TAD – Chip’s POV


By R. L. Keller


When I posted “TAD” I was almost instantly requested to write Chip’s version of the events.  There are parts of this story, especially toward the end, that will make more sense if you’ve read the original, posted on Seaview Stories.  RLK


Lt. Cdr. Charles P. Morton – Chip to his family and friends, climbed out of his car in the parking lot at the Nelson Institute of Marine Research with about as much enthusiasm as he did headed for the dentist.  Actually, a whole lot less, he admitted to himself, slamming the car door shut and starting to walk down to the underground sub pen.  He actually loved his job at NIMR.  Being the Executive Officer aboard the Institute’s research vessel, Seaview, was about as close to heaven as he ever wanted to get.  Yes, for a supposed “research sub”, she got into a fair amount of, as he liked to phrase it, extracurricular activities.  It wasn’t all as he’d imagined it might be when Admiral Harriman Nelson, whom Chip had met during his Annapolis days, had shanghaied him away from a desk job in San Diego and into the Reserves so that he could XO the boat Nelson had talked about so often.  Chip and a couple of his classmates at the Academy would occasionally see how long they could sidetrack then Capt. Nelson from teaching his Theories and Design classes and get him talking about the boat that he wanted someday to build.  They couldn’t manage it often, as some smart-aleck always tried to point out to the Captain that so much of what he wanted in “his” boat was totally and impossibly unfeasible.  Nelson would take a deep breath, glare the upstart into silence, say something like “we’ll see,” and go back to teaching what he was supposed to be.


But Nelson had shown the world; that the submarine could be built, and that she could do everything – and sometimes a little more – than he’d said that she could.  And Chip was thrilled that he could be a part of it.


But not today.  It had nothing to do with the fact that his leave had been cut short.  Nothing at all to do with having to call everyone else back as well, and get the sub ready to sail on basically twelve hours’ notice.  It didn’t even have anything to do with the fact that they’d be sailing with a substitute Captain – although that was part of it.  John Phillips, Seaview’s first and only Captain since she’d been launched just over a year ago, was dead.


Chip didn’t have all the details.  He’d known that John and Admiral Nelson had been very secretive about something that was going on – something that came under the heading of ‘extracurricular’ that occasionally interrupted Seaview’s scientific voyages.  And he knew that he’d be told what the two felt he needed to know, when they felt that he needed to know it.  That’s the way the game was played.  Chip didn’t mind.  It wasn’t his place to question Seaview’s ‘errands’.  His was to keep the boat in order, and make sure that she and her crew were ready for whatever she was asked to do.  All he’d gotten was a call from the office that there had been an attempt made on Nelson’s life as the two men headed for a meeting in DC, that Nelson had survived but John hadn’t, and Nelson would be on the way back shortly and wanted Seaview ready to sail the instant he was.  And, that there was someone called in to take John’s place on the cruise.


Well, that ain’t happening, Chip muttered to himself as he headed down the stairs to Seaview’s underwater pen.  There may be a new Captain aboard, but no one would ever take John’s place.  Chip took a deep breath and continued walking.


After graduating Annapolis, Chip had first gone to Sub school, then spent the next several years alternating between submarines and a couple of surface vessels, as well as being sent to some advanced computer science schools where his aptitude for the new systems was fine-tuned.  Chip was a born organizer.  While several of his closer classmates at the Academy – especially his roommate, Lee Crane – harassed him that it was just an offshoot of his totally anal mentality, it was where Chip felt the most comfortable.  He didn’t see himself as a leader of men.  He didn’t even see himself as all that overly bright.  He hated Tactics.  He despised Statics, the study of underwater structural design.  He barely tolerated Engineering.  And the only reason he’d passed those and a couple of other courses at Annapolis – namely the totally detested French (why did he need to learn a foreign language, anyway) – was, his roomie needled him, and ragged on him, telling him that he was so much better than average, goading him until Chip worked his tail off just to shut Lee up.  It had surprised the heck out of him that he’d ended up second in the class his plebe year.  And kept it up the next three years as well.  He never quite made it to first.  But that was okay because, who was first all four years, was Lee!


Chip had been stationed in San Diego, as an aid to the Deputy Chief of Staff for Supply for ComSubPac, when Nelson had approached him with his offer.  Chip had at first been hesitant.  While the thought of working for Nelson was definitely intriguing, Chip knew that he wasn’t ready for an XO’s post.  Nelson convinced him otherwise.  It had taken awhile, but Nelson was persistent.  He wanted Chip and, what Nelson wanted, he had a tendency to get.


And in the long run it had all worked wonderfully.  John Phillips, already Seaview’s Captain even though it would be well over another year before her construction was finished and she could officially be launched, took Chip under his wing and taught him everything he could about being a first rate XO.  And Chip surprised himself by being a quick study.  By the time Seaview sailed on her maiden voyage Chip knew her inside and out, knew her crew because he’d had a hand, albeit a minor one, in hiring most of them, and was in total control of what it took to keep her afloat.  Well, for the most part, anyway.  While sub school had given Chip the training necessary to be a fairly competent sub driver, and John made sure that he had ample time to learn Seaview’s eccentricities, John handled most of the piloting duties himself.  And that was perfectly okay with Chip.  He much preferred letting John and Nelson keep track of where Seaview was going, and letting him make sure that she was ready to do whatever they wanted her to do when they got there.


Now, all of a sudden, John was gone.  With no warning.  The call that Chip had received just said that he was dead, and Nelson had called in a replacement for whatever this cruise was.  Chip just hoped that it was someone competent.  He still had nightmares over the idiot that had come aboard once when John was on vacation.  Scuttlebutt had it that the guy was some friend of Admiral Jiggs Stark.  Besides being head of ComSubPac, Stark was a personal friend of Nelson’s.  Featherly hadn’t been on board twelve hours and everyone was calling him ‘Featherbrain.’  Behind his back, of course.  All he wanted to do was walk around the Conn, letting everyone else do his job.  Of course, every time Nelson showed up he’d get really busy, and start giving useless orders that by the third day most of the Duty Crew was ignoring, and looking to Chip for leadership.  Everyone but that prig Bishop, Chip snarled silently, saluting the guard detail and entering the deck hatch.  Lt. Bishop, Seaview’s Second Officer, took it upon himself to ingratiate himself with the temp.  Said that he was just assisting the man while he got his bearings.  Assisting him, my six, Chip muttered to himself, and started down the ladder into the Conn.  Assisted him in undermining practically everyone else’s authority on the boat was more like it.  Gad, I don’t even want to think about something like that happening again.


Chip had noticed COB Curley Jones standing at the bottom of the ladder as he started down into the Conn.  When he reached the bottom he realized that Jones was looking expectantly at someone forward, and turned.  A wide grin started to spread across his face as he instantly recognized his old Annapolis roomie – and best friend – Lee Crane, now a full Commander.  The smile died as Lee gave no indication of even knowing him – just stood there, unmoving, until Chief Jones made the somewhat hesitant introductions.  “What the…” Chip started to say – happily only to himself – and gave his new ‘Commanding Officer’ the required salute, which Lee returned almost automatically.  Lee practically looked straight through Chip as he ordered that he be notified when all the junior officers were aboard, abruptly turned on his heel, and began working with the navigational information spread out on the chart table.


Chip was left flat-footed – and not a little livid!  But if that’s the way Lee wanted to play it, Chip could be just as military.  He plastered a look on his face that had been known to send many a new recruit on board running for the nearest hatch.  Even Chief Jones drew himself up a little straighter in the face of it, meekly took Chip’s cover, jacket, and carry-on, and hustled off to stow them in Chip’s cabin.


The next hour was not one of Chip’s finest.  He wanted nothing more than to grab Lee, shake him until his teeth rattled, and demand to know what the blazes was going on.  Lee wouldn’t even look up from the charts he was working on when he asked Chip the odd question about Seaview’s cruising parameters and present crew assignments.  Instead, Chip fell back on strict military protocol, spoke when spoken to, and carried out his duties crisply and without emotion.  He did have to smother a couple of smirks.  The first was when Lt. Bishop reported in.  Chip merely checked him off the list, but Bishop apparently decided that he was going to have his way with the new Captain like he had with Featherly, and tried to get past Chip to introduce himself.  Lee didn’t even look up from the chart he was working with.  It was all Chip could do to keep a straight face as Bishop, caught off guard by being totally ignored, turned away somewhat reluctantly and went to stow his gear.


It happened again shortly after the last of the JO’s came aboard.  Lee had Chip order them to the Observation Nose and, as Chip picked up the mic, Lee went on ahead.  Chip made sure that he was the last one down – he wanted to keep as much distance between himself and Lee as he could.  He watched Lee’s eyes – which Chip knew from long experience around the man could pick out the smallest detail in any given situation – sweep around the small room before settling on Bishop.  In a voice that broached no arguments, Lee told the group that he was sorry for their loss but that Seaview was being called to action on a mission of vital importance.  He admitted that he as yet did not have all the details, but would be briefed by Admiral Nelson as soon as he arrived.  Lee dismissed the men with a warning that he expected them to carry out his orders with no less attention to detail than they had afforded Capt. Phillips, and that no less than their best would be tolerated.  Chip was again struggling to maintain a straight face at the expression on Bishop’s, until Lee’s steely gaze was directed at him.  He told Chip that he was going to his quarters, to call him the instant Admiral Nelson came through the front gate, and abruptly left.


Returning to the Conn to work on his pre-cruise routines as well as checking in the returning crewmen, Chip continued to puzzle over his friend’s odd behavior.  He was fairly sure why Lee had singled out Bishop: he’d told Lee, either on one of their infrequent leaves together, or in a letter the two still occasionally exchanged, about the obnoxious lieutenant.  He had absolutely no idea of why Lee was acting the way he was, however.  But hey, if that’s how he wanted it, two could play that game!


As soon as Security notified him that Admiral Nelson and a guest had cleared the main gates Chip double-clicked the mic and notified Lee – in perfectly proper military protocol.  To himself he muttered, Oh goody.  Another one of the Admiral’s ‘guests’ we have to deal with.  Wonder what trouble we’re going to get into on this cruise?  Lee’s voice almost sounded tired when he acknowledged Chip’s call, although still keeping strictly to regs.  He told Chip to grab his cover and meet him at the deck hatch.


Chip almost let a smile break through his military posture as he watched Lee greet Nelson warmly – the first honest ‘Lee’ expression he’d seen.  There was, between the two men, a special ‘something’ that had begun Lee and Chip’s plebe year at the Academy.  Lee was an only child who had lost his father at an early age.  That was one of the reasons Chip had so immediately taken to Lee.  A year and a bit older than Lee, Chip had just started treating Lee like one of his younger siblings.  Lee had at first resisted – Chip’s first inkling of Lee’s strength of will.  Stubborn bull-headedness was what Chip usually referred to it as.  But the two young men had quickly formed a strong bond of friendship.


While Chip, back then, had easily come to respect Nelson’s knowledge and leadership qualities, he knew that Lee soon held the man in almost awe.  And it appeared that Nelson saw something in the young Lee as well, treating him not merely as another plebe, but becoming very much a mentor to him.  That didn’t mean in any way that he let up on Lee.  Nelson was a taskmaster of an instructor.  In some ways he almost pushed Lee harder to succeed.  But Chip could also see that Lee reveled in the attention, even enjoying the extra projects Nelson handed down, practically challenging Lee to excel.


From their occasional conversations Chip knew that Lee hadn’t seen Nelson since they had served together briefly on the Nautilus.  Lee had been absolutely thrilled when Chip told him about working for Nelson, but it just seemed like Lee never had the opportunity to come for a visit.  Now Chip watched his friend’s face light up in genuine delight.  And Nelson started to return it in kind, until his ‘guest’ interrupted the reunion by practically pushing Nelson forward.  Chip watched as Lee’s expression went immediately stony.  Oh, oh.  Battle Stations, Chip breathed to himself.  Wonder who this Dr. Wilson is?  His ruminations were cut off when Lee turned crisply and told him to prepare to sail, his face again a blank mask, and headed below without even letting Chip answer.  Chip swallowed what would have no doubt been a scathing response, as fed up as he already was with Lee’s by-the-book attitude – and especially as there wasn’t anyone close enough to hear him – and merely followed.


* * * *


By the end of the next couple of hours Chip was starting to calm down.   Sort of.  He still wanted to grab Lee, pin him against the nearest bulkhead, and beat some answers out of him.  Not that I’d have won, Chip admitted, since Lee had always gotten the best of Chip during their occasional good-natured wrestling matches at Annapolis.  Chip had been impressed with how easily Lee had given the commands to move the giant submarine out of her berth, up the channel, and into open water, even though it was the first time that he’d even seen her.  But once Seaview was headed north – Chip had taken a glance at Lee’s notes as soon as Lee had disappeared the first time, and discovered that their destination was somewhere in the arctic – Lee had seemed to…  Chip wasn’t sure how to describe it.  It almost seemed like Lee was nervous around him, and wanted to escape as fast as he could.  Whatever the reason, Lee had turned the Conn over to him and once again returned to the captain’s cabin.  Chip heard a couple of comments about “oh, great – another Featherbrain,” and immediately put down the rebellion with a glare.  Nelson appeared not too long after that, glancing around the Conn and asking, quietly, about Lee’s whereabouts.  Chip, who was still miffed, reported that he’d gone to the captain’s cabin to freshen up.  He saw a slight smile cross Nelson’s face but all he asked was, who had the duty in the nose.  When Chip told him, Nelson had him ask a couple more of the JO’s to join him there, and quickly glanced at the current navigation charts.


“And have Capt. Crane join me when it’s convenient,” Nelson added, with a return of the ever so slight smile.


“Aye, aye, sir,” Chip responded stiffly.


Nelson’s smile broadened just slightly.  “Easy, Chip,” he told his XO, so low that only Chip could hear.  “I rather suspect that Lee hasn’t had any sleep in at least twenty-four hours, and probably longer.”


Chip didn’t know what that had to do with Lee’s ‘stick-up-his-six’ attitude, but he just nodded.  “Aye, aye, sir,” he repeated.  Nelson nodded and headed below.


“I was just headed to help Patterson run a maintenance check of dive gear,” Seaview’s senior rating, Kowalski, said to Chip.  “If you’d like, I’ll give the Captain Admiral Nelson’s message.”


Chip was a bit surprised at the alacrity with which Kowalski volunteered.  Chief Jones had wasted little time, once Lee had disappeared from the Conn the first time, to relate how Lee had tried to sneak aboard and been nailed by several crewmen as well as the COB.  The bruise Lee had left on Kowalski’s jaw was even now getting darker.  ‘Ski had heard the COB’s report, and had openly challenged Lee’s assertion that he’d only been testing security.  While it was true that, as the Senior Rating, ‘Ski tended to get away with speaking out a bit more than the rest of the crew, at the time Chip had merely glared him into silence.  Now he was seriously tempted to ask if the rating was looking for a second shot at their temporary Captain.  Instead he merely nodded, and went back to studying the notes Lee had left on the navigation chart.


As Lee strode through the Conn moments later, headed for the Observation Nose, Chip took note of what his temper had kept him from seeing before – namely that Lee did look tired.  And slightly worried, if Chip was any judge.  But Lee apparently noticed Chip looking at him and his expression went immediately hard and unreadable.  Chip gave himself a mental shake. I can be just as stubborn as you can, buddy, he grumbled silently at his friend’s back.


Just as soon as Lee went down, the JO’s who were there filtered back up.  Bishop, the last to appear, had a positively evil smirk on his face.  Chip knew that he was taking out his frustrations with Lee on Seaview’s Second Officer, but still took great delight in handing the man the supply log clipboard and telling him to double-check all of the stores lockers and make sure that everything was secure, now that they had left port and were in open water.  Bishop absolutely hated that part of his job, considering it beneath his dignity, and fobbed it off on someone else every chance that he got.  Since Chip had specifically ordered him to do it, however, he was stuck.  He’d learned the hard way not to tick Chip off.  Seaview’s XO may be a year younger than him, but one didn’t mess with the man if they knew what was good for their career.


Bishop had barely left when Nelson and Lee came up, apparently headed for Nelson’s cabin.  As they walked through the Control Room Chip still saw Lee’s eyes dance across all of the instrument panels, giving everything a quick check.  Whatever else was going on, it wasn’t affecting Lee’s abilities as a superb sub driver.  Despite the fact that Chip was still in the mood to deck his best friend, he had to acknowledge Lee’s talents in that area.  He knew that Lee’s current assignment was as Skipper on the Sea Horse, and you didn’t get to be the youngest Captain of a fast-attack submarine, or any sub for that matter, without having the ‘right stuff’, as the saying went.


It seemed like no time at all and Lee reappeared, glanced once more at the instrumentation, and ordered Seaview from her present three-quarters cruising speed up to Full.  Chip almost, but not quite, questioned the order.  Instead, he gave himself a quick mental shake and issued the command.  Lee once again disappeared, and once again the recently returned Kowalski started muttering.  Chip sent him a scowl, although Chip was also getting more and more confused.  Lee had obviously been briefed on whatever the cruise parameters were, but gave no sign of sharing the information.  He and Chip had often talked about leadership characteristics, especially after Chip had accepted the XO position on Seaview.  Chip knew that it was Lee’s habit to share with his crew any intel that he could.  That he wasn’t doing so now had the hair on the back of Chip’s neck starting to stand up.


* * * *


The next couple of days settled into a slightly more normal routine aboard the boat, for which Chip was grateful.  Lee was still aloof and quiet.  He spent more time in the Conn than he had that first day, but mostly just watching the crew go about their duties.  Every so often he’d take a walk through the boat, never saying much to anyone.  Chief Jones reported to Chip that he just seemed to be studying the boat, learning as much about her as he could while he was aboard.  There had still been no official word on what the mission was, but some of the crew were offering up ideas about two of the pieces of equipment that had been loaded – a large snow cat and an equally large rectangular box shrouded in tarps and already attached to a skid plate.  Chip hadn’t been overjoyed to load it without knowing what it was.  But the callback order that Chip had received included the information that Nelson had already okayed it, so Chip merely had Curley stow both items securely.


After lunch that first day Lee hadn’t shown up in the Wardroom at regular mealtimes, either preferring to eat later, or requesting a tray sent to the Captain’s cabin.  Lee had already seemed hesitant to eat in the Wardroom even before Dr. Wilson, right in front of him, started muttering to Nelson that he didn’t understand how the Navy could entrust such a vital mission to an obviously unseasoned captain.  Chip had expected Lee to defend himself but he’d merely glared at Wilson, pushed away his mostly untouched plate of food, grabbed his coffee mug, and left.  The door was closed before Nelson reminded Wilson, none too pleasantly, that Lee had been pulled from his current command of the Sea Horse to take this assignment, and was considered by his superiors to be one of the finest sub drivers in the fleet.  Wilson had merely sniffed and changed the subject.


The next day Nelson happened to wander through the Conn while Lee was off on one of his walks.  As Nelson once again grinned softly at being told where Lee was, Chip screwed up his courage and said softly, “I take it Lee has met Dr. Wilson before.”  He had no idea of how the Admiral was going to take the question, and almost held his breath until he saw Nelson’s eyes start to sparkle.


“Fred didn’t take kindly to having his orders ignored,” Nelson all but chuckled.  “Despite the fact that he was blowing smoke, knew that he was blowing smoke, and especially because some upstart of a kid all too succinctly reminded him of the fact and then promptly ignored him.”  Chip couldn’t help himself, and grinned broadly.  “And if you repeat that,” Nelson stopped the grin with a glare, “I’ll set you to cleaning out the bilges when we get home.”  But Nelson’s eyes once again started to sparkle.


“Aye, aye, sir.”  Chip allowed a bit of his former grin to appear. 


But he frowned as Nelson turned away and Chip thought he heard him add, “If we get home.”


* * * *


Chip was having another relatively peaceful morning in the Conn when all hell broke loose.  Lee was present.  Quiet, as he had been.  But starting to lose some of the dark, almost hooded expression he’d had at first.  Chip was getting more used to his friend’s strange behavior and, while he still was maintaining nothing but strict military protocol, was also starting to relax just slightly.


That changed in a heartbeat.  The first report of a plane overhead hadn’t been anything to worry about.  But suddenly Seaview was being depth charged.  Fireworks exploded all around the Conn, Lee ordered Seaview to immediately dive, and the pounding the submarine was taking finally stopped.  Chip was extremely proud of his crew.  While most – especially Kowalski – were still none too happy with Lee’s command style, they all turned to and had Seaview back under control within minutes.  And then they all started looking at their temporary Captain.  Chip saw Lee look almost hesitant for a second.  But Nelson showed up right behind him, said something softly that Chip couldn’t hear, and Lee turned to the Duty Crew, determination and confidence back on his face.  He told the men in the Conn, and by way of the intercom the rest of the crew, that Seaview was on a vital mission of ‘top secret’ status, that there were powers that wanted to stop them, and that until further notice he was putting the boat on ‘War Alert.’  Chip couldn’t have been more proud of his crew than he was right then.  While he could see that Lee’s announcement made them tense up, they were all instantly even more focused on their duties than they had been already.  Even Bishop seemed to acquiesce to the situation and quit sniping behind Lee’s back.


But almost immediately Seaview had a bigger problem.  There was a scraping sound across the upper hull, the sonar station went dead, and Lee ordered ‘all stop’ to assess the damage.  It was speculated that the depth charges had weakened the sonar mast, and the scraping sound had been the cable dragging across the hull when it broke free.  There was a bit of mad scrambling at that point.  Lee kept insisting that the mast should be close by, the waters they were in weren’t too deep for divers and, if they could find and reattach it, everything would be okay.  Chip could see that Nelson was hesitant.  But Chip knew only too well just how persuasive Lee could be, having so often been talked into some hijink or another at Annapolis.


As Nelson finally agreed to Lee’s plan, Chip got a sweet moment of revenge by grabbing Chief Jones and telling him to give Capt. Crane the bright yellow wetsuit.  A wide smile hit Curley’s craggy face – everyone on board absolutely hated that thing.  And as well as Chip knew Lee, knew that he would as well.  But, also knowing Lee, Chip knew that he’d just take what he was given without complaint.  On the other hand, if Lee ever found out that it was Chip’s doing, Chip could expect to be made very unhappy.  He was perfectly happy to take that risk.


The dive didn’t go quite as planned.  First, Wilson invited himself along.  Kowalski reported that Lee wasn’t thrilled with the prospect, but hadn’t argued.  They actually found the mast rather quickly, but on the way back Lee had tangled with some kind of giant squid thing – Chief Jones had never seen anything like it.  He and Malone had managed to get it off Lee with a combination of spear gun, flare, and knives, but not before it nearly squeezed the life out of Lee.  Happily all he got out of it was a lot of bruising.  Chip had gone flying down to the Missile Room when the attack was reported, momentarily forgetting that he was supposed to be totally ticked at his old friend, and he and Kowalski got Lee sat down and helped him out of his wetsuit.  Chip gave momentary thought to the idea that Doc should probably have a look at Lee, but just as quickly dismissed the idea.  Lee had never taken kindly to medical care – Chip wasn’t too sure why, Lee would never say.  The only way Chip had ever been able to get him to Medical at Annapolis, on the few occasions that he’d deemed it necessary, was to pull his ‘big brother’ act on Lee.  Somehow, right this moment, Chip didn’t think that it would go over so well.  Chip had felt Lee stiffen when Wilson all but stuffed the mast under Lee’s nose and tell the whole room that it was a good thing that he’d gone along or the mast wouldn’t have been retrieved.  But Lee had somehow maintained his cool – especially since everyone already knew that it had been Lee that found it, and had only dropped it when he was attacked.  He even managed to thank Wilson for the ‘save’ before he dressed, ordered Seaview surfaced so that the mast could be reattached, and once more headed her north.


They’d no more than got going again when the hydrophone picked up propeller sounds behind them, and sonar reported incoming torpedoes.  Seaview’s firing systems had all been knocked offline by the depth charges so they couldn’t fight back.  They were once more in deeper waters, and Lee ordered Seaview to dive.  Again Chip marveled at his crew for being able to put aside their collective differences with Lee, not to mention the fact that they’d not even had a chance to mourn John Phillips, and respond as one of the finest crews in or on the ocean.


But at the moment he had more important issues to deal with.  While evasive maneuvers had saved them from the first torpedo attack, the rogue sub was continuing to follow them down and continuing to fire.  Lee was issuing commands for more evasive maneuvers, and kept ordering Seaview to dive, almost faster than Chip could keep up.  He marveled at his friend’s composure under fire and took note that, while Lee’s commands seemed to be somewhat arbitrary as to which direction he turned, his eyes were constantly following the depth finder and underwater charts of the area.  Everyone was getting a little nervous as Lee continued to go deeper and deeper.  Chip knew that Seaview could dive further than any other submarine around, but even she was reaching her maximum depth before they all felt the shock from the other sub imploding.


Once the excitement was over, Chip expected Lee to issue a ‘Bravo Zulu’ – a well done – to all hands.  Instead, he merely set Seaview back on her course, ran through all the duty stations making sure that everything was functioning properly, and left the Conn.  Chip was getting all cocked and primed to go track him down and give him a piece or three of his mind when a hand fell on his shoulder, and he turned to find Admiral Nelson right behind him.  Nelson nodded toward the spiral stairs down to the Observation Nose, and headed in that direction.  Chip gave the Conn to Lt. Haney and followed.  When he got to the Nose, Nelson was telling the seaman on watch to go take a quick break.  On seeing Chip appear, the seaman made a hasty retreat.


“A little confused over why Lee is acting the way he is?” Nelson asked, not unkindly.


Chip was taken totally off guard by the question.  “Yes, sir,” he finally answered.


Nelson settled a hip on the edge of a desk.  “What were you feeling when you first head about John’s death?”




“Were you ready to take on a new cruise?”


“No, sir.”  Chip could answer that one easily.


“Focus on a mission so vital that it could have world-changing consequences?”  Chip just looked at him, slowly shaking his head.  “Do you suppose that, just maybe, the crew was feeling pretty much the same way that you were?”


“The crew was totally devoted to John.”  He got a pained look on his face.  “Well, most of them, anyway,” he muttered.


Nelson just smiled softly.  “And do you suppose that, if Lee had come walking aboard, in the quiet way that he has of commanding a crew, that they could have easily focused on a new cruise?”


Chip started feeling a little foolish.  “Not to mention if they’d discovered how close a friendship Lee and I have.  Had,” he amended with a frown.


It caused Nelson’s smile to grow.  “Have, Chip – definitely.  Don’t you be thinking otherwise.”


“But why couldn’t he tell me what he was up to?” Chip growled.


“For the same reason that he’s said nothing to me.  We were mourning just as much as the crew.  Maybe more, because we’d known John longer.  You are the crew’s cornerstone, Chip.  If your armor had cracked even a tiny bit, all could have been lost.”


Chip nodded.  It didn’t surprise him in the least that Nelson had figured out what Lee was up to.  It embarrassed him that he hadn’t.  He looked at Nelson.  “May I ask why you’re telling me, sir?  Not that I should have been able to see it myself,” he admitted reluctantly.


Nelson’s smile was fond.  “Because, I think, that this is being harder on Lee than on anyone else.  He has friends aboard – close friends – that he can’t acknowledge for fear of his campaign falling into tatters.  And, Chip, he is all too aware of what could happen if this mission fails.”  He looked seriously at Chip.  “We don’t dare let him down.  Not for ourselves, but for the safety of everything we hold dear.”


“Understood, sir.  Sort of,” he added almost under his breath.


“Lee won’t appreciate my having interfered with his plans.”


“He won’t find out from me, sir,” Chip assured his boss.  “But when this cruise is over…”  His expression was crisp and hard.


Nelson laughed.  “When this cruise is over, he’s all yours,” Nelson assured him.  “Just, kindly leave a few pieces intact?  The Navy would appreciate it.”


“I’ll think about it,” was Chip’s low response.  “Sir,” he added.  Nelson gave him a fond smile before they both headed back to where they needed to be.


* * * *


Semi-peace reigned on board Seaview for the next several days.  Now that Admiral Nelson had pointed out Lee’s supposed game plan, Chip could see more clearly what Lee was doing.  He was purposely keeping the crew focused on his brusque, totally by-the-book military persona so that they didn’t have time to think about what else was going on.  A few more of the details of the cruise had slowly leaked out, a bit at a time, so that the only person hit with it full in the face had been Lee.  Chip wasn’t about to let Lee down by allowing the crew any hint that something had changed.  Bishop shimmying for more of the cruise parameters made Chip realize that the crew assumed Chip had been let in on the reasons for Seaview’s cruise when Nelson had taken him down to the Nose.  Chip did nothing to dissuade that assumption.  Lee started spending a bit more time in the Conn, although mostly just watching.  Chip was careful to not drop his guard, and the two treated each other with nothing more than proper respect and protocol.  Nelson and Wilson were noticeably absent most of the time.  Chip was just as glad.  The few times he was present when Lee and Wilson ran into each other, the scientist continued to take verbal potshots at Lee.  Thankfully, Lee continued to ignore him.  Chip was only too aware of what a tirade a thoroughly ticked off Lee could let loose.  He had to bite his lip to keep from coming to Lee’s defense, knowing that it wouldn’t be well received - by either side.


One thing that had Chip a little worried was that Lee was spending so little time in his cabin.  During the day wasn’t unusual.  But Chief Jones told him that crewmen were reporting seeing Lee at all hours of the night, just wandering around the boat.  Chip suspected that part of it had to do with Lee’s natural curiosity – about everything.  And especially now that he was actually getting to see Nelson’s dream sub for real.  But at the same time Chip was bothered by it.  He’d seen Lee push himself almost to the point of collapse on more than one occasion.  So far there wasn’t anything noticeable in how Lee was acting.  And Chip knew only too well that even if he did start to notice a chink or two that he would be unable to say anything, with the way the two were treating each other.  But he continued to watch, nonetheless.


Once Seaview was under the polar ice, and searching for an opening as close to the coordinates Nelson had specified as they could find, Chip finally saw Lee get antsy.  Chip almost smiled when, after half a day of searching, Lee actually grinned when a break was spotted.  Wilson, that jerk, had shown up while they were still searching and asked why they just didn’t make a hole with one of their missiles.  Thankfully, Lee had maintained his cool long enough to remind the idiot that the firing mechanisms still hadn’t been fixed.  Nelson came in just as Lee was finishing the explanation and told Wilson in not nearly as pleasant a tone that they couldn’t use them even if they were working because of too much danger to Seaview.  Whatever Wilson was about to bluster back was cut off as the opening was spotted, and the scramble was on.


Chip had never been so proud of his crew as he was during those next few hours.  They weren’t totally sure what was going on, nor why they were doing what they were being asked to do.  But through it all they didn’t question, they just did.  They didn’t even seem to mind that Lee was the one doing a fair amount of issuing orders.  Wilson’s equipment was off-loaded, and he and Malone headed to wherever it was, precisely, that he was going to do whatever it was he was going to do, precisely.  More equipment was set up in the Nose for Admiral Nelson, and communication between the two was kept on an open channel.


That’s when things got a little dicey.  A plane roared overhead just after Seaview felt a strong tremor, like an earthquake.  No sooner had Nelson and Wilson compared notes over the tremor than there was an explosion from Wilson’s position.  It took a bit to re-establish communications.  When they did, Wilson told Nelson that the equipment was set but that the snow cat was buried in ice chunks from the bombs the plane had dropped.  Both he and Malone were injured, and he said to just leave them there and get Seaview away before it was too late.  Lee came a little unhinged.  He told Nelson that he wasn’t about to leave crewmen behind, and that he was going out after them.  Nelson wasn’t happy, but Lee was adamant.  Nelson acquiesced, with a reminder that he had only a limited time.  Lee nodded and took off.  Chip had to smile when Chief Jones just as adamantly refused to let Lee go alone.  Chip had seen Curley get progressively more enamored of their temporary Skipper, no matter how much Lee tried to keep him at arm’s length.  The Chief had served a long and storied career in the Navy before Nelson had snagged him, practically out of retirement, to serve as Seaview’s COB.  Jones didn’t say much to Chip, when the two found themselves alone in the Wardroom one evening – Nelson had such a high regard for the man that Jones was always welcome in Officers’ territory.  But from a few odd comments about otherwise normal boat’s business, Chip gathered that the Chief had been keeping a quiet eye on Lee, and obviously liked what he saw.  Chip knew that Nelson was aware of the change of heart as well, as he only nodded when Jones made note of his intentions.


They all cut it a little too close.  Seaview lost contact with Lee and Jones not long after they headed out – on foot because there was only the one snow cat.  The plane reappeared not long after that.  Luckily the DC team reported that the firing system was up and running – finally.  Scratch one plane!  But there was no sign of Lee.  Chip and Nelson, along with Kowalski (Chip knew that he was worried about his buddy Malone) were up in the sail, waiting and watching.  Praying that the men would make it back before Seaview had to dive.  Everyone now knew that the box Wilson had taken out onto the ice was a bomb big enough to break apart the second earthquake that was coming in a very short time, and keep it from creating tidal waves strong enough to destroy 90% of the world’s coastlines.  The time came to dive, and went, and still Chip watched as Nelson wouldn’t, or couldn’t, give the command to dive, even knowing that he was risking everyone’s lives for the four men that were still out on the ice.


Suddenly the miracle happened and the snow cat was spotted.  Chip started issuing commands so fast that he wasn’t even sure he was heard.  But the four men were off-loaded from the cat at record speed.  It still wasn’t fast enough.  Seaview took a terrible beating from the double blast of earthquake plus explosive device.  Not to mention all the ice blocks that broke away from the polar cap, that they were still too close to the surface to avoid.


But somehow they survived it.  Barely.  Lee got the boat back under control and headed safely home.  Sick Bay reported that both Wilson and Malone would be just fine.  Lee barely waited long enough for things to get semi-back to normal before telling Chip that he was going to his cabin.  Chip just nodded.  There was no doubt that Lee was exhausted.  So was everyone else, but they hadn’t walked across who knew how much pack ice, knowing full well that there might not be a boat waiting for them when they got back.


Not too long after that Nelson showed up, looked around, and asked Chip where Lee was.


“Went to the Captain’s cabin, sir,” Chip answered.  “He was pretty wasted.”


Nelson gave him a long look and then asked quietly, so only Chip could hear, “How would you feel about that becoming his cabin on a permanent basis?”  His answer was as broad a smile as he’d ever seen on his XO’s face.


“Can you swing that, sir?” Chip asked, however.


Nelson shrugged.  “I’ll see what I can do about it.  Just…  Not one word to Lee.  Not yet, anyway.”


“No, sir.  Absolutely.”  But the smile wouldn’t come off of Chip’s face.  He watched as Nelson left, apparently headed to check on Lee.  Lee as Seaview’s Skipper, he chuckled to himself as he rechecked his navigation for getting Seaview home, at the same time plotting just how to get his revenge on his old friend now that it looked like he just might have the time to do it.


He realized that the continued grin on his face was causing speculation when Lt. Bishop appeared across the chart table from him.  Chip didn’t particularly care but, under the circumstances, did tone it down a bit.  He kept a relaxed eye on the Duty stations as he puttered with the navigation charts, wondering to himself just how long it would take Bishop to flat out ask what was causing the out-of-place smile on the XO’s face.  But before that could happen, Nelson once more appeared at Chip’s elbow.  With Bishop standing so close, the Admiral kept his comments a bit cryptic.


“Cold and tired,” he confirmed quietly, although both he and Chip knew that Bishop could easily hear them.  “I ordered him to take a long hot shower.  Not one of those three-minute varieties he’s used to.”  Both men smiled.  “I told him I’d have a hot meal delivered, and he was to crash.”  Chip watched a look of sadness ever so briefly cross Nelson’s face and figured that Nelson, like himself, was finally starting to relax as well, and begin the mourning process for John Phillips now that the mission was winding down.


“I’ll take care of the meal, sir.”  Chip watched a quick grin cross Nelson’s face.


“One piece, remember,” Nelson warned.


“I won’t touch a hair on his head,” Chip assured his boss, and Nelson clapped him lightly on the shoulder.


“Then guess I’d better go make a couple of calls.”  Nelson and Chip shared a private smile before the older man headed for the Radio Shack.


“You have the Conn, Lt. Bishop,” Chip ordered, his normal XO mask almost back in place.  Between his earlier thoughts, and the total look of puzzlement on Bishop’s face, Chip was having a bit of a struggle.


“Aye, sir,” Bishop answered.  As Chip prepared to leave he added, not quite under his breath, “Another Captain who has to be catered to,” and made the title sound like a dirty word.  “Be glad to see the back of him once we get home.”


Chip drew himself up.  “I didn’t see you volunteering to go out on the pack ice, Lieutenant,” he challenged.


“My job is on the boat.  Sir,” Bishop added, not quite making it sound like an afterthought.


“Lee’s job was the boat.  And everyone on it,” Chip told the man firmly.  Just the touch of a smile hit his lips as Bishop registered the fact that Chip had used their temporary Captain’s first name.


“You’ve met Cdr. Crane before, sir?”


Chip’s soft grin spread, turning a bit smug as he replied.  “Just my roommate all four years at the Academy.”  While Chip would have preferred to stand and watch Bishop try to wiggle off the hook that he’d firmly planted himself on, getting a sicker expression on his face by the second, Chip had more important things to see to.  His smile, however, increased as he thought to himself, And with any luck we’ll be changing that was to is.  The sooner the better.  Chip’s grin turned positively evil at the thought of what Bishop would think about that.  Luckily, no one saw it as he headed for the galley.


Cookie wasn’t overjoyed at the special meal request, particularly since the galley hadn’t weathered Seaview’s recent wild maneuvers all that well.  But leftovers from the previous evening’s meal of beef tips in gravy poured over noodles were quickly heated, supplemented with a couple of other items and topped off with hot cocoa, and Chip headed for what he was already thinking of as Lee’s cabin.


There was no answer to Chip’s light knock.  He opened the door, plotting how he’d handle matters if Lee had already fallen asleep.  Now that the mission was over, and in the privacy of the cabin, Chip had no qualms returning to ‘Big Brother’ mode and making sure that Lee took care of himself for a change instead of always looking after everyone else first.  But he could hear the shower running, and he put the tray on the desk.  The water stopped as he stationed himself between there and the bunk.  He figured that he must have made more noise than he thought he had as Lee called out to just leave the tray, the comment easily telling Chip that Lee had been expecting merely one of the galley help.  He frowned as he realized that Lee was no doubt planning to merely ignore the meal, as he was wont to do all too frequently, and directed one of his better command glares at his old friend as Lee exited the head.


It appeared that Lee was ready to allow their relationship to fall into older patterns as well.  He lowered his eyes in the face of Chip’s frown, and quietly acquiesced to the order to eat.  But Chip couldn’t maintain the expression as he thought about everything that had happened the last two weeks.  He was hit with the realization that, without Lee, he wasn’t sure Seaview or her crew would have survived.   “Thanks,” he said softly as he sat down on the edge of Lee’s bunk, and an easy grin appeared as the comment caused Lee’s head to pop up.  He could easily read the surprise on Lee’s face that, after everything that he’d put Chip through on this cruise, Chip would so quickly forgive him.


And Chip could easily admit that, without Nelson’s comments early on – and he was still a bit ashamed that he’d not seen it himself – he’d be more likely to have come in screaming dire threats at Lee for his actions instead of thanking him.  He silently acknowledged Lee’s somewhat un-submarine, extracurricular training supplied by ONI, the Navy’s intelligence unit that Lee had gotten involved with, as the likely reason Lee could so confidently handle the nearly impossible load placed on him.  Chip hated that Lee used to occasionally work for the agency, mostly because they seemed to treat Lee like an expendable commodity, not caring how often Lee got injured running ‘errands’ for them.  He was very glad that Lee had finally told them to take a hike and accepted command of the Sea Horse.  But he could easily admit that the training Lee had received had made Lee a good candidate to handle this cruise.  He was about to make some light comment on that issue, to help offset all the times that he’d ranted at Lee about how ONI had always treated him, when a shudder hit Lee.  He just smiled at Lee’s instant ‘I’m fine’ – Lee’s standard answer for anything medical.  Chip laughed outright as Lee accused him of the prank with the yellow wetsuit, and happily accepted blame.


But as Lee shuddered again, Chip’s ‘big brother’ persona came back full-fold and he headed to get Lee some light pain pills that he knew John had kept in his cabinet in the head.  Lee’s soft “no” stopped him in his tracks.  Too many years of being able to nearly read each other’s minds told Chip easily what Lee meant.  His friend would never automatically take something just because its owner wasn’t there to say otherwise.   Chip turned on his heel and headed for his own cabin.  It also instantly dawned on Chip how uncomfortable Lee must have felt, the whole time that he’d been aboard, at having to use a cabin filled with its previous, now dead, owner’s belongings.  No one had thought to clear away John’s things.  Chip gave himself a mental kick in the tail for the oversight.  He grabbed his own bottle of ibuprofen and shook out three tablets, returning to Lee’s cabin with a silent promise to correct that oversight first thing in the morning. 


It took a bit of gentle badgering but Lee finally agreed to take all three pills.  It wasn’t until Lee was putting down the cup, having swallowed the pills with the last of the chocolate, that the towel Lee had draped around his shoulder slipped and Chip’s sharp eyes spotted a healing gunshot wound on Lee’s shoulder.  Now that he was carefully checking his friend, he also spotted a not quite totally healed knife wound.  He was just realizing that his assumption that Lee had given up his ONI affiliations was wrong, and was gearing up to light into Lee about his friend’s deceptions, when Lee shivered with what was obviously a return of the cold he’d suffered topside.  It immediately sidetracked Chip back into ‘big brother’ mode and he ordered Lee to bed.  He almost smiled when Lee quietly acquiesced.   Chip still got in a “But we will be discussing that,” and knew that Lee understood what he meant.


As Lee settled into the bunk and Chip turned to leave, a soft smile touched his face.  If Lee took command of Seaview, as both he and Nelson wanted, Lee would have to finally give up ONI.  Between the Admiral’s scientific cruises, and their occasional errands for the CNO, Lee would be kept too busy to leave the boat to do anything else.  Chip was honest with himself, admitting that he was going to miss John terribly.  But the pain would be helped by once more having Lee where he could keep an eye on him.  Someone obviously has to look out for him, Chip muttered to himself.  He still hasn’t learned to do it for himself.  Another positively evil grin crossed Chip’s face as he headed for the Conn, thinking about how a few of the crew would react.  Not only to Lee’s taking permanent command of the giant submarine, but to the news of how well Lee and Chip knew each other.  What’s that old Chinese curse? Chip thought.  May you live in interesting times.  Well, me thinks things are about to get very interesting.