This is the sixth story in the series, following Sideways Through the Looking Glass. As with the rest of the series, this is an AU story.
TAPS in the Looking Glass
Lee Crane stood at the chart table in one corner of the submarine Seaview’s control room and scowled at nothing in particular.
“A penny for your thoughts, Lee,” murmured Chip Morton, the XO, who was standing a few feet away, clipboard in hand as he checked readings on the instruments. A couple of the crewmen, overhearing, turned speculative eyes in the direction of their skipper.
“Three guesses,” responded Crane in a sour tone, “and the first two don’t count.”
Morton gave an ironic snort
behind one hand. “That thing in the lab that bounces us around between
various universes.” He moved to the chart table to stand beside the captain and
gave a not entirely theatrical shudder. “I checked and had
“At least he did agree to take the damned thing off the boat,” said Crane with a sigh.
“Yeah, but he won’t agree to not tinker with it in the future. All that will do - hopefully - is keep it from bouncing Seaview who knows where in the future - but I’m afraid it won’t do the same for us.”
And that, Lee Crane was forced to admit to himself, was one of the things that worried him no end. A transition through the portal device seemed to sensitize one to being jerked through again. Only hours before, the boat had been caught in a malfunction of the device and transported to a universe that didn’t appear to have humans in it, but did have a technologically advance civilization. He shuddered to think how near a thing that had been! His greatest fear now was that Seaview - like his XO, if not himself - would be vulnerable to being caught up by future mishaps involving the machine they had nicknamed Looking Glass. His scowl deepened as he heartily wished the individual who had invented the infernal device and brought it to Admiral Nelson’s attention to the deepest, darkest corner of Hell. The device had brought them nothing but trouble.
A tremor ran through the boat, breaking into his morose thoughts, causing both men to look up in alarm.
“I thought you said the power was off,” hissed Crane at his XO.
“It is,” hissed Morton back, dread evident in his eyes, “or at least it was when I left the lab a couple of minutes ago. And Jamie had the Admiral in sickbay treating his burns so he couldn‘t have turned it back on. Besides, he did promise he wouldn‘t use it on the boat anymore. And I locked the lab myself to make sure nobody went in and messed around with the damned thing.”
A stronger tremor shook the boat, but instead of the familiar rush of green energy, the world around them crackled into an odd orange shade, twisted, faded and went grey.
“Now what?” asked Lee Crane of his XO and perhaps the universe itself.
“Damned if I know,” breathed Morton in response. “I never experienced anything like this before.”
The three vans pulled up in
front of the entrance to the
The group proceed into the
museum where they were greeted by one of the directors and two staff members. “Welcome
The balding man stepped forward.
“Hello, I’m Jason from TAPS.” He shook hands with the older man who had stepped forward to greet them. Indicating the slim, dark haired man beside him, Jason continued. “This is Grant. Our technical director Steve,” he indicated the man with tattooed arms, “and Dave and Kris.” The film crew was also introduced, but filming came to a halt during that part of the conversation.
“We’re happy to have you here, Jason. Kate here is going to show you around the museum and give you the background.”
Sounds good to me,” responded Jason. He turned to Steve, Dave and Kris. “Guys, if you’ll start unloading the equipment, we’ll check out where we want to put it.” Turning back to Kate, he said, “If you’ll lead the way, Ms. Morgan.”
“Certainly, Jason. And call me Kate,” she responded with a smile as she headed for the entrance to the display areas with Jay, Grant and a cameraman in tow.
They stopped at several displays, with Kate giving a short history of the items - and the apparent paranormal activity associated with each one. Eventually they came to the replica of an old WWII submarine’s control room.
“This is one of the hotspots,” said Kate to the two men. “Most of the equipment was salvaged off of an actual sub, the USS Tang, that survived the war, but was then decommissioned. Cleaning staff have reported seeing apparitions and hearing sounds of the equipment running.”
“We’ll definitely cover this area then, Grant,” said Jason, who nodded agreement.
A few more stops, then back to the lobby, where the rest of the crew rejoined them with a pile of equipment. They then fanned out in teams, placing cameras and other equipment at strategic locations throughout the museum exhibits. Once done, the group returned to the lobby and killed all the lighting in the building.
It was time to hunt ghosts.
Jason, Grant and their cameraman wandered through the darkened hallways, eventually returning to the submarine exhibit. Grant had a small electromagnetic field meter and was surveying the area when the needle abruptly went off the scale. Jay hastily swept the area with a thermal scan as yet another of their emf devices lit up with a display of lights. There was a suddenly cacophony of noise, seeming to arrive from somewhere far away, then pausing.
Everything went dark and still.
“What the heck was that?!” exclaimed Grant into the sudden silence. “I’ve never heard anything like that before!”
“Neither have I,” responded his partner. “Did you have the recorder on?”
“Yeah, got it all I hope.”
“Good. Let’s see if we can get another response.”
Grant held up the recorder. “Is there anyone here? Would you like to talk to us? We’d be happy to hear from you if there’s somebody here. Do something to let us know you’re here. Did you serve on the Tang? If you come close, the lights on this device will come on.” He held up a small TV remote sized object.
The lights on the device flickered on, bringing a grin to both men. However before they could proceed any further, a distant rumble, more felt than heard, passed through the exhibit, leaving behind a feeling of - emptiness. Whatever had been there had clearly left.
“Darn,” said Jason and Grant, almost in unison.
As the grey twisted around the boat, Lee had the distinct impression that they were traveling. Where to was anybody’s guess. This was something clearly different from the previous displacements via the universe portal, but he couldn’t escape the conviction that this was still tied to the device.
They seemed to stop for a moment.
“What the hell is that?” asked Morton beside him, prompting Crane to bring his gaze around to look for whatever the XO was seeing.
There on the observation deck appeared to be three shadowy figures. Lee suddenly realized one of them was saying something but the voice seemed to come from far away. It seemed to be a question about serving on the Tang.
“Tang?” Morton looked at Lee, seeming perplexed. “Nobody aboard served on the Tang. Either of them. That was way before our time.”
“There’s no telling when or
where we are, Chip. But when we get Seaview back to
“Only if you beat me to it, Lee,” said Morton grimly.
The universe moved and color flooded back. The three spectral figures were gone.
The two officers looked at each other.
“Well, we’re somewhere,” muttered Morton.
“But is it the right somewhere?” asked Lee Crane.
The TAPS investigators were gathered in eager anticipation around the computer display where they were sifting through their night’s work. They were getting ready to analyze the segment recorded at the submarine display.
“Yes!” exclaimed Steve as he listened through the headphones. “We got something here.” He pulled off the headphones and turned on the audio for the others to hear. There was a rushing sound, like a large object moving through water. The thermal camera showed the museum display morphing, changing into a completely different control room, even though to the naked eye absolutely nothing had changed. But it was still clearly a submarine and the ghostly scene was populated by at least a dozen figures.
Two of them turned towards the camera.
As the TAPS crew watched Grant ask the
question about serving on Tang, they heard a ghostly whisper from the
audio that answered, “Tang? Nobody aboard served on Tang. Either of them.
That was way before our time.” And from the second figure, “There’s no
telling when or where we are, Chip. But when we get Seaview back to
Mouths fell open around the table. “No telling when or where we are?” asked Grant of the others. “That doesn’t sound like something a ghost would say.”
“Seaview? Is that the sub’s name?” asked Steve, looking at the others with a mystified expression.
“I’ve never heard of a sub with a name like that,” answered Jason, “but I’m not an expert. We need to do some more research. This doesn’t sound like a straightforward haunting.” Shaking his head, he added, “If it wasn’t for the thermal, I’d wonder if this wasn’t somebody’s idea of a hoax, but I don’t know how you’d fake that.”
“They mention coming back to
“That sounds like an idea, Kris,” said Jason. “Why don’t you go talk to Kate.”
“I’m on it,” responded the young woman.
They were still running through the data when the door to the room opened and Kris walked in, followed by a pale-faced Bob O’Brien, Kate and Trisha on his heels. They were accompanied by a dark-haired middle-aged man they’d never seen before who looked around with keen interest. The museum director wasted no time in getting to the point.
“I’ve been asked about the Seaview,” he said grimly. “I want to see exactly what you have.”
“Then it was an actual sub?” asked Grant, clearly surprised. “We weren’t sure because none of us had ever heard the name before.”
O’Brien hesitated for an brief second, then answered, “She would have been.” At the thoroughly perplexed expressions that greeted the statement, he sighed, suddenly realizing that the TAPS investigators had no clue as to what he was talking about. “Please,” he said more softly, “can we see what you have?”
Jason and Grant looked at each other. This was highly irregular, since they usually presented findings after they’d reviewed all the evidence, but the museum staff was clearly quite agitated.
“Okay.” Jason motioned for the four behind the table as Steve cued up the footage.
There was a unanimous inhaling of breath as the two pictures ran side by side on the display screen; one showing the unchanging display as the physical eye had seen it, the other the odd morphing into another submarine’s control room on the thermal scan. But when the first voice answered Grant’s question, Kate and Trish both burst into tears and fled the room.
Steve paused the playback and gazed in the direction the two women had fled, clearly disturbed. Grant and Jason watched O’Brien turn even whiter as the other man stated, “That’s Mr. Morton, sir. I’m sure of it.”
“Mr. Morton?” queried Grant.
“Chip Morton,” said O’Brien. He swallowed hard. “He would have been Seaview’s XO - that is to say, the executive officer.”
“That fits,” murmured Grant. “That name was mentioned.” He looked at the two ashen-faced men and asked, “Are you up to continuing?”
Both men nodded and Steve cue the video to continue. When the second figure was identified as Lee, however, their strained looks changed to bafflement. Steve again paused the video as the TAPS investigators sought answers.
“Who is Lee?” asked the dark-haired man in puzzlement.
“I have no idea, Ski,” answered O’Brien. He looked closely at the paused image on the screen. “There’s something not quite right here,” he murmured almost inaudibly.
The man identified as Ski looked perplexed for a second, then went “Huh,” thoughtfully. “It’s Seaview, but then it’s not.” He looked more closely at the image. “That looks like Pat,” he said, pointing at the spectral figure seated at the sonar station. “But it can’t be his ghost, because he’s still alive.”
“Explain,” demanded Jason. Clearly something out of the ordinary, even for the paranormal, had happened the night before and he wanted to know what it was.
“We were both involved with the Seaview project. This sub in your video is similar to the first draft plans, but…” He shook his head in bafflement. “That’s definitely Chip Morton’s voice, but neither of us remembers an officer named Lee. From the way Mr. Morton is interacting with him, I’d say he must be the captain, but our captain was supposed to be John Phillips. And that’s definitely not him.” He looked suspiciously at the TAPS team. “Is this some kind of hoax?”
“And here we were wondering that about you,” murmured Grant wryly.
O’Brien stared at him for a long moment before his suspicion faded and he sighed. “So what is it?”
“We haven’t got a clue,” admitted Jason. “We were hoping you could tell us about this sub and crew. But if it never existed, then I don’t know what we have here.”
“Can you tell us why the sub wasn’t built?” asked Grant. “That might give us a clue.”
O’Brien ran a hand through his hair in agitation and he cut his eyes towards the cameramen, who were filming. “Only if you turn the cameras off and what I say goes no further.”
The TAPS crew looked at each other. They were in the business of paranormal investigation. The TV show about their activities was a means to an end for them, for they’d been doing paranormal investigations on the side while they worked as plumbers for Roto-Rooter for years before they were ever approached by one of the cable networks to do a show. All it had changed was allowing them to pursue their passion full time and given them access to sites further afield from their home base on the East Coast.
“Okay,” said Jason, motioning the camera crew to leave the room. They did, but with clear reluctance. Once they were out of the room, Grant pulled up a couple of chairs for the two men to sit.
“Now, just what is this about and why the secrecy?” asked Jason.
O’Brien and the man he’d called Ski shared a brief glance before answering.
“Back in the late sixties
there was a retired admiral - Harriman Nelson - who wanted to build a nuclear
powered research submarine. He came out here to the
“But why would anybody be opposed enough to a research ship to commit murder?” This was from Grant.
“The Admiral had enemies, both inside and out of the government. And he was dedicated to conservation. There were a lot of people who were afraid that he’d uncover their misdeeds - and that he’d push for the environment over industrial greed and profit. There could have been millions, if not billions of dollars at stake. All of us who worked for the admiral were warned afterwards by government officials to keep our opinions to ourselves.”
The TAPS men grimaced. This was something they hadn’t bargained on. “If that was late sixties, then all of this was forty years ago. And you’re still not saying anything?”
O’Brien and Ski shared another brief glance. “Ten years ago Admiral Emery, one of Admiral Nelson’s old colleagues, went digging into the mystery. He was found dead within a week.”
Now it was the TAPS crew that shared looks.
“I can see why you’re reluctant to discuss the issue,“ admitted Jason, “but if the sub was never built, then what did we just see?”
O’Brien shook his head, but had a thoughtful expression on his face.
“You have a notion?” prompted Grant.
“Well, one of the Admiral’s favorite theories was about alternate universes. He used to expound on the idea, especially when he’d had a belt or two of his favorite scotch in the evenings during our bull sessions. The boat you filmed being not quite the same as what we were going to build made me think of it. I’m wondering if you somehow caught some kind of bleed-over, because he often talked about something called leakage.”
“Leakage?” asked Grant.
“He thought that information passed between universes. The feeling of déjà vu, precognition. He believed that some people were more attuned than others to their … other selves.”
“So you think this could be a glimpse of a Seaview from a universe where your Admiral lived to build his ship?” asked Jason.
“If it isn’t that, then I don’t have any idea of what it could be,” admitted O’Brien.
“And absolutely no way to prove it, either,” sighed Grant. “Man, I wish we knew more about that sort of thing. You know, there’s been a couple of other cases where something like that might explain what was going on better than anything else we were able to come up with.”
“But you won’t tell anybody about what happened here, will you?” asked O’Brien fretfully.
Jason and Grant both shook their heads. “Given what you’ve told us, no. This case will go into the locked files, not to be seen until everybody involved is gone.”
There were looks of relief on both O’Brien’s and Ski’s faces.
Harriman Nelson looked across his desk at his captain and XO and sighed in exasperation. The incident that had just occurred had everybody on the boat on edge - himself included.
“Look, Lee, we’ve always gone back to our own universe before,” he said reasonably, hoping that it had happened this time as well..
“Except that… infernal machine… never went through itself before. You don’t know what that did,” argued Crane.
Nelson rubbed his forehead in frustration. The captain had a valid point, as much as it galled him to admit. “Lee, I’ve run every test I can think of. If we’re not in our own universe, it’s so close I can’t tell them apart.” He knew that was what was bugging the pair - the idea that they had switched places with another boat so nearly identical to their own that the differences couldn’t be detected. If that was in fact the case, he wryly wondered if that other Nelson was having this same conversation.
“Look , for now, let’s just proceed on the assumption that we’re where we’re supposed to be. Quite frankly, I don’t know what else we can do.” And that he knew, was the rub for his two officers. There was literally nothing else he or they knew to do. What happened from here on was in the laps of the gods.
Given what had already happened, that wasn’t a particularly comforting thought.
Author’s note: In our
universe USS Tang failed to survive the war, being sunk by one of her own
malfunctioning torpedoes. The survivors spent the rest of the war as POW’s in