I started this story back in the 1990s and recently found it on an old floppy.
As always, a big thank you to Helen for her beta.
“Have a safe flight back, Lee.”
“I will, sir. See you in two weeks.”
Lee Crane waited until Admiral Nelson had stepped around to the front of FS 1 and then closed the hatch and strapped into the pilot seat ready to power up the craft. He had dropped Nelson off in a bay on Tinian Island, where he would connect with a launch from the research vessel Mystic and begin an exploration of the neighboring Philippine Sea in cooperation with Leonard Franklin, PhD, a prominent marine biologist.
Lee exchanged a farewell wave with Nelson and lifted from the sandy beach. The Flying Sub headed skyward as he increased power, anxious to avoid the storm that had blown up unexpectedly. Leveling off, he was only a short distance away from the island before a sudden surge of strong winds found him struggling with the controls, towering thunderheads building in front of him. FS1 wallowed, her engines fighting the invisible force of the gusts. Visibility quickly deteriorated to almost zero as rain and hail lashed against the forward ports. Massive flashes of lightening illuminated the clouds. Below him, the ocean was being whipped up into frenzy.
The Flying Sub bucked wildly as the buffeting increased. FS1 dipped suddenly, throwing him forward against the harness. With growing difficulty, Lee fought to hold course as the engines whined and strained against the power of the headwind. He checked his instruments; the magnetic compass was spinning madly.
Before he could decide to either climb above the storm or complete the return trip submerged, an overload in the primary circuits caused an explosion and sparks erupted from the control panel. Immediately losing control, he struggled to pull the Flying Sub out of a dive as she plunged with maddening speed towards the ocean. The craft shook violently as he pulled back on the controls to correct the steep angle of decent. Unstrapping, he swung around in his seat and pushed to his feet, headed for the control panel, but a quick look at the burnt out circuits told him that there was nothing he could do before FS1 hit the water.
Suddenly the craft dipped sharply and plummeted towards the ocean in a crazy spin that flung Lee around the interior like a rag doll. The last thing he was aware of was the ladder breaking free and slamming into him as he tried to get back to the pilot seat.
Seaview hovered at periscope depth. Chip Morton stood at the scope scanning the angry sea intently. Lee was overdue following his rendezvous with the Mystic, and they had been unable to contact him.
Beneath his calm exterior, Chip’s mood resembled that of the raging sea above. Seaview was headed for the Flying Sub’s last known position at flank speed, but with the deteriorating conditions, he feared that it might already be too late. Although no distress call had been received, Chip had a bad feeling, the worsening forecast from the satellite as they tracked the storm doing nothing to give any cause for optimism. They had to find Lee, and fast.
Morton lowered the periscope and headed aft to the radio shack, where Sparks continued to try to raise the captain on the radio.
“It’s no good, sir. The storm has blacked out all communications in the area,” Sparks told him, briefly glancing up from his dials.
“Very well, keep at it,” Chip instructed as he turned and headed for the sonar station. “Anything?” he asked Kowalski as he approached the sonar operator.
Kowalski shook his head. “No, sir.”
“Nothing, sir,” Riley replied.
“He has to be out there somewhere. Kowalski, turn up the gain,” Chip ordered, resting a hand on the back of the operator’s chair.
Knowing that it would do no good to hover over the crewmen, Chip returned to the periscope to continue his own vigil.
Lee came around to find himself on the deck. A haze of smoke from the shorted out circuits hung in the air, catching in his throat and making him cough. He’d taken a real battering when he’d been thrown around. There wasn’t any part of him that didn’t hurt. His head was pounding and he groaned as he tried to sit up and focus on his situation. He could hardly move his left leg. A wave of dizziness and nausea hit him as he tried to prop himself up against the bulkhead. Closing his eyes, he rested his head back against the cold metal surface and took a few calming breaths, willing his stomach to quit threatening to heave. He knew that he had to contact Seaview, but the thought of moving was unappealing. Come on, Crane – pull it together. Forcing his eyes open, he looked around the interior of the craft. At least the Flying Sub was still in one piece and watertight. The power was out and there was only the light filtering down from above to illuminate the cabin. Fortunately, he had only just cleared the islands and had gone down in shallow water.
If the air was also out, he might run out of air before Seaview found him. With another concerted effort, he tried to get to his feet. Instantly pain knifed from his left hip and knee, but he couldn’t see any blood. Dragging himself slowly and painfully across the deck, he reached the locker and pulled out the first aid kit and a flashlight. Fighting the dizziness that had returned with a vengeance and his heaving stomach Lee opened the kit and searched the contents. He considered taking a couple of aspirins, wondering if it was a good idea with his stomach feeling the way it was; throwing up would not help the pounding in his head. Dismissing the aspirin for now, he turned his attention to the damaged interior of the Flying Sub. If he could just get the radio working he could contact Seaview.
Using the pilot seat, he pulled himself to his feet. The cabin spun abruptly and he clung to the chair, closing his eyes, realizing he must have a bad concussion. He needed help, needed to contact Seaview. The problem was, every time he tried to move, his head started to spin and his eyes refused to focus. The only thing keeping him on his feet was his grip on the chair.
Suddenly FS1 shifted and he could feel the hull dragging along the bottom, the action of the storm whipping up the sea. He tightened his grip on the chair in an effort to stay upright but the chair swung round, causing him to lose his balance and as he tried to right himself, he unwittingly moved his weight to his left leg. Pain shot down the leg and it gave out. With a cry of pain, Lee dropped back to the deck. The impact resonated through his head making the pounding even worse. Lowering his head to the cold steel, he closed his eyes as darkness threatened to drag him down into unconsciousness.
Chip’s concern grew with every passing minute that Lee was overdue. He resisted the urge to pace the control room, not wanting to show his concern to the crew. There was still no sign of the Flying Sub, although they were now approaching her last known position. With the sea being so rough, if she had gone down, she could have drifted miles off her course; assuming of course that she hadn’t broken up on impact. Chip gave himself a mental shake, pushing that thought away. He hated this waiting, not knowing. He’d spent too many hours waiting, hoping for the best and fearing the worst; it never got any easier.
“Mr Morton, I’m picking up FS 1’s emergency beacon,” Sparks reported. His voice was jubilant.
The beacon triggered automatically if the Flying Sub went down. Chip just hoped that Lee was okay and that the only reason they hadn’t heard from him was that his radio was out. He hurried to the radio shack.
“Can you get a fix on her position?”
“Yes, sir, we should be able to track her using the SARSAT positioning system.”
“Get on it.”
“Yes, sir,” Sparks acknowledged, turning his attention back to his dials.
Crossing the short distance to the computer, Chip pressed the button to print off the information on the storm. Tearing off the resulting report, he returned to the plot table to check its course against their own. The weather front was slowly moving away, but not fast enough. With storm force winds and high seas, conditions on the surface were not good and even at periscope depth, the arduous conditions were having an unpleasant effect on Seaview.
“Mr O’Brien, take us down, make depth three hundred feet.”
Three hundred feet, aye.”
Chip looked at his watch as his stomach reminded him that it was past lunchtime. Seaview was making good time, but he was reluctant to leave the control room.
Mr Morton, I have Mission Control, SARSAT,” Sparks replied.
At last. Chip hurried aft to the radio shack and took the receiver from Sparks. “This is Morton.”
“Commander, we have a rough fix on your missing craft. Latitude 15.0000° N, Longitude 145.6333° E. Do you need any assistance?”
“Thank you, SARSAT. No thanks, we are not far off those co-ordinates. Seaview out.” Chip handed the receiver back to the radioman and quickly made his way to the chart table to check the position on the charts, all thought of lunch forgotten.
“Helm, two degrees left rudder.”
“Two degrees, aye.”
Chip did a rough calculation on how long it would take them to reach the co-ordinates. He hoped that they would find Lee alive and unharmed, but the silence between Seaview and SF 1 was worrying. He unclipped a mic from the side of the chart table. “Engine Room, can you give us any more speed?”
Patterson’s voice came over the intercom. “She’s wide open now, sir.”
“Very well. Mr O’Brien, keep an eye on the precision depth recorder.” As they approached the Flying Sub’s position, they would be heading into shallow water and a rough ride.
Aboard the Mystic, unaware of the developing drama, Nelson and Franklin were preparing for bad weather. Franklin had moved the ship to the leeward side of the island to ride out the storm. However, the ship still pitched and rolled with the increased swell.
In Franklin’s cabin, the two men studied charts of the area and discussed plans to study the effects of the storm on the marine life and coral.
“The increase in frequency of hurricanes since 1970 is thought to be caused by an overall increase in water surface temperature,” Franklin said.
Nelson nodded. “Cold surface water up welled by the hurricane can be a significant factor in controlling the intensity of the hurricane.”
Franklin was busy making notes. “We have already done some studies, so we’ll be able to do a before and after comparison.”
“Damage can extend to at least 300 feet, depending on the intensity. We need to measure the depth and the rate of disturbance, erosion and damage to the coral framework,” Nelson added. Although this was a tropical storm, not a hurricane, it could still inflict a lot of damage to the coral and marine life.
“We’ll need to collect samples to measure salinity, sedimentation and of course, water temperature.” Franklin was clearly excited about the opportunity to study the aftermath the storm had afforded them. “It’s a pity we cannot monitor what is happening below the surface during the storm.”
We could if Seaview was here, Nelson thought to himself. Although Lee would almost certainly not agree; after their visit to the geologically unstable Venus sea mount, he’d probably want to avoid the waters around the island until things calmed down. It was sometimes difficult to strike a balance between scientific research and keeping the boat and crew safe.
“C’mon, Harry – let’s go up to the control centre and see what the monitors are picking up.”
It was an anxious few hours, but finally Kowalski came out with the call they’d all been holding their breath over.
“Mr Morton, metal contact, sir,” Kowalski called from the sonar station.
Chip moved quickly to stand behind Kowalski. “Where?” he asked, looking over the man’s shoulder to check the contact himself. The storm had churned up the sediment and other debris, cutting visibility through the observation nose.
“Two seven five degrees, depth ninety-five feet.”
“Mr O’Brien, take us up, make depth nine five feet,” Chip ordered, turning from the sonar station. “Ahead slow.” Relief was mixed with apprehension at what they would find aboard FS.1.
“Aye, sir,” O’Brien replied as he reached for the mic to relay the order.
“Helm, take your heading from sonar.”
Chip walked forward to stand behind the observation windows, searching for the yellow craft. As Seaview moved closer, the Flying Sub came into view, lying inert on the bottom. For once, Chip was grateful that the small sub’s bright colour made it easy to spot. “Stand by to activate recovery gear.” Chip glanced back over his shoulder. “Sparks, can you raise the captain?”
“No, sir, he’s not responding.”
“Is he receiving?” Chip was becoming troubled by Lee’s failure to answer their calls.
“I can’t tell, sir. I think the power might be out.”
Chip moved forward to get a better view as Seaview glided over the Flying Sub. “All stop.”
“All stop, aye.”
“Open bay door and activate recovery gear.”
As soon as the magnetic grapples locked, Chip bent to crack the hatch. Seaview’s doctor, summoned by Chief Sharkey, stood by in the control room. Chip allowed Jamieson to precede him into the Flying Sub before following him down.
“Lee!” Alarmed at seeing his friend unconscious on the deck, he knelt beside Jamieson. “How is he, Doc?”
“I don’t know yet,” Jamieson replied without looking up from examining his patient.
Chip remained at Lee’s side, waiting impatiently while Jamieson conducted a cursory exam.
Lee moaned in protest when Jamieson tested his pupil reaction with a light, and he tried to push Jamieson’s hand away.
Jamieson caught Lee’s hand. “It’s all right, Captain, take it easy,” he soothed. “I don’t think that there is anything broken; let’s get him to sick bay.”
They carefully lifted Lee up through the hatch into the control room where two corpsmen were waiting with a stretcher. Chip gave the order to get underway into deeper waters where they could ride out the remainder of the storm, and then headed aft.
When Chip arrived in sick bay, the corpsman was helping Jamieson remove Lee’s uniform before covering him with a blanket.
“I want chest and leg x-rays,” Jamieson ordered.
“How is he, Doc?” Chip enquired as he moved closer to the examination table. He’d seen the bruises on the side of Lee’s head, spreading out from his hairline, but the uniform hid any other injuries.
“It looks like his left side took the brunt of the damage. He has a concussion and bruising along his left side and hip, and how his arm and wrist are not broken I don’t know,” Jamieson replied as he lifted Lee’s left arm to examine the hand closely. Lee hand was black and blue almost up to his wrist, and his fingers were swollen. Jamieson tucked Lee’s arm beneath the blanket. “We’ll know more after the x-rays.”
“Chip …that you?” Lee turned his head and opened his eyes, wincing at the movement.
“Yes, Lee – I’m here.” Chip smiled with relief that Lee was awake and seemed aware.
“What? ...how’d I get here?”
“When we couldn’t raise you on the radio, we came looking.”
“Sorry.…” Lee sighed as his eyes drifted shut.
Jamieson briefly looked up at Chip. “Skipper, come on – stay with us,” he encouraged, giving Lee a gently shake.
“Jamie?” Lee murmured. “What …have you… given me?”
“I haven’t given you anything yet. Until I was sure of your injuries, I didn’t want to give you anything that might mask any symptoms.”
“S’not …fair …never right,” Lee mumbled.
Jamieson grinned. “Well at least you’re awake enough to complain.”
A corpsman entered pushing the mobile X-Ray machine. “I have the x-ray equipment ready, Doctor.”
“Sorry, Chip, you’ll have to wait outside while we do the x-rays,” Jamieson ordered.
Chip nodded, putting a hand on Lee’s arm. “Got to go, I’ll check on you later.”
“Take care …of my boat,” Lee replied tiredly.
Smiling, Chip left sick bay to return to the control room. The crew would be anxious to know about their captain, and the quickest way to let everyone know was Chief Sharkey.
Nelson joined Dr Franklin on the deck of the Mystic the next morning. The 900 ton converted trawler had ridden out the storm on the leeward side of the island.
“Well, Doctor, we made it through.”
“Yes, we rode out the storm with no problems,” Franklin replied with a note of pride. “I doubt if the boats in the harbor will have fared so well.”
“Ummm,” Nelson commented absently as he looked out across the water. The storm had passed and the sea was calm, the sun just breaking through the clouds. “How long before we reach the harbor?”
“Oh, not long, it’s not a very big island.” Franklin lent against the railings. “It is fortunate that we are here, it will afford us an opportunity to study the effect of the storm on the marine life. We can use the hydophones to track any large marine life like sharks and dolphins. They have been known to swim into deeper waters when a storm is approaching.”
“Indeed,” Nelson answered thoughtfully. A storm could impact the marine environment in many ways, affecting sedimentation, nutrient release and oxygen levels. He heard the boat’s engines start, signaling that they were underway, back to the other side of the island. “I would like to make a dive on the reef and collect water samples.” Nelson’s mind was already focused ahead on preparations for the dive.
Franklin straightened from the railings and smiled cheerfully. “Come on, Harry, we can’t do anything on an empty stomach. Let’s go below and have breakfast.”
“Yes, and I need to check in with Seaview.” Nelson pushed off from the railings and turned to follow Franklin below.
Where am I? Where is this room?
Lee was puzzled. He was standing in a large room, a wall of glass behind him, looking out over green fields. Across the room, he could see his mother talking to a man he didn’t know. Suddenly he became aware of the sound of an aircraft engine, and it was in trouble. Everyone turned quickly and looked outside, listening as the aircraft got closer. He soon caught sight of it and was surprised to see a bright yellow helicopter. It was losing altitude fast, headed away across the fields.
He waited, expecting to hear a crash, but suddenly the helicopter swerved and was heading straight for the building where they were. Before anyone could react, it crashed through the wall on his left. Screams of panic filled the room. He glimpsed his mother scrambling away, and then he too was diving for cover, falling over the tables and chairs that he had only now become aware of.
Wrenched from sleep, Lee opened his eyes. The sudden light made his head hurt. He raised a hand to his forehead and groaned.
“Hey, it’s okay, take it easy,” Chip said, coming into his field of vision.
“Chip ...where are we ...what...?”
Chip frowned. “You don’t remember?”
“No ...I was ...I don’t know...” He couldn’t remember anything other than the unsettling dream.
“You’re in sick bay; you had an accident in the Flying Sub.”
I guess that explains the yellow helicopter. “Was anyone else hurt?”
“No, you were on your own; you had just dropped the admiral off on the island.”
Lee let his eyes close; the bunk had a tendency to sway disturbingly, making him nauseous. He had an idea that it was him and not the bunk. It was beginning to come back to him, the storm and the crash.
“Are you okay? Do you want me to call Doc?”
Lee forced his eyes open. “No, I’m okay, a little dizzy is all. What’s our status?”
“I’m not sure you’re supposed to be involved in boat business, you have a mild concussion and Doc wants you to rest.”
“I’ll rest after you give me a report.” Lee’s tone held a hint of annoyance, but he couldn’t stop himself. He was irritated at once more finding himself ensconced in sick bay.
“Calm down or Doc will have me thrown out of here,” Chip admonished, shooting a wary look towards Jamieson’s office.
Lee forced himself to relax. It wasn’t Chip’s fault, and he was grateful that his friend had found time to visit. “Sorry, Chip.”
Chip smiled sympathetically. “Hey, no sweat, I know you get tetchy when you’re in sick bay. Go back to sleep.”
Lee energy was beginning to wane and his eyes gradually closed. “Yeah,” he replied groggily. His head ached and he turned onto his good side, trying to burrow further into the pillows; hoping that the next time he surfaced, the headache would be gone.
Chip waited until he was sure that Lee was asleep, and then made his way to the control room. Stepping through the hatch, he headed straight for the radio shack.
“Sparks, any luck raising Admiral Nelson?”
“Sonar is picking up multiple surface contacts,” Kowalski reported, turning slightly from the screen in Chip’s direction.
Chip hastily crossed to stand behind Kowalski and looked at the screen over the crewman’s shoulder. He recognized at once that he was looking at debris and small boats drifting on the surface.
“Mr. O’Brien, take us up to periscope depth.”
“Ninety feet, aye,” O’Brien acknowledged as he moved to helm control to monitor the depth gauge.
Chip stepped up to the periscope and waited for confirmation that they were at periscope depth before raising the scope. He drew in a breath as he took in the view through the scope. Boats in the harbor had been hurled onto the beach and smashed, others had sunk and lay half submerged. An assortment of debris floated on the surface. The whole bay had been divested by the storm and he realized how lucky Lee had been. But as he turned the periscope in a wide circle, he saw no sign of the Mystic. He hoped that both the ship and Nelson would turn up before Lee started asking after the admiral.
“Prepare to surface. Chief, have a shore party ready, we’ll put some men ashore to help with the clear up. Things look pretty bad on the island,” he ordered as he lowered the periscope and stepped down.
“Aye, sir.” Sharkey turned and hurried out of the aft hatch.
Nelson was surprised to find Seaview floating off shore as they rounded the island and he hurried to the bridge to call them. As soon as he heard that Lee had been hurt, he immediately ordered a boat to pick him up and transfer him to the submarine. He knew he’d get grief from Dr Franklin, who would not be happy with this change in plans, but that didn’t matter. He needed to get over to see Lee.
“Is it really necessary for you to rush off? What about our dive?” Franklin argued.
“I’m sorry, Franklin, but Captain Crane takes priority.”
“Why? Surely your doctor is capable of taking care of Crane.”
“Yes, Dr Jamieson is very capable, but Lee Crane is more than Seaview’s captain, he’s a friend. You’ll have to manage without me,” Nelson answered with growing impatience. He didn’t see why he needed to explain anything to Franklin. “Now, you’ll have to excuse me.”
Climbing out of the inflatable, he found willing hands waiting to help him aboard. The water was fairly calm following the previous night’s storm and Seaview’s deck was reasonably stable.
Ducking in through the sail hatch, he hurried below, anxious to check on his young friend.
Chip greeted him at the foot of the ladder. “Morning, Admiral. Welcome back.”
“Thank you, Chip. How’s Captain Crane?”
“Concussion and a bit bruised, but Doc says he’ll be fine in a few days,” Chip answered, smiling.
Nelson looked around the control room. “What about the Flying Sub?”
“We’ve got a repair team working on her, but most of the circuits are burnt out. It’s going to take a while. We’ve also put a party ashore to help with the clean up.”
“Very well, carry on, Chip, I’ll be in sick bay.” Nelson turned and hurried aft, anxious to check on Crane for himself.
Sick bay was silent. Nelson had expected the usual argument from Lee about being in sick bay, but the captain was lying quietly in a lower bunk, his eyes closed. Nelson looked questioningly at the doctor.
Jamieson smiled as he came to his feet. “Admiral, I didn’t know that you were back aboard.”
“I wasn’t expecting to find Seaview here,” Nelson replied. “How is Captain Crane?”
“He’s got a concussion, and there’s a lot of bruising, and he’s going to be stiff and sore for a while,” Jamieson told him as they walked over to Lee’s bunk. “Nothing broken, though.”
Lee turned his head. “Going …to …crash ….have to …get out,” he mumbled.
“Shhh, it’s all right, Lee,” Nelson soothed, putting a hand on Lee’s arm. “You’re in sick bay.”
“He was awake and talking to Chip earlier,” Jamieson told him apologetically.
Nelson harrumphed. For once there was no IV attached to Lee and he knew that Jamieson would not risk a sedative with a concussion. “Are you sure the concussion isn’t more serious?”
Lee opened his eyes. “Admiral?” he asked sleepily.
Nelson smiled. “Good to see you awake, lad.”
Lee struggled to sit up. “Admiral, the Flying Sub …there was an overload.”
“Don’t you worry about that, Sharkey has a repair crew working on her,” Nelson interrupted, placing a restraining hand on Lee’s shoulder. “We’re going to be here for a few days, so there’s no reason why you can’t take it easy.”
“Yes, sir,” Lee replied in resignation.
Nelson chuckled. “Don’t sound so pleased about it.” He watched Lee settle back. He knew that Lee would be eager to escape from sick bay at the earliest possible moment. Nelson had to admit that he was no better himself when it came to spending time in a hospital bed. He gave Lee’s arm a squeeze. “I’ll be back to check on you later.”
Lee nodded and gave him a half smile. “I’ll be here.”
“Just make sure you are,” Nelson warned with a smile belaying the sternness of his tone.
The shore party, lead by Lt Williams made their way through the debris that littered the white sand of the beach. Some of the local inhabitants were already working to drag a half-submerged boat out of the water.
“Oh, man, what a mess,” Riley commented as he climbed over a fallen palm tree.
“Yeah, it’s going to take months to get all this cleaned up,” Seaman Murphy agreed.
“Hopefully, the rescue workers will be here in a few days and we can get back to Seaview,” Lt Williams replied, pausing to move the remains of a beach umbrella out of his path.
“Hope no-one died,” Riley commented.
They continued their way to the emergency centre that had been set up in the lobby of the casino on the island. It was relatively undamaged, apart from some broken windows and awnings. Williams approached a man in uniform who appeared to be in charge.
“Excuse me, sir, we’re from the Seaview, we’ve come to help.”
Jamieson paused outside sick bay proper and listened for any sign of movement from inside before entering and walking quietly over to where the captain was lying in a lower bunk. He had chased Chip Morton out some time ago, ordering the blonde to get some sleep. Seaview’s doctor was used to having the XO haunt sick bay whenever Lee was there.
Unusually, Crane did not stir when Jamieson approached and stood looking down at his patient. Crane had an almost sixth sense and always seemed to know when someone was watching him, even when he was asleep; part of his ONI training, the doctor supposed. He was lying with his injured hand propped against the pillow. Jamieson smiled; keeping the hand elevated would help prevent further swelling. Lee’s other arm was resting across his stomach and Jamieson carefully tucked it beneath the blankets, pulling them up around Crane’s shoulders. He contemplated how long it would be before the young man would be insisting he be allowed to return to duty. In spite of the concussion, Jamieson hesitated to wake Crane, not wanting to risk a confrontation. Crane moaned as he shifted in his sleep, his soreness still causing discomfort.
Picking up the captain’s chart, he made a note for his temporary corpsman; Kowalski was standing in while Frank was ashore helping out at the hospital. Crane trusted the crewman and was relaxed around him, enough to let Kowalski get away with things that no other crewman would dare to even think about.
Satisfied that the Captain was settled for the night, Jamieson returned to his office to find Kowalski and a mug of coffee waiting for him.
“Thanks, Kowalski, but you don’t have to wait on me.”
“That’s okay, Doc. How’s the Skipper?”
“Being far too co-operative.”
“Yeah?” Kowalski glanced back to where the Captain was sleeping in a bunk.
Doc smiled. “Don’t worry, Kowalski, I’m sure that the skipper will be back to his usual stubborn self tomorrow.”
Lee gave an involuntary yelp of pain as he tried to lever himself up. With a groan of frustration, he gave up and lay still, closing him eyes. Damn! He hated being in sick bay, but it was obvious that he wasn’t going anywhere in a hurry. Footsteps and the sound of rustling signaled that someone was approaching the bunk.
“Morning, Captain, how are you feeling?”
Lee opened his eyes and looked up at Jamieson. “Sore,” he admitted grudgingly.
Jamieson smiled genially. “Hungry?”
Lee considered for a minute. “Yeah and I really need to use the head.”
“Hold on and I’ll get you a urine bottle.”
Lee glared at the doctor as if he’d gone crazy. “Jamie, I am NOT using a bottle.” Throwing off the covers, Lee again tried to sit up, gritting his teeth against the resulting pain as every muscle seemed to protest.
Jamieson shook his head disapprovingly. “All right, just take it slow.” Taking Lee’s arm, he helped him out of the bunk.
Lee carefully swung his legs over the side of the bunk and planted his feet on the cold metal deck. Standing straight was a major challenge, but Lee managed it with only a slight stoop and limped to the head, with the doctor’s assistance.
“I’ll wait here, shout if you need help,” Jamieson told him as they reached the door.
Lee nodded. “I’ll manage.” He was determined to maintain some dignity. While on his feet, he decided to grab a quick shower and it did help ease some of the stiffness. He finally emerged feeling a little more himself.
“I feel better, can’t I go to the wardroom for breakfast?” he asked. He knew that he was pushing it, but he would go stir crazy lying in sick bay. Besides, he had a sudden hankering for bacon.
Jamieson folded his arms and regarded Lee for a moment. “Okay,” he conceded. “Far be it for me to stop you eating. But don’t think this means that I am going to let you return to duty,” he warned.
Lee smiled. “Thanks, Jamie.”
“Kowalski, go to the Captain’s cabin and bring him some clothes.”
“Aye, sir,” Kowalski grinned.
“Lee, shouldn’t you be in sick bay?” Nelson smiled as he joined Lee and Jamieson in the wardroom.
Looking up from his food, Lee returned the smile. “I talked Doc into letting me out for breakfast.”
“Don’t think you will be getting him back just yet,” Jamieson warned.
“It’s good to see you up and about.”
Nelson took a seat and started in on his own breakfast, surprised that Lee had not retaliated against the doctor’s comment. He knew only too well that it would not be long before Lee was chomping at the bit to return to duty and he had no wish to get caught in the middle of the resulting argument between Crane and the doctor.
“Will you be going back to the Mystic, Admiral?” Lee asked, pausing in trying to manage his breakfast one handed.
Nelson nodded. “Yes, Dr Franklin and I are planning a dive later. We want to study the effects of the storm on the marine life and reef.”
Lee glanced at Jamieson. “If Jamie will let me, I’ll sit in the front porch for a while.”
“As long as that is all you do.”
Lee grinned. “I promise to behave, Jamie.”
Jamieson snorted. “You expect me to believe that?”
Nelson couldn’t help smiling in amusement; sure that Lee was plotting something. “It’s a shame you can’t join us, lad.”
Lee’s grin widened, his honey golden eyes sparkling with mischief. “Maybe I’ll get the chance before Seaview leaves the area.”
“Make sure you follow doc’s orders,” Nelson warned. “No diving until Will says so.”
“Yes, sir.” Lee inclined his head, lowering his gaze back to his breakfast.
A breath of warm, tropical air wafted down from the open sail hatch as Lee passed beneath the ladder. He thought about going topside, but wasn’t sure that his injured leg would be up to the climb.
“Lee, what are you doing here?” Chip asked, looking up from the papers on the chart table as Lee approached.
Lee grinned. “Doc said I could sit in the front porch for a while.”
Seaview was on the surface, her nose towards the island. Sunlight streamed in through the observation windows.
Chip gestured towards the nose, smiling. “Be my guest.”
Lee continued forward and poured himself a cup of coffee before easing his aching body into one of the chairs in the front porch, propping his injured leg up on another chair. There was something soothing about the sounds of the control room and Lee became engrossed in the activities taking place outside the observation windows. He’d really wished that he could go diving around the reef, but he knew better than to bust Jamie’s orders. He’d been tempted to dump the sling that the doc insisted that he wear. It wasn’t easy getting around when he couldn’t use a crutch to support his leg and his balance was a little unsteady still from the concussion.
Hearing familiar footsteps approaching, Lee turned his attention from the view outside. Chip was approaching with a clipboard. “What’s this?”
Chip held the clipboard out to him. “Report on the Flying Sub.”
Lee smiled sheepishly. “Thanks.” He wasn’t supposed to be getting involved with boat business, but Jamie surely wouldn’t mind if he just looked at the report. The Flying Sub was his baby and he was curious to know what had caused the overload.
Chip grinned. “Figured it would help pass the time.”
“You know me too well.” Lee would be the first to admit that he hated being sidelined and did not react well to inactivity.
It turned out that the static wick on the fin, meant to dissipate the electric charge, had been damaged and the estimated 30,000 volts from a lightning strike had overloaded the systems and fried the wiring. Fortunately, the emergency beacon, being battery powered, had not been affected.
Most aircraft were made of aluminum, a very good conductor of electricity. As the lighting makes contact on an extremity, such as the nose or wing and as the aircraft continues to fly through the area of opposite charge, the strike transmits through the aircraft skin and exits, usually through the tail.
However, FS1 was made of the same material as Seaview and because of her design, with no wings; she had static wicks on the end of the fins to help disperse any electric charge that she picked up while in the air. She also had a Faraday cage to protect the occupants, but this was not designed to handle 30,000 volts. He shuddered inwardly, lucky that she hadn’t broken apart on impact with the water.
Lee recalled reading about a new degaussing system for submarines and wondered if it could be adapted for the new SF 2 that was currently being built. He’d speak to Nelson about it at dinner. Lee laid the report down on the table and rubbed his eyes. The words were starting to blur together and he was getting a headache.
After having lunch with Chip in the observation nose, Jamieson had insisted that Lee spend the afternoon in his cabin resting and had escorted him there to make sure that he followed medical orders.
“Come on, Skipper – off your feet.”
Lee had to admit, if only to himself, that he was feeling a little wiped out and a lot older than his years. He’d stiffened up while sitting in the front porch. It obviously hadn’t escaped the doctor’s notice that he hadn’t had much of an appetite at lunch. He’d only managed some soup and hadn’t been sure that would stay down. With a sigh of resignation, he allowed Jamie to steer him towards the bunk.
Heeling out of his shoes, Lee sat on the bunk and swung his legs up. The sudden change of attitude from being upright caused a wave of dizziness and he closed his eyes, waiting for it to pass and hoping that his lunch would not re-appear.
“Dizzy?” Jamieson observed.
Jamieson fetched another pillow from the closet and placed it behind Lee’s head. “You’d be better in sick bay; I could do more to make you comfortable.”
“No, thanks, Jamie, I like my own bunk.”
“Do you want something for that headache? I can give you a shot if you don’t want pills.”
Lee cracked his eyes open and squinted at Jamieson. He should have known that he couldn’t hide anything from him. “Okay, thanks.”
Lee hated taking medication, but maybe if his head stopped hurting he could get some paperwork done once Jamieson left him alone. Closing his eyes, he hardly reacted to the needle. The injection soon took effect, taking the edge off his aching head and he soon drifted off the sleep.
Lee blinked his eyes open, momentarily unsure of where he was. Memory returned as he looked around the familiar cabin. He was surprised to find Nelson sitting in his desk chair. “Admiral… when did you get back?”
Nelson smiled and put down the report he’d been reading. “How are you feeling, lad?”
“Better.” Lee slowly levered himself up and adjusted the pillows to support him.
“I hate to do this, but I have to tell Doc you’re awake,” Nelson told him apologetically.
“I understand, Admiral.”
It didn’t take long for Jamieson to arrive and Lee lay quiet while the doctor did his checks. He didn’t remember going to sleep and suspected that Jamie’s injection had contained more than pain medication.
“Blood pressure and temperature are normal,” Jamieson told him as he returned the pressure cuff to his medical bag. “How’s the head?”
“Do you feel up to having dinner in the observation nose?” Nelson asked. “I’ve invited Dr Franklin to join us.”
“I’d like that, Admiral.” Lee smiled and swung his legs over the side of the bunk.
“Take it slow,” Jamieson cautioned, putting a restraining hand on his arm.
“I’m okay, Jamie.” Lee pushed to his feet and limped to the head to freshen up for dinner.
Lee only half listened to the conversation between Nelson and Franklin while he enjoyed Cookie’s excellent baked lobster with baked potatoes and salad. He debated whether it was proper to serve seafood to a marine biologist; however, Nelson and the good doctor were so engrossed that they hardly seemed to notice what they were eating.
“That’s some view, Harry,” Franklin remarked.
“Certainly is,” Nelson answered with a big smile.
Lee glanced towards the observation nose; outside the sun was setting, palm trees silhouetted against the fiery sky. For a moment he just sat and watched, lost in the moment. He never tired of the unique view the observation nose gave them.
Franklin interrupted his thoughts. “Captain Crane, perhaps if you’re up to it, you can join us on the Mystic tomorrow. You can follow the dive on the camera feed in the control room, since I understand that your injuries prevent you from diving.”
Lee nodded. He couldn’t keep the disappointment of not being able to dive from showing briefly, but answered in a casual tone. “Thank you, Doctor, I would be delighted.”
“You can always sit on deck and work on your tan,” Nelson joked.
“I’ll be sure and bring my swim trunks and suntan lotion.” Lee answered jovially.
Mystic’s tender picked Nelson and Crane up after breakfast and ferried them across to the research vessel. The sea was moderately calm with just a small swell, giving them a reasonably smooth ride. Lee never seemed to have a problem with sea sickness, even with the rocking and rolling that seemed to frequently happen aboard Seaview. Although, he’d had more than his share of bumps and bruises as a result, even a few broken bones.
Franklin was waiting on deck to greet them. “Welcome aboard, Captain.”
“Thank you, Dr Franklin.”
“Perhaps before I spirit the admiral way, you’d like a tour of the ship?”
Lee nodded. “I’d like that.”
After a quick tour above and below deck, Lee was shown the control centre where the divers were monitored. Introductions were made and Lee was invited to watch the bank of TV screens. Lee settled himself into one of the chairs, pleased to see that the water was clear and visibility good in the relatively shallow depths the divers were working at.
Sometime later, someone handed him a mug of coffee. He smiled his thanks and sipped it appreciatively – it wasn’t up to Cookie’s standards, but it was passable.
Before he had even finished the coffee, he found himself feeling extremely sleepy, hardly able to keep his eyes open. Belatedly he realised that he had been drugged. He tried to fight the drug, to force his eyes open. Darkness was infringing on the edge of his consciousness. His head dropped and his eyes slid closed. He jerked awake; his head was starting to spin and everything seemed to fade into the distance. His eyes closed again as the drug dragged him under.
“Where’s Captain Crane?” Nelson asked, returning to the control centre after changing out of his diving gear.
Franklin shrugged. “Captain Crane is no longer on board.”
“What do you mean, no longer on board?”
“Well, you see, Admiral, it’s like this. Captain Crane is currently out there.” Franklin made a sweeping gesture. “He is chained to the sea bed with just under an hour’s worth of air left.” He shrugged expansively. “You may be able to find him in time….”
Nelson shook his head, confused. “Why, Franklin? What’s this all about?”
“Revenge. My son died on your submarine and you ordered the hatch closed on him. Of course, as captain, Crane is partly responsible, but it was you who closed that hatch.”
Nelson was silent, racking his brain. What is this madman talking about?
“You’re wasting time, Nelson, time that Crane doesn’t have.”
Nelson scowled at him. “Damn you. I’ll see you in hell for this, Franklin. You’d better hope that we find Crane it time, or there will be nowhere you can hide.” he growled before turning and headed up onto the deck, his stomach twisted with fear for Lee. He needed to get to Seaview ASAP.
Throwing himself over the side, risking the chance of a bullet in the back, he struck out for Seaview; his only concern to find Lee before it was too late.
Alerted by the look outs, there were plenty of hands to help Nelson aboard when, exhausted by the swim, he finally reached the submarine.
“Admiral, are you all right? What’s happened?” Morton asked.
Nelson accepted a towel from a crewman and wiped his face. “That... that madman has Lee,” he panted breathlessly.
“Has Lee where, sir?”
“Chained to the bottom...with less than an hour of air left. We have to find him, Chip – and fast.” Nelson started towards the sail hatch. “Get as many divers as possible and send them out in rafts to search around the island. What about the Flying Sub? Is she operational?”
Morton followed Nelson into the sail, his anguish apparent. “No, sir, she’s still down for repairs.”
“I’m going to get into dry clothes. I’ll meet you in the control room.”
Still drowsy, Lee opened his eyes; he was lying on a comfortable bed and someone had covered him with a comforter. Sitting up, he took in his surroundings. He was in a small cabin and his right leg was attached to the bed by a chain.
Where am I? What’s going on?
The bed took up most of the cabin. Alongside, there was a table with a lamp, and an upholstered winged chair. There were two doors on the opposite wall, which he assumed to be a closet and head. Nearby were a small porthole and an entry door, probably locked.
Lee tugged at the chain. It was long enough to allow him to move around the cabin and he was about to investigate further when the door opened.
“Captain Crane, you’re awake, I see,” Franklin smiled. “I’m sorry about the sedative, it was necessary.”
“What am I doing here? What do you want?” Lee demanded. He’d been right about the coffee. Franklin was Nelson’s age, his dark hair starting to recede, but he looked trim and in good physical condition. Lee knew that in his weakened condition, the other man would have the advantage.
“Revenge, Captain, for the death of my son aboard your submarine.”
“Your son? I’m sorry about your son, whoever he was, but kidnapping me isn’t going to bring him back. Admiral Nelson will find me, you know.”
“Sorry to disappoint you, but the admiral and Seaview are searching the bottom of the ocean for you. By the time he realises that you are not there, we will be long gone.”
“You won’t get away with this. Admiral Nelson will blow this tub out of the water.”
“That would be unfortunate, as you would die with the rest of us.”
“I won’t let you use me against the admiral.”
“We’ll see. I hope you’ll be comfortable. I’ll have some food sent down, you must be hungry.”
Lee ran a hand through his hair; this was like waking up in the middle of a nightmare. Franklin was obviously crazy. What did he hope to accomplish?
After Franklin had left, Lee got up to investigate the cabin. There wasn’t much of a view out the porthole and it was sealed shut. He found toiletries and a shaving kit in the bathroom, so Franklin wasn’t kidding when he said he hoped he’d be comfortable. But what did the man have in mind for him?
Returning to the cabin, Lee stretched out on the bed to consider his options.
Chip strode into the missile room and unclipped the mic from the side of the escape chamber. “Now hear this, this is the exec. All available divers report to the missile room on the double.” Clicking the mic to clear it, he called Sparks. “Sparks, recall the shore party. Tell them to get back here ASAP.”
“Mr Morton, what’s going on? Is the admiral all right?” Sharkey asked.
“The admiral is fine. Dr Franklin has Captain Crane somewhere and we have to find him before his air runs out. Send the divers out in rafts to search the water around the island. Tell them to look for a buoy or any structure that the captain could be chained to.”
“Yes, sir – errr, why would Franklin do something like that?”
“I don’t know, Chief. Carry on. I’ll be in the control room.” Chip turned and headed for the hatch, needing to get back to the control room where Nelson would be waiting for him.
“Mr O’Brien, standby to get underway as soon as the shore party is back aboard,” Chip ordered as he entered the control room through the aft hatch.
“Aye, sir,” O’Brien acknowledged.
Footsteps on the spiral staircase signaled Nelson’s arrival.
“Chip,” he barked, and signaled the XO to follow him forward to the observation nose.
“What’s going on, Admiral? Why has Dr Franklin kidnapped Lee?”
“His son died aboard Seaview. I’ve been thinking about that. It must have happened when we were rammed by that sub. We had to close that hatch, Chip, or risk the loss of the boat and the rest of the crew. Franklin’s obviously refusing to consider that.”
Chip nodded. They had lost several crewmen in that collision and had been lucky to make it off the bottom. “Understood, sir. You know that and I know that. Obviously, Franklin has lost his mind. I’ve ordered all available divers to join the search.”
“Good.” Nelson glanced out of the windows. “Have all four tubes loaded, if Franklin makes any hostile moves, blow that ship out of the water.”
“Mr Morton, the Mystic is getting underway,” O’Brien reported.
“Chip, send two men out in the mini sub to follow her,” Nelson ordered.
“Aye, sir.” Chip unclipped a mic. “Missile room, send two men out in the mini sub to follow the Mystic. Is the shore party back aboard?” Chip asked, returning to the chart table.
“The last of them are coming aboard now,” O’Brien informed him.
“Very well, stand by.” Seaview couldn’t leave the area until they had completed the search for Lee, but with time running out, were they looking for a body?
The sensation of falling startled Lee awake. Didn’t plan on falling asleep. I must still have the sedative in my system. His injured leg had stiffened up and he couldn’t quite manage to stifle a yelp of pain as he levered himself up on one elbow.
A mug of cold coffee sat on the bedside table. With a sigh, he slid off the bed and picking up the mug, took it into the head. He emptied the coffee down the sink, rinsed the mug and filled it with water. As he drank, he looked at his reflection in the mirror. Stubble had darkened his jaw and he wondered how long he’d been aboard.
After a wash and shave, Lee returned to the cabin feeling more awake, ready to explore in more depth and hoping to find something to pick the lock on the chain around his ankle. The sound of the door opening signaled the return of his host.
“We are having dinner, would you care to join me, since you slept through lunch?” Franklin invited, smiling.
“Not hungry.” Lee turned away and sat down on the bed.
“Come now, Captain, you must be hungry.”
“Maybe I don’t care for the company.”
“You should eat; you need to keep your strength.”
“Why, so that you can torture and kill me?” Lee replied sarcastically.
“Torture? Hardly. I have something much longer planned for you. Something that gives you more of a chance than Nelson gave my son.”
“The admiral did what was necessary to save the boat,” Lee argued. “Otherwise we’d all be dead. Surely you can see that!”
“At the expense of my son’s life, that’s what I see, Captain Crane!” Franklin shrugged. “It makes no difference to me whether you eat or not. However, why make your stay more uncomfortable than it needs to be?”
“I won’t be a pawn in whatever game you’re playing.” Lee stretched out on the bed, folding his hands behind his head and closing his eyes.
“I assure you, it is no game. As you wish.”
Lee heard Franklin leave the room and the lock turn.
Nelson stood in the observation nose, staring unseeing at the view beyond the windows as Seaview moved through the water. They were at 90 feet, traveling at standard to catch up with the mini sub. He was only too aware that they were running out of time and the divers hadn’t found any sign of Crane.
Nelson shook his head; he could not, would not, believe that Lee was dead. Lee was more than Seaview’s captain, he was a close friend and Nelson couldn’t be more proud of the young man if he was his son. He turned at the sound of approaching footsteps.
Chip Morton came forward, clipboard in hand. Repairs are complete, the Flying Sub is operational.”
“Good, I’ll take her out.” Nelson was relieved to be doing something at last.
“Aye, sir. Chief Sharkey, get your flying jacket, you’re going with the admiral.”
Nelson descended the ladder into FS 1 and moved to the pilot seat while Sharkey followed behind, securing the hatch and boarding ladder. Nelson flicked switches, bringing the craft to life as Sharkey strapped into the co-pilot seat.
“Yes, sir.” Sharkey picked up the clipboard with the pre-launch list and they quickly ran through the checks.
“Flying Sub, ready to launch,” Nelson reported.
“Clear to launch,” Morton replied.
FS1 dropped smoothly from her berth and once they were clear of Seaview, Nelson eased her forward. “Keep your eyes open.”
Nelson gradually increased their speed and turned towards the shallower water around the island. He didn’t really expect to find Lee; the divers had already checked the whole area and came up empty. But he had to be sure.
They scanned the area ahead as FS1 circled the island, but there were no structures below the water where a diver could be secured. A small shoal of Sargo fish darted away as they approached. The waters around the island were rich in life, Damselfish and other species abundant. Shafts of sunlight danced in the nearly clear water. At another time, Nelson would have appreciated his surroundings.
Nelson took FS1 deeper, looking for any crevices where Lee could be concealed. He’d already reached the conclusion that Lee wasn’t here. Was he dead? Or was Franklin just toying with them, playing for time? What did he have in mind?
Lee paced around the cabin feeling like a caged animal. Maybe in hindsight, he should have accepted Franklin’s dinner invitation, it might have afforded him the opportunity to escape. He really wasn’t very hungry, however. He had a headache and was still suffering the effects of the concussion, which affected his balance and his present situation was not helping his recovery.
He paused and looked at the door, struck by a sudden idea. Was there a guard outside? Lee picked up a length of the loose chain and walked to the door. “Hey, is anyone out there!” he yelled, banging hard on the wood. After a moment, he was rewarded by the sound of the lock being turned. The door opened.
“What do you want?” The man asked impatiently.
“I …don’t feel so good …need a doctor.” Lee staggered back, raising a hand to his head.
The man swore under his breath and grabbed Lee’s arm to steady him. “Sit down.” He roughly steered Lee towards the bed.
Lee took hold of the front of the guy’s shirt and pulled him down onto the bed, twisting and falling on top of him. Kneeling over the guy, he pressed the chain over the man’s throat. The man got a foot into Lee’s middle and pushed him away. Lee was sent sprawling, stars danced in his vision as he landed heavily on his rear end. His guard slipped off the bed and knelt over Lee, pressing down on his chest. Lee clasped his hands together and brought them up to break the man’s hold, then grabbed the man by the head, twisting, forcing him to turn and roll sideways. Now Lee was on top, and he took advantage of the situation to deliver a blow to the man’s face, slamming his head into the wall. The guy collapsed in a heap.
Stepping quickly away, Lee retrieved the key that had been left in the lock. He hunted until he found the key for the chain and unlocked it, fastened it around the man’s ankle and ducked out of the door, locking it behind him; he slipped the keys into his pocket.
Lee tried to move quietly down the passageway, despite a slight limp. He wondered how far the Mystic had travelled; by the sound of the engines, she was moving at full speed. Coming to a junction, he checked both ways. He hadn’t given any real thought as to how he was going to escape. At this speed jumping ship would be dangerous and he had no idea how close the nearest landfall was.
Spotting a flight of stairs at the end of the passageway, he headed in that direction in the hope that he would find some familiar territory. Hearing voices, he flattened himself against the wall and waited until they moved away. How long did he have until his guard raised the alarm? And how many of the crew was in cahoots with Franklin?
Lee’s luck ran out as he reached the top of the stairs and came face to face with Franklin and two armed heavies.
“Well, Captain, it seems that I underestimated you.” Franklin smiled. “But no matter, it is time that you were leaving us.”
“So, are you going to throw me overboard?”
“Commander Crane, I’ve told you, I am not a murderer. I will let exposure and dehydration do that for me. We are simply going to relocate you to an island. You may manage to survive until someone finds you. Or not. It’s a chance my son never had. After you, Commander.”
Having nowhere to run, Lee went along with his escorts. Time for Plan B.
Lee waited until they boarded the launch, the sun was going down and it would be dark soon. There were two armed escorts, Franklin and the pilot. As the launch pulled away from the Mystic, one of his escorts prodded Lee with his gun and indicated that he should proceed below. Lee obediently started down the steps; then, stopping suddenly, he drove an elbow into the man behind him, and as the man groaned and doubled over, Lee turned, grabbed him and threw him down the steps, where he landed in an untidy heap. He had miscalculated how fast the other escort would be, however. Using his feet, the guard caught Lee between the shoulder blades. Lee pitched forward, falling headlong down the remaining steps and catching his head on the corner of a table as he fell. He tried to fight the threatening darkness, rolling onto his back and pushing up on his elbows, but it was no use. Blood pounded in his ears, his vision grayed and then everything went black.
Consciousness returned slowly. As his vision cleared, Lee realized that he was lying face down on wet sand with waves lapping around his legs. With a groan, he tried to raise himself. Everything hurt, but at least he was alive. His uniform was wet and he had somehow lost his shoes. So Franklin had carried out his threat, but where was here? Cautiously he pushed up onto his knees and was immediately hit by a wave of dizziness that almost caused him to fall back to the sand. His head ached and his arms and legs felt weak. He raised a hand to explore the right side of his head. There was a tender spot above his ear and dried blood matting his hair. Damn, Jamie was not going to be happy. Swaying as he climbed to his feet, he stood unsteadily for a moment trying to get his bearings. A bright moon shone down from the royal blue sky, sparkling on the water. Lee scanned the horizon. There was no sign of Seaview or anything else. He licked dry lips. How long had he been lying there? He needed to find water and shelter. He staggered drunkenly up the beach toward the Coconut palm trees that grew around the periphery. The black volcanic sand was still warm beneath his feet.
He’d wanted a chance to dive, but this wasn’t what he had in mind.
Leaning against a tree, he fought the wooziness that threatened to drag him back into unconsciousness. He had to stay conscious, find water. He was not going to die here, not after all that he had been through. For a moment he stayed where he was while his gaze explored the immediate surroundings. The island was beautiful. A softly sweeping beach with black sand stretched away to his right, with white foaming waves breaking on the beach. In the distance, the dark silhouette of a mountain dominated the landscape, white smoke rising from the summit. A trail led inland from the beach through lush tropical growth and black volcanic rock. This was probably one of the many small volcanic atolls in the Pacific. The only sound was the ocean, with no other signs of life. With a moan, he sank to the ground wishing that he had a soft pillow for his throbbing head.
Well, Crane, you’re in deep trouble this time.
The next time Lee opened his eyes, he was in a bed, but not a sick bay bunk. Turning his head, he took in his surroundings. The movement caused the room to spin. He was in what looked like a small hospital or barracks. The walls were white washed cinder block. There were five other empty, metal frames beds lining the two walls. It was dark outside and the light above the bed cast a circle of light around the bed.
Where was he and how long had he been here?
His latest jaunt hadn’t helped his head any, but as long as he didn’t move his head, the pain was bearable. Even so, he was thankful that he had not eaten anything. Everything else seemed to be working, although his arms and legs felt stiff.
The door opened and a dark skinned native man came in, dressed in western style clothes and as he came closer, Lee could see that he had a stethoscope around his neck.
“Who… are you?” Lee winced. Just talking hurt his head.
“I’m Dr Galvez,” he smiled pleasantly. “How are you doing?”
“Head hurts,” Lee admitted. “Where am I?”
“Pagan Island. Care to tell me how you got here?”
Pagan Island? Lee remembered hearing that it was considered too dangerous because of volcanic action for anyone to remain on the island.
“It’s a long story. I thought this island had been evacuated.”
Galvez nodded. “We had some patients who couldn’t be moved. They’ve recovered and so we’ll be the last to be taken off. You’re lucky we found you. I don’t need to tell you that you have a concussion.”
“I have to get out of here, I have to contact the Nelson Institute, my friends will be looking for me.” Lee tried to sit up, but pain and dizziness sent him falling back to the edge of consciousness and he groaned, closing his eyes.
“You’re in no condition to go anywhere. Tell me who to contact and I’ll call them for you.”
“Mr Morton, Miss Hale is calling from the Institute,” Sparks called from the radio shack.
Chip turned from the chart table and hurried aft and took the handset from Sparks. “Lola?”
“Chip, we’ve had a call from a Dr Galvez, he said that he was calling for Lee.”
“Thank God! Did he say where?”
“Yes, Pagan Island, in the Marianas.”
“Did he say how badly hurt Lee was?” Chip assumed that if Lee had been able, he would have called himself.
“Lee has a concussion, but is conscious and stable.”
“All right, thanks, Lola. Don’t worry; we’ll bring Lee back safe. Seaview out.” Chip broke the connection. “Patch me through to the admiral’s cabin.” Waiting a few seconds, he heard a familiar growl. “Admiral, we’ve found Lee.”
“I’ll be right there, Chip.”
Chip returned to the chart table to plot a new course while he waited for Nelson. “Chief, prepare the Flying Sub.”
“Aye, sir.” Chief Sharkey hurried forward to the access hatch in the nose.
“Maneuvering, come to course 075 relative.” Chip unclipped the mic from the side of the chart table. “Engine Room, ahead flank.”
“Ahead flank, aye.”
Chip clicked the mic and called sick bay. “Doc, report to the control room and bring your bag of tricks.”
A Jeep and driver were waiting for them on the beach. “Senor Nelson, my name is Chavez. Dr Galvez asked me to meet you. He is looking after your friend.”
“Thank you. This is Dr Jamieson and Chief Sharkey.”
Chavez nodded. “Please sirs, if you will come with me,” he gestured towards the Jeep, “I’ll take you to the hospital.”
“Chief, stay with the flying sub,” Nelson ordered before climbing into the jeep.
The dirt road was only wide enough for one vehicle. They made the journey in silence. Nelson watched the passing scenery, his mind occupied by worrying about his friend and captain. His relief that Lee was alive was mixed with concern as to what Franklin had subjected Lee to while he’d been in the hands of the madman; Franklin was clearly unhinged. The sooner Lee was safely back aboard Seaview, the better. Although he was sure that Lee wouldn’t see things that way.
The island was not very big, and it didn’t take them long to reach the small hospital.
Lee woke feeling nauseous. Concerned that he was going to be sick, he pushed back the covers and swung his legs over the side of the bed and sat up. Every muscle protested and the sudden movement made his head throb even more. Lee closed his eyes and raised a hand to lightly massage his forehead.
“Not trying to escape, I hope.”
Lee opened his eyes at the familiar sound of Jamieson’s voice, to find both Jamie and Nelson approaching with Dr Galvez. Galvez hurried across and grabbed the pillows from the next bed; he stacked them so that Lee could sit up. “Back into bed,” he urged gently.
Nelson moved around to the other side of the bed. “Lee, it’s good to see you, lad,” he said, smiling.
“It’s good to see you, too, Admiral.” Lee eased himself back against the pillows and Galvez replaced the covers. For a while, Lee had believed that he wouldn’t see any of them again.
Jamieson put his bag down and produced a syringe and a small bottle. “This should help.” He filled the syringe, swabbed Lee’s arm and gave the injection.
Lee looked around the room, surprised that Chip was not with them.
“Someone had to stay behind to mind the boat,” Nelson said in answer to the unspoken question. Hitching one hip onto the edge of the bed, he asked, “What happened, Lee?”
“I was drugged.” Lee lowered his gaze. “I’m sorry, Admiral.” Although there had been no reason to suspect anything, Lee was still annoyed with himself for allowing this to happen.
“You have nothing to apologize for, Lee. I’m sorry that I got you into this.”
“You couldn’t have known.” Lee didn’t blame Nelson for what had happened. “What about Franklin?”
“We’ll take care of him later. Rest now and we’ll have you back aboard Seaview in no time,” Nelson told him, giving his shoulder a reassuring squeeze.
“Yes, sir,” Lee closed his eyes and pulled the covers up higher, feeling suddenly cold in spite of the warm room.
“And this time I am not letting you off the boat until we reach Santa Barbara, and maybe not even then,” Jamieson told him.
After leaving Crane on the island, Franklin had headed for Saipan. He’d been planning this for a long time. He’d sold his house and liquidated all his assets and bought a house on a beautiful and remote Caribbean island, where he planned to make his base. He’d already moved his family there.
He’d arranged for a seaplane to be waiting, on the small ramp on Saipan. Then he’d rendezvous with the Mystic. After a coat of paint and some modifications, she would become the Exodus. By the time Nelson figured things out, he’d be long gone.
They left the launch at the small marina. Franklin wanted the men to think that he was taking a commercial flight.
“What about our money?” One of the men asked as they walked towards the airport.
“It will be deposited in the bank as arranged, just make sure you disappear.”
After coffee in the coffee shop, he accompanied them to the small airport passenger terminal and waited for the men’s flight to board, wanting to make sure that there was no-one around to know of his plans or whereabouts. He didn’t like leaving loose ends, but they could not know where he was going, so could not tell anyone if they wanted to.
After the men’s flight had taken off, he returned to the launch and took it around to where the seaplane awaited. After rigging the controls on the launch to take it out to sea, Franklin boarded the plane.
Lee regarded the wheelchair that Jamieson had positioned beside the bed, with distaste.
“Don’t even think it, Skipper,” Jamieson warned.
Lee opened his mouth to argue that he could walk, but catching the stern look he was getting from Nelson, thought better of it. He eased off the bed, allowing Jamieson to help him into the wheelchair. There would be time enough, once he was back aboard Seaview, to talk Jamie into letting him out of sickbay.
They moved off, with Jamieson pushing the wheelchair and Dr Galvez and Nelson on either side. By the time all the formalities had been taken care of it was dawn, the sun just rising, painting the sky with pastel hues of pink and champagne, Lee could hear the sea in the distance beyond the trees, carried on a warm, sweet-scented ocean breeze.
An ambulance stood waiting, the doors open. Lee turned to Galvez. “Thank you, Doctor, for taking care of me and for calling in the cavalry.”
Galvez smiled and shook Lee’s hand. “Take care, Commander and make sure you follow your doctor’s orders.”
“That will be a first,” Jamieson retorted.
Nelson strapped into the pilot seat, smiling to himself in amusement while Jamieson settled Lee into the bunk aboard FS1. Knowing that Lee was injured, the doctor had made sure that the bunk had extra pillows and blankets. He arranged the pillows in a V shape so that Lee’s head and shoulders were supported. Lee settled back against the pillows without protest, and closed his eyes, while Jamieson spread a blanket over him.
Sharkey secured the rear hatch before taking the co-pilot seat and the two of them prepared to get underway.
“Doc, you’d better strap in,” Nelson advised.
FS1 slipped quietly below the water and Nelson set course for Seaview. Because pressure could affect Lee’s head injury, Nelson had decided to make the return journey submerged at 200 feet.
“FS1 to Seaview, come in Seaview.”
“Receiving you, Admiral,” Sparks replied.
“We have Captain Crane and are coming back. Give us a homing signal.”
“Coming up, Admiral.”
“Admiral, is Lee all right?” Chip’s voice came over the radio.
Nelson glanced over to the bunk where Lee was laying quietly, eyes closed. “He’ll be okay. Have a stretcher party standing by.”
“I don’t need a stretcher.”
“Sorry Admiral, I didn’t catch that,” Morton replied to Lee’s protest.
“I didn’t say anything, Chip.” Nelson smiled to himself, he was sure that Chip had heard Lee’s comment. They were both as bad as each other when it came to being sick or injured. “You’re tracking the Mystic, correct?”
“We’re about ten nautical miles behind her, sir.”
“Set a course to intercept. I want a word with her captain.”
“FS1 out,” Nelson broke the connection and concentrated on piloting the Flying Sub.
As Nelson berthed the Flying Sub, Lee struggled to sit up, bracing himself with his good arm. He was determined that he was going to walk to sick bay.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Jamieson unfastened his harness and moved to the bunk.
“I can walk,” Lee insisted. Although movement still made him dizzy, the injection had helped and he no longer felt sick.
“That’s not a good idea, skipper,” Jamieson cautioned gently.
Unwavering, Lee swung his legs over the side of the bunk. “I’m okay, I feel better.”
“You’re in no condition to go climbing up and down ladders. You don’t need another fall,” Jamieson said, equally resolute.
Lee ignored the caution; he slipped down from the bunk and stood waiting for things to settle.
Nelson swung around in his seat, letting Sharkey do the post-flight checks. “Suppose you let Doc do his job, Lee.”
Lee hated being fussed over, it was bad enough that he was headed for sick bay without being taken there on a stretcher. “But, Admiral, I’m perfectly able to walk to sick bay. I don’t need a stretcher,” he stated defiantly.
“Doc?” Nelson asked.
“Please Jamie, being maneuvered through the boat on a stretcher is not going to help my head any.”
“Well, I suppose it would be good for the crew to see you on your feet,” Jamieson conceded reluctantly.
Nelson followed Lee to sick bay. Standing silently, arms folded, he leaned against the bulkhead and watched Jamieson help Lee off with his shirt, revealing the mottled bruising down his left side from the crash.
“Lie down, skipper,” Jamieson instructed.
Lee did as ordered, stretching out on the exam table. “I’m okay. When are you going to let me out of here?”
“I’m keeping you for observation. You already had a concussion; hopefully this latest injury hasn’t aggravated that.” Jamieson carefully probed the area around the tender spot on the side of Lee’s head.
“I’m tired of being laid up, I want to get back to commanding my boat,” Lee complained.
“Don’t be in such a hurry. You can’t rush nature; it will take as long as it takes.”
Lee sighed. “Okay, Jamie – but how long?”
“Let’s just see how things go,” Jamieson replied cautiously.
Nelson smiled. I think this was where I came in. “Remember, Lee – you promised to follow doc’s orders.”
“Yes, Admiral.” Just then Lee’s stomach growled loudly.
“Hungry, skipper?” Jamieson asked.
“Now that you mention it, I’m starving.”
“Then we had better feed you.” Jamieson walked over and unclipped a mic. “Cookie, this is doc, can we have a breakfast tray to sickbay for the captain, please?”
“Sure, doc – coming right up.”
With Lee on the mend, it was time to take care of Franklin. Still smiling in amusement and pleasure at having his young friend safely back, Nelson departed sickbay. He was a little peckish himself, time for a slight detour to the wardroom before he went after the Mystic.
Returning to the control room half an hour later, Nelson joined Morton at the chart table. “What’s our position, Chip?”
“We’re here.” Chip indicated their position on the chart.
“And the Mystic?”
“We’re closing to five thousand yards.”
“Standby to surface,” Nelson ordered before he turned and walked to the radio shack. “Sparks, raise the Mystic, I want to speak to her captain.”
Nelson waited while Sparks made the call. He half expected them not to answer.
Sparks handed him the handset. “Go ahead, Admiral.”
“Captain, this is Admiral Nelson. You will bring your vessel to a full stop and prepare to be bordered.”
A bewildered voice came back over the radio. “On whose authority?”
“You are suspected of taking part in a conspiracy to kidnap and murder an American citizen,” Nelson growled. “Furthermore, Dr Franklin is to be placed under arrest for said kidnapping and attempted murder.”
“Murder! Look here, Nelson, I don’t know what is going on, but.…”
“You have five minutes, Captain,” Nelson interrupted. “After that, we will open fire.” He handed the handset back to the radio man. “Chip, if the Mystic doesn’t stop, take out her propeller with the laser.”
“Aye, sir.” Chip moved forward to the laser control.
The Zodiac carrying Nelson, Sharkey, Patterson and Kowalski bumped against the Mystic as it bobbed up and down with the swell. Nelson reached for the ladder that had been put over the side by a crewman and began to climb.
A second Zodiac with the MAA and a security team joined them and the men followed up the ladder. Nelson reached the top and pulled himself up over the rail. They were met by a crewman from the Mystic.
“Admiral Nelson, the captain asked me to escort you to the bridge.”
Nelson nodded. “Lead the way. Sharkey, you’re with me. The rest of you men, secure the ship.”
The ship’s bridge was impressive, with all the latest equipment and a bank of television screens monitoring the interior of the ship. A man in his mid fifties stood at the helm. He turned as Nelson entered. “Admiral Nelson, I’m Captain Raynard. I’m afraid you are too late. Dr Franklin left some time ago with some of the men, he’s taken the launch.”
“And you didn’t try to stop him?”
“They were armed. There was nothing I could do to stop them.”
Nelson harrumphed. Either Raynard was a lousy captain or he wasn’t telling them the whole truth.
“What are you picking up?” Nelson asked as soon as his feet touched the control room deck.
“Small surface vessel at extreme range,” Morton answered, turning from watching the sonar screen over the operator’s shoulder.
Nelson joined Morton at the sonar station. “The launch?”
“Could be, it’s the right size.”
“Take her down, Chip - let’s go hunting.”
“Aye, sir.” Chip unshipped a mic. “Clear the bridge, stand by to dive. Engine room, ahead full.”
“Ahead full, aye.”
“Helm, come to course 020 relative.”
Chip moved to the periscope island. “Up scope.”
While Chip submerged the boat, Nelson continued to watch the contact on the screen for several moments. Frowning, he moved to the plot table to check the contact’s position on the charts. It was as he thought; it was headed out to sea, apparently drifting.
“Yes, sir.” Chip lowered the periscope and joined Nelson at the chart table.
“Get as close as possible and then we’ll launch a boat.”
In a few minutes, they confirmed what Nelson had suspected. Franklin was long gone.
Sitting at his desk in his cabin, Nelson scrubbed a hand across his face. It had been a long few days. Upon their return to Seaview, he’d made a report to Washington. The nearby island of Saipan was popular with tourists and divers and there were several flights a day on Delta and United, with connecting flights to just about anywhere in the world. However, Nelson considered Franklin craftier than that. He had planned this very carefully. Franklin was probably well on his way to somewhere, but it would be in a private plane of some type; Nelson knew there was a private seaplane ramp on the island. If it had been him, that was the escape route he’d take. Both ONI and the FBI would be on the lookout, but Nelson doubted that Franklin would be foolish enough to return to the US.
Seaplanes were handy, but they didn’t have unlimited range. Going over events, Nelson doubted that Franklin would just turn his back on the Mystic. If they shadowed the ship, they might just catch up with him.
He reached out and pressed a button on the intercom. “Control room, this is Nelson. Do you still have the Mystic on sonar?”
“No, Admiral, she’s moved out of the area, headed south,” O’Brien answered.
“Set course for her last known position.”
“Aye, sir,” O’Brien acknowledged.
Nelson released the button and rested back in the chair. Franklin had made a serious miscalculation, assuming Pagan Island was uninhabited. However, while he felt some sympathy for the man, Nelson had no intention of letting him get away with attempted murder and kidnapping. Lee was like a son to him and he would be devastated if anything should happen to him. Their closeness sometimes made for some difficult decisions on Nelson’s part, when he had to send Lee into dangerous situations.
Feeling weary, Nelson looked at his watch, it was past midnight and time he hit his rack. O’Brian had the con and would call him if he had anything to report. He pushed to his feet and walked to the head to prepare for bed.
Franklin checked his controls. He had plenty of gasoline, certainly enough to reach the rendezvous point with Mystic. He had made sure to inform Captain Raynard to take it easy, to cut down on suspicion. A few more hours and…
He sat up, staring out the windshield. The horizon ahead was no longer clear. Instead, it was obscured by huge, black clouds. As he watched, lightning lit up the interior, fracturing the sky with an instant glow. Grabbing the wheel, he dived for the ocean. Maybe he could set her down, wait it out….
The sea was roiling, spume breaking off the tops of waves probably ten feet high. The sets crashed into each other. There was no way it would be calm enough to land. Nor could he break radio silence to let Reynard know to turn around.
A grim smile on his features, Franklin took firm hold of the wheel.
Nelson was on his way to the wardroom for breakfast when Sparks interrupted him.
“Admiral, I have a call from E.M.O station on Anatahan Island, they say it’s urgent.”
Backtracking to the nearest mic, he unclipped it. “Have them hold, I’ll take it in my cabin.”
Nelson retraced his steps back to his cabin and settled behind his desk.
“All right, Sparks – put them through.” Nelson waited for the call to be transferred. “This is Nelson, what can I do for you?”
“Admiral, this is Dr Tillman, I understand that Seaview is in the general area. There has been increased activity from the volcano and from what our instruments are telling us, we think an eruption is imminent. We would appreciate your assistance in evacuating the station.”
“Of course, Doctor. We’ll be there as soon as possible. Seaview out.” Nelson put down the receiver and pressed the intercom. “Mr Morton, report to my cabin.”
A knock signaled the arrival of Chip Morton. “Come,” Nelson called in reply.
Chip entered and approached the desk. “You wanted to see me, Admiral?”
“Yes, Chip. The scientists on Anatahan Island report that an eruption is imminent. We need to evacuate the station. Set course, ahead flank.”
“Yes, sir. What about Dr Franklin? He’s going to get away!”
“I don’t believe he’ll be getting away.” Nelson pulled out a set of charts he kept in his cabin chart drawer. “You saw the weather reports. There’s a huge storm building up, probably as bad as the one Lee was caught in. Gale force winds, lightning.” Nelson tapped the chart. “I have an idea he’s going after the Mystic, so he’s heading right for it. Probably a small plane. He won’t stand a chance.”
Morton was quiet for a moment. “In a way, I feel sorry for him, Admiral. But then I remember what he tried to do to Lee….”
“I agree with you, Chip. In the meantime, we have an evacuation to carry out. I’ll see you in the control room shortly.”
“Aye, sir.” Morton turned and hurried out.
Pushing to his feet, Nelson again headed to breakfast, he had a feeling it was going to be a busy day.
Four days later and Seaview was on her way home. Jamieson had finally allowed Lee to return to his cabin, although he had not cleared him for duty. The enforced rest had helped his leg, but he was still a little dizzy at times from the concussion, especially when he moved too quickly or changed from lying down to sitting up. Common sense told him that Jamie was right, but he was still frustrated to be on the sick list.
Sitting on his bunk, still in his white pajamas, he contemplated the desk. He’d caught up on his paperwork and written his report regarding Franklin, but he somehow felt that things were unfinished. He hadn’t had much opportunity to talk to Nelson, who had been occupied with the evacuation of the scientists from the monitoring station. Coming to a decision, he got to his feet and pulled on his blue robe, while slipping his feet into his slippers. Leaving the cabin, he walked the short distance to Nelson’s and knocked.
Lee opened the door and entered. “Admiral, have you got a minute?”
Nelson was standing beside his desk with a sheet of paper in his hand. He turned as Lee entered. “Of course, Lee, come in. How are you feeling?”
“Much better, thank you,” Lee perched on Nelson’s bunk. “Admiral, What about Franklin?”
Nelson returned his attention to the paper in his hand. “He’s disappeared. Apparently he sold his house and emptied his bank account. The FBI is still trying to trace the money.”
“What do you think happened to him?”
“I think he’s dead. I believe that he was trying to rondavious with the Mystic in a small plane. There was a storm in the area at the time, it’s doubtful that he survived.”
Lee nodded thoughtfully and got to his feet. “Don’t let me keep you, Admiral.” He started to leave. Lee didn’t harbor any feeling of resentment against Franklin, he’d just needed closure.
Nelson laid the paper down on the desk. “Nonsense, Lee. Make yourself comfortable and we can compare notes.”
Lee grinned and returned to the bunk. “Aye, sir.”
EMO – Emergency Monitoring Office.
Sarsat; Search and rescue satellite aided. COSPAS control centre, Suitland, Maryland. Co-ordinates search and rescue operations.