This little story doesn’t really have a set place in my line of stories. Thanks be to my betas, you know who you are.
Twists and Turns
Chip Morton set his heavily laden breakfast plate on the table and slid smoothly into the seat. He glanced at his plate of cheddar and mushroom omelet, turkey sausage links (Cookie’s attempt to satisfy the health conscious CMO), cubed potatoes with onion, and toast then glared at the plate of his friend and CO. Two pieces of toast and half an omelet. There was probably more liquid in the coffee cup than there was breakfast on the plate.
“I’d starve if I had to live on what you eat,” Morton announced in disgust. He picked up his fork and began an all-out frontal attack on his breakfast.
Lee Crane likewise stared at his friend’s plate. “Don’t start. You know a sinus infection kills my appetite. And I’d weigh an extra fifty pounds at the end of the cruise if I ate like you do. You sure you’re not eating for two?”
“Yeah, me AND you,” came Chip’s retort around a mouthful of omelet. Movement at the door caught Chip’s eye. It was the admiral in the company of one half of Seaview’s current contingent of guests. Doctors Helen Woods and Gail Jance were on their way to the Rhiec Sealab with new equipment as well as hoping to recover a group of ‘runaway’ tests subjects. Chip nodded politely to the admiral and his guests as they collected their own breakfast plates. Once loaded up, the three settled down at the table, with Nelson at the head of the table and the two visiting scientists on his left and right, next to Chip and Lee respectively.
“Morning gentlemen,” Nelson greeted. He glanced at Lee’s plate then back to Chip’s. Morton happily stuffed another mouthful of omelet in. Lee picked at his toast. Nelson shook his head and started in on his own breakfast. Some days it was better not to say anything. In Lee’s defense, the sinus infection that had come out of nowhere probably nixed his already picky eating habits. Nelson wondered briefly if Lee had been cleared for diving. He hadn’t had the chance to talk with the CMO yet. Things would become clear soon enough.
“How much longer do you think it will be before we make contact?” Helen asked as she cut into her omelet.
Lee washed the toast down with a swallow of the thick sludge known onboard as coffee and addressed Woods’ question. “It’s hard to say. The battery1 could have left the area. If they’re hanging around like you suggest they should, I’d like to hope we make contact soon. I can promise you, if they are in the area we’ll find them,” Lee reassured the researcher. Woods looked convinced but Jance still didn’t seem pleased for some reason. Lee chose not to question why. His job was the safety of the boat and the crew. Hopefully it was her personal issue and not something that Lee needed to worry about. He had enough to worry about without adding some persnickety scientist’s whims and issues to the mix.
The sound of a female voice preceded the appearance of Will Jamison. Following along behind the doctor was the final component of Seaview’s guest list, Angelica Hammond, and she was chattering away excitedly. Chip glanced over at Lee with an almost malicious glow in his eyes. Lee’s respond was a swift kick at the blond’s shins. Morton bit back his retort as Nelson eyed the both of them, a clear warning not to start any funny business. Meanwhile Hammond continued to chatter away.
“The possibilities are endless. I just can’t believe my good luck this time around. To be able to continue my work aboard Seaview! I just can’t believe your admiral agreed to the perimeters of my study request. It’s such an honor to be here,” she was saying as Jamie silently began to pick out his breakfast. Hammond followed his lead.
Choosing to ignore Chip, Lee smiled at the doctor and their visitor. “Good morning,” Lee greeted both as they settled in. “How’s things this morning, Doc?”
Will glanced at the skipper’s plate then to Chip’s. Well, at least Lee was eating something. He’d been concerned that after coming down with a surprise infection, Lee would forgo food, as he’d been known to do when he was feeling under the weather. And at least Chip hadn’t smothered his breakfast under a liberal coating of ketchup. Somewhere in Chip’s background the blond had developed this weird idea that ketchup was its own food group. Given half a chance, Chip would smother his meal under a tidal wave of the scarlet condiment. Shaking his head, Will directed his answer to Lee’s question to no one in particular. “Quiet. And hoping it stays that way,” he said in mock irritation.
Chip snorted but covered it well with a bite of toast. Lee shot the blond a glare but Chip had long since learned to ignore such things. He simply grinned at Lee, not an easy feat to accomplish when one is munching on toast. He cast a quick sidelong glance to Hammond, trying to figure out why she seemed familiar to him. He’d never met her before this cruise, but there was something odd about her that reminded Chip of something. Or someone. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it. It had been bugging him since he was first introduced to her. Instead he shrugged mentally and attended to cleaning his plate.
Nelson watched his boys for a second, wondering if there was a way to bottle the good mood and have Jamie start a vaccination program. Knowing Chip’s aversion to needles, it would be impossible to get him to accept such a thing. Nelson addressed Hammond instead.
“Doctor Hammond, how are your studies coming so far?” Hammond was working with New York’s King County Hospital researching the effects of long and short term isolated working environments. Nelson saw no reason they couldn’t host the two separate ventures and he’d agreed to host Hammond’s project alongside the recovery work being done for the two sealab researchers. For the most part her research centered on working with Will but nothing happened on Nelson’s boat without his knowing about it.
Hammond smiled broadly at her host. “Doctor Jamieson has been very gracious in introducing me to the crew and giving me a little background on their duties so far. I think this trip will prove quite productive and I’ll be able to gather an enormous amount of data concerning isolated working environments. I can’t help but wonder, with this being a Reserve crew, if the data will be similar to previous research done on Navy vessels. I can’t begin to thank you enough for agreeing to this project. It’s very important to me and I think a great deal can be learned from it,” she burbled.
“I’m curious to see the results myself,” Nelson commented with a smile before turning back to his meal. He was curious as to the results. Her research perimeters had merit. While similar studies had been done before nothing like it had been done aboard Seaview. Nelson saw no harm in the study and, like Hammond, was curious if the result would be similar to the results of past tests.
Breakfast progressed quickly as Lee refilled his coffee and continued to pick and nibble at his breakfast. Chip made a major dent in his as the admiral and the sealab researchers’ discussed the subjects they were trying to recover. Woods was focused on their recovery to a point of near obsession. From what Nelson knew about their research, he really couldn’t blame her. “Just how many specimens are we looking for? I know your group started out with five subjects,” Nelson asked.
“From those original five, we’ve bred the group to ten. We’ve been working with this particular set for seven years now and we’re just starting to see impressive test results. I’m extremely hopeful we can recover the whole group. I’m counting on their instinct to school together to help in their recovery. A group of ten will be a lot easier to spot than individual specimens.”
Nelson frowned. “Are you saying they’re schooling together? Have you bred this behavior into this group? In my experience I’ve never seen adults school like you’re describing,” Nelson asked.
Woods nodded in agreement as she ate. “Yes, that was one of the first modifications we made when we started with this project. We wanted a more social animal to work with.”
They continued to discuss the recovery methods and the number of divers in the dive team. Conversation drifted between the admiral and the sealab researchers and the occasional bubbly comment from Hammond.
“Admiral, you are going to be a part of the recovery?” Jance asked. Until now she had stayed quiet, letting Woods led the conversation.
Nelson nodded. “Yes, I plan on being part of the recovery team. I’ve worked with this species before but with all your genetic modifications, I’m wondering if this is can be classified as the same species. I’m interested in looking over your research. If these modifications continue to breed true in successive generations, you might want to consider classifying them as a new species.”
Jance and Woods exchanged glances. “We hadn’t considered creating a new species. We simply took into consideration what we needed to make a more docile, sociable animal,” Woods said, not taking her eyes off Jance. Nelson found that odd, but dismissed it.
Once more Jance spoke up. “I assume you’ve handpicked a dive team?”
“Some of the best divers aboard. Usually Captain Crane is a part of most the diving operations. I promise you, we know what we’re doing, Doctor Jance,” Nelson reassured and shifted his gaze to Lee. He was about to ask Lee if he’d been cleared for diving yet when intercom came to life, interrupting the conversation.
“Doctor Jamieson, report to the Missile room.” Sharkey’s voice was calm and controlled, meaning whatever it was, it wasn’t life threatening. Still, any injury was no laughing matter. Jamieson grabbed his nearly empty plate before addressing Hammond.
“I don’t think this will take long. Go ahead and finish your breakfast and you can met me in Sickbay when you’re done,” he said.
Hammond nodded. “Alright then,” she agreed.
Lee had just enough time to shoot the doctor a concerned look.
“Relax Lee. Keep picking at your toast. I’ll give you a report as soon as I know what’s going on.”
Lee accepted that explanation and let Jamieson leave to do his job. At least Jamie hadn’t mentioned that he wasn’t cleared to dive yet. With any luck Nelson would forget to ask about it. “Have you done this type of research before? Onboard a submarine, that is?” Lee asked Hammond, more to harass Chip than for an actual answer. He could tell that Chip was annoyed by her constant babble.
Hammond pushed a stray strand of honey blonde hair from her eyes. “No, this is my first time on a submarine. My father served onboard a submarine and so did my brother, albeit briefly. I’ll admit I wasn’t sure quite what to expect. You are so self-sufficient, it really boggles the mind.”
Chip once more cast Lee a curious glance, quickly catching on to what his long-time pal was up to. This definitely required paybacks of some sort later. Not that he didn’t like to see a woman who was obviously in a good mood, he just wasn’t used to them being quite this animated. As Chip was finishing his breakfast, the intercom once more buzzed to life. “Control room to Captain Crane.” It was O’Brien’s voice and, like Sharkey’s earlier call, the younger man sounded calm and sure. Lee stood and walked to the nearest mike, pulling it from its resting place.
“This is the Captain. Go ahead Mister O’Brien.”
“Skipper, we’re beginning to pick up some interesting readings. You might want to come down and see for yourself.”
“I’m on my way,” Lee replied. With a practiced motion he replaced the mike and snatch up his half-eaten breakfast. Chip stood in response.
Nelson also got to his feet. “You ladies should stay and finish eating. I’ll notify you if we make contact with the battery.”
Woods nodded in agreement. “That’s fine. We have a few things to discuss concerning their retrieval anyhow,” she acknowledged. As Crane, Morton and Nelson filed out of the wardroom, the three researchers were left with each other to finish their breakfast. Gail Jance was picking at her plate as she reached into her pocket and pulled out a small round object. She rolled the object around in her hand absently.
“What’s that?” Hammond asked curiously, batting wide brown eyes innocently.
Jance frowned. “It’s a homing device. We’ve used it in the past to train the test subjects,” she answered.
“I have to confess, I’m really quiet curious. What exactly are your test subjects? You seem incredibly anxious to get them back,” Hammond said, tapping the table top with a manicured finger.
Jance rolled her eyes but she didn’t think that Hammond noticed. Was this woman so dense she couldn’t pick up from the conversation they were talking about fish? “We’ve been studying intelligence in predatory ocean-dwelling fish. Our latest test group is a battery of barracuda. They were accidentally released from their enclosure. The admiral has agreed to help us recover them before they revert back to their wild instincts,” Jance explained.
Helen Woods scowled. “That won’t happen. Reverting to instinct, that is. They’ve been bred past that. What we need is to recover the specimens so our research can continue. There is no possible way we can start over.”
“And you’ve used that tiny little device to train barracuda?” Hammond asked in awe. “How?”
Once more Janice rolled her eyes. “The devices admit a frequency the fish are trained to home in on.”
Hammond plowed on. “How do you activate it? Is that the only device you have?”
Woods took over. “No, we have a number of these units and they are controlled with a computer program. We are bringing a newer unit to the sealab, one that has greater range and allows for a narrower frequency bandwidth. If you’ll excuse us, doctor, my associate and I have a number of things we need to discuss concerning our work.” Woods was tired of playing twenty questions and she couldn’t for the life of her figure how Nelson had agreed to host her project when she seemed like an utter bubblehead.
Hammond smiled brightly. “Of course. I didn’t mean to keep you. I just don’t know a lot about fish and animals and this all sounds fascinating.”
With nods and light smiles, Woods and Jance disposed of their plates, leaving Hammond alone. Once more she began tapping a delicate pearl pink fingernail against the table top, deep in thought. This was an interesting turn of events, something she could use to her advantage. She had her own plans to see to, her own work to carry out while she was aboard Seaview.
As Lee and Chip came down the stairs, O’Brien glanced up from his position behind the sonar station. Lee immediately changed his course, leaving Chip to man the plot table.
“Skipper, we’re picking up an odd echo.” O’Brien said as Leon Kowalski tilted his head slightly to the left, focusing on the odd sounding collection of clicks and squeaks. It wasn’t anything he had ever heard before but it could be what had brought them to this section of the Pacific Ocean.
Wordlessly, Lee held out a hand and Ski peeled off the headset, passing it over. Lee held the set up to one ear and listened intently. He nodded slightly, recognizing the sounds from the admiral’s recordings. “That’s them. Good work, Kowalski. Chip, let the admiral know we’ve found our target.”
From his customary spot at the plot table, Chip Morton responded with a short “Aye, sir,” and reached for the mike but didn’t make the call.
From the stairwell the familiar footfall of the admiral sounded crisply, spiraling down from the deck above. He rounded the bottom of the ladder and his eyes swept over the Con, taking in the watch and his officers. He saw Lee making his way back to the plot table. His young skipper had a very smug look on his face. “Any luck, Lee?” the admiral asked.
“As a matter of fact, yes. We’ve picked up the battery just off our port side. They seem to be drifting with the current for the moment. Any time you’re ready we can start the recovery.”
Nelson nodded. “This is turning out better than I had hoped. I’ll let Doctor Woods know and with any luck we can get those fish recovered. Of all the things we’ve been sent to retrieve, I can’t recall a battery of genetically altered barracuda being a part of that list. And I meant to ask you earlier—has Doc cleared you to dive yet?”
Lee glanced away from his employer and focused on the charts laid out on the table. “I’m fine, Admiral. There’s no reason I can’t dive.”
“I didn’t ask you how you felt, Captain, I asked you if you had been cleared to dive.”
Lee sighed. No use in denying it, the admiral would just ask the doctor himself if he didn’t get a satisfactory answer. “Jamie hasn’t exactly cleared me for diving yet, sir.”
Without batting an eye, Nelson turned to the executive officer. “Chip, I think you’ll be joining me in the dive party then. I’ll have Dr. Woods met us in the Missile Room.”
“Aye sir. I’m on my way.” Chip watched as Nelson made a sharp turn and headed out of the Control room. He flashed a devious smile at his buddy and rested a hand on Lee’s shoulder. “Laid low by a sinus infection. Sorry, pal, better luck next time,” Chip said.
“Just don’t louse it up, Morton,” Lee said good-naturedly. He should have known from the minute the slight infection crept on him that Jamie would sideline him. It wasn’t enough to keep him from his duties aboard Seaview but it was enough to keep him out of the water. While he could argue that he felt fine, the pressure behind his eyes was a little distracting and Lee knew Nelson couldn’t afford to have the dive team focused on anything other than the task at hand.
“Of course not. It’s me, remember?” Chip replied and headed after Nelson. Lee just shook his head. Well, there was nobody he trusted more with this dive than Chip. They’d have those run-away fish corralled and back in the specimen tanks in no time.
Dr. Helen Woods waited in the Missile Room impatiently as the four-man dive team prepared to go out. Out of the corner of her eye Helen watched Gail wandering around the Missile room, clearly agitated. She kept glaring at the dive team and Chip in particular as he double-checked his gear for the dive.
“Is there a reason Admiral Nelson isn’t going to lead the dive team? I was under the impression he’d be in charge.” Gail demanded.
Chip paused in his adjustment of the straps of the air tanks and he focused on the younger of the researchers. “Admiral Nelson is in charge, actually. Every diver goes out with a dive partner and I’ll be the admiral’s. I’m fully qualified, I can assure you, Doctor,” he said as reassuringly as possible. Dr. Woods looked reassured but her assistant continued to stare at him with suspicious brown eyes.
“I was also under the impression that Captain Crane would be diving with this group,” Jance added contemptuously.
Chip was taken back by the woman’s extremely hostile attitude toward him. He was about to answer when Angelica Hammond entered and quickly came to his defense.
“Unfortunately, Captain Crane has a sinus infection. An unforeseen complication and one that makes diving at this depth inadvisable. I’ve been told that Mister Morton is one of the best divers onboard.”
Hammond’s answer seemed to satisfy Jance for the moment. She jammed her hands into her lab coat and moved to stand by her supervisor, staying quiet.
Chip pushed the woman’s attitude out of his mind, turning his attention to the dive preparations. It wasn’t the first time someone had underestimated his abilities. If he let it, it could be a bothersome situation, people thinking that because he was Lee’s—and Seaview’s—second-in-command, that somehow he wasn’t as good as the commanding officer. Far from it and even Lee agreed with that. But Chip had long since moved past the point of letting people’s opinion bother him. He was comfortable in his abilities and both Lee and the admiral had absolute faith in him.
As if summoned by Chip’s thoughts Admiral Nelson strode purposefully into the Missile Room, dressed in his silver wetsuit and looking pleased. He saw Chip and the rest of the dive team nearly ready. “Everything in order?” he asked, knowing it was but asked for the benefit of the two researchers. Nelson thought they might like the extra reassurance. Chip nodded in agreement. Nelson glanced to Hammond, who was winding her way around the divers, pushing past Chip. She noticed Nelson watching and smiled reassuringly at the admiral.
“Just wanted to make a few observations before they went out. I hope I’m not intruding?”
“No, not at all. Chip, any questions?” Nelson asked.
“Yes sir. Anything specific we need to watch for?” asked the blond.
Nelson raised an eyebrow at Helen Woods. “They’re your fish, Doctor. Any advice or suggestions?”
Helen crossed her arms over her chest. “These aren’t just ordinary fish, gentlemen. This is a fourth generation, genetically engineered cross. They are used to people working in the water with them, but we simply don’t have the manpower needed to corral them. You shouldn’t have a problem.”
Drake adjusted his own gear as he spoke up. “Just how big are these fish, ma’am?”
“The largest is about four feet long, or at least that’s the last measurement we had before they escaped. It’s possible they could have grown larger without the confines of the tanks to inhibit growth.”
“That’s an awfully big barracuda. You’re sure they’re not dangerous?” Riley asked uncertainly.
“Oh, no,” Woods reassured the group with an emphatic shake of her head. “This generation is being breed not for aggressiveness but for intelligence. In order to increase brain capacity, we’ve had to breed for size. You shouldn’t be in any danger.”
Nelson snorted. “I should hope not,” he replied as he adjusted the straps on his own tanks. “These are some of my best divers, including my executive officer. If there were any chance of that battery attacking we’d be considering another way to retrieve them. Chip, let’s round up a few wayward barracuda, shall we?”
Lee Crane hitched a hip on the edge of the table, watching the small group of divers through Seaview’s massive observation windows. Not only was this one of Lee’s favorite spots on the boat, it was the best way to watch the action outside. So far it looked like everything was going according to plan. The collection nets were working out perfectly and it looked like they were going to have the whole battery recaptured in no time.
Something odd caught Lee’s eye as he moved forward to get a better look. He heard a footstep behind him and he glanced back to see the two scientists entering the control room. Something in Lee’s expression must have been visible because Woods immediately spoke up.
“Something wrong, Captain?” she asked.
“Ma’am, how big are these specimens of yours?” he asked.
“I was explaining to your divers that the largest of the specimens was last measured at just about four feet. Without the restrictions of the tanks they may have grown larger.”
Lee shook his head, “I can’t be sure, but some of those look larger than four feet.”
“It’s possible. In the tanks we’re able to monitor and control their growth. In the open ocean, with unlimited food, I have no doubt their growth has gone uninhibited. I’m curious about their stats once we get them back,” she said, moving to the windows and watching the action going on outside. “Seven years of research is swimming free in the ocean. I hope your group can recover them.”
“They’re not a threat? Barracuda have a dangerous reputation,” Lee inquired, concerned about the rather large dimensions of the fish in question. He wasn’t sure he liked the idea of his mentor and best friend in such close proximity to an animal with a vicious reputation. Lee hoped the spear guns they carried would be enough if it came down to that.
Woods frowned and Lee got the distinct impression she disliked the questions he was asking. She sighed before answering. “I already explained to the admiral that they have not been bred for aggressiveness. They have no need for aggression since they don’t have to compete for food.”
Jance spoke up. “They’ve been loose for two weeks now. Helen, it’s possible their instinct to hunt might have taken over. If they feel threatened, they could attack. ”
That was the last thing Lee wanted to hear. Clearly not happy, he reached for the mike on the corner of the plot table. “Sparks, patch me through to the admiral.”
“Aye sir.” There was a pause and Nelson’s rich baritone sounded through the intercom.
“Lee, I don’t have to tell you what you’re missing,” Nelson said over the speakers. Lee could hear the smile in his voice and responded in kind.
“I guess that will teach me to come down with a sinus infection before a cruise. Everything alright?”
“Everything is fine, Lee. We’ll all be back aboard in no time. I would imagine that our guests are watching?”
“Yes sir, both ladies are in the nose and seem quite pleased with your progress so far,” Lee confirmed, and received satisfied looks and nods from both researchers.
Nelson was easy to pick out in his silver wetsuit and Lee had no problem identifying Chip among the four, his huskier form setting him apart from Riley’s almost petite form, and Drake, taking the lead to swim in behind the battery. In reaction the school seemed to pivot as one, heading precisely in the direction the dive team wanted them to go. Lee didn’t care what Doctor Woods said. In his experience barracuda were not fish to be trifled with. He just wished that Jance had spoken up sooner.
Both women were quiet, watching the recovery of the battery. Everything seemed to be going well. So far, of the ten specimens, they had recovered half. The other five were simply hanging around as if waiting for their turn. Lee couldn’t help himself. “Quite frankly I don’t see what you called us for. Two divers could have rounded up your specimens.”
There was that same indulgent sigh before Woods answered. “We’ve spent the last two weeks trying to do just that. All of our attempts were unsuccessful. We don’t have the manpower to devote to recovering this group and continue with the other projects and ongoing research aboard the sealab. We need to recover the group before they have the chance to breed with wild barracuda and asking for outside help seemed to be our only answer.”
“Unmonitored breeding with wild fish would totally blow our project out of the water,” agreed Jance.
Chip’s voice chimed in over the intercom. “How are we doing, Lee? I assume you’re keeping an eye on things?” he said merrily. Lee grinned as Chip pivoted in the water, turned toward the boat, and gave a jaunty little wave.
“I don’t think you’ve messed things up too badly. But you still have a few fish to go.”
Chip snorted. “We got the first five corralled, we’ll get the rest. Watch and learn, Skipper.” His good-natured teasing was cut short as the largest barracuda in the group, a creature easily five feet in length with powerful jaws and wickedly sharp teeth, suddenly spun around, facing Chip. The exec froze, treading water just enough to maintain his position. The rest of the group also froze and Lee saw Drake and Riley raise their spear guns, readying for a possible attack. Lee felt his lungs catch as his heart catapulted into his throat. He surged forward to the windows, as if he could somehow be closer to the group. He was completely powerless to stop what happened next.
Chip hung in the water, afraid to move as he faced off with the biggest barracuda he’d ever faced. The creature almost seemed to grin at him with teeth as long as his thumb and looking deadly sharp. In his peripheral vision he saw the remaining fish beginning to circle.
“Admiral?” Chip asked, trying to keep all the fish in his line of sight. He could feel his heart beginning to pound as the fish began to close in, making him feel more like prey.
“Don’t make any sudden moves, Chip,” Nelson warned, bringing up his spear gun.
Chip felt his throat closing up with fear. “Don’t worry,” he managed. Without warning the fish, as if following some cue known only to them, converged on Morton in a frenzy of snapping jaws and flesh-rending teeth. Chip screamed in reflex, his frantic cries echoing through the earpiece of the divers and through the intercom onboard Seaview.
Lee watched horrified as the five huge fish swarmed in on his best friend. Crane lunged for the mike, screaming, “Get out of there! Get back to the boat, that’s an order!” Lee double clicked for shipwide then yelled, “Sickbay! This is the Captain, we need a team in the Missile room on the double!”
The rest of the diving team was already in action, moving in on the mass of writhing fish. The knot of divers and fish was soon engulfed in a sickening cloud of red. The Control Room grew eerily quiet as Sparks cut off the sound of the exec’s pain-filled, panicky screams. Lee threw the mike aside and spun on his heel, barreling through the Control room as he headed for the Missile room. The researchers followed, both with identical looks of horror on their faces.
Lee felt the stitch in his side, long before he reached the missile room. By the time he burst through the hatchway, the water gauge in the escape hatch was just beginning to drop down as the water drained out of the chamber. Sharkey fairly danced in his hurry to extract the divers and it was hard for Lee to stay out of the way. The green light finally came on and Sharkey lunged for the wheel, spinning it as fast as he could.
The divers, supporting one of their own between them, spilled out of the chamber tracking water and blood onto the Missile room floor. Chip did not move as they lowered him to the deck. Lee dropped to his knees by the still form, pulling the mask from the unconscious man’s face.
“Chip? Come on, Chip, don't do this to me, please,” Lee begged his friend, his eyes taking in every wound on the exec's trim and muscular body. The black neoprene was ripped to shreds revealing chewed flesh and muscle. Chip never moved or responded to Lee's voice and Crane felt his heart constrict and his stomach turned sour. Damn, how the hell did this happen?
“Skipper, let me,” A soothing voice said and Will Jamieson knelt down by Chip’s side, Frank on the other. The corpsman began to cut the chewed up remains of the wetsuit off the still bleeding man while Will worked on getting vitals.
“Mister Morton, have you decided that a dislocated thumb wasn’t exciting enough for me?” Will muttered quietly, referring to the incident that pulled him from the Wardroom earlier. Chip still made no response to the doctor’s gentle teasing.
Crane looked up at Riley, who was peeling out of his own wetsuit. There didn't seem to be a mark on the young man. “What happened out there?” Lee barked, torn between fury and worry.
“Those barracuda, sir. They just honed in on Mister Morton before we knew what was going on. We couldn’t seem to kill the things fast enough. It was all we could do to get Mister Morton out of there,” Stu said.
Helen Woods’ voice rose shrilly, “You killed my specimens! You had no right! Seven years of research went into those animals. You’ve totally ruined our project!” she screamed, advancing on the group with clenched fists.
Admiral Nelson reacted and grabbed both her shoulders. “Doctor Woods! Now is neither the time nor the place to discuss this. We had to make a snap decision in order to protect my officer and, given the circumstances, I would not do anything differently,” Nelson said sharply. In his opinion Woods was completely out of line but he was doing his best to defuse an explosive situation, seeing Lee gathering himself to take the lady scientist’s head off.
“Skipper,” Sharkey’s voice cut through the tension. Lee whirled to see the chief holding a small circular object between two fingers.
“What is that?” the captain demanded with a coating of steel in his voice.
“We don’t know, Skipper, but it was stuck to Mister Morton’s air tank. We found it as we were checking everything in.”
Jamieson was overseeing the removal of Chip’s still form. Lee was torn between following his friend and getting to the bottom of what was fast becoming a mystery. He rolled the object Sharkey had recovered between his fingers. What on earth was it? Why was it attached to Chip’s tanks? Nothing was making any sense.
“Admiral,” Lee began, but Nelson was already reaching for the tiny silver disk, his sapphire eyes taking on a deadly serious shadow.
Helen Woods was also staring. “That’s one of our devices,” she announced, reaching for the small object. Nelson closed his fist around it, refusing to relinquish possession and he faced Woods with a very chilly gaze.
“And just how does this device work?” he asked, opening his fist and holding the small disk between two fingers.
Helen licked her lips nervously. “It sends out a signal, in short bursts. We use it for training purposes. The specimens are trained to home in on the device.”
Nelson’s eyes narrowed and he could sense the fury building in his captain. “Lee,” he warned quietly. Lee tightened a fist, obviously fighting the urge to introduce it into the nearest bulkhead. “Jamie has enough on his plate without a broken hand,” Nelson reminded.
“Yes sir,” Lee acquiesced, trying to calm the building storm of emotions inside of him.
“Doctor Woods, I don’t suppose you know how this object ended up on the air tank of my executive officer?”
Doctor Woods planted her hands on her hips and fired back. “If you’re accusing me of something, I should remind you that I just lost half my life’s work. Why on earth would I sabotage my own research project?” she asked, her voice rising in volume with each word.
Nelson was unswayed by the angry woman. “Somebody set my officer up as a target for those fish. Somebody knew they would attack if provoked and they counted on this device to do just that. I’m suspending this project until I have more answers. In the meantime, I suggest you and your associate retire to your cabin. I’ll allow you to continue the research in the lab we set up for you, but free range of the Seaview has been suspended.”
“Admiral, you can’t! This project…” Gail Jance exclaimed only to have Nelson spin and address her.
“I nearly lost one of my best divers, who also just happens to be the second-in-command of this boat. I have every right to take whatever measures I deem necessary to protect my people. Unless you want this project completely halted I suggest that both of you not argue with me any further. Chief Sharkey, please escort these ladies to their cabin.”
“Aye sir. Ladies, if you’ll please?” Sharkey’s green eyes, dark with worry over the exec, motioned for the two scientists to take the lead. Both did as asked without further comment.
In the meantime Lee had folded his arms over his chest, trying to puzzle this whole mess out. “Admiral, how do you explain this?” he asked.
Nelson let out a deep sigh and ran his free hand through wet auburn curls. “I’ve been asking myself that. She’s right. She has everything to lose by sabotaging the project. She doesn’t have anything to gain by killing Chip, if she even had a motive.”
“So we’re left with a mystery,” Lee growled.
Nelson shrugged and tightened his grip on the device in question. “I suppose you’re going to Sickbay?”
“I need to check the Control room first. What are our plans now? Stay here or return to Santa Barbara?”
“Stay here, at least for the time being. Depending on what Doc says we might have to evac Chip in the Flying Sub. If somebody is trying to kill him, it might not be a bad idea to get him off the boat altogether. I want to get to the bottom of this, one way or the other. Maintain our position, at least overnight. I’ll play it by ear come morning.”
Lee nodded. “Aye sir. I’ll see to it.” Lee spun and headed for the hatch. Nelson slowly followed, the disk still in his hand as he considered various options. Nothing made sense though. Why would Woods and Jance want to jeopardize their own project?
Lee finally made his way to Sickbay, the worry chewing at his gut like a dog with a bone. Nelson had changed back into a uniform and gently shooed Lee out of the Control room, knowing nothing would satisfy the younger man until he had seen Chip with his own eyes. It would also ease the tension in the Control Room. The entire watch was keyed up as Lee paced and hung over the shoulders of various crewmen, unnerving them as Lee fought to balance his emotions.
Lee found Jamieson doing a check on the sleeping blond, then pulling the blanket up to cover the still form. “Jamie?” Lee asked, his eyes on the pale figure of the man who was nearly his brother. Jamieson favored the skipper with a reassuring smile.
“Chip is going to be fine. Sore and tired for a few days, but he’s going to come out just fine. He does have some muscle damage and he’s lost more blood than I like, but I’ve stitched everything up tight. He’s sedated because I need him to rest, not arguing that he ‘feels fine,’” Will explained, throwing enough stress on the last two words to make Lee duck his head and glance upwards through dark lashes. The effect had long since lost its effect on the doctor but it was a deeply ingrained habit with Lee.
Lee finally noticed Doctor Hammond sitting at the desk. She was watching Seaview’s skipper with an odd expression, tapping the desk with a pink tinted, manicured fingernail. “You and Mister Morton have known each other a long time?” she asked.
Lee nodded. “Since we attended Annapolis. He was my roommate for all four years.”
“And you and he came in first and second in your graduating class. Doctor Jamieson here was explaining a few things about the admiral’s handpicked crew,” she explained in response to Lee’s slightly puzzled expression.
He flicked a quick glance toward Jamieson who was smiling unrepentantly. “Just a little bragging,” the doctor explained unapologetically.
The lanky skipper leaned against the support by Chip’s bunk, watching the blond sleep. “His breathing doesn’t look good. Shouldn’t he be on oxygen?” Lee asked.
Jamie shook his head. Lee wasn’t on this end of things very often and he didn’t handle it well if it were Nelson or Chip in Sickbay. “You of all people know that oxygen is carried in the blood. Chip’s a few quarts low right now, so yes, his breathing is labored and yes, we will be watching and if we think he’ll need it, we will put him on oxygen. I’m a pro at this, Skipper. Have a little faith in my abilities,” Jamie said gently teasing his CO.
Lee sighed. That could be him lying there. If Jamie hadn’t beached him he’d have gone out with the admiral and those fish might have gone after him instead. Chip would be the one holding court in Sickbay, as Morton has done so many times before…
“Skipper, he’ll be fine. I know what you’re thinking. Don’t go there,” Jamieson said gently.
“I can’t help it Jamie,” Lee replied softly, his eyes holding shadows of concern and blame. He should have taken better precautions, he should have talked it over more with the admiral, maybe they could have tried something different to recover those fish…
The doctor placed a hand on Lee’s shoulder. “I know you can’t. But this is just one of those things. I don’t regret keeping you on board. I’m certainly not happy about having Chip here instead but he’s going to be fine. If you think he’s going to blame you then you’re not giving your friend enough credit. Now, you’ve seen him and he’s not going to be waking up any time soon. I believe you have a boat to run.”
Lee sighed but let the doctor steer him toward the door. With a last look back at Chip, Lee made his exit for the time being, leaving Jamie with Doctor Hammond.
Hammond was standing over Chip’s bunk with a faraway expression on her face. Jamie made his way to his desk and sat down, his eyes glancing over the thick file spread out on the desk. He pretty much had Chip’s medical file memorized but it never hurt to double check.
“Does Commander Morton take command of the ship very often?” Hammond asked out of the blue.
Jamie picked up a pen to make a few notes in Chip’s file. “Don’t let anyone hear you call Seaview a ‘ship’. ‘Boat’ is the proper nautical term. And yes, on occasion, if the circumstances call Captain Crane off boat, then Commander Morton has command. It’s part of the executive officer’s job.”
“So he’s held at the same level of responsibility as the captain for the condition of the boat and crew?
What on earth kind of question is that? Chip was nearly eaten alive by a pack of barracuda and she’s asking about his command responsibilities? “Absolutely.” Jamie wasn’t sure where her odd questioning was coming from but Chip needed the rest, not random conversation. “I hate to toss you out, Angelica but Chip really needs to rest,” he said firmly yet gently.
Hammond smiled meekly. “I am being terribly nosy, aren’t I? I’m just excited to get the chance to follow up on my research and incredibly grateful that your Admiral Nelson allowed me to tag along. You have the most fascinating crew and I hope to learn more about them in the next few weeks.”
“There will be plenty of time for further research. Chip will be back on his feet soon enough. You’ll get a firsthand demonstration of just how seriously he takes his job.” Jamie said with a smile
Hammond tucked a clipboard under her arm and stowed the pen she’d been using behind one ear. “I think I’ll accomplish a great deal here, doctor. There are a number of things I would like to see while I’m onboard. I’ll return to my cabin now and start inputting some of this information.”
“Of course. I’ll be wandering down for dinner later. You’re welcome to join me.”
Hammond nodded. “Doesn’t someone need to keep an eye on Commander Morton?”
“He’s stable for the moment. Mostly he just needs rest. He’s not going anywhere anytime soon and Frank knows how to deal with him if he should happen to come around.”
Hammond smiled. “Alright then. Dinner it is. You’ll let me know how the commander is doing?”
Jamie made a few more notes in Chip’s file. “I would imagine an update from me would be unnecessary. Word about the exec and the skipper moves fast through the boat. It’s good for moral when they’re on the mend and yelling to go back to their cabins.”
With a trill of laughter, Hammond left Sickbay and Jamie paused. He glanced back to Chip, then at the empty door. Hammond’s questioning puzzled him. She came from a military family. He knew her father had retired from the Navy. Surely she knew about procedure and terminology?
Shaking his head with more important things to worry about, Jamie returned to updating Chip’s file, trying to imagine how John was going to code an attack by multiple barracuda.
Harriman rubbed at his temples, feeling a headache coming on. He was still trying to wrap his head around the idea that Chip had been injured on a dive that Woods swore should have been simple. Full of questions only those two scientists could answer, Nelson made his way to their cabin. He wanted to look over the equipment they had brought on board for transfer to Rhiec Sealab and he was determined to get a better idea of how those tracking devices worked.
He found two sullen researchers in their cabin, as he had ordered. “Doctors,” he started by way of greeting. “I was wondering if I might have a word with you?” he asked diplomatically.
While Gail Jance continued to glare at her supervisor, Woods seemed eager to help. “Yes, of course, Admiral. Anything that might shed light on this. I’m just as concerned as you are over this whole mess.”
I seriously doubt that, Nelson thought, remembering their performance in the Missile room. However he kept his expression neutral as he explained what he wanted. “You said the device we found on Mister Morton’s air tanks sent out a signal you trained your fish with. I’d like to know how you actually work with the devices, how the frequency is set, and how you monitor the training.”
The women exchanged looks. For a split second Nelson felt that there was something between the two that he was carefully being left out of and it was a sensation he immediately disliked. But the nanosecond passed and Woods refocused her attention. “It would be better to show you than to explain. If you’d like, I can show you the gear we brought aboard.”
Nelson felt a smile tug at the corners of his mouth. “I’d like that very much,” he said.
The three made their way toward the center of the boat, passing several crewmen who nodded in deference to the admiral. While not actually being rude, Woods noticed that the attitude toward her was decidedly chilly. Well, it didn’t matter. Their mission here was clear and she was determined to pull this off. She’d come too far to let something like a random accident stop her when she was so close to achieving her goals.
Rather than take up space in Nelson’s lab, the researcher’s gear and the new equipment that was being transferred to Rhiec had been stowed in a smaller storage hold. Nelson gave the hatch wheel a sharp spin and pushed the door open. He motioned for the ladies to enter first. They entered and Nelson followed, leaving the hatch open. Jance glanced nervously over to Woods but Woods shook her head. Jance hovered by the door with one hand resting on the fire extinguisher hanging by the hatch. Woods took over as Nelson began a rapid-fire series of questions. She explained as quickly as she could that the barracuda had been bred and trained to respond to signals from the devices.
The atmosphere changed when Nelson, holding the small device in his hand, asked one last question. “If you’ve trained these animals to home in on a signal generated by this device, why not lure the creatures back into their tanks with it? Seems to be a better solution than waiting two weeks for our help. Or was there some other reason for wanting Seaview’s help?”
The two women gaped like stranded fish. Neither seemed to be able to supply an answer to Nelson’s simple question. The admiral continued to pin Woods with an electric blue-eyed gaze and Woods seemed rooted to the spot, unable to move or answer. He shifted his gaze to Jance to pose the same question and was totally unprepared when she grabbed the fire extinguisher from the wall and swung it with all her might, connecting with the side of his head. Harriman dropped to his knees as the pain lanced through his skull, leaving him breathless and momentarily helpless. He tried to pull himself together, tried to bring his head up when Jance slammed the solid extinguisher into the back of his head. Nelson collapsed to the deck as darkness swam up to claim him.
“Close the hatch,” Woods ordered. Jance spun into action. She made a quick check to make sure the corridor was empty then she slammed the hatch shut.
“This isn’t exactly part of the plan,” Jance growled. “They were supposed to take the admiral when he was out with the dive team. He was supposed to disappear and nobody would ever know.”
“Things change. We didn’t count on that little bobble-head setting Morton up for fish food,” Woods snarled. She glanced wildly around the hold, franticly trying to think of something. She spied a large freestanding piece of equipment—the frequency unit they were taking to the sealab. She dropped to her knees and peeled open the front panel. The unit was only about four feet tall but it was the best she had to work with at the moment. She stared at the inside of the unit for a second then began pulling out circuit boards and handfuls of wire.
“You think it was her?” Jance asked.
“Had to be. She’s the only one who knew about the devices. She must have slipped in here after we went to the Missile room and grabbed one. She could have easily attached it to Morton’s tanks when no one was paying attention.” Woods spotted a roll of gray tape on top of another unit. “I didn’t get where I am today by admitting defeat when there was a slight setback. Secure the admiral. Make sure he can’t make any noise. If we work this right, Crane will do most of the work for us and he’ll never know what happened to his precious Admiral Nelson.” She grabbed up the roll of tape and gave it a toss.
“What about that mess with Morton?” Jance asked, catching the roll of gray tape and puling Nelson’s arms behind his back. She began wrapping the sticky stuff around his wrists securely.
Woods continued to work, gutting the inside of the unit. “I could care less. Not our problem. We’re here strictly for the admiral. If somebody wants to kill Morton, that’s their business. We’re this close to success. Don’t get sidetracked from the real mission here. Our job is to get Nelson. Nothing else matters.”
There was a sixth sense that Lee relied on to guide him when waters got a little too murky to see. Like now: too many suspects and not enough motives. Too many twists and turns.
There was something bothering Lee but he couldn’t put his finger on it. Every time he thought about Woods and Jance the feeling grew stronger. Lee tried to tell himself that it was because Chip had gotten hurt on their project. But there was still something troubling Lee Crane and he couldn’t shake the feeling that he was missing something vital.
Still puzzling over the question and not finding any satisfactory answer, Lee found himself walking the corridors to the admiral’s lab. As he walked by Woods and Jance’s cabin, the door flew open and Woods faced him with an angry glint in her eye.
“Captain, I insist that Gail and I be allowed to continue on to Rhiec. We have important work to finish and if we can’t do it here, we should be allowed to continue it there.”
Lee fought not to explode. His tolerance was riding thin right now and it wouldn’t take much for him to lose that fine grip he had on his emotions. Taking a deep breath and fighting not to give in to any of his personal little ‘tells’ that would betray his agitation, Lee faced the irate scientist.
“The admiral will be the one to make that determination. Until he says otherwise, no one is leaving this boat. I’ll see to it that you are escorted to your lab but as per the admiral’s orders, free reign of the Seaview is restricted. I’ll see to it that lunch is delivered to you cabin.”
Faced with what was clearly a dismissal, the woman spun around and stomped back to her cabin, slamming the door shut. She faced Gail.
Jance licked her lips nervously. “We can’t wait forever,” she said quietly.
Woods dropped down into the chair behind the desk. “I know.”
“If we don’t get him off this damn sub soon, he could suffocate in there,” Gail hissed.
“Don’t you think I know that?” snarled Woods in answer. “Can you think of a better way to smuggle him out? No other agent has my success rate. Why do you think I drew this assignment? We’ll just have to be persistent and continue to insistent we be allowed to continue to the sealab.”
Jance perched on the edge of the nearest bunk. “And if we can’t convince Crane to let us go?”
“No. He’ll let us go. He has to. He has no reason to keep us. He can’t connect us to Morton and he hasn’t missed the admiral yet. He has no reason to connect us to Nelson once he figured the old goat is missing. Just sit tight. We’ll pull this off. I haven’t failed to deliver on an assignment yet.”
With his nerves just starting to calm down, Lee made his way down to the admiral’s lab. He hadn’t heard from the admiral in a while and was wondering if maybe the older man had formulated any theories. He found the lab door closed but that wasn’t uncommon. He knocked sharply but there was no answer.
Lee frowned. He didn’t like entering the lab without an invitation in case the admiral was involved with something. But Lee’s gut was telling him to open the door. He listened to his instincts and pushed the door open.
The lab was quiet and empty with the only sound being the circulation pumps from the various specimen tanks. No sign that the admiral had been here.
Lee tried not to let his disappointment show. If he wasn’t here and he wasn’t in his cabin, were could he be? Lee was fairly certain there was one person on this boat who would be able to pinpoint the admiral’s last location. Lee reached for the intercom on the table.
“Chief Sharkey, report to the Lab.” Lee didn’t want to broadcast his concerns, not when the crew was already on edge about their exec. Lee figured he wouldn’t have to wait long. He was right. Sharkey appeared in the doorway, slightly out of breath as if he’d run the whole way.
“Something wrong, Skipper?” he asked, his eyes darting about to take in the nearly empty lab.
“I didn’t want to ask over the intercom but have you seen the admiral?”
Sharkey grinned. “Oh sure, he was going to ask those lady scientists about that thingamajig we found on Mister Morton’s tanks. A couple of crewmen said they saw them heading for the compartment we stowed their gear in.”
“Is he still there?”
“I couldn’t say, sir.”
“I already had a run in with those two, on my way down here.” Lee said, pacing the lab.
Sharkey rolled his eyes. “Still yammering about going back to their sealab?”
Lee snorted. “I explained that wasn’t happening unless the admiral ordered otherwise. I was hoping to find him here but apparently he’s off someplace else.” A mental klaxon was screaming in Lee’s head. Maintaining his calm, the fingers of his right hand never the less inched toward his left, giving the onyx ring he wore a twist before he caught himself. He jammed both hands into his pockets so his nervous tick didn’t give him away to the ever-observant Chief of the Boat. Judging from the shadows in Sharkey’s eyes, he was too late.
“Chief, I want you to find the admiral. I don’t care what he’s doing; I just want to know where he is. And keep this quiet. The last thing we need is for the crew to think that something else is wrong.”
“Aye, Skipper. Ah, sir…IS there something else wrong?”
Lee checked his knee jerk reaction to growl ‘damn right there’s something wrong,’ but without solid evidence he couldn’t prove it. All he had was his gut instinct and he wasn’t ready to voice that suspicion yet. Instead he opted for something less alarming.
“Simply taking a few precautions, Chief. I’m sure the admiral is just occupied someplace. Carry on,”
“Aye, sir,” Sharkey replied sharply. Crane left the lab and Francis pulled the door shut. He watched his skipper vanish down the corridor, the tension visible in the set of his shoulders and the way he walked. Sharkey was no fool. The skipper was worried that something had happened to the admiral. Well, he’d turn his boat upside down until he found him. There was enough going on without adding a missing admiral to the mix.
Nelson crawled back to consciousness, slowly and painfully. His head throbbed and nausea rolled through his gut with every heartbeat. It was dark, unbearably hot, and it was difficult to take a deep breath. As all his senses slowly came back online, the reality of his situation sat it.
He was bound hand and foot. His wrists were secured behind his back and his ankles and knees were secured as well. He was jammed into an unbelievably tight space with his legs bent and his knees pressed against his chest. Folded like some rag doll, it was hard to make his lungs work and he was only able to breath in short, shallow gasps. Woods had gone through a lot of trouble to make sure he wasn’t going anywhere. He could feel the sticky backing of tape around his wrists and could only assume the same stuff bound his ankles. It was also wrapped around his upper chest and arms, restricting his movements even further. They weren’t taking any chances on his getting out of where ever they had stuffed him.
Woods had gone to a lot of trouble to make sure no one heard him, either. His abductor had taken the precaution of stuffing a rag in his mouth and wrapping several lengths of tape over it. Try as he might, the best sounds Harriman could make were weak, muffled grunts. Disappointment rocketed through him like venom. No one was going to hear him.
How long had he been unconscious? Lee would tear the ship apart looking for him, once Lee realized he was missing. He had to give the crew something to home in on, something that would draw them to this part of the boat.
But there was nothing he could think of. Woods had been careful. He could hardly move, bound as tightly as he was. He couldn’t make a sound that would carry beyond the hold. He could only wait and pray somebody would think to search Woods’ equipment before they—and the equipment destined for Rhiec Sealab—were transferred off Seaview.
Chip recognized the itch and pull of stitches long before he was fully conscious. He lay still, cushioned by the still lifting fog of sedatives and painkillers. Finally he mustered up enough strength to open his eyes. The room was truly dark, surprising Chip. Doc always kept a few lights on, saying he needed to see where he was going when Lee flat-lined.
Chip found himself in a lower bunk of Sickbay. Obviously something had happened to him to necessitate his being installed in his least favorite part of the sub but for a moment Chip was at a lost as to what. He tried to focus, trying to pull together his last scattered memories. The dive. Those giant man-eating barracuda. They’d come after him like he’d been served up on a platter. A shiver crawled up Chip’s spine. Cautiously he wiggled fingers and toes in turn. Barracuda had been known to rip limbs plum off of divers. As Chip ascertained he was still in possession of all his limbs and digits, he breathed a sigh of relief. He didn’t relish being a one-handed executive officer.
Chip rose up on his elbows, looking around as his eyes adjusted to the dark. “Jamie?” he called out. It wasn’t like Doc to wander off without someone on watch.
From the far side of the room a figure rose out of a chair. Chip couldn’t identify who the figure was, it didn’t look familiar. The figure was holding something…
The something was shoved against Chip’s face, pushing him back against the mattress and pillow. Chip gasped but he couldn’t get any air, the pillow in his face cut everything off. No air, no light, no nothing.
He clawed at his attacker, desperate for leverage, and managed to grab a hold of his attacker’s arm, tightening his grip around muscle and bone and putting all his strength into his grip. It wasn’t enough. His struggles were getting weaker and weaker. Finally he stopped altogether and his hands went limp.
Will Jamieson was surprised when he came back to Sickbay to find the lights out and a dark figure bent over Morton’s still body. In the backlight of the corridor, Will could only make out the figure as being hooded and he was pressing a pillow into Morton’s face.
“Get away from him!” the doctor shouted as he scrambled for the lights. Nothing happened. Sickbay remained dark. He lunged for the figure, praying it wasn’t too late and Chip wasn’t already dead. The figure whirled around, grabbed the nearby chair, and boldly gave it a sling at Jamieson.
The chair slammed into the physician, knocking him to the floor. The lanky doctor rolled with the impact, colliding with the bulkhead hard enough to see stars. The fleeting image of someone darting out the door was the last thing Jamieson saw.
Secrets don’t stay secret onboard the Seaview very long, not when their commanding officers were involved. At first the crew simply assumed the skipper was worried about the XO, but word was beginning to leak out that the admiral hadn’t been seen in a while. Sharkey’s official one-man search had slowly turned into an unofficial, boat-wide lookout.
At the moment the young commander had retreated to the nose, aware his temper was close to sparking an all-out firestorm. Seeking solace on Nelson’s front porch, Lee perched on the edge of the table, watching the sea. He tried to let the shadows calm his shattered reserve but for once the sea, always a balm for his troubles, couldn’t drive away the worry. Someone was loose aboard his vessel, someone who wanted Chip Morton dead. Now his mentor was missing. Lee was beginning to feel isolated and lost.
“Skipper, could you come to Sickbay?” Jamieson’s shaky voice echoed over the intercom.
Lee snatched at the nearest mike and answered. “On my way.”
Minutes later, Lee pounded down the corridor, fearing something was wrong with Chip or, worse yet, that the admiral had been found. Or that Nelson was dead. Lee pushed that thought out of his mind. When he reached Sickbay, he found the lights overhead were only half lit, creating deep shadows in the corners of Sickbay
“Jamie?” Lee questioned as Jamieson steadied himself against the desk. Frank hovered nearby, holding an icepack that he handed off to Jamieson. The doctor pressed the cold pack to his head, wincing as the cold came into contact with the lump on the back on his head. That’s when Crane realized that John was working on Chip. The corpsman was setting up an oxygen tank and threading nasal canulae into place.
“What happened?” Lee demanded as he advanced on John. Chip was still asleep—or unconscious—the dark circles under his eyes emphasizing his pale features. An abandoned pillow lay on the foot of the bunk.
“Somebody tried to smother Chip,” came Will’s quiet answer.
Lee’s temper exploded with the force of a tropical storm. “How the hell did this happen?” he snarled.
Jamieson touched the back of his head and winced again. “I was coming back from the wardroom and I found my Sickbay in the dark. Someone must have tampered with the lights. They didn’t come on when I hit the switch. It was a hooded figure, that’s all I could see. I tried to tackle the guy but he picked up a chair and threw it at me. I hit the bulkhead and when I came to, Frank was trying to bring me around and John was trying to stabilize Chip. Frank, I’m fine. Stop fussing and get somebody down here to fix the damn lights. I can’t work in the dark,” the doctor grumbled.
“I don’t want Chip left alone until we find out who’s doing this!” Lee snatched the mike off the wall. “Master-at-Arms, I want a guard posted outside of Sickbay. No one is allowed access without mine or Doctor Jamieson’s approval,” Lee ordered as calmly as he could muster. Inside everything was quaking from the fear that he couldn’t protect Chip when he needed it the most.
After replacing the mike, Lee stalked toward the bunk Chip occupied, sinking down into a chair. He ran a hand through his dark hair, slowly bringing his hand down over his face, and closing his eyes. Was this nightmare ever going to end? He opened his eyes and rested a hand on Chip’s arm, ignoring the tremor that shook his arm. Lee tried to will strength and reassurance through his touch to his friend, but his fear that somebody might succeed a third time left him cold. He couldn’t lose Chip. He couldn’t face having to tell Wendy or their parents.
Lee felt the familiar touch of Jamie’s hand on his shoulder. “Jamie?” he asked without looking up.
“John says he’s stable. He looks worse than he really is. I won’t let him out of my sight, I promise.”
“I’m going back to the Control room. Let me know if Chip wakes up. He might have seen something that can help us nail this bastard.” Lee turned back to Chip. “Chip, hang in there. I promise you we’ll get to the bottom of this. You can’t check out on me now,” Lee pleaded softly. Finally he rose to his feet and with clenched fists, headed back to the Control room.
Jamieson watched as his commanding officer left then he reached down into the fold of Chip’s blanket. He picked up a tiny pink object and held it up between his thumb and finger. If Jamieson didn’t know any better, he would swear he was holding a woman’s fingernail. Still frowning, Will walked back to his desk and picked up the phone.
“Sparks, patch me through to Kings County Hospital in New York. Let me know as soon as you make contact.”
Lee barely had time to make his way through the Control room when Sparks called out to him over the intercom. Lee shifted his steps and headed for the Radio Shack.
“Yes, Sparks, what is it?” he asked, trying to keep the frustration and tiredness out of his voice.
“Sir, it’s those two lady scientists. They keep demanding to speak with you. I’ve told them they’ll have to wait but they’re starting to get on my nerves. They call down here every five minutes nearly, demanding they continue on to Rhiec Sealab.”
Lee nodded. “Alright,” he sighed and picked up the nearest mike. “Master-at-Arms, have Doctors Woods and Jance escorted to the Nose.” Lee replaced the mike as gently as his frazzled nerves would allow and he turned himself toward the nose.
Lee settled himself on the edge of the table to wait. He feathered a hand through his dark hair and tried to quell the uneasiness in his gut. Questions filtered through his mind like schools of tiny fish. Where the hell was the admiral? Had he had an accident and was he lying at the bottom of some stairwell? Had Chip’s mysterious attacker gone after him? And why on earth would somebody try to kill Chip?
Lee’s mental questioning was interrupted as Woods and Jance were escorted into the nose.
“Very well,” Lee nodded to the guard. “Close the doors behind you but don’t leave. I’ll need you to escort the ladies back to their cabin as soon as our conversation as concluded,” Crane instructed.
“Aye sir,” the guard acknowledged and backed out of the nose, hitting the door release as he left. The doors slid smoothly shut, giving Lee and his guests a measure of privacy. Lee figured it was about to get loud.
“Is there something you want Doctor Woods, or is this just another plea to send you on to Rhiec?”
Helen Woods glared at Lee, the fire of indignation in her eyes. “Captain, you can’t be serious? Yes, I insist that we continue to the sealab at once. At least I can continue my research with the specimens remaining.”
Crane was torn between telling the woman exactly where she could go and simply tossing her overboard. Quite frankly, Lee couldn’t see a reason to keep them here. It made no sense for them to try and kill Chip and there was no way they could get the admiral off the boat without him being seen. For all Lee knew, Nelson was dead.
Lee shook his head, refusing to accept that his friend and mentor might be dead. He was hurt somewhere, incapacitated, and unable to summon help. That was the only scenario Lee was willing to accept right now. But he still had the problem of what to do with these to.
With his hazel eyes still simmering with the deep fire of barely suppressed anger, he turned his attention on the woman who continued to pace the observation nose, hands rammed in her pockets. He couldn’t keep them here, not unless he was willing to have them charged. Without evidence, he couldn’t charge them with anything. All he had was one of their devices stuck to Chip’s air tank. Everybody had access to their gear. Anybody could have taken one. The crew wasn’t entirely happy with their continued presence on the boat. Despite Sharkey’s intervention there were continued grumblings that it was their fault the exec had nearly been fish bait. The crew was particularly protective of their officers; the only thing worse than having bodily harm inflicted on their skipper was having someone target their exec or admiral. Lee took a deep breath and made a decision, one he hoped he wouldn’t regret.
“Doctor, I agree it might be for the best that you return to Rhiec sealab, the sooner the better. I think you can be trusted to stay on board the sealab, just in case, you understand,” Lee said reluctantly.
Woods glared at him. “I don’t like your insinuations. We had nothing to do with your officer’s attack. It makes no sense for us to target a man we don’t even know when we needed those specimens returned alive and unharmed.”
Nelson’s disappearance wasn’t public knowledge just yet. He didn’t want to alert the crew and he sure as hell wasn’t going to let these two know. As long as he pretended that he was only aware of the attack on Chip he had an advantage. Lee took a deep breath as an idea suddenly blossomed. “Ladies, it’s going to take time to chart a new course, with my exec down and all. I would suggest you return to your cabin and wait until we’re ready to transport you back. I hope that’s satisfactory?” Lee asked.
Woods smiled and once more the klaxons sounded in Lee’s head. Whatever happened, he had to make sure Woods and Jance didn’t leave this boat. He couldn’t prove it, but something was telling him Nelson’s disappearance was linked to these two. How long could he stall for time?
“Lewis, escort these ladies back to their cabin,” Lee ordered after opening sliding doors. He could tell they resented being escorted back and forth but Lee wasn’t about to let them loose, not after the attempt on Chip and with Nelson vanishing.
Then it dawned on him, like sunlight through the clouds. He spun and nearly ran to the Radio shack. “Sparks, did Doctor Woods ask to speak with me or the admiral?”
Sparks blinked, remembering. “With you, sir. She specifically demanded that she be allowed to talk with the captain. She’s been insisting for the last forty-five minutes.”
Lee had the answers he needed. But now he needed proof. He grabbed the nearest mike. “Chief Sharkey, report to the Control room, on the double,”
Oozing disappointment, Sharkey faced his captain. “Skipper, I’ve been through nearly every hatch, every access panel, and every hold we have. If the admiral’s still aboard whoever did this did a bang up job of hiding him.”
“We’ve got three people onboard not regular crew. We have no new crew on this cruise so my only suspects are the civilians.”
“Aye, sir, that was our assumption as well.”
Lee shot the chief a sour look. “Ours?”
Sharkey fidgeted with his hands, suddenly timid. “Well, you see, sir, a couple of the guys, they sort of figured out what was going on. They figured that somebody tried to permanently clobber Mister Morton. And the admiral, he must have figured out who it was and that somebody must have stashed him out of the way someplace till they can finish the job on Mister Morton.”
“Remind me not to try and keep a secret onboard this boat,” Lee grumbled as he ran a hand through his dark hair. “Alright Chief, think. Is there anywhere, any place at all that you haven’t searched?”
Sharkey’s answer was immediate. “Yes, sir. We stashed all the gear those lady scientists brought on board in compartment forty-three. We haven’t searched there yet.”
Lee stood, fists clenched into tight knots. He passed by the arms locker in the corner and retrieved a gun belt for himself and Sharkey. Without another word both men headed towards the center of the boat.
The heat was oppressive. There was little air circulation and Nelson was panting though the thick gag, trying to catch his breath. His head continued to pound mercilessly. Blackness licked at the corners of his consciousness, threatening to drag him under.
He couldn’t pass out. If he did it would seal whatever fate Woods had planned for him. Instead Nelson focused on staying awake and as alert as possible. He continued twisting his hands, trying to break the imprisoning tape holding him captive. They hadn’t been spare on the stuff. It was so tight he could hardly twist his hands. He could feel his fingers tingling with numbness.
Trying to catch his breath and swearing he’d cut back on the cigarettes if he got out of this sorry mess, Nelson leaned his head back, chest heaving with the effort of drawing breath. He could feel lines of sweat trickling down the back of his neck, adding to the dampness of his shirt collar. The back of his shirt was plastered to his skin. His head lolled to the side as he lost his concentration, only to jerk his head back up, eyes wide in the darkness as he focused once more on staying alert.
The only sense left to him was hearing. He strained to hear any sound and for a minute he froze, holding his breath so he could better hear.
Voices. Badly muffled but he could hear voices. One voice above all stood out and gave him hope. Lee. He could hear Lee’s voice.
Somewhere Nelson found the energy to shift his body to the left and then to the right. There just wasn’t enough room for him to move and the container, or whatever it was Woods had stuff him in, shifted just slightly. Nelson felt his heart pounding and he heard nothing but a roaring in his ears as he rocked back and forth, desperate to attract attention, frantic for Lee to find him.
Lee felt the disappointment sweep through his soul like a tidal wave. He’d thought the admiral would be here, he was so certain this was where he’d find the answers. He’d thought he had all the pieces and he’d find his friend before it was too late. He could only stall those two women for so long. He was running out of time to find the missing admiral.
It was an odd collection of crates and equipment that met them as he and Sharkey hit the compartment. They went through every crate and Sharkey even crawled into the ventilation duct, on the wild chance Nelson might be stashed there.
Nothing. No sign. No anything. Lee was beginning to feel like he was living in his own personal hell. Trying to hide the feeling of hopelessness he scanned the small compartment one last time, hoping for some sign, anything that might tell him what had happened to his friend and mentor.
A thump got his attention. Sharkey was rooting around the boxes and crates. Lee gently reached out and grabbed the chief’s arm, silently motioning for him to stop. Sharkey froze, puzzled at his commanding officer. A second thump followed the first and Sharkey spun around, tracking the sound.
“Admiral?” Lee called out hopefully. The thumps got louder and more frequent. Lee pushed past the meaningless collection of crates to a large freestanding piece of something that looked like a computer. It rocked slightly as if something inside were trying to break free.
“Sharkey!” Lee’s voice broke as he attacked the front panel of the thing, his fingers searching for some clasp or release. Sharkey dropped to his knees beside him and together they practically ripped the front panel free.
Harriman Nelson slid from the confines of his awkward prison, with Lee catching him and gathering him close. He gently pulled the tape away from Nelson’s mouth and the admiral spat out the wad of cloth that had silenced him. Leaning against Lee, with Crane’s arms wrapped protectively around him, Nelson heaved in one great lungful of air after another.
“Admiral, are you alright? What happened? ” Lee managed around his relief. Nelson gasped as Sharkey tore at the tape around his ankles. Lee flipped out his pocketknife and cut through the tape on the admiral’s wrists and what was wrapped around his chest and arms.
“I’ll…I’ll be fine. It was Woods. She and Jance…clubbed me when I wasn’t looking…stuffed me in there…” Nelson replied hoarsely. He was so weak he couldn’t make his legs move. He realized he was being held and that it was Lee who was supporting him, but he didn’t care. He simply didn’t have the strength to sit up on his own and without Lee to support him, he’d probably have fallen face first onto the deck.
“Sharkey, get Doc down here. Then get the Master-at-Arms and have those two tossed in the brig and lose the damn key,” Lee snarled as he cradled Nelson close. The amount of blood staining Nelson’s hair was disturbing and it took all Lee’s composure to remember that head wounds often look worse than they are. Still, Lee was unable to release his defensive hold on his mentor.
“I’m alright…now…Lee. Don’t fuss,” Nelson muttered, feeling his vision beginning to gray out. It didn’t matter now. They hadn’t won this time. Lee had found him and whatever plans they might have laid were completely washed down the drain. Nelson let go of reality, confident that he was safe in Lee’s protective grip.
Lee felt Nelson go limp in his arms and felt the ice-cold spike of panic shoot through him. “Admiral? Admiral, can you hear me?” he pleaded but Nelson didn’t respond. Time seemed to slow to a crawl as Lee cradled Nelson’s unconscious body.
What was taking Doc so long? He should be here by now, Lee thought, afraid to leave Nelson’s side.
Sharkey reappeared, the relief that the admiral had been found clear in the chief’s eyes. “Sir, that Doctor Janice, she’s willing to spill the whole scam in return for diplomatic immunity. She claims they’re agents for the People’s Republic.”
The words hung in the air like a thick fog. If there was a nation on this earth that Lee despised with more passion than he loved Seaview, it was the People’s Republic. This time they’d managed to get two agents on board his boat and nearly succeeded in some twisted plot to kidnap the admiral!
“I suppose they tried to kill Chip as well,” Lee snapped, trying to choke down the rage and fury threatening to blind him.
“No, sir, Doctor Jance swears that they didn’t have nothing to do with that.” Sharkey was saying as John arrived with Frank in tow.
“Where’s Doc?” Lee asked sharply as the alarms in his head sounded. If Woods and Jance hadn’t tried to kill Chip, who had? There was only one other person onboard.
“Gone to talk to Doctor Hammond. He said it shouldn’t take long,” Frank said as he focused on the admiral. Lee surrendered his charge to their capable hands and scrambled to his feet. With a last look at the admiral Lee darted in the direction to the guest cabins, barely taking time to shout “Sharkey, come with me!”
Will Jamieson stopped outside Doctor Hammond’s cabin and knocked twice. He heard the faint answer of ‘it’s open” and gently he twisted the doorknob. He found Hammond behind her desk, her fingernails clicking against the keys of her laptop computer.
“Busy?” Jamie asked with a weak smile.
Angelica returned the smile. “Just inputting my information. I think we can really learn a lot from you and your group here. I’d like very much to expand my studies with you, if I could.”
Jamie leaned against the bunk, arms crossed over his chest. “Studying what, if I might ask?”
“Oh, the performance of the crew, the excellent cross-training you do, just a variety of things. Ah, how is Commander Morton?”
“Stable for the moment after someone tried to smother him,” Jamie said nonchalantly as if discussing the weather.
Hammond’s voice spiked with surprise. “What? Oh, how horrible! Who on earth would want to hurt him? He seems like such a nice man.”
Jamie reached into his pocket and gently pulled the fingernail he had collected from Chip’s bunk. Without a word he laid it on the edge of Hammond’s desk. “I believe you dropped this. Must have come off while you were trying to hold the pillow over the commander’s face.”
Hammond paled as she reached for the small fake fingernail. It perfectly matched the light pink polish of her other fingers, with the exception of the pinky finger of her left hand. That nail was gone, exposing the trimmed natural fingernail underneath.
“I knew I should have clipped my nails before I can onboard. I couldn’t figure when I lost it,” she said with clinical detachment. Her bubbly personality evaporated. She glared up at the doctor and Jamie realized he’d underestimated her. The small caliber pistol she pointed at him emphasized that fact all too clearly.
“Why? Chip doesn’t know you; he’s never done anything to you. Why are you trying to kill him?” Jamie asked, hoping to stall for time.
Hammond’s eyes had taken on a wild look of hatred at the mention of Morton’s name. “My brother, Lance Thompson, served aboard Seaview during one of those rare occasions when Commander Morton was in command. Morton was so damn set on saving the boat and his own precious hide that he let my brother die. Lance drowned when they took on water. I’ve made it my own personal crusade to make sure justice is served. I even went as far as to use my mother’s maiden name, so no one could connect me with Lance until after I’d avenged him.”
Jamieson held up his hands in surrender, hoping to make a convincing case. “It’s not like that. Chip isn’t that kind of man. He takes his responsibilities to this boat and crew seriously,” Jamie tried to explain.
But Hammond was too far gone, too wrapped up in her hatred of Chip, and she screamed, “Shut up! You just want to protect him! He has to pay for what he’s done!”
Enraged, she pulled the trigger. Jamie felt the dragon tongue of flame smash into him, felt his legs give out as he folded to the deck next to the bunk. Sticky warmth was spreading over his khaki shirt and his left arm was completely numb. He tried to pull himself up, griping the edge of the mattress with his right hand but his muscles convulsed with pain and he spiraled downward into oblivion.
Without a backward glance, Angelica bolted out of her cabin and headed for Sickbay.
The gunshot echoed through the corridor and Lee felt his heart skip a beat. It felt like the corridor was miles long and he was never going to reach Hammond’s cabin. Finally Lee rounded the corner and plowed through the open cabin door. The woman was gone and all Lee could see was Jamie on the floor. His stomach churned at the site of the doctor lying in an ever-widening pool of red.
“Jamie!” Lee darted forward and rolled the doctor onto his back. Blood spread from a point high on his shoulder and his eyes flickered as Lee called to him.
“Hammond,” he gasped, the pain making it nearly impossible to put together a coherent thought. “ She’s…after Chip…Lee, go,” he forced out, feeling everything beginning to grow dark again.
“Skipper, you go, I’ll stay with doc,” Sharkey offered. It was the best offer Lee had and he clambered to his feet, adrenaline pulsing through his system as he sprinted for Sickbay.
God don’t let me be too late…
The gunshot jerked Chip to wakefulness. For second he lay in a haze, trying to pull his muzzled thoughts together. Gradually a babbling voice pushed its way into his consciousness. It was a woman’s voice, oddly familiar and bordering on the edge of hysteria, was rambling on about how he had to pay, how it was all his fault.
Focusing, Chip realized it was Angelica Hammond who was doing the rambling, her blond hair wild and her eyes full of nothing but hatred. That hatred was aimed at him as she rambled on, as was the gun in her hands. Chip pushed himself up in the bunk and tried reason with her.
“I don’t even know you, I haven’t done anything to you,” he said, trying to get through to her. His normally vibrant voice was rough and raspy as he tried to reason with her.
But Hammond wasn’t listening. She was babbling and Chip finally understood what she was saying. “My brother. Lance died on your watch! You let him drown so you could save this boat and your own hide. Without Crane onboard somebody had to pay for your incompetence and it was my brother,” she screamed at him, the gun aimed dead center at his chest. If she fired, he’d never survive the bullet’s impact. It would blow a hole in him big enough to pilot a minisub though.
Chip remembered Lance. Lance Thompson. A young rating. It was his first cruise and it was during that mess with D'Alverez2. They were being pummeled by depth charges and it was only by releasing a decoy of oil and trash did they manage to stop the enemy fire. There was a hull breach as a result of taking fire and there had been one casualty: Lance Thompson, who panicked when the flooding started and forgot how to swim.
“Lance was a good man,” Chip began, trying to get his brain to work, to come up with anything that would stall for time. “What happened was an accident.”
“You let my brother die!” she screamed, her eyes losing any light of sanity. It was in slow motion that she cocked the hammer and her finger on the trigger twitched.
The echo of the shot hung in the air and Chip froze, expecting the pain to spread through his body at any minute. His hand automatically went for his chest and he waited to feel his warm blood on his fingers. Looking down he was shocked beyond words to find no blood and no extra holes.
The woman wavered on her feet and then simply collapsed. Lee Crane stood in the doorway of Sickbay, holding a gun in one hand and a look of grief in his hazel eyes.
“Chip?” Lee called out taking a few steps toward his friend.
“I’m fine, Lee” Chip replied, his eyes taking in the unmoving figure of the strange woman who had tried to kill him. “What the devil is going on?”
Lee lowered the gun but kept his eyes on the still figure. “One hell of a long story, pal.”
Sickbay was catering to a full house, none of who were very happy. John and Frank had on their hands not only their XO, who glared and grumbled every time somebody had to take his vitals, but also the admiral, who insisted he was fine even though Frank had explained he was suffering mild heat exhaustion, dehydration and a concussion.
And of course, CMO, William Jamieson, resting in a bunk with his left arm in a sling and an I.V. dripping an ‘antibiotic’. William Jamieson, who couldn’t understand why he was stuck in Sickbay. It was just a scratch. He should be able to convalesce in his cabin and what did everybody think was so blasted funny?
Meanwhile Lee Crane, trying hard not to laugh at Jamie’s completely ignored complaints, was attempting to explain what he had pieced together concerning Hammond, Woods and Jance.
“The People’s Republic?” Chip repeated.
“The same,” confirmed Lee. “Rhiec sealab was compromised about four weeks ago. ONI is still looking into the disappearance of the group stationed there. According to Jance, the plan was to get us to come out here and help with the retrieval of those fish, purposely released as part of their plan. While the dive team was out they were going to separate the admiral from the group.”
“But then the barracuda turned on Chip,” Nelson said. He would never admit it but he was still feeling a bit on the loopy side and he was looking forward to a nice cool nap as soon as the debriefing was over with.
“That was Hammond’s doing. She learned about the signaling devices and she stole one. We think she planted it when she was in the Missile room, before you went out to recover the fish.”
“And the fish were trained to home in on it. After two weeks of living in the open ocean their instincts must have taken over and they saw Chip as a snack,” Nelson added.
“Note to self: no more swimming with barracuda,” Morton grumbled from his bunk. “And if Thompson was her brother, why wasn’t her last name Thompson?”
“Mother’s maiden name. She didn’t want to risk anyone connecting her to Lance,” Jamie supplied.
Chip nodded. “Good reason,” he replied. “I’ve been thinking she looked familiar somehow. She favors Lance a bit, from what I remember.”
“Anyhow,” Lee continued with a light grin, “Hammond was convinced that her brother’s death was Chip’s fault.”
Jamie took the chance to add what he knew. “Kings County Hospital said this project was all she’s focused on, to the point of turning down two rather lucrative grant offers.”
“Thompson panicked when that hold flooded. He forgot how to swim and nobody could make him calm down. He drowned and there wasn’t anything we could do.” Chip’s voice grew sad as he recalled the event. Lee glanced upward to him.
“And if something happened to one of your sisters and you weren’t happy with the answers?”
“Good point,” Chip conceded. “Still, being the target of a homicidal manic is not my idea of fun. Put me down for no more crazed fruit bats.”
Lee grunted. “I’ll make a note of it on your desk calendar.”
Nelson cleared his throat to get the conversation back on track. He was really starting to look forward to that nap. “I questioned Woods about the devices. I couldn’t figure that if they trained the fish to home in on them, why didn’t they use them to retrieve the barracuda to start with? They realized they were trapped then. That’s when Jance slugged me from behind. When I came to I was stuffed like a sausage inside some random bit of equipment.”
“And to think I was about to toss them both back to their sealab. I just wanted to be rid of them! They’d have taken all their gear and you would have been turned over to the People’s Republic for who knows what,” said Lee, taking a deep breath at the prospect of losing Nelson. “What tipped me off was when they started to complain about going on to the sealab. They asked to speak to me. Not you. Which made me suspect they already knew where you were. I’m thankful we thought to check their gear.”
“I’m thankful you thought to check their gear. It was a bit close in there.”
Chip was fighting to stay awake. He was still tired. The blood loss seemed to have drained all the energy from him. He found himself drifting off and the voices of his friends seemed to echo in his head. Cushioned by the soft mattress under him and the warm blanket, Chip drifted off.
The admiral as well was giving up and letting the call of sleep claim him. Lee watched as his closest friends slowly give in. Everybody was safe. Everything would be all right now.
“Skipper?” Jamie called out quietly, with a slight slur to his voice.
“Jamie, you should rest,” Lee warned.
“Just wanted to tell you, you did good. Lots of ways this could have turned out. Don’t blame yourself for Hammond’s death. You did what you had to do.”
Lee surrendered a deep sigh. “Thanks Jamie. I’d rather have taken her out another way but she had already shot and killed the guard. I couldn’t let her shoot Chip and I couldn’t think of another way to stop her. Now, get some sleep. Consider this payback for trying to deal with Hammond on your own,” ordered Lee with a grin.
“Not the brightest moment of my career,” the doctor agreed and surrendered to the powers of the I.V.
Lee got to his feet and walked to the door. Frank was sitting at the desk and John was inventorying the drug cabinet. It looked so normal. Lee felt like he could do with a dose of normal.
Lee pushed away from the scene and headed for the Control room. He wanted to make one more check on things before he turned in. With Chip down there was a little extra paperwork to see to and Lee figured he could get a few hours of deskwork done while Seaview made her way home.
As Lee entered the Control room, with its familiar sounds to comfort him, he speculated that enough had already gone wrong this cruise. They were owed a peaceful trip home.