Shades Of Grey by Pauline
My thanks to everyone who has helped with this story.
Hands shoved into his pockets, Nelson anxiously paced Seaview’s observation nose, casting occasional glances out of the windows at the depths beyond. Where the devil was Crane? Lee had gone ashore in Kamchatskaya, Russia, on an Intel gathering mission. The region was one of the least populated and off limits, supposedly because of the danger from active volcanoes and boiling mud pools. This made it the perfect location for a secret biological and chemical warfare facility. It should have been a quick in and out operation. The problem was that Lee was twelve hours overdue.
Pausing, Nelson turned and strode through the control room to the plot table. “Isn’t there any word of Captain Crane?” he demanded impatiently.
“No, sir,” Chip Morton replied, shaking his head.
Running a hand through his hair in agitation, Nelson continued aft to the radio shack. “Sparks, have you managed to get in touch with Mr. Baginski?”
Sparks turned from his dials and switches. “No, Admiral.”
Nelson sighed wearily. “All right, keep trying. Let me know the moment you contact anyone.” Turning away, he returned to the observation nose. The region was so remote and densely wooded, it would be impossible to find anyone without knowing where to look. To add to their problems, there was a Russian navy base in the area and Seaview had been forced to play hide and seek. The whole situation was fraught with danger for if Seaview was detected, without proof of what they suspected, it could spark an international incident. Unfortunately for Seaview, her capability to go deeper than any other sub, along with her Captain’s ONI training, made her the obvious choice for the mission. “Chief Sharkey?”
“Prepare a shore party, I’ll lead them myself,” Nelson ordered.
“Aye, sir,” the chief turned and hurried away.
Lee Crane woke in pain; his whole body hurt. His eyelids felt heavy as he struggled to force them open. Except for a rough blanket, he was naked. He started to sit up, but a wave of dizziness sent him toppling back onto the cot that he was lying on. He couldn’t remember how he had gotten here and just where was ‘here’? How long had he been here? Cautiously he again tried to sit up; his stomach cramped and his head swam, but he managed to stay upright.
He looked around his prison; the walls and floor were grey metal and there were no windows, just two small vents high up on each side of what looked like some sort of cargo container. Was he on a ship? He couldn’t feel any movement or vibration of engines. With a shiver, he turned his attention to himself and did a quick exam. His ribs and abdomen where covered in bruises, there were needle marks on the inside of his arms. One of the injection sites on his left arm was bruised and tender. His wrists were rubbed raw where he had obviously been restrained. So he’d been drugged, but he had no memory of it. He hoped that he had not told them anything. He probably wouldn’t still be alive if he had.
Pulling the blanket around himself, he stood unsteadily and walked slowly around the metal box. Apart from the cot, there was no other furniture. The container was lit by one solitary light bulb. He listened, but could not hear any sound; no voices or movement to indicate that there was anyone outside of the prison box. His stomach rumbled; he was thirsty and hungry. Had he been left here to slowly starve to death?
Returning to the cot, he sat with his back resting against the metal wall, drew his knees up and wrapped the blanket around himself. Closing his eyes, he tried to concentrate. He knew who he was, so why couldn’t he remember where he was or why?
He was just dozing when the door of the metal box opened and two large men dressed in Russian military uniforms, came in. They had rifles slung over their shoulders. They hauled him none to gently off the cot and dragged him out.
“Who are you? Where are you taking me?” Lee demanded, ignoring his nakedness. Now was not the time for modesty, but neither of them replied. His container had been inside a large, empty warehouse. Two more guards that had been waiting outside joined them, and fell into step behind them. Part of the warehouse had been partitioned off to make offices. He was dragged towards a brick cubicle. Fear knotted his stomach as he saw what was inside. The walls and floor were lined with white ceramic tiles and there was a drain in the middle of the floor. Easy to hose down the blood, Lee thought. No! His mind screamed. The hold on his arms tightened painfully as he resisted being dragged forward, useless as it was.
It was impossible to prevent his wrists from being manacled. A chain was looped over a hook and he was suspended by his arms, his feet barely touching the floor. He tried not to think of what might happen next. Suddenly he was hit by a high pressure jet of water that knocked his feet out from under him and the shock of the cold water taking his breath away. He struggled to regain his footing as the water continued to pound him.
The barrage continued for what seemed like a lifetime, but in reality was probably only a couple of minutes. At least he had managed to swallow some of the water and it had helped relieve his thirst. Then the water stopped and he was left hanging there, alone, dripping and shivering. Maybe he would catch pneumonia and die. Suck it up, Crane, he chastised himself. You are not going to die here.
He didn’t know how long he had been hanging there when he realized that his hands and arms were numb from the loss of circulation and his shoulders ached. He was so cold, he couldn’t stop shaking. He tried to shift his weight to ease the strain on his arms. His feet were nearly numb with cold. What did they want? They had obviously failed to get whatever they wanted using the drugs, so were trying to soften him up by other means. Just when he was beginning to think that they had forgotten him, his captors returned. They took him down and half dragged him back to his metal box. Needles of pain stung his arms as circulation returned and his feet were so cold he could hardly feel them.
Nelson climbed out of the dinghy onto the black sand of the beach and looked around. The beach was surrounded by steep rocks, with no other cover. In the distance, plumes of steam rose into the night sky from snow capped mountain tops. Sharkey, Kowalski and Patterson quickly joined him on the beach, pulling the inflatable out of the water.
“You two find somewhere to hide the dinghy,” Sharkey ordered. “And be quick about it.”
While they waited, Nelson raised his binoculars and scanned the rocks for their contact.
“Nelson, over here.”
Nelson turned to see a large, unshaven man standing beside a rock.
“I’m Comrade Baginski,” he introduced himself. “Come, we must hurry. They have your man. General Puzakov will not hesitate to use him for his experiments.”
“Ski, Patterson,” Sharkey turned and gestured to the two men to hurry.
Nelson didn’t like the sound of that. Bastards! Lee’s assignments all too often put him in harm’s way. If anything happened to Crane, he would have someone’s head. He nodded to the man. “All right, let’s move.”
They followed Baginski, climbing up a narrow path carved in the steep rocks. The air was cold and an almost full moon was rising in a virtually cloudless sky. It got pretty cold here at night. They were all breathing hard by the time they reached the top. The landscape opened out into a meadow of tall grass and beyond that, dense forest.
The manacles were removed from his wrists and he was shoved roughly into his prison. Unable to get his feet under him, Lee fell to his knees, adding more bruises to his already beaten body. Picking up the blanket that had fallen to the floor, he crawled back to the cot. A tray with a bowl of some sort of stew and a lump of bread had been left on the floor. He picked it up and soaked the bread in the stew to soften it before tucking in. The stew, probably out of a can, was warm and helped fill the empty pit in his stomach. So a least he wasn’t going to starve to death. He felt a little better with some food inside him and wrapped in the blanket, he lay curled up on the cot and closed his eyes; he needed to conserve his strength if he was going to escape from wherever he was. The blanket offered little warmth and he was soon shivering again.
Sometime later, he heard the door open. Whatever they had planned for him, he knew he wouldn’t enjoy it. He had to get out now, while he still had the strength to put up a fight. The same two men approached the cot. Lee moaned, rolling over and dropping an arm over the side of the cot where he had left the now empty tray. One of the men grabbed the blanket and pulled it off. Lee tried not to shiver as his naked skin was exposed to the air. As the men bent to seize him, he snatched the tray and hit the nearest man over the head with it. The sound of the metal hitting the man’s head resounded in his prison, and the man raised both hands to his head, cursing. As the other man moved to bring his rifle to bear against Crane, Lee grabbed it and rammed it into the man’s gut. The man doubled over and dropped to his knees. Lee grabbed the tray to hit him over the head, causing the man to fall to the floor. Lee used the rifle butt to catch the first guard on the chin. His head snapped back and he joined the guard on the floor. Lee hurried to the door and checked outside before quickly returning to the unconscious men to strip them of their uniforms and quickly dress. Pulling on socks, he decided against the boots; he could move quietly on stocking feet.
Lee staggered out of the container, leaning briefly against the side until his equilibrium returned. Moving cautiously though the warehouse, he tried to keep to the shadows. Warmth was beginning to return to his body, but he was still sluggish. He needed to move quickly, but it wasn’t easy; he must have strained every muscle in his upper body. His shoulders and arms hurt, his ribs hurt, his stomach hurt and his knees hurt. Aware that his escape was going to be discovered pretty rapidly, when his escorts didn’t arrive with him when they were supposed to, he forced himself to keep moving.
He had no idea what he was going to do once he escaped; he didn’t know where he was or what his mission had been. Although, judging from the uniforms, he was somewhere in Russia and, presumably, he’d missed his extraction. Easing around the corner of some racking, Lee scanned the empty warehouse. Stepping out of the shadows, he sprinted across the open space and colliding with the wall, flattened himself again it, edging along it to the door. And, to his surprise and relief, it opened.
Chip completed a circuit of the control room, ending back behind Riley at the hydrophone station. He had again found himself as acting captain while Lee was off the boat playing spy. Seaview was currently sitting on the bottom, running silent, using hydrophones to keep track of the Russian navy without being detected themselves. They were in effect spying on them, but they needed to know what the Russians were hiding. Chip looked at his watch, hoping that they would not have to wait too much longer for the return of their captain and the shore party and that Lee would be in one piece. From the amount of traffic in the area, it was almost certain that the Russians knew that they were there but had been unable to locate them. Kamchatskaya was located in the North Pacific on the ring of fire and Seaview was playing a dangerous game. Chip had used every technique he knew to hide Seaview from the Russians. Unfortunately, these techniques also made it difficult for them to detect any vessels in the area.
“I think we lost them, sir,” Riley said softly, his voice just above a whisper.
Chip nodded. They couldn’t sit here forever; they would be at periscope depth to contact the shore party. Even Seaview’s powerful radio could not penetrate seawater below a certain depth. “Stay on it, Riley. Sing out if you hear anything, I don’t care what it is.”
“Aye, sir,” Riley turned his attention back to his equipment board.
Moving quietly, Chip made his way to the plot table.
Nelson was grateful when they reached the cover of the trees, he’d felt exposed out in the meadow, even with the tall grass for cover. The blue needled fir trees were close together, with no discernable path, but their guide seemed to know where he was going. Also disconcerting was the low rumble he could here and the small tremors that he felt under his feet. Nelson glanced back at the Chief, checking that they were still following. Sharkey gave him a reassuring smile and nod.
They moved deeper into the forest following Baginski. Nelson hoped that they were not being lead into a trap. But there was nothing he could do about it; they needed to find Lee. Very little of the moonlight penetrated the trees but Nelson’s eyes had adapted to the darkness. He couldn’t help worrying what they would find when they reach the facility. What the hell had these bastards done to Lee? Nelson was growing impatient. The trek through the forest seemed to be taking forever with no end in sight.
The trees seemed to continue down a gentle slope, the ground was covered in a carpet of pine needles that muffled their footfalls. Baginski picked up the pace now that the going was getting easier.
The night was cold and his breath condensed in the cold air. Ducking behind some barrels, Lee surveyed the area. There were several buildings, some with lights showing. Across the compound, some 100 yards away was a gate with a barrier across the road. Two armed men in uniform guarded the entrance. The compound was surrounded by a high fence topped by barbed wire. Beyond the fence was a dense forest of pine trees. Across from his hiding place there was a jeep parked with two bored looking men standing talking. He contemplated what the chances were of him overpowering them and commandeering the jeep. One thing was sure, he couldn’t stay where he was; he needed a distraction. Turning his attention back to the barrels he was hiding behind, he unscrewed one of the caps and took a cautious sniff; gasoline. Now he had a plan.
A pair of headlights appeared from around one of the buildings and a Vector covered truck emerged, headed for the gate. Lee shouldered the rifle and darted from his hiding place and keeping the truck between him and the guards, he ran towards the parked jeep. Skidding to a halt, he dropped behind a crate. He watched the truck slow to a stop at the barrier and the driver spoke to one of the guards.
Taking aim, Lee fired at the barrels, there was a satisfying loud explosion and the ground shook. Flame shot into the air, flooding the area with a light. There were yells and the sound of running footsteps. Lee looked around; the men standing near the jeep turned and started climbing into the jeep. There was no time for subtlety now, he had to move. Running from his hiding place, Lee covered the short distance to the jeep and opened fire. He hit one of the men in the leg and the other lunged for cover. Reaching the jeep, Lee dragged the injured man out and finished him with a punch to the jaw that laid him out. Lee climbed in behind the wheel and started the jeep. He put it into gear and floored the gas. The other man got off a shot before Lee swerved, catching him a glancing blow. The shot whizzed passed Lee’s head and he roared towards the gate. The guards on the gate opened fire as he approached. Lee threw himself across the front seats, hoping that the jeep’s momentum would be enough to clear the gate. The barrier splintered as the jeep crashed through.
As he sat up the jeep was past the barrier and moving away. More bullets followed, hitting the back of the jeep and Lee hoped that they wouldn’t hit the gas tank. Ahead of him, the truck was disappearing into the night, with only its tail lights now visible. Then the jeep juddered and slewed to the side, Lee could feel from the steering that a tyre had been hit. Veering off the road, he headed for the trees.
The trees were starting to thin; Baginski stopped and crouched beside one of the thick trunks. “The facility is just on the other side of these trees,” he whispered.
“Well what are we waiting for? Let’s go,” Nelson urged impatiently, anxious to find Lee. His friend had already been in the hands of these people too long. They had had to wait until dusk before making a rescue attempt and the Russians were not known for their leniency where the treatment of prisoners was concerned.
Baginski hesitated. “If they capture you, you and your men will suffer the same fate as Crane,” he warned.
“I didn’t come this far to turn back now,” Nelson told him sternly. Turning to his men, he gestured them to follow. After a few more yards the trees opened out onto a valley and Nelson could see lights and dark shapes of buildings. There was no cover between here and the fence surrounding the facility.
“What’s the plan, Admiral?” Sharkey asked, crouching beside Nelson.
Before Nelson could answer, there was an explosion inside the compound. The whole area seemed to be on fire, flamed leapt into the night sky. The sound of voices and gunfire could be heard from the facility. As they watched, a jeep broke through the barrier and seemed to veer off the road towards them. “Lee?” Nelson whispered, holding his breath as things seemed to happen in slow motion. The jeep continued for some distance before lurching to a stop and the driver stumbled out. Nelson ran towards the man, in spite of the uniform, he was sure it was Lee Crane. He and Sharkey grabbed Crane and dragged him back into the trees.
“Admiral...?” Lee blinked at him in surprise.
Nelson smiled. “It’s about time, Captain.” He teased.
“Sorry, sir.” Lee apologised quietly as he sagged against Nelson’s support.
“What happened? Are you all right?” Nelson asked, slipping an arm around Lee’s waist to help keep him upright. Casting a quick eye over his young friend, looking for injuries, he worried about what the uniform was hiding.
Lee nodded. “Fine, Admiral.”
“Then I suggest we get out of here,” Nelson urged. Soldiers were emerging from the facility and headed in their direction.
“I’m picking up some sort of disturbance, sounds like an underwater quake, sir,” the crewman on hydrophones reported.
“Shock wave approaching, Mr Morton,” Riley called in warning.
Chip unclipped a mic. “All hands, brace for shock wave. Repeat, brace for shock wave.” As the turbulence hit, Chip clung to the plot table, while around him, crew were thrown to the deck. The emergency lights bathed the control room in a red glow. Sparks erupted from consoles and flames licked from control panels.
“Fire detail, get on those fires,” Chip ordered once Seaview settled back to an even keel. Glancing around the room, he checked the crew. “Anyone hurt?”
A chorus of “No, sir,” responded as the crew resumed their stations and checked their instrumentation.
Chip again took the mic from its clip. “Damage control, report.”
“Full watertight integrity, sir. Some minor damage in the circuitry room.”
“Estimated time for repairs?” Chip asked. They needed to be fully operational in case they needed to move in to assist the landing party.
“Thirty minutes, sir.”
“Very well, carry on.” Chip again replaced the mic and walked over to check the readout from the seismograph and EDM equipment; anything to take his mind off of worrying about Lee and the landing party. Chip had been in this position too many times, left behind on the boat to wait, not knowing what was happening; would Nelson find Lee in time?
Attaching the slip of paper to the clipboard he was holding, Chip returned to the plot table. The smell of burnt wiring hung in the air. With the Seaview submerged, it would take longer for the scrubbers to clear the air, but surfacing was not an option when they were so close to a Russian naval base.
“Surface contact, sir. Range one thousand yards.”
Chip walked over to the sonar station and accepted the offered headset to listen to the contact. “Russian destroyer, Mr O’Brien, takes us down and prepare sonar decoy.”
Chip looked up at the overhead as the destroyer closed on their position, listening to the sound of her propellers as she passed over them and moved away. “What’s our depth?”
“Seven four nine feet, sir,” O’Brien reported.
Chip nodded. “We’ll remain here until repairs have been completed.” By that time the destroyer should be well out of the area. He would have liked to have taken Seaview into deeper waters, but they needed to be in range to pick up the shore party when they returned. Chip looked at his watch. How much longer?
Tired, cold and sore, Lee was only too happy to get his butt out of the forest. He was looking forward to getting back to Seaview and his cabin; although he probably wouldn’t be able to escape a visit to sickbay first.
Climbing the tree covered slope, Lee’s wished that he had taken the boots, his feet were cold and the socks did little to protect them from any obstacles on the forest floor. He still couldn’t remember what his assignment had been, but as Nelson had not mentioned it he decided to let it go for now. His escape from wherever he’d been held, had taken more out of him than he liked to admit. The loud rumbles continued, there was no mistaking the sound of a volcano erupting; he’d experienced it before.
“Hurry, the volcano...” Baginski urged nervously.
Lee looked at the man, there was something that made him feel uneasy, but he couldn’t remember why. He gave a mental shrug, assuming he was probably imagining things. While the drugs they had used on him seemed to have cleared his system, he was still feeling the bruising. However, determined not to slow down his companions, he pushed himself on. He could hear voices and knew that the soldiers were not far behind them. When they reached the top of the slope, Lee was forced to rest against a tree to get his breath back. The adrenaline had worn off and his earlier mistreatment and exhaustion was catching up with him.
“You okay, Skipper?” Kowalski asked as he appeared at his side.
“I’m fine, Kowalski. Come on, let’s keep moving,” Lee pushed himself upright; he could not entirely suppress a shiver as a cold chill ran down his spine. The uniform jacket did little to keep out the cold that seemed to chill him to the bone. You’re getting soft, Crane; his body had acclimatised to Santa Barbara’s warm climate.
The rumbling of the eruption seemed to be slowing, but he couldn’t help worrying about how far away it was. He might be cold, but he had no wish to get up close to hot molten lava.
When they reached the meadow, they found their way blocked by a bubbling, crackling mass of lava, snaking its way across the meadow, incinerating everything in its path; they could feel the heat and smell the sulphur. Clouds of smoke and steam obscured the landscape making it impossible to see across the meadow.
Nelson turned to Baginski. “Is there another way?”
“Yes, we can go this way.” Baginski turned and headed back into the trees.
Given no other option, Nelson shrugged and followed the Russian. They could do without this delay. They needed to be back aboard Seaview before daylight.
Baginski led them to a narrow passage through solidified rock. “This will take us down to the beach.”
“Collapsed lava flow,” Nelson observed.
Lee grabbed the man’s arm. “Wait a minute. How long has this volcano been dormant?”
“Is safe,” Baginski answered.
“We don’t have much choice, Lee,” Nelson intervened.
“All right,” Lee agreed reluctantly.
Nelson moved to Lee’s side. “Is there a problem, Lee?”
“I don’t know, Admiral, there is something about our guide, I don’t trust him,” Lee replied quietly.
Nelson paused, surprised by Crane’s answer. “But he was your contact, don’t you remember?”
“I don’t remember much of anything, Admiral,” Lee admitted softly. “I don’t know where we are, or what I am doing here.”
Nelson frowned. “We’ll have Doc look at you when we get back to Seaview.” He couldn’t see his face clearly in the dark, but he was worried. What else was Lee not telling him? Goodness knows what he’d been subjected to while a prisoner. The sooner Lee was in Will Jamieson’s care, the better.
“I’m fine, Admiral,” Lee turned away and moved off to catch up with the others.
Nelson shook his head. He didn’t believe for one minute that Lee was ‘fine’. However, there was no use pushing it, Lee would just get obstinate and clam up. But wait until I get you back aboard.
Crane was starting to flag; his head ached and he was so tired that it was an effort to put one foot in front if the other and he could hardly keep his eyes open. He would like to stop, but they couldn’t afford the luxury with the soldiers searching for them. Suddenly his right ankle twisted on a loose rock. He tried to catch himself, but his shoulder hit the rock wall and he bounced off and would have fallen if Nelson hadn’t grabbed his arm and steadied him.
“Are you sure you can manage?” Nelson looked sceptical.
Lee nodded. “Yes, Admiral, I’ll be fine.” Crane hoped that he looked and sounded better than he felt. He wasn’t sure he could keep going much longer.
A beam of light searched the sand and they could hear voices speaking in Russian. They drew further back into the rocks as the beam of a flashlight touched the rocks where they were.
“I hope they don’t find the zodiac?” Sharkey whispered, crouched beside Nelson.
Nelson nodded. “There was a cavern back there, let’s hole up in there and hope that our Russian friends give up and move on.”
“We’ve got guns, why don’t we shoot our way out, Admiral?” Sharkey asked.
“Because, Chief, we are out-numbered,” Nelson explained. “We don’t know for sure how many of them are out there.”
“When has that ever stopped us?” Sharkey muttered.
It was difficult moving in the dark, but they managed to find the cavern and moved inside. Lee gratefully sat down and lent back against the rock wall, pulling his knees up and resting his arms across them. It was almost totally dark in the cavern with very little moonlight entering. Lee watched as Kowalski produced a flashlight from his pack.
“Are you alright, Lee?” Nelson asked, kneeling beside him.
Lee nodded. “I’ve been worse.”
“Here you go, Skipper,” Kowalski had produced a bottle of water from his pack and handed it to him.
“Thanks,” Lee accepted the water gratefully. Sipping the cool liquid, it tasted wonderful.
“Is there anything else I can do for you, sir?” Kowalski asked.
Lee knew that Kowalski was asking if he was hurt. His arm was painful, but it would mean removing the jacket and that would reveal more than he wanted to at the moment. “No, Ski, I’m fine.” He swore that if he ever got out of there, he would never again complain about his friends trying to feed him. Putting the bottle down, he rested his head back and closed his eyes.
The next thing Lee knew someone was shaking him.
“Lee, wake up.”
“Huh?” He blinked up at Nelson standing over him.
“Sorry, lad, time to go.” Nelson extended a hand to help him up.
“Sorry, Admiral. I must have dozed off,” Lee apologised.
Nelson waved a dismissive hand as he glanced around the cave. “Where’s Baginski?” he asked, looking around for the Russian.
“Gone,” Sharkey answered.
“Damn, I knew we shouldn’t trust him,” Lee grumbled as he got to his feet.
“Well, it’s too late to do anything about him now. Come on, let’s get out of here before he leads the Russians to us,” Nelson encouraged.
Lee cautiously followed Nelson back towards the beach. There was a lot of loose rock and it was difficult to see in the deep shadows of the rock walls on either side of the tunnel. The question of why he wasn’t dead still nagged at Lee. He was sure that Baginski was involved in some way. Damn, why couldn’t he remember what had happened while he’d been held? He couldn’t help worrying that he may have revealed something while he’d been drugged and beaten. Was that why he couldn’t remember? Had his subconscious blocked the memory? For the first time in his career he doubted himself. He had always been confident in his work, whether it was commanding Seaview or carrying out an assignment. He couldn’t afford to second guess himself. He’d had to make decisions that could be the difference between life or death, success or failure. The crew looked to him for leadership and followed his orders without question. Had he betrayed that trust? Anguish seized his insides, not again! He couldn’t live with himself if he’d allowed himself to betray his friends, his country, everything that he believed in.
They had almost reached the beach when it hit him, crashing into him; Lee suddenly felt as if all his strength had been sucked out of him. A wave of heat washed over him and he felt as if he was suffocating. He didn’t think he could manage another step, sagging against the support of a rock, he swallowed, forcing down the sudden nausea.
“Lee, what is it? What’s wrong?” Nelson asked, appearing at his side and gripping his arm.
“Need a minute,” Lee sank down onto the sand and rested back against the rocks.
“Chief, Patterson, check the beach,” Nelson ordered.
“Aye, sir. Come on Pat.”
“Skipper?” Kowalski hunkered down beside Crane.
Lee scrubbed a hand across his face. “I’ll be okay.”
“Can you stand?” Nelson asked taking Lee’s arm to help him up. “We need to get back to Seaview.”
“I think so,” Lee pushed to his feet, helped by Nelson and Kowalski to the zodiac.
Surprised and a little concerned that Lee hadn’t escaped sickbay yet, Nelson went to investigate. Entering sickbay, he found Lee asleep in a bunk under what seemed like every blanket that sickbay had. He raised a questioning eyebrow at the doctor as he came out of his office and approached.
Jamieson, an amused expression on his face, simply shrugged.
Nelson followed the doctor back to his office and sat down opposite him. “How is he, Will?”
Jamieson handed him a folder. “There are indications that he was restrained and beaten, possibly tortured, but he doesn’t remember. It could be an effect of the drugs they used. There are no indications of any biological agents in his blood. At least one of the injection sites has tissued and there is some infection. He’s exhausted, dehydrated and has mild hypothermia from being stripped and hosed with ice cold water. But considering what he has been through, he’s not in as bad a shape as I would expect, at least physically. I’m not sure that he will ever remember all that happened.”
Nelson was relieved that his captors had not subjected Lee to more, but he was angry at the treatment he had received. At least that explained the blankets. Lee was always cold when he had a temperature. “And how is he taking it?” He knew that Lee would be beating himself up about not being able to remember.
“He hasn’t said much.”
“Thanks Will.” Nelson’s gaze moved back to sickbay, where Lee was sleeping.
Jamieson nodded and smiled. “He’s comfortable and warm; he’ll wake up when he’s ready.”
Nelson heaved a sigh and rested back in the chair. “I’m not sure how much longer I can keep doing this, Will.” He knew that there were those that said that he was too close to Crane, and maybe they were right. But, damn it, Lee was special. Not only was he the best Captain for Seaview, he was his friend; more than a friend if Nelson was honest with himself. How much longer could he allow Crane to continue to take risks? Putting his life on the line? Seaview was supposed to be a research vessel and Lee was too valuable. Of course that was what made him so attractive to ONI as he was good at what he did. And who was he kidding? He could try and stop Lee taking ONI assignments, but he knew that it would be a losing battle. Lee had a strong sense of duty and he couldn’t force him to make a choice between Seaview and ONI.
“Skipper, you awake?”
Lee groaned and burrowed further under the covers to escape the unwanted intrusion into the best sleep he’d had in what felt like weeks. “Go away, leave me alone.”
“Are you going to come out from under there so I can check your vitals?” Jamieson smiled.
Reluctantly, Lee opened his eyes, flinching involuntarily at the light and frowned at Jamieson. “Depends on whether you’re going to stick sharp things in me or not.”
That response brought a grin to the doctor’s face. “If you didn’t get yourself into these situations, I wouldn’t need to stick sharp things into you,” he teased gently.
For a moment Lee remained cocooned in the blankets, relishing their warmth before half-heartedly surrendering his good arm for the doctor to check his blood pressure. “When are you going to let me out of here?”
Still smiling, Jamieson wrapped the cuff around Lee’s arm. “Let’s see how you’re doing first.”
“I’m fine, I only need some sleep, which I won’t get with you keep waking me up,” Lee grumbled, watching the doctor wrap the cuff around his arm.
Jamieson worked silently, checking Lee’s blood pressure and then removing the cuff. “Blood pressure is still a little low and you are de-hydrated. How is the pain? Do you need anything?”
“Just my own bunk,” Lee said hopefully.
“Sorry, Skipper, not yet,” Jamieson pulled a table with a jug of water and a glass closer. “Now, if you don’t want me sticking sharp things in you, I need you to drink as much as possible.” He poured a glass of water and held it out to Lee.
Lee eyed the glass with distaste. “Can’t I have coffee?”
“Now, Skipper, you know better than that. Coffee is a diuretic, you are already dehydrated. If you’re good, you can have coffee with your lunch.”
Reluctantly, Lee levered himself up and took the glass. Once he started to drink, he realised how thirsty he was and drank half of the water before handing the glass back to Jamieson.
“That’s better,” Jamieson smiled. “Hungry? You missed breakfast.”
“Not if it’s Jell-O or any of the other slop you call food,” Lee replied guardedly.
“How about toast?” Jamieson put the glass on the table and adjusted the pillows behind Lee. “I don’t think that will upset Cookie’s routine too much.”
With a nod, Lee settled back against the pillows and pulled the covers higher. “Thanks, Jamie.” He wasn’t really interested in eating; all he wanted was to burrow back under the covers and sleep, but he knew that if he didn’t eat he would never escape sickbay.
Lee fought his way out of the cold darkness, unsure of where he was. As soon as he moved his head, dizziness hit him. Shivering, he tried to move, only to find that his wrists were secured to something. Cautiously, he opened his eyes and keeping his head still, investigated his immediate surroundings. The room was in semi-darkness, with only the area around him light. He was lying on a gurney and apart from a rough blanket, he was naked. He tugged experimentally at the restraints holding his wrists, but it was no use, they were firmly secured.
“So, you’re awake at last,” a large man wearing a white lab coat moved in to Lee’s vision. He was around 60 with an unruly head of greying hair and a grey beard; he looked like a typical scientist Lee thought.
“Who are you? Where am I?”
“I’ll ask the questions.” The man moved closer and picked up a syringe from a tray beside the gurney. “Now, we know who you are. Save yourself a lot of unnecessary pain and tell us what you’re mission was?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Really, Commander, you are a spy and you have no rights here. I can do as I please with you, so I suggest you reconsider,” the man warned.
Lee shook his head, stifling a moan as another wave of dizziness hit him. He closed his eyes.
“As you wish.”
Lee felt the needle in his arm and then a burning pain as whatever was in the syringe was injected. The wooziness worsened as a the drug took effect, he felt like he was falling and he clenched the sides of the gurney to re-assure himself that he had something solid under him.
“The dizziness is temporary, but you may not enjoy the effects of some of my other drugs. Save yourself a lot of pain, tell us what we want to know.”
“Yes, Commander.” Another man in uniform stepped into Lee’s field of vision. “I’m General Puzakov; I will be supervising your interrogation.”
Lee rolled his head and groaned, pulling feebly at the blankets.
“Captain?” Jamieson walked over to the bunk and bent over his patient. “Easy, Captain,” he soothed, tucking the blankets around Crane. He wasn’t prepared for Lee’s surprising strength as he shoved the blankets off and grabbed Jamieson by the throat. With a strangled cry, he threw the doctor aside and was out of the bunk before Jamieson could pick himself up.
Lying on the deck, his head still spinning, Jamieson could only watch as Lee wrenched the door open and disappeared from sight. Climbing to his feet, he lunged towards where the mic was on the wall. “Control room, this is sickbay. Captain Crane has escaped. He’s not himself,” Jamieson hesitated.
“This is Morton, what do you mean the Captain’s escaped? What’s going on down there?”
Jamieson took a deep breath. “He took off before I could stop him; he seemed to be having some sort of psychotic episode. He probably didn’t know what he was doing.”
“All right, I’ll organise a search.”
Jamieson returned the mic to its clip and massaging his throat, headed for his office. He could only wait and hope that Crane would be found quickly.
Chip stopped outside of Lee’s cabin and knocked. After getting no reply, he tried again. “Lee, you in there?” Still no reply. Taking a deep breath he braced himself before trying the door. It opened into an empty and dark cabin. There was no sign that Lee had been there. Where had Lee taken himself off to? Stepping back into the corridor, he pulled the door closed and stood trying to think of where Lee might be. Taking a few steps, he tried his own cabin in case Lee had taken refuge there, but it was empty too.
After checking on all of the places he could think of, including the storage compartments and ballast pump room, Chip was getting worried. No one had seen Lee since he’d fled Sickbay. Struck by a sudden thought, he hurried aft to the missile room to check the dive locker. Surely Lee would not have gone outside; they were too deep for diving. Lee might be upset, but he was not suicidal.
“Chief, has Captain Crane been down here?” Morton asked.
“No sir, I haven’t seen him. Is anything wrong, sir?”
Chip shook his head. “No, carry on.”
It didn’t make sense; he had to be aboard somewhere. As a last resort, he stopped to use a mic on the wall. “Morton to Crane, please report your position.”
“Chip, this is Nelson, what now?”
“Doc reported the patient’s missing. I can’t find him anywhere. And if he doesn’t want to be found, he’s more than capable of giving us the run around.”
“Well, he has to be aboard somewhere!”
“Yes, sir. I’m forming a search party,” Chip returned the mic to its clip and headed for the crews quarters.
Nelson stood across the plot table from Chip. “Are you sure he didn’t go outside?”
“Well, his gear is still in the locker and the missile room watch haven’t seen him. Lee wouldn’t go outside; he knows we’re too deep.”
“I’m not sure he knows anything! He’s missing a fair amount of his memory due to his capture! Nelson growled, “For all we know he could very well be outside!”
Chip could only shrug. “I don’t know, Admiral. Our instruments would have picked him up.”
Nelson let out a heavy sigh. “All right, all right. Well, we’ll have to assume that he is injured or unconscious or hiding. Is there anywhere you haven’t looked?”
Chip’s gaze fell on the access match in the nose. “Of course,” he said and walked toward the Flying Sub hatch and quickly descended the ladder. In the dark interior he didn’t at first spot Lee, but headed to the open hatch and checked the hanger. Finding nothing, he returned to the interior of the sub. A movement caught his attention and he saw Lee. There, in the small space between the bunk and bulkhead, he was wedged tightly, his knees drawn up and his arms wrapped around them with his head resting on his knees.
“Lee what the devil are you doing? We’ve been looking all over for you. We thought you’d been hurt.”
“Chip?” It was little more than a whisper, Lee looking around in confusion and then focused on his Exec. “What...How did I get here?” Lee shivered. He was wearing only pyjamas and nothing on his feet.
Chip reached out and touched his arm. “Are you okay?” He could feel Lee trembling and he looked a little dazed.
The sound of another person coming down the ladder took their attention and Chip turned to see Nelson.
Lee raised his head to face Nelson. “Admiral...” He looked from Nelson to Chip. “I...errr, can’t seem to remember how I got here.”
Chip reached up and pulled the blanket from the bunk, draping it around Lee’s shoulders.
Lee gave him a shy smile and pulled the blanket closer.
Nelson looked from Lee to Chip questioningly as he knelt in front of Lee. Chip shrugged, having no idea what was going on with his friend.
“Lee, what is the last thing you remember?” Nelson asked. “Jamie said you went a little psychotic. Were you remembering something?”
At that moment, footfalls on the ladder signalled the arrival of Jamieson. “All right, give us some room here,” the doctor ordered as he turned from the ladder.
“I’m all right,” Lee insisted, trying to get up.
“Yeah, sure you are. Let Doc check you over,” Chip told him, keeping a restraining hand on Lee’s arm.
Jamieson put his bag down on the deck and took Nelson’s place as the Admiral reluctantly moved back. “Now Captain, you want to tell me what’s going on? I know that you don’t like Sickbay, but so far you’ve never attacked me to escape,” Jamieson teased.
“Attacked?” Morton asked, shocked, “you didn’t say anything about that…only that he escaped.”
“Not now, Chip…C’mon Skipper. Back to Sickbay.”
“Sorry, Jamie,” Lee said contrite, “I don’t remember.”
“Will he be okay, Doc?” Nelson asked.
Jamieson nodded. “I’m sure he’ll be fine, given time,” Jamieson reached out to help Lee to his feet.
“Can’t I go to my cabin?” Lee asked, slightly unsteady on his feet.
“We’ll talk about it tomorrow.”
“Come on, Lee,” Chip nodded towards the rear hatch. “I don’t think you should be climbing any ladders.”
Lee woke to find himself in his own bunk, but the problem was, he couldn’t remember going to sleep. In fact, he remembered very little if the past few days. He was still feeling worn out and lethargic, whether from the effects of the drugs his captors had used or from the lack of sleep and dehydration he wasn’t sure.
Giving up on sleeping, Lee sat up and rested back
against the bulkhead. He couldn’t help worrying about what had gone wrong with
the mission. The pain from the tissued injection site on his arm was a constant
reminder that he might have betrayed his nations’ secrets. He was frustrated that he could not remember
anything that had happened before he’d woken up in that metal box.
Jamieson had told him that he wasn’t sure if he would ever remember what had happened. He might regain part, or all of it, or it may be lost forever. If that was the case, then he needed to put it behind him and move on, only he had a nagging doubt that whatever had happened while he’d been a guest of the Russians, it would eventually catch up with him. With a sigh, Lee ran a hand through his thick, black hair in a gesture of frustration. In sickbay, he’d had a fleeting flash of being on a gurney with a man in a white coat, holding a syringe, standing over him; now he couldn’t remember. A knock on his cabin door interrupted his thoughts. “Come.”
The door opened and Nelson walked in, closing it behind him. “Hello, Lee, how are you feeling?” He smiled as he approached the bunk.
“Much better, thank you, Admiral,” Lee replied, starting to get up.
“Stay where you are, lad, you don’t need to get up on my account.” Nelson perched on the edge of Crane’s desk. “I’ve sent a report to Admiral Johnson; he’ll want to talk to you when you feel up to it.”
Lee shook his head. “I don’t know what I can tell him, I still can’t remember.”
“Don’t worry about it now. Just relax and take things easy.”
“Admiral...” Lee faltered. “What if...what if I’ve betrayed my country?”
Nelson came to his feet and moved closer, putting a hand on Lee’s shoulder. “Whatever happened, it wasn’t your fault, you were drugged and god knows what else.”
Lee bowed his head and ran a hand through his hair. “I wish I could remember.”
“Lee, you’ve got to stop beating yourself up over this. You’re a good agent and a damn fine Captain, I’m proud of you.”
Lee gave him a shy smile. “Thanks, Admiral.”
“Thank you, gentlemen, that will be all,” Lee concluded the morning briefing with the officers in the wardroom. Picking up several reports, Crane came to his feet; he’d talked Jamieson into letting him return to duty. He’d been sitting around, feeling useless long enough.
Chip opened the door and followed Lee into the corridor where they both headed for the control room. Seaview was on course for Santa Barbara, and as usual, Chip had everything running smoothly.
“Just what did you do to Doc?” Chip asked.
Lee shook his head. “I really don’t remember.”
“You sure you’re okay to return to duty?”
Lee couldn’t help smiling at his friend’s mother henning. “I’m fine, Chip; honestly.” If he spent any more time resting in his cabin, he’d go stir crazy. Apart from his arm, which was still sore, he was feeling much better.
Arriving in the control room, Lee left Chip at the plot table and went forward. After pouring himself a cup of coffee, he settled into the observation nose to go over the reports from the briefing and catch up on what had been happening on his boat.
The morning passed quickly, and before Lee realised it, Chip was telling him that it was lunchtime. After lunch with Chip, Lee spent the afternoon doing a walk through the sub, stopping to talk to the crew as several of them enquired after his health. It still amazed him that the crew worried so much about him. He’d never gone out of his way to be popular, but he did care about his crew and his boat.
Sitting at his desk in his cabin, Lee was trying to write his report for Admiral Johnson. He was finally beginning to remember. He knew now that he’d gone ashore as soon as it was dark enough and had met with Baginski at the landing site as arranged. The Russian was to help get them both in and out. ONI had received Intel that the installation was developing chemical and biological weapons. Lee’s instructions had been to obtain evidence and put the facility out of action.
Lee usually preferred to work alone, but Baginski would save Lee time in getting into the installation. As soon as they set foot inside the fence Lee found himself surrounded by solders, cornered and outnumbered with no chance of escape. He was marched into one of the buildings, where he was stripped and searched.
He wasn’t sure how long the interrogation had lasted, or how long they tried to beat the information out of him. There was no secret facility. The information had been leaked to lure him there. The Russians were working on a new submarine and wanted Seaview’s secrets. What was she made of? How could she go so deep? A man who identified himself as General Puzakov had told him that he would not leave there alive and Lee had no reason to doubt him. Strung up by his wrists, he been helpless to escape the blows to his kidneys and stomach. “I won’t tell you anything,” he gasped.
“We’ll see about that,” His tormentor had promised.
Lee closed his eyes and bit his lip to stop from crying out as the punches continued. He wouldn’t give them the satisfaction. They’d kept it up until he’d blacked out and he’d woken up on the gurney.
But he couldn’t remember what had happened after they started administering the drugs. The next thing he remembered was waking up in his metal prison.
With a sigh, Lee put his pen down and propped an elbow on the desk, resting his head on his hand. He still could not remember everything that had happened. He’d had fragments of memory, mostly nightmares. Nelson had wanted him to wait before he reported to Admiral Johnson, but Lee wanted to get it over with and put the whole thing behind him. He planned to fly to Washington as soon as Seaview docked in Santa Barbara.
He was about to close the report and put it away to finish later, when a memory flashed into his mind. Baginski, he’d been standing beside Puzakov when Lee had woken up; and he’d been smiling coldly. Reaching for the intercom, he called the radio shack. “Sparks, get me Admiral Johnson right away.”
“Aye, sir,” the radio operator acknowledged.
The questioning seemed to go on forever, with Admiral Johnson grilling him about the Russian base, asking him questions he didn’t have answers for. Also present were Captain Ed Cramer of the technical division and Admiral Harvey from irregular warfare. They both had an interest in what the Russians were up to. Being under their silent scrutiny didn’t worry Crane. He may be a reserve officer, but he wasn’t intimidated, he was used to these psychological games. He got the impression that they did not believe that he could not remember some of what had happened.
Finally Admiral Johnson smiled encouragingly. “Thank you, Commander. I think we’re done here. I’ve arranged for some sandwiches and coffee.” Johnson picked up the phone and spoke to his secretary.
Lee wasn’t very hungry, but it had been a long time since breakfast and he knew that he should try and eat something.
A moment later a platter of sandwiches and pot of coffee arrived. “Admiral, there was call from Admiral Nelson for you. He wants you to call him back as soon as possible,” Johnson’s secretary informed him.
“Excuse me, gentlemen. Help yourselves to coffee.”
Lee knew that he should have spoken to Nelson and Chip before he left the boat, but they would have tried to talk him out of going and he wanted to get this over with and try to put it behind him. So he had left the sub early that morning. The Admiral would not be happy that was for sure.
“Are you all right, commander?” Cramer asked.
“Yes, fine, Sir,” Lee got to his feet and reached for the coffee pot.
“I expect you’ll want to get back to Seaview?”
Lee nodded. “Yes.” Kowalski and FS.1 were waiting for him at Andrews. He didn’t want to think about the reception he could receive when he returned to the boat. Resisting the urge to look at his watch, Lee sipped his coffee and took a sandwich. How much longer were they going to keep him here? Depending on Seaview’s position, it would take FS.1 around five hours to reach her. Returning the cup to its saucer, he walked over to the window to look out at the surrounding grounds. He’d spent too much time away from Seaview recently because of his commitment to ONI. He turned as the door opened and Johnson entered.
“Commander, can I talk to you for a moment?”
“Certainly, Admiral,” Lee followed Johnson back out, wondering what Nelson had said and what sort of trouble he was in.
Johnson stopped and closed the door. “As I am sure you can imagine, I have had Admiral Nelson bending my ear. It would appear that you are AWOL from your command.”
“I’m sorry, Admiral. Admiral Nelson had no right to take it out on you.”
Johnson waved it off. “Don’t worry about it, it’s not the first time that Nelson and I have disagreed over your continued involvement with this office. However, there is a car waiting to take you to your Flying Submarine, when you are ready.”
“Thank you, Sir – I’m ready now.”
“Chip,” Lee acknowledged, entering the control room from the flying sub hatch in the nose.
“The Admiral wants to see you in his cabin,” Chip told him.
Shrugging off his flying jacket, Lee handed it to a crewman. “Thanks, Chip – carry on.” He could tell from Chip’s tone and body language that he was not happy; added to the fact that he hadn’t welcomed him aboard or asked if he’d had a good flight. Lee headed for the stairs; he’d talk to Chip later.
Nelson was seated at his desk when Lee entered his cabin. “You wanted to see me, Admiral?”
“Yes, Lee – come and sit down,” Nelson indicated the chair.
“I’m sorry, Admiral,” Lee apologised as he sat down.
Elbows on the desk, Nelson lent forward. “Lee, you don’t have to do everything on your own. You could have come to me; you know my door is always open if you need to talk?”
Lee nodded. “I appreciate that, Admiral...It just seemed easier,” Lee shrugged apologetically.
Nelson smiled. “What you mean is, you sneaked off to avoid a lecture.”
Lee gave him a shy, under the lashes smile. “Yes, Sir.” He admitted cagily.
“Lee, you can’t change who or what you are and I wouldn’t want you to. However, you should have told either Chip or myself that you were leaving the boat. What sort of example does it set for the crew when the Captain goes AWOL?”
Lee knew that Nelson was right; he’d expected the Admiral to take his head off for pulling the disappearing trick. “I’m sorry, Sir – No excuses, Sir.”
Nelson sighed. “Don’t go all formal on me; we’re not in the navy. You can fill me in on what was so urgent, over dinner.”
Lee suddenly realised how hungry he was since all he’d had was half a sandwich at lunch. “I’d like that, Admiral.”