he headed for his cabin to write out the assignments for the next two weeks.
The sharpness in the voice hailing him caused Crane to sigh inwardly before he turned to greet the person calling to him. Assuming his best diplomatic manner, he responded politely, "Yes, Dr. Northrup what may I do for you?"
"Are those today's diving reports?" demanded the scientist, making no attempt at courtesy.
"Yes, Sir. Admiral Nelson asked me to bring these first reports to him as soon as they were completed so I'm on my way to his cabin."
"I'll take them." stated Northrup, holding out his hand.
"I'm sorry, Sir," replied Crane, "but my orders were to deliver them directly to Admiral Nelson."
Northrup was furious. "You're refusing to let me see reports that affect my project?" he shouted.
The Captain kept his composure, keeping his voice low instead of matching Northrup's volume. "No Sir, I'm simply explaining that I can't give them to you just now because the Admiral is expecting them."
The scientist would not be pacified. He continued to shout, "I demand to see those reports immediately, Captain."
Before Crane could reply, Nelson rounded the corner and came down the corridor toward them. "Your voices can be heard all over the ship. What the devil is going on?" he demanded.
Northrup wasted no time in airing his grievance. "Captain Crane refused to give me today's diving reports!"
The Admiral turned to Crane, "Lee?"
"I did not refuse, Sir. I merely explained to Dr. Northrup that you were waiting for these reports and that I needed to take them to you without delay."
"It's all right, Lee." said Nelson. "I can wait until Dr. Northrup is finished with them."
"Very well, Sir." replied Crane. He extended the papers to the scientist who snatched them out of his hand.
Crane ignored the rude gesture as he politely inquired, "Is there anything else I can do for either of you?"
"No, Lee," answered Nelson. "That will be all."
"Very well, Admiral. I'll be in the Control Room."
Northrup watched the Captain walk away. "Captain Crane is most disagreeable."
Attempting to placate the angry scientist, Nelson explained, "I did request that he bring me the diving reports. He was just carrying out my orders."
"And he couldn't exercise his own judgment enough to allow me to peruse them for a few minutes? Surely, your orders would allow that." The sarcasm in his words and tone was obvious.
"Yes, of course," replied the Admiral, "but Captain Crane is an extremely conscientious officer--he takes his orders very seriously."
"I still say he's not suited to command of a research vessel if he can't think for himself enough to interpret orders properly. He has shown absolutely no interest in the project. He concerns himself only with guidelines and military protocols that do nothing but cause delays."
Nelson was growing weary of defending Crane to the scientist. Why couldn't Lee make more of an effort to understand Northrup's dedication to his work? Lee should have known that Northrup would be anxious to look at those first reports and he could have offered to let him see them briefly before delivering them to the Admiral. Yes, the Admiral decided, a little more effort on Lee's part and a greater appreciation for the project could have gone a long way to easing this uncomfortable situation.
"I'll speak to him and have him deliver the reports directly to you." offered Nelson. "Why don't you get started analyzing the data in those reports and I'll join you shortly."
Pleased that the Admiral appeared to be on his side, Northrup agreed to Nelson's suggestion. "Good, I'll be in the lab."
Crane entered the Control Room, ready to relieve O'Brien for the day watch, when Sparks informed him there was a message from the Institute. The Captain took the paper from the radio operator, but hesitated briefly before reading the message. He hoped it was good news. The strain of the last few weeks was taking its toll and he didn't think he could cope with any new problems just now. Between standing extra watches to fill in for the absent Chip Morton, and taking Miller's place in the diving rotation, he'd had little time to rest. The isolation from the Admiral had made a difficult mission even more wearing. Nelson's excitement about the project's results had grown steadily during the last two weeks and both he and Northrup had only left the lab to eat and sleep. Crane was glad that there was only one more dive before they could head for home. Buoyed slightly by that thought, the Captain read the message. It turned out to be good news which raised his spirits even higher--Chip Morton had been released to duty and could join Seaview just as soon as the Flying Sub could be sent for him.
Becoming aware of a presence in front of him, Crane raised his head to see Chief Sharkey standing in front of him. "Yes, Chief, what is it?" he asked.
"Admiral Nelson would like to see you in the lab, Sir."
"Thank you, Chief," acknowledged Crane. "Mr. O'Brien, I'll need you to extend your watch a few more minutes while I speak to the Admiral."
"Aye, Sir." replied O'Brien.
Crane headed for the lab, his steps a bit slower than usual. It was partly because he was reluctant to encounter Dr. Northrup, but also because he was feeling tired and stiff. "You're feeling your age, Lee Crane," he told himself ruefully. "Pretty soon it won't be a joke when the crew refers to you as the 'old man'."
He entered the lab, clearing his throat to attract the Admiral's attention. When the older man looked up, Crane spoke, "Chief Sharkey said you wanted to see me, Sir."
"Yes, Lee," replied Nelson. "We've completed our preliminary analysis of the first week's data. The results are good, Lee, far beyond our expectations. Now we need to send the data and our results to the lab at the Institute for further analysis. We can use the Flying Sub to deliver the papers in this case."
"Aye, Sir," responded Crane. "The timing is perfect. I just got a message from Chip saying he could return to duty if someone could pick him up."
Crane looked across the room to the table where Sharkey was working. "Chief, I need you to take the Flying Sub to the Institute. You're to deliver the project materials to the lab and pick up Mr. Morton."
"Aye, Sir," said the Chief. He put down his clipboard and started to reach for the case containing the project papers.
"That's unacceptable, Captain." The objection came from Northrup who was working in another part of the room. "I need the Chief's assistance here in the lab." He appealed to the Admiral, "Surely there is another pilot on Seaview?"
"Yes, of course," replied Nelson. "Lee, Northrup's right. We do need the Chief's assistance. Find someone else."
Crane felt a sudden flash of anger surge through him at the Admiral's abrupt order. Fatigue had made him irritable and he fought to keep his temper in check. "Admiral, that's not going to be easy. With the exception of Sharkey, our other pilots have also been going out on the dives. You know as well as I do that flying too soon after diving can be dangerous."
Anxious to get back to work, Nelson was fast losing patience with his Captain. He was growing tired of his constant objections during this mission. The project was yielding extraordinary results--why couldn't Lee share their excitement instead of trying to drag the project down? He dismissed Crane's objections with a wave of his hand.
"Lee, I don't care who you get as long as it's not Sharkey. As Captain, it's your job to make crew assignments. Just take care of it." He returned to his paperwork, making it obvious that Crane and his concerns were not worthy of any more of this time.
"Aye, Sir." said Crane stiffly. Picking up the case with the project materials, he walked out of the lab, his movements as stiff as his words.
Instantly regretting his harsh words, Nelson looked up from his work, intending to call Crane back. The awkwardness of Crane's gait caught his attention immediately--walking appeared to be painful for the younger man. Feeling a sudden pang of concern, Nelson rose to go after Crane and speak to him privately.
Northrup stopped him, however, before he had taken more than a few steps. "Admiral, look at these results. The growth rates on these plants is absolutely phenomenal!"
Nelson could not resist stopping to examine the results. The astounding success of the project was almost intoxicating. He told himself that he could talk to Lee later--perhaps over dinner. Yes, dinner was a good idea. In fact, he would have Cookie serve a celebration dinner in the Observation Nose tonight when the last dive had been completed. Surely with the project an unqualified success, Northrup would soften his attitude toward Lee and possibly even admit that he had been wrong to question the Captain's competence. And Lee could admit that the project's results were worth the few extra risks they'd taken. It was unfortunate that Lee and Northrup had gotten off on the wrong foot during that first dinner, but tonight's dinner would set things right. His anger with Crane forgotten along with his concern, Nelson joined Northrup.
Crane was not able to let go of his anger so easily. Out in the corridor he came very close to hurling the case against the nearest bulkhead. He was restrained only by a last reserve of self-control and by the pain in his shoulder, elbow, and wrist. He hated being put in this position--having to decide between the safety of the crew and the Admiral's wishes. Dragged down both by fatigue and the increasing pain in every joint in his body, Crane found it difficult to think. He'd told the Admiral he'd find another pilot for FS1, but he knew it was dangerous to send anyone who had been diving recently. He would not risk the life of a crewman so the only thing left to do was to pilot FS1 himself. He knew it was risky for him just as it was for the other divers, but, he reasoned, Chip was coming back with him and could assume command if necessary. Besides, it was worth the risk to have this mission over and done with. His decision made, he strode into the Control Room and began issuing orders.
"Patterson, prepare the Flying Sub for immediate launch. Mr. O'Brien, I'm afraid I'll have to ask you to extend your watch a few hours longer. I have to make a trip to the Institute to deliver project results to the lab. I'll also be bringing Mr. Morton back with me."
"Aye, Sir," responded O'Brien. "That's good new about Mr. Morton, Sir."
"Getting tired of standing extra watches, Mr. O'Brien?" inquired Crane.
The young officer's face flushed slightly. "A little bit, Skipper."
"I am, too, Mr. O'Brien." said Crane lightly. "I'll be back in a few hours."
"Aye, Sir. Have a good flight, Skipper."
Crane nodded in acknowledgment, put on his flight jacket, and descended into the Flying Sub. Watching his commanding officer closely, O'Brien realized that the Skipper looked exhausted. He'd been standing extra watches, too, and going out on all those dives. Like everyone else on Seaview, he depended on the Skipper and never considered that he might get tired just like the rest of them. O'Brien felt guilty for complaining about the extra watches and resolved to do anything he could to help the Captain.
Chip Morton watched Crane practically drag himself up the ladder from the Flying Sub into Seaview. After telling his Exec how glad he was to have him back on board Seaview, Lee hadn't said much on the flight back to the ship other than to comment that Dr. Northrup was proving difficult. Judging by Crane's obvious fatigue and the lines of stress in his face, Morton guessed that difficult was probably a gross understatement.
O'Brien greeted them when they emerged from the hatch. "Thank you for extending your watch, Mr. O'Brien," said Crane. "I'll relieve you now."
"Aye, Sir," replied O'Brien.
Crane moved over to the chart table and Morton could see the forced effort in every move. He also noted that Crane was alternately flexing and rubbing his right hand. Chip moved next to him and said quietly, "Is something wrong with your hand?"
Lee looked up at him absently, "What?"
"You keep rubbing your hand--is something wrong?"
"No, it's just a little numb. I guess I was gripping the controls in the Flying Sub a bit too tightly and cut off the circulation. I'm not used to acting as your co-pilot--I must have been flying with 'white knuckles'."
Chip had been surprised when Lee had uncharacteristically asked him to pilot FS1 back to Seaview. Now, however, he was deeply concerned by Crane's behavior. He wondered if he should suggest that Lee check in with Dr. Jamison in Sickbay, but decided against it until he had found out more about what was going on. He knew exactly how he would proceed.
"Look, Lee, you seem tired and I'm anxious to get back to work. Why don't I take the rest of this watch while you get some rest. You've been pulling extra watches for weeks while I've been in therapy. It's my turn now."
Crane hesitated for a moment then, again acting uncharacteristically, gave in without an argument. "Thanks, Chip. I think I'll take you up on it. I'm scheduled for a dive in a few hours--the last one--and I could use a few hours of sleep. You have the con."
"Aye, Sir," said Morton. As soon as Lee had disappeared up the stairs in the direction of his cabin, Morton ordered that the ship's log be brought to him. He was determined to find out exactly what had been going on while he was away and the log was the place to start.
Admiral Nelson sat at the table in the Observation Nose looking like he was about to explode. Dr. Northrup, on the other hand, looked pleased by the Admiral's ill temper. "Captain Crane has a distinct problem with promptness, Admiral." he commented snidely.
Nelson ignored the comment, but he couldn't ignore the Captain's absence any longer. "Kowalski," he snapped, "go to Captain Crane's cabin and find out what's keeping him."
"Aye Sir," replied Kowalski as he headed for the spiral stairs. As he started to climb the stairs, he met Crane coming down. The Captain seemed a bit unsteady, staggering as he reached the deck. Kowalski quickly reached out to steady him.
"Thanksh, Ski," mumbled Crane. "Mus' have missed that las' step."
"Admiral, I think your Captain started his celebration a bit early--he's obviously been drinking." declared Northrup.
Nelson, although dismayed by Lee's behavior, staunchly defended his Captain. "I'm sure that's not true. Captain Crane would never drink while on duty."
Crane walked over to the table, but his steps were slow, his movements awkward. He reached for the chair to pull it out, but couldn't seem to coordinate his movements properly. Once again Kowalski provided assistance, pulling out the chair and practically guiding Crane into a sitting position.
"Lee," asked Nelson, "Are you feeling all right?"
It was Northrup who responded, "I'd say he's feeling absolutely no pain at all."
The Admiral replied through clenched teeth, "If you don't mind, I'll handle this." Turning back to Crane, he asked again, "Lee, are you ill?"
"I'm fine, Admiral," replied Crane, but his words came slowly and were heavily slurred. "I'm jus' a bit tired....thas' all...hard to stay 'wake."
Concerned, Nelson rose from the table. "I think we'd better get you to Sickbay. Kowalski, accompany the Captain."
"Aye, Sir," said Kowalski, moving to assist Crane who was struggling to rise. Abruptly, Crane pitched forward into Kowalski's arms. The seaman gently lowered his Captain to the deck.
"This is absolutely disgraceful!" exclaimed Northrup. "The man is falling down drunk!"
"Shut up," snapped Nelson as he knelt beside Crane. "Mr. Morton, get Dr. Jamison here on the double."
"Admiral," chided Northrup, "He doesn't need Sickbay, just someplace to sleep it off."
Nelson ignored the scientist as he helped Kowalski straighten out the Captain's arms and legs to make him more comfortable while they waited for the Doctor. Crane moaned softly as his joints were manipulated.
"Easy, Skipper," soothed Kowalski, "I'm sorry if I hurt you." The seaman turned to the Admiral. "I think he's got the 'bends,' Sir. Sometimes it takes a few hours after a dive for the symptoms to appear."
"A few hours, yes," agreed Nelson, "But it's been a whole day since he last went out."
"No, Sir," replied Kowalski. "He went out this afternoon. He's been going out every day. He took Miller's place in the rotation in addition to his own."
Morton had moved over to the group. "Jamison is on his way. It's true that he's been going out every day--it's noted in the logs. With all that diving, the trip in the Flying Sub this morning probably didn't do him any good."
"No, it probably didn't." muttered Nelson. Before he could say anything more, Jamison hurried into the Observation Nose. "What happened?" he asked as he began his examination.
When the Admiral hesitated, Kowalski spoke up. "I think the Skipper has the 'bends'," Doc. He was unsteady coming down the steps and when he talked, his words were sorta slurred. He fell when he tried to get up from his chair. When I moved his arms and legs to make him comfortable, he moaned like it hurt him."
Jamison unbuttoned Crane's shirt to better check his heart and lungs with the stethoscope. "He's got a rash-" he commented, "-typical symptom of the 'bends'." When he was finished with the stethoscope, he shone a light into the Captain's eyes. Crane struggled to get away from the light so Kowalski, who was kneeling by his head, placed his hands on either side of the Skipper's face, gently stroking his cheeks with his thumbs to soothe him. "Easy, Skipper. Doc's just checking you out."
"Out," muttered Crane, "Have to go out--las' dive--have to ge' ready."
"No, Sir," soothed Kowalski, "The diving's all done, Skipper."
Jamison snapped off the light. "I can see the air bubbles in the irises of his eyes. We need to get him into the decompression chamber." He reached for the mike, "Jamison to Thompson." When the corpsman answered, the Doctor gave crisp orders. "The Captain is suffering from decompression illness. Get the decompression chamber ready at once. I'll need you to be sealed in there with him so gather everything you'll need to monitor his condition and treat possible complications. Also, send two corpsman to the Observation Nose with a stretcher."
"Aye, Sir," came the reply through the intercom.
Jamison turned to Morton. "I need to get him on oxygen immediately." Chip quickly broke out the emergency oxygen and handed the apparatus to the Doctor who placed the mask over the Captain's nose and mouth.
It was only a few seconds later when the two corpsmen entered with the stretcher. Morton motioned for several crewmen to help lift Crane onto the stretcher with Jamison cautioning them to be careful since moving the Captain's stiff joints would be painful for him. Nelson watched as the burly seamen, used to heaving boxes of cargo, lifted their Captain with a gentleness that the Admiral would not have believed they possessed. Jamison straightened up to follow the stretcher, but turned first to Nelson and said curtly, "I'll keep you informed."
The Admiral remained silent as he had been since the Doctor's arrival. Slowly, he turned in the direction of Northrup, who was enjoying his dinner as if nothing unusual had occurred. "You should sit down, Admiral. The food's going to get cold if you wait much longer."
Nelson still said nothing. The scientist, seeming a bit uncomfortable, strove to be genial. "I'm sure Captain Crane will be just fine. And, if he isn't, it really doesn't matter, since the project has been completed successfully."
The Admiral reached over and swept the scientist's dinner off the table, shattering the china and glass on the deck. "It damn well does matter! How can you be so unfeeling about a man who may die simply because you were impatient to see the project completed?"
Northrup remained defiant. "My work is much more important than his insignificant life. We can save thousands, maybe millions, from starvation. You saw the test results--all my theories have been confirmed. That's what matters, Admiral, not the life of some grunt who merely carried out orders."
The violent fury that had fueled Nelson's outburst had been replaced with a cold anger. "Northrup, I've made excuses for your behavior, claimed that you were a brilliant man that was just a bit eccentric. But you aren't eccentric, you're morally deficient. You kept the diving reports from me so I wouldn't know that Captain Crane was diving far too much. You have no compassion for others, no humanity. I will not have you on my ship any longer."
The scientist was still unfazed. "I didn't keep the diving reports from you. You knew I had them--you could have looked at them any time you wanted to. You never asked because you didn't want to know. You were just as anxious as I was to see the project completed. What are you going to do, throw me out into the ocean to ease your conscience? Where's your humanity, Admiral?"
"I lost it for a while, thanks to you, but I think I've got my priorities straight now." declared the Admiral. "Much as I'd like to throw you in the ocean, I won't do it, but I will get you off this ship." Staring hard at Northrup, he turned slightly towards the Control Room and hailed Sharkey, "Chief, come forward."
"Chief, I want you to prepare the Flying Sub for immediate launch. You will be taking Dr. Northrup back to the Institute. Once there, you are to see that he cleans out his office and leaves the grounds."
"Aye, Sir. It will take about twenty minutes to get FS1 ready."
Nelson turned to Northrup, "Doctor, you have twenty minutes to gather your belongings."
"You can't do this, Nelson." said Northrup defiantly. "We have a contract. The project is not complete--we need to thoroughly analyze the data. I need the labs on Seaview and at the Institute to complete the work. You'll be in breach of contract."
"Oh, I don't intend to break the contract. You'll have lab facilities, Doctor, but they won't be on the Institute grounds. I refuse to work with you directly and when this project is complete, you will get no more contracts with the Institute or, if I have my way, with any other research institution. Now, Doctor, you had better get your things together--the Master-at-Arms will escort you to your cabin." He motioned for the officer to come forward.
Northrup realized he had no options. "Very well, Admiral. I'll leave, but don't flatter yourself that you can sully my reputation. I'll easily be able to locate other institutions that understand the importance of my work." He headed for the staircase, the Master-At-Arms a step behind him.
Nelson watched him go, shaking his head. Then, he turned and strode through the Control Room, issuing a curt order without breaking stride. "Mr. Morton, make sure that Dr. Northrup leaves promptly. Use whatever force is necessary. I'll be with Dr. Jamison."
Nelson found Jamison outside the decompression chamber, looking in the window as Thompson monitored the Captain's vital signs. The Admiral joined the Doctor and quietly asked, "He will be all right, won't he?"
Without taking his eyes away from the window, Jamison replied, "There's still the danger that an air embolism could cut off circulation to a vital organ, causing permanent damage. Fortunately, Thompson completed special training in decompression illness before we sailed, so he'll be able to identify any complications."
Nelson was quiet for a few minutes,then blurted out, "I just don't understand it--he must have known the risk he has taking--going out on that last dive was practically--"
The Admiral broke off and Jamison completed the thought, "suicide?"
Nelson turned sharply and gave the Doctor a sharp look. "Do you think he was suicidal?"
Jamison looked his superior in the eye as he replied, "No, our Captain is a very determined man and if he were determined to do away with himself, he would have done it more....efficiently." The Doctor heard the older man let out a sigh of relief so he hastened to add, "But he was far too willing to lose his life for no good reason."
"I think you'd better explain, Doctor."
"I've seen the Captain risk his life to save someone in danger. I've seen him risk death to protect Seaview and her crew. I've seen him put his life on the line to defend his country. But there was no danger to the ship or the crew or the country. There was no noble cause that demanded the sacrifice of his life. The mission wasn't critical--it could have been delayed a few days to bring another diver aboard, and there were others on board who could have piloted the Flying Sub."
"Lee suggested bringing other divers aboard and he wanted Chief Sharkey to pilot the Flying Sub." said the Admiral quietly.
"And you overrode his suggestions?"
"Yes," admitted Nelson. "But he didn't persist so I dismissed his concerns. He's usually more vocal when he feels a mission is endangering the ship or the crew."
"But the ship and the crew weren't in danger." Jamison reminded him. "Only he was. For our Captain, pointing that out would have seemed self-serving, like he was whining."
"Northrup would have thought so." remarked the Admiral.
"And you sided with Northrup." said Jamison quietly.
Nelson didn't answer the accusation directly. Instead he asked a question of the Doctor. "Do you think he did it because he was angry at me? Maybe he wanted to teach me a lesson."
Jamison considered the Admiral's suggestion for a few moments before replying. "That seems a rather childish response. No, I think he was angry, not at you, but at himself."
"Why would he be angry at himself?"
"Because he couldn't be angry at you. We've talked about this before, Admiral. Do you really understand the pressure he's under on missions like these? If he aborts the mission because of danger to the ship and crew, he lets you down. If he goes ahead with the mission and someone gets hurt, then he's let the crew down. Either way he fails somebody--you--his friend and mentor, or his crew. He should be angry at you for demanding this of him over and over again, but he can't be angry at you, not because you're his superior, but because you're his friend. His anger builds up and he turns it inward on himself. He blames himself for always failing someone. Depression, Admiral, is sometimes described as anger turned inward. This mission was the perfect opportunity to resolve all his conflicts. By risking his life, he could fulfill the mission for you, and he could fulfill his obligation to protect his crew. If he didn't survive the mission, then he never had to worry about failing anyone ever again."
The Admiral looked shaken. He turned back to the window of the decompression chamber "I never realized. I dismissed your concerns because I thought someday he'd just blow up at me. I never thought he'd--. I was so sure I was right--so damn sure." Abruptly, he straightened up, turning to face Jamison once again. "Keep me informed on his condition, Doctor." Without waiting for an acknowledgment of the order, he wheeled and strode out of the room.
Nelson walked down the steps to the Observation Nose, a stack of paperwork tucked firmly under his arm. He could have stayed in his cabin or gone to the lab to do this work, but he felt that lately he'd spent too much time alone with Northrup in the lab, isolated from the officers and crew. He had decided to work in the Observation Nose where he'd be more accessible to the crew in the Control Room. As he rounded the last curve in the spiral stairway, he saw Lee Crane sitting at the table gazing out the magnificent windows. He, too, had a stack of papers in front of him, but his posture was one of respose, not work. He was sitting back, turned slightly to one side with an arm thrown over the back of the chair.
The Admiral smiled and greeted his Captain warmly, "Lee, I didn't expect to see you up and around so soon."
Crane returned the smile as he moved to sit straighter in his chair. "I had to talk Jamie into it. He would have preferred that I stay in Sickbay or in my cabin. I told him that I've never been claustrophobic before, but after all those hours in that decompression chamber, I needed to be someplace with a view. Fortunately, he understood and let me come here."
"He wouldn't understand the paperwork, though, would he?" asked the Admiral as he sat down at the table.
"Probably not." admitted Crane. "But I don't like feeling useless. I'd rather keep busy."
"You are busy." declared Nelson as he removed the papers from in front of the Captain. "You are busy regaining your strength. Chip or I can take care of this paperwork. Now, what did Jamie say about your recovery?"
"He said I should be feeling stronger in a couple of days. Some of the symptoms, however, could return over the next few months. If I feel any tingling or numbness in my hands or feet, or any joint pain, I'm to let him know. He said I might have to spend more time in the decompression chamber. Diving is out of the question for a while also." The last statement had a wistful tone to it.
"I'm sorry, Lee. I know the decompression chamber isn't the most pleasant place, but the 'bends' are serious and I don't want you taking any more chances with your health. I want you to notify Jamison immediately if you notice any symptoms."
"Aye, Sir." said Crane.
The silence hung heavily between the two men. It was Crane who spoke first.
"The story of how you threw Northrup off Seaview is fast becoming the stuff of which legends are made. Several crewmen have told me the story already and each time it has a few more embellishments. Did you really throw his dinner onto the deck?"
The Admiral looked decidedly embarrassed. "I'm afraid I did. I lost control when he showed absolutely no concern for you. That man lacks any sense of humanity. All he cared about was his project--how it could save lives--while he cared not one whit about a life in front of him."
"It's almost like the mentality of a terrorist." observed Crane. "The cause is more important than anything or anyone. Ethics, values, even basic human decency--all are set aside for the cause."
"That's a disturbing observation. Especially since I realized that I'm very much like Northrup. That's the real reason I lost control with him. Seeing myself in him terrified me."
"You're not at all like him, Admiral." protested Crane. "You didn't know what was going on--Northrup kept the diving reports from you."
"It's true he didn't show them to me, but I could have insisted. Or, I could have gotten them directly from you. I didn't pursue it because, like Northrup, I became obsessed with the mission--the idea of ridding the world of famine."
Nelson looked closely at his Captain. "I think you knew that. Lee, I have to know--why did you risk your life? It wasn't for Seaview or for the crew--they weren't in danger. It wasn't for the mission--you were right when you said it wasn't urgent. So, why?"
Lee hesitated, but the Admiral prompted him. "The truth, Lee. Why?"
"At first it was a combination of pride and what Chip calls my Superman complex." Lee smiled, trying to lighten the discussion. "Only instead of leaping tall buildings, I was diving into the deep."
Nelson didn't react to the attempt at humor so Crane continued in a more serious tone. "I didn't like the idea of relaxing the diving restrictions, at least for the crew, so I decided I'd take Miller's place in the diving rotation. I was still within the Navy diving guidelines so I thought it would be fine."
"Why didn't you discuss it with me?"
"The diving assignments were my responsibility. I figured if you had any objections, you'd say so when you saw the diving reports."
"I didn't see the diving reports--Northrup had them."
"I guessed as much."
"But didn't say anything."
"You were capable of asking Northrup for them if you thought they were important."
Nelson knew Lee was right. He'd already admitted that he had deliberately avoided asking for the diving reports. There was nothing more to be said.
"So you thought you could handle the diving. But what about the flight in the Flying Sub? You knew that increased the risk. Why didn't you tell me then about the extra diving?"
"I was angry when I left the lab. It seemed that you wanted the mission completed at any cost. Well, I did too. I knew it was dangerous to fly so soon after a deep dive, but I figured that once Chip was aboard, he could assume command if necessary. I rationalized that I wasn't putting Seaview at risk, only me. It seemed worth it to finish the mission."
Lee sighed, "It wasn't my best decision, but at least it didn't affect the safety of the ship or crew. After the flight I began to have symptoms of the 'bends' and I guess it affected my judgment. I didn't realize that I was in no condition to go out on that last dive--I only knew I was determined to complete the project. When I returned from that final dive, the only thing I cared about was that it was over. I was just so tired."
Nelson abruptly jumped up from the table and crossed over to the windows. With his back to his Captain, he said quietly, "I put you in an impossible position--like I've done so many other times. But this was the first time I was the one to realize the consequences. Every other time when I've pressured you to continue a mission against your better judgment, you're been the one who felt the responsibility for any harm done to the ship and crew. You shouldered the blame and the guilt, while I excused myself from any responsibility. When I saw you lying on the deck and later in the decompression chamber, I knew I was to blame. You put your life on the line not for a noble cause, not to save your ship and crew, but to satisfy a stubborn, arrogant fool--me."
Crane opened his mouth to protest, but the Admiral had turned to face him and held up a hand to stop him. "No, hear me out." Crane yielded and Nelson continued, "Whether it was your intent or not, I learned a sobering lesson--it is far too easy for me to give up my humanity in pursuit of a goal. At our dinner with Northrup I told him that I needed you and it's more true than I realized at the time. I need you to remind me of my humanity. The next time you think I've neglected the safety of Seaview, her crew..." Nelson paused for emphasis, "or her Captain, I want you to get angry at me. I want you to shout at me and make me listen. I need to know you'll do this for me."
The Captain sat quietly for a moment, his expression sober. Then his expression changed. He smiled at his superior and his friend as he said, "It's a dirty job, but somebody has to do it."
Nelson looked blank for a moment, caught off-guard by the apparently light-hearted answer. Crane continued to smile and Nelson understood that a serious answer lay underneath the humor. He began to chuckle in relief. Crane's smile grew wider and he, too, began to chuckle. Pleased that the breach between them was healed, Nelson grinned as he said, "Lee, our dinner the other night didn't exactly work out and I still owe you after that uncomfortable dinner before we sailed. How about if I have Cookie serve dinner for us here tonight. Will you join me?"
"Dinner with a view," commented Crane, smiling. "Admiral, I accept your invitation with pleasure."