By Angela Field
The underwater complex of domes that made up the prototype colony of Project Neptune sprawled across the rocky sea bed. Only as the SSRN Seaview drew closer did it become obvious that something serious had happened. Out of the original ten domes, only two were still intact. The others had been torn open by some unknown, but terrible force that had left the shards scattered like egg shells across the sea bed.
Chip Morton scowled in concern as he observed the wreckage. This had not been what he expected to see. According to Nelson the colony was thriving. Shaking his head over the sight of destruction, he reached for the intercom to tell the Admiral the bad news. Nelson would need to see this for himself.
“What could have done it?” Lee Crane worried as he heard what Chip had to say. At the Exec’s request, he and Nelson had come to the control room to see the devastation for themselves.
“Atmospheric pressure perhaps,” Nelson pondered. “Perhaps a power failure overloaded their systems.”
“Would that have caused an implosion effect?”
“Difficult to say without taking a closer look.” The Admiral considered for a moment, gazing at the smashed colony on the monitor. He shook his head grimly. “We need the data pack from their computers.”
“I’ll take a team out,” the dark haired captain decided.
Nelson smiled at his enthusiasm. “Okay, Lee, any objections to me tagging along?” Or would you rather I stayed here?”
Crane had the grace to look slightly embarrassed, ignoring Chip’s barely concealed smirk. “Sorry, Sir, I should have said do you want me to take a team out?”
“I think that is an excellent idea, Captain,” Nelson answered, amused.
Crane kicked hard, grasping the edges of the airlock and pulled himself up into the dome. His diving buddy, Lyons, followed him nervously. He was a crewman new to the Seaview and an electronics expert. Once inside, he trotted towards the instruments at the Captain’s gesture. Lee finished peeling off his swim fins and padded over to the radio to report their safe arrival to Morton. With Chip temporarily reassured, the Captain then moved on to explore.
“Where do you suppose everyone is, Sir?” Lyons asked uneasily.
“That’s what I’d like to know,” Crane admitted. “Have you found anything?”
“No details yet, Skipper. They seemed to have closed the watertight doors between the domes. They’re all sealed off from each other. Why would they do that?”
“Hard to say, if they saw the others decompress...” Lee broke off as he heard an odd slithering noise from somewhere in the darkness. “Did you hear that?”
“Yes, Sir,” Lyons shivered uneasily. A small brown haired man, he wasn’t the physical action type. He would much rather have stayed on the Seaview.
Crane hesitated a moment. He knew Lyons’ limitations and preferred to take the risks personally. “I’m going to take a look around, you stay here. Gather up any information you can.”
Outside in the corridor, Lee peered around him and wished that he had brought a flashlight. The domes were all running on backup power and the dim red of the emergency lights was none too good on the eyesight. He stood still for a moment, getting his bearings from his memory of the plans Nelson had shown him. All the domes had been designed and built the same. The corridors radiated out in spokes from the central air lock room, with cabins and quarters arranged in the wedges between them. One long corridor circumvented the dome and allowed access to the other domes in the complex via air locked tunnels.
Lee moved down the nearest corridor and into the main passage. He squinted through the port into the gloom outside. Above the colony he could see the Seaview’s dark bulk, her lights shining welcomingly through the depths. Closer at hand he could see the lights of the only other surviving dome. Apparently the Admiral had been more successful in restoring power than Crane and Lyons.
Turning his attention from the view, Lee set off in search of an intercom. It was more or less where he’d expected it to be positioned; a few feet from the port on the inner hull. He punched the button and sent a call echoing through the stillness of the dome. “This is Captain Crane of the Seaview. If anyone can hear me, please answer at once.” If there was anyone around, they either couldn’t or wouldn’t respond. Lee shivered, the longer he was in the dome, the uneasier he felt. His sixth sense was tingling, warning him that something very nasty had happened to the colony and that the less he knew about it, the happier he would be.
Reluctantly, Crane started on a circular tour of the dome. If there were survivors, they might be hurt and unable to reach an intercom. As he explored, however, his concerns increased as he started to find serious internal damage to the dome’s structure. Bulkheads dented that should have been impossible to dent, doors ripped bodily from their hinges.
Echoing through the eerie silence, the scream shocked him. He swung around, starting back down the corridor in alarm. It had come from the central airlock and could only be Lyons. Crane broke into a sprint, tearing back down the corridor to the middle chamber.
Lee skidded to a halt as he hopped over the edge of hatch sill into the central chamber. Something had forced its way up through the air lock and into the base, something huge and slobbering, and gross. Lee had a brief impression of tentacles and a snapping beak. Then Lyons screamed again. The technician was cowering behind a control panel, clutching the dome’s data pack, but too terrified to move. Crane didn’t blame him, but his own self-preservation instinct was far more sharply defined. “Get out of there man! Move it! Get back to the Seaview!” Crane yelled at the crewman and lunged towards the self-destruct device on the control panel. His sudden movement drew the creature’s attention long enough to allow Lyons to escape through the far door. The creature reared up, tentacles flailing the air as it hauled its spotted bulk further out of the water.
In response to Lee’s frantic punching the buttons, the radio spluttered into life.
“Lee? Lyons? One of you answer me,” Chip’s agitated voice exploded into the dome. Clearly the creature had been observed from the sub.
Lee grabbed the microphone in one hand and slapped the self-destruct button with the other. Now at least he knew what had wrecked the colony, but he didn’t have time to explain it to his Exec. “Chip, keep talking, distract it!” he shouted the order before dropping the mic and legging it for the hatch. He wasn’t quick enough; something slammed hard across the small of his back and smashed him into the deck.
Breathless from the impact, Lee couldn’t move for a second and then he rolled over and saw the tentacle whip towards him. He ducted frantically, squirming to get clear. The groping appendage seized his ankle, twisting around his calf and knee. Razor sharp suckers drew blood as the creature dragged its prey back towards its hungry maw.
Lee twisted over, snatching at the automatic on his hip. Only it wasn’t there, he was still wearing his wetsuit and the gun was back in the safe on Seaview. The creature wrenched at him in silent fury as he grabbed at the safety railing and clung, clawing one hand for the storage space below it and for the fire axe attached to the wall there. He felt as if he was being torn in two and his leg twisted at the knee. His desperate fingers closed on the fire axe and wrenched it from the wall at the same moment that his grip was torn loose from the railing. Skidding backwards across the floor, Lee twisted over onto his back and whacked the axe down on the tentacle that gripped him. Somewhere in the back of his mind the activated auto destruct was going tick, tick, tick...
The blade bit into the tentacle and cut deep before the creature jerked and dislodged it. In slipping free, the blade nearly took Lee’s foot off at the ankle. With a yell of fury and ignoring his own danger, Lee swiped the axe again at the tentacle. This time the keen edge landed right and sliced right through, cutting the fleshy tip off as the blade almost embedded itself in the deck. Writhing in pain, the creature recoiled across the deck, releasing the injured man.
Not daring to pass out, despite the pain of his battered body, Lee crawled towards the hatch. Behind him he could hear a sickening squelch as the creature started to recover and follow its escaping prey. Somehow, picking up several more scrapes and bruises to add to his collection, Lee dragged his aching body over the hatch sill and collapsed into the corridor. Taking a deep breath, he rolled over and set his shoulder to the door, forcing it shut. The creature frustrated his efforts, hurling its bulk against the hatch to smash it open and throw Crane several feet backwards at the force of the impact. Colliding hard with the wall, Lee slid down it to the deck and lay in a panting heap for a minute or two. The sight of a tentacle squirming towards him got him moving again. Almost before he knew it, he was on his hands and knees, driving his battered body out of reach. He was half way to the emergency hatch before he realised he was even moving.
Behind him the creature kept coming, striving to squeeze its bulk through the hatch and the delay giving Lee a precious few more seconds to escape. Afraid to look back and find out how close it was, Lee clawed the storage close closet open and dragged out the first scuba tank he could lay his hands on before he crawled into the airlock. He barely had the strength left to wriggle into the scuba tank and start the airlock cycling.
Tentacles slapped against the inner hatch as the cold water poured in, buoying Lee up as he kicked slowly out into the ocean and towards the nearest dome. His injured leg stung like crazy and he didn’t think that he had the strength to reach the Seaview. The scuba tank was a necessary but almost unbearable weight on his back. His vision blurred as he looked behind him, searching for pursuit. For a second he thought he saw something moving under the dome, then there was a startling brilliant flash of light that dazzled eyes accustomed to the dimness. The auto destruct had finally detonated.
The sudden surge of water pressure caused by the explosion defeated Lee and sent him tumbling out of control. He slammed hard against something cold and metallic, cracking the back of his head against something and nearly bit through his mouthpiece in shock.
Something warm wrapped around his waist and dragged at him, hauling Crane upwards. He was too tired to care what it was. Darkness descended with frightening speed and he swallowed water, inhaling...
Nelson knelt at the edge of the airlock and reached down into the cold water to help Kowalski as he surfaced with Crane’s limp body. The young man had taken a risk by going in with his scuba gear to retrieve his Captain and Harriman had already made a mental note of his bravery.
Pulling the mouthpiece from Lee’s lips and checking to make sure that he was breathing, he removed the tank from Lee’s back.
“Is he okay, Sir?” Kowalski worried as he stripped off his own tanks.
“His leg’s a mess and it looks like his back’s been scraped pretty badly.” Bare bruised skin showed through Crane’s wetsuit and the splits were oozing blood messily. “See if you can find a blanket before he goes into shock. Then we’ll get him back to Seaview.”
Lee started coughing as Nelson spoke. He doubled up around the older man’s knees and cracked his eyes open. His pupils were enormous, widened by pain.
“All right, Lee, take it easy. You’re safe,” Nelson put a reassuring hand on his friend’s shoulder and did his best to pull him up a little, realising that the Captain would be able to breathe better if supported upright.
“Admiral? D’you see it?” Lee croaked as he struggled up and braced himself weakly on one arm.
“Yes, looked like a mutated squid of some kind.”
Lee shuddered, glancing vaguely at Kowalski as the crewman wrapped a blanket around the shivering Captain.
“The Seaview is on her way,” Kowalski offered as he crouched beside them.
“Good,” Nelson relaxed a fraction. Even to his inexperienced eyes, Lee didn’t look good. The Admiral had been the glazed, ashen expression often enough to know it meant the onset of shock. “I want you to keep still, Lee. No talking until Doc has a chance to look you over.”
“I’m fine,” Crane mumbled, he was having a hard time convincing himself he was awake and this wasn’t some kind of horrible delusion. The splash and surge of water made him look round in alarm.
The creature had found them, homing in on the scent of blood. A long barbed tentacle erupted from the water, probing toward the warm flesh it could sense. Nelson dropped flat across Crane, ignoring Lee’s grunt of pain as he sought to protect the young man. Kowalski was sent flying as the tentacle caught him across the chest and sent the crewman rolling down the steps. It probed after him, questing for his flesh.
Shoving himself off Crane, Nelson lunged under the tentacle and to drag the dazed crewman clear. Lee rolled off the platform that surrounded the airlock and slipped awkwardly under the rail to land on his damaged knee with a muffled groan of pain.
Tentacles flailed the air in a shark like frenzy of blood lust. The darted towards the Admiral and Kowalski, another whipped the air in search of Crane. Badly shocked, Lee wasn’t quite fast enough to duck and the barbed tip hooked into his shoulder, curled up under his collarbone and yanked him viciously against the side of the platform. Somehow Crane managed to twist sideways and brace himself against the pull, yelling his head off in pain.
“Get an axe,” Nelson shouted as he ducked under the tentacles and ran to help Crane. He wrapped one arm round Lee’s waist and hung on grimly, striving to force the tentacle to unhook itself. Lee had stopped yelling and was appallingly limp in the Admiral’s grip, his breathing rasping harshly.
Kowalski skidded to a halt beside them, smashing the axe he had found down on the tentacle with all the savagery of a berserk Viking. “You...are...sushi!” he yelled in fury as the tentacle writhed and released its prey. The crewman pursued it up the steps, slicing segments off the creature and leaving bits of it strewn across the deck.
“Kowalski!” For a moment Nelson was convinced the crewman was going to follow the creature back into the water.
Kowalski skidded to a halt at the edge of the airlock, panting hard and vaguely surprised at himself.
“Help me get Crane clear of the airlock before it comes back,” Nelson demanded urgently.
“Aye, Aye, Sir,” hefting the axe, Kowalski sped back to his senior officers. As he reached them there was a dull whumpf of sound that was more felt than heard as the dome vibrated to the concussion of a nearby explosion. “What...?” Kowalski looked round in bewilderment as he caught his balance.
“A torpedo,” Nelson guessed, his attention mostly consumed by the unconscious young man on the deck beside him. “Mr Morton must have finally got a clear target.”
Dr Jamieson took one look at Crane as they gingerly carried him off the Flying Sub and let out a hiss of concern. He wouldn’t even let the unconscious Captain be moved to Sickbay until he had an IV up and running and Lee was on oxygen. Then the genial-faced doctor had him taken down to Sickbay on the double.
Nelson lingered reluctantly in the control room. “Mr Morton? You fired a torpedo?” he asked quietly.
“Uh, yes, Sir,” Chip stirred uncomfortably and studied the deck between his feet for a second. “It seemed the correct action to take, Sir. I don’t believe the dome was endangered.”
“Chip,” Nelson’s voice was oddly gentle for the brusque man. “You did the right thing.”
Startled blue eyes came up to meet his and Harriman smiled faintly.
“You and Sharkey should have a little talk about the mother hen complex you two seem to share. I’ll be in my quarters. I need to dry off.”
Somewhat bemusedly, Morton gazed after the Admiral for a moment and then shook himself and turned back to the chart table. Several heads ducked hastily back to their consoles and Chip bristled. “Well? What are you all looking at? We have a survey to run here. Get with it, you lot.”
Two hours later, Crane was being allowed visitors. He was still dazed and very sore after the stitches Jamieson had put in his torn skin, but he had been fortunate. The damage was mostly confined to flesh and muscle, rather than ligament and tendon damage. His head ached badly, but Jamie had assured him there was no sign of a concussion.
“I’m fine, Chip,” Lee assured his blond Exec groggily when he woke up to find Morton hanging over him.
“You don’t look it,” Chip teased. “You look like Doc has been practising his mummification techniques on you with all these bandages.”
“Protective camouflage,” Lee murmured drowsily. He shifted awkwardly in his bunk and pillowed his cheek on his good hand. His left shoulder was strapped and bandaged so firmly that he could hardly move it.
“Still sleepy, huh?” Chip said softly, watching his friend’s eyes drift shut.
“Mmmh,” Lee yawned, then flicked a glance up at him. “The squid thing?”
“I torpedoed it,” Chip admitted.
“Oh, old Chip if it moves blast it Morton back for an encore, huh?”
“That was Space Invaders at the Academy,” Chip snorted. “And as I recall, you did your fair share of blowing them out of the sky.”
Lee smiled, his eyes half closed again. He shoved at the blankets, easing them away from his chest.
“You going to sleep now?” Chip asked softly.
“Uh huh. Tell Doc to turn the heating down, s’too warm in here.”
“Okay, you take a nap.” Morton got no response from as Crane dozed off peacefully. Straightening up, Chip’s reassuring smile vanished. Lee didn’t look right. His skin was flushed and his breathing was too harsh. Turning on his heel, Morton headed for Jamieson’s office, knowing that Nelson was ensconced with the doctor.
Nelson was indeed in Jamieson’s office and the worried look on his face gave Chip pause. Noticing the Exec, however, the Admiral waved him inside. “You’d better hear this too, Chip.”
“It’s Lee, isn’t it?” Morton had long ago developed a sixth sense about his his friend. “How bad is it?”
Nelson exchanged a look with Jamieson and it was the doctor who answered in a dry, matter of fact tone. “The wound under his collarbone is inflamed. It looks as if the barb was poisoned. Lee’s temperature is rising rapidly.”
“He looked feverish,” Morton agreed slowly. “What do we do? Can you help him?”
“I’ve sent Sharkey, Patterson and Kowalski back to the dome to collect samples of the creature’s tissues,” Nelson answered. “We’ll see what they come up with. In the meantime, I want this kept quiet. It won’t do Lee any good having half the crew coming and going to check up on him.”
Nelson looked up with an irritated scowl as the intercom beeped for his attention. “Admiral?” At least it was Morton this time and not Jamieson. Harriman was waiting in dread for the call from the doctor that would tell him Crane had slipped into a coma. “Yes, Mr Morton, I am a trifle busy,” he had spent most of the night striving to find an antidote to the poison that was slowly killing his friend. Occasionally Sharkey would trot in and deliver another cup of sugary black coffee. On his last visit, the Chief had also left a plate of sandwiches. Nelson hadn’t touched them so far.
“Yes, Sir,” Morton sounded as tired as Nelson felt. “We had a call from the SS Brislington. They picked up survivors from the Project Neptune colony. A doctor Powers? He said there was a data pack on board.”
“Lyons brought it aboard the Seaview. Tell him he can have it back. Rendezvous with the ship.” The shiny fluorescent datapack still sat in the corner of the lab where it had been abandoned and forgotten and was likely to remain so.
“Yes, Sir. He mentioned the creature attacking the base and forcing them to abandon it. Apparently they collected a fair amount of data on smaller specimens before they had to evacuate. This Dr Powers thought it might help. He gave me a code to open the data pack.”
Nelson sat up and paid real attention for the first time. He eyed the data pack in speculation for a second. “Mr Morton, why don’t you come down here and help me open it. Two pairs of eyes might be better than one.”
“Shhh, Lee, shhh now. I know you’re hot,” Jamieson gingerly replaced the sheet on his squirming patient and dabbed his perspiring face with a cold cloth. Crane’s eyes fluttered open at his touch and he squinted painfully at the doctor. By now Lee was having severe trouble breathing and there was fear in his eyes.
“Did I pass out again?” he whispered in a dry voice.
“Only for a minute or so,” Jamieson soothed. “Want more water?”
Lee rolled his head against the pillow in an exhausted refusal. He wanted only to sleep and couldn’t. Fever wracked his body, perspiration stinging his numerous abrasions. “I hurt,” he complained in misery.
“I know you do.” Sadly, Jamieson straightened and took a deep breath. “Would you like a sedative? Something to help with the pain a little?”
Lee licked dry lips and hesitated. He knew damn well that there was a good chance that once sedated he wouldn’t be waking up again. “Yeah,” he murmured finally. “I’m sorry...”
Jamieson put a comforting hand on his shoulder and squeezed gently. “A little rest will do you good. You’ve been awake most of the night. Lie still for a minute. Don’t kick your sheet off again. You’re not wearing anything under there, remember?”
Lee smiled weakly and closed his eyes, relaxing back into his pillows. He could feel the heat of his own throbbing body. It sizzled along his nerves and nipped at his skin. The abyss lurked at the edge of his senses. Darkness...
“Captain?” Returning to his side, Jamieson picked up Crane’s limp wrist and slipped the needle into his arm. There was no response and Lee loathed needles. “Lee?” Peeling back an eyelid, Jamieson frowned at the wide pupil, then felt for his patient’s pulse. His pulse was pounding violently, running away from him.
Swearing under his breath, Jamieson swung in controlled panic to his drugs cabinet and grabbed one of the syringes from those he had pre-filled. He barely stopped to check it was the right one before he emptied the contents into Crane’s arm and reached for the oxygen mask on its clip above the bunk. “Come on now, Lee, don’t do this. The Admiral will have an antidote for you any minute now. Hang in there,” perching on the edge of the bunk, Jamieson took a light grip n Crane’s wrist and took his pulse again. It was still accelerating as the poison burned inside him.
“Doc?” It was Morton’s worried voice, but Jamieson didn’t even look round. “How is he?”
“His pulse is erratic and way too fast,” the doctor said flatly. “He’s in no condition to handle this kind of stress.” Jamieson broke off as Nelson moved into view with a small vial. “What’s that?” he demanded, feeling the first glimmer of hope that he’d had in hours.
“Hopefully, the antidote. The colony had been researching the smaller squid like specimens they found in the area. They had the same poisonous barbs. This is a concentrated form of the antidote. The only thing is, I don’t know how much to give him.”
“Doesn’t matter, get me a syringe.”
Morton headed for the indicated cabinet drawer.
“Doc, if there’s time I’d rather run a few tests,” Nelson said uneasily. Crane seemed peaceful enough, despite the oxygen mask. “I don’t know how successful it’s going to be.”
“Harry, the way Lee’s pulse is going; it’s either now or never. Now, give me the syringe. I’ll take full responsibility.”
Nelson handed the vial over slowly and he and Morton watched anxiously as Jamieson gave the unconscious man the injection.
“How long will it take?” Jamieson asked as he dabbed Crane’s arm with a swab, wiping away a fleck of blood from where the needle had bitten into the pale skin.
“Your guess is as good as mine. It hasn’t been fully tested,” Nelson shivered. There was no way he could sit and watch Crane live or die from his actions. “I’ll be in the lab. Maybe I can get a few more answers from the data pack. Chip?”
“I’ll stay here if doc doesn’t mind, Sir.”
“Your company will be welcome,” Jamieson said absently, his full attention being taken up by Crane’s laboured breathing.
An hour after he had given the antidote, Crane went into convulsions. Jamieson wrapped him in the bunk restraints, more hindered than helped by Morton’s assistance. The doctor sent the XO to make coffee and wait in the office while he quietened Crane. The convulsions lasted for half an hour before gradually fading into the occasional violent tremor.
Chip emerged cautiously from the office, worried by the sudden hush. He eyed his softly moaning friend in concern, nervously chewing his lower lip.
Eyeing the Exec’s worried expression, Jamieson put a calming hand on Morton’s shoulder. While still worried over Crane, he was now almost convinced the Captain would pull through and had time to pay attention to other members of the crew. Especially tall, blond’s who looked as if they had forgotten what sleep was. “His temperature is coming down quickly, Chip. The fever’s broken.”
“You think he’ll be okay?”
“I think the crisis is past. You watch him while I tell the Admiral.”
Chip nodded absently and settled into Jamieson’s abandoned chair. He watched anxiously as Lee squirmed, restless and uncomfortable. Watching Lee’s limp hand where it lay on the sheet, curling and uncurling, Chip reached over and squeezed his fingers. “Hang in there, buddy. You’ll be okay.”
“Here Chip, drink this,” Jamieson caught Chip by surprise, shoving a mug of steaming coffee under the Exec’s nose. Chip jerked in embarrassment, but couldn’t bring himself to release his grip on his friend when Lee twitched slightly at the movement.
“I thought you were calling the Admiral.”
“I did,” Jamieson said mildly. “Admiral, Lee is going to make it. Ten second call. The Admiral will be here in less than that. Drink your coffee. You look like you need it, and some sleep too for that matter.”
“Too much to do,” Chip answered tiredly. He was still holding Lee’s hand and the Captain seemed to have settled with the physical contact.
Jamieson frowned. Morton was exactly like Crane. He would push himself too far and too hard and not even realise it. Anything rather than face his fears. “Well, at least lie down for ten minutes.”
“No, I’ll finish this coffee and wake myself up a bit, I’ll be fine.”
“Very well,” Jamieson turned to fuss gently over Crane, cooling his face with a damp cloth and generally making Lee as comfortable as his battered body would allow. That done, he eased Morton’s hand gently from its loose grip and persuaded the drooping Exec to his feet and over to the other bunk.
“Doc?” Chip’s voice slurred groggily a he peered up at the older man. “What d’cha do to me?”
“Sorry, Mr Morton, you need some sleep. I slipped a sedative into your coffee.”
“No fair,” Chip complained as his eyelashes dragged his lids shut.
“Who said anything about being fair?” Jamieson said lightly.
“Lee?” Chip moaned softly.
“He’ll be fine,” Jamieson assured the young man as he drew the covers over him. “Go to sleep now.” Morton didn’t need the instruction; he was already out to the world. Chuckling softly, Jamieson turned to go back to his patient, only to pause in surprise at the sight of Nelson who was hovering in the doorway. There was a worried frown on Nelson’s face.
“Doc, what’s wrong with Morton?”
“I gave him a sedative. He’ll sleep it off. The Captain will do the same. I suggest you find your own bunk, Admiral.”
“And stop bothering me?” Nelson moved gently, hearing the reproof in Jamieson’s voice.
“Something like that, yes,” Jamieson walked over to Crane and straightened the sheet again as Lee rolled over and curled up. Carefully untangling the IV from around Lee’s wrist, he was started when Lee opened his hazel green eyes and smiled sleepily at him. “Hi,” he mumbled.
“Hello there,” Jamieson crouched down to his eye level. “Sleepy? Feeling better?”
“Ummmh,” Lee’s long eyelashes fluttered, he focused on Nelson, treating him to a shy smile. “Where’d Chip go?”
“Not far,” Nelson nodded towards the far bunk where Chip was peacefully slumbering. “Taking a nap.”
“Good. I’m okay then...?” Lee yawned and fell asleep almost before he finished.
Jamieson nodded in satisfaction and glanced at Nelson affectionate chuckle. “There now, satisfied? Now will you get some sleep?”
“Lee! Be careful, you’ll fall!” Morton anxious protest earned him a stiff glare.
“Chip, I can handle it,” Lee pulled away from the blond’s supporting hand and wobbled dangerously on his damaged ankle.
“No, you can’t,” Chip growled impatiently. He tucked his hand firmly under Crane’s good elbow and more or less held him upright. In his opinion Crane needed another week flat on his back in a Sickbay bunk. Convincing Lee of that though was another matter. “If it wasn’t for your shoulder, you’d be on crutches and you know it.” Chip hustled his friend down the steps of the institute. Nelson was going to pick up his two officers and take them to dinner.
“Chip!” Lee pried frantically at Morton’s hand.
“Stop it, you’ll fall,” Chip snapped.
“I will if you don’t let go! I can’t move that fast!” Crane’s yelp got the message across and Chip stopped so fast that Lee nearly went sprawling and had to clutch the blond to stop himself.
“Aw, hell, I wasn’t thinking,” Chip said miserably, striving to head off the explosion that was bound to follow. Lee had been getting distinctly short tempered after being cozened over by much of the crew. To Chip’s amazed relief, however, Lee was very nearly giggling s he clung to the blond. Do I dare ask? Chip wondered and decided he would never find out if he didn’t. “What?”
“This must look really good to anyone who doesn’t know us. Me cuddling you like a teddy bear,” Lee chortled, his hazel green eyes sparkling with devilment. He rested his head against Chip’s shoulder, weak with the laughter of relief.
Chip stood very stiffly to attention, not daring to drop his superior officer despite being tempted, mostly because he knew Lee would only hurt himself; at any other time though… “You are not my type,” he retorted sarcastically. “And you’re ruining my reputation.”
Lee lifted his head and grinned at him. “Not what I’ve heard.”
“Lee B Crane, I prefer blondes with curves to brunets with stripes,” Chip snorted. Lee collapsed in another fit of giggles, but he pulled away from his friend.
“Really? What about Yvonne Craig? She had stripes.”
“She also had curves,” Chip retorted, grateful to see Nelson’s car pulling up on the macadam at last.
Wobbling slightly, Lee limped towards it. The Admiral had brought the limousine and earned himself a huge grin from Crane as he climbed out to open the door for the young man.
“Gee, deluxe service for little me?” Lee teased, fighting another fit of giggles as he slid into the back seat.
Nelson raised a questioning eyebrow at Morton.
“Don’t ask me, Sir. Doc gave him a pain killer before we left,” Chip shrugged apologetically and was relieved when Nelson only chuckled deeply.
“Never mind, Chip, he’d have probably ended up drunk at the end of the evening anyway. It’ll save on the cost of champagne,” he winked at the young man.
“Can I drive?” Lee asked hopefully from inside the car and looked slightly hurt by the chorused no he got in response.
“Admiral?” Chip questioned. “You want me to?”
“I’ll do it. Makes a change from having to be chauffeured everywhere,” Nelson said easily and headed for the front of the car. Chip grinned and climbed in after Crane, stretching out lazily beside his fiend and ignoring the way Lee was practically bubbling with joy. Maybe he should ask Jamieson for a couple of those painkillers himself the next time they had a rough trip.
Morton glanced sideways at Lee as he quietened and saw the sudden shadow that crossed his friend’s face. Oh, so that’s it. It’s not the pills. You’re simply happy to be alive. Chip relaxed his worries about the drive and leaned over to nudge the Captain gently. “What you need is looking after,” he told him as Lee gazed at him curiously. “Yvonne has a tall leggy blonde girlfriend that you would love. She’s a very affectionate girl too...”
For a long moment Lee said nothing. Then the shadow started to lift and he gave Chip a speculative look. “Tell me more, Chip...”