By J. Lynn
Author's Note: The events in this story take place shortly after the events in Eleven Days to Zero.
Admiral Harriman Nelson looked across his desk at the younger man who was quickly scanning the piece of paper in his hand. Commander Lee Crane was in Nelson's office at the Nelson Institute of Marine Research at the Admiral's request. Nelson had been trying to convince Crane to become Seaview's permanent Captain when they had been interrupted by the Admiral's secretary who had an urgent message for Crane. Nelson watched as Crane read the message and then looked up to meet the Admiral's gaze.
"It seems you're going to have to get a new Captain for Seaview's next cruise after all, Admiral. I've been ordered to report to the naval base at San Diego to be briefed for an urgent mission for ONI. The briefing is at 1200 hours so I'll have to leave immediately. I've left everything in order for the new Captain." Crane's voice was formal and controlled, but his eyes revealed a profound sadness.
"Lee," said Nelson, "I'm not ready to accept your decision to decline command of Seaview as final. I've listened to your reasons and I don't agree with them."
"Admiral," Lee interrupted, "The men on Seaview don't trust me. They hesitate whenever I give an order and the Control Room crew is edgy and tense whenever I'm there. I don't blame the men, Sir; they're a good crew. It's my fault. I've failed to win their trust and I can't be Seaview's Captain without that trust."
Nelson argued patiently with the younger man, "They're still reacting to the sudden death of John Phillips. Any commanding officer would find the crew a bit distant at first. You just have to give them time to adjust. That's why I want you to command another mission before making a final decision."
"Begging your pardon, Admiral, but that puts the men and the boat at risk. If, at a critical moment, someone hesitates to follow an order, the boat and all aboard her could be lost. I can't allow my personal ambition to jeopardize the safety of the Seaview and her crew. They, and she, deserve better."
"If they have you as Captain, they will be getting the best." Nelson stood up to end the conversation and Crane rose also. "I know I can't convince you right now and they're expecting you in San Diego. I'm not accepting your decision as final. I'll get a temporary Captain for this next mission and we can talk again when you get back. Maybe it's a good thing that this ONI mission came up now--it will give you some time to think before you make a final decision."
Crane smiled, "I usually don't have much time to think during ONI missions, but I will consider everything you've said. Please don't misunderstand, Admiral. There's nothing I'd like better than to command Seaview and I really wish it had worked out with the crew. Seaview's a real lady, Sir. I just don't want to let her down."
"You never would, Lee." Nelson said fervently, extending his hand. "Now, you'd better get going. Take care and Godspeed."
Crane shook his hand firmly, "Thank you, Sir, for everything."
As Lee turned and strode out of the office, Nelson sighed deeply, Everything you've said, Lad, has only served to convince me that you're the Captain that Seaview, and her crew, needs. I just wish I could make you and the crew see that as clearly as I do.
Seaman Kowalski of the SSRN Seaview opened the last box of supplies and prepared to place them on the shelves of the storage cabinet in front of him. He had been unpacking supplies for hours and was glad to be nearly finished. As he worked, he wondered who would be in command on this mission. Everyone knew that Admiral Nelson had pulled strings to get Commander Crane, who had commanded Seaview's last mission, released from the Navy so he could assume permanent command of the boat. Chief Jones had been the one to deliver the message about the release to Crane and had heard Nelson offer the Captaincy to the Commander.
To hear the Chief tell it, Crane had looked very pleased at the prospect. The crew, however, had not been pleased, not at all. "Not that anyone cares what the crew thinks! " fumed Kowalski. The atmosphere on the boat as they headed for home had been strained as the crew waited for the official announcement of Crane's appointment as Seaview's new Captain.
But the announcement never came and just before they docked in Santa Barbara, Nelson and Crane had been shut up in Nelson's cabin for several hours. When Crane left Seaview, he took all of his gear with him and rumor had it that he had turned down the Captaincy. Rumor also had it that Nelson was trying to convince Crane to change his mind.
Kowalski wondered why Nelson wanted Crane to be Captain so badly. If Crane didn't want command of Seaview, then he didn't deserve it. Kowalski thought Crane was a hot shot--sneaking aboard like that to make them all look bad. And going out after Dr. Wilson and Malone when they were stranded on the ice--sure, it had looked brave at first, risking being left behind when Seaview fled the bomb blast; but then the Admiral had delayed leaving until they were aboard. "I'll bet he knew all along that the Admiral would do that," snorted Kowalski.
He wasn't the only one who disliked the acting Captain. Crane had been pretty hard on the crew, too, accepting no excuses for even the slightest mistake, and the crew had resented it. Of course, Kowalski had to admit Crane was pretty hard on himself. He'd been seen all over the boat during his off-duty hours, familiarizing himself with all the systems. Maybe he would have worked out, Kowalski reluctantly admitted. Well, it didn't matter. Probably he had refused command because he could receive more promotions in the Navy. The Chief had said that he was the youngest full Commander in the Navy. He probably wanted to be the youngest Admiral, too. "Yeah," Kowalski decided, "definitely a hot shot!"
Kowalski closed the door to the storage cabinet and then walked out the door into the corridor, nearly colliding with Admiral Nelson who was striding along at a determined pace. "I'm sorry, Admiral," exclaimed the surprised seaman. "I didn't see you coming."
Nelson raised a hand to stop the rest of the explanation. "I'm looking for Mr. Morton. Have you seen him?"
"Yes, Sir," replied Kowalski. "He came by a few minutes ago, and then headed off to Engineering." Anxious to make amends for the near collision, Kowalski continued, "Is there anything I can do for you, Sir?"
The Admiral's reply was curt. "Not unless you have a recommendation for an acting Captain."
"An acting Captain, Sir? Isn't Commander Crane staying on?"
Nelson sighed, "That hasn't been decided yet, but he's been called away on a mission for ONI. It appears we'll need a Captain at least for the next cruise and maybe more if Commander Crane declines command of Seaview."
Kowalski was surprised that the Admiral had said so much to him--usually crewmen of his rank were not privy to inside information about the senior staff. He remained silent waiting for the Admiral to either continue or dismiss him, but the Admiral seemed to have forgotten all about him. Kowalski didn't know that Nelson was thinking about that earlier conversation with Crane in his office at NIMR. After a long, uncomfortable minute, Kowalski decided he'd better say or do something so he cleared his throat and said, "If there's nothing you need me for, Sir, I'm supposed to report to the Chief in the cargo bay."
Nelson looked startled for a moment as his thoughts returned to the present situation and then he waved his hand dismissively, "No, go along, Kowalski. I'll find Mr. Morton on my own."
Kowalski started to open his mouth to acknowledge the order, but the Admiral had already started walking away. The guys must have got it right, Kowalski mused. It sure sounds like Crane turned down command of Seaview and the Admiral doesn't want to take no for an answer. Kowalski smiled to himself, thinking of Nelson's stubbornness but his smile changed into a frown as he considered the reason for Crane's absence. Called away on an ONI mission, eh. More hot shot stuff. Suddenly remembering he was supposed to report to the Chief, he dropped all thoughts of Crane and the Captain's job and hurried off.
Kowalski was trying to keep one eye on the sonar screen while using the other to observe Captain Beckner, Seaview's current acting Captain. As if Beckner would notice or care, Kowalski thought scornfully. Why, I bet I could take my eyes completely off the screen and look around the Control Room with Beckner watching me and Seaview's acting Captain wouldn't say a word. Now, if Crane were in command, he'd know right away and call me on it.
He wasn't the only crewmember who had noticed Beckner's laxness with the crew. It had been all the men could talk about over dinner in the crew's mess the previous evening. They had all been surprised by it since Beckner was rumored to be a protégé of Admiral Stark's, a real "Old Navy" type who believed in strict discipline.
Seaview's crew had all expected Beckner to be even more demanding than Crane, and were flabbergasted when he was so easy on them. Some crewmembers said they liked it that way, they liked having a job that wasn't too demanding. Kowalski wasn't sure he agreed with them. Beckner didn't expect much from them and that made him feel like Seaview wasn't doing stuff that really mattered. That bothered Kowalski--Seaview and her crew did important work, really important work. Look at their last mission--they saved the whole world! Of course, Crane was in command then, Kowalski reminded himself, He expected a lot from us. I wonder if we would have made it with Beckner in command.
Kowalski's brooding was interrupted by Admiral Nelson's voice on the intercom. "Captain Beckner, this is Admiral Nelson, report to me in the Observation Nose immediately."
Beckner reached for the mike and responded quickly, "Aye, Sir, on my way." He turned to Morton and said, "Mr. Morton, you have the conn," and then hurried out of the Control Room.
It wasn't long before Beckner returned and he spoke immediately to the Exec in a clear voice that could be heard throughout the Control Room. "Mr. Morton, there's been a change in our orders. Plot a course for these coordinates," he said, handing the Exec a slip of paper, "and come to flank speed." He motioned to the Exec to stand closer to him and then he lowered his voice and said, "The Admiral has ordered silent running. Does the crew know what that means?"
Kowalski was close enough to overhear the question and was indignant. Of course we know about silent running! Apparently the Exec shared his feelings because he sounded offended when he replied, "The crew are all former Navy men, Captain, they know how to implement silent running."
Beckner picked up on the Exec's indignation and apologized, "I'm sorry, Morton. I didn't mean to insult you or the crew. When Admiral Stark asked me to serve as acting Captain for this mission as a favor to Admiral Nelson, he said this was a private vessel and not to expect the crew to live up to Navy standards. I had no idea the crew had any Navy background at all."
Morton accepted the apology, "I understand, Sir. Shall I give the order to rig for silent running?"
Beckner nodded curtly and Morton gave the order.
So Stark did ask Beckner to be acting Captain.. thought Kowalski. That explains his attitude then. Admiral Stark never did approve of the way Admiral Nelson runs Seaview. He always goes on about "Navy discipline" and makes us all miserable every time he comes aboard. He probably told Beckner we're all incompetent. Well, we're not, not at all.
Conversation over dinner in the crew's mess that evening was as heated as it had been the previous evening. Word of Beckner's questioning of the crew's abilities had spread quickly throughout the boat and all the crew were outraged. Kowalski had tried to explain why Beckner doubted them, but no one would listen to him. Then the Chief, Curly Jones, came in at the height of the complaints and quickly silenced them. "Shut up, all of you. It wasn't Captain Beckner's fault. Admiral Stark told him that since Seaview was a private vessel, the crew wasn't up to Navy standards. Mr. Morton set him straight. Now, he's only going to be here for this one mission, so shut up about it, and do your jobs."
There were murmurs of "Aye, aye, Chief" and the crew fell silent, most leaving either to stand watch or to get some sleep in the crew's quarters. The Chief watched them leave and then barked, "Kowalski, Patterson, I have orders for you from the Admiral."
Kowalski and Patterson turned back and stood in front of the Chief. "What is it, Chief?" asked Patterson.
"You're to report to the Admiral in his cabin. He has an assignment for you."
"Aye, Chief." replied Kowalski and both he and Patterson turned to leave. Kowalski abruptly turned back to face the Chief and asked, "Say, Chief, is it true that Beckner is only going to be acting Captain for this mission, that he's not going to stay on?"
"That's what I hear, Ski." replied Curly. "Now, don't keep the Admiral waiting."
When Kowalski and Patterson arrived at the Admiral's cabin, they found Captain Beckner, Mr. Morton, and Dr. Jamison already there. As soon as they had closed the door, Nelson addressed the group.
"Gentlemen, you already know that we have new orders, but you don't know all the details. It's time you did. During a recent mission, one of our ONI agents was captured by an enemy government. Fortunately, members of the resistance were able to get him away from his captors, but he's too badly injured to travel on his own. We're the closest vessel in the area so we've been asked to conduct the rescue operation.
In a few hours we will reach our coordinates. When we arrive, we will surface and send out a small party of men on a raft to rendezvous with a fishing boat just outside the enemy's territorial waters. The fishing boat will have the ONI agent on board and we will transfer him to the raft and bring him back to Seaview.
Mr. Morton, Kowalski, and Patterson, I want you to accompany me on the raft. Dr. Jamison, since the agent is supposed to be injured, we'll need you also. Captain Beckner, you will remain on Seaview. You are to have the boat ready to get underway as soon as we're back on board. Gentleman, any questions?"
The Admiral waited a moment and then dismissed them. "All right, gentlemen, our ETA is 0200. Get some rest and be ready to leave as soon as we reach the coordinates."
There was a chorus of "Aye, Sir," from everyone in the room and they left to begin preparations, all except Kowalski who remained standing at the Admiral's desk. Nelson looked up from the papers and inquired, "Kowalski, do you have a question about your assignment?"
"Yes, Sir, I was wondering, Sir.... is Commander Crane the ONI agent we're supposed to rescue?"
Nelson looked startled by the question. "Yes, Kowalski, he is. How did you know?"
"Well, Sir," replied Kowalski, "when I bumped into you in the corridor the other day and asked about Commander Crane staying on, you said he'd been called away on an ONI mission, and I just wondered...."
"I remember the conversation," said the Admiral. Kowalski saw he looked deeply troubled. "We know he was captured and 'interrogated.' We have no idea what they did to him." The Admiral's voice was bitter. "They're not known for their humane treatment of prisoners." He was silent for a moment and Kowalski realized how concerned the Admiral was about Crane.
"We'll get him back on Seaview, Sir" said Kowalski. "And Doc will have him all fixed up in no time. I'm sure he will, Sir."
"I hope you're right, Kowalski." said the Admiral softly. "Now go get some rest, we'll need you in top form."
"Aye, Sir," replied Kowalski as he left the Admiral's cabin.
Kowalski had fallen into the rhythm of rowing and had ceased to think about the passage of time. He was pulled out of his reverie when he heard the Admiral say, "There's the boat. Slow up, men, we don't want to alarm them by coming up too fast."
It only took a few minutes to pull up beside the boat. Kowalski turned and saw that the boat's crew was holding guns on them. He heard the Admiral and the boat's Captain in conversation and assumed they were exchanging code phrases. Evidently the Admiral had the right code because the guns were lowered and the Admiral was motioned aboard. He turned back to the men in the raft, "Doc, Kowalski, you're with me. Mr. Morton, Patterson, you'll stay with the raft."
"Aye, Sir," responded Morton.
Nelson and the others quickly boarded the boat. The boat's Captain greeted them hurriedly. "I'm glad you were on time. We can't stay here very long. The man you're here to pick up is below. I'm afraid he's very ill." He turned and gave orders for one of the crew to take them below deck. "Please go quickly."
Knowing the danger of being discovered increased with each passing moment, the men of the Seaview followed the crewman and descended below. They found Crane lying on a makeshift mattress with a young woman sitting on the floor beside him. Jamison went over to Crane, kneeling by his side. He opened his bag and began a quick examination. The woman rose and went to stand beside the Admiral.
As he examined Crane, Jamison kept up a running commentary on his findings. "He's seriously dehydrated and has a high fever. His pulse is rapid and his respiration's are shallow. I hear congestion in the lungs." He was quiet as he moved his stethoscope over Crane's chest to listen more closely to his breathing.
The young woman spoke quietly. "The congestion is probably from their 'water torture.' They hold the prisoner's head under water until he is just at the point of drowning, then they haul him up and ask their questions. If he doesn't answer immediately, they put him under again before he has had a chance to catch his breath. If the prisoner is strong and refuses to talk, it goes on for hours until the prisoner is near death."
She continued speaking in a soft, almost emotionless voice. "He wouldn't talk so they had to give up before they killed him. Then they went on to another of their fiendish inventions. They cuffed his hands behind him and attached the cuffs to a pulley. They hauled him up by his wrists to a great height and then dropped him until he was just a few feet from hitting the ground. The violent jerk at the end of the drop causes great pain in the prisoner's elbows, shoulders, and back. It is repeated over and over until either the prisoner talks or is unconscious. Once again, he would not talk so they dragged him out, unconscious, and put him in a cold cell. The next day they led him in again. The second day is worse because the injured joints are painfully stiff and swollen. Many prisoners break just at the sight of the apparatus on the second day. He did not and endured another day of pain. Fortunately, we were able to get him out that night before they could do anything more to him."
Jamison had been listening to her description of the torture as he examined Crane. He saw the raw, torn wrists, the swollen elbow joints, and when he moved his hands to his patient's shoulders; Crane moaned and feebly attempted to move away from the touch that brought pain. "No....No....I won't....No." The young woman hurried over and kneeling beside Crane, took a wet cloth from a bowl of water and gently bathed his face. Looking up at the doctor, she said, "He was unconscious when we took him from the cell and has remained so. He does not know he has been rescued." She continued bathing Crane's face with the cool water until he quieted and then she rose and returned to her former position beside the Admiral.
"How do you know so much about what happened to him?" asked the Admiral.
"I am a servant to these criminals." She said in a bitter tone. "Because I am a woman, they do not suspect that I am involved in the resistance. They let me see everything. They are proud of their cruelty and like to show off."
Before she could say anything more, Jamison interrupted with a question. "Do you know if they used any drugs on him?"
"No," she replied. "That was yet to come. Fortunately, we got him out in time."
Jamison persisted, "What about you? Did you give him anything, maybe something for pain?"
"I wish I could have, but I had nothing to ease his suffering."
Nelson interrupted Jamison's questions with one of his own. "Doc, what are you worried about?"
"Admiral," said Jamison, "A high fever like he has often causes delirium. That, coupled with the pain from his arm and shoulder injuries, will make it difficult to keep him quiet and still in the raft. I don't think you want to deal with a delirious, agitated man in such a small raft. Morphine will keep him quiet, but it's risky to use when I don't know if there are any other drugs in his system."
Nelson considered the doctor's words before answering, "I don't think you have any choice. We've got to get him off this boat before we're discovered, and, you're right, we need him to stay quiet in the raft. Do what you have to do and do it now."
Jamison prepared a syringe and injected Crane with the morphine. "Okay, it should take effect quickly." He looked up at Kowalski who had been standing quietly beside the Admiral. "Kowalski, give me a hand with him. I'll get his shoulders and you get his legs."
Kowalski moved to obey the order. He was glad to have something to do. The young woman's account of the torture Crane had endured had made him feel sick. He tried to be as gentle as possible when he lifted the injured man, hoping to avoid causing him any more pain. It was only a matter of minutes until they were all in the raft heading back to Seaview. Kowalski and Patterson handled the rowing. Morton sat beside the unconscious Crane while Jamison continued to monitor his condition.
Morton looked at the Admiral and said, "I never understood why he got involved with ONI. I tried to talk him out of it, but he wouldn't listen. I know he hated the missions--he much preferred to be commanding a sub--yet he never refused when ONI called him. He said it was his duty, that if his country needed him, then he had to go, and off he always went. He never came back in one piece. There was always a bullet crease or a concussion or some other injury, but I never saw him this bad before. I wish he were awake so we could tell him he's safe."
Nelson's reply was spoken too softly for Kowalski to hear. It was common knowledge that Crane and Morton had known each other before Crane came aboard Seaview, but Ski hadn't known how far back their acquaintance went. Kowalski decided they must have been close friends because the Exec sounded upset. Kowalski had to admit that seeing Crane hurt was making him feel pretty bad, too. He'd thought Crane was nothing but an ambitious hotshot, not the kind of man who would accept dangerous missions because they were his duty. Even though he'd never told anyone he thought Crane was a hotshot, he found himself feeling ashamed for even thinking it. Kowalski wished he could do something to help Crane, but the only thing he could do for him was to get him back to Seaview as quickly as possible. He concentrated fiercely on his rowing, pulling hard to increase their speed.
"Kowalski! Kowalski, listen up! Kowalski!!" Mr. Morton's voice finally penetrated Kowalski's consciousness as he watched the corpsmen carry Crane to Sickbay on a stretcher. "I'm sorry, Mr. Morton," apologized the seaman. "I didn't hear you. I was thinking about Commander Crane--do you think he'll be okay, Sir?"
Morton's angry expression softened. "I don't know, Ski, but I do know he's a fighter so that's a strong point in his favor. You did good work tonight, now go get breakfast and then get some rest before you're due on watch again."
"Aye, Sir." said Kowalski and headed off to the crew's quarters.
"It's no use!" Kowalski decided as he threw off the covers and got out of his bunk in the crew's quarters. He'd been trying to sleep, but he kept dreaming of that fishing boat and Crane lying injured on the floor. He kept remembering the woman's voice describing the torture Crane had endured, and the pictures those words created in his head made his stomach churn. He wanted to go to Sickbay and see how the Commander was doing, but he knew it wasn't his place.
"Well, if I can't sleep, I might as well go get something to eat. Maybe that will settle my stomach." He got up and dressed quietly so he wouldn't disturb Patterson and the night watch crew who were still sleeping. When he arrived at the crew's mess, there were a few men there waiting for an early dinner. As he helped himself to some coffee, he heard a voice calling him.
"Ski, come on over and sit with us."
Kowalski sat down and was immediately showered with questions about Crane. "Was he really doing spy stuff?" "I heard they tortured him--is that true?" "What did they do to him?" "Did he talk?"
"Hey, guys," sputtered Kowalski, "Let up a minute. I don't know much. I can only tell you what I saw." He paused a moment and then began his story. "We were out there rowing away and then we came up on this old fishing boat. The ship's Captain and the Admiral began talking in some sort of code. Then we went on board and they showed us where they had hidden Crane. He was out cold and looked real bad. The woman who was taking care of him said they tortured him. She said they..." Suddenly Kowalski found he couldn't continue and abruptly he got up, saying, "I can't tell you anymore--I have to go....somewhere!"
He fled from the room and hurried down the corridor without any idea where he was going. He paid no attention to the crewman who called out, "Kowalski, the deck's wet. Be careful!"
Before he knew what was happening, his feet shot out from under him and he heard, rather than felt, his head hit the deck.
"All right, Ski, I want you to lie back and try to rest." Jamison's voice was soothing as he spoke quietly to the injured crewman. "I don't think that bump on the head is serious--you weren't unconscious more than a few minutes and there's no sign of a concussion--but I want to keep you here under observation until morning."
"Doc," Kowalski protested, "I feel fine, just a little headache. Can't I go?" The crewman was embarrassed to be in Sickbay because of such a stupid accident--slipping on a wet floor. He'd never live it down.
"Sometimes symptoms of a concussion don't show up right away." Jamison explained. "We need to keep an eye on you. Now, lie back. If you need anything, I want you to call a corpsman. I don't want you getting up without someone with you, understand?"
Kowalski sighed mightily, resigned to the situation, "Okay, Doc. I understand."
"Good," said the doctor.
Jamison left Kowalski's bedside and walked over to the bunk where Crane was lying. The corpsman sitting at Crane's bedside looked up as the Doctor approached and Kowalski heard him say, "Dr. Jamison, I think he's going to wake up soon. He's getting restless, thrashing around and mumbling. Seems pretty upset."
Jamison leaned over and briefly examined Crane. "I think you're right. Stay with him while I call the Admiral. He's bound to be disoriented when he wakes up and I think it would be better for the Commander if he were to see a familiar face. Admiral Nelson and Mr. Morton both knew him before he came on board Seaview so I'll see if one of them is free."
Kowalski heard Jamison call for Nelson over the intercom and heard the Admiral agree to come right away. It was just a very few minutes before Nelson entered the Sickbay going directly to Crane's bedside to speak to Jamison.
"Doc, how is he?" The concern in his voice was evident to Kowalski.
"He's quite sick, Admiral," said Jamison. "He has pneumonia from aspirating water during their near-drowning torture. I have him on intravenous antibiotics, but it will take several hours for them to take effect and, in the meantime, his fever is over 103. The injuries to his arms, shoulders, and back are painful, but I don't think there will be any permanent damage. He's begun to show signs of waking up, but he's quite agitated, and I'm hoping that, as someone more familiar to him than the rest of us, you'll be able to calm him down so he can rest. The pneumonia is serious, Admiral, and he's going to need all his strength to fight it."
"I'll do whatever I can, Doc," promised the Admiral. He sat down next to Crane's bunk. The Commander was turning his head from side to side and crying out, "No....no.....I won't help you......not Seaview......she's far away.......she's safe.....you can't hurt her.........I won't let you hurt her.....no.....no!" Before the Admiral could say anything to him, Crane's eyes flew open and he tried to sit up. The pain in his shoulders stopped him and he gasped, lying rigid on the pillows until the pain eased.
"Easy, Lee." soothed the Admiral. "Easy, lad. You're safe now. You're here on Seaview and you're safe. No one's going to hurt you anymore."
The Admiral's words, meant to be reassuring, had the opposite effect. Crane turned his face toward him, his eyes wild. "No, I can't be on Seaview. They're after her. They..." Crane was suddenly seized by a violent fit of coughing. Lying on his back, unable to sit up because of the shoulder injuries, he began to choke. Jamison quickly leaned over and reached past Nelson. "Admiral, help me turn him on his side." The two men gently rolled Crane onto his side to ease the choking.
When the coughing fit subsided, Crane was breathless. While his patient caught his breath, Jamison pulled pillows off some nearby bunks and put them behind Crane, propping him on his side. Then he pulled up a chair and sat down to make it easier for Crane to see him. "Commander," Jamison said, "I know the coughing is painful with your shoulder injuries--there's no permanent damage there, by the way--but you need to cough. You have pneumonia, probably from breathing in water during their interrogation sessions. We're giving you antibiotics through the IV and when they take effect your fever should go down and the congestion in your lungs should start to ease. The coughing will help clear your lungs, so painful as it is, it's necessary. Now, as I said, your arm and shoulder injuries aren't serious, but I know they're very painful. I can give you medication for the pain if you want it."
"No, not right now." Crane sounded weak but determined. "I have to talk to Admiral Nelson."
"All right, but only for a few minutes, then you need to rest." Jamison stood and left the Admiral alone with Crane.
"Admiral," said Crane. "Seaview is in danger. You've got to get her away from here!" He tried to raise himself up from the bed, but that only forced a gasp of pain from his lips and brought on another fit of coughing.
"Easy, Lee, easy now," soothed the Admiral. "Seaview's fine. We're far away from their territorial waters. They never knew we were even close!"
"No," Crane said urgently. "You don't understand. They knew too much about her--they even knew I had been in command. Someone must have been giving them information." He stopped to cough and then continued, "Not all their information was right--they didn't know I turned down command of Seaview. They wanted me to work for them, feed them information on Seaview's missions. When I refused, they tried to get whatever they could out of me." Crane's voice faltered slightly and then he continued in a stronger tone, "Admiral, there has to be a double agent in ONI. I'm sure I was set up."
Nelson's voice was grim as he replied, "I talked to Admiral Jones this morning and he agrees with you. He wants you debriefed as soon as possible. Dr. Jamison says you can't be moved until the pneumonia clears up so they're sending someone here to talk to you. He should arrive sometime in the morning."
"Admiral, I shouldn't be here on Seaview--it puts her in danger. Whoever this double agent is, he's going to try to protect himself and he might go after Seaview to get to me. Let me go to Washington and be debriefed there."
"No, Lee," Nelson said firmly. "Dr. Jamison said you're too ill to travel and so you're staying here. There'll be no more arguing about it." His tone made it clear he would indeed hear no more arguments.
"Aye, Sir," said Crane, adding hastily. "I didn't mean to sound ungrateful after you rescued me. I am very grateful--I wouldn't have made it out of there if it weren't for you and Seaview. She's a real lady." Crane's strength was fading and his eyes were closing. "I'm glad to be aboard her even if it is only for a little while." His eyes closed and he slept.
Nelson leaned back in his chair with a sigh and said softly, "It doesn't have to be only for a little while, lad. Seaview could be your "lady," as you put it, if you'd accept the command." Sighing once again, he got up and left Sickbay, telling Dr. Jamison to keep him informed on Crane's condition.
Sickbay was quiet as Crane slept and Dr. Jamison worked on paperwork. Kowalski tried to sleep, too, but he couldn't stop thinking about the conversation he'd overheard. He hadn't expected Crane to be so worried about Seaview. He sounded like he really cared about her. The ONI stuff wasn't like he expected either. It wasn't exciting or glamorous like in the movies, it was lonely and dangerous. Kowalski shuddered when he thought about the torture Crane had endured. He thought he was going to die, thought Kowalski, and he was willing to die to protect Seaview. I thought he was just a hotshot, but now... Trying to figure it out made Kowalski's head pound so he gave up and went to sleep.
Kowalski awoke to the sound of coughing. At first he tried to ignore it and go back to sleep, thinking that Doc or a corpsman would deal with it, but it continued and sounded really bad. Fully awake now and concerned, Kowalski got out of the bunk, and, realizing it was Crane coughing, went over to his bed. He saw Crane struggling to sit up so he could cough more effectively, but it was obvious the pain and stiffness in his shoulders was stopping him. Kowalski quickly slipped a strong arm under Crane's shoulders and helped him sit up and lean forward. After a few desperate minutes that seemed like hours to the concerned seaman, Crane was able to stop coughing and breathe more easily.
As Crane caught his breath, Kowalski reached over and grabbed the extra pillows that had slid off the bunk, putting them behind Crane so he could lean back, but still be propped up. As Kowalski eased him back against the pillows, Crane looked up at him and murmured, "Thanks, Kowalski."
"You're welcome, Sir. Is there anything else I can do for you?"
"No, I'm fine now. But what are you doing here? Are you ill?"
"Just a bump on my hard head, Sir. Doc Jamison is a bit of a worrywart so he wanted me to stay here overnight. It's really nothing, Sir."
"I woke you with my damned coughing, didn't I? I'm sorry, Kowalski. You'd better get back in bed before the Doc gets back. I'm sure he won't be pleased to see you up."
"Aye, Skipper," replied Kowalski.
Crane corrected the crewman gently. "I'm not the skipper on this cruise, Kowalski. I'm just a fortunate rescuee who's very glad Seaview came along when she did."
"I'm sorry, Sir," Kowalski apologized. He turned to go back to his bunk but just then the corpsman returned and was dismayed to see both his patients awake and one of them out of bed.
"Kowalski," he said sternly, "what are you doing out of bed? You're supposed to be under observation for a head injury and that means you're not to get out of bed without help."
Crane spoke up before Kowalski had a chance to reply. "I'm afraid it's my fault he's up. I woke him when I started coughing and he came over to see if he could help me. I'd appreciate it if you could check him out and make sure he didn't do himself any harm by getting up."
Despite the fact that he was a patient in Sickbay and not in command of Seaview on this mission, Crane's voice held an unmistakable note of authority and the corpsman didn't hesitate to obey.
"Of course, Sir, I'll look at him right away." He turned toward the seaman and said, "C'mon, Ski, get back into bed and let me have a look at you."
The corpsman did a quick examination and then informed both Crane and Kowalski that the seaman seemed just fine and would probably be released from Sickbay in the morning. "Now, you go back to sleep, Ski." urged the corpsman, "I'll look after the Commander from now on."
Kowalski closed his eyes as the corpsman moved over to Crane's bunk, but sleep didn't come immediately and he couldn't help but overhear the conversation as the corpsman tended to Crane.
"Commander, I'm sorry I wasn't here when you started coughing. We were out of the antibiotic I'm supposed to give you, and Dr. Jamison is a real stickler for giving medication on time so I went to get some from the supply room. I checked on both of you before I left and thought I wouldn't be gone long enough for there to be a problem. I'm really sorry, Sir."
To Kowalski's great surprise, Crane didn't jump down the corpsman's throat. Instead he reassured the obviously distressed corpsman. "You had conflicting orders and you tried to do what was best. I'm fine, and Kowalski's fine, so there was no harm done."
"I appreciate your understanding, Sir," said the corpsman, "I want you to know that I will report this to Dr. Jamison. I won't make any excuses, Sir."
Crane looked at him approvingly, "Good, all incidents should be reported accurately. That's the only way problems with procedures can be found and corrected. It's not about placing blame, it's about improving things so every man on the boat can do his best."
The corpsman blushed, "Thank you, Sir. Now, I need to give you this antibiotic and then we'll see if we can get you comfortable enough to go back to sleep."
Kowalski mulled over Crane's words. Now he understood why Crane had seemed so intolerant of even the smallest mistake--he wanted to find out if there was a way to change things so mistakes could be avoided. He wasn't interested in blaming the crew, he just wanted to make it possible for them to do their very best. A grudging respect for the man behind the rank was growing in Kowalski. Confused by his feelings, Kowalski turned over and tried to will himself to sleep.
He soon realized that he wasn't the only one having trouble falling asleep. Kowalski could Crane moving about restlessly in his bunk and coughing frequently. He remembered that Crane had felt awfully warm when he'd helped him sit up and he figured he had a pretty high fever. Kowalski kept his eyes closed and never let on that he couldn't sleep, not wanting Crane to feel bad over keeping him awake. Finally, just before the end of the watch, Kowalski heard the corpsman say something to Crane about the fever breaking and making him comfortable in another bunk. There was a bit of activity as the corpsman got Crane settled and then Sickbay became very quiet. The Skipper must finally be getting some sleep, thought Kowalski, and then, feeling relieved, he did the same.
Kowalski woke up to see Dr. Jamison smiling down at him. "It's been a quiet morning in Sickbay with both my patients sleeping so soundly. I was beginning to think I might have to wake you for lunch! How are you feeling, Kowalski? Any headache?"
"No, Sir," replied Kowalski as he started to sit up. "I feel fine."
The doctor observed him closely as he sat up. "Any dizziness?"
"No, none. Can I get up?"
"Not so fast." cautioned Jamison. "Stand up slowly and then try walking over to the examination table. I need to check you over before I release you."
Kowalski went over and sat on the table with no difficulty. While Jamison did his examination, Kowalski saw that Crane was still asleep. He decided to ask Dr. Jamison about Crane's condition.
"Hey, Doc, is the Skipper going to be all right?"
Jamison looked at him, concern showing in his eyes. "The Skipper, Ski? Maybe that knock on the head is more serious than I thought. Captain Beckner is in the Control Room. There's nothing wrong with him."
Red-faced, Kowalski explained, "I didn't mean Captain Beckner, Doc. I meant Commander Crane over there. I heard him coughing last night and I just wondered if he's going to be all right."
Jamison smiled in relief. "The corpsman said you'd gotten up last night when the Commander had a bad coughing spell. We've already changed our procedures so that won't happen again. From now on, anyone going off duty in Sickbay will check on medications needed for the next watch and make sure they're in the cabinet before leaving. You don't have to worry about the Commander--he's doing much better. The pneumonia is clearing up and his fever is down. Calling him Skipper like that--do you know something the rest of us don't? The last I heard, Admiral Nelson had offered the Captaincy to him, but he hadn't given the Admiral an answer."
"Naw, I don't know anything," Kowalski muttered. "It just slipped out. I don't know why. Can I go now?"
"Sure, I'll tell Mr. Morton you can stand watch later today. Go get something to eat and then take it easy until your next watch. If you have any headaches or dizziness, I want you to come back here right away."
Kowalski stood up quickly, anxious to leave Sickbay. "Aye, Sir. Thanks." He left Sickbay and headed for the crew's mess. He couldn't believe that he'd referred to Crane as Skipper twice! The Commander wasn't Seaview's Captain and, if the scuttlebutt was right, he didn't want to be. Kowalski shook his head as if that would help him figure things out. It just doesn't make sense. The Skipper, no--the Commander--let those guys torture him instead of telling them stuff about Seaview. And when he first woke up in Sickbay, all he was worried about was if Seaview was in danger. He cares about Seaview; he cares about her a lot, Kowalski decided, so why doesn't he want to be her Captain?
Still confused by his changing attitude toward Crane, Kowalski entered the crew's mess. He helped himself to soup and a sandwich and then sat down without greeting the other crew members who were there. Patterson got up and came over to sit across from him.
"Hey, Ski," said Patterson. "You're awfully quiet. Are you feeling okay?"
Kowalski looked up and replied, "Sure, Pat. I feel fine. I was just thinking about something."
"Uh oh," said Patterson with a grin, "That's sure to get you in trouble! What's on your mind?"
Kowalski smiled briefly at his friend's teasing and then grew serious again as he explained. "I was thinking about Commander Crane. I don't know--seeing him on that boat and then in Sickbay--hurt like that...." He leaned forward and spoke earnestly. "Those goons hurt him bad trying to make him talk about Seaview and when he woke up in Sickbay, he was real upset. He thought Seaview was in danger because of us coming to get him. The Admiral had a real hard time convincing him that Seaview was safe. I don't get it--I thought he didn't want to be Seaview's Captain because he thought she wasn't important enough to help his career--and then he gets all upset because she might be in danger!"
Patterson considered Kowalski's words. "Yeah, I see what you mean. I don't know, maybe it's not about Seaview being important or not, maybe there's some other reason he doesn't want to be Captain."
An idea suddenly occurred to Kowalski. "Pat, do you think it could be because of us? We treated him pretty badly when he came aboard and even after the mission, on the way home, we acted like we didn't want to take orders from him!"
"We were pretty bad." admitted Patterson. "I suppose that could be the reason. I know I wouldn't want to be Captain if my crew treated me like that!"
The other crewmen, overhearing the conversation between Kowalski and Patterson, had come over to stand by their table. They'd all been shocked and sobered by the sight of Crane being carried, unconscious, through Seaview to Sickbay. When he'd been in command of Seaview, they'd all regarded him as an intruder, someone who was trying to take Captain Phillips' place, and they'd made sure he knew they considered him an outsider. Now, seeing him hurt, they found themselves feeling angry that 'one of their own' had suffered at the hands of the enemy. They, too, were struggling with the mixed emotions that Kowalski was expressing and feeling regret for their actions.
Kowalski seemed to speak for all of them when he declared, "What we did wasn't right, Pat. We've got to show him we can do better. Then, maybe he'll stay on." Low murmurs of assent were heard around the room.
Patterson voiced the question that was in everyone's mind. "Is that what you want, Ski? Do you want him to stay on? You were the one who complained the most about him--you were the one he hit!"
Kowalski fell silent, remembering how angry he had been when Crane had tried to sneak aboard Seaview and had punched him. Now, knowing that Crane had been betrayed by a double agent, probably someone he knew and trusted, Kowalski could understand why he was so concerned about security, why he could never take the boat's safety for granted. Kowalski thought hard about whether he wanted this man to be his Captain. The room was silent as each member of the crew did the same. Kowalski was the first to come to a decision as he declared, "I was wrong, and I'm not too proud to admit it. I was wrong about Commander Crane. He should be Seaview's Captain. Seaview needs him and we do, too!"
This time the voices of assent were louder and more emphatic. Realizing that he had been overheard, Kowalski stood up on a bench and addressed the men. "Look, guys, we're all agreed that Commander Crane should be Captain of Seaview, so we've got to show him what we're really like as a crew. We've got to be the best damn crew he's ever seen. Spread the word to the others. We can't have any slackers."
With comments of "Okay, Ski," and "You've got it, Ski," the men left to stand their duty watches, filled with enthusiasm for the first time since Captain Phillips' death. Patterson looked at Kowalski approvingly, "I like it, Ski. That's what Seaview is about--being the best. We needed to be reminded of that."
"Yeah, it does feel good, doesn't it?" grinned Kowalski and then he grew serious. "I just hope it works and that Commander Crane decides to stay on. We really need him, Pat."
Kowalski was at his usual duty station in the Control Room when the Navy chopper arrived with the ONI officer. Captain Beckner went topside to greet the officer while Admiral Nelson and Mr. Morton waited in the Control Room. Keeping his eyes firmly on the sonar screen in front of him, Kowalski heard the footsteps on the ladder when Beckner and the officer descended into the Control Room, and then he heard Captain Beckner make the introductions.
"Admiral Nelson, this is Commander Thomas Cahill from ONI. Commander, this is Admiral Nelson and Mr. Morton, Seaview's Executive Officer."
Cahill greeted the officers, "Admiral Nelson, it's an honor to meet you, Sir. Chip, it's good to see you. It's been a long time since you and Lee and I served together."
Kowalski was curious to know more and was glad when Morton felt compelled to explain to the Admiral, "Tom, Lee, and I served together on our first assignment after the Academy. Tom went on to ONI right after that and Lee and I both went on to other assignments. I haven't seen Tom since then."
Cahill took up the explanation. "Lee and I have run into each other occasionally because of his work for ONI. I always tried to talk him into going full-time with us, but he wouldn't do it. After seeing Seaview, I can see why he prefers command over ONI work."
Kowalski listened intently both for the words in the Admiral's reply and for his tone. The tone was gruff so the seaman knew Nelson was not pleased--the Admiral always sounded like that when he was forced to discuss something he'd rather avoid. "Commander Crane has been offered command of Seaview, but has not yet given his formal acceptance of the command."
Cahill's voice revealed his surprise. "Why, I would have thought he would jump at it. Maybe he's changing his mind about sub service and is ready to accept a full-time position at ONI."
Oh no! groaned Kowalski, He can't go to ONI--we need him on Seaview!
Morton jumped back into the conversation. "I wouldn't push him, Tom. I don't think working for ONI would be very appealing just now--not after this last mission. It was pretty bad."
The ONI officer's response reassured Seaview's Exec, but not Kowalski. "I'll just tell him the offer's still open but I won't push him, Chip. It wouldn't work, anyway--nobody can be more stubborn than Lee Crane." His voice took on a concerned tone. "How is he? Do you think he's up to a debriefing session?"
"According to Dr. Jamison, he should be up to a short session." replied Nelson brusquely. "Commander, I'll show you the way to Sickbay." Nelson turned and left the Control Room without waiting for a response from Cahill.
"Weeooo!" whistled Kowalski silently so no one would hear. "The Admiral is definitely not pleased. I'd bet a week's pay that Commander Cahill is about to be told in no uncertain terms that he is not to recruit Commander Crane for ONI. You tell him, Admiral!"
Kowalski was walking along the corridor that went past Sickbay when he realized the man in officer's khaki far ahead of him was Commander Cahill. Even though he had been on duty and unable to get a look at the ONI officer in the Control Room, he had run into him later when Cahill was being given a tour of the boat. He wondered idly what Cahill was doing wandering around the boat so late. He wasn't aware of any orders to restrict Cahill's access to any areas of the boat so he figured it was really none of his concern. Kowalski continued to watch the officer as he stopped outside of Sickbay. I guess he wants to talk to Commander Crane again, decided the seaman. He was stunned when he saw Cahill reach inside his jacket and pull out a gun. The officer released the safety and then concealed the gun again before entering Sickbay.
Why would he take a gun into Sickbay? He's supposed to be a friend of Crane's, so why would he need a gun? wondered Kowalski. While he tried to come up with a reasonable explanation for Cahill's actions, he saw the door to Sickbay open and Dr. Jamison and a corpsman leave. They headed down the corridor in the opposite direction so they didn't see Kowalski.
The crewman didn't know what to do. Cahill was an ONI officer and had the right to talk to Crane--but alone and with a gun! That just didn't seem right. He decided he had to know what was going on so he quietly slipped inside Jamison's office. The door between the doctor's office and Sickbay was closed. Kowalski went over and put his ear against the door. He knew if he was caught, he was going to be in big trouble, but he had to go with his gut feeling that something was very wrong. He held his breath and listened. The voice he heard first was Cahill's, but instead of sounding smooth and easy like it did in the Control Room, it sounded hard and menacing.
"Lee, your story about being set up by a double agent in ONI just isn't going to hold up. My investigation is going to prove that you contacted the enemy yourself because you wanted to sell information about Seaview to them. You hoped to convince them that, as Captain of Seaview, it would be easy for you to learn all her secrets and pass them along--for a substantial fee, of course. But, your plan backfired--you didn't know enough about Seaview to satisfy them and they turned on you. Tonight is going to be the final proof. You see, I came here tonight to confront you with my 'theory.' You, knowing that your treachery would be exposed, will try to take my gun and escape. In the struggle, you'll be shot and killed. It will be regrettable that the Navy won't be able to court-martial you, but ONI will be satisfied that they've found their double agent. No one will mourn the death of a traitor."
Kowalski heard Crane challenge the ONI officer. "Your story has some holes in it, Cahill. I didn't have any information to sell. I turned down command of Seaview."
"Yes, I know." replied Cahill. "The Admiral told me because he thought that, being an old friend, I might be able to change your mind. He told me your reason--some nonsense about the crew not trusting you. I can hear you now, so earnest, so upright." His voice took on the mocking tone of one child taunting another, "'Admiral, if the crew doesn't have faith in me, they might hesitate to follow my orders in an emergency. That could put the crew and the boat at risk. I can't let that happen.'" Cahill's voice changed and he asked harshly, "Did I get it right? Wasn't that just what you said? You always did concern yourself with the wrong things, Crane. Trust, duty, honor--they're just words, stupid words. If you want to get ahead, you've got to think about money and power like I do. We could have been a great team if you'd gone full-time in ONI. You're good at this undercover stuff and I've got all the right contacts. I've done all right on my own, but with your help, we could have made millions by now!"
"I'm not interested in millions, Cahill. Never was, never will be."
Cahill's tone was mocking again, "You'd give up millions for country and crew, wouldn't you? The irony is that this crew that you care so much about, doesn't care about you. You're right about them, they don't trust you. Actually, that will work to my advantage since they'll be eager to accept my story. They'll be very pleased to find out the man they disliked was a traitor. Why, those stupid fools will be patting themselves on the back for weeks, claiming they knew it all along."
Kowalski was becoming more and more outraged as he listened to Cahill. So that's why Crane turned down command--he thinks we don't trust him! But that's wrong--we do trust him! No one will believe that Crane is a traitor, no one! Kowalski listened intently for Crane's response and when he didn't hear anything, he became worried that Cahill had done something to knock Crane out before shooting him. Kowalski realized there was no time to get help. He was the only one close enough to stop Cahill. The problem was he had no weapon, and Cahill was armed. Well, he thought, I just have to take him by surprise. I can't let the Skipper down!
Opening the door between Doc's office and Sickbay as quietly as he could, Kowalski stepped into the room. Unfortunately, Cahill heard the door and began to turn in Kowalski's direction. Crane, however, reacted even faster than Cahill. He seized the IV pole next to his bunk and hit Cahill with it. The force of the blow knocked Cahill down and ripped the IV needles from Crane's arm. Crane cried out in pain as blood spurted from his arm and his injured shoulders protested the violent movement, but he didn't let either stop him. He threw himself at Cahill and the two struggled for the gun.
"Kowalski," yelled Crane. "Get out of here! Call the Master-at-Arms!"
As Kowalski started to turn to obey the order, the gun discharged and he heard the bullet strike the wall. The noise of the discharge so close to Crane's head momentarily stunned the injured man, and Kowalski saw Cahill wrench the gun from Crane's grasp and throw him aside. Just as Kowalski prepared to jump Cahill, the door to Sickbay burst open, and Admiral Nelson, Commander Morton, Dr. Jamison, and several armed security officers burst into the room.
"Hold it, Cahill!" thundered the Admiral. "Hold it right there."
Realizing he had no alternative, Cahill did as he was ordered. Nelson continued, "Give the gun to the security officer and then stand up slowly." As soon as he was on his feet, the security officers seized him by the arms.
"Admiral," said Kowalski. "Commander Cahill is a double agent. He was going to kill Commander Crane and then frame him as a traitor."
The Admiral nodded, "I suspected as much when he lied to Jamison about receiving an urgent message from ONI." Turning to Cahill, he said, "That was careless of you--using an excuse we could check on. ONI was getting suspicious of you, weren't they? You were desperate to frame Crane to divert suspicion from yourself--so desperate you made a stupid mistake."
"It almost worked," snarled Cahill. "If that sailor hadn't blundered in, Crane would be dead and branded as a traitor. I'd have been hailed as a hero and would have been free to continue my work. But don't worry, Admiral, I've got friends who will get me out of this. I've done a lot for them over the years and they owe me."
"Take him to the brig," ordered Nelson with a dismissive wave of his hand. Morton and the two security officers led Cahill out of Sickbay. The Exec was nearly out the door when he turned back and looked over to where Jamison was kneeling at Crane's side. "Admiral," he began, but Nelson interrupted him before he could finish.
"I'll see that you're informed about Commander Crane's condition." His tone softened as he continued, "I know he's a friend. Doc will take good care of him. Now, get Cahill to the brig and then bring Captain Beckner up to date. Also, have Sparks put in a call to ONI for me."
"Aye, Sir," said Morton as he turned to leave Sickbay and carry out his orders.
Kowalski realized that he had been forgotten when Nelson turned away and went over to stoop down by Jamison and Crane. The seaman thought he should probably leave, but he, too, was concerned about Crane so he stood quietly in a corner of the room.
He watched and listened as Jamison continued examining the semi-conscious Crane. The doctor turned to Nelson and said, "I think it's safe to move him to the examination table. Help me sit him up, but do it slow and easy." They sat Crane up, but he was dazed and unable to sit upright on his own.
Jamison continued giving directions to Nelson. "Admiral, can you use this pad and put pressure on the wound on his arm? It's going to need a few stitches and I want to minimize the blood loss. Got it? Okay, let's get him up." The two men had to practically carry Crane over to the examination table. The Admiral continued the pressure on Crane's arm as he and the doctor eased him down onto the table.
Just as his head reached the pillow, Crane suddenly and violently resisted the efforts to lay him down. He struggled to sit up and Nelson and Jamison quickly moved to stop him. "Kowalski," Crane cried, struggling against their restraining hands, "I have to help Kowalski. He's hurt!"
"Easy, Commander," soothed Jamison thinking Crane was remembering that Kowalski had been in Sickbay for a head injury. "Kowalski's fine. His head injury wasn't serious and I released him from Sickbay. You don't have to worry about him. Now just lie back."
"No," insisted Crane, still struggling against them. "I heard the gun go off. He was here. He could have been hit. I have to help him!"
Looking around the room, Jamison saw Kowalski in the corner of the room and motioned him to come over. Kowalski hesitantly approached the examination table.
"I need him to calm down," said the doctor. "Talk to him. Tell him you're not hurt. You're not, are you?" questioned Jamison.
"No, I'm fine." replied Kowalski. "The bullet hit the wall over there." He leaned over so Crane could see him. "Skipper, it's Kowalski. I'm all right, Sir. I wasn't hit, not even nicked. You need to relax and let the Doc take care of you. Don't worry about me."
Crane stopped struggling and looked at the anxious sailor. "Kowalski, you're all right? You weren't hit?"
"I'm fine, Skipper. The bullet hit the wall clear on the other side of the room. Now you just take it easy, Sir."
Crane relaxed then and murmured softly, "Had to make sure you weren't hurt--my responsibility." His eyes closed and he drifted off.
Jamison turned to Kowalski. "It's a good thing you were here. He was so worried you'd been hurt that it might have taken some heavy-duty sedation to calm him enough for me to treat his injuries. Thanks to you and your bedside manner, I was able to avoid that."
Kowalski was embarrassed and stammered out a reply. "I'm glad I could help."
The Admiral relieved the crewman's embarrassment by dismissing him. "Good work, Kowalski. We'll be able to take it from here."
"Yes, Sir," said Kowalski and he practically fled from the Sickbay.
Kowalski stood just outside the Observation Nose and swallowed hard. When he'd reported for duty this morning, he'd been told to report to Admiral Nelson in the Nose. He was sure he was in trouble for eavesdropping on Commander Cahill in Sickbay. Last night in all the confusion and with everyone concerned about Commander Crane, his infraction had been overlooked, but now he was expecting to be disciplined.
Squaring his shoulders, he entered the Observation Nose and said, "Admiral Nelson, Seaman Kowalski reporting as ordered, Sir."
The Admiral turned to face him and Kowalski noticed that the Admiral didn't look as angry as he had expected. The question Nelson asked, however, was the one he had been dreading. "Yes, Kowalski, I want to know how you came to be in Sickbay last night."
Kowalski remembered what Crane had said about excuses--that they didn't help fix things that were wrong. Well, there was no excuse for what he had done, so all he could do was tell the truth and take the consequences. "I was walking down the corridor, Sir, and saw Commander Cahill outside the door to Sickbay. I was pretty far down the corridor and he didn't know I was there. He stopped just outside the door and I could see him check his gun and release the safety. It seemed strange to me that he would take a gun to Sickbay. I mean, Commander Crane was hurt, and, besides that, he was supposed to be his friend. The next thing I saw was Dr. Jamison and the corpsman leaving Sickbay. I knew Commander Crane was alone with Cahill and Cahill had a gun. It just didn't seem right so I went in to Doc's office to see if I could hear what was going on. I know I shouldn't have been listening to them like that, but I was worried about Commander Crane and I just didn't know what else to do. I know this will go on my record, Sir, and I just hope you won't make me leave Seaview."
"Kowalski," said the Admiral, "while I don't condone eavesdropping on senior officers, you did the right thing in these circumstances. If you hadn't been there to interrupt Cahill, he would probably have killed Crane before the rest of us got to Sickbay. I'm not going to reprimand you and there will be no black mark on your record."
The seaman let out his breath in a big sigh of relief, "Thank you, Sir. If you don't mind me asking, how did you know to come to Sickbay?"
"Cahill persuaded Doc and the corpsman to leave by telling them that he had received an urgent coded message from ONI, a message that he could only share with Crane in private. Doc was reluctant to leave, but Cahill insisted it was a matter of national security so Jamison left and came to the Wardroom. Mr. Morton and I came in just after him. We had both been in the Control Room for several hours. When Dr. Jamison mentioned that Cahill said he had received a message, we knew Cahill was lying because there had been no messages for him from ONI. I called Security and we headed for the Sickbay. You know the rest. I talked to Admiral Jones at ONI this morning. Apparently Cahill has been a double agent for years and ONI was getting suspicious. He needed to find someone else to take the blame so he sent Commander Crane on the mission and then set him up to be captured. He also arranged to be the investigating officer that was sent to Seaview so he could frame Crane. He just didn't count on a member of Seaview's crew being so alert!"
Kowalski was relieved that he wasn't in trouble, but he still had one other concern and he voiced it, saying, "Sir, will the Skipper be all right? He looked pretty bad last night."
Nelson looked at him keenly before answering. "I think you mean Commander Crane, and yes, he'll be fine. It looked worse than it was. He needed a few stitches in his arm where the IV needles were torn out, and he did re-injure his shoulders so it will take a bit longer for them to heal, but no serious damage was done. That's the second time I've heard you refer to Commander Crane as 'Skipper'--you called him that in Sickbay last night, too."
The seaman looked embarrassed as he said, "I'm sorry, Admiral. It just slips out--I guess because it feels right."
"It feels right to me, too. I just wish it would feel right to Commander Crane."
Kowalski didn't know if he should say anything more, but since the Admiral seemed willing to talk, he decided to risk it. "Admiral, Cahill said Commander Crane turned down command of Seaview because he thought we didn't trust him and he felt that would put Seaview and us at risk. Is that Commander Crane's reason for not accepting command of Seaview?"
Nelson's voice sounded discouraged as he answered the crewman, "Yes, Kowalski, it is."
"But that's not true, Sir. We do trust him and we want him to be our Captain. I know we didn't do our best for him on the last mission and that was wrong, but we've been trying to show him we can do better. We've all been doing our very best on this mission so he would see we could be a really good crew. We need him, Admiral; we need him because he thinks of Seaview and us before he thinks of himself. Last night he was the one hurt and bleeding and all he was worried about was me and if I was hit. He said I was his responsibility. That's what a Captain would do and he should be Seaview's Captain. He's got to stay; he's just got to! Please tell him that, Admiral."
The Admiral sighed, "I'll do my best to try and convince him, Ski, but I can't guarantee he'll believe me. Now, I've kept you from your watch long enough. You'd better report for duty."
"Aye, Sir," said Kowalski. As he headed for the Control Room, he thought about what the Admiral had said. Maybe just trying to do their very best wasn't enough to show Crane they wanted him to stay; maybe they had to do something more. But what could they do that would convince him to stay and be their Captain?
Once again Kowalski found himself standing nervously just outside Seaview's Observation Nose. The boat was several hours away from its home base in Santa Barbara and Kowalski knew if there was any hope of convincing Crane to accept command of Seaview, he had to talk to him before they reached port.
Kowalski had gone first to Sickbay, all prepared with a carefully rehearsed speech, and had been dismayed to learn that Crane had been released and had gone to the Observation Nose. The words of his speech had become more and more jumbled in his mind the closer he got to his destination and now he wasn't sure he could remember any of it. 'Commander Crane.' he kept reminding himself, Call him Commander Crane, not Skipper. He took a final deep breath to steady his nerves and was just about to enter the Nose when he heard the Admiral's voice.
"Lee, I'm glad to see you up and about. I wasn't sure Dr. Jamison would release you from Sickbay before we docked."
"He didn't want to," Kowalski heard Crane admit, "but I told the good doctor I didn't intend to spend my last few hours aboard Seaview in Sickbay."
"It doesn't have to be your last few hours aboard Seaview, Lee," said the Admiral in his most persuasive tone. "I wish you'd reconsider your decision to decline command of Seaview."
Kowalski held his breath as he waited for Crane's response. Maybe Crane would accept the Captaincy after all. His hopes were quickly dashed as Crane began speaking, "I can't do that, Admiral. I wish I could, but I can't. The crew doesn't trust me. If I were permanently in command, that lack of trust would put Seaview and the crew at risk."
Even standing outside the Nose, Kowalski could the deep regret in the Commander's voice. He strained to listen, as Crane's voice became even softer. "I've been listening to the intercom the last few days in Sickbay and I've heard how well things are going under Captain Beckner's command, much better than they did for me. I'm sorry, Sir, I wish I were the right Captain for Seaview, but I'm not."
Kowalski felt sick as Crane ended his emotion-filled speech. All their effort to show him how good a crew they could be had backfired. All they had accomplished was to make Crane even more sure that he should refuse the command. Before Nelson could reply to Crane, Kowalski loudly cleared his throat to announce his presence. The Admiral turned and looked in the crewman's direction. Kowalski saw Crane looking out the window, lightly stroking the glass, his reflection in the window revealing his sadness. Nelson, impatient with the interruption, spoke brusquely to the sailor. "Yes, Kowalski, did you need to see me about something?"
"Actually, Admiral," replied Kowalski. "I came to see the S...," Kowalski caught himself just in time, hesitated, and then said firmly, "I came to see Commander Crane."
Crane turned away from the window and said, "What is it, Kowalski, do you have a message for me?"
"Not the kind of message you mean, Sir," replied Kowalski. "But I do have a message." Kowalski couldn't remember any of the words in the speech he had practiced, so he spoke earnestly from his heart. "I'm here on behalf of the crew. We've been talking, Sir, and we're all very sorry for the way we treated you on the last mission. We didn't do our best for you and that wasn't right. We've been trying to do better on this mission so you wouldn't think we were a bad crew. We know we don't deserve it, but we all hope you'll give us a second chance. And, just to show you how much we think of you, Sir, we have something for you. One of our machinists made it. We hope you'll stay on Seaview and use it here, but if we disappointed you so much that you can't stay, we hope it will remind you of Seaview, and of us, and that the memories won't be all bad."
During this long speech Kowalski had his hands behind his back, but now he brought his right hand around to the front. In his hand was a desk nameplate, which read:
Captain Lee Crane
A simple drawing of Seaview's nose had also been etched into the metal. Aware of Crane's injured shoulders, Kowalski stepped closer to Crane and held the nameplate out so Crane could reach it without having to stretch. Crane took the gift without saying anything and looked at it for a long minute. Nelson was the one to break the silence. Smiling at Crane and Kowalski, he said, "Well, Commander, perhaps that will help you with your decision."
Crane was silent for another long minute and Kowalski held his breath waiting for his answer. Then Crane looked up and said, "Admiral, with your permission, I'd like to speak to the crew and I'd like to do it from the Control Room."
"Of course, Lee." replied the Admiral.
"Thank you, Sir."
Crane headed off in the direction of the Control Room with Nelson and Kowalski behind him. When they reached the Control Room, Crane stood by the plot table as Nelson spoke to Captain Beckner. "Commander Crane has asked to speak to the crew before we dock and I've granted his request."
"Of course, Sir." said Beckner.
Crane started to reach for the mike, but Kowalski, knowing that the stretch would cause him pain, picked it up first and handed it to him. "Here you are, Skipper." Crane looked him in the eyes for a moment and then took the mike.
"Attention all hands. This is Commander Crane. I asked Admiral Nelson if I could speak to all of you. First of all, I want to thank you for coming to my rescue. You saved my life and I'm truly grateful. I also want to thank you for the handsome gift that Kowalski just presented to me. Seaview is the finest boat with the best crew that I've ever had the opportunity to command."
He paused and Kowalski's heart sank once again. It sounds like a farewell speech.
He listened as Crane continued, "Admiral Nelson has asked me to be Seaview's Captain but I have not given him a final answer. I will now. I would like Admiral Nelson and all of you to know that I consider it an honor and a privilege to be asked to serve with you and," Crane paused again and took a deep breath before continuing in a strong voice. "I formally accept command of Seaview." He was smiling now as Admiral Nelson, Captain Beckner, and Mr. Morton offered their congratulations and cheers broke out all over the boat. If the Skipper had any last doubts about the crew's feelings toward him" Kowalski thought happily, those cheers should take care of that!
When things had quieted down in the Control Room, Captain Beckner turned to Crane. "Commander, I'd like to formally offer you my congratulations. As you said, Seaview is a fine boat with a worthy crew--I learned that from being on board--and now they have an equally worthy Captain. I think it would please everyone, including me, if Seaview were to come into her home port with her new Captain in command."
Seaview's new Captain tried to keep a formal Navy demeanor as he thanked Captain Beckner and then officially took over command of Seaview, but all the men could see the happiness in his eyes and hear it in his voice as he gave the commands to prepare for docking. For their part, they showed their approval by obeying those orders in the snappiest manner possible. Their new Captain had called them the best crew he had ever commanded and down to the last man they wanted to show him they deserved the compliment. Kowalski watched Crane as he ran his hand over the nameplate and then looked up and ran his gaze all around the Control Room. When his eyes fell on Kowalski, he smiled and said, "Kowalski, I know you're not on duty this watch, but would you take over at sonar?"
Kowalski smiled and replied, "Aye, Skipper." and quickly took his position.
It was a beautiful, balmy day in Santa Barbara and Kowalski was whistling softly as he approached Seaview. He had enjoyed his week's shore leave, but he was looking forward to this next mission with the new Skipper officially in command. As he walked through the parking lot, he cast an admiring eye at the little red sports car that had just pulled into a space ahead of him. He'd never seen the car before and he wondered who had gotten a new car. He was considering the possibilities when he saw Captain Crane open the door, get out, and start around to the passenger side of the car. His movements were stiff so Kowalski figured his shoulders were still hurting him. Seeing a duffel bag and a couple of boxes on the passenger's side, he realized the Captain must be moving into his cabin. He hurried over, calling out as he approached, "Skipper, let me help you with those."
Crane turned to see who had hailed him and smiled when he saw Kowalski. "Thanks, Kowalski, but there's not much here and I can manage. I don't intend to be the kind of Captain who expects the crew to fetch and carry for him. I can take care of my own gear."
Kowalski realized the Captain didn't want to admit how much he was hurting and the crewman thought furiously for a moment before inspiration struck. "I understand, Skipper, but we have a tradition on Seaview, Sir, that a crew member carries a new Captain's gear on board. It brings us good luck, Sir."
Crane grinned. He knew exactly what Kowalski was doing. He decided to go along with the crewman's story, however, because he both appreciated the gesture and didn't want to hurt Kowalski's feelings. "We submariners are a superstitious lot, aren't we? Well, I certainly don't want to bring Seaview any bad luck so I guess we'd better follow tradition. Okay, Kowalski, there's just those two boxes and a duffel bag."
"Aye, Sir. I can get them all in one trip." Kowalski slung the bag over his shoulder and after stacking the boxes one on top of the other, picked them up. He waited while the Captain put the top up on the little car and locked the doors, and then they both headed off to board Seaview.
The two men didn't know it, but they had been observed by Nelson, Morton, and Jamison who were just a short distance away in the lot. When Jamison heard the Skipper say he could stow his own gear, he had started to rush over and flat out forbid the Captain from lifting anything. Nelson, overhearing Kowalski's story about a "tradition," had just as quickly reached out to stop the Doctor. The three listened, amused, to the exchange between the crewman and his Captain and carefully hung back to avoid being seen. When Crane and Kowalski had disappeared inside Seaview, Morton slung his own bag over his shoulder and joked, "Too bad that 'tradition' doesn't apply to Execs!" He went on to comment to the others, "Lee almost never accepts help like that. Kowalski seems to have a real knack for handling him."
Nelson agreed, "If it hadn't been for Kowalski, Lee would have turned down command of Seaview and that would have been a real loss for all of us." The Admiral smiled broadly at his two companions. "Gentlemen, I think we'd better get on board. Seaview has her Captain and I think they're both anxious to get underway. If we don't hurry, they just might leave without us!" Even though there was no real chance of that, the three men quickened their pace, pleased to begin this first of many missions with Seaview's new Captain.